THE DOZENS: BODY PARTS FOR HALLOWEEN by Walter Kolosky

Happy Halloween

A few months ago I was writing a Jazz.com review of Bireli LaGrene’s tune “Hips.” It started getting me thinking. I remembered writing other jazz reviews whose titles referred to various body parts as well. What was to stop me from creating a fully-formed creature from these anatomical cuts? (I admit my mind wanders into strange territory from time to time.) With Halloween coming up I think this is the perfect time to have a little fun and play a jazz Dr. Frankenstein.

I realize it may take me a few Halloween Dozens columns and an appeasing editor to be able to finally scream out, “It’s alive!” And we will have one strange looking dude in the end. But it can be done. In fact in this Dozens column I found a way to harvest 14 body parts in only a dozen listings. In the end I think with some killer chops and some creative improvising we could come up with quite an interesting creature.


John Abercrombie: Lungs

Track

Lungs

Artist

John Abercrombie (guitar)

CD

Timeless (ECM 1047 829 114-2)

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Musicians:

John Abercrombie (guitar), Jan Hammer (keyboards), Jack DeJohnette (drums).

Composed by Jan Hammer

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Recorded: New York, June 1974

Albumcoverjohnabercrombie-timeless

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

In the late 1960s, Abercrombie and his friend, fellow New York City resident Jan Hammer, were jamming companions. They even worked through early Mahavishnu tunes when Jan was first learning the new music. Abercrombie is probably given less credit than he deserves. His guitar-playing skills have always been acknowledged, but he was in the thick of things when the fusion movement thrust itself onto the scene, and has remained an important musician since.

Hammer's "Lungs" takes its first breath as a hyped-up B-3 organ trio. Momentarily winded, it is quickly resuscitated by Hammer's Moog. Abercrombie and Hammer then trade licks at breakneck speed. Hammer effortlessly switches between the B-3 and his synthesizer. Abercrombie's tone is dirty and distorted in this section, but his articulation is as clean as a whistle. The ambient midsection, interrupted by DeJohnette's drum exhortations, cools things down before a slow blues funk ensues. Abercrombie focuses on angular blues and rock riffs while Hammer does some bassline throbbing with the Moog. The tune ends as "Lungs" finally runs out of breath.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky


David Finck: Black Eyes

Track

Black Eyes

Artist

David Finck (bass)

CD

Future Day (Sound Brush SR 1012)

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Musicians:

David Finck (bass), Joe Locke (vibes), Tom Ranier (piano), Joe La Barbera (drums).

Composed by Wayne Shorter

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Recorded: New York, 2007

Albumcoverdavidfinck-futureday

Rating: 85/100 (learn more)

This is veteran sideman David Finck's first project as leader. Over his career, he has played with many important musicians, including André Previn, Dizzy Gillespie and Herbie Hancock. The rest of the band is quite accomplished at the jazz thing as well. Finck wanted to honor some of his influences over the years, so the band tackles both its own compositions and those that they consider of standard quality.

Ranier opens the Wayne Shorter tune "Black Eyes" with some minor block chords. Locke's vibes establish the melody and the fact he will be the dominant voice on the piece. He has the touch and the timing down. His runs are full of invention. Ranier is also a fine player as shown during his enjoyable interlude. La Barbera, an old pro who was in Bill Evans's last trio, plays just past subtle. Finck takes no solo turn but is well heard. This is pleasing, straight-ahead jazz, and Finck's arrangement is outstanding.

The album as a whole is an impressive leader debut for David Finck. I must also compliment recording engineer Darwin Best and master engineer Leon Zarvos. This is one of the better sounding recordings I have heard in quite some time.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky


Larry Coryell and the Eleventh House: Birdfingers

Track

Birdfingers

Group

Larry Coryell and the Eleventh House

CD

Introducing The Eleventh House with Larry Coryell (Vanguard VMD 79342)

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Musicians:

Larry Coryell (guitar), Randy Brecker (trumpet),

Mike Mandel (keyboards), Danny Triffan (bass), Alphonse Mouzon (drums)

.

Composed by Larry Coryell

.

Recorded: New York, 1974

Albumcoverintroducingtheeleventhhousewithlarrycoryell

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

The Eleventh House was guitarist Larry Coryell's version of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever and Weather Report. The hyperkinetic "Birdfingers" would have fit nicely into any one of those bands' repertoires. The musicianship in this pioneering unit was superb. Coryell's use of trumpeter Randy Brecker, and in later incarnations Mike Lawrence, was a departure in the sound formula from the early fusion bands mentioned.

The opening bars of "Birdfingers" sound like the 2025 theme from TV's Wheel of Fortune game show. Alphonse Mouzon spins the wheel with a snare roll and some heavily placed accents. The melodic intro is a cavalcade of scalar riffs played round-robin and then shared by trumpeter Brecker, keyboardist Mandel, and Coryell. Each musician is playing so fast that the new notes of H and I are created. Despite the speed, nobody gets in each other's way. Supersonic calls and responses ensue. No one loses a turn. Mouzon makes sure of this. Coryell's tone is somewhat north of treble. Brecker's provocative caterwauling is an effective fusion device. He is almost a synthesizer player. In conjunction with Mandel and Triffan, the band returns to answer the puzzle.

B_rdf_ngers. I'll buy a vowel, Pat.

Interestingly, Wheel of Fortune premiered shortly after the release of this album. This should be investigated.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky


David Sanborn: Another Hand

Track

Another Hand

Artist

David Sanborn (alto sax)

CD

Another Hand (Elektra Musician 9 61088-2)

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Musicians:

David Sanborn (alto sax), Mulgrew Miller (piano), Marcus Miller (bass guitar), Jack DeJohnette (drums).

Composed by Marcus Miller

.

Recorded: Astoria, New York, 1991

Albumcoverdavidsanborn-anotherhand

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Another Hand is a collection of the type of ballads that Sanborn so excels on. The saxophonist is a bit of an enigma in the jazz world. He has had quite a good career playing both popular and jazz saxophone. Yet he has never really been accused of selling out, say the way Kenny G and others of his ilk have been. This is for two reasons. First, even at his sappiest, he is not as sappy as Kenny G. Second, he makes a concerted effort to play some really good jazz from time to time. In addition to his better jazz albums such as Another Hand, Sanborn has repeatedly tested his chops by appearing with many superior jazz players. There is no doubt that his jazzier albums sell less. The fact he continues to record any challenging music at all is a testament to his talent, confidence and reverence for jazz.

Marcus Miller's slow and evocative composition "Another Hand" is performed in the standard jazz quartet format. You can see and smell the cigarette smoke filling the small dark Village club. It is close to midnight. It is 1968. The saxophonist is hitting the apex of his evening's groove. The bass player's eyes are closed as he slides up and down the neck. The drummer signals he needs another drink with a subtle cue. Head low, the pianist leans into the keys and listens for what chords to insert. The band has been playing this club for a decade. They understand each other and every note and every gesture. There is considerable politicking in the streets during the day. But this is a place you can visit at night either to help you get lost or to obtain the rejuvenation so needed for the times.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky


John Abercrombie: Follow Your Heart

Track

Follow Your Heart

Artist

John Abercrombie (guitar)

CD

Visions of an Inner Mounting Apocalypse (Tone Center TC 40401)

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Musicians:

John Abercrombie (guitar),

Mitchel Forman (keyboards), Jeff Richman (guitar), Kai Eckhardt (bass), Vinnie Colaiuta (drums)

.

Composed by John McLaughlin

.

Recorded: Granada Hills, CA, 2005

Albumcovervisionsofaninnermountingapocalypse

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

Back in the early '70s, jazz guitarist John Abercrombie was in the forefront of the fusion music movement. Coincidently he was one of the first to hear the music of what would eventually become the Mahavishnu Orchestra. The new band's newest member, Jan Hammer, asked Abercrombie to help him learn it. Abercrombie released his own landmark fusion album, Timeless, in 1975. Performed in trio with Hammer and drummer Jack DeJohnette, it has stood the test of time and is often cited as one of the more important records of the time.

Abercrombie's take on John McLaughlin's "Follow Your Heart" is placed at the very end of the Mahavishnu tribute album Visions of an Inner Mounting Apocalypse. The tune was never recorded by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, but does appear on My Goal's Beyond, which was released under the Mahavishnu John McLaughlin moniker.

Abercrombie's interpretation is exceptionally good. The arrangement from album producer Jeff Richman allows for interesting variations from the original. Abercrombie handles the catchy intro and its unusual time signature with understated charm. Bassist Eckhardt offers a wonderfully melodic solo. Then Abercrombie gets down to business. His blues-tinged solo is all over the place, yet still in the pocket. The tension builds as the intensity of his playing increases. He rocks it out. Colaiuta's drums particularly stand out. Richman chose an interesting way to end the piece and Abercrombie, following his heart, agreed with him.

Abercrombie's masterful performance of this John McLaughlin composition officially puts "Follow Your Heart" into the jazz standard realm as far as this critic is concerned. He joins fellow guitarist Bill Frisell as a modern interpreter of this beautiful composition.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky


Jonas Hellborg: Wounded Knee

Track

Wounded Knee

Artist

Jonas Hellborg (Wechter acoustic bass)

CD

The Silent Life (Day Eight Music DEMCD 026)

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Musicians:

Jonas Hellborg (Wechter acoustic bass).

Composed by Jonas Hellborg

.

Recorded: New York, 1990

Albumcoverjonashellborg-thesilentlife

Rating: 89/100 (learn more)

The Silent Life was another solo bass effort from Jonas Hellborg. This time out he played the Wechter acoustic bass guitar made by master luthier Abraham Wechter. These solo bass excursions are about being the melody, bassline and rhythm simultaneously. At least that is how Hellborg tends to approach his projects. On "Wounded Knee," his most impressive chops are presented in the guise of the tune's rhythms. This requires Hellborg to slap his bass very fast and violently. The instrument's acoustic nature limits its reverb capability, so Hellborg is quite literally forced to keep as much contact with the strings as allowed by the laws of physics. His slapping technique forces the strings to recoil and bounce his fingers off in an equal and opposite direction. Concurrently with his timekeeping, he plays chords that serve as the melody. Hellborg is a true bass chord innovator. There are few players capable of mastering chords on the bass as he has. When all is said and done, "Wounded Knee" is more about displaying the phenomenal technique that Hellborg has honed over the years than some great melodic statement. He focuses on melody plenty of times elsewhere on the CD. On "Wounded Knee," he just dares anyone else to play the bass better.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky


Mahavishnu Orchestra: Lotus Feet

Track

Lotus Feet

Group

Mahavishnu Orchestra

CD

Inner Worlds (Columbia Legacy CK 52923)

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Musicians:

John McLaughlin (guitar synthesizer),

Stu Goldberg (mini-moog), Ralphe Armstrong (bass), Narada Michael Walden (drums)

.

Composed by John McLaughlin

.

Recorded: Herouville, France, July 1975

Albumcovermahavishnuorchestra-innerworlds

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

"Lotus Feet" is noteworthy for several reasons. First, its overt Indian character indicates the tune was clearly written with the future in mind. That future would be McLaughlin's Indo-jazz band Shakti, already in the forming stages during the recording of this album. Mahavishnu always had an Indian element to its music. But it was understated compared to the vibe that permeates "Lotus Feet." Second, it was arguably the first time McLaughlin successfully employed an early guitar synthesizer. While other tunes on the album used the synthesizer, they did so in conjunction with electric guitar or to create sound effects. Here it is the primary instrument. Third, "Lotus Feet" would become perhaps McLaughlin's most enduring composition. Over the years he has also performed it with Shakti and Remember Shakti, and employed its melody as the thematic linchpin in the movie Molom, for which he and Trilok Gurtu provided the soundtrack. The tune has even been popularly covered by others such as pianist George Winston.

On an album full of surprises (some welcome, some not), "Lotus Feet" provides a respite. Meditative in nature, the tune is built around a simple Indo rhythm played by Walden on congas and sleigh bells placed over the top of a drone box. McLaughlin plays his guitar through a patch that makes it sound almost like a wooden flute. It takes about three seconds to fall in love with the melody. It is that beautiful. This is McLaughlin, both as composer and player, in restrained mode. Stu Goldberg also plays synthesizer in the form of the mini-moog. At times it becomes a bit difficult to tell the two apart, which is a problem that has always been intrinsic to the nature of the technology. Unless you're writing a review and trying to distinguish who is playing what, this quirk is of little significance.

I would not mind at all if the strains of this wonderfully executed piece followed me around as my own personal soundtrack. There is no doubt my stress level would be appreciably lower.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky


Bireli Lagrène: Hips

Track

Hips

Artist

Bireli Lagrene (guitar)

CD

Inferno (Blue Note CDP 7 48016 2)

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Musicians:

Bireli Lagrene (guitar),

Clifford Carter (keyboards), Victor Bailey (bass), Bernard Purdie (drums), Café (percussion)

.

Composed by Bireli Lagrène

.

Recorded: New York, July 1987

Albumcoverbirelilagrene-inferno

Rating: 81/100 (learn more)

While "Hips" is not one of Bireli Lagrène's best compositions, it did mark a stylistic change for the guitarist. By this time he had moved past his Gypsy and Django roots to play some distinctive electric fusion music, some of which can be found on this album. However, "Hips" and several other cuts (most notably "Action") could easily fit into the smoother trend that players such as Larry Carlton were developing at this time. This was not quite Smooth Jazz (pardon me while I gag), but was dangerously approaching that cliff from which many listeners would be forced to jump. This willingness to change his style showed that Lagrène was quite capable of playing music that might prove more palatable to the commercial market. This may have pleased his bank account and record label, but was generally a bad sign for those of us who really care about the music.

"Hips" is a bit '80s jazz-rock formulaic in the sense it has a strong backbeat that at times seems almost robotic and trends toward the funky. The staccato synthesizer sounds used by Carter were dated even back then. The synthesized horns in particular are a bit annoying. That is not his fault. He was just going with the flow of the times. Underneath the simplification and warning signs, "Hips" was still a rocking jazz-blues number played by fine musicians. It did make you want to swing your hips. Looking back, we can now see where this music led. My guess is that Lagrène was a little too close to the forest. Perhaps he was pushed there. In any case, Lagrène never really forced his fans off that cliff. Close call. In recent years he has revisited his Gypsy heritage and toured with Larry Coryell and Billy Cobham, playing good old fusion music and showing he is still one of the world's greatest guitar players.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky


John McLaughlin and The Heart of Things: Mother Tongues

Track

Mother Tongues

Group

The Heart of Things

CD

Live in Paris (Verve 543 536-2)

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Musicians:

John McLaughlin (guitar),

Gary Thomas (sax), Otmaro Ruiz (keyboards), Matthew Garrison (bass), Dennis Chambers (drums), Victor Williams (percussion)

.

Composed by John McLaughlin

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Recorded: Paris, November 1998

Albumcoverjohnmclaughlin-theheartofthings-liveinparis

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

John McLaughlin's Heart of Things was a hot band. But you would really have to hear the group live to buy into that proposition. The band's earlier studio album The Heart of Things never quite caught fire. McLaughlin went the umpteenth mile to create an ensemble feel, and may have overdone things a bit. When he did play, McLaughlin's guitar tone didn't help either. In a carryover from his Free Spirits band, his warm guitar tone would often get lost in the mix. Live in Paris was a totally different experience. McLaughlin took a lead playing role on this tour. And thank God you could hear him. His tone had been tweaked just enough so you didn't have to strain your ears. He also employed a good amount of distortion to get his points across.

"Mother Tongues" first appeared on McLaughlin's album Live at Royal Festival Hall a decade earlier. In that instance, the song was a showcase for the remarkable Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu. That was an acoustic performance. "Mother Tongues" in Paris was pure electricity. McLaughlin starts the piece with some rhythmic grunge chords before the awesome Dennis Chambers kicks in. The head arrangement is a pulsating blob. Saxophonist Gary Thomas inserts a long, middling solo that seems to serve more as a jumping-off point for what is to come rather than a showcase for his musical scope. At solo's end the tempo picks up appreciably, and we hear the main event. McLaughlin and keyboardist Otmaro Ruiz engage in a phenomenally entertaining call and response. This duel ranks right up there with any I have heard McLaughlin partake in. That is a strong statement, considering McLaughlin's musical partners over the years. Tension is built on each turn as the tempo picks up speed a millisecond at a time until about the 30th turn, when everyone is ready to burst. This section includes fun, tension, ridiculous speed and virtuosity. The crowd wildly cheers the split-second this frantic call and response gets hit by a bus. The main theme, for all its complicated syncopation and twists and turns, is played as if the band members were one organism. "Mother Tongues" speaks loud and clear.

Live in Paris indicated to McLaughlin fans that he was once again ready to claim leadership of the best jazz-fusion band around. But within a year, he was back playing Indo-jazz with a newly reformed Shakti. You can never trust McLaughlin to stick with anything for very long. It is frustrating and invigorating at the same time.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky


Joe DeRenzo: iEartoe (parts I & II)

Track

iEartoe (parts I & II)

Artist

Joe DeRenzo (drums, percussion)

CD

Core Beliefs (DeRenzo Productions JD 002)

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Musicians:

Joe DeRenzo (drums, percussion),

Anne Walsh (vocals), Glen Berger (tenor & soprano saxes), Tom Zink (piano), Brian Hughes (guitar), Jimmy Haslip (bass), Richie Gajate-Garcia (percussion, vocals)

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Composed by Joe DeRenzo

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Recorded: Long Beach, CA, January-October 2006

Albumcoverjoederenzo-corebeliefs

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Drummer Joe DeRenzo has had quite an interesting career. In the late '70s, he played jazz and fusion music. But in the mid '80s, he caught the acting bug and left music behind. After appearing as a movie extra and having a few TV gigs, DeRenzo changed careers again and became a photographer. A chance meeting with graphic artist Peter Max led to a long-term gig with financial and artistic success. But music was still deep in his core. In 2001, after 15 years of not picking up a drumstick, DeRenzo sat down and played. The comeback was on!

DeRenzo is a very gifted musician, composer and arranger. Perhaps because of that 15-year hiatus, he approaches music with a fresh and open mind. This is quite evident on "iEartoe parts I & II," his tribute to the great Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira. The tune is purposely reminiscent of Airto's old recordings on the CTI label. DeRenzo and fellow percussionist Richie Gajate-Garcia create a Brazilian landscape with shakers and sundry percussion oddities. Vocalist Anne Walsh enters with her own heartfelt tribute to Airto's wife, the wonderful singer Flora Purim. On part II, pianist Tom Zink and saxophonist Glen Berger continue the theme, now joyful and bouncy. DeRenzo plays it Brazilian cool in the background as Gajate-Garcia camps it up both on voice and percussion to the tune's end. DeRenzo is not out to blow people away. He is out to have fun. On this tune, and on the album it comes from, he succeeds in a contagious way.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky


Dan Cray: Hammer Head

Track

Hammer Head

Artist

Dan Cray (piano)

CD

Over Here Over Heard (Crawdad)

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Musicians:

Dan Cray (piano),

Clark Sommers (bass), Greg Wyser-Pratte (drums)

.

Composed by Wayne Shorter

.

Recorded: live in Chicago, IL, November 2007

Albumcoverdancray-overhereoverheard

Rating: 83/100 (learn more)

Over Here Over Heard was recorded live in Chicago. The least straight-ahead piece on the album, Wayne Shorter's "Hammer Head," is given an interesting treatment by this talented trio. Pianist Cray reserves some of his loudest block chords for this performance. The closest Cray comes to really "showing off" his single-note chops on the entire album occurs during his solo turn. Sommers and Wyser-Pratte are a strong rhythm section and generate enough power and momentum to carry the composition's slightly off-kilter mood. On this and other more traditional songs on the album, the Dan Cray Trio proves they are more than capable of interpretations worth a listen.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky


Jeff Beck: Scatterbrain

Track

Scatterbrain

Artist

Jeff Beck (guitar)

CD

Blow by Blow (Epic EK 33409)

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Musicians:

Jeff Beck (guitar),

Max Middleton (keyboards), Phil Chenn (bass), Richard Bailey (drums)

.

Composed by Jeff Beck & Max Middleton

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Recorded: London, England, 1975

Albumcoverjeffbeck-blowbyblow

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Jeff Beck's fusion sound didn't hit full groove until his Wired album came out a year after Blow by Blow. Notably, that coincides with his musical partnership with Jan Hammer. Not every jazz-rocker agrees with me, though. Many claim Blow to Blow has always been the superior effort. There are some great tunes on Blow by Blow, especially the beautiful "Cause We've Ended As Lovers," but not all the tunes are fusion. A portion of the album is clear funk and nothing else. That's okay. But it isn't fusion. Still, Blow by Blow is not an album that should be kicked out of bed. It is fantastic.

The jazz-blues-boogie oriented "Scatterbrain" remains in Beck's live repertoire to this day, and for good reason. The tune's driving nature allows Beck to do some real stretching out. Keyboardist Middleton and Beck double-up on the frantic intro. Beck then goes ballistic with cutting blues riffs. I still don't understand how he gets that sound without using a pick! The rhythm section keeps things flying. Beck demonstrates his mastery over harmonics. No one sounds like him. Middleton plays a straight-ahead electric piano as synthesized strings enter. The theme comes back, leading in turn to a short ending section that is clearly a tribute to John McLaughlin. Boy, those were the days.

Point of information: In 2002, Beck held a special three-night event at London's Royal Festival Hall. Each night he welcomed special surprise guests. On the third night he welcomed McLaughlin. They jammed on two tunes including "Scatterbrain."

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky


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