THE DOZENS: TWELVE TUNES THAT TAKE YOU PLACES by Walter Kolosky



Artwork by Suzanne Cerny

Editor’s Note: Walter Kolosky recently contributed memorable Dozens columns on the work of Return to Forever and John McLaughlin. Here he serves as guide on a magical musical tour of jazz landmarks. T.G.



The goal of all music is to transport us to another place. The destinations may be real or imagined. They may be a state of mind or even a point of view. Jazz, more than any other music genre, is the best vehicle in which to ride. Its fuel is the scales and rhythms of all of the universe’s musical forms. Its range is not limited by the lack of a map or the need to understand a language or culture. Instead, the life-experience, creativity, facility and vision of its drivers determine its route. And they never take the same way twice.

Following are 12 places jazz can take you that may or may not be found on Mapquest:


Mike Stern: D.C.

Track

D.C.

Artist

Mike Stern (electric guitar)

CD

Odds or Evens (Atlantic 7 82297-2)

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Musicians:

Mike Stern (electric guitar), Bob Berg (sax),

Jim Beard (keyboards), Anthony Jackson (bass), Dennis Chambers (drums), Don Alias (percussion)

.

Composed by Mike Stern

.

Recorded: New York, 1991

Albumcovermikestern-oddsorevens

Rating: 91/100 (learn more)

Mike Stern is a guitarist and composer of the highest order. His pedigree is impeccable. He has been in the jazz-rock group Blood, Sweat & Tears, Miles Davis's band and The Brecker Brothers band. He has played with Stan Getz and Jaco Pastorius. He has released a good number of his own records that have received critical praise and Grammy nominations. One of his most impressive touring groups featured Dennis Chambers, Jim Beard, the late Bob Berg, bassist Lincoln Goines and the late percussionist Don Alias. On the cut discussed here, Anthony Jackson replaced Goines.

"D.C." (named after the District of Columbia and not drummer Dennis Chambers) is a distinct blend of blues and jazz-funk. Its head is a forward-driving swing fest permeated and propelled by thick Chambers backbeats. Stern and Berg often double-up on impressive single-note runs. Stern's liquid solo leads to a straight jazz section featuring Beard's syncopated piano before the band returns en masse to close the festivities with a high-pitched funk-out. This is an outstanding performance by a group of real pros. The jazz community still misses saxophonist Berg, who died much too young.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky


Stanley Jordan: Over the Rainbow

Track

Over the Rainbow

Artist

Stanley Jordan (guitar)

CD

Stolen Moments (Blue Note CDP 7 97159 2)

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Musicians:

Stanley Jordan (guitar).

Composed by Harburg & Arlen

.

Recorded: live at the Blue Note, Tokyo, November 1990

Albumcoverstanleyjordan-stolenmoments

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

Stanley Jordan was Mr. Ubiquity in 1990. It would not be unusual to see the jazz guitarist on The Tonight Show on Monday and on the David Letterman Show on Friday. He was probably even on Oprah. He was the flavor of the year. But the unusual aspect was that he was a jazz guitarist. If you don't have a pop song with vocals, you don't get on these shows in America. But Stanley Jordan had something else going for him. He had a unique approach to playing his electric guitar. He would set the amplification gear in a certain way and tinker with his guitar controls to allow his (touch) tapping of the fretboard to ring loud and clear. He was able to play a bass line, melody and add chord shadings simultaneously by using this method because he created a special tuning that facilitated such. It was fascinating to watch, and because of his virtuosity, entertaining to listen to. He wasn't the first to employ this tapping technique on the guitar. But Jordan certainly took the art up about a hundred notches. He is the Jimi Hendrix of this technique.

It didn't hurt Jordan's popularity either that he would choose to play many standard tunes. He would perform tried and tested oldies such "Autumn Leaves," "Stolen Moments," and in this case "Over The Rainbow." He would do so with the taste and aplomb of two seasoned jazz guitar pros. This version of the oft jazz-interpreted "Rainbow" soon became among the most popular in his tapping arsenal. The chord shadings are beautiful. The arpeggios are delicate yet performed with the speed of a 78-rpm record. His use of harmonics is nothing short of brilliant. He hits all the right musical and emotional notes of this touching ballad. At song's end, the live crowd at the Blue Note sighs.

Technique, no matter how well developed or unique, will only get you so far. So after the initial thrill of watching Jordan play, his career took a noticeable downturn as fans got use to his style. This wasn't a disastrous downturn by any means. Jordan still has a loyal fan base, but it is more in keeping with a jazz star following than a rock star. I think this is a good thing. I went to a concert in Los Angeles in the early nineties and was surprised to see that Stanley Jordan was the opening act. He had two guitars set up on special stands on stage. I was expecting an hour of "Over the Rainbow"-type ballads. I expected he would be good and entertain me. But I also expected to become bored at a certain point. Instead, he played one of the hottest jazz-fusion sets I have ever heard! The guy is a monster! NO! Make that a wizard!

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky


Miroslav Vitous: Bamboo Forest

Track

Bamboo Forest

Artist

CD

Universal Syncopations (ECM 1863 B0001289-02)

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Musicians:

Miroslav Vitous (bass), Jan Garbarek (sax), Jack DeJohnette (drums).

Composed by Miroslav Vitous

.

Recorded: Oslo, Norway, March 2003

Albumcovermiroslavvitous-universalsyncopations

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

The accomplished and imaginative bassist and Czech expatriate Miroslav Vitous was a moving force in the early annals of the fusion movement in the United States. As a teenager while still in Czechoslovakia, he was in The Junior Trio with future superstar Jan Hammer. In the U.S., he played with Chick Corea and Dave Holland and was a founding member of Weather Report. His prowess was already well established when he released a landmark fusion record, Infinite Search, in 1969. (Later, the album would re-released with minor changes but a new title, Mountain in the Clouds.) Despite Vitous's artistic and a certain amount of commercial success stateside, he decided to move back to Europe, and has spent most of his time teaching, composing and occasionally playing at jazz festivals.

In 2003, Vitous released Universal Syncopations, a reunion of sorts. Vitous's former leader Chick Corea and Infinite Search cohorts John McLaughlin and Jack DeJohnette make appearances. Saxophonist Jan Garbarek, the featured soloist on "Bamboo Forest," was also an important past collaborator. "Bamboo Forest" is a beautiful ballad. Vitous and DeJohnette expertly handle the upbeat rhythm. Vitous's sound is a studied full and deep reverberation against fine wood. Garbarek's playing is light but meaningful. Vitous shows off some prodigious chops and expert timekeeping during a solo turn. Garbarek continues to flutter away. This is nothing like fusion or progressive jazz. It is just good modern jazz with a flowing melody played by three very knowing musicians.

Reviewer's Note: Vitous and his old friend and Czech mate Jan Hammer have both written tunes named "Bamboo Forest." My cursory research seems to find no bamboo forest in Czechoslovakia to write about. Is this a coincidence or collusion? This should be investigated.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky


Stanley Clarke: Jerusalem

Track

Jerusalem

Artist

CD

The Toys Of Men (Heads Up HU CD 3128)

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Musicians:

Stanley Clarke (bass),

Rusian Sirota (keyboards), Michael Landau (guitar)

.

Composed by Rusian Sirota

.

Recorded: Topanga, CA, 2007

Albumcoverstanleyclarke-thetoysofmen

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

Welcome back, Stanley Clarke! The antiwar The Toys of Men is the best thing he has put out in years. It reestablishes him as one of the premier bass players and musical minds in the business. There are 13 cuts on the album, 12 of which are very good.

Though Clarke's own composing is compelling on The Toys of Men, "Jerusalem" was written by keyboardist Sirota. Various ambient effects and a far-away disconnected electronic voice usher in this lovely ballad. Clarke plays the lead melody with a patient understanding of space and texture. It is an eloquent display of the emotion his mastery can elicit. Landau and Sirota generously provide the backdrop for Clarke's jaw-dropping virtuosity. In the hands of a lesser musician, this tune would come off as Smooth Jazz. (Pardon me while I gag.) But the complex dexterity and musical knowledge Clarke exposes would make musicians of that genre feel bad about themselves.

Here's hoping the lucrative years Clarke spent writing soundtracks and Smooth Jazz will afford him the luxury of making more music like this.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky


Chick Corea and Return to Forever: 500 Miles High

Track

500 Miles High

Group

Chick Corea and Return to Forever

CD

Light as a Feather (Polydor 827 148-2)

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Musicians:

Chick Corea (electric piano), Flora Purim (vocals, percussion), Joe Farrell (sax, flute), Stanley Clarke (bass), Airto Moreira (drums, percussion).

Composed by Chick Corea and Neville Potter

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Recorded: London, October 1972

Albumcoverchickcorea-returntoforever-lightasafeather

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Before Return to Forever became an electric fusion powerhouse, they were a mostly acoustic outfit that presented a heavily Latin-flavored modern jazz. (Corea played electric piano). Light as a Feather was a wonderful outing, showcasing the musicianship of all five members, each of whom would play an important role in the development of jazz-rock. Even more so, it was clear evidence of Corea's compositional skills. Among other things, it was the album on which Chick's soon-to-become standard "Spain" first appeared.

"500 Miles High," though, is all about the voice of Flora Purim. After Corea opens with chorused runs and some tasteful chord play, the Brazilian Purim's breathless siren voice enters with transcendent loveliness. Her intonation, phrasing, and inflections are limpid. There has never been another jazz voice like hers. After her chorus, the band plays several minutes of fast-changes top-notch jazz. Corea blazes. Farrell is a monster saxophonist. Clarke impresses as expected. Purim and her husband Airto add percussion colors. But the whole time you are listening to this fantastic display, you can't wait to hear that voice again. When you do, it completes a magical performance.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky


Jimmy Bruno: PA Turnpike

Track

PA Turnpike

Artist

Jimmy Bruno (guitar)

CD

Maplewood Avenue (Affiliated Artists 3415)

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Musicians:

Jimmy Bruno (guitar),

Tony Miceli (vibes), Jeff Pedraz (bass)

.

Composed by Tony Miceli

.

Recorded: Philadelphia, PA, 2007

Albumcoverjimmybruno-maplewoodavenue

Rating: 85/100 (learn more)

Guitarist Jimmy Bruno is known for his monster chops and intricate interpretations. In this session, recorded in his house, he goes without a drummer. That requires a slightly different approach. The music is quieter than his normal material, but does not lack fire. Bruno asks bassist Pedraz to put an extra "slap" into his sound to help intimate the rhythm.

"PA Turnpike" is one of the more demanding pieces on the CD. Bruno and Miceli, the song's composer, play some pleasurable convoluted bars in unison. Bruno effortlessly plays some quick-paced blues lines spliced-in with some outrageously speedy arpeggios. Pedraz takes his bass on a healthy walk as Miceli puts his vibes through a workout of their own. Pedraz's solo leads back to the endless rolling hills of that damn turnpike. I once took a very wrong turn off that road, costing me several hours. If I'd had this music with me, I wouldn't have minded so much.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky


Dave Liebman: India

Track

India

Artist

Dave Liebman (soprano sax)

CD

Homage to John Coltrane (Owl 046 CD)

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Musicians:

Dave Liebman (soprano sax),

Caris Visentin (oboe), Jim Beard (synthesizers), Mark Egan (bass), Bob Moses (drums and percussion)

.

Composed by John Coltrane

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Recorded: New York, January 1987

Albumcoverdaveliebman-homagetojohncoltrane

Rating: 91/100 (learn more)

Every modern jazz saxophonist owes something to John Coltrane whether he or she sounds like Trane or not. Liebman can really sound like him, though, especially when interpreting Trane's music. Liebman doesn't purposefully mimic lines or solos. It is more about the musical thought process. On "India," he plays the way he thinks Coltrane might have approached the tune had Trane still been around in 1987. Imagine John Coltrane surrounded by electric basses and synthesizers. If you are able to do that, you'll dig Liebman's take on "India."

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky


Gianfranco Continenza: Outside That Door

Track

Outside That Door

Artist

CD

The Past Inside The Present (ESC 3725)

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Musicians:

Gianfranco Continenza (guitar), Bill Evans (tenor sax),

Maurizio Rolli (bass), Dante Melena (drums)

.

Composed by Gianfranco Continenza

.

Recorded: Neppazano, Italy, 2007

Albumcovergianfrancocontinenza-thepastinsidethepresent

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

This is the first CD from Italian guitarist and educator Continenza, who has been playing guitar for a quarter century but only now thought he had something to say and wanted it documented. To declare he had something to say is an understatement. This album is full of powerful and fresh fusion played, for the most part, by some very savvy Italian musicians. On various pieces Continenza is joined by fusion stalwarts Bill Evans (sax) and keyboardist Scott Kinsey.

"Outside That Door" opens with an echoing short vocal declamation. Those are the last words you will hear. Continenza introduces a guitar riff directly from the Al Di Meola School of Guitar Riffs. Very quickly he is joined in unison by Bill Evans (sax) for a staccato-laden section that leads into a predictably excellent blowing session from Evans (sax). Continenza's solo turn comes. He uses some sort of external device to alter the sound of his guitar and just goes for it. Lessons learned from Al Di Meola are left in the locker. Continenza has his own distinct voice. This guy can play really good! All of these musicians can. This is top-notch fusion music that I would be happy to go outside, or inside, any door to hear more of.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky


Tony Williams Lifetime: Vuelta Abajo

Track

Vuelta Abajo

Group

Tony Williams Lifetime

CD

Turn It Over (Verve 539118)

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Musicians:

Tony Williams (drums), John McLaughlin (guitar), Larry Young (Khalid Yasin) (organ), Jack Bruce (bass).

Composed by Tony Williams

.

Recorded: New York, February 1970

Albumcovertonywilliamslifetime-turnitover

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

Even today, The Tony Williams Lifetime is an acquired taste. Heard live back in 1969 and '70, its music could be dangerous to your health. Herbie Hancock tells a story about seeing them live for the first time. The music was so new and compelling he stayed for the whole sets even though he knew he was damaging his hearing.

On the whole, Tony Williams Lifetime's second album was not as revelatory as its debut Emergency. They do say you can only be new once. But Turn it Over still had much to offer the fledgling fusion movement. It was Williams's hope that the addition of Jack Bruce from Cream would add to the commercial appeal of the band. That didn't happen. However, Bruce's bass did add a deeper bottom end that benefited the sound on several cuts, this track being a perfect example.

"Vuelta Abajo" is a propulsive dark anthem full of sinister innuendo and pointed excoriations. It plumbs the depths of heavy metal much farther than Black Sabbath ever did. Its throbbing beat justifies the direct assault of McLaughlin's blazing guitar and Bruce's heavy bass lead playing. Williams desperately flails away at his kit to be heard above the din. Larry Young plays notes only dogs can hear. It is a very structured piece that somehow utilizes volume, distortion and chaos as main ingredients. If it doesn't give you a headache or a desire to hear even more, it hasn't done its job.

BTW: Vuelta Abajo is a region in Cuba. Why would Tony be writing about Cuba? It turns out that that region is famous for a particular cigar tobacco that really turns on the aficionados. It took a little more research to discover that Tony was an ardent cigar man. In fact, according to www.cigarafficionado.com, Williams was a "Saint Luis Rey, Hoyo de Monterrey and Cohiba smoker."

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky


Jerry Goodman: Topanga Waltz

Track

Topanga Waltz

Artist

Jerry Goodman (violin, guitar)

CD

Ariel (Private Music 2013-2-P)

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Musicians:

Jerry Goodman (violin, guitar),

Kraig McReary (electric guitar), Fred Simon (keyboards), Jeffery Vanston (synthesizer), Bob Lizik (bass), Jim Hines (drums)

.

Composed by Jerry Goodman

.

Recorded: Evanston, IL, 1986

Albumcoverjerrygoodman-ariel

Rating: 89/100 (learn more)

For many years, native Illinoisan Jerry Goodman has made his home in the San Fernando Valley, just northwest of Los Angeles. I found this out when I was researching my book on the Mahavishnu Orchestra. I used to live there too. To my chagrin, I found out that he lived only a few streets away from me for all the years I was there. If I had known his close proximity, I would have bothered him to no end! What does this have to do with anything? Well, we both lived a few streets away from Topanga Canyon Boulevard and not far from Topanga Canyon and the city of Topanga – the inspiration for "Topanga Waltz."

"Topanga Waltz" is not a waltz at all if that matters. (Or a very sneaky one if it is). McReary's power chords introduce the piece. Above his rock sound, Goodman's melody is the antithesis of what McReary, bassist Lizik and drummer Jim Hines are laying down. It is the pure sound of melodious fiddling. Some brief but beautiful motifs are presented before a repeating riff is established for some more soloing and to serve as a bridge to the return of McReary's opening statement. It is quite an interesting piece because the underlying ground is harsh while the lead playing above the surface is quite pretty. Come to think of it, a lot of the Valley is that way too.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky


Bill Evans (sax): Sea of Fertility

Track

Sea of Fertility

Artist

Bill Evans (sax)

CD

The Gambler – Bill Evans Live at Blue Note Tokyo 2 (Jazz City Pony Canyon PCCY -00201)

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Musicians:

Bill Evans (sax), Mitchel Forman (keyboards),

Victor Bailey (bass), Richie Morales (drums)

.

Composed by Mitchel Forman

.

Recorded: live in Tokyo, Japan, September 1990

Albumcoverbillevans-the_gambler

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

Let's get something out of the way right from the start. This is a Bill Evans (sax) album. He is a great composer and player. But I am a sucker for any tune that begins with the piano of Mitchel Forman. The other musicians would have to try and ruin it for me to start marking down. There are no such fears here. In fact, I am triply protected because Forman also composed "Sea of Fertility" and the other musicians are known for always advancing the ball.

"The Sea of Fertility" is a glorious breeding environment for this affecting melody and the ideas that swim around it. The opening theme is an ear-opening dispensation of disparate sounds that come together to form a unique school. The song's undertow soon evolves into a semi-aggressive fusion anthem with Evans (sax) blowing up a storm of bubbles. Bailey's bass is high in the mix, giving the tune some of the ballast that may otherwise have been provided by low-register guitar chords. Morales kicks it. Forman follows an expansive Evans (sax) solo with one of his typically brilliant turns before the band comes up gasping for air just in time.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky


Marc Copland: River Bend

Track

River Bend

Artist

Marc Copland (piano)

CD

Another Place (Pirouet PIT3031)

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Musicians:

Marc Copland (piano), John Abercrombie (guitar),

Drew Gress (bass), Billy Hart (drums)

.

Composed by John Abercrombie

.

Recorded: Munich, Germany, July 2007

Albumcovermarccopland-anotherplace

Rating: 91/100 (learn more)

Marc Copland is the epitome of a musician on a quest for his own sound. He began his professional music career as a saxophonist. He was good enough to play with such jazz icons as John Abercrombie and Chico Hamilton. But for some reason he wasn't hearing what he wanted from his horn. He decided to scrap his saxophone career and take a brand new direction. Goodbye sax. Hello piano. He left the circuit for a decade to study piano. Upon his return, the new keyboardist brought with him a wonderful style full of invention, harmony, texture and mood.

This same quartet had first gotten together a decade earlier. Their simpatico on Another Place is obvious. It is a fantastic album chock full of ideas cleverly presented. "River Bend," composed by Abercrombie, is a spatial adventure. The intro is as expansive as the mouth of a river. Disjointed sounds and textures act as tributaries. The theme is introduced with piano and electric guitar arpeggios. The sound mix seems purposefully equal in order to obtain more of an ensemble flow. There are effective solos to be sure, but they are not spotlighted. The tune bounces back and forth between the calm and the rapids. It makes us eager to see around the next bend, but satisfied to take our time getting there because we are enjoying the unfolding views.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky


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