Raya Yarbrough: Early Autumn

Ralph Burns's impressionistic composition "Early Autumn" is much beloved by an older generation of jazz fans, but rarely covered by the youngsters. Then again, it is hard to top Stan Getz's gorgeous solo on the original recording. But Yarbrough delivers a gem in this reworking of a 60-year-old piece, with a delicate, understated vocal. I am generally suspicious when they bring in the string orchestra on a jazz vocal CD - I can almost smell easy-listenin' in the air. No need to worry here. Producer Steve Bartek has cooked up a brilliant string arrangement. It's like Lou Harrison was called in by mistake to handle a Nelson Riddle gig. In fact, this is the most interesting use of strings in a vocal CD that I have heard in a long time, and is what pushes my rating from the high 80s into the 90s. Check it out!

February 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Oliver Nelson: A Bientot

After his seminal The Blues and the Abstract Truth (1961), Oliver Nelson was in high demand as arranger of choice for many studio and motion picture projects. His commercial success was viewed as a mixed blessing, however, by admirers who felt his music was compromised by the needs of his employers. In this 1964 recording, Nelson reclaims his credentials as both a marvelously intuitive arranger/composer of the big band format as well as an underappreciated, unique voice on the tenor sax. With the times being influenced by such tenor titans as Coltrane and Rollins, and by Nelson's cohort on this recording altoist Phil Woods, Oliver economically yet passionately delivers his own take on how the horn should be played, to great effect. On this marvelous, moody Billy Taylor composition, Oliver's tenor is at times Coltranesque in its searching quality, but is never imitative in either tone or harmonic approach. Nelson's orchestration is sublime, and the soaring trumpet solo of relative unknown Chicagoan Art Hoyle is a bow to the famous trumpet solos of big bands of the past. This performance never fails to stir the soul.

February 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Cuong Vu: Accelerated Thoughts

Cuong Vu delights in contrasts, and builds his compositions by juxtaposing rather than blending. "Accelerated Thoughts" starts with Cuong sputtering out a start-and-stop melody in a bop vein, while bassist Stomu Takeishi lofts out whole notes and half notes that seem part of an entirely different song. Meanwhile, drummer Ted Poor slams the skins like an outcast from a rock band. But then everybody changes roles – what is this, musical chairs? – with Takeishi playing the part of a heavy metal bass demon and Cuong taking a fierce energy-jazz solo. Despite the apparent contrasts, it's clear that these musicians are a cohesive unit, as they demonstrate in the varied types of interaction displayed during this 6½-minute track. Cuong Vu is not going to be easy to pin down, as one might expect from a musician who has played with everyone from David Bowie to Dave Douglas, Laurie Andersen to Pat Metheny. But this bold artist definitely knows how to mix it up.

February 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Lila's Dance

So, it's 1992 and I am watching the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. It is time for a commercial. Then I hear Branford Marsalis's Tonight Show band play the opening measures of the Mahavishnu Orchestra's "Lila's Dance." This can't be. I must be dreaming. Am I hearing Mahavishnu on national television? Yes! It turns out that Branford was a huge fan. His guitarist Kevin Eubanks was, too. In fact, in high school, Kevin's nickname was "Mahavishnu." The band would later also play Mahavishnu's "Meeting of the Spirits." Thanks to Branford, these tunes were being resurrected nearly 20 years after they first appeared. This rekindled a spark of interest in Mahavishnu among old and new fans that has grown into a steady flame today.

"Lila's Dance" is an ode to "The Dance of Maya" from the Mahavishnu's first album The Inner Mounting Flame. A short piano statement is made. Unlike "Maya," the opening guitar arpeggios are very gentle and sweeping. Ponty plays a reverberating solo above them. It floats. The string section beautifully restates the theme. Then without warning, much like on "Maya," a rocked-out blues interrupts the proceedings. This is one serious groove, every bit worthy of anything the original band did. McLaughlin's tone is tubular, sounding as if it was coming straight out of a hot iron pipe. Walden and Armstrong are funk-masters. This was Mahavishnu Mark II, as some called the band, at its best.

By the way, the people who ran the Tonight Show were scared by that Mahavishnu music. It wasn't long before Branford was out of a job.

February 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Eternity's Breath Part 1 & Part 2

Visions of the Emerald Beyond is the most overlooked and underappreciated Mahavishnu recording. The album was drenched in a new sort of funkiness that McLaughlin had not explored in previous MO outings. "Eternity's Breath Part 1 & Part 2" opened the record with such a slap to the face you knew you were in for a sonic treat. McLaughlin's notes were fat and strong. Walden's drumming was powerful and propulsive. Ponty's violin literally soared to heights he seldom reached in his previous work. The strings and horns did not have that superfluous quality found in many other "third-stream" efforts. They were relevant to the musical event. Vocals even popped up now and then, and although they could be somewhat "holier than thou," they too added to the orchestral milieu.

Over the years, McLaughlin's funk-drenched opening guitar riff has been joyfully usurped and quoted by the Tonight Show's Kevin Eubanks, the jam band Gov't Mule, and Jeff Beck. Most of the people listening and digging those quotes probably had no idea they came from some group called the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Many listeners wanting to hear a clone of the original Mahavishnu Orchestra never accepted this band. That is too bad, since this version of the MO had a lot to say. The ensemble had a full and engaging sound, plus the balls to present it in a grandiose fashion.

February 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lucky Thompson: Deep Passion

This magnificent ballad performance could be considered Thompson's "Body and Soul." Hank Jones's rhapsodic piano intro precedes Thompson's compelling recital of the yearning melody, played with great feeling and a lovely tone possessing a soft vibrato similar to Ben Webster's. Thompson's solo is a lesson in articulate craftsmanship, building slowly as he increases the intensity of his fluid, swift runs and the bite of his tone. Jones and Pettiford wisely keep low profiles, letting the impact of Thompson's full expression rightfully take center stage. After Jones's reprise of his intro, a swooping coda by Thompson ends with a climactic low note held by tenor and bass. Influenced by Coleman Hawkins, Don Byas and the beboppers, Lucky Thompson's individuality, intelligence and harmonically sophisticated approach placed him way above the pack. If not for his complete retreat from playing and teaching in 1974 until his death in 2005, his abilities as a performer and composer would be better remembered today.

February 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Pepper: Winter Moon

Art Pepper's 1980 session with strings may not be as well known as those of Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, and Stan Getz, but it's at least their equal in terms of accomplishment and impact. By 1980, Pepper was in the midst of a successful 7-year comeback that would unfortunately end with his death in 1982. His playing during this period was rawer than ever, openly displaying all the torment and anguish he had lived through. Pepper begins this track pensively, but soon Cowell's emphatic comping and the soaring strings unite with him as he ups the emotional content. His jumpy, staccato phrases culminate in a charged peak that is perfectly timed with the strings' swelling crescendo. Pepper's reprise of the theme is a mournful, haunting cry. Bill Holman's sensitive, uncluttered arrangement and Pepper's passionate style mesh beautifully.

February 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Eric Alexander: Last Night When We Were Young

Mabern's dramatic block-chord intro leads to Alexander's tender reading of the gorgeous theme, his silky, purring tone hardening on the bridge. After a repeat, bass and drums enter, Farnsworth's tasteful brushwork creating a floating groove. Alexander's solo toys with the rhythm, his extended lines both lucid and moving. A short double-time section offers yet more forceful tenor, followed by Mabern's typically intense and adventurous improv. Alexander and Mabern execute a captivating coda in tandem to end a memorable interpretation. Alexander is one of the prime current practitioners of hard bop, which layers elements of funk, soul and sometimes modal improvisation onto the basic principles of bebop. He has unquestionably matured to become his own man, carrying on the tradition of his main inspiration, George Coleman, as well as others such as Mobley, Turrentine and late '50s Coltrane.

February 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: The Way of the Pilgrim

McLaughlin, under financial pressures, reduced his 11-piece Mahavishnu Orchestra to a quartet in late 1975. Inner Worlds was its first and only album. The whole tenor of the record, which was released in January 1976, was quite unlike the output of the previous two versions of the band. It was filled with R&B tendencies, and even appeared, on some tunes, to hover a little too low over pop-vocal terrain. At the same time, the album also included some extreme music that frightened even seasoned Mahavishnu fans! These were unique sounds, created mostly by McLaughlin's new synthesizer, which had the power to thrill or cause pain, depending upon your point of view. McLaughlin was not afraid to produce some ugliness in service to his muse. He pushed any new instrument or device to its outer limits. That was his nature.

Walden penned this piece, and much like "Cosmic Strut," which he wrote for Visions of the Emerald Beyond, it rocks! It had the type of catchy head arrangement that composer Walden would later become famous for with Jeff Beck and his successful production career with Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin and others. Walden's drumming is strong and funky. McLaughlin even funks it up a bit, inserting abbreviated chinky 9th chords between his soaring solos. With his outstanding solo, Goldberg shows why he was one of the pioneers of the mini-Moog. "Way of the Pilgrim" is truly a stellar fusion outing. If this "new" pared- down Mahavishnu Orchestra had played more music like this, it might have found more sustainable popularity.

There are two disparate theories about Inner Worlds. Some claim the record was a weak effort made to finish off John's Mahavishnu Columbia recording contract. They point to the fact that John gave control over large portions of the record to Narada and the rest of the band as an indication of his lack of interest. Others say Inner Worlds should be viewed as a brave experiment and important progressive rock album. These fans, who tend to be younger, are not hampered with the Mahavishnu Orchestra's pre-Inner Worlds history. Theirs is a view from a fresh and uncluttered perspective. Perhaps this puts them in a better position to judge. After all, they argue, McLaughlin would never just "toss off" anything.

February 27, 2008 · 1 comment

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Hymn to Him

Apocalypse was the first album from McLaughlin's second version of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Although he had wanted the first band to do a project with a symphony orchestra, they were not interested. So when he formed the second Mahavishnu, after the bitter dissolution of the first, the first thing he did was join with the young conductor Micheal Tilson Thomas and Beatles' producer George Martin to record Apocalypse with the London Symphony Orchestra. The album was not well received. Back in 1974, it was deemed too grandiose. Over the years, however, some critics and fans have revisited the album and found that it was unfairly maligned. George Martin himself says of all the records he has ever produced, he is proudest of this one. When the Beatles' producer says something like that, we should pay attention.

"Hymn to Him" is indeed grand in scope. Its components are in parts devotional, classical, jazz, funk and rock. The strings and woodwinds of the LSO gently usher in Ponty's crying violin. McLaughlin joins with melancholy calls of his own. A slow, reverential theme is developed. As we know by now, this cannot last. Walden's drum roll increases the tension ever so slightly. The full LSO declares itself. Over the orchestral strains, McLaughlin solos slowly at first. The velocity increases as he squeezes every bit of emotion from his electric strings. After a respite, Ponty and McLaughlin enter into highly charged calls and responses between which the LSO serves as a bridge. Then, at the 16-minute mark, the band and the orchestra join together and raise the hair on the back of your neck. You will return to this passage time and again in future years. The opening theme, made all the more poignant by what you have heard since, returns as the coda. Many thought McLaughlin was taking jazz-fusion too far by adding the classical music element to it. In hindsight, we realize this was just the beginning of the possibilities.

February 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: New York on My Mind

This cut is the closest the original Mahavishnu Orchestra ever got to reconciliation. Five years after the band's acrimonious breakup, Billy Cobham and Jerry Goodman joined McLaughlin for "New York on My Mind." The title had real meaning for McLaughlin. He has often suggested that without NYC, there never would have been a Mahavishnu Orchestra. The city's true melting-pot nature and abundance of great musicians created the necessary atmosphere and gene pool for Mahavishnu to be born.

Sixty-percent of the Mahavishnu Orchestra does not make the Mahavishnu Orchestra. But "New York on My Mind" is a stirring example of the telepathy McLaughlin, Cobham and Goodman still shared. Keyboard wizard Goldberg also possessed that chemistry with McLaughlin. Bassist Saunders was no slouch either. "New York on My Mind" is a slow ballad punctuated by high-register bursts. After a few purposeful thuds from Cobham, McLaughlin and Goodman double-up on the melody. McLaughlin used a new guitar that featured a scalloped fretboard. Based on the design of the Indian instrument the vina, the scalloped board allowed him to pull down on the strings to produce the biggest bends in Western guitar history. (Please excuse the hyperbole. But your ears won't lie.) Goodman's sound had changed too. It was much cleaner than his distorted playing on the Mahavishnu recordings. The two new sounds, in simpatico, create the atmospherics. Goldberg, as always, offers wonderful keyboard playing.

I would suggest that the New York that McLaughlin had on his mind was the city at night. There is a slight dark undertone to the piece at times. "New York on My Mind" is a fully realized composition performed by stalwarts of the original fusion movement, and is worthy of its great players.

February 27, 2008 · 1 comment

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Michael Brecker: African Skies

In this Michael Brecker composition, we find a wonderful example of how creatively arranged instrumen- tation played by sympathetic and talented musicians can paint a sonic landscape that transports the listener to any exotic destination. The song starts with a rhythmic bottom that could easily have been taken from an indigenous African tribal celebration. A complex and rapid-fire bassline by the nimble Holland and a polyrhythmic cacophony of drum rolls, stick and cymbal work by DeJohnette and Alias send this tune on its celebratory way. Tyner is in his element with the percussive nature of this song, and he solos with reckless abandon. A soaring solo by Brecker is executed to perfection, strongly complemented by a relentless rhythm section and Metheny's comping guitar. The piece bows out much like an African sky might at dusk, with a setting sun quietly yet beautifully fading from view.

February 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Giovanni Mirabassi: El Paso del Ebro

Italian pianist Giovanni Mirabassi lives in Paris and obviously has an internationally oriented soul. For this solo record, he collected songs of revolt and craving for freedom from all over the world, such as this Spanish Civil War song that the Liberation Music Orchestra included in its 1968 historical record. (There it's called "Viva la Quince Brigada (Long Live the Fifteenth Brigade)" and is part of a lengthy "Medley.") Mirabassi's version, by contrast, is far from the original chant of victory and closer to a romantic fantasy, with vibrant, lyrical chords and a re-harmonized melody that acquires nostalgic hues.

February 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Patricia Barber: Yesterdays

Among the wave of new female singers that came to prominence in the last decade of the 20th century, Patricia Barber is certainly the most original. First because she's a great pianist, second because she's a unique singer. Her piano influences are easy to trace, at least to Bill Evans, but her voice is so deeply personal that it stamps its own mark on whatever she sings, from a timeless standard, as here, to a pop tune by the Doors. In a trio setting, she creates a haunting atmosphere with lush chords and hushed voice while bass and drums softly dance around her piano until rising to dramatic heights during her intense solo.

February 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Clusone 3: Skylark

"Rara Avis" (Latin for rare bird) is indeed what the Clusone 3 were. Their group name comes from the Italian festival where they met in 1988, and from then on till they disbanded ten years later this Dutch/American trio was one of Europe's most original bands. That was essentially due to the strong personality of each member and, on this record, to their repertoire, devoted to songs about (rare) birds. The strangest thing here is certainly that the Clusone 3 treats "Skylark" quite simply, focusing on the melody and on their trio sound: cello plucked in bass-like style, sparse brushes on the toms, crystal-clear alto sound. A beautiful and surprisingly economical rendition, played by usually much more extroverted musicians.

February 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Julian Argüelles: Mind Your Head

This lengthy tune is admirably built: a slow first part, where the guitar's long notes repeat a meditative melody and create the atmosphere, then the piano adds its contrapuntal lines before the reeds join in as the beat starts swinging harder, evolving towards a kind of Caribbean dance feel. These musicians really cast the listener under their spell, leading progressively to a serene and joyous conclusion.

February 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jan Lundgren: Angel Eyes

The fact that one of today's finest straight-ahead jazz pianists should be Swedish is nothing to wonder about. Europe, and specifically Scandinavia, has seen a lot of U.S. musicians come and preach the good word during the last decades (think of Dexter, Getz, Marsh, Red Mitchell, et al.), and their disciples have flowered. Lundgren's refined piano touch is a source of constant wonder on this ballad. He swings and improvises with the help of his excellent American partners in a delicate but never introverted manner, and his trio gives a truly timeless version of this beautiful standard.

February 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dave Douglas: Vanitatus Vanitatum

The original Robert Schumann piano/cello piece is actually titled "Vanitas Vanitatum," but who will sue Dave Douglas for misspelling? His Latin may be questionable, but at least he didn't forget the composer's direction: "with humor"! Indeed, from the trumpet's bended notes to Black's perky miscellaneous percussion and Shepik's broad panel of sounds on the guitar, this version of a classical tune is highly playful. Nineteenth-century romantics tried to revive classical music with local folklore. The Tiny Bell Trio uses Schumann to bring some country dance feeling into their modern jazz routine. Full circle!

February 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Michael Schiefel: My Animals

There is something of Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" in this multitrack vocal recording by young German singer Michael Schiefel. Of course, some will argue it's not really jazz; yet who else but a jazz singer could coin such rhythmic sounds with his mouth, cross them in an impressive maze, and overdub a melody over the whole thing? Besides, just like this bold solo effort, today's creative Berlin jazz scene doesn't care about walls between styles. Here, Schiefel sings in English, and it swings like mad. Sometimes he does it in German and, believe it or not, that swings too.

February 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Géraldine Laurent: I Fall in Love Too Easily

It's pretty bold for a young French lady alto sax player (not the most common type of musician) to record her first CD in trio, with no harmonic instrument. But Géraldine Laurent doesn't really do anything like everybody: she came late to Paris where she played mostly small clubs, and rarely as a sideman, and all of a sudden she's the talk of the town and records for a big label. With good reason, too: she has a sound of her own – raw with a slight Jackie McLean edge to it; her phrasing is unpredictable and inventive, both when she plays the melody of a standard and when she improvises; and her repertoire includes Ornette, Mingus, and Shorter. So she can afford to start with a trio record, all the more since her partners are good musicians and have played with her long. Who said talent needed guest stars to be recognized?

February 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Elisabeth Kontomanou: Sunny

Elisabeth Kontomanou once lived in New York and played with Leon Parker, Mike Stern and Sam Newsome. Now she's back in Europe, where she legitimately became a star. But her way of singing bridges the Atlantic, for the better. Here, her deep raw voice tackles a pop hit from the '60s and makes it a jazz gem. John Scofield's funky guitar is of great help as it supports her in the intro and coda, and is particularly effective with the rhythm team as Kontomanou scats in a soulful way.

February 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Peter Erskine: Meanwhile

Who would have thought that Peter Erskine – the former Stan Kenton alumnus and Weather Report ace, one of the greats on the instrument in the USA, drummer on innumerable studio sessions – would once have a trio on equal terms with two European musicians (actually he also has another one with British pianist John Taylor and Swedish bassist Palle Danielsson!), one of them of Vietnamese origin, and the other one born in Algeria? Well, Erskine's ears and mind are obviously wide open. In this trio context, the musicality of his toms and cymbals is marvelous because the slow, intimate feel of the song he penned requires it. Lê's guitar spreads patches of colors and plays long melodic lines, the sound of Benita's bass has a deep wooden quality, and Erskine's sticks and mallets sound as if they were singing over them.

February 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Christian Escoudé: After You've Gone

The international audience may not be aware of Christian Escoudé, but his peers know better. Outside of France, he has recorded with the likes of John McLaughlin or Charlie Haden. In his native country, he is considered a great. Here, Escoudé goes back to his Gypsy roots, even if he usually doesn't want to be confined to this genre. His Gypsy trio (Sylvestre being the only non-Gypsy) both pays homage to the tradition and explores the possibilities that this setting offers to three acoustic guitar players with contemporary influences. Virtuosity, tight interaction between creative soloing and fairly traditional strumming, expressive moans and groans – this all conjures up popular cafés in the outskirts of Paris where Gypsy musicians often meet. But these definitely don't sound like orthodox followers of Django Reinhardt.

February 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Diane Schuur: Nice Work If You Can Get It

Schuur won a Grammy in 1986 and again in 1987, then picked up three more nominations over the next six years. Her 1994 CD with B.B. King climbed to the top of the jazz charts. But like many other singers in their mid-50s, Schuur doesn't quite get the attention today enjoyed by the younger crop of singers. This new release is a much-needed reminder of just how fine a singer Deedles is. The passing years have even enhanced some aspects of her singing. Twenty years ago Schuur was sometimes guilty of over-singing, belting it out to the back row in a manner more suitable for Broadway than jazz. But there is no sign of that on "Nice Work," which features a smart, intricate vocal interpretation and a nicely updated arrangement. A very stylish performance by a singer who is still at the top of her game.

February 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Carlos Bica: D.D. from B.

"Delicious Donuts from the Balkans" is the full title of this tune, opened by Carlos Bica's bowed bass before his partners join in to provide a distinctive Balkan beat and melody. Though they are from three different countries, these musicians all have a link with the downtown Manhattan/Brooklyn scene (they lived or live there), its humor, its trashy sonic approach and, in the '90s, its appetite for Balkan music. They also remind us of the influence this scene had on Berlin musicians (Bica and Möbus still live in the German capital) at the time. Played with the energy and taste that these three instrumentalists show here, this music is still fun and doesn't sound outdated, although ten years later it's not much played anymore.

February 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Antonio Faraò: What Is This Thing Called Love

Antonio Faraò's dry touch and brisk, authoritative phrasing suggest that he's not really interested in the melody of this standard. His right-hand single-note lines played at medium tempo are impressive, and the rhythm team feeds him dense support. After more than two minutes, the left hand comes adds harmonic relief and the tempo slows down a bit, giving way to some feeling. But the virtuoso mood – with two hands this time – soon takes over again. One can admire the performance from a technical point of view, but it's a bit frustrating for those who are looking for "... this thing called Love."

February 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Simon Nabatov: Simple Simon

It could be a Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim) song, with its South African-like dancing feel and melody that alludes to Protestant hymns. But Nabatov's piano, though earthy, is more sophisticated than that of the South African musician. Still, it's an interesting foray by the Russian-born pianist into a type of music that is best played with the adopted feeling. Nabatov and his partners don't mimic South African jazz. They just play this music with their soul, and manage to be very convincing.

February 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Benoit Delbecq: Bogolan

A repetitive, haunting melody in the piano's upper middle register starts the tune. When the rest of the band joins in, the song soon acquires a Monkish twist, given an airy feel by clarinet and bass clarinet. This song is mostly about melodic lines that intertwine on an earthy, repetitive structure. And it's fascinating to hear the reeds create, by little touches, new sonic landscapes over this stable melodic basis.

February 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bobo Stenson: Bengali Blue

It begins with a slow, dancing beat from the most musical drums of Jon Christensen, joined by Anders Jormin's bass, singing in its lower register. When the piano enters after more than a minute, superposing a melody plucked on muffled strings, the atmosphere turns definitely Indian. The trio explores this Asian mode at medium tempo with great attention to the sonic quality of the interaction, marvelously creating space and suspense with a remarkable economy of notes.

February 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Perico Sambeat: Barri de la Coma

Close your eyes, open your ears, and you'll almost think this is one of those Blue Note sessions with a Latin twist that were recorded in the '60s. The initial horns unison, or the trumpet solo, may be misleading. But not the "palmas" that open the tune along with the drums: yes we are in southern Spain, home of both the flamenco and Perico Sambeat, who invited his American friends to join him on this crossover session. No nostalgia, then, no revival either, but a very convincing mix of hard-bop drive and Latin rhythms played by young modernists whose common roots bridge the Atlantic.

February 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gábor Gadó: Little Bloody Song

Hungarian guitarist Gábor Gadó, though he’s been living in Paris for quite some time and has formed his quartet there, is still deeply in touch with his homeland, where he records regularly. His music is both melodic and structurally complex, mixing the modes of the nearby Orient and the harmonies of Western Europe. Gadó’s guitar has been influenced by the sounds of rock and adopts a characteristic, sinuous phrasing that’s very effective in unison with the tenor. His French and German partners fully understand Gadó’s universe and have greatly contributed to its evolution in time.

February 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ahmad Jamal: Wave (1970)

Ahmad Jamal didn’t take part in the bossa nova craze of the early '60s, so it may sound strange that he suddenly tackles a Jobim tune 10 years later. But the Pittsburgh-born pianist doesn’t treat it as a typical Brasilian song at all. The theme appears only after more a minute-long original intro based on a bass ostinato. Then Jamal repeats short parts of the melody, while varying the intensity of his touch, or mixes them with rhythmic vamps. It’s deconstruction at its best, with optimal effect.

February 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu: Clarendon Hills

In 1984, John McLaughlin put together a new band and called it Mahavishnu. He said he named it that because it had the same spirit as his Mahavishnu Orchestra. In fact, there was a behind-the-scenes effort to put the original band back together. It did not work. In the end, Billy Cobham, from the original band, did join with John for this recording. However, a rift developed between McLaughlin and Cobham at this time, and Billy did not tour with the new Mahavishnu.

The sound of this Mahavishnu was more sophisticated. It was not dirty or rough as perhaps preferred by McLaughlin's older fans. But its players were from the higher echelons. Hellborg and Forman were going places. Cobham had already been. Bill Evans had the knowledge and the ability to play side by side with McLaughlin on stage. John was now playing an early guitar synthesizer made by the Synclavier people. In concert, the Synclavier was a big hit. It was as if McLaughlin could play any instrument he wanted at any time. He would flick a few switches to start playing with a music patch he had earlier input into the device. He would play trumpet, trombone or a keyboard instrument. He could play any instrument really. It was fascinating. And he didn't play those patches like a guitar player would. He would phrase as a trumpet, trombone or keyboard player would. This set him apart from all of the other guitar players trying to work these newfangled guitar synthesizers. But hearing him play the Synclaivier was entirely different on record. You couldn't see all that stuff he was doing. So you would listen to the new recording and wonder where the heck the world's greatest guitar player was? You just couldn't hear him! The compositions were good enough musically to carry some weight. But in the end, the experiment failed. One tune, though, did overcome this obstacle.

"Clarendon Hills" was written by saxophonist Bill Evans, who had left Miles Davis to join Mahavishnu. It didn't matter if McLaughlin's axe sounded like a bagpipe on this one. (For the record, it sounded sort of like a combination trombone and Moog.) The tune was that good. "Clarendon Hills" kicks some serious ass. It is introduced with a full-on clarion call. It quickly evolves into a driving jazz-rock anthem. This band could groove! Then there is sudden calm. Evans plays a beautiful section. McLaughlin, sounding like Evans at first, takes over midstream. Sonorously, he flies above the music. He's captured a wave. The band needs to calm down to contemplate what they have just done. After some soothing electric meddling, Cobham ramps things up for the final call of this awesome horn and pseudo-brass section. It may have not been totally real. But it was totally great.

February 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Mattinale

In the late '60s, McLaughlin was an integral part of a very non-traditional jazz organ trio as a member of the trailblazing Tony Williams Lifetime. In 1993, he decided to take another bite of the apple. He brought in organ phenom Joey DeFrancesco and powerhouse drummer Dennis Chambers to join him in creating The Free Spirits. These three guys had chops to spare. The trio may have been traditional in the sense of instrumentation, but it was anything but that in action. Playing John McLaughlin compositions will do that to any band.

An introspective guitar solo opens "Mattinale." Understated yet profound, McLaughlin sweeps back and forth exposing a gentle nerve until Chambers and DeFrancesco kick in to pick up the pace and the piece becomes a lilting Spanish blues. Just as quickly, Chambers double-times it and McLaughlin and DeFrancesco are off and running to the thrilled cheers of the assembled crowd. Their speed-burning solo turns lead to a shuffle section. The accompaniment from both players is of the highest level. Over a Spanish chord progression, DeFrancesco does his best Miles Davis impression on trumpet before Dennis Chambers brings things to a close with his drum artistry. "Mattinale" is a vehicle that takes many side trips. Eventually, though, it gets you where you need to be.

Three points are taken off the rating because McLaughlin's guitar tone too closely mimicked DeFrancesco's organ.

February 26, 2008 · 1 comment

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John McLaughlin: Belo Horizonte

"Belo Horizonte" is a composition that goes back to McLaughlin's 1982 album Belo Horizonte. At that time it was played with the Translators, a quintet McLaughlin had put together comprised of three European jazz players and a classical pianist who doubled on organ/synthesizer. It was a fine European-sounding band that played this composition beautifully. In the hands of this trio, however, the same tune was quite different.

Trilok Gurtu is a master Indian percussionist who was quite familiar with the Western musical idiom. This made him the perfect drummer for John McLaughlin. Gurtu supplied much of this trio's identity. He would pound away on a trap kit and constantly add sound shadings through the use of a boatload of percussive tools including nothing less than pots of water and rubber duckies. Gurtu's playful personality brought a new level of fun to McLaughlin's music. In concert, Gurtu and McLaughlin would often provide moments of comic relief with their efforts to throw each other off the rhythm. The laughter back and forth was contagious.

In this version, "Belo Horizonte" retained much more of its Brazilian inspiration. McLaughlin's pensive arpeggios introduce the delicate theme played at rapid pace by him and the bassist. Gurtu adds the rainforest. McLaughlin's fleet-fingered solo, interspersed with quick-strummed chords, features some of the finest improvised playing of his career. Di Piazza, a wondrous bassist, plays counterpoint and call and response before soloing. What a player! The next Jaco! The uplifting theme returns as this joyful jungle trek comes to an end.

Alas, Dominique Di Piazza would not become the next Jaco. Shortly after this recording, he gave up music and spent several years in a monastery! In the last few years, he has reappeared on the scene. His amazing playing is still something to be admired. But his career momentum is now gone. That is, if a jazz bassist these days can have career momentum.

February 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Roger Kellaway: Killer Joe

Dedicated to Oscar Peterson's 1950s drummerless trios, Roger Kellaway's 2006 CD Heroes also by implication pays homage to the King Cole Trio, which pioneered the piano/guitar/bass coterie in 1937. We should immediately reassure law-&-order types, however, that the title of Benny Golson's "Killer Joe," first vamped by The Jazztet in 1960 and covered to hit effect by Quincy Jones in 1969, is a misnomer. Counselor Golson's opening recitative on the original track identifies Killer Joe merely as a ne'er-do-well ladies' man and smalltime gambler. There's no evidence that Joe is a hardcore criminal. Even so, he's obviously not someone you'd want hanging around the local schoolyard. Unless, that is, he's escorted by parole officer Kellaway with two husky deputies on guitar and bass. In that case, even the kiddies will dig this arresting (ouch!) evidence, which proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that, after a 70-year stretch, Nat Cole's instrumentation still sounds as copasetic as the day it was arraigned.

February 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Michael Brecker: Naked Soul

Sounding very much like his chief influence John Coltrane, Michael Brecker blows out some introspective and at times inspirationally searching ideas throughout this powerful piece. Allowing Brecker to fully realize his goal of self-expression, Calderazzo's piano and Metheny's guitar are intuitively almost transparent. It is Dave Holland's brilliantly inventive bass and Jack DeJohnette's muscularly driving drums that work with Brecker to achieve his own personal musical nirvana. Holland always seems to be implying the direction like a trailblazer at the head of an exploration party. Brecker's performance is eerily impressive – not because he echoes Coltrane, for he has by now found his own distinctive sound – but because he seems to have realized that inner place of expression that Coltrane so famously strived for. This is a glimpse of the possibilities that Michael Brecker could and would achieve with his horn. A short Holland solo bares his own soul effectively while a wistful DeJohnette tickles the cymbals ever so lightly. As the name implies, Michael Brecker's "Naked Soul" was intended to expose his musical soul. To this end he and his fellow musicians surely succeeded.

February 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Giacomo Gates: Melodious Funk

The only thing missing in "Melodious Funk" is that obvious rhyme: Thelonious Monk. Or maybe a felonious punk in a commodious trunk. Or an odious skunk with a coyote's junk. But we get none of these (even though there is a bit of sly Monkish movement in the melody line). But Gates makes up for it with always stylish delivery, big voice and forceful scatting. I only wish saxophonist Kindred would lay back more when Gates scats, rather than offer an alternative solo in the background. Gates continues to impress with his convivial attitudes and the bohemian ambiance of his vocalizing. When I need hep replacement surgery, I am tracking down this singer, 'cause he's got some to spare.

February 24, 2008 · 5 comments

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John McLaughlin: The Unknown Dissident

"The Unknown Dissident" is one of McLaughlin's most fully realized compositions. The One Truth Band was also one of McLaughlin's most underrated units. It did not have the power of The Mahavishnu Orchestra. But its strong identity was formed by a rhythmic foundation that allowed it to "funk a groove." This tune, however, did not fall into funk territory.

The wobbly bleating of a European ambulance's siren opens the scene. Perhaps it is Northern Ireland in the '70s. Perhaps not. It is definitely some place bad, though. A soulful, plaintive guitar and sax tell a tragic tale of someone who has been fighting for a cause and has lost. Yet there is still hope. The fight has been worth it. This prisoner's struggle, though, is over. His last brave walk is brief and final. It is now left for others to carry on the righteous cause.

McLaughlin and guest David Sanborn have a wonderful rapport. They have recorded together several times. They should do so again.

During McLaughlin's 2007 tour with his new group The Fourth Dimension, "The Unknown Dissident" was played for the first time live. Its message is the same today as it was back then. Unfortunately, it is a message that will still be needed tomorrow. So you need to listen. You really do.

February 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Acid Jazz

Ironically, I don't know if this tune really qualifies as "acid jazz." From what I understand, acid jazz is sort of a soul-funk retro music that may feature some ambient electronics and even a DJ's vocals. We certainly have the ambient electronics. And Matthew Garrison does babble into some sort of sound processor. But does this "Acid Jazz" have soul and funk? I don't think so. That would make two out of four. Ah well, close enough for government work, as they say. (Which government, they don't say.)

What we do have is a multi-part long-form jam based upon the "Acid Jazz" melody introduced on the previous Heart of Things album. This live version is miles beyond that drier studio effort. Two minutes of open exploration usher in the main theme. Chambers's constant beat supports until another long exposition from saxophonist Thomas is played out. The tension builds as the band returns en masse to the head. Then all those ambient noises and weird voices enter. McLaughlin quotes Coltrane. The spring is coiling tighter and tighter. We know this is all prelude. All hell finally breaks loose as McLaughlin and Chambers go ballistic. McLaughlin's many drumming foils have included Tony Williams, Billy Cobham, Michael Walden, Trilok Gurtu and Zakir Hussain. But his telepathy with Chambers for the last 15 years or so does not come in second to any of those other greats. McLaughlin's distorted ring-modulated rave-up and Chambers's missile lobbing threaten to wreck the place. A false ending or two is thrown in to discombobulate. Acid jazz? Maybe not. But whatever they call it, I'll take it.

February 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Diana Krall: I'm An Errand Girl for Rhythm

Fifty years after Nat King Cole's "I'm An Errand Boy for Rhythm" sped to its appointed rounds, Diana Krall's "I'm An Errand Girl for Rhythm" relaxes the tempo slightly—still fast, but more lope than gallop. After all, errand persons were by October 1995 less hyper than in October 1945, when deliveries were fueled by World War II surplus adrenaline. Even so, for her King Cole Trio tribute album, Krall remains faithful to more than just their patented piano/guitar/bass instrumentation; she respects and reflects the spirit of that consummately cool combo and its unassumingly heroic era. Krall is ideally suited for this role. Both she and Cole were superior jazz pianists who took up singing and became vocal superstars, after which their instrumental abilities were predictably overshadowed. The limelight, after all, illuminates only so much. Which makes this track especially helpful. It will delight the many fans of Diana's singing, but will equally reward those who haven't paid much attention to Krall the pianist. Her playing here is worthy of . . . well, Nat Cole himself, and that's the highest praise a hipster born in 1945 (speaking of surplus adrenaline) can bestow. If you require an errand girl for swinging, call Ms. Krall.

February 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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New York Swing: Till Tom Special

"I was hurrying homeward that holiday afternoon," wrote S.J. Perelman in The New Yorker of May 15, 1937, referring to Washington's Birthday, "pretty much in the groove, humming an aria from 'Till Tom Special' and wishing I could play the clarinet like a man named Goodman." Sid Perelman wasn't the only tomcat purring that tune. When the Benny Goodman Sextet featuring Charlie Christian recorded Sid's in-the-groove aria, John Bunch and Bucky Pizzarelli were impressionable teenagers; coincidentally, both grew up to become sidemen with B.G. and, not coincidentally, 56 years after its maiden voyage re-launched "Till Tom's Special" at the 1996 Floating Jazz Festival, where this track was captured live. (Or was it? A stupefying lack of in-person ambience persists until track's end, when what seems like spliced-in applause suddenly shatters the aura of studio reenactment. Of course, it's possible the entire audience was preoccupied on deck playing shuffleboard and arrived only in the nick of time to acknowledge the completed performance.) In any case, New York Swing's revival is so buoyantly affectionate that we suspect Christian's ghost, grinning with pleasure, and Benny's specter, dour as always, may have been stowaways for this infectiously swinging cruise.

February 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Albert Ayler: The Wizard

If ever, oh ever, a Wiz there was, The Wizard of Oz is one because . . .

Oh, sorry, wrong song! It's not that wizard on Albert Ayler's track "The Wizard." Can't look for jaunty Harold Arlen melodies on this one, folks. This is a darker wizard, more like Voldemort than Dumbledore, and one that has lots of weapons and spells at his disposal. Here are some of them: spell to make a saxophone sound like a dental drill (2:06 minutes into the track); spell to make a sax take on the sonic properties of a flame-thrower (3:58 into the track); spell to force a saxophone reed to create vibrations hitherto unknown on the planet Mungo (at the 4:43 mark), etc.

Not even Trane or Dolphy or Ornette went this far out. The raw power of this track is almost frightening in its intensity. If pushing the envelope was the essence of Free Jazz, Ayler earned his place in jazz history by pushing farther than anybody. Tain't no envelope left, my friends. To a certain extent, we have lived in a "post-Ayler" age ever since.

February 23, 2008 · 1 comment

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Cecil Taylor: Tales (8 Whisps)

This closing track from Cecil Taylor's Unit Structures LP is the most fully realized piano performance he had recorded until that time. This is also most keyboard-oriented work on the album, and shows that Taylor did not need elaborate horn parts to realize his musical visions. Although "Tales (8 Whisps)" lacks the full-scale fireworks of his solo piano work of the next decade (check out Silent Tongues to get a dose of those), it nonetheless showed that this artist was not a cerebral composer working with abstract concepts, but an energy-jazz radical whose works needed to be felt viscerally as much as heard. Sweeping, orchestral, abrasive - this stands as a significant moment in American pianism from the 1960s.

February 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dave Holland: What Goes Around (big band version)

After early recordings with Miles Davis and Chick Corea (Circle), bassist Dave Holland established himself as a leader with a long-running quartet and quintet known for complex, through-composed pieces usually including multiple odd-meter passages and collective improvisation. His most recent quintet of Kilson (now Nate Smith), Potter, R. Eubanks, and Nelson was augmented by eight more players to form a big band for the first time in 2001. Holland’s already complex quintet material is compounded here with even more cross-rhythms and thematic variation for the big band. The musicians seamlessly execute the 11/4 melody (alternating measures 6/4 and 5/4).

February 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tal Farlow: Fascinating Rhythm

Tal Farlow must not have received many Christmas cards from drummers. After establishing himself as a member of the drummerless Red Norvo Trio from 1949-1953, Farlow likewise dispensed with drummers for his mid-'50s trio albums with piano and bass. And here, 20 years later, he was still at it, shunning the company of drummers as if they carried bubonic plague in those unwieldy wheel-shaped cases they religiously lugged to gigs. Yet when a band can swing like this one does without aid of cymbals, snares, bongos or castanets, who needs a percussionist? While it's true that Tal's guitar chops in the '70s were not what they'd been in the '50s (whose were?), his playing still dazzles, especially when, as part of a prearranged unison with Hank Jones before the out chorus, Farlow plays a descending chordal glissando that sounds for all the world like some appreciative fan exclaiming, "Whew!" He took the word right out of my mouth.

February 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Oscar Peterson: Okie Blues

This track reunites the 1951 Oscar Peterson Trio, two decades hence, doing an O.P. original named for prodigal picker Barney Kessel, who was, in the words of Merle Haggard's 1969 redneck anthem, proud to be an Okie from Muskogee. But both halves of Oscar's title were equally true, for Barney's blues roots were planted deep in what remained of the Oklahoma prairie lands during the devastating Dust Bowl of his childhood. For that matter, O.P. himself—contrary to carping by such perpetual naysayers as Miles Davis—could be a convincingly bluesy pianist when he wanted to be. And here, obviously, he wanted to be. Which leaves only bassist Ray Brown, about whom nobody anywhere would dare question his ability to play anything. This is not a perfect track: at about 6½ minutes in, Barney's and Oscar's chords clash distressingly for a chorus. (Has one of Kessel's strings fallen out of tune?) But Oscar quickly saves the day with his trademark two-handed rolling tremolos. If, as Longfellow held, "Music is the universal language of mankind" (and where else but Jazz.com could you find a 210-word review that invokes both Merle Haggard and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow?), then blues is the dialect that all jazzmen must speak. The speakers here are downright eloquent.

February 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Abercrombie: Love Song

Despite being hidden amongst the pyrotechnics of the fusion album Timeless, this gentle and quiet piece of music never fails to stir my soul with its sheer sensitivity and unabashed beauty. Hearing Jan Hammer abandon the synthesized sounds that have become his legacy, in favor of acoustic piano, is a rare insight into how this European-trained musician had not forsaken his classical influences. Abercrombie, for his part, never fails to enter into the dark recesses of the mind with his concise, economical, at times Towner-esque guitar work that belies his ability to shred a tune when appropriate. In this composition, Abercrombie allows that a thought, in this case a musical love poem, can be best portrayed by the delicate interplay between piano and guitar. Abercrombie's and Hammer’s empathetic playing is like two lovers caressing each other in a musical embrace that is both poignant and uplifting. This is quite literally a beautiful and classic love song.

February 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Abercrombie: Red and Orange

Back when top young musicians embraced the jazz fusion concept, three great practitioners of their respective instruments came together to produce a seminal album that abruptly entered the genre. For some, who find this foray into fusion "corrupting," this was one of those times when no amount of musicianship or creativity would be enough to allay the criticism. This was just another side road cluttered by electronica and gimmickry that blurred the true path of acoustic jazz's artistry. But for musicians and their fans growing up in the shadows of Parker, Rollins, Coltrane et al. and wanting to blaze our own paths, this was at once a statement of independence and vision.

In this 1974 effort, guitar virtuoso John Abercrombie skillfully weaves a tapestry of sound that incorporates the talents of equally artistic impressionists Jan Hammer on keyboards and Jack DeJohnette on drums. Sharing a CD with some very un-fusion-like but poignant pieces, the testosterone-laden force of Jan Hammer's masterpiece "Red and Orange" provides a powerful contrast. We are given a portal into the inner angst that comes with trying to create something forcefully new and different. If at times it seems like this amphetamine-driven music is overpowering, that is because it has successfully channeled all the bursting energy, creativity and tortured virtuosity that these brilliant musicians could muster. DeJohnette's driving skin and cymbal work on "Red and Orange" has to be a tour de force of drumming's physicality and musicality. Abercrombie's probing guitar work is perfectly prodded to new heights by a relentless hammer – Jan Hammer, that is. The most underrated of his fusion-era keyboard contemporaries (Zawinul, Corea and Hancock), Hammer is stunning for his amazing harmonic dexterity, subtly and sonorous use of all the sounds that keyboards can yield. For those of us who grew up in this volatile era, this is music that will speak to us forever.

February 23, 2008 · 1 comment

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Carl Orr: Deep Down

Normally, English guitarist Carl Orr would be heard playing distortion-laden fusion lines possibly through various devices. Over the years, his progressive playing has been front and center in many exciting ventures. Not the least of these has been on several records and tours with drummer Billy Cobham. But on 2006's Deep Down, Orr decided to reach inside himself to explore some worlds in which distortion was not even an afterthought. Focusing his attention on the basic organ-based jazz trio, Orr featured a purer guitar sound that worked the basic blues and bossa novas. He added musicians as needed.

This track, a dedication to Orr's wife, is a relaxed bossa nova with a pleasing theme. Orr says he was trying to mimic Burt Bacharach's writing style. In any case, Orr's guitar tone is pristine and free from any affectations. His sensitive single-note runs are beautiful. The band maintains a subtle blues vibe with Whittaker in particular adding body to the piece. Orr's dexterous solo is a bit risky considering its context. But this fusion star makes it all work, both on the surface and deep down.

February 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Marbles

The behind-the-scenes story is now infamous. McLaughlin recorded the sessions for Jimi Hendrix producer Alan Douglas. McLaughlin went away. When he came back he discovered, much to his horror, that the tapes had been edited and spliced back together every which way. It was a nightmare. The story from the Douglas camp was that somehow the tapes had been damaged and editing became a salvage operation. While McLaughlin may still be upset about the whole affair all these years later, Devotion is still a prized possession in many a fusion collection.

Straight from gigs with Jimi Hendrix, drummer Buddy Miles and bassist Billy Rich joined Larry Young and McLaughlin for this outing. Despite its spacey introduction, "Marbles" is one of the most accessible pieces McLaughlin has ever recorded. Miles's thumping drums introduce McLaughlin's simple but hypnotic scalar riff. "Marbles" becomes a kick-ass psychedelic jazz-rock number. As Rich and Young continue the riff, McLaughlin plays off it every which way from Sunday. He goes pentatonic and uses blues scales to produce trebly rapid-fire lines and screeching howls. While Miles and Rich are an okay rhythm section and Larry Young provides some interest, this tune was clearly a showcase for young guitarist McLaughlin's shredding. I challenge Mr. McLaughlin to pull this tune out some night on the road. It will kill! As an interesting aside, the "Marbles" riff motif would often later appear in the music of McLaughlin's Shakti band. Of course, they would play it acoustically with an Indian twist.

February 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Joe DeRenzo: iEartoe (parts I & II)

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.

February 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Avishai Cohen: Nu Nu

In a valiant attempt to mesh the influences of Middle Eastern, classical and fusion-style music, bassist Avishai Cohen (not to be confused with the trumpeter of the same name) has produced a worthy effort. Combining the exotic sounds of the oud, an ancient Middle Eastern string instrument, and the textural use of his own bowed upright bass, together with accomplished pianist Sam Barsh and driving drummer Mark Guiliana, Cohen creates a trademark sound that is at once unusual and interesting. On this track in particular, Cohen transports the listener into a nomadic tent pitched mid-desert replete with camels and parched throats. Setting the piece's tone, Hoffman's oud deftly counterpoints Barsh's classically influenced and impressive piano work. Meanwhile, Cohen and Guiliana keep the rhythmic bottom so anchored that the listener never strays too far from the Western influences of the jazz idiom. At times, all instruments play in perfect Mahavishnu-style sync, creating a stirring sense of tension while demonstrating great virtuosity in a distinctively Eastern-influenced vein. This unusual melding of three disparate musical influences achieves a surprising degree of success.

February 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Vince Seneri: Prince's Groove

If you are a nostalgic sucker for the grooving funky sound that only a well-played Hammond B-3 with Leslie Speakers can deliver, then you will find this self-produced offering from relatively obscure organ grinder Vince Seneri and some better known friends to be just what the doctor ordered. Seneri, aka The Prince, hails from the Garden State and has seemingly been able to keep alive the tradition of the B-3 in all its funky glory. On "Prince's Groove," Seneri is joined to great effect by Randy Brecker's soulful trumpeting, sweet guitar lines from Joey DeFrancesco's sideman Paul Bollenback, and a steady beat by Buddy Williams and Gary Fritz. Throughout this slow cooker, I am reminded of the nights when you could step into almost any dark, smoke-filled Jersey club and hear the bright, clear sounds of a B-3 played by such artisans as Jimmy Smith, Charles Earland or Jimmy McGriff, not to mention dozens of less celebrated practitioners. Seneri's mastery of this band-in-a-box is substantial, and despite his manicured appearance, this boy can get down and dirty with his instrument. While not ground-breaking, this music is thoroughly enjoyable and well worth a listen.

February 22, 2008 · 1 comment

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Tony Williams Lifetime: Spectrum

"Spectrum" first appeared on John McLaughlin's Extrapolation, recorded in England in 1968. On that recording he credited himself with the composition. God knows why he decided to use the name "A. Hall" for this Lifetime record. On Extrapolation, "Spectrum" was already an energetic track. On Emergency, however, "Bam!" as TV chef Emerald LaGasse would say when adding more spice. Talk about taking a tune up a notch. McLaughlin, Williams and Young hang onto a funk-distorted electric groove as if they were cats, down to their ninth life, clinging to a high-tension wire. They are all in serious danger of either falling or being electrocuted. McLaughlin shoots off machine-gun salvos of every possible pitch and timbre. His chords are dissonant shards. Young's basslines and dirty comps fill any open space. Williams has stopped thinking and has literally morphed into his drum kit. No opportunity to swing a stick is passed up. This is gloriously messed-up music. Send the cat, the kids and the wife to bed, and turn this damn stuff up LOUD.

February 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tony Williams Lifetime: Emergency

I always have felt a bit sorry for Tony Williams. Here was a truly gifted artist who as a 17-year-old kid was playing drums for the great Miles Davis. After a few years, based upon a foresightful musical vision, he formed the jazz-rock trailblazing Tony Williams Lifetime. Perhaps even more than Miles Davis, Tony deserved acknowledgement for being a major forerunner of the fusion genre. But he never got credit for it. Among musicians, he was admired far and wide. Yet the commercial success that other contemporaries found would never come his way. I have met a few people who knew Tony, and they have indicated this bothered him his whole life. Williams certainly made a ton of bad musical and business decisions over the years that prevented him from becoming the popular solo artist he had wanted to be. Even so, this early work should have been recognized in its time to a much greater degree.

"Emergency" featured a chugging Williams, a skittering-bluesy John McLaughlin and organist Larry Young, who was playing his B-3 more like it was an early synthesizer, squeezing out sounds never before heard. This was untamed music, full of blistering runs and sudden stops and starts. From time to time the music slows to a crawl, enabling all sorts of spatial texture. Have I mentioned how awful the sound was? It was terrible! All of the instruments suffered from major distortion. This was not totally on purpose. But in a way, the sound problems gave the music an even wilder sense of abandon. Years later, punkers and jam bands would try to sound like this! While not all of this music is pleasant to listen to, that doesn't mean it wasn't good or important. It can get a little ugly when you're trying to break through. I suppose that's why some trailblazers never get their due. Perhaps with the recent success of Trio Beyond, the band put together by John Scofield, Jack DeJohnette and Larry Goldings to honor The Tony Williams Lifetime, Tony's contributions will be more widely appreciated.

February 22, 2008 · 1 comment

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Trio of Doom: Dark Prince (live)

Very briefly in the late 1970s there was a cooling down of the rhetoric between the United States and communist Cuba. During this time, it seemed natural to promote a cross-cultural event that celebrated the music of both countries. Thus, the Havana Jam was created. In March 1979, many western musicians, both pop and jazz, visited Havana to share the stages with accomplished Cuban musicians.

Trio of Doom was patched together for this event. Its three great members represented the highest in musicianship. Guitarist John McLaughlin and bass phenom Jaco Pastorius were riding the waves of fusion stardom with the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report, respectively. They had spent some time rehearsing their short set, and were ready to go on stage. When they played, however, Jaco decided to take a different route than what had been rehearsed. The music was still very well received. But it was not what McLaughlin and drummer Tony Williams expected. They were both very angry with Pastorius. McLaughlin was so incensed that he refused to allow Columbia to release a recording of the set. Columbia and the trio eventually agreed to rerecord the cuts in studio, which versions – with pumped-in crowd noise – initially appeared as part of the compilation Havana Jam. The live versions were never released. Some 30 years after the fact, Columbia/Legacy approached McLaughlin about the live performances. Three decades is a long time. McLaughlin listened to the set and found that his mind had changed enough about the performance to allow its release. In fact, he became the producer of the reissue.

"Dark Prince" (which McLaughlin had earlier recorded for his One Truth band's Electric Dreams) is a paean to Miles Davis. Williams, who had more history with Miles than John, opens the tune with a rushed enthusiasm. McLaughlin, with Jaco doubling, introduces the catchy, chopped melody. Shortly after takeoff, the two stringed gunslingers are off at a million miles a minute on an exploratory mission. They shred as only they could. Williams supplies powerful thrusts and parries. Frankly, he sounds a bit like Billy Cobham in the process. The music seems to break down a bit during the break. Is this when Jaco went off script? At the same time, these disconnected shrieks, groans and thuds have a certain interest. Is it free jazz? Or is it Jaco confusing the hell out of John and Tony who have to play along? Either scenario is intriguing. Soon the break is over and the trio resumes its regularly scheduled programming.

It turns out that when the trio later went into the studio, John, and especially Tony, continued to have problems with Jaco. Now it is thought that Jaco was in the early stages of mental illness at the time. It was too bad for Jaco and his family. And it was too bad for the rest of us. If the timing had been right and all well with Jaco, the Trio of Doom could have become a fusion supergroup of the highest order.

February 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mitchel Forman: What a Wonderful World

Mitchel Forman is one of the most inventive and skilled jazz pianists around. He plays with a deep natural instinct that allows him to get to the very core of each tune. You could first hear this way back in the early 1980s on his solo piano masterpiece Only a Memory. He is a remarkably gifted composer and a first-rate improviser and interpreter of other people's music as well.

Forman's solo take on "What a Wonderful World" is beautiful and touching. His empathetic playing focuses on the hopeful aspects of the tune while not ignoring its wistfulness. Forman delves into the nooks and crannies of this classic to expose the emotions that lie just below the surface. A well-placed accent or a carefully held note can convey just as much emotion as any word could. In that sense, Forman's playing speaks volumes. If this performance doesn't move you, I am glad I don't know you.

Forman's own fruitful solo career and outstanding work over the years with John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, Pat Metheny and many others should compel investigations into the whole of his impressive discography. "What a Wonderful World" would not be a bad place to start.

February 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tom Scott: Mercy, Mercy, Mercy

Tom Scott gathered together a very hot band for his Cannonball Adderley tribute CD Cannon Re-Loaded. With Terence Blanchard, George Duke, Steve Gadd, Marcus Miller and Larry Goldings on hand, the groove is in good hands. On this track, Scott tackles Adderley's biggest hit, "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," and keeps it in-the-pocket with a smooth, medium tempo rendition. There are no theatrics or grandstanding here, just a lot of soulful playing from all participants. Scott and Blanchard offer strong solos, but give credit to the rhythm section with its loose, airy swing. Cannonball would be proud.

February 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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McCoy Tyner: Giant Steps

Although McCoy Tyner wasn't around for the original recording of "Giant Steps," he must have played it hundreds of times with Coltrane while in John's quartet. Some 30 years later, Tyner recorded this abridged version in tribute. Over the years, "Giant Steps" has become almost the de facto rite of passage for every young jazz musician. If you can improvise over those fast and complicated changes, you have earned your jazz bona fides! In a strange way, you sort of get the same feeling from Tyner on this cut. Perhaps he was seeking the role of teacher by indicating how it should be done, giving us a truncated "Giant Steps" that focuses on the very dynamics of the changes themselves. His block-chord playing is full, fast and impressive as can be. His single-note runs over the bass changes are nothing short of brilliant. He is a true master, encapsulating all in scarcely two minutes. Our rating, however, is 10 points lower due to what appears to be an egregious edit at the 18 sec. mark. McCoy is great enough that such an edit was an unnecessary intrusion, and it reflects poorly on those who for whatever reason made the decision.

February 20, 2008 · 1 comment

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Maceo Parker: Hallelujah I Love Her So

Who knew that the WDR Big Band Cologne could swing so hard? But maybe it helped having Maceo Parker fronting the ensemble. When the conversation turns to the funkiest saxophonists in the world, Maceo has to be on the short list. He is battle tested in long service with James Brown, and has has guested with everyone from George Clinton to Prince. Just as he has done so many times in the past, Parker delivers an on-the-money solo that electrifies the crowd. Frank Chastenier boldy tries to follow with a Hammond B-3 solo, but his organ sounds likes it's belching and sputtering to me. Heck, it doesn't matter, the fans are screaming, and Maceo comes back in with a bag o' licks to beat the band. Hallelujah, I love it so!

February 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: You and the Night and the Music

The influence of Bill Russo's teacher Lennie Tristano is reflected in this austere setting of the classic minor ballad. As with many of Russo's arrangements for the Kenton dance book, this offsets a small group against the big band with solos interspersed, in this case by Candoli (with mute), Sims, Bagley and Salvador. Russo would later form his own orchestra in New York in 1960, adding four cellos to the eight brass, five sax and three rhythm format, and in effect split the group into two small ensembles that played off each other.

February 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Fascinating Rhythm

Updating the Kenton dance book was a wise idea, especially when Bill Russo became the main architect of New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm. Russo's orchestral studies on classic standards sounded like notated improvisations in some cases. "Fascinating Rhythm" pits a small group against the big band for a classic call-and-response approach, plus solos by Rosolino, Kamuca, Konitz and Holman. This arrangement was later set for voices by Ward Swingle's Singers.

February 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Carlos Santana & Mahavishnu John McLaughlin: Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord

Carlos Santana was a bit apprehensive about recording Love Devotion Surrender. He had become so enamored with John McLaughlin's guitar playing and spiritual path, that he had followed McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra around on tour. During that time the two became friends. McLaughlin introduced Santana to his guru Sri Chinmoy. Santana, who had been looking for a new direction in his life, became a Chinmoy disciple. The concept of the album would be built around the players' spiritual road and their joint love of the music of John Coltrane. (To them, this was really one and the same.) But Santana worried about whether he was up to the task of playing with McLaughlin.

Once in the studio, Carlos discovered that he had plenty to say, as this nearly 16-minute track shows. Based on a traditional hymn, it begins with some of the most expressive electric guitar you will ever hear from two disparate players. Slow melodious calls and responses dominate the opening strains. The back and forth becomes more intense. Drums and congas center the rhythm. Yasin's (Young's) organ is from the First Church of Fusion. The calls and responses escalate to full frenzy. Clearly this was music played from an altar. It all ends triumphantly with the opening theme as coda.

Carlos was not as technically gifted as John. His backing chords were not as advanced. He didn't have the sheer velocity of McLaughlin. But he had an instantly recognizable style with true soul. As much as one might pooh-pooh the spiritual aspirations of these musicians – if that is your wont – the fact remains that they themselves felt that spirit, and gave it intense expression in their music.

February 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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The Quintet: A Night in Tunisia

In theory, when you join a bunch of all-star musicians into a band you are going to get some great music. In practice, however, more times than one would expect, these gatherings of legends don't quite work. First, you have to deal with the extra-large egos that most legends have. The founding fathers on hand for this 1953 bebop reunion were certainly no exception. The spotlight has only so much room in it. Second, even assuming all are well behaved, the rehearsal time needed to bring the best cohesion into an all-star unit may not be available. This is true even of players who have performed together often in the past. These factors, and others, must be considered when listening to recordings of this nature. So, yes, this performance of "A Night in Tunisia" was not as tight as it could have been. There are open spaces and some relaxed turns that at times almost threaten to take the bop away. But jazz itself was changing. These players were not immune to that reality, and I think it shows a bit in this rendition. So add that to the equation as well. But still you find yourself listening intently as each artist displays his individual brilliance. This is history, man! These cats would be good in any era or in any genre. Even if Dizzy and Bird et al. were just going through the motions (which I am not suggesting applies in this case), they would still be great. They had it together even if they weren't that together.

February 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wes Montgomery with Wynton Kelly: Four on Six

With its catchy bass intro by the unmistakable Paul Chambers, comped in perfect sync by Wynton Kelly's piano, this Montgomery-penned smoker delivers nonstop swing from the very first note. Jimmy Cobb's sure snare and cymbal work drive the relentless beat to its natural level while Chambers anchors throughout. Montgomery's patented octave chording takes over in a stirring solo only to be followed by Kelly's brilliantly dancing response on the ivories. This piano man can surely swing. Chambers offers up a signature bowed bass solo that could easily slow the tempo, but somehow it just allows the tune to temporarily simmer, followed by a brilliantly counterpointed drum solo from the normally reserved Cobb. This is one group that plays completely in sync. Throughout, the normally showcased Montgomery seems, for once, to be seamlessly integrated into the total band concept and to great effect. The totality of purpose that these musicians so effectively demonstrate serves this classic well.

February 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Scofield: Let's Say We Did

What do you get when you mix fusion, funk, soul and bop? Perhaps a guitarist sounding like John Scofield. Add a penchant for writing quirky, often whimsical tunes that are just plain fun to listen to, and you have a very entertaining musical concept. With his dampened tone and behind-the-beat distinctive style, Scofield is always immediately identifiable. His fruitful collaboration with Joe Lovano regrettably lasted only a few years. From their first CD together, backed by no less than Charlie Haden and Jack DeJohnette, this track stands out for its loping, engaging theme. After a bassline and cymbals start things off, the memorable melody is played in tight unison by Scofield and Lovano, and then reprised several times, with only a short solo break apiece for guitarist and tenor. Doing more with less.

February 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Django Reinhardt: Mystery Pacific (aka Mysteric Pacific)

Influenced by Eddie Lang, Django Reinhardt in turn inspired Charlie Christian, Les Paul and especially many Europeans who also came out of the Gypsy guitar tradition, most notably Bireli Lagrene. He developed his original style to compensate for his crippled left hand, damaged in a fire. Django's rapid, breathtaking single-note lines at up-tempos, and his expressive lyricism on ballads were an unbeatable combination. This track is a "train song," and one of the most boisterous of such jazz treatments ever recorded. Django and Stéphane as usual share the solo time, while the rest of the Quintette du Hot Club de France lays down a fiercely driving "locomotive" foundation. After Grappelli's passionate solo, Django enters with a scintillating run and never looks back, varying his attack to great effect in a fluent, concise improv.

February 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wes Montgomery: Unit 7

Recently released as part of the Jazz Icons film series is a video of three Wes Montgomery concerts in Europe in 1965. In it, the close-up camera focuses on his unorthodox thumb-picking technique, an invaluable glimpse for students and admirers. Those who never saw him play in person wish they had been at those concerts, or perhaps at the Half Note in New York City that same year, when this track was recorded with the rhythm section that best complemented him during the 1960s. Montgomery's solo begins with inventive, careening single-note lines, followed by a section emphasizing his always highly skilled use of octaves, before concluding with an energizing display of his trademark block chords. The use of his thumb and the resultant thick, resonant sound, as well as his imaginative rhythmic variations, are the icing on the cake. Kelly, Chambers and Cobb as usual create a perfectly buoyant backdrop.

February 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Extrapolation

McLaughlin's first album was a classic some feel he never topped, a precursor to the jazz-rock movement, and a showcase for his improvisational and composing skills. Those who weren't convinced by his playing soon after on In a Silent Way or Bitches Brew, or with The Tony Williams Lifetime, would usually be referred by those in the know to this relatively obscure release. The 4-minute title track is a miniature gem on which McLaughlin and Surman each display glimpses of their power, energy, sensitivity and inquisitiveness. It sets the stage for the further brilliance that follows on this session. The guitarist's characteristic rushes of notes, effective use of space, and richly chorded passages were to be among his trademarks from here on out. Surman's swaggering baritone with its thick, rough-edged tone makes quite an impression as well.

February 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pat Martino: Catch

Martino's medical history is well known. Having suffered a brain aneurysm in 1980 that left him with no memory of how to play the guitar, he re-taught himself by listening to his own recordings. So the second time around, Martino's biggest influence was himself! His playing became progressively stronger as he continued his comeback, and Live at Yoshi's is one of the best guitar-organ sessions of all time. At his best, Martino is one of a select group of artists who can make you shake your head in awe: a virtuoso capable of acute clarity at great speed, and with the ability to seemingly execute instantaneously any idea from his fertile imagination. He swings hard and combines his predilection for both bop and soulful blues into a distinctive style and attack. "Catch," which is also on his 1994 Interchange CD, is one of Martino's best tunes, and his long driving solo is infinitely varied and rhythmically diverse. DeFrancesco has to follow this, and with Hart's relentless support is able to maintain the intensity and high creative level established by Martino.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jim Hall: Big Blues

On this dark-toned blues dedicated to Stanley Turrentine, Hall displays his advanced harmonic sense and lyricism in the delicate, clean lines of his solo. What he said of Turrentine applies to him: "He doesn't overplay, and he has a particularly effective way of placing notes." Hall is all about texture and shading, never flashy. Influenced greatly by both Jimmy Giuffre and Bill Evans, he in turn has rightfully influenced many guitarists – who in turn have inspired him. Goldstein and LaSpina also improvise exceptionally well on this track from one of Hall's best and most diverse recordings.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Grant Green: Jean de Fleur

There was an attractive freshness and simplicity to Grant Green's linear-styled playing, and his bluesy tone was instantly recognizable. Often underestimated, on fast, tricky numbers such as this track, he could surprise with the intricacy of his phrasing and runs, and the cleverness of his rhythmic variations. The fraternity of guitarists respected and learned from him. When recorded in 1963, Henderson and Hutcherson were emerging Blue Note stars, and each solos brilliantly after Green's lesson in structure and expressiveness. Harewood's drum work is both tasteful and propulsive, his fills flawlessly executed throughout.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ella Fitzgerald: I Loves You Porgy

Ella’s voice may have been the perfect instrument to express joy, but she was also a consummate ballad singer. However, while the Songbooks with their big band or string accompaniments defined Ella to a broad middle-of-the-road audience, her ability to sing virtually anything on demand often created a certain emotional distance from her material. However, in live performance she would sing her heart out, and the Rome version of “I Loves You Porgy” ranks among the very best of Ella Fitzgerald on record. It is a striking example of her getting inside a song’s meaning, something she was not normally noted for. It is almost as if she has scrubbed the song clean of any emotional thumbprints other singers may have left. In holding the song up to the light, it gleams anew, as if being sung for the first time. Her singing, with its precise enunciation, pitch and breath control, her subtle use of tonal inflection and tasteful use of vibrato, especially terminal vibrato, is exemplary, but there is also an emotional engagement with the material here that was seldom glimpsed in the studio.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington with Ella Fitzgerald: Imagine My Frustration

The appearances together in 1966-67 of Ella with the Duke Ellington Orchestra quickly assumed almost legendary proportions. What was remarkable about her performances with Ellington’s band is the way she commanded the complete respect of Ellington’s often laid-back sidemen. Even on CD, you can sense the electricity in the air as Ella comes onstage, and they respond with a superb performance. “Imagine My Frustration” was the opening song of this Stockholm concert, and from the start Ella truly wails in this passionate and powerful performance. It’s another example of how she responded to the live situation: with Duke’s driving ostinato in the background and the band taking flight, Ella’s adrenaline level soars, and with it the listener’s. Singing at a volume to compete with the band – something like that would never happen in the controlled environment of the studios – this is a shouting, roaring performance as she takes on, and becomes part of, the Ellington instrument. As Norman Granz somewhat understatedly points out in the liner notes, “I especially call your attention to how hard Ella could swing when she puts her mind to it.”

February 19, 2008 · 2 comments

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Ella Fitzgerald: Mack the Knife

“Mack the Knife” is from Ella in Berlin, one of her finest live albums. It became one of her biggest sellers and won two Grammy Awards – one for “Best Album by a Female Singer” and the other for “Best Song by a Female Singer” for “Mack the Knife.” There is an exuberance and joy in this performance that is infectious and compelling, a side of Ella seldom displayed in the recording studio. Towards the end of the 1950s and in the early '60s, Ella was at the peak of her abilities, and the warm response of the 2,000-person crowd audibly lifts her into the zone. There is a powerful sense of swing in her vocal line, almost overwhelming in its power, yet part of the charm of the piece is when she forgets the lyrics and, completely unfazed, improvises new ones on the spot – a superb example of her thinking on her feet. Incidentally, she does not miss the opportunity of doing her impression of Louis Armstrong, for years a proven crowd pleaser. It gave audiences an indefinable feel-good factor that added significantly to her in-person charm, and it can still be felt, decades later, on compact disc.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ella Fitzgerald: How Long Has This Been Going On?

When Ella addressed the monumental Songbook series – part jazz lieder, part cocktail music – not only did she re-validate American popular songs for 1950s and '60s audiences brought up in the Swing Era; but she made her statements stick, enhancing her status as an artist beyond her wildest dreams. And in return, when she sang those songs, they re-validated her and remain her lasting achievement. Many consider the Gershwin collection to be the finest of the Songbook series, praising it for its scale, its ambition, or both. It went immediately onto the Billboard chart as soon as it was released, a major feat for a 5-LP set plus an EP. However, the enduring popularity of this set comes with a caveat, since Ella only had a passing acquaintance with the lesser known Gershwin material (such as “My Cousin in Milwaukee” or “Stiff Upper Lip”) until she walked into the studio. Such circumstances could only increase her emotional distance from the composer’s and lyricist’s intentions. Yet on numbers she did know, such as “How Long Has This Been Going On?” – a minor hit for Peggy Lee with Benny Goodman in the early 1940s – Ella comes close to virtually defining the Gershwin oeuvre.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ella Fitzgerald: St. Louis Blues

While the majority of Ella’s discography was recorded in the studio, live recordings provide the most vivid studies of her art. In front of an audience with just piano, bass and drums, she came alive; it was what she lived for, and where the essence of her art was to be found. There is probably no finer example of this than her performance of “St. Louis Blues,” recorded in front of an enthusiastic audience at the Teatro Sistina in Rome. Part of a concert that lay undiscovered in Polygram’s vaults until it was released for the first time in 1988, it is memorable not only because Ella is in superb voice but also because the backing trio of Lou Levy, Max Bennett and Gus Johnson had, through regular performance, become a superbly cohesive unit. “St. Louis Blues” actually opened the concert that night, a stunning virtuoso tour-de-force whose whirlwind tempo, intensity and length (almost six minutes) could easily have been used to climax her set, rather than open it! The melodic construction of her scat singing is exemplary (including the aside “People are wondering what I’m singing. Believe it or not it’s ‘St. Louis Blues’”). This track ranks among the finest examples of vocal jazz, as Lou Levy reflected in 1990: “It was just great! So much spirit and drive on it. You could never get it if you went into the studio. If you tried in the studio it would be one chance in a million.”

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tal Farlow: Meteor

Before he became the reclusive sign painter of Sea Bright, NJ, and before his comebacks in the late 1960s and mid-'70s, Farlow was the "monster" guitarist of the 1950s, his huge hands and unsurpassed technique and imagination amazing all those who heard him. Outside of his association with Red Norvo, Tal's rapport with pianist Eddie Costa and bassist Vinnie Burke was probably the most rewarding. Costa played like a rumbling freight train, very percussively and rarely in the upper register, sometimes locking hands in unison. On the boppish "Meteor," drummerless as was their wont – although Farlow inventively tapped time unamplified – the trio's spellbinding interplay is fully spotlighted.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Christian: Up On Teddy's Hill

Eddie Durham, inventor of the electric guitar, taught Charlie Christian to play it in 1937. Two years later, Christian was hired by Benny Goodman and quickly became the most influential guitarist in jazz – a preeminence that, despite Charlie's untimely death in 1942 at age 25, he would retain for the next two decades. On this track we hear him in 1941, live at Minton's – that after-hours laboratory for the soon-to-emerge style called bebop – and already it's clear that Charlie was leading the experiment. "Up on Teddy's Hill" shows how he'd transformed his early influences (the guitarists of Texas blues and Western Swing bands, Django Reinhardt and Lester Young) into long single-note lines and harmonic progressions that were way ahead of their time. First Byas, then Guy gamely try to hold their own, but Christian's innovative multi-chorus solo is the centerpiece.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Frisell: Monica Jane

"Monica Jane" is basically a country blues, with Drewes's preaching alto improv preceding Frisell's beautifully paced, dramatic solo, replete with rich bent-note lines – surprisingly conventional perhaps for him, but a gift for the listener. Frisell, the master of soundscapes for guitar – from over the top to hardly even there – is drawn to all facets of American music, be it ragtime, Western Swing, country, marching band, the Latin tinge, folk, the compositional style of Julius Hemphill, the performing style of Jim Hall, or, as on this track, just the blues, ma'am.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ella Fitzgerald: Every Time We Say Goodbye

Perhaps the most enduring song from the whole Songbook series, “Every Time We Say Goodbye” from The Cole Porter Songbook dispensed with the big band-isms that provided the backdrop to the series. Instead, the haunting sound of oboe and strings and Ella’s liquid vocal give this piece its timeless feel. Ella could never quite understand why it was one of her most popular songs with European audiences, and to this day it is regularly played on European radio stations – not least by the BBC. The Cole Porter Songbook set effectively launched Norman Granz’s Verve label, the famous “4000” series initiated with Ella in mind. Its subsequent success when released in 1956 – it went straight to 15 on the Billboard chart, and Down Beat listed it as the second best-selling jazz album – ensured Verve's financial viability and ultimately went on to become one of the best-selling albums of all time, remaining almost constantly in print since its release.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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George Benson: Witchcraft

Benson's commercial success meant overproduced albums and an increased emphasis on his pleasing vocals, which diminished opportunities to display his full guitar prowess, except for certain concert, festival and club appearances. He maintained a realistic and sanguine attitude about all this: " People who love jazz musicians love us when we play what we want to play, and we're starving. But then, as soon as you commercialize your sound...the jazz fans and critics are down on you. Want to hear me play jazz? Pay me. Give me a million dollars and I'll make the greatest jazz record you ever heard, 'cause that's what I'd lose playing it." In April 1973 live at The Casa Caribe, he gave the "purists" what they wanted. On "Witchcraft" he digs in after Tucker's jubilant piano solo, burning through his solo with a fantastic blend of extended phrasings and dynamic chorded passages.

February 19, 2008 · 1 comment

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Howard Alden: Displacement

In Woody Allen's 1999 film Sweet and Lowdown, Sean Penn plays the fictitious Emmet Ray, the second greatest jazz guitarist of the 1930s (after Django, of course). While Penn convincingly pretended to play his stunningly executed guitar parts, they were really being performed by Howard Alden, who has been considered one of the best swing guitarists for the past 30 years. Alden is more than that, however, being equally proficient in more modern styles. For his tribute CD to Bill Evans, Alden went from his usual 6-string guitar to a 7-string with a low A so he could better deal with the rich harmonies of Evans' music. With the effervescent Moore and Harewood urging him on, Alden literally devours the challenging "Displacement" – which sounds like a cross between "I Remember You" and "Giant Steps" – with swift, roller-coaster single-note lines that take your breath away.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ella Fitzgerald: Smooth Sailing

Ella as one of the founders of rock 'n' roll? Not as crazy as it sounds after listening to this wordless 12-bar scat-and-riff feature from 1951. Since 1949 Ella had become a regular feature with Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic, effectively a touring jam session presenting some of the greatest musicians in jazz. Ella was the ipso facto star of the show, with her own prime spot as well as appearing at the climax of the show during the final jam session to swap choruses with instrumentalists such as Charlie Parker or Coleman Hawkins. Her effortless mastery of scat, sharpened and honed in such exacting circumstances, is apparent on “Smooth Sailing,” done without any rehearsal. A strong gospel-style backbeat gives the performance its swinging groove, with call-and-response patterns between voice and instruments. But listen to Ella’s free association scat, from which one phrase is lifted intact on Bill Haley’s huge hit “Rock Around the Clock,” and the final riff section, also used by Haley. Coincidence? Not really. “Smooth Sailing” was produced by Milt Gabler, who went on to work with Haley.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ella Fitzgerald: Someone to Watch Over Me

In truth, any of the eight selections produced by Milt Gabler for the 10-inch Decca album Ella Sings Gershwin would deserve a place in a list of this vocalist's finest performances. Here Ella’s great talent is seriously and conscientiously employed on material with which she was in total sympathy. She sings with confidence and a total lack of artifice, without flights of virtuosity or exercises in complexity. She does not attempt to impose an emotional dimension on what she sings, yet the success of this number lies in the way in which she sounds detached but at the same time intimate. It is achieved though a combination of impeccable diction (in which she took great pride), the clarity and purity of her voice, and precise intonation. But equally important is the creative duality between singer and accompanist. While Ella shapes the song with inch-perfect precision, Ellis Larkin’s accompaniment frames her talent to perfection, so that from wherever this song is heard, it sounds its best.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ella Fitzgerald: Flying Home

Recorded in 1945, but unreleased until 1947, “Flying Home” is a key track in Ella’s huge discography and a watershed in her career. It was the product of over two years' experimentation during live performances in extending the boundaries of jazz singing, and remains among the finest jazz vocal records of all time. In it she harnessed scat singing for its musical potential rather than exploring any subjective dimension of her singing. While on the one hand it was rightly hailed as a vocal tour-de-force, on the other it showed, for those who cared to listen, that as early as 1945 she was already aligning herself with the new thing in music: bebop. It would turn out to be one of the most important career moves of her life, but one that would take a couple of years to be fully realized.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ella Fitzgerald and the Ink Spots: Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall

The inspiration of combining the Ink Spots and Ella came from producer Milt Gabler, who had seen these artists headline a tour of the theater circuit. Although they never performed together live, Gabler thought they should, later saying, “We had Bill Kenny do the ballad and Ella swing the jazz version on the same tune. The Ink Spots were a formula presentation…having it straight and a swinging tempo. They weren’t really duet records, they were two choruses different ways, contrast.” Released in November 1944, this record went straight onto the charts and stayed there for 17 weeks, going on to become a million seller. “Ella really tears this one apart,” said Down Beat magazine at the time. “She’s never done anything like it, and her vocal is actually thrilling.” It rescued Ella’s career, which since 1941had been sliding with just one chart success (“Cow Cow Boogie”).

February 19, 2008 · 1 comment

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Ella Fitzgerald (with Chick Webb): Chew, Chew, Chew

During her performances with Chick Webb’s orchestra, Ella not only served as featured vocalist, but also stood out as the band’s cheerleader. She is audibly in evidence on live recordings, encouraging soloists and in general egging the band on to greater deeds of derring-do. Rhythm was king in the Webb orchestra, and this kind of nightly character-forming experience helped shape both Ella’s style, and, as Mel Tormé has pointed out, her “instrumental” approach to scat. “Chew, Chew, Chew,” like “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” is another novelty penned by Ella. Cashing-in on the runaway success of “Tasket,” she celebrates the merits of bubble gum. The lyrics may be forgettable, but Ella’s powerful rhythmic approach is not. Band and singer are as one riffing this tune, and it’s easy to see why she was such a success with Webb; even the radio announcer is already calling her “The First Lady of Song,” an epithet that would stick for the rest of her life.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ella Fitzgerald (with Chick Webb): A-Tisket, A-Tasket

Endearing as this performance is by Ella, it also says a lot about her as an artist. For her the song is fun. When she performed it in the 1942 Abbot and Costello movie Ride ‘Em Cowboy, it gave a unique insight into her performing persona. Difficult – impossible even – to imagine Lady Day, who was into grown-up emotions such as the end of a love affair or the discovery of infidelity, performing in this way. Yet Ella was into joy, sunshine and happiness and getting hung up on their stylistic differences somehow misses the point. Rather like a film negative, the light and the dark images perfectly compliment each other, both essential components in the overall picture. Joy too has a right to be expressed in jazz, and nobody did it better than Ella.

February 19, 2008 · 1 comment

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Louie Bellson & Clark Terry: Terry's Mood

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark made only one expedition; it spanned two years (1804-1806) and covered lots of territory. And what about the second Louie & Clark Expedition? Oh, I'm sorry, that was a different duo, drummer Louie Bellson and trumpeter Clark Terry. But though this trip took only two days in the studio, it also covered lots of territory. Bellson steps away from his drum kit and highlights his skills as a composer on this track. Terry is the featured soloist on a song that bears his name. What a delight to hear two octogenarians, great contributors to the jazz idiom, still making their mark. Terry, the subject of a recent featured interview in these pages, still plays with style and personality. I'm not sure what "Terry's Mood" was, but judging by the results, it was a swingin' one.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Uri Caine: Blackbird

Uri Caine belongs to the generation of jazz musicians whose ears have been bathed at least as much in rock and pop as in jazz and classical. No wonder, then, that in this solo record the only tunes he didn't write are a standard and a Beatles song. "Blackbird" has been covered by many jazz musicians, of course, but Caine's rendition is highly influenced by his classical background. He uses his impressive mastery of the keyboard in an utterly playful way, transforming the well-known melody into ever-changing rhythmic and harmonic shapes in front of our stunned ears.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Arkady Shilkloper: Alpine Sketch

This track is both highly enjoyable and technically remarkable. Alone in the studio with his instruments and a tape recorder, Russian horn virtuoso Arkady Shilkloper takes us on a colorful ride through his imaginary mountains. It starts out funky with a very urban overdubbed horn choir, next some kind of mountain shepherd's call summons us out to the countryside, then comes a two-horn call and response. It's physically challenging and downright funny from beginning to end. A must!

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Steve Lacy: Evidence

Monk's repertoire has been a recurring center of interest in Steve Lacy's career, and he tackled it on many occasions with different partners, often without piano. This particular case differs from others first because these tapes went unreleased for 10 years, and second because they involve a short-lived half-European band with trumpet and vibes, a rather unusual lineup for a Lacy band. Not all musicians are equally interesting here, but every time the highly original Lacy plays the highly original Monk, there's something worth checking. Indeed Lacy's solo, though rather short, is among his most convincing.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Michel Godard: C'Era una Strega, C'era una Fata

Among the new musicians to appear on the European jazz scene during the last 20 years, some have a classical background and an interest in ancient forms of music that goes beyond the Romantics and Impressionists that most jazz musicians nowadays know. Michel Godard is one of them, as is Gianluigi Trovesi, with whom he often plays. They both can seek melodies as far back as the Middle Ages, hence the ominous title of this "folia" (a traditional dance): "there was a witch, there was a fairy," recorded in a medieval castle. Starting from the simple melody stated by the accordion, then the clarinet, the three voices intertwine while progressively introducing a slow dance feel and improvisation. Not strictly jazz, some will say, but there are worse ways to explore one's roots than the method these three Europeans have chosen.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sylvain Luc: Brazil

In the Basque region where he hails from, right on the French-Spanish border by the Atlantic ocean, Sylvain Luc started out playing not jazz but all kinds of music for dancers with his elder brothers on accordion and drums. Hence this guitarist's tremendously original rhythmic and melodic approach. He can play anything from Bach to forgotten standards, and revive them all through his unconventional technique and total openness when improvising. Taking this CD's title as their band name, Luc and his partners have since 2001 created a repertoire that is always full of surprises, such as this highly creative and dancing "Brazil."

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Maria João and Mário Laginha: Há Gente Aqui

A very exotic number masterfully mixing jazz, folk and classical elements. Laginha's virtuoso phrasing on the piano has classical roots, as do Muthspiel's acoustic guitar arpeggios, and both players obviously speak fluent jazz. Gurtu's cymbal polyrhythms derive from his Indian background and from American drummers, but his tabla adds a clearly oriental color. As for João's voice, it is simply out of this world. Upbeat staccato scat singing, timbre and inflections that conjure up an animal cry, a baby's moan, an old man's grunt – she is everything and anything she wants to be, and we can't help falling under her spell.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Louis Sclavis: Napoli's Walls

A jazz band with neither bass nor drums? Check it out before you judge! One of the horns doesn't really fill its traditional role, since the trumpeter is also an expert with electronics, percussion, and a master vocalist in his own strange, noisy way. The cellist also toys around with electronics, and of course the cello can be plucked with the same supporting efficiency as a bass, or bowed with masterful classical art. And the guitar can be bowed too (but not here). In other words: expect the unexpected, as far as sounds, technique, interaction and fun are concerned.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Henri Texier: Laguna Veneta

This band is a melting pot of musicians from France, USA, Bosnia and Madagascar, each bringing something from their own culture, e.g., the vocal feel in Ferris's solo or the oriental tinge in Zulficarpasic's. Their "Laguna Veneta" in particular typifies an evolution in European jazz. Both highly melodic and structured by a haunting rhythmic vamp, it mixes familiar jazz sounds like those of trombone and drums with more ethnic ones such as the bandoneon. This tune was a hit in France in the early '90s, and for almost 10 years thereafter the "blues from the east" and other world music influences would help European jazz find its own shape, without necessarily looking across the Atlantic.

February 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Richard Galliano: To Django

It's always dicey to dedicate a tune to Django Reinhardt: the music of the Gypsy genius has been so much imitated as to sometimes sound corny, while it remains totally his own when played by Django himself. By composing a tune that revives the times when Reinhardt played with accordionists – and not violinists – and by choosing a Gypsy guitar player as the main soloist, Galliano reduced the risk of failure. Bireli is faithful to Django's spirit while never trying to imitate him, and Galliano's accordion is as soulful as one might desire. As for the New York rhythm team, they simply swing their hearts out.

February 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jorge Pardo: Caravan

A Spanish version might be expected to bring this song back home, since the Arabs (and their caravans) occupied Spain for many centuries and left traces of their culture in the arts, including music. But Jorge Pardo – flamenco guitar great Paco de Lucia's usual reed and flute player – knows better than to invoke clichés. His "Caravan" sounds quite contemporary, with a hard-toned Brecker-like tenor and an electric bass played with lots of effects. When the flamenco guitar steps to the fore, it never plays its classic role, and the percussion and berimbau weave a thick maze of metallic sounds around everything. A very Spanish version, but a most unexpected one, too.

February 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Aldo Romano: Ghost Spell

This tune is based on a very simple and soft bouncing beat, maintained throughout by the rock-steady drummer, while the pianist frolics all over his keyboard with a masterful control and sense of construction. The bass is minimal, only briefly foraying out of its 4/4 walking role. The real crazy cat here walks on 88 keys. Going from single notes to block chords, from virtuoso phrases in the upper register to earthy bass lines, from unisons with both hands to harmony and melody tackled by each, Danilo Rea never lets your ears rest. Still he doesn't show off, always keeping in touch with his quiet partners while creating a real miracle of subtly organized contrasts.

February 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Eddy Louiss & Michel Petrucciani: Caraibes

It begins as a little Caribbean melody played in unison by both instruments, and soon becomes a groovy blues with a churchy feel. Louiss and Petrucciani preach in turn with all their heart and soul, transporting the tune towards "When the Saints go Marchin' In" with such lack of sophistication that we fear both musicians are naïve. But really it's our ears that revert to the wonderments of childhood, as if being rocked in the cradle of jazz by sleights of hand from these two magicians of the keyboards.

February 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bojan Z: The Mohican and the Great Spirit

The use of electric piano, with bass as the melodic instrument, gives a totally different feel from the original to this lesser known Horace Silver tune. Bojan Z (aka Zulfikarpasic) soon switches to acoustic piano and takes the leading voice as the drums join in. He later returns to the Fender Rhodes, but in each instance he builds a relaxed, funky mood, and the interaction between the three instruments contributes to a very personal group sound – and also makes one wonder why there are so few covers of this tune.

February 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Daniel Humair: Blanc Cassé

Fundamentally this is a blues, but nobody is going to mistake the band playing it for one with roots in Chicago or Memphis. Nor even, for that matter, downtown Manhattan or Brooklyn. These musicians are obviously European, yet have a good knowledge of this music's history. Daniel Humair himself – leader and eldest member of the band – has often played the blues with American musicians in past decades. But now Humair has chosen younger partners (hence the band's name) to help him look for a specifically European way to carry on a legacy that now belongs to the whole wide world. Some may call Baby Boom's approach intellectual, but others will hear musicians who are busy searching, off the beaten commercial track. And isn't it what most jazz musicians have always done, regardless of nationality?

February 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pierre Dørge: Lost in the Desert, I See A .../Caravan

Listen closely and you'll hear elements of Juan Tizol's "Caravan" right from the start of this iconoclastic reinterpretation by Danish guitarist Pierre Dørge and his New Jungle Orchestra. Obviously, by its very name the band hints at Ellington's repertoire from its "jungle" period. Here, however, in addition to a trombone paying homage to Tizol, a rock-like beat and oriental horn riffs over a Zappa-ish lead guitar carry our lost caravan through a desert fantasy and deep into a sonic jungle. Still, isn't this is an appropriate way for a Danish band to assert its identity on American soil? With a playful version of a classic tune performed in the city where it was born six decades earlier?

February 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Richard Galliano: You Must Believe in Spring

French Touch, indeed: Richard Galliano, the most internationally renowned French jazz accordionist, playing a tune by the most internationally renowned French songwriter, on an instrument often associated with traditional French popular and dance music, and with French sidemen at that. But we're not in a "back to the roots" trip. Except for a couple of bars where the accordion plays overdubbed lines, this is basically a trio performance, which is rather unusual for accordionists. After the theme is stated in horn-like single lines, the accordion launches into wild chorusing with thickly grooving rhythm support. Galliano clearly means to assert his instrument's suitability as a vehicle for jazz and improvisation, an assertion made all the more remarkable in the context of a pleasant popular waltz that could easily be handled more conventionally. If you're not convinced after this, you may never be.

February 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Markus Stockhausen / Ferenc Snétberger / Arild Andersen / Patrice Héral: Gommé

This beautiful melody played in a swift 6/8 rhythm sounds deceptively simple in the hands of virtuoso trumpeter Stockhausen, the son of German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. Of course Markus has played contemporary music with his father, and baroque, jazz and folk music with his own ensembles. So everything flows most naturally from his horn, and his unisons with Hungarian Gypsy acoustic guitarist Snétberger are stunning. Besides, the French-Norwegian rhythm team that supports them is so melodic in its approach that one isn't surprised to learn that they also deal with folk music. This is a good example of an all-European band that found a convincing way to play jazz that's essentially based on their own local roots.

February 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Christof Lauer: Sweet and Sentimental

At the end of the '80s, as here on his debut recording, Christof Lauer was still deeply influenced by Michael Brecker. It is felt both in his tone and his phrasing throughout the 2-minute unaccompanied intro that begins this tune. But he is supported by a trio of seasoned musicians who help bring out Lauer's more personal qualities as an improviser, and contribute to the high level of the performance. Taking a path common to many European tenor virtuosos – one that involved digging into his personal feelings that were by then already budding – Lauer has since blazed his own trail to become one of Europe's major voices on the instrument.

February 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Carsten Dahl / Arild Andersen / Patrice Héral: Escapes

This European trio joins on equal terms a Danish pianist, Norwegian bassist and French drummer in a musical concept with roots on both sides of the Atlantic as well as in the northern and southern parts of the Old Continent. In what they play, one hears traces of Jarrett, the French Impressionists, and ECM's "Nordic sound," but they blend these influences in such a personal way that their music never seems contrived. Above all, as in the case of this track, it is full of the surprise that one legitimately expects from jazz.

February 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tord Gustavsen: Where We Went

Over the course of six years and three records, Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen and the members of his trio have kept and developed the same aesthetic. But this track from their latest CD shows that their conceptions are not as monolithic as some pretend. No ethereal "Nordic sound" here, but a set of dense chords evolving on a compact rhythm pattern. The simple melody is close to hymns that can be heard in the Scandinavian churches as well as in the gospel tradition, and strangely enough the touch of lightness in this tune is brought by the drumsticks striking the cymbals. Their musicality connects this very earthy song with the air.

February 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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George Mraz: Aspen Leaf

For those who may have forgotten that George Mraz's original first name is Jirì, and that he was born and raised in the Czech Republic, this tune is a perfect reminder. It's a beautiful Slavic ballad, where the bassist merges his talent as a jazz accompanist and soloist with his roots in his native Bohemia region. The sound of the cymbalom – a local hammered string instrument – fits perfectly in this context and brings a light exotic touch. The lyricism of the singer as well as the pianist's beautiful touch and voicings give us an idea of the amount of lesser known talented musicians who live behind the former Iron Curtain, yet are able to smoothly interact with such world-class musicians as Mraz and Hart.

February 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Enrico Rava: Cromosomi

This is the type of lush Mediterranean ballad that you would bet is an Italian standard. Yet it is an original Rava composition, which he and his partners play with such feeling and conviction that it sounds totally idiomatic. No need to overplay, even during the improvisations, to give an impression of serene joy, of congenial getting together, of attention to sound and details that remind us of all that Italy has produced – and can still produce – in the fine arts, including cooking and "art de vivre." Don't they call easy living "la dolce vita" over there?

February 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Louis Sclavis: Duguesclin

Du Guesclin was a French knight from the Middle Ages, and the title of the tune must be related to the idea Sclavis has of him, since the melody vaguely alludes to medieval songs. But it will take almost half of the track before it is heard, since the bass clarinet first plays a long, partly oriental intro on a repetitive beat by the bass and drums. A typical way to build a heavy tension, then released during an upbeat ad-lib part, where keyboards and reeds interact in a rather abstract manner before the melody is restated. This was more or less Sclavis's hit tune at the end of the '80s, and it may sound a bit outdated now. But still, it shows the budding compositional skills of one of the most highly regarded European musicians.

February 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wes Montgomery & Wynton Kelly: No Blues

Recorded "live" performances usually fail to generate the excitement that actually being there gives a listener. In this rare exception, we are propelled back to that night in 1965 when a very special musical experience was delivered. Backed by one of the most underrated rhythm sections Miles Davis ever assembled, Wes Montgomery performs some of his most stirring guitar wizardry. This band swings throughout the whole album, but Wes's solo on Miles's tune "No Blues" is a masterpiece. Rhythmically driven by Chambers's anchored and relentless basslines, Cobb's beautifully sympathetic trap work, and Kelly's inimitable comping, Wes lets loose – sans the lush orchestrations of his later work – in a way that was rarely captured on record. His creativity still impresses after all these years. As the album notes indicate, Wes was so inspired that Wynton lays out for a spell just to marvel at the guitarist's virtuosity and enthusiasm. This is one of the finest examples of a live, smokin' performance by a quartet that obviously enjoyed playing together. It really shows.

February 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Larry Young: Testifying

Organist Larry Young used to go over to John Coltrane's house and jam with him. But he was best known for his groundbreaking fusion performances with Tony Williams Lifetime, and his later appearance with John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana on Love Devotion Surrender. In the late '70s he put out some far-out solo material that never quite caught on. At age 37, he died tragically from pneumonia.

Fusion fans were used to Young playing notes that were so distorted and high-register that only dogs could hear them. But he didn't always play that way. Many fans were blithely unaware of Young's straight-ahead roots. Young's earliest recordings were very much standard jazz and blues based. Part gospel, part jazz and mostly blues, "Testifying" was an early indication that Jimmy Smith, Young's more famous organ contemporary, had something to worry about! Young brought a gutbucket soul to the blues. The tune's catchy melody was nothing special. But the young Young (I couldn't help myself) used it to slowly grind some meat. Throw in some simple fillers from Schwartz and drummer Smith, and you end-up with some fine ground chuck.

February 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Weather Report: Mr. Gone

Scores of jazz and fusion fans hated this album. Down Beat gave it one lonely star. Even many Weather Report fans despised it. At best, Mr. Gone was called an experiment that did not work. Zawinul later acknowledged that mostly it was him tinkering with his gadgets in the studio trying to get new sounds.

At the time, I heard the title cut on the radio and dug it enough to get the album, the rest of which sucked. But over the years, every once in a while, I would pull out the record, now a CD, and listen to that one track. Electronic sequencing was not yet available, but Zawinul made impressive use of the primitive tools of his day. After an initial foray into ambient noise, Zawinul kicks in with the Oberheim Bass. The infectious bassline and accompanying synthesized elements sound like a robotic marching band. I don't mean a bunch of stiff marchers. I mean actual robots marching. The melody is hidden in a sinister groove. The tune becomes hypnotic. Improvisation seems barely existent. Williams uses his brushes on cymbals to add a little color. Despite the listed credits, Wayne Shorter and Jaco Pastorius cannot be heard. This is really Joe Zawinul in charge. He is the ultimate drum major.

For this review, I re-listened to the album in its entirety. I found myself quite liking it. It is actually very creative. Sure, a vocal or two could be dropped. But Mr. Gone no longer sucks. The music hasn't changed. I have. Maybe you have, too.

February 16, 2008 · 5 comments

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Oscar Peterson: When Lights Are Low

Traversing the shortest distance between two points, a young musician named Oscar Peterson derived not only inspiration from his idol Nat King Cole, but also the instrumentation and even an instrumentalist from Nat's trademark late-'40s combo. There was, however, one notable difference. When Oscar's original guitarist (Irving Ashby, formerly of the King Cole Trio) was succeeded by Barney Kessel and, a year later, Herb Ellis, Peterson's bands became racially integrated at a time when that was fraught with difficulties, not to mention danger.

In 1957 we find the O.P. Trio live in Chicago, presumably out of danger and indisputably in their prime. Although Oscar often set house-on-fire tempos, the better to show off his blazing technique, he was more appealing—to this listener, at least—when not whizzing by in a turbojet flurry of flash and filigree. Consider as evidence this decaffeinated version of Benny Carter's delightful "When Lights Are Low." The opening is so quiet, we can hear Oscar's shoe-leather metronome beating beneath the melody. Of course, after Ray Brown's witty upward glissando and Ellis's bongo-style punctuation rouse the attentive and appreciative audience, excitable Oscar can't help but fire off enough double-time volleys to impress the impressionable. Soon, fortunately, calm is restored for a relaxed landing right on schedule at O'Hare. How rare is that?

Sidebar: This track's deceptive original album packaging bears explanation. The Oscar Peterson Trio at the Concertgebouw, it was titled. Which is all well and good, except that the Verve LP was recorded entirely at Chicago's Civic Opera House, a long way from Amsterdam. According to urban legend, Verve's front-office secretary then was Miss Louella Litella—you guessed it: Emily's maiden aunt. Told to acquire a cover photo of the Windy City, she ordered instead "a windmill that's pretty." Declining to throw good money after bad, Verve retitled the album and ran the picture. If this account is not strictly true, then, as Emily herself regularly admonished: "Never mind."

February 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jim Hall: Things Ain't What They Used To Be

It's a matter of historical record. Jim Hall was born in Buffalo. What we can't figure out is which section of Buffalo produced such a bluesy jazz guitarist. Is there a Delta buried beneath all that Lake-effect snow? On this track from his debut as a leader, Hall is joined by another New York native, bassist Red Mitchell, and Indianapolis's Carl Perkins on piano (no, not the rockabilly originator of "Blue Suede Shoes") for a composition by Mercer Ellington, who like his somewhat better known papa was born in Washington, DC. Amazingly, this city-slicker confederacy of Yankees yields such easygoing, laid-back blues as would make even dyed-in-the-cotton Mississippians tap a toe or two in approval. Mitchell's solo is an especial broken- slatted front-porch down-home delight.

THIS JUST IN:  We can now report that as a child Jim Hall moved with his family to Cleveland. Now that explains everything.

February 15, 2008 · 1 comment

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Frank Sinatra: Summer Wind

For some reason, every time I hear this song I think of Chicago and the winds blowing off Lake Michigan. I can feel the warm winds that soothe and the bitter winter winds that freeze your face and cut through you like a knife as you walk the downtown streets. This feeling is quite contrary to the facts on the ground. The lyrics "across the sea" don't exactly describe Lake Michigan. Plus there is an extreme lack of "golden sand" upon its shores. I have also read that Johnny Mercer's lyrics actually refer to the "Sirocco" winds, as the Italians call them, that blow from northern Africa into Europe. My imagination takes another hit as Sinatra's version of "Summer Wind" is the opening soundtrack theme of the great movie The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984). Greenwich Village, of course, is in neither Chicago nor Italy. But, hey, at least the film is about some Italians! So now the evidence points towards a wonderful summer at the Venetian Riviera.

In any case, and with all due respect to serious Sinatraphiles who may feel differently, this is the best performance of his career. Nelson Riddle's arrangement, beginning with the fantastic organ intro, is as cool as cool can be. Then Frank enters, even cooler! His message is forlorn but his delivery is smooth, measured and calm. He acknowledges that he can't sleep with the memory of a lost love. But you never get the feeling that he won't find another. There is always next summer in Chicago. Or wherever . . .

February 15, 2008 · 2 comments

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Vince Guaraldi: Fenwyck's Farfel

Even before he sprouted the mustache that made him a star (well, his 1963 hit "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" may also have had something to do with it), Vince Guaraldi could cook. In this case, rustling up a tasty tureen of every mother's favorite cure-all, noodle soup. "Fenwyck's Farfel" didn't make Vince any dough, but it showed how well he could use his noodle. Letting the broth simmer at an easygoing pace over the low flame of a minor blues, Guaraldi and guitarist Eddie Duran stir in just enough funky flavor to please even the most particular palate. If this warmly nourishing track doesn't get you up and off to work or school, something must be seriously wrong. In that event, Mama had better admit defeat and call the doctor—or the undertaker.

February 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marc Copland / John Abercrombie / Kenny Wheeler: Lights Out

It is a rare treat when three musical minds find common ground and are able to create a soundscape that defies categorization. Pianist Marc Copland has done just that with the beautifully rendered melding of the fine and sensitive textural work of guitarist John Abercrombie and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. These three artists magically weave an eerily compelling movement of wonderfully vivid aural tones that transport the listener into another place. The deliciously sparse melody is never lost while these three magicians dance through their own individual interpretations of Copland's composition. Abercrombie's trademark probing guitar lines lead the listener wistfully along until we enter Copland's world of shimmering piano virtuosity that is familiar in its form but somehow unlike any other. Wheeler's hauntingly muted trumpet delivers just the right amount of tension counterpointed brilliantly by Copland's relentlessly somnolent chording. All the while Abercrombie teases out deftly underplayed guitar comps that fit perfectly. This is pure aural magic.

February 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Return to Forever featuring Chick Corea: After the Cosmic Rain

The Return to Forever group that recorded Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy was Chick Corea's second edition of that unit. RTF's first incarnation had been a mostly acoustic ultra-hip Latin jazz ensemble. But, in an effort to play more electric music and connect with a larger audience, Corea pared the group down to him and Clarke, then added drummer Lenny White and guitarist Bill Conners. This decision was very much based on the tenants of Scientology (which Corea had, mostly unbeknownst at the time to the general public, embraced) that stressed communicating one's message to as many people as possible. Many of Corea's new song titles now related to the stories and concepts of Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard.

The music maintained a Latin undercarriage, but RTF was now playing in fusion's big leagues. Thirty some years out, "After the Cosmic Rain" is instantly recognizable as a Stanley Clarke composition. Its catchy hooks, soaring phrases and many theme changes would later become Clarke trademarks. A simple bass riff begins the tune. The other players enter en masse and climb up a ladder. The structure of the piece allows enough room for the talented musicians to take explorative solos and for Clarke to do so in an extended and jaw-dropping way. In places, Corea sounds much like his contemporary Jan Hammer. The interplay between Corea and Conners, who was a fine fusion guitarist, is especially pleasing. White's drumming is of a high-caliber. The tune ends as it began, flying out into space.

"After the Cosmic Rain" is very representative of Return to Forever's best work. But this lineup would be short-lived. Al Di Meola would replace Conners for the very next project, and the band's sound would change again.

February 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sara Jones (with The Young Brothers): Skylark

Here is another gem from the bins of the self-produced. This disk is even out of stock at CD Baby, so you know it won't be easy to find. But thank heavens for (legal) downloads. Jones was first place winner of the 2004 Billie Holiday Vocal Competition, and it's easy to hear why. She has great intonation, impeccable phrasing and sings with deep feeling. She is helped along by Tim Young's smart and sensitive piano work —his comping shows a great knack for reharmonization. Some singers might be thrown off their game by all the intricate passing chords he tosses out, but Jones is not to be deterred. She grabs hold of this song's inner life and makes it her own. Many celebrated vocalists have tackled "Skylark" over the decades, but Jones can withstand comparisons with these past masters. A talent this large deserves a bigger stage.

February 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Janita: No Words

Crossover projects like this run the risk of pleasing no one. Too jazzy for pop fans, and too pop-oriented for jazzcats. Is there a market in the middle, where pop, jazz and world music all meet together, but don't succumb to the mind-numbing sameness of smooth jazz? I hope so for Janita's sake. She has built her Seasons of Life CD on a strong foundation—great melodic material, well sung and stylishly played. This Finnish-born singer enjoyed some successes at a very young age, and had toured extensively around her native country before her 17th birthday, but she decided that a big career required a move to New York. This 2006 releases suggests that she made the right move, and even if it hasn't made a splash, it has left behind some very big ripples. Janita reminds me of Basia, who also elevated the crossover category for a spell in the late 1980s. And like Basia (born Basia Trzetrzelewska in Jaworzno, Poland), Janita has assimilated a large dose of the Brazilian idiom into her music. They both even dropped their last names, just like a Brazilian World Cup star. Call it the North Europe bossa nova, if you will, but the sound has a crisp rightness that begs for airplay.

February 14, 2008 · 1 comment

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David Linx & the Brussels Jazz Orchestra: Black Crow

The name David Linx may hardly register on the minds of American jazz fans, but that is their deficiency, not his. This Belgian singer has been building an outstanding body of work for many years, distinguished by his remarkable voice, interpretive skills and emotional honesty. He can sing, scat or even - as on "Black Crow" - dish out a fast-talking rhythmic monologue. On the Changing Faces CD, he joins forces with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, and their reworking of this Joni Mitchell song is fresh and invigorating.

February 14, 2008 · 1 comment

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Tierney Sutton: Get Happy (version one)

Tracks like this are perhaps a sign that postmodern jazz has run its course. When we start interpreting lyrics to evoke the exact opposite of their meaning . . . hmmm, this is where the shallowness that underlies many of the postmodern musical games goes just a bit too far. Yes, let's take Harold Arlen's bright, optimistic "Get Happy" and perform it as if it were a lugubrious dirge. What's next? "Lush Life" as a polka? "Take Five" in 3/4? When cleverness becomes an end in itself, almost anything is possible.

I sense that Sutton has been listening to Patricia Barber, who also takes great chances with her songs. But where Barber aims for a pleasing ambiguity, this track is heavy-handed and obvious; as is, for that matter, the idea of recording 13 songs about happiness, many of them quite melancholy. If this performance were a person, I would send it to a shrink. But barring that, my advice is to leave it shrink-wrapped.

February 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Maria Rita: A Festa

Maria Rita has an impressive lineage. Her mother was the late singer Elis Regina, not a household name in the U.S. but a legendary figure for those who love Brazilian music. Her father is pianist/arranger (and Grammy winner) César Camargo. Her brother is Pedro Camargo Mariano, who has a few hits to his credit, too.

Maria Rita, however, impresses not just with her family tree, but especially with her voice, which is light and airy yet full of vitality. Here she takes one of Milton Nascimento's finer compositions, "A Festa" (translates as "The Party"), and makes it totally her own. Some have compared this singer to Ella Fitzgerald, and to some extent she shares the latter's clean intonation and luminous delivery. Ah, if only the U.S. were more like Rio, where music of this quality also sells well. This song was a huge hit in Rio, and deserves an attentive global audience.

February 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Hendrik Meurkens: Hot and Stuffy

In a unique combination of bebop sensibilities and virtuosity all rooted within the confines of Brazilian rhythms, harmonica wizard Hendrik Meurkens showcases brilliant technique in a refreshingly different approach to this sparsely used instrument in jazz. With a clear nod to the tonal influence and facility of the great harmonica virtuoso Jean “Toots” Thielemans, Meurkens soars his way through this self-penned tune with Parker-like riffs. He and saxophonist Rodrigo Ursaia track each other flawlessly on this burner’s intro in a fashion reminiscent of Dizzy and Bird on some of their early bebop classics, but with a decidedly Brazilian tinged rhythm section. Meurkens establishes his credentials as both a composer and a wildly inventive player. While he also plays a respectable vibes on several tracks it is his stunning chromatic harmonica work that sets this artist apart.

February 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Return to Forever featuring Chick Corea: Excerpt from the First Movement of Heavy Metal

On "Excerpt from the First Movement of Heavy Metal" Corea's keyboard introduction is one of high drama worthy of any classic horror or mystery film soundtrack. It is a powerful opening statement of a tune that will last less than 3 minutes. But, in that short time, the piece manages to pack a wallop. As Corea posits the theme, a young Di Meola enters over Corea with a wicked scorching electric guitar. Drummer White kicks in with some straight-ahead power drumming as Clarke lays out a big fat fuzzy bass line. After a brief Corea synthesizer turn, the tune erupts upward culminating in Corea revisiting the theme he established early on.

I think that Jazz.com's mission to review each jazz tune, rather than each album, is a unique and valuable addition to the world of jazz knowledge. But things don't happen in a vacuum. I believe that about songs, too. A finely crafted album is not just a hodgepodge of tunes. It is a collection of performances that should be placed in a carefully considered order that gives the listener the best impression of the total work. In that way, producing good albums is not so different from the placement of great artworks for an important exhibit. Certain art is located next to other art so that patrons can enjoy the overall exhibition in its finest light. My point is simple. "Excerpt from the First Movement of Heavy Metal" is best appreciated if you also listen to the tune before it and the tune after it in their intended order.

February 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marty Sheller: The Route 44 Flyer

Marty Sheller is best known for his work as trumpeter and musical director for Mongo Santamaria. His solo feature on "Watermelon Man" resulted in one of the biggest jazz crossover hits of the era. But even with a gold record to his credit, Sheller is far from a household name. Instead he has developed his reputation among insiders who pay attention to the small print in the CD booklet. Fans and friends prodded Marty, over the years, to front his own band, and he has finally gratified them with this CD of hot charts.

As an Italian-American, I am proud to see a Latin jazz track where the soloists are named Franceschini, Magnarelli and Porcelli. (Remember, Italy was the first Latin country.) But my Hispanic roots also dig the rhythm section of Hernandez-Rodriguez-Cherico-Berrios. Mix-and-match cultures are also part of Sheller's arrangements, and even he splits hairs over the lineage. "I don't consider this to be a Latin jazz record," he comments. ""It's a jazz record with some roots in Latin music." But whatever you call it, "The Route 44 Flyer" is nine minutes of joy. The whole band plays with fire, but Franceschini's tenor solo deserves special mention.

February 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Diana Krall: I Was Doing Alright

I am not a big fan of retro jazz - playacting which finds jazz singers adopting the mannerisms (and often the attire and hairstyles) of an earlier decade. But Krall and company do such a fine job with pre-bop jazz stylings, in a Nat-King-Cole-ish way, that I have to doff my hat (a 1940s high-crown felt fedora in this instance) in their general direction. It helps that this rhythm section has a great sense of time. They can swing at any tempo, and they let this song come to them, at its own ambling pace. I prefer to stay in the present, and hope to get to the future one day at a time, but if I ever opt for a Truman-era mood, this will be the first track on my playlist.

February 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Return to Forever featuring Chick Corea: No Mystery

The better fusion bands would always take a few moments or so on their records or in concert to show off their pure virtuosity. Electronics can cover a lot of bad notes. But in delicate or intricate acoustic music, a flubbed note could stick out like a liberal on Fox News. These bands would risk playing a beautiful melody in order to demonstrate that they knew as much as their jazz forefathers about musical tradition – maybe even more. It was reverse machismo. When loud fusion bands unplugged to lower the volume, that's when they were showing off most! When bad bands tried this, it was a cosmic joke. When great bands did it, the result could be transcendent.

Chick Corea's Return to Forever could be such a unit. "No Mystery" is a beautifully realized composition. Interwoven with the delicate fluttering of Corea's keys and Di Meola's strings, the tune is performed in several movements. It is filled with highly elaborate flights of joy and more somber tones as Clarke bows his upright. Percussionist Lenny White provides rhythmic texture while never pounding away on a single drumhead. Sure, lots of this music was written out and improvisation was at a minimum. "No Mystery" is even more classical than it is jazz. But performances like these set Return to Forever and other such bands apart. They expected their audiences to appreciate good music in all of its forms. If they had to teach their new rock fans this fact, that is what they were going to do. A little showing-off during the lesson never hurt anybody.

February 13, 2008 · 1 comment

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Billy Cobham: Spanish Moss - A Sound Portrait: Spanish Moss

"Spanish Moss" appeared as Part 1 of a suite on Crosswinds and is extracted from that arrangement for singular review here. The weird thing about Spanish moss is that it is not a moss at all. It is actually a very beautiful flowering plant that hangs from trees. It is very common in the humid southeastern United States and spreads far and wide to such places as Argentina. What importance this had to Billy Cobham in naming this tune is unknown to me. But there may be a clue or two in the music.

We first hear the winds of an imminent thunderstorm. Shortly thereafter, a mission bell is heard in the distance. There are other sounds, lost in the wind, beckoning us to a sanctuary. We arrive at a Spanish mission surrounded by southern live oaks draped in Spanish moss. We are greeted with open arms and invited inside. We are fed. We drink. We then relax to the strains of quasi-Latin music.

There is nothing too heavy here. There is no pyrotechnic showboating from Cobham, Duke or the Brecker Brothers. It is just good melodic music with 90% of its root system buried in jazz ground. Strangely, Spanish moss has no root system. But I am still sticking with my metaphors.

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Billy Cobham: The Pleasant Pheasant

Billy Cobham made a 90º turn after his highly successful Spectrum fusion album. When the follow-up Crosswinds was released it did not come close to garnering the critical praise or commercial success of his debut record. There were several reasons for this. First, for better or worse, Billy displayed far less muscularity behind the drum kit. Instead, he focused on atmospherics and texture. Second, there was considerably less rock component in the mix. He brought in the horns of the Brecker Brothers and Garnett Brown. The fine guitarist John Abercrombie was asked to play pieces that did not provide the wide-open outlet Cobham had given Tommy Bolin on Spectrum. George Duke was not Jan Hammer. The end result was an album that seemed to have only a couple of toes in the waters of the new and exciting jazz-rock ocean, and thus did not catch on with the rock side of the fan base. However, one tune from Crosswinds would have sounded right at home on Spectrum.

The "Pleasant Pheasant" is Latin-funk in nature and is propelled by an aggressive bass line riff from John Williams and rock-steady drumming. It allows Michael Brecker to really blow. Duke also stretches out on synthesizer. The horns play unison riffs over Pastora's conga rhythms. The simple but catchy theme is revisited often. At one point, Cobham plays a multifaceted rock solo on top of it. The tune fades out even as it gains energy.

"The Pleasant Pheasant" did not make Crosswinds into Spectrum. But Crosswinds had a certain jazz charm that has been unduly overlooked.

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Max Roach: Blues Waltz

This edition of Roach's quintet doesn't get the same attention that his earlier band with Clifford Brown has received. Yet this unit stands out as one of the best hard bop bands of the decade. On "Blues Waltz," Sonny Rollins demonstrates his growing maturity, Dorham plays at top form, and Roach picks up so much steam on his drum solo that you will forget that the 3/4 rhythm ever flourished in elegant Viennese ballrooms. The hidden gem here is pianist Billy Wallace, a great two-handed player who all but disappeared in later years. Shall we waltz?

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris Anderson: Where or When

Anderson is perhaps better known by reputation - as a mentor and teacher to Herbie Hancock - rather than for his own piano work. This is a shame. But the record labels bear most of the blame here. Very little of Anderson's music was recorded. Try to find a copy of his 1961 trio recording . . . Good luck, my friend! This 1987 solo piano session is a little easier to obtain, and is worth the effort. No pianist of his generation had a more profound sense of jazz chord voicings, and this version of the Rodgers and Hart standard is a textbook of harmonic reconstruction. If you've got the ears for big, thick keyboard textures, this artist is for you. In an age in which harmonic minimalism was on the rise, Anderson was the king of the maximalists.

February 12, 2008 · 1 comment

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Lester Young: All of Me

Propelled by Jo Jones's dynamic sticks, this tune (originally from the album Pres and Teddy) finds Pres in great shape, far from the brooding mood that was sometimes his at that period of his life. No wonder, when he's so well surrounded by familiar partners. His two solos – before and after Wilson's – are marvelously built and inventive, and Jones is most supportive and empathic all along, up to the "fours" he trades with the tenor. In fact, on this track, Papa Jo may be the second great of this master's quartet, and it's a wonder to hear the way he switches to brushes without losing a bit of drive behind the piano solo.

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sonny Rollins: There Is No Greater Love

Recorded "way out west," as the album title indicates, this trio version of "There Is No Greater Love" is a very poised and brooding one that finds Rollins in a meditative mood, due perhaps to the change of climate and partners. His tenor strolls through the chord changes with a heavy gait that gives weight to each note, and Brown's bass slowly walks by its side as do Manne's sparse brushes. A vision of a love tune that is rather far from the light and radiant image the West Coast usually projected at the time.

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mark Murphy: Angel Eyes

Introduced by an ominously repeated pattern from the brass and guitar that would suit the soundtrack of a film noir, Murphy's version of this tune allows him to display both his vocal talent and taste for drama. His rendition goes deep into the meaning of the words, and Ernie Wilkins's arrangement enhances this choice by weaving blues undertones in a thick instrumental fabric under Murphy's dark and expressive phrasing. Jazz singing has rarely been so visual and evocative with such an economy of means.

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: The Way You Look Tonight

This version of the standard is close to ideal, from its contrapuntal opening by Getz and Raney to the melodic and rhythmic fluidity of the up-tempo sax solo, incisively punctuated by Jordan's piano. Getz is obviously the main focus, but his improvisation is totally devoted to enhancing the song's natural beauty. So much so that his highly inventive embroideries on the chord pattern sound like natural extensions of the original melody. "The Sound," indeed, but the ideas, too.

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Greg Osby: Indiana

Here, the melody of "Indiana" is more a pretext for exploration and improvisation than the real center of interest, all the more since no harmonic instrument that could allude to the song's chord pattern is involved. Osby starts on the alto in a brisk, rather Steve Coleman-like manner, after which Carrington's powerful, dynamic drums enter, next Colley's bass brings some earthy foundations, then comes Osby again on overdubbed clarinet. And for 4:34 these four voices intertwine their melodic and rhythmic lines in a fascinating contemporary counterpoint that gives a highly interesting and original overview on a timeless tune.

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Loren Stillman: Happy

Just as the new century began, Loren Stillman was one of the young musicians who blew a breeze of novelty on the NYC jazz scene. In the wake of Mark Turner, who had first dug the Tristano furrow during the previous decade, Stillman shows an impressive maturity on his maiden voyage. As befits its title, this tune is a soft, radiant melody that makes you want to sing along. The beautiful alto's sound is both dense and fragile. The interplay is thick and soft, with each member of the quartet playing his group role as well as improvising in a strongly singular voice without focusing on ego. Who brought better news to jazz in 2001?

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Enrico Rava & Stefano Bollani: The Third Man

Since veteran trumpeter Enrico Rava discovered young pianist Stefano Bollani, they have toured and recorded as a duo in a way Rava had never done before with anyone else. Indeed, the empathy that has developed between them is such that they can go together anywhere – from typically joyous Mediterranean moods to more meditative ones – and be convincing in all situations. On this composition dedicated to their producer, Manfred Eicher, known for his love of Nordic atmospheres, Rava and Bollani favor long notes, textures, silences, space, and use the whole range of their instruments. But their taste for fleshy sound helps them avoid Nordic abstraction as well as Italian clichés.

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gonzalo Rubalcaba: My Funny Valentine

This is a meditative reading by a 23-year-old pianist whose international career hadn't yet started. Rubalcaba is not totally fluent with the melody and seems not to take account of the meaning of the words. But he has such poetic sensitivity, and his triple background on the piano (classical, Cuban and jazz) gives him such a beautiful touch and phrasing, that one hears these qualities more than a few flaws. Rubalcaba has since become the grand pianist we know today, but it's moving to hear him in his budding period and to discover how much of his future self was already there.

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Fred Hersch & Bill Frisell: What Is Thing Called Love

In the CD insert, a black and white photo gives a clue about the approach to standards Hersch and Frisell have chosen here: they're standing side by side with Hersch holding an upright fork in one more parody of Grant Wood's famous American Gothic painting. Sophisticated songs treated in a mock "country boy" way, then. Both musicians simply turn around the melody in parallel lines on a light bouncing rhythm, sounding like good old times. Of course this wouldn't work if Hersch and Frisell didn't feel a sincere tenderness for the song and genuine nostalgia for its period. And so do they obviously feel, while remaining men of their time.

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ahmad Jamal: What Is This Thing Called Love

At the club he then owned, Jamal and his partners give one of their classic performances of the late '50s and early '60s, maintaining constant suspense with a song everybody knows by heart. First, they don't clearly quote the melody before one minute, after having circled it in many ways. Then they carry on this hide-and-seek game until there's no resting place for the ears of those who've grasped that anything can happen at any moment. This trio is a real orchestra, and Jamal acts as an arranger. Or should one say a stage director, who dispatches sound effects. Who could believe that in those days some called Jamal a lounge pianist?

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jim Hall: All The Things You Are

At first alone with his guitar, then with himself through re-recording, Jim Hall fashions a refreshingly thoughtful version of this timeless standard. He begins almost on tiptoe, as on a single string, then introduces the harmony, and once he's completed the first 32 bars launches a counterpoint that soon becomes a solo. This could almost be a music lesson, but with such a master it never sounds scholarly. On the contrary, the apparent simplicity of Hall's radiant touch and joyous strumming makes this performance sound more like a lesson in life.

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Billy Cobham: Stratus

Back in 1973, while still in the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Billy Cobham made a really wise business decision. He had some compositions he wanted played. Feeling they would be better appreciated outside of Mahavishnu, Billy gathered Jan Hammer and some other fine players and recorded one of fusion music's classic albums, Spectrum. Cobham's decision led to a very lucrative decade for him as the success of his first release laid the groundwork for several other well-received albums and tours.

The tune actually begins quite eerily with otherworldly synthesized sound effects. Cobham augments the electronics with a regimental drum solo. A short roll ends with a powerful accent that launches a deep- pocket groove powered by Lee Sklar's insistent bass. The piece has several impressive themes. But Sklar's repeated bass riff actually becomes the dominant force and the de facto melody. Hammer and Bolin take energetic turns trading-off over the bubbling cauldron of fusion funk. Of particular note, however, are the comping skills of both players. Cobham stays in a very deep pocket throughout. An uplifting unison riff, supported by a complex drum barrage, ends the tune.

"Stratus" became popular on radio, and pieces of it even found their way into television shows and commercials. To many Cobham fans, this performance is considered the apex of his solo career because it best combined his amazing drumming and compositional abilities. "Stratus" rightfully holds a place in the jazz-fusion pantheon.

February 12, 2008 · 3 comments

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Billy Cobham: Quadrant 4

"Quadrant 4" is the opening cut to Cobham's landmark fusion debut Spectrum. Cobham and Hammer were both still in the Mahavishnu Orchestra at the time of this recording. But "Quadrant 4" was not Mahavishnu in any way. It certainly came from the same burgeoning genre, but it was devoid of any spiritual allusions or grand design. It leaned much more toward an R&B fusion than anything else. Cobham and Moog synthesizer player Hammer open the tune in full throttle. Hammer, as he did in those days, plays the Moog with guitar phrasing – while the powerful Cobham double-times and double-times again. The playful blues-tinged head arrangement enters as Hammer and guitarist Tommy Bolin play in a fiery unison. What guitar playing! Bolin absolutely kills in a legendary performance. His oscillating solo turn seems to come straight from his belt buckle. At this time, we already knew how brilliant Cobham and Hammer were. But hearing Bolin's searing playing was a revelation of the highest order. We all looked forward to the future fusion superstar Bolin. Alas, it was not to be. But, we will always have this performance.

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ryan Blotnick: Thinning Air

Guitarist Ryan Blotnick counts among his influences Jim Hall, Pat Metheny, Wes Montgomery, and Gene Bertoncini. While it's possible to hear these shadings on several of the compositions on Music Needs You, Blotnick's unique voice shines through. "Thinning Air" starts off with the guitar playing in unison with saxophonist Pete Robbins on some slippery descending lines. Blotnick then takes a solo that parallels those introductory phrases before dropping away to make some space for the bass and drum segments to follow. After a repeat of the head, it's nice to see the piano taking over Blotnick's role as the sax's foil – proof that this young musician has interesting compositional ideas to go with those guitar chops.

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Matthew Shipp: Quivering With Speed

A welcome return to an old group. Nothing new here, just three well-acquainted guys going at it. All of the music of Piano Vortex is connected; it can all be traced to the extended title cut. “Quivering With Speed” has the musicians peeling off a piece and dissecting it to their hearts' content. Shipp massages contrasting and complementary passages out of the chord structure – check out his defiant “Giant Steps” quotation – while Morris walks maniacally up and down the bass and Dickey roils the drum kit. And then, as if to remind you that this is a Shipp record, the pianist gets out a bombastic few bars before settling back into the conversation. This is a joyously chaotic reunion.

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Matthew Shipp: Gamma Ray

Back to basics. Just when we were wondering what Shipp was going to shock us with next, he unleashed a solo piano recording. OK then, mission accomplished. With “Gamma Ray,” he throws it all our way: melodic structure, free improvisation, wrist-cramping power, beauty and mystery, strength and vulnerability. Shipp often plays in a circular fashion – ending up near the place where he began – but it is the twisting, turning ride that provides the joy. Like a great extemporaneous speaker, he works things out in your presence. You may not be quick enough to follow his thought process, but you can sure enjoy the trip to his destination.

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Modul 39_8

You wouldn't think that a discussion of minimalism and funk would be a very long one. On "Modul 39_8," Nik Bärtsch's Ronin takes what might seem like two orthogonal musical substances and fits them together in a very natural way. Beginning with a cycling and moody piano figure, there's absolutely no hint of the changes to come. As the pace picks up (glacially), subtle bits of percussion are the only indication that the band will kick off at the 2-minute mark. Björn Meyer's bass drives lifts the mood for just a few moments before it is again just piano and percussion and mood. With just a few minutes left in the composition, we again shift up with piano notes showering all over a repeated horn figure and Meyer's bass popping away. I can imagine a discussion about this music lasting for days.

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Matthew Shipp: Galaxy 105

Now it all comes to a head, everything Shipp has been exploring since his first record: analytical approach, intricate composition, muscular performance, forward-looking ideas. Harmony & Abyss is almost a survey of his career, and yet within it are some surprising moments. Take “Galaxy 105,” a wonderful trio workout. No electronics, no FLAM, no slick production. Just three rhythm-makers working over a basic melodic idea. A few chords and a heck of a lot of ideas. Helps that these guys know one another like brothers at this point. They get into a groove and can’t get out. Lucky for the listener.

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Human Bell: Ephaphatha (Be Opened)

The music of Human Bell has been categorized as post-rock, experimental rock, and even new age. This of course, puts their music in the same room as Miles' rock-oriented experiments. You know – the ones that the jazz purists rolled their eyes at. "Ephaphatha" is an Aramaic expression meaning "to be opened – as a portal." The idea is to be open to all things, to allow your ears to be receptive to this particular conversation. One guitar repeats a chord progression and the other sings and howls above it. It's a spooky and entrancing environment. If Miles had come up with this, us non-eyerollers would have been all over it.

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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The Ganelin Trio: Conversation III

One of the most intriguing aspects of fully improvised music is the live transfer of ideas from musician to musician. When it works, the listener can witness a single mind coming together as musical fragments imply future directions. The Ganelin Trio displays this concept beautifully, transitioning from the soft and quiet to the loud and chaotic and back again. When Ganelin allows the notes of a descending arpeggio to fall on the floor, Kugel and Vysniauskas pick them up and continue the story – a tale being constructed in the moment, yet seeming like it has been around since the beginning of time.

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Billie Holiday: Fine and Mellow (Sound of Jazz, 1957)

This is generally acknowledged as the greatest jazz moment ever broadcast on national television. And with good reason. Billie Holiday is joined by an all-star band and delivers a deeply felt version of "Fine and Mellow." This was a song that Holiday seemed to sing better with the passing years - not a claim one could make for most of her repertoire. But this is a world-weary composition, and no lady was more worldly or weary than Billie Holiday, circa 1957. Lester Young delivers a touching solo that even moves the vocalist. His TV studio reunion with Holiday may have inspired him, but I have a hunch that the proximity of Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster in the room (these being the real three tenors by the measure of any swing jazz fan) may have had something to do with it too. If TV were always this good, we could get rid of our iPods.

February 11, 2008 · 2 comments

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Matthew Shipp & Antipop Consortium: Places I've Never Been

Bump it up another notch. Here, Shipp collaborates with the outside-the-mainstream hip-hop duo Antipop Consortium, whose two members are known by the monikers Priest and Beans. There is no rapping on “Places I’ve Never Been,” as there is on some other tunes, but it all comes together on this tune: the free association of jazz, the cold calculation of electronica, and the funky attitude of hip-hop. This is still Shipp’s ship, however. His thick, dark chords remain the music’s driving force; you can hear it in every bar. But the stop-start beats and the icy chill of the electronics are brought to the forefront. This is the kind of tune that gets people arguing about what jazz is. To which I say: Stop your yapping. Just enjoy it.

February 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Matthew Shipp: Cohesion

“Cohesion” is right. With the album Equilibrium, Shipp grew more comfortable in his new skin. The marriage of jazz and electronic music began to sound completely natural, thanks to Shipp’s vision and the work of the producer known as FLAM. The electronics never get in the way, and the weight of the jazz tradition never overwhelms the new conceit that Shipp has worked to perfect. On “Cohesion,” the synthesized sounds and the programmed beats are inextricably intertwined with the organic work of the acoustic quartet.

February 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Billie Holiday (with Count Basie): They Can't Take That Away From Me

Count Basie featured three singers with his band on this June 30, 1937 live broadcast from Harlem's famous Savoy Ballroom. But Billie Holiday, only 22 years old, steals the show with this heartfelt performance of Gershwin's "They Can't Take That Away From Me." During this period, Holiday would make many of her most famous recordings, often in the company of Lester Young, who is also part of this edition of the Basie band. In time, Holiday's singing would become laced with a deep-set melancholy, and the vocalist herself seemed to take some pride in her public image as a downtrodden and heartbroken woman. Yet here she sings with pride and independence, proclaiming through the lyrics of the standard all the things they can't take away from her. This is one of Holiday's finest moments, and certainly one of her most upbeat.

February 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Billie Holiday (with Stan Getz): Lover Come Back to Me

In October 1951, George Wein booked Billie Holiday to play at his Storyville nightclub in Boston, where she shared the bill with 24 year-old tenor saxophonist Stan Getz. Getz had modeled his sound on Lester Young, Holiday's collaborator on many of her most celebrated recordings, and the idea of getting him to join her on stage for a few songs must have seemed an inspired move by all parties. The results - for once - more than lived up to the expectations. I can't recall another Holiday recording from the 1950s where she sings with such energy and enthusiasm. Getz, for his part, only plays obbligato, but you can sense his pride at serving as President - or Prez, to be more specific - for a day. This shimmering track is not well known, but deserves a place in the Lady Day Hall of Fame.

February 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra: Entrances/One

Rob Mazurek and his Exploding Star Orchestra team up with legendary Free Jazz trumpeter Bill Dixon to construct one long thrill ride of textures and tempos. Though there are segments that live up to the band's name – and in fact Dixon is a comet of emotion there – it's the quieter sections where Dixon and Mazurek shine. There's something almost prehistoric to the sound as the two men trade ideas while percussion and very low clarinet fill out the space below.

February 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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DJ Spooky (with Matthew Shipp): Ibid, desmarches, ibid

And now Shipp ups the ante again, with the introduction of turntable-and-effects pioneer Paul Miller, a.k.a. DJ Spooky. Yet the melding of electronica, hip-hop and jazz has never sounded more natural. The cold electronic beats are complemented wonderfully by Shipp’s dark, angular chords and by McPhee’s from-the-gut blowing. It’s synthetic and yet it’s organic. By allowing his music to be manipulated by the Bowdoin College-educated Miller, Shipp cemented his position as a forefather of the idea that these three very different genres could breath the same air.

February 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Matthew Shipp: Space Shipp

With Nu Bop, Shipp threw down the gauntlet, declaring he really did have something new to say. Thrusting himself out at the leading edge of the “jazztronica” movement, Shipp issued an intentionally discomfiting salvo in the interest of freshening up jazz a bit. The opening seconds of “Space Shipp,” which start the album, contain nothing but a looped synth-and-drum-machine sequence straight out of the Aphex Twin school of electronica. But then Shipp reminds us this is his music, with a chord sequence that informs us this couldn’t be anyone but him. A minute into the tune, Shipp is improvising off the progression, Brown is blasting away on the kit, and the electronica loop – it’s still there, yes – recedes into the background. Shipp shows us that electronics are just another tool in the box.

February 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Matthew Shipp: Gesture

Recorded exactly one year after DNA, this is the album that – if you ask me – gave Shipp new life as a recording artist. Until this point, he was beginning to feel as though he’d gotten out everything he’d had to say. Clearly he was kidding himself. Pastoral Composure was, for him, an entirely different beast – more melodic, more bop-based. “Gesture,” though, is a beautifully disturbing piece of writing, propelled by the marching rhythm Cleaver lays down. The melody Shipp crafts is both optimistic and mysterious, and Campbell blows furiously over the pianist’s moody chords.

February 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Matthew Shipp: When Johnny Comes Marching Home

What an ominous tone Shipp and Parker bring to the traditional “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” It sounds downright evil. Shipp clangs the theme over and over while Parker saws back and forth and back and forth, deliberately way out of tune. And then he saws in double and triple time. It’s hard to believe he didn’t saw right through the strings of his bass. If Johnny ever finds himself in a horror movie, he has his theme song.

February 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Matthew Shipp: By the Law of Music

When Shipp plays, you can hear him thinking. He seems always to be trying to reconcile his intellectual approach with his predilection to put his fist through the keys. Here’s a good example. His analytical, mathematical mind begins to twist his own piece, and then his power takes over. All the while, Parker and Maneri must conform to his will and help him find his way, which they do. In less than three minutes, this tune takes us all over the map.

February 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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David S. Ware (with Matthew Shipp): Tenderly

Shipp rose to prominence through Ware’s torrential music. The second of two versions of “Tenderly” on Earthquation illustrates perfectly what Shipp brought to the process. On version two, Shipp’s stacked chords form the song’s core, serving as both the quartet’s navigator and Ware’s anchor. As the tune and the improvisation progress, it’s almost as though Ware wants to veer further and further from the melody while Shipp’s deliberate chords beckon, “Here, here, David.” What chemistry.

February 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ahmad Jamal: Pavanne

Notwithstanding the valiant efforts of Pops Orchestras and Summertime Symphonies across the land, Americans have never developed a taste for light classics the way our English cousins have. A quickie search of Amazon USA yields numerous hits for British but few for American "Light Music Classics." (Significantly, the first of the latter to appear is a UK import by the New London Orchestra.) Still, we can muster a handful of composers renowned for their less filling contributions, including John Walter Bratton ("Teddy Bears' Picnic"), Raymond Scott ("The Toy Trumpet"), Leroy Anderson ("The Syncopated Clock") and David Rose ("Holiday for Strings").

In such semi-distinguished company resides Morton Gould, from whose American Symphonette No. 2 (1938) comes "Pavanne," as recorded by Ahmad Jamal in 1955. This was a case of natural selection, since no one better epitomized Jazz Lite in the 1950s than Ahmad Jamal. Atop politely micromanaged arrangements custom-tailored for listeners with only half an ear to spare, Jamal tinkled and octaved as unobtrusively as a society pianist during cocktail hour at the Waldorf-Astoria.

To his credit, though, Jamal's "Pavanne" did spawn one or two genuine jazz classics—just not by him. In 1959 Miles Davis tapped it as a source for "So What," which two years later John Coltrane revamped into "Impressions." The music goes round and round, and eventually Jazz Lite becomes substantial. It's worth the wait.

February 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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The Soft Winds: Early Autumn

Upon their release in 1949, Woody Herman's "Summer Sequence (Part 4)" on Columbia and "Early Autumn" on Capitol served up a double whammy for 22-year-old tenorman Stan Getz, featured on both versions of what was in fact the same composition by Ralph Burns. While each of these discs would've been influential on its own, together they established Getz as a star and made "Early Autumn" a jazz standard.

During this same period, a piano/guitar/bass trio called The Soft Winds offered early proof that "Early Autumn" required neither tenor sax sublimity nor big band backing to be effective. What's most striking about this track is how closely The Soft Winds approximated the sound of George Shearing's Quintet, a vastly more popular group with the same instrumentation plus vibes and drums. Partly it's the plush piano/guitar unisons and Lou Carter's block chords; partly it's the gauzy beauty of Ralph Burns's tune, which lends itself perfectly to such intimate orchestration. (Surprisingly, Shearing himself did not record this made-to-order vehicle until 1960.)

The Soft Winds wafted their separate ways in the early '50s, but their guitarist soon fluttered back into the piano/guitar/bass fold, joining Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown for an unforgettable 5-year run. One listen to The Soft Winds' "Early Autumn" was probably enough to convince Oscar and Ray that Herb Ellis was as empathetic an ensemble player as ever blew into town.

February 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Louis Armstrong & Sidney Bechet: Coal Cart Blues

Since the post-Civil War development of its rich bituminous beds, West Virginia's coalfields have been as treacherous as minefields. While jobs abounded, workers endured appalling health-&-safety hazards. The 20th century, however, brought mechanization. By 1940, 70% of coal mined in the state was loaded mechanically. Mountaineers found the only thing worse than being a mineworker was being an unemployed mineworker. This track dramatizes industrialization's double-edged sword. "The cart was hard and almost killed me up," Satchmo relates with an authority born of his own youthful experience pushing such carts through New Orleans' notorious Storyville district. Post-cart, however, "I'm about to lose my very mind." Never was Paul Whiteman's aphorism "Jazz is the folk music of the Machine Age" better demonstrated.

February 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Washington Wobble

As a tribute, this track serves double duty. "Washington Wobble" can refer to the Evergreen State, with its Cascadia subduction-zone earthquake potential. Alternatively, discographer Tom Lord reports that the title may have originally been "Washington Wabble," which suggests Elmer Fudd describing our elected or appointed officials and their well-heeled lobbyists in Ellington's birthplace DC. Either way, this is far from the Maestro's best. Audio is poor, with Braud's bass thumpings particularly problematical. Tempo is erratic, especially during Duke's rushed stride-piano turn. The second clarinet solo (probably by Jackson) is awful. And ensembles are out of sync. Elmer's verdict? "Washington Wubble."

February 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Tatum: I Got Rhythm

Jazzmen have recorded "I Got Rhythm" >600 times, and based so many of their own tunes on its chord progressions that "rhythm changes" are second in familiarity only to the blues. But for sheer virtuosity, this 1944 piano/guitar/bass trio recording stands out from the crowd. Showing off both his hyperkinetic right hand and stride-style left hand in alternating flashes of brilliance, Tatum also swings mightily—a quality sometimes left at the starting gate in his never-ending race to bedazzle us with technique. Given accompanists not in his league (who was?), Tatum turns "I Got Rhythm" into a frenetically ornamented set piece, demonstrating that jazz doesn't have to be spontaneous to be historic.

February 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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George Benson & Al Jarreau: Four

Who would have thought the '70s fusion masters would have aged so well? The Benson-Jarreau collaboration is no tepid nostalgia act -- it earned two Grammies, hit the top of the jazz charts and spurred an international tour. Jarreau’s intonation may be suspect at times, and the performance doesn’t break new ground. All of the participants here were playing just as well during the Jimmy Carter administration. Yet this band of old-timers grooves grandly, and the two star vocalists evoke a sense of free-wheeling fun that some dour youngsters would do well to emulate.

February 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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David Rogers: Oboo Ketua Nyom

Tracks likes this make it worthwhile to dig into the unheralded indie label CDs that come out every week. Most up-and-coming tenor saxophonists show off what they have learned from Coltrane, Rollins, Lovano, Getz and other past masters. But Rogers dishes out tenor playing here that cuts through all the tired jazz clichés -- it is almost as if his music sprang up fully formed outside the jazz tradition, without any telltale licks to reveal his sources. Of course, Rogers's long stint in Ghana may have helped open his ears to sounds outside the bop-to-free coordinates that direct most of his peers. His composition "Oboo Ketua Nyom" is inspired by the music of the Dagara and Lobi peoples, and is supported by a drummer and two gyil (pronounced JEE-lee) players. The gyil is a Dagara xylophone, and Rogers builds his solos primarily from pentatonic lines that reflect the scale of this instrument. He moves through slow, fast and medium sections, but in a holistic way that few jazz works achieve. This is world fusion jazz at its finest.

February 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Nat King Cole: Jumpin' at Capitol

"Jumpin' at Capitol," along with "I Just Can't See for Lookin'" and "Easy Listening Blues," is one of only three songs credited lifetime to Nadine Robinson, a showgirl and Nat King Cole's first wife. Her sparse composer credits were most likely a ruse, possibly for tax purposes, to disguise Nat's own authorship. "Jumpin' at Capitol," in any case, is clearly the prototype for Nat's delectable dialogue with guitarist Les Paul on "Blues," credited to phantom composer Etaoin Shrdlu, and the sole artistic highlight of JATP's première hystérique, staged seven months after this session and likewise in L.A.

Nat's 6-string correspondent on this track is Oscar Moore, a shamefully neglected pioneer of the electric guitar. While it's a critical commonplace that Nat King Cole was a splendid pianist whose subsequent vocal superstardom eclipsed his keyboard work, Oscar Moore suffered the opposite fate, his post-King Cole Trio career proving as dismal as Nat's was spectacular. While Nat churned out one pop mega-it after another, Oscar pumped gas in the desert. Yet hearing the two of them "Jumpin' at Capitol" in 1943, we simply marvel at their brilliance and easy camaraderie. Backed only by bassist Johnny Miller, Cole and Moore set the gold standard to which all piano/guitar/bass trios would thereafter aspire, but few would attain.

February 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: In a Silent Way / It's About That Time

Josef Zawinul's composition "In a Silent Way" is a remarkably beautiful piece of music. The initial shock and disdain felt by many Miles Davis fans back in the day has certainly faded away to such a degree that the structure of the piece can now be admired. This is despite whatever musical directions it may have spawned, good or bad. Much of its strange charm is the result of post-recording engineering, as it is full of abrupt edits. Yet however abrupt, these edits are never jarring. Davis and McLaughlin establish the subtle theme and play wonderfully off each other. Don't expect any swing here. The tune is laid-back and spatial in nature. No player takes more than his turn. In fact, Miles is noticeably absent for much of the affair. "It's About That Time," which is dropped in, is more electric and a slow-burn groove before it culminates in a rave-up. The tranquil, almost meditative theme reappears with McLaughlin, Shorter and Davis playing the definition of languid. This is a very important but still overlooked recording milestone.

February 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Shhh / Peaceful

This side-long LP track gave many longtime Miles Davis fans conniptions. Joe Zawinul's few seconds of solemn organ augers in the early gestation of the jazz-fusion revolution. This music wasn't quite yet the cacophony of the next year's A Tribute to Jack Johnson. In fact, it was quite relaxed compared to the fusion that would be coming. But still, it was a major departure, a sea-change for Davis, whose trumpet enters just after the scene has been set. His playing is devoid of traditional swing. Instead, it is heard in short melodic bursts above a slowly chugging rhythm section. The music seemed to be coming from some far-off universe. Part shuffle, part groove and part spacy, "Shhh/Peaceful" was a coming-out party for fusion's up-and-coming stars. Herbie, Chick, Wayne and Josef were known commodities, but this is where their greatest years of creativity were launched. John McLaughlin, who'd only been in the U.S. a few days when Miles invited him to play, makes his American recording debut here. Whether jazz traditionalists liked it or not, the music was about to change.

February 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Yesternow

Producer Teo Macero really chopped up this piece in the editing room. Consequently, cohesion suffers, and many people didn't care for that. Today, however, in this jam-band, home-studio and sampling recording world, Teo seems like a genius. At times, "Yesternow" is haltingly slow and disjointed; at other times, it builds pace with such thick electricity—an overwhelming feeling of voltage—that the tune seems plugged directly into a wall outlet. Miles himself plays sparingly, more intent on being charged-up as he lets guitarist McLaughlin and bassist Henderson provide the power supply. To create the final version, Macero tacked-on a couple of other session pastiches involving, except for Miles and McLaughlin, completely different personnel (listed in our Musician credits above as Group 2). This music too has its moments, but the original lineup is the dominant force in the tune. As the piece comes to a close, the great actor and voice, Brock Peters, declares his identity as Jack Johnson and informs us, in so many words, that he is not going to take any shit from anybody. Dig it!

February 08, 2008 · 2 comments

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Miles Davis: Right Off

I once read a review of The Tribute to Jack Johnson by a New York jazz writer who claimed the album title referred to a "little known" American boxer. I nearly spit-up my oatmeal! So I good naturedly wrote the guy to say I liked his piece, but he should really know that Jack Johnson was one of the most famous boxers who ever lived. I never did hear back from him. But, soon after, he wrote a scathing review of a book I'd written. That was the last time I pointed out any egregious errors to a reviewer (including the ones he made about my book). It's a shame, really, because if you don't understand the history of Jack Johnson, you don't understand the history of Miles Davis. And if you don't understand that, you shouldn't be writing about Miles in the first place.

Though Davis's In a Silent Way helped to lay the fusion groundwork and Bitches Brew received all the credit, the third album recorded after the other two was actually the most important to the genre. "Right Off" from that album was jazz-rock fusion's harbinger.

The tune was simply a spur-of-the-moment jam based upon a vamp John McLaughlin was working on for his own music. But with this performance, McLaughlin fired off one of the first great jazz-rock guitar warning shots. His reverberating and twisted jazz chords, which he strummed as a rock guitarist would, and his nasty jazz-blues runs created an infectious vibe. Bassist Michael Henderson was just as important. His funk-drenched lines, along with Cobham's funky rock-based drumming, provide a thick underpinning that propels the entire piece. Miles hadn't even written out a part for himself. The red light was on. He excitedly grabbed his horn and ran into the studio to join in, bursting out with some power punches to aid and abet the jabs Herbie Hancock and Steve Grossman were throwing. This was a heavyweight bout.

You see, it all comes back to Jack Johnson, one of the most famous boxers who ever lived. And don't you forget it!

The extraordinary recording sessions for Jack Johnson have become legendary. They are very ably described by Bill Milkowski in his liner notes to the must-have Complete Jack Johnson Sessions, a collection that came out years later.

February 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: Body and Soul

With a kind of slow and heavy stride gait in the left hand and a right hand building arabesques around the melody before improvising, Monk definitely gives a highly personal version of this standard. A version that seems to emerge from the reiteration of almost the same chorus played again and again, with the pianist's moans and grunts reflecting his effort to make a masterwork with such density out of this overused set of chords. The final chorus comes closest to the melody and, capped by conclusive high notes, appears like a light at the end of a tunnel.

February 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jason Moran: Body and Soul

Jason Moran recorded a slightly shorter solo version of the same tune – issued on Modernistic – just a few months earlier. This live trio version gives more intensity to his meditative rendition of a song he obviously feels close to. His vision of it is both dark and candid, full of feeling and of respect for the tradition. The trio works as a tight unit, hardly improvises, and gradually builds a very convincing climax marked by a cyclical vamp that is first used as an intro, then as a kind of red line all through the performance.

February 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Willem Breuker Kollektief: Wake Up

After a loud chord – that could actually wake you up – played by the orchestra, the WBK shows its love of contrast: a slow melody with dark undertones is played by the piano alone, then becomes a lullaby of sorts in the hands of the full band. It swells as it's repeated by a trumpet, then a trombone before the full band returns. And that's it: with a minimal melodic material, the Dutch herd has worked out one more little jewel, thanks to each of its members' highly personal sound, and its leader's gift for writing tunes that blend them with a unique magical twist.

February 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sarah Vaughan: Autumn Leaves

The way Sarah Vaughan tackles this tune is so lively that one is surprised not to hear the audience cheer and applaud at the end, and to realize it's a studio recording. Produced by Sassy at that, who chose the songs and the musicians. This explains why she feels so at home with her rhythm section and Joe Pass, who alternates solos with her at such breakneck speed you'd bet it was a live performance. In this highly compatible setting, Sassy does something that few have done before: an up-tempo all-scat version of a song whose harmonies are like a scenic railway for the impressive range of her voice. No words, indeed, but a joy of singing that gives these "Autumn Leaves" an air of spring and youth, whose charm is hard to resist.

February 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Paco De Lucia: Casa Bernardo

Since his famous Guitar Trio recording with John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola, Paco De Lucia has been part of the love story between jazz and flamenco music. A love story with a promising future, as this track shows. De Lucia had seldom really brought jazz influences into his own music before this record, where he adds a trumpet to his band. Besides the soft horn riffs that punctuate the haunting melody of this rumba, De Lucia improvises in a virtuoso way that mixes jazz and flamenco techniques, and shows his interest in (among others) Wes Montgomery. This challenging blend confirms that musical borders are made to be crossed, at least by masters.

February 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Enrico Rava & Stefano Bollani: Estaté

Not many Italian songs are part of the global jazz repertoire, but "Estaté" (composed by Bruno Martino and Bruno Brighetti) is one of the few to have made the leap. Ironically, the song is best known as a bossa nova number, due to a memorable recording by Brazilian João Gilberto. But if Italian jazz players are planning to reclaim this song as a Mediterranean-drenched ballad, no better repo men could be found than trumpeter Enrico Rava and pianist Stefano Bollani. These two artists have more than a decade of collaborations under their belt, and the duo's interaction on this track radiates their simpatico chemistry. This version of "Estaté" leaves the bossa nova far behind, although it still retains a dose of Gilberto's saudade. The performance moves from introspective lyricism to rhapsodic rubato, but never strains for effect. Highly recommended!

February 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Freddie Hubbard: Mirrors

In this beautiful Joe Chambers composition, the lyrical side of the often stratospheric Freddie Hubbard is heard to great effect. After Ronnie Mathews's sensitive piano intro sets the mood, a shimmering, unified duet between Hubbard and versatile reedman James Spaulding on flute complete the visual image. Hubbard's restraint shows a great feel for this eerie piece. When he finally breaks into his solo, his normally soaring upper register work is tastefully reduced to an understated, Miles-like middle-register burst of musical ideas. Never a mimic, he punctuates the end of his solo with what now is a trademark Hubbard voicing. At only 26, Hubbard demonstrates he could play a ballad with the best of them. Spaulding's flute work is an airy, dancing delight that stirs the soul. Mathews's piano, Kahn's bass and Chambers's subtle drumming mesh in perfect harmony to keep this ballad moving deftly. A rare, restrained Freddie Hubbard performance makes this understated piece an unsung classic.

February 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dave Holland: Lucky Seven

"Lucky Seven" is acoustic jazz/funk in 7/4. It's a great example of the DHQ's ability to make the odd meter sound down home and natural. This track features killer solos from the low end – Eubanks, Holland and Smith. Dave demonstrates his uncanny ability to play over the barline and Nate Smith sounds strong enough to (almost) make one forget Billy Kilson for a few minutes.

February 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Scolohofo: The Winding Way

It is fascinating to hear these great players work out on this quirky tune. Although Holland's own bands are accustomed to his way of writing and creating vamp sections to blow over, Scofield and Lovano appear to be at something of a loss as to how to handle this concept. The take is solid but the improvising seems rather stiff to me. Yet this should only be taken as a small criticism. When you have players of this stature good things will (and do) happen. They just seem a little out of their element. Al Foster sounds fine, but I miss Billy Kilson's fire on this track.

February 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dave Holland: Triple Dance

"Triple Dance" demonstrates what a great idea Holland had when he decided to build a jazz orchestra around the core of his working quintet. The addition of seven more reed and brass voices gives Holland the ability to shape the compositions with an increased level of drama. At first I thought "Triple Dance" was in an odd meter until I realized that it is actually three-bar phrases of 4/4. Holland's grooves often make the oddest combinations of meters feel natural; the groove of this tune manages to do just the opposite! Great solos contribute to this wonderful opening track on a stellar CD.

February 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dave Holland: What Goes Around

"What Goes Around" is a storm by the name of Billy Kilson. His explosive playing shines on this cut, particularly in the midst of Chris Potter's solo. He pokes, prods and pushes the band to the outer limits of both dynamics and superimposed meters. At the center of the storm is Holland, unperturbed by any of the controlled pandemonium around him. The tune itself is a sly 11/4, with several interweaving sections and a 6/4 release that happens at the end of the solo section. This is classic DHQ.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dave Holland: Jugglers Parade

It's hard to believe this CD was released a decade ago, and this track is one of the few tip-offs that the band was in the early stages of its development. "Jugglers Parade" features a charmingly jagged, swinging head arrangement and some manhandling groove playing from Holland and Kilson. Potter's solo has a few bebop references, which demonstrates not only his youthful savvy but also how far his playing has come since then. This track even has some old-fashioned trading fours with the drummer.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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World Trio: The Whirling Dervish

This rollicking track is appropriately titled. The trio dances through this up-tempo tune that really does evoke images of ecstatically whirling Sufis. All three musicians play great solos; Holland demonstrates his graceful way of handling rhythms over the barline and Eubanks shows off his super-bad John McLaughlin- style chops. Cinelu manages to work up quite a head of steam despite the dynamic limitations of hand percussion. It is unfortunate that this band didn't survive to record more, but it was great while it lasted.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dave Holland: Lazy Snake

Like so many of Dave Holland's tunes, it is the overall vibe of "Lazy Snake" that sticks with me. Dave plays one of his finest recorded arco solos as an introduction, then sneaks into the reptilian ostinato that underlies the whole track. The mysterious Eric Person plays the unison melody with impeccable intonation along with Steve Nelson's vibes. Nelson plays the outstanding solo on this cut. His playing is deceptively complex, probably because he plays in such a relaxed, unhurried way. This incarnation of the quartet is well worth checking out.

February 06, 2008 · 1 comment

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Dave Holland: Processional

"Processional" is another excellent example of Holland stretching the boundaries of a traditional jazz form. The tune is essentially a 12-bar blues with some altered chord structures. Oh, yeah, and it's in 5/4. Dave tears up the meter on his solo; he's clearly in command. Eubanks's playing is also very expressive here. It is interesting to hear how the band sounds with guitar as the chording instrument as opposed to the vibraphone. Each instrument adds a unique texture and set of overtones to the music.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dave Holland: You I Love

On "You I Love," Holland uses the time-tested compositional technique of writing a new melody to an existing set of chord changes. In this case, the progression is taken from Cole Porter's "I Love You," and Holland's take on it sounds as far from the original as "Groovin' High" does from "Whispering." This early incarnation of the DHQ does more group improvising here than on some later CDs, and it is particularly welcome on this track. The soloists eat this one up with obvious abandon – they seem to enjoy deconstructing an old standard and making it their own.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dave Holland: Homecoming

Unlike most other solo bassists, Holland prefers the instrument's middle and low range. He doesn't hang out in the stratosphere, which gives his work a refreshing, meaty texture. The sound of his bass is extremely well reproduced on this CD. Holland slowly reveals this tune, phrase by phrase, weaving bits of the melody with angular phrases. It is another fine example of how his playing can spellbind an audience.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dave Holland: Under Redwoods

"Under Redwoods" features some of the most lyrical, harmonically folksy playing of any track I've heard by Dave Holland. It's a ballad, and Holland takes his time stating the theme, adding double and triple stops to fill out the harmony. He plays it cool throughout, never letting his prodigious technique get in the way of telling this bucolic story.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dave Holland: Song For The Newborn

This early solo track from Dave Holland is among his most virtuosic and most organic. Holland freely improvises, alternating between lyrical sections and purely textural areas in a way that seems to evolve naturally. He employs certain "new music" techniques, such as slap pizzicato (à la Bartók) and playing arco and pizz simultaneously. Some of these devices later became clichés, but Holland is, to my knowledge, the first jazz player to use these means, and he does so in a very effective and fresh way. Few solo bass recordings are as mesmerizing as this.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Nik Bärtsch: Modul 45

Nik Bärtsch has described his music as "zen funk," but usually there is more zen than funk in the mix. Yet on "Modul 45," we get a more judicious balance. On this penultimate track to Bärtsch's Holon release, the groove kicks into high gear from the outset, and the repetitions that make up so much of his music show their hypnotic side. Even better, Sha layers some free jazz lines on top of the rhythm section that give the whole proceedings a piquant edge.

After hearing this track, I am half convinced that, yes, there is a meeting place between minimalism and funk. But the point of intersection is an elusive one, and hard to maintain. Bärtsch himself hints as much when he quotes Morton Feldman's revealing comment: "I always leave the concert hall when I start tapping my foot." This intriguing performance captures Nik Bärtsch's Ronin at that moment right when the feet start tapping. But don't leave . . this is precisely the point where you'll want to stay and listen.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Nik Bärtsch: Modul 42

Holon, the new ECM release by Nik Bärtsch, gets off to a tepid start with this 6-minute track. Atmospheric jazz, when it is played in such an astringent manner, risks sounding like an under-produced film score. The repetitive, medium-tempo pattern that makes up most of this track reminds me of the kind of music a newbie director would cook up behind shots of a ticking clock in some slow-build suspense movie.

Of course, a ticking clock is suspenseful only when it leads somewhere.

Fortunately the rest of Holon gets better and better. The minimalist philosophy behind Bärtsch's music can build some grand effects, but you need to give Bärtsch time for him to deliver the goods. Spend an hour with his music, and you may walk away a believer, but if you're thinking about downloading this track as a sampler, think again. Bärtsch might have made this the first movement of a multipart work – and then I would have cut him some slack. But as a standalone piece, "Modul 42" will leave you checking your watch.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Maynard Ferguson: Love Locked Out

Maynard Ferguson led an impressive band in Canada as a teen, and would soon join the bands of Jimmy Dorsey, Boyd Raeburn and Charlie Barnet. By 1950, Ferguson was a featured member of the Stan Kenton Innovations Orchestra, and he amazed nearly everyone who heard him with his screaming style and lightning technique. It was Kenton who talked Capitol Records into giving Maynard his own record date, and most of the personnel were then members of the Kenton band. Of the four sides recorded, "Love Locked Out" is the standout. This is a lovely statement by Maynard proving he had a beautiful low register in addition to his incredible high-register sounds, and that he could play very lyrically; he was not simply a freak high-note player. The other star is arranger Paul Villepigue. His linear writing, as well as his use of ensemble coloring, is the work of a master. In this writer's opinion, "Love Locked Out" is his finest work.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Awakening

After an opening rough guitar and drum salvo, "Awakening" is reinforced by the twin riffing of violin and electric piano for two more sections. The Orchestra seems to be playing a mile a minute. It is a juggernaut. The statement abruptly concludes and is followed by a Cobham turnaround repeating the initial segment. An aggressive rhythm is established to serve as fodder for a Jerry Goodman solo. Hammer solos next with a quite foreign-sounding turn on electric piano through a ring modulator.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: You Know You Know

"You Know You Know" makes a slow, deliberate and quiet 4/4 entrance. Understated repeated playing of a nine-note pattern on electric guitar is seamlessly joined by Cobham's accents and eventual backbeat. Goodman's pure violin mimics McLaughlin's lines. The cycle is joined by Laird as Hammer also starts to pleasantly intrude with light but emphatic electric piano runs. A focus on the main pattern increases tension and volume as the piece wants to be played faster, but the players do not oblige. Cobham's laid-back solo leads to the sudden resolution of the piece. The listener is left hanging but sated.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: The Dance of Maya

"The Dance of Maya" is part subterranean dirge and part electric blues hootenanny. Its opening stretched-out deep and distorted guitar arpeggio and bass accompaniment, performed in 10/8, stands against a background of eerie silence until the rest of the band forcefully join the fray. Suddenly there is a hard turn right and the Mahavishnu Orchestra gets down à la Papa John Creach and Hot Tuna! The hoedown dissolves into some serious shredding before the tune returns to its dark and haunting funereal beginnings.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Vital Transformation

Cobham's drum shuffle begins "Vital Transformation." McLaughlin introduces a dastardly multi-note pattern, which is most likely a compound 9/8 meter. Goodman quickly enters, playing in quick time, doubling on the initial pentatonic minor, first high on the neck and then sliding down it. The repetition builds tension. En masse, the band breaks away from the tune's restless anxiety with a resolving section dominated by Goodman and McLaughlin's soaring lines. John launches into a cutting guitar solo that becomes airborne, flying over an active polyrhythmic accompaniment. The piece resolves again, only to be diverted by the reappearance of Cobham's muscular shuffle. A group fadeout, accented by Hammer's ring-modulated electric piano, completes the transformation.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: A Lotus on Irish Streams

"A Lotus on Irish Streams" features McLaughlin on acoustic guitar, Jerry Goodman on violin and Jan Hammer on piano. With the previous cut from The Inner Mounting Flame, "The Noonward Race," still bouncing against the walls inside the listener's head, along comes this serene, classically influenced excursion. A fluttering cascade of delicate notes produces a tender melody. Sounding amazingly close to New Age music, 10 years before New Age became a recognized entity, it is distinguished from it by high-level musicianship and lack of fragility.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: The Noonward Race

"The Noonward Race" wastes no time in its frantic bolt from the starting gate. McLaughlin's dirty G9 rhythmic chords are all over Cobham's percussive attack. The two players propel each other to limits previously unexplored. It is in this noteworthy piece that we first hear McLaughlin and Cobham demonstrate what would become their trademark telepathy as the drummer answers with lightning-quick strokes to each of the guitarist's blistering notes – or is it vice versa? The pair's hyper-tempo forays are joined by Goodman and Hammer. The music devolves to an introductory segment from which is birthed a Jerry Goodman solo played through a Leslie speaker. At this point, the players restate a resolving riff, increasing velocity with each cycle. This paves the way for Jan Hammer's electric piano solo electronically filtered through a ring modulator. McLaughlin unleashes a scorching guitar solo, full of fire and life, improvising on the main theme until eventually reunited with his cohorts. The band slowly retreats, as McLaughlin and Cobham reestablish the vibe of their opening volleys to bring the tune to an abrupt yet fulfilling close.

February 06, 2008 · 3 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Dawn

"Dawn" bubbles up with the subtle electric piano of Jan Hammer introducing a new spring day. Billy Cobham provides a solid rhythmic foundation. A steadily intensifying head arrangement, played in unison by Goodman and McLaughlin, merges and fuses with Hammer's delicate morning offering while Rick Laird builds on his bass theme. The refined tension, already inherent in the melody, quickly builds and then resolves as if to give permission for the early-morning fog to lift. McLaughlin's electric solo summons the listener to an ensemble hoedown. Goodman's instrumental skills are especially impressive during his solo, which is supported by McLaughlin's rapid-fire chord structures and Cobham's drumming. The primary theme is revisited to bring this exhilarating day to sunset.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Meeting of the Spirits

"Meeting of the Spirits," which opens up IMF, includes the most recognizable introduction of any Mahavishnu piece. Crashes of electronic instruments and hyperkinetic drums usher in a spatial guitar arpeggio in 6/4. A relaxed Cobham beat appears. Goodman's violin enters, opposing the guitar with a melodically contrasting motif. McLaughlin terminates his arpeggiated chordal theme and immediately returns with a scorching guitar melody that is eventually played in unison with Goodman and which elaborates on the tune's signature theme. This deceptive cadence becomes almost tranquil for a few measures in order to receive Hammer's tastefully executed electric piano fills. Once again, the band kicks into high gear, constantly accelerating as the theme ascends to another melodic resolution before returning with a heightened purpose. McLaughlin's now familiar arpeggio reemerges as the triumphant character in this composition's closing strains.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Resolution

"Resolution" is similar in concept to the Orchestra's "Hope," which also appears on Birds of Fire. "Resolution" climbs the infinite ladder. Laird's bass provides solid footing. McLaughlin plays his inimitable minor chords that help drive the tune. The tempo increases with each rung climbed. The players let out a siren song, calling us to ascend with them. A Cobham snare-drum roll fades out to signify the end of a tune that never resolves!

February 06, 2008 · 1 comment

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Open Country Joy

For the first 70 seconds of "Open Country Joy," the MO takes us to a very calm and comfortable place. Goodman is playing a lovely violin. Hammer is on his Rhodes, producing idyllic runs. McLaughlin is playing simple but catchy semi-country licks on the 12-string. Laird and Cobham are helping to keep things light. But, at the 71-second mark, all hell breaks loose. The instruments are turned up to "11." The standard time signature changes to 6/8 and the music quickly reaches terminal velocity. The peacefulness of the meadow has been suddenly overwhelmed by a rogue thunderstorm. Shards of lightning come shooting off the guitar, Moog and violin. The drummer and bassist produce thunderclaps. Sheets of notes fall from the sky. But just as quickly as it came, it is gone. The sun shines through the quickly dissipating clouds. The birds begin to sing again. A rainbow forms as the band leads us back into a state of tranquility.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Sanctuary

The hauntingly beautiful introductory section of "Sanctuary" is executed at a torturously slow tempo and in a 9/4 time signature. McLaughlin and Goodman play the head in long, stretched-out sections. Laird supplies a simple constant thump, almost using the bass as a percussion instrument. Billy's playing is relaxed, providing a counter to the deep from the gut tension being developed by Jerry, John and Jan. Hammer takes a Minimoog solo that seems to hover above the heated brew. At solo's end, the band turns down the temperature to a low simmer.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: One Word

"One Word" is the quintessential Mahavishnu performance. Billy's amazingly dynamic snare roll opens the door to a Pandora's Box of Mahavishnu trademarks. First, there is the sinister introductory section with its dizzying array of stops and starts and threatening diversions. Second, Rick gives one of his most outstanding performances. His solo confirms that he is a great bassist capable of much more than just holding down the fort. McLaughlin's penetrating bursts start a furious three-way trade off with Hammer and Goodman. Cobham's powerful but finessed solo, highlighted by his use of the double bass drums, sets the table for a swirling riff-fest.

"One Word" also included snippets from McLaughlin's past work. Its introduction is a variation on the theme "Dragon Song" from his 1970 album Devotion.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Hope

"Hope" is a short anthem played in 7/8 repeated seven times. Spectacularly overdubbed, each section adds new instruments as the piece builds in intensity and climbs a spiritual ladder. On the original LP version, the tune was the last cut on the first side, and its uplifting strains would continue to soothe your mind as you turned the record over.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Thousand Island Park

"Thousand Island Park" is evidence that the same Mahavishnu Orchestra that was capable of shaking your kidney stones loose could touch your heart. This piece is played acoustically by John, Jan and Rick as if they were a jazz trio performing chamber music. The melody, which is classical in nature, is established by John's and Jan's unison single-note runs. Rick's upright bass is quite prominent. Electric instruments can hide a lot of flaws. Acoustic instruments are unforgiving. The smallest flubs are magnified. To hear a jazz-rock band that was as deafeningly loud as the Mahavishnu Orchestra play acoustic music with this kind of refinement and deftness was a true revelation. McLaughlin and Hammer create a landscape of fluttering fragility as their notes dart in and out from behind the trees. This is when you appreciate you are listening to masters at work. The rapport established during the improvised sections is nothing less than the highest form of intuitive collaboration.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love

776&&&ewekjh3huiuhiuhksjksbdgrwteydudloppygdsguiuhjnjkjauiuyoyghoulhusiowuyehgdfwaldojioijhd gddmk&*(*&(&F^$#DF@oiuouoiupegghuiuhioijshgaudetgyudiuyteganantgyuiuytwrodyttgsyubaioiuhat tygyuiuwytandresdrfsghjOWnkhgshgannajioeiuydghj877776&&121957 (This electronic noise was quite literally a sound check.)

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Celestial Terrestrial Commuters

A round robin of a tune, the 9/8 "Celestial Terrestrial Commuters" features the trading of lightning-quick licks that seem to shoot out from the bottoms of the stars. Jan Hammer's Minimoog takes the lead, unrolling metallic sheets of sound. His thrusts force McLaughlin to parry. John counters with rapier-like attacks. Goodman comes to break things up but gets caught in the ever-accelerating melee. In this spinning environment, equilibrium and instability coexist. Cobham or Laird could tip the balance either way. They never do. Instead, they push and push until the tune resolves into a thrilling rapprochement.

Incidentally, the band knew the tune "Celestial Terrestrial Commuters" as "Binky's" because it was a reworking of McLaughlin's tune "Binky's Beam" from his Extrapolation album.

February 05, 2008 · 2 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Miles Beyond

"Miles Beyond" is dedicated to Miles Davis. Over a Moog-induced drone, Jan Hammer eases his Rhodes electric piano down the road. Picking up passengers Billy Cobham and Rick Laird along the way, the trio enjoys the roadside sights. As they merge into high-speed traffic, a string-plucking, hitchhiking Jerry Goodman can be seen on the side of the road. He becomes a distraction for a lead-footed McLaughlin barreling down the same road. Jan and John have a terrible crash. Only McLaughlin's caviar delivery truck remains drivable. They all pile in. There are eggs to be delivered. (To better understand the metaphors of this review it would be good to know that John McLaughlin used to drive a caviar delivery truck in real life.)

February 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Birds of Fire

A panning gong introduces "Birds of Fire." A delicate and slightly distorted guitar plays a gentle but otherworldly arpeggio. Jerry Goodman's violin introduces the main theme, which seems quite simple at first. He is quickly doubled by McLaughlin's guitar. The intensity of the piece picks up appreciably as McLaughlin and Jan Hammer take burning solo turns over the melody's repeating mantra like riffs which have now become more intricate and spellbinding. The guitar, Moog and violin then play out the piece in a blissful unison.

February 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Dream

"Dream" is an epic piece showcasing so much of what Mahavishnu was known for. It is a long-form, meandering composition full of open space and yet tight calls and responses. McLaughlin and Cobham exhibit a great telepathy during their guitar-drum duels…and it is all live before thousands of adoring fans in Central Park. It is almost meaningless to point out that the time signature of "Dream" is changed four or five times or that sometimes the sound isn't so good. I could tell you that in certain sections the band loses its cohesiveness. You could even be told that some of the members of the Mahavishnu Orchestra hated each others' guts at this time. It is all irrelevant. It is about hearing the Mahavishnu Orchestra live! That's all you really need to know.

February 05, 2008 · 2 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Sister Andrea

"Sister Andrea" (pronounced Awn-dray-a, not An-dree-a) was originally planned to be on the group's third studio album. The song was worked into the MO's live set, where it remained until the breakup of the band. The track is notable for being one of the few non-McLaughlin written MO pieces. It has a very funky beat, "funky" not being a word often used to describe the music of the original Mahavishnu Orchestra.

After John starts things off with a few licks, the rest of the band joins in, playing the funk groove of the song's A-section. They slip into the B-section, the infectious beat making way for a slower, almost ominous blues. This serves as a launching pad for McLaughlin's dazzling 12-string solo. After John's turn, the A-section is revisited, providing the groove for Jerry. The buoyant beat gives the gritty rock 'n' roll side of Jerry's playing a place to hang out. He lays into the piece. The Cobham and Laird rhythm section play around with the elastic groove. The band returns to the B-section, this time featuring Jan. His echo-drenched lines screech and scream over John and Rick's riffing. At tune's end, the volume is so loud it challenges our capacity to absorb it.

February 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Trilogy

"The Sunlit Path," the first chapter of "Trilogy," opens with the sound of a gong and sleigh bells. John's phase-shifted guitar plays an arpeggio, which slowly increases in volume. He is soon joined by the entire band, and they play the melody. Billy keeps a 7/8 rhythm as Jan and John have a musical dialogue. This opening chapter is a short path, but it leads us to the water.

The MO flaunts its command of silence and dynamics to open "La Mere de la Mer" (The Mother of the Sea). McLaughlin picks a delicate arpeggio on his 12-string. Jan's synthesizer reproduces the calls of birds circling above. Jerry and Rick enter playing a duet. The melody gently ascends. Billy plays rolls on his tom and bass drums to produce a refreshing ocean shower. Jan continues to fill the sky with sound effects as John's touching arpeggio weaves in and out. It is always calmest before the storm.

"Tomorrow's Story Not The Same" is the final chapter of the "Trilogy." A monstrous snare drum roll crashes in on a rogue wave to rudely interrupt the placid setting. The band plays two bars of 4 followed by a bar of 6. This is a balls-to-the-wall rocker! Jerry gets off the first solo. Jan and John play a game of "catch me if you can" while Billy swings. Rick is holding it all together. The rousing finale makes you feel as if you have been pummeled by a heavyweight boxer.

February 05, 2008 · 1 comment

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Count Basie: The King

This variation on "Jumpin' at the Woodside" features the Count, Jacquet, Berry and a young J. J. Johnson, who stumbles a bit on his solo. This is Jacquet's show, and he makes the most of it. The band smokes on this track (as well as the other tracks recorded on this date), and the sound quality is fantastic for the period.

February 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie: Billie's Bounce

One of Gillespie's final albums was this tribute to Charlie Parker, recorded live at the Blue Note in New York, as part of a celebration of Dizzy's 75th birthday. This track shows little of the dexterity for which Dizzy was famous, but rather showcases two other aspects of his genius: his ability to assemble exemplary bands and his highly developed sense of phrasing. There are fine solos all around, including a masterful contribution by Mraz, who draws loud cheers from both his bandmates and the audience. The far-reaching and probative solos by Golson and Sanchez are marked contrasts to Gillespie's subtle, thematic improvisation, whose nuance could be called Armstrong-esque.

February 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie: A Night in Tunisia (1989)

Of all the versions available, this live recording of "A Night in Tunisia" is noteworthy for its all-star cast and eight minutes of closing cadenzas, each of which is a composition-in-miniature: (1) Gillespie makes a brief, nuanced statement, an invitation to the others that could be construed as a passing of the (jazz) standard; (2) James Moody weaves themes through harmonically adventurous territory, in and out of the highest registers of his tenor sax; (3) trumpeter Claudio Roditi picks up on Moody's soulful suggestions and transports the band into a samba feel, using his horn to mimic the sound of a Brazilian cuica drum; and (4) Arturo Sandoval changes directions completely, taking the audience through a tour of classical themes on piccolo trumpet before switching back to his usual horn for a four-octave sequence of Gillespie's signature ending.

February 05, 2008 · 1 comment

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Dizzy Gillespie: Tenor Song

This project joined Gillespie with some much younger musicians. Though not his best, the album is a success, even though at times Dizzy's facility noticeably falters. "Tenor Song," which he composed for this session, features a samba-like feel and solos by Kirkland, Gillespie, and Marsalis. For its groove and execution, Marsalis's improvisation is the finest of the three, although it's unfortunately cut short by an ensemble counterline that reintroduces the melody. The performance's best aspect is the composition (the melody and its arrangement), which outshines a somewhat clumsily articulated Brazilian feel that tends to get in the way of the soloists.

February 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie: Fiesta Mojo

Originally released in Europe as The Giant, this album was retitled to avoid confusion with two other Gillespie releases with similar titles released within several years of this recording. The composition features Brazilian-inflected melody and groove, an idiom in which Gillespie was very comfortable, due in part to his extensive touring of South America as a cultural ambassador for the United States Government. The band assembled for this Paris session features several American expatriates (Griffin, Drew and Clarke), as well as Pedersen, a native of the Netherlands. Highlights include the solid foundation supplied by Clarke and Pedersen and the ensemble passages and subsequent improvisations by Griffin and Gillespie.

February 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Oscar Peterson and Dizzy Gillespie: Caravan

On Gillespie's second recording for Norman Granz's Pablo label, he joins Oscar Peterson for a set of miraculous duets. Benny Green, who wrote the liner notes for this album, compared this performance of Ellington's classic composition to the Armstrong and Hines rendition of "Weather Bird." Peterson melds a keen sense for complementary accompaniment with dexterous, interweaving polyphonic lines. The breakneck tempo does little to deter Gillespie, who navigates an unaccompanied section without wavering in the slightest. Both musicians bring their best to this date: both show incredible range, flexibility, and complete mastery of their instruments. The result is a well-worn standard transformed through harmonic freshness and rhythmic vitality into an iconic performance.

February 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie: Jitterbug Waltz

When Norman Granz founded Pablo Records to help support "older" jazz musicians, Gillespie was a natural choice for a new project, based on the success of prior collaborations. Dizzy's Big 4 is Gillespie's first recording for Pablo. The piano's absence is hardly noticed, as Pass provides both harmonic backing and an additional melodic voice for the ensemble. This arrangement of the Fats Waller standard is notable for the rhythm section's introductory vamp and the refreshing changes of time signatures and grooves. Performances of this song can rely too heavily on the "waltz feel" to drive the arrangement. Here, however, the quartet succeeds in energizing the performance with an interactive inventiveness.

February 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie: Tour de Force

The band Gillespie assembled for this date was not his regular working group. Nonetheless the performance is cohesive, with each member afforded ample time to share the spotlight with Dizzy. Adams and Gillespie share the melodic responsibilities, while Brown can be heard in the background quoting "Jeepers Creepers" as a countermelody. The improvisations are of high quality: Adams quickly makes way for Brown, whom the liner notes tout as "one of the finest young trombonists to come along in decades." Gillespie sounds much the same as he did 20 years earlier, navigating the chord changes with range and velocity equal to that of his younger self. Also of interest is the track's concluding solo, featuring a young Chick Corea, whose harmonic choices and scalar runs show a fresh approach to Tatum (an obvious influence here).

February 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie: Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac

The magic of a live performance is captured in this rendition of the Gillespie classic based on an African-American spiritual. Opening with a chant reminiscent of the Yoruba-derived religious chants of Chano Pozo, Gillespie welcomes Moody on stage as the "response" to his "call." To Dizzy's carefully executed passages, Moody sarcastically replies, "Yo' mom-o…and yo' papa, too," sending the musicians and audience into an uproar. What follows is a groove-oriented Gillespie solo in which he shows great range and facility. Mike Longo, a new member of the band at that time, headlines a rhythm section playing in an energetic R&B style.

February 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie & Roy Eldridge: I've Found a New Baby

Known at times for having a contentious relationship, Gillespie and his idol, Roy Eldridge, are united for this recording on Norman Granz's Verve label. The competition between the two—both of whom were known for winning "cutting" contests—produces a stellar album. This piece opens and closes with a drum-and-trumpet feature in the New Orleans "street beat" style, which complements the unwavering swing of the melody and solo sections. Gillespie and Eldridge are backed by one of the best rhythm sections in jazz history (the Oscar Peterson Trio, with the addition of Louie Bellson here), which wisely stays clear of the limelight, providing a solid foundation on which this great trumpet battle is staged.

February 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie: Cubano Be, Cubano Bop (aka Afro-Cuban Drum Suite)

Listed on the album as "Afro-Cuban Drum Suite," this version of George Russell's "Cubano Be, Cubano Bop" features an especially rich, improvised duet by conguero Chano Pozo and Gillespie not heard on other versions. Recorded live in France as part of a very successful European tour in 1948, this was the last time Pozo would record this seminal piece of jazz history with the Gillespie band (he was murdered in November of the same year). The composition was originally commissioned for a September 1947 concert at Carnegie Hall that was the premiere of Gillespie's new Afro-Cuban jazz aesthetic, later dubbed "Cubop." In his improvisation, Gillespie demonstrates a remarkable affinity for Afro-Cuban rhythms, which he seamlessly melds with bebop phrasing and vocabulary.

February 05, 2008 · 1 comment

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Dizzy Gillespie: Lover Come Back to Me

This 1948 session for Victor showcases the Gillespie Orchestra as one of the most innovative ensembles of its era. The intricate arrangement features a syncopated ostinato, implying 6/8 time, anchored by baritone saxophonist Cecil Payne that underscores Gillespie's lyrical rendition of the melody in 3/4 time. The added percussion helps suggest an overall bolero aesthetic. On the bridge, the melody, split between the sax and brass sections, is rhythmically reworked to fit a more articulated Latin feel. After a quick cadenza, Gillespie launches the band into a double-time swing passage that features Dizzy's masterful trumpet skills in all their pyrotechnical glory.

February 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey (featuring Keith Jarrett): My Romance

On this hard-to-find live recording from the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, Art Blakey features the two young talents who had just joined his band: 20-year-old pianist Keith Jarrett and 25-year-old trumpeter Chuck Mangione. Neither would stay for long, and both would soon be selling more records than Blakey himself. But their stint with the Jazz Messengers left behind this outstanding LP, which is definitely worth a listen. Mangione takes leadoff solo on this standard, and contributes what would be a standout improvisation . . . if Keith Jarrett weren't taking the next chorus. Jarrett dishes out a perfect solo, with tasty ideas, angelic phrases and a very sweet touch. Jarrett wouldn't go anywhere near a Richard Rodgers standard for almost another two decades, but the newcomer showed here that he could play the old songs with great passion. On the basis of this tantalizing performance, one must conclude that the shortest-lasting group of Jazz Messengers -- it never made another record -- was also one of the finest.

February 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Cab Calloway (featuring Dizzy Gillespie): Pickin' the Cabbage

Originally released on the Vocalion label, "Pickin' the Cabbage" is often referred to as Gillespie's first attempt at incorporating Latin rhythms in his compositions. His section mate Mario Bauzá helped him secure a spot in Calloway's band and introduced Gillespie to the music of Bauzá's native Cuba. The bass ostinato of this piece mimics the 3-2 Cuban clave that could also be heard in contemporary mambo recordings. As in such future compositions as "Manteca" and "A Night in Tunisia," Gillespie varies the syncopated Latin feel in the A section with a more straight-ahead swinging bridge. The lone solo falls to Dizzy, who plays well, showing glimpses of his future genius, and is backed by one of the best bands of its day.

February 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Kimbrough: Wig Wise

By Frank Kimbrough's own admission, Air is the fortuitous result of an informal get-together, apparently instigated by producer Matt Balitsaris, to test out some newly acquired sound equipment and a reworked vintage Steinway piano at the Palmetto studios. After letting some of the original material sit for almost four years, a second recording date was planned, and the resulting music is a testament to, as Kimbrough states, "in the moment" playing. I am especially drawn to his beautifully, fully realized performance of Duke Ellington's "Wig Wise." Kimbrough's carefully thought-out phrasing and sparse but harmonically illuminating approach result in an almost Monk-like rendering of a masterful composition that perhaps needed this "less is more" approach to bring it to light. When Duke played it on Money Jungle, he was driven by the energetic and probing rhythm section of Max Roach and Charles Mingus. Here, without the aide of such a stellar supporting cast but with a refreshingly minimalist approach, Kimbrough makes this Ellington classic admirably his own. As pianist with Maria Schneider's big band, Kimbrough is no stranger to the jazz world. But this work should expose his talent to a wider audience.

February 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Steve Coleman: Easy Living

It begins as an improvised alto solo where you recognize here and there bits of the melody or harmonic twists of "Easy Living" among the poised flow of notes blown at medium tempo. Then Andy Milne's piano enters after almost 1:30 and builds an angular counterpoint to the alto's lead while Coleman gathers speed. Both ultimately wind up exploring the sides and turns of the tune on parallel paths. The result is a fascinating reading—both abstract and full of tenderness—of this classic by two musicians who must know it very well to be able to take is so far away, while respecting its essence.

February 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Pepper: Over the Rainbow

During his announcement to the audience, Art Pepper says that his producer Lester Koenig asked him to do this solo number, and he adds with some humor that it is going to be "one of these Anthony Braxton trips," but "a short thing." Well, it lasts more than seven minutes and, whether you like Braxton or not, I'm not sure you'll see the connection. Lyrical, though sometimes impaired by a hissing reed; dramatic, even if he often fills in with virtuoso licks; adventurous, though respectful of the melody—such is Pepper's solo vision of this song. The vision of a man and musician who, during his lifetime, obviously went several times "over the rainbow," and came back with a different point of view on our world.

February 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Tatum: Tea for Two (1952)

Tatum recorded this tune several times, often as a solo performance. With his trio, he arranges the original melody by adding small riffs to announce each solo—Stewart's being, of course, both bowed on the bass and hummed—and the final return to the theme. The swing is infectious all the way through, and the counterpoint between the three instruments and between Tatum's hands can make you wonder what is written and what is improvised in this awesome tour de force.

February 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Blossom Dearie: Tea for Two

Strangely enough, Blossom Dearie (accompanied by only herself at the piano) sings the verse of this song at a swifter tempo than the rest. Easy, since the rest is sung and played at a very, very slow tempo. But what's not easy is to swing at such a slow tempo—unless one has Ray Brown's burnished bass sound and Ed Thigpen's delicate brushwork by your side. And in this setting listeners can fully enjoy Blossom's exquisite phrasing of the words to a song they may well rediscover, thanks to her.

February 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz & Kenny Barron: Night and Day

After a short up-tempo intro, Getz and Barron launch the theme in a brisk, radiant manner that could lift the spirits of the most depressed listener. This is among the last of Getz. He's sick, and he knows it. Still he wants to give his utmost to the audience of Copenhagen's legendary (and now defunct) Montmartre Club that gave him so much over the years. What's more, Getz is with his favorite accompanist of this late period, the great Kenny Barron. The empathy between them is immense, and each plays with his heart as well as his fingers. Few of us were at the Montmartre in March '91, but we can listen to them at home now, night and day.

February 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Phineas Newborn, Jr.: Lush Life

A lengthy quote from the second movement of Ravel's deeply impressionistic "Sonatine" ushers in a somewhat Tatum-esque rendering of the Strayhorn classic. Newborn has the technical ability to do it: speed, touch, and ideas at such speed too. But here he spares his gifts and focuses on depth and feeling. He stays close to a melody that has so much beauty it can keep the rangiest improvisers within its borders. So Newborn never strays far and mainly varies the pace from chorus to chorus, embellishing with limitless inspiration. Obviously a wise choice, given the fine result.

February 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Tatum: Willow Weep for Me (studio 1949)

Art Tatum's rendering of this tune is unlike his best-known manner. He displays few flurries of high-speed notes, opting instead for elegiac phrasing at medium tempo, with short accelerations maintaining a constant suspense about the evolution of the melody. Improvisation and interpretation are thus intertwined in a way that 19th-century romantic virtuosos may have employed, reminding us that Tatum—besides being a peerless jazz pianist—was a great admirer of Chopin and Liszt.

February 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ran Blake & Jaki Byard: Tea for Two

One thing is for sure, at least: these two may not be having tea, but they are having a lot of fun, and from the highly playful intro on, too. They explore their keyboards and the styles they love and have mastered (stride among them, of course). They share bits of the melody, split roles and registers, like two longtime partners playing witty and innocent tricks to an old song they adore, after all. And if these two didn't give us so much pleasure, there's a good chance we'd be jealous of them. Because where on earth can one remain a child at play forever, except in front of two grand pianos?

February 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Geri Allen: Lush Life

In her solo intro, Allen displays a beautiful piano sound and gorgeous voicings that emphasize the sheer beauty of Strayhorn's composition. The trio part carries on with this mood, accentuating the swing but never straying too far from the melody until the last three minutes of the track. And when it does, Allen's improvisation sounds so inspired and bathed in the atmosphere she formerly created, that it's a wonder. Great partners like Holland and DeJohnette and beautiful material like Strayhorn's song are not enough; Geri Allen shows a deep understanding of this tune. An understanding that involves the brain, the heart, and some fingers, too.

February 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mel Tormé: The Way You Look Tonight

Tempo? Faaast! Vocal phrasing? Impressive—and each word sounds crystal clear! Arrangement? Both refined and punchy! Solos? Herb Geller's and Bob Enevoldsen's names say it all! Will that be enough to convince you that you'd better fasten your seat belt during these <2½ minutes, and that you will sport a broad smile all along that ride and long after it's over, too? Tormé and Paich were really a gas during these '56 sessions, and this track is among the highlights of the repertoire they recorded then. Any more questions?

February 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Bogota

Written for Ken Hanna's own band and recorded in 1955, the composer restyled it as a feature for the Kenton ensemble's conga player, Ramon Lopez. A recording from August 13, 1971 was issued on Creative World in quadraphonic sound and is spectacular, but this performance is even more exciting. Unfortunately, it was not recorded very well and the tapes were almost scrapped, hence a lower rating than might have been awarded. Shearer, Brown, Torres and Vax get to show off.

February 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Tiare

Like Gene Roland, Ken Hanna began writing for the Kenton band in 1944. He joined the trumpet section in 1946, and then led his own dance band during the '50s. (One of the band's albums was in the Stan Kenton Presents series on Capitol Records and is now very hard to find.) Long retired from music, he wrote "Tiare" for the Kenton Neophonic Ensemble in 1968, and rescored it slightly in 1970 for the touring band. Written in 4/4 + 3/4 (in effect, the piece is in 7), it opens dramatically, then becomes a romantic ballad with Shearer playing the melody. The remainder is played freely with a lovely solo by Davis, continues to build and then ends as dramatically as it began. Its success with audiences convinced Hanna to go back on the road with the old man, writing the finest music of his career.

February 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Here's That Rainy Day

Dee Barton began his career with Kenton as a trombonist and drummer, and contributed his first composition to the band in 1961. An entire album of his music was recorded in 1967 that Capitol Records didn't promote. Barton was at the start of a successful career as a composer for motion pictures when he wrote this beautiful arrangement of one of the great standards in American song. Despite the fact that Kenton's band was known as an ensemble that featured screaming brass, Stan liked to open his concerts with something soft and meditative. This was a popular opener for years, remains in the book of the Kenton alumni band, and has been played by thousands of student ensembles all over the world.

February 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jane Ira Bloom: Mental Weather

Jane Ira Bloom

The words "saxophone" and "electronics" in close proximity normally set off our internal Gimmick Alert! alarm, causing us to scurry for cover. Remember Eddie Harris's summer of '68 "Listen Here," the Varitone sax's one-hit wonder? Or John Klemmer's mid-'70s "Touch," which touched our credit cards with primeval Echoplex effects that led producer Michael Cuscuna, among others, to ever after refer to him as "Klemmer, Klemmer, Klemmer."

Thankfully, Jane Ira Bloom, whom jazz critic Nat Hentoff has called "beyond category," is also way beyond gimmickry in her use of electronics, which is as dazzlingly organic as a painter's swirls, adding colorful touches without ever becoming the central focus. The ingenious title track from her 2008 CD illustrates this approach, building on a bass vamp figure whose time signature, the composer informs us, alternates measures of 4/4 and 3/8. This creates an underlying jitteriness that ideally complements amazing solos by Jane Ira and her remarkable new pianist, Seattle's Dawn Clement, who both swing brilliantly over bassist Mark Helias and drummer Matt Wilson's in-the-pocket groove in a mighty unusual meter.

But "Mental Weather" is not about solos, metrics or electronics. This is a full-fledged four-way exchange between master musicians preternaturally attuned to one another, and it's a delight even for those of us who wouldn't know 4/4 from 6-7/8ths.

When we asked whether it would be off the mark to connect the dots between Jane Ira's present work and the early '60s Jimmy Giuffre 3 with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow—for us, a touchstone in the kind of small- group interactivity that Bloom is so notably exploring—she acknowledged: "Those three artists are all great jazz adventurers." But, she added tellingly, "I think somewhere in the back of my mind Ornette is always lurking."

With Ornette Coleman lurking in the back of her mind, it's no wonder Jane Ira Bloom's "Mental Weather" is so invigorating.

February 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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David Finck: Ballad for a Future Day

David Finck has been plying his trade as a sought-after bassist for quite some time. His associations with the likes of André Previn, Steve Kuhn and vocalists running the gamut from Mark Murphy to Aretha Franklin speak volumes of how other musicians view his work. On his latest album, Future Day, Finck's choice of music and arrangements makes for an enjoyably worthy albeit mellow offering.

Finck has gathered together the musical talents of Joe Locke on vibes, pianist Tom Ranier and Bill Evans-alumnus Joe La Barbera on drums. On the album's most upbeat cut, the swinging "Four Flags," trumpet sensation Jeremy Pelt and journeyman saxophonist Bob Shepard are added as special guests, to great effect. The haunting Roger Davidson tune "Ballad for a Future Day," though, is the highlight of this endeavor. Finck lets the poignant melody speak for itself with a minimum of improvisation as each musician in turn interprets this moodily touching song. Locke's hollow, pit-of-your-gut sound is especially effective on this cut. Ranier's keyboard work is tasteful, as is La Barbera's subtle brush and cymbal work. Yet David Finck's almost mournfully bowed bass most pointedly defines the essence of this unheralded song. His playing is reminiscent of the venerable Richard Davis on his wonderful Philosophy of the Bass album. A solid performance by all.

February 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mark Elf: Tea Cup

"We are living on a conducting globe surrounded by a thin layer of insulating air, above which is a rarefied and conducting atmosphere…"

A storm is brewing in this tea cup: Mark Elf is one of the essential guitarists in the electromagnetic field of jazz, and he proves his amplitude on this fulfilling bop-infused invention. Mark and Jimmy spark the vertex; next Elf flows with his characteristic balance of precise picking and fluid phrasing—a closer listen will reveal him singing with his lodestone solos. As Jimmy generates his infinite bebop power and the reliably extra- ordinary Hank Jones gives each ion a soul, Drummond sympathetically vibrates the ELFs (Extremely Low Frequencies). Riley rightly oscillates throughout; his rhythmic lyricism glows especially bright on the fiery fours he trades with Mark. Each of these phenomenal players is scientific in his subtlety of swing, and an incontrovertible conductor of universal acoustic resonance. Zap!

"...the current energy, on the other hand, is preserved and can be recovered, theoretically at least, in its entirety." – Nikola Tesla

February 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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