Tony Bennett: Steppin' Out With My Baby

Among the stars slouching through the first four seasons of MTV Unplugged—the popular cable series where normally amplified rock or rap artists performed all-acoustic sets—were 10,000 Maniacs, Aerosmith, LL Cool J, Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Naturally the fifth season would include Tony Bennett.  SAY WHAT? You know, Tony Bennett, the crooner who left his heart in San Francisco (1962). His strictly acoustic and stylish black-&-white "Steppin' Out With My Baby" video (1993) scored in MTV rotation, so why not give the kid a shot? At 67, the jazzy, snazzy Bennett was out of place, but delightfully in step.

March 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Hank Mobley: Venus De Mildew

Welcome, children, to today's tour of the Louvre. Here you see a world-famous sculpture, the Venus Di Mildew, depicting the ancient Greek goddess of mold. You'll notice that her arms are missing. That is of course what happens when you bite your nails. Just teasing! Actually, the sculptor, an American named Monsieur Shorter, removed them after learning that his patron, Monsieur Mobley, spent most of his money on a new 1966 Cadillac DeVille, and could only afford part of the sculptor's fee. Nevertheless, experts now consider Mobley's "Venus De Mildew" among the funkiest treasures in 1960s antiquities. Needless to say, it is priceless.

March 31, 2008 · 1 comment

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Stan Kenton: City of Glass

"You're not supposed to understand it," Stan Kenton advised. "You experience it with your subconscious." Audiences, though, lacked his psychoanalytic insight. City of Glass' 1948 premiere reduced the Chicago Civic Opera House to stunned silence. An all-dissonance analogue to the "all-glass" architecture then redefining urban skylines, Bob Graettinger's modernistic magnum opus ironically suffered the fate of historic landmarks in the bulldozer's path: prompt demolition. Kenton never again publicly performed City of Glass in its atonal entirety, conceding: "It's very advanced music, and the average person can't take too much of it." Fortunately, Jazz.com visitors aren't average, and never shrink from challenges.

March 31, 2008 · 1 comment

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Mindi Abair: Bloom

In previously reviewing Mindi Abair's "As Good As It Gets" (2002) and "Make a Wish" (2004), we lamely struggled with such categories as adult-alternative-crossover/nouveau-club-electronica/titanium-trendy/ trip-hop-techno-pop. Frankly, none of that does her justice. And it gives us a headache. So screw the labels. Let's just say this woman makes dynamite records. Sure, there're elements of club and electronica. And techno-pop isn't far off the mark. Plus, crossover goes without saying. But adult-alternative may be misleading, and trip-hop is simply wrong. Moreover, who knows what "titanium-trendy" even means? As far as we're concerned, reviewers who get hung up on labels are anagrammatically Anal. Right, Alan?

March 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Antoine Hervé: Africa

It may sound at first like an African melody played on some kind of kalimba, but in fact Antoine Hervé plays this piece on the piano – both inside it as well as on the keyboard – while an electronic device that creates the strangest of atmospheres processes the sound. The interplay between the various repetitive voices quickly becomes fascinating, and the improvisation emerges from this maze in a very original way. More than a solo and not quite an orchestra, this may sound quite experimental, but it creates sheer beauty.

March 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sylvain Luc: A Night in Tunisia

Sylvain Luc has been one of the new wonders of jazz guitar in France for the last 15 years, and his Trio Sud has him playing with two other great musicians and good friends. It takes that to follow his guitar on its inventive forays through rhythms and harmony, with a constant attention to melody. Here, he never strays far from the song's theme, yet plays with it in a way that brings new surprise every few bars. Incredibly long phrases, chords sequences whose rhythm varies endlessly, little countermelodies – this is imagination at its best, with an almost acoustic sound that lets the fantastic technique speak for itself without the help of any electric device.

March 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chick Corea: The Loop

Chick Corea begins this pretty waltz in a very classical manner, and it acquires more bounce when the bass and drums come in. Vitous has a typically melodic solo, and Haynes's drumming is as intelligently supportive as ever. Corea displays a beautiful touch, and his accentuations and rhythmic approach give this tune a distinctive mark that the composition itself may have lacked in less clever hands.

March 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gianluca Petrella: Mood Indigo

After starting with a sonic jungle that Ellington may have approved, the quartet launches into a post- modern "Mood Indigo" full of playful irony and respect for the spirit of Duke's "jungle period." The vocal qualities of Petrella's trombone are a highlight, and Bearzatti's clarinet follows in the same vein, while the rhythm team briskly marks the beat. These young Italians' reinterpretation of this classic is original and highly enjoyable.

March 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Taylor: Fantasy

Playing a muffled rhythm on the strings with his left hand, John Taylor develops a melody with his right. It catches your ear immediately by its rough tones and brisk tempo. Taylor is not here to play Mr. Nice Guy. When his left hand strikes the keyboard and phrases virtuoso streaks parallel to the right hand before returning to the strings, it gives the tune its full harmonic dimension. It emphasizes the raw atmosphere that the pianist, as a sculptor of sounds, has decided to explore. This solo is really carved in stone, and revels in the somber beauty of its multiple facets.

March 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Johnson: You Ain't the One

This recording offers one of the very few aural glimpses we have of this fabled and pioneering Harlem big band. The composition, by Charlie Johnson and Arthur Porter and arranged by Benny Carter (one of his first on record) is an insouciant melody with a hip lyric almost irresistibly tossed off here by Monette Moore (with some engaging fiddling by Edgar Sampson behind her). Perhaps the thing most will remember about this recording is the stabbing, biting trumpet of Jabbo Smith, then only 19 years old and with so much to say musically. But we also should not ignore the inventive drumming of the little-recorded George Stafford. Uneasiness pervades, however, due to the band’s rushing the tempo. In just over three minutes, they pick up about 24 beats per minute by the end of the performance, a tendency heard also on their equally fine recording of “Charleston is the Best Dance After All.”

March 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marty Ehrlich: Waltz

The problem with 3/4 modal tunes is not only that there are a lot of them, but that you must improvise in a very original way if you don't want to sound corny. Here Ehrlich manages to be convincing, partly because his bass clarinet is a rather rare instrument, but also because he has great partners and leaves them lots of room. Formanek takes a long, interesting solo, Drummond is refined and swinging, and Caine's voicings get the best out of the rather predictable chords.

March 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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[em]: Another Mr. Lizard

This German cooperative trio is definitely becoming one of the most interesting European piano trios. On its second record it displays an impressive ease with original compositions by its three members, and the present track by pianist Wollny is a good case in point. Tight interaction, as in the opening melodic unison between piano and drums over a bowed bass drone, twisted melody that never fails to swing, attention to the sound quality of each instrument that attracts your ear by playing in the chords, out of them and around them with a taste for surprise that never sounds conceited. These three young musicians are a delight to listen to.

March 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Surman: Fide et Amore

This duet between two great musicians, whose musical vision bridges the Atlantic and reaches the universal, is more than a quarter century old yet doesn't show a single wrinkle. That's because the lyricism of Surman's baritone sax and the beautiful chords of DeJohnette's electric piano can touch listeners from everywhere, anytime. This poised melody, with its repetitive twists and controlled horn shrieks, is simply beautiful, and conveys the essential.

March 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz & Bill Evans: Funkallero

In this rare studio encounter between two of the era's most lyrical and romantic improvisers, we find an uncharacteristically aggressive Stan Getz. Perhaps the infectious restlessness of the rhythm section of bassist Ron Carter and the energetic Elvin Jones on drums is the accelerant that lights Getz's fire. Evans is less introspective than usual, but defers to the powerhouse performances of Jones and Getz, who spur each other on to new heights of excitement. While Evans may have been a bit uncomfortable with the seemingly inexhaustible energy of the dynamic Jones, the pianist's tune makes a perfect vehicle for Jones and Getz to strut their stuff. In particular, Jones's solo in the song's waning minute is pure napalm. And certainly the drummer stirred something in Getz's soul. The scorching inventiveness from Getz's steroidal infused saxophone, elevated to a new level of spontaneity and drive, is what makes the session so special. This piece is like gasoline in a can on a hot summer day – incendiary.

March 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sonny Stitt & Sal Salvador: Loose Walk

"Loose Walk" begins with Sonny Stitt in mid-solo. No, the musicians did not forget the opening. Filmmaker Bert Stern left it on the cutting-room floor for his documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960). And since this is the Original Soundtrack, that's all we get. It's a shame because, judging from his extant three choruses, Stitt was hotter than the noonday sun.

Guitarist Sal Salvador fared better than his co-star. Sal's 8-chorus solo is intact. (Assuming that the two frontline players took solos of equal length, which is usually the case during such loosely organized jams, that means nearly two-thirds of Stitt's solo is missing.) Except for his 1952-53 stint with Stan Kenton's New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm, Salvador maintained a low profile throughout a career that spanned five decades, spent mostly in New England. But, as he shows here, Sal was a fine technician who could execute single-note lines with grace and imagination.

The head—heard only at track's end—was previously recorded by Clifford Brown & Max Roach as "The Blues Walk" (1955). According to Verve's 2000 reissue thereof, the tune originated with altoist Chris Woods, who recorded it in 1952; issued years later, it was wryly titled "Somebody Done Stole My Blues." In honor of Sonny Stitt, perhaps this track should also be retitled: "Somebody Done Stole My Solo."

March 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Irvin Mayfield & Ellis Marsalis: Yesterday

Paul McCartney's melody always sounds plaintive, but especially so when you know the story behind this track. Mayfield's session came close to being destroyed in the midst of Hurricane Katrina. But he preserved the original mixes on his iPod. Yet a larger tragedy loomed: the trumpeter lost his father, Irvin Mayfield, Sr., in the floods following Katrina. This talented musician and jazz educator has channeled his grief into rebuilding efforts, including an ambitious plan to help New Orleans' devastated library system. His recording, dedicated to Mayfield Sr. and the other victims of Katrina, is a moving tribute by an artist who has done more than almost any other jazz player of his generation for his home town. And how fitting that he is accompanied by Ellis Marsalis, the great patriarch of the New Orleans jazz revival of recent decades.

March 30, 2008 · 1 comment

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Thelonious Monk: Blue Monk (live at Newport, 1958)

The most frequently criticized sequence in Jazz on a Summer's Day, Bert Stern's documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, is Thelonious Monk's performance of "Blue Monk."  Like Jimmy Giuffre before him, Monk repeats a tune he'd played on the previous year's CBS telecast The Sound of Jazz. Monk even sports the same bamboo-framed sunglasses outdoors in July as he'd worn in the TV studio the prior December.

The criticism, though, is never directed at Monk, but rather at the filmmaker for relegating the pianist to background music for distracting aerial shots of the America's Cup trials, filmed by Stern leaning out of a rented Piper Cub over the waters off Newport and proving once again Damon Runyon's timeless axiom that viewing a yacht race is like watching grass grow. Even more annoying than the lumbering boats, however, is the fact that much of Monk's solo is obscured by a nautical sportscaster jabbering from his perch on the bridge of the U.S. Destroyer William R. Rush, strategically deployed at taxpayer expense within 200 yards of the starting line. (Did they fear a British Royal Navy sub might torpedo Columbia, the ultimately victorious New York Yacht Club entry?)

Unfortunately for purists, the original soundtrack CD provides not a pristine "Blue Monk," but a badly mangled compromise. In the process of mercifully stripping the inane prattle from this track, 16 bars of Monk's solo have been mislaid! In lieu of the movie's seven choruses, the CD contains a choppy five and two-thirds choruses—which ain't exactly what God had in mind when He gave Moses the 12-bar blues. Consequently, among the more than two dozen recordings of "Blue Monk" that its composer left us, this track in its present form must rank near the bottom. This criticism, though, is not directed at Thelonious, but towards those who treat his legacy with such disrespect.

March 30, 2008 · 2 comments

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George Russell: Manhattan

George Russell's album-length tribute to New York City remains a major work of the period and one of his most important projects. This track opens with Jon Hendricks and drums extolling the city, and then Russell begins his exploration of "Manhattan," the only explicit statement of the melody being his use of the song's first five notes. Solos are by Brookmeyer, Brookmeyer and Rehak alternating, and Evans (how wonderful to hear him in a large ensemble setting this early in his career). Then a most extraordinary thing happens. From out of a transition by the band, John Coltrane sings out in a solo so arresting that the rest of the track (which has a Farmer solo later) is almost anticlimactic. Coltrane requested a break in the session to go over the chord changes, and the result is gripping and powerful. Trane later told Russell that he didn't like this solo. Amazing!!! (For the musically inclined, the full story of this solo can be found in Russell's textbook Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization.)

March 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Holman: You Go to My Head

By 1958, Bill Holman was a composing/arranging heavyweight, and the second album of big band music under his own name contains several masterpieces. "You Go to My Head" is an excellent example of re-composition using a short, improvised-sounding riff. A four-note phrase frames a presentation that begins with the melody being broken up and explored by the saxes, while the brass play the riff as underpinning—all with minimal rhythmic support. Eventually the whole band takes off, swinging both melody and riff leading up to solos by Charlie Mariano and Stu Williamson. An uneasy transition leads to the leader's solo. The whole thing ends with similar uneasiness, but we have been on quite a journey. That riff may have gone to Holman's head, but by the end it has been thoroughly explored. The setting of the song sounds as if it had been made up on the spot, which is part of Willis's compositional gift. This track is one of his greatest achievements.

March 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marcus Miller: Bruce Lee

Marcus Miller's Silver Rain is caught in a jazz no-man's-land. That's the place in between Smooth Jazz and fusion. There is no way someone who likes the former is going to enjoy the latter and vice versa. So, although the multitalented Miller displays exceptional ability on every cut on this album, I find myself gagging on the smooth stuff and digging the fusion stuff. But because the tunes seem to alternate between the two worlds, I can't make my way through the whole album. I am sure the rest likewise vacillates. Two distinct albums would have been a better artistic and commercial choice, in my humble opinion.

Lucky for me that "Bruce Lee" is the CD's second cut. Miller says the title is a tribute to the martial arts superstar's ability to improvise. Miller's bass is way up in the mix on this funk-jazz piece. The sound is a bit dry, but the fun and engaging riff at the center of the tune is not. Strangely, at first I mistook it for the theme of the Boston Legal TV show. But some guy named Danny Lux wrote that. Miller's string-slapping and overdubbed synth parts on top of the band's funk groove will have you moving in your seat. Miller's solo is a robust statement. That is one hard-biting sound he manages to get. A bed of electronic ambience is laid out for Albright's solo. The opening Boston Legal riff returns to funk it out to the end.

March 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Giuffre: The Train and The River (live at Newport, 1958)

On its face, the Jimmy Giuffre 3 playing their signature contrapuntal folk-jazz opus "The Train and The River" seems an oddly low-key opener for Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), Bert Stern's documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. For that matter, Giuffre's drummerless chamber jazz seemed as ill-suited to the NJF's open-air park on a balmy summer afternoon as a string quartet at Yankee Stadium. Yet the filmmaker's instinct proved canny. By not showing the musicians until two minutes into the performance, Stern not only teases us with an appealing tune underneath his main titles, but actually builds suspense as to when or even if the players will appear onscreen. Finally they do, and in close-up at that—so close up, in fact, that guitarist Jim Hall goes unseen until the track concludes and he rises to take a bow. Otherwise, Stern holds a single shot of Giuffre bobbing and weaving with his tenor sax, as Bob Brookmeyer hovers behind him in a supporting role, for a remarkable 2½ minutes.

Rendering this piece on the previous year's CBS telecast The Sound of Jazz, Giuffre's trio consisted of clarinet/sax, guitar and bass. Six months later, the bass had been replaced by valve trombone, creating one of the most unusual instrumentations in jazz history. While the audio on this 2004 CD is erratic (it sounds better on the actual movie soundtrack), anyone wishing to concentrate on the music can do so sans artsy images of reflections in marina water. With or without pictures, "The Train and The River" is one of the finest 1950s jazz compositions, and this live performance on the 4th of July glitters like the first sparklers at twilight.

March 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Fred Wisdom: We Should Fight

On Words of Wisdom, vocalist/guitarist Fred Wisdom has surrounded himself with some damn fine jazz musicians. Despite the fact that bass man Bassman and drummer Bashford have suspicious surnames, they are a solid rhythm section. Altoist Bowden is also a strong participant.

If Words of Wisdom were strictly an instrumental album, this would be very good music. But Wisdom's soulful voice, sounding like the jazzier/reggae side of Sting with a slight head cold, is mesmerizing. It raises the performance level several notches. His lyrics and composing are nothing earth-shattering, but they are direct and effective. Ruddick's piano chords introduce expressive Wisdom's vocals. "We Should Fight" hints at a swing number to usher in Bowden's flourishes. The hint turns into reality as the midsection evolves into straight swinging jazz. Ruddick's piano playing is sublime. Bowden opens up. Wisdom's world-weary blues via reggae vocals reenter to bring the piece to a pleasing end.

I have some words of wisdom for you. Check this cat out.

March 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miroslav Vitous: Bamboo Forest

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

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

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

March 29, 2008 · 1 comment

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Shankar: Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi

The Indian violin virtuoso Shankar seems to suffer a chronic identity crisis. Over the years, he has been variously credited as Lakshminarayanan Shankar, L. Shankar, or Shankar. Recently he changed his stage name and now answers to Shenkar. While there may be good reasons for this, it sure is confusing. Shenkar has had identity issues with his musical persona as well. In India, he was one of the greatest young classical Indian violinists. He traveled to the U.S. in 1969 and discovered jazz music. This led him to co-found the groundbreaking Indo-jazz outfit Shakti. Then he fell in love with pop music and recorded the Frank Zappa-produced album Touch Me There, one of the most ill-advised pop records ever released. Shankar found a modicum of success as a sunglasses-wearing sidekick to rock star Peter Gabriel before embarking on a really strange but interesting musical path that continues to this day.

"Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi" is side one of Who's To Know, his greatest artistic achievement to date. I love Indian music, but I approach it as a Westerner. There are many elements it shares with jazz, and this track is certainly a fusion. Still, I would rather listen to Indian music than spend time learning about its technical rudiments. From time to time, I will study aspects of the music to gain further understanding. But in the end, my enjoyment is totally visceral. So I choose to ignore the fact that Shenkar informs us that for this piece, he created a new Tala cycle based, in the first part, on 5½ beats per cycle and, in the second part, on 4½ beats. Pardon my French, but it's all Greek to me. What I do know is that Shenkar's invention and mastery of the unique double violin, and the rhythmic magic of tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, keep me totally engaged for 22:11. My Indian friends assure me I would find the performance even more brilliant if I were able to listen as an Indian. Although I find that hard to believe, it does make me jealous.

March 29, 2008 · 2 comments

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Bireli Lagrene: Inferno

Much has been expected of Bireli Lagrene. He was playing Django Reinhardt's repertoire at age 8. By the time he was 12, he was touring Europe and being hailed as the next Django. He decided to take that Gypsy style in a jazz and jazz fusion direction. Over the years, he has played with many great musicians. On Inferno, he finds himself with stars of the second wave of fusion that hit the beaches in the 1980s.

"Inferno," recorded when Bireli was 21, is a Gypsy-boogie fusion number, if I may be so descriptive. Victor Bailey's repeating bassline is so perfect it almost sounds looped. There is just enough variation in it to prove otherwise. Over Bailey's never-ending groove and occasional lush chords from Carter, Lagrene's solo comes at you in bursts, full of chorused blues and rapid jagged scalar runs. Moerlen and Café throw in the kitchen sink for contrast, though nothing too heavy. The liner notes indicate that Bill Evans (sax) donates some dulcet tones, but I cannot hear him.

"Inferno" isn't quite an inferno, and the theme could have been developed a bit more. But for what it is – a showcase for some '80s fusion chops – it stands up well 20 years later. On the whole, Lagrene has lived up to expectations. In this fickle world, that is not such an easy thing.

March 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ginger Baker: Rain and the Rhinoceros

Despite Ginger Baker's place in rock history as the drummer for uber-supergroup Cream, many fans have seen him as just some heavy-handed plodder who was in the right place at the right time. But people who believe that have not been paying attention. Baker has done quite a few projects over the years that are kilometers away from the power trio bashing of Cream and his other rock excursions with Blind Faith and Ginger Baker's Army. "Rain and the Rhinoceros" from Unseen Rain is a perfect example. With bassist Hellborg and pianist Johansson, Baker creates a hypnotic spell. His drumming is quasi-martial, never veering out of formation. It has no highs or lows. It is just there like life's rhythm itself. It is devoid of melody, of course, but is the melody just the same. The whole album is that way. Ginger is more than a thrasher. He is a thinker. You should consider discovering this side of Baker.

March 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ornette Coleman: Bird Food

Being highly influenced by melody and lyricism is usually not a disadvantage, except when listening to the music of a pioneer like Ornette Coleman, who defied the conventions of standard musical logic and created his own path for musical expression. On "Bird Food," one can viscerally sense the intense sympathetic action/reaction of the musicians who make up this "free" playing group. Each member, a talented artisan in his own right, is seamlessly connected to the thoughts of his fellow musicians as if by some gossamer, translucent spinal chord that spreads vibrant energy to the players while never really confining them to the limited motions of homo erectus. In this piece, Coleman plays his plastic alto in homage to Charlie "Bird" Parker without ever imitating. His coincidental lines with the pocket trumpet of cohort Don Cherry mimic the Dizzy/Parker melodies of the past, but only briefly and only as a starting point. Charlie Haden's roaming basslines and Billy Higgins's dancing drums drive the tune through its winding twists and turns. Cherry's solo is a playful exploration that might have put a smile on Diz's face – or maybe not. Coleman, at times free-swinging with only hints of melodic direction, explores the reaches of his mind on this serpentine journey yet magically never loses Haden or Higgins, who communicate in an almost telepathic way. In the liner notes for this song, Coleman says that Bird would have understood the direction he was taking, breaking free of what had come before. Some did; others still don't. Stirring music nonetheless.

March 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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David Finck: Four Flags

In the span of 2½ minutes, David Finck & Co. show how effortless it can be for fine musicians to make a concise statement of musical beauty and do so with brilliant economy. Here on "Four Flags," the superb rhythm section of bassist Finck, drummer La Barbera and pianist Ranier propel the group at breakneck speed to allow for artful yet economical solos. Before the solos begin, the group wails in synchronous unity during the song's initial statement. A soaring Jeremy Pelt then delivers an especially impressive, Hubbard-like, penetratingly lyrical trumpet solo. Vibist Joe Locke follows with a swinging foray that is both undulating and definitive in its attack. Bob Sheppard's bellowing tenor makes a tight and dramatic entrance with a deep and silky tone. Returning to its unanimity, the group concludes in a concise and punctuated manner. A short journey that speaks volumes.

March 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Karrin Allyson: Estrada do Sol

On her Imagina CD, Karrin Allyson uncovers some of the lesser known gems from the oeuvre of Antonio Carlos Jobim. In his best known songs, this composer assimilated the Impressionist influences of Ravel and Debussy and gave them a distinctive Brazilian twist, and on "Estrada do Sol" we see the Erik Satie side of this seminal tunesmith. No, this song is not as well known as the bossa hits, but Allyson still needs to live up to the formidable predecessors who have recorded it, such as Nara Leão and Gal Costa. She hits the mark in this languid rendition. Allyson's Portuguese sounds credible to this Yankee - and she doesn't fall back into English as on many of the other tracks on this release. Above all, her tone captures just the right dose of saudade.

March 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tribal Tech: Torque

Fusion musicians were selling tons of records in the early '70s. But sales fell to a trickle by the end of the decade. Many fusion musicians, and the labels that controlled them, went overboard in attempting to prove they were the fastest and loudest. Sure the fusion movement was about virtuosity and rock-like volume. But if musicians didn't understand subtlety, nuance or even jazz history, they were not producing compelling music. Things became even worse when it was learned that through studio trickeration, almost anybody could play faster than the speed of light without any missed notes. So fusion music as we had known it just flamed out. Strangely, it was replaced by Smooth Jazz. (Pardon me while I gag.) Smooth Jazz was really fusion music with all of its edges rounded off.

There was a second brief fusion wave in the '80s. Scott Henderson and Gary Willis, the founders of Tribal Tech, rode that wave. They and such artists as Allan Holdsworth, Chick Corea, Bill Evans (sax), Jonas Hellborg, Dennis Chambers and others enjoyed a modicum of commercial success playing fusion during this time. Though this revival never caught on to the degree of a total jazz-rock comeback, it has maintained a low buzz to the present day.

"Torque" is by far the best cut on the album. Blues-funk in nature, it kicks ass right out of the gate. If you eliminated Henderson's wrenching guitar, the band would sound like Weather Report. But why do that? Much of the Weather Report sound comes from keyboardist Kinsey, who plays full-bodied twisted chords in stops and starts. Drummer Covington and bassist Willis are in lockstep. Henderson shoots out shards of glass during his solo. Kinsey adds a classic synthesizer solo. This is an impressive fusion power ballad whether it was played in the '70s, '90s or now.

March 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chick Corea: Matrix

Before Chick Corea became a big shot in the world of fusion (which ensured him enough popularity to keep his houses packed when he returned to acoustic groups), he made the terrific trio record Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, from which “Matrix” sprang. It’s a 61?2-minute crash course in the buildup and release of tension (which, heck, is what jazz is all about). The format is predictable – theme, piano solo, bass solo, drum solo, and the big finish – but within those confines are some glorious moments, particularly in the opening solo. “Matrix” is a fast song with rapid changes, and Corea navigates it adeptly. (Of course, he did write it.) After stating the theme twice, he gets right to it, digging around in the chords and unearthing spontaneous ideas. It’s enough to make one wish Corea never got involved with his electric groups.

March 27, 2008 · 1 comment

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Duke Ellington (featuring Paul Gonsalves): Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue

(Editor's note: Duke Ellington introduced this tune at Newport ’56 by stating the following: “And now we would like to play some of our 1938 vintage Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue. These are separated by an interlude by Paul Gonsalves.” Little did Duke know what an understatement this would become. E.N.)

The legendary 27-chorus solo by Paul Gonsalves on Diminuendo in Blue during the Ellington band’s performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1956 nearly caused a riot! The relentless intensity, inventiveness, and swing is a marvel to listen to and behold.

March 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Alan Pasqua, Dave Carpenter & Peter Erskine: Con Alma

(Editor's Note: This recent trio release, a reunion of the group previously heard on Badlands and Live at Rocco, was released on Fuzzy Music, Peter’s independent record label. According to www.fuzzymusic.com, “many artists find themselves dipping into rich cultural pools of musical styles, beliefs and realities that do not fit into the large, corporate/record company way of thought or aesthetics. The only way to make some of this music available was to start our own company. Fuzzy Music® has been created and is offered to you in a spirit of creativity and conscience, with our promise to strive earnestly to find and produce the best quality music we know how.” E.N.)

Hey, you never know when you might run into a jazz critic on a desert island… “Here’s some fresh water, HEY have you heard my latest CD?” Alan Pasqua and Dave Carpenter are 2 of my favorite musicians to play with; Alan’s arrangement of this Dizzy Gillespie classic is ingenious, and I actually like what I played on this. The sound of the recording is really good, too. Pardon my immodesty for including it.

March 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Count Basie: Counter Block

This performance by the Basie band took place during a late-night gig at a Disc Jockeys of America convention on May 31, 1959. The dance for 2000+ people started at 2 a.m. and ended at 7 a.m. (Basie’s band had been booked at Birdland that week. The band flew to Miami late at night, played the gig and then returned to NYC after the gig in time for their scheduled performance at Birdland that evening.) Thad Jones wrote this tune, and you can hear the genesis of the band he shared with Mel Lewis a few years later. It's fascinating to listen to Sonny Payne play this; like the whole band, he swings like crazy. Other tracks are all great, especially those with singer Joe Williams. A wonderful album.

March 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: The Duke

(Editor's note: Miles Ahead was the first Miles Davis/Gil Evans collaboration for the Columbia label, with the extraordinary Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain soon to follow. As Peter suggests, however, their initial teamwork here was a complete musical triumph. E.N.)

My favorite composition of Dave Brubeck’s, realized to perfection by Gil Evans’s writing, Miles’s playing and the band’s accompaniment. This is a perfect song, in tribute to Duke Ellington. “The Duke” seems to say it all.

March 27, 2008 · 1 comment

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Miles Davis: Blue in Green

(Editor's note: Bill Evans was the ideal addition to the Davis group for the modal concentration of Kind of Blue. Having personally studied with George Russell and therefore familiar with his Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, he and Miles collaborated on some of the most celebrated jazz ever recorded. E.N.)

This album is on everyone’s desert island list. I spoke with Jimmy Cobb recently, and he said that the thing that most struck him about Kind of Blue as of late is that he’s “the only one left.” "Blue in Green" set a new standard for poetry and patience in music.

March 27, 2008 · 1 comment

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Stan Kenton: La Guera Baila

I love the entire Cuban Fire Suite. In fact, I love all of the music that Johnny Richards wrote for the Kenton band. This album represents one of the first and finest fusions of jazz and Afro-Cuban music. This ballad features wonderful solos. Mel Lewis’s drumming throughout is, as always, perfect. My professor from college, George Gaber, plays timpani on several tracks of the album. For power combined with lyricism, this is hard to beat.

March 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Weather Report: The Juggler

(Editor's note: The seventh Weather Report record and the first featuring Jaco Pastorius as a full-time member of the group, Heavy Weather is filled with memorable material, from “Birdland” to “Havona” to “Palladium” to this Zawinul classic, “The Juggler.” E.N.)

This tune’s brilliance was recently revealed to me by Alex Acuña: the drum rhythms are from Peru ~ this is Alex’s favorite cut from Heavy Weather. I love it, too, in part because it is a marvelous yin to the rest of the album’s yang. Heavy Weather is so great, in part, because of the presence of this tune. Joe Zawinul was a great, great composer.

March 27, 2008 · 1 comment

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John Coltrane: Resolution

(Editor's note: A musical and spiritual journey completed on a single December day, A Love Supreme is the apex of instrumental storytelling in jazz. Note the classic tension-building use of block chords at the conclusion of Tyner’s solo that lead to Coltrane’s sublime re-arrival. E.N.)

There are no words to describe this milestone in art, except for John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones.

March 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chick Corea: Matrix

(Editor's note: Awarded the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs was the first, and most celebrated, collaboration between Corea, Vitous and Haynes. They can also be heard performing as a trio on Trio Music (1981) and Trio Music: Live in Europe (1984). E.N.).

This album was the original “postcard from the future” recording for me. Roy Haynes is a genius. I first heard Roy on the Eric Dolphy Out There album, which was plenty out there. Chick’s album (when it was first released, neither Roy’s nor Miroslav’s names were listed!) was “out,” too, but in a piano trio way.

March 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Stuff

(Editor's note: Recorded after the all-acoustic Nefertiti, Miles in the Sky was his first record that to experiment with combinations of acoustic and electric instruments. While other tracks on this record (“Paraphernalia”) feature electric guitar, “Stuff” features both electric bass and piano from Carter and Hancock. E.N.)

As much as I love In A Silent Way, this album pointed my way towards the future of music. Thank you Tony Williams and Ron Carter! How can something be so loose and yet so funky?

March 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Keith Jarrett: Common Mama

(Editor's note: With the enormous amount of revered material Keith Jarrett has released as a solo performer and with his Peacock/DeJohnette trio, it is easy to overlook his American Quartet material from the 1970s. Redman, Haden and Motian joined Jarrett on countless standout efforts, including Birth, Fort Yawuh, Treasure Island, and Death and the Flower. On this effort, the quartet is supplemented by strings and additional brass. E.N.)

I've always loved this track since the first time I heard it in 1972. Keith writes great tunes, and the band here is stellar. Paul Motian’s focus and discipline and completely “way-out,” unconventional drumming on this is fascinating. I asked one of my students at USC to describe or explain what was so great about Paul’s drumming on this tune. My student, Louis Cole, replied: “He lets the music do all of the work.” Brilliant.

March 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Weather Report: Nubian Sundance

(Editor's note: A transitional Weather Report record, Mysterious Traveller saw Alphonso Johnson replace Miroslav Vitous on bass and the addition of Ishmael Wilburn on drums (sharing drum duties with Skip Hadden). The brilliant consistency of the Shorter and Zawinul collaboration, however, made for an effortless, memorable record. E.N.)

This album seems to capture what the band did best: play music like nobody else. “Nubian Sundance” is jazz’s Sergeant Pepper.

March 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Fletcher Henderson (with Louis Armstrong): Sugarfoot Stomp

Fletcher Henderson’s “Sugarfoot Stomp” is very much an early recorded jazz repertory performance. It is a retitled version of King Oliver’s “Dippermouth Blues” that borrows, albeit obliquely, from King Oliver’s 1923 recording. It references the original’s introduction, opening choruses, clarinet solo and, most significantly, the three-chorus solo of Joe Oliver, played here in a timeless manner by Louis Armstrong. But it is the new touches provided by the Henderson musicians and arranger Don Redman that make this one of the first modern big band recordings: scored section leads and backgrounds, sudden dynamic shifts and an ending designed more for listening than for dancing.

March 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bobby Watson: Purple Flowers

Veteran saxophonist and leader Bobby Watson, who made his bones as so many have from the "school of Blakey," is joined by Betty Carter graduate Curtis Lundy on bass and a group of fine younger musicians, The Live & Learn Band, for this date. On "Purple Flowers," Watson demonstrates his solid, soulful alto on a thoughtfully composed ballad by pianist Harold O'Neal. Leron Thomas's trumpet solo is inspired and his duet work with Watson is in perfect sync. The whole feel is a laid-back cool with Wolf's vibes softening the timbre of the tune. Creative breaks in the melody lead the listener in unexpected ways. Watson's is a voice that is noteworthy in both tone and dexterity. O'Neal has crafted a fine melody that is firmly anchored by Lundy's bass and Davis's skin and cymbal work. All in all, this is a satisfying offering.

March 26, 2008 · 1 comment

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Stanley Jordan: Over the Rainbow

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

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

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

March 26, 2008 · 2 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: John's Song #2

In 1999, producer Bob Belden came across the master tapes of what would become The Lost Trident Sessions. Belden had been working on the remastering of Birds of Fire when he spied the infamous tapes from the failed Mahavishnu Orchestra third studio recording attempt. At the time of those sessions, the original Mahavishnu Orchestra was well on its way to internal Armageddon. Belden immediately knew he had found the Holy Grail of fusion music. Within the year, the album was on the shelves and was popular enough to reach #2 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Charts. That is quite a feat when you consider the music had been recorded 26 years previously.

"John's Song #2" is the album's highlight. It sounds very much like the musical style that McLaughlin was to adopt for his new Mahavishnu Orchestra. In fact, it would have sounded right at home on Visions of the Emerald Beyond. Though not as rough around the edges as a typical MO tune, it is relentless in its drive. McLaughlin spews out notes furiously and adds rhythmic riffs behind Jerry Goodman's soaring violin. This is one of Goodman's best Mahavishnu performances. There is a lot of highly energetic intricate unison playing that, by this time, had become expected of the band. The tension mounts until it is released by a guitar riff that has been sliced-off clean by a knife.

Considering the tapes had been gathering dust for all those years, the sound quality is amazingly good. Still, the album was never finished. Any Mahavishnu fan can tell that. I mean, they never even got around to giving this tune a real name. One can only imagine how the band would have honed the pieces on the album had they all been getting along.

March 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: I Wonder

"I Wonder" was Jerry Goodman's chance to show his fine composing skills in the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Unfortunately, those skills were not to be heard for 26 years because of the band's failure to get its act together during the recording of what was supposed to be its third studio album. The album never saw the light of day. Luckily, in 1999 Columbia released The Lost Trident Sessions, which included the tapes of the failed attempt.

The tune begins with a Goodman pizzicato played over a round-robin bass, drums and electric piano. This cycle continues throughout the entire piece. McLaughlin enters center stage wailing from moment one. The reverb is bouncing off the inside walls of your skull. After his offering and a major Cobham drum roll, Hammer's Moog does the same. Strangely, though at times Goodman mimics Hammer's lines, there is no violin solo. "I Wonder" slowly circles the drain before entering it.

This is a good piece and stands on its own merits. However, it is not really a Mahavishnu tune. It is a Jerry Goodman tune and belongs in his repertoire. It is little known that Goodman himself is a very fine guitarist. The vitriol that surrounded the members of the Mahavishnu Orchestra at that time, and especially the stories, both true and untrue, of the anger at the original recording sessions has led to much myth. There was a story going around for years that Goodman actually played the guitar on "I Wonder." Goodman says that those stories are ridiculous.

March 26, 2008 · 1 comment

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Steppings Tones

In a move to ease dissension, John McLaughlin had agreed to allow other Mahavishnu Orchestra members to write some music for the band's upcoming third studio effort. What would later become known as The Lost Trident Sessions were tapes of that ill-fated studio attempt. The results from these tumultuous sessions would be released with great fanfare and commercial success some 26 years later.

"Steppings Tones" was bassist Rick Laird's composition, but he was not really happy with it. He had been rushed to write it and considered it unfinished. In fact, in the few concert appearances of the tune, it was used as an introduction to longer pieces. In that capacity, it is actually quite a successful piece.

Everyone seeing the title for the first time assumes it is a typo. In some instances, writers have even corrected it to "Stepping Stones." But they have been wrong. The legally published title is indeed "Steppings Tones." At the time, the band members were fond of playing a word game. They would take the first letter of a second word and add it to the end of the first word. They apparently had a lot of fun doing this. Things can get boring on the road. You probably had to be there. Even after Mahavishnu disbanded, Billy Cobham continued to play a variation of the game when he released his album A Funky Thide of Sings.

"Steppings Tones" is written in intervallic steps, which Laird loudly lays down as McLaughlin provides a panning arpeggio. Cobham adds the requisite fills. Goodman plays a repeating melody as Hammer comps with some electric piano. The theme repeats over and over as if running in place. The tune would make a good theme for a TV detective show. But Laird is right. It sounds unfinished. And this is one reason for The Lost Strident Essions. A more complete version of Laird's composition appears on the Jan Hammer and Jerry Goodman album Like Children.

March 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Trilok Gurtu: Shobharock

The amazing percussionist Trilok Gurtu first came to prominence with the world music group Oregon. He would later achieve greater fame with the John McLaughlin Trio, where his wild East-meets-West percussion forays became highlights of every show. In performance, Gurtu surrounds himself with Indian percussion instruments of every sort and a small traditional drum kit. He plays sitting and or kneeling. His percussion pallet is as big as anyone's. He may strike a small cymbal, then drop it in and pull it out of a bucket of water. He may squeeze squeaky toys, blow a whistle, shake a handful of small bells or strike an impressive Western backbeat or snare roll. And he does it all with an infectious smile that in itself is part of a wondrous rhythm.

Gurtu has released many worthwhile recordings on his own over the years. He is clearly one of the fathers of the burgeoning Indian world and jazz music movement. (In case you haven't heard, India is where the jazz shit is really happening these days!) "Shobharock" is a piece of work, named in honor of Gurtu's mother, Shobha Gurtu. An accomplished Indian vocalist who passed away in 2004, Shobha raises her voice to great effect on this fusion number. The theme is ushered in by a low drone. The great Indian classical violinist L. Shankar, or just "Shankar" as he appears in the credits, divulges the tune's mesmerizing theme over Gurtu's Western-style drumming. Gurtu will change his percussion character several times during this excursion. Swedish bassist Jonas Hellborg maintains the bottom with a relentless precision groove. The group sound is overwhelming in its scope. Jazz trumpeter Don Cherry has a solo. Oregon's fine guitarist Ralphe Towner takes his turn. Truth be told, there is really too much going on here. But "Shobharock" is an ethnically and stylistically mixed musical mosh that is well worth the sensory overload.

March 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Surinder Sandhu: Amirah

In India there are only three Masters left teaching the sarangi, an ancient bowed stringed instrument from the Northern Indian tradition. The paucity of its practitioners is relative to its extreme difficulty to play. Surinder Sandhu, an Indian raised in the UK, has had to travel to India many times to learn it. Though no one truly masters anything, Sandhu has an ironfisted grasp of the sarangi's tradition and the open mind needed for its future.

This CD is revelatory, a stunning collage of Indian-influenced jazz and symphonic power. The composing, arranging and orchestration of "Amirah" were all done by Sandhu. The members of the Saurang Orchestra, culled from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, are given plenty to do. Guitarist Steve Vai also makes an appearance on "Amirah." The rock star Steve Vai? Yes! He plays some beautiful Far Eastern guitar. Also performing to great effect are sax players George Brooks and Andy Sheppard, while Shabhaz Hussain displays a confident mastery of the tabla. Of special interest is the talented drummer Mark Anderson. But the star of this fusion of Indian classical music, jazz and symphonic power is Sandhu. His sarangi produces a low-register haunting whine that enters from the core of this Carnatic creation to permeate all that you hear.

March 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Klemmer: Quiet Afternoon

Reviewing this cut has given me the opportunity to check on something I have been wondering about for a couple of decades. What ever happened to John Klemmer? The popular and innovative sax player had virtually single-handedly introduced electronic effects, most notably the Echoplex, to the saxophone. The original Echoplex was ostensibly a tape-looping device that allowed Klemmer to riff against his own reverb. According to his website, Klemmer continues to use this effect to this day. But that's just it. I had to check his website to find this out. As his website's bio reveals, while Klemmer has been quite prolific over a long career, he has a habit of taking extended sabbaticals. These "breaks" may last several years. That is no way to maintain a commercial career that has drifted toward the pop world the last two decades, yet it is apparently how Klemmer finds peace of mind.

LifeStyle was the promise of a bright jazz and fusion future. Klemmer would be a good player without the effects, but their presence offered a unique and pleasing sound. His compositions were strong, and the band played them with confident ease. "Quiet Afternoon," written by Return To Forever bassist Stanley Clarke, has a delicate melody that is the antithesis of a typical fusion number. Klemmer plays it relaxed and cool for a while. The sound of his sax through the Echoplex is beautifully distinctive, as all that reverb hides the sound of his breathing. The midsection of the song calls for him to do some heavy lifting above a tasteful accompaniment, which he does impressively and effortlessly. The appealing opening strains return in all of their echoing glory.

It was nice to revisit this performance. If Klemmer had kept this up over the years, I would have visited many more times. But that is selfish on my part. An artist's soul is more important than any listener's needs.

March 26, 2008 · 3 comments

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Egberto Gismonti: Frevo

Outside of Brazil and certain European countries such as Germany, the overly talented Brazilian instrumentalist and composer Egberto Gismonti is hardly known. Though he has enjoyed commercial success, which is more than 99.9% of musicians in this world can say, most of his albums have been released only in those two countries. Despite this unfortunate situation, he has loyal fans in the United States who make it their business to attend shows during his very rare stateside tours.

Gismonti is a prolific composer and gifted pianist with superlative improvisational skills. He is also a very fine guitarist, playing a 10-stringed version. "Frevo" is his most recognizable composition, famously covered by the guitar duo of John McLaughlin & Paco De Lucia. The classical pianist Joanna MacGregor also has performed renditions, as have others. In some circles, it is becoming a part of the standard repertoire. Brazilian frevo is a 2/4 rhythm that is most associated with the dancing and leaping that takes place during Carnival. It is almost, though not quite, a revelers' march music. It is almost always played rapidly. Frevo is less well known than samba, but is finding its way more and more into popular Brazilian music.

Gismonti's version of his own composition is miles from the McLaughlin & De Lucia interpretation. He plays the melody a bit faster and perhaps with an added delicateness. Once he gets going, though, he takes the tune OUT. Because he is playing solo, he has more freedom than the guitar duo. At mid-tune, Gismonti turns into Bill Evans. His style is pure classicism. He plays beautiful chords and fragile single-note runs. Hints of Brazil disappear. He spends a great deal of time exposing frevo's vulnerabilities before returning to the Latin-tinged theme. This is a brilliant performance of an outstanding composition. To help remedy Gismonti's comparatively limited fame, please search YouTube, where you will find all sorts of wonderful examples of his musical mastery.

March 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stéphane Grappelli: Night and Day

Although a number of Stéphane Grappelli CDs were released after his death in 1997, the music on most, if not all, predated this 1995 live recording. On this track, Grappelli begins with the verse in a pensive manner and then subtly embellishes the familiar melody, enhancing it with aptly placed upper-register asides. Burr's aggressive, resonant basslines are in stark contrast to Pizzarelli's laid-back rhythm guitar. Bucky solos next in his inimitable style, strummed passages mixing with delicately picked phrases and rich chords. He and Stéphane then improvise in tandem, weaving their enticing lines to a dramatically descending resolution that elicits a burst of applause. Grappelli ends the piece much as he started, softening his attack as he comes to a clever, yet unexpected conclusion utilizing just a small segment of the theme. Even at age 87, Grappelli was still an undiminished master of the jazz violin.

March 26, 2008 · 1 comment

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Stéphane Grappelli & Claude Bolling: Cute

Better late than never. Not only was this session Stéphane Grappelli's only recording with a big band, this track also finds him playing a tune he may never have performed before and sharing the spotlight with a flutist, perhaps another first. Bolling's arrangement is, as Grappelli shouts out at the end of another selection on the CD, "First class!" Bassist Sorin and drummer Cordelette lay down a driving foundation for the stirring improvisations of Grappelli and flutist Schirrer, and the orchestra plays its fanfares and intricate unison passages with gusto and a velvety blend of instruments. "Cute" is but one of 14 delicious tracks on a remarkable CD that as a whole is a unique must-have from Grappelli's lengthy discography (a DVD version is available as well).

March 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stéphane Grappelli & McCoy Tyner: I Want To Talk About You

When one hears another version of this tune, John Coltrane's 1963 emotionally charged interpretation from his Live at Birdland release immediately comes to mind, especially Trane's awe-inspiring one-of-a- kind coda. Grappelli and Tyner (pianist on that Trane masterpiece) approach this performance from a more romantic, less beseeching point of view. At the same relaxed tempo as Coltrane's, Grappelli essays the lilting theme with a semi-sweet vibrato, Tyner offering full-bodied support to the violinist's tender yet fervent variations. Stéphane's cascading solo is similarly both delicate and profound, and McCoy's all-too-brief improv that follows is laden with majestic chords. As Grappelli lingers lovingly on the melody while the track nears its conclusion, you lean forward in hopeful anticipation of a coda from the violinist that, alas, never comes. Grappelli and Tyner first performed together three years prior for a Maryland Public Broadcasting event, and this recorded collaboration between the then 82-year-old young-at-heart violin giant and one of the most influential pianists in jazz history was the fortunate end result.

March 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stéphane Grappelli and David Grisman: Tiger Rag

Stéphane Grappelli played concerts as well as recorded with David Grisman's captivating acoustic string group, which enjoyed several years of great popularity before its members parted ways in the early 1980s. The group, in a way, was an eclectic re-imagining of the Quintette du Hot Club de France, with bluegrass and folk elements added to the mix. This track features Grappelli with fellow violinist Mark O'Connor, who was mentored by Stéphane starting at age 17 and went on to a successful career encompassing the jazz, country and classical fields, including his Hot Swing Trio. Grappelli introduces this "Tiger Rag" as "a transcription for two violins," but after their mostly unison intricate exposition, the rest of the group enters the fray and Grappelli and O'Connor perform dazzling solos and exchanges, Mark's slight country twang helping to distinguish him from Stéphane. Grisman's energetic mandolin picking prods them along. Said O'Connor of Grappelli years later: "The last time we played together was about a year before his death. He gripped my hand strongly afterwards and would not let go of it for 30 minutes. I understood that he wanted me to carry on his memory."

March 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stéphane Grappelli: Blues for Django and Stéphane

This is a priceless example of Stéphane Grappelli's inspiring interaction with younger musicians, who were always floored by his vitality and skill. This session not only tried to channel the spirit of Django Reinhardt, but on this track Larry Coryell's infectious Texas-style guitar evokes Charlie Christian, and Grappelli surprises us with a deftly executed piano solo ranging from stride to barrelhouse with stops in between. Grappelli also contributes a concise, blues-drenched violin solo that contains highly expressive upper- register explorations. The two guitarists' prancing blues riff, which both opens and closes the piece, also adds to the success of this memorable track.

March 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Felipe Salles: Crayon

In this ambitious musical suite, saxophonist/composer Felipe Salles successfully traverses the complexities of creating musical landscapes reminiscent of his native Brazil as well as tinges of the Argentinean tango à la Astor Piazzolla. In this, his music is textural and his arrangements make full use of the various tones and timbres of the instruments he has carefully chosen to include. On “Crayon,” dedicated to his father, the tone is set with Laura Arpainen's poignantly evocative violin solo, leading to the deep-throated Salles on a soulful tenor melody reminiscent of the soundtrack for a Raymond Chandler movie. Salles paints his pastel with the aural strokes of flutes, bass clarinets, violins, piano, bass and drums, all backing his probing tenor work, which is at once exquisitely clean yet emotionally raw. His use of the ensemble's total sonic spectrum is noteworthy. Salles is an orchestral and compositional force who, like Gil Evans or perhaps even more so Oliver Nelson before him, is to be watched closely for important things to come.

March 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lennie Tristano: Intuition

Here is another first for Lennie Tristano. "Intuition" represents the first collective improvisation in the history of recorded jazz. Only the order in which the instruments would enter was determined beforehand. Everything else was created on the fly. Tristano had been experimenting with this type of total improv in private, and now put it on record at this path-breaking 1949 session. This song was a radical move in the 1940s, and still sounds futuristic today. Put this up on the shelf with other Tristano breakthroughs, including the first recorded example of atonal piano jazz, and that earth-shattering version of "I Can't Get Started" from 1946. But this artist's recorded legacy is more than a matter of being first. The sheer brilliance of Tristano's conception is evident time and time again on these seminal recordings. Why this artist doesn't figure more prominently in the jazz history books remains one of the great mysteries of 20th-century music.

March 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Caribbean Jazz Project (with Dave Samuels): Soul Sauce

This is a song with a history. Cal Tjader had a huge hit with "Soul Sauce" in 1965. But he borrowed the song - well, it's not really a song, more like a vamp - from "Guarachi Guaro," a 1948 recording of Dizzy Gillespie with Chano Pozo. Now Dave Samuels steps in and shows that 60 years later, this "Soul Sauce" has lost none of its spiciness. The band settles in for a comfortable medium-up tempo, a perfect beat for the intro and turnaround, which are supposed to sound like a syncopated blur. Samuels contributes a tasty solo with just the right dose of funkiness. If hip songs still got airplay, this could be a hit all over again.

March 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stéphane Grappelli & Oscar Peterson: Them There Eyes

Stéphane Grappelli was extremely active in 1973, with at least eight recording sessions that year alone, and the date with Oscar Peterson was probably the best. Peterson was in the rhythm section for the 1957 Violins No End album that featured Grappelli and Stuff Smith, but it wasn't until 1973 that Stéphane and Oscar got to go at each other one on one, as on this duet track (Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen and Kenny Clarke filled out the quartet elsewhere). Peterson's rollicking intro precipitates Grappelli's sizzling entrance, immediately improvising on the melody. His breakneck lines are beautifully structured, with many engaging riffs sprinkled about. Peterson's following solo is very bluesy, with a ringing tone and a great variety to his attack as he builds in intensity and creativity, very cogent and controlled. The violinist takes the out-choruses swinging hard, again using catchy riffs to great effect, ending with another highly embellished reprise of the theme. Grappelli always regretted not getting to the U.S. before one of his early inspirations, Art Tatum, passed away. Peterson was as close as Stéphane would get to that great pianist's style, and one can sense the excitement he felt at this opportunity, which Peterson clearly reciprocated.

March 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stéphane Grappelli & Gary Burton: Falling Grace

This was a match made in heaven. The young Gary Burton was touring Europe and the then 64-year-old Stéphane Grappelli was performing regularly at the Hilton Hotel in Paris when Atlantic Records recorded them. Stéphane and Gary are both lyrical players, romantic and delicate on ballads, but capable of playing with an edge and an ecstatic propulsion at quicker tempos. Both also make their formidable technique subservient to their expressiveness, with no wasted notes or unfocused flashiness. Steve Swallow's rhapsodic "Falling Grace," which he wrote for Bill Evans, was a perfect vehicle for Grappelli and Burton to react and interact. Swallow's booming basslines are also worth noting, anchoring the group's overall sound. The year 1969 was a turning point for Grappelli, as he also had recorded meetings that year with Joe Venuti and Barney Kessel, and visited the U.S. for the first time to perform at the Newport Jazz Festival (albeit in the rain and while oblivious youngsters rioted around him). He never looked back, and went on to finally become an international star.

March 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stéphane Grappelli & Stuff Smith: How High The Moon

Stéphane Grappelli and Stuff Smith were, along with Joe Venuti, the most significant and influential early jazz violinists. Stéphane and Stuff display their contrasting styles on this version of "How High the Moon" from 1965, just two years before Stuff's death. Smith had the coarser, straighter tone with little if any vibrato, played with more blues feeling due to the way he slurred his notes, and sometimes would hit a string with his bow in a way that produced a plucked effect. Grappelli's more elegant style grew out of the classical and Gypsy guitar traditions, and he had the admirable ability to maintain his rich vibrato at any tempo and in any register. Bix Beiderbecke's piano playing, Grappelli once said, had "a fantastic psychological effect on me." Smith's style, on the other hand, he said was inspired more by such horn players as Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins and Red Nichols. You can hear all that and more on this track, as the violinists challenge each other, playing intricate, careening lines in their distinctive solos. After pianist Urtreger's well played, boppish improv, Stéphane and Stuff trade passages in exciting fashion, and then give drummer Delaporte some space, which he utilizes skillfully. Very hot jazz from a hot group.

March 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stéphane Grappelli: Body and Soul

Stéphane Grappelli's career flew a bit under the radar in the 1950s, although he toured Europe and England and regularly played club, hotel and cabaret dates. A first American tour with Django Reinhardt was planned in 1953, but Stéphane could not locate the elusive Gypsy and then learned that Django had died of a stroke. This track from 1956 shows Grappelli in top form, and as masterful as ever on a ballad. His embellished reading of the melody recalls Coleman Hawkins to some extent, but the gracefully structured lines and gorgeous tone are uniquely his own. Stéphane seasons his solo with a speck of dissonance here and there, and some characteristic swoops into the upper register. For contrast he also speeds up some of his runs, displaying impressive technique while doing so. Pianist Vander's understated accompaniment adds just the right touch.

March 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt: After You've Gone

The start of World War II broke up the popular Quintette du Hot Club de France, then touring England, with Stéphane Grappelli remaining in London for the duration of the conflict, while Django Reinhardt returned to France. Beginning in 1946, the two reunited periodically up until their last recordings in Italy in 1949. As one hears on this track from those final sessions, their playing by then had taken on a new level of assuredness and virtuosity, no doubt indirectly influenced by the innovations of bebop. Except for the pianist's brief intro, the Italian rhythm section goes almost unnoticed. It is the astonishing, swiftly executed solos of both leaders, as well as Django's almost manic rhythm guitar support for Stéphane, that nearly overwhelm the listener. It would be another 20 years before Grappelli's popularity began to accelerate, and it continued to do so for almost another 30 years after that. Django, alas, would drift through the next, and last, four frustrating years of his life.

March 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Eddie South and Stéphane Grappelli: Daphné

Eddie South spent the years 1928 to 1931 in Paris and other parts of Europe both performing and studying, and was one of Stéphane Grappelli's early inspirations, although Grappelli was mostly playing piano for a living during those years. When South returned to Paris in 1937, he in turn was inspired by the Quintette du Hot Club de France, and recording sessions soon resulted. South and Grappelli basically play a series of heated exchanges on this track, bookended by the familiar theme. Grappelli is mainly distinguished by his richer tone, not as thin as South's more classical sound. Their phrasings, however, are remarkably similar. Django Reinhardt arranged the piece and provides energetic and imaginative support that nicely frames the two violinists' expressive and technically polished improvisations. South's career never really took off, resulting in few quality record dates. If not for that, instead of a "Big Three" – Grappelli, Joe Venuti and Stuff Smith – setting the standard for jazz violin, there would probably be a "Big Four" that included the gifted Eddie South.

March 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt: Ultrafox

Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt met in 1931, but did not play together until 1933, at which time the idea for a string quintet began to form (although Django would have preferred a drummer to a third guitar). The Quintette du Hot Club de France recorded from 1934 until 1939, when World War II led to its breakup. While Django received much of the acclaim, Stéphane shared the solo space and more than held his own. On the medium-tempo "Ultrafox" (the title a takeoff on the Ultraphone record company which released the side), Grappelli engagingly plays the jaunty theme that sounds a bit like "Four or Five Times." Django solos first with delicate, precise lines, then a contrasting chordal section, and finally back to glittering extended runs. Grappelli enters swinging hard, displaying a full, glowing tone and ripping off flawlessly executed lines comparable in impact to Django's, ending with a neat stop-and-start coda punctuated by the guitarist's strummed counterpoint.

March 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gongzilla: Haniface

Gongzilla is the spawn of Gong, the European jazz-rock outfit that made a name for itself back in the 1970s fusion movement. The original Gong never really did it for me. Over the years, the band has undergone several different reincarnations, all of which I have totally ignored. If East Village Sessions is an example of what I have been missing, perhaps this was a big mistake. East Village Sessions is a jazz-rock exposition full of well-formed melodies and a stubborn adherence to a groove.

Vibist Benoit Moerlen seems to be the leader of this ensemble. He introduces "Haniface" with a Euro- African feel. Lozago enters with long sustained notes. At times he and Moerlen double-up on the melody. Soon, however, a Spectrum-era Billy Cobham funk groove dominates the proceedings. The outstanding playing of drummer Husband and bassist Rowe is the key to sustaining this vibe's infectiousness. Lozago's guitar, though played with less velocity, is also reminiscent of Tommy Bolin's Spectrum solo turns. Moerlen uses his vibes throughout the piece as added percussion. Despite coming awfully close to lifting Cobham's famous fusion groove, this is creative jam-band music that should please jazzers and rockers alike.

March 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dennis Chambers: D.B.D.

"D.B.D." comes off as this band's end-of-the-first-set number. It is their "Rhythm-A-Ning." Part boogie, part Gypsy blues and part shuffle, "D.B.D." encapsulates the skill of each player into 3:48. And what skill it is! In the skittering introduction, Lagrène and Di Piazza facilely match each other note for note. Chambers, perhaps the preeminent fusion drummer of our times, owns the break with a muscular display of time- keeping dexterity. Lagrène then does his best impression of the good Larry Coryell as bluesman. The trio repeats the catchy intro and ends it on a high note mid-phrase. "Yeah!" we shout as the band leaves the stage. It's time to hit the men's room, get a gin & tonic and sit back down. The second set starts in about 20 minutes.

March 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Vince Seneri: Overdrive

There are some days where abstractions just get in the way. The ears demand something direct and organic, something that swings like a life depended on it – something, in short, to make the morning grouchies wish they'd stayed in bed. While it's possible to "make ugly" with the Hammond B-3, Vince Seneri makes the right choice: to swing. With guitarist Paul Bollenback and the great Randy Brecker on trumpet, it would seem that a serving of "Overdrive" is in order if you have the desire to strip away the indirections that the world is so full of. By the time Seneri takes his blistering solo, you'll have forgotten why you were in a bad mood this morning.

March 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Macchia: Landscapes IV – Arctic Chill

This track reminds me (in a slightly less uncomfortable way) of Ornette Coleman's work on the Naked Lunch soundtrack. Macchia's sax paints short, bluesy lines that mirror the sparse contours played by The Prague Orchestra. This does not mean that "Arctic Chill" is tension-free. Quite the opposite, as initial passages from the string section set up an ominous atmosphere that Macchia's improvised sax lines don't completely disperse. Toward the end of his solo, it almost sounds as if the sax is pleading with the strings before slipping out one last forlorn restatement of the theme that seems like a surrender.

March 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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David Joel: Eastern Truth

I can't believe I'm going to write this: it was the keyboard solo that drew me in. This may not make me any friends in the world of jazz keyboards, but the very word "keyboards" is often a deal breaker for me when scanning the musician lineup of an otherwise unknown CD. This isn't because keyboards always ruin the mix. No, the problem is Smooth Jazz – you're safe from that realm if the keys have been left out. See? Logic! I'm just being honest here.

So right in the middle of this slinky blues, guitarist David Joel steps back and lets keyboardist John Stenger take this great, textured, atmospheric, out solo. Stenger takes the main theme and runs it through his "fun house mirrors" patch. It makes the bass solo and subsequent restatement of the head seem all the more exotic. Fantastic stuff.

March 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Plamen Karadonev: Sianie

I love ballads whose melodic lines come in from many directions. The angularity gives the music an other- worldly quality. On "Sianie," Elena Koleva pushes the music a step farther with beautiful and ethereal wordless vocals that follow George Garzone's theme. Mid-song, a strong contrast is set up as Garzone takes a bluesy sax solo, bringing in a more organic element. When Koleva returns, "Sianie" again takes off into the mist.

March 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Grand Pianoramax: Tempest

Toward the end of an album that features hip hop, jazz and just a taste of art rock (courtesy of the Minimoog) comes "Tempest." A central piano figure is repeated, shifted, deconstructed, elongated, polished and expanded. All the while, drummer Deantoni Parks adds weight and drama as the chords change. It's a funny idea, but if Phillip Glass and Steve Reich could write pop music, it might come out something like this. Stop laughing, it's not that funny!

March 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington Legacy: Toe Tickler

Edward Kennedy Ellington II, grandson of The Duke himself, founded the Duke Ellington Legacy with the intent of keeping the flame lit under the wide-ranging music created by his grandfather. Rather than sticking to Duke's "greatest hits," Edward chose to rearrange the old favorites, toss in a few obscurities ("Moon Mist," "Pretty Woman"), and even feature a tune written by saxophonist/arranger Virginia Mayhew. "Toe Tickler" is a barnburner from start to finish, with Mayhew, the rhythm section, and the complement of horns trading fours in an almost illegal fashion. I haven't been this excited since I first heard Sonny Stitt's "The Eternal Triangle." The Duke would be proud.

March 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Grupa Janke Randalu: Confidance

I like the idea that music just exists, waiting to be made real by the appropriate medium: the musician. Mostly this concept is way too New Age-y to be taken seriously. But then I hear what Kristjan Randalu and Bodek Janke do with piano and percussion, and must pause to reflect. "Confidance" opens with a few big, spacious chords that echo off into the distance. Janke's percussion (which sounds like a combination of toms and hand drums) then implies the boundaries that Randalu fills with a speedy thematic ostinato. As momentum builds and ideas crystallize, you get the feeling that this music has indeed existed forever. It even seems as if the pair celebrates this notion by reversing roles – first with percussion leading and piano comping, then with Janke switching to "mouth percussion" (similar to the vocals found in Indian classical music). The Grateful Dead used to speak of concert moments where "the music played the band," a variation on the theme of the eternal existence of music. During some of the more intense passages of "Confidance," the listener can witness that idea in action.

March 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ted Kooshian: Bullitt

Watch almost any action movie from the late 1960s and you're sure to hear the signature sound of misbehaving guitars, pensive flutes and spiky horns. Ted Kooshian updates this particular classic movie theme by at first going "out" with a very angular introduction and then slowly building tension as the piano and sax trade ideas. There's an underlying current of funk here that's very much in the spirit of Lalo Schifrin's original, and the energetic climax does bring to mind Steve McQueen, his Mustang and that insanely great car-chase scene. (Subtract 2 ratings points if you remember the chase scene and were annoyed that they passed the same Volkswagen Beetle so many times.)

March 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lionel Loueke: Skylark

The song may be by Hoagy Carmichael, but the attitude here is clearly in the world fusion camp. Lionel Loueke grew up in Benin in West Africa, and he incorporates a number of distinctively African elements into his interpretation of this 1942 standard. I like his bright guitar voicings with their open, spacey sound, and his melodic sensibility, closer to Ali Farka Touré than to bebop or fusion. Other jazz players tend to take these old songs and try to make them more complicated, but pop tunes from the golden era had lots of sophistication built into them at the factory; so it is often more effective to bring a more streamlined, diatonic sensibility to this material, as Loueke does effectively here. This artist has a fresh sound, and it will be interesting to watch his career develop to see how far he can take it.

March 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jonas Hellborg: Blue in Green

Early in his career, many fans compared Jonas Hellborg to bass superstar Jaco Pastorius. Musically, this was silly. They were both very great but different players. Hellborg was much more into chord playing than Jaco. This set Hellborg apart from about 99.9% of other electric bassists at the time. He also employed a unique string-slapping technique, though he overused it from time to time, which would soon become a standard sound in the bass lexicon. Jaco didn't slap.

The comparison to Jaco would be an apt, however, if fans were talking about the expected fame Jonas would soon acquire. But Jonas has made decisions that would not allow that popular recognition to take hold. He has said on more than one occasion that he does not care about fame or an historic career. He is interested only in playing music he wants to play. Over the years, he has certainly stayed true to that philosophy by releasing mostly noncommercial music on his own labels and eschewing the moniker of "Bass God."

Elegant Punk is a perfect example of Hellborg's immersing himself into the music rather than image. At the time of this solo recording, he was becoming well known for his wild fusion excursions. He would have sold many more records had he continued that type of sound on Elegant Punk. Instead, with one or two notable exceptions, he focused on the beauty of the bass guitar and demonstrated why it can be used for so much more than just bottom-end timekeeping.

His version of "Blue in Green" is a tasteful example of bass as rhythm, accompaniment, and melodic lead. It is full of subtle chords and evocative soloing. In a nutshell, he approaches the bass as if it were a guitar. That requires some serious thinking and even more serious finger-stretching to reach and play those impossible chords.

March 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Kevin Eubanks: New World Order

Most people know Kevin Eubanks as the affable bandleader/sidekick on Jay Leno's NBC-TV Tonight Show. Though his talent shines through during the musical lead-ins to commercial breaks, many viewers are unaware that Kevin is one of today's most accomplished jazz guitarists, at home playing standards, fusion, acoustic ballads and even Smooth Jazz as he did for label GRP for a bit. (Pardon me while I gag.) Despite that lapse in judgment, Eubanks has shown himself to be an extremely articulate guitarist and impressive composer.

"New World Order" is indeed jazz-inflected world music. Flutist Jordan and an acoustic Eubanks flutter to and fro before a crooked Eubanks arpeggio ushers in the rest of the band. A slow relaxed swing ensues until midsection, when chaos reigns as Moffett and the gifted drummer Mondesir are let loose. Eubanks's acoustic attacks are full-frontal, his frantic notes cascading over the edge of a now relentless din. Is harmonious cacophony possible? Yes.

Back when Johnny Carson hosted the Tonight Show, he would occasionally feature bandleader Doc Severinsen and his stellar Tonight Show Band for an entire song. Jay Leno should do the same for Kevin Eubanks.

March 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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David Fiuczynski & John Medeski: Vog

When writing about David Fiuczynski, I spend half my time going back and correcting the spelling of his name. Interestingly, I go through the same exercise when I write about many Indian musicians whose names can sometimes be longer than a line at a Miley Cyrus concert. David should have taken a stage name long ago. His nickname "Fuze" would have done.

Lunar Crush is an understatement. F-i-u-c-z-y-n-s-k-i and Medeski, the important cog in the premier jam band Medeski, Martin and Wood, crush much more than a moon or two on this outing.

"Vog" is in the vein of a classic Medeski Martin & Wood jam. Medeski's grinding B-3 organ, Lake's insistent drumming and Ephron's thumping bass carry it inexorably toward grooveland. But "Vog" is different from a standard MMW vehicle because of F-i-u-c-z-y-n-s-k-i's wild guitar explosions. After he and Medeski establish a head-grabbing theme, F-i-u-c-z-y-n-s-k-i proceeds to tear his guitar to shreds. It is a total deconstruction of the instrument. Notes, as sharp as broken glass, are dangerously jettisoned in every which direction. Blood is drawn. Soon Medeski is doing the same to his poor axe. The band continues to pulverize. It is all too much for their equipment, which breaks down into a heap on the floor.

March 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Surman: Kentish Hunting (Lady Margaret's Air)

John Surman is a saxophonist of extraordinary musical interests and diversity. His explorations transcend the boundaries of what most people call jazz. Throughout his career, he has masterfully played with the likes of John McLaughlin, Dave Holland, Mike Gibbs, Miroslav Vitous and Paul Bley, to name a few. His collaborative work with Jack DeJohnette has been a fruitful and exploratory one spanning many years and including a commission to work in conjunction with the avant-garde Balansecu string quartet. In this nine-part musical adventure of sounds and textures, Surman's use of the various timbres in his multi-reed arsenal is impressive. For Part III, "Kentish Hunting" (aka "Lady Margaret's Air"), his baritone sax provides a prancing background emulating a gentry ride through the English countryside. The dancing airy overdub of his delicate crystalline soprano sax evokes the brisk country air flowing through Lady Margaret's hair as she gallops her trusty steed. Surman's mastery of tone and texture creates the image of a Kentish Hunt to perfection.

March 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marilyn Mazur & Jan Garbarek: Joy Chant

For this tune, Marilyn Mazur chose a single instrument from her hugely diverse percussion kit. It's called a hang and is not much used yet by jazz musicians. It looks a bit like a small flying saucer and sounds halfway between a steel drum and metallic tablas. On this nice repetitive song Mazur has penned, the hang's sound is a perfect match for Jan Garbarek's soprano sax. The Norwegian reed player often had the Danish percussionist in his bands. Now she enlists him for her first ECM record, and shows that Garbarek fits beautifully into her music, which is much more joyous and lively that his usual fare.

March 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Scofield: The Low Road

This is great Scofield! A bit more polished than some time ago, perhaps, but still it's good to hear Sco in this vein again: tricky, creative soloing, dirty sound, fantastic rhythm. He's the best when he wants to be, and he knows it! Swallow is as faithfully present as ever, with his supple drive and round sound, and Stewart's drumming on this groovy tune reminds us – in case we had forgotten – of his long stint with Maceo Parker. But this is no trio track, and Scofield has arranged some beautifully efficient horn riffs, sheets of sounds and countermelodies to this great blues tune.

March 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ryan Blotnick: You Can Talk During This

There's obviously a high dose of irony in the title of this piece. Because if you talk during it, you'll miss a lot. Of course, at first hearing its relaxed aspect might induce you to chat with your neighbor. But your ears will soon be caught by the very special interaction between Blotnick and Catalan pianist Albert Sanz. The way they accompany each other's solo is as interesting as the solos themselves. These are two strong personalities, and their paths somehow had to cross, since Blotnick studied long in Europe while Sanz came to the USA for the same reason. In this context, Blotnick's music has acquired – right from this, his first CD – an originality that promises most interesting developments.

March 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Terumasa Hino: Romancero Gitano

To this writer, this tune is one of the greatest achievements of the 1980s hard-bop revival. It has a Spanish-tinged melody with strong drive and an interesting harmonic structure, and is played by highly motivated musicians, some of whom still deserve to be better known. Let me then focus on them: Onaje Allen Gumbs doesn't solo here, but does such a terrific job behind his partners, adapting to their idiosyncrasies, that you sometimes want to listen to him rather than to the soloist. Rob Scheps is the second discovery. His sound is so huge and his phrasing so inventive and full of energy that you can hardly understand why he isn't better known. Besides his own qualities as an instrumentalist and composer, one must bow to Terumasa Hino for having assembled such a top-notch team.

March 21, 2008 · 1 comment

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Hank Jones: Bemsha Swing

Hank Jones was already an established pianist when Thelonious Monk, who was his elder by a year, came to prominence. Here, decades after Monk's death, Jones makes one of Monk's most famous tunes his own, bending it to his mild manner without being unfaithful to its spirit. Where Monk carved his works in marble and granite, Jones works with wood, velvet and silk, and his swing, touch, accents and voicings are a constant source of wonder. All the more when he's supported by such empathic companions as Mraz and Mackrel.

March 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Roy Haynes: Our Delight

Phineas Newborn is certainly one of Bud Powell's greatest heirs. On this first Roy Haynes trio album, there's no doubt Newborn was chosen for this reason by the drummer, aside from his blues and ballad artistry. On the swift tempo chosen to tackle this Tadd Dameron classic, Newborn displays his talent for touch and accentuation, and Haynes shows how he can vary his playing across his entire drum set. Between these two igniters of virtuosic fireworks, Chambers remains a steady anchor, both from a rhythmic and harmonic standpoint. Is it still possible to play bebop in such a candid way, or do we have to listen to magic tracks like this one over and over again?

March 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Carla Bley: Utviklingssang

"Evolution Song," in the language of her Swedish ancestors, was penned by Carla Bley for the great band she had at the beginning of the 1980s, and she actually recorded it again on her more recent CD 4 X 4 (2000). A plaintive motif by Carlos Ward's alto sax, repeated with a heavier beat by Michael Mantler's trumpet, then by Gary Valente's trombone, leads to Tony Dagradi's dramatic tenor solo supported by the rhythm section. The rest of band joins in to give a lush churchy feel to this hymn-like song that has a strangely nostalgic way of celebrating evolution. Carla Bley's dry humor must have something to do with this paradox.

March 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Carrothers: In the Wheelhouse

This is obviously a strange trio, but it doesn't play strange music. At most, it plays music strangely. In fact, the theme Carrothers penned could almost be a standard. (He even quotes "Secret Love" during his solo.) But the investment of his piano, of Stewart's drums and of Denner's alto is so deep and their interaction so unusual that you realize this setting has more to do with human and musical relationships than with tradition. This is a unique trio with a very special approach, and it's great to see that some musicians can have it their own way, neither following usual trends nor trying to break any codes. They just feel this way.

March 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ellery Eskelin: Wee See

This theme suits perfectly the trio that Ellery Eskelin has formed with Parkins and Black. It's angular and allows for sonic exploration in the repeated exposition of the short melody, and for random chorusing by adventurous musicians such as these three. Black's drums, even when they don't solo, are a constant source of rhythmic and sonic surprise in the way they support his partners, and the tenor's tough phrasing as well as the unique way Parkins plays her accordion contribute to a most interesting version of one of Monk's little masterworks.

March 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marc Copland & Greg Osby: Easy Living

This version of "Easy Living" is very quiet and relaxed in its beginning, and Copland's piano maintains a slow, understated pace while Osby gathers momentum and intensity during his solo. The alto explores textures and harmonies in a refined way, its exposure of the theme slowly becoming a solo as its search carries on. When it stops and the piano briefly plays alone, the atmosphere hardly changes. The partners are about sound, and they play their instruments in such a personal way that one at times almost forgets the original theme just to follow them where they lead us.

March 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mark Murphy: Empty Faces

An inspired Mark Murphy uses his amazingly expressive voice to navigate the many twists and turns of this unusual, undulating Milton Nasciemento song. Dave Mathews's arrangement is propelled through its various phases by Don Grolnick's organ, Harvie Swartz's driving bassline, an animated Jimmy Madison on drums and Sue Evans's timely percussion. Murphy sings in tandem with an energetic Randy Brecker through the middle of this crescendo-building, Brazilian-inspired samba to its final fadeout. Murphy once again shows his penchant for choosing challenging material and approaching it in his own unique and engaging way.

March 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mark Murphy: On the Red Clay

Backed by a stellar lineup, vocal stylist Mark Murphy lends his unique lyrical take to this classic Freddie Hubbard tune. A punctuated bassline by Harvie Swartz starts us off on this desert journey, accentuated by appropriate snakelike rattles from percussionist Evans, all the while backed by the accomplished horn section of David Sanborn and Michael & Randy Brecker. Don Grolnick's electric piano and Tony Puma's guitar comps mesh perfectly as Murphy's deep-timbered, jagged delivery mimics a horn more than a voice. The syncopated pace abruptly shifts with a deliciously played trumpet solo by Randy Brecker in homage to the song's composer, Freddie Hubbard. At the break, the ever-versatile Murphy scats in perfect harmony with the horn section, one more testament to this man's unique ability to scat in the tradition of great singers like Ella Fitzgerald or Jon Hendricks but with a decidedly "cool" approach. The inimitable Michael Becker takes a brief but immediately identifiable solo, followed by a Grolnick electric piano solo riff that foreshadows "Angela," Bob James's theme song to the TV show Taxi – by three years! Murphy's lyrics give a story to this formerly instrumental piece. After hearing his take on this song, one wonders how it was ever played without his words.

March 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tim Miller: Electric

Description of all music is subjective. I don't know any way to describe a listening experience other than to compare it to something else I have heard, seen, tasted or felt. A frame of reference is absolutely required to write commentary of any sort. To me, the best music hits you in about two seconds. It puts an immediate thought in your head. Such is what happened the first time I heard Tim Miller, which was about 12 hours ago as I write this. On this cut at least, Miller displays the harmonic and melodic sense of Pat Metheny and the chops of a 21st-century Django Reinhardt. This thinking was bolstered by the album's third cut, "Elements," which is much more "modern Gypsy" than "Electric."

"Electric" has a very pleasing melody. It's a bit of a funny title, really, as the guitar sound straddles acoustic and electric. A simple but dynamic bass chord progression serves as the underpinning. This eventually gives way to a jam band vibe. Though Miller is a wonderful player and is the melodic center, this is very much a trio. All three players are high in the sound mix. Much pleasure would be derived from just listening to one musician each time through. Davis's bass is deep in several pockets. Take Toriyama is all over the kit adding textures with cymbals and various tools. After some impressive expositions, the Metheny-esque arrangement returns to its root melody.

Subjectively speaking, this is really good music. I am looking forward to hearing more of it.

March 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ryan Drolet: Spy Song

There is plenty of fine jazz music being played in Canada. Canadian jazz-fusion guitarist Ryan Drolet's Trippin' Wet is excellent testimony to that fact. Drolet has an inventive mind and a dexterous set of hands that can produce Joe-Pass-meets-Larry-Coryell runs one moment and conjure up weird sound effects the next. Drolet's chord playing is also quite original and, together with the rolling bass of Brad Ferguson, augments the quasi-funk superstructure of this fine band.

"Spy Song," which opens the CD, sounds as if Drolet has temporarily morphed into The Edge of U2 fame. His guitar plays a simple yet intoxicating riff. For a time, the rest of the band takes on the U2 persona as well. It seems vocalist Bono will make his grand entrance at any time. But it never happens. Instead, a gutbucket drum 'n' bass excursion takes over. The midsection then becomes an unabashed groove fest. Drolet uses every special effect technique in his bag. He picks below the guitar nut. He slides the pick up and down the length of the strings, paying special attention to the higher registers. His string tricks are ambient and melodic simultaneously. After an extended and fascinating middle section full of antics from all the players, the opening riffs return with full gusto. It is all great fun. Merci.

March 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Rave Tesar: The Scale Song

Since the 1980s, pianist and composer Rave Tesar has been an in-demand New York City session player. You Decide is a straight-ahead jazz exercise on which he and the highly capable Kermit Driscoll and Bill Tesar display some rather impressive and imaginative chops.

"The Scale Song" could easily turn into a piano standard. It is that good. Tesar's opening Brubeck-like chords provide the perfect counterpoint to his following upper-register single-note runs that sound nothing like Brubeck. A short "Moon River" quote or two finds its way into his stylish improvisation. Tesar has a light and swinging George Shearing touch in his chord playing and in his right hand. Tesar's brother keeps a gentle rein on his drumming while adding the needed textures with his brushes. Driscoll adroitly doubles much of the melody on upright. These guys are seasoned pros that know how to handle a melody. This trio's playing is of the highest caliber. Tesar's fine compositions deserve nothing less.

March 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lindsey Boullt: Call for Peace

Lindsey Boullt seems to have no limitations on guitar. Composition is full of myriad styles and sounds. Boullt may play lush acoustic arpeggios on one tune or machinegun salvos on the next. It all depends on what the music calls for. Though the album is diverse in content, it certainly has a world music feel.

"Call for Peace" is one wild ride. The title suggests you may hear a somber but hopeful ballad. And so you do – for about 15 seconds of Ali Khan's emotive vocals over a sparse acoustic guitar. But then, quite jarringly, you are joyfully subjected to a rollicking Indian and Arab hybrid that could very well serve as the soundtrack for the opening escape scene from the next Indiana Jones flick. It is a welcome slap in the face. There is no subtlety about this message. "Call for Peace is a whirling dervish of a tune. (Interestingly, another tune on the album is called "Chasing the Whirling Dervish.")

Boullt and the ubiquitous Sherinian share unison lines and trade-off at ridiculously high speeds. Ali Khan's syllabic singing serves as an extra instrument. A strong bassist and drummer are needed for this workout. Herrara and Anur are up to the task. In listening, I could not help but think of Al Di Meola's "Egyptian Danza," which I recently reviewed. "Call for Peace" is what that tune could have been.

March 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jack Reilly: All the Things You Are

Pianist Jack Reilly continues to delight with his intelligent piano playing. This version of the Jerome Kern standard served as the final encore from a performance by Reilly's trio recorded in the UK last year. This music comes out of the rich Tristano-Evans tradition, which Reilly understands at a very deep level. This trio doesn't jump on any bandwagons or try to impress with its trendiness. Rather, they deliver thoughtful, linear improvisation handled with consummate skill. The recording quality is a mixed bag, with the drums getting lost in the mix, but Reilly's keyboard comes through loud and clear. If life were fair, this artist would not be building his discography with low-visibility indie releases, but would have an ECM or Verve behind him. Maybe we need to get a "musical taste" transplant from the savvy jazz fans in the UK, who have hosted Reilly on three visits since 2002.

March 20, 2008 · 3 comments

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Mike Stern: D.C.

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

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

March 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Vinnie Colaiuta: John's Blues

Most recently playing with Herbie Hancock, but having starred with many jazz and rock giants such as Chick Corea, Jeff Beck, Frank Zappa and Sting, Vinnie Colaiuta is one of the most in-demand drummers on the contemporary music scene. Over his career, he has been favorably compared with Tony Williams and Steve Gadd. His strength lies in his ability to take the most intricate and complicated rhythm lines and make them seem natural. But of more interest on this outing are his composing abilities.

"John's Blues" is a perfect example of Colaiuta's writing skills. It is a tribute to John McLaughlin. Its themes, and even its soundscapes, seem to allude to every McLaughlin tune there has ever been and to almost every musician McLaughlin has played with. This is despite the fact there has been no lifting (stealing) of any of McLaughlin's melodies. Jeff Beal plays the part of Miles Davis. John Patitucci is Michael Henderson. The Millers' guitars employ many of the arpeggio-inflected sound swathes that McLaughlin used in his second Mahavishnu band. Goldblatt's synthesizer work is reminiscent of Mitchel Forman. Steve Tavaglione plays the role that Bill Evans (sax) did in the '80s. And of course, direct from the Actors Studio, Colaiuta stars as Billy Cobham, Danny Gottlieb and Dennis Chambers. This engaging tune is more than worthy of its namesake.

March 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: David

This was the second release for John McLaughlin with his band the Translators. Even more so than on the previous Belo Horizonte, this band provided soothing and sometimes contrapuntal background for McLaughlin's wonderful acoustic guitar. They were all fine musicians, but keyboardist LaBeque did not improvise, leaving most of the improvisatory melodic chores to one John McLaughlin. That's fine with me.

"David" is a heartfelt tribute to John's older brother David. It was David who gave an 11-year-old John his first acoustic guitar. For that, we are all indebted because it set John on the path. McLaughlin plumbs the depths of despair with his introduction. The feeling of loss is palpable in the resonance of his strings. But with sadness, there is also joy that must be recounted. McLaughlin and band convey that joy with an upbeat middle section dominated by hornlike calls from LaBeque's synthesizer and John's light and airy speed runs. The coda is a return to mourning.

"David" also appears on the Guitar Trio's (McLaughlin, De Lucia, Di Meola) Passion, Grace and Fire, but this performance is more touching.

March 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dixie Dregs: Cruise Control

You would think that Southern rock, the purview of such bands as Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Cowboys and Poco, would not find common ground with jazz-rock fusion. You would be wrong. The Dixie Dregs, though eschewing vocals, have fused the two seemingly disparate genres with great success for three decades. You can throw the influences of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jeff Beck, Deep Purple and ZZ Top into the stew that has nourished the music of the Dregs. ("Dixie" was dropped from the name a few years back).

Led by the phenomenal guitarist Steve Morse, Dixie Dregs have become a legendary live experience. The lineup has changed a bit over the years. But this edition with keyboardist Lavitz, drummer Morgenstern, violinist Sloane and bassist LaRue was as good a representation as any of its incarnations.

After some ambient distractions, "Cruise Control" starts its life as a down-home blues boogie. It gains steam. An injection of Grand Funk Railroad insulin is given. Sloan plays Mahavishnu on violin. Morgenstern wows the crowd with a powerful drum solo and percussion follow-up. A solemn organ ushers in an insistent cowbell and a further drum barrage. Morse offers his version of fusion chicken-picking. He then furiously trades at overdrive speed with Lavitz before the tune reintroduces the boogie element. At its apex, the tune ends abruptly. The lights are turned on. The crowd leaves sated, but must stop on the way home to grab a bite and a drink to discuss what they just heard.

March 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Luther Hughes and the Cannonball-Coltrane Project: Fast Trak

The cover of this CD shows fireworks going off, and the title is in huge capital letters proclaiming "SPECTACULAR!" Even so, you could easily miss this unheralded indie release -- especially when it had the bad fortune to go on the market at the same time that a big label was launching a Cannonball Adderley tribute CD with an all-star band. No famous jazz all-stars on this CD, but you wouldn't guess it by listening to this track, which swings like crazy. I had never heard of altoist Bruce Babad before -- he teaches at Fullerton College in Orange County -- but I will be on the lookout for him in the future. His solo here is quite impressive. Of course, when the rhythm section is playing at such a high level, everybody sounds good. Okay, not just good . . . spectacular!

March 18, 2008 · 2 comments

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Dafnis Prieto: Taking the Soul for a Walk

Taking the soul for a walk? But be prepared. This track is more like a triathlon than a pleasant stroll in the park with Dafnis. Prieto's edgy performance moves through the paces, starting with a serpentine melody on piano, which serves as an invitation to the horns. All the players are coy and reserved for the first two minutes, but from that point on this music goes into overdrive. The whole band gets high marks, but the closing drum solo, with conversational interjections from the piano and front line, is the highlight of the performance. Prieto is a dramatic artist, fusing the best of Latin and jazz in a crisp, invigorating sound all his own.

March 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mark Elf: Liftoff

Aural astronaut "Mach" Elf gracefully defies the gravity of these heavy changes. Like Mark's "Elfin's Pace" (a nod to Coltrane's "Giant Steps"), this Elf composition is based on Trane's "Countdown." Bop may be the propellant, but Mark's melocity equals his velocity; his speed-of-sound solo is stunning yet sing-able – by an agile singer. With the celestial crew of Hazeltine, Washington and Nash, who all walked into the session cold yet ascended into orbital velocity from launch point, this mission burns from start to fission. If only the flight had lasted long enough for a piano solo; the track lands at under 3:00, but there's an alternate take in which Hazeltine's prime comping modifies the vibe. In case you can't get enough of Mark propelling through this supersonic progression, check out the YouTube clip of him test-flying the tune at his home studio.

March 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jeff Beck: Led Boots

Written by keyboardist Max Middleton, "Led Boots" is an aggressive funk number that could have been a Stevie Wonder song from the time if Max and the others didn't take it out! A simple rhythmic riff opens the tune. Beck plays counter to it. After his solo, the band piles on the funk for a few pleasingly repetitive bars, then Beck goes nuts. Hammer soon joins in the madness. Both are committed. The tune fades out about the same time as their meds kick in.

March 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jeff Beck: Blue Wind

In 1975, the superlative rock guitarist Jeff Beck discovered fusion music. It wasn't long before he was the top-selling fusion artist. His album Blow by Blow raced up the pop and jazz charts. Many rock fans were perplexed by Beck's sudden shift into the genre. But enough of them came along that, when added to his new fusion following, they were quite a large group.

Beck, who quite honestly says his move into fusion was strongly influenced by his admiration of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, took the music one step closer towards mass appeal. He did this by playing shorter tunes that had ingratiating hooks, giving his music a better chance of being heard on the radio. It was no accident that he hired Mahavishnu keyboardist Jan Hammer and the second Mahavishnu Orchestra's drummer, Narada Michael Walden, to write and play some tunes on 1976's Wired.

Though Wired was a bit less popular than Blow by Blow, it was a far superior album, full of impressive jazz-rock numbers that would eventually obtain iconic status. Not the least of these was Hammer's "Blue Wind." Jan's writing style was now taking a direction that in a few short years would have him in demand as a soundtrack composer. It also set the stage for his greatest commercial success as the innovative composer for the Miami Vice TV series. His writing for that show forever changed the nature of music on television. In addition, Hammer was now playing a scaled-down Moog synthesizer that he could literally carry around and play like a guitar, enabling him to be a front-and-center melodic player.

This tune is not all just about Jan Hammer. Jeff Beck is one of the finest guitarists on Earth. His touch and intonation are without peer. Hammer and Beck are the perfect foils on "Blue Wind." The opening synth chords and syncopation are among the most recognizable in the fusion lexicon and get you in the mood for a series of hook-laden calls and responses. Hammer handles the rhythm and funky bassline. Beck lets loose with a bit of dirt. The two play off each other the rest of the way, producing many moments of brilliant interplay. "Blue Wind" is one of the all-time fusion anthems.

March 18, 2008 · 1 comment

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Pharoah Sanders: Japan

In keeping with the spiritual nature of this album, Pharoah Sanders and his able partners create an aural image of the Land of the Rising Sun. Henry Grimes's plucky bass, Dave Burrell's dancing piano and Nat Bettis's bells all contribute to this musical picture of Sanders's experience from his visit to Japan in 1966 when he was with John Coltrane. Sanders's chant-like vocal is reminiscent of a Tibetan monk's incantation, and the tune ends appropriately with the sound of a deep-timbered gong.

March 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pharoah Sanders: Medley: Aum-Venus-Capricorn Rising

Pharoah Sanders here creates an almost mystical soundscape, transporting the listener into a part of the mind that can be both disruptive and revelatory. In this three-part piece, the listener is almost assaulted with harsh and at times cacophonous sounds from Sanders's probing alto and Sharrock's discordant guitar. Brilliant comping by Grimes on bass, Burrell on piano and Bettis on his percussive arsenal establish an atmosphere that runs the gamut from all-out war to peaceful ascension into the afterlife. Pharoah begins "Aum" with a crescendo of rapid-fire notes seemingly without meaningful direction, but his frenetic playing abruptly changes course with firm resolve, transporting the listener to a discovery of beauty in "Venus." His passion during this middle piece is nothing short of breathtaking in its soul-baring beauty, and is perhaps his finest moment on the entire album. His lyricism, which he is often accused of abandoning, is demonstrated to great effect. His artistry is unquestioned.

In "Capricorn Rising," the final part of this three-piece suite, Sanders's raspy soul-searching sound soars in a high-register climb up a wall of expression. The suite ends in a Coltranesque way. The Creator surely has a master plan, and with this brilliant composition and performance Pharoah Sanders certainly helps us see what it might be.

March 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pharoah Sanders: Upper Egypt & Lower Egypt

In what is perhaps the most beautifully moving piece of spiritually influenced music of this era, on a par with his mentor John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, Pharoah Sanders has created a magical piece of music. The pastel of Henry Grimes's rumbling bass backed by Roger Blank's drums and Nat Bettis's intuitive percussion create the perfect intro for a throaty Sanders chant through his piccolo flute. Once this musical sound-feast has set the offering table, Grimes's solo bass starts the drone-like bottom of this chant to the Creator. A McCoy Tyner-like carpet of sound is added by the piano and guitar of Dave Burrell and Sonny Sharrock, respectively, as the intensity of this haunting prayer creates an almost mystically psychedelic mood. The song is accentuated brilliantly by the percussive skills of Bettis, who enhances the otherworldly quality with his rattles, gongs and bells. At about the 12-minute mark, a soaring Sanders breaks the hypnotic trance with a banshee-like cry from his emotional tenor. The throaty Sanders sound is both gut-wrenching and exhilarating, especially his piercing yet poignant use of the horn's upper register. His expressiveness – at once lyrical and eerily speech-like in its cries – suggests a self-supplicating animal in sacrifice at the altar of his Creator. Surely Sanders reached the pinnacle of spiritual expression with this mood-evoking ode. Multiple listening of this work can transport the listener to a trancelike state that defies imagination with no pharmaceuticals required. This is a sonic masterpiece.

March 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Donald Byrd: Mustang

"Mustang" may not be the most famous hard-bop stallion from the Blue Note stables in the '50s and '60s, but it's highly enjoyable and emblematic of the genre. A bluesy melody with a Bo Diddley beat, a rhythm section masterfully driven by Waits's drums, a funky piano and efficient horn riffs. What more do you need to have everybody stamp their feet and snap their fingers? While the solos are not all memorable, they are always honest and in the groove. And "Mustang" even provides a bit of jazz trivia that will allow you to show off about this tune: it was written by altoist Sonny Red – who solos first – and signed with his real name: Sylvester Kyner.

March 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bob Mintzer: Mine Is Yours

This song shows marvelously Bob Mintzer's talent as a composer, arranger and soloist. Arranger, because this musician – whose big band scores are used in all music schools around the world – also arranges in this quintet context and does so with artful mastery. The sound of the bass and drums, the piano voicings, the tenor/trumpet riffs and the short melody are assembled to build a dramatic setting from which the tenor solo will soar. And this solo is also magnificently constructed, in a way that shows that Mintzer is a close cousin of Michael Brecker. Some will say that this all lacks spontaneity. But jazz can also be beautiful in its forms, as long as there is soul in them. And here, the feeling of joy and exhilaration is more than present.

March 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Michel Camilo & Tomatito: Spain

Chick Corea's hit tune played by a Spanish flamenco guitarist and a piano virtuoso from the Dominican Republic, how can this sound? The theme itself is so thickly written that it actually leaves little room for the two musicians to show anything else than their sound and technique. You have to wait until Tomatito takes a solo to hear some feeling and emotion, both in the slow passages and in the purely virtuosic moments. Camilo, for his part, tends to overplay and doesn't bring much to the original song, while the guitarist adds a subtle personal touch even when he plays arpeggios or chords behind his overwhelming partner.

March 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marc Ducret & Bobby Previte: Handy

This is definitely a searching song, and its form may be puzzling to some listeners. It starts with drums played with mallets behind some repetitive sounds by the electric guitar. Then it leaves the guitar to itself, exploring chords, riffs and lines before the drums return with a heavy beat, along with some electronic treatment. It becomes obvious at this moment that the main concern of these musicians is sound and rhythm rather than melody and structure. And Ducret's creativity in this domain seems endless, as is Previte's. If you are able to forget about accepted forms and codes, it's fascinating to follow the common search of these two bold explorers.

March 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Muhal Richard Abrams & Marty Ehrlich: Blues to You

The most rooted, unsophisticated, basic blues – that's what Midwesterners Abrams (Illinois) and Ehrlich (Minnesota) decided to tackle during this New York concert. And they do it in such a raw, uninhibited way, with reverence to the old masters but without any stiff revivalist attitude, that they easily convince us that the blues live forever, and in them too. Those who may find it strange from supposed modernists, who have even been associated with free music, should listen to the intensity of the piano sound and of the alto growls to understand the link.

March 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gary Burton & Keith Jarrett: Como en Vietnam

The date tells it: this mythic record was taped in a single studio session! Those were the days, for sure, where music mattered more than technology – the (also) mythic '70s! This track is a good example of what was then possible in jazz. A pianist who plays mostly soprano sax, rock-influenced drums and electric guitar, an electric bass played in a unique way by a former upright bass player, a vibist who had recently shown interest in folk music … all of these more or less Miles Davis-influenced musicians playing a beautifully melodic theme that nobody would confuse with the budding fusion of the time. If that's not creativity and originality!

March 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bob Dorough & Dave Frishberg: Where You At?

The sheer joyous pace of their two pianos frolicking on the intro is a treat for the ears, and when they start singing in unison you wish you had been in the audience for this concert recorded at the Jazz Bakery. But actually the voices of those two marvelous "natural" singers are not the main interest here, nor Frishberg's witty words to this song he penned. He and Dorough are remarkable piano players, too – in a tradition-to- bop-entertainer style – and each treats us with a solo full of drive and highly representative of his own personal style.

March 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marc Johnson: Faith In You

This tune really sounds like summer with its joyous melody and light pulsation, punctuated by Baron's splashes on his cymbals. Then comes Metheny's solo, and it's almost impossible not to compare it with the following by Frisell. Metheny has a bright sound, tends to build his phrases in single notes by going from the lower to the higher register, and plays virtuoso licks so that you sometimes wonder if any other human can move his fingers like that on a guitar shaft. Frisell, who has provided a wonderfully diverse chordal and sonic background during his partner's choruses, carries on in his solo. Surprise and variety are his motto. Rhythm and sound shifts, chords then single notes; his palette is broad, and used with exquisite taste and humor (that short Shadows-like passage!). Johnson's groovy, steady bass and Baron's inventive drums lend strong support to these two great stylists, whose performances here are a lesson to all guitar players and a wonder to all listeners.

March 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ted Heath: Father Knickerbopper

The Ted Heath band's exploration of the modern jazz repertoire ended at about this time, when Heath realized that most audiences didn't like this music, preferring pop songs and novelties. It is to Heath's credit that he never stopped playing jazz-oriented, sometimes challenging music (particularly at the band's Palladium Sunday concerts), but he needed to keep the group working as a dance band and music hall attraction to pay the bills. Reg Owen was probably asked to adapt the stock arrangement of Tiny Kahn's tune (originally written for Chubby Jackson), and this is a more than respectable performance, particularly since bop hadn't been mastered by many British musicians at the time. Horrox, Shand, MacKenzie, Whittle and Hughes (sounding like he'd been listening to Miles Davis) take the solos.

March 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Al Di Meola: Egyptian Danza

Di Meola was coming off multi-years of winning the Guitar Player magazine poll as best overall guitarist when he recorded this live album. He surrounded himself with some of the greatest fusion players of the era. Jan Hammer, Steve Gadd and Anthony Jackson were no slouches. However, this tune, because of a lack of improvisation, seems more in the character of early progressive rock, trying to get radio airplay, rather than jazz-fusion.

Spanish and Egyptian in nature, "Egyptian Danza" is a pure chops-fest. Di Meola impressively runs the minor scales at terminal velocity. But it is speed virtually devoid of charm. Aside from Hammer's short solo and a brief bass statement, Di Meola so dominates the piece that the other players are mere spectators. There is no stretching out, no exploring, which is too bad. You would think a live recording would allow Di Meola to expound a bit. It is my belief that Al was reading too many guitar magazine polls at this time.

There is no denying that Di Meola is a great guitarist who plays demanding music worthy of an audience. I just wish there were more magic to it. But with very few exceptions during his career, it just isn't there. That being said, I would give my left nut to play half as good.

March 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charles Lloyd: Prometheus

“Prometheus” borrows its thematic material from an older Lloyd composition “Hej Da!,” yet he allows his new group the freedom and space to make their own sense out of their leader’s tradition. Lloyd sounds invigorated—his shimmering, wide-ranging lines reach far and stretch unseen boundaries, yet magnificently retain an elegant, singing quality. The tremendous versatility of the rhythm section is on display, as they flow in and out of sections of swing, groove, free playing, and controlled chaos. Moran’s playing is a concise jazz piano history lesson, incorporating everything from stride, Bill Evans-like chordal contemplation, 1970s Keith Jarrett romanticism, to the two-handed attack of Cecil Taylor. Harland is aggressive, eager and active but perfectly complementary and never overpowering. Add the fearless bass playing of Reuben Rogers and you get what is unquestionably the greatest band Lloyd has assembled since his classic group in the late 1960s.

March 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mitchel Forman: The Police (Now You See It, Know You Don't)

A somber low-timbre organ indicates something bad has happened. What to do? Time is running out. The piano gets busy thinking up a plan. Should we call the police? Maybe we don't. What will they think? Of course we call them. What will they think if we don't? Good, it is decided then. We call them. Well, not so fast. We can get rid of the evidence, you know. If they don't see, they don't know. Know what I mean?

The measurement of any musician should be how well he or she tells a story. Pianist Forman is among the best. "The Police" is only one of several arresting tunes from Only a Memory. Twenty-five years since its release, the album is still in my lineup. Note: "The Police" is supposed to be a tribute to the rock group of the same name. But I am sticking to my story.

March 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Béla Fleck: The Sinister Minister

In the early days of fusion, one could never imagine that some day one of its more popular exponents would be playing a banjo. John McLaughlin pulled one out with the One Truth Band for a number. But aside from that one-off, there were no banjos to be found anywhere. It's not just about the banjo. Who would have expected that bluegrass music would find its way into fusion music? There is a slight lineage from the Southern jazz-rock of the Dixie Dregs. But still, there was no banjo or bluegrass. It took Béla Fleck, among others, to do that.

"Sinister Mister" is really a showcase for bassist Wooten. His walking electric bass sounds more like he is skipping down the street gathering up the kids for a game. It is immediately infectious. It grabs you at the beginning and never lets you go. Levy's harmonica also beckons. There may be a sinister tone to all this, but it is fun sinister, like the Munsters. Béla takes a lighthearted solo: no heavy lifting. To be honest, on this number, there is more blues than bluegrass. At the break, Wooten does some real cool bass stuff before the musicians put their instruments down to get the game started.

Nowadays, we have what is known as "newgrass." This is progressive bluegrass music that contains elements of fusion. Who would have thunk it? Well, Béla Fleck, Sam Bush and some others, that's who.

March 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Stardust On Your Sleeve

I am on record someplace saying "Stardust On Your Sleeve" is the most beautiful melody John McLaughlin ever wrote. The band that recorded Belo Horizonte, informally known as The Translators, was a mix of European jazz and classical players. And indeed, many of the tunes they recorded were beautiful. Though the compositions were very melodic, a lot of this beauty had to do with the instrumentation used. A ridiculous advertising campaign at the time claimed that McLaughlin was blazing a new trail by playing acoustic guitar with an all-electric band, which would have been more convincing if it had been true. The fact is that 90% of the music on the album was acoustic or acoustic sounding. There are heavy electronics on one cut at most. This was a fusion of a different sort. A lush European vibe filled the air.

I think it was John Scofield, the great jazz guitarist, who was once asked why he didn't play acoustic guitar more often. He replied that the answer was simple. He didn't play it because everyone sounded the same on acoustic guitar, except John McLaughlin. (If Scofield didn't say it, someone else did. And if someone else didn't, I am saying it!) No one plays acoustic guitar like John McLaughlin. He is capable of great speed or elegance, or both. He can play it gut-rough or with romantic clarity, as he does here. His tone and intent can be a calming influence one moment and a call to action the next. His ability to change directions and time-signatures in mid-flight threatens to put a wrinkle in the time-space continuum. He bends notes so far that he puts tensile-strength limits to the test. You get the point. He is a master.

McLaughlin opens "Stardust" with lilting runs that disappear into the ether. The drums enter and the tune suddenly becomes a slow blues swing with classical overtones. The band creates a fully textured wall of sound for McLaughlin and saxophonist Jeanneau to solo wonderfully against. Occasionally, McLaughlin and Jeanneau double on the theme. The character of "Stardust" veers slightly Brazilian or French as McLaughlin continues to lovingly deconstruct every scale known to man. The opening theme returns in all of its splendor only to fade away. If this recording were the only thing anyone ever heard of McLaughlin's work, they would think he was a great 20th-century romantic composer and classical guitarist. They would not even have a clue that he was improvising.

March 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Jazz Jungle

For quite some time before the release of The Promise, many John McLaughlin fans had been secretly wishing that he would really let loose on a hard-rocking fusion number again. He had put out some fantastic music in the last decade, but most of it was acoustic. When he did return to the electric guitar, he opted for a warmer tone by using a hollow-body Johnny Smith guitar. In addition, his new format was The Free Spirits, a band that focused on the sound of the classic organ trio. His playing was still quite pleasing, but the sense of attack was gone. While the guitar tone on this cut also tends to be warm, McLaughlin employs more distortion and at times plays through a ring modulator. His sound comes out more forcefully and is easier to hear.

"Jazz Jungle" is a killer number. The head is a meandering riff that seems to have about a million notes, once it becomes twisted over and over again in the course of the jam. Michael Brecker is a great foil. He mimics the head and provides real challenges during a furious call-and-response section. McLaughlin forges a powerful connection with drummer Chambers, who with percussionist Alias sometimes nears rhythm-speed that approaches the sound barrier. There is so much going on, there is too much to explain. It is indeed a jazz jungle, where distorted funk and long frenzied fusion lines make it the tune that diehards had wished for. Ironically, the very next tune on the album was "The Wish."

March 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, Paco De Lucia: Guardian Angel

The 1981 release of Friday Night in San Francisco marked a turning point, becoming arguably the most influential acoustic guitar record ever produced. Sure, the acoustic guitar had enjoyed some commercial popularity in the modern jazz era. There were Charlie Byrd, Laurindo Almeida and Antonio Carlos Jobim, though the last-named was better known for his composing. Those artists were more admired for the popular tunes they played than for their guitar artistry. One exception was the Brazilian guitar duo Los Indios Tabajaras. Those brothers could really play!

The Guitar Trio (McLaughlin, Di Meola & De Lucia) changed the thinking about acoustic guitar. Since this album's release, thousands of guitarists have tried to match its virtuosity. Even today, it is the standard by which all other jazz or world music guitar recordings are measured. Moreover, these musicians proved they could play unplugged and still appeal to young fusion fans. The album went gold.

"Guardian Angel" is a John McLaughlin composition that, unlike other tracks on this live album, was recorded in the studio. In many ways, it is superior to the live cuts. We hear it in a more pristine environment. The notes are cleaner. There are no distractions. Forlorn arpeggios are intertwined to create the introduction. The melody, parts of which are eventually played in triplicate and blinding speed and precision, is an intricate statement. Despite this, it is just not a blur of 128th notes. It is a fully realized emotional piece of music that returns often to a central theme. Of course these guys could play fast. There is no denying that we are in a wild race of some sort as they duel and cajole each other at 200 miles an hour. But the caution flag comes out often to get them back on the safe part of the track. Some have criticized the speed of the notes. While I agree that speed without melody or purpose is just a technical exercise, I suggest the real reason for this criticism is that the world is full of a million jealous guitar players. But it won't stop them from trying to play this stuff. Will it?

March 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Toots Thielemans: Waltz for Debby

The harmonica may not be the first instrument that comes to mind when someone thinks of jazz. But "Toots" Thielemans's career proves that in the right hands, the harmonica can be just as evocative as any other instrument. Over his long musical run, he's been acknowledged as the finest of all jazz harmonica players. His composition "Bluesette" is one of the all-time great jazz performances. When it came out in 1962, it was a worldwide hit. Who could not fall for its catchy melody and Toots's playful harmonica and whistling skills? His harp has also been famously heard on the soundtrack of Midnight Cowboy and in many Sesame Street episodes. Yet despite his high-profile credits, Thielemans is an icon more among jazz players than jazz fans. So it was not a big surprise to see all of the great contemporary jazz stars that joined him for East Coast West Coast. Among them, in addition to the above-listed, were Herbie Hancock, Terence Blanchard, John Scofield, Lyle Mays, Joshua Redman and others.

This is a tender, heartfelt and ultimately hopeful rendition of Bill Evans's classic. Broadbent's piano intro hints at a sad story to come. But Haden's bouncing bassline and Thielemans's resonant and upbeat harmonica quickly tell another. Erskine skillfully works the brushes to count off this waltz. Violinist Goodman joins in and plays the part of Stéphane Grappelli. (For more of this type of playing from Goodman, please check out the movie soundtrack to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.) Thielemans's turn comes around again. He and Goodman trade tasty licks. Broadbent's piano returns to play the coda. Get me another glass of Chardonnay, please.

March 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Toots Thielemans: Take Five

In this West Coast-based lineup, a swinging duet intro by onetime Mahavishnu violinist Jerry Goodman and Joni Mitchell session guitarist Robben Ford lead into the swinging 5/4 Desmond/Brubeck classic. After Toots takes the signature lead line on his chromatic harmonica, a playful Goodman puts a new twist with his interpretation where he thinks the song could go. At times bluesy and at times sweet, it is unpredictably enchanting. The unique grouping of violin and harmonica makes this an unusual outing. The two instruments are rarely used in jazz, and almost never together; yet they seem perfectly paired to produce a fresh and compatible sound. A laid-back but thoughtful call and response between Toots and Ford follows. Throughout, the veteran rhythm team of bassist Haden and drummer Erskine keep the beat swinging forward unobtrusively. An original and enjoyable take on this musical stalwart.

March 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Toots Thielemans: Naima

Chromatic harmonica master Jean "Toots" Thielemans assembled a remarkable group of fellow musicians from both U.S. coasts to make this appealing album. In this East Coast-based lineup, onetime Pat Metheny keyboardist Lyle Mays starts John Coltrane's beautiful ode to his first wife, "Naima." Mays's feather-light touch is especially effective on his sensitive acoustic piano intro, accompanied by Christian McBride's tasteful arco bass. Toots's remarkable instrumental facility again demonstrates his ability to raise the chromatic harmonica to equality among other, more accepted jazz instruments. The sense of poignancy that he can summon is unsurpassed. Some tasteful electric guitar licks from John Scofield propel this classic tune into a more contemporary sound without any lack of respect. A nice duet between Redman's tenor and Toots's harmonica completes this marvelous interpretation of the Coltrane classic.

March 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Count Basie: Blee Blop Blues (issued as "Normania")

One of the last recordings by the original Count Basie Orchestra, this composition is the work of A.K. Salim, who would go on to write for Tito Puente and Dizzy Gillespie. Even though the title as originally issued is an early tribute to Norman Granz (who would later sign Basie to his Clef record label), the name of the piece really was "Blee Blop Blues," perhaps the most bop-flavored piece this ensemble would ever play. The recording also reveals the actual tempo of the piece. (In addition, some of the original parts exist, showing that the introduction was longer.) When Basie put together a new group in 1951, this piece became a cornerstone in the book, and as each year went by, the tempo became faster and faster until the band could barely play it without someone making a mistake, which hardly mattered as audiences loved it. Solos are by Terry and Parker.

March 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker (with Dizzy Gillespie): Ko Ko

Portraying a tenorman named Progress Hornsby, ex-musician and cornerstone of 1950s TV comedy Sid Caesar good-naturedly spoofed modern jazz by leading a group consisting of six musicians and a radar operator. Asked what the latter did, Progress explained: "He warns us in case we get too close to the melody!" The joke was apt. The first take of this track had to be whistled to an abrupt halt when Diz & Bird absentmindedly got too close to the melody of "Cherokee," upon which "Ko Ko" (a title nodding to cocaine) was based and royalties for which Savoy Records was loath to pay. The guys got it together for this take, however, capping Bird's first session as leader. Aside from Max's drum break near the end, "Ko Ko" is all Bird. Gillespie plays only on the head, and cup-muted at that, switching to piano to back Parker's dazzling solo, among the most influential in modern jazz. Nobody warned us Bird could soar this close to the Sun.

March 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: K.C. Blues

"Now’s the Time" is perhaps Parker’s most recognizable blues line—it was filched in 1948 by R&B baritone saxophonist Paul Williams and renamed "The Hucklebuck"—but "K.C. Blues" comes close. Taken at a medium tempo, the tune opens with a sexy intro by Walter Bishop Jr., followed by Bird taking three clear-headed choruses. We also hear a more mature Miles—who’s fronting his own groups at this point—playing here with a much more subdued, whispery style. Interestingly, Miles recorded Miles Davis and Horns with Sonny Rollins, Bennie Green, John Lewis, Percy Heath and Roy Haynes for Prestige on the exact same day.

March 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis (featuring Charlie Parker): 'Round Midnight

This is one of Charlie Parker’s most unusual recordings. The date was led by Miles Davis, who wrote two of the three tunes recorded that afternoon. The musicians were supposed to record Thelonious Monk’s "Well You Needn’t" but couldn’t complete a master before the recording studio closed. So they switched to Monk’s "‘Round Midnight." This is the only recording on which Bird and Sonny Rollins appear together—both on tenor sax. Parker takes his solo on the song’s opening and closing bridge. Sonny’s solo is on the main theme. Because Parker was signed to Verve at the time, he couldn’t record under his own name. So he was known on the album as Charlie Chan, recording what may be the best version of this jazz perennial.

March 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: Moose the Mooche (live in Montreal)

Recorded live in Montreal, this date is a superb example of Bird playing at his high-speed best. Whether Parker’s velocity on this tune had anything to do with his ever-growing heroin addiction is not known. Parker had traveled north to appear on a Canadian television broadcast and in a concert presented by a Montreal jazz musicians’ society. On this particular night he was playing at the Chez Paree, and he roars through this tune—named ironically for his mid-1940s drug dealer. The recording provides a sense of what Bird sounded like wired and live in front of an enthusiastic club crowd.

March 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: I Get a Kick Out of You

Charlie Parker Plays Cole Porter was Bird’s last studio date—and his only concept album. There was one composer (Porter) and one theme packaged in an LP rather than a series of singles. But the project was only partially realized. Parker recorded four Porter tracks in March and another two in December, leaving four more to be done. But Parker was never fully committed to the sessions—either because of drug distractions, declining health or pure disinterest. Before Parker could complete the LP, he died on March 12, 1955. What’s interesting about the master take of "I Get a Kick Out of You" is Bird’s love affair with the Porter melody, Roy Haynes’s spot-on drumming, and the quirky Jerome Darr guitar solo that remains oddly appealing, despite its limitations.

March 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Brown: Children of the Night

John Brown is head of the jazz program at Duke University, and a hard-swinging bassist, as demonstrated on his new CD Terms of Art. This project is a tribute to drummer Art Blakey, and effectively captures the ethos of Blakey's famous band, the Jazz Messengers. Brown and company tackle Wayne Shorter's "Children of the Night," a song recorded by the Jazz Messengers in 1961 and frequently featured on their set lists back in the day. This CD has been getting great airplay for an indie release - heck, there is not even the name of a record company on the disk, just a web site (www.jbjazz.com) - and I can understand why. This is solid hard-bop music, played with consummate skill. Blakey would be pleased.

March 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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North Mississippi Allstars: I'd Love to Be a Hippy

When the "youngsters" in this band first hit the scene, they gained credibility through close ties with Mississippi blues legends such as R.L. Burnside and Otha Turner. But Burnside and Turner are now deceased, and the kids in the band have grown up. And, in truth, they have inherited the role of elder statesmen - the All-Stars now serve as the most prominent exponents of the North Mississippi blues tradition. But will this installment of the NMA stay together now that Luther Dickinson is touring and recording with the Black Crowes? Will down-home blues still have the same appeal as strutting the big stage with a rock outfit that has sold more than 20 million records? Let's hope so. This is the band that is best equipped to attract and grow the next generation of blues lovers. They somehow manage to sound young and contemporary and deep-in-the-tradition at the same time. Who else could take Champion Jack Dupree's "I'd Love to Be a Hippy" and make hippies happenin' all over again? On CD after CD, the NMA continue to remind us how much fun blues can be. Let's hope they keep spreading the news.

March 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gary Husband: Celestial Terrestrial Commuters

Mr. Husband can easily shift from playing with a fusion band, to a progressive jazz unit, to a big band, to a rock group or to accompany a vocalist. The question is with what instrument will he shift? In jazz-rock and progressive circles, he is known as a powerful drummer with the energy and chops to propel Allan Holdsworth to new heights and provide the "oomph!" for Level 42. But more and more, we are discovering the wondrous gifts he has to offer on the keyboard. He has played keys for various Billy Cobham bands and, as I write this, held down the bench in a recent John McLaughlin 4th Dimension tour. Despite this exposure, he is still known primarily as a drummer.

A Meeting of Spirits is not Husband's first solo piano tribute. His previous effort, a tribute to the music of Allan Holdsworth called The Things I See, was very well received. This gave him the impetus and confidence to do the same with McLaughlin's vast and diverse catalog. Husband is not a typical interpreter. In some cases on this album, he only alludes to the original composition. It is up to McLaughlin fans to infer from whence Husband's thoughts are coming. They are there for those who dig down deep. Each time I hear the CD, I find traces of another quote. Listeners not familiar with McLaughlin's work will hear a brilliant improvisational performance regardless. Husband's reach into McLaughlin's pumpkin is seeds and all. It is not unusual to hear Husband take a lesser-known McLaughlin riff, mix it with his own creation, add salt and bake, boil or fry. Since McLaughlin's tunes are the antithesis of standard recipes to begin with, this makes for some very unusual eating.

"Celestial Terrestrial Commuters" is actually one of the more recognizable tributes on the CD. Husband opens this piece, made famous by McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, with a roly-poly chordal statement. Soon he is off and running away with the melody. A prerecorded or overdubbed track or two accompany him. One track is of Gary, in drummer mode, aggressively tapping out the tune's rhythm on the piano's wood. At the break, his playing goes lush and cosmic. He returns and brilliantly continues to divulge the secret ingredients of the piece. To avoid overcooking – a real danger – he stirs or flips the tune over. Eventually he verbally counts off the beats to song's end. If I were John McLaughlin, this is the guy I would want interpreting me. The next time Husband tours with McLaughlin, he should be given a few minutes of solo time to play some of this stuff. The audience would eat it up!

March 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: Everything Happens to Me

Following Bird’s triumphant solo in 1947 on Neal Hefti’s masterpiece "Repetition," Clef Records producer Norman Granz set up another orchestral date. This time, six sides were recorded with strings, harp and oboe. (Yes, Mitch Miller and Bird on the same record date!) Though "Just Friends" would become a big juke-box hit from the session, "Everything Happens to Me" actually features a finer arrangement and superior playing by Bird—who seems to be channeling Sinatra’s vocal here. From the pizzicato opener and shimmering strings to the Big Ben-like closer, Jimmy Carroll’s Axel Stordahl-inspired chart frames Bird’s vulnerability well.

March 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marian McPartland: Lonely Woman

Here's a track to fool your snobby jazz friends on a blindfold test. Marian McPartland, on a new CD released a few days before her 90th birthday, records a cover version of an Ornette Coleman tune. And she takes a Free Jazz solo! A smart one, at that. Yes, this is the same Marian McPartland who played in British vaudeville in the 1930s, married trad jazz cornetist Jimmy McPartland in the 1940s, and performed supper club jazz at the Hickory House in the 1950s. Of course that was all more than a half century ago, so why shouldn't Marian go Free nowadays? Bassist Mazzaroppi and drummer Davis evoke the original Coleman recording, but McPartland does her own thang, which is full of soft, angular phrases, tremolos, and various games of consonance and dissonance. I'm not sure that this will replace the Cecil Taylor tracks on my avant-garde playlist, but McPartland gets high marks for keeping her ears open at a time when many far younger players, free or otherwise, are stuck in their own time-warp.

March 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: Let the Juice Loose

Poor Bill Evans. His whole musical life, he has had to be identified as "Bill Evans (sax)" to distinguish him from that other Bill Evans. If he was in any other line of work, such parenthetical ID would not be needed. You would never see "Bill Evans (fisherman)" or "Bill Evans (plumber)."

There was no one more in the middle of the '80s fusion revival than Bill Evans (sax). He starred early in the decade with Miles Davis, joined John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu and then went on to play with many of the genre's best musicians, including Dennis Chambers, Mark Egan and Danny Gottlieb. He also made several outstanding studio albums as leader. Living in the Crest of a Wave and The Alternative Man were the best of them.

If Bill Evans (sax) had written "Let the Juice Loose" in 1995, the title would have had an entirely different and unintended meaning. But he wrote it about ten years earlier. On this night in Tokyo, the band rips though the tune. It is a real joyride of funk, rock and jazz. Its head arrangement is head-bopping. "Let the Juice Loose" changes directions about six times. Evans (sax) is a strong soloist here. Jones's crowd- pleasing slap-bass solo is supported by Chambers's forceful pounding. There is a scorching solo from Loeb. There is some heavy-duty musicianship going on here! A calming but insistent riff ends the festivities and brings a large and thankful response from the Tokyo crowd.

March 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jim Beard: Diana

At 15, keyboardist and composer Jim Beard met the great George Shearing, who took an interest in the young musician and over the years spent time with him helping him refine his art. In the mid-'80s, Beard met saxophonist Bill Evans, who was in John McLaughlin's new Mahavishnu. Evans played a Beard recording for McLaughlin. The next thing you know, the composition is on McLaughlin's new record. Then Beard is in his band. Then Wayne Shorter hears him. Shorter and Beard go on to form a musical relationship that lasts over a decade. Beard has also played with a who's who of the jazz and music world since, and has even won a Grammy. Still, most people have never heard of him, and that is a shame. He seems to be a low-key guy on stage, and perhaps that contributes to his relatively low profile. But his composing and playing puts him in the highest rankings of contemporary players.

"Diana" is a stunningly beautiful and understated ballad. Literally built mostly around just six notes, its languorous sing-songy theme evokes the pure innocence of childhood. In fact, at times it sounds like one of those themes they used to use on Saturday afternoon kid movie shows. (I mean that in a good way.) I think one of the reasons is the harmonica of the legendary Toots Thielemans. Though Beard and Thielemans play the refrain together, Beard allows Toots to steal this tune. His playing is absolutely gorgeous. In the hands and on the lips of such harp masters as Thielemans, Stevie Wonder, John Popper and the late Larry Adler, the harmonica is anything but a child's toy. But it is also one of the first instruments kids try to play, and thus it does have a childlike quality. "Diana" turns serious in parts, if only to remind us that innocence can become lost. I have no idea who Diana was or is. But I know she is special.

March 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stu Goldberg & Cassius Khan: Ragamala

Within three months of meeting each other, pianist Stu Goldberg and tabla virtuoso Cassius Khan were in Goldberg's studio recording Dark Clouds. The overly talented Goldberg is still probably best known for his association in several John McLaughlin bands. But he has had much success in Europe with his own records and has scored dozens of commercial projects such as the music for the television show The Amazing Race. For years, he has owned and run a recording studio in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. Over the last several years he has become fascinated with the music of India and has seriously studied Indian percussion. So a project with the superlative Indian percussionist Khan makes all the sense in the world.

"Ragamala" is a tour de force of the modern Indo-jazz-fusion movement. Though the piano has been used in Indian music for years, it has never been the driving melodic force that Goldberg makes it here. The 21-minute "Ragamala" is an improvisation based on the notes from many ragas instead of only one. His manipulation of the Indian scales on piano to introduce the piece is a true revelation to Western ears. But he does not stop there. Goldberg paints a varying landscape of many cultures. Throughout the piece, he seamlessly weaves Indian, classical, jazz and blues themes with great aplomb. He is just a wonderful player. Khan is a strong rhythmic supporter. He also easily changes identities from Eastern to Western mode and back again. This raga is full of dramatic and inventive moments. Its divergent components merge at some point, but it's not clear where. "Ragamala" is one of those transitive pieces of music in the Indo-jazz-fusion vocabulary. The last such piece I heard, "Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi," was from the violinist L. Shankar, who now calls himself Shenkar, way back in 1981 on his Who's to Know album. At the very least, Goldberg's variations of the raga form performed on piano are sure to get a lot of other pianists, both Western and Eastern, motivated to try to do the same.

March 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Michael Franks: The Lady Wants to Know

A year before Sleeping Gypsy, Michael Franks had a minor hit with "Popsicle Toes," a sickeningly sweet ditty that had many jazz fans running for the hills. Over the years, Franks has had a lot of those types of songs. But there was no denying that Franks was a fine composer who had a unique vocal style and an appreciation of the jazz world. His tunes were almost always accompanied by some of the finest jazz musicians of the day. Franks and fellow vocalist Kenny Rankin ended up as standard bearers of the jazz-tinged ballad. Many of their tunes would nowadays be considered Smooth Jazz. (Pardon me while I gag.) But, back then, they were quality performances that successfully fought through the dominant fusion fusillades to be heard.

"The Lady Wants to Know" is an engaging bossa nova. Franks's breathless affectations tell the story of having to leave his wife and new baby to hit the road for a while. There is a soft sadness in his voice. He will miss his family terribly, but the muse of the artist calls him to perform. In the end, he lives for both his family and his muse, and both must understand. The lady may want to know the reason why. But the man doesn't know himself.

March 12, 2008 · 1 comment

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Oliver Nelson: Hoe Down

My best advice is "never listen to this tune" because once you do, you'll never get it of your mind. I don't quite understand why it's less famous than the track just before it on Oliver Nelson's mythic The Blues and the Abstract Truth, the catchy "Stolen Moments," except of course that it would be hard to put words to "Hoe Down." But it's a marvel of spontaneity over construction. A blues structure, an up-tempo rhythm, terrific soloists and a great rhythm section … what else do you need? Construction! Dolphy's freaky alto is set between Hubbard and Nelson, the two "classics" (and Nelson's tenor solo is a model of structured improvisation). Evans just does some discreet, churchy comping, Chambers walks his bass efficiently, and the drums are in the forefront. And what drums: at times you'd like to be Haynes's snare! If that's not consummate knowledge of how to arrange for a combo …

March 11, 2008 · 1 comment

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Martial Solal & Johnny Griffin: You Stepped Out of A Dream

Those two veterans, despite both living in France and being about the best you can get on their respective instruments, had never recorded together before this session. In fact, Solal is not really the kind of pianist that bop saxophonists look for now, nor does he look for them, although he was a mainstay for U.S. horn players stopping in Paris during the 1950s. Anyway, this encounter is just a miracle. Griffin shows his mellow side rather than his usual "little giant" raunchy routine, and his melodic invention is huge. Solal produces constant fireworks of rhythmic and harmonic surprises. But his aim is good music and contrast with his partner, not to show off, and their version of this standard can easily compete with the best.

March 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ornette Coleman & Joachim Kühn: Faxing

Ornette Coleman seldom played or recorded with piano players. Here, he does so in duet with a German pianist, live in the latter's native city, where Bach lived and worked in the 18th century. Should we draw conclusions? First that the two musicians get along very well together, and that in fact Ornette has nothing against the piano, as he showed the same year with Geri Allen. Then that Coleman's supposedly "free" music has connections with Bach's as far as structure is concerned. This collaboration led Joachim Kühn to explore the link between his own classical breeding and Ornette's harmolodic system, which only confirms that connection.

March 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Rita Marcotulli: Les 400 Coups

Italian pianist Rita Marcotulli has devoted this whole record to the movies of French director François Truffaut, whom she admires. This track, like the others, is then mostly about atmosphere. Here it tackles the one conjured up by Jean Constantin's music for Les 400 Coups, a movie about a rebel child. The initial waltz sounds much like one of Nino Rota's scores for Fellini movies, and indeed Marcotulli has summoned mostly Italian musicians to render this mildly nostalgic climate. Her own piano solo, Rava's on muted trumpet and Di Battista's on soprano sax are the highlights of this song aptly adapted to a jazz treatment.

March 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Eric Vloeimans: Chorizo

This unusual Dutch trio offers a very lyrical vision of chamber jazz and, on this track, shows an uninhibited joy of playing. The rhythm, installed by the guitar, conjures up happiness right from the start. The trumpet launches the beautiful melody with a full, brassy tone, then the piano intertwines its contrapuntal lines with discreet playfulness. This may just seem "nice," but the trumpet solo that follows without breaking this atmosphere shows that Vloeimans is really a first-class player, and that the fun he and his partners are having is definitely serious fun.

March 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sergi Sirvent Escué: Cal.liope

This is the first track of a double CD devoted to the theme of the 9 muses of Greek mythology. Catalan pianist-composer Sergi Sirvent Escué opens this lengthy multiform opus with this trio piece around Calliope. He alternates virtuoso right-hand streaks and repetitive motifs on the left hand, goes from groovy passages to more ad-lib abstract ones, and is followed by a rhythm team that offers strong and colorful support. Such an atypical tune from such a young artist, whose influences encompass classical music, Herbie Hancock and pop music, explains why Sirvent is considered one of the most promising musicians of the lively Barcelona scene.

March 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dianne Reeves: Lullaby of Broadway

Singers usually approach this song somewhere between a lullaby and a belting Broadway show tune, but more towards the latter. This Romero Lubambo arrangement has probably resulted in more than one singer saying "why didn't I think of that?" Reeves begins with rich-toned wordless chanting, backed only by Lubambo's acoustic guitar. Reeves then starts singing the lyrics with a vocal inflection, reverence and deliberate pace that recall Harry Belafonte's "Jamaica Farewell," as the piece takes on the flavor of a subdued calypso. The sustained purity of Reeves' voice is simply ravishing throughout. Martin contributes a melodic solo, and Rogers and Hutchinson deliver tasteful and sensitive support. After a series of overproduced and/or largely unfocused recordings by her, this CD was a breath of fresh air – the outstanding Reeves singing just standards with a small, sympathetic group. This track stands out for the cleverness of its arrangement.

March 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Kenny Barron & Regina Carter: Fragile

One of Sting's most notable compositions is the anti-war song "Fragile" ("nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could"), from his second album. A superior interpretation is found on Barron's and Carter's exceptional duet CD. Carter plays the melody in a sensuous, insinuating manner, with Barron's sparse but complementary accompaniment. After a reprise, Carter sustains a tremolo as Barron takes control, only to soon begin brilliant exchanges with Carter that grow in intensity. With the violinist's exquisite tone (which she varies in multiple ways) and her unrelenting wealth of ideas, she nearly outshines the pianist, which is no easy feat. During this session, Barron must surely have been reminded of the rewarding musical rapport he once shared with Stan Getz – hopefully he and Carter will do an encore recording someday.

March 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Coleman Hawkins: The Man I Love

Nearly everyone hearing this track for the first time would likely become a lifelong Hawkins fan and admirer, if not already so. Less celebrated than his 1939 "Body and Soul," it is still one of Hawk's best recorded performances, and a prime example of his greatness and why he influenced countless jazz saxophonists. Heywood's infectious, sprightly extended piano intro, followed by Pettiford's deeply intoned, expressive bass solo accompanied by his own vocalized gasps, are both mere preambles to Hawkins's riveting solo that encompasses the entire remainder of the piece. (Who could follow this?) Hawkins commences at a deceptively even keel, unwaveringly on the beat. Soon he begins to break up his rhythmic patterns and raise the dynamic level, his tone becoming gruffer and more emphatic. His riff-like phrases are interspersed with contrasting arpeggios as he progresses towards his logical and satisfying resolution that completes a perfectly structured and executed statement.

March 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Eric Bibb: New Beale Street Blues

Duke Ellington was known to use the term "without category" as high praise. In the current music scene, where every song is labeled and pigeonholed even before the recording session begins, we need more artists who break out of the imposed categories. Eric Bibb is one such performer. Some will call him a blues singer, but he doesn't always reach for the turnaround after twelve bars. Others will try to tag him as a folk or pop or New Age performer, and certainly there is a good dose of jazz in a track like "New Beale Street Blues." In truth, Bibb operates in the interstices between these styles. It's what popular music would sound like if record labels were twice as smart and half as greedy. They don't have a bin for that in your local CD store (the Smart Popular Music section?) - but they should!

March 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lizz Wright: Hey Mann

I first learned about this release when I saw it in a counter display at Starbucks. Way to go, Lizz! Too bad the music doesn't have a little more caffeine in it. With each passing release, Lizz Wright moves further and further away from jazz. On her 2003 CD Salt, Wright was covering compositions by Chick Corea, Brian Blade and Mongo Santamaria. In contrast, Wright opts for Led Zeppelin and Ike Turner - along with bunch of mostly forgettable originals - on this new release, strangely titled The Orchard (there is no song of that name on the disk). Wright still has a great voice, especially in the lower register, where she reminds me of Cassandra Wilson, another lady who can dip down into the baritone range to great effect. "Hey Mann" starts with a solo voice passage that shows off Wright's singing skills, but the energy level dissipates soon after the band enters. It's clear that Wright wants a crossover audience, and her talent is good enough to deliver it. But first she needs to find an orchard where she can pick some better material.

March 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Trumbauer: I Never Miss the Sunshine

When this record was released in 1923, other sax players quickly took notice. Trumbauer stretches out for a full chorus solo on his C-melody sax, and his mixture of melodicism and light swing was different from the hotter styles of New Orleans jazz then sweeping the nation. (Louis Armstrong and King Oliver had made their first recordings exactly ten weeks before this Trumbauer date.)

With the passage of time, we can see this record as a key moment in the birth of "cool jazz," but that term didn't exist back in 1923. Nonetheless other sax players didn't need a label to hear how they could learn from this solo, and adapt its lessons to their work in countless dance bands gigging across the nation. Trumbauer's most famous student was Lester Young, who memorized Tram's solos and tried to emulate his sound. Young offers more eloquent testimony than any critic could muster, and often testified in word (and song) to the importance of this largely forgotten soloist. "Trumbauer was my idol," Young noted years later. "When I had just started to play, I bought all his records. I imagine I can still play all those solos off the record. He played the C-melody saxophone. I tried to get the sound of a C-melody on the tenor. That's why I don't sound like other people. Trumbauer always told a little story."

This track is a good starting point for jazz fans who want to hear one of the most influential of these little stories from the early period of Trumbauer's career.

March 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Elements: Saturn Return

The group Elements was assembled in the early '80s by drummer Danny Gottlieb and bassist Mark Egan, who had met during their tenure in the Pat Metheny Group. The band was formed to showcase their musical ideas outside of their more common roles as respected sidemen. Egan and Gottlieb have always considered Elements to be purveyors of a type of experimental music. Since its founding, the band – using a rotating cast of outstanding musicians around the core of Egan and Gottlieb – has toured extensively and released 11 albums. Illumination is among the best of those releases.

"Experimental" would be an apt description of "Saturn Return." Much of Elements' personality is derived from Egan's fretless bass. On "Saturn Return" it is the dominant melodic instrument. This performance is more of a soundscape than a fully realized tune. But the piece is so filled with ambience that the end result is both interesting and pleasing. A simple 5-note riff, played in unison by all of the instrumentalists, serves as the main character of the piece. (Though for the life of me, I cannot hear sax player Evans). The engaging riff, so precisely played it could be mistaken for a computer loop, can be heard from start to end. It serves as both rhythm and theme. Egan slides up and down on his fretless, applying soothing colors as Gottlieb provides texture. The pace is slow and steady, but there are many divergent things to listen to. At just over three minutes, and seeming like only one, "Saturn Return" is a very alluring diversion.

March 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bix Beiderbecke & Frankie Trumbauer: Mississippi Mud

How ironic that someone named Whiteman popularized jazz among the general American populace, largely by sucking much of the African-American vitality from it. This oddly charming slice of hokum typifies both good and ill of the Whiteman aesthetic: Beiderbecke, Friedman and Trumbauer blow their tails off, yet still play second fiddles to a goofy, vo-de-o-do chorale with Bing Crosby in its midst. The swing is frequently killed off by some of arranger Tom Satterfield’s downright pompous horn passages. At least the strings stayed home. As good a document as any of Whiteman’s ‘acceptable’ take on jazz, circa 1928.

March 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Steve Kuhn: Oceans in the Sky

In this ostinato-based tune, Steve Kuhn demonstrates his ability to build rhythmic tension with his mastery of the full range of the piano in an almost classically influenced approach to a simple but effective melody. This driving composition ebbs and flows, anchored by Miroslav Vitous's firm basslines and Aldo Romano's relentless drumming. With this able rhythm section supporting him, Kuhn transports us in an almost astral conveyance through his impassioned playing. You can envision the pianist with his use of a fluttering right hand behind a percussive left building himself to a frenzy reminiscent of the great classical concert pianists at their finest. Kuhn's music is a noteworthy hybrid that is hard to pigeonhole. Admirably, he has always been a slightly off-center artist with his own unique style and voice, all the while remaining firmly rooted in the jazz tradition. He is a player who should be more widely appreciated.

March 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Danny Gottlieb: Aquamarine

For a while there in the late 1980s there was a short-lived fusion comeback. The Chick Corea Electrik Band was having some success. The new Mahavishnu band was attracting attention. Musicians such as saxophonist Bill Evans, drummer Dennis Chambers, keyboardist Clifford Carter, bassist Mark Egan and others began to develop a following. Guitarist Allan Holdsworth was making a mark. Soon, however, the record companies clamped down on any creativity coming from this branch of jazz in favor of the now burgeoning "smooth jazz" movement. (Pardon me; I need a moment to gag.) Recording contracts and promotional funds evaporated faster than a bubble on a gas burner.

Danny Gottlieb was among those shortchanged by this corporate attitude. Gottlieb had been part of the very popular Pat Metheny Group and later the reformed Mahavishnu. Along with his musical partner, the wonderful bassist Mark Egan, he had formed the very impressive band Elements. Unfortunately, Aquamarine became one of his few bites of the apple. It is nonetheless a delicious bite.

An infectious semi-Caribbean percussive riff opens the title cut, which is a pleasing ballad powered by the sailing guitar synthesizer of John Abercrombie, Doug Hall's keyboards and Gottlieb's backbeat. Its beautiful melody even makes "Aquamarine" a potential smooth jazz vehicle. (Pardon me; I need another moment to gag.) Luckily, thanks to the players' advanced improvising, that terrible fate does not befall this memorable melody, and in time the ingratiating opening riff returns to keep everything afloat. This isn't deep-sea diving. But a little scuba in the coral reef can make for an exciting outing. The rest of the album ain't chum either.

March 09, 2008 · 2 comments

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Jonas Hellborg: Two Rivers

Bassist Jonas Hellborg is an intense guy. Years ago, I saw him in a concert crowd. Being a fan, I thought about going over and introducing myself. But the look on his face indicated to me that I should not bother. Hellborg's music is also intense. Apart from his numerous recorded projects as leader, Hellborg made his name playing with John McLaughlin, Ginger Baker and the late fusion guitarist Shawn Lane. In many ways, his contributions to the bass vocabulary are undervalued. He's been putting out his own unique music since the early '80s. Much of it was released on his own label Day Eight and others he has created over the years. Doing such allowed him the artistic freedom he sought.

At one point during his McLaughlin run, it looked like he was going to rise to the popularity of Stanley Clarke. But it never happened. His projects took him farther and farther from the mainstream. It has become clear that his desire to serve his music trumps any commercial aspirations.

Arabic in nature, "Two Rivers" is an uncomplicated mantra. We have embarked on a plodding desert trek. Playing on a custom acoustic bass guitar, not an upright, Hellborg is more interested in dissecting the notes than in showing off his prodigious chops. He methodically turns each scalar run on its side, creating an air of strange inevitability. Williams's drumming is quasi-martial in nature. Short and sporadic drum rolls act as fills. The Soldier String Quartet doubles much of the melody and adds the needed flourishes to prod us on. As we approach the last dune, the main theme returns. The journey is at last over. We empty the sand out of our desert shoes and rinse our feet in the current.

Years after I'd been afraid to meet Hellborg, I was introduced to him. I told him of my earlier cowardice. He smiled wryly in a way that hinted he may have been pleased that I'd been frightened of him. I couldn't quite interpret it. But Jonas claimed it would have been fine to come up to him. Nobody should be scared of him, he said. But I am still not quite sure.

March 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Steve Kuhn: The Island

Steve Kuhn has had the fortune of working intimately with some of the greatest bass players of his time. Over his career he has worked with Scott LaFaro, Steve Swallow, Buster Williams and Ron Carter to name a few. So it is extremely rewarding to hear this thoughtful and at times brilliant pianist working with yet another bass icon, Miroslav Vitous. In this magically sensitive Ivan Lins composition, Kuhn and Vitous show their remarkable simpatico. Kuhn is a practitioner of the Russian technique of piano playing as taught by Madame Chaloff, the famed teacher and mother of saxophonist Serge Chaloff. His command of the entire keyboard is used to great effect and is an art somehow missing from the repertoire of most pianists today. Vitous's European sensibilities mesh perfectly with Kuhn's approach to this song. His dark low-register basslines subtly accentuate direction and prod ever so lightly. Kuhn's dancing right hand glides effortlessly through one musical thought to the next. The effect is an example of true musical conversation not often achieved, with Kuhn and Vitous seeming never to exhaust the new ideas that emerge from each other's wellspring of musical knowledge. All the while Romano's drum and brush work is laid back and unobtrusive. This is an especially beautiful rendition of a classic love song by a trio that was fortuitously brought together for this date.

March 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Woody Shaw: All the Things You Are

Half of the band featured on Night Music, one of Woody Shaw's final recordings, is alumni of the "Blakey School." Shaw first appeared with Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers in 1969 and reappeared sporadically throughout the early 1970s. Turre joined in 1973 (as Shaw was departing) and Mulgrew Miller arrived in 1985, nearly three years after this track was recorded. The arrangement is fairly standard, with the classic intro and a delicate delivery of the melody by Shaw and Hutcherson. The soloists (Shaw, Hutcherson, James) are all in fine form, and Turre's improvised fills over the final statement of the melody provide an appreciated concluding lift. Another highlight is listening to Hutcherson's and Miller's sympathetic interplay behind Shaw's solo.

March 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tito Rodriguez: Perdido

The Tito Rodriguez band is not as well known as those of his compatriots Machito and Tito Puente, but cognoscenti will assure you that this band more than deserves a seat on the pantheon of Latin jazz orchestras known as "The Big Three." This album features standards arranged in the mambo style that made Rodriguez famous. The open form on "Perdido" allows for ample solo space, of which the guest performers avail themselves expertly. Of Brookmeyer, Cohn, Sims and Terry, it is the last whose offering succeeds most effectively in bridging the gap between the clave-based foundation set down by the rhythm section and the "straight-ahead" bebop phraseology in which they are more well-versed. Terry's attention to the placement and internal accents of his solo lines shows a true affinity for the Latin jazz aesthetic.

March 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Danilo Perez: Hot Bean Strut

Panamonk is an exploration of the rhythmic potential in Monk compositions. Perez attests to how well Latin jazz arrangements suit them in the album's liner notes. "Hot Bean Strut" is one of four original compositions written in homage to Monk's musical legacy. The track features a rock-solid boogaloo (bugalú) beat, supplied by Cohen and Carrington, and masterful piano work by Perez. His integration of postmodern harmonic structures with an adventurous sense of rhythmic play proves not only effective but infectiously enjoyable here. Perez's solo break into the montuno section will leave many straight-ahead fans asking that perennial lost-in-translation question: "Wait, where's the downbeat?" Whether or not you find the answer, there's no denying that this is just about as good as Latin jazz gets.

March 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: La Paloma

Conceived by producer Norman Granz, Parker's Latin jazz sessions are sometimes offered up as a kitsch anomaly in his discography. However, Bird shows great reverence for the melody of this traditional Spanish song and respect for his accompanying musicians. His preference for improvisational language that emphasizes rhythmic displacement and internal syncopation over his usually more harmonically intricate solos demonstrates an acute sensitivity to the differences between bebop and Latin jazz rhythm sections. For bringing this group of musicians together and allowing Parker to demonstrate his mastery in yet another fashion, we need to add this small, but significantly influential, body of work to the many debts the jazz world owes Mr. Granz.

March 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Israel "Cachao" Lopez: El Timbalero Travieso

The album from which this track came was nominated for the 1996 Grammy Award in the Tropical Latin performance. This all-star descarga jam session, led by bassist Cachao, features some of the best Latin jazz musicians ever. Trombonist Bosch anchors the riff melody, with brief solo statements interspersed by flutist Torres and Justo Almario on tenor sax. The track's title, translated as "The Tricky Timbalero [timbales player]" refers to Orestes Vilató, who steals the spotlight with a commanding solo, employing the full range of sonic and rhythmic possibilities of the timbales.

March 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker (with Machito): Okiedoke

Weeks after the 1948 recording ban was lifted on musicians, Clef Records producer Norman Granz brought Charlie Parker together with bandleader Machito for a four-side Afro-Cuban recording session. Dizzy Gillespie had already pioneered the Latin-jazz big-band sound with "Algo Bueno" in 1946 as well as "Cubano Be, Cubano Bop" and "Manteca" in 1947. Parker’s late 1948 Afro-Cuban sides sounded so fresh that Granz brought Bird and Machito back in January to record "Okiedoke" and three others. "Okiedoke" is significant because it’s one of the earliest mergers of jazz and mambo—a dance rhythm pioneered earlier in the 1940s by Perez Prado. Parker clearly is having a blast playing over the piston-like percussion and sax-saturated arrangement.

March 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Oscar Pettiford: Not So Sleepy

Seldom in jazz has such an unusual and rich combination of sonorities been assembled into one performance. Bassist Oscar Pettiford’s short-lived 13-piece orchestra of the mid-1950s boasted not only an all-star lineup but also a unique instrumentation. In this track, arranger Gigi Gryce has fashioned a work of incredible beauty from Mat Mathews’s haunting melody, ingeniously utilizing Pettiford’s overdubbed cello, French horns and harp. Besides the leader’s solo effort, Lucky Thompson contributes 24 bars of sheer elegance. The sound on this CD reissue is good but ABC-Paramount was never the equal of contemporaneous labels like Blue Note, Prestige or Contemporary regarding audio quality. Nonetheless, this is desert island stuff!

March 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Benny Goodman (featuring Charlie Christian): Benny's Bugle

It’s significant that much of Benny Goodman’s small group output for Columbia Records was reissued in 2002 as a Charlie Christian compilation. Christian was certainly the star of many of these classic recordings not only because of his innovative approach to the electrified guitar but also because his solos often prefigured the music that was soon to come. This simple blues has a distinct Kansas City feeling, not surprising given the presence of Count Basie. The iconic pianist’s light accompaniment and characteristically sparse solo along with Christian’s at times almost boppish single lines make this track sound as if it had been recorded five years later. There is riffing a-plenty and the ensemble swings like mad from start to finish. Sony deserves credit for excellent sound restoration. This is a must for any serious collection.

March 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Joe Henderson: Caribbean Fire Dance

Joe Henderson recorded this Cedar Walton original as a testament to his growing interest in Latin jazz, an affinity that developed over the course of his life and culminated in Double Rainbow, his brilliant 1994 tribute to Antonio Carlos Jobim. Audiences had already heard Henderson experiment with Latin jazz, as in "Blue Bossa" and "Recorda-me" on his debut release, Page One. On Mode for Joe, Henderson provides an augmented front line, adding Fuller and Hutcherson to the ensemble. This allows for much richer textures, as in the polyphonic counterpoint of the melody. As in many genres of Latin music, relatively stagnant harmonic movement (here, the singular harmony of the vamp-like A sections) allows the improvisers freedom to inscribe their own structures above. It is evident from the four improvisations that the musicians took full advantage of that freedom here.

March 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Mimosa

One of Herbie Hancock's first records as leader features a refreshing take on the concept of "Latin jazz." Rather than making overt gestures, such as the typical guajeos and montunos that pianists normally employ when performing in this style, Hancock—both in his playing and composition—opted for a more subtle approach. Hancock aims to explore the re-centering of his performance in a "Latin" context rather than pandering to any clichéd trope of what "Latin jazz" should sound like. This track is the only one on the album that has a pre-composed chord progression, although much is left up to the moment, including the melody, which, when restated is quite different from its original appearance. Situated in such an open structure, the group's attention to the possibilities of spontaneity infuses this music with engaging vitality.

March 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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João Gilberto: Fotografia

Gilberto's importance to bossa nova is well known and his recorded output so vast, one might wonder why this track warrants special attention. First, the composition is among Jobim's lesser-known gems, with his own particularly beautiful lyrics. Second is Gilberto's ability to draw in audiences with the illusion of intimacy, even in a large performance venue. No matter how many of his compatriots might have attended, it is still just about João and his guitar. Lastly is Gilberto's interpretation. By 1994, he had performed this song innumerable times and yet this performance retains a subtle vitality. Most of its propulsion comes from the tension between the insistent rhythmic guitar patterns and the achingly slow, rubato lyrics. This performance is masterful in its simplicity and illustrates the great nuance for which Gilberto was praised throughout his career.

March 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chano Dominguez: La Tarara

This album, originally recorded on Venus Records, features Dominguez with the all-star rhythm section of George Mraz and Jeff Ballard whose rhythmic sensibilities are in harmony with this Spanish pianist, known for his explorations of jazz flamenco. "La Tarara" is a refashioned, traditional Andalusian children's song. Propelled by a bass ostinato, Dominguez explores the harmonic and rhythmic potential of this "simple little tune." While the album focuses mainly on a straight-ahead aesthetic, the juxtaposition and interpolation of this feel with seamless transitions in and out of a Latin jazz sensibility makes this a particularly rich sonic experience. The listener can tell that Dominguez is enjoying himself on this exuberant track.

March 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Anouar Brahem: Al Hizam Al Dhahbi

Known for his borderless approach to music, Tunisian oud player Anouar Brahem exemplifies expert fusion of local traditions and jazz aesthetics. Throughout this entire album, English musicians Holland and Surman show remarkable adaptability to Brahem's world. As in most Arabic classical music, the song features both rhythmic and melodic modes that underscore the composed melody and improvisations. Further contextualizing this music within the Arabic tradition, Brahem's only liner notes come by way of an 8th-century Iraqi poet from Basra, the Sufi saint Rabia Al Adawiya. Known for her doctrine of mystical love, Al Adawiya's quoted poem speaks of "incomparable verdant freshness, beauty and magnitude." By ensuring that the music always speaks loudest—free from constraints of nation or convention—Brahem infuses all his work with just these qualities.

March 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mario Bauzá: Cubauza

Recorded just a few months before his passing, this album became a posthumous homage to the great Mario Bauzá. Its title refers to Bauzá's longtime New York residence, where generations of the greatest in Latin jazz visited the Maestro. Bauzá's band is remarkable on this energized track. The tightly arranged soli voicings and dexterous execution of the saxophone section's melody are artfully juxtaposed against emphatic brass statements. Trombonist Eidem and baritone saxophonist Calogero offer especially memorable improvisations. The track also features an all-star rhythm section, including José Mangual, "Patato" Valdes, and Bobby Sanabria.

March 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

This is definitely a different take on Mingus's classic ode to Lester Young. After the master's somber bowed intro, the tune becomes a showcase for the two young acoustic guitarists Larry Coryell and Philip Catherine, who approach the music Gypsy-style à la Django. They play fast and furious over the slow changes. Coryell appears first with a blues-tinged Gypsy solo. Catherine seems to reach a little deeper into the Django bag. Of the two, Catherine pays more attention to his surroundings. Coleman takes a nice turn to usher in a short solo from Mingus. Coryell and Catherine are then again afforded extended opportunities. This is certainly not the best version of "Pork Pie" that has come down the pike. But by including two young guitar superstars, Mingus shows that, even entering the final years of his life, he was unafraid to introduce new sounds into his music. Sure it doesn't always work. But the effort is worth listening to.

March 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Nat Janoff: Looking Through

One of the best modern jazz guitar players out there these days is Nat Janoff. The New Jersey native is a superior technician who plays with feeling on either acoustic or electric guitar. He possesses a strong identifiable melodic sense that is evidenced by his own composing and his guitar interpretations of others' music. Looking Through is full of tasteful modern jazz, calming bossa novas and even some fusion fusillades. The title cut is a bouncy blues-rock number infected with a strain of fusion funk. The tune opens with Janoff and Garrison doubling on a catchy riff-based theme. Lake syncopates along with them. Soon Janoff burns. His playing is ridiculously fast. From a technical point of view this is very impressive, although it would be a big fat waste if that were the sum of it all. But after Janoff's runs burrow beneath the ground, we can feel the energy of him digging his way back to the surface for air. Once there, Garrison funks things up a bit, and Janoff joins him. Janoff, Garrison and Lake use their considerable talents to bring everything to a pleasing coda. This 1999 cut should persuade you to make an effort to hear Janoff's other releases since.

March 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pat Metheny: Is This America?

Is this more Pat Metheny Americana? You bet. And if Aaron Copland had played guitar and gone to Berklee, he might have written tunes likes this during his Appalachian Spring phase. Metheny tosses off these gems like they are nothing, and fans and critics have come to take them for granted. But it is no small feat to craft such winning melodies, or to perform them with such slow, soulful sureness. If you added words to this tune, America might even sing along.

March 06, 2008 · 2 comments

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Jerry Goodman: Theme from Perry Mason

In the mid-'80s, violinist Jerry Goodman signed a contract with New Age label Private Music. This was surprising to many of his fusion fans. After all, New Age music was the antithesis of fusion. As far as the jazz and fusion crowd was concerned, New Age was music to take a nap by. But, in character, Jerry slowly rebelled against the wishes of the label. Each succeeding album he put out for Private was more fusion and less New Age. It reached a point on It's Alive that it became the end of the line between Goodman and the label. What his Private Music albums did do for Goodman was to give him the chance to showcase his composing skills, which are highly evident throughout this performance.

Of course, Jerry Goodman did not compose the "Theme from Perry Mason." Fred Steiner did that way back in 1957 for the TV crime drama starring Raymond Burr. Goodman's update is a rollicking blues interpretation with violin and synthesizers taking over for the brass section. A heavy backbeat supports the main theme, which begins as a sinister accusation before the whole case is laid out. Goodman then takes a solo turn that Fred Steiner could never have imagined back in 1957! It is a twisted, distorted, screeching joyous mess. It forces Della Street to leave the room. The music culminates in a rousing surprise confession from the witness box. (Well, maybe it wasn't such a surprise.)

March 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Geoff Keezer: Stompin' at the Savoy

Geoff Keezer performed in the final installment of the Jazz Messengers. He is therefore featured on a couple of original albums (The Last Drum Solo and One For All), and also performed in some celebratory festival performances designated as "Jazz Messenger and Friends" (see The Art of Jazz, recorded live at the Leverkusen Jazz Festival in Germany in 1989). As per usual, Keezer's early experience in Blakey's band led to the solidification of his own career, and 1996's Turn Up the Quiet features the then 26-year- old performing with Joshua Redman, Christian McBride, and on select tracks, vocalist Diana Krall. This instrumental trio track showcases Keezer's talents as both instrumentalist and arranger, with his modernized interpretation of "Stompin' at the Savoy."

March 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Kenny Garrett: Night and Day

Kenny Garrett's 1986-1987 stint with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (he was concurrently a steady member of Miles Davis's group) was documented on two recordings: Feeling Good and Hard Champion. Combine Garrett's experience with Blakey and Miles with his earlier work with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band, and Garrett was well on his way to solidifying his reputation as his generation's leading altoist. Garrett's playing on this track is evidence enough, with one phenomenal idea after another arising from his improvisation. Blade anticipates Garrett's every move and supports and pushes him along throughout this standout track.

March 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wynton Marsalis: Cherokee

Putting aside our collectively diverse opinions on Marsalis's extra-musical contributions to jazz, it is nearly impossible to listen to Wynton's playing with the Jazz Messengers in the 1980s and his seven-disc boxed set from the Village Vanguard in the 1990s and not marvel at his technical and musical prowess. On this track from Disc 1 of the Vanguard box, Marsalis absolutely rips through "Cherokee" at a predictably blistering pace for nearly seven minutes, combining his classical chops with a noticeable homage to the masters who have previously recorded this classic.

March 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Kenny Dorham: I'll Remember April

Excepting the legendary Clifford Brown/Art Blakey collaborations recorded live at Birdland in 1954, Kenny Dorham was first in line of the many memorable Jazz Messengers trumpeters. Performing mostly alongside Hank Mobley, Horace Silver and Doug Watkins, Dorham can be heard on such Messenger classics as Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers and The Jazz Messengers at Café Bohemia Vol. 1, Vol. 2 and Vol. 3. This classic all-star track, however, finds Dorham trading off the melody's A and B sections with Sonny Rollins, no less, before each rattles off a blistering solo. A brief Hank Jones solo is followed by a brilliantly conceived and executed melodic turn from Roach. If there is a single imperfect Max Roach solo out there, someone please let the drummers of the world know about it!

March 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Benny Golson: My Romance

The ever-underrated tenor saxophonist Benny Golson has written some of modern jazz's best known standards ("I Remember Clifford," Whisper Not," "Stablemates"), and also performed with the likes of Tadd Dameron, Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, and Art Farmer. A member of the Jazz Messengers in 1958 during the recording of the classic Moanin', Golson recommended both Lee Morgan and Bobby Timmons for the group, assisting in assembling one of Art Blakey's more essential hard-bop lineups. This track, recorded a few years after Golson's Messenger service, features his extended ballad improvisation enhanced by Flanagan's and Carter's exemplary support.

March 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Keith Jarrett: My Funny Valentine

Keith Jarrett's membership on the Jazz Messengers alumni roll may surprise some, yet in January 1966, Art Blakey assembled what must be considered one of his most unusual groups, featuring himself, Jarrett, trumpeter Chuck Mangione, tenor saxophonist Frank Mitchell and bassist Reggie Workman. The results can be heard on the CD Buttercorn Lady. Following his short stint with Blakey, Jarrett moved on to become a regular member of Charles Lloyd's group, and shortly thereafter began his career as a bandleader. His legendary trio performances with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette (the latter of whom also performed in Lloyd's group) is presented here in all of its interactive glory while weaving in and out of the standard of all standards, "My Funny Valentine."

March 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Freddie Hubbard: But Beautiful

Freddie Hubbard was among the most frequent members of the Jazz Messengers' later years. He first appeared with the band in late 1961, recorded with frontline partners Curtis Fuller and Wayne Shorter, and appeared with the group as late as 1989 for The Art of Jazz. This outstanding 1960 session with the unique lineup of Tina Brooks, McCoy Tyner and Clifford Jarvis slightly predates Hubbard's arrival on the Messenger bandstand. Among the heavy hitters on this track, Brooks is the true standout, sensitively supporting Hubbard's poignant melody statement and following it with a superb improvised solo. These are young masters at the top of their game.

March 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Curtis Fuller: What Is This Thing Called Love

Curtis Fuller was the first and longest standing trombonist featured in the Jazz Messengers, and was a member of some of that band's most famous front lines. He shared the bandstand most notably with Freddie Hubbard and Wayne Shorter on recordings such as Mosaic, Buhaina's Delight, Caravan and 3 Blind Mice Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. On this pre-Messengers track, Fuller and Hank Jones overshadow Red Kyner and the solid yet imperfect Latin-to-swing transitions by the rhythm section over the head of this classic tune. A fine Doug Watkins solo is answered by Fuller's brief yet exceptional second improvised statement at the tune's conclusion.

March 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lee Morgan (with Bobby Timmons): Lover Man

Prior to his official membership in the Jazz Messengers with 1958's Moanin', Lee Morgan released some of his most revered early sessions as a leader, from City Lights to Candy to this late-'57 release, The Cooker. The unique baritone/trumpet front line combined with the exceptional rhythm section makes this a must-listen. At the top of his game, Morgan could improvise some of the most complete, structured solos the genre has ever heard, and his solo statement over this classic ballad demonstrates that gift.

March 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wynton Kelly: Autumn Leaves

Wynton Kelly recorded only once with the Jazz Messengers – on an interesting 1957 session billed as The Jazz Messengers + 4 (released as Theory of Art and Second Edition 1957 ). Expanded to a nonet, this unique Messengers lineup featured Kelly and Art Blakey along with Lee Morgan, Sahib Shihab, Johnny Griffin and Cecil Payne, among others. Equally distinctive is this trio performance from the 1961 Birmingham Jazz Festival. After an extended unaccompanied intro, a whisper-soft rhythm section enters, but this is essentially a Kelly solo performance. His shifting between chordal expressions of the melody and his naturally soulful improvised lines make this track an excellent representation of Kelly's wide range of stylistic abilities.

March 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: Carvin' the Bird

Just weeks after his release from Camarillo State Hospital, Parker was back in Dial’s studios to record with trumpeter Howard McGhee, saxophonist Wardell Gray and other top West Coast bebop artists. What makes "Carvin’ the Bird" so special—in addition to Bird’s refreshed sound—is Barney Kessel’s unusual guitar intro. Kessel opens with a series of thick, modern chords—a prototype, perhaps, for John Coltrane’s Giant Steps? Despite the crowd of musicians on this date, "Carvin’ the Bird" is an effective blues, with echoes of George Gershwin’s "Fascinating Rhythm," and marks the reemergence of Bird from an especially dark period.

March 06, 2008 · 1 comment

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Horace Silver featuring Hank Mobley: My One and Only Love

Horace Silver, the first in a long line of legendary Jazz Messenger pianists, performed on many of the famous early Art Blakey collaborations with trumpeters Clifford Brown and Kenny Dorham in 1954 and '55. Upon leaving the group shortly thereafter, Silver's reputation as one of the great hard-bop composers was solidified through his consistently swinging Blue Note recordings. On this album of mostly Silver originals, the sole cover choice is an inspired version of the standard "My One and Only Love." Note Silver's expressive (yet traditional) interpretation of the melody and the double-time tenor work of Hank Mobley, a fellow Blakey alum.

March 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Hans Glawischnig (with Chick Corea): Oceanography

Back at the birth of modern jazz, songs were named after academic disciplines. Jam session participants would move from "Anthropology" to "Ornithology," and you almost expected the front line to receive honorary doctorates at the end of the evening. Hans Glawischnig's "Oceanography" resurrects this intricate approach to jazz, and its spry melody would not have been out of place at Minton's or Monroe's. Of course, the presence of pianist Chick Corea on this track adds to the postdoctoral caliber of the proceedings, and the smart interaction between keyboard and bass on this track further enhances the collegial spirit. This is first-class trio music in an updated bop vein.

March 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ernst Reijseger & Franco D'Andrea: Two Colors

Reijseger and D'Andrea are two strong individuals whose vision of music goes far beyond the instruments they play. Dutch cellist Reijseger has brought his instrument far from the classical tradition, and his technical approach is both melodic and full of surprises. Italian pianist D'Andrea is an accomplished virtuoso who always uses his keyboard mastery to create unexpected clusters, rhythmic or sonic contrasts. Hearing the two together is a stimulating experience for the ears and a delight for the mind. With them, jazz truly is "the sound of surprise."

March 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wolfgang Puschnig: Promise

Wolfgang Puschnig has always been interested in other musical traditions. Coming himself from Austrian folk music, he's played with the Vienna Art Orchestra and Carla Bley's groups, with the Korean percussion band SamulNori, and with Philadelphia electric bass ace Jamaaladeen Tacuma. So he's perfectly at ease with a Tunisian oud player and an Indian percussionist. The three of them weave a highly hypnotic sonic tapestry on which the alto's modal improvisation soars with majestic beauty. This sounds like a mix between an Indian raga and a slightly off-center sax trio.

March 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gianluigi Trovesi & Gianni Coscia: Variazioni su Ose Shalom

Gianluigi Trovesi needs no introduction to anyone familiar with the European jazz scene. Gianni Coscia is less known, though the two musicians have had a duo for more that two decades. Both of them are familiar with folk music as well as the jazz idiom, and it's no wonder that they tackle a traditional klezmer tune in a playful and moving way. In the 1990s it became faddish for jazz musicians on both sides of the Atlantic to look for inspiration in the music of Eastern Europe. But Trovesi's and Coscia's approach goes much deeper than that of mere fashion victims.

March 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Depart: Magic Transition

In the 1980s this trio was one of the loudest small bands in the world. Then they disbanded, and this is their return album, aptly titled Reloaded. Of course, they are a bit quieter than before, but the sheer power of Jojo Mayer's polyrhythms is still here, and Sokal's tenor is prone to grunt and cry, always for a good purpose. Känzig's bass is the link between those two forces of nature, and its huge sound definitely has the weight to accomplish this titanic job.

March 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Larry Coryell: Tamari

Guitarist Larry Coryell's Eleventh House band could be impressive. Larry has a strong claim to being one of the fathers of fusion. Unfortunately, some inconsistent playing over the years caused by personal problems prevented him from sitting in the top echelon. Still, his groundbreaking work should not go overlooked. He was an important part of the early fusion scene and was much admired by fans and musicians such as Pat Metheny. When he was on, Coryell could produce fireworks from his fretboard. Larry Coryell & The Eleventh House at Monteux presents Coryell and the band at its hottest. There are some misses along with the hits. But overall the band sounded great and was quite appreciated by the crowd that day.

"Tamari" is an Alphonse Mouzon composition. So it's no accident it is Return to Forever in nature. After all, Mouzon was once a member of that band. After a very pleasing ever-so-slightly Latin-leaning head arrangement, Triffan and Mouzon lay down a rhythm that Coryell shreds over. He picks lightning-quick scalar runs that are quite musical and impressive. A detour or two is taken for some pyrotechnical showing off. In this context – the fusion guitar hero of the day – these episodes come off quite well. Mandel's playing is good, but he is the victim of the passage of time. His keyboard tone has become a bit dated. This is not his fault and his playing should be appreciated for its place in those days. Quite seamlessly, Coryell and the band join up for an engaging groove. This was really Larry Coryell at his best. Of note is trumpeter Mike Lawrence. Sadly, he died young in 1983. But he was among just a handful of trumpet players who were able to break through on the fusion front.

In recent years, Larry seems to have successfully exorcized many of his personal demons and overcome his problems. And after a few years of playing standards and some ill-advised trolling in the smooth jazz swamps, Coryell has been involved in some fine projects including a revisit to his early '70s compositions and sounds, albeit with a modern approach.

March 05, 2008 · 1 comment

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Jack Walrath: Orange Has Me Down

This may sound like a musical joke at first hearing. Henry Purcell's Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary (also known as the opening tune in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange soundtrack) played by some kind of brass band, with a loud piano emphasizing the chord progression and indulging in Chopin-like arpeggios? Then the bass launches a reggae beat on which Walrath's trumpet improvises, with a counter-chant from the other horns! And it's so playful and funny that you're convinced Purcell himself would have approved of this version that makes life, dance and joy spring out of what was originally meant to be a death moan.

March 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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McCoy Tyner: Passion Dance

This is McCoy Tyner's hit song, and it was difficult to imagine any other version than the original on his The Real McCoy Blue Note album. Indeed, the big band is not really used at its maximum potential here. The piano opens solely with bass and drums. Then the rest of the band plays a barely harmonized melody and riffs of little interest during the long piano solo. Of course Tyner is his own titanic self, but John Stubblefield's tenor solo won't make you forget Joe Henderson on the original combo version. What remains of this big band trial, then, is volume, vigor, but definitely less … passion.

March 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Joe Henderson: Black Narcissus

This is clearly one of the most beautiful slow jazz waltzes ever written. Henderson first recorded it with a small ensemble, and its delicacy might have suffered from a big band treatment. But thanks to arranger Bob Belden and to the beautiful piano solo in the first part of the tune, Henderson's entrance comes as a gem in the middle of the track. Corea's work behind him remains incredibly subtle, the horn sections are used to optimal efficiency – be it as discreet color sheets or as source of tension and release – and the rhythm section is exquisitely musical through and through.

March 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Max Nagl: Bowling

Alto sax/accordion/bass is definitely not the most common trio setting. But we are in Austria, where the jazz scene has strong links with local folk tradition. Nagl's alto has a rather raw tone that goes along with great fluency. Lechner's accordion has a sound and phrasing that make it a totally individual voice, both as a harmonic instrument and as a soloist. And Jones, the American in the lot, has a bass sound that fits perfectly in this homage to Charles Mingus.

March 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: Lover Man

Recorded in Hollywood for Dial during a West Coast trip, "Lover Man" marks a turning point in Parker’s career. High as a kite on narcotics, Parker was barely able to squeeze off the tune’s notes. Yet despite Parker’s self-destructive streak, his playing here was still far more impassioned than musicians who were sober. Listen as Bird misses the intro but then manages to turn in a heartfelt effort. The same is true of "The Gypsy" from the same date. Following this session, Parker returned to his hotel, set fire to the room, was arrested and placed in Camarillo State Hospital’s psychiatric ward, where he remained until January 1947.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dexter Gordon: The Moontrane

I have loved every version of Woody Shaw's "The Moontrane" I ever heard. This one is no exception. After 30 years, it still grabs me. If there were still real jazz shows on the radio, this would be the perfect theme song. Gordon's introduction is an exposition of somber nuance. It is deep and rich. The band, sounding big-band, kicks right into this swinging arrangement. Dexter takes the first powerful solo. He was just back from his self-imposed European exile and is sounding great! The composer, Shaw himself, plays the second solo the way the composer of this song should. The tune is filled out with a full assault on its main riff. "The Moontrane" is a driving tune that everyone should have in their collection.

By the way, I did use this rendition of "The Moontrane" as the theme to my own college radio show "Jazz Journey with Walter Kay" way back in 1979. We blasted this baby into the night sky with as much power as our 10 watts could muster!

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris Potter: Song for Anyone

A beautiful feature of Potter's compositions on this album is the variety of timbres he achieves by putting various instruments in the chamber ensemble in unison or octaves. "Song for Anyone," the title track, has an extended form that is the most successful at allowing all the colors of the ensemble to shine through. The arrangement is obviously inspired by classical music, and Potter's solo is too in some ways. It is at times pointillistic, and at other times he abandons lines altogether for flourishes and gestures that are reminiscent of Stravinsky's ballets.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris Potter: Nudnik

The compositions on Underground are heavily influenced by funk music, and are reminiscent of Dave Holland's quintet, of which Potter was a member. "Nudnik" is a groove-based piece whose mixed-meter phrases give it a lilt and an unexpected quality. The beginnings and ends of phrases are surprising. Potter's raucous improvisation over the changing meters is executed with great precision, and the backdrop provided by Craig Taborn's Rhodes and Wayne Krantz's guitar fluidly glides between the ethereal and the rock-hard.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris Potter: Iowa City

There is no drummer on this track, but Potter's solo has a rhythmic drive that renders drums unnecessary. This solo is also absent the sprawling double-time lines that seem ubiquitous in Potter's oeuvre. However, it displays the ease with which Potter uses the entire range of the saxophone, including the altissimo register. The most striking feature of this near-perfect solo is its use of evolving motives, which Potter facilely transposes and inverts. Potter uses these motives to form overarching phrases that express an agitated yearning sentiment, all the while maintaining an intensity that causes the track to crackle with energy.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris Potter: Lift

This Chris Potter composition is marked by rhythmic modulations that increase the tempo and create the impression of music being propelled upward. Potter's solo takes place over the second modulation, a burning swing tempo. His lines, locked into Bill Stewart's cymbals, are reminiscent of Coltrane's breakneck solos. Like Coltrane, Potter toys with superimposed harmonies. He also uses rhythmic displacement, adding a level of excitement due to unease over whether or not he is going to fall back into the phrase. The fact that he always does it is exhilarating.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris Potter: Megalopolis

On his second date for Verve Records, Potter's playing takes a strident tone, matched by the urgent drumming of Bill Stewart. Potter's solo, played over a lush landscape formed partially by John Scofield's and Kevin Hays's accompaniment, and partially by Dave Binney's electronic textures, demonstrates thrilling technical virtuosity. Making use of funk, rock and electronic music influences, this recording represents a hard-driving facet of modern jazz.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dave Douglas featuring Chris Potter: The Infinite

This Dave Douglas composition is built on relatively simple harmonic and rhythmic material because like most of Douglas's pieces, its mood is central. During his stint in Douglas's group, Chris Potter demonstrated his imaginative improvisational approach in a setting that allowed more freedom than traditional jazz. His solo on this track consists of menacing gestures that frequently scream into the altissimo register of the tenor saxophone.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker (with Miles Davis): Milestones

This session is significant for three reasons: Miles Davis is the leader and composer, Bird is playing tenor sax rather than alto, and the tune is technically one of the first “cool jazz” ensemble recordings. By the summer of 1947, Miles was coming under the influence of Claude Thornhill arranger Gil Evans, whose apartment on 55th St. was a crash pad and music-theory think tank for Bird, Miles and Gerry Mulligan. In the summer of 1947, Miles certainly was exposed to Evans’ radical charts for Anthropology and Robbin’s Nest. Miles’ interactions with Evans intensified in the months that followed, resulting in the Birth of the Cool nonet in late1948 and early 1949. Unlike many straight bop rave-ups based on the blues or Tin Pan Alley chord changes, Milestones in 1947 embraced space and featured a cooler, Evans-like melody line. Listen to Miles’ solo and you’ll hear the 1950s Miles breaking through bop's shell. Swing, bop, cool—call it what you will, it was all the same to Bird, who turns in a fabulous solo on tenor.

March 04, 2008 · 1 comment

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Charlie Parker: Parker's Mood

Bird’s playing on "Parker’s Mood" is often referred to as the greatest saxophone solo ever recorded. Parker opens with a fanfare, and John Lewis follows with a piano intro. Then Parker maintains a constant thread throughout, sustaining the song’s tension and purity, never doubling back or repeating a phrase. Lewis’ solo features touches of Bud Powell’s lush technique, and Parker returns on the back end, winding down the tune and ending with the same opening fanfare. But Lewis has the final say, finishing oddly on an unresolved chord. Bird is completely exposed here, and his emotional pain is all too evident. Five years later, in December 1953, King Pleasure added words to the song, grimly foreshadowing Parker’s own funeral. "Parker’s Mood" remains one of Bird’s most lyrical and enduring blues lines.

March 04, 2008 · 3 comments

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Dave Holland featuring Chris Potter: The Balance

Potter's soprano playing proves to be just as rich as his tenor playing. His extended solo on this live recording begins as Potter allows a motivic theme to unfold and build over the course of two minutes. There is much rhythmic interplay between Potter and Billy Kilson on drums. The band's intensity grows steadily, encouraging Potter to eventually unleash a fury of sixteenth-note runs and angry repeated riffs over driving backgrounds.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris Potter: The Source

Gratitude is an homage to the masters of jazz saxophone, and it emphasizes Potter's roots in the jazz tradition. It also marks the point at which Potter's style is fully developed. "The Source" is dedicated to the energy of John Coltrane's playing, which Potter comes close to matching. On this track he demonstrates his ability to slide in and out of the harmonies. Whereas on earlier recordings, his "out" playing can be shocking to the ears, in this case it has been smoothed over, and is surprising and exciting. This approach to harmony is a defining feature of Potter's improvisations.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris Potter: Jazzpar Suite – Part 6 – Folk Tune

In 2000, Chris Potter became the youngest musician to ever receive Denmark's prestigious Jazzpar prize. This recording features a suite that was written specifically for the ceremony at which Potter was awarded the prize. "Folk Tune" is a contrapuntal groove piece that is perhaps influenced by the rhythmic cycles and melodies of Eastern European folk songs. It foreshadows two later recordings by Potter: its groove-based solo section is the basis for many of the tracks on Lift: Live at the Village Vanguard, and its extended form and classical music influence are elements that Potter explores on his 2007 Song for Anyone.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: Ko Ko

Built on the chord changes to "Cherokee," "Ko Ko" was recorded during Parker’s first date as a leader and first session for Savoy Records. This track demonstrates just how difficult this new music was to play. Miles Davis and pianist Andre Thornton (Sadik Hakim) were supposed to play on the tune but were hamstrung by the song’s complexities. So Dizzy Gillespie played trumpet on the theme and then switched to piano behind Bird’s solos. Here, Parker no longer is working inside the system but inventing a new language. "Ko Ko" was a ferocious salvo fired across swing’s bow.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Joanne Brackeen featuring Chris Potter: In Vogue

Chris Potter was nominated for a Grammy for best instrumental solo on this track. Brackeen's composition is marked by beautifully haunting harmonies that seem just on the verge of resolving, but never quite get there. Potter's solo highlights this subtle feature. He toys with weaving, cascading lines conjoining sections of sequenced motives and gestures that have a striving and longing quality. The melancholy nature of his playing emphasizes the wistful and yearning tone of the composition.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris Potter: Amsterdam Blues

This recording demonstrates Potter's modern approach to the blues. Potter's solo consists of angular lines and quirky intervallic melodies that merely hint at the traditional blues harmony, and his phrases loosely drape over the contours of the well-known blues structure. This gives the impression that the song is hanging in the balance between tradition and innovation.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris Potter: Juggernaut

This track, from Potter's debut recording as a leader, foreshadows the brilliant career that lay ahead of the young saxophonist. He was 21 when this CD was made, although the language with which he improvises is far beyond his years. Reminiscent of Joe Henderson, Potter's solo demonstrates his virtuosic technique, and provides a glimpse of the rhythmic and motivic techniques he perfects and employs in his later work.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: Cherokee

Five months after Count Basie recorded "Cherokee" in 1939, Charlie Barnet covered it and wound up with a massive hit. By the early 1940s, Kansas City swing bands were using the tune to showcase soloists’ chops and stamina. In Jay McShann’s band, that task fell to Parker, who would improvise effortlessly on chorus after chorus. This demo recording of "Cherokee" was likely made at a Kansas City music store sometime during the American Federation of Musicians’ recording ban of 1942-1944. As Bird imaginatively weaves in and out of the song’s melody line, you literally hear bebop being born.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Felipe Salles: Seven Days

Salles's South American Suite is an impressive seven-piece work, and the opening "Seven Days" perhaps best accomplishes its intent. Salles takes native rhythms of Brazil – some well-known, many more obscure – and writes compelling compositions based on them, with richly textured modern orchestrations that encourage expressive ensemble playing and solos. The leader's tenor and Michelin's piano begin the track with a spiritual duet remindful of Coltrane and Tyner, which soon evolves into a dancing riff-like melody inspired by two Brazilian rhythms – the Baião and Maracatu – with trombone punctuating the enticing beat. The theme is then effectively repeated at times with varying blends of instruments. Among the soloists during this absorbing, nearly 11-minute performance, Manricks on alto and Salles on tenor excel, each creatively using vocalized inflections and cleverly altered rhythmic patterns to enhance the harmonic depth of their improvisations.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Alan Broadbent / Gary Foster: Relaxin' at Camarillo

Both Broadbent and Foster have Lennie Tristano connections, Alan having studied with Tristano and worked with Warne Marsh, and Gary having played with both Lee Konitz and Marsh. After performing frequently as a duo, they finally had the chance to record as such at the acoustically ideal Maybeck Recital Hall. The concert concluded with this rousing romp through Parker's convoluted 1947 tune which acknowledged his stay at Camarillo State Hospital. Broadbent and Foster play the theme in brisk unison after Bird's original intro, and then the altoist breezes through the changes engagingly at a subtle simmer, provoked by the pianist's inspired comping. Broadbent's own solo is replete with intricate phrasings and spiraling runs. Next follows a stirring dual improvisation as they chase each other's lines. Theme, original tag, and out to enthusiastic applause. Although residing somewhere between cool school and hot bebop, this exciting track definitely prompts a reaction that is far from lukewarm.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Nick Brignola: Tears Inside

The late Nick Brignola was an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, but it was on his main instrument – the baritone sax – that he most impressed. Possessing a striking solidity and clarity of tone from the top to bottom of the big horn, along with exceptional improvisational skills in almost any context, Brignola is among the baritone sax greats. On one of his best CDs, made up mostly of standards, the early Ornette Coleman blues "Tears Inside" stands out. The original version had Percy Heath and Shelly Manne rather conventionally locked in rhythm-wise. If only Ornette had Holland and DeJohnette (or, of course, Haden and Higgins) to interact with, as Brignola does here. Brignola plays the classic line with just Holland's simpatico bass support, the baritone's resounding tone, especially in the lower register, grabbing the listener. As Nick begins his wailing, prancing solo, DeJohnette joins in with rhythmically diverse commentary, and finally Barron's piano enters as Brignola continues his unflagging creation. After Barron's gliding solo, sax and piano effectively take the theme out together.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Steve Coleman: Embryo

Coleman is alone with the muffled drums for more than a minute before the other instruments join in on this poised melody, in a choir-like manner. When the harmonica solos, the atmosphere changes. Then the two others horns return and dialogue with him in a fascinating, random way, on a typically M-base ostinato by the rhythm section, and we are definitely in Steve Coleman's universe. This tune introduces us to it step by step, until we snap our fingers without even asking the common question: "What is there to understand in this music?" Pure magic indeed!

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miroslav Vitous: U Dunaje U Prespurka

The singing quality of Vitous's bass is beautifully exemplified in his long solo introduction to this tune, based on a traditional Czech melody. The bassist, who'd long been living in the USA at the time, chose to play with an all-European band and to immerse us into a half-nostalgic, half-dancing atmosphere. As his partners' names hint, the level of the playing is very high, as is its emotional quality.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bert Joris: Mr Dodo

This could be just one more contemporary tune composed in the post-hard bop style, and even so it would still be very convincing. But beyond the fine groove and catchy melody, the way these three Belgians and an Italian dive into the spirit of the tune and deliver soulful solos is remarkable. It feels as if the '60s had carried on until now without losing a bit of their substance and originality. After all, good music is of all times, and the members of this quartet are definitely great musicians.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Arild Andersen: Pavane

This is one of the European equilateral triangles (Norway/Greece/UK) increasingly common on the Old Continent, as it finds a common vision of jazz parallel to the many local idiosyncrasies. These musicians, masters in their own countries, find common ground in an Impressionist composition that jazz musicians have liked for decades. Alongside the beautiful work of Andersen and Marshall (on brushes), even more remarkable is what Tsabropoulos – still a classical piano player, parallel to his jazz career – does in a trio context, on a tune he may also have played according to Ravel's original chart. Here, only his beautiful piano touch reminds us how familiar he is with the classical approach.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Javier Vercher: Bird Food

From the first notes on, we're in the wake of Sonny Rollins's late-'50s trio. It's a very refreshing feeling, all the more coming from a young Spanish tenor presently living in New York. What, there are young tenors who don't spend their time trying to follow Brecker's trace, or looking for their sound somewhere between Lovano and Potter? Of course there are! But this one is European and his search for fathers (Rollins for the sound and phrasing, Ornette for the thematic material) spells of sincerity and future strong personality rather than just imitation. Besides, his partners fully understand his approach and help him beautifully in his quest.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Uri Caine: Cheek to Cheek

Even if he does let us recognize bits of this evergreen, Uri Caine toys with it from the beginning with little regard for the melody. The piano dives into the improvisation process right away, and the rhythm team pushes him along with great vigor. When Caine finally slows down and lets Perowky solo, it comes as a welcome relief after more than five minutes of breathless virtuosity. This performance is obviously remarkable, but its 9-minute length and intensity are typical of what the listener can appreciate much better live than at home.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Betty Carter: Feed the Fire

In 1993, Betty Carter toured Europe with one of her best bands ever, and those who caught her live will never forget what they saw and heard. For the others, this record – and particularly its title tune – is faithful testimony. Carter scats all along this wordless song, and never does it in the technical/mechanical way of so many singers. She's expressive and full of nuances throughout, always using her impressive range to optimal effect. With the terrific rhythm section fitting her marvelously, Betty Carter definitely asserts that she is one of the greatest ladies of jazz singing.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mark Turner / Larry Grenadier / Jeff Ballard: Child's Play

Ballard's highly melodic drums open this tune, soon followed by Grenadier's bass. Turner enters last, almost on tiptoe, with his usual soft tone, but once the three are together the interaction progressively becomes thick and telepathic. In fact this relationship between three highly compatible musicians is the center of interest of a tune without any real melody or structure. It keeps our ears awake from beginning to end through the sheer collective creativity and empathy of the players.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Donald Brown: On Green Dolphin Street

Donald Brown initially settles the melody of this standard on an ostinato by the bass notes of the piano. It will remain a guideline to his whole interpretation. Whatever his virtuoso right hand may do with the harmony and around the melody in the upper register, the left one doesn’t just accompany it. It weaves a fascinating, ever-changing rhythmic line that compels our ears to follow both hands at the same time.

March 03, 2008 · 1 comment

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Nathalie Loriers: The Party

Nathalie Loriers is one of the most mature pianists to have come to prominence in Belgium, a small European country that has always produced a comparatively impressive number of talented jazz musicians. Here she shows her groovy chops on a tune she penned, and a great Italian/Dutch rhythm pair helps her get the most out of a rather simple rhythmic pattern. It evolves into organic improvisation by the piano, then the bass, without ever losing the deeply rooted feel established by the initial chords.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Alexi Tuomarila: Noaidi

Tuomarila is a young pianist from Finland who studied in Belgium and currently lives in Paris. He recorded this tune with a tight Belgian group that has fully embraced his vision of jazz. A vision that could be best defined as a post-Coltrane conception of the quartet, with a very organic basis. The global sound is thick and heavy, and each instrument contributes to it rather than focusing on solo feats. Rhythm is also a key element, and the structure is never formal. This announces some very promising talents.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Venus De Milo

Gerry Mulligan began his career writing for local bands in Philadelphia, then hit the big time playing and writing for the Gene Krupa Orchestra. Krupa thought him a bit brash and cocky, but loved his music and played everything he wrote. (A dozen such arrangements were recorded for Verve in 1958, and sound just as fresh as when first played.) It was clear that Mulligan was a major compositional voice, and Gil Evans convinced him to move to New York and got him a gig writing for Claude Thornhill. Mulligan later said that Evans was his last important influence. One of the few pieces for the Miles Davis Nonet that Mulligan never redid later for big band, "Venus De Milo" is an elegant gem, spontaneous sounding, yet with every musical element carefully chosen. Davis is featured, as well as Mulligan himself. (Lee Konitz's 16-bar solo before Mulligan's was cut for the recording.) As an improviser, Mulligan was still finding his way, and his solo is a bit awkward. By 1952, however, when he joined forces with Chet Baker on the West Coast, Gerry had become an instrumental master as well.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: S'il Vous Plait

When I was preparing edited scores for the Birth of the Cool folio, one of my hopes was that enough parts still existed for John Lewis's "S'il Vous Plait" so that it could be included. Alas, this was not the case and the title had to be dropped. Lewis's blues with a bridge is an up-tempo piece that could be opened for solo space, and on this occasion, Konitz, Davis and Mulligan (a bit awkward here) really jump.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Rouge

John Lewis throws us off track at the beginning of this charming piece by not only writing an introduction in 3/4, but starting it on beat three. Soon the piece goes into 4/4 and really swings. Technically an exercise in half-step cadence movement, some of the writing is awkward, particularly during the second measure of the bridge. Lewis later corrected this for the 1991 album Re-Birth of the Cool, and that became the definitive version. Lewis also used part of the chordal structure of "Rouge" for "The Queen's Fancy," recorded in 1954 by the Modern Jazz Quartet. Solos here are by Lewis, Konitz, Miles and Clarke.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Rocker

"Rocker" exemplifies Gerry Mulligan's linear thinking versus chordal block writing. ("Thank goodness," he once told me, "I was never a slave to chord changes.") Gerry creates some soft dissonances as the voices move, but they go by so quickly so that the ear is not disturbed by the sound, and hears a non-moving melody against moving parts. Mulligan later arranged this for Charlie Parker with strings, and wrote a big band version for Elliot Lawrence (although he complained that the tempo on the Lawrence recording was too fast). Davis, Konitz and Mulligan solo. And just to set the record straight, "Rock Salt" was the original title of this piece, according to a conversation I had with its composer in 1995 when I prepared lead sheets of his music for a play-along book-CD project.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Move

Written by drummer Denzil Best, this is one of the Birth of the Cool arrangements that could be naturally opened up for solos, and Miles, Konitz and Roach deliver. Arranger John Lewis writes driving musical figures with economy of orchestration, and it says a great deal about Collins and Barber that they could play such exciting musical lines on instruments that "spoke" slowly – one of the challenges this ensemble had to rise above. That they did it so well is a testament to the excellence of these musicians.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Moon Dreams (live)

Claude Thornhill's big band featured extended medleys for dancing. One of these, arranged by Gil Evans, consisted of "Easy Living," "Everything Happens to Me," and "Moon Dreams." Extracted for what was perhaps the Miles Davis Nonet's first arrangement, "Moon Dreams" is essentially a re-orchestration of Gil's Thornhill arrangement, with a few changes in harmony. Incidentally, Evans originally envisioned clarinet instead of alto sax in the instrumentation, and while such a part exists, the Nonet (here actually an octet with pianist John Lewis sitting out) settled on alto sax. This live recording comes from a broadcast at the Royal Roost during the ensemble's only extended live gig. The band never did play this arrangement – one of Evans's most dissonant settings to that time – correctly; when it was over, audiences must have been totally bewildered.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Jeru

Gerry Mulligan wrote more music for this ensemble than any other writer save John Lewis, and most of his contributions were played and recorded. "Jeru" is another example of Mulligan expanding his linear thinking, the harmony derived from the part writing rather than chordal blocks. Mulligan also indulges in changing time signatures – the 12-bar bridge is written as one 4/4 bar, one 3/4, one 2/4, four 3/4, one 6/4 and finally four bars of 4/4. The band obviously rehearsed this piece carefully, as they play this section with authority and confidence. Davis and Mulligan solo. Mulligan would write a version of this piece for Claude Thornhill's band, although a recording for Trend has a cut that misrepresents the arrangement.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Israel

John Carisi and George Russell were the resident "ultramoderns" in the group that hung out at Gil Evans's midtown Manhattan pad in the late 1940s. Russell's only composition for this band exists but does not seem to have been played publicly. Carisi was one of the few white musicians who jammed at Minton's during the early years of bebop, and was studying composition with Stephan Wolpe while hanging out with Evans and company. In the one musical contribution he made to this ensemble, Carisi blended the traditional blues with modern harmony (some of the chords are dissonant clusters) and counterpoint, with solos for Davis and Konitz. "Israel" became a standard in the jazz repertoire, and Carisi would later arrange it for Gerry Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band. John later taught at Queens College, part of the City University of New York, where this writer studied composition with him.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Godchild

One of the most popular jazz compositions of its era, "Godchild" boasts a wonderful Gerry Mulligan arrangement with very clever touches. Taking a cue from Gil Evans (who was an important influence on Mulligan during this era), Gerry focused more on individual part writing versus block harmonic writing. This contrapuntal approach not only influenced such later writers as Bill Holman, it freed Mulligan himself from slavishly following a stated harmony. He also plays with time signatures; a 2/4 bar in the turnaround is a refreshing touch. In an arrangement that was opened up for solos, Davis, Mulligan and Winding are heard.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Darn That Dream

The only real "dog" in the Birth of the Cool catalog, this track remained unavailable for many years until it was finally dug out of the vault in 1972 for a "complete" LP release in Holland. Singer Kenny Hagood is not at his best, and the ensemble playing of Gerry Mulligan's indifferent score is lackluster and tired. It is a real pity that Mulligan's "Joost at the Roost" was not recorded instead.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Budo

Pronounced Bud-o and not Boo-do, this composition is also known under the title "Hallucinations." After a series of rhythmic parallel dissonant chords interspersed with fills by Roach, the ensemble plays one of the most boppish pieces in the BOTC repertoire. Even though the ensemble playing is a bit sloppy at times, this track is certainly exciting. Davis, Mulligan, Konitz, Winding and Roach are featured.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Boplicity

Even though Gil Evans was one of the chief architects of what became the Miles Davis Nonet, he provided only two arrangements for the ensemble, including this piece which he co-wrote but for some reason was never so credited. As he'd already demonstrated in writing for Claude Thornhill's big band, Evans was an orchestrational and contrapuntal master. "Boplicity" provides further proof: instrumental parts that are carefully crafted, beautiful to play and sound improvised, yet together result in a rich-textured ensemble that seems bigger than nine musicians. Mulligan, Davis and Lewis solo (although the short trumpet solo at 1:36 is fully notated). Decades later, this piece came up missing from Miles Davis's collection of scores; luckily Evans gave Gunther Schuller copies of the parts.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stanley Clarke: Concerto for Jazz/Rock Orchestra, Parts 1-4

Even more so than his phenomenal contemporary Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke was the fusion genre's first electric bass superstar. This didn't make Clarke better or more important. The argument as to who was better will go on forever, and is pointless, really. Both players set standards that are still in place. But there were reasons for Clarke's greater popularity. His bass sound, even when playing rapid-fire runs, was smoother than Jaco's. This stylistic and audio difference helped Clarke introduce fans to the idea that the electric bass could be an important melodic instrument. Clarke was also a better-rounded composer than Jaco, so his tunes were more accessible. Additionally, after leaving Chick Corea's Return to Forever, Clarke made some wise business and music decisions that allowed him control over his music and those he played it with. On this album alone, he was able to bring in Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Jeff Beck and George Duke.

"Concerto for Jazz/Rock Orchestra" is a full-blown bass concerto. While this piece is classical in the formal sense of movements, it is anything but classical in a musical sense. Part 1 is the slow movement. Hand bells, acoustic bass and piano establish a gentle tableau. Part 2 is definitely a fast movement! Clarke blazes a path. Duke is outstanding on synthesizer. Sancious wails on electric guitar. The full horn section joins in on an explosion of the movement's thematic riffs. The third part is propelled by a fast Gadd shuffle leading to a last short and sad movement gently punctuated by a wistful melodic undertone. In the context of such a written-out piece, improvisation is at the highest levels. The players are all outstanding. But, in the end, it is the composer's skill that stands out.

By the way, Stanley Clarke's smooth bass sound would eventually get the best of him. He lost his initial fan base, but attracted a larger one in the mainstream. In the last couple of years, however, there seems to be hope that jazz and jazz rock fans will once again hear the Stanley Clarke we once knew. In fact, at this writing, he is planning an upcoming Return to Forever reunion tour. While it is hard to criticize such a talented musician for taking advantage of financial opportunities, I am glad to see the artistic direction of some of his latest projects.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Alvin Youngblood Hart: Big Mama's Door

Alvin Youngblood Hart is another one of the great acoustic blues musicians who is seemingly ambivalent about committing to this style of music. If you go to Hart's MySpace page you will find that he lists his musical styles as "rock," "rock" and more "rock." But if you listened to "Big Mama's Door," you might be forgiven for thinking that Alvin Youngblood Hart is a great advocate of the blues tradition. His acoustic guitar work is first rate, and he has an excellent blues voice. We will leave it up to Hart to decide how blue he wants to get, but blues fans will want to check out this 1995 performance from the fine Big Mama's Door CD.

March 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Corey Harris: Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground

Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground" is not an easy song to cover; the original is one of the most haunting documents of 20th century American music. But Corey Harris is not one to walk away from a challenge. After all, this is the fellow who traveled to Mali to play with Ali Farka Touré , collaborated with filmmaker Martin Scorsese, and won a MacArthur genius grant. And he's only a thirty-something. Of course, he can play mean blues, when he's not doing reggae or working on some other project. He knows the tradition, and when he plays this music, it comes vividly to life; and can inspire others with its power. Blues needs people like Corey Harris - so let's hope he doesn't get sidetracked into soundtracks or folk music or some other commercial deal. But my fear is that this artist - like so many other blues talents of his generation - will merely look at acoustic blues as a way station on the path to bigger markets.

March 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Keb Mo: Come On in My Kitchen

It's easy to be skeptical of Keb Mo. So much about his image seems built by a publicity department. Los Angeles native Kevin Moore starts by playing a blues musician in a West Coast drama production, and before you know it he is Keb Mo, the authentic representative of the Delta blues tradition, with a very nice record deal. But, dangit all, Keb Mo comes out with some very good records, so I can't complain. He has a nice way of mixing pop, rock and folk elements into his blues, and gets a great sound out of his guitar. And his voice is top notch. All these elements come together in this slick updating of a Robert Johnson blues classic. You lookin' for Mo Better Keb? This track is a good starting place.

March 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris Thomas King: Death Letter Blues

It's hard to pin down Baton Rouge native son Chris Thomas King. Is he the actor who made his mark in Ray and that great Coen Brothers' film Oh Brother,Where Art Thou? Is he the bluesy rapper? Is he the pioneer of sampled blues? For my part, I would like to hear more of Chris Thomas King, the acoustic blues artist. When he digs into an old, old blues, like Son House's "Death Letter Blues," he captures the intensity of the Delta heritage as well as any musician of his generation. This is great roots music, from a modernist who is very much at home in the old traditions.

March 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Otis Taylor: Absinthe

If you want to check out the new masters of acoustic blues, go no farther: many of them are on this track. Here we find Keb Mo (and his son K2), Alvin Youngblood Hart, and above all the amazing Otis Taylor. No one can vamp with more hypnotic intensity than Mr. Taylor, and on "Absinthe" he demonstrates again his ability to craft a powerful performance out of the simplest musical materials. Not since John Lee Hooker, has a blues player been so totally in the groove. "Absinthe" is part of Taylor's banjo project, which is a fine release. But if you haven't heard this musician before, start out with some of this guitar work - for example, his great "My Soul's in Louisiana." But do check this artist out.

March 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Oliver Nelson: Three Plus One

It is interesting that Oliver Nelson did not choose an all-star lineup for this date, although his prestige by this time would certainly have allowed for it. Yet Nelson's peerless arrangements, compositions and orchestrations stand up so well as to make this group perform at a level that might not be expected. While Nelson certainly had some extremely talented players here, he also incorporated hired locals Art Hoyle on trumpet and Kenny Sonderblum on trombone, and even features Hoyle at times to great effect.

Leading off with a Grady Tate drum intro that clearly signals the driving rhythm ahead, this all-out burner is in the best tradition of big band swing. Nelson's impeccable command of orchestration is a marvel, particularly considering how much music he fits into this tune's scant 3½ minutes. Unfazed by Nelson's penchant for complicated lines, the band cooks with impeccably unified playing. A sterling high-register solo by trumpeter Hoyle raises this screamer to full intensity. An exuberant Phil Woods then lets loose with one of his patented wailing solos. All the while, drummer Grady Tate bassist Ben Tucker steadfastly maintain the pace. Fittingly, as with any fine composer, Nelson completes his thought by ending the piece as it began: with a punctuated Tate solo fronting a perfectly unified finale by an impressive group of musicians. Big band swing at its finest.

March 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Oliver Nelson: Teenie's Blues

In this blues-based cooker, which may have been dedicated to saxophonist Tina Brooks, Ben Tucker's walking bassline carries the memorable melody on its hard-charging way, ably anchored by the beat of pacemaker Grady Tate. After Patti Bown's soulful blues-tinged leadoff piano solo, Oliver Nelson's tenor solo wails with expression and originality. Once again, Nelson demonstrates his artistry at arranging his coterie of horns so as to create his distinctive trademark sound, so compelling here. While the melody is certainly memorable, the orchestration and playfully discordant unison playing by Woods and Nelson make this worthwhile. There is little wonder why Oliver found writing for the movies so appealing, since his compositions all make use of the drama that can be created by carefully arranged brass and woodwinds. That was his special gift.

March 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jan Hammer: Oh, Yeah?

Keyboard and Moog pioneer Jan Hammer appeared on several important records during the end of his tenure with the Mahavishnu Orchestra and soon after. His keyboard voice was a key element in the success of Billy Cobham's groundbreaking fusion outing Spectrum. His playing and composing were integral parts of Jeff Beck's Wired. He also recorded with Elvin Jones and John Abercrombie. At the same time, Jan's solo career was burgeoning. Counting Like Children with fellow Mahavishnu alumnus Jerry Goodman, Oh, Yeah? was Hammer's third stateside release as a leader.

Slowly but surely Hammer was moving away from the heavy fusion of the early '70s to a more accessible sound. Oh, Yeah? was still a fusion album. But the seeds of another direction were being planted.

"Oh, Yeah?" is a light, bouncy and catchy number. So much so, it was even released as a single. In mood it was the antithesis of anything Mahavishnu ever played. Tony Smith starts things off with a shuffle beat. Hammer enters with a simple sing-songy Moog riff. It builds in complexity only to be interrupted by the humorous "Oh, Yeah?" vocal refrain (Jan Hammer calls it "grumbling"). Kindler often doubles-up with Hammer while the rhythm section maintains an almost robotic pulse. This is probably one of those songs that were a lot more complicated to play than it seemed. But if the goal was simply to generate some impressive licks, have fun and make heads bob, Jan Hammer and the band succeeded in a big way.

After many years of not performing in the United States, Jan Hammer appeared at the 2006 Moog Fest in New York City. Interestingly, he performed with the Mahavishnu Project as his backing band. His set opened with an energetic "Oh, Yeah?" It brought the house down!

March 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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