Jamie Baum: In Passing

The beautifully synchronous playing of Baum and Endsley, on flute and trumpet respectively, is an unusual but potent front line for Baum's ethereal music, and the rhythm section's drone provides a perfect landscape onto which she applies her fluid musical pastels. Her tone is soft, and her delivery is languorous with a sensuous breathiness that never falters in pitch or direction. After Baum dances around with pianist Colligan's tasteful support, Weidemeuller takes his turn with an equally feathery bass solo backed by lightly applied piano chords and exquisitely subtle brushwork. Overall, this piece's atmospheric ensemble sound enables the composer to realize her vision. Baum has clearly assembled cooperative, likeminded musicians to help showcase her formidable compositional skills. A skillful offering that incorporates the flute as a poignant participant in an orchestral/chamber jazz setting.

May 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Luckey Roberts: Complainin'

Small in stature, Luckey Roberts was a giant among Harlem stride pianists. Yet by the time of this 1958 session for Lester Koenig's revivalist Good Time Jazz Records, Luckey was among jazz's forgotten men. Moreover, his name notwithstanding, he'd suffered a series of personal mishaps, including an automobile wreck that shattered his hands and, only weeks before this recording, a stroke. Any one of these setbacks by itself would explain a poor performance; taken together, they'd excuse almost anything. But Luckey Roberts was, to quote Nat Hentoff's liner notes, "indomitable"—too talented and, yes, too damn proud to make anything less than memorable music.

So, if there was any complaining to do, Luckey would do it in song. "Complainin'," his own composition, is part Debussy, part Scott Joplin, and all Luckey. It's a delightful, bluesy yet dignified rag that, at a scant 3 minutes long, magnetically attracts your thumb to the Repeat button again and again. While his execution may not be letter perfect, Luckey Roberts raises "Complainin'" to an art through his irrepressible warmth, humanity and survivor's dignity. Indomitable indeed.

May 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Hampton Hawes: Broadway

The interaction between Hampton Hawes and Jim Hall on all three volumes of the All Night Session dates is a real treat. Both play a lot of notes but never sound cluttered or unoriginal – both of their cerebral approaches to constructing horn-like, logical improvisations serve as superb bop teaching tools. The understated yet consistent bass and drums of Red Mitchell and Eldridge "Bruz" Freeman allow Hawes and Hall to take center stage, with Hawes providing an extended solo first and Hall following suit with a slightly shorter yet filled-to-the-brim statement. Recording three albums' worth of music in one long night, this literal All Night Session is a career highlight for two under-lauded harmonic masters.

May 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Hampton Hawes: Hip

A divine head start if there ever was one, Hampton Hawes was born with six fingers on each hand. The extra digits were removed shortly after birth, but the ten remaining members paid tribute to their two lost brethren by taking up the piano as a youngster. A student of boogie-woogie, stride and swing until childhood buddy Eric Dolphy introduced him to the work of Bird and Diz, Hawes reduced his wide range of jazz influences to an intense, historically steeped, swinging bop voice. Land and Hawes trade off the melody here, and their respective solos are both inspired and impressive. Note the dominance of Hawes's right hand to create an improvisatory statement that's often more reminiscent of a horn player than a pianist. LaFaro's walking and solo are expectedly perfect.

May 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jack DeJohnette: One for Eric

All of Jack DeJohnette's sustained led or co-led groups produce consistently high-level jazz – from the Gateway group with John Abercrombie and Dave Holland, to the New Directions group consisting of Abercrombie, Lester Bowie and Eddie Gomez, to Special Edition, which featured a revolving cast of musicians that most notably included David Murray and Arthur Blythe. This record marks the first and most complete Special Edition outing, constantly shifting directions from this opening Dolphy tribute to the subsequent "Zoot Suite." Both are penned by DeJohnette and manage to invoke their inspirations while formulating an original group sound all the while. Highlights from this track include the clever Dolphy/ Mingus-esque melody and solos from Murray (on bass clarinet) and DeJohnette himself.

May 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jack DeJohnette: Minority

Swapping-saxophonists aside, Jack D. tops the list of jazz musicians who can record winning records on their non-primary instrument. Sure, Chick Corea sounds great on drums, Mingus sounds great on his piano album, and Joe Chambers sounds great on vibes, but Jack's seamless shift from colorful drummer to sophisticated pianist/composer is genuinely impressive, and for the most part, unprecedented in the jazz world. Perhaps most interesting is Jack's left hand – his drumming has allowed him the rhythmic independence to place his chordal accompaniment in the most interesting of spaces. If you simply ignore the synthesizer-drenched, elevator-inspired version of Cindy Lauper's "Time After Time" that comprises the album's fifth track, this is an attractive study in piano playing from a rhythmic master.

May 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Russ Lossing: Vaporetto

The interaction between Russ Lossing (New York pianist, composer and music theorist) and legendary drummer Paul Motian is an absorbing case study in two intellectual musicians with very different musical styles. Lossing approaches his piano solos by developing a single motive into a chorus-long tangling and untangling session (à la Rollins). While this style can often fall predictably short, Lossing's refined talents lead to some staggering improvised discoveries. Motian's drum theory, on the other hand, often aims to free itself from consistent motives and common phrases – to the invigorating delight of some and the "just-swing-already!" frustration of others. The combination of sophisticated motivic development from the pianist and playful unpredictability from the drummer leads to a clashing of improvisational styles. Lucky for us, it works.

May 30, 2008 · 1 comment

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Tony Malaby: Cosas

Tony Malaby is one of the busiest saxophonists in the New York scene today. Whether it was his month-long residency at the Tea Lounge in Brooklyn in May 2008, his ongoing once-a-month slot at The Cornelia Street Café in Greenwich Village, or upcoming appearances with Fred Hersch, this alumnus of Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra and Paul Motian's Electric Bebop Band has built a well- deserved fan base of both jazz enthusiasts and fellow musicians. On "Cosas," Malaby is joined by the spacious and imaginative rhythm section of Motian and Drew Gress, allowing Malaby to simmer slowly and comfortably until he's inspired to build to one of his trademark extended 16th-note runs. A generously sympathetic trio performance.

May 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tim Hagans: See You Again

Alone Together, from trumpeter Tim Hagans, offers plenty of thought-provoking modern jazz. Hagans leads a quartet though a mix of standards and some originals written by the obscenely talented pianist and composer Marc Copland. The straight-ahead aggressive pieces stand out. Copland's composition "See You Again" is one of those numbers. The melody is established in a slow unison section featuring Hagans and Copland. After no time, Hagan picks up the pace and is off the farm. Some fantastic blowing leads to Copland's solo turn. Copland is very inventive and shows great facility. A short Ruckert drum solo acts as an invitation for a restatement of the theme. Hagans reenters and takes the scenic route back to the metaphorical farm. Hagans has a voice well worth a listen. "See You Again" is representative of the music heard on Alone Together – it is modern jazz well written and arranged and wonderfully played.

May 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Shankar: Paper Nut

When the esoteric German jazz label ECM started focusing some of its attention on world music jazz, L. Shankar was one of its rising stars. The many-named Shankar (Lakshminarayanan Shankar, L. Shankar, Shankar, Shenkar) joined fellow ECM recording stars Jan Garbarek and Zakir Hussain for this outing. Percussion master Trilok Gurtu also appears.

I would call "Paper Nut" Indian/Jazz/World trance music. Its bouncing beat, aided by a low-register tuned drum machine, is very similar to dub world music rhythms that would be heard years later. Hussain and Gurtu are, quite frankly, not called upon to do much in this tune except provide a constant beat. Shankar's violin acts as a drone of sorts when not in melodic use. He and Garbarek partake in a very pleasing call and response throughout the tune. The melody, though not often stated, is a charming collection of notes that add up to a fun time for all.

As for that drum machine I mentioned, its use is much less successful on other tunes on the album. In fact it mars a few of them. Why would you use a drum machine when you had two of the world's greatest percussionists a few feet away? This was when Shankar, now known as Shenkar, started making some strange music and career decisions that in this critic's humble opinion started leading him on a path that would get him lost.

May 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Al Di Meola: Kiss My Axe

Al Di Meola is well known for having an attitude. For years he has been quite vocal about his belief that the music business has failed progressive artists such as he is. As a fan of the more progressive side of rock and jazz, I tend to agree with many of his assessments. At the same time, sometimes I feel Di Meola does himself a disservice by being so blunt. "God bless him," I think as I read another scathing Di Meola letter to the editor of a music magazine. Why does he have to be so angry? And why doesn't he use an editor?

The title of this album is a perfect example. Kiss My Axe has two meanings. First, it refers to the erotic theme of the album. Di Meola is pictured on the cover with a half-naked woman and his guitar. This is the perfect metaphor. Second, the statement "kiss my axe" is a direct thumbing of his nose to the music establishment he feels abandoned him.

"Kiss my Axe" is actually less in your face than you would expect. Di Meola's guitar is warm in tone. As almost always with Di Meola, a Latin landscape is formed. (Of interest is that a few times on the album Di Meola explores some Eastern sounds not usually found in his bag.) His muted fingering, performed at breakneck speed, creates a vibe not unlike that heard in his rave-up tune "Egyptian Danza" from more than a decade earlier. Miles's piano brings a calming influence to the piece. What the tune lacks in the fusion energy of his earlier days, it makes up in his more sophisticated approach.

May 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Giants of Jazz: Lover Man

I chose this cut to review from this all-star gathering because it features Kai Winding's trombone exclusively. It isn't very often one gets to write about a trombone fronting a performance. This is especially true when the band is made up of the jazz legends this touring band was.

In the liner notes, producer George Wein talks openly of the difficulties of getting this band of giants together and its uneven performances over the course of two years. In my opinion, this band does suffer from what I call "too many all-star cooks." Wein alludes to this in his comments about Thelonious Mink not taking any solos. When you have so many great players around, you tend to pass the ball rather than take the shot. All that said, even these guys' passes are beautiful to behold.

Trombonist Winding plays the ballad "Lover Man" with the skill and taste of someone who intimately knows music and the emotions connected with it. Sparse accompaniment is offered, but Winding doesn't need any more help to get his point across. The trombone in the hands of such past and present players as Winding, J.J. Johnson and Hal Crook can be as expressive an instrument as any other. To hear it beautifully played is just further proof positive.

May 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tommy Bolin: Sister Andrea

Guitarist Tommy Bolin was only 25 when he died in 1976 as a result of his addiction to heroin and who knows what else. Best known among fusion fans as the man who played the fiery guitar leads on Billy Cobham's historic fusion masterpiece Spectrum, Bolin was never able to fulfill his great promise. In death, however, his legend continues to grow.

Bolin was part of a studio session being fronted by the jazz-rock flutist Jeremy Steig and including Billy Cobham. It was the first time Bolin had met Cobham and led directly to his later inclusion on Spectrum. This version of Jan Hammer's composition "Sister Andrea," later covered by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, was a demo that didn't see the light of day until Tommy Bolin: From the Archives was released in 1996. Steig's lead flute and Bolin's spacey sound effects give the tune quite a different character than Mahavishnu's interpretation. Some of those effects, in truncated form, would find their way onto Spectrum two years later. Though he doesn't really let it rip, you can hear hints of Bolin's future greatness here. He possessed the perfect guitar rough-but-not-sloppy sound for all future fusion superstars. Perla lays down a simple bassline in conjunction with Hammer's slightly funky chords. Though this performance is enjoyable, it is probably of more historical interest. And to be fair, it is a demo. Jan Hammer does say in the liner notes that he prefers this performance over Mahavishnu's. That statement is flummoxing. But he knows his music better than I do.

May 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu: Mitch Match

John McLaughlin's use of the Synclavier guitar synthesizer in the '80s could be quite frustrating for many listeners. On record or CD, many times you could not tell whether some of the music was coming from McLaughlin, saxophonist Bill Evans or keyboardist Mitch Forman. It wasn't until I saw Mahavishnu perform "Mitch Match" in concert that I realized all of the music that sounded like those mouth whistles that have the plungers you can push in and pull out was coming from his contraption. It was fascinating to see and hear him play the music on synthesizer in person. Inversely, not all of the synthesizer turns worked on record. But on "Mitch Match" it did work. It is a short, upbeat fun number that finds McLaughlin noodling with that mouth whistle sound. Back and forth it goes. The pitch and velocity of the notes change. It almost sounds like someone trying to turn over the weak battery on a very tiny car. Evans and Forman join in on the rollicking melody. The solo section finds McLaughlin exploring more of the sonic possibilities of the sounds he has discovered. A declarative fast-tempo blues kicks in with the extraordinary Forman playing the B-3 part. Or was it McLaughlin on synth? If I could only remember this part from the show…

May 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Kenny Neal: Louisina Stew

Over the course of more than a dozen releases, Kenny Neal has established himself as one of the leading blues stars of our day. He draws on his home town roots for his "Louisiana Stew," a good-times tune with a very danceable beat. When New Orleans partyin' meets the lowdown blues, something's gotta give. The festive mood wins out here, and blue moods are put on hold for another day. Neal's vocal adds to the upbeat attitude, but his harmonica playing is the highlight of this performance. Even with trumpet and sax parts in the background, the humble harp holds its own. Neal, who recently turned 50, has been working the 12 bars on stage since he was 13, but these blues musicians just seem to get better as they get older.

May 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie: Leap Frog

Bebop pioneers Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker were first recorded together playing "Sweet Georgia Brown," accompanied only by bassist Oscar Pettiford, at a private jam session in Room 305 of Chicago's Savoy Hotel on February 15, 1943. Diz & Bird's last joint recordings came little more than 10 years later. Both men were in top form at the legendary Massey Hall all-star concert in Toronto on May 15, 1953, and eight days later Bird made a special guest appearance with Diz's regular band for a live broadcast from Birdland that has been preserved. Sadly, within two years Parker would be dead at age 34.

In the interim, however, bebop's greatest tandem played a game of "Leap Frog," not to be confused with the bouncy theme song (and mid-'40s bobbysoxer hit) of Les Brown and the Band of Renown, which in turn should not be confused with the similar but even bouncier retro theme song of Dick Clark's late-'50s American Bandstand, namely Les Elgart's "Bandstand Boogie." If all this is nonetheless confusing, you can imagine how we felt upon learning that Diz & Bird's "Leap Frog" has, six decades after its first jump, become the basis of a hit YouTube video.

Say what? Diz & Bird a hit on YouTube! It's true. "Jazz Dispute" is a brilliantly conceived, spectacularly executed, fall-on-the-floor hilarious piece of performance art by 28-year-old actor/director Jeremiah McDonald (aka Weeping Prophet), of Portland, Maine. Although billed as "a heated debate between Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie," the two biggies of bebop never actually appear. Instead, the beret- bedecked Weeping Prophet enacts both sides of the putative debate, pantomiming to "Leap Frog" in its unremitting 2½-minute entirety. The Weeping Prophet's dexterity in this stupendous feat must be seen to be believed. We're not wholly persuaded that Diz & Bird were in a disputatious mood that June day in 1950, but given jazz's long and fabled history of testosterone-laden "cutting contests," Weeping Prophet's extrapolation makes perfect sense.

Hopefully, it will also make new friends for jazz, as elliptically orbiting eyeballs gravitate from "Jazz Dispute" to check out Diz, Bird and "Leap Frog" on Jazz.com. And even if you have sworn off YouTube as being more kitschy than cool, be sure to check out this track. Disputatious or not, it's a bop classic.

May 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jonas Hellborg: Wounded Knee

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

May 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Sinatra: September in the Rain

One of the best things the jazz community ever did was to claim Sinatra as one of its own. We should be doing more of that these days – claiming credit for music and musicians in other popular genres because their art emanated from the constructs of the jazz world. If we did more of that there wouldn't be all of these alarmist idiots running around claiming jazz was dead.

Actually, a good way to really try to kill jazz, or any music, is to try and explain it in any concrete detail. Sinatra's voice, his timing and his phrasing have all been analyzed to death. Musicians need more than these skills to become great. We should not overlook the fact that at every turn of the road, Sinatra was either surrounded by or surrounded himself with the greatest talent available. That is a very jazz-like thing to do. Tommy Dorsey, Nelson Riddle, Billy May, Count Basie, Quincy Jones, Martin, Fitzgerald and many other collaborators were music giants in their own right. But the confident Sinatra was not one to be intimidated by great musical talent in others. He embraced it. It helped him grow into the consummate performer. This was not playing it safe. It was taking risks. In the end, all jazz is about risk taking.

"September in the Rain" was apparently rarely performed by Sinatra in concert. If it had been, it would have undoubtedly reached the status of some of his more famous tunes. Its fond wistfulness is the perfect vehicle for master storyteller Sinatra. The balladeer tells us another tale of found love. It is not clear whether he lost this love as he would in the "Summer Wind." But there is no doubt that he will love the next September in the rain just as much, regardless of what happened.

Even the most beautiful of songs need the best interpreters to make them truly come to life. Nelson Riddle fits that bill. And when it comes to singing the words with meaning, no one has been better than Sinatra. He may have had some dubious connections in his real life. But I never once question whether Sinatra is telling the truth in his songs. I believe every word he says. That is the true testament of his transcendent artistry.

May 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Michael Franks: Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

Jazz to the World is my favorite Christmas CD. I like jazz and I like Christmas. Lots of times these hybrid holiday "[name a genre] Plays Christmas Classics" albums come off as corny affairs. Not so for this CD produced by jazz executive Bruce Lundvall and Bobby Shriver for the benefit of the Special Olympics. It is full of engaging interpretations presented by a varied cross-section of outstanding jazz performers.

If Michael Franks had been born 30 years sooner, it is quite possible that it could be his voice you hear on some of our most admired Christmas songs. His voice is full of the wonder of a young child, yet possesses the intonation and chops of a seasoned jazz crooner. With apologies to Gene Autry, Burl Ives, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and other iconic holiday performers, Franks's expressive voice would have been perfect for "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "White Christmas," "The Christmas Song" and so many other holiday favorites. The all-star jazz band on this cut doesn't have much to do, but they and Franks make the tune swing enough to justify its inclusion on a jazz record. Franks did release his own Christmas album in 2004 named Watching the Snow. It contained no recognizable standards, however.

Many of you may know of my disdain of anything that reeks of Smooth Jazz. (Pardon me while I gag.) There are moments of smoothness in this cut and some of the others on Jazz to the World. Every year, in honor of the holiday season, I declare a moratorium with regards to my total and complete hatred of Smooth Jazz. I do this out of respect for my family and social community and for fear of being called a grinch. But the fact is that I don't expect jazz musicians to play their guts out on Christmas carols. I want them just to have fun like everyone else. A strongly spiked eggnog or two usually helps me get over the guilt of not being 100% consistent.

May 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Herb Alpert & Jeff Lorber: Winter Wonderland

This is one groove-laden version of "Winter Wonderland." It is the opening cut from the Christmas all-star compilation Jazz to the World. DeWayne Smith's throbbing funk bass prominently introduces the cool swing of this head-bobbing performance. He and drummer Mason maintain a steady rhythm. The fusion keyboarder Jeff Lorber plays holiday-seasoned chords and fills in some space with ornamental accents. Herb Alpert sounds like Miles Davis on this cut! In fact, at times he sounds like Miles from his Tribute to Jack Johnson fusion days! I am not kidding. It is quite a surprising treat. It has almost become a tradition in my house that this is the first song heard in our Christmas rotation every year.

May 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Eddy Louiss & Michel Petrucciani: Jean-Philippe Herbien

No one can dispute that organ-piano duet recordings are a rarity, but could this actually be the one and only such coupling? Given how Louiss and Petrucciani inspire and complement each other, it's a wonder why. The individual for whom this 10-minute track is named must be one very spirited and soulful guy, if the playing here is any indication. Petrucciani's percussive, bluesy opening is backed by Louiss's rumbling bassline, and moves directly into the pianist's admirably sustained extended solo, marked by an insistent pulse, pounding riffs, two-handed unison passages and rollicking single-note lines. Louiss follows in similarly extroverted fashion, a far cry from his low-key work on the outstanding 1971 Stan Getz Dynasty release. The duo then engages in exciting exchanges, feeding off and chasing one another's animated statements, and at one point dabbling with "Billie's Bounce," which this blues theme resembles. Then Petrucciani becomes quietly reverent and Louiss responds in kind, as they dampen the dynamic level before a return to the appealing melody. The playing of both Louiss and the late, great Petrucciani on this and the other selections from these three invigorating nights in Paris (a Vol. 2 is also available) ranks with the best of their respective careers.

May 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Richard Galliano & Michel Portal: Viaggio

Accordion virtuoso Richard Galliano and highly proficient multi-instrumentalist Michel Portal have performed frequently together over the years, and the Blow Up session (recorded before a live studio audience) is a prime example of the excellence of their collaborations. Portal, who plays clarinet, bass clarinet, bandoneon and the rare jazzophone on other pieces, picks up the soprano sax for "Viaggio." The title means "journey" in Italian, and that is indeed what it is. From the Eastern European gypsy sound of Galliano's swirling and dramatic intro, to the jabbing tango rhythm he plays behind Portal's luminous reading of the endearing theme, only to be succeeded by the introduction of a second Brazilian-tempoed melody, this track covers a lot of territory. Portal's solo is swift, intricate and impeccably executed, while Galliano takes a more concise route, focusing on expressive sound textures amidst a stunning display of technical facility. The fadeout ending is capped by Galliano's rhythmic hand-tapping along the side of his instrument. This is irresistible world music from a jazz perspective.

May 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Haden's Quartet West: The Long Goodbye

Quartet West was one of the more interesting and significant groups of the '90s because of the material they chose to perform, and both the polish and authority with which they played it. Their focus was on the Hollywood film, popular and jazz music of the '40s and '50s. Quartet West's approach was atmospheric, mixing old recordings by such popular singers of the day as Billie Holiday, Jeri Southern and Jo Stafford, with movie fanfares and themes, as well as classic bebop tunes.

Another of the group's fascinations was the way Raymond Chandler portrayed the dark and decadent side of Southern California, and Los Angeles in particular, in his Philip Marlowe mysteries, which inspired original compositions such as Haden's "Hello My Lovely," and Broadbent's "Lady In the Lake" and "The Long Goodbye." The latter begins with the composer's melodic piano intro, leading into Watts's sweet-toned reading of the romantic, yearning theme, with its intimation of innocence lost and heartbreak to follow. The swelling bridge seems to come right out of a Hollywood tearjerker. Broadbent contributes a sparkling solo with prancing lines and richly chorded passages. Watts enters with swirling runs and stirring vocalized inflections, his solo masterfully constructed and yet still sounding emotionally spontaneous, before he once again caresses the memorable melody. Private eye Philip Marlowe could have used a dose of this soothing music.

"So I went to bed. But not to sleep. At three a.m., I was walking the floor listening to Khachaturian working in a tractor factory. He called it a violin concerto. I called it a loose fan belt and the hell with it. A white night for me is as rare as a fat postman." – The Long Goodbye (Chapter 12)

May 28, 2008 · 1 comment

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Stan Getz: Blood Count

"Blood Count" was originally titled "Blue Cloud," to be the first part of a three-part piece that Strayhorn began writing for Duke Ellington before the composer's final hospitalization in 1967. Down to 80 pounds and fighting a losing battle with cancer, he finished the tune and retitled it "Blood Count" before sending it from his hospital room to Duke for a Carnegie Hall concert that March, as a feature for Johnny Hodges. It turned out to be Strayhorn's last composition before his death on May 31st of that year.

Stan Getz had not heard the classic Ellington-Hodges recording of "Blood Count" from August 1967, and had never played it until the Pure Getz session in 1982. Yet Getz outdid Hodges and pretty much "owned" the tune from that point on, also recording it on several other occasions for both audio and video releases. In May 1987, about two years after he had conquered his alcohol and drug addictions, Getz learned that he himself had cancer. "Blood Count" had thus taken on an added underlying significance when Getz performed it brilliantly two months later at the Montmartre Club, as heard here. After a rather pensive and tranquil opening interpretation of the theme, tinged with sadness and sympathetically backed by Barron's filigreed comping, Getz delivers an alluring extended run to launch his solo, followed by heartrending cries. A graceful arpeggio leads back to the melody, played this time with a controlled passion laced with resignation and bolstered by the chilling finality of the closing tag. As Getz said shortly before his death in 1991, "I think about Strayhorn when I play the song. You can hear him dying. When it's in a minor key, you can hear the man talking to God."

May 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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James Carter: Bro. Dolphy

Some artists try to maintain a single mood or attitude for an entire CD . . . or perhaps even an entire career. Not James Carter, who plays every instrument in the Horn Hall of Fame -- with total confidence and command, I should add -- and is equally eclectic in his choice of songs. His current release PresentTense finds him resurrecting tunes associated with Dodo Marmarosa, Stanley Turrentine and Django Reinhardt, to cite just three examples. But on this track Carter features his own composition, dedicated to Eric Dolphy, a piece which serves as an effective vehicle for Carter's admirable bass clarinet work. The song opens with a fast obstacle course over rapidly shifting changes, and the bandleader hurdles over the chords in gold medal fashion. But Carter, true to form, abruptly nixes the mood less than one minute into the track. We now are treated to a glowing Mingus-ish ballad that lingers for a while. We even have time to pour a drink, kick back and soak up the soulfulness. The whole band plays effectively here, but Carter's lengthy solo is the highlight of the track. However, don't enjoy his bass clarinet work too much, because that instrument soon goes back into its case, and we are off to the next horn exhibit in the Hall of Fame.

May 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Steve Smith: Elm

Relatively obscure bassist Steve Smith (not to be confused with the drummer of the same name) joins effectively with the underrated piano virtuoso Richie Bierach and drummer Jabali Billy Hart to produce a deeply expressionistic representation of fine piano trio music. On Bierach's neatly tailored ballad, we hear a pianistic style that shows great reverence to its classical roots while retaining the transcendent quality of improvisational freedom and expression so essential to jazz. Bierach is sympathetically accompanied by Smith's respectfully subdued, heartbeat basslines and Hart's almost wistful brush and stick work. The composition is evocatively dreamy in the way it weaves a feeling of being somewhere secret. Smith and Hart allow Bierach to spin his magic almost unobstructed, and he does so with a quiet serenity that lulls you into his hidden world as if he alone knows the way and you must follow or be lost forever. His touch is extraordinarily light here, and he demonstrates a mastery of feeling that few of his contemporaries on the instrument can match.

May 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Red Norvo: I Surrender, Dear

This may be Red Norvo's date, but the stars on this track are trombonist Jenney and pianist Wilson. Jenney is a lyrical player who makes every note count. He is little remembered today, but in 1940 he won the Down Beat poll on his instrument, and this performance displays his melodic sensibility. Teddy Wilson's mere presence is noteworthy amidst this rare integrated band from 1934, but his swinging piano solo is more tangible evidence of why he was enlisted for the gig. This track is a step below the xylophonist's most celebrated work of the era -- Norvo newbies should first check out "In a Mist" or "Dance of the Octopus" -- but this is still a solid performance by one of the finest mid-1930s jazz ensembles.

May 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mad Duran: How Deep is the Ocean?

Mad Duran has long been admired among the San Francisco jazz insiders for her first-class alto work, and though she has been featured alongside her husband, Bay Area guitar legend Eddie Duran, on previous recordings, this is her first solo leader date. Fans who check out this release will wonder why she waited so long. Her playing is distinguished by smart linear improvisations, free from cliché and played with a rich, full-bodied tone, as supple as a '94 Napa cabernet.

The rest of the band adds to the festivities. Great rhythm sections begin at home . . . well, they do when you are married to Eddie Duran, who reminds us here of his mastery of the six strings. And the proceedings are enlivened by the further addition of Ray Drummond and Akira Tana. The result is a fresh and creative reworking of Irving Berlin's famous standard. In short, Simply Mad is simply fine.

May 28, 2008 · 1 comment

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Artie Shaw: Sweet Lorraine

This Lorraine is too sweet for my taste. The string arrangement creates a genteel, afternoon-tea type of mood. Listening to this tepid chart, one could easily forget that the Swing Era had kicked the previous year. There is not much swing on this track. Shaw offers a melodic solo, and when he gets a two-bar break with 25 seconds left in the performance, he tiptoes across it like he is carrying grandma's precious china. Shaw could be a compelling soloist when he was so inclined. But on this date, he never worked up a sweat.

May 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Count Basie All-Stars: I Left My Baby (1957)

James Andrew Rushing, born in Oklahoma City in 1903, first recorded "I Left My Baby" in 1939 under the aegis of William James Basie, with whom Mr. Rushing had secured gainful employment four years earlier, and in whose employ he would remain until 1950. This fully polished 1957 rehearsal for CBS-TV's all-star special The Sound of Jazz reunited seven vets of the 1939 session: Rushing, Basie, saxophonists Earl Warren and Lester Young, trombonist Dicky Wells, rhythm guitarist extraordinaire Freddie Green, and drummer Jo Jones. The band was then filled out by relative nonentities: Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Harry Carney, et al. (What a crew!)

Rushing gets things off to an unrushed, bluesy start with his inimitable delivery—sort of like an everyman with perfect diction and a heart that's been broken more times than a gentleman cares to enumerate. Behind him, Lester Young's haunting obbligatos raise goose bumps. After Boss Basie briefly applies one of his patented minimalist solos, Hawk's muscular flexing provides brawny contrast to Pres's earlier feather dusting. Finally comes Dicky Wells, who plays like he's blowing into one. All told, a classic, expertly recorded 1950s performance by some of the giants of that or any other period in jazz.

Mr. Rushing was the prototype for later, more popular singers Joe Williams and Lou Rawls. But there was only one James Andrew Rushing.

May 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Peggy Lee: Cannonball Express

Peggy Lee represents that liminal point where the jazz tradition blends effortlessly into the post-war pop sensibility. Those who harbor doubts about Ms. Lee's jazz credentials need only consult the verdict of Duke Ellington, who once commented: "If I'm the Duke, then Peggy's the Queen." Here she tackles the time-honored jazz tradition of train songs, and she must have enjoyed riding the rails, because she resuscitated this same tune for a 1962 session with Quincy Jones. Here she swings her phrases like a sax player -- but never too much; we could still bring this gal home for Mom to meet. She adds a dose of R&B for good measure. Today this all sounds so retro, but "Cannonball Express" was pretty cool stuff, circa 1950. Listening to it makes me nostalgic for the romance of those pre-Amtrak days.

May 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Red Allen All-Stars: Wild Man Blues

A few days before CBS-TV's all-star special The Sound of Jazz (1957), most of the scheduled participants appeared for a rehearsal at the Columbia Records studio. Their final run-throughs, all quite polished, were recorded and later released on LP, which has long been available on CD—in stark contrast to the actual soundtrack. Henry "Red" Allen fronts this stellar nonet, and the solos by Hawkins, Dickenson, Russell and Allen himself are noteworthy. But the real excitement comes from longtime Ellington cornetist Rex Stewart, and from an absolutely thrilling ensemble finish.

First recorded in Chicago in 1927 by Johnny Dodds' Black Bottom Stompers (with Louis Armstrong on cornet), "Wild Man Blues" was covered two weeks later by Armstrong & His Hot Seven in a recording most memorable for the presence, at the 55-second mark, of what may be the youthful Satch's most egregious CLAM. (Yes, he was mortal after all.) A month afterward, the tune was redone by its co-composer Jelly Roll Morton & His Red Hot Peppers, at a brisker tempo than his predecessors' plodding. Agreeably following Jelly Roll's upbeat example, this version from 30 years later shows how wild these old men could still get. If you reflexively word-associate Wild Man Blues with the 1998 documentary about hollow-toned avocational clarinetist Woody Allen, hearing this track just might recondition those reflexes.

May 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Henry "Red" Allen: Ain't She Sweet

Henry "Red" Allen spent his life in Louis Armstrong's shadow, usually figuratively but sometimes literally. Like his slightly older and far more famous predecessor, Red was born in New Orleans, journeyed jazzily upstream during the 1920s aboard Fate Marable's Mississippi riverboat band, landed with King Oliver in Chicago, and later joined Fletcher Henderson in New York. Red finally caught up with Louis in the late 1930s, becoming Armstrong's sideman for three years. (Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.) From 1940 onward, Red led his own bands, becoming in the mid-'50s a regular attraction at New York's Metropole Café, which daringly lined its musicians up in a single row on a narrow runway behind the bar. The music was always great, but probably at least a few patrons came to see whether or not some tipsy trombonist might topple with his slide in the 7th position and skewer a bartender en route to the sawdust.

This track was recorded earlier in the year of Red's widest national exposure, when he was featured on CBS-TV's all-star special The Sound of Jazz. Besides exemplifying Red Allen's charm as both trumpeter and singer, "Ain't She Sweet" also features Buster Bailey's woody clarinet, the expected excellence of legendary tenorman Coleman Hawkins, and J.C. Higginbotham's rousing trombone. (Clearly, J.C. wasn't about to topple anywhere.) As drummer Cozy Cole flogs this 4-minute filly to a photo finish, we almost think: "Louis who?" Hey, I said almost.

May 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wolfgang Haffner: Star

This trio is not well known outside of Europe, but certainly deserves a wider hearing. Everything clicks on the track. The interaction between the band members is exemplary. The swing is infectious. Everyone plays well, but especially drummer Haffner, who has a clean sound that is both light and aggressive at the same time -- he reminds me a bit of Brian Blade. The song is little more than a repeated groove, but the trio put so much heart and soul into it, it might as well be the Haffner Serenade, and not just Haffner's simple jam tune.

May 26, 2008 · 1 comment

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Thelonious Monk: Misterioso (1958)

"In the shadow of a man who walks in the sun," observed pre-Surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico, "there are more enigmas than in all religions, past, present and future." How fitting, then, that De Chirico's 1915 painting The Seer (or The Prophet) should decorate the cover of Thelonious Monk's 1958 LP Misterioso. Not only was it recorded live at Greenwich Village's Five Spot Café, whose habitués included numerous Eisenhower-era avant-garde painters, but if ever a musician embodied De Chirico's scuola metafisica, it was Monk. To many jazz aficionados, here was indeed a Seer (or Prophet), from whose iconoclastic compositions and idiosyncratic pianism one might glean the most profound and disturbing metaphysical insights. Moreover, Monk by reputation personified De Chirico's shadowy figure: a large, distracted, reclusive man who, even if he showed up for a scheduled gig (which in the '50s was far from a given), seemed never to be entirely there.

"Misterioso" (Italian for spooky), a blues first recorded by The Seer in 1948, is built on tick-tock melodic intervals reminiscent of Leroy Anderson's perennial light-classical favorite "The Syncopated Clock" (1945). It also reflects Monk's fascination with the whole-tone scale, a device that dates back to Mozart, was favored by gloomy 19th-century Russians, and flowered in true painterly fashion with Debussy and the Impressionists.

This performance, though, primarily showcases non-metafisica tenorman Johnny Griffin, who solos first for 3 minutes with Monk's backing, then perseveres for another 3½ minutes as the-never-entirely-there Thelonious goes on break. Griffin's agonized grunts reflect not only his growing weariness during an overlong solo, but ours too in enduring it. By the time Monk returns for a mostly one-handed two-minute solo, both the tempo and inspiration level have lagged. An awkward tape slice at the 9½-minute mark underscores the tempo issue, as the ensuing thematic restatement reboots the metronome several clicks higher. By then, however, we're grateful for whatever was left on the cutting-room floor, since it mercifully attenuates this grueling remake. Sometimes, it seems, even a Seer can get lost in his own encroaching shadow.

May 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frankie Laine / Buck Clayton: Until the Real Thing Comes Along

If you remember Frankie Laine, you're definitely on AARP's mailing list. During the 1950s, Old Leather Lungs, as the manly baritone was affectionately known, regularly occupied both the Hit Parade and Western-themed film soundtracks. Indeed, in the latter capacity, Mr. Steel Tonsils might be vaguely familiar even to youngsters, given his manly rendering of the whip-lashing title song to Mel Brooks's manliest movie, Blazing Saddles (1974).

So what, you ask impatiently, does any of this have to do with jazz? Well, if you're going to get snooty about it, nothing. We're just trying to give you a measure of the man so you can appreciate the cosmic unlikelihood of his co-leading an LP called Jazz Spectacular.

Yet in the '50s, anything could happen. And sure, enough, here's that manly singer of Rawhide, the CBS-TV series (1959-1966) that launched Clint Eastwood's own manly career, teamed with heart-throb handsome trumpeter Buck Clayton. (Come to think of it, "Buck Clayton" does sound like a rough-ridin' straight-shootin' Western hero.)

On this genial standard from 1936, abetted by Basie veteran Clayton's relaxed 1930s Basie-style arrangement and the distinctive soloing of trombonist Dicky Wells, Mr. Steel Tonsils displays surprisingly agreeable phrasing for a pop vocalist. Perhaps Will Friedwald, in his book Jazz Singing (1992), too harshly dismissed Frankie Laine as a talentless hack. Judging by this track, Old Leather Lungs will do "Until the Real Thing Comes Along."

May 26, 2008 · 2 comments

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Ray Bryant: Big Buddy

Ray Bryant's lovely touch, fleet technique, unerring sense of swing and impeccable taste put him in the distinguished pianistic lineage of Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson, Nat Cole, Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan. What he had in common particularly with Jones and Flanagan (Ray's contemporary) was a self-effacing gentlemanliness at the keyboard. Even in a trio context where he was clearly the center of attention, Ray never domineered, always keeping his piano an integral part of the unit. Which is not to say that he lacked excitement. It's just that his dynamism was organic, growing out of the group instead of being imposed on top of it. Case in point: "Big Buddy," a fast blues that Ray builds from the ground up. After digging the foundation of his older brother Tommy's bass, Ray lays one brick-solid solo upon another. Trading fours with the crisp brushwork of drummer Eddie Locke opens the windows, letting in natural light. Finally Ray tops off his fine masonry construction with rolling tremolos à la Oscar Peterson. Cool in the summer, warm during winter. Everyone's comfy at Ray Bryant's house.

May 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gerry Mulligan with Marian McPartland: C Jam Blues

At this stage of his career, Gerry Mulligan was best known for leading a quartet without a piano. Yet here he is at the legendary 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, sitting in with a trio led by the future hostess of NPR's long-running Piano Jazz. As part of a day-long Ellington tribute, Mulligan and Marian McPartland jam on "C Jam Blues," a jam session staple since jamming originated, which was shortly after the note C was discovered. (It had been left unattended in a cave next to the Dead Sea Scrolls by a wandering harpist who, having tired of C, moved on to what she hoped would be the greener pastures of D. Little did she suspect what heathen dangers lurked therein!)

Unlike some bandleaders, who prefer the comfort zone of their own steady group, Mulligan relished playing with other musicians, and obviously delights in the present company. This happy-go-lucky 10-minute track also affords plenty of solo space for McPartland and bass giant Milt Hinton. (Drummer Ed Shaughnessy contents himself with swinging his butt off and occasionally rattling sleigh bells in quirky punctuation. Can you imagine the dedication required to schlep sleigh bells from New York City to Rhode Island in mid-summer?) If you're looking for an exemplar of the distinctively mid-'50s style that encompassed both traditional and modernist strains, go directly to M&M's "C Jam Blues." Melts in your ears, not in your hands.

May 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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The Stein Brothers: Quixotic

During the last decade or so, the influence of Charlie Parker and the beboppers has gradually diminished in the jazz world. What a change from a previous generation -- whose every parry followed Bird's feints. Yet no one seems to have told the Stein brothers, who blissfully play their tunes as though it is still 1948. Actually altoist Asher Stein is the more modern of the two horn players. His brother, tenorist Alex Stein, sometimes gets into this Coleman Hawkins groove and makes me think it's 1938. In any event, these youngsters understand the late-swing and early-bop vocabulary inside and out, and play it with absolute conviction. Others may carp that they need to update their sound. But I assure you that beneath the retro exterior, there is some very deep musical thinking on this impressive CD.

May 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Diana Krall: If I Had You

Diana Krall lets Benny Green take over the keyboard for this performance, and they send the rest of the rhythm section packing. Although this song is the closing track on a Nat King Cole tribute album, Green oddly decides to adopt a piano style from a generation before Cole, a four-to-the-bar stride that could have served as the first dance at your grandpa's wedding. But Green is such a stylish accompanist that your ear ignores the anachronisms, and focuses instead on the beauty of this intimate duet. Krall is always perfectly at home at these snail's-pace tempos, and she squeezes every last ounce of emotion out of these lyrics -- especially during the rubato interlude before the final coda. There is a little more soul than Cole in her delivery, but the finest tribute is sometimes putting your own spin on the traditions you inherit.

May 24, 2008 · 1 comment

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Branford Marsalis & Ellis Marsalis: Laura

I'm not sure what it would be like to record a duet album with Dad. Sometimes the father and son relationship is a wee bit complicated, ne c'est pas? But there can't be much inter-generational baggage weighing down the Marsalis household, at least judging by the music they make together. When the pater familias sits down for a session with the next-gen, the proceedings come across as relaxed and comfy, positively Huxtable-ish in every way. Here father and son linger lovingly over every nook and cranny in David Raksin's bittersweet melody. There is some nice give-and-take between the two players: Ellis goes for the young and modern approach, while Branford takes the mature and stately role. Or is it the other way around? In any event, no one is trying to put Ornette and Cecil out of business here. All in all, this is a fine track and a reminder of how the baton should be passed from generation to generation.

May 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gene Krupa: Disc Jockey Jump (1958)

The first thing one notices in comparing this remake with Krupa's 1947 original is the much-improved sound. Stereo! What will they think of next? One also notices that the two tracks are practically the same length (3:10), meaning Gerry Mulligan's arrangement and its tempo were little changed. Unfortunately, the same must be said for Gene Krupa's Swing Era-style drumming, already dated in 1947 and scarcely modernized in the intervening 11 years. This is nevertheless a fun track. Mulligan's boppishly bouncy chart, written when he was only 19, remains the star. And considering that this was a studio pickup band, not a regularly working unit, the ensemble work is exceptional. As are the solos by Hank Jones, Phil Woods, Jimmy Cleveland, Frank Socolow and Doc Severinsen (or is that Ernie Royal?). The level of musicianship among 1950s New York studio guys was stellar.

May 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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The Esquire All Stars: I Got Rhythm

The time was January 1944, and the first bebop band (led by Dizzy Gillespie) had just been hired on 52nd Street. Meanwhile the masters of the old school were assembled at the Metropolitan Opera House, blissfully ignorant of the cataclysmic changes that would transform the jazz world over the next several years.

But let's forget the coming revolution for a moment, and instead enjoy the world that was about to end. The greatest soloists of early 20th-century jazz are assembled on a single stage, and engage in some gentlemanly one-upmanship on the most familiar jam session chord changes of the day, courtesy of George Gershwin. Everybody has a chance to shine, but I especially like Eldridge (who seems inspired by his chance to go toe-to-toe with Louis Armstrong), the drumming of Sid Catlett, who energizes the whole proceedings, and the lead-off soloist on the track, the underappreciated Red Norvo. And what a delight hearing Art Tatum, pulled out of the solo and trio settings where he could run roughshod over his accompanists and forced to adjust to a roomful of talents—and egos—as large as his own. If I could bring back one rhythm section from the era for a command fantasy performance, it might very well be this Tatum-Catlett-Pettiford unit.

I am reminded here of the claims of ardent medievalists, who will tell you that the waning of the Middle Ages was a time in which many great things came to fruition, and that the Renaissance spoiled much of the beauty of what went before. You could make a similar case for this final flowering of Swing Era majesty, put on display at this historic concert. Soon these same players would be considered passé, but you would never guess it by listening to this performance, which represents a type of perfection that bop and free and all the other later styles can never dispel. They got rhythm.

May 24, 2008 · 1 comment

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Art Tatum: Sweet Lorraine

The setting for this concert was the Metropolitan Opera House, and many of the greatest jazz artists of the era (or any era, for that matter) were part of the band. But Coleman Hawkins, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and other members of the all-star unit sit out this number, letting Tatum take center stage on a trio performance. In truth, you can't hear drummer Catlett during the first half of the track, and bassist Pettiford seems a bit unnerved by Tatum's well-known tendency to act as though he is performing solo even when he is in a trio setting. Tatum, for his part, is more flash than substance on this tune, and we don't get to hear the clever harmonic substitutions that he usually applies to every progression in his path. Nonetheless, the pianist has some fine moments, especially with one of his runs-to-end-all-runs at the 2-minute mark.

May 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Satin Doll (Live at the Whitney, 1972)

"Satin Doll' was Ellington's last substantial radio hit, and it remained a staple in his repertoire during the final two decades of his life. This version, recorded live at the Whitney, two years before his death, finds the composer performing the song in a trio setting. He manhandles his own famous standard, throwing in wry dissonances and building his solo from bits of musical shrapnel, jabbing phrases that seem designed to subvert the smooth accompaniment of bass and drums. For all his acclaim and popularity, Ellington could be a downright quirky keyboardist, and it is interesting to note that, while many others treat this song as a slick pop tune, the composer himself had no qualms about giving his "Satin Doll" a kick in the backside.

May 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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McCoy Tyner: Satin Doll

If you only know McCoy Tyner from his Coltrane and post-Coltrane recordings, this early trio track may surprise you. Nights of Ballads and Blues is old-school Tyner. You will hear none of his familiar modal voicings. You will find none of his patented fourths-and-fifths-in-a-sprint licks. But the sheer beauty of his crisp touch is on display throughout, and the groove is irresistible on his casual reworking of the Ellington standard. This is not the place to start, if you are out to hear this pianist for the first time -- newbies should head immediately to the classic Coltrane quartet albums or Tyner's 1970s Milestone releases. But trio fans and Tyner-o-holics will want to check out this "Satin Doll."

May 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Michael Blake: The Creep

One-time Montreal Canadian and now transplanted New Yorker, Michael Blake demonstrates his respect and affection for the old big band masters and the sound they were famous for, particularly Duke Ellington. In this effort he has skillfully arranged a disparate group of musicians and instruments to create that big band sound with punch and authority. Working with Ben Allison's Man Sized Safe group and the eclectic Herbie Nichols Project, Blake has proven his ability to shine in many different genres. His sax musings have a raw and throaty sound that is reminiscent yet retains a unique sound. Here he shows his mettle as arranger and composer. The 11-piece band is kept in tight formation throughout while still permitting their individual sounds to seep through. Rojas's tuba gets a title role in this quirkily distinctive pastiche of sounds. Kimbrough's piano has an engagingly entertaining honky-tonk vitality. The composition takes multiple turns winding through several different elements from our musical past. Horton's plungered trumpet is most evocative, and when the band starts into its eventual swing he plays with great ease and fluidity. Blake takes his turn with an inspired and demonstrative tenor solo. He bellows with gusto and a raunchy tone that sandpapers into your soul. The finale ends with an appropriate drum roll and a parting tuba refrain. Cool stuff.

May 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Abercrombie: Follow Your Heart

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

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

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

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

May 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Warren Haynes: Lila's Dance

Guitarist Warren Haynes is best known for his gig with the reunited Allman Brothers band and his jam-banding with Gov't Mule. As is the case with many of his guitar-playing contemporaries, he much admired the music of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Producer and musician Jeff Richman's Mahavishnu tribute album gave him the opportunity to show that respect in a very tangible way.

This version of "Lila's Dance" is most notable for the presence of Jerry Goodman, Mahavishnu's original violinist. His inclusion is of particular interest because this tune was not featured until the second edition of Mahavishnu, and was originally performed by Goodman's replacement, Jean-Luc Ponty.

The original "Lila's Dance" from the Mahavishnu album Visions of the Emerald Beyond followed the structural pattern of Mahavishnu's earlier number "The Dance of Maya." The first parts of both tunes were jazz-rock expositions based upon variations of odd-metered arpeggios. The second parts, which appear with little warning, were almost pure funk hoedowns. This Richman arrangement differs in structure from those two pieces. The rave-up funk section is heard almost immediately in the song rather than as the second part. The contrasting element that was so much a part of the original is virtually missing. Interpretations need not be rubber stamps. Haynes's rocking solo is more blues-rock than jazz-rock. But that is his bag, and he is very good at it. The sound for sore ears is Goodman's violin. He plays in unison with the infectious funk riff that dominates the tune, and his cosmic solo floats above the proceedings as if he is lording his original Mahavishnu member status over the music. (I mean that in a good way.) Throughout the piece the core band put together for this tribute makes it clear they are more than familiar with this material. Haynes, Goodman and the band make this track one of the best on the album.

May 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Bruno: Jimmy's House

Like a luthier crafts an archtop guitar, from the headstock to the tailpiece this top-notch recording was built by Bruno. Jimmy chose his tonewoods carefully in Miceli and Pedras. This trio of jazz artisans can saw a swing as solid as ebony and plane it down to a smooth surface with éclat. They bridge bracing solos with adhesive comping on Miceli's fleet-noted head, shaped over the form of "I'll Remember April." With figure and flame, Jimmy's flawless fret work graces every grain of his signature Sadowsky. Recording in the sound chamber of Jimmy's house provided liberty to meticulously tap-tune this project until it resonated as intended. Inlaid with revealing character and bound with beautifully refinished compositions, this CD is custom-made for those who pine for fresh-cut jazz carved from the tree of tradition. There's choice wood and lots of chops on Maplewood Avenue.

May 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Eric Dolphy: Glad to be Unhappy

On this Richard Rodgers song, Eric Dolphy's fiery brand of alto sax is replaced by his equally wistful virtuosity on flute. Accompanied by the delicate comping of the unheralded Jaki Byard, the suspended basslines of George Tucker, and the barely perceptible accents of the tasteful Roy Haynes, Dolphy starts his melodic intro with dreamily languishing gentleness. After lulling us into a cocoon of warmth and calm, he lets loose a crescendo of fluttering notes that could easily be part of a classical piece. He then leads into his rapidly developing and extremely creative solo where he demonstrates unquestioned instrumental mastery. His unerring ability to create harmonic interest on an instrument of limited possibilities is remarkable, as is his pure and uncompromised tonal quality. Here he is neither atonal nor free of melodic restraints, which would later become his mantle. Yet within the confines of this pretty, melancholic tune, Dolphy conveys the true pathos of its composer's intention. In my opinion, this is one of the finest representations of what can be achieved on jazz flute when played by a creative master.

May 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Eric Dolphy: On Green Dolphin Street

With an almost tongue-in-cheek approach, the often dissonant Eric Dolphy lends his versatile talents to this unique and perhaps most endearing version of a 1947 classic song. Here he demonstrates his bass clarinet virtuosity. In the opening lines we hear an almost oom-pah bellow from the lowest register of this woody instrument. Dolphy, Byard, Tucker and Haynes set the background beat for the melody, which is played in brilliantly muted counterpoint by Freddie Hubbard. Dolphy then reiterates the melody on his unusual horn's upper register. The effect is startling. One almost feels this is a different instrument, such is the range of diverse sounds Dolphy summons from the depths of its core. After demonstrating his remarkable facility with a plethora of notes on a swinging solo, Dolphy yields to Hubbard, who plays a particularly nice muted, higher register trumpet solo with distinct bite, especially effective in contrast to Dolphy's cavernous sound. Following Tucker's short bass solo backed by the ever-so-discreet Haynes, the oom-pah bellow of Dolphy's bass clarinet returns before he again switches its sound to a stirring honking finale. Byard gently tinkles the ivories to close out this classic.

May 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marc Copland: Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise

The cover art of this 1998 release is Claude Monet's "Impressions: Sunrise," which speaks volumes about Marc Copland's impressionistic approach to music. The pianist has assembled a complementary group to realize his dreamy, translucent and reality-suspended musical statements. "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise" takes staccato form with Copland and bassist Peacock establishing a catchy syncopated backbeat leading into the memorable melody line. A clipped duet by Hagans and Lovano adds bounce to the melody before they break into their exploratory solos. Hagans's trumpet is early-'70s Miles-like. Lovano, one of those rare contemporary saxophonists who can play melodically or free with equal ease, here does both. The two horn men chase each other up and down the musical scales in a pseudo call and response unfettered by convention and more like a cacophony of released ideas. The fact that these guys can be inspired to play this freely is testament to Copland's ability as leader to choose such thoughtful material. When Lovano does let go, the flight of freedom in his voice is quite inspired. Copland's moaning during his solo anticipates his keyboard ideas, and his harmonic invention is always feathery and surprising. Stewart, who at times overplays for my taste, is given a nice solo to showcase his own virtuosity at layering rhythms. Impressionism at its best!

May 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marc Copland: Country Home

On Beyond the Missouri Sky, Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden made famous a style of music that could be called Americana jazz. Here the master of impressionistic piano, Marc Copland, takes his turn with a folk-tinged ballad. With the help of a heartwarming melody and the soulful playing of Michael Brecker, Copland creates his own brand of Americana jazz.

Copland's ability to play with a floating touch in a beautifully sensitive but prodding way serves him well in accompanying the inimitable Brecker. Peacock's full-bodied, buttery bass is always nimbly dancing around the melody, and while Stewart's incessant use of crash cymbals is a bit disconcerting for me, the overall effect makes you long to settle down comfortably in front of a roaring fire somewhere in Vermont. Brecker wraps his solo in the warm flannel blanket of a sound that is both bittersweet and hopeful, and plays like he is yearning for a return to his favorite hideaway and all the warmth and comfort that implies. Copland never strays far from this pretty melody, but still finds a quixotic way to add harmonic interest. This is an excellent representation of Americana-inspired jazz.

May 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jonas Hellborg: Child King

The trio of Jonas Hellborg, Buckethead and Michael Shrieve makes some interesting music on Octave of the Holy Innocents. They should. They are quite interesting people. Hellborg is a delightful enigma. He is impossible to get a fix on. You cannot tell when he is angry or happy. Shrieve is historically important. He was the youngest player at Woodstock when he held the drummer's stool for Santana. And Buckethead? Well, that's just a case study. There seems to be a relative consensus that he is one of the most creative electric guitarists on the scene today. But why wear a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket on your head and hide your face with a mask? Does he get free chicken for doing that? Free masks? I can't understand the purpose of wearing either a bucket or a mask. But why wear both? Perhaps it sets him free. Paging Dr Phil! Paging Dr Phil!

Many Buckethead fans were intrigued with his performance on Octave of the Holy Innocents because it is a rare opportunity to hear him on acoustic guitar. Known as an electric thrasher, he is anything but on "Child King," which is more about rhythm and less about melody. The melody is there and is a clear enunciation of the possibilities of Arabic scales. It takes you to ancient lands. But it is the thudding drums, riding cymbals and the precise rhythmic syncopation of Buckethead's guitar and Hellborg's bass that do the transporting. I wonder … in recording sessions, does Buckethead put the bucket and mask on?

May 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ben Wolfe: The Filth

First things first. What a great name for a tune. "The Filth!" I love it!

Bassist Ben Wolfe has been on the scene for some time now. He has performed in bands led by Harry Connick Jr., Wynton Marsalis and Diana Krall, and recorded with such stalwarts as Branford Marsalis and Benny Green. But on No Strangers Here, Wolfe is the man. He is composer, arranger and orchestrator. Most of the album's cuts include a string quartet that plays along with a straight-ahead jazz quartet. This is something Wolfe says he has always wanted to do because it gives him more options when composing. The combination of string quartet and jazz quartet has indeed opened an interesting musical chapter for Wolfe and his listeners. After listening to No Strangers Here, Wolfe has every right to tell himself he told him so.

"The Filth" starts its life as a sneaky dark-humored number. The intro featuring Wolfe and drummer Hutchinson has hints of a New Orleans "funeral with music." Marsalis's sax enters slowly, playing in the same reverential but ironic vein. The string quartet acts as a solo instrument as it takes its turn. The tune's funeral-procession rhythm, just faster than a dirge, continues even as a wildly improvising Marsalis blows over its top. Perdomo throws some heavily accented piano chords into the gumbo. The strings return to give Wolfe a clean bed over which to lay a slightly sinister solo. Marsalis's slow riffs end the ceremony. I am not sure whether "The Filth" refers to "real filth" we should be sad about, or to being "filthy" good. Sometimes there really is a slim line between reality and irony. Either way, it works.

May 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marc Copland: River Bend

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

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

May 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Cassandra Wilson: Polka Dots and Moonbeams

Wilson & Co. undertake a major renovation on this old standard. They shift most of the tune into a tiptoeing waltz tempo. But to keep things interesting, they throw in a few bars of 5/4 during the A theme. Johann Strauss would not approve – not to mention the "questions in the eyes of other dancers." But the effect provides a neat hook, creating an unexpected delay in the delivery of the melody, and the band milks it for everything it's worth – even creating a sudden stop in the flow, hinting at a performance that is heading off the rails. Sometimes these metric tricks distract from the emotional content of a song, but not in this instance. Wilson holds on to the starry-eyed infatuation of the lyrics, even as her bandmates slice and dice the beat like a tomato in the Vegematic ("But wait! There's more!"). All in all, this is a sly updating of a World War II tune that usually gets a saccharine treatment.

May 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Keith Jarrett: Someone to Watch Over Me

This is a very nuanced performance, and one almost senses that Jarrett is playing the Gershwin standard for himself, not for an audience. The setting (this track was recorded at his home) and circumstances (the artist was recovering from chronic fatigue syndrome) no doubt reinforce this atmosphere of an artist who has retreated from the world to converse with his own private muse. No flashy passages, no theatrical moments, distract us from his gentle development of the melodic line.

I especially like how Jarrett handles the harmonic movement of this song. As I have noted elsewhere, Jarrett displays a surprisingly respectful attitude toward the old standards, and rarely engages in radical reharmonization, unlike most Gen X and Gen Y jazz pianists, who cannot resist twisting these songs into peculiar new structures. Yet this song, with its simple diatonic melody – it's one of Gershwin's most old-fashioned sounding tunes – almost requires a jazz artist to do something dramatic to give it some edge. Even so, Jarrett refuses to undertake a surgical reconstruction of the original. He makes small and subtle adjustments here and there to the chords, but remains absolutely faithful to the song's original essence. It testifies to Jarrett's artistry that he can achieve so much with such delicacy and restraint.

I am even tempted to use the word "modesty"—not a term typically thrown at Mr. Jarrett—in describing this performance. Perhaps it is an unusual word to apply to any jazz outing, given the heroic traditions of jazz, a genre which always seems most at home when it reaches for the excessive and intense. Nonetheless, modesty is not a bad way of describing the maturity with which our pianist allows this Gershwin song to emerge under his sensitive fingertips.

May 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Blue Mitchell: Polka Dots and Moonbeams

Blue Mitchell assembled a stellar hard-bop band for his Blue Soul LP. But there is not much soul or bluesiness on this low-key ballad. Philly Joe Jones is very subdued and does little more than tap out the beat. Moreover, the arrangement comes across as formulaic, and makes one wonder whether this track might not have sounded better if (as with several other songs on Blue Soul) tenor and trombone had laid out. Mitchell offers up a lyrical improvisation that almost saves the day. The first 16 bars of his solo are the song's high point, but when the other horns enter at the bridge they dispel the mood that Mitchell has lovingly established. There are some fine moments here, but not enough to put this ballad on a list of essential Mitchell performances.

May 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro-Cuban Latin Jazz Orchestra: Humility

The track may be called "Humility," but this band has no need for false modesty. Led by a 2nd-generation Latin jazz master (Arturo's father is the celebrated Chico O'Farrill), the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra is a top- notch ensemble, combining strong charts with solid musicianship. Here the band tackles a Tom Harrell chart, which starts at a simmer with minimalist percussion and thick Kentonian chords. But shortly after the 1½-minute mark, the pot begins boiling over. Trumpeter Jim Seeley offers up a fluid and dynamic solo, prodded all the time by throbbing and rumbling horns in the background. But the performance hits its high point with a gripping trumpet and percussion interlude right before the return of the melody.

May 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Rick Laird: Soft Focus

Bassist Rick Laird had run the gamut by 1976. In his earlier days, he was house bassist at the famous Ronnie Scott's in London. He played with such jazz luminaries as Wes Montgomery, Ben Webster, Sonny Rollins, Roland Kirk and many others. In fact, he is seen in performance on the DVD Wes Montgomery Live in '65, which was released in 2007. In the late '60s, he ventured to the U.S. and joined the Buddy Rich big band. Laird decided to go electric at this time, much to the consternation of Mr. Rich, who wanted him to play upright. Laird switched because he was tired of lugging the bigger acoustic instrument around the country. Buddy, as was his reputation, constantly gave shit to Laird, who quit the band no fewer than six times. Then an old friend from London, guitarist John McLaughlin, invited Rick into the electrified jazz-rock universe of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. The rest, as they say, is history.

Three years after the breakup of the original Mahavishnu, Laird led studio sessions that included Tom Grant on piano, Ron Steen on drums and the great saxophonist Joe Henderson. (Henderson does not appear on the reviewed cut.) Soft Focus is non-fusion, straight-ahead jazz. The intriguing title cut starts as a quasi bossa nova. Its character changes as Grant's minor chords enter. Though Laird is playing electric bass, his lines could easily have come from a double bass. There are no efforts at great volume or distortion. His solo is an enjoyable experience full of easy melody. Fans of his Mahavishnu power would probably be surprised by his grace. "Soft Focus" also shows Laird's above-average compositional skills.

Six years later, frustrated by the music business, Laird put down his bass and picked up a camera. Today he is a successful photographer and artist.

May 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Johnny Hodges: You Need To Rock

Given its title and 1958 vintage, "You Need To Rock" might figure as an attempt by Swing Era stalwarts— all, except Roy Eldridge and Jo Jones, veterans of the Duke Ellington band—to cash in on the burgeoning popularity of rock 'n' roll. But the wellspring in this case was Jump Blues, not rock. The septet with a 4-horn front line doing a simple riff-based tune set to a driving shuffle rhythm was standard Jump Blues fare.

In 1958, however, Jump Blues no longer dominated the R&B charts as it had done during and for a while after World War II. By the mid-'50s, the crossover success of such Jump Blues stars as Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five had ceded to the wider (read whiter) appeal of Bill Haley & His Comets. In that light, Johnny Hodges seemed like Johnny Come Lately to Jump Blues.

Yet timely or not, "You Need To Rock" is sho' nuff fun. Jo Jones opens with an uncharacteristic drumming style, which he does up right proper, thanks very much. Rascally Roy takes the first solo with his familiar burry bravado. Next Big Ben rings in for what starts mildly enough, but soon devolves into growling like a rottweiler late for his nap. After the ever-elegant Lawrence Brown disports his legato, trilling, vibrato-laden trombone, leader Hodges planes off any remaining rough edges without in the least shaving the swing.

Born John Cornelius Hodges in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Johnny Hodges was far from the backwoods Louisiana country-boy mythologized just five months earlier in Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode." And in no event did John Cornelius Hodges play his alto sax like a ringin' bell. Even so, in listening to (and even better, jitterbugging to) this happy track, one may be forgiven a shout or two of "Go Johnny Go!"

May 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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David Leonhardt: Yesterdays

David Leonhardt is an accomplished and lyrical pianist, and though he tackles some interesting choices on this album, he seems most comfortable and most vibrant on the tried and true standards. On this Jerome Kern classic, he and his able trio swing with an easy, dancing and playful swagger. Garnett lets loose with an explosion of cymbals and some penetrating rim shots adeptly placed. Parrish plucks in and around the time, and Leonhardt has a light airy touch that traverses the keyboard with a dance-like quality. His explorations are tasteful and driving, and his rhythm section responds accordingly as he builds to a climax. He ends in a crescendo of chords punctuated with a nice roll by Garnett at the end. A solid piece of straight-ahead piano trio work.

May 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Basile: Morning

David Finck is a seasoned bass player who has done fine and tasteful work with many notable players over the years, so his involvement in producing and performing on this release made me take notice. John Basile's guitar has the classic mellow sound of the fine practitioners of the instrument to whom he has undoubtedly listened. On my favorite cut, the Latin groove "Morning," his octave work bows to Wes Montgomery but is not imitative. His single-line runs are creative, easy flowing and transmit real feeling. The rhythm section really swings, and Bill O'Connell's fine piano solo is especially noteworthy for its energy and the Latin heat it generates. I found myself tapping my feet throughout. Basile has a nice tone and doesn't kill us with speed here – just a tasteful, clean groove. A pleasant offering from a promising new face.

May 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Andy Middleton: Cherry Street

Transplanted Brooklynite Andy Middleton now makes his home in Vienna. While having played with the likes of Ralph Towner and Dave Holland, as a leader he views his current quartet to be the most inspiring he has ever worked with.

On "Cherry Street" we find Middleton at his most lyrical and beautiful. He dedicated this composition to a fellow musician, Christoph Eidens, who died of lung cancer in 2005, when this session was recorded. Middleton chooses soprano sax for a bittersweet somberness that wrings out sober but uplifting feelings for a friend who has passed. His quartet is particularly empathetic. Middleton leaves poignant pauses throughout his solo that only magnify what he does play. He is extremely melodic here, and his flights of impassioned runs are separated by space to great effect. Derado's piano is appropriately pensive and blue tinged. Imm's bass produces a full lush tone to fill the spaces as Middleton's languishing saxophone reaches the coda. This being a live performance, the crowd could be a factor in a quietly done piece, but remains respectably quiet until the final applause. A fitting tribute to a lost comrade.

May 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Andy Middleton: Up the River

Now living in Vienna, Andy Middleton has surrounded himself with fellow musicians who can totally lose themselves in their music. On "Up the River" they do just that. Middleton plays with a fire on tenor sax that reminds me a great deal of Jan Garbarek in tone and attack. He has a fluid sense of rhythm and plays with great emotion throughout. He is joined on this musical river journey by his more than able bandmates, while the crowd hangs on in awe for 14+ minutes.

Starting with Imm's pulsating bass intro, Middleton aggressively states his melodic message. Derado is a deceptively musical stylist whose wandering right hand attacks the keys with both sensitivity and fervor, while his left pounds out tonally matching chords. After building great tension during his solo, he yields to Middleton, whose brilliant use of space is uncannily effective. When he does fill the lines, he does so with a wonderfully measured yet propulsive style that is quite refreshing. When he climbs into the upper register, he lingers just enough to make his point before returning to the middle, where he resides with great effect. Alan Jones plays an impassioned polyrhythmic drum solo toward the end that stirs the already simmering pot to its boiling point. A top-notch live performance that is worth hearing again and again.

May 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marc Copland: Like You

Marc Copland is one of those rare instrumentalists who have developed amazing control over tone and volume, much like his forebear Bill Evans. His, at times, gossamer touch is especially moving on "Like You." Here Copland and John Abercrombie match each other note for note on the melody line, with Abercrombie characteristically playing a step ahead of Copland's notes, producing an almost echoed delay that is quite effective. Gress's hollow-sounding bass fits in nicely and is a grounding influence. Hart is tastefully understated, which is of paramount importance for this type of suspended, silky music. He also produces shimmering sounds from his delicate use of cymbals, a perfect counterpoint to the darting solos.

Copland and Abercrombie are artists with a similar soul and a parallel vision. Together they fashion an aural landscape of colors and tones with no memorable melody but with an eerie, spidery feel. The guitarist's thoughtful, ruminating explorations and feathery sound make him the perfect foil for Copland. His solos have the barest of skeletal structures, which can be released to go off melody or off rhythm. His harmonic daring doesn't always fit but does somehow return unerringly to the theme. At the same time Copland balances floridly played right-handed, sometimes scalar runs with an equally contrapuntal left hand, creating dissonant chords that oddly work. The effect is unlike anything else and never predicable. His constructions seem precisely thought out but never lose their spontaneity or feeling, as evidenced by his emotional yet subdued Jarrett-like utterances while soloing. The ideas don't always resolve neatly but sometimes hang in midair, purposely tantalizing the listener. These carefully choreographed sounds move in ballet-like precision with the delicacy and style of a Nureyev. A joyous celebration.

May 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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J.J. Johnson: My Funny Valentine

The great trombonist J.J. Johnson's engagement at New York's Village Vanguard in July 1988 was a major jazz event. Finally he was returning to active touring with a working band after nearly two decades in Hollywood, primarily writing for film and television. Those in attendance who heard him play "My Funny Valentine" may have thought back to his 1957 recording of it with Stan Getz, but there is really no comparison. While in 1957 Johnson's boppish improvisation exhibited a staccato, wide-ranging and multi-noted attack, in 1988 Johnson delves into trombone's lower depths and dwells there for the duration. He plays the theme in a deliberate, halting fashion, extending each deep note with astonishing tonal control, hitting some notes with a timbre that resembles that of a foghorn at sea. His embellishments and progressions are fresh, dramatic and occasionally eerie. He concludes with an emotionally searing coda-like summation, rather than a conventional reprise. A true masterpiece, and a bold declaration by J.J. that he was back stronger than ever.

May 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz & J.J. Johnson: My Funny Valentine

Back in the 1950s, some still thought that Stan Getz was a lightweight "cool school" player, and that J.J. Johnson's incredible fluidity could only mean that he, like Bob Brookmeyer, played a valve trombone. Those so misguided would have seen and heard differently if they had attended this 1957 Jazz at the Philharmonic concert in Chicago.

"My Funny Valentine" starts with Getz and Johnson engaging in inventive counterpoint, while alternating on the theme. Getz has the first solo, basically silky smooth of tone, but deceptively so as his swift boppish runs are executed with an added bite. As Brown's resonant and forceful bassline propels him along, Getz uses exclamatory riffs, jabbing lower-register notes, and subtle alterations of reiterated phrases to flesh out a masterfully structured improvisation. Johnson's solo has a noticeably similar construction, also effectively relying on variations to repeated phrases. With a distinctive buzz to his timbre, as well as his utilization of expressive slurs and blats for coloration, Johnson's overall combination of power, dexterity and creativity is lethal. Getz and Johnson then improvise once again in tandem, a delightful intertwining that gradually returns to the melody and finally to a declarative ending evocative of a bugle call.

May 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: Eiderdown

Crosscurrents was the first recording of Evans with Konitz and Marsh to be released, but only because their outstanding encounter in 1959 (Live at the Half Note under Konitz's name) did not see the light of day until 1994. "Eiderdown" is the longest and arguably the best track from the 1977 session. Steve Swallow's captivating tune (his first composition!) has always inspired top-flight improvisation, and that is certainly the case here.

There's no real interplay between Konitz and Marsh during this version, except to play the theme, which for some reason they perform in a surprisingly rough unison, their horns' blend just not very pleasing to the ear, despite Evans's sleek comping. Evans solos first, his flowing lines and apt left-hand figures totally in touch with the tune's melodic and harmonic nuances. Marsh follows with interesting ideas and typically unpredictable twists and turns in his extended runs, all enhanced by an imaginatively varied rhythmic attack. He also cleverly inserts a quote from "You and the Night and the Music" that works perfectly. After a brief but substantial statement by Gomez, Konitz delivers an absorbing solo that offers an intriguing contrast to the one by Marsh. Konitz seems less hurried, his phrases more spaced out, and his delivery not nearly as legato. The reprise of the theme is, unfortunately, played just as coarsely as in its initial reading, although Evans mercifully takes the bridge this time around.

May 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Abercrombie: Number 9

In a 2007 interview discussing his then brand-new CD, John Abercrombie said that he named this composition "Number 9" simply because "it's nine measures long." He also said, "This ballad just seemed to play itself. I sat down one day at the piano, and within five minutes, the tune was finished." A more appropriate title for this tune might have been "After Nefertiti," or "Another Ode to a Queen," or perhaps just "Thanks, Wayne." A 7-note segment of the theme comes right out of Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti," but apparently (and surprisingly) Abercrombie never noticed.

Regardless, "Number 9" is one of the CD's best tracks. Feldman plays the winsome theme twice in this out-of-tempo arrangement. Abercrombie then engages in a gracefully subdued melodic embellishment based on the tune's harmonic structure. Feldman follows in a similar vein, but with more intense feeling, while sounding at times like Regina Carter. Abercrombie returns to play the theme as Feldman's tremolo provides moving counterpoint. The violinist then takes over for his own soothing and heartfelt reiteration of the pretty melody. The essence of "Nefertiti" is never far from the surface, but despite this, or because of it, "Number 9" is a lovely ballad performance.

May 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Trilok Gurtu and the Crazy Saints: Believe

1994's Believe continued the assault on Western music precepts that Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu had been engaged in for more than a decade. This time out Gurtu's sensibilities were coming much more from the West than from his traditional East. "Believe" begins as an electronic funk fest. Gurtu plays Western percussion. Guitarist Gilmore reaches deep into the fusion barrel with his somewhat rude and suggestive solo. Goyone wants to show better manners, so he introduces sounds suggesting Jan Hammer during his Oh, Yeah? days, developing a simple lighthearted riff that becomes the song's soul – and clear evidence of schizophrenia. For those of you keeping track, I believe the best description of this performance would be Tony Williams Lifetime (the version with Allan Holdsworth) meets the Jan Hammer Group. I believe it is purely coincidental that Lifetime had an album titled Believe It!

May 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Dear Dalai Lama

Industrial Zen was John McLaughlin's last studio album for Verve, the once-great jazz label which lost its direction over the years and is now only a shell of its former self. The album received virtually no promotion from the company, which decided to focus its attention and dollars on a more streamlined and mainstream roster. This was too bad. Industrial Zen had some really innovative music.

"Dear Dalai Lama" is an example of the cross-cultural and across-the-barriers music McLaughlin has stressed in the last decade. The tune contains four distinct sections. The opening Eastern-sounding measures are hauntingly beautiful. A deep drone is background as vocalist Shankar Mahadevan makes his plea. He sings part of the upcoming melody. The slow and sad Western melody itself features saxophonist Ada Rovatti and McLaughlin on guitar synthesizer. Percussion masters Zakir Hussain and Dennis Chambers then enter to change the vibe entirely. McLaughlin, still on synth, plays between the accelerated accents. Rovatti follows suit. McLaughlin plugs in his electric guitar, which sounds much like the tone he used in The Heart of Things band. This is not everyone's favorite choice. But he rips away as Chambers and Hussain go nuts. At one point, McLaughlin quotes himself from the much remembered and admired "Phenomenon: Compulsion" on the Johnny McLaughlin – Electric Guitarist album. Suddenly and without warning, the high energy of this churning piece falls away to a meditative excursion from McLaughlin's synth and Rovatti's sax. It is a cosmic cool-down, if you will.

May 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Steve Lukather: Birds of Fire

Guitarist Steve Lukather is best known for his time playing in the rock supergroup Toto, which sold millions of records and performed in front of many more fans. Songs such as "Rosanna" and "Africa" became rock anthems. To this day, though the band has gone through many incarnations, it still tours around the world under Lukather's direction. He refuses to be called Toto's leader because he took over the mantle after the death of one of the band's cofounders, Jeff Porcaro.

What few people know, however, is that Steve was an early fusion player. In high school he had a band that played Mahavishnu Orchestra music at school dances. This did not go over well because most people didn't know how to dance to the odd-metered Mahavishnu music.

Thirty years later, producer Jeff Richman gave Lukather a chance to pay respect to John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra by inviting him to play "Birds of Fire" on Visions of an Inner Mounting Apocalypse, a tribute album to McLaughlin and Mahavishnu.

Lukather doesn't pussyfoot around. He gets right to the task at hand and successfully handles the chores on Richman's interesting arrangement. His solo is a bit more processed than McLaughlin's in the original, and he uses a whammy bar for some extra oomph. Colaiuta solos over some chopped-off chord changes. Forman's synth solo is much farther out than Jan Hammer's. We can chalk that one up to technology. The band gets funky to take things out as Lukather starts his guitar to screeching. This is well-honed fusion, which means it isn't actually too clean. True fusion fans will understand the meaning in the previous sentence.

May 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Katia & Marielle Labeque: Rhythm-A-Ning

The wonderful pianists Katia and Marielle Labeque may be darlings of the classical world, but they have not been afraid to leave the reservation from time to time. Among their repertoire has been American popular music in the form of their highly appreciated takes on Leonard Bernstein's works, especially West Side Story. Occasionally they have also been found playing interpretive modern jazz, fusion and even sometimes Indo-jazz.

Of the two sisters, Katia seems more open to jazz and has performed it much more often. She is a fan of Miles Davis and has recorded piano duets with Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and many other keyboard greats.

Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm-a-ning" is given the Labeque treatment. One might expect to most often hear a tune of this ilk performed in a small nightclub just before the break. But the Labeques treat it as a light classical piece. Their frenzied fingers cover the keyboard with a joyful ease. The ladies take solo turns and throw in enough arcane quotes to please even the most demanding and anal jazzophile.

Don't tell those jazzophiles that the funny thing is that neither Katia nor her sister improvises. Their parts are all written out. You would never know it and they don't hide it. If Herbie and Chick don't mind – I don't.

Interesting note: The other night on television I came across a short feature on Madonna on one of those awful entertainment tabloid shows. In it she takes her road crew to Katia Labeque's house for a private concert. It turns out that Katia is her favorite piano player. It just goes to show you that Madonna has some taste too.

May 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Hadrien Feraud: Giant Steps

The instrument credits alone should give you a clear indication that this is not going to sound anything like your father's "Giant Steps."  Rising star French jazz bassist Hadrien Feraud is our captain for this futuristic space ride. This version of Coltrane's classic is put forth by two bassists. Feraud and Linley Marthe play the lead and the famous changes with the skill required of such a challenging composition. Soon their voices become barely audible in a cacophony of voice and music samples, sound effects, noises and various and sundry curiosities. I heard Elvis twice.

I have two ways to describe what hearing this music is like. Pick your favorite:

  1)  Late at night listen to the radio. Find "Giant Steps" being played. This may be difficult because there
       are hardly any jazz stations left. But should you succeed, turn the station dial back and forth really fast
       so that you can hear bits of the song and 20 other stations all at the same time.

  2)  Buy a small radio receiver. Commandeer a spaceship. Fly as far away as you can. Turn on the radio
       and try to pick up all of the radio and TV signals that have ever left earth and continue to exist forever
       in deep space. Say "Hi" to Carl Sagan.

You know what they say about the future, don't you? It is now.

May 20, 2008 · 1 comment

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Brazilian Trio: Tarde

Milton Nascimento is a vocalist extraordinaire as well as a composer of haunting melodies. With "Tarde," the Brazilian Trio pays respect to this icon of Brazilian music and one of their own in a delicate and thoughtful rendering of an enduring melody. Alves's stirring keyboard work is tastefully complemented by the minimalist bass of Matta and the rattlesnake drum work of Da Fonseca. My first hearing of this song was on Nascimento's fine work with Wayne Shorter on 1974's Native Dancer, where his voice lent a soaring urgency while retaining a paradoxical melancholic joy. That is less apparent in this piano trio version, but the pathos and sensitivity is well portrayed with a delicate dedication to the melody and a subdued improvisation that embellishes more than explores. The rhythm section is equally restrained, gently moving the tune along. Classic Brazilian music played by talented Brazilian artists in deference to their own musical traditions.

May 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Steve Elmer: Fire Down Below

On this second recorded outing for Steve Elmer's trio, the leader's composition "Fire Down Below" is an up-tempo romp. His impressively brisk runs give you the feeling you are scurrying up and down a flight of stairs – perhaps to get more water. Elmer is quite at home with single-note demonstrations and chordal shading as well. Several times he duels with himself in solo calls and responses. Tanaka and Okudaira are no slouch of a rhythm section, either. At breakneck speeds, they control this firefighting emergency effort. Tanaka turns the nozzle to maximum pressure for his featured spot. Okudaira throws some more water into the cause with some heavy beats in between his perfectly paced cymbal work. This was either a big fire or the guys just can't put it out. Either way, the energy exerted and the tasteful skill with which it is harnessed makes for some fine music.

May 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Zakir Hussain: Anisa

Making Music was Zakir Hussain's first solo release. It represented an important breakthrough in the world-jazz-fusion music scene. First, this was perhaps the first international fusion of its sort in which the bandleader was from the East. Until then, the vast majority of this hybrid of jazz and raga or Eastern modes had been performed by Westerner-led bands. You can go all the way back to Dizzy Gillespie, Cal Tjader, John Coltrane and Miles Davis to trace that history. Though Ravi Shankar recorded with Western musicians, his music followed the traditions of Indian classical music.

Second, Making Music was released by ECM. Founded in the late '60s, this German label at first released mostly jazz records, many of which had a distinct European feel that set them apart from mainstream jazz labels. Over time, this sound became a trademark. When Indian Hussain entered the studio, he was adding an Eastern element to this established ECM style. World music had been around in fits and starts for years, but when a major label like ECM got behind it, as they clearly did after Making Music, the genre received a great boost.

"Anisa" features three musicians from the world. Zakir Hussain is considered the greatest tabla player on earth. Englishman John McLaughlin is thought by many to be the best guitarist on earth. Norwegian Garbarek is also a world-renowned saxophonist. (The legendary flutist Hariprasad Chaurisia also appears on Making Music, but not on this cut.) Hussain's and McLaughlin's performance here is much different than their Shakti interplay of a decade earlier. More time is spent on space and texture. Dulcet chordal themes are developed. Indian music rules, if any, are relaxed. Above it all rises the ECM-ish tones of Garbarek's saxophone as he and McLaughlin play a pretty melody. Hussain contributes an energetic solo interspersed with Indian syllabic vocals. A brief, beautiful riff off the main melody suddenly appears, and vanishes just as quickly, bringing the proceedings to an abrupt but gentle landing.

May 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ken Peplowski: Variations

This “clarinet choir” recording is an interesting workout for these players. The composition is by Greg Cohen, the bassist on the date, who does not play on this performance. I’ve interviewed Cohen, and this piece makes sense knowing something about his background, particularly his studying of contemporary classical music in his youth. He told me Peplowski does all the improvising here with the rest of the ensemble following the script. Highlighting these reed timbres and their interaction creates a great sound that you won’t hear in a larger context.

May 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ornette Coleman: Focus on Sanity

Sanity might have seemed the issue for some when this was first unleashed to the world in 1959. Coleman’s work was so groundbreaking and divisive that it seemed you had to pick sides, and consequently he was hailed as a genius or condemned as a charlatan. This performance has all the elements of his early work that I love. The alto and cornet state the jagged, short opening theme followed by Haden and Higgins in duet for two minutes. The theme is restated to demarcate the start of Coleman’s solo and then again for Cherry and Higgins. None of these themes is quite the same, and yet they surely exhibit a continuity that is a signature of this great artist’s canon.

May 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pee Wee Russell: That Old Feeling

Journalists in the 1950s adored Pee Wee Russell as much for his looks (think dyspeptic basset hound with a mustache) as for his musicianship. The New Yorker's Whitney Balliett, for example, found in Russell one of the 20th century's classic physiognomies. "When he plays, this already striking facial arrangement, which is overlaid with an endless grille of wrinkles and furrows, becomes knotted into grimaces of pain, as if the music were pulling unbearably tight an inner drawstring." With a face that was prose poetry just begging to be transcribed, is it any wonder that Pee Wee's musicianship became almost an afterthought?

Yet when he summons forth "That Old Feeling," Pee Wee demonstrates that while the clarinet may be a wooden instrument, it needn't be played woodenly. True, Russell stuck to the middle register, with an occasional dip into chalumeau waters, and his breathy tone and warbling vibrato would've rendered a clarinet teacher aghast. But like latter-day Billie Holiday and Lester Young, Pee Wee more than compensated for his technical limitations with savvy, grace and originality. Some artists are so transcendently expressive that their lack of virtuosity itself becomes a virtue.

"That Old Feeling" was introduced in the movie Vogues of 1938, by which time Russell was in his early 30s, had been recording for more than a decade, performed with such luminaries as Frankie Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke, and taken up residence at Nick's, the now-legendary Greenwich Village nightspot. Yet Pee Wee Russell himself was never really in vogue. He was an acquired taste whom most jazz fans declined to acquire, especially during the Swing Era, when such spectacular practitioners as Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw ruled the roost. Decimated by alcoholism, Russell's health declined during the 1940s to near death in 1951. But Pee Wee slowly recovered. Eventually he found himself subject to renewed interest, thanks largely to his endearing fragility on CBS-TV's 1957 all-star special The Sound of Jazz, where—like a lovingly restored scarecrow—he kept wobbly company with, on the one hand, such trad veterans as Henry "Red" Allen, and on the other hand with his modernist alter ego, Jimmy Giuffre. Only 51 but looking 100, Pee Wee reminded us of the eccentric uncle in everybody's closet who is let out once a year to wow the neighborhood kids with rusty magic tricks half-remembered from his vaudeville days.

On this 1958 track, Pee Wee's stalwart sympathizers include the warmly lyrical tenorman Bud Freeman and sly-boots trombonist Vic Dickenson. These old smoothies could no more go wrong with "That Old Feeling" than listeners can with Pee Wee Russell.

May 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Steve Elmer: Sister Joan

Steve Elmer began his musical career as a drummer but at age 25 started taking piano lessons with the iconoclastic Lennie Tristano. His playing is a conglomeration of the percussive nature he learned from drumming and the various influences he absorbed from careful listening over the years. He is an accomplished technician who seems more at ease on hard-driving compositions. His phraseology slyly borrows from many sources without amounting to grand theft. At times his sound is reminiscent of Monk, but with a more fluid sense of swing. The clipped phrasing of his keyboard work is complemented nicely by a very tight, sympathetic rhythm section, which smoothly shaves off any burrs. Hide Tanaka's bass produces an especially full round tone that is particularly well suited in contrast to Elmer's sharp and at times steely sound.

On "Sister Joan," Elmer's lead-in line evokes Monk's "Well, You Needn't," but swings with a bit more intensity and direction than the master's original, which to me always seems to brilliantly keep you wondering where he was going. In contrast, Elmer's compositions have a comforting sense of direction, making his writing less groundbreaking, but he and his compatriots execute with such polished presence that the finished product is both enjoyable and passionate.

Steve Elmer has been called the most anonymous pianist in New York. With this offering, he may find himself at last discovered.

May 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: After the Rain

The opening tenor notes of this short work go a long way to evoking the title. The majesty of this melody is so strong that it grabs all one’s attention and focus right from the start. This is not the savage, primal John Coltrane but the reflective searcher making great use of space to create drama and mood. The accompaniment is understated with a lot of pedal tones from the piano and bass and Haynes deftly utilizing only his cymbals. This recording comes from the brief period when regular drummer Elvin Jones was on hiatus.

May 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Andreas Oberg: Uptown Downtown

At age 29, Stockholm's Royal Music Academy alumnus Andreas Öberg has advanced to the fore of the burgeoning avant-garde European jazz scene for good reason: the cat is a monster. Those familiar with this young Swedish guitarist's aggressive virtuosity will be relieved to know that his latest effort, while more commercial in its appeal, doesn't target the listener's Kenny G-spot. On "Uptown Downtown," Andreas takes a funk-driven strut down 125th Street, blowin' hot all the way.

It takes moxie to tread on Pat Martino's turf, and Öberg is one of the few guitarists who can pull it off. He does so with tempered grace, delivering lightening arpeggios, deft sweeps and bubbly Benson-esque finger runs against Vic Stevens's solid backbeat before trading fours with Hendelmann in a not-so-cryptic nod to Eddie Harris's "Freedom Jazz Dance."

Purists need not demur – there's plenty of superb playing on this outing. While this is a great vehicle in which the neophyte listener can lose his or her jazz virginity, even virulent, hardcore boppers won't hate themselves in the morning.

May 19, 2008 · 2 comments

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Dr. Michael White: Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

This song may be better known as a gospel or folk or roots tune, and its origins can be traced back to British-born Christian tunesmith Ada Ruth Habershon. But it sounds like a Crescent City original in the hands of Dr. Michael White and company. White is one of the leading exponents of the New Orleans tradition walking the planet. Don't let his doctorate fool you: there is nothing academic about his trad jazz work. The style of performance here might be one hundred years old, but it wears it well, huh? The counterpoint of the horns is especially fine on this track. My only gripe is that the performance winds down after only 2½ minutes. If I were in the second line, I'd demand an immediate encore.

May 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Clark Terry: Cotton Tail

As first recorded by Duke Ellington's 15-piece band in 1940, "Cotton Tail" tore through the cabbage patch quicker than rabbits repopulate. Seventeen years later and 9 musicians fewer, the bunny still hops—albeit at a more relaxed tempo. (Hell, we all slow down with age.)

Whereas Ellington's first litter cut straight to the chase, this sextet culled from Duke's mid-'50s band takes a moment for a short intro before stating the theme. After playing vibes on the bridge, Tyree Glenn shows his versatility by switching to cup-muted trombone for a mellifluous leadoff solo. Following a Woodyard drum break, tenorman Gonsalves assumes center stage, backed by Woodyard's trademark insistent rim shots on beats 2 and 4. Tyree Glenn, meanwhile, has returned to his Lionel Hampton-style vibes to comp behind the soloists. Clark Terry takes over next, coming on like a cat who's been drummed out of March King John Philip Sousa's band for playing too hip. Britt Woodman then provides a follow-up trombone solo using, unlike his predecessor Glenn, an open horn.

This "Cotton Tail" won't make anyone forget Duke's original, but it's still enjoyable, especially for Tyree Glenn's goof at the end. Whereas Duke's chart terminated in an unexpected low note played in unison by bass and baritone sax, this arrangement apparently meant to omit that last harrumph. Vibist Glenn, not quite on the same page as everybody else, nevertheless strikes one final, conspicuously solitary chord. In his solitude, the embarrassed Mr. Glenn offers a sheepish "Oh!" that reminds us what joys lurk in unrehearsed jazz.

May 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Julie Hardy: On the Verge

It's beyond cliché to use the term "musician's singer," but in the case of Brooklyn-based vocalist/composer Julie Hardy, it's entirely appropriate – even necessary. In this time-bending composition, she skirts the outer reaches of the modal jazz universe, yet nothing feels contrived or out of place. Eschewing lyrics altogether, her lovely voice pilots the listener through alternate measures of 10/8, 7/8 and 9/8, ghosting over an intriguing juxtaposition of Lydian-augmented chords set against the occasional contrarian bassline. From such an astral launching platform, the soloists absolutely soar; Sadigursky's tenor sax and Ingram's piano go orbital with clarity and economy. As difficult as it is to push the limits without sounding confused, angry or illogical, Julie Hardy succeeds admirably, creating a paradoxical tonal sculpture both alien and familiar. "On the Verge" is just that, without going over the edge.

May 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mose Allison: Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me

Some folks call Mose Allison the "William Faulkner of jazz." But let's be honest, Absalom, Absalom! isn't half as much fun as a night out with Mose. Like Faulkner, Allison hails from Mississippi. But he espouses a bohemian, big-city, coffeehouse philosophy that has come a long way since his basket arrived in the bulrushes of Tallahatchie County back in the year of the Great Flood.

Allison has a way of imparting wry double meanings to lyrics, and this talent serves him well in interpreting Ellington's standard. These are strange lyrics, in which the singer practically admits to having an affair with another gal (True, I've been seen / With someone new . . .), but insists on a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for infidelities. Honestly, everybody in this tune should go see a relationship counselor. But while we are waiting for that, we can at least enjoy Mose's innuendo-laden delivery of this bit of musical philandering.

May 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Fats Waller: Your Feet's Too Big

Here is the Harlem rent party side of Fats Waller. Full-bodied stride piano is mixed in with singing, shtick and comedy, but jazz is the key ingredient, the glue that holds everything together. Waller imitates some heavy, feet's-too-big footsteps for the keyboard intro, and Gene Sedric takes a hot and sweet clarinet solo at the midpoint, but most of this track is Waller's fast and loose delivery of a novelty song transformed into an iconic moment in American music. A taste of New Orleans counterpoint closes the proceedings. Well, it's not really the close, since Waller caps it off with a final bit of monologue: "Your pedal extremities really are obnoxious. One never knows, do one?"

May 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lucky Millinder: When the Lights Go On Again (All Over the World)

Harlem bandleader Lucky Millinder had a big hit with this World War II ballad, which reached #1 on the R&B charts and #14 on the pop charts in 1942. This was a love song with a patriotic twist: the lights mentioned in the title would "go on again (all over the world)" when the war-imposed blackouts of potential bombing targets were no longer necessary. Millinder was a "crossover" act before the term even existed, mixing rhythm-and-blues and other commercial elements into his music. Yet his band, which had residencies at the Savoy and later the Apollo, was a breeding ground for modern jazz talent, and featured at various times Dizzy Gillespie (who appears on this track), Thelonious Monk, Sir Charles Thompson and Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis. Millinder, for his part, could neither read music nor play an instrument. This performance goes easy on the jazz, but provides insights into other currents active in 1940s Harlem musical life.

May 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Harlem Air Shaft

This composition may not be as well known as "Satin Doll" or "Mood Indigo," but make no mistake about it: this is one of Ellington's finest moments on record and a landmark of jazz writing. Duke never had a better band than this historic unit, and he contributes a brilliant chart, full of surprising twists and turns. The repeated fake-out shift into half time, jarred back into hot swing by Greer's drumming, still gets me jazzed every time I hear it. And the soloists play with fire -- yet how could they not with such great writing and playing behind them.

Ellington has described the inspiration for this work in vivid terms. "You get the full essence of Harlem in an air shaft," he explained. "You hear fights, you smell dinner, you hear people making love. You hear intimate gossip floating down. You hear the radio. An air shaft is one great loudspeaker, you hear people praying, fighting and snoring." To convey this diversity of activities in sound, Ellington has expanded his palette and opened up his structure beyond the typical confines of 32-bar song form. And for a brief moment in American history, an art song with this type of intricacy could also be a commercial recording for a popular band. We may never see the like again.

May 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chick Webb: Liza

Jazz fans all know Ella Fitzgerald's hit recording of "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" -- but how many have checked out this version of "Liza" on the flip side of the 78? Yet you would need to look far and wide to find a better exhibition of Swing Era drumming. Webb drives the band with a double dose of what Alan Greenspan might call "irrational exuberance." But you can't resist this beat -- no wonder the dancers stomped so hard at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom, where Webb & Co. presided over the spirited proceedings. Listen and enjoy the band that defeated the Benny Goodman ensemble, the most famous jazz group of the age, at a heated Harlem battle a few months before this session. Webb would be dead, at age 30, before the close of the decade, but this track serves notice that he was one of the finest talents the jazz world has produced.

May 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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The Brazilian Trio: Forests

This composition by bassist Nilson Matta is a 3- part suite. In part one, sound effects from a Brazilian rain forest introduce Helio Alves's gentle but melancholic piano. The second part then kicks off an upbeat rhythmic adventure. Alves's sensitive pianism is pushed along by the steady syncopated beat of Matta and drummer Da Fonseca, with his restrained use of cymbals. Alves's one-line improvisations converse nicely with Da Fonseca's drum rolls until breaking into a samba-influenced solo that allows for exploration atop the more heated rhythmic activity. Midway through the center section, we are treated to a subtle interplay between Matta and Da Fonseca, which then yields to the drummer's tasty, understated solo. In the final section, Alves and company return to the melancholic feel of the first section, bringing the suite to appropriate closure. One man's vision of the forest of his native land.

May 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Shirley Horn: Here's to Life

Uncharacteristically, Shirley Horn's not accompanying herself on piano here. Instead she has the lushly responsive company of the great arranger/conductor Johnny Mandel. With a full orchestra wrapped around her lush, smoky contralto, she goes at her own singular tempo, delivering each word of "Here's to LIFE, here's to LOVE, here's to YOU" with anthem-like intimacy. It's a deep, wee-hours conversation with a beloved friend about everything that really matters. Small wonder Miles Davis, to whom this album is dedicated, was a devoted Horn fan. Miss Horn passed in 2005, leaving us with music to last for the ages.

May 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Cab Calloway: Tarzan of Harlem

Who could possibly follow the Ellington band at the Cotton Club? Only Cab Calloway, the heppest cat on the third planet from the sun during the 1930s. In fact, Calloway may be the slickest entertainer the jazz scene has ever known; even serious boppers such as Dizzy Gillespie (who sits in the trumpet section on the track) learned how to handle an audience from the 'Hi De Ho' man. And if white audiences out slumming wanted authentic "jungle music," Calloway would cook up something hot and funny, like "Tarzan of Harlem." Cozy Cole stirs up things on the drums, and Calloway gives out several hollers that put Johnny Weissmuller to shame.

May 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Willie 'The Lion' Smith: Concentratin'

We tend to remember Harlem jazz for its rent parties or 'jungle music' at the Cotton Club. But there was a concert hall side to this music, drawing on classical influences, and aiming to craft a subtle merger between European and African-American currents. We see this in the large-scale compositions of James P. Johnson, Ellington's extended pieces, and in the impressionistic works of stride pianists, such as Waller's "African Ripples," and this offering from Willie 'The Lion' Smith.

Of course, the great William Henry Joseph Bonaparte Bertholoff Smith - okay, let's just call him 'The Lion' - never got too refined, and this work's concert hall polish may be closer to Zez Confey than Debussy. In any event, the leonine keyboardist puts aside the oom-pah stride bass for the first half of this number, and crafts a pastoral melody with a Celtic tinge. But he can't hold back the hot jazz forever, and in mid-song he shifts into fast and furious Harlem stride, tossing out some unexpected syncopations along the way. The end result is halfway between the Harlem rent party and Carnegie Hall -- sort of a tux and stogie event. And who better to serve as our host for some transgressive entertainment than 'The Lion'?

May 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Johnson's Paradise Ten: Harlem Drag

From the middle of the Jazz Age to the depths of the Depression, Charlie Johnson's band graced the stage at Small's Paradise Club in Harlem. Only a handful of stalwart fans remember this band nowadays, but along with Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington, Johnson was a pioneer in forging the big band sound that would eventually transform American popular music. Few jazz bands from the 1920s had a more modern conception of swinging section work, and though Johnson himself was not a scintillating soloist, he always had hot players in the band (such as Jabbo Smith and Benny Carter) ready to take a chorus. In this instance, Sidney De Paris does the honors, dishing up some of the rough-and-tumble trumpet work that must have put spring in the dancers' steps . . . and also served notice that Bubber Miley wasn't the only master of "jungle style" horn playing in Harlem.

May 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jimmie Lunceford: Harlem Shout

Jimmie Lunceford is the odd man out in jazz history. This bandleader made no waves with his musicianship—his preferred instrument was the conductor's baton—and he possessed neither the elegance of Ellington nor the hipster hauteur of Calloway. But Lunceford knew how to entertain an audience, and he led one of the finest jazz bands of the 1930s. When Lunceford's ensemble took a booking at the Cotton Club, following in the footsteps of Cab and the Duke, dancers would hardly have missed a beat. "Harlem Shout" demonstrates the core virtues of this orchestra: its swinging riff-based charts, its hot and polished section work, and (another calling card of Lunceford's bands) high-note trumpet theatrics, provided here by Paul Webster. Like a hearty band of soldiers, this ensemble always maintained discipline under fire, and there was inevitably plenty of hot stuff around when folks like Sy Oliver and Eddie Durham were handing out the parts. Perhaps if Lunceford had lived longer—he died, reportedly of a heart attack (although under suspicious circumstances), at age 45—he might have been fêted as elder statesman of jazz. But, as it stands, he is little more than a half-remembered name for most younger jazz fans. Tis pity, 'cause this band was sublime.

May 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Sepia Panorama (live 1940)

For many jazz fans (myself included), Ellington's ensemble with bassist Jimmy Blanton and tenor saxophonist Ben Webster represents the gold standard by which other big bands of the era are measured. But this now-legendary group stayed intact for only a brief interlude. Blanton joined Ellington in 1939, was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1941, and died the following year -- but in that short period he revolutionized the bass' role in jazz. Ben Webster would leave Ellington's band in 1943, and Duke would never find a better tenor sax soloist for his group.

We are fortunate that Ellington recorded extensively during the late 1930s and early '40s, but this live performance in Fargo, North Dakota, gives us our best insight into how this group sounded on the road. And everything here reinforces the stellar reputation of this installment of the Duke's orchestra. On "Sepia Panorama," both Blanton and Webster solo at top form, and Ellington pulls out one of his finest charts. Yes, jazz history was made in Fargo, North Dakota . . . but only because Jack Towers and Dick Burris were on hand with their portable recording equipment. [Note: Don't confuse this 5-minute version of "Sepia Panorama" with the truncated 1-minute rendition recorded earlier that same evening.]

May 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Scott Hamilton: Memories of You

When Scott Hamilton arrived in New York in 1976, he stood out as a jazz anachronism, an exponent of 1930s tenor sax stylings lost in a post-Coltrane universe. Nowadays, retro is the rage, and Hamilton hardly seems so out-of-touch. In the meantime, the tenorist has (slightly) modernized his sound, adding layers of "Four Brothers" cool on top of his prewar aesthetic. In other words, his approach to the sax has moved from a 1937 mindset to a more up-to-date 1947-ish attitude. At this rate, Hamilton may embrace Ornette's harmolodics if he lives to be 150.

But what draws me to this artist is not his allegiance (or disavowal) of musical fads and fashions. Hamilton gets my attention by his skill as a soloist. Give him eight choruses, or just eight bars . . . either way, he will fill 'em up with something choice and tasty. He takes this ancient Eubie Blake song, which often collapses into a rickety oom-pah, oom-pah two-beat disaster, and makes it sound sleek and cool. Heck, this tune is even more old fashioned than Hamilton himself. But when you play the songs this well, you can tear up their birth certificates because music like this is timeless.

May 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus & Langston Hughes: Consider Me

"Jazz gives poetry a much wider following," said Langston Hughes in 1958, "and poetry brings jazz the greater respectability that people seem to think it needs. I don't think jazz needs it, but most people seem to." Not coincidentally, 1958 was the year of Weary Blues, Hughes's album of '50s Jazz & Poetry, which by then had become a Bohemian staple from North Beach to Greenwich Village. It was also the year that, amazingly, Charles Mingus had only one record date, scoring and accompanying half of Weary Blues.

Five decades later, "Consider Me" has the faded grayness and frayed corners of an old snapshot long forgotten in Grandma's attic. While Hughes's repeated use of the self-descriptive "colored boy" certainly pales by comparison with the indiscriminate abuse of the N word by today's rappers, it may nonetheless make some listeners uncomfortable. If so, that's the only thing about this track likely to disturb anyone.

Even for the staid 1950s, "Consider Me" is surprisingly meek. Neither a plea for equality nor a demand for justice, it's more like a well-dressed, mild-mannered Eisenhower-era professor invited to address an Episcopalian Sunday school class on the approved topic "What It's Like to be a Negro." It's all so polite that we can scarcely believe Charles Mingus was involved.

Mingus was after all one of the most tempestuous personalities in jazz. But you'd never know it from this track. Tasked to accompany Hughes's wistful reading, Mingus sets Shafi Hadi's plaintive sax over his own arco bass to create a brooding melancholia, which he relieves only occasionally and in the most predictable ways, obediently taking his cues from Hughes's spoken words. At the mention of "G-O-D," pianist Parlan drops in a few ominous clusters. When Langston declaims, "On Friday the eagle flies," Mingus shifts to a bouncy tango, maintaining it as Hughes allows that Saturday brings "laughter, a bar, a bed." But after "Sunday prayers syncopate glory," Monday's workaday grind begins anew and the music compliantly settles back down.

Pallid and deferential are words seldom applied to Charles Mingus. In this case, while a lack of drama may suit the poet's pensive preoccupations, the overall result is doleful, droopy and dreary. As Hughes repeatedly intones "Consider me / A colored boy," we wait in vain for Mingus to exclaim: "No! Damn it, Langston. Consider me. A dangerous black man." Hughes was right about one thing, though. Jazz did not need this much respectability.

May 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bireli Lagrene: Wave (1980)

Wunderkind Biréli Lagrène was all of 13 when he recorded his first album, Routes to Django. Lagrène pretty much had the Django repertoire down pat before he was even 12. But as any serious 13-year-old guitarist would tell you, you don't know how good you are until you master the rhythms of that Jobim Brazilian stuff.

Lagrène's brilliant performance on "Wave" is some sort of cruel joke foisted upon us untalented masses. I suppose if you had some skill you could spend 12 hours a day for about four years learning the piece and play something close to what you hear on this album. But according to the liner notes Lagrène really didn't practice that much. He didn't read music either. Jesus. How does a kid play with that effortless dexterity and deep feeling? His rapid-fire picking is full of subtlety and nuance. Could he possibly have been that tuned-in? My ears tell me so. My ears also inform me that his older and more accomplished bandmates were in the pocket too. This music is in their blood. Anomalies like Lagrène show you that music is so much more than about learning notes on a piece of paper.

May 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mark Weinstein: Straight, No Chaser

Fluter Mark Weinstein's Straight No Chaser is a collection of five originals and five covers. He and his band exhibit exceptional skill and taste as they interpret these compositions. Weinstein plays the classic "Straight No Chaser" on a bass flute. You hear his deep and forceful breaths almost as much as you do the frantic notes that result. This causes his playing on this piece to have almost a scat-singing effect. The clanging of the flute's keys is quite audible as Weinstein aggressively attacks them. This is also cool sounding. Who would have thought of playing a flute low and rough? The band attacks the tune from the start. Guitarist Stryker is particularly impressive during his solo, after which "Straight No Chaser" becomes a swinging affair. As I have mentioned in other reviews of flute players, they must work extra hard to get their instrument to be more versatile. Weinstein should be credited for his imagination and successful effort to put the flute across in a new light on this cut.

May 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Alphonse Mouzon: Starting All Over Again

Back in 2000, one-time Weather Report drummer Alphonse Mouzon assembled a group for a gig at a Bel-Air nightspot. The music was all written and arranged by Mouzon, and the crowd was very receptive, as attested by generous applause. Mouzon launches the album's most memorable song, "Starting All Over Again," with an almost familiar opening that seems borrowed from Miles Davis's "Milestones." The starting sax and trumpet duet is similar to Miles's tune but quickly veers off in a less satisfying direction. The music is taught, straight-ahead and well performed. But while it projects energy, it lacks anything new or exciting. I respect Mouzon's hard-driving work with some of the 1970s' most progressive fusion bands, but his heavy-handedness here during the lead solos distracts from the other players' explorations. Perhaps he sensed that their efforts lacked inspiration and therefore compensated. The crowd is nevertheless pleased, showering the band with praise. No doubt an enjoyable evening for Rocco's clientele, but hardly worth memorializing.

May 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Reflections in D

A week before he recorded this introspective solo piano piece, Ellington brought his band into the studio to make "Satin Doll" -- which would prove to be the Duke's last hit single. You couldn't imagine a much starker contrast than between the old "Switch-e-Roony" and this classically oriented composition, with its sensibility of European impressionist concert-hall fare. Ellington left behind stacks of scores and LPs, but not enough solo piano work to suit my tastes. This sophisticated yet heartfelt track gives us a glimpse of an intimate Duke that we rarely got to hear on record. A decade later, in a 1964 interview with Carter Harman, Ellington disagreed vehemently when his interlocutor suggested that Duke didn't write "pretty music." "I like that kind of music," the composer insisted. "I write pretty music, yeah!" He might have cited this track as evidence. To some extent, Ellington anticipates the later work of Bill Evans with his thick and juicy chord voicings here—no wonder Evans recorded this piece himself 25 years later.

May 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: Reflections in D

Some of Bill Evans's most stylized late-period work came during his brief tenure with the Warner Bros. label. This impressionistic version of a little-known Duke Ellington composition served as the cornerstone of Evans's 1978 New Conversations. I recall Evans mentioning in an interview that he had not heard Ellington's original 1953 recording at the time he made this track. If so, it is uncanny how much Evans's version evokes the same ambiance and sonic landscape that the composer achieved on his original performance. This recording captures the beauty of Evans's voicings and touch, and is a good starting point for fans from the classical music world who are coming to this artist for the first time -- perhaps after hearing Jean-Yves Thibaudet's concert hall reworkings of his music. If Debussy or Ravel had played jazz, this is how they might have sounded.

May 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: Just You, Just Me

Bill Evans's idea for his 1963 Conversations With Myself sessions may have seemed like a perfect "concept" for this introspective artist. Instead of bringing in a band for the date, Evans would play multiple piano parts, blended together through the miracle of studio overdubbing. But what seems like a good idea in theory turns into an exercise in jazz solipsism. This track, like many of the other performances from this project, sounds too busy, and the thick textures of the over-layered piano parts negate two of Evans's greatest virtues: his use of space and the open, uncluttered clarity of his phrases. The song itself, a lilting Jazz Age standard from 1929, doesn't help. Its simple and bouncy attitudes are not a good fit with this deep and moody musician. If you want to hear Evans without a band, check out the Alone LP from 1968 or "Reflections in D" from his 1978 New Conversations release before dipping into this LP.

May 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tina Brooks: Star Eyes

Tina Brooks did not record during the last dozen years of his life, and was a largely forgotten figure at the time of death from liver failure in 1974. But the hard-bop recordings he made for the Blue Note label between 1958 and 1961 continue to enjoy a cult following. This rugged tenor saxophonist captured the hard-bop ethos of the era, with rugged performances that stripped away the sentimentality of songs such as "Star Eyes." Love songs became gritty anthems to self-determination, pushing and prodding the music farther and farther along -- in this case for more than eight minutes. Charlie Parker may have recorded the definitive 1950s-era version of this standard, but Brooks finishes ahead of the rest of the pack on this marathon performance. The tenorist is admirably assisted by trumpeter Lee Morgan and a first-rate rhythm section.

May 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Red Norvo: Congo Blues

In the 1950s, best-selling author Jack Kerouac godfathered the Beat Generation, an unwashed gaggle of ofay deadbeats who lamely tried to appear hip by pretending to dig jazz. Kerouac brought to jazz the same intellectual carelessness he flaunted in his literary output. ("That's not writing," Truman Capote famously observed of Jack's Benzedrine-fueled scrolls of nonstop prose. "It's typing.") Kerouac routinely misspelled such essential jazz names as Charley [sic] Parker, Thelonius [sic] Monk, and Billy [sic] Holliday [sic]. In one magazine column, citing "hundreds of great soloists" as "sign of a great jazz resurgence," Jack mangled the monikers of more than two dozen jazzmen. (Altoist Hal McKusick emerged through Kerouac's Benzedrine fog as "Al Macusik.")

Kerouac often couldn't even recall what instrument a giant played, as in this description of vibist/drummer Lionel Hampton: "Lionel would jump in the audience and whale [sic] his saxophone [sic] at everybody." Jack thought bassist Carson Smith was a guitarist, baritone sax man Pee Wee Moore was a trombonist, and both trumpeter/arranger Quincy Jones and drummer Dave Bailey were "bassplayers" [sic].

On those rare occasions when he spelled a musician's name right and matched him with the correct instrument, Kerouac still managed to make a fool of himself. Jazz fans have no doubt heard, for example, "the sudden squeak uninhibited that screams muffled at any moment from Dizzy Gillespie's trumpet." Say what? An uninhibited squeak that screams muffled! Oh, yeah, far out. Not only does the squeak scream, it's so uninhibited it's muffled. Hey, pass those bennies over here, man.

Max West

All of which brings our roundabout safari to "Congo Blues." In his magnum opus On the Road (1957), Kerouac cites this track as an early Dizzy Gillespie record with Max West on drums. Who?  For working stiffs without the benefit of bennies, Max West was a baseball player, not a drummer. For that matter, "Congo Blues" was not a Dizzy Gillespie record. It was by Red Norvo & His Selected Sextet. What's especially galling, though, is Kerouac's reference to this "valued" record. Sure, so valued Jack can't recall the bandleader, and thinks the drummer hit a game-winning 3-run homer for the National League in the 1940 All-Star Game.

This is a sad fate to befall an important Swing-to-Bop transitional track. Recorded on the first anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion during World War II that signaled the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany, "Congo Blues" signaled the beginning of the end for the Swing Era. But besides its historical importance, this track is more fun than a barrel of beatniks washing over Niagara Falls.

Heard first is J.C. Heard, playing drums only because Max West was still in the Army (where he spent what would otherwise have been his peak playing years). Next bassist Slam Stewart contributes some vocally doubled bowed whole notes, atop which Dizzy Gillespie enters for a brilliant high-speed cup-muted solo, particularly impressive at the start of his second chorus. Then Bird takes flight, displaying the same audacious originality as Dizzy.

Following two such groundbreaking beboppers, Teddy Wilson's stride-style piano and Flip Phillips's Ben Webster-ish tenor are inevitably anachronistic. Red Norvo, though, always one of jazz's most adventurous souls, both bridges this confluence of Swing and Bop and sails past it, anticipating what theorist George Russell would later call pan-chromaticism.

After Slam butts back in for one of his typically annoying fiddle-faddle hum-along arco bass solos, Diz & Bird in unison restate the theme, bringing this wacky Odd Couples convention to a rousing finale. Except for the disappointing absence of a sudden squeak uninhibited screaming muffled from Dizzy Gillespie's trumpet, this track makes you wanna jump up and whale, man. You dig?

May 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dianne Reeves: Just My Imagination

Dianne Reeves began her career with one foot in R&B and the other in jazz. Later she explored Latin tangents, World Music and fusion. More recently she has strengthened her credentials as a mainstream jazz chanteuse, as demonstrated on her soundtrack work on Good Night and Good Luck and her Sarah Vaughan tribute album. But just when we thought Reeves had become a jazz purist, she dishes up a CD full of soul and pop staples, including this reworking of a 1971 hit by the Temptations. Reeves's voice, sinuous and insinuating, is well suited for this material. The rhythm section stays in the Smooth Jazz camp, but provides a comfortable sonic cushion for the star vocalist. This track will generate airplay, but perhaps also generate confusion among fans who thought Reeves was intent on assuming the mantle of Billie and Ella, Carmen and Sarah.

May 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marilyn Scott: Cry Me A River

In this fine Japanese import from Venus, the relaxed vocal stylizing of Marilyn Scott is in fine form backed by especially empathetic musicians. The challenge for any vocalist is to be able to put her own stamp on a standard that is so identified with a particular artist that a remake usually doesn't cut it. I find myself having little tolerance for feeble attempts by otherwise earnest vocalists, but with Scott I am pleasantly surprised. On "Cry Me a River," which to me is inseparable from the sultry Julie London, Scott makes the song her own with phrasing and intonation that sound distinctively less vulnerable than London's. Bollenback's superlative guitar accompaniment is right on target, Chestnut's piano is equally sympathetic, and the throaty, reedy sound of Peplowski is a welcome delight that adds a whole new cool Getzian sound to this tune. His minimalist approach is tantalizingly provocative. Backed by such complementary musicianship, Scott's vocal is all the more convincing. Marilyn Scott deserves to be heard.

May 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mark Weinstein: Crianza

Guitarist Dave Stryker lends both tastefully restrained fretwork and this composition to flutist Mark Weinstein's latest album. On this lovely, minstrel-inspired ballad, each band member is allowed to stretch his harmonic concepts. Bassist Ed Howard puts in a flowing solo followed by Stryker's tender acoustic guitar rendering. The format of guitar, flute and bass has a somewhat medieval quality, and when Weinstein's airy flute enters the fray he extends the fairytale feel. Victor Lewis gently pushes the tune along with sparse but tasteful use of a subdued marching snare and shimmering cymbals work. When Lewis is set loose toward the close of the song, he responds with consummate taste and style. This almost-baroque composition is an unusual vehicle for these musicians, who can easily let fly on more up-tempo material. But it is a perfect showcase for Weinstein's pristine tone and the band's astute ability to adapt to the context of their material.

May 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Trilok Gurtu: Baba

Indo-jazz percussionist Trilok Gurtu never disappoints. He can mesmerize you with meditative Indian drumming, knock you back in your seat with some cymbal crashes on a Western drum kit, or make you laugh your ass off by using some ridiculous implement as a percussion instrument. Over the years he has also proven to be a very fine composer.

"Baba" begins with an Aboriginal basso buffo of sorts. Saxophonist Jan Garbarek answers these funny- sounding deep voices in the wind with a more serious intent. Soon he introduces the slow and somber melody as Gurtu pounds a thudding backbeat. Gurtu takes advantage of open space by filling it with percussion from every source within his reach. Garbarek's playing is labor intensive and performed at a snail's pace. Yet the lugubrious melody is maintained. An Eastern-style funk, led by bassist Fiszman, speeds things up a bit and provides even more opportunities for Gurtu's percussion bag of tricks. "Baba" is really a percussion solo with the melody taking second fiddle. Those of you familiar with Gurtu's solos know that this is a very good thing.

May 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Danny Gottlieb: Reef Warriors

What is it about drummer Danny Gottlieb and bassist Mark Egan that keeps making them write about water? As the leaders of the fine fusion group Elements, they produced Blown Away – a whole album based on oceans and beaches. One of Gottlieb's other albums was called Aquamarine. On Whirlwind, we find the composition "Reef Warriors." I'm really beginning to sense these guys are beach bums by day who masquerade as superior musicians at night. In fact, as I write this review, Gottlieb is an instructor at a Florida college. It all fits, if you ask me.

"Reef Warriors" is a typical late-1980s Gottlieb production. Co-written with keyboardist Gregory Smith, it is a fine example of a catchy melody played to a tee by some fine fusion players who would take turns appearing on each other's albums. These musicians developed a deep rapport that enabled them to create music that, quite frankly, could be put on any one of their albums and be called their own. "Reef Warriors" would sound as much at home on an Elements, Mark Egan or Bill Evans (sax) album. That might mess up the aquatic thing Gottlieb and Egan have going, but you could do it.

May 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Hilde Hefte: For Heaven's Sake

Norwegian chanteuse Hilde Hefte delivers an intimate, assured rendering of one of the most intricate and lovely ballads ever written. With a relaxed authority devoid of diva pretensions, her ethereal voice glides through Elise Bretton's intricate changes while Egil Kapstad's deceptively understated piano utilizes space to enhance rather than crowd his lush orchestral arrangement. Captured in a live session with the prolific Prague Philharmonic under the capable Mario Klemens, this is a recording to be savored in a private moment – perfect for lovers in front of a fire on a chilly night. Personally, I can't wait to spend an evening or two in Prague.

May 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Masada: Khebar

Masada, John Zorn's "radical Jewish" quartet, has been electrifying audiences with their arranged interplay for 15 years, and the extreme talents of all four members have led to some truly telepathic moments on stage. Many of these moments are captured on Live at Tonic, recorded at the Manhattan club that served as their home turf for many years. This track features all of the Masada traits – Hebrew/Yiddish-inspired melodies written by Zorn (Masada's book features upwards of 500 compositions), collective improvisation from the Zorn/Douglas front line, full-band dynamic shifts at the drop of a hat, harmonic and melodic foundation supplied by Greg Cohen, and the sometimes subtle, sometimes (intentionally) bombastic percussion of Joey Baron. If you are unaware of Masada, this beguiling performance is an ideal place to start.

May 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris Cheek: What's Left

A testament to Chris Cheek's compositional and improvisational skills is the talent of the (usually leading) sideplayers he assembles for his recordings. Two thirds of the original Brad Mehldau trio (Mehldau, Rossy) join guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel and New York bassist Matt Penman on this date brimming with virtuosity from some of this generation's finest players. Mehldau acts first in Cheek's up-tempo tune with a 12/8 feel, starting slowly but quickly rattling off a few of his astounding multi-measure harmonic ideas. Cheek follows with an initially wandering but ultimately settling solo statement, followed by Rosenwinkel's sophisticated yet sensible playing. Note the complex support that Mehldau provides Rosenwinkel throughout the second half of the guitarist's improvisation. A standout recording from an in-demand saxophonist.

May 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Roy Haynes: Bright Mississippi

Since beginning his professional career with a stint in Luis Russell's big band in 1945, Roy Haynes has consistently colored his drumming with the "Latin tinge." He has stated in many interviews that he often thinks of his tom-toms as timbales during solos, and his frequent playing of time on the hi-hat (instead of standard ride-cymbal swing patterns) often incorporates authentic Latin rhythms. Nowhere is that Latin influence better represented than on this terrific 1999 half-studio/half-live date with Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez and bassist John Patitucci. This is a deceptively complex, calypso-infused version of the catchy Monk tune – its playful, interactive ease would certainly run aground without these three rowing masters manning the oars at Boston's Scullers.

May 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Roy Haynes: Reflection

The first bop drummer to have his selected recordings made into a historical box set (2007's A Life in Time), "energizer drummer" Roy Haynes has spent the last 60+ years building the résumé of all bopper résumés. While recent decades have witnessed a sharp increase in Haynes-led groups, Roy was so in demand throughout much of his career that he simply did not have time to record as a leader! This track is taken from an early exception, and features many of Haynes's drumming mainstays: Latin-influenced hi-hat rhythms, conversational comping, and solos filled with rapid-fire runs on his high-pitched ("snap-crackling") drums.

May 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tina Brooks: For Heaven's Sake

Fans of Tina Brooks will surely find this beautiful ballad painful to listen to – knowing that, after just a decade of professional work, his recording career would effectively end a few months after this session. But addiction will be addiction, and who are we to judge, except to selfishly yearn for more recordings from jazz masters who could have provided us with so much more. Brooks's sensitive reading of "For Heaven's Sake" is lyrical and expressive, as he takes his time to convey an improvisational story. Blue Mitchell contributes his consistently faultless brand of soloing next, opting for more notes but keeping Tina's sentiments in mind. Luckily, after a near 20-year "shelved-life," this late Brooks date is today readily available.

May 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tina Brooks: Good Ole Soul

A week after Tina Brooks played on Freddie Hubbard's debut recording as a leader, Open Sesame, Hubbard returned the favor and joined Brooks on the front line of True Blue. Even though Brooks led select sessions before and after this recording, True Blue marks the only Brooks date that was released during his tragically brief 10-year career. (Minor Move, Back to the Tracks, and The Waiting Game were all shelved and released posthumously.) This Messenger-esque hard-bop tune features the consistently gleaming Brooks improvisation – complex yet gracefully executed soulful lines that seamlessly lead into one another to create a solo with a clear beginning, middle and end. Hubbard is also in fine form, preparing for his legendary recordings and stint with the Jazz Messengers that would soon follow.

May 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Elli Fordyce: Don't Blame Me

Asteroid

A lyric should last a thousand years. – Jon Hendricks

… and a singer should sing it like she's lived a thousand years. Less mature singers tend to substitute impersonation and pretense for life experience. Not Elli Fordyce. She knows whereof she sings. Penned to last in 1933, this song – covered by Ethel Waters, Monk, Sarah, Nat Cole, and more – loses none of its swing or sexy sweetness in this sage singer's telling. Fordyce's forte is the way she plays space like the often ignored instrument it is; she gives herself and us the time to picture the lyric. Choosing notes wisely, she and her astute trio create a laid-back yet layered scene. These subtle techniques take time to live and learn, and the less experienced will just have to watch and wait. Maybe the world moves far too fast to fathom art that lasts. Maybe some of us give up too soon. Take a tip from Elli: dig the space, the emotion, the depth, and the detailed beauty of life, and try to make it last a thousand years.

May 13, 2008 · 1 comment

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Danny Gottlieb: Gloria's Step

For such a fragile instrument, the flute sure can dominate the proceedings. This is especially so of Jeremy Steig's flute on Danny Gottlieb's Brooklyn Blues. Steig was there way back in the beginning of the jazz fusion movement fronting Jeremy and the Satyrs and jamming with Tommy Bolin and Jan Hammer. The flute can cut through any din. Ultimately, though, it is of limited use in a starring role on a continuing basis because of a lack of dynamic range and obtainable colors. Having a successful career fronting jazz-rock bands with the flute, no matter how good you were, was not in the cards. Over the years, Steig has found ways to expand the sound of his ax through effects. But nothing will be enough.

"Gloria's Step" is a perfect tune for Steig and the band that Gottlieb surrounded him with. Scott LaFaro composed this delicate but swinging number, and famously first recorded it in 1961 (shortly before his untimely death) as the bassist of the Bill Evans Trio. Gottlieb's arrangement has Steig carrying most of the water. Steig is a lyrical player quite capable of original improvisation. All of the players are good. Goldstein plays mostly accompaniment. Abercrombie has a tasty solo and Chip Jackson is given a chance to play the LaFaro part. Gottlieb is up to the task of both rhythmic direction and knowing when not to compete with his melody makers – even on his own album. This is not easy for many drummers to do.

May 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Larry Coryell with John Scofield and Joe Beck: Zimbabwe

Recorded roughly around the time that Larry Coryell joined another, better known acoustic guitar trio in its first incarnation with John McLaughlin and Paco De Lucia, Tributaries offers three wonderful guitar heroes playing blues-inflected music and having a grand old time. An intricate head arrangement is played enthusiastically by Coryell, Scofield and Beck. Based upon a basic blues, "Zimbabwe" is a spirited romp in which each player eggs on the other during their solo turns. The licks are lightning-quick until Beck calms the pace a bit with some slow picking. The energy level never drops during his section, though. The boys get back up to the speed limit. There are riffs galore coming from the right, center and left. You can't keep track of them. If this band had recorded live, say on a Friday Night in San Francisco, who is to say this wouldn't be the guitar trio everyone talked about?

May 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jane Ira Bloom: A More Beautiful Question

Asteroid

How many people do you know who've had an asteroid named after them? If you knew Jane Ira Bloom, you'd know one. I have no clue why the asteroid was named after her. But a good guess would be because she has made a name for herself by connecting her saxophone to spaced-out electronic effects devices. Over the years, this has allowed her to use echo and looping to produce orchestral sounds from her singular horn.

The credits indicate that Bloom plays "live electronics" on this album as well. They are hardly heard. Instead, we are offered the purer tones from Bloom. To me, this is very welcome. "A More Beautiful Question" is an achingly slow ballad. Melancholy is its main theme. Bloom plays in both the low and high register. She has a mastery over timbre that allows her sax to speak the words of the forlorn. Clement is also quite good during her understated solo. Veteran bassist Helias provides the necessary texture throughout. This satisfying tune would be a trio performance if it were not for the solitary beat that percussionist Wilson ends it on.

In a bit of creative thinking, Bloom has attached an MP3 file to the CD. The MP3 contains a continuous performance of most of the tunes done live as if the band were performing in concert. It is a different take on these very fine compositions, and is a welcome and forward-thinking addition.

May 13, 2008 · 1 comment

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Oleg Kireyev: Lullaby

Oleg Kireyev begins his "Lullaby" with a soft, almost pastoral lone saxophone voice with a Middle Eastern influence. Kireyev, who hails from Russia, then mixes in the sounds of undulating electronic keyboards, faintly echoed guitar, and slightly distorted vocals à la Ursala Dudziak to create an otherworldly landscape. His use of synthesized keyboard morphs from flute to violin voicings, all the while building on this odd and somewhat quirky endeavor in sonic texturing. Hardly a traditional lullaby, the song moves from exploratory, ethereal drifting into a driving vamp over which Kireyev ventures unchallenged with a burst of ideas and energy on tenor sax. By this time, the band has abandoned all pretense of lulling anyone to sleep. Their driving beat reminds me of the rhythmic explorations of the German band Passport and Klaus Doldinger. With many disparate influences, their sound borders on jazz-fusion meeting Eastern folk music. Not for everyone, but certainly an interesting adventure in sound.

May 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Keith England: At Last Now

Keith England's former life was as a rock-oriented singer whose working history included a stint with the Allman Brothers Band as a backup and occasional frontline singer. According to his bio, he was strongly influenced by the roughhouse blues-based vocalist Greg Allman. On this debut album, I confess to hearing none of that soul-wrenching delivery made famous by the "Eat a Peach" Georgia-reared Allman. Perhaps their Peach State pedigree is the only thread common to these two vocalists.

England's attempt at the blues or jazz standards doesn't have the deeply soulful delivery that I need to be to convinced of the pathos or subtlety that such songs are meant to convey. His voice has a pleasant but higher register sound and, combined with his delivery, seems in this humble writer's opinion better suited to a Broadway show. On composer/pianist Mike Melvoin's "At Last Now," one could see England walking around a stage confidently, hat in hand, as his voice croons these lyrics with conviction complemented by stage presence. Melvoin, who is no stranger to working with great vocalists (from Joe Williams to Peggy Lee), plays well, as does the rhythm section. Melvoin's compositions show why he is an in-demand arranger and pianist, and his work here is professional and tight. However, Keith England seems miscast as a jazz or blues singer. Despite a valiant effort, his performance is competent but for me uninspired.

May 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Esperanza Spalding: Ponta de Areia

Music, like boxing, is more about interesting combinations than sheer brute force. Esperanza Spalding has a number of surprising combinations up her sleeves. First, her doubling on acoustic bass and vocals is an unusual mixture in the jazz world. Her songs also reflect an interesting combination of world music and jazz traditions. And even within the jazz sphere, she draws on both mainstream and crossover styles. Here she tackles a number that Milton Nascimento recorded on a memorable date with Wayne Shorter more than thirty years ago. These are big shoes to fill, but Spalding pulls it off with grace. She has a beguiling singing style, more pop than jazz, but with enough substance to satisfy the more reasonable members of the jazz "authenticity" police. A gracious release by a promising talent.

May 12, 2008 · 80 comments

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Bill Evans (sax): Summertime

Summertime is a collection of six of Bill Evans (sax) jazz-rock original compositions and five jazz standards. Among the latter is "Summertime." In another Jazz.com review of Evans (sax), I suggested that the best fusion jazz players have the ability, knowledge and reverence to play from the jazz standard repertoire. Another trait should be added. They desire to play this music. In this case, we have four accomplished fusion players tackling "Summertime" and some other jazz classics. They do it because they want to. It doesn't matter to them if they drop a Golden Oldie in the middle of a fusion stew or that a less than familiar audience may applaud more quietly. The standards are part of their heritage. This gorgeous interpretation of the sad ballad is as valid as any produced by the contemporary jazz stars you would most expect to perform it.

"Summertime" is a showcase for Evans (sax). He reaches deep down to cajole every ounce of emotion from his horn as Goldstein, Loeb, Gottlieb and Johnson provide solid support. At one point, that support comes in the form of them playing changes reminiscent of those from "Red Clay." This is not quite the way we are used to hearing this song. But isn't that why we listen to jazz – to hear unexpected interpretations? And yes, surprises occur in the playing of standards all the time. There is no such thing as a standard deviation. The categorization of musicians or music is a necessary evil to help describe the state of things. But players like these and music like this would fit into any era and always will.

May 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Moods Unlimited: All The Things You Are

These sessions must have been a dream come true for the young Bill Evans (sax). He was only 24 at the time, and here he was performing with two jazz giants. The best fusion players, as Evans (sax) is, have always had strong musical foundations that allowed them to effectively play from the standard jazz repertoire. Evans is outstanding on "All The Things You Are." His intonation and phrasing are perfect. His improvising is full of nuance. Jones and Mitchell knew the kid was good. Why else would they agree to be part of a trio named Moods Unlimited with the youngster? Jones and Mitchell play off each other in the midsection. Their timing is impeccable. Who needs a drummer? Their wonderful interplay is a true delight. And the solos are no chopped liver either. If I was a betting man, I would say that although Bill Evans (sax) comes off as an equal on the recording, he went to school for a few days playing with these fellows.

May 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans (sax): Sea of Fertility

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

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

May 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gil Evans: Let The Juice Loose

For the last five years of his life, Gil Evans and his Monday Night Orchestra held forth at the New York's Sweet Basil nightclub. A lot of really interesting music was played on those nights, and anyone enough lucky to have attended will never forget it.

Farewell was recorded two years before Evans died, and was released four years after his death. It was an Evans trademark that he would always change with the times. "Let the Juice Loose," written by Bill Evans (sax), was a jazz-rock fusion number that had been part of the repertoire for Evans's (sax) own bands and the 1980s Mahavishnu. In this big band arrangement, it takes on a much different character. There is no lack of fusion drive. But Evans's arrangement made room for ambience and even some humor as evidenced by the bleating horn intro. This performance is full of top-notch big band fanfare and outstanding solo turns, notably from Evans (sax) and Bullock on guitar.

May 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Adrien Moignard: Impressions

Those unfamiliar with Django Reinhardt, "jazz Manouche" and its growing legion of Hot Club swing revivalists may want to play a little catch-up. The Django jazz movement has caught fire across the globe, with fans flocking to clubs, concert venues and Django festivals for their Gypsy jazz fix. Far from being a preservationist movement, the music is evolving with the times, as evidenced by the Selmer 607 project.

Five of the genre's top guitarists were chosen to record three tunes apiece on a 1946 Selmer petite bouche acoustic, model #607 (of the same linage as Selmer #503, Django's favorite guitar). Backed by the standard la pompe rhythm section of bass and two guitars, the five soloists ply their muscular chops over a range of material from traditional Django tunes to more contemporary modal jazz. Reactions to these sessions have run the gamut from whoops of astonishment to the deafening silence of amazement.

Adrien Moignard, a relatively unknown young French guitarist, clearly demonstrates what the powerful Gypsy technique can bring to a contemporary jazz jam staple, Coltrane's "Impressions." After a 4-bar rhythm intro, Adrien lays down the familiar head over the rhythm section's solid pompe before launching into a take-no-prisoners solo educing the fabled instrument's characteristic crunch and bark. With tantalizing sweeps, blistering chromatic runs and signature Gypsy enclosures, his ideas sound fresh, substantive and inspired. This kid ain't phoning it in.

May 11, 2008 · 4 comments

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Gil Evans with RMS: Little Wing

After gaining recognition with bandleader Claude Thornhill, arranger Gil Evans worked with Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and other jazz icons. His orchestral prowess and open-mindedness made him a prime mover in "the birth of the cool." Evans's career didn't begin or end with those associations or that genre, however. He also made important contributions to the modern and jazz-rock idioms. In 1983 he was invited by the fusion trio RMS to perform with them at the Montreux Jazz Festival.

Years earlier, Evans had scheduled a meeting with Jimi Hendrix to discuss the possibility of the guitarist fronting a big band that would play Gil's arrangements of Jimi's compositions. Hendrix died before that meeting could take place, but Evans never let go of the idea. From then on, he played at least one Hendrix tune in most of his performances.

"Little Wing" is a blues ballad arrangement of Hendrix's classic. Gone are the guitar power chords that Hendrix, and everyone else, used to introduce the piece. Instead, Evans plays a mellow electric piano as drummer Phillips adds some flourishes. Russell's whining guitar and Isham's echo-plexed (or some such effected) trumpet play the beautiful melody. The tune is stretched out into full-blown blues mode for an extended and impressive Russell solo. The arrangement allows Foster's bass to expound as well. The horns dominate a dramatic coda to bring this satisfying performance to an end.

How that big band with Hendrix would have sounded, we will never know. But this music gives us a pretty damned good idea! (Although I do think Jimi would have asked to keep those opening power chords in. :-)

May 11, 2008 · 1 comment

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Taylor Eigsti: I Love You

You can't call Taylor Eigsti 'up-and-coming' or 'promising' any more. He has arrived, and demands our attention as one of the finest pianists of his generation. If you haven't heard this musician yet, don't wait any longer. I have been following his career since he was an adolescent, and there are no weak points in his arsenal at this point, only strengths. On this reworking of a Cole Porter standard, everything clicks. The harmonies, the phrasing, the dynamics, the interaction with the rhythm section, the sheer technical command of the instrument . . . they're all happening. And not in some dated, imitative way. This is the way the old standards should sound today, not like stuffy museum pieces, but as living, breathing music. I still meet jazz critics who haven't heard of this artist -- but, trust me, they soon will.

May 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Roberta Gambarini: On the Sunny Side of the Street

If you feel jazz peaked around the time the Soviets launched Sputnik, you will like this singer, whose vocal chords still think that it's 1958. This song (which actually dates back to 1930) plays to Gambarini's strengths. She has a bright, upbeat tone that permeates her musical persona -- an attitude that is well suited for this paean to good weather and pleasant strolls. I can even believe that someone might break into scat singing in the middle of this performance -- which Gambarini does to fine effect. And certainly she can hit the notes, no matter how fast they come at her. Yes, it's all so retro, but '58 was a very good year.

May 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sonny Rollins: You Don't Know What Love Is

From the moment Rollins barks out the opening note of his unaccompanied intro, the listener understands that this won't be your typical melancholy love ballad. The tenorist roughs up this tune with a muscular performance that befits a saxophone colossus. Moments of tenderness bubble up from time to time, but before long some angular phrase or barrage of notes or honk in the low register will assert its mantra of tough love. Rollins's solo is commanding, and Flanagan finds himself (as on his "Giant Steps" outing with Coltrane some time later) left to clean up the battlefield after the general has departed. For those who want a smoother, more sentimental ballad, Rollins has announced: "You don't know what love is."

May 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Erroll Garner: I'll Remember April

Erroll Garner's Concert by the Sea was one of the most popular piano trio albums of the era, and was also heard widely in later years as a "Nice Price" reissue. But Garner seems to have fallen from favor in the last decade or so. His influence is all but undetectable among the younger generation of pianists. What a shame. This elfin artist possessed one of most felicitous keyboard styles in the annals of jazz, distinguished by delightful dynamic shifts, clever left hand devices and a boisterous sense of swing. This opening track from the famous live date is a fine introduction to Garner's work. He starts with one of those non sequitur piano intros, meandering mini-epics that have no apparent relation to the song they kick off -- another Garner trademark; but when he gets into a groove, he is as unstoppable as a runaway locomotive. Every once in a while, he drops a left-hand chord that explodes off the beat, a pianistic equivalent of an Art Blakey bomb. But he is just as likely to pound those chords out four to a bar. Above all, his solos capture an upbeat, lighthearted attitude that was uncharacteristic of mid-1950s jazz, but which still has its appeal today. My only gripe here is the sound quality, which is sub-par even by Eisenhower-era standards. Still, this is a classic date, and one that every jazz fan should hear.

May 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Tatum: I Cover the Waterfront

Art Tatum covers the whole keyboard, as well as the waterfront, on this bravura ballad. The late 1940s were a fertile period for Tatum. He was at the peak of his abilities and had a seemingly endless variety of piano tricks up his sleeves. He follows his usual formula here, playing the opening chorus out of tempo, then slipping into a steady stride at the midpoint of his journey. But even if his approach is tried and true, the song never gets boring when Tatum is running the show. I especially like the harmonic games he plays here, with passing chords and substitute changes to beat the band. Well, there was no band to beat, since the band beat it when they saw Tatum walk into the studio. But Tatum alone is band enough for me any day.

May 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sonny Rollins: Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise

A Night at the Village Vanguard, Volume 1 marks Sonny Rollins's first "live" recording as a leader. He used several combinations of fine musicians during that engagement, but preferred this trio lineup. Thank God there were people recording these nightclub sessions back in those days. In this case, legendary engineer Rudy Van Gelder rolled the tape. There is a certain charm to the technical primitiveness of the times. This monaural recording authentically captures artists in growth mode and also helps define a historic period in American music. Can you believe that people used to go out to local jazz clubs and listen to music? I know it seems hard to believe, but lots of folks were doing it.

The ballad "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise" is treated with reverence by Rollins, bassist Wilbur Ware and drummer Elvin Jones. Ware plucks a few strings to let Rollins know when to start. Rollins plays the melody with a blues melancholy, revealing Sonny the sensitive interpreter, not the powerful saxophone colossus. Ware follows Rollins's affecting solo with a fitting run at the melody himself. If you listen carefully as Jones uses his brushes, you can hear some of his signature vocal grunts helping to carry the tune along. All three players were in top 1957 form, playing music that was worthy of a vaunted venue like the Vanguard.

I was only 10 months old when this gig happened. But I still miss those days.

May 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Tatum: Someone to Watch Over Me

It's hard for me to pick between this studio version of the Gershwin standard and the live recording Tatum made of the same song a few weeks earlier at the Shrine Auditorium. The bottom line: both are dramatic, pull-out-all-the-stops performances. Just shy of his 40th birthday, this pianist was playing as well as at any stage in his career. His speed and clarity are the benchmarks by which future jazz keyboard virtuosos will be measured. The opening rubato intro is so crammed full of pyrotechnics that you can hardly imagine what Tatum will do to top it. But at the 1-minute mark he settles into a medium tempo Harlem stride that looks back to his own musical roots and shows that, in the Age of Bop, you could still top the youngsters with some old-school pianism. No wonder that the composer of this song, George Gershwin himself, counted himself among Tatum's admirers.

May 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ahmad Jamal: Dance to the Lady

This rendering starts with just piano and drums, which Ahmad doesn’t do often, even live, but when he does, it really explodes. Now, this piece is a very tender piece, not really a ballad, but more or less a bright waltz. Yoron Israel plays lightly behind him, real loose and kind of open. One thing that stands out is that when Ahmad Jamal plays waltz time, he almost keeps the feeling of the old-style waltz. In a lot of ways, he’s a traditionalist. You don’t hear him play things in 3/4 like, say, Cannonball Adderley, with the real heavy walking basslines, almost like a gospel blues thing. That wasn’t really Ahmad’s thing. His approach to 3/4 is almost childlike. His sound and conception is distinctively African-American in terms of not containing an overabundance of European influence, like when you listen to Bill Evans or George Russell or someone like that.

Ahmad Jamal told me that for a disciplinarian, there are no rewards, only consequences. People like Ahmad, Herbie Nichols, Horace Silver and John Lewis were very straight-laced guys, who didn’t get caught up in the whole clichéd jazz scene of succumbing to negative influences. They were quirky, but not in the negative sense. Their minds were always clear, so they were consistent in what they wrote and in their recorded and performance output. This also took their music outside of categories. You could call Horace Silver a hard-bop musician, but only in the sense that it’s a style that he helped to define. You could call John Lewis a bebop jazz pianist, but it wouldn’t be accurate to limit him to one style.

On “Dance for The Lady,” I’m blown away by how one person can simultaneously have so much power and so much sensitivity. McCoy Tyner also has that. McCoy and Ahmad are very similar piano players, and I would like to believe that during the mid-1960s, when McCoy Tyner’s thing was really beginning to unfold with the John Coltrane Quartet, it had a tremendous impact on Ahmad. I don’t think that’s cheeky or disrespectful to say, even though Ahmad Jamal is McCoy’s senior. What that says is that Ahmad Jamal is open to what’s in the air; that he knows what’s going on at all times. He recorded Chick Corea’s “Tones For Joan’s Bones.” He recorded Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance.” He recorded a Monty Alexander piece, “You Can See.” He’s done Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusher Man” or “Theme From M.A.S.H.” So Ahmad Jamal not only honors the masters, Erroll Garner, Art Tatum, Nat Cole, but also respects the newer generation, and that’s what has allowed him to stay so fresh.

May 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ahmad Jamal: Piano Solo #11

I am completely blown away by how huge Ahmad Jamal’s musical world actually is. He is able to totally defy styles, bags and genres. He can play absolutely anything that comes to his mind. Art Tatum was that kind of piano player. Earl Hines. Keith Jarrett. As a composition, this piece seems to synthesize this musical world.

May 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ahmad Jamal: Crystal

I used to believe that musicians play differently on standards than they do on their own pieces, but I’m not entirely convinced of that notion. Thelonious Monk plays “Sweet and Lovely” and his own “Ruby, My Dear” exactly the same—it’s Monk through and through. However, Ahmad Jamal wrote this particular piece based on his improvisations (somebody once used a word called “comprovisation,” meaning combining composition and improvisation), and it’s a perfect vehicle for him. It’s almost like a rondo, and it taps into his romanticism and lyricism. His own compositions don’t simply follow the AABA format. The intros aren’t just something used to introduce the song. Ahmad Jamal takes every element of the song seriously.

May 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ahmad Jamal: Wave (1985)

Ahmad Jamal understood popular music, he understood commercialism, but, to me, he didn’t compromise. All of his artistic and musical decisions were personal and deliberate choices. There were some similarities between his work during this period and the so-called “smooth jazz” or “instrumental R&B,” or whatever you want to call it. But even though it was in a similar instrumental setting, what Ahmad Jamal was doing was too intense and complex to be called “smooth jazz.”

On “Wave” he revives the same basic arrangement from his version on The Awakening [Impulse!] in 1970. He plays the bassline, then breaks it up with this completely divergent rhythmic tangent, comes back to the line, and then sets up the song. There’s that element of surprise. A lot of young musicians today compose songs with a little piano-bass ostinato line to start off, which usually winds up being the most interesting part of the song. Most of them don’t know it, but they’re following Ahmad Jamal’s popularization of that device. He will stay on the vamp of a song for 10 minutes, and then play the actual song itself very briefly. For him, the form doesn’t make a difference. He might play an “A” section 20 times before going to the bridge, but you didn’t get tired of it. Then once he got to the bridge it was this huge release. His ability to spontaneously orchestrate is absolutely incredible. His genius has no limits.

May 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ahmad Jamal: Close Enough for Love

The 1970s was a turbulent time for a lot of so-called “straight-ahead” jazz musicians, although I’d hardly call Ahmad Jamal a straight-ahead jazz musician because he’s more than that. But in the years before this, he’d done a number of electric and pop-ish records like Jamalca and Intervals. Now, on Live at Bubba's (Who's Who WWLP21021), which he did with the same rhythm section in about 1980, he seemed to have gone back to 1961 to regroup, and then traverse from there. But with “Close Enough for Love,” it seems that he was on to the next phase of his artistry. We get to hear him on a superior instrument, and you get an even deeper sense of his romanticism—you hear the fullness and robustness of his sound. Ahmad Jamal is a two-handed piano player. He plays the whole piano. He’ll use that absolutely lowest A on the Steinway, or the extra octave down if he’s on the Bosendorfer, and he’ll use that highest C. He recognizes that you get a different tonality and timbre if you press the pedal all the way down or halfway down, that each octave on the piano carries its own character—if you play an octave from middle-C up, it will sing a certain way; if you play two octaves down, and you’re not careful, it’s going to become real muddy. His understanding of weight, tone, touch and sensitivity come out on here. This record, which was recorded live at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, could also be called The Real Ahmad Jamal, because you’re truly hearing his full capabilities.

May 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Return to Forever: Spanish Fantasy

Return to Forever Live featured a new, expanded lineup. Gone were guitarist Al Di Meola and drummer Lenny White, replaced by reed player Joe Farrell and a horn section. Success of this new aggregation was best measured by the mixed attitude of RTF's core fans. Some liked it and some didn't. Change is hard in music.

One constant in Return to Forever was the brilliant musicality of its leader and founder, Chick Corea. The first 14:45 of "Spanish Fantasy" features Corea alone on acoustic piano. He is one of the greatest piano players on earth. His flourishes are flourishes on top of flourishes. Corea seamlessly weaves a tableau that is literally the next best thing to an airplane ticket to Spain. Trumpeter John Thomas finally joins Corea with a triumphant solo. Chick switches to synthesizer to give a taste of modern Spain. The whole band then kicks into a show of pride and strength echoing the days when Spain reigned among the world's great powers.

May 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Shakti with John McLaughlin: What Need Have I For This – What Need Have I For That – I Am Dancing At The Feet Of My Lord – All Is Bliss – All Is Bliss

There was a time when you could go into a Sears store and find jazz and progressive music in a well- stocked record department. Those days are long gone, but I remember them with fondness. It was 1976. I went to see if there was a new Mahavishnu Orchestra album at my local Sears. Instead, where one of the wonderful artist Chris Poisson's Mahavishnu designed covers would be, there was an entirely different cover. It was simply a picture of John McLaughlin. He had long hair and was holding an acoustic guitar that had an extra set of strings running diagonally across its sound hole. It was the strangest guitar I had ever seen. But that was nothing compared to what McLaughlin himself looked like. Everyone knew him as a crew-cut double-electric guitarist dressed all in white. This was a whole other character. He looked like everyone else!

After my initial shock, I read the liner notes. Except McLaughlin, the band Shakti was comprised of Indian musicians whose names I couldn't pronounce and certainly could not spell. I bought the album and took it home not knowing what to expect. The next several hours were spent listening to the album over and over.

Shakti was recorded live at South Hampton College on Long Island, New York. The audience was used to the electric loudness of Mahavishnu. One can only imagine what they were expecting as this new band sat cross-legged wielding foreign-looking instruments. Like me when I bought the album, they had no idea what was in store. The drone starts to hum. By the end of the concert the crowd's enthusiasm becomes just as important to the performance as the music.

"What Need Have I For This – What Need Have I For That – I Am Dancing At The Feet Of My Lord – All Is Bliss – All Is Bliss" has to be one of the longest song titles in the history of music. The tune itself is not so short either, almost half an hour long. Such lengthy titles and songs stalled McLaughlin's career for a bit back then. But the music lives on.

"WNHIFTWNHIFTIADATFOMLAIBAIB" has far too many elements to succinctly describe it. McLaughlin plays his strange guitar contraption as if it were an Indian instrument. The extra strings act as a harp, which he strums between insanely long runs that bend notes from here to Calcutta. For those who care about such things, McLaughlin's fastest notes ever are played. Shankar the violinist is a revelation. I had never even heard an Indian violinist. But here was a musician keeping up with McLaughlin, creating beautifully exotic Eastern soundscapes in freakishly up-tempo calls and responses. People in the crowd scream out as the band's Indian rhythms, themes and improvisational forays get faster and more intense. They go silent when the band shifts into delicate mode. This back and forth of fast and slow and intense and delicate is a constant characteristic of "WNHIFTWNHIFTIADATFOMLAIBAIB."

McLaughlin and Shankar played the melodic instruments here. But the highlight is actually a thrilling extended percussion duel involving tabla master Zakir Hussain, R. Raghavan and Vinayakaram. There is a point in the proceedings that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. This acoustic Indian and jazz hybrid thrilled curious open-minded audiences, but most rock fans stayed away in droves. Only today do we realize the importance of this music. Ironically, despite all the fame McLaughlin achieved because of his jazz-rock Mahavishnu, it is probably Shakti that will have the most enduring influence worldwide.

Two points are taken off the rating for a sometimes tinny sound quality.

May 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Earl Hines & Jonah Jones: Pennies from Heaven

The late career resurgence of pianist Earl Hines is one of the great stories of jazz. In his early 60s, Hines gave a series of recitals at the Little Theater in New York that brought him back into the limelight. Even as a young man, Earl had gone by the nickname 'Fatha' -- but by the time of this session (which took place a few months before his 70th birthday) he was old enough to be Great-Grand-Fatha Hines. He still shakes it up during his piano solo, tossing off those peculiar bursts of musical arrhythmia, characteristic of his work, that seem to defy the gravity of the ground beat. For a brief spell, this performance threatens to get down and dirty, but Tate (on clarinet here) and Jones seem content to toss out easygoing Dixieland licks. For my taste, I prefer my late vintage Hines without horns. Even so, there are some fine moments on this track.

May 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ahmad Jamal: Misty

“Misty” is a song that I’ve come to hate, but when I heard this version... Of course, this was written by his mentor, so I don’t doubt that there was a special little vibe when he recorded the piece. Ahmad’s fortitude, his cockiness to say, “You know what? I’m going to put a really funky contemporary groove on this.” Ahmad Jamal does not shy away from contemporary sounds. Whatever is happening at the time, he’ll check it out and figure out some way to personalize it. He didn’t get stuck in time because of the success of “Poinciana”; in fact, I’d say it compelled him to continue to forge ahead through musical territory.

May 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ahmad Jamal: Allison

I’m sure people would try to compare Jamil and Frank to the earlier group with Vernel and Israel, but with Ahmad Jamal as the common denominator, there’s obviously some consistency. “Allison” shows an example of how Ahmad redefines the art of soloing by the way he restated phrases. He would pick a phrase, or a lick, if you will, and keep placing that lick throughout different portions of the piece. Sometimes he wouldn’t even play single-note lines, but just vamp on some chordal motifs. This kind of thing makes him not just a musician’s musician, because of his tremendous facility, but also a people’s musician. He was tapping into the layman’s need and desire for something memorable by saying, ‘Hey, this is still the piece we’re playing,’ whether by quoting the melody outright or just hinting at it.

May 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ahmad Jamal: Buenos Aires

This was recorded after Israel Crosby and Vernel Fournier went over to George Shearing, and it’s clear that Ahmad Jamal had no problems regrouping after Israel’s and Vernel’s defection. I think it was a brilliant move by Ahmad to have his next recording be a huge departure from the trio format. This hearkens back to Ahmad Jamal’s days with the George Hudson Orchestra in the 1940s. He’d always claimed to be uncomfortable in an orchestra setting, but this totally disproves that—or he just got better at playing with orchestras. It seems as though he made a more conscious effort to play in the time, to be more appropriate with the heavy Latin theme of the date, and he’s just so supremely bad! It’s obscure, but one of my favorite Ahmad Jamal recordings.

May 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ahmad Jamal: I'll Never Stop Loving You

On the intro of “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” it sounds like Ahmad Jamal pulled out a third hand. One of my conflicts with a lot of Ahmad Jamal’s earlier recordings is that, in my opinion, they weren’t recorded very well—the engineering was not to my satisfaction and I thought the piano was inferior. But Ahmad Jamal completely killed that lion in terms of trying to fight with an instrument. He plays the piano with such perfect command and his musical conception was so clear that it wouldn’t have made a difference if he were playing on a toy piano.

May 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ahmad Jamal: Autumn in New York

Ahmad Jamal utilizes so many devices—modulations, space, vamps, intros, interludes, shout choruses, tempo shifts, musical quotes, meter and groove shifts, exotic feels, the element of surprise. These aren’t devices that he introduced to jazz (you can hear modulations and interludes in Jelly Roll Morton’s music, and Ahmad took cues from his mentors, Art Tatum, Nat Cole and Erroll Garner), but Ahmad Jamal synthesized them better than most. This arrangement is so funky. He plays the intro and, as with a lot of things that Ahmad plays, he gives no hint or foreshadowing of what’s to come. Unless you’ve heard the arrangement before, you have no idea what he’s getting ready to do. He’s my favorite ballad player. His approach to interpreting melody is unique and individual, not like most of the recorded ballads that you’ll hear on those Blue Note or Prestige recordings, where the cats play the melody, then solo, and then you take it out. Every time Ahmad Jamal plays or records a song, he takes you on a fantastic journey.

May 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ahmad Jamal: Autumn Leaves

It takes a special kind of artist to be able to take hackneyed songs and make them his own, but in fact, that’s what Ahmad Jamal does. He takes the chords and the melody—then deconstructs and interjects all his own ideas. I tried to play this arrangement with a bunch of different guys, and it never really came off. Obviously, I didn’t have Israel and Vernel, but part of the problem is that so many bassists and drummers in particular, who claim to be so into the Ahmad Jamal Trio, miss the very subtle elements that make the arrangement work. The fact is, most cats get bored playing arrangements. But Ahmad knew that arrangements were the way to go, at least for his conception, because it kept the audience drawn in to what he was doing.

May 09, 2008 · 1 comment

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Ahmad Jamal: But Not for Me

One of the slickest things about this arrangement of “But Not For Me” is that it defines Ahmad Jamal’s subtleties. In the trio, each guy is doing something very specific, but you don’t think you’re listening to an arrangement—you’re just enjoying the ride. When Ahmad Jamal improvises on a form, he’s constantly playing over the barline—he’s not strictly defining the top and end of a form, but completely easing across it musically, making for an entity versus a series of choruses. You don’t think about keys or tempos or modulations or time signatures or anything like that. Another slick thing about the piece is that super-hip modulation at the top of the last chorus, where he slides right from C-major (his favorite key) into F-major. For years, I didn’t even realize that he had modulated.

May 09, 2008 · 1 comment

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Betty Carter: Mean to Me

The year after she recorded this track, Betty Carter would get a career boost from her collaboration with Ray Charles on a high-profile release. But jazz insiders had taken notice of her ever since she started singing with Lionel Hampton under the name Betty Bebop (a label she detested) at the close of the 1940s. Here she covers a Billie Holiday classic, and makes it her own. We have all the key ingredients of Carter's greatness: her stylized delivery, an odd cross between intimate cooing and declamatory oration, her daring reconfigurations of the written melody, and her bold phrasing, which moves effortlessly behind and ahead of the beat. The best part of the song is the opening, when Carter struts her stuff with just bass as accompaniment. Soon the rest of the band enters, and tries to make this track sound like a conventional pop record. But with this idiosyncratic artist fronting the ensemble, there would be little chance of that.

May 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bud Powell: I Should Care

Bud Powell was still a young man when he recorded this track -- he would turn 32 two weeks later -- but he had already entered a period of decline. He starts with an intro that is more cocktail piano bombast than jazz, and when he falls into a proper tempo, he tinkles where a younger Powell would have burned up the keyboard. But the worst thing is the submersion of his own musical personality in mannerisms that sound like bits of Oscar or Erroll or Thelonious. Powell devotees may still want to check out this track, but if you haven't heard this artist before, start with the great recordings from 1947-1951.

May 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: I Should Care

Here Bill Evans revisits his musical ties to bop piano pioneer Bud Powell, who also liked to play (and sometimes sing) this melancholy song with its contradictory lyrics. The irony is that Evans's version sounds more like classic Powell than Powell does himself. This track from Evans's Town Hall live recording has more bite in it than the pianist usually shows. Even his comping chords have an extra kick to them.

You know how people say "I could care less" when they really mean "I couldn't care less"? Sammy Cahn's words to this tune, with their peculiar closing line ("I should care . . and I do"), capture both meanings at once, caring and not caring. Evans's performance is much the same: on the surface it sounds tossed off without a second thought, but underneath it you can hear how much care went into this apparent indifference. This is not quite an Evans masterpiece, but it provides interesting perspective on the rougher and ruggeder side of a deep musical thinker.

May 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Trio Da Paz & Joe Locke: Bachião

Combine the technical prowess and passion of Joe Locke and Romero Lubambo, and you can't help but ignite fireworks, namely exciting Brazilian jazz. Add the other dynamic members of Trio da Paz, Matta and Fonseca, and the sky's the limit.

"Bachião" was previously recorded by Trio da Paz with Kenny Barron for the pianist's Canta Brasil CD, and remains one of Lubambo's most engaging compositions. The title itself mixes Bach with "baião," a Northern Brazilian rhythmic genre. After Lubambo's lyrical and poignant intro, the circular, strutting theme is introduced, which culminates in a "La Fiesta" type of hook. Locke solos first over the alluring rhythm set down by Matta and Fonseca, his solo concise but sizzling. Lubambo follows similarly, short and to the point. After Matta's elegant bass solo, Locke and Lubambo embark on an intense dual improvisation, totally in sync, their fascinating counterpoint perhaps a nod to the Bach part of the title. While enthusiastic applause crests and subsides, Fonseca begins his own solo using mallets exclusively, building inexorably to a possessed peak, before rather abruptly winding down.

A video of this track, which was broadcast on German TV and can be seen on Joe Locke's website, shows the appreciative glances and hand slaps between Locke and Lubambo, clearly affirming that this was no ordinary performance.

May 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Smith: Blues For J

Organ Grinder Swing, a trio session, was a rarity during Jimmy Smith's heavily orchestrated Verve years. The appealing title cut got most of the jazz radio airplay, so unless you picked up the LP, the organist's remarkable solo on "Blues for J" could easily have gone unheard. The sinuous, slightly sinister-sounding theme is played in unison by Smith and Burrell, but after the guitarist's brief solo, Smith takes over for the duration. His elaborate organ runs are punched out with both great speed and crystal-clear articulation, while a ceaseless bassline is maintained on his foot pedals. Smith then introduces an emphatic sustained note over which he plays truncated, expressive phrases. This is bop-based soulful blues, accompanied and personalized by Smith's own verbal moans and grunts as he creates one of his finest solos. Has there ever been another musician in jazz so influential and dominant on one instrument as Smith was on organ? Probably not.

May 08, 2008 · 1 comment

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The Rosenberg Trio: Minor Swing

The Rosenberg Trio was among the hits of the 1992 North Sea Jazz Festival, and fortunately 17 of their selections were recorded, ranging from traditional Gypsy Swing themes to more modern items like Kenny Dorham's "Blue Bossa" and Sonny Rollins's "Pent-Up House." But the real test for this kind of acoustic group is a classic from the repertoire of the Quintette du Hot Club de France. On the up-tempo "Minor Swing," Stochelo Rosenberg and his two cousins bring the house down. Stochelo's lead guitar displays fluidity and finesse that few if any other guitarists in this style can match, what with his wonderfully fast vibrato and long, intricately woven arpeggios, and a seemingly effortless, naturally swinging pulse. Nous'che Rosenberg's rhythm guitar is relentlessly driving, and Nonnie Rosenberg's bass is steadfast in its support.

Less than a year later, The Rosenberg Trio performed as invited guests at Stéphane Grappelli's 85th birthday party at Carnegie Hall in New York. Said Grappelli, who would later record with them for their Caravan CD, "Of all the gypsy guitar players and groups I have played with during my lifetime, the Rosenbergs are the best."

May 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: Just Friends

Parker was delighted with this track, and cited it as one of his favorite performances. Certainly he enjoyed the apparent legitimization of his artistry by the presence of a small string orchestra, But the arrangement is insipid, and effectively destroys the value of matching this bebop legend with a quasi-classical ensemble. The altoist, for his part, plays smoothly and with a sure technical command, but nothing here will make you forget his finer Savoy or Dial sides. True, there is a certain fascination in hearing Bird take wing in such an unusual setting, yet I suspect that this recording will be remembered by later generations of jazz fans as a curio rather than a legitimate jazz masterpiece.

May 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Steve Kuhn: Beautiful Love

Steve Kuhn was briefly John Coltrane's pianist before McCoy Tyner, and later turned down an offer to join Miles Davis's band. (Kuhn was playing with Stan Getz at the time.) Now, at age 70, he appears to be finally coming into his own as both a player and a talent enjoying well-deserved and long overdue recognition, if the strongly positive reaction to Live at Birdland (2007) and Plays Standards (2008) is any indication.

"Beautiful Love" showcases Kuhn's impressionistic side, always one of his strengths. With his light, burnished touch, he delicately and deliberately interprets the romantic melody, at one point utilizing an exquisite trill that alone attests to his great skill and taste. Also capable of rollicking and adventurous improvisations, Kuhn here simply beguiles us with a more classically rooted, harmonically rich meditation. Williams and Foster are simply along for the ride, wisely ceding the spotlight to Kuhn.

May 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ron Blake: Shades of Brown

Ron Blake is a featured artist on several recordings by other musicians because of his fiery and inspired playing. On this outing as a leader he shows his ability to compose, lead and play with distinction. Backed by the solid rhythm section of bassist McBride and drummer Gully, Blake's memorable riff-inspired tune develops nicely through its changes while never letting the theme leave the listener's ear. Roseman's tasteful trombone and Cain's astute comping are particularly effective in giving this song a dreamy, sauntering quality. Blake for his part imparts a smoothly executed and measured solo that simmers while never really coming to a boil, a bit anticlimactic since it seems like the perfect setting for him to wail. The song nonetheless works nicely as a sum of its parts.

May 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Michael Jefry Stevens: For the Children

With an opening line clearly borrowed from Monk's "'Round Midnight," this smoky ballad by Michael Jefry Stevens seems to lament a time past. For this 1995 session, the educator, thoughtful pianist and prolific composer of over 400 pieces had the good fortune to employ the underappreciated David Schnitter. A onetime Jazz Messenger, who held the saxophone chair longer than any of Art Blakey's more famous protégés, Schnitter has a wonderfully hazy sound that emulates the great Dexter Gordon in tone and delivery. Here Schnitter wrings great feeling from the low register, blowing in a measured melt and sprinkling his phrasing with arpeggios played with deliberate restraint to great effect. Stevens's own playing is both sensitive and pretty in conception and execution. His composition is a nice vehicle for Schnitter's tasteful playing and is worth the listen.

May 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Martial Solal: Tea for Two

At age 80, Martial Solal exhibits more energy and youthful enthusiasm in his playing than most pianists half his age. He is at once a stylist who plays in a disjointed, unpredictable manner that can be disturbing to the ear of some. His keyboard proficiency is phenomenal, and his exploratory probing is inventive and challenging to the listener. On the standard "Tea for Two," Solal removes all but the barest of identifying melody lines and creates a vehicle where he can deconstruct and then reconstruct to his own liking the essence of the tune. His attack approaches a level of vivaciousness that can sound at times almost angry, but he manages to strike a delicate balance between that emotion and manic unleashed exuberance, ably assisted by the symbiotic playing of twin brothers bassist Francois Moutin and drummer Louis Moutin. You have never heard this old familiar song played like this, and perhaps it is too far explored for those who like to follow a melody, but make no mistake Solal is expanding the boundaries of both time and space, and it is interesting to hear what comes out of this still fertile musical mind. Always engaging in his own unique way, Martial Solal shows why at any age he is still a joy to listen to. Bravo to the maestro.

May 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ted Kooshian: Top Cat

Despite his name, Top Cat didn't enjoy much time at the top. His Hanna-Barbera cartoon show was canceled after only 30 episodes. But he paved the way for the Pink Panther's later rise to feline stardom, and left behind a great theme song. It is adopted here by Ted Kooshian's quartet as a spirited blowing number, and makes you wonder why the other cats haven't been calling this song at jam sessions. I don't remember all the modulations in the original cartoon score (by the unheralded Hoyt Curtin of Flintstones and Johnny Quest fame), but they work well in this arrangement. Everybody solos on this track, and the performance captures the loose and easy ambiance of the Top Cat himself. Kooshian takes a lot of chances on this CD and selects some peculiar tunes, but this one is the pick of the litter.

May 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Fred Randolph: Ice Nine

"Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God." – Kurt Vonnegut

Fred Randolph's peculiar travels began in Hawaii. His first vehicle was a ukulele, then guitar, sax and trumpet. He landed on bass and has explored its woody shores ever since. This diverse instrumental itinerary is apparent in his insightful and significant composing and playing. The fluid ballad "Ice Nine," named for the fictional substance from Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, takes on fascinating forms. Its flowing melody, solid structure, cool groove and liquid solos on soprano and bass expand to a slick closing colloquy between Roth and Jekabson. Fred and his fellow travelers have learned their dancing lessons profoundly. This is only the embarkation for this transpirational artist.

"The only proof he needed of the existence of God was music." – Kurt Vonnegut

May 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Fred Randolph: Eclipse

"All a musician can do is to get closer to the sources of nature, and so feel that he is in communion with the natural laws." – John Coltrane

The beauty of this piece is its motion. It gives the distinct impression that it's already gaining momentum before the track even begins and it's up to the listener to get up to speed. The sun, moon and earth of Randolph, Bulkley and Hirahara align in sonic syzygy and conjure the common gravitation of this compelling composition that sounds like it could've premiered at Newport in the '60s – not a copy or throwback, just a classic Real Book tune. Roth, Jekabson and Hirahara contribute brio solos, and Frazier's percussion adds atmosphere, but this track's axis is the bass. If one listens to Randolph's music closely enough, traces of Trane and flecks of Fagen appear, but what abounds is his cosmological knowledge of the ever-expanding field of jazz astronomy.

"When you get a groove going, time flies." – Donald Fagen

May 07, 2008 · 1 comment

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Joe Farrell: Molten Glass

The late reed player Joe Farrell was considered to be a jazz journeyman and a good studio musician, appearing on hundreds of sessions and known as a dependable performer. His technique grew to be strong and admired, though he had some detractors who claimed he could not be subtle. Opinions are opinions. My opinion, for what it is worth, is that on "Molten Glass," he is plenty subtle.

The Joe Farrell Quartet was Farrell's first album as leader. Those who own it are aware that it is one of the most important jazz albums of that time because it features upcoming jazz superstars Corea, Holland and DeJohnette. (John McLaughlin also appears on one cut). The album is a bit schizophrenic. Half the tunes are melodious. The other cuts are portions free jazz and sound effects.

"Molten Glass" is a lovely composition. It could easily be imagined as a movie soundtrack theme behind Audrey Hepburn. Corea, Holland and DeJohnette expertly clear the way for Farrell. He then maps out the route for this delicate ballad with his flighty and lyrical flute playing. The rhythm section expertly keeps time as Corea adds occasional shading chords. Corea's solo turn is quite pleasing as he continues along the trail Farrell had laid. "Molten Glass" is a fragile and delicate work that is based much upon the subtlety of Farrell's pen and flute.

May 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jerry Goodman: Topanga Waltz

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

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

May 07, 2008 · 1 comment

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Elements: Surf Blues and Greens

Blown Away was not one of the better efforts from the normally stellar Elements. It seemed less inspired. Perhaps this was due to the fact that it was a concept album of sorts. All of the tune titles had a nautical theme. To be more specific, they referred to activities near the shore. Maybe this thematic approach limited the usually imaginative creativity of Mark Egan, who wrote most of the music. He just couldn't get his mind off the beach. Or maybe he was on vacation at beach when he wrote the music. Maybe he was having some of those drinks with the long straw in them. I just don't know.

"Surf Blues and Greens" is the most worthwhile cut. It is a laid-back groove that features a very engaging melody. Egan is always impressive. His flowing bassline captures the spirit of his oceanic composition hook, line and sinker. But the main man is Bill Evans (sax), who sets the tone with a luscious invocation as Danny Gottlieb's casual backbeat pushes the tune along. Guitarist Caro takes a short smooth-edged turn in keeping with the tidal vibe. I can quite easily envision myself on a Brazilian beach, working on a coconut drink of some sort while listening.

May 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lennie Tristano (with Lee Konitz): If I Had You

Mr. Tristano's musical persona had so many different sides. Here he comps with thick, bouncy voicings behind Konitz's lyrical improvisation, then digs in with a block-chords-from-hell solo. Imagine how George Shearing might have played if he had possessed an extra few fingers, and you will have some idea of what this sounds like. But Konitz comes back sweet as your sister on her first date, and you would never guess that anyone had roughed up the keyboard. Another great track from Tristano's memorable live date in that unlikely setting, the Sing Song Room of the Confucius Restaurant.

May 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Johnny Hartman: These Foolish Things

Here's my wish list. I want to have Bill Gates's bank account, Tom Cruise's smile, Tiger Woods's putting game and . . . Johnny Hartman's voice. Yep, this is how every guy wants to sound. You will never get put on hold when you phone customer service. Heck, the lovely ladies will never hang up on you again. You won't need that Tom Cruise smile any more. You can even get away with singing silly phrases like: "The cigarette that bears lipstick traces / An airline ticket to exotic places." It's a shame Mr. Hartman didn't make more jazz records. But we can enjoy the ones he left behind. He is especially fine with a slow, moody ballad, as he demonstrates on this track.

May 06, 2008 · 1 comment

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Norma Winstone: The Mermaid

Norma Winstone is not just an essential singer; she is also a singer of essentials. Her songs dispense with empty trappings and flashy ornamentation. They are delivered with unadorned emotional directness, yet with conversational ease. This recording features an unusual combination. Bass clarinet fills in the lower register -- sometimes playing lines we would expect to hear from a string bass -- and the piano is played unconventionally, Venier starting by strumming the strings and apparently tapping out a bumpity-bump percussion accompaniment on the wood. Yet none of this sounds odd. As we usually find with Winstone, the music is pervaded by a sense that this is exactly how the song is supposed to sound. This striking composition by Venier is drawn from a Northern Italian fisherman's melody, with lyrics by Winstone.

May 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Warne Marsh: Yardbird Suite

Listening to any member of the Tristano School play a Bird/Diz/Monk standard is always a fascinating representation of the alteration of jazz styles. This track is certainly no exception, and right after an ordinary yet swinging statement of the melody, Marsh is off and running with his vertically improvised lines played mostly in the upper register. Marsh is in a playful mood here and leaves a bit more breathing room than on many of his other extended-line improvisations. Of special note is Marsh's polyrhythmic solo break and his bold playing after bassist Paul Chambers's solo.

May 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wayne Krantz: Alliance/Secrets

June, 28, 2007 marked the conclusion of Wayne Krantz's nearly decade-long Thursday night residency at New York's 55 Bar. While the last few years of his stint saw a revolving door of jazz/rock studio legends sitting in with Krantz (drummers Anton Fig, Keith Carlock and Cliff Almond and bassists Anthony Jackson, James Genus and Paul Socolow), Krantz led two longstanding trios throughout his tenure: an experimental unit with drummer Keith Carlock and bassist Tim Lefebvre, and this first stable group with session great/ educator Lincoln Goines and then-youngster Zach Danziger.

Nearly all of Krantz's 55 Bar material was collectively improvised, relying only on brief melodic statements to bookend the rhythmic interaction between the three players. Krantz has gradually deemphasized scalar patterns in his playing and recently published a book (An Improviser's OS) mapping out the mathematical combinations associated with improvising on the guitar (sans common patterns). It is a fascinating book and even more fascinating music – rock and jazz players with chops galore executing smart, complex, improvised music. This track features the under-noticed guitar master performing at a blistering pace.

May 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Adam Levy: Dear John

Adam Levy might be best known for his guitar work in Norah Jones's touring band, yet Levy has been adding tasteful, atmospheric guitar playing to countless jazz and rock records and tours for many years. His solo recordings lean towards the jazz side of the spectrum, especially this career highlight featuring the famed Larry Goldings on organ and the fine, underused drumming of Bill Frisell/Electric Masada alumnus Kenny Wollesen. While most tunes named "Dear John" in the jazz world are sure to be a tip of the hat to Trane, I would wager that Levy is honoring Mr. Scofield here. The laid-back, New Orleans "twang" instantly associated with both Sco's overall groove and specific guitar sound are in full effect here. Scofield alum Goldings is right at home and playing at the top of his game. Levy's solo work is spacious and tasteful (never "chopsy"), and Wollesen's Elvin-esque five- and seven-stroke rolls are spot-on throughout this track.

May 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Paul Bley: When Will the Blues Leave

Paul Bley spent the mid-1960s making some of jazz's most fascinating choices. He performed with Jimmy Giuffre in a free-jazz trio, added additional layers of complexity to Sonny Rollins's "free period" and, perhaps most influentially, led this indefinable jazz trio with Peacock and Motian that is gradually receiving the acclaim it deserves. Far from traditional yet not completely free, Bley's dichotomous usage of structure and freedom form an undeniable link between the traditional mastery of Bill Evans and the modern prodigious talents of Jarrett, Mehldau, and Iverson. The piano solo on this track is fundamental Bley – complex ideas made (more) accessible through his unhurried execution. Peacock and Motian move together as a single unit propelled by Motian's playful, melodic punches.

May 06, 2008 · 1 comment

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Charlie Haden: Too Late

This 1983 release is the first reunion of the Liberation Music Orchestra, Haden's influential large ensemble that released its only previous record in 1969. This time combining traditional folk songs with original compositions from Haden and Carla Bley, Ballad of the Fallen is a more subdued, introspective release than its predecessor. "Too Late" features Haden and Bley in simple, striking dialogue for its first 5½ minutes. All other musicians then enter to build to a climax throughout the remaining three minutes, and it is only at that moment does the listener realize that Haden and Bley had been gradually building intensity throughout their musical conversation. A delicate work of improvisatory art, which has come to be expected at the highest level on Charlie Haden's recordings.

May 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Haden: Ida Lupino

The 1989 Montreal Jazz Festival honored the career of bassist Charlie Haden by inviting him to lead a different group on each of the festival's eight nights. Drummer Paul Motian joined Haden for four of the eight performances, including the reunion of the Liberation Music Orchestra to conclude the festival, as well as trio performances with Geri Allen, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and Paul Bley. While Haden, Motian and Bley had all crossed paths frequently in various groups throughout each of their storied careers, the opportunity to perform as a trio was a rare one. Each of these musicians' similar styles of giving, introspective minimalism makes for a tremendous example of sympathetic, melodic free jazz. "Ida Lupino," a Carla Bley composition that is a common "call" from Bley and Haden, is the highlight of highlights from this tribute set.

May 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu John McLaughlin: Peace One

No less a guitarist than Pat Metheny says that this album changed guitar playing. It was in the midst of the heavy metal age when Mahavishnu John McLaughlin released this album full of acoustic wonder. For almost 40 years, its pure beauty has stood the test of time and changing fancies. To this day, there are legions who still believe it was McLaughlin's most endearing and important entry into the jazz canon. Though I don't fully agree, I can't fully disagree either. Most of the supporters of that view single out McLaughlin's wonderful solo acoustic guitar playing on 5 standards and 3 originals as being pivotal discoveries. However, the album's true gem is the ensemble tune "Peace One."

This track not only displayed McLaughlin's inimitable acoustic chops, it was also a harbinger of great things to come, including the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Shakti. In fact, two future members of Mahavishnu, Billy Cobham and Jerry Goodman, play important roles here. Western in structure but Eastern in atmosphere, "Peace One" is ushered in by an unforgettable repeating Charlie Haden bassline. You will be humming this riff for 38 years – and at times you least expect to. Cobham does a lot of cymbal work as Airto and Badal Roy provide rhythm accents. McLaughlin's opening explorations are performed with an elastic quality. His stretched-out strings return to their original upright and locked positions after every Indo-scalar jaunt. Nobody played guitar like that! Jerry Goodman and Dave Liebman introduce the secondary melody in unison before Liebman takes off on his own flute runs. Violinist Goodman travels even further into bliss with his purposeful solo. Haden's riff, always present even when not heard, returns to take the tune into the regions of the beyond. That previous sentence might seem hyperbolic, but I may have been high the first time I heard this tune, and the feeling has stayed with me ever since. In any case, hundreds of listenings while clean and sober over the years have only confirmed my initial beliefs.

May 06, 2008 · 1 comment

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Tony Williams Lifetime: Vuelta Abajo

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

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

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

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

May 06, 2008 · 1 comment

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Trilok Gurtu: Ballad For 2 Musicians

Crazy Saints was another interesting project from Indo-jazz percussionist Gurtu. He surrounded himself with Western jazz musicians of the highest caliber, including on this track its composer Joe Zawinul. The breadth of these two musicians is heard in its full glory, with Zawinul absolutely masterful in this stunningly gorgeous performance. His synth allows him to be harmonica player, saxophonist, pianist, bassist and synthesizer player. His playing is so good that those synthesized instruments sound like the real thing. Big deal you say? That is what a synthesizer does! But a synthesizer does not include the phrasing. A saxophone or harmonica player phrases differently from a keyboard player. It takes great skill and knowledge to play synthesized tones so convincingly that we believe we are hearing a true representation. Zawinul is capable of doing that without using tricks. Gurtu accompanies Zawinul's intoxicating theme with his usual assortment of rhythm accoutrements. A well-placed clink or clack means the world in such a melodic exposition. Gurtu keeps the timekeeping to an absolute minimum, but his percussion accents create wonderful textures that will have you listening to both players with a joyful intensity.

May 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Salongo: Nymphs of the Sudan

Salongo, led by trumpeter Eddie Allen, is a quite competent band that plays mostly contemporary jazz in the Afro/Cuban/Brazilian vein. Two goals, among others, of the band are to honor the rhythms of Mongo Santamaria and to imbue its music with a commercial appeal. On this front they have succeeded. "Nymphs of the Sudan," the album's most pleasing cut, has a lush full sound. The rhythms are infectious and the song has a solid groove. Allen is a very fine player and exhibits such with an expressive solo. He is followed in suit by saxophonists Avery and Williams. Pianist Martigon also offers up some tasty licks throughout.

May 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Oleg Kireyev: Mandala

Wow! These Russians, and one African, really cook! According to the liner notes, I am hearing jazz music infused with Moldavian and Asian melodies and African rhythms. Is that what this wonderful stuff is? If so, I am hooked.

"Mandala" starts off with a filthy fusion guitar and bass drum explosion. A heavy funk beat settles in. Then out of nowhere we are in Moldavia dancing in circles. We are stopped in our tracks by an African chant that seems totally out of place – except that it is in a great place. This is some weird shit. A mesmerizing rhythm takes over. What's this? Indian syllables? Yes. The tune finishes with a riff flourish from all corners of the world. So much going on and so little time…

In 1964, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Potter Stewart wrote that pornography was hard to define, but "I know it when I see it." I feel the same way about this music. I can't quite define what I heard. But I know that I liked it.

May 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Keith Jarrett (with Jim Pepper): Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

The pairing of pianist Jarrett with the tragically under-recorded tenor saxophonist Jim Pepper seems like a dream match-up. During the 1960s and 1970s, before the Standards Trio became his preferred combo setting, Jarrett enjoyed being challenged by on-the-edge saxophonists, and few reed players of the era had more raw energy than Pepper. But somehow this band doesn't click. Perhaps a couple more takes in the studio would have solved everything -- certainly the individual talents are considerable. Maybe the choice of this 1933 ballad was also a factor: a young player might be tempted to pick a fight with the sentimentality that is built into the chord changes and melody. Whatever the cause, the music doesn't live up to the expectations generated by the names on the marquee. Yet we are fortunate to have this track at all. It comes from an unreleased album under Bob Moses's leadership, and only saw light of day in a Keith Jarrett anthology decades after the fact.

May 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Benny Goodman & Jimmy Rowles: Mean to Me

Every serious jazz fan has heard of the Benny Goodman Quartet and the Benny Goodman Trio. But what about the Benny Goodman Duo? This 1947 pairing with pianist Jimmy Rowles deserves to be far better known, and shows both of these players in fine form. A few months after this session, Goodman would embrace modern jazz, half-heartedly, in a band that brought the King of Swing face-to-face with some young boppers. But this gently swinging version of "Mean to Me" makes no pretensions to keeping up with the times. Rowles plays an unreconstructed stride bass, with a few nods to his hero Art Tatum. Meanwhile, Goodman's tone is sugar and spice and everything nice. Not even a bit of meanness on this "Mean to Me," just two masters at work.

May 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Abbey Lincoln: Blue Monk (2006)

Abbey Lincoln

In converting from chanteuse to provocateur, Abbey Lincoln became a terrible scold. The former Ebony magazine cover girl (June 1957), extolled therein for her "striking physical resemblance (vital statistics: 36-24-37)" to all-American pin-up Marilyn Monroe, and whose upcoming Riverside LP That's Him! would boast a cover photo of the luscious Miss L. practically falling out of her dress, had within two years reinvented herself. In 1959, Ebony's sister publication Jet announced "The New Abbey Lincoln," who "resented the role of glamour girl." According to Jet, "just as the doors of swank cafes were opening to her," Abbey balked. "I really don't fit in," she explained. "I'm a black woman and I have to sing about things I feel and know about—jazz." Comparisons to Marilyn Monroe were jettisoned; white standards of beauty no longer obtained. "I demand that I be respected as a dignified Negro woman," demanded the erstwhile "tan Venus."

By 1961, Abbey's attitude had so metamorphosed through militant feminism and racial victimization that her rendering of "Blue Monk" took on the self-righteous severity of a lecture by Emma Goldman. For her album Straight Ahead, Lincoln paired her own socially reproachful lyrics with Thelonious Monk's apolitical tune, and even her wordless singing of the melody following Coleman Hawkins's solo became somehow taunting and accusatory. Too much 'tude, Dude.

Forty-five years later, at age 76, Ms. Lincoln revisits "Blue Monk" with less drama but dramatically superior results. Malice has succumbed to maturity. This is a wonderfully familial performance. And it's not just the laid-back backwoods backing. It's also in Ms. Lincoln's voice, no longer clenched-fist sisterly resentful and vindictive, but open-armed grandmotherly wise and reflective.

Of course, Thelonious himself would probably have blanched at this setting of his signature tune featuring overdubbed countrified bouzouki, Dobro, mandolin, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, slide guitar, lap steel guitar, pedal steel guitar and cittern slicker Larry Campbell. Back in 1957, when its composer performed "Blue Monk" on CBS-TV's all-star special The Sound of Jazz, such corn pone—officially still called Hillbilly Music—was off-limits at such blue monkeries as Greenwich Village's Five Spot Café, where country was about as welcome as Thelonious would have been on the bill of Nashville's Grand Ole Opry. Yet Abbey Lincoln's down-home update is nevertheless a telling tribute to Monk's rugged individualism. And best of all, this isn't propaganda preached harshly in sunlight. It's truth told calmly by moonlight.

May 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Michel Petrucciani: Contradictions

Due to a degenerative bone disease, Michel Petrucciani was small in stature. But he was a giant at the keyboards. He was only 28 when he recorded this album with well-respected American jazz musicians. This was important because Petrucciani, an Italian-Frenchman, would be considered by many as the finest jazz pianist ever to come from France. Performances with American jazzmen added to his bona fides.

"Contradictions" is flat-out up-tempo bebop. Petrucciani's nimble fingers fly up and down the keyboard as Thornton accompanies him on congas. Waiting for an entrance ramp, bassist Anthony Jackson finally merges into traffic. At times, especially when Petrucciani starts throwing blues licks around, it seems there are two piano players. But there is only one driver. The tune becomes a "catch me if you can" ride darting in between traffic. It's a dangerous game if carried on too long. But the trio is wise here. In two minutes, they are done with their dare-deviling. Everyone is safe and sound. Until the next time, that is.

May 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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David Sanborn: Another Hand

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

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

May 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: When Love Is Far Away

There is an ongoing dispute in John McLaughlin's fan community. One contingent of McLaughlin admirers has been bothered by his guitar tone or use of guitar synthesizers over the years. This issue first raised its head back in the '80s when McLaughlin began using the Synclaviar guitar synthesizer. On those early records, it was difficult to determine when McLaughlin was playing because the character of his instrument could be a trombone, trumpet or flute. Eventually he found a way to use the synth guitar more effectively. But even his real electric guitar tone changed. During his stint with The Free Spirits, his sound was so warm that it often blended into Joey DeFrancesco's B-3 organ, making it almost inaudible. This was a phenomenon heard mostly on record. Live, when you could see John manipulate his guitar, you saw and heard the difference. That same sound and tone issue is present on The Heart of Things. I come in on all sides of this synthesizer vs. guitar vs. warm tone business. I prefer the non-synthesized and non-warm. But if a great melody can overcome the shortcomings of the synth or the less than desirable tone, then it doesn't bother me even a quaver.

Cop Out Warning: "When Love Is Far Away" is a beautiful solo acoustic ballad tacked on to the end of the very electric The Heart of Things. Recorded live, it possesses all of the attributes that make McLaughlin one of the greatest guitarists today and surely one of the most distinct on acoustic guitar. McLaughlin does accompany himself in a way by using a droning sound and slight added ringing echo to some chords produced by a MIDI controller. But for all intents and purposes, this is an acoustic performance. Improvisation is the star on this piece. McLaughlin plays all around the subtle melody like a kitten pawing at a hanging ball of yarn. Kittens have sharp claws, so you have to be prepared for some lightning-fast attacks even in the midst of this slow tempo performance. This is a wonderful performance made all the more so because it is a rare chance to hear McLaughlin play acoustic solo guitar outside of his tours with The Guitar Trio. Another version of this song was heard on McLaughlin's Free Spirits' Live in Tokyo album featuring Joey DeFrancesco on trumpet playing the lead melody. This is the better version.

May 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Surinder Sandhu: Re-Visited

Cycles and Stories is Sandhu's follow-up to his provocative Saurang Orchestra. It utilizes far fewer musicians, but contains the same energy and inspiration that helped propel the earlier album into the forefront of the "East meets West" musical movement. On the aggressive opener, "Re-Visited," Sandhu's sarangi sounds like a violin being played from the depths of a great cave. Inded, his low and deep karnatic strains give you a sense of spelunking in India's maximum caves. Of course, you are working your way back out and having a grand time doing it. Peter Brown's acoustic guitar is the perfect counterpoint to Sandhu, and they engage in a cross-cultural call and response that helps you follow the rope back. The percussionists' rhythms bounce off the sides of the walls. The light at the end of the cave is glimpsed, and the band kicks into an engaging riff that will have you hitting the repeat button after this joyous Indo-jazz tune ends.

May 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bobby Broom: Body and Soul

Bobby Broom started his career at the top. At age 16, he gigged with Sonny Rollins on the stage of Carnegie Hall, and was working the major New York clubs even before he went off to Berklee. Broom's early heroics remind me of a lady I know who won an Olympic medal when she was a junior in high school. Everything must seem anticlimactic after that.

But Broom's music remains compelling -- especially on standards, which have become his strong suit. Broom plays the old songs with lots of heart, as he demonstrates again on his The Way I Play release. This CD was made at a steakhouse instead of Carnegie Hall, and almost didn't get made at all. An acquaintance of Broom's showed up at this gig and recorded the proceedings, week after week, over a period of four months. He sent the music -- eventually enough to fill up nine CDs -- to the guitarist. Broom is hypercritical, and usually can find a reason not to release any given track, but even he was moved by the gems tossed off the cuff at this low-key gig.

There's plenty of soul in this "Body and Soul." The rhythm floats effortlessly, with just hints of a Latin ambiance -- but it never really turns into "Cuerpo y Alma." Broom makes every note ring true, lingering over his phrases with a lover's touch. The solo guitar coda at the end is especially good. Maybe it's time for the promoters at Carnegie Hall to book him for a return appearance?

May 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: I Surrender, Dear

Brilliant Corners presents some of Monk's finest work in a combo setting, but don't ignore the album's one solo piano track. This version of "I Surrender, Dear" is vintage Monk. Here we have hints of Harlem stride mixed with whole-tone runs, acerbic chords that hang above the piano sounding board like a worrisome fog, and that sputtering stop-and-start sensibility which always seems to threaten to derail the song, yet never really does. There are a couple points when I feel that Monk is about ready to walk away from the piano in mid-track, go outside for a breather, and then try another take. But no, he's just thrown me a head fake, and keeps on moving to the destination only he knows, and the rest of us must accept on blind faith. All I can say is "I Surrender, Oh Dear!"

May 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jim Hall & Ron Carter: Alone Together

The very title to the song and CD -- "Alone Together" -- promises an intimate duet. And the two musicians in question, guitarist Jim Hall and bassist Ron Carter, are a perfect pairing. This is chamber jazz of the highest order. Carter takes the opening melody statement and spins it out with a lazy elegance. Hall follows with a tasty solo that moves from smart single note lines to succinct chords. Then he shifts into a four-to-the-bar accompaniment to Carter's melodic improvisation. There were many far more boisterous bands during this Age of Fusion, but Carter & Hall were one of the best match-ups of the era, and this recording captures them at top form.

May 04, 2008 · 1 comment

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Art Pepper: September Song

Art Pepper had performed and recorded this song many times with the Stan Kenton band in the early 1950s, but this 1979 version is nothing like anything you will find from the Innovations Orchestra. Pepper himself had undergone a sea change. He was ravaged by years of incarceration and drug abuse, and his alto playing had been equally transformed from the sweet, innocence of 1950s West Coast jazz into a post-Coltrane cauldron of jagged lines, surprising feints and thrusts, and occasional moments of hard-won tranquility.

Pepper was in the midst of a comeback. His previous Galaxy release, Art Pepper Today, had pushed him back into the limelight, especially with his inspired workout over the closing vamp of his composition "Patricia." Pepper probably had that performance in mind, as he tries to create a similarly dramatic ballad-plus-vamp on "September Song." He doesn't reach the same level here, but he still delivers a gripping performance, and sent a message, to all who were listening, that Art Pepper was back.

May 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Freddie Hubbard: Here's That Rainy Day

Freddie Hubbard is famous for his fiery trumpet solos, but he was also a standout ballad player. This is my favorite of his ballad performances, and it has all the ingredients of greatness -- marvelous tone control, fresh improvised lines, a gloriously languorous rhythmic pulse -- even a perfectly wrought coda. Guitarist George Benson offers a sensitive accompaniment from the rubato opening to the final chord. But Hubbard is the star here, putting his stamp on on song that many have tackled, but few have claimed with such authority.

May 03, 2008 · 3 comments

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Jim Hall: Bon Ami

Guitarist extraordinaire Jim Hall's harmonically challenging composition "Bon Ami" effectively elicits Joe Lovano's softer side. Navigating the changes effortlessly, the tenorman blows with extreme restraint while never losing the requisite depth of feeling. Hall solos with equal aplomb. The interaction of the two is slightly reminiscent of Hall's duo recordings with Sonny Rollins in years past. Hall's use of understated lines and soft chordal comping is without peer. Hall and Lovano together make an enjoyable pairing that brings out the fluidity and sensitive lyricism of both artists.

May 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jim Hall: Frisell Frazzle

On Dialogues, Jim Hall decided to record with some more contemporary artists as a means to stretch and stimulate his already formidable probing talents. Hall's composition "Frisell Frazzle" was penned with the iconoclastic Frisell specifically in mind. The two have an obvious mutual admiration, which shows in their splendid interaction. The tune's somewhat dissonant opening lines are voiced concurrently by both guitarists in what is a purely Frisellian inspiration. In the liner notes Hall says the song has "a zaniness to it," one man's interpretation of Frisell's unusual style that is seemingly always unpredictable. Hall solos first and, despite his usually laid-back cool sound, effortlessly approximates the spirit of his guitarist collaborator. When Frisell takes his turn, his twangy, country-inspired sound travels its own confoundedly distinct path. A nice foray into new grounds for a master of the cool school of electric jazz guitar. Zaniness at its best.

May 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Roy Hargrove: Whisper Not

This 1989 recording has the distinct sound of the best 1960s Blue Note albums featuring such trumpeters as Lee Morgan, Blue Mitchell, Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw. Here Roy Hargrove takes flight in the vehicle of Benny Golson's "Whisper Not," ably assisted by the swinging and tonally pure Antonio Hart in a most impressive fusillade of sound. Al Foster's driving drums keep the pace with Scott Coley's bass and John Hicks's piano comping behind the soloists during these soaring forays into nostalgia. Hicks plays a sweet extended solo, its interesting directional pull deftly picked up by Foster. The tandem of Hargrove and Hart voicing simultaneously and in perfect sync is reminiscent of the finest Blue Note players in their heyday. A nice respectful bow to the past with its own distinctive voice.

May 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Roy Hargrove: Ruby, My Dear

Back in 1989, when the young trumpet phenom Roy Hargrove was still establishing himself as a voice to be reckoned with, he got together a group of talented sidemen to record what were then neglected gems that had not yet become standards. His telling choice of the Thelonious Monk ballad "Ruby, My Dear" was right on the mark. Exquisitely assisted by the underappreciated Antonio Hart, whose deep-timbered solo is almost Webster-esque in its approach, the song is done to poignant perfection. The subtle Al Foster on brushes and Scott Coley on bass combine with pianist John Hicks to support this marvelous rendition. For his part, Hargrove shows a deep respect and sensitivity for the music in his Hubbard-like solo, where he extracts his own sense of pathos from his horn. After the tempo changes from slow to medium, Hart once again joyfully spreads his wings, playing in a more distinctively personal and flowing voice. Hicks plays a nice albeit short solo before Hart returns to his deep, drawn-out Webster-like sound. Hargrove should be applauded for his astute judgment in material as well as his generous showcasing of Hart's considerable tonal talent on this fine piece. This is an enjoyable effort worthy of repeated listening.

May 03, 2008 · 1 comment

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Sony Holland: Million Dollar Dreams

Most female "jazz" singers seem to be intent on rehashing old classics that have been done too often by masters whose classic renditions are hard to challenge in any meaningful way. I am almost always disappointed when I hear favorite songs rendered in a mostly feeble attempt to capture the essence of the familiar. I suppose it is irresistible, and if some didn't do it well we would be deprived of some wonderful alternate takes. Sony Holland has a Las Vegas-torch singer voice that is not unpleasant but is neither to this ear overly interesting, especially on popular melodies. Some artists can create a completely original take on a classic and make them their own. (Cassandra Wilson comes to mind.) But most singers should either tread carefully or avoid such material. Holland is best when singing songs seemingly made specifically for her. Original songs give the listener a clean slate on which to judge an artist's choice of music, vocal nuances and delivery. On "Million Dollar Dreams," Holland's delivery suits the swing of the tune, which is well arranged by Larry Dunlap and finely complemented by some wonderfully expressive saxophone playing from Charles McNeal. Holland stretches out a bit on this tune, and it shows promise.

May 03, 2008 · 1 comment

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Jon Irabagon's Outright: Groovin' High

In this remake of Dizzy Gillespie's 1945 classic, Jon Irabagon's group goes where few men travel. They play the bebop standard's intro at breakneck speed and with great facility while lending a sense of free form to the body of the piece. This is not for those looking to follow comfortably along with the familiar melody. Irabagon changes time signature throughout and at times verges on crescendos that go off in a direction barely tied to the original theme. Make no mistake, these are talented musicians looking at things in their own way. This may not be for everyone, and I myself find it challenging at times, which is why I chose the only song on the album that I could have some reference to. As with anything different, it tests the conventions of present-day acceptability. But Jon Irabagon's Outright musical forays are at times interestingly exploratory and should not be dismissed out of hand.

May 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Robert Walter: Snakes and Spiders

In this decidedly freewheeling offering from keyboardist Robert Walter, we can hear influences from a blues-oriented tableau that might include tinges of the rocking vitriolic Lee Michaels with his drummer Frosty to the distinctive sound of Dixie Dregs keyboard wizard T. Lavitz. This is a jazz/rock/whatever style that is hard to pigeonhole. With a heavy backbeat driving the tune through its paces, Walter plies his keyboard skills to most effect on the Hammond B-3 with that Leslie pulsating sound. This takes me back to the late '60s and early '70s, when you could go to the Fillmore East or the Academy of Music and get high from the secondhand herb smoke as the audience bounced their heads to a driving beat propelled by the powerful hypnotic force of the Hammond B-3, usually played at deafening levels. This is not Jimmy Smith organ, but a variant that occasionally uses hints of electronic effects and could best be described as feel-good barnstorming music. It could easily be part of a jam-band repertoire.

May 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Zoot Sims: Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams

Zoot Sims started doubling on soprano sax in 1973, well into his 40s. Until then he was known as an excellent hard-swinging Lester Young-influenced tenor saxophonist, a melodic player with a succulent tone and a vigorous though economical approach to improvisation. That description, it turned out, applied equally to Sims's playing on soprano, which if anything raised his already secure reputation as a complete and polished musician.

"Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams" is from his only recording session devoted exclusively to the soprano. His sound on the straight horn is strikingly individual, almost like a cross between clarinet and alto sax. Sims's assured, driving solo features swooping, precisely articulated lines and rousing upper-register wails. The spirit of Sidney Bechet lurks, but it's all Zoot. Bryant's exuberant solo, in his usual surging style, seems ready to burst into stride or boogie-woogie at times, and the way his left hand complements his right brings to mind Earl Hines. Sims returns with some long-held notes and swirling extended phrasings, inventively and persistently embellishing the theme during the out chorus. The soprano sax has rarely been played any better than this.

May 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Scofield: I'll Take Les

The "Les" in the title is Les McCann, and this clever reworking of McCann's hit "Compared to What," sans vocal but including Eddie Harris, who played on the original version, is a treat. Irwin's bass ostinato and Stewart's metronomic rhythm off the rim of his snare, soon followed by Goldings's piano riff and turnarounds, which all introduce "I'll Take Les," are direct acknowledgments of McCann's arrangement. However, Scofield's catchy melody is definitely taken from the guitarist's personal bag of funk. Scofield's strong solo is launched with twangy blues lines before he adds some pleasing distortion effects and wah-wah voicings. A return of the theme sets the stage for Harris, who, with his unique vocalized sound, employs some trademark repeated patterns as a foundation for his soulful phrasing on top – a typical call and response as Harris converses engagingly with himself. The captivating fadeout ending consists of a five-note vamp by Harris, backed by Irwin's seductive bassline and Stewart's understated drum accents. This one-off Scofield/Harris match-up was a natural fit; too bad it didn't develop into a regular working relationship. Scofield/Lovano was coming to an end around that time, and Scofield/Harris would have been a worthy successor.

May 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Johnny Griffin: A Monk's Dream

Johnny Griffin celebrated his 80th birthday on April 24, 2008. Thirty years prior, in 1978, he returned to the U.S. from Europe for his first American tour in 15 years, and producer Orrin Keepnews brought him into the studio for the session that included Griffin's tribute to Thelonious, "A Monk's Dream." Another 20 years back, in the summer of 1958, Keepnews had recorded Monk live at the Five Spot Café in New York, with Griffin, as the pianist's sideman, producing some of the best playing of his career.

The 1978 Griffin has a somewhat fuller sound, his phrasing less mercurial and daring, and the single-note lines not nearly as breathtakingly extended as in 1958. Griffin's tune itself has the perfect structure and flavor of some long-lost Monk composition recently unearthed. After Mathews's sparkling intro, Griffin caresses the memorable melody and then patiently builds his melodic solo, eventually turning to a more staccato attack as he unleashes some fleet, swirling runs. The overall impression here is of a more mature player, one not as impulsive or compelled to cram as much content as possible into every solo. Mention must be made of the fine solos by Mathews and Drummond, as well as Copeland's estimable support throughout.

May 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Eric Dolphy: Tenderly

Two days in the life of Eric Dolphy. On December 20, 1960, he participates in Gunther Schuller's significant Jazz Abstractions Third Stream recording session in New York. To start the next day, he joins Ornette Coleman in a New York studio for Ornette's influential Free Jazz. To end the same day, Dolphy travels to New Jersey for his first recording date with trumpeter Booker Little. By then, perhaps, he needed a break from experimentation and a return to some standard tunes. He performs "It's Magic" on bass clarinet with just the rhythm section, and "Tenderly" unaccompanied on alto sax.

His solo version of "Tenderly" affords us an intimate and enchanting glimpse at how Dolphy could simultaneously respect and deviate from a song's melodic and chordal structure. With his distinctive piercing tone, he utilizes ostinatos, intervallic leaps and some intricate, nearly boppish runs to navigate the piece, occasionally appearing about to enter a swinging groove only to quickly fly off into another inspired variation or embellishment of a particular aspect of the theme. This off-center, uninhibited interpretation is, in the end, right on target. A rarity in jazz up to that point – a recorded solo performance by a saxophonist, and one to treasure.

May 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mitchel Forman: Mr. Clean

Mitchel Forman is in quite a different bag on "Mr. Clean." This 1998 performance was recorded live at The Baked Potato, the famous North Hollywood venue where Forman still frequently appears. "Mr. Clean" was written by the late Weldon Irvine and has been covered many times, most notably by Freddie Hubbard on his Straight Life album. (Weldon played tambourine on Hubbard's version).

Mitchel Forman's Quintet takes the tune out. This arrangement is mostly a dark piece. Forman plays electric piano. He focuses more on dense shadings and deep slow funk chords than you would normally expect to hear from him. The tune is 16 minutes long, so there are several tempo changes. But even in the fast sections, Dave Carpenter's bass maintains an underlying slowness. Brandon Fields's solo is exquisitely intense. Fowler's trumpet spits out bursts that entice Forman to comp his ass off. The band explores many elements in a free section. Taylor's active drums give some semblance of organization during these forays. The band turns funky electric for a bit before returning to the classic melody, sounding every bit like a fine straight-ahead jazz band playing the tune in 1970 à la Freddie Hubbard.

May 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jon Herington: Kernel of Truth

This outing was originally recorded in 1992 and released only in Japan under the title The Complete Rhyming Dictionary. The band features two members of Weather Report, Peter Erskine and Victor Bailey. This was important to Herington as he wanted to honor the sound of that band.

African rhythms usher in "Kernel of Truth." Beard provides a background of textures as Herington goes slightly bluesy. Within a minute, the preliminaries are dispensed with. Herington offers a grinding fusion solo. Ralph Bowen, sounding like Bill Evans (sax), plays a pleasing passage. Beard's synthesizer keyboards become a more dominant background before the band drops into a short funk-leaning groove as the song fades out. Weather Report, of course, did not feature a guitarist. This added element produces a sound different than Weather Report's. But the spirit is retained. "Kernel of Truth" is a good approximation of an above-average fusion song of the early '90s.

In recent years, Herington has turned more to pop, including a stint with Steely Dan. But his prodigious jazz chops, in evidence even with Steely Dan, are not to be overlooked.

May 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gianfranco Continenza: Outside That Door

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

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

May 01, 2008 · 2 comments

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Gerald Gradwohl: KiWa Walk

If ZZ Top played fusion music, this is what it would sound like. This is jazz-rock boogie of the highest order. No wine drinking for fans of this trio. It's all about the beer.

"KiWa Walk" is a power track. Gradwohl is sort of a heavy fusion-era Jeff Beck. His chords are thicker and more jazz influenced, but his soloing, harmonic sense and calculated use of his whammy bar owe a nod to Beck in some way. Lackner and Al-Shami rock the house on this number as well. Lackner's bass is a throbbing monster. Al-Shami has the groove locked down tight and has thrown away the key. All three players know that even this type of music has nuances. They display that knowledge every time they pause for a beat or two to change direction. No cheese for listeners of this music. Pass the chips.

May 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tony Grey: Chasing Shadows

Tony Grey is among that corps of younger jazz bass players who have known from the beginning that the bass is more than just a member of the rhythm section. Jaco, Clarke, Egan, Hellborg and others had long since paved the way for the use of the bass guitar as lead voice. This paradigm shift has allowed later players to ignore the arbitrary limits put on the bass in the past because they aren't even aware of them. This has enabled a new a generation of players to excel technically and compositionally. If you are unaware of any limitations, you have no boundaries.

One such bass player who is perfect for his time is Tony Grey. Aside from his wonderful playing, he is proving to be a composer of great clarity. "Chasing Shadows" features an unusual instrumentation. To envision a harmonica, bass trumpet and electric bass melding together in a composition requires a truly open imagination. All of the musicians perform superbly on the hummable "Chasing Shadows." But the real star is the composition itself. It is a fully formed piece that has both a real jazz feeling and a pop sensibility. That is one hell of a difficult thing to achieve without the music sounding like that brain-cell draining sludge Smooth Jazz. (Pardon me while I gag.) Grey's bass-playing prowess and writing skills look like the making for a very long and fruitful road ahead.

May 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marcin Wasilewski: Cinema Paradiso

What remarkable patience Wasilewski shows in constructing his performances! Hearing his music is almost like watching the replay of a great sporting event in slow motion. Everything unfolds with such grace and with a relaxed flow, but also conveying a satisfying sense of inevitability to the proceedings. When you ask fans to name great modern rhythm sections, you hardly ever hear them proclaim (let alone spell correctly) the names Marcin Wasilewski, Slawomir Kurkiewicz and Michal Miskiewicz. Nonetheless, this trio is one of the best you will hear on the current jazz scene. All three players demonstrate a marked sensitivity to space and tonal color. Wasilewski may be best known for his sideman work with Tomasz Stanko - a relationship that dates back to the pianist's mid-teen years. But this artist also demands our respect as a leader in his own right. He may not be as flashy as Esbjörn Svensson or Stefano Bollani, but Wasilewski is definitely a world class talent.

May 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood: In Case the World Changes Its Mind

The first release on their new Indirecto label, Out Louder reunites MMW with their pal John Scofield and rekindles the flame left smoldering from 1997's A Go Go. This time around the foursome is truly a band, rather than a soloist with rhythm section. The main ingredients remain constant – groove, blues, funk and soul – but they're cooked up differently and the main course is more condensed. "In Case the World Changes Its Mind" is a sluggish, chunky funk head-bopper, with Martin pulling his groove against the pulse while never dragging or missing the downbeat with any of his fills. Medeski's Wurlitzer riff can only be categorized as filthy and his Melodica charming and refreshingly quirky. Keep your fingers crossed that MSMW records again, though you may have to patch some holes in your favorite dancing shoes after this one.

May 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Medeski Martin & Wood: Bloody Oil

Cheers to MMW for continually evolving their sound, be it by adding new keyboards or welcoming contributions from and collaborations with new musicians or producers. "Bloody Oil" is a new groove for the trio and is perhaps their closest connection to the experimental vamp jams of Miles Davis's early '70s fusion groups. Martin's sparse beat and Wood's droning bass leave a lot of space for Medeski's voyage into the realm of psychedelic sound and texture. His extensive array of keyboards is echoed, smeared, and morphed, creating a shifting backdrop that ultimately brings Wood's meaty bass to the foreground. Medeski is like a mad conductor with the Mellotron at his fingertips. The expansive, symphonic sounds he lures out of those keys can be downright wicked.

May 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Medeski Martin & Wood: Anonymous Skulls

Producer John King, one half of the acclaimed Dust Brothers, becomes an unofficial fourth member of MMW on End of the World Party; his production work is as important to the album's success as the trio's performance itself. Purists may criticize a lack of palpable "jazz" improvisation, but the intricately layered studio production cultivates a more focused and less "jammy" outing, a problem that has plagued the group at times throughout their history. "Anonymous Skulls" is a dark and menacing vehicle for Medeski to display his augmented arsenal of keyboards. His Mellotron provides a gloomy orchestration as the fragmented melody is passed from keyboard to keyboard. King's "cut and paste" production technique will pull your ears in dozens of directions, and even after multiple listenings, you'll be continually surprised at what you hear.

May 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Medeski Martin & Wood: Retirement Song

Similar to no other tune in the MMW songbook, "Retirement Song" finds the trio radically extending the sonic possibilities of their music. Borrowing equally from hip-hop, minimalism, electronica, and Herbie Hancock's "Rockit," it is an effective experiment in layering, texture, color, and the interconnectivity of rhythm and melody. A piece like this could easily sound overproduced or synthetic, but "Retirement Song" pulsates with organic vibrancy. Melodically, the focus is on the trance-inducing, contrapuntal guitar lines which provide a static hook over which Medeski's echoing synths are eerily suspended. Wood's ostinato bass provides an anchor, freeing the rhythmic components – drums, percussion and turntables – to constantly shift their accents around the hypnotic pulse. Want to see into the future? Download this track.

May 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Medeski Martin & Wood: Buster Rides Again

Recorded at the downtown club bearing the same name, Tonic is MMW's return to their acoustic roots and a fine representation of the group as a pure jazz piano trio. Their cohesion as a unit shines in this live set and especially during "Buster Rides Again." At times, one of the trio members will lead, but no one is ever relegated to the role of follower. After Medeski and Wood trade phrases, Martin launches into one of his more elegant solos on record. His playing is rhythmically tricky and at the same time melodically smart as he remains fully conscious of pitch, timbre, tone and phrasing. Inspired by the tune's composer, bebop piano hero Bud Powell, Medeski mixes some boppish, octave-doubled lines in with his normal, aggressively rhythmic assault during his solo on the way out.

May 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Medeski Martin & Wood: Partido Alto

Featuring production by hip-hop producer Scotty Hard, The Dropper doesn't have the slickness of Friday Afternoon in the Universe or the immediacy of Shack Man, but has a gritty rawness that makes it stand alone in the MMW discography, for better or worse. Martin's bass drum booms and Wood is mixed way out front, giving "Partido Alto" a thumping groove that may lead to widespread cases of the spontaneous booty shakes. Long a concert favorite, this jam-friendly tune has fostered many memorable guest appearances at MMW's live shows, including jam-scene guitar hero Trey Anastasio of Phish. Sun Ra altoist Marshall Allen makes his screechy, wailing presence felt briefly on this recording, albeit bizarrely transmogrified by Hard's production. Like many extended jams, however, "Partido Alto" is a tad unfocused, though the groove is fun enough that listeners shouldn't care as soon as they are up dancing by their stereos.

May 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Medeski Martin & Wood: Sugar Craft

Combustication marked the point where MMW began to stray from the typical organ trio format in search of a progressive and innovative sound that was solely their own. Their hip-hop influence becomes more audible here, heard heavily in Martin's streetwise beats, but most notably through the addition of turntable guru DJ Logic. MMW praised Logic's musicianship, rhythmic sense and his sensitivity as an accompanist. On "Sugar Craft," his resourcefulness and creativity are apparent as well, as he at times provides an ethereal sonic tapestry, plays off Medeski's comping, or fills gaps with well-timed rhythmic scratching and samples. Though he toured with the group for only a little over a year, Logic's influence remains strong to the present, as MMW continues to investigate the fertile boundary where jazz meets hip-hop.

May 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Scofield with Medeski Martin & Wood: Hottentot

While most of A Go Go is chilled and relaxed, "Hottentot" turns up the heat, steadily burning until it's a raging inferno by its final note. The groove is simplistic and repeated relentlessly, sustaining an intensity so strong that only the end of the tune will provide a chance to finally exhale. Scofield's solo starts off a touch "noodly" as he looks to gain some traction, but once he reaches the bridge, watch out. His ideas are better defined over the tense, descending chords, and while his sound gets edgier, he never overplays. Medeski then swoops in with all the stops out and unleashes titanic waves of sound, engulfing his bandmates and bringing things to a rousing climax.

May 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Scofield with Medeski Martin & Wood: Chank

John Scofield and Medeski Martin & Wood are a match made in jazz-funk heaven, and A Go Go is arguably the best record MMW has ever recorded. Sensitive to the guitarist's every nuance, they are the ideal rhythm section for Scofield's ambiguity and implicit soulfulness. If Scofield wants to drive, they rev their engine, and if he wants to cool out, they provide him with the laziest of lazy-boy grooves. On "Chank" the guys lay down a new wave boogaloo, with Martin and Wood freakishly synched, hitting every off-beat and syncopation in perfect rhythmic unison. Scofield sounds enthused, his bite-sized phrases dripping with hot soul sauce, but Medeski sounds downright possessed. What on earth did he eat for breakfast that day?!

May 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Medeski Martin & Wood: Jelly Belly

Shack Man is the most consistent studio album in the MMW catalog, and its production captures the group's live sound better than any other. The album's standout track is "Jelly Belly," which covers a lot of ground in 4:42 but is well paced and tightly arranged. The extended intro is furtive and ominous with Medeski's sustained organ chords breathing a mysterious air over Wood's driving bass hook (one of his best). The simple playfulness of the melody and Martin's bouncy cowbell brighten the mood temporarily before the group dives back into a deep and heavy groove. After a punchy, distorted Wurlitzer solo, Medeski's Hammond swirls and weaves around his electric piano and makes the trio sound deceptively like a quartet. As they charge towards their finish line, the groove suddenly drops and Martin breaks into a wild drum solo, sliding around his kit like a drunken kung fu master.

May 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Medeski Martin & Wood: Last Chance to Dance Trance (Perhaps)

Care to tango? Sprinkle a little Astor Piazzolla on a Latinized street beat and you get "Last Chance to Dance Trance," MMW's adaptation of the forbidden dance. Wood's bass sings during his lengthy introductory solo, as if calling to his lover for one final dance before retiring to more private festivities. She accepts and the dance begins as Medeski launches into one of the most memorable melodies in the MMW songbook. His dynamic, acoustic piano solo is filled with tight clusters and purposeful dissonance, redefining the harmony and bearing a striking resemblance to Don Pullen. In brilliant contrast, he follows this insistent assault on the ivories with a mellow, modest and melodically linear organ solo. Sensual, dramatic and romantic, this track is guaranteed to stir your blood.

May 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Medeski Martin & Wood: United

As a young, acoustic piano trio playing the clubs in the late-night underworld New York City scene, Underground is literally where it all began for MMW. Freshly trained conservatory musicians, their jazz chops have never again sounded as solid as they do here, and their instinctual, creative unity is apparent even at this early stage. Choosing this lesser-known Wayne Shorter composition shows an admiration for their musical heritage but also a desire to stay on the fringes of it. Wood commands attention on this track—his funky bassline is the building block for the tune's groove, and he shines during his fabulously articulated solo. Rarely does undiluted jazz this challenging remain so listener friendly.

May 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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