Jimmy Bruno: Pat's House

About 10 years younger than Pat Martino, Jimmy Bruno is the "other" virtuoso Philadelphia jazz guitarist, if not nearly as well-known as Pat. Bruno went on the road with the Buddy Rich Big Band at age 19, then worked in Las Vegas and on the West Coast, and has been a fixture on the Philly jazz scene since 1988. It's fitting that Martino wrote the liner notes for this CD, in which he calls Bruno "one of the most astounding players I've had the pleasure of knowing." Bruno in turn acknowledges Martino--both in the title and in his playing on it--with the original "Pat's House."

The track (and the entire CD, Like That) features Joey DeFrancesco, and could easily fool many listeners if surreptitiously inserted into the mix of Live at Yoshi's, Martino's celebrated collaboration with DeFrancesco that came several years after this Bruno encounter with the ebullient (also Philly-born) organist. Bruno usually doesn't sound this much like Martino, but a tribute is a tribute. The tension and darting intricacy of a Martino composition is omnipresent here, as introduced by Bruno's fleet fingers. DeFrancesco takes the first solo, a steamy, driven affair loaded with insistent recurring phrases, swirling extended lines, and stair-stepping progressions. Bruno replays the theme before entering his own propulsive solo. The guitarist exhibits brilliant technique and fiery emotion as he indulges in a blend of dense runs, strummed chords, and octave-dominated passages. After Holloway's energized drum statement, Bruno and DeFrancesco initiate a series of blistering, unreserved exchanges. This is one of Bruno's best recorded tracks--thanks for the inspiration, Pat!

March 31, 2009 · 0 comments

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Branford Marsalis: Swingin' At The Haven

In 1986, when Branford Marsalis recorded Royal Garden Blues, his second album as leader, he had recently left his brother Wynton Marsalis' band to join Sting, a somewhat controversial association that broadened the saxophonist's exposure, if not his appeal, as one of the post-bop "young lions." Although he may not yet have achieved an identifiable, individual sound or style circa 1986, he was just as polished, discerning, and fully versed as Wynton in jazz history and the multitude of idiomatic possibilities it afforded for creative expansion.

Sounding like a cross between '50's John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, Branford's tenor assuredly navigates the chord changes of his father's tune, "Swingin' at the Haven," with Ellis himself sitting in on piano. Branford varies his attack inventively, obviously unwilling just to coast along on autopilot. He challenges himself to elaborate on fresh ideas and takes unpredictable twists and turns along the way. Ellis responds with a well-developed solo played with refined Tommy Flanagan-like touch and precision. Peterson is given a chance to display his formidable percussive skills before Branford takes the piece out swingingly. Branford has come a long way since this early effort, but "Swingin' At the Haven' remains a worthwhile listen.

March 31, 2009 · 0 comments

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Stanley Turrentine: Impressions

If you had compiled a list of tunes you might expect Stanley Turrentine to record, John Coltrane's "Impressions" would be far from the top. Yet here was Mr. T, pioneer purveyor of soul jazz and funk, interpreting Trane's classic modal composition for the entire 15:30 of side 2 of his chart-making Sugar LP. Whoever's brainstorm it was, the idea worked brilliantly, and "Impressions" reminded everyone of Turrentine's serious ability as a straight ahead player.

None of Coltrane's multiphonics or squalling are to be found during Turrentine's less-than-turbulent "Impressions," but Mr. T is forcefully expressive with his biting, broad tone and forthright emotional drive. His solo is funkier and more spacious--it certainly breathes more than Coltrane's, thanks in part to the stimulating rhythmic foundation provided by Carter, Kaye, and Landrum. Turrentine does play some surprisingly contorted arpeggios, but relies mostly on bluesy phrases, riffs, and shouts, as well as a cleverly placed quote from "It Ain't Necessarily So." Both Cornell's comping and flowing improvisation on organ are first-rate. Hubbard's solo, tentative at first, hits high gear quickly thanks to some trademark "sheets of sound" tremolos. Benson's commanding solo is the most restlessly searching, especially after the horns' transfixing vamp (a recurring feature of this arrangement) propels the guitarist to develop even more abstract ideas. Turrentine's vivacious out-chorus is just gathering steam when victimized by an abrupt fade-out.

March 31, 2009 · 0 comments

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Joe Williams: Night Time is the Right Time (to be with the One You Love)

Evaluating the relative merits of Joe Williams' recorded tracks with Count Basie in the '50's, as compared to those he sang with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra in 1966, is a futile and nearly pointless endeavor. Basie's band was perhaps earthier, Jones/Lewis more modern in its charts, but the bottom line is that Williams' definitve, singular vocals were the key element to success in both cases.

Williams as a young man probably heard the earliest recorded versions of "Night Time is the Right Time" by Roosevelt Sykes and Big Bill Broonzy in the late '30's, and of course Ray Charles hit both the pop and R & B charts with it in 1958. Yet the tune probably got its widest exposure years later when the Huxtables lip-synched it on the very popular Cosby Show in 1985. "I want to warn you before we begin...if you stay out all night darlin', I declare that that will be the e-e-end," Williams intones conversationally over just bass, drums, and tinkling piano. The brass enter mournfully as Williams continues intimately: "Make an effort, baby." Wailing muted trumpet and swelling saxes set the stage for the climax, as Williams unleashes his full vocal power and the orchestra responds in kind. Williams becomes irresistibly personal and overwhelmingly beseeching (no longer threatening), bending syllables, bursting out in raw shrieks, and ending with an emphatic baritone note that evokes Billy Eckstine.

March 31, 2009 · 0 comments

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Marcus Strickland: Oriental Folk Song

"Oriental Folk Song" is based on a Japanese folk melody but sheds its original skin for a more modern sound. Originally penned and performed by the legendary Wayne Shorter for his first Blue Note release, Night Dreamer, it is here interpreted by the rising saxophonist and composer Marcus Strickland.

Skipping the head, Marcus gets right to business and begins his solo over Vicente Archer's double-stop bassline. When the tenorist increases his intensity, his twin, E.J. Strickland, provides more crashes and patterns for Marcus to play over. It would be easy to let a tune like this go stale in a pianoless trio, but Marcus and E.J. complement each other perfectly. It seems as if E.J. always has a rhythmic retort for each of his brother's lines, giving him more fuel for improvisation. As Marcus carries his solo into the original melody of the tune, his rhythm section shares his intensity and provides a powerful conclusion, only to fade into silence as Marcus does the same.

March 31, 2009 · 0 comments

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Nicholas Payton: A Touch of Silver

Nicholas Payton's third release as a leader arrived just after his popular collaboration with Doc Cheatham, which resulted in some much-deserved attention for Payton. One of his compositions, "A Touch of Silver," features Joshua Redman on tenor and is a prime example of Payton's improvisational abilities. As Redman ends his final phrase, Payton jumps in with a high, soaring melody, and his band reacts accordingly. After quickly grabbing the spotlight, he develops an extraordinary solo consisting of lines that only a trumpeter with his technical skill and tasteful ear could blow. Not only is Payton's playing beautiful, it consists of a sound and vocabulary that are truly unique to him.

March 31, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lee Morgan: Whisper Not

Volume 2: Sextet features the first studio recording of Benny Golson's "Whisper Not," which is considered by many to be the highlight of Lee Morgan's second Blue Note release. At the age of 18, Morgan delivers a strong performance. While it's clear his roots in bebop are well developed, Morgan also shows great taste with his mature sense of time and the ability to implement catchy hooks in his playing, including a quote of "Pop Goes the Weasel." Morgan's solo is followed by the even younger Kenny Rodgers on alto, and tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, who will collaborate with Morgan frequently throughout his career. After a solo from Jazz Messengers pianist Horace Silver, this memorable hard-bop recording ends with a shout chorus that leads the sextet back into the final statement of Golson's now-famous melody.

March 31, 2009 · 0 comments

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Terje Rypdal: Per Ulv

Rock-jazz fusion ECM style, from the Norwegian who has come to epitomize the electric guitar for the label. The song commences solely with Christensen’s hypnotic, percolating percussion that keeps listeners transfixed for forty-five seconds until Hovensjø’s bass enters with a single-chord thud, followed by a six note sequence that in turn heralds Rypdal’s arrival. The leader uses an Arp synthesizer as an icy, stoic backwash against which he plays some of the more desolate sounds ever wrung from a six-string. As the song lumbers on to the chorus, Mikkelborg’s electronically-muffled horn plays a thematic statement that’s awfully close to bop, sharply contrasting from the prior section.

The slowing unfolding cycle of these two themes gets broken up in the middle by a straight rock interlude that’s directly out of mid-period Pink Floyd. The horn sheds the electronic effects and plays a unison line with the guitar, interspersed with Rypdal’s bluesy chops. The ending vamp introduces another strangely altered sound, presumably Mikkelborg’s trumpet made to resemble a synthesized harmonica.

Rypdal created a unique soundscape that’s oddly both futuristic while rooted in jazz and tribal forms of music at once. More than thirty years later, it’s as evocative and forward-looking as ever.

March 31, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Greene: Mission Statement

Greene’s great facility as a composer and arranger comes from finding endless harmonic possibilities out of the tried-and-true post-bop format, and that’s amply demonstrated on “Mission Statement.” He pairs off Davis and Rogers to state the theme as a restless current. Meanwhile, Greene himself and Lund set a fluid counter line. Even in the chorus, Greene sets up opposing statements between himself and Davis. Harland shuffles and stammers throughout, barely staying behind the front line. The leader shows just as much creative intensity in his solo, blowing with the fire of his old mentor, alto great Jackie McLean, but using the meaty tone of his tenor. Lund follows with a more introspective, soulful outpouring that temporarily winds down the tune, and Harland helps to bring it to an end with a blistering eruption.

As a song that offers much of what is talented about Jimmy Greene, “Mission Statement” is just that.

March 31, 2009 · 0 comments

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Sauter-Finegan Orchestra: Child's Play

For those who believe that this ensemble was not a jazz band, this track would probably be one of those cited. To this day, there are quite a few people who think that the Sauter-Finegan ensemble was a novelty band that had little or nothing to do with jazz. While it is true that RCA A&R man Dave Kapp had his eye on the bottom line (what A&R person doesn't) and novelty was the byword in pop music during this era, any time Eddie Sauter and Bill Finegan got a group of musicians together to record their music was an opportunity for greatness. Both are among the finest American composers of the twentieth century, and when invited to write compositions of four-plus minutes to promote the 45 extended play format, they responded with some ambitious music.

Both "Horseplay" and "Child's Play" are rooted in a children's nursery tune, "Horseplay" is edgy; "Child's Play" is fun from beginning to end. Using such instruments as a toy piano, toy trumpet, woodwinds that sound like toys, muted brass and lots of percussion, this piece is pure Bill Finegan, displaying his puckish sense of humor, yet also showing his mastery of harmony and form. In fact, listening to both pieces cited is instructive, showing the differences and similarities in musical approach using the same tune. This was no mere novelty band; this was one of the great musical laboratories in ensemble music.

I can't help closing this review without citing a four-bar phrase that was used during the game show "Jeopardy" for many years. Those who remember the show during that time will surely smile when they hear this piece "Child's Play" for the first time, and remember when the curtain opened to reveal the categories that day. I've always wondered what Bill was paid for the use of this music.

March 31, 2009 · 0 comments

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Henry Brant: Jazz Clarinet Concerto

Henry Brant (1913 - 2008) is one of the mavericks of American music. A Canadian by birth, he moved to the United States with his family in 1929. He had a highly successful career as a composer and orchestrator for radio, recording and motion pictures (he was Alex North's orchestrator for such scores as Cleopatra and Cheyenne Autumn). In the 1950's, he began composing spatial works exclusively, with various instrumental groups spread out all over the stage and even the seats of a performance space. His works include Orbits for 80 trombones, and Meteor Farm for orchestra, jazz band, two choruses, West African drum ensemble and chorus, South Indian soloists, gamelan ensemble, percussion orchestra and two sopranos. His Ice Field won the Pulitzer Prize. He was a member of the Academy of Arts & Letters and taught at Juilliard, Columbia University and Bennington College.

In 1946, Brant wrote Jazz Clarinet Concerto for Benny Goodman. He had previously arranged two Alec Templeton pieces for the Goodman band - "Bach Goes to Town" and "Mozart Matriculates." Goodman rejected the Concerto claiming it was too abstract. While it could be argued that he'd commissioned pieces from Bartok and Hindemith and both of those pieces could be considered abstract as well, Goodman didn't play those pieces once he's premiered them. Both Eddie Sauter and Mel Powell wrote the kind of virtuoso clarinet pieces he liked to play, and perhaps he expected the same thing from Brant. What Brant did write was a piece that sounded a lot like what Goodman was playing on the job in 1946, but goes its own way. It does not sound like a classical piece that swings, it sounds like three ambitious swing pieces which would have been fun to hear if Benny had given this work a chance. Above all, the work is a piece audiences would want to hear again. It approaches the jazz band on its own terms, and as a result, I believe it to be far more successful than Ebony Concerto and even "Prelude, Fugue and Riffs."

This performance was apparently recorded on a cassette tape machine, and is in mono. While the sound quality is adequate and the performance very good, at least the piece can be heard and perhaps adopted by a clarinetist looking for something a bit different but audience-friendly.

March 31, 2009 · 0 comments

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Laura Klein & Ted Wolff: In A Grain Of Sand

Cerulean Blue is a pigment which, according to Wikipedia “is particularly valuable for artistic painting of skies because of its purity of blue.” On this album, Berklee teaching alumni Laura Klein and Ted Wolff tastefully combine to paint the sky blue with the unique voicing of their respective instruments. Their interplay is inspired by the collaborations of Gary Burton and Chick Corea which produced the beautifully transcendent “Crystal Silence”. While the playing of Klein and Wolff do not approach the symbiosis and delicate floating quality that was achieved by Burton and Corea, they do achieve a multi-hued palette of tonal qualities that is enjoyable to the ear.

On Klein’s composition “In A Grain of Sand”, the melody is captured most prominently by Wolff”s deeply resonant sound, which is excellently balanced by Klein’s fanciful playing. The two have a musical conversation that is complimentary and relaxed. For the most part they stay within a well-designed and well-executed comfort zone that doesn’t venture too far from the melody. Klein is prone to fill her playing with fluttering trills that give the song an overly flowery feel. Wolff has captured a flowing, tonally full sound on his instrument that has a staying presence. Together they do at times produce tonally rich music. Unfortunately like so many peaceful skyscapes the colors are vibrant, but without the electricity of a good storm, it’s just another pleasant painting on the wall.

March 28, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ryan Meagher: Downers

Let me be clear: I am not sure what to make of this music. I listened to this CD multiple times because it was out of my normal listening comfort zone, but I didn’t want to dismiss it out of hand. On “Downers,” the liner notes by Meagher (pronounced "Marr") suggest that he wrote this for a friend who he thought was on depression medication. The melody definitely captures a feeling of someone lost in his own mind; in a droning musical abyss. The approach is choppy, Sperrazza’s drums are mostly heavy handed and the whole piece sounds like garage band indie-rock with improvisational forays. The dual saxophones create an other-worldly aura that is slightly atonal at times reinforcing the image of being in a dazed state. Stillman’s alto solo is sparse and creates a somnambulistic mood while Meagher thrashes like a rock player on dissonant chords in the background and Sperranza pounds relentlessly on his toms. The song changes time signatures like a person answering a question long after it’s been asked. Three fourths of the way through the song, Meagher slashes chords like an indie-rocker and sustains notes behind Sperranzza’s driving drums before they return to the saxophones and the melody. The closing seems like the band has run out of steam, mimicking a drug induced crash with the drums punctuating that theme.

New York based Meagher says in the liner notes that this is the best he has to offer. It is not for everyone and certainly falls outside the genre most of us call jazz, but the composition is interesting and the energy level is enviable, and the music tells a story—however disjointed it might be.

March 28, 2009 · 1 comment

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Madeleine Peyroux: Instead

The knock on Madeleine Peyroux is that she just imitates Billie Holiday. But that's not fair. For one thing, Billie Holiday had a much more modern sounding rhythm section back in 1937. Peyroux's on-the-beat guitar strumming here, matched by the respectful chug-uh-lug of the rest of the band, might have been cutting edge during the Coolidge administration, but is more retro than retro these days. Yet if you checked out some of the other tracks on this CD, you would think you had stumbled into a Steely Dan session by mistake.

As you may have already guessed by now, if you want to enjoy this music, you best be advised to forget your jazz bearings. The jazz elements here are just for show and, like the backdrops on a movie set, you shouldn't expect them to be up to code. Peyroux has bigger aims in sight than pleasing finicky folks like me. She wants to be a major pop diva, in the spirit of other artists produced by Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell, Tracy Chapman). And she just might pull it off. Heck, she's halfway there already, having shown up in TV ad campaigns for both Dockers and Old Navy. I am rooting for Peyroux to make the most of this crossover success. She has a sweet, informal way of phrasing, and infuses her personality into every line she delivers. Yes, you can hear hints of Lady Day, but they are just hints. In truth, Peyroux has an immediately recognizable style all her own.

Jazz folks shouldn't complain that she has forgotten us in her quest for stardom. An artist like this is just what the commercial music scene needs nowadays. In any event, it would be a shame if people just associated this singer with khakis and denims.

March 28, 2009 · 0 comments

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Diana Krall: Too Marvelous for Words

I learned one thing on the playground basketball courts as a kid . . . if you keep on using the same moves over and over again, they stop working. You can't always fake to the left then move to the right.

Musicians are no different from hoopsters in this regard, yet they are tempted to return again and again to the formulas that worked in the past. This is all preamble to asking whether Diana Krall should return to the studio with the same musicians, the same arranger and conductor, the same languid bossa nova tempos, the same types of songs from the same era, the same producer, etc. etc. that she has worked to such perfection in the past. Okay, let's be fair, and give her credit for a striking new hairstyle. Other than that, the offerings on her new Quiet Nights CD could easily be holdovers from her The Look of Love sessions in 2001.

Krall fans will respond: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." They have a valid point. No one handles this type of material better than Diana Krall, and it is no small feat to take a song from 1937, and revivify its inner emotional life. Krall always seems to go a few steps deeper than the thousand or so cabaret performers who tackle these same numbers routinely. By the way, Krall also appears to be going deeper into her singing register these days. She takes this song in A flat, although I would think her voice would be better matched to the melody if it were a few steps higher, up in B flat or C territory. This is more like Cassandra Wilson's home turf, and it forces the vocalist to sing under much of the arrangement. An odd decision for Krall, but in some peculiar way it enhances the confessional angle of the lyrics.

So Krall makes the same move again, and I am caught flat-footed and watch her glide to the hoop. But next time down the court I fully expect her to surprise me with a pick and roll.

March 28, 2009 · 2 comments

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Helge Lien: Gamut Warning

The leadoff track to Lien’s Hello Troll is built around Berg’s funky bass line using an odd time signature; this is very much an acoustic groover. The insistent energy fed off the rhythm section is jettisoned in short releases, as Lien takes an extreme minimalist approach to his piano, dropping on occasional chord, repeated notes and truncated single line phrases, like stopping thoughts in mid-sentence. His lean playing is impressionistic in the fine Norwegian tradition of Esbjörn Svensson, but the angular, circular groove recalls an unplugged Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin.

On a technical level, “Gamut Warning” won’t knock the socks off of anybody, but that’s not the point. It’s about the spiritual, atmospheric and contemplative by a trio that acts as a living organism of mood.

March 28, 2009 · 0 comments

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Richard Harris: Club Havana

Harris was motivated to self-produce his first album as leader after being diagnosed in 2007 with amyloidosis, a rare and incurable disease. He calls the result “intimate jazz” that “creates a mood of warmth and romance.” While Harris hardly improvises (unlike his sidemen), except for an occasional fleeting embellishment, his rich sound and heartfelt expressiveness help generate appealing interpretations of mostly ballad standards, as well as three of his own finely crafted originals. A number of selections are dedicated to “trumpet greats” such as Clifford Brown, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, and Freddie Hubbard.

His “Club Havana” is perhaps the most unfettered track on the CD. Harris's lustrous flugelhorn plays the dancing theme over an infectious Latin pulse. Jansson's tenor solo flows with an acutely lyrical, Getz-like sensibility. Kieswetter delivers skillfully executed accompaniment on electric piano, in addition to a lilting and assured solo. Harris caresses the melody once again before the surprise appearance of a boppish vamp right out of Bird on 52nd Street, a perfect finishing touch to this well-arranged performance.

March 27, 2009 · 0 comments

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Nat King Cole: I Know That You Know

Although Cole was an influential jazz pianist, it was his vocals that ensured his popularity, and around 1950 he became essentially a pop balladeer who no longer accompanied himself on piano. However, two mid-'50's albums for Capitol, Piano Stylings and the much better-known After Midnight, reminded those who still cared of what they were missing. While the After Midnight tracks all featured a Cole vocal and a guest soloist, there's also enough Cole piano improvisation to whet one's appetite for more.

Cole's vibrant piano style, derived from Earl Hines and Teddy Wilson, and which in turn inspired Oscar Peterson, is particularly evident on the up-tempo "I Know That You Know." The piercing violin of Stuff Smith adds further impetus, as does the robust rhythm section. Young sets the frantic pace, Smith exchanges brief whirling passages with Cole's piano, and then Cole sings the lyrics in a relaxed and assured manner. Smith captivates in his solo, and Cole follows and more than holds his own, lucid and nimble with not a note wasted or out of place. He and the violinist resume their dialogue, showing great rapport and spirited invention before Young's boisterous drum break launches Cole's vocal reprise. A final buoyant Smith-Cole instrumental interaction seals the deal on this memorable track. Forget about "Nature Boy" and "Mona Lisa." This is Nat Cole the jazz singer-pianist.

March 27, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dave Douglas: Circular

The Dave Douglas quartet with Chris Potter, which later became a quintet with pianist Uri Caine and now features saxophonist Donny McCaslin, has probably been the trumpeter's most "conventional" group. The music is inspired by Miles Davis and '60's Blue Note artists such as Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, Lee Morgan, and Andrew Hill, while also acknowledging Herbie Nichols, Booker Little, Anthony Braxton, Julius Hemphill, and Ornette Coleman. The compositions, arrangements, and improvisations are all thought-provoking and unclichéd, and result in music generally accessible to those listeners unburdened by pre-determined expectations.

The track "Circular" no doubt gained its title from the revolving nature of the theme, with concise stand-alone phrases that connect logically and seamlessly, and reach a satisfying resolution. The subsequent playful interplay between Douglas and Potter leads to the tenorist's sweeping, authoritative solo, his attack alternating between punched-out bursts of notes and long, convoluted runs, as Douglas enters at times in a role similar to a comping pianist. Douglas' improv takes a typical approach, embellishing and expanding upon a variety of motifs in an inviting and unassuming manner. Note the pithy Douglas-Potter vamp that frames a riveting bass solo by Genus. The return to the theme by Douglas and Potter gives way to a dazzling contrapuntal interlude, augmented by Perowsky's vigorous, sympathetic drum work.

March 27, 2009 · 0 comments

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Roger Davidson: Si Loin de Toi

The versatile Davidson's third album of tangos is the first to feature exclusively his own compositions. It also reunites him with world-class bandoneonist Raul Jaurena, who appeared on Davidson's 1995 Mango Tango. The tangos heard here will probably appeal a bit more to tango traditionalists than to those listeners who favor Astor Piazzolla's more intense "nuevo tango" approach, given their controlled lyricism and refined emotional impact.

"Si Loin de Toi" is the only one of the CD's 18 tracks without a Spanish title (Davidson was born in Paris, but raised in the U.S.), and is described as "a tune about longing for someone you love who is very far away." It is also the longest and one of the most striking performances on the recording. Davidson begins with ominous chords that are soon replaced by the wistfully yearning melody, supported by Jaurena's concordant long tones. Davidson's glowing sound enriches the beautiful theme. Jaurena then takes the lead, playing with great feeling and subtle craftsmanship as he evokes the master Piazzolla himself. The twosome then join together to intimately harmonize the theme, while also individually embellishing certain phrases.

March 27, 2009 · 0 comments

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Pat Martino: Waltz for Geri

Since the vast majority of Martino’s recordings as a leader are outside the realm of organ-jazz, his solo debut El Hombre with Pitts is a real treat to hear this twenty-two year old guitarist perform after cutting his teeth in the service of Jack McDuff, Richard ‘Groove’ Holmes and Willis Jackson. The leadoff tune from that album, “Waltz For Geri,” isn’t just generic soul-jazz, however; Fine and Johnson’s percussion brings a Latin element to the table. Pitts exploits that groove with full organ chords that swing in perfect tandem with the percussionists, never drawing too much attention to herself. However, the main draw is clearly Martino himself. Already we hear him playing classic bop lines, but with his trademark clarity and precision already in evidence.

“Waltz For Geri” was one of 25 tracks selected for Prestige Records’ new compilation of all-time best performances recorded by that label. Martino’s striking first impression as a solo artist deserves this inclusion among other memorable tracks by jazz giants.

March 27, 2009 · 0 comments

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Avery Sharpe: Visible Man

“Visible Man” has an opening refrain that conjures up Mingus’s “Goodbye Pork-Pie Hat”, without being the slightest bit plagiaristic. Avery Sharpe and his tight trio create a memorable piece of music that waltzes along in an easy, lilting manner. Onaje Allan Gumbs' piano is well suited to this rhythmically based piece that has such an enduring melody. The song, with a hint of Americana and an almost folk-like sensibility, is appealing and should attract other musicians to make use of its deceptively simple theme as a vehicle for further impressions. Gumbs' fine blues-based explorations are succinctly displayed during his solo, which encompasses sensitivity, lyricism and creativity, all with deft economy. Sharpe is a formidable bassist whose tone is full and whose attack is mildly aggressive without being harsh. Winnard creates a rattlesnake-like effect on his snare while Sharpe lays down the melody on his bass to great effect. Sharpe showcases the bass as a lead instrument with confidence and poise without puffed-up bravado. He is capable of rapid-fire pizzicato technique while never losing the waltz-like bottom at the song’s core. “Visible Man” is a fine example of the classic formation of piano, bass and drums at its best.

March 26, 2009 · 0 comments

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Harvie S: Miyako

As stated in the liner notes for Now Was The Time, playing the songs is never about dazzling technique for these two guys who have that in spades, but rather about “the music itself, letting the tunes be songs.” Thus, choosing songs with strong melodies enhances the performance, and using a classic Shorter composition like the beautifully intricate tone-poem “Miyako” is always going to be a wise choice.

S, a no-nonsense bassist in the tradition of Ray Brown, uses his sweetly benign playing style to gently coax out the long, elliptical melodic phrases of the composition. He blurs the line between performance and harmony so successfully, the listener is apt to not even notice he is hearing a bass solo, just the song being exquisitely rendered. Barron could hardly be any more sympathetic, releasing the chords thoughtfully as if they were valuable commodities.

Together, S and Barron make “Miyako” the fully realized aural Picasso that Shorter intended for it to be with just two instruments.

March 26, 2009 · 0 comments

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Terry Riley: The Cusp of Magic

Take a quick glance at the sleeve of this CD and you will assume that Terry Riley has composed a piece for string quartet. But it may be more correct to say that Riley wrote a piece to subvert the whole concept of a string quartet. You know something odd is going on from the opening bars, which sound like a work for percussion ensemble. Wu Man's pipa (essentially a Chinese lute) adds to the exotic flavor, and before we have finished with this six-movement piece, we will encounter vocals, ambient effects and the accompaniment of various (according to the liner notes) "toys." The Kronos Quartet do get a chance to pull out their bows and play their usual instruments, but this is just part of the wonderful, wild concoction that Mr. Riley offers here. Yet The Cusp of Magic is not just a clever exercise in getting string players to tinker with toys—we have all seen experimental performances of that sort, which are usually about as interesting as a Fisher-Price starter kit. Riley's music, for all its iconoclasm, is not about cleverness. Rather it is a celebration of the musical; that said, Riley's sense of musicality sometimes takes him to strange places. But when this composer goes off on one of his sonic scavenger hunts, you are advised to come along on the journey.

March 25, 2009 · 0 comments

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Radam Schwartz: Grieve But Be Brief

In this soulful blues song that sounds like it could be the mood setter for a particularly poignant scene from a movie or particularly maudlin soap opera, we find a particularly sympathetic symbiosis between Williams and Schwartz at work.

Williams has a soulful sound on his alto that ekes out sadness and sorrow to perfection with a tone that reminds me of Cannonball, an influence no doubt. Schwartz manipulates the sound of his organ to match Williams’ evocative mood. Together the two have created an unusually simple but potent communication between them. They tell a story of grief and expression but end on hope and don’t allow the piece to extend itself into melancholy. Schwartz dances with his right hand while sustaining with his left to wring out the required effect. It is a testament to these two musicians that in this minimalist format they can deliver such a strong emotionally charged performance. With the exception of an overreaching flourish by Williams toward the end that just barely misses the mark, this is a testament to the theory that sometimes less is more.

March 25, 2009 · 0 comments

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Scott Reeves: Incandescence

Scott Reeves is an educator and a bit of a pioneer. According to his album notes, he designed the alto valve trombone by taking a standard valve trombone and cutting off one-third of the tubing! On "Incandescence" Scott creates a moody, impressionistic sound using the lower register of his modified instrument.

With the rhythmic palette established by the repetitive piano lines of the lyrical Ridl on piano, Reeves is allowed the license to splash his tonal colors on this slowly developing theme. Joined by Perry on tenor the two seamlessly combine in a dual horn statement that establishes the pensive mood. A short but probing bass solo by McGuirk also adds another color to the canvas. Watson’s cymbals are barely heard keeping time and rightly so. Ridl’s wistful piano is delicate and sensitive. It is Reeves and Perry that gingerly pass tonal ideas between each other in a beautiful dance-like fashion that is the equivalent of two familiar ballet partners anticipating each others moves.

March 25, 2009 · 0 comments

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Cannonball Adderley: Still Talkin' To Ya

Cannonball Adderley's "Still Talkin' To Ya" can be considered an authentic blues tune. Its slow burn utilizes the standard 1-4-5 blues pattern, yet the atmosphere is more relaxed i.e. "jazz." Other links are similar between blues recordings from this era and this track, such as the use of acoustic bass, the predominance of acoustic piano, and upfront soloing that uses a great deal of space to its benefit. This particular cut may not be either the most intense nor the most innovative due to its reliance on a heavily treaded musical path, but it has a certain undeniable place in music history.

Around the time of this recording, popular blues artists such as Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, and B.B. King were experimenting with their sound by adding horns to the mix. While the resulting fusion between the minimal orchestration of blues and the brassier, horn driven sounds of jazz was meant to place the two genres on the same level of respectability, here, these players are not concerned with advancing any sort of broad-minded agenda, and the approach is more true to the original, unencumbered spirit of blues than to the more commercialized R&B of such contemporaries as King and Ray Charles.

March 25, 2009 · 0 comments

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Cannonball Adderley: Bohemia After Dark

Cannonball Adderley's "Bohemia After Dark" is one snazzy tune. Free-flowing in its conception, the track kicks off and ends with very strong unison horn work by the brothers Adderley and some excellent backing by the rhythm section. Nat solos first, and, while it takes him a few bars to fully get it together, his cornet significantly sounds as strong as it would on many of the later Cannonball classics that he penned.

There is an old-time feel to the recording, as many of the rough edges that characterized analog recordings of the era exist, but, for the most part, the recording has been cleaned up enough for those same edges to add a certain tonal character. Cannonball's own solo is as explosive as spontaneous combustions can be, and, as the rest of the ensemble contributes snappy solos, the main melody returns to provide the cut with a definite rousing finality that befits the improvisations it buffered. The track is killer, the concept of loose jazz swinging freely in the dark atmosphere of a cocktail lounge is effective, and the music's boundaries are open enough for the track to be considered both a descendant of bop and a forefather of fusion.

March 25, 2009 · 0 comments

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Cannonball Adderley: With Apologies To Oscar

"With Apologies to Oscar" is not the most precisely performed track on Cannonball Adderley's Spontaneous Combustion, but, without a doubt, it still entertains. While Cannonball's soloing provides the cut with its highlight, by comparison, his brother's skinflint leads aren't far behind in terms of the talent levels showcased here. On fire, both men cut up the air with spiffy runs and fluid lines that more than apologize for the comparatively weak trumpet solo by a very young and green Donald Byrd, who hadn't reached a significant level of accomplishment at this time.

During the trade-off section that accompanies the drum breaks, the bassiest tones ring out of both saxes regardless of their actual tonality, and the group's overall tightness is amazing. The tempo never fluctuates, and the music continues swinging into infinity amidst the aura of youthful musical mastery. Listeners familiar with later (and more popular) Cannonball recordings will hear both brothers playing signature licks, as the smoothness of the two musicians is incredible even on one of their earliest captured takes. The tune was obviously an important calling card for the performers, as it led to greater recognition and success in the jazz world for most of the contributors.

March 25, 2009 · 0 comments

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Cannonball Adderley: A Little Taste

A mid-tempo cooker, "A Little Taste" commences with a mellow tone and underneath grey skies. Sounding like it was recorded on a rainy day, minor keys provide a dark and foreboding atmosphere that forces the horns to emote through dense clouds. While Cannonball's solo floats high above the rest of the personnel, Nat Adderley mutes his cornet and the tones sound recorded under water. Things smooth out a bit as pianist Hank Jones takes his solo turn; since the cut is driven by Jones' piano and the rhythm section for the most part, they are (unsurprisingly) rendered in more typical fashion. The obvious production techniques employed on the cut are more prevalent on the horns, and this dichotomy provides a bit of tonal confusion. The lack of sonic consistency is somewhat dominant, keeping the track from reaching its true ebb even though it does flow. Unfortunately, the mix sounds a bit watered down for dynamism, but the track is still enjoyable for fans of either the Adderley Brothers or classic jazz cuts recorded alongside such masterpieces of the era as "Round About Midnight," which featured Adderley contemporaries Miles Davis and John Coltrane.

March 25, 2009 · 0 comments

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Cannonball Adderley: Chasm

Chasms are defined as wide open spaces, but Cannonball Adderley's "Chasm" is filled with vibrancy and sound. The tune is basically a sax duel between Adderley and Jerome Richardson, and while Richardson's turn on tenor showcases his sweeping, stop-on-a-dime style, phenomenal is the transition between the two saxmen. Richardson's playing is no slouch, and those unfamiliar with the differences in tone between alto and tenor saxophones might not immediately notice that, at 2:14, the two horn players switch off. However, the higher pitch of Adderley's alto sax is the tip-off, and he pushes towards the end with forward momentum that leads the track into a speedier, more swinging direction.

The irony is that the track is dedicated to the spirit of an abyss; the players are not left with much breathing room because of the manic energy, and, as a result, the cut does not sound like the most serious in the Cannonball catalog. This is not a detriment, though; the tune exudes a light sense of humor and sarcasm due to the overall looseness of approach. Such dedication to spontaneity is sometimes the key to understanding what the merit of jazz music is in the first place.

March 25, 2009 · 0 comments

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King Oliver and his Orchestra: Sweet Like This

Recorded at the threshold of the Great Depression and the 1930s, this melancholy tune seems to presage King Oliver's demise (he would die destitute in Savannah in 1938) and mourn the passing of the New Orleans "big noise." The comfortable, laid-back pulse foreshadows the piano-bass-drum ballad swing of the 1950s and onward. Its layout features four successive horn solos—alto, trombone, open trumpet (Nelson), and muted trumpet (an expressive Oliver). Yet the piece overall is a "sweet" arrangement, and that's where American music was going.

The next year, Oliver would take his band on the road, where it would essentially stay until the end of his life, stranded, broke, run out of town, continually falling apart. The King was losing his teeth, so when audiences requested that he play his recorded solos, he had to turn them down. Yet the band always appeared dressed to the nines. Joe's sidemen reported that he never missed a gig and could still play with great range and power. In the end, he wrote to his beloved sister Victoria, "I'm still out of work…. But I've got a lot to thank God for. Because I eat and sleep…. Look like every time one door close, the Good Lord open another…."

March 25, 2009 · 0 comments

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King Oliver and his Dixie Syncopators: Slow and Steady

This sweet, bluesy melody, coming a year after "Farewell Blues," reveals the King Oliver band becoming yet more arranged and less polyphonic, with unison horn choruses beginning and ending the tune. In between emerge three solos, including a sparkly, muted-trumpet turn by Louis Metcalf. He had been recording with Ellington for two years, on such originals as "East St. Louis Toodle-O" and "Black and Tan Fantasy." Oliver admired him and, now that Joe's teeth and gums were failing, began using Metcalf (and others) to assume his lead and/or solo work.

Metcalf does so here and, interestingly, goes for the leader's wah-wah approach—even though with Ellington he had been a bit straighter. On the other hand, how could Metcalf have avoided the approach, when Bubber Miley had been in his face (with Ellington), and Miley had picked up his growling style from Oliver!

The ensembles have an elastic feel here. The trombone/reed section echoes the lead trumpet—just a millisecond behind—as though they're playing the same song, yet a different song. Everybody's got something to say! Yet overall, when compared with Ellington's concurrent recordings, Oliver's sound appears weakening. Away from New Orleans, he was a fish out of water.

March 25, 2009 · 0 comments

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King Oliver and his Dixie Syncopators: Farewell Blues

Despite all the acclaim for King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band and its historic issue of 37 sides, this cover of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings' "Farewell Blues" may rank as my all-time Oliver favorite. The NORK had recorded it five years earlier, also at Gennett Studios. Their white band was known to emulate the African-Americans—particularly Oliver—and they often succeeded. Listen to their composition "Angry" and their romping "Sobbin' Blues," both recorded the same day in August 1923.

But here the Dixie Syncopators take the NORK's hopping tempo and cut it 18% (by my metronomic measurement) down to size, giving the feel of a huge riverboat rolling. I like to call the effect "long-wave swing," where the piece as a whole swings—rather than any one section, segment or instrument. Note the final two coming-together choruses, with the clarinet rising on the second. Although they play from a printed score, this band ain't goin' nowhere, since they're already there and screaming for glory.

March 25, 2009 · 0 comments

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King Oliver and his Dixie Syncopators: Wa Wa Wa

Most observers agree that Joe Oliver was among the first brass men (if not the first) to change his sound by sticking bottles, cans, kazoos, or what have you into the bell of his cornet. Colleagues testified that by doing so, he could actually carry on a conversation through "talking horn" effects. Fifty years later, electric guitarists would emulate Oliver's genius using wah-wah pedals.

This dramatic composition, "Wa Wa Wa," showcases King Oliver's "talking" cornet. It also exemplifies how, with the onset of larger bands, New Orleans polyphonic ensemble play began stratifying into sections. It began slowly; at first, sections overlapped, maintaining some of the terrific Crescent City polyphony. The effect shows up here, especially in the last refrains.

Two horn choruses kick off the piece, the second with a repeated fourth-beat cymbal response from Barbarin. Cornet takes stage front for chorus #3; we're not sure whether it is Oliver or his second cornet Bob Shoffner. Note the horn's swing phrasing. But there's more.

Following two more choruses, one with an Ory "hat" trombone break, the final stratified ensembles blow into town. In the end, the band becomes a three-headed hydra—saxes and cornets swapping bars (boys running through woods tossing a ball), the clarinet weaving through them. It comes to a final head with Oliver's famed wah-wah break of repeated quarter-note yowls. Aside from his three choruses in "Dippermouth Blues" and certain other Creole Band breaks, this may rank as the most emphatic of his recorded solos.

March 25, 2009 · 0 comments

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King Oliver's Jazz Band: Snag It

Once New Orleans musicians started moving to Chicago in the 19-teens, South Side club owners began losing interest in their local players. "Snag It" shows us why. Driven by King Oliver's first "big" band—the 10-piece Dixie Syncopators—the 12-bar track moves like a train. To fill his crew, Oliver had brought in the best of his Crescent City cohort, including Ory, Bigard, Nicholas, Russell, Scott, and Barbarin. We also find Richard M. Jones doing the short vocal.

Under Oliver's opening cornet lead, soprano, alto, tenor and trombone hold a side conversation. Rather than distract, it fuels. The band moves into a bluesy, muted trombone solo, then a Latinesque stop-time soprano soliloquy. (Jelly Roll Morton taught us of the "Spanish Tinge" in jazz, and we hear it here.) Now comes Jones's vocal, a shining Oliver cornet break, two call-and-response ensemble choruses—and the train steams into the station.

March 25, 2009 · 0 comments

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Sippie Wallace (featuring King Oliver): Every Dog Has His Day

After Louis Armstrong had come and gone from King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, and after the band had collapsed, Oliver branched out. He brought an expanded group—the Dixie Syncopators—into Chicago's Plantation Café. He also recorded with the first of many blues vocalists he would accompany over the next five years.

Blues shouter Sippie Wallace (born Beulah Thomas) came up singing in the Baptist Church and in Texas tent shows. On the arms of her two musical brothers, George W. and Hersal Thomas, she moved into 19-teens New Orleans. Brother George gigged in the Storyville red-light district, where he apparently met Joe Oliver. Ten years later in Chicago, George Thomas likely brought Oliver into this session with his sister, now married and renamed Sippie Wallace—the "Texas Nightingale." Along with Oliver, brother Hersal accompanied Sippie on piano.

The recording is worn and scratched. But perhaps due to the ease between sister-brother Sippie and Hersal, or perhaps because Oliver still has most of his teeth (he would later lose them), his blues accompaniment here is dramatic, thoughtful and lyrical—among the finest of his recordings in this genre. His approach often sounds like that of Armstrong, who would cut similar sides with Bessie Smith.

In the 1970s and '80s, Sippie Wallace toured and recorded with Bonnie Raitt, whom she had inspired to start singing the blues.

March 25, 2009 · 0 comments

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King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band: Riverside Blues

A work of joy and salvation, this stirring piece sets the stage with four funereal minor-key measures, then emerges into a triumphant relative major, where it stays for the duration. As with "Jazzin' Babies Blues," it comes from the mind of Richard M. Jones, who also wrote "Trouble in Mind." It was on a New Orleans gig with Jones that King Oliver out-blew Freddie Keppard and made his first mark. Writing credit here also goes to Thomas A. Dorsey, who would compose "Peace in the Valley" (covered by Elvis Presley) and become known as the "father of gospel."

In fact, with the dirge-like beginning, the whole piece recalls a gospel service. Two staunch blues choruses, with everybody participating, give way to successive stop-time segments where individual players get to testify as "church members" say Amen behind them. With Charlie Jackson added on bass saxophone, the pounding voicings make you want to bow your head.

Armstrong takes the last testament, his cornet seeming to herald the arrival of a king. His anticipated entrances seem to say that, at the ripe old age of 22, he understood the entire plight of mankind. Perhaps this is why he became known to all of mankind.

March 25, 2009 · 1 comment

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King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band: Jazzin' Babies Blues

Joe Oliver had so much power that he must have been born to play with a mute. According to Jelly Roll Morton, Oliver started putting bottles into his horn to tone himself down. But even with that impediment, he could come out screaming. He does so here, on an enduring composition by Richard M. Jones, a New Orleans accomplice who took part in arranging the Creole Band's Gennett sessions.

This tune resembles the New Orleans Rhythm Kings' "Tin Roof Blues," which the NORK had recorded three months earlier. Some proof exists that both tunes came out of a folk strain floating around New Orleans before everyone started moving to and recording around Chicago. There, Jones himself recorded the tune on solo piano just three weeks before this June 23, 1923 Okeh Creole Band date.

Oliver had brought in Bud Scott on banjo, and Scott drives the band like John Henry driving railroad spikes. The sound is informed by Johnny Dodds's exploratory clarinet work and by Oliver's slurred phrasing, which keeps the fire lit. His explosive muted cornet solo on the fourth chorus lets us know he has something to say beyond what's written on the sheet.

March 25, 2009 · 0 comments

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King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band: Snake Rag

American jazz had forebears in minstrelsy and vaudeville, and the Creole Band's bassist/banjoist Bill Johnson had recently spent five years with the Original Creole Orchestra, touring the country in stage shows. You can hear the vaudeville flavor throughout "Snake Rag," most notably in the repeated two-cornet descending wobble/trombone slide. It follows the amusing vein found in the Original Dixieland Jazz Band's "Livery Stable Blues," recorded six years prior. As Oliver's friend and 1930s sideman Paul Barnes recalled, "All great musicians are comedians and entertainers. King Oliver was that way too."

More than one source has observed that on all these sides, Oliver's creative playing lagged behind the mark he set in New Orleans a decade earlier. But the legendary Johnny St. Cyr, who came up with Oliver and often played with him, said the best record of Oliver's style—"the real Oliver of New Orleans"—is this Okeh version of "Snake Rag," where "Oliver makes trick breaks, animal noises," as St. Cyr. These breaks loom after 2:00, when the horns' steam pressure rises, then pop up at 2:13 and 2:49, where the Oliver/ Armstrong 2-bar duet breaks recall crows cawing and swans trumpeting, respectively. Note the continuous ensemble play. As the drummer, Baby Dodds, wrote, "We worked hard to make music, and we played music to make people like it."

March 25, 2009 · 1 comment

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King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band: Dippermouth Blues (alternate review)

Joe 'King' Oliver is often remembered in jazz histories as a mere footnote to the more illustrious story of Louis Armstrong - he was the man who gave Satchmo the break that brought him out of New Orleans and into the limelight of Chicago nightlife. But this account fails to do justice to Oliver's own artistry. "Dippermouth Blues" is one of the first great recorded masterpieces of jazz - and not just for Armstrong's contribution. Oliver's solo serves as a much-needed reminder of what jazz could do before Armstrong changed all the rules. It is to the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens what great medieval art is to the Renaissance masters - not an inferior predecessor, but rather the final flowering of a purer, more rarefied style.

Early New Orleans jazz was about the quality of sound rather than the quantity of notes, and Oliver was the great master of getting the cornet to speak with a vocal tone. His range is limited here, and his phrases are built on only two or three notes of the scale. But his down-and-dirty sound captures the ethos of jazz as it emerged at the dawn of the American century. The vitality of his playing comes through despite the passing decades and inferior recording technology of the era (although the sonic fidelity is much improved on this reissue compared to earlier releases). Even today, jazz virtuosos could learn lessons about phrasing from this too-seldom-heard classic from 1923.

March 24, 2009 · 0 comments

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King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band: Dippermouth Blues

"Dippermouth Blues," from the second day of the original Gennett sessions, opens with a 4-bar diminished lead, then takes us on a gallivanting two-chorus ride over the hills, driven by a one-bar ostinato motor. As with any good motor, the parts diligently repeat their functions - as do the trombone and clarinet here, providing support for the lead cornet. The ensemble takes us to a stop-time clarinet solo. While seeming to "toot" along, Johnny Dodds - without slurring - hangs in tempo and in groove. He was known to take his music seriously.

Following another ensemble, we're into the centerpiece: King Oliver's famed three-chorus muted cornet solo. He comes in bawling and goes out rocking. Oliver's blues was the essence of his playing, and it shapes this tune. It was said he could carry a conversation using only his "talking" horn. Here, amidst the swing, he is a lone voice crying to be heard. Over a decade later, in "Sugarfoot Stomp," the Benny Goodman Orchestra still copied Oliver's "Dippermouth" solo.

March 24, 2009 · 0 comments

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King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band: Chimes Blues (alternate review)

Everything about this track screams 1923. Cornets instead of trumpets, clarinet not saxophone, banjo not guitar, woodblock in lieu of drums. Even instruments that might sound modern—trombone and piano—are dated by Dutrey's corny glissading and Lil's 2-beat backing. And the audio is, to put it politely, primitive. So what makes this track a landmark? How about because it contains Louis Armstrong's first recorded solo! At this point, Chicago Jazz was still very much a New Orleans import. But thanks to Louis, the music was transiting from ensemble to individual, something "Chimes Blues" captures in mid-commute. A fascinating, irreplaceable piece of history.

March 24, 2009 · 0 comments

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King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band: Chimes Blues

This medium-tempo piece sounds like a jazz band playing around a china vase. It follows a winding garden path through two straight ensemble blues choruses, then four more (two of them stop-time) around Lil Hardin's chamberesque piano, until it finds the main attraction: Louis Armstrong's first ever recorded solo.

Hardin, the only non-New Orleanian in the group, had received classical training. She could sound more "legit" than the other band members, who had come up "ragging" the music. But it is Armstrong who saves the day—opening the door to the china shop like a bull that just happened by. The beauty of the Oliver band—and many of the Crescent City bands—was that it could play arranged passages as though they were improvising. Armstrong walks away with the cake, swinging like nobody ever had. When you heard Louis on "Chimes Blues," Gary Giddins has commented, "You heard the future."

Although the piece fails to stand as one of Oliver's great compositions, it brings out his bluesy concept. Five years later, he reconceived it as "Mournful Serenade," which Jelly Roll Morton recorded to great effect.

March 24, 2009 · 0 comments

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King Oliver: Canal Street Blues (alternate review)

The first strain of this original blues by Joe Oliver has often been misinterpreted due to poor reissues of the original recording: What sounds like one cornet playing fully throughout each measure is actually a call and response by two cornets. The second strain (3rd chorus) is based on the famous 19th-century sacred song “The Holy City.” But what is really important here is the unity with which this ensemble performs and their collective lilt, swing and conviction. Nowhere is this more evident than in the fifth chorus where the ensemble sails into a most deliberate and compelling riff – one that presages the swing bands of the 1930s. Following two solo choruses by Johnny Dodds (accompanied by the “walking bass” of Bill Johnson’s 6-string banjo) the band reiterates the previous riff for two joyous choruses. The anachronistic two-bar coda, built on the augmented 5th of the key, is perhaps the only reminder that this was recorded in 1923.

March 24, 2009 · 0 comments

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King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band: Canal Street Blues

Having left New Orleans in 1918, King Oliver played mostly around Chicago—with a year in California—for four years. Then in 1923, after he had brought Louis Armstrong up from New Orleans, he took his Creole Band into an April 5 wax-cylinder recording session at Gennett Studios in Richmond, Indiana. They played into a big horn, and the engineer mixed the sound by moving the players closer to or farther from the horn. After nine months of these sessions, the band had produced some 37 sides—the first significant recorded body of black New Orleans jazz. It would change the shape of American music.

"Canal Street Blues," from the April 5 session, is the parade song of your dreams. In New Orleans, the parade beat drives the music: real parades, where uniformed men carrying horns would march in the heat for six to eight hours, standing up, swinging, big second lines trailing.

In this, the classic New Orleans jazz ensemble, the Creole Band drives through the heat and plays with fire streaming off their backsides. The piano-banjo-drum rhythm section, with the future Mrs. Louis Armstrong on keys, beats as if they're driving a herd—and there was one, on the dance floor. The simple, 3-note motif conjures a waving flag. Dutrey blows into the music from behind, pushing its resonance. In true New Orleans style, the clarinet takes the big solo. Enter the final ensemble, where Louis tops Oliver's lead with a "perfect" fifth and joins him in a one-bar duet break at the end, with trombone sneaking in on beats 3 and 4. Laissez les bon temps roulez!

March 24, 2009 · 0 comments

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Aaron J. Johnson: Shamba

This slow-simmered, down-home blues starts with a bellowing bass line and is chock full of flavor and soul. It’s good to hear a front line of saxophone and trombone tonally combining so nicely to state a unified theme. Trombonist Johnson and tenor saxophonist Washington set out the melody line in a sparse, mournful statement that drips with laid back hurt.

Pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs plays behind a perfectly laid out rhythmic backdrop set up by the tasteful drums of Victor Lewis and the steady bass of Robert Sabin. Gumbs tickles the blues from his keyboard with a gentle attack that wanders delightfully through the progression delivering a marvelous sense of feel and time especially at the closing of his solo.

Johnson’s turn is understated and purrs along with the hum of a powerful Peterbilt, unassuming yet muscular. He posses a throaty enjoyable tone that is soulful but disappointingly he never lets loose on this solo. Conversely, Salim Washington comes out with a strong tenor sound. His phrasing brings to mind Grover Washington at his best. Gumbs, Lewis and Sabin continue to hold it all together with tasty flourishes to the faded ending. All in all this piece saunters through your head and has you keeping the beat in time to its laid back infectious groove.

March 23, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bipolar: Killer Beau (Soir)

Cleverly but loosely wrapped in the skin of Debussy’s “Beau Soir”, this entertaining arrangement by pianist Craig Swanson takes on a jaunty beat that re-castes the mood of the piece from romantic to quixotic. With a sound reminiscent of Claude Bolling’s Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano, especially on the break when Swanson solos, this music is infectious. Its deliberate use of the fine interplay of Long’s flute, Ostrem’s bass and Swanson’s piano creates a wonderfully lilting feel in the center of the piece. They deftly dart around the melody in a carefree but deliberate way that is joyful in its approach. When at last Feuer breaks into a familiar refrain from the melody of Benny Golson’s “Killer Joe,” or in this case "Killer Beau," the sly juxtaposition works nicely to the coda. Well played and originally arranged.

March 23, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wynton Marsalis: The Sun and the Moon

If the people who invented New Orleans jazz had played in 15/8, they might have composed songs like this one. As it stands, we needed to wait for Wynton Marsalis to learn how to go retro and modern at the same time. This is the latest in the trumpeter's metrical reconfigurations of earlier jazz attitudes, dating back to "Hickory Dickory Dock" on The Majesty of the Blues some two decades before this recording. Most of this band wasn't old enough to get into a jazz club (or even a high school dance) back then, but they have imbibed the spirit of this nouveau New Orleans music admirably—although I would like to hear them challenge Marsalis more. The trumpeter for his part opts for subdued melodicism, and seems more interested in developing counterpoint lines with the sax and gliding along with the band then in asserting his horn supremacy. The title here could be the giveaway: the sun may be the biggest star in the galaxy, but it doesn't try to encroach on the moon's nightly luster. Then again, the whole theme of this CD is the necessary give-and-take that makes for successful relationship-building (complete with poetic commentary from the bandleader), and from that perspective the relaxed interactions here may be just the ticket.

March 23, 2009 · 1 comment

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Robert Glasper: J Dillalude

Robert Glasper is the champion of jazz and hip-hop. Who do the hip-hop musicians go to when they need that steady riff or consistent phrase? Houston born pianist Robert Glasper. After entering the jazz world performing with the likes of Cassandra Wilson, Glasper has equally established himself as one of the main musicians for rapper/actor Mos Def, Common and A Tribe Called Quest front man Q-Tip. On this track, Glasper pays tribute to the late great hip-hop producer Jay-Dee aka J-Dilla with the song "J Dillalude." Though the nature of the song is very simple and doesn't feature much soloing, Glasper's trio cook up the perfect homage to J-Dilla, who died in 2006, with a nice blend of soulful harmonies and head nodding drum beats and bass lines. The song is a montage of different Dilla beats but features the wonderful inflections that Glasper is known for providing. A wonderful song from one of the most promising and up and coming talents in all of music.

March 23, 2009 · 0 comments

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Remember Shakti: Shringar

Jazz musicians have been interested in Eastern music for decades. But the reverse interest from Indian musicians and listeners is a more recent phenomenon. Because of this sea change, jazz music is thriving in India these days. Western jazz musicians now travel there to play festival after festival. Remember Shakti's performance in Bombay in 2000 was another landmark in this exciting relationship between two great musical traditions.

Guest artist Shiv Kumar Sharma composed "Shringar." Sharma is a maestro of the santur (santoor), a hammered dulcimer played with curved mallets. Remember Shakti provides understated but brilliant support for him during the 26 minutes of this deeply involving piece. In the Carnatic tradition, Sharma builds tension one degree at a time. He is in no hurry. Ninety-five percent of the performance is a meditative setup for the finale. When the end of the tune is finally near, McLaughlin, Sharma, Hussain and Selvaganesh let loose. Cascading Indo-jazz notes and emphatic beats fall from the ceiling of Fhanmukhananda Hall. An excited Bombay crowd shouts its approval as the last fevered-pitch beat reverberates. The socially and artistically promising aspects of this music are still playing out. Western fans are digging the Indian influences more and more. This album was nominated for a Grammy in 2001. Eight years later, 40% of the Grammy nominees for best Contemporary Jazz Albums were Indo-jazz fusion efforts. That's a good sign for people open to the future of jazz, since this is where much of it is heading.

March 22, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jessica Lurie: Pinjur

Jessica Lurie's open-ended music is hard to categorize but easy to like. "Pinjur" is a case in point. Atop a loping beat, Lurie's alto sax and Brandon Seabrook's banjo combine for a klezmer-like unison line that may never have been played this way at a Polish wedding, but would sound pretty cool at one anyway. Seabrook later uses his banjo as an extra percussion instrument, producing hearty strums at one point and skittering atonal plucks at the breakdown point. Bassist Todd Sickafoose's funky pulse eventually brings the tune back to its Slavic theme, where Lurie and Seabrook again unite in perfect harmony.

Eastern European banjo whack jazz? Hey, I'm down for that!

March 22, 2009 · 0 comments

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Milton Nascimento: Tudo Que Você Podia Ser

What The White Album was to American rock, Milton Nascimento's Clube da Esquina was to post-bossa Brazilian music. Like the Beatles, Nascimento and company created a double-disc masterpiece with a fresh sound that nicely balanced visionary compositions with crisp, under-produced textures. This was music that made its own rules up as it went along with a boldness that still inspires imitators today. "Tudo Que Você Podia Ser" is a classic track, which starts with just soulful acoustic guitar and Nascimento's soaring voice. Soon other instruments enter, at first with occasional colors—check out Tiso's subtle organ notes, Horta's guitar, and a growing cascade of percussion sounds. Surprise! . . by the midway point this song has morphed into a simmering dance number. Give credit to the whole band, especially co-leader Lô Borges, but Nascimento's bittersweet vocals are what will grab you here. They are a soothing counter-balance to this musical tempest, holding everything together even as the energy level elevates. Welcome to the magical world of Milton Nascimento on the cusp of his thirtieth birthday, when a song could start in one dimension and end up in another place completely. But this was more than changing a tune in midstream, it was altering the whole landscape of what we now call "world music."

March 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Remember Shakti: Mukti

Remember Shakti came together as an officially sponsored unit to tour Europe in celebration of the 50th anniversary of India's and Pakistan's independence. The group's first incarnation featured the great Indian bansuri (wooden flute) maestro Hariprasad Chaurasia as guitarist John McLaughlin's partner in melody. Chaurasia wrote "Mukti." Let me tell you how to prepare for a listen. You need to be a patient person. Make yourself some tea. Insert the CD into the player. Find a yourself a comfortable reclining position and do not leave the room for 63 minutes and 30 seconds. A minute missed is an hour missed. Chaurasia plays hauntingly beautiful music. Let your mind wander among his Carnatic intonations. Guitarist McLaughlin follows with meditative slurred blues lines. The gears move quickly sometimes. But this is a slow journey through the recesses of the great spiritual aspirations. Agnostics will believe. The interplay between McLaughlin and the flutist is a heavenly improvisational give and take. Tabla player supreme Zakir Hussain and ghatam player Vikku Vinayakram clear the path for the entire hour. Their highlights come almost an hour into the song as they engage in an exciting duel. A performance this lengthy isn't for everybody. That's too bad. If we were all able to set aside an hour a day to listen to beautiful music, study brilliant art or read fine literature, the world would be a better place. I mean that.

March 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Shirley Horn: Memories of You

The two Washington, D.C., natives, Shirley Horn and Buck Hill, had a special rapport, as evident on tracks featuring them both on several of Horn's Verve CDs, which helped launch her "comeback" and led to wider recognition of her singular vocal and piano skills. Hill's profile was also on the rise in the '80s as a top mainstream saxophonist, so that their recorded interactions couldn't have been better timed.

Horn and Hill linger over "Memories of You" for a full, mesmerizing seven minutes. Few singers have the talent or courage to take such an old warhorse at such a snail's pace. Horn's deliberate, understated recital of the lyrics – phrase by separated phrase – revitalizes them, as Hill plays sensuous obbligatos in flawless support, and Horn accompanies herself with softly accentuating chords. Hill's absorbing solo is more extroverted, but with a controlled passion. Horn continues her tastefully appropriate comping right up to the saxophonist's well-conceived and gracefully executed resolution. The singer concludes with one more hesitant, thoughtful and ultimately heartbreakingly intimate journey through the familiar words and melody of Razaf and Blake. The composers wrote the song as a feature for the three-octave vocal range of Minto Cato in the Broadway musical revue Blackbirds of 1930. Horn brings it down to earth utilizing limited vocal resources, yet with sensitivity and artistry second to none.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Neil Haverstick: Snake Dance

Neil Haverstick has been a practitioner, teacher and promoter of microtonal music for many years, and on this track plays a guitar customized with a 34-tone equal temperament fretboard, which adds no less than 22 notes to the usual 12 tones per octave of most Western music. Depending on Haverstick's mindset and mode of attack, the resulting effect can vary from quirky to freakish harmonically and rhythmically, while somehow always managing to remain musically logical, intriguing and, most importantly, entertaining.

"Snake Dance" sounds at times like a warped version of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band's 1966 East-West, but with Chico Hamilton sitting in on drums. Ernie Crews's mallet work is outstanding throughout, and along with Haverstick's tremulous guitar voicings gives the piece a raga-like or Middle-Eastern character. The occasional striking of a gong contributes to the ambiance. Initially Haverstick's guitar resembles that of Elvin Bishop on the original East-West, but after Crews's solo mallet interlude, the guitarist launches a spate of echoing overtones that take the track in a totally different aural direction. Haverstick shifts briefly to bass guitar at one point, and especially impresses later with some rapid and dexterous slide guitar work. The eerie conclusion seems to come from a nightmarish sci-fi movie in which aliens threaten to take over Earth.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Tootin' Through the Roof (1939)

For Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra, 1939 was a transitional year. Billy Strayhorn and Jimmy Blanton came on board, setting the stage for the classic recordings that began in 1940 when Ben Webster also joined the band – selections that included "Jack the Bear," "Ko-Ko," and "Concerto for Cootie." In 1939, Ellington was still largely focused on capitalizing on the flourishing swing craze, with varying degrees of originality or artistry. Then again, Duke always mixed the commercial numbers with his more ambitious works; after all, he and his band members needed to make a living.

"Tootin' Through the Roof" is an exciting example of Duke giving the listening public what they most wanted to hear. The catchy riff theme is enhanced by the interweaving of brash trumpet outbursts and velvety saxophone lines. Johnny Hodges and Lawrence Brown play brief but attention-grabbing solos before Rex Stewart and Cootie Williams take center stage. Their intricate melodic exchanges, with Stewart primarily in the lead, culminate in a bracing high-note coda. "Concerto for Cootie" it's not, but "Tootin' Through the Roof" entertains from start to finish.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gary Bartz: But Not For Me

Gary Bartz began his career in the '60s with the groups of Max Roach/Abby Lincoln, Art Blakey, McCoy Tyner, and finally Miles Davis in 1970-71 (check him out on Live-Evil), before forming his popular NTU Troop and subsequently losing his way with more commercial, unfocused projects. By the '90s, Bartz was back in the land of hard and post bop for good, now considered an altoist with an individual and fully formed stylistic approach, if no longer thought of as a potential great on his instrument as had once been the case in his youth.

This ballad feature presents a clear picture of Bartz's influences, most prominently Coltrane, Rollins, McLean and Stitt, although it's also evident that Bartz has transcended these role models. (Coltrane's version from his My Favorite Things album comes most immediately to mind.) Bartz's perfectly rounded, succulent tone enhances his presentations of both the verse and main theme, as well as his many original ideas expressed during an effervescent, technically polished solo. Bartz is also not reluctant to coarsen or add dissonance to his sound in order to make a more emotionally intense point. Pianist Mulgrew Miller follows with a stirring solo of his own, only to be topped by bassist Dave Holland's remarkable in-the-pocket virtuosity immediately thereafter. Bartz returns for the theme and the beginnings of a heated out-chorus before a fadeout at the 9:25 mark. This is a saxophonist one wouldn't want to foolishly try to challenge or top at an otherwise friendly jam session.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gil Evans: The Barbara Song

As is the case with almost all of Gil Evans's most personal treatments of other people's works, calling this performance an "arrangement" doesn't begin to do it justice. Evans has transported this song from Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera into a sound world all his own. In doing so, Evans and Wayne Shorter establish new parameters for the jazz ballad arrangement and for the jazz solo within an arrangement.

The near-perfect integration of the various musical elements on this track is simply amazing. The tempo is the slowest of any jazz performance I know, and there are no tempo changes or double-timing. The instrumentation is unusual to say the least, but the orchestral colors and, more importantly, the rhythmic and melodic content of the writing are simultaneously abstract and crystal clear. Upon first hearing the funereal tempo and ominous orchestral colors, the listener may be tempted to file this track under the heading of "ECM trance-music" and move on, but close listening will reveal an ever-changing mosaic of sound.

Wayne Shorter's solo emerges out of the orchestral fabric so seamlessly and stays so closely connected to it that the conventional separation between solo and background is almost totally obliterated. Shorter accomplishes the incredible feat of delivering a thoroughly personal statement while remaining totally blended into his surroundings. The number of players who could have pulled this off, especially considering the tempo, can be counted on the fingers of one hand. A severely underrated aspect of this and many other Evans records is Gil's spare but intensely personal piano playing, which resembles a space-age take on Count Basie and Claude Thornhill.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: One Finger Snap

This was one of the first of Herbie’s tunes that I ended up transcribing; I love the way his lines are moving through the chords. It’s unique and innovative, bringing bebop to the next level of harmonic innovation. The composition is so open-ended harmonically, and the rhythm section sparkles as they follow Freddie Hubbard's solo and play over the changes. The chords are not the expected II-V-I type of changes that you find either in standards or in older bebop tunes. Every chord change is its own mode, its own area, and the way that Herbie defines and identifies each of these areas is so creative. He uses the harmonic areas as a springboard for these lines, but it doesn’t sound schematic at all—it’s fresh and inspired. A lot of it also has to do with Herbie's touch, and the rhythmic freedom of the solo, the fluidity of his lines.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Maiden Voyage

“Maiden Voyage” uses more static harmonic areas than a tune with a lot of fast moving changes. The first section moves from a D-suspended chord to an F-suspended chord, and the rhythmic feel is a cross between a straight eighth-note feel and a sort of Latin vibe. Instead of moving through a lot of harmonic changes, the song stays on these areas for a longer period of time. The way Herbie plays on it is less a question of lines than that he’s using the harmonic space as a springboard to play a great variety of musical ideas. Herbie's way of playing over the changes is so fresh, and the rhythmic feel is relaxed but intense at the same time. He's not playing through II-V-I standards harmony, or even bebop harmony. It’s much more of a modal thing. The song gives him time to flesh out ideas, some involving lines, and some of which are much more harmonic or rhythmic. I think that during this period when a lot of modal playing was happening, a lot of players were looking to slow down the harmonic movement of the tunes to allow a certain space to occur in order to allow a variety of melodic, rhythmic and textural ideas to develop within the solo. It’s not just playing lines over those chords, which could sound boring after a while. Herbie’s ideas follow each other logically, but there’s a feeling of contrast, of dialogue or a sort of discourse, where he presents one idea, then the next, and a story is being told. He’s also a very interactive player, and he’s feeding off of what’s happening in the rhythm section.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: My Funny Valentine

“My Funny Valentine” made such a strong impression on me when I first heard it. I understood how standards could be opened up and played in many different ways, using many different grooves and a flexible approach in choosing chords and harmonic substitutions. It starts as a duet between Herbie and Miles, and Herbie uses very extended chords, substituting new chords for the song’s original chords. The pianistic touch and textures he brings in are so beautiful, and create a lot of contrast in his accompaniment to Miles. Some chords that he uses behind Miles might have two notes, while others are richer and denser, often implying polytonality; he superimposes different chords, which gives the song a lush, impressionistic harmony. Then when the whole group starts to come in and swing, Herbie responds to whatever events occur. Sometimes he lays back or plays against Tony Williams’ polyrhythms. In comping for the soloists, sometimes he leads them on, but he also uses a lot of harmonic abstraction. His own solo is very creative and emotional —he hints at the harmony and uses a lot of substitutions, so it has a fresh, unexpected sound, And when he starts to swing, it is intense! You could say that he might be coming out of a combination of Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, but the actual sound is so distinctive as to be immediately identifiable as Herbie. I think that this piece influenced a lot of pianists, first of all, in how they reharmonized standards, and also towards using much more advanced type of harmony for the time—what he did was really special.

It’s hard to pick just one tune on which Herbie is playing with Miles. I also love how creatively he plays on "All of You," where each soloist ends the solo with an extended tag in Eb. Another great recording that I listened to endlessly are all the sets from the Plugged Nickel. Of course, Herbie is operating as part of a very innovative rhythm section, so it’s not just him. For example, Tony Williams was changing the parameters of how drummers play with the group, because he would switch up the grooves so much and could swing in so many tempos and feels. This rhythm section instantly adapts to any little hint of change. If it seems like Miles is going to start swinging, they swing. If it feels like he wants to slow down and make it a ballad, they slow down and make it a ballad. If they want to go into sort of a Latin feel, they do that. Each person in the rhythm section, either Herbie or Ron or Tony, can initiate the move, because they’re listening so closely to each other and to the soloist. It led to a much more interactive concept of group playing than what had been happening, where the rhythm section would keep the rhythm going in one way, and the pianist fed the chords to the soloist. But I think Miles was encouraging them to experiment that way. Any one of them could take the lead, or drop out, or play strong, or sort of take the lead. Playing a standard but opening it up to a wide range of mutating possibilities instead of playing head-solos-head gave the music a different dynamic—the tune itself could be taken through all these different feels and emotions, imparting freshness and an unexpected quality.

March 20, 2009 · 1 comment

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Herbie Hancock: Actual Proof

“Actual Proof” from the record Thrust was very important to me. One thing that I love about it is the way the structure works—there’s a tricky bassline where sometimes you’re not sure where one is, and sometimes the second beat sounds like it’s on one—and how the improvisation works against the structure. As those events happen, the soloist’s challenge is to make sure he’s expressing what the structure is, while also playing through it. Here Mike Clark is really funky, Paul Jackson plays very contrapuntally, and Herbie plays creative, open ideas against that. I also like that it’s an electric piano. Herbie is not only a great acoustic piano player, but also really got the thwack you need to play the different colors that the electric piano brought into the music—and here all those colors are on display. Sometimes he’s playing really complicated lines against the bassline. Other times he’s really funky against the bassline. Other times, he’s sort of playing counter-rhythms against the bassline, which has the effect of taking something that’s displaced and displacing it even further. The whole thing adds up into a really thrilling song. There’s a thrilling version of "Actual Proof” on a record called The Flood, which was a live date made in Japan about a year later with the same rhythm section, but Herbie is playing acoustic. I’ll choose this version, because it’s the first one that came out. I also like that it’s really funky, but once you start to delve into the structure, it’s not just predictable funk. It’s a puzzle to play over, but you’d never know from the ease and grace Herbie expresses when he plays on it. He’s always so rhythmically secure, so that even when things get really tricky, he’s just floating above it and playing the form.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea: Liza

It’s hard for me pick between “Liza” and “Someday My Prince Will Come” on this record, but I will pick “Liza.” Herbie is always so open to playing with other people in different situations. One challenge of duo piano playing is that if either of the pianists takes up too much space, it doesn’t give room to the other person. It’s a real test of how interactive you can be. Yet, on the other hand, the more you go for it in terms of setting up something that the other pianist has to react to, then the more the music can go in different places. I remember seeing Herbie and Chick play live at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia, when they came out on tour. It was very strange, because a lot of the crowd showed up expecting a fusion concert from the advertising, and when two guys came out and just played acoustic piano, there was a lot of stirring—they weren’t so happy with it. But I was thrilled, because I couldn’t believe they were just playing standards—and really playing their asses off! I also remember that Herbie and Chick played on a local TV show in Philadelphia called The Mike Douglas Show to promote their gig. Mike Douglas was a sort of crooner who had a talk show but it was an incredible show—you can see great videos of Sly Stone and Muhammad Ali on his show. He would invite Yoko Ono and John Lennon. People would come down to Philadelphia for a week, and he would let them dominate the show. Anyway, Herbie and Chick went on the show and accompanied him on “I’m Beginning To See The Light” and then each took an incredible solo. He just let them play and the music went so many places. That’s what happens on this song—at first they’re playing very impressionistically, in a free rubato style, where there’s not really a lot of time; then they start swinging, and accompany each other in a more straight-ahead feel; and then they start trading, and the trades get more and more outrageous in how far they’re taking it out. Herbie would play something that almost recalled a stride thing, Chick would answer with something stride and then play some really out stuff, then Herbie would answer with out stuff. To see how two people with different styles, both virtuosos, were able to accompany and complement and push each other, and also how hard they were listening to each other, made a strong impression on me as a pianist, game me a real feeling of joy and uplift. One of the attractive things about Herbie is the lack of what I guess you could call ego—showing off virtuosity for its own sake. He’s really in the music all the time. I think it’s great playing by him as well as by Chick. Both Chick and Herbie have distinctive solo styles, and they’re both pushing each other. They both have enormous range, not just as ensemble players, but also as soloists. It’s an obscure record in Herbie’s total discography. But it’s stuck with me, and I’ve listened to it a lot.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Riot

I love “Riot” from Speak Like a Child, and I also like a song from that record called “First Trip.” In fact, every tune on Speak Like A Child has something special—I love the whole date. Herbie sounds so exuberant. It has a personal association, because Mickey Roker, who played in Philly a lot, is the drummer, and his swing is so effervescent and so clear. As a young musician I would always ask him what it was like to play with Herbie on Speak Like A Child.

On "Riot” I like the marriage between a very sophisticated arrangement and a group structure in which a small ensemble is playing versus Herbie’s solo. There’s one moment when Herbie has finished the first part of the solo, the ensemble comes in, sets up the next part, and Herbie hits this perfect chord. You get the feeling that he’s reacted to what’s going on with the arrangement that he wrote, but also that he found this new area, and BOOM, he hit this chord and he’s off again. The rhythm section (Ron Carter is playing bass) is propulsive, it’s grooving in a sort of medium swing, and Herbie’s killing it—he’s playing one new idea after another, line after line after line, and it goes on and on. He combines a lot of the things that make his style so instantly recognizable—there’s the real bluesy feel and swinging touch, but he also puts in a lot of unexpected, quirky things, a lot of rhythmic devices that work against the swing, and then also he really is the master of setting things and using tension-and-release.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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V.S.O.P.: Darts

Herbie takes one his most exuberant solos on “Darts" from V.S.O.P.–The Quintet, which is a live album recorded in 1977. I’m not sure if he’s playing an acoustic piano or sort of a Yamaha Grand, but what he’s playing is so sparkling. He starts this swirling rhythmic figure, and then he goes up higher and higher on the keyboard. and when he gets ready to explode, he hits the climax, sort of waits for a second, and then BOOM, he hits you with his line. The swing is ferocious. I saw V.S.O.P. play live, too, and it definitely had a different feel than the Miles Davis Quintet. One thing that struck me is how much heavier Tony Williams sounded in the ensemble—he was using much bigger drums, and he was just playing heavier, because he’d been playing a heavier style of music. The way that they had to adapt to Tony’s style made it less subtle, but it was still very powerful to hear it live. Now, I love Tony Williams. He was an incredible genius. Sometimes with Miles, Tony would drop out, and then sneak back in. His dynamic range was broad, which gave the other musicians that much more to work with. Also, playing with Freddie Hubbard was different than playing with Miles, because it seemed, especially from a group perspective, to get into a more typical head-solo thing. Miles had a way of injecting a certain magic into how the group played, because everything was always on edge.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Succotash

One doesn’t normally think of Herbie in this context, but on Inventions and Dimensions, playing with a group you wouldn’t necessarily expect, he plays with Latin grooves as well as swing. It’s his new take on Latin music. From time to time, he nods towards the Latin piano tradition with montuno-like figures,etc., but then he brings in his own thing. It’s great to hear a musician try to explore different aspects of music that aren’t associated with what’s stereotypically supposed to be their thing, and yet, you can hear the authority and the creativity with which Herbie brings his own thing to that groove, as he did on Joe Henderson’s Double Rainbow record of Jobim songs, on which his soloing is also so joyous and swinging. At the time, many musicians were addressing polyrhythms and compound rhythms—in other words, the idea that you can go between different rhythmic feels and apply rhythmic feels that run counter to each other. A lot of Afro-Latin music, for example, contains a contrasting two-feel and three-feel, superimposes two or three rhythmic grooves on top of each other. This happens a lot on Inventions and Dimensions, and Herbie’s interest in this type of music has influenced many musicians.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Hand Jive

I have many favorites from the period that Herbie spent with Miles, and one of them is “Hand Jive," a song from Nefertiti. It’s one of the records where Herbie solos just using one line, with no left hand comping and no supporting chords—very different from the “My Funny Valentine” type of playing with Miles. It sounds like Herbie is a horn player playing single lines like Wayne and Miles, or also the Lennie Tristano thing of playing lines with no chords. There’s something really stark about that, and yet, coupled with what’s happening underneath it, with Ron Carter’s basslines and the fluidity of Tony Williams’ playing, those lines just seem to be bobbing-and-weaving throughout. The harmony can be very vague. So the feeling is very open but always swinging, rhythmically strong. I’m not sure whether Herbie was playing that way because Miles suggested it to him, “Don’t play chords so much, play lines,” for textural reasons. But whoever came up with the idea, I guess it doesn’t matter. The texture is so different from most of the other recordings of his that I love.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: The Prisoner

On “The Prisoner” I love the contrast between what the ensemble is playing on the structure of the piece and the free playing in the solos. Herbie is soloing around A-minor, but it isn’t clearly defined. The solo goes through all these different permutations, and at one point Herbie starts a rhythmic figure that he starts to repeat, then sets up the ensemble to come back in, and it’s so perfect, and then the band comes in with their thing, and Herbie’s built the tension, built the tension, and then at some point, BOOM, it explodes, and you’re on to the next solo. There’s a perfect marriage between the arrangement and the uninhibited soloing. Of course, Joe Henderson is a big part of that, because he solos with such variety—he allows the setup to happen, and then just goes for it. Both Herbie and Joe combine a lot of different styles on their solos on this piece. They’re playing out, then they go from an out idea (out in the sense that it’s an almost atonal-nontonal thing) to something that goes into like a honking blues thing, which then goes into a really complicated line, and then transmogrifies into this other type of texture. It’s just going from one thing to another to another. It sounds totally logical, but emotionally, when you’re hearing it, it’s really gripping.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jaco Pastorius (with Herbie Hancock): Liberty City

I really enjoy “Liberty City” from Jaco Pastorius’ second record, Word of Mouth. It’s a big band arrangement where Jaco is playing all his stuff, but Herbie is soloing exuberantly all over it, on top of it, underneath it, hearing all this stuff behind him and really going for it. I remember buying this, putting it on, and listening to it over and over. It has Toots Thielemans, Wayne Shorter, Peter Erskine...the feel is so good. Especially in that period, Jaco’s style was so fresh, combining virtuosity with total taste, and such a good rhythmic feel, defining a new sound for the electric bass—you hear Herbie react to and be inspired by it, as he so often was by other people, while at the same time being supportive. You could pick selections from Jaco’s first record, Jaco Pastorius, where Herbie played on "Speak Like A Child" among other compositions. It’s very telling that when Jaco asked Herbie Hancock to be part of his first record and subsequent ones, because he knew that Herbie would add his own unique thing to the music.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lee Morgan: Ceora

Playing introductions is an art and Herbie's intro to “Ceora" features his expressive touch and beautiful chord voicings. Each chord is played with a different amount of pressure to give it a slightly different sound. Herbie uses the pedal to coax a variety of timbres out of the piano. His solo on this tune is also very subtle. He uses texture and space to give his playing an unhurried elegance and also adds some surprising chord substitutions in his solo. This is one of many wonderful examples of Herbie's depth as an accompanist.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Don't Get Around Much Anymore (1963)

This track, like "Take the 'A' Train" from the same album, employs an unusual instrumental mix to impart a unique sound and approach to a classic Ellington tune. Violinist Stéphane Grappelli plays with virtuosity undiminished from his historic 1930s recordings with Django Reinhardt; in fact, in depth of expression, it is enhanced.

The melody of this much-loved song is beautifully recognizable, and lends itself to creative thematic variations and rich embellishments. With spare, perfectly placed notes and chords, offering delicious tastes of the theme and aptly accompanied by a fine walking bass, Duke's intro sets the scene for Grappelli, whose extended lead offers a jazz-violin master class. He starts with a pair of 2-string, lower-range harmonic strokes played sharply so they slice through the air in an electrifying manner, then plays lower-range notes with rich tone, followed by soaring, brilliant high notes, and continues with beautifully creative lines taking off from the theme. Stéphane makes extraordinary use of the violin's deeply expressive capacities, including a full palette of single- and double-stop tonal colorations, creating a gorgeous French impressionist sound painting of the famous theme—with a dash of upward slurs to remind us of the blues foundation of all this jazz. Meanwhile, Ellington and the others provide superb support. This unusual and unusually fine music makes for outstanding jazz that also transcends jazz.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Take the 'A' Train (1963)

This track, like its even better companion from the same album, "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," gives us fascinatingly different sound, texture, feel, approach and style on a classic Ellington tune because of the rather unique mix of instruments and musicians: Duke on piano, masterfully playing in a way that works well with the other musicians and instruments, as usual; French violinist Stéphane Grappelli, who teamed with legendary gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt for historic recordings in the '30s; Ellingtonian multi-instrumentalist Ray Nance on violin; Svend Asmussen on viola; plus bassist and drummer.

With sustained hi-hat work providing perfect background texture, Ellington plays a stylish, characteristic intro that offers tantalizing hints of the main musical theme and sets the scene for the main course. That begins with Grappelli's striking entry, with his violin slicing through the musical air like a hot knife through butter, playing interesting, vivacious, creative variations on the theme. After a couple of full choruses, Ray Nance's violin, with a slightly darker tone, takes off from Grappelli's lines and plays some jazzy variations. An interesting bass interlude is next, with Shepard doing some cool talk-singing/scat (and sounding a bit like Dizzy Gillespie) in unison with his basslines. Grappelli returns for a beautiful final rendition of the theme. This is a unique and marvelous version of the Ellington theme song.

March 20, 2009 · 3 comments

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Roy Eldridge, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie: Take The 'A' Train

Oscar Peterson's spectacular intro and first statement of the famous musical theme is worth the price of admission by itself; he plays with brilliant timing, creative harmonics, verve, and some perfectly placed behind-the-beat notes, making positively rhapsodic jazz piano lines. Even better news: Eldridge, Gillespie and Peterson continue the great music-making for a full eight minutes before the track ends.

After Oscar's opening lines, Dizzy takes an extended lead with muted trumpet, playing highly creative lines, sometimes punched out, sometimes flowing, and using a varied tonal palette, all of which only occasionally hints at the basic melodic theme, but works wonderfully in its advanced musical expression. Eldridge then takes the lead, effectively accompanied by Ray Brown's walking basslines, in perfect stride; Roy's trumpet carries a huskier tone, sounding more subtle and soulful, with blues slurs adding feeling. Peterson follows with more of his jazzily ravishing piano work, and the trumpets offer further creative virtuoso lines as this track rolls on. Billy Strayhorn's classic tune has again launched impressive, innovative improvisations by genuine masters of the music, in this case with especially great rhythm and momentum.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Michel Sajrawy: Pink Inside

The talented Palestinian guitarist from Nazareth Michel Sajrawy distinguishes himself with a warm tone, fluid and supple single-line runs, and string bending to accomplish quarter-tone steps. It all jells to create a pleasingly lilting sound. He also meshes fusion-ish jazz with Makamat (the world music of the Arabic Middle East) by combining the basic song structures of the American style with the harmony of his native region.

"Pink Inside" is a Yankee waltz that Sajrawy constructed with sensitivity, matching its delicate melody to the light gait of the 3/4 time. Having accomplished that with a subtle mixture of Arabic chords and jazz ones, the guitarist uses cascading string bends and precise note selection to bring out the song's full potential. Another mark of a mature, confident player is the just-right way he paces himself by modulating the speed of his notes. The backing band's strong support is highlighted by Atrash's active brushwork and Dhersin's nicely complementary piano solo.

"Pink Inside" presents Michel Sajrawy as a guitarist and composer of great acumen who perfectly balances a deep understanding of American jazz with a great respect for his Middle Eastern heritage.

March 20, 2009 · 1 comment

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Remember Shakti: Giriraj Sudha

Guitarist John McLaughlin's group Remember Shakti, which he co-leads with tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, has had two lives. As Shakti, the Indo-jazz fusion group turned heads a quarter century ago with its fusing of Western jazz and Indian classical music. Yet despite critical acclaim, Shakti could never sell enough records to please its label, Columbia. The band's "world music" was apparently too new for the world. In the late '90s, McLaughlin and Hussain re-formed with mandolinist U. Shrinivas replacing violinist L Shankar, and percussionist V. Selvaganesh succeeding his father, Vikku Vinayakram. This time around, the world was ready. Remember Shakti, as it is now known, sells out its shows around the globe. Saturday Night in Bombay, recorded live, features special guest stars and was nominated for a Grammy. How things changed in 25 years!

"Giriraj Sudha" was composed by U. Shrinivas. The renowned Indian vocalist Shankar Mahadevan and tavil player A.K. Pallanivel join Remember Shakti for this performance. The ever-present drone and some McLaughlin chords back Mahadevan for the tune's opening. Soon the catchy melody is introduced by Shrinivas's mandolin. Mahadevan sings the theme in unison with the mandolin and guitar and also to the beats of percussionists V. Selvaganesh and A.K. Pallanivel. There is much open space in "Giriraj Sudha," allowing for a greater appreciation of the phenomenal timekeeping. The musical conversations range from monosyllabic vocals matched beat to beat, to long vocal-instrumental runs executed with a joyful precision that bring waves of applause from the engaged audience. It is impossible to not get caught up in the Indo-jazz fusion hooks and various rhythms that populate this song. Ten minutes never flew by so fast.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gavin Bryars: Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet

In the original 1971 version of this famous (infamous?) composition, Gavin Bryars looped a short tape of an unknown amateur vocalist (patronizingly referred to by the composer as "the tramp") singing a lopsided stanza. It repeats again and again and again and . . . well, you get the idea. Some formulaic accompaniment, added after the fact, fleshes out the tramp's meager contribution.

Gavin Bryars has revisited this composition periodically, and though it has gotten longer with the passing years, it hasn't necessarily gotten better. I am confident that you will get the "concept"—with a small, very small, "c" here, please—within five minutes; and though you may want to sit around and wait an hour (and seemingly a thousand repetitions of the loopy loop) for Tom Waits to arrive on the scene with his solid lead vocal, I suggest that you pour yourself a stiff drink to help you through the interval. Or maybe check your email. Or shop online for a more interesting CD.

I consider myself an advocate of minimalism, but when you try to marry the repetitiveness of that idiom with the oh-so-clever attitude of post-modernism at its most self-congratulatory, you get the musical equivalent of purgatory. Somebody please find an outfit for the emperor! Or, better yet, give his diadem and royalties to the tramp. The fact that this piece has been lauded and held up as a role model of sorts tells you much about the state of modern composition, and even more about the state of contemporary criticism.

March 19, 2009 · 0 comments

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Muhal Richard Abrams: Drumman Cyrille

Muhal Richard Abrams has created music for myriad contexts, from solo piano improvisations to visionary big band compositions. This elaborately conceived piece for jazz quartet is yet another example of his multifaceted talent.

The track's title refers—naturally enough—to the drummer on the date, the redoubtable Andrew Cyrille, who has over the years played on more than his share of great avant-jazz recordings. Count this as another. Abrams obviously conceived this tune in part (but not only) as a showcase for Cyrille. It succeeds, showing-off Cyrille's nimble, light-handed manner of swinging a band; his ability to interpret Abrams' sophisticated start-and-stop rhythms; and his considerable skills as a soloist. Tenor saxophonist John Purcell gets plenty of solo room, which he uses to good advantage, blowing athletic free-bop lines over the energetic groove struck by Cyrille and bassist Fred Hopkins.

Abrams's improvisation is no less sophisticated and well-conceived than his tune. This music is inventive, knotty, and eccentric—products of a supremely well-organized (and delightfully unorthodox) jazz intellect.

March 19, 2009 · 0 comments

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David Murray Trio: Corazón

Listening to this some thirty years after it was made, one is struck by the striking combination of originality and maturity the then 24-year-old David Murray already possessed. These days, it's not unusual to hear a saxophonist that age play with considerable self-assuredness and/or polish, but seldom do such players exhibit much originality. Concomitantly, it's not terribly unusual to hear a young musician attempting something new, yet that ilk of jazz player is typically tentative and/or raw. Murray was an original who grew up fast. His interpretation of the slow, melodic "Corazón" is subtle and affecting, his grasp of the finer elements of ballad-playing complete. Bassist Fred Hopkins plays in constant counterpoint to Murray, his melodic sense well-honed, his skills as a team player unsurpassed by any contemporary bassist. Drummer Steve McCall recedes into the background. His use of mallets provides a soft, dark-hued backdrop. The three men work extremely well together; they're a sensitive and savvy group. As for Murray, his left-of-center style was in full blossom, even at this early point in his career. Murray combines a manifest purity-of-intent with a distinctive artistic vision and highly-evolved musicianship—a rare and wonderful combination that makes for a very moving performance.

March 19, 2009 · 0 comments

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David Murray Trio: Coney Island

At the time of this recording, in the company of these men, David Murray was arguably the most exciting young musician in jazz. A mere 24 years old, Murray had been playing with the cream of New York's avant-garde crop for several years. In 1979, he seemed to ratchet things up a notch, especially in terms of drummers. That March, he recorded the classic Special Edition album under the leadership of Jack DeJohnette. The following December, Murray recorded Sweet Lovely under his own name, an album that featured another top-rank drummer, Steve McCall.

With bassist Fred Hopkins, McCall formed the rhythm section for Air, one of the great free jazz trios of that or any other era. This recording isn’t simply Air with Murray in place of that band's saxophonist, Henry Threadgill. Murray is much different player than Threadgill, and thus demands a different approach from his rhythm section. Threadgill tends toward the rhythmically abstract. Murray, on the other hand, swings rambunctiously in an almost pre-bop manner, owing much to the influence of such older players as Coleman Hawkins and Paul Gonsalves. On the up-tempo "Coney Island," McCall and Hopkins respond accordingly, generating torrents of swing while interacting constantly with Murray. The tenorist is at his extroverted best, drawing on every tool at his disposal: the enormous and infinitely varied tone, the extreme agility on all registers (especially the highest), the personalized harmonic palette, the unflagging stamina and intensity. With Hopkins and McCall—one of the classic jazz rhythm sections—Murray led perhaps the best trio of his career.

Murray has always been at his best when kicking out all the stops. He does that less often now. This track reminds us how great he was when he did it on a regular basis.

March 19, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron: Snake-Out

Mal Waldron's improvised introduction to "Snake-Out" has a distinctly Middle-Eastern air, and Steve Lacy's soprano has a timbre not unlike a snake-charmer's pungi. Might this be an example of program music? Methinks yes, especially when one considers the nature of his written melody, which might plausibly be described as serpentine. In any case, the tune was a staple of the Waldron/Lacy partnership. They recorded it several times—never more effectively than on this lamentably out-of-print Hat Hut album documenting a 1981 live performance in Paris, the expatriate Lacy's adopted home. Lacy could be a very calm, deliberate improviser, disinclined toward blatant displays of technique and emotion. Not here. This is the other Lacy, the Lacy who covered his horn with top-to-bottom displays of virtuosity and soloed with undiluted, Coltrane-like intensity. Waldron meets Lacy's challenge with a like mind, matching the saxophonist's extreme fervor and exalted imagination at every step. Theirs was a long-standing partnership, and a particularly fruitful one, at that. This track and the album from whence it came is one of the finest examples of their combined artistry.

March 19, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gabriela Anders: Agua de Beber

So many great singers have recorded Jobim that you have to wonder why his compositions keep getting additional covers. The popular "Agua de Beber" is a prime example: after interpretations by Ella, Sinatra, Charlie Byrd, Al Jarreau, Toninho Horta, and of course Astrud Gilberto (with Jobim), what could possibly remain unstated? Yet this version by the lovely Gabriela Anders deserves attention, if only for the mesmerizing quality of her voice, a pastel palette of blues and greens, applied with the subtle brushstroke of a master impressionist painter.

As befitting the gentle form of the Bossa Nova, Anders allows the melody to beckon through quiet whispers and a soft vocal percussiveness. There is no big event here, no radical new twists other than a subtle cry-baby guitar in the rhythm section. But the result is an inviting waterfall in the midst of a steaming rainforest, with the players providing a polished foundation over which Gabriela's quenching phrases cascade. This is indeed very cool water to drink.

March 19, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gabriela Anders: Amapola

Those fortunate enough to have caught Rick Braun and George Duke at the 2008 Montreux Jazz Festival received a bonus: the stunning Gabriela Anders. The rest of us will have to wait for another time to catch her live, and meanwhile must content ourselves with her recordings. Often compared to Sade and Astrud Gilberto, this Argentine native has forged her own identity with four previous albums under her belt, Last Tango in Rio, Latina, Electica and Wanting. But this is her first release devoted solely (or perhaps soul-ly) to the Bossa, which may be the genre she was born to sing.

"Amapola," a timeless Latin classic written in 1924, hasn't always enjoyed such a respectful, soothing treatment. Tommy Dorsey, The Three Tenors, Andrea Bocelli, and incredibly Spike Jones have all recorded their unique versions.

Fortunately, this is a satisfying, simple acoustic guitar-oriented bossa treatment, and works perfectly for the delectable timbre of Anders's intimate, cooling voice. Pianist Helio Aves offers up a simple, airy octave solo in counterpoint to the breathy seductiveness of the vocal lines. The result is hypnotic, not unlike the poppy flower for which the song was named. The same could be said for Gabriela Anders, an amapola in her own right.

March 19, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron: A Case Of Plus 4's

Steve Lacy's work with pianist Mal Waldron underscores his attachment to the jazz mainstream. For while a performance such as this can (and does) go far "out" in virtually every respect, Waldron's insistence on a perceptible—if ever-shifting—beat behind Lacy allows the music to maintain a solid grounding. Thus, Lacy is able to engage in whatever flights of fancy he prefers and remain anchored by Waldron's obstinate adherence to swing and syncopated rhythms.

Lacy takes full advantage. His solo goes over, beneath, and around Waldron's vamps. Lacy almost never lands on a beat. Instead of viewing time as a ticking clock, he sees it as an open space he can fill in an infinite variety of ways. Hence, he skips, lags, and rushes over Waldron's steady accompaniment, his lines consisting not only of notes but also highly vocalized inflections and a huge assortment of tonal effects. In another, less jazz-like context, the music might come off as experimental, but in company with Waldron, it seems more like a greatly personalized take on the tradition.

That's not to nullify Waldron's contribution as an equal partner. "A Case of Plus 4's" is his tune, a brief but inventive platform. And his relatively restrained solo interlude is thoughtfully drawn, in effective contrast to Lacy's more active, expressionistic approach. This is an extraordinarily creative and intense performance. Lacy and Waldron make a great team—a more accomplished jazz duo would be hard to find.

March 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Julian Lage: Familiar Posture

Julian Lage, now in his early twenties, must shake off his child prodigy reputation. But he is still a prodigy, albeit a grown-up one, as his debut CD on the Emarcy label demonstrates. His technical command of the guitar is striking, but I am even more impressed by the poise of this young artist, who could easily dazzle us with empty pyrotechnics but prefers to focus intensely on the musicality of the performance at hand. Instead of the standard fast single note lines of the reigning guitar deities, Lage has an expansive concept of his instrument, adopting classical and chamber music techniques or elements of soundtrack, ambient and folk stylings. He merges all of these disparate sources of influence with his personal jazz sensibility, and the end result does not sound stitched together, as is often the case with the young eclectics of jazz. This solo piece could well be written out and studied as a guitar etude, but still retains the impetuousness of an improvised work. One needs to be wary of making grand prognostications about an artist still at such an early age who has only released a single CD as a leader, but Lage strikes me as having the potential to be one of the leading guitarists of his generation. I will be very interested to see how he develops over the next several years.

March 18, 2009 · 1 comment

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Numinous / Joseph C. Phillips, Jr.: On Climbing Heaven and Gazing on the Earth

Composer Joseph C. Phillips, admirably aided by the ensemble Numinous, delivers a stunning 18 minute performance here, blending elements of Steve Reich and Pat Metheny and other sources of inspiration into one of the freshest recordings of the year. Imagine Reich's Music for 18 Musicians, but with an expanded harmonic sensibility, a jazzier pulse, and occasional hints of sweeping Maria Schneider-esque melodies. The individual ingredients are familiar, but I guarantee that you haven't heard them put together in this way before. For want of a better term, let me call it über-minimalism. Phillips' writing is brilliant, and the ensemble performs it with clarity and passion. Count me as a believer.

March 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Kelsey Jillette: Medley – Hot House / What Is This Thing Called Love?

Every time I hear a version of Tadd Dameron's "Hot House," my eyes and ears return to the one-of-a-kind video clip of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie putting the tune through its paces. Though the "Hot House" heard here is a lifetime and galaxy away from beboppers Bird & Diz, it is born of the same spirit. Kelsey Jillette sings the melody vocalese-style above a throbbing bassline provided by organist Brad Whiteley and guitarist Hiro Honma. Soon, the lyrics from "What Is This Thing Called Love?" are coming from Jillette's lips. She owns some well-honed pipes and the emotive powers to use them effectively. The tune takes on a slight Latin feel even as the music becomes denser. Jillette eventually adds a touch of Latin scat herself. Interestingly, the arrangement catches a deep groove but is still somewhat at odds with itself. This tension is explored even as Jillette's voice stays above the fray. Absent her voice, this performance would still make a good jam-band number, given how talented these players are. Yet together, vocalist and musicians creatively transform historic material into an engaging modern mode. This is what playing the standards should be all about. You know, making the music your own. Such distinctive arrangements and performances help make jazz the timeless music it is.

March 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Kelsey Jillette: Turn Out the Stars

What a pleasure it is to hear the talented jazz vocalist Kelsey Jillette. Above and beyond her distinctive voice, and the talented musicians she has surrounded herself with, is an admiration for the material she has chosen to interpret. The songs range from composers such as Rodgers & Hart, Fats Waller, and Billy Strayhorn to Paul Simon. Each presentation is 100% modern in arrangement, instrumentation and style.

Music author Gene Lees wrote the lyrics to the classic Bill Evans melody "Turn out the Stars," which Jillette sings above a shuffle intro. She has an intriguing voice. It is breathy, yet has a deepness at the same time. She enunciates in a cool emphatic manner that compels you to listen to every word. The instrumental break is proof that the Kelsey Jillette Group is not simply a backing band for a talented vocalist. Drummer Adam Pache's beats support the very fine efforts of guitarist Hiro Honma, baritone saxophonist Tom Abbott and B-3 player Brad Whiteley. On "Turn out the Stars," Whiteley's role is especially impressive. (He and Jillette arranged the piece as well, which may be a clue to his performance.) The Kelsey Jillette Group is the real deal. You need to give them a listen.

March 17, 2009 · 3 comments

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Avery Sharpe: Fire and Rain

I never really thought of James Taylor's legendary pop hit "Fire and Rain" as a candidate for a jazz treatment. But before writing about how unusual this was, I decided to cover my ass and research it a bit. Glad I did! The song has been interpreted by Herb Alpert, Maynard Ferguson, Al Jarreau, Keith Jarrett, Hubert Laws and some Smooth Jazz (Stand clear! Barf attack…) performers. Luckily though, I can find no other bass players who have covered the tune. So, until I am informed otherwise, bassist Avery Sharp's rendition is unique.

The intro has Sharpe playing an infectious riff with some legato. The trio kicks in almost immediately with a treatment reminiscent of Ramsey Lewis's approach to Beatles songs. There is less of that Lewis funk groove here, but the formula is similar: (a) gather some really great jazz musicians; (b) take a really good pop melody and have them give it a swinging jazz vibe that makes it even better. Sharpe, drummer Winard Harper and pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs know how to do that. I suspect they could take songs of lesser quality and do the same.

March 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Avery Sharpe: Boston Baked Beans

Did you ever notice that lots of times when a bass player puts out an album, he is all gung-ho to show you how damned versatile the bass can be? I am all for breaking tradition. But there are really only a handful of bassists who can justify using the bass as a lead melodic instrument every time out on every song. Avery Sharpe may be one of them. But there is something to be said for a bassist comfortable enough in his own skin to not show off or even overreach on his own album. Make no mistake, Sharpe showcases his fantastic playing just fine on Autumn Moonlight. His impeccable timekeeping is interrupted only to provide thoughtful solos delivered with impressive technique. But Sharpe is part of a piano trio here and makes sure that pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs is the melodic center.

"Boston Baked Beans" is a fun jazz blues structured à la "Killer Joe." The sing-songy melody gives way to a relaxed swing. Sharpe's walking bass and Winard Harper's drums carry Gumbs along. Sharpe takes an impressive solo, and Harper also takes a short drum break. Sharpe good-humoredly offers a blues-rap of sorts to mention regional highlights that will make Bostonians smile. "Boston Baked Beans" fades out but not before you have been thoroughly entertained by a piano trio that focuses on being just that no matter who leads the session.

March 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Muhal Richard Abrams, George Lewis, Roscoe Mitchell: Bound

This 11-minute electro-acoustic improvisation is dominated by George Lewis's laptop. Whether it's generating its own sounds or processing Roscoe Mitchell's determinedly tentative peeps and whorls is unclear (Abrams's role is similarly obscure). In any case, the computer establishes the music's nearly static, slowly evolving character. The resultant, mostly high-pitched drone eschews anything resembling melody. Harmonic and rhythmic development are likewise incidental. As is often the case in electro-acoustic improvisation, there is very little give-and-take among the participants. The acoustic musicians take what the computer gives; they do with it what they can. It makes for music that's moderately interesting in a goatee-stroking way, but it's nowhere near as compelling as the music these men make with Lewis on trombone.

March 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Joe Farrell: Song of the Wind

The rest of the ensemble used on Joe Farrell Quartet, which included John McLaughlin, Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland, sat on the sidelines for this sublime Chick Corea and Joe Farrell duet treatment of Corea's "Song of the Wind." Corea's melody is a tender trip. His lush piano playing is laden with lullaby-like arpeggios that evoke the more introspective moments of childhood wonder. Farrell plays a superb soprano saxophone that continually circles Corea's thoughts. The tune's midsection devolves into some brief free jazz tastefully expressed. Upon a return to normalcy, Farrell is now on flute. The two musicians enjoy an empathic interplay that reeks of telepathy. Farrell returns to saxophone to resolve the piece. "Song of the Wind" is a wonderful performance worthy of being the title cut of any great jazz album. In fact, four years later in a strange marketing move, Joe Farrell Quartet was reissued by CTI under the new name Song of the Wind.

March 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Muhal Richard Abrams, George Lewis, Roscoe Mitchell: Scrape

Free jazz inspired by those noted post-boppers Henry Cowell and John Cage. Just kidding (kinda), but it's true that the sonic ground for this music was prepared by mid-20th century experimental classical composers, for the most part. The genius of Abrams, et al, is that they managed to engage that sound world using techniques that evolved out of jazz. In the process, they created a distinct experimental realm that invested soul into what, in the hands of classical musicians, tended to be a dry, emotionally constipated approach.

As members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Abrams, Lewis, and Mitchell have a long history of playing together, and indeed this music demonstrates a powerful empathy created out of common experience. The totally improvised "Scrape" is an alternately spacious and claustrophobic construct; the music is sometimes spare, sometimes very busy. The analogy of a "conversation" between the players (one that's so often drawn in describing improvised music) doesn't work here. This is more of a dance, whereupon the players move gracefully in relation to one another, creating a world of impressions through infinitely varied textures, timbres, and rhythms. It's abstract, yes, but not rarefied. There's a profoundly human feel to this music that ultimately sanctifies even their most esoteric impulse. It is very beautiful.

March 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Roscoe Mitchell & The Sound Ensemble: Reverend Frank Wright

Frank Wright was an unalloyed free jazz tenor saxophonist, an Ayler-esque energy player active from the 1960s until his death in 1990. On this recorded tribute, Roscoe Mitchell transfers Wright's/Ayler's overblown tenor aesthetic to the bari sax. The results are essentially the same on bari as tenor—a wash of undifferentiated saxophonic distortion, played with maximum exertion and minimum subtlety. Mitchell's band mates join in the fun, playing as hard and fast as the leader. In the track's first moments, Tani Tabbal's dextrous drum work grabs the ear, as does Spencer Barefield's mercurial guitar, before Mitchell enters and all hell breaks loose. Mitchell is a great musician, yet this music makes little use of the more chimerical qualities that define his greatness. For the musicians (and to some listeners, particularly members of the live audience) this type of cathartic yawp has its merits. But it isn't something I'd come back to.

March 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Louis Armstrong: When the Saints Go Marching In (live, 1956)

From the first notes of that famous melody flowing from Satchmo and the All Stars, you just can't help but get a smile on your face, the toe starts tapping, and spirit of Ol' New Orleans begins to take hold of you. Blessedly, despite the fact that Louis Armstrong had played this essence-of-New Orleans tune two or three thousand times, and the members of the band had played it hundreds of times, they play it with verve and passion, carrying the Crescent City spirit on a wave of song to their delighted and responsive audience for this live recording.

In his autobiography, the great clarinetist Barney Bigard said of Armstrong and the All Stars, "The band bridged the gap between show business and art." This tune, like that other essence-of-New Orleans song, "Basin Street Blues," was an ultimate demonstration of that - something you can clearly hear in the recording, as the audience is obviously highly entertained; but they are also hearing that supreme master of his instrument and singing, the one and only Satchmo, make musical art, with help from this great band. That includes the band members, again in the spirit of New Orleans, vocally echoing lyrics sung by Satch. Edmund Hall plays a clarinet solo early on that swings mightily, but as with other tracks on this album, his thin, screechy tone is the only negative. Trummy Young adds a wailing solo, with his usual fine tone, style and power, which takes it up a notch and hands it off to Armstrong for a grand finale, with vigorous ensemble backing.

It's easy to play this famous song in a caricatured manner, or just plain sloppily. (I've heard such versions of "The Saints.") But the tune is a significant piece of the culture of that unique yet quintessentially American city, New Orleans, and this live recording by Armstrong and the All Stars is one to enjoy again and again.

March 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Louis Armstrong: Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans (live, 1956)

Obviously, in the aftermath of the Katrina devastation, the meaning and impact of this song got a boost. The lyrics are a nostalgic celebration of that special place at the end of the Mississippi. The musical theme is especially melodious and nicely conveys the sentiment about the Crescent City; from the opening bars flowing from Armstrong's horn, the good feeling emanates. The enthusiastic wave of applause at the end manifests peoples' strong response to that sentiment and their appreciation for the musical feelings bestowed on them by the band.

There is no one who can sing the evocative lyrics like Satchmo, and he soulfully caresses the tune, letting it warmly simmer and flow like a lazy midsummer day in steamy New Orleans. The band contributes quintessential old New Orleans polyphonic playing as an ensemble. And on this slow, nostalgic tune, Edmund Hall almost musters some good tone on his clarinet. If I have a quibble beyond Hall's (not-as-bad-as-usual) tone, it is that the ensemble playing is not quite as perfectly melded together as on "Basin Street Blues" and "When the Saints Go Marching In" from the same CD.

March 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Johnny Hodges: Medley – I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart / Don't Get Around Much Any More

This medley of two Ellington classics is a real delight of superb jazz playing. "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart" uses Harry Carney on baritone sax for the lead playing, which makes for an interesting and somewhat unusual tone and musical texture to carry the melodic theme. Carney employs that rich, deep-toned baritone sax sound to wonderful effect, with an excellent rhythmic sense, on this much-loved hit song of Ellington from the late 1930s. Ray Nance adds a fine, creative solo on open trumpet. The all-star group provides excellent backing.

The medley transitions nicely into "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," which has one of Ellington's most memorable and delightful melodies. (It also has marvelous lyrics that speak so well to the experience and heart of so many people, though they aren't sung here.) Johnny Hodges opens this part of the medley with a simply sublime statement of the melodic theme, developing into creative variations. His playing here, as on "Everybody Knows" and "310 Blues" from the same 1964 Hodges-led recording session, show that his famous sumptuous tone, style, and bluesy feeling on alto sax were, if anything, even richer 36 years after he began playing with the Ellington band. A trombone break by Lawrence Brown adds a rich-toned dimension.

March 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Johnny Hodges: 310 Blues

This tune was specially written for this recording session by Duke Ellington's composing partner and musical soul mate Billy Strayhorn. It is a lively blues, with good momentum and a series of superb solos. Hodges leads off with a statement of the theme and embellishments, perfectly playing off the ensemble backing, and employing his famous soulful and lyrical alto sax work, with special use of that sensuous, bluesy slur up to a note that was a Johnny Hodges signature technique.

Ray Nance provides a marvelous, intense, wailing solo on cornet with a mute, including great high notes and effective descending lines. He's followed by a tenor sax solo by Paul Gonsalves that is flowing, lyrical, and less intense, making a nice contrast to Nance's solo. Cat Anderson and Lawrence Brown offer solos on muted trumpet and trombone that use the "wah-wah" technique, making those instruments talk to you with soulfulness and power. There are also some fine Ellingtonian transitions. Hodges comes back for a final solo with that gorgeous tone, playing lyrical, deeply bluesy, creative lines with excellent ensemble backing. Such playing demonstrates why noted writer on jazz and blues Albert Murray once said, "Bessie Smith could hardly sing the blues better than Johnny Hodges."

March 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Johnny Hodges: Everybody Knows

The main theme of this tune is one of those catchy ones that keep doing instant replays in your head; it is played with verve and style by Johnny Hodges and his virtuoso pals from the Ellington band. This long track (almost 7½ minutes) includes superb trumpet work by Ray Nance and (later) by Cat Anderson with a mute, tenor sax playing by Paul Gonsalves, and trombone playing by Lawrence Brown. Hodges leads the festivities with his exquisite lyrical, sensuous alto sax playing, employing once again what is probably the richest tone of any alto player in jazz history.

The basic melodic theme and harmonic structure of the song lend themselves well to interesting variation and embellishment, and with these jazz masters at work, we have the best of creative music-making. The ensemble playing is done with perfect unity; all those years of playing together in Ellington's band paid off handsomely here, including the excellent use of dynamics. The tune keeps building its intensity and momentum, the voices of the band fill out the soundscape ever more richly, and it concludes with a rousing, inspiring ending. This jazz mini-symphony with soul is a real delight.

March 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dr. Lonnie Smith: Come Together

In 1969, Dr. Lonnie Smith covered The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby." Forty years later, he is tackling a Beatles tune that was introduced the same year he covered "Rigby," the Abbey Road hit "Come Together." There's no boogaloo beat this time, but rather a stomping rock strut. And there're even some vocals … sort of. The first couple of verses are rendered by Smith in an indecipherable snarl so lowdown & dirty, it could be mistaken for the Cookie Monster with a head cold.

The backing band is James Brown funky and airtight, but once the guttural growling is done, Smith opens up on the organ with swells and trills that wring all the possible emotions out of a B-3. Donald Harrison enters late with an inspired Cannonball-styled testimonial that ends way too soon.

The song is so substantially redone from the original that just about the only thing carried over is the cocky, hip disposition. That's all Dr. Smith needed to take from "Come Together," because he knows what to do with it from there.

March 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Daniel Sadownick: Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise

The appealing strong melody and rhythm of "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise" has attracted countless jazz artists since it was introduced in the 1928 Broadway musical New Moon. The lyrics are both hopeful and portentous, a dichotomy that is also conveyed in the music. Memorable instrumental versions have included those by Artie Shaw, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Art Pepper, and to that list must be added this fresh new interpretation by relatively unknown percussionist Daniel Sadownick on his debut CD.

Sadownick's spirited and creative arrangement is what makes this track work so well. Tenor and trumpet play the opening catchy vamp leading up to Michael Karn's swirling fill and an Afro-Cuban rhythmic dialogue between Sadownick, drummer Daniel Freedman and bassist Scott Colley. Pianist Rob Bargad enters with forceful spaced-out chords, followed by the horns' theme reading offered with a provocative rhythmic slant. Bargad's solo is a Latinized modal romp, shades of Eddie Palmieri at his best. Karn's tenor explodes out of the box with a relentless urgency, backed by the driving Sadownick and Freedman. Trumpeter Joe Magnarelli's mellow take slows the tempo but is no less insinuating. Sadownick shows his infectious skill on congas, framed by the vamping horns, and Magnarelli unearths the theme over yet another delightful vamp to complete the cycle.

Daniel Sadownick has definitely got his act together, a percussionist carrying on the tradition of Mongo Santamaria and Ray Barretto.

March 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Greg Osby: The Single Petal of a Rose

For St. Louis Shoes, Greg Osby imaginatively scaled down for a quintet the orchestral arrangement of "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo," and in opposite fashion brilliantly expanded upon the usual solo piano or piano-bass formats of "The Single Petal of a Rose." Duke Ellington, the composer of each, would probably have admired these two Osby tracks for both their conception and execution. "The Single Petal of a Rose" was part of Duke's Queen's Suite, which he recorded at his own expense in 1959, gifting the one and only pressing to Queen Elizabeth herself. The general public never heard it until the Suite's release on Norman Granz's Pablo label in 1976.

Osby imparts "The Single Petal of a Rose" with a satisfying fullness it could never quite attain as a Debussy-like piano miniature. Osby's lustrous alto takes the lead with Robert Hurst's long-toned arco bass, Harold O'Neal's shimmering piano arpeggios, and Rodney Green's delicate cymbal work adding agreeable depth to the recitation. Trumpeter Nicholas Payton then handles the bridge with great open-hearted feeling. Osby next skillfully deconstructs the theme with an emphasis on fluttering asides. Payton follows suit with a lyrical alteration of the bridge, before giving way to O'Neal's rhapsodic piano improv that hints only slightly at Ellington's pianistic style in some of its ornamental voicings. Osby and Payton return to engage in some warmly developed counterpoint, capped by the altoist's reprise of the melody while the trumpeter offers well-chosen embellishments. The ending can be characterized as a rather abrupt diminuendo, leaving the listener pleased but wanting more.

March 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Cheikh Ndoye: Rewmi

Cheikh Ndoye has lived in the U.S. for about 10 years since leaving his native Senegal, where as a teenager he was inspired to take up the electric bass upon hearing Jaco Pastorius. He subsequently received encouragement and guidance from two heavyweights of the instrument, Richard Bona and Jimmy Haslip. A Child's Tale is Ndoye's debut release, an eclectic mix of Bob James's covers, more African-rooted originals, and fusion/contemporary hybrids.

"Rewmi" features the versatile veterans Eric Marienthal, Russell Ferrante and Mike Miller. Ndoye's vibrantly melodic opening statement sets the yearning, contemplative mood. Ferrante's concise yet radiant solo spot precedes Marienthal's keen-edged delivery of the spiraling theme. Marienthal's soprano sax solo exudes a controlled emotional heat, and is quickly followed by Miller's less restrained workout, the guitarist propelled along by Ferrante's emphatic chords. Alas, a fadeout ending comes much too soon. The slick Bob James tracks may garner the most attention, but "Rewmi" is probably more representative of Ndoye's vision.

March 17, 2009 · 1 comment

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Don Byas: Laura

Don Byas's decision to remain permanently in Europe in 1946 at the height of his popularity in the U.S. was a curious one. While he became nearly as revered among expatriate American jazzmen as Sidney Bechet (especially in France), he was gradually forgotten in his native land. Considered by many a key bridge between swing and bop, Byas had a style on tenor that he himself said was influenced by Coleman Hawkins's sound, Lester Young's ideas, and Art Tatum's harmonic sophistication.

Byas was a truly masterful ballad player, and was perhaps best known in that regard for his interpretations of the 1944 movie theme "Laura." He had a minor hit with it before he left the States, and recorded it in Paris in 1948 and again in 1952, the latter version as heard here. Two interconnected foghorn-like held notes initiate Byas's silky smooth treatment of the romantic melody. Byas early on exhibits a bit of Ben Webster's breathiness in tandem with a broader and harder tonal thrust more reminiscent of Hawkins. When Byas embarks on his solo, the Hawkins influence becomes more dominant, but Byas's lush harmonic embellishments and dramatically swelling increases in dynamics are still more readily identifiable as his alone. Byas playing "Laura" is of a kind with Hawkins performing "Body and Soul" or Young articulating "Ghost of a Chance." In a word, definitive, right down to Byas's sweetly succinct coda.

March 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Roscoe Mitchell and The Sound Ensemble: Almost Like Raindrops

The Sound Ensemble is obviously not a name Roscoe Mitchell chose at random. The improvised music made by this band has less to do with melodies, harmonies, and bar lines than it does sonic exploration unbound by preordained form and structure. The track's title is no accident, either; the pointillist, non-linear nature of the performance resembles the starting and stopping and starting again of a spring shower. While the group employs what is basically a traditional jazz instrumentation, the music (like a good amount of Mitchell's work made apart from the Art Ensemble of Chicago) sounds in part like an attempt to incorporate post-serialist compositional practices into an entirely spontaneous context. On soprano sax, Mitchell engages in herky-jerky, seemingly random intervallic leaps; scalar streams, microtonal inflections, growls and screeches. He's got a large vocabulary from which to draw, and he digs deep, infusing it all with energy and intensity. Guitarist A. Spencer Barefield jousts with Mitchell, his fleet, non-tonal lines bobbing and weaving around the saxophonist's abstractions. Trumpeter Hugh Ragin is fine but diffident. In the main he's content to stay well within the communal sound, gingerly pawing at but never challenging Mitchell's dominant position. The same can be said of bassist Jaribu Shahid and percussionist Tani Tabbal, as well, and why not? Community is what this music is about. It just happens that the leader is the first among equals.

March 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Big Band Ritmo Sinfonica Città Di Verona: Restless Spirits

Pianist Roberto Magris, to whom this album is a tribute, also performs on it. However, the beautiful keyboard introduction of "Restless Spirits" is not played by Magris. It is the impressive work of Daniele Rotunno. But Magris follows closely behind on Fender Rhodes. The song is quite indicative of its title. There are several dramatic theme changes. The intro suggests a pensive ballad. Once the tune kicks in, though, you might think you're hearing a Broadway show turned dark movie musical, a sort of film noir West Side Story. Then as quickly as you can say "Natalie Wood," the music turns Latin groove with a fantastic solo performance from trumpeter Massimo Greco. Magris offers jazz shadings throughout to maintain the tune's cohesiveness. A rave-up percussion exhibition follows. There are quite a few restless spirits at work here. The best thing to do is to let them loose in whatever form they desire! Magris's compositions work well in the big band setting. They are melodious and full of interesting twists and turns that can be exploited by musicians who know what they are doing. Such is the case with the Big Band Ritmo Sinfonica Città Di Verona under the direction of Marco Pasetto.

March 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Big Band Ritmo Sinfonica Città Di Verona: African Mood

Prolific Italian jazz pianist and composer Roberto Magris now has such an impressive catalog that the Big Band Ritmo Sinfonica Città Di Verona has seen fit to present some of it under the conductorship of Marco Pasetto. There is no doubt that, although Magris is a great admirer of the American jazz tradition, his fame is almost entirely found in Europe. But as more international listeners discover his talent, his name will surely become better known in modern jazz circles worldwide. Projects such as this one could help that happen.

Magris's melodies and motifs are well suited for the big band sound. (And this band is BIG! At times it has close to 50 musicians.) Nor does it hurt if you invite the honored guest to take part in the performance. "African Mood" is every bit of its title. Rhythmic handclapping and guttural native calls set the mood for our adventure. The full big band sound gives great power to the African rhythms put forth by the band's percussion unit and guest star Sbibu. The horns provide a rhythmic counter, bassline and melodic theme all at once. In the middle of the African jungle, Magris takes a solo turn that contains as much urgency as Tarzan's yell. This cat can play! The band can play too. This is vine-swinging music that is sure to scare off the bad guys and attract all the cool animals from miles around.

March 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Roberto Magris: Iraqi Blues

Given the political climate in which we have lived in the United States during recent years, it's difficult to imagine an American musician showing enough empathy with the Iraqi people to name a song for them. Italian pianist and composer Roberto Magris felt no such constraints. He also believed that "Iraqi Blues" didn't have to be some sort of dirge. It is an upbeat and driving jazz blues. From time to time, Magris's energetic solos even have the feel of a Ramsey Lewis groove. (Albeit they do come with a Middle Eastern tinge reminiscent of "A Night in Tunisia.") Bassist Art Davis and drummer Jimmy Johnson get long solo space. Magris punctuates their fine performances with well-placed block chords. "Iraqi Blues" is a hopeful and uplifting blues. Here's wishing the same spirit behind it can someday permeate Iraq itself.

March 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Roberto Magris: Kansas City Outbound

I now have several Roberto Magris albums under my reviewer's belt. One thing has become quite clear. The pianist and composer can be counted on to consistently offer interesting and engaging music. His trio's performance of "Kansas City Outbound" does nothing but bolster that view. The approach is totally modern. Of his many piano-playing influences, it is McCoy Tyner's that is most heard on this performance. There are touches of Tyner in Magris's introductory chords and in his fluid runs. Art Davis's walking bass and Jimmy Jackson's steady beat provide the sturdy backbone of this short bluesy swing piece. The trio is in sync from Kansas City onward. As you find yourself totally taken in, and are looking forward to more, the tune suddenly fades away. You wonder where the rest of the song is. Always leave them wanting more, is what I say.

March 16, 2009 · 1 comment

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Johnny Hodges: Jeep's Blues

"Jeep" was the second of the nicknames Johnny Hodges had acquired ("Rabbit" being the first, from his youth). This was indeed Jeep's blues, with Hodges leading the musical movement from this small group session of members of the Ellington band. As Helen Oakley Dance said in her liner notes for the 1968 LP compilation of the 1938 and '39 sessions (she also supervised some of these recordings), "The small- band sound, the band-within-a-band, had captivated popular imagination, and Johnny Hodges's talents dominated the new trend." This track brought much admiration for the beautiful blues playing of Hodges. "Jeep's Blues" became a much-played tune; this version is my favorite of several I've heard.

The track opens with Johnny blowing the lovely and memorable theme in sublime bluesy style, including some wailing high notes on soprano sax that further deepen the impassioned playing. The small band offers perfect support, especially with full "chorus" voicings on further versions of the theme. Cootie Williams blows some searing, growling trumpet work with the mute, adding greatly to the blues feel and aesthetic texture. And Jeep's friend from his early Boston years, Harry Carney, offers a fine higher-range baritone sax break for another dimension to the musical mosaic.

March 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Isfahan

One of the last collaborations of Ellington and his musical soul mate Billy Strayhorn, this track was part of the major composition Far East Suite, based on impressions from the band's 1963 tour of the Middle and Far East as musical ambassadors sponsored by the U.S. State Department. (Isfahan, or Esfahan, is a city in Iran about 180 miles south of Teheran.) In an interview in The World of Duke Ellington by Stanley Dance, Duke makes clear he did not want to simply copy or be too directly influenced by the music of the East. "It's more valuable to have absorbed it [the music and the area and its culture] while there. You let it roll around, undergo a chemical change, and then seep out on paper in a form that will suit the musicians who are going to play it." He did indeed; this track is best characterized as a tone poem that transcends jazz—"beyond category," as Duke preferred to think of much of his music—and spotlights alto sax master Johnny Hodges.

The opening line establishes the nature and feature playing of this piece, as Hodges blows the main theme with sublime style and exquisite tone. One of the most aesthetically pleasing elements of the recording and composition is that, after the full band's impressionistic buildup, there is a wonderfully effective use of stop time, with Hodges following the pause by again playing the theme, descending in steps from midrange down to rich low-range tones and then rising to a perfect high, in the most beautiful, nuanced way. This is distinctively atmospheric fare, creating a mood and reflective sense, which some music professors and critics classify among the finest of Ellington compositions.

Even so, the unique nature of this track makes it difficult to rate. Listeners seeking rousing, rhythmic, exciting jazz might find this boring; others will see it as a world-class composition that ranks with the top classical music of the century.

March 16, 2009 · 1 comment

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Duke Ellington: Passion Flower

This was the first recording of "Passion Flower," performed by an Ellington small group nominally led by Johnny Hodges. The song was later scored for the full Ellington band and performed a good deal. It illustrates how Duke and his partner in composition, Billy Strayhorn, were by 1941 transcending simple ballads with pieces that were really shortish tone poems—this one written to feature Hodges.

The tune is mellow, atmospheric mood music, with subtle, nuanced playing. Some listeners will probably not be enthused because it doesn't have a distinct, prominently played, easily recognizable theme. Others will find it an interesting sound painting with a subtle passion. My rating is a mix of my general sense of how this composition stands in the works of Ellington & Co. and my own subjective assessment of its caliber. It is not, in truth, among my favorite Ellington pieces, even in the tone poem category; for the latter, I think "Isfahan" is a higher aesthetic accomplishment.

March 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Warm Valley

This track is a prime example of Ellington writing for the nature and musical strengths of one of his great soloists. In this case, it's a vehicle for the rich tone, exquisitely flowing lines, and creative artistry of alto sax master Johnny Hodges. "Warm Valley" was not about earth topography, but rather about womanly contours and feelings (in both senses). And the ability of Johnny Hodges to blow the most sensuous lines was well employed.

The song is described as a ballad, and is a beautiful one. But it also takes a step in the direction of subsequent pieces that really transcended ballads to be more like tone poems featuring the glorious alto playing of Hodges. The following year's "Passion Flower" was among the first of them. Here, Johnny's sublime alto work is complemented by fine muted trumpet lines and fulsome, lovely ensemble playing from the full band, with several crescendos in the right places adding beautifully to the feel of the tune. Some would probably give this a higher rating; for me, it simply isn't the most thrilling sort of tune, though the pure aesthetics are appreciated.

March 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Medley – Things Ain't What They Used To Be / Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me (1964)

This version of the best-known tune by Duke's son, Mercer, is quite different from Ellington's 1941 original. Played live in a dancehall, it is rousing and faster, with great dynamics; and 23 years later, Johnny Hodges plays even more lyrical, soulful, passionate and creative lines. Here the tune is the first half of a medley, the second being the much-loved "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me," with one of the most marvelous and memorable of all Duke's melodies. Trombonist Lawrence Brown is featured, playing creative thematic variations with great verve, rich tone and a fine lyrical feel. The medley is highly enjoyable stuff!

March 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Things Ain't What They Used To Be (1941)

This song was written by Duke's son, Mercer, and features the great Johnny Hodges as the lead guy for a small group offshoot from the full Ellington band. The tune eventually became quite popular. The track opens with the distinctive, memorable theme played ravishingly by the full (small group) band. Hodges then does a beautiful bluesy thematic takeoff that deepens the tune's soulful feel, and follows up with additional excellent, deep-felt alto. Duke plays a stylish piano interlude, adding interesting harmonic dimensions and emphases, after which Ray Nance offers sultry trumpet variations and embellishments with superb blues slurs and accents. Soon the full band richly fills out the theme. This is an excellent addition to the Ducal music library, with the genius, gorgeous tone, and style of Johnny Hodges at the forefront.

March 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Firewater

Utilizing an array of different brass and reed players, this song has Herbie Hancock written all over it even though he didn't compose it. The bass clarinet shrieks at the beginning, and I simply cannot get enough of it. For Hancock's final Blue Note album, he again employs the larger orchestration found on some of his other Blue Note releases, and I marvel at the ideas Buster Williams came up with on this number. He is right at home walking the band through these changes. Though not the most exciting song on The Prisoner, this is certainly a fine selection.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Empty Pockets

It's hard to believe that at the tender age of 22, Herbie Hancock stormed onto the jazz scene with his debut release for Blue Note Records, Takin' Off. Though it's best remembered for the song "Watermelon Man," which cracked the Billboard Top 100, it's a solid hard-bop album featuring the legendary Dexter Gordon and a young Freddie Hubbard. On this number, Hancock displays his affinity for the blues, with octave-fueled bursts of solos over a swinging beat by Billy Higgins. While this track's simplicity and catchiness were overshadowed by other tracks on the album, Hancock's age and the cast of characters make "Empty Pockets" noteworthy.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: The Sorcerer

Though most people are aware that the renowned Miles Davis quintet of the 1960s recorded this Herbie Hancock song, the composer's own version has a depth not found on Davis's version. Thad Jones is all over this dark track, showing his chops on the flugelhorn, which is a nice departure from the all-too-familiar trumpet. Hancock's piano work is superb, mixing demonic chordal tones with his usual blend of altered solo lines and triplet chromatic phrasing. This album was one of the last mainly acoustic albums Hancock released before he turned to fusion, and it demonstrates why he was and still is one of the greatest ever to touch the ivories.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Riot

This was Herbie Hancock's second-to-last album for Blue Note Records, and man is it good. "Riot" opens with lush orchestration from the horn corps led by Thad Jones, followed by Hancock's signature use of the half-whole diminished scale. Ron Carter drives the band with Mickey Roker, the underrated Philly-bred bebop drummer. The backgrounds on Hancock's solo help to further establish this song as the album's crowning jewel. The main theme is repeated as Mr. Chameleon goes off on so many different melodic tangents that my mind spins in about 100 circles from the hypnotic nature of his ideas.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Locomotion

Opening with a nice drum fill from Philly Joe Jones, this high-powered blues number should whet the appetite of any jazz aficionado. I think it's safe to say that Coltrane officially entered the top tier of jazz musicians on this album with his fluidity, sheer determination, and utter dominance of the tenor saxophone. The only way this could be further augmented was for him to surround himself with the top young jazz musicians of his time. Philly Joe Jones swings harder than a kindergarten kid on a playground, with a driving ride pattern that's further enhanced by the steadiness of Paul Chambers's bassline. Another wonderful feature on this album is the orchestration between Curtis Fuller, Lee Morgan and Coltrane, which adds some nice spice to this already satisfying gumbo.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Lazy Bird

On this masterpiece from one of the most influential post-bebop albums, John Coltrane puts the imposters to rest with his rapidly executed saxophone. In addition to the stellar cast, Coltrane showcases his potent skills as a composer. Following a blazing solo by a young Lee Morgan, Coltrane contributes a textbook solo that I am sure was memorized note for note by thousands of young musicians. Plus the underrated pianist Kenny Drew forms, with Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, a classic rhythm section that could swing harder than almost any around during this time.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lettuce: Sam Huff's Flying Ragin' Machine

In the concisely titled "Sam Huff's Flying Ragin' Machine," Lettuce is once again demonstrating their funkadelicious command of Parliamentary procedure in a pneumatic number that should be required to post its own warning label: "Will result in spontaneous gyration!" At the right volume level, this track would have Lester Maddox dancing in his grave. No flights of modal fancy take place, no historic transcribe-able solos – just the vamp, the energy and the inertia of a few decades in the Temple of Funk. Take it to your place of worship and play it loud! Shakers will shake it, Quakers will quake it, and Fakirs will no longer have to fake it.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Amelia

This song first appeared on Joni Mitchell's highly influential album Hejira and featured the distinctive altered guitar work of the singer-guitarist along with bass legend Jaco Pastorius. Here Herbie Hancock displays his wonderful arranging skills, which are second only to his compositional talents. Wayne Shorter steals the show, though, with beautifully phrased soprano saxophone lines that accentuate vocalist Luciana Souza's tenderness and vulnerability. Souza, the Brazilian-born Manhattan School of Music educator, shines on this track, providing shades of Joni Mitchell with little effort, sounding completely organic and natural. This track marvelously encapsulates the explorative mood of River: The Joni Letters.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: The Tea Leaf Prophecy (Lay Down Your Arms)

This song originally appeared on Joni Mitchell's 1988 album Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm, during a time when she had moved towards a more electric, pop sound. Here the song receives the jazz treatment on Herbie Hancock's 2007 tribute album, which won the Grammy Album of the Year award. Mitchell makes an appearance to aid in the reworking of her sultry number, which has a very laid-back vibe. The band is in wonderful form, with Wayne Shorter echoing Mitchell's vocal nuances on soprano sax. Mitchell shows why she was a jazz singer beginning in the 1970s, as her raspy, smoke-cured voice fits this rearrangement like hand in glove.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Edith and the Kingpin

Herbie Hancock, arguably the most successful crossover musician in jazz history, assembled an all-star cast for his 2007 album River: The Joni Letters. This song originally appeared on Joni Mitchell's 1975 album The Hissing of Summer Lawns. Tina Turner does a splendid job reinterpreting this cover with an extended use of vibrato. She almost sounds better than Joni on the original, but I won't be completely blasphemous. Lionel Loueke provides nice wah-wah textures beneath the vocals, while Hancock plays an extremely tasteful solo. Wayne Shorter brings the track together with his beautiful saxophone solo, adding the necessary ingredients to make this a must-have for fans of the artists involved.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Susannah McCorkle: Chattanooga Choo-Choo

Recorded to fill out the U.S. release of a Harry Warren collection, Susannah McCorkle’s version of the chestnut “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” strips away the familiar Glenn Miller arrangement and places it in the realm of boogie woogie. Keith Ingham, who was Susannah’s husband and musical director, is the sole accompanist here, and he uses his fine sense of jazz history to integrate the two styles. After an intro that seems inspired by the Clifford Brown/Max Roach version of “Take The 'A' Train,” Ingham goes into a boogie background as Susannah glides in with a slightly adapted version of the lyric. Susannah’s interpretive gifts grew as she matured, but even at this early stage of her career, she was able to float lines above the beat. At the end of the first chorus, Ingham effortlessly segues into Meade “Lux” Lewis’s “Honky Tonk Train” and because of the boogie pattern he played earlier, there is no jolt as he changes from a pop song to the blues and back again. Susannah’s final chorus includes some of the same interpretive figures she had used earlier, but the coda is very effective with Susannah singing the “whoo-whoo” as a train whistle and Ingham continuing the boogie figure as the track fades out.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Oscar Peterson: Night Train

In a recent interview, Diana Krall said that Oscar Peterson’s Night Train was the album that made her want to be a jazz pianist and specifically made her want to play with Ray Brown. That Ms. Krall achieved those goals and much more only adds to this album’s merits. Peterson seemed to hit commercial and artistic peaks at the same time, and the early sixties was one of those periods. The trio got tighter and more musical as the pressure for larger album sales increased from Verve, and sometimes the results were of the best trio in jazz playing dumbed-down songs to attract more listeners. While the worst offender was We Get Requests, Night Train has received its share of critical brickbats. However, the performance of the tune “Night Train” may be evidence that Peterson could balance the two factions without compromising either side.

Since “Night Train” is a blues, it would have been simple enough to just blow through a few choruses and call it done. But Peterson devised a marvelous arrangement instead, one so subtle that it’s easily missed by casual listeners. After the opening theme choruses, Peterson slips into a 2-chorus solo. Then the theme returns, and we realize that all the while, the band has gotten softer and softer. This leads into Brown’s solo, which is unaccompanied to start, and then adds, in turn, Peterson and Thigpen. When Peterson comes in for another chorus of solo, everything starts to build again. Peterson plays a boogie figure in the bass to build the intensity, and then the trio plays a simple but effective shout chorus and then goes back to the theme with a strong crescendo to nearly the end, with a traditional Count Basie tag to close the track. By using the basic elements of crescendo and diminuendo, and arranged sections to set off the parts, Peterson turns what could have been a throwaway into a minor masterpiece.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Roch Lockyer: Monk's House

For his first CD, Nondirectional, Denver-area guitarist Roch Lockyer wanted his music to "reflect my respect for all whose shoulders I stand on." Obviously for "Monk's House," he's standing on the broad artistic shoulders of Thelonious Monk. In the song's opening statement, which vaguely evokes "Well You Needn't," Lockyer successfully transfers Monk's disjointed, angular style to his guitar. After settling into a more conventional bop vibe when trumpeter Ron Miles plays, Lockyer returns to model his solo after Monk's predilection for thick comping chords with a hint of atonality, prickly trips up and down the scales, and other unconventional tricks. He also throws in a few quick octaves for good measure. The guitarist skillfully conjures up the old ghost while maintaining a distinct character of his own. After all, a piece is not truly Monk-like unless it's a little off-kilter, in a charming but imaginative way. "Monk's House" fits the bill.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Smith: Midnight Special

“Midnight Special” may be the tastiest recording Jimmy Smith ever made. Recorded at a session that produced both the albums Back At The Chicken Shack and Midnight Special, this medium blues (an original, not the rock/blues classic) moves along at an absolutely perfect tempo and completely captures the mood of a slow-moving midnight freight train. It’s a groove you could ride all night, and while this cut comes in at just under 10 minutes, you get the feeling that the quartet played on it for another half-hour or so after the recording faded out. In fact, maintaining that groove seemed to be the primary goal and each soloist (most notably Smith) knew how to express himself without losing the mood. And in that regard, it’s important to note that there’s never the feeling of the soloists holding back. It’s just that wonderful skill of playing together to create something bigger and better than its individual parts.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lettuce: Speak E.Z.

Blues, rock 'n' roll and jazz have undergone a turbulent evolutionary process over the decades, with their tenuous nocturnal rendezvous producing a bastard subgenre called funk along the way. While some hardcore bopoholics would dismiss this music as procreative pabulum purloined from the pocket changes of honest, dues-paying jazz and blues players, no one can deny the role funk has played in revitalizing the rhythm section and broadening the audience. Besides, those who ignore the power and influence of funk are missing out on some good, unclean fun.

The powerhouse East Coast-based horn band Lettuce has previously offered up fare from the tables of James Brown, Tower of Power, Bootsy Collins and George Clinton. But with "Speak E.Z." these funk-ups are serving some retro-home cookin' from the back-alley kitchens of Stax, Atco, and Allen Toussaint's Sansu. It's refreshing to hear this well-oiled machine paying homage to how it was done 'way down river back in the '60s and '70s. I hear Booker T., Steve Cropper, The Mar-Keys, The Meters, and a bit of The Bar-Kays in this cut. The essence of Memphis and New Orleans soul food always included a driving backbeat, nasty chicken-lickin' Fender guitar, growling B-3, and plenty of space in the bass for the pocket. On this track, Lettuce has convincingly captured that feel. The results go down like a plate of collards, cornbread and pulled pork – once you've had a taste, you'll always want to come back for more.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Blue Train

John Coltrane (and I think it was he, rather than his various producers) seemed to know which performances would mark the turning points of his career. Just think of three cornerstones: “Blue Train," “Giant Steps,” “My Favorite Things,” all title tracks of albums, and all the opening track on side 1 of those albums. Even in lesser cases like “Impressions” and “Olé," the same rule applied. And there is little question that the first of these examples, “Blue Train” represents the peak of Coltrane’s “sheets of sound” approach. Coltrane seems anxious to show off this new approach and when he launches into his solo, the intensity immediately goes up several degrees. It was Ira Gitler that coined the “sheets” phrase and while it is an effective description, it misses the element of rhythmic freedom that Coltrane found during this period. He creates rhythmic ideas that seem completely divorced from the ground beat, yet somehow they fit into their surroundings. Of course, Coltrane’s not the only star of “Blue Train”: the album has some of the finest Lee Morgan and Curtis Fuller solos to that time and the rhythm section is stunning throughout. I doubt that Coltrane had much interest in recreating the sound of an actual train on this recording, but there is a wonderful moment at the beginning of Fuller’s second chorus when Paul Chambers starts a boogie bass line and Kenny Drew picks it up for a couple of bars. It’s disarming when you hear it, and an interesting glance back into jazz history by musicians who seemed to always look forward.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown & Max Roach: Take The 'A' Train

Of the four studio albums by the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet (including “Sonny Rollins Plus 4”), “Study In Brown” is doubtlessly the weakest. Most of the songs are short and the performances seem less committed than on the other albums. On “Cherokee,” Brown seems unable to match his earlier Blue Note performance, and this version of “Take The' A' Train” tries to pack in as much arrangement as possible to the detriment of the soloists. While Brown, Roach and Harold Land all acquit themselves well in their 2-chorus solos, one wishes for more, especially at the fire-breathing tempo set by Roach. When the solo time is so truncated, it’s easy to lose patience with the long intro and coda that portrays the starting, speeding, slowing and stopping of the train. I suspect this may be an arrangement by pianist Richie Powell, who wrote many fine charts for the quintet, but whose musical immaturity in soloing and writing sometimes put a drag on the entire group.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Happy-Go-Lucky Local

Duke Ellington’s “Happy-Go-Lucky Local” was originally the final movement of his Deep South Suite premiered at his 1946 Carnegie Hall concert. A completely different concept than “Daybreak Express,” “Happy-Go-Lucky Local” runs twice as long and has about a third of the writing as its predecessor. Yet this composition stayed in the Ellington book for years and there are several live recordings available. The present version was recorded shortly after the premiere and issued on a 2-part 78. Unlike “Daybreak Express,” which seemed in a hurry to get to its destination, “Happy-Go-Lucky Local” soulfully lopes along. The principal soloists are Russell Procope on alto sax, Ray Nance (I think) on trumpet and Oscar Pettiford on bass, with shorter spots for Harry Carney on baritone sax and Jimmy Hamilton on clarinet. Pettiford is the real solo star with several spots sounding similar to the Ellington/Jimmie Blanton duets from a few years earlier. The written parts fit together exceptionally well, and Ellington artfully combines the themes, mixing new material with music we heard 2½ minutes before. When the “Night Train” theme shows up in part 2, it seems the most natural development of what we’ve already heard. For the finale, Ellington brings out the newest addition to his band, high-note trumpet specialist Cat Anderson. While Anderson’s playing is part of the Ellington sound as we now know it, imagine how it must have been to hear it for the first time in 1946!

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Charlie Barnet: Skyliner

Charlie Barnet’s dual-themed “Skyliner” emulates the sound of a fast-moving modern express train, with the jabbing brass line characterizing the train’s rhythm in its undercarriage and the elegant long lines of the saxes representing the sleek aerodynamic outer design. Musically, it may also be the inspiration for Ray Wetzel’s triple-themed composition “Intermission Riff” as performed by the Stan Kenton Orchestra. Billy Moore’s arrangement focuses on the ensemble, and he makes small but significant changes in the piece to maintain the listener’s attention. Note that the pyramid chord tag of the first two A sections is replaced the third time around with a variation (beautifully played by the Barnet trumpet section). When the A section returns, the brass play a simplified but effective variation of their original line. Then the trombones play a fine set of exchanges with Barnet’s solo thoughts. The second bridge with the brass playing yet another variation against Dodo Marmarosa’s piano solo is, for me, the highlight of the entire record. The rhythm section is a model of Swing Era cohesion, yet within a couple of years three members of that section would be working within a new model with a new set of rules: bebop.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Django Reinhardt: Mystery Pacific

Was “Mystery Pacific” Django Reinhardt’s personal tribute to Duke Ellington’s “Daybreak Express”? There’s not enough similarities to call one an arrangement of the other, but there’s also no doubt of the influence. “Mystery Pacific”’s opening is an obvious nod to “Daybreak” as is the simple harmonic structure and for that matter, the form of the entire piece. However, Django must have realized that he would never be able to re-create the many colors of the Ellington band with his small group. Instead, he and Stephane Grappelli created a new piece tailor-made for the QHCF, which is as evocative of an express train as Ellington’s. Reinhardt goes a step further than Ellington by including spots for improvised solos by himself and Grappelli. The violinist is his usual elegant self here during his solo, but don’t miss his Doppler effect background during Django’s solo. And I am constantly amazed at how Django got so much music out of a guitar when his fretting hand was so badly deformed.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Daybreak Express

Unquestionably one of Duke Ellington’s masterpieces, “Daybreak Express” is one of the most thrilling train rides ever recorded. Almost entirely written-out (there is minimal improvisation by Johnny Hodges and Cootie Williams), this was a showcase for the burgeoning talent of Ellington and his ensemble. In condensing an express train ride into three minutes, Ellington packs lots of musical details into his score. The opening, with the train starting from a standstill and gradually getting up to speed, is now a cliché, but is played here as if it were the freshest idea in modern music. Not content to simply use a train whistle, Ellington augments the whistle with horns from the band. As the train races along the countryside, the saxophones perform one of the most difficult ensemble choruses ever devised. Finally, Cootie Williams takes the role of engineer, encouraging the train on with his trumpet and then putting on the brakes as the train reaches its final destination. Although Ellington rarely played the work in concerts, it turns up in a 1937 Paramount short film, Record Making With The Duke and the Victor recording was used as background music for D.A. Pennebaker’s film Daybreak Express. Pennebaker’s film was first shown in New York before the feature The Horse’s Mouth (1958). The Criterion DVD recreates the billing and also includes a short introduction by Pennebaker.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Boswell Sisters: Shuffle Off To Buffalo

“Shuffle Off To Buffalo” was one of three Busby Berkeley song-and-dance productions in the film 42nd Street, released exactly one month before this Boswell Sisters version was recorded. Even for a song so new, arranger/vocalist Connie Boswell saw no reason to stick to the original song’s style or melody. The song’s herky-jerky train rhythm is jettisoned in favor of a fast streamlined express train sound, and throughout the introduction and first chorus, we hear only small pieces of the melody, and lots of variation all around it. Connie knew that she and her sisters Vet and Martha were a unique section in their own right and they could do riffs and shout choruses to equal the brass and reed teams of the big bands. On the opening and closing choruses, they perform remarkably intricate variations on the theme with stunning precision. Unexpected tempo changes were also a Boswell trademark, and on this recording the tempo slows down right in the middle of the verse, setting the stage for Connie’s solo chorus (which includes much more of the melody and probably provided some temporary relief to producer Jack “Where’s The Melody” Kapp.) Getting all of the elements perfect was an important part of the Boswells’ artistic success and it’s worth noting that there are two issued takes of this track available and the only audible difference between them was not in the vocal parts or execution of the arrangement, but in Dick McDonough’s improvised guitar responses within the verse.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wesley Wallace: Number 29

Beat Me Daddy, Six To The Bar! In addition to being one of the most descriptive of train pieces, this recording is one of the only (and certainly the earliest) versions of boogie woogie in 3/4 time! We may never know if Wesley Wallace knew that he was breaking all conventions with this piece, and since his discography amounts to a total of 4 sides (and 2 of those may not be Wallace at all), it’s hard to make any judgments on him as an artist. However, on his recording of “Number 29,” he maintains the 3/4 ostinato pattern in his left hand, only flubbing the pattern once. In an ongoing spoken commentary, Wallace describes how, as a hobo, he catches the freight train outside of Cairo, Illinois, and travels toward East St Louis. He tells about the whistle, the train’s speed, and how he eventually jumps off the train, all with descriptive music happening underneath. When Wallace breaks away from the 3/4 bass pattern to portray the sound of his fall from the train and his rolling on the grass next to the tracks, the music (while rubato) still falls into a waltz-time pattern!

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Meade Lux Lewis: Honky Tonk Train Blues

With its insistent 8-to-the-bar rhythm, boogie-woogie piano is a natural match for a freight train. While there have been many train-inspired boogie compositions, none can match Meade “Lux” Lewis’s “Honky Tonk Train” for exuberance and energy. Lewis’s Paramount version from 1927 was one of the earliest boogie recordings, but the 1936 Victor version is probably the best of the many versions Lewis recorded in his lifetime. His left-hand work is astounding: using a simple dotted-eighth/sixteenth pattern, he holds the train rhythm rock-steady and never loses intensity, despite the immense physical challenge that such a limited pattern invokes. Meanwhile, his right hand sends forth a dazzling array of musical images: clanging bells as the train passes, the whistle blowing across the trestle and the rush of the cars as they pass on adjoining tracks. Like Jelly Roll Morton, Lewis’s approach to the piano was as a band in miniature, and it’s easy to imagine a big band’s brass section punching out the strong off-the-beat syncopations that Lewis plays with his right hand.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: The Blues With a Feelin'

"The Blues With a Feelin'" is an apt title for this track. With the Ellington band's usual fine backing, there are superb solos from "Tricky Sam" Nanton, Johnny Hodges, and presumably Arthur Whetsol. The tune opens and ends with lovely clarinet duet lines. After the opening, Nanton plays a higher-range, very melodious trombone solo with gorgeous tone and some punch. That effectively sets the stage for a soaring, soulful soprano sax solo by Johnny Hodges that is nicely constructed, with well-placed use of bluesy slurs. The impact of Johnny's inspiration and mentor of a few years earlier, Sidney Bechet, is especially evident here, right down to the intense, Bechet-style vibrato. Whetsol (or is it Miley?) contributes some fine muted trumpet lines that carry on perfectly, in tone and style, from the Hodges solo. This track is an excellent example of how the sophisticated gentleman Ellington, with key-note help from his superb soloists, could offer up soulful blues. Especially with Johnny Hodges, this is, indeed, "the blues with a feelin'."

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Beggar's Blues

The elegant Duke Ellington band is a rather surprising source for a track titled "Beggar's Blues." Yet with this tune, composed by those two masters Johnny Hodges and Barney Bigard, Duke's band offers us a beautiful slow blues with great feeling. The piece has a gorgeous, soulful, moving main theme, which is played marvelously by the full ensemble and by parts of it. One of this track's best aspects is an excellent use of different instrumental combinations to not only play the theme and variations, but to create tone textures and atmospheres that enhance the musical experience. Perhaps the finest of these are provided by Hodges and Bigard, with the latter adding a typically beautiful flowing and fluttering, soaring and sliding, creative solo.

But there are two problems. First, while the Duke usually makes the most perfectly appropriate piano contribution to a tune, in the middle of this track he plays a kind of low-grade rhapsodic break at odds with the nature of the song; it is almost as if a recording engineer imported this section from some other, entirely different type of tune and spliced it in. The second problem is either in the original engineering or in this remastering: Wellman Braud's solid, repetitive bassline is so loud and penetrating that after a while the listener feels about two seconds from a massive heart attack. Without the Ellington oddity and the audio problem, my rating would be higher. Indeed, this is one of the most marvelous blues tunes the Ellington band ever produced.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Derrick Gardner: Crystal Stair

Rob Dixon petitioned this tune to Derrick Gardner as a last-minute addition to the Echoes of Ethnicity sessions, and the leader relented and included it because the chord changes were easy enough to steer his large band through. It's true, there's nothing terribly complex about the tenorist's minor-key hard-bop piece. The song's allure comes instead from allowing all the players to loosen up and stretch out, starting with drums and percussion. Kevin Kaiser infused what Gardner calls an "altered Mozambique rhythm" that Donald Edwards supplements with the driving intensity of Art Blakey. Garland Cannon rounds out the foundation with some real funky, dancing basslines. All of which lets the rest of the band concentrate on jamming. Altoist Brad Leali goes first, then baritonist Jason Marshall, Gardner, and finally pianist Rock Roe. All put in solos that are punchy, crisp and bright. The trumpeter's is best, displaying a polished, full tone that retains an expressive quality throughout. "Crystal Stair" is a good example of why hard bop is so appealing when it's done right: never too hot, never too cold, and always soulful.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bipolar: Just the Two of Us

Grover Washington Jr.'s most recognizable hit has been covered countless times, but probably never like this. Jed Feuer's swinging arrangement gives this quiet storm icon a nice retrofit. David Ostrem's bass is key. His crisp lines, beginning with a quick statement of the familiar theme right at the top, set a steadfastly jazz tempo. And I when I say "jazz," I mean in the old-fashioned, prewar sense. Feuer's Satchelicious (yes, I just made up that word) trumpet doesn't even acknowledge that Dizzy ever existed. Feuer and soprano saxophonist Stephanie Long engage in call & response, and end up playing different phrases at the same time, veering to within a hair of Dixieland. Some people will claim that Smooth Jazz subverts straight jazz. If true, then payback was overdue.

March 15, 2009 · 1 comment

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Bangalore Breakdown: Song

The world-jazz movement is gaining steam every day, which can be nothing but a good thing for music and for the world. Bangalore Breakdown consists of Americans, Swiss, Indians, a Russian and a Cameroonian. (I hope I got everybody.) Co-leader keyboardist Uli Geissendoerfer wrote "Song," whose infectious melody is supported by Latin rhythms and sensibilities. But other world influences are also heard. Premik Russell Tubbs takes a far-reaching solo as the tune swings. The chorus features affecting Gino Sitson wordless vocals sung along with Tubbs's sax. Geissendoerfer offers a fine exploration of his own before the song takes flight with a series of phrases designed to carry us along. For the tune's last section, the band does indeed break things down. As the song fades away, percussionist Mathias Kunzli creatively supports the dissipating calls and responses. Bangalore Breakdown is an ensemble made from the continents, playing music that is an argument for establishing worldwide normalization of relations. Do you get my continental drift?

March 15, 2009 · 1 comment

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Bangalore Breakdown: Mukti

Bangalore Breakdown is a New York City band born from frequent nightclub world-music jam sessions featuring elements of jazz, Indian and African music. The group is co-led by multi-instrumentalist Premik Russell Tubbs and keyboardist Uli Geissendoerfer. Tubbs was in John McLaughlin's expanded second Mahavishnu Orchestra and has also worked with Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, Sting, James Taylor and many more. Geissendoerfer likes to explore a cross-section of rhythms paying special attention to those of Latin origin. He has played with the Groove Collective, Tito Puente, Blood Sweat & Tears, Cirque du Soleil and many others. The rest of the band members come from the four corners of the earth.

"Mukti" is based on a traditional Bengali melody. A synthesized drone serves as a backdrop for Tubbs's beautiful bansuri flute intro. Textures and colors are added by his bandmates. The uplifting melody enters. Percussionists Mathias Kunzli and Dibyarka Chatterjee drive the piece as Tubbs offers a soaring soprano sax solo. Some wonderful unison playing separates the solos. Cameroonian vocalist Gino Sitson uses his 4-octave range to take the next turn. At one point he plays percussion on his chest, which knocks air out of his lungs creating a staccato rhythmic effect. Tabla player Dibyarka Chatterjee takes it from there, with vocalist Steve Sandberg doing a Carnatic thing. Some well-placed heavy-handed Geissendoerfer chords infiltrate the full sonic attack that the music has now become. The intricate unison playing is outstandingly entertaining. Pay special attention to bassist Nathan Peck during these sections. Each player is a life- giving tributary to one great river of music. "Mukti" is a joyous romp of world influences. Bangalore Breakdown is just the band to break things down and put them back together again.

March 15, 2009 · 1 comment

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Frank Wess: Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words)

During his tenure with Count Basie in the 1950s and '60s, tenor saxophonist/flutist Frank Wess probably had occasion to play the Quincy Jones arrangement of "Fly Me to the Moon" more times than he'd care to count. Jones's arrangement for the Frank Sinatra/Count Basie team is arguably the classic version of the tune, so any other featuring a former Basie-ite—especially this former Basie-ite, who has firsthand knowledge of those famous flute lines—is bound to invite comparison. That said, I'll try to resist and address this one on its merits. Arranger Scott Robinson's version for Wess's nonet is harmonically fussy and overwrought. At times he seems to be trying to make the cut-down horn sections (two trumpets, one trombone, and two saxes) imitate a full-sized big band. It's an ill-conceived strategy. The performance ends up sounding like a big band rehearsal where half the group called in sick. On the positive side, Wess sounds wonderful. Ultimately, any opportunity we get to hear him solo—especially on flute—is time well spent.

March 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Frank Wess: Lush Life

Tenor saxophonist/flutist Frank Wess is one of the few great Basie-ites active into the 21st century. In 2008—on the heels of being honored as an NEA Jazz Master—Wess led a nonet at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in New York. That gig led to the making of this recording. Most of the tunes on Once is Not Enough are arranged for nonet, yet there are a couple of quartet tracks, "Lush Life" being one. Joined by a rhythm section of pianist Michael Weiss, bassist Rufus Reid, and drummer Winard Harper, Wess shows he's still a formidable tenor player. He renders the Billy Strayhorn classic with a pure, bittersweet tone and unerring good taste. Wess makes melodic embellishments seem like an essential part of the tune and his improvisation an extension of Strayhorn's intent. Weiss's piano accompaniment is elegant, his solo understated and affecting. Reid and Harper know what to do and do it very well. Guys like Wess won’t be around forever. Fortunately for us, their music will be. A lovely performance.

March 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lars Gullin: Fedja

Recorded at the same session as "Ma," this song was written in tribute to Swedish actor/director Gösta Ekman II, who in his early career directed a play by Tolstoy titled Fedja. Possibly Lars Gullin's hardest-swinging song, "Fedja" is also chockfull of mystery, and might even conjure visions of a prowling, suspicious character darting across streets and disappearing in the shadows of Stockholm's Old Town – or better yet, the forested hills of Gullin's home island of Gotland off the southern coast.

March 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lars Gullin: Ma

Troubled by drug addiction for much of his career, Lars Gullin frequently stayed in hospitals, and this song was titled for his nurse, whom he called "Ma." It has an air of inward relaxation from Gullin, as he delicately delivers speech-like phrases over subdued padding from the band. The tune is a staple of his repertoire, in part because it bears his trademarks of structural divergence and a haunting melody (gorgeously played on clarinet by Arne Domnérus). The addition of a second baritone saxophonist, Rune Falk, makes this a unique moment in the Gullin discography.

March 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lars Gullin: Silhouette

Working in Stockholm as a member of the house band at the popular dance hall Nalen (The National), Lars Gullin was often able to flex his compositional muscles with requests for new material. Although this tune features a slow, danceable melody, the arrangement here wildly departs with an abstraction of pedal points led by the piano, while Gullin solos imaginatively and gracefully. As Gullin progressed in the early 1950s, his command of the "Cool" sound begun by the Miles Davis Nonet made the baritone saxophonist the recipient of many ovations from American and British jazz fans. Unfortunately, the crushing effects of heroin addiction made his career sputter over the next two decades, and the activity that he enjoyed during this formative, lively period of his life was less frequent after the later 1950s.

March 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lars Gullin: First Walk

This was the first of the "folk-inspired" compositions that Lars Gullin wrote, and notably where he says his major breakthrough as a writer occurred. His goal, oddly enough, was to write a tone poem depicting a child's first steps. When you listen to this innocent tune, you might notice Gullin tacks on and removes measures within the unfamiliar formal scheme, to great effect. Outside of Sweden, numerous critics took notice of Gullin's unique compositional voice, and he earned praise from Downbeat in 1954 as the Best New Artist on baritone saxophone. On "First Walk," however, the composer is heard anchoring the horns on bass clarinet.

March 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bengt-Arne Wallin: Vallåt/Folklig Visa Från Karleby-Nejden/ Uti Vår Hage

Bengt-Arne Wallin led the surge in the 1960s Swedish jazz scene by putting together an album of folk song material arranged for jazz ensemble. The types of songs here are regional melodies, and lie deep in the roots of the pastoral settings of Scandinavian country life. Beginning with a tune meant to be sung when tending cattle, the music may have taken a turn away from anything coming out of the bop dens of New York, but Wallin and company show plenty of sophistication and swing hard on this 3-part suite. Thanks to an all-star team of Swedish and American jazz greats who came together in 1962 for this intrepid project, a new trend gained momentum, and Wallin joined the ranks of such other experimental Swedish jazzmen as pianist Jan Johansson and baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin in their search for a Nordic accent in jazz.

March 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bengt-Arne Wallin: Som Stjärnan På Himmelen Så Klar

Here is a brilliantly conceived chart from a legend in the Scandinavian jazz world. Bengt-Arne Wallin gives the melody of this pensive song to the trombone section, having the trumpets remain subdued until their climactic blasts move the arrangement onto new ground. Rune Gustafsson's guitar, and bongos by Christer Jägerhuldt, set the stage for a passionate but succinct solo by Wallin. The same finesse was often shown by one of Wallin's friends and musical partners, Quincy Jones. During the early 1960s, Wallin's trumpet and flugelhorn lent themselves excellently to various ensemble situations, but he later left the performing life behind. His recent career has focused mostly on composition and arranging. He has also mentored such standouts of the newer generations of Swedish jazz artists as pianist Esbjörn Svensson and trombonist Nils Landgren.

March 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mike Marshall: Three Dragons

For "Three Dragons," stringed instrument maestro Mike Marshall sticks with acoustic guitar and enlists the help of two young men who by appearances seemed better prepared to play Jonas Brothers tunes than a complex, multipart concoction of classical, bluegrass, folk and jazz. Yet any doubts about whether age is a factor are quickly dispelled and completely forgotten.

This piece has several movements, each revisited several times. The intro is from "Linnaeus Långdans" by the Scandinavian folk combo Väsen. Here it has a European classical nuance. Another section is still more serene. The track's signature is the contemporary bluegrass part, a vamp where Alex Hargreaves goes from being a violinist to a fiddler and supplying the rhythm via string scrapes at the same time he's nimbly playing chords. Marshall provides a brief but effective solo the first go-around, and Paul Kowert next offers one that steadily climbs up the register of his bowed bass. At the end, the teenaged Hargreaves takes his turn, an outpouring of deeply experienced playing within just 30 seconds.

Marshall could have made "Three Dragons" an exhibition for his big chops, but chose instead to trust the budding talents of a bassist and a violinist to carry most of the load. It was trust well earned.

March 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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John Cariddi: What's Going On

John Cariddi is an accomplished studio guitarist, teacher and composer, whose original music has graced film and TV scores. He has played behind an impressive list of singers from Patti Austin to Rickie Lee Jones. His technique is smooth, his chops tasteful and appropriate; the tone of his guitar is impeccable. It would have been nice to hear him with a real rhythm section, taking a few chances here and there.

Instead his debut album consists of pop-tune covers given jazzed-up arrangements, backed by Dennis Bell's ubiquitous multilayered synthesized keyboards. "What's Going On," Marvin Gaye's breakthrough politically charged 1971 hit, has been given the jazz treatment by artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Les Hooper and Frank Strozier, to name a few. Most artists covering this number have managed to convey the sense of desperation and irony that made it such a meaningful statement during the Vietnam War years. Here, the ambiance of a Caribbean cruise and conch fritters come to mind. No new musical ground is broken, and the multilayered synthesized arrangement clearly belongs on Aisle 5 ("Canned vegetables, condiments, claves").

Still, Cariddi's polished technique and considerable chops rise above the mundane and merit a listen. This fine guitarist plays with grace, sensitivity and economy. Next time out, he should drop the net and fly.

March 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Fly: Perla Morena

The jazz tradition of pianoless sax trios mostly derives from the example of a few hard-edged and gritty tenor-driven albums, most notably Sonny Rollins's Way Out West and Joe Henderson's State of the Tenor projects. Yet there is another, less visible tradition, perhaps best exemplified by the avant-garde trio (whose very name seems to suggest an affinity with Fly) Air, an ensemble that cut through the noise of '70s-era jazz with a sound built on shifting textures and a delight in the flexibility provided by a chord-free environment.

In other words, the piano's absence forces the other players to take one of two paths: either they expand their own sound to fill the place of the missing harmony instrument, or else they welcome the gap in the music and luxuriate in the clarity and spaciousness of a less cluttered setting. The collective trio Fly follows the second of these paths, and with a freedom and freshness that makes their music a joy to hear. How rare these days, when so many albums testify to a heroic and macho conception of jazz, to encounter three musicians who are so attuned to supporting each other rather than projecting a grand pose to the audience. This piece, which glides on a sweet and shifting 6/8, shows both strength and delicacy, and each player adapts in real time to the evolving moods of the performance. The interaction between the bass and sax lines is especially fine, and Ballard deftly matches the ebb and flow of the music with percussion work that whispers or prods as the occasion warrants.

Listeners may need to adjust their ears to the dimensions of this performance, for this is a band that does not aim to dominate the soundspace, but instead invites the audience inside it. Perhaps that will limit Fly's commercial appeal. Then again, this band might just find a different kind of audience, one that is refreshed by a less heroic conception of jazz.

March 13, 2009 · 1 comment

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John Coltrane: Blues to Elvin

The first of six blues on Coltrane's album-length exploration of the form, "Blues to Elvin" begins with McCoy Tyner doing his best Floyd ("Last Date") Cramer impersonation on a slow, honky-tonk theme. Coltrane's improvisations here focus on the creation of cogent melody rather than boppish skeins of rhythmic and harmonic complexity. His playing is lyrically expressive, his tone surprisingly warm. This isn’t "sheets of sound" Coltrane, but rather Coltrane at his most direct, communicating without a hint of obfuscation. He's accompanied by two-thirds of what would be his regular rhythm section for the next several years: pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones are joined by short-timer Steve Davis on bass. Tyner and Jones are a good deal more reticent than they would become. Both defer to Coltrane more or less completely, though their playing is amply interesting and supportive. Coltrane is known for so many things, people sometimes forget he was one of jazz's great blues players. He's at his best here. No fireworks, just a straightforward blues—classic in its simplicity, devastatingly effective in its execution.

March 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Fat Cat Big Band: Prayer for Unconditional Love

Fat Cat Big Band reminds me of bands led by Horace Silver (on his 1975 album Silver and Brass) and to a lesser extent David Murray (his Live at Sweet Basil albums from the late '80s). Like those groups, Fat Cat isn't a full-grown behemoth. It's a cut-down big band, with three saxes, two trumpets, and two trombones instead of the usual four or five of each. Such a relatively compact alignment lessens the threat of elephantine grandiosity.

Fat Cat's leader and composer, guitarist Jade Synstelien, writes nice, melodic tunes with colorful harmonies; he favors finesse over power. "Prayer for Unconditional Love" well represents his work: a jazz waltz with a Middle-Eastern tinge, a tuneful melody is supported by tight harmonies in the horns and a lightly swinging rhythm section. The arrangement is simple—basically head-solo-head, with tenor saxophonist Stacy Dillard taking the middle section. Formal complexity doesn't concern Synstelien as much as writing attractive melodies with interesting harmonies and orchestrations.

The band plays with a loose precision that suits the rather casual air of Synstelien's style. No delusions of grandeur here. Fat Cat might have a Kenton-lover checking the batteries in his hearing aid. A Birth of the Cool fan, on the other hand, might dig this music very much.

March 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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The Dave Fox Group: Of All The Tapas Bars In The World …

I've never before heard a Hohner Clavinet teamed with a guitar that has Derek Bailey mannerisms, but given the frenetic way Dave Fox and Bruce Eisenbeil perilously chase notes together, melody be damned, it's a marvelous idea that was long overdue. Later on Eisenbeil coaxes nefarious acid-blues fuzz tones from his axe as Fox's swirling Fender Rhodes lurks in the background. Combine that with Pat Lawrence and Jon Marc Ryan Dale playing unrestrained to time, and the scene unfolds like Sonny Sharrock fronting Pink Floyd hopped up on amphetamines.

The group improvisation slyly titled "Of All The Tapas Bars In The World …" doesn't pretend to have much structure. Rather, it's fueled by a combustible mixture of tonality—or should I say atonality?—and gobs of attitude.

March 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Fly: Sky & Country

The jazz trio Fly considers itself to have three co-leaders. You've heard of group think? This is group-think music. Much of "Sky and Country" is a study in the subdued. Saxophonist Mark Turner and bassist Larry Grenadier play several melody lines in unison as drummer Jeff Ballard plays a jam-band beat almost as slowly as you can. "Sky and Country" is about the vastness of open space. Turner amps it up a bit to fill some of that space, but never strays too close to the ground or too high in the air. There is a steadiness to the task. The band creates a slow groove, but doesn't fall in love with it. This is a thinking person's music. The degree of effort you put into listening will determine your reward.

Later in the year of this recording, saxophonist Mark Turner had a terrible accident in which he badly damaged two of his fingers while using a power saw. Prognoses varied from bad to somewhat OK. But even the best case scenario suggested that after major surgery, Turner would require about 8 months even to hope to play again. He was at in half that time. He has to relearn his fingering touch because of nerve damage to his index and middle fingers. But he is back playing publicly, showing great fortitude and love of the art.

March 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu John McLaughlin: Waltz for Bill Evans

My Goal's Beyond marked the first album by guitarist John McLaughlin in which he used the Mahavishnu name given to him by Guru Sri Chinmoy. The recording also featured, among others, future Mahavishnu Orchestra bandmates drummer Billy Cobham and violinist Jerry Goodman. But half the album featured John McLaughlin alone.

The Chick Corea-penned "Waltz for Bill Evans" is presented beautifully. A showcase for McLaughlin's mastery of guitar dynamics, it is also the album's most jazz-based performance, given its lush chords, rolling arpeggios, harmonics and tasteful runs that clearly come from the jazz idiom. McLaughlin's phenomenal timekeeping creates the patient textures that make up the fabric of the song. Short of what would become McLaughlin's inimitable playing style, there is nothing here that would indicate any connection to jazz-rock fusion. McLaughlin has played plenty of such tunes, actually. But for some reason they tend to be overlooked by detractors because of his more dramatic music. My Goal's Beyond is an album that all guitarists should hear.

March 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu John McLaughlin: Song For My Mother

One entire side of the My Goal's Beyond LP famously featured McLaughlin playing solo acoustic guitar. Well, that's not quite true. Actually on "Song for My Mother" and a tune or two more, there are some well-placed percussive elements. There were three soon-to-be-legendary percussionists on the session. You can choose to believe the percussion was added by Billy Cobham, Airto Moreira or Badal Roy. Or it could have been McLaughlin or anyone else for that matter! My best guess is that it was Airto.

"Song for My Mother" has an aggressive Latin-tinged introduction. Through overdubbing, McLaughlin plays atop his own frenetic chords. Everyone knows that he has a unique lead-guitar style. But his imaginative chord playing and sensitive accompanying have always set McLaughlin even farther apart from his contemporaries. For fans used to his wildly electric sojourns, hearing him jell and duel with himself on beautiful acoustic guitar was a revelation. On this number, the ridiculous speed was still there, but its presentation was cleaner and more pristine. Also of note was his use of harmonics. The combination of his touch, powerfully strummed chords, angular speed-demon runs and melodic sensibilities indicated this musician was going to change the way we perceived the acoustic guitar. After all, he had already started doing the same thing for the electric version.

March 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu John McLaughlin: Something Spiritual

Guitarist John McLaughlin had first covered Dave Herman's "Something Spiritual" as a member of the Tony Williams Lifetime on Emergency! Of course that performance was loud, electric and distorted. This rendition features McLaughlin strumming and picking an acoustic guitar. After a slow introspective intro full of minor chords and harmonics, McLaughlin is off to the races. His solo is overdubbed atop his prerecorded quick-paced bassline and backing chords. The energy let loose in this acoustic exposition could not be harnessed. After some cosmic blues licks fly through the air, McLaughlin abruptly returns to the spirit of the intro for the coda. An album full of tunes so inventively interpreted and skillfully played is why My Goal's Beyond has reached legendary status for serious guitar players.

March 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu John McLaughlin: Phillip Lane

This tune is named in honor of Philip Lane, a street in northern London. "Phillip Lane," the tune with an extra "l," is a chugging acoustic number that finds guitarist John McLaughlin running stoplights. The only rest comes in the form a beautifully brief melodic midsection slowdown. That break gives McLaughlin just enough time to tighten the windup key to start his brazen disregard of the road rules all over again. This is speed with direction and lack of caution at the same time. McLaughlin can be a real lead-foot guitar player. Come to think of it, those folks driving over there on Philip Lane are on the wrong side of the road anyway. Some might feel that's a good way to describe how McLaughlin sometimes plays the guitar, too. When he plays like this, it might be a good idea to pull over and let him by no matter which side of the road you are on. That way, you can live to listen another day.

March 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Fat Cat Big Band: Samantha Swing

Not many big bands are fronted by guitarists. Maybe that's because big bands are typically maintained by composers who need an outlet for their music. Not many guitarists fit that profile. Fat Cat Big Band and Jade Synstelien are mutual exceptions. The 11-piece group (named for the Greenwich Village pool hall/jazz club that serves as its home base) is led by Synstelien, an ambitious guitarist/composer whose music is a good-humored, sophisticated blend of the old and the modern. "Samantha Swing" combines Synstelien's unruly, inside-out guitar style with a composition that incorporates Basie-like riffs and bebop (and beyond) harmonic schemes. Trombonist Max Seigel channels Tricky Sam Nanton with a tongue-in-cheek plunger solo, but it's Synstelien's hyperactive, harmonically audacious improvising over the riffing horns that defines the band's all-inclusive style. This performance is loose in all the right ways. It sounds good and feels even better.

March 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu John McLaughlin: Hearts and Flowers

My Goal's Beyond can't be killed with a stick. Every few years it is re-released and a new generation experiences the joy of listening to John McLaughlin's compositions and jazz standards played beautifully on acoustic guitar. When the album was first released, it was a revelation and in some ways started a revolution. The world was awash in electric guitar solos. Now here was a guy, who had put forth his share of mind-bending electric solos, performing sensitive music that had to be expertly executed on acoustic guitar. It changed a lot of people's perceptions about that instrument. You can't fool people with music like this.

"Hearts and Flowers," irritatingly mislabeled on my Ryko CD release as "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," is a prime example of what has always separated McLaughlin from other practicing jazz-rock guitarists. He has never been afraid to offer elements of grace and beauty in his performances. He is likely to play a mind-melting fusion number in concert and follow it up with "My Romance." The opening bars of "Hearts and Flowers" are gorgeous. He plays the melody with ease and confidence. His prerecorded bassline and chords accompany him as his melody lines and solos offer a European classicist flair. There is a bit of Gypsy in him, too. He supplies tension by varying his string attack. The song is a little over 2 minutes of quickly paced smiling satisfaction. You will want a spot of tea afterward. Or perhaps a bouquet.

March 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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The Joe Maneri Trio: Balance + Pulse

Aside from the trombone, probably no wind instrument better lends itself to microtonal manipulation than the saxophone. Depending upon his or her reed/mouthpiece combination, a skilled saxophonist can cover the intervallic range of a major second or more merely by varying the shape and strength of the embouchure. While it's true that jazz saxophonists have used flexible pitch as an expressive device since the music's beginning, none have made it a more essential part of their work than Joe Maneri. Maneri has devised a theory involving a 72-note-to-the-octave scale, yet his application of microtonal techniques in the context of improvisation seems wholly organic, a matter of intuition.

On "Balance + Pulse," Maneri on tenor sax is joined by son Mat (playing what is presumably a baritone violin) and Randy Peterson on drums. The music has a classical sensibility, owing partly to the recording's recital-hall ambience and the players' rapt attention to concerns of texture and dynamics. (Mat's chosen instrument and classically precise style also plays a role.) Maneri's playing has a bluesy quality that's abstracted from considerations of blues tonality. There are no blue notes per se, but each note has the expressive quality of the blues by virtue of his inflections and meandering, quasi jazz-like rhythms. Peterson's work is the most explicit jazz element. His largely discontinuous style doesn't swing in a conventional sense. Instead, he plays a nearly melodic role, on the same plane as the violin and tenor.

In combination, the men produce a stirring performance. Far from being different for difference's sake, Joe Maneri's music suggests compelling new areas of exploration accessible to anybody and everybody. That's the true measure (and value) of innovation, in my book.

March 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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The Joe Maneri Trio: Of Any Three

Anyone with an ear sophisticated enough to devise a 72-note equal tempered scale is bound to be a good listener. In the course of his study and teaching of microtonal music, saxophonist/clarinetist/pianist Joe Maneri invented such a scale (he calls it "the Virtual Pitch Continuum"). As this music demonstrates quite well, he is indeed a good listener. Maneri has one of the most distinctive styles in jazz-based improvised music. Although it's apparently based on his microtonal theory, it's not pedantic in the least. Rather, it involves a group of improvisers listening and relating very closely to one another, and entails a concern with small, detailed gestures and minute fluctuations of pitch.

Maneri begins on alto sax. It is arguably his best instrument, the one on which his subtle manipulations achieve their most affecting vocalic expression. He switches to piano a third of the way through, revealing a more percussive aspect of his ebbing and flowing phraseology (he also adds vocal interjections). His son Mat Maneri holds down the lower end on what is either a baritone violin or viola. Mat's supple lines shadow his father's—sometimes in opposition, other times in agreement. Drummer Randy Peterson is as assertive as he needs to be, but never exceeds his mandate. He locks in especially well with Mat. In duo episodes they seem of a single mind. Then again, the trio works together scarcely less well. They create with a spontaneous logic, a common purpose made manifest in sound.

March 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Sophie Duner: Caravan

In an industry looking for the next superstar cash cow, most singers have to become howling divas, pulsating hotties or angst-riddled yodelers in order to gain wide recognition. How many gifted musicians and singers get lost in the shuffle due to lack of funding or connections or are simply dismissed out of hand because they don't fit comfortably into an established genre? We will never know. Emerging artists in Europe may have an easier time of it, and seem to have a more receptive audience, along with a nurturing creative environment encouraging exploration and experimentation. Case in point: Swedish singer, composer and overall musical auteur Sophie Dunér. This remarkable talent wears many hats, including painter, poet and arranger. Known primarily for her bold modern classical-oriented vocal numbers backed by string quartet or orchestra, she is a prime example of this new wave of "culturanauts," hurtling over commercial barriers and breaking down conceptual doors.

Here Dunér demonstrates her range and flexibility by taking the reins of an Ellington favorite and driving it down the road less traveled. Backed by a surprisingly powerful New York-based acoustic trio, her sultry, controlled delivery and superb phrasing never sound contrived or forced. Guitarist Rory Stuart holds things together with judicious chord voicing and lean, well-constructed solo lines above Matt Penman's driving pulse and the explosive percussion work of Kahlil Kwame Bell.

Sophie Dunér may not be Ella, but her "Caravan" delivers the goods across the frontiers of what is increasingly becoming a wilderness of uncharted musical territory.

March 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Viktoria Tolstoy: You Can't Go Home Again

The combination of a jazz singer named Tolstoy with songs drawn from Russian classical music might seem like a project driven by a clever marketing angle rather than an artistic vision. But I am happy to report that Viktoria Tolstoy delivers a first-rate jazz performance on My Russian Soul. Cynical fans may wonder about Tolstoy's fickle national allegiances, given her previous CD My Swedish Heart, but I find these Slavic tributes cogent and convincing. Tolstoy's singing is emotionally grounded and sweetly unaffected, whether she is taking on Tchaikovsky or, as in this instance, Rachmaninoff spiced with Don Sebesky. It's hard to hear this song and not be reminded of Chet Baker's defining statement of it, yet Tolstoy finds her own space within the melody. But even without the fine vocal, this track would be worth checking out for the contribution of Nils Landgren, who deserves to be far better known outside of his native Scandinavia. If you've only heard Landgren as a 'bone funkmeister (a role he fills to perfection)—or haven't heard him at all—check out his ballad work in this setting.

March 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Shemekia Copeland: Black Crow

Popular music has begged, borrowed and stolen from the blues over the years, but rarely pays back in kind. Yet blues music would benefit from a closer relationship with the more creative currents of pop-rock. Here Shemekia Copeland takes on a Joni Mitchell song, and shows what new dimensions emerge when a leading blues diva puts her personal stamp on a poetic pop song. Joni Mitchell's compositions are notoriously resistant to "cover" versions—although many have tried—because her original statements of these songs are so married to her idiosyncratic vocal delivery. Yet Copeland cuts through the difficulties, and unlike so many others, does not try to channel Mitchell's persona while interpreting her music. Shemekia has her own style and sound, and it commands the center stage whether belting out a big blues to the back row or, as in this instance, probing the emotional interstices in a winsome ballad.

March 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ornette Coleman: Klactoveesedstene

Recorded during a club gig several months after the sessions for his first commercial recording as a leader (Something Else! on Contemporary Records), this track is a fascinating historical document of Coleman's experiments in stretching the parameters of conventional bebop-based jazz performance. It proves that in the case of Ornette, the origins of so-called free jazz represented more of an evolution than a revolution.

The group is the classic Coleman Quartet plus pianist Paul Bley, and here they explore a Charlie Parker line based on "Perdido" changes. They faithfully include Parker's original intro and tag, and though the horns play a wrong note in the second bar of the A sections, they play it with conviction and repeat it each time. Ornette's solo here should put to rest for good the accusations that he (a) discarded chord changes completely, and (b) couldn't play changes anyway. A striking feature of his solo is how much of Bird's language he used and how well he understood it. It reminds me of the parallel experience of noticing how much verbatim Lester Young was contained in Parker's early work.

Since this was obviously a bootleg recording done on less than ideal equipment, the sound leaves something to be desired, especially as it affects the piano, obviously not a vintage Steinway to begin with. Bley contributes an energetic solo that includes some angular a cappella passages, but it would have been interesting to hear his comping more clearly, as he has always been a player who can exert an enormous amount of harmonic and rhythmic influence over any group he plays in.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Nels Cline: Reconciliation / New Monastery

Today, Nels Cline is best known for touring the world with Wilco, Chicago's (and America's) finest rock 'n' roll band. But even while tearing it up in Madison Square Garden, he's an avant-garde jazz musician through and through, opting for dense layers of sound and creative rhythmic groupings while improvising with the band. When physically located in the jazz world, his regular group is the Nels Cline Singers, an instrumental outfit consisting of Cline, bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Scott Amendola, often supplemented by a revolving door of free jazz musicians adding textures to the ever-improvising trio.

In 2006, Cline entered the studio with his regular Singers rhythm section plus four (cornet, clarinet, accordion and percussion) to record several Andrew Hill compositions. It's a brilliant musical statement, both in the emergence of Hill as a more-than-worthy subject of a recorded musical tribute, and the perfect sense it makes in examining Cline's inquisitive musical world. The arrangements are thoughtfully first-rate, with Cline often combining more than one Hill composition per track, as here with "Reconciliation" (from Hill's Judgment!) and "New Monastery" (from Hill's Point of Departure). Cline alternates periods of handling melodies himself, as with "Reconciliation," and creating fascinating trading/layering sections between himself and his unusual cohort of cornet, clarinet and accordion (Andrew Hill's own first instrument). The careful layering achieves Hill's dense chordal construction, and, as evidenced in the second half of this track, Cline can choose between adding his guitar to those layers or improvising on top of them. A fitting tribute that enhances the reputation of both the honored and the honoree.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Human Feel: Cat Heaven

Human Feel is a freely improvised jazz quartet with a cult-hero status, and although you might not have heard of the band itself, you've most likely heard of some of its players – saxophonists Chris Speed and Andrew D'Angelo, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, and drummer Jim Black. Formed in Boston in 1987, the band released four records between 1989 and 1996, amidst all four members gradually relocating to New York during this time. In the mid-1990s, the busy schedules of all four members resulted in an extended hiatus. A decade later, the group reunited for Galore, an entertaining if taxing whirlwind of a record released on Speed's own Skirl label.

"Cat Heaven" is one of the album's more subdued and striking pieces, with D'Angelo's bass clarinet holding down the bottom while a lush wash of Black's percussion fills the space between Speed's clarinet and Rosenwinkel's guitar. Around 2½ minutes in, with the basic cyclical structure intact, the players start experimenting with trills and rolls until an intense wall of sound has been built. A little after the 4-minute mark, there's a brief break in the action where the players begin a slow decrescendo towards the concluding vamp that ends where the tune began. Four modern masters clearly having fun in the studio.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Reid Anderson: Prehensile Dream

It's easy to overlook Reid Anderson in The Bad Plus. Ethan Iverson is most often the lead voice, both with his piano on the bandstand and with his historian-level knowledge of jazz history and culture, as evidenced on the Bad Plus blog, Do the Math, as well as right here on jazz.com. Drummer Dave King often steps into the leading role himself with his undeniable talents that produce a contentious, valiantly twisted rhythmic approach. To no one's surprise, bassist Anderson is the essential musical glue, but like his fellow modern-jazz-trio bassist Chris Wood (of Medeski Martin & Wood fame), he offers a bit more than usual. Anderson is highly accomplished in multiple stylistic arenas and is often the melodic center of the group as well as its harmonic foundation.

Judging from Reid Anderson's material as a leader, he also might very well be the strongest composer of the three. While Anderson's two previous records feature fine playing from Iverson and tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, it's especially interesting to hear Anderson without any of his Bad Plus mates on this 2000 release. Of special note on this pianoless album is "Prehensile Dream," a tune that reappears as the opening track to The Bad Plus's 2005 Suspicious Activity.

Saxophonists Andrew D'Angelo and Bill McHenry and guitarist Ben Monder attack Anderson's compositions with great assurance throughout, providing collective moments of restrained beauty and extreme blowing. The saxophonists are the stars here, starting out whispering the lilting Anderson melody and slowly building into a moving, breathing duel. As the intensity builds, quick bursts of improvisation are juggled with an insistence on keeping the uncomplicated composition front and center.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Peter Bernstein: Work

Peter Bernstein has been one of the most in-demand New York guitarists over the past two decades, although you wouldn't necessarily know it due to his under-the-radar, "musician's musician" reputation. Since Jim Hall discovered him studying at the New School in the early 1990s, Bernstein has played with Lou Donaldson, Jimmy Cobb, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Lee Konitz, and Tom Harrell, and has also flourished as a jazz educator, teaching at the New School, North Texas State University, Julliard, the Berklee College of Music, and the Jazz Conservatory in Amsterdam. And when it has come time for Bernstein to record as a leader, he has assembled only the finest players to accompany him: pianists Brad Mehldau or Larry Goldings, bassists Christian McBride or Larry Grenadier, and drummers Bill Stewart or Greg Hutchinson.

Bernstein's newest collection, an all-Monk, guitar trio date, is a bold mid-career choice. While many albums dedicated to the tunes of a single artist (especially Monk) can turn into an imitation-fest, Bernstein is too good for that – his interpretations are toned-down, soul-infused, and feature cerebral yet reachable improvisations. He sounds best on some of Monk's less-covered tunes, such as "Work," perhaps because there's a bit more room for invention there. On this track he recalls Bill Frisell during his presentation of the melody, a testament to Bernstein's success being that Frisell is perhaps the foremost purveyor of Monk's vocabulary on the guitar. During the improvisation, though, Bernstein is all Bernstein, complete with super-clean octave/chordal work and quick bursts of satisfying linear movement.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lage Lund: Turn Out the Stars

Guitarist Lage Lund, a young, unassuming, Norwegian-in-Brooklyn, has already amassed an impressive list of musical accomplishments. After studying at the Berklee College of Music upon arriving in the United States, Lund soon became the first electric guitarist granted a full scholarship to the Julliard Jazz Studies program in 2003, and won the prestigious Thelonious Monk Competition in 2005, where he was selected as the winner by a panel of judges who might know a thing or two about jazz guitar: Pat Martino, Earl Klugh, John Pizzarelli, Bill Frisell, Russell Malone and Stanley Jordan. Responding to why Lund won the top prize, Malone stated, "Lage wasn't flashy. He was just all music and all soul – that's what we all agreed upon. Great tone, great interpreter. One of the things I liked about him was that when he played these melodies he didn't embellish them – he was true to them."

"Turn out the Stars" reveals the elements of Malone's description. Lund exhibits a wise-beyond-his-years ability to strip away all but the truest sense of a standard's melody and harmonic groundwork (à la Hall and Frisell), and there's no better way to sense this gift than on Lund's interpretation of one of Bill Evans's lyrical compositions. As Lund's improvisation develops, so does its complexity, as evidenced by the web of propulsive ideas he weaves between 2:30 and 3:30. But not to worry: his classic tone and relaxed style create a fluidity that makes this heavy thinking as comfortable to listen to as his unembellished melodic statements. Busy New York players Orlando LeFleming and Rodney Green are elegant throughout, especially LeFleming's Haden-esque harmonic predictions of Lund's every move. We'll be hearing a lot more from all of these players, with Lund gently leading the way.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jonathan Kreisberg: Just In Time

New York guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg is finally gaining some well-deserved momentum through his Wednesday night residency at the Bar Next Door, his frequent participation in Ari Hoenig's Punk Bop group, and his two most recent albums as a leader with bassist Matt Penman and drummer Mark Ferber. Kreisberg's playing never sounded as good as this '03 release with the inimitable rhythm section of Larry Grenadier and Bill Stewart, though. All three move together beautifully, allowing Kreisberg the ultimate confidence to shoot for the stars with his bold jazz/rock aesthetic. After a chordal retelling of the "Just In Time" melody, Kreisberg explodes with an angular, six-over-four guitar break. While the energy from this break indicates an immediate onslaught might be coming, Kreisberg quickly recoils and spends some time searching for motives to develop through leisurely combinations of everyday chords and quick linear bursts. The guitarist builds a stylish, bouncy solo from there, adding intricacy through both technical twists and an effortless, coherent flow of ideas.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gilad Hekselman: New York Angels

It takes a special player to amass remarkable technical skills but to use them primarily to create an unpretentious personal style. At age 25, Gilad Hekselman is already one of those special players. Since moving to New York from Israel in 2004, he has become a busy freelancer, working frequently with Ari Hoenig and Anat Cohen. On "New York Angels," a mid-tempo, straight-and-swung original from his sophomore release, he reveals the desirables discussed above – glimpses of prodigious talents inundated by an unfussy combination of imaginative chordal work and studied, lyrical phrasing. There's also no doubt that playing with Ari Hoenig, the current king of metrical time-shifting, has sharpened Hekselman's rhythmic proficiency. The guitarist consistently and comfortably plays odd note groupings over barlines that not only land where they're supposed to, but make sense in the overall scope of his solo.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gilad Hekselman: Purim

Over the past few years, a swift upswing of gifted young guitarists, namely Mike Moreno, Lage Lund and Gilad Hekselman, has taken the New York scene by storm. Arriving in 2004 from his native Israel to study at the New School, Hekselman has rather quickly managed to share the stage with Chris Potter, John Scofield, and Jeff "Tain" Watts, and become a regular member of the groups of Anat Cohen and Ari Hoenig. "Purim," the opening track from his first record as a leader, is a grooving original that showcases Gilad's impressive contemporary fluidity – indicative of the speedily tasteful styles of Pat Metheny and Pat Martino.

Hekselman's improvisation is delightfully purposeful. He doesn't focus on chromaticism as much as some others do, instead using it as a transitional vehicle to develop his unhurriedly revealed, anything-but- chromatic lines. Luckily, behind these lines lies some pretty sophisticated thinking. Thus his solo statement achieves an overarching tension and release without needing to rely on higher, faster or louder to reach its rewarding apex.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Daniel Sadownick: There Will Be A Day

There Will Be A Day is Daniel Sadownick's debut album, and on it he reveals his impressive abilities not just as a percussionist, but also as a composer and arranger, primarily blending hard bop with Afro-Cuban rhythms. His résumé is quite diverse, having played with artists ranging from Michael Brecker and Pat Martino to Al Green and Steely Dan.

Altoist David Binney and trumpeter Joe Magnarelli merge harmoniously on the gracefully wistful title track, augmented by pleasing chordal fills from Rob Bargad's piano. Sadownick's tuneful congas first enter when Binney's crystalline alto takes the lead in elucidating the soaring bridge. Binney's solo is artfully constructed, his lunging phrases and swift, complex runs appearing only after his patiently paced and heartfelt opening. Magnarelli's richly lyrical trumpet follows, backed by Sadownick's tastefully unobtrusive accents. The reprise offers another welcome glimpse at the leader's engaging melodic creation, only to give way to an example of his penchant for ambitious and intricate arrangements. Congas now drive an insistent vamp that fades to Bargad's impassioned solo, and then another attractive vamp showcases the surging congas themselves. A new vamp finally draws the satisfying piece to its conclusion.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Eddie Palmieri: In Flight

The violin is not commonly featured in Latin jazz groups led by Eddie Palmieri or others, being more typically found in charanga bands such as Cuba's inimitable Orquestra Aragón. However, after Regina Carter's sensational guest performances on two tracks of Palmieri's Listen Here! CD, the pianist would undoubtedly have welcomed the talented violinist into his group permanently if she were available and so inclined.

"In Flight" is a jaunty theme played by Carter's ingratiating violin over a swaying salsa pulse. Her sweeping solo is a bountiful feast of appealing lyricism, zesty rhythmic variations, and catchy riffs, with the horn section's punctuations only escalating the dancing mood. The team of Brian Lynch and Donald Harrison succeeds her with a seamless trumpet/alto exchange of concise assertive declarations, enhanced by Palmieri's goading montuno and the interaction between Hernández's drums and Hidalgo's congas. When Carter reenters, she somehow heats up this already boiling atmosphere, horn riffs again accentuating her unrestrained, technically polished lines. This is a superb Latin jazz track, expertly and spiritedly arranged by Palmieri and his trombonist Doug Beavers. But Regina Carter steals the show.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Greg Osby: East St. Louis Toodle-Oo

Duke Ellington gave two differing explanations for the derivation of the title "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo," his theme song for many years before "Take the 'A' Train." He told Stanley Dance that the title grew out of a sign the band would pass on the road while touring New England, "LEWANDO CLEANERS," which would inspire them to sing, "Oh, Lee-wan-do!" However, he also once wrote that the title concerned the "old Negroes who work in the fields year upon year," and at the end of the day walk home "with a broken, limping step locally known as the 'Toddle-O'."

For Greg Osby, the title simply reminded him of his teenage years in St. Louis, when he would cross the bridge on weekends to play R&B and funk in the after-hours joints of East St. Louis. His reinterpretation of Ellington's early classic mixes the traditional with the modern, as Nicholas Payton's brash New Orleans sound hints at Bubber Miley and Cat Anderson, while Osby's cool angularity rests squarely in the 21st century. Osby and Payton play the brooding, rather sinister-sounding theme, with Payton taking the expected trumpet lead. Bassist Robert Hurst bows the next section unaccompanied before Payton's choppily exultant hard bop-styled solo. Osby prances through an inviting improvisation that features short bursting phrases and cascading runs, his tone unquestionably more out of Dolphy than of Hodges. Osby's fresh, provocative arrangement, even with its fairly free contrapuntal interlude for alto and trumpet, still partially preserves the tuba-banjo oompah vibe of the 1927 recording, as Hurst's arco bass creates a resonantly deep foundation.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Stacey Kent: Never Let Me Go

Novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, a friend and admirer of Stacey Kent, wrote four sets of lyrics for her that Kent's husband, Jim Tomlinson, set to music for the vocalist's Breakfast on the Morning Tram CD. (See review of "The Ice Hotel.") However, Kent also sings the standard "Never Let Me Go," an intriguing choice because one of Ishiguro's best-known novels has that same title. The chilling novel deals with cloning and organ harvesting, as well as the possibility of prolonged survival only for those clones truly in love. Never let me go, indeed.

The gently delicate yet worldly wise quality of Kent's voice fits these moving lyrics well. Kent's exposition is clearly and compellingly enunciated with understated emotion. She is intimately conversational while unabashedly evincing a heartbreaking fragility. "You'd never leave me, would you? / You couldn't hurt me, could you?" Pianist Graham Harvey's lovely intro, fervent accompaniment, and sparkling solo (sounding much like Alan Broadbent) raise the quality of this performance to an even higher level, as does the flawlessly complementary expressiveness of both Dave Chamberlain's bass and Matt Skelton's drums. "Never Let Me Go" has never been sung any better than this. You'll not soon forget this track, and most likely will never let it go.

March 11, 2009 · 1 comment

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James Sudakow & Eric Zimmermann: The Greatest Life I've Even Known

I was sure I found a typo in the title "The Greatest Life I've Even Known." I went out on the net and found some other reviewers had assumed the same thing and changed the "even" to an "ever." But I have learned painfully never to take something for granted. I got in touch with the publicist and discovered there is no typo. It is what it is. I now find myself fascinated with the title. What the hell does it mean?

"The Greatest Life I've Even Known" is the album's final cut. Violinist James Sudakow approaches the tune from the Middle East. His slow echoing lines are suddenly interrupted by guitarist Eric Zimmermann's Metallica-like power chords. The two musicians, using overdubs and Zimmermann's programming, then kick into gear. Zimmermann plays some acoustic guitar along the way. It sounds unusual in this industrial setting. Sudakow's compositions and the performance heard here are an acquired taste. You must be prepared to be blasted away. Quiet reflective moments are less than scarce. Melodies may be hard to locate as well. This is music for those with a strong constitution. Those of you who scarf down the atomic hot wings will dig it "ever" more.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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James Sudakow & Eric Zimmermann: When I Am King

Violinist James Sudakow's music is not for the faint of heart. He lists Jimi Hendrix, John McLaughlin, Jean Luc Ponty, Jerry Goodman and other fusion notables as influences. But with the exception of two cuts (the other being "The Greatest Life I've Even Known"), this music is more electronica than fusion, as if Tangerine Dream had swallowed Kraftwerk and couldn't quite stomach it. (You youngsters can go run for Internet sound bytes from those ancient bands now if you want.)

"When I Am King" is the album's most accessible piece. Sudakow is not shy. He comes at you with strings blazing. His lines are harsh and dramatic. Subtlety is not in his vocabulary. Guitarist and programmer Eric Zimmermann reads out of the same dictionary. His disjointed electric forays actually give the piece some structure, and his programming deserves special note. He has concocted a wobbly seamless synthesized bassline in the form of a sine wave that is the heart of the piece. It reminds me of the old ad slogan for the weeble toy: "Weebles wobble, but they won't fall down." You will find yourself following this weeble from beginning to end.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jelly Roll Morton: Dead Man Blues (Take 1)

According to Rex Stewart's fine book, Jazz Masters of the '30s, Omer Simeon was elsewhere for this track, and the young and already excellent Barney Bigard filled in, with added clarinet backing from Darnell Howard. That explanation rings true, since it makes little sense to have three clarinets on a small group session with only one cornet and one trombone.

In any case, "Dead Man Blues" opens with a vaudeville-style, stagy humorous spoken exchange between Jelly Roll Morton and Johnny St. Cyr—"Somebody must be daid; … must be a fuunral, I b'lieve ah hear that trambone-phone"—which is followed by a rendition of the classic New Orleans music played for the marching procession going to the cemetery. A pure tailgate trombone slide transitions into the main body of the song. Thereafter, like its partner track "Sidewalk Blues," "Dead Man Blues" is a gem of classic New Orleans-style ensemble jazz, with superb solo breaks. This track especially features beautiful clarinet work (probably by Bigard), along with George Mitchell's cornet playing. This Jelly Roll composition is at least as good as "Sidewalk Blues," and the group again shows the substantial rehearsal efforts of Morton. This is hugely enjoyable music, fine classic jazz and significant jazz history.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jelly Roll Morton: Sidewalk Blues (Take 3)

According to Rex Stewart's fine book, Jazz Masters of the '30s, Omer Simeon was elsewhere for this track, and the young and already excellent Barney Bigard filled in, with added clarinet backing from Darnell Howard. That explanation rings true, since it makes little sense to have three clarinets on a small group session with only one cornet and one trombone.

In any case, there is no doubt about one thing: Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers sides of 1926 are among the greatest early jazz recordings. This track, in my judgment, is one of the three best. It opens with vaudeville-style sound effects and a silly-fun spoken dialogue (between Morton and Johnny St. Cyr), then a piano phrase, some fine trombone and clarinet work lead into a beaut of a clarinet solo (probably by Bigard). Thereafter the band romps through this marvelous number. In summary, it is the best of New Orleans ensemble jazz, with excellent solo contributions on piano, trombone, clarinet and cornet, all within the framework of a fine Morton composition and performed to perfection for recording after Jelly had thoroughly rehearsed the band. Simply put, it's hugely enjoyable music.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: River of My Heart

To have a Mahavishnu tune without John McLaughlin was unheard of. But McLaughlin was in a generous mood for these recording sessions. Only Narada Michael Walden and bassist Ralphe Armstrong perform on this Walden composition. "River of My Heart" is a lush ballad on which Walden plays piano and sings. It is a good performance that comes across as touching and heartfelt. Its jazz-fusion quotient is negligible. But its inclusion in the fusion arsenal of the Mahavishnu Orchestra is historically significant and should be mentioned.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Planetary Citizen

One of the reasons the original Mahavishnu Orchestra broke up was because a couple of the players thought they should have received more generous songwriting credits or be able to contribute their own pieces to the band. On Inner Worlds, a product from the third Mahavishnu lineup, the compositions were spread around the band. John McLaughlin let the musicians do their thing. That decision turned out to be the most lucrative one in the career of bassist Ralphe Armstrong, the composer of "Planetary Citizen." The song itself was a playful R&B soul funk number that barely qualified as fusion. It begins with Armstrong's high-pitched falsetto "Hey, hey, hey…." The music instantly breaks down into a funk-out. It was still John McLaughlin, Narada Michael Walden, Stu Goldberg and Armstrong playing this funk. So it was good and intricate even though it was lightweight by this band's standards. The song's refrain, "Are you ready to be … a Planetary Citizen?" fills our ears. It was a catchy tune that maybe could have been a hit for some R&B band. But we fusion fans were glad it was short. If it weren't for what later happened, "Planetary Citizen" would have remained a curious novelty number in the band's discography.

Let's fast-forward. The English soul/hip-hop/rap crossover group Massive Attack made a massive mistake when it recorded its Blue Lines album in 1991. The band, which was also influenced by fusion, would often use samples from tunes from that genre in its finished pieces. Their album's first tune, "Safe from Harm," included a Billy Cobham sample. But its fourth tune, "Unfinished Sympathy," the band would live to regret.

Four years later Ralphe Armstrong was watching TV. He found himself admiring the music in an Adidas sneaker commercial. But it started to sound funny to him. He quickly realized why. It was his music in the commercial! Ralphe's high-pitched "Hey, hey, hey" vocals from "Planetary Citizen" had been pilfered! Ralphe also discovered the music had been used in the movie Sliver. He sued a couple of members of Massive Attack, its producers, Virgin Records, Paramount Studios and of course Adidas. Ralphe had a strong case that his copyrights had been violated. The attitude from the Massive Attack members was dismissive. That would not last. After several years and a few setbacks, most of the case was settled out of court, and Armstrong received a healthy settlement that was far more than he ever earned in the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Armstrong got a gold record because of Massive Attack's sales! He also got enough money to buy a Jaguar, send one son to college and pay off his house. Ralphe Armstrong clearly benefited from being a planetary citizen.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: Gita

Expectations are a huge part of listening. That is why the vocal cuts on the Mahavishnu Orchestra's swansong album Inner Worlds were so difficult to accept by many Mahavishnu fans. There had been a few Gayle Moran vocals on the band's previous recording Visions of the Emerald Beyond. But this was a new pared down quartet, and the lead vocals were handled mostly by the male voice of Michael Walden. Moran's sparse vocals had been almost operatic. Walden's were R&B and soul and sometimes syrupy sweet and all over the record. This was not expected from a powerhouse fusion band! And let's face it. Walden was no baritone most of the time. He was not afraid to soar into the higher pitches. How masculine sounding were these new vocals? Could the mostly male fusion audience accept this?

Mostly not. Walden has a good set of pipes and sings quite well. This would be further proven later in his solo pop career. Yet, the melody of "Gita" with its ascending lines and wild guitar synthesizer work was every bit a part of the fusion legacy that the Orchestra was still building. One could easily imagine the tune, played without the vocals, being a killer live number. Some 30 years later the song is heard with fewer expectations. I enjoy it because I know what has come since. But an honest review must consider "Gita" in its original context. For the melody, band performance and early use of the guitar synthesizer, I give a 90 rating. For the shock of hearing the vocals at that time – no matter how talented Walden was or the spiritual message of the lyrics – I give a 70 rating. We split the difference and bestow an 80 rating.

March 11, 2009 · 1 comment

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: In My Life

As are the other vocal numbers on Inner Worlds, "In My Life" was a huge surprise. Its vocal sections are as close to pop music as the band ever got. Not everyone appreciated that. I would include myself in that crowd. There is no denying the song is good. Even the vocals have meaning. Walden does a fine job interpreting them. We also get to hear John McLaughlin and keyboard player Stu Goldberg sing backing vocals! The opening acoustic guitar arpeggio is one of the more thrilling McLaughlin ever played. Bassist Armstrong effectively provides the electric anchor for this otherwise acoustic and claimed drummer-less performance. (I hear a gentle drumbeat coming from someplace. There must be an error in the credits.) McLaughlin slays with his 12-string solo. This is all great stuff held back somewhat by intrusive vocals. At least that is the way most fusion fans viewed this music. They still didn't view the new Mahavishnu Orchestra, now a power quartet, as a sellout. That was because the spiritual lyrics and fusion instrumental sections still prevented "In My Life" from being heard on the radio. It made you wonder, though. What then was the purpose of the new direction? Maybe it was just to take a new direction.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mahavishnu Orchestra: All in the Family

"All in the Family" was the first cut on Mahavishnu's Inner Worlds. It was an auspicious introduction of John McLaughlin's brand new guitar synthesizer. No one had ever heard anything like it before. It was difficult to play this early invention because there was a noticeable delay between attack and result. McLaughlin had to play the music ahead of its time! Despite that issue, McLaughlin and the band kick some serious ass on this number. Narada Michael Walden's aggressive African-influenced drumming serves as introduction. He is soon joined by Ralphe Armstrong's rolling bassline and strategically placed Stu Goldberg electric piano chords. Then we hear the clarion call of McLaughlin's new axe. What a sound! It was not from this planet. He switches back and forth between it and his straight electric. In effect, he calls and responds to himself. Goldberg matches him in unison from time to time, then takes a devilish organ solo. All the while Walden and Armstrong continue keeping up the frenetic pace. Goldberg and McLaughlin later climb the proverbial scale ladder to blast this baby into the outer worlds. This song portended well for the rest of the album, but it turned out the new technology's best use was on "All in the Family."

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ulf Wakenius: Dodge the Dodo

Ulf Wakenius wanted to add an edge to e.s.t.'s eminently catchy "Dodge the Dodo," so what does he do? He calls in radio.string.quartet.vienna, of course. The galloping syncopations of Magnus Öström's drums are replaced by the sharp, closely coordinated string scrapings of two violins, viola and cello, which grabs your attention as effectively as any skin-pounding can. Also demanding notice is Wakenius himself and his Moroccan-influenced classical guitar, with the astonishing panache of his nylon-string plucks.

The only letdown, although it's a minor one, is the introduction of son Eric's rock guitar at the last go-around of the chorus. The vibe was doing just fine without any plugged-in instruments, which made the metal overtones essentially superfluous. But it's brief and the younger Wakenius acquits himself sufficiently in his cameo.

Ulf Wakenius's reworking of "Dodge The Dodo" does much to establish that the melodic and malleable compositions of the late Esbjörn Svensson could eventually become the largest part of his legacy.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Professor Longhair: Go to the Mardi Gras

At the end of Lent, in the stretch up to Fat Tuesday, New Orleans busts loose – even now after Katrina's destruction of the Big Easy – and the one song that brings on the resurrection every year is "Go to the Mardi Gras," by the singular and only Professor Longhair, gran' papa of NOLA's rhumba-rhythm piano sound. Fifty years after it was recorded, 'Fess's hot-saucy soupcon of joy is still the perennial hit.

Granted, the good professor learned a few tricks from some earlier cats, but he's the man who perfected all, and influenced every Louisiana piano tickler that came after. His protégé Dr. John was there back in '59 to arrange the goodtiming go-to while 'Fess coached the crack local players into the right rhythm and mood. Then the tapes rolled … 'Fess's piano rippled out a clarion wake-up call trailed by fast, bustling drums … and history answered.

Now every late winter since, his rollicking vocal and magical staccato whistling and rolling-on-the-sea piano take you from the Bahamas to Brazil, from the Caribbean to Congo Square, from hard times to breakout bliss: "If you go to New Orleans, you oughta go see the Mardi Gras / If you see the Mardi Gras, somebody'll tell you what Carnival's for." No slavery memories lurking, just the second-line jump keyed to make your rump roll, your feet lift, and your hands raise up high. It's Mardi Gras time in what's left of New Orleans.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Eva Cassidy: Autumn Leaves

A ballad performance such as this one sounds magical, as if the singer is casting a secret spell of enchantment on the audience. But behind Eva Cassidy's magic is her mastery of the microtonal nuances, the nudges between the notes, the hesitations and anticipations in pitch and rhythm, the continuations and disjunctions in her melodic line . . . in short, the attention to small details that make possible the larger-than-life performance on the stage. The end result sounds natural and unaffected, a straight connectivity between the inner spirit and voice, but this very sense of ease is part of the marvelous construction.

If you didn't listen carefully here, you might be tempted to write off the "Cassidy sensation"—which resulted in the sale of eight million CDs following the singer's death at age 33—as a response to the sad story of the singer's abbreviated life rather than as a measure of her artistry. But don't be mistaken, Cassidy was a huge talent, whose obscurity during her lifetime was almost as much a tragedy as her early death. This song has been sung so often that only a visionary of the highest order could bring back a springtime freshness to these yellowing leaves of fall. Yet listen to Cassidy, her voice and guitar lines locking together in a perfect embrace, and you will think this music had just been created anew on the stage of Blues Alley in this now deservedly famous performance.

March 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steve Elson: Remember This

The veteran multi-instrumentalist Steve Elson has worked as a sideman with such pop-oriented musicians as Laurie Anderson, Hall and Oates, David Bowie, Joe Jackson, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name just a few of his more famous employers. He also enjoys a parallel career composing and performing his own jazz-related work. The music on Mott & Broome draws heavily on the various strains of music one can hear on any given block of Elson's neighborhood on Manhattan's Lower East Side. "Remember This" opens the album. It begins with an Afro-Cuban vibe, a repetitive motive giving way to a romantic, bossa-like melody played with little embellishment by Elson on tenor sax. He's a very clean, uncomplicated (but not unsophisticated) player, inclined to be clear and precise. He's well-supported by Pete Smith's sensitive acoustic guitar, Yasushi Nakamura's pleasantly unobtrusive bass, and Scott Latzky's tasteful Latin percussion. The ensemble sound is tight but not obsessively so; it breathes freely. This is gentle, self-effacing music. Indeed, its diffidence is its greatest strength.

March 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Sophie Duner: Two Time Losers

Once in a while, out of the great sea of noise known as independent music, one encounters a rare and exotic species. Such a discovery is the enigmatic Swedish singer, composer, poet and painter Sophie Dunér. Prolific, fearless and quirky, Dunér is difficult to pigeonhole. Emerging from Sweden's nurturing cultural environment in the 1990s, she studied at Boston's Berklee College of Music, played Birdland and Scullers (with the Sophie Dunér Orchestra), and most recently released The City of My Dreams, an album of modern classical vocal compositions backed by her string quartet. On top of all that, she is a respected visual artist. The Swedish Arts Council recently awarded her a $6,000 grant to fund her myriad creative endeavors.

Here she proves she can hold her own in the jazz world as well, backed by a New York-based minimalist trio featuring the archtop guitar and upright bass, with various percussion instruments replacing the more traditional drum kit. It is the perfect vehicle for Dunér's quasi-cryptic lyrics and edgy vocal style. "Two Time Losers" teeters between cabaret and bluesy acoustic jazz, rewarding the ear with a raw, fresh intensity that well serves the irony of the lyrics. The natural recording process and aesthetics of the CIMP mix take a bit of getting used to, but it's worth the effort. Guitarist Rory Stuart delivers a mischievous, confident solo over the retro-cool upright and bongos, saying plenty without spewing needless bop clichés, while Dunér's deceptively sweet voice betrays a dark undercurrent. This is East Village coffeehouse poetry-jazz, to be served with bitter espresso, trails of cigarette smoke and black fishnet stockings. Sophie, you are just too cool.

March 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lettuce: Superfred

"Blow me some Trane, brother!" So said the Hardest Working Man in Show Business to tenorman Robert McCollough in his 1970 hit single, "Super Bad." James Brown had always reached across the aisle to tap into the currents of jazz and by this time had set the soul music world on its derriere by throwing the almighty backbeat under the bus in favor of The One. This concept, which defied years of rhythmic emphasis on the sacred, rim shot-enhanced two and four, would alter the structure of R&B forever. With his 3-part 45 release, Brown had settled the groove into an intense, driving pulse, fueled by the well-oiled Bootsy Collins funk machine.

The crack East Coast-based funk group Lettuce has succeeded in capturing the essence of the original, without losing any of its fire. But in place of the good-God yowlin' Godfather, they offer the irrepressible trombone of Fred Wesley, who does no backsliding here; his lines fit snugly over the precision funk vamp with an almost percussive attack before trading fours in a compelling dialogue with tenorman Sam Kininger. Super Fred may not be "blowing some Trane," but he's definitely on the right track.

March 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bill Wimmer: Cherry Red

Tenor saxophonist Bill Wimmer leads his group of native Nebraskans on this funky tune credited to the blues shouter and proto-rock 'n' roller Big Joe Turner. Guitarist Dave Stryker and organist/vocalist Tony Gulizia share center stage. Stryker's solo and accompaniments are in the tradition of such funky-butt bopsters as Grant Green and Wes Montgomery. On organ, Gulizia channels such greats as Jimmy Smith and Larry Young; as a vocalist, he's more Ben Sidran or Mose Allison than Big Joe. Wimmer takes a workmanlike solo, simplifying his normally ornate style into something more straightforward (and attractive in its own right). The rhythm section cooks, especially drummer Victor Lewis, whose rocking shuffle beat and exhilarating fills are a joy to behold. Jazz in Omaha! Who knew?

March 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bill Wimmer: Soy Califa

Omaha isn’t the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of very happening jazz scenes, but obviously there's something hip going on in Cornhusker country. According to saxophonist Bill Wimmer, all the musicians on this track started playing jazz in Omaha. At least two of them—guitarist Dave Stryker and drummer Victor Lewis—went on to have big-time careers in New York, but the others (Wimmer, keyboardist Tony Gulizia, percussionist Joey Gulizia, and bassist Mark Luebbe) are no slouches either. Written by Dexter Gordon, the (mostly) Latin "Soy Califa" (it has a swinging bridge) is well-treated by the native Omaha-ians (Omaha-ites? Omaha-ers?). Wimmer plays tenor with a large, deep tone and considerable facility. Best thing about him? Although he obviously draws on the great tenors for inspiration, his style is his own. The lithe, imaginative Stryker distinguishes himself, as does the hard-swinging Lewis. Pianist Tony Gulizia is a capable soloist. His brother Joey and Luebbe combine with Lewis to forge a solid groove. This was recorded live in a Vail, Colorado, restaurant. Perhaps that means there are more good players in Omaha than there are places to perform. Nevertheless, this is a reminder that quality jazz can be found almost any- and everywhere these days.

March 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steve Lantner Quartet: Given, part 6

"Given, part 6" is the final movement in the 6-part live performance that makes up pianist Steve Lantner's Given—Live in Münster (a review of part one can be read here). The entire 47-minute concert is played without a break, so separating the recording into individual tracks is likely a concession to the format; the divisions are somewhat arbitrary. Still, this track has a character of its own. The players are relying entirely on their own devices at this point in the performance. The slight compositional conceit (organization according to a mutable set of predetermined intervals) has run its course. This last track serves as a gradual, 5-minute exhalation that naturally brings to a close the (mostly) high-energy set. Saxophonist Allan Chase plays bari here, and he's as agile and expressive on the large horn as he is on alto and soprano. Bassist Joe Morris is as insistent at concert's end as he was at its beginning—more so, actually—while drummer Luther Gray's stuttering polyrhythms and pianist Lantner's impressionistic block chords cool by degrees. Evaluating this track in isolation makes about as much sense as rating the final few measures of a symphony. It's a part of the larger whole and can only be truly appreciated as such. In that context, it's wonderful.

March 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dave Brubeck: Koto Song

Already popular out West, Dave Brubeck headed East – first to Oberlin, then NYC, and then Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Far East – all the way to Tokyo and Osaka, which eventually inspired the all-originals album Jazz Impressions of Japan. One exotic tune from it in particular became a regular feature for the quartet, and then Dave solo and beyond: his haunting and beautiful "Koto Song," which mimicked the sound of that multi-stringed, zither-like instrument made famous by earlier koto master Michio Miyagi and his disciple Kimio Eto (who recorded an album with Bud Shank on flute).

Brubeck's original was as delicate as a lily floating on a pond, or maybe more like petals on a gently flowing stream; later versions became a bit more robust. An arresting quartet performance appears on 1999's Buried Treasures (unreleased live tracks from a '67 tour of Mexico). Rippling piano (over toms for a moment) very quickly gives way to the airy almost-blues of Paul Desmond above a walking 4/4, the Orient left behind now, and Dave fallen silent for a time. But his piano flows back in, single-noting, slowing the tempo notably, the solo adrift somewhere between East and West … then a few cymbal hits announce a brief spate of patterns edging into dissonance … yet those are soon abandoned for the lovely demi-koto melody once more … and you realize that 7 minutes have passed like 3, and the twain was well met.

March 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Sound Assembly: Slide Therapy

So … I happened to spend a major portion of the past two days listening to a band that was formerly on my "Eh, Whatever" list. Many years ago, a friend tried to turn me on to the Icelandic group Sigur Ros, and I would have none of it. The vocals alone put me on edge with their falsetto whine and "lyrics" sung in the nonexistent language of "Hopelandic." Yeesh. But then I had to contradict myself after seeing the band on TV, playing a show at the Museum of Modern Art. I don't know what my former self was thinking, but I just love this stuff!

Uh … where was I? Oh, yeah. So with my headspace crammed full of the weird rock band thing, I put on this Sound Assembly track and it takes me a second or two to realize that I'm not listening to Sigur Ros. The slippery trombone bends and similar sliding guitar notes combine to surreal effect. The tension builds as more and more horns join the cascade of flowing notes (now moving in both directions). The suspense is finally broken by a groove that slowly takes shape. From there on in, the horns build to a frenzy that's sliced up by some snarling guitar and a few start-&-stop passages that lead us into a pensive fadeout. I can guarantee your reaction to this music will not be "Eh, Whatever."

March 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mike Marshall: Sweets Mill

When describing his trio, Mike Marshall goes so far as to call Alex Hargreaves and Paul Kowert "old souls." The cynical among us might be tempted to sneer at this cliché, but at ages 16 and 21, the music they're capable of creating shows an astonishing amount of reach. Combining elements of jazz, classical, and New Grass, "Sweets Mill" manages to span the gap between the modern and the old-timey. While Marshall sets up the harmonic bed with a long series of arpeggios, Kowert's bass comes in underneath. Hargreaves soon follows with the violin. The roles played by the young string duo shift as the composition continues, with the violin switching to pizzicato, while the bass provides some swing in the non-bowed mode. This is where the tune makes subtle transformations between New Grass and jazz. Moods change as well, from deliberate and pensive to up-tempo and cheerful. Old souls? Yes, Mr. Marshall got that exactly right.

March 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Aaron J. Johnson: Big Fun Blues

With Victor Lewis nailing down what seems like a second-line groove, you might think that "Big Fun Blues" is headed toward Mardi Gras. Maybe hard bop by way of New Orleans is more like it. With many a chorus full of solos, the chords are celebrated in what at first seems like the modern mode. Lewis breaks away from that tasty shuffle to aid in Aaron J. Johnson's trombone flight, and we're at the Blue Note. But then that groove is back as bassist Robert Sabin steps to center stage. After a restatement of the head, a sly quote from "Down by the Riverside" confirms that these guys just want to have fun. Big fun.

March 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Neil Haverstick: 34 Fjord

Many years ago, after my first exposure to microtonal guitar music (thanks to Easley Blackwood), the words would just not come. What did that stuff sound like? The closest approximation was this: the aural equivalent of how light is distorted when looking through an aquarium at certain angles. On "34 Fjord," we have Neil Haverstick (aka The Stick Man) dropping ghostly arpeggios, passages, chords, chards, chunks, and bits here and there. The guitar sounds ring out into the distance on a bed of infinite reverb. Below this the bass swings at a maddening pace while the drums fixate on many ride-pattern variations and rhythmic exclamation points. Just when we're thinking that this is some sort of ambient music on speed, Haverstick blows the mood wide open with a blistering and distorted solo – after which the spooky mood of the composition's beginning is revisited. Very thought-provoking stuff.

March 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Fly: Super Sister

Saxophone, bass, drums. I immediately think of Sonny Rollins, or maybe even Branford Marsalis in a more modern context. For the new trio Fly, a more apt point of comparison might be Ornette Coleman. The link is the egalitarian relationships between the instruments. While the bass can provide harmonic structure, it can also take the lead. Extend this idea to the sax and drums and you've got Fly. The great (and perhaps surprising) outcome is that "Super Sister" sets up and maintains an incredible groove while this musical shape-shifting has its way with the sonic palette. I took a look at their (quite long) list of playing credits, wondering if the influences would be obvious. The musical clues end up being less obvious (and less important) than this: these guys have big ears. That they can so easily create this new kind of jazz architecture is a testament to that fact.

March 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Nathan Eklund: Hand Picked From Her Garden

The best jazz duos usually produce very intimate music. The listener can tell, even at a remove, that the pair not only trade ideas, they're living inside the same thought. Bill Evans & Jim Hall, Chick Corea & Gary Burton, Ella Fitzgerald & Joe Pass – they all had that certain somethin' going on. Though Nathan Eklund and John Hart aren't exactly jazz household names, they do deserve to be included in the above list. On "Hand Picked From Her Garden," the pair wind their way through the melodies and changes, trading ideas and roles at will … and making it sound easy. The idea of musical thought-trading might be an old one, but the music generated from those situations never gets old.

March 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Cecilia: Prelude D'amore

A writer friend of mine used to do a radio show on the Internet. It was the usual kind of thing, served up from a web page that supplied the audio feed, a chat room, and the ability to take phone calls. During one particular show, Josh received a call originating from Scotland. We were all familiar with the caller, as she was part of our small group of music reviewers. When Andrea said, "Good evening Josh," the chat room just about exploded. "Oh my gawd! That voice!!" Yes, there was no arguing with the fact that she possessed one deep & sexy voice.

This was pretty much my first reaction when listening to Cecilia. So much texture. So much air. With her singing framed perfectly by the guitar of Rene Toledo, I almost felt like I'd intruded on some sort of illicit musical intimacy. Do I know Italian? Not a word. Trust me, it doesn't matter. And to think, she once opened a show for Barry White! That must have been one romantic evening.

March 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Blue Sky 5 + 2: Me, Myself and I

Ah, a great bit heap of swingin' musical comfort food. Blue Sky 5+2 serves this one up right, with a spry rhythm section, energetic horn solos, and a few slick unison turnaround passages that amp up the forward momentum. Oh, let's not forget the vocals of Chris Crerar. Before hearing this particular version of the tune, my favorite rendition came from the clarinet/guitar duo of Billy Novick and Guy Van Duser. Though I'm comparing very unlike objects here (just to start: female vs. male), Ms. Crerar comes close to unseating Mr. Novick. Well, someday I just might make up my mind about that. In the meantime, I'll be content to listen to this tune a few hundred more times.

March 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Raquel Bitton: Aranjuez, mon amour

I have to admit that I've always hated the word "chanteuse." I don't know why, but it makes me cringe every time I read it in a review. (Is it used anywhere else?) Well, I'm sort of tempted to use it now. If ever the word fit, it's here. Raquel Bitton is a fine singer who conjures the spirit (and sound) of the great Edith Piaf. All of my high-school French has long since leaked away from my jazz-addled brain, so I have no idea what Bitton is singing. That's OK. I was similarly mesmerized by Piaf.

March 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dan Adler: All Things Familiar

Is it a cover? A tribute? I love the fact that my ears are, at first anyway, not quite sure. It reminded me of the first time I heard microtonal music. There was something amiss … but what exactly?

What we have here is an interesting reworking of the standard "All The Things You Are." Guitarist Dan Adler pulls the original tune's form slightly out of shape while keeping it firmly rooted in a jazz context. Adler and saxophonist Grant Stewart introduce it with brilliantly intertwined lines that generate the proper spark as the full band kicks in. After the first chorus, Adler is off on an inspired solo that recalls Jim Hall and Pat Metheny. Adler's band is terrific in both the comping roles and solo passages. I particularly enjoyed Dmitri Kolesnik's swingin' bass runs that helped to anchor Richard Samuels's piano solo.

Tribute or cover? You won't care. You'll be having too much fun listening.

March 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steve Lantner Quartet: Given, part 1

Pianist Steve Lantner's "Given, part 1" is built around a threadlike structure—a simple set of intervals that can be transposed and invoked by the improvisers at will. If it affects the hearer's perception at all, it does so in a subliminal fashion. That's not to say it doesn’t influence the improvisation. It obviously does, but as a listener, it's hard to quantify. On the other hand, there's nothing random about this music. The effectiveness of Lantner's compositional technique might be questionable (and of secondary relevance, ultimately), but the quality of cooperation among the four superb improvisers is not. Their music is extraordinary. Saxophonist Allan Chase is a master of post-bop techniques whose playing incorporates extreme chromaticism, dissonant intervallic constructs, and extended techniques. Joe Morris can no longer be thought of as a guitarist who plays bass. He's turned himself into an excellent free jazz bassist—quick, imaginative, and precise, with great resources of energy. Drummer Luther Gray is a gifted colorist and an indefatigable presence, attuned to the vicissitudes of collective improvisation. Lantner himself is one of the great free pianists of his generation. He has phenomenal technique, sure, but more than that, he's able to meld jazz feeling with post-tonal harmonic techniques in a way few other pianists can. His group's performance on this—the first of six related episodes on the album—is on a level with the most intelligent, focused, and inspiring contemporary free jazz.

March 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Eva Cassidy: Wayfaring Stranger

Eva Cassidy is best remembered for her introspective ballad performances—modern-day classics such as "Over the Rainbow," "Autumn Leaves" and "Fields of Gold"—but check out this track if you want to gauge the full vocal power of this prepossessing singer. Cassidy transforms a nostalgia-laden traditional song into a soulful groove number, and does it with such commanding presence that one could envision her pursuing a career as a major R&B diva.

There is much to admire here: Cassidy's bending and stretching of the notes is exemplary, almost a textbook example of American popular vocal phrasing, but there is a larger holistic aspect here that you could easily miss. Cassidy gradually builds this performance, knowing when to hold back and when to go into overdrive. Compare Cassidy's first two choruses, and see how she deepens the emotional contours the second time through. Then, after the guitar solo, she moves up another notch for a harrowing half chorus before shifting back into a whispery tone. But this is just a setup for a heart-wrenching conclusion, in which Cassidy pulls out all the stops, with words that tragically foreshadow her abbreviated future: "I'm going back to see my savior; oh, I'm going back, no more to roam."

I have listened to this track countless times, and it still shakes me up every time I hear it. Yet this take was almost lost on the cutting room floor, and only the intervention of Eva's father Hugh brought this "rough mix" to light. Rough? I'll say.

March 09, 2009 · 1 comment

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Eva Cassidy: Fields of Gold

When Eva Cassidy died from melanoma in 1996 at age 33, she was all but unknown as a performer. She labored in the fringes of the music world, but the industry knew her not—the execs and A&R gurus focused on trendier fare with more attitude, and were hardly interested in such compact, heartfelt music as one hears on this track. Cassidy had earned grudging respect through her backup work on projects in a range of styles, and had performed low-profile gigs in and around her hometown of Washington, D.C. But to support herself she also did landscaping, painting and worked for a nursery. This live recording at Blues Alley was a rare chance for Cassidy to present her music at the major local jazz venue.

After her death, Cassidy's small body of work spread far and wide by that best of methods, even more reliable as a guide to something special than a glowing review in the Times or The New Yorker—namely, word of mouth, the passionate advocacy of individual music lovers, each one anxious to share Cassidy's recordings with others. Eight million CDs were eventually sold in this amazing posthumous career turnabout. And Cassidy deserves every bit of this success. Even on the basis of her few recordings, she stands out as one of the great song interpreters of modern times. Her phrasing is sublime here, her technique absolutely sure, but most impressive of all is her preternatural ability to penetrate into the emotional center of a song. And it all sounds so deceptively simple. On that mythical desert island with the tiny CD case, I want this disk in my collection.

March 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steve Haines Quintet with Jimmy Cobb: Re: Frayne

The opening of bassist Steve Haines's rubato ballad "Re: Frayne" strongly resembles Charlie Haden's composition "Silence," a tune Haden has recorded several times since its debut on his 1979 album Magico (ECM) with a trio that also included Jan Garbarek and Egberto Gismonti. Haines's direct and relatively unadorned melody statement and solo seem to reflect a Haden influence, as well. Haines is accompanied by pianist Chip Crawford, who plays the sparsely voiced chords in a simple harmonic rhythm. Drummer Thomas Taylor enters a couple of minutes in, adding a subtle percussive impetus. The bass solo gives way to a harmonically ambiguous free-time section, featuring David Lown on tenor sax playing in the manner of John Coltrane, circa 1961. A nearly silent piano episode follows, wherein Chip Crawford plucks notes one at a time. Another free-time collective—this time featuring soprano saxophonist Rob Smith—leads into a brief recap of the opening section. Taylor distinguishes himself, and the other players are very capable. A solid performance in a tried-and-true bag.

March 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Fly: Lady B

This is very much an ensemble performance. And these guys are really serious about that. An email went out from Fly's publicist asking, basically, that reviewers not single out any of the players as taking the lead role. That being the case, I am happy to give 33.3% of the credit for the organic creation that is "Lady B" to each player. (The leftover .1% can hang there in the air. Better yet, I'll give it to the publicist.) The fact is that this performance is as described. Saxophonist Mark Turner does take a thought-provoking solo. But it is not as if bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard remain behind just to provide support. They are constantly doing interesting things of their own. Your ears might wander, perhaps even to different places every time you hear the performance. That is always a good thing. Instead of choosing a standout performer, then, I will just say that these guys are an ensemble in every sense, and as such create rewarding music.

March 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Roch Lockyer: Hutch

Though guitarist Roch Lockyer learned music though "osmosis," as he likes to say, it was not until age 33 that he sought out guitarist Jimmy Bruno to get really educated. "Hutch" opens up with a funny Mike Marlier drum-and-vocal outtake. He rights himself to kick off the piece. Quickly we find ourselves immersed in a blues bebop mix. Heading the tune in that direction, with a touch of funk, are bassist Bijoux Barbosa and pianist Art Lande. The bouncing lines contain plenty of intricate unison playing and scalar runs. Lockyer is a fine player above and beyond his technique and ideas. His choice of tone here is borderline muddy, which gives "Hutch" a deeper quality. Drummer Marlier leads the band into a swinging section before Lockyer, Lande and Barbosa take effective solos. The engaging melody returns as foil to more unison playing and interplay. "Hutch" is a fun yet challenging number. Lockyer has surrounded himself, and his composition, with a highly skilled unit that can play music of high caliber no sweat.

March 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Roch Lockyer: Major Transitions (a life)

This is the first cut on guitarist Roch Lockyer's Nondirectional. Pianist Art Lande, whom Lockyer cites as a major influence, opens with a spatial piano and finger harp. Lockyer enters with some nice jazz chords and a series of catchy skittering riffs executed at breakneck speed, forming an impressive display. Bassist Bijoux Barbosa and drummer Mike Marlier provide a slight funk-leaning support for Lande's blues-tinged solo. Barbosa then takes his own turn. He is quite nimble and inventive. Lockyer can play the guitar. His tone is set so that even the notes he plays at the bottom of the neck sound like they are coming from the lower register. After his solo, he and Lande communicate using the least possible notes in an unusually entertaining call and response. This major transition then fades away, making room for the next. This is intricate music performed with an ease that disguises its difficulty.

March 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Zaid Nasser: Off Minor

Saying that "Off Minor" is one of Thelonious Monk's more difficult tunes is like saying the Empire State Building is one of New York's taller buildings. In general, performance of Monk's compositions demands a sophisticated understanding of harmony, yet "Off Minor" is complex even by Monk's standards. Its chromatic and tritone harmonic relationships present a daunting challenge to even the most accomplished improviser. Zaid Nasser makes things even more difficult for himself by choosing to take it at a faster pace. Instead of the medium swing feel usually favored by Monk, Nasser quickens it to a medium-up tempo. The knotty changes fly by at a slightly higher velocity than he seems comfortable addressing. His normally fluid lines become discontinuous and studied. His characteristic self-assuredness fades. Pianist Sacha Perry is somewhat more at ease. His lines connect the harmonic dots more completely, though it's left to bassist Ari Roland to make the most successful statement. Roland's arco solo is finely detailed. He's obviously internalized the tune to a greater extent than either Nasser or Perry. Even when his reach slightly exceeds his grasp, Roland plows through single-mindedly, without undue regard for the consequences … which is the best way to approach The Onliest, in this writer's opinion.

March 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steve Haines Quintet with Jimmy Cobb: Stickadiboom

As the only surviving musician who played on both Miles Davis's Kind of Blue and John Coltrane's Giant Steps sessions, drummer Jimmy Cobb merits a lot of attention in 2009, the 50th anniversary of both albums. Bassist Steve Haines does his best to keep the ageless bop percussionist par excellence busy, hiring him to play on five of Stickadiboom's seven tracks. The title tune is a "Sidewinder"-esque boogaloo, made Blue Note-worthy by the funky Mr. Cobb, whose earthy, light-handed groove lends the performance an unequivocal authenticity. Trumpeter Rob Smith perpetuates the Lee Morgan vibe, kicking-in an energetic, largely double-timed solo. Smith is followed by tenor saxophonist David Lown, who plays with a bearish tone and chooses his notes carefully. Pianist Chip Crawford's unruly and impetuous solo is next. His rhythmically adventurous streak distinguishes him from his rather more conventional bandmates. As for Haines, he's a fine groove maker, a solid soloist, and an able composer. He and Cobb work well together; their folksy dynamic is the best thing about the track.

March 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Barney Bigard & Art Hodes: Hesitating Blues

From the first striking, keening high note, this tune is a festival of virtuoso clarinet playing by the mature master Barney Bigard late in his illustrious career. Mixing it up with Chicagoan Art Hodes, with his superb feel for piano blues, and with top-notch rhythm support from drummer Barrett Deems and bassist Rail Wilson, they produce utterly marvelous, soulful music, refreshing this old W.C. Handy classic. Bigard and Hodes are beautifully attuned, working off each other to perfection. The catchy, marvelously engaging main melodic theme is played with excellent soulful feel and dynamics by Hodes. You will have that tune reverberating in your head long after listening—with your body unable to resist rhythmically moving along with it. And Bigard gives us all those swoops, flutters and trills, creative lines, and oh-so-rich clarinet tones that were unmatched in jazz history. His virtuoso clarinet lines and tonal effects are present in sublime manner right to the exquisite ending.

March 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Barney Bigard & Art Hodes: Bucket's Got A Hole In It

This is the first track on the excellent album from Delmark (Bob Koester's significant independent Chicago record company for over 50 years) featuring clarinet great Barney Bigard and the fine Chicago-based jazz pianist Art Hodes, who had a special feel for the blues.

"Bucket's Got A Whole In It" is a traditional tune that was widely heard in New Orleans in jazz's early years. The song gets a zesty, beautifully played revival in the hands of Bigard and Hodes, with trombone legend George Brunies and Nap Trottier on trumpet making superb lead-line additions. Hodes opens things on piano with wonderful verve and dynamics, leading to the full band playing the finest updated-and- refreshed classic ol' New Orleans-style ensemble jazz, each instrument contributing to the marvelous mosaic. Bigard sings the pure fun/let's party lyrics like one who knows where this song originally came from and feels it. And after the first singing run, Bigard treats us to a beaut of a clarinet solo with flair, using all his unparalleled rich tone, inventive lines, and stylistic techniques. Following more lyrics, Trottier blows some gorgeous, ringing trumpet lines in perfect complement to the character of the tune, with Brunies adding some fine tailgate trombone work. Then the full band turns it up a notch further, romping through the rest of the tune with great momentum.

Listening to this track, preferably with the volume turned up, I don't see how anyone could resist walkin' along with a big smile and snapping their fingers in time. This is hugely enjoyable pure jazz.

March 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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The Mills Brothers with Duke Ellington: Diga Diga Doo

This song, written for the significant early black musical Lew Leslie's Blackbirds of 1928, is best characterized as the height of cool, early '30s style. With the notable Mills Brothers adding their fine harmonized vocals to the Ellington band's usual superb ensemble playing, it is a very interesting track. The Mills Brothers sing the lyrics, with the repeated "Diga diga doo" line, in wonderfully stylish and rhythmic manner, with dashes of scat. An underlying rhythmic bass percussive effect is provided vocally by basso John Mills, Jr., for much of the song. The music has a catchy, memorable theme, which the band plays in a rollicking, romping way with great rhythmic momentum; they also play some unison, punchy descending lines adding drama. These guys are obviously having big-time fun with this number! Cootie Williams plays most of the lead on trumpet with spirit and style, using a mute for the first choruses before opening his trumpet. Later, Johnny Hodges plays beautifully bouncing, wailing lead lines on soprano sax (reminiscent of his mentor Sidney Bechet) in answer to Cootie's trumpet work, with heavy ensemble backing. Fun stuff and fine music, indeed!

March 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Rockin' in Rhythm

This standard for the Ellington band came, as Duke said, "as close as an arrangement gets to sounding spontaneous," with the freely swinging style. It's also among the Ellington tracks that served as a clear precursor to the big band swing music of the later 1930s and early '40s. An interesting intro with piano and a deep, low-register, punched-out trombone phrase lead into lively, swinging playing of the distinctive main theme and variations, with sharp horn accents. This is mainly an ensemble piece. Crescendos effectively augment texture, feel and dynamics; and unison playing of the saxophones and clarinet add a further interesting dimension to the soundscape. A feature attraction, following a rumbling, repeated ensemble riff that nicely sets the scene for a sound contrast, is a siren song of a clarinet solo by Barney Bigard with his unique style and rich tone. But Duke Ellington the composer/arranger is the biggest star here, showing off his band's rich ensemble playing at its finest.

March 09, 2009 · 1 comment

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Lonnie Johnson with Duke Ellington: Move Over

This track was the second recording on which Lonnie Johnson joined Duke's band, adding a virtuoso guitar part. The band starts things off with that classic Ellington ensemble sound, setting the scene for Bubber Miley's solo on muted trumpet, playing the theme and variations with spirit and style. He adds some growl accents to excellent effect. A saxophone trio—Johnny Hodges on soprano, Harry Carney on alto and Barney Bigard on tenor—follows with a very interesting, unusual, lilting tonal effect. "Tricky Sam" Nanton adds a fine trombone line, after which Lonnie Johnson takes a characteristically creative, skipping, rhythmic guitar solo. Bigard then jumps in and produces a fascinating tonal and textural effect in a quite unique and hauntingly beautiful clarinet/guitar duet with Johnson. The tune finishes with Miley resuming the lead, playing a marvelous line on open trumpet, and the sax trio ends it with a lilting, mellow fade. While two of the other tracks Lonnie Johnson recorded with Ellington in 1928, "The Mooche" and "Hot and Bothered," have gotten more attention, this tune with its unique elements is also outstanding.

March 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Fareed Haque: 32 Taxis

Improvising on Ganesh Kumar's 32 quarter-note beats, Fareed Haque builds an imagery of taxis at a busy Calcutta intersection … thus the title. Kumar accentuates his kanjira beat with konnakul (a percussive vocal scatting native to South India), laying a solid subcontinental foundation for Haque. The multitalented Haque weaves rich layers of two jazz guitars and a classical guitar, creating a floating, dreamy tapestry that lumbers along while Kumar is sprinting. Listening is like watching a person on film move serenely in real time while the scenery around him is sped up. It takes a good deal of understanding music from several corners of the world to put together a song like "32 Taxis." Fareed Haque and Ganesh Kumar bring all those corners together in India's third-largest city.

March 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Zaid Nasser: You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To

Like many if not most of the artists identified with the New York nightclub Smalls and its affiliated record label, Zaid Nasser is a solid, unpretentious latter-day bebopper of the type who seems to have learned his craft by careful listening and practical application ... not from the pages of a jazz method book. Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To" seems to attract alto players. It's been a part of Lee Konitz's repertoire for ages, and Art Pepper recorded a masterful version with Miles's rhythm section, to name two examples. Nasser takes a gritty approach to the tune. His sound is hard and almost uninflected, his articulations slight, his phrasing pleasantly unpredictable. He's somewhat reminiscent of a young Jackie McLean. He seems to possess McLean's guilelessness, if not the same levels of chops and intensity. Pianist Sacha Perry is very much the same type of player—he speaks bebop like he learned it at the feet of a master. Bassist Ari Roland takes an excellent, limber arco solo that's notable for a lack of ponderousness (hurray for that!), and drummer Phil makes tasteful, swinging contributions. It's difficult if not impossible for contemporary players to put a stamp on a tune as familiar as this. While there's certainly nothing indelible about this performance, its modest charms are enjoyable enough. Its utter lack of affectation cures most of its ills.

March 06, 2009 · 0 comments

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Branford Marsalis: The Return of the Jitney Man

I liked the Jitney Man on Jeff "Tain" Watts's recent CD, and I am happy to see him return "one more once" (as Count Basie might say). Yet I'm not sure I've ever seen a jitney with so much oomph under the hood. Ah, the listener is never quite sure what a Branford Marsalis CD will contain. You might get hit broadside with some Buckshot LeFonque in your rump, or else find yourself forced to cook up a candlelit supper and open a bottle of champagne to match the mood of Romances for Saxophone. But in this latest bout of Metamorposen' (which could be the title of this changeable saxophonist's autobiography), we get Branford served up straight, stretching out in a taut, aggressive jazz setting. This composition has some nice twists . . . certainly enough to set it apart from your typical modal blowin' chart; and the group cohesion is top notch. When Branford Marsalis digs in like this, he makes a case for his inclusion in the short list of modern day jazz tenor titans. But enjoy it while it lasts. For all I can predict, he will off jamming with a reggae band next week . . .

March 06, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dave Siebels with Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band: Da Blues

This cheerful blues has the organist and composer Dave Siebels temporarily fronting Gordon Goodwin's sensationally adept big band. The tune—a Siebels original, arranged by Goodwin—begins with a mildly funky backbeat feel, before morphing into a medium-up straight-ahead swing/shuffle. Siebels takes the lead on his Hammond B-3, playing the snarky melody in tandem with a muted trumpet, then soloing over the shuffle section. His style is hardcore bebop. He's a fleet, rhythmically assured player in the style of his self-professed "musical hero," Jimmy Smith. Andy Martin follows in the same vein with a few choruses of strutting trombonisms. As an arranger, Goodwin frames the soloists well. His chart leaves plenty of room for Siebels and Martin to blow unencumbered, yet asserts itself nicely when the occasion demands. This is extremely well-executed music; perhaps too tightly wound to be truly exciting, but appealing in its contemporary big band-ish way.

March 06, 2009 · 0 comments

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The Rocco John Group: Riffin' for Eric

Anyone familiar with the music of Out to Lunch's creator knows which "Eric" these riffs honor. It's one thing to pay homage to the avant-garde great by covering one of the pieces that made Eric Dolphy a legend; it's quite another to come up with a Dolphy song all your own. Rocco John Iacovone pulls that off with a track containing all the touchstones of classic Dolphy: conventional song structures and timekeeping used as a launching point for stretching the limits of tonality and harmony as far as they can go while maintaining a link to preexisting forms. There's a theme that's as well defined and memorable as anything in traditional jazz, but sounding just this side of eccentric. Just like his hero, Iacovone's alto plays both inside and outside the chord changes, glides across registers, plays urgent short phrases and repeats notes for emphasis, without overdoing any of it. Michael Irwin's swinging and brassy trumpet acts as a foil, accentuated further when Iacovone jousts with him for a wonderful double solo. "Riffin' for Eric" is like some recently uncovered addition to Dolphy's oeuvre that could reside comfortably within that classic canon.

March 06, 2009 · 0 comments

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Duke Pearson: New Girl

Duke Pearson's Big Band was a vital part of the New York jazz scene from the late 1960s to the mid '70s. This great band is largely forgotten today because it only recorded two albums and never toured much. One of the puzzling things was how much overlapping of personnel there was between Pearson's band and the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band, as if there weren't enough talent in town to staff two big bands. It is a testament to Duke's individuality as a leader and composer-arranger – and to Bob Cranshaw's and Mickey Roker's distinctive, rock-solid rhythm work – that the two bands always sounded so different.

Duke Pearson's writing could best be described as an outgrowth and updating of the Tadd Dameron style, i.e., solid hard-bop roots with a tinge of romanticism. "New Girl" presents a memorably lyrical melody and a set of great blowing changes. Pearson's chart is colorful, swinging and to the point, and Mickey Roker stokes the fire in his own special way. Lew Tabackin and Burt Collins are the main soloists, and both are in top form. Though Tabackin's unique style is well known today, this track features him in the loping, booting Rollins-ish style that he employed when he first became prominent in New York. Burt Collins was to my mind the most underrated jazz trumpeter on the scene. Though he was one of the busiest studio players in town at the time, he was shamefully under-recorded as a soloist. This track features perhaps his finest recorded solo.

March 06, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ben Webster & Joe Zawinul: Frog Legs

Though the pairing of Ben Webster and Joe Zawinul may at first seem odd, the two were friends and for awhile roommates around the time of this recording. "Frog Legs," dedicated to Ben, is a reminder that Zawinul wrote a lot of fine music in his pre-Weather Report days. The main melody is a 12-bar theme framed by a mysterious whole-tone-based intro and a declarative sendoff into the solos, which are on the blues in E flat. The tune is full of built-in rhythm breaks and mood shifts in the best Horace Silver tradition. Webster preaches soulfully, employing a nasty buzz-tone at times. Thad Jones's fine cornet solo begins with one of his patented out-of-left-field entrances. The rhythm section (also both surnamed Jones; none of the three Joneses here is related to another) performs up to the level that you would expect from these masters.

March 05, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dave Siebels with Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band: The Coupe

Dave Siebels borrows Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band to record an album of B3-centric arrangements of his own original compositions and covers of tunes by Neil Hefti, Stevie Wonder, and Lalo Schifrin. "The Coupe" is one of his own tunes, arranged by Goodwin—a funk/bebop hybrid that serves as a nice showcase for Siebels's spirited, bluesy Hammond work. Goodwin's band is a freak, as tight and virtuosic as any band on the planet. It reads down the complex chart with fire and precision. Guitarist Grant Geissman plays a fine, rhythmically tortuous solo; tenor saxophonist Brian Scanlon takes a nice turn as well. Siebel's tart comping on organ acts like an autonomous horn section, and his solo is stylish and energetic. Fans of contemporary big bands should find much to like about this.

March 05, 2009 · 0 comments

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Joel LaRue Smith: Que Preciosa

Joel LaRue Smith's "Que Preciosa" is a gentle jazz ballad performed in the guise of a bolero. Smith's solo piano introduction is a case of ten fingers conveying delicate thoughts. Bassist Fernando Heurgo and drummer Renato Malavasi join in this jazz lullaby. Heurgo takes an electric solo that is sometimes busy, but his extra notes do not diminish the mood. Smith meanwhile adds shades of color and Malavasi offers fine brushwork. Smith's solo continues this act of tenderness. You can tell that he and his musicians are totally invested in this heartfelt composition. The intent can be heard in the touch. "Que Preciosa" meets the expectations set by its title.

March 05, 2009 · 0 comments

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Joel LaRue Smith: El Mensajero

Lots of stops and starts, changes in direction and tight ensemble playing mark this jazz Rumba. To be honest with you, I can't always tell one Rumba from another. (My guess is that this is a Cuban Rumba). But I know good music that is full of explorative improvising when I hear it. Pianist Joel LaRue Smith takes his solo to places I would not expect. Smith and his talented bandmates are all over the rhythms like white on rice. Rumba is about the communication of the dance. The energy, playfulness and motivation to get you moving are all strong elements here. This talented trio should be able to make anybody get off his or her … seat.

March 05, 2009 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: Flamingo

Although tenorist Stan Getz's smooth sound and lyrical melodicism made him a cool jazz icon, he also possessed a gift for hard-driving swing. Valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, an exemplar of Kansas City earthiness with a composer's sense of tunefulness, proved a well-matched partner. With each soloist spurred on by his frontline colleague's rousing backgrounds and the propulsive comping of pianist John Williams, they transform the pop song "Flamingo" into a booting up-tempo swinger.

March 05, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lennie Niehaus: Bunko

The first track Lennie Niehaus recorded as a leader was a sprightly "I'll Take Romance." Well, I'll take Niehaus, and you may too, once you hear the brilliant series of albums he recorded for Contemporary in the mid-'50s – octets, sextets, and no-piano quintets, using only the best of the West. Yes, his sessions represent the quintessence of West Coast cool: his slightly acerbic alto; brief punchy solos; a swinging rather than "blowing" line; contrapuntal playing both elaborate and simple; peppy arrangements for revitalized standards as well as his own catchy originals – even the ballads have a lift.

"Bunko" jumps and shimmers with a bouncy tune you can hum immediately. But Lennie's tricky arrangement shuffles compact ensemble moments using all eight, fleet solos by himself and Stu Williamson, and the melody line played early and late by an inner quartet of alto, Bill Holman's tenor and the rhythm section of Monte Budwig and Shelly Manne. Neatly shifting gears yet always moving forward, this "Bunko" avoids all bunk.

March 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Linda Presgrave: Bird of Céret

Although referring to a town in southern France, "Bird of Céret" is essentially Brazilian in style. The melodic line vaguely resembles "Night And Day" but has a brighter, relaxed feel of a peaceful morning to it. Stan Chovnick's soprano sax takes on the role of the bird that inspired this song, mimicking syncopated birdcalls exchanged with his wife, Linda Presgrave. While Presgrave takes command with a solo bursting with loosely played block chords, drummer Allison Miller's loping bossa nova beat gets more assertive. Chovnick returns with an inspired solo of his own, adapting the soprano to the cadence and phrasing of a fine feathered friend. With its serene, easygoing mood, this song inspired in the South of France can take listeners on a European holiday – in spirit, anyway.

March 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jack Wilson: Serenata

Jack Wilson was a lyrical and versatile pianist whose career never really took off. He backed Dinah Washington for a year in the late 1950s and again in the early '60s, as well as accompanying many other top-notch singers. He also was active in film and TV studio work in Hollywood. His best known album as leader was probably his first of three for Blue Note, Something Personal, which had the extra added attraction of Roy Ayers during his pre-disco/funk/R&B period, when he was emerging as one of the young stars of jazz vibraphone.

"Serenata" received considerable airplay on jazz radio when Something Personal was released, being a most engaging treatment of the Leroy Anderson standard. Wilson's appealingly ringing sound and infectiously melodic and tasteful style grab your attention from the start, and his solo maintains a refined yet persistent momentum. Ayers's improv is also memorable from its first provocative tumbling run, his lines lucidly and attractively constructed. He possesses a load of technique, but prudently uses it only to good purpose. His brilliant solo here should be admired by just about any other vibist hearing it. Wilson's bluesy out-chorus is as definitive as one might desire, the highlight perhaps being some particularly inventive left-hand counter lines that he develops to great effect. This has remained a classic, if lesser-known, '60s Blue Note track for more than 40 years.

March 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Sarah Vaughan: Midnight Sun

Sarah Vaughan's detractors felt that she too often allowed her multi-octave, almost limitlessly flexible voice to distort rather than enhance the meaning of a lyric and/or the original quality of a melody. However, there's a fine line between distortion and enhancement, and a true jazz singer is expected to take at least some liberties with a tune as written. Vaughan, it must be admitted, did occasionally go over that line, her embellishments and tonal acrobatics to some extent overwhelming the inherent grace of a melody or lyric.

"Midnight Sun" is one example of Vaughan losing control. The rendition begins gloriously with an unassuming Vaughan and Joe Pass's nuanced accompaniment, but as soon as Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown and Louie Bellson enter, things start to go awry. Peterson's overly busy piano at first drowns out the more judicious Pass before a balance is finally achieved, and Vaughan milks the life out of certain words and phrases and sometimes seems to be singing in a separate room from her backing quartet. Although she returns to a more discerning approach near the end, it's not enough to fully reclaim this rare uneven effort. Perhaps the irresistible poetry of Johnny Mercer's lyrics lend themselves to excess, but compare this track to Nancy Wilson's version to hear how less can indeed be more.

March 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bud Powell: Cleopatra's Dream

The Scene Changes was Bud Powell's last Blue Note recording. Three months after the session that produced it, Powell went to live in France and did not return to the U.S. for several years. The Powell of the 1940s and early '50s may have consistently displayed more technique and fire, but on any given day in his later years, he could still play bebop with a clarity and originality that few could match. If anything, the absence of his earlier nearly out-of-control impetuousness was replaced by a more calmly focused, streamlined and unpretentious approach, manifest, of course, only when he was not being plagued by his psychological demons.

"Cleopatra's Dream" is a classic Powell composition, an upbeat minor theme with an appealingly uncluttered structure, almost Latin-sounding. Powell's rapid single-note lines are clearly and crisply articulated, and you can hear his wordless moaning commentary throughout. His stirring octave unison lines are well played, after which he becomes even more intensely involved, again at one point utilizing a 2-handed unison attack. His momentum is unflagging as he unequivocally shows doubters yet again that he is far from a has-been. Powell's Paris years would continue this unpredictable pattern of mediocrity and rejuvenation.

March 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mario Pavone: Tepito

Mario Pavone has been an inspirational leader of progressive bands, a strong self-taught bassist, and an adventurous composer influenced by the likes of Paul Bley, Anthony Braxton, Bill Dixon, Charles Mingus, and Julius Hemphill. He was also a longtime member of the late Thomas Chapin's trio, and Chapin is joined on Pavone's own stimulating Toulon Days by Joshua Redman, here making his recording debut.

The Chapin-Redman front line, augmented by trombonist Steve Davis, is heard at its best on Pavone's perky "Tepito." Galeta's insinuating piano ostinato sets up the staccato theme, which possesses a somewhat macabre Monkish character. Galeta's opening solo is both lilting and engagingly animated. Redman follows, his stylistic concept already confidently in place, as he combines swirling lines and imaginatively varied textures and rhythms with an airtight logic. Davis's full-bodied trombone solo is more sparsely melodic in contrast, before Chapin ups the energy level once again with his restlessly undulating post-bop improvisation. Chapin and Redman were two of the must-hear saxophonists during the '90s, until Chapin's tragic death from leukemia at age 40 in 1998. What a pleasure, therefore, to hear them together for this one and only time on an album.

March 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jimmy "Duck" Holmes: Gonna Get Old Someday

Back in the 1920s, record labels scoured the South for blues and roots musicians, undertaking dozens of field trips into remote locations where few industry scouts had previously ventured. Today, the Fat Possum label of Oxford, Mississippi, is still following that recipe, and its commitment to seeking out neglected blues talent off the beaten track has resulted in some of the most exciting CDs of the last decade-and-a-half.

This recording of Jimmy "Duck" Holmes is raw and heartfelt, and is a worthy addition to the Fat Possum stable . . . and your CD collection. Holmes hails from Bentonia, Mississippi, and as such is often linked to Bentonia's most famous native son, bluesman Skip James (1902-1969). But this dark and throbbing track has more stylistic affinities to Northern Mississippi icons R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough (two past masters linked to the Fat Possum label), dearly departed guitarists who proved that a one-man band could dig deeper grooves than the latest model tractor from the John Deere dealership . Holmes does the same, and his plaintive wail here makes Skip James look like an aesthete by comparison. If you like your blues al dente, without a lot of polish and producer "enhancements," this music will fit the bill.

March 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bob Albanese: Midnight Sun

Pianist Bob Albanese duets with saxophonist Ira Sullivan (here playing soprano) on a beautiful version of the Lionel Hampton and Sonny Burke ballad "Midnight Sun." Albanese's day gig is as the accompanist for singer/dance Ben Vereen. He must be a good one, if his sensitive and invariably tasteful backing of Sullivan is any indication. Of course, he's not merely an accompanist here, but an equal partner. He and Sullivan connect remarkably well. Sullivan is one of those great jazz musicians who've flown largely under the radar. Living in Florida hasn’t helped raise his profile, but it hasn’t hurt his playing. He's still the fiery, inventive, and uncompromising bebopper he was when teaming for a series of fine albums with trumpeter Red Rodney in the '80s. This isn't astoundingly original, but it's well-crafted and quite moving in its way.

March 04, 2009 · 2 comments

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Loretta McNair: That's What I'm Here For

Loretta McNair has several different singing styles. From cut to cut her voice runs the gamut from folk, country, and blues to a touch of jazz. "That's What I'm Here For" is the most jazz-oriented cut on Intimate Portrait. McNair sings this gentle swing number with a breathy jazz inflection not unlike like that of a high- register Peggy Lee. Funny things can occur while listening to music. Some of the lyrics, referring to lifting a glass, and a bar or two of the music remind me of the theme of the old Lowenbrau beer commercials. When you hear the tune's last phrase, "That's What I am Here For," think "Let it be Lowenbrau." Try that and you will agree with me. Then you and I can raise a glass to this performance.

March 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Loretta McNair: Cold Rain

It is interesting how listeners can hear different influences in a voice. The PR material that accompanied Loretta McNair's Intimate Portrait suggested that her voice is reminiscent of "'40s & '50s era singers like Rosemary Clooney and Judy Garland with a touch of Julie London." I put on the first cut, "Cold Rain," expecting to hear what I had just read. But I don't detect a hint of those songstresses. Instead I hear a cross between Phoebe Snow and Diane Schuur. The resemblance is clear as day to me.

"Cold Rain" is the best song on this album, which is really a folk, blues and pop record with some jazz- influenced cuts. McNair and Ian Francisco have written a fine melody coupled with some touching lyrics that allow McNair's expressive voice to tell a story that holds our attention. This isn't principally a jazz number, but there is enough of a taste that the voice and band's performance make it a keeper for any jazz fan.

March 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jonas Hellborg: Black Rite

Bassist Jonas Hellborg says "Black Rite" was assembled in the studio. I take that to mean it was created on the spot or just before the performance. I am guessing the string parts were coordinated ahead of time or overdubbed later. But to listen to legendary drummer Tony Williams and Hellborg interact, even if overdubbed, is pure joy. "Black Rite" is a soundscape buttressed by Williams's marshalling rhythms. Williams and Hellborg are heard in the mix equally. Hellborg has always been about finding some subterranean groove and grinding it into the earth's molten core. The key to this duo was how Williams's own signature grooves would mesh with Hellborg's. Obviously there is an exciting rapport. On the other hand, the duo's intriguing accent playing, under the background strings, is enough to cajole you into formation as well. Hellborg plays several beautiful themes in unison with the Soldier String Quartet. The melodic pace remains mostly constant even as Williams plays double time. A burst of energy leads to a purposeful drum break that leads to the coda. "Black Rite" is an organic piece with its own pulse of aggression and restraint. It is a very moving creation.

March 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jonas Hellborg: Miklagaard

I sometimes wonder about a song's title. Does it have hidden meaning? I found that Miklagaard, most often spelled with one less "a," was an ancient name for Istanbul. Is that all there is to the title? Wait. We are in the Internet age. Why don't I just ask Jonas Hellborg, the man who named the song? So I did. His response was, "Miklagaard was the Viking name for Istanbul. They laid siege and tried to take over but finally made a deal with the Sultan and instead became mercenaries for him." Sometimes a title really is what it says.

"Miklagaard" is an insistent dirge. It is structurally similar to several pieces that would appear later on Ginger Baker's Unseen Rain, to which Hellborg was a major contributor. Hellborg seems to play rhythm and a Middle Eastern-tinged melody simultaneously. It is quite hypnotic. Tony Williams sounds great serving as the linchpin for Hellborg and the occasional well-placed riff from the Soldier String Quartet. You could listen to this drummer and bassist for hours on end, and they would never run out of ideas. Their interplay will put you into a serious trance. When you snap out of it, you may just find yourself in Miklagaard.

March 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bob Albanese: Friendly Fire

Bob Albanese is Ben Vereen's pianist. I hope Mr. Vereen knows how lucky he is. On "Friendly Fire" (the pianist's tune based on both the melody and changes to "What Is This Thing Called Love"), Albanese proves himself a consummate mainstream/modern improviser who's absorbed the lessons of such post-bop masters as Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett. Albanese possesses a variable touch and lissome manner of phrasing, and he's a remarkably sensitive and creative accompanist. He's joined by an old master, saxophonist Ira Sullivan, who's long seemed content to do his thing within the confines of Florida, to the disadvantage of the jazz world at large. Sullivan possesses the old-school virtues of spontaneity and non-contrivance—qualities which are often at a premium among a younger set of straight-ahead players. Tom Kennedy is a hard-swinging, extraordinarily agile bassist, and drummer Willard Dyson inherits all the best musical characteristics of the late Tony Williams. A fine, energetic performance by a first-rate collection of musicians.

March 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jonas Hellborg: Zat

Much of bassist Jonas Hellborg's The Word was homage to Tony Williams's Lifetime, the fiery progenitor of the jazz fusion movement. This homage is in the form of recreating spirit and intent, not sound. Lifetime was an overloaded electrical circuit. The Word is all acoustic. I have not pulled the influences out of a hat. The inclusion here of Tony Williams himself partly leads to my conclusion. But I must be honest with you: the liner notes conveniently told me. That is always helpful!

Ironically, "Zat" sounds more like something the Mahavishnu Orchestra or a post-Mahavishnu Jan Hammer might have performed rather than Lifetime. In particular, the strings evoke the patterns and sounds that Hammer played on synthesizer for his first few '70s solo efforts. Hellborg lays a little low (for him). The main protagonist on "Zat" is Williams. He is all over the place in support of the insistent and catchy string riffs. The drummer's heavy backbeat always drives the tune forward. His rhythms are dramatically punctuated by unison chords from Hellborg and the Soldier String Quartet. "Zat" lasts less than 2 minutes, but brims with fully executed musical ideas that invoke the past to create the present.

March 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Brian Patneaude: Chelsea Bridge

"Chelsea Bridge" isn't one of the easier ballads to play, if for no other reason than it's usually taken in D-flat, which isn't one of the more common jazz keys. Tenor saxophonist Brian Patneaude does himself proud on this version of Billy Strayhorn's venerable composition, addressing the tune with respect and (in terms of the arrangement, especially) a bit of originality. Patneaude has a lovely tone—dark, smooth, mostly vibratoless. He's sensitive to the rise and fall of dynamics in the development of his improvised line, and he plays nice, coherent ideas. Guitarist Mike Moreno's solo is a bit less self-assured than Patneaude's, but he gets a full, clean and altogether lovely sound out of his instrument. If, as is often said, ballads are the ultimate tests of a jazz musician's maturity, Mr. Patneaude has definitely come of age.

March 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Brian Patneaude: Riverview

Looking at the instrumentation—tenor sax, guitar, organ, and drums—one might expect Brian Patneaude's music to be a chip off the Blue Note block, circa 1963. But "Riverview" has little in common with the soul jazz aesthetic once defined by that label's stellar tenor/organ team of Stanley Turrentine and Shirley Scott. The lead cut and title track of this upstate New York tenorist's latest album is a light, fusion-oriented effort. It's not smooth jazz, exactly, but more like the best pop jazz of a couple of decades ago. Like the cream of those '70s and '80s funk-jazz artists, Patneaude endows his groove with hip harmonies and mildly surprising formal elements. He plays tenor with an attractive, lightly inflected tone and a lack of guile; he largely prefers the straightforward to the melodically obscure. Guitarist Mike Moreno is a similarly direct, unaffected player. Moreno and organist Jesse Chandler do a fine job of filling their own respective spaces without stepping on each other's toes. The record benefits from a relatively spare production style, which does much to separate Patneaude from the Richard Elliots and Kenny Gorelicks of the world.

March 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Linda Presgrave: Evening In Concert

Linda Presgrave begins this paean to the songwriting prowess of Joanne Brackeen unaccompanied, delivering pretty, cascading notes. The theme, an elegantly descending 8-note phrase, is then expressed more formally by the full group. Harvie S next takes it on by himself, playing quietly expressive clear lines that bring out the complex melody. When Presgrave returns, she resumes her meaty chords as in the intro, but with a funkier approach, using single notes sparingly, preferring a dynamically rich, 2-handed attack that adds thickness to the song. This spirited and artistic reading does a lot to bring out the subtle sublimity in Brackeen's "Evening In Concert."

March 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Teddy Charles: Nostalgia In Times Square

Teddy Charles might well be the only jazz musician to have given up a successful career in music to become a sea captain. In the '50s, he recorded a series of excellent, forward-looking albums with such giants of West Coast jazz as Shelly Manne, Jimmy Giuffre, and Shorty Rogers. Since the mid-1960s, however, his primary gig has been as an owner/operator of charter sea vessels. As of early 2009, he's playing music once again, backed by saxophonist Chris Byars's group. "Nostalgia In Times Square" was composed by another of Charles's former musical associates, Charles Mingus. Byars's arrangement is a bit more elaborate than Mingus's best-known recorded version of the tune. The opening arco solo by bassist Ari Roland (obviously meant to evoke the spirit of Mingus) leads into the bluesy theme. It's taken at a slow '50s-strip-joint tempo that Byars milks for ironic possibilities. Charles is in excellent form: the ideas flow, the touch is assured. Pianist Harold Danko takes top solo honors, however; his rhythmically and melodically unhinged spot stands out like Tom Hanks at a Bosom Buddies reunion.

March 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lennie Niehaus: You Stepped Out of a Dream

Neglected master composer/arranger of West Coast, counterpoint-styled Jazz, and no slouch as an alto saxman either, Lennie Niehaus is better known these days for his later work on the scores of Clint Eastwood films. But any fan of Mulligan, Baker, and great playing in general should seek out the series of CD reissues on Lone Hill Jazz that showcase Niehaus's amazing '50s run of quintet and octet albums on Contemporary Records.

To pick a single representative track is kind of laughable, so I'll just make the arbitrary choice of "You Stepped Out of a Dream," recorded in mid-1954 during his second session as a leader, and a solid example of his call-&-response, bob-&-weave arranging. Plus this track lets Lennie step out front with two faster-than-dreamy solos – so up, so clean, so cool (oops, excuse the 4-letter word) – with swift, echoing support from the saxes of Jack Montrose and Bob Gordon, and the happy underpinning of Monte Budwig and Shelly Manne. In less than 3 minutes, all five have their say, with no wasted notes – the performance nearly over before you suddenly realize the source tune.

March 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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John Abercrombie: Class Trip

"Class Trip" is a mood-piece ballad. Violinist Mark Feldman spends a lot of time plucking a round-robin arpeggio pattern with bassist Marc Johnson and occasionally guitarist John Abercrombie. This motif alone makes the cut worthwhile. It is a toned-down Mahavishnu-like pattern, but just as ingratiating. An easy-to-aggressive European swing dominates the rest of the piece. Abercrombie has some of finest jazz chops ever. In the more energetic sections, the tune takes on a Hot Club of France touch. There is great interplay among the participants, especially Abercrombie and Feldman. I would describe "Class Trip" as a middling swing piece, in tempo only, if it were not for the frequent recurrence of the opening pattern. It serves both to set a mood and as a transitional device. When the tune is over, you will remember that series of notes. As one would expect from such a talented aggregation, this is wonderful music containing both direct statements and nuance.

March 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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John Abercrombie: Dansir

Since the late 1960s, guitarist John Abercrombie has been a fixture. He was in the band Dreams, one of the earliest jazz-rock hybrid combos, along with Billy Cobham. In 1974 he released the very important fusion record Timeless, featuring Jack DeJohnette and Jan Hammer. Abercrombie went on to successfully play with the Brecker Brothers as well. Over the years, he has performed with many of the finest jazz players. More recently he has put out three quartet albums featuring violinist Mark Feldman, bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joey Baron; Class Trip was the second.

ECM albums still have their own distinct sound, which for some reason was easier to describe a couple of decades ago. Today I would describe the fusion music that appears on the label as "tasteful fusion." This band plays a type of fusion that includes no distortion. That is how I characterize Abercrombie's guitar playing, too. On the intro, he deftly plays Middle Eastern scales over Baron's restrained cymbal work and Johnson's accented bass. Feldman joins in to seamlessly play the introspective melody in unison with Abercrombie. The theme is international in scope, part Middle Eastern jazz and part Gypsy folk song. Feldman and Abercrombie engage in some understated calls and responses. A slight carnatic feel appears, but soon disappears as Abercrombie takes a Western blues-influenced solo. Johnson too offers a worthwhile exploration. The folk nature returns to carry us home after touring the world in first-class luxury. "Dansir" is a wonderful performance from a quartet with fine taste and the ability to present it.

March 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Teddy Charles: Dances With Bulls

From Emmett Hardy to Herbie Nichols to Monk before he became Monk—jazz has always had its share of geniuses who fell between the cracks. Teddy Charles is another. The vibist/composer's 1950s work with musicians such as Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre, and Charles Mingus was avant-garde before the term became synonymous with free jazz; Charles was always more interested in finding novel harmonic and formal schemes than in freedom for freedom's sake. The album Dances With Bulls is his first studio recording in more than 40 years, but you'd never know it. He takes up right where he left off. The title track begins with a twitchy and scratchy, harmonically "out" duet improvised by Charles and pianist Harold Danko. This leads into an ebbing-and-flowing (and very dark) ostinato that undergirds the riff-ish melody and an episode of improvised, non-tonal polyphony. Charles plays with great fluidity and an off-kilter imagination. Danko is the rare jazz pianist who goes in and out with equal facility; trombonist John Mosca and alto saxophonist Chris Byars (whose band backs up Charles on the disc) display a flexible sense of time and space. The music lacks the freshness of Charles's '50s music. The rest of jazz has caught up with him. Still, this is a fine reintroduction to a old/new master.

March 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Béla Fleck & The Flecktones: Scratch & Sniff

Let's get down and funky, Weather Report-style with Béla Fleck & The Flecktones! "Scratch & Sniff," you say? OK. Well, there's a little Weather Report in the intro and a lot of Flecktones the rest of the way in this down-&-dirty bass-dominated cut. Bassist Victor Wooten takes the spotlight, offering up several different funk recipes. Gutbucket stuff. There is some electronic noise and jazz sax wailing from Jeff Coffin. Steel pan player Andy Narell engages in call-&-response and unison playing. Fleck's banjo arpeggios, which he always seems to prefer over single-note runs, are prevalent. One of those arpeggios is joined by his compadres and played over and over, faster and faster, louder and louder. It sounds real cool and powerful. If you can have fun and play strong music at the same time, you should go for it. These guys do that pretty much every time out.

March 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Béla Fleck & The Flecktones: Hall of Mirrors

As a fan, I am happy when a favorite jazz artist is nominated for a Grammy. But I always get suspicious. If the mainstream Grammy people are digging what I dig, there's got to be a problem. And let's face it, if a jazz album has special guests from the pop world like Sting, Bon Jovi, Diddy, or Beyoncé, it is almost guaranteed to be nominated. Think Herbie Hancock and 2007's Grammy Record of the Year. I have yet to hear that album. It is probably quite good. But I assure you the same album without popular mainstream stars Norah Jones, Tina Turner or Joni Mitchell on it would not have been nominated. As a jazz fan, that really burns my butt. Béla Fleck & The Flecktones' Outbound won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz album. One of the recording's guest stars is pop vocalist and Grammy-winner Shawn Colvin. "Here we go," I think to myself as I look at the cover askance.

"Hall of Mirrors" proves my concerns were unfounded. The intro is a bit spacey and esoteric for the Flecktones. I soon discover that Colvin's voice is used as an instrument. She sings no words. She is a sprightly woodwind playing along with Jeff Coffin's sax and Béla Fleck's banjo on the piece's singsong melody. We are back in Flecktones territory. I catch a bit of Medeski's B-3 at the end. But for the most part the heavy-duty musicians on this cut must be adding textures and shades, since you don't hear much from them. Perhaps they did their thing in the spacey intro. This is a catchy number replete with an ingratiating theme and fun attitude that should please most listeners.

March 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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John Black: Last Forever

The opening acoustic slide guitar promises a return to the roots, but as the song progresses a more contemporary flavor emerges. Some of the most fascinating music these days exists at the interstices between styles, and John Black's combination of blues, soul and pop is a case in point. A track that sounds like traditional blues in the intro adopts an old-school Motown groove at the 1-minute mark and never looks back. The rhythm is well crafted, and Black adds a lighthearted twist to his song about broken hearts ("like a bad cell phone" his lady likes to roam). This artist shows promise, and is worth checking out . . . although I'd like to hear a slightly less produced sound (how 'bout just voice and guitar?) on his next release.

March 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Julius Hemphill: Reflections

"Reflections" is the opening track and the first of four movements that make-up 'Coon Bid'ness, the intentionally caustic and co-optive title the late Julius Hemphill gave both the composition and his classic 1975 album on the Arista-Freedom label. The brief, chorale-like track features Hemphill's characteristic close voicings, dissonant harmonies, and rubato rhythms. Written for two altos, cello, and bari sax, it presages much of his later writing for the World Saxophone Quartet. It's somewhat rougher in execution but every bit as lyrically beautiful as his later work. "Reflections" doesn't necessarily stand-up well by itself, but it's not meant to. As an introduction to what is, in its four-part entirety, an inspired blending of gritty jazz and esoteric compositional concepts, it succeeds fully.

March 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Various Artists: Miles From India

John McLaughlin penned the title cut for this Bob Belden production which, along with McLaughlin's Floating Point, was nominated for a 2008 Grammy. Both albums focus on Western music, or Western- based music, as performed by groups integrated with jazz musicians and Indian musicians. Belden suggests in the liner notes that he is after a "universal truth" that exists in "reconciliation between disparate cultures." I would say he found it.

This slow, introspective, but eventually hopeful ballad is without percussion. You do your own silent counting. Vocalist Sikkil Gurucharan creates the tune's atmosphere. Each musician takes a turn. McLaughlin knows this terrain perhaps better than any Western musician. Heck, he invented much of it. He has a beautiful sound on this recording. His solo, over Banks's keyboard-created drone, is a plea to the heavens. His accompaniment is a supportive halleluiah. Mandolin player U. Srinivas, a member of McLaughlin's Remember Shakti band, plays with as much meaning and purpose as McLaughlin. The interplay between the two plectrists is the opposite of culture clash; it is nothing short of touching brilliance. The tune fades, but the memory remains. Belden's judgment to end the 2-CD set with this cut is fitting.

I would suggest that Belden could not have produced Miles From India had there not been a John McLaughlin. His presence as a leader in this Indo-jazz movement goes back three decades to Shakti. He was by no means the first to head in that direction, but he is the movement's towering figure. Belden gives McLaughlin his just dues in the liner notes.

March 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Various Artists: Blue in Green

Can anyone doubt that, had he lived longer, Miles Davis would have been a major player in the Indo-jazz fusion movement that has come to the fore in recent years? Producer Bob Belden here makes sure Davis was part of it anyway. For Miles From India, Belden assembled an impressive cast of Western musicians who'd collaborated with Davis. Many were part of Miles's most historic recordings. Belden then paired them with established and up-&-coming Indian musicians to interpret some of Miles's greatest works. Belden sees Miles's music as a common language. More and more, Indian musicians are becoming fluent in this language.

Dilshad Khan's sarangi hangs over "Blue in Green's" intro like a protective shroud. The sarangi is an ancient Indian stringed instrument mastered by few musicians, Khan clearly being one. Free-floating elements are added by trumpeter Wallace Roney, sounding like Miles himself, guitarist Mike Stern and keyboardist Louiz Banks. Vocalist Shankar Mahadevan, best known in the West as a frequent guest with John McLaughlin's Remember Shakti, acts as the lead melodic instrument, his wordless vocalizations imbuing the piece with a haunting beauty. The tune's midsection provides a venue for some fine jazz explorations from Banks and Stern. They are propelled throughout by the rhythm section of bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jimmy Cobb, drummer on the original "Blue In Green" from Kind of Blue. An abrupt change in direction occurs that ushers in Roney and Khan for some spacey and moving interplay. (The sudden shift is reminiscent of what producer Teo Macero had sometimes created in the editing room on Miles's A Tribute to Jack Johnson and other records.) The musicians return en masse to bring the 13-minute excursion to a pleasing end. By communicating across two global hemispheres, this music takes another important step forward in the natural extension of jazz through cultural understanding.

March 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dave Brubeck: The Golden Horn

I lived in Turkey in the mid-'50s, and that's where – as a young teen – I first heard the Dave Brubeck Quartet (some soldier's LP echoing down the halls of a hospital ward). In retrospect, I believe it was one of the early Fantasy albums, but the à la Turk suggestion a couple of years later connected me straightaway to his Columbia recordings of "Blue Rondo à la Turk" and this tune.

According to Dave, the rhythm of "The Golden Horn" came from the Turkish words for "thank you" – Çok te?ekkür ederim. But the import is more exotic than some dry bit of linguistics, as both rhythm and melody are meant to evoke that narrow curving portion of the Bosporus estuary that divides Istanbul in half – Europe on one side and Asia on the other – and maybe the busy Galata Bridge reconnecting the two halves.

Joe Morello works the toms feverishly while Dave rips through a flickering, dissonant suggestion of a tune, but it's Paul Desmond's alto wail that most conveys Eurasia; he actually flirts with some snake-charmer Coltrane for a moment, but then backs away, relinquishing the headlong rush again to Dave and Joe in tandem (Dave unable to resist adding counter rhythms, of course), then Joe pounding alone. Near the very end, Brubeck and Desmond speed back in to shape multi-voiced echoes of that repeated rhythm … till the performance stops abruptly, having thanked all.

March 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Julius Hemphill: The Hard Blues

In ancient times, when the preferred form of recorded musical conveyance was a grooved vinyl disc called the "LP," there was a thing called the "side-length track"—a single piece of music that took up an entire side of a 2-sided disc. "The Hard Blues" is one of those: 20 minutes of raw, grooving, R&B-drenched free jazz (with a small dose of bebop) that makes up Side Two of saxophonist Julius Hemphill's classic album 'Coon Bid'ness (the acerbic title is the African-American Hemphill's deliberate co-optation of a racial slur). Free jazz was ideal for the side-length track; the better for the improvisers to stretch out ... which is, after all, what free jazz musicians are wont to do. The musicians on "The Hard Blues" pack every possible ounce of content into their allotted 20 minutes, imbuing leader Julius Hemphill's avant-soul composition with enough energy to light up Motown on Devil's Night. Other free jazz guys worked from an R&B perspective, both before and after, but few adopted as gritty an approach as Hemphill and Co. take here. Especially notable are the hyper-agile cellist Abdul Wadud, whose trebly bassline twangs and grooves simultaneously, and Hemphill himself, who puts his experience in Ike Turner's band to good use. Trumpeter Baikida Carroll is terrific as well; his almost Dolphy-esque flights are a revelation. This is rare and raw stuff of a kind seldom heard, then or now.

March 02, 2009 · 1 comment

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Arthur Blythe: Crescent

Arthur Blythe's last few Columbia albums suffer from an excess of eclecticism, as if he were scuffling to find a formula that would justify his continued association with what was then (the late 1980s) the preeminent jazz label. The problem could arise from one album to the next, or in the case of Da-Da, on a single disc. Part of the album showcases Blythe's funky, "electric" side. The rest features his acoustic self, in the company of such swinging stalwarts as bassist Cecil McBee and pianist John Hicks. The album's split personality ends up compromising both conceptions, but it's the latter approach that really gets the short end of the stick. Blythe's treatment of John Coltrane's "Crescent" reveals an artist who best thrives in the company of a hard-swinging acoustic rhythm section. Blythe has perhaps the most distinctive alto sax style of his generation. His fluorescent tone and aggressively exact phrasing are inimitable. Whereas the funky tracks sound somewhat dated 20 years after the fact, the acoustic jazz approach has a timeless quality that frames his style magnificently. It doesn't hurt that he's accompanied by the distinguished Hicks and McBee, as well as the ebullient cornetist Olu Dara. Unfortunately, the track is painfully brief. Just as the soloists seem ready to really take flight, they're cut down, which is a shame. Better to have excised some of the electric tracks and devoted more time to music as superb as this.

March 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Anthony Braxton: Composition No. 165

In the course of his remarkable career, Anthony Braxton has done groundbreaking work combining 20th-century classical techniques with jazz-inspired free improvisation. Yet at least one admirer is of the opinion that the further Braxton gets away from jazz, the less interesting his music becomes. The University of Illinois Creative Music Orchestra's instrumentation is essentially that of a conventional big band, although "Composition No. 165" makes even something so notoriously avant as Bob Graettinger's "City of Glass" (written for Stan Kenton's orchestra) seem like "Moten Swing" in comparison. Braxton relies on a post-Boulez/Stockhausen aesthetic, with a bit of Downtown New York thrown in. Blocks of dense, dissonant chords alternate with loose solo and collective improvisations. The harmony is non-tonal throughout, probably serialist, at least in part. The form seems open, though it's difficult to be sure, since there's so little to grasp in the way of themes, harmonies or recurring structural elements. The student orchestra is certainly more than competent. Some of the soloists are more compelling than others, though no one in particular stands out. And that's as it should be. Braxton's composition is rightfully the primary focus. Like most of Braxton's music, there's so much going on, a listener is bound to latch onto something he or she finds attractive. Ultimately, however, it comes off as a hodgepodge of post-tonal techniques that miss more than they hit. Not terrible, but not his best work, by any means.

March 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Search: Herds

Remember when jazz was dominated by visionaries who could subvert tradition by first adopting it as a foundation? That's how the guys in Search approach their music. "Herds" demonstrates their coup d'état mentality. Over David Moss's looping, ominous bassline, the trumpet and clarinet lob atonal volleys just as you're getting settled into the groove. Matthew Maley switches from clarinet to tenor sax just in time to play in a classical tone, but the notes selected don't conform to orthodoxy, as he and Moss follow each other along a harmolodic path. When RJ Avallone's brass returns, the rest of the band backs away awhile, allowing him to ponder, prod and eventually pull the group back in to resume the punctuated groove. Search sets up boundaries in "Herds" in order to bump against them. Thanks to the friction created through all that bumping, sparks fly.

March 02, 2009 · 1 comment

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Dave Brubeck: Southern Scene

As well as roaming the world, the Dave Brubeck Quartet rollicked and rolled across America; and some "regional" albums resulted, with portraits of the South and New York City en route. One mostly forgotten tune of Dave's is "Southern Scene" from the album of the same name. The original version was pleasant but reserved (the LP lacks a CD release for good reason), but the Quartet revisited the tune during their acclaimed and happily recorded night at Carnegie Hall in February 1963.

Dave's bluesy opening is apropos if unexpected, nearly two minutes of lazily swaying piano, with maybe a hint of Fats Waller in slow-mo, bolstered by Joe Morello's brushwork and cymbal taps, and rock-solid Eugene Wright. Paul Desmond takes a sweetly piping, succinct-as-ever solo; then Dave keys in for several minutes more, to play the blues with feeling – a little taste of the broader jazz skills he mostly kept tucked in his hip pocket like a flask. Maybe the definitively swinging "St. Louis Blues" that opened this concert inspired Brubeck to head farther South and dig deeper, in the process shaping a surprise highlight on a night rife with them.

March 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Roy Haynes: Sippin' at Bells

This trio record, a half-studio, half-live date in which Roy Haynes dedicates each tune to one of his favorite past musical partners, began the self-revitalizing, career-reflecting period of Roy Haynes's career. Most importantly, it asserted that Haynes's drumming had not deteriorated with age. In fact, the electricity heard throughout the live half of this album reveals some of Haynes's finest playing ever – recorded while in his mid 70s! It therefore comes as no surprise that his longstanding current band, formed slightly after this '99 date, is called the Fountain of Youth. If anyone has discovered that mythical spring, Roy Haynes has.

Danilo Perez and John Patitucci, who have since gone on to form half of the Wayne Shorter quartet, connect skillfully throughout this disc, weaving in and out of brief, open solo segments, while always leaving enough space for Haynes's drumming to remain front and center. Their quick reaction time, combined with a willingness to playfully engage in Haynes's every leading stroke, leads to exhilarating rhythmic improvisation.

Of special note here are the extended fours between Patitucci and Haynes that begin directly after the statement of the Miles Davis melody. Check out the two Haynes breaks starting at 1:20 and 1:42, respectively. In the first, he plays his trademark groupings of threes, broken up between his hands and left foot. Nine measures into the 12-measure break, he begins his run of threes again – this time shifted a beat back in time – so the placement isn't where you expect it until he reestablishes the beat at the very end. The second break has it all: Latin-influenced rhythms, rapid-fire 16th notes, and four final measures where he flips his rhythm between the downbeats and upbeats – and then flips those rhythms between his hands and his feet!

March 01, 2009 · 0 comments

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Roy Haynes: Satan's Mysterious Feeling

After nearly 25 years of unrelenting playing and touring as a sideman to the stars, Roy Haynes changed course a bit come 1970, opting to run the first longstanding band of his career, The Hip Ensemble. It was an adventurous amalgamation of straight-ahead acoustic swing, avant-garde leaning improvisations, and intense, chugging funk. The group exposed the talents of tenor player George Adams, who would soon join forces with Charles Mingus, and trumpeter Marvin Hannibal Peterson, who would go on to play in Gil Evans's illustrious big band.

"Satan's Mysterious Feeling" is a fun, funky fusion track, complete with acoustic-horn front line, electric piano, and layers of percussion beneath Haynes's syncopated, 16th-note based groove. Haynes's choice to either leave space or add accents to the groove lends a funk/rock legitimacy to both the tune and the group, bringing to mind similarly conceived grooves by rock/fusion masters Tony Williams, Steve Gadd and Jack DeJohnette. With Haynes, Peterson, and Adams present, this track works as an honorable representative of 1970s funk/fusion, rather than the possible precursor to jam-band dullness it might otherwise have been.

March 01, 2009 · 0 comments

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Chick Corea: Windows

Now He Sings, Now He Sobs is one of the most essential jazz drumming recordings of the modern era. It marked the beginning of the second half of Roy Haynes's career, and suggested that he would continue innovating well into the post-bop era, just as he had in the previous bebop and hard-bop eras. His playing from start to finish changed how drummers approached playing in a piano trio.

First is the drum sound. The addition of a flat ride cymbal as his primary rhythmic weapon was revelatory. His smaller, higher-pitched drums were balanced perfectly by the quiet, shimmering hum of a flat ride – creating acoustic contrasts rarely before heard from a jazz drum kit. Haynes has altered his drum setup since this '68 session, but his flat-ride cymbal sound, coupled with his cranked metal snare drum, and ringy bass drum and toms have come to define the sound of the second half of his career. They've also become common choices for many other drummers.

"Windows," a mellow track in 3/4 time, features Haynes's prolonged 4-over-3 polyrhythms throughout. When these measure-long polyrhythms are combined with his constant blurring of barlines, his playing creates an upsurge of forward momentum that's simply impossible to stop. Playing a waltz was of course nothing new by 1968, but these three masters invented a kind of new waltz style that blurs the lines of 3/4 with the rhythmic elasticity heard throughout this track.

March 01, 2009 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Impressions

Throughout the lifespan of Coltrane's Classic Quartet, Roy Haynes was the first-call sub whenever Elvin Jones was unavailable. Coltrane spoke highly of Haynes, saying that he enjoyed the contrast of Haynes's "spreading" versus Jones's "driving." The shining moment of Trane/Haynes interaction occurs about halfway through this 20+ minute track, when Tyner and Garrison lay out, leading to an intense, extended tenor/drums duet.

There are two noteworthy elements. Haynes's ferociously defined drumming is first and foremost a revelation that, come 1960, his "non-technical" style had reached such a high level that it had become nothing short of virtuosic and, in its own right, technical. Just as young drummers need to get through all of the standard rudiments in order to duplicate the playing of Max Roach, Haynes had introduced a whole other world of musical "licks" that can be practiced and studied in addition to the standard rudimental fare. Just about any Haynes lick one can imagine may be found inside this whirlwind performance, including the famed "did it 'n did it 'n did it 'n did it" rhythm – quick triplets in which the first two are played with either hand and the third with one of his feet. Just say the "did it 'n" phrase fast enough and you will hear it!

Second, listen to how playing with Haynes alters Coltrane's sound. He is bubblier and more rhythmically playful than usual, if a bit less gutturally powerful – yet this makes perfect sense, given the difference in drum styles. One can say that Haynes exposes some of Coltrane's bebop roots, which, considering Trane's experimental progression in the '60s, results in a passionate and historically striking performance.

Note: My reference above to "non-technical" is no knock on Haynes, who himself acknowledges that he initially didn't base his playing around the common drumming rudiments. It's the rawness and directness of his musical thought sans extended rudimental training that gives him an earthy musicality never before heard from a jazz drummer of his caliber.)

March 01, 2009 · 0 comments

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Roy Haynes: Snap Crackle

In the late 1950s and '60s, Roy Haynes rededicated himself to the New York freelance scene. He took a walk on the wild side with such artists as Eric Dolphy, Jaki Byard, Steve Lacy, and Andrew Hill, performed straight-ahead dates with Phil Woods, Kenny Burrell, and Stan Getz, and accompanied singers Jackie Paris, Shirley Scott, and Ray Charles. So when it came time to assemble a group for his own date, Haynes cleverly combined the experimental-yet-grounded Rahsaan Roland Kirk and the classicism of pianist Tommy Flanagan, producing one of the more rewarding combinations of soloists in jazz.

This track features the hyper-energized, prodding-and-stabbing drumming on smaller, high-pitched drums that led Haynes to acquire the very nickname of "Snap Crackle." Kirk offers a nice down-&-dirty solo here, but the drum solo is the sure highlight. Note how Haynes begins with brief 16th-note calls and responses, followed by 6 or 7 measures of offbeat 8th-note melodic patterns. He then begins the same process over again, this time extending the 16th-note runs for 10 measures, and the subsequent offbeat 8th-note runs for 12 or so. This clever, large-scale plan of laying a thoughtful foundation for improvisation is the very essence of Haynes's sound.

March 01, 2009 · 0 comments

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Oliver Nelson: Yearnin'

The Blues and the Abstract Truth is a landmark for more reasons than one. It's a "supergroup" record that's the farthest thing from a blowing session – a testament to Oliver Nelson's masterful writing and arranging. Here he also keeps up with the Sunday-morning sounding Freddie Hubbard and a possessed Eric Dolphy improvisation – a testament to Nelson's masterful and under-recognized tenor playing. And the rhythm section of Bill Evans, Paul Chambers and Roy Haynes is a cross-section of classic beauty and innovation that is reunited here after their work with J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding one year prior – a testament to leader Nelson's masterful combo building.

While there's more explosive Haynes playing elsewhere on this disc ("Hoe Down" or "Cascades"), "Yearnin'" presents a satisfying, steady, bordering-on-straight swinging groove that's reminiscent of both his early swing-band days and his ability to lay down a spacious R&B groove with the best of them. Note how, usually ready to pounce on an improvisation as action-filled as Dolphy's is here, Haynes sacrifices quantity of notes for deepness of groove, and mostly stays out of Dolphy's way. After getting a bit more active for Hubbard's improvisation, Roy raises the groove stakes for a powerful yet laid-back shuffle over the final presentation of the melody. A restrained and refined performance from top to bottom.

March 01, 2009 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: Evidence

The topic of Thelonious Monk's drummers is intriguing. While many major players, from Kenny Clarke to Art Blakey to Max Roach to Philly Joe Jones shared the stage with Monk, it seems today that it's largely a collection of second-tiered masters, including Shadow Wilson, Ben Riley and Frankie Dunlop, that ultimately defined the Monk drum sound through their extended engagements with the pianist. While a shift from the movie stars to the character actors of the drumming world can often yield underwhelming results, Monk's brilliant musical legacy is anything but by-the-book, and it allowed some unsung heroes to rise to the occasion and contribute greatly to his music.

This would be a nice, neat little argument if Roy Haynes didn't spend a good portion of 1958 setting the bar for how to creatively enhance Monk's music without getting in the pianist's already rhythmic way. Looking back, it's interesting to think of Haynes, one of the original bebop masters who offered something a bit different from the outset, as the leader of the second wave of the more quirky, individualized post-bop drummers. (Billy Hart did once call Roy Haynes the "first avant-garde jazz musician" because of the way he altered rhythmic output.)

Situated in Monk's career between Wilson and Dunlop, Haynes's rhythmic ingenuity was a perfect foil for Monk's mood. Throughout "Evidence," Haynes finds all the right spots (and there are many of them) to fit his unforced, "blink-and-you'll-miss-'em" polyrhythms into Monk's spacious melodies. But it's his ability to openly engage in the pianist's dialogically improvised, unpredictable phrases that makes Haynes the high-water mark for Monk interaction. It's easy for a drummer to sound sloppy comping behind Monk, which is probably why so many of them maintained a steady swing groove with only minor, form-fitting interactions. Yet Haynes's lively choices consistently made perfect sense.

March 01, 2009 · 0 comments

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Nat Adderley: Blues for Bohemia

Introducing Nat Adderley, though a worthy occurrence in its own right, accomplished more than what its title decreed. It marked the recorded debut of the partnership between the cornetist and his younger brother Cannonball, with performances that showcased their instrumental and compositional skills. The two recent arrivals were joined by the incomparable rhythm section of Horace Silver, Paul Chambers and Roy Haynes, and in combining these stunning elements, the Adderleys shot to the top of viable candidates to lead jazz into the post-Bird world.

It also doesn't hurt that this particular track has one of the finest Roy Haynes performances ever captured. Fresh off runs with Charlie Parker and between tours with Sarah Vaughan, Haynes was at the height of his creative powers. First note the broken, snare-drum triplet groove over the intro, which laid the foundation for drummers such as Tony Williams on his feature with Miles Davis, "Freedom Jazz Dance." Of special note is one of my all-time favorite Haynes breaks – a 2-measure run from 00:49-00:53 that has it all: compact storytelling; deep, intense swing (even during straight 16th notes); multiple shifts from whisper- soft ghost notes to snare drum blasts; and worlds of space between the notes – all in the span of four seconds!

March 01, 2009 · 0 comments

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Sarah Vaughan: Shulie-a-Bop

Few anticipated that Roy Haynes's next move, after extended runs with Lester Young and Charlie Parker, and club dates/sessions with Milt Jackson, Bud Powell, Kai Winding, and Miles Davis, would be entering into a 5+ year gig with vocalist Sarah Vaughan. But it was a career-defining and in many ways career-enhancing choice.

Haynes fondly recalls his years with Vaughan on both personal and musical levels. He traveled the world with Sarah, and in the process made more money than he ever had before. He would soon marry (in 1958) and begin to have children, and the financial security accorded him through his tenure with Vaughan solidified both his present and his future. It's also no secret that Mr. Haynes enjoys his clothes and his cars, and his inclusion on the "Forty Best Dressed Men in America" list in Esquire Magazine (1960) was due in part to his exposure on Vaughan's world tours.

For every mention of the practical/personal reasons for his choice to accept the Vaughan gig, Haynes has historically countered it with a comment regarding the unparalleled musicality of the group's vocal leader. "Shulie-A-Bop" is a charming, up-tempo swinger with which Vaughan introduced her band both in concert and, uniquely, on record. The now famous moment where Vaughan proclaims "Roy … Haynes" between two of the drummer's breaks is perhaps what's best remembered about this track, but everyone's performance is top-notch. Haynes's brush groove is deep, his comping ideas are playful, and Sarah Vaughan's aggressive scatting is an example of a tremendous instrumental solo.

March 01, 2009 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: I've Got You Under My Skin

On April 4, 1952, an article appeared in Downbeat with the stark headline: "Granz Wouldn't Let Me Record With Parker, Says Roy Haynes." Looking back, there's no denying that during Roy's tenures with Lester Young (1947-'49) and Parker (1949-'53), producer Norman Granz typically chose Buddy Rich to record on his releases, even though Haynes was considered to be the "regular" drummer in both groups during the above-mentioned years. Thankfully, there are multiple alternatives to check out the interaction between Parker and Haynes, most notably on live recordings and this final Parker studio date.

This track begins with a rhythm-section vamp in which Haynes plays his classic hi-hat/snare-drum Latin groove recorded on hundreds of occasions (check out "Reflection" from his 1958 album We Three for the ultimate example). Upon Parker's entrance, Haynes delivers a classic performance of his trademark propulsive, polyrhythmic hi-hat, snare drum, and bass drum comping. As Bird begins improvising, Roy moves to the ride but plays less, allowing Parker to establish his solo within a deeper groove. After a few polyrhythmic runs throughout the melody's restatement, the track ends where it began, with the straight-eighths (but still swingin') Latin groove.

March 01, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bud Powell: Wail (Alternate Take)

Though he'd already garnered a solid swing-to-bop reputation during his stint with Lester Young, Roy Haynes's ensuing run with bebop pioneer Bud Powell largely defined his highly interactive, "snap-crackling" drumming style. Max Roach and Charlie Parker would soon both take notice and visit him during his '49 stay at the Orchid Room (with Powell and Sonny Stitt) to recruit him for the soon-open drum chair in Bird's group.

It's hard to beat the brilliant Rollins, Navarro and Powell solos from the classic master take of "Wail," but the alternate take reveals a classic Haynes performance. His startling ability to sense how a soloist will develop his statement is evident in all of the brief solos here – it's as if the drummer absorbs the player's first few lines and knows what's coming next. Also note how Haynes plays differently underneath each soloist. There is a lot going on in Rollins's statement, so Haynes pushes him along with an aggressive swing without breaking rhythm too often. For Navarro's more structured solo, Haynes predicts the trumpeter's lines and spaces, creating a déjà vu feeling that he's somehow heard this solo before.

Finally, Haynes's creative drum break, located before the band plays the final head, is one of his most exciting. He begins with a brief motive, unpacks it in the next few measures, and then concludes with a terrific run of offbeat 16th notes that begins and ends a beat earlier than you'd expect, a common "keep-them-on-their-toes" move. It's a good thing this band was filled with only the finest players – otherwise the reentrance might have completely crashed and burned!

March 01, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lester Young: Blues 'n' Bells (Take 3)

After beginning his New York professional career with a 2-year stint in Luis Russell's orchestra (1945-'46), Roy Haynes joined Lester Young in 1947. The next two years would serve as an ultimate education and period of stylistic transformation for the 24-year-old drummer. Early on, Haynes swung consistently, tastefully, and largely unobtrusively, as per Pres's request. As the run progressed, however, as this June '49 session reveals, many of Haynes's trademark bebop bombs and propulsive, offbeat rhythmic phrases had been developed and gently incorporated into the Lester Young group.

Note the comping fill Haynes plays behind Pres from 00:43-00:46. It begins as a common rhythmic phrase, but where one expects the run to end with a bass drum on the "and" of beat 4, instead continues to a barline-blurring additional bass drum on the "and" of beat 1 of the next measure. Also note the next fill between 00:48 and 00:50, where Roy plays a double-time fill that startlingly ends one full beat before the next section begins – responding to his previous fill but actually creating more tension in the process! These two connected musical moves exemplify the aforementioned offbeat rhythmic phrases that have come to define Haynes's comping style.

As to Pres himself, while sessions from this period yield uneven levels of improvisational sharpness, his lines here are thoughtful and inspired. Check out the second and third runs through the blues form (00:17-00:49) for a textbook example of logical, beautiful solo development.

March 01, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy: Lament

The larger the ensemble, the more tonal variety is possible—that's certainly a big reason why most of those who are considered jazz's greatest composers wrote for big bands. Trumpeter Lester Bowie eschewed reeds and strings in the makeup of his Brass Fantasy, but the nonet nevertheless provided its arrangers and composers with a wide array of possibilities. Composer/trumpeter Malachi Thompson takes good advantage of the tools at his disposal, exploiting unusual instruments (didgeridoo), the capacity of the individual musicians to create unusual sounds (Bowie himself wrote the book on that), writing attractive voicings, and using various combinations to produce interesting sonorities. Essentially a bossa nova bookended by free and chorale-like episodes, "Lament" doesn't offer much in the way of melody, but it does evoke a series of progressively complex if harmonically static atmospheres that, taken in total, constitute a work of some modest beauty.

March 01, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy: I Only Have Eyes For You

Trumpeter Lester Bowie's love for '50s pop found an outlet in his Brass Fantasy, a nonet consisting of four trumpets, two trombones, a French horn, tuba and drums. The music the group made for ECM in the '80s was, in general, good-humored without being jokey, reasonably demanding without being pedantic. "I Only Have Eyes For You" was written for the 1934 Hollywood film Dames and sung by the then-famous screen couple, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell. Bowie's arrangement draws on the 1959 version by The Flamingos—easily the best known, thanks to its inclusion on the soundtrack of George Lucas's 1973 film, American Graffiti. The notoriously wacky Bowie is respectful in his treatment, his arrangement following the general outline of The Flamingos' version with only the faintest hint of tongue in cheek. Indeed, the performance is straightforward to the point of being a bit dull, with only Bowie's pliable improvising being of much interest. The music is adequately performed—you'd expect nothing less from a group that includes the likes of Steve Turre, Bob Stewart and the leader—but it lacks anything resembling a spark. Brass Fantasy could (and did) do better elsewhere.

March 01, 2009 · 0 comments

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