Sean Nowell: Jamie's Decision

“Jamie’s Decision” is a fetching Sean Nowell composition that encourages repeat listening. The gorgeous melody allows Nowell’s rich saxophone timbre to lull you into its spell. Just when you start to get comfortable, he changes the time signature to bring you about. Eggar’s cello meshes nicely with Nowell’s saxophone and Hirahara’s piano, which gives the proceedings the quality of chamber jazz.. Abbatantuono produces a rich assortment of percussive sounds that fill in the lulls at precisely the right places and move the piece along without ever being brash. This is a little gem of a composition that is satisfyingly complete as it builds and releases tension with an accomplished air of subdued maturity.

June 30, 2009 · 0 comments

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Antonio Valdetaro: Bossa Louca

Carry yourself off to Rio with this self-produced Brazilian offering by guitarist Antonio Valdetaro and his group. "Bossa Louca" is a loosely-played bossa that captures the easy swaying feel of this delightful, regionally inspired music. Electric bassist Carvalho contributes an accomplished solo which leads into a melody statement by guitar and saxophone. Valdetaro’s style is carefree, tasteful and loose capturing the laid back feel of a balmy tropical breeze. Saxophonist Josué dos Santos, with his ultra-polished tone, recreates his own brand of Getz-ian cool. Sit back, close your eyes and enjoy being transported for a moment by the captivating rhythms of Valdetaro’s Brazil. Don’t worry, D’Elia’s bateria adds just enough punctuation at the coda to stir you out of your trance.

June 30, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jerry Granelli V16: Murder Ballad

Wow, talk about being in the moment! While the descriptions can lapse into cliché, sometimes the idea is completely appropriate – Granelli's V16 does play like they're of one mind. Yes, there is your verbal cliché. I have often referred to musicians employing a kind of “jazz groupthink,” though in this case there's no reason to avoid that linguistic construct because it's the truth.

The core of V16's sound is formed by the twin guitars of David Tronzo and Christian Kogel. They follow each other's thoughts, shift them slightly, make sly exterior references (Tronzo's slide angled against Kogel makes for some terrific Ornette-isms), and continue on the adventure of thematic development. The father and son team of Jerry and J. Anthony Granelli shouldn't be cast as mere “rhythm section” because they're equal parts of a team effort, with a bass passage or cymbal wash just as likely to complete a thought as the next guitar line.

“Murder Ballad” is a modern, noir-ish blues that feels quite unconventional. Maybe it's the instrumental lineup, or maybe it's just this group's ability to produce inner detail by their superior powers of focus, but the music develops some serious emotional weight.

June 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Andrew Green: Narrow Margin/Taxi Driver

Now this is just a terrific juxtaposition. Andrew Green weaves his tense and suspense-laden workout around the brooding jazz-noir of Bernard Herrmann's theme from the film Taxi Driver. Thinking back to the nervous energy that was a major underpinning to the film, the association that developed between jazz after midnight and chilling violence was difficult to ignore and quite long-lasting. Green brings back those feelings, managing to amplify them along the way. The edgy, start & stop unison lines set up the vibe. A minute or so in, Bill McHenry's sax enters in the call and response role. Tension builds until the main theme is introduced, which quickly gives way to a series of ascending rhythmic and melodic swells that pave the way for the appearance of “Taxi Driver” and the dark world of Travis Bickle. Subsequent transitions between Green's work and the original theme become so natural that it's easy to forget that Mr. Herrmann had no direct hand in this structure. Really great & evocative stuff.

June 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Andy Milne & Benoit Delbecq: Divide Comedy

This is not your 'normal' piano duo. Sure, it's two Steinways, but there is also the ultra modern element of the “Dlooper.” I won't bore you with the details of things like Max-MSP, but let's just say that technology has a role to play here, however subtle.

The piece begins in full-on percussion mode, with both pianos sounding like huge kalimbas. Melodic fragments are then wound around the ostinato pattern. The angularity of the piano lines against the static rhythm is a beautiful thing. Thelonius Monk muses on Cecil Tayler is the vibe my ears get. The last minute or so is where technology comes into play. In a very organic way, the electronics take the notes and draw them out into infinity, like an aural version of contrails. Gorgeous.

June 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Austin Peralta: The Shadow of Your Smile

Consider the strange case of pianist Austin Peralta, now 18 years old as I write this review. Signed to a record contract by Sony Japan, Peralta had two CD leader dates for a major label, each featuring an all-star cast, under his belt by age 16. But none of his music has been issued in the United States, and Peralta has no interest in using these impressive disks to boost his career back home. He claims that they don't represent what he can do nowadays at the piano, and refused to send this writer (whose curiosity had been piqued by the music on Peralta's MySpace page) review copies. What a change from the aggressive hyping and over-marketing of unripened jazz prodigies, either grace-ful or savage, that is so characteristic of new millennium jazz.

Undaunted by the self-effacing artist, I dug deep into the piggy bank to get this music imported from Japan to my home stereo system. (Check it out: you can get this disk from across the Pacific for a mere $52.99 currently at Amazon . . . ouch!) And if you have some spare yen rolled up in your tatami mat, you may want to secure your own copy of this CD. In other words, don't believe young master Peralta's modest claims for a single moment. This youngster can play. Even in his mid-teens, when he recorded this track, he displayed a crystal clear touch, smart musical ideas and a confident presence at the keyboard. The repertoire is mostly familiar standards on this CD, and here he tackles a piece that could easily collapse into cocktail piano heroics. But Peralta carries the day, with the benefit of some exceptional support from the estimable Ron Carter and Billy Kilson. This pianist is definitely a talent to watch. Let's hope his next CD gets wider distribution.

June 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Shea Breaux Wells: Oh Yes, I Remember Clifford

If you happen to frequent the addictive AccuJazz.com website and listen to its Vocal Jazz channel, you may occasionally hear a track from Shea Breaux Wells' self-released A Blind Date CD, and wonder why you haven't heard of her before. For every Diana Krall, Cassandra Wilson, or Diane Reeves, there are countless other relatively obscure female (and male) jazz singers honing their skills, working hard, and hoping for a break--lucky or otherwise--in the very competitive, limited opportunity field of jazz. Wells' CD came about when a number of top-flight jazz musicians were in Healdsburg, CA, for its annual jazz festival in June 2007, and the event's producer suggested to local resident Wells that she utilize their readily available talents for her second recording session.

The selection "Oh Yes, I Remember Clifford" is just one of many that show off Wells' fresh and mature vocal stylings, as well as her rapport with a noticeably inspired ad hoc "backup" group (formidable saxophonist Craig Handy sat this one out). Of course, this is Benny Golson's "I Remember Clifford," but with Jon Hendricks' lyrics added--hence the slight title change for copyright/royalty reasons. Wells' slightly throaty, resonant vocal quality is appropriate and touchingly effective for her treatment of Hendricks' eulogy to Clifford Brown. Cables' chordal piano and McBee's resounding bass lines offer a strong foundation for both the singer and David Weiss's Brownie-indebted, fluidly melodic trumpet solo. The pianist's profound improvisation is but one of many examples of how well he has been playing this decade. Wells' reiteration of the theme sustains her emotionally absorbed, warm approach. The piece is capped by moving departing assertions from the enviable team of Cables, McBee, and Billy Hart.

June 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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George Coleman: Have You Met Miss Jones

Coleman has long had a liking and affinity for Richard Rodgers' compositions, going back to the saxophonist's enduring contribution to "My Funny Valentine" in 1964 while he was a member of the Miles Davis Quintet. Essentially a diligent "changes" player with a sophisticated harmonic sense, Coleman's muscular, expansive approach has always been best suited to standards, be it an up-tempo flag waver or a pensive ballad. Coleman's tribute CD to Rodgers grew out of his acclaimed participation in a 1997 Carnegie Hall Jazz Band concert that focused on the music of the team of Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.

Harold Mabern's gorgeously lyrical prelude, with its hints of "You Better Go Now" and the verse to "I Cover the Waterfront," precedes Coleman's sensitive yet meaty delivery of the theme of "Have You Met Miss Jones." During Coleman's solo, one notices his self-possessed ability to finish off his phrases and maintain a persistent and engaging continuity amidst surging, sometimes densely packed extended lines. Mabern's lavish connecting passages link the end of Coleman's improv to the tenor's graceful reprise and coda. The pianist's efforts, as well as the understated, attuned support of Jamil Nasser and Billy Higgins, help to elevate this interpretation to the level of a classic.

June 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Pat Metheny: Don't Know Why

Inspired by a new baritone guitar and toying with an alternative tuning (a "special low Nashville tuning," he explains), Metheny laid down some tracks at home with just a single instrument and one microphone. Pat may be one of the most technologically-empowered artists of modern times, but don't think for one second that he wouldn't be a star in an unplugged world. Unaccompanied on acoustic guitar, he is perfectly self-sufficient, and one doesn't miss software, amplifiers, effects or sidemen. Here he covers the biggest selling jazz song of the last decade - although it wasn't quite so well known when Metheny recorded this version - and extracts lots of emotion from Jesse Harris's sweet changes. There are some subtle modifications here, with keys and chords, but Metheny impresses most with the simplest motions. You can tell just from the melody statement that you are in the presence of a complete musician. Tempo, texture, ornamentation, ambiance . . . this song is happening on many levels, and with no ostentation. It all sounds so easy, but you know it can't be. Otherwise there would be many other guitarists playing at this level. One question remains. What other tapes does Pat have hidden away in that home studio?

June 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bobby Hutcherson: 8/4 Beat

Stick-Up! is one of Hutcherson's finest albums, either from his Blue Note years or thereafter. It was the first time Joe Henderson had appeared on a Hutcherson-led session, and also the initial recorded interaction between the vibraphonist and McCoy Tyner. Also, an additional five from Hutcherson's ever growing list of first-class, distinctive compositions were introduced here, including the angular, rhythmically infectious "8/4 Beat." This is a tune that takes up permanent residence in your subconscious, picking out furniture, carpeting, and wallpaper. It's there to stay once you've heard it, especially after a few unavoidable repeat listens. Even Hutcherson, upon hearing it afterwards, remarked, "Wow! That's a good tune!"

"8/4 Beat" straddles hard and post bop, with none of the avant-garde or atonal leanings of some of his earlier works. Vibes and piano establish the 8/4 beat and vibes and tenor play the theme, enhanced not surprisingly by Billy Higgins' vibrant colorations. Henderson's opening, unforgettably inviting phrase draws you into his probing solo, his varied tonal inflections and insistent creative pulse carrying the day. Hutcherson follows with his chime-like sound, lucid phrasing, and percussively diverse attack. His solo builds slowly in intensity and relies on a series of savory motifs to complete a compelling narrative. Tyner's improvisation could almost have been played note for note by Hutcherson, so similar is it in substance and feel to the leader's style. No wonder Tyner and Hutcherson would hook up regularly in the years to come.

June 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Oumou Sangare: Sukunyali

Mali, a landlocked West African nation of roughly twelve million inhabitants, stands out as one of the most vibrant centers of contemporary music. Toumani Diabaté and the late Ali Farka Touré are among the best known "world music" performers of recent times, and the band Tinariwen is one of my favorite currently active groups in any style, while I also give high marks to Rokia Traoré and Habib Koité. Now the Nonesuch label—which has brought us so much of this music—releases a dramatic CD of singer Oumou Sangare, the "Songbird of Wassoulou" (Wassoulou is a region south of the Niger river), which is an exemplary mixture of traditional and forward-looking sounds. This song, in the Soninke national language, is ostensibly about grazing goats but is a parable about African emigrants working abroad for the betterment of their native land. But you don't need to follow the symbolism to enjoy the infectious pulse, and the richly textured layers of sound and rhythm.

I am usually wary of large rhythm sections—two drummers are not twice as good as a single first-rate percussionist, and as the size of the poundin'-and-scrapin' contingent increases the beat often becomes oppressive rather than propulsive. But Sangare's work here proves that, after all, there is strength in numbers. The ensemble projects a impressive collective energy, and Sangare soars over the cauldron of aural energy with confidence and power, more an eagle than a songbird in this instance. This artist is no recent arrival on the scene, but a career of two decades has produced only five releases, and even these are hard to find (for example, the CD of her influential debut Moussolou, a bestseller at the time of its release, is not currently available in the US). I hope this new disk serves to boost her audience and signals more frequent visits to the recording studio in her future.

June 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Joe Bonamassa: The Ballad of John Henry

In a famous folk song, John Henry is the steel-driving man who battles against the steam hammer, and wins—but only at the cost of his life. A similar battle takes place on this track, and for a while I thought the machines would enjoy a quick victory this time around. The opening "notes" sound like a high voltage electric fence being torn to bits by Godzilla. But the intensely, electrified vamp is replaced by a roots-oriented acoustic sound less than a minute into the action. The contrast sets up a powerful hook, and the contrast between plugged-in and unplugged continues throughout the song. Bonamassa is a gripping performer, mixing lowdown blues and high-octane rock in a musical hybrid vehicle that goes from zero to sixty in seconds. This may be the sound of 21st century blues, with British rockers venerated as influential past masters just like the Delta pioneers. Hey, its all part of our aural heritage now. If you like Otis Taylor or the North Mississippi Allstars, this is an artist you will want to get to know.

June 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Arun Ghosh: Aurora

Stuart Nicholson recently reported in these virtual pages how clarinetist Arun Ghosh captivated the audience at the recent Jazzahead festival in Bremen with his exciting brand of British-Asian jazz. The unknown artist sold dozens of copies of his self-produced CD Northern Namaste within a few minutes of leaving the stage. And I can understand why. Unfortunately US fans will have a hard time to tracking down this music—I couldn't find a single online retailer in the US who had stocked it, and needed to order it from Amazon's UK web site. But it is well worth going to the trouble to hear this band, and enjoy Ghosh's probing clarinet work. The basic formula is familiar—a medium-fast modal chart over a repeating rhythmic pattern. But Ghosh shows that even the old recipes have plenty of life in them, especially when played this well. The whole band gets high marks, but the leader is the clear star, and one of the most interesting reed players on the scene. I plan on keeping a close eye (and ear) on Ghosh. I just hope some retailer makes it easy for me by carrying his CDs.

June 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Urban Hansson: All Of Me

In a bold set of intimate duets pairing the flute with various instruments, Swedish flautist nee tenor sax man Urban Hansson offers a quirky smorgasbord of jazz standards, amid a smattering of interesting originals. His technique wavers between straightforward Herbie Mann-erisms and vintage Jethro Tull-ery at times and his approach on this particular cut recalls the initial, jazzier days of Ian Anderson. That said, Hansson’s “All of Me” is an entertaining listen, as he and guitarist Andreas Oberg give this old chestnut the jazz Manouche treatment.

Oberg introduces the track with enticing chord slapping and harp harmonics on his signature AJL grande bouche acoustic before launching into a spirited pompe, over which Hansson’s flute growls breathlessly. The young guitar phenom’s aggressive Django-style solo stands alone for two meaty choruses before the two bring the lively jam home. It may not be cutting-edge, but this version is still a fun romp that’s not hard on the ears.

June 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Victoria Rummler: James

An angelic voice, attached to a solid headpiece with a genuine command of the jazz vernacular — this is the elusive Victoria Rummler, who has been enjoying the bon vie as an American in Paris for well over a decade. The former Detroit native has enjoyed the enthusiastic support of musicians and the admiration of Parisian Caveau dwellers for obvious reasons. Beautiful, fearless, witty and original — what’s not to like?

I love artists who take chances and Ms. Rummler takes more than her share in this album, running the gamut of jazz and world music from the Japanese-Brazilian pentatonic confection "Watashi" to standards from the Great American Songbook. She is also a gifted songwriter, penning the droll "Cocktail Optimism" and haunting ballad "Words."

From such an embarrassment of riches it was difficult to choose one track to cover, but the Pat Metheny favorite, "James" deserves particular attention. The confident guitar work of Gianni Guido and Rummler’s buoyant, rhythmic phrasing set up the intro with flawless timing; her diaphanous vocal improvisations soar through the changes with unaffected ease. No other instruments are needed to sustain the cheerful energy of this airy composition.

Recently the French government awarded Victoria Rummler naturalized citizenship, so Detroit might never get her back. But this may be for the best as she could be the most effective ambassador for Franco-American relations since Ben Franklin.

June 28, 2009 · 0 comments

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Matt Wilson: That's Gonna Leave A Mark

A blurt from everyone signals the beginning of this sprint. Lightcap rumbles around on the low notes while Wilson rummages through his cymbals and higher-tuned toms. Lederer’s tenor and D’Angelo alto eke out a few declaratory phrases before going off into some frenzied blowing. Wilson is still making a lovely racket with the cymbals and toms but the free-for-all doesn’t go on for long and the brief theme is revisited as the coda.

“Compact Jazz” was a series used by Verve records to issue some of their back catalog on CD for the first time, but this is more like my ideal for the term. A hundred and forty-one seconds is all it took for Wilson & Co. to leave a mark.

June 28, 2009 · 0 comments

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Nils Petter Molvaer: Cruel Attitude

Molvaer is generally credited for helping to popularize the whole “nu jazz” thing in the late nineties and squarely put his native Norway on the map as an epicenter for this pastiche of jazz, house, ambient and electronica. When he tosses African and Middle Eastern rhythms into his mélange, his music sounds so close to Jon Hassell that I wonder what the fuss is all about. It’s not long after I begin to think he’s a copycat before Molvaer asserts his originality and lives up to his reputation.

“Cruel Altitude” is precisely one of those songs. He starts off with his lonely-sounding horn played over ambient synth washes for over two minutes. But Kleive’s elongated fills crashes in, Aarset heavy metal guitar follows, and the song transforms into clamorous, rowdy rock-jazz by way of late-period King Crimson. From there, it’s a series of formidable riffs over which Molvaer’s electronically altered trumpet blurts out a few Arabic tones. By the time the song takes a gradual descent into its soft landing, the band sounds spent.

The headbanging “Cruel Altitude” is a nu jazz song that sounds best with the volume turned way up with your index and pinkie fingers pointed skyward.

June 28, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ron Mitchell: Smile

This is not the kind of music I'm normally drawn to. The male voice singing jazz has almost never done it for me. Maybe it's a “guy thing.” Oh sure, I can appreciate Johnny Hartman, Mel Torme, and Tony Bennett and do own several of their records. But usually I leave the immediate experience with no emotional connection. Hmmm...in the middle of that last sentence, flashing lights went off in my head, fashioning the word 'Sinatra.' OK, so there's a counter-example.

Singer Ron Mitchell caught my attention mostly because, sonically, he doesn't sound like any of those vocal giants. He seems to pull from both older and more modern influences, with a slight tilt toward the higher registers. I'm thinking of Nat King Cole (Oops! Counter-example number two!) by way of Little Jimmie Scott with maybe a touch of Al Jarreau. On this version of the classic “Smile,” Mitchell teams with singer Lileth to get a nice smolder going on. With the Keishi Matsumoto trio as anchor, the song is split into an opening ballad followed by a more uptempo segment.

I can almost hear Simon Cowell saying that it's “a little too cabaret.” There might be a tiny bit of truth to that, but with chops like these, Mitchel can ignore the slight. And hey, he's got me thinking I've got to go back and revisit the vocalists section my collection. Thanks Ron!

June 24, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ed Blackwell: Pentahouve

Blackwell rarely got to record as a leader, and the 1992 live recordings at Yoshi's that were released on two CDs—What It Is? and What It Be Like?—came just two months to the day before his death from the kidney ailment that had plagued him for so many years. Given his condition, he is heard in surprisingly good form on the track, "Pentahouve," which is reminiscent in both spirit and sound of his memorable 1969 duets with Don Cherry, Mu First Part and Mu Second Part. Cherry played both pocket trumpet and flute on those albums, and here is represented by Graham Haynes' cornet and Carlos Ward's flute.

"Pentahouve" commences with Mark Helias's bass intoning the darting staccato theme, before first Ward and Blackwell and then Haynes enter the picture. As the horns replay the intricate melody, Blackwell artfully emphasizes its rhythmic contours. As usual, the singular drummer seems to be continually combining a personal statement with reactive commentary. Cornet and flute engage in an extended dialogue, and Haynes' mellow, muted tone blends nicely with Ward's singing, joyful flute. Blackwell's vigorous unacccompanied solo follows, his mallet work imparting an African quality, while also insinuating New Orleans (his hometown) and martial beats. Best known for his essential work with Ornette Coleman and Old and New Dreams, Blackwell never failed, in any grouping or context, both to energize and enhance a performance, as he does on "Pentahouve."

June 23, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gonzalo Rubalcaba: All the Things You Are

Rubalcaba's appearances with Haden and Motian at the 1989 Montreal Jazz Festival and the 1990 Montreux Jazz Festival—the latter where this track was recorded—were instrumental in creating a huge buzz regarding the young Cuban pianist's virtuoso talent. This warranted hype grew despite the fact that it would be several more years before he would be allowed to enter the United States to perform, due to State Department restrictions. That Rubalcaba was the real deal early on is clearly evident on this kaleidoscopic 11-minute treatment of "All the Things You Are," the reliable warhorse that has served to test and measure countless jazz musicians over the years. Rubalcaba brings to bear his early classical training, as well as his exposure to Afro-Cuban music and jazz influences such as Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea.

The pianist starts with a contemplative solo exploration of the melody's familiar harmonies, but quickly ups the tempo as he's joined by Haden and Motian. Forceful chords, propulsive rhythmic variations, convoluted gliding runs, and hurtling two-handed unison passges are among the many treats Rubalcaba offers the audience at Montreux. Haden and Motian admirably manage to keep up with him, but seem merely along for the ride. The bassist does get a chance to solo fervently about five minutes in, obviously inspired by Rubalcaba's verve. Motian succeeds him with a characteristically loose and unpredictable improvisation. Rubalcaba picks up where he left off for the final three minutes, at first racing cogently through the changes before a somewhat more subdued, but ultimately rhapsodic winding-down. A star is born.

June 23, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mike Stern: There is No Greater Love

Stern has been justifiably categorized as a fusion/jazz-rock guitarist, based on his own albums as well as his early work with Blood, Sweat and Tears, Billy Cobham, Miles Davis, Jaco Pastorius, and Steps Ahead. Of Stern's 10 Atlantic releases, only two—Give and Take and Standards (and other songs)—gave the listener a chance to evaluate the artist on either jazz or popular standards, as the other 8 CDs contain exclusively Stern originals. What Stern exhibits on tunes like "Oleo," "Like Someone in Love," "Straight No Chaser," and especially on his riveting 9-minute exploration of "There is No Greater Love," is a refreshingly uncliched and perhaps surprisingly adept and assured approach to material more often associated with bop and hard bop players.

The guitarist plays the theme with a clean, subdued tone devoid of much of its usual distortion and/or delay. Stern's phrasing in his two improvisations is verbose but remarkably fluent, overall recalling at times Pat Metheny, John Scofield, or an extremely hyper Jim Hall. He builds relentlessly, layer upon layer, bending notes tastefully and accelerating the speed with which he executes his always logically conceived runs. He pauses to allow for Jay Anderson's lyrical bass solo, before returning to focus almost obsessively on ways to vary a particularly appealing motif. Stern's funky out-chorus, with its fleeting allusion to Miles Davis's "Jean Pierre," probably comes closer to merging his straight jazz and fusion propensities than what he played previously on this irresistible track.

June 23, 2009 · 0 comments

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Toshiko Akiyoshi-Charlie Mariano Quartet: Deep River

The group that Toshiko Akiyoshi co-led with her first husband Charlie Mariano in the '60's should be better known and remembered. Both musicians were at the time passionate players in the process of developing more individual styles that would gradually remove the stigma of being generally described as Bud Powell (Akiyoshi) and Charlie Parker (Mariano) imitators. That Toshiko and Charlie each got to perform with Charles Mingus during that period certainly provided an impetus for more personalized playing on their parts, with recorded evidence available in Charlie's case via his brilliant alto solos on the 1963 Mingus albums The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady and Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus.

The old spiritual "Deep River" is a feature for Mariano's intense alto. By the late '60's Mariano would begin exploring jazz-rock, fusion, Indian, and even classical music, but on this "Deep River" from 1960 he's still primarily a hard bopper with a daring, rawness, and emotional edginess remindful to some extent of Art Pepper and Jackie McLean. Toshiko's decidedly church-rooted intro gives way to Charlie's soulful opening arpeggios and his mournful, reverent reading of the theme. His solo, after Toshiko's brief but authoritative interlude, is bluesy and passionately driven, and features sparkling, piercingly articulated runs. His coda is a sincere expression that moves this solemn traditional song into the realm of secular shout-out. This is the work of a rapidly maturing saxophonist.

Charlie Mariano passed away on June 16, 2009 at the age of 85.

June 23, 2009 · 0 comments

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Laurence Hobgood: Que Sera Sera

Originally written for the 1956 Alfred Hitchcock movie The Man Who Knew Too Much, "Que Sera Sera" became synonymous with Doris Day, the actress and singer who eventually claimed it as her theme song and made it a Billboard hit.

The potent team of Laurence Hobgood and Charlie Haden transform this campy 1950s pop song into an emotionally evocative ballad. Hodgood’s sonorous piano lines are elegant and reverential. He plays with a thoughtful respect that elevates the song to a previously unknown state of beauty and maturity. Haden’s deeply resonant bass swells with warmth and feeling. Engineer Ken Christianson should be particularly cited for faithfully capturing these two masters at their best. The two maestros have conducted a benediction that incorporates heartfelt respect and demonstrates an empathetic exchange. Like an alchemist, Hobgood and Haden take common lead and transform it into gold.

June 21, 2009 · 2 comments

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Ralph Bowen: Canary Drums

Ralph Bowen's distinguished resumé includes extended work with Horace Silver, Michel Camilo and the group Out of the Blue. He has a beautifully manicured sound that pours out of his tenor in cascades of tonal beauty. His playing has exceptional fluidity without the slightest degradation of tone. It is filled with inventiveness and free from cliché. As an educator at Rutgers University, where he is a respected associate professor of jazz saxophone and director of the jazz ensemble, he undoubtedly inspires his students with his acumen.

On his CD Dedicated, a compilation of Bowen compositions dedicated to some of his mentors, he has assembled a group of master musicians. Their presence on this effort validates Bowen’s unheralded talents both as a composer and as an artist of exceptional taste.

“Canary Drums” is dedicated to the late Canadian drummer Keith Blackley. Bowen has composed a vibrant and harmonically dense piece of music, the complexity of which is masked by his deceptively laid back delivery. His ability to play sequential streams of sound in a flawless succession appears boundless. Rodgers is equally stealth-like in his understated multi-layered solo. Patitucci and Sanchez are so in tune to each other’s movements that you can feel them dance to the rhythm they create behind Bowen and Rodgers. A careful listen to Bowen’s command of tone and breath on his whispered, fluttering ending is worth the price of admission. With this tasty piece of post-bop music, Ralph Bowen commands wider recognition.

June 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Enrico Pieranunzi: Scarlatti Sonata K377 and Improv

The idea of "jazzing up the classics" is an old one, dating back to the rag and stride pianists of the early 20th century. At one time there must have been quite a bit of shock value when a pianist played a hot version of Chopin or Tchaikovsky, but not any more. Today it comes across as just another gimmick—and a tired one at that.

For that reason, you might be forgiven for dismissing pianist Enrico Pieranunzi's interpretations of Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) before even giving them a listen. But you would be making a mistake. Pieranunzi is not a gimmicky player, and his best work has a profound rightness about it, an uncontrived immersion into musical essences and an almost tactile yet elusive sensuality. He brings these qualities to bear on his reworkings of Scarlatti, which both respect the integrity of the original compositions while finding in them a platform for contemporary improvisation.

This is not an small feat. Pieranunzi works a subtle transformation, and if you are not listening carefully you will miss that many gradual shifts in texture and tone that shape his interpretations. An even series of on-the-beat left hand notes evolves into a walking bassline. Eighteenth century harmony is hammered into twentieth century harmony through a series of granular level adaptations. Syncopations emerge from the counterpoint. The end result is penetrating modern jazz, but Pieranunzi arrives there as slowly and patiently as a sunset working its effects over the horizon. Few CDs these days sound so untouched by the expected and conventional—the wonder is that our pianist makes this happen with a composition that is 250 years old.

June 19, 2009 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: Blues for Alice

"Blues for Alice" is a classic old-school jazz jam that showcases Charlie Parker's innovative sax style within a context that he singlehandedly pioneered. He blows his heart out for you, reveling in some imaginative musical statements along the way, and is followed ably by his collaborators. The track is upbeat and swingin', as the immediately identifiable tenor Parker sound cuts through the mix and squawks out of the box with force.

The sound of the cut is stereotypical of the limitations engineers encountered while recording bands long ago, but the rough edges and slightly imbalanced presentation (Parker is obviously standing closer to his microphone than the others are standing in relation to theirs) do not stop the music from gliding atop the sounds of tonal elation. The chord changes are atypical of what is commonly known as "blues," in that the form is extended beyond the genre's regularly expected form. Also, the tone of the recording is much more positive than is normal for such a genre as "blues." However, transforming the aural character of pre-established musical forms into something uncharacteristically offbeat was one of the things that Parker did best, and, here, no exceptions to the rule are made.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: Laird Baird

Charlie Parker's "Laird Baird" contains quite a few awesome solo passages by the jazz legend even though the music is less visual than is normal for a player whose reputation rests upon his pushing of musical boundaries. The tune is played at mid-tempo, and, while slower tunes usually require some form of intensity to validate them, this one lacks it.

Almost sounding like a rehearsal take, the tune follows a predictable pattern: solo piano improvisation starts it, followed by open, swing-time hi-hats and a round of ensemble solos. Since Charlie Parker is obviously not the sole focus of this recording (given the equality of space that each player is allowed), no one is left out as each band member takes a turn at showcasing. An indistinct Parker riff bookends the solos, and listeners are left without a sense of why the saxman was regarded as a creative genius.

Of course, Bird's catalog contains a wide variety of sounds, recording approaches, and performance techniques, but, as far as this track is concerned, it sounds like the group knocked this off in under ten minutes. Unfortunately, you will not consider this track amongst the top hundred in the Charlie Parker canon.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ben Sidran: Lust

Percussion elements drive Ben Sidran's funky "Lust," and the groove that they lead the bass into burns holes in a musical foundation that will prove addictive to any attentive listener. During the rather loose jam session that was captured, Sidran gives up the funk. He can be heard playing both piano and organ; both are panned hard to each side, and the tenacity of the supporting players exists in their relentless commitment to the groove laid down during the very first seconds of the cut.

The track is loaded with strings, and they add a lush depth to Sidran's material that is unnecessary, given the sultriness of what is played underneath by the rhythm section. The chords follow a traditional blues form, but the sound of Fender Rhodes, 70s Fender bass, and sexy, fatback drums signal that this blues is about something other than the blues itself. The music does not sound steeped in depression, but it plays more like a jazzy, post-fusion piece infused with a whole lot of greasy, Northern soul, and there is no mistaking the audience it targets. This music could have easily found its success on screen.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ben Sidran: Slippery Hip

"Slippery Hip" glides like grease on an outdated jheri-curl. While the music does not sound as live as it could due to the fact that the piano and organ solos sound overdubbed, the music is still explosive. The solos burn, as multi-tracked keyboardist Ben Sidran plays his instruments like he is in the zone. The form emphasizes a single chord minor vamp for the most part, but the rabbit-footed, dance hall drums and the finger ticks that the bass offers up rock hard, and Sidran's own licks will awaken the most comatose mind.

Of course, the musical style resembles the loose-knit, jamming ethic that was popular back when this was cut (1972), but that does not stop it from being enjoyable. As the musicians have a good time themselves, their vibe certainly lightens up the room, several decades later. Also, the fact that the proper tones of real instruments being played with very little artificial processing have been preserved this clearly demands that the cut be heard by anyone interested in the snap, crackle, and pop of funk music as it sounded at birth.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mike Stern: Tumble Home

Mike Stern's "Tumble Home" is an intricate composition, and it is amazing that the players actually are so tight on it. Even though this is a studio recording, the jam sounds very live and the tones always sound real. Of course, Stern's guitar is processed through a variety of sonic simulators, but even his instrument manages to sound dry.

The album Who Let the Cats Out? features an all-star lineup of jazz heavyweights, and the playing is correspondent with such expertise. A musician such as Stern demands and deserves the best complimentary situation, and this session finds him in comfortable, sympathetic surroundings. The bass walks, the drums roll, and Stern himself takes a solo that shows off his stuff.

While his turn sits upon a single chord, his choice of scales is nice and his phrasing is beyond professional. He exhibits an understanding of the intervals on guitar that separate jazz from other types of music, and he never slips into either blues or rock territory (unlike so many of his contemporaries). Although, with gain added, his instrument may exude the familiar ringing tone of a six-string, solid-body guitar, Stern is no stereotypical player and this is no predictable recording.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mike Stern: Good Question

"Good Question" proves that legendary guitarist Mike Stern is aware of his influences and also of his place in modern jazz. Burning an exotic-sounding solo straight out of the gate, he wields his axe with significant comprehension of music theory. The scales chosen are not standard, and, even though a single chord seems to anchor the jam, what is heard is by no means stereotypical of even the most fearless fusion. The tune breaks away from its main motif and allows Stern the space to step out front and shine bright, and he seems to answer any questions that you may have about his talent. At an imaginative peak, he takes the classic, old-time jazz styles a step or two further, paying tribute to forefathers such as Wes Montgomery, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie, while adding a different voice to the mix with his willingness to push the boundaries much further. Scat vocals break in towards the end, and a drum breakdown occurs that will remind you of many other recordings, but this recording exists in a category of its own. The individuality is befitting of a player with such an extraordinary range and imagination.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Charlie Byrd/Herb Ellis/Tal Farlow: Jumpin' at the Woodside

Featured on a DVD entitled Great Guitars of Jazz, this version of "Jumpin' at the Woodside" pays its respects to the masters of the first popular era of the genre. Tal Farlow cites Eddie Lang, Dick McDonough, and Carl Kress, and, after admitting to the obscurity of the players he mentions, the band launches into a composition made famous by Count Basie. The attack on the guitar solos, however, takes the Basie standard a few steps further and into fusion territory. No great stretch for these three jazz giants, the boundaries are bent significantly as the players exercise their mastery over the revolving sequence of chord changes.

The form never alters, but the solos sit on the boundaries' margins and imply their own time signatures within the set form. The performance will teach any level of guitarist the importance of knowing a set amount of theory and then applying it to any chart presented. The chords themselves are, at times, altered slightly from those written on paper, and the dynamics shift but never falter. The players follow each other into territory defined by whomever takes the initiative, and the expository nature is a great document of genius and perfection on display.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Charlie Byrd/Herb Ellis/Tal Farlow: Embraceable You

Even though this version of George and Ira Gershwin's "Embraceable You" is credited to the guitar trio of Byrd/Ellis/Farlow, Tal Farlow pays most of the respects to the two legends of American song here. Minimal contributions from the other guitarists on the bill are made, but they exist, and, even though they are spare, they are important to the overall presentation. At 3:24, some artificial harmonics are played on the guitar and prove that the point of the entire evening-that is, classic jazz tunes such as this one can be infused with advanced instrumental techniques that add great variety to the original composition.

Farlow references North Carolina in his introduction, restating the title as "Embraceable Y'all," but the tune does not deviate much from the spirit of the inaugaral version. The changes are lovingly preserved, the solo sections are boxed into them, and the spirit of innovation is present even though the tune is ancient. The audience's reaction is proof of the power of the track, and, surely, the distinctly wistful melody is left intact, and, because many dimensions are added to the mix, anyone interested in great jazz improvisation on guitar should check this track out.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Modern Jazz Quartet: The Golden Striker

"The Golden Striker" was a staple of the Modern Jazz Quartet's live repertoire, and this rousing version adds a sheen of perfection to it. On this rendition, it sounds as if the improvisations are meant to remain in check, as, though Milt Jackson generally plays solos that compliment the arrangement, the boundaries are not bent in any significant way. However, this does not take away from the power of the music; Jackson's vibes and John Lewis' intricate piano fills consume the spaces in the upper registers while Connie Kay's trebly percussion chimes in.

Because of this, things do sound quite "golden," as the title implies, and, as Jackson strikes his vibraphone keys with sympathetic pads, the sustain that he and Lewis are able to generate throughout this concert recording helps the composition and this subsequent rendition remain both fluid and luminous. Recordings of the MJQ are usually not as commercial as other competing chart entries from their day from the likes of Dave Brubeck and Cal Tjader, but this particular tune sounds like it could have competed well. It is not as challenging as usual for the group, but the simplicity allows a different side of the MJQ to shine.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Modern Jazz Quartet: The Cylinder

The Modern Jazz Quartet's "The Cylinder" is constructed around a single chord, and the form does not change until Milt Jackson has exhausted his full canon of effervescent sounding vibraphone riffs. As he solos, the other musicians keep things low key, matching him note for note and pulse for pulse with terrific timing. As Jackson swings, the music comes alive even though it is controlled fiercely by the others.

Halfway through, Milt steps aside and gives pianist John Lewis some breathing room to improvise over a brand new chord sequence that changes up the main key. Jackson adds some dissonance in the background, which is quite deviant from the general use of the vibraphone in modern jazz music.

So, to summarize, the first half is a rather normal swinging jam led by Milt Jackson's good vibes, and the second half features some improvisation anchored by pianist John Lewis while the chords are modulated upwards so that somewhat unrelatied variations to the main theme are added to the multi-part chord sequence. The ensemble playing is solid, and it is certain that the musicians are intrinsically feeding each other with ideas that all seem to deviate far from the established norm.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Joni Mitchell: The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines

I never really understood how good Mitchell was at singing jazz numbers, but she really shines on this song. Her vocal phrasing sounds like she's been seeing jazz exclusively, for years. Jaco Pastorius steals the show for me though on this blues song written by Charles Mingus. Mingus originally wanted to work with Mitchell after hearing her album Don Juan's Reckless Daughter and I think that it speaks volumes that a legend like Mingus chose to work with Mitchell. Wayne Shorter's soprano playing on this track is some of his finest. This song is steadily driven by Jaco and Erskine who lay down a great rhythm track for Mitchell.

This song represents another fine collaboration between Jaco and Joni and further testifies to his prowess as a bassist and her power as a vocalist. I give this song a super ten thumbs up!

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jaco Pastorius: Soul Intro/The Chicken

If Jaco Pastorius is ever remembered for one composition, it's probably going to be "The Chicken." This song was originally written by James Brown sideman Pee Wee Ellis, but Jaco officially made it his anthem. This is one of those songs a kid learns as an aspiring musician, not only because it's fun to play but because it is a perfect facilitator for learning funk music.

This tune opens up with the soul introduction, which borrows heavily from the Saturday Night Live sound. Pastorius hired a stellar ensemble for this show, which was recorded live at Mr. Pips in Ft. Lauderdale. Jaco thumps away on this song, playing some of the most influential funk bass lines in the history of bass lines. I know so many people that have learned this bass line note for note that I can't even begin to make a list (I'm also one of those people). It's sad that this live recording came on the heel of Jaco's mental deterioration but it proves that Pastorius was one of the best that ever did it. This is a perfect song, hence the perfect score.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jaco Pastorius: Crisis

On this opening cut from his 1980 album Word of Mouth, Pastorius and company explode with a gigantic burst of musical energy. This is one of the fastest, most consistent bass lines I've ever heard in my life. When Jaco starts, he doesn't stop at all. I don't know how a human being conjures up the dexterity to play what Jaco played but it's almost like his hands have found a way to circular breathe. Herbie Hancock adds some really good harmonic textures, striking the piano with both rage and power. The tenor playing of Brecker and Shorter unfourtunately drown out the flute of Hubert Laws but the flute is probably the least interesting part of this song anyways.

I always say this, but I really wish this particular line-up would have recorded more. The group is so expressive and has no problem playing any style of jazz, whether fusion, straight ahead, or free. Another great song from one of the greatest human beings to have ever touched the electric bass guitar. Salud! Salud!

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Weather Report: River People

This is the Weather Report album that was famously dismissed by Down Beat magazine and given a one star rating. I really find it hard to believe that the critics simply couldn't get past their own egos and really listen to the music on this album (even if it was a little bit more danceable). Written by Jaco, this song has one of the more funky bass lines on the whole album and he also plays drums and timpani on the song. Pastorius was originally a drummer but switched to the bass because of a sporting accident. He sounds complete as a drummer and the track doesn't miss a beat between his bass playing and drumming. My favorite thing about this track is the hand claps. I think they are very indicative of the influence of disco and electronic music on fusion.

No Weather Report song would be complete without the dynamic duo of Zawinul and Shorter. Shorter screeches on the horn while Zawinul plays the melody and some nice pad textures. Zawinul in essence rounds out the song with his synthesizer work here. All in all, another solid track form one of jazz music's strongest groups.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Artie Shaw: The Chaser

Shaw was a conflicted, restless perfectionist who did not equate fame and fortune with artistic achievement, but often sought public approval even if it meant compromises he'd rather not make. It's likely that Shaw felt that his brilliant last series of recordings in 1954 were as close as he'd ever come to perfection, and therefore chose to stop playing for good the following year. The tracks were recorded in New York with the newest incarnation of his Gramercy Five--actually a sextet. They were cut in the early morning hours after the band's regular gig at The Embers, and have a cohesive, polished chamber group sound while at the same time swinging with a fresh, uncluttered creativity.

"The Chaser" is an inspiring vehicle for some inventive soloing and group interaction. Shaw's insistently swirling phrases launch the piece, which quickly lead to the "I Got Rhythm" changes of the swing-era style, lighthearted theme. Jones' solo is emblematic of the tart and tidy efforts he continues to produce some 55 years later. Farlow's dense, boppish improv is repeatedly jump-started by jabbing background riffs from the band. Shaw follows with his uniquely piercing tone and seemingly effortless execution of intricate extended passages. Group riffs also support Roland's attractively rhythmic, effervescent solo, and also Potter's compelling, well-recorded statement. Shaw and the exuberant Kruger then engage one another in a discourse blessed with laudable continuity and agile responsiveness. Potter, Shaw, and Roland all get second go-rounds before the theme's spirited reappearance.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Pat Metheny: Omaha Celebration

This was always one of my favorite songs from this album. I remember the first time I heard it and I couldn't help but wonder with astonishment how Metheny played the way he did at the age of 22. The music to this song is very fitting to the title of the song. The interaction between the group on this album solidifies why this is one of the purest trio jazz albums recorded during the post 1960s. Pastorius is very subdued on this song but he also sounds mature beyond his age, playing simple but effective bass movements that clearly establish and maintain the pocket.

In a little over 4 minutes, Metheny, Pastorius, and Moses, play enough great music that I want to pack my bags and see what Nebraska is all about. I highly recommend this track for anyone that wants to dig deeper than the title track on this album.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Pat Metheny: Missouri Uncompromised

On this high swinging number from Pat Metheny's landmark debut, Bright Size Life, he finds himself in immaculate company with Pastorius on bass and Bob Moses on drums. Pastorius anchors this song with a drive and determination that very few bass players during this time could have done. Metheny displays his strong melodic virtuosity on this song, running up and down the neck of the guitar at break neck speed. Bob Moses also holds it down, playing a contagious swing pattern and adds some nice accents underneath the solo action. Another great track from a stellar, unforgettable album. Pastorius and company are in their prime on this one!

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: 4 a.m.

The 1980s proved to be a very interesting time for Jaco Pastorius. Although it proved to be the last decade of his short life, he still managed to record and made memorable appearances on other musicians' albums. Herbie Hancock's "4 a.m." is a gem featured on his 1980s album Mr. Hands. Hancock and Pastorius lock in like they've been playing for years, well I guess they had technically, but it would have been nice to hear more of this group. The song opens up with a little vamp, introduction section before Hancock introduces the melody on the synthesizer. This song has some nice harmonic variations as well. Pastorius and Harvey Mason also lock in well with each other. There's a nice B section on the song where Jaco plays his chorus-driven bass lightly and with a lot of feeling before Hancock takes it to the laundry mat with his solo. Mr. Hands, goes certain places musically that have me scratching my head but "4 a.m." is the exception. A+.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Craig Buhler: Creepin'

On his CD Skykomish, multi-reedist Craig Buhler sets out to do what Herbie Hancock attempted roughly a dozen years earlier: convert some familiar pop songs into jazz standards. There’s a wide gulf separating the approach of Hancock, who often completely reshuffled the underlying harmonics of the songs, and Buhler, whose makeovers are typically limited to adding a riff or two. His renditions are also much smoother, falling short of landing into “smooth” jazz territory by sticking with all-acoustic instrumentation and licks that are relaxed, not so much forced or trite. Call it “easy listening” jazz, instead.

Regardless, this approach leaves the choice of material pretty much the deciding factor of whether the song works or not. “Creepin’” wasn’t really a hit for Stevie Wonder, but in 1974, even his deep cuts were far above in quality over what other pop artists topped the charts with at the time. Buhler shrewdly targeted his arrangement around Wonder’s smoky ballad, which is a no-lose proposition. The horns supplying the main phrase with Atkinson’s rich vibes handling the haunting counterpoint underneath by itself does the trick. Fans of improvisation have to wait until nearly halfway into this five-an-a-half minute rendition before Atkinson solos, and even then it barely strays from the melody. Buhler’s clarinet does, but it flies low to the ground.

The velvety, mellow approach taken on this song combined with Buhler’s posh production might make this song a candidate to someday appear on an elevator near you. If that happens, just forget any notion about a hot blowing session and enjoy the (elevator) ride.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Sharel Cassity: Lover Man

My mind (ears too!) is always wide-open when it comes to new music. That's makes it all the more frustrating and embarrassing when I have the “Uh oh...” reaction upon seeing a jazz record with a nicely done photo of the female leader. It's years of those tricky smooth jazz cover shots that have done it to me. The first track kicks in and I'm just waiting for that drum machine.

None of this is Sharel Cassity's fault. In fact, I almost skipped mentioning the issue because it felt like an indirect slight on her talents: which are many. While her fairly straight reading of “Lover Man” doesn't break any knew ground, it does put on display her ability to breath emotion into a piece. Sure, this classic does carry with it its own romantic qualities, but they can easily be rendered flat in the wrong hands. Not so here. Cassity effortlessly blends twisty solo passage with slower, more bluesy lines. Combine this with the stellar work of pianist Adam Birnbaum and you have a satisfying and smoky listen.

...and no drum machines!

June 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ellis Marsalis: The Surrey With the Fringe On Top

It usually happens the other way around. Think Dave Brubeck and his sons Dan and Chris, or John Coltrane and Ravi. In the case of Ellis Marsalis, recording dates and overall recognition outside of New Orleans were hard to come by until the success of his sons Wynton and Branford. Heart of Gold was Ellis's first of several releases for Columbia in the '90's, after a similar trio date for Blue Note a year earlier. It presented a straight ahead pianist with apparent influences ranging from Oscar Peterson and Nat Cole to Wynton Kelly and Tommy Flanagan, with little if any indication of his New Orleans roots. A swinging, thoughtful, and lucid lyricism pervades his playing.

"Surrey with the Fringe on Top," from Heart of Gold, finds Marsalis elucidating the familiar melody with a gentle, lilting touch, and at a leisurely pace that continues for his ensuing solo. His improvisation contains some sliding runs, occasional bluesy inflections, and mainly a series of neatly delineated, distinctly separated single note lines. Some of his voicings are clearly derived from Peterson, while his lightly floating sound comes more from Kelly or Flanagan. Brown's bass solo is, as usual, the resonant aural equivalent of a concise and enthralling short story. Marsalis returns for an adamant two-handed chordal interlude that eventually gives way to Higgins' tersely communicative drum break. The reprise swings blithely, and the prearranged piano-bass ending is cleverly conceived and adroitly executed.

June 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Walter Davis, Jr.:Criss Cross

Walter Davis, Jr. had an imposing, physically intense presence about him, not to mention a schooled, totally absorbing bop-based piano style. Few could interpret Bud Powell or Thelonious Monk tunes better than he. He played and recorded with Charlie Parker in the early '50's, befriended both Powell and Monk, and had various stints in the bands of Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey. However, Davis's promising 1959 debut album as leader for Blue Note did not lead to many others under his own name before his death in 1990 at age 57. Davis's tribute CD to Monk, In Walked Thelonious, was recorded in 1987 but was released shortly after his death. It remains one of the crowning achievements of his career.

The pianist claimed that he was visited by Monk's spirit, which offered him advice and encouragement during the process of preparing for and then recording the 14 Monk compositions he played at these sessions. When pianist Dwike Mitchell heard the resulting tapes, he commented, "What's on this tape is not Walter, it's Monk playing through Walter's hands." Be that as it may, Davis created concise, to-the-point versions of these Monk selections, including the trickiest ones like "Criss Cross." He begins "Criss Cross" by bluntly introducing the unorthodox, finger-busting melody. Davis uncannily captures Monk's semi-dissonant sound and whimsical undercurrent, but his tone, dazzling runs, and thumping left-hand accentuations all take on a definite Powell quintessence in his brief solo. By the time Davis is reiterating the theme, one realizes that while Monk and Powell are unmistakably present during this 2˝-minute miniature, no one but Davis could quite capture those two pianists' styles so well in one piece and still bring so much of his own soul and personality to the mix.

June 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Rondi Charleston: Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

Charleston has taken an unusual career path. Leaving Juilliard to become an opera singer, she then went on to study journalism and developed into an award winning investigative reporter for Prime Time Live, where she worked with Diane Sawyer for six years. During that time, she gravitated to jazz and eventually decided to become a jazz singer full-time. In My Life is her third CD, and comes packaged with a separate DVD of a live performance at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in New York.

Possessed of a limited middle-range voice, Charleston wisely chooses tunes that both fit her voice and have a tale worth telling: "What drives me is my passion to breathe life, honesty and integrity into every song and story." She's at her best on numbers like Lennon-McCartney's "In My Life," Evans-Lees' "Waltz for Debby," and the standard "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered." The latter features Bruce Barth's lovely intro and Charleston's silky rich and expressive renditions of the verse and chorus, which are graced by Joel Frahm's breathy obbligatos and Barth's sensitive asides. Charleston captures our attention completely through her heartfelt approach. This vocalist doesn't scat or take great liberties with the melodies that she sings, but she really doesn't need to. Frahm's tenor solo is further evidence of his emergence as one of today's top young saxophonists. Charleston's moving reprise and Frahm's delicately spun, complementary coda conclude this highly recommended track.

June 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bobby Selvaggio: Whirlwind

Bobby Selvaggio wanted to write a demanding tune that takes its cues from Wayne Shorter and his present-day quartet. Composing something like this is one thing, but performing it must have been another chore entirely. Fortunately for Selvaggio, the band was up to the task, and this recording of “Whirlwind” is their first take. The group collectively puts accents on beats at irregular spots, playing whack-a-mole all over the melody. Even when Selvaggio improvises, he somehow maintains the presence of mind to drop in those scattered pulses in the middle of some pretty involved soloing. If you listen closely enough, you can hear Werner simultaneously doing the same kind of multitasking. Despite the jagged rhythms, the harmony lands on its feet after every somersault.

Impish strains like this one are such a gas.

June 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Michael Dease: You Dig?

Recorded when he was just wrapping up his graduate music studies at Julliard, Michael Dease wastes no time establishing himself among the best of the young straight jazz trombonists. Dease can not only play at such a young age (24 at the time of this recording) but can compose with some deftness, too. “You Dig?” is a superb illustration of both of these talents. The intro on this hard bop tune has Dease making short phrases on his ‘bone and as each time he holds that last note, Bowers and Heredia provide a counterpoint. The main body of the song is hot blues and Dease shows off his unblemished sense of timing, meticulous cadence and sheer speed. Cassity, soon to cause a sensation of her own within the next year or two, finds the right notes and already displays the rare maturity to never overdo a lick. Lee’s trumpet swings and sizzles, and Bowers’ right hand traverses the ivories with vigor.

In sum, “You Dig?” is a blowing session with a nifty head. But this song excels in both areas, and those kinds of songs are always a treat for the ears.

June 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Fred Anderson: Wandering

The beauty of Dave Holland’s gently pastoral “Conference of the Birds” comes in part from its placement in the middle of an album otherwise teeming with turbulent free jazz. It’s the breathtaking fury of the storm that makes one appreciate the calm that inevitably follows all the more.

Fred Anderson’s often-explosive Staying In the Game album works much the same way. Four songs into this collection of a half-dozen tracks comes the serene and tonal “Wandering.” The intro of just Anderson’s sax grounded by Bankhead’s thumb piano amounts to a personal, agreeable conversation between the two. When Bankhead mans his bass, he is assuming a guitarist role just as much as a bassist’s, strumming nearly full chords to fully set the harmony, so that Anderson is free to improvise within the broad parameters his bassist set for him. Anderson makes effortless statements of varying lengths, always listening closely to what Bankhead is doing, while Daisy colors the proceedings with cymbal shadings and various, low-key percussion.

“Wandering” is Anderson’s calm before and after the storm. Enjoy the respite while you can.

June 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Warren Smith: One More Lick For Harold Vick

Warren Smith wrote this composition as a paean to the great flinty-toned tenorist, Harold Vick. Smith never recorded with Vick, as far as I know, but considered him a “dear friend,” and deeply respected him as a both a sax player and bandleader.

The song begins with a resplendent intro of suspended, ascending chords that quickly culminates into raucous swing. It’s not apparent who out of Smith and Haber are playing the drums and who is manning the vibes, but the hard-charging drums are setting the tone for the entire band. Stewart’s tenor sax solos with the gusto of the song’s namesake, as does Yates with his alto.

The pretty theme is revisited at periodic intervals, softening out the hard edges of the tune, perhaps symbolic of Vick’s own soft side. Regardless of whether that was intended or not, Vick would have surely been pleased at the tribute. Perhaps even more pleased than at Sonny Rollins’ funky “Did You See Harold Vick?” from about ten years earlier.

June 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Brian Woodruff: Chorale

Drummer/composer Brian Woodruff has written a beautiful piece here that seems like it could have been written in an earlier lifetime. The main theme has a striking & spare introduction via the Jacob Varmus' cornet and the simple bass lines of Matt Clohesy. Woodruff adds another layer by then bringing in trombone. This duet lineup absolutely shines. Ah, but then we take a slight detour into jazzland as Woodruff begins to paint out the rhythm on his kit as guitarist Nate Radley takes an expansive solo. The horns, now aided by Lisa Parrott's alto, come in on the next chorus. It's an emotional moment, one that's repeated with even more intensity at the end when it's the horns that are left alone to make the final statement. Somehow, 'beautiful' doesn't quite describe it.

June 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mike Arroyo: Recuerdos de Humacao

Apparently, the idea that taking a chance can prove to be inspirational has merit beyond badly-produced movies and self-help books. Here is guitarist Mike Arroyo, who a few years ago quit his job of 22 years to become a full-time musician and pastor of a church. A leap of faith indeed.

The results are more than inspiring. Arroyo, paired here with Puerto Rican guitar master Maximo Torres, sounds at home. The two men take turns in solo vs. comping roles, the transitions continuing the melodic development so smoothly that there were a couple of times that I'd forgotten two guitars were sharing the space. I don't know anything about Mike Arroyo as field service engineer, but after hearing him in this context, I'd say he's found his calling.

June 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Larry Slezak: No Worries

This song's title is absolutely perfect as I'm not sure it would have been possible to come up with a more perfect synopsis of the music. The secret weapon here is the B3 of Jose-Miguel Yamal. He swings, slinks and grooves nonstop, giving extra shine to the solos. I'm a sucker for guitar so I totally dug Clayton Dyess' solo flight. It was then trumpter Dennis Dotson's turn to burn, and that he did. Even so, it's leader Slezak who really takes off on the tenor. Not to be outdone, the secret weapon himself then has a go at it on the B3. It's a pure joy to hear. In a live setting, I can just imagine that tradin' fours mayhem that might ensue between these guys. Great stuff.

June 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Iris Ornig: It's Time To Say Goodbye

My introduction to the world of jazz bass didn't come in the usual manner, that being by way of Jaco Pastorius or Stanley Clarke. That's the way most rock kids get their first taste. It's 'legit' because the music is still loud and energetic. Me, I didn't get those guys back then. Their technical flair was too much for my young ears to grab onto. I just wasn't ready. Blame it on my daily listening habits, full of equal doses of Ted Nugent and Black Sabbath.

No, the first jazz record that caught my ear as far as bass playing goes was Eberhard Weber's Fluid Rustle. It was the wide open spaces of the ECM sound that allowed me to hear the dynamics and melodies driven by Weber's instrument.

Iris Ornig has brought me back to those days. The gorgeously romantic “It's Time To Say Goodbye” is indeed lifted by Ornig's melodic bass work. What's more, the composition leaves a lot of space for trumpeter Yoshiro Okazaki, whose bluesy phrasing conjures both Freddie Hubbard and Tom Harrell. Both Ornig and guitarist Daisuke Abe do a fine job comping for Okazaki, making melody the tune's focus. Even when Abe and Ornig take solos, they're compact and serve to extend the story being told.

June 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bobby Broom: Ask Me Now

I enjoy the cover, with its playful reference to a classic Monk LP. But the music is the real treat here. Bobby Broom has played on some big stages in his career, yet he also knows how to create an intimate sound—imagine a trio of world class musicians strolling into your apartment and playing so under-the-radar that the neighbors on four sides and super don't even get a whiff of what's going down. This is one of those types of performances. The joy here is in the sweet little things: the attack of the comping chords, the sly shaping of the phrases, and the pop of the unexpected notes (the way Monk would've done if he'd plucked the six strings). Broom shows again that he is one of the most musical guitarists of our times, a player who can improvise what he hears and not just what his fingers have learned by rote. There are plenty of Monk tribute CDs on the market, but you should make room in your little red shopping cart for this release.

June 16, 2009 · 2 comments

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Jakob Dinesen: Come Sunday

Jakob Dinesen is one of Denmark’s shining young jazz stars, a tenor saxophonist with a playful, bouncy style that balances hard-swinging, quick rhythmic twists a la Joe Henderson and ever-unfolding, classical-leaning passages a la Joe Lovano. On Dino, Dinesen returns to the studio with Anders Christensen and Paul Motian, the same rhythm section he used on his previous Around (1999). While Around also featured guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, this new release is strictly a trio outing, and may indeed overtake Around as his career best. While there are many fine Dinesen compositions throughout, the disc’s opening nod to Ellington is a highlight. The unhurried, loping style of jazz heard here can really only be pulled off with Paul Motian at the helm. I imagine Motian sitting there behind his drums, unassumingly yet certainly aware that his pulsating twists and turns, instinctively placed both in and out of time, freed Dinesen as never before to play so comfortably and sound so good.

June 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Brad Shepik: The Water's Thirst

Brad Shepik is an underrated artist in the truest sense of the word. In the jazz scene, where it seems like 99% of all jazz musicians can and will be labeled as “underrated” at one time or another, Shepik’s impressive resume and prodigious skills somehow sneak under the radar in even the most investigative of jazz circles. A glimpse into his musical world reveals one of the more fascinatingly conceived discographies in recent years.

A Seattle native who settled in New York to receive his Master’s Degree in Jazz Performance/Composition from New York University, Shepik has performed with Joey Baron, Dave Douglas, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, and Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band, the latter of which he toured with for upwards of five years. He also maintains a healthy teaching schedule at New York University and the New England Conservatory, among others, and has released five albums as a leader.

On The Loan, Shepik’s first recording as a leader in 1997, the guitarist reveals his true musical passion – combining the jazz tradition with his knowledge of world music styles and mastery of many stringed instruments. Alongside bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen (of both Sex Mob and Bill Frisell Trio fame), Shepik presents loose, folksy jazz that rarely really swings and often features more acoustic guitar than electric, as evidenced on “The Water’s Thirst.” This tune’s easy sax/guitar melody slowly and beautifully unfolds with percussion layers, harmonic textures, and mini-stringed arrangements weaving in and out of each other. A striking track and record, from one of the few guitarists who shares many of Frisell’s aesthetic choices but offers an truly original take on this brand of world-music infused jazz.

June 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gigi Gryce: Minority

A considerable talent as a composer and altoist, Gigi Gryce produced a largely unnoticed discography that, although all recorded in a relatively short period throughout the 1950s, highlights some legit hard-bop gems. After touring with Lionel Hampton and freelancing with Clifford Brown, Thelonious Monk, and Max Roach in the early to mid ‘50s, Gryce landed two long-standing, largely concurrent gigs from 1955-1958 as a member of Oscar Pettiford’s working band and as a leader of the Jazz Lab Quintet, which (usually) featured trumpeter Donald Byrd and drummer Art Taylor. Until a recent three-disc release of The Complete Jazz Lab sessions, this recording was the go-to Jazz Lab set, featuring sharp alto work from Gryce. Of special note on this version of the Gryce-penned standard, “Minority,” is Byrd’s compact, efficient, melodic solo (he would soon begin stretching out far more than he is here) and Art Taylor’s interesting propulsion on beat four throughout some of the soloing

June 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bobby Hutcherson: Idle While

Although Bobby Hutcherson's earlier date, The Kicker, has since been released on CD, Dialogue, at the time of original release in 1965, was Bobby Hutcherson’s first album as a leader. Recorded shortly after Eric Dolphy’s seminal Out to Lunch date, on which Hutcherson performed, Dialogue is a prime example of the mid ‘60s stylistic transformation from strictly swinging hard bop to free-leaning-yet-still-grooving post bop. While Hutcherson would reveal handfuls of fine compositions on future albums, it’s pianist Hill and drummer Chambers who contribute all of the compositions to this date.

On the Chambers-composed waltz, “Idle While,” it’s the musicians’ careful attention to mood and atmosphere that reveals this album’s ultimate significance. Hubbard delivers an improvisation that doesn’t necessarily compete with his best work – but it importantly balances the form of this boundary-pushing modern waltz with a bop classicism that ties together the progress of the present and the vocabulary of the past. Check out Hill and Hutcherson swapping opportunities to provoke Hubbard with unpredicted harmonic twists. Richard Davis delivers a brief yet excellent solo here, and more importantly, always seems to possess a creative solution to maintaining cohesion no matter how far out any player goes over any arrangement, making him an unsung hero in the development of free(er) bebop and hard-bop.

June 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Tethered Moon: Trouble Man

Masabumi Kikuchi enlisted Gary Peacock and Paul Motian, the bass-drums tandem formerly of Paul Bley’s expansive piano trio from the 1960s, for Tethered Moon, an under-the-radar trio that has released a handful of consistently beautiful records for the Winter and Winter label. While their first two records from 1990-91 feature a collection of varied standards and original compositions, Tethered Moon have also released three concept/tribute recordings – one to French pop singer Edith Piaf (Chansons de Edith Piaf), a series of challenging improvised adaptations of Puccini’s Tosca (Experiencing Tosca), and this 1994 session dedicated to interpreting the songs of Kurt Weill. While a few of the better-known Weill tunes are finely played here (“Moritat,” “Speak Low,” “My Ship”), “Trouble Man’s” carefully paced, dramatically unfolding delivery reveals the session’s highlight. This is contemplative jazz of the highest order – no notes are taken for granted or played without purpose, and the changes and/or tempo can temporarily melt away without ever sacrificing the commitment to an underlying pulse and the ever-present melody.

June 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Raney: Move It

After the first of two stints with Stan Getz in 1951-52, clean, crisp swing/bop guitarist Jimmy Raney recorded his first handful of albums as a leader in the mid 1950s – including Five (1954) and Indian Summer (1956). By the mid 1960s, Raney’s bout with alcoholism forced him into a decade-long hiatus during which time he relocated back to his childhood home of Louisville, Kentucky. A real shame this was, since this piano-less quintet date featuring Jim Hall, recorded shortly before that hiatus, far exceeds the quality of his earlier leader dates and reveals a career highlight.

A gentle Steve Swallow and a stationary Osie Johnson leave Raney and Hall in the spotlight throughout “Move It,” an up-tempo swinger near the end of the record. Hall is surprisingly active – one might even say aggressive – during sections of Raney’s improvisation here. But because there’s a stable rhythm section and no piano, it’s the open interaction between the complete-line comping from Hall and the western-swing infused bop runs from Raney that makes this track more than a worthwhile listen.

June 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mal Waldron: Rat Now

Free at Last marks the very first release from the ECM label, and “Rat Now,” the album’s opening track, will therefore forever be documented as the first ten minutes of ECM music. Waldron was in the post-breakdown/recovery/European relocation portion of his career, and his minimalist playing here, unsurprisingly, is dark and dense. While it may lack the feverish spark of his early Prestige dates or his audacious interpretation of Monk’s catalog with Steve Lacy, this track is especially enhanced by Waldron’s intense, freewheeling commitment to challenging his listeners with his meandering keyboard investigations. Waldron performed with his friend John Coltrane on numerous occasions in the latter1950s, and this trio date has a definite Tyner/Garrison/Jones feeling throughout – complete with a slow swell of barline-blurring fills with a constant six-over-four feeling. While the usual Tyner-esque rousing conclusion we’re used to never really happens here, Waldron’s horde of compelling ideas along the way should leave the listener plenty satisfied.

June 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Hank Mobley: No Room For Squares

No Room for Squares is comprised of two ’63 sessions that both feature the definitive hard-bop styling of Hank Mobley and Philly Joe Jones. The first date finds the two working with bassist Butch Warren, trumpeter Donald Byrd and pianist Herbie Hancock – sensible pairings due to Mobley’s appearance on Byrd’s A New Perspective and Hancock’s My Point of View around the same time as the earlier March date. Six months later, on October 2nd, John Ore, Lee Morgan, and Andrew Hill replaced Warren, Byrd, and Hancock, and while the whole album is a worthwhile listen, there’s a particular spark on the tracks from the second session, highlighted by this title track.

Mobley’s brief opening solo is filled with quick bursts rather than extended lines, yielding a roving, investigational statement. Lee Morgan’s high-risk, high-reward storytelling on “No Room for Squares” is trumpet solo construction of the very highest order – the highlight of the track if not the entire album. Andrew Hill intriguingly dials it back here and delivers simple, dark Tyner-with-a-twist harmonic clusters until he explodes into a super-motivic solo. Listening to Hill and Hancock back-to-back makes for a pretty fascinating study in two players who share similar harmonic proclivities but execute their ideas with quite different rhythmic outputs. Finalized by Jones’ thunderous bombs while trading fours with the rest of the band, this track presents hard-bop highlights at every angle.

June 16, 2009 · 1 comment

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Jaco Pastorius: Come On, Come Over

This is the only song off of Jaco Pastorius to feature vocals and like all of the other guest spots on the album, the bassist hired more legendary musicians to fill the spots. R&B duo Sam and Dave sing the vocal on this tune. Although this is not the most dense of songs, it marks one of the first times that Pastorius used an extended brass and reed section, which he would later employ with the Word of Mouth band. His horn section is also chalked full of some of the best players to ever have played jazz music.

Pastorius had a strong affinity for funk music and that influence is highly audible on this song. Herbie Hancock really brings the entire groove together with this wah-wah clavinet chord pattern. I really like the arrangements for the horn section and I think that Sam and Dave would have benefited nicely from an entire album with this band. Another classic song from a classic album!

June 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jaco Pastorius: Opus Pocus

Jaco Pastorius composed a hypnotic groove for this song, complete with steel drums, an instrument which he also played some. Othello Molineaux, who performed with Pastorius on numerous occasions, starts this song off with some help from Leroy Williams who also plays steel drum. Wayne Shorter enters next with a soprano sax line that sounds just as funky and deranged as the bass line. But the best part of the song ensues as Pastorius busts into a head nodding bass line and Shorter follows suit with one of my favorite solos he's ever recorded. He effortlessly cascades up and down the register of the instrument with perfect intonation and control.

The song ends with a nice little section where the steel drums play a syncopated figure underneath Shorter's improvisations, which are further enhanced by Jaco's bass thumps and harmonic shape movements up and down the neck of the bass. This is one of the funkiest songs my ears have ever heard and I would beg anyone to disagree with me.

June 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jaco Pastorius: (Used to be a) Cha-Cha

I think it might be safe to say that Jaco Pastorius turned jazz music on its collective head with the release of his debut solo album. Enlisting the help of jazz legends Herbie Hancock, Hubert Laws, Lenny White, and Don Alias, they take "(Used to be a) Cha-Cha" all the way to the bank and then some. The song starts off as Pastorius plays a blistering bass line over Lenny White's perfectly executed jazz-Latin beat. The entire band gels on this song and Hancock lays down nasty piano comps behind Jaco's solo. This solo pushes the boundaries and the possibilities of the electric bass and I can only imagine how many legions of fans and devotees have memorized it note for note.

Not to be outdone, Hubert Laws and Hancock both lay down their own solos which drive the song home before Laws restates the melody. This is a genius song and in my opinion the strongest cut from an album chalked full of monstrous music.

June 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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3Play+: Bulletrain

I've been operating under the assumption that Bill Frisell was the head of the Jazz/Americana Intersection Association. While that idea still might hold sway, I was also fairly sure that Bill was the only person present at the meetings. Just imagine a guy sitting there in a metal folding chair, electric guitar plugged into a huge rack of effects. He starts out playing a slow, mournful take on "Goodnight Irene," which is slowly dissected and turned inside out, becoming something that Albert Ayler might have done if he'd traded his horn for a guitar and a pile of silicon.

Well, if this illusion holds, then 3Play+ have been hanging out in the coat closet during those meetings, too shy to come out and say "Hello." One thing is certain, they have been listening.

"Bulletrain" does not start from the obvious and play tricks with it. Instead, abstractions float around looking for cohesion: a guitar scrape here, a cymbal wash there, a horn poot above, a bass blurt below (I hate that I just typed that). This collection of random ambience does indeed pull in, slowly drawing the moans together into a kind of avant meditation. About a third of the way in, momentum begins to build and fragments of sound — piano, bowed bass, guitar, trumpet — fly off in all directions. Grenadier is flitting around madly as Goodrick comps under him.

With about nine minutes to go (we're talking over 20 minutes in total here), something amazing happens. The formerly "out there" piece of music transforms itself into a slinky and dirgy little blues. You might think that this would feel awkward but my ears disagree. There's just enough tension in the blues to make it seem like a musical commentary on the first half of the piece. Mick Goodrick's guitar begins the re-transformation process with about two minutes to go, and just when you think the blues is going to head back to splatteration, the intensity dials back, leaving just the right amount of unresolved tension.

I wonder if Bill knows those guys are in his closet?

June 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Grant Geissman (with Chick Corea & Chuck Mangione): Chuck and Chick

Bad timing for this release . . . During the last 15 months, more than half of the smooth jazz radio stations in the US have disappeared. And I wonder how many fans of straight-ahead jazz will even give this disk a listen, despite the allstar cast. Geissman put together a number of interesting combos for his Cool Man Cool CD, but this may be the best. Mixing acoustic guitar with a high power rhythm section is not always a smart idea, but Geissman bobs and floats above the fray—although a lot of credit goes to the engineer who adeptly captured the sound balance. Mangione will never get respect from jazz insiders, who will always steam over the fact that he out-sold Freddie, Woody and a bunch of other hard-boppish and avant-garde-ish players several decades ago. But his tone on flugelhorn is lovely, and even when his improvisations might look commonplace if sketched out on staff paper, they have some emotional bite when he delivers them on the horn. Chick Corea also gets high marks for his sweet and succinct solo. But the most interesting thing here is the tune, which Geissman wrote, yet sounds like what a jazzy computer would produce if programmed to combine the distinctive trademarks of Corea and Mangione in a single chart. It's downright uncanny how closely the guitarist captures the spirit of his two "name" guest artists" on this composition.

June 15, 2009 · 1 comment

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Weather Report: Harlequin

This album marked the second appearance on a Weather Report release for Jaco Pastorius, his first being Black Market. This is the first release where the bass chair was entirely in his possession though. Call it irony or coincidence but Pastorius's first appearance as the main bassist was also Weather Report's most successful album, featuring the hit song "Birdland," which would go on to become a hit for other groups like Manhattan Transfer.

"Harlequin" on the other hand is a nice little number written by Wayne Shorter, featuring the undeniable pocket groove of Pastorius who plays very subtle but effective notes, aiding this song with its mellow feel. Joe Zawinul plays his usual effect-driven Fender Rhodes but he also works in some nice blues lines on the piano. On this tune, Weather Report prove to the rest of the playing field why they were the greatest fusion band ever formed. I know that might be up for debate but Weather Report had all of the right elements and their releases up until the 1980s were always consistent, especially Heavy Weather .

June 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Joni Mitchell: Free Man In Paris

I remember the first time that my friend turned me on to Joni Mitchell and the further I explored I realized that she had a knack for picking excellent band members. This live release encapsulates that ability. Recorded during her 1979 tour for the Mingus album, Jaco Pastorius was once again mixing it up with Mitchell driving her songs with his signature bass thumps. Jaco's bass line on this song gives the tune a new lease on life. Written about a trip she took with David Geffen to Paris in the early 1970s, this song originally appeared on the songstress's 1974 album Court and Spark , but this version receives the royal funk-jazz treatment and is nothing short of phenomenal.

Although he's not featured as prominently in the solo capacity on this tune, Pastorius shows us why he was one of the greatest musicians to ever touch the electric bass. His pocket is absolutely solid on this song. It's a shame that he didn't live longer but the world will forever live through the wonderful music he gave us. Score one for team Pastorius!

June 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bill Banfield: Spring Forward

Bill Banfield is an educator, composer and guitarist hailing from Detroit. His playing is strongly influenced by his idol Wes Montgomery and early period George Benson. Presently on the teaching staff of the Berklee School of Music, he espouses a dedication to music for music’s sake unbounded by commercial considerations. His music is listener-friendly and can be seen as an attempt to bring “smooth jazz” listeners gently into the fold of more challenging fare.

On his self-penned “Spring Forward,” he combines quick-paced, mellow single line notes with Montgomery-like octave-orientated flourishes. Playing over an infectious rhythm, Banfield employs the St. Paul based group Zeitgeist and creates a pleasing and texturally rich banquet of sounds. There is no demonstration of blinding technique— instead his playing is a blues-infused flow of ideas. There is a pleasant organic feel to his sound especially when paired with Zeitgeist’s vibes, xylophone and soprano saxophone. Banfield has created a hybrid that can be enjoyed by a more general audience without disappointing his more demanding listeners.

June 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Denny Zeitlin: Solo Voyage (Suite)

For a decade (1968-1978), pianist Denny Zeitlin extensively explored the world of synthesizers and electric keyboards. This resulted in two ambitious "fusion" albums (Expansion and Syzygy for the 1750 Arch label) and culminated in his electric/acoustic/orchestral score for the remake of the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers. After 1978, he refocused his concentration on the piano.

In this suite, originally put together to comfort a dying friend, Zeitlin combined original material, free improvisations, and three standards ("In Your Own Sweet Way," "I Should Care," and "Lament"). "Solo Voyage"--played on both piano and synthesizer--is an effective and affecting work that makes a strong case for creative eclecticism. At least, when it's executed with the taste and sensitivity exhibited here.

June 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Denny Zeitlin: The Night Has 1000/10,000 Eyes

This recording by Denny Zeitlin’s current trio has “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” at its core. However, Zeitlin has extensively augmented the structure with open vamps (including one in 7/4 time) and an entended section of free improvisation. As Zeitlin explains: [It] typifies the way this trio can function as a single organism, patiently and collaboratively developing and working with brand new material in a compositional way. The result is as musical and inventive as one would expect of musicians of this caliber. ’Nuff said.

June 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Denny Zeitlin: They Can't Take That Away From Me

This album marks Denny Zeitlin's first time playing with Buster Williams (b. 1942) and Al Foster (b. 1944). The results were so fruitful that Williams in particular has continued to work with Zeitlin for more than a decade.

Zeitlin's approach to standards typically involves reharmonization, and such is the case here. His interpretation of this Gershwin evergreen, though, goes beyond that. After playing the theme with Zeitlin, Williams and Foster lay out while the pianist plays a chorus that makes fleeting references to both stride and Art Tatum. The tempo then doubles, and the three leap into a double-time improvisation worthy of Bud Powell at his best.

All of this is done without a trace of pastiche. Zeitlin has always been an eclectic, and that quality has been borne out most of all in his approach to repertoire. Here he gives us a welcome insight into his pianistic roots.

June 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Denny Zeitlin: Broadway Blues

Denny Zeitlin has long had an affinity for the music of Ornette Coleman, and he is one of several pianists (others including Paul Bley, Walter Norris, Keith Jarrett, Joachim Kuhn, and Geri Allen) who have best assimilated Coleman’s musical language. He has recorded several Coleman works, including “Lonely Woman,” “Bird Food,” and “Turnaround”.

Zeitlin and bassist David Friesen (b. 1942) collaborated productively for over a decade, and this blistering version of Coleman’s “Broadway Blues” shows the duo at their best. The piece is a blues in intent rather than conventional twelve-bar form (in Coleman’s typically idiosyncratic fashion). Zeitlin and Friesen take the theme apart and explore it from a variety of angles— in effect, deconstructing Coleman’s deconstruction.

June 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Denny Zeitlin and Charlie Haden: Ellen David

If Denny Zeitlin and Charlie Haden had played at Bradley’s, the well-remembered Greenwich Village haven for piano/bass duos, this is how they would have sounded. As is, this album memorably documents a reunion of Zeitlin and Haden for a week at San Francisco’s likewise well-remembered Keystone Korner.

“Ellen David” is Haden’s simple sixteen-bar ballad (with a coda at the end), a sort of latter-day “My Ideal”. The duo’s performance is appropriately spare, but it’s so well grounded that every beat has meaning. As the late bassist Red Mitchell aptly put it, “Simple isn’t easy.”

June 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Denny Zeitlin: Dormammu

Denny Zeitlin’s 1964-1966 trio with Charlie Haden and Jerry Granelli was followed by one of similar duration with Joe Halpin and Oliver Johnson (1944-2002). Though relatively obscure, Halpin and Johnson were no less capable than their predecessors, and this trio (documented on half of Zeitlin’s Zeitgeist album, as well as on previously unreleased selections in the Mosaic Select set) produced some memorable music.

As described in Phil Elwood’s original Zeitgeist liner notes, The title refers to a legendary ruler of other dimensions, a man of great mysterious powers in a comic book series. Such exoticism is reflected in Zeitlin’s composition, an up-tempo, stop-and-start piece that evolves into a churning free improvisation. (Johnson’s ability to play both structured and free music served him well after he moved to Europe and became soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy’s long-time drummer. The little-known Halpin died in the late 1960s.)

June 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Denny Zeitlin: Mirage

If proof be needed that Denny Zeitlin is a significant jazz composer, look no further than this seventeen-minute epic. It’s the centerpiece of Zeitgeist, the pianist’s fourth and last album for Columbia. Zeitlin’s studies with composer George Russell no doubt influenced him, though “Mirage” sounds nothing like Russell and everything like Zeitlin.

As befits the title, “Mirage” is subtle and atmospheric; it contains two themes, the first of which is complex and polymetric. As demanding as the piece is on the trio’s skills as ensemble players, it’s also a showcase for each as soloists: there are free sections that in turn spotlight the gifts of each player. The best jazz composers (e.g., Ellington, Mingus, Russell) have written for the strengths of their musicians, and Zeitlin follows brilliantly in that tradition.

One wishes that Zeitlin would resurrect and further explore “Mirage,” though it’s difficult to imagine a better performance than this recording.

June 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Denny Zeitlin: Quiet Now

In Herb Wong's original liner notes for Shining Hour, Charlie Haden was quoted as saying that "Quiet Now" was one of the most beautiful ballads he had ever heard. It's Denny Zeitlin's best-known and most-covered composition; pianist Bill Evans alone recorded it at least nine times. Zeitlin has recorded it four times - never better than here.

This nine-minute rendition is only three choruses long; it's slow and meditative. Zeitlin begins alone, joined gently by Haden and then Granelli. The second chorus belongs entirely to Zeitlin, and in the third Haden and Granelli return to build with Zeitlin to a moving climax. Those who treasure the "vibe" of Bill Evans' immortal Sunday at the Village Vanguard album will especially appreciate this one.

The Mosaic Select reissue of Zeitlin's Columbia recordings doesn't include this album (his third for that label), so for the moment it's available only as a Japanese import. Mosaic promises to rectify this situation - here's hoping they do it soon.

June 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Denny Zeitlin: All The Things You Are

After Denny Zeitlin moved to San Francisco in 1964, he formed a working trio with Charlie Haden (b. 1937) and Jerry Granelli (b. 1940) that lasted for two years. Their first album was Carnival, and as remarkable as Zeitlin’s freshman Cathexis album was, his second was a definite step forward. Among its numerous high points was this unique treatment of an oft-performed standard. The “hook” of Zeitlin’s arrangement is the song’s bridge, or middle section—it’s played in waltz time, except for the final two measures, and repeated over and over to build tension before returning to the final A section.

The trio’s execution of this—at times delicate, at other times soaring—is sublime; this is one of the quintessential jazz recordings of “All the Things You Are”. Zeitlin rerecorded his arrangement in the late 1980s with bassist Joel DiBartolo and drummer Peter Donald (Denny Zeitlin Trio Windham Hill Jazz 112), but this slower version is definitive.

June 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Denny Zeitlin: Stonehenge

This modal burner deserves to be more widely performed. One reason it isn’t probably has to do with a complex polyrhythmic interlude that requires an authoritative lead sheet to be executed properly. Since Denny Zeitlin’s own lead sheet isn’t commercially available (I have a copy, and trust me, it’s not music you’d want to transcribe), that leaves the piece in limbo.

From a listener’s standpoint, though, this is a compelling performance, and one of Zeitlin’s earliest indications of his gifts as a composer. It has McCoy Tyner-esque sturm und drang, but Zeitlin’s vocabulary is quite different and gives his improvisation a character of its own. The climax is Freddie Waits’ solo over a roaring vamp by Zeitlin and Cecil McBee.

The title refers to the well-known Bronze Age burial ground in Wiltshire, England. As Zeitlin was quoted in Nat Hentoff’s liner notes: I had seen pictures of these tremendous rocks elevated by some unknown means, and the impression led to a certain ritual quality in the piece—including the rise and fall of frenzy.

June 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Denny Zeitlin: 'Round Midnight

For Cathexis, his first of four albums for Columbia, Denny Zeitlin chose the rhythm team of Cecil McBee (b. 1935) and Freddie Waits (1943-1989), two young Detroiters then working with saxophonist Paul Winter. The pair worked well with Zeitlin and conceptually were capable of going in all of the directions the pianist wanted to explore.

This version of Thelonious Monk’s best-known composition ranks among the best interpretations of it. Zeitlin’s already-distinctive voicings and flair for reharmonization serve Monk’s moody piece well, and McBee’s brief solo further enhances it. The gifted pianist Marc Copland alerted me to this recording three decades ago, and it’s lost none of its allure since then.

June 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jeremy Steig (with Denny Zeitlin): So What

This was the debut recording of two precocious talents, Jeremy Steig (then 21) and Denny Zeitlin (then 25 and on the verge of completing Johns Hopkins Medical School). Producer John Hammond paired them with the seasoned Ben Tucker (b. 1930) and Ben Riley (b. 1933).

Flute Fever is an inspired ”blowing session” with a repertoire of standards and 1950s jazz classics. Steig’s personal spin on the Roland Kirk/Yusef Lateef school of jazz flute probably will not appeal to those who relish a pristine “classical” approach to the instrument, but on his own terms Steig is a more-than-convincing player. Zeitlin does ear-catching things on every selection, but his most forward-looking solo is on “So What”. The highlight of this track is a piano/drums duet perhaps inspired by John Coltrane and Elvin Jones—Coltrane was already one of Zeitlin’s varied influences.

Though briefly reissued on CD, Flute Fever is hard-to-find and a collector’s item. Here’s hoping that some label will make it available once again.

June 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Sonny Rollins & Coleman Hawkins (with Paul Bley): All the Things You Are

The piano solo on this song was my first introduction to Paul Bley's music. When I heard it for the first time (7 years ago or so), it basically changed my life. Many people have spoken about the originality and historical importance of this solo, analyzing it in detail and discussing its far-reaching influence; instead of trying to do something like that, I'll just talk briefly about what it has meant to me personally and why I love it so much.

Like many young musicians today, I came up through the jazz education system. I was a diligent student, so I had learned a fair amount of music theory and had a pretty solid understanding of which notes were "correct" for me to play on one chord progression or another. The three choruses that Bley plays here (sandwiched between a more traditional yet beautifully lyrical solo by Coleman Hawkins and a perhaps slightly self-conscious solo by Sonny Rollins) showed the limitation of those theoretical conceptions, and represented a radically different approach to improvisation, one not about right or wrong. It was a paradigm-shifting moment for me, one which caused me to reevaluate my musical priorities.

In this solo, Bley's melodies roam freely in and out of the written changes, each line unfolding in its own curious way, pursuing its own muse. Yet he’s not just playing “free”; even when he's not using the prescribed chord-scales, he always knows exactly where he is in the form of the song, and his ideas are incredibly coherent—sometimes motivic, sometimes gestural, sometimes playful, always imaginative. I find this solo to be one of the most strangely beautiful moments in the history of recorded jazz, so I really don't want to spoil it by attempting to use any more words to describe what he's doing here. Just listen.

June 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Paul Bley: Seven

A profoundly beautiful composition by Carla Bley, brought to life patiently and selflessly by Paul Bley, John Surman, Bill Frisell, and Paul Motian. Listening to this feels a bit like entering a slow-motion dreamworld where the laws of physical reality (such as gravity) are flexible and open to creative reinterpretation. Sublime. It reminds me of a quote by Charles Mingus: "Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity."

June 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Paul Bley: My Old Flame

Here's a charmingly romantic ballad from very early in Bley's career. His sense of timing here is incredible. If you listen carefully, you can discover one of the secrets behind his lyrical phrasing: he's singing along. I think that at heart he might really be a singer, and the piano is just the instrument through which he finds himself best able to sing.

June 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lambert, Hendricks and Ross: Blue

In their six years together (1957-1962), Lambert, Hendricks and Ross were best known for their vocalese/scat performances of classic jazz instrumentals, with Hendricks providing the hip lyrics and Lambert the intricate arrangements. Ross's powerful, infinitely flexible voice was the clincher, providing a depth and virtuosity that Hendricks' and Lambert's more than adequate but unexceptional voices could not by their nature provide. "Blue," written by L,H, & R's regular accompanying pianist Gildo Mahones, had no previous track record prior to the group's development and treatment of it, and thus did not get the kind of exposure and recognition that so many of their "hits" received. But what an exceptional showcase "Blue" was for the transcendent Annie Ross. (Released first on the 1961 album High Flying with Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, the track is now available on the compilation Everybody's Boppin'.)

Composer Mahones appears to play only the harpsichord throughout this piece. His ethereal intro perfectly sets the mood for Ross's serenely mournful vocal. "Each evening...comes a feeling, such a lonely feeling." Lambert and Hendricks harmonize compassionately in the lower register behind her, before joining Ross to sing the next batch of lyrics together, with a gentle resignation: "Blue and wrapped up in sorrow / Blue like there's no tomorrow." Ross concludes solo, skillfully modulating three times through the phrase "I'm blue." The melody is haunting, and thus it's no wonder that Hendricks chose to put into words the sensation it instills. "Blue" indeed, and a bit reminiscent of "Mood Indigo."

June 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Paul Bley: King Korn

Another masterpiece. An amazing composition and performance, with so much nervous energy and a curious kind of stop-and-go momentum. It seems to me that this group (with John Gilmore, Gary Peacock, and Paul Motian) may have strongly influenced Keith Jarrett when he put together his "American Quartet" seven years later. Things to listen for: Bley's urgent abstract-blues solo, the kinetic interaction between Peacock and Motion, and Gilmore's transcendental birdsong-like phrasing.

June 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Paul Bley: So Hard It Hurts

Here's a short solo piano track which feels a bit more jarring and urgent than some of the meditative solo work that Paul Bley is often more associated with. This brings to mind one of the most amazing things about Bley: he cannot be pigeonholed. He finds a way to discover something new each time he comes to the instrument, and he is therefore never a prisoner of habitual playing. On this track, he seems to be fascinated with the extreme low register of the piano, and his use of it is very effective.

June 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Paul Bley: The Archangel

Until recently, I hadn't been aware that Bley was one of the pioneers of the electronic synthesizer. Here's one of the recordings from the time when he was first exploring these other sounds. It's interesting to hear his musical choices when he is freed from the relatively quick decay of the piano, and suddenly has the ability to be lyrical in entirely new ways. Late in the track, he seems to metaphorically reference the title of the song (composed by the unique and uncategorizable Annette Peacock) by sending his synthesizer soaring into the uppermost frequencies, almost beyond the range of human hearing. I'm also a sucker for the tangible physicality of that old analog synth sound. Mmm...

June 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Paul Bley: Like Someone In Love

The intro here is gorgeous. I'm particularly enchanted by the descending chords 18 seconds in; it's one of those moments that I go back to again and again. It's insightful to hear him in this more straightahead context (with Charles Mingus and Art Blakey) earlier in his artistic trajectory. He was definitely using more of the bebop vocabulary at this point, but already in his own idiosyncratic way: check out the way he's using rhythmic displacement, especially during the first statement of the melody.

June 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Paul Bley: Cold Fusion

This is my favorite track from Bley's decidedly odd recording Synth Thesis," on which he plays both piano and synthesizer. Listen to how his piano playing echoes and counterbalances the weirdly detuned synth arpeggios. I think this is fantastic, full of the spirit of childhood and discovery that is so characteristic of his music. Also, it makes me giggle.

June 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Paul Bley: Floater

First of all, I'm completely addicted to this melody, even though it only lasts 20 seconds. I love the way the the same basic musical idea is used in three different registers of the piano, with slight variations. And the solo is just incredible. So much rhythmic and melodic freedom, so much possibility. So far ahead of its time.

June 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Sam Cooke: Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out

If not for his tragic death in 1964 at age 33, Cooke may well have given Berry Gordy's Motown a run for the money. Through his own record label, SAR/Derby, he was developing his skills as a producer, songwriter, talent scout, and arranger, with the goals of complete artistic and publishing control within his sight. Meanwhile, RCA Victor and his producers there, Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, were trying to broaden his appeal to include virtually anyone with two functioning ears. Blues, R & B, soul, jazz, pop, standards, teen anthems and more, the former gospel star with The Soul Stirrers was being spread thin, but due to his immense vocal talent was more than persevering.

"Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" originally appeared on Cooke's My Kind of Blues album, and conveys some of the infectious excitement that Joe Williams could similarly engender with Count Basie. The horns hearty intro gives way to Cooke's suave, knowing vocal, filled with a sprinkling of his characteristic brand of melismas, or "yodels." The orchestra's backing is effective but not overbearing, as Cooke interprets the lyrics with crystal clear enunciation and a sincere, committed perspective. The climactic section finds the trumpets coming to the fore with staccato outbursts, and Cooke now soaring to his full power. His final marvelous, throaty held note on the word "out" quivers and shakes incomparably. This version of a tune that Bessie Smith sang and popularized in the '20's could engage those who patronized black backroads juke joints, as well as the more cosmopolitan MOR supper club crowd. Such was Cooke's allure and magic.

June 12, 2009 · 2 comments

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Jimmy Giuffre 3: Brief Hesitation

Here's a beautiful song from clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre's quietly revolutionary 1961 record Fusion (reissued on ECM a few years ago) with Steve Swallow and Bley. The absence of drums makes for a unique sonic environment that fosters a kind of “chamber-jazz” aesthetic. There's really deep listening going on here; pay particular attention to the incredibly intuitive counterpoint between Bley and Giuffre. Beautiful, subtle music.

June 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Paul Bley: Line Down

An intensely dramatic piece from the quartet of Paul Bley, John Surman, Bill Frisell, and Paul Motian. The individual solos here are of great, of course, but what really has me in awe is the unbelievably synergistic group dynamic. Listen to the comping by Bley and Frisell during Surman's solos, as well as to the way that Motian's drumming propels and connects everything. There are also a number of times when no one person is soloing, and everyone is working together collectively to build tension instead. The ending is especially haunting; I get chills every single time I hear it.

June 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Paul Bley: Closer

A masterpiece. Bley starts by creating these crystalline sound structures which hang uncertainly in the air and gradually fade. Some might say that he's using a lot of space and silence, but it seems more precise to say that he's playing with duration and decay. Later in the track, a number of unexpected and beautiful things happen: a singing baritone melody emerges in the left hand; a shimmeringly watery interlude follows; then the rhythm slowly grows more insistent and is punctuated by some Henry Cowell-esque extended piano techniques; next, the bottom drops out and there is a disorienting passage where his left and right hands search for one another in the upper register; finally, the questioning melody from the beginning returns. To me, this is alchemy: improvisational solo piano music distilled to an essence.

June 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lillian Boutté: Embraceable You

Although one of the finest gospel, jazz, blues, and R & B singers to ever come out of New Orleans, the versatile Boutté is probably best known--outside of the Crescent City itself--in Great Britain and Europe. Early in her career Boutté was a back-up singer on various Allen Toussaint projects, then starred for four years with a touring company of the jazz-based musical One Mo' Time, after which she and her husband, German saxophonist Thomas l'Etienne, spent most of their time performing together overseas. However, in 1986 she was named "New Orleans Musical Ambassador," a title only previously bestowed on none other than Louis Armstrong. Boutté's appearances at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival have always been highly anticipated and rewarding.

Boutté's The Jazz Book CD focuses on her jazz-oriented singing style, and the ballad performance "Embraceable You" fully displays the polished, understated beauty of her voice and approach. Beginning with the piano intro so well known from Charlie Parker's classic 1947 version, Boutté then follows with her rich, controlled vibrato, singing the words with a reserved, appealing quaver that nearly turns this interpretation into a gospel paean, rather than a secular acknowledgment of love. Leroy Jones' commanding trumpet solo is patterned after Clifford Brown, exhibiting a similar well-rounded, glowing tone, lyricism, and precise phrasing. His obbligatos enhance Boutté's spiritual reprise, as does pianist Edward Frank's deliberate, unassuming chord placements. Lloyd Lambert and Sřren Frost add greatly to the success of this track with their sensitive--and clearly recorded--rhythmic support.

June 12, 2009 · 1 comment

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Wessell Anderson: African Cowboy

Anderson was a key member of the Wynton Marsalis Septet in the late '80s and early '90s, and he then played an integral role in Marsalis' Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra for about 10 years. His noteworthy Live at the Village Vanguard CD, his last in the '90's, should have led to many more this decade, but was only followed by new ones as a leader in 2006 (Space) and 2009 (Warm it up, Warmdaddy!). Although he studied with Alvin Batiste in Louisiana, and his fat, vocalized sound and Marsalis association might lead you to believe he's from the trumpeter's home state, Anderson was actually born and raised in New York City.

The track "African Cowboy" shows the uninitiated exactly what Anderson is all about, and why he's called "Warmdaddy." A cowpoke/square dance introductory refrain is played by pianist Xavier Davis, with Jaz Sawyer's sympathetic galloping rhythm. The train-whistle-derived theme is handled almost tongue-in-cheek by Anderson's alto and New Orleanian Irwin Mayfield's wah-wah trumpet. Anderson's solo is typically linear, inventively and tirelessly rearranging and altering the melodic content with an irresistible urgency. His clever riffs and variety of wailing tonal inflections make for a heady mix, and his tumbling, headlong runs only add to the excitement. Think Cannonball Adderley at his most inspired and playful, with an extra dose of near-maniacal glee. The concluding tag by the two horns, after they revisit the theme, is joyfully appropriate and crowd-pleasing.

June 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ray Anderson: The Literary Lizard

It's fitting that the rambunctious and irrepressible trombonist Ray Anderson has recorded with both the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band and Pierre Dřrge's New Jungle Orchestra. Only big bands of that adventurous nature--think also Carla Bley's Big Band and the Vienna Art Orchestra--could allow him free rein and thus properly utilize his immense talent. Big Band Record consists of nine Anderson originals performed by the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band, including Anderson himself. The wacky tune "The Literary Lizard" had appeared on Gruntz's 1992 Beyond Another Wall: Live in China CD, with Anderson and Lew Soloff squaring off improvisationally. (The composition also is heard on Anderson's 1989 small group What Because, but with the title "Alligatory Crocodile.")

The 1994 version of "The Literary Lizard" expands on all the whimsical funkiness inherent in its swaying, boisterous theme, with a blending of horns--whether in unison or contrapuntally--that is both rich and joyful. After Gruntz's somewhat honky-tonk piano solo, and an edgy, piercing improv from altoist Giorgianni, Anderson and Soloff reunite in a frenzied dialogue that often makes it impossible to separate the two, except when Soloff reaches for the stratosphere and Anderson slides to the murky depths. Anderson then takes over and displays his amazing combination of technical command and fertile imagination both tonally and in his phraseology

June 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Stefon Harris: Sacred Forest

This tune is one of several short but nice percussion heavy songs as "Sacred Forest" features Harris rocking the marimbas the way it's supposed to be done. This song opens up with a funky bass line by Dwayne Burno as the percussion enters. I really enjoy Harris's ability at throwing in different influences into his music and this cut is no exception. I think his debut album was one of the strongest releases period during the 1990s from any jazz musician. I say this for several reasons; the first being that he embraces many different genres of music and manages to successfully blend them with jazz flavors and secondly he effortlessly switches between marimba and vibraphone, exhibiting a strong grasp for both instruments. Harris has shown that he is one of the strongest voices in jazz music in recent years and his debut album is a strong testament to that statement.

June 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Stefon Harris: One String Blues

On his debut album, Stefon Harris emerged as one of the most interesting voices in jazz music. He approaches composition from a very non-traditional standpoint, as heard on the Indian inspired "One String Blues." This album is chalked full of songs that draw on different influences but this one finds Harris playing a light blues scale over a percussion driven beat. Although the song is short, very short, it is a nice example of Harris's willingness as a composer to push the envelope. I would have like to have heard a more extended version of this song but it still gets the job done. Harris was only twenty-four when he recorded this album, man, only twenty-four!

June 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Henry Threadgill's Zooid: Tickled Pink

Zooid is Henry Threadgill's string-heavy group, comprising acoustic guitar, oud, cello, and drums, with tuba holding down the bass and Threadgill's alto sax and flute on top. The sound of "Tickled Pink" is an interesting composite—part classical, part bluegrass, part Afrobeat, part New Orleans-style funk. Threadgill's distinctive, slightly subversive way with harmony is ever present. He's one of the most Blindfold Test-friendly modern jazz composers—very easy to pick out of a musical lineup. The members of Zooid are well-chosen. On oud, Tarik Benbrahim plays with a funky, delightfully twisted lilt; his lines intertwine cunningly with those of guitarist Liberty Ellman, who brings his own wiry, peculiarly iconoclastic improvisational voice to the mix. Drummer Dafnis Prieto is consummately funky; cellist Dana Leong is an able melodist, and tubaist Jose Davila nails the grooves in a somewhat messy but effective way. Threadgill plays flute with a big fat sound and big fat ideas. A big part of Threadgill's appeal as a composer has always been his unusual choices of instrumentation. Seldom have those choices been less orthodox than this, to superb ends.

June 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ahmed Abdullah's Dispersions of the Spirit of Ra: We Travel the Spaceways

Trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah is as qualified as any musician living to produce a tribute to Sun Ra, having recorded some 25 times with Ra's Arkestra. "We Travel the Spaceways" was, according to Abdullah in the liner notes accompanying this album, the title of the first Ra album Abdullah ever heard, in 1966. In reimagining the composition, Abdullah gathers Ra alumni violinist Billy Bang, trombonist Craig Harris, and bassist Radu Oluwu Ben Judah, as well as a cast and crew that include bari saxophonist Alex Harding and the redoubtable drummer Cody Moffett, among others.

The tune is little more than a repetitive vamp, yet it provides ample material for spontaneous invention. Radu and Harding's funky, hard-as-nails bass/bari lines, and Moffett's constantly grooving, evolving and mutating drums form the tune's foundation, over which Abdullah and others intone the vocal theme, shadowed by Masujaa's slightly distorted guitar. Like the original Ra Arkestra, Abdullah's band is loose, energetic, and manifestly committed. The performance flags briefly in spots, but Moffett's drums—never less than exhilarating—are there to pick things up when they start to lag. Not as good as the original, but a worthy tribute to the master, nevertheless.

June 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Roscoe Mitchell: Nemus

"Nemus" opens the middle CD of a three-disc set of Mitchell solo improvisations: the first presents him playing a variety of instruments; the second comprises his alto sax work; the third his "percussion cage." Alto tends to bring out Mitchell's lyricism, and indeed "Nemus," while composed of intricate, asymmetrical lines that develop over its seven-minute length into a work of notable complexity, possesses an overall sense of melodic calm. Mitchell's tone has a lightly inflected, limpid cast. A slightly acidic edge mitigates the sweetness of his rather straight tone. The solo's construction is typically well-considered; Mitchell's gift for logical construction serves him quite well here. Devoted fans of solo free jazz sax—all twelve of us—will find much to admire. Certainly no one does it better than Roscoe Mitchell.

June 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steve Howe: Raga of Our Times

Steve Howe's "Raga of Our Times" sounds nothing like an actual Indian raga. Inauthentic as it is, the music is not interesting enough, and, shortly after it begins, it does a stylistic 180 and begins to sound like very synthesized pop rock music. At the beginning, though, you will hear Howe's sitar-guitar in all its glory-shining bright amidst stereotypically programmed prog-rock keyboards and a five-note passage that cannot be considered Middle Eastern. In fact, it foreshadows what occurs thereafter, as the tune can only be classified as a fairly basic and rather faceless composition.

While the sound of processed pan pipes seems to dominate the proceedings, faux-sitar returns three-quarters of the way through. There, Howe actually begins to burn an abrasive, minor-keyed solo that is quite nice. Unfortunately, however, it ends after twenty-five seconds and is mixed much lower than the flailing rhythm section.

In a manner similar to the rest of Howe's Spectrum, the content sounds like it could have been recorded by any bar band in any city in the world. None of the players' true talents shine through on this recording, and, in that way, the material is very disappointing.

June 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steve Howe: In the Skyway

Steve Howe's "In the Skyway" is a decent recording, but the melody does not stick with you for long-probably because there is no real "melody" to speak of. The tune needs vocals and a hook, because what is contained within is, essentially, a lengthy guitar solo. That does not mean that the material is unengaging, per se; Howe's irrepressible slide tone is present, and he has overdubbed several guitars on top that all play something different. The tune's style even changes from a country lope to a smooth psychedelic foray in under a minute. The Yes guitarist is mainly interested in fitting a ton of ideas into a limited space, though, and, while he does accomplish the goal, efficacy of approach is nonexistent-meaning that you will not hear any single idea that stands out. Howe himself does not sound too inspired on the cut, but this just goes to show that even legends take a respite from their greatness now and again.

June 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Hank Mobley: Roll Call

Hank Mobley’s “Roll Call” is an attention-grabbing, fiercely-swinging hard bop classic featuring some of the greatest players in jazz. Art Blakey delivers a heavy-handed opening statement that leads the tune into its stop-time head. From here, Mobley steps into the spotlight, setting the bar high and playing one of his most impressive solos. His tone has a unique fullness that rarely sounds pushed or edgy, and his use of dynamics is tasteful. Up next is trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, whose impassioned playing forever changed the voice of jazz trumpet. Hubbard plays even his most challenging phrases with ease, proving his physical dexterity and great taste as he flies through the changes outlined by Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers. Kelly follows Hubbard with three lively choruses before Art Blakey takes a solo that carries “Roll Call” back to its head.

June 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Tain and the Ebonix: Samo ©

“Samo ©” is a deep-grooving funk tune dedicated to Jean-Michel Basquiat, a Neo-expressionist painter who rose to popularity with his Samo© graffiti that flooded Lower Manhattan in the late 1970’s. Watts’ tune of the same title starts off with an odd-metered groove and a short head played by tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland, who then leads the band into his fiery solo. Strickland plays with incredible authority, often presenting an idea and continuing to alter it rhythmically and melodically until it has become a fluid sentence. Backed by an unshakeable rhythm section, Strickland erupts as the tune progresses and energizes the band even further with passionate cries from his instrument. At the close of his solo, the saxophonist is joined in unison by pianist David Kikoski for an abbreviated head that gives “Samo ©” a succinct, but memorable ending.

June 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Peter Green: Descending Scale

While there isn't much of a descending scale to speak of on this experimental piece by ex-Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green, the musical chaos and concurrent deconstruction into freeform noise, volume swells, and subtle feedback provides more thrills than the story behind the music's creation would lead you to expect.

While Green was considered an acid casualty by many (his music began to reflect spacier influences such as the Grateful Dead), his playing was actually stronger on this cut than on anything he had done before. By assuming a clear leadership role, the music sounds spontaneous and refreshing given that most contemporary album releases never dare to venture into such challenging territory.

Just as no one was expecting much from Peter Green (and, subsequently, nothing was heard from him for several years following this release), his talents as an improviser became more apparent. This track and its respective CD are essential, as the music is so freeform that it classifies as "jazz" by a wide margin and owes much of its appeal to the likes of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Miles Davis (despite defying the track's title, the ascending, dissonant piano scales sound like staples from the Herbie Hancock/Miles Davis Quintet bag of riffs and fills).

June 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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The Julius Hemphill Sextet: Fat Man

Saxophonist Marty Ehrlich did jazz a public service by keeping alive Julius Hemphill's all-saxophone sextet after the great jazz composer/saxophonist passed away in 1995. Indeed, even before his untimely death, ill health had forced Hemphill to the sideline as a horn player, though he still maintained and composed for the sextet. "Fat Man" is typical of Hemphill's music for the band. It combines bop rhythms, dense harmonies, blues sonorities, and lyric melody in a surprisingly accessible strain of cutting-edge jazz. The group is exceedingly polished, sometimes to a fault; one misses the joyously rough edges that enlivened Hemphill's work with his previous all-sax band, the World Saxophone Quartet. Nor is his astringent, bracing solo style replaced by any of these fine yet rather less intrepid players. Still, the band interprets the music with palpable respect and a level of musicianship that's beyond reproach. Jazz composers have yet to catch up with Julius Hemphill. Until they do, such tributes as this will remain as fresh as the day the music was written.

June 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Chick Corea & Bela Fleck: Senorita

On an airy but intense duet between Chick Corea and Bela Fleck, "Senorita" manages to sound like a relatively authentic Latin instrumental. While the track does maintain that certain Corea musical mark that stamps most of his recordings, neither player boldly crosses the line into abstractness, and the cohesion helps the music achieve its aims.

Compositionally, the track is indicative of the meeting place between Spanish-oriented sounds and the rootsy Americana found within the bluegrass genre, and the stylistic fusion is a perfect fit. Corea and Fleck both utilize staccato approaches when playing their respective instruments, and the resultant percussiveness effectively replaces what could have easily been a stereotypical Mestizo rhythm section tracked underneath.

As the pair trades off solos, it all sounds effortless as the liquidity of the shared space is punctuated by the fact that the production is so sympathetic to each individual phrase. Both players comfortably check their egos outside the recording studio, performing music that resonates with highly desirable freshness and heartfelt sensitivity. For any single Corea note cluster, a Fleck flourish exists, and their double-edged banter is quite engaging.

June 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Kahil El'Zabar & David Murray: Groove Allure

David Murray is like pizza: there's good pizza and great pizza, but there's no such thing as bad pizza. Ok, may be there is bad pizza (ever eaten Totino's frozen?), but there really isn't any bad David Murray. At his best, Murray is the most audaciously creative and intense tenor saxophonist of his generation. At his worst, he's merely one of the most audaciously creative and intense.

On the scale of extant Murray performances, this loose, bluesy duo with percussionist Kahil El'Zabar can't be rated at the top, yet it nevertheless has much to recommend it. Recorded live at The Bop Shop, a jazz record store in Rochester, NY, this seems to have been El'Zabar's gig. He wrote the tune, his name comes first on the album cover, and he gets extensive unaccompanied solo space. Murray is uncharacteristically deferential to his partner, staying put within El'Zabar's conga groove without engaging in extended fireworks. When he does get wound up, it sounds a bit pro forma, a bit "let's cut to the chase." That said, it's likely only someone very familiar with Murray at his best would notice. El'Zabar is a spirited, spiritual presence; he sets down a multi-faceted rhythmic bed that stands well on its own. The overall mood is one of cool intensity with an emphasis on groove. Not gourmet fare, certainly, but plenty tasty.

June 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gerald Clayton: Two Heads One Pillow

“Two Heads One Pillow” is one of the highlights of Gerald Clayton’s Two Shade, a must-hear debut release from the talented composer and seasoned improviser. The tune is centered around the development of a simple, yet beautiful, melody freshened by the addition of several major variances in inflection. Beginning with a series of muted notes, Clayton and his cohorts ease into a series of short phrases that tread the fine line between consonance and dissonance. As a booming bassline by Clayton himself is quickly followed by the rhythm section, drummer Justin Brown's unpredictable pulse cranks up the intensity level tenfold-resulting in an energetic recording on which Clayton's apparent skills as a composer foreshadow the impact that he will have on jazz in the years to come.

June 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Track A - Solo Dancer (Stop! Look! and Listen, Sinner Jim Whitney)

The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady is one of Charles Mingus’ true masterpieces, highlighting his incredible control as an arranger and his abilities as a brilliant, innovative composer. The album begins with "Solo Dancer," a march-like figure that eventually erupts into aswinging, volcanic triple-feel led by saxophonist Jerome Richardson.

Richardson's playing draws from the elements of bop, soul, and traditional blues that characterize Mingus' work so well. As Richardson gets intense, so does the chart, and, underneath, horn players Rolf Ericson, Richard Williams, Quentin Jackson, and Don Butterfield provide abrasive sonic landscapes that are a wise match for the bandleader's quirky compositional style.

June 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dave Douglas: Family of the Climber

Dave Douglas is well-known for his ability to compose in many styles, and his album Mountain Passages provides yet another example of his awesome skills. Originally performed between 9,000 and 12,000 feet in the Alps for the festival at The Sound of Dolomites, “Family of the Climber” is a dark march that exposes Douglas’ knack for creating very exciting textures.

Amidst Douglas' trumpet, Michael Moore's tasteful alto playing, and Peggy Lee's innovative cello comping, it is easy to forget that only five musicians are responsible for such thick harmonics. Overall, this is a solid track performed in a style of jazz that only a composer as audacious as Douglas could explore.

June 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Peter Green: Bottoms Up

Peter Green's CD The End of the Game is a worthy purchase. Its lead track, "Bottoms Up," is a freeform jam worthy of its placement right at the top of the album's playlist. As the rhythm section plows and pianist Zoot Money holds it down, Green's Les Paul leads the barebones group into the Stratocastersphere. Ironically, the music sounds focused, as persistent rumors from around this time chronicling Green's mental instability seem unfounded given the quality of the music.

This cut is certainly amongst the top five recordings that Green appears on, and anyone interested in his back story and catalog should start here. It sounds nothing like the Fleetwood Mac music heard these days on the FM dial. The track, though, does follow in the footsteps of the brief instrumental excursions pioneered by Green on the early, yet seminal (and still relatively unknown) Mac album Then Play On, which had been cut earlier in the year.

Hendrix-ian in his approach, yet very original, Green's performance here is the real reason that he is remembered at all, because, without this document (and since most of his recordings with Fleetwood Mac were steeped heavily in straight-ahead, twelve-bar blues), it would be tough to place him near the Beck/Clapton/Page pantheon of rock guitarists based on recordings alone. "Bottoms Up", though, shows that Green's instrumental approach, when unleashed, was as "out there" as both wah-heavy progressive rockers and as the recognized forefather of this style of avant-garde jamming, John Coltrane. At least at this stage of the game, anyway...

June 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gian Tornatore: Hearing Triangles

The long and circuitous sax/guitar unison passage that opens this track is just killer. It's spiky angles show up later in the composition in slightly different forms and lengths, giving the ear the sense of a slow unfolding. At around four minutes in, the band drops away as pianist Jon Anderson takes a solo that's full of arpeggios that bring to mind some of the piano work of Philip Glass. The delicious part was the tension created by the thought “OK, just how the heck is he going to work his way back from here?” Well, just after bassist Thomas Kneeland steps back completely into the darkness, the piano crystallizes and we're again circling a version of the main theme. From here the energy builds and build as parallel solos spin away from the newly constructed energy center.

“Hearing Triangles” is one of those compositions that seems to reveal new details on subsequent listens. That's always a good sign in my book.

June 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Frank Potenza: Ode To Billie Joe

At first, I thought that maybe the wrong disc had been placed in my CD player. I was expecting “Ode To Billie Joe” but the initial vibe was close to “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.” The organ riff being layed down by Joe Bagg sure had that slink. When the guitar kicked in though, everything began to make sense. Frank Potenza constructs some fine improvisations through these famous changes. At first he stays fairly close to the melody's envelope, but then busts out with some great runs that fly nimbly through the sonic landscape. This seems to push Bagg to new heights with his own solo.

This song has been interpreted in many ways throughout the years, but somehow Frank Potenza makes it seem fresh. Great fun to be had here.

June 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Tom Abbs: Torn

Tom Abbs built his Lost And Found album by randomly pairing 22 musical fragments, using score structures that were visual, audio and narrative. The results are always unpredictable and often intoxicating. “Torn” is a trance-like song that achieves hypnosis by running in two speeds at the same time. Abbs and Taylor play frantic free jazz, while Cook carries out a floating chord sequence that could have come from the soundtrack of a black and white horror film. After a tentative start, Settles joins in with the violin before briefly going along with the frantic undercurrent, then returning to Cooks eerie lines again.

It’s a little creepy sounding, but the parallel and opposed harmonic fragments also makes “Torn” a compelling listening experience.

June 08, 2009 · 0 comments

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The Stein Brothers: And So I Love You

The Stein Brothers’ highly mature bop mannerisms were developed in some part due to their tutelage under bop piano great Barry Harris. For their debut album Quixotic, Asher and Alex seek to establish their own imprint on mainstream jazz by composing most of the songs, or performing originals by their pianist Mferghu. Still, they couldn’t have made this record without some tribute to Harris, and it comes via their cover of Harris’ lovely tune “And I Love You So.”

Mferghu’s arrangement of this song from the early seventies casts it firmly as a cool jazz song straight out of the fifties. Clocking in at just over three minutes, the short solos even make it seem that the session was taped for a 78. Asher Stein’s alto tone is buttery and brother Alex’s tenor delivery is as relaxed as Lester Young’s, but Eubanks’ snazzy and confident trumpet tops everyone. Nevertheless, the majority of the gold stars go to the Stein Bros. for selecting this overlooked gem of a song and Mferghu for his shrewd arrangement of it.

June 08, 2009 · 0 comments

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Chico Hamilton: Elevation

Situated near the end of an EP of mostly re-edited Hamilton tunes, “Elevation” is one performance presented on the disc not enhanced with sampling and/or club mixing. The thrill of this slower track comes not from studio wizardry but from Chico himself.

Hadro and Denigrus are the lead voices here, but it’s Hamilton’s drum work that’s the most riveting aspect. He makes excellent use of shading, timbres and accents to call attention to his drums without soloing or being…well…loud. The primary rhythm he uses is three beats and a mannerly gait on the snare to get to the next three beats. Over time, the tempo increases ever so discreetly to match the enhanced intensity of the song, but you’d never notice without going right back to the beginning of the song. Occasionally, Hamilton switches to a conventional rhythm, effortlessly melding his tom-toms in with Carlstedt’s percussion. Toward the end, he spices things up with some galloping hit-hat.

On a record meant to add dance-club appeal to Hamilton’s work, the most magic happens when the unalloyed Chico Hamilton is allowed to shine through.

June 08, 2009 · 0 comments

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Stefon Harris: Corridor of Elusive Dreams

On this song, Stefon Harris composed a left field track that fits the title very well. Steve Turre drives plays some nice abstract trombone lines while Harris plays different lines on the marimba, creating an interesting blend of sounds. In actuality, this song is not really all that jazzy. It sounds more like a contemporary track that might feature George Lewis or somebody like that. While not the most jazzy of songs, Harris shows his diversity and more importantly his flexibility, proving that he is just as comfortable on marimba as he is the vibraphone. I wouldn't recommend this is as a starting song for someone getting into the music of Harris but this track shows his willingness to step out of the box.

June 08, 2009 · 0 comments

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Freddie Hubbard : Blues by Five

While working on his final recording, On the Real Side, Hubbard would spend the commute back and forth from the studio listening to unreleased live tracks from his 1969 European tour. "Freddie really enjoyed the music," David Weiss recalls, and well he should have—after all, who was playing hotter trumpet than Mr. Hubbard at the close of the 1960s? Even the estimable Miles Davis, who would be selling records by the boatload in a few months after the release of Bitches Brew, would not scare the cats at a jam session the way Hubbard could at this point in his career.

Six months after Hubbard's death, Without a Song: Live in Europe 1969 hits the streets, and the rest of us can enjoy this stirring document of the trumpeter at age 31. There is plenty of fine mid-career Hubbard music on record, but the CTI releases rarely sound this spontaneous and unbridled. And the Columbia records have become collectors' rarities due to that mega-global-industrial behemoth's brilliant decision to keep most of the jazz in their vaults off the market. In this environment, the trumpeter's live performance of "Blues by Five" earns a spot on your iPod.

This is just a twelve-bar blues, but Hubbard plays with characteristic fire, and is supported by a world-class rhythm section. He quotes from "A Love Supreme" at one point on this composition associated with Miles Davis, but this is neither Trane-ish progressivism nor Milesian moodiness. During a turbulent era in jazz, Hubbard focused on swing, drive and in-the-moment excitement. I'm not sure if that is a formula, or rather a statement of the art form's core principles, but it still works for me some forty years after it grabbed audiences in Europe.

June 08, 2009 · 1 comment

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Stefon Harris: The Birth of Time

Vibraphonist Stefon Harris has carried the tradition of the vibraphone into the present era with catchy song writing and superior technical facility. On this 2001 release, Harris displays his gift of composition with help from some of the most underrated performers in jazz. This song opens up with Xavier Davis playing a classical influenced piano line, which is then doubled by Harris. The nature of the song is very playful, but at the same time it is also enchanting and beautiful. Harris wrote wonderful background parts for the brass and reed sections, who aid the performance of this song and provide continuity on many levels between Harris and the rhythm section. I, like many people in the jazz field, feel that Harris is one of the most exciting composers around. Now in his late 30s, I hope that Harris continues to surprise us with his unconventional blend of jazz and classical influences. All of these ingredients are present on this song, which is a great introduction for anyone that wants to explore the music of Stefon Harris.

June 07, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dave Frishberg: I'm Hip

The first unwritten rule of hipdom must be that hipness is a state of being. One is hip by demonstration, not by proclamation. All of which makes Dave Frishberg’s and Bob Dorough’s “I’m Hip” the classic statement of the wanna-be hipster. For the hip ones in the crowd, the lyric to this song is a goldmine of pseudo-hip references, like Sammy Davis knows my friend and Better show this to Quincy. Frishberg’s performance is a good barometer of hipness: nearly everyone can get the reference to watching French films in a movie theatre while wearing sunglasses, but fewer will dig the line about listening to jazz while poppin’ my thumbs/diggin’ the drums and only the hippest will truly understand Frishberg’s hilarious search for hip notes in the final chord. One thing puzzles me, though: in the original lyric, our hero reads Playboy and in this recording, he reads People. So, was Playboy considered too hip for him?

June 07, 2009 · 0 comments

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Chico Hamilton: Autumn in New York

When Hamilton’s long and storied career as a leader commenced in 1955, he started out with just a trio that included Howard Roberts on guitar and George Duvivier on bass. Nearly 53 years later, Chico revisits his beginnings with contemporary talents Denigrus and Ramsey. This afforded Hamilton with the chance to push the rhythm section out to the front and go down different paths than what he might take with a larger band.

Hamilton arranges the classic Duke piece “Autumn In New York” in a rather imaginative way. He plays an old school jungle beat that was popular at the time he first led bands, and Denigrus furnishes the pretty melody with free-flowing single lines, unattached to time. Ever the master of tones, Hamilton’s soft tom-toms are practically playing a melody of its own, and the guitarist’s slightly stinging timbre going its own way provides a striking contrast. It makes the song quite beautiful and haunting at once.

This OctoJAZZarian is a guy who, at eighty-six years old, still has some pretty nifty tricks up his sleeves.

June 06, 2009 · 0 comments

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Reptet: Go Bears

Seattle’s own Reptet is a six-piece band that’s just this side of zany; too unorthodox for Steeplechase and too tonal for ESP-Disk. They might employ a few unusual instruments (like a baritone guitar, a bull moose call or a euphonium) and throw in non-jazz interludes into their jazz, but the songs never quite get too messy to be engaging. “Go Bears” is a pretty good example of their modus operandi.

It begins with a rapid ostinato straight out of a black and white comedy, and then moves into a late-sixties jazz groove led by Credit’s boss baritone. Just as you might start chilling out to it, the tape is speeded up and slowed back down to real time again. The groove soon ends anyway and replaced with Boshnack’s lone mariachi trumpet before returning to the original comedic chase scene music that crashes into a full-on freak-out, Rahsaan Roland Kirk style.

OK, so “Go Bears” might not be so serious, but it’s seriously fun.

June 06, 2009 · 1 comment

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Jaleel Shaw: Flipside

"Flipside” won for Shaw his second ASCAP Young Jazz Composer’s Award and it’s not that difficult to make out why. It’s high-octane post-bop that veers around short, arpeggiated constructions, abruptly changing time signatures, slinky unison lines and frantic but controlled energy. It’s not the kind of tune that will sound good if the musicians playing it don’t have the chops for it. Luckily, these cats do.

The composition leaves plenty of space for stretching out, too, and everyone save for Martin gets a solo turn. Shaw begins with syncopated ascending and descending notes, Glasper comes next with some inspired middle register right-hand runs and Blake rolls and rumbles Blakey-style on his kit. Lund gets the spotlight right at the end, playing in a very fluid style that appropriately brings the song to a soft landing.

When a song is this well constructed, good musicians will want to play harder for it. “Flipside” is that kind of song which inspired everyone to work their butts off.

June 06, 2009 · 0 comments

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Charlie Hunter: Two for Bleu

“Two For Bleu” is a song that’s abounding in character. Paced by Parker’s persistent Afro-Cuban percussion section, the theme consists of Hunter playing a short, swing-time jazz phrase and Apfelbaum and Roseman combined providing the rebuttal phrase. That’s when it’s hard not to notice Roseman’s saucy wah-wah mute that helps to make the tune colorful but stopping short of cartoonish.

When Hunter solos, he recreates Charlie Christian’s single bop lines while punctuating each phrase with a slightly tremolo’d chord, thus playing both the lead and rhythm parts without making it sound so cluttered. And all while simultaneously holding down bass duties.

Hunter gets a full sound from just a trio plus a small percussion section that sounds fresh and festive even as it calls to mind old Havana. It makes you want to dance a jig, too.

June 06, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jason Ajemian: Sackett's Harbor

Ajemian’s bass has this big rubbery sound that fills up enough space in the house to allow the guys up front to go “outside” and play. On The Art Of Dying, the kids are going in and out as each song dictates. Tenor sax player Haldeman’s “Sackett’s Harbor” is one of those indoor songs.

With the trio doubled in size out to the configuration they call “Smokeless Heat,” there are enough instruments to fully flesh out the harmonies on this chart. In keeping with the “art of dying” metaphor where time and self-awareness are suspended, “Sackett’s Harbor” drifts slowly in its own softly waltzing dream state. Branch’s trumpet sets the mood precisely, striking a mildly melancholy tone. The marimba oddly keeps the song from getting dirge-like and Adasiewicz’ thoughtful expressions are followed by Haldeman’s more sorrowful notes bent downward, before joining with Branch for the concluding chorus.

“Sackett's Harbor” is tonal and structured in the straight-ahead sense, but the emphasis on mood and expression gives this performance a beauty that only those who know how to play “outdoors” can render.

June 06, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dr. John: 'Fess Up

Mac Rebennack, better known as Dr. John, is a walking, talking compendium of New Orleans music. As session cat, genial tickler of the ivories (organ keys and guitar strings too), gris-gris hoodoo-man, gargle-voiced blues shouter, worldwide rock star, and tireless proponent of all that's Easy—not to mention serious jazz pianist and master of Crescent City r&b—he has lived and largely defined the late 20th Century idea of New Orleans musician. His few solo piano albums are brilliant, and so too many of his slice-of-NOLA releases reinvigorating "funky butt" r&b. Still, in the end it's Mac at the piano that matters most as he takes the whole tradition into his hands every time he sits down at a keyboard.

While the good Doctor has recorded many tributes to Professor Longhair (his inspiration and early mentor) over the years, none tops his tune called "'Fess Up." To portray the Professor, Mac employs a dash of "Hadacol," a brief trace of "Tipitina," and maybe a hint of "She Walks Right In," plus a whole new spritely rising melody. Just "radiatin' the 88," says Mac, as he casually mixes Longhair's Caribbean rhumba in with a sly dose of Cow Cow Davenport, some "double note crossovers," and a smudgin' of boogie-woogie too. You could go barrel-housin' all night long—a whole 'nother night trip of sorts—with nothing more than Dr. John con-'Fessin' this-a-way.

June 05, 2009 · 0 comments

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Fats Domino: Swanee River Hop

Singer/pianoman Fats Domino and arranger/bandleader Dave Bartholomew took the polished loping rhythm of Professor Longhair into the studio, added some pop standards patina, and emerged with scores of regional and national hits, from "The Fat Man" to "Let the Four Winds Blow." Some of Domino's best early Fifties recordings were collected on his second album, not-quite-aptly titled Rock and Rollin'. Tunes like "Second Line Jump" and "Fats' Frenzy" are great piano-sax instrumentals—perfect New Orleans r&b exemplars—and "Swanee River Hop" is a blistering, killin'-the-keys classic.

Roll over, Stephen Foster, and tell young Antoine the news! Played first as a boogie by Albert Ammons, this wheelhouse revision of "Swanee River" leaves Foster tossed overboard and steamboat Domino chooglin' downstream at a take-no-passengers speed. Although Fats has said he used to let his band sit out while he played the "Hop" totally solo, the rough studio recording of it includes a drummer (likely Earl Palmer) flailing along on cymbals to keep pace with the on-rushing piano. It's the Fat Man's eighty-eights driving all the way, striding up and down the keyboard, pummeling the bass from gumbo to Gulf, scattering ripe clusters and rippling single notes, rockin' the levee-high bridge and rollin' past the Treme-lo finish. This river at flood stage is definitely less Swanee and more NOLA Creole.

June 05, 2009 · 0 comments

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Eddie Daniels: Soul Eyes

Daniels' series of albums for GRP in the '80's and '90's, beginning with the aptly titled Breakthrough, made his reputation as one of the truly great jazz clarinetists of all time. While the content of these releases ran the gamut from bop to fusion, classical to swing, and pop to new age, there was almost always enough substance in Daniels' virtuoso playing alone for even the most discerning and unwavering jazz fan to enjoy.

Daniels' Nepenthe CD has a somewhat "contemporary jazz" gloss to much of it, but the clarinetist still delivers a memorable version of Mal Waldron's classic "Soul Eyes," one of those timeless ballads that—like "How Deep is the Ocean," "'Round Midnight," or "Angel Eyes"—jazz musicians never tire of interpreting, and audiences always love to hear. After a shimmering strum from Loeb's guitar, Daniels renders the theme primarily in the chalumeau register, playing with great tenderness and sensitivity, as well as with remarkable technique. Daniels further embellishes the theme as the tempo picks up, while also dramatically entering the upper register for the first time with breathtaking aplomb. His solo employs riffs, repeating circular phrases, bluesy inflections, and enlivening interval leaps, as he also maneuvers his tone from pure warmth to keening outcry. Daniels' replay of the theme is a slow motion gem, complete with an endearingly fluttering bird-like coda. This is simply a perfect track.

June 05, 2009 · 0 comments

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Santi Debriano and Panamaniacs: Tio

A much in-demand bassist and jazz educator, Debriano's resume extends from stints with Archie Shepp, Sam Rivers, and Pharoah Sanders, to engagements with pianists Kenny Barron, Hank Jones, and Randy Weston. The son of Panamanian composer Alonso Wilson Debriano, Santi was raised in the U.S. but retains an interest in all forms of Latin jazz, as reflected by the group he led in the ‘90s, Panamaniacs. With David Sanchez, from Puerto Rico, the bassist had the perfect foil—a saxophonist equally plugged into Afro-Cuban rhythms and more, and who was on the verge of recording his debut album for Columbia. The versatile young pianist Kikoski (and you had to be versatile to hold down the piano chair in Roy Haynes' group, as he was also doing at the time) revealed his impressive Latin jazz chops while playing with Panamaniacs.

The jazz samba "Tio" is dedicated to the Panamanian trumpeter Victor Paz. Debriano's resonant, warm sound is noticed immediately in his bass lines supporting Sanchez's playing of the ingratiating, sinuous theme, with a corresponding meaty and appealing tenor tone. Kikoski's choice chords back Sanchez flawlessly, and the pianist takes the first solo, a darting light-touched exploration of the samba's interior structure. As Kikoski plays swift, sparkling runs and emphatic two-handed unison chords, Debriano and Campbell engage him fully. Sanchez's solo is soaring hard bop, assured and rhythmically agile. Fresh from three years with Dizzy Gillespie's United Nations Orchestra, Sanchez shows here what would await listeners for years to come.

June 05, 2009 · 0 comments

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Sonny Stitt and Paul Gonsalves: Salt and Pepper

This 1963 Stitt-Gonsalves encounter should be better known than it is. Stitt, of course, was one of the most prolific recording artists in jazz (nine albums in 1963 alone!), while Gonsalves—although heard widely with Duke Ellington—infrequently recorded as a leader. On tenor, as on this track, Stitt combined Charlie Parker and Lester Young influences, whereas Gonsalves came more out of the Coleman Hawkins school, with a "modern" harmonic approach that once led Dizzy Gillespie to hire him. Their contrasting styles and combative natures make for absorbing listening on the spirited title cut.

The extended blues workout "Salt and Pepper" starts with the two tenors enthusiastically alternating fragments of the theme. Gonsalves then embarks on a solo that lasts a mere 13 choruses, just about half the 27 he so famously played with Ellington at Newport in 1956 during "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue." His phrases here are reminiscent of the memorable ones he played at Newport seven years earlier, as Osie Johnson maintains a driving beat similar to Sam Woodyard's back then. As usual, Gonsalves’ tone and inflections have a teasingly dissonant tinge, and his extended runs are refreshingly unpredictable but always, in hindsight, logically formulated. Stitt follows with 15 choruses of his own, replete with rhythmically ebullient lines, trademark riffs, toying pianissimo passages, and gruff shouts. However, Stitt seems to lose momentum midway through his improv, and Johnson drags noticeably in response. When Gonsalves returns for a trading session with Stitt, his sharp instincts and gift for spontaneous formulations appears to put even Stitt on the defensive. Gonsalves is the provoker during most of this section, with Stitt surprisingly the reactor. There's a good reason why Ellington stuck by Gonsalves through thick and thin for 24 years, and it's quite evident once again in the saxophonist's inspired playing on this track.

June 05, 2009 · 0 comments

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Cyminology: Niyaayesh

Of the many hypocrisies associated with the record industry, the examples I find most dispiriting come when label execs brag about their devotion to finding talent that is "fresh and different" . . . and then continue to release wannabe CDs that jump on every passing fad. This "sheep pretending to be lions" attitude is almost de rigeur at certain echelons of "the business" these days. Fortunately we still have Manfred Eicher, who really does present music that breaks out of the mold, and has done so with commercial and artistic success for forty years.

Cyminology is a case in point. This band, led by Cymin Samawatie, a German vocalist of Iranian descent, defines its own sound. Benedikt Jahnel may be a jazz pianist, but his conception resists pigeonholing; his keyboard work unfolds like a musical cinema, with narrative force rather than standard jazz phraseology. Bass and drums provide flashes of color, and (unlike so many American jazz bands) don't push and prod the music—these players realize that they are the music. Their sound is constitutive not catalytic. And Cymin Samawatie situates herself so far from what passes as jazz singing that you could waste a month of your life trying to construct a genealogy that gets you from Ella and Sarah to her ritualistic immersion in Persian texts.

If you are looking for music that reinforces your current tastes and fits neatly into the jazz rotation on your iPod, you are advised to pass on this track (and the entire As Ney CD, for that matter). But if you believe that jazz is not a stockpile of phrases or a "historic style," but is a spirit and openness to the possibilities of sound, then this music is required listening.

June 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dave Frishberg: The Underdog

“The Underdog” may be one of the most profound lyrics that Dave Frishberg has ever created. The song is about a gambler who bets on long-shots or underdogs. Yet Frishberg’s storyline also creates a fully-developed character, who himself could be called an underdog. As a result, we can feel empathy for this man without decrying his gambling addiction. To be sure, the gambler understands his problem, but against all odds, he has hope that he, like his favored underdog, will be a winner someday. How many pop songs—even the classics—cover that much emotional ground? On this recording, Frishberg sings the song in free time, so that the effect is both conversational and confessional. Frishberg’s spare, lonely solo piano only adds to the melancholy mood. The ending is a wry twist on an old cliché: Sooner or later, you know every underdog will have his day and while it’s not a big ending, that same glimmer of hope shines through. Underdog or not, this song is a real winner.

June 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Roberta Gambarini: You Are There

Roberta Gambarini is a gifted vocalist who has earned high praise from critics and musicians alike. Blessed with perfect pitch (in a live show, you’ll never hear a pianist give her an opening pitch, even when she starts a song alone), she possesses a fine vocal instrument capable of remarkable agility. Her relationship with veteran pianist Hank Jones is both personal and professional, as she has saved Jones’ life twice in the past few years. So, with all that going for her, why am I less than enthralled by her recording of Dave Frishberg’s “You Are There”? Perhaps it’s the song itself: Frishberg lyric is about reflections and visions of someone who is not there, and while the song shouldn’t be sung with excessive emotion, Gamborini's performance is so understated that there's no emotional impact at all. It is beautifully sung, but utterly devoid of meaning. Jones plays exquisitely as usual, and his lovely introduction raises my overall appreciation for this track. I suspect if Jones were to perform a solo piano version of this song, it would be much more emotionally satisfying than the track presented here.

June 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Susannah McCorkle: Blizzard Of Lies

Susannah McCorkle loved the songs of Dave Frishberg, and nearly all of her albums included a Frishberg tune. Her recording of “Blizzard Of Lies” enhances the original with a simple but effective addition to the song’s form. The song opens with a number of familiar platitudes: We must have lunch real soon/Your luggage is checked through, etc. Then the mood completely changes as the lyric declares that we’re marooned in a blizzard of lies. Frishberg’s lyrics always demand (and reward) close listening, but McCorkle takes no risk in this case: adding a two-bar extension between the platitudes and the payoff, she sings the one pivotal word: lies. While it could be argued that McCorkle ruins the joke on the first time through, she drives the point home throughout the recording. And on each of the three times that the extension appears, she finds a new way to twist that pivotal word. Also, listen to how she moves from sweet innocent to gritty cynic as the performance progresses, adding a rare “dirty” sound to her voice. Susannah’s suicide in 2001 was devastating to anyone who loved good songs, old or new, and while her sometimes difficult nature and battles with mental illness have been thoroughly documented (most notably in Linda Dahl’s book, Haunted Heart), the loss of this fine vocalist is still being felt nearly a decade later.

June 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dave Frishberg: Brenda Starr

As the newspaper business continues to decline, here’s a tongue-in-cheek tribute to a fictional heroine of newspapers long past: super-reporter Brenda Starr! Dave Frishberg and Johnny Mandel wrote this song for the movie “Brenda Starr”, but it wasn’t used in the film. The lyric brings back the days of “The Front Page” and its remake “His Girl Friday”, when newspaper writers would do anything to get a story. Most of the lyric is comprised of screaming, outlandish headlines—my favorite is Ex-wife of Russian czar will wed Kareem Abdul Jabbar—and Frishberg delivers the lines with a cynical edge that brings to mind the vocals of one of his heroes, Jimmy Rowles. There’s ample solo space on this recording and Snooky Young makes the most of a rare opportunity with a fine performance set entirely in the middle range. After boppish solos by Frishberg and Rob McConnell, Frishberg returns with the second verse, and the lyric reveals even more cynicism, with Read all about it/Don’t stop to doubt it/It’s in the papers/It’s gotta be true (yeah, right) and Judge takes bribe/So what’s new? Although Frishberg’s lyric supposedly refers to corrupt practices long since abandoned, it’s rather eerie to hear it in the context of today’s newspaper crisis.

June 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dave Frishberg: Dear Bix

I have to admit a personal preference for this song. In my freshman year at the University of Northern Colorado, I was featured on a vocal jazz arrangement of this piece. The arranger of that setting, Scott Fredrickson, was also the director of the ensemble, and he told me about Dave Frishberg and about a life-sized poster of Bix Beiderbecke that hung on the wall in Frishberg’s home. As the resident jazz historian at UNC, I took particular pride in singing this beautiful tribute to the late cornetist. A few years later, I heard this duet version from an early Frishberg album and I was captivated all over again. There is a marvelous intimacy to the lyric, as it speaks to Bix directly, referring to him as an old friend and chum, and tells him that he’s no ordinary, standard B-flat, run-of-the-mill type guy. What makes the performance so special is that there’s no attempt to imitate Bix; indeed, Bob Findlay sounds like Bobby Hackett to me, which is quite fitting. In fact, the only snippet of music that comes from Beiderbecke is the famous tag from “I’m Coming Virginia”, and while that quote is appropriate, it almost seems at odds with the aesthetic of non-imitation that held for most of the performance.

June 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Diana Krall: Peel Me A Grape

Several years ago at a Diana Krall performance in Denver, a man in the audience yelled out the predictable “I Love You, Diana”. She retorted, “No, you don’t want me—I’m too high-maintenance!”. Then she launched into “Peel Me A Grape”, which must be the anthem for high-maintenance women. The song, one of Dave Frisberg’s earliest works, takes its title from a famous Mae West line. Frishberg takes the title idea and runs with it, combining realistic requests with outlandish invented ones: Pop me a cork/French me a fry. While the song was reasonably well-known before, it was Diana Krall’s version that made the song a hit. Krall made a few politically correct changes to the lyric (Start me a smoke never turns up, and there are repeated lyrics which seem unusual for a Frishberg lyric), but what makes Krall’s version so enticing is the slow, slinky tempo and Krall’s soft, come-hither delivery. And lest we make the mistake of focusing on Krall’s vocals at the expense of her piano playing, dig her marvelous solo on this track: it nearly says as much without words as her vocal does with words.

June 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dave Frishberg: Sweet Kentucky Ham

I first heard this song performed by Rosemary Clooney and she described it as “the ultimate road song”. True enough, as the lyric tells of a bored traveler moving through the Midwestern cities of South Bend, Milwaukee and Cincinnati. Frishberg’s lyric focuses on two elements: the loneliness of travel (especially at night, when all of the scenes take place) and the food that one eats on the road. The second point is noteworthy because the traveler is dreaming of “Sweet Kentucky Ham”, but even more important is the first point, because throughout the song there is a strong intimation that it’s not just the ham that he wants, but the person who shares it with him. I doubt that Frishberg has ever included the words “I love you” in a lyric, but the emotions found deep in this lyric speak to a much deeper feeling than those three little words. Frishberg’s performance is letter perfect: his solo piano is the right accompaniment, as the addition of bass and drums would spoil the theme of loneliness, and his yearning vocal makes us believe that he has lived through this experience. The ultimate road song? Sure, but also a very profound love song.

June 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dave Frishberg: Slappin' The Cakes On Me

Love songs might not be Dave Frishberg’s forte, but that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t successfully explored elements of the dating ritual. I’m not exactly sure about the origins of the title, but it clearly refers to someone who is in a situation that’s way over his head. Here, Frishberg’s character is a guy who is not as skilled as he thinks at picking up women. At the beginning, as he walks in and checks out the club, Steve Gilmore’s descending bass glissando invokes an animal on the prowl. Then our not-so-smooth operator meets a woman who turns this attempted seduction on its head, inviting herself to sit down, and topping every corny line that the man offers. He even offers the old standby, What’s your sign to which she replies, Later for that—your place or mine? Thankfully, our would-be Romeo is smart enough to know that when faced with such a situation, it’s always best to hang on and enjoy the ride. Frishberg stops short of telling us what happened later—and different versions of the tale might come from each principal—but we can imagine that it was a night to remember, whatever the outcome.

June 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Judy Roberts: My Attorney Bernie

As performed by its composer and nearly everyone else, Dave Frishberg’s “My Attorney Bernie” is sung to a samba beat. However, my favorite recording of the song is by Judy Roberts, a delightful pianist/vocalist formerly from Chicago and now performing in Phoenix. Taken at a slow, sexy tempo, the arrangement starts with eight quarter notes on cowbell and a piano vamp (actually Frishberg’s introduction) which implies the sort of slow dance groove that Tito Puente used to play. But then, guitar and flute enter in quasi-double-time, adding the feel of samba. While these two Latin grooves have rarely—if ever—converged, they work very well together and the band locks into the groove immediately. Judy’s delivery of Frishberg’s song is light-hearted, relaxed and comic (especially on the line you keep on hangin’ tough), but she knows the importance of having a good lawyer in her corner, and we believe her when she tells us that she always does what Bernie recommends. The self-produced CD from which this track comes is a little hard to find, but is well worth acquiring, as it is one of Roberts’ finest efforts.

June 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dave Frishberg: Van Lingle Mungo

“Van Lingle Mungo” is one of Dave Frishberg’s most famous songs, primarily because of its lyric, which consists entirely of the names of baseball players. Not the Joe DiMaggios, Lou Gehrigs or Babe Ruths, mind you, but rather Johnny Pesky, Roy Campanella, and Bob Estellella, players unknown to all but the most fervent baseball fans. What elevates this song beyond a mere catalog of unusual names is Frishberg’s heartfelt delivery. He makes them sound like heroes, and one feels that if they were to ask Frishberg, he could tell you something about every player he mentions in the lyric. But before thinking of this song as a walk through the baseball Hall of Fame, note that Frishberg once said that when he sings this song softly over a bossa beat, the audience thinks he singing in Portuguese! So are there any great Portuguese baseball players?

June 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dave Frishberg: I Want To Be A Sideman

If you want to introduce a musician to the songs of Dave Frishberg, there’s no better example than “I Want To Be A Sideman”. Anyone who has ever toured with a big band knows all about the rigors of the road, but Frishberg, portraying someone on the outside looking in, makes it all sound so glamorous: I want to play while the people dance/I want to press my own coat and pants/I want to ask for an advance. Of course, it’s all a dark joke, which is made clear in the introduction, where Frishberg plays the intro of the hoariest of big band songs, “In The Mood”. Clearly, the audience is hip from the outset, laughing in recognition of the theme. But there is much more here: Under the lyric I want to listen to Lester Young on my recorder, Frishberg’s melody alludes to Lester’s famous “Jive At Five” solo (Frishberg told me it wasn’t intentional). And the lines quoted above are a typical example of Frishberg’s trademark triple rhyme schemes (dance/pants/advance). Frishberg’s work is loaded with these delightful triple rhymes, with the final one of the set always being the funniest. But perhaps most enlightening is the song’s final lines: I wanna be young/I wanna have fun/I want to be a sideman. It’s the responsibility-free life of a musician that Frishberg’s narrator really wants. As the old joke goes, the difference between a musician and a mutual fund is that only one of them will eventually mature and make money.

June 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Stanley Clarke (with Hiromi): Sakura Sakura

Fusion-bass-meister Stanley Clarke settles into an acoustic trio format for his 2009 Jazz in the Garden CD, but here's the surprise—he brings along pianist Hiromi Uehara for the outing. Hiromi (she usually goes by the single name) is also typically associated with synthesized sounds and keyboard flash, but here she adopts a very understated approach to a non-electrified Yamaha grand piano. She has a sweet, soft tone on this jazz version of a traditional Japanese folk song, and is not out-of-place matching wits with a bassist and drummer who made their mark with Chick Corea during the glory days of plugged-in jazz. I wish she was a little more integrated rhythmically with bass and drums on this track, but her phrases are smart ones, and while she floats, Clarke pushes the song forward with great vigor. Even when he indulges in gentle koto-like lines on the bass, the strength of his conception is evident. If you didn't know this was Mr. Clarke's leader date, you still might guess it just from how much the music seems to radiate from his basslines. The lamely Adobe-ized cover makes one long for days of Bill Claxton and Francis Wolff, but the music here dispenses with the gimmicks and holds up well on repeat listenings.

June 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mal Waldron & Steve Lacy: Smada

One of a number of engaging Waldron/Lacy duet recordings, the 1986 Sempre Amore CD stands out for its heartfelt tribute to Duke Ellington and Biily Strayhorn. Just as the duo are able to interpret Thelonious Monk tunes so well, here they succeed in probing and finding new angles and dimensions in pieces from the Ellington and Strayhorn songbooks. The relatively obscure "Smada" was originally titled both "Ugly Ducklin'" and "Smoky City" when first composed by Strayhorn during his late-'30's, pre-Ellington Pittsburgh days, but it reappeared in 1952 as "Smada" (reverse spelling of Los Angeles DJ Joe Adams' last name). Russell Procope, Johnny Hodges, and Jimmy Hamilton were among those featured at various times on the arrangement performed by the Ellington Orchestra.

Waldron's assertive intro gives way to Lacy's playing of the seductive long-toned theme and its contrastingly jubilant, dancing bridge. Lacy's dry, understated vibrato allows the listener to focus on how, in his solo, he is able to shuffle the content and emphasize the dichotomy between the theme and bridge, ending with a series of catchy riffs before Waldron takes over. The pianist's provocative, sometimes stride-like comping behind Lacy has set the stage for his equally unbridled solo, hard-edged and with a fitting allusion to Monk's "Well You Needn't" that makes you wonder how Monk himself would have approached this composition. The duo's reappraisal of the melody seems that much more luxuriously articulated, given their preceding elaborations. Kudos to the engineering of Giancarlo Barigozzi, which provides an unusually clear and authentic aural presence.

June 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Al Haig: All God's Chillun Got Rhythm

Haig was one of the earliest significant bop pianists, playing with Bird and Dizzy in 1945 and even participated in the first Birth of the Cool nonet recording in 1949. A 1974 LP reissue that included "All God's Chillun" and other tracks from the 1954 trio session was titled Jazz Will-O'-The-Wisp, which might describe Haig's career--on the periphery, and lacking in the overall recognition he so truly deserved. Perhaps this was due to his having a playing style so different from that of the preeminent bop pianist, Bud Powell. Powell was fiery and flashy, whereas Haig was feathery and coolly flowing. If you didn't fully concentrate on the beauty, content, and impeccable execution of Haig's playing, he could easily pass you by.

If you compare Haig's 1954 "All God's Chillun" with the Sonny Stitt/Bud Powell version from December 1949, it's quite apparent that Haig possesses a much controlled and restrained passion, while Powell is living purely on the edge. Haig's rhythmically appealing intro leads to a rather choppy rendition of the melody, but his improvisation floats smoothly on air, with fairly intricate runs that seem to be very easily created. He's as relaxed as Powell is high-strung. Bud's lower octave left-hand jabs are replaced by Haig's far less noticeable left-hand chords in the middle of the keyboard. Crow's forceful bass lines and Abrams' high-spirited drumming seal the deal on this definitive example of Haig at his polished best.

June 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Sonny Fortune: On Second and Fifth

Sonny Fortune turned 70 on May 19, 2009—he’s yet another "senior citizen" jazz musician whose chronological age does not compute with his or her unrelenting vitality and creative impulse. And he's just a youngster compared to Ornette Coleman, Lee Konitz, Sonny Rollins, Hank Jones, and Marian McPartland, among many others still going strong today. Fortune became known largely through his associations with Mongo Santamaria, Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, and Miles Davis during the '60's and '70's, but his most representative recordings as a leader didn't come until his three releases for Blue Note in the '90's, which culminated in From Now On.

"On Second and Fifth" is one of Fortune's five well-crafted originals performed on the CD. The romping, vigorous big band-sounding theme is well-harmonized by Fortune and his guest, Joe Lovano. The late John Hicks sprints zestfully through the first solo, which is framed by enticing turnarounds that pepper the entire arrangement. Lovano plays a swaggering hard bop improv with his distinctively grainy, variously inflected tone. Fortune follows with an initial fanfare, leading to prancing, elongated runs made that much more joyfully appealing by his assured ability—and natural inclination—to navigate the entire range of his instrument. The reprise reinforces the first impression that this composition could easily have been written by Charles Mingus, given its vivid personality and shifting harmonies.

June 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gary Burton (with Astor Piazzolla): Mi Refugio

Burton's Astor Piazzolla Reunion CD brought together some of the musicians of the late Piazzolla's Nuevo Tango Quintet who had toured with Burton in 1986, a collaboration preserved on the album New Tango: Suite for Vibraphone and New Tango Quintet, recorded live at that year's Montreux Jazz Festival. The Reunion session ten years later presented lyrical and passionate interpretations of twelve Piazzolla compositions. However, the 13th and last track, "Mi Refugio," is perhaps the most intriguing.

Piazzolla recorded a series of solo bandoneon performances of classic tangos in 1970, released as Original Tangos from Argentina, Vol.1 and Vol. 2" "Mi Refugio" is a beautiful tango first introduced in 1922 by its composer, pianist Juan Carlos Cobián, one of the creators of the "tango-romanza" style. Piazzolla's 1970 solo recording of it alternates between melodic exposition and spare harmonic outlining, and so, as Burton said, it was "a duet arrangement waiting to happen." Burton wrote a new intro for himself to play, and he also plays along sensitively with Piazzolla on tape in a way that is both unobtrusive and elevating. The vibraphonist's lyrical, reverent intro delineates the tune's harmonies with much grace and skill. When Piazzolla begins his articulation of the theme, Burton just adds soft chords and arpeggios. Piazzolla's forceful lines mix with more sentimental and/or traditional voicings. As the bandoneonist switches to simply sketching the harmonies of the piece, Burton emerges to construct concise, entirely compatible phrases. The interweaving of the two instruments becomes more and more magical and mesmerizing as it progresses to a stunning denouement.

June 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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