David Hazeltine & Joe Locke: Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year

As the Mutual Admiration Society 2 CD climbs the jazz radio charts, new listeners will hopefully also seek out the first volume released back in 1999. Joe Locke has had fruitful associations with a number of pianists—Kenny Barron, Billy Childs, Frank Kimbrough, Geoff Keezer—but none more rewarding than with David Hazeltine, who himself has maintained a gratifying long-term musical relationship with saxophonist Eric Alexander. The way Locke and Hazeltine perform "Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year" on their first CD together shows how locked in they are both harmonically and in their attention to detail in melodic exposition and in the forming of solos.

The melancholy (check out the lyrics) Frank Loesser ballad comes from the oddly titled, bleak 1944 film noir "Christmas Holiday," but here it's enlivened considerably by a buoyant medium tempo patterned after the 1950 Sarah Vaughan/Miles Davis version. The vibes-piano soundscape is a joy to hear as Locke and Hazeltine gracefully intermingle on the theme. Locke's compelling solo spurts along in cascading fashion from the very start, aided by Hazeltine's highly intuitive accompaniment. Locke's lines are densely packed, but he makes every note meaningful. Hazeltine's improv in contrast is more leisurely developed, very bluesy and swinging in a Wynton Kelly way, and concludes most effectively with some insistently struck two-handed chords. Essiet's bass solo in turn is endearingly lyrical. The polished voicings of the melody on Locke and Hazeltine's return are again enchanting and heartfelt, words that can also describe this track as a whole.

July 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bireli Lagrene: Luck Be A Lady

This track would make for a great blindfold test. Guitarist Bireli Lagrene, well-known for his Gypsy Jazz and fusion projects, singing (!) a tune from the musical "Guys and Dolls" made famous by Frank Sinatra. In fact, on his excellent but unfortunately little-noticed tribute CD, Blue Eyes, Lagrene vocalizes on four of 13 standards associated with Sinatra, whose records he had fallen in love with as a youth. One of the keys to making this salute to Frank work so well was the addition of veteran pianist Maurice Vander to Lagrene's working trio at the time. Vander is an always lyrical, often romantic, technically gifted, and vivacious player who had performed in the past with Django Reinhardt, Don Byas, and Stéphane Grappelli.

The combination of Chris Minh Doky's driving bass line and Vander's elegant chords establishes the ambiance for Lagrene's singing of the lyrics to "Luck be a Lady" in only very slightly accented English. Lagrene sings faithfully to Sinatra's revered style—self-confident, a little cocky, pitch-perfect, and easefully articulate. Vander romps through his piano solo with ringing clarity, fresh voicings, and a relentless swing. Lagrene opens his boppish guitar improv with a delightful quote from Horace Silver's "Sister Sadie," before moving on to full-bodied, surging lines to which he soon adds seamless scatting accompaniment, à la George Benson. His vocal reprise, augmented by André Ceccarelli's crisply precise rim patterns, gives way in the end to a tricky, well-rendered tag by Vander and Doky.

July 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Benny Carter: I'm In The Mood For Swing

With the exception of the 1976 Pablo release The King, it wasn't until Carter began recording for Music Masters in 1987 at the age of 80 that he was given the opportunity to produce any albums made up entirely of his own diverse and worthy compositions. These CDs included Central City Sketches, Songbook, and In the Mood for Swing. For the latter session, Carter unearthed an original he had not played since 1938, the swing era showpiece "I'm in the Mood for Swing."

Just a week after being named a recipient of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Carter is in top form on this track, and so are his clearly inspired bandmates. The catchy syncopation of the theme and its bridge come into play only after the alto-guitar harmonizing of the opening rally cry riff. Carter's silky alto maintains a consistently gushing pulse for the full two choruses of his solo, during which he creates both concise phrases and more elaborate lines that are personalized by his innate logic, clarity, and lightheartedness. Alden solos lucidly in his usual multifaceted swing-to-bop style. Hanna's two-handed, technically adept improv contributes to the high quality level at play here, as does the unrestrained series of Mraz-Bellson exchanges that follow. Urbane, relaxed, and buoyant--such are the words that best describe, as always, this Carter performance.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Teddy Edwards: Midnight Creeper

Edwards was 73 years-old at the time of this session in 1997, and his appealing style was captured vividly throughout. His playing combines a blues-based approach with a mellow assortment of phrasings derived from the vocabulary of bebop. Although Edwards never recorded prolifically as a leader, his underrated talent got him numerous gigs with bands led by, among others, Max Roach, Gerald Wilson, Benny Carter, Milt Jackson, Jimmy Smith, Sarah Vaughan, Benny Goodman, and even Tom Waits. Edwards may be best known for his 1947 recording with Dexter Gordon, "The Duel," while he was a part of the Central Avenue jazz scene in Los Angeles, the city where he resided for almost all his adult life.

Producer Houston Person wisely allowed Rudy Van Gelder to spin his magic sound-wise, and Edwards is nowhere better heard on record than during this extended nine-minute version of "Tenderly." While the CD's title, Midnight Creeper, refers to an Edwards tune by that name, it could just as easily refer to his playing on "Tenderly." The saxophonist creeps up on you and casts a spell, from his supple opening run to his lush-toned, expansive handling of the melody, which he laces with alluring and uplifting embellishments. A dramatic, melancholy mood has been established, but Edwards' solo is something else entirely, blues-drenched from the start, as his tone hardens and he soulfully both blusters and tiptoes through his thematic excursion. The equally underappreciated Richard Wyands keeps a low flame burning during his gently assertive piano solo. Edwards reappears with sensuous come-hither held notes, and proceeds on to a peak in expression and dynamics, followed by a coda that swirls and shouts exuberantly.

July 06, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jacqui Dankworth & New Perspectives: Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff

Written for a suite of A.E. Housman settings (with each movement set by a different British jazz composer) Patrick Gowers� �Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff� is a complex setting designed to show off the extraordinary talents of vocalist Jacqui Dankworth and the ensemble New Perspectives. Jacqui, the daughter of vocalist Cleo Laine and saxophonist John Dankworth, shares the same wide vocal range as her mother and has performed in a vast range of musical settings.

The movement starts with a rhythmic cymbal pattern which in turn becomes the background for serpentine lines from the saxophones. Dankworth enters for the opening verse which admonishes the poet Terence for wolfing down his food and drink. In this short section (just over a minute of music), we hear an astonishing number of ideas, including the distinctive three-note motive for the words �stupid stuff� and the sudden change to waltz-time, both of which Gowers returns to throughout the work. The next section, which mourns a dead cow, is in a slow 3/4, subtly changing back into duple time before a dramatic unaccompanied turn for Dankworth featuring an angular vocal line that could have come from a 20th century opera. There is a brief return to the opening style with fragmented lines performed by Dankworth and the saxes, with the �stupid stuff� motive played in the background by the brasses.

Then, to lighten the mood, Dankworth invokes Terence to pipe a tune to dance to. The ensuing drinking song, again in 3/4, features wide leaps and exaggerated glissandos in the vocal lines and Dankworth sings it in a comic quasi-operatic style. After a brief return to the section with fragmented lines, guitarist Phil Lee introduces a rolling figure in 12/8 (which combines the duple and triple meters heard earlier). This final section is the most relaxed of the entire work, setting Housman�s sage advice to Terence to face life as a wise man would, and train for ill and not for good . Gowers� vocal line is melodic rather than angular, and any necessary minor tension comes through short figures in the horns. And on the final line And I may friend you if I may, in the dark and cloudy day, the quiet ending grows slightly menacing with the final return of the �stupid stuff� motive in the reeds.

July 02, 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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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: 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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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 Søren 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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