Mike LeDonne: In The Bag

At its regular jam sessions at Smoke Jazz Club in Manhattan, this limitless house band gives the listening audience a touch of vintage groove. On the Nat Adderley tune “In The Bag”, tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander and guitarist Peter Bernstein take short two-chorus solos, then yield to leader Mike LeDonne for an extended four-chorus solo. He starts with a progressive, twitching tone, and after a series of low-volume funky teasers, shifts into high gear and unleashes a series of blues-drenched licks. LeDonne is obviously very comfortable in this environment, and before the rest of the band enters for the last head statement, he finishes off with a full-range smear up to the top register of the manual.

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Barbara Dennerlein: Lost Friends

German organ star Barbara Dennerlein has been a presence on the European jazz scene since her teens. Her many albums show a far-reaching scope. This track is a solo organ excursion, beginning with an extended opening that makes use of tense overtones and pipe organ-like settings. Later, she establishes a strict tempo, stating the melody and accompanying herself with the foot pedals. The tune’s somber theme unfolds with a strict bass motion, and Dennerlein solos while remaining focused on keeping the melody present. About two minutes before the end, she adds another layer of organ pads, adding the fullness of a back-up chorus to her explorative solo musings.

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Tony Monaco: Slow Down Sagg

When organ wizard Tony Monaco plays live with his Toronto Trio, the audience shares in the energy as the musicians on stage let loose. The Jimmy Smith tune used here is a model of simplicity, and Vito Rezza’s funky drums get the jam get going quickly and keep it burning on a wide-open groove. Guitarist Ted Quinlan offers up slices of soulful, hard-swinging blues phrases. Soon Monaco takes a vigorous, no-holds-barred solo, with distortion and some pitch-bending effects close to the end. When the fun is over, a club member’s disoriented gaze might happen on his or her neighbor, only to ask “What just happened? Where am I? Why am I covered in sweat?”

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jonathan Kreisberg: Five Bucks A Bungalow

Although he began his career as a pianist in the post-Corea/Hancock vein, Gary Versace has developed a long list of activities on organ as well. Here Versace is using his thoughtful approach on an up-tempo Kreisberg original. The tune is a new head on the sus-chord blues changes of Ron Carter’s “Eighty-One.” Kreisberg’s nimble solo statements, full of modern linear approaches, are supported by the subdued comping of Versace. What is interesting here is how Versace’s fast bass walk locks in with the driving rhythmic motion of Ferber. Versace heats up around 4:15, with a few fourths that he hammers home before he really starts burning. This is a group of young New Yorkers that know how to stretch, and they sound like they are having fun playing the blues.

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Rhoda Scott: Danny Boy/ Lift Every Voice And Sing

Rhoda Scott knows how to work the sound of gospel into her jazz songs, but her medley of the traditional “O Danny Boy” and the Black National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is something unique. Scott’s hymn-like introduction builds the melody of the first song with all the rhetoric of a country preacher. Her mastery of the instrument allows her great freedom to mix musical elements. Bridging these two songs might be a stretch, and it is difficult to know what Scott is saying with this one, but her musical mastery lets all the brilliance of her gospel style come out. With a prolonged, orchestral ending, Scott provides plenty of excitement by the close of the track.

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jesse Van Ruller: Tear Jam

In contrast to the large doses of “chicken grease” usually found on jazz organ recordings, “Tear Jam” is a plaintive jazz waltz with a warm and introspective beauty. Guitar virtuoso Jesse Van Ruller has a creamy texture to his tone. The music is carefully controlled and very delicate. The gifted organist Sam Yahel occasionally plays outside of the chord changes, but it always sounds like he has a plan to snake his way back inside. His lyrical solo starts with a series of short fragments, and then develops with more searching lines into a far-reaching and expressive treatise. Yahel doesn’t add too much bite here, but his fluid lines cut through easily. Yahel makes great use of the organ’s volume pedal, which makes his chords sway and swell as he guides the band’s groove.

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Will Bernard: Magpie

Taken at a fast tempo, “Magpie”’s jittery melody features a break that sets up a pyramid-like line. The whole band lays down a furiously funky groove, but the screaming organ riffs of Medeski sometimes covers up Bernard’s adept guitar solo. This is nonetheless a tight-knit group, and the intensely greasy solo by Medeski is fun to hear. His organ settings seem centered in hard rock, then altered by a phaser effect that adds a jolt to the notes from the middle range. Once the swirling of the Leslie stops, one is still shaking after Medeski’s powered-up jam on this track.

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Matt Wilson: Free Range Chicken

A very simple minor pentatonic vamp sets up a major departure with a fun, quirky melody composed by Matt Wilson. Larry Goldings steps out with a funky vamp, reminiscent of his work with Maceo Parker’s band. Terell Stafford’s trumpet (augmented with plunger mute) lends a touch of gut-bucket style, with growls and rips, but also economy. Goldings rocks out during a very experimental solo, and lights a fire under the rest of the rhythm section when he changes his presets during his solo. The chicken here may be clawing and scratching its way out of the coop, hoping to see the light of day.

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Joey DeFrancesco: I Thought About You

Organ marvel Joey DeFrancesco is best known for carrying on the tradition of bebop, which was set forth by his mentor Jimmy Smith. He has also broadened his discography by showcasing some of the sidemen he has come to know well. One of the highlights of Organic Vibes, an album with Bobby Hutcherson, is this version of “I Thought About You”. As the band takes this straight-forward ballad for a spin, the mood is of a softly lit supper club. Hutcherson’s crisp, glass-like tone allows the sweetness of the standard’s melody to come forward. He really knows the subtlety of his instrument, and DeFrancesco’s support acts as a deferential complement. As DeFrancesco emerges from underneath Hutcherson’s beautifully spare solo, the heat turns up, and the organist uses a percussion setting throughout his solo for more punch on his many fast runs. After the closing notes on the track, a voice (possibly the sweet Hutcherson) proudly proclaims, “If you don’t like that, you don’t like ice cream!”

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dr. Lonnie Smith: Sweet Dreams

The nuances that made much pop music of the ‘80s so much fun to listen to are carefully deconstructed in this voodoo séance treatment by Dr. Lonnie Smith and his band. Smith’s introduction with fluty, music-box-like tinkering followed by watery whole-tone runs sets up the entrance of a bass drum and tambourine beating out a dirge rhythm. Saxophonist Donald Harrison solos impressively with tasteful phrasing. Smith is up next with a solo marked by economical note choices. Even if he doesn’t shred with fast runs here, funkiness is always in good supply. His solo rises in intensity as he moves farther up the upper manual’s range and as he adds grit to his already growling tone. The last solo, by guitarist Balitsaris is full of twangy blues expression. This is a theatrical version of an already dramatic pop hit, and Smith & Co. have made sure to keep their soulfulness at center stage.

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Fred Simon: Same Difference

To those in the know, one of Chicago's secret pleasures is native pianist/composer Fred Simon. On “Same Difference” the exquisite multi-instrumentalist Paul Mc Candless joins him to create this memorable piece of pastoral cross-genre music. McCandless, of Oregon fame, worked together with Simon previously on Premonition, Mc Candless’s 1992 album, where the two undoubtedly found they had kindred spirits.

Simon’s approach on this ballad is delicate and low-keyed. He avoids playing too much, preferring his composition to speak for itself. The interplay between the soprano saxophone and the piano is almost telepathic creating a glowingly warm conversation. Mc Candless' uplifting solo joyfully elevates the music, releasing it from its predictable path while spiriting it to a higher level. Together these two create a memorable piece of “chamber style” jazz that raises the spirit with warmth and beauty without becoming sentimental.

September 27, 2009 · 0 comments

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John Pondel: Mr. Obvious

“Mr. Obvious” is a clever John Pondel composition that utilizes the cool, smoky sound of David Binney’s alto and Pondel’s mellow guitar lines to establish a mood of mystery and intrigue. The tune could easily be used as the soundtrack for a detective series. “Mr. Obvious” enters the room over the syncopated bass of Scott Colley and the light traps of Marivaldo Dos Santos. The duet of Binney and Pondel musically frame the character’s entrance and create a laid back, hip sixties sound to perfection. Binney, a passionate player, uses a decidedly restrained delivery here to capture a fluid, nonchalant attitude. Pondel is equally subdued when soloing, using chords more than single notes, keeping it simple. The music ends in a precise and crisp finale as “Mr. Obvious” makes his exit.

September 24, 2009 · 0 comments

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Yaron Herman: Army Of Me

Simply put, “Army of Me” is Bjork at her best. The lead track off of 1995’s Post, “Army” is brash, catchy, and full of fire and attitude. Plus, it features a distorted and snarling bass ostinato that you’ll never quite get out of your head. So it was only a matter of time before someone tackled this one. And, fortunately, that someone’s version is a fine re-imagining. The young pianist Yaron Herman, from Paris (but born and raised in Israel), featured this tune on his 2007 trio album A Time for Everything, and took it to that fuzzy middle ground between jazz and rock most often occupied by bands like The Bad Plus and Sex Mob. Herman, a tasteful and sprightly player, nearly swings the tune at times, but the intensity and feel of the arrangement is more in line with rock music. He is supported here by the double bassist Matt Brewer and driving drummer Gerald Cleaver. Other cover tunes on A Time for Everything include Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and Britney Spears’ “Toxic.”

September 22, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: Isobel

From Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey are nothing if not eclectic. For 2005’s Joel Dorn-produced The Sameness of Difference, for instance, the piano trio (today a quartet, with strikingly different personnel) recorded compositions by a wide array of stylists: Mingus, Brubeck, Hendrix, Lennon/McCartney and… Bjork! “Isobel,” a haunting, string-enhanced thriller off of Bjork’s 1995 album Post, tells the tale of a hermit, but JFJO have a much more extroverted story to spin. On this excursion, electric bassist Reed Mathis states the melody (with more than a little help from some otherworldly effects) while the spastic acoustic pianist and stride enthusiast Brian Haas comps underneath, and the sensitive drummer Jason Smart propels the group into stellar regions. The sounds of Jacob Fred are wild, but always thoughtful, and the music of Bjork suits them well: like their Icelandic hero, these musicians are big risk-takers, and always evolving.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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The Bad Plus: Human Behavior

The Bad Plus’s arrangement of “Human Behavior,” recorded during the same 2005 sessions that yielded the group’s Suspicious Activity?, never found its way onto that album, or any other (it’s available only as a download). Which is a shame, really, because the track is outstanding, especially when you concentrate on bassist Reid Anderson’s playing (check out his all-too-brief solo at 2:16), David King’s comic drum fill at 2:18, Iverson’s striking independence at 3:59, or on the ensemble groove at nearly any point in the song. Truly, if you listen close enough, you can hear three dudes from the American Midwest transform into one small Icelandic woman.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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