Larry Goldings: Cocoon

It makes perfect sense that the accomplished pianist and keyboardist Larry Goldings would be into Bjork. As a sideman, Goldings has dipped his toes into musical waters far from the jazz shore - he has recorded with rock legend James Taylor, funk heavyweight Maceo Parker and hip hop icons De La Soul - so why would he shy away from the music of Iceland’s greatest avant-garde pop star? “Cocoon,” first heard on Bjork’s Vespertine album in 2001, is a simple and meditative piece, awash in soothing Wurlitzer electric piano at the hands of Goldings. The emotive trumpeter John Sneider handles the melody masterfully, cradling each note before sending it off into the ether. Wilson chimes in from time to time, but this tune is not about the rhythm section: mostly, it’s a tender conversation scored for keyboards and trumpet. About what, you ask? Only Bjork knows.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jeff Tain Watts: 107 Steps

The drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts has a fertile imagination, to say the least. How he transposed Bjork’s slow and sweeping “107 Steps” into a burning, swinging jazz tune is beyond this writer, and a testament to Watts’ skill as an arranger. And yet it’s all there in Bjork’s original recording: that great, syncopated bass line, the melody, the changes… it just took a great mind to hear it. And a great band to play it right. Watts, behind the kit, is an undeniable force, and the tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland is a strong and flowing improviser, simply erupting with ideas. The guitarist David Gilmore, heard elsewhere with Don Byron and Steve Coleman, is no slouch either: phrase after phrase, Gilmore digs in with precision, and striking fluidity.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gretchen Parlato: Come To Me

Vocalist Gretchen Parlato has made quite a splash since she won first place in the Thelonious Monk Institute’s International Jazz Vocals Competition in 2004. In 2005, she released her first album as a leader, a self-titled disc featuring the talents of West African guitarist Lionel Loueke and pianist Aaron Parks, with repertoire ranging from Jobim to Shorter to Bjork. The bouncy “Come to Me,” a dance number from Bjork’s breakout album, Debut, becomes a samba with Parlato at the helm, and Loueke on nylon string guitar. The leader’s buttery vocals and horn-like scatting blend well with her ensemble and, by the time the tune has ended, it’s hard to imagine that “Come to Me” belongs to anyone but Parlato.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Geoff Keezer: Venus As A Boy

Sure, the nimble pianist and keyboardist Geoffrey Keezer has put in time with jazz legends (Art Farmer, Benny Golson, Ray Brown), the bright lights of today (Christian McBride, Roy Hargrove) and, most notably, the final edition of the Jazz Messengers. But there’s always room for Bjork, and in 2004, the San Diego-based ivory tickler recorded his arrangement of her reggae-tinged “Venus as a Boy” with Matt Clohesy on bass and fellow Christian McBride sideman Terreon Gully on drums. The results are sublime: Gully’s dub groove is airtight, Clohesy is solid and funky, and Keezer rides atop it all with taste, feeling and restraint. One would be hard-pressed to find a wasted note in this recording.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wasilewski, Kurkiewicz & Miskiewicz: Hyper-Ballad

Marcin Wasilewski, Slawomir Kurkiewicz and Michal Miskiewicz are best known as Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko’s current rhythm section. But on their own, the trio (sometimes operating under the moniker ‘Simple Acoustic Trio’) creates some truly stirring sounds, and in 2004, they stirred up the music of their heroes with their ECM debut. On the album, the group interprets Wayne Shorter’s “Plaza Real,” Stanko’s “Green Sky,” and Bjork’s “Hyper-ballad.” The latter, a powerful exercise in mid-1990s electronica, is given new life by Wasilewski and company. Now truly a ballad, “Hyper-ballad” reveals itself to be sparse and sentimental, where Bjork’s version was heavy, and tense. Wasilewski is a patient player, and knows just what notes not to play. We’ll be hearing more from him, no doubt.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dave Douglas: Unison

The trumpeter Dave Douglas’s take on “Unison” is no match for Bjork’s sublime and bouncy original recording. Absent from his interpretation are the glitchy beats, and the string, harp and electronica parts that made the composer’s version so unique and other-wordly. That said, Douglas’s stab at the tune is a fine effort in and of itself, earthy and organic where Bjork’s music is highly programmed and produced. The leader’s muted trumpet solo darts in and out of all the right places, with ample support from Chris Potter’s subtle bass clarinet work, and James Genus’s deep and sparse bass playing.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jason Moran: Joga

The pianist Jason Moran is as adventurous with his repertoire as he is with his playing. The bandleader and in-demand sideman (Don Byron, Charles Lloyd, Paul Motian) has recorded everything from pieces by Duke Ellington (“Wig Wise”) and Jaki Byard (“Out Front”) to film music (The Godfather: Part II) and hip-hop (“Planet Rock”). So, somehow, it makes sense that he’d be hip to Bjork. With bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits in tow, Moran, on acoustic piano, delivers a delicate reading of Bjork’s “Joga,” the gorgeous ballad-turned-head-nodder from 1997’s Homogenic. The leader meditates carefully upon the tune’s inner drama until about the five-minute mark, when all things soft and thoughtful take a turn for the funky.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Eric Vloeimans Fugimundi: March Of The Carpenter Ants

A handful of attackless electric guitar chords sketch out a simple framework. A piano appears to fill in some of the gaps. A bit of this material is pulled aside to fashion a vamp of sorts. A trumpet begins to spin out phrases that mirror this new structure.

Yes, this is one possible description of “March Of The Carpenter Ants,” though not my preferred angle. Music like this — compositions with circular infrastructure — remind me of the notion attached to sculpture: that the shape already lives in the stone, waiting to be unlocked. This might seem like a slightly pretentious notion but it's directly related to my tendency toward musical synesthesia. That is, the perception of sound often triggers the formation of physical shapes.

When the basic shape is outlined, a mere minute or so into the piece, the trio then goes on to spend the remainder of the time pointing out the details of the final artwork — both to me and each other. The amazing and exhilarating thing is that I see new details during each listen.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dave Rivello: Beyond The Fall

Not too long ago, I went through a period of rediscovery of 1970's action films. It had been a while so when we got to Clint Eastwood, I was as bowled over by the music of Lalo Schifrin as I was by the exploits of Harry Callahan. Maybe today's film music is put together with more modern technology but much of it can't compete with Schifrin's emotion-laden dynamics.

“Beyond The Fall” reminded me of Schifrin's work because it managed to tell it's own story. Dave Rivello's ultra-dynamic ensemble runs through this composition employing start & stop breaks, quick tempo changes, tension-building solos (especially Matt Pivec on soprano sax), exciting swells, and judicious use of dissonance. I found myself doing something that more commonly occurs with my favorite rock recordings: turning it up waaay too loud.

For lovers of the modern big band sound (in a slightly smaller package), this track is highly recommended.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Barrett Martin: Shapeshifter

The music of Barrett Martin can be tough to pin down. Go ahead and listen to his work with the rock band Screaming Trees. Then check out Tuatara. Sure, it's something of a stylistic leap from the former to the latter, but if viewed as a transition, it illustrates the wide-ranging extent of Martin's interests and hearing: his “big ears.”

Martin's solo recordings have leaned more toward the multi-faceted pallet of Tuatara — music that's cinematic and draws from many sources, often within the confines of a single composition.

“Shapeshifter” indeed proves my point, starting out with a pensive segment lead by two melodic instruments (piano, vibes) telling a reserved story in waltz time. But then the band launches into high energy Latin jazz mode and we're treated to fabulous solos by Dave Carter on trumpet and John Rangel on piano. Martin and bassist Chris Golden really dig in to the groove here. By the tune's end, the mood has gone back to the more reserved and searching, this transition seeming less abrupt and perhaps even more appropriate now that the whole story has been revealed.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mike Mainieri/Marnix Busstra Quartet: The Same New Story

Mike Mainieri has been a major force in fusion since the early 1980s when he co-founded Steps Ahead. On this recording with Netherlands-based guitarist Marnix Busstra, Mainieri takes an acoustic, organic approach to the music. The compositions on this CD, mostly by Busstra, offer a variety of styles and interesting instrumentation.

“The Same New Story” has a beguiling and sensitive melody played by Busstra on acoustic guitar, as Mainieri dances elegantly behind him with on vibraphone. Using the sustained bass notes of Eric Van Der Westen and the soft brushwork of Pieter Bast, this floating piece temporarily suspends reality. Busstra’s light and airy fingering is delicate and emotional. Mainieri’s solo hovers over the lazily sauntering rhythm like a balsa wood glider floating on air. Together, these four artists create a mood that allows the listener to momentary escape into a state of calm and tranquility.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Michael Olatuja (featuring Alicia Alatuja): Walk With Me

What a coincidence: this afternoon I had relocated my laptop to the three-season porch to take advantage of the quickly fading autumn sunshine. The first CD I popped into the stereo was Mahalia Jackson's Gospels, Spirituals & Hymns. Wow, what a voice. Though I did not grow up in this tradition (and I don't think my attending the Polish mass just to hear the pipe organ counts), I've spent enough time listening to various roots musics to know when something is “the real thing.”

Later in the evening, I pull the top entry off my review pile: bassist Michael Olatuja. Amazing. His modern take on the old gospel classic “Walk With Me,” featuring his wife Alicia Olatuja on vocals, has some common ground with Jackson – the subtle incorporation of many musical elements. Where Jackson brought in blues and jazz, Olatuja has funk, soul, and jazz: all in service to the tune. The more modern parts of the composition feature Olatuja's groove-laced bass work as well as Alicia's soulful vocals. But just when you think all is contemporary, the band drops into a nice & swingin' vamp that would not be out of place on a Vince Guaraldi record. Great stuff.

Something tells me I've got to try to work on that porch again tomorrow.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gregg Gelb: Funk It!

I don't know if your dad ever told you this but you have to be very careful with the funk. It can put permanent (and embarrassing!) stains on your clothes, bumping up your chance of making terrible first impressions in social situations.

Even worse: it can get you mistaken for a smooth jazz musician. Just think, one wrong move and you're sandwiched in between Kenny G and Boney James. Ouch.

As luck would have it, Gregg Gelb knows how to handle the funk. He's got a drummer slinging with that loose-but-tight feel, a sympathetic piano player who can amp up the funk with snazzy unison lines as well as wide-ranging solos, and a bassist who can swing like crazy. This is one fun little tune. The soulful vibe might induce spontaneous body part wavin', but I predict no other social disturbances.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Superbass: It Ain't Necessarily So

Certainly, playing with Ray and John Clayton in Superbass was one of the highlights of my entire career. Getting to actually play WITH Ray Brown and know what it feels like to have Ray Brown walking behind you, was pretty overwhelming. Ray was so driving and so forceful, I just remember thinking, “How in the world am I supposed to solo? How am I supposed to get over on top of that as a bass player?” Ray would just look at you and say, “come on, you’d better sink or swim, because I’m not going to quiet down.” So you had to just get on up there and blow.

He wrote an arrangement of a Porgy and Bess medley---“Summertime,” “I Loves You, Porgy,” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” This arrangement of “It Ain’t Necessarily So” is one of the funkiest, most down-home, most chicken-grease, rib-bone arrangements you could ever imagine. It definitely will get your foot tapping. It’s a real gritty, funky arrangement. It’s right up my alley.

Ray always demystified everything. John and I would constantly look at him and go, “Wow, that’s Ray Brown; let’s respect him; he has the final say-so with everything, and however the arrangements go, we’ll let him dictate that.” Ray would always look at us and say, “Look, man, please cut the shit. Yes, I know I’m old, but you guys are as much responsible for keeping the sound of this trio going as I am. I don’t want to be the center of this trio ALL the time.” So Ray gave us very much equal responsibility to create the sound of that trio. We all seemed to have our own natural thing that we did well. John, of course, with his classical background and his Basie background, usually when he would bring an arrangement it would be something kind of Basie-ish, or Ray would feature him on a sort of European type of thing where he could use his bow. They used to do this arrangement of “My Funny Valentine.” When it came time for me to get featured, Ray’s phrase was, “Ok, now the party gets started.” So Ray always left the crowd-pleasing stuff for us.

He asked me to bring an arrangement. He said, “Christian, I know you know all those old funk tunes. Why don’t you arrange an old funk song for the bass trio?” So I brought in “Papa Was A Rolling Stone.” we did it on this Super Bass, Part 2 recording. But I think the one on that date that particularly features Ray the best was “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” That was the track where, dare I say, I got to walk on top of HIM a little bit, and he’s just on top of everybody, just soloing like nuts. It was a real crowd pleaser.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bill Frisell: Goodnight Irene

The players in Bill Frisell’s longest standing current trio doubles as the rhythm section for the Sex Mob - bassist Tony Scherr, a fine guitarist and singer/songwriter in his own right, and drummer Kenny Wollesen, a veteran of the groups of John Zorn and Tom Waits, among countless others. The group allows (… or forces) Frisell to step into the spotlight and “play out” a bit more than in most of his other musical projects, which is a real treat considering the group’s massive repertoire and extraordinary rapport. On his website, Frisell summarized his feelings about the group: “My trio with Tony Scherr and Kenny Wollesen is probably the most flexible, spontaneous group I play with. […] I have the luxury of playing just about anything that comes into my head at any moment. This could be music from any of my albums, standard songs, folk songs, or whatever.” The no-frills guitar solo on “Goodnight Irene,” played in a mid-tempo 6/8, recorded live at the Village Vanguard in 2005, displays Frisell’s unconditional loyalty to melody – building in intensity but never abandoning the original storyline.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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