Vince Mendoza: All Blues

Stuart Nicholson sang the praises of this CD on the blog in November 2008. And for good reason. Blauklang features some of the most creative writing for large jazz ensemble in recent memory. If you enjoy Maria Schneider or continue to listen to the old Gil Evans-Miles Davis collaborations, you'll want this CD. Like Evans, Mendoza knows how to shape orchestral colors that are more sound textures than harmonies. The intro is a minimalist buzzing, a postmodern nature walk, that eventually settles into that perhaps-too-familiar "All Blues" vamp. Familiar, but only briefly . . . Mendoza now unpacks his own bag of tricks, fake modulations, oddball counterpoint, surprising chords, novel mix-and-match instrumental combinations. Not just this track, but the entire CD is a real pleasure. Credit must be given to Nguyên Lê and Markus Stockhausen (son of the famous composer), but especially to Vince Mendoza, who can no longer be typecast as a behind-the-scenes orchestrator of commercial projects for singers. On the basis of this release, Mendoza has moved into a select group, and deserves recognition as one of the finest living jazz arrangers.

December 08, 2008 · 1 comment


Miles From India: All Blues

Miles had a cool period, and a fusion period, but the Prince of Darkness never went through a Carnatic phase. Even so, his music, especially from the modal period, is well suited for the multicultural angle of the Miles From India project. For my part, I give high marks to any session that puts the great ghatam player Vikku Vinayakram in a rhythm section alongside Ron Carter and Jimmy Cobb, and mixes sitar and alto sax in the front line. (Front line? Perhaps I should call it the front half lotus position.) Producer Bob Belden gets high marks just for the bravado of his vision. But the fun doesn't stop there. The band tackles "All Blues" in 5/4 just to add some more curry into an already spicy mix. In an age of tribute projects that are as tasty as last week's leftovers, this one delights the palette.

July 28, 2008 · 0 comments


Toots Thielemans: Blue N' Green/All Blues

In some ways the great Toots Thielemans has been overlooked by the jazz world. That can happen when your main ax is a harmonica. Harmonicas and accordions are forever to be outsiders – never let into the club in which overwhelming virtuosity on an instrument is highly admired by legions of aficionados. It doesn't help that Toots is also a guitarist, a superlative whistler or that he had a hit tune with "Bluesette." These seem not to have added enough to his bona fides. There is a big difference between being called "the greatest jazz harmonica player" instead of "one of the greatest jazz musicians." Thielemans is both and jazz people in the know, know it.

For all intents and purposes, "Blue in Green" (listed here as "Blue N' Green") serves as a prelude for Thielemans's take on another Miles Davis classic, "All Blues." The medley begins first with pianist Fred Hersch and Thielemans taking wonderful solos extolling the thoughtful melodic virtues of "Blue in Green." Their measured but expressive endeavors serve as a melancholy introduction to "All Blues." The band goes up-tempo as Johnson and Baron propel the piece. Hersch and Thielemans once again take turns playing over the rapid changes. After several minutes of high energy, the two slow the number down with some touching counterpoint and a loving restatement of the theme. Thielemans's harmonica is as expressive as any mainstream instrument could ever hope to be.

Being a jazz harmonica virtuoso and a jazz whistler has some advantages. You don't have too much competition. You get some nice movie soundtrack jobs (Midnight Cowboy among others). A TV commercial can come your way here and there (Old Spice). And you can become known as perhaps the greatest jazz harmonica player/whistler ever. That will have to do for now.

June 21, 2008 · 0 comments


Miles Davis: All Blues

Miles Davis recorded many classic performances during his long career, but this ranks among the most beloved and best known of his works. Bill Evans sets the tone with a 6/8 vamp which provides both a hook for the listener and a spur for the soloists. I could tell you that Miles never had a better band . . . but, honestly, the real issue here is whether anyone ever brought a finer combo into a studio. And unlike most all-star dates, Kind of Blue contains no grandstanding or attempts at one-upmanship. Miles, Trane, Cannonball and the rhythm section all assert their individual personalities, but in a way that stays true to the mood of the music. This is not just a song, but a musical vision, perfectly realized and set down for the ages.

December 22, 2007 · 1 comment


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