Todd Sickafoose: Invisible Ink Revealed

Bassist Todd Sickafoose’s music is highly original and unconventional, and some will surely hesitate to call it jazz. He belongs to a generation of musicians who are familiar with the jazz language and have mastered it, but have also listened to rock and to folk music during their teenage years (and still do), who occasionally enjoy playing with a pop singer (Ani Di Franco, in Sickafoose’s case) and who, beside their talents as instrumentalists, have a strong taste for composing and arranging. Brian Blade would be the most famous example of this type of contemporary musicians, and the atmosphere of the present composition by Sickafoose is not very far from that of some of Blade’s “Fellowship” band tunes. There’s no real solo nor melody in this song, which starts with the bass playing a bouncing romp over hand-claps, while the horns and reeds blow parallel lines with a strong vibrato. When the electric guitar enters with a short melody, followed by the drums playing a rock beat, the sound becomes heavier, but a trickle of notes from the piano soon brings a whiff of lightness, as does the acoustic guitar that comes next. While the strings dominate the sound spectrum, we’re in a soft folk-rock atmosphere until the horns reenter and give the whole thing a mild latin tinge, mixed with a twist of the Miles Davis early seventies experiments, courtesy of some moderate electronic effects. In all, one admires the art of sound blending that Sickafoose displays on a tune that definitely has its own sonic density and seamless organic construction, without ever sounding devised in an intellectual, formal way.

October 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Duke Ellington-Ray Brown: Pitter, Panther, Patter

I almost purposely decided to leave This One’s For Blanton off the list, because the whole album is so completely perfect. But I would have to pick “Pitter, Panther, Patter,” because that is the track that almost defines the Ellington-Blanton duets, and to hear Ray Brown interpret it note-for-note, you really did get a clear picture of, had Jimmy Blanton lived and he and Ellington were to do that stuff again, it probably would have had that same sound, that same kind of feel. Jimmy Blanton, of course, was Ray Brown’s number-one main man, and it shows blatantly on this recording. I also think that is a case study, maybe, just maybe, on the most perfect acoustic bass sound ever produced in the recording studio. Considering that was in late 1972, during the era when they said jazz died and there was nothing hip going on, it just so happens that one of the greatest bass sounds ever produced in the studio was done. Every single note that Ray Brown produces out of that instrument rings like a bell, from the low E all the way up to the top of the bass. You can tell it was just miked. There was no pickup, just a really perfect-perfect sound. You could almost hear the affection and the humility Ray has playing with Ellington, this joy of, “Wow, I’m playing Jimmy Blanton’s original part.” It really does sound like Jimmy Blanton in a time capsule.

From Blanton, Ray got the way he constructed his basslines, the power in his basslines. When you listen to Blanton on “In a Mellow Tone,” “Ko-Ko,” things like that, the way he’s putting his notes was very linear, much more forward-thinking, I believe, than any other bass players of that era—even Milt Hinton, God rest his soul. Jimmy Blanton was definitely from another planet. He set the pace for modern bass playing. But the thing that Ray Brown always admired most about Blanton, I know for certain, was his sound. He said when he was a kid delivering papers in Pittsburgh, there was this big jukebox in the neighborhood, and “Jack The Bear” was playing out of this jukebox, and the thing he remembered most was the bass. He said the bass was just rocking! He was like, “Man, who is that bass player?" Of course, he found out it was Jimmy Blanton and decided to learn every note that he ever played on those Ellington records. So year, Blanton was the genesis.

Ray also made a lot of records with Count Basie on Pablo in the ‘70s. Well, actually he made records with Basie in the ‘60s that weren’t credited. The famous record with Sammy Davis, Jr. and the Basie band has Ray Brown. But Ray heard Walter Page early on, when he was 11, at Pittsburgh’s William Penn Ballroom, when Basie was coming east, and he soaked up all of that Blanton language and the Walter Page language. Walter Page was much more of a...you talk about a piledriving bass player! Didn’t have a lot of technique, didn’t have much melody in his basslines, but I mean, it’s like running a truck through the wall, he was so strong. He and Papa Jo Jones... Even Ellington said in Music is My Mistress, “if I had that rhythm section with my horn section, it would be all over”—something to that effect. So Ray Brown was very much able to prove that notion that you can’t really create anything new until you have absorbed all that has come before you.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Mimi Jones: Suite Mary

A New Day is the debut CD from bassist Mimi Jones, formerly known by her real name, Miriam Sullivan. As Sullivan, she has backed a number of well-known jazz artists, including Rachel Z and Joanne Brackeen at Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festivals at the Kennedy Center. Being a female bassist who also sings, the comparisons to Esperanza Spalding are sure to come for Jones. However, Jones' simple, New Age type lyrics for most of her originals are distracting and diminish the effectiveness of these selections.

For that reason, the instrumental "Suite Mary"--dedicated to Mary Lou Williams--stands out. The track is also buttressed by a shining guest appearance by trumpeter Ambrose Akinmisure, the promising winner of the 2007 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Competition. The piece essentially consists of three sections each introduced by a separate theme, the first funky and riff-based, the second more legato and ethereal, and the third Caribbean-flavored with an allusion to "Shortnin' Bread." Akinmusire's pure, full-bodied tone accentuates these melodies, and his fresh, confident solo is regrettably short. Keyboardist Miki Hayama's exploration is soothingly voiced and thematically focused, while guitarist Marvin Sewell's guitar work ranges from pensively melodic to bluesy and wailingly forthright. A return to the second theme and a melancholy interlude are followed by an energetic, uplifting finale. This absorbing, multi-textured, well-arranged work truly shows Jones' potential more than any other on the CD.

August 25, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Christian McBride: Theme for Kareem

At the annual bass players convention, the meeting divides into two camps. The melodic, play-bass-like-a-big-guitar contingent gathers under the portrait of Scott LaFaro, while the swing-it-with-a-big-sound advocates collect next to the statue of Ray Brown. Okay, I'm not sure if Christian McBride was announcing his affiliation when he named his new CD Kind of Brown, but if you have doubts where he is aligned, just listen to this track. I love his sense of propulsion, a greenhouse-gas-free source of energy that I hope never runs out. He takes a song written by the late, great Freddie Hubbard and convinces you it was really meant to be a bass feature. With all due respect to soloists Wolf and Wilson, the rhythm section here is the star of the show. You could put Jack Benny on violin in front of this churning, burning threesome, and he would start placing in the Downbeat poll. Notch up two sky hook points for the Brown team.

August 04, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


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

Tags:


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

Tags:


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

Tags:


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

Tags:


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

Tags:


Red Mitchell-Harold Land Quintet: Catacomb

This track is a fine example of the work of this excellent but short-lived group. Though this was geographically a West Coast group, their music was much closer in spirit to the style of small-group jazz that was coming out of New York at that time. Harold Land was always one of the most underrated great players in all of jazz, and wrote many distinctive original tunes that appeared on recordings by Wes Montgomery and Bobby Hutcherson, as well as on his own dates. Red Mitchell was one of the most melodic bassists in jazz both as a soloist and accompanist.

"Catacomb" is an attractive 32-bar Land original that provides a stimulating sense of tension and release, both harmonically and rhythmically. It also features a hip off-kilter rhythmic figure that is used as a send-off into the solos.

Land's solo is notable for the combination of intense rhythmic drive, beautifully constructed lines, and distinctive gritty tone quality that made his playing instantly recognizable. Mitchell turns in a spare, warm-toned arco spot. Carmell Jones's solo is notable for its lyricism and warm, glowing sound. Strazzeri's solo is particularly noteworthy for the unconventional way he employs block chords with great rhythmic and harmonic variety. He builds tension by not using conventional right-hand lines until the bridge of his second chorus. Add Frank Strazzeri's name to the short list of jazz soloists who have strong individual styles yet remain practically unknown to the jazz public.

May 20, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Nicolas Thys: Virgo

Starting in a deliberately languishing way, Chris Cheek and Ryan Scott play the opening of "Virgo" with harmonious interplay. Bassist and composer Thys is content to take on an almost veiled role during the proceedings, occasionally punctuating a sustained bass note at precise moments of calm. He relies on the voicings of Cheek and Scott to dominate the musical statement over the steady low-keyed rhythms created with his section partners Rieser and Cowherd. Creek is especially effective when the music stops abruptly and his breathy sustained tone is heard trailing off to silence. After playing predominantly floating chords for the first half of the piece, Scott adds some searing funk/rock oriented guitar licks that seem to add a welcome bite and a surprising sense of drama to the tone of the piece before it trails off into its faded reprise.

May 08, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Esperanza Spalding: Espera

"Espera"'s atmosphere is romantic, and Esperanza Spalding's smooth vocals fit the occasion. Her bass playing is just as smooth, as it glides atop richly textured layers of sound and always rests firmly at the center of the action. In both of her musical roles, Spalding proves that she is, simultaneously, spontaneous and versatile, as her natural inflections cut at the boundaries of what should be expected from such a traditional set of chords. Vocally, she stamps the tune with an immediacy reminiscent of vocal greats like Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan, and these inflections should stand the test of time given their inventive nature. The vocals are clear, the playing is crisp, and the composition itself is aimed at the heart. Sincerity is its focus, and the compositional allusion to unwavering faith amidst tough times is striking. As the track ends, Spalding repeats the mantra "I won't give up," and it is apparent that she is so affected by the sentiment that she is offering listeners an inside glimpse of her true personality.

April 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Esperanza Spalding: She Got to You

Displaying virtuosity en masse, Esperanza Spalding's "She Got to You" flies higher than Sly Stone did at Woodstock. Spalding's impressive vocal sustain rises to the challenge of such a winding composition, and, to my ears, the sax sounds reminiscent of Wayne Shorter's work in Weather Report,. As this track breaks out of the cocktail jazz mode of most of the rest of the album, it certainly is a highlight, even though it sounds more indebted to R&B than anything else; as a singer, she sounds sexy enough to render this tale of one-sided sensuality, and the ego inherent in that notion befits the vocalist to a tee. In ways, this cut can be best described as a fusion between soul and jazz, because, even though the tune is built around chords that a keyboardist like Joe Zawinul would use, the jazz quotient is nearly the same as what was generally performed by groups like Earth, Wind, and Fire and Rufus featuring Chaka Khan.

April 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Esperanza Spalding: I Know You Know

The stuttering bass patterns and semi-dance beats of Esperanza Spalding's "I Know You Know" provide the hooks, but the recording is defined by its fusion of acid-jazz and a certain 70s old-school soul R&B vibe. It is an interesting pastiche; at the outset, listeners will hear the solo sound of Spalding's upright bass as it sits alone in the dark, dusty nightclub that the production style attempts to envision. As the rhythms enter, her snappy vocals display great range and her confidence as a performer shines through in her gutsy reach for notes that constantly build upon each other. Perfectly in tune and in sync with the mood of the recording, this track documents the immediacy of her individual vocal style well. The beats are interesting; they are not "jazz," per se, but find their beginnings in hip-hop production. The track will probably not remind you of many others you've heard, and that individualism underscores a recording that manages to sound as innovative and as fresh as groups like the Pharcyde, the Fugees, and the Roots did on their first few respective albums-meaning that the Nu-Soul movement is still alive and well.

April 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Reid Anderson: Prehensile Dream

It's easy to overlook Reid Anderson in The Bad Plus. Ethan Iverson is most often the lead voice, both with his piano on the bandstand and with his historian-level knowledge of jazz history and culture, as evidenced on the Bad Plus blog, Do the Math, as well as right here on jazz.com. Drummer Dave King often steps into the leading role himself with his undeniable talents that produce a contentious, valiantly twisted rhythmic approach. To no one's surprise, bassist Anderson is the essential musical glue, but like his fellow modern-jazz-trio bassist Chris Wood (of Medeski Martin & Wood fame), he offers a bit more than usual. Anderson is highly accomplished in multiple stylistic arenas and is often the melodic center of the group as well as its harmonic foundation.

Judging from Reid Anderson's material as a leader, he also might very well be the strongest composer of the three. While Anderson's two previous records feature fine playing from Iverson and tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, it's especially interesting to hear Anderson without any of his Bad Plus mates on this 2000 release. Of special note on this pianoless album is "Prehensile Dream," a tune that reappears as the opening track to The Bad Plus's 2005 Suspicious Activity.

Saxophonists Andrew D'Angelo and Bill McHenry and guitarist Ben Monder attack Anderson's compositions with great assurance throughout, providing collective moments of restrained beauty and extreme blowing. The saxophonists are the stars here, starting out whispering the lilting Anderson melody and slowly building into a moving, breathing duel. As the intensity builds, quick bursts of improvisation are juggled with an insistence on keeping the uncomplicated composition front and center.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Previous Page | Next Page