Mario Pavone: Tepito

Mario Pavone has been an inspirational leader of progressive bands, a strong self-taught bassist, and an adventurous composer influenced by the likes of Paul Bley, Anthony Braxton, Bill Dixon, Charles Mingus, and Julius Hemphill. He was also a longtime member of the late Thomas Chapin's trio, and Chapin is joined on Pavone's own stimulating Toulon Days by Joshua Redman, here making his recording debut.

The Chapin-Redman front line, augmented by trombonist Steve Davis, is heard at its best on Pavone's perky "Tepito." Galeta's insinuating piano ostinato sets up the staccato theme, which possesses a somewhat macabre Monkish character. Galeta's opening solo is both lilting and engagingly animated. Redman follows, his stylistic concept already confidently in place, as he combines swirling lines and imaginatively varied textures and rhythms with an airtight logic. Davis's full-bodied trombone solo is more sparsely melodic in contrast, before Chapin ups the energy level once again with his restlessly undulating post-bop improvisation. Chapin and Redman were two of the must-hear saxophonists during the '90s, until Chapin's tragic death from leukemia at age 40 in 1998. What a pleasure, therefore, to hear them together for this one and only time on an album.

March 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jonas Hellborg: Black Rite

Bassist Jonas Hellborg says "Black Rite" was assembled in the studio. I take that to mean it was created on the spot or just before the performance. I am guessing the string parts were coordinated ahead of time or overdubbed later. But to listen to legendary drummer Tony Williams and Hellborg interact, even if overdubbed, is pure joy. "Black Rite" is a soundscape buttressed by Williams's marshalling rhythms. Williams and Hellborg are heard in the mix equally. Hellborg has always been about finding some subterranean groove and grinding it into the earth's molten core. The key to this duo was how Williams's own signature grooves would mesh with Hellborg's. Obviously there is an exciting rapport. On the other hand, the duo's intriguing accent playing, under the background strings, is enough to cajole you into formation as well. Hellborg plays several beautiful themes in unison with the Soldier String Quartet. The melodic pace remains mostly constant even as Williams plays double time. A burst of energy leads to a purposeful drum break that leads to the coda. "Black Rite" is an organic piece with its own pulse of aggression and restraint. It is a very moving creation.

March 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jonas Hellborg: Miklagaard

I sometimes wonder about a song's title. Does it have hidden meaning? I found that Miklagaard, most often spelled with one less "a," was an ancient name for Istanbul. Is that all there is to the title? Wait. We are in the Internet age. Why don't I just ask Jonas Hellborg, the man who named the song? So I did. His response was, "Miklagaard was the Viking name for Istanbul. They laid siege and tried to take over but finally made a deal with the Sultan and instead became mercenaries for him." Sometimes a title really is what it says.

"Miklagaard" is an insistent dirge. It is structurally similar to several pieces that would appear later on Ginger Baker's Unseen Rain, to which Hellborg was a major contributor. Hellborg seems to play rhythm and a Middle Eastern-tinged melody simultaneously. It is quite hypnotic. Tony Williams sounds great serving as the linchpin for Hellborg and the occasional well-placed riff from the Soldier String Quartet. You could listen to this drummer and bassist for hours on end, and they would never run out of ideas. Their interplay will put you into a serious trance. When you snap out of it, you may just find yourself in Miklagaard.

March 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jonas Hellborg: Zat

Much of bassist Jonas Hellborg's The Word was homage to Tony Williams's Lifetime, the fiery progenitor of the jazz fusion movement. This homage is in the form of recreating spirit and intent, not sound. Lifetime was an overloaded electrical circuit. The Word is all acoustic. I have not pulled the influences out of a hat. The inclusion here of Tony Williams himself partly leads to my conclusion. But I must be honest with you: the liner notes conveniently told me. That is always helpful!

Ironically, "Zat" sounds more like something the Mahavishnu Orchestra or a post-Mahavishnu Jan Hammer might have performed rather than Lifetime. In particular, the strings evoke the patterns and sounds that Hammer played on synthesizer for his first few '70s solo efforts. Hellborg lays a little low (for him). The main protagonist on "Zat" is Williams. He is all over the place in support of the insistent and catchy string riffs. The drummer's heavy backbeat always drives the tune forward. His rhythms are dramatically punctuated by unison chords from Hellborg and the Soldier String Quartet. "Zat" lasts less than 2 minutes, but brims with fully executed musical ideas that invoke the past to create the present.

March 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mulgrew Miller: Caravan

A full 10 years after its recording, The Duets, produced as a promotional CD for Bang & Olufsen, had still not been released commercially. The music salutes Duke Ellington, with 10 of 12 tunes composed by him. "Caravan" is a dazzling performance as Niels-Henning rsted Pedersen supports pianist Mulgrew Miller with an unbelievable virtuosic ostinato bass figure during the A-parts of the theme. The tempo is fast, making it all the more incredible that every note stands distinct in the sound picture. Throughout, NHP plays with infectious drive and swing, both as accompanist and as soloist, which inspires Miller to great heights as well. A classic performance.

February 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen: I Skovens Dybe Stille Ro

This track is a Danish traditional song that pianist Kenny Drew and bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen made a hit with their performance on 1974's Duo. In fact, Drew's reharmonization was published in print, so every schoolchild could learn it. But, as expected, Oscar Peterson makes his own statement here, playing fleet, unhampered and with a lyrical touch as if it were his own composition, yet retaining the song's beautiful mood. NHØP supports with masterly contrapuntal basslines, and the two exchange solos while Wakenius plays a sparse and crisp accompaniment. A lovely interpretation, more mature and in tune with the song's intended mood than the earlier duo version.

February 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen: To A Brother

This track is dedicated to Johannes, the eldest brother of Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, who died earlier that year. NHØP's composition is a theme in 6/8 consisting of quietly moving figures with an interesting bassline, the song beautiful in its simplicity. NHØP carries the melody with a sparse accompaniment by Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius and drummer Adam Nussbaum, after which Wakenius takes over with a great solo that builds in dynamics and intensity. He is succeeded by NHØP, whose own solo is just as fine, an emotional statement blending singable phrases and virtuosic runs. Throughout, Nussbaum is highly attentive, making this track - and the entire album - a complete pleasure.

February 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen: Natten Er S� Stille

Pianist Ole Kock Hansen and bassist Niels-Henning �rsted Pedersen knew each other from childhood, Kock Hansen one year older than NHØP. They were neighbors then, growing up in Osted, a village 30 miles southeast of Copenhagen, and after becoming professional musicians, they became neighbors again when they each moved to Ish�j, a suburb south of Copenhagen, not far from Copenhagen Airport. It was a strange stroke of fate that NHØP should die in his sleep on his couch the very same afternoon of Kock Hansen's 60th birthday, a couple of hours before he was invited to the birthday party next door.

During the years the two performed together hundreds of times, on recordings and at concerts, very often just as a duo. Like NHØP, Kock Hansen was partial to songs from Danish folklore and songbooks. C.E.F. Weyse's beautiful "Natten Er S� Stille" from 1840 is performed as a bass solo throughout, as Hansen accompanies with suitable but not too much reharmonization. NHØP's interpretation continues into a solo that never moves far from the melody. He closes with an ascending 4-note figure � rising from the dominant to the major third � that is repeated three times. The peaceful mood is maintained from start to finish.

February 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen: My Little Anna

Jaywalkin' was Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen's first album as a leader, and this came rather belatedly, considering his enormous talent and the fact that at this point he'd been a professional musician for 14 years. "My Little Anna" is dedicated to NHØP's youngest daughter, and is a lovely samba with a charming melody and catchy harmonies. NHØP carries the theme and continues into a long, virtuosic, lyrical solo that at the same time both breathes and tells a good story. The song form is the familiar A-A-B-A, and as Lester Young so often did, NHØP uses the B-parts as a platform for relaxation, here soloing with less intensity and broader lines that give the listener a chance to breathe too. After his 3-minute solo, there is room for a keyboard solo and a guitar solo - one chorus apiece - after which NHØP takes the tune out. In this song, NHØP's talent fully blossoms, demonstrating his forceful swing, great melodic and harmonic sense and a sure-fingeredness that makes each note ring with his characteristic sonorous and flexible sound.

February 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Kenny Drew & Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen: Once a Saturday Night

From its release in 1974, Duo became a hit, especially in Japan where it sold thousands. Maybe it was the unique blend of jazz originals, bossa nova, Danish traditional songs and other tunes that appealed to the public. "Once a Saturday Night" (Det var en L�rdag Aften) is one of the most popular Danish folksongs. Originally written in 2/4, it is performed here in 6/8, making it more danceable.

By the way, this tune was the inspiration for Sonny Rollins's "St. Thomas." Rollins's grandmother was from Saint Thomas, the Virgin Islands, which was under the Danish crown until 1917; she learned the song there and sang it often for little Sonny during his childhood. Both the form and harmonies of "St. Thomas" perfectly match "Once a Saturday Night." It is easy to sing either tune against the background of the other.

Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen presents the theme and continues into a very lyric solo. After Kenny Drew's piano solo, the two improvise collectively for a chorus before NHØP takes the song out. A charming track in all its relatively simplicity, with NHØP in command most of the time.

February 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dexter Gordon: Blues Walk

Tenor titan Dexter Gordon was a mainstay at the Montmartre during the 1960s, except for '66 when a drug sentence in Paris prevented him from obtaining a work permit in Denmark. But luckily he was back in 1967. That year his playing at the club during the summer was even more majestic and inspired than before, possibly because of the excellent rhythm section. I happened to be at the club this particular evening, and the concert stands out in my memory as one of the best I ever heard with Gordon. The recording doesn't contradict my memory, and this performance is a classic. Gordon plays marvelously through his 30 solo choruses, followed by Kenny Drew, Niels-Henning rsted Pedersen and Albert Heath, respectively. The tempo is fast, and each man is up on his toes, making the music glow. It was certainly a hot night. NHP plays a 6-chorus solo where his articulation is unusually clean and precise, especially considering the tempo.

February 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Kenny Drew: Swingin' Till The Girls Come Home

Oscar Pettiford's classic blues original is a true swinger. By this time, Kenny Drew and Niels-Henning rsted Pedersen had been part of the house rhythm section at the Montmartre Jazzhouse in Copenhagen for almost three years, and knew each other in and out. NHP plays the complicated theme in complete unison with the piano not a single note is missing and demonstrates great drive both during the accompaniment and in his eight solo choruses.

February 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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David Dyson: Lovely One

"Lovely One" is arguably the prime track to hear on David Dyson's third self-produced CD for his Lohandfunk label. Fans of John Klemmer and Grover Washington, Jr., will especially enjoy "Lovely One." The melody and harmonies at times evoke Klemmer's "Free Fall Lover," while the sheen and fluidity of Keys's soprano sax are suggestive of Washington, Jr. Dyson's bass work and programmed drum, keyboard, and voice tracks make it all come together, and the selection holds up well on repeat listens.

Keys, the veteran Washington, D.C.-based saxophonist, initially plays the lilting theme before Dyson takes over while Keys supplies captivating obbligatos. Keys's expressive solo work is in turn supported by a Dyson bass vamp in harmony with an ethereal wordless voice track. Dyson's melodic solo is highlighted by his richly inviting tone and nimbly cohesive phrasing. Keys's second seductive improv, enhanced by Dyson's lively percussive backdrop, carries the piece to a gentle fadeout ending.

Dyson has performed with such artists as Tim Hagans, Bob Belden, Me'Shell N'degeocello, and Jonathan Butler. When not gigging with his own group in the D.C. area, he also juggles continuing commitments to Marcus Johnson, Lalah Hathaway, and Pieces of a Dream.

February 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Drew Gress: Chevelle

Drew Gress is a highly intelligent composer, and it shows on "Chevelle." The harmonic line and rhythm, pinned down solidly by Gress, Taborn and Rainey, takes a jagged path but always reaches its destination. Even Alessi's and Berne's short horn chart zigs and zags around that elusive melody. In the midst of Gress's controlled storm of sounds are Taborn's calm, minimal chords that balance out of the rest of the instruments. As Gress and Alessi solo, the pianist chooses his spots carefully, giving the horn men space to express themselves effectively. About five minutes in, the choppy groove gives way to an extended free-flowing coda. It's in essence the same motif, but slowed down and given a slightly exotic flavor with discreet electronic washes. "Chevelle" revels in changing and conflicting moods that Drew Gress has deftly orchestrated.

January 01, 2009 · 0 comments

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Stanley Clarke: Power

Any tune that begins with a Tony Williams drum solo is an important one to listen to. The aptly named "Power," which appeared on Stanley Clarke's second solo release, featured a slice of the veritable who's who of the burgeoning fusion scene. Clarke and guitarist Bill Connors were members of Return to Forever. (Connors was in the process of leaving the band at this time.) Jan Hammer was coming off his historic stint with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Tony Williams was between Lifetime bands. Clarke's record had a real Return to Forever meets Mahavishnu Orchestra meets Lifetime pedigree going for it.

Williams's solo sets the stage for "Power." At times on the fusion funk number, keyboardist Jan Hammer does sound like RTF's Chick Corea. I don't know if those were purposeful references or just what Clarke wanted. At any rate, Hammer becomes himself soon enough. Clarke and Williams partner-up on a repetitive bassline and rhythm to create a deep groove. Connors plays an outstanding solo. The tune's increasing intensity is ratcheted up even more as Williams kicks into double-time. The satisfying piece ends during ascension just as a Return to Forever jazz-rock anthem would.

This quartet would have made a really good permanent fusion band. I wonder if that was ever contemplated. I'll find out and get back to you.

December 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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