Buddy Rich: Norwegian Wood

Though the power and audacity of Bill Holman's arrangement contrasts with the light folksiness of John Lennon's original, there are also elements in common. The booming low brass pedal notes recall the drone of George Harrison's sitar, and the harmonic movement and melodic content is charmingly minimal. Like the Beatles' version, Holman's arrangement is focused on shifting texture and overlaying counterpoint, only on a more massive scale. The energy peaks on the final bridge (replete with Jim Trimble's trombone freak-out) and the last fortissimo unison verse backed by screaming trumpet shakes, multiple contrapuntal lines and Rich's ferocious drumming. Just when your ears are about to explode, everything drops out and guitarist Richard Resnicoff tags the final four bars by himself. An exhilarating chart by the hardest swinging big band of the 1960s.

November 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dr. Lonnie Smith: Eleanor Rigby

When dipping into the Beatles bag, "Eleanor Rigby" might be the tune that jazzers grab onto most, and for good reason. It's one of their most unforgettable melodies, and its simple, minor harmony can be vamped, lending itself as easily to cerebral modal exploration as to blues-inflected blowing. Lonnie Smith chooses Option #2, transforming Paul McCartney's solemn tale of the lonely Ms. Rigby and desolate Father McKenzie into a soul-jazz boogaloo jam. The mysterious ambiance created by the intro's billowing trills carries over into Smith's serpentine organ melody, which slithers around punctuated horn interjections. After two verses, Muhammad kicks in his famous boogaloo beat, and young Maupin steps up with an economical, bluesy chorus—so laid-back he sounds like he's in slow-motion! Smith plays the blues with conviction, unfurling an endless supply of licks atop Sparks's wildly enthusiastic comping.

November 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Irvin Mayfield & Ellis Marsalis: Yesterday

Paul McCartney's melody always sounds plaintive, but especially so when you know the story behind this track. Mayfield's session came close to being destroyed in the midst of Hurricane Katrina. But he preserved the original mixes on his iPod. Yet a larger tragedy loomed: the trumpeter lost his father, Irvin Mayfield, Sr., in the floods following Katrina. This talented musician and jazz educator has channeled his grief into rebuilding efforts, including an ambitious plan to help New Orleans' devastated library system. His recording, dedicated to Mayfield Sr. and the other victims of Katrina, is a moving tribute by an artist who has done more than almost any other jazz player of his generation for his home town. And how fitting that he is accompanied by Ellis Marsalis, the great patriarch of the New Orleans jazz revival of recent decades.

March 30, 2008 · 1 comment

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Uri Caine: Blackbird

Uri Caine belongs to the generation of jazz musicians whose ears have been bathed at least as much in rock and pop as in jazz and classical. No wonder, then, that in this solo record the only tunes he didn't write are a standard and a Beatles song. "Blackbird" has been covered by many jazz musicians, of course, but Caine's rendition is highly influenced by his classical background. He uses his impressive mastery of the keyboard in an utterly playful way, transforming the well-known melody into ever-changing rhythmic and harmonic shapes in front of our stunned ears.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Brad Mehldau: Martha My Dear

Paul McCartney doesn't get much credit as a pianist, but he builds very smart musical structures at the keyboard. Check out "Martha My Dear" from The White Album and admire Paul's fine harmonic motion and interesting left-hand action. But when it comes to left-hand action, Mehldau is the best since Smokin' Joe Fraizer threw that vicious southpaw hook back in the white-album-ish days of yore. Mehldau's sinister phalanges run amok in the bass clef, and his right is no slouch, by the way. Mehldau's counterpoint is invigorating, and this whole track shows not only his musicianship, but his conceptual brilliance.

December 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Eugene Chadbourne: Eleanor Rigby

I listened to this version of "Eleanor Rigby" and couldn't figure out if Chadbourne & Co. were playing it in major or minor. I listened again, and still couldn't decide. I'm not sure Eugene Chadbourne ever quite made up his mind. Maybe we should check with Paul and Yoko. Then again, fidelity to the original spirit of the music is not a high priority with this band. Elsewhere on the same CD, for example, we are regaled with "The Girl from Al-Qaeda" set to the music of your least favorite cocktail lounge song. (At least, Chadbourne is generous enough to credit "Getz / Jobim" as co-composers.) I might be old-fashioned . . . but I still think you should make sure your bandmates agree on the chord changes before you record the song. Nonetheless, Chadbourne will have his fans, especially among those who prefer Joseph Spence to Wes Montgomery, and Ed Wood to Orson Welles. If you fall into that category, you better not tell Paul and Yoko. They might want to put a stop to all this fun.

December 22, 2007 · 1 comment

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Count Basie: Do You Want to Know a Secret?

Jazz in the 1950s survived Elvis by ignoring him. Miles Davis did not apply his moody Harmon mute to "Heartbreak Hotel." The Modern Jazz Quartet didn't cover "Hound Dog" with one of their elegant rococo arrangements. Yet in the '60s, that lesson was lost. Instead of playing hard to get, jazzmen lusted after the pop charts, with dismal results. Here, as altoist Marshall Royal ladles out more vibrato than Carmen Lombardo on New Year's Eve, the Basie crew shows how clueless jazzmen were to what made mid-'60s rock so appealing: its freshness, irreverence and youthful exuberance. Hey, waiter! Set the fellas in the band up with a round of Geritol on my tab. On second thought, better make those doubles.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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