Kelsey Jillette: Turn Out the Stars

What a pleasure it is to hear the talented jazz vocalist Kelsey Jillette. Above and beyond her distinctive voice, and the talented musicians she has surrounded herself with, is an admiration for the material she has chosen to interpret. The songs range from composers such as Rodgers & Hart, Fats Waller, and Billy Strayhorn to Paul Simon. Each presentation is 100% modern in arrangement, instrumentation and style.

Music author Gene Lees wrote the lyrics to the classic Bill Evans melody "Turn out the Stars," which Jillette sings above a shuffle intro. She has an intriguing voice. It is breathy, yet has a deepness at the same time. She enunciates in a cool emphatic manner that compels you to listen to every word. The instrumental break is proof that the Kelsey Jillette Group is not simply a backing band for a talented vocalist. Drummer Adam Pache's beats support the very fine efforts of guitarist Hiro Honma, baritone saxophonist Tom Abbott and B-3 player Brad Whiteley. On "Turn out the Stars," Whiteley's role is especially impressive. (He and Jillette arranged the piece as well, which may be a clue to his performance.) The Kelsey Jillette Group is the real deal. You need to give them a listen.

March 17, 2009 · 3 comments


Lage Lund: Turn Out the Stars

Guitarist Lage Lund, a young, unassuming, Norwegian-in-Brooklyn, has already amassed an impressive list of musical accomplishments. After studying at the Berklee College of Music upon arriving in the United States, Lund soon became the first electric guitarist granted a full scholarship to the Julliard Jazz Studies program in 2003, and won the prestigious Thelonious Monk Competition in 2005, where he was selected as the winner by a panel of judges who might know a thing or two about jazz guitar: Pat Martino, Earl Klugh, John Pizzarelli, Bill Frisell, Russell Malone and Stanley Jordan. Responding to why Lund won the top prize, Malone stated, "Lage wasn't flashy. He was just all music and all soul – that's what we all agreed upon. Great tone, great interpreter. One of the things I liked about him was that when he played these melodies he didn't embellish them – he was true to them."

"Turn out the Stars" reveals the elements of Malone's description. Lund exhibits a wise-beyond-his-years ability to strip away all but the truest sense of a standard's melody and harmonic groundwork (à la Hall and Frisell), and there's no better way to sense this gift than on Lund's interpretation of one of Bill Evans's lyrical compositions. As Lund's improvisation develops, so does its complexity, as evidenced by the web of propulsive ideas he weaves between 2:30 and 3:30. But not to worry: his classic tone and relaxed style create a fluidity that makes this heavy thinking as comfortable to listen to as his unembellished melodic statements. Busy New York players Orlando LeFleming and Rodney Green are elegant throughout, especially LeFleming's Haden-esque harmonic predictions of Lund's every move. We'll be hearing a lot more from all of these players, with Lund gently leading the way.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments


Cannonball Adderley: Waltz For Debby

The transitional Know What I Mean? is too often overlooked when assessing the résumés of Cannonball Adderley and his pianist on this session, Bill Evans. At the time, Adderley was enjoying the breakthrough success of his quintet with brother Nat, and Evans was leading his most famous and influential trio with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian. Evans's initial, brief rendition of his tune "Waltz for Debby" came in 1956, and he would record it for the third time, definitively, live at the Village Vanguard with his trio in June 1961. What makes this interim version, created just three months earlier, additionally intriguing is the unexpected rhythm team of the Modern Jazz Quartet's Percy Heath and Connie Kay.

Evans lovingly plays his hypnotic theme with a rich and ringing tone, before Adderley contributes his own reading. Adderley sounds unusually prim, refined and proper, at least until he begins his solo, at which point he quickly reveals his more bluesy and soulful side, combined with technical polish, lucid lyricism and irresistible warmth. Evans follows only too briefly, as Adderley regrettably reprises the theme before the pianist can fully develop any ideas. As for Heath and Kay, they more than adequately complement Adderley and Evans, with Kay in particular supplying a very becoming and propulsive rhythmic framework. Adderley and Evans had come a long way since appearing together on Miles Davis's Kind of Blue two years before, and it could be that each was just hitting his stride at the time this track was recorded.

February 18, 2009 · 1 comment


Christian Howes: Walkin' Up

He reaches for the heavens with his bow, perhaps overreaching on occasion, but never without conviction; and in the process, generates an edgy energy that compels the listener to reach with him. In an age when so many jazz violinists strive to emulate the suave, measured phrasing of Stéphane Grappelli or the near- mystical lines of Jean-Luc Ponty, Christian Howes paddles his own canoe. On this track he shoots the modal rapids over Bill Evans's lively romp without fearing the ever-present risk of capsizing or hitting any tonal rocks. As in all Resonance releases, there is plenty of virtuosity to be found here in biting solos from Howe and pianist Roger Kellaway, with volatile, intuitive support from Bob Magnusson and Nathan Wood. "Walkin' Up" should be the jazz violinist's wakeup call to wider recognition.

February 02, 2009 · 0 comments


Bebo Valdes & Javier Colina: Waltz for Debby

This Bill Evans classic never gets old to my ears. With the beautiful combination of Bebo Valdes's piano and Javier Colina's very expressive and woody bass, "Waltz for Debby" is given the full-on stately treatment. Valdes glides through the introductory passages with grace before Javier Colina steps in to crank up the swing quotient. This does not stop Valdes from tossing out many lightning-fast arpeggios and extended chords that push the energy level without being needlessly flashy. Valdes was in his mid-80s when he recorded this date, and the music shows how the Cuban jazz icon had lost nothing.

January 20, 2009 · 0 comments


Hilde Hefte: Peri's Scope

With her trademark grace and elegance, Hilde Hefte has crafted a loving tribute to Bill Evans. The album overall is an eminently listenable sojourn back to the glory days of Cool, a movement that took the rough edges off bebop and seduced a new generation of jazz enthusiasts.

This rendition of the popular Evans staple allows the Norwegian songbird to stretch her wings a bit, demonstrating her musician's sensibility on an all-too-brief solo before handing it over to her veteran sidemen. The group demonstrates a confident, polished interplay that comes only from acute listening skills and mutual respect. Bjorn Alterhaug's tasty basslines provide the perfect launch pad for Hilde's intimate vocal head, while Egil Kapstad's interpretation stands up well to close scrutiny from Evans aficionados. Solos are compelling and substantive all around.

It may be the northern latitudes, the artistic climate or the sangfroid of the people; but whatever the reason, jazz is very cool in Norway. In my humble opinion, Hilde and company are the tip of that iceberg.

August 31, 2008 · 0 comments


Herbie Hancock & John McLaughlin: Turn Out The Stars

In 1994 the Verve jazz label celebrated its 50th anniversary with a shindig at Carnegie Hall. The historic venue was crammed with wonderful jazz musicians that evening. The event was filmed and portions were later broadcast on PBS. The program was composed of various musical aggregations, each celebrating a historic jazz figure. Pianist Bill Evans was saluted by two of his greatest admirers, pianist Herbie Hancock and guitarist John McLaughlin.

"Turn Out The Stars" was one of Evans's most esoteric pieces. It was heard on the Bill Evans and Jim Hall record Intermodulation and even earlier at Evan's Town Hall concert. Evans and Hall formed a compelling bond over several recordings. so it makes all the sense in the world for the tune to be performed in duet by Hancock and McLaughlin – two musicians who formed their own bond in their formative years with Miles Davis. Hancock's style is slightly heavier-handed than Evans was. But this is just an indication of his power and not a detriment to his lovely presentation. McLaughlin's tone on this performance is warm and processed. In the group he was playing with at the time, The Free Spirits, this was bit of a problem because its sound would get lost beside Joey DeFrancesco's B-3 organ. Here, however, placed against a piano, the tone is quite pleasing. Each master musician plays lush chords as the other presents seamless and meaningful improvisations. The duo's interplay is telepathic. Evocative single-note runs eventually join to bring this moving tribute to Evans's legacy to an end.

July 03, 2008 · 0 comments


Mitchel Forman: Very Early

It's no secret that I consider Mitchel Forman one of the most underrated jazz pianists of the last 25 years. He has spent formative time playing with John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter and other important artists. But his true musical worth is best found in his projects as leader. He is an extremely gifted technician, a wonderful composer and possesses a musical mind that produces some of the most interesting improvisation I have ever heard. He is also well aware of his influences and finds time to honor them.

Forman takes Bill Evans's lovely waltz "Very Early" on an aggressive jaunt. His block chords develop a substantive theme that leads to a swing approach of a tune that Evans most often played as almost a fragile lullaby. Importantly, Forman is joined by bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette, both pivotal players in Evans's trios. This trio attacks the piece with an energy that connotes their true respect for Evans. They are putting out. At one point, Forman and the band do tone things down a bit to play with some of that fragility I mentioned earlier. But they quickly return to the faster tempo. I suppose these three could have played "Very Early" much in Evans's style. But what would be the point of mimicry? A better tribute is to take the man's tune and create from it. This they have done.

April 24, 2008 · 0 comments


Toots Thielemans: Waltz for Debby

The harmonica may not be the first instrument that comes to mind when someone thinks of jazz. But "Toots" Thielemans's career proves that in the right hands, the harmonica can be just as evocative as any other instrument. Over his long musical run, he's been acknowledged as the finest of all jazz harmonica players. His composition "Bluesette" is one of the all-time great jazz performances. When it came out in 1962, it was a worldwide hit. Who could not fall for its catchy melody and Toots's playful harmonica and whistling skills? His harp has also been famously heard on the soundtrack of Midnight Cowboy and in many Sesame Street episodes. Yet despite his high-profile credits, Thielemans is an icon more among jazz players than jazz fans. So it was not a big surprise to see all of the great contemporary jazz stars that joined him for East Coast West Coast. Among them, in addition to the above-listed, were Herbie Hancock, Terence Blanchard, John Scofield, Lyle Mays, Joshua Redman and others.

This is a tender, heartfelt and ultimately hopeful rendition of Bill Evans's classic. Broadbent's piano intro hints at a sad story to come. But Haden's bouncing bassline and Thielemans's resonant and upbeat harmonica quickly tell another. Erskine skillfully works the brushes to count off this waltz. Violinist Goodman joins in and plays the part of Stéphane Grappelli. (For more of this type of playing from Goodman, please check out the movie soundtrack to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.) Thielemans's turn comes around again. He and Goodman trade tasty licks. Broadbent's piano returns to play the coda. Get me another glass of Chardonnay, please.

March 14, 2008 · 0 comments


John McLaughlin: Very Early

This is one of Bill Evans's most beautiful compositions. McLaughlin's admiration for Evans is well known. He played "Very Early" on his Belo Horizonte album. But he gives it a lengthier treatment on his tribute to Bill Evans, Time Remembered. Performing with a guitar quartet and a bassist, McLaughlin treats the tune as if it were a fragile piece of glass. The overuse of reverb in the recording is a little annoying, but it does not break the spell of this lush lullaby. This is McLaughlin in his most romantic, almost saccharine, bag. There is a great energy nonetheless to his improvised parts. Some people didn't like McLaughlin's heavily arranged "classical" approach to Evan's music on this and other tunes. But my wife loves the album. If my wife can love any album from an electric fusion god, there is hope for us all.

January 26, 2008 · 0 comments


Previous Page | Next Page