Lee Konitz & Martial Solal: Just Friends

These two had played together on and off for 15 years at the time of this meeting, and each time they reunited showed the same empathy and telepathic relationship. So, although they talk about themselves as "brothers," it's only natural that they should tackle a tune called "Just Friends." Konitz begins alone, tentatively turning around the melody that he states in an oblique way only when Solal joins him. The alto then becomes more voluble, often rising to the upper register in a most expressive manner, while the piano comps in a comparatively restrained way. Only when the alto leaves him alone does Solal let his brilliant, extrovert style overwhelm the keyboard. And even then, he may be considered moderate. Which gives us a clue to the relationship between those two musicians: they tend to give one another what they possess, and their partner has less. Moderation from Konitz to Solal; extroversion from Solal to Konitz. Just friends? Much more than that, obviously!

January 19, 2009 · 0 comments


Django Reinhardt: Ain't Misbehavin'

Grappelli states the melody with the effervescence and lighthearted swing that are his trademarks. Django starts his solo sluggishly here, and in the second eight bars either misses the chord or is trying for an unusual polytonal effect. But in the second chorus he takes flight, and dishes out choice phrases that build on very large interval jumps. Then come some wild and woolly guitar chords that sound—I kid you not—like a steam locomotive heading down the track. The band is so far out of the stratosphere by this point that they don't even reprise the melody. Forget the title—some serious misbehavin' is goin' down here.

October 22, 2008 · 0 comments


Noël Akchoté & Marc Ribot: Street Woman

Noël Akchoté, a French guitarist with a strong cult following, began his career playing bop with Chet Baker and Tal Farlow, and then gradually entered the world of the avant-garde, where collaborations with Fred Frith, Sam Rivers and Derek Bailey followed. More recently, he has released four albums on the Winter and Winter label: two solo recordings (one of which, Sonny II, is a tribute to Sonny Sharrock), Rien, an experimental collaboration with two turntable/computer-based musicians, and Lust Corner, a collection of guitar duets with either New York-underground-hero-turned-session-great Marc Ribot or American improviser/guitarist/banjoist Eugene Chadborne. On "Street Woman," Akchoté and Ribot attack their guitars with Ornette's harmolodics and Hendrix's blistering sound effects. Ornette meets Hendrix? Yup – these two ingenious players will surely make you laugh with their playful playing, and if you pump the volume up enough, it might just make you cry at the same time!

August 09, 2008 · 0 comments


Raymond Fol: The Four Seasons (Spring: First Movement)

In the mid-'60s the fine French pianist and arranger Raymond Fol had the audacity to record a big band arrangement of Vivaldi’s bestselling set of concerti. And for that he chose Johnny Griffin as main soloist on most tracks, beginning with the universally famous initial one: Le Printemps, 1st Movement (Allegro).

Fol was a great admirer of Duke Ellington (who returned the favor by performing one of Fol's compositions with his own orchestra) and had a strong classical background. On the other hand, as a pianist he played with Sidney Bechet as well as with Dizzy Gillespie. For this session, he arranged every movement of the four Vivaldi concerti in a jazz style, each differing from one another. This loud Afro-Cuban opening must have been a shock to classical music buffs of the time, even though Fol’s writing is so intelligent that anyone with open ears should admit that he did a great job.

But another musician played a key role in the success of this recording: Johnny Griffin. He hadn’t yet chosen to live in Europe for good, but was familiar with the French jazz scene. No wonder, then, that Fol used his fiery, powerful tenor sax to express the exuberance of spring. After all, wasn’t the “little giant” born a Taurus, at the end of April, and wasn’t he best adapted to bridge the gap between Vivaldi’s Venice, Fol’s Paris and his own Chicago, regardless of stylistic barriers?

July 29, 2008 · 1 comment


Stephane Wrembel: Eternal Cycle 2: A Child's Dream

Growing up near the final resting place of Django Reinhardt could be both a blessing and a curse for any aspiring young guitarist attempting to walk in his celebrated footsteps; few have been up to the challenge. But Stephane Wrembel has proven to be one artist who could not only tread in Django's footsteps with remarkable fidelity, but cut a fresh new path for Gypsy jazz guitar as well. Born in Paris and raised in Fountainbleu, Wrembel studied with Sinti guitar master Angelo DeBarre, among others, and mastered the Django technique fairly early. While few contemporary guitar players sound stronger or more convincing in the jazz Manouche style, Stephane Wrembel has taken this legacy in a new direction with his Brooklyn- based trio. While remaining faithful to the dynamics of the Selmer-style acoustic guitar favored by the Romani guitar legend, he has revamped the format to include drums and other percussion instruments – even a washboard, on occasion.

"A Child's Dream" could almost be pigeonholed as a traditional-style Gypsy jazz valse; but Wrembel's improvisation reflects influences from Eastern Europe, Latin America, India and the Middle East, resulting in a fresh, world beat sound. Without words the gifted 34-year-old guitarist draws from his Buddhist-Taoist philosophy to convey his concern for the stewardship of this planet. Part of a common theme throughout the album, the subliminal message of peace and global unity speaks gently through this music with the clarity of still water – and, as they say, still waters run deep.

June 28, 2008 · 1 comment


Yannick Robert: Driving in Cairo

One of the more interesting fusion artists coming out of Europe in recent years, French guitarist and composer Yannick Robert truly conveys a world vision, mixing a wide spectrum on his sonic palette, from "Celtic jazz" to funk. Equally at home on fretless guitar, archtop or solid body rocker model, he stretches out with an assured independence in an electric trio setting. In Yannick's solos you can hear the Metheny influence; in his compositions, there are harmonic similarities to Swiss guitarist/trumpeter Thomas Moeckel – and that's not a bad thing.

Vaci Utca is the perfect soundtrack to pop in you car's CD player, whether traversing the boroughs of New York City or the boulevards of Budapest. On this track Robert takes us to the bustling streets of Cairo, where he lays rich harmonic textures over a spirited, free-wheeling shuffle. Vanerstraeten's solid bass pulse and Agulhon's tasty contra-rhythms provide atmospheric setting for Robert's lucid improvisation. "Driving in Cairo" is a modal day-trip sure to beckon even the most world-weary. Maestro, a little traveling music, please!

June 26, 2008 · 0 comments


Sebastian Giniaux: Viper's Dream

The term "viper" is 1930s slang for one who habitually partakes of marijuana. By most accounts the author of this piece, Fletcher Allen, was an enthusiastic viper. Since Django Reinhardt recorded this quirky number in 1937, it has been a staple of the jazz Manouche repertoire, covered by Stochelo Rosenberg, Bireli Lagrene and many others.

Sebastian Giniaux, one of the five extraordinary guitarists invited to play the venerated Selmer 607, had his musical beginnings on the violin at age 6, not picking up the guitar until 19, when he became enthralled with Gypsy jazz. On this track the fruits of his efforts are abundantly clear. His guitar work manifests the confidence of one born to play the instrument, and is yet one more reason the Selmer #607 album is a must-have for any jazz guitar enthusiast's collection.

Sebastian's "Viper's Dream" is a marked departure from the typical arrangement. Starting with the tune's standard intro and head played in a relaxed, confident strut, the ensemble makes a sudden transition into a frantic, up-tempo 2/4 solo section, a runaway caravan on a rollercoaster descent into madness. Over this furious vamp, Giniaux roams free, throwing nearly everything from his extensive vodjangulary into the mix but the proverbial kitchen sink. Insane? Over the top? Sure, but why not? This is, after all, the 21st century – with a world on the brink, even our vipers have reason to panic.

June 20, 2008 · 0 comments


Martial Solal: Here's That Rainy Day

Here's one version of "Rainy Day" where you can actually hear the storm. Martial Solal may have been almost 80 years old when he recorded this track, but he plays with the restless, probing energy of a much younger artist. This music is full of angular phrases and acerbic chords. Even his statement of the familiar Jimmy Van Heusen melody is indirect and attenuated. You may think that European pianism is mostly lyrical stylings, but Solal, the granddaddy of them all (he was gigging with Bechet and Django before the stars of the ECM roster were born) will quickly dispel that notion. This performance is like a ship on choppy waters -- you reach out and try to grab hold of something, and it quickly slides away. Many artists become rigid traditionalists as the decades advance, but Solal takes the opposite course, moving farther and farther out on a limb.

June 05, 2008 · 0 comments


Eddy Louiss & Michel Petrucciani: Jean-Philippe Herbien

No one can dispute that organ-piano duet recordings are a rarity, but could this actually be the one and only such coupling? Given how Louiss and Petrucciani inspire and complement each other, it's a wonder why. The individual for whom this 10-minute track is named must be one very spirited and soulful guy, if the playing here is any indication. Petrucciani's percussive, bluesy opening is backed by Louiss's rumbling bassline, and moves directly into the pianist's admirably sustained extended solo, marked by an insistent pulse, pounding riffs, two-handed unison passages and rollicking single-note lines. Louiss follows in similarly extroverted fashion, a far cry from his low-key work on the outstanding 1971 Stan Getz Dynasty release. The duo then engages in exciting exchanges, feeding off and chasing one another's animated statements, and at one point dabbling with "Billie's Bounce," which this blues theme resembles. Then Petrucciani becomes quietly reverent and Louiss responds in kind, as they dampen the dynamic level before a return to the appealing melody. The playing of both Louiss and the late, great Petrucciani on this and the other selections from these three invigorating nights in Paris (a Vol. 2 is also available) ranks with the best of their respective careers.

May 28, 2008 · 0 comments


Hadrien Feraud: Giant Steps

The instrument credits alone should give you a clear indication that this is not going to sound anything like your father's "Giant Steps."  Rising star French jazz bassist Hadrien Feraud is our captain for this futuristic space ride. This version of Coltrane's classic is put forth by two bassists. Feraud and Linley Marthe play the lead and the famous changes with the skill required of such a challenging composition. Soon their voices become barely audible in a cacophony of voice and music samples, sound effects, noises and various and sundry curiosities. I heard Elvis twice.

I have two ways to describe what hearing this music is like. Pick your favorite:

  1)  Late at night listen to the radio. Find "Giant Steps" being played. This may be difficult because there
       are hardly any jazz stations left. But should you succeed, turn the station dial back and forth really fast
       so that you can hear bits of the song and 20 other stations all at the same time.

  2)  Buy a small radio receiver. Commandeer a spaceship. Fly as far away as you can. Turn on the radio
       and try to pick up all of the radio and TV signals that have ever left earth and continue to exist forever
       in deep space. Say "Hi" to Carl Sagan.

You know what they say about the future, don't you? It is now.

May 20, 2008 · 1 comment


Adrien Moignard: Impressions

Those unfamiliar with Django Reinhardt, "jazz Manouche" and its growing legion of Hot Club swing revivalists may want to play a little catch-up. The Django jazz movement has caught fire across the globe, with fans flocking to clubs, concert venues and Django festivals for their Gypsy jazz fix. Far from being a preservationist movement, the music is evolving with the times, as evidenced by the Selmer 607 project.

Five of the genre's top guitarists were chosen to record three tunes apiece on a 1946 Selmer petite bouche acoustic, model #607 (of the same linage as Selmer #503, Django's favorite guitar). Backed by the standard la pompe rhythm section of bass and two guitars, the five soloists ply their muscular chops over a range of material from traditional Django tunes to more contemporary modal jazz. Reactions to these sessions have run the gamut from whoops of astonishment to the deafening silence of amazement.

Adrien Moignard, a relatively unknown young French guitarist, clearly demonstrates what the powerful Gypsy technique can bring to a contemporary jazz jam staple, Coltrane's "Impressions." After a 4-bar rhythm intro, Adrien lays down the familiar head over the rhythm section's solid pompe before launching into a take-no-prisoners solo educing the fabled instrument's characteristic crunch and bark. With tantalizing sweeps, blistering chromatic runs and signature Gypsy enclosures, his ideas sound fresh, substantive and inspired. This kid ain't phoning it in.

May 11, 2008 · 4 comments


Martial Solal: Tea for Two

At age 80, Martial Solal exhibits more energy and youthful enthusiasm in his playing than most pianists half his age. He is at once a stylist who plays in a disjointed, unpredictable manner that can be disturbing to the ear of some. His keyboard proficiency is phenomenal, and his exploratory probing is inventive and challenging to the listener. On the standard "Tea for Two," Solal removes all but the barest of identifying melody lines and creates a vehicle where he can deconstruct and then reconstruct to his own liking the essence of the tune. His attack approaches a level of vivaciousness that can sound at times almost angry, but he manages to strike a delicate balance between that emotion and manic unleashed exuberance, ably assisted by the symbiotic playing of twin brothers bassist Francois Moutin and drummer Louis Moutin. You have never heard this old familiar song played like this, and perhaps it is too far explored for those who like to follow a melody, but make no mistake Solal is expanding the boundaries of both time and space, and it is interesting to hear what comes out of this still fertile musical mind. Always engaging in his own unique way, Martial Solal shows why at any age he is still a joy to listen to. Bravo to the maestro.

May 08, 2008 · 0 comments


Bireli Lagrene: All the Things You Are

Bireli Lagrene could easily have been typecast as "that Gypsy guitarist who sounds like Django." After all, he was winning praise and international contests for his Django-like playing before he was even a teenager. But he was an artist who wanted to reach beyond his knowledge. After meeting such jazz greats as Larry Coryell and Jaco Pastorius, he went jazz-fusion. Yet another side of Bireli is heard on the standard "All The Things You Are."

While Lagrene is at home with the total jazz repertoire, his acoustic playing retains an undeniable Gypsy element. On this cut he goes acoustic, but thanks to Koono's electric keyboards the piece has a modern jazz-rock feel. Lagrene's swing and seamless improvising would sound great at the Hot Club or at any other club in any era.

April 27, 2008 · 0 comments


Jean-Luc Ponty: Mam' Mai

Jean-Luc Ponty had made a very good living playing his electric violin through all sorts of effects boxes. He used specially made violins of varying string counts and non-standard tunings. Ponty would crank the reverb to 11 and soar away on a magic carpet. His virtuosity, taste and unusual sound helped him sell tons of jazz-rock records in the 1980s. He was also among the first to adopt the MIDI interface and sequencers, which allowed him to add even more synthetic sounds to his already impressive arsenal.

The Jean-Luc Ponty who showed up on Tchokola, however, was quite a different musician. On "Mam' Mai," based upon the traditional Senegalese "sabar" dance tradition, Ponty plays acoustic and electric violins sans reverb or any other major effects. Ponty was also playing a different kind of music. Bitten by the world-music fusion bug, he gathered a group of West African musicians to explore a quasi-Reggae jazz hybrid. As with most African-based music, the percussive rhythm dominates. The tune, replete with West African vocals, allows Ponty to show yet another side of his musical character. He does not play in the style of a West African violinist. (Is there any such thing?) Rather, he takes a European blues sensibility and sets it down right in the middle of the savannah.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments


Jean-Luc Ponty: Imaginary Voyage

French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty is among a handful of jazz violinists who have been both musical pioneers and commercially viable. All commercial success is relative and most often temporary. This is especially true when you play an unpopular instrument. How many gigs can a jazz violinist find? This makes the accomplishments of such trailblazers as Joe Venuti, Stuff Smith, Stéphane Grappelli, Jerry Goodman and Ponty all the more impressive.

Ponty has played all styles of music, but his greatest contribution has been to the fusion genre. "Imaginary Voyage" is a jazz-rock suite in four movements. Part 1 is heavy on swirling keyboard runs and quickly played unison runs. Ponty makes a statement of his own in Part 2. His fusion playing has always been a combination of soaring blues-like lines infused with European sophistication. During Part 3, Ponty stretches out in a happy-go-lucky way. In Part 4, we get down to the interstellar stuff for which Ponty is best known. His violin, recorded with a sustained echo, attempts to communicate with the cosmos. This rapprochement leads to a guitar-driven blues-funk-rock jam that gives way to a mad fusion dash. Finis.

These long multipart excursions were once a staple of fusion performances. But somewhere along the line – probably when lesser musicians tried them – the form fell out of favor as being too pretentious. But in the hands of someone as talented as Ponty, these suites were well worth sitting through.

April 02, 2008 · 0 comments


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