Bill Frisell: Goodnight Irene

The players in Bill Frisell’s longest standing current trio doubles as the rhythm section for the Sex Mob - bassist Tony Scherr, a fine guitarist and singer/songwriter in his own right, and drummer Kenny Wollesen, a veteran of the groups of John Zorn and Tom Waits, among countless others. The group allows (… or forces) Frisell to step into the spotlight and “play out” a bit more than in most of his other musical projects, which is a real treat considering the group’s massive repertoire and extraordinary rapport. On his website, Frisell summarized his feelings about the group: “My trio with Tony Scherr and Kenny Wollesen is probably the most flexible, spontaneous group I play with. […] I have the luxury of playing just about anything that comes into my head at any moment. This could be music from any of my albums, standard songs, folk songs, or whatever.” The no-frills guitar solo on “Goodnight Irene,” played in a mid-tempo 6/8, recorded live at the Village Vanguard in 2005, displays Frisell’s unconditional loyalty to melody – building in intensity but never abandoning the original storyline.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Ron Affif: Bohemia After Dark

Ron Affif's father, Charlie, was once the 8th ranked middleweight boxer in the world, and was also a friend of Miles Davis. "He threw his best shots from round one, and he's in me," said Affif of his late father. Ron's aggressive attack and hard-edged tone on "Bohemia After Dark" are evidence of that. Here's a guitarist who can hit you with the musical equivalents of toying jabs, left crosses, roundhouse rights, devastating uppercuts, and various effective combinations.

Amazingly, this smoking version of "Bohemia After Dark" was not only a first take, but also the first time Affif, Essiet, or Watts had ever played the tricky Oscar Pettiford composition (named for the Café Bohemia, where Pettiford was once musical director). Essiet establishes the insinuating beat, while Affif plays the theme with a stabbing, percussive mindset, which also applies to his subsequent solo. Affif's phrasing exhibits glimmers of other guitarists such as Joe Pass, George Benson, Pat Martino, and Kenny Burrell, all assimilated into his bluesy, concentrated articulation, rhythmic complexity, overall creativity, and admirable lack of repetition. Essiet's solo is an ecstatic extension of the driving, layered African-influenced bass lines he employs backing Affif, especially notable on the tune's unorthodox bridge. Affif's zestful trades with Watts take on an exotic flavor, and to some extent recall the combination of guitarist Gabor Szabo and drummer Chico Hamilton. This is one of the better, and certainly one of the freshest versions of "Bohemia After Dark." Which begs the question: why hasn't Affif been given an opportunity to record since 1999?

May 20, 2009 · 0 comments


Bobby Broom: Body and Soul

Bobby Broom started his career at the top. At age 16, he gigged with Sonny Rollins on the stage of Carnegie Hall, and was working the major New York clubs even before he went off to Berklee. Broom's early heroics remind me of a lady I know who won an Olympic medal when she was a junior in high school. Everything must seem anticlimactic after that.

But Broom's music remains compelling -- especially on standards, which have become his strong suit. Broom plays the old songs with lots of heart, as he demonstrates again on his The Way I Play release. This CD was made at a steakhouse instead of Carnegie Hall, and almost didn't get made at all. An acquaintance of Broom's showed up at this gig and recorded the proceedings, week after week, over a period of four months. He sent the music -- eventually enough to fill up nine CDs -- to the guitarist. Broom is hypercritical, and usually can find a reason not to release any given track, but even he was moved by the gems tossed off the cuff at this low-key gig.

There's plenty of soul in this "Body and Soul." The rhythm floats effortlessly, with just hints of a Latin ambiance -- but it never really turns into "Cuerpo y Alma." Broom makes every note ring true, lingering over his phrases with a lover's touch. The solo guitar coda at the end is especially good. Maybe it's time for the promoters at Carnegie Hall to book him for a return appearance?

May 04, 2008 · 0 comments


Stanley Jordan: A Place in Space

Stanley Jordan has always been difficult to classify. Depending on who you ask, he is a novelty act, a crossover threat, a guitar genius. . . . Take your pick! Probably the most common descriptor pegs him as the guy who plays guitar like it's a keyboard. Jordan's 2008 release State of Nature won't make it any easier to pigeonhole this artist. The opening track, "A Place in Space," starts with an easygoing trio groove and a melody reminiscent of "Milestones," then moves into a Zappa-esque interlude for contrast. The guitar solo is tasty, until the 4-minute mark -- when all hell breaks loose. The band shifts into double-time, and Jordan now dishes out everything from polytonal licks to jagged rock lines, stopping just short of free jazz pandemonium. If the label was hoping for airplay on the smooth jazz radio stations, Jordan just torpedoed those plans with this very anti-smooth attack. When he returns to the main melody, with its light swing, it's almost like he is commenting ironically on everything that came before. But the overall performance is nothing short of brilliant -- a wild ride from this mercurial player.

April 24, 2008 · 1 comment


Lionel Loueke: Skylark

The song may be by Hoagy Carmichael, but the attitude here is clearly in the world fusion camp. Lionel Loueke grew up in Benin in West Africa, and he incorporates a number of distinctively African elements into his interpretation of this 1942 standard. I like his bright guitar voicings with their open, spacey sound, and his melodic sensibility, closer to Ali Farka Touré than to bebop or fusion. Other jazz players tend to take these old songs and try to make them more complicated, but pop tunes from the golden era had lots of sophistication built into them at the factory; so it is often more effective to bring a more streamlined, diatonic sensibility to this material, as Loueke does effectively here. This artist has a fresh sound, and it will be interesting to watch his career develop to see how far he can take it.

March 23, 2008 · 0 comments


Pat Metheny: Is This America?

Is this more Pat Metheny Americana? You bet. And if Aaron Copland had played guitar and gone to Berklee, he might have written tunes likes this during his Appalachian Spring phase. Metheny tosses off these gems like they are nothing, and fans and critics have come to take them for granted. But it is no small feat to craft such winning melodies, or to perform them with such slow, soulful sureness. If you added words to this tune, America might even sing along.

March 06, 2008 · 2 comments


Groundtruther: Warsaw Radio Mast

Groundtruther takes as source material music that would be considered “modern” in the same sense that electric Miles was “modern,” and gives it the funhouse-mirror treatment. While there are some familiar remnants, such as the loping funk of Charlie Hunter's basslines and the skittish swagger of Bobby Previte's kit, the overall vibe can sink into a gauzy layer of abstraction. Hey, I mean that in a good way. Just as it's funny that you appear to be four feet wide in that wiggly mirror, it's entertaining to hear John Medeski's oddball keyboard figures slowly devolve into signals from outer space.

November 27, 2007 · 0 comments


The Poll Winners: When the Red, Red Robin

In an odd leap from ASCAP to NASDAQ, the Red Robin gourmet burger chain took its name from the founder's 1940s barbershop quartet singing of this 1926 song. (You'll thank us if ever there's a Tin Pan Alley Edition of Trivial Pursuit.) Here, perennially popular 1950s jazzmen Kessel, Brown & Manne use the same vehicle to summarize their their generation's accomplishments. Just as robins are the last birds left singing at dusk, these three superlative musicians were the final, triumphant standard-bearers before Wes Montgomery, Scott LaFaro and Tony Williams changed the playing field for their respective instruments.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments


Wes Montgomery: Besame Mucho

The Latin ballad “Besame Mucho” is taken at a very quick 6/8 here. Jimmy Cobb starts with his brushes, pauses for two bars, and then picks up his sticks, which alters the complexion of the piece at the same time organist Melvin Rhyne intensifies his own playing, which is the current that carries the tune along. It’s nothing fancy, but it gives Montgomery exactly the underpinning he needs to showcase his own lyrical ability. At 4:05, Montgomery and Rhyne engage in eight measures of tandem counter-rhythmic attack that forces the listener’s fingers and toes into an involuntarily tap-along. As the tune comes to a close, Rhyne – not exactly a household name among organ players – slips in an effective solo that displays his imagination.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments


Grant Green: Old Folks

Many of the finest organ trio recordings were actually made under the guitarist’s name as leader. Guitarist Grant Green played in many formats, and he was at the top of his game with just an organist and a drummer supporting him. The four-minute take of “Old Folks” puts him in the driver’s seat right away, setting the tone with a shimmering melodic introduction that leads to a pretty solo. Jack McDuff comps as lightly as an organist can before he offers up his own solo contribution. Then Green takes command again and concludes the tune with a delicate little coda.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments


Grant Green: Talkin' About J.C.

Larry Young, an original voice who approached the organ more like a piano, seldom recorded in a trio setting, so it is a delight to hear him performing his John Coltrane tribute “Talkin’ About J.C.” with Grant Green and Coltrane’s drummer Elvin Jones. Young is a different sort of a foil for Green, eschewing the typical B-3 tricks – held notes, repeated phrases – in favor of pure harmonic counterpoint. The dynamic interplay between guitar and organ crescendos as the song gradually heads toward its climax, spurred by Jones’s volcanic drumming. Just three musicians, but there is a heck of a lot happening here.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments


Pat Metheny: Bright Size Life

Pat Metheny's Bright Size Life ensemble avoided the “supergroup” moniker (and associated bad karma) by presenting compositions that allowed melodic invention and interplay to rule over runaway displays of chops. This title track from Metheny's debut release finds the guitarist running lines that are clearly inspired both by the inventive drumming of Moses and the muscular drive of close friend and jazz force of nature, the late Jaco Pastorius. Many artists shun their early work, finding it underdeveloped and embarrassing. It's a commentary on the strength of this performance that “Bright Size Life” remains in Metheny's live repertoire to this day, over thirty years after its release.

November 04, 2007 · 0 comments


Jim Hall: Hide and Seek

Jim Hall's compositions can appear deceptively simple. With the sparse trio instrumentation on “Hide And Seek,” the angular set of staccato passages trace out a descending path through a harmonic structure beefy enough to provide ample room for the Steve LaSpina solo to follow. Hall tours the opening theme's geography with a series of ascending, unresolved chords before dropping back into his trademark whispery comping role. LaSpina then tells a long story that proves “Hide And Seek” is no child's game.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments


James Blood Ulmer: Lonely Woman

Before James Blood Ulmer turned himself over to the blues (which admittedly was a strong part of his playing all along), he was the man of guitar harmolodics. On this track from Ulmer's Ornette tribute album, Ulmer takes that winding Coleman melody and discovers all manner of unexpected side turns. This is especially true toward the end of the piece when Ulmer's increasingly frenetic guitar excursions become commingled with Jones' basslines. Surely not surprising for a tune driven by harmolodic theory, but still a fine example of what this unconventional approach has to offer.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments


The Poll Winners: Volare

When covering pop hits of the day, 1950s jazzmen often seemed anxious to hurry past the melody, treating the song as pretext for improvisation that bore no relation to the admittedly often second-rate material. Refreshingly, Barney, Ray & Shelly—billed as the Poll Winners because of their perennial popularity—actually play 1958's #1 hit, "Volare" (Italian for "fly"). Carting out his best tongue-in-cheek impression of a Neapolitan mandolin, Kessel shines on this medium-tempo swinger supported by Ray ("Rock of Gibraltar") Brown and Shelly ("Ears of an Elephant") Manne. Delizioso!

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments


Previous Page | Next Page