Krantz Carlock Lefebvre: War-Torn Johnny

I’d wager that on average, when Wayne Krantz gets together with long-time trio mates Tim Lefebvre (bass) and Keith Carlock (drums), seven of every ten music-making minutes are collectively improvised. Throughout their many years of gigging at Krantz’s Thursday night residency at the 55 Bar in NYC, the trio thrived after the main head was played, when Krantz would conduct this tightest of groups through multiple, spontaneous tempo shifts and groove makeovers within a single tune’s ten-to-fifteen-minute open yet purpose-driven jamming sections.

“War Torn Johnny,” like the rest of the recently released Krantz Lefebvre Carlock, is a bit of a departure from the abovementioned agenda in that it is a bit more of a compact electric fusion record. Their signature straight-and-swung grooves, blinding chops, and collective improvisations are still present, but the desire to present a slightly more musically (commercially?) available record is undeniable.

“Johnny” is an instrumental (there are vocals from Krantz elsewhere) that perhaps best combines the previous candidness of the Krantz experience with a slight nudge towards user-friendliness. Note the epitome of the modern Krantz sound in the “A” section, a “B” section that sounds like it's borrowed from his work in the early ‘90s, and the New Orleans-inspired breakdown groove that dominates the proceedings beginning at 01:30. A fine example of one of the most under-heralded trios of the last decade that’s sure to reach a wider audience with this new record, and deservedly so.

October 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Kyle Asche: Nite Vidual

Mel Rhyne was Wes Montgomery’s regular organ sideman during the guitarist’s Riverside period, and lately he has recorded with top-notch Chicago- and New York-based jazzmen. On his modal original, “Nite Vidual”, Rhyne locks in a groove with drummer George Fludas. Rhyne’s abbreviated solo is brisk, but effective, then his energetic comping on the vamp leads to hard-edged, fluid improvising by Asche, as the guitarist plays an extended solo featuring several Montgomery-influenced ideas.

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Tony Monaco: Slow Down Sagg

When organ wizard Tony Monaco plays live with his Toronto Trio, the audience shares in the energy as the musicians on stage let loose. The Jimmy Smith tune used here is a model of simplicity, and Vito Rezza’s funky drums get the jam get going quickly and keep it burning on a wide-open groove. Guitarist Ted Quinlan offers up slices of soulful, hard-swinging blues phrases. Soon Monaco takes a vigorous, no-holds-barred solo, with distortion and some pitch-bending effects close to the end. When the fun is over, a club member’s disoriented gaze might happen on his or her neighbor, only to ask “What just happened? Where am I? Why am I covered in sweat?”

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jonathan Kreisberg: Five Bucks A Bungalow

Although he began his career as a pianist in the post-Corea/Hancock vein, Gary Versace has developed a long list of activities on organ as well. Here Versace is using his thoughtful approach on an up-tempo Kreisberg original. The tune is a new head on the sus-chord blues changes of Ron Carter’s “Eighty-One.” Kreisberg’s nimble solo statements, full of modern linear approaches, are supported by the subdued comping of Versace. What is interesting here is how Versace’s fast bass walk locks in with the driving rhythmic motion of Ferber. Versace heats up around 4:15, with a few fourths that he hammers home before he really starts burning. This is a group of young New Yorkers that know how to stretch, and they sound like they are having fun playing the blues.

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jesse Van Ruller: Tear Jam

In contrast to the large doses of “chicken grease” usually found on jazz organ recordings, “Tear Jam” is a plaintive jazz waltz with a warm and introspective beauty. Guitar virtuoso Jesse Van Ruller has a creamy texture to his tone. The music is carefully controlled and very delicate. The gifted organist Sam Yahel occasionally plays outside of the chord changes, but it always sounds like he has a plan to snake his way back inside. His lyrical solo starts with a series of short fragments, and then develops with more searching lines into a far-reaching and expressive treatise. Yahel doesn’t add too much bite here, but his fluid lines cut through easily. Yahel makes great use of the organ’s volume pedal, which makes his chords sway and swell as he guides the band’s groove.

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Will Bernard: Magpie

Taken at a fast tempo, “Magpie”’s jittery melody features a break that sets up a pyramid-like line. The whole band lays down a furiously funky groove, but the screaming organ riffs of Medeski sometimes covers up Bernard’s adept guitar solo. This is nonetheless a tight-knit group, and the intensely greasy solo by Medeski is fun to hear. His organ settings seem centered in hard rock, then altered by a phaser effect that adds a jolt to the notes from the middle range. Once the swirling of the Leslie stops, one is still shaking after Medeski’s powered-up jam on this track.

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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John Pondel: Mr. Obvious

“Mr. Obvious” is a clever John Pondel composition that utilizes the cool, smoky sound of David Binney’s alto and Pondel’s mellow guitar lines to establish a mood of mystery and intrigue. The tune could easily be used as the soundtrack for a detective series. “Mr. Obvious” enters the room over the syncopated bass of Scott Colley and the light traps of Marivaldo Dos Santos. The duet of Binney and Pondel musically frame the character’s entrance and create a laid back, hip sixties sound to perfection. Binney, a passionate player, uses a decidedly restrained delivery here to capture a fluid, nonchalant attitude. Pondel is equally subdued when soloing, using chords more than single notes, keeping it simple. The music ends in a precise and crisp finale as “Mr. Obvious” makes his exit.

September 24, 2009 · 0 comments

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Peter Leitch-John Hicks: Duality

Soon after guitarist Peter Leitch left his native Canada and relocated to New York, he began a regular association with the late pianist John Hicks that was preserved on several of Leitch's CDs during the '80's and '90's, including their sole duo outing, Duality. Hicks' powerful attack served him well in his recordings with artists such as Oliver Lake, David Murray, Arthur Blythe, and Pharoah Sanders, but the pianist's more tender and lyrical side is what made him such a complete player and helped ensure the success of this session with Leitch. The guitarist's relatively light tone and deceptively laid-back, sophisticated approach could have easily been steamrolled by a less sensitive partner.

As Leitch explained in the Duality CDs notes, the title track "has two sections, one of which is rather static, harmonically; it's modal. The other section contrasts with harmony that moves around a lot." Right away you notice the beautifully captured sounds of the two instruments, thanks to engineer Rudy Van Gelder. The two-sectioned theme is appealing melodically and in its rhythmic thrust. Leitch solos confidently and with relaxed yet finely detailed lines, as Hicks plays galvanizing chord patterns in support. Van Gelder's positioning of mikes directly on both Leitch's guitar and amp give his electric instrument a radiant acoustic quality. Hicks becomes less restrained in his solo, backed by Leitch's softly strummed adornments. The pianist's forceful phrasing and strong left hand accents are an irresistible combination. The theme's supple replay serves as a final especially satisfying release.

September 22, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mike Mainieri/Marnix Busstra Quartet: The Same New Story

Mike Mainieri has been a major force in fusion since the early 1980s when he co-founded Steps Ahead. On this recording with Netherlands-based guitarist Marnix Busstra, Mainieri takes an acoustic, organic approach to the music. The compositions on this CD, mostly by Busstra, offer a variety of styles and interesting instrumentation.

“The Same New Story” has a beguiling and sensitive melody played by Busstra on acoustic guitar, as Mainieri dances elegantly behind him with on vibraphone. Using the sustained bass notes of Eric Van Der Westen and the soft brushwork of Pieter Bast, this floating piece temporarily suspends reality. Busstra’s light and airy fingering is delicate and emotional. Mainieri’s solo hovers over the lazily sauntering rhythm like a balsa wood glider floating on air. Together, these four artists create a mood that allows the listener to momentary escape into a state of calm and tranquility.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herb Ellis: Tin Roof Blues

In October 1957, as the final tour of Jazz At The Philharmonic was winding down, Norman Granz brought many of the JATP musicians into his Los Angeles studios for a flurry of studio recordings. The Stan Getz/Oscar Peterson summit comes from this period, as does Ella Fitzgerald's "Like Someone In Love" (with Getz as major soloist), Ben Webster's "Soulville" and Herb Ellis' "Nothing But The Blues", a wonderful collection of original and classic settings of the blues. As the blues were (and are) the great common ground of all jazz musicians, the front line of swing master Roy Eldridge and cool icon Stan Getz was a very effective team and the piano-less rhythm section of Ellis, Ray Brown and Stan Levey fit together seamlessly. "Tin Roof Blues" was the oldest of the songs recorded for the album, and Ellis' melody statements consist of only the song's second strain. Ray Brown plays a scintillating vamp to open the track and after one chorus of melody, Eldridge (in cup mute), Getz and Ellis plays single-chorus solos that seem complete despite their brevity. Eldridge's solo starts simply and grows more complex as it goes, Getz elegantly works over an old blues riff, and Ellis plays a straight-forward primarily single-string solo with perfectly balanced phrase lengths. This tune was probably considered a quick throw-away that would go down in one take, but the musicians involved were such masters they could create a little gem like this with very little planning.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wes Montgomery & Wynton Kelly: Impressions

There's much to be said about the work of pianist Wynton Kelly. Yeah, everyone knows he played on Kind of Blue, but his contributions to hard bop and post bop during the late 1950s and 1960s make him one of the most active pianists, aside from Bobby Timmons, in jazz. And we all know the story of Wes Montgomery, the comeback kid. It's no surprise that this duo would pick John Coltrane's "Impressions" to glide over when they played the Half Note in New York City in 1965. Joined by bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb, the quartet set the D and Eb dorian changes of "Impressions" on fire. En fuego!! As the guy from ESPN used to say.

Montgomery's solo is chalked full of superior melodic expression. This was the first song I ever heard from him back in the late 1990s and upon listening again I know why I fell in love with his playing. He epitomizes power and assurance with his note selections. On the other hand, Kelly is no slouch either. He's kind of like the Vice President, you know he's there waiting and when it's his turn to take the drivers seat, he'll get the job done. His interaction with Montgomery during his solo shows just how close these two musical minds were. During several moments of Montgomery's solo, he and Kelly accent right on time with each other. This was by far one of Montgomery's tour de force songs.

This song is the very definition of what we know as swing. My advice to you? Pay the $0.99 for this download if you don't already have it in your collection or better yet, go buy the entire album. You can find this version of "Impressions" on most Verve compilation Montgomery discs.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Joe Henry: Civilians

Bill Frisell has always been an in-demand session player, from his early ECM days to his extended stints with John Zorn and Paul Motian. Over the past decade, this reputation has not only increased but, just as Frisell’s own music, it has crossed over genre lines – where Frisell has lent his song-centric talents to countless singer-songwriters, just a few of which include: Lucinda Williams (West), Paul Simon (Surprise), Loudon Wainwright III (Here Come the Choppers), Elvis Costello (Deep Dead Blue), Vic Chestnut (Ghetto Bells), and Joe Henry’s 2004 release for the Anti label, Civilians.

[While Frisell is the star of the show here, a brief sidebar is owed to Joe Henry, one of the great unsung singer-songwriters of the past two decades who’s a jazz fan and owner of this impressive list of musicians who have contributed to his last handful of solo albums: Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman (live in studio!), Marc Ribot, Brad Mehldau, Brian Blade, Don Byron, and Jason Moran. Nowadays, Henry is busy as a producer, evidenced by two new recordings that have been reviewed on jazz.com: Allen Toussaint’s The Bright Mississippi and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot’s A Stranger Here. All great music to be explored.]

Of the abovementioned jazz-crossover guest spots offered by Henry, his smartest and most successful was inviting Bill Frisell to perform on all of his Civilians record. Alongside longtime Frisell collaborator Greg Leisz (guitar, pedal steel, mandolin), Frisell provides a master class in complementing a singer in a pop setting – leaving plenty of space but poking in to connect lyrical phrases at all of the perfect times. With another musician at the helm, this entire album could have taken the turn toward cluttered, but not with Frisell involved. On “Civilians,” Frisell (panned mid-left) creates a fun, twisted, dissonant little melody to match the chugging New Orleans-meets-Tom Waits groove. Note how he fuses this instrumental theme with Henry’s vocal to achieve unity from beginning to end.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bill Frisell: Gimme A Holler

It’s ironic that Nashville, Bill Frisell’s farthest wander from recognizable jazz at this point in his career, recorded in 1995-1996 with some of bluegrass music’s finest players, was his first to earn him a Downbeat Critic’s Poll winner for Best Jazz Album of the Year and Best Guitarist of the Year in 1998. I suppose it’s one bold move complementing another – jazz’s principal magazine urging Frisell to continue focusing on simultaneous boundary obliteration and stylistic formation.

Frisell’s greatest achievement with Nashville may be that fans of country and jazz alike can both logically claim possession of the music heard throughout. This music, upon first listen, sounds like bluegrass, and with Jerry Douglass of Union Station fame trading licks with Frisell, it’s hard to argue that country music isn’t being played here. Yet Frisell’s own liner notes suggests another angle to view this music:

“Usually with my quartet, I write out my compositions. We start by reading the charts and then take a tune into different directions as we get familiar with playing it together. But I didn't present the music that way to the guys in Nashville. It was more of a challenge for me. I played the tunes and they all just reacted. It was exciting to see how quickly they learned the pieces.”

Executing a role reversal for the ages, Frisell rather ingeniously offered that somewhat of a jazz approach be taken to bluegrass music by infusing a collectively improvised, create-your-own-role atmosphere to a style where the dominating mindset is to know your role and stick to it. Hearing “Gimme a Holler” with this in mind completely changes the listening experience – it may sound like country, but the listening, the chance-taking, and the unpredicted moments of cohesion from quick interactions brings to mind the finest moments of pure jazz spontaneity.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bill Frisell: Tales From The Far Side

A fan favorite and widespread critical success, Frisell’s foray into orchestral arrangements of his back catalog were first introduced on Quartet, featuring the strings of Frisell’s guitar and Kang’s violin and the brass of Miles’ cornet and Fowlkes’ trombone. You can tell how much fun Frisell had arranging these tunes, most of which were conceived as soundtracks to films, including this CD-opening homage to his good friend Gary Larson’s famous line of cartoons. An up-tempo, sweeping waltz in which the strings create a bed for the long-toned, two-horned melody, “Tales from the Far Side” retains and explores the sinister yet comical mood of Larson’s work. Bigger and bolder than most other Frisell arrangements, Quartet is a fun listen that, upon its release, the New York Times claimed, “just may be his masterpiece.”

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steely Dan: Kid Charlemagne

Larry Carlton's fierce solo on "Kid Charlemagne" is widely viewed as one of the most important guitar recordings in history. Its status has been cemented by the tune's inclusion in the "Rock Band World Tour" video game, but, without Donald Fagen's dire reflections of 1960s San Francisco acid culture, the tune would not exist. Seemingly in reference to Ken Kesey's novel The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, the protagonist is a chemist on the lam. Unfortunately for him, his fame has exceeded expectations, and, if he is caught, prison time is assured because of the nature of the crime-mainly, manufacturing and selling drugs.

The character referenced in the song's title is someone who exists on the fringes of the then-current 70s world which had longed for the conservatism that future president Ronald Reagan embodied. His generation, according to the narrator, has no use for a person such as an LSD manufacturer whose time in the drug scene was obviously limited in the scene of alternative lifestyles by the sheer weight of his notoriety. "You are obsolete/look at all the white men on the street," he is warned, and he is later deemed an outlaw in the eyes of the law.

At the end, when the character loosely based on the enigmatic Owsley Stanley is arrested after his car runs out of gas, a police officer tells him that even he knows of his reputation amongst the prisoners in the jail ("The people down the hall know who you are") and you get the feeling that he should have taken the officer's advice to minimize the amount of illegal items that he carries on the city streets. This is a story without unexpected twists that never ends well.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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