Luciana Souza: House

In her earlier settings of Elizabeth Bishop's writings, Souza demonstrated the upside to mixing jazz with modern poetry. But her interpretations of the great poet Pablo Neruda are even better. Souza navigates through this careening 7/4 piece with aplomb, and the poetry comes alive with an almost savage beauty. But I am puzzled that the Brazilian singer Souza presents the Chilean poet Neruda in English translation. Does the heavy hand of marketing shape the gentle fingers of art?

November 18, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dave Brubeck: Blue Rondo ŕ la Turk

Using Mozart's "Rondo Alla Turca" as a reference point, Brubeck adapts the 9/8 time signature that intrigued him during an Istanbul visit, and creates a driving enclosure for straight-ahead 4/4 blues solos by himself and Desmond. As with "Take Five" (Brubeck's hit 1961 single to which "Blue Rondo" served as flip side), simplification makes the experiment fun. As to what the blues have to do with Turkey, it's long been rumored that during the Turkish War of Independence, W.C. Handy proffered his "St. Louis Blues" as the Republic's national anthem. When Turks wisely chose instead the stirring ?stiklâl Mar?? (Independence March), Handy's "St. Louis Blues" was made the USA's national anthem, and is now sung perfunctorily before ballgames.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Paul Desmond: Take Ten

Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond had a deal. Whenever Desmond recorded as leader, to avoid competing with Brubeck's Quartet, there'd be no piano. So Paul recorded with Gerry Mulligan-type pianoless quartets—twice with Mulligan, more often with Jim Hall. Desmond, who habitually leaned against Brubeck's piano after soloing, joked that Hall "complains when I lean on his guitar." Otherwise, this match of the self-effacing was ideal. Following Brubeck's smash hit "Take Five," Desmond could not avoid a sequel. His 5/4 bossa nova "Take Ten" has a laid-back charm and too-short Middle Eastern modal solo from Paul that easily recommend it.

October 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Brad Mehldau: All the Things You Are

This is an impressive polyrhythmic exercise by a path-breaking jazz trio. I'm not sure non-musicians will savor all the twists and turns of the Mehldau trio in action. But anyone who has played in a rhythm section will be dazzled by this jumpy, jittery 13-minute performance. The trio's cohesiveness in navigating through a fast 7/4 reworking of this standard is especially impressive. In the liner notes, Mehldau complains about the "constant comparison of this trio with the Bill Evans trio." And he has a valid point. Mehldau's work here moves beyond the orbit of his influences—in particular, check out the dialogue between his left and right hands. Grenadier and Rossy also play at top form.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Branford Marsalis: Elysium

Seven notes from Branford Marsalis’s tenor sax – seven notes – announce “Elysium,” the seventh of which is joined by the piano, bass and drum. Then a squeal – and a swirl of chaos from all four musicians. This is just the beginning. Marsalis’s 16-minute composition is a tour de force of contemporary jazz – not smooth jazz, mind you; the album title is a stick in the eye to those who try to categorize. Marsalis then launches into a wild solo that has him playing against the super-fast 5/4 time put down by the rhythm section. The bridge – or is it the chorus? – induces whiplash with its speed-up-then-abruptly-slow-down mechanism. Drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts is phenomenal throughout this mind-bending journey. One has to wonder how many takes it took the quartet to get this complex tune right. It couldn’t have been one. Could it?

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dave Brubeck: Take Five

Columbia Records balked when Brubeck proposed an entire album in odd time signatures. Even Paul Desmond considered it "a dubious idea," but complied with Dave's request to write something in 5/4. Dave unified the two fragments Paul brought in and, keeping it simple, made the experiment fun. Assisted by Guinness (the beer, not the World Records), we determined that Dave plays a steady 2-chord vamp 162 times, even behind Joe Morello's unfettered drum solo. Released as an abbreviated single in 1961, "Take Five" became the first million-selling modern jazz hit, a landmark at the intersection between jazz and pop culture.

October 25, 2007 · 1 comment

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Dave Holland: Black Hole

Dave Holland led the session, and Steve Coleman wrote the tune, but “Black Hole” is Marvin “Smitty” Smith’s showcase. The drummer claims the spotlight here, turning every measure into an opportunity to solo, no matter how subtly. The tune starts in 13/8 and then moves from one time signature to another – this would be a hallmark of Holland for years to come. Keeping up with the changes must have been no small feat, and these guys did it as though they were on automatic. All four men deserve accolades for their work on “Black Hole” – Eubanks’s searing final solo makes you want to learn to play electric guitar – but Smith lays down one of the most dazzling displays a drummer has ever put to record. A student of drumming could study these 10 minutes for months on end.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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