Donny McCaslin: The Champion

Donny McCaslin's name rarely shows up in bright lights. He has released a half-dozen leader dates, but is better known for sideman work in Steps Ahead, the Maria Schneider Orchestra and other top-flight bands where his name is hidden inside the CD booklet. I am not sure if his 2008 leader date Recommended Tools will give him a bigger dose of stardom, but he certainly deserves wider acclaim. There are few tenor players on the scene who impress me more than McCaslin. On "The Champion" (dedicated to Hermeto Pascoal, another unsung hero), he works wonders with a song that starts out as little more than a percussion-type figure played on the sax, a serpentine melody that constantly turns in on itself. The interaction with bassist Glawischnig and drummer Blake is inspired, but the centerpiece of this track is a long solo sax section in which McCaslin is everywhere, playing fast figures, bass notes, setting rhythmic patterns into motion, soaring into the high register or bellowing in the cellar. This is potent music, and one more sign that Donny McCaslin has arrived in the elite ranks of the jazz world.

August 22, 2008 · 0 comments


Lee Konitz: I Remember You

Motion is a unique offering in Lee Konitz’s discography. It’s his first official trio record, and he chose to do it with fellow Tristano-ite Sonny Dallas, and with a musician that few people would have imagined him playing with at the time: Elvin Jones. Konitz himself admits that he was somewhat apprehensive at the idea of Coltrane’s drummer being associated with his own rather thin alto sound. He even rehearsed at length with Dallas and Nick Stabulas as a “sparring partner” (and these side sessions are more than satisfying, as shown on the 3-record edition of Motion) before facing Jones himself. In fact, the alchemy worked fantastically between Konitz, Dallas and Jones, and Motion is definitely one of Konitz’s major achievements. It’s also the first steps toward individual freedom for a soloist who was basically considered “cool” so far. From then on, Konitz was never afraid to confront his extraordinary improvising ability with any other musician, provided he thought good music would come out of the meeting.

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments


Sonny Rollins: The Freedom Suite

"The Freedom Suite" is a monument that fully belongs to the history of African-American music. It is not the first trio piece by Rollins – but it's the longest – neither the first tune of his where he shows social/political concerns, but it stands as a particularly bold statement. The simple melodic structure of the suite's movements and the invention that Rollins, Pettiford and Roach display on this minimal basis make it hard to imagine anybody but these three giants reproducing this miracle. Hence the uniqueness of this master- work, which few have dared to interpret in the intervening years. But little wonder that among those few is David S. Ware, a tenor player and former protégé of the "saxophone colossus."

January 15, 2008 · 0 comments


Joe Henderson: Boo Boo's Birthday

Nearly 30 years after Sonny Rollins’ inventive piano-less tenor recordings from the Vanguard, Joe Henderson released these piano-less tenor recordings made with the all-star rhythm section of Ron Carter and Al Foster. These three masters weave flawlessly in and out of solidified, swinging time and free, exploratory sections. This allows the musicians to explore and reinvent the tunes they are playing through interspersed combinations of trio, duet, and unaccompanied playing. Some of Henderson’s strongest playing from this period in his career can be heard on these recordings – there is a delicate balance of extreme intensity and fervor combined with the understated, “less is more” brilliance of an older, wiser Henderson. Essential tenor recordings.

January 14, 2008 · 0 comments


Lester Young: I've Found a New Baby (1946)

Lester Young, by Herb Snitzer

During World War II, Lester Young felt a draft. Facing induction or imprisonment, Lester selected service, and wound up in the slammer anyway. Six months into his Army hitch, the 35-year-old conscript was busted for drug possession. After 10 months in the disciplinary barracks, Pres was dishonorably discharged. He then returned to the civilian company of his peers for one of the great moments in recorded jazz. During stop-time exchanges, Cole's and Rich's spontaneous synchronicity so joyously epitomizes musical communication that it sparks expressions of delight from the players themselves. Pres was a miserable soldier, but an immortal jazzman. Salute!

October 27, 2007 · 0 comments


Sonny Rollins: Come, Gone

Rollins often functioned as a musical satirist, skewering standards left and right. When he got serious, though, watch out! Into an album of ersatz cowboy songs written by city slickers, Sonny snuck a red-hot performance that forever sears his ® brand into the rugged hide of tenor saxophone lore. By turns scoffing, scorching, scouring, sliding, smearing, soaring and squawking, not to mention grating, grinding, growling and repeatedly quoting "Perdido," Rollins swings like a daredevil aerialist and stuns like a heavyweight boxer with an anvil in each glove. If you're new to Sonny Rollins, have smelling salts handy. You'll need 'em.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments


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