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


David Hazeltine & Joe Locke: Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year

As the Mutual Admiration Society 2 CD climbs the jazz radio charts, new listeners will hopefully also seek out the first volume released back in 1999. Joe Locke has had fruitful associations with a number of pianists—Kenny Barron, Billy Childs, Frank Kimbrough, Geoff Keezer—but none more rewarding than with David Hazeltine, who himself has maintained a gratifying long-term musical relationship with saxophonist Eric Alexander. The way Locke and Hazeltine perform "Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year" on their first CD together shows how locked in they are both harmonically and in their attention to detail in melodic exposition and in the forming of solos.

The melancholy (check out the lyrics) Frank Loesser ballad comes from the oddly titled, bleak 1944 film noir "Christmas Holiday," but here it's enlivened considerably by a buoyant medium tempo patterned after the 1950 Sarah Vaughan/Miles Davis version. The vibes-piano soundscape is a joy to hear as Locke and Hazeltine gracefully intermingle on the theme. Locke's compelling solo spurts along in cascading fashion from the very start, aided by Hazeltine's highly intuitive accompaniment. Locke's lines are densely packed, but he makes every note meaningful. Hazeltine's improv in contrast is more leisurely developed, very bluesy and swinging in a Wynton Kelly way, and concludes most effectively with some insistently struck two-handed chords. Essiet's bass solo in turn is endearingly lyrical. The polished voicings of the melody on Locke and Hazeltine's return are again enchanting and heartfelt, words that can also describe this track as a whole.

July 21, 2009 · 0 comments


Bobby Hutcherson: Idle While

Although Bobby Hutcherson's earlier date, The Kicker, has since been released on CD, Dialogue, at the time of original release in 1965, was Bobby Hutcherson’s first album as a leader. Recorded shortly after Eric Dolphy’s seminal Out to Lunch date, on which Hutcherson performed, Dialogue is a prime example of the mid ‘60s stylistic transformation from strictly swinging hard bop to free-leaning-yet-still-grooving post bop. While Hutcherson would reveal handfuls of fine compositions on future albums, it’s pianist Hill and drummer Chambers who contribute all of the compositions to this date.

On the Chambers-composed waltz, “Idle While,” it’s the musicians’ careful attention to mood and atmosphere that reveals this album’s ultimate significance. Hubbard delivers an improvisation that doesn’t necessarily compete with his best work – but it importantly balances the form of this boundary-pushing modern waltz with a bop classicism that ties together the progress of the present and the vocabulary of the past. Check out Hill and Hutcherson swapping opportunities to provoke Hubbard with unpredicted harmonic twists. Richard Davis delivers a brief yet excellent solo here, and more importantly, always seems to possess a creative solution to maintaining cohesion no matter how far out any player goes over any arrangement, making him an unsung hero in the development of free(er) bebop and hard-bop.

June 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Stefon Harris: Sacred Forest

This tune is one of several short but nice percussion heavy songs as "Sacred Forest" features Harris rocking the marimbas the way it's supposed to be done. This song opens up with a funky bass line by Dwayne Burno as the percussion enters. I really enjoy Harris's ability at throwing in different influences into his music and this cut is no exception. I think his debut album was one of the strongest releases period during the 1990s from any jazz musician. I say this for several reasons; the first being that he embraces many different genres of music and manages to successfully blend them with jazz flavors and secondly he effortlessly switches between marimba and vibraphone, exhibiting a strong grasp for both instruments. Harris has shown that he is one of the strongest voices in jazz music in recent years and his debut album is a strong testament to that statement.

June 11, 2009 · 0 comments


Stefon Harris: One String Blues

On his debut album, Stefon Harris emerged as one of the most interesting voices in jazz music. He approaches composition from a very non-traditional standpoint, as heard on the Indian inspired "One String Blues." This album is chalked full of songs that draw on different influences but this one finds Harris playing a light blues scale over a percussion driven beat. Although the song is short, very short, it is a nice example of Harris's willingness as a composer to push the envelope. I would have like to have heard a more extended version of this song but it still gets the job done. Harris was only twenty-four when he recorded this album, man, only twenty-four!

June 11, 2009 · 0 comments


Gary Burton (with Astor Piazzolla): Mi Refugio

Burton's Astor Piazzolla Reunion CD brought together some of the musicians of the late Piazzolla's Nuevo Tango Quintet who had toured with Burton in 1986, a collaboration preserved on the album New Tango: Suite for Vibraphone and New Tango Quintet, recorded live at that year's Montreux Jazz Festival. The Reunion session ten years later presented lyrical and passionate interpretations of twelve Piazzolla compositions. However, the 13th and last track, "Mi Refugio," is perhaps the most intriguing.

Piazzolla recorded a series of solo bandoneon performances of classic tangos in 1970, released as Original Tangos from Argentina, Vol.1 and Vol. 2" "Mi Refugio" is a beautiful tango first introduced in 1922 by its composer, pianist Juan Carlos Cobián, one of the creators of the "tango-romanza" style. Piazzolla's 1970 solo recording of it alternates between melodic exposition and spare harmonic outlining, and so, as Burton said, it was "a duet arrangement waiting to happen." Burton wrote a new intro for himself to play, and he also plays along sensitively with Piazzolla on tape in a way that is both unobtrusive and elevating. The vibraphonist's lyrical, reverent intro delineates the tune's harmonies with much grace and skill. When Piazzolla begins his articulation of the theme, Burton just adds soft chords and arpeggios. Piazzolla's forceful lines mix with more sentimental and/or traditional voicings. As the bandoneonist switches to simply sketching the harmonies of the piece, Burton emerges to construct concise, entirely compatible phrases. The interweaving of the two instruments becomes more and more magical and mesmerizing as it progresses to a stunning denouement.

June 02, 2009 · 0 comments


Gary Burton & Pat Metheny: Sea Journey

"Sea Journey" has long been one of my favorite Chick Corea composition—built on a stormy minor key vamp set off against sweet descending harmonies in the bridge. Yet it is not often covered, despite its canonic inclusion in The Real Book and its "ease of use" for gigs and jams. For their June 2007 engagement at Yoshi's, this all-star reunion band drew heavily on these old semi-standards; this meeting of mature musical minds was about spontaneity and revisiting familiar ground from the past, rather than trailblazing into the future. But the solos are solid, especially Metheny's contribution. To my mind, he is one of the best pure improvisers in the business. His lines always make perfect musical sense, drawing from what he hears rather than (as with many guitarists) the licks that are under his fingers. This is a solo worth memorizing and singing along with the CD (or playing along if you're a musician). The Peter Max cover art is too hip by half, and may turn off some potential buyers of this disk—fearful that this is a "groovy" trip down memory lane. Don't be fooled. This is "no frills" jazz played at a very high level.

May 31, 2009 · 1 comment


Cal Tjader: When Lights Are Low

Cal Tjader recorded prolifically for Berkeley's Fantasy label, but his last project is my favorite. Released as Breathe Easy on the Galaxy sublabel, this soft-and-sweet session soon went out of print and has never been well known in the jazz world. It finally came back in CD format in 2001, packaged with the music from Tjader's first trio 10 inch album for Fantasy from 1951. I hope this music finally finds a receptive audience in its reincarnation as a compact disk. The rhythm section of Hank Jones, Shelly Manne and Monty Budwig set the tone, which is ultra-relaxed even by the standards of West Coast jazz. Tjader shows off his gift for melodic improvisation, but the real star here is unsung journeyman Allen Smith, who will leave you wondering why you haven't heard more from him.

May 13, 2009 · 0 comments


Teddy Charles Tentet: The Quiet Time

One of the most forward-looking musicians of his generation, Teddy Charles fell off the face of the earth after the early 1960s—literally "off the earth" since he spent a significant amount of time in later years as a sea captain. But the coolest of the landlubbers lamented the loss of this significant talent, whose probing yet sensitive style made him an ideal participant or leader for experimental undertakings and out-of-left-field projects. This 1956 track finds Charles and company in fine form on a cerebral mood piece scored by Jimmy Giuffre. Nothing can be taken for granted here. At times, percussion takes on a melodic role, or horns drive the beat. The line between solo and accompaniment is a wavering one, and there always seems to be something happening in the background that deserves your immediate attention. Few later jazz artists followed down this path, but that might only be because of the demands of any journey in the wake of daring Captain Charles.

May 13, 2009 · 0 comments


Cal Tjader: America

Immigrants have been coming to America's shores for a millennium, and some witty reflections on that fact can be found in the Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim musical West Side Story. Those nice Jewish boys fashioned jazzy, semi-Latin music featuring lyrics detailing the experiences of street punks and...Nuyoricans. (Huh?) But their composer chutzpah resulted in a work of sarcastic genius-especially in the sassy number "America."

Vibesman Cal Tjader laid down his lilting cover version in 1960. Minus the lyrics, claves and sticks start the dance, Tjader shimmers briefly, a French horn trio issues the call-out, and from then on, the solo moments pretty much belong to Tjader's fleetfoot vibes and to the airy, Afro-Cuban flute of Paul Horn. The saucy back-and-forth, snap-and-strut of the original staging echoes through pianist Clare Fischer's arrangement, which contains various horn "voices." The verbal jabs and teasing comments are tamed and prettified, though, leaving light Latin music as fresh as the island's tropical breezes-any NYC immigrant dis-ease subdued if not entirely passed over.

May 08, 2009 · 0 comments


Laura Klein & Ted Wolff: In A Grain Of Sand

Cerulean Blue is a pigment which, according to Wikipedia “is particularly valuable for artistic painting of skies because of its purity of blue.” On this album, Berklee teaching alumni Laura Klein and Ted Wolff tastefully combine to paint the sky blue with the unique voicing of their respective instruments. Their interplay is inspired by the collaborations of Gary Burton and Chick Corea which produced the beautifully transcendent “Crystal Silence”. While the playing of Klein and Wolff do not approach the symbiosis and delicate floating quality that was achieved by Burton and Corea, they do achieve a multi-hued palette of tonal qualities that is enjoyable to the ear.

On Klein’s composition “In A Grain of Sand”, the melody is captured most prominently by Wolff”s deeply resonant sound, which is excellently balanced by Klein’s fanciful playing. The two have a musical conversation that is complimentary and relaxed. For the most part they stay within a well-designed and well-executed comfort zone that doesn’t venture too far from the melody. Klein is prone to fill her playing with fluttering trills that give the song an overly flowery feel. Wolff has captured a flowing, tonally full sound on his instrument that has a staying presence. Together they do at times produce tonally rich music. Unfortunately like so many peaceful skyscapes the colors are vibrant, but without the electricity of a good storm, it’s just another pleasant painting on the wall.

March 28, 2009 · 0 comments


Cal Tjader: Prologue / The Jet Song

Prologues of musicals serve two main purposes: to introduce the major tunes and themes of the score, and to allow for the seating of late arrivals ahead of the play proper. But Cal Tjader's version of the West Side Story "Prologue" (segueing straight into "The Jet Song") keeps you on your feet instead. Too much of the accompanying album (arranged by pianist Clare Fischer) is weighted down by swooning strings, with Tjader's tjaunty vibes reduced to playing Bernstein's melodies, or comping while Fischer or Paul Horn supply the solos; but the opening 7 minutes is adventurous, propelled by both Latin Jazz and the elsewhere-intrusive yet here jet-assisted strings.

Cal gets his licks in on this one (as he does on a later keep-it "Cool"). A brief mysterious opening leads quickly to lilting strings, plucked and strummed and dancing, the different instruments as voices with Tjader up on top; then suddenly the strings are sawing and driving, timbales going Shark-fast, heading straight into the mixed conversation of "Jet," Fischer at the piano, Horn's flute, and Cal in the lead. Each takes a 4/4 solo (over walking bass), but with some tandem moments too, sometimes talking to each other, but with street-gang taunting, too. Now Cal takes control again, with brass and French horns adding sly commentary, till all shape a gorgeous return to the melody and final sendoff. (The strings and percussion add a quiet Basie-style tag as afterthought, allowing you at last to sit down.)

February 08, 2009 · 0 comments


Dave Pike: Mathar

Indian instrumentation and James Brown backbeats were all the rage back in the late sixties, but Eastern-tinged psychedelia and funk rarely crossed paths. It was during that time when Dave Pike Set's German guitarist Volker Kriegel got the idea to bash the two trends together under the banner of then-nascent jazz fusion. The experiment worked; Kreigel's exotic sitar combined with drummer Peter Baumeister's funky syncopations to create the rarest of rare grooves. At least one drum 'n' bass outfit has since remixed "Mathar," proclaiming it "the Original Indian vibes," but this is one vintage acid-jazz side that required no modern-day tinkering.

February 02, 2009 · 0 comments


Joe Baione: Oh Yeah!

The title just about sums it up. With the descending unison lines building a high-energy vibe, pianist Toru Dodo sets off on a fabulous solo that takes the thematic material in several directions. Leader Joe Baione then takes over on the vibes, blistering his way through several swinging choruses. Extra credit goes to bassist Corcoran Holt and drummer Jerome Jennings for pushing the swing factor to a high level. A little tension is built via Jennings's drum solo, which gives way to a restatement of the head followed by some nice call & response between the piano and vibraphone. That last segment was far too short for my taste, as I found the urge to crank the volume irresistible.

January 20, 2009 · 0 comments


Tom Beckham: Tethered

Brooklyn-based vibraphonist Tom Beckham is a lyrical player with a flair for writing distinctive, memorable tunes. On Rebound, Beckham is rejoined by Cheek and Hey from his previous CD Center Songs, plus newcomers Clohesy and Nemeth.

The leadoff track, "Tethered," is a good example of Beckham's thoughtful compositional approach: "With this song, the pitch at the end of each phrase suggested the pitch of the following phrase." Vibes and bass introduce the slowly building melodic theme, with Beckham sounding like a mixture of Gary Burton and Mike Mainieri. Piano and drums enter as Cheek's tenor sax reads the same line, accentuating its smoothly interconnecting short phrases until the group ups the dynamic level, adding heat and emotion to what had been a coolly deliberate exposition. Beckham's appealing solo is played with a warm, rounded tone and displays a sure technical finesse. Cheek follows with his always identifiable, inviting sound and an imaginative flow of well-formulated and resolved ideas. Hey's piano solo focuses on sharply delineated chords and a series of cascading runs. Cheek again takes up the tantalizing theme to close out the piece, with Beckham's animated arpeggios complementing him superbly. This track invites repeated listens, so compelling are the tune, the series of solos, and group interplay.

November 15, 2008 · 0 comments


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