Jay Hoggard: The Fountain

Vibraphonist Jay Hoggard began his career straddling the worlds of avant-garde and mainstream jazz, but gradually focused on straight-ahead fare. On his 1978 debut recording, the otherwise progressive Solo Vibraphone, he dropped in a version of "Air Mail Special" as a salute to one of his idols, Lionel Hampton. And Hoggard's most recent release, Swing 'Em Gates, is a full-CD tribute to Hamp.

On Hoggard's 1991 The Fountain, the title tune is an abstract, spiritual piece, the freest selection by far amongst worthwhile renditions of standards and jazz classics. Hoggard's vibes open the track tranquilly with cascading runs and a shimmering soundscape, accompanied by McLaurine's vivid arco bass. The vibes-bass textures intensify until drummer Israel finally enters the fray. Hoggard then introduces his first truly extended lines thus far, which add melodic substance to the piece, as the bassist bows an insistent ostinato. The next section commences with Israel's forceful mallet vamp, until Hoggard reemerges with a pulsing, circular motif over which the drummer improvises. Pianist Weidman now unexpectedly joins in, playing dissonant note clusters, urgent chords and then delicate tremolos. Hoggard returns to his earlier riff, and Israel to his previous vamp to bring satisfying closure to a compelling performance.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stefon Harris: Thanks for the Beautiful Land on the Delta

While Stefon Harris was in a Brooklyn studio during the last three days of August 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. How differently might Harris have arranged the three selections from Ellington's and Strayhorn's New Orleans Suite, which he recorded at that time, if he'd had the chance to observe and reflect upon the destruction of New Orleans by Katrina, and the disastrous aftermath?

Regardless, Harris produced moving and stunningly realized interpretations of these pieces, and the appropriately titled "Thanks for the Beautiful Land on the Delta" is a prime example of his skills as both vibraphonist and arranger. His mix of clarinet, flute, viola and cello, with an additional trombone vamp, opens the track, sounding like a much larger orchestra. Harris plays the prayerful, proud melody over this evocative backdrop, his reading fervent, uplifting and blues-tinged. His reflective solo follows, in which his glistening lines, crisp articulation and gorgeous tone combine to stunning effect – there is such majesty and intelligence to his playing, with equal traces of Bobby Hutcherson and Milt Jackson for good measure. Tardy's subsequent clarinet solo is both technically impressive and emotionally charged. The reprise, if anything, improves on the already memorable opening.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lionel Hampton: Flying Home

"Flying Home" was Lionel Hampton's signature tune, composed on his first-ever plane trip in 1939, as he, Benny Goodman and the rest of B.G.'s band flew one morning from L.A. to that night's gig at Atlantic City's Steel Pier. Years later, Hampton claimed to have cashed the thousandth royalty check for the song in 1964. The 1942 big band version featuring Illinois Jacquet was Hamp's big hit, but this intoxicating 17-minute track is his longest recorded version.

Hamp solos first after his and DeFranco's unison romp through the theme. The vibist's trademark metallic, chime-like tone and percussive attack are in full evidence here, as he moves from short repeated phrases to more intense, lengthier lines. By now the tempo has moved from medium to up, and Brown and Rich are in a tight, compelling groove, as Peterson comps animatedly. DeFranco launches a technically assured, highly expressive solo, the heat of it belying as usual the notion that he was a coolly unemotional player. The clarinetist is riffing à la Hampton when not ripping off winding runs, and he also brings to mind Benny Goodman throughout his improv. Peterson follows with a bluesy relentlessness and joyful single-note lines. The tireless Hampton returns at about the 10-minute mark with a second, even more impressive solo, his phrasing and momentum simply mesmerizing. DeFranco joins Hamp for some spirited riffing as Rich starts hammering away even more earnestly than before. DeFranco soars through his own second solo at this point, with Hamp's and Rich's enthusiastic encouragement, the leader's vocal exclamations adding to the excitement. Hamp executes a spectacular run around 16 minutes in, as the band "flies home" to a satisfyingly smooth landing back on terra firma. You'd be hard pressed to find another 17-minute piece that flies by more quickly and entertainingly than this one.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chick Corea & Gary Burton: Four In One

Charlie Rouse said that when Thelonious Monk first hired him in 1959, the leader taught him all Monk's tunes by playing them on the piano, except for more difficult ones like "Trinkle Tinkle," "Played Twice" and "Four in One," which Monk wrote out. On Corea and Burton's duet CD Native Sense, they saved the best for last, a rollicking performance of the tricky "Four in One." This was their fifth duet recording to date, and their first in 12 years, but their uncanny rapport made it seem as if they played together on a daily basis.

Corea's jagged, verging-on-dissonant intro sets up his madcap trip through the serpentine theme in loose unison with Burton, or, if you will, off-kilter counterpoint, accentuated by the pianist's sporadic smashed chords. Burton solos first, his trademark four-mallet intricate lines and warm vibrato on keen display, his playing, as always, both technically impeccable and openly lyrical. Corea's response is totally unpredictable, his swift, tumbling runs interspersed with jolting single notes and chords, as well as distorted allusions to stride, but somehow always keeping the melodic line in clear sight. He and Burton next exchange short passages in highly responsive and inventive fashion, before another refreshing, harmonically slack treatment of the theme, concluded by Corea's one last exuberant, Monkish "trinkle tinkle."

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chick Corea & Gary Burton: Waltz for Debby

If you have not yet heard The New Crystal Silence, or have not attended one of their recent duet concerts, you might suppose that after 35 years of playing together, Chick Corea and Gary Burton could not raise their level of performance any higher. You would be wrong. Burton: "The performing we have done over the past year has been our best." Corea: "The tours we've done over the past year are my favorites." From their playing of Corea's tunes with the Sydney (Australia) Symphony Orchestra on the first of their CDs, to their duet selections on the second CD, these live recordings mark a significant milestone in their careers.

Recorded at a small concert hall during the 2007 Molde Jazz Festival, "Waltz for Debby" is given an extraordinary, flawless interpretation. Burton's incisive, quick-tempoed reading of the theme, and his unrestrained yet sharply defined improvisation, gushing with limitless creativity, are awe inspiring. Corea's nuanced support, and his own melodic, dancing solo, balance out this virtuosic, harmonically sophisticated masterpiece. A must hear!

April 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Terry Gibbs: What's New

When a superior jazz musician has played a particular standard as his ballad feature over many years, he can enhance and refine his approach until his performance becomes a thing of rare beauty and a privilege to hear. Such is the case with Terry Gibbs and "What's New," recorded live in the studio before a small group of invited guests. Tenorman Eric Alexander and guitarist Dan Faehnle sat this one out, and are probably heard applauding wildly at the track's conclusion along with everyone else.

DeFrancesco's silky intro and astute accompaniment, and the slick rhythmic support of Terry's son Gerry's brushes, offer Terry the perfect framework. The vibraphonist's vibrato and resultant sound reminds one of Lionel Hampton, who once asked Gibbs to join his band, an idea Hamp's wife/manager Gladys vetoed. Gibbs exhibits flawless technique, and his long phrases and harmonic development are both quite impressive, especially in the double-timed midsection of his solo, as well as in his dazzling coda. The ever-exuberant Gibbs was then 80, yet another jazz octogenarian aging like fine wine and not slowing down. The titles (and pace) of two of his originals on this session bear that out: "Smoke 'Em Up" and "Hot Rod." But "What's New" is undeniably the standout track.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Caribbean Jazz Project (with Dave Samuels): Soul Sauce

This is a song with a history. Cal Tjader had a huge hit with "Soul Sauce" in 1965. But he borrowed the song - well, it's not really a song, more like a vamp - from "Guarachi Guaro," a 1948 recording of Dizzy Gillespie with Chano Pozo. Now Dave Samuels steps in and shows that 60 years later, this "Soul Sauce" has lost none of its spiciness. The band settles in for a comfortable medium-up tempo, a perfect beat for the intro and turnaround, which are supposed to sound like a syncopated blur. Samuels contributes a tasty solo with just the right dose of funkiness. If hip songs still got airplay, this could be a hit all over again.

March 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stéphane Grappelli & Gary Burton: Falling Grace

This was a match made in heaven. The young Gary Burton was touring Europe and the then 64-year-old Stéphane Grappelli was performing regularly at the Hilton Hotel in Paris when Atlantic Records recorded them. Stéphane and Gary are both lyrical players, romantic and delicate on ballads, but capable of playing with an edge and an ecstatic propulsion at quicker tempos. Both also make their formidable technique subservient to their expressiveness, with no wasted notes or unfocused flashiness. Steve Swallow's rhapsodic "Falling Grace," which he wrote for Bill Evans, was a perfect vehicle for Grappelli and Burton to react and interact. Swallow's booming basslines are also worth noting, anchoring the group's overall sound. The year 1969 was a turning point for Grappelli, as he also had recorded meetings that year with Joe Venuti and Barney Kessel, and visited the U.S. for the first time to perform at the Newport Jazz Festival (albeit in the rain and while oblivious youngsters rioted around him). He never looked back, and went on to finally become an international star.

March 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Astor Piazzolla & Gary Burton: Milonga is Coming

Gary Burton had worked in Stan Getz's band in the 1960s, and saw firsthand how Getz's advocacy of bossa nova and willingness to collaborate with Brazilian musicians had revitalized his career and created a sensation in the music world. Two decades after leaving Getz, Burton embarks on a similar venture with the greatest Argentinean musician of the modern era, the brilliant tango composer and performer Astor Piazzolla. This promising meeting of jazz music and nuevo tango did not climb to the top of the charts, and posed no commercial match for that tall & tan & young & lovely girl who strolled past the Veloso bar-cafe in Rio. But this is a important recording, nonetheless, and one wishes that it had led to follow-up projects of similar scope. Burton here adapts to Piazzolla's compositions, and does so admirably, although with perhaps a little too much respect -- after all, Getz himself was fond of saying that irreverence was an essential attribute of a great jazz player. Maybe a dose of it would have been in place in this setting. I would have liked to hear one or two numbers in which the roles were reversed, with the great bandoneónist and his colleagues immersed in some heady modern jazz tunes; or perhaps (heaven forbid) a jazzier assault on one of Piazzolla's own cherished numbers.

December 26, 2007 · 1 comment

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Ralph Towner & Gary Burton: Icarus

Both of these musicians had fully assimilated the modern jazz tradition before joining forces for their Matchbook sessions on ECM. Burton had worked with Stan Getz and George Shearing, and had been one of the first to test the fusion waters, with his Duster release on RCA back in 1967. Towner had also tried his hand at fusion -- he appeared as a guest artist on Weather Report's I Sing the Body Electric almost three years prior to Matchbook -- and had even made his mark as a pianist before focusing on guitar. But the constraints of the standard post-bebop vocabulary were too confining for these players, who wanted to assimilate a variety of sounds (folk music, classical, ethnic, and avant-garde, among others) into their ever expanding musical melting pots. "Icarus" is one of Towner's finest compositions. He had already recorded it with the Paul Winter Consort and on his ECM solo release Diary, and he would draw on it again with the band Oregon and in other settings. The composition evokes a transcendent, yearning ambiance -- this is nothing less than a musical soundtrack for a personal vision quest. Here is the mythical Icarus while still in ascendancy and heading for the stars, and Towner and Burton enter fully into the emotional maelstrom of the flight.

December 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bill Ware: Caravan

From Bill Ware's Duke Ellington tribute record, we have Bill Ware's vibraphone and Marc Ribot's irrepressible guitar answering “Yes!” to the question Does the world need another cover of “Caravan”? In Ribot, Ware has discovered the perfect foil. The guitar begins with plenty of unresolved chords, dissonant intervals, sly figures, and taunting silences – then the fun begins. Ware unfurls that classic theme while Ribot comps (and swings) like mad, alternating chords with walking basslines. This inspires Ware to some tremendous, rippling solo passages. When the roles are reversed, Ribot is more than up to the task. Best of all, it sounds like the guys were having a load of fun.

December 03, 2007 · 0 comments

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Cal Tjader: Invitation

Born in St. Louis of Swedish stock, Cal Tjader was to Latin jazz what New York pianist Martin Denny was to the South Pacific. (Transplanted to Hawaii, Denny christened Exotica with his 1957 LP and scored a campy mainland hit with "Quiet Village," on which sidemen imitated birdcalls and jungle cries.) After an early-'50s apprenticeship with Englishman George Shearing's pseudo-Latinized combo, Tjader capitalized on the mid-'50s mambo mania with such Latinate lounge-exotica as Polish émigré Bronis?aw Kaper's 1952 MGM movie theme "Invitation," which is Denny minus the birdcalls. With Awk-awks and Whoop-whoop-whoops, this could've been a huge hit.

November 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Milt Jackson: Lover

After alternating the melody between 3/4 and 4/4, this pickup group settles into a frisky gambol better befitting both song and musicians than the breakneck tempo jazzmen by consensus had decided made an ideal "Lover." During the 1950s it was the critics’ cliché that Milt Jackson, temporarily loosed from the John Lewis-imposed rococo restraints of the MJQ, swung as hard as anyone in jazz. Here, bouncing his felt- tipped mallets off gold-plated aluminum bars with the effortless grace of a Chinese ping-pong champion dispatching opponents in the Grand Slam, Jackson shows that (in the words of our all-time favorite fortune cookie) Truth Sometimes Resides Even In Cliché.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Benny Goodman: Moonglow

B.G.'s come-hither clarinet and Hamp's voluptuous vibes make "Moonglow" one of jazz's most romantic encounters. The U.S. population spike nine months after this track's release was eminently predictable. B.G. was of course best known for fronting the Swing Era's breakthrough big band, but trio and quartet sessions show his kinder, gentler side. Similarly, Hamp's flamboyant showmanship would subsequently overshadow his musicianship, but "Moonglow" demonstrates what a splendid, intimate instrumentalist he could be. As for the impeccable Teddy Wilson, his elegance is here displayed only on the first 8-bar bridge, but his classiness is felt throughout. "Moonglow" doesn't shine, it shimmers.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lionel Hampton: Flying Home

Jazz's most indefatigable showman, legendary vibist Lionel Hampton, routinely whipped "Flying Home" to such a frenzy that one such performance climaxed with his entire sax section jumping fully clothed off a cruise boat and into the Potomac River. For this exciting studio version of his clamorous closer, Hamp keeps everyone on board, energetically deploying such familiar Swing Era devices as call-&-response patterns, riffing saxes, upward-smearing trombones and ear-piercing trumpets (led by Ernie Royal). Tenorman Illinois Jacquet, though, steals the show with a roguish proto-R&B solo guaranteed to leave you as wringing wet as a late-night dunk in the Potomac.

November 11, 2007 · 0 comments

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