Brad Mehldau: O Que Será

If you see the title "O Que Será," and you start thinking about Doris Day singing "Whatever will be, will be" . . . well, maybe you're on the wrong web site. Mehldau always has a knack for heralding songwriters that other jazz musicians don't cover, and here he highlights a song from the great Brazilian tunesmith Chico Buarque. (If you haven't heard Buarque's version, you should check it out on the stellar -- if little known in the US -- release Meus Caros Amigos.) Mehldau's trio resorts to none of the stale samba or bossa tricks, but craft a comfortable, loping rhythm which underscores a probing piano solo. A solid effort from a seminal band.

April 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Brad Mehldau: The Very Thought of You

This 13-minute version of the Ray Noble standard, recorded at the Village Vanguard in October 2006, starts out as an introspective trio ballad. For the next six minutes, Mehldau and company stay close to the original harmonies and the pianist impresses with his fresh improvised lines. But midway through the track we encounter one of those surprising shifts that have become a specialty of this artist. Bass and drums fade out, and Mehldau moves outside the framework of the song's form and familiar progression. Although Mehldau has sometimes been compared to Bill Evans, this long interlude is almost the antithesis of Evans. Instead of long, loping right hand lines above crisp comping chords, we find booming, bellowing harmonies supporting a minimum of melodic development. The nexus of energy shifts to different points in the keyboard, and the level of intensity gradually rises. The last seven minutes are not really the same song as the first six – at least not from any precise musicological perspective. But there is a metaphysical linkage, a certain spirit that connects the two ends of the track. This is not just a novel approach to improvisation but a challenge to our very sense of jazz structure. You can't really compare this to jazz precedents. It sets its own.

April 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Kurt Rosenwinkel: Chords

Rosenwinkel's debut release on ArtistShare finds him stretching out at length – two CDs comprised of just eight tracks total – in live performance at the Village Vanguard. He opens with "Chords," 16 minutes of high-energy jazz fueled by a rhythm section that supplies creative tension without firmly committing to either 6/8 or 4/4. Occasionally the players blend together, but more often they counter each other's moves in a series of engaging musical gambits. The composition is almost an "All Blues" from an alternative universe, reminding me of Miles even with the opening piano vamp and floating turnaround, but with everything topsy-turvy. Moods shift, textures change, rhythmic currents diverge. The jazz tradition haunts this track like a ghost hidden in the attic. Meanwhile Rosenwinkel presides above it all, with that new way of phrasing so popular with the current generation, the digital world replacing the analog, where you hit each note dead-center and send it flying out of the ballpark – pop, pop, pop! Pay attention to this release: it will give you a taste of the jazz zeitgeist of the moment.

April 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wynton Marsalis: Cherokee

Putting aside our collectively diverse opinions on Marsalis's extra-musical contributions to jazz, it is nearly impossible to listen to Wynton's playing with the Jazz Messengers in the 1980s and his seven-disc boxed set from the Village Vanguard in the 1990s and not marvel at his technical and musical prowess. On this track from Disc 1 of the Vanguard box, Marsalis absolutely rips through "Cherokee" at a predictably blistering pace for nearly seven minutes, combining his classical chops with a noticeable homage to the masters who have previously recorded this classic.

March 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris Potter: Lift

This Chris Potter composition is marked by rhythmic modulations that increase the tempo and create the impression of music being propelled upward. Potter's solo takes place over the second modulation, a burning swing tempo. His lines, locked into Bill Stewart's cymbals, are reminiscent of Coltrane's breakneck solos. Like Coltrane, Potter toys with superimposed harmonies. He also uses rhythmic displacement, adding a level of excitement due to unease over whether or not he is going to fall back into the phrase. The fact that he always does it is exhilarating.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Uri Caine: Cheek to Cheek

Even if he does let us recognize bits of this evergreen, Uri Caine toys with it from the beginning with little regard for the melody. The piano dives into the improvisation process right away, and the rhythm team pushes him along with great vigor. When Caine finally slows down and lets Perowky solo, it comes as a welcome relief after more than five minutes of breathless virtuosity. This performance is obviously remarkable, but its 9-minute length and intensity are typical of what the listener can appreciate much better live than at home.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie: Tour de Force

The band Gillespie assembled for this date was not his regular working group. Nonetheless the performance is cohesive, with each member afforded ample time to share the spotlight with Dizzy. Adams and Gillespie share the melodic responsibilities, while Brown can be heard in the background quoting "Jeepers Creepers" as a countermelody. The improvisations are of high quality: Adams quickly makes way for Brown, whom the liner notes tout as "one of the finest young trombonists to come along in decades." Gillespie sounds much the same as he did 20 years earlier, navigating the chord changes with range and velocity equal to that of his younger self. Also of interest is the track's concluding solo, featuring a young Chick Corea, whose harmonic choices and scalar runs show a fresh approach to Tatum (an obvious influence here).

February 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Pepper: Over the Rainbow

During his announcement to the audience, Art Pepper says that his producer Lester Koenig asked him to do this solo number, and he adds with some humor that it is going to be "one of these Anthony Braxton trips," but "a short thing." Well, it lasts more than seven minutes and, whether you like Braxton or not, I'm not sure you'll see the connection. Lyrical, though sometimes impaired by a hissing reed; dramatic, even if he often fills in with virtuoso licks; adventurous, though respectful of the melody—such is Pepper's solo vision of this song. The vision of a man and musician who, during his lifetime, obviously went several times "over the rainbow," and came back with a different point of view on our world.

February 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sonny Rollins: I Can't Get Started

The only ballad – and one of the shortest tunes – that Rollins played on this historic first live-at-the- Vanguard recording session provides a good opportunity to appreciate Elvin Jones's usually underrated brushwork, and to revel in the way the tenor adapts his powerful, heavy tone to a slow tempo. Or rather adapts it to his way of playing, for Rollins keeps accelerating and slowing down his delivery as he improvises melodic phrases, giving "I Can't Get Started" an unusually dynamic twist. When the final stop chorus arrives, with its quotation of the classic "'Round Midnight" intro, the overall feeling is that the Colossus has reshaped Vernon Duke's standard according to his own taste.

January 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: My Foolish Heart

"My Foolish Heart" is another landmark performance from the June 25, 1961 live recording at the Village Vanguard. This trio altered the rhythmic essence of modern jazz with its use of space and time. This was evident in virtually every track recorded at the Village Vanguard on this date, but the ballad performances are especially noteworthy. I am unaware of any previous piano trio attempting a ballad at such a slow tempo -- if the beats were any farther apart you might doubt that there was any strict tempo on this track.

Many otherwise stellar 1950s and 1960s jazz bands would have died trying to attempt this in live performance. But Evans, Motian and LaFaro are liberated by this slo-mo approach. This ballad breathes in a way that few jazz performances have ever achieved. If musicians such as Parker and Gillespie showed how jazz could move faster than anyone thought possible, this trio achieved the same extraordinary results at the other end of the metronome range. But, as with other Evans tracks from this period, the music itself is much more than an experiment or attempt to prove some theory about jazz performance. The sheer beauty of this version of "My Foolish Heart" transcends its origin as a sentimental soundtrack theme from a Hollywood film and transforms the piece into art song of the highest order.

January 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: Gloria's Step (take 2)

Fans who want to appreciate the artistry of Bill Evans must start with the great live Village Vanguard session from June 25, 1961. Evans never led a better band, and this ensemble never performed at a higher level than on this date. It is no exaggeration to claim that the essence of the piano trio in jazz was permanently altered by this seminal event. The idea that bass and drums should support the piano is replaced here by a different conception—one in which each instrument enters into a musical conversation with the others. The trio also adopts what Evans called the "internalized beat" in which each musician feels the rhythm, but doesn't always emphasize it in his playing. As a result the music floats over the bar lines in a way that no previous jazz ensemble had attempted.

But these are more than conceptual breakthroughs. What sets this music apart is how brilliantly these concepts are realized in practice. This music doesn't sound like anyone is out to prove anything. Its innovations are subservient to the intense emotional experience of the music itself.

One can only wonder what this trio might have accomplished had it stayed intact for several more years. But a senseless tragedy intervened. LaFaro died in a car accident on July 6—less than two weeks after these recordings were made. A great career was cut short—no bassist since Jimmy Blanton had done more to expand the expressive range of the instrument. Evans, for his part, would never completely recover from this loss, although his later ensembles always attempted to emulate (with varying degrees of success) the musical E.S.P. and interactivity of this path-breaking trio.

January 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Paul Motian (with Joe Lovano & Bill Frisell): Yahllah

In the last 15 years, many modern groups have become frequent visitors to the Vanguard stage – none with more regularity than the Paul Motian Trio featuring Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano. Their free, introspective, bass-less improvisations often meander between sensitive and sweet and forceful and raucous within a single tune. The experimental approach to their improvisations makes each set totally unique (some more traditional and some more free), leading many fans back for repeat visits to the Vanguard when this trio is playing. Note Frisell’s atmospheric layering under Lovano’s extended solo throughout the middle and end of this track.

January 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Brad Mehldau: Monk's Dream

Brad Mehldau’s virtuosic version of Thelonious’s “Monk’s Dream” provides the listener with a prime example of a jazz musician improvising based on the melody of a tune until he/she finds an idea that they wish to instantly develop. Throughout this solo, Mehldau time and again dips into the “Monk’s Dream” melody and then embellishes it with improvised statements. The melodic improvisation intensifies for well over four minutes until Mehldau begins an amazing rhythmic/harmonic variation (beginning at approxi- mately 5:20 and lasting until 6:45) that still references the melody as the solo reaches its climax. It is a remarkable improvised statement that Mehldau’s Vanguard audiences have been absorbing for many years now. Also note the rare Rossy solo (in the form of trading fours with Mehldau) at the conclusion of Mehldau’s improvisation.

January 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris Potter: Boogie Stop Shuffle

After a four-minute-plus unaccompanied tenor sax introduction (so substantial that it is separated onto another track!), these four in-demand New York jazz musicians perform a powerful rendition of this Mingus classic. Kevin Hays solos early in the track on both Fender Rhodes (first) and piano (second), before Potter reenters and picks up where he left off from his introduction with his identifiably crisp rapid-fire runs and motivic development. Colley and Stewart perform superbly together, managing to simultaneously play with great energy and overall effortlessness.

This track hints at the “State of the Vanguard” in the 21st century. The players are modern, there are combinations of electric and acoustic instruments, the ideas are complex yet historical, and they are paying homage to a past master with a reach into the Mingus repertoire. Modern jazz at its best. Here’s to the next 70+ years of live jazz at the Village Vanguard!

January 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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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

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