Monday, February 27, 2006

Big Banding ... oops

I was thinking about including reedist Marty Ehrlich's "News on the Rail," Palmetto, in a post on good modern big band disks I've encountered lately, but then I noticed it's ONLY a sextet. It just sounds like a big band, probably in part because of the multi-instrumental duty the players take on (Howard Johnson takes honors by playing baritone sax, tuba and bass clarinet, with standout bari work on "Keeper of the Flame"), which gives this group an unusual, as well as full, sound.

I'd rate it creatively with Jamie Baum's CD "Moving Forward, Standing Still", which I really like, except more toward the bass end of things instrumentally and more toward the outside musically, although not excessively so. Think Eric Dolphy and Mingus and you're close. But there are places where it neo-swings as well like "Seeker's Delight," where James Zollar (trumpet and flugelhorn) gets in some quality solo time. The disk is laced with interesting sounds, like what appears to be interplay between a harmonica and the tuba on the title track. The former, I suspect, is pianist James Weidman doing double duty on the melodica, not something you often hear in a jazz recording. In an overall sense, the drums and bass seem to be more part of the front line than just a rhythm section. You're not going to listen to this and think you've heard it all before.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Now's the time

The Gerald Wilson Orchestra's "In My Time," Mack Avenue, is exciting modern big band music with great ensemble playing and prominent solos played like jazz should be played in 2006 instead of the '30s.

"Sax Chase" is so hot I feel like I need asbestos earmuffs to listen to it. Especially notable is the three-part suite "The Diminished Triangle," with its middle section, "Ray's Vision at the U," making use of "In a Sentimental Mood" in a way that drags the blues out of it and featuring some wonderful piano from Renee Rosnes (who's great on Miles Davis' "So What," too, and really throughout). The closing interlude, "Blues for Manhattan," swings like Tarzan and has wonderful horn solos by Sean Jones on trumpet and Ron Blake tenor sax (like Rosnes, also excellent elsewhere in the session), as well as Russell Malone on electric guitar.

The leader is a legend, his arrangements are fab, the musicians are among the best of today and there's not a subpar track on the disk. Another Xmas gift from my buddy Carl Abernathy, who's got good taste except for his Jimmy Buffett fetish. (Inside joke, I made that up.)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

My new piano pal

"My New Old Friend," Cryptogramophone, has pianist Alan Pasqua leading with Darek Oles on bass and Peter Erskine on drums, a very compatible trio. The liner notes say it's intended to give the listener a place to rest for a bit and the lineup and playing are peaceful for the most part. I can see myself putting it on when I don't feel good and just want to sit quietly, although some tunes, like "Stick Slap," get lively. The songs are mostly Pasqua compositions, a few standards ("Smile," for instance, done beautifully) and at least one cover, "Wichita Lineman," I never figured to hear as a jazz tune. They make a nice ballad of it.

Pasqua, probably better known as a keyboardist for a variety of rockers, is a technically proficient jazz pianist in the Bill Evans mold who, at least on this, sticks mostly inside the lines and doesn't need to do anything else to be impressive. One of the better piano trios I've heard lately.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Goold goodness

I touted tenor saxophonist Ned Goold in writing about Harry Connick's excellent no-singing disk "Other Hours." "Gooold," Amosaya Records, puts Goold in sax-bass-drums trio and lets you hear plenty of him and probably is one reason why the CD makes me think of Sonny Rollins, because there's just about nothing I like better than Mr. Rollins in a trio.

Goold has some Sonny Rollins in his sound, too, although it's a sound all his own. And he has the same propensity to go places in his solos you didn't expect, with abstract but logical flights, and the same kind of ability to get back home and leave you wondering how he did it.

The lineup is mostly Goold's stuff with a few not overly played standards the guys really have fun with, including "Sonny Boy" and Monk's "Epistrophy," the only one you're likely to recognize right off. The improvising on "Hazmat" and "Michael vs. Mikan" (which I assume refers to a couple hoopsters named Jordan and George) is especially tasty, but it's all good. I really like this disk.

Monday, February 20, 2006

New flamenco sketches 2

I saw Chick Corea and the group of largely Spanish musicians he's been playing with, and is calling Touchstone, at the Ravinia Festival outside Chicago last summer. It was one of the best sets I saw in 2005. The improvising was strong, the musicianship outstanding and the musicians clearly sympathetic. While founded on Spanish themes and the flamenco, rhumba and tango forms in particular, the music was less overtly influenced by them and wider ranging than, say, Jerry Gonzalez's "Los Piratas del Flamenco," which I liked anyway. When Corea said they had a recording in the process, I knew I would be buying it.

I've given the two-CD "Rhumba Flamenco" two listens and there are two things I like about it. It reminds me of the Ravinia concert musically. ("Touchstone," the song not the band, lasts 22 minutes and includes some great interplay between Corea, Jorge Pardo on flute and Carles Benavent on electric bass.) And I bought the disks directly from Chick Corea's Web site, which is the only way to get them at present. No scummy Sony or other big record companies involved, which is fine by me.

Corea really sounds inspired and the instrumentation, with both drums and percussion, is interesting. Makes for a heck of a beat. Eight of the 10 tunes in the collection of European concert recordings are over 10 minutes, lots of room to make cool music, and these guys do. Benavent is the Spanish Jaco Pastorius on "Zyriab (de Lucia)." I'm not a big flute fan, but Pardo could change my mind, with his inventive solo and comping on what's a speedy run through "You're Everything," for instance, and his front-and-center role on "Mallorca." His playing is just so jazzy and it fits so well in this context. I'm not even sorry he doesn't get the saxophone out more and he's excellent on that instrument, too. "Kalimba" features a nifty duet between percussionist Rubem Dantas on thumb piano and Corea on the big version. Well worth it and you get the added pleasure of knowing the musicians receive most of the money.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Children of Miles electric

Alan Parsons Project and Bugge Wesseltoft, classical piano licks with synthesizers, a voice as instrument more chant than scat, an electric bass and strings with a hip-hop drum beat, Monkian pianism, screaming (kind of) electric guitars, "Tubular Bells," a bit of the Jimi Hendrix, bluesy piano and churchy organ, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Nina Simone, whistling, disco reggae, rocky soul, Joe Satriani, heck, even some moments of fairly recognizable jazz.

Things I heard, among other things, on Burnt Sugar's "Blood on the Leaf, Opus No. 1," one of the CDs Philip Freeman suggests as an extension of Miles Davis' electric music in his excellent book "Running the Voodoo Down." The group, which includes Vijay Iyer, self produces and you can find its disks through its Web site. I'd take the trip if I were you because "Blood on the Leaf" gets more interesting every time I listen to it. Exciting stuff.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Experience counts

On "Young Warrior, Old Warrior," Mapleshade, baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett lays down a free run here and there, but mostly travels on or near the line between in and out with a sometimes sextet that sounds like it got a lot out of playing together. Their reading of Dizzy Gillespie's "Blue 'N Boogie" has a relentless groove straight out of Gerry Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band and that's high praise from this writer.

There's some Mingus in the disk, too, like "Bari-ed Treasure," not surprising since trumpeter and longtime Mingus sideman Jack Walrath wrote the piece for Bluiett, according to the liner notes. It's an excellent showcase for the big horn and the guy behind it, and Walrath gets some as well. "Blues in F and G" captures the essence of hard times, like these, employing nothing more than Bluiett's horn and Keter Betts' legendary bass. Bluiett lets loose on the free duet "Jimmy and Me" with equally legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb. My buddy Carl Abernathy gave me this for Xmas and it was a good choice.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Bounce with the flow

I saw Terence Blanchard in concert at Purdue University a few weeks ago and commented to my buddy Carl Abernathy at one point that Blanchard and his band had a real Miles Davis' electric era kind of thing going, albeit it an extending of some of the ideas Miles laid down not by any means a knockoff.

You can hear it in his latest CD "Flow" as well, for instance where he plays off the guitarist Lionel Loueke's vocal African chant, which serves as the main instrument on the introduction to "Wadagbe" and remains part of the ensemble in the body of the song. As an electric guitar player, Loueke is hard rocking but with touch like former Davis guitarist Mike Stern. Add in various electronic flourishes, bass and percussion, and a saxophone that sounds like a snake charmer's horn and you get, in sum, a sound theater for Blanchard to work his trumpet magic in, as Davis did with his electric bands. Likewise the title track, done in three movements spread around the disk.

Everything on "Flow" isn't a heady musical experiment, however. A lot of it is straight-ahead modern jazz, although more advanced than most and never entirely conventional. Take "Benny's Tune," a lovely ballad that seems to have roots in "My Ideal;" "Wandering Wonder" or "The Source," hard boppy runs with electric touches and some great Blanchard solo work and comping (and powerful piano playing by Aaron Parks on the latter); and "Harvesting Dance," which works off a Spanish-inflected Derrick Hodge bass groove to create something like an electro-acoustic bullfight theme. Kicking drums from Kendrick Scott, too.

I think "Flow" and its 2003 predecessor "Bounce" say that Blanchard has to be considered among the most creative band leaders, as well as trumpet players, working today. Herbie Hancock, himself a musical searcher for decades, didn't produce this (and play on two cuts) for the exercise.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Busy, busy

I am overly busy in real, as opposed to virtual, life but hope to get some music listened to and some new posts done in the next couple days.

Meanwhile, I attended the Robert Glasper Trio's performance at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago over the weekend and learned two things.

The Jazz Showcase is a nice place to hear and see jazz. And Robert Glasper is very good live. The guys played about an hour and a half a set and did, effectively, four songs, which made for lots of really cool improvising. If you get a chance to see them, do it.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Keep an ear on Glasper

Word is Robert Glasper employs subtle hip-hop influences in his music, but I don't hear much of it on "Canvas," his new CD from Blue Note/EMI. However, I'm not disappointed, although I bought the CD to see what he did with hip-hop, because I do hear lots of strong and inventive piano playing and creatively improvised, impressively complex jazz without the discordance that sometimes accompanies the free variety of said.

Mostly playing acoustic piano in a trio with bass and drums, Glasper reminds me of McCoy Tyner. But he nonetheless has his own sound down and seems to me to be as adept as younger lion big hitters like Bill Charlap and Brad Mehldau. His playing on his own songs is muscular and intricate at once, as are the compositions themselves. "Enoch's Meditation," for example, ranges from funky to classical and I think I might even hear those rumored hip-hop touches underneath it. Check out "Jelly's Da Beener," where he flips seamlessly between blistering straight-ahead play and the avant-garde. Impressive. He switches to a rollicking electric piano on Herbie Hancock's "Riot," the only composition not Glasper's, which has saxophonist Mark Turner (he's on two tracks) and the pianist improvising in tandem as well as ear-catching solo runs. This is a young guy to keep an ear on and "Canvas" is a fine place to start.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

X marks the spot

"Moods: Playing with the Elements," from Trio-X and CIMP is an odd duck, a free jazz CD that's quiet (I can barely hear it in some places) and melodic but still a vehicle for flights of improvisation by Joe McPhee, who plays tenor sax, flugelhorn and pocket trumpet, bassist Dominic Duval and drummer Jay Rosen.

Their version of "Stella by Starlight" is the perfect example of what I'm talking about. A jazz fan who preferred conventional playing would easily recognize the standard in some sections, and probably be impressed by the musicianship, while a free jazz fan would likely get a kick out of the trio's improvising off the song, which takes it in a number of creative but logical directions. A fan of both, like me, is in hog heaven. The rest of the disk is equally interesting and, although the moods it does a good job evoking aren't what you would call uproarious, I don't see it becoming boring through plenty of listens.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Lou's due

Other than iTunes downloads of his big hits, I didn't have anything from Lou Rawls before the great singer passed away last month. Recently, I rectified that by buying "Stormy Monday," a reissue of a 1962 Blue Note recording with Rawls backed by my man Les McCann and his trio at the time, including the super bassist Leroy Vinnegar.

I like the disk for both Rawls and the band. Although this is near the outset of his career, he sounds just like, well, Lou Rawls and his voice may even sound fresher than it was later. The song mix incorporates mostly blues and jazz standards, among them the title track, "God Bless the Child" (a song I'll now think of in terms of Billie Holiday and Lou Rawls), swinging versions of "Willow Weep for Me" and "'Taint Nobody's Bizness If I Do" and a bluesy "I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water." The gospel-tinged "A Little Les of Lou's Blues" features fine interplay between Rawls and McCann's piano and Vinnegar's walking bass is a perfect compliment to Rawls' singing all the way through. A gem.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Two guys with saxes

I bought "Travesia," from David Sanchez and Columbia, for $7.99 at my local used CD store when I saw it featured both tenorman Sanchez and altoist Miguel Zenon, two younger sax players whose CDs "Coral" and "Jibaro" were among my favorites last year. "Travesia" is a mix of standards and compositions from Sanchez and Zenon rendered as modern hard bop with, for the most part, only a taste of Latin jazz.

"Prince of Darkness" is done Jazz Messengers-style. But the saxophone soloing is more Wayne Shorter with Miles Davis (it's Shorter's song for Davis' second classic quintet, after all) than Shorter with Art Blakey's crew, which is to say at the border of the outside (and sometimes over it). "La Maquina" sounds Latin bluesy in places and has touches of Ellington, along with more excellent sax solos. "Paz pa Vieques" by Sanchez starts out like Latin bop and includes some nice interplay between he and Zenon, as do Zenon's "Joyful," which cooks, and several of the other songs on the CD. The standard "Ill Wind" gets a mildly avant-garde reading in a lengthy Sanchez solo. Nice piano and bass throughout, from Edsel Gomez and Hans Glawischnig respectively, but the saxes rule (check out the fetching solo work on "No Quiero Piedras en mi Camino" and "Pra Dizer Adeus," two very different songs).

It's a five-year-old disk that I would characterize as mostly controlled risk, but these guys already were showing the stuff I think places them near the top of the younger lions list. I wouldn't be unhappy if I had paid full price.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Brazilian Ellington

A plug from Joe Moore at JazzPortraits prompted me to pick up "Choros & Alegria," a collection of previously unrecorded pieces from and supervised by notable Brazilian composer and arranger Moacir Santos. The disk consists of mildly Latin-inflected large group play, often Ellingtonian or movie score-like in scope with an undercurrent of touchstone sounds associated with better-known Brazilian songsters like Gilberto and Jobim.

The music is excellent, but the musicians (not one, with the exception of a guest spot by Wynton Marsalis, what you would call famous, at least outside Brazil) are the highlight to me. In sum, this CD gives great horn, for example the memorable trombone playing on "Now I Know," some Pepper Adams-reminiscent baritone sax on "Another Thing" and nice saxes and French horn work on "Paradise," a ballad that fairly channels the melancholy of lost love. Marvelous saxophone soloing on "The Lemurians" as well, and some ear-catching trumpet and Spanish-tinged guitar elsewhere, the latter not too far from being in a league with Kenny Burrell or Wes Montgomery. "Route" is a thoroughly modern big band piece, the kind of thing you might get with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. Thanks for the tip Joe.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Plug in

Here are five good ways, or 10, to start appreciating the electric music of Miles Davis.

"In a Silent Way," not too big a shift from the late '60s free-leaning acoustic explorations of his great Shorter-Hancock-Carter-Williams quintet. I rate it with "Kind of Blue" as his masterwork. One theme throughout his career is the importance not of playing all the notes but only the important notes. Here's the apex.

"A Tribute to Jack Johnson," what happens after "In a Silent Way." Get in the car, slip it into the CD player and start driving. I could get across Kansas on the groove and probably find something new in the music every listen.

"Live at the Fillmore East, March 7, 1970: It's About That Time," think they can't do the kind of stuff they did on "Jack Johnson" live? Think again. This is my favorite live Miles electric disk, although there are other good ones. ("Agharta" is number two, and since it comes later, 1975, you get a better fix on the music's advancement. You won't go wrong with either.)

"We Want Miles," I like the trumpeter whose subtle touch is legendary with Mike Stern, a rocking electric guitarist whose touch can nonetheless be likewise delicate and whose creativity is often off the charts. "Jean-Pierre" might be my favorite Miles electric tune.

"Tutu," the logical extension of where he'd been heading since 1969. Marcus Miller laid down pretty much everything else electronically and Miles recorded over it. Both of them did a marvelous job. Great trumpet playing from Davis and the thing in sum is accessible, even danceable at intervals.

Don't deny yourself the experience, however. Be sure to check out "Bitches Brew" and "On the Corner," too. I think they're the two disks most loaded with the elements of his electric period, but also dense and less accessible as a result, meaning they take more work to really appreciate.

I'm a freak, I love "Doo-Bop" as well (which is Miles meets hip-hop, briefly, because he died a few months after recording it in 1991). Guy could play, end game or not.

For a sampler of what he was getting to the last couple decades of his life try "Live Around the World." On the song "Amandla," he drags jazz into the 21st Century. The version of "Time After Time" rates with Miles acoustic versions of "My Funny Valentine." It makes Cyndi Lauper's pop rendering, on which it's based, look anemic, and I like Cyndi Lauper's pop rendering.

Tune in Teo

Teo Macero, the producer and (truth be told) collaborator on a lot of Miles Davis' stellar electric recordings, also was a pretty good tenor saxophonist before he moved behind the scenes. Check out "Teo Macero with the Prestige Jazz Quartet," a 1957 session on which he plays with a Stan Getz-like sound. The disk has good stuff from Mal Waldron on piano and Teddy Charles on vibes as well. I downloaded it from emusic, for my money the best of the legal download services from a jazz perspective.