Hits & Misses April 1998

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April 1998

The Sign of 4
(Knitting Factory Works)

Recorded during a week-long stint at New York’s Knitting Factory, The Sign of 4 is a 3-CD pack of no holds barred free jazz. Guitarists Pat Metheny and Derek Bailey, along with percussionists Gregg Bendian and Paul Wertico, put on a clinic and test the frontiers of modern free jazz by avoiding structure all together.

The first CD “Statement Of The Case” is an hour-long track entitled “A Study In Scarlet.” It is challenging music, with individualistic expressions from the quartet culminating into personal monologues of improvisation. Metheny’s outbursts are forceful and resist provincial description. Bailey augments his lines with pedal special effects and together Bailey and Metheny assault the music like two dueling lions. “Strange Stay” is an acoustic production emphasizing Bendian’s probing vibraphone passages, as Metheny and Bailey continue their maverick, eccentric contributions.

The music is not haphazard, but rather calculated instinct, from four veterans of the avant-garde movement. The Sign Of 4 is not for the squeamish, the skeptics, or the weak at heart. It is for the most open minded of free jazz connoisseurs. The music is unsettling at times, but revolutionary throughout. The musicians take chances, and in the process, radically advance free jazz.

-Fred Jung

encounters2.gif (16112 bytes)JESSICA WILLIAMS / LEROY VINNEGAR
Encounters II

(Jazz Focus)

Recorded in one our favorite clubs in JazzUSA’s hometown of Portland, this is the second installment of a great collaboration. As usual Williams is flying up and down the piano with finesse and grace while echoing the hard-bop influences (or similarities) of McCoy Tyner and JoAnne Brackeen.

Unfortunately, there’s only one Williams original, but the chosen standards range from the well worn to the hardly heard including a swinging rendition of the only tv theme written by Count Basie “The M Squad,” and “Delilah,” made famous by Ramsey Lewis in his pre-“In Crowd” days of the early 60’s. The recording leaves a little to be desired especially during some of Miss Williams opening solo passages where you can practically join in the conversations at the bar.

-R. Redmond

Killer Tumbalo
Justin Time Records)

Amadeo Roldon, the music institute in Havana, sports such distinguished alumnae as Paquito D’ Rivera, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and Chucho Valdez. Pianist Hilario Duran is also a graduate of Amadeo Roldon. In the eighties, Duran worked as the pianist and musical director for Arturo Sandoval’s Cuban group, and currently has been working with Perspectiva. Duran’s new release with the Cuban Jazz All-Stars features Jane Bunnett on flute, Changuito on timbales, and Tata Guines on congas.

Duran opens the recording with a zesty montage of chords on “Homage to Chano Pozo.” The vocals of Maximino Guerra and the percussive onslaught turns the groove meter up to infectious. The Mariachi-style trumpet solo from El Indio is pure machismo, and only adds to the flair of this overheated workout. On “Three for One,” Duran performs what is essentially a solo piece, accompanied only by timbales and congas. The Cuban pianist utilizes the entire piano, pounding chords from one end to the other, as the conguero Guines unleashes an all-out attack.

“Killer Tumbao,” a nickname given to Duran for his use of repetitive bass figures, is pure grandstanding and showmanship, but that is exactly how authentic Cuban jazz should be. Duran and his ensemble drive the beat and music at a frantic, high-octave pace. “Killer Tumbao” is a carnival of pulsating rhythms, and is a feast for the avid listener of musica Cubana.

-Fred Jung

thagoround.gif (20174 bytes)B SHARP JAZZ QUARTET
Tha Go ‘Round
(MAMA Foundation)

The Los Angeles based B Sharp Jazz Quartet has been one of the finest groups in the nineties. Their last three releases on the MAMA Foundation label were all fine advanced post-bop sessions. Compared to B Sharp Jazz Quartet, Mirage, and Searching for the One, Tha Go ‘Round falls short, both creatively and musically for drummer Herb Graham, Jr., saxophonist Randall Willis, pianist Rodney Lee, and bassist Osama Afifi.

“Steppin'” is repetitive and uninspired. Willis’s lackluster soprano saxophone playing is something audiences would expect from Kenny G, not B Sharp. Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation” is one of the few favorable moments. Lee kicks the music into gear, slashing away on the piano. A garbled version of Thelonious Monk’s “Brilliant Corners” is instantly forgettable. The usually intense foursome finds no momentum and the interaction is watered down.

In the decade that the B Sharp Jazz Quartet has been making music together, Tha Go ‘Round is their least successful release artistically.

-Fred Jung

midnighblues.gif (14208 bytes)WYNTON MARSALIS
The Midnight Blues-Standard Time Vol. 5

Marsalis’ last album, Blood On The Fields, was the only album in history ever to win a Pulitzer prize. That excellent release was also Marsalis’ least successful album in his long career with sales topping off at 8,000. Now that big brother Branford is the boss, one wonders if they didn’t conspire on another commercial outing.

When in doubt, call in a string section, arrange twelve time-stomped-on standards and let’s sell some records. Everything about this record seems forced from the ‘standard’ lines to the ‘standard’ solos appearing at the ‘standard’ times.

-R. Redmond

fodeukreview.gif (28059 bytes)DAVID MURRAY
Fo Deuk Revue
(Justin Time Records)

David Murray seems to have broken new ground with his new release Fo Deuk Revue. The tenor saxophonist, who had previously released such superbly focused albums like The Hill, Ming, and Special Quartet, stumbles, registering his first duck. Murray wants to explore new direction, and that direction must be commercially oriented.

“Evidence” is an obtuse, monotonous rant, filled with distracting backbeats and senseless grooves. Rappers, Positive Black Soul, chant tedious and dry commentary, complicating an already cluttered tune. The album never really recovers, sinking even further into the realms of automated, flat music.

Fo Deuk Revue was conceived from the ambitious and meaningful goal of promoting African traditions, but that objective is lost in all the aimless dialogue and technical mumbo-gumbo. Jazz is African and Murray would have been better served sticking to it.

-Fred Jung

Reviews in ‘Hits and Misses’ section are strictly the opinion of the individual author and not that of the ownership or management or advertisers of JazzUSA.