Jung on Jazz April 1999
Ethnomusicology, Volume 1
An open mind and two ears are all Russell Gunn requires to enroll in Ethnomusicology. What the trumpeter touts as “what he was born to play,” Ethnomusicology, Volume 1 is a class on the future of jazz music. Enlisting teacher’s aids, saxophonists Greg Tardy and Bruce Williams, trombonist Andre Heyward, pianist James Hurt, bassist Rodney Jordan, drummer Woody Williams, percussionist Khalil Kwame Bell, and turntable wizard DJ Apollo, professor Gunn takes the listener on a crash course in Gunn-ology.
The hour-long lecture of sounds is best uninterrupted from beginning to end, but for marketing is divided into ten parts for easy listening. It transcends categories and definitions. Highlights include a rhythmic “Shiva,” dominated by heated solos from Williams, Tardy, and Gunn to the backdrop of blistering beats and “Sybil’s Blues,” a turntable dialogue with bassist Jordan, percussionist Kwame Bell, and horns. Gunn takes his work with Branford Marsalis’s Buckshot Lefonque to a whole new dimension. Heyward’s trombone solo energizes the riff even more.
Void of heavy gimmickry that hampers the music of Us3 and Groove Collective, Gunn’s Ethnomusicology, Volume 1 is a master class on where jazz can go. Make sure seatbelts are securely fastened and tray tables are in the upright position. It’s going to be one heck of a ride.
VON FREEMAN AND ED PETERSEN
Von & Ed
The twin tenor format is nothing new in jazz music. The classic pairing of Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt, as well as Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, made dueling tenors a readily accepted concept. Both Von Freeman and Ed Petersen, sons of the Windy City, have that same dynamic chemistry. Along with pianist Willie Pickens, bassist Brian Sandstrom, and drummer Robert Shy, Petersen and Freeman revisit and update the novelty of the battling tenors with Von & Ed.
The disc starts out strong with back to back moments of inspired playing from both saxophonists and their cohorts. Both reedmen push the rhythm section on John Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.” and Miles Davis’s “Four,” with muscular horn phrases and memorable interplay. The duo coasts along for a lean “Lover Man.” Freeman’s graceful musings probe the ballad while Petersen’s robust tenor melodies throb with passion.
Von & Ed is a compelling session that offers a unique glimpse of two tenors at the top of their game. It is a lucrative listen and a solid addition to any collection.
If you don’t know who Pete McCann is, get acquainted with him fast because he is sure to be a force in a few years. A guitarist that is first rate, McCann has been spotted around and about New York with Bobby Previte. Featuring Peter Epstein on alto and soprano saxophones, Bruce Huron on tenor, Tim Lefebvre on bass, and Matt Wilson, of Dewey Redman, fame on drums, Parable is made up of twelve McCann originals.
McCann has an attractive sound that works well with two horns. The guitarist’s inventive licks are the crux of an effective “Grimlock.” “Open Gate” is a surprisingly fresh with a percussive, obtuse introduction and some heavy playing from Huron and McCann. “Hoedown” is another dynamic composition, but before all you cowboys start dusting off your boots, this isn’t line dancing friendly. It’s not that kind of hoedown. This one is pure exhiliration created by Epstein’s searching melody, underscored by McCann’s consummate guitar wizardry.
Parable is a treat, fun for the whole family, and sure to be on top ten lists at the end of ’99.
Live From Soundscape
The New York loft scene in the ’70s did for free jazz what 52nd Street did for the bebop movement. It revolutionized and invigorated it. Underground hangouts like the Environ, Artists House, Ladies Fort, and Soundscape, all became places of worship for avant-gardists. Hell’s Kitchen/Live From Soundscape is a collection of six untitled improvisations from the Odean Pope Trio, the Peter Brotzmann Trio, Ed Blackwell and Charles Brackeen, and Don Cherry, all recorded between 1978 and 1983.
The first of the six improvisations features the Odean Pope Trio (Pope, tenor; Gerald Veasley, bass; Cornell Rochester, drums) tearing a hole in the ozone layer. Pope screams at the top of his range while being backed by Rochester matching wits with the saxophonist. The tumultuous music is void of any preconception and is unfiltered, no-nonsense improvisation at its finest. The Peter Brotzmann Trio (Brotzmann, tenor; Harry Miller, bass; Louis Moholo, drums) performs the second improvisation, a twenty minute long, ping pong match between the tenor player and Moholo. It evokes the best attraction about free jazz, anticipation of the next twist and the next turn.
As Joel Dorn’s 32 Jazz should be applauded for documenting essential music from some of jazz’s most unheralded yet vital artists, DIW and Kazunori Sugiyama should be credited with providing a venue for avant-garde connoisseurs to feed on pivotal moments of free jazz.
At The Point, Volume One
Who is Papo Vazquez and where the hell has he been hiding? Vazquez, the trombonist with Jerry Gonzalez’s Fort Apache Band and a fixture in New York’s loft scene of the ’70s, working with Hilton Ruiz and Milton Cardona, has been composing. Five of his originals are featured on his new recording At The Point, Volume One, recorded live at The Point, a Bronx community arts center, featuring his new Pirates and Troubadours band (pianist Arturo O’Farrill, drummers Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez and Phoenix Rivera, bassists Tony Batista and Andy Gonzalez, saxophonists Michael Brecker and Willie Williams, conguero Richie Flores, and percussionists Tito Cepeda, Mickey Sierra, and Milton Cardona.
The infectious rhythm from Cepeda and Sierra and the dynamic melody from O’Farrill wows the listener from the start of “Baila Plena.” The stunning, virtuoso solos from Vazquez and Williams is, in a word, caliente. The solid jazz blowing continues for a marvelous “Coqui,” featuring some witty dialogue between Brecker and Vazquez, but Brecker steals the scene, playing an epic solo. Vazquez’s dervish trombone exercises coupled with the pulsating beat of Rivera and Flores and the tantalizing chords from O’Farrill makes “The Last Dynasty” the crackerjack mambo that it is. Vazquez leads the Pirates and Troubadours, who like a well-oiled machine, don’t miss a beat.
Vazquez’s At The Point, Volume One is not the run of the mill sippin’ tea. It’s a mile a minute Latin celebration that is sure to be one of this year’s best,
Live at Capozzoli’s
Back in the ’50s, Bill Perkins was a fixture in West Coast cool as a member of Stan Kenton’s band and for his work alongside Art Pepper and Bud Shank. Lately, Perkins can be found on the bandstand with the Clay Jenkins/Kim Richmond Ensemble playing some things that are a bit less conventional. It’s amazing to find that the saxophonist, who is fast approaching his seventy-fifth birthday, still has chops of iron. Recorded two years ago, Live at Capozzoli’s is a quintet session (Steve Huffsteter, trumpet; Frank Strazzeri, piano; Tom Warrington, bass; Kendall Kay, drums).
Perkins excels on the Monk gem, “Well You Needn’t,” weaving his solos around Warrington’s dapper bass lines and Strazzeri’s perpetual motion at the keys. Then, there is Perkins’s suave solo on “Blue Skies” that also features a passionate Huffsteter and some swinging ensemble choruses too. The group closes out the night with a pleasant rendition of another Monk tune, “Straight No Chaser.” Perkins show how, in his seventies he still can duke it out with any of the light-weight young guns with convincing authority, flawless technique, and some heated blowing.
Available through Woofy Productions at www.woofyproductions.com, this is a keeper, fun and thrills for the whole family.
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I Left My Heart…
Admittably, one of this writer’s favorite standards is the tune immortalized by Tony Bennett and most recently heard on those annoying Visa Check commericals, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” mostly because it lends itself well to karaoke and because there really is no place like San Francisco, except maybe New York. So it was almost fate to open a package from Joel Dorn’s 32 Jazz to find the Red Garland gem I Left My Heart… inside. Recorded live at the now defunct Keystone Korner in the city by the bay on May 1978, the pianist is featured in both a trio format (bassist Chris Amberger and drummer Eddie Moore) and quartet form (add Leo Wright on alto saxophone).
The set opens with a playful “Will You Still Be Mine,” slows down for a senuous “Please Send Me Someone To Love,” and who can forget the lingering “Body And Soul.” But nothing tops the rendition of “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” that would even make Mr. Bennett proud. Wright is at his best, rousing images of cable cars and morning fog, yada-yada-yada. Garland contours the fine melody perfectly, helping the spolighted altoist shine.
In a word, I Left My Heart… is happening. But who would expect anything less from Garland and 32 jazz?
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Although European audiences were arguably more accepting of freer forms of improvised music in the ’60s and ’70s, that has radically changed in the latter half of the ’90s, where there seems to be an avant-garde explosion. Look no further than the popularity of David S. Ware and Charles Gayle on college radio and the growing appreciation and fanfare for Dave Douglas for proof that improvised creativity is back with a vengeance. Douglas, who began to turn heads with John Zorn, has evolved into the pre-eminent trumpeter of his time. And while younger talents like Nicholas Payton and Roy Hargrove are bastardized by their mega-conglomerate labels to record an endless line of music that lends little or nothing to the continuum, Douglas has sacrificed fleeting fame and fortune for a more lasting and noble endeavor, composing and documenting his own music, one of which has been his string band. Consisting of violinist Mark Feldman, cellist Erik Friedlander, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Michael Sarin, the string quartet joins Douglas for this eclectic program.
Douglas plus strings commences “Convergence” with a traditional Burmese melody “Chit Kyoo Thwe Tog Nyin Hmar Lar (Will You Accept My Love or Not?),” which plays like an introduction of sorts for “Joe’s Auto Glass.” The dialogue between Friedlander and the trumpeter inspires melancholy. Feldman’s reflective violin musings are breathtaking. Even the late Yehudi Menohin would have been proud. Then there’s Douglas’s lament “Tzotzil Maya,” a piece written in response to the massacre of 45 villagers in rural Mexico. Douglas passionately blows from the opening bars to the close summoning deep sympathy and sadness. There is a brutal honesty to Douglas’s voice that is compellingly featured throughout “Convergence.” Check out “Meeting at Infinity” and “Goodbye Tony,” a moving memorial to the late Tony Williams.
Get on board the Dave Douglas bandwagon before it’s too late. The next stop won’t be until well into the next millineum and who knows what will happen with the whole Y2K thing.
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Best of the Rest
When Joel Dorn bought the Muse label, he had a handful of Sonny Stitt recordings that were classics and a handful that were not so good. Dorn’s 32 Jazz immediately released Endgame Brilliance, combining Tune Up and Constellation (universally thought of as Stitt’s best albums), and last year they put out The Champ and Just In Case You Forgot How Bad He Really Was. What about the others that were not critically praised but still had worthwhile material like Blues for Duke and In Style? And so, Best of the Rest was put together. A compilation of the swingingest tunes from the remaining Muse releases, Best of the Rest is another Stitt hit on 32.
Check out Stitt’s lightning fast intro on “I’ll Walk Alone” and then his laid-back strut through the remainder of the piece. Stitt’s precise, unflappable alto makes the music echo long after the composition has concluded. For a taste of a more lyrical Stitt, there’s the Ellington ballad “I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good,” which the altoist plays to a tee. Throw a warm fire and a nice Merlot into the mix and there’s one elegant evening. Stitt caresses the melody, proving he must have been a romantic at heart. For some tenor with the Stitt, there’s the excellent “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby.” Stitt’s ability to tell a story is just as proficient on tenor as it is on alto. It’s another example of Stitt’s amazing stylistic portfolio.
For those who have not had the privilege of getting a shot of Stitt, Best of the Rest is a keeper. And for those who have plenty of Stitt, who couldn’t use a little more? Add this to the fact that Best of the Rest is the last of Stitt that will be released by Dorn’s 32, and one realizes why this album may constitute breaking open the piggy bank.
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FREDERICK WASHINGTON JR.
Through the Passin Thru Master Artisan Series, Oliver Lake hopes to achieve one simple goal, shed light on musicians, who because of their steadfast loyalty to their community, are unable to garner fame on a national or international level. The first artist of the series is tenor player Frederick Washington, Jr., a St. Louis native who led a group that gave pianist John Hicks one of his first starts. Hicks returns the favor, joining Washington for his debut Lilac, along with Billy Hart on drums and Neil Kane on bass.
Hicks delicately begins a haunting rendition of “Autumn in New York,” and by guiding Washington, whose evocative tenor lines are simply gorgeous. The tenor man gives a nod to the immortal John Coltrane, playing a powerful variation of the heavy-weight champion’s “Crescent.” Washington builds the theme slowly, gaining momentum with each progressive series as Hicks and Kane add fuel to the fire with hefty contributions of their own. A crafty “Sing Song,” a Washington original and “Sometime Ago” in 3/4 time are also of great interest.
It is a shame that the major record companies don’t scrap their crappy Christmas albums that aren’t worth a damn anyway, and use that budget to record an artist such as Frederick Washington, Jr., whose worthwhile offerings should be heard outside of St. Louis. Give Oliver Lake credit for having the courage to take such steps and for giving the public access to another unheralded voice crying out to be heard.
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Take the Brande International Music Workshop Orchestra (BIMWO), a group of twenty young musicians from all over the world (Israel, Japan, Austria, Cuba), add trombonist maestro Ray Anderson, and the ingredients make for one killer big band. Playing six Anderson compositions the BIMWO plus the trombonist/conductor, best known for his multi-phonic exploits, perform BIMWO Swing.
Although Anderson has plenty of brow-raising slurs and growls, it is his composing and arranging competence that is most persuasive to the ear. The opening romp “Datune” as well as a cooking “Tapajack” are all fine examples of Anderson’s capability as a songwriter. But the highlight of the recording comes on a sentimental “Phoebe’s Dance.” Wonderfully backed by the orchestra, Anderson slowly generates the melody with some of the most sumptuous slide work of his career.
For those who are looking for a Ray Anderson showcase, BIMWO Swing may not be their cup of tea. It is on a whole different level and helps the listener to truly relish Anderson the composer just as much as, if not more than, Anderson the player.
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A Very Good Year
Upon hearing Pete Malinverni’s playing, one can immediately recognize his influences, primarily Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, and Barry Harris. A teacher at NYU, Malinverni can regularly be found behind the keys on Sundays as his church’s pianist. Particularly effective in a trio setting, Malinverni returns to that with drummer Leroy Williams and Dennis Irwin on bass for his latest, A Very Good Year.
Malinverni exudes a range of emotions in his playing from a remorseful “It Was A Very Good Year” with delicately arpeggiated chords and a soulful “Steal Away/My Lord, What A Mourning” with its deep calming effect to a charming “Lucky To Be Me” with its lucid runs and swinging jauntiness. All the pieces are wonderfully played by Malinverni.
For anyone who isn’t fortunate enough to attend the pianist’s free show every Sunday, at least they have a couple of his Reservoir recordings available to hold them over.
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Lenox Avenue Breakdown
Arguably Arthur Blythe’s finest recording, Lenox Avenue Breakdown, has been out of print for too long. That is until the generous folks at KOCH re-released it. A monumental project consisting of four extensive suites, Lenox Avenue Breakdown, originally recorded in the late ’70s, has Blythe teamed with James Newton on flute, Bob Stewart on tuba, James “Blood” Ulmer on guitar, Cecil McBee on bass, Guillermo Franco on percussion, and Jack DeJohnette on drums.
A less effective version of the title track “Lenox Avenue Breakdown” also appears on Blythe’s Retroflection recording, but this impressive masterpiece is chalk full of strong playing from Newton, whose flute melody is spellbinding. Blythe’s crisp, imaginative blowing feeds off of Stewart’s dark tuba sounds. The group is supported by a fiery DeJohnette, who mercilessly pounds away. Then there’s the well executed “Slidin’ Through” and “Down San Diego Way” a nod to Blythe’s Pacific roots.
It is a pleasure to see Lenox Avenue Breakdown back in the catalog. It has been a long time coming.
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LOS ANGELES JAZZ QUARTET
(Not Two Records)
All original music by three of the four mates, Family Song is the latest release from the Los Angeles Jazz Quartet, aka saxophonist Chuck Manning, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz, and drummer Kevin Tullius. All four are superb musicians who have sacrificed fame and fortune in New York to help progress jazz in the Southland.
Written by Tullius, the opening title piece slowly unfolds through the gentle musings of guitarist Koonse. Koonse embraces the string instruments timbral characteristics, sounding strikingly clear. Koonse’s free flowing give-and-take with tenorman Manning gives the composition even more texture. The rhythm section burns on “Resurgence.” Tullius metronomic rapping of the ride cymbal and Oles’s searching bass lines encourage Manning, who blasts a simply thrilling series of tenor phrases with passion and startling originality. Manning switches to soprano for a soothing “A Tear From New York.” The saxophonist’s astounding grace and beauty is extraordinary. Oles’s provides the quartet with a firm foundation throughout the recording, but is particularly hypnotic on the Tullius composition.
It’s difficult to be recognized for anything outside of the New York scene, but ignoring the Los Angeles Jazz Quartet would be an error of grievous proportions. They are simply the best thing going on the West Coast and should be fervently supported. Family Song is available by calling (626) 577-4841 or by mailing a request to 644 N. Madison Ave., Pasadena, CA 91101.
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LOS ANGELES JAZZ QUARTET
Look to the East
Want to know what the hippest thing on the Los Angeles scene is, it’s not the Skybar or Forum seats next to Jack. It’s the Los Angeles Jazz Quartet, hands down the finest working band in Tinseltown. Look to the East is their latest venture on Naxos Jazz and all but one of the eleven selections are originals from the band members.
Chuck Manning’s streaming soprano on “Into The Dark” are met by some no-frills and refreshing comping from guitarist Larry Koonse. Drummer Kevin Tullius strokes the cymbals and Manning blows a sensational introduction to “Session With Garrin.” Koonse’s earnest guitar riffs and Manning’s sense of drama are pure delight. The spirited group interplay on “Fosselman’s” really delivers. Bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz’s deep groove adds to the progressive nature of the material that is one of the most intriguing melodies in recent memory.
Los Angeles may not have a football team and may have a symphony hall that has been in the “building stage” for the past decade, but Los Angeles resident’s have the LAJQ. Take that, New York.
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Free to Be
For the past couple of years, jazz fans have been anxiously sitting on their hands for another young alto player to take on Kenny Garrett, and every year it seems they nominate Donald Harrison. But comparing the two is unfair because they are hardly the same. They both play with very distinctly different styles and have particular approaches. Harrison is a soulful player and a bit easier on the ears for some. Free to Be is Harrison’s follow up to last year’s Nouveau Swing and includes seven originals featuring a lineup of young musicians; tenor saxophonist Teodross Avery, trumpeter Brian Lynch, guitarist Rodney Jones, pianists Andrew Adair, Mulgrew Miller, and Eddie Palmieri, bassists Vicente Archer, Christian McBride, and Reuben Rogers, and drummers Carl Allen and John Lamkin.
The buoyant title track is bubbly enough to be the intro for the Tonight Show. Coupling fast streams of notes with hard accents, Harrison forms the catchy melody. Of course, no Harrison record would be complete without some props to New Orleans and “Cissy Strut” is just that, a swinging, grooving tempo. Things slow down for “Again, Never,” a tune written by Spike Lee’s father for Mo’ Better Blues. Lynch shows why he is one of the most dynamic young trumpeters, delving deep to get every ounce of emotion out of every note.
Harrison is a heck of a player and he turns in another enjoyable diverse effort.
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