Jung on Jazz August 1999
Concept albums have a very high rate of failure in this reviewer’s ears. Now that having been said, Monty Alexander’s new Telarc release, Stir It Up: The Music of Bob Marley works and works quite well. This may just be this reviewer’s high bias toward anything Marley, but discounting that, the pianist’s Jamaican heritage may have lent a helping hand to driving the grooves that makes it so a jazz interpretation of the Rastafarian’s music is not so far fetched. The pianist uses two rhythm sections, a base quartet that he simply calls USA Jazz Rhythm Section (Derek DiCenzon on guitar, Hassan J. J. Wiggins on bass, and Troy Davis on drums) and a Jamaican rhythm section that he refers to as The Gumption Band (Dwight Dawes on keys, Robert Angus on guitar, Trevor McKenzie and Glen Browne on bass, Rolando Wilson on drums, and Desmond Jones on percussion), plus a special guest appearance for trombonist Steve Turre, to tackle the monumental task of playing Marley’s music.
The catchy “Could You Be Loved” is riveting. Alexander and his band of merry men jump right into the thick of things and it results in a pretty cool effort. But nothing beats a brilliant take on “No Woman No Cry.” Alexander plays the Marley classic without hesitation and shapes the tune with logical accents and changes that don’t interrupt the song’s steady groove. If that isn’t mouthwatering enough, check out Turre’s conch shell and trombone interludes on a witty “I Shot the Sheriff.”
This is actually the first release this year that this reviewer found listening to repeatedly in the car. And stuck in gridlock on the 405, Stir It Up is a Godsend. For those who find themselves with a bit of the munchies, this is also the perfect filler, but buyer beware, if one is old-fashioned or a hard-line traditionalist, then Stir It Up probably isn’t the best bet. Otherwise, clam onto this one. It’s got “plenty of alley, no oops”.
Most people in their late seventies are content with relaxing to Wheel of Fortune after dinner and tend to shy away from heavy activity of any kind, but not Eddie Johnson. This tenor saxophonist is still swinging and doing so at the ripe old age of 78. Unlike most players half his age, Johnson has a style all his own and a warmth that comes across on record considerably well.
The only downside to Johnson is his limited discography. He’s only released two albums as a leader, and only one of those, his debut for Delmark, Love You Madly, is widely available. With the prototypical jazz quartet, piano (John Young), bass (Eddie De Haas), drum (George Hughes), and saxophone, Johnson plays a nostalgic selection from the jazz of yore.
Johnson’s tenor sermon is filled with passion and dances side by side with Young’s intellectual accompaniment on a lovely “Gravy Waltz.” Johnson is an entertaining layer with an accessible modesty in his approach and a fluency that proves that the tenor man has aged quite admirably. But it is Johnson’s utterly compelling presence on “Eyes of Love” that is stunning. Johnson’s lyrical romanticism coalesces gracefully with the superb comping from his rhythm section. The tenor saxophonist’s no frills, tasteful performance of the Quincy Jones’ melody is the highlight of the session and worth the cost of the CD in it of itself.
Johnson is truly one of the Windy City’s living treasures and Love You Madly is nicely done and rewarding from start to finish.
Widely known for his forays in scoring music for films, trumpeter Mark Isham has generally been ignored by the mainstream jazz press. But with his last album, based upon his music for the feature film Afterglow, Isham has climbed back into the good graces of the gallery. His follow-up release, Miles Remembered: The Silent Way Project, should keep him there. Generously utilizing the advancements in mixing and editing technology, Isham brings along a two guitar (Peter Maunu and Steve Cardenas) quintet with bassist Doug Lunn and drummer Michael Barsimanto to record the music of the most influential trumpeter in the history of this music and whose late period had a profound effect on Isham.
Isham manages to bring the elements of the late trumpeter’s captivating hypnotism of “In a Silent Way – Milestones,” his liberal take on Davis’ “In a Silent Way.” It takes two guitarists to manage the intensity and bravado of John McLaughlin on Miles Davis’ “Right Off (Theme from Jack Johnson).” And in it’s own quirky way, it manages to work, half in part to dumb luck and half in part to Isham’s understanding of Davis’ music. That is apparent by his approach to “It’s About That Time.” All in all it is a nice hour spent.
Isham’s initial purpose was to have fun and he certainly does manage to do so. Keep in mind, that if it is innovation that one is looking for, it won’t be found here. It isn’t for everybody, but hardly anything is these days.
HENRY KAISER & WADADA LEO SMITH
Yo Miles! is a sonic roller coaster, complete with numerous unexpected turns and twists, steady lulls to give the listener some room to digest it all, and plenty of psychedelic electronic explorations that pack plenty of wallop. Leo Smith’s excursions are reflective for an introspective “Miles Dewey Davis III – Great Ancestor” and cuts like a samurai sword for an energetic “Big Fun/Hollywuud.” Avant-rockists should be beside themselves for a way out “Calypso Frelimo,” which is anything but tongue in cheek. Yo Miles! is two and a half hours of some of the edgiest blowing to come out in years by two fearless warriors devoted to their craft. It is just the adrenaline shot in the arm that jazz is definitely in need of.
Forget the labels, avant-whatever or acid-jazz, and get plugged into Yo Miles!.
When primal forces meet, one thing is for certain. History is in the making. So when JEAN-YVES THIBAUDET gets together with Louis Hayes, it’s a given that there is going to be some powerful ascension happening. And that’s exactly what transpires on this Louis Hayes wailing session, originally recorded for Muse in the late seventies and re-released for public viewing by Joel Dorn and his band of merry men at 32 Jazz. Largely a quintet with Rene McLean on saxophones, Ronnie Mathews on piano, and Stafford Jones on bass, The Real Thing also features trombonist Slide Hampton for three ditties.
Although Shaw is one of this music’s finest virtuosos, it is his exceptional sentiment introducing “Nisha” that is too evocative for words. Mathew’s lush chords and opulent left and right hand lines provide ample cushion for Shaw’s dreamy trumpet harmony. Witness how he subtly concludes the melody. Hayes’ hi-hat rapping introduces a dissonant Mathews and McLean offering abstract bursts for the blowing number “Loose Suite.” Hayes’ never ending bag of tricks has him augmenting snare rolls with an occasional tom accent or cymbal crash. It is the drummer’s finest moments on the record.
There is so little of Hayes’ music out there as a leader, people should be jumping all over this one. 32 Jazz has done it again, with another top shelf release in The Real Thing, which is a pretty damn good description of the drummer himself.
The hallmark of jazz is its spontaneous improvisation and innovation. Which, by definition, is foreign to classical musicians, who are trained to memorize and read music. Thibaudet does just that, playing Ellington’s melodies line by line, note for note (“Jubilee Stomp”), but then again, once in a while, the pianist does seem to have an admirable knack for bringing out the refined beauty of Ellington’s work. “In a Sentimental Mood” is a fine example of this. Ellington’s most famous melody is brought to vivid life by the Frenchman, whose touch and pianism truly lift the music of Ellington to a higher pantheon. Thibaudet’s elegant treatment of “Lush Life” is also of interest, as the pianist strums the keys with his right hand and strolls along with his left.
Hopefully, this will serve as a catalyst for more classical artists to take on the challenging music of Ellington, so that one day, the Tower Records classical room will have an Ellington section.
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An impressive Redman kicks things off with a rousing “Boliva,” complete with authentic lyricism from Walton and commanding trap work from Nash. Redman, who has blossomed as an individual soloist, puts his own ideas into the Walton original “Ojos De Rojo,” keeping the theme fresh and interesting. As compelling as Redman’s time is, the most arresting portions take place with Blanchard, who is one of the most technically flawless trumpeters on the scene. Blanchard has a illuminating voice and elegantly shapes both “When Love is New” and “I’ll Let You Know” with a consummately angelic tone that would make Gabriel envious.
As an artist, Cedar Walton has established himself. It’s time for everyone outside the loop to get a heads up on his impressive resume as a composer.
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After being carpet bombed by an extended campaign of pop and trend-based jazz, who can blame audiences for growing accustomed to all the mediocrity of familiarity? Thankfully, re-issues are back in style and the timeless music captured from sessions of yesteryear can lead jazz through this chaotic state of commercialism. Anytime Tristano-ites Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh appear together, it’s the closest thing to a gimme these days. Originally released by Atlantic in the mid-’50s, Lee Konitz with Warne Marsh also includes the likes of pianist Sal Mosca, guitarist Billy Bauer, bassist Oscar Pettiford, and drummer Kenny Clarke.
The rhythm section falls into brief periods of lackluster playing, but Konitz and Marsh seem unaffected, playing inspired music, whether in unison or riffing off one another. A rendition of Bird’s calling card, “Donna Lee,” is fine, straight-ahead, no chaser required. Pettiford is a standout on his own “Don’t Squawk” and Konitz is particularly on for a brisk “Ronnie’s Line.”
Lee Konitz with Warne Marsh is a window into the prime of both saxophonists and is an essential edition to anyone’s jazz library. It’s heads and tails above all the so-so that is flooding the market.
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JANE IRA BLOOM
With Fred Hersch on piano, Mark Dresser on bass, and Bobby Previte on drums, soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom has all of the elements needed in place for a noteworthy rendezvous on her latest Arabesque release, The Red Quartets.
Hersch’s harmonic sensibility has always been the hallmark of the pianist’s playing, and his refined touch on a cool rendition of “Time After Time” further reinforces that notion. Bloom’s reserved and subtle voice is perfectly logical for the music and completely draws the listener in. “Tell Me Your Diamonds” is a delicious waltz incorporating the lyricism of both Bloom and Hersch with the often angular edge of Dresser and Previte, both of whom play persuasively, matching the saxophonist’s romanticism. Bloom’s tangible approach continues as she keeps on exploring her softer side with a sophisticated version of “Chagall/How Deep is the Ocean.” Her remorseful treatment of the ballad results in a memorable program.
The Red Quartets is Bloom’s finest effort to date and it was a joy to hear it unfold.
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CHICK COREA & ORIGIN
Playing both the marimba and piano, Corea spins a vivid harmonic sound scape on a vibrant “Wigwam.” The incorporation of Latin elements for “Armando’s Tango” and “Little Flamenco” are engaging in their cadence and well-conceived in their arrangement. “Compassion” captures the litheness of Corea’s touch. Make no mistake, this is Corea’s band and the personnel, even with their immense pool of talent, plays a limited role as individuals and more as one cohesive unit.
Bet the farm on this group and its leader. Changes is recommended to be enjoyed in high doses.
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Jacky Terrasson’s new album, What It Is, should be a watershed recording for the 33-year-old pianist. With four releases already under his belt since signing with Blue Note in 1994, Terrasson has steadily grown and put distance between himself and the rest of the pack. What It Is, from which drummer Leon Parker is surprisingly absent, packs so much punch that it ought to be able to go toe to toe with anything out there. Terrasson bassist Ugonna Okegwo returns to limit the withdrawal symptoms, and Terrasson has percussionist Mino Cinelu on board and the soon-to-be juggernaut, Jay Collins on flute, along with veteran tenor man Michael Brecker.
Brecker is restricted to only a couple of numbers, but where he shows up is formidable. Brecker easily keeps pace with Terrasson for the up-tempo track “What’s Wrong With You!.” Supported by an optimal rhythm section, Brecker contributes strongly to a thoroughly satisfying set. Terrasson’s base trio of Okegwo and Cinelu are featured for a pleasing “Little Red Ribbon.” Terrasson’s calming lyricism is well thought out and perfectly delivered. The brisk groove laid down by Terrasson on a jovial “Toot-Toot’s Tune.” is the foundation for the underrated Collins, who plays the flute and the marvelous harmonica melodies of Gregoire Maret. And if that isn’t enough, there’s always Terrasson’s take on Ravel’s “Bolero.”
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These sixty minutes are the closest thing on record to a live Taylor performance, by all accounts a study in the avant-garde. It is complete with Taylor’s hallmark dissonant chord clusters and dense colorizations. To his credit, Sjostrom, like Taylor predecessors before him (Peter Brotzmann, John Surman, and Evan Parker), valiantly manages to keep up with the leader’s frantic pace. Both Krall and Duval are alert and play well, making one wish that the Irridium had more seats.
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This AUM Fidelity release gives a whole new meaning to the words “free jazz.” Test, a.k.a. Sabir Mateen and Daniel Carter on reeds, Matthew Heyner on bass, and Tom Bruno on drums, plays a brutal brand of radical improvisation that may trouble anyone that is not a dogmatic avant-garde enthusiast.
The unconventional aggressiveness of Bruno and Mateen on “huhuhuH (nite sounds on 5th)” will have traditionalists running for the hills. Mateen’s extensive soliloquizing is so adventurous that it takes multiple feedings to digest it all. The fierce blowing plays right into “Straightahead, forward motion,” another noodling session between the drummer and saxophonist that includes every acrobatic show stopper but the kitchen sink.
Test is an impressively substantial recording that at first glance, or in this case, first listen, may not be all that it is cracked up to be. But isn’t that precisely why there is a repeat button on all CD players?
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Gordon puts his stamp on “Rain Check” with a fiery solo. There is a real raucous call and response series between Riley and the two horn players that is unbeatable. Temperley shows his sweet side, unfolding “Try a Little Tenderness” with impeccable taste. Gordon’s plunger introduction on a stirring “Danny Boy” is both effective and ends the highly entertaining record on a high note.
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When Thelonious Sphere Monk rode off into the jazz sunset in the spring of 1982, Wynton Marsalis was just beginning his journey as a leader. Almost two decades have passed and Marsalis has gone on to become jazz’s most recognized figure and spokesperson for this music. So it seems like an obvious step for one of the most literate interpreters of jazz to be playing the music of one of jazz’s finest composers. It’s Marsalis on Monk with all the usual suspects, Eric Reed on piano, Herlin Riley on drums, Wycliffe Gordon on trombone, Wessell Anderson on alto saxophone, Walter Blanding and Victor Goines on tenor saxophone, and Ben Wolfe and Reginald Veal on bass.
Marsalis is so versed when it comes to the history of this music that it almost seems like Marsalis Plays Monk – Standard Time Vol. 4 would be a forgone conclusion, and it is. There are no real surprises, just solid straight-ahead swing. The musical dialogue on”Worry Later” from the various members of the band is some of the finest banter heard on Wynton’s Standard Time series. Anderson and Reed turn in majestic solos. The program of Monk material is nearly perfect in its execution – particularly “Reflections,” “Hackensack,” and “Brilliant Corners.” One would expect nothing less from Marsalis, and he sure delivers.
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Allison is one of the most progressive composers as evident by his splendidly inventive “Love is Proximity,” with a haunting soprano saxophone melody and indispensible work from Kimbrough. The Middle-Eastern motif of “Kush” has an exotic elusiveness that is intoxicating. Dinkjian’s oud, coupled with Allison’s detailed treatment carries most of the music and the tandem do it all with charismatic fire. The melancholy “Random Sex and Violins” is another pleasing tune that has an ambience the is simply irresistible.
Although all eight players are impressive, the most suprising aspect of Third Eye is not Allison’s nifty bass and guitar work or that of his cohorts, but of his iron compositional chops.
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With the untimely passing of Thomas Chapin last year, the music not only lost a prime time saxophonist but also one of the finest innovators in the nineties. A product of New York’s downtown Knitting Factory scene (or is it the other way around), Chapin has developed a cult like following for years, but due to his tragic death, now his music is finally getting out there to Main Street America. And it’s about time. Night Bird Song is Chapin’s final masterpiece and serves his legacy well. A trio date, Chapin teams with fellow Factory regulars, bassist Mario Pavone and drummer Michael Sarin.
Although many outside of New York may not be hip to him, Chapin is more than the average bear when it comes to laying down a flute melody, which he proudly and profoundly demonstrates all over Night Bird Song. The opening “Opening” is a fine example of Chapin’s powerful flute chops. The saxophonist’s acrobatics may seem archaically unstructured to the unfamiliar ear, but wait until they get a load of “Alphaville.” It’s a head turner.
Night Bird Song is a wonderful farewell and it’s more moving to see that the spirit of Chapin lives on through his music.
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Cohen continues where he left off on Adama by including a two part “Bass Suite #3” (“Bass Suite #1” and “Bass Suite #2” appear on Adama). The one downside is that the majority of the selections on Devotion are fairly short, leaving very little room for the sextet to maneuver. But apart from that minor detail, the rest of the album itself is chalk full of strong melodies and cohesive group interplay. “Deep Blue” is played by the group with refreshing directions and great exactness. It goes to show how much of along way Cohen has come as a leader. “Negril” is another interesting piece, that has a cheerfulness about it that is persuasively absorbing.
Cohen is on the threshold to stardom. Take note, he is bound to be heavy.
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