Jung on Jazz November 1998
RAHSAAN ROLAND KIRK
It was no great surprise that the New York Yankees won this year’s World Series. They consistently played throughout the baseball year on a higher plateau than the rest of the major league. This is also true for both Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Joel Dorn’s 32 Jazz. Both have a discography filled with inspirational music. Dorn, who was the producer for more than fifteen of Roland Kirk’s albums, is Roland Kirk’s most devoted advocate. A Standing Eight is Dorn’s third Roland Kirk release of 1998, so he clearly enjoys the multi-reedist’s music. The music for the 2-CD album is derived from Roland Kirk’s last three recordings, The Return Of The 5,000 Lb. Man, Kirkatron, and Boogie-Woogie String Along For Real. The selections feature such musicians as bassists Buster Williams and Milt Hinton, pianists Hilton Ruiz and Hank Jones, percussionist Warren Smith, trombonist Steve Turre, and tuba player Howard Johnson.
William Eaton’s whistling introduces “Sweet Georgia Brown.” Eaton’s whistling is nudged on by Fred Moore’s washboard playing, and the texture those two sounds invent is alluring. Roland Kirk’s tenor melody eases into Charles Mingus’s “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” Roland Kirk accompanies vocalists to John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” with lyrics by Betty H. Neals. Roland Kirk’s longing saxophone musings provide a gentle calm to a tasteful “Steppin’ Into Beauty.” One of the more interesting pieces on the first CD is a fascinating presentation of “Christmas Song.” Roland Kirk embraces the warm ballad tones and adopts a patient pace backed by strings. The second disc contains a funky rendition of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night In Tunisia,” a soulful “J. Griff’s Blues,” and a relaxed version of Duke Ellington’s “In A Mellow Tone.”
During Roland Kirk’s lifetime and even now, there are factions within the media that stigmatize Kirk’s work as gimmickry. That kind of close-mindedness keeps his music in relative obscurity when the multi-instrumentalist is one of the most pivotal figures in all jazz music. A Standing Eight is yet another superb release from the 32 Jazz catalog and hopefully will bring more explorers to the music of Roland Kirk.
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By now, everyone must have heard of the infamous, impromptu telephone audition that trumpeter Nicholas Payton gave to Wynton Marsalis. A student of Wynton’s father, Ellis, Payton, a New Orleans native has gone on to tour and play with Marcus Roberts and was a member of Elvin Jones’s Jazz Machine. Featured in the Robert Altman film Kansas City, the 24-year-old has already garnered a Grammy for his collaboration with the late Doc Cheatham and has instantly developed into one of the foremost trumpeters of his generation. Payton’s Place features the current resident tenor saxophonist of Christian McBride’s quartet, Tim Warfield, pianist Anthony Wonsey, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Adonis Rose and guest soloists, trumpeters Roy Hargrove and Wynton Marsalis, along with fellow Gen-X sensation, tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman.
Wonsey’s judgement is admirable on a meaty “Back To The Source,” proving the young pianist can stomp with the best of them. Payton’s sharp sound and Warfield’s often overlooked brilliance makes the Payton original worthy of a second listen. The music keeps on swinging with a rousing “Concentric Circles” that showcases more aggressive assertions from Warfield. Not to be outdone, Payton commands attention with an exalting workout of his own. Wonsey and Rose join the fray with superb solos of their own. “Li’l Duke’s Strut” is flawless, old-fashioned, burlesque-style blues. Payton is particularly effective in this genre, sustaining his perfect pitch, but also understanding the subtler nuances of the melody. Wonsey’s tantalizing patterns, coupled with the harmony of the two horns bring the composition to a splendid close.
Payton is a creative and intelligent player. Fertile talents such as Payton are what the jazz soil needs to blossom and grow into the next millennium. There is no question jazz music will endure, but how prominent it will be in the future of the American twenty-first century pop culture is dependent on wise marketing of such young lions. With very few audible flaws, Payton’s Place is another fine release from a fine, young horn player.
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“Osmium Zamindar’s Untimely Arrival” is an extraordinarily grand concept that works, anchored by Taylor’s dramatically pure tone. Melford’s patient figuring is intelligently sequenced and haunting in its portrayal. “Kennebrew’s Dance” is an upbeat, aggressively percussive program. The open- ended tempo allows for complete communication between the improvisers and Hopkins’s harmonic transformations are beautifully controlled. The expressive melee is not overblown and lyrically restrained. “Do You DreamOf These?” is an abstract improvisation of piano and horn with Melford and Taylor. The exchange of ideas from the partners is almost too fast to follow, but it is a listening pleasure. Taylor then concludes the composition with a series of slow, building passages that are his most fluent statements on record.
The lament of the French horn that resonates from Taylor’s brass bell is gorgeous, both in its character and timbre. The voice of this horn should not be ignored.
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Ferguson’s charting trumpet solos on “Just Friends” are infectious, bringing the supporting characters roaring back to life in unison. “Knee Deep in Rio” is a Brazilian melody, arranged and written by Garling, whose duet with Thompson is sweet, ear candy. However, it is Giorgianni’s swinging tenor saxophone solo that steals the show, even outshining Ferguson’s piercing bravado. Ferguson admittedly has a love for opera and “Caruso” is his affirmation of his enjoyment of the art form. The rarely performed aria is suited for the finest of tenors, but Ferguson makes himself at home with a mesmerizing flugelhorn solo, echoing sentiments that only Pavarotti’s vocal beauty would bring out. It is a delightful conclusion to an album rich with color and texture.
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There is a gentleness to the sound of a baritone saxophone that invites the listener to seek solace within it. Largely unheralded, the reed instrument has been given new life with the popularity of such baritonists as Nick Brignola, Hamiet Bluiett, Gary Smulyan, and Ronnie Cuber, as well as a fleet of recent tributes to the late, great Gerry Mulligan. The latest of these tributes is a release by baritone saxophonist Kerry Strayer, whose Septet consists of trumpeter Randy Brecker, bassist Dean Johnson, trombonist John Mosca, tenor saxophonist Ted Nash, pianist Ted Rosenthal, and drummer Ron Vincent.
Strayer’s lean, controlled statements and his juicy tone on a mid-tempo “Rio One” sets the standard for the rest of the album. Brecker’s focused vibrato makes for a lovely introduction on a slow, strolling “Tell Me When.” Playing muted for the rest of the ballad, Brecker is steadily supported by the remaining cast members. Strayer’s full bodied passages make way for Nash’s flute endeavors on a sensuously subdued “Dragonfly.” Strayer switches to play the soprano midway through the Mulligan original.
Jeru Blue: A Tribute to Gerry Mulligan is a well thought-out homage to the greatest baritone saxophonist in jazz, brimming with fine song selection and a capable band. Strayer makes a poignant argument for the big horn’s recognition.
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Lovano’s lively “New York Fascination” is marked by the hornman’s dynamic saxophone patterns, supported by the muscular trapwork laid down by Jones, who is no stranger to great saxophonists, a la John Coltrane. Both Jones and Holland play with verve and consummate presence. “Sanctuary Park” is a well versed saxophone soliloquy from Lovano, whose warm, appealing ideas intrigue the listener. Holland’s soothing, sentimental movements complement Lovano’s lyrical, robust tenor lines perfectly. Lovano makes it look all too easy with a brilliant “Ghost Of A Chance.” Lovano’s command of the softer moments and sense of storytelling is uncanny. Lovano restrains himself and gives the theme of the composition purpose and direction.
With all due respect to Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson, Lovano has become the new heavyweight champion. Trio Fascination is yet another must have from Lovano’s arsenal. Referred to casually as the “first edition”, one can only wait on hands and knees for the second installment from this fascinating trio.
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From the beginning of his career, trumpeter Jon Faddis has been labeled and type cast as a Dizzy Gillespie imitator. And although he has made significant contributions to bands led by Gil Evans, Lionel Hampton, and Charles Mingus, Faddis is prominently known for his forays with Gillespie and still remains in the late trumpeter’s shadow. For the past five years, Faddis has been the musical director of the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra, but the Gillespie innuendoes still stigmatize the trumpeter/leader. With songs conducted and arranged by Carlos Franzetti, Remembrances features such notables as David Hazeltine on piano, Peter Washington on bass, Clarence Penn on drums, and Paquito D’Rivera and Bill Easley on saxophones.
Faddis caresses the melody on a timeless performance of “Sophisticated Lady.” He plays the Coltrane standard “Naima” with haunting beauty. The 45-year-old trumpeter approaches “La Rosa Y El Sauce” with superb class and refined taste. The compositions are intricately arranged and the ensemble is first rate and that credit goes by in large to Franzetti.
A thoroughly enjoyable CD, Remembrances may not garner the attention it deserves, but then again, quality is never based upon label size in jazz.
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Valery Ponomarev, the Russian trumpeter who made his name with Art Blakey, may be familiar to some, but has anyone heard of Jeff Zelnick? Then it’s time to get acquainted with the alto saxophonist whose new recording A Little More Than The Blues features a quintet that includes Ponomarev, pianist Alan Rosenthal, bassist Steve Dole, and drummer Eric Halvorson.
Zelnick’s subtly approaches his original “Let Me Ask You This” in fine form, allowing his sidemen plenty of room to explore his composition. Ponomarev’s tone and his improvisations are impeccable. It is the dynamism of Zelnick’s fast-paced passages that is so striking on an entertaining “C’est Si Bon.” Rosenthal’s refreshing keyboard patterns continue the spirited dialogue. Zelnick’s eloquent alto voice captures the essence of a steamy “Joanna’a Sweet Smile.”
A Little More Than The Blues may not be in wide release and not all “fine” record stores may have the privilege of carrying it, but it can be ordered by calling (973) 744-5778. It is a rewarding listen from start to finish and well worth the effort.
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Best known for his nine-year residency with the Yellowjackets and his various big band projects, Bob Mintzer’s new TVT Records release Quality Time is a pleasant surprise. A straight-ahead quartet session, the 45-year-old tenor saxophonist is joined by pianist Phil Markowitz, bassist Jay Anderson, and the multi-faceted drummer Peter Erskine for eight tunes and keyboard player Russell Ferrante, bassist Jimmy Haslip, and drummer William Kennedy for another two.
Mintzer starts things off with the contemporaneous title track “Quality Time.” Mintzer cruises through the melody, confidently belting out a series of polished, muscular solos. Without any gratuitous theatrics, Mintzer lays into a snappy “Groovetown.” Anchored by Erskine, Mintzer’s tenor saxophone playing is admirably intelligent and well versed. “Bossa” is a light bossa nova played crisply by the quartet with Mintzer at the helm, dominating the composition with his soft, mild-delivery.
The writing on Quality Time is superb, but that is no surprise since Mintzer developed his composition chops with Buddy Rich, Art Blakey, and Mel Lewis. Quality Time is one of this year’s sleeper hits and time very well spent.
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