Sunday, April 19, 2015

David Sanborn - "Time and the River"

This article was first published at Blogcritics

More than likely jazz purists with a built in aversion to any of those musicians noted for the accessibility of their music will come to the latest album, Time and the River, from alto sax crossover star David Sanborn with a readymade frown. Overly commercial, lacking depth, creatively meek—these are the complaints likely to be heard from the pushing the envelope crowd. They would be wrong.

Commercial success need not mean pandering. Accessibility need not mean dumbing down. David Sanborn puts out the kind of music that does perhaps the one thing needful for fine music: it sounds good. It’s the kind of music you want to listen to. It may not be intellectually challenging. It may not explore the borders of innovation. But over and over again, it is the kind of music you want to listen to. Indeed, if the definition of success is accomplishing what you intend to do, Time and the River is a smashing success.

Sanborn’s infectiously lyrical playing layers jazz lines with a bit of funk here, some R&B there, even a pop line or two. It is a style showcased on this album by the production of electric bassist, Marcus Miller and complemented by a grooving ensemble. Roy Assaf plays keyboards, Ricky Peterson, Hammond Organ. Guitars are handled by Yotam Silberstein and Nicky Moroch. Peter Hess is on horns and flute, Marcus Baylor, drums and Javier Diaz, percussion. Trumpeter Justin Mullens and trombonist Tim Vaughn play on several tracks.

The 9-song set opens with “A La Verticle,” the first of two compositions by French composer Alice Soyer. Its catchy rhythms and fluid lines provide a good indication of what is to come. Sanborn comes back later with some fine work on her “Oublie Moi.” Vocalist Larry Briggs guests on The Temptations hit, “Can’t Get Next to You,” and Randy Crawford does an impressive vocal on “Windmills of Your Mind.” Sanborn includes two of his own pieces, “Ordinary People” and a wrenching ballad,“Drift.”

Altogether, Time and the River, has David Sanborn doing the kind of thing David Sanborn does best—playing music you want to listen to.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Music Review: Dizzy Gilespie -- ‘Live at Ronnie Scott’s: Volumes 1-4′

This article was first published at Blogcritics

Perhaps nothing signifies the age of jazz after the decline of the big bands like the small combo—a quartet, a quintet fronted by a great saxophonist or trumpeter on a cramped stage in a smoke filled club—tearing up the joint with their creativity in the moment. You didn’t have to be in Manhattan to hear great music; you could walk into a place like Pittsburgh’s legendary Crawford Grill on almost any night and be sure to hear something special.

So when tapes of one of a trumpet grandmaster like Dizzy Gillespie playing live at Ronnie Scott’s in London in August of 1973 are rediscovered in the club basement, tapes filled with enough previously unreleased music to fill four CDs, it is a nothing short of a major event. Dizzy Gillespie’s Live at Ronnie Scott’s, Volumes 1-4 make for the kind of treasure that will warm both the heart and more importantly the ears of happy jazz fans all over the planet.

One note, while three of the album covers (including Volume 1) indicate that these are “never before heard/ unreleased performances,” Amazon is offering a 2010 recording of Volume 1.

Gillespie was coming off 30 days of one night touring for a two week gig with his quintet at Scott’s and he was at the top of his game. The crowds loved him and artist that he is he was well aware of how to work them. Listen to his charged rant on music and slavery that serves as an introduction to “The Truth” on Volume 1.

Nonetheless it is really all about the music. And working with Al Gafa on guitar, Mike Longo on piano, Earl May on bass and Mickey Roker on drums, Gillespie put out some fine music. Volume 1 contains five tracks, opening with the Longo composition “Sunshine” and concluding with an extended version of Gillespie’s “Timet,” which had been previously recorded for his 1970 album, Portrait of Jenny. “Timet” features some dynamic Roker drumming. Longo’s “The Truth” is an exciting excursion into the blues. Gillespie’s muted trumpet casts a spell on his treatment of the theme from Black Orpheus, and they follow with his own “Con Alma.”

Volume 2 opens with the classic “A Night in Tunisia” and includes Gillespie’s bebop tour de force, “Groovin’ High.” The funky “Matrix” is a 10 minute blast, while “Beyond a Moonbeam” adds a Brazilian touch.  There’s an improvised Gillespie vocal on “The Blues,” and “Brother K” and “Manteca” close the album.

After opening Volume 3 with “The Crossing,” Gillespie introduces “Ole’ For the Gypsies” with a story about being kidnapped by a band of French Gypsies. Gafa adds some compelling guitar work, and Gillespie maintains the Gypsy vibe with a muted solo. He sings on “Something in Your Smile” and does some scatting on “Oop-Pop-A-Da.” The bossa nova “No More Blues,” “Olinga” and “Birks Works” complete the disc.

A swiftly paced “I Told You So,” opens Volume 4, leading to a 19-minute “Kush” highlighting the work of bassist Earl May. There is a solo trumpet opening, some Swahili chanting and a bit of call and response before May gets the ball at about the 15-minute mark. Gillespie sings a somewhat irreverent version of Gershwin’s “Summertime” to begin the song, adding an aside or two, but when he picks up the horn, he’s all business, giving nods in his solo to “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and “Tenderly.” “Alligator” gets another of those playful Gillespie intros, and “Mike’s Samba” leads to a short blasting “Bye” and an introduction of the band members.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Jazz Potpouri: Art Pepper, Julie Lyon Quintet, Michael Snow and Thollem McDonas, Roger Davidson and Pablo Aslan, The Miami Jazz Project, The Louis Romanos Quartet

This article was first published at Blogcritics

Omnivore Recordings continued its monthly Art Pepper reissues with the March release of Volume Two of the sax great’s Neon Art. The three tracks on the re-mastered CD were recorded in Japan in November of 1981. Pepper fronts a quartet featuring pianist George Cables, bassist David Williams and drummer Carl Burnett playing an 18-minute version of “Mambo Koyama,” a Pepper original composition, a soulful take on “Over the Rainbow,” and a bop romp through “Allen’s Alley.”

Volume Three, due for early April release, contains three more tracks recorded in Japan by the same ensemble. It includes two Pepper originals, “Make a List (Make a Wish)” and “Arthur’s Blues,” and “Everything Happens to Me.”

Vocalist Julie Lyon debuted her Julie Lyon Quintet with the January release of Julie, a swinging ten tune collection culled mostly from the standard repertoire, songs like “Love for Sale,” “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “All or Nothing at All,” and “Comes Love.” Tom Cabrer is on drums and Bobby Brennan on double-bass. Trumpeter and alto clarinetist Matt Lavelle and guitarist Jack DeSalvo complete the ensemble.

Two Piano Concert at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, released last October by Edgetone Records, is a live recording of a January 31, 2014 concert by pianists Michael Snow and Thollem McDonas in conjunction with MichaelSnow: Photo-Centric, a retrospective of the pianist’s photography. 
The concert, labeled Chamber/Improvisation by Edgetone, consisted of three freely improvised pieces titled simply “Part 1,” Part 2,” and “Part 3.” It is the kind of avant garde material that will appeal to a more adventurous audience.

A more accessible duo recording spotlighting Roger Davidson on piano and Pablo Aslan on Bass is their February release, Live at Caffe Vivaldi, Volume I. In 2012, Davidson’s Soundbrush Records inaugurated a Wednesday night series at the Greenwich Village Caffe Vivaldi as a safe place for their recording artists to work on new material and develop new ideas. A year later they started recording the performances. Here, then are some of the results. The 11-track set includes eight Davidson original compositions supplemented by Irving Berlin’s classic “How Deep is the Ocean,” Stelvio Cipriani’s “Anonimo Veneziano,” and Angel Villoido’s “El Cholclo.”

Speaking of accessibility, The Miami Jazz Project’s self-titled album released last October, can, as the liner notes indicate, “be regarded as an extension of the tradition that Miles and other bands like Weather Report laid down.” The set includes both acoustic and electrical tracks with “stylistic elements rooted in mainstream jazz, blues, jazz rock and world music.”

The album’s ten tracks feature nine original compositions by Project members Dave Liebman (soprano and tenor sax), Arthur Baron (tenor and alto sax, flute) and Abel Pabon (keyboards) illustrating the groups varied influences from the exotic Middle Eastern flavors of “Lordy Lourdes” and “Jinnistan” to the short Tibetan chant of “Blessing Eternal” serving as an introduction to “Slow Dance on the Killing Ground.”

Take Me There, a November release from The Louis Romanos Quartet, sports a dozen tracks composed and arranged by drummer Romanos, ranging from the quirky infectious “Klezmer” to curl-up-by-the-fireside  ballads like “Second Song” and “Lovely.” Dan Sumner plays guitar, Neal Starkey, bass and Alex Noppe does sweet work on trumpet and flugelhorn.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"Basic Basie" (Remastered)

This article was first published at Blogcritics

When it comes to swinging big band jazz there are always the familiar names at the top of the list—Goodman, Dorsey, Ellington, and of course Basie. And whenever their work happens to get another life as from some newly discovered archived performance, or a reissue of an out of print album, it is easy to see why. Great soloists, tight ensemble work: these outfits are the crowning glory of the middle of the last century. So when that antique material comes available, you don’t want to miss out on it.

MPS, the German record company is in the process of releasing re-mastered CDs of music from its back catalogue, and among those releases is a fine 1969 recording of the Count Basie Orchestra, called Basic Basie. This is an album that had also been released in the U. S. by Verve records, both as a single LP and a two LP set. The MPS reissue is limited to the single.

Featured on the album are Basie’s tenor saxophone stalwart, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, guitarist Freddie Green, and trumpeter Oscar Brashear. In addition, as the limited liner notes point out, Basie, at the request of MPS head Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer, did a lot more work on the piano than was his normal practice. Chico O’Farrill, though best known for his Afro-Cuban music, handled the arrangements on all but one of the album’s dozen tunes with a real feel for the Basie vibe.  Tenor sax man and flautist Eric Dixon gets credit for the haunting arrangement of “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You.”

The majority of the album consists of selections from the Great American Songbook. Basie’s piano introduces a fine version of the classic “Moonglow” and a shorter preface to a laid back “Sweet Lorraine.” He comes back later in the number to take the tune to conclusion. He is also spotlighted on a torrid “Ain’t Misbehaving.”

The set opens with the up-tempo “Idaho” and closes with a sweetly syncopated “I’ve Got the World on a String.” They have fun with a witty arrangement of a novelty number like “Ma, He’s Making Eyes at Me,” while riffing their way through Basie’s original “M-Squad.” “Blues in My Heart,” “Red Roses for a Blue Lady,” “Don’t Worry Bout Me,” and “As Long as I Live” complete this lively trip to Basie country.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Re-issues From MPS

This article was first published at Blogcritics

As if the recent reissues of music by a roster of major American and German jazz artists from the archives of Südwestrundfunk (Southwest Broadcasting) weren’t gift enough, along comes MPS Records (Musik Produktion Schwarzwald) with their Kultur Spiegel series and the promise of the current release of 25 remastered albums and by the end of the year the digital release of their entire back catalogue. Among the names scheduled for release are Lionel Hampton, Billy Taylor, Count Basie, Sun Ra, and Stephane Grapelli, and that barely scratches the surface. American jazz artists found an eager and appreciative audience as well as a vital jazz scene in Germany after the Second World War, and the positive atmosphere often brought out the best in them. There are certainly some gems soon to be made available.

Great musicians, fine sound—sounds like a combination that’s hard to beat.

For example, Jim Hall, certainly a name that belongs near the top of any reasonable list of great jazz guitarists shows his stuff in a 1969 trio recording, Jim Hall in Berlin: It’s Nice to Be With You. Working with bassist Jimmy Woode and drummer Daniel Humair, he runs through a set of eight tunes ranging from the Jimmy Webb pop winner made famous by The Fifth Dimension, “Up, Up And Away” through a swinging take on the standard, “My Funny Valentine” to Duke Ellington’s classic “In A Sentimental Mood.” The Hall set includes three originals, “Young One, For Debra,” “Blue Joe,” and “Romaine,” as well as the album’s title tune written by his wife Jane Herbert. It is a fine set showing off the guitarist in his many moods and a welcome addition to the Hall discography.

Then there’s piano master Hank Jones perhaps unfortunately best remembered as Marilyn Monroe’s accompanist when she sang “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy at Madison Square Garden who shows up in an excellent trio recording of his own, Have You Met This Jones? Recorded in 1978, he plays with Swiss bassist Isla Eckinger and German drummer Kurt Bong, both of whom rise to the occasion. Indeed he plays three tunes he had previously recorded on his 1955 release, The Trio where he was joined by bassist Wendell Marshall and drummer Kenny Clarke, “There’s A Small Hotel,” “We’re All Together,” and “Now’s The Time,” and the new versions hold their own.

The set also includes his brother Thad’s “Portions,” Duke Ellington’s “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good” and the jazz standard many of us will always associate with jazz broadcaster Fred Robbins, “Robbin’s Nest.”

These are two fine albums, and from what MPS has available, it looks like there is plenty more to come.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Music Review: "Collective Portrait" Eddie Henderson

This article was first published at Blogcritics

 Septuagenarian trumpet jazz master Eddie Henderson’s Collective Portrait was the February release in the monthly series inaugurated last year by Smoke Sessions Records, and like nearly every album in the series, it is a winner. Age has not dimmed Henderson, if anything, like a great wine, it has enriched his playing. Like many a fine musician,  he has never garnered the kind of popular fame his playing certainly deserved, but over the years he has consistently delivered the goods playing with some very well-known  jazz names—most notably Herbie Hancock and Art Blakey.

Often compared to the great Miles Davis for his lyrical prowess, Henderson chose the title for his new album from a Davis quip defining the collaborative essence of the best jazz: “A collective portrait is better than a self-portrait.” Also pointing out the care that Davis would take in choosing compatible musicians to work with, he chose side men that he had worked with over the years, side men with chemistry. George Cables plays piano and Rhodes, Doug Weiss, bass and Carl Allen is on drums. Gary Bartz plays alto saxophone on six of the album’s ten songs. Together they have come up with one fine album, an album that like some of the others in the Smoke Sessions series has been at the top of The Cool Jazz Countdown.  

The set opens with two original pieces, “Sunburst” and “Dreams,” and adds two by Cables, “Morning Song” and “Beyond Forever,” all revisiting earlier recorded material. He includes a number of songs by musicians he considers his mentors, teachers and friends: Freddy Hubbard’s “First Light,” Jimmy Heath’s “Ginger Bread Boy” which he first heard on Miles Smiles, and Woody Shaw’s “Zoltan.”
But perhaps the highlights of the album are the lyrical ballads (with apologies to Wordsworth). 

Pianist Duke Pearson’s “You Know I Care” is a sonic romance and Natsuko Henderson’s “Together” is a tender, melodious tribute to their years together. Ballads demand a sensitive touch else they melt into sentimental schmaltz, not from the horn of Eddie Henderson, not to my ear.

The album liner notes consist of Damon Smith’s interview with Henderson and are filled with interesting biographical material, including Henderson’s childhood visit backstage at the Apollo theater to meet Louis Armstrong, his teenage prowess as a figure skater, and his pursuit of a medical degree eventually specializing in and practicing psychiatry. Eddie Henderson is the very model of the Renaissance man.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Book Review: "The Revenant" by Michael Punke

This article was first published at Blogcritics

Originally published in 2002, Michael Punke’s fictional account of frontiersman Hugh Glass’s wilderness meeting with a grizzly bear in 1823 and its stranger than fiction results, The Revenant, is back in a new edition from Picador as a tie in with a film version starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy and directed  by Oscar winner Alejandro González Iñárritu set for release in December.

Out on a scouting mission for a small party of trappers working for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, Glass comes upon the grizzly and is horribly mauled. Nearly dead from his wounds and certainly unable to go on, he is left in the care of two of the party—a young boy, Jim Bridger and a scheming malcontent, John Fitzgerald—presumably to wait for his inevitable death and then bury him. When a band of hostile Indians appears close by, Fitzgerald and Bridger run off and leave Glass on his own. Almost more importantly, they steal his rifle, his knife and everything else he has that might be useful in the dangerous wild. After all, they caviled he was as good as dead already.

Turns out it takes more than a bear to send Glass to meet his maker, and the wounded man sets out to crawl his way through hundreds of miles of wilderness seeking help and eventually revenge on the men who abandoned him. It is an epic tale of mythic proportions, a testament to one man’s courage and indomitable will, and much of it is based on fact.

 Punke’s narrative is spare, but he does manage to include some vivid pictures of what life must have been like for the trappers and traders living in the undeveloped territory. We learn how to make a variety of traps for small animals. We learn what the best tidbits of the buffalo are, as well as a little bit about butchering and building fires. We learn how to make bullboats out of buffalo skins. It is the kind of validating information that make incidents like his description of the wounded, weaponless Glass fighting off a wolf pack over the remains of a buffalo calf believable. Frontiersmen needed to depend upon themselves. Those that depended on others didn’t always last very long.

Hugh Glass is a name that belongs with the likes of Daniel Boone and Davey Crockett, and if Punke’s account doesn’t put him in that pantheon, perhaps Leonardo DiCaprio and Iñárritu may do the job.