Jazz CD Reviews
Jazz CD Reviews, Part 1 of 2
Published on May 1, 2004
May 2004 Part 1 of 2 Parts [Pt. 2]
We start out this month with four very different keyboardists…
HIROMI UEHARA, piano – Brain (with Tony Grey or Anthony Jackson, bass; Martin Valihora, drums) – Telarc CD-83600:
Make way for the most exciting new jazz pianist recording today. The petite Japanese keyboardist turned many heads and ears with her debut Telarc release Another Mind, and this second album was recorded direct to DSD so it will soon be appearing as an SACD; but I just couldn’t wait to get out the word to the majority who haven’t yet taken the hi-res plunge. This is terrific stuff: all eight selections are her own originals, kicking off (if you’ll pardon the expression) with an amazing electronic foray dedicated to Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. It features some sort of synth – perhaps the Yamaha keyboard since Hiromi’s music is published by the Yamaha Music Foundation – used in a most creative and high-energy manner. One lovely solo piano track is called Green Tea Farm and recalls her home area in Japan which is a famous source for Green Tea. Some synth sounds come back into the mix at the conclusion of the title track, Brain, which is extremely programmatic. The last two tracks are over ten minutes length, giving plenty of time for extended development of the attractive themes Hiromi has fashioned. [This CD release was closely followed by the SACD release – reviewed in our Hi-Res Section this issue.]
Tracks: Kung-Fu World Champion, If…, Wind Song, Brain, Desert on the Moon, Green Tea Farm, Keytalk, Legend of the Purple Valley
- John Henry
Steve Kuhn w/ Strings – Promises Kept – Orchestrations and conducted by Carlos Franzetti (w/ bassist David Finck) – ECM 1815:
I’ve been a pushover for recordings of jazz soloists with strings ever since first hearing Charlie Parker’s effort to meld classical elements into jazz in his Bird-with-Strings sessions. Yes, there have been some embarrassing efforts of this type along the way, but when it works it can’t be beat. (Stan Getz’ Focus with Eddie Sauter’s arrangements is probably my favorite.) Pianist Kuhn is no stranger to this format – he recorded “The October Suite” chamber jazz effort with vibist Gary McFarland in l966. This new one consists entirely of Kuhn compositions, which meld European and American atmospheres, have a strong structural design but also allow for flights of free improv, and display an urban film soundtrack sort of feeling. The arranger he selected might be partly responsible for the latter since he is involved in soundtrack work. Kuhn states that he wanted the album to be beautiful but not background music, and it achieves that goal. Several of Kuhn’s tunes here have been heard previously on the many previous recordings he has done with his trio for the ECM label. The pianist is the son of Hungarian immigrants and after graduating from Harvard decided to skip Harvard Medical School and delve into jazz instead. Among his teachers at the Lenox School of Jazz were John Lewis and Gunther Schuller – leaders of the Third Stream movement which sought to create a new form from classical and jazz. One could think of this recording as a rich and mostly tonal chamber piano concerto which happens to consist of ten short and varied movements.
Tracks: Lullaby, Life’s Backward Glance, Trance, Morning Dew, Promises Kept, Adagio, Celtic Princess, Nostalgia, Oceans in the Sky, Pastorale.
- John Henry
Bill Cunliffe Quartet – It’s About Love (the Music of Reed Kotler) Bill Cunliffe, piano; Gary Goster, tenor & alto sax; Jeff D’Angelo, bass; Tim Pleasant, drums – Torii Records (no #):
Kotler is a West Coast-based jazz composer who has created ten original tunes here in the Tin Pan Alley tradition of good melodies with clever hooks. He produced the CD together with Cunliffe – who did the arrangements – and the forces are basically Cunliffe’s usual sextet minus two members. (The sextet was featured in Cunliffe’s 2003 CD devoted to composer Earl Zindars – How My Heart Sings.) Foster has a pleasant vocal-like tone and delivery which is ideal for these tuneful songs. The changes of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps are employed in Nine Steps, and the opening At the End of the Day is a melodic bossa nova. It appears the graphics work on this album suffered a few omissions, because there are little stickers on the back of the jewel box stating “All music composed by Reed Kotler,” and the 2003 copyright, plus the copyright info is scribbled on the actual disc with a permanent Pentel.
Jack McDuff, B3 organ (with various sidemen) – The Prestige Years – Prestige PRCD 24287-2:
Brother Jack McDuff’s recordings featuring his B3 plus guitar and/or tenor sax were spinning on jukeboxes across urban Afro-America in the mid-50s thru mid-60s. His various small groups also were appearing in clubs from coast to coast. Blues plain and simple were at the heart of this sides – the keyboardist (who died two years ago) know exactly what his audiences wanted. There’s funk, R&B, soul and even Latin stuff here, all delivered with a no-nonsense, no frills directness that will get your booty booting. The basic duos or trios are rounded out with other players on many of the tunes, including vibist Lem Winchester, and both Grant green and George Benson are among the guitarists featured. Drummer Joe Dukes is also on most of the tracks. Many of these 14 tracks were issued on extended-play 7-inch 45 rpm singles as well as on LP. I’m surprised at the stereo designation since Prestige was one of the last jazz labels to go stereo, but since the great Rudy Van Gelder was the recording engineer for all of them, perhaps there were original stereo materials to go back to for this reissue. The low end of the distinctive B3 sonics is not quite as clean and deep as recent discings in the B3 renaissance, but most enjoyable nevertheless.
- John Henry
Charles Lloyd & Billy Higgins – Which Way Is East (Lloyd – tenor & alto sax, alto & C flutes, piano, Taragato, Tibetan oboe, percussion, maracas, voice; Higgins – drums, guitar, guibri, Syrian one string, Senegalese/Guinean & Indian hand drums, Juno’s wood box, percussion, voice) – ECM 2-disc set 1878/79:
This time the ECM note booklet is not just a bunch of nice photos with no explanation but some wonderful shots of the two senior jazzmen plus a very moving conversation between them which occurred at the same time. Lloyd is a deeply spiritual person who prepared for the session with a retreat at Big Sur. Higgins speaks about the great jazz cats he was raised with and Lloyd interjects “But they all cut out.” Higgins then observes “the shit’s got to go on…” and “This may be the last time we do this.” Seeing the photos of the two jazz figures – and reading about one kidding the other with “Do you mean to tell me you’re going to get up off the bed and come back to work on this with me?” – one feels the latter may sadly be true.
This two-and-one-half-hour set qualifies as jazz mainly in the improvisation involved in it, but none of the eight tracks is even close to what would normally be thought of as jazz. It is a sort of spiritual channeling of world music cultures that encompasses the entire globe and often seems to be time-traveling back to before music was even notated and only imagined by modern-day musicologists. Some of the primitive vocal sounds may seem almost seem silly at first hearing but if you turn off your sophisticated critical judgments and just get into the spirit of the improvisations you will probably find them very compelling on further hearings. The various unusual reed instruments played by Lloyd are fascinating in their different timbres, and the many different percussion instruments are distinguished by the usual crystalline clarity of ECM’s sonics. This collection requires repeated listening to really get into its spirit. It’s very Zen. And it should silence those critics who sometimes complain that all ECM recordings sound alike.
Tracks: What is Man, Divans, Salaam, All This Is That, Desire, Devotion, Light of Love, Surrender.
- John Henry
Two of the illustrious Marsalises’ latest efforts…
Wynton Marsalis Quartet – The Magic Hour (with Eric Lewis, piano; Carlos Henriquez, bass; Ali Jackson, drums; guests: Bobby McFerrin and Dianne Reeves) – Blue Note 243-5-91717-2:
All the selections here are originals by Marsalis except for Baby I Love You, on which he collaborated with McFerrin. Marsalis has left the Columbia fold and signed with Blue Note and this is his first discing for them. His last Columbia effort was the massive All Rise, which involved over 200 people including a gospel choir and symphony. So Marsalis was pleased “to restate my basic love of jazz music in a quartet format.” He explains that the album tries to cover the four basic attitudes of jazz: 4/4 swing, Afro-Hispanic rhythms, blues, and the ballad. It is a mostly lyrical collection without some of the semi-free-jazz improvisations of some of his previous work. The album has an informal, off-the-cuff sort of feeling to it that is relaxed and good-natured. Though the members of the quartet are different from those in his usual septet, they have played together for some time and have a fine musical communication. Wynton wails on the high trumpet in the extended closing title track. The Diane Reeves track employs lyrics which Marsalis wrote to Duke Ellington’s Feeling of Jazz. While both the McFerrin and the Reeves were fun they seemed sort of tacked-on and I preferred the instrumentals. The title of the album refers to the time before and after parents pack their kids off to bed.
Tracks: Feeling of Jazz, You and Me, Free to Be, Baby I Love You, Big Fat Hen, Skipping, Sophie Rose-Rosalee, The Major Hour
Branford Marsalis – The Steep Anthology (Columbia recordings 1983-98) with various sidemen – Columbia/Legacy CK 90909:
Twenty years following the first album as a leader by this one of the four very musical sons of piano/education Ellis Marsalis seemed to call for a look back at the saxophonist’s past work. This reissue features material from nine different albums plus a previously unreleased track – Monk’s Evidence – recorded live at the Village Vanguard. Branford had a number of nicknames over the years and Steep – the disc title – was just one of them. The saxist has a longtime working quartet with pianist Kenny Kirkland, bassist Bob Hurst and drummer Jeff “Tain’ Watts, and those players are heard on many of the tracks. The oldest track in the collection – from his first CD – shows Branford’s love of Sonny Rollins’ sound. The closing Three Little Words comes from his l988 trio album which eschewed the piano – Trio Jeepy (another Branford nickname). The wild Cain & Abel duo with Branford and brother Wynton was included in the recent Marsalis Family DVD video we reviewed. I had a couple of Branford’s CDs in my collection but not any sampled in this reissue and it served to round out my impression of two decades of brilliant playing by the saxist.
Tracks: Doctone, Maria, Royal Garden Blues, Evidence (Live), Cain & Abel, Spartacus, No Backstage Pass, Sidney in Da Haus, The Dark Keys, Three Little Words
- John Henry