Jazz CD Reviews
Jazz CD Reviews Part 1
Published on April 1, 2005
April-May 2005 Part 1 of 2 [Pt. 2]
Paul Motian – I Have The Room Above Her / Paul Motian, drums; with Bill Frisell, guitar; Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone / ECM Records ECM 1902
* * * *:
After my only partially satisfactory experience with the other disc Bill Frisell was involved with in my reviews this month, I approached this new ECM disc with some caution; however, it’s drummer Paul Motian’s party, and I’ve generally loved his work. And that’s the case with this excellent disc as well, where the music is mostly about the blending of textures provided by Motian, guitarist Frisell and sax player extraordinaire Joe Lovano. And that’s both the strength of this disc and it’s Achilles’ heel – is it maybe too much of a good thing?
With the exception of two cover tunes, Kern/Hammerstein’s I Have The Room Above Her and Thelonius Monk’s Dreamland, all are penned by session leader Motian. All offer healthy doses of extremely melodic strumming from Frisell (who was anything but that on his other disc I reviewed this month), and scads of equally fluid tenor sax runs from Joe Lovano. All lovingly anchored by the trademark cymbal and brushwork that Paul Motian first gained attention for with his excellent work as a member of the Bill Evans Trio. There’s a theme of Osmosis underpinning all the originals, and that’s in fact what we get here – a fusion of instrumental textures provided by the three players. This works really to great effect on the title track and it’s shadowy third variation – and there are glimpses of true brilliance throughout. On the track Odd Man Out, we get a taste of the amazing stick work that Paul Motian has shown in abundance over the decades; tracks such as Dance, Harmony and The Bag Man actually feature some real spark and intensity between the players. On the downside, much of the album seems less like a group effort, and lacks cohesion, with too much focus on the playing of the individuals and a certain “sameness” to many of the compositions. The tunes I found most truly satisfying on all levels were the two covers, both so superb in their delivery that I almost wished the whole album had consisted entirely of cover tunes. It never ceases to amaze me how truly talented musicians can restate the tried-and-true with so much insight.
Sound quality is superb – par for the course for ECM. Very highly recommended; this disc may very well be your cup of tea, and although I had a few quibbles with some of the performances, there was a great deal here that I really enjoyed.
Tracks: Osmosis Part III; Sketches; Odd Man Out; Shadows; I Have The Room Above Her; Osmosis Part I; Dance; Harmony; The Riot Act; The Bag Man; One In Three; Dreamland.
– Tom Gibbs
Katie Bull: Love Spook – Katie Bull, vocals (with Joe Fonda, bass; Frank Kimbrough, piano; Michael Jefry Stevens, piano; Matt Wilson, percussion; Martin Wind, bass) – Corn Hill Indie Records *:
The course of independent label offerings are hard to chart; while most performers on indies are given the kind of artistic liberty that may be elusive to major-label artists, that same freedom often results in works with limited commercial viability. I’d venture to guess that less than half of the independent label discs that come my way for review purposes offer anything that really grabs my attention – the truly stand-out artists are few and far-between. I’m often left wondering whether with proper direction from a seasoned producer, whether they might have made artistic choices that would have greatly enhanced the presentation of the material, or would have focused more on their particular strengths. Or perhaps would have swayed their vocal talents in other directions.
That’s the unfortunate case with this particular disc – and it’s not a matter of any preconceptions on my part that independent labels offer an inferior product. The sound quality and the instrumental support on this disc is first rate – I just don’t happen to feel that the material here really showcases Ms. Bull’s strengths as a vocalist. The inclusion of a number of originals by her is also admirable, but there’s little here that sparked much emotion or garnered much of my interest. The oft-traversed territory she’s chosen to work will engender some very tough sledding for her in the future – perhaps it will hold better results for her. Try before you buy it.
Tracks: Love Spook; My Favorite Things; Strange; On A Clear Day; Deer Run; Leftover Blues; I Only Have Eyes; I’ll Be Seeing You; Watch What Happens; Connection Rag; Surrey With the Fringe On Top; Ashokan Road.
– Tom Gibbs
Porgy & Bess Redefined! – Mark Masters Ensemble (17-piece band incl. Billy Harper, tenor sax; Gary Smulyan, baritone sax; Ray Drummond, bass; Joe La Barbera, drums) – Capri Records 74069-2 ****:
The music of Gershwin’s greatest accomplishment, Porgy & Bess, has been redefined by numerous performers since its premiere in l935. Billie Holiday had already recorded the hit tune from it, Summertime, just a year later. In the LP era several different approaches to highlights from the opera appeared – one of my favorites the version on Bethlehem with Mel Torme as Porgy. One of the landmarks of the careers of both Miles Davis and Gil Evans was their collaboration on a 1959 version (now on SACD), and Clark Terry just reinterpreted the music again with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra.
Mark Masters had a more adventurous vision of Gershwin’s well-known music. As a jazz arranger he finds it more intriguing than many other shows due to its stimulating harmonic structures and the fact that there aren’t many traditional forms in it. He gives his soloists plenty of latitude for some striking solos, but he points out that Gershwin’s original tunes are never covered up by the arrangements. A Woman Is a Sometime Thing becomes a rocking big band blast, and a Red Headed Woman delves deeply into the blues. Masters again shows his advanced but accessible arranging chops to great advantage in this latest look at Gershwin’s classic music.
Tracks: Intro, Summertime, A Woman Is a Sometime Thing, Gone Gone Gone, My Man’s Gone Now, It Ain’t Necessarily So, Here Come De Honey Man, I Loves You Porgy, A Red Headed Woman, Clara Clara, There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York.
- John Henry
Bireli Lagrene & Gypsy Project (with Bireli Lagrene, Holzmano Lagrene & Hono Winterstein, guitars; Richard Galliano, accordion; Diego Imberg, bass; Florin Niculescu, violin) – Dreyfus Jazz FDM 36626-2 ****:
Bireli Lagrene & Gipsy Project & Friends (with Bireli Legrene, Holzmano Lagrene, Stochelo Rosenberg, Hono Winterstein, Thomas Dutronc, guitars) – Dreyfus Jazz FDM 36638-2 *****:
I reviewed last issue the Dreyfus Jazz video DVD of Bireli Lagrene at the Gypsy Jazz Festival in France. On these two CDs is more of the same great multi-guitar swing in the style of Django Reinhardt, and in stereo sound, which the DVD didn’t have. Lagrene has a predilection for the post-1940s Django, altho he does do a few earlier tunes from the 30s. He brings on famed jazz accordionist Galliano as a guest performer on a couple tracks, for a terrific sound we haven’t heard on Django’s original recordings. The three guitars on the first CD are fun but the five on the second disc are even better. Violinist Niculescu again joins the band on this disc. After a smashing debut at the Montreux Jazz Festival at age 13 (footage is on the DVD) Lagrene played in the Django style for a while but then went into other genres of pop and jazz for many years. We’re lucky he’s back giving jazz wings to swinging gypsy music. Dig it!
First CD: Blues Clair, Coquette, Si Tu Savais, Belleville, Daphne, Je suis seul ce soir, Swing 42, Embraceable You, Vous et moi, Festival 48, Viper’s Dream, What is This Thing Called Love?, La Mer, Limehouse Blues, Daphne (alternate version).
Second CD: Djangology, When Day Is Done, Bei Dir War Es Immer So Schön, Babik, Ou Es-tu Mon Amour?, Les Yeux Noirs, Envie De Toi, Minor Swing, Laura, Artillerie Lourde, Place De Broukere, Songe d’Automne, Une Histoire Simple, Ma Premiere Guitare.
- John Henry
Tiny Moore & Jethro Burns – Back-to-Back (with Eldon Shamblin, rhythm guitar; Ray Brown, bass; Shelly Manne, drums; David Grisman, guest mandolinist on 3 tracks) – Acoustic Disc ACD-60 (2 discs) *****:
This is not your usual jazz reissue. The session dates from 1979 and features two of the pioneers of jazz mandolin playing, who surprisingly had never played together before this session. Jethro Burns was one-half of the country duo Homer & Jethro and Tiny Moore played with Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. These fantastically talented but unheralded musicians were brought together by producer/mandolinist David Grisman with three high-caliber jazz sidemen: Shamblin, who did arrangements for Bob Wills, the ubiquitous Ray Brown on bass, and drummer Shelly Manne, whose versatility and wide musical interests were legend. (All these musicians are gone now, except of course Grisman)
The improvising chops of these two mandolinists are really impressive. As the liner notes say, it predates jazz education and sophisticated modern concepts but that doesn’t mean the two pluckers don’t get in some amazingly with-it sounding licks! The whole thing is brim-full of energy and a feeling of spontaneity. Moore played a special 5-string electric solid-body mandolin of his own invention. They delve into Ellington, Django, swing, country, bluegrass, you name it! If the first CD of the 13 original takes isn’t enough for you, go on to Disc 2, which has alternate takes of every single track and demonstrates the wealth of ideas this irrepressible duo had on the tunes – which were already arranged by John Carlini.
Finally, I had an interesting A/B comparison to make: The original LP was released on Kaleidoscope Records, and shortly thereafter one of a number of very small audiophile cassette labels (yes, there was such a thing) released it on a Fuji metal cassette with Dolby B encoding. The tape was packaged tails out just as professional open reel tapes were stored, for best possible packing of the tape layers. You had to rewind it before playing. With the cassette was provided the original Kaleidoscope LP for comparison, and at the time the cassette – on a high-quality player – actually did sound better than the LP. The entire package retailed for $30 – this was in 1980! Well, I still had both the software and hardware and so set up a comparison with the new CD reissue. No question – the CD smokes both the cassette and the LP (which sound about the same now; I have a better turntable).
Tracks (same on both discs): Back to Back, Diane, In a Mellotone, Real Laid Back, Flickin’ My Pick, Moonlight Waltz, Jethro’s Tune, Swing 39, Out of Nowhere, Tickle Toe, Tiny’s Rag, Groovin’ High, Maiden’s Prayer.
- John Henry
Marian McPartland & Friends – 85 Candles – Live in New York (with [partial list]: Karrin Allyson, Regina Carter, Jon Faddis, Jim Hall, Jason Moran, Nnenna Freelon, Roy Hargrove, Billy Taylor, Clark Terry, George Wein, Phil Woods…) – Concord Records CCD2-2218-2 (2 discs, 22 tracks) ****:
Renowned jazz pianist Marian McPartland celebrated her 85th birthday at NYC’s Birdland with some of the many guests and friends she had had on her NPR radio series Piano Jazz, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary on the air. Dozens of top jazz stars appeared and performed alone and with her during the four-hour tribute, and these two CDs capture the highlights. Some of the highlights of the highlights for me were: Marian doing the two-piano thing with Dr. Billy Taylor and later with George Wein, Marian accompanying Jackie Cain of Jackie & Roy in While We’re Young, and a great quintet with Marian on piano, Regina Carter, violin and Jim Hall, guitarist. It’s difficult to pull out the best here because it’s all the best! The graphics on the two CDs is a kick too – a continuous keyboard around the edges.
Disc 1: I Love You, The Nearness of You, Tangerine, Last Night When We Were Young, Twilight World, I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me, Free Piece, Old Friend, Have You Met Miss Jones, Take the “A” Train, Summertime.
Disc 2: All Blues, My Foolish Heart, But Not for Me, Memories of You, Yesterdays, While We’re Young, I’ve Told Every Little Star, Capricious, What Am I Here For, Onyx Mood/Soft LIghts & Sweet Music/Kaleidoscope, Lester Leaps In.
- John Henry
Jack DeJohnette & Foday Musa Suso – Music from the Hearts of the Masters – Golden Beams Production GBP1112 ****:
Golden Beams is DeJohnette’s new label and part of the growing number of artist-run labels. It will be devoted not only to jazz but also to music from Africa, Brazil, electronic, and meditational music (see review below). This first release is a collaboration with the Mandingo griot and master of the Gambian string instrument known as the kora – Foday Musa Suso. He came to fame with collaborations with Philip Glass and Herbie Hancock among others. Musical pioneer Suso is a singer, drummer and composer in addition to his virtuoso playing on the 21-string harp lute which has a unique rich sound that blends well with many different instruments. The two instrumentalists work off one another and the unusual duo of harp instrument and drumming achieves a wonderful interplay. One really can’t pin it down to world music, jazz, meditational music or what. There is much repetition of phrases, as with most African and Latin music. Some unique sounds are produced by Suso doubling on some sort of synth and even using a boomerang for musical effects. DeJohnette also commands an exotic variety of percussion, including something called Vicfirth Sticks. A fascinating musical excursion to be sure!
Tracks: Ocean Wave, Ancient Techno, Rose Garden, Worldwide Funk, Kaira, Mountain Love Dance, Party, Voice of the Kudrus, Sunjatta Keita.
Jack DeJohnette – Music in the Key of Om – Golden Beams Productions GBP1111 ***:
DeJohnette created this one-hour piece for his wife to use in her work as a healer. It involves synthesizer and resonating bells and is intended for people doing yoga, meditation or massage. It would fall into the New Age Music category, which I used to review years ago but haven’t for decades now. However, I found it very well done for its purpose – not a great deal going on but that’s the idea – you don’t want to be distracted by music that’s too active or complex. If you have subwoofers the low resonances of the bells will really move around the room.
- John Sunier