Jazz CD Reviews

15 Jazz Reviews, Pt. 1


Published on May 1, 2005

May 2005 Part 1 of 2 [Pt. 2]

Pat Metheny GroupPat Metheny Group – The Way Up (Metheny, acoustic, electric, synth and slide guitars; Lyle Mays, acoustic piano & keyboards; Steve Rodby, acoustic & electric bass & cello; Guong Vu, trumpet & voice; Gregoire Maret, harmonica; Antonio Sanchez, drums) – Nonesuch 79876-2, 68:10 *****:

Leave it to Metheny to turn out some of the most creative guitar-based modern jazz today. He’s been at it for 30 years; no wonder. Following his own highly individual path which has little in common with mainstream jazz. He seems to come from the general fusion genre but moves outward in every direction from there, creating a unique mix of modern chamber music, symphonic, electronics, sound effects, film music and atmospheric textures that let your imagination run wild. And maintaining an accessible harmonically-based idiom throughout this concept album. There are no “tunes” here – just 68 minutes of continuous music consisting of an opening track and three parts – which carries you away. Metheny was assisted by his longtime collaborator Lyle Mays, and whole thing holds together like a Bruckner symphony. I thought of Chopin’s four Ballades, which also tell adventurous stories without every having a specific program – you create your own while listening. Among the many ear-tickling timbres during the musical journey is a nostalgic-sounding toy instrument ensemble, with the performers playing toy guitars, toy xylophone, toy whistle and so on. The series of photographs on the note booklet (with no notes) continues the theme of do-it-yourself storytelling.

- John Sunier

Two highly-contrasting jazz pianists next…

Keith Jarrett: RadianceKeith Jarrett, solo piano – Radiance – (Recorded live in Osaka & Tokyo, 2002) ECM 1960/61 (2 discs) ****:

This month is Jarrett’s 60th birthday, and it marks the release of this album of his famous solo improvisations which is the first such in nearly a decade. Jarrett had announced earlier that he probably would not return to the solo piano format since it required much more of his energy and physical/mental work than did the safety-net of his piano trio. Jarrett has been battling chronic fatigue syndrome for some years now.

But he changed his mind in 2002 and these two concerts are the sonic results. He made a change in approach this time. Instead of the continuous improvisations of his earlier concert series, he develops some contrasting melodic and textual material and creates an improvised suite made up of discrete pieces drawn from each previous piece. The later Tokyo concert, for example, fulfills the structural implications of the material heard in the Osaka concert. Yet he reports in his liner notes that he had in mind letting some of the music just happen to him without sitting there deep in thought. Each of the two CDs has eight or nine parts ranging from a minute or two to as long as 14 minutes. Sound is up to ECMs normal high standards of piano reproduction, the audience is deathly quiet (as most audiences outside of the U.S. seem to be), and Jarrett’s famous vocal utterances are also quieter than in the past. My favorite of the solo series is still his Solo-Concerts Bremen/Lausanne, but it’s exciting to have him feeling well enough to continue the new without-a-net style of improvisations.

- John Henry

Brubeck: London Flat/London SharpThe Dave Brubeck Quartet – London Flat/London Sharp (with Bobby Militello, alto sax & flute; Michael Moore, doublebass; Randy Jones, drums) – Telarc CD-83625, 58:23 ****:

Jazz piano legend Dave Brubeck just keeps going like that battery bunny. His newest release for Telarc celebrates his 85th birthday, and grew out a grueling tour of Britain. Hard to believe that it was way back in 1954 that Brubeck was on the cover of TIME magazine in an article heralding the rebirth of jazz. Saxist Bobby Militello is no Paul Desmond but he does a fine job displaying the sophisticated Brubeck melodic and harmonic structures heard on these ten mostly original tracks. Especially nice and not heard much in earlier Brubeck ensembles are the flute solos.

The title tune came from Brubeck’s own remark to the organizer of his British tour that after some long bus rides they would be staying in a London flat. He said “That would be sharp.” There are two selections from Brubeck’s extensive works for liturgical purposes (he recently was award a theology doctorate by a Swiss University). Mr. Fats honors the great Fats Waller. These are all stimulating and enjoyable tracks, but you won’t hear the percussive note-crammed chords of the Brubeck of decades ago nor the breathless buildup to them. After all, would you still be wanting to do that when you’re 85?

Tracks: London Flat London Sharp, To Sit and Dream, The Time of Our Madness, Unisphere, Steps to Peace, Forty Days, Cassandra, Yes We All Have Our Cross to Bear, Mr. Fats, Ballad of the Rhine.

- John Henry

Listen Viol You Werk to These Two Very Unusual CDs…

Randy Sandke & violsThe Randy Sandke Quartet featuring Bill Charlap, with Parthenia – a consort of viols – Trumpet After Dark (Jazz in a Meditative Mood) – Evening Star Records ES-109, 67:12 ***** (www.lpb.com/eveningstar):

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a pushover for any jazz featuring a solo horn plus strings. I put this one on the first time without looking closely at it, and about the second or third track it occurred to me this was an odd-sound string quartet behind trumpeter Sandke. Looking more carefully at the jewel box is saw credits for two treble, one tenor and a combo treble and bass viol. Most likely the very first time the early processors of the violin family have been heard in jazz! By the way, pianist Bill Charlap is one of the brightest of the new crop of jazz pianists and central to the great sound of this ensemble.

Half of the 14 tracks are either by Sandke or he’s involved in them via arranging. They are mostly ballads and other more laid-back pieces but don’t think this is an easy-listening jazz outing. The extremely originally writing here is right up with that of some of my favorite arrangers – Don Sebesky, Claus Ogerman, Eddie Sauter. The sound of the viols – which may be somewhat familiar to listeners from the popularity of the many recordings led by Jordi Savall and the motion picture Tous les Matins du Monde – is more intimate and mellow in nature than the typical string quartet. They have more strings than the violin family but they are under less tension, and the construction and tuning of viols is also different. Among the tunes are the most successful jazz version of Chopin I have ever heard, possibly the only jazz version of a tune by the 17th century English composer John Dowland, and a Sandke original called Being Human which has Renaissance-sounding harmonies. Sandke’s trumpet style is perfect for these imaginative arrangements. I wondered why this was the first I’d heard of him. I give highest marks to this superb conflation of classical and jazz elements.

Tracks: Quiet is the Night, Nocturne, Being Human, Goodbye for Now, Star-Crossed Lovers, Etude in E, Le Jour Ou la Colombe, Monk’s Mood, A Blues Serenade, Can She Excuse My Wrongs, Lullabye for Karen, Blues for Sandy, Lush Life, Soul Eyes.

Keith Barry, jazz violaKeith Barry, viola – Blew Year’s Proposition (with John Keyser, guitar; Ed Bennett, bass; Dave Winstock, drums) – Saphu SCD-0017 **** [www.BioJazz.com/~Vaught]

Again, this has to be first jazz album with the feature instrument throughout being the viola! There’s plenty of jazz violin out there but it’s lower-pitched partner from the symphony orchestra is not even heard that much in classical music as a solo instrument, and in jazz not at all until this unique effort. I don’t know anything about Barry, other than the Saphu label is the baby of bassist Ed Bennett and based in Portland, Oregon. While I don’t see a cable coming out of his instrument in the photo of Barry, the sound of the viola has an electronic quality to it, probably to match more successfully with the electric guitar.

The opening Andre Previn hit of the 60s, Like Young, comes on with lots energy and bounce – the viola being heard in its higher register. Monk’s Trinkle Trinkle lacks the impact of the usual Monk tune with piano and sax, but doesn’t lose its quirky Monkish character in the more mellow treatment. The longest track of the half dozen here is the classic Soft Winds, at ten minutes. All present take some intriguing solos, with guitarist Keyser’s a standout. The closing (and title tune) blues is a Barry original, as well as is the earlier Easy Groove. Anyone with a hankering for jazz violin would surely dig this hot viola CD!

Tracks: Like Young, Trinkle Trinkle, My Foolish Heart, Easy Groove, Soft Winds, Blew Year’s Proposition.

- John Henry

Hang onto your seat for some hot and bluesy B3s next!

Tony Monaco, Joey DeFrancesco, Jimmy Smith

Tony Monaco Trio and Friends – Fiery Blues – Summit Records DCD 425 ****:

We’ve all heard of Chicago Style and the New Orleans Sound in jazz, but did you know there was a “Columbus, Ohio sound?” Well, B3 master Tony Monaco – who lives there – knows, and made it the theme of his new CD. The general idea is a strongly rhythmic blend of the blues with jazz. He chose tunes associated with some of the many jazz organists who came out of the Columbus music scene, and sought to bring the Columbus Sound up to date with his playing on both his legacy B3 and New B3. He used two different drummers and three different guitarists on the 11 tracks. Saxist Gene Walker is heard on six of the tracks and vocalist Willie Pooch comes in on three tracks, including the rockin’ Everyday I Have the Blues. Tony gets in one of his originals on “Ashleen.” Can’t get enough of that unique B3 sound ah say,,,

Tracks: Goin’ to a Meetin,’ Everyday I Have the Blues, Greasy Spoon, Mellow Soul, Ashleen, Crosscut Saw, The Hooker, Stormy Monday, All Blues, The Preacher, Takin’ My Time Blues.

Joey DeFrancesco with Jimmy Smith – Legacy – Concord Jazz CCD-2229-2, ****:

This was one of the last recordings by B3 legend Jimmy Smith, who passed away in February. It was a studio session conceived as a followup to their earlier live duo recorded during the San Francisco Jazz Festival (also on Concord: Incredible). It was also their first studio recording together. DeFrancesco used his regular rhythm section: Paul Bollenback on guitar and Byron Landham, drums, but he added many other sidemen for some of the tunes plus fiery tenorman James Moody on the track “Jones’n for Elvin.” Both organists play the latest Hammond New B-3, which DeFrancesco helped them develop as a modern digitized update of the original tone-wheel B3. It’s also much more portable for hauling around to gigs. However, concerned that even too much of a good thing could get boring, DeFrancesco balanced off Smith’s B3 on several of the tracks by playing something called a Palatino piano instead of another B3. (I suppose it’s a digital piano of some sort.)

The opening, Legacy, features a sextet of players in addition to Smith on B3 and DeFrancesco on piano. Guitarist Bollenback plays an electric sitar and there are gongs plus something called a “ghost” zither. A couple of conga and timbales players borrowed from Pancho Sanchez’ band contribute to a strong Latin feel on some of the tracks. With the more relaxed and unpressured studio environment, the pair of B3-ers even outdo the incredible grooves of their previous live recording, and there’s also more variety in the various instrumental backings. Those familiar low frequency rolling-arounds sound cleaner and crisper on the new B3s than the they did with the original instruments. Your subwoofer(s) will get a workout for sure. No self-respecting B3 aficionado should be without this winner!

Tracks: Legacy, Dot Com Blues, I’ll Close My Eyes, Back at the Chicken Shack, Jones’n for Elvin, Off the Top, Corcovado, I’ve Got My Mojo Workin,’ St. Thomas, Blues for Bobby C., Midnight Special.

- John Henry

John Stowell, guitarJohn Stowell, guitar – Resonance – Origin Records 82443 ****:

Portland, Oregon-based guitarist Stowell has a super-cool approach to his instrument but with a minimum of fuss can tear up the strings with some complex improvising that seems to occur at almost the speed of light. He plays here acoustic-electric guitars made by Portland custom guitar-maker Mike Doolin, and using nylon strings. Doolin invited Stowell over to try out his latest creations and in the process taped him playing a tune on each instrument. Eventually there were enough tracks for an album, and this is it. There’s a rich and resonant timbre that fits the album’s title perfectly, as well as Stowell’s technique. It sounds more subtle and played with more finesse than your typical solo electric guitar session.

Tracks: Nobody Else But Me, Picture in Black and White, Prelude to a Kiss, Peau Douce, Equinox, Ron’s Return/Eclipse, Bolero Algorhythm, How Deep is the Ocean, Some Other Time, I Wish/Everything I Love, Yesterdays, I Should Care, Maybe Later.

- John Henry

Madeleine PeyrouxMadeleine Peyroux, vocals – Careless Love (with Dean Parks, guitars; Larry Goldings, keyboards; David Piltch, bass; Jay Bellerose, drums & percussion; Lee Thornburg, trumpet on 2 tracks) – Rounder 11661-3192-2 ****:

Ms. Peyroux comes from a folk music and Francophile background and possesses a voice that can best be described as a young Billie Holiday brought up to date. She’s obviously not trying to be solely a jazz singer, and her choice of tunes as well as delivery reflect that. Among the sources here are Bob Dylan, George Cory, William C. Handy, and Leonard Cohen. Peyroux also plays guitar on many of the tracks, folk-style. Larry Goldings, who probably was responsible for most of the arrangements, adds immensely to the overall sound with his stylings on a great variety of instruments, including B3 and celeste. Not to be missed if you’re a Holiday fan – and who isn’t?

Tracks: Dance Me to the End of Love, Don’t Wait Too Long, Don’t Cry Baby, You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome, When You Go, Between the Bars, No More, Lonesome Road, J’ai deux Amours, Weary Blues, I’ll Look Around, Careless Love, This is Heaven to Me.

- John Henry

Mel Brown QuartetMel Brown Quartet – Girl Talk (Brown, drums; Tony Pacini, piano; Dan Balmer, guitar; Ed Bennett, bass) – Saphu SCD-0021, 60:47 **** [ www.SaphuRecords.com ]

This brand new release is the first from a quartet that came together at Portland, Oregon’s Jimmy Mak’s jazz club three years ago. Led by legendary drummer Mel Brown, the quartet plays every Wednesday night at the club. Though Brown has been playing in the area for many years, the other three member have all been band leaders themselves. Guitarist Balmer is a real whiz, turning out some blistering solos as skilled as the very best of his ilk. Pianist Pacini has a strong percussive style that is never obscured by the drums or guitar. This is straight-ahead modern jazz that swings like nobody’s business. The mix and sonics are first rate too.

Tracks: Brown Baggin,’ Girl Talk, Now’s Not the Time, Silverplated Song, Just Squeeze Me, Oldest Son, Venus, Good Friday, Waltz for Theo, Milestones.

- John Henry

Duo Campion-VachonDuo Campion-Vachon, Piano 4 Hands – “Duke Ellington” – Analekta AN 2 9820, 52:30 ****:

This new release is from the Quebec-based classical label Analekta, and the piano duo of Guy Campion and Mario Vachon have recorded several previous albums more in the classical vein for the label, including works for piano 4 hands by Satie, Schubert and Gershwin. Duo member Campion did all the arrangements, which were probably not a big stretch since Ellington’s big band pieces were all piano-centered. After all, Duke began his career as a pianist for hire.

A goodly span of the Ellington career is covered by these 17 tracks, starting as early as 1927 with tunes created for The Cotton Club. The later tunes go up to l968 with selections from some of the suites Ellington wrote. Super-familiar tunes such as Satin Doll are fun to hear in this form, but whether the pianists feared head-on collisions on the single keyboard or just lacked the rhythmic chops of experienced jazz pianists, things are just a bit stilted um-pah-pah when they could be wham-bang-bop. (For contrast dig any of the two-piano treatments of a standard like that one on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz program or CDs.)

The final track is a repeat of Rent Party Blues – a l929 Ellington original concerning those Harlem parties where an ivory-tickler would haul his piano up to an apartment and charge those who attended the party $1 each to cover the rent of the person living there. For this “old style” variation, the piano tuner lowered the middle string of those notes with three unison strings. This gave just enough tuned out-of-tuneness to do the trick.

Tracks: Washington Wabble, Scattin’ at the Kit Kat, Blue Bubbles, New World A-Coming, Daydream, Satin Doll, Rent Party Blues, Serenade to Sweden, A Portrait of Bert Williams, In a Sentimental Mood, Freedom (Word You Heard), I Never Felt This Way Before, Sophisticated Lady, Just A-Sittin’ and A-Rockin,’ I Got It Bad, Rub-A-Tub-Lues, Rent Party Blues old style.

- John Sunier

On to Part 2 of Jazz

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