Sunday, March 23, 2008

Reviews CD's 2008 - Happy Easter, Feliz Pascoa

The Lost Chords find Paolo Fresu 

A nice CD with good music and well played, best Carla in years.

By Thom Jurek
Composer and pianist Carla Bley has been very consistent, if not exactly prolific, for most of her 40 years in jazz. When she and bassist/life partner Steve Swallow hired British saxophonist Andy Sheppard — then one of his country's young lions as both a composer and as a reedman — in 1989, they hired him on and he's been with the group ever since. The recorded evidence was heard on Sheppard's first appearance with Bley on the utterly beguiling Fleur Carnivore, and later on the fine trio recording Songs with Legs in 1995. Drummer Billy Drummond joined the unit as a permanent member in the early part of this century, and on 2004's Lost Chords debut, locked in with a unit that seemed to be evenly weighted all around. This quartet has been responsible for some astonishing gigs, and conceivably, Bley could record this group over and over. But she's a restless composer, whether writing for big band or smaller units. The silly but delightful story in the liner notes tells us that she'd been hearing the sound of a trumpet when writing, and found the perfect foil in the sounds coming from Sheppard's headphones. Closer to the truth is it was Sheppard who encouraged Bley to enlist Paolo Fresu for this recording. Simply put, after the great Enrico Rava there is no finer Italian trumpeter than Fresu, an intensely lyrical, warm-toned player who is capable of speedy bebop runs, to be sure (check his early sides for proof), but who favors a more lyrical approach to the music as many Italian jazzers do. Evidenced by Bley's compositions here, hiring Fresu for this outing was an inspired idea. The combination of Sheppard's big, raw-edged tenor with Fresu's rich and textured approach to both in-line exchange playing and as a soloist is perfect. The disc opens with the six-part "Banana Quintet." (It's obvious that Bley hasn't lost any of her dry ironic wit since her last outing.) It begins slowly on "One Banana," with Fresu's trumpet playing a six-note line, and is joined by the band repeating it with either extra or fewer notes from the same sequence to keep Bley's bars clean. They trade like this for three repetitions before the ballad unfolds with Fresu's solo, as lyrical and pastoral as a warm summer rain in the country. His long solo is followed by a gorgeous one by Swallow before the tune begins to wind down with Swallow coloring the lead line on his high strings in the high register. It's one of the most beautiful songs she has ever composed. The blues enters on "Two Banana," and the listener is treated to the utterly striking and beautiful contrast to this two-horn line. Sheppard solos first on tenor, as the band shuffles along and Bley colors his phrasing with elegant chords that nonetheless contain the hint of something darker in their force. Fresu picks up on the tail end of that solo with his own after twinning on long sustained notes, and he slides into the opposite chair, articulating something more graceful, but no less emotive. "Third Banana" reveals some of Bley's humor. Its odd phrasing, with Drummond punching in Sheppard's solo with accents, is belied by the sparseness of Bley's own comping, which certainly swings but is also highly idiosyncratic. "Four" is introduced by a bass and piano ostinato line that deeply resembles the Beatles' "I Want You/She's So Heavy." The coolest thing about the cut is the way Drummond comes on more forcefully as it unwinds. He's driving it whether it's from the bell of his cymbal, his snare, his oddly punctuated bass drum accents, or the entire kit, and that force begins to push the other players to meet him. Sheppard finally does, blowing right out of the blue with a deep dark blues line. It becomes apparent about two thirds of the way through that Bley is using that Beatles line verbatim, but it leads somewhere else before the tune empties itself out. There's a subtle yet groovy Latin vibe on "Five Banana" that has some very compelling and tighter, hotter solo work from Fresu. The rhythmic interplay between Swallow and Drummond is utterly entrancing and remarkable. The gorgeous chord voicing that underscore the solo lines by both Fresu and Sheppard are among some of Bley's tastiest yet. It's a kind of pronounced rhythmic counterpoint that uses the dynamic shapes and shades to offer something a little darker to the mix. There are three cuts outside "The Banana Quintet." There's the languid, sloping swing of "The Liver of Life," with some wonderful harmonic head playing by Sheppard and Fresu. "Death of Superman/Dream Sequence, No. 1: Flying" begins with another deeply song-like bass solo by Swallow and opens onto a limpid palette with breezy tones, at a ballad tempo. Sheppard's solo is spare but exquisite. Finally, "Ad Infinitium" offers Bley's post-bop composition at its best with a fine swinger that walks a line between mid- and quick tempo, gaining in both musculature and a chameleon-like set of changes that are negotiated wonderfully — especially by their notation in Drummond's skittering breakbeats. Once more, Fresu rises to a faster, tighter flight solo and is answered by Sheppard, the distance between those two sounds breached by the shifting of Bley's big chords, giving them both a wonderful chromatic line to walk. With all of her strengths on display here, from humor and a strict reliance on substance over her own considerable instrumental virtuosity, to her canny compositional skill at writing balanced and nuanced, elegant works that add to the actual literature of the music, this baby trumps the Lost Chords quartet date (it's sort of amazing that's even possible) in all the right places, making it arguably the finest small group record Bley's ever made.

Something For You 

I do love Eliane's playing, but when she sings..... oh my god !!! It's awful, terrible !!
the instrumental tracks are superb, and just forget the one she sings.

By Ken Dryden
Eliane Elias' return to the Blue Note label after a decade working elsewhere is a triumph. This salute to the late pianist Bill Evans, one of her favorite players, explores a number of songs he recorded, including both standards and originals. Evans' bassist from his final trio, Marc Johnson, is not only a long-time collaborator with Elias but also her husband; drummer Joey Baron rounds out the band. While Elias is influenced by Evans' playing style, his arrangements are only a launching pad for her approach to each tune; never does she sound like an obvious Evans clone. Her lush take of "My Foolish Heart" features Johnson on the late Scott LaFaro's bass (the talented Evans sideman who died in a 1961 car wreck just ten days after recording the landmark sets with the pianist at the Village Vanguard). "Evanesque" is a newly discovered work that came from a cassette given to Johnson by Evans, so Elias adjusted the work by incorporating new material with his conception. The freewheeling take of "Solar" is a masterful group improvisation upon the Miles Davis theme. Elias' moving ballad "After All" is a sincere tribute to Evans. She has also built confidence in her singing over time; always gifted with a tender, sensuous voice, Elias glides gently over Johnson's walking introduction to "A Sleepin' Bee" and offers an equally delicate "Walt for Debby." She wrote words to Evans' previously unknown "Here Is Something for You," which was also discovered on the cassette given to Johnson. It is heard in two versions, a solo version with voice and piano where Elias mostly closely mirrors Evans' playing, then the original rehearsal by Evans, which segues into an excerpt of Elias' new version. The Japanese version of this delightful CD features an added track, "Re: Person I Knew."


Her best CD in a long time, good tracks great playing and it comes with a DVD with the full program.

By Jeff Tamarkin
Like 2000s Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Lynne Arriale's first live album, her second, Live, brings out the best tendencies in her trio's playing. Arriale has long been established as one of the most creative and thoughtful pianists in jazz, and after ten years together she and her band — bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Steve Davis — know where one another is heading long before they get there, making for playfully intuitive and often unexpected interactions. Arriale's nimble-fingered, graceful excursions display both technique and heart, and though she rarely veers too far from the melody at a song's core, she's not finished with a piece until she's explored all of its possibilities. Much of the material performed here at the 2005 Burghausen Jazz Week in Germany appeared first on Arriale's studio recordings, including two very hip covers, the Beatles' "Come Together," which Arriale deconstructs and reconstructs in a most inventive manner, and the New Orleans standard "Iko Iko," which opens the recording. Arriale also enjoys tripping to the tropics, and both "Braziliana" and "Flamenco" (which, like the two aforementioned covers, appear on her 2004 Come Together album) are bold statements, the former a rhythmic tour de force and the latter a stunning example of Arriale's seamless fusing of classical and jazz elements. The trio's take on Abdullah Ibrahim's "Mountain of the Night" manages to remain absorbing even after 11-plus minutes without so much as a tempo change, and the set-closing take on Thelonious Monk's "Bemsha Swing" leaves little doubt that these musicians are more than willing to venture into deep and difficult waters. A DVD of the performance in 5.1 surround sound is also included in the package, adding a version of the standard "Alone Together" to the program.