Monday, July 05, 2010

2 Sem. Reviews 2010 - Part One

Jeremy Pelt
Men Of Honor

By Joel Roberts
The title of firebrand trumpeter Jeremy Pelt's Men of Honor refers to the members of his quintet who, like their leader here, are among the foremost 30-something neo-bop players in jazz today. The album is a follow-up to Pelt's acclaimed November (MAXJAZZ, 2008), which marked this all-acoustic quintet's debut, and came on the heels of a couple of releases that explored a sort of early-1970s electric Miles Davis vibe.
Heralded for years as one of the "rising stars" in jazz, Pelt has earned accolades for his staggering virtuosity, which has elicited comparisons to trumpet icons like Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard, as well as for his studious, cerebral approach to the music. While he's clearly the man in charge here, Men of Honor is very much a band-focused release, with all five members of the group contributing compositions (Pelt penned four of the tunes) and all five voices heard distinctively and insistently throughout.
Pelt's group is that rarest of all things in jazz, a working band, and the familiarity and instant communication that come from extensive time spent playing together is evident. J.D. Allen is a perfect frontline partner for Pelt, his rich tenor sax sound offering a mellow counterpoint to the trumpeter's crisp, vivid tone. And the rhythm section of pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Dwayne Burno and powerhouse drummer Gerald Cleaver is as dynamic as any working in jazz at the moment.
Among the standout tracks are Burno's strutting opener, "Backroad," Pelt's energetic ode to his new son, "Milo Hayward," and Grissett's romantic closer, "Without You." Most of the tunes here fall nominally under the rubric of post-bop, but some, like Pelt's "Danny Mack," edge further outside, with Grissett pounding out dissonant chords while Pelt and Allen solo furiously.
At 33, Pelt is just starting to come into his own. Men of Honor is his most mature, satisfying release to date and a great way to start 2010 in jazz.
Track listing:
Backroad; Milo Hayward; Brooklyn Bound; Danny Mack; From a Life of the Same Name; Illusion; Us/Them; Without You.
Jeremy Pelt: trumpet; J.D. Allen: tenor saxophone; Danny Grissett: piano; Dwayne Burno: bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums.

Aaron Goldberg

By Michael G. Nastos
Aaron Goldberg's star in modern jazz has constantly been on the rise, especially as an accompanist. With Home, he establishes a delicate balance between the softer side of modern mainstream music à la Bill Evans with the more advanced harmonic approach of Keith Jarrett, while occasionally adding some rock-'em sock-'em neo-bop to the proceedings. These are mainly trio sessions with bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland, but on occasion tenor saxophonist Mark Turner joins in, though his voicings are merely icing on the cake. Recalling giants like Frank Emilio Flynn and Ernesto Lecuona, Goldberg beautifully renders the Pablo Milanés song "Canción por la Unidad Latino America" with full grace in a classical sense and adds stark mystery to the title track and an upbeat film noir mode to "The Rules." Many of these tracks are in waltz tempo and are pretty beyond simple chord structures, even dipping into serenity and for one ballad, placidity. But Goldberg can't help shredding Thelonious Monk's "I Mean You" in a frenetic fever pitch, zooming along in atypical neo-bop fashion with Turner during "Aze's Blues," and working the six beats in four technique through the Latin montuno take of Steve Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely." Goldberg arrived on the scene during the decade of the 2000s, but by 2010 was firmly established as one of the more musical modern jazz pianists, as heard throughout on this excellent disc.

Ahmad Jamal
A Quite Time

By Michael G. Nastos
Well into his golden years, Ahmad Jamal continues to tour and record with the vigor of a man half his age. What is also evident is that his artistic sense is as high as it has ever been, as he consistently doles out fresh new melodies charged by his extraordinary talent, which is hardly reined in. A Quiet Time might be a bit deceiving in that there's plenty of Jamal's energy to go around on this set of originals and two standards, sans ballads except for the finale "I Hear a Rhapsody." With longtime partners in bassist James Cammack and drummer Kenny Washington, Jamal breeds the utmost confidence that his music succeeds on the upper end of modern mainstream jazz. Percussionist Manolo Badrena (ex-Weather Report) spices up the music without overt Latin overtures, and balances the swing inherent in Jamal's style. When you hear Jamal's fast and loose but controlled "Paris After Dark" in swinging or heavy modal context, you know your are listening to an undisputed master craftsman at work. The bouncy track "Flight to Russia" has Cammack's bass locked in tight with the others, while Jamal's bright dancing lines across the keyboard during "Tranquility," and his heavy-to-lighter traipsing of notes for the title track indicate that this pianist has plenty in the tank in terms of sheer artistry. While he does a rather polite version of Randy Weston's "Hi-Fly," the contemporary beat of "The Blooming Flower" suggests it is an updated version of his all-time favorite "Poinciana." More of his originals include the cascading freedom exuded in "Poetry" as notes tumble from waterfalls, while the lilting to free to tick-tock pace of "After JALC" proves Jamal can shift gears at will effortlessly. There's nothing even remotely mediocre or rote about this effort, as Ahmad Jamal proves once again his viability to play jazz piano music is still on the rise, and inspired beyond most mortals.

Bill Carrothers
Joy Spring

By Ken Dryden
Trumpeter Clifford Brown was killed in a car wreck (with pianist Richie Powell and his wife) before he reached his 26th birthday in 1956, but he left a phenomenal recorded legacy in his brief life. Yet aside from his compositions "Joy Spring" and "Daahoud," little else that he wrote while he co-led his band with Max Roach has been explored in depth by jazz musicians. Pianist Bill Carrothers corrects that oversight by exploring several of his pieces (along with four by Powell) in this trio session with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Bill Stewart. "Joy Spring" has long been a favorite of jazz musicians for its upbeat bop theme, though Carrothers surprisingly transforms it into a haunting, slow meditative ballad that proves just as effective. His approach to "Daahoud" is more conventional though no less impressive. It is odd that the playful "Tiny Capers" hasn't received more attention; the trio digs full force into this intricate bop vehicle. Richie Powell's compositions have also been overlooked, though like Brown, he would have likely grown in stature had he lived longer. His demanding "Jacqui" and furious "Powell's Prances" provide suitable fuel for the trio. Two pieces recorded by the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet also merit praise. Carrothers' ominous setting of Duke Jordan's "Jordu" proves humorous, while Victor Young's "Delilah" is enchanting. The session wraps with a particularly brooding take of "I Remember Clifford," Benny Golson's memorial tribute to the trumpeter written not long after the crash that took his life.

Brian Charette

The hoary Hammond organ is an instrument oddly resistant to revolutionary application. A survey of its history in jazz yields only a comparative handful of players who have taken it to truly new places. Brian Charette isn't among that select few, but he does have something valuable to say as evidenced by the pleasures and strengths indicative to this debut. It's no coincidence that he counts Steeplechase label mate Gary Versace as a colleague. Both men take the lineage of Jimmy Smith through Larry Young as their starting points and build a personal voice from there. Johns Patterson and Patton are also prevalent progenitors in Charette's approach through the audible affinity for modal forms and knotty harmonic contours that informs his eight originals, starting with the high protein swing of “Yolk".Guitarist Ben Monder and drummer Jochen Rckert are sidemen in a sense, but Charette involves the former in equal footing on most pieces. Monder employs a welcome versatility in timbre and attack. His thick, viscous amplification on Charette's boppish burner “Public Transportation" echoes the sort of corrugated tone preferred by classic Smith confreres like Thornel Schwartz and Gene Edwards. Monder's far more nimble with a plectrum than either man could ever claim. His switches from chordal and octave play to driving single note runs are often dizzyingly deft. A satisfying piece on several fronts, it's also a rare chance for Rckert to slip outside his creative time-keeping role for a spate of blistering breaks. The alternately lithe and lilting “Look Elsewhere" shows off his adroitness with a bouncing bossa beat. Charette nearly falls foul of the more sentimental side of the organ vernacular on “Silicone Doll", but the other ballad features on the program keep an even keel. A solitary exploration of “You've Changed" demonstrates a Smith-degree of dexterity as he juggles bass pedal swells with converging counter melodies advanced by both hands. The trio navigates the romantic straights of Ellington's “Prelude to a Kiss" with similar aplomb and attention paid to Rckert's fluttery brushwork. “Furthering Adventures", “Altered Waltz", “Girls" and particularly the closing “Wish List" veritably ooze with late-Sixties postbop experimentalism. All benefit from a near even balance of solo space for organ and guitar and plenty of devious twists and turns. Charette's arrangement of Strayhorn's “Upper Manhattan Medical Group" swings nearly as hard. In the accompanying notes, he describes this set as slightly more traditional than the trio's typical fare. Given the galvanizing level of adventurousness on hand, here's hoping they opt to document that status quo on a second outing.

Sheila Cooper with Fritz Pauer
Tales of Love and Longing

By Scott Yanow
Sheila Cooper is a talented singer who also plays alto, or is she actually a Lee Konitz-inspired altoist who also sings? On Tales of Love and Longing, she performs duets with veteran pianist Fritz Pauer that — given her two talents — seem like trios. In keeping with the CD's title, most of the music is taken at slow tempos and has lyrics dealing with some aspect of love. A happy change of pace is a medium-tempo instrumental version of "How Deep Is the Ocean?" that, after four straight slow ballads, really wakes up the CD. Other departures include Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman," Cooper's original "I Gravitate to You," and her unaccompanied alto statement on "Body and Soul." But in general this is a set of slow ballads, sung with an aching longing and very sincere feeling by a subtle singer who shows a great deal of promise.

Wycliffe Gordon
Cone and T-Staff

By Michael G. Nastos
While Wycliffe Gordon is the identified leader on Cone and T-Staff, this is just as much a cooperative effort by the trombonist and bandmate trumpeter Terell Stafford. What they have in common here is that they are soft served, but not verbally or musically — both utilizing bell mutes on quite a few of these selections, the two veteran brass players swing together swiftly or lightly through this program of modern mainstream jazz and three originals. Everyone, including pianist Mike LeDonne, is in good form, as the quintet moves in and out of bop, classic standards, soul-jazz, and modal music played effortlessly. The 6/8 Wes Montgomery evergreen "West Coast Blues," Curtis Fuller's stirring midtempo "Arabia," the bebop icon "Robbin's Nest," and the Kenny Washington bass lead on Oscar Pettiford's "Tricotism" are played with high professionalism, easily enjoyable to all. Stafford's bluesy "Cousins," with mutes in full blush, and the neo-bop clockwork of "La Marieur" could both quickly become standards alongside the others, as they are attractive melodically and rhythmically. Gordon and Stafford have excelled as leaders in their own right, but together they are a precious tandem, like a modern-day J.J. Johnson and Lee Morgan, here on the cozy, cushy side.

Champian Fulton
The Breeze and I

By Ken Dryden
Since her arrival in New York City after earning her music degree at SUNY-Purchase Music Conservatory, Champian Fulton has been a regular performer in Manhattan clubs and restaurants. Gifted with an expressive voice and chops at the piano to match, Fulton is the kind of performer who engages her listeners and draws them into her world with her interpretations of standards and a few once-popular songs that are overlooked by most singers of her generation, many of them played by her favorite jazz pianists of the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. Working with her regular trio, bassist Neal Miner and drummer Fukushi Tainaka, there are several outstanding tracks among the vocal selections, including her cheery, conversational take of "Exactly Like You" and her expression of the dual nature of "I'm Confessin'." It's hard not to mention Fulton's deliberate rendition of "If I Had You," which showcases her Erroll Garner-like piano solo and eventual vocal tag. The instrumental tracks are just as potent. She infuses Harold Land's "Land's End" with a sly humor in a loping setting, while her breezy take of "The Sheik of Araby" incorporates several playful quotes (including "Moose the Mooche" among others), also featuring Tainaka's snappy brushwork. "The Breeze and I" is also in good hands with Fulton, incorporating both a Latin air and swinging hard bop. The pianist shines with her rhythmic, breezy setting of "My Heart Stood Still." The music of Champian Fulton can't help but uplift a jazz fan's day.

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