Sunday, July 10, 2011

2 Sem 2011 - Part One

Jessica Williams
Freedom Trane

Cover (Freedom Trane:Jessica Williams)

by Alex Henderson
John Coltrane tributes are not hard to find in the jazz world, and different tributes will celebrate different periods of the saxophone innovator's career. Some tributes pay homage to Coltrane's hard bop period (as in "Giant Steps," "Moment's Notice," and "Lazy Bird"), others pay homage to his modal post-bop period of roughly 1960-1964, and some pay homage to his radically avant-garde free jazz period of 1965-1967 (the last few years of his life). Jessica Williams' Freedom Trane, it turns out, is essentially a tribute to modal post-bop Coltrane on Atlantic and Impulse, and the acoustic pianist leads an intimate trio that employs Dave Captein on upright bass and Mel Brown on drums. The thing that separates Freedom Trane from many of the other tributes to modal post-bop Coltrane is the fact that Williams offers a combination of familiar Coltrane compositions and original material. She puts a piano-trio spin on the Coltrane pieces "Naima," "Lonnie's Lament," and "Welcome," but she also plays four original compositions that are mindful of Coltrane's modal period -- "The Seeker," "Just Words," "Prayer and Meditation," and the title track -- and she demonstrates that a session can be Coltrane-minded even without the presence of a saxophonist. That said, Williams never allows her own personality to become obscured on Freedom Trane; this 2007 date always sounds like a Jessica Williams project even though she is fondly remembering the contributions of an iconic jazz master. And one of the ways in which Williams fondly remembers Coltrane is by celebrating the spiritual aspects of his playing and composing. It's no secret that Coltrane was greatly influenced by eastern religion in the '60s; Williams is obviously well aware of that fact, and in the CD's liner notes, she writes, "Right now, John's beautiful album, A Love Supreme (on Impulse), is on my CD player. I've lit a few candles and am burning some incense." And that imagery from Williams really speaks volumes about the way she identifies with Coltrane's spirituality on Freedom Trane, which finds the pianist in consistently excellent form.

Dave Peck
Modern Romance

Cover (Modern Romance: Live at Jazz Alley:Dave Peck)

by Let’s Play Stella Records
Dave Peck’s newest recording, "Modern Romance". Recorded live at Jazz Alley in Seattle in the fall of 2007 this set of standard songs from the Great American Songbook continues the trio’s exploration into the reinvention of the jazz piano trio.
Joining Dave is Jeff Johnson on bass and Joe La Barbera on drums. Both rhythmic and romantic, the trio uses the standard repertoire as a framework for new composition and form. Their work is rich, intuitive, and harmonically complex with a unique and signature sound. Peck who is known for his deeply introspective and passionate style and for his focus on the profound beauty he finds in the narrative of this music has been lauded by the jazz press for his award winning CD’s.
On "Modern Romance" Dave and the trio bring to this set of familiar standards a modern and fresh approach. Included are "Bye Bye Blackbird", "East of the Sun", "Lover Man", "They Say it’s Wonderful", "If I Should Lose You", "I Got it Bad and That Ain’t Good". The music is surprising and beautiful and comes to the listener in a swinging and easy way. The songs are love songs, old love songs but the interpretation is distinctly contemporary.
Peck and Johnson have each discovered creative ways of playing. They have conceived their own dialect which they speak at every moment with true and pure improvisation. With the addition of Joe La Barbera the trio becomes grounded but not contained. Three original voices thoroughly influenced by the past and by their experience and yet newly invented at each performance. This is jazz.

Yakov Okun
New York Encounter

Cover (New York Encounter:Yakov Okun Trio)

by Criss Cross
A major force in Russian Jazz since the mid ‘90s, pianist Yakov Okun, finally places himself on the international stage with his Criss Cross debut, a trio date with world-class bass-drum team Ben Street and Billy Drummond, on which he mixes challenging original material with strong arrangements and less traveled Songbook repertoire and tunes by Sonny Rollins and Fats Waller.
At 38, Okun is an individualistic voice, an important player, able in his improvisations to refract an entire timeline of jazz vocabulary in a cogent, compositional manner.

1. Pent-Up Chaos (Sonny Rollins / Yakov Okun)
2. Kind Bug (Antonio Spadavecchia)
3. Spillikins (Yakov Okun)
4. Jitterbug Waltz (Fats Waller)
5. Eric Dolphy's Tomb (Yakov Okun)
6. Falling In Love Again (Frederick Holllander)
7. Plain Jane (Sonny Rollins)
8. Giant Steps (John Coltrane)
9. Heaven (Duke Ellington)
Total Time: 57:04
Recorded November 11, 2010 in Brooklyn, NY, USA by Joe Marciano

Dado Moroni
Live In Beverly Hills

Cover (Live in Beverly Hills:Dado Moroni)

by Ken Dryden
Dado Moroni has had an impressive career since emerging on the European jazz scene in the early 1990s, having recorded as a sideman with Clark Terry, Tom Harrell, and extensively with Swiss alto saxophonist George Robert, in addition to his work as a leader. Live in Beverly Hills is his first opportunity to record as a leader for an American label, featuring the pianist with veteran drummer Peter Erskine and bassist Marco Panascia, recorded and videotaped at the Rising Jazz Stars over two nights in early 2010. Among the highlights is his lively bossa nova setting of John Lewis' "Django," the intimate interpretation of Lionel Bart's "Where Is Love" (from the musical Oliver!), Ron Carter's playful bop vehicle "Einbahnstrasse," and the leader's infectious "Ghanian Village," the latter buoyed by Erskine's versatile drumming. The bonus DVD disc (which is Blu-Ray) contains all of the CD selections plus two bonus tracks, an impromptu blues, and a brief piano solo. In spite of the difficulty of videotaping on a cramped stage in a crowded nightclub, the camera angles are excellent, with numerous closeups where one can see both Moroni and his handiwork on the keyboard, while the editing is tight without excessive jumping around between different camera angles.

Bob Brookmeyer
Music For String Quartet and Orchestra

Cover (Bob Brookmeyer: Music for String Quartet and Orchestra:Bob Brookmeyer)

by Ken Dryden
Bob Brookmeyer has long been an important jazz trombonist, composer, and arranger, recording many of his own albums, in addition to working with Gerry Mulligan, the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, and many others. But he also began writing for classical ensembles during the '80s, so when he was approached about a commission to write for the Gustav Klimt String Quartet, he jumped at the chance. After some initial recording, he decided to write an additional work and the Metropole Orchestra was added to the project, necessitating the re-recording of everything, with Brookmeyer conducting. Anyone who has heard Brookmeyer's compelling work New Works Celebration (which was written for Mulligan to perform with a large orchestra) will recognize the composer's style immediately. The opening track, "Fanfares and Folk Song," is a furious, exuberant number showcasing the full orchestra, then ending with just the string quartet and an unidentified pianist. The somber "American Beauty" initially sounds like a requiem, with its mournful feature for cello, though it blossoms into a tender tone poem. The complex yet joyous "A Frolic and a Tune" is full of surprising twists, while the tense "Wood Dance" provides a dramatic closing. Arguments may ensue among listeners as how to label this enticing music, but Duke Ellington's favorite description of works he enjoyed hearing as "beyond category" is more than sufficient.

Kit Downes Trio
Quiet Tiger

Cover (Quiet Tiger:Kit Downes)

By Bruce Lindsay
The Kit Downes Trio's first album, Golden (Basho Records, 2009), won a Mercury Music Prize nomination and put the group firmly at the forefront of British jazz. Quiet Tiger finds the Trio eager to move forward, redefining its sound. Not content to rest on the laurels garnered by Golden, pianist and composer Downes has augmented the band, expanding its musical palette with the unusual addition of tenor saxophone, bass clarinet and cello.
At heart, though, this is still a trio, and bassist Calum Gourlay and drummer James Maddren remain central to the band's identity. Gourlay is an undemonstrative but focused player who seems to radiate calmness. Maddren is one of the most distinctive drummers around, his inventive playfulness ensuring that his percussion constantly surprises. Downes' playing is considered, thoughtful and often exquisite; his writing equally inventive and intriguing.
The new instrumentation is provided by reed player James Allsopp--leader of The Golden Age Of Steam, in which Downes plays Hammond organ and Wurlitzer--and cellist Adrien Dennefeld. They appear on all but three of the tunes, and their impact is undeniably effective, lending an air of mystery and suspense to the music. Dennefeld, like Gourlay, tends to shun the musical limelight; his presence is not always obvious, but his understated performances are incisive. Allsopp is much more upfront, often overdubbing his two instruments to add depth to his sound.
On “Attached,” Allsopp and Dennefeld create a somber, melancholy atmosphere through the use of long, wave-like phrases. “Wooden Birds” is a curious, dreamlike tune featuring Downes' tinkling, bright, piano patterns. “Skip James” is languid, reflective and sad--the title suggesting a tribute to the great bluesman--but it could well be Downes' instruction to Maddren, and features some rolling piano phrases and a plaintive bass solo. “The Wizards” opens with a duet between Allsopp, on tenor sax, and Maddren, with Allsopp keeping things fairly simple as the drummer jumps and swings across the kit.
Of the trio numbers “In Brixen” is the most beautiful: a lyrical and flowing tune underpinned by Gourlay's lovely bass groove. On “Fonias” Downes' piano playing is spacious and delicate, the most classical-sounding and romantic playing on the album. “Frizzi Pazzi” finds Downes firmly in Thelonious Monk territory, with phrases reminiscent of Monk's “Suburban Eyes.”
The cover of Quiet Tiger is absolutely gorgeous, the work of Scottish artist Lesley Barnes, who is collaborating with the band on an animation project--another indication of Downes' ambition and exploratory energy. Golden was an emphatic debut, and Quiet Tiger takes things onward and upward: refusing to simply recreate the debut's successful formula, Downes and his fellow musicians are moving in fascinating and engaging new directions.
Track Listing:Boreal; Tambourine; With a View; Frizzi Pazzi; Attached; In Brixen; Wooden Birds; Fonias; The Wizards; Skip James; Quiet Tiger.
Personnel: Kit Downes: piano; Calum Gourlay: double-bass; James Maddren: drums: James Allsopp: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Adrien Dennefeld: cello.    

Rick Germanson Trio
Off The Cuff

Cover (Off the Cuff:Rick Germanson)

By John Kelman
With so many mainstream piano trios flooding the market, it's increasingly difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. It's easier when, in the instance of a Brad Mehldau, John Taylor or Enrico Pieranunzi, the artist's voice is so distinctive and approach so readily identifiable that there can be little doubt of its relevance. It becomes a greater challenge with pianists working this space who combine original composition with the Great American Songbook and, occasionally, more contemporary popular sources. Still, there are pianists who, in their unassuming honesty, feel and touch, rise above the crowded arena. Like Lenore Raphael, who brings elegance and charm to everything she touches, Milwaukee native/New York resident Rick Germanson is a straight-ahead player who may not move the music forward in great leaps, but plays without presumption, approaching everything he touches with heart, soul and improvisational élan.
Off the Cuff features Germanson's new trio, with Gerald Cannon back from You Tell Me (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2005) and Louis Hayes replacing the more outgoing Ralph Peterson. Hayes' more delicate approach may contribute to Off the Cuff's more graceful experience, but the trio can when it wants to, as it does with aplomb on the short but sweet Arlen/Mercer classic, “The Dream's On Me.” The veteran Hayes who, over the course of 40 years, has played with legends including Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderley, Woody Shaw and McCoy Tyner, approaches the music with a largely light touch, although he hits hard on his equally brief and impressive solo over the ending ostinato of “The Dream's On Me,” a clear album highlight along with his intro to Germanson's fiery “Brick.”
Cannon's a younger player with a less extensive pedigree, but with work ranging from Roy Hargrove and Peterson to Sherman Irby and Steve Turré, it's clear that he's a capable player who can (and does) work hand-in-glove with Hayes as a strong rhythm partner, while delivering his own share of strong and confident solo work on tunes including Germanson's ambling “Daytona,” where the pianist's riff-based intro leads into a comfortable swing to provide the bassist all the freedom he needs. There may be clear delineation of solos on the disc, but when Cannon and Hayes enter on Germanson's challengingly fervent “Jill's Song,” it's clearly an egalitarian unit with strong ties to the Bill Evans school.
Germanson, whose history includes work with Pat Martino, Eddie Henderson and Tom Harrell, may fit firmly in the mainstream, but his harmonic sophistication places him a little more left-of-center than many. His solo piano feature, “The Way of Water,” combines abstract impressionism and brief moments of more vibrant expressionism, while he exercises just the right combination of reverence and flexibility on Vernon Duke's enduring ballad, “Autumn in New York,” stretching it out to become the disc's longest track without ever overstaying his welcome.
Germanson may not rattle any revolutionary cages with Off the Cuff but it's a compelling set, played with heart and honesty, that demonstrates why mainstream jazz and the music at its foundation continues to possess popular appeal.
Track Listing:Quagmire; Jill's Song; Daytona; Up Jumped Spring; The Time the Dream's on Me; Wives and Lovers; The Way of Water; Autumn in New York; Brick; Any Thoughts?
Personnel: Rick Germanson: piano; Gerald Cannon: bass; Louis Hayes: drums.

Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band
That's How We Roll

Cover (That's How We Roll:Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band)

by Alex Henderson
Upon seeing the title That's How We Roll, people who don't know anything about the history of pianist/tenor saxophonist Gordon Goodwin and his Big Phat Band might assume that this is a hip-hop recording. "That's how we roll" is a popular expression in hip-hop circles (at least as of 2011), but like a lot of the bebop and hipster slang of the '40s and '50s, hip-hop slang often reaches people who aren't necessarily part of hip-hop's core audience, and that includes a jazz instrumentalist like Goodwin, who is jazz-oriented on this 67-minute CD but doesn't conduct himself like a jazz purist from start to finish. Goodwin has his traditional big-band influences (Count Basie, Buddy Rich), but it's obvious that he also has a taste for soul and funk; in fact, some of the horn arrangements on That's How We Roll successfully find the link between Basie's funkiness and the funkiness of '70s funk/soul bands such as Parliament/Funkadelic, Tower of Power and Earth, Wind & Fire. That's How We Roll has its share of tracks that could easily be described as big-band soul-jazz, including "Rippin' n Runnin'," "Howdiz Songo?," and the title tune. But "Race to the Bridge" and "Gaining on You" have boppish melodies, and Goodwin's hard-swinging arrangement of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" (which is the only song on this 2011 release he didn't compose) is quite Basie-minded. Meanwhile, the least jazz-friendly track is "Never Enough," which features Take 6 and is the only vocal offering on a predominantly instrumental CD; "Never Enough" is the only time the album ventures into outright funk (as opposed to jazz-funk or soul-jazz). That's How We Roll is not an album that was recorded with jazz purists in mind, and at the same time, there is way too much improvisation for the smooth jazz crowd. But this is an enjoyable outing if one is seriously into big-band jazz and also has a strong appreciation of soul and funk.

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