Down With It
By David A. Orthmann
As jazz moves in many different directions and breaks free from the all too familiar and readily categorized sounds of its first century, how does an artist make bebop sound like something other than an exercise in nostalgia or an academic pursuit? In the hands of the thirty-four year-old alto saxophonist Dmitry Baevsky, bop is still a vein worth mining. Down With It, Baevsky's third date as a leader, contains an inspired selection of material, smart execution, and some marvelously telling details.
Each member of the quartet, with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt joining them on four of the nine tracks, plays his role to perfection. In nailing a ludicrously fast tempo on the head of “Down With It,” bassist David Wong and drummer Jason Brown show no signs of strain. Baevsky's keening alto states Bud Powell's edgy, crackling melody with crisp economy. Pianist Jeb Patton dogs Baevsky every step of the way and, despite the band's wicked pace, sometimes his chords jump out and take on a life of their own. Brown's brief, flickering snare fills add just a little more thrust to the proceedings. All in all, the band's performance serves as a reminder that, at its best, bebop is truly a joyous, playful music.
Another highlight of a record which contains no mediocre tracks is Gigi Gryce's “Shabozz.” The head makes a smooth transition from a sixteen bar Latin intro to medium tempo swing. Wong's walking bass line gives the band the right amount of lift. Goosed by Brown's snare drum accents--some of them more felt than heard--Pelt's solo is short on pyrotechnics and long on melodic invention. Every note sounds like it's played with Wong and Brown in mind. Baevsky takes a more aggressive stance. He balances long, twisting passages and shorter thoughts which adhere to the rhythm section's firm foundation.
Sonny Rollins' “Decision” contains some of Baevsky's finest improvising of the set. Once again, there's a palpable connection between his alto and the rhythm section--one really can't be separated from the other. The tune is taken at what Kenny Washington once referred to as an “adult tempo,” a pace somewhere between slow and medium which requires patience seldom found in the young. Though Baevsky eventually builds to a satisfying climax, what stays in mind is the way--particularly during the first chorus--he delivers a short phrase, briefly pauses to let it take effect, and then finds another one.
To their credit, Baevsky and his cohorts don't invite facile comparisons to giants from a bygone era. Down With It is an excellent recording that stands on its own merits.
Track Listing: Down With It; Mount Harissa; We See; LaRue; Shabozz; Last Night When We Were Young; Decision; Webb City; I'll String Along With You.
Personnel: Dmitry Baevsky: alto saxophone; Jeremy Pelt: trumpet (4, 5, 7, 8); Jeb Patton: piano; David Wong: bass; Jason Brown: drums.
by Phil Freeman
The latest CD by Bay Area pianist Art Hirahara asks the question "Yes, but why?" It's a tasteful, swinging, well-played piano trio disc that features four standards (Arthur Altman's "All or Nothing at All," most strongly identified with Frank Sinatra; Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma"; Duke Ellington's "Isfahan"; and Cole Porter's "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye") sprinkled among eight Hirahara originals. The rhythm section -- bassist Yoshi Waki and drummer Dan Aran -- swings with subtle force, keeping the music moving forward at all times, even during ballads. Hirahara's playing is lyrical and yet somewhat middle of the road, somewhere between Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, displaying plenty of technique and ably blending melody and groove. There's very little here that will convince any listener that he's an indispensable figure in jazz, though. He's just a capable pianist with a decent compositional voice, and this disc is the kind of thing one can put on in the background at a party without disturbing anyone's conversation.
The Dancing Monk
By Ron Wynn
Pianist Eric Reed has a striking, identifiable style that is expressive and swinging yet can also be lyrical or introspective. Whether part of Wynton Marsalis’ band or working with great singers (Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves) and jazz giants (Benny Carter, Clark Terry), Reed’s solos and accompaniment always seem to add a fresh, vital component. On this collection of Thelonious Monk repertoire, he carefully balances personal touches with the signature twists, changes and melodic quirks that are part of the icon’s appeal. He also deftly balances lesser-performed pieces (“Ask Me Now,” “Ugly Beauty,” “Reflections”) with familiar selections (“’Round Midnight,” “Blue Monk”), while foregoing a couple numbers that usually appear on this type of session (“Straight No Chaser,” “Epistrophy”).
Reed has ideal mates in bassist Ben Wolfe and drummer McClenty Hunter; Wolfe’s playing is easy and fluid, Hunter’s flexible and steady. Whether the song requires aggression (“Eronel,” “The Dancing Monk”) or complementary embellishment (“Light Blue,” “Blue Monk,” “Ruby, My Dear”) they mesh effortlessly in ensemble parts and also excel in solo sections. While Reed will occasionally accelerate a tune’s pace or add some extra rhythmic punch, he doesn’t tamper with Monk’s beloved melodies. The flourishes most often arrive near the end or in the midst of solos, when he scampers through changes and eases his way back into the original’s familiar patterns.
Ultimately Eric Reed honors Monk’s compositions without resorting to straight repertory, blatant imitation or exaggerated treatments. It’s a respectful yet inventive method, and his disc represents the finest possible tribute to a genius and innovator.
Scott Hamilton & Rossano Sportiello
Midnight At Nola's Pethhouse
by Ken Dryden
Scott Hamilton emerged in the mid-'70s as a player who had a gift for creating a lush, swinging sound, regardless of the tempo or style. His partner on this 2010 studio session, Italian pianist Rossano Sportiello, is two decades younger, but the perfect partner. Their program includes a mix of standards and lesser-known songs, all played with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of beauty. "A Garden in the Rain" isn't the first ballad one would expect a jazz duo to choose, but the lush interpretation here could launch others into investigating its potential. Hamilton's boisterous playing is boosted by Sportiello's driving accompaniment, with the influence of the late Dave McKenna apparent. "Big Butter and Egg Man" is rarely played outside of traditional jazz/New Orleans jazz, but their brisk, lyrical interpretation should open some ears. They also sizzle with their driving rendition of "All God's Chillun' Got Rhythm," with plenty of fireworks as they trade the lead. This rewarding date deserves a follow-up meeting.
Bond: The Paris Sessions
by Ken Dryden
Gerald Clayton has been one of the bright lights of his generation, playing with the Clayton Brothers (co-led by his father and uncle), accompanying instrumentalists (Roy Hargrove, Don Braden, and Ambrose Akinmusire), jazz vocalists (Roberta Gambarini, Diana Krall, and Melissa Morgan), jazz-pop singers (Michael Bublé and Reneé Olstead), in addition to leading his own band and composing. His second release as a leader is a trio session with bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Justin Brown, plus some solo piano tracks. His interpretations of standards are remarkably fresh, considering how often they have been recorded in a jazz setting. He sets up "If I Were a Bell" with a subtle vamp as he slowly works his way into it, delivering a witty performance well supported by his sidemen. Clayton eschews the famous introduction to "All the Things You Are" added by Dizzy Gillespie, preferring to delve directly into the song, with a tense, understated approach that simmers but never reaches the boiling point. His solo take of "Nobody Else But Me" is full of intricately interwoven lines while still swinging like mad. Where Clayton really stands apart from young musicians of his generation is as a composer. He shows a surprising maturity for his age, as his pieces display a wealth of stylistic influences yet retain memorable themes that hold one's interest as well. Highlights including his dramatic three-part suite, his Impressionist "Sun Glimpse," and the touching lyrical ballad "Hank."