By Michael G. Nastos
Fond of straight-ahead neo-bop themes and forward motion, acoustic upright bassist Ari Roland presents a focused and somewhat idiomatic but original kind of jazz that makes one ponder and concentrate a bit harder than if he and his group were playing predictable jazz standards. The nature of his music on this, his third album, sports parameters based in predecessors of the modern mainstream. But there's an edge to it that smells of spicy brown mustard, due to the unusual sound produced by tenor and alto saxophonist Chris Byars. Where lines are blurred and snaky trails are traceable, it is the elusive nature of Byars that compels you to listen closer, lest you miss a significant event. There's a harmonic kinship to Lee Konitz, Jimmy Giuffre, or the music of Andrew Hill that can be identified in the persona of Byars, but it could not ever be mistaken for the sharper tones of Jackie McLean or the rough-and-tumble fleetness of Phil Woods. With the excellent pianist Sacha Perry and reliable drummer Keith Balla, the Roland quartet proves to be a formidable four-piece searching for new swing-based territory to explore. The first three tracks of the recording hold course in a steady tempo, whether in a lyrical post-bop mood during "Damonesco," the angular Thelonious Monk-flavored "Village," or the strained forms and uncommon constructions Byars employs on "The Finder of Horsehair." For the melody in "Story of Three," the pace is the same, but the ongoing improvisational language Byars conjugates is impressive and Zen-like, even more off-minor as "Portrait of M." unfolds. A stark individualist, it would be tough to compare Byars with other younger players of his generation, but he's also able to fathom a looser, liquid feeling within a bop framework, as you hear on the faster "Folk Melody," and yes, he is capable of tender moments as rendered for the patient "Station Blues." While this is Roland's date, the strong, inexhaustible, and heady thinking man's sax of Byars is the focal point, commanding attention away from the others. Roland did compose these selections in total, and considering that all of the group's members save Balla have been performing regularly for over two decades since they were kids, there's a shared vision that comes across clearly. Where the dominant voice of the saxophone plays a big part in how this recording is heard, it also shows that the bassist is happy via this association with his bandmates, and has no problem relegating the spotlight, even if underneath it all, this is truly his music.
The Sinatra Songbook
By Scott Albin
Add Joe Temperley to the list of artists who have recorded worthy tributes to Sinatra, including Tony Bennett, Carol Sloane, Joe Lovano and even Biréli Lagrène (vocalizing!). Then again, with the Great American Songbook as the repertoire, how can you go wrong? Temperley’s salute comes 10 years after Sinatra’s death, and features heartfelt theme readings, passionate solos and rousing arrangements by Andy Farber and James Chirillo on the selections for octet. You can practically hear Sinatra singing along as Temperley croons the melodies on baritone and soprano sax. His sound on bari is sometimes cavernous yet tender, as on “Nancy (With the Laughing Face),” and at other times breathily insinuating like Ben Webster’s. His glowing soprano sax often evokes Sidney Bechet’s fervent edginess, especially on “Day by Day.” The two lovely miniature ballad interpretations by Temperley—the 2:49 quartet version of “In the Wee Small Hours,” and his 1:46 duet with guitarist Chirillo on “Goodbye”—say all you need to know about the leader’s appreciation of, and love for, Sinatra.
Farber’s clever, swinging arrangements of “Come Fly With Me,” “All the Way,” “I’ll Never Smile Again” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” are particularly noteworthy, capturing in their rich voicings elements of Nelson Riddle or the Count Basie Orchestra. Farber’s fine solo work on both tenor and alto (on the latter sounding very much like Benny Carter) should also be mentioned. All the other players get plenty of solo space as well, and all excel, namely trumpeter Ryan Kisor, trombonist John Allred, pianist Dan Nimmer, bassist John Webber and Chirillo. Leroy Williams’ drum work is impeccably tasteful throughout. The young Nimmer is a pianist to watch for, with an assured style on this date that exhibits flashes of Oscar Peterson, Erroll Garner and Red Garland.
Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet
By Raul D'Gama Rose
Profound spirituality and soulfulness is not a quality associated with secular music. However, once in awhile, even secular music reaches levels of such ecstasy that these elements become entwined in the heart of its melody and harmonic changes, as well as its iterant rhythm. Less often, this fusion is found at the confluence of mystic rivers of sound, where the myriad cultures of the world collide. Civilizations as ancient as Egypt, India and China have long held music in crucibles that have, for thousands of years, been beguilingly attractive to all those who follow the arts. This is not because of its shimmering undulations that Western eyes and ears see and hear in saffron curtains that tease the senses, but because spiritual and secular seem to meet at infinity, like parallel lines that mesmerize, enticing ever onward to its beckoning horizon.
Somewhere in a crucible all its own the music of guitarist Rez Abbasi sings. Natural Selection is a miraculous collision of the world of the color and nuanced sound of the Subcontinent; the ululations of Middle Eastern “muwashas,” traipsing across desert and mountain; and the near statuesque beauty of European impressionism, all wrapped up in the improvisatory idiom of jazz. It is natural selection, where all those useful elements have survived and become reborn in a brilliant new aesthetic wrought by a fertile mind, and the charming magic of fingers that flutter and glide over the guitar strings with riotous color, producing so vivid a music that it can almost be tasted, as it seeps into the secret recesses of the mind where pleasure is felt like pain. Despite the fact that he plays an instrument that many have excelled at--the acoustic guitar--Abbasi sounds like no one who has gone before him.
His guitar wails about unspeakable loss on “Lament,” undulating and tearing down the chart with surprising, bending glissandos, as he recreates the masterful music of the prince of Sufi sound, the late Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. And even Joe Henderson could not have imagined that his “Punjab” could be resurrected to fly in the face of genius from the strings of an acoustic guitar, playing off the echoes of the vibraphone. Abbasi's own creations are just that: sheer genius that rises out of murky, misty mountainous mornings, or crepuscular exchanges between his guitar and Bill Ware's vibes, as well as Stephen Crump's bass and Eric McPherson's percussion smatter. The composer posits that he heard this call-and-response in the music as it was being born. As a result, “Up on a Hill,” “When Night Falls,” “Bees” and “Blu Vindaloo” echoes with smearing and voice-like utterances in harmony, with the bronzed modulations of tubular bells that also echo with soulful grandeur. All of this, as the album's otherworldly character echoes long after the last notes have faded and died.
Lament; Pakistani Minor; Personal Mountains; Up on the Hill; When Light Falls; Bees; Blu Vindaloo; New Aesthetic; Punjab; Ain't No Sunshine.
Rez Abbasi: acoustic guitars; Bill Ware: vibraphone; Stephan Crump: acoustic bass; Eric McPherson: drums.
By Chris May
Copenhagen-born, London-based bassist Jasper Høiby has made a lot of noise--in both senses, all of it good--since graduating from the Royal Academy of Music and forming Phronesis in 2005. Høiby is a mainstay of several bands associated with the Loop and F-IRE musicians' collectives, and Alive is his third album with his own Phronesis, following Organic Warfare (2007) and Green Delay (2009), both on Loop Records. It was recorded over two nights at London's Forge Arts venue in March 2010 for keyboard player Dave Stapleton's Edition Records.
Edition has acquired a reputation for high production values, and here it has done Phronesis proud. In performance, the group can make even the late e.s.t. in all its rock-out pomp sound a little lightweight, driven hard as it is by Høiby's big, fat sound and deep grooves, and the vigorous drumming of Anton Eger--here replaced, due to his unavoidable absence from the Forge Arts gigs, by the equally highly-charged Mark Guiliana, an alumni of bassist Avishai Cohen's group. Edition engineer Matt Robertson has captured the passion of Phronesis live to create real edge-of-your-seat excitement.
Phronesis, however, is not your typical, common or garden groove machine. For a start, Høiby's writing--all the eight tunes here are originals, seven of them from the earlier albums--is complex, and for all their muscular intensity, his grooves and ostinatos are complex and shape-shifting. On top of that, pianist Ivo Neame--who joined the lineup with Green Delay--likes to work across rather than on the grooves, his expansive lyricism bringing a tension, and a degree of interest, to the music which simple groove-adherence would not deliver.
The relative weakness in Phronesis is in the compositions, which don't in themselves stick in the mind for long. But this is almost an irrelevance, because what ultimately makes the band so engaging is the interaction between the three players. And here, Høiby's choice of drummer dep was a good one, because Guiliana--who must, surely, have had some rehearsals beforehand--fits right in from the get go, bouncing off Høiby's lines with casual panache.
Too many albums, in the noughties, have outstayed their welcome with playing times far in excess of an hour. Less, often, is more. But Alive, which clocks in at over 73 minutes, is compelling without pause. It may “only” be a live recording, but the disc is certain to remain a landmark in Phronesis' catalogue for years to come.
Blue Inspiration; French; Eight Hours; Abraham's New Gift; Rue Cing Diamants; Happy Notes; Love Song; Untitled #2.
Jasper Høiby: double-bass; Ivo Neame: piano; Mark Guiliana: drums.
Who Knows Where The Time Goes
By Jason Byrne
Rondi Charleston is joined by:
Dave Stryker (guitar), Lynne Arriale (piano), James Genus (bass), Clarence Penn (drums), Brandon McCune (piano) and Mayra Casales (percussion).
The dozen breathtaking performances on Who Knows Where The Time Goes, singer and songwriter Rondi Charleston's upcoming Motéma Music release, are a showcase for one of the most compelling artists in contemporary music. Who Knows Where The Time Goes is the follow-up to her 2008, critically acclaimed release In My Life.
A storyteller by nature, and a dedicated vocalist, Charleston has established herself as a favorite among a core group of respected critics. The New York Times has called Rondi, ”utterly delightful...her emotional range is wide...a joy to hear.” And Grammy-winning journalist and music historian Bob Blumenthal considers her, ...”that rare combination of native talent and keen perception...a commanding vocal stylist and a spellbinding storyteller...”
Performing music is as natural as storytelling for the Juilliard-trained Charleston, whose instinct provides the warm lucidity of her work on Who Knows Where the Time Goes.
The former Chicago native's luminous rhythmic flexibility and immediate timbral richness are heard throughout the recording, whether confessing the longings of “Please Send Me Someone to Love” or demonstrating a force as strong as gravity on her originals, “Dance of Time,” the remarkable tale of “Land of Galilee,” or reflections on the heart-wrenching ancestral journey in “Your Spirit Lingers,” Charleston writes and sings with full engagement and zero pretense, wasting no words.
Motéma Music owner/label head Jana Herzen said of Rondi's signing, “I treasure her passion, vision and talent for perceiving and telling compelling, universal stories. The arts for me are all about the journey, and Rondi has much to share on that front.”
Blending her diverse careers in music and media, the collection of tunes on Who Knows Where the Time Goes, including the title song, are marked by honest words, skillful writing and intelligent music. Charleston's unique style is a wonderfully accessible form of jazz and jazz-inspired songs all delivered with the ease of the classic American Standard or the brilliant simplicity of a Top 40 pop tune.