Lee Konitz/ Brad Mehldau/ Charlie Haden/ Paul Motian
Live At Birdland
By Phil Freeman
"Boring" feels like such a pejorative description. It's better to call this all-star summit conference of sleepy time jazz players, led by alto saxophonist Lee Konitz and including pianist Brad Mehldau and bassist Charlie Haden, in addition to Paul Motian on drums, "stately," "refined," or "relaxed". The fact that the tunes -- all standards -- are virtually indistinguishable from each other, and go on at least five, and in one case, ten minutes too long in order to make room for just one more lugubrious bowed bass solo from Haden or one more slow-motion Mehldau keyboard interlude, should not be taken as prima facie evidence of the emptiness of this sort of pseudo-event, all too common in New York jazz clubs. After all, the live audience eats it up, as can clearly be heard. But is this album of any value to jazz as a whole? It is not. This is the sound of three men whose reputations rest on work done decades earlier, and one younger man whose reputation is difficult to explain, delicately tiptoeing through six pieces, some of which have been recorded hundreds if not thousands of times already. It is as far as possible from the sound of jazz moving forward, or preserving the creative vitality that is supposedly the heart of the genre. If all you want is to hear four accomplished musicians playing standards, this album provides an hour's worth of that. If you want more from jazz, you're out of luck.
The Lost and Found
By C. Michael Bailey
Gretchen Parlato is emerging as the most important jazz singer since Cassandra Wilson. Her vocal approach is so unique and her repertoire so eclectic that she stands to create a jazz vocal genre unto herself. After placing first in the 2004 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition, Parlato released her eponymous debut, self-produced, in 2005. Warmly received, she followed her freshman effort up in 2009 with In a Dream (Obliqsound), her critical gravity growing.
And those are just Parlato's recordings as leader. She has been a featured vocalist on many records, including David Binney's Greylen Epicenter (Mythology, 2010) and Esperanza Spalding's Chamber Music Society (Concord Music Group, 2010).
Much anticipated, The Lost and Found appears, revealing Parlato's sonic evolution toward an end very different from Wilson's. Where Wilson has intently explored the earthy, organic nature of the music she sings, Parlato has entered the laboratory to distill her music to its bare essence: a whisper, a scent, an echo, a suggestion. Her light, no-pressure approach better reveals the harmonic metaphysics of the songs she sings, whether originals or standards.
The Lost and Found draws much from her two previous releases. Parlato's Wayne Shorter fixation that prompted her to include the saxophonist's “Juju/Footprints” medley on her first recording, and “ESP” on In A Dream, reprises “Juju” alone on The Lost and Found. The fondness that Parlato has for impressionistic music manifests itself in her version of Miles Davis/Bill Evans “Blue in Green,” and a cover of Simply Red's “Holding Back The Years,” rendered as diaphanous mist, Parlato's light voice perfect for the role.
The singer's reprise of “Juju,” possesses a crystalline translucence, made acute by Dayna Stephens' wandering saxophone and pianist Taylor Eigsti's run-rampant sonic investigations. Her soft voice provides stark contrast to its support, making for an edgy affair all the way around. Lauren Hill's “All That I Can Say,” a successful vehicle for Mary J. Blige, proves equally successful for Parlato, who imparts a lighter contemporary vibe to the song.
Parlato is a young and vibrant artist, from whom we are only beginning to hear, and whose future is bright, indeed.
Holding Back The Years; Winter Wind; How We Love; Juju; Still; Better than; Alo, Alo; Circling; Henya; In a Dream (Remix); All That I Can Say; Me and You; Blue in Green; The Lost and Found; Without a Sound.
Gretchen Parlato: vocals; Taylor Eigsti: piano; Derrick Hodge, Alan Hampton: bass; Kendrick Scott: drums; Dayna Stephens: tenor saxophone.
By Alex Henderson
Some jazz musicians aren't documented nearly as much as they should be; one could write a book about all the talented improvisers who made it to 60 or 65 without ever recording an album, or even being featured as a sideman on someone else's album. But Hiromi, thankfully, has been recording frequently ever since she emerged in the early 2000s, and she has been wise enough to record in a variety of settings. Hiromi has recorded unaccompanied, as well as in duos and trios; she has played in both electric groups and acoustic groups, and she has provided straight-ahead post-bop as well as fusion. Voice is best described as an electro-acoustic effort that is more post-bop than fusion but has its rock-influenced moments. Forming a trio with Anthony Jackson on electric bass and Simon Phillips on drums, Hiromi is heard on both acoustic piano and electric keyboards but pays more attention to the former. And while this 2010 recording may not be ideal from the perspective of a rigid jazz purist or a bop snob, Hiromi's outlook is very much the outlook of a jazz improviser; the fact that she, Jackson, and Phillips bring some rock muscle to some of the material doesn't negate that. Hiromi is undeniably imaginative on an intriguing performance of Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minus, Opus 13, aka Sonata Pathétique, which goes back to 1798. Or course, there was no jazz in Beethoven's time; if one agrees that jazz started when cornetist Buddy Bolden formed his first band in New Orleans in 1895, then jazz was a little over 100 years away from being created when Beethoven composed Sonata Pathétique. But Hiromi has no problem bringing Beethoven's piece into the jazz world of the 21st century; she is no less an improviser on Sonata Pathétique than she is on free-spirited originals such as "Labyrinth," "Flashback," "Delusion," and "Now or Never." The Hiromi/Jackson/Phillips trio might display more rock muscle on some tracks than they do on others, but rock muscle or not, this 66-minute CD never loses its jazz mentality. Voice is yet another absorbing effort from this capricious acoustic pianist/electric keyboardist.
The Man and His Music
By Ken Dryden
Johnny Mandel has long been recognized as one of America's greatest songwriters, particularly in his composing of memorable original music for movie soundtracks, which have produced a number of popular standards. But he rarely issues recordings under his own name; happily this live CD, drawn from two nights at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, features Mandel conducting Dr. Sherrie Maricle and the DIVA Jazz Orchestra through 13 of his arrangements, with ten songs being originals. DIVA has long been a swinging unit, and Maricle has a reputation for seeking out the top female players for her "No Man's Band," many of whom have graduated and become prominent leaders themselves. Without surprise, the DIVA Jazz Orchestra plays Mandel's charts with the finesse of veterans who have played them night after night for years, the ensembles are flawless, and there are too many outstanding soloists to list. Singer Ann Hampton Callaway guests on a swinging "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" (associated with Billie Holiday, among many others) and Mandel's lovely ballad "Where Do You Start," along with a sassy take of "Ain't Nobody's Business." Of course, there are memorable performances of Mandel's standards like the touching "Emily" (forever associated with pianist Bill Evans' recordings) the hip, sexy "Black Nightgown," and the dark "Theme from 'I Want to Live'," the latter showcasing Lisa Parrott on the baritone sax feature first recorded by Gerry Mulligan. Mandel's interpretation of his "Theme from M*A*S*H" starts along its original path, but quickly switches to a breezy Afro-Cuban setting. If that's not enough, the band wraps the date with Mandel's robust scoring of Tiny Kahn's "TNT" (better known as "Can't Take You Nowhere" after Dave Frishberg added an amusing lyric to it decades later). Highly recommended.
By Michael G. Nastos
Not all mellow, Houston Person's tribute to the softer side of jazz has its moments based on the laid-back timbre of his soul rather than a program consisting of only ballads. The tenor sax he wields certainly reflects the tradition established by Ben Webster in its soul-drenched tone, but is not as vocally pronounced or vibrato-driven. The quite capable pianist John Di Martino is the one whose more enunciated notions are harnessed, while tasteful guitar by the underrated James Chirillo rings out in acceptance of Person's embraceable hues. In a program of standards and two blues jams, Person rounds into shape this quintet of true professionals to render themes that are harder to play slow than fast. The slower material includes the regretful, throaty ballad "Too Late Now," the totally restrained "To Each His Own," a poignant "Two Different Worlds," and the deep, mature take of "God Bless the Child." Ever cognizant of blue moods, Person is masterful in expressing his innermost heartfelt feelings, as on the easy swinger and obvious choice for this date, Duke Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone." Then there's "Blues in the A.M.," a basic jam with Ray Drummond's bass leading out with drummer Lewis Nash in an uptown style as Chirillo's guitar states its wise, sophisticated case. The most upbeat number is the closer, the fast hard bop three-minute quickie "Lester Leaps In," while in midtempo form, the opener, Bobby Hebb's "Sunny," is a typical choice. Conversely, the usual ballad "Who Can I Turn To?" is a bit amped up. Di Martino and Chirillo are known to kick things up several notches, but here are great tastemakers who fully understand Person's persona and growing importance as one who prefers an understated approach. That's not to say this marvelous tenor saxophonist has depreciated his talent as an adept technician, but at this point in his career he prefers this music on the mellow side, and has no problem staying interested in that mood, no matter the tempo.