Sunday, March 04, 2012

1 Sem 2012 - Part Twelve

Mark Masters Ensemble
Wish Me Well

by Ken Dryden
Gary McFarland was dubbed an "adult prodigy" by critic Gene Lees and initially made a major impression in the jazz world during the early '50s, though a turn toward instrumental pop left his contributions somewhat overlooked by the time of his still unsolved murder in 1971. Mark Masters presented a concert of McFarland's music featuring baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan in 2002 and arranged 11 of his works for this release, featuring Smulyan, pianist Steve Kuhn (who worked with McFarland), multi-reed player Gary Foster, and trumpeter Tim Hagans, among others. Three of the pieces were written for Gerry Mulligan & the Concert Jazz Band: the breezy, lighthearted "Weep" and the upbeat "Kitch" (featuring Foster on alto sax), along with the Duke Ellington-influenced "Chuggin'," which showcases Smulyan. Perhaps the most striking work is "Gary's Waltz," a melancholy work recorded on numerous occasions by Bill Evans during the last few years of his life. But after Kuhn's opening piano solo, Masters transforms this piece into a rich tapestry for the ensemble, gradually increasing its tempo and discarding its somber mood, spotlighting Hagans' outstanding trumpet solo. The perfect balance of Masters' charts and the intimate sound captured by engineer Talley Sherwood combine to make this an essential CD. Perhaps Mark Masters' thoughtful exploration of Gary McFarland's compositions will stir additional interest in the late vibraphonist's work, which has been unjustly neglected.

Kenny Werner
New York - Love Songs

Cover (New York - Love Songs:Kenny Werner)

by Ken Dryden
Kenny Werner improvised ballads that reflect his impressions of New York City for this 2009 solo piano session. The Brooklyn native's lyrical touch is present throughout this delightful recording, capturing the stillness of early morning in his moving "First Light/East River." Anyone who has visited the World Trade Center and since returned to view the starkly empty spot where it once stood can't help but be moved by Werner's poignant "Ground Zero," a piece conveying anguish at the terrible loss of life. His delicate, touching "Song of the Heart [For Lorraine and Katheryn]" subtly conveys his unconditional love for his family (Katheryn tragically died in a car crash several years earlier at the age of 16). Werner's lush extended work "Central Park Suite" and melancholy "Hudson Lament" are also among the CD's highlights. Kenny Werner has long established himself as a brilliant solo pianist and composer, and this French release is well worth acquiring. 

Matthew Shipp
Art Of The Improviser

Cover (Art of the Improviser:Matthew Shipp)

by Thom Jurek
Since the late 1980s, pianist Matthew Shipp has been rigorously investigating what it means to be an improvising musician by creating a musical language that is as expansive as it is intuitive emotionally, cerebrally, and emotionally following his own path alongside those of his predecessors Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, Derek Bailey, Anthony Braxton, John Cage, and Morton Feldman. His explorations have taken him through jazz as a soloist, bandleader, and sideman to collaborative experiments with electronic sound and even modern classical music. He’s been prolific in documenting each chapter in his musical life. Art of the Improviser is a double-CD package containing two 2010 concert performances. Disc 1 places Shipp in a trio setting with bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey in Troy, NY, and the second disc is a solo recital from (Le Poisson) Rouge in New York City two months later. On the trio disc, Shipp reveals his strengths as both a bandleader and collaborator. The rumbling modal opening of “The New Fact” quickly gives way to a syncopated, jagged swing as his piano jots telegraphic lines to Dickey, who follows and accents intuitively while Bisio balances them with a swaying but unbending bridge. Shipp moves through various periods in jazz history, from Jelly Roll Morton and Art Tatum to Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, and Horace Tapscott. Elsewhere on disc one, his pieces “Circular Temple #3” and “The Virgin Complex” are given strident readings with their original melodies harmonically extrapolated onto new ones, with improvisation interspersed like links in a chain. The lone standard on disc one, “Take the 'A' Train,” is performed with Shipp's angular harmonic language without losing its swing or fingerpopping melodic identity. The solo recital on disc two also features one standard, “Fly Me to the Moon,” which begins as an extension of Shipp’s recent composition, the gloriously physical “4D.” And indeed it might as well be, because of the way he pulls the melody from the changes, angles them at one another, and inserts his own series of intervallic questions at the ends of phrases, taking them through labyrinthine passages before returning to here he left off. “Gamma Ray” extrapolates on Thelonious Monk's black key lyricism while “Patmos” is a lower- and middle-register song employing Eastern tonalities and modalism. Art of the Improviser serves as a testament to Shipp’s achievements, yet it is also a continuation of the discovery in his developmental musical language.

Ali Jackson/ Aaron Goldberg/ Omer Avital

Cover (Yes!:Omer Avital)

by Phil Freeman
This disc documents a quick 'n' dirty piano trio session recorded by Aaron Goldberg and two longtime friends and collaborators -- bassist Omer Avital and drummer Ali Jackson Jr. -- in late December 2009. These three young players have known one another for years, watched each other come up on the New York scene, and played together from time to time. They share a musical philosophy, blending melody with blues and swing in an old-school but not self-consciously retro fashion, and work extremely well together. The repertoire on the disc is a mix of interpretations of tunes -- by Abdullah Ibrahim, Duke Ellington, Mercer Ellington, and Thelonious Monk, among others -- and originals by Avital and Jackson. Goldberg's playing is a little too smooth and deft for the Monk tune; he loses the elbows-on-the-keys feel that's required to give the melody any real kick, and it winds up feeling somewhat restaurant-piano-player-ish. But on the Ellington tunes and the originals, he's really in his element; his sound falls somewhere between Ahmad Jamal and Red Garland or Wynton Kelly, a player capable of swinging and getting into the blues without ever becoming florid or overwrought. Avital and Jackson are a more than capable rhythm team, driving the music at least as much and as often as the pianist. There's nothing even remotely revelatory here, but the players' unwillingness to color outside the lines actually feels like a virtue for most of the disc's running time.

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