Sunday, July 08, 2012

Past "RED TIDE Operation"

By Claudio Botelho
I don’t know if it has ended, but some CD’s have finally arrived at my doorstep. Among the few, Steve Kuhn “Wisteria” from the prolific Manfred Eicher’s ECM. Kuhn have been a favorite of mine since long and this new outing has put him along with Steve Swallow (b) and Joey Baron (d); two of the greatest in their art. So, it was difficult to ignore such a trio in all its glory and greatness. Three very personal players, each one easily recognizable on their first notes in any song they play. So, here you have a mix of elegance piano playing, grandiloquence, sharpness, thunderous drums whacks, quasi-guitar bass notes in many instances and a presentation punctuated by gorgeous songs, many of them from Kuhn own pen (“Chalet”, “Promises Kept”, “Pastorale”, etc.). Great contrasts permeate the whole album, something I feel is essential to give life to any work like this. Just as life itself… But there’s something to complain: the recording level is too low, something unexpected from a product of ECM fame.
By the same time, I came across the last Brad Mehldau recording. With his long standing cohort Larry Grenadier (b) and Jeff Ballard (d), Mehldau certainly did a solid work, which has been heralded as very good if not excellent, judging by some reviews I’ve read. Those trained in conservatories (not in the least my case) may certainly be better prepared to evaluate his pianism and the great coherence he has attained with this group. The traditional American magazine Down Beat so proclaimed and certified that Ballard has finally supplanted the great Jorge Rossy (which, today, is also a piano player), his former drummer, by attaining a better integration with Mehldau’s ideas.
I’m not so sure of this. What I can say is that Rossy was as complementary as a drummer can be to Mehldau’s piano playing in the beginning years of this trio and also that I miss him a lot. To be honest, It’s difficult for me to express any opinion about such an issue for the simple reason I ‘m not able to discern the aesthetic of his trio since Rossy´s departure. It’s difficult for me to digest an album completely filled with original compositions by the same pen, all having much in common with each other. Besides, I have long spotted heavy traces of melancholy in Mehdau’s playing which surely don’t appeal to me. Just a matter of personal taste, no more…
So, I’m countercurrent here and rather listen to his early recordings. By the way, “Ode” is the name of his new album.
A great surprise was listening, for the first time, a female singer named Carmen Lundy! Surprise for me, of course, as she’s been on the road for some three decades now!
She’s no doubt one to stand out of the crowd and, in her last album “Changes”, did a difficult job: composed all the songs except one -“A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” – and this passed unnoticed for me! A miracle! Different moods punctuated the presentation and this kind of soft-spoken Diana Reeves has got a work which flows very easily on the ears, making it a breeze to listen! This is a full jazz singer, a talented composer who did a recording conveying a wide palette of colors that so well suits the spirit of listeners like me! Judging by her long career, she probably produced other albums like this. If so, I’d say she’s been grossly underrated!
As a matter of fact, the global economics crisis has done, also, something bad to the jazz novelties and I haven’t seen much thing new. It seems to me this is a trend which may last some years, so we’d better get used to it and go listen to our oldies (and not so oldies…)
Anyway, along with Kuhn, arrived Brubeck’s 1967 recording “Their Last Time Out”. The tapes were with him who, it seems to me, were forgotten. From the day of that recording on, he never more recorded, in any regular basis, with that group. He’d decided to stay more with his family…
In this recording, for my dismay, his group recorded “Take Five” without the drum solo from the fabulous Joe Morello. It’s rendering was a long one, but no Morello’s soliloquy…
The recording wasn’t as sharp as I remembered “Time Out”, on vinyl, to be. Well, that was in 1962, when I first listened to that song. The new CD was not stereo, as stated clearly on the booklet innards and I don’t know what kind of tape recorder was originally used to capture the quartet show. Certainly it was made on a reel-to-reel recorder at 7 ½ ips. The mikes were poorly distributed and the sax of Paul Desmond was farther from the front line than it used to be. Joe Morello’s drum set was in the right place and his playing was shown to good effect. His sound, as always, was full and very present; a thing not easily found nowadays, as the drummers now prefer syncopation as opposed to strong rhythm drives. I confess I’d rather listen to drummers like Joey Baron, Art Blakey or Andre Ceccarelli, for instance, who have firm roots in the old school of drumming (or so it seems to me). So, for drum aficionados like me, it’s always a pleasure to listen to this kind of musicians.
I don’t know, but it seems to me it was used more than one mike to record that show, although it was, as stated in the album, a mono recording. But this is a subject more prone to sound engineers which I’m not.
What I’ve seen hundreds of times were very bad conversions from analog to digital, almost every time one tried to make a CD out of analog tapes recorded from the eighties backwards. Maybe this has helped to establish the fact that vinyl has a better sound than CD, a fact I’m not that convinced. To say this is akin to saying analog TV picture are better than their digital counterpart. Is it true? That’s not what experience has shown me. Anyway, sound quality is something much more subjective than image perfection…
But, let’s go back to Brubeck. The fact this 1967 recording of his was mono, for me, given those conditions, was a welcome one, as, in those days, they used to show off stereo effects and, by choosing to show stereo separation, the whole presentation lost body, becoming sort of flimsy. Disembodied sounds (like those from portable radios) are the last thing I would want to listen…
Another good surprise came from Lynne Arriale’s “Solo” album: Well, well, well; here, less is more. Since her early days at DMP, I haven’t listened such a consistently good album like this from her! Everything is in the right place and this album showed me she’s as good as ever! Finesse and boldness in a very balanced mix not easily found in these days!
I give her kudos for this new album!

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