By Claudio Botelho
Happy new year and Happy Easter for you all!
One of these Saturdays, I had the pleasure of listening to drummer Jimmy Cobb of “Kind of Blue” fame! Wow! Aged 83 years, the guy is as fresh as any! On searching about Cobb, I’ve found he’s been very, very busy, leading two jazz groups in NY, besides teaching! The CD I’ve listened is leaded by Joey DeFrancesco who, with the help of said drummer and legendary guitarist Larry Coryell, have done, to my years, one of his best efforts ever; an outing of commensurable balance and joy!
Paying homage to the inimitable Wes Montgomery, “Wonderful, Wonderful!” is a straight forward job done with passion and expertise and exceptional rapport. It’s particularly enticing to listen to Cobb’s work on “Wagon Wheels”: you can almost see the clapping heels of the horses pulling the wagon! An uncompromising and delightful listening this! Kudos for everybody and especially for Mr. Cobb and his evergreen drumming! Recommended!
Earlier, I’ve come to know Vince Medoza’s “Blauklang”. This is another masterpiece from this multi-Grammy-award musician! A strong departure from the mainstream kind of jazz orchestra, filled with multilayered arrangement inflections which can, at the same time, let loose the improvisational skills of the musicians, without, nevertheless, ever losing its main course! Finesse and inventiveness are his hallmark, akin to geniuses like Claus Ogerman and Gil Evans.
His music, no matter how busy or intricate, is always explicit delineated and is a real joy when listened through any fine sound system, getting as much better as finer and more detailed is its reproduction. You’ll never have to protect your ears from any exhilarating blasts (although they exist), as Vince, almost miraculously, rounds out everything in such a manner that his music, in all the thoroughness of its several simultaneous planes, never overcrowds our ears.
The suite “Bluesounds” is the core of this outing (from 2008) and richly shows all his capabilities. It’s a celebration of the blues. The CD was recorded with mostly European musicians, augmented by drummer Peter Erskine and brilliant guitarist Nguyên Lê (a French born musician of Vietnamese ancestry), the latter the featured musician of the album.
Some have been saying his music blurs the line between jazz and classical music. Would the reason be that, here and there, his arrangements are graced with some typical ingredients of classical music (harp punctuations, for instance) which has led some to classify it as a kind of “third stream” music?
I can’t help but disagree entirely with this conception as jazz is not a kind of music; at least not the kind to be comparable to polka, rock, tango, samba, bossa nova, or even classical music, for that matter. It‘s no more than a way of playing, which lets the inventiveness of the musicians play the main role. It’s the music inside another music, and the former can be pre-planned, instantaneous or a combination of both.
By the way, I was reading, the other day, in the last issue of Stereophile (April), a statement by John Hollenbeck that goes: “You know what happens with jazz musicians is, they think they have to do something different every night”. I’m the kind of jazz lover who always expects this to happen, and I will never forget an utter disappointment I had, some years ago, when seeing singer Andy Bey alive and his performance singing and playing the piano was exactly what existed recorded in his latest album, no more, no less. What a strange sensation of déjà vu I had in that night! Certainly, Bey will never be a Mark Murphy, but I surely expected some impromptus…
So I don’t quite agree with Mr. Hollenbeck in my expectations as a jazz consumer, but also understand that to go into instant improvisation is a risky business which pulls many dangerously out of their comfort zone. Being who he is, he surely is a repository of the anxieties of many…
I’ve also heard the new album of Wayne Shorter (Without a Net). You can never count on listening and me-too jazz from Shorter. After all, IMHO, he’s one of the all-time supreme composers of his art and wouldn’t waste his time doing lesser works.
The reviews I’ve read about it are nothing short of rave and at least one imprints on it the mark of his best ever recording! So, it’s with a grain of salt I state I don’t think so. The album is, indeed, a very impressionist work; the team is supremely cohesive, but, for me, it simply lacks the beauty of songs like Infant Eyes, Footprints, Speak no Evil, Ana Maria, El Gaucho, Pinocchio, Iris, Black Nile, Nefertiti, Miyako, Adam’s Apple, songs penned by Shorter himself. So, although it’s a work from the realms of the forefront of jazz, I wasn’t able to listen to all it’s more than 70 min of duration without some discomfort, and this told me something about the wholeness of the work: for some reason, it failed to grab me throughout its scope. As such, it gains my respect and admiration for what it is: a non patternized-impressionist job, but it doesn’t win my heart. To round out, I ask: What newness it brings as compared, for instance, to Miles Davis’ “Live at Fillmore East”, an album recorded more than forty years ago? It’s not enough to be just out-of-ordinary; it’s required to tease the feelings, to bring out emotions, beauty, excitement… Shorter has done some of the all-time best jazz albums, but this one certainly isn’t one of them. Anyway, Wayne, thank you very much for having done this, along with many of the best compositions ever done in jazz history.
Instead of “Without a Net” I’d rather listen to less adventurous works like Vito Favara’s “Even If” (see its review elsewhere in this blog). Favara (p), along with Luca Bulgarelli (b), Daniele Tittarelli (ss) and Marcelo Di Leonardo (dr), on his first recorded album as a leader, performing four of his songs among others, has done a work of great musicality and class. For those who can access Italian jazz albums, I advise to keep an eye on him.
These days, I tried very hard to listen to albums like Dezron Douglas Trio “ Walking My Baby Back Home”; Vladimir Shafranov Trio “Whisper Not”; Roma Trio “l’Appuntamento”; Alexis Cole “Someday My Prince Will Come” and Dan Nimmer “All the Things You Are”. They all have in common the Venus label production. So, they share something else: No matter where they were recorded, they were mastered and mixed by Mr. Tetsuo Hara. He has been using a custom made mixing equipment called “Hyper Sound” for a long time now and it, IMHO, simply destroys many of the subtleties the piano has to offer, no matter if it was recorded at Avatar, Seasound Studios, in NYC, or Icarus Record Studio, in Rome, as is the case here, or if Mr. Manfred Eicher (of ECM sound fame) decides to lend him one of his maven sound engineers scattered worldwide to make a recording for Venus. When the master tapes receive the “Hyper Sound” treatment, the mid range gets instantly blurred and saturated, taking off most of its natural color and drama, thus transforming them in a poor shade of reality. In addition, the levels of the recordings get unusually high, in sharp contrast with others provided by any other label recordings.
Victor Lewis is an audiophile and, besides being a fantastic drummer, knows a thing or two about well recorded music. He joins Vladimir Shafranov as a member of the above mentioned album. I wonder what he thinks of honorable Mr. Hara when he spins one of Venus recordings on his music reproducing equipment… How about the shimmering of the ride cymbal of your kit drum heard through a Venus mastered recording, Mr. Lewis?...
Those who listen to Venus records CD’s on any regular basis have all the reasons in the world to claim vinyl sound is superior…
One outstanding album I’ve also heard: Marc Copland’s “Modinha, Vol.1”. Copland, Gary Peacock and Bill Stewart, in three out of eight tunes, doing free improvisations, have showed what jazz is all about. Stewart added a full pallet of colors to it as much as any drummer ever could. Copland’s dark and sometimes eerie style is a real one-of-a-kind and is never like anyone else in his singularity. Copland is simply …Copland, period. Wonderful recording, filled with ever-changing modes and climaxes. Fabulous! (This is a recording of 2006, but points to a future many will never arrive…)
Two disappointments: Jacky Terrasson’s “Gouache”and Patricia Barber’s “Smash”. One too grandiloquent for my taste, the other a cheap fake of the original…