Saturday, December 13, 2014

2 Sem 2014 - Part Fourteen

Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band
Life In The Bubble

By Giovanni C. Washington-Wright 
"Life In The Bubble": Gordon's masterpiece?
Yes. The new Big Phat Band album,"Life In The Bubble", is Gordon's masterpiece. This album is different than the last two releases in several ways. Firstly, its compositions are a little more dark and subtle than previous albums. It seems as though Gordon was purposely taking things in a different direction. It's so nice to see a composer as accomplished as Gordon push himself and try new things. Also, I think that part of the new approach to business is the fact that the band was recorded at EastWest (my new favorite room in LA) instead of Capitol. This completely changes the sound of the BPB - adding a new dimension of warmth. To my ears, it's almost a Brian Wilson approach - like the studio is the 19th member of the band. Next, this album is a lot more soloist intensive. The band is filled to the brim with world-class jazz soloists, and they really have a chance to stretch out and blow on this record - which is a thing of beauty. Now, let me get more specific.
"Life In The Bubble", the opener, is a very sly, almost malevolent funk. Gordon employs electronic noise in the chart which something, save "Get In Line", that I've never really heard in a BPB tune. A great, SUPER hip tenor solo by Brian Scanlon on this one.
"Why We Can't Have Nice Things" is a standard BPB flag-waver. BURNIN' solos by Kevin Garren on alto and Andy Martin on trombone. The development /outro section section of the tune is one that you won't want to miss. Some really incredible ensemble playing (with Bernie Dresel playing on the side of drums). One of the finest up-tempo GG tunes I've heard in a while.
"Synolicks" is a feature for guitar wunderkind Andrew Synowiec - he plays his butt off. This tune features one of the most incredible rhythm / ensemble solis that I've ever heard in a big band chart. A great, bluesy chart.
"Years Of Therapy" is the chart that, in my opinion, steals the show. It's the kind of performance that will make Wayne Bergeron even more of a living legend than he already is. This chart features two things I've never heard before: #1.) Gordon writing in a baroque style and #2.) Wayne Bergeron playing piccolo trumpet (and B-flat trumpet). The tune is a LONG blow for Wayne (clocking in at almost 8 1/2 minutes) during which Wayne switches from piccolo to B-flat, blows a lengthy jazz solo, plays lead in a shout section, and finishes in Baroque style on B-flat. All and all, the tune sounds like something Hank Mancini would have written as theme for a BBC comedy (which is a GOOD thing). This chart is worth the price of the CD alone. Wayne's performance and the piece are both Grammy-worthy.
"The Passage" is a rare BPB ballad. It's built to showcase Eric Marienthal's beautiful alto playing. Eric takes a wonderful solo on the tune, with some pretty direct allusions to Bird and Cannonball. The chart itself is almost noir-sounding, a la Bernard Hermann or John Barry - with drop-dead gorgeous changes. Wayne Bergeron on the shout section of the chart is one for the ages.
"Garajo Gato" ("Garage Cat") is a REALLY nice Latin chart named after Gordon's recently-deceased cat, Jasmine. It features great playing from everyone (including a smokin' development section). It features Joey DeLeon on vocals and percussion, Francisco Torres on trombone, and Gordon on tenor.
When I first heard "Does This Chart Make Look Phat?", I didn't know whether to think "Gordon Nestico" or "Gordon Hefti". I decided that this is a pretty wonderful tribute to Sammy Nestico. Straight -up retro, with cigarettes, martinis, and all. It features a pretty smokin' plunger solo by trumpeter Willie Murillo (who obviously has been checkin' out Snooky Young) and smooth, Frank Wess-ish turn by Jeff Driskill on tenor.
"Get Smart" was originally written for the film on which Gordon worked (with Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway). I'm a pretty staunch Irving Szathmary fan, so I was pretty tough on this one going in. I was pleasantly surprised. There are some very interesting melodic and harmonic twists in the chart that drew me completely offsides. A nice solo by Eric Marienthal and incredible lead trumpet playing by Wayne Bergeron round it out.
"Green Dolphin Street". This chart was originally released on November 13, 2013 as a single. This arrangement is based a piano solo by the legendary Oscar Peterson. This incredible arrangement also earned Gordon his 3rd Grammy. It features Gordon on piano and the great Bob Summers on trumpet.
"Party Rockers" is the closing track on album. Judith Hill (from "The Voice" and the LA studios) is guest singing on the track and the tune's composer - with the arrangement by Gordon. This track is amazing. Judith is a vocal freak and a force to be reckoned with - and the band is in excellent form.
I don't think that the Phat Band has had a release this strong, top to bottom, since 2003's "XXL". To my knowledge, Gordon himself has won 3 Grammys (2 for the BPB and 1 for his work on "The Incredibles") and had 7 arranging nominations for the BPB . Although the band has received 2 "Best Large Jazz Ensemble" nominations (one for "XXL", one for "Act Your Age"), they've never won. I think they're about due - and this album is THE one. Outstanding effort, 
Gordon and fellows! Outstanding effort, Gordon and fellows!

Tim Lapthorn Trio
Natural Language

By Jack Kenny, Jazz Views
“ a smart, lively and entertaining set….this optimistic and accomplished session has the feel of both work in progress and a strong well-turned result. Originals such as ‘ Loose Connection’ are interleaved with the odd jazz standard and a collector’s choice of jazz themes, such as Steve Swallow’s ‘ Falling Grace’ and Bill Frisell’s ‘Strange Meeting’. It’s busy and precocious, and as a trio they get a singing quality into their collective sound” BBC Music Magazine, Dec 2004

Hanging influences round a young pianist’s neck is a little like garlanding them with an albatross. It is also lazy thinking. So throw out the shorthand comparisons with Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett and listen. It is hard enough trying to say something new in the trio format that so many great musicians have developed over the years without having to work in shadows of genius.
I watched a young pianist recently who tried to pack so many notes into a bar that the music became indigestible. That does not happen here. It really is brave to eschew the obvious virtuoso effects. The overall impression of this album is thoughtfulness, meditation and reflective improvisation. Tim Lapthorn can also write good themes: listen to the great melody “Loopy”.
On the faster pieces the tempo is such that the lines can be distinguished clearly. Bass player Tom Herbert plays a very conventional accompaniment. In harmony with Lapthorn’s music the bass playing is restrained. Both Herbert and drummer Patrick Levett shine on the reserved reading of Bill Frisell’s "Strange Meeting", because they show their artistry rather than their techniques.
“I Hear a Rhapsody”, “Bemsha Swing”,“My Wild Irish Rose” enable the listener to hear how the improvisation is shaped around the melody. The introduction to “Bemsha Swing” is one of the high lights of the record, completely unlike anything that Bill Evans or Jarrett would do. “My Wild Irish Rose” is a gentle piano solo keeping just clear of sentimentality.
Should you buy the CD? Yes! This is piano trio jazz at its best, played with love and respect.
A final plea: don’t use fade outs. It sounds as though some one has become bored and is unable to appreciate the architecture of the improvisation.

Ahmad Jamal featuring Yusef Lateef
Live At The Olympia - June 27, 2012


By Raul Da Gama
    Most musicians get tired and slow down with age, but Ahmad Jamal shows no sign of either. His playing is vigorous; still spry and minimal and best of all his intellect is agile and he is witty, full of ideas and his music is continuously breathtaking. Mr. Jamal has been praised as one of the greatest musical innovators over his exceptionally long career lasting over five decades. Ahmad Jamal entered the world of jazz in the wake of bebop greats Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie who had established a music where speed and virtuosic improvisation were their norm. Mr. Jamal, however, took steps in the direction of a new movement, later coined by the phrase “cool jazz” – in an effort to move jazz in the direction of popular music. He emphasized space and time in his musical compositions and interpretations, something that was diametrically opposed to the blinding speed of bebop. His music drew a group of musicians and helped pave the way for Miles Davis—who came to exemplify the cool style—as well as Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner. In truth Mr. Jamal was second only to Thelonious Monk in innovation and creativity and in his use of time and space in music. 
    This enormous set is practically the next best thing to a small boxed set as it contains a generous helping of music both on CD and on DVD. The music on CD was all recorded on June 27, 2012—one day—that speaks volumes for the youthful energy of the pianist, now over eighty years old. The videos of the songs were recorded at the same time and later edited into this seamlessly beautiful film. If the musicians all draw attention to themselves for their soaring virtuosity the central character remains Ahmad Jamal, who draws not only the musicians but the appreciative audience to himself. Upon reflection it is possible to describe this package as one of the finest of Mr. Jamal’s music made in the decades since he has been performing, hence the belief that the pianist has turned, like a rare vintage, more exquisite with age. It contains over 10 of his recordings; the most popular works of the pianist, each of which is well represented in his catalogue of decades. It is in every one that Ahmad Jamal offers either a benchmark or a version to stand with the very best. To wit, his performances of “The Gypsy” and “Laura” compare with some of Thelonious Monk’s performances of his classic pieces, in the majestic unfolding of themes and the credible dispatch of vaunted arpeggios of the notoriously difficult right hand. 
    His elementally beautiful version of the chart made famous by Sammy Davis Jr. is among the most exquisite on this repertoire—a miracle of poetry, heady bravura and structural command. And then there is the special guest, the 91-year-old Yusef Lateef who takes the stage and if music could get any more grippingly exciting, then that would be in this CD 2 of this set. The presence of Mr. Lateef makes this a near-mythical set. The winds player brings his saxophones, flutes and grisly voice to several charts and his version of “Brother Hold Your Light” is affecting and melancholic. The rippling textures that Mr. Lateef and his array of instruments brings to the music on which he is featured, is utterly exquisite and showcases his greatness on what turns out to be a short feature, but which raises the ante of the concert considerably. Mr. Lateef is extraordinary on “Exatogi” and his other extraordinary composition, “Masara,” both of which draw the percussionist Manolo Badrena into centre stage again. There is no centrepiece of the performance but if one were to be considered for the overall package then that would be the DVD. This is exquisitely photographed and edited, with several cameras and the visuals are stunning. It also brings to life the performances of players not normally noticed when someone as stellar as Ahmad Jamal is performing and that means his bassist, Reginald Veal, drummer Herlin Riley and the celebrated percussionist Manolo Badrena, who are all absolutely brilliant throughout and serve the master well. 
Track List: 
CD1: Autumn Rain; Blue Moon; The Gypsy; Invitation; I Remember Italy; Laura; Morning Mist; This is the Life; 
CD2: Exatogi; Masara; Trouble in Mind; Brother Hold Your Light; Blue Moon; Poinciana; 
DVD: Autumn Rain; Blue Moon; The Gypsy; Invitation; I Remember Italy; Laura; Morning Mist; This is the Life; Exatogi; Masara; Trouble in Mind; Brother Hold Your Light; Blue Moon; Poinciana. Personnel: 
Ahmad Jamal: piano; Reginald Veal: double bass; Herlin Riley: drums; Manolo Badrena: percussion; Yusef Lateef: saxophones, flutes, vocals.

Tord Gustavsen Quartet
Extended Circle

By Brian Whistler VINE VOICE 
I should start out by saying I'm a real fan of Gustavsen. I love his touch, his keen melodic sense and his spare aesthetic, all of which are represented here. So why only three stars? I have all of Gustavsen's albums and I still think Changing Places is the best, because for one, I prefer the trio setting for this artist and two, the writing on that album was much stronger than anything he has followed it up with. When I first heard Changing Places I was immediately struck by how the tunes had that quality of already being strangely familiar; so inevitable were the harmonies and melodies, they seemed to come right out of the pure ground from which all music springs. I felt that the following two trio albums, Being There and The Ground had similar purity and inspiration. That trio was gold- It seemed as if Gustavsen was mining a particular vein wherein classical, jazz , gospel and Latin elements found common ground- it appeared he had found the motherlode.
Forgetting for a moment the ill conceived Restored, Returned, it seemed that with The Well, Gustavsen had come back to form. Adding the sax player, who reminds me of a sort of Jan Garbarek light, made the obvious debt Gustavsen owes to Jarrett all the more obvious. Not that there's anything wrong with being influenced by one of the greatest European jazz quartets of all time, but with this second quartet album, I feel that absolutely nothing new is happening that we didn't hear on The Well. Part of it is in the writing; we've more or less heard all these changes and tunes before and as far as instantly recognizable tunes go, in contrast with Changing Places gossamer miniatures, there's nary a melodic shell worth picking up and examining closely in your hand. Indeed , many of the pieces are really not so much compositions as sketches without much substance. Thus, listening to this gorgeous sounding album was a curiously flat experience for me.
Not to say it isn't pleasant listening experience. After all, it's Tord Gustavsen. And it's an ECM disc. I'm just beginning to feel I'm hearing his limitations as a composer. I like the sound of this music very much and will listen to it again. I just feel it's lacking a bit in musical nutrition and more importantly, inspiration. And I feel Gustavsen can do a lot better than this. That being said, I am still looking forward to seeing this group next week in SF. But to tell the truth, I have lowered my expectations.
Note:just gave this album a second listen with undivided attention and I have to say that when I came to the last little gospel ballad (that would've fit in perfectly on any of the first three trio albums,) I am underwhelmed. For those who are just coming to know Gustavsen's work, I strongly recommend you start with the first three trio albums. For fans, I still give a somewhat tepid thumbs up.
Track Listing: 
Right There; Eg Veit I Himmerik El Borg; Entrance; The Gift; Staying There; Silent Spaces; Entrance, var.; Devotion; The Embrace; Bass Transition; Glow; The Prodigal Song.
Tore Brunborg: tenor saxophone; Tord Gustavsen: piano; Mats Eilertsen:double bass; 
Jarle Vespestad: drums.

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