Saturday, June 30, 2018

1 Sem 2018 - Part Fourteen

Christian Sands

By Dan Bilawsky
A lot plays into the success of an artist's reach, with content and presentation obviously ranking high on the list. But above all, an artist has to be willing to extend a hand if they expect listeners to do the same. Many simply reach for the musical stars without really considering the need to reach out to potential audiences through the music. Pianist Christian Sands doesn't fall into that trap. His reach—both up and out—is long and wide, exemplified on this aptly named date.
Despite any potential allusions in the previous paragraph or the titular ideal, Reachdoesn't pander to populist tastes or compromise in anyway. It simply has quality material performed at an extremely high level that can appeal to a wide variety of listeners, ranging from the jazz curious to the jazz cognoscenti. If you've found your way to this site and this review, chances are there's something that appeals to you here, whether you fancy yourself a modernist, a traditionalist, a blues adherent, a neo-soul devotee, a post-bop fan, a Latin jazz lover, or something else entirely. Sands manages to craft unique statements that touch on all of the aforementioned topics, often blending or countervailing one with the other within a single song, and once your ear is hooked, that's it.
Reach opens with "Armando's Song," a nod to the great Chick Corea that seems to be cut from the same cloth—or, perhaps, the same vocabulary—as Corea's "Armando's Rhumba." Sands, however, isn't one to plagiarize, and the propulsive swing roller coaster that follows the theme proves that point. A rush of optimism blotting out the face of hate follows that eye-opening number. "Song Of The Rainbow People" speaks to the need for unity and togetherness, both in name and sound. There are hints of gray skies in the mix, but the sun burns the clouds away.
Those opening invitations expose listeners to the tightly-formed trio that's the backbone of this album—Sands, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and drummer Marcus Baylor—and the three tracks that immediately follow demonstrate how that group reacts to new voices in the mix. Marcus Strickland first spurs the band on with his tenor saxophone on the driven "Pointing West." Then he puts his tenor and bass clarinet to good use on an electro-dusted chill ride dubbed "Freefall." Both numbers find the core band expanding its outlook and adapting to the presence of their guest. The same thing can be said to happen when percussionist Cristian Rivera drops in to add some Latin sizzle to the festive "¡Óyeme!."
The second half of the album is just as inclusive in all respects. "Bud's Tune" pares things back to a trio configuration as Sands salutes bebop pioneer Bud Powell; "Reaching For The Sun" walks on a pseudo-Brazilian groove, carries hints of Corea and Pat Metheny in its DNA, gives Sands a chance to dazzle with his glistening glances, and brings guitarist Gilad Hekselman into the picture for the first of his three consecutive appearances; a cover of "Use Me" retains its Bill Withers-born soulfulness while taking on a new skulking-turned-swinging-turned-skulking rhythmic shape and opening up some space for Christian McBride to bow the truth; and "Gangstalude" injects a hip-hop attitude and foundation into the program. Then Sands ends with what's, perhaps, the biggest surprise of all: a heartfelt performance of "Somewhere Out There" from An American Tail (Amblin Entertainment/Sullivan Bluth Studios, 1986). It opens lyrically and loyally before taking flight in reflective-cum-resounding fashion. It's the last chapter in this tale of many tones, serving as the final indication of Sands' willingness to embrace diversity in sound and scope. Everything and everyone seems to be within his reach.
Track Listing: 
Armando's Song; Song Of The Rainbow People; Pointing West; Freefall; ¡Óyeme!; Bud's Tune; Reaching For The Sun; Use Me; Gangstalude; Somewhere Out There.
Christian Sands: piano; Marcus Baylor: drums; Yasushi Nakamura: bass; Gilad Hekselman: guitar (7-9); Christian McBride: bass (8); Cristian Rivera: percussion (5); Marcus Strickland: tenor saxophone (3, 4), bass clarinet (4).

The Princess

By Mark Corroto
It can be risky for jazz musicians to play pop songs. They have to navigate the memories that each composition holds for the listener while also making the music distinctive and personal. Miles Davis could do it with Michael Jackson's "Human Nature" and Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," and of course Sonny Rollins can make any popular song his own. Add to that list, Enzo Pietropaoli. The bassist has been exploring popular music with his quartet, which has released three volumes of Yatra (Via Vento Jazz). Here he gets more intimate with a piano trio session, performing mostly slow tempos and meditative pieces.
His trio has the same lineup as the Yatra quartet, minus trumpeter Fulvio Sigurta. It comprises pianist Julian Mazzariello, drummer Alessandro Paternesi, and Pietropaoli on double bass. The seven covers and three original tracks on The Princess invite a type of nostalgia, not for the way it was, but for the sense of possibility those particular songs spurred in us when we heard the originals. Take Brian Wilson's "God Only Knows." Played at an achingly decelerated pace, the trio teases out the unsung lyric to great effect, making the Beach Boys into the most romantic band ever. Not your era? Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam wrote "The End," and the trio performs it with the same magic. The formula is consistent here. Pietropaoli has a knack for diving deeper into pop music to reawaken the message. Bob Dylan's warning call "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" is reiterated with Mazzariello's very simple piano lines and Paternesi's brushes. Where an act like The Bad Plus tends toward the overelaborate cover song, this trio favors the understated. Even when they travel back to 1932 for Cole Porter's "Night And Day," there is no hint of saccharine. Just the most gentle swing. Of the three Pietropaoli originals, "Supereroa" is the one composition that reroutes the trio into an up-tempo (think Ahmad Jamal) swing. The title track opens with a bass solo, before walking the same territory as the cover tunes. It's begging for someone (anyone?) to write some lyrics.
Track Listing: 
Jealous Guy; A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall; Night And Day; Scaleno Beat; Father Son; The Princess; Supereroa; Philadelphia; The End; God Only Knows.
Enzo Pietropaoli: double bass; Julian Mazzariello: piano; Alessandro Paternesi: drums.

Mario Adnet
Saudade Maravilhosa

By Egídio LeitãoIf you have been following our site for a while, the name of Mario Adnet is not going to be unknown for you. His discography and special projects have been keeping us pleasantly busy. It is always a joy to find out he has a new album in the works, and it’s even better when we get to hear what he has released.
In Saudade Maravilhosa we get to hear more of Mario Adnet’s composer abilities. Although he’s had original tracks in previous albums, here eight out of the ten tracks are his own compositions. These original tracks bring back all the influences in Mario’s career. The listener can hear echoes of Tom Jobim, Villa-Lobos, Moacir Santos and other composers who were the focus of Mario’s refined arrangements and extensive productions. The same quality we have experienced in the past is, of course, abundant in Saudade Maravilhosa.
The musicians who accompanied Mario previously in other releases all return for this album. Produced together with Antonia Adnet, and with Mario’s own musical direction and arrangements, Saudade Maravilhosa assembles a team of experts all very familiar to us. You will hear Jorge Helder (double bass), Rafael Barata (drums), Marcos Nimrichter (piano, fender rhodes), Armando Marçal (percussion), Eduardo Neves (tenor and soprano saxophone, flute, alto flute), Aquiles Moraes (trumpet, flugelhorn), Everson Moraes (trombone), Cristiano Alves (clarinet), Ricardo Silveira (guitar), João Cavalcanti (vocals) and Leonardo Amuedo (guitar). With these heavyweights, nothing could go wrong, naturally.
With the exception of one vocal track, all others are delightful instrumental music. Two tracks have been previously recorded by Mario. The first is “Chorojazz,” which appeared in his 1999 Para Gershwin e Jobim album. The second is “Sambaqui,” which was in his 2001 Rio Carioca under a different title, “Sete Rios.” In this new recording, two top-notch guitarists, Leonardo Amuedo and Ricardo Silveira, take center stage and bring lots of fun to the arrangement. One big repertoire surprise is the inclusion of “Caravan.” Mario’s emphasis has often been to feature Brazilian music in his albums. However, as he explains it in the liner notes, he wanted to “show how Duke Ellington would sound like with a Moacir Santos‘ face.” The result is amazing, especially because of Armando Marçal’s percussion and the trumpet/trombone addition from the brothers Aquiles and Everson Moraes, respectively. Another clear Moacir Santos’ influence is the opening track, “Ancestral,” dedicated to Armando Marçal. The Afro theme in the composition gave Mario the impetus to create the arrangement as is. Once again, Armando Marçal is present with his vibrant percussion. From an Afro influence to choro, we move to “Cecilia no Parquinho,” inspired by Mario’s grand-daughter. He captures the happy moments he spends with her in this cheerful melody. Also worth to note is the gorgeous soft Bossa “Saudade Maravilhosa,” which takes us back to a nostalgic Rio de Janeiro with the allusion to Cidade Maravilhosa in its title (Rio’s nickname, Marvelous City).
Saudade Maravilhosa is a fine addition to a growing and solid discography. Great arrangements and musicianship flourish in an unpretentious set. Selo SESC says that by the end of 2017 the album should be available in all the usual streaming sites. For now, you have two options to grab this excellent album: buy the physical CD or listen to the tracks in the Selo SESC YouTube channel. If you opt for the latter, please note that the album is played twice in that stream.

Robert Glasper

By Bill Beuttler
Robert Glasper’s plunge into the world of R&B and hip-hop widened his fan base and earned him a pair of Grammy Awards, but he found himself missing the piano. So he reconvened his original acoustic trio with bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Damion Reid and cut Covered: The Robert Glasper Trio Recorded Live at Capitol Studios. Like Herbie Hancock before him, Glasper demonstrates on his new disc that jazz stars who indulge a taste for popular music can go home again.
Glasper’s piano here is as immediately identifiable as ever: deeply soulful, emphasizing vibe over show-offy virtuosity. That formula dominates a half-dozen sophisticatedly listenable jazz covers of artists ranging from megastars Radiohead (“Reckoner”), Joni Mitchell (“Barangrill”) and John Legend (“Good Morning”) to lesser-known Glasper associates Musiq Soulchild (“So Beautiful”), Jhené Aiko (“The Worst”) and Bilal (“Levels”). He brings more flash to bear on the lone jazz standard here, “Stella by Starlight,” but really reminds people what he is capable of instrumentally on “In Case You Forgot.” The latter chops showcase begins with Glasper, unaccompanied, blazing his way through lighting-quick runs and a kind of space-age stride with pauses for quick, mood-lightening quotes of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” Archer and Reid each get their lone, memory-jogging solos on this one as well.
Two socially conscious tunes close the album. Harry Belafonte’s raspy recitation of his life story on “Got Over” is aimed at inspiring listeners, particularly those of color, to follow his lead in overcoming humble origins to achieve greatness. Glasper’s spin on Kendrick Lamar’s “I’m Dying of Thirst” features the pianist’s 6-year-old son, Riley, and other children reading the names of recent black victims of shootings by police.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Rebecca Paris ( 1951 - 2018 )

By Andrew R. Chow at NYTimes
Rebecca Parris, a husky-voiced jazz singer known for both her blistering scat runs and her deeply affecting interpretations of ballads, died on June 17 in South Yarmouth, Mass. She was 66.
Her death was confirmed by her daughter, Marla Kleman, who said Ms. Parris had collapsed after a performance and was taken to Cape Cod Hospital, where she died. No cause was given, but Ms. Kleman said Ms. Parris’s health had been declining since 2004, when she had a heart attack and developed severe osteoporosis.
Ms. Parris was hailed by local journalists as “Boston’s first lady of jazz,” but over a four-decade career she also earned the respect of the jazz world at large, playing with luminaries like Dizzy Gillespie, Gary Burton and Buddy Rich. She performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival, the Blue Note in Greenwich Village, the Apollo Theater in Harlem and Tanglewood. She recorded 10 albums and was praised by some of her vocal heroes, including Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae.
“Her voice, a rich contralto with a baritone resonance, is so commanding that when a song’s attitude is combative, she can scare you,” Stephen Holden wrote in The New York Times in 2007, reviewing her performance at Birdland. “But when the mood is playful, she can also enfold you in a musical bear hug.”
It took Ms. Parris many years to find her footing as a jazz singer. She attended the Boston Conservatory to study opera, but dropped out and went to New York to pursue a career in musical theater. When she failed to land any significant parts, she went back to Boston and sang in a Top 40 cover band for a decade.
She saw a new path forward after sitting in on a few jazz gigs in Boston.
“It was like manna from heaven for me: lyrics and chord changes and sensible whole thoughts and beautiful ideas,” she said in 2008 when she appeared on the NPR show “Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz.”
Her wrenching ballad performances and suave renditions of bossa nova standards earned her glowing reviews, increasingly prestigious bookings and the admiration of her colleagues. Her performance at the 1992 Floating Jazz Festival, a cruise across the Caribbean, caught the eye of Mr. Burton, the acclaimed vibraphonist. They recorded an album together, “It’s Another Day,” in 1993.
“She was very musical and had excellent taste in songs,” Mr. Burton said in a telephone interview. “She was underappreciated and underacknowledged.”
Rebecca Parris was born Ruth Blair MacCloskey on Dec. 28, 1951, in Needham, Mass., the youngest of three sisters. Her parents, Shirley Robinson and Ned MacCloskey, were both accomplished pianists; her father also taught English at Boston University. She grew up in Newton, Mass., and went to Newton South High School.
She took the stage name Rebecca Parris in the 1980s (the last name was inspired by the Cole Porter standard “I Love Paris”). She met the pianist Paul McWilliams in 1984 at a gig in Massachusetts, and the two remained partners until her death. Ms. Parris also adopted Ms. Kleman in 1997. In addition to Mr. McWilliams and Ms. Kleman, she is survived by her sister, Susan MacCloskey. Her marriage to Robert DeGrassie ended in divorce.
Ms. Parris settled down with Mr. McWilliams and Ms. Kleman in Duxbury, Mass., a suburb of Boston, and regularly packed local haunts like Regattabar and Scullers. She also taught private lessons and master classes.
Her osteoporosis caused her to lose six inches off her commanding height of six feet and required her to use crutches. But she never stopped performing.
She gave her last performance on a recent Sunday, sitting in with a trio that included Mr. McWilliams at the Riverway Lobster House in South Yarmouth. She sang two songs, “Old Devil Moon” and “There Will Never Be Another You,” on which she took an a cappella chorus.
“She sounded excellent,” Mr. McWilliams said of the performance. “When the band came back in, she was in perfect tune.”
A version of this article appears in print on June 25, 2018, on Page D11 of the New York edition with the headline: Rebecca Parris, 66, Jazz Singer Who Caught the Ear of Legends. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Sunday, June 17, 2018

1 Sem 2018 - Part Thirteen

Fred Hersch Trio
Live In Europe

By Dan McClenaghan
Fred Hersch's 2009 recording, Whirl (Palmetto Records), was where pure magic first occurred in the pianist's extensive and consistently superb discography. That particular outing introduced his now long-standing trio with bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson. Alive At the Vanguard (2012), Floating (2014), and Sunday Night At The Vanguard (2016) by the group followed, all on Palmetto Records.
For those who lauded Hersch's solo outing, Open Book (Palmetto Records, 2017) as his finest, most incisive and finely-focused outing, the pianist offers up Live In Europe, featuring his Hebert/McPherson team, to garner votes for that "Hersch's Best" slot.
Performed at Flagey Studio 4, in Brussels's former National Institute for Radio Broadcasting, Hersch was initially unaware that the set—which he regarded as one of his best trio performances ever—had been recorded. Upon finding out that it had been—and upon hearing the tape and having his belief in its extraordinary quality confirmed—he decided to release the music.
Spinning through Hersch's previous outings with this nine years and running trio says that they bring the "A" game every time. On Live In Europe it's an "A+" game. The players are as flexibly synchronized and adept at presenting their three-way improvisational and emotional expressionism as they could be, on a set that begins with a jittery take on Thelonious Monk's "We See." The group follows with six Hersch originals, including tributes to British pianist John Taylor and a calypso-esque nod to saxophone legend Sonny Rollins, before slipping into the Herbie Hancock songbook with the achingly beautiful "Miyako," that gives way to an effervescent take on a second Shorter tune, "Black Nile." It's a set where Hersch sounds freer, more open to possibilities, employing the same exploratory approach he presented on the epic "Though The Forest" on his Open Book outing.
And the sound must be addressed. It doesn't get any better—a big plus, especially on piano trio outings. The piano is crisp, like a winter sunrise. Every nuance of McPherson's intricate and energetic drumming has crystal clarity, and Hebert's empathic and emphatic bass lines come through with a clean-cut lucidity.
The show wraps it up with a solo encore of "Blue Monk," a sober and contemplative return to Monk-land, a place to which Hersch often travels.
Track Listing:
Wee See; Snape Maltings; Scuttlers; Skipping; Bristol Fog; Newklypso; The Big Easy; Miyako; Black Nile; Blue Monk.
Fred Hersch: piano; John Hebert: bass; Eric McPherson: drums.

Dieter Ilg

By Jim Burlong
It is well over half a century since The Jacques Loussier Trio launched the first of their forty plus Bach themed albums upon the world. Although the French pianist enjoyed huge commercial success with the project, he had to bear the wrath of most critics and others within the music world. It is very unlikely that either fate will fall upon this trio of highly talented contemporary jazz musicians. The leader and bass virtuoso Dieter Ilg is from Offenburg in Germany. A graduate of The Manhatten School Of Music famed for his duo performances with saxophonist Charlie Mariano, solo projects and work with US heavyweights Mike Stern, Bob Berg and David Leibman. He also has fourteen albums to date under his own name. For the Bach project(s) he has called upon his fellow countryman, the award winning pianist Rainer Bohm who is a lecturer for the instrument at The Mainz University in Mannheim as well as the recipient of The New German Jazz Prize as soloist of the year for 2016. Completing the trio is drummer Patrice Heral from Montpellier in France who is one of the busiest rhythm players on the scene and has recently appeared within bands led by trumpet players Markus Stockhausen and Tomaz Stanko.
It is often said that "You cannot play jazz without playing Bach". This may well be so, but the problem could be where and when to improvise whist at least interpreting in some way the sentiments that the father of western classical music intended. Mr Ilg overcomes this problem perfectly by prefacing the title of each piece with the very important words "inspired by". Listeners will find that Rainer Bohm processes an exquisite touch on the keys, ideal for interpreting this music, while the leader's bass is strong and searching adding the jazz feel to proceedings. The drummers decorative cymbal work also complements the musical soundscape well. There is certainly more variation than improvisation throughout, but at the same time the excellent musicianship more than keeps interest alive. The four "Goldberg" pieces, the two Praludium's plus the strong melody of "Air" adapt best to the format. The technicality and structure here will certainly appeal to those with a good knowledge of Bach, although other ears may find the recording a little cold and academic.
Recorded, mixed and mastered by Adrian von Ripka at Bauer Studios, Ludwigsburg
von Ripka at Bauer Studios, Ludwigsburg
Recording date: January 15 & 16, 2017
Produced by Dieter Ilg
Executive Producer: Siggi Loch
Dieter Ilg / bass; Rainer Böhm / piano; Patrice Héral / drums

Charlie Watts
Meets The Danish Radio Big Band

By Nenad Georgievski
A film director once said that you can't make a great film with a weak script. The same goes for bands of any kind be it jazz or rock or any kind. You can't have a great band without a great drummer. A band can get by with an average bassist or guitarist, but not with an average drummer. It's the heartbeat of any band. One of the things that has made the band Rolling Stones what they are is drummer Charlie Watts and his exceptional and unusual drumming skills. For more than 50 years, Watts has been the propulsive engine that has driven this juggernaut. Few other drummers were as integral to the development of rock and roll music by creating rollicking grooves that were executed with an unhurried elan. Watts is a player you can listen to for his sound alone as he balances the smooth and the jagged with great ease. Contemporary musicians don't come much more graceful in sound or execution than that.
Apart from his long stint as the drummer of one of the most successful and certainly the longest running rock and roll band in the world, it's not a secret Watts's true love has always been jazz and that he has always had a deep appreciation and admiration for this music which hasn't been that much exploited by the press. During the '50s and '60s, Watts fell in love with jazz music through 78 rpm vinyls and the music of musicians like saxophonists Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Gerry Mulligan, trumpeter Miles Davis, to name but a few as well as the drummers they employed. Since then, he has been a passionate jazz aficionado whose knowledge about this music sits between the reverential and encyclopedic. During his sojourn with a marketing agency, he even penned an illustrated book about Charlie Parker as a tribute to him and has been collecting old drum sets used by drumming legends. During the day he would work at the agency and during the night he would play local gigs. And as many of his generation, he has learnt his trade both by listening to record and by observing jazz drummers in the London's London's jazz circles.
As a result, his drumming style has always been unorthodox and original. When he joined the Rolling Stones he used his jazz chops in order to invent his style of playing rock and blues rock that the Stones became known for and is the reason why he is so revered these days. When the Stones played in New York for the first time during their first American tour, he went to Birdland to see performances by his bassist Charles Mingus and saxophonist Sonny Rollins, and the latter would play years later with the Stones on a song named "Waiting on a Friend."
So it wasn't until the '80s and the '90s that Watts began fronting his own jazz bands whenever the demanding tours and work with the Stones would let him. Since then he has formed a number of jazz, boogie-woogie and big band outfits, including Rocket 88, the Charlie Watts Quintet and the Charlie Watts Tentet. Probably that is best portrayed in the thriller movie "Blue Ice" with actor Michael Caine playing a jazz club owner and Watts' band was the house jazz combo that brilliantly rocked the house. Charlie Watts meets the Danish Radio Big Band was instigated in 2009 by English trumpeter Gerard Presencer, who is also a member of the band. The Band had four days of rehearsals and then had a performance at the then newly opened Danish Radio Concert Hall in Copenhagen. All but two of the pieces here are rewrites of earlier, previously recorded selections either with the Rolling Stones or a selection of suits from his duet record with another drumming legend Jim Keltner. But to make a big band work has really very little to do with "star power" and has really everything to do with hard work. If it is played too conservative then everything will sound predictable and everyone will get bored. For a start, this record doesn't break any new ground. The emphasis is more on moods, harmonies and at moments the arrangements do nod at Gil Evans' or Mingus' styled approaches.
The date opens with two parts of "Elvin Suites" which as an original tune from the project with Kelter is a single composition. The original is an African styled piece with African harmonic voices meshed with piano flashes and cymbals. All of that is beautifully arranged here with dry hissing of Watts' brushes that drives the first part. It is indeed difficult to discern between what's arranged and what is spontaneous. The band's rapport is impressive and everything it plays sounds right. The second part emphasizes the drums and there are polyrhythmic runs that drive this piece with saxophonist Uffe Markussen taking the lead and soon the band steps on the gas and ups the game loud.
The Rolling Stones classics are beautifully rearranged and reharmonized. Nothing in these arrangements would hint at the original songs but a solo instrument would take a lead and directly reference the original melody. Even though named as "Faction" as soon as one hears the melody on the flugelhorn it becomes clear that this is "Satisfaction." Watt's subtle and non-flashy rhythm playing is utterly flawless and galvanizes the band. The same goes for the other two Stones classics "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and "Paint it Black." By no means is this a tribute of faithful recreations of these songs. The arranger shows a daring flair for reimagining these songs. Each of them is rethought and remodeled in order to come out with a vibrant new music. With its imaginative blend of melodies and grooves and colorful textures and timbres, these songs are a launchpad for the big band and its soloists to shine.
"I Should Care" is one of the hidden gems in this collection. There is a certain easiness and flow in this composition, but no blandness at all. The various soloists are stimulating and attentive conversationalists, always listening and often picking up on each other's quips. The album closes on a high note with a beautiful stomp "Molasses." Everything here is filled with movement. It's rich and sticky in rhythm and harmony and is exciting and boiling with energy.
This project feels good in the body and soul. The collaborative energy of this band is exhilarating and a joy to listen. More of this, please.
Track Listing:
Elvin Suite Part 1; Elvin Suite Part 2; Faction (also known as Satisfaction); I Should Care; You Can't Always Get What You Want; Paint It Black; Molasses;
Charlie Watts: drums; Per Gade: guitar,Anders Gustafsson: trumpet; Vincent Nilsson: trombone; David Green: acoustic bass; Peter Jensen: trombone; Steen Rasmussen: fender rhodes, piano; Uffe Markussen: tenor sax; Gerard Presencer: flugelhorn; Lars Møller: tenor sax; Steen Nikolaj Hansen: trombone; Nicolai Schultz: flute

The Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra
The Music Of John Lewis

By Mac Randall
When this live album was recorded at New York’s Frederick P. Rose Hall in 2013, Jon Batiste was a respected young pianist from New Orleans. Four years later, he’s that and the leader of a late-night talk-show band on a major network. His name recognition may have gone up, but it’s doubtful you’ll find him playing music like this—a stately set of nine compositions by John Lewis, with support from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, in typically polished form—on Colbert too often.
Lewis and his Modern Jazz Quartet’s unique mix of rootsy blues and classical ambition is well suited to the JLCO’s repertory approach. All the same, the best moments here are the simplest. The opening “2 Degrees East, 3 Degrees West” keeps its early focus on Victor Goines’ expansive clarinet and Doug Wamble’s guitar, which sounds like it came straight from the swamp even before he applies a bottleneck slide. Batiste follows with a solo that zeroes in at first on a few short phrases, then a few notes, and then at last one note repeated over and over—a miniature clinic in the application of dynamics and the delicacy of touch.
Taking central position here are “La Cantatrice,” “Piazza Navona,” “Pulcinella” and “Spanish Steps,” from the MJQ’s 1962 suite The Comedy. One senses a case is being made for this as a major work, and the effort isn’t entirely successful; although the main theme of “Pulcinella” has an appealing spookiness, these pieces are just too all-over-the-place, with different styles, time signatures and tempos running into each other in herky-jerky fashion. “Delaunay’s Dilemma” is more satisfying, as Ted Nash’s alto saxophone slyly traces the outer fringes of the harmony. And Batiste’s unaccompanied take on “Django” is another standout, dizzying in its Rachmaninoff-ian romanticism.