Charles Walker - jazzreview.com - Your Jazz Music Connection - jazzreview.com - Your Jazz Music Connection http://www.jazzreview.com Mon, 22 May 2017 18:43:06 -0500 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Jazz aux Champs-Elysees by Various Artists http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/big-band-swing-cd-reviews/jazz-aux-champs-elysees-by-various-artists.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/big-band-swing-cd-reviews/jazz-aux-champs-elysees-by-various-artists.html Ever since Dexter Gordon won an Oscar for his work in Bertrand Tavernier’s ’Round Midnight, the story of American jazz musicians finding rejuvenation under European stage lights has been a mainstream one. A lot of what those musicians actually played over there, however, has been hard to find Stateside, instead trickling in across the decades through traded tapes, bootlegs and shoddy releases (with a few notable exceptions). So, it is with some interest that this grab-bag of live dates, o
Ever since Dexter Gordon won an Oscar for his work in Bertrand Tavernier’s ’Round Midnight, the story of American jazz musicians finding rejuvenation under European stage lights has been a mainstream one. A lot of what those musicians actually played over there, however, has been hard to find Stateside, instead trickling in across the decades through traded tapes, bootlegs and shoddy releases (with a few notable exceptions). So, it is with some interest that this grab-bag of live dates, one-off jams and unreleased performances arrives on the international market.

Apparently, in the late 1950's, a pianist-cum-radio presenter named Jacques (or his preferred “Jack”) Diéval helmed a show called “Jazz aux Champs-Élysées.” Featuring the cream of the Parisian bebop elite (the aptly named JACE All Stars), the show also welcomed a rotating line-up of American (and European) stars. Included here, for instance, are such luminaries as Lester Young, Lucky Thompson, Chet Baker, Stan Getz & Donald Byrd – most of whom are by now well known for various European recordings, the availability of which, however, leaves much to be desired. If, like many a fan, you are of the mind that any unreleased performances from these masters are worth hearing, then you will undoubtedly rejoice at this collection.

The results, however, are maddeningly middle of the road. Young is his usual late-‘50’s laconic self on the two numbers included here, but sounds downright bored on the stop-time section of “Lester Leaps In.” He perks up a bit on “Jumpin’ with Symphony Sid,” perhaps because he is backed by Rene Urtreger on piano and Pierre Michelot on bass, two of Paris’ finest accompanists of the time. Though he is still pithy, he digs into several verses of the warhorse, spinning off classic lick after jaunty riff, reminiscent of the best of his Verve work of the period. Lucky Thompson and Chet Baker deliver similarly mediocre (for them) performances – Thompson’s lazy, arpeggiated runs rambling over a glacial rendition of “Lover Man,” only gathering a head of steam on “Don’t Blame Me” after several minutes of unadorned theme statement. Of the Americans, perhaps Stan Getz fares best on his mid-tempo run through of “Perdido,” wiggling his way through a busy arrangement, reminding us all what a strong straight-ahead saxophonist he was before the bossa nova years.

The real value of this collection is the airtime it gives to several relatively unknown European musicians, who – if somewhat derivative – could certainly hold their own with the best bop musicians of the day. Guitarist René Thomas has a confident melodic imagination and a crisp, staccato attack on “Rose Room,” his precise articulation a welcome change of pace from many of his six-stringed colleagues. Vibraphonist Géo Daly is a revelation, his swirling solo on “Moonglow” both virtuosic and breathtaking. Perhaps drummer Daniel Humair is the best example of the continental divide indicated here: backing Donald Byrd on brushes, he is a competent accompanist, but unmemorable; as a featured guest of the JACE All Stars, he jumps all over his kit, incorporating ideas from Sid Catlett to Gene Krupa on down to Art Blakey, maintaining a melodic, talking current across the top of all that torrential rhythm.

There are currently over 100 hours of jazz videos and audio recordings available at Ina.fr, much of it the kind of high-quality jam sessions that will appeal to fans of the Jazz at the Philharmonic series on Verve. This collection is a bit too hit-or-miss to truly stand as a “definitive” collection of this material. The American names are undoubtedly helpful as a marketing tool, but the real treasure would be a well-edited series of recordings from European masters who do not have as much recognition beyond their own borders.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Charles Walker) Big Band / Swing - CD Reviews Thu, 10 Mar 2011 06:00:00 -0600
The Blue Mountain's Sun Drummer by Wadada Leo Smith and Ed Blackwell http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/free-jazz-avante-garde-cd-reviews/the-blue-mountain-s-sun-drummer-by-wadada-leo-smith-and-ed-blackwell.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/free-jazz-avante-garde-cd-reviews/the-blue-mountain-s-sun-drummer-by-wadada-leo-smith-and-ed-blackwell.html Strange timing, this. Almost 25 years after it was originally recorded comes this medium-length conversation between two titans of American improvised music. Fans of jazz’ farther out shores will need little introduction to either of the participants here. But despite their joint (and lazy) labeling as “outcats,” the initial highpoints of their careers – Smith’s sparse and subtle phrasing with the Smith-Braxton-Jenkins trio vs. Blackwell’s upbeat tapdancing underneath the classic Ornette Coleman
Strange timing, this. Almost 25 years after it was originally recorded comes this medium-length conversation between two titans of American improvised music. Fans of jazz’ farther out shores will need little introduction to either of the participants here. But despite their joint (and lazy) labeling as “outcats,” the initial highpoints of their careers – Smith’s sparse and subtle phrasing with the Smith-Braxton-Jenkins trio vs. Blackwell’s upbeat tapdancing underneath the classic Ornette Coleman quintet – don’t suggest obvious similarities. It is to their credit, and our benefit, that both men so successfully combined their approaches on the date heard here.

Apparently there was little preparation before the session (a radio broadcast in October 1986), and one can hear a certain pushing and pulling as they repeatedly reconfigure, attempting to adapt to each other’s comfort zones. “Seven Arrows in the Garden of Light” would fit in perfectly well with a standard AACM presentation of the time, Blackwell subduing his usual, perky two-beat snare accents into a rumbling bed of shifting tom rolls. “Sellassie I” meanders in very similar (and non-rasta) territory. On the opening melody of “Mto: The Celestial River,” however, Smith sounds positively New Orleansian, lilting and smearing his way around the gentle percussive stroll underneath. Throughout, in fact, the trumpeter sounds beefier, punchier and more aggressive than on many of his other recordings. Blackwell does well to draw him out in this way.

There is hardly a bad track on the record, though the two spoken word recitations are dated and unnecessary. The real treat is getting to hear these two great improvisers stretch out, listen, and react to one another in much cleaner sound than the average contemporary creative disc. Blackwell’s drums are mic’ed extraordinarily well, his toms, snares and cymbals well separated and resonant. It’s a fine (if sad) testament to exactly how much modern improv’s trap players have stolen from him. Smith, of course, can switch registers, tonalities or rhythm on a dime; here, however, he mostly stays within an appealing upbeat region, focusing on developing each melody through an extended, energetic workout. Unlike many sessions in similar duet settings, both Smith and Blackwell keep the proceedings logical and straightforward, allowing the energy of their approach and the empathy of their interaction to carry them forward. The results are both focused and invigorating.

There is no indication in the packaging if we can expect more previously unreleased material to surface from Smith’s vaults, but this unexpected date certainly makes one hungry for more. Like his bandmate in the Coleman quartet, Don Cherry, Blackwell is often overlooked and underpraised, and any chance we have to hear him in such glorious fidelity should be welcomed. A fine addition to Smith’s discography.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Charles Walker) Free Jazz / Avante Garde - CD Reviews Sun, 06 Mar 2011 06:00:00 -0600
The Garreth Broesche Trio by Garreth Broesche Trio http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/traditional-/-new-orleans-cd-reviews/the-garreth-broesche-trio-by-garreth-broesche-trio.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/traditional-/-new-orleans-cd-reviews/the-garreth-broesche-trio-by-garreth-broesche-trio.html Literary critic Harold Bloom’s contentious phrase - "the anxiety of influence" - sulks and stalks behind the majority of modern, young jazz musicians; simply meaning that m…
Literary critic Harold Bloom’s contentious phrase - "the anxiety of influence" - sulks and stalks behind the majority of modern, young jazz musicians; simply meaning that many of them are so busy either avoiding or imitating their predecessors that genuine personality is lost in the process. Certain praise is due, then, to native Texan Garreth Broesche, whose trio (inexplicably expanded to a quartet for the first six tracks here) manages to incorporate their highly visible influences into a dignified, traditional mix all the more adept, elegant, and free-flowing for the modern sheen that coats its contours. If the group spends its time shuttling between the frenzy of high-strung Djangology and the laid-back chug of Basieite swing, then these formalities are offset and enhanced by a modern musical personality - comfortable with its current - which neither slavishly recreates nor blindly runs from its tributaries.

This quality is due in large part to the mixture of classic material and unexpected instrumentation - Broesche’s mandolin quickly signals gimmickry, but his languorous, full-bodied inventiveness with the instrument lays such fears to rest. As mentioned, the mixture of Broesche on mandolin, Chris Gage on punctually chorded guitar and Lindsay Green on sure-footed bass instantly recalls the spirit of Django and Stephane Grappelly’s quickly traded solos with the Hot Club of France. In particular, alternate guitarist J.D. Pendley’s solo flights (on the three live tracks included at the end of the disc) replete with single note flurries strung between upbeat chordal accents, ooze out from the mystery of an era long gone. "Caravan" carouses with a gypsy swivel, "I’m Coming, Virginia" rocks slowly back and forth on a porch in the north Georgia woods, and the rapid exchanges and thoughtfully echoed phrases in "Straight, No Chaser" burn hot and quick like a cigarette in a fifties night club. These old fashioned flavors boil deep within the Broesche trio, providing the music with a full-bodied resonance - the sound of resources selected in contemplation and celebration.

But the reason such prevalent influence never ultimately overwhelms the group resides in its ability to inject splashes of sensitivity, humor or high-mindedness as the modern ear demands. Not in a sarcastic or ironic way, but with just enough wit to wax a moment fresh with surprise. On "Straight, No Chaser," for example, Broesche’s solo starts as a logical exposition of Monk’s well-worn theme, ending with a typically Monkian four-note figure repeated in half time over the frantic full time strumming of Pendley. Then, after an uneventful two choruses by the guitarist, all three curve off into one half time chorus, cleverly commenting on Broesche’s solo, saluting the singular call and response worked into each wrinkle of Monkian musical fabric. This is the kind of well considered and well executed maneuver that endows the Broesche Trio’s material with personality, energy, and authenticity - it is not a studied feeling, but one that shows the fun of careful study. Perhaps Broesche’s originals are a bit less convincing (though he does pull off some unique rhymes - passion/rehashin’?), though they display the same comfortable elements of well-worn influence and open-ended artistry.

If there is one significant complaint here, it lies with Broesche’s singing; his thin, reedy voice tends to go off a bit on longer-held notes, or just sounds cartoonish on the mercifully short "My New Girlfriend." The lower, languorous aroma of "My Funny Valentine" comes off well, but on the whole his vocal stylings sit unnecessary and unpolished on display next to the group’s formidable musical talents. In all, it is less a criticism of the leader’s voice as it is a compliment to the sure-footed, well-cultivated instrumental interplay going on around it. A fine debut form a group that will likely grow with time.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Charles Walker) Traditional / New Orleans - CD Reviews Thu, 13 Mar 2003 18:00:00 -0600
Outfits by Outfits http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/outfits-by-outfits.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/outfits-by-outfits.html Sunny southern California hasn’t been known as much of a jazz spot for many years. In the postwar period, of course, it was not only a proving ground for so-called "West Co…
Sunny southern California hasn’t been known as much of a jazz spot for many years. In the postwar period, of course, it was not only a proving ground for so-called "West Coast" warriors like Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, the Hermosa Beach Lighthouse All-Stars and their ilk, but also sported a serious variety of future talent along the back alleys, byways, and dark corners of Central Avenue - where Ornette Coleman discovered Something Else, Charles "Baron" Mingus first battled inner Underdogs, Wardell Gray and Dexter Gordon Chased, and Eric Dolphy first found freedom. In recent years, southern California has served more as the jazz musician’s destination for financial freedom - inside the domesticated world of movie soundtrack studios - and less as a viable artistic "scene," which is why it is hopeful, if not altogether exciting, to see this volume of uncommercial jazz from Los Angeles based guitar trio Outfits. And while guitarist John Stowell, six-string bassist Tommy Lockett, and drummer John Lewis do indeed improvise over a wide-ranging set of compositions - from sources as diverse as Jobim, Wayne Shorter, and Tom Harrell - the resulting sound is less late night Central Avenue and more midday Melrose Avenue.

This is primarily a by-product of the trio’s apparent lack of dynamic range; while certainly technically adept musicians, the three tend to let grooves trickle away rather than escalate, to stagnate rather than surprise, and to shift gears independently rather than together. An example being Wayne Shorter’s "Toy Tune," which after a brief theme statement drifts into an intriguing free section. However, while Stowell begins to push the limits, Lockett locks in with brief, perfunctory counterpoint and Lewis seems entirely lost, filling when he should fold, hesitating when he should explode. Lockett comes back in with a 4/4 walking beat, releasing the group into its habitual mundane momentum, and they sail slowly together through a couple choruses of unarousing theme statement. As happens frequently throughout the disc - such as on the overlong "Nefertiti," the watery, unsatisfying "When Jasper Grows Up," or the slow and sun-drenched "Scene" - the three sound like they have learned to play the songs, just not together. The interplay is merely interpretive, not interactive - interpassive perhaps?

Perhaps this sense is a side effect of too-studied studio work and not enough live work on the killing floor of jazz clubs, as the trio’s too-short version of Jovino Neto’s "The Girl’s Colors" bubbles with an intensity hardly found elsewhere on the album. Lockett’s highly intricate melody statement embellishes the lyrical Brazilian theme with a barrage of thirty-second notes and tricky resolutions, Stowell pushes the proceedings with strumming more flamenco than Rio, while Lewis keeps dizzying time amidst a flutter of well thought out accents. The bassist’s six-string electric gives him the room to handle a danceable two-step rhythm while simultaneously echoing in his upper register Stowell’s melody statements on guitar. The whole performance comes to a sudden close well before its natural course has run dry, but it is a sharp, witty, three-minute mélange of influences, held together by sensitivity and a sense of insistence curiously missing from a majority of the other tracks. Perhaps it is the tempo, perhaps it is the flexibility of the melody, or perhaps it was well rehearsed before they arrived in the studio, but whatever the reason, this track stands up to repeated listenings with a shout that all that technical acumen is finally good for more than impressing your cronies down at the local guitar shop.

If these moments of excitement are relatively rare on the album as a whole, glimpses are seen every so often - in the call and response opening to Jim Hall’s "Two’s Blues," and in its twelve-bar alternating solos, in the quasi-military march of Steve Swallow’s "Outfits," or in the convincing samba rendered on Jobim’s "Caminhos Cruzados," which finally finds a groove to build on without relinquishing it with carelessness or demolishing it with power-trio pyrotechnics. Certainly, Outfits has found a unique sound worthy of pursuing, full of clean cadences and promising virtuosity, particularly coming as it does from a part of the world so intent on crass commercialism in favor of genuine artistic innovation. However, in order to succeed in the long run and on the bigger stage, the group will need to find a way to harness that energy into a more confluent, contemplative whole.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Charles Walker) Contemporary Jazz - CD Reviews Thu, 06 Mar 2003 18:00:00 -0600
Herbie Nichols, Volume 1 by Eric T. Johnson http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/straight-ahead-classic-cd-reviews/herbie-nichols-volume-1-by-eric-t.-johnson.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/straight-ahead-classic-cd-reviews/herbie-nichols-volume-1-by-eric-t.-johnson.html Parallelism is a tempting game for the lazy writer - thus the proliferation of name dropping and "sounds like" references in the average music piece. The problem is that it…
Parallelism is a tempting game for the lazy writer - thus the proliferation of name dropping and "sounds like" references in the average music piece. The problem is that it’s the easy way out, a cop out that smoothes over the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of serious musical personalities. Whereby comes the damage to an under-sung talent like Herbie Nichols, whose superficial similarities to Monk have dogged him in the all-too rare discussions of the three LP domain known as Nicholsdom (two for Blue Note and a one-off for Bethlehem). But as guitarist Eric T. Johnson remarks in the liners to this loving tribute program, those who make such quick and ready wrap-up comparisons "just aren’t listening." Nichols’ compositional structures - with all their unconventional chord structures, baroque counterpoint, and erudite (r)evolutions - are worlds away from the looking-glass standards and blues that underwrite Monk’s melodies. Similarly, his formal arrangements - from carefully placed drum fills to his two-handed development of his melodies - come from a whole different school than Monk’s almost tyrannical phrasal repetitions and head-solos-head traditionalism. Although both worked their pet themes through round after round of improvised cat-and-mouse (a talent for melodic development pre-bop in its execution), they arrived at that ethos from two ends of the technical spectrum.

Attending to such individualized tics is the do-or-die imperative of any tribute album, and it is why this one chugs along with that strange mix of sensitivity and punctuality prevalent in so much of Nichols’ music. Financial constraints and jittery record executives prevented the pianist from ever realizing his music on a larger scale than the comfortable piano trio format, but here Johnson expands to a quintet - all without any keyboards - offering a fresh perspective on his compositions. Thankfully, the group approaches them with a relatively serious, straightforward stare - the "tunes" are complex enough and as yet unknown enough to demand the respect of playing them by rules Nichols himself established. As such, they leave a lot of wiggle room: Johnson features everything from Scofield-like reverb to clean cut acoustic, trumpeter Phil Grenadier and tenor man George Garzone trade duties on different tracks - the latter even taking a rollicking turn on soprano for "Crisp Day" - all while bassist Bob Nieske and drummer Nat Mugavero simmer with a steady beat. The latter is particularly attractive on his drum breaks, so critical to the dynamics of a Nichols composition, orienting the musicians amidst the alternating improvised and written sections, adding dialogue in more explicit terms. The solos, while not as intricately wound to Nichols’ melodic universe as one might hope for, do for the most part logically evolve from it and expand it with a notably modern one.

Still, perhaps the most complimentary thing one can say about this debut for Johnson as a leader - and a sincere compliment it is that this group of accomplished musicians neither emasculates nor over articulates, but rather settles into a lived-in but frequently surprising space. At once reverential and rascally, they investigate that strange "serene neurosis" which Nichols manifested in his music: an avoidance of the overplayed "laughing to keep from crying" in favor of a rock-steady, smiling stare into the sun to force the tears that would inevitably arrive otherwise. This is in the sinister, yet laid-back unfolding of "Every Cloud" (brings rain? or sits in sunny skies?), the descending dance of "Chit Chatting," or the way a single repeated note resolves into a rolling phrase in the theme of "It Didn’t Happen" (and who’s asking?). It is a tricky world to visit, one that is unique to Nichols, and one that takes musicians that are more than technically proficient but are also empathetic stylists. That Johnson and company repeatedly find that bittersweet spot on this record is a testament to both their talents and their dedication.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Charles Walker) Straight-Ahead - CD Reviews Wed, 05 Mar 2003 06:00:00 -0600
Songs, Stories and Spirituals by John Patitucci http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/straight-ahead-classic-cd-reviews/songs-stories-and-spirituals-by-john-patitucci.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/straight-ahead-classic-cd-reviews/songs-stories-and-spirituals-by-john-patitucci.html A spiritual - as bassist John Patitucci tries to explain it on his latest Concord release - should be a highly personalized expression of faith in a deeply troubled world. …
A spiritual - as bassist John Patitucci tries to explain it on his latest Concord release - should be a highly personalized expression of faith in a deeply troubled world. It is praise, lament, and hope wrapped into one, a musical location of God’s work in a world often antagonistic to it - a tale told with the dual motion of supplication and the creative action Christians identify as their Lord’s mission for man. Little wonder, then, that spirituals proper were formed in the free-flowing, radical, often clandestine communities of the African-American church during slavery. Bigger wonder, perhaps, that these personal tales have tugged musical heartstrings far beyond the foundations in which they first arose. But how, Patitucci asks here, might a musical form built on intimacy and connection confront a digital globe stretched to its disparate and wide-ranging limits - might one speak of supplication in a secularized and separated world; might one recover reverence in the rubble of man-made indifference?

Patitucci’s answer, on this swollen, but smoothly-flowing set of music, is that only a devotion built on the maturity and multiplicity of the modern world can successfully address man’s pain, his praise, and ultimately his promise. Songs, Stories, and Spirituals offers a bounty of musical gifts, drawn from the distant corners of Patitucci’s career, and woven into a remarkably cohesive statement on the nature of musical possibility. Moods drift from gritty determination ("I Will Arise") to serene sincerity ("In the Bleak Midwinter") to jaunty optimism ("Lei") to open-eyed gratitude ("Chovendo Na Roseira"). Arrangements vary from a straightforward jazz trio setting to a cello-piano duet to a string quartet, with stops along the way for flute, nylon six-string guitar, and the complex, compelling vocals of Brazilian Luciana Souza. All of which is most surprising for the way in which one track deftly transforms into the next without a jarring transition in sight, a thoughtful service composed of twelve sermons circling around the same timely theme.

This is mostly attributable to the fantastic level of empathy evinced by Patitucci, drummer Brian Blade, and pianist Ed Simon, who undergird the proceedings on all but a couple of tracks. Patitucci - from his classical arco proclivities to his fleet-fingered electric excursions - Blade - from his thunderous mallet rumblings to his Tony Williams scattershot percolations - and Simon - from his pianistic jazz cadences to his percussion work - sport more flexibility than an Olympic gymnastics team, proving true a subtle axiom: that virtuosity lies in variety. Thus, they steam forward on the straightforward "Tell Tale," they ebb and recede on the beautifully constructed "Now the River," and they surrender to simplicity on the slowly unfolding "It Never Entered My Mind." In addition, they work well in tandem or split into pieces: Simon wraps lush arpeggios lovingly around Sachi Patitucci’s cello exposition of "Love Eternal," and Patitucci and Blade breathe heavily on "Wise One," the bassist’s circular, droning spirals swerving and sidling up to the drummer’s tom rolls and shimmying cymbal work. Rarely is a whole group of musicians both talented enough and self-effacing enough to convincingly render an entire set of such varied music - the trio at the heart of this album sits behind the subtle charms of Songs, Stories and Sprituals’ personality.

Whether his recent work with Wayne Shorter’s acoustic quartet, his contribution to Chick Corea’s Elektric Band, or his longtime (if lesser-known) association with Brazilian music, Patitucci has brought together all of those influences into a highly personal, contemplative, largely cohesive program of music, one that sits like a benchmark between past exploits, present collaborations, and future possibilities. If one views these elements as thankfulness, creativity, and promise, respectively, then it is easy to witness the prayerfulness that anchors the music’s center. This endows Songs, Stories and Spirituals with an integrity that lifts the album with a cohesive buoyancy, making statements while eschewing the pretension that seeks to answer every question. In times like these - whether politically or more narrowly in the self-suffocating jazz universe - therein lies a faith of fitful possibility and dire necessity; certainly it is an accomplishment, but it also surrenders and surprises with all the personality and open-endedness of the best art.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Charles Walker) Straight-Ahead - CD Reviews Sun, 23 Feb 2003 06:00:00 -0600
Going Home by Bill Mays Trio http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/bebop-hard-bop-cd-reviews/going-home-by-bill-mays-trio.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/bebop-hard-bop-cd-reviews/going-home-by-bill-mays-trio.html The word "home" is one of the most highly-charged in the English language, evoking a range of emotions from trepidation to nostalgia, based on the past circumstances of the…
The word "home" is one of the most highly-charged in the English language, evoking a range of emotions from trepidation to nostalgia, based on the past circumstances of the person hearing it. Pianist Bill Mays toys with this notion on his new Palmetto release, a thematic rumination on the power of homecoming; it follows 2001’s seasonal suite, Summer Sketches. All eleven tracks are in some way related to the coming-and-going patterns of homebuilding, be it a sense of relaxed return, anxious separation, or anticipated movement. In the process, Mays - with trio mates Martin Wind on bass and Matt Wilson on drums - makes a thoughtful statement on the ambiguous, elusive nature of "home," the perpetual instinct to nestle no matter how many obstacles interrupt those efforts.

That this issue should weigh heavily on a road-weary musician’s mind is no surprise. What is impressive, however, is the accomplished way in which this trio builds a musical home flexible enough yet centered enough to engage all the different sides of the subject. They do this primarily by centering their various types of musical explorations around the most fundamental of jazz gestures - the "home base" of insouciant groove, also known as swing. This is evident from the first few moments of the opening "Judy," a Mays original named for his wife. Perhaps like its namesake, Wilson provides a cunning, open-ended pattern which allows Mays and Wind to formulate a sly game of sonic tag. What starts as the simple call and response figures of the theme (actually a left hand and bass unison line, adding sneaky dynamics) gives way to a rolling counterpoint, pulls back to a true, echoed call and response, and grows organically to a climax at the three and a half minute mark, where a tasty triplet figure by Wind spurs Mays into a stunning half-chorus of fragmented rhythm and hanging melodies. The point of which being that no matter how complex the machine’s parts, it whirrs with the relaxed chug of musical domestication - three homeboys listening, interjecting, and effortlessly gelling.

These moments are frequent and give voice to deep roots, giving the lie to a jazz hype machine that repeatedly over-praises and overlooks (see the critics’ consensus on The Bad Plus, for instance). If Mays’ singing on the closing "I’m a Homebody" is more cute than critical, it is the rarity on an album that takes on originals and standards, up tempo burners and slow ballads with equal relish, engaging them all with a relaxed, lived-in feel that refuses gimmicks and demands sincere abandon. Perhaps there is no clearer example of this than the back-to-back midpoint of the program, Mays’ "On the Road" followed by his "Shoho Love Song," referring to the corner of Pennsylvania the pianist claims as his own. The former is a dazzling display of three-part virtuosity, a down and dirty composition in which Wind’s fleet ostinatos, heavy double stops, and anticipatory walking figures provide a headlong momentum. In the latter, however, Mays’ romantic imagination lets loose, in an almost hovering, impressionistic example of ballad writing rarely seen in modern jazz. All of which is to say that in the first they loosen up enough and in the second they flex enough muscle to avoid both showmanship and syrupy sentimentality - all an offshoot of the trio’s profound level of interaction.

This disc makes it clear that Mays has been both itinerant enough and found enough appealing stops along the way to understand the expanding and contracting that occurs in building new homes and then leaving them behind. The true joy for listeners lies in the evidence that he has found a semi-permanent home away from home - with Wind and Wilson he has enough dialogue, relaxation, and challenge to build on that feeling for years to come. Any group with enough range to take on Bob Dorough’s "Comin’ Home Baby" in the same deep breath as Dvorak’s "Going Home" from the New World Symphony has clearly cast a wide enough net to create the comforts of home no matter where their travels take them.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Charles Walker) BeBop / Hard Bop - CD Reviews Wed, 12 Feb 2003 12:00:00 -0600
Vertical Vision by Christian McBride http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/fusion-cd-reviews/vertical-vision-by-christian-mcbride.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/fusion-cd-reviews/vertical-vision-by-christian-mcbride.html For several years now, bassist Christian McBride has been dead set on proving true the old axiom that not only does jazz have the ability to broaden the scope and depth of …
For several years now, bassist Christian McBride has been dead set on proving true the old axiom that not only does jazz have the ability to broaden the scope and depth of popular music, but that the latter can also rejuvenate and invigorate the former when it hits a rut. Indeed, if McBride began his professional career in the traditionalist trenches of the early nineties, the turn of the century has seen him refocus his gaze on the rock, soul, and fusion of the 70’s and 80’s. These efforts have still born the stamp of traditionalism; they have just been attempts to redefine exactly what the "tradition" includes. It is a rare mainstream musician today who is seriously reinvestigating the canon of Weather Report and the Mahavishnu Orchestra and making the argument that it is still vibrant territory to be expanded and explored, particularly if he does so without commercial forays down the slippery slope of "smoothness."

But this is precisely what McBride has offered forth on Vertical Vision, his debut for Warner Brothers. The tongue in cheek opener, "Circa 1990" (a scratchy, 16-second snippet of a retro-swing tune) points up the bassist’s stern-faced dedication to this new direction, in sharp response to the snobbish responses to 1998’s A Family Affair and 2000’s Sci-Fi (his earlier similar departures, both on Verve). From that moment on, for fifty solid minutes, McBride is committed to an aesthetic every bit as reconstructionist and conservative as his neo-bop days - the difference being that here he substitutes Jaco-like fretless work for his Ray Brown-style walking, a variety of keyboards for plain piano, and modern break beats for reliance on the ride cymbal. Indeed, this recreation is so faithful at some points, such as in his sliding, fretless double stops and ringing harmonics in "The Ballad of Little Girl Dancer," or in the slow, sunrise textures of "Tahitian Pearl," that I had to make sure I hadn’t accidentally thrown Black Market or Word of Mouth into my player.

That said, the greatest success of this disc by far lies in McBride’s commitment to the aesthetic he is mining (like on his earlier works), his patent refusal to settle for the facile, "commercial" resolutions inherent in the genre. Indeed, the pure excitement that results from his sincere appreciation of this music yields the highpoints of the album. Particularly when he is worrying least about what purists will say, he ends up with the most compelling, forward-looking music. It is when McBride lets his funk-rock influences inform his bass lines, forming hard-line, up-for-the-down-stroke riffs, that he begins to reach the heights of the records that inspired this one. Whether when he and Ron Blake lock into the same simple-note pattern halfway through "Boogie Woogie Waltz," or in the all-out hard-driving riff that opens "Technicolor Nightmare," these moments act like a renovation, a dusting-off of a much-maligned, dark corner of jazz’s history - those two songs like a glossy book cover that only tells part of the story of what’s inside.

Still, all this is part of the larger issue at work on Vertical Vision, the question of how to canonize this still-contentious period of jazz history without either smoothing it over or slavishly recreating it. This is something even more "outside" players like Matthew Shipp and Dave Douglas have been asking lately, albeit within their own aesthetic constraints. Here McBride answers it most satisfactorily on a number like "The Wizard of Montara," where he combines overt bop dynamics with the intriguing keyboard work of Keezer, or on "Lejos de Usted," where he takes a cue from the pulsing recent work of the Jazz Composer’s Collective. For most bass players that approach the jazz landscape of the 70’s and 80’s, fretless in hand, the world is broken up into pre and post-Jaco. It is only in moments like those just mentioned when McBride escapes this trap, by incorporating his multiple areas of interest (both sides of the great Jaco divide) into a more coherent, combined sum. That alone deserves an honorable mention, though like most honorable mentions, it is given more out of respect for the attempt than heartfelt love for the ultimate result. With a little luck, McBride will continue to listen to his own desires more than those of the record executives at the major labels he frequents; however, hopefully one day that exploratory spirit will yield a more synthetic whole.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Charles Walker) Fusion - CD Reviews Sun, 26 Jan 2003 06:00:00 -0600
Mr. Dodo by Rosario Giuliani http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/straight-ahead-classic-cd-reviews/mr.-dodo-by-rosario-giuliani.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/straight-ahead-classic-cd-reviews/mr.-dodo-by-rosario-giuliani.html No matter how thoughtful or inspired much of modern jazz is (and much of it is, I promise), it is increasingly difficult to find musicians who don’t take themselves too ser…
No matter how thoughtful or inspired much of modern jazz is (and much of it is, I promise), it is increasingly difficult to find musicians who don’t take themselves too seriously - the weight of history and the pressures of constant innovation fighting the fun at every step. One might do well to scan the horizon: the humor apparent in European jazz - Han Bennink tossing wooden kitchen spoons Misha Mengelberg’s way - has been well documented for some time, whether Americans have chosen to listen or not. No such fussy stuff here then, either, as an all-Italian quartet with meaty chops rips through a blistering set of high-octane, solo-intensive jazz; the muscular breadth of ideas matched only by the unadulterated exuberance of their execution. Rosario Giuliani and crew have little truck with the spate of style wars currently fashionable, relying instead on the time-tested joy of old American swing. Often with a capital S.

Thankfully, then, it is with a certain audaciousness that Giuliani comes out of the gate with fists raised, tempo topped out, tone tightened to an off-kilter acidity, and tongue-tying technical intricacies wrapped in the folds of every phrase. If not the most subtle approach, it is rare to find an opener with as much instant adrenaline delivery as Giuliani’s "Mr. Dodo," pistons pumping with sheer verbose force. In a sense, it is reminiscent of a bebop aesthetic in which flat-out fluency had to be proved first before one was given credence on a bandstand; in another very real sense, however, Giuliani is a consummate enough musician to avoid the pitfalls such bop-based flurries inspired: the mindless, mile-a-minute mechanics of too many straight ahead discs on the market today. If Giuliani comes out of a lineage anchored by Coltrane’s emotional urgency, it is motivated by the revolutions of Jackie McLean’s harmonic keening and tempered by the florid eloquence of Benny Carter’s supple resolutions. On the title track "Mr. Dodo," "September," and most of all on "Mimi" - the most startling virtuosic displays of the day - Giuliani is tethered around a pole of high tension, clearly inspired by his material and musical companions, playing the game of statement and substitution with such alacrity that the smile is nearly visible spreading across his breathless mouth.

Giuliani also acquits himself nicely, if less joyfully, on the slower numbers that add pacing to the album. Flanked by a solid set of compatriots, Giuliani is able to surrender to a variety of moods, adding a much needed respite from the all-out assault launched during the disc’s most inspired moments. Marcello di Leonardo - from his thoughtful tom-tom work on "Home," attentively goading Giuliani to surprising heights, to his thunderous, exhilarating ride out on "Sortie" - offers a surge, pulse, and counterattack without which Giuliani would flap aimlessly. Most consistent, however, is pianist Pietro Lusso, who shines during his contributions. His full, two-handed articulations act like the perfect foil for Giuliani’s side winding tsunami of single-note phrases; on "September" he moves confidently back and forth between McCoy Tyner linearity and a gospel-inflected block chord style, hammering home his points without faltering at Giuliani’s frenetic pace. Ornette Coleman’s "The Blessing," taken at a mid-tempo trot, provides space for a short, but sure-fingered solo, mixing a harmonic fullness (foreign to much of Coleman’s pianoless quartet) with a fragmented, sideways sense of melodic incorporation taken straight from the composer’s approach. Straight lines shaded with angular, two-fisted explorations, Lusso’s style is mature and carefully formed, and ensures that when Giuliani steps back from his inspiring statements, the listener is left in able hands.

Dreyfus Jazz has long been a label for Americans looking to expand their collections if not their stylistic preferences. Giuliani and his band of sympathetic soldiers is no exception to the club, offering challenging compositions attacked with a straightforward ingenuity, openness and outright joy. If not the most starling release of the year, it ranks among the most enjoyable, proof positive that stern-faced, bulky jazz music can snap to smiling, svelte shape in the hands of the right practitioner.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Charles Walker) Straight-Ahead - CD Reviews Mon, 26 Aug 2002 13:00:00 -0500
Exit 13 by Sylvia Cuenca and Kyle Koehler f. Dave Stryker http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/soul-/-funk-jazz-cd-reviews/exit-13-by-sylvia-cuenca-and-kyle-koehler-f.-dave-stryker.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/soul-/-funk-jazz-cd-reviews/exit-13-by-sylvia-cuenca-and-kyle-koehler-f.-dave-stryker.html Out of soul-surrendering late night juke joints and transformed waffle houses comes a sound with more Spirit than serenity, cobbled together, coordined off from upscale ear…
Out of soul-surrendering late night juke joints and transformed waffle houses comes a sound with more Spirit than serenity, cobbled together, coordined off from upscale ears, and counted with the flippancy of so much pocket change - a trad trio with open ears and ancient lamentations, mixing popular aspirations (dancing and all that jazz) with the old, precarious nexus that surrounds artistic innovation. Or so the myth runs with regard to the outmoded organ, guitar and drums triumvirate, shuffling and shaking its boogaloo mystique in its musty corner of music history: a unique moment when jazz and R & B merged to reposition the former firmly in the social milieu that gave it rise, while opening the second to a sophistication and formal protocol neither its greatest practitioners nor admirers saw fit or felt the need to articulate. Bring it on home, now. All of which means little to but makes necessary way for this straightforward, unequivocal pleasure from journeywoman drummer Sylvia Cuenca.

Straight as a Saturday night shot, a bona fide gutbucket throwback, Exit 13 scores high marks for the nonchalant, slowly swaggering way it wanders into a specific jazz idiom, focuses its cat-quick reactions, and hits the hallmarks with a sultry mix of aplomb and abandon. Cuenca, the ostensible leader, serves as the not-so-secret weapon here, mixing a firm, booty-shaking rhythmic righteousness (see the get up and dance groove on "Big Ed") with a percussive sophistication that takes trickier beats to unexpected places. For instance, on the title track, written by organist Kyle Koehler, the lady of the house gets things off to a furiously simmering start with a devious, shimmering solo, which melts into alternating sections in 9/8 and 4/4. There is little ostentation about it; she simply darts and weaves, clenches and releases, supports and prods, acting like the conductor for Koehler and guitarist Dave Stryker, the other members of the trio, keeping one foot firmly in the pocket while the other hops wildly around the margins. She boils openly on Duke Pearson’s "Minor League," cymbals crashing and snare snapping to, locking in riffs and restructuring them under both quick-witted solos, but she is also able to burn quietly with subtle restraint on the gorgeous "It’s Easy to Remember." Above all, it is this variety embedded in Cuenca’s approach that keeps this record from the engineless repetition that plagues the worst of organ trio excess - endless groove back beaten straight down the center to irredeemable tedium, a machine running on fumes.

Indeed, it is hard to find fault with a record setting its sights so particularly on a goal that is then achieved with extra artistic wiggle room to spare. The choice of tunes is never obvious, but hardly obscure, while their execution finds a nice mix of uncluttered solo space and closely-wagered, risk-inducing reaction. Koehler - as with fellow modern organists Larry Goldings and Sam Yahel - finds more to explore in the shadow of Larry Young than Jimmy Smith, which is by all means a compliment to the complex (if generally appealing) nature of his approach. Stryker is an absolute master of this genre, his cleanly articulated, riff-and-roll bebop phrasing - punctuated with stretches of Wes Montgomery octave work - paying shuffle-shook service to syncopated groove with every step. It is an outright joy to hear the three of them locked in the uptempo scorchers at which all three excel, solos building to a repeated riff climax, releasing into an outro fadeout: the Book of Groove opened, preached and prayed upon. One more one time, now.

As The Crossing, Cuenca’s previous release on Etoile, surfaced in an entirely different era of jazz history, it will be fascinating to see where she emerges next; she seems tremendously proficient at assembling thoroughly able casts of musicians to mine one style’s structural riches and present them with intact artistic credibility. Such an ethos in lesser hands becomes anathema, but with Cuenca it amounts to a high-stakes game of musical suspense: the listener is left to wait eagerly for the next installment. Or one may simply sit back late on a Saturday night, settle into the soul-satisfying surge of Exit 13, and surrender to its time-tested release.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Charles Walker) Soul / Funk Jazz - CD Reviews Fri, 23 Aug 2002 07:00:00 -0500