Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Top Ten Sources

Looks like this blog got linked to from a site called Top Ten Sources today. Thanks!
--Brian

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

David Kikoski: The Maze

Great playing, good compositions, but (first impressions...) something's not making it happen as well as I know Kikoski can do. Apparently this is his first all-original session, writing six songs which sound as if he's working on a concept album (Puddles of Memory, Shame, Disentanglement...) - are these song titles chronicling the end of a relationship, maybe?

(Note: as I lived with this recording more and more, it grew on me. In fact, listening to the opening bars of the first track "Revival" does rev me up... now I'm quite fond of this set.)

Kikoski always seems like a precise and in-control player to me - in his playing and composing as well. His compositions are jazz but he sometimes add dramatic elements of classical or other types of piano music into his songs. This album has more of that, and several pieces play with time signatures or syncopation... but for some reason feels a bit too... plodding?... to me. Not exciting enough. There are moments (I like how the album begins strongly with Revival, but overall it doesn't generate the same feelings some of his other records have done. Try Surf's Up or Combinations. Blake on saxophone sounds polished but maybe a bit too smooth - is it the equipment or just how he chooses to play?

All that being said, I do have to admit that I'll listen to this album when I want to hear Kikoski, but have overheard his other recordings - it's a nice change, just not up to par with the other records he has available.

Released in 1999, Kikoski is joined by Seamus Blake (tenor sax), Scott Colley (bass), and Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums).

Interesting in this recording? Listen to audio samples and get it here:

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Mitchell Forman: Now & Then


The full title of this disc is Now & Then: A Tribute to Bill Evans, and a piano trio with Forman, bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette is a great vehicle for clean, nicely-recorded version of some of Evans' favorite tunes, both his own and those standards he was known to play.

The disc starts of with Waltz for Debby, which immediately sets the tone for what is going on here. The trio tastefully and romantically sets up the childlike melody, harmonies, and rhythm which express the mood of this piece so well. No one is trying to outshine or impress here, it is just the music which is important.

Next, a fast and enthusiastic version of Walkin' Up moves the listener's ear in a new direction, with more exciting, toe-tapping energy. Forman skillyfully flies over the harmonic movements with nimble fingers and good ideas. DeJohnette is especially talented here at both following and predicting the shapes and comments the pianist makes here. It is similar to Bill Evans' version, but with some different figurations and a sharper edge to it.

Next, Nardis brings mystery and quiet drama to the set, moving into darkly swinging time, out, and back again. My Romance and My Foolish Heart follows - and right about here the listener begins to think that maybe this trio could have chosen some of the less-predictable Evans songs. Anyhow, it's an enjoyable ride. It is a Tribute to Bill Evans after all. The remainder of the album contains versions of Gloria's Step, How My Heart Sings, and But Beautiful, along with two Forman originals (Now and Then, the title track, is quite nice).

Listening to this disc creates the feeling of attending a live jazz concert titled Tribute to Bill Evans - watching a professional trio recreating an Bill Evans set that night - "just as it happened" - for all of us who never got to see Bill Evans in person. However, it is not just a pianist trying his best to imitate the Evans style. The Evans-style has influenced many jazz pianists, but it is nice to also be able to distinguish Forman's voice and recognize DeJohnette's and Gomez's contributions.

It may be worth mentioniong that DeJohnette and Gomez did play with Evans in a trio setting as well, such as on the great Live at Montreux Jazz Festival recording from 1968.

Recorded in 1992 for the Novus label.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Wayne Shorter: Etcetera


I have been a fan of Shorter's Blue Note albums for a while now. I have kind of avoided picking up Etcetera for some reason, maybe because it just seemed different and worried me for some unexplainable reason. Joining Shorter are Herbie Hancock on piano, Cecil McBee on bass, and Joe Chambers on drums.

I'm listening to it now for the first time. The title track is nice, abstractish but with a good pulse. Herbie Hancock and Shorter are conversing fluently, proving they are really tuned in and listening - one of the rewards of listening to jazz is knowing the musicians are listening just as hard. Interesting: the second track Penelope contains a melodic fragment from the opening statement of El Gaucho from 1966's Adam's Apple. Since Etcetera was recorded in 1965, perhaps part of Penelope became the inspiration for El Gaucho?

Next track up, Toy Tune is a mid-tempo romper which seems to drift through several keys but not settling on any one in particular for very long. Strange but interesting, a nice Shorter experiment here. Barracudas (General Assembly) is the only tune on the album not by Shorter - it's a Gil Evans song. It builds up nicely and makes the 11-minute track a great jazz exploration. The fifth and last song, Indian Song, is a mysterious and rhythmically interesting song which picks up a vicious energy at times as the journey continues. A rewarding album. I asked myself, why did I wait so long to pick this up? However, it is a great suprise for me to discover great Shorter music from one of his most productive phases, and to listen to it for the first time.

Recorded in 1965 for Blue Note.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Michel Petrucciani: Pianism


A great piano trio album. Pianist Petrucciani plays with Palle Danielsson and Eliot Zigmund for some amazingly musical jazz. This isn't a "turn on the machine, open the book, and crank em out"-type session at all: this is excellent music with thinking and consideration behind it. Petrucciani is the featured soloist, but the bassist and drummer provide more than support, adding creative musicality and taste to the overall sound of this record. There are three personalities working together here to have fun and create a true musical offering. Petrucciani's swift, accurate lines weave rhythmic patterns and melodic ribbons around the musical framework created by the bassist and drummer, who are also playing with the framework from chorus to chorus.

Two standards are played (Night and Day, and Here's That Rainy Day), but most of the material is original from Petrucciani. The pianist was only 22 at the date of this recording!

From 1985 on Blue Note - his first for that label.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Jim Hall: Jim Hall And Basses

Fantastic guitarist Jim Hall is paired up with different basses (er, bassists) to play a set in his lyrical, always interesting fashion. The contributing bassists are world-class musicians themselves:
  • Scott Colley
  • George Mraz
  • Dave Holland
  • Christain McBride
  • Charlie Haden
It is melodic, atmospheric, sometimes mellow, and filled with Hall's tasteful and perfectly chosen chords and lightly-swinging single-note lines. To me, his strummed chords and rhythmic placement especially shine - providing just enough of a contrast to his single-note melodies to create interesting sounds and feelings. The bassist, as expected, are all professional and creative, and each supports Hall and the piano-bass format perfectly.

There four freeish pieces entitled Abstract 1-4, and other classic jazz standards such as All the Things You Are, Don't Explain, and Besame Mucho (played on an acoustic guitar - most of the songs played through his characteristic mellow electric sound).


Although I usually say that I really miss the drums on a straight-ahead jazz record, this one does make for a very nice alternative, when the mood is right.

From 2001 on TelArc.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Stan Getz: Anniversary!

A straight-ahead swinging set from Getz and company (Kenny Barron, Rufus Reid, and Victor Lewis). Recorded live at the Montmarte Club in Copenhagen, Denmark, in celebration of Getz's 60th birthday. Getz's tone on ballads (I Can't Get Started, I Thought About You) is still as soft and soothing as ever, and Kenny Barron is always a pro and so enjoyable to listen to. The highlight for me on this recording is the mid-tempo Stella by Starlight, although the opening swinging number El Cahon is a great set-opener to hook you in. After Stella, Stan's Blues focuses first on Reid's creative blues ideas on his bass, before Getz sinks in... but then, when Barron gets a turn to play his behind the beat, groovy piano, watch out!). The most intense, up-tempo moments arrive late in the set, during What Is This Thing Called Love?, and leave room for some nice drum work from Victor Lewis.

Great, clean live sound at this nice club. From 1987, released on EmArCy.


Thursday, August 11, 2005

David Hazeltine: Alice in Wonderland

I picked up this CD while in Japan last week. Seems to be a Bill Evans-inspired set, a trio recording with bassist George Mraz and durmmer Billy Drummond. Recorded in 2003, and released in 2005 on the Venus label (from Tokyo).

Hazeltine's trio draws almost exclusively on material that was popular with Evans, such as Alice in Wonderland, Autumn Leaves, and How Deep in the Ocean. The pianist contributes a song titled For Bill which makes it more clear what the intention is here. Hazeltine and the trio do play in the "Evans trio" style, even copping the legendary trio's arrangements and some of Evans' characteristic turns of phrase. It is a nice record for listening to, though, if you don't let the mimicry get to you. I found it easy to enjoy.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Phineas Newborn: The Newborn Touch

What is the "Newborn Touch"? A good question. I would use the words accurate, deliberate, strong, determined, forceful and maybe even aggressive to describe it. Of course his touch on the piano is not all these things at all times. But I do get the impression that sometimes when he plays, it is almost like a hammer pounding nails - carefully, but with enough strength to drive the thing where it needs to go.

I like other of Newborn's albums quite a lot: A World of Piano!, for instance, is one of my favorites. However this one, at first listen, doesn't seem to compare very well. It is known that Newborn had some mental and physical problems during a period in his life, where he performed and recorded very little; this record was recording during one of his down periods, I believe.

Joining Newborn on this trio album are Leroy Vinnegar (bass) and Frank Butler (drums).

This album is just ok, but to be honest, I was not that interested in it upon the first listen. I found myself losing interest at several points, and rather wishing that I was listening to A World of Piano instead... I will give this another try someday, though.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Jazz in Chicago

Chicago has some nice options for jazz:

Andy's Jazz Club - a restaurant/bar with live jazz on stage. The restaurant is centered around the live show, so having a table is pretty near essential for enjoying it. Otherwise you are going to be crowded around the bar. Getting a table is easy though, just get on the list... even if you're only going to have dessert.

The Green Mill - a smoky little bar (really smoky little bar) which is also centered around the live jazz. There is a mini stage behind the bar. Here's a very long and detailed review of the Green Mill.

Jazz Showcase - a superb listening venue for jazz artists. The seats are up-close against the just-above-floor-level stage, creating a personal, living-room vibe for the audience and performers. The bar is off to the side towards the back and doesn't interfere with the show at all.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Wolfgang Muthspiel: Perspective

Guitarist/violinist Muthspiel plays with bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Paul Motian on this 1996 effort. All songs by Muthspiel. At times spacy, loose, textured, modern, agile, composed. More "modern" than "jazz", but listenable. The melancholy deep in the first track Gang of 5 reminds me, for a moment, of the same sad feelings found on Vangelis' Blade Runner soundtrack from 1982 (which itself is really good). Track three, No, You Hang Up First, adds a little shuffle-swing feel to the set - ok... interesting! Also, some amount of synth-guitar and synth-violin scattered through the set, creating playful electronic sounds. The last song, Blues for Nefertiti, closes the album nicely with walking bass and rambling lead lines cavorting through the measures , pushed on along by Motian's interpretation of swing.



Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Larry Goldings & Bob Ward: The Voodoo Dogs

This is a platter full of smoothy jazz, pseudo-world fusion, and soul funk music blended up together like a jazz smoothie. Featured instruments are the organ (Goldings) and guitar (Ward), with a bunch of electronics and urban-sounding drum tracks. With some world vocals, flute, bongos, and a touch of samples here and there. I suppose you can put this one on when you feel the need for relaxing but groovy background music. (It sounds to me to be what a restaurant like Rainforest Cafe might want to play to attempt a "sophisticated, jazz sound" which also has a good drumbeat groove. Or something like that.)

Most songs sound pretty much right at the same tempo, that groove-tempo, the funky light-rock style which hopefully doesn't offend too many people. This is not jazz in the traditional sense though - there is not really a true swing beat and not much (any?) improvisation - it's all about the groove here. Maybe a better category for this release would be something like "world groove".

From 2000, on the Palmetto label.

Monday, June 13, 2005

John Coltrane: Legacy

Legacy is a 4-CD box set of Coltrane's work from different time periods. What is interesting about this compilation is that Coltrane's son Ravi (also a sax player) assembled the tracks for this compilation. Each disc is titled according to a theme conceived by Ravi. The included booklet (mostly written by Lewis Porter, author of John Coltrane: His Life and Music) has nice pictures and a disc-by-disc explanation of why these particular tracks were chosen, using comments from Ravi Coltrane. There is also a brief essay at the end of the booklet titled "Later Trane" written by Amiri Baraka.

A brief sample of some of the material found here:
  1. "Harmonic And Melodic" Disc 1: Countdown, Naima, Giant Steps, After the Rain, Crescent, Dear Lord
  2. "Rhythmic" Disc 2: My Favorite Things, Impressions, Compassion, Tranesonic, Venus
  3. "Elvin and Trane" Disc 3: Liberia, Up 'Gainst the Wall, Your Lady, The Drum Thing, Wise One
  4. "Live" Disc 4: Impressions, I Want To Talk About You, Naima

All of the tracks except one are from previously released albums. I normally don't go for compilations since I have most of Coltrane's stuff anyhow, but I have to admit, it is nice to have a good collection compacted into a few discs so you can listen to highlights from the different phases of development, back to back. The one previously-unissued track is titled One Up, One Down and is coupled with Nature Boy on the live disc - a 30-minute track!

One choice that had to be made was to include some tracks from A Love Supreme: Acknowledgement (Part 1) on Disc 1, and Pursuance (Part 3) on Disc 3. I suppose it is essential to include some music from Coltrane's masterpiece album...but there is something a little unsettling about splitting the suite up like this and taking pieces of it out of context. Even so, there is great music that need to be heard here.

This collection contains material from these albums and spans the following recording years:

1955 - The New Miles Davis Quintet (Miles Davis CD)
1957 - Coltrane (Prestige/Fantasy)
1957 - Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane
1957 - Blue Train
1958 - At Newport 1958 (Miles Davis CD)
1958 - The Last Trane
1959 - Giant Steps
1959 - Coltrane Jazz
1960 - Coltrane's Sound
1960 - My Favorite Things
1961 - Live at the Village Vanguard - The Master Takes
1962 - Coltrane (Deluxe Edition) (Impulse)
1962 - Ballads
1963 - Impressions
1963 - Live at Birdland
1964 - Crescent
1964 - A Love Supreme
1965 - The John Coltrane Quartet Plays
1965 - Dear Old Stockholm
1965 - Living Space
1965 - Sun Ship
1965 - Meditations
1966 - Live at the Village Vanguard Again!
1967 - Stellar Regions
1967 - Interstellar Space

A nice collection, from 2002 on Impulse.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Hiromi: Brain

This is an interesting record from the young Japanese piano player Hiromi Uehara, leading a trio with bassists Tony Grey and Anthony Jackson, and drummer Martin Valihora. I wouldn't exactly call it a pure jazz record - contemporary jazz fusion? It contains a mix of electronics, rock, light jazz, funk, and pretty, melancholy piano playing in between everything else.

The group plays Uehara's compositions exclusively on this album, so her compositional skills are being displayed just as much as the playing. Her playing itself is very polished and competent - reminding me almost of a more-robotic Mehldau, perhaps, but a robot not lacking in creative ideas (speaking of which, Mehldau did do similar things on his 2002 release Largo...).

The format is in the piano trio style, but with many extra electronic blips and beeps synth sounds mixed in here and there on certain tracks. Other parts of the album sound very classically composed - such as the title track Brain - with not much of the typical improvisational-jazz feeling found on most jazz records. For instance, on the lovely Desert On The Moon, there is a quick melody phrase from the old standard My One And Only Love - but to me it sounds penned into the music, and not quoted on the spot (not that I mind - I think it's a beautiful drop-in however it got there). Tracks such as this one do illuminate a strong Chick Corea influence in Hiromi's piano playing and writing.

Listening to the first track's electronic craziness, Kung-Fu World Champion, I was reminded of some of Bill Laswell's or Praxis recordings (which featured a drummer who goes by the name Brain).

It's just a little distracting to have all this mixed up together on one record, but it does make for a different listening experience and not just the same old straight-ahead session cuts. Recommended for adventurous, open ears.

From 2004, it's Hiromi's second release on the Telarc label.



P.S. It is enjoyable to find Thom Jurek's reviews on allmusic.com - his descriptive raves for certain players and albums is fun to read (although sometimes perhaps a bit too musician-centric). Here is a quote from his review of Hiromi's Brain:

In sum, Hiromi has built upon her previous effort by stripping down her band and showcasing the less physical but no less ambitious side of her improvisational and compositional flair. Her sound might still be confounding to the purists, but who cares? Hiromi is a jazz pianist for the new century, one whose "yes" to the wealth of musical styles that are available to her is only eclipsed by her ability to work them into a unique whole that bears her signature.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Mal Waldron: One Entrance, Many Exits

A good studio record from 1982, combining pianist Waldron with David Freisen (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums) - and Joe Henderson on some tenor.

The set starts off with a tribute to Benny Golson titled Golden Golson that sounds similar to Golson's Whisper Not (this song, like most of this album, was composed by Waldron). The next track - One Entrance, Many Exits - is a 10-minute duo for piano and bass which is a rising and falling piece of drama with strange semi-free and vamping ideas - no groove really emerges, and it's hard for me to get into it (it's something I would have preferred at the end of the album or maybe as a breather between sides).

Next the pianist moves into Chazz Jazz, a song for Charles Mingus and having some oddly pretty changes (Mingus had just passed away in 1979). Waldron plays solo for this track and keeps it interesting throughout.

On track four, the quartet moves into heavier, modal space for Herbal Syndrome, giving us a chance to listen to Henderson push and shove his notes and patterns around - the rhythm section develops a nice solid groove underneath. And they continue on into a version of How Deep Is The Ocean - retaining a somewhat dark, but not fatalistic, color on this track (is the bass level and reverb throughout this recording that makes it sound that way?). It swings, but in a heavy, slow-burning way.

The trio plays a simple blues called Blues in 4 by 3 to wrap up the set, featuring Waldron's swinging piano and syncopated rhythmic ideas - leaving us with a pretty standard piece of jazz on what is an otherwise nonstandard, adventurous jazz record.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Keith Jarrett: Somewhere Before

An early, pre-"Standards Trio" recording of Jarrett playing with teammates Paul Motian on drums and Charlie Haden on bass.

From a 1968 live recording made at Shelly's Manne-Hole in Hollywood, Jarrett churns out several interesting takes on seven originals and a couple of extras. It's nice to hear what Jarrett's conception was this early in the game... He was only 23 and was playing with Charles Lloyd at the time, but you can from this he was yearning to be out doing his own thing and leading a trio.

The songs are sometimes unusual, but nice and interesting - except for a case of free-jazz-itis which pops up on track 3, Moving Soon. There are some nice moments of calm beauty as in Pretty Ballad and A Moment For Tears. Some say it's a rock-inspired recording, others say Lloyd-inspired. To me, it feels like Jarrett's adventurous and beauty-seeking character was out, but unrestrained and loose, and exploring different corners of music in search of destinations (even ragtime-style is used/abused here). It still mostly feels like jazz, though, especially on Dedicated To You near the end of the set.

Ron Carter and Jim Hall: Live at Village West

A bass & guitar duo set, recorded live in 1982. It's nice to hear Hall's characteristic guitar chords played against a sparce soundscape, with just Carter's bass underneath painting the landscape's foundation. Then, when roles are reversed, Carter floats above it while Hall pins down the harmonies with light strumming. It's a mostly standards set with pieces such as All the Things You Are and Blue Monk.

The audience is pretty quiet throughout, but the clinking cash register reminds you where you are during this set. Overall, a moderately calm set with many slow, but pretty, moments.

John Swana: In The Moment

From 1996, trumpeter Swana's ensemble here includes Eric Alexander (sax), Steve Davis (trombone), Kenny Barron (piano), Peter Washington (bass), and Kenny Washington (drums).

It's a modern jazz session, with about half the compositions being Swana's. The nice grooves, great front-line horn section, and "not just a blowing session" feel of the recording makes it seem like a Jazz Messengers-type of gig (and Alexander's tenor playing has always evoked that same spirit to me, as well). When this music is going, it feels good, as if nothing will go wrong. When these top-notch musicians are playing, everything feels right - this is what jazz is about.

Maybe a little slow (or even... uninteresting) in one or two spots, but overall a consistent and enjoyable release. Swana is nice to listen to, and Barron is always a pro, but I think Alexander's horn catches my ear most of all on these tracks: His melodic ideas and rhythmic offsets (a little like Bill Evan's conception) are just fun and interesting to follow along with.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Christian McBride: Number Two Express

Stellar bassist McBride's second album features great playing from great players: Chick Corea & Kenny Barron (piano/keyboard), Steve Nelson (vibes), Jack DeJohnette (drums). Oh, yes, and Kenny Garrett & Gary Bartz (sax). Nice line-up!

It's a good set with six originals by McBride, and four more (Tones for Joans Bones, Miyako, Jayne, Little Sunflower). Straight-ahead, serious but fun jazz with many creative moments.

At times, because of the great line-up and front men (especially when Corea is playing), I forget that this is actually McBride's date. He is steady and consistent, providing the bass foundation for every song, never disappointing. Once I focused onto his lines, it is clear how much he adds to the overall feeling of a solid, propelled jazz sound. When he gets his solo space, you can hear how technically skilled and musically interesting he is. (He also did write six of the ten songs on this one now that I think of it.) McBride takes the spotlight on bowed bass, in a duo on Wayne Shorter's beautiful ballad Miyako, and also on Little Sunflower, creating a harmony of bass lines recorded separately.

There is one perhaps-misstep: his compositions Divergence and A Morning Story harken back to the fusion era, almost seeming out of place on this otherwise-acoustic session. It doesn't bother me, though: nothing wrong with some variety to mix things up here. But in my opinion, the acoustic straight-ahead tunes provide the winning spots on the album.

From 1996, a Verve record.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Tord Gustavsen: Changing Places

Gustavsen's first ECM release from 2003, with bassist Harald Johnsen and drummer Jarle Vespestad. I picked this up because I enjoyed this trio's second release, The Ground, and wanted more of this kind of slow, deep music to listen to - or, when I didn't feel like listening closely, to have filling up the room with nice, graceful background music.

I listened to this album and compiled a similiar list of thoughts as those I felt when listening to the second album: meditation, smoky, gut-feeling, regret... Bluesy minimalism, European touches. Is this helpful? My reaction list goes on: large piano sound, smaller/narrower bass & drums (but spacious).

Some latin feelings.
Simple, slow melodic lines. Sparse, slow explorations of space vs. melody. That is not to say that there are empty spaces between notes, but rather that the notes they are played are allowed to hang, suspend, and breathe between each other. It's a nice quality.

Moody. Tense in parts. Peaceful, pastoral rural scenes at points.

This album is different from the second in that there is one track which actually has a quicker pulse than the rest.

If there is any complaint to make here, it may be that if you are listening all the way through, the album may sound like too-much-of-the-same near the midpoint, or towards the end (where it almost grew old for me). But for those times when I don't want to listen closely and just have this playing, it should be perfect. At least with this one, I probably won't over-listen to The Ground.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

McCoy Tyner: Things Ain't What They Used To Be

A piano record from Tyner doing eight solo pieces and five duet pieces - pairing with John Scofield and tenorist George Adams. Tyner's piano playing is strong and powerful, but can also drop down to become a caressing ballad in the right places. Pretty much a standards session for Tyner.

Solo piano tracks: The Greeting, Naima, Things Ain't What They Used To Be, Lush Life, Sweet and Lovely, Song For My Lady, What's New, Search For Peace

Duet tracks: With Scofield: I Mean You, Here's That Rainy Day, and Joy Spring. With Adams: Blues on the Corner and My One And Only Love.

From 1989 on Blue Note. It's a good one, especially for students of Tyner (but I still prefer having the drums & double-bass - a whole album of solo piano & duets gets too monotonous for me).

Monday, May 16, 2005

John Taylor: Rossalyn

Pianist's Taylor and his trio featuring Marc Johnson on bass and Joey Baron on drums. It's a mostly-calm and sometimes pensive set - overall contains a feeling of wonder and introspection, in a way. The three musicians work well together, creating music that is worthwhile, accomplishing the goals that each tune sets out to make - sending a message, telling a story, or creating a texture, an emotional state. Enjoyable, if not overly exciting, but very rewarding.
  1. The Bowl Song - starts things off with a slow progression of interesting movements. Feels like a "just getting started, getting to know you"-type intro the album.
  2. How Deep Is the Ocean - starts of mysteriously ponderous, and grows dramatic and exciting.
  3. Between Moons - nice semi-moody piece which seems to tell a tale.
  4. Rossalyn - quiet chant-like meditation-style repeated motif, sounds good for supporting inquisitive thoughts or curious reflection.
  5. Ma Bel - Very nice and interesting interesting, half-positive, half-questioning exploration of the wonderful things in life and music. Seemingly light and playful, but with understated deepness.
  6. Tramonto - pleasant little tune.
  7. Field Day - curious, interesting, playful, a little more complex, pleasing to the ears.
From 2003, ECM, recommended for more curious listeners in search of peaceful, rewarding, subtle modern jazz. A touch of Bill Evans quality is found here. Nice compositions and tune selection.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Wolfgang Muthspiel: The Promise

Starting off with an uptempo latinish song T.G., with an almost-smoothy feeling, at first I thought about skipping this one and checking out something else. Probably because my associations to his other album Real Book Stories - which I really like - I was expecting more mellow, deeper feeling music. But I let it play and continue and I'm glad that I did.

Completing a quintet with guitarist Muthspiel on this one is Bob Berg (sax), Peter Erskine (drums), John Patitucci (bass), and Richie Beirach (piano) - all of which shine. Berg's playing reminds me of his playing on Chick Corea's Time Warp album. In fact, some of the compositions on this record (such as The Sonic Presense of David Lee and The Promise) sound similar to Corea's album. Hmm, Patitucci also played on Chick's album... in fact, check out Time Warp if you haven't already, it's well worth it.

Released in 1991, this album is filled with originals from Muthspiel and a take of My Funny Valentine with a beautiful intro from the guitarist and a nice solo from the bassist playing over light cymbals and graceful guitar comping.

Most of the material is modern-style, interesting compositions. There is some variety, such as the first track mentioned above, and the slow after-hours blues No Luck In Paris (funny how the track after this is titled New York Was Another Story...). But mostly it is just good, honest modern jazz. Check out track 7, La Nevada, which can really get cooking.

Muthspiel is a great player, and I think what shines the most here are his compositions, and Berg's suitability to those compositions.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Bobo Stenson: Serenity

A double-album CD from the Swedish pianist Stenson and his very compatible trio: 90 minutes of music, with bassist Anders Jormin and drummer Jon Christensen, recorded in 1999.

With disc one, the music starts off very melodic and nicely, providing the sort of quiet but dramatic lyricism that Stenson's trio can create so well. Then, the next four songs take it away for me as the open-ended free tunes West Print, North Print, East Print, and South Print - 2 to 3 minutes apiece. Some people like free, but I don't really care for it. The next song continues the mood, but then Golden Rain brings some structure to the set with a beautiful melody and songlike form. The last three songs on this first disc, Swee Pea, Simple & Sweet, and Der Pflaumenbaum, bring more free explorations, a bass solo/intro, mystery, and just really nice trio music.

The second disc is similar to the first in tone and structure, and maybe a bit nicer of the two. It starts with a beautiful piano intro into El Major, which turns into a slow rumbling piece for trio, sounding like the ocean is meditating, at peace. Next, Fader V (Father World) has Stenson plucking and hitting his piano strings to strange effect, and develops into a medium-dark mood piece, mostly free but not spastically so, leading into the next two short tracks (More Cymbals and Extra Low), which are moments of silence, bass bow spacey effects, and single piano notes hanging in the empty air.

Disc two, track five, Die Nachtigall, is simply beautiful music - these moments are the reasons for which I bought this album: "song" music, modern, lovely, delicate, pensive; it has a pulse, it breathes. The music comes alive at this point. A brief diversion into sounds featuring the drumset takes up the next track, then the music really picks up again with Polska of Despair (I), making me happy to spend the money on this CD. Just the right amount of music, melody, tension and release. The remaining two tracks continue in this vein, with moments of calm, beauty, and excitement.

All in all, I like it, even with the free moments and sound explorations. I think it has a lot of potential, and maybe I'll grow into the rest of these experiments someday... in the meantime, there is plenty here for me to enjoy.



By the way, check out this excerpt of a nice review from All Music Guide's Thom Jurek:
Simply put, there are no records like the Stenson Trio's Serenity. The band has outdone themselves by their slow, careful development over three records and has become one of the premier rhythm trios on the planet. Serenity is not only the group's coup de grace, but also a jazz masterpiece of the highest order.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Marilyn Crispell: Storyteller

I think that there will be some people who listen to this, expecting jazz, and say what is this?

Yes, because it's not conventional, traditional, or even what some people consider modern jazz. It is modern, but different. This is what I've come to expect from a record with drummer Paul Motian these days - you should not expect a standard, rhythmic-driving record. He is much more into textures, statements, and playing his instruments as if he was creating something new and fresh each time. In fact, Motian also wrote six of the songs for this record - Crispell brings in three.

This record is of the abstract sort, where canvasses are splashed with paint and called Art. It is telling stories, but not in a language you may immediately understand. The mood of the whole is kind of mysterious and somber (ECM sound helping out here). In a way, you can consider it halfway between modern jazz (the kind you listen to closely) and background music (hate to use that term, but sometimes it is good - it doesn't require close attention to enjoy the setting it brings into your living room). It is Storytelling, telling stories from different cultures in perhaps a different languages, languages which you don't completely understand but nevertheless enjoy listening to - and every so often, the hints reveal themselves.

The All Music Guide's Thom Jurek says:
...pianist Marilyn Crispell gives listeners another trip down her ever deepening cavern of mystery and imagination....The polarities are the immediate way into this set, which is so full of ambiguities and spectral presences one could say it is haunted.
From 2004, with Crispell, Motian, and bassist Marc Helias.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Geri Allen: In the Year of the Dragon

From 1989, a trio record from pianist Allen with drummer Paul Motian and bassist Charlie Haden.

It starts off with a quick-paced bebopish tune, Oblivion - which takes off, but never really takes off for me. Maybe it's just me, everything's working, but something's not working. (This makes sense, but it doesn't make sense, right?)

The next tune For John Malachi is a more mysteriously flowing song, with unpredictable changes, which becomes more interesting than the first one. Continuing this trend, the third song Rollano becomes an almost-folk melody with Juan Lazaro Mendolas on wood flute - pretty music (can you picture a rainforest?) - not exactly jazz, but with some jazz feeling provided mainly by Allen's interesting piano chords.

Let's wrap this up. Next comes a simple singable blues tune, then a national anthem-type song which is mostly free playing, then an interesting suite-type-thing, another boppish-tune, a somber ballad (how many times have those two words been used together?), and finally the title track, In the Year of the Dragon, which is maybe the most interesting of the bunch: a song which develops nicely and has a nice quiet, conversational tone to it, speaking of possibilities, dreams, and memories.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

David Kikoski: Almost Twilight

This is an exhibit of Kikoski's strong piano skills and compositional skills - he wrote all the songs on this album, mostly of a certain strong, melancholic, questioning and searchin mood. The songs are modern jazz with touches of classical, gospel blues, straight-ahead, and even dark-sounding rock of a sort (Betrayal). Track number two, Rose Part 1 & 2, is a long 11-minute song with modal movements, nice structure, and very pretty solos from Kikoski and bassist John Pattitucci.

A trio record from 2000 on the Criss Cross label.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Roy Haynes: Praise

From 1998, Haynes in a postbop setting with some great musicians including Kenny Garrett on alto/soprano and Dave Kikoski on piano. The ensemble also includes tenor sax and flugelhorn/cornet.

The first-time highlights for me were the nice version of Israel (Kikoski shines), the alto/drums duet My Little Suede Shoes, and the final drum solo called Shades of Senegal. The song The Touch of Your Lips is also on disc, with a great (Bill Evans-style?) intro from Kikoski. That is one old standard I don't hear enough.

Chick Corea: Trio Music Live In Europe

From 1984, with Roy Haynes and Miroslav Vitous. How could this trio do wrong? Note that these are the same players that played on the classic 1968 highwater mark Now He Sings, Now He Sobs.

They start off with a fun tune in 3/4 called The Loop - by Corea, it has some of his characteristic touches: an almost childlike melody, but nice root movements and interesting emotive chords. The next three songs, I Hear a Rhapsody, Summer Night, and Night and Day, remind the listener that the musicians are having a lot of fun playing together making this exciting music for the audience.

The next part of the concert features solo pieces, one each, from Corea, Vitous, and Haynes. Corea does a classical piece (Prelude No. 2 from Scriabin) and transforms it into an original.) Vitous does a bowed bass solo which almost sounds like a cello piece. Then Haynes plays the drumset for a while, starting with Chinese cymbals and interesting percussion.

Finally to end the disc, the trio comes back together to play an original from Vitous, Mirovisions, which opens with Vitous's bowed bass as the lead voice, eventuallying transforming into a quicker-paced, modern-sounding, exotic-tinged minor suite.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Tord Gustavsen: The Ground

This is a new release (2005) from the ECM world of somber, meditative piano trio music. With song titles such as Tears Transforming, Sentiment, Edges of Happiness, and Colours of Mercy, I think you can tell what is going on here. It's slow, calming music which sets the mood of serious contemplation or deep emotional digging. It's nice music to read by, if you're reading the right kind of book - because the music is never up-tempo, bright, or so dense that it demands attention. It is sparse but lovely music, played with a restraint which seems to be hiding some sort of power or wisdom behind it (as if the songs have stories to tell or lessons to impart).

Gustavsen is from Oslo, Norway and the recent reviews have been associating his playing as having that "Nordic" mood. From the New York Times:
"slow music that melts off the bandstand into puddles of feeling, backed by a low-key funk rhythm; it's séance music."
This doesn't do it justice, and I don't know where the funk-reference comes from but you get the idea. (There are traces of Latin-influence here in the there in the rhythm section though... and I do mean traces.)

Gustavsen has two websites, a personal one and an "international" one. Even Norway is promoting this music on norway.org - this record and the previous release Changing Places did sell a lot of copies.

It's interesting to compare this one with another recent European trio release from the ECM: The Wasilewki/Kerkiewics/Miskeiwicz release entitled Trio (here's a review of Trio). Both records are very good - Gustavsen's perhaps a bit more mature, with Trio's being more varied.

Listen to samples or order the CD here: The Ground

Ugonna Okegwo: UOniverse

Interest modern jazz record from bassist Ugonna Okegwo and crew: Xavier Davis (piano), Donald Edwards (drums), and Sam Newsome (soprano sax). Okegwo has been playing in New York professionally during the 90's and recorded this album with his working group in 2002. Okegwo has a bit of interesting history: born in London, raised in Germany (where he studied music), and moved to NYC to join the jazz crowds. His website has more details.

This disc includes a nicely aggressive version of Never Let Me Go.

Sonny Rollins: Sonny Rollins on Impulse

Excellent studio album from 1965 with Ray Bryant on piano, Mickey Roker on drums, and bassist Walter Booker. The material is drawn from jazz standards: On Green Dolphin Street, Everything Happens to Me (11+ minutes of semi-ballad material), Hold 'Em Joe, The Blue Room, and a quick-tempo'd, toe-tapping Three Little Words to end the album. Yep, only five songs on this disc - a 34-minute recording. But a nice variety of material and of Rollins' talents.

Rollins likes his calypsos - this album's Hold 'em Joe is done in that calypso groove, and you can hear Rollins enjoying himself in this festive, upbeat rhythm.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

David Hazeltine: The Classic Trio Meets Eric Alexander

Hazeltine is a pianist who has led several dates with his trio since the 90's. This lineup puts Alexander, the up-and-coming tenorist who has pretty much come into his own, right up front for most of the tunes on this album from 2002. But, Hazeltine gets plenty of space to do his thing and makes it his date. A nice, mid-tempo version of O Grande Amor is featured, and I don't hear that song enough so it's nice to see it here. The other songs on the album are several Hazeltine originals, a couple of standards (East of the Sun and Our Delight) and an almost-too-smooth, jazz-rock-ballad version of Stevie Wonder's Knocks Me Off My Feet. Alexander and Hazeltine are joined by Peter Washington (bass) and Louis Hayes (drums).

Good solid jazz. If I had to say anything bad about it, I'd say maybe too middle-of-the-road and not as outstanding as some of Eric Alexander's leader sessions.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Mulgrew Miller: Wingspan

From 1987, pianist Miller is joined by:

Kenny Garrett - alto sax
Steve Nelson - vibes
Charnett Moffett - bass
Tony Reedus - drums

Features modern compositions by Miller, often quick-tempoed, exercising the skills of all the players as well as the ears of the listener. It's dynamic, pulsating, exciting, and doesn't leave much room for rest for anyone. Pushes the boundaries, but keeps it musical the whole time. Their nice version of I Remember You almost feels like a welcome respite, back to the known and comfortable for an interval. The rest of the disc has more of the same, plus also a lighter-feeling latin tune, and a funkier groovy tune.


Interested in this recording? Listen to audio and get it here:

Bobo Stenson: Reflections

Bobo Stenson is a piano player from Sweden. How to describe this kind of jazz? Free, meditative, flowing, exploratory, spacey, thoughtful, sometimes serene. To me, it almost reflects how musical thoughts may be felt by non-humans, such as birds or giraffes. It is like listening to a translation of musical thoughts which makes sense even though you may not speak the original language, or the language of translation. Even still, the music resonates.

Most of the songs on this album (from 1993) are Stenson's or his bassist Ander's Jorbim's, except for Gershwin's My Man's Gone Now and Ellington's Reflections in D. The drummer is Jon Christensen - together these three players are a working trio, creating something fresh, deep, and interesting.


Tomasz Stanko: The Soul of Things

I am a big fan of Stanko's other recent album, Suspended Variations, and his trio's first album Trio. So I have been expecting to like this one as well.

The Soul of Things, from 2002, is another ECM record with a roomy, spacious sound as if the quartet has recorded in an old cavernous church, or maybe a museum. This is the perfect setting for this group's sound though. It is melodic, delicate, emotional. Like a bird flying home through the rain.

It's thirteen original songs, named Soul of Things I through XIII.


Thursday, April 21, 2005

Pat Metheny: The Balance of Probability

The Balance of Probability (disc 3)

Uhmm... ok... It starts off with a noisy song (song?) with percussion and violins, sounding as if something is loose in the garage. It's a formless structure, just sounds and noises in a very, very free way. Cacophonous. Ugh. (The interesting thing to me is that after the song is done, there is enthusiastic applause from an audience! Not for everyone, I guess.)

The next song is more of the same. Actually, sampling quickly through the tunes shows them all to be of similiar quality. Moving quickly to my "no interest" pile... Sorry.

This is disc 3 of a 3-disc set called The Sign of 4 from the Knitting Factory. Along with Metheny, the other guilty parties are Paul Wertico, Gregg Bendian, and Derek Bailey.

Statement of the Case (disc 1) and Science of Deduction (disc 2)

More of the same as above. Disc 1 is also live, Disc 2 is not.

Note: Free Jazz does have an audience. Check out this review of Free Jazz and Free Improvisation: An Encyclopedia

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Steve Davis: The Jaunt

Steve Davis is a trombone player who played with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. I almost wrote hard-bop trombone player, but then I caught myself: aren't all trombone players hard-bop trombone players? Maybe that is the only place for the trombone in jazz... I'm not sure.

David is joined by tenor player Eric Alexander and the rhythm section Bruce Barth (piano), Ugonna Okegwo (bass), and Eric McPherson (drums). The date is from 1996 and features a good version of Coltrane's intense song 26-2.

M.T.B.: Consenting Adults

M.T.B. stands for Mehldau, Turner, Bernstein, who are the lead voices on this quintet session from 1994. The front-line consists of piano, tenor sax, and guitar. The rhythm section is rounded out by Larry Grenadier and Leon Parker.

The quintet plays a mix of originals and standards, including Wayne Shorter's Limbo, Cole Porter's From This Moment On (very uptempo), and Jackie McLean's Little Melonae - twice. It's a regular session with nice playing...but nothing outstanding or immediately exciting to me here. Nothing wrong with it, but nothing to really pull the listener in aside from casual, but well-executed, jazz music. The Porter tune (while taken at a much-faster tempo than I think the song is best suited for) may be the climax of the session, simply because the players have the chance to burn on such a quick tempo.



Interested in this recording? Listen to sample audio and get it here:

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Tom Harrell: Upswing

This starts out to be a more straight-ahead, swinging-but-modern-sounding jazz album compared to The Art of Rhythm. Joining Harrell on horns is Phil Woods (alto sax) and Joe Lovano (tenor). Danilo Perez shines on piano, joining the rhythm section of Peter Washington (bass) and Bill Goodwin (drums), supporting the compositions and equaling the front-line for strength-of-improvisation.

Harrell has filled the album with mostly his own originals, which are interesting vehicles, but I think the real draw of this album right now are all the solid players - listening to them blow over new changes and compositions is a big draw, but equaling that is just their sheer presence of jazz improvisation. It is really nice to hear them share ideas in this context. I can't wait to listen to this one again, and more closely next time.

As hinted at by the album cover, Harrell plays flugelhorn on most of the tracks.

Tom Harrell: The Art of Rhythm

Ok... I was expecting a totally different start to an album titled The Art of Rhythm... This album starts softly with Brazilian-style guitar and soft overlaid melodies created by a clarinet and string trio (Harrell joins on trumpet later). I'm now understanding that it's a subtle sort of rhythm that is being used to make art here.

From 1997, The Art of Rhythm is frequently listed as a first-pick from Harrell's discography. So far, upon my first listen, this is soft-spoken, pleasing music. The mood is calm and peaceful, without dramatic shifts of excitement. There's a little bit of a south-of-the-border, tropical feel to some of the music, featuring various percussion instruments and marimba. The instrumentation is big (perhaps this is Harrell's strength, after all) and fill up Harrell's compositions with textures of sound, atmosphere, and yes, rhythm.

Kenny Barron: Scratch

A funny name for a jazz album, but it's a nice piano trio recording of Barron joined by bassist Dave Holland and drummer Daniel Humair. Humair... is that an abbreviation for Human Hair? Or the brand-name of an air-conditioning unit?

From 1985, the disk is mostly filled with Barron's original songs, which vary between the moods of exciting, interesting, and reflective. Some of it sounds modern and dark, and other parts sound light, full of emotion. Even a Parker-style bop tune to round out the set.

George Robert & Kenny Barron: Peace

A live duet album from a great pair: pianist and alto saxophonist Barron and Robert play beautifully together from this concert from 2002, recorded live in Geneva. Barron works perfectly to fill out the entire rhythm section, creating a perfect platform from which Robert sails his improvisations through the air. Tracks include I Didn't Know What Time It Was, and Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise (done blisteringly fast)

Kenny Barron is masterfully virtuoistic on this one... students of jazz piano can find plenty to study on this recording.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

David Kikoski: Surf's Up

It has taken me a while to give this one a listen... the name of the album can be important, so why imply that this jazz piano record may have anything to do with surf music? Erg, not a great idea.

This album starts right with nice sounding piano trio music, very modern but nice and with a good solid (almost rock?) time on the drums. Immediately I like it. From 2001, Kikoski is joined by Jeff "Tain" Watts and James Genus on bass. This is a different direction for Kikoski, since none of the music are original compositions, but covers from people such as Monk, McLean, Parker, and even Zappa (who actually is responsible for the opening number Oh No.) The 2nd track, Charlie Parker's Cardboard, moves right into straight-ahead hard-driving swing showing Kikoski's accurate touch and inventive ideas.