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 - 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.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Stan Getz: Yours and Mine

First of all, this album starts right with one of my favorite songs: You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To. Stan Getz is in typically top-notch form, playing all Getz-y in this 1989 live date. He's playing at an international jazz festival in Glasgow, Scotland. He's joined by cohorts Kenny Barron, Ray Drummond, and Ben Riley on drums. It's great classic swing-laden jazz (a great sign for the late-date of 1989). Con Alma, another great vehicle for Getz, is also on this disc. Not too risky or modern sounding, and you may have heard Getz do very similar performances on other disks, but still great satisfying music. Getz speaks briefly to the audience between songs, adding a nice feeling of being there.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Ray Drummond: Continuum

Ray Drummond is a bassist who recorded this hard-bop album in 1994 for the Arabesque label. Joining him on this release are the following amazing musicians:

  • vibrophonist Steve Nelson
  • pianist Kenny Barron
  • guitarist John Scofield
  • trumpeter Randy Brecker
  • drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith
  • flutist Thomas Chapin
They do a great version of Scott LaFaro's Gloria's Step, as well as some modern, adventurous originals from Drummond. First listen was enjoying but I don't remember anything knocking my socks off (granted, I was a little distracted with work at the time). I did really like the version of Gloria's Step, though.

Ray Bryant: The Ray Bryant Trio

This is a Prestige recording from 1957. It's a piano trio album with Bryant on piano joined by bassist Ike Isaac and drummer Specs Wright. Very nice stuff. The playing is from the mid-bebop era and recalls to my mind some of the feel of Hampton Hawes' trio or (stretching a bit) even Vince Guaraldi in some ways.

The trio plays standards such as Golden Earrings, Django, Angel Eyes, and Daahoud, and also a couple of Bryant's originals. It's straight-ahead, groove-infused jazz piano from three players that are having a great time together. Recommended for those times when you want comfortable, nice jazz piano trio music to put on and kick back with.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Roy Haynes: Birds of a Feather

The legendary drummer Roy Haynes plays a Charlie Parker tribute album from 2001. The band is made up with Haynes, Dave Holland, Kenny Garrett, Roy Hargrove, and pianist Dave Kikoski. Most of the tunes are Parker standards, such as Diverse, Moose the Mooch, Now's the Time, and Yardbird Suite, and for the most part are played in the Parker straight-ahead bebop style. There are a few arrangements that take the songs further into new territory, though, such as the stretching out of Now's the Time. It's a good effort from all the musicians, but does lack something to make it a great album to return to. I'd probably reach for other of Haynes' output before playing this again.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Paul Motian: On Broadway Vol. III

Motian plays "Broadway" songbook standards with Joe Lovano, Bill Frisell, Charlie Haden, and Lee Konitz. It is very pretty music, a little strange, but nothing wrong with that. Instead of hard-driving, straight-ahead jazz, they play something which could be called art-jazz... meaning music which tries to portray more colors, shapes, textures, and feelings than what is normally found in standards performance. (Ok... it's not that artsy, it actually can sound quite normal and straightahead from time to time. Konitz sax definitely helps keep in the realm of "normal" jazz.)

It's interesting to compare this effort with what Keith Jarrett's standards trio has been doing lately. Motian did play with Jarrett (with Haden, as well) in the earlier days, before Jarrett's "standards trio" got up and rolling. Their music at the time was more adventurous, could be more aggressive, and took more chances (which sometimes make it feel less enjoyable to me).

Tunes include How Deep Is the Ocean?, Just One Of Those Things, Pennies From Heaven, and, Skylark. One thing I appreciate is that Frisell doesn't overplay his typical guitar-swelling effects here.

Recorded in 1991.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Paul Motian Trio: You Took The Words Right Out Of My Heart

Paul Motian, with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano, playing live at the Village Vanguard in 1995. It's hard to find good information on this album. Anyhow, this disc contains a wandering, exploratory collection of tunes, typical of Motian's general conception: challenging sound textures, adventures in improvised melodies, and musical freedom (although it is clear that some melodies and ideas have been sketched out before hand, as Lovano and Frisell often do play in unison). It's interesting music, but not too engaging to my ears. Maybe I'm just not there yet.

I do think Motian's On Broadway discs are pretty nice, though.

Kenny Garrett at Yoshis

I attended a Kenny Garrett (sax) concert at Yoshi's recently. This was an amazing show! Garrett was playing with a quartet, three younger musicians who really knew their stuff. The unexpected star of the night was the young drummer, who was loud and intense- the entire audience was so wrapped up in his expressions and what he was doing that he stole the show - despite Garrett's front-line position and commanding leadership.

There were many highlights to the evening. The band started off strong with a long bop-oriented tune in the style of the Coltrane/Tyner Impressions-type format: mostly modal movement with a heavy tonic downbeat every two measures or so. Garrett stood center-stage and played intensely for at least ten minutes, driving the dynamics (and the drummer's responses) higher and higher in a frenzied state. When we finally got to the pianist's solo, he knew how to keep the energy up with heavy block chords and percussive, syncopated rhythms on the keys - not to mention his agile McCoy-isms.

At one point, Garrett and the pianist played, alone together, a medly of three Asian folk tunes: One Japanese tune, a Korean tune, then finally another Japanese tune. This was a quiet, beautiful part of the evening. About the songs:

the first one is "akatonbo" meaning a red dragonfly. the third one was called "tsubasa wo kudasai" meaning give us wings.

They were played with lovely, tender arrangements, and Garrett played soprano sax on them, giving us the setsunai feeling of beautiful sadness.

The end of the evening was a funk/jazz jam called Happy People, which purposely left open breaks (2 measures) between choruses for each soloist to fill, individually and one at a time. The pianist got about 10-20 breaks, then the bassist, then the drummer (driving everyone crazy), then even the audience members as Garrett would suddenly point to different people in the audience and have them fill the space with their off-the-cuff ideas to fit the song and mood. Almost everyone who was picked performed well! One man (who had been extremely excited, raising his arms and moving around in his chair all night) jumped up and down and whooped and yelled when it came to his turn to fill the space, making everyone clap and cheer, and also making happy people all around.

All in all, a great time. I would go see Garrett's group again in a heartbeat.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Miroslav Vitous: Guardian Angels

I am not a big fusion fan at this point: I used to listen to Chick Corea's Electrik Band and some Al DiMeola when I was a guitarist, but for many years now, I've been primarily interested in acoustic, natural-made sounds in jazz. Electric bands just don't seem warm enough. Plus, fusion bands get highly technical and arranged and precise and so are interesting in that way, but just don't get to the soul of the sound in the same way.

Vitous is playing bass with Kenny Kirkland (electric keyboard, piano) and John Scofield (guitar) on this album. I listened to bits of this album, skipping around. I may be going out on a limb here, but I don't think I'll ever need to listen to this one again.

(But the album cover itself may be worth putting on the wall, under the blacklight, for those psychedelic moments... :p)

Marc Johnson: Bass Desires

Marc Johnson is a bass player who is most famous for playing with the Bill Evans trio (the "last Bill Evans trio", the articles always say) during the years 1978 - 1980. He was featured on Bill Evans' recording We Will Meet Again, which was won a Grammy.

This album is a modern, fusiony work, featuring the guitars of Bill Frisell and John Scofield (I don't know if I'll ever get used to Frisell's weird guitar effects). It's interesting to hear John Coltrane's Resolution (from A Love Supreme) played with this line-up.

It's a collection of atmospheric songs with the bass right up front and focused center-stage. Not to say that the bass is overbearing, but it's not buried underneath the other sounds - it's actually mixed quite nicely. Maybe because the only other melody instruments are guitars (and guitar synts) doing their own things up in that register. No piano or keyboards to take up the harmonic space. The compositions are not jazz in the bop or post-bop sense... more like sonic experiments in shadings and textures by accomplished jazz musicians. Howabout the term "post-jazz"?

Still can't get into those weird Frisell-isms, though. He can sound like aliens singing, or crying.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Sonny Rollins: Easy Living

Ugh.. I wanted to like it, but it just sounds cheesy. They start off with Stevie Wonder's Isn't She Lovely, which is a great song, and it's hard to beat Stevie's version of this. Unfortunately Rollins and band don't match up. It's just almost embarrasing to hear this on record. Played live, it may be a different story, with everyone getting into it and the audience reacting. But...

The band moves onto a funky tune, making me feel like the production or recording quality just doesn't have that jazz sound that I think a recording should have. A fusiony, latiny song later reinforces these limitations for me. Finally, the quality of the recorded sax on the last tune reveals the sound problems: a too-brittle, too-edgy recorded sax sound can distract too much from the music. I could also do without the funny-sounding electric guitar and keyboard. Overall, it just doesn't work for me.

There are two nice ballads, however: Easy Living and My One And Only Love (on soprano sax). If I were to listen to this album again, I'd probably just skip to these tracks and leave it at that.

From 1977. With Tony Williams on drums.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Scott Colley: Subliminal

Scott Colley is a bassist who has worked as a sideman with great jazz musicians such as Joe Henderson, Andrew Hill, and John Scofield (just to name a few). This record comes from 1998 and features Chris Potter (sax), Bill Carrothers (piano), and Bill Stewart (drums).

Most of the tunes are by Colley, and are not exactly straight-ahead, but modern sounding and interesting. They keep the beat going, so are not crazily free, but are not really tradition bebop sounding either - probably because the chord changes are unusual and unexpected in many places. Potter's sax makes it sound post-bebopish. The clean, almost antiseptic recording quality, and slightly subdued piano sound make it feel a bit like jazz on an alien planet.

The writing is interesting, like normal compositions which have been turned inside out, or appended with interesting limbs so that they can do more things. There is one Charlie Parker tune Segment. The first track is called Don't Ever Call Me Again. But I will probably listen to this album again.

Michel Petrucciani: Power of Three

Piano, guitar, saxophone. Petrucciani, Jim Hall, Wayne Shorter. A live recording in from the 1986 Montreux Jazz Festival, recorded when Pe...