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.