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.