Sat, 31 October 2009
It’s Hallowe’en again, and so it must be time for the annual Straight No Chaser Spooky Song Showcase. Podcast 166 features a scary cross section of sinister titles, so click here to enjoy:
Eldar – “The Exorcist” from Virtue. Hopefully you listened to my interview with this 22 year old piano wizard, who announces himself as a major composer and performer with this new album.
Dom Minasi – “Just One More Bite” from The Vampire’s Revenge. This 2006 release was inspired by Ann Rice’s “Interview With the Vampire” novel. Guitarist Minasi writes with wit and just a touch of mayhem on this tune. Steve Swell, Herb Robertson and John Gunther stand out on the track, as do Carol Mennie’s wordless vocals.
Wayne Shorter – “Witch Hunt” from Speak No Evil. The penultimate Blue Note session – Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter and Elvin Jones. So good it’s scary.
Miles Davis – “Prince of Darkness” from Sorcerer. Miles second great quintet recorded this Wayne Shorter tune in New York in 1967 - Davis on trumpet, Shorter on tenor, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Tony Williams on drums. The title is a reference to Miles himself, and became a nickname of sorts for the notoriously moody artist.
Fri, 30 October 2009
Part two of the birthday boy’s podcast tributes comes with recordings made by Gordon Sumner
himself, tapping into his jazz vein. He was quoted in 1985 when asked why he drafted jazz musicians for his backing band:
"I want freedom and the privilege to surprise people. With this new band, I want to destroy the old stereotypes that have been built around me. I feel very at home with jazz. This new group has a jazz influence, but it's not a jazz band. It has a polarity of all the best of my music. I try to achieve the cross-pollination in music that happened in the 1960s."
With that in mind, let’s listen to that band and a few others such as:
Sting – “Consider Me Gone” from Bring On the Night. When Sting decided to take his initial solo material on the road, he decided his backing band should have a jazz sound. The result was a lineup starring saxophonist Branford Marsalis, pianist Kenny Kirkland, drummer Omar Hakim (formerly of Weather Report), and Darryl Jones, (Miles Davis).
Sting and Gil Evans – “Strange Fruit “ from Last Session. Sting and legendary jazz composer/pianist/arranger Evans performed at the Perugia Jazz Festival on
Frank Zappa – “Murder By Numbers” from Broadway the Hard Way. Perhaps the strangest collaboration of Sting’s career came with Zappa in 1988, when he performed an unusual arrangement of "Murder By Numbers", set to the tune "Stolen Moments” by jazz composer Oliver Nelson, and for some reason "dedicated" to fundamentalist evangelist Jimmy Swaggart.
Sting – “My Funny Valentine” from Sting at the Movies, Sting has a soft spot for the standards. He has recorded “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “My One and Only Love”, among others. This track was recorded with pianist Herbie Hancock to play at the end of the Japanese film Ashura., directed by Yojiro Takita in 2005.
Chris Botti featuring Sting – “What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?” From To Love Again – The Duets. Sting has appeared on a number of Botti studio recordings, and was a guest on the trumpeter’s recent TV special turned DVD turned live CD. This classic ballad has lyrics written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and music by Michel Legrand. The recording on a 2006 Grammy award for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying a Vocalist, the award shared by Billy Childs, Gil Goldstein, and Hector Pereira.
Herbie Hancock featuring Sting – “Sister Moon” from Possibilities. It seemed a natural choice for Hancock to ask Sting to join him on this CD, which enlisted pop and rock performers to sing with a jazz band, often reimaging their own work.
Thu, 29 October 2009
Rock musician Sting – born Gordon Sumner 58 years ago this month – is one of the jazzier pop stars of the past forty years. Although he reached fame first as the bass player of the punk rock-styled band The Police, his first professional gigs during college and during breaks from being a school teacher were in jazz groups. He played with local bands such as the Phoenix Jazzmen, the Newcastle Big Band, and Last Exit in the Newcastle ara of England.
His songwriting from 1977 to the present has tapped into jazz stylings from time to time, and his solo recordings have usually had jazz musicians involved in the sessions. At least two of his songs, “Fragile” and “Fields of Gold”, have to be considered candidates for New Standards,. The former has been recorded by, among others, Kenny Barron and Regina Carter, Billy Childs, The Daugherty McPartland Group, Freddie Hubbard and Cassandra Wilson.
So here is another of my occasional “Jazz Does Rock” series of podcasts, a “Jazz Does Gordon Sumner” salute, with songs made famous by The Police and Sting, recorded here by:
Cassandra Wilson – "Fragile" from Glamoured. A poignant verion of the anti-war song that became something of an anthem after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Dianne Reeves – “Ever Breathe You Take” from Blue Note Plays Sting. Two separate albums of Blue Note artists playing his music have been released., and Miss Reeves graces each of them with a Sting ballad. Here she sings The Police’s biggest hit, with solos by Bob Belden (who did the arrangements), Mark Ledford and Kirk Whalum. L
Lynne Arriale Trio - "Wrapped Around Your Finger" from Now. Quietly, the Lynne Arriale Trio has been making expceptional music for a number of years, mixing standards, pop songs and jazz classics. This Police song kicked off the latest CD from Lynne Arriale on piano, Jay Anderson on bass, and Steve Davis on drums.
Christian McBride - "Walking On the Moon" from Sci-Fi. This is one of my favorite albums from the polific McBride, mixing covers of Herbie Hancock with those of Steely Dan and the Police. This version comes across as a ballad rather than the reggae sound of the original, That's Jame Carter with the bass clarinet solo, and Ron Blake on tenor and soprano saxophone; Shedrick Mitchell's piano and Fender Rhodes; David Gilmore on guitar, McBride on bass and Rodney Green on drums complete the band.
Kevyn Lettau - "Message in a Bottle" from Walking in Your Footsteps. In her own words: I first learned about The Police in the early 80's from my sister's old boyfriend. At that point I must admit I was a total Rock and Roll ignorant snob. If music wasn't either jazz, Joni Mitchell or old R&B, I couldn't have cared less! But when I really started to listen, I was blown away by the lyrics, the musicianship and the melodies, not to mention Sting's wonderful voice. I was very impressed, but still stayed with the other styles as far as my own singing and studying was concerned. Band members are led by smooth jazz star Russell Ferrante (Piano), along with Mike Shapiro (Drums), Jimmy Haslip (Bass), Luis Conte (Percussion) and Gary Meek (Saxophone).
Sun, 25 October 2009
Nancy and I are spending a wonderful weekend in Manhattan. We're going to see Leonard Cohen at Madison Square Garden, eat at some top restaurants, catch an exhibit at the Guggenheim, and see "A Steady Rain" on Broadway so she can drool over Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig.
Yes, the soundtrack would have to be "Autumn in New York".
The song was composed by Vernon Duke in 1934 for the Broadway musical "Thumbs Up!" which opened on December 27, 1934 and was sung by J. Harold Murray. It's become a jazz standard, with a who's who of jazz greats recording it from time to time.
Click here to listen to Billie Holiday's version of the song, which for my money is the best. It comes from her Solitude album, which featured a backing band of Flip Phillips (tenor saxophone); Charlie Shavers (trumpet); Oscar Peterson (piano); Barney Kessel (guitar); Ray Brown (bass); and Alvin Stoller (drums).
Category:general -- posted at: 4:43am EST
Sat, 24 October 2009
I celebrate my 50th birthday last month, and my brother and sisters presentd me with an area of gifts that turned out to be items that first appeared in 1959. So, I got a cool Barbie Doll, some Jiffy Pop Popcorn, the first season of "The Twilight Zone" on DVD and a burned CD of songs that were on the pop charts at that time.
Music was a little less parochial in those days. The songs making up the top 25 were country, rock & roll, blues, R&B, easy listening, and some oddities in foreign languages. There were, of course, some jazz as well, and so I present the excitement of finding that Sassy herself, Miss Sarah Vaughn, was on the pop charts in the fall of 1959.
"Broken Hearted Melody" , recorded with the Ray Ellis Orchestra, was her first gold record, and a staple of her concert set lists for years to come. Despite all this success, she allegedly didn't care much for the tune, calling it "corny". It would be one of her last recordings for Mercury, as she signed with Roulette Records and became, over the next few years, one the label's biggest stars. Her 1960 sessions for Roulette included The Divine One, arranged by Jimmy Jones and a session with Count Basie Band featuring such talents as trumpeters Thad Jones and Joe Newman and saxophonists Frank Foster and Billy Mitchell.
The music was written by Sherman Edwards, and the lyrics by Hal David. David had been writing popular music lyrics since the 1940s for band leaders like Sammy Kaye and Guy Lombardo. In 1957 David met Burt Bacharach at Famous Music in the Brill Building in New York. and began a thirty year partnership, writing some of the most enduring songs in American popular music.
Category:general -- posted at: 4:53am EST
Fri, 23 October 2009
It’s because he is so obviously in demand and held in high esteem by his peers that his solo CD, In the Moment, is so disappointing. Simply put, its smooth jazz that never shows any real spark, much less blazes with the kind of sounds
Click here to listen to “Freddie’s Groove”, one of the few tracks that cooks with any real energy.
Category:general -- posted at: 5:38am EST
Thu, 22 October 2009
Poncho Sanchez just turned 58, so he can be forgiven if he wants to spend some time reminiscing about his youth. Psychedelic Blues, his latest release, is a nostalgic look at some of his jazz influences and favorite songs while growing up in the Southwest. He reinterprets material written by John Coltrane, Freddie Hubbard, Horace Silver and others in a decidedly funky manner.
Sanchez, an ace conga player, works with his usual band mates here, including trumpeter Ron Blake. In an effort to shake things up a bit, he recruited Andrew Synowiec, the guitarist from the Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band, an LA based group that plays everything from funk to big-band charts to bebop.
Given the high level of the material here, and an ensemble that’s tight as can be, it’s no surprise that the CD is a winner. It’s impossible not to enjoy Sanchez’s tribute to Willie Bobo, a medley of three of the legendary percussionist’s songs, highlighted by a Santana-esque solo by Synowiec and vocals by Joey DeLeon. Herbie Hancock’s “
Click here to listen to “Slowly but Surely”, a John Hick composition recorded by Art Blakey in the mid-60’s. The percussion sets a deep groove and soon it’s the pulsating horns of saxophonist Javier Vergara, trumpeter Blake, and trombonist Francisco Torres that drive the song along. Blake’s solo is particularly memorable.
There is no new ground broken here, but it hardly matters when the band is cooking like they are here. This is one to bring some heat into a cold October evening, a Mojito in hand.
Category:general -- posted at: 3:40am EST
Wed, 21 October 2009
“He’s a genius beyond most young people I’ve heard.”
Heavy words from a jazz master, particularly when he is talking about 22 year old Eldar Djangirov, a keyboard player whose latest CD, Virtue, confirms that he is among the most talented players on the scene today. Born in Kyrgyzstan (what was at the time of his birth part of the Soviet Union), Eldar emigrated to the US wiht his family in 1998. In a short time, he became the youngest guest ever to appear on Marian McPartland's "Piano Jazz" show. Signed to the Sony Classical label, he has released four CDs on the label.
I had the pleasure of speaking with him last week as he readied himself for a multi-night engagement at Yoshi's in Oakland, California, and Podcast 162 presents that conversation along with music from his releases, including:
"Dream Song“ from Re-Imagination. Recorded three years later after signing with Sony Classical, this CD was nominated for a Grammy award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album. Eldar adds some electronic experiments, including the addition of DJ Logic on a few tracks. This recording is a solo piano piece, showing Eldar’s debt to Oscar Peterson, Chick Corea and Dr. Billy Taylor.
"Lullaby Fantazia" from Virtue. While keyboard pyrotechnics are Eldar’s strength, this track shows off his soulful side, as he glides through the track with a graceful left hand and melodic right hand, reminiscent in sound to Keith Jarrett’s solo work.
“Blackjack” from Virtue. Trumpet star Nicholas Payton joins the trio for this up-tempo number, weaving between the strong rhythm section of Ludwig Afonso (drums) and Armondo Gola (bass). Never afraid to move the number along at an accelerated pace, he adds electric keyboards to the sound, showing why he may be the finest young technician in jazz today.
“Matrix” from Handprints. At the age of 16, Eldar recorded this trio album with Gerald Spaits on bass and
Tue, 20 October 2009
Jackie McLean was approaching the top of his game when he went into Rudy Van Gelder Studio, in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, fifty years ago today. He was leading a quartet that day composed of McLean on alto sax, Walter Bishop Jr. on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Art Taylor on drums.
He had graduated from Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in 1957, and was a sought after sideman, working with Sonny Clark (the classic Cool Struttin'), Donald Byrd, Mal Waldron, and starring on Charles Mingus' seminal Blues and Roots, all over the previous 18 months. He was a rising star on Blue Note Records.
The October 20, 1959 sessions (whihc resulted in the album Swing, Swang, Swingin') featured jazz standards ("Stablemates") and standards, like "Let's Face the Music and Dance". Click here to listen to McLean's version of "What's New?", a ballad composed by Johnny Burke and Bob Haggart twenty years earlier. The song had been introduced by Bob Crosby and His Orchestra with vocalist Teddy Grace that year, rising to number ten on the pop charts. Bing Crosby would take it to number two the same year.
Four months later, McLean would enter the same studio with Freddie Redd to record the music most closely associated with the first part of his career, Music from "The Connection", an off-Broadway play which featured McLean playing and acting onstage.
Mon, 19 October 2009
Sidemen sometimes just don’t get their due. Plenty of the best jazz musicians in the world are constantly in demand by headliners for their recording sessions or concert tours, but to the average jazz fan, they labor in relative obscurity. Luckily, every once in a while they get that chance to step out and draw some attention to themselves. Case in point – Mark Soskin, who shines on his latest release as a bandleader, the aptly entitled Man Behind the Curtain.
His list of credits as a sideman reads like a who’s who of jazz from the last forty years – Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, Randy Brecker, Billy Cobham, Stanley Turrentine, Herbie Mann, John Abercrombie, and Gato Barbieri, just to name a handful. Soskin has a strong feel for Latin Jazz, having been an integral part of Azteca, a group in which Soskin's keyboard, writing, and arranging talents were showcased, and trumpeter Tom Harrell and percussionists Pete and Sheila Escovedo was the core.
Soskin has spent 14 years with Sonny Rollins, and still found time to release seven CDs as a leader. The new CD is a top notch quartet session, featuring Ravi Coltrane on tenor and soprano sax, Siskin on piano, Jay Anderson on bass and Bill Stewart don drums. Five covers, including classics like “Heather On the Hill”, vie with three Soskin originals for the listener’s attention. All are exceptional performances.
Click here to listen to “Little One”, the Soskin composition that ends the CD. His piano languidly begins over slow cymbals from Stewart, leading to a give and take between the two musicians. Coltrane enters a minute later, playing a gentle melody that is accented by the rhythm section with subtle but definite flourishes. Slowly Coltrane’s sax begins exploring new ground, and then Stewart’s cymbals signal a solo for Soskin, a greater part for bassist Anderson, and then a group resolution. All in all, a lovely ending to a notable album.
Category:general -- posted at: 2:12am EST