Fri, 30 April 2010
West Coast pianist Eric Muhler is one of those musicians who has been around seemingly forever, but never broken through to wide success. He began with a rock and blues background, before morphing into a top jazz keyboard player. The 1980’s saw Muhler performing as a member in two exceptional progressive jazz groups – the Mobius Band with guitarist Jim Slick, and Quiet Fire, with ex-Miles Davis guitarist Dave Creamer and saxophonist Larry Schneider. Muhler cites his time with Creamer as among his most broadening experiences, and there is little wonder why, since the guitarist has been called “absolutely the most fantastic guitar player alive in America…" by no less an authority than George Benson.
However, Muhler soon left the spotlight, marrying, earning a degree in English Literature, and then being a “house dad” for his daughters for a number of years. But he never stopped writing, or playing.
A new century has Muhler back on the scene, and a fine new CD, The Jury is Out. Podcast 181 features an interview I had with the pianist in late 2009, with songs from the many stages of his career, including:
Eric Muhler Quartet – “Punkly“ from The Jury is Out. His latest outing expands his core trio to a quartet with the addition of saxophonist Sheldon Brown,
Eric Muhler Quartet – “Sand Castles“ from The Jury is Out
Eric Muhler Trio – “Sand Castles” from Live at the Jazz School. This live recording shows the Muhler Trio - Muhler on Piano, Michael Wilcox on Bass, and Rob Gibson on Drums – able to use the trio format with great facility and verve. Muhler’s playing is reminiscent of McCoy Tyner as he steps out front and center.
Eric Muhler – “All of You” from Something New. He is equally adept at solo piano stylings, as here he turns in a contemplative and subtle start to a classic composition, and then takes off from there for a flight worthy of Keith Jarrett at his solo best.
Fri, 30 April 2010
It’s almost May, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t spin a new version of the Vernon Duke-Yip Harburg standard “April in Paris”. Click here to listen to cabaret stars Kenny Soderblom and his wife, Leah McCoy Soderblom, sing a simple but stirring version of the classic.
April in Paris is the title of their latest CD, and it’s full of well-known songs, touching on Michel Legrand (“How Do You Keep the Music Playing”), Henry Mancini (“Moon River”) , and Brazilian gems from Antonio Carlos Jobim (“Caminhous Cruzados”) and Ivan Lins (“The Island”). Kenny Soderblom blows a warm and inviting sax, and the The rhythm section of Mark Neuenschwander (bass), LaRue Nickelson (guitar) and Chuck Parr on drums band, swings subtly behind him. The sax solo on “You Stepped Out of a Dream” is particularly memorable.
Leah Soderblom’s vocals are without pretention or pyrotechnics, as she settles for a romantic glow around the material. She is obviously comfortable with the material, and yet never lets it get stale. Her tongue is firmly in cheek with a closing medley of “Lulu’s Back in Town/Spinning Wheel”, and her approach to “How Do You Keep the Music Playing” is unique and memorable.
According to the wonderful web site Jazzstandards.com, “April in Paris,” first appeared in the 1932 Broadway revue Walk a Little Faster. This was the first time Vernon Duke had written a complete score for a show, and “April in Paris” was not originally a part of it. Set designer Boris Aronson had created a Left Bank setting for a number, and the producers wanted a romantic song. Duke and some friends and collaborators were having a discussion when someone (purportedly Dorothy Parker) expressed a longing to be in Paris during the month of April. The rest, as they say, is history.
Category:general -- posted at: 4:06am EDT
Thu, 29 April 2010
I’ve explored the connection between jazz and rock music a number of times during my tenure as a blogger. For example, I’ve presented podcasts of jazz artists handling the music of Joni Mitchell, the Grateful Dead, and Sting. However, those three artists have jazz roots/influences to their music, whether by virtue of chord structure, improvisation or inspiration. Today, it’s time to show how jazz takes on a totally different genre – heavy metal rock music.
OK, “heavy metal” might be too specific a term, since the artists I’m showcasing on Podcast 180 play music that might be considered “hard rock” or “classic rock” by fans of the originals. But for the sake of making a cohesive grouping, and showing just how creative jazz musicians can really be, click here and listen to:
Fred Ho & the Green Monster Big Band – “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida” from Celestrial Green Monster. Mr. Ho assembled some of his favorite musicians to sit in on a recent release that covers this Iron Butterfly classic, along with some striking originals. This is most definitely not your father’s big band sound, as the twenty musicians take the lengthy guitar workout and turn it inside out. Special nods to singers Abraham Gomez-Delgado and Haleh Hartigan, along with blazing sections of trumpets and trombones.
Alex Skolnick Trio – “Electric Eye” from Transformation. Guitarist Skolnick was a metal head before he entered The New School’s jazz-studies program, so its not surprising that he would cover Deep Purple, Dio and this Judas Priest song on his 2004 release. The band is Alex Skolnick on guitars, Nathan Peck on double-bass, and Matt Zebroski on drums and percussion. All three chime in on vocals.
The Bad Plus – “Iron Man” from Give. The “world’s loudest piano trio” has covered rock acts from Nirvana and Radiohead to Blondie and Pink Floyd as they seek to change what jazz fans consider as “standards” in the 21st century. This Black Sabbath classic is given a reverant yet expansive reading by the band, with pianist Ethan Iverson taking the lead, and bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King providing the heavy, heavy beat.
Stanley Jordan – “Stairway to Heaven” from Stolen Moments. Known for his unique “tapping” style of guitar playing, Jordan covers American Songbook standards as easily as he covers Michael Jackson, or in this case, Led Zeppelin. He gives Jimmy Page a run for his money with his killer playing, backed by Charnett Moffett on bass and Kenwood Dennard on drums.
Wed, 28 April 2010
Simply put, Gregory Porter may be our next great jazz singer.
On Water, his debut release, he covers all the bases a talented young singer would set out to do, and then some. He croons standards like “But Beautiful” and “Skylark” with Nat King Cole cool. He attacks Wayne Shorter’s “Black Nile” with a vengeance, scatting between the trumpet lines of Melvin Vines and sax of James Spaulding. His own compositions, particularly the politically charged tour de force “1960 What?” recall nothing so much as the activist music of Max Roach and Oscar Brown fifty years ago.
Part of what makes Porter’s work so memorable is his integration of the band into each number. Rarely is the music purely “accompaniment” for the vocals, but rather all part of a greater whole. Click here to listen to “Wisdom”, a Daniel Jackson composition to which Porter contributed lyrics. When he references the gospel of “Wade in the Water”, its not clear if the song is about surviving a natural disaster or obtaining spiritual grace. Pianist Chip Crawford contributes a terrific solo, stretching the tune and setting off Porter’s emotional singing.
The young singer has a strong musical theater background, having already been on Broadway with “It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues”, and had his one-man play “Nat King Cole & Me” successfully produced in Denver and Houston. He opened in the Chicago area this week in the four person musical “Low Down Dirty Blues”, a six week run at the Northlight Theater. Catch him while you can.
Category:general -- posted at: 5:53am EDT
Tue, 27 April 2010
Gene Lees, a jazz critic and historian who approached his subject with a journalist’s rigor and an insider’s understanding, died on Thursday at his home in Ojai, Calif. He was 82. The apparent cause was a stroke, said Leslie A. Westbrook, a family spokeswoman.
The author of numerous books, Mr. Lees was not just an observer of the music scene, he was also a participant. He was an accomplished lyricist whose credits included “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars,” the English-language lyric for Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Corcovado,” sung here by Astrud Gilberto. He was also a vocalist, with several albums to his credit.
That experience, and the friendships he built over the years with musicians, singers and songwriters, informed the project that had been his primary focus since 1981: publishing (monthly at first, later at irregular intervals) the subscription-only Gene Lees Ad Libitum Jazzletter, mostly as an outlet for his own biographical and historical essays. Clearly, here was a man who was a blogger before blogging existed.
He was the editor of Down Beat magazine from 1959 to 1961 and went on to write about music for The New York Times and other publications. In addition to seven collections of Jazzletter essays, Mr. Lees’s books include biographies of musicians Woody Herman and Oscar Peterson, and the songwriters Johnny Mercer and the team of Lerner and Loewe. At the time of his death he was working on a biography of Artie Shaw.
Thanks to Frank Dickert for calling his demise to my attention.
Category:general -- posted at: 6:36am EDT
Wed, 21 April 2010
The very cool blog Any Major Dude has a continuing series of posts entitled "The Originals", where the roots of famous songs are explored. Today has a perfect posting to comment on, as the history of "Tennessee Waltz" is explored, beginning with the original from 1948 written by Pee Wee King and recorded first by the Cowboy Copas, and then by King. Of course, most of us know the Patti Page hit from 1950 as the definitive version. Lots to read and listen to here.
So let me put my two cents in and give you yet another version of "Tennessee Waltz", this one by Sonny Rollins. I've been on a bit of a Sonny kick these days, so click here and enjoy the Saxophone Colossus' take on the country classic. This one comes from Falling in Love with Jazz, a 1989 session in New York City that includes Rollins playing sax, Mark Soskin on piano, Jerome Harris on guitar, Bob Cranshaw on bass, and Jack DeJohnette on drums.
Category:general -- posted at: 3:47am EDT
Tue, 20 April 2010
Rap-Jazz pioneer Guru (born Keith Elam) has died after a year long illness with cancer. He was just 43 years old.
A founder of the rap group Gang Starr, Guru came to be synonymous with the melding of jazz beats and rap music in his "Jazzmatazz" series of albums. The first of those releases from 1993 featured original collaborations between hip-hop artists and jazz legends, among them Donald Byrd, Branford Marsalis and Ronny Jordan. Three more volumes followed, the first three all charting in the top 20 on the R&B/hip-hop charts.
Guru first experimented with a rap-jazz fusion when DJ Premier and he were tabbed by Branford Marsalis for the seminal track "Jazz Thing" on the Mo' Better Blues soundtrack. Jazzmatazz, Volume One was called "a rap album for jazz fans and a jazz album for rap fans, skillful and smart, clean when it needs to be and gritty when that's more effective, helping to legitimize hip-hop to those who doubted it".
Guru did more than take samples from jazz records and use them for his material. He had real musicians play real music in his studio, and rapped over their jams. While this might not sound revolutionary, in fact few if any others in the hip-hop community have been moved to try the same thing. And that's what made Guru special.
Click here and enjoy Guru jamming with Herbie Hancock (keyboards)on "Timeless", from his StreetSoul CD.
Category:general -- posted at: 5:33am EDT
Thu, 15 April 2010
Providence based band A Troop of Echoes don't include vocals in their sets. After listening to just a few of their instrument-infused tracks, it's clear why: they simply don't need them. Fronted by saxophonist Peter Gilli and backed by three highly accomplished musicians,(Nick Cooper (guitar), Harrison Hartley (bass / synth) and Dan Moriarty (drums)), A Troop of Echoes lends itself to the musical stylings of classic jazz greats and John Coltrane, fused with the electronic sounds of like , and given a pinch of instrumental improvisation to mix things up. I hear less jazz and more jam band in their sound, but that doesn't make them any less interesting.
The band has been touring and venturing into new sounds since 2005, with plans to release a Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Massachusetts this weekend, and well worth checking out. tentatively titled Days in Automation later this year. They're at one of my favorite clubs, the
Category:general -- posted at: 10:52am EDT
Mon, 12 April 2010
You’ve heard Catherine Russell – you just might not realize you have. She’s paid the rent for years as an in-demand backup singer for rock artists like Steely Dan and David Bowie, and toured as part of the “American Beauty Project”, a rootsy tribute to the early 70’s music of the Grateful Dead.
On her own, she has released three exceptional albums, the latest of which, Inside this Heart of Mine, is being released this week. Backed by a talented trio of
Catherine uses her unerring sense of song selection and vocal prowess to move squarely onto the list of today’s finest female jazz singers. Think of the down-home sound of Cassandra Wilson mixed with the traditional delivery of Dianne Reeves, and you’ll get the drift. On the strength of this release, you’ll be hearing from her for some time to come.
Catherine is the daughter of two outstanding jazz musicians. Her father, Luis Russell, emigrated from Panama and made a name for himself in New Orleans, before ending up with Louis Armstrong as his musical director in the mid 1940’s. Her mother, Carline Ray, was a Juilliard graduate played with stalwarts like Mary Lou Williams and with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, the seminal all-female band of the bop era.
I spoke with Catherine about her new album, her band, the joys of being a backing singer and how she chooses her material recently. Click here to listen to the Podcast, and enjoy musical selections including:
Catherine Russell – “You Were Made for Me” from Cat. An obscure Sam Cooke song becomes a realistic look at romance in Catherine’s hands. So good that my wife and I used it for our wedding.
Catherine Russell – “We the People” from Inside this Heart of Mine. A never before covered Fats Waller tune from an originally unreleased recording, the song comes across as a tongue-in-cheek populist manifesto from the Great Depression, which implores legislators to provide “syncopation” as the surest way to “please the people.” Maybe Congress today could follow the advice?
Luis Russell’s Hot Six– “29th and Dearborn” from The Ultimate Jazz Archive. Recorded in October of 1926 in Chicago, Cathereine's dad Luis Russell led a band composed of himself on piano, Barney Bigard on tenor sax, Kid Ory on trombone, George Mitchell on cornet, Johnny St. Cyr on banjo and Richard m. Jones on “speech”. Ory and St. Cyr were also members of Louis Armstrong’s “Hot Five”, recording classics like “West End Blues”.
Catherine Russell – “Luci” from Sentimental Streak. Written by Catherine, she calls it a “gift of the muse”, coming to her one evening and serving as warning to change your evil ways. The band is Larry Ham on piano, Lee Hudson on bass, Brian John Mitchell on piano and James Wormworth on drums, with Larry Campbell giving a hand on guitar and mandolin.
Catherine Russell – “New Speedway Boogie” from Cat. A jazzy, bluesy version of the Robert Hunter-Jerry Garcia composition originally recorded by the Grateful Dead to comment on the tragedy at the Altamont concert outside of San Francisco. She stopped the show each night on the American Beauty Project tour.
Steely Dan – “Love is Like an Itching in My Heart/Band Introductions” recorded live in Boston during the Rent Party '09 tour. Walter Becker introduces his fellow musicians while the backing trio of Catherine, Tawatha Agee and Carolyn Leonhart-Escoffery cover the Supremes’ classic. Among the other jazz stalwarts in the band were Marvin Stamm on trumpet and Freddie Washington on bass.
Catherine Russell – “Troubled Waters” from Inside this Heart of Mine. An underappreciated tune scored by the Duke Ellington Orchestra for both Ivey Anderson and Mae West(!) , performed here as a sultry meditation . The band - Mark Shane on piano, Lee Hudson on bass, and Brian Grice on drums – crackles with intensity.
Fri, 2 April 2010
It seems that most religions have Spring holidays. In fact, celebrating the beginning of Spring may be among the oldest seasonal holidays in human culture. The earliest reference we have to such a holiday comes to us from Babylon, 2400 BCE. The city of Ur apparently had a celebration dedicated to the moon and the Spring equinox which was held some time during our months of March or April.
Today is the Christian remembrance of Good Friday, leading to the celebration of Easter. It is also the continuation of the Jewish 8 day celebration of Passover. For Buddhists, spring is significant mainly for its connection with events in the life of the Buddha. Hindus celebrated Holi, a holiday representing the victory of good over evil, March 14. There is no major spring holiday in Islam.
With all of these religious events, Podcast ___ is the annual medley of jazz songs that embrace the spiritual aspects of life. Click here to here:
Lonnie Liston Smith & the Cosmic Echoes - "Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord" from Astral Traveling. A disciple of Rahassan Roland Kirk and Pharoah Sanders, electric keyboard player Smith adapted a gospel standard for this percussion heavy workout. Originally released in 1973, it received a great remastering job in 2001. The "Cosmic Echoes" are George Barron on sax, Joe Beck on guitar, Cecil McBee on bass, David Lee on drums and a percussion group including Mtume, Sonny Morgan, Geeta Vashi and Badal Roy.
Oscar Peterson - "Jesus Christ Lies Here Tonight" from Easter Suite. The little known recording reveals wonderful pathos from the trio of Oscar Peterson (piano), Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen (bass) and Martin Drew (drums).
Keith Jarrett - "Hymn to the Endless Creator" from Sacred Hyms. Jarrett recorded an album of the compositions of Georges Gurdjeiff, which were transcribed for piano by his friend Thomas de Hartmann. For fans of Jarrett's solo work.
Babatunde Lea - "Na Iwosan (The Healing)" from March of the Jazz Guerillas. I've been turned on to his mix of spiritual jazz and African rhythms since I spoke with him last year on the release of his exceptional tribute to Leon Thomas, Umbo Weti. This comes from an earlier album, with Babatunde, Munyungo Jackson and Bill Summers on percussion, Hilton Ruiz on piano, Richard Howell on sax, and Alex Blake on bass.
John Coltrane - "Joy" from First Meditations. One of the recordings made by Coltrane late in his life, and shelved as "too far out" for years. Finally released in 1977, this was the final recordings of the Classic Quartet, with Coltrane on tenor sax, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums.
David Axelrod - "Glory to God" from Rock Messiah. An extension of his electric work with Cannonball Adderly, this is a jazzy version of the Handel classic. Written and arranged by David Axelrod, conducted by Cannonball Adderley and produced by Ronald Budnik. Forgive the vinyl rip and surface noises.
David Chevan and Warren Byrd - "Oseh Shalom," from Let Us Break Bread Together. The core of the transcendant Afro-Semitic Experience, bassist Chevan and pianist Byrd merge spirituals with Jewish prayers and hebrew songs for a unique mixture of spiritual expression, and a wonderful ending to the podcast. The title translated from the hebrew means "He who makes peace".