Mon, 23 August 2010
Getting twenty fingers to work together is no easy task. However, the husband and wife team of Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes does a darn good job of making it work. Double Portrait is an album of piano duets, and when they take on Brazilian classics (a groove-less version of Jobim’s “Double Rainbow”) and standards (a tepid “Dancing in the Dark”), the result is enjoyable without being memorable.
However, their version of Rosnes’ composition “The Saros Cycle” is a shifting, entrancing number, as the pair alternate varying tempos and swap ideas as if they were one. “Inner Urge” is fiery and athletic, with plenty of speedy runs from the players. They close the CD with the ironically titled “Never Will I Marry”, showcasing their sense of timing and wit.
Mon, 16 August 2010
One of my favorite singers, Abbey Lincoln, has died in New York over the weekend. She was 80 years old. She was not merely a singer, but a songwriter, an actress, an advocate for civil rights, and a participant in some of the most daring jazz recordings of the 1960’s..
As a jazz singer, Ms. Lincoln traced her lineage to Billie Holiday and back to Bessie Smith. She lacked the technical prowess of an Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan. She rarely scatted or improvised on the melody line. Her vocal style was built around her phrasing, interpretation of the lyrics and emotion, drawing on her acting skills.She also stood out from other jazz singers because she mostly performed her original songs rather than relying on standards. She credited jazz pianist Thelonious Monk for encouraging her to become a songwriter after she wrote a lyric to his tune "Blue Monk" for her 1961 album, Straight Ahead.
Straight Ahead and her 1960 collaboration with her husband, the legendary drummer Max Roach, We Insist! – Freedom Now, represented her first great recordings. Thirty years later, she had a brief renaissance in collaborations with Stan Getz, Archie Shepp and Hank Jones, and most importantly, her album A Turtle’s Dream. That album, especially this seminal recording of “Down Here On the Ground”, was praised by critic Stephen Holden in one of my favorite thought pieces on music:
Abbey Lincoln, whose singing suggests Billie Holiday fortified by faith, explores the meaning of life and death in her 1995 masterpiece, “A Turtle’s Dream.” Its nine-minute centerpiece, “Down Here Below,” is her one-sided conversation with a God she both reveres and questions in language that transcends her usually singsongy verses. Leading her ensemble of bass, drums, violin and viola, the pianist Kenny Barron delivers a sublime extended solo that matches the intensity of Ms. Lincoln’s voice, hovering on the edge of rapture and tears. I’ve seen Ms. Lincoln perform the song in concert several times, but no performance came close to the one captured on this record.
Her last album of new material, Abbey Sings Abbey was released in 2007.
Category:general -- posted at: 10:22am EDT
Sat, 14 August 2010
Given that my late father was a bass player, I confess a certain soft spot in my heart – and blog – for bands led by bassists. Thanks to Harvie S., I have a new CD to return to anytime I want an understated, yet powerful, bass fix.
These days, the pyrotechnics of a Stanley Clarke or Victor Wooten are what comes to mind when thinking of what a bass player brings to the bandstand as a leader. That’s one reason that it’s refreshing that Harvie S. (born Harvie Swartz) isn’t afraid to take melodic solos or simply fade into the texture of a song. Working with a group of musicians he calls his “ Texas Band”, the sextet of Harvey on bass, Chris Cortez on guitar, Woody Witt on saxophone, Jose Miguel Yamal on piano, Joel Fulgham on drums and James Metcalf on percussion, play a mixture of covers and originals with vitality and sensitivity on Cocolamus Bridge (available on Blue Bamboo Music).
There’s a Latin tinge to many of the cuts, including “Coco Loco” and “Truth and Beauty”, but always with a subtle sway. The title track comes across as something that Pat Metheny (with whom Harvie has collaborated in the past) might play in his more mellow moods. The solo piece, “Eili Gheal Chiuin”, takes an Irish folk tune and turns it into almost a lullaby when Harvie picks up the bow.
There’s much to like here, with a special nod to saxophonist Witt. His duet with Harvie on Wayne Shorter’s “Night Dreamer” is worthy of the master himself.
Fri, 13 August 2010
More free jazz in Connecticut! For the next two Saturdays – August 14 and August 21 – the historic Downtown Green in New Haven, in the shadows of Yale University, will play host to some outstanding music and musicians. It’s two wonderful days at what they are calling “Jazz Haven”. On Saturday August 14, jazz fans will be able to put down a blanket and enjoy the Neighborhood Music School Jazz Youth Orchestra, and then Noah Berman’s “Know Thyself Suite” with trumpeter Wayne Escoffery (remember my interview with him? No? Click here. ) The Afro-Peruvian Jazz Showcase, Winard Harper Sextet and Bobby Watson Quartet finish off in the evening. Watson should be particularly interesting to see, as he is releasing a CD in September called The Gates BBQ Suite, an extended large ensemble work he first premiered at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2008. Want a sneak preview? Click here to listen to "Beef On Bun". Sounds lip smacking good to me. The next Saturday it’s the Artist Collective Jackie McLean Youth Jazz Orchestra kicking things off, followed by Joe Morris (with ace pianist Matthew Shipp as a sideman), trombone master Steve Davis with Larry Willis sitting in, and then two acts with a Latin Beat – Claudia Acuna’s Quartet and Robby Ameen’s Sextet.
More free jazz in Connecticut! For the next two Saturdays – August 14 and August 21 – the historic Downtown Green in New Haven, in the shadows of Yale University, will play host to some outstanding music and musicians. It’s two wonderful days at what they are calling “Jazz Haven”.
On Saturday August 14, jazz fans will be able to put down a blanket and enjoy the Neighborhood Music School Jazz Youth Orchestra, and then Noah Berman’s “Know Thyself Suite” with trumpeter Wayne Escoffery (remember my interview with him? No? Click here. ) The Afro-Peruvian Jazz Showcase, Winard Harper Sextet and Bobby Watson Quartet finish off in the evening.
Watson should be particularly interesting to see, as he is releasing a CD in September called The Gates BBQ Suite, an extended large ensemble work he first premiered at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2008. Want a sneak preview? Click here to listen to "Beef On Bun". Sounds lip smacking good to me.
The next Saturday it’s the Artist Collective Jackie McLean Youth Jazz Orchestra kicking things off, followed by Joe Morris (with ace pianist Matthew Shipp as a sideman), trombone master Steve Davis with Larry Willis sitting in, and then two acts with a Latin Beat – Claudia Acuna’s Quartet and Robby Ameen’s Sextet.
Fri, 13 August 2010
For 50 years, a famed artists' retreat in Peterborough, New Hampshire -- the MacDowell Colony -- has made a prestigious annual award to artistic greats -- painters, playwrights, classical musicians. now, for the first time, the MacDowell medal will recognize a jazz musician - saxophonist Sonny Rollins.
Click here to go to a wonderful report on this long-overdue award by WFCR-FM's Tom Reney. my favorite jazz DJ. Among those interviewed are critic Gary Giddens, who will present Sonny with the award on Sunday, August 15, 2010.
Category:general -- posted at: 1:01pm EDT
Sun, 8 August 2010
One of my favorite chantueses will be in my neck of the woods this week, and she comes with a new CD ready for release. Jane Monheit will be leading her group into the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton this Friday evening, and you can bet I'll be in line early for a great table.
Ms. Monheit has been one of our best interpreters of vocal jazz standards since she burst on the scene in the Thelonious Monk competition just over a decade ago. Now mature and reaching for the top of her vocal powers at the age of thirty, she, her husband, young son Jack and her band are readying a world tour for her latest CD, Home.
Home is the first CD she has self-produced, and when I spoke with her earlier this month, she was particularly proud of the final product, which hits the stores on September 21. It's classic Monheit, meaning its full of classic tunes arranged and presented in sometimes faithful, sometimes unique ways. As aspect that is particularly fun is that many of tunes are by great composers, but are lesser known songs from the canon. Can't wait to listen to it? Well, if you click here, you can listen to Podcast 190, which features an interview with Ms. Monheit, you'll get a sneak peek at two tracks from album, including:
Jane Monheit - "A Shine On Your Shoes" from Home. The core band - Michael Kanan (piano), Neal Miner (bass)and Rick Montalbano (drums) - shines as Ms. Monheit covers a tune associated with Fred Astaire, who she calls "one of her favorite singers".
Jane Monheit - "Everything I've Got Belongs to You" from Home. A less-known Rodgers & Hart tune, it's a paen to a long time marriage that Ms. Monheit carries out with her trademark flirtatiousness.
Jane Monheit - "A Case of You" from Come Dream With Me. While she concentrates on standards from the Great American Songbook, she's not above interpreting a "Modern Standard" like David Gates' "If" or this Joni Mitchell tune. A great duet with Richard Bona, who lends a Jaco-ish vibe on fretless bass.
Jane Monheit - "Cheek to Cheek" from In the Sun. A standout piano turn by Kanan, as a tempo change takes an Irving Berlin classic and turns it into something new and exciting.
Mon, 2 August 2010
LOUIS, a silent film directed by Dan Pritzker and starring Jackie Earle Haley, Shanti Lowry and Anthony Coleman, will premiere in US cities in late August with live musical accompaniment by Wynton Marsalis, renowned pianist Cecile Licad and a 10-piece all-star jazz ensemble, including Sherman Irby, Victor Goines, Marcus Printup, Ted Nash, Kurt Bacher, Vincent Gardner, Wycliffe Gordon, Dan Nimmer, Carlos Henriquez, Ali Jackson, and conductor Andy Farber. Marsalis will play a score comprised primarily of his own compositions. Licad will play the music of 19th century American composer L.M. Gottschalk. The group will perform live with the film in a series of special performances in New York City, Chicago, Washington DC, Detroit, and Philadelphia August 25 - 31.
Partial proceeds from the five concerts will benefit Providence Saint Mel School in Chicago, IL in honor of Paul J. Adams III Shot by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond as a modern re-imagining of early silent film, LOUIS is an homage to Louis Armstrong, Charlie Chaplin, beautiful women and the birth of American music. The grand Storyville bordellos, alleys and cemeteries of 1907 New Orleans provide a backdrop of lust, blood and magic for 6 year old Louis (Anthony Coleman-pictured above; photo credit: Peter Sorel) as he navigates the colorful intricacies of life in the city. Young Louis's dreams of playing the trumpet are interrupted by a chance meeting with a beautiful and vulnerable girl named Grace (Lowry) and her baby, Jasmine. Haley, in a performance reminiscent of the great comic stars of the silent screen, plays the evil Judge Perry who is determined not to let Jasmine's true heritage derail his candidacy for governor.
"The idea of accompanying a silent film telling a mythical tale of a young Louis Armstrong was appealing to me," says Marsalis. "Of course, calling it a silent film is a misnomer -- there will be plenty of music, and jazz is like a conversation between the players so there'll be no shortage of dialogue. I look forward to playing with Cecile. The contrast between Gottschalk's music and jazz can be a revelation to those unfamiliar with Gottschalk's music and jazz." "The combination of Cecile playing Gottschalk and Wynton and his ensemble playing jazz reflects the wide-ranging nature of the American musical landscape," notes Pritzker.
"LOUIS came about when I was writing a screenplay about Buddy Bolden, the first jazz trumpeter of New Orleans, and I took my mom to see Chaplin's 'City Lights' with the Chicago Symphony performing the score. It was without a doubt the best movie experience I ever had. The challenge of trying to tell a story visually, without dialogue, was compelling. I thought that if I was going to shoot one film, I might as well try to shoot two -- the second being a silent film that picked up where BOLDEN ended. And it put Vilmos and me on even footing -- he'd never made a silent film before either."
LOUIS is a companion piece to Pritzker's BOLDEN, starring Anthony Mackie, Wendell Pierce and Lowry. BOLDEN will be released theatrically in 2011.
Category:general -- posted at: 2:42am EDT
Mon, 2 August 2010
Few jazz musicians have the varied resume of Azar Lawrence. Since he burst on the scene in the early 1970’s as a sideman for artists as varied as Frank Zappa and McCoy Tyner, his Coltrane-esque sax qualities have been in great demand. He faced off with David Liebman on Miles Davis’ fascinating (if obtuse) Dark Magus live album, and with Woody Shaw on the classic Moontrane album. He collaborated with seminal seventies soul starts like Maurice White and Earth, Wind & Fire, Eric Burdon in the original War, Marvin Gaye. and the influential Watts 103rd Street Band. His releases as a bandleader were that rare combination of spiritual searching and melodic control.
After a lengthy time away from recording as a jazz leader, Lawrence has returned with a vengeance, releasing two solid CDs in just over a year. The latest of these two, Mystic Journey, is a diverse album, not only a revisiting of some of his earlier career highlights, but a presentation of new material worthy of his best work more than thirty-five years ago. Sadly, the CD also represents the final work of the legendary percussionist Rashid Ali, who passed away earlier this year.
Click here to listen to Podcast 188, a conversation with Azar Lawrence, along with musical selections including:
Azar Lawrence – “Summer Solstice” from Mystic Journey. This was the title track for Azar’s second solo album, here redone by the band of Azar on sax, Dr. Eddie Henderson on trumpet, Benito Gonzalez on piano, Essiet Essiet on bass and Rashid Ali on drums/ Ali, who rose to fame for his work with John Coltrane, passed away shortly after these sessions.
Azar Lawrence – “Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit” from Mystic Journey. Written by McCoy Tyner for the Montreux concert performance that ended up as his Enlightenment album in 1973, the original version was a twenty-four minute mindbender. Azar revisits and shortens this take without losing its spirit and drive.
Azar Lawrence – Title Track from Bridge Into the New Age. Azar and Woody Shaw were the stars of Azar’s first album as a bandleader, recorded in 1974. In addition to the pair on saxophone and trumpet, the band was Woody Murray on vibes, Jean Carn on vocals, Clint Houston on bass, Billy Hart on drums and Guilherme Franco and Ken Nash on percussion.
Earth, Wind & Fire – “Spread Your Love” from Powerlight. Maurice White was introduced to Azar and they hit it off immediately, leading Azar to offer him two or three songs that ended up on the Powerlight album in 1983.
Woody Shaw – Title Track from The Moontrane. One of Shaw’s great sessions was held in New York from December 11-18, 1974. The resulting album, The Moontrane, moved Shaw to the top of the list of post-bop trumpeters in the business. The band is now acknowledged as a group of true all-stars: Shaw on trumpet, Azar on sax, Steve Turre on trombone, Onaie Allen Gumbs on piano, Buster Williams on bass, and Victor Lewis on drums.
Miles Davis – “Tatu, Pt. 2” from Dark Magus. Azar and David Liebman were handling saxophone duties in one of the densest, heaviest jazz recordings ever made. Miles was playing mostly organ by this time, and three electric guitarists – Pete Cosey, Reggie Lucas and Dominique Gaumont – were the center of the band’s sound. Michael Henderson plays bass, Al Foster is on drums and Mtume on percussion.