Sat, 29 October 2011
Halloween is here again, which means its almost time to make up a batch of my famous pumpkin martinis to carry Nancy and me through the evening’s trick or treaters. And it’s also time for my semi-annual podcast of jazz songs with spooky titles. Click here for a bevy of ghouls and goblins, witches and devils, all performed by:
Peter Cincotti - “Witches Brew” from East of Angel Town. The crooner/movie star (he played opposite Kevin Spacey in the Bobby Darin biopic) has his vocals a bit overwhelmed by David Foster’s over production, but he still throws a hot harpsichord solo in for good measure.
Al DiMeola – “Race with the Devil on Spanish Highway” from Elegant Gypsy. The former Return to Forever guitar hero flexes his fingers on this breakneck fusion workout from 1984. The band is a who’s who of electric jazz for the day – Barry Miles on keyboards, Lenny White on drums, Anthony Jackson on bass, and Mingo Lewis on percussion.
Roy Hargrove – “Devil Eyes” from Nothing Serious. One of our leading trumpet players released two albums simultaneously in 1986, one funk oriented and this straight ahead set. The band is Hargrove on trumpet, pianist , (who wrote the tune) on bass, on alto and flute, and on drums.
The Lounge Lizards – “You Haunt Me” from The Lounge Lizards. This downtown New York City band made its debut album in 1981, and it ended with this composition by bandleader John Lurie. The rest of the initial line-up is John Lurie, his brother Evan Lurie (piano and organ), Arto Lindsay (guitar), Steve Piccolo (bass), and Anton Fier (drums).
Claudio Roditi with Kenia – “The Monster and the Flower” from Red on Red. I couldn’t resist this song title. It comes from Roditit’s 1984 debut CD, produced by Creed Taylor. Co-written by Roditi with guitarist Ricardo Silveira, this track features Roditi and Paquita D’Rivera on trumpet and sax, respectively, backed by Alfredo Cardim on Fender Rhodes, Claudio Celson on guitar, Lincoln Goines on bass and Yogi Horton on drums. Kenia has gone on to become one of the leading interpreters of her native Brazil’s songbooks.
Stanley Clarke – “All Hell Broke Loose” from Rocks, Pebbles and Sand. A fusiony finale comes from the bass master. This 1980 recording features Clarke with Victor Feldman (Vibes), Chick Corea (Bass, Moog Sythesizer), Simon Phillips (Drums, Percussion) and Charles Johnson (Guitar).
Fri, 28 October 2011
The Aquarian Suite is one of the CDs you look at and say, “Don’t I know these guys from somewhere…?”. If you are any kind of jazz fan, the answer is an unequivocal yes.
Blake has risen to prominence working for artists like Esperanza Spalding, Julian Lage and Danilo Perez. He is a saxophone player with great ability to mould his sound to different settings and timings without losing his own sense of self. For The Aquarian Suite, he has put together a piano-less quartet to record an album of original material dedicated to his many musical heroes. A lecturer in music history at Brooklyn College, Blake knows his stuff, both on and off the bandstand.
The band features an adventurous sounding bass from Jorge Roeder (Gary Burton, Lage, Maria Schneider), solid drumming from Richie Barshay (Spalding, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea) and a trumpet played by Jason Palmer (Greg Osby, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Ravi Coltrane) ready to tangle with Blake’s tenor sax and give no ground.
The material is uniformly strong, whether it’s the Monk-ish “Mister Who”, the ballad “You Cry So Pretty”, dedicated to Miles Davis, or my favorite, “The Whistler”, dedicated to bop legend Horace Silver. Blake kicks the tune off the a solo that recalls Ornette Coleman with its swirling reach, and then moves into tight interplay between Blake and Palmer, with Roeder providing perfectly placed fills to complete the sound.
Category:general -- posted at: 3:05pm EDT
Fri, 28 October 2011
The weather forecast for Western Massachusetts includes a Winter Storm Watch, expecting 5 plus inches of wet snow. On October 29, this is not acceptable. Trick or Treat in galoshes, anyone?
Naturally, I am looking for someone to blame. And I have decided the reason for the wintry weather is the arrival of Christmas CDs in the mail for review. If you’re playing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” or “Jingle Bells” in October, you’re courting disaster.
If the initial crop of releases is any indication, we’re getting some above average jazz for Christmas this year. The real winner in the crowd is Geri Allen’s A Child is Born. Picking up where last year’s brilliant solo piano work Flying Toward the Sound left off, this is not an album of sing a longs, but rather re-explorations of traditional tunes. Rather than stick with holy religious or secular holiday songs, Ms. Allen throws in hymns like “God is With Us” and originals “Imagining Gena at Sunrise” and “Imagining Gena at Sunset”. Ms. Allen has once again dug deep to wring real soul from tunes that have become all too easy to gloss over. As a result, A Child is Born deserves a special place on the Christmas jazz shelf.
Moving from contemplative to swinging, Chris Bauer’s In A Yuletide Groove features his warm harmonica sounds over a quartet that keeps things moving along winningly. Glenn McClelland (keyboards), Chris Zeimer (guitar), Matt Parrish (bass) and Dave Mohn (drums) have a slightly irreverent streak to their approach to these classics, keeping the music up-tempo and bright. Bauer’s sound is always inviting, and he wisely let’s the band do the heavy musical lifting, keeping things – well, in a yuletide groove.
From Canada comes A Celebration in Time, bringing together the varying sounds of pianist Oliver Jones, singer Ranee Lee and backing groups the Daphnee Louis Singers and Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir for an album with a celebratory spirit. Jones is not afraid to play with the tempos and timing of these Christmas classics (check out his “God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen”) and the singers never approach cliché in their presentation of familiar material.
It’s not jazz, but since my latest crush is on singer-actress Zooey Deschanel (ooh, those eyes), it’s worth mentioning that her folky band She & Him are releasing A Very She & Him Christmas, featuring M. Ward and her dueting winningly on familiar tunes like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (with a gender reversal in the seduction dialogue) and “Silver Bells”. Stuff to put a smile on your face.
Thu, 27 October 2011
In observation of the 31st United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s World Food Day and coinciding with the 66th anniversary of the founding of the FAO, a special ceremony is being held in New York City October 27th that will bring together the prominent people and opinion leaders from UN system, humanitarian and development organizations and the private sector. Goodwill Ambassador and World renowned jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater will speak at the event as part of her long-standing efforts to assist the FAO in their global outreach to end hunger.
While the World Food Day theme in 2011 is “Food prices: from crisis to stability,” in the light of the aggravating situation in the Horn of Africa, a special ceremony has been organized by the FAO focusing on the current drought and famine in the region that is taking the toll of human lives at risk on a daily basis, making it an emergency of huge proportions. Joining the FAO in organizing the event are key partners such as IFAD, WFP, Action Against Hunger, the UN Global Companct, the UN Office for Partnerships, the Hunger Project and the Group of Friends of Food Security and Nutrition at the United Nations. The Director-General of the FAO will open the Special Ceremony with key remarks by Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, amongst others.
The event will be an opportunity to raise funds in support to agriculture and livelihood recovery projects in the Horn of Africa and to assist households to meet their food needs over the next six months and beyond. In this context, FAO’s planned interventions towards farmers and pastoralists include distribution of seeds and other inputs, provision of animal feed, livestock vaccination and treatment, cash-for-work schemes, water harvesting, irrigation, storage of food at village level and rural infrastructure improvement.
Readers of this blog may have heard my interview with Dee Dee, and can hear it again by clicking here. Ms. Bridgewater is currently in the midst of a world-wide tour in support of Midnight Sun, a collection of love songs from throughout the three-time Grammy and Tony Award-winning artist Dee Dee Bridgewater’s critically acclaimed career. Released on DDB Records/Emarcy (Universal), and cited as “a love letter of sorts”, Midnight Sun, produced by Tulani Bridgewater-Kowalski, is the ultimate mixed tape, traversing landscapes of melodically mournful tales of love lost, heartrending ballads about forever afters and sultry promises of bliss. Midnight Sun is the fourth release on Bridgewater’s own label, DDB Records.
Category:general -- posted at: 4:00am EDT
Mon, 24 October 2011
Category:general -- posted at: 5:00am EDT
Tue, 18 October 2011
The 9th Annual Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT) series will be held at the Jazz Standard in New York from Thursday, October 20, through Sunday, October 23 This year, the FONT series celebrates Kenny Wheeler, one of the most creative and iconic of progressive trumpeters. Wheeler (pictured above), a Canadian residing in the UK since 1952, celebrated his 81st birthday this year. He will make a rare New York appearance in this series devoted to his music and vision.
The Festival also presents a cadre of progressive New York trumpeters, among them Ingrid Jensen, Shane Endsley, Nate Wooley, Jonathan Finlayson, Tony Kadleck, and Jon Owens. As part of this celebration, Kenny Wheeler will be featured with Ingrid Jensen + Brass, will play his music alongside John Hollenbeck’s Large Ensemble, and will also convene a New York Quintet, featuring Jon Irabagon, Craig Taborn, Rudy Royston, and special guest Dave Holland. A complete lineup can be found here.
The Festival of New Trumpet Music, a nonprofit founded in 2003 by Dave Douglas and Roy Campbell, Jr. was designed to encourage creative brass music. Wheeler will be presented its Award of Recognition during the week’s run. Previous recipients include Wadada Leo Smith and Bobby Bradford.
I spoke to Dave Douglas about FONT, the music of Kenny Wheeler, and his recent musical projects, which include a summer appearance at Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival and the readying of a 3 CD set of new recordings. Click here to listen to our conversaion, including musical interludes by:
Kenny Wheeler – “Smatter” from Gnu High. A seminal ECM release from 1975 features the all-star lineup of Wheeler on flugelhorn, Keith Jarrett on piano, Dave Holland on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums.
Kenny Wheeler – “Don the Dreamer” from Windmill Tilter. Recorded in London in 1968, this amazing recording has finally been released on CD. The large ensemble included, among others, Dave Holland on bass, John Spooner on drums, John McLaughlin on guitar, John Dankworth on sax and Dick Hart on tuba.
Christine Jensen – “Dropoff” from Treelines. I spoke well of this CD earlier this year, and Christine’s sister Igrid will lead a band with Kenny Wheeler to start off the celebration. Personnel for this track, which features an Ingrid flugelhorn solo include Christine Jensen on saxophone and an 18-piece jazz orchestra, featuring Martin Auguste (drums), Chet Doxas, Joel Miller, Eric Hove (saxophones), Jean-Nicolas Trottier, David Grott (trombones). Steve Amirault (piano), and Fraser Hollins (bass).
Kenny Wheeler Quintet – “We Salute the Night” from Flutter By, Butterfly. Since the celebration ends with a Wheeler-led quintet, here’s a session from 1987 that has Holland on bass, a spot he will hold down in the new quintet. Others on the recording are Bill Elgart on bass, John Taylor on piano, and Stan Sulzmann on saxophones and flute.
Dave Douglas & Brass Ecstacy – “United Front” from United Front: Brass Ecstasy at Newport. One of Douglas’ prime projects of late, this updated brass band has a more accessible sound than some of Douglas’ more creative recordings. The band is Dave Douglas on trumpet; Luis Bonilla on trombone; Vincent Chancey on French horn; Marcus Rojas on tuba; and Nasheet Waits on drums.
Dave Douglas – “Lush Life” from Greenleaf Portable Series, Vol. 1 – Rare Metals. A reworking of the Billy Strayhorn standard by Brass Ecstasy from a CD released earlier this year. The personnel is the same as on “United Front”.
Direct download: Podcast_237_-_A_Conversation_with_Dave_Douglas_about_FONT.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 7:00pm EDT
Tue, 18 October 2011
It may be hard for those who discovered jazz in the late 1970's and early 1980's to wrap their heads around it, but trumepter Wynton Marsalis turns 50 years old today. Despite his position as one of jazz's most revered voices and organizers, I always saw him as the new kid on the block.
Clearly that's no longer the case. A look at his discography (jazz, classical, soundtracks, etc) reveals more than 70 releases, an average of more than 2.5 releases a year since his debut in 1982. That's a staggering output, and much of it is fine music. And yet, for all his output, and all his awards - nine Grammy awards and a Pulitzer Prize among them - he is also a lightning rod for controversy. Here's an excerpt from his Wikipedia entry - footnotes and all - that spells out the issue:
Marsalis has been criticized by some jazz musicians and writers as a limited trumpeter who pontificates on jazz, as he did in his 1988 opinion piece in the New York Times "What Jazz Is - and Isn't".
Jazz critic Scott Yanow acknowledged Marsalis's talent but criticized his "selective knowledge of jazz history" and his regard for "post-1965 avant-garde playing to be outside of jazz and 1970s fusion to be barren" as the unfortunate result of the "somewhat eccentric beliefs of Stanley Crouch. Trumpeter Lester Bowie said of Marsalis, "If you retread what's gone before, even if it sounds like jazz, it could be anathema to the spirit of jazz." In his 1997 book Blue: The Murder of Jazz, Eric Nisenson argues that Marsalis's focus on a narrow portion of jazz's past stifled growth and innovation. In 1997, pianist Keith Jarrett criticized Marsalis saying "I've never heard anything Wynton played sound like it meant anything at all. Wynton has no voice and no presence. His music sounds like a talented high-school trumpet player to me." Pierre Sprey, president of jazz record company Mapleshade Records, said in 2001 that "When Marsalis was nineteen, he was a fine jazz trumpeter...But he was getting his tail beat off every night in Art Blakey's band. I don't think he could keep up. And finally he retreated to safe waters. He's a good classical trumpeter and thus he sees jazz as being a classical music. He has no clue what's going on now." Bassist Stanley Clarke said "All the guys that are criticizing—like Wynton Marsalis and those guys—I would hate to be around to hear those guys playing on top of a groove!" In his autobiography, Miles Davis – who Marsalis said had left jazz and "went into rock" – hedged his praise of Marsalis by suggesting that he was unoriginal. He also found him too competitive, saying "Wynton thinks playing music is about blowing people up on stage." In 1986, in Vancouver, Davis stopped his band to eject an uninvited Marsalis from the stage. Davis said "Wynton can't play the kind of shit we were playing", and twice told Marsalis "Get the fuck off."
Some critical exchanges have included insults. Besides insinuating that Davis had pandered to audiences, Marsalis said Davis dressed like a "buffoon." Trumpeter Lester Bowie called Marsalis "brain dead", "mentally-ill" and "trapped in some opinions that he had at age 21... because he's been paid to." Marsalis in reply said Bowie was "another guy who never really could play."
Marsalis was criticized for pressing his neo-classicist opinions of jazz as producer and on-screen commentator in the Ken Burns documentary Jazz (2001). The documentary focused primarily on Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong among others, while ignoring other jazz artists. David Adler said that "Wynton's coronation in the film is not merely biased. It is not just aesthetically grating. It is unethical, given his integral role in the making of the very film that is praising him to the heavens."
If his playing is a bit staid, and his desire to record - if not recycle - jazz classics on a number of his releases a but redundant, his contribution as a composer, as the director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, and in particular his live playing make him a formidable talent. And that's enough for me.
Tue, 18 October 2011
Category:general -- posted at: 10:38am EDT
Tue, 11 October 2011
Had he not died at the too-young age of 58 from liver cancer, Lester Bowie, the highly influential trumpet player would have been 70 years old today. In some ways, Bowie's career spanned the history of modern African-American music, from Blues and R&B to avant-garde jazz.
Bowie played with blues musicians such as Little Milton and Albert King, and soul starsstars like Solomon Burke, Joe Tex, and Rufus Thomas. In 1965, at the age of 25, he became Fontella Bass's ("Rescue Me") musical director and husband. A year later, they moved to Chicago, where Bowie worked as a successful studio musician. There he met Muhal Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell, two musicians with whom he co-founded the Art Ensemble of Chicago. He played with them for the rest of his life. Their contribution to the avant-garde cannot be underestimated, With equal parts reverence and humor, they touched on all their favorite tunes in jazz history, playing their instruments onstage along with found objects, noisemakers and bicycle horns. On stage, the group would often appear in face paint and unusual costumes, blurring the line between theatre and jazz.
As fine a player as Bowie was, he mayhave been even a greater organizer. He co-founded the Black Artists Group, a multidisciplinary arts collective in St.Louis in 1968. Among the jazz talent that emerged from BAG were saxophonists Julius Hemphill and Oliver Lake, trumpeters Baikida Carroll; and trombonist Joseph Bowie. Stage directors, poets, painters and dancers also were trained during its four year run. Bowie also helped create the AACM, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a non-profit organization devoted "to nurturing, performing, and recording serious, original music."
Bowie would lead his own bands, like the nonet Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy and his New York Organ Ensemble (which featured James Carter on sax). Carter would pay his debt to Bowie by recording his mentor's compostiion ""FreeReggaeHiBop" on his Conversin' With the Elders CD in 1994.
Mon, 10 October 2011
Resilience is the property of a material to absorb energy when it is deformed elastically and then, upon unloading to have this energy recovered – Wikipedia definition.
Following that somewhat dense explanation above, Tim Mayer’s Resilence serves as a good example of what happens when a talented young musician absorbs his influences and then, with the help of other talent, woodsheds top material and releases it on the jazz world. This is good stuff.
Mayer has wisely put together a top band and top material for this release. The CD features a basic quartet of Mayer on tenor sax, George Cables on piano, Dezron Douglas on bass, and Willie Jones III on drums, supplemented by ace players like Claudio Roditi and Dominick Farinacci on trumpet, Mark Whitfield on guitar, and Michael Dease on trombone. Dease is particularly memorable on “For Miles”, the swinging opening tune he also wrote.
A classic repertoire dominates the tunes, ranging from Kenny Dorham, Lee Morgan, and Fats Navarro compositions, to a Great American Songbook selection by Jule Styne (“I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry”), to compositions by Mayer and collaborator Cables. Mayer is an expressive player, able to let loose on tunes like “Fire & Ice”, and swing in a classic straight ahead manner on Navarro’s “Dance of the Infidels” and Morgan’s “Blue Lace”.
If there is nothing ground breaking or earthshaking here, that’s just fine. This is an album for those who like their sax straight, no chaser, and brings Tim Mayer to the forefront of today’s young players.