Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Bud Shank Bows Out In Good Company

This is an entertaining and frequently joyous album with a sad ending, which you’d never know from the music. A day after recording the new album In Good Company with British alto saxophonist Jake Fryer, renowned alto player Bud Shank died. He literally went out on a high note. Lest anybody get the idea that this might be exploitative – think of the Yardbirds with Sonny Boy Williamson, for example – Fryer set up this session with Shank and his West Coast band in order to get the chance to collaborate with a player he greatly admires, and although not in the best of health, Shank rose to the occasion. Here, the two saxophonists are joined by Mike Wofford on piano, Bob Magnusson on bass and Joe LaBarbera on drums on what Fryer describes as an “album of first takes.” Full of spontaneity and high spirits, it foreshadows nothing but good times. Shank cut his teeth during the era where jazz was the western world’s default pop and dance music, and here Fryer provides a vividly melodic, catchy set of tunes along with a couple of well-chosen covers to springboard plenty of inspired interplay. As much as this is a tribute album, it’s not deferential: this is party music, after all.

On the opening cut, Caravan, Shank cuts his phrases a little shorter here than he might have in his prime but he’s on his game, bobbing and weaving, brevity matched to an understated sophistication: listen closely, and he’ll school you. Jake Fryer, as the liner notes mention, draws on Shank and also on Phil Woods: the bop influence is there, but so is the tunefulness. The swing blues Bopping with Bud is a platform for a tastily judicious descent by Shank, and to his credit Fryer follows in the same vein rather than trying to win a cutting contest. And the moment where Wofford realizes, “wow, I guess I get a solo now,” it’s pure delight.

Agnieszka, a warmly lyrical ballad dedicated to Fryer’s wife, is genuinely gorgeous, with a long, expansive piano spot from Wofford, followed by the blithe staccato shuffle Tip Top & Tickety Boo. Breaking Loose is essentially a long vamp that takes on a funky edge, giving LaBarbera ample opportunity to revisit his days with the Woody Herman big band. Similarly, The Time Lord makes for an amiable showcase for LaBarbera, with Shank getting into the rhythmically shifting fun as well. A cover of Almost Like Being in Love makes for another Wofford showcase; the title track, a brisk jump blues, highlights interplay from the reeds followed by a genuinely funny exchange between bass and drums on the way out. The album closes with a casual, friendly, low-key take of Kurt Weill’s Speak Low, more wee-hours theme than conspiracy. It’s out now on Capri Records.

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February 15, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 2/7/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #722:

The Quintet – Jazz at Massey Hall

The evening got off to a bad start. Charlie Parker was missing his sax, as usual, and had to borrow a plastic one. Then hardly anybody showed up – it was a cold spring night in pre-global warming era Toronto, 1953, and there was a big hockey playoff game going on. So a tiny crowd got to see a hall of fame lineup – Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach – play an absolutely scorching set. And to be fair to Bird, he’d been working out a lot of material on the new Grafton plastic sax, so he knew what he was doing – which is something of an understatement. He didn’t phone this one in, and the rest of the crew rose to the occasion despite not drawing enough bodies to get paid. The original lp only contains about half of the material on the 2004 reissue, which was remastered to include the original rhythm tracks (Mingus redid his basslines in the studio on the original album because the original concert master had him too low in the mix). The songs are a mix of dark burners – Juan Tizol’s Perdido, Diz’s A Night in Tunisia – plus  jazzed-up Broadway tunes like All the Things You Are, Embraceable You and Lullaby of Birdland along with a mellower trio set and a long drum solo not included on the original record. Here’s a random torrent.

February 7, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Peppe Merolla – Stick with Me

Jazz falls into a lot of categories: boudoir jazz, solace-after-a-rough-day jazz, late night sleepy jazz, drunk jazz, fake jazz. Drummer Peppe Merolla’s debut as a bandleader, Stick with Me, is party jazz. It’s the kind of album you can actually put on repeat and not get sick of and it’s our favorite so far this year. Tunes leap from the grooves (ok, the, um, bitmap) of this one with a joyous exuberance that occasionally mellows out into warmly expansive reflection, contentment with a job well done. Merolla is a no-nonsense player with considerable wit, and the tone he sets is contagious. They’re off with a genial rumble from the toms and a characteristically playful yet ethereal Steve Turre shell motif into a modified latin groove (a vibe they’ll bring back again and again here) with casually blazing solos from Jim Rotondi’s trumpet and Turre’s trombone, tenor player John Farnsworth offhandedly quoting Trane, Mike LeDonne (on piano here) introducing some otherworldly tones before joining in the bounce. The fun continues on Ferris Wheel (a tongue-in-cheek title for sure – Bumper Cars would be more like it) with an insistent New Orleans horn riff, a buoyant Farnsworth solo and speeds up as Lee Smith walks the bass and the trombone plays deadpan staccato. A second consecutive Farnsworth tune, Junior, swings genially with a cinematic 70s New York flair, right down to LeDonne’s judiciously summery Rhodes piano. Yet another Farnsworth track builds from pensive, Coltrane-style majesty to irrepressible swing. And the everybody’s-invited after-hours vibe of their version of Willie Nelson’s  Crazy has the melody making the rounds of the band with a joyous directness and simplicity before more contemplative turns from everybody.

There’s also the deliriously circling latin jazz of Mozzin’ (yet another tasty Farnsworth tune), the snaky Marbella with its characteristically boisterous, tuneful Turre trombone, the vividly anthemic Princess of the Mountain and the spiritedly bluesy, high-energy Bud Powell homage One for Bud, a counterintuitive showcase for horns rather than the piano. The small handful of solos Merolla takes here actually sound composed, with a definite trajectory and a punch line. Put this on when the party’s been going for a few hours and soon even your “I hate music that doesn’t have singing” crowd will be humming along. It may be only February, but this is one is likely to end up on a lot of best-of lists this year. And it’s also reason to look forward to what Farnsworth may have up his sleeve next time out.

Merolla has an interesting backstory. A drummer from the age of five, he toured with his parents, the actors Gino Morelli and Tina Barone. After opening for Sinatra at a New York City concert, Sinatra was so impressed that he re-christened the teenage Merolla as “Little Joe” and arranged a three-album record deal for him.

February 27, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments