Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Smart, Energetic Purist Guitar Jazz from Graham Dechter

If it’s possible for an album of other peoples’ material to be brash, that somewhat describes guitarist Graham Dechter’s 2009 debut as a bandleader, Right on Time. His second, Takin’ It There is more dynamically charged and a degree subtler. A jazz purist in the Wes Montgomery/Barney Kessel tradition (both of whom he covers here), Dechter has irrepressible, tireless energy, wicked precision and a clean, unvarnished tone. The personnel here are the same as on his debut: bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton (who mentored him in their Jazz Orchestra) and pianist Tamir Hendelman.

A spring-loaded version of Montgomery’s Road Song kicks things off, Dechter’s  sizzling descending runs handing off to a jaunty ragtime-flavored Hendelman solo and then a wry bass solo that’s classic Clayton. Likewise, Clayton’s minimalism contrasts mightily with the guitarist’s expansive approach on an expert take of Kessel’s Be Deedle De Do. The standout track here is Jobim’s Chega de Suadade (No More Blues), slowly shifting from vividly scampering unease through up-and-down-tempos to a galloping, bubbly romp.

Likewise, an original Dechter ballad, Together & Apart follows a meticulous arc up from understated angst, brightening with a more bluesy feel. The album’s title track, by pianist  Josh Nelson, works a brightly swinging early 60s Grant Green vibe, nonchalantly building to a tasty outro fueled by Hamilton’s clustering attack and Hendelman’s big block chords.Clayton contributes Grease for Graham, a matter-of-fact midtempo/slow swing number that essentially segues into a breakneck take on Lee Morgan’s Hocus Pocus, whose high point is a rare drum solo that actually manages to bring the energy down a bit. There’s also a version of Come Rain or Come Shine that follows an almost imperceptible trajectory from gentle to gritty, a pulsing, goodnatured take on George Coleman’s Father, and a concluding diptych of a solo Dechter ballad into a similarly tender take of  Every Time We Say Goodbye. It’s out now from Capri Records.

February 2, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Good Cop and Bad Cop Review Atsuko Hashimoto’s New Album

Good Cop: Wow, they gave us a new assignment! We must have done a good job with that last review, no thanks to you…

Bad Cop: Just doing my job. Can you pass me that bottle please.

Good Cop: I didn’t hear that. Pass it yourself. I’m on duty.

Bad Cop [pours himself a huge glass of wine]: Today’s album is…how do you pronounce this…

Good Cop: Until the Sun Comes Up.

Bad Cop: No, the organist…

Good Cop: That’s Atsuko Hashimoto. Her new album is just out on Capri Records and it’s a throwback to the days of B3 jazz organ lounges in the 60s. When jazz was the people’s music, that everybody danced to and kept the bars open until closing time. Which explains the title…

Bad Cop: God, what a generic track listing. You’d think they could come up with something more interesting. Henry Mancini, Satchmo, You Are My Sunshine. Wake me up when this is over.

Good Cop: C’mon, let’s give it a spin. The opening track is All or Nothing at All – this makes me edgy, I can’t sit still. OK, give me a splash of that wine, I need to calm down here.

Bad Cop: Wow, this is fast. Did you just hear that nasty bluesy phrase she just ran for a couple of bars? This is juke joint jazz! I’m down with this!

Good Cop: You’re breaking character. Listen up, stay in character or risk the consequences.

Bad Cop: Such as?

Good Cop: Me turning bad. You don’t want to risk it.

Bad Cop: OK. The next track is Soul Station. Swing tune. Hank Mobley. Everybody’s done it. This sounds like Jimmy Smith – nothing wrong with that I guess. Who’s the guitarist?

Good Cop: Graham Dechter.

Bad Cop: Monster player. Listen to that tremolo picking, it’s like he’s lighting a match in the wind. I can’t understand why he’s not famous.

Good Cop: He’s not in New York. Colorado guy, from what I can figure.

Bad Cop: Come to New York, dude, plenty of work, even in a depression. And people will know who you are.

Good Cop: That’s Jeff Hamilton on drums.

Bad Cop: Noooooo…not the guy whose album we totally disrespected about a year ago….

Good Cop: Yup. Jeff, it’s about time we made it up to you. You wail.

Bad Cop: The organist won’t understand that…

Good Cop: Don’t assume that. That doesn’t make you look very openminded.

Bad Cop: OK. What I mean specifically by that is that I’m digging those shuffle beats and the fact that he’s not phoning it in, that you can just focus in on the drums and really enjoy being surprised…and the next track is So In Love. I don’t know this one. Curtis Mayfield did a great song with this title back in the 70s but this is new to me…whew…this is fast, I need another drink, pass me the bottle please…

Good Cop [passes the bottle]: OK. Now you know why every jazz bar had this kind of music back in the day…

Bad Cop: Amen [burp]. Wow. Joe Pass filigree runs, sixteenth notes, the crowd is on their feet…

Good Cop:…and a lush suspenseful passage when you least expected it. She knows how to work a crowd…

Bad Cop: The next song is Moon River, reinvented as a swing tune. Can I tell you a story? I saw REM – you know, the rock band – play this one before they got really famous and it was really cool. And this is kinda the same, it barely resembles the original and that’s why it’s great…

Good Cop: C’mon, say something bad, you’re out of character.

Bad Cop: REM sucks now.

Good Cop: I love this version, it’s such a river. What can I say. It blows away the original. Moon River – fluid, unstoppable, she nails it.

Bad Cop: OK, next track, What a Wonderful World. What a boring choice.

Good Cop: What a sweet rippling solo about three quarters of the way through….

Bad Cop: OK, next track. Blues for Naka. Club owner somewhere in Japan. Rescued and then consigned to obscurity with this song. But it’s good – swing blues with a balmy guitar solo, something you don’t expect from a requiem. Hey, I’m going upstairs, can you hang with this album for awhile?

Good Cop [quizzically]: No problem.

[ten minutes later] Good Cop: I have just been informed that Bad Cop has been overwhelmed by America’s favorite Chilean wine and will not be reappearing this evening. So to recap the album, I think it’s something that the new generation of kids, who like something fun and retro to dance to, will be into. Obviously, the indie crowd won’t dare to like this because the concept of fun doesn’t exist in the indie world. You know, if you express emotion, that might not be pre-approved for your peer group, and in that case you have to face the consequences. So I guess that means me facing the consequences! I like the delicious, unexpecting phrasing in You Are My Sunshine. I love how, in Cherry, the guitar solo goes intense when least expected. The way the guitar and organ, and then the drums, have fun playing back and forth with each other on You’re in My Heart Alone is just plain fun – I love that guitar solo – and I like how the last track combines a sort of Stevie Wonder feel with…wait a minute…whoah! This is California Sun! Did whoever wrote the Beach Boys’ California Sun steal it from a gospel song? Wouldn’t surprise me! Listen to this and decide for yourself. It’s out now on Capri Records.

February 26, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Adam Schroeder’s Baritone Sax Blows a Cool Breeze

The most recent jazz album we reviewed was aggressive, urban jazz. This one is mellow and breezy – but it’s hardly elevator jazz. Adam Schroeder is the baritone saxophone player in the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. So it’s no surprise to see that he’s got his bandmates, one of the current era’s great jazz rhythm sections, John Clayton on bass and Jeff Hamilton on drums along with the group’s superb guitarist, Graham Dechter, on this session. It’s Schroeder’s first as a bandleader. Clint Eastwood is a fan, which means something because Eastwood is a connoisseur. Schroeder combines a Gerry Mulligan geniality with bluesy Harry Carney purism as well as a remarkable ear for space, something you have to learn in a big band – or else.

The album, titled A Handful of Stars, begins anticlimactically: you won’t miss much by fast-forwarding past their version of I Don’t Want to Be Kissed. But the first of sadly only two originals, Midwest Mash is great fun, a casual blues/funk bounce hitched to Hamilton’s clave beat, good cheer all around, particularly when it comes time for a subtly amusing Clayton solo. Neal Hefti’s Pensive Miss is a clinic in terse, mimimal playing, done as a wee-hours ballad, Dechter adding a slowly bright Barney Kessel-ish solo followed by a quietly pointillistic one from Clayton. A matter-of-factly swinging version of Jessica’s Birthday, by Quincy Jones has Hamilton stepping out playfully this time. The Cole Porter standard I Happen to Be in Love gives Schroeder a rare opportunity to build some actual tension here, then it’s back to Dechter taking one of his characteristically richly chordal excursions.

The other original here, Hidden Within begins with a vividly whispery I-told-you-so conversation between Schroeder and Clayton and grows more expansive yet more spacious: the silences are as meaningful as the notes themselves. Understatedly jovial, the Barry Harris bossa tune Nascimento has Dechter moving from blues to sheer joy, Schroeder moving back toward more pensive terrain followed by a tricky polyrhymic solo from Hamilton. They do the title track, a Glenn Miller hit, as a brisk, snappy pop song, much as Paula Henderson might have arranged it. They end with a purist take of Ellington’s Just a Sittin’ and A-Rockin’ and a bustling version of Cole Porter’s It’s All Right with Me, Hamilton taking it up all the way with a Gene Krupa gallop. It’s out now on Capri Records.

August 13, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Graham Dechter – Right on Time

Jazz guitarist Graham Dechter’s debut as a bandleader is auspicious to say the least. A John Clayton protégé, he made his debut with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra at nineteen. Four years down the road, as befits a guitarist whose main gig is a big band, Dechter eschews gratuitous solo lines in favor of an assured, frequently aggressive chordal attack which nonetheless abounds with subtleties in voicing and shading. He plays straight through his amp without effects, generally with a round, slightly bassy tone that grows to include just a hint of distortion, threatening to combust at any second, when he feels like sending a crescendo over the edge. What’s most impressive about this is that Dechter does it mostly with either familiar or canonical material – it’s a cover album, but the interpretations are unquestionably his. It’s quite a ride.

Backing him are his bandmates: his mentor Clayton on bass, Jeff Hamilton (whose latest as bandleader, Symbiosis, is also excellent) on drums, and the vividly lyrical Tamir Hendelman on piano. The album kicks off a briskly swinging, meaty take on Low Down (by Thad Jones, NOT Boz Scaggs), following with a Jobim cover, Wave, subtly and effectively bluesy with a brisk and confident Dechter crescendo followed amusingly by Clayton’s tiptoeing around, up to a sneaky false ending from Hamilton. The group take their time with The Nearness of You (Hoagy Carmichael), giving it plenty of room to breathe, Hendelman’s solo echoing Dechter’s casual terseness.

I Ain’t Got Nothing But the Blues (one of three Ellington tunes here) is a showcase for Dechter’s sly aplomb with subtle hammer-ons and tremolo picking. The comparison might seem over-the-top, but Dechter’s seemingly intuitive feel for the blues and fresh chordal approach remind of a young Matt Munisteri (albeit without the bluegrass), especially in the suaveness of In a Mellow Tone. Here he eggs his bandmates on, to the point where Hendelman smacks his way in with some impatient staccato as the first guitar solo winds up, then nips at Dechter’s heels for the rest of the song. And when it’s Clayton’s turn to step out, he comes in with a train whistle. Otherwise, Johnny Hodges’ Squatty Roo is a lickety-split romp full of post-Wes Montgomery guitar articulation; his saxist dad Brad Dechter’s bluesy title track works as both clinic in keeping it simple and on track, and an exercise in trick endings; and the old standard Broadway provides ample opportunity for Dechter to muscle up its horn chart. Considering the amount of time the players on this album have clocked together, it’s no surprise to hear such an abundance of convivial, good-natured jousting and interplay. Dechter’s wunderkind years may be behind him now, but with a whole career in front of him, it’ll be very interesting to watch him develop. Let’s hope he starts playing his own compositions – if this cd is any indication, they ought to be captivating. And if not, he’s made a mark as an individual, first-class interpreter worth watching over the months and years to come.

December 21, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Jeff Hamilton Trio – Symbiosis

[editor’s note – it’s just this poor guy’s luck that we decided to bring back Good Cop and Bad Cop after almost a year’s hiatus to review this one…]

Bad Cop: Let’s see, the Jeff Hamilton Trio has an album of familiar jazz standards. JUST what we need!

Good Cop: This puts an interesting spin on it, a drummer-led piano trio.

Bad Cop [sarcastic]: All covers except for one original, that’s a good start. Let’s hear that one first.

Good Cop: Here you go – it’s a samba.

Bad Cop: Sounds pretty generic to me. Eighteen hours setting up all those mics for a 25 second percussion solo. Now that’s what I call efficient…

Good Cop: Samba is like blues, it’s a stylized genre, a lot of the changes follow a specific pattern…

Bad Cop [peeved]: PFFFFT. What’s next? Let’s try the title track. I don’t know this one – by some European guy, Claus Ogerman?

Good Cop: He’s an arranger and composer, he worked with Tom Jobim and lately Diana Krall.

Bad Cop [the sarcasm is getting out of hand] : Now that’s really got me excited. Hmmm…this is actually quite beautiful. Nice cantabile ballad. Now why don’t I know this guy? And who’s the piano player?

Good Cop: Maybe because you’re not a Diana Krall fan? The piano player is Tamir Hendelman, he plays with the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. As does the drummer, Jeff Hamilton.

Bad Cop: Who’s the bass player? Sounds like John Clayton, got a nice groove going.

Good Cop: That’s Christoph Luty.

Bad Cop: OK. Let’s hear the rest of this thing. Track one please.

Good Cop: This is You Make Me Feel So Young. Nice exuberant, bright, lyrical piano, huh?

Bad Cop: OK, you got me there. What’s next?

Good Cop: This is Midnight Sun. Lionel Hampton tune.

Bad Cop: Interesting how the drums stay on the DL til the second verse kicks in. Grace and suspense.

Good Cop: Hamilton was in Hamp’s band in 1975, I guess that left a mark.

Bad Cop: I should say so. Let’s hear the next cut…oh yeah, the title track, we already heard that. Fast forward, what’s next?

Good Cop: Gershwin. Fascinating Rhythm. Not exactly the Moonlighters’ version…

Bad Cop: Gotta give these guys credit, they’ve really made this their own, how they skirt the melody with all those drum breaks, that’s cool. I like that piano solo too.

Good Cop: And the way that little drum solo toward the end winds up with a press roll back to the head…

Bad Cop: You know, I am actually starting to like this, believe it or not. OK, for awhile anyway. This is a Ray Brown tune, Blues for Junior, nice swing to it but it doesn’t have much in the way of a real melody…

Good Cop: OK, here’s the next one. Polka Dots and Moonbeams. You know this one.

Bad Cop [aside] And how. Doesn’t sound much like it – I like the bowed bass on the intro…and the piano, this guy really makes it sing.

Good Cop: What’s with the role reversal? You’re supposed to be cynical, jaded, embittered, the one who’s seen it all, heard it all.

Bad Cop: But I don’t hate this, that’s the strange thing. Oh yeah, here comes that samba. No thanks.

Good Cop: Can we please resume roles, you’re stealing my thunder. This one’s Blues in the Night.

Bad Cop: Harold Arlen. For the gazillionth time. But listen, the bass is playing a horn line. Bowing it! It’s good, too!

Good Cop: And check how Hendelman climbs out of that solo, big and glittery.

Bad Cop: Where’s the drummer here? He’s almost invisible.

Good Cop: Gotcha!

Bad Cop: Um. OK. Yeah, got me. You’re not supposed to notice the drums, DUH. Oh wait, we finally get some big cymbal splashes to up the ambience. You know, I should put this on my boudoir mix along with Sade and Al Green.

[Good Cop stifles a laugh]

Bad Cop: No, seriously.

Good Cop: Why don’t we wrap up this cd instead. This is the last cut. Ellington tune, The Serpent’s Tooth.

Bad Cop: I don’t know this one. Who was it that said that it never hurts to cover Ellington a few times?

Good Cop: That was Graham Dechter, I believe. Hamilton’s bandmate in the Clayton/Hamilton orchestra.

Bad Cop: I wouldn’t touch Ellington with a ten foot pole. Unless I was Steely Dan. One screwup and you make a real fool of yourself.

Good Cop: Well, let’s see how these guys do. Messing with the tempo and having a ball, seems to me.

Bad Cop: Tasteful bass solo. Drum breaks. A showcase for the rhythm section. Which is pretty much what this is when you think about it, in the oldschool sense of the word. Except the piano here is the lead instrument. And I want to learn more about this guy, does he have anything else out?

Good Cop:Yeah, he’s on Capri along with the other guys here.

Bad Cop: Can you do me a favor and get me a comp copy?

Good Cop: Back in character, I see. Always looking to get over. Why don’t you just buy the damn thing?

Bad Cop: Why is it you get all the good cds?

Good Cop: Start being less of a peevish ass and you might get one or two. Woops, that’s me being cynical.

Bad Cop: Touche!

Good Cop. OK, it says in the press material that All About Jazz raved about this and I have to say that they were right this time around.

Bad Cop: Usually that’s the kiss of death.

Good Cop: No it’s not.

Bad Cop: Better them than us!

[editor’s note: Symbiosis came out on Capri Records in September, available at their site, at shows and at better record retailers who are aware that jazz exists]

December 16, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment