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

Jazz Composer Howard Wiley’s Latest Album Looks Deeply Inside the Prison System

Howard Wiley’s 2006 album The Angola Project took its impetus from the saxophonist/composer’s experience with prisoners in the music program – such that there is one – at notorious Angola Prison in Louisiana. Five years later, he’s released a sequel, 12 Gates to the City, somewhat less grim but still unflinchingly aware of the harsh day-to-day conditions behind bars on the site of a former slave plantation – and something of a celebration of the efforts of the inmates there to maintain their sanity. Blending original jazz with rustic, bucolic gospel themes similar to the field recordings of convicts made by Allen Lomax and John Oster, this makes a good companion piece to Marcus Shelby’s Soul of the Movement album (just reviewed here). It’ll resonate with fans of both classic gospel music and retro Americana interpreters like Lavay Smith and Daria Grace. Shelby plays bass here, alongside Wiley on alto and soprano saxophones, Geechi Taylor on trumpet,Yeruda Caesar-Kaptoech and Dina Maccabee on violins, drummer Sly Randolph, trombonist Danny Armstrong and singer Faye Carol.

There’s a lot of vocalese on these songs without words: in a way, Carol is the bad cop, the powerful low end, alongside an uncredited voice whose scatting has a distinctly Asian flavor. There’s considerable irony that an album that more than alludes to a kind of de facto slavery that’s still practiced in this country would evoke China, much of whose export economy is based on it. There are also echoes of the baroque on many of the tracks here which have strings, notably the warily hypnotic Come Forth (To the House of the Lord). The album builds with the rippling gospel boogie Old Highway 66 – which wouldn’t be out of place in Rev. Vince Anderson’s catalog – to the longing and stateliness of Captain Donna DeMoss, a tribute to the prison guard who impressed Wiley with her humanity during his time with the inmates.

Endless Fields, which depicts a cotton plantation ready for picking, adds jazz embellishments to a vintage 20s swing-pop tune. John Taylor, dedicated to a strong-voiced inmate who by all accounts was prohibited by the warden from participating in music, brutally evokes a master-slave relationship, with uneasy scurrying rhythms paired off against suspiciously blase piano. The rest of the album balances a handful of warmly swinging, wordless gospel numbers with a searing big band gospel jam, a gritty hip-hop number about life on the inside, and a diptych of tone poems that serve as the background for a thoughtful spoken-word interlude by former inmate Robert King, who aptly connects the dots between the American prison system and the practice of slavery.

As is commonly known, major multinational corporations rely on prison labor for everything from piecework to customer service. If you manage to get through to a call center at a major telecommunications company, you may well be talking to a prisoner. In one notorious case, California state prison laborers were forced to remove “made in China” tags and replace them with “made in USA” stickers. Such practices are typically justified by corporate executives as a way to maintain “competitiveness.” Interestingly, in economic terms, competitiveness equals hours worked divided by wages: slavery, theoretically if not realistically speaking, is infinitively competitive. One can only imagine the howls of indignation from the corporate elite should there be a public outcry against this shameful system. While there’s no harm in giving inmates a productive way to pass the time, like stamping out license plates or highway signs, displacing workers in the outside world is another matter. Meanwhile, entire rural areas have come to depend on the prison system as a sole source of income. To slow the steady flow of predominantly black and latino convicts from mainly urban areas would severely impact certain segments of the countryside: divide and conquer taken to its logical, ugly extreme.

February 1, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Nathaniel Smith Quartet Puts Out a Memorable Debut

The songs on the Nathaniel Smith Quartet’s debut album are cosmopolitan and often warmly evocative – and they’re songs in the purest sense of the word. Smith’s hooks and tunes are memorable, if not always head-on – there’s plenty of implied melody, and as you would expect from a drummer, he’s got a great feel for the spaces between. In case you might be wondering, this cat plays under the name Nathaniel Smith to avoid confusion with his colleague of the same name who goes by Nate. He’s got a good band: on alto sax, Jon Irabagon hangs closer to the purist melodicism of his Concord Jazz work rather than the bebop terrorism of his more outside projects like Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Mark Anderson holds down the bass smartly and tersely, with Jostein Gulbrandsen – who also contributes two compositions – on guitar.

The opening track, Daybreak and Then Dusk, seems to allude to a day gone in a flash, briskly shuffling, Gulbrandsen feeling around uneasily for his footing, Irabagon running out of gas comedically after a scurrying excursion, Anderson playing the voice of reason and taking it halftime as Smith splashes around, obviously in his element. Tortoise Pendant, a jazz waltz in disguise, gracefully expands from a steady center – in the distance, you can hear an old soul song amid Irabagon’s expansive permutations. The first of Gulbrandsen’s songs, Return of the Bear – a stock market allusion, maybe? – shuffles edgily over a terse central hook, Irabagon bringing it up to a rapidfire swirl and then back, where they hammer it home simply and matter-of-factly. Gulbrandsen’s other one is the largo ballad Tomorrow’s Perfume, a really interesting one, the languidness of the melody making room for artful, judicious coloring from Smith, Irabagon allowing just enough of the tune to emerge that its distant blues ballad ancestry becomes clear.

The last three tunes on the album are Smith originals. Actionable Intelligence is a latin number (a Guantanamo reference?), Irabagon adding another priceless anticlimax, Anderson once again getting the chance to referee and making his call count. Travishamockery is a catchy, swaying, funk-infused number with Irabagon’s most gripping solo, after which he makes a face, saying “I’ve had enough” – it’s impossible not to laugh. Smith knocks out the beat completely deadpan on his ride cymbal toward the end, with a devious trick ending. The final track, Shadow Puppet, another jazz waltz, has Gulbrandsen’s finest moment here, biting and focused as he makes his way out of the upper registers, Smith decisively throwing a jab or two when the moment is right. Although some listeners may find some of the guitar solos on the longish side, for the great majority of the time, this group really makes their notes count for something. The album is out now on Fresh Sound New Talent.

Smith is also a particularly insightful and articulate writer: his blog offers a provocative and inspiring look at the state of jazz today from the point of view of a player who’s come up in the past decade or so.

January 25, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nordic Connect Choose Their Spots Memorably

Although all the members of jazz group Nordic Connect claim Viking ancestry, there are no galloping rhythms, twin guitar solos or for that matter much of anything on their new album Spirals that’s ordinarily associated with a raised forefinger and pinky. If they’ve come to conquer, this is a stealth attack. Ingrid Jensen on trumpet, her sister Christine on saxophones, Maggi Olin on acoustic and electric piano, Mattias Welin on bass and Jon Wikan on drums combine for a thoughtful, tuneful, counterintuitive collection of songs without words. Instead of going for an easy crescendo, they tend to pull back, let the mood build and then gracefully expand on it. This one makes a good segue with Noah Preminger’s  new After the Rain, recently reviewed here, although its ancestors are twenty years younger. Most of the tracks here are by Olin, although each of her bandmates also contributes.

66 Mike, by Wikan follows in the melodic vein of the other tracks, but more brightly, serving as the launching pad for the high point of the album, Ingrid’s grittily joyous solo, the most uninhibitedly intense moment here. Castle Mountain, by Christine, pairs warmly sostenuto horns against an understatedly funky rhythm section; she contributes an airily evocative soprano sax solo followed shortly by a wryly shapeshifting one by Wikan. Another Christine composition, Yew, works an allusive beauty: it’s a love song without cliches, her sister thoughtfully expansive against an equally allusive rhythm section, in sync as much with regard to the silences between their accents as the beats themselves. Ingrid’s composition Earth Sighs is a tectonically shifting tone poem with the freest feel of any of the songs here, building with a casual, tersely conversational ambience (Nordic people are not given to exaggerated displays of emotion) to the point where all of a sudden a gently resolute ballad emerges out of the discussion. It’s as if they were raising a barn: lots of seemingly unrelated activity, then the corners come up and the architecture is in place.

Olin’s songs are a clinic in implied melody and understatement and that carries over to how she plays: she lets the melodies in rather than hammering them out. On the opening track, Travel Fever, she develops a spacious contrast with her ringing, terse Rhodes accents against Wikan’s neat sidestep shuffle, Ingrid soaring in the distance, Christine in buoyantly and then handing off the melody as happens so frequently on this album. Song for Inga begins moody and brightens quickly with a deft series of spirals from Ingrid. M-Oving, the first of Olin’s two ballads here, pairs warmly spare piano with soulful muted trumpet, and a tersely rippling piano solo from which Ingrid emerges with some amusingly oscillating electronic effects. Ballad North works a somewhat majestic, emphatic hook methodically to the point where a swaying 6/8 blues underpinning slowly emerges while Christine swirls triumphantly and Ingrid buttresses her. The album closes with the high-spirited, tongue-in-cheek shuffle Brejk a Leg, whose most amusing moment out of several is a laugh-out-loud surfy drum solo (hmmm…is anybody in this band a Misha Mengelberg fan?). There’s a lot going on here: as much as the album makes for great atmosphere, it’s considerably more rewarding on headphones.

January 25, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Noah Preminger’s Before the Rain Is a Quiet Knockout

Tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger’s 2008 cd Dry Bridge Road made a lot of waves, to the point where he’s becoming a perennial nominee for “best up-and-coming jazz artist.” Believe the hype: he is the real deal. This quartet album brings back bassist John Hebert – whose performance backing Jen Shyu at Winter Jazzfest was stunningly purposeful – and pianist Frank Kimbrough along with Matt Wilson, whose drums have anchored so many good jazz albums lately it’s absurd. This is basically a suite that alternates light and dark, emphasis on the dark. There are no gratuitous displays of chops here: the entire band’s understatement is such that they leave plenty on the table. In its own deliberate way, as a statement, an expression of emotion, it is a knockout.

It opens deceptively with a brief, comfortably balmy, drum-less preamble through a couple of minutes of Rodgers and Hart’s Where or When. Then they take the lightheartedness up a notch with Kimbrough’s catchy, jovial Quickening. Methodically prowling beneath the buoyancy, Wilson absolutely owns this track, Hebert taking it to an unselfconsciously joyous, playful crescendo on his solo. Then they bring the lights down for some indoor fireworks, which is where it gets really interesting. The title track, a Preminger original, takes awhile to emerge, Hebert’s lento pulse against the piano: it’s a clinic in effective minimalism, Preminger’s wary lines slowly rising and falling,Wilson finally establishing a gingerly funky bounce before they take it back into the depths again. For lack of a better word, this is a deep song on a deep album.

They maintain the hushed suspense on the next track, Abreaction, even as Hebert and Wilson sync up for a bustling shuffle beneath Preminger’s austere, judicious intensity, Kimbrough finally tackling the darkness head-on with a masterfully developed, slowly expanding series of variations on a simple chromatic riff. Sammy Cahn’s Until the Real Thing Comes Along reverts to the casual optimism of the opening track, with lyrical solos from Kimbrough and Preminger.

They follow with a brief, rubato fragment into a lively version of Ornette Coleman’s Toy Dance, done here with a striking similarity to the earlier Kimbrough tune. November, also by Kimbrough, is where the band glimmers most intensely: following a perfectly stately, gradually unwinding piano solo, Wilson’s slow crescendo that finally caps off with a series of calmly majestic cymbal splashes is the most exquisite moment in an album filled with many. They close with an apprehensively optimistic Preminger ballad, Jamie, an apt way to end this strikingly well thought-out and emotionally resonant album. Look for it on a lot of “best of” lists at the end of the year. It’s out today on the Palmetto label.

January 18, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Something Old, Something New, a Lot That’s Borrowed and Plenty of Blues

A couple of noteworthy recent releases under the big broad banner of Ellingtonia: a welcome digital reissue of the 1963 Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins album (distributed by Harmonia Mundi) as well as Dan Block’s new From His World to Mine: Dan Block Plays the Music of Duke Ellington. The first isn’t the summit meeting between legends that the title implies. A more apt description would be Hawk Plays Ellington: the Duke is strictly a member of the supporting cast here, generously giving the tenor player – whose style he clearly dug – a lot of space, and Hawkins seizes the moment. 47 years later, the album retains the wee-hours vibe of the original because that’s what it was, a couple of busy guys squeezing in a one-off session which ultimately would be the only one they would do together. Although by this point Ellington had become a bluesy classical composer and Hawkins still had bop tendencies, they found common ground with a bunch of jump blues tunes, many of them in the Black and Tan Fantasy mold: eerie minor themes that eventually smooth out into genial swing. It’s nicely remastered – drummer Sam Woodyard’s deft rimshots and cymbal hits enjoy improved clarity compared to the original, as does Aaron Bell’s bass. The most offhanded moments here are the best. Limbo Jazz, clearly not meant as a take, has Woodyard audibly singing along, but Hawk’s casual tradeoffs with baritone man Harry Carney perfectly complete the picture. Likewise, Mood Indigo makes a long launching pad for a single Hawkins solo that just keeps going, and going, and going, Ellington waving him to take another verse, and then a chorus, knowing that the guy was on his game. And Ellington’s song specifically for Hawkins, Self-Portrait of Bean, leans in stately and serious, verging on noir. What’s stunning after all these years is that everything here is basically a pop song, albeit a very sophisticated, often dark-tinged one.

Reedman Dan Block realizes that covering the classics requires some reinvention: otherwise, why bother? With painstaking purism but also considerable joy, he alternates between radical reinterpretation and a bluesy geniality very similar to the Hawkins album, in a set of mostly brilliant obscurities. It’s just as much a triumph of smart archivism as it is of inventive playing and arranging. The late 30s showstopper Are You Stickin’? becomes a latin number, Block’s sailing clarinet interspersed with Mark Sherman’s marvelously terse vibraphone lines, while a late 40s vocal tune, The Beautiful Indians grows from atmospherics to a pulsing tango. Playing tenor sax, Block brings out every bit of subtle, wide-eyed satire in Suburbanites, a 1947 Al Sears showcase, then switches to bass clarinet for a gypsy-tinged, bluesy take of an early one of Ellington’s “portraits,” Portrait of Bert Williams (a popular black vaudevillian of the era). Mt. Harrissa, which is the slightly altered version of Take the A Train from the vastly underrated Far East Suite, is done as a noir bossa with vibes – harrissa may be the hot sauce of choice at falafel stands around the world, but this one’s minty, with balmy Block tenor and guitar from James Chirillo. Block’s love for all things Ellingtonian is contagious, bringing out an inspired performance from the entire cast, the rest of whom include Catherine Russell’s rhythm section of Lee Hudson on bass and Brian Grice on drums plus Mike Kanan on piano and Pat O’Leary on cello. It’s out now on Miles High Records.

December 20, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Dave Brubeck’s Legacy of a Legend to Coincide with Clint Eastwood-Produced Biopic

Most of you who follow this space don’t need any introduction to Dave Brubeck. The big news was that the perennially clever jazz composer turned 90 this past December 6, still touring and composing. Which probably explains why he’s made it this far. In anticipation of the upcoming documentary Dave Brubeck: Legacy of a Legend (Clint Eastwood is executive producer), there’s a brand new 21-track double cd retrospective of the same name featuring cuts from 1954 through 1970 handpicked by Brubeck himself. As with any anthology of this sort, there are pros and cons. Conventional wisdom is that it makes the most sense to own the individual albums these tracks appear on, which some of us probably do. For those of us who don’t, and who want good quality recordings, good luck finding vinyl copies: for example, Jazz Impressions of the USA, the 1956 record from which the southwestern Argentian gothic Ode to a Cowboy here is taken? Next to impossible to find. Essentially, this a composer’s own favorite mixtape, complete with unreleased bonus track (a deliciously juiced-up Three to Get Ready). Or – here’s one interpretation you won’t find anywhere else – this is the real Brubeck for Lovers album. Consider: a few years ago, right around Valentine’s Day, there was a proliferation of jazz compilations “for lovers,” one of them a collection of compositions by Mr. B. Now compare these side by side:

Brubeck Plays for Lovers
You Go To My Head
My Romance
Stardust
Love Is Here To Stay
My Heart Stood Still
I Thought About You
I See Your Face Before Me
For All We Know
Imagination
My One Bad Habit
I’m Old Fashioned

Legacy of a Legend
Jeepers Creepers
Taking a Chance on Love
The Duke
Someday My Prince Will Come
Ode to a Cowboy
Thank You
Camptown Races
Gone with the Wind
Blue Rondo a la Turk
Take Five
Evenin
My One Bad Habit
Somewhere
Unsquare Dance
Summer Song
Something to Sing About
You Go to My Head
Mr. Broadway
Three to Get Ready
Out of Nowhere
St. Louis Blues

Only two shared tracks between the albums, You Go to My Head and My One Bad Habit. But what an amazing date album this is. It’s got everything that made Brubeck a rockstar – a real star, not just a cult icon – back in the 50s: the schlock-made-interesting (Jeepers Creepers, Camptown Races), the cinematic stuff (Gone with the Wind, Summer Song), the tributes and classic covers (The Duke, Someday My Prince Will Come, St. Louis Blues) and Brubeck’s classics themselves. You want romance? Who can resist the wry twists and turns of Unsquare Dance, the high-Romantic japes of Blue Rondo a la Turk, the devious, very subtle satire of Mr. Broadway, or, for that matter, Paul Desmond’s unselfconscious angst on Take Five? Forget Xmas, get this for Valentine’s Day, for someone other than yourself. Granted, this is stuff for sophisticated snuggling, not for the Lady Gag crowd, but if you’re a Lady Gag fan, you’re probably not reading this. You’re probably not reading anything at all. It’s up at all the usual spots, fifteen bucks at itunes.

December 19, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tyler Blanton’s New Album Goes Green

It takes chutzpah to use a photo of skunk cabbage as the cover shot for your new cd. That’s what jazz vibraphonist Tyler Blanton did on his new one, Botanic. This may sound like an oxymoron, but it’s cool jazz with a summery, almost jungly ambience, sometimes evoking other types of vegetation, the kind that typically thrive in tropical climates. Blanton displays a remarkably original style: he’s not a thunderous, showy player in the Joe Locke mold. Rather, he crafts a dreamy, hypnotic web out of subtle, intricate textures, abetted by Joel Frahm on soprano and tenor sax along with Dan Loomis on bass and Jared Schonig on drums (with a couple of tracks anchored by the rhythm section of Aidan Carroll and Richie Barshay).

The title track, a song without words, blends a lot of characteristically interesting touches: a fast triplet pulse, a genial fanfare from Frahm and then a drumline-tinged solo from Schonig as Blanton takes over the rhythm, ratcheting up a mysterious ambience. Foreshadowing switches artfully from straight-up swing to a jazz waltz, sax and vibes working a glistening mesh of echoey broken chords versus staccato sax accents, a latin-tinged drum break and an eerie music-box outro. The prosaically titled Mellow Afternoon turns out to be a quietly lyrical bossa tune, Blanton taking it up once he hits his solo, just enough to break the trance before Frahm comes fluttering down out of the clouds.

The energy level rises as the album winds up. Practically a fugue, Little Two moves from twohanded conversationality to blues, to hypnotic waves of triplets and a muted drum rumble. Hemming and Hawing doesn’t do any of that, actually, working a catchy, soaring hook until Frahm steps in to cool it down, then Blanton runs waterfalls down the scale to pick up the pace again. The album closes with the vintage 60s style Vestibule and its meticulous latticework divided between vibes and sax, Frahm almost jumping out of his shoes with some bop inflections before winding it up on a somewhat triumphant note. It’s a good ipod album, and a good soundtrack for a slow wind back to reality on a Sunday.

November 27, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Explosive Surfy Jazz from the Best-Dressed Guy in Holland

Jazz composer Misha Mengelberg’s stuff is a big hit in his native Holland because it’s very accessible and a lot of fun. Seeing as his compariot, debonair alto saxophonist Benjamin Herman’s mission is to “bring jazz back to the dance floor,” it made a lot of sense for Herman to do a Mengelberg album, which turned out to be a big hit there in 2009. Herman – a genuine star not only in his native land, but throughout Europe – is now on US tour, trying to move bodies (the schedule is here) while promoting a stunningly deluxe new edition of that cd, Hypochristmastreefuzz (More Mengelberg). The title may sound like a Saturday Night Live skit, but the studio album is a mix of upbeat, dancefloor-ready jazz (when was the last time you heard that, huh?), just now reissued with a bonus ecstatic live cd mining a sly, devious vibe that’s pure punk rock. The band behind him – bassist Ernst Glerum, drummer Joost Patocka (of Euro-jazz doyenne Rita Reys’ band), keyboardist Willem Friede and guitar cult hero Anton Goudsmit – straddle the line between precision and abandon (more the latter than the former), with predictably entertaining results. The point of all this seems to be how far outside they can take Mengelberg’s often stunningly memorable, melodic compositions.

Much of the studio album is a trio performance with sax, bass and drums, bass walking blithely while Herman jumps playfully in and out of focus, skirting the melody. There are a lot of creatively disquieting touches here: a disarmingly pretty pop melody against the doppler effect of freeway traffic; the eerie children’s choir that introduces an offhandedly intense, chromatic number, and a distantly noir ballad with nebulous sax over a mellotron string section. There’s also a bright calypso tune and a couple of irresistibly surf-tinged songs, one with a Memphis go-go feel, the other a bouncy bolero (aptly titled A Little Nervous, in Dutch) with busy drums and bowed bass.

But the hourlong live disc from last year’s North Sea Jazz Festival is the piece de resistance. Herman plays his ass off; Goudsmit steals the show on the darker numbers. The most exhilarating number is called Do the Roach, Jim Campilongo surf/jazz taken to a blistering extreme, Goudsmit echoing Bill Frisell at his wildest, throwing off a blast of reverb-drenched metal fragments. The vigorous version of A Bit Nervous has Patocka doing a spot-on Mel Taylor impersonation; it sounds like Laika & the Cosmonauts with a good sax player. And Herman matches Goudsmit’s unhinged exuberance as they transform the Memphis go-go of Brozziman into crazed surf jazz, working their way out of the previous tone poem’s gritty, scrapy ambience. By itself it would be one of the year’s best jazz albums; alongside the studio disc, it makes a great introduction to a player and a group who deserve to be as well known in the US as they are at home.

November 8, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Cookers Heat Up, Oldschool Style

Soul radiates from the grooves here – or from whatever a mp3 is made of. The Cookers’ new album Warriors also has cameraderie, and chemistry, and purism. These jazz veterans – Billy Harper on tenor, Craig Handy on flute and alto, Eddie Henderson and David Weiss on trumpet and flugelhorn, George Cables on piano, Cecil McBee on bass and Billy Hart on drums – mine a rich, oldschool 60s vein, alternately slinky, contemplative, joyous and adrenalized, often nocturnal but sometimes not. The band take their name from the legendary Freddie Hubbard album Night of the Cookers – imagine the Jazz Passengers without Blakey overdoing it, and you’d be somewhere in the vicinity of what this sounds like. The ensemble passages blaze, or offer lush ambience – it’s hard to believe sometimes that this is only a septet and not a big band. Melody is everywhere, in the central themes and in the solos, and it isn’t just solos around the horn, either: it’s all about the songs. And they are songs in the purest sense of the word.

The opening track The Core builds with simple gravitas and eventually catches fire, lit by a tersely majestic Cables motif, aggressive hard-charging solos from Henderson and Harper, Weiss bringing the band back. Spookarella is less spooky than cinematic, its ensemble intro reaching a blithe crescendo, Handy’s carefree flute solo juxtaposed with Cables’ subtly shifting, almost hypnotic block chords. The pianist is the star of this cut (and in an unostentatious, methodical way, perhaps the star of the entire album), in this case with a deftly polyrhythmic solo. The understatedly sexy boudoir ballad Close To You Alone lets Handy state his case expansively on alto while the ambience grows almost imperceptibly behind him – he’s got something up his sleeve and he makes it worth your while. Priestess works variations on a hook that sounds suspiciously like the one from SOS by Abba, a showcase for a gruffly lightning solo from Harper, Weiss playing the voice of reason and Handy upping the ante once again with some sizzling doublestops before what’s left of the hook returns at half the speed, worn out from everything that just happened.

Live at the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival last month, the jazz waltz Sweet Rita Suite 2 took on an ominous glimmer; here, the darkness is limited to Cables furtively shadowing Handy’s cheery flute. But Capra Black is every bit as potent as the version they played there, rich with ambience behind the solos, Weiss again playing wiser buddy to Harper’s fearless exuberance, Henderson feeling the electricity in summer night air, Cables the man half-behind the curtain, guiding the entire thing with judiciously sparse intensity. They close on a high note with the methodically swinging, vividly noirish Ladybugg, Cables and McBee stepping out of the shadows and then back in, followed by the powerhouse, aptly titled U Phoria, ablaze with trumpets, a stinging minor blues solo by Cables and matter-of-factly unstoppable incisiveness from Hart on the cymbals. Count this as one of our top ten jazz favorites for 2010. It’s out now on Jazz Legacy.

September 11, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment