Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 6/16/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #593:

Gil Evans – The Individualism of Gil Evans

Best known for his arrangements for Miles Davis, pianist Gil Evans was also an extraordinary big band jazz composer. Almost fifty years later, this 1964 album is still so beyond cutting edge – there are other writers today doing this kind of thing, but nobody in the mainstream. Evans’ compositions are fearless, intense, often completely noir, sometimes lavish, sometimes skeletal and creepy. Here he’s backed by a killer band including Eric Dolphy, Thad Jones, and Elvin Jones on drums. It starts with the shattering, evil, mysterious, syncopated sway of Time of the Barracudas; Kurt Weill’s Barbara Song follows in a similar vein. Las Vegas Tango is a chilly, noir number where the Sketches of Spain influence really cuts through, while El Toreador could have been an outtake from that album. Flute Song/Hotel Me builds from whispery and murderous to a blithe, swinging piano blues. The rest of the album includes the ominous Proclamation, the bustling Nothing Like You, the bossa-tinged Concorde and closes with Willie Dixon’s Spoonful, thirteen minutes of twisted blues. Pretty much everything Evans ever touched, from the 30s onward, is worth a listen: composer Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project is due to come out with a new album of rare and unrecorded Evans works later this year. Most every track here is streaming at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent via Singers & Saints 2.

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June 16, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ryan Truesdell Resurrects a Gil Evans Classic Mothballed for Half a Century

Friday night the Jazz Standard looked to be sold out and for good reason. In celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the birth of Impulse Records, the club has been playing host to a series of concerts commemorating artists or albums associated with the influential 1960s jazz label. This was the pick of the bunch, an allstar sixteen-piece cast assembled by composer Ryan Truesdell, a leading Gil Evans advocate and scholar, playing Evans’ 1961 big band cult classic Out of the Cool. Truesdell was quick to acknowledge the support of Evans’ widow Anita, who was in the audience. He also reminded that this may have been the first time the music on the album has been played live, as a whole, in fifty years. Which on one hand is mind-boggling – in the intervening five decades, couldn’t someone have pulled a band together just like Truesdell did? On the other hand, leaving it alone makes a lot of sense: it’s hard to improve on perfection.

In their opening set, they didn’t do the whole thing, substituting a vivid, animated version of Nothing Like You (a song long associated with Miles Davis, recorded on another cult classic, 1964’s The Individualism of Gil Evans) for the brooding atmospherics of Sunken Treasure. That choice kept the energy level up via a nonchalantly bristling solo from pianist Frank Kimbrough (spot-on in the Evans role with his judicious, incisive chordal attack) and a long, smokily bluesy one from tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland. As the album’s and the night’s opening track – George Russell’s Stratusphunk – unwound with a jaunty martial pulse, it was clear that this would be an attempt to reach for the brilliance of the original ensemble’s collective improvisation rather than to replicate it. A tall order, needless to say. But having eclectic, virtuoso tuba player Howard Johnson – whose association with Evans lasted more than two decades – helped. As did the presence of George Flynn on bass trombone and Michael Rabinowitz on bassoon, rounding out the low end along with bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa, who got a real workout doing an energetic impression of Ron Carter’s marathon walks.

Kurt Weill’s Bilbao Song got a deliciously pillowy performance, including nimble, incisive work from Kitagawa and guitarist Ben Monder along with ensemble work that dramatically brought out the contrasts between rhythm and the lush horizontality of the melody. Horace Silver’s Sister Sadie, which didn’t make it onto the album until the reissue, also paired off contrasts between the tune’s jaunty swing and some typical blazing, all-stops-out Evans crescendos, and a neat false ending. As expected, the high point of the set, in fact one of the high points of this year’s concerts so far, was an absolutely devastating version of Where Flamingos Fly. The most obviously Sketches of Spain-influenced number on the album, its tense noir atmospherics gave trombonist John Allred a long launching pad for a plaintive, wounded, chillingly beautiful solo spot. They closed with La Nevada, a noir epic on album, here more of a jam on its stunningly simple, memorable hook, Rabonowitz going with slow, gripping blues, trumpeter Greg Gisbert going at it fast, flutist Charles Pillow playfully elbowing Johnson off the page when the tuba started making some unexpected runs way up into flute territory. Drummer Clarence Penn, who’d been grinning almost nonstop at the prospect of getting to emulate Elvin Jones for a whole night, pounced on turnarounds and the end of phrases like a fighter who’s been waiting his whole life for the occasion.

Truesdell didn’t conduct so much as he signaled transitions – and did so with great intuition – although he made a great emcee. His passion for Evans’ music was contagious. Among other projects, he’s spearheading a celebration of the centenary of Evans’ birth this year, with concerts and a recording of some of the fifty-odd unpublished Evans compositions he’s unearthed.

April 25, 2011 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Electric Jazz Before It Got Cheesy – Surprise Reissues from the CTI Vaults

2010 being the fortieth anniversary of 1970s cult jazz label CTI Records, it’s no surprise that there’d be reissues from those vaults coming out right about now. For fans who might be put off by the label’s association with the dreaded f-word, the good news is that the reissued stuff far more closely evokes the Miles Davis of, say, In a Silent Way, than it does fusion. The first one in the series is Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay, which often beautifully capsulizes the late 60s/early 70s moment when jazz had gone pretty much completely electric with psychedelic rock overtones, but hadn’t yet been infiltrated by stiff drumming and paint-by-numbers electric guitar solos. Herbie Hancock, who maybe more than any other artist excelled the most during that brief period, plays electric piano and organ here, most stunningly during an absolutely chilling Rhodes solo on an eerily fluttering cover of John Lennon’s Cold Turkey. And he really chooses his spots on a slowly crescendoing version of Suite Sioux. Joe Henderson sets the mood that Hancock will take to its logical extreme on Cold Turkey, but the tenor player is completely tongue-in-cheek to the point of inducing good-natured laughs for his playful insistence on Suite Sioux and the brighty cinematic Intrepid Fox. The atmospheric ballad Delphia has aged well, as has the title track. It’s present here in two versions: the studio take, with its whirling intro building to blazingly catchy jazz-funk, and a far slinkier live take with a sizzling, spiraling George Benson guitar solo. Drummer Lenny White never played more judiciously than he does here, and forty years later, hearing Ron Carter on Fender bass is a trip: he doesn’t waste a note, with a touch that pulls overtones out of the air. It’s up at itunes and all the usual spots.

As is the digital reissue of the 1972 California Concert double album from the Hollywood Palladium, a showcase for CTI’s frontline stable at the time: Hubbard on flugelhorn, Carter on bass, Hank Crawford on alto, George Benson on guitar, Johnny Hammond (the former Johnny “Hammond” Smith) on Rhodes and organ, Stanley Turrentine on tenor, Hubert Laws on flute, Billy Cobham on drums and Airto Moreira on percussion. Benson absolutely owns this record: his unhinged atonal flights and circles of biting blues have absolutely nothing in common with the smooth grooves of Breezin’. He pulls Hammond up and pushes him to find the hardcore funk in a long, characteristically loose version of Carole King’s It’s Too Late. An over twenty-minute take of Impressions takes the vibe back ten years prior, fueled by the guitar and the organ, Laws taking it up eerily and stratospherically, Carter doing the limbo with equal parts amusement and grace. Fire and Rain is happy unrecognizable, reinvented as a woozily hypnotic one-chord jam that could be War during their Eric Burdon period. Straight Life starts out as rocksteady and ends as funk; So What gets taken apart and reassembled, at doublespeed the first time around. The high point here, unsurprisingly, is Red Clay, with its blistering flugelhorn and guitar passages…and then Carter casually detuning his bass when the band leaves him all by himself onstage. The recording is far from perfect: Airto is inaudible much of the time, and supporting horn accents fade in and out of the mix during solos. And these grooves are long: do we really need five minutes of band intros by an announcer who’s obviously half in the bag? Still, it really captures an era, one that sadly didn’t last very long.

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

Gabriel Alegria’s Afro-Peruvian Jazz Is Nothing Like What You Might Expect

As you would expect from a latin jazz album by someone named Gabriel Alegria, his Afro-Peruvian Sextet’s new cd Pucusana offers plenty of happiness. But it also has a striking amount of depth. Latin jazz is usually party music, and so is this, but this group covers vastly more emotional terrain, maybe because its influences draw far more from their native Peru than from the islands. In fact, much of this could be called Lima noir. Trumpeter Alegria offers more than a nod to vintage, 50s Miles Davis here, bolstered by Laura Andrea Leguia on saxes, Yuri Juarez on acoustic guitar and vocals, Freddy Lobaton on percussion, Hugo Alcazar on drums, and the Yellowjackets’ Russell Ferrante on keys, with bass duties split between John Benitez and Ramon De Bruyn. The songs here alternate between two kinds of grooves here: lando is the slow, slinky one, festejo the more upbeat.

The best one here is the opening track, Taita Guaranguito, an original arrangement of a traditional criollo melody. It’s not a cumbia, but it has the same kind of dusky slink: not surprising, considering that Alegria cites groundbreaking, eclectic Peruvian band los Hijos del Sol as a formative influence. With its unstoppable midtempo pulse and simple yet potently direct guitar solo, it would make a great surf song (or chicha song). Another standout track is Eva, written by Leguia. Her playing throughout the album is melodic, warmly intimate and stunningly terse: she doesn’t waste notes. Shifting from a brooding intro with muted trumpet to a bossa-pop theme, Leguia’s solo takes a surprisingly phantasmagorical direction, leaving it to Alegria to move the clouds away. Lobaton is a one-man percussion army, notably on another traditional tune, Toro Mata (Dead Bull), a chromatically-charged number rich with interplay, call-and-response, a devious false ending and an incisive bass solo from De Bruyn.

Their cover of My Favorite Things is casual yet intense, coalescing slowly around a bass beat and guest Arturo O’Farrill’s tensely chordal piano, Alcazar searching memorably for a place to settle in, Leguia spiraling down to some insistent Coltrane-influenced riffage. The title track contrasts Alegria’s moody Miles-influenced lines with Leguia’s buoyant excursion out of the rumbling drums. Another original, Piso 19 (The Nineteenth Floor) has a vividly urban , retro 50s bustle; the bouncy, playful Mono de Nazca has Leguia’s expansive solo winding down to echoey solo electric piano and then Benitez growling over a thicket of percussion. They close on a catchy, balmy tropical note with an alternate take of the third track featuring a soul-infused solo from Benitez again. Consider this a stealth candidate for best jazz album of 2010.

September 18, 2010 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/17/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #896:

Krzysztof Komeda – Nighttime, Daytime Requiem

Polish jazz pianist and composer Krzysztof Komeda is best known for the soundtrack to the film Rosemary’s Baby. A favorite of Roman Polanski, he’d previously made a mark for his score for Knife in the Water. This album is a 1998 reissue of a 1967 sesssion for Polish radio featuring Komeda on piano along with Tomasz Stanko (whose own albums of Komeda works are worth seeking out) on trumpet, Zbigniew Namyslowski on alto sax, Roman Dylag on bass and Rune Carlsson on drums. Originally issued as part of a four-album box set in 1974 by Komeda’s widow Zofia, original copies sell for thousands of dollars on the collector’s market. Komeda used late 50s Miles Davis as a stepping-off point, adding his own brooding, sepulchral shades and the result is some of the most haunting jazz ever written (with its frequent classical overtones, many consider this third stream). This album includes the complete, 27-minute Daytime, Nighttime Requiem (a Coltrane eulogy) along with the somewhat more lighthearted Don Quixote, the austere, menacing atmospherics of The Witch and the lyrical Ballad for Bernt (from Knife in the Water). Also noteworthy, in fact sonically superior, is the 2009 Requiem album by the Komeda Project of pianist Andrzej Winnicki and powerhouse saxophonist Krzysztof Medyna which includes both the Requiem as well as possibly Komeda’s most macabre composition, Dirge for Europe. Komeda’s most famous album, Astigmatic and his more terse, upbeat, vamp-oriented Crazy Girl are also very much worth seeking out. Komeda died in 1969 under very mysterious circumstances from what could euphemistically be called blunt trauma to the head. Critically injured, he somehow managed to board a plane (or was put on a plane) from the US back to Poland, where he succumbed just a few weeks later, reportedly without medical attention. Here’s a torrent of a whole bunch of stuff of his.

August 17, 2010 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ken Fowser and Behn Gillece Ask, Your Place or Mine?

This is what the Mad Men soundtrack ought to sound like. On their new album Little Echo, tenor saxophonist Ken Fowser and his vibraphonist cohort Behn Gillece have teamed up for an absolutely period-perfect, gorgeously melodic collection of golden age-style jazz. This is the kind of thing you can stump your jazz snob friends with: guess which 1959 group this is? Maybe a previously unknown Chico Hamilton session with Hamp, maybe? Even the cd cover images and fonts come straight out of the late 50s Columbia catalog, and for anyone who owns actual physical albums from the era, they’re a dead giveaway. To call this boudoir jazz doesn’t give enough credit to the strength and intelligence of the compositions, but with the nocturnal ambience created by the intermingling of the piano and the vibes, it’s the jazz equivalent of Al Green or Sade. If there’s a population explosion among jazz fans in the next nine months or so, blame these guys. Here Fowser and Gillece – who wrote all but two of the compositions – are joined here by Rick Germanson on piano, the ubiquitously reliable Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Quincy Davis on drums.

The genius of the songs here – and they are songs in the purest sense of the word – is their simplicity: the “jukebox jazz” label recently applied to JD Allen’s recent stuff aptly describes this as well. The band set the tone right off the bat with the ridiculously catchy Resolutions, with brief and vivid solos by Fowser, Gillece and Germanson in turn. A Fowser composition, Ninety Five employs a slinky guaguanco vamp as the launching pad for some balmy sax work followed by a more aggressive turn by Gillece. The band pass the baton around on the next one: Gillece plays a horn line, Germanson scurries along and Fowser bounces off the bass and drums.

The dreamy ballad The Dog Days is a showcase for Fowser sultriness, Germanson impressionism and a hypnotic, slow Gillece solo over steady piano. Upbeat latin tinges and a soaring sax hook give the next cut, Vigilance, a summery blissfulness. Germanson anchors the deliciously noir-tinged latin jazz of the title track as Fowser prowls around on the low notes: the utterly carefree, closing-time style piano solo might be the most vivid moment on the entire album. Fowser’s One Step at a Time offers more than a hint of Gil Evans era Miles Davis; Gillece’s ballad You mines some choicely pensive modalities on the way to the blues; the closing cut Another View works a shameless So What quote into the wee-hours bliss of the opening track.Marc Free’s production goes back to the golden age as well – he doesn’t overcompress the vibes or the piano and puts Okegwo’s tireless bass walks up just high enough that you appreciate all those tireless walks, without making it sound like hip-hop. It’s out now on Posi-Tone Records.

August 4, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Scott Reeves Quintet at 55 Bar, NYC 5/3/09

Fresh off a Japanese tour, composer/educator/horn player Scott Reeves was playing the second of two cd release shows for his quintet’s new one, Shapeshifter, one of the most strikingly beautiful melodic jazz albums of recent years.  What proved most interesting to discover was how thoroughly composed the songs are – and they are songs in the purest sense of the word, no words necessary. As a composer, Reeves writes to the strength of his players, tenor saxist Rich Perry’s thoughtful bluesiness, pianist Jim Ridl’s laserlike sense of darkness, bassist Mike McGuirk’s tirelessly prowling propulsion and drummer Andy Watson’s uncanny, understated feel for shade and surprise. With the new cd being a live recording, the question was how much of it would turn out to be improvised and the answer was not that much. That such a question could only be answered by seeing the band live speaks volumes.

Seated behind the club’s precariously swaying Rhodes instead of an acoustic piano, Ridl adjusted to the reverberating textures and dynamic consistency by leaving plenty of space for the notes to ring out, saving his pyrotechnics for the infrequent, bluesy run down the keys (his playing on acoustic piano on the cd is a feast of nocturnal textures). Reeves himself played with clarity, precision and the kind of exacting rigor you would expect from an academic, frequently utilizing a pitch pedal that allowed him to play chords. They opened with the cd’s darkly metamorphosizing title cut, Reeves’ alto flugelhorn harmonizing with the Rhodes to the point where the sound was a perfect blend, one instrument indistinguishable from the other, then Perry taking a lengthy, balmy excursion before a sparse Rhodes solo as the bass and drums swerved around it. The catchy, Miles Davis-inflected Last Call swung with a buoyant bluesiness before Reeves, now on trombone, introduced a subtly overcast, modal undercurrent.

Reeves went back to flugelhorn for the bustling, rhumba-flavored 3 ‘n 2, followed by a surprisingly casual and comfortable take on the otherwise quite poignant Without a Trace, a showcase for some blazing fingerwork for Ridl. They wrapped up the night’s opening set with a Miles Davis dedication, the Alchemist, a funky track that would be perfectly at home on, say, In a Silent Way. McGuirk paced it with an energetic Ron Carter-ish insistence, Ridl taking charge with an ocean of waves up and down the scale, Reeves and Perry winding up and then down in a bracingly fluttery exchange of riffs. Reeves is not exactly unknown, but underappreciated: jazz fans should discover him. And even if jazz is not your first love, you’ll undoubtedly find his melodies percolating in your brain long after taking in a show.

May 7, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Sound Assembly – Edge of the Mind

Truth in advertising: this is an edgy album. Basically a big, powerful vehicle (eight horns, five reeds, piano, guitar and a rhythm section) for the work of composers JC Sanford and David Schumacher, Edge of the Mind by Sound Assembly pushes the envelope, finding yet more new places where big band jazz can go. This is the kind of cd that you want to listen to analytically but always end up hearing emotionally. Helpfully, the cd comes with extensive liner notes by producer John McNeil which, rather than being plot spoilers or totally Phil (as in Phil Schaap), help the listener look for key moments which more often than not are crystalized and understated, done almost before you notice. The arrangements here take on a lush, rich feel, very evocative of Gil Evans’ orchestration with Miles Davis. What’s most striking is that the charts themselves more often than not carry the rhythm, the bass and drums taking on an auxiliary role adding subtly fluid embellishments. Yet perhaps the most captivating aspect of the entire cd is how those big charts intersperse themselves within all the individual solos – and vice versa. Not only is there interplay between the instruments, there’s also interplay between improvisation and composition. This is very cerebral music. Yet it’s also breathtakingly beautiful in places for many, many reasons, a few of them enumerated here.

 

There’s Schumacher’s kite flying piece Edge of a Window, the cd’s second track, slow and atmospheric with elegant trumpet from John Bailey and a long, brightly ornamented piano solo from Deanna Witkowski, Eric Rasmussen’s alto sax picking up the pace a bit as the whole band pulses in, rhythmically upping the ante. Track three, Slide Therapy, by Sanford opens with slippery slides from both trombone and guitar, woozy and eerie until the band jumps in and takes over with a clever arrangement that alternates groups of players warping the time signature.

 

A playful, swinging vibe takes over on another Sanford composition, the vintage post-bop style Chuck ‘n Jinx, a tribute to a man and his cat featuring an expansive Mark Patterson trombone solo and several trick false endings. With Kate McGarry’s soulful, understatedly exuberant vocals over the longing of horn swells and sweet baritone sax from Dave Riekenberg, The Radiance of Spring (by Schumacher)  is the romantic highlight of the cd. By contrast, Rhythm of the Mind (by Sanford) opens with a circular, nebulously African melody carried by horns and chanting voices. How the melody grows as the orchestration builds is nothing short of fascinating.

 

My Star (by Schumacher) is a richly lyrical piece lit up by a strikingly low-register Alan Ferber trombone solo – and then David Smith’s trumpet comes flying out of it with complete abandon as the band swells. Ives, Eyes (by Sanford) has a similar brightness, Witkowski’s vivid, slow piano abetted by tersely colorful bass by David Ambrosio. The cd closes on a clamorous, hectic note with the tensely energetic BMT, evocative of Mingus at his most carefree, Ben Kono’s wildly offhand, “gotta run” tenor solo clearly late for the train and ably making up for lost time.

 

The only quibble with this cd is the couple of annoying, gratuitously garish Steve Vai/Buckethead-style electric guitar solos: they could have been edited out and the album would be stronger for it. Memo to axeman: just because you can play like that doesn’t mean you should.

March 11, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

CD Review: The JD Allen Trio – I Am I Am

This is one of those rare and beautiful moments in music history. The idiom and the performance may be pure jazz but the concept is pure classical, a theme and variations. Its distant cousins are the Mexican Suite and Sketches of Spain, whose darkly thematic, richly melodic majesty the JD Allen Trio’s latest cd, I Am I Am, shares. It is not an overstatement to put tenor player Allen in the company of Ellington and Miles: this album belongs in that pantheon. If someone has to step up to the plate and declare this a classic, let us be the first to do the honors.

Three things you should know about this cd:

1) There’s a narrative arc to each of the songs – and they are songs in the purest sense of the word, no lyrics necessary – as well as an overall narrative for the entire suite.

2) Allen is all about melody, although he and his cohorts, bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston, aren’t averse to a quick sprint around the block when the mood strikes.

3) To steal a phrase that Brad Mehldau has used voluminously, this is an Art of the Trio album. August and Royston are every bit as essential to this project as Allen is. Royston is an aggressive player in the Tain Watts vein – here, he’s like a baseball catcher who beats a path between home plate and the pitching mound. He’s completely in the game. In the same vein as Jim White of the Dirty Three, Royston colors these songs like a pianist, filling in the spaces between the notes and punctuating the phrases as much if not more than simply providing propulsion. One of the most striking aspects of Allen’s arrangements is how he gives all the darkest sections – and these are everywhere – to August. Which for a bass player is like winning the lottery. August digs in for everything he’s worth, with smoldering chords, eerie chromatic passages and stark staccato pulses like bare branches against a winter sky. Then there’s Allen, who as often as not steps around the brooding pools of sound. What he’s doing is not implied melody per se, but it has the same effect, drawing the listener in to the point of practically becoming a participant. One can only imagine what another, bigger band, or a group in a different style of music might do with the songs here: the possibilities are endless.

From the first four, elegant notes of the atmospheric, almost rubato title track, the theme builds pensively and deliberately. The cd’s second cut seems almost a ruse: after blowing by the theme, the trio take a quick sprint in a classic 60s vein. Then the melody returns with a vengeance, sax and drums feeling around for their footing gingerly as the light dims while Royston keeps the path, such as it is, clear of traffic. By the fourth track, Titus, Allen continues to embellish the theme, August anchoring it with casual, chromatically-fueled chordal menace. Royston takes over center stage next, on Louisada, with a methodical, subtly climactic solo that winds up with an almost surf edge (this seems to be a band that listens widely and eclectically). From there, the tension builds again, Allen taking on more of the darkness, passing the baton to August and then, when least expected, he quotes the Godfather Theme. Track nine, Ezekiel has the band trying to outrun the main theme’s latest permutation, but there’s no escape. The suite wraps up with characteristic understatement, opening with a catchy, wary bass introduction, building to a haunting, insistently and unforgettably anthemic ensemble piece, closing with a simple bass chord. There’s also a bonus track afterward that seems to be something for the closing credits, a rather less menacing tune with a considerable resemblance to the opening melody of Pink Floyd’s Shine on You Crazy Diamond.

All the way through, the understated, seemingly effortless power of the playing, the counterintuitive intelligence of the arrangements and the terse brilliance of the compositions are all breathtaking. Like all the great albums: Kind of Blue, London Calling, From South Africa to South Carolina, ad infinitum, this is a cd that ought to get into a lot of peoples’ DNA, that will enrich lives for time out of mind as it’s passed down from generation to generation. Until then, getting to know it will be like being initiated into a secret society. This album is all you need to get in.

February 7, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Memoriam: Joe Zawinul, 1932-2007

Viennese-born jazz keyboardist Joe Zawinul died September 11 in his hometown after a battle with cancer. He was 75. Zawinul pioneered the use of electronic keyboards in jazz and was a major influence on his fellow musicians, notably Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. While studying at the Berklee School of Music in 1958, Zawinul was hired away by Maynard Ferguson, and later played with Dinah Washington and Cannonball Adderley. While with Adderley in the 1960s he wrote Mercy Mercy Mercy, one of the first jazz songs to use an electric piano. Later in the decade he contributed the title track to the milestone Miles Davis album In a Silent Way, Davis’ first venture into the electric sound that he would expand on and continue to use throughout the remainder of his career.

In 1970 Zawinul founded Weather Report along with sax player Wayne Shorter and bassist Miroslav Vitous. Arguably the most important of the jazz fusion bands of the 70s, Weather Report played a mix of high-energy, funky jams and quieter, more reflective material. Zawinul’s work with the band – which later included legendary bassist Jaco Pastorius – broadened the sonic palette for jazz keyboards, utilizing different electric pianos, synthesizers and effects including wah, reverb, distortion and loops. It is hard to think of a jazz or funk musician since 1970 who was not influenced in some way, directly or indirectly, by Zawinul and Weather Report.

Zawinul’s best-known composition was Birdland, the opening track from Weather Report’s 1977 album Heavy Weather. What Take the A Train or Take Five were to earlier eras, Birdland was to the late 70s and early 80s, the most popular jazz song of its time. Even punk rockers knew the song’s simple, celebratory hook. After Weather Report dissolved in the early 80s, Zawinul led the Zawinul Syndicate, a fusion group that he played in until very shortly before his death, releasing several albums on his own BirdJAM label.

While jazz fusion remains a dirty word in some circles because of its use of rock arrangements and steady 4/4 time (not to mention the fact that fusion was the forerunner of Lite-FM style elevator jazz), there is no denying Zawinul’s pioneering influence, his uncanny sense of melody, his formidable chops and his brilliance as a bandleader.

September 13, 2007 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, obituary | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment