Monday, November 11, 2013

Review: Inspire Me! - Tim Warfield


Personnel: Tim Warfield: tenors saxophone; Herb Harris: vocals (6&7), tenor saxophone (3); Antoine Drye: trumpet (1, 2, 3, 5, 8); Kevin Hays: piano; Greg Williams: bass; Rodney Green: drums.

The recording starts with “Monkee See Monkee Doo” (5:50), a lower-mid tempo blues with trumpet and tenor sax in harmony on a gritty, slightly whimsical theme.  Drye takes the first solo, laid-back and cool.  Warfield displays soulfulness and maturity in his solo, avoiding pyrotechnics.  Hays then contributes a straightforward solo, maintaining the theme of soulfulness, and Williams plays an understated bass improvisation.

“Robert Earl” (5:33) is an Ellington-esque ballad with tenor and muted trumpet in harmony on the theme.  Warfield then plays a strong solo, a good mix of technique and emotion, his classic tenor sound ringing clear as a bell.  Hays’s lines also ring clearly in his lovely solo.  The cut ends with a repeat of the somber theme.  Everyone plays well here, though it seems somewhat early in the recording for a ballad.

“Ny Daze Ny Knights” (10:36) starts with a drum solo, then moves into a lower mid-tempo jazz waltz, with a pretty, bittersweet theme (a bit reminiscent of Wayne Shorter’s “Edda”) played in harmony by trumpet and two tenors (the second being Herb Harris).  Warfield’s solo starts simply and then moves into a series of flashy, Johnny Griffin-esque runs, including a little growl in his tone.  Harris’s tone is smoother and has a bit of a cry in it; his phrasing is more slippery than Warfield’s, and he glides through the changes expertly.  Drye aims for prettiness in his solo (shades of Tom Harrell), with a few technically astute phrases thrown in.  Hays then creates his own fine composition at the keyboard with his improvisation.  After a repeat of the theme, Warfield adds some more improvisation, playing some soulful phrases and authoritative runs.  The band seems to come to a quiet finish, but Green doesn’t let go, adding a nice touch with a drum solo that closes the cut the way it began.    

“When I'm Alone With You” (6:07) begins with some wordless crooning (Harris?), and then a gentle reading of a pretty ballad theme from Warfield.  Then Warfield plays a thoughtful and meticulous solo, and Hays plays one that shimmers.  Warfield plays the theme to close the cut. 

“Inspire Me!” (8:25) has a straight-ahead melody taken at a strolling mid-tempo, with tenor and trumpet in unison.  Warfield then puts together a fine solo, again keeping his phrasing well under control.  Drye then plays a very lyrical solo, wielding his trumpet like a flugelhorn.  Hays then contributes a solid solo.  The ending of the cut is, oddly, a bit harsh.

“What If's” (6:45) is another ballad, this one sung by Herb Harris in a heartfelt, pleasant voice.  Warfield then plays an elegant solo, at turns bluesy, emotional, and fleet.  Warfield then plays the theme, and Harris finishes with another run through of the lyrics.

“A Tinge of the Melancholy” (4:37), a straightforward, gentle swinger, is another vocal feature for Harris, whose agreeable reading gets some accompaniment from Warfield’s background improvisations.  Then Warfield takes a modest solo, finishing it with a few flourishes.  Hays then contributes a sophisticated, classy solo.

The recording finishes with an alternate take of “Monkee See Monkee Doo” (5:57).  After a statement of the theme, Drye plays a cool trumpet solo, wearing his Miles hat.  Warfield is swaggering and bluesy and includes a few nice upper register screams.  Hays plays another delicately scene-stealing solo, and Williams adds a soulful, old-school bass solo. 

From the title of Inspire Me!, one might expect fireworks from this recording, but it provides virtually the opposite.  The whole recording stays firmly on the traditional side, dominated by ballads and gently swinging tunes, but it does this about as well as it can be done, with commitment, maturity, and consummate skill.  Warfield plays very well throughout, providing down-to-earth, measured improvisations with an indestructible tone (though I know he can really burn when he wants to, and I wish that side came out a bit more on this recording just for a change of pace).  Drye deserves special notice for his unassuming but impeccable playing, and Hays practically steals the show—every time he takes the spotlight, he maintains the laid-back feel that is the hallmark of the recording but also subtly captures the listener’s interest with his crystalline and imaginative phrasing.  Insprire Me! looks to jazz’s past more than Warfield’s previous Eye of the Beholder, but it is more cohesive and is flawlessly executed, resulting in a very satisfying listening experience.  

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Review: Urban Theme Park - Julian Siegel


Personnel: Personnel: Julian Siegel: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Liam Noble: piano, keyboards; Oli Hayhurst: double-bass; Gene Calderazzo: drums.

“Six-Four” begins with a slick bass and piano ostinato and crisp drumming at a middle tempo.  Siegel begins improvising effectively against this background on tenor sax.  He then repeats a morsel of a theme in harmony with himself overdubbed and punctuated by bouts of his fluid and energetic improvising.  Siegel plays with an open, burly sound with a touch of woodiness (a bit reminiscent of Eli Degibri’s sound), and his phrasing is sharp, logical, and technically impressive.  After about four minutes of the spotlight being on Siegel, Noble plays a solo of straightforward but interesting phrases, building in intensity to clusters of chords.  After a return to the piano and bass ostinato, Siegel and Noble play a repeated line in unison, and the cut comes to a succinct close.

“One for J.T.” has a gliding, intricate theme, played in unison by tenor and piano, that starts with a harmonic structure similar to “Giant Steps” and then moves into a harmonically simpler section that includes some impressive altissimo playing from Siegel (including reliably popping a double-high E-flat).  After playing the theme a few times, Siegel plays a solo that manages to sound lyrical and effortless despite the tricky changes.  After his solo, Siegel repeats the theme, but a new section, with a bass and piano ostinato, starts up.  Siegel improvises again over this ostinato, then the piece takes a few different directions before Noble engages in some brisk a cappella improvising that leads back to the original intricate theme, on which the group joins in and closes the cut.

“Heart Song” starts off with Siegel on clarinet engaging in a quasi-classical, semi-improvised duet with Noble on piano.  A couple of minutes in, piano and bass play a repeated line and a light mid-tempo groove starts up.  Siegel then plays a thoughtful, elegant clarinet solo with a light touch.  Then Noble on piano plays an earthier and more straightforward solo, with bass and drums responding to his increasing intensity.  Clarinet and piano briefly return to a bit of the original theme to close the cut.

“Keys to the City” starts with insistent piano chords at a mid-tempo, and then Siegel adds a quiet, simple theme on tenor.  The cut becomes more energetic, and Siegel plays a straightforward and driving but well-controlled solo (somewhat Coltrane-ish) that ranges all over the horn.  Noble then plays a piano solo with a lot of variety and in good rapport with Calderazzo.  Hayhurst then contributes a lyrical bass solo.  The group then returns to the original theme.  This piece has a nice narrative structure with a hip, urban texture.

On “Game of Cards,” after a brief introductory section, Siegel, on soprano this time, plays a disjointed, mid-tempo theme backed by an insistent bass line (which Noble also plays on piano), which ends with a flurry of notes from soprano and piano in unison.  Siegel then plays a soprano solo of controlled fury, a bit wilder than his tenor playing, in the mode of Dave Liebman.  The original theme is repeated, then the opening introductory phrase is repeated, as a transition to the second section of the cut.  A second, march-like theme is played at a slower mid tempo.  Hayhurst then solos with light, sensitive accompaniment, sounding reminiscent of Eddie Gomez’s muscular approach.  Then the intensity picks up and Siegel briefly solos, as does Calderazzo, interspersed with interruptions from the ensemble.  The third section of the piece has a harder, almost rock, beat, and Siegel and Noble play the quicksilver theme in unison.  Then Noble plays a fast, Chick Corea-ish solo that ends with some funky chords.  The third theme is played again to cleanly close out the piece.

“Lifeline” starts with gentle, slow electric piano chords.  Then Siegel enters on bass clarinet, playing a slow, repetitious theme, with arco bass in the background.  Then some synthesizer and miscellaneous electronic effects join in, along with some light drum and cymbal rolls, with Siegel repeating the theme the whole time.  Not much else happens on this cut.  (I admire the spirit of trying something different, but this one is relatively uninteresting.)

“Interlude” begins with some a cappella bass clarinet, which Siegel handles comfortably and skillfully.  The cut moves into a bouncy, cheerful groove with an African tinge, and Siegel’s a cappella musings turn into a rollicking solo.  A theme is then played with the African feel but a more swinging bridge. Then a simple line is repeated by the players with Calderazzo adding the spice, and the piece comes to a quiet close.  This is a more successful change of pace than “Lifeline.”

“Fantasy in D” starts out with a peppy drum solo and develops into an up tempo, old-school swinger.  Siegel then shows off his chops with a burning tenor solo, which he keeps interesting via his idiosyncratic phrasing.  (For my money, this is Siegel’s best solo on the recording.)  Noble’s solo is more straight-ahead, but still engaging.  Siegel then trades fours with Calderazzo, and the cut comes to a tidy close.  Siegel has a lot variety on this recording and apparently doesn’t like to repeat himself, but I could have done with a couple of more cuts like this one.

“Drone Job” indeed starts with an arco bass drone, along with some meterless patterns by tenor sax, first alone and then in unison with electronic keyboard.  Then the tenor and keyboard engage in some mildly dissonant improvising.  An insistent mid-tempo groove develops over which Siegel and Noble improvise; they work well with each other.  The tenor and keyboard improvising becomes fairly aggressive, and then Siegel and Noble play the original pattern against a more forceful background this time, and the cut comes to an unassuming close. 

Urban Theme Park is a collection of sophisticated, thoughtful, multi-hued, and expertly executed music that merits serious listening.  It shows Siegel to be a top-flight improviser on all of his instruments, particularly on tenor and soprano saxophones.  He has a strong, distinctive tone on both saxophones, and his playing is firmly based in the jazz tradition but is still left of center in its own subtle way.  The compositions on the recording are similarly traditional and accessible yet carry their own identity and indicate an exploratory musical imagination.  Based on the quality of Urban Theme Park, Siegel should be watched closely for future projects.   


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Review: Overdue Ovation - Adam Larson


Adam Larson: tenor and soprano saxophones; Jay Anderson: bass; Gabe Medd: trumpet; Can Olgun: piano; Rodney Green: drums.

The recording begins with “This as Well,” having a cheerful bop theme played at upper mid-tempo by trumpet and tenor sax in unison.  Larson then solos, skillfully gliding through the changes, occasionally swooping effortlessly into the altissimo.  Anderson then solos on bass, his maturity and experience shining through in his lyrical, nothing-to-prove approach.  Olgun then contributes a skillful piano solo, a nice Brad Mehldau-ish twist on bop piano style.  This is a very straightforward start to Larson’s sophomore recording effort.

“Indemnification Blues” has a Jazz Messenger’s type theme taken at a mid-tempo.  Medd plays a solo with clean, flowing lines, which are more pronounced as Olgun lays out.  Larson then plays a smart solo with a few off-center phrases adding some spice.  Then Olgun solos, spinning out thoughtful lines, getting priceless support from Green and Anderson.  Green then solos, displaying great control and a light touch.  Trumpet and tenor play the theme again, nicely harmonized, to close the cut.   

“Overdue Ovation” is a mid-tempo jazz waltz.  Larson plays the delicate, slightly bittersweet theme on soprano, though Medd joins him effectively for the latter half.  Larson then plays one of his best solos on the recording, employing a lot of rhythmic and tonal variety and more aggressiveness and soulfulness in his phrases.  Olgun also excels in his sparkling, well-constructed solo.  Medd then displays good pacing in his solo.  The whole group seems at home here and clearly asserts its identity.

The group then takes on the standard “Remember” (notably played on Hank Mobley’s classic Soul Station) at a swinging mid-tempo.  Larson (on tenor) and Medd trade four bars of the theme, and then trumpet, tenor, piano, and bass all play solid solos.  Then Larson, Medd, and Olgun trade fours with Green.

“Too Much Too Soon” is a mid-tempo, hard bop tune with a tinge of Latin rhythm.  Larson plays a fleet, gossamer tenor solo that skips over the rhythm background.  Then Medd plays a Freddie Hubbard-ish solo and Olgun contributes his own solid solo.  After a repeat of the theme, Green takes over with an energetic solo over a bass and piano ostinato, and the cut fades out on him.

“Prinzenpark” has a pretty, swinging, mid-tempo theme played by trumpet and tenor in unison.  Olgun then plays a lyrical but somewhat meandering solo.  Larson’s tenor solo starts with some up and down glissandi and stays thoughtful and imaginative throughout.  Then Green solos against a piano and bass ostinato and the cut closes on a repeated trumpet and tenor phrase.

“Without” is a pretty, mid-tempo, ¾ time ballad that Larson starts out soulfully on tenor.  Then Medd plays the bridge, and the two finish the theme in unison.  Olgun then solos with graceful, long lines that contain a touch of mystery.  Anderson virtually sings a song in his lyrical solo.  Then Larson solos with a light and playful touch.

The recording ends with “Layers,” with Larson and Medd in unison on a straightforward, upper mid-tempo theme.  Larson, Medd, and Green play solid solos, with Green sharp and energetic throughout.

Overdue Ovation is a sterling example of well-played jazz, but, except for the title cut, the proceedings generally don’t seize one’s attention.  The recording is more in the bop and swing arenas than Larson’s previous recording Simple Beauty and doesn’t really do anything new or surprising with these genres.  The music has a retro feel that doesn’t seem to fully engage the players, especially by comparison to Simple Beauty, which felt more fresh and exploratory.  Overdue Ovation is a pleasure to listen to from beginning to end, but I hope that in his next recording Larson returns to the post-bop that seems to engage more intensely his spirit and formidable abilities.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Review: Functional Arrythmias - Steve Coleman and Five Elements


Personnel: Steve Coleman: alto saxophone; Jonathan Finlayson: trumpet; Anthony Tidd: electric bass; Sean Rickman: drums; Miles Okazaki: guitar (2, 6, 8, 10, 11).

The recording begins with “Sinews” (6:51), with an angular, business-like, slightly jarring theme played in harmony by sax and trumpet, at mid-tempo with a driving drum beat and electric bass line.  Coleman plays a brief solo of rhythmically disjointed phrases, and then Finlayson plays a solo that’s slightly more aggressive than Coleman’s.  Coleman returns for more loose improvisation, as does Finlayson.  Coleman and Finlayson join on the theme again to close the cut.  This is a nicely paced cut, with a strong rhythmic groove, almost danceable.

On “Medulla-Vagus” (6:33) Okazaki improvises lightly and elegantly against a gentle trumpet and sax background.  Then Coleman and Finlayson improvise casually in tandem, with electric bass and guitar for accompaniment.  At around 2 ½ minutes in, Rickman kicks into a mid-tempo groove, with Tidd joining in.  Trumpet and sax play an angular, intricate theme in harmony.  Coleman’s solo, with its disjointed fragments of phrases, echoes the angular character of the theme.  Finlayson’s following solo is more rhythmically varied.  Sax and trumpet play the theme again in harmony to close the cut.

“Chemical Intuition” (3:56) starts with some slow, free-ish interplay between alto sax and trumpet with light accompaniment from Rickman and Tidd.  The cut eventually (at around 2 minutes in) develops a slow, loose, earthy groove with the horns playing a melancholy theme and no further improvisation.

“Cerebrum Crossover” (6:45) has a lively but still disjointed theme played by trumpet and sax in unison, with a quasi-Latin beat.  Coleman plays a fitful solo, then Finlayson takes over and contributes a thoughtful solo.  The trumpet and alto then lock in on contrapuntal melody lines.  The cut finishes with trumpet and sax improvising together, though their dual effort doesn’t generate much heat.

“Limbic Cry” (5:36) has trumpet and sax again playing contrapuntal lines, this time on a more formal and stately-sounding theme.  Coleman’s solo is again fitful but includes a bit more variety.  Finlayson’s solo has a bit more drama and lyricism than Coleman’s.  Trumpet and alto again improvise together and close the cut by repeating the contrapuntal theme.

“Cardiovascular” (2:34) has a simple, insistent theme played by alto and trumpet, taken at an upper mid-tempo.  Coleman and Finlayson both seem to be more energized here in their improvising than previously.  Okazaki then solos briefly before alto and trumpet repeat the theme to close the cut. 

“Respiratory Flow” (3:50) begins with some gentle, melodic musings from Coleman, then the bass starts a line and the drums join in to develop a lower mid-tempo groove.  Coleman then plays a slow, atmospheric line, and he and Finlayson start slow, contrapuntal lines.  Finlayson takes over and plays well, but unfortunately Coleman soon interrupts him with his own improvising.  The cut closes with the trumpet/alto lines.

“Irregular Heartbeats” (3:57) has a somewhat sinister, mid-tempo groove laid down by bass and drums and features some clever, understated drumming from Rickman.  Then sax and trumpet play similar disjointed lines in dis-harmony.  Coleman then plays another fragmented solo.  Finlayson comes in and displays more variety and pacing in his solo.  The cut includes some barely-there background playing from Okazaki.

“Cerebellum Lean” (5:25) has Coleman and Finlayson playing contrapuntal lines again against an upper mid-tempo groove.  The two horns then alternate improvising with providing background phrases for each other, but this comes off as a bit forced and clumsy (like something they decided on at the last moment).  Then Coleman improvises a bit longer, but he is back in fitful mode.  The trumpeter then does the same, playing a bit more laid back.  The two horns then improvise in tandem to pretty good effect, and the cut comes to a quiet close.

“Lymph Swag (Dance of the Leukocytes)” (3:50) has alto and muted trumpet on a slow theme in harmony, with Okazaki providing a slightly Middle Eastern feel in the background.  Then a related theme is played, this time by alto with open trumpet.  Coleman then plays a brief, coy solo.  Then trumpet and alto play a brief line, and Finlayson solos, again displaying a bit more variety and nuance than Coleman.

“Adrenal, Got Ghost” (3:05) has a staccato theme played by sax, trumpet, and guitar at an upper mid-tempo.  Coleman, Finlayson, and Okazaki then loosely improvise for a while.  The rhythm players then keep up a nice background groove for a while, but nothing really happens in the foreground.

“Assim-Elim” (3:32) has a slow-ish, droning theme (which is a bit reminiscent of Miles Davis’s tune “Tutu”), after which Coleman makes a brief solo statement, as does Finlayson, and then they improvise together, but the tune doesn’t give them enough to work with for anything significant to develop.

“Hormone Trig” (4:29) has Coleman starting off soloing with a strong, funky background from bass and drums (especially Rickman).  This cut is a bit more harmonically interesting, and, with more material and more time to work with, Coleman digs in with some solid improvising, his phrasing less clipped than usual.  Finlayson also sounds more engaged in his solo, though Coleman’s playing in the background during his solo is a bit distracting.  This is one of the more successful cuts of the recording.

“Snap-sis” (3:08) features frantic lines played up-tempo by trumpet and sax.  Coleman and Finlayson then improvise in tandem, carrying on the feeling of the frantic and fragmented theme.  Finlayson takes over briefly, but Coleman intrudes to carry on the busy dual improvising.  There are lot of sparks on this one, but not a lot of fire. 

Functional Arrhythmias is an exercise in composition of dual saxophone and trumpet lines, played over a fairly static background of earthy rhythms, and in saxophone and trumpet dual improvisation.  Unfortunately, there is very little variety in the composed lines, and the improvisations also lack variety, especially Coleman’s; he seems to be approaching his horn more as a rhythmic than a melodic instrument, which significantly limits his options.  Also, the interplay between Coleman and Finlayson that is integral to the overall concept of the recording doesn’t work well; the horns often just seem to get in each other’s way.  These are very good players, but their work feels hamstrung here.  (I’ve certainly heard Coleman play much better in other contexts).  I appreciate artists who try out and adhere to a unifying concept for a recording, but the one guiding Functional Arrhythmias seems to have worked against the players and resulted in an overall uninspired performance. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Review: Mirage - The Brian Landrus Kaleidoscope


Personnel: Brian Landrus: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, bass flute, contra alto clarinet, bass saxophone; Nir Felder: guitar; Frank Carlberg: Rhodes, piano; Lonnie Plaxico: acoustic & electric bass; Rudy Royston: drums; Mark Feldman: violin; Joyce Hammann: violin; Judith Insell: viola; Jody Redhage: cello; Ryan Truesdell: conductor.

The recording begins, appropriately enough, with “Arrival,” which starts with some free-form improvising from the rhythm players plus bass clarinet, with some background held notes provided by the strings.  Royston sets up a mid-tempo groove, and then Felder breaks into a fluid electric guitar solo with the strings playing chords in the background.  Then Landrus on bass clarinet and Felder play a pretty melody in unison, the music sounding a bit like McCoy Tyner’s Fly with the Wind.  Feldman (I assume) plays a free-wheeling, too-brief violin solo.  The cut ends with a dense layer of background provided by the strings and rhythm section along with some electric piano improvising as Felder and Landrus dig in on the theme.

“Sammy” starts out with Landrus on baritone sax in loose unison with cello on a slow, simple melody.  Then after a pretty violin line against an insistent bass pattern in the background, Landrus and the strings play a mid-tempo, descending melody line.  Landrus and Felder then improvise casually in tandem for a good stretch, playing well off each other, Royston in a rock-solid groove behind them.  The cut fades out on the melody moving through some key modulations along with some laid-back improvising.     

“Don’t Close Your Eyes” has a slow, coy, pop-type theme, played by guitar and bari sax in unison, with a languid rock groove and a clever background from the strings.  Carlberg then contributes a cool, funky electric piano solo.  Then Landrus joins in with a funky solo of his own on bari sax.  Felder adds a brief solo with some stabbing notes from the strings in the background.

“A New Day” is a pretty, short, through-composed piece featuring the string quartet plus bass clarinet with the rhythm section laying out.

“The Thousands” begins with a fleet-fingered, unaccompanied bass solo.  Then bari sax and violin play in unison on another appealing melody, at a snappy upper mid-tempo, with a nice use of the strings in the background.  Landrus contributes a fluid, melodic bari solo.  Then the cut ends with some fine interplay between acoustic piano, guitar, and bari sax, with help from a simmering Royston.

“Someday” is a gentle, minor-key jazz waltz, with Felder and one of the violins in unison on the theme.  Then Landrus on bass clarinet plays the theme in unison with the strings.  Felder then contributes a soulful solo with gliding lines.  Landrus then plays a gently swinging bass clarinet solo.  There’s a string quartet interlude, and the cut closes with Felder and Landrus in unison on the theme.

“Reach” is a playful little exercise in which Landrus runs minor-key phrases from the top to the bottom of his contra alto clarinet.

“Mirage” has the string quartet introducing the cut with an emotional arrangement of a segment of the theme.  The cut goes into a groove appropriate for a soul tune, led by electric piano.  Landrus then basically sings the gentle and soulful theme through his bari sax, with Felder joining him and the strings providing a rich but understated background.  Felder then plays a well-developed solo that gradually builds in intensity.  Landrus then plays a mellow but agile solo on the baritone, edging into the altissimo to dramatic effect, with stellar support from Felder and Royston; in the middle of the solo, the strings enter in the background.  Then the string quartet takes the spotlight briefly again with Royston added.  Felder and Landrus repeat the theme in unison, and then a single violin takes over the theme with just the other string players for background.  This cut is a real gem.

On “I’ve Been Told,” Felder and Royston provide a gentle but solid reggae background, with Landrus (on bass clarinet and overdubbed bass flute) and a violin in unison on the theme.  Then Felder plays a brief but bluesy, ear-catching solo.  Then Landrus plays an elegant bass clarinet solo, also brief.  Finally, after a repeat of the theme, Landrus plays a breathy, fluttering bass flute improvisation against a dense background, which indicates that he should feature this instrument more frequently.

“Three Words” has a bluesy, mid-tempo groove, and Landrus plays the romantic, slick theme (almost like a Steely Dan tune) on bari sax.  The beat picks up in intensity and Landrus plays a funky, heartfelt solo.  Felder then adds a typically attractive, skillful solo. 

“Jade” has a slow, rock-ish beat with the strings laying down a repeated background phrase.  The strings then begin the theme, simple but pretty, with Landrus soon joining in on bass clarinet.  Feldman (I assume) then plays an intense but lyrical solo.  Then Landrus solos, marrying impressive technique with lyricism.  After a repeat of the theme, the string quartet ends the cut.

The final cut, “Kismet,” like “Reach,” is another a cappella deep-register exercise, this time slow and soulful, on bass sax.  One gets the impression Landrus could spin out attractive melodies all day long.

Mirage has a remarkable, star-heavy cast, and these players do beautiful work as soloists and within the ensemble.  (The roster also includes conductor Ryan Truesdell, whose Gil Evans project made a big splash last year.)  I’m particularly impressed with Felder and Royston, both of whom we’ve seen before on AJS (here, here, here, and here).  (I can’t see Royston’s name on a personnel list anymore without thinking “money in the bank.”)  However, the solos are well contained, and the recording strikes me as largely an exercise in composition and arranging.  Landrus has a great gift for producing infectious melodies (which extends to his improvising), and his use of a string section is free of cliché and gimmickry.  Landrus’s soloing on his low-register woodwinds is also distinctive.  On his saxophones and clarinets, he has a burly, rounded tone and a thoughtful, unhurried approach, which seems fitting for his instruments’ natural gravity, unlike many baritone saxophonists who treat the instrument like a lower register be-bopping alto sax (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  For its distinctive approach to composition, arranging, and low-register woodwind improvising, as well as excellent solo and ensemble work from a stellar cast, Mirage is something of a musical treasure chest. 

P.S. Landrus has generously provided a number of the cuts from Mirage on his YouTube channel.  Here is the YouTube copy of the title cut, one of my favorites on the recording:



Tuesday, September 17, 2013

We Have a Winner

Congratulations to Melissa Aldana for winning the 2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition.  Also congrats to Tivon Pennicott and Godwin Louis for taking 2nd and 3rd place (respectively).

If you haven't checked out the AJS review of Aldana's recording, Second Cycle, here it is.  Based on the expertise and maturity Aldana displays on that recording, I'm not surprised she won.

On edit: Here is a nice little write-up on the competition final round and the winner in A Blog Supreme.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Update: 2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition Finalists

The results are in: The three finalists for the 2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition are: Godwin Louis, Melissa Aldana, and Tivon Pennicott!

(Kinda cool that AJS has already had some experience with two of the three finalists, here and here.)

The finals are tomorrow night; results will be posted here.