Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Review: She Likes That - Geoff Vidal

She Likes That is the somewhat brief (at just over 47 minutes) debut recording of tenor saxophonist Geoff Vidal (that’s the only horn he plays on this recording).  The recording starts off with “Darjeeling,” an upper mid-tempo tune with a clever melody.  Guitarist Joe Hundertmark starts off the improvising, playing a good solo with a slightly distorted, Kurt Rosenwinkel-ish sound.  Then Vidal takes over, displaying a big, attractive sound on tenor, strong like early Sonny Rollins but a bit softer and prettier, with a nice “liquid” quality.  His phrasing is fast and mostly straightforward except for a few curves he throws in, including some Brecker-isms.  He gets some nice support during his solo from Hundertmark and drummer Makaya McCraven. 

“Different Planes” starts off with pretty bass strumming from Michael O’Brien and has an intricate, Pat Metheny-esque melody line in a tricky meter.  O’Brien plays a folksy, melodic solo showing off some good chops, with more fine accompaniment from McCraven.  Hundertmark then plays a nicely varied solo, with clean lines interspersed with chords.  Vidal then plays a calypso-style duet with McCraven, moving into an exciting and elegant solo.  McCraven then takes the spotlight with a fiery solo, with guitar and bass accompaniment.

On “O-zoning,” trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt and Vidal hammer away at the multiple eighth-note melody, in what seems to be 7/4 time.  The melody is good, but there is an added challenging unison line with trumpet and sax, which seems like overkill.  Hundertmark plays a self-assured solo with a reverb-y, steel-hard tone, showing a lot of control over his instrument.  Vidal enters softly with his improvisation with a slightly funky feel which then builds to a strong statement.  Then Greenblatt and Vidal repeat a phrase as McCraven solos.  “Time Apart” starts off with Vidal playing a cappella, showing off his warm, full, breathy tone.  The cut’s melody is hard to pin down.  Hundertmark plays a brief solo, then Vidal takes another impressive solo turn, but overall the cut doesn’t hang together very well.

“Free Diver” is another odd-metered and somewhat awkward tune, with Vidal and Greenblatt playing at the start, first in counterpoint and then in harmony.  Vidal solos, showing off some impressive altissimo playing, with more good accompaniment from McCraven.  Vidal and Greenblatt then improvise in tandem.  McCraven plays especially well throughout this tune.  “Lanusa” is a laid-back, pretty, minor key tune.  Vidal glides through the changes in his solo.  Hundertmark then takes over, employing a ghostly, echo-y tone.  After a strong statement of the tune’s theme, Vidal and Hundertmark improvise in tandem. 

The recording ends with “She Likes That,” a tune with a somewhat murky theme, which Greenblatt and Vidal play in unison.  Then a groove kicks in and trumpet and tenor play a different (and, to my mind, unnecessary) theme first in unison, then in counterpoint.  Then Hundertmark hijacks the show with a high-speed, distorted, slightly demonic solo that’s really good.  Trumpet and sax come in to accompany Hundertmark, and they seem out of place in contrast with the wild guitar solo.  Vidal and Greenblatt then improvise in tandem.

Vidal’s band mates on She Likes That do a great job, and Hundertmark is an excellent foil for the saxophonist, possessing loads of improvisational skill.  The compositions are a mixed bag; “Darjeeling,” “O-Zoning,” “Different Planes,” and “Lanusa” work well, while “Time Apart,” “Free Diver,” and “She Likes That” seem to try too hard and suffer from an overall lack of tightness.  But one thing is for sure: Vidal is a hell of a saxophone player.  He effortlessly rolls out clear, ear-catching phrases with a cushy sound that fills up your earphones, his style containing hints of Donny McCaslin’s virtuosity and Ralph Moore’s smoothness, and he has superb control over the altissimo register.  While I hope Vidal’s next recording is stronger compositionally, I fully expect great things from him as an improvising saxophonist.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Downbeat magazine's Best CDs of 2012 (edited)

Adding to our parade of "best of" lists, here's an edited version of Downbeat magazine's most highly rated CDs of 2012 (from the December 2012 print issue), which translates to the CDs that received a 4-to-5 star rating in the magazine during the year of 2012.  I've edited the list to focus on the CDs that feature heavy saxophone playing.  I've no where near listened to all these CDs, so I'm flying slightly blind in my editing, and my own tastes have definitely had an influence on the choices (for example, I've left out some of the recordings that are likely in the category of free jazz).  So keep this in mind when perusing the list.  To get the full list, you'll have to get your hands on the December 2012 issue of Downbeat.  The astute reader will notice a number of recordings that have already been reviewed here on AJS.  The list also gives me ideas for some catching up I'll be doing in the coming weeks; you'll be seeing the fruits of this catching up in reviews on AJS.  In the meantime, I hope this list proves interesting to the sax-oriented jazz listener.  (As usual, any readers who have comments on this list or any of my omissions, please send them on to AJS.)

5 stars

Unhinged - Jon Irabagon’s Outright!

4 ½ stars

Claroscuro – Anat Cohen
Angelic Warrior – Tia Fuller
I Don’t Hear Nuthin’ But the Blues Volume 2: Appalachian Haze – Jon Irabagon
Here Today - Jason Palmer (w/ Mark Turner)
Reunion: Live in New York - Sam Rivers/Dave Holland/Barry Altschul
Today’s Opinion – Yosvany Terry

4 stars

Within a Song – John Abercrombie
Rhythm on the River – Harry Allen
The Matador and the Bull – JD Allen
Snakeoil – Tim Berne
Barefooted Town – David Binney
Scheherazazde’s Tales – Igor Butman Orchestra
High on You – Pete Christlieb and Linda Small
Spirit Fiction - Ravi Coltrane
Live at Smalls – Jesse Davis Quintet
Be Still – Dave Douglas Quintet
The Only Son of One – Wayne Escoffery
Year of the Snake – Fly
Twilight – Victor Goines Quintet
All Our Reasons – Billy Hart
Lucky 13 – Javon Jackson
Sleeper – Keith Jarrett
Book of Mae’bul – Darius Jones Quartet
Traverse – Brian Landrus
Dialect Florescent – Steve Lehman Trio
Home on Richmond – Pat Mallinger Quartet
Four MF’s Playin’ Tunes – Branford Marsalis Quartet
Mary Lou Williams – The Next 100 years – Virginia Mayhew Quartet
Casting for Gravity – Donny McCaslin
Ghosts of the Sun – Bill McHenry
Unity Band – Pat Metheny
For the Moment – Bob Mintzer Big Band
Initial Here – Linda Oh
Abstract Society – Jure Pukl
Hart-beat – Stephen Riley
Bassprint – Marlene Rosenberg Quartet (with Geof Bradfield)
Plugged In – Jerome Sabbagh
Smul’s Pardise – Gary Smulyan
Believe – The Cookers
Romance Language – Kirk Whalum
Rayuela – Miguel Zenon and Laurent Coq

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Peter Hum's Best Jazz of 2012

Another list of best jazz recordings of 2012 (yay!), this one from Peter Hum of the Ottawa Citizen’s Jazzblog (one of the blogs on the esteemed AJS Blog List Supreme).  Hum actually provides a list of Honorable Mentions in addition to his top 10 list, so we get two lists for the price of one!  I like Hum’s taste in jazz, and his lists have given me a few ideas for recordings I’d like to review myself.  On the page where he provides these lists, he gives links to a number of his reviews of these recordings, which offer lots of insights and good info, as well as best debut and vocal CDs, and a couple of lists of special interest to Canadian jazz lovers; check it out here.

Top Discs of 2012
1.       Snakeoil, Tim Berne (ECM)
2.       Four MFs Playin’ Tunes, Branford Marsalis Quartet (Marsalis Music)]
3.       Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans, Ryan Truesdell (ArtistShare)
4.       Sleeper, Keith Jarrett (ECM)
5.       Ode, Brad Mehldau Trio (Nonesuch)
6.       Star of Jupiter, Kurt Rosenwinkel (Wommusic)
7.       Accelerando, Vijay Iyer Trio (ACT)
8.       Frame, Ben Wendel (Sunnyside)
9.       All Our Reasons, Billy Hart (ECM)
10.   Swim, Joel Miller (Origin Records)

Honorable Mentions of 2012:
1.       Casting For Gravity, Donny McCaslin Group (Greenleaf Music)
2.       Be Still, Dave Douglas (Greenleaf Music)
3.       Where Do You Start? Brad Mehldau Trio (Nonesuch)
4.       Dialect Fluorescent, Steve Lehman (Pi Recordings)
5.       Alive at the Vanguard, Fred Hersch Trio (Palmetto)
6.       An Attitude For Gratitude, Matt Wilson’s Arts and Crafts (Palmetto)
7.       Universal Mind, Luis Perdomo (RKM Music)
8.       Rayuela, Miguel Zenon/Laurent Coq (Sunnyside)
9.       The Creep, Ted Nash (Plastic Sax)
10.   Unanimous, Ulysses Owens Jr. (Criss Cross)
11.   Finger-Songwriter, Jeremy Siskind (Brooklyn Jazz Underground)
12.   Da Vinci, Fred Hersch and Nico Gori (Bee Jazz)
13.   Triveni II, Avishai Cohen (Anzic)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Old Buescher sax ad

This old ad was posted on the Saxophonists group Facebook page; I thought it was funny enough to reproduce here (besides the fact that I generally love retro ads).  I especially like the implication of how fast one can master a saxophone.  It's so easy!  Pretty women will be staring at you with adoration in no time!  (Kidding aside, old Bueschers really are good saxophones.)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Review: Opus One - Shauli Einav

Concluding our Hanukkah/Israeli saxophonist extravaganza (which began with Eli Degibri’s Israeli Song), this time we’ll focus on Shauli Einav’s recording, Opus One.  The opening tune, “Jerusalem Theme,” begins with some in-tandem improvisation by Einav (on tenor sax) and trombonist Andy Hunter, backed by a bouncy ostinato from pianist Shai Maestro.  The tune has a dual personality, beginning as a pretty, minor-key jazz waltz that eventually moves into a 4/4 swing section.  Einav’s solo shows him to be a thoughtful improviser with a refreshing, compositional style of playing.  His tone on the tenor sax is well-controlled, but it strikes me as a little thin.  After Einav’s solo, Maestro plays a pretty synthesizer solo, his keyboard tuned like the synthesizer in the Emerson, Lake, and Palmer tune, “From the Beginning.”  He accompanies himself with one hand on the piano, then finishes his turn in the spotlight by playing the piano alone.  Einav and Hunter play the melody and add some dual improvising to close out the cut.

“Kavana” is an upper mid-tempo, post-bop tune with an Israeli flavor.  Einav plays a nice tenor solo.  Hunter plays a solid, lyrical solo; he’s clearly more interested in producing a coherent musical statement than in pushing the boundaries of his instrument.  Maestro plays a lyrical solo that also has plenty of technical flash, including fast runs and lines played in unison octaves.  Einav warms up his tone on tenor a bit for the lower mid-tempo ballad, “Naama,” playing the melody again in tandem with Hunter.  Einav’s solo is airy, pretty, and romantic.  Maestro and Hunter get in nice solos of their own. 

“The Damelin” is a clever, mid-tempo, later Jazz Messengers-type tune.  Hunter starts off the soloing with a solid, swinging effort.  Einav plays an engaging tenor solo with hints of Wayne Shorter.  Maestro’s solo is both driving and elegant.  He moves into a repeated figure behind which drummer Jonathan Blake makes his own forceful and graceful statement.  Maestro starts off “Hayu Leilot” with a Chick Corea-ish reverb-y electric piano.  Tenor and trombone join the piano with a slow melody, then a slightly funky groove kicks in with the band in 7/4 time, tenor and trombone playing the melody, again with an Israeli flavor, in counterpoint.  Einav plays a smart, compositional solo with especially strong accompaniment from Maestro.  Hunter responds well to the funky feeling of the tune and stretches out, constructing a fine solo.  After a statement of the melody, piano and bass provide an ostinato and Blake again dances a solo under it, before Einav and Hunter play the melody to close out the cut.

“Interlude” is a brief, improvisation-less piece with Einav on both tenor and soprano parts, along with Hunter and Joseph Lepore on bass--a pretty, chamber jazz composition with both quick and slow sections.  (“Interlude” reminds me a bit of Chick Corea’s “Children’s Songs,” which Corea used to as interludes between his longer pieces on his “Light as a Feather” and “Friends” recordings.)  “New Era Ballad” is a slow, march-like piece, Hunter in unison on the melody with Einev on soprano sax.  This leads to a gentle bass solo from Lepore with quiet accompaniment from piano and drums.  Einev displays a pretty soprano sound in his solo, with strong accompaniment again from Maestro, though the improvisation itself seems a bit aimless.

“Shavuot” has a bouncy, tricky theme, a bit like Neal Hefti’s“Repetition,” with some interesting harmonic complexity.  Einav’s soprano sax solo is ear-catching, but again, somewhat aimless.  Hunter plays a deft, logical solo.  The recording ends with “Coda,” another lovely chamber-jazz piece with Einav on both tenor and soprano, plus trombone and bass, but no improvisation.  (This piece reminds me of David Amram’s lovely, haunting theme for the movie, the Manchurian Candidate.)

Opus One is a collection of very good music, with interesting compositions and strong improvisations.  Einav manages a lot of variety in his tunes, but each tune has a touch of an Israeli feeling, which is effective and refreshing.  Einav is an accomplished saxophonist, though his sound on tenor is not as full as I would like, and his improvisations are a little lacking in logical development.  From a bird’s-eye view, the music on this recording is strong, and I think this is Einav’s primary concern, but looking at individual saxophone solos, those who see things through saxophone-colored glasses, such as myself, might wish for a bit more.  But Opus One indicates that Einav is a formidable musician and composer, well worth watching in the future.

To get an idea of what Opus One is about, here is the entire first cut of the recording, "Jerusalem Theme," complements of YouTube.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Nextbop's Best Jazz Albums of 2012, Second Half

Here is the second half of's Best Jazz Albums of 2012, from #10 to #1. 

10) Lionel Loueke - Heritage (Blue Note)

8 tie) Marcus Miller - Renaissance (Concord Jazz)

8 tie) Brad Mehldau - Where Do You Start (Nonesuch)

7) Kurt Rosenwinkel - Star of Jupiter (Wommusic)

5 tie) Gregory Porter - Be Good (Motéma)

5 tie) ERIMAJ - Conflict of a Man (Don't Cry Recordings)

4) Christian Scott - Christian aTunde Adjuah (Concord Jazz)

3) The Bad Plus - Made Possible (Decca/Universal)

2) Vijay Iyer Trio - Accelerando (ACT)

1) Robert Glasper Experiment - Black Radio (Blue Note)

The Miller, Mehldau (again!), Scott, and Glasper recordings interest me the most.  I know Miller has sax player Alex Han in his band, and he's supposed to be very good.  Glasper has Casey Benjamin in his group.  Related clips and graphics are available on the Nextbop site here.

Well, lots for me to catch up on here.  As usual, if you have any thoughts, please pass them on.  More "best of" lists to come.

Nextbop's Best Jazz Albums of 2012, First Half just came out with the first half of their list of best jazz albums of 2012, from #25 to #11 (with lots of ties).  Here they are:

21) Menahan Street Band - The Crossing (Daptone)

20 tie) Yaron Herman - Alter Ego (ACT)

20 tie) Neneh Cherry & The Thing - Cherry Thing (Smalltown Supersound)

20 tie) Linda Oh - Initial Here (Greenleaf)

20 tie) Donny McCaslin - Casting for Gravity (Greenleaf)

20 tie) Brad Mehldau - Ode (Nonesuch)

16 tie) Philip Dizack- End of an Era (Truth Revolution Records)

16 tie) Dr. Lonnie Smith - The Healer (Pilgrimage)

16 tie) Avishai Cohen - Duende (Blue Note France)

14 tie) Kat Edmonson - Way Down Low (Red General Catalog)

14 tie) Esperanza Spalding - Radio Music Society (Heads Up)

12 tie) Charlie Haden & Hank Jones - Come Sunday (EmArcy)

12 tie) 4th Ward Afro Klezmer Orchestra - Abdul the Rabbi (4th Ward Afro Klezmer Orchestra)

11) JD Allen - The Matador and the Bull (Savant)

I'm impressed by the all the "ties" in this list; I think that means the Nextbop folks really took this ranking seriously and did some fine-grained analysis.  Some artists on this list I've never heard of, so I'll have to do some catching up.  I'll probably check out Linda Oh's Initial Here; I know she has (previously AJS-reviwed) tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens on this recording, and I like his playing a lot.  I'm already familiar with Donny McCaslin's Casting for Gravity, having reviewed it on this blog.   I love Brad Mehldau (he did such a nice job on the previously AJS-reviewed Israeli Song, led by Eli Degibri), so I'll have to check out Ode.  I'm curious to hear trumpeter Philip Dizack; he has a saxophonist, Jake Saslow, I've been interested in checking out.  JD Allen's Victory was reviewed here on AJS; I'll keep the Matador and the Bull in mind, but I need to check out some other saxophonists before I return to Mr. Allen's work. 

Those are the main thoughts that come to mind in reviewing this list.  For some clips and graphics pertaining to these recordings, check out Nextbop.  I'm looking forward to Nextbop's top ten, and I'll post that when it's available.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Slate's Best Jazz Albums of 2012

Continuing our year-end "best of" extravaganza, here is Slate magazine's list of the best jazz albums of 2012:

1.       Ravi Coltrane, Spirit Fiction (Blue Note).

2.       Vijay Iyer Trio, Accelerando (ACT).

3.       Fred Hersch Trio, Alive at the Vanguard (Palmetto).

4.       Ted Nash, The Creep (Plastic Sax).

5.       Chick Corea / Eddie Gomez / Paul Motian, Further Explorations (Concord).

6.       Dave Douglas, Be Still (Greenleaf).

7.       Frank Kimbrough Trio, Live at Kitano (Palmetto).

8.       Ron Miles, Quiver (Enja).

9.       Jenny Scheinman, Mischief & Mayhem (Jenny Scheinman).

10.   John Abercrombie, Within a Song (ECM).
The list seems a little light on things to delight the saxophone-o-phile, it seems to me, but there are recordings from Ravi Coltrane and Ted Nash, and I know Jon Irabagon is on the Dave Douglas recording and Joe Lovano is on the Abercrombie.  Personally, I'd especially like to check out the Iyer, Nash, Corea, and Douglas recordings.  I heard Fred Hersch in concert earlier this year, and he was terrific, but I purchased one of his CD's at that time and that should hold me for a while Hersch-wise (until I've checked out some other artists).  Slate has kindly provided clips of each of these recordings; check it out

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Blog Supreme's Top 10 Jazz Albums of 2012

'Tis the season...for top 10 lists!  As various folks review 2012, we'll be seeing more "Best of" and "Top" lists, which is great, because I really like these.  (For example, they give me an idea of what has escaped my radar and what I need to catch up on.)  A Blog Supreme just came out with their top 10 jazz albums of 2012.  Not a very strong showing of saxophone-heavy recordings, to my mind, but we'll be exploring more "best of 2012" lists on AJS in the weeks to come.  If you want to see the Blog Supreme list with music samples, go here.

A Blog Supreme - Top 10 Jazz Albums Of 2012

1.       Billy Hart, 'All Our Reasons'

2.       Darius Jones Quartet, 'Book of Mae'bul'

3.       Matt Ulery, 'By A Little Light'

4.       Neneh Cherry & The Thing, 'The Cherry Thing'

5.       Omer Avital, 'Suite Of The East'

6.       Ryan Truesdell, 'Centennial: Newly Discovered Works Of Gil Evans'

7.       Scott Dubois, 'Landscape Scripture'

8.       Theo Bleckmann, 'Hello Earth: The Music Of Kate Bush'

9.       Todd Marcus, 'Inheritance'

10.   Vijay Iyer Trio, 'Accelerando'

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Review: Israeli Song - Eli Degibri

I’ve had Eli Degibri on my list of sax players to check out to for a while, and I thought, well, Eli is Israeli, and it’s Hanukkah time, so I used this as an excuse to put Eli in the AJS spotlight this week.  Degibri has a few recordings out, but Israeli Song is fairly recent, and the rhythm section certainly caught my interest: Brad Mehldau (one of my favorite pianists), Ron Carter, and Al Foster.  That’s a multi-million dollar rhythm section if there ever was one.

Israeli Song starts out with a Mehldau composition, “Unrequited,” an upper mid-tempo, minor key, interesting tune.  Mehldau starts the soloing with his distinctive imaginative phrasing, beginning simply, then moving into quicksilver phrases and ringing chords.  Degibri then comes in on soprano sax, with a clear, singing tone.  Degibri starts with clean, skillful lines, and then he mixes in more emotional playing, with some faster lines, upper register screaming, and increased volume before bringing it back down to a closing reading of the melody, with only Mehldau for accompaniment. 

“Mr. R.C.,” a Degibri tune written for Ron Carter, is a mid-tempo swing tune, something that would have fit nicely on the previously reviewed ‘Round Midnight (by Harry Allen and Scott Hamilton), with Degibri on tenor sax.  Let me just say that I love Degibri’s tone on the tenor: big, full, slightly breathy, and a bit old-fashioned, like he’s playing a vintage saxophone.  His phrasing is a mix of traditional and modern, more of an updated Stan Getz or Dexter Gordon style rather than an edgy Coltrane or a driving Sonny Rollins.  He adds in some upper register screams here to finish off a very solid solo. Mehldau gets in an ear-catching solo. Then Carter plays a swinging, light-hearted bass solo with double-stops sprinkled in.  Next is Degibri’s “Judy the Dog,” an up-tempo, post-bop tune with Degibri again on tenor.  Degibri plays clean, slippery phrases and again adds in some effective upper register screaming, followed by a Mehldau solo.  Foster provides a subtle cushion of rhythm throughout, and the entire rhythm section plays like it’s a single person, completely seamless.  The cut fades out on Mehldau and Degibri trading fours.

“Jealous Eyes” is an engaging, clever ballad.  Degibri is again on soprano, and it’s evident here that his soprano sound is also a bit old-fashioned; it sounds like he may be playing a curved soprano sax.  Mehldau plays some off-center phrases to spice up the ballad in a solo that’s too brief.  In his solo, Degibri includes some surprisingly high volume for a while, then he brings the volume way back down.  This is something notable in Degibri’s style: he includes a lot of changes in volume in his solos.  “Manic Depressive” is a slightly twisted blues, and Mehldau gives an appropriately bluesy intro to the tune, though the melody, played by Degibri on tenor, is a bit hard to pin down.  Degibri plays a straightforward, swaggering solo, while Mehldau spices up his solo with some jangly chords.  Carter plays a fine, swinging solo, again with plenty of double-stops.  Degibri’s beautiful tenor sound is again on display here, but in the improvisation department, he is a bit outclassed by his bandmates on this one. 

Next up is a mid-tempo, relaxed reading of Dizzy’s “Bebop,” a duet between Degibri and Foster.  Again, Foster effortlessly and gracefully ferries us through the tune.  Degibri’s tenor solo well establishes his bebop creds, and he adds some accompaniment to Foster’s solo, which swings in a gentle and understated way.  Degibri’s “Liora” is a song with a capital “s,” like something Irving Berlin might have written.  Degibri and Mehldau are by themselves on this cut.  Degibri, on tenor, slides through the changes and again varies his dynamics throughout his improvising.  The cut reminds me of the Getz/Barron collaboration, People Time, with Degibri and Mehldau playing well off each other, and it is a fine change of pace at this point in the recording.

Foster’s “Look What You Do to Me” is an upper mid-tempo, pretty, slightly funky tune on which Degibri plays soprano.  Degibri’s solo is well-paced, and Foster gets in a tasteful solo, which is punctuated by quick phrases from the rest of the band.  Carter’s “Third Plane” is a brisk jazz waltz on which Degibri plays tenor, and he gets off a swinging, flowing solo.  Then Mehldau solos, briefly adding in a double-time section, though his solo, like Degibri’s, is too brief to make much of a statement.  The standard “Over the Rainbow” is a duet between Carter and Degibri on tenor.  Degibri’s sound shines on his heartfelt reading of the melody, and then he improvises through ¾ of the tune, Carter doing some fun things on the bass behind him, before playing the last section of the melody to close the cut.  The recording ends with “Israeli Song,” another duet between Degibri and Mehldau.  This stately, mid-tempo waltz begins with an improvised a cappella etude of straight eights from Degibri on tenor.  Mehldau’s solo is straightforward before he gets into a lovely triplet section that sounds like a classical recital.  Degibri’s solo is particularly passionate, including more well-executed variation of dynamics.  This cut is a brief but satisfying close to the recording.

Israeli Song is an excellent recording.  Degibri has a beautiful sound on both of his horns, and his improvising shows plenty of skill and maturity, though it is fairly traditional.  Of course, the rhythm section is peerless, with excellent improvising from Mehldau and Carter.  The main misgiving I have about this recording is that it’s a little unadventurous.  These players are so good that they should manage to set off some fireworks in the music, but the proceedings stay a bit too restrained.  The music comes off a little like ideal background music for a very hip cocktail party.  (Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this.)  Part of the problem is that the tunes are a bit too brief (around 5 minutes on average), and there’s not enough time for real development in the improvisations.  I wish the recording had fewer but lengthier tunes.  But I’m quibbling here; this is a fine recording of excellent jazz, and I look forward to hearing Degibri’s beautiful sound and engaging improvisations again soon. 

On edit: I happened upon a couple of good video clips of Eli Degibri on YouTube.  One is just the title cut from this recording, the other is a live performance where Degibri displays some of his passionate soloing.  These clips will give you an idea of what Degibri is all about.

Israeli song

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Review: The Social Media Tapes - Petter Wettre Next Generation

I hate the thought of missing out on the work of terrific musicians just because they reside in a different country.  I just came across the recent recording, The Social Media Tapes, by a Norwegian saxophonist, Petter Wettre, who’s been around for a while (recording at least since 1999), but who I never heard of before.  He’s made this recording available, around 56 minutes of music, for free on his Facebook page (all you need to do is “like” the page), hence the recording’s title, and I thought I would check it out.

The recording begins with Wettre’s composition “Man of the Hour,” a driving, mid-tempo tune with a pretty, intricate melody, reminiscent of some of the work Michael Brecker and Pat Metheny did together, played in unison by Wettre on tenor sax (that’s all he plays on this recording) and Kim Johannesen on guitar.  Johannesen begins the soloing with a George Benson-like tone on his guitar, but with a phrasing that has a bit more of an edge, displaying intelligence and intricate technique, and with sympathetic support from Jon Rune Strom on bass and Dag Erik Knedal Andersen on drums.  Then Wettre takes over, with a solo that is a good mix of lyricism, intelligence, and technical flash.  Guitar and sax close out the cut playing the melody in unison.

Next up is Andrew Cyrille’s “5 4 3 2,” whose percussive, disjointed theme is played by Wettre and Johannesen out of meter.  Bassist Strom then plays a strumming solo, accompanied by Andersen.  Then Wettre solos, bass and drums energetically accompanying him without a clear beat.  Eventually a groove does kick in, then even a half-time swing-like section, and finally Johannesen and Wettre play a line in unison to close out the cut.  Julius Hemphill’s “Hard Blues” starts with some bluesy strumming from Strom, and then Wettre and Johannesen play the melody slowly in unison.  After a faster section, the tempo slows down again and Johannesen plays a fast-fingered, bluesy solo.  The guitarist and saxophonist then get together to close out the cut.  Wettre doesn’t improvise on this one.

Steve Colson’s “Leaving East of Java” features a slow, meterless melody.  After Andersen muses for a while on the drums, producing some interesting sounds, the other players join in.  Wettre and Johannesen then trade chunks of improvisation (sort of trading 4’s, but it’s hard to tell with the elusive meter).  Wettre and Johannesen really show off their abilities here, Wettre coming off like a softer-toned Michael Brecker.  To end the cut, Strom plays arco, and the closing is again free-form and meditative.  Wettre’s “Manhattan Blues” is an up-tempo tune with another intricate melody, which Wettre and Johannesen play in unison, again like Brecker and Metheny.  Johannesen and Strom then play a free form duet, and then Andersen joins them while the spotlight turns on Johannesen.   Then Wettre quietly joins in with an ostinato, he and Strom accompanying an Andersen solo.  Wettre again chooses not to play a solo on this one.

Wettre’s “TTFN” is in the mode of a classic Ellington or Strayhorn swing tune, taken at a strolling mid-tempo.  Johannesen starts the solos, playing clean, fleet lines, with straightforward accompaniment from bass and drums; he really is a fine guitar player.  Then Wettre comes in, sliding through the changes, playing what is perhaps his best solo of the recording; too bad it doesn’t go on longer.  I think this group could do very well with a recording’s worth of more traditional tunes like this one.  “TTFN” is followed by another Wettre tune, “Hoot and a Half,” featuring another intricate melody played by guitar and sax in unison.  Accompanied only by Andersen, Strom plays a slick, fleet-fingered and strumming solo, his hands roaming all over the instrument.  Johannesen then gets in a good solo with some out-of-tempo accompaniment before settling into a groove.  Wettre also gets in a good solo, stretching out more than usual with strong accompaniment from the rest of the group.  The recording ends with Monk’s mid-tempo, swinging “Work,” which again has Wettre and Johannesen in unison on the melody.  Johannesen plays a solid, straightforward solo, then Wettre plays a solid, clever solo, though sometimes he plays more softly on his fast lines and they lose a little of their detail.  (I noted a similar quality in Dmitry Baevsky’s playing in a previous review of his recording, The Composers.)

The Social Media Tapes is a recording of good, serious, straightforward jazz, and it shows Wettre to be an excellent saxophonist, possessing a lot of technical skill and musicality, though, to my ear, his tone is a bit too soft, so that sometimes his intricate lines don’t stand out clearly enough.  (I think a similar point is true of Joe Lovano, though even more so, but that’s another story.)  Also, I would have preferred Wettre’s playing to have been more prominently featured on the recording; for example, he doesn’t solo on two of the cuts (“Hard Blues” and “Manhattan Blues”), which strikes me as a real missed opportunity, and guitarist Johannensen is featured at least as prominently as the saxophonist, if not more so. 

Finally, I feel the need to register an objection (though this may sound crazy to some) to Wettre’s choosing to make this music available to download for free.  In a review in All About Jazz, Eyal Hareuveni said Wettre is “offering his new album for free via social media, realizing that in the age of streaming services and pirate downloading, recorded music is not a reliable source of revenue.”  I think this conclusion is premature, and, even if recorded music as a revenue stream is not completely reliable, I still think a musical artist should be compensated for his or her recorded work.  Don’t most working musicians need all the revenue streams they can get?  So if Wettre chooses to make his all future recorded work available for free, I think that would be a mistake.  On the other hand, if Wettre chose to make The Social Media Tapes available for free as a marketing tool, so that more people could be introduced to his music and thereby be enticed to purchase other recordings of his, then I think this may have been a good ploy.  It certainly worked on me.