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.

2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition Semi -Finals Live Webcast, Sunday, 9/15, 1-5 PM

As I post this, the Semi-Finals of the 2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition are being webcast from here:

2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition Semi-Finals Webcast

Sad to say, I have to work while this is going on (darn day job!), but it's great to have the opportunity to view online these future greats in their (relatively) early stages.

On edit: Peter Hum at the Ottawa Citizen's Jazzblog (for which AJS has a standing link and whose virtues we've extolled before) posted the entire proceedings of the 2013 TMIJSC Semi-Finals here, close to five hours' worth of saxophone magic!  So, when I have a spare five hours or so... 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Review: Into the Woodwork - Steve Swallow Quintet

Personnel: Steve Swallow: electric bass; Carla Bley: organ; Chris Cheek: tenor saxophone; Steve Cardenas: guitar; Jorge Rossy: drums

The recording begins with “Sad Old Candle,” a slow, melancholy, slightly whimsical tune.  Cardenas starts by picking out a simple line against a background of tenor sax and organ.  Then Bley takes the lead on the theme, Rossy providing an impressionistic background with cymbal rolls.  Cardenas then plays a gentle guitar solo.  Far from starting us out with a bang, this cut sounds like a prelude or a low-key overture.

“Into the Woodwork” is a spritely jazz waltz that starts with a pretty organ and guitar background.  Then Cheek solos with a husky but smooth tone, and his tone and phrasing bring to mind Stan Getz.  Cardenas then contributes a no-nonsense, swinging guitar solo.  The cut ends with the simple theme, comprised mostly of dotted half-notes, almost like a Burt Bacharach pop tune.

“From Whom It May Concern” has a slow, strolling melody (played by Cheek) that could pass for a Broadway show tune.  Cardenas then plays a solo composed of attractive single-note lines, Rossy on brushes in the background.  Cheek tells a romantic story in his fine solo, after which he restates the theme to close the cut.

“Back in Action” starts off with some snappy mid-tempo Rossy drum rolls and improvising, with guitar and organ occasionally playing a background phrase.  Cheek also comes in now and then with some background snippets.  Rossy dances around the drum kit with generally light-hearted, nimble improvising, and then Cheek briefly plays the whimsical melody and launches into a solo, sounding reminiscent of Stan Getz on his Captain Marvel recording, stringing together a series of smooth phrases.  Then Cheek and Cardenas play the theme together to close the cut.  This cut is a lot of fun, managing to be driving and relaxed at the same time.

“Grisly Business” is slow and bluesy and a bit sinister, beginning with some soulful, high register improvising from Swallow.  Bley then plays the slow theme, and there is some jumbled improvising from organ and drums with Swallow providing a bass line as an anchor in the background.  Then tenor sax and guitar play opposing lines (Cheek descending, Cardenas ascending), with Rossy adding spice in the background.

“Unnatural Causes” is a variation on the final tenor/guitar phrases of “Grisly Business,” taken at a faster tempo, again played by Cardenas and Cheek.  In a slick solo, Cardenas employs distortion and almost a country-music twang in his phrasing.  Then Cheek plays another solo of smooth, slippery lines with a bit of funkiness thrown in. 

For “The Butler Did It,” tenor sax and guitar trade phrases of the bluesy, slightly sing-songy, lower mid-tempo theme.  Cheek and Cardenas then trade a couple of choruses each, playing well off each other. 

“Suitable for Framing” starts with a slow and sweet duet between Swallow and Cardenas, the guitarist providing a pretty chord background for Swallow’s high-register bass guitar picking.  This is followed by a lyrical, elegant solo by Cardenas.  Cardenas plays the subtle theme to end the cut. 

“Small Comfort” features a lengthy waltz-time solo from Swallow, in which he mainly stays in the upper range of the bass, with light and skillful accompaniment from the other rhythm players (especially Bley).  Cheek then contributes a lyrical, enchanting solo and then plays the cut’s simple theme.  This leads to a cliff-hanger ending that sets up the next tune.

“Still There” is a pretty, mid-tempo, Pat Metheny-esque tune with a vaguely military theme, played on organ.  Cardenas takes the first solo, then Bley plays a low-key, breezy, somewhat quirky solo.  (She bases bits of her solo on the themes of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” and “Taps.”)  Then Cheek takes over with a deft, lyrical solo that develops nicely, climaxing with some fast runs.  This cut has another cliff-hanger ending.

On “Never Know,” Cardenas plays the theme--a ballad that has the feel of an old standard—and then contributes another attractive solo composed of laid-back, single-note lines.  Then Cheek plays a well-focused, old-school, Harry Allen-type solo and then the theme.  The cut ends with a Swallow bass line that leads into the final cut.

“Exit State Left” has a gently swinging, mid-tempo groove with Cheek and Cardenas playing a background phrase in harmony and then Bley playing the theme.  Cardenas then solos, using a distorted tone that adds some spice to his pretty lines.  Cheek then plays a bluesy solo with appropriately scooped notes, responding well to the groove.  Then Cheek and Bley repeat a line in unison, getting quieter and quieter until the cut closes on a blunt quarter note.

Into the Woodwork is a collection of smart, subtle, light-hearted music.  Since the cuts flow into one another and occasionally have cliff-hanger endings, the overall effect is of an organic whole, like a suite.  At first I thought this music was somewhat insubstantial, but it charms its way under your skin, to the extent that it can even seem poignant.  Regarding the improvising, Cardenas has the heaviest solo burden, and he’s a fine improviser, though to my ear his solos meander a bit and lack development.  Cheek’s playing is strong throughout; he has a husky, strong tone and displays a Stan Getzian style--less virtuosic but similarly smooth and lyrical.  Swallow steps out occasionally to good effect, though it would have been good to hear him solo even more.  Overall, if you’re looking for music to knock your socks off, Into the Woodwork probably won’t cut it, but if you like music that can gently sweep you off your feet with its subtlety and sophistication, this recording may well be your cup of tea. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition

It's that time again!  The Thelonious Monk Jazz Saxophone Competition semi-finals and finals are happening on September 15th and September 16th.  I found this out thanks to an informative story on the Jazz Police website.  I won't reproduce the whole story here, but I will list the semi-finalists, as their future recordings will be good candidates for being reviewed on AJS.  One recording by Melissa Aldana was already reviewed here, and a brief video clip of Tivon Pennicott was posted.  After the semifinals and finals, AJS will post the competition results.  For more information, check out the full story on the Jazz Police website. 

Competition Semifinalists:

  • Melissa Aldana was born in Santiago, Chile, and began playing saxophone at age 6. She attended the Berklee College of Music as a Berklee Presidential Scholar. While at Berklee, Aldana studied with Joe Lovano, George Garzone, Frank Tiberi, Greg Osby, Hal Crook, Dave Santoro, Bill Pierce, Dino Govoni and Ralph Peterson. She has appeared at venues such as the Blue Note Jazz Club, the Iridium, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Village Vanguard, the Jazz Standard and Smalls Jazz Club.
  • Braxton Cook was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland. He began playing saxophone at age 10 and later studied at Georgetown University before transferring to the Juilliard School. Cook has studied under Steve Wilson, Ron Blake and Paul Carr, and received the Irene Diamond Scholarship to attend Juilliard. He has performed with Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Gerald Albright, Cassandra Wilson, Joe Lovano, Terell Stafford and Terence Blanchard, and recently toured Europe as part of the Christian Scott Sextet.
  • Sam Dillon was born in Great Neck, New York, and began playing saxophone at age 10. He received his master's degree in music from Purchase College, State University of New York. In addition to hosting many jazz workshops, Dillon has taught music lessons locally for the past 8 years. He has recently performed with the Artie Shaw Jazz Orchestra, Cecilia Coleman Big Band and Joe Chambers' "Moving Pictures" Jazz Orchestra, and has appeared at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Symphony Space, the Iridium and Yoshi's Jazz Club.
  • Lukas Gabric was born in Villach,Austria, and began playing saxophone at age 11. He attended the City College of New York and New School University, where he received the Thomas D. Michael Scholarship. A woodwind ensemble coach at the Frank Sinatra High School for the Performing Arts, Gabric has performed at the Apollo Theatre, Smalls Jazz Club, at international jazz festivals across Europe. He was recently accepted into the Juilliard School, where he is pursuing a jazz studies diploma.
  • Andrew Gould was born in Long Island, New York, and began playing saxophone at age 10. He graduated magna cum laude from Purchase College, State University of New York, receiving the James Moody Scholarship Award before attaining his master of music degree at the Manhattan School of Music. Gould has studied under George Garzone, Jimmy Greene, Steve Wilson, Jon Gordon and Dave Pietro, and has toured internationally. He has performed with Jon Faddis, Bill Mobley and David Weiss, and is a member of the Wallace Roney Orchestra.
  • Michael Griffin was born in Sydney, Australia, and began playing saxophone at age 11. He graduated from Newtown High School of the Performing Arts and later attended the Sydney Conservatorium. Griffin participated in the 2012 Melbourne International Jazz Festival, and has performed at the Sydney Town Hall, Sydney Opera House, Sydney Entertainment Center and Novotel Hotel. A James Morrison Scholarship finalist for four consecutive years, Griffin has shared the stage with Joe Lovano, Kirk Lightsey, James Morrison, James Muller, Jacki Cooper, Judy Bailey, Dale Barlow and Dave Panichi.
  • Danny Janklow was born in Los Angeles, California, and began playing saxophone at age 11. He studied at Temple University and graduated with honors. Janklow has studied with Terell Stafford, Dick Oatts and Walt Weiskopf, and has performed alongside Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Benny Golson, James Moody, Jimmy Heath, Wycliffe Gordon, Savion Glover, Karrin Alyson, James Torme, Danilo Pérez, Stanley Clarke, Nicholas Payton, Steve Wilson and Bruce Barth. He participates in jazz workshops at Stanford University and teaches privately in Southern California.
  • Grace Kelly was born in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and began playing saxophone at age 6. After graduating from the New England Conservatory Preparatory School, she received a bachelor's degree from the Berklee College of Music. Kelly has performed with Harry Connick, Jr. and Wynton Marsalis, and appeared at the Kennedy Center as part of President Obama's Inauguration festivities. She has performed at venues around the world, including the Montreal Jazz Festival, Newport Jazz Festival, Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.
  • Mike Lebrun was born in Framingham, Massachusetts, and began playing saxophone at age 12. He attended the Dreyfoos School of the Arts before graduating from Northwestern University with a double major in jazz studies and economics. Lebrun won the 2008 International Jazz Composer's Symposium and has studied with John Wojciechowski and Tom Garling. He has performed with Maria Schneider, Dee Dee Bridgewater, The Temptations, Bob Mintzer, Conrad Herwig, Ron Blake, Jim McNeely and Dave Liebman.
  • Godwin Louis was born in Harlem, New York, and began playing saxophone at age 9. He studied at the Berklee College of Music before moving to New Orleans to complete his master's degree in music from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at Loyola University. Louis has studied with Terence Blanchard, JB Dyas and Jimmy Heath, and performed with Herbie Hancock, Danilo Pérez, Ron Carter, Gloria Estefan, Billy Preston and Benny Golson. He recently toured Italy, China, France, Venezuela and Mexico, and is a member of the Haitian Youth Music Relief organization.
  • Tivon Pennicott was born in Marietta, Georgia and began playing saxophone at age 14. He studied at the University of Miami's Frost School of Music under the tutelage of Maria Schneider, Randy Brecker and Dave Liebman. Since 2007, Pennicott has been a member of the Kenny Burrell Quintet and performed at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, Catalina Jazz Club and Yoshi's. He has recorded with Esperanza Spalding and Gregory Porter, and has performed with Stevie Wonder, Jimmy Heath, Wynton Marsalis, Joshua Redman, Roy Hargrove, Aaron Goldberg and Benny Green.
  • Clay Pritchard was born in Grapevine, Texas, and began playing saxophone at age 12. In high school, he was selected to participate in the National GRAMMY band for two consecutive years. Prichard graduated from the University of North Texas, where he studied with Randy Lee, Jim Riggs and Marchel Ivery. Prichard has performed onstage with Phil Woods, Benny Golson, Jimmy Heath, Maria Schneider and Dick Oatts. He currently performs with the bands Emerald City and Snarky Puppy.
  • Dean Tsur was born in Timrat, Israel, and began playing saxophone at age 10. He attended the Israeli Conservatory before studying at the Berklee College of Music on a full scholarship. He went on to attend the Juilliard School of Music as a recipient of the Ruth Katzman Scholarship. Tsur has studied with Steve Wilson, George Garzone, Dino Govoni, Gan Lev, Mark Turner, Grant Stewart and Mike Tucker. He has performed at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, Lincoln Center, and the Blue Note.
  • Ben Van Gelder was born in Groningen, The Netherlands, and began playing saxophone at age 11. He studied at New School University before enrolling in the University of Amsterdam and the Conservatory of Amsterdam, receiving lessons from Lee Konitz and Mark Turner. Van Gelder has played with David Binney, Ambrose Akinmusire, Nasheet Waits, Aaron Parks, Ben Street, Thomas Morgan and Rodney Green. He was recently selected as the winner of the Deloitte Jazz Award, one of the most prestigious jazz awards given in the Netherlands.
Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition Semifinals

  • Sunday, September 15, 2013 at 1:00 p.m.
  • Baird Auditorium at the National Museum of Natural History, 10th St. & Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC
Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition Finals and All-Star Gala Concert

  • Monday, September 16, 2013 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater, 2700 F St. NW, Washington, DC 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Review: The Vigil - Chick Corea

Personnel: Chick Corea: keyboards; Charles Altura: guitar; Tim Garland: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; Hadrien Feraud: bass; Marcus Gilmore: drums; Perneil Saturnino: percussion; Gayle Moran Corea: vocals; Stanley Clarke: bass; Ravi Coltrane: tenor saxophone.

The recording begins with “Galaxy 32 Star 4” (8:20), with a slick fusion theme, electric piano and soprano sax in unison, upper mid-tempo, and a driving drum beat.  Chick starts off the improvising with a well-modulated electric piano solo, including a good share of bent notes.  Then Feraud plays a fleet-fingered electric bass solo composed mostly of eighth-note lines and closing with a flurry of sixteenth notes.  Then Garland plays a solo on soprano sax, with long, slick lines, skillfully building up and releasing tension.  Altura contributes an impressive electric guitar solo, with superb support from the other rhythm players.  Then there’s some nice ensemble work interspersed with high-energy drumming from Gilmore, and a fairly dramatic close.

“Planet Chia” (11:06) has Chick on acoustic piano by himself to start, then bass and drums join in on a mid-tempo tune with a Latin beat and an intricate theme with Garland on soprano sax, Altura on classical guitar, and Corea in unison.  Some improvising is interspersed with the theme, and the tune includes a clever, whimsical bridge.  Chick plays an acoustic piano solo, pretty but still forceful.  Garland then contributes a soprano solo that is thoughtful and soaring, employing a strong, clear sound.  Altura then plays a lyrical solo on classical guitar, not allowing his considerable technique to overwhelm his romanticism, interacting will with Corea.  Feraud then plays a solo on electric bass with smart phrases, again a marriage of considerable technique with musicality.  This is a very well-conceived cut, a fine showcase for the players’ abilities.

“Portals to Forever,” at 16:00, is like a mini-concert in itself.  The cut begins with an electric piano ostinato, and then a simple, earthy, mid-tempo theme played by Garland on tenor and Altura on electric guitar.  Chick then contributes a solid solo in classic Fender Rhodes mode.  Then there is a second theme, after which Garland (on tenor) and Altura (on electric guitar) trade fours.  Garland employs a thick, soft-edged tone on tenor, and he shows an impressive command of the altissimo range here.  Garland and Altura have a good exchange, but it’s hard to get a sense of what the can do when they keep breaking off for their partner’s turn.  There’s a repeat of the second theme, this time with Chick on acoustic piano, then he moves to synthesizer and trades fours with Feraud.  Chick then switches back to electric piano, and there is a third simple theme, this time including Garland on bass clarinet.  Gilmore then plays a sparkling, spicy solo with the third theme being played in the background.  There’s a brief interlude with a pretty line played by tenor sax and synthesizer in unison.  The cut then moves right into a swinging mid-tempo 4/4, a refreshing turn of events, and Chick plays an acoustic piano solo with his characteristic attractive, clean lines.  The group transitions to a new, more dramatic theme which is repeated throughout this closing section, with a driving Gilmore background. Garland then plays a skillful bass clarinet solo, throwing in a fast runs and high register screams.  The cut comes to a quiet close with a Garland bass clarinet cry in the background.  Though tightly choreographed through its different sections, this cut still manages to have a loose feel thanks to the effortless mastery of the players.

“Royalty” (9:18) begins with Chick on acoustic piano by himself but develops into a minor-key, mid-tempo waltz with the rest of the group, and then Garland plays the pretty theme on tenor sax.  Chick then plays one of his typically fine piano solos, the music here sounding similar to his excellent Friends recording.  Garland, affecting a somewhat airy tone, then plays a solo composed of a series of slippery phrases that add up to an interesting musical statement.  Altura’s electric guitar solo is mainly laid-back and circumspect, though he fits in a few high-flying runs.  Feraud finishes the solos with a fleet-fingered one on electric bass.  Throughout the cut, Gilmore is very subtle, guiding the music along firmly but unobtrusively.

“Outside of Space” (4:59) has Gayle Moran singing a haunting melody with a heavy and dramatic voice, Corea again creating a composition that’s intriguing harmonically and melodically.  I think a lighter voice could have done the melody more justice, but Moran certainly makes an impact.  Chick plays a brief acoustic piano solo.  Garland plays a nice bass clarinet solo with a sound in the upper register that echoes Moran’s voice.  The cut ends with Moran repeating the song and holding an ethereal note. 

“Pledge for Peace” (17:35) has as guest artists Ravi Coltrane on tenor sax and Stanley Clarke on acoustic bass; it’s also a live performance, which helps to explain its rambling length.  It begins with some acoustic piano flourishes, and then the other musicians join in for some meterless, loose improvising that lasts for close to 3 ½ minutes, with just the suggestion of a theme.  This gives way to a solid, mid-tempo, swinging groove with a walking bass, piano, and drums.  (The feel and harmonic structure here are similar to Chick’s Coltrane tribute on Three Quartets, “Quartet No.2 Part 2.”)  Chick then plays a nice acoustic piano solo that slowly grows in intensity (with Gilmore’s and Clarke’s assistance) until he cools things off.  Clarke then plays a dramatic and folksy a cappella bass solo.  Ravi contributes a soulful and rollicking extended tenor solo with a slightly raw tone.  The group goes meterless again to the close of the performance.

“Legacy” (10:00) has Chick back on electric piano and begins with some loose improvising in an upper mid-tempo groove, with Garland contributing on tenor sax.  (This loose intro goes on for about 2 ½ minutes.)  Then a nice fusion-y theme arises (and goes by too quickly), after which Chick first plays a synthesizer solo and then an electric piano solo, with simmering support from Gilmore.  The fusion-y theme is played again, and Altura plays a well-controlled electric guitar solo with fluid, cascading lines.  Guitar and sax repeat the theme, and Garland then plays a driving tenor solo, sounding very Brecker-ish.  The cut ends with more casual group interplay. 

This recording includes a bonus track: a live performance of Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House” (8:28).  I believe this is from the same live performance at which “Pledge for Peace” was recorded, so Clarke and Coltrane are on this cut as well.  The tune, slightly updated, is taken at a lively upper mid tempo and given a Latin beat.  After the theme, Chick plays a tasty acoustic piano solo, Gilmore percolating behind him.  Ravi plays a solid tenor sax solo with a few against-the-grain phrases thrown in.  Altura plays a straight-ahead electric guitar solo that closes with some flashy, fast lines, and Clarke plays a melodic bass solo with his big, rubbery sound.  Then the band trades fours with Gilmore, who has no trouble with straight-ahead bop drumming.  Chick gives his arrangement a fairly elaborate ending. 

Chick Corea is well-known for embracing many styles of music, including acoustic/electric Latin-tinged jazz (e.g. the first Return to Forever), straight acoustic jazz trio, fusion, post bop (e.g. Three Quartets), bebop (e.g. the Bud Powell recording), and forays into quasi-classical music.  (The variety is partly on display in the 10 DVD set Rendezvous in New York.)  Presumably he chose his Vigil band-mates to give him the flexibility to dip into many of his musical bags, and he really takes them out for a spin on this recording, which includes fusion (“Galaxy 32 Star 4” and “Legacy”), acoustic Latin-tinged (“Planet Chia”), post-bop (“Royalty,” “Portals to Forever,”  “Pledge for Peace”), and even some bebop (“Hot House”).  The music has the unique clarity and elegance that has been characteristic of Corea’s music throughout his career.  One never knows where Corea will go next musically, but based on the quality of The Vigil, he couldn’t do much better than to continue using this group to explore his multitude of musical interests. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Review: Circular Dreaming - Quest

Personnel: Dave Liebman: tenor and soprano saxophones; Richie Beirach: piano; Ron McClure: bass; Billy Hart: drums.

Circular Dreaming is a tribute to the Miles Davis group of the 60’s (you know, Wayne, Herbie, Ron, and Tony); except for Tony Williams’s “Hand Jive” and one original each from Liebman and Beirach, all the tunes are Wayne Shorter’s.  I thought I would follow the same procedure I used for Jonas Holgersson’s recording 4003 and revisit the original Miles performances to compare them with the new versions.  This makes for a longer review, but it’s an instructive exercise (for me, at least).

The recording starts with “Pinocchio,” originally from Nefertiti.  Miles’s version is a cool, mid-tempo swinger, with Miles and Shorter playing the infectious melody in unison.  The solos are tantalizingly brief, Miles starting them off with his clipped, no-nonsense phrases.  Shorter’s phrases are also somewhat clipped, which Williams picks up on and starts filling in the spaces, amounting to a duet between the drums and sax.  Hancock’s solo is more straightforward, with swinging, elegant lines.  On Quest’s version, Liebman, on soprano sax, plays the theme in unison with Beirach.  Happily, the solos here are more expansive, Beirach starting them with one that is lyrical, technically dazzling, and outstanding.  Liebman plays a careening but well-controlled solo.  In the background, Hart sounds great, dancing around the drum kit.  Liebman and Hart finish the cut with an improvised duet.  If you’re going to take on a classic jazz performance like Miles’s “Pinocchio,” this is the way to do it.

“Prince of Darkness” is up next, originally on the Sorcerer recording, an upper mid-tempo tune with a slightly Latin feel.  Miles’s playing is fairly hot here, with longer lines and high note stabs, and Shorter puts together an intriguing solo, full of twists and turns; Hancock lays out for both of the horn solos.  Hancock takes a thoughtful approach in his solo, with Carter and Williams following his every move beautifully, as natural as breathing.  Quest’s version is slower and softer-edged, with Liebman (again on soprano) gently reading the melody.  Beirach then plays a thoughtful, delicate solo, the notes reluctant to leave his fingers.  Then McClure plays a muscular and melodic bass solo.  Liebman’s solo has a lot of variety and ranges all over the horn, but it is very measured, like he’s trying to get every note just right.  (He’s pretty successful.)

Miles and Wayne give a quiet reading in harmony of the elegant, bittersweet melody of “Footprints,” from Miles Smiles.  Miles’s expansive solo begins tentatively, with shorter phrases, eventually moving into a double-time feel.  Shorter’s solo is filled with thorny, thoughtful phrases.  Hancock’s solo is chord-heavy.  Throughout the solos, the rhythm players show off amazing elasticity, changing direction on a dime and making it all seem effortless, more like wizards than timekeepers.  Quest’s version is faster and has a more driving feel.  Liebman is on tenor for this cut, and his excellent solo is high-energy and free-wheeling, with frequent use of altissimo screams.  Beirach appears to be having a blast twisting the structure of the tune in a variety of ways, Hart staying right with him.  Hart then contributes a melodic, engaging solo. 

“MD”, an original by Liebman, begins abstractly and slowly with Beirach by himself, musing at the keyboard, focusing on dissonant chords and phrases.  At about two minutes in, a sad, slow melody floats out of Liebman’s tenor sax.  After a brief Beirach interlude, Liebman begins improvising against an earthy background from the rhythm players, eventually increasing his intensity and forays in the upper register, keeping the tone of the performance dark and somber.  The piece ends with a brief restatement of the theme.

“Hand Jive” is a straightforward, upper mid-tempo tune by Tony Williams from the Nefertiti recording.  After a brief reading of the theme in unison with Shorter, Miles plays a fluid, thoughtful solo, with Williams closely following and feeding off of Miles’s lines.  Shorter’s solo is looser but also thoughtful and exploratory.  Hancock lays out for both of these solos.  The rhythm section is hard-driving throughout.  Hancock finally enters and plays a solo composed of single-note lines.  Quest’s version has a similar tempo, with Liebman back on soprano.  Liebman is in very good form here, alternating clean, logical lines with interval jumps, upper-register screams, and quicksilver runs.  Then Beirach plays a beautifully constructed solo.

On “Vonetta,” from Sorcerer, Miles and Shorter play the slow melody with understated background playing from the rhythm section.  When Miles solos, Williams locks into a series of march-like snare-drum rolls, branching out a bit when Shorter takes over.  Shorter’s velvety tone is particularly noticeable here, and his solo is exceptional.  On Quest’s version, unlike the somewhat detached reading of the theme by Miles and Wayne, Liebman (on tenor) treats the tune more like a ballad, employing more embellishment and emphasizing the tune’s prettiness.  Liebman’s improvisation bears a lot of resemblance to Shorter’s. 

“Nefertiti” famously has Miles and Wayne repeating the hypnotic theme periodically throughout the performance, both choosing not to improvise, except for the different ways they approach the repeated theme (e.g. variations in note bending, dynamics, articulation).  The rhythm section generally moves along with the horns, occasionally setting off some subtle fireworks around the melody (especially Williams).  The cut builds to a climax in the rhythm section’s playing and then comes to a quiet close.  On the Quest version, Liebman starts improvising (on soprano) even before he states the melody, with light accompaniment from Beirach.  The tune doesn’t start in earnest with the rest of the group until almost two minutes in.  After stating the theme, Liebman and Beirach trade the spotlight loosely, with the group in a nice swinging groove, the saxophonist and pianist just having a casual good time.

“Circular Dreaming” is an original composition by Beirach and begins with Liebman playing the languorous theme on soprano.  Beirach improvises a formal-sounding, well-grounded solo.  Liebman then plays a contemplative, carefully-constructed solo, with lush accompaniment from Beirach.  Liebman and Beirach put a lot of emotion in their final reading of the theme.  The performance is a good change of pace, slow and straightforward, with a pleasant, floating quality throughout. 

“Paraphernalia,” from Miles in the Sky, has a furtive feel, with an upper mid-tempo melody somewhat like the theme from a 60’s detective TV show and George Benson’s electric guitar providing a jumpy background pulse.  Miles’s solo is fluid and all business; Shorter’s is more oblique and contains more spaces.  Benson, like Shorter, is contemplative in his solo, with Miles and Wayne providing some background.  Hancock is assertive, punching out strong phrases and ringing chords.  As usual, the rhythm players are amazingly flexible.  Liebman (on tenor) and his crew take the tune at a faster tempo, stretching out the theme a bit, with the rhythm section providing a dense, somewhat frantic background.  Beirach plays a fluid, mainly linear solo; Liebman’s solo is loose and all over the horn, occasionally having a wild, hair-on-fire quality.  Hart’s solo, by contrast, is varied but well-controlled.  Overall, this version provides a nice high-energy close to the recording.

The original performances of the compositions on Circular Dreaming by the Davis group are more than groundbreaking episodes in the history of the jazz idiom--they have a timeless quality.  The peerless improvisations and the brilliance and elasticity of the rhythm section still sound fresh.  The performances on Circular Dreaming can’t, of course, match that standard, but they are interesting and engaging and fully stand on their own; there’s no let-down in listening first to the original and then to the Circular Dreaming version of these tunes.  The members of Quest are all masters of their craft and they’re playing as well as they’ve ever played; in particular, Liebman’s tenor playing is very strong, and his soprano playing is second to none.  The success of Circular Dreaming is significant but not surprising.  Take four great jazz musicians at the top of their game fully engaged in playing some of the best jazz compositions ever written…well, you do the math.  

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Video: A cut from Eli Degibri's upcoming "Twelve"

A new review is coming in a couple of days or so.  In the meantime: Astute viewers of AJS may have seen in the upcoming release area that our old friend Eli Degibri is coming out with a new recording in a few weeks, titled Twelve.  Here is a video with the music of one of the tunes, “The Spider,” which includes some clips from the recording session.  Is it just me, or do the drummer and the pianist look crazy young?  Well, everybody sounds great, including Degibri, who plays a rollicking solo with his big, cushy sound.  If the rest of the album is of comparable quality, it should be a winner. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Review: Imagery Manifesto - Chad Lefkowitz-Brown

Personnel: Chad Lefkowitz-Brown: tenor saxophone; Travis Reuter: guitar; Sam Harris: piano; Linda Oh: bass; Kenneth Salters: drums; Adam O’Farrill: trumpet.

The recording’s first cut, “A Turbulent Drift,” has a slow, out-of-tempo beginning with some gentle improvising from Reuter and the other rhythm players.  Then Lefkowitz-Brown  and O’Farrill play a slow theme in harmony with Reuter playing a counter melody.  A mid-tempo groove kicks in with guitar, sax, and trumpet playing in unison on a fast, intricate line.  Lefkowitz-Brown and O’Farrill then play a dramatic melody in unison with Reuter adding some echoing guitar notes in accompaniment.  Lefkowitz-Brown begins some tentative improvising with accompaniment from Salters and Oh, with Harris eventually joining in.  Then Lefkowitz-Brown starts playing in earnest, spinning out some impressive lines, occasionally swooping into the altissimo.  Lefkowitz-Brown has a big, open sound that is distinctively vocal and emotion-tinged.  After a repeat of the intricate trumpet/sax line, Reuter contributes a slick solo, employing a slightly distorted tone.  Trumpet and sax provide a repetitive, dramatic background, and the cut ends abruptly.

“Still Here” starts out with Lefkowitz-Brown playing a light, pretty, lower mid-tempo theme.  O’Farrill joins in and he and Lefkowitz-Brown play the theme in unison.  Then the tenor and trumpet play a second, more dramatic theme in unison.  Lefkowitz-Brown then plays a solo starting with some delicate, intricate lines and evolving into gutsier stuff, getting some energetic accompaniment from Harris and especially Salters.  O’Farrill then patiently constructs a musical and imaginative solo, with a good use of space—less linear than Lefkowitz-Brown, but intelligent and varied.  Then Lefkowitz-Brown and Reuter play the first theme, with the guitarist eventually adding some echo effects.  The cut closes quietly on a Lefkowitz-Brown and O’Farrill repeated line.

“Manic Panic” has an upper mid-tempo, march-like theme played by trumpet and sax.  Reuter and Lefkowitz-Brown then trade improvised choruses, Reuter using a distorted tone, the saxophonist firing off lightning-fast phrases.  Lefkowitz-Brown and O’Farrrill repeat the theme and Lefkowitz-Brown  improvises to close out the cut.

“Where the Wild Things Are” begins with some quiet interplay between the rhythm players, and then piano and bass break into an ostinato.  Trumpet and sax begin playing in harmony and then they move into a pretty, mid-tempo theme, playing in unison, with Reuter joining in.  Lefkowitz-Brown then plays a well-controlled, melodic solo, Salters pushing hard behind him.  Reuter adds a solo with a very distorted guitar sound, sometimes sounding like a synthesizer.  Then he provides an echoing background and Harris plays a repeated piano figure as Salters plays a dynamic, high-speed solo.  The group stops and re-sets, and Lefkowitz-Brown and O’Farrill repeat the theme to close the cut.

“Tooth and Fang (Intro)” is a strumming bass solo from Oh, showing off her big, ringing tone.  For “Tooth and Fang” she plays a repeated figure and the rest of the rhythm players join in.  Then Lefkowitz-Brown and O’Farrill join on a dramatic, driving mid-tempo theme.  O’Farrill plays a reflective solo, taking his time with each phrase.  Then Reuter plays a solo with intricate, imaginative lines and plenty of distortion.  Trumpet and tenor repeat the theme, and the cut ends without any solo from Lefkowitz-Brown.  This cut has exceptional pacing and rhythm section accompaniment throughout.

“Eastern Flower” has a lower mid-tempo, vaguely oriental theme, played by Lefkowitz-Brown with a full, supple tone and gentle vibrato.  Harris then plays an airy, slightly jangly solo with each hand playing a different melody.  Lefkowitz-Brown then repeats the theme and ends the cut, again choosing not to solo.

“With Bated Breath” has a suspenseful, upper mid-tempo theme with trumpet and tenor in unison.  Then Harris plays a cagey, exploratory piano solo, like he’s working out a complex mathematical problem on the keyboard.  O’Farrill plays a well-developed solo with a little more fire than usual, and Lefkowitz-Brown contributes his own well-constructed solo with clean, slippery lines.

“Time & Space” starts with Lefkowitz-Brown slowly playing a melody, his tone lush and gentle.  O’Farrill joins him on the ballad-like theme (though with Lefkowitz-Brown sounding so good on his own, I wish the trumpet had laid out on this one) with a repeated guitar phrase in the background.  Lefkowitz-Brown then plays a graceful solo with patterns and runs reminiscent of Chris Potter.  O’Farrill then plays a solo, though Reuter’s echo effects in the background are distracting; even O’Farrill sounds distracted.  The sax and trumpet play the theme again, and Salters plays another dynamic solo, with a bass and piano pattern behind him, and the cut fades out.

“The End” has a plaintive, lower mid-tempo theme with sax and trumpet in harmony and more echo effects from Reuter.  O’Farrill then plays a thoughtful and soulful solo, a good combination of head and heart.  Reuter then plays a distorted solo of complex, interesting patterns.  Surprisingly, Lefkowitz-Brown chooses not to solo on the final cut.

Imagery Manifesto is an impressive debut, with lyrical, complex compositions and excellent musicianship all the way around.  Lefkowitz-Brown has a sumptuous, powerful sound on the tenor sax and a melodic, virtuosic style similar to Chris Potter’s, though not quite as flashy and a bit more “romantic.”  As good as his composing is, though, he makes some peculiar choices on this recording, like not soloing on three of the recording’s nine cuts and Reuter’s obtrusive background echo effects.  And sometimes the compositions seem overly complex; I wish Lefkowitz-Brown had included a couple of cuts with just him and a trio.  But as a declaration that an excellent new tenor sax player and jazz composer is on the scene, Imagery Manifesto works very well, and it strongly suggests a promising musical future for Lefkowitz-Brown.