John Dworkin - jazzreview.com - Your Jazz Music Connection - jazzreview.com - Your Jazz Music Connection http://jazzreview.com Mon, 22 May 2017 18:36:54 -0500 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb That’s What I Say by John Scofield http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/soul-/-funk-jazz-cd-reviews/thats-what-i-say-by-john-scofield.html http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/soul-/-funk-jazz-cd-reviews/thats-what-i-say-by-john-scofield.html If you come to John Scofield’s latest tribute release That’s What I Say wanting mainly open ended, jazz-blowing versions of famous Ray Charles tunes, you’ll lik…

If you come to John Scofield’s latest tribute release That’s What I Say wanting mainly open ended, jazz-blowing versions of famous Ray Charles tunes, you’ll likely be disappointed. However, with the likes of John Mayer, Mavis Staples, Aaron Neville, Dr. John and Warren Haynes being heavily marketed with the record, it’s unlikely anyone would be expecting a ‘pure’ jazz record. Nor would it necessarily have been a better artistic choice. Though Charles had prodigious ‘jazz’ keyboard skills, much of the time he kept a tight leash on his chops to serve the song and to keep listeners in touch with the emotional core and lyric content. For the most part, Scofield (who is credited with nearly all the record’s arranging) sticks to this concept as well.

On the instrumental tracks, Scofield keeps the listener in touch with the ‘core groove,’ as opposed to the lyric content, likely hoping that the listener is already aware of the words. The recording is split down the middle: half instrumental and half vocal versions. There are hits and misses on both sides, but mainly hits. Scofield often finds the right middle ground between being overprotective of Charles’ aesthetic and running amok as a jazz iconoclast. Over the course of his now three decade long career, Scofield has made a point of striking middle ground between styles (rock, blues, jazz, funk) and this experience serves him well on this project.

Unsurprisingly, however, the instrumental tracks here have more energy on the whole. It is mostly Scofield who takes the melody honors on these cuts ("Busted," "Sticks And Stones," "Crying Time," "Hit The Road Jack" and "Georgia On My Mind") and we are the beneficiaries. He’s always had a bluesy, vocal, ‘crying’ quality to his tone which is just right for Charles’ music. His horn arrangements on "Hit The Road Jack" (including Charles’ colleague David ‘Fathead’ Newman) are a real kick and definitely contain some Sco-isms, which will put a wide grin of recognition on any Scofield fan’s face. He also cuts loose at the end of this track, blowing the most jazz to be heard on the record. The highlight of the instrumental tracks comes with "Sticks And Stones." This one is the burner. Any crowd with the slightest proclivity toward dance would be happy to groove to this one all night. This tune could be the love child borne of The Meters, Beastie Boys, James Brown and Jimmy Smith. Larry Goldings on organ is in his element here and very comfortable having played extensively with Scofield on many other occasions. This cut has lots of carefully orchestrated breaks, hits and studio effects built into the form, yet they are not at all distracting from the groove. In fact they create it and these techniques and ideas would’ve well served a few of the other tracks on the record that came off a little lackluster. The rhythm section is rounded out with the great Willie Weeks on bass and Steve Jordan on drums. Jordan also produced the record. It sounds like he’s absorbed some lessons from his producer friend Marcus Miller whom he worked with on David Sanborn’s Upfront. That record has some similar qualities to this one and that’s a good thing.

Dr. John is the most successful of the singers here possibly because of his innate similarities to Charles’ own style. He sounds relaxed and at home on "Talkin’ Bout You/I Got A Woman," playing piano and singing with his personal brand of blues and whimsy. The rest of the tunes featuring the guest singers are all listenable but nothing too special. Much of the vocal selections could have benefited from a loosening of the forms for a little more expression.

Inevitably the ‘sell out’ criticism will worm its way into the discussion of this record by jazz purists. "Why would Scofield waste his time playing with silly rock and rollers like Mayer and Haynes?" and other barbed and jaded questions or jabs from the near-sighted jazz police. Undoubtedly he’s heard it all before and by now it rolls right off his back. As for the rock and roll and pop music listeners who may come to this recording via their interest in Mayer and the others - welcome. Dig in.
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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (John Dworkin) Soul / Funk Jazz - CD Reviews Fri, 29 Apr 2005 13:00:00 -0500
Deep Song by Kurt Rosenwinkel http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/deep-song-by-kurt-rosenwinkel.html http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/deep-song-by-kurt-rosenwinkel.html Kurt Rosenwinkel’s new recording Deep Song is a mixture of joy and mystery. Also, the joy in mystery. Complexity is regularly laid next to simplicity to highl…
Kurt Rosenwinkel’s new recording Deep Song is a mixture of joy and mystery. Also, the joy in mystery. Complexity is regularly laid next to simplicity to highlight the beauty in both. The tunes Rosenwinkel has shaped here are occasionally like Zen koans. Deep works of art often create more questions than they answer. Like well formed koans, these tunes have no set shelf life, but are to be pondered for as long as the listener can remain open to them. Open-ness is a key element here. Although the music is for the most part "closed form", it has been conceived with such great attention to space, and performed with such fire and intimacy, that it creates a very warm and "open" atmosphere: At turns beautiful and burning.

As the title of the CD suggests, the tune’s ‘the thing’ here, and this results in a more equal distribution of solo time to written material. Melody is boss. The melodies and forms are very poetic and can become rather extended and ornate. In regards to his writing process, Rosenwinkel likens it to archeology:

"I feel like an archeologist whose craft is to know what belongs to the thing being discovered and what doesn’t, as it is happening. So I will pick a spot musically and start to brush away things and dig carefully and exploratively. If I find something then I keep brushing away stuff - usually things having to do with my own personality, and then find what is already there. If I don’t find the shape of something, then I move on and try somewhere else."

For his previous recording (Heartcore) Rosenwinkel said he was writing music to "activate larger spaces" to "make the room lift off the ground". On Deep Song, the tune itself is the space: not Smalls, the 55 bar, Fat Cat, or a 10,000 seat theater, but the tune itself. It’s an actual place of escape, and Rosenwinkel has taken care to be sure the space is welcoming, beautiful, ever interesting, changing, and mysterious all at once. I imagine the first listening of this material to be akin to an eager foreigner visiting a Greek island for the first time. While always intriguing, the feeling is that some of these musical elements are at once foreign and familiar. Or maybe it’s more like wandering through some ancient mosque, cathedral, or city. Certainly not because the music is ‘old’, but because of its details, ornate form, or foreign-ness. Or maybe it’s more like a relaxed wandering of the Guggenheim.

For the record: this is so NOT an "all-star" recording date. The fact that all of the members in this band (Rosenwinkel, Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Larry Grenadier, Jeff Ballard, and Ali Jackson) are successful, well-known, respected players in the jazz community is incidental. This is a very ‘group’ oriented record, not just a blowing session. In fact, there is only one track on the record where the entire frontline gets a chance to blow. Additionally, the playing and writing on this recording is proof that new music doesn’t have to be jarring, overtly aggressive, or intentionally inaccessible to be unconventional or original; which appears to be what some creative musicians think these days.

The first track on the recording is "The Cloister". A prime example of the compositional "ornate-ness" mentioned earlier, this piece is also ruminative throughout - almost meditative. At times the rhythmic sense of this melody is somehow deliberate and obscure at once. There are chords that are held out to cap off certain phrases or sections which feel like a surrender. The band lets these chords dissipate into the air like a letting go into a mystery. This feeling, while maybe not intentional, seems habitual on this recording. And it’s a sorely missed habit among musicians these days; maybe particularly jazzers. Also, the ending sections of this opening track exemplify what’s so intriguing about many of these compositions. Listening to this tune is like opening a set of Chinese boxes in reverse. Where many writers would be satisfied w/ the large amount of material already covered in this piece, Rosenwinkel keeps writing because it was there to be discovered.

Although I haven’t read any quotes of Rosenwinkel mentioning his influence, I feel he pays particularly "Mingusian" attention to compositional detail, line writing (contrapuntal lines), and a befriending of dissonance. His interpretation of the title track ballad (made famous by Billie Holiday) recalls Mingus’ approach to his own "Self-Portrait in Three Colors". Very detailed, multiple lines, no solos, everyone playing parts - it’s all about the tune. Even the lyrics to "Deep Song" echo Mingus’ regularly dark and somewhat haunted character. Also, Rosenwinkel’s archeological analogy to composition (finding what’s already there) reminds me of Mingus’ speaking of his compositional skills being a gift from god, while his facility on bass comes from hard work. Lastly on this tangential matter, as particularly demonstrated on Heartcore, Rosenwinkel is not afraid to use the studio as a tool as Mingus had before him.

Don’t let my emphasis on Rosenwinkel’s writing lead you to believe that there’s no blowing on this recording. To the contrary, everyone shines and has room to step up. The tune "Synthetics" is the most overtly smokin’ piece here. Its form is one of two tunes on Deep Song which have your basic head-solo-head format, and the band makes the most of it. The standout solo here is Mehldau’s, which is (not coincidentally) the first in the tune. It feels like this may have been the last recorded tune of the session. After the other pieces had been finished, the band was pent-up and ready to let fly on a burner. "Synthetics" fits the bill and since Mehldau gets the first solo, that initial explosion of energy is spent during his time: Absolutely the definition of ‘burning’ here. There are two or three moments in this solo where it gets so hot I still, after repeated listenings, involuntarily jump and utter "damn" or "whoooohoooo" or some such exclamation. Mehldau seemingly manifests intricate, originally formed, swinging phrases at will, and Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard are there at every turn to feed, reply, and push him higher. The other tune with the head-solos-head format is the closing blues "The Next Step". This is also the only tune where Rosenwinkel, Redman, and Mehldau all get solo space. Redman shines on this one showing once again his affinity for combining soulful blues playing with be-bop. After a long records’ worth of more cerebral jazz music, this tune is again something of a release and a very powerful and emotional take.

Rosenwinkel’s playing is right up there with his writing in terms of ability and originality. From his legato phrasing, to tone, picking technique, and harmonic conception, he keeps on growing. There’s also his technique of singing along with the lines he’s playing. To his credit, he didn’t shy away from working on getting the right sound, or balance of this technique from the studio. This vocalizing is particularly haunting on his solo in "Use of Light". It casts a ghostly shadow. This solo is like a purging of sorts. It feels like a casting off of inhibitions, a letting go into the mystery which inevitably brings its own sort of free-wheeling self-assurance - a confidence in abandon. His solo on the track "The Cross" is worth mentioning as well. There’s a brief moment of "Metheny channeling" during the solo in this track. Similarly, I think some of Metheny’s compositional optimism has osmosized into this tune. It’s uplifting. But maybe Rosenwinkel’s best playing on the recording is during "Brooklyn Sometimes" in which he also plays the short but beautiful piano intro. This tune is played with just the quartet (no saxophone) and he takes advantage of the extra space. The melody is one of the more poetic on the record, and its minimalism, along with Rosenwinkel’s loose interpretation of his own music, allows the written material to blur into the soloing. Rosenwinkel’s playing (five minutes worth) gradually grows more and more effusive over a long and consistent build up of form and content. It is a brilliant, landmark solo.

No surprise here that I cannot recommend Deep Song highly enough. Get it for the compositions, the ‘vibe’, the virtuosic playing on a particular instrument (take your pick), but by all means get it. I’m sure that over the next few decades, as during the last one, these players will come together again and again in different combinations to play, record and perform. I look forward to every conceivable combination and situation.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (John Dworkin) Contemporary Jazz - CD Reviews Mon, 24 Jan 2005 12:00:00 -0600
Big Joe Jumps Again by Big Joe Duskin http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/blues-cd-reviews/big-joe-jumps-again-by-big-joe-duskin.html http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/blues-cd-reviews/big-joe-jumps-again-by-big-joe-duskin.html Big Joe Duskin’s new record "Big Joe Jumps Again!" lets the good times roll. For his first studio recording in 16 years, he’s assembled something of a ‘Cincinnati All-Stars…
Big Joe Duskin’s new record "Big Joe Jumps Again!" lets the good times roll. For his first studio recording in 16 years, he’s assembled something of a ‘Cincinnati All-Stars’ group to help get the word out that he’s still playing. Bassist Ed Conley and drummer Philip Paul, both of whom recorded extensively on the Cincinnati based King Records label, give strong support here. Produced by Larry Nager and William Lee Ellis and recorded in Monfort Heights United Methodist Church, "Jumps Again" has a very relaxed, welcoming feeling to it. Like a grandfather you still love but haven’t spoken with in a while.

Duskin’s style is utterly without pretense. His voice is a throwback to the blues ‘shouters’ of the past. His voice is warm and full with just enough rasp to sound dirty at the same time. He sings with such ease and is so familiar and connected with the tunes, that the feeling of the material rubs off on the listener. They make you want to sit down and have a beer with him and the band.

Duskin’s piano style is also very spare and deliberate. He’s no Otis Spann or James P. Johnson, and he needn’t be. His simple phrases and lines are as inviting as his vocals. And when he lays down a boogie woogie bass line with his left hand, it can really jump. One of my favorite tracks is "North to Alaska" which employs his boogie left hand phrasing underneath more country style chords and melody. It’s a very intriguing piece. He also ventures into some gospel territory for the traditional closing track, "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" and adds an almost jazzy, chromatic bass line to the 2nd version of "You’re Gonna Miss Me".

In most cases, an artist’s personal history is best not confused with his art, but in Duskin’s case it’s important to consider. Much of his life was spent away from the music he loved out of respect for his father, who was a Preacher and forbade his son the devil’s music. After his father died (at 105!!!) he was able to resume his musical career. In a spoken word track titled "The Preacher and the Devil’s Music", Duskin reminisces about a time when his father caught him playing the devil’s music at the piano in their home and received a beating. As in blues music, he somehow colors this difficult time with a positive outlook. Real blues musicians and lovers know that although the subjects may be hard, the blues is meant to help ever, hurt never; make you feel good, despite it all. Big Joe Duskin is a big helping hand.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (John Dworkin) Blues - CD Reviews Sun, 15 Aug 2004 11:10:27 -0500
The Supporting Theory by Blowout http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/the-supporting-theory-by-blowout.html http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/the-supporting-theory-by-blowout.html Supporting Theory is the debut recording from the west coast jazz sextet (3 horns plus rhythm section) who’ve dubbed themselves "Blowout". These proficient, young ja…
Supporting Theory is the debut recording from the west coast jazz sextet (3 horns plus rhythm section) who’ve dubbed themselves "Blowout". These proficient, young jazz players show themselves to be quite stylistically ambitious, as ‘Theory’ contains music which, at turns, could be referred to with wildly varying terms: free, straight-ahead, 3rd stream, pop-ish, avant-garde, etc.... Oftentimes, being so stylistically scattered is a sign of artistic immaturity, but this is not the case with Blowout. It’s a sign of ambition. But this brand of ambition comes with its own unique set of obstacles. It’s a slippery slope and the range of success to failure is a broad spectrum. ‘Theory’ falls somewhere near the center of this spectrum.

The 1st two tracks represent much of the good, the bad, and the ugly of this recording. The harmonies of the 3-part horn writing are very idiosyncratic and often "un-schooled" sounding, which often works to their advantage giving them a quirky, unique edge. At other times, however, the dissonances in the writing seem unintended and random giving them a "something wrong, something not quite right" feel (J. Morrison reference intended), like the writer isn’t sure what he’s trying to say.

On the other hand, most of the playing is reasonably assured. Alto saxophonist Aaron Bennett and trombonist Rob Ewing are standouts. Solos by both of these young men are well thought out, with high energy and excellent tone. Also worth mentioning are bassist Aaron Germain and drummer Jason Levis who make a nimble rhythm section pairing navigating some of the music’s relatively intricate forms with seeming ease.

The factors making this recording merely good and not excellent are more likely related to plate tectonics or erosion than anything else. If the group sticks it out long enough, the passing of time will likely cause one or two things to happen: shifts in the group’s surface will cause disparate continents to come together forming a more unified whole; or the sands of time will brush away the un-necessary debris to expose a more valuable stone.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (John Dworkin) Contemporary Jazz - CD Reviews Thu, 29 Jul 2004 19:09:37 -0500
Citizen Kain by Dave Kain Group http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/straight-ahead-classic-cd-reviews/citizen-kain-by-dave-kain-group.html http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/straight-ahead-classic-cd-reviews/citizen-kain-by-dave-kain-group.html The Dave Kain Group’s 1st recording, Citizen Tain, is a thoroughly enjoyable listen and is particularly well-conceived for a young artists’ debut. The tunes (all written by…
The Dave Kain Group’s 1st recording, Citizen Tain, is a thoroughly enjoyable listen and is particularly well-conceived for a young artists’ debut. The tunes (all written by Kain) and playing have a connected-ness that is sometimes lacking on debut recordings where artists often feel obligated to cram everything they’ve learned into the music, whether it suits the material or not. The vibe on "Citizen" is more relaxed. What it lacks in urgency it more than makes up for in mindfulness. It’s a welcome trade-off.

Kain’s strengths are mainly in his writing. The best tunes on the CD are marked by a heady non-chalance, wit, or lightness: a skippy-ing-ness. He’s got a knack for conjuring natural, swinging, in-the-pocket gestures that belie the more sophisticated harmonies, rhythms, and structures that house them. Highlights in this vein are the tracks "Eleven", "Trickery", and "Another Take". These tunes occasionally follow an impulse to venture off into the occasional odd form or meter (5/4) but still retain their accessibility and groove. Any modern straight-ahead jazz artist could incorporate these tunes into their set-list and have fun playing on them.

The players in Kain’s group are all seasoned New York City musicians who occasionally outshine the already excellent material they’ve been given to interpret. Matt Garrison (tenor saxophone), Jerry McDonald (bass), and Rick Donato (drums) have been playing together as a group with Kain for a few years and the familiarity and connection between the personalities elevate the music. Garrison is particularly impressive, being featured on all of the tunes. Much of his playing here mirrors Kain’s compositional style: a deceptively easy-going veneer and the ability to run with small gestures. Even more so than in Kain’s melodies, Garrison has the ability to run with small phrases and gestures in his solos and follows them where they may lead, instead of dropping the ball for any new idea that may come along. In this manner he often creates larger and more interesting phrases. In tone and style his playing often falls into an interesting cross-section of Sonny Rollins and Joshua Redman. The tone of most of the record is relaxed, but here and there Garrison steps it up and approaches a more ‘burning’ atmosphere. Keep an eye out for this boy. He got game. The rhythm section is also on top of the material and is particularly supportive of the soloists. Kain and Garrison have very different approaches and feels, so McDonald and Donato switch gears swiftly to compliment the different styles. They alternate between just the right balance of push and support and are both excellent soloists as well.

Kain’s tone on his guitar (looks like an ES335 on the CD artwork) throughout the recording is consistently warm and clean and an excellent compliment to Garrison’s sound. His comping, while not too harmonically adventurous, gets the job done and is rhythmically sensitive to the rest of the band. Yet, Kain’s playing is not quite up to speed with his compositional ability. At times you can hear his hands running just behind his mind. You can hear him reach for the prize and just miss. But with this happening only on occasion, it’s easy to assume this will be taken care of in the coming years. I’d liken Citizen Kain (will Jeff Watts forgive him?) to one of the better, ‘true-indie’ entries in the Sundance Film Festival in a parallel jazz festival. Yeah, it may have some rough edges and flaws, but it’s still better than 98% of the crap comin’ out of "Hollywould" (ie: Universal, Sony, etc.... ). And the audience award goes to....

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (John Dworkin) Straight-Ahead - CD Reviews Thu, 22 Jul 2004 23:09:17 -0500
Cool Mood Trio by Fred Scott http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/straight-ahead-classic-cd-reviews/cool-mood-trio-by-fred-scott.html http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/straight-ahead-classic-cd-reviews/cool-mood-trio-by-fred-scott.html Fred Scott has put together his Unknown Soul recording almost entirely on his own. With the exception of John Harrington playing bass on one track, Scott plays all the inst…
Fred Scott has put together his Unknown Soul recording almost entirely on his own. With the exception of John Harrington playing bass on one track, Scott plays all the instruments (piano, bass, drums, bongos) and is the sole vocalist. The music here is either blues, or blues influenced, and his singing is where the talent lies. On a few cuts he incorporates some more jazz or latin flavors, but ends up bringing it around to the blues. Scott hits the mark more squarely when sticking to basics. However, most of the music here is merely confused, and at some points embarrassing and nearly un-listenable.

In any of the styles on Unknown Soul, his playing is that of someone who is just getting started and has passion for the music, but not much facility yet - particularly in relation to his bass and drum playing skills. As for the piano, Scott’s playing is further along but still needs much work. His blues piano soloing has occasional flashes of future chops and ideas, but is mainly amateurish. Only in his singing do we get something approaching a definite musicality. It seems he has internalized some of the feel and sound of Aaron Neville and has the innate sensibility of a Mose Allison. If Scott had a good backing band and some rehearsal, a decent blues/jazz recording could be made.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (John Dworkin) Straight-Ahead - CD Reviews Tue, 20 Jul 2004 07:09:09 -0500
Year of the Dog by Michael Ross http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/year-of-the-dog-by-michael-ross.html http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/year-of-the-dog-by-michael-ross.html Eclecticism seems to be the M.O. of the Michael Ross Quartet’s latest release titled "Year of the Dog". The recording is made up of all original pieces written by either ba…
Eclecticism seems to be the M.O. of the Michael Ross Quartet’s latest release titled "Year of the Dog". The recording is made up of all original pieces written by either bassist/leader Ross or guitarist LaRue Nickelson. The music ranges from latin beats to aggressive modal ostinatos, straight 8th ballads, gritty funk vamps, near-smooth pop/jazz, noir-ish Americana, etc.... There seems to be a trend with jazz groups these days to eschew straight-ahead swing feels out of a desire to be (or be considered) ‘modern’ or maybe ‘avant-garde’. While creating modern, avant-garde, or original music is an excellent goal, it’s not a good idea to let this desire nullify natural impulses (not that this happens on this record; but possibly). While some of the music on "Dog" is certainly well played and enjoyable, embracing eclecticism and shying away from swing doesn’t guarantee creative or ‘successful’ music. That being the case, there’s some worthwhile music on this quartet’s third recording.

The opening tune by Nickelson, "Flight of the Kiwi Bird", begins just like it’s title would suggest - light and breezy. Nickelson begins the tune on guitar with an almost Motown-ish/Temptations-like repetitive line. Pate joins in after the groove is set to lay down some simple (not simplistic) soprano sax lines, sounding like an improved Kenny G. after a good 3-4 years of studying actual jazz music. The 2nd track, "Timshel (for Ian)", is by Ross and moves toward an almost ‘smooth jazz’ sound: an area somewhere between pop and jazz, but edging toward pop. This tune has an earthy straight 8th feel, and Nickelson’s bluesy, acoustic guitar playing on this one keeps it from veering toward schmaltz.

The playing is strong throughout the record. All members have obvious chops and a thorough understanding of their instruments and the idioms. What feels lacking is a genuine connection to the written material on the part of the players. Many of the melodies and forms are lackluster and a few of the solos feel like going through the motions. If the writing was invested consistently with more intensity and feeling, the players approaching the music would, in turn, invest more of themselves in the interpreting. Nevertheless, the record was worth having been made, and this group should keep at it.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (John Dworkin) Contemporary Jazz - CD Reviews Tue, 20 Jul 2004 03:09:08 -0500
Zen Tornado by Rik Wright http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/fusion-cd-reviews/zen-tornado-by-rik-wright.html http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/fusion-cd-reviews/zen-tornado-by-rik-wright.html There’s an early period of musical development for most jazz and rock players where things start to come together. They start making sense. You’re not making great (or even…
There’s an early period of musical development for most jazz and rock players where things start to come together. They start making sense. You’re not making great (or even good) sounding music yet, but you feel you’re on the right path: you can see the connections between musical elements - you see the light at the end of the tunnel. This is the period to really dig in for a few years, learn everything you can, and work as hard as possible to develop the craft and your own voice. Bands whose members are collectively and personally beginning this period can often produce some pretty confused and annoying music while "working through" ideas and sounds. For instance: the proverbial instrumental jazz/rock band at the high school talent show that everyone agrees is "interesting" and "talented", but nobody really enjoys: the ‘band geeks’ that put a group together. Rik Wright’s Zen Tornado has the right forward thinking attitude to create modern and invigorating (words from the record’s liner notes) jazz music. The problem is that in the music world, attitude doesn’t make up for lack of skill or craft (except for certain pop and rap acts), and Wright’s Tornado has a musical gulf between their vision and the music they realize. It sounds like their still playing to a gymnasium filled with fellow high school students and understanding teachers with low expectations.

The ‘annoyance factor’ would weigh in much lighter if not for the record’s title and overblown liner notes. Wright writes:

"This recording is about exploring the paradigm of modern composition.... The challenge was to play new music in a way that couldn’t be played ten or twenty years ago but also couldn’t be considered anything but jazz."

However genuine the band’s intentions, the music on Zen Tornado (Zen: not; Tornado: kinda) comes nowhere near the sentiment of these notes. In terms of composition, most of the seven tunes have short, simple themes usually lasting a whole 30 seconds or so, and go directly into adhoc ‘free’ sections for solos. There’s essentially no compositional development. Comparing the writing on this record to the ‘paradigm of modern [jazz] composition’ (D. Douglas. Zorn, Metheny, Schneider, etc.... ), is like comparing the writing of Brittany Spears tunes to Radiohead’s music.

The paradigm or ‘vibe’ that Wright’s music is closer to is that of the 70s fusion movement or jazz/rock from the same time: Mahavishnu Orchestra, Grateful Dead, King Crimson, etc.... The music falls short considering this paradigm as well. "The challenge was to play new music in a way that couldn’t be played ten or twenty years ago but also couldn’t be considered anything but jazz." - Well, it was played (better) ten or twenty (30-40) years ago, and it was considered something other than jazz. If the group’s mastery of their instruments was at the level of composition they grope for, it would make up for a lot. Such is not the case. Having a violinist in the group is not a free pass to cachet.

When an artist shoots high and just misses the mark, a true fan forgives the misfire and appreciates the attempt for the other treasures found short of the prize. But when an artist shoots for the moon and lands atop a tree across the street from the studio, there can only a few (if any) treasures to mine along the way.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (John Dworkin) Fusion - CD Reviews Mon, 19 Jul 2004 23:09:08 -0500
Mallet Jazz by Tom Collier http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/mallet-jazz-by-tom-collier.html http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/mallet-jazz-by-tom-collier.html The list of jazz vibraphonists that are household names (in jazz households, that is) is not very long. Not as long as, say, that same list made up of tenor saxophonists. L…
The list of jazz vibraphonists that are household names (in jazz households, that is) is not very long. Not as long as, say, that same list made up of tenor saxophonists. Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutcherson, Gary Burton, Roy Ayers - probably a few others. The fact that you’re likely to hear less of this particular instrument in a jazz context than a piano or a drum set is one of its charms. Since its use is comparatively rare, in the hands of a great player its sound is like a breath of fresh air.

Tom Collier’s latest release is titled Mallet Jazz and was made with his longtime musical partner bassist/engineer Dan Dean. They’re also joined by a few other west coast session luminaries: Emil Richards on marimba, William O. ‘Bill’ Smith on clarinet, Don Grusin on piano, and Joe Porcaro on drums. Much of what these guys do for a living is sidework for projects and artists as diverse as Frank Zappa, Peggy Lee, and the Seattle Symphony. However, this recording has the feel of a ‘shits ‘n giggles’ session with the results being a fun experience for the band and the listener.

All the music here is written by Collier. The melodies, harmonies, and forms are, for the most part, straight ahead and sound as though they could’ve been written a few decades back. The small group here possibly belies a 70s Thad Jones/Mel Lewis big band compositional sensibility; replete with ‘hip’ funk/jazz grooves. Actually, less than half of the record is straight-up swing. The tune ‘Eddie’s Pad’ sounds like an unrecorded Steely Dan piece, sans Fagen’s vocals. It hovers in a neverland between pop and jazz, with excellent solos all around. Cool tune. Most of the heads of these songs have a somewhat ‘pop-ish’ feel to them, but the blowing is all Jazz.

Collier in particular has total mastery of his instrument. While not always inspired, most players of the instrument would wish his worst day were their best. The best piece on the record is ‘Pink Skies Over Carnaby’ which features Collier unaccompanied on both vibes and marimba. The piece is written in a repetitive and meditative 5/4 feel. There is almost an African kalimba-like quality to his instrument on this track. It’s the most sensitive and personal sounding music on the record and left me wanting more of Collier in this style. A good listen.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (John Dworkin) Contemporary Jazz - CD Reviews Mon, 19 Jul 2004 19:09:07 -0500
Mallet Jazz by Tom Collier http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/mallet-jazz-by-tom-collier.html http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/mallet-jazz-by-tom-collier.html The list of jazz vibraphonists that are household names (in jazz households, that is) is not very long. Not as long as, say, that same list made up of tenor saxophonists. L…
The list of jazz vibraphonists that are household names (in jazz households, that is) is not very long. Not as long as, say, that same list made up of tenor saxophonists. Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutcherson, Gary Burton, Roy Ayers - probably a few others. The fact that you’re likely to hear less of this particular instrument in a jazz context than a piano or a drum set is one of its charms. Since its use is comparatively rare, in the hands of a great player its sound is like a breath of fresh air

Tom Collier’s latest release is titled Mallet Jazz and was made with his longtime musical partner bassist/engineer Dan Dean. They’re also joined by a few other west coast session luminaries: Emil Richards on marimba, William O. ‘Bill’ Smith on clarinet, Don Grusin on piano, and Joe Porcaro on drums. Much of what these guys do for a living is sidework for projects and artists as diverse as Frank Zappa, Peggy Lee, and the Seattle Symphony. However, this recording has the feel of a ‘shits ‘n giggles’ session with the results being a fun experience for the band and the listener.

All the music here is written by Collier. The melodies, harmonies, and forms are, for the most part, straight ahead and sound as though they could’ve been written a few decades back. The small group here possibly belies a 70s Thad Jones/Mel Lewis big band compositional sensibility; replete with ‘hip’ funk/jazz grooves. Actually, less than half of the record is straight-up swing. The tune ‘Eddie’s Pad’ sounds like an unrecorded Steely Dan piece, sans Fagen’s vocals. It hovers in a neverland between pop and jazz, with excellent solos all around. Cool tune. Most of the heads of these songs have a somewhat ‘pop-ish’ feel to them, but the blowing is all Jazz.

Collier in particular has total mastery of his instrument. While not always inspired, most players of the instrument would wish his worst day were their best. The best piece on the record is ‘Pink Skies Over Carnaby’ which features Collier unaccompanied on both vibes and marimba. The piece is written in a repetitive and meditative 5/4 feel. There is almost an African kalimba-like quality to his instrument on this track. It’s the most sensitive and personal sounding music on the record and left me wanting more of Collier in this style. A good listen.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (John Dworkin) Contemporary Jazz - CD Reviews Mon, 19 Jul 2004 15:09:07 -0500