Richard C. Anderson - jazzreview.com - Your Jazz Music Connection - jazzreview.com - Your Jazz Music Connection http://jazzreview.com Tue, 23 May 2017 07:32:47 -0500 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Organic Vibes by Joey DeFrancsco http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/bebop-hard-bop-cd-reviews/organic-vibes-by-joey-defrancsco.html http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/bebop-hard-bop-cd-reviews/organic-vibes-by-joey-defrancsco.html With the passing Jimmy Smith, king of the Hammond B-3, there’s a throne that is conspicuously empty. It’s probably too early to say for sure, but judging from his 2006 rele…
With the passing Jimmy Smith, king of the Hammond B-3, there’s a throne that is conspicuously empty. It’s probably too early to say for sure, but judging from his 2006 release, Organic Vibes, 34-year-old Joey D. certainly is a contender. And not just because he’s grooving on Jimmy’s vintage ’59 instrument. Released by Concord Records, this disc might be the closest thing to the perfect jazz album I’ve heard in years. It’s got a bit of everything - standards, originals, burners, ballads, new talent and living legends - all in the right proportions.

The living legends, alone, are reasons to pick it up. In fact, if you didn’t know better, you might guess the date belongs to the vibes player, none other than Bobby Hutcherson. With young hotshots like Stefon Harris deservedly enjoying the spotlight, old timers like Hutcherson are in danger of being upstaged. But Organic Vibes proves the man still has a lot of music - and a lot of fresh music - in him. His tone can be robust or languid, his chops seem as sharp as ever, and he has no problem matching whippersnappers like DeFrancesco lick for lick. He comes out of the gates on fire on "The Tackle," breathes vigor into his own "Little B’s Poem," and makes his instrument sing on "I Thought About You." The organist, who speaks reverently of his mentor Jimmy Smith, clearly has respect for his elders, and here’s why:

Also deserving legend status is sax man George Coleman. Students of Miles Davis will recall that for a short period of time the tenor played with the Black Prince of Jazz, in between his first great quintet and his second great quintet. Well, Coleman still kicks it. His ripping take on "Speak Low" sounds like a solo by a man half his 70-plus years. I only wish he’d played on a few more tracks.

Which is not to say I begrudge 40-something sax and flute man, Ron Blake, his lead on the rest of the disc, particularly on the jaunty "Down the Hatch." Equally impressive is guitarist Jake Langley, a 30-year-old phenom from Canada, who masters all sorts of amazing noise on his axe - I could have sworn it was John Scofield when I first gave the disc a spin - all in devoted service to the music at hand. And drummer Byron Landham channels Jack DeJohnette on his kit, with adventurous time keeping and edge-of-your-seat polyrhythms. He also contributes a couple of beautiful numbers for the set, including the lovely "JeNeanne’s Dream."

But in the end it is DeFrancesco’s project. It may sound like a backhanded compliment, but it speaks volumes for the young organist that his strength on this album is his ability to underplay. He takes some ripping solos, yes, throwing in runs that would set the fingers of lesser keyboardists on fire, but he’s not above vamping for Hutcherson or Coleman - or even his peers for that matter - and he knows that the softest voice sometimes has the most to say. King Jimmy taught him well.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Richard C. Anderson) BeBop / Hard Bop - CD Reviews Fri, 31 Mar 2006 12:00:00 -0600
Mythologies by Patricia Barber http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/mythologies-by-patricia-barber.html http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/mythologies-by-patricia-barber.html Ancient stories get to be that way (ancient) because they communicate universal truths that resound with all human beings in all eras, but also because they are entertai…

Ancient stories get to be that way (ancient) because they communicate universal truths that resound with all human beings in all eras, but also because they are entertaining. Such is the case with "Metamorphoses," Ovid’s epic poem that dates from around the time of the birth of Christ and includes the immortal tales of Daphne (transformed into a laurel tree to save her from a libidinous Apollo), Pyramus and Thisbe (the original star-fated lovers), Perseus (whose adventures explain several noteworthy terrestrial and celestial features) and Arachne (of spider fame). Being metaphorical doesn’t lessen the profundity of the tales’ truths - metaphor, in fact, is often the only way to get at some truths - and their entertainment value is inestimable, having inspired as many of the Western world’s great works of art as any piece of literature.

With her new, much anticipated song-cycle Mythologies, pianist-composer Patricia Barber becomes the latest artist to fall under the sway of these enchanting tales of enchantment. Borrowing characters from Ovid’s tales, Barber seeks to offer contemporary takes on the man who fell in love with his own creation (Pygmalion), he who flew too close to the sun (Icarus), she who is responsible for our three (or more) months of winter (Persephone), and that vain demigod who fell in love with his own reflection (Narcissus).

It’s an interesting idea, a great hook to hang a set on, and it inspires some excellent music. Barber’s piano playing on "Pygmalion" is as beautiful as anything I’ve heard from her. Neal Alger, the guitarist in her long-standing quartet, plays some thrilling solos on "Hunger," "Icarus" and especially "Orpheus." Guest saxophonist Jim Gailloreto illuminates "The Moon" and "Morpheus." Often, the band achieves a sound that bring to mind Joni Mitchell’s all-star "Shadows and Light" session - her amazing live disc from 1980 featuring Jaco Pastorius, Michael Brecker, Don Alias, Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays - though toward the end of the album the addition of the vocal ensemble Choral Thunder and several other singers adds some nice new colors and shades to Barber’s palette.

By the last couple tracks, those new colors are more than welcome, which is one of criticisms of the album. After the first few listening, I had dismissed "Mythologies" as monotonous and monochromatic. I found the mood of each track too repetitive. Later, sitting and listening more closely, I changed my mind: there is quite a bit of variety, including some real fire as well as some drop-dead gorgeous songs, and the tracks move nicely from one to the next. It’s just Barber’s voice that tends toward monotone. She’s a remarkable pianist and a deft composer, but her vocal range - at least on Mythologies - is limited and kind of cold. The addition of Choral Thunder, then, adds a lot of warmth.

But it may be too late by the time they chime in, given some of the lyrics. While much of Mythologies reads well on the page as poems, it sounds less natural when sung. "Wan and pale,"" she sings on "Hunger," "I court emaciation in high style and endless mastication." It’s kind of witty, but it also feels forced and awkward. The recitation by some young hip hop artists of various threatened and endangered species, in "Phaethon," just didn’t work for me.

A certain amount of high-minded intellect (or, depending on how you look at it, pretension) can be forgiven - these are art songs written by a Guggenheim fellow, after all, not Brittney Spears - but, if the lyrics fail to resonate, the music is compromised and the entertainment factor suffers. And timeless subject matter alone is not enough to guarantee a place in the firmament.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Richard C. Anderson) Contemporary Jazz - CD Reviews Sat, 18 Mar 2006 12:00:00 -0600
The Best of Lou Rawls: The Capitol Jazz & Blues Sessions by Lou Rawls http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/jazz-vocals-cd-reviews/the-best-of-lou-rawls-the-capitol-jazz-blues-sessions-by-lou-rawls.html http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/jazz-vocals-cd-reviews/the-best-of-lou-rawls-the-capitol-jazz-blues-sessions-by-lou-rawls.html Listening to Lou Rawls sing "Something Stirring in My Soul," recorded in 1966 for his Capitol release Carryin’ On, there’s little wonder why he became such an eff…

Listening to Lou Rawls sing "Something Stirring in My Soul," recorded in 1966 for his Capitol release Carryin’ On, there’s little wonder why he became such an effective spokesman for the United Negro College Fund. While he’s addressing his no doubt fine lady friend, his relaxed suavity also speaks of pride and confidence. Here’s a man - a black man, no less - in total control of his bit of the universe, and ready and able to take command of some more, given the chance.

The Best of Lou Rawls: The Capitol Jazz and Blues Sessions leaves little room for doubt that Rawls’ body of work will survive long into the future, even though the man himself left us in January of this year, at the age of 72, lost to lung cancer. Even 40 or 45 years after their release, many of these 20 tracks are as hip as anything. I don’t know why we don’t hear his version of "God Bless the Child" at least once a week on the radio - it’s as perfect a rendering of Billie Holliday’s profound prayer as any - and just listen to him belt it on "Goin’ to Chicago Blues" or "How Long, How Long."

The big players of the time recognized his talents. Les McCann, Leroy Vinnegar, Benny Carter, Barney Kessel, Alvin Stoller, Richard "Groove" Homes, Herb Ellis and the disgracefully under-recognized Curtis Amy are among the jazz, soul and R&B masters who appear on these tracks. While this is always first and foremost Rawls’ disc, playing by the likes of pianist Tommy Strode or guitarist Ray Crawford add great value. Amy’s arrangements for Onzy Matthews’ orchestra are as exciting as Nelson Riddle’s famous charts. The disc also includes three previously unreleased songs that Rawls cut with Amy’s sextet in March 1963 - "Mean Old World," "Long Gone Blues" and "Fine and Mellow" - that, on their own, earn him a spot in the blues hall of fame and actually deserve the description "bonus tracks."

"Best of" albums often fail to meet their implicit promise, but compilation producer Michael Cuscuna rises to the challenge. In particular, he succeeds in capturing Rawls’ versatility, from his gospel roots on "Motherless Child" to his sexy swinging on "Nobody But Me," from the gritty and defiant ""Tobacco Road" to Randy Newman’s coolly pathological "Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield." His versions of "Georgia," with another excellent arrangement by Curtis Amy, is on par with Ray Charles’ (close to it, anyway), while "Why (Do I Love You So)" and "Street of Dreams" are as powerful as most anything Sinatra ever recorded, but with an extra, heaping serving of soul piled on. The first time I spun this disc, I had to go back and listen to "Street of Dreams" three more times.

This disc will no doubt reaffirm the admiration of long-time listeners and, I hope, turn on a whole new generation.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Richard C. Anderson) Jazz Vocals - CD Reviews Sat, 18 Mar 2006 06:00:00 -0600
thhunderbird by Cassandra Wilson http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/jazz-vocals-cd-reviews/thhunderbird-by-cassandra-wilson.html http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/jazz-vocals-cd-reviews/thhunderbird-by-cassandra-wilson.html I got turned on to Cassandra Wilson in 1996 with her second Blue Note disc New Moon Daughter. Everything about it thrilled me: the mix of folk, country, blues, pop, …
I got turned on to Cassandra Wilson in 1996 with her second Blue Note disc New Moon Daughter. Everything about it thrilled me: the mix of folk, country, blues, pop, jazz and some fine originals; the instrumentation, which, departing from the piano-trio-plus-vocals staple, used lots of guitars, lots of percussion and just enough studio production and, of course, Wilson, whose shadowy voice exuded strength, vulnerability, sex and anger, sometimes all in the same song. It worked for her, too because she repeated the recipe in subsequent albums until it began to feel formulaic.

On April 4th however, she released thunderbird, her sixth Blue Note album and her first release since 2003’s Glamoured. While the set is quintessential Cassandra, Jakob Dylan segues into Blind Lemon Jefferson leading to a solid Wilson original, there’s clearly a new, compelling sound here that adds extra life to this outing. Not to sell Wilson short, she’s in excellent form here, as expressive and nuanced as ever and contributing four of the ten songs. The four, in fact, have been playing in my head the past few weeks. I attribute the new vigor to producer Joseph Henry Burnett. You know, T-Bone Burnett, the magician responsible for the multi-platinum O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, among other recent raving successes.

Who knows exactly what Burnett did on thunderbird. You probably had to be in the studio to know for sure. In Blue Note press material, Wilson alludes to certain "secret" studio modifications, but I imagine him snapping his fingers and adding the little flourishes: the growling synth strings at the end of "Strike a Match," the sample of the Tchoupitoulas Mardi Gras Indian tribe that serves as the rhythmic foundation of "Go to Mexico," the epic sweep of "Easy Rider," which works itself into a blazing Texas fury only to fade away into the dust.

In addition, some of the old and new musicians backing up Wilson deserve credit, too. Guitarist Marc Ribot stands out on every track he appears on. Bassist Mike Elizondo lays down great grooves. Three drummers share rhythm duties, Jim Keltner, Jay Bellerose and Bill Maxwell, and keyboardist/programmer Keefus Ciancia is given a lot of work from beginning to end. In fact, he’s listed as co-producer.

Whatever the secret of thunderbird is, it’s a winner. Some reviewers say this could be Wilson’s breakthrough disc, the one that attracts attention from outside of jazz circles. I can see that. Actually, I wouldn’t even call thunderbird a jazz album, though I’m not sure what I would call it except for intoxicating, arresting, eminently danceable and delightful.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Richard C. Anderson) Jazz Vocals - CD Reviews Wed, 08 Feb 2006 06:00:00 -0600
Note Bleu: Best of the Blue Note Years 1998-2005 by Medeski Martin & Wood http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/note-bleu-best-of-the-blue-note-years-1998-2005-by-medeski-martin-wood.html http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/note-bleu-best-of-the-blue-note-years-1998-2005-by-medeski-martin-wood.html Let me be perfectly frank: I do not like "jamband" music. I find it monotonous, self-indulgent, lazy, masturbatory and dull. But there are exceptions, the prime one being M…
Let me be perfectly frank: I do not like "jamband" music. I find it monotonous, self-indulgent, lazy, masturbatory and dull. But there are exceptions, the prime one being Medeski Martin & Wood, who have been leaving jamband imitators in the dust for 15 years now.

I didn’t always like MMW. I picked up 1996’s Shack-man under the influence of the onslaught of praise they were receiving back then, and while I found the funky, bubbly grooves entertaining, it mostly sounded like test tracks by some guys messing around with their new recording gear. In the end, however, I was won over by their adventurous sound-making, the sense of freedom with which they attack improvisation, and their double-dog-dare approach to recording, all of which are evident in this new compilation.

Note Bleu contains 15 tracks culled from the trio’s six Blue Note discs - Combustication, Combustication Remix, Tonic, The Dropper, Uninvisible and End of the World Party (just in case). Not surprisingly, the collection eschews simple chronological ordering, resulting in a disc that sounds more like a carefully crafted album than a best-of rip-off.

What I find most admirable about MMW is that even when playing the wackiest, most out-there stuff, the trio remains in control and knows how to hold back, like some sort of tantric free jazz. It’s interesting that 11 of the 15 cuts clock in at under five minutes, and more than half are under four minutes. There are no orgiastic, 15-minute, one-chord crescendos to nothing. And, something I missed on many earlier spins of their discs, there are just as many memorable melodies and grooves ("I Wanna Ride You," "Pappy Check," "Mami Gato") as there are weird, alien sonic brainscapes ("The Dropper," "Nocturne," "Off the Table"). The take on Hendrix’s "Hey Joe" is downright elegiac.

In his liner notes to Note Bleu, Bill Milkowski called End of World Party MMW’s "swan song on Blue Note," which sounded so terminal, I had to visit the band’s Web site to make sure there hadn’t been a death or something. Have no fear: In addition to tons of solo projects - Concord Records just released Marianne McPartland’s latest installment of Piano Jazz with Medeski; Martin has two discs slated for release this year; and Wood’s collaboration with his brother, Oliver, is all the rage right now (the duo has a couple of dates scheduled in their native Boulder, Colo.) - the site also mentioned a follow up to their 1998 collaboration with John Scofield, A Go Go. I dismissed that disc as too much noodling back in ’98; sounds like I may have to revisit and reassess.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Richard C. Anderson) Contemporary Jazz - CD Reviews Wed, 08 Feb 2006 00:00:00 -0600
Time Lines by Andrew Hill http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/free-jazz-avante-garde-cd-reviews/time-lines-by-andrew-hill.html http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/free-jazz-avante-garde-cd-reviews/time-lines-by-andrew-hill.html Music in general, and jazz in particular, has advanced so much over the past 40 or so years that the compositions of pianist Andrew Hill’s new disc, Time Lines, don’…
Music in general, and jazz in particular, has advanced so much over the past 40 or so years that the compositions of pianist Andrew Hill’s new disc, Time Lines, don’t seem at all shocking or unusual. In a way, that’s too bad, because there’s nothing like the shock of the new to excite, incite and ignite. On the other hand, though, that’s good, because a lot of people don’t want to experience things that are too new.

But shock and furor aside, Hill’s new album - the first volume of his third stint with the legendary Blue Note label - is still fresh and keen. And compared to Hill’s classic Blue Note albums of the ’60s (Point of Departure, Black Fire, Judgment!), these eight new compositions are stately and economic, sometimes even sparse, while his piano playing has become as precisely nuanced as a painting by Chagall.

That’s not to say Hill’s not on fire. Not at all. The stuff on Time Lines may be some of the most thrilling new music since Miles Davis’ second great quintet - invoked in "Ry Round 1" and "Ry Round 2" by the Shorter-esque horn line and drummer Eric McPherson’s Tony Williams-y stagger-stepping - or since such "experimental" groups of Hill’s hometown as the Art Ensemble of Chicago or the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music - as witnessed by the deceptive simplicity and sense of humor of the title track.

There also are plenty of moments of heart-wrenching beauty and multi-faceted emotion. "Kin’ler" moves with what I can only describe as an awkward grace, the kind of dignity that adversity deepens, while "Malachi" - which I imagine is a tribute to the late bassist and fellow Chicago innovator Malachi Favors - bows respect while floating into the light.

Above all, Time Lines keeps the listener guessing. The head on "Smooth," for example, features trumpeter Charles Tolliver and reed man Greg Tardy playing a line as gentle and plaintive as a lost lamb, but bassist John Hebert’s wicked tempo suggests something considerably mightier to come.

The man Blue Note Founder Alfred Lion once called his next Thelonious Monk has continued to change and mature over the decades, which perhaps is the reason Hill’s ever-fascinating, leading-edge compositions go down so smoothly and pleasurably.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Richard C. Anderson) Free Jazz / Avante Garde - CD Reviews Tue, 07 Feb 2006 12:00:00 -0600
Vossabrygg by Terje Rypdal http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/vossabrygg-by-terje-rypdal.html http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/vossabrygg-by-terje-rypdal.html Hippies, good sex, high times, the rise of youth culture. Even those of us who were too young to remember them (or maybe, especially those of us who were too young too reme…
Hippies, good sex, high times, the rise of youth culture. Even those of us who were too young to remember them (or maybe, especially those of us who were too young too remember them) have rosy if myopic memories of the 1960s. Nostalgia is nearsighted by definition, I guess, which might be why the enraged electric voodoo jungle jazz that Miles Davis began to explore at the end of that decade has been neglected by revivalists. After all, it really doesn’t fit in with flower children and free love.

That said, every once in a while, don’t you just get a jones for those seething sonic walls of dark mystery? I do. And so, apparently, does Norwegian composer-guitarist Terje Rypdal. From the very first seconds of his 2006 ECM release, Vossabrygg op. 84, it sounds like the eight-piece ensemble is channelling the Dark Prince of Jazz. And, indeed, the very name of the 10-part suite translates to "Vossa Brew," alluding to Norway’s Vossa Jazz Festival, for which the work was written, and Davis’ 1969 lightning bolt, Bitches Brew.

The long opening number, "Ghostdancing," makes no effort to hide its influences. Multiple chordal instruments - Rypdal’s guitar, Bugge Wesseltoft’s electric piano, Ståle Storløkken’s Hammond organ and several additional synthesizers - swirl atop pulsing rock rhythms by two drummers, Jon Christensen (who has played with Rypdal since the late ’60s) and Italy’s Paolo Vinaccia, while sparse trumpet lines by Palle Mikkelborg (a good friend of Miles, who, in 1985, composed Aura for him) splash and leap, half playful, half menacing. Adding to the energy, the recording was made live during the 2003 Vossa Festival, and only recently edited and mixed for release by Rypdal pére and fils.

On much of the rest of the album, the MD nods are less overt, though these days it’s pretty much impossible to make jazz-rock without acknowledging the debt. "Hidden Chapter," "Incognito Traveller" and "Jungletelegrafen" bear the fingerprint of a younger generation, with hiphop beats, distorted guitars and liberal use of sampling and other electronic tricks, and in fact, they were co-written by Marius Rypdal, Terje’s son. But Miles even went there with his surprisingly successful fusion of jazz and rap on 1991’s Doo-Bop. (Marius also is responsible for the transitions between the movements, all of which he sampled from his dad’s earlier compositions.)

"Waltz for Broken Hearts/Makes You Wonder" is a beautiful, slow ballad more in the spirit of Davis’ 1957 L’Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud, the soundtrack he wrote for the Louis Malle noir thriller, which, to stretch things a bit, could be called a fusion of jazz and film. And "That’s More Like It" and "You’re Making It Personal" bring to mind later fusions of jazz and pop, as on Miles’ You’re Under Arrest, though Pat Metheny’s soaring guitar work and perhaps even Vangelis also are invoked at times. All in all, Vossabrygg is nearly as surprising and arresting as the works that spawned it. While bowing to a dearly departed master, it also achieves new things, has a contemporary edge that is alternately raw and refined, and explores new sounds, moods and textures. It also raises an interesting question about Miles: Can one really get nostalgic for something so far ahead of its time that it still sounds fresh?

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Richard C. Anderson) Contemporary Jazz - CD Reviews Tue, 07 Feb 2006 06:00:00 -0600
Plea for Peace by Afro-Semitic Experience http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/plea-for-peace-by-afro-semitic-experience.html http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/plea-for-peace-by-afro-semitic-experience.html Sometimes fusion comes across as a lazy attempt at creativity. Too often musicians attempt to pass off a reggae beat beneath a standard, an exotic mode in a pop number, or …
Sometimes fusion comes across as a lazy attempt at creativity. Too often musicians attempt to pass off a reggae beat beneath a standard, an exotic mode in a pop number, or some ethnic instrumentation in an otherwise traditional ensemble as clever and original. But not always.

The Afro-Semetic Experience may be a mouthful, but the East Coast sextet’s fusion of African American and Jewish sounds, songs and sentiments - as on their 2005 release, Plea for Peace - makes an eloquent statement about respecting differences and celebrating universals.

Such a blend is hardly unprecedented. Just this past weekend Nick Spitzer devoted and installment of his PRI-distributed "American Routes" to "Jews and Blues," which explored some of the cultural connections through the music of such jazzers and Jews as saxophonist Sidney Bechet, R&B producer Jerry Wexler, Bandleader Artie Shaw, Yiddish Diva Belle Baker and guitar giant Grant Green. One of clarinetist Don Byron’s early discs was a tribute to borsht belt klezmer star Mickey Katz. And of course, going all the way back to the roots of jazz, recall that African slaves adopted many of the stories, symbols and songs of Jewish slavery, freedom and exile.

All of which is so much background to the ASE. The group includes few overt klezmer grooves - the hard-jamming "Reb Dovidl’s Nigun," Will Bartlett’s fiery clarinet - but prefers subtler references, as on the ultra-bluesy "Almighty God" (from Duke Ellington’s"Second Sacred Concert").

Equally likely are honking, soulful solos, heartfelt gospel, and old-time revival energy that makes you want to clap. This is laid over fantastic African drum figures, smoldering Cuban rhythms and mellow grooves that suggest quiet introspection.

"Descarga Ocho Kandelikas," for example, chills in a Cuban mode from the start, while flute and violin dance the Hora through the head. "(I’m on My Way to) Canaan Land," on the other hand, is smoking from the first bar, and the chant-like "A Song for When the Temple is Rebuilt" gets downright nasty at times.

An abstract horn line that brings to mind John Coltrane spirituals like "Alabama" or "Dear Lord" introduces both "Thy Will Be Done" (penned by Bartlett) and the gorgeous "May It Be Your Will." The title track, by keyboardist Warren Byrd, brings to mind another spiritual jazzman, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, though that could be the Hilton Ruiz piano licks that introduce the work.

Plea for Peace features thoughtful, impassioned playing all around. Bassist David Chevan is solid throughout, including on several excellent solos. Percussionists Alvin Carter Jr. and Baba David Coleman keep plenty busy. Stacy Phillips adds interesting sonorities on lap steel, violin and resonator guitar. For my money, though, keyboardist Byrd deserves a special spotlight, particularly when he turns to the Fender Rhodes. Something about the quality of the sound he achieves on that instrument brings to mind clinking wine glasses and flatware on china around a big dining table - a sound as ancient, a feel as tribal as any circle of drummers gathered around a fine. What is more universal sitting down for a communal meal?

Often times, Plea for Peace moves in a determined direction, like some sort of solemnity or ceremony. Always it vividly and beautifully underscores the similarities between the African American and Jewish experiences - and, by extension, between all people. Now that’s powerful fusion.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Richard C. Anderson) Contemporary Jazz - CD Reviews Mon, 19 Sep 2005 13:00:00 -0500
Shades of Jade by Marc Johnson http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/straight-ahead-classic-cd-reviews/shades-of-jade-by-marc-johnson.html http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/straight-ahead-classic-cd-reviews/shades-of-jade-by-marc-johnson.html Years ago, I randomly picked up a CD titled Bass Desires by some guy, a bassist named Marc Johnson. It featured a couple other players I’d never heard of - a sax pla…
Years ago, I randomly picked up a CD titled Bass Desires by some guy, a bassist named Marc Johnson. It featured a couple other players I’d never heard of - a sax player named Joe Lovano and a guitarist named Bill Frisell - and a second guitarist with whom I was only passingly familiar, John Scofield. I took it home, put it in the CD player ... and 20 years later it’s rarely been out of regular rotation.

Now, at long last, Johnson is back with another new disc, Shades of Jade (although, to be fair, he never really went away; he’s had steady work as a sideman with many great players including Charles Lloyd, John Abercrombie and Ralph Towner). The personnel aren't the same, though Lovano and Scofield do return and the the sound of these 10 tracks is very different from Bass Desires, but it still feels like meeting up again with an old acquaintance who has grown and matured and changed in a lot of ways, but is still basically the same old guy.

You’ve got to wonder what’s happened in Johnson’s life over the past 20 years. Whereas Bass Desires had a mad, youthful energy, full of noise and experimentation, "Shades of Jade" is mostly breezey, mellow and reflective, as if everyone realized long ago that they didn’t have anything to prove to anyone. Such confidence is necessary to pull off diaphanous, meandering tunes like "Ton Sur Ton," "Since You Asked" and the title track; otherwise, you could imagine they might just melt away like a sand castle or spring snow.

There are a couple rousing tracks. "Blue Nefertiti" swings at a mid-tempo while quoting Wayne Shorter’s "Nefertiti," and "Raise" brings to mind a heated Kenny Garrett blowing session. The images of sand castles and late-season snow are mostly appropriate, however, because nearly the whole album is steeped in a wistfulness that recalls forgotten youth, long-lost loves, favorite memories from seaside vacations of yore, things slipping away.

That sounds sappy and, well, depressing, but again the confidence and maturity of the musicians keeps it from degenerating into cliches. Shades of Jade is really quite fresh and original, which makes it exciting, though exciting the way a solar eclipse is, rather than, say, a space shuttle launch.

Drummer Joey Baron helps imbue this excitement, finding an amazing palette of colors in his drum set and, as usual, forging powerful musical bonds with his fellow musicians. But to my ears, pianist Eliane Elias steals the show. From the very first track she offers solid ground for Johnson to build his delicate structures on. Her solo in "Ton Sur Ton" is brilliant; the figure she repeats in the title track is the flicker of the fire that illuminates the rest of the piece; and "Snow" belongs almost entirely to her.

That isn’t to say the rest of the musicians don’t pony up, too. Lovano can wield his sax with the deftness of one of those artisans who paints miniature scenes on grains of rice. Scofield, as artful a noise-maker as any modern guitarist, shows off his remarkable control of nuance and touch. There’s a great deal to listen to on this hour-long album, but I hope we don’t have to wait another 20 years for more.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Richard C. Anderson) Straight-Ahead - CD Reviews Fri, 16 Sep 2005 13:00:00 -0500
East/West by Bill Frisell http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/east/west-by-bill-frisell.html http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/east/west-by-bill-frisell.html I’m officially back on the Bill Frisell bandwagon. I took a little time off the late ’90s and early ’00s, having become a little bored with the guitarist’s "Americana" phas…
I’m officially back on the Bill Frisell bandwagon. I took a little time off the late ’90s and early ’00s, having become a little bored with the guitarist’s "Americana" phase. But after three verifiable works of brilliance in rapid succession - The Intercontinentals (nominated for a Grammy in 2004), Unspeakable (the 2005 Grammy winner for Best Contemporary Jazz Album) and now the live, two-disc East/West - he’s got my interest again.

As the title suggests, each disc was cut on a different coast. Disc One, "West," was recorded in Yoshi’s in Oakland, Calif., with help from bassist Viktor Krauss and drummer Kenny Wolleson. Disc Two, "East," was recorded in the Village Vanguard in NYC with Tony Scherr on bass and acoustic guitar and Wolleson again on drums and percussion.

The 16 tracks are full of all the wonderful noise making, twisted humor, shadowy cartoon landscapes and complex emotions that attracted me to Frisell in the first place. A easily as jetting from one coast to the other, Frisell glides from a mellow, loping, straight-ahead take on "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" to a whacked out distortion- and effects-laden solo that makes you wonder what else is in his grape juice. He gleefully bends standards and covers to his mysterious mission, turning "Goodnight Irene" into a very strange dream and making "Crazy" a just a little scary, really.

But he’s equally capable of rendering a good old song with drop-dead poignancy and genuine emotion, as on "Shenandoah," "Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall" and a concise, understated reading of "My Man’s Gone Now."

Also found on the two discs are a handful of favorite Frisell originals - a post-apocalyptic "Blues for Los Angeles"; "Boubacar," which sounds like something right out of a Clint Eastwood Western; "Pipe Down," which here comes comes off like anthem for the thinking neo-punk; and a long, masterful "Ron Carter," which builds slowly and travels through more colors and textures than a transcontinental road trip.

This is unvarnished trio work of the highest caliber. And Frisell, of course, is not the only musician to rise to the challenges inherent in such a small, intimate ensemble: Wolleson, Krauss and Scherr prove to be every bit as much the noise-makers-cum-note-selectors as the guitarist.

There’s also a Further East/Further West set available only on-line. Find it at www.BillFrisell.com.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Richard C. Anderson) Contemporary Jazz - CD Reviews Fri, 16 Sep 2005 07:00:00 -0500