Thomas R. Erdmann

Thomas R. Erdmann

Thunder Soul is the movie/documentary, executive produced by Jamie Foxx, about the award winning Kashmere High School Stage Band, out of Houston, Texas.  The band was led by a visionary music teacher, Conrad "Prof" Johnson Sr., who, like Miles Davis, recognized music and life was changing dramatically for African-Americans in the early 1970s and moved his traditionally oriented jazz stage band into the realm of jazz funk.  Documentaries, if they are successful, find ways to not just make the true life experiences focused on in the movie personal for the audience, but also complete the picture with a full round look at ancillary ideas and vector relationships germane to the topic.  Director Mark Landsman does this in aces.

Remember the 1970s – of course you don't, you weren't born yet.  Trust me, it was a great time for jazz.  Big record labels, like Columbia and Warner Brothers, gave their stable of jazz artists good funding to produce personal statements not bounded by end of quarter financial statements.  Even small labels, like CTI and Arista, gave their artists the room to find their own way.  The result was the best, most diverse, decade of jazz ever created.  Cinque harkens back to those great days.

It has to have been difficult for Lorraine Feather.  Her father, Leonard Feather, was the man who not only singlehandedly defined the role of the modern jazz critic, but was also arguably the greatest jazz journalist ever.  That's a huge shadow to grow up under, especially if the daughter has talents and ambitions that heavily lean towards the aural arts.  Lorraine, however, has fashioned a career that is apologetic to no one.

Watching smooth jazz artists embark on new ventures, new arenas and new paths is actually one of the more exciting things to happen to music in 2011 and still now in 2012.  With the death of smooth jazz radio we've witnessed George Benson return to the kind of music he played on his CTI and early Warner Brothers recordings, watched Richard Elliot move to soul-jazz, and Candy Dulfer gravitate more fully towards dance music.

When Diane Schuur burst on the national scene in 1985 with the release of her Deedles recording on GRP, the world was treated to an exceptional vocalist who had strengths in jazz and jazz-pop crossover.  Her string of hit records was aided by not just topnotch production and producing via her partnership with the Dave Grusin - Larry Rosen brain trust, but also a selection of material that fit her voice and abilities in way that has rarely been seen since.  Add to this her abundant skill on piano, which is subtle and always overlooked, and you had an artist for whom, it seemed, nothing could go wrong.

It just doesn't seem possible this could be Lewis' 80th recording.  It feels like it was yesterday when keyboardist, composer and radio show host Ramsey Lewis's mega hit, "The 'In' Crowd," was first on the radio.  Since the eruption of that light swinging jazz track on radios throughout the world in 1965, Lewis has gone on to a career that would be the envy of everyone who has ever made an instrumental record.

Keyboardist, composer and arranger Art "Spike" Schloemer is most obviously influenced by musicians like Joe Zawinul and Jan Hammer.  Schloemer is, like Zawinul, a true technical master, and like Hammer, has a lilt in his compositions that make them more than pleasing vehicles.  Schloemer's incredibly nimble fingers fly throughout the recording, and he puts them to good use in this collection of high powered, highly percussive fusion.

There was a time when jazz aficionados waited in high anticipation for new recordings from specific musicians, like Miles Davis and Weather Report.  You always knew there would be something new, fresh and exciting in every one of their releases, and countless people would want to be the first to hear what the direction would be.  Sadly, today this is almost no longer true.  Now the world is full of jazz released on CD that is predictable and staid.   There are, however, two ensembles that continue to delight audiences with something new with every single one of their releases, trumpeter Dave Douglas and the SF Jazz Collective.

 

Multi-instrumentalist, engineer and producer Joe Blassett's Chillin' Out In Dark Places is a difficult recording to categorize. While it has nice subtle rhythmic grooves in the background of every track, the material placed on top of the smooth waves is multihued, angled, and at times quite disjunct. The layering effect sometimes works well, but at other times the collages are difficult to discern.

Los Angeles based guitarist, composer and producer Brian Hughes, who is best known for his long standing work with vocalist Loreena McKennitt, grew up in Alberta, Canada and studied at Grant McKewan College, the Banff School of Fine Arts and the Guitar Institute. He comes forward again on Fast Train To A Quiet Place with a recording that is full of his unmistakable and ever lovely musical elements.

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