Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Catching Up with Lars Danielsson

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Swedish bassist Lars Danielsson is reknowned for his deeply lyrical playing and melodic sensitivities, clearly influenced by his classical training. He was born in 1958 and was educated at the Music Conservatory in Gothenburg. Whether on double bass, electric bass or cello, the last his original instrument, he is an extraordinary soloist and accompanist, a colorist who gives the music its depth and temperament. Danielsson is considered by many to be the  the most melodic jazz bassist to emerge from Europe since the late Niels-Henning ├śrsted Pedersen.

Danielsson began his recording career as a leader on the Swedish Dragon label in 1984; since 2006 he has been recording for ACT, and has produced a number of excellent outings, including Tarantella (2009) and Pasodoble (2007). Pasodoble was a duo with with Leszek Mozdzer on piano; Tarantella expanded the duo to include Mathias Eick on trumpet, John Parricelli on guitar and Eric Harland on drums, the same configuration as on "Liberetto" (2012).  Others with whom he has recorded include Randy and Michael Brecker, John Scofield, Jack DeJohnette, Mike Stern, Billy Hart, Charles Lloyd, Terri Lyne Carrington, Joey Calderrazzo, and Dave Kikoski. In addition to his contributions to jazz, Danielsson has worked with the Danmark Radio Orchestra as a composer, arranger and producer; and was  the conductor and composer of the Jazz Baltica Ensemble for two years.
Liberetto (2012) is his latest recording and, while including John Parrucelli once again, the group switches to include Tigran Hamasyan (here called only Tigran) on piano, Arve Henricksen on trumpet, and Magnus Ostrom on drums. The match of Danielsson and Tiger is particularly a gifted one, with their emotional link and musical sensibilities the bedrock of this production. The two wrote four of the songs together, with the other eight penned solely by Danielsson. The entire recording has the same elegant lyricism and Euro-centric classicism for which Danielsson is renowned, but with Tigran it appears that the sensibilities and emotional content have been shifted up a notch, demonstrated perhaps best on the tunes "Orange Market" and Party on the Planet."

The recording begins with a very unusual cut, "Yerevan", which almost sounds like an orchestra tuning up, with one player after another coming in and out and adding layers of harmonies over the continuous sounds of the drum kit, which establishes a tempo for the song. At the end the music resolves itself as if the musicians are ready to play. Two very mellow songs follow, both using single note lines of beauty, the first by the piano and the second by the trumpet. The first, "Liberetto", moves from an upper to lower octave on the piano, at which point Danielsson picks up the melody with a rich tone. There is a very distinct feeling of classicism to this hymn-like outing, which is paired nicely with the subsequent "Day One" and its soleful trumpet lead. This quiet song is full of very nicely played instruments working together to create a pastoral sensibility.

"Orange Market" , the next song, starts out in a similar manner with a classical melody and simple instrumentation, but quickly builds in tempo and layers of sound. The dynamics are richer and the pulse of the song stronger as it is moved forward by the combined bassline and drumming. The dynamics build and when all of the instruments are engaged the sound is overwhelmingly beautiful and strongly melodic still. The song finally crests and then the denouement features a lovely synchonized guitar and piano duet as the song concludes.

The remaining eight tracks move between the pastoral, hymn-like sensibilities of the second and third cuts, and the up-tempo expressive play on "Orange Market." As noted "Party on the Planet" is another up-tempo song, ending with the "wa-wa" sounds of the guitar at its climax. Of special note is the trumpet and piano duo on the classical sounding "Hymnen", and the outstandingly beautiful accoustic guitar play on "Driven to Daylight", the highlight of John Parricelli's contribution to the recording.

Liberetto, even at its quietest, is a very intense and moving recording with some beautiful melodies and outstanding interplay among the players.  Some of the songs, like "Ahdes Theme", are as pretty as any I have heard on his prior recordings on ACT, but the entire disc is full of such moments. I recommend this and his previous ACT discs to those who enjoy classical  "Euro-chamber" jazz. I also encourage you to look into Tigran Hamasyan on piano, who has impressed me on several recordings as a leader.
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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Destination Key West: Unearthing a Don Byas Collection

On vacation, enjoying the sun, the beach and pool, the food, and the relaxation. The food has been great, the vintage buildings wonderful to look at, and browsing through the stores fun. Unfortunately through talking to some of the locals, I have learned that the rents on Duval Street and the internet have had a deleterious effect on music and book stores, my two favorite prowls. Other than a chain FYE store further out of town, there are no stores dedicated to selling CDs, new or old; and amazingly for an island with such a literary history, only one book store left, which I visited yesterday.

Key West Island Books, 513 Fleming Street is clearly bucking the trend, and hopefully is suceeding. According to the merchant I spoke with yesterday, three other bookshops have closed down since August 2011, so they are the last of their kind. And what a fun store. Old books, new books, rare books are all crammed into this unique place, separated by subject but seemingly almost randomly placed. Makes for a really fun browse, especially when one finds the small area set aside for CDs, which include an eclectic mix of some jazz, some classical, some new age, reggae, and some local stuff. Not a large collection, but at least an opportunity to find one CD I had not seen previously, Don Byas "Riffin' and Jammin', on Past Perfect Silverline Records, 2001.

And Don Byas fits the mold of what I wanted this blog to be about -- the excellent players that seem to get overlooked,either new or old, of which he is most definitely one. In the 40s and 50s, Byas was one of the really great tenor sax players, but his move to Europe in 1946 took him far from the spotlight here in the U.S. His advanced swing stylings and later bop music are evident on this disc, which spans 1945 through 1947, and features Byas in quartets and quintets with such notables as Errol Garner, Slam Stewart, Sid Catlett, and Billy Taylor; on songs like Laura, Dark Eyes, Ain't Misbehavin', Body and Soul, and the title cut.

I have several Byas recordings at home and this addition to my collection is welcome. I highly recommend his playing to folks who want to hear another fine tenor from the days of Cleman Hawkins and Lester Young.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Vacationing this week

After being on seven planes in ten days and in Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale in one week and Wisconsin the next, I am happy to be relaxing in Key West this week and doing nothing. Did eat brunch under the iconic picture of Dexter Gordon with a cigarette, his sax and lovely wisps of smoke, but not sure there will be much more from me this week. but then again I will be listening to my iPods so who knows? Nikki Iles anyone?

Friday, February 17, 2012

On the Road Again: Sugarshack Records

Sugar Shack Records - Madison, WI
Another week and more work-related travel. Got to spend some of yesterday afternoon in Madison WI, one of my favorite cities in the country. And in the 40s in February -- what a treat!

Madision is a great university community with good food, shops, and a commitment to public transportation, pedestrians, and bicycles. Basically an urbanist's dream. And like many of the other places I have been passing through lately, Madison boasts a few new and used record/CD/memorabilia shops of note. I spent about 45 minutes at one, Sugarshack Records, 2301 Atwood Avenue, and it was like a trip into the past. Music of all kinds, tons of old records and CDs, artifacts, books, posters, etc. A disc of the Beatles radio interviews from 1964-65 -- talk about obscure.
New and Used Music and Movies - Madison, WI 
Anyway, jazz is pretty well represented, with a couple of large tables full of mostly old CDs, all at reasonable prices. I picked up three things I had not seen previously and have gotten to listen to each once:

  • Eric Alexander, "Straight Up", Delmark Records 1992 -- Early Alexander, in fact appears in discography as his first outing, with Harold Mabern piano, Jim Rotondi trumpet, John Webber bass , and George Fludas drums. As advertised, it is a nice straght-ahead interpretation of some standards, both uptempo and ballads. A nice start.
  • Phil Woods and Lew Tabackin, "Phil Woods/Lew Tabackin", Evidence Records 1980 -- Alto Woods and Tenor Tabackin tear it up on "Limehouse Blues", and provide a sweet and lovely "Sweet and Lovely". Everything works well. Jimmy Rowles stands out on piano.
  • Jeff Hamilton Trio, The Best Things Happen...", Azica Records 2004 -- Hamilton is a strong leader from the drum set, with a string of strong trio discs, and with another due this month. The twelve songs include some standards like "I Concentrate on You" and "Skylark" and a range of other songs by Ellington, Peggy Lee, and others. Tamir Hendelman plays a strong piano as the harmonic lead, wtih Christoph Luty plays bass. Ballads and up-tempo songs provide a nice variety.
Sugarshack Records has been in business for 31 years and according to the owner, Gary Feest,  is "holding its own" in today's market, no small feat. If you are in Madison, please stop by and pick up a few things; and if not please order a few things from Let's keep the physical music alive.Gary Feest

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Give Some Love to the Baritone Sax Players (Part 2 Today's Players)

There are a number of baritone sax players following that exclusive trail on today's jazz scene. Again, this is about those individuals who play baritone exclusively (or just about, as each tends to slip in one or two songs on alternate instruments on a recording) and will not include the many fine players doubling more broadly. The following six musicians are arranged in the order in which they recored their first disc as leader, beginning in 1976 and ending this year with the recent release of Gary Smulyan's "Smul's Paradise" (Capri 2012)

Product DetailsRonnie Cuber (b 1941) -- Born in Brooklyn, Ronnie Cuber was 32 when he released his first solo outing, "Cuber Libre" (Xanadu records), although he had been a part of the NY jazz scene for a decade by then, in live performancesw with Slide Hampton and Woody Herman's bands, and on recordings by George Benson, Mike Manieri's White Elephant Band,  and Bobby Paunetto's Latin Jazz Projects. In the mid-1970s, he was also in the Saturday Night Live band, demonstrating his virtuosity on the baritone with all types of music, and played behind King Curtis, Aretha Franklin, and in many Latin bands. As a result of his training, his sound  blends straight-ahead jazz, hard bop, soul, R& B, and Latin. His discography includes well over 200 outings. From the 1990s to the present, Mr. Cuber has performed regularly with the Mingus Big Band and recorded several discs for Steeplechase and other labels. His latest recording, "Ronnie" (Steeplechase 2009) is a great set of straight-ahead classics, including music by Richard Rogers, Jerome Kern, Dave Brubeck, Clifford Brown, and others. With a backing trio with Helen Sung on piano, Boris Koslov on bass, and Johnathan Blake on drums, it is an excellent example of Cuber's style, round tone, and harmonic arrangements.

Product DetailsGary Smulyan ( b. 1956) -- Born on Long Island NY, Smulyan is perhaps the most recognized name today on the baritone saxophone and a master of the fast playing, chromatic bebop style. His music is more agressive than most of the others, with the strong rhythmic propulsion often found in his arrangements most reminiscent of Pepper Adams. Adams' influence is easily recognized in Smulyan's beefy tone and the energy of his rhythmic playing style. Smulyan's "Homage" was recorded following Adams' death in 1994, with each track on the recording written by Adams. A young prodigy, Smulyan sat in with such luminaries as Chet Baker, Lee Konitz and Jimmy Knepper before finishing high school. After college he was a part of Woody Herman's band, and then moved into Manhattan and became part of the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Bob Brookmeyer. His first recording as leader came in 1990, "The Lure of Beauty" (Criss Cross), with masters Mulgrew Miller on piano, Ray Drummond on bass, and Kenny Washington on drums. In all of his recordings, Smulyan brings great energy and spirit to the music in a classic, full-bodied bebop style. Smulyan brings to the stage the spirit, style and savvy of a deep-toned master of bebop.

Claire Daly (b. 19??) --  Claire Daly began playing the saxophone at age 12, and according to her biography, "was soon turned onto jazz by way of a visit with her father to a concert that featured Buddy Rich with his big band". The excitement of the night led her to take up the sax in earnest and led to her musical studies at the Berklee College Of Music. She turned professional in the late 1970s and  played tenor sax with both jazz and rock bands. Gradually moving over to jazz full time, she switched to the baritone saxophone.She cites her influences on baritone as Serge Chaloff, Ronnie Cuber and Leo Parker.  In the 1980s she had an extended seat in the all-female big band Diva, and worked with pianist Joel Forrester in People Like Us. She is another of the versitile baritone players like Ronnie Cuber, and moves easily between jazz, R&B and Latin. In 1999 she produced her first CD as a leader, "Swing Low" (Daly Bread), which shows her  to be a gifted improviser with a deep, round tone, and a wide range of emotion in her songs.

Roger Rosenberg (b. 1951) --  A "go-to" baritone for over three decades, Roger Rosenberg studied at Indiana University, and The New England Conservatory of Music. He has worked with a long list of the greats in jazz -- Buddy Rich, Chet Baker, Lee Konitz, Miles Davis, Quincy Jones, Gerry Mulligan, Michael Brecker, Thad Jones and Mel Lewis are just some of the names -- as well as in rhythm and blues, pop, and latin music.  He played on John Lennon's "Double Fantasy"  and Elvis Costello's "North", as well as recordings by Al Green, Laura Nyro, and Barbra Streisand.  His sound is robust and can be both lilting or searing, but is always swinging and melodic. His playing with Chet Baker produced a live album, "Chet Baker Sings, Plays-Live at the Keystone Korner" (High Note Records 2003). Rosenberg released his first CD as leader, "Hang Time", in 2003 (Jazz Key Music)   It mixes standards and originals, highlighted by his boppish ode to John Coltrane called "Trane Dance", and his special take on the old standard "Autumn in New York." His second recording as leader came in 2009, "Baritonality" (Sunnyside), with Peter Bernstein on guitar and Mark Soskin on piano. The lyrical play on "Someone to Watch Over Me" and Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" demonstrate what is best about his baritone playing -- the mellow, warmth of the tones really match up with the lyrics and soul of the two songs. Other songs like "Baritonality and "Birds and Trane" capture the more spirited side of the instrument, which sings in Rosenberg's hands.

Product DetailsLauren Sevian (b. 19??) --  According to her  biography, Lauren Sevian has been performing professionally since the age of 12, first on the piano, then on the saxophone, and at an early age won the Count Basie Invitational soloing competition, which led to a feature performance with the Basie Band. In 1997, she came to NYC to attend the Manhattan School of Music, and in her senior year went on tour with the Diva big band. She has been  a regular member of the Mingus Big Band, and has performed with Christian McBride, Terry-Lynn Carrington, George Duke, Billy Harper, and many others. She currently has two quartets, the “LSQ” (bari, piano, bass & drums) & the “Eb Quartet” (bari, alto, bass, & drums). She recorded her first disc as leader in 2008, “Blueprint”, which was a sparkling success and was included in numerous best of the year lists. She wrote all of the straight-ahead compositions, one with co-writer and husband Mike DiRubbo, which are played with exquisite grace and style with her band --- George Colligan on piano, Boris Koslov on bass, and Johnathan Blake on drums. She writes lovely, long fluid lines and plays with a lyricism more reminiscient at times of a tenor sax.

Cover (A Handful of Stars:Adam Schroeder)Adam Schroeder (b. 1978) -- Schroeder is the last of these baritones to record as a leader, with the very impressive "A Handful of Stars" (Capri) in 2010. He began his musical training on alto, but changed to baritone by his senior year of high school in Iowa.  He began his college work with Clark Terry at his jazz institute but when it lost its funding he finished at Southwest Texas State University in 2000 with a BM in Jazz Studies. Throughout his career, Adam has had the  opportunity to play and record with a host of jazz greats --  the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Clark Terry, Anthony Wilson, Ray Charles, Diana Krall, John Pizzarelli, Bennie Wallace,  and Chris Botti, to name a few. He demonstrated a brawny swing style on his CD, which includes a number of standards as well as two self-penned entries. His touch is light and relaxed but still has a full and rich feel to it, and his support is excellent with newcomer Graham Dechter on guitar, John Clayton on bass and Jeff Hamilton on drums.

For more on baritone sax players, go to

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Give Some Love to the Baritone Sax Players (Part 1 The Past Masters)

I flew a lot this week -- New York to Los Angeles and back, then New York to Ft. Lauderdale and back. Lots of time to tune out the world and listen to my iPod. Listening to a Gerry Mulligan, in this case "California Concerts Volume 2" (Pacific Jazz), recorded in 1954, it reminded me of how nice, round and full a baritone saxophone can sound when in the hands of a master. Without intent to malign anyone, as a bass clarinetist I sat next to the baritone sax for many years, and  never heard its true potential, as for the most part we were confined to our lower registers and give only a few opportunities to carry a melodic line or two.

But in the hands of the masters, the baritone sound is lush and full, and in reality has a large range from its lowest to highest notes. So let's give a shout out to the baritone sax players, not those who play multiple saxes (and do it well), but to those who only played the baritone.

This is part one of a two part series, and describes five past masters. I am sure there are other pioneers of the baritone sax sound, but these five come to mind when I think of the originals:
  • Product DetailsPepper Adams (1930-86) -- His sound was hard and driven, and he propelled many a hard bop band from his seat. He was a leader on more than 20 albums, on which he displayed both his attacking style as well as a warmth on many a ballads. A late recording, "Conjuration" (Reservoir 1990) is a nice summation of his stylings, and features outstanding support from Kenny Wheeler, Hank Jones, Clint Houston, and Louis Hayes.

  • Product DetailsGerry Mulligan (1927-96) -- Probably the best known of all baritone players, he is considered on of the giants of jazz. He revolutionized the sound of the baritone, making it a featured lead instrument on many albums, and demonstrating its sound could be light and melodic, and very close to that of the tenor sax. Not only his sound was revolutionary, but also his rapid fingerings, speed and dexterity. He was part of Mile's "Birth of the Cool" record, and his pianoless quartets with Chet Baker were the essence of the cool West Coast Sound.

  • Product DetailsCecil Payne (1922-2007) -- Acclaimed as one of the best baritone saxophonists by fellow musicians but largely forgotten today, Payne began his career in the bebop era, and spent three years as a member of Dizzy Gillespie's band. He took up the baritone while in his teens, and modelled his approach to its sound after the smooth voicings of Lester Young. After the bebop era, he continued to record both as a sideman and on some as a leader, and his work with Duke Jordan in the early 60s is of special note. Later, he had a number of small group recordings on Delmark which are often wonderful.

  • Product DetailsSerge Chaloff (1923-1957) -- A tragically short career cut off by cancer and disrupted by a heroin addiction, Chaloff  was a fiery baritone saxophonist of the bop era. He came from a family of musicians, studied piano and clarinet, and taught himself the baritone. He played with Jimmy Dorsey and Woody Herman before becoming a key player in the smaller groups led by such tenors as Stan Getz and Zoot Sims. In the late 40s and early 50s, despite his addiction and unreliability he recorded some special albums as a leader, including "Blue Serge" and "The Fable of Mabel", demonstrating his combination of speed, dynamics, and expressive play. A complete discography is included in the Proper Box set "Serge Chaloff: Boss Baritone."

  • Product DetailsLeo Parker (1925-62) -- Another career tragically cut short, this time by drugs and a heart attack at age 37, Parker was known for a big, round attacking sound, but also for his fluidity and bluesy playing. He too worked with Dizzy, and also with Illinois Jacquet, but was largely off the scene in the 50s due to his addiction. He came back strongly with Blue Note in the early 60s, recording "Rollling with Leo" and "Let Me Tell You "Bout It", two lively hard bop recordings filled with a range of bop, blues, and gospel, but never got a chance to record again, passing away in 1962.  

The next installment on baritones will feature today's players, some older players like Ronnie Cuber, Gary Smulyan, and Roger Rosenberg, and some younger ones like Claire Daly, Adam Schroeder, and Lauren Sevien.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Jazz CD Stores Are Alive and Well in Los Angeles

I am traveling this week on business so was not going to try to write an entry, especially given that I am traveling with my iPad and not my portable computer, which makes it harder to type an entry. But my Zagg keyboard is fabulous, and so is my trip through the independent music stores of LA.

I only have two evenings to prowl, so I made a point to find the two stores I knew best, Rockaway Records in Silver Lake and Amoeba Music in West Hollywood. And both are alive and well, a welcome change from my recent posts bemoaning the fates of Bleecker Bob's and Melody Records.

First I was in Silver Lake last night, and prowling the store I found a few discs to add to my collection. Rockaway Records has been in business since 1979 and sells new, used, and collector albums, cds, and other related music items. Evidently a lot of the business is centered around the collector merchandise, but the collection of vinyl and cds, both old and new, is excellent in all types of music. I spent $ 24.40 tax included, and purchased:

o Corea and Hancock, the second release from their famous duo concerts in 1978. This is the Polydor recording, which is very hard to find, and cost all of $ 2.99
o Claudio Roditi, Milestones, on Candid, with Paquito D'Rivera and Kenny Barron, recorded live at Birdland in 1990
o Bud Shank, This Bud's for You, on 32 Records, again with Kenny Barron, and also Ron Carter and Al Foster
o Frank Morgan, Listen to the Dawn, Antilles Records, 1996, with Kenny Burell, Ron Carter, and Grady Tate
o Misha Alperin, North Story, ECM, 1997

Tonight I hit Amoeba Music, the third store in the Amoeba family, which began in Berkeley and San Francisco before opening in West Hollywood. The store is a madhouse -- huge, with huge selections in every conceivable music genre. Vinyl and cds, new and old, were in every department. The Jazz section was huge and well stocked for almost any musician of note in particular, and with both old and new recordings for each. I spent $ 65.88 on 14 cds, or on average less than $ 5.00 per CD:

o Ella Fitzgerald, The Best of the Songbooks, Verve
o Jamie Ousley, A Sea of Voices, a 2012 disc dedicated to environmental causes
o Diana Krall, When I look in Your Eyes, Verve
o Elio Villafranca Quartet, with Eric Alexander, Dafnis Prieto, Yosvany Terry, Celba Tree Music -- Great sidemen with a piano leader, $ 2.99.
o Portico Quartet, Isla, Real World Records, 2009 -- A British group I am interested in hearing, and for a cost of $ 1.99, why not?
o Wessell Anderson, The Ways of Warmdaddy, Atlantic Jazz, 1997 -- Had to buy this. He is an outstanding alto and educator, and I met him on a flight from Detroit to New York and enjoyed talking with him.
o Martin Speake, The Journey, Black Box Records -- I have a lot of Martin Speake, who is a pretty well known sax player in the US and very well known in the UK where he is from. This sounds like it will be interesting -- his sidemen are playing Indian instruments including sitar and tabla.
o Marcus Printup, Nocturnal Traces, Blue Note, 1998 -- A nice trumpet player with a piano trio playing a number of standards
o Cecil Payne and Duke Jordan, Brooklyn Brothers, Prevue, 1974 -- With these two cats and Sam Jones and Al Foster, how can I miss?
o The Al Cohn and Zoot Sims Quintet, You and Me, Verve Master Edition -- Originally Mercury from 1960, another one that seems a sure thing.
o Clipper Anderson, The Road Home, Origin 2012 -- I am not sure this is even out yet but I had read good thinges already about it. Piano trio with a couple of vocals and added percussion on some tracks. I have a lot of good recordings from Origin and like the label.
o Vincent Herring, The Days of Wine and Roses, Music Masters 1996 -- A very under the radar player with great talent. Cyrus Chestnut on piano. A nice selection of standards.
o Denny Zeitlin and David Freisen,Live at the Jazz Bakery, Intuition 1999 -- I have a lot of Zeitlin and like them all, so why would this be any different?
o Joe Harriott, Killer Joe, Giant Steps Records -- Joe Harriott is a UK legend, a Jamaican- born alto sax virtuoso who unfortunately left us too soon. I am looking forward to hearing him on this compilation, which includes quartets, trios, and a number of big band recordings on which he was featured. He is credited with inspiring the new generation of players in the UK. This was my big purchase -- a two disc set for $ 9.99!

And I saw so much more. This is a greaat place for a treasure hunt for anyone living or visiting LA, and a must stop. I also enjoyed the camaraderie that comes with browsing with others, which you only get at a physical, non-internet setting. I heard of other stores as well to explore on my next visit, so the record store is alive and well in L.A.!

Friday, February 3, 2012

What's New on My Shelf?

Product DetailsA quick one today. I have had a nice week picking up a bunch of new releases, all of which I can recommend:

  • Chick Corea, The Continents -- Concerto for Jazz Quintet and Chamber Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon):  A nice classical/jazz mix, some with orchestra, some solo, some quintet.
  • Product DetailsChick Corea and Nicolas Economou, On Two Pianos (Deutsche Grammophon): Some jazz, some classical -- Bartok, Corea, and pure improvisation. Think Corea/Bollani, Jarrett, Mehldau/Hays
  • Vijay Iyer Trio, Accelerando (advance copy) (ACT): more "advanced" jazz trio music following on "Historicity"
  • Tord Gustavsen Quartet, The Well (ECM): Another wonderful, deeply expressive quartet -- Brunborg on tenor sax is wonderfully soothing on his pieces
  • Tim Berne, Snake Oil (ECM): An interesting turn by Berne, a great partnership with Manfred Eicher, but still out there on the edge of avant garde. Definitely pushes the envelope of free jazz play and sounds, especially in the high register, so it is not for everyone.
  • Product DetailsSteve Turre, Woody's Delight (High Note): Straight ahead fun with a host of well known associates mixing it up in tribute to Woody Shaw.
  • Jeremy Pelt, Soul (High Note): Every January, a new masterwork. Grissett shines on piano. Muted and soulful music.
  • Stefano diBattista, Woman's Land (Alice): Lesser known Italian alto sax player in a nice setting. Modern post bop, with all songs named for women. More advanced than straight ahead
  • Product DetailsZoe Rahman, Kindred Spirits (Manushi): See my blog from earlier in the week. I love her music and this is no exception. Her brother shines on clarinet and bass clarinet again
  • Stan Getz, At Nalen with Jan Johansson (Riverside): Pretty nice sound despite its age(1959), with Johansson, a Swedish piano master who tragically died young.
  • Omar Sosa and Paolo Fresu, Alma (Ota): Mellow pairing of piano and trumpet sounds paints a nice picture
And one for the ages:

Leonard Cohen, Old Ideas: He never gets old in my book
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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

If You Like Mehldau and Jarrett: John Law is a Must

John LawJohn LawJohn Law is a 51 year old British jazz pianist and composer. He was born in London to British and Austrian parents. Just as pointed out in the blog about Aaron Goldberg, Law is another one of the many young jazz pianists who started in classical piano, in this case at age 4. With the teaching and help of a mentor, Austrian concert pianist Alfred Brendel, he was awarded a scholarship to study piano and composition at the Royal Academy of Music (1979-83), and followed that with an Austrian government scholarship to study for a year in Vienna, where he shifted from classical music to jazz. By 1990, he was working with saxophonist Jon Lloyd, and recorded his first CD, Syzygy (Leo Records). He later worked with Tim Garland, Martin Speake, Julian Siegel and others while composing, doing improvisation and avant garde concerts, and incorporating classical language into his jazz.

Since 2007 Law has been most widely known for his four discs in his project entitled The Art of Sound. The music on all four discs, released between 2007 and 2009, is almost exclusively Law's originals, sometimes fully improvisational, and always extremely melodic, compositions. Two of the discs, Volumes 1 and 4, are done with Asaf Sirkis on drums and Sam Burgess on bass; the other two (Volumes 2 and 3) are solo. The trio demonstrates a wide palette of sound colors and tempos, along with the virtuosity and intensity of their partnership. A more recent disc, This Is, is a duo with Mark Pringle, and is not one of the series.

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Product Details

The Art of Sound Volume 1 (33 Records 2007) -  Law identifies no influences but does speak of who he enjoys listening to; in an interview with All About Jazz (November 4, 2009) he identifies Tom Cawley, Tord Gustavsen, EST, Bad Plus, Gwilym Simcok, and others as some of those he enjoys greatly. But he doesn't mention two other influences that seem to hover around the piano and his playing, Americans Brad Mehldau and Keith Jarrett. Like Mehldau, who called his CDs the Art of the Trio, Law calls his The Art of Sound, which at least indirectly creates a link in one's mind. Just as Mehldau does, Law is able to boldly create highly independent lines in his left and right hands, provides wonderfully rich harmonies and melodic structures, and builds his works with a great deal of expression.  He is a highly tuneful composer, as demonstrated first by the lovely, lilting "Close of a Long Day" and then by the upbeat, jazzy "Blue Sky Blue." Together with Sirkis and Burgess, the trio is a constant joy to listen to.

The Ghost in the Oak (Art of Sound Volume 2) and Chorale (Art of Sound Volume 3) (33 Records 2008) - Thse  two solo discs were recorded at the same time in 2007 at the Artesuono Studios in Italy (from where the name Art of Sound is derived) and released in 2008. This is an awe-inspiring display of virtuosity, and will readily bring to mind the improvised music of Keith Jarrett, particularly his later shorter pieces from New York, London/Paris, but also his epic playing at Koln. Again, the mastery over both hands as they play opposite each other, here contrapuntally and there in sequence, coupled with the flowing melodies, make for an outstanding listen. Classical piano lovers will appreciate his slower, stately, elegiac pieces. Still, he swings as well on  "Zero-G", and features a boogie-like tune in  "Fair Weather Friend".

With regard to his music, and his variety of playing styles, Law told All About Jazz: "I think I try and retain some of the best elements of classical music—chief among these has to be classical (functional) harmony; it's unique in the whole of world music—and mix them with those elements I get from jazz which I don't get from the classical tradition—mainly what I sometimes call the voodoo element. The repetitive rhythm and groove, which classical music never has." (Interview with John Law, All About Jazz, November 4, 2009). He went on to talk about his improvisational methods, which are powerfuly demonstrated on these discs: "Funnily enough I try and achieve, with my improvising, a feeling that it's sort of almost been composed beforehand, and with my compositions, the idea that they're made up on the spot. I don't always try for this but it's somewhere at the back of my mind. Because, on the one hand I truly believe that only through real time composition can one achieve some of the most amazing results in music, in terms of perfect form and in terms of matching the atmosphere with something totally appropriate."

Congregation (Art of Sound Volume 4) (33 Records 2009) - Law returns to the trio with this disc, the last in the series, and his tunes are terrifically lyrical with a nice jazz groove and some interesting new percussion elements added for coloration. the title tune "Congregation" is a forward moving, lively, and at times almost anthemic, and it should get the foot tapping and body moving, which leads right into another upbeat tune, "Bo Peep." The music overall is a bit more adventurous and experiments with sounds, although not to the extent that they overwhelm the tunes themselves. But bassist Sam Burgess uses some distortion effects not unlike those of Bad Plus or EST, and Asaf Sirkis is more inventive than before. One can compare songs that appear on both solo and trio recordings, most notably how "Ghost in the Oak" is transformed by the addition of some very interesting bells, clicks, and assorted background sounds. Still, Law never releases completely from his classical underpinning, and "Still Life" for example retains his spontaneity with classical materials. The closing Chorale starts softly as a comtemplative piece which surprisingly ends with a Latin beat. Just a complete picture of a terrific artist, with some great drum soloing and arco bass complementing the piano.
This Is (33 Records 2011)- In his most recent outing, Law works in a piano duo setting with his student, Mark Pringle, and achieves yet another sonic victory. It's aminated and for a change includes compositions by others, including Pringle but also J.S. Bach, Lyle Mays, Pat Metheny, and Cole Porter. The two consistently are stretching the melodies and rhythms, initially opening up for investigation the Bach "Concerto for Two Harpsichords."  Lyle Mays's Chorinho is a lively exchange of tempos and improvisations, while "This" and "Is" are lovely ruminations on harmony and the nature of sound. This spirited recording not only introduces us to Mark Pringle, but also to another side of John Law, composer and interpreter.

For those who love piano music and particularly the music of Mehldau, Simcock or Jarrett, these recordings, no matter in which order you choose to listen and in solo, duo, or trio formats, will provide hours of listening pleasure.

John Law
The Art of Sound Trio (l:r): Asaf Sirkis, Sam Burgess, John Law