Thursday, December 27, 2012

One Year Later

I began this blog on December 28, 2011, so today is the end of my first year at it. It's been a lot of fun to organize my thoughts and get them down on paper, and hopefully provide some value to those reading it. 

I began with one objective in mind, which is provide exposure to a broad range of possibly lesser-known or overlooked artists, and in doing so to broaden the discussion of non-U.S. jazz at the same time. Later I broadened my scope to include the promotion of local record stores and physical CDs/vinyl, to writing about books that I read about jazz, to comment upon other related issues, and to occasionally writing about non-jazz music.

I don't know how well I have fared, whether anyone tried anything new based upon the posts, or if at the very least I provided some interesting reading. I do know that as of today I have written 136 posts, and had about 13,500 hits, so somebody is checking in.

If the statistics mean anything, the most popular posts included:
  • My 2012 list of favorite CDs
  • A post about the players behind the leader and the need to read the labels about sidemen 
  • The Ann Arbor Pioneer Jazz Band
  • Several of the posts about Italian players (which I must return to)
  • Individual posts about Erena Terabuko, Luis Perdomo, Mira Opalinska, Amina Figarova,  Mats Eilersten, David Wong, Marc Copland, Sophie Millman, Trio M, and Jacques Schwartz-Bart.
What I do know is that I have enjoyed writing these posts and talking jazz. So on to 2013.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Three to Watch in 2013

I began this blog with the idea of identifying CDs and players that get overlooked by the general buying public, and so in this post I am identifying three young musicians/groups whose 2012 CDs impressed me and who I expect will continue to produce interesting music in the coming year. Their music also point to the universality of jazz, featuring as they do players from England, Russia, the United Stataes, and Germany; and the variety of sounds and forms that constitute jazz in the second decade of the 2000s.  

Dice Factory's eponymous first CD (Babel 2012)  is a quartet outing featuring Tom Challenger on tenor sax, George Fogel on piano, Tom Farmer on bass, and Jon Scott on drums. 
Product DetailsAs stated by Challenger, the band's work is highly structured despite its  "seemingly chaotic music, harmony and rhythm...Chaos, chance, numbers, structure, work ethic are the principles at work here." Dice Factory is a sometimes lyrical, sometimes abstract, and always challenging (no pun intended) blend of these concepts, and a joyful listening experience that mixes rhythm, tempo, and harmony is highly individualistic ways. Each musician brings with him experiences in the new creativity that is defining British jazz -- Tom Challenger is a LOOP Collective member and leader of the jazz-electronica group MA and saxophonist for the group Outhouse; Tom Farmer is the double bassist for Empirical; drummer Jon Scott is a member of the Kairos 4tet, and pianist George Fogel is a member of MA and the trumpeter Andre Canniere Group.

Each member is a composer and contributor to Dice Factory's sound, which mixes a great deal of accoustic play with a quiet yet effective dose of electronica. "Heyu Nantucket" starts right in with a catchy, somewhat jagged piano-driven melody that immediately reminded me of the works of Vijay Iyer or Matthew Shipp, and I was not surprsed to find the reference to Iyer's work as an influence in some of the band's materials. The jagged tune goes on for eight minutes with tradeoffs between the sax and piano, and sometimes unison play, and the whole piece reflects the band's commitment to structured chaos. A very exciting start, and one that is picked up again and again. "Gooch" starts with some strange rhythmic play by the bass and percussion, but then introduces a gentle melody on sax that dominates a very pleasing song even as the unusual rhythm patterns are played underneath. "Saribund" is another of the catchy tunes that tip the cap to Iyer and others.  "Eternal Moment" is pretty far out there on the abstract/free curve, with a wailing sax part over a propulsive beat, and then the band returns to the more serene sound of "Pipes." Challenger on sax can play sweet or forceful as demonstrated in the range just between these two songs,  but he is always in synch with his playing partners, and is outstanding throughout and especially endearing on some of the balladic tunes. Very nice modern abstract jazz for the more adventerous listener.

Philip Dizack's second CD, "End of an Era" (Truth Revolution Records 2012)Product Details hews more closely to the mainstream but is not without its moments of modern abstraction and creative play, which contribute to a rewarding listen. Dizack is a trumpet player out of Milwaukee, whose previous recording was on Fresh Start New Talent, so this is his introduction in many ways to the U.S. market. Dizack wrote eleven pieces and arranged Coldplay's "What If", and uses his supporting cast extremely well. And what a cast of young players, some of whom trade-off on various pieces --- Jake Saslow on sax, Aaron Parks on piano, Sam Harrris on Rhodes, Justin Brown on drums, Kendrick Scott on drums, Reinaldo DeJesus on percussion, Linda Oh on bass, Joe Sanders on bass and on three pieces the Maria Jeffers Strings. Dizack jumps right in with a very emotional piece, "End of an Era" that immediately establishes Dizak's first rate credentials, and also includes a short but moving piano interlude by Parks. Saslow shines on "Grow", a meditation on change and the need to develop and move ahead in life. Further  on, "Forest Walker" is about the search for the way forward, and is a lovely, caressing melody with a mellow restrained and lovely trumpet at the outset that then cresendo's as the piece moves on.  "Yele" is a mediation on hope in the face of tragedy that is inspirational to listen to. Dizack's muted play on "What If" is another highlight, but there are really too many to catalogue in this short piece. Dizack is a player to be watched closely, and a composer who is extending the ideas of modern mainstream jazz with his inviting tunes. Beautiful compositions rendered beatutifully by a first class team.

The Hammer Klavier Trio's second recording is  "Rocket In The Pocket" (2012 Jan Matthies Records), a clever session of acoustic trio music with a touch of electronics and electric instruments that add fun, sparks, and excitment to the brew.  The trio is Boris Netsvetaev on piano and keyboards; Philipp Steen on acoustic and electric bass; and Kai Bussenius on drums and percussion. The group blends all sorts of styles and tempos in a collection of songs, all written by Netsvetaev, that cover classical forms, rock, electronica, and basic jazz. The songs range from brooding impressionism on "A Sketch in Dark Colors" with its lyrical melody, to the distortions and modernism of "Suicide Train, with its quirks and bending sounds. The range of moods and sounds is great, but the effect never feels disorganized; rather it enhances the excitment of the trio as they blur the lines between the trasditional accoustic trios and the modernist trios characerized by E.S.T. or Micael Wollny's [em], to name just two. And as the band ranges over the wide variety of sounds and moods, they tip their hats to their antecendents. The beauty of "The Incredible Atmosphere Of Andrew Hill's Music" with the increadible bass arco work of Steen is a highlight, as is the more upbeat and jagged "Hysterioso", a tip of hte hat to Monk or the soulful "Harold Mabern" a lyrical tribute to the wonderful osunds of that pianist. Melodies, jams, improvisations mix wonderfully in a CD of delightful suprises. Modern lyricism at its best with a touch of abstraction, this is a group to watch.

Friday, December 14, 2012

And the Hits Just Keep On Coming

Several new CDs arrived in the mail this past week that I would like to report on.

front_cover_NEWMyriad 3 "Tell" (ALMA Records 2013) is the first of my CDs with a 2013 date, and a very good one at that. I will have to remember it at the close of next year -- it is that good. Chris Donnelly, who last year had a very good CD entitled "Metamorphosis" (ALMA 2011), is back this time on piano with Dan Fortin on bass and Ernesto Cervini on drums. Donnelly is on the music faculty at the University of Toronto, where he also received his Masters of Music in Jazz Performance. He debuted on CD in 2008 with Solo (ALMA 2008) featuring a blend of original material and arrangements of jazz standards, a recording that earned him a Juno nomination (the Canadian Grammys).  The music was composed by the three band members, excepting "C Jam Blues" by Duke Ellington, and fits nicely into the category of modern lyrical music. Its not music with tunes that can be readily hummed, but the melodies are quite attractive. The opener "Myriad" ops with a nice mid-tempo melody, transitions into a faster dynamically interesting middle section,  and then finishes with a hybrid of the two. A very stirring beginning. "For the Dreamers" is in fact a dreamy piece, but "Fractured" and "Disturbing Inspiration Parts 1 and 2" are hardly fractured or disturbing, but rather interesting and leaning more to the impressionistic side. Haunting might be a better word to describe them. Fortin really gets in on for "C Jam Blues" and the whole group is true to the pulse of the music even as they play with the rhythms and freely improvised. Donnelly is clearly one to watch. Great CD. Highly recommended. 

Hal Galper sounds more energized and expressive than I have heard him in a while, on "Airegin Revisited" (Orgin 2012), with Jeff Johnson on bass and John Bishop on drums. Galper has a long discography and this to me is one of the best as it shakes off any lingering sameness that I had begun to feel from his recent CDs. Right down the middle mainstream music, it features the title song "Airegin", an homage to Sonny Rollins for which he shifts around some of the patterns to create a dynamic reworkingfor his group. Johnson's bowing adds a new texture, while Bishops keeps pushing the tempo throughout from his drum set. Other strongly played covers are an extended 11 minute, romantically divine "Embraceable You" by Gershwin, and "Conception" by George Shearing, but the real surprise is an unexpected tribute to Sam Rivers. His "Melacholia" is played slowly in honor of Rivers' passing but retains Rivers expanded ideas on rhythm and sound. Galper's own "One Step Closer" explores Bralian rhythms and is a short but lovely composition. This is a solid, energetic CD.

Jeff Johnson also has one of his own as leader, "Suitcase" (Origin 2012) which leans somewhere between the lyrical and the impressionistic, as Johnson tries to bring his wanderings around the country to his musical compositions. With Hans Teuber on saxophones, bass clarinet and alto flute; Steve Moore on piano, and Eric Eagle on drums, there are a lot of different sounds and textures to the music. Johnson plays both the accoutic bass and his Fender, adding to the sounds. "Avion" is a personal favorite as it features the sounds of Teuber's bass clarinet from its lowest E flat to well up on the upper register in concert with a really nice piano melody and strongly played acoustic bass to create a very nice, comtemplative piece. "Kiwi" and "Artist" similarly paint lovely pictures in my mind as they stretch out, with mellow sounds from Tauber and quiet but strong support from the others. And Johnson's lead on the melody for "Letters for Marcy" paints a wonderful, quiet picture from a man living out of his suitcase, followed by the quiet soulful sound of Teuber's sax. Not quite sure whata to make of the last piece "Soweto Man" which has a lovely flute part but it is played over a very strong, marchlike drum set, which makes a jarring contrast. All of the compositions are Johnson's except one by the group, and are a really nice, creative set of expressonist pictures in music. A real stunner.   

Three more I can recommend -- one down the middle, and two outside but wonderfully lyrical.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Label To Know: Smalls Live

A second jazz club with its own house label, Smalls Live, is the brainchild of Spike Wilner, club owner and pianist extraordinaire of Smalls, who every night produces one to three outstanding sets, including Christmas Eve, as I know from the xperience of being there the past few years.

Spike has gone beyond the production of CDs and MPs this year and is now live stremaing his shows for those who wish to subscribe but cannot always be there; and keeps an archive second to none of shows for the past few years that one can enjoy from home.

To date there are 31 productions availabel from Smalls Live, from the initial CD of Ryan Kisor to the most recent release this year of David Schnitter, Grant Stewart, and Tyler Mitchell.

CYRILLE AIMEE & FRIENDS - CoverI posted this past Friday (December 7th) about the Grant Stewart release, which I have been enjoying all weekend and expect to wear out in the near future, but that is only one of many that I own and love to listen and re-listen to. Smalls features straight-ahead jazz fror the most part, and these live performances can be electric, creating the ambience of sitting at this small cellar club surrounded by the music and appreciative audience. The sound balance on each has been great, which is hard to achieve sometimes in such small settings, the combinations often different and exciting, and the music first rate.

I have quite a collection of the 31 CDs, not quite all but at least half of them, and recommend all. Among those I consider special are as follows:

  • Grant Stewart, "Live at Smalls" I posted December 7th on this.
  • Jesse Davis Quintet, "Live at Smalls"  with Ryan Kisor on trumpet, Spike Wilner on piano, Peter Washington on bass, and Billy Drumond on drums. You don't get much better than that quintet, which blows strong throughout the set.
  • Joel Frahm, "Live at Smalls", with Kurt Rosenwinkel on guitar, Joe Martin on bass, and Otis Brown III on drums. A chance to hear an under-appreciated sax player in a part blowing session, part ballad session, showing his prowess. Another guy who should not be under the jazz listener's radar.
  • Bruce Barth, "Live at Smalls", with Vincente Archer on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. More great piano work by Barth, not his only one this year but wonderful to hear him live on htis one.
  • Cyrille Aimee, "Live at Smalls" with Roy Hargrove, Joel Frahm, Spike Wilner, Philip Kuen, and Joseph Saylor as the band backing this marvellous jazz singer.  I didn't know her so I am glad to have gotten to hear her on this disc. Now I need to see her live.
  • Ethan Iverson, Ben Street, Tootie Heath Trio - coverEthan Iverson, Tootie Heath, and Ben Street, "Live at Smalls" a very special inter-generational trio that shows Iverson in a different light than his work with Bad Plus, and features outstanding support and solos by Heath and Street.

But again, picking these seven is like tryinig to do the 10 Best of 2012 list -- tomorrow I could drop any one of these to add maybe David Kikoski, Ian Hendrick-Smith, Kevin Hays, Peter Bernstein...and the list goes on.

Order these discs or downloads directly from the Smalls site and support the club in any way you can so the music will go on. It's great that places like Smalls or the Cellar in Vancouver are producing these CDs and MPs, or live streaming, but it is always best to hear the music in person.

A Label to Know: Cellar Live

Product DetailsCellar Live is a label founded in 2001 as a media outgrowth of the Cellar Restaurant and Jazz Club in Vancouver, British Columbia.  The club and label are owned by Cory Weeds, who purchased the club in 2000 as a venue for live jazz, including the music of his band and others in the area, as well as Canadian and international talent. Immediately upon founding the club he determined that he also wanted to record the music to preserve the excitment of the various bands, to disseminate their music, and to promote the club. In association with Maximum Jazz, which provided a production and distribution deal, Weeds completed the first CD in September 2001, a compilation of many of the best performances to that date. Since then, Cellar Live has produced nearly 50 wonderful live performance CDs by local, national and international talents, with a particular emphasis upon Canadian players including himself.

Some of the outstanding productions to date that I want to draw readers' attention  to, are as follows:

Cory Weeds, Just Like That (2011 ) A great quartet featuring Weeds on alto sax, with three talented players largely unknown outside the Northwest -- Tilden Webb on piano and Fender Rhodes, Jodi Proznick on bass, and Jesse Cahill on drums. This is straight ahead jazz in the old "Blue Note" style with both originals and standards played with verve and style.

Product DetailsCory Weeds, Up a Step (2012) This is another quartet but with a different set up -- Weeds is joined by the always teriffic Mike LeDonne on organ, Oliver Gannon on guitar, and Jesse Cahill on drums, in a set honoring the great Hank Mobley. This is a rollicking good time with features like "A Baptist Beat," from  Roll Call; "Up a Step" from No Room for Squares; and "Straight No Filter," from Mobley's LP of the same name.  

Product DetailsOne For All, Invades Vancouver (2011) One for All has been putting out  CDs over the past decade or so that bring together the talents of several leaders in one group who clearly enjoy one another's music. The players are Jim Rotondi on trumpet, Eric Alexander on tenor sax, Steve Davis on trombone, David Hazeltine on piano, John Webber on bass, and Joe Farnsworth on drums. Having played together for years, the group obviously is tightly knit and exceedingly tuneful at all times, but what makes this a special one is the electric atmosphere of playing live.

Product DetailsChris Davis, Baile Bonita (2010 ) Here's one from a Canadian trumpet player, Chris Davis, that you should hear, a solid hard bop outing featuring his trumpet and a non-piano trio made up of Ian Henrickson-Smith on alto sax, Adam Thomas on bass, and Jesse Cahill on drums. This is one of my favorites from the label and one that flies under the radar in the U.S. based on name recognition. The music cooks, the pairing of Davis and Smith in and around each other is fantastic, and the rhythm support keeps everything moving ahead. And Hendrickson-Smith, if you don't know him, is a fine sax playerwith a strong discograhpy as leader, including one in 2011 on the Smalls Live label that you should hear. 

Product DetailsFinally, the first Cellar Live CD I bought was by the Tilden Webb Trio, "Cellar Groove." (2005) Why? Because this is once of those read the ingredients on the label CDs -- Tilden Webb on piano, Jodi Proznick on bass, and Jesse Cahill on drums.........are joined by David "Fathead" Newman with his rich and resonant tenor sax. It's a minor masterpice of uptempo jazz and balladry, and while Newman is the highlight the trio itself is terrific (and note that htey are on the Cory Weeds CD above as well). The music cooks, simmers, and sometimes reaches a full boil as the four players clearly excite the live audience.

That's only five of almost 50 CDs from Cellar Live, and I have yet to hit a clinker with any of the others I have. There are more outings by Weeds and Davis, but also some outstanding music by a very well-know and award winning Canadian jazz trumpeter Brad Turner to hear, a recent outing by the veteran Lewis Nash, lovely recordings by the October Trio, and many more.

The music is all worth hearing and is available from the Cellar Live website as CDs or MP3.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Top Ten Historic CD Update: Two More!!!

cover artI just received two CDs in the mail of the Stan Tracey Trio with Ben Webster, "UK Live Volumes I and II" (Jazzhus Disk 2012).  These are recordings done in 1967, presumably at Ronnie Scott's in London, as Scott himself sits in on three melodies at the end of Disc 2 and the expanded group tears up a storm on "Honeysuckle Rose", "C Jam Blues" and "A Night in Tunisia".

I had already included Webster in London on my 2012 list for the "Soho Nights" recording and this one is up to the same standards for quality and musicianship. Recorded in 1967, the sound is excellent and the audience responsive, which keeps the energy way up throughout. A tip of the cap too to Kenny Baldock on bass and Tony Oxley on drums for setting the pace as member of the Tracey Trio.
A bunch of standards but oh what a bunch -- along with the ones above add things like "In a Mellow Tone", How Long has this Been Going On", Our Love is Here to Stay", "My Romance", and "Perdido". Hear Webster at his loveliest on the ballads, and hear him tearing it up on "Sunday", followed on that track by a fantastic Tracey solo while the drums and bass pound away on the rhythm, and then hear Baldock run with his solo.  "Honeysuckle Rose" pairs Webster and Tracey on another uptempo romp, opening in unison and then Tracey taking first lead, followed by the larger and mellower sounds of Webster, and then the imagination of Tracey on the piano and Baldock on bass.

Another wow recording find from 45 years ago and still fresh as a daisy. Add it to the top 10 list for historical recordings. May be a bit pricey but very worth it.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Enjoy the Unusual: Daniel Herskedal and Marius Neset

Why unusual in the title of this post? Because the lovely, lyrical, and creative music on "Neck of The Woods" (Edition Records 2012), is made by Norwegians Daniel Herskedal on saxophones and Marius Neset on tuba, backed by the Svanholm Singers on a select few tunes.  And it works.  It works so well for me that I included this CD as one of my year's best, in the category of modern lyrical music, which certainly describes it well. It may not be jazz, but it will haunt you when you hear it once, charm you when you hear it twice, and captivate you thereafter.

Product DetailsAt times moody, at times upbeat, the two musicians demonstrate amazing compatability as they cover 10 of their own songs plus "The Wedding" by Abdullah Ibrahim. I will admit to not being crazy about choral singing on jazz CDs, but in this case the singing is woven completely into the fabric and texture and mood, with the exception of one piece, and is like another musical instrument. And as I said, this may not even be jazz. On the traditional Norwegian song "Eg Er Framand" the soloist is out front for much of the song, and this is in fact my least favorite piece. There is, however, a haunting and plaintive passage in the song with a saxophone melody backed by a moving tuba line. As that part reaches a cresendo the singing resumes to end the piece, and overall this is really effective. Very churchlike and haunting, even if the singing is not quite to my taste.

The rest of the nine pieces are much more interesting to me. Neset is commanding on his various saxophones -- lyrical, mystical, and haunting as needed. Herskedal plays a range of roles, picking up the role of a string bass at times, at times playing counter-melodies, at others playing in unison or leading. The jaunty melody "Asa's Dance" is a case in point: a rolling melody captured nicely in Neset's voice, and a moving tuba part that provides a contrasting melody, a bass voice that in is contrast to the saxophone's higher range, and a strong sense of moving forward at all times. Listen not to the saxophone lead but the tuba part to really get a sense of the two and the intertwining of their roles, which is masterful. The music then goes into "The Christmas Song" which begins with a long and beautiful legato melody by Neset with barely a whisper of anything underneath. Gradually a choral hum begins to support the saxophone melody, and it continually rises but never overwhelm's Neset's play. The wordless support combines with the sax to create a magical and exquisite composition as the tune begins to die away in the end. Next up is "Dragon's Eye", a piece for the tuba to shine right from the opening as it creates a rhythm and texture for the piece. In turn, the next piece, "Introduction to Swan Island" is a haunting solo for the sax, followed by "Swan Island" itself, a piece of great texture and sound that is more about the mix of sounds and mood than the melody as it gradually introduces the voices of the chorale group. Herskedal cleanly and quietly underpins it all with a rolling tuba part. The concluding "The Wedding" is simply masterful.

This is clearly not music for everyone, and is for those who are adventuresome in their listening habits. It is a quiet recording that draws on Nordic folk and classical traditions and may not even be jazz in the traditional sense. The chorale work is woven into the pieces as another instrument, with the exception as noted, and provides texture and color.This a very different and distinct work and a wonderful and enchanting experience.

Get to Know" The John Turville Trio

Product DetailsUsing the categories I created for my year end blog, I put "Conception" by the John Turville Trio (F-IRE 2012) as into the modern impressionistic category, as this is an exceptional and creative jazz trio CD. This is my folllow-up describing the CD in more detail.

John Turville is one of many members of the communal group F-IRE(Fellowship for Integrated Rhythmic Expression), which is a very interesting organization and sponsor of some of the best new music coming out of the U.K. I recently wrote about "Icaros" (F-IRE 2012) by the Dominic Marshall Trio, and in the past have written about others in the collective.

F-IRE is a collective of artists whose aim, as stated in its objectives, is "to sustain the creative lives of their members and the surrounding community; to ensure that their creativity functions well inside the wider community; to share their knowledge and opportunities." It was created by a group of like-minded musicians who wanted to expand their compositional and improvisational musical languages. Since its inception in 1995 it has grown tremendously, was renamed F-IRE in 1998, and came to encompass a community of artists whose outlook stretched beyond music to the other arts as well. F-IRE members cdetermine their own directions and thereby do not necessarily conform to jazz categorization, which they feel could restrict their creativity. As a result, the voices of F-IRE members are distinct and "alive with the spirit of freedom".  In July 2004  F-IRE was awarded the BBC Jazz Award for Innovation, and all the musicians nominated that year in  the 'Rising Star' category were members of F-IRE.

Turville wrote seven of the ten songs on "Conception", with the others being creative re-imaging of "Scatterbrain" by Radiohead, the title song "Conception" by George Shearing, and ""Old Park Avenue" by bassist and band member Chris Hill. Turville leads the group as pianist, with Hill on bass, Ben Reynolds on drums, and Eduardo Vassallo on cello for two tracks.

The writing and improvisation is exceptionally well crafted and combines classical themes, jazz, and latin rhythms in a stew of ten tightly orchestrated and played pieces. "Elegia", with Vassallo on cello is a knockout, combining the three elements in a close weave of melodies played by the piano and cello, in unison and in complementary roles with each taking the lead or playing a counter melody throughout. The percussion colors the tune, adds a latin rhythm at points, and spices the mixture beautifully. It is followed by a lovely, quiet, rumination entitled "Old Park Avenue" a composition by Hill, on which Turville explores a large portion of the keyboard with a lovely theme while Hill and Reynolds quietly add texture to the piece.

Product DetailsThis is a very mellow recording but more varied and at times a little more angular than its predessor, "Midas" (F-IRE 2010) and is therfore more captivating and exciting to listen to. The opener, "Rhythmic Ant" begins the CD with a more urgent and angular feeling, captured well by Reynolds on drums, who sets the pace for Turville's explorations. When the group takes on "Scatterbrain" each member gets to stretch out and improvise on the familiar Radiohead tune, with a great solo by Hill included.  When Vassalo is added to the mix, the three songs he plays on intensify with a brew of jazz, classical, and latin textures. The intensity of "Fifth Floor" is a kick-*ss seven minutes of pulsating play by the trio. Reynolds gets a chance to push the tempo using his full kit, while Turville's melody and touch provide a greater sense of urgency than on previous songs. Still, the overall structure is modulated, never too intense or strained, and fits perfectly into the ten track mixture. And at the end, Turville gets close to his jazz roots and brings out for us the title song and a Shearing classic, with all the swing one would expect even as it provides a strong sense of modernity around the melody.

This is piano trio music at its highest level, an interesting, varied, and always pleasing set that should delight those on both ends of the jazz spectrum who choose to listen. Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

My Favorite Historic CDs of 2012.

Here are eight outstanding historic releases. [Note: As of December 8 (see post) you can make this a top ten with the addition of another great Ben Webster - Stan Tracey set, on two CDs).

The releases herein are those that are from "found materials" and not new releases of previously released recordings that have passed into the public domain and appear regularly at low prices in boxed sets.
  • Product DetailsBen Webster - Stan Tracey, "Soho Nights Vol. 2": Great follow-up to last year's Volume 1, featuring Webster's beautiful tone and Tracey's rather advanced piano play. 
  • Stan Getz Quartet, "Swiss Radio Days": Another rsax master at the top of his game, and an appearance by Jan Johansoon, a legendary Scandanavian pianist who idea tragically at a very young age but left behind some great music. Well recorded from 1960, includes a wonderful "I Remember Clifford" among the six tunes. 
  • Product DetailsDexter Gordon, "Night Ballads Montreal 1977" Another special find from Uptown REcords. Dexter with George Cables, Rufus Reid and Eddie Gladden. Songs like "Lover Man", "You've Changed" and "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" played by masters. I like Dexter quoting the lyrics, some don't, but it strengthens the intimacy of the recording. 
  • Product DetailsCannonball Adderley Quintet, "Legends Live: Liederhalle Stuttgart, March 20, 1969": A new series from Jazzhaus label of recently uncovered live recordings in Germany. this one has Adderley with his brother Nat and Joe Zawinul. Nine cuts including three Zawinul originals. Gerry Mulligan had a CD as well this year from the same series which I could have included as well. 
  • Louis Armstrong and The All Stars, "Satchmo at Symphony Hall":  Nicely presented 65th anniversary copy with liner notes and the two complete sets that night. Louis the trumpeter, Louis the singer, Louis the entertainer are all in the house for this memorable event. 
  • Bill Evans, "Live at the Top of the Gate": Immaculately recorded trio with Eddie Gomez and Marty Morrell from 1968. Notes by Nat Hentoff. Enough said -- it is just marvelous. 
  • Product DetailsSheila Jordan and Harvie S"Yesterdays": A 1990 concert just released from High Note, the simple work of Harvie S serves 2012 Jazz Masters recipient Jordan well, giving her lots of room to demonstrate heer strong voice and expressive command of the lyrics. This is a love fest of standards like "I Concentrate on You", "The Very Thought of You", and " Blue Skies", plus 9 more. 
  • Jazz on Film Volume 2, "Beat, Square & Cool": Just blogged on this the other day. Check it out --- 8 scores from the movies from composers like Mingus, Ellington, Previn....and great players as well. Box includes a terrific history on each score. 

My Year in Music (and in Blogging)

NOTE: I am having formatting problems, so please excuse any hiccups)

I began this blog with a post on December 28, 2011, and since then have written almost 140 posts. I didn't know if I could do it,  but I did, and I hope I was able to provide some interesting and maybe worthwhile posts for other jazz listeners like me. I don't know if I did -- in a full year I only got a dozen comments. But, since I have enjoyed what I am doing I shall plunge ahead.

Tradition says it is time to identify the Year 2012 releases that I enjoyed the most this past year. Remember, I am a listener, not a critic -- so these are what I liked best from all of the music I purchased. I get nothing free so these are strictly my independent thoughts. I have established my own categories for the recordings, based on how I hear them and visualize them. Since they range from the straight ahead sounds of Houston Person to the sounds of Nik Bartsch's Ronin, and a lot in between, I thought that these categories would give some direction to those interested in seeking out the music. And to boot, I have incorporated art that expresses my feelings about the music in each category and may crystalize the vision in your mind as you read.  

Note that categories that will not be included because they are not in my comfort zone are Free Jazz, Fusion, and Electronica. I purchased none of these. Latin Jazz has its own category but note that the Latin Jazz is really a subset of mainstream jazz. Finally, I have a category for Singers
My next Blog will be about my favorite reissues or new recordings from the vaults.

Without further ado.....

Straight Ahead, Right Down the Middle, Mainstream Jazz: Some say it is tired, cliched, and that the standards are wearying. I think that's nonsense -- beautiful melodies, rhythms, and group dynamics still make for a really fine CD. The picture on the right says it perfectly. 
  • Fred Hersch Trio, "Alive at the Vanguard" 
  • Jeremy Pelt, "Soul"
  • George Cables, "My Muse"
  • Piero Odorici with the Cedar Walton Trio, "Cedar Walton Presents"
  • Eric Alexander and Vincent Herring, "Friendly Fire"
  • Houston Person, "Naturally"
  • Harry Allen and Scott Hamilton, "'Round Midnight"
  • Joe Alterman, "Give Me the Simple Life"
  • Ehud Asherie (with Harry Allen), "Upper West Side"
  • Javon Jackson and We Four, "Celebrating John Coltrane"
  • Nikki Iles, "Hush"
  • Kenny Werner, "Me, Myself, & I" 
  • Bobby Wellins and Kate Williams, "Smoke and Mirrors 
  • Ahmad Jamal, "Blue Moon"

Modern Mainstream Jazz: What is more modern and mainstream than a Sabrett hot dog and traffic in Manhattan? Same basics as the category above -- strong melodies, rhythms and dynamics, but in this case many of the tunes may be unfamiliar. Tunes are often drawn from rock, singer songwriters, or originals, blended with some  standards. There maybe a bit more improvisation and bit more playfulness. The players are fine, the music divine, and this music is closer to the center than the outside. Mainstream listeners should like these CDs, that is my basic paradigm for these recordings.  
  • Brad Mehldau, "Where Do You Start"
  • Chick Corea, Eddie Gomez & Paul Motian, "Further Explorations"
  • Anat Cohen, "Claroscuro"
  • Avishai Cohen with Nitai Hershkovits, "Duende" 
  • Dave King, with Bill Carrothers and Billy Peterson, "I've Been Ringing You"
  • Marc Johnson and Eliane Elias, "Swept Away"  
  • Wallace Roney, "Home"
  • Lynne Arriale, "Solo"
  • Enrico Pieranunzi with Scott Colley and Antonio Sanchez, "Permutation" 
  • Mulgrew Miller and Kluver's Big Band, "Grew's Tune"   
  • Danya Stevens, "Today is Tomorrow"
  • Avishai Cohen, "Triveni II" 
  • Johnathan Blake, "The Eleventh Hour
  • Modern Lyrical Jazz:  The distinguishing feature for me is that this group uses melodies as a point of departure more than those above. Within the group I am placing CDs that emphasize theis creative use of melody using standards, pop, originals, or are fully improvising their songs. Just like the mainstream categories, this one emphasizes longer melody lines and tuneful harmonies more so than the abstract and angular sounds I classify below as Modern Abstract Jazz. Artists may be deconstructing and reconstructing like Django Bates' Beloved or Paul Bley; creating impressive improvisations from scratch like Keith Jarrett or from the extension of written music, or creating their own melodic frameworks. But to me the music always flows, the lines are rounded and the constancy of movement strong. Not quite for mainstream listeners who want those very strong melodies they can recognize and hum, but not far away either, and I think most would appreciate these discs.   Whether solos or in groups, what these musicians do with songs is very impressive. 
  • Django Bates' Beloved, "Confirmation"
  • Brad Mehldau, "Ode"
  • Zoe Rahman, "Kindred Spirit"
  • Julian Joseph, "Live at the Vortex in London" 
  • John Taylor, "Giulia's Thursdays"
  • Amina Figarova, "Twelve" 
  • John Law's Congregation, "Three Leaps of the Gazelle"
  • Nico Gori and Fred Hersch, "DaVinci"
  • John Abercrombie Quartet, "Within a Song"
  • Branford Marsalis Quartet, "Four MFs Playin' Tunes
  • Django Bates Beloved, "Confirmation"
  • Arturo O'Farrill, "The Noguchi Sessions" 
  • Maria Baptiste, "Gate 29"
  • Orrin Evans, "Flip the Script"
  • Daniel Schlappi with Marc Copland, "Essentials"
  • Kristjan Randalu and Ben Monder, "Equilibrium"
  • Yazz Ahmed, "Finding My Way Home"
  • Jessica Williams, "Songs of the Earth"

Modern Impressionistic Jazz: To me this is characterized by the blending of sounds to create a peaceful atmosphere, rounded tones and lyrical passages, with often only the suggestive coloration of percussion. It is music that envelopes one in a comfortable place, with movements that are subtle and flowing. Lots of open space too, the sound if often characterized as the "ECM sound".
  • Benedickt Jahnel, "Equilibrium"
  • Bobo Stenson, "Indicum"
  • John Surman, "Saltash Bells"
  • Russ Lossing, "Drum Music" 
  • Opalinska & Whates, "Lumiere"
  • Jesse Stacken, "Bagatelles for Trio"
  • Martin Tingvall, "En Ny Dag"
  • Matthew Bourne, "The Montauk Variations"
  • John Turville Trio, "Conception"
  • Scott McLemore, "Remote Location"
  • Daniel Herskedal and Marius Neset, "Neck of the Woods" 

Modern Abstract Jazz: More dynamic shifts, more unusual placement of the elements, and the use of a myriad of instruments and sounds. The melodies are less structured, often more fierce, often more angular, but the harmonies and freedom never go off into the unstructured realm of free jazz.

    • Matthew Shipp, Elastic Aspects
    • Medeski, Martin and Wood, "Live"
    • Helge Lien, "Kattenslager"
    • The Bad Plus, "Made Possible"
    • Michael Wollney's [em], "Wasted & Wanted"
    • Michael Bisio and Matthew Shipp Duo, "Floating Ice"
    • Phronesis, "Walking Dark"
    • Vijay Iyer, "Accelerando"
    • E.S.T., "301"
    • Lars Danielsson, "Liberetto" 

    New Sounds of New Age Jazz: This is my catch-all category that covers the zen funk of Nik Bartsch, the wide ranging compositions and instrumentation of John Zorn, and anything that I would label as out there (if I had a new The Necks this year, this is where they would reside). But it does not go as far as free jazz -- underpinning it all is still an harmonic framework and sense of melody that in my mind keep this interesting, energizing, and comfortable.
    • Nik Bartsch's Ronin, "Live"
    • Crispell, Dresser and Hemingway, "Play Braxton"
    • John Zorn, "A Vision in Blakelight"
    • John Zorn, "The Gnostic Serenades"
    • John Zorn, "The Gates of Paradise"
    • Floratone, "Floratone II"
    • Portico Quartet, "Portico Quartet"

    Latin Jazz: As I said earlier, latin jazz could be simply a subset of the mainstream, at least based on my selection from the past year. Whether in trios or orchestras, these recordings stood out for their lively playing  and latin rhythms.

    • Luis Perdomo, "The 'Infancia' Project"
    • Arturo Sandoval, "Dear Diz" 
    • Brazilian Trio, "Constelacao"
    • Aruan Ortiz Quartet, "Orbiting"
    • Duduka Da Fonseca Quintet, "Samba Jazz - Jazz Samba" 
    • Yosvany Terry, "Today's Opinion"
    • Jose Luis Moton, "Solo Guitarra" (issued in Europe on ECM, in U.S. in 2013)
    • Raynald Colom, "Rise" 

    Singers: Lots to choose from every year, but here is my list from the past twelve months, all women in this case. 
    • Claire Martin,  "Too Much in Love to Care" 
    • Sara Gazarek, "Blossom & Bee"
    • Cassandra Wilson, "Another Country" 
    • LaVerne Butler, "Love Lost and Found Again"
    • Diana Krall, "Glad Rag Doll"
    • Cheryl Bentyne, Let's Misbehave"

    So that's it, my 80 or so favorite recordings of 2012 (This is out of a group of 250 to 300 purchases. The hit rate is high because I do not buy what I think I won't like, so I actually like them all, but these more than the others).

    Except one thing, which is to try to get down to a 10 favorites list, so I can follow the "rules of the game." So here is......

    DAVID'S TOP 10 CDs of 2012....
    Scratch that, it's......

    DAVID'S BAKER'S DOZEN for 2012

    Product Details1. John Surman, "Saltash Bells": Without a doubt, my favorite of the year. Fascinating music, multi-layered textures, lovely melodies that capture the spirit of imagination.
    2. Jeremy Pelt, "Soul": Each January for the past few years January rolls around with a new CD by Pelt, and each has been better than the last, culminating with the wonderful "Soul." When the end of the year rolls around it is important not to forget how great the music is.
    3. John Taylor: "Giulia's Thursdays": A moving set of music in dedication to film composer Carlo Rustichelli. An elegant, rich, and rewarding piano trio hits it out of the park. Amazing to think it took six years to release it from its inception.
    4. Avishai Cohen, "Triveni II" Cohen is breaking big on the jazz scene with his crystal clear, fluid trumpet sound captured here in a very simple trio setting with Omer Avital and Nasheet Waits. The group dynamic is fabulous.
    5. Matthew Shipp, "Elastic Aspects": Outside the box trio playing of the highest magnitude. He and Vijay Iyer produced some great piano music in this vein this year, but Shipp stood out to me.
    6. Zoe Rahman, "Kindred Spirit": Absolutely riveting modern creative jazz flows easily from her hands. The arrangements are stellar and support from her brother on clarinet and bass clarinet ratchets up the expressive music to incredible heights.
    7. Nik Bartsch's Ronin, "Live": I've blogged twice about the zen funk master of jazz and his group. The spirit is raised even higher in live performance. A mellow listen that captivates the soul.
    8. Medeski, Martin and Wood, "Live": I blogged recently about this CD. Never thought I'd listen to them, but in concert and in an acoustic performance they are dynamite. And Medeski really steps out and shows his incredible piano skills on some really fine blues numbers.
    9. Johnathan Blake, "The Eleventh Hour": A debut CD of great music by a band that includes not only Blake on drums but also Jaleel Shaw, Mark Turner, Kevin Hays, and Ben Street, with guests Tom Harrell and Robert Glasper to boot. Modern mainstream jazz that includes seven sterling originals by Blake.
    10. Brad Mehldau, "Ode": Flip a coin, originals on this CD or covers on the other he did this year, "Where do You Start". Tough to choose but I went with the originals -- the creativity of Mehldau is heightened to me when he is playing his own music. Not that the other is a bad choice of course.
    11. Julian Joseph, "Live at the Vortex in London": Joseph does classical and jazz and all things in between, leads orchestras and big bands and small groups, and is a well-known figure in the U.K. Here I doubt many folks have heard of him, but my oh my. When he sat down to this live solo outing I wonder if the audience sensed the magnitude of the music they were about to hear. Vibrant, moving, expressive. Thunderous, creative.... his fertile imagination seemingly knows no bonds as he put forth one of the magnificent solo recitals I have ever heard.
    12. Claire Martin, "Too Much in Love to Care": I discovered the rich voice of Claire Martin this past year, and am glad I did. Went back and picked up he other work on ECM and Linn Records. This one this past year is a sophisticated romp through some great standards, and the accompaniment of Kenny Barron just charmed the heck out of me.
    13. Kenny Werner, "Me, Myself, & I": Werner plays solo on these seven tracks in a relaxed jazz club setting, and the results speak for themselves. Beautiful expression and creative arrangements and improvisations of songs like "Giant Steps", "Blue is Green", and "All the Things You Are" make for a record to cozy up to with a glass of wine and candlelight. He never disapppoints.

    So many I had to leave off that I wanted to include, especially Lynne Arriale, Fred Hersh, Houston Person, Nikki Iles, Anat Cohen, Portico Quartet, Matthew Borne, Vijay Iyer, The Bad Plus, Raymond Colom,  Michael Wollny's [em],  Phronesis, Russ Lossing -- call this the second baker's dozen.
    Settle down with some friends and discuss this list or any other you find. Try some of the music people are recommending, sample it, and maybe find something new that tickles your fancy. And go out and hear it live.