Thursday, January 23, 2014

Piano Elegance

Four elegant pianists have blessed us with three wonderful recordings in the past couple of weeks, a great way to kick off 2014.

Product DetailsBeginning with the solo recording, the veteran British pianist John Taylor once more has produced a lush, reflective, and refined recording "In Two Minds" (CamJazz 2014). Taylor begins the CD with the self-penned "Ambleside Suite" in three parts, wrote several other pieces, and uses two by Kenny Wheeler, a similarly minded trumpeter, and "Reflections in D" by Duke Ellington. I've written before about Taylor (4/11/13, 5/29/12 and others), not only as a leader but also on works by John Surman, Anders Jormin, Wheeler, Charlie Haden, and Peter Erskine to name a few. The music is the definition of elegance, with lush melodies and harmonies, and mixes his classical and jazz instincts effortlessly. Another first rate outing for Taylor.

Product DetailsNext a duo, Gwilym Simcock and Yuri Goloubev, on piano and bass respectively, on "Duo Art: Reverie at Schloss Elmau" (ACT 2014). Simcock is a personal favorite, another British pianist mixing classical and jazz training. I have written extensively on Simcock in the past including a posting on his discography in  January 2012, and later about his solo outing on this same piano at Schloss Elmau. The sound from this setting on this and other recordings is wonderfully rich and adds to the aural experience on these pieces written by the two artists. Once again the mixture of classicism and jazz stands out on this wonderful recording.

Product DetailsNext up, is a trio recording in a more traditional mainstream mode, George Cables "Icons and Influences" (High Note 2014). His partners here are Dezron Douglas on bass and Victor Lewis on drums. The title says it all -- this is a songbook dedicated to those who Cables looked up to and who influenced his playing and conception of the music. there's "Cedar Walton", the title of the first piece, featuring tight synchronicity among the players, a nice uptempo opener that speaks to both pianist's roles as leader and sideman through the years. Then there is a beautiful, heartfelt elegy for Mulgrew Miller " Farewell Mulgrew", tips of the hat to Duke Ellington, Bill Evans and Benny Golson through use of their tunes, in all twelve mainstream compositions from the heart. It's a great trip through Cables' jazz influences, a lovely set of songs that demonstrate Cables' sensitivity and grace at the keyboard.

Product DetailsFinally, there is Edward Simon "Venezuelan Suite" (Sunnyside 2014) which excels as it extends the reach of Simon's music from his previous outings. This a new direction for the accomplished pianist who as a leader and as a member of the SFJazz Collective has already had a long string of excellent CDs demonstrating both his facility at the keyboard and his excellence in composition. While the first two recordings above combined jazz and classical music, this CD combines jazz with the rhythms and sounds of Simon's native country, and does so with a larger band with richer tonalities and timbres. Joining Simon are saxophonist Mark Turner,  John Ellis on bass clarinet, drummer Adam Cruz,  Roberto Koch on bass, Marco Granados on flute, Leonardo Granados on maracas, percussionist Luis Quintero and Jorge Glem on cuatro, the string instrument that is Venezuela’s national instrument.  Edmar Castaneda guests on one track on harp. The suite is composed of four tunes named after Venezuelan cities -- Barinas, Caracas, Merida, and Maracaibo; the final piece is "El Diablo Suelto" written by Heraclio Fernandez in 1888 and updated for this performance. The music is expansive, with a range of solos and ensemble sections, catchy beats, lilting melodies, and rich harmonies. The flute and cuatro in particular lend the music a special vibe that enriches the entire program. And Ellis' bass clarinet stands out on "Caracas". It's an enchanting set, a feast for the ears with it variety and pacing, and with the richness of the melodies and interplay among the many voices. Outstanding.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Quick Hits: Four Down the Middle

Four great listens, all straight ahead jazz featuring small groups. One from 2012, two from 2013, and one from 2014.

Product DetailsPaul Carr, "Standard Domain" ((PCJ 2012) features the D.C. area tenor sax man with a dynamite crew -- Michael Bowie on bass, Terell Stafford on trumpet, Lewis Nash on drums, and Joey Calderazzo on piano. The group plays the heck out of seven classics and one composition by Carr and another by Calderazzo. Even if you don't know Carr, and I hope many of you do from his previous four CDs, you have to believe that anyone playing with this crew, and formerly with Mulgrew Miller on piano, has to be a player of consummate skills, and he is. The tempos are generally upbeat, Carr burns through the upbeat songs and caresses the ballads. The group provides a high level of improvisation and creativity on such songs as "Cheek to Cheek", "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" and "Till There Was You". 

Product DetailsAt the end of 2013 came a new one from Cory Weeds "Let's Go" (Cellar Live 2013), another in a long line of excellent jazz CDs from that label and club, and it is good to know that though the club has recently closed Weeds intendeds to keep producing Cellar Live recordings. This one features his tenor sax along with Steve Davis on trombone, Tilden Webb on piano, Ken Lister on bass, and Jesse Cahill on drums. While only Davis may be familiar to many, the other members of the group are long-standing artists from the Northwest U.S. and Canada with a nice record of accomplishment. Together the group fires up with a set of nine songs split between compositions from the group and a couple of covers. This is a recording from the band's tour of the U.S. and Canada and has that live energy and tight feeling one gets from a working band. Great fun that night at Smoke.

Product DetailsJohn Marshall Sextett "Marshall Plays Hazeltine" (Organic Music 2013) is another live recording, this from the 2012  "Generations Jazz Festival" in Switzerland. It features Marshall on trumpet, David Hazeltine on piano, Grant Stewart on tenor sax, Johan Horlen on alto sax, Peter Washington on bass, and Louis Hayes on drums. Another group of impeccable players, another set of outstanding music. As advertised, Hazeltine wrote a couple of the compositions, with the remaining numbers including such standards as "I Should Care", What Kind of Fool Am I?", and Monk's "Reflections". John Marshall has a nice quiet, burnished tone which he melds seamlessly with the others, rarely stepping out or showboating, and is supported by some equally rounded play from the saxes. Hayes keeps the group up to speed and adds the right level of excitement to the mix, while Hazeltine as always plays immaculately. First class music.
Product Details
Steve Davis "For Real" (Positone 2014) gets the year off to a great start with eight originals by Davis and one by his pianist, Larry Willis. Besides Willlis and Davis, the players are Abraham Burton on tenor sax, Nat Reeves on bass, and Billy Williams on drums. The quintet lights it up on the imaginative compositions, and Davis continues his long streak of consistently good recordings with this one.

Follow the Leader

Time for another round of follow the leader. Not knowing the name Ozan Musluoglu,  I decide to purchase his CD based on the supporting cast. The CD is his second, Ozan Musluoglu "40th Day" (Equinox Music 2011). 

Ozan Musluoglu | 40th Day (feat. Jeremy Pelt, Jd Allen, Danny Grissett & Darrell Green)
Musluoglu is a bassist of Turkish descent who was born and raised in Germany, and then attended the Bilgi University Music program in Istanbul on full scholarship beginning in 2001. He has an extensive resume of performances with names such as Marcus Miller, Roy Hargrove, Eric Reed and many others. Also, as bassist of the group Athena from 2003-2008, he recorded albums and toured nationally and internationally, including representing Turkey in the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest where they placed 4th.

In 2009 he released his first CD "Coincidence" (Recbyjazz 2009), with a group of players from Istanbul including drummer Ferit Oman. His latest, " My Best Friends are Pianists" (Equinox Music 2012) is a tribute to the "My Best Friends Series" of Ray Brown, who is one of Musluoglu's greatest idols, and features twelve Turksh pianists on twelve pieces. His CDs are all available through CDBaby.

While Musluoglu's other CDs feature a host of Turkish players, this particular CD finds him in the company of four American jazz players of note and thus is an appealing way to discover the music of Musluoglu. The four are Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, JD Allen on tenor sax, Danny Grissett on piano, and Darrell Green on drums, an all-start grouping of first class leaders in their own right.

All seven compositions are by Musluoglu, who dedicated the music to his departed grandmother, who was his biggest supporter.  "Requiem for K.C" and "40th Day" are beautifully crafted melodies crafted in her honor, the first featuring beautiful unison play from Allen and Pelt, the latter an uplifting waltz. Elsewhere the energy abounds in songs like "Fake Promises" and the swinging closer, "Panic." I'm a big supporter of the work of Grissett and here he does not disappoint with a number of ear catching solos and a lot of supporting rhythms for the others.

It's first rate modern jazz with nice melodies, intricate harmonies and a steady rhythm section featuring Musluoglu and Green. Recommended for those who like the modern mainstream.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Dawn of Midi: "Dysnomia"

A dwarf planet, Eris, larger than Pluto. Its moon, Dysnomia, from the Greek "lawlessness". A CD, Dawn of Midi, "Dysnomia" (Thirsty Ear 2013). A black and white cover, an abstract drawing -- Dysnomia surrounded by a vortex of moving lines? A black hole with the same surroundings?
Dawn of Midi: Dysnomia
All very abstract and mysterious, a suggestive of the music inside, which is equally mysterious, sinuous, and abstract. Nine all-acoustic pieces created by the Dawn of Midi band members Israni and Belyamani -- Qasim Naqvi on drums, Aakaash Israni on bass, and Amino Belyamani on piano. Is it scripted or free, or both? Not sure at first but as the music evolves it must be tightly scripted to have such integration. Is is music? -- not sure there either. There is a beat, there are rhythms, and there are repeated motifs, but there are no melodies, no real harmonies.

It is also captivating, unusually so, it's addictive, and it is strange. It's a piano trio format but in no way does that describe it, in fact it only will confuse. It's a minimalist tableau of sound and rhythm, seemingly disorderly but in fact very tightly held among the three players, who clearly have composed or at least scripted the elements. The elements start out, they repeat and grow, they evolve, they morph into other sounds and rhythms. It's actually quite gentle and restrained in tone and texture and yet a strong beat is omnipresent to drive the music and engage the listener.

Product DetailsProduct DetailsUltimately, to me it has two antecedents, both of whom I like and have posted on before, and both of whom are equally unusual, modernist bands:  Nik Bartsch's Ronin and The Necks. Very much in the same genre of sound, of experimentation with sound, of slowly evolving figures, and meditative passages. For those with a taste for the unusual.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Reaching into the Archives

Last week I did some noodling through the archives reading up on various musicians that I hadn't thought about in a long time, wondering about their careers and output. I ended up with three recordings.

Then And Now
First up was Grover Washington Jr.  What I remember about him was first and foremost was that he was identified with the crossover movement to a more pop sounding jazz, not necessarily smooth jazz but rather an amalgam of rhythm and blues, pop, jazz, and soul. He tragically died while still in his prime at age 56 in 1999. As his contemporary sound became more popular, somehow it was as if jazz listeners wrote him off as too smooth, too polished, and too pop, overlooking his significant talent on multiple wind instruments and in particular his skills with the soprano sax. In fact, he came up out of strong jazz roots, trained first by his father, a jazz saxophonist himself, and later with Charles Earland as a sideman on Prestige. He was hardly soft, and his CD "Then and Now" (Columbia 1988) makes that abundantly clear. This is a straight-ahead set of eight songs played with a crackerjack set of sidemen -- either Tommy Flanagan or Herbie Hancock on piano;  Russian Igor Butman on tenor sax; Grady Tate, Miguel Fuentes or Marvin "Smitty" Smith on drums; Gerald Veasley on bass; and Richard Steaker on guitar. Hancock burns on "Blues for D.P." a  Ron Carter tune, while Flanagan is elegant on "In a Sentimental Mood" accompanying a wonderful Washington on alto. Elsewhere Washington is lovely on the tenor, particularly on "Lullaby for Shana Bly", his own composition, and as always plays a strong soprano on three tunes including "Stella by Starlight." It's a nice straight-ahead jazz set by a group of very talented musicians. First rate.

Product DetailsNext, I was curious about the career of Chuck Mangione, whose big hit "Feels So Good" was ubiquitous in the mid-80s on jazz and pop radio, and who was generally categorized as a lightweight player of melodic, upbeat, and simplistic compositions; another in the line of crossover jazz-pop stars who opened the door for smooth jazz. First off, I happen to have liked Mangione's music, which was easy to listen to and enjoy. At the time I hardly considered whether it was or was not jazz, or whether it was a sellout to popular music. Today I still like the music, but I was curious about Mangione's background and his roots in jazz. What I found was interesting. He and brother Gap, a keyboard player, were trained at the Eastman school in Rochester and began their careers strongly in the bop tradition, fronting a quintet called the Jazz Brothers; and Mangione played in the Art Blakey band from 1965-67 as well as the big bands earlier  of Woody Herman and Maynard Ferguson. There are CDs still available that demonstrate the skills of the brothers in the world of bop and post bop, notably their first recording under Cannonball Adderley's Riverside label, "The Jazz Brothers" (Riverside 1960) which is still available on the OJC label. The sextet in this case was Chuck Mangione on trumpet, Gap Mangione on piano, Larry Combs on alto sax, Sal Nistico on tenor sax, Bill Saunders on bass, and Ron McCurdy on drums. This is a first class, standard recording for it's day, six youngsters going on to big things. McCurdy would go on to Adderley's quintet and Nistico to Woody Herman's Herd and then to a fine but shortened career as a leader. Mangione's trumpet is clear and controlled, Gap's piano playing fluid, but it is Nistico whose sound really stands out and shapes the music along side Chuck. Most of the music was written by band members, with the standard "Secret Love" by Sammy Fain included in the set. this is very solid stuff, and Mangione and his band went on to produce several more mainstream recordings between 1960 and 1962, after which Chuck played for a while as a sideman in the aforementioned bands before returning as a leader with the softer sound of a flugelhorn and his new direction in music that kicked into high gear in the early 1970s with "Feels So Good." So did he sell out to commercialism moving with the times from jazz to pop? It really doesn't matter, does it, as he has left a fine set of music for both tastes.

Product DetailsAnd finally a word about Sal Nistico, a very talented tenor sax player whose career tragically ended at age 53, and whose recordings are largely ignored today. Nistico was a member of some great bands, beginning with the Mangione's in the early 60s and then with Woody Herman's Herd and Count Basie's band in the 60s and 70s. He also freelanced with players such as Don Ellis and Buddy Rich, and was a leader on several occasions with his own bands. "Heavyweights" (Jazzland 1961) was his first recording as a leader, and is combined with his second, "Comin' On Up" (Riverside 1962) on a CD released on Milestone in 2002 simply called "Heavyweights" with all 13 songs from both sets.  On the first set he recorded with Nat Adderley on cornet, Barry Harris on piano, Sam Jones on bass, and Walter Perkins on drums, a crew largely from the Cannonball Adderley band. On the second set it is Sal Amico on trumpet, Barry Harris on piano, Bob Cranshaw, on bass, and Vinnie Ruggiero on drums. If you are known by the company you keep, then Nistico was clearly a fine musician, which is borne out by the music. Hot stuff worth finding.

It's pretty interesting and enlightening strolling through the past, and it produces some nice music and a better understanding of the players who have shaped jazz tastes through the decades. Other times I have written about forgotten players from the 50s or 60s, this time it's about under-appreciated talents from the 70s and 80s whose record has been dulled by general antipathy towards their popular recordings. Always intriguing pouring over the histories.