Jazz CDs - December 2002

We begin this month with two new CDs featuring exciting young pianist Brad Mehldau - both in settings with strings...

Charlie Haden with Michael Brecker - American Dreams (Haden, bass; Brecker, tenor sax; Brad Mehldau, piano; Brian Blade, drums) - Verve 440 064 096-2:

Jazz outings with a string section have gotten lots more sophisticated and musically integrated since that earnest but painful Charlie Parker with Strings session of the late l940s. A number of fine efforts have been recorded in recent years that steer a difficult path between the simplistic vocals or sax backed with strings on one hand and the highly academic Third Stream type of works we had a couple decades ago. The eight tracks with strings (out of 13) on this CD are excellent examples of this. Five different arrangers were involved, including bassist Haden, and the orchestra had 34 members. The alternation of just the quartet with the orchestral tracks adds interest to the program. The poem on the back of the booklet with its message about peace sets the mood for the entire album, which includes a striking Alan Broadbent arrangement of America the Beautiful. Other jazz performers have delivered this sort of heartfelt message using vocals or declamations with music, but Haden and his cohorts have done it entirely instrumentally and I feel even more effectively. Tunes: American Dreams, Travels, No Lonely Nights, It Might Be You, Prism, America the Beautiful, Nightfall, Ron’s Place, Bittersweet, Young and Foolish, Bird Food, Sotto Voce, Love Like Ours.

Brad Mehldau - Largo - Warner Bros. 9 48114-2:

Another masterful small-jazz-group plus larger-ensemble effort. Mehldau (and Jason Moran) are the most exciting younger jazz pianists recording today. Mehldau wrote all the original tunes plus all the woodwind and brass arrangements; there’s also a couple of collaborations plus standards from Lennon-McCartney and Jobim; orchestrations were by Thomas Pasatieri. The entire album was recorded live in the studio without any overdubbing. Mehldau expands his solo acoustic piano presence with vibes here and there - sometimes switching on the same track - plus quirky “prepared piano” techniques on that piano. They include “distorto-piano” run thru the HB3’s Leslie rotating speakers, and “putty treatment” on all or just the lower octave strings of the piano. His classical training is evident but he essays a wide spectrum of styles with daring transitions and combinations; you’ll never know what’s coming next. His cohorts include Darek Oleszkiewicz on acoustic bass, Steve Kujala and David Shostac on flutes, Jim Keltner and Mark Chamberlain on drums, Jon Brion on various guitars and synthesizers. Where did this cat come from? He’s utterly amazing. Tunes: When It Rains, You’re Vibing Me, Dusty McNugget, Dropjes, Paranoid Android, Franklin Avenue, Sabbath, Dear Prudence, Free Willy, Alvardo, Wave/Mother Nature’s Son, I Do.

- John Henry

Here’s a tribute to one of the last century’s jazz icons and a classical quartet session from another...

Thelonious Monk Quartet - Misterioso (with Johnny Griffin, tenor sax; Ahmed Abdul-Malik, bass; Roy Haynes, drums) - Riverside/Fantasy RCD 1133-2:

Recorded during his second engagement at NYC’s Five Spot Cafe in l958, this is one of the quirky pianist/composer’s definitive live sessions. It was prior to his settling on Charlie Rouse as his saxist, and some may prefer Griffin’s smoother approach as a foil to Monk’s sharp-edged harmonies. Two bonus tracks not on the original LP are provided. I was there, and the cruddy little jazz club reminded me of what the owner of another famous jazz spot (San Francisco’s Blackhawk) once said about his club: “I woik and slave ta keep dis place a sewer.” This latest incarnation of the original Riverside tapes (not being from Prestige they are early stereo) is decidedly un-cruddy sonically; in fact the JVC K2 process used in this series of reissues for Fantasy is the closest thing to xrcds in the 44.1 CD world. Tracks: Nutty, Blues Five Spot, Let’s Cool One, In Walked Bud, Just a Gigolo (piano solo), Misterioso, Round Midnight, Evidence.

The Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Star Big Band -mcg Jazz MCGJ1009:

The great Dizzy began his long career with some of the leading swing bands in the 30s and in the late 40s he led a seminal big band which ended only due to the economic demise of most of the big bands. He always sought to ply his bebop in larger ensembles, and today his tradition lives in this All-Star Band with many of his alumni, led by trumpeter John Faddis. Among the senior sidemen: James Moody, Jimmy Heath, Slide Hampton, and Frank Wess. The band swings like mad and Faddis does some quite dizzying solos out front. The whole project comes out a Pittsburgh based non-profit organization, the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild. If you have trouble finding the CD, check out their site: www.mcgjazz.org
Tracks: Stablemates, Jessica’s Day, Things to Come, Round Midnight, Manteca, Lover Come Back to Me, Emanon, Whisper Not, I Remember Clifford, Ray’s Idea, A Night in Tunisia.

- John Henry

A Pair of Ellington CDs which should be on your “A Train” List...

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra - “...and his mother called him Bill” - RCA Bluebird 9026-63744-27:

There have been many great partnerships in the history of music but none quite like that of Ellington and arranger-composer Billy Strayhorn. Ellington’s position with many as the best American composer ever would probably not exist without the fruitful (absolutely no pun intended) contributions of Strayhorn’s sensitive, tasteful, impressionistic and highly original input - which went on for 28 years. Just three months following his death in l967 the Ellington band recorded this tribute album to Strayhorn. The original LP had 13 tracks and six bonus tracks have been added for this loving deluxe reissue. Included are two versions of my vote for his most lovely melody: Lotus Blossom. The band at the time included such as Clark Terry, Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves and Cootie Williams. Tracks: Snibor, Boo-Dah, Blood Count, UMMG, Charpoy, After All, The Intimacy of the Blues, Raincheck, Day Dream, Rock Skippin’ at the Blue Note, All Day Long, Lotus Blossom (solo piano), Acht O’Clock Roch, Raincheck (alt), Smada (2 alts), Midriff, My Little Brown Book, Lotus Blossom (trio version).

The Other Side of Ellington (Duke’s Motivation) (Matt Wilson, drums; David Berkman, piano; Joel Frahm, sax; Pete McCann, guitar; Ben Allison, bass) - Palmetto PM 2051:

The album’s subtitle is explained in drummer Wilson’s statement in the notes that “Duke’s motivation is our motivation and we are all richer for it.” He refers to watching the 60s documentary On the Road with Duke Ellington and hearing the composer describe “reaping the profits of joy” in hearing his music performed for audiences. All the tunes are Ellington and or Stayhorn’s except for the final Duke’s Motivation, written by guitarist McCann. The only performer here with which I was familiar was bassist Allison, but what we have is a tight little quintet and some well fashioned versions of both standard and rare Ellingtonia. Tracks: Mount Harrisa, I Got It Band and That Ain’t Good, Skrontch, Take the A Train (trio), Fleurette Africaine, Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, Ad Lib on Nippon, Wig Wise, A Train (duo), Blues in Blueprint, Satin Doll, Duke’s Motivation.

- John Henry

Bobby Previte: The 23 Constellations of Joan Miró - Ensemble cond. By Kirk Nurock - Tzadik TZ 7072:

Don’t know how I missed Bobby Previte until now but I find him one of the most exciting personalities in music today. His teachers included John Cage and Morton Feldman, but he immersed himself also in Miles, Mingus, Varese, Stravinsky etc. His body of work has been heavily for theater, dance, film and TV. The Miro project grew out of his visit to the l993 Miro exhibit at NYC’s Museum of Modern Art. Each of the 23 small Constellation paintings is reproduced in the note booklet here and Previte has created 23 two or three-minute pieces inspired by each of the quirky paintings. So you can sit and study each one as you listen to the CD. (Ooo, can we have this on the screen with surround on a DVD-A soon, Tzadik? - five inches is not sufficient to display this art)

The ensemble is highly unusual in instrumentation, including piccolo trumpet, celesta, fender rhodes, B3 organ, harmonica, marimba, gongs, orchestra bells, chimes, harp, you name it. And the performers, along with Previte himself on various percussion, include Jane Ira Bloom on soprano sax, Lew Soloff on trumpet and Flugelhorn, Wayne Horvitz on various keyboards and harmonica. The music is just as unfettered and imaginative as Miro’s visions. Previte doesn’t call it jazz but based on his quoting George Antheil on Miro in the notes, he wouldn’t want to be in the normal classical camp either. Jazz purists might say this new chamber music doesn’t swing but it sounds highly improvised. Open your ears to it and swim around in this alternate soundworld, just as you can do in Miro’s wonderful paintings. I won’t list the titles of the Constellation because they are so long we would lack space for any more reviews this month...

- John Henry

Joshua Redman - Elastic (Redman, tenor, alto, soprano sax; Sam Yahel, B3 and various keyboards; Brian Blade, drums) - Warner Bros. 9 48279-2:

Leading young saxist Redman says in the video on this Enhanced CD that he’s been working for ten years toward this album and that he feels it presents more of his real self and individuality than he has yet done. Have to take his word for that since I’ve only heard one of his previous nine for Warners, but this one definitely scores By the way this video is the best one I have seen on any Enhanced CD yet. And it’s full-screen with great clarity and cross-platform too.

All the tunes are Redman’s, and notice there’s no bassist or guitarist in the trio. Yahel plays eight different keyboards on the album including the B3, and uses all of them tastefully and appropriately - not showing off gimmicky sounds for their own sake. And Blades plays his drum set very musically, without pounding out the beat. He reminded me of drummers like Chico Hamilton and Connie Kay who treat it like a musical instrument. I’m especially partial to Redman’s soprano sax solos, but all are top flight.
Tracks: Molten Soul, Jazz Crimes, The Long Way Home, Dumou, Still Pushin’ That Rock, Can A Good Thing Last Forever?, Boogielastic, Unknow I n g, News from the Front, Letting Go, The Birthday Song.

- John Henry

Oregon - Live at Yoshi’s - Intuition INT 3299 2:

Hard to believe that Oregon has been around for 30 years now, putting one in mind of the long-running Modern Jazz Quartet, with which it shares a certain chamber-jazz bag. This is only the third live album they’ve done in all that time; the site was the best jazz room in the San Francisco area - Yoshi’s in Oakland. The two main voices of Oregon are reed man Paul McCandless and guitarist/pianist Ralph Towner. Glen Moore on bass makes up the trio from the original Oregon. Mark Walker is the current drummer and percussionist. Towner plays various types of guitars and synths and while McCandless is probably the leading oboist in jazz today, he also is heard on English horn, soprano sax, sopranino sax, bass clarinet and pennywhistles. The ten-selection program includes some of their classics such as Distant Hills, along with a number of new tunes from the pen of Ralph Towner. It closes with the sole example of Native American music I actually like, Witchi-Tai-To. The Yoshi’s audience is there but in an encouraging and not distracting fashion. Tracks: Pounce, The Prowler, Distant Hills, Short n’ Stout, Green and Golden, I’ll Remember August, Raven’s Wood, Crocodile Romancing, What River is This?, Witchi-Tai-To.

- John Henry

Two important entries in the Gypsy Jazz category that I missed a few years back...
Martin Taylor, guitar - Spirit of Django - Linn Records AKD 030:
Martin Taylor’ Spirit of Django - Years Apart - Linn Records AKD 058:

There’s a growing Django craze around the world today, with groups popping up everywhere continuing the swinging gypsy-jazz style of Europe’s greatest jazz guitarist. But British guitarist Taylor was among the first - he started out early listening to the Hot Club 78s and paid no attention to the fact the electric guitar had been hi-jacked by rock n’ roll. He’s now done a series of albums in this style which beautifully honor some of the originals as well as carrying on the style into the present day. On the first he has both a rhythm guitar and a bass guitar behind him, plus accordion, sax and snare drum. The tracks are; Chez Fernand, Minor Swing, Night and Day, Nuages, James, Double Top, Django’s Dream, Swing, Lady Be Good, Honeysuckle Rose, Johnny and Mary.

The second CD, dating from l996, has Django’s violinist Stephane Grappelli as guest performer, along with Gerard Presence on Flugelhorn and some vocals by Claire Martin. In the notes Grappelli lauded Martin as capturing the true spirit of Django, yet doing it in his own style. Another must-have for Djangoites! Tracks: Sweet Sue Just You, Going Home Again, Undecided, Musette for a Magpie, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Czardas, Hi Lily Hi Lo, Dinah, Years Apart, The Gypsy, Chicago, Manoir de mes rêves.

- John Henry

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