The Cuban pianist strikes me as one of the most exciting talents at the keyboards today. Hes matured some in the decade or so since he came up from Cuba, and shows off some new personnel in his New Cuban Quartet here, including versatile saxist Lamoglia. He does his versions of a couple traditional Cuban songs, some original tunes hes done before, and a wonderful solo piano treatment of the classical Prelude in Conga, by Gonzalez. Paseo means walk, and Paseo con Fula is inspired by Rubalcabas dog, Fula. In some of the wilder excursions Rubalcaba seems to have three or four hands at work. But like many recent jazz albums recently, there are some forays into funk and/or fusion which lose this moldy fig rather quickly. Tracks: El Guerrillero, Prelude in Conga/Homage to Hilario, Bottoms Up, See So Far, Paseo con Fula, Meanwhile, Encantation, Quasar, Los Blueyes.
- John Henry
Herbie Hancock - The Piano - Columbia Legacy CK 87083 ****:
This was a singular album indeed in its original release back in l978. It was Herbies first recording of entirely solo unaccompanied piano, it was never released in the U.S. - only in Japan, and it was recorded under the rigors of Direct-To-Disc at the same time that early digital tape masters were also made for a prototype of Sonys Compact Disc. (The liner notes tout the direct disc method as being responsible for its aural brilliance. Excuse me, I doubt if this CD was mastered from the actual direct discs - it probably originates from the tapes done simultaneously just as did CD reissues from direct-disc pioneer Sheffield Records).
The Piano is quite a different sound from Hancocks fusion and funk forays. Since there was no stopping between the various tunes on each side of a direct disc, Hancock created little suites by - on Side 1 - playing three tunes associated with Miles Davis, starting with a nearly eight-minute My Funny Valentine. Side 2 was four shorter original tunes by Hancock. Sixteen minutes was about the most that could be put on a direct to disc side - and much less than that for the 45 rpm direct discs which were also produced. To these seven tracks have been added four more alternate-take tracks not even previously released in Japan. This was a courageous endeavor for Hancock; no editing possible at all, you know. Id be curious how many sides were thrown out before getting to those were hearing. All 11 tracks are terrific performances which the pressures of the situation seem to have encouraged from Hancock. I think my favorite was the alternate take of Someday My Prince Will Come. Love this disc; hate the one that came with it (of Hancocks VSOP Quintet).
Tracks: My Funny Valentine x 2, On Green Dolphin Street x 2, Someday My Prince Will Come x 2, Harvest Time x 2, Sonrisa, Manhattan Island, Blue Otani.
- John Henry
The Out-of-Towners Live at State Opera, Munich, 7/28/01 - Keith Jarrett, piano; Gary Peacock, doublebass; Jack DeJohnette, drums - ECM Records B0003001-02, 68:11 ****:
Well, I suppose for most of us being in Munich would certainly qualify as being out of town. One of Jarretts early solo improvisation albums (1982) was also recorded in Munich.The latest from Jarretts Standards Trio is centered around his original title tune, which at its 20-minute length fully deserves to be the title track. Though only three of the six tracks could really be called standards. Jarrett won Denmarks most important music award in July which had only gone to one other jazz performer in the past - Miles Davis. The citation stated he experimented and modernized music without rejecting tradition... and I would have to agree. Jarrett leads into the first standard with an extended improvisation of his own, and wraps up the concert with a solo piano rendition of Its All in the Game. Sonics are especially good on this live concert discing, though when ECMs SACDs finally start rolling I hope this one might be among them. His vocalizings are still there of course, but not as bad as on some of his past recordings.
Tracks: Intro/I Cant Believe That Youre in Love with Me, Youve Changed, I Love You, The Out-of-Towners, Five Brothers, Its All in the Game.
- John Henry
Don Byron - Ivey-Divey (Byron, clarinet/bass clarinet/tenor sax; Jason Moran, piano; Jack DeJohnette, drums; with Lonnie Plaxio, bass & Ralph Alessi, trumpet) - Blue Note/EMI 7243 5 78215 2 0 ****:
Byron is clearly one of the most innovative people in jazz today. He tends to build each of his albums around a special theme which is usually a bit out of the mainstream. He studies and immerses himself in his new subject and and usually comes up with a strikingly fresh take on whatever garners the attention of this iconoclast who is a member of both Mensa and the Screen Actors Guild. Among past subjects have been the music of Raymond Scott, John Kirby, Mickey Katz and Blackploitation movies. He likes to use jazz to bring musics no long in the public spotlight back for our consideration from a new viewpoint.
This time around the theme is the music and personality of Lester Young, and Byron even trades off his clarinet for a tenor sax to more accurately emulate Young on one track. The title Ivey-Divey was a phrase which Prez (Young) often used in a playful way, and which could mean many different things. Rather than just playing tunes made famous by Youngs treatments, Byron does a bit of exploring - doing a couple of Miles Davis tunes, a boogie-woogie number, and an energetic original he calls Leopold, Leopold - inspired by a Bugs Bunny cartoon in which Bugs impersonates conductor Leopold Stokowski who had conducted the music in Fantasia. That and another tune come from Byrons music for PBS documentary on Billie Holidays Strange Fruit. In fact there are four Byron originals here. Byrons expertise in putting together an exciting musical experience extends to his choice of sidemen: He didnt have to look far to see that Jason Moran was the perfect choice for a pianist accomplice in this effort. Although cutting-edge modern in his style, Moran can drop in some stride piano licks that fit in with the Prez theme very well.
Tracks: I Want to Be Happy, Somebody Loves Me, I Cover the Waterfront, Ive Found a New Baby, Himm, The Goon Drag, Abie the Fishman, Lefty Teachers at Home, Leopold Leopold, Freddie Freeloader, In a Silent Way, Somebody Loves Me (alt. take).
- John Henry
John Metcalfe: Scorching Bay (Metcalfe, violin/viola/guitar/piano; Sophie Harris, cello; Richard Pryce, doublebass; Ralph Salmins, drums) - Black Box BBM1082 (with bonus disc - The Inner Line), 60:43, 55:29, ****:
A remarkable achievement in new music that neatly dances over all the categories of jazz, classical, minimalist, whathaveyou. There are no notes about composer/performer Metcalfe. Since Scorching Bay is identified as being in New Zealand, one gathers that is his home base. The notes only indicate that he regards the dozen tracks as basically one composition, and he limited the amount of thematic material used in each track. The opening track has many new themes, and in the following tracks these themes are modified in various ways but must preserve the exact pitches and rhythms of the original with variation. By the final track there is only material left which has been used several times over.
I was unable to identify exact themes but there is a similar quality of tonal, perhaps modal melodies here, often spun out over a highly motoric rhythmic base. Metcalfe has obviously been layering in many tracks of his various instruments; in the track First Major Upset... for instance, there is a rich string orchestra backing which with the guitar or piano solo over it reminded me of my favorite modern jazz album - Stan Getz Focus. The guitar is sometimes electrified but with a subtlety that works out well with the other stringed instruments in the ensemble. Curve of the Sand has a lovely cello voice over New Age-sounding highly reverbed piano ostinato. While there is considerable repetition - as with much modern music - Metcalfe seems to be able to maintain interest with slightly unexpected turns that offer relief from a Philip Glassy stuck-groove sort of sound. The self-imposed limitations seem to call forth superb creativity from Metcalfe - as similar various constrictions have sparked composers to greater achievement for hundreds of years. The overall mood struck me as a sort of sunnier, warmer version of what has come to be known as The ECM Sound.
I couldnt recommend this album more, and if you want more after hear it, you need look no further than the free bonus disc included. It features the same cellist and drummer, no bassist but two other violinists - and Metcalfe does not play piano on this one, which appears to be an earlier version of what he is doing on Scorching Bay. In fact, speaking of restrictions calling forth new creativity, one of the tracks is titled Schoenberg. (He would have said that is one of the advantages of working with an unchanging tone row in serial composition, for example.) But dont misunderstand - this is not Swiss Cheese music, but lovely, flowing, tonal chamber music. One of the bonus tracks involves some repeated vocal declamations, another has a wordless vocalise, and this outing was a bit more minimalist.
Tracks, Scorching: Bend in the Road, 8, 7 Days Later, First Major Upset of the Tournament, Scorching Bay, Fabrine, Curve of the Sand, Rocket, Cuba Street, Scooter, I Dont Remember You Wearing a Watch, Music for Trains. Tracks, Inner Line: Blue Ruby, 95, Schoenberg, George, Ray B, The Inner Line, Suspicion, The Thrill is Gone, Moving On, 1916, Groovy Dog, Joe, He Heart Him Sing.
- John Sunier
Bob Dorough - Sunday at Iridium (with Steve Berger, guitar; Steve Gilmore, bass; Ed Ornowski, drums; guests: Joe Wilder, trumpet; Daryl Sherman, vocal and piano; The Bobettes) - Arbors Jazz - ARCD 19305 *****:
Here is one of the most distinctive singer-songwriters in jazz today in a 21-track (including all the spoken introductions) live recording made earlier this year at a Manhattan jazz club. Dorough, who hails from Arkansas, has a readily identifiable style that is cool, friendly and tongue-in-cheek but miles away from someone like crooner Kurt Elling, for example. Hes part of that New York cabaret vocalist style heard in such people as Dave Frishberg and Blossom Dearie - in fact the three of them have performed together, which would really be a kick for this fan of theirs! Or you could think of Bob as a sort of positive-thinking Mose Allison.
Dorough, now 80 years old, is reaching audiences who grew up on his clever songs for ABC-TVs Schoolhouse Rock, several of which he does here - including one sure to wig out any audiophile, titled Electricity. In that number Dorough is joined by The Bobettes - his own version of the Raylettes backup singers, as he puts it. Dorough was also just about the only vocalist to do a track on a Miles Davis album once (Blue Christmas). Eight of the tunes are either originals or ones Bob was involved in with others. The great Joe Wilder joins in on two tracks, including the delightful Aint No Spoofin. I have all of them and I think this is the best Dorough album yet. Dig it!
Tracks: Youre the Dangerous Type, But For Now, Youre Looking at Me, Sunday, Comin Home Baby, Three is a Magic Number, Baby Used To Be, How Could a Man Take Such a Fall, Without Rhyme or Reason, Down St. Thomas Way, Aint No Spoofin, Electricity Electricity, Well Be Together Again.
- John Henry
Mark Elf - Glad to Be Back - (Elf, guitar; David Hazeltine, piano; Peer Washingon, bass; Lewis Nash, drums) - Jen Bay Jazz JBR 0010 ****:
What Elf is back from is a pair of major surgeries that put him out of commission for a couple years. Now hes back in shape and grateful to continue to write and play his music. Some of the tunes are named for others in music who had similar health issues and shared them with Elf and for doctors who love the music and helped him thru difficult times. Elf has done a lot of recording over the years and has at least eight previous CDs on this label. His style is a straight ahead and varied approach depending on the tune and treatment. Its nice to listen to a guitar-based quartet once in a while without any horns, and this one is one of the best.
Tracks: Elfins Place, Little Old Lady, Groove for Gonzalez, Alfie, Bossa For Eric A., A Fancy for Yancy, Count Spacey, Falling in Love With Love, Ballad for Bertrand, Gastons Gate, Falling in Love with Love.