Alexander Claffy – Standards: What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life? – SMK Jazz SMKJ-002, 61:48 ****1/2:
(Alex Claffy – double bass; Kurt Rosenwinkel – guitar; David Kikoski – piano; Adam Arruda – drums; Mark Whitfield Jr. – drums; Aaron Kimmel – drums; Joel Frahm – tenor saxophone; Benny Benack III – trumpet; Veronica Swift – vocals)
In either a break with contemporary jazz practices of adherence to original compositions, or a throwback to old school celebration of standards, bassist Alexander Claffy’s newest release on SMK Jazz will intrigue music lovers. What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life is a collection of diverse songs with interesting arrangements. The opening track, McCoy Tyner’s “Blues On The Corner” is an inspired selection. First recorded on Tyner’s 1967 album, The Real McCoy, the pianist’ intention was to celebrate his Philadelphia roots with joyful enthusiasm. Claffy and his “core” band (David Kikoski/piano; Kurt Rosenwinkel/guitar and 1st of 3 drummers Adam Arruda) dive into this piece with festive exuberance. Claffy lays down a nimble “walking” bass line as Kikoski moves into his first bluesy solo. Rosenwinkel complements the group with a well-spaced lead as he hands it off to Kikoski for an extended run. There is a crescendo of jazz chords with grittiness and harmonics that envelop this jam. Turning to Michel Legrand (a favorite among jazz players), “You Must Believe In Spring” is a study in complex moods. Originally composed for a film (The Young Girls Of Rochette), the song became associated with Bill Evans’ 1980 album of the same name. The quintet’s take (with new drummer Mark Whitfield Jr. and tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm) delivers the piece with emotional potency. After a freer jazz offering by Frahm, Rosenwinkel delivers a jagged-toned guitar solo. This is more like traditional jazz with Whitfield Jr. and Claffy driving the tempo unlike any prior covers.
The Beatles have often been explored by jazz artists. Their unpredictable time signatures and chording (at least for popular music) are open to a variety of translations. Here, Rosenwinkel visits the basic melody, framed by Kikoski’s alternative jazz chording. Claffy shines on his solo, displaying both finesse and passionate inflection. Again, there is a polyrhythmic elasticity with hard bop and Latin-infused dynamics. It is quite possible the most incendiary version of this “ballad” ever recorded. Another jazz community inspiration is Cole Porter. His rich melodic contexts and wistful ambiance have stood the test of time. The first of two Porter compositions (“Just One Of Those Things”) has been covered by numerous jazz and popular artists. Singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra have chosen to insinuate the ruminative melancholy in their versions. But Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers fired up a percolating intense atmosphere. Claffy (back with the original quartet structure) begins with medium-swing groove, but at the 0:50 mark, led by Rosenwinkel’s soloing steps up the pace. Kikoski follows with a mind-numbing flurry of notation and chords. Claffy’s double bass solo and Aaron Kimmel’s drum fils maintain the freneticism. In contrasting style “So In Love” (from Porter’s 1948 Broadway musical Kiss Me Kate) begins with airy and moody resonance. In the middle of Kikoski’s solo, the group simply explodes into up tempo swing. Claffy and Arruda anchor the central part of this piece. At over 11 minutes, it is easily the longest album track.
Showcasing another level of versatility, Duke Pearson’s 1966 tune, “Is That So?” is coyly bouncy. The addition of saxophone and trumpet (Benny Bannack III) give this a more expansive range. Frahm’s muscular solo rumbles with palpable “blue” refinement. He is followed by Kikoski (in fine swing form) and Claffy. The dual saxophone/trumpet fusion makes this cover percolate. Claffy reintroduces the walking (or running) double bass on ‘Wayne Shorter’s” mood tapestry, “Devil’s Island”. Muted trumpet blended with sax is another touch of modality. Kikoski is brilliant on an extended solo. The title cut is a renowned Oscar-nominated song by Michel Legrand (from the 1969 film The Happy Ending). Claffy and Kikoski embrace the romantic delicacy of Legrand’s revered cinematic work, with an occasional jazzy nuance. The utilization of a bowed double bass underscores the stylish grace of the song. Kikoski infuses jazzy chords that reflect the atmospheric essence of Legrand. The finale (with guest vocalist Veronica Swift) is a haunting number. Written by George Cory (best known for “I Left My Heart In San Francisco), it was part of the inimitable repertoire of Billie Holiday. Swift duets with Rosenwinkel and emulates the lilting phrasing of Lady Day.
Alexander Claffy – Standards: What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life is erudite and approachable.
Blues On The Corner
You Must Believe In Spring
Just One Of Those Things
So In Love
Is That So?
What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life