Jazz CDs, Pt. 1 of 2

Jason Moran, piano - The Bandwagon (with Tarus Mateen, acoustic electric bass; Nasheet Waits, drums) Blue Note CD 7243 5 80917 2 4V:

Moran has to be the most exciting young lion on the jazz piano front today. His trio is basically an acoustic one, but he makes an unexpected bow to today’s electronic universe by opening his concerts and Cds with a taped collage of voices and sounds - including tapes of various international speaking voices against which he improvises at the piano. For example, the track titled Ringing My Phone is a recording he made when visiting his mother in Istanbul. She is speaking Turkish, but he always tells his recordees he doesn’t care what they are talking about - he is only interested in the musical qualities of their voice patterns. His improvisation in sync with the tape is astounding and takes the listener into a new sensitivity to the musical quality of voices in general. There is an electronic music composer who does something similar (Lansky) but I had never heard anything like this done in jazz.

Another surprise is the track just before this one, which is a straight classical performance of the lyrical Intermezzo Op. 118, No. 2 by Brahms. It is an example of the increasing incursion of classical music into the jazz world, and on a much more sophisticated basis than the practice of “swingin’ the classics” back during the big band era. It appears that aside from Body & Soul, all the other tracks are Moran originals, but I don’t have any notes with the advance CD (released August 19) so I can’t tell you. Moran, in common with several other new voices in modern jazz, has a way of integrating free jazz elements into his improvisations in such a way that those of us who are normally a bit moldy-figgy about that sort of jazz (as for example Cecil Taylor’s ilk) suddenly find it is not only acceptable but really enjoyable. Tracks: Intro, Another One, Intermezzo (Brahms), Ringing My Phone (Straight Outta Istanbul), Out Front, Gentle Shifts South, Gangsterism On Canvas, Body & Soul, Infospace, Planet Rock. Purchase here

- John Henry

Joe Lovano Nonet - On This Day at the Vanguard - Blue Note 43277 2 8:

Also at the top of the tenor sax all-star list is Lovano, who just keeps putting out one winner album after another. His Caruso CD of last year was certainly a unique connection with the classical world. Here we have him wailing with a passle o’ other all-stars in a live appearance at New York’s Village Vanguard, where so many other live jazz discs have originated. He also did the orchestrations on two of the tracks, sharing them with William “Face” Smith and the alto saxist on the date, Steve Slagle. But he told his sidemen he didn’t want the arrangements set in stone - a fresh creative dialogue is what keeps the music interesting. The album’s title tune is a musical journey based on a nine-note hymn-like melody: “on this day just like a-ny oth-er.” With a great rhythm section this outfit really cooks, and often sounds far more populous than just nine players. Tracks: At the Vanguard, Focus, After the Rain, Good Bait, Laura, On This Day Just Like Any Other, My Little Brown Book. Purchase here

- John Henry

John Surman & Jack DeJohnette with the London Brass - Free and Equal - ECM 1802:

All the music here is from Surman, the multi-talented reed man who plays soprano and baritone sax and bass clarinet on this session, while his cohort DeJohnette plays both piano and drums. The London Brass is a ten man ensemble. They came into the musical mix because Surman had earlier composed an oratorio titled “Proverbs and Songs.” For this new effort the brass choir stood in for the actual vocal choir and it was not the composer’s first work with such an ensemble. The instrumental work in general was inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly in l948. Surman feels there is much in it that is very relevant to today’s international and national situation.

The work is in nine movements and DeJohnette plays piano on the first two, moving over to drums for the remainder. One of Surman’s reasons for composing the work was his simple pleasure in the sound of a band of this size with the prominent brass choir. Recorded in Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, the sonics are terrific (though they’d be even better in multichannel hi-res; especially the Back and Forth movement, which sounds like Giovanni Gabrieli - the first spatial composer). If you have any of Surman’s ECM efforts of years ago, such as “Simon Simon,” you will realize that as fine as those were, he has definitely matured as a composer. Tracks: Preamble, Groundwork, Sea Change, Back and Forth, Fire, Debased Line, In the Shadow, Free and Equal, Epilogue. Purchase here

- John Henry

Get ready for Bix Time with our next couple of discs!...

Geoff Muldaur’s Futuristic Ensemble - Private Astronomy (A Vision of the Music of Bix Beiderbecke) - Edge Music/Universal Classics [release date: Sept. 30]:

This year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of the first great (and tragic) genius of early jazz who happened to be of Caucasian birth. Coming from a prosperous family in Davenport, Iowa, Bix fought against going into his father’s business and played hookey from a military academy to play cornet in Chicago South Side bistros. Bix had a short but meteoric career (he died at age 28) as a star soloist with Jean Goldkette, Paul Whiteman and even Bing Crosby. Composing (and unfortunately, drinking) were his preoccupations. He loved the impressionist composers and Stravinsky and spent hours at the piano perfecting his atmospheric European-style compositions such as In a Mist. Muldaur has taken four of these compositions - which musicologists say indicate Bix might have had a glorious career as a serious composer - and done chamber orchestrations of them.

Distinctive vocalist Geoff Muldaur (Jim Kewskin Jug Band, Paul Butterfield, duos with then-wife Maria) has always had broad musical interests. He wanted to do a special album conveying an impression of the spirit of Bix and his time. So all the music is not all by Beiderbecke. There are several vocals associated with Bix and the twenties in general in fresh big band arrangements, plus one track that transcribes one of his more amazing cornet solos for a vocal trio and the band. Mark Gould plays the cornet in the band, and the pianist is usually Butch Thompson (from Garrison Keillor’s NPR show, which also provided drummer Arnie Kinsella.). In addition to Muldaur on vocals, one hears Martha Wainwright, Loudon Wainwright III, and The Harmony Boys. This is an elegant and thoroughly listenable excursion into the world of one the kings of jazz. The music is brought up to date with great taste and sophistication, and the sonics are superb.

Tracks: Take Your Tomorrow, In the Dark, There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth the Salt of My Tears, In a Mist, Futuristic Rhythm, Davenport Blues, Singin’ the Blues, Candlelight, Bless You Sister!, Flashes, Waiting at the End of the Road, In a Mist (reprise), Clouds. Purchase here

- John Henry

Celebrating Bix! The Bix Centennial All Stars Celebrate His 100th Birthday. - Randy Sandke, Randy Reinhart, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Levinson, Dan Barrett, Mark Shane, Howard Alden, Vince Giordano, Joe Ascione, and a host of others plus special guest: Dick Hyman - Arbors Jazz ARCD 19271:

This Bix tribute takes a somewhat different tack to honor the influence the great cornetist/composer exerts across eight decades of time. The three producers of the CD chose 19 tunes associated with Bix, then using his leads and solos from old 78s they scored them for a variety of instruments - from Hyman’s solo piano to a band of 3 cornets, 3 C-melody saxes, 3 clarinets, and a brass and woodwind group. When the recordings existing in multiple takes they included his solos to show that the cornetist never played the same thing twice. But they didn’t just slavishly replicate what was on the original recordings - they allowed plenty of space for improvising too. The result is a bit more authentic tribute than Muldaur’s but equally fun. There are actually only a few tune duplications from one to the other.

Tracks: At the Jazzband Ball, Proud of a Baby Like You, Deep Harlem, Riverboat Shuffle, Davenport Blues, Jazz Me Blues, Blue River, I Need Some Pettin,’ I’m Coming Virginia, Lonely Melody, Clementine from New Orleans, From Monday On, Singin’ the Blues, There’ll Come a Time, Borneo, Clarinet Marmalade, Way Down Yonder in New Orleans, San, Deep Down South. Purchase here

The Piano Giants at Bob Haggart’s 80th Birthday Party - Dick Hyman, Derek Smith, Ralph Sutton - Arbors Jazz ARCD 19266:

This live event was taped in Miami in l994 with a pair of pianos at the center of the celebration. Longtime bassist Haggart accompanied the pianists, who shared roles across from one another, and occasionally just soloing. Piano parties have been a big thing in jazz from the start: there were the cutting contests, the rent parties - remember Fats Waller’s tune on this subject? This was a kick as the three great gentlemen of the keyboards played their hearts out. The notes indicate who is on the left and who on the right for each track. There’s even a Bix tune. Sit equidistant between those speakers and have a party of your very own!

Tracks: Love for Sale, Sunday, In a Mist, Tea for Two, I’m Thru With Love, It Could Happen to You, Honeysuckle Rose, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, Alligator Crawl, Somebody Stole My Gal, Fascinating Rhythm, Sleep, The Jitterbug Waltz. Purchase here

- John Henry

Not jazz, but this gem has to go somewhere!...

Nigel Kennedy and the Kroke Band - East Meets East - EMI 5 57512 2:

Classical violinist Kennedy (who seems to have returned to using his first name) has a voracious appetite for musical exploration. Not only the rhythms of certain world music attract him but also the guitar-like sounds of the electric violin which he plays on some of these tracks. On this disc he joins up with a Polish group known as Kroke which calls itself a band though it is actually only a trio. One member plays viola, flutes and percussion while handling vocals; another plays accordion and does additional vocals, and the third sticks to doublebass only. Four other guest musicians join in on some tracks, and the string section of the Krakow Philharmonic assists on some numbers. The raw energy of this Eastern European music excited Kennedy and he wanted to join forces with these folk musicians. In fact he digs the music of the region so much he now owns a home in Poland. This CD seems to be his take on violin/ethnic music crossover as opposed to Nadia Solerno-Sonnenberg’s collaborations with the Assad Brothers. Tracks: Ajde Jano, Lullaby for Kamila, T4.2, Eden, Dafino, Jovano Jovanke, Ederiezi, Kazimierz, One Voice, Tribute to Maria, Time 4 Time, Vino, Lost in Time, Kukush. Purchase here

- John Sunier

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