Jazz CD Reviews, Part 1 of 2

by | Nov 1, 2004 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Gonzalo Rubalcaba – Paseo (Rubalcaba, piano/keyboards/percussion;
Feleipe Lamoglia, soprano/alto/tenor sax; Armando Gola, elec. bass; Ignacio
Berroa, drums) – Blue Note 7243 5 81832 21V ****:

The Cuban pianist
strikes me as one of the most exciting talents at the keyboards today. He’s
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 he’s 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 Rubalcaba’s 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
– 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 Herbie’s 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 Sony’s 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 Hancock’s 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. I’d be
curious how many sides were thrown out before getting to those we’re 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 Hancock’s 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 Jarrett’s early solo
improvisation albums (1982) was also recorded in Munich.The latest from
Jarrett’s “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 Denmark’s 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 It’s All in the Game. Sonics are
especially good on this live concert discing, though when ECM’s 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
Tracks: Intro/I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love with Me,
You’ve Changed, I Love You, The Out-of-Towners, Five Brothers, It’s All in the
– 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 Young’s 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 Byron’s music for PBS documentary on Billie Holiday’s
Strange Fruit. In fact there are four Byron originals here. Byron’s expertise in
putting together an exciting musical experience extends to his choice of
sidemen: He didn’t 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, I’ve 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, ****:

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 couldn’t 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 don’t 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 Don’t 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 *****:

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. He’s 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-TV’s 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 Ain’t No Spoofin.’ I have all of them and I think this is the best
Dorough album yet. Dig it!
Tracks: You’re the Dangerous Type, But For
Now, You’re 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, Ain’t No Spoofin,’ Electricity Electricity, We’ll Be Together
– 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 he’s 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. It’s nice to listen to a guitar-based quartet once in a
while without any horns, and this one is one of the best.
Tracks: Elfin’s
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,
Gaston’s Gate, Falling in Love with Love.
– John Henry
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