Monday, September 15. 2008
Jazz Consumer Guide (#17) will run this week, meaning Wednesday. I've done quite a bit of work on the next one, but I'm pretty much stalled right now. Did manage a bit of prospecting early in the week, but nothing last 3-4 days. In fact, I've just been playing things for pleasure, and to show off to my house guest. Right now that means Lefty Frizzell. Don't expect I'll be writing much in the next 6-8 weeks. I started a short thing on the anniversary of 9/11, but didn't manage to wrap it up. Didn't even manage to publish the book notes I have backlogged. But I did frame together a new CD cabinet that I figure will hold another 800 CDs, so I'm making progress on other (non-writing) fronts. That's important, too.
Lee Konitz and Minsarah: Deep Lee (2007 , Enja): Konitz needs no introduction. He is past 80 now, still active, still playing difficult music beautifully. Minsarah is Florian Weber's piano trio, one of those groups named after their first album. Jeff Denson plays bass, Ziv Ravitz drums. Mostly Weber pieces, except for the title cut. Was too busy to do anything more than enjoy the record. Will return to it. [B+(***)]
Christian Howes: Heartfelt (2008, Resonance): Violinist, b. 1972, Columbus, OH; now based in New York. Fourth album since 1997. Small print notes: featuring Roger Kellaway. Stick describes this as "beautiful, romantic jazz," and that does seem to be what he's aiming for. When he adds viola things can get icky, as on the first two cuts. Elsewhere he shows a Grappelli influence, and pianist Kellaway earns his keep. Bennie Goodman's "Opus Half" is relatively choice. B
Toninho Horta: To Jobim With Love (2008, Resonance): Banner across the bottom identifies this as belonging to an "Heirloom Series." No recording date, but it's pitched as a 50th anniversary celebration of bossa nova -- seems likely to be new. Horta plays guitar and sings -- make that, plays guitar much better than he sings. He takes nine songs by Antonio Carlos Jobim, adds three of his own, plus a stray by Paulo Horta and Donato Donatti, and gives them what must pass among the nouveaux riches as the luxury treatment. The results are very mixed: wonderful, awful, permutations thereof. The band is ridiculously large, with some prominent yanks -- Dave Kikoski (piano), Bob Mintzer (tenor sax), Gary Peacock (acoustic bass), John Clark (French horn), Charles Pillow (oboe) -- mixed in with comparable Brazilians like Paulo Braga and Manolo Badrena and bunches of folks I've never heard of, many surnamed Horta -- the five flutes give you an idea. Then there's the 22-piece string section, a surefire recipe for seasickness. And the backing vocals, another dozen. Gal Costa even drops in for three cuts. Still, it can be very nice when they keep it simple, especially when the tune is as irresistible as "Desafinado." B-
John Beasley: Letter to Herbie (2008, Resonance): Pianist, b. 1960 in Louisiana. Toured with Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard in the 1980s, cut a couple of crossover albums on Windham Hill, scratched out a living doing ad jingles and filmworks. Plays Fender Rhodes and synth as well as piano. Mostly Hancock songs, with two originals and one by Wayne Shorter. Christian McBride, Jeff "Tain" Watts, and Roy Hargrove get their name on the front cover as "featuring" while Steve Tavaglione, Michael O'Neill, and Louis Conte don't. Emphasizes Hancock's hard bop side over his fusion moves, which is probably for the best. B+(*)
Andreas Öberg: My Favorite Guitars (2008, Resonance, CD+DVD): Swedish guitarist, b. 1978, based in Los Angeles; fourth album since 2004. Plays electric, acoustic, 6-string nylon. Two originals; ten covers, songs by other guitarists like Django Reinhardt, Toninho Horta, Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino, George Benson, Pat Metheny. One of those records that I put on, got distracted, didn't dislike what little I noticed, but didn't notice anything to make it seem worth another play. Didn't watch the DVD. B
Mike Garson: Conversations With My Family (2006 , Resonance, CD+DVD): No recording date for the CD, but the DVD was shot May 7, 2006. Presumably there's some relationship, but once again I didn't bother with the DVD. Garson rings a bell. At the time I first heard it, I thought his piano solo in David Bowie's "Aladdin Sane" was one of the most magnificent things I had ever heard. Other than that I hadn't noticed him much. Turns out that before Bowie he started out with Annette Peacock. He has a dozen or so albums, starting with 1979's Avant Garson. This has a lot of quasi-classical flourishes, especially when accented by Christian Howes' violin -- three cuts, but I could have sworn there were more strings. Claudio Roditti plays trumpet and/or flugelhorn on two cuts; Lori Bell flute on one; Andreas Öberg adds guitar on two. The titles are connected with short interludes, another classical-ish touch. And the piano is rich and florid -- not something I tend to like, but here I rather do. B+(*)
William Parker Quartet: Petit Oiseau (2007 , AUM Fidelity): Too late to make it into JCG (#17), where Parker and the alto saxophonist here, Rob Brown, both have pick hits. Just as well, as this hasn't clicked for me yet -- unlike two previous albums with the same lineup (O'Neal's Porch and Sound Unity), or for that matter Raining on the Moon (which added vocalist Lorena Conquest) and Corn Meal Dance (with Conquest and pianist Eri Yamamoto). On the other hand, I haven't been convinced to give up, either. It feels less avant, more composed through. The two horns -- Brown's alto sax and Lewis Barnes' trumpet -- rarely fly off on their separate paths. The liner notes suggest that for once Parker is working within the tradition, composing tributes to players like Tommy Flanagan (or Tommy Turrentine, or Tommy Potter), mapping the Little Bird from one of his tone poems back to Charlie Parker. [B+(***)]
Paul Motian Trio 2000 + Two: Live at the Village Vanguard, Vol. II (2006 , Winter & Winter): Don't remember Vol. 1 all that well, but it came out at about the same grade. Motian is less of a time keeper than a time disrupter, and he never lets this group settle down into a groove or open up into a jam. In this trio Chris Potter gets abstract and choppy, not really his style, but he handles it well enough. The third leg of the trio is bassist Larry Grenadier. The plus two is pianist Masabumi Kikuchi and either Greg Osby (alto sax) or Mat Manieri (viola). B+(**)
Vince Mendoza: Blauklang (2007 , ACT): Mostly a composer-arranger, no playing credit here. Fifth album since 1990, first since 1999. The bulk of the album is the six movement "Blue Sounds," which closes the disc after five pieces -- two originals, one traditional, one each from Miles Davis and Gil Evans. The record bears the WDR/The Cologne Broadcasts logo, drawing on the Westdeutschen Rundfunks Köln big band, with a few ringers thrown in: Nguyên Lê on guitar, Markus Stockhausen on trumpet, Lars Danielsson on bass, Peter Erskine on drums. So, basically, a big band, plus strings (String Quarter Red URG 4). Has some nice moments, but runs too close to classical for my taste. B-
Peter Schärli Trio Feat. Ithamara Koorax: Obrigado Dom Um Romão (2006 , TCB): Schärli plays trumpet; was born 1955; has at least 8 albums since 1986, including at least one focusing on Brazilian music. Trio includes Markus Stalder on guitar and Thomas Dürst on double bass. Koorax is a Brazilian vocalist, b. 1965 in Rio de Janeiro, the daughter of Polish Jews who fled Europe during WWII. Dom Um Romão was a famous Brazilian percussionist, 1924-2005. One cut here incorporates a berimbau solo Romão recorded in the 1990s. I suppose the lack of drums in this tribute could signify his absence. Mostly slow Brazilian tunes, two standards ("Love for Sale," "I Fall in Love Too Easily"), a Schärli original, done with a lot of haunting, smokey atmosphere. B+(**)
Bill Moring & Way Out East: Spaces in Time (2007 , Owl Studios): Bassist-led "collective group" -- second album, not counting the one Moring did with a Way Out West group. Post-hard bop, with Jack Walrath on trumpet, Tim Armacost on sax, Steve Allee on keyboard, Steve Johns on drums, all but Allee contributing a song or two -- Ornette Coleman is the only cover. Especially good to hear Walrath, who hasn't recorded much lately. B+(*) [Oct. 7]
Mike & the Ravens: Noisy Boys! The Saxony Sessions (2006-07 , Zoho Roots): Rock band, led by vocalist Mike Brassard. Group originally formed in 1962, but this, with same original members, is their first album. Rocks OK, with a large blues component. Sounds more advanced than 1962. More like 1968. In fact, sounds an awful lot like Steppenwolf. B
Harry Shearer: Songs of the Bushmen (2008, Courgette): Eleven songs, one dedicated to Bush administration teamwork ("935 Lies"), the other ten to individuals, starting with Colin Powell's "Smooth Moves" and ending with Donald Rumsfeld's "Stuff Happens" -- both song-and-dance numbers, more than a little jazzy. Some of the adaptations are obvious -- "Wolf on the Run" for Paul Wolfowitz, "Who Is Yoo?" for John Yoo, with Karl Rove's "Turd Blossom Special" and "The Head of Alberto Gonzalez" the most effective. "Karen" (as in Hughes) is a duet with a Bush-sounding character asking the publicist whether they like us yet. The one that cuts deepest is Condoleezza Rice's "Gym Buds," with Judith Owen singing and someone named Beethoven contributing the melody. [B+(***)]
Carla Bley and Her Remarkable Big Band: Appearing Nightly (2006 , Watt): Aside from daughter Karen Mantler on organ, a pretty standard big band configuration: four trumpets, four trombones, five reeds, piano, bass, drums. Half or more are well known names, mostly with lengthy associations with Bley: Lew Soloff, Gary Valente, Wolfgang Pushnig, Andy Sheppard, Julian Argüelles, Steve Swallow, Billy Drummond. The layering is impeccable, and she make especially good use of the trombones. B+(***)
The Stryker/Slagle Band: The Scene (2008, Zoho): Fourth album under this name, although guitarist Dave Stryker and alto saxophonist Steve Slagle appeared on each other's albums long before their merger. Jay Anderson plays bass, Lewis Nash drums. Joe Lovano joins in on four cuts, but he's mostly wasted on slow and overly slick stuff. And then there's Slagle's characteristic flute cut. On the other hand, the band's usual upbeat postbop is pretty tasty. B+(*)
Nik Payton and Bob Wilber: Swinging the Changes (2007 , Arbors): Payton plays tenor sax and clarinet. B. 1972, Birmingham, England; studied at Leeds College of Music, and perhaps more importantly under Wilber, who indulged his Sidney Bechet fetish. Payton was a founder of the Charleston Chasers, and has toured with the Pasadena Roof Orchestra and what's left of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. One previous album, called In the Spirit of Swing. Lives in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, which may have something to do with why there's a Jobim song here, but few albums lack one; in any case, this is pretty straight swing, the only unusual point the preponderance of originals -- 4 by Payton, 7 by Wilber. Group is Payton's "regular London quartet" -- Richard Buskiewicz (piano), Dave Green (bass), Steve Brown (drums). Wish I could say more, but every time I hear something exceptional here I convince myself that it's Wilber. B+(*)
Ron Kalina and Jim Self: The Odd Couple (2006-07 , Basset Hound): Kalina plays chromatic harmonica. Doesn't seem to have much of a discography or history, but he looks rather gray. Self plays tuba. He's been around a long time, with credits going back to 1976 and seven or more albums since 1992. The group is rounded out capably by Larry Koonse (guitar), Tom Warrington (bass), and Joe La Barbera (drums). They play a couple of originals, some standards, two Charlie Parker tunes, the Neal Hefti-composed title TV theme. They make an odd buzz, and swing a little. B+(*)
Darrell Katz/Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra: The Same Thing (2006 , Cadence Jazz): Katz is a composer/arranger -- no performance credits here. He's directed the Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra since 1985, through six albums plus three under his own name. He seems to be based in Boston. Don't know much more. JCAO is a large, ungainly group, leaning avant-garde. Three of Katz's five pieces here are built around texts by Paula Tatarunis, with more/less political overtones. They are sung/recited by Rebecca Shrimpton, in one of those annoying operatic soprano voices, although the words are consistently interesting, and the music does something for them. The sixth piece is the Willie Dixon blues, "The Same Thing," sung by Mike Finnigan. It's one of those standard pop pieces that take on new life when avant-gardists keep the 4/4 and twist everything else. Not a record I'd feel like playing often, but there's a lot in it. B+(**)
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes, look here.