Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Some Jazz Albums I Bought Over the Last Ten Years

JC on the Set by the James Carter Quartet, a stylistically wandering but frequently fused effort from the saxophonist in group. Nice reading of 'Sophisticated Lady'--Carter's phrases are sure and undulate with a blues cadence even as he extends his lines over a sublime melody. In other areas, he sounds tad brackish and barking-- blorts and grunts at times when he really didn't need them, as if to establish some kind of credibility that admirable technique alone cannot. He sometimes grates.
Still, his work here is compelling for the most part, and Craig Taborn’s piano work is a handy and deliciously quick-witted foil for Carter: elegantly, giddily fast up tempo, meditative and yearning as he scrolls over the ballads. On a similar note, I just bought and played "Empyrean Isles" by Herbie Hancock on Blue Note, and features Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter and "Anthony" Williams. A terrifically moody album, Hubbard’s' composition are smooth tone investigations--his piano work is focused and at this date, 1964, sculpted tasty figures. Hubbard likewise weaves in and around and through the music with a surety that belies his later brash, flaming attack. And Williams on drums is a wonder, as he always was: this album is fine companion to his own "Spring". Hearing this underscores the loss.

Pursuance: The Music of John Coltrane
--Kenny Garrett

Kenny Garrett (alto saxophone), Pat Metheny (guitar), Rodney Whitaker (bass), Brian Blade (drums).

I guess I've been in a straight ahead mood lately, catching up with CDs I haven't played much since I bought them. Garrett acquits himself here on his alto, and allows himself to mess with Coltrane’s' sacred phrases: a potent abstractionist when need be, but a man who’s outgrown the old clothes and demonstrates an inspired re-tailoring of the material. "Giant Steps" has a swaggering waltz feel, with a sly, side long reading of the head, and Garrett’s' improvisations come in deft, spiky explosions. Metheny remains a marvel of jazz guitar here, a continuing revelation since he more or less walked away from his fusion stance some years ago, and the bass and drum interplay between Whitaker and Blade tumbles and rolls nicely through out. Worth the money I spent.

Remembering Bud Powell --Chick Corea and Friends

Roy Haynes (drums) Kenny Garrett (alto sax) Joshua Redman (tenor sax),Wallace Roney (trumpet) Christian Mc Bride (bass).

Yes, yes, I am playing a desperate game of catch up, and habits tend toward stellar tributes rather than primary sources, but....

..this Corea Bud Powell collection is notable for, besides dense and cutting improvisations, is the quality of Powell’s' compositions. Corea resists the temptation to Latinize or fusionize the material and instead plays the charts straight--Powell’s' sense of harmonic build up and resolution is loopy, easing from sweetness to tart dissonance. All of which is the canvas for some good blowing. Corea reins in his extravaganzas and weaves around with a now untypical sense of swing. The efforts of Garrett and Redman are a reed lover’s idea of heaven. Roney has a cool, crystalline tone, and his phrasing is meditative, reserved, nicely so, though one desires a Hubbardesque scorch at odd times. Haynes and McBride are champs.

Jazz From Hell---Frank Zappa.

Was always curious what Zappa would have sounded like if he could make full ensemble music without musicians to deal with. This is it, every tone, harmonic and textured, save an outstanding live guitar solo, MIDI'd to the nearest liking his famous impatience would allow. Daunting, but oh yeah...

Spring--Tony Williams

Wayne Shorter (tenor sax) Sam Rivers (tenor Sax) Herbie Hancock (piano) Gary Peacock (bass) Tony Williams (drums).

From 1965, a too-brief but alluring Blue Note set of moods and expressions ranging from sprite and dancing to somber and melancholy. Shorter's and Rivers' respective tenor work are wonderfully complimentary, with Shorter's long, ribbony lines knitting intricate configurations with the darting, brasher style of Rivers. Williams is a master with the brushes here, easily soloing through out the disc.
Interesting here that Gary Peacock starts what sounds like it will be a firmly intoned bass solo, but after a few plucked notes, the disc ends. Like that. Nada. It's a shock, but sounds right after a couple of listens.

Muddy Water Blues --Paul Rodgers

Rodgers, ex of Free and Bad Company, is as good as blue-eyed blues/rock belting has ever gotten--he can rasp and croon, belt and banter with equal measures of savvy and snap when all cans are firing. Sadly, he sings better than he writes, as just about all his post-Free efforts show. On this album, he digs into the bullet-proof songs of Muddy Waters, and has a hoot doing them: refreshingly, this is not a purist effort. Instead, it’s a throw back to British blues rock, which was louder, faster, flashier. Jeff Beck, Gary Moore, Brian Setzer and Trevor Rabin and Neal Schon all lend their fingers here, flash and feeling , and Rodgers applies the vocal chords for the best singing he'd done in easily ten years. "She Sends Me", "Born Under a Bad Sign", 'She's Alright" and "Rolling Stone" help me, for a moment, remember why I used to think he was the best singer on the planet. For a minute, that is.

Far Cry"--Eric Dolphy w/ Booker Little

Dolphy (alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute); Little (trumpet); Jaki Byard (piano); Ron Carter (bass) ; Roy Haynes (drums).

What a band. Poised in the Tradition, but watch out: Dolphy's playing , especially on bass clarinet, are never far from the margins: even here, within the relative conservatism of the material, he threatens pure, Coltranesque blowing. A nice tension through out, and Dolphy is tireless with his invention. Little has a tight, squeezed sound in his playing, and it's a gas.

Jimi Hendrix:Blues --Jimi Hendrix

A typical gathering of Hendrix loose threads, centered his outstanding blues guitar work: some tracks work better than others, the band is not always in tune , and sometimes drags terribly, but this is more than archival stuff for completist. "Red House" is included, always inspiring, and "Bleeding Heart", a truly mournful show blues work out that has only surfaced once or twice on some imports, has Hendrix digging deep into the frets. A live "Hear My Train A Comin'", originally on the "Rainbow Bridge" album, is a masterpiece of pure, blazing Hendrixism: Everything Hendrix could do right on the guitar is displayed here, the sonic flurries, the screaming ostinatos, the feedback waves that he turns into melodic textures with a snap of the whammy bar: this track ought to the one any Hendrix advocate plays as proof of the genius we speak about.

Not a bad blues guitar disc at all, essential for this Hendrix fanttle is a crackerjack trumpeter, and Byard glides easily from

The Body and Soul ----Freddie Hubbard

An early work for Hubbard intended you showcase his flaming trumpet work in both septet and big band formats. Yes indeed. Hubbard’s' reading of the title track is superlative ballad work, and in other areas, his often times top-heavy virtuosity finds a place among and atop Wayne Shorter's arrangements. That is to say, Hubbard is not buried under a producer's idea of "taste", and Hubbard’s' attack exhibits hardly a trace of the scorched-earth style he’d favor in many of his later sessions. This is not to say that Hubbard is tamed, only that this is a successful combination of normally competing sensibilities, a true fusion. Along with Shorter, Eric Dolphy, Cedar Walton, and Curtis Fuller add their solo graces to the material, and larger ensemble work is marvelous as music can be.

Tenor Legacy --Joe Lovano

Lovano--tenor sax/Joshua Redman--tenor sax/Mulgrew Miller--piano/Christian McBride--bass/Lewis Nash--drums/Don Alias--percussion.

Legacy indeed. Lovano and Redman are an evenly matched set of bookends here, with Lovano's lusher tone taking the lead voice. He and Redman have a wonderful time of one-upmanship on some tracks, and Redman's ability to solo as fluidly as Lovano does lushly hands us a top-notch collaboration. Wonderful horn lines, and cracker-jack from all the others. Straight ahead blowing, solid compositions.

Sonny Side Up --Dizzy Gillespie , Sonny Stott, Sonny Rollins

Gillespie--trumpet/Stott, Rollins--tenor saxes/Ray Bryant--piano/ Tommy Bryant--bass/Charlie Persil--drums

A three way blow from 1958, this sessions is fast and furious. Stitt and Rollins are breath taking, particularly at the double and then triple time of "The Eternal Triangle", while Gillespie, as usual, is peerless with his tone and attack. "After Hours", as well, is a briskly played blues: one marvels at how many moods and approaches a player can have within the same 12 bar solo.

--Dexter Gordon

w/Gordon--tenor sax / Sonny Clark--piano / Butch Warren--bass / Billy Higgins--drums

A 1961 gathering, a roll-up the sleeves where only the music mattered, from the sounds of things here. Gordon has such an easy gait on the slower, bluesier tunes, and an engulfing sense of swing on the faster tracks. And in between, any number of moods , his phrases whimsical, suggesting , perhaps, what Paul Desmond might have wished he sounded like if he would only dare step out of that glossy, modal style and burn a little. He might have garnered a bit of Gordon's humor. Billy Higgins is wonderful here, and Sonny Clark is a bright star through out: his chord work and harmonic turns brighten up the room. This is the kind of music that makes you want to drink after shave and wash your cat in the sink.

One of A Kind--Bill Bruford

w/Bruford--drums and percussion/ Allan Holdsworth--guitar / Dave Stewart --keyboards / Jeff Berlin-- bass

The King Crimson and sometime Yes drummer had occasional jazz-fusion sessions when he wasn't furnishing beats behind abstruse angst fantasies, and surprisingly, the music holds up well. There is not an amphetamine strain fuzz tone anywhere to be heard. What helps are good tunes, most by Bruford, that mix up funk, Zappa, and Prog-rock stylistics under unmannered conditions, allowing the instrumental work to mesh, mess around, and burn as needed. Holdsworth offers some impressive ultra legato lines, and Jeff Berlin is singular on the bass. Bruford, hardly a Cobhamesque fusion monster, lacks some the swing you might like, or even the blunt Bonham-oid pow! to make this rock harder, but he's an able timekeeper who keeps the session forging ahead.

--Eric Clapton

A 2-cd set of blues tracks from Clapton, one studio out- takes and random tracks from previous work, and a live disc. This album often drives head long into a torpor that revives the phrase "noodling", as one mid-tempo blues after another eventually turns the stomp into a slog, and the guitar work runs a course from inspired and fierce to directionless and tired, tired, tired. This is the blues of exhaustion, what musicians do on stage when there no more songs or licks , but with time still on the clock. The live set fares quite a bit better--Clapton sounds awake and his guitar work is a demonstration why he's regarded as one of the classiest blues pickers alive.

But you wonder about someone's need to flood the market further with absolutely everything in the vault, in the drawer, under the sofa, lost in a box in the fruit cellar. Tedium too often wins out in the mood setting competition. A shorter, punchier single disc release would have been a better option.

This Land
--Bill Frissell

w/ Frissell -- guitar / Don Byron -- clarinet and bass clarinet / Billy Drews -- alto saxophone / Curtis Fowlkes --trombone / Kermit Driscoll -- basses / Joey Baron -- drums

If Aaron Copeland wrote for small ensembles that highlighted a very electric and twangy guitar, the effort might sound like this. A fine mélange of approaches, hoe-down pastoral rubbing against some Manhattan chatter and rhythm, uptown funk overlaid with strains of Ives, jazz lacing everything together. Similar projects handle the diversity well --think Dixie Dregs and Bella Fleck-- but Frissell's instincts are sensuous, not sinewy. The improvisations are nicely over lapped, and Don Byron is a breathing history of his instruments.

Getting There--John Abercrombie (ECM)

w/Abercrombie -- electric and acoustic guitars / Marc Johnson -- bass / Peter Erskine -- drums / Michael Brecker (special guest)-- tenor sax.

Sprawling , icy fusion, informed with Euro-detachment that has its moments of genuine passion and swelling originality. Abercrombie’s plays in terse note clusters, infrequently favoring the long lines over the diffuse rhythms, but he has a nice phased , electronically grafted tone whose colors add density where other wise there would be none. Good , probing jazz rock. Brecker's contributions could have been phoned in, though.

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