Friday, September 7, 2007

The jazz rotating in my CD player right now is---

The Stranger's Hand --  Jerry Goodman (violin), Howard Levy (harmonica, piano) , Steve Smith (drums, percussion), Oteil Burbridge (bass)

Very credible jazz fusion here, with ex-Mahavishnu violinist Goodman slicing and swirling through his improvisations with a natural swing and brick-tossing sense of rock that continues to advance the instrument in non-classical areas. But the real show here is Levy, whose harmonica playing is revolutionary--the ability to produce a chromatic scale from a diatonic instrument is hard enough, and the ease with which Levy performs makes the sounds--folksy and blues tinged by turns, with sudden flights of real register jumping complexity--makes his solos terrific. Those not enamored of the jazz rock of old won't be convinced that this disk advances anything, but this is easily the strongest fusion effort since the Dixie Dregs at their peak. Smith on drums and Burbridge on bass are wondrous as well.

Ju Ju -- Wayne Shorter (Blue Note)

Wayne Shorter -- tenor sax / McCoy Tyner -- piano / Reggie Workman -- bass / Elvin Jones -- drums

A 1964 session, sweetness and light meets fire and deep seated anxiety in seeming alternating breaths. Shorter is thoughtful, probing the moods of his ingeniously laid-out material with finesse that hints at more expressionistic playing to come--his tone always struck me as inner-directed--while the band delivers everything their names promise. Elvin Jones continues to convince that he is the greatest drummer in jazz history.

--The Uptown String Quartet (Blue Moon)

Saw these four women on CBS Sunday Morning a year or so ago, and their bringing their classical training to bear on jazz was a quirky notion that works genuinely well. Name it and the style is here, Kansas City blues to some very "out" moments, and some blues to spare, with the ensemble not seeming to try to preserve the dusty air of the chamber, nor falsely infuse their work with a creaking notion of swing. It swings nicely at that, and a bonus is a left field arrangement of "I Feel Good". It's glorious to hear James Brown in long hair circumstances.

Carry the Day --Henry Threadgill (Columbia)

Produced by Bill Laswell, with all compositions by Threadgill, this is one of those albums that make you glad there is such a word as "eclectic" in the dictionary. His multi-reed playing is sure through out the sessions, and here organizes his players in a way that make this creepily seamless, that is to say unnervingly groovy. Brandon Ross supplies some truly edgy jazz-rock guitar work--damn, this style is still exciting in the hands of the right fret man--and this features some of the freshest horn charts I've heard in years. Varied, serious, fun, exciting, arty, and yes, very well done.

The Heart of Things --John McLaughlin (Verve)

McLaughlin--guitars / Gary Thomas -- reeds, flute / Jim Beard -- keyboards, synths / Matthew Garrison --bass / Dennis Chambers --drums

Good players wasted on thin grooves--McLaughlin , like the late Tony Williams, writes riffy little tunes , with occasional "fancy" changes, that barely support the technical expertise of the musicians, who tend to over play their hands to shore things up. Despite an odd good moment here where things click, everyone sounds muscle-bound : thick, dense, slow witted. It needn't have been the case.

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 it's frequent moments of genuine passion and swelling originality. Aberbrombie's plays in terse note clusters, infrequently favoring the long lins over the diffuse rhythms, but he has a nice phased , electronically grafted tone whose colors add densisty where other wise there would be none. Good , probing jazz rock. Brecker's contributions could have been phoned in, though.


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.

Nothin' But the Swing--Black Note

Mark Shelby--bass/Willie Jones 111--drums/James Mahone--alto sax/Ark Sano--piano/Gilbert Castellanos, Nicholas Payton--trumpet/Teodross Avery--tenor and soprano sax

Cool jazz, in the style of the classic Miles quartets, though lacking a Coltrane or a Shorter to sear the ground with. No matter, though, as the ensemble sound is glowing and warm, with a spring to the swing, and some thoughtful solo work. Mahone has a warm alto sound, and rounded feel to this lines, and Gilbert Castellanos provides a sufficiently icy rim to this phrases: a sullen trumpeter, this man.

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