Jazz music, news and views

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Jenny Scheinman

Fans of violin will dig Jenny Scheinman. Her newest release 12 Songs (on the L.A.-based Cryptogramophone label) features some beautiful melodic compositions in sprawling soundscapes. This NorCal native was conservatory-trained at Oberlin and has been performing since her teenage years.

Guitarist Bill Frisell's accompaniment is a hand-in-glove fit. His appropriately country twang matches Scheinman's lyrical folk-inspired sounds. Over the years, she's picked up experience playing swing with the Hot Jazz Club of San Francisco, explored Balkan music with Jim Black and Chris Speed, and busked in European and New York subways. 12 Songs is not your typical violin-/hot-jazz, though; you can hear plenty of bluesy/avant/world/classical influences here (Crypto encourages its artists to push the envelope, but the results are always tasteful and genuine). Throughout, Scheinman is concerned not with showiness or even her instrument's novelty but with actually communicating something to the listener. The results are eclectic and rootsy at once, beautifully languorous, a seductively melodic and sonic sprawl.

And Crypto has graciously given us some juicy full-length mp3s on their website:

"The Frog Threw His Head Back and Laughed"

"Song of the Open Road"

"She Couldn't Believe It Was True"

Buy 12 Songs!

And check out this interview on tinsquo.com.

Best of 2005

Here's the obligatory "Best Albums of 2005" list. Of course, in many ways, this list is completely arbitrary. I usually get pretty excited about any new release from any artist I love. But when it comes down to it, these are some of the discs I found myself playing the most or telling my friends about. These sounds will still be fresh in the new year and years beyond.

Here we go:

1) Marc Johnson: Shades of Jade (ECM) [buy it]
2) Jonathan Kreisberg: New For Now (Criss Cross) [buy it]
3) Dave Holland Big Band: Overtime (Dare2/Sunnyside) [buy it]
4) Robert Glasper: Canvas (Blue Note) [buy it]
5) Bill Cunliffe: Imaginacion (Torii) [buy it]
6) Alex Sipiagin: Returning (Criss Cross) [buy it]
7) Bill Frisell: East/West (Nonesuch) [buy it]
8) Gregg August: Late August (Iacuessa) [buy it]
9) Thelonious Monk / John Coltrane: At Carnegie Hall (Blue Note) [buy it]
10) Terence Blanchard: Flow (Blue Note) [buy it]

Monday, December 19, 2005

Daisuke Abe

Dig guitarist Daisuke Abe (pronounced "DYE-soo-kay AH-bay"). Japanese-born, Berklee-educated (class of '02), and currently making his home in NYC, this up-and-comer was encouraged to pursue a career in jazz by veteran drummer Rodney Green who plays skins on Abe's debut as a leader, On My Way Back Home. Abe also recruited similarly youthful but potent performers Aaron Parks on piano; Matt Brewer on bass, and Berklee classmate Walter Smith on tenor.

Abe's tone is comparable to the warm clarity of Peter Bernstein's with a touch of Methenyesque reverb. His attack is bell-tonish, lucid and striking, and his chords leave a lovely crystalline jangling in their wake. While he is still developing his vocabulary of licks (we can't all be Pat Martino, after all!), his chops sound promising. While contemporaries like Bernstein or Kurt Rosenwinkel solo using wide intervals and octave jumps, Abe holds our interest with more linear, scalar statements. His ideas are direct, logical, melodic and impressive. He also possesses an expert compositional style, melding heady lines and metric shifts with an uplifting sense of lyricism -- cerebral yet accessible.

A live performance of "Go!" at the Blue Note with the same cast of characters from the new album. (Incidentally, "go" is Japanese for "five," since the tune is in 5/4!)

Buy On My Way Back Home!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Robert Glasper

26-year old pianist Robert Glasper is the latest addition to the Blue Note stable of artists, and a welcome addition at that. He’s spent the majority of his career as an accompanist for notable vocalists across jazz, hip-hop and R&B genres (Carmen Lundy, Q-Tip, Bilal, Me’shell Ndegeocello, Mos Def) as well as a sideman for a number of today’s top-notch jazzers (Terence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, Roy Hargrove, Kenny Garrett, Christian McBride). He debuted as a leader in 2004 with Mood (Fresh Sound, New Talent), and now we get a taste of his still-forming identity on Canvas.

Glasper’s major label debut is mainly a trio record, though Bilal and tenor saxophonist Mark Turner are featured on a couple tracks. This New School University grad started playing piano in several churches in Houston where he grew up, but he always tries to vary the flavor of his performance today. He recently told Downbeat Magazine, "You've got to have a balance. Church can be a bad habit; everything you play can sound like a church chord if you don't know how to get out of it." Knowing this, Glasper blends his gospel background with some slick harmonies and deft interplay. He shows a penchant for the modern lyricism and technique of Aaron Goldberg or Renee Rosnes and tries to further the tradition of interplay in the vein of the Keith Jarrett’s standards trio or the Hancock/Carter/Williams triumvirate – power matched with communication. He’s got chops to burn, but melodic ideas are clearly foremost in his mind.

Buy Canvas!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Returning to Alex Sipiagin

Many stellar jazz musicians have a peculiar way of a slipping into the scene without being noticed until it’s "too late," when their talents are so outstanding that they are unavoidable. Alex Sipiagin can no longer be called a newcomer; he has arrived. Born and raised in Russia, he received classical training at the Gnessin Conservatory in Moscow for eight years before taking up jazz in the mid-‘80s. After placing fourth in the International Louis Armstrong Competition (sponsored by the Thelonious Monk Institute), Sipiagin moved to New York in 1991 and began building a daunting resume with renowned groups like Gil Goldstein’s Zebra Coast Orchestra, Dave Holland’s Big Band, the Mingus Big Band, the Mingus Orchestra, and Michael Brecker’s Quinductet and Sextet.

Stylistically, Sipiagin is a fluid, powerful soloist with a warm, earnest tone à la Art Farmer or Tom Harrell (especially while on flugelhorn) and an extensive modern, post-bop vocabulary bringing to mind contemporaries like Dave Douglas or Terence Blanchard. His playing always offers some kind of head-tripping horn gymnastics, but he also possesses a restless passion to communicate. His ideas are always logical and never fail to draw something out of the listener. He can execute fleet-fingered lines effortlessly, but he doesn't let his ideas get buried in the licks. As a leader with over half a dozen albums to his name, Returning is a welcome addition.

While on tour with Michael Brecker, Sipiagin encountered Pat Metheny at the North Sea Jazz Festival, who asked if Sipiagin would mind recording another song of his (the trumpeter covered "Missouri Uncompromised" on his album Steppin' Zone). After the tour, Metheny actually penned two songs specifically for Returning. One of them, “Snova” is a light bossa featuring Adam Rogers on acoustic guitar. His solo here is lyrical and dazzling, no doubt thanks to his thorough classical guitar studies at the Mannes College of Music. Tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, as always, will have sax fans agape at his technique, but his ideas here never fail to sing. Sipagin's cascading lines are sensitive and use intervallic jumps in just the right places (one might be reminded of Woody Shaw). According to Sipiagin, who named Metheny’s composition here, “Snova” is Russian for “again” but not in a repeating sense. Instead, it is used to mean “anew” or “afresh,” something affirmative -- the same spirit that hovers over all the virtuosic yet human elements of Returning.

Buy it!

(P.S. Look out for Sipiagin’s upcoming project in 2006 called “FreshDirect” with ArtistShare.)
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