Jazz music, news and views

Sunday, December 31, 2006

More Blogs

It's been a while since I've updated -- or mentioned the recent additions to -- that sidebar on the right. Be sure you visit them in the upcoming year (though you may already be a frequent flyer...):

ear fuzz: They're a staple in the mp3 blogosphere, and I'm more than tardy in linking to them. They have a staff of about a dozen, and their sounds are just as varied (searchable category tags include drum and bass, funk, hip-hop, jazz, soul, world and psychedelica).

Eclectic Grooves: As their sign reads: "Funky, booty-shaking soul and rap. Ear-shattering free jazz noise skronk. Angular, complex math rock. Bottleneck slide guitar blues with a side of sizzling afro-beat. Everything but the kitchen sink." Admit it: you're intrigued. Kevin’s also a contributor to the aforementioned ear fuzz site.

Jazz Boston: This site features the Boston scene and then some. There's a calendar of events, an artist and venue directory, links to Boston-area jazz radio, plus some streaming tunes (Charlie Kohlhase, John Tchicai and Garrison Fewell, Donal Fox, Danilo Perez and Joe Lovano are in current rotation).

The Jazz Clinic: Dr. Jazz, Ph.D (a.k.a. Matt) blogs out of Philly, P-A with notable nods to the N.Y. scene. Being the viral marketer and new media publicist that he is, he makes sure I know what's fresh.

Orgy in Rhythm: Some great downloads here, many of rare and out-of-print vinyl. Recent posts include Bennie Maupin, Larry Young, Tito Puente and Harold Land.

Radio Free Silver Lake: Joe Fielder points the way to indie favorites in the L.A. scene and beyond. Dig the interviews and events calendar, and check out his weekly L.A. music recommendations at FreshRed.

Up the Downstair: Get podcasts galore from Madison, WI with plenty of live performances (with setlists). Recently featured: Anoushka Shankar, Madeleine Peyroux and Wilco. Also check out the 1969 Paris performance of Miles Davis's "Lost Quintet."

Friday, December 29, 2006

SWO Top Ten of 2006

In alphabetical order by artist (with self-indulgent commentary):

Dave Douglas: Meaning and Mystery (Greenleaf)
On its face, Meaning and Mystery isn't quite as "conceptual" as Douglas's other projects, but the musical adventure is still there, and of course there's that old adage about books and their covers. Donny McCaslin's slithering tenor lines complement Douglas well in the trumpeter's brassier moments. James Genus and Clarence Penn are longtime rhythm section-mates and it shows. Against the nocturnal sonic backdrop of Uri Caine's Fender Rhodes, this is one sexy disc. Standout tracks include the slinky "Blues to Steve Lacy," the darkly catchy "Painter's Way" and fiery "Elk's Club."

Taylor Eigsti: Lucky to Be Me (Concord)
With or without the "halo effect," Eigsti proves himself to be a mature, top-flight pianist from the opening track, a fresh trio rendition of "Giant Steps" beginning with a poetic rubato intro. Young guitarist Julian Lage joins Eigsti for several tunes, one of the strongest being the Grammy-nominated original "Argument" with its infectious harmony and momentum. Eigsti's fifth album as a leader (his Concord debut) also draws deserved attention to his powerful songwriting, which pulls our ears between worlds of shade and light. He's in good company, too, with James Genus, Christian McBride, Lewis Nash and Billy Kilson among others.

Jeff Gauthier: One and the Same (Cryptogramophone)
L.A.-based violinist and label-owner Jeff Gauthier does it again with his Goatette. Guitarist Nels Cline and keyboardist David Witham lend their best whether playing lyrically, freely or simply sound-painting. Drummer Alex Cline and bassist Joel Hamilton are supportive but can also surprise. The quintet revels in the eerie soundscapes of Bennie Maupin's "Water Torture." "Solflicka" is an infectious and complex tune penned by the late bassist/composer/bandmate Eric von Essen. The moody "Heart Wisdom - For Thelma" is a perfect showcase for violin, co-written by Gauthier and Witham. Gauthier contributes much to the creative jazz scene as a producer and label-owner, but it's great to hear his own musical voice as well. (The links above are for HTML pages, but do check out Crypto's beautiful Flash site.)

Stefon Harris: African Tarantella: Dances with Duke (Blue Note)
Harris's newest album pays tribute to Ellington and Strayhorn, showing that their compositional signatures are still clear even in bold new contexts. The vibist is especially strong on The New Orleans Suite with a lush reeds-and-strings arrangements of "Bourbon Street Jingling Jollies" and the vampy "Portrait of Wellman Braud." The original title track is also a standout. And the project wouldn't be the same without regulars like Steve Turre, Anne Drummond and Terreon Gully.

Pat Metheny/Brad Mehldau: Metheny Mehldau (Nonesuch)
It was only a matter of time before these two talents met on record. Metheny's bright guitar stylings and Mehldau's darker piano voicings are perfect complements, and their kinship is clear when they both take flight. "Ahmid-6" is a great display of their unique melodic and harmonic gifts. Mehldau's current triomates bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard join them for two cuts -- the driving, rock-inspired "Ring of Life" (Metheny brings out the guitar synth) and the uplifting "Say the Brother's Name."

Madeleine Peyroux: Half the Perfect World (Rounder)
Peyroux's fragile voice and languid phrasing are as charming as ever on her third album. She captures the heartbreak of "The Summer Wind" with a gorgeous alto solo from Gary Foster. "I'm All Right" is a catchy and almost whimsical number, and "Everybody's Talkin'" is at its breezy best. She shows her songwriter influences with some poetic Leonard Cohen tunes, "Blue Alert" and the album's title track. Peyroux comes into her own on this well-produced effort with some bittersweet balladry and great walking-tempo grooves, greatly enhanced by Sam Yahel's tasteful keyboard work.

Chris Potter: Underground (Sunnyside)
Potter's new quartet includes keyboardist Craig Taborn on Rhodes, guitarist Wayne Krantz and drummer (and Dave Holland Big Bandmate) Nate Smith, each of whom have plenty of pull on the direction of Underground (Adam Rogers makes a cameo here and is the current axeman in Potter's touring band). No bass here, but with so much rhythmic and harmonic information, you don't really have a chance to miss it. With heavy funk and rock leanings, the foursome pulls out the stops for tunes like "Next Best Western" and "Nudnik," but Potter's sensitivity is center stage for the beautiful "Celestial Nomad." There's an incredibly haunting cover of Radiohead's "Morning Bell," too.

Eric Reed: Here (Maxjazz)
Reed's latest effort with bassist Rodney Whitaker and drummer Willie Jones III highlights the best qualities of its players: Jones's agile textures; Whitaker's solid lines and meaty sound; Reed's plush but firm piano voicings and rapturous lines. The pianist's strong lyricism and compositional style are a potent combination, but the trio's democratic presentation and the recording's warmth make it a must-have.

Trio Beyond: Saudades (ECM)
This live date in London showcases the most no-holds-barred sides of Jack DeJohnette, Larry Goldings and John Scofield. The band started out as a tribute to Tony Williams's Lifetime band but became much looser conceptually as the trio evolved. While all three voices have equal weight, DeJohnette is truly the driving force of the group and has never sounded better to me. Sco rocks out plenty and Goldings is remarkably venturesome, not afraid to pour on the dense textures. Their repertoire for this album includes tunes from Williams's whole career as well as some originals. "If" and "Seven Steps to Heaven" are especially powerful.

Christian Scott: Rewind That (Concord)
Scott's Concord debut centers its sound on the seductive, youthful sounds of neo-soul, R&B and hip-hop with plenty of jazz. His uncle Donald Harrison has long drawn from the same influences, but trumpeter Scott has plenty of his own things to say. Drenched in Rhodes, guitar and crisply popping drums, this album focuses more on vibe than virtuosity. But while the emphasis is on sonics, groove and melody, there are also some notable solos here from the young trumpeter, Harrison and tenorist Walter Smith III. My faves here are the brooding "Paradise Found," "Rejection" and the funky "Lay in Vein."

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

RIP James Brown

"'Funky' is about the injustices, the things that go wrong, the hungry kids going to school trying to learn. 'Funky' is about what it takes to make people move -- take it from the gospel, from the jazz." -- James Brown
Sadly, there's no moratorium on deaths on holidays. The "Godfather of Soul," James Brown passed away. He successfully underwent surgery for prostate cancer two years ago but was diagnosed with pneumonia this past weekend and died of heart failure at 73 years old early on Christmas Day. He maintained an exhaustive touring schedule and seemed to deserve the title "the hardest working man in show business." And while there's no replacement for him, fans who got to see him perform always got plenty of JB to live off of for a while. He prided himself on always giving his fans more than they paid for -- funk, groove and soul by the truckload, not to mention his jubilant, frenzied showmanship. In an interview with the PBS American Masters series, Brown's tenor saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis said, "When you heard James Brown was coming to town, you stopped what you were doing and started saving your money."

A 1998 interview of Brown by Chaunce Hayden of Time Out New York closed with this exchange:
TONY: How would you want to be remembered in the rock & roll books?
JB: I want to be the one who took the low side and made it the high side.
Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross, 2005
Live concert webcast, Washington D.C., 2005

LA Times
NY Times
Public Enemy
Up the Downstair (with a download of a 1969 show)

Vintage vids:
"Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine"
"Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine" (1970s)
"I Got You (I Feel Good)"
"Out of Sight"

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Charlie Brown Christmas

For the perennial viewer of A Charlie Brown Christmas (CD, DVD), some links for the holidays:

- NPR's Morning Edition: a special on the making of the music and film.

- The Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL): the "making of" with a focus on Guaraldi. Thanks to Wallabop for pointing this out.

- David Guaraldi: Vince's son talks about his father, the musician; not very informative but reveals a documentary in the making.

RIP Tower Records

Back in October, after Tower Records filed for bankruptcy protection for the second time since 2004, a judge awarded its assets to the Great American Group for $134.3 million. After lingering for the last couple months, they officially closed their doors yesterday. Like many long-time patrons, I made my own final pilgrimage to my local Tower earlier this week. The racks were scattered, shelves disheveled. The jazz section was actually made into a "treasure hunt" area, and its displays were filled with miscellaneous discs and overstock. Though the sight itself was somewhat sad, I didn't mind shuffling through the endless stacks of albums. Tower's inventory was always made for obsessive browsing, and that was the best part of the record-hunting experience, as I'm sure collectors will agree.

Other articles, editorials and blogs out there drone on about the inevitability of Tower's closing due to its lack of presence in the digital music market. This may be true, but at least for me, that's not the issue. While everyone is talking about Tower's recent declining worth as a brand, loyal patrons have always seen it as just a store -- their store. It was a hang, a place to browse, to check out albums you've never seen before, to buy tickets for shows, to talk to other music fans. Lovers of easy-to-find mainstream music may not notice the loss, but jazz listeners will. Fans of "niche" genres will have to turn to other sources -- ostensibly, virtual ones (for those without an
Amoeba, Rasputin or equivalent).

Though guilty of "feeding off the carcass," I justified myself by standing by my record as a lifetime Tower shopper. Like Tower, I was born in Sacramento (though I'm quite a bit younger), and as a teenager I spent way too much time and money there.

Amazon.com's cross-referenced album suggestions notwithstanding, there aren't too many places I can come across a shopping bag like this just by wandering around:

Camera Obscura: Let's Get Out of This Country
Vinicius de Moraes: El Poeta de la Bossa Nova
Roy Haynes: Out of the Afternoon
Dizzy Reece: Blues in Trinity
Christian Scott: Rewind That
Yosvany Terry: Metamorphosis
Thirteen Ways (Fred Hersch): Focus
John Zorn: The Unknown Masada

Virtual storefronts may be just as functional but they're not quite as fun.

Huffintgon Post (guest blogger, Alec Baldwin)
Sacramento Bee (hometown pride, after all)
Washington Post (some peculiar points here, but I'll save my arguments for later)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Larry Goldings Features

Since the late '80s, Larry Goldings has been an example of lyricism, taste and invention as a keyboardist. While he's known primarily as an organist, he's also a remarkable pianist, and his talents on both can be heard on nearly a dozen albums under his own name as well as on several dozen others as a sideman.

Over the years, he's played with artists within and outside the jazz world including Jim Hall, Jon Hendricks, John Scofield, Maceo Parker, Michael Brecker, Madeleine Peyroux, Matt Wilson and James Taylor. He's also maintained his own group, the Larry Goldings Trio, with guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Bill Stewart, for eighteen years and counting. His projects may be widely varied, but his overall body of work illustrates his values for lyricism, storytelling, strong harmony and modern musicianship. He isn't afraid of moving between genres or straying from traditions, and he does so without compromising the music or his own voice.

Listen to a two-part feature on Larry Goldings:

Part I: Goldings talks about his early music career, what prompted him to take up the organ and some of his most notable and memorable sideman associations.

Part II: Goldings discusses his newest album, Quartet, the Tony Williams-inspired Trio Beyond, and keeping the organ tradition fresh with the Larry Goldings Trio.


AAJ (Chris Hovan, 2001)
AAJ (R.J. DeLuke, 2006)

Why Don't I?" (excerpt): Watch the trio briefly trade some fours.
Fire and Rain": No solo space for Goldings on this classic James Taylor tune, but you can get a peek at a fun-looking keyboard rig.
"Every Day I Thank You": Goldings isn't even really visible here since Pat Metheny and Michael Brecker are doing all the soloing, but you can hear him underneath it all.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Saturday Night Blues

"I Sing the Blues Every Night," was recorded for Pat Martino's Nightwings in 1994. While the original recording is a quintet with a sax and rhythm section, the performance in this video actually recalls his eerie, nocturnal guitar-Rhodes duet outing, We'll Be Together Again, with Gil Goldstein.

Martino's fans love him for his melodic brand of axeman athleticism, and a lot of his lyricism comes from his deep feel for the blues, even at high speeds. As an up-and-comer in Philly, he was frequently heard with Willis Jackson, Charles Earland and Don Patterson in organ bars, indeed, "singing" the blues every night.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Kenny Burrell's 75th Birthday Tribute Concert

Last Saturday, I had the privilege of taking a small part in Kenny Burrell's 75th birthday concert, a tribute and fundraising event for the Friends of Jazz at UCLA, which was something of a marathon affair but certainly not lacking in talent. The lineup included (in various permutations) Burrell himself, Russell Malone, Pat Metheny, Anthony Wilson, Gerald Wilson and his orchestra, Mike Melvoin, Barbara Morrison, Ronald Muldrow, Calvin Keys, Linda Hopkins, Tamir Hendelman, Hubert Laws, Jeff Clayton, Charley Harrison and the UCLA Jazz Ensemble among others.

Instead a full recap, here are just a few highlights from a personal perspective:

- Burrell and Metheny played a few tunes together, and the latter even broke out the guitar synth. I had no idea what to expect initially, but their distinct voices were actually complementary on tunes like "A Child Is Born" and "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." (Burrell, by the way, was onstage for the majority of the night.)

- Kindred guitar spirits Russell Malone and Burrell had plenty of blues and chops between the two of them. After a duet performance of "A Christmas Song," Burrell's drummer Clayton Cameron (a master of the brushes but using sticks for this performance) joined them for a rousing performance of "Little Drummer Boy" and a version of "Chitlins con Carne," giving the A-sections a trippy, swaggering swing-funk feel.

- I had a chance to talk to a few of Burrell's fellow UCLA faculty members, including guitarist Anthony Wilson, pianist Tamir Hendelman, trumpeter Bobby Rodriguez and bassist Roberto Miranda. Backstage, I asked arranger/composer/conductor/guitarist Charley Harrison how he came to know Burrell (Harrison is originally from Chicago and is still the director of the Chicago Jazz Orchestra as well as the UCLA Jazz Orchestra). He said that though he’d met him before, his relationship with Burrell truly began when they encountered each other at an Ellington-related conference. He modestly suggested that was probably the point where Burrell "started to look at him in a more serious light."

- Mike Melvoin was featured along with Rodriguez, Hubert Laws, Charles Owens and others under the billing of the Jazz Heritage All-Stars. Melvoin's arrangement of Burrell's "Lyresto" (from Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane) was well-conceived and well-received.

- I was lucky enough to shake hands with Louie Bellson and eavesdrop on a conversation between Gerald Wilson and my boss, KJazz music director, Scott Willis. Wilson mentioned he's been commissioned to write the theme for the 50th Monterey Jazz Festival taking place in 2007. He also reminisced about his early years with Benny Carter, Jimmie Lunceford and Count Basie. Like Burrell, Wilson is a living encyclopedia of his era in jazz history; he teaches what must be the largest (and coolest) jazz history class in the world –- over 400 students.

- Arranger/composer/conductor/pianist Lalo Schifrin played piano with a student band under the direction of Bobby Rodriguez, performing a version of "Tin Tin Deo." That tune was on the first recording to feature Burrell during his time with Dizzy Gillespie’s band at nineteen years old. My boss mentioned having a conversation with Schifrin backstage where the pianist said, surprisingly, he'd never played "Tin Tin Deo" during his time with Dizzy's band in the '60s.

- The Gerald Wilson Orchestra contained the usual top-shelf players and old friends, including George Bohanon, Garnett Brown, Kamasi Washington and Snooky Young. Burrell and Ernie Andrews were featured in an Ellington medley ("Take the 'A' Train," "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" and "Satin Doll" among others).

Backstage was like a party, musicians coming and going constantly, catching up with each other, reminiscing. It was as much a reunion as a birthday/tribute concert. Burrell's actual birthday is July 31st, but as Roberto Miranda mentioned to me, "He's been celebrating it all year!" It was fitting that he should be surrounded by so many friends for the occasion.

If the recording of this concert is released, it will be Burrell's 100th album as a leader. I hope that means it'll be time for another party.

Video evidence of Burrell's taste and grace:
"A Child Is Born" (with Bill Evans)
"All Blues" (with Bob Magnusson and Sherman Ferguson)
"Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" (solo)

Daily Bruin (UCLA, Nov. 2006)
Playback (ASCAP, Nov. 2006)
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