Jazz music, news and views

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Now Playing (06.25.07)

David Binney/Edward Simon: Oceanos
John Coltrane: Crescent
Francis Dunnery: Man
Stan Getz: Focus
Hum: You'd Prefer an Astronaut
Ahmad Jamal: Crystal
Keith Jarrett: The Koln Concert
Pat Martino: Baiyina (The Clear Evidence)
Kendrick Scott: The Source
Kenny Werner: Beat Degeneration

Friday, June 22, 2007

Joey Calderazzo: Amanecer

Although he's probably best known for his longtime sideman associations with sax icons Michael Brecker and Branford Marsalis, pianist Joey Calderazzo's career as a leader demonstrates his sensitivity, power, and conception. He's played vastly different styles with as much authority as flair, and with increasing clarity over the years. Haiku from 2004 was his first solo album, and there's even more growth and exploration on his latest solo release, Amanecer.

Those familiar with his work with Brecker will enjoy new readings of old pieces. Calderazzo's best-known composition, the slinky "Midnight Voyage," gets a shadowy, stride-like treatment, and the late saxophonist's "Sea Glass" is lush and hymn-like. We're eavesdropping on a haunting communion between the performer and the composer here. The album's title track was formerly recorded as the pensive yet restive "Cat's Cradle" on Two Blocks From the Edge, but it gains even more dimensions with the poignant lyrics and voice of Claudia Acuna, Romero Lubambo's silky guitar, and Calderazzo's own cool, crystalline solo.

His composition "The Lonely Swan" (first recorded on Marsalis's Eternal) has an especially exotic feel and a gorgeous guitar solo, but the highlight of Amanecer's guest performance numbers is the winsome bossa nova ballad "Lara" where the leader sounds as tender as ever. Of course, Calderazzo's uptempo features are just as compelling. He generates plenty of momentum on a reprise of his own "Toonay," and "I've Never Been in Love Before" has never sounded so jaunty and carefree. His rendition is an energetic two-handed affair, brimming with good humor.

With such long-lasting bonds with Brecker and Marsalis, Calderazzo has had the best possible environments in which to develop a focused sound, but even a small sampling of his music reveals that he's also broad in taste and highly adaptable. He retains a strong identity even as he grows, and his newest release explores another remarkable, more intimate side of his performance. In a 1999 Mix Magazine interview, Bob Belden best articulates the beauty of Calderazzo's more introverted musical moments:
Mix Magazine: As a producer, what's an ideal project to work on?

Bob Belden: If I find somebody that wants to make a sentimental, warm album like Joey Calderazzo did with Secrets on Audio Quest, I say, "Hey, let's go." I'm a horrible, incurable, sentimental romantic. It's the kiss of death in New York critical circles, but I truly believe that when music can make you cry it really goes beyond notes on the page and somebody playing an instrument -- it's an act of God.

Amanecer (Marsalis/Rounder)
Joey Calderazzo (piano)
Claudia Acuna (vocals)
Romero Lubambo (guitar)

Joeycalderazzo.com (under construction)
JazzTimes (Calderazzo, and others, discussing their connection with Michael Brecker. Check out "The Thing," in particular.)
YouTube (Highlights: "Acknowledgment" and "Resolution" with Marsalis; "My Favorite Things" with Dave Liebman; "Walls" with Rick Margitza; his trio live in Bruges: 1, 2)

Other SWO favorites:
Joey Calderazzo
To Know One
The Traveler
Coltrane's A Love Supreme: Live in Amsterdam (Branford Marsalis DVD & CD)
Tales From the Hudson (Michael Brecker)
Two Blocks From the Edge (Michael Brecker)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Vinson Valega: Awake

Though some consider it a cliche, there's more than enough truth to the idea that jazz is a model for democracy, and drummer Vinson Valega wants to see that concept in action. The mission of his company, Consilience Productions, is to promote "progressive music for the socially curious." With his third release, Awake, he continues to explore these ideas –- and create some incredibly tuneful music in the process.

After majoring in economics at Penn, Valega attended Mannes and studied with Marvin "Smitty" Smith (of Tonight Show fame) and Norm Freeman (of the New York Philharmonic). After two albums -- one live and one in the studio -- Awake features a new group with new tunes. Valega solicited contributions from his bandmates, and while they're all very different players, the results are cohesive, not to mention catchy. Altoist Anton Denner wrote the vampy opener "Luftmenschen." Brian Blade Fellowship pianist Jon Cowherd spins out some brilliant ideas, complementing trumpeter Terell Stafford's burnished tone and powerful solo. Denner himself is fluid and lyrical here as well as on the infectious "Fog" (penned by guitarist Sheryl Bailey, a good friend of Valega's but not on the record). Valega's Latin-influenced polyrhythms give Cowherd's sparkling solo even more texture.

Throughout the set, Valega himself solos only sparingly, but he's front and center on the aptly titled "Ed Blackwell." His intuitive playing is deep in the groove, and even in tribute, he never abandons his own sound. Bassist Josh Ginsburg's feature here is also quite full and funky. The title track is a great example of Valega's crisp sound and loose swing, both relaxed and responsive. It's also a great moment for tenorist Chris Bacas, whose solo grows, lopes and flutters. He's tremendously expressive in the low register, and he's even more forceful and distinct on the swinger, "The Trend Is Your Friend."

With a superb sextet of confident players, Valega's newest effort has plenty of melody, subtlety and depth. He's explicit when discussing the affinities between creative music and a participating society -- and mirrors that with the egalitarian push-and-pull of the group on Awake. The album's three related interludes titled "This Is What Democracy Sounds Like" aren't just superficially thematic; they express an overt agenda. Valega's mission is both music and message.

Listen to:
"The Trend Is Your Friend" (via AAJ)

Awake (Consilience)
Vinson Valega (drums)
Terell Stafford (trumpet)
Anton Denner (alto sax, flute, piccolo)
Chris Bacas (clarinet, soprano sax, tenor sax)
Jon Cowherd (piano)
Josh Ginsburg (bass)

Consilience Productions (Valega's production company. The site features blogs on democracy, earth, money and, of course, music. Check regularly for live mp3s/video.)
YouTube (Visual Valega…)
Get Involved! (Valega's essay published in AAJ)

Random note: By strange coincidence, Valega attended my alma mater (something I rarely get to say of today's jazz musicians) and was also the drummer of Penn Jazz (a position I held myself a few years ago).

Friday, June 08, 2007

Nineties Nostalgia

The recent Destination: Out poll made me nostalgic and sent me searching through my non-jazz albums of the era. Not having listened to much jazz until high school, most of my exposure to that decade occurred when it was nearly done. (And, like many jazz fans my age, I often feel like I'm playing catch-up with artists that surfaced any earlier than the last five years.)

Most of the other bloggers polled posted their follow-up reflections long ago, so excuse my usual tardiness. I probably wouldn't be the same without the following Nineties sounds:

Alice in Chains: Musical metal, more complex than most grunge or punk. Jar of Flies and their self-titled album were often in my stereo, not to mention the hallmark Unplugged set.

Deftones: Heavy drums, a thick wash of guitars and cryptic lyrics leaning towards free assocation made their sophomore album Around the Fur essential for me. When it was released, I went to a "secret" show in the back parking lot of my local Tower Records. (Tower, 'Tones and yours truly all call Sacramento "home.")

Nine Inch Nails: I loved the searing, overdriven Broken EP, but the dark, intricate opus The Downward Spiral resonated with me for even longer. (I even bought Further Down the Spiral on the recommendation of a rather obsessive former friend who was a NIN completist.)

Joe Satriani: I didn't even play guitar back then, but my friends did, and for some weird reason, I was able to find this stuff exciting. The Extremist had great hooks but sounded a little too Eighties to me. His self-titled album offered a more soulful alternative, and Time Machine was a real tour-de-force. (G3, anyone?)

Smashing Pumpkins: Siamese Dream is still one of my top rock faves, but I also enjoyed Pisces Iscariot (the leftovers). Plus, I think I was enamored with Billy Corgan's image as a musical genius, to say nothing of that rich wall of guitar on songs like "Mayonaise" or "Hummer." It's also interesting to hear how elements of "Rhinoceros" from Gish remained such an important part of their sound for so long during their evolution. (For the ever-loyal Pumpkins fan, Zeitgeist hits the streets 07.10.07. I've also been losing myself in Corgan's rather confessional blog.)

Spice Girls: Don't laugh. Their first two albums were awesome. Now that the whole single-gender vocal group phenomenon has been hyped, dissected, parodied and discarded, their contributions hardly seem relevant. But after revisiting Spice and Spiceworld, I have to say I still enjoy those harmonies and that songwriting and production. And I never figured they'd have any currency in the jazz world, but Richard at Etnobofin recently posted a Lester Bowie cover of one of their sophomore album hits. (And to answer the inevitable question: Posh was my favorite.)

Stone Temple Pilots: Maybe there's also a jazz cover of an STP tune somewhere out there. The DeLeo brothers had some relatively harmonically advanced songs post-Core. Some might say their early career was spent in the shadow of Pearl Jam and their later sounds were overtly Led Zeppelin-ish. (Their cover of "Dancing Days" for the Zep tribute Encomium was fabulous.) I do feel Purple is Pilots in their prime.

The Sundays: My Morrisey-loving roommate never fails to say something (usually disapproving) when I put on Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. Maybe they sounded like diluted Smiths, but I loved their breezy-yet-melancholy vibe. And in spite of its chordal similarity to "Cemetry Gates," "Here's Where the Story Ends" is gorgeous. Plus, who can forget their cover of "Wild Horses" from Blind? Ah, the wistful Harriet Wheeler.

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