Each fall things get busier in New York for jazz writers, which fortunately is a sign that there's more work for musicians. There are more openings, more CD releases, more press releases and more musicians arriving every year from everywhere. Although jazz remains a hard sell with no less struggling on the part of performers, the music continues to thrive, at least comparatively speaking, in Gotham.
At the Blue Note, the perennial visits of the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Band continue to draw large crowds. Nominally co-led by the still-creative icons James Moody and Jimmy Heath, the band reprises the legendary charts created for Gillespie's storied bebop big band in the 40's. Occasionally, the personnel of the All-Star group changes and, on a recent visit, the rhythm section comprised John Lee on bass, Willie Jones III on drums, and the redoubtable Cyrus Chestnut on piano. Band veterans trumpeter Roy Hargrove and trombonist Steve Davis rounded out the group. Although the octogenarian co-leaders can no longer dazzle audiences with their once virtuoso chops, the improvisational ideas are still fecund, and the bandstand humor abounds. Hargrove and Davis projected memorable and infectious moods while Chestnut's lines and articulation were relentlessly luminous.
Joe Locke led a group dubbed the Herbie Hancock Project into the Blue Note the following week. The club producers have pioneered the practice of organizing musicians into repertory-like concerts celebrating jazz immortals. The Hancock Project may not have been the best example in this important genre, but the idea should be continued. Locke and company supplied multi-noted flourishes which certainly pleased the crowd.
Sonny Rollins, Phil Markowitz and Al Hood all released CDs during the autumn arcade as did seemingly myriad other aggregations. The CD juggernaut continues to grow, which is always a healthy sign for the music, even if it becomes increasingly difficult to find time to listen to all the cuts.
Rollins at 78 continues to astound with his activity. Sonny Rollins Road Shows Vol. 1 is the title of the first CD in a planned series of releases containing selections from his worldwide concert performances. "Best Wishes," the highlight of this release, is extrapolated from a concert in Tokyo during May of 1986. Although other selections fall short, it's especially valuable to hear Rollins in live performance, which he has always preferred to the recording studio.
With the release of the CD Catalysis pianist/composer Phil Markowitz continues his career-long musical groundbreaking. An impressive list of musical adventures including Sno' Peas"(1980),In the Woods (1994) and Taxi Ride (1998) have established Markowitz as one of America's leading musical innovators. This latest outing features bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Adam Nussbaum in a collaboration with that special bond so essential to a successful Markowitz project.
Professor/producer/trumpeter Al Hood invades the CD world this month with the ambitious Just A Little TasteAl Hood Plays the Writing of Dave Hanson. An intriguing portfolio of lush string orchestrations of standards ("Here's to Life") intermixed with compositions by Dave Hanson, it's arguably the most successful debut CD of the year thus far.