January 2007

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Sonny Rollins
Sonny Please
Doxy
2006

It often happens that, as an artist initiates his own record label, the business move is symbolic of an artistic rebirth. Sonny Rollins' Doxy debut is just such an album: the stalwart jazz icon plays his burly burnished saxophone with radiant authority while Clifford Anderson's trumpet fully complements the elder's bittersweet tone. Bobby Broom's guitar supplies a fluid touch, while you can always feel the rhythm section even when you don't hear the bass, drums and percussion. Rollins' first studio album in five years may not fully explain why his stature in the jazz world is so respected, but it's enough to make you want to seek out such recordings as The Bridge and find out.

Stefon Harris
African Tarantella: Dances With Duke
Blue Note
2006

There's not likely to be a lovelier tribute to Ellington than this one. Or a more astutely crafted one from the artist's vantage point either: masterful young vibraphonist Stefon Harris has fashioned his homage to The Duke completely within his own sophisticated style on a book of commissioned original compositions. Without making the arrangements too busy, Harris is able to fill them with detail allowing he and the band, in the true improvisational spirit of jazz, some room to expand upon the plentiful ideas in the material. A humble bandleader, Harris' stylish way with his instrument never calls attention to itself because he is so deft with the mallets, at up-tempo or ballad. The intellectual rigor of his concept here matches the tangible presence of his musicianship.

Charles Mingus
At UCLA 1965
Mingus Music
2006

Its somewhat lo-fi sound attributable to its original source recordings left untampered for CD release, this entry in the archival series bodes well for a Mingus renaissance. The California concert is indicative of how the bassist/composer's irascible, innovative nature inspired both personal and musical devotion in his musicians. At various points in the vibrant performance, the frontman sounds like he is lecturing both audience and accompanists. At one point, he actually dismisses part of his group from the stage after two missed commencements of one tune, and then briskly conducts the remaining quartet through material given short shrift at the Monterey Jazz Festival just weeks before. As so accurately described in the liner notes, this occasion is as much a workshop as a concert, but that description might suit Mingus' whole career, not just the unusual performance contained on these two discs.

Mark Egan
As We Speak
Wavetone Records
2006

Impossible though it may be to hear these two discs and not think of Egan's former boss Pat Metheny and his Bright Size Life, this album by no means derives from that superlative trio outing (or the John Abercrombie-Dave Holland-Jack DeJohnette Gateway project that actually inspired it). It is rather another occasion where ingenuity, intimacy and empathy flower amongst the three musicians involved. Drummer Danny Gottlieb was, like the bassist/composer, a member of the original four-man Pat Metheny Group, so their telepathy is as enduring as it is well documented. The presence of guitarist Abercrombie adds crucial resonant atmosphere to the proceeding, aiding in the creation of deep, ghostly music that is at once haunting and inviting.

Gov't Mule
Mule On Easy Street 10-19-2006
ATO Records
2006

Available only from independent retail records stores, this 45-plus minute recording is from one of the in-store appearances Gov't Mule did in the fall of 2006 in support of High and Mighty. A solid if ultimately unexciting performance, it nevertheless has its raison d'etre(s): Danny Louis has slowly but surely gained increasing prominence in the sound of the four-man Mule in the last couple years and the sound of his keyboards is prominent on "Time To Confess and "That's What Love Will Make You Do. That fave of Jerry Garcia's is mixed in with familiar tunes such as "Hammer And Nails and "Time to Confess as well as culls from the new album like "Million Miles From Yesterday and "Unring The Bell. The dub-influenced arrangement of the latter provides a nice segue to a reggae version of Warren Haynes' signature song, "Soulshine, which the author and the group render with more potency than they've been able to muster for a while.


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