Jazz by Many Other Names?

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The Ripple Effect
Hybrids
Kindred Rhythm
2005

Hybrids is a jazz album in name only - specifically the names of multi-instrumentalist John Surman and drummer Jack DeJohnette, who leads this collaborative ensemble.

One of the few musicians to have recorded or performed with Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane AND Miles Davis, DeJohnette's jazz credentials are obvious. But Hybrids tosses his cap into the modern electronica realm: With producers Ben Surman (John's son) and Big Al (mastermind behind The Sonic Kitchen, one of UK's biggest and brightest electronic music studios), DeJohnette reinterprets seven of his own pieces in modern electronica. Four come from his recent collaboration with Mandingo griot Foday Musa Suso (Music From the Hearts of the Master).

Hybrids DOES feature jazz music and world music, but ONLY as raw source materials for Surman to manipulate in the creation of a new, electronic music hybrid. "I wanted to extract some of the grooves and melodies that I was drawn to and use them in a different context, retaining the groove and feel but placing it in a different musical setting, Surman says. "I wanted to move outside of the more traditional acoustic approach and add elements you wouldn't normally find in jazz. In this respect, these Hybrids might be more Surman's than DeJohnette's.

The opening track, "Ancient Techno, says a great deal about this set. DeJohnette's fluid drums bubble up from underneath their accompaniment, constantly changing patterns and sounds like...have you ever seen a sleight-of-hand artist spin several basketballs or china plates simultaneously, running between them all to keep them spinning and in balance? His drumming sounds like that looks.

"Na Na Nai opens with Surman on either bass clarinet or saxophone, which then washes away in electronic ripples; next, vocals by Marlui Miranda, one of the world's leading researchers and performers of Brazilian Indian music, are shredded then laid in between the instruments. As Surman ghostwalks from the background into the foreground, the multiple layers of sound (drum, voice, sax / clarinet and electronic) coalesce to create a very new musical sound. DeJohnette again sets shifting tides of rhythm and sound, like a painter sampling from his palette, to create a new sound for futuristic "Worldwide Funk.

"The Just-Us Department, the final track (and the only new song), crunches out DeJohnette's most pronounced drumming on the entire set, pounding thick African drumming hewn in a modern, brittle icy metallic sound.

Garaj Mahal
Blueberry Cave
Harmonized
2005

The fifth studio release from this San Francisco quartet embodies the modern instrumental "jam band movement and preserves the freewheeling legacy of 1970s "progressive rock along the way.

Alan Hertz (drums), Eric Levy (keyboards), Kai Eckhardt (bass) and Fareed Haque (guitar) came into Garaj Mahal from varied backgrounds: Eckhardt played in John McLaughlin's trio, for example, while Haque served as occasional musical sparring partner for the late drummer Tony Williams and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. But one thing is certain: They share a unified playing spirit. This Blueberry jam damn sure shows off their chops.

The title cut beckons from a pool of electronic keyboard ripples that swim against each other in counterpoint, water-drop echoes of Genesis' "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway that plunge into a floating middle passage centered on a bass solo that suggests Pat Metheny trying on the instrument for size. From out of nowhere, a drum explosion detonates the concluding jam between guitar, keyboard and bass - pure instrumental dynamite. "Bicycling in Bombay more deeply thumps its bass and drum, an evocative belly dance between Haque's guitar and turntable scratches from DJ Fly.

"The Shadow, navigates a complex melody full of twists and stops, chopping out pseudo-funk guitar and organ. Its sleek glide slides into an instrumental free-for-all, with Eckhardt chewing up then belching out the bottom; this fast and focused leadoff track echoes the Frank Zappa band that featured keyboardist George Duke, one of FZ's more jazz-tinged rock ensembles. Eckhardt's flails his turns in "Paladin, a showcase for Levy, and the sitar-centered "Massive at a hummingbird's pace, with no harmonic or rhythmic missteps.

The "Cave closes with an eleven-minute ride through "Celtic Indian, a blazing group excursion and onstage concert favorite. Individually and collectively, the band plays like their hair is on fire. Eckhardt spirals so far into and out of the groove that he completely bridges the internal space between the rhythm section in the background and the keyboards and guitar in the foreground. The ensemble blitzkriegs the melody to smoke and ash, like bombardiers, to close.

Within this Blueberry Cave, an impressive display of ensemble interplay lurks under the cover of modern jam band rock.

Lafayette Gilchrist
Towards The Shining Path
HYENA
2005

Lafayette Gilchrist is NOT the next Thelonious Monk. No one could be. But for a cat making just his second album as a leader, this composer / pianist, who also serves in David Murray's quartet and nonet, DOES suggest some pretty incredible parallels with the unique genius of "the only-est Monk.

For starters, Gilchrist rocks that 4/4 beat more hard and more funky than just about any other pianist in memory. He plays as if rubber banded to the downbeat, and if Monk was around to play rock and roll piano, he'd be rockin' the beat like this.

Second, since his piano playing digs so far down into the rhythm section, his rhythm section must be both powerful and elastic. Bassist Anthony "Blue Jenkins and drummer Nate Reynolds, fulcrums for Gilchrist's ensemble The New Volcanoes, got this covered.

Third, Gilchrist's work with Murray has taught him how to create, like Monk, musical constructions in which horn players - and tenor saxophonists in particular - are comfortable to joyously and expansively swing. And finally, his horn charts can groan and wobble, and yet rejoice, with all the emotional weight of a New Orleans funeral procession, choosing the right feel over "the right note nearly every time.

This music merits the optimism in the album title Towards the Shining Path. Gilchrist is working toward a different type of jazz fusion: merging traditional New Orleans, blues and jazz piano with the pronounced rhythms of rock, hip-hop and funk. You can tell this from the hard-driving opener, "New Jack, which rocks hard and funky yet throbs with the swing of classic New Orleans, too.

Both "Elephant Dance and "Bubbles on Mars build up from the bedrock of Gilchrist's rockin' piano beat. His piano keeps the "No Locomotion Blues pumping while the rhythm section drives home the hard beat and the horns joyously twist and shout.

If you're a purist, fast-forward to "Unsolved, Unresolved, a nod and a wink to funky jazz forefathers such as Horace Silver and Pete Johnson, cast in the classic piano trio format.

"I see myself as a child of the hip-hop nation, Gilchrist explains. "Hip-hop doesn't have a deep instrumental voice in its thing right now, and we need to represent in that vein. And we're not going to apologize for being overly heady. Hip-hop as a culture has grown up a little now and the musical part of that culture has to grow and expand with it. I see the music I'm doing as representing that 'cause it's where I'm from.

Lonnie Smith
Turning Point
Blue Note RVG Edition
2005

When Hammond master Smith recorded this set for Blue Note in 1968, he was better known as a supporting sideman on performances and recordings by, among others, George Benson and especially Lou Donaldson; some of Sweet Lou's best recordings, including Alligator Boogaloo, Midnight Creeper and Everything I Play is Funky, feature Smith's supple Hammond grooves.

Other musicians must have found Smith's musicianship worthy of respect, for this session convenes a gathering that's the perfect snapshot of the classic late-1960s jazz-funk ensemble: Bennie Maupin (tenor sax), Julian Priester (trombone) and Lee Morgan (trumpet) in the frontline, with guitar slinger Melvin Sparks and drummer Idris Muhammad smooth in the pocket.

Now remastered as part of Blue Note's Rudy Van Gelder (RVG) reissue series, Turning Point is just the set to bridge the gap in your collection between the soul-jazz organ style of Jimmy Smith and the jazzy soulful organ style of Booker T. Jones with the MGs.

The party begins with the opening "SeeSaw, originally a hit for Aretha Franklin written by legendary pop / R&B songwriter Don Covay and guitarist Steve Cropper of the aforementioned MGs. The title notwithstanding, its opening bars are James Brown's "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag, and barely disguised at that, and its bridge cops from Rudy Clark's soul classic "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss).

The Beatles' cover "Eleanor Rigby also swims in soft psychedelic blue quite like the various (and very successful) organ-groove Beatles covers by Booker T. & the MGs, as Smith paints in the melody and the horns sing counterpoint in rich, colorful brushstrokes. The horns sit out of "People Sure Act Funny, a Sparks / Smith shootout and, thanks to Muhammad's tight timekeeping, a masterpiece of understated soul / funk / jazz.

Nearly perfect for this stellar collection of soul-jazz stars is the extended "Slow High groove: Smith sets the table just right for Priester and Morgan to sing in harmony then puts on his own solo, a comfortable leisure suit of soul and funk.

The Skip Heller Trio
Live in Philly: Out of Time
Dreambox Media
2005

Certain live recordings seem to maintain the feel of the performance and venue and lose nothing in the recording of the event. This trio date recorded at a small Philadelphia club, with guitarist Heller joined by drummer John F. Kennedy and Lucas Brown on organ, is one of those special live recordings. You can almost smell the smoke and beer; you can definitely feel the warm, sympathetic and swinging musicianship.

Heller's music makes him sound like an everyday guy who would be a great friend, someone great fun to be with. He's more than a bit of a wiseass; in fact, he can be funny as hell (as in his introduction to "Wives and Lovers, where he positively RIPS Hal David's lyrics for Burt Bacharach's tune before concluding: "Bobby Goldsboro also recorded it, so 'Watching Scotty Grow' is NOT the biggest piece of shit in that man's career. ) He's got great taste in pop music both obvious (Mathis, Hefti, Sinatra, Bacharach) and obscure ("Mambo Inn ). He plays guitar tight and hot, with flair and humor. What's not to like, you know?

Brown and Heller take full advantage of the rhythmic and harmonic space left in the absence of a bassist. In the opening "Canadian Sunset, Brown lays down an organ solo as gooey and viscous as maple syrup on pancakes, and does it again in the leisurely "Li'l Darlin', rocking her gently like a hammock swaying in a lazy Sunday afternoon breeze.

Heller nimbly drops in numerous quotes from other tunes (listen for the hook to "Surrey with the Fringe on Top, for example, which introduces his stroll through "Canadian Sunset, or "Embraceable You in "All the Way ), and stretches "Wives and Lovers and "It's Not for Me to Say well past their original melodies. His twisted up and tossed off Mathis cover is just so freaking cool, his inventive twists on melody and rhythm tasty and smart. "All the Way remains a bit more true to the familiar Sinatra version, but sounds no less inventive or engaging.

The great Philadelphia jazz guitarist Pat Martino recorded several jazz-groove albums early in his career with contemporary keyboard players such as Jack McDuff, Trudy Pitts, and Richard "Groove Holmes. The dexterous, warm and good-natured playing from Heller and Brown on Out of Time honors and advances that guitar / organ jazz-groove Philadelphia legacy.

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