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Jazz Goes Globetrotting

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Itself a hybrid art form, jazz has a degree of permeability which enables it to reach ethnically and geographically diverse audiences. This is mainly achieved by incorporating elements borrowed from those same "foreign" cultures: think of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie's use of Afro Cuban rhythms, the adoption of Brazilian tunes into the standard repertoire in the 1960's, or the addition of "exotic" instruments to the traditional arsenal, and how such influences have de-cloistered jazz. Interestingly, many of the changes to impact on the genre have come from rhythmic imports.

Then comes the burning question: is the new hybrid jazz? And often: is it jazz if it does not swing? But do such concerns really preserve, salvage and safeguard the music? Are clear-cut appellations, such as those found in highly regulated industries, possible in such a complex activity as music making, where organized sounds are given meaning by the emotions and memories they provoke? Maybe author Chris Anderson was right when he wrote that "Our culture and economy are increasingly shifting...toward a huge number of niches...There is now less need to lump products and consumers into one-size-fits-all containers."



Food for thought indeed, especially considering most artists strive for uniqueness and originality rather than belonging to stylistic substrates and cliques.

Mort Weiss and Ron Eschete

All Too Soon

SMS Jazz

2008

These are precisely the questions brought to mind reading clarinetist Mort Weiss' liner notes to his All Too Soon duo recording with 7-string guitarist Ron Eschete. After comparing the 1965 jazz scene ("it sucked big time") to the the contemporary one ("it sucks even more"), and decrying the poor material playing conditions of past jazz Grammy awardees, the septuagenarian—who returned in 2001 from a 35 year hiatus spent running sheet music shops—rants about his and other fellow straight-ahead stylists' absence from the Downbeat awards, as well opining that its current winners are not "jazz" clarinetists.

Sadly, the music on All Too Soon hardly compensates for such incendiary remarks. The duo's renditions of such worn-out classics as "Blue Monk," "Scrapple From The Apple," "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise," "Afternoon In Paris," and "Emily" do not surpass that of mere jamming ("all first takes, warts and all," writes Weiss). That said, Weiss—who is far more eloquent and elegant on his horn than on paper—sounds fresh and loose. And, besides obvious, occasional, technical and rhythmic struggles, Eschete remains a choice accompanist in such intimate confluents. In sum, some will hope for more next time around, as it would be unfortunate for Weiss' career to end on this note.

Bujo Kevin Jones and Tenth World

Live

Motema

2008

Much tighter, well-rehearsed and enlivening is Bujo Kevin Jones And Tenth World's Live disc. Comprising Jones on percussion, Kevin Louis on trumpet, Brian Horton on tenor saxophone, Kelvin Sholar on piano, Joshua David on electric bass, and Jaimeo Brown on drums, Tenth World hits its target "to uplift, empower and enlighten through righteously mixing the medias (sic) of jazz, African, Latin and soul music." In fact, the band's genre-crossing platform, energy and relentless grooves makes it a most perfect outdoor festival attraction, one that is sure to leave no one standing still.

From the driving 12/8 African feel of "Bodhisattva Wonderful Sound" to the Latin fiesta "Tu Boca," by way of Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue" and the Soul-tinged "New Nation," the unit packs an air-tight set propelled by flapping percussions and long improvised streamers. That said, like other Latin-informed, beat-based ensembles, the lengthy, harmonically dumbed-down vamps used underneath solos does dull the ear—especially considering the fact players relay solos for more than 7-8 minutes without interludes or key changes. The most extreme examples of this are "Bodhisattva Wonderful Sound ," a 7-minute, dark vamp on C minor with a basic pentatonic melody, and "New Nation" with its extended bi-chordal vamp. Modulating the progressions and/or adding brief interludes between solos would not only have added depth, but would have enhanced these compositions' somewhat monolithic forms.

KJ Denhert

Dal Vivo A Umbria

Mother Cyclone

2008

A regular at both the Umbria Jazz Winter Festival and its summer pendant, American singer/songwriter KJ Denhert has been faithful to her European fanbase these last few years with six residencies at the two festivals. Using elements and sidemen from the jazz tradition in her band much in the same way Canada's premier songstress Joni Mitchell did before her, Denhert's rich, smoky voice, solid acoustic guitar chording, and mixed musical personality shares both the grande dame's vocal inflections and preoccupation with harmonic colouring. Compared with Mitchell, Denhert's pieces lean on groovier, backbeat-driven backdrops, and her poetry on simpler, down-to-earth storytelling, but the meeting of her personal, feminine sensitivity with jazz-versed musicians—in a style she dubs "Urban Folk and Jazz"—makes for an accessible listen that is both pleasurable and musically fulfilling.

With its gently rolling beat and fast-paced lyric, "He's Not Coming Home" is the track where Mitchell's influence appears most. The Beatles' "Ticket To Ride" (which could very well qualify as Denhert's cover theme song, its arrangement and lyric so eloquently encapsulating her vibe and charisma), and "Over The Rainbow," a duet with saxophonist Aaron Heick, both highlight her soulful, suave vocals. With its lyric interchanging past and present verb tenses and use of words borrowed from lexical fields related to the concept of temporality, "I Got Time"'s sensual, almost dragging beat also fits the text just like a glove. A name to reckon with, KJ Denhert's Dal Vivo A Umbria Jazz will certainly make first-time listeners want to dig into her back catalogue.

Gilfema

Gilfema + 2

ObliqSound

2008

A perfect example of jazz's aforementioned permeability, Gilfema's Gilfema + 2 proposes an intricate yet cohesive blend of composite influences and compositions in which jazz-informed improvisations sound both organic and exciting. Consisting of West African guitarist/vocalist Lionel Luoeke, Swedish-Italian bassist Massimo Biolcati and Hungarian drummer Ferenc Nemeth—with clarinetists Anat Cohen and John Ellis brought in for melodic support—the cross-cultural trio concocts a truly original mash-up of different types of accompaniments and atmospheres that are spiced up by approachable, even quirky themes.

There is a certain humourous lightness to Loueke's "Your World" that is reflected in its mildly joyous vibe and the interplay between Cohen and Loueke during both the head and solos. Equally playful is the African folk-inspired, vocal theme "LonLon Gnin," which breaks out on a conversational improvised section with Loueke performing solo guitar lines to Ellis' ocarina whistles and Cohen's sinuous interjections. The trio gets grooving on the odd-metered closer "Master Of The Obvious," as Louke's wah-wah guitar wails above Nemeth's rock-ish backbeat, and on the latter's "Festa," an appropriately named track with a bouncing bass line and syncopated staccato melody.

As it travels every corner of the world, jazz adapts and assimilates—as do all languages—new and different accents and influences. Although the results may at times prove somewhat alien to the traditional forms—as in Gilfema's case—such explorations, when done well, expand the genre's qualities and, by the same token, its audience. In the end, labels really do not matter. What matters is that the music is good and the artist exceptional.


Tracks and Personnel

All Too Soon

Tracks: Scrapple From The Apple; Softly As In A Morning Sunrise; Blue Monk; Be My Love; Django; Dearly Beloved; O Grande Amor; Afternoon In Paris; Emily; Like Someone In Love; If You Could See Me Now; No More Blues.

Personnel: Mort Weiss: clarinet; Ron Eschete: guitar.

Live

Tracks: Bodhisattva Wonderful Sound; Tu Boca; New Nation; Tenth World Order; Beautyful; Afro Blue.

Personnel: Bujo Kevin Jones: congas, djembe, percussion; Kevin Louis: trumpet; Kelvin Sholar: piano; Jaimeo Brown: drums; Brian Horton: tenor saxophone; Joshua David: electric bass.

Dal Vivo A Umbria

Tracks: Enzo's Intro; I Got Time; He's Not Coming Home; Little Problems; All These Things; August Clown; Violet; I Like Your Face; Message In A Bottle; Ticket To Ride; Over The Rainbow; KJ's Thanks/WMN Groove Out.

Personnel: KJ Denhert: vocals, guitar; Bennett Paster: piano, keyboards; Ray Levier: drums; Mamadou Ba: electric bass; John Caban: guitar; Aaron Heick: saxophones; Bujo Kevin Jones: percussion.

Gilfema + 2

Tracks: Twins; Question Of Perspective; Your World; Salome; LonLon Gnin; Morning Dew; Festa; Cove; One's Mind's Eye; Master Of The Obvious.

Personnel: Lionel Loueke: vocals, guitar; Ferenc Nemeth: drums; Massimo Biolcati: bass; John Ellis: bass clarinet, ocarina; Anat Cohen: clarinet.


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