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March 2006

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At the Blue Note (Feb. 3rd), pianist Kenny Werner led a quintet called Cosmocentric, with Kenny Wheeler on trumpet, David Sanchez on tenor, Scott Colley on bass and Antonio Sanchez (in for Brian Blade) on drums. It must be said that Wheeler, now 76, was not firing on all cylinders - at least not this set. No one seemed more aware of this than the flustered Wheeler himself. The band led off with an impressionistic but hard-swinging "Yesterdays , featuring a strong tenor solo and a piano/drum breakdown that set Colley up for a dramatic entrance. Virtuosity was in rich supply, although Wheeler's frailty caused the band to hold back at times. There was more than enough fire, however, on Werner's waltz "Balloons and his rocking, almost gospel-inflected "One for Joni (based in part on the opening figure from Joni Mitchell's "Court and Spark ). Wheeler played fluegelhorn almost exclusively, including Werner's quasi-rubato ballad "In My Life , a duo feature with piano. But on "Hedwig's Theme , a medieval-sounding John Williams melody from the Harry Potter films, Wheeler switched to trumpet and snapped into focus. His tone, oddly, became warmer. He growled low-register legato phrases directly into the mic, melding enigmatically with Colley's arco drones. Then Sanchez testified over a brisk 6/8 tempo, Werner launched into a 4/4 double-time aside and Wheeler summoned the strength for his most compelling solo of the night.

It was a warm but foggy night at Dizzy's Club (Feb. 4th) and Marc Johnson began his third set foggily, with the meditative title track from his latest, Shades of Jade (ECM). Together with Eliane Elias on piano and Joey Baron on drums, the bassist segued from minor-key abstraction into a blistering, open-ended rundown of "If I Should Lose You . Joe Lovano then took to the bandstand in time for Johnson's "Blue Nefertiti , a mid-tempo 16-bar tune that furthered the high-stepping swing mood. The full quartet carried on with John Taylor's bright waltz "Ambleside , Mingus' "Peggy's Blue Skylight and two Elias-penned charts - Apareceu (a beautiful ballad) and "Bowing to Bud (an appealing twist on rhythm changes). Elias, who is Johnson's wife, wrote much of Shades of Jade and co-produced the disc with Manfred Eicher. Her bop-informed lyricism and adventurous rhythmic sense were just as essential in the live setting, although she took care not to comp during some of Lovano's hottest choruses. Baron prompted the most crowd response with his solos on the Mingus tune and the finale, pitch-shifting his drum heads with bare hands while otherwise letting loose. His duo exchanges with Lovano also bristled. Johnson brought a wide beat and a fat tone to the music, soloing and walking four-to-the-bar with equal determination. Even at its most burning, the band evoked a certain ethereal quality - a shade of jade, if you will. It's a paradox that permeates the album as well.

~David R. Adler


Impressionism came to prominence over classical landscape painting when the techniques for accurate reproduction were considered less valuable than the ability to create a personal interpretation. The performance of the Joe Fiedler Trio at Barbès Feb. 15th was a triumph of this concept. Playing most of the material from the new Plays the Music of Albert Mangelsdorff album (Clean Feed), Fiedler (trombone), John Hebert (bass) and a subbing Michael Sarin (drums) used the compositions of the late legendary German as vibrant living material to shape rather than cold hard forms to present. Where the album was successful in capturing the feel of Mangelsdorff, the performance, with its longer more involved forays, distilled his live essence. The opening "Wheat Song showed that Fiedler dips more from the brash side of Mangelsdorff than the subtle but Hebert's pulse was absolutely authentic. "Now Jazz Ramwong took the audience back to Frankfurt in the '60s. "Rip Off is an example of Mangelsdorff's primary concern of making the trombone as voice-like as possible, Fiedler making his tonal shifts sound as natural as speaking. "Do Your Own Thing was a marvelously constructed, yet eminently composed, solo trombone piece while "Zores Mores hearkened back to post-bop but was taken out by the trio. But it was "Mayday Hymn , with its processed trombone multiphonics, that became the set's real tribute, an otherwordly dirge of wailing long tones.


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