A true synergy of exceptional musicians, Metheny Mehldau scores by demonstrating how guitarist Pat Metheny and pianist Brad Mehldau complement each other. In much the same way as the disc's cover art depicts dark colors flowing into lighter ones, the brooding hues of Mehldau's piano darken the grainy pastels of Metheny's guitar. The original compositions that comprise the disc sound like detailed paintings, the formal structure of which may not become apparent until a track is finished. It's a tribute to the rhythm sectiondrummer Jeff Ballard and bassist Larry Grenadierthat they do not render themselves intrusive, letting the headliners lead the way. Like much of the best jazz, with Metheny Mehldau it is well nigh impossible to tell just where the improvisation becomes the song and vice-versa.
Stanton Moore is a renaissance man of modern jazz. Prime motivator of Galactic and Garage A Trois, and now leading, at least on III, his Telarc debut, a trio with keyboardist Robert Walter and guitarist Will Bernard. The three players restore bounce to funk conventions, and when hornmen Skerik and Mark Mullins join in, the five-man ensemble actually sounds like a stompin' big band marching down Bourbon St in New Orleans (the album was recorded live in the studio). But it's the poignant, three-part suite at the end of the disc, Moore's heartfelt tribute to his hometown, which really distinguishes the session: its quiet, prayer-like atmosphere imparts logic to the album that makes it worth having and playing over and over.
Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet
Put this in your changer on shuffle play with Moore, Kirk and Bernstein. Because, in significantly different proportions, this disc mixes the attributes of those titles reviewed elsewhere in this column. Quirky as Skerik himself and his playing, the Septet is also more than a little funky, and manages to attain some measure of majesty when they play in unison. The title is something of a misnomer for the disc because it's streamlined as well as multi-textured: listen how flute plays off against deep intonations of the rhythm section on "Go To Hell Mr. Bush, just before the whole band chimes in with more foreboding figures. And say what you will about the way Skerik and his yakety-sax can honk, the music he creates invariably has atmosphere. Husky is no exception.
Steve Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra
MTO Volume 1
Contemporizing the repertoire of his big band is only one of the multiple virtues of this release by trumpeter Steve Bernstein. Recorded in just two days live in a Brooklyn studio, the group displays all the jaunty vigor and deft turns of musicianship of a small combo, yet blows large like the big bands of yore. The attention to detail of arrangement that Bernstein himself applies to the music, whether fast-paced ("Boy In The Boat ) or slower ("Soul Serenade ) is worth savoring, as are his unusual choices of material. The take on the Beatles' "Cry Baby Cry is just as ingenious as the soulful blues rendition of Stevie Wonder's "Signed Sealed And Delivered. MTO reinvents big band jazz on this disc and you can only hope it is just the first volume in a long series.
Artist In Residence
Largely culled from recently released, commissioned pieces, pianist Jason Moran's Artist In Residence gets off to a halting start. Operatic overtones clash with hip-hop beats to alternately pretentious and hollow effect, obscuring the idiosyncratic sound of Moran's piano playing. As the disc progresses, however, the pianist's wilfully unconventional approaches to composition and musicianship kick in to memorable effect. The Bandwagon quartet may actually be the real stars of the album as they traverse material oftentimes ominous, but just as often celebratory. The bottom line is that you grant Moran his misconceived ambition because ultimately it may keep him fresh.