At the end of 1980, the late Steve Lacy expanded his group to a sextet with the addition of pianist Bobby Few. His first recording with this new configuration was Songs, a 1981 collaboration with poet/painter Brion Gysin, best known for his work with William Burroughs.
Lacy and Gysin had worked together as far back as '69, and their rapport is evident here. Lacy states in an interview with Jason Weiss (from Duke University Press' forthcoming anthology Conversations) before the album's release that all the music comes out of the words. So the tunes act as a support for Gysin's ...read more
In late 1971, after Diana Ross completed filming the Billie Holiday bio-pic Lady Sings the Blues, Motown put her in the studio to record an album of jazz standards to coincide with the movie's release. The material was shelved after the producers decided to keep Ross on the pop-star track, which soon produced the #1 hit Touch Me in the Morning."This summer Motown is releasing that long-lost album, entitled Blue. A welcome attempt to cash in on the recent standards successes of Rod Stewart, Carly Simon, Queen Latifah and others, it's a tastefully recorded piece of jazz-lite. Produced ...read more
Dafnis Prieto's latest release on the upstart Zoho label is The Absolute Quintet, a startlingly eclectic and occasionally maddening album. He creates strange shapes and shifting moods, which are handled adroitly by his bandmates in a unique bass-less setup. Violin and cello scrape against sax and organ, with Prieto's all-over drumming attempting to forge some unity. Prieto traces his influences back from Cuban culture to European chamber music and African percussion, and he seems to have assimilated them whole. These are no mere regurgitations, but freewheeling mash-ups that create entirely new species.The Coolest" is one such strange bird. ...read more
Cowboy Justice sticks to the basics. Each tune opens with a repeated riff that is then accented by the other instruments, heavy on layered harmonies. Ben Allison is one of the founding members of the non-profit Jazz Composers Collective, a hub for young, forward-thinking talent, and Cowboy Justice has the feel of a workshop the Collective might put on, a testing ground for basic melodic ideas yet to be fully fleshed out.The first tune, Tricky Dick," begins with a strummed electric guitar riff, which Ron Horton's trumpet then circles around with brief, round-toned stabs, until he introduces the ...read more
Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing. Take, for example, Anita O'Day's new album. The 86 year-old, who made her name as the lead vocalist for the Gene Krupa Orchestra, hasn't released an album for thirteen years, and the results on Indestructible! are a clear indication why. Her voice has been ravaged by decades of hard living, and her attempts at singing behind the beat show the strain of effort. The shadow of her talent is there, but it's not enough to sustain an album. Also, the recording has her mic'd much louder than the band, ruining any possibility ...read more
The SF Jazz Collective is a younger, more stylistically adventurous version of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, a repertory-minded super-group with a defined home base that tours at upscale theaters instead of clubs, aiming at middle-class pocketbooks. Both intend to educate as much as entertain, but SF Jazz, with Joshua Redman at the helm, manages to sound contemporary by emphasizing individual composition as much as repertory, while the LCJO routinely gets bogged down getting misty eyed about the past.
Each year SF Jazz selects a list of works by a pantheon composer to perform, while each member composes an original ...read more
Chris PotterUndergroundSunnyside Records2006 Consensus is always the sought-after ideal in criticism. When writers can line up behind an artist and declare his or her greatness, the health of an art form is reinforced. We need to ordain geniuses to be reassured that this love of ours is still valid, and that our scribblings, you know, mean something. Jazz hasn't had a young mobilizing figure like this for quite some time, which motivates all the moaning about the death of the form. Many critics have placed moderate bets on ...read more
Fred Hersch In Amsterdam: Live At The Bimhuis Palmetto Records 2006
This live release by Fred Hersch is a rare creature: a solo piano recital that is never at a loss for lyrical and melodic ideas. The solo format exposes all of the musician's habits, pet themes and favored tones to our virgin ears without the benefit of the commanding physical pulse of a rhythm section. It's just Hersch and his thoughts. Thankfully, he's a smart and generous guy, tackling standards and original compositions with equal subtlety and invention.Hersch pushes gently undulating ...read more
It's a quiet day in the Neighbourhood. Manu Katché's ECM debut understates everything with a calm reserve, threatening to fade into the background without a fight (or a sax squawk). Check out the titles: Lullaby," No Rush," and Lovely Walk," all urging your fragile attention to wander from the lilting tune. But then Tomasz Stanko steps up to solo, gilding the lyrical lily until he arpeggios up to a breathy peak in Number One," snapping you out of whatever pleasant reverie you were soaking in.That's the lovely pattern of this disc, working an ethereal groove into the ground ...read more
She was the little girl who swings the band, an arranger for Andy Kirk, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and practically any other sublime big band name you could deign to think of. Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell hung out at her NYC apartment to soak up her knowledge during the bop era. Mary Lou Williams should be a household name, or at least a dorm room name. Something.One who carries her torch to enlighten bedraggled minds is Geri Allen, a Detroit-born pianist, sharp-toned and keen on melody. She leads the Mary Lou Williams Collective on Zodiac ...read more
Exhaustingly Orientalist, the Austrian quartet Quadro Nuevo tries to reconstruct the fantasy Middle East of Delacroix and the fantasy Europe of An American in Paris but lacks the inspiration of both, and ends up looking like a boring artifact from a racist era. Multicultural to a fault, it packs in tangos, Neapolitan ballads, early swing tunes, Greek and German folk songs, and European café jazz. If these players had chops and bent the influences to their own artistic ends, they could get around their exoticizing of the music. As it stands they resort to condescending imitations for each tune and ...read more
Waltz Again begins with a thick squall of strings and hyper-Ayler sax wailings, laying down a warning. The strings in this recording will not sit still as a plush backing for treacly balladeering, but will instead bob and weave in constant interplay with the quartet. And when the true ballads come, their beauty gleams off the frenzy that passed before and will rage after.After the squall there is mourning, a swirling dirge of violins that would have Bernard Herrmann sneak a nod of approval. Obsessive and insistent, one envisions a paranoid protagonist bemoaning those voices in his head. ...read more
Duke Ellington Love You Madly / A Concert of Sacred Music at Grace Cathedral Eagle Eye Media 2005
With the glut of Ellingtonia on the market, it's impossible to separate the sublime from the merely wonderful. This release leans toward the former. Split into two programs, the first a televised profile of Duke from 1965, the second a film of his first Sacred Concert, it is a package of off-hand delights.
Love You Madly is a glowing profile of Duke on a 1965 tour. Made by jazz- crit icon Ralph Gleason, it ...read more
The results of benefit concerts are always superior to the music they produce. Money is raised and collective guilt is soothed, but these events are usually plagued by performances of inflated self-congratulation. Wynton Marsalis, no stranger to patting his own back, puts his ego in his back pocket for the Jazz at Lincoln Center-produced Higher Ground Hurricane Relief Benefit Concert.
Marsalis, a New Orleans native, was the most eloquent spokesperson for his hometown after the disaster, and the event (broadcast live on PBS this past September) was an over-long but often stirring tribute to the continuing vitality of ...read more
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