Each month it seems to get worse... The piles of new CD’s on my shelf grow bigger and bigger and, each month it becomes more and more impossible to make a dent in the pile for even cursory listening not to mention writing reviews. I hesitate to complain because jazz fans everywhere keep reminding me how lucky I am and they’re right... but it’s still frustrating.
Springtime, however, offers a propitious opportunity to renew ones’ aesthetic efforts and besides there are some delicious sounds pouring out of the studios and I hereby make my best effort to share my reactions with my fellow cyberspacers:
I have never liked the steel drums as an instrumental vehicle for jazz improvisation. This month, from a Paris studio, comes The Passage on the Heads Up label. Leader and steel “pan” soloist Andy Narell succeeds in converting me and offers up a highly original sound, which will intoxicate plenty of listeners.
Surrounded by an army of percussionists and rhythmists of all kinds, Narell is able to initiate chord changes and create harmonic textures on this exotic metal that are clear and always pitch faithful- a new achievement for the instrument. In addition, Narell has scribed all of the tunes and supervised the mixing. This latter skill is particularly significant because the steel drums always “bleed” sound and on this outing they fit into the choir of the other instruments with startling precision.
John Pizzarelli’s new effort on Telarc Bossa Nova is fairly matter-of-fact for several cuts; the singer/guitarist performs ancient Jobim standards with a remarkable lack of adventurous phrasing- a bit unusual for this boy wonder now grown into one of the most important interpreters on the scene. But on track seven the CD launches itself into a rarified air as vocalists Daniel Jobim and Chiara Civello move center stage alongside string and flute quartets. The sound is magical and, with saxophonist Harry Allen joining the fray next to percussionists Jim Saporito and Paulinho Braga, the session really takes off. Regulars, Ray Kennedy and Martin Pizzarelli, have now celebrated more than a decade performing with their illustrious leader making this trio as durable as any presently performing and recording.
Michel Camilo, now in the middle of his second decade of work in the NY scene, appears this month in one of his more contemplative efforts. Triangulo on Telarc is a reflective collection of the maestro’s compositions and arrangements performed with a serenity unimaginable a decade ago when his work exploded onto the scene with virtuosic ferocity. Having conquered the world of latino jazz and perched on a performing dais that very few can share, Camilo now seems to be searching for new creativity in quite different areas. Triangulo is certainly a counterpoint to the early work. It will be very interesting for this writer (who was there at the beginning) to see where things go from here.
One of the more intriguing NY based labels is Arabesque recordings, which is noteworthy for its work with new artists. The producers have displayed taste and a sense of adventure in two new releases. Keyboardist Myra Melford is featured in a session dubbed The Tent a mood collection inspired by the poetry of Jelaluddin Rumi, the writing of Oisin Curran and the music of Andrew Hill and Lester Bowie. The music is hauntingly spiritual and strangely euphoric. Altoist John O’Gallagher performs on Abacus , another Arabesque production of music reflecting some of the jazz ideas of Lee Konitz in compositions and performances that are daring, complex and yet accessible to those willing to expanding their listening habits.