Several Arkadia discs have made their way to my desk and two releases have finally floated to the top for my attention. Two very fine releases, I might add.
Joe Henderson. Continuing their Grammy(r)-nominated Thank You... series, Arkadia serves up a tribute to the very much alive and recording Joe Henderson. Past Thank You... recordings have highlighted deceased artists and include Thank You, Duke (Duke Ellington, 70003), Thank You, John (John Coltrane, 70002) and Thank You, Gerry (Gerry Mulligan, 71191). All have been critically acclaimed something this new release has in common with its predecessors.
In my estimation, Joe Henderson has been blowing more tenor than anyone else these past several years. It is more than fitting for the composer of such Jazz standards as "Recorda Me", "Isotope", and "Inner Urge" to be highlighted with a tribute. Arkadia has assembled a crack band to provide this tribute, one whose center is young tenorist Javon Jackson. I would have likened fellow Blue Note player Mark Shim for this Job, but the lyrical and Melodic Jackson more than delivers. His tone is confident and probing, respectfully inspecting the corners and edges of these Henderson gems. Jackson has a killer funkiness expressed perfectly on the opening "Mamacita" and "Isotope". He is perfectly supported and augmented by Randy Brecker and Terrell Stafford, who both deliver blistering solos. Marsalis alum Eric Reed is at his typical urbane best on the piano. The rest of the rhythm section (bassist Roger Whitaker and drummer Carl Allen) shows up ready to play. A spirited tribute all the way around.
Joanne Brackeen. Joanne Brackeen has always reminded me of the late Jaki Byard. She possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz piano and can play in multiple styles (often in the same piece). A member of the Jazz Messengers and pianist to Joe Henderson and Stan Getz, Brackeen has developed enviable chops, which she displays in abundance on Popsicle Illusion. The disc opens with "If I Were a Bell". Now, the listener might expect a Red Garland/Herbie Hancock post-Miles rendition, but no...Brackeen imagines how this standard would sound if played by James P. Johnson. The style is decidedly 21st Century Stride. Wow!
The Beatles' "Michelle" shows up as a classical concert recital piece and "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" and "Prelude to a Kiss" are caressed as smooth ballads. Brackeen's own compositions tend toward the complex, both rhythmically and conceptually. Ms. Brackeen’s depth and breath (both compositionally and performance-wise) is stunning. I generally think that all solo piano discs are good, but some are better. Popsicle Illusion defines the new category of “More Better.”
Track Listing ( Thank You, Joe! ):Mamacita; Isafan; Gazelle; The Kicker; Ask Me Now; Recorda Me; Isotope; Inner Urge; Granted. (Total Time: 56:04)
Personnel ( Thank You, Joe! ):Eric Reed, Joanne Brackeen: Piano; Rodney Whitaker: Bass; Javon Jackson: Tenor Saxophone; Randy Brecker: Trumpet. Flugelhorn; Terrell Stafford: Trumpet; Renato Thoms: Percussion; Steve Nelson: Vibraphone.
Track Listing ( Popsicle Illusion ):If I Were A Bell; Michelle; Popsicle Illusion; From This Moment On; Bess, You Is My Woman Now, The Touch Of Your Lips; Telavivision; Knickerbocker Blues; High Tea For Stephanie; Prelude To A Kiss; Nature Boy; Interview With Joanne Brackeen. (Total Time: 71:47)
Personnel ( Popsicle Illusion ):Joanne Brackeen: Piano.