g.org A New Kind Of Blue
A Nest Of Eggs
It takes balls to say you're going to redo Kind Of Blue.
Producer Gary Guthrie puts his panache on display with A New Kind Of Blue , calling it a "what-if" album made possible by the modern age. Among the hypotheticals: What if the original players had 70 minutes for the recording instead of the 40 minutes LPs were limited to; what might have happened if a guitarist like Wes Montgomery replaced one of the two saxophonists; and what results might have occurred if the drums and bass got more breathing room.
It seems like an insanely bad idea.
For starters, who wants to be the trumpet player responsible for emulating Miles Davis? It's bad enough pianist Mike Ricchiuti has to worry about Bill Evans when it comes to the inevitable comparisons. But to be matched up against The Man seems hopeless. Especially when a "making-of" essay discusses the producer's previous session being "a bust replete with bad frets and a studio in chaos" and trumpet player Randy Brecker being "affordable" for the new project. Yikes.
There's one more strike against Guthrie before the CD makes it out of the wrapper: He issues his productions under the title of g.org (pronounced Gee-Dot-Org), inducing fear he'll turn songs like "So What" into hip-hop.
OK, deep breath. Insert disc.
There's only one way to assess this album - program the CD changer to alternate songs from the real Kind Of Blue with the new versions. First the old, then the new.
The amazing thing after a first listen: the new album doesn't embarrass itself. It is generally a well- performed take on the familiar songs, making a serious examination of Gutherie's "what-if" theories realistic. That in itself makes this disc a success regardless of how it fares in a more detailed comparison.
And, as is probably inevitable, that's where the new takes don't always comes out shinning.
Brecker fulfills his critical role well, with a timbre that's fitting despite being a bit more modern than Miles' 1960s sound. More important is Brecker's building up of modal phrases in Miles-like fashion, generally keeping them rooted in tradition with just enough of a contemporary touch to be tasteful. After getting little more than a chance to introduce himself on "So What," Brecker delivers a decent run of sparse passages on "Freddie Freeloader," infuses true passion into "Alone Together/Blue In Green" and does a stellar job of stepping up the pace in the first part of "All Blues." But - and this get repeated a lot here - taking a fine effort and questioning if it's equal to Miles is simply unfair.
Attaching Evans' "Peace Piece" onto the beginning of "Flaminco Sketches" (the latter is based on the structure of the former) is a nice touch, if only because it is a song more of the jazz world needs to hear. But there's no way Ricchiuti can match the lyrical improvisational brilliance of Evans performing the original. That extends to other pieces as well - see the above rant - a shame because his lively touch on "All Blues" and reshaping of the melody throughout "Blue In Green" are commendable if such comparisons are omitted.
Saxophonist Andy Snitzer is perhaps the strongest presence on the new album. He delivers top-notch solos with a consistency unmatched by any of the other players, with the words "dense," "varied," "intelligent" and "accessible" constantly being noted during multiple listens. Is he the equal of Cannonball Adderley? That will not not be touched here out of respect to both players...they excel in different ways.
A real surprise is guitarist Chuck Loeb fulfilling his Wes Montgomery role with authority - it'd be nice to hear him do more of this than the smooth jazz licks that dominate many of his albums. The "what-if" question is a mixed bag - many of the solos fit in nicely, although they aren't as deep as the best Brecker and Snitzer offer. The comps, however, often leave something to be desired - but since he's playing an assigned role it's hard to blame him for those faults.
As for giving the bass and drums more "breathing space," the concept often plays second fiddle here, so to speak. Drummer Victor Lewis infuses enough of a modern touch into his beats to be different without overdoing it and bassist David Finck performs ably, but he's too low in the mix and his contributions simply aren't as notable.
Guthrie really steps out of bounds only once, when he extends "All Blues" for an extra 10 minutes to allow for what the "making-of" notes call "a little jam band mentality." An R&B comp becomes part of the chorus and Lewis shifts to a similar grove that, unfortunately, gets monotonous quickly. The solos feel more clinched and in general it leaves a bad taste following a decent straight-ahead reinterpretation. In Guthrie's defense, the lack of such moments might lead some to accuse him of not taking enough risks. Also, a redeeming touch for 2,000 listeners purchasing a "limited edition" version of this album is a second take of the song that omits the jam band go-round; program this one in and the long version out and the album becomes a much more consistent listen.
In the end, this album is actually more success than failure - and that in itself ought to make it a staggering accomplishment in Guthrie's eyes - especially given his refreshingly candid notes about the triumphs and tribulations making it on a shoestring. Don't even think of buying this album as a substitute for Kind Of Blue , but as a contrasting listen it offers considerable value as an artistic study for both new and experienced jazz listeners - and one has to think that was as much as Gutherie might have hoped for all along.
Track listing: So What; Freddie Freeloader; Alone Together/Blue In Green; All Blues; Peace Piece/Flamenco Sketches; All Blues (alternate version available only on a special "limited edition" disc)
Personnel: Randy Brecker, trumpet; Andy Snitzer, saxophone; Chuck Loeb, guitar; David Finck, bass; Mike Ricchiuti, piano; Victor Lewis, drums