Marc Johnson: Shades of Jade / Neal Caine: Backstabber's Ball

Elliott Simon By

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Although both these CDs from top bassists contain primarily newly composed material and feature strong tenor men, Marc Johnson's Shades of Jade immerses one in a remarkably warm and pensive musical world, while Neal Caine's Backstabber's Ball is a coolly swingin' twin-tenor treat.

Marc Johnson
Shades of Jade

Marc Johnson is a rarefied musician who can pull together a band to perfectly portray his compositional vision. With Shades of Jade he has chosen exceedingly well, and each of these works fit together like an elegant puzzle. There is a gentle grace as Johnson's bass and Joey Baron's brush and cymbal work instill a thoughtful atmosphere. The mood is then just ripe for Joe Lovano's tenor, John Scofield's guitar or Eliane Elias' piano to engage in group discourse or soft soliloquy.

Elias is thrilling, whether discreetly adding just a touch of Asian air to the title cut, laying back a bit for Lovano's heartfelt interpretations of her own melodic "In 30 Hours or giving an emotional rendition of lovely original ballads like "Snow or "All Yours. "Blue Nefertiti is a bluesy take on the queen, begun by Scofield before all others join in; while "Don't Ask of Me is a soulful arco version of an Armenian song, with organist Alain Mallet providing the backdrop.

Neal Caine
Backstabber's Ball

Neal Caine and tenorist Ned Goold are integral parts of Harry Connick, Jr.'s orchestra, but this recording is a far cry from that sound. Instead, drummer Jason Marsalis and reedman Stephen Riley have joined with this duo to present a timely take on everything from "Corporate Jazz, complete with semi-plodding beat and airy tenor, to freeformish interludes of "WMD and an intriguingly mysterious portrait of "DEA (the chord progression, not the agency).

Caine is so good and so in sync with Marsalis that they draw you into the mood of most of these pieces with but a few introductory plucks and taps. The two horns can sweetly double, as on the initial tenor/alto clarinet round of "WMD, or strike out on their own modern solo adventures. Caine is a powerful bassist, and he is up in the mix, but the tenors are equal to the challenge.

Bassists always set the pace but on each of these releases by two of the best, their distinctive musical personas are thankfully allowed to shine.

Tracks and Personnel

Shades of Jade

Tracks: Tur Sur Ton; Apareceu; Shades of Jade; In 30 Hours; Blue Nefertiti; Snow; Since You Asked; Raise; All Yours; Don't Ask of Me.

Personnel: Marc Johnson: bass; Eliane Elias: piano; Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone; John Scofield: guitar; Joey Baron: drums; Alain Mallet: organ.

Backstabber's Ball

Tracks: Intro; D E A; Good Goooold; W M D Interlude; W M D; Late Night Living; Corporate Jazz; Conversation for Two; W M D Interlude; Crescent City Reflections; Clare Evermore; W M D Interlude; The Hempire Strikes Back; Backstabber's Ball; Outro.

Personnel: Neal Caine: bass, Ned Goold: tenor saxophone, Stephen Riley: tenor saxophone, alto clarinet, Jason Marsalis: drums.


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