In general, the median quality of Jazz Music is several orders of magnitude greater than that of Popular Music. To this writer, this is best evidenced by the flood of music spilling out of my mailbox on a daily basis. Amazingly, the vast majority of music that I listen to is of a very high quality. That offers the writer the distinct challenge of providing the warranted attention to an ever-increasing number of finely crafted Jazz CDs. Northwest based Origin Arts sports two labels: Original Records and OA2. The former label was started by Seattle drummers John Bishop and Matt Jorgensen to showcase Northwest American talent. OA2 was started to include other than regional musicians. The mixture is a potent brew, as you will see...or better yet, hear.
Phil Kelly and the New Prevailing Winds
(Origin 22017, 2004)
Convergence Zone is a straight-ahead big band offering (unlike the later described A Mind for Scenery. Composer/Band Leader Phil Kelly has been a mainstay in film and television recording over the past 40 years. Bright brass and humming reeds characterize his writing and arranging skills. This recording blasts with "Damp Brown Places," (a take off on "Camptown Races") struts with "Cuzn Bubba Luvz Ewe," and laughs and plays with "Sweet Georgia Upside Down." This is some of the hippest big band writing that we could hope for. "Sweet Georgia Upside Down" could have died on the vine as a bad idea but insead wings as the focal point of this superb disc.
Point in Time
(Origin 82418, 2004)
Point in Time follows two previous well-received recordings by the Seattle-based drummer Steve Corn. The drummer is back with his now trademark double saxophone front of Mark Taylor and Rob Davis, each inhabiting a stereo channel. A savvy bandleader, Korn also features noted pianist Marc Seales and bassist Paul Gabrielson. Korn composed the lion's share of the disc, populating it with airy, new age themes that boast a lot of space. The music addresses the full repertoire of modern, post-bop jazz playing, paying certain attention to soul music, most notably in "Theme from the Sit-Com of the Same Name" and the ethereal ballad delta of "Little Bird." Both saxophonists are soprano experts well versed in the language of the instrument as well as its repertoire. As for the drummer, he is serviceable with an impressive arsenal of techniques. As a bandleader and composer, Korn has much to be proud of. A more pleasant listing experience might scarcely be hoped for.
Matt Jorgensen + 451
(Origin 82419, 2004)
Another drummer hanging out in the great Northwest is Matt Jorgensen. He and his band, 451, have previously released several recordings. Jorgensen borrows Mark Taylor from Steve Korn and features Korn's other saxophonist, Bob Davis on Several cuts. Jorgensen employs a double saxophone front for the opening of this disc, "Slinky," giving the band a big muscular sound that is propelled by Ryan Burn's Fender Rhodes. The band hits a bull's eye with their cover of Coldplay's "God Put A Smile on Your Face," again featuring Burn's Miles Davis-distorted electric piano and some very nifty saxophone playing by Mr. Taylor. Jorgensen's drumming on the piece is insistent and incendiary. The music on this recording, while some being abstract, is very appealing and accessible. "Che" has a distinct "A Love Supreme" vibe with coherent saxophone soloing over the ebb of the rhythm section. All pieces are provocative and intelligent.
Michael Vlatkovich Tritet
(Origin 82420, 2004)
Now here is something different, a trombone trio. Michael Vlatkovich steps into the daring shoes of Roswell Rudd and produces the music Rudd would have produced had he been a member of Jimmy Giuffre's famous '60s Free Jazz Trio Trio. Joining Michael Vlatkovich are bassist Jonas Tauber and drummer Ken Ollis, both veterans, for a playful romp through the sanctified fields of the jazz trio. The disc opens with the tortuously entitled, "Our Costumes Tell Us Who We are And What We Think." This piece has a very big sound resulting from Vlatkovich's powerful open-bell playing. Ken Ollis plays his absolute best Elvin Jones. And that is merely the beginning. Check out the deft bass work on "All Flat DeeGee GeeGee Too." The orderliness of the recording begins unraveling with "The Length of the Tail Doesn't Really Matter But It Does Have to Be Bushy" (how could it not). This is music that must be sent to the principal's office for bad behavior and how splendidly wonderful that bad behavior is. If the freedom principle is your cup of tea, pick up Queen Dynamo, it is guaranteed to satisfy.
Marc Seales Band
A Time, A Place, A Journey...
(Origin 82421, 2004)
A West Coast Jazz fixture for 25 years, Marc Seals has the chops to provide piano vittles for the likes of Art Pepper, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Betty Carter, Joe Henderson, Jackie McLean, and Frank Morgan. Here he is appearing live with his "Electric Side," the pianist opens things up with a New Age-like "Waiting" that sports a break where Mr. Seales is not bashful about showing off his impressive arsenal of chops. "Enigma" has guitarist Fred Hamilton playing jam-band jazz slide guitar. No, this is not Derek Trucks playing "Mr. P.C." It is freer than that. A Coltrane connection can be drawn in the controlled ciaos that drummer Steve Korn provides behind and beneath the more impassioned playing. Seale's electric piano provides a '70s retro feel but with great virtuosity. His playing is full of fun and soul, each of which is displayed at length on the longest cut, "Long March," which is cleverly a Jazz march. "Deep River" is a beautifully rendered spiritual, performed with trio. Perfect.
Prime NumbersLive at Jazz de Opus
(Origin 82422, 2004)
Prime Numbers is a traditional jazz piano trio...almost. Bassist Jonas Tauber drives his trio of Drummer William Thomas and pianist Doug Haning through nine totally improvised originals. Comparisons between Mr. Tauber and another bassist named Jonas (Hellborg) and this trio with Jeff Sipe and Shawn Lane are not without merit. Haning channels almost pure Matthew Shipp through his piano while Tauber's bass reminds me of Steve Swallow's in the Jimmy Giuffre Trio. The pieces range from the deranged and bombastic (in a good way) "Pointillism" to the airy and nervous "Spacial Poem." This is not music for the weak of heart as it is challenging by its central free nature. However, should the listener want to hear the Bad Plus on a crystal meth bender, he or she need look no further than this recording.
Modern Jazz: A Collection of Seattle's Finest Jazz
(Origin 82423, 2004)
It only makes marketing sense to release sampler discs of music that a label has in its stables. Origin Arts has accumulated an impressive amount of impressive music. Collected on Modern Jazz are among the first releases from the Origin Arts labels Origin Records and OA2. Originally commissioned by Microsoft as a musical melange for the unveiling of the Windows® XP Media Center, Modern Jazz now exists as the second installment of Origin Records ongoing sampler series. Moods ranging from the crack ensemble work on Clay Giberson's "Incompatibility" to the awesome piano swing of Marius Nordal's "Notoriety," this collection displays the disparate yet unified spirit of the Seattle Jazz scene. I am sure that there is something in the Left Coast's water to make the entire seaboard a percolator for jazz. This Northwest variety is as rich as the coffee the region is famous for.
A Mind For Scenery
(Origin 82424, 2004)
This is a little big band record. It is also the type of big band recording I was expecting judge from the timbre of music displayed on the disc listed above and below. Portland saxophonist/composer Tim Jensen assembles eight angular originals and one standard "On Green Dolphin Street." This is cutting edge big band music that is on and beyond par with what has been produced in Scandinavia over the past number of years. The music is spacious and ill-behaved, always swinging and interesting. Mr. Jensen's leadership is sure without being smothering, allowing his side personnel to breath. The tone is immediately soulful and free with a bit of avant-garde thrown in for good measure. Those listeners who like the Either/Orchestra will certainly be pleased with this Tim Jensen offering.
(OA2 22012, 2004)
Silenciosa is a superb solo guitar recital by Joe Pass-Charlie Byrd devotee and Bay-Area veteran George Cotsirilos. Despite the title, this is not a Latin-oriented jazz recording. Mr. Cotsirilos basically very ably performs the Great American Songbook and a classical nylon string guitar. His performance is intelligent and bright with virtuosic flashes as would be thrown off by the aforementioned Pass. The ballads, ""My Romance," "Just Friends," My Foolish Heart," and "Here's that Rainy Day" are all beautifully rendered through the soft round tone of the nylon strings. There is a residual Latin quality to these works, more than likely a function of the instrument, that works very well. This is a recording that tells all listeners that we are all in it together.
(OA2 22014, 2004)
The very best music comes in small and simple packages. Pianist/vocalist Paul West has been a fixture on the Seattle jazz and lounge scene since the late 1960s. Being Alone is a collection of Tin Pan Alley and Jazz Standards performed with a direct and straight-ahead piano/vocal style. This is certainly nightclub music honed to perfection by a master of the craft. Mr. West plumbs the Canon from Fats Waller ("Truckin'") to Sonny Rollins ("Sonnymoon for Two"). Absolutely cabaret to the core, Mr. West has a sure voice, great delivery, and will remind listeners of a Left Coast Mose Allison. "Miss You, Mr. Mercer," "Angel Eyes," and the discs two medleys ("Round Midnight/Yesterdays" and "How Deep is the Ocean/Sonnymoon for Two") are all highlights as is West's instrumental take on Gershwin's "Someone the Watch Over Me" (could a solo piano disc be far behind?).
(OA2 22015, 2004)
Pianist Tim Green leads a very hip piano-guitar quartet on Jeannie's Song , his follow-up to his successful Catching Yourself Gracefully. Guitarist Brian Wilke is given free reign to explore every unlit fusion corners. This is well illustrated on the disc's title cut. Cole Porter's "Dream Dancing" is taken in a slightly more traditional vein. The same can be said for Porter's "Everything I Love." Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes" is capably executed with a smooth Bossa grace. This quartet is going places in both the mainstream and adult contemporary arenas. We should all be watching for more from Tim Green.