Summer vacation usually means discovering new locations or revisiting favorite horizons for a fresh perspective. Here we explore music most likely found outside the "Jazz" section of your favorite online or retail music shop. Sometimes it's nice to travel...and sometimes it's nice to return home, too.
Steely Dan: Everything Must Go (Reprise)
Donald Fagen (lead vocals, synthesizers, Rhodes, organ and other keyboards) and Walter Becker (bass, guitar and vocals) seem to more solidly hit stride on this second album in their comeback. This follow-up to Two Against Nature (2000), the Dan’s first new studio recording in twenty years, seems more naturally and tightly woven than their previous effort and makes Nature sound more like the necessary knocking off of rust (Yeah, some rust: Since the release of Nature, Steely Dan was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and received the prestigious American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers (ASCAP) Founders Award).
Becker and Fagen work with the same crackerjack jazz and rock session guitarists, keyboard players, horn players, and drummers as on Nature. But it almost doesn’t matter who the musicians are – they’re cards that Becker and Fagen have constantly shuffled anyway. The stars on this Steely Dan album, as always, are the Steely Dan songs . FM radio be damned: Don’t believe that “The Last Mall” and “Blues Beach” are the two best ones. The strength of this album lies elsewhere among these retro-futuristic tales of apocalypse, pornography, economic failure, dissolution, terrorism and other modern gargoyles, cast in intricately casual jazz lounge rock.
“Lunch with Gina” is the requisite femme fatale groove, a tight body rocker from Dan’s supple yet sharp funk bag about a psychotically obsessive beauty. Other lyrics obscure just as many questions as they answer. “Godwhacker” sounds like it’s either about God hunting down Satan or a murderous religious zealot (It IS rather cool for a single song to suggest imagery from both The Sopranos and the “Whacking Day” episode of The Simpsons ). “Green Book” sounds cut from Aja jazz-funk cloth, with a most propulsive bass line drilling straight into the cynical glint in Fagen’s lyrical eye: “I’m so in love with this dirty city/ This crazy grid of desire/ The festive icons along the way/ The boardwalk, the lovers, the house on fire...”
Roy Hargrove Presents the RH Factor: Hard Groove (Verve)
Having previously immersed his trumpet in two “new soul” collaborations, D’Angelo’s Grammy Award winning Voodoo album and subsequent tour and songstress Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun album (both in 2000), Hargrove here dives headfirst into the soul pool. RH Factor blends a core band of two saxophonists, three keyboard players, two bassists and drummers, and two guitarists (including legendary soul session ace Cornell Dupree) with the best and brightest from the soul and R&B “new schools” including D’Angelo, Badu, Meshell Ndegeocello, Steve Coleman, Karl Denson, Marc Cary, and two hip-hop MCs, Common and Q-Tip. “I just wanted to open a door that would allow the musicians involved in jazz and the musicians involved in the R&B / hip-hop mainstream to form some music that would have no limit,” Hargrove explains. “It’s like a merging of those two worlds.”
Hargrove meets his objective, perhaps even surpasses it, with an album that sounds like one Lester Bowie and Maxwell would make together. He steers Hard Groove toward the trumpet school opened by Donald Byrd, especially with the wah-wah sound trumpet production and hand-clapping street funk of “Common Free Style.” There are other miles-tones: Hargrove’s approach and brittle processed sound to his trumpet – quicksilver darting atop roiling funk rhythms – urge “Juicy” and “Out of Town” closer to such fractious pre-retirement musings of Miles as Black Beauty.
“Hardgroove,” clever wordplay on the leaders name as well as the introductory track, paints a new face on hard bop jazz, rocking up top with trumpet and saxophone in unison and in counterpoint, and rocking down below with inventive and challenging bass and drum rhythms. Denson and Hargrove riff on Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower” to form the instrumental poetry behind Q-Tip’s spoken riffing and Badu’s singing on “Poetry,” creating a very different type of vocal jazz. (Don’t sweat Hargrove’s jazz chops: This past February, Hargrove, Herbie Hancock and Michael Brecker won the Best Instrumental Jazz Performance Grammy Award for Directions in Music: Live at Massey Hall.)
Burnt Friedman & The NuDub Players: Can’t Cool (Nonplace)
Composer, arranger, producer, and performer (on drums, marimbas, vibes, synthesizer, piano, and other keyboards) Friedman normally blasts progressive rock and jazz apart, but when working with his NuDub Players ensemble he takes aim at de/constructing avant-garde reggae and dub. Whether inspired lunacy or just plain craziness, this third NuDub release, featuring Ian Perry on trombone, saxophonist Thomas Haas, and August Engkilde on double bass among twenty musicians from Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne, Copenhagen, Detroit, Cape Town, Santiago de Chile, Cologne and Berlin, is no doubt twisted.
The first recognizable strains of reggae don’t drift into these mixes until halfway through the fourth track, “Dublab Alert,” and in general, making out the reggae roots of these gnarly dubs is generally close to impossible. “Fly Your Kite” does feature traditional Caribbean brass but at disjointed places in the rhythm. The jerk-around of the opening “Fuck Back” speaks of broken-ness in rhythm from both the African tribal and western industrial perspectives, and sounds so much more African than Caribbean that it almost does not fit with the rest of the set.
“Pater Nosser” partly consists of strange bird-like sounds that drunkenly wobble into and out of the mix while an accordion player wanders past just closely enough to hear. The Detroit collective His Name Is Alive join Friedman to reprise their original on this groaning NuDub cover of “Someday My Blues Will Cover the Earth.” “Get Things Strait” is creepy fun, sinisterly whispered raps quietly spreading like mutant algae throughout a murky, menacing lake.
This is difficult stuff. Friedman sort of ends up breaking apart and reassembling dub music. But dub music sort of breaks apart and reassembles reggae, so what the listener often hears is an abstraction of an abstraction, and it can be difficult to follow. But if you’ve ever wondered how a Teutonic experimental / avant-garde take on dub reggae would sound, here’s your answer. It is not sunny, feel-good island music. This is a dark, claustrophobic, unsettled and unsettling sound.
Jaco Pastorius: Punk Jazz: The Anthology (Rhino)
This comprehensive 28-track, two-CD anthology recounts in detail the genuine bass-playing revolution detonated by the IN YOUR FACE approach and sound advanced by Jaco Pastorius.
Like a good Anthology, this really covers just about everything: His five years as a third lead voice in Weather Report, alongside Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul, with the ubiquitous “Birdland”; selections from his own sessions as a solo artist and a bandleader, including live recordings of “Punk Jazz,” his “Word of Mouth” band, and the Jaco Pastorius Big Band; guest spots with Pat Metheny, Paul Bley, Flora Purim, Airto (with Airto and Purim smartly programmed back to back), and Joni Mitchell, with languid and glorious versions of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” from Mingus and “The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines” from Mitchell’s live Shadows and Light album; even three previously unreleased tracks, including a home recording of his famously funky “The Chicken” and “Good Morning Anya” from Pastorius’ unfinished, never released second studio album for Warner Bros., the steel drum project Holiday For Pans.
It offers much proof positive of Jaco’s genius: As a soloist on “Batterie” in the company of Paul Bley, Pat Metheny, and Bruce Ditmas; with an impressionistic cover of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” and a live solo version of “Amerika” that’s beautiful; and his fuzztone stomps through “Word of Mouth” (“Hendrix on bass” may be the only way to describe it) and the way he punches out “The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines” with a murderous flurry of sixteenth notes.
Punk Jazz is not only essential to understanding the last three decades of modern electric bass, it also serves as a de facto history of jazz fusion. Start with the beginning of the first disc, which leaps and gallops like a newborn colt, wild and unbridled, from combinations of amplified modern jazz and modern pop and rock such as the almost naively soulful “I Can Dig It Baby” and the hard-driving “Amelia” with Wayne Cochran’s C. C. Riders from 1972. Then sample the second disc and hear jazz fusion grow more sophisticated, partly from incorporating traditional ethnic instruments from every corner of the world, as on the full-blown orchestral suite “Chromatic Fantasy” and “Okonkolé Y Trompa” by the Pastorius Big Band in 1982.
Trio S (Zitherine)
(Mail order available through http://www.othermusic.com)
Trio S employ unusual trio configurations and recording techniques to create a unique jazz trio sound. Kenny Wollesen plays drums, Jane Scarpantoni plays cello, and leader Doug Wieselman plays clarinet, guitar, and loops on an eponymous debut that combines composed music and improvised music with looped music.
“Most of the pieces here come from perceived melodies from water sources; oceans, rivers, and streams,” writes Wieselman in the liner notes. “The phenomenon is barely audible but can be heard under the right circumstances – sounding something like a robust chorus singing a simple diatonic melody in unison.” Even the album artwork is the reproduction of a watercolor painting.
It should be noted that although Wolleson, Scarpantoni and Wieselman sounds like a law firm, in fact each of these musicians brings an accomplished resume to the collective, having played in just about every musical setting from the Lounge Lizards to Tricky, from Sex Mob to Patti Smith, with Wayne Horvitz, Tom Waits, John Zorn, and more. If any trio can figure out a way to record in watercolors, it’s this one.
As you can imagine from their inspiration, chapters in this evocative travelogue are fluid and the differences between them subtle. There is something very somber if not menacing about the sonorities of cello together with the clarinet, like the sound of bagpipes groaning in a graveyard, especially when accompanied by the rumbling echo of traditional drums in “Majorca,” which paints a watercolor portrait of the beach on this Mediterranean isle. In “Coda,” the clarinet dances atop a repeated cello figure that serves as bass line, while gentle whispers of percussion and guitar provide counterpoint.
The eight-movement “Anthony’s River” comes from a dream Wieselman had about composer and friend Anthony Coleman. Its second movement orchestrates a haunting dance between guitar and drums; the “Lullaby” movement submerges deep into the emotional resonance of flamenco guitar before the ripples calm into a reflecting pool; then the “Russian” movement erupts from the murky waters like a mazurka in a passing military parade (this movement is recorded at a louder volume than the rest, so it really jumps out at the listener).
Traveler ‘03: The Year’s Best in Global Grooves (Six Degrees)
“The Six Degrees Travel Series is dedicated to bringing you the best in traditional and contemporary musical excursions from around the world,” read the notes to the label’s third annual overview of world electronic music. “We are particularly interested in genre-bending hybrids that include a variety of musical styles as well as a mix of the ancient and the modern.”
‘03 documents the cutting edge of ethnic electronic music from such label favorites as MIDIval PunditZ, a techno production team from New Delhi which gives strong props to traditional Indian instrumentation and ragas, Karsh Kale, an expert at traditional Indian instruments and vocals and also a turntable-scratchin’, tape-loopin’ DJ, and even a track by Qwii Music Arts’ Trust Khoi San Music (which consists of bushmen of the Kalahari desert), all sculpted anew by cutting edge remix producers.
Bobi Céspedes’ “Rezos” demonstrates the compilation’s credo, as what sounds like chants from an ancient liturgy lead into and then fold back upon a rock steady, taffy-thick modern dub beat. So does the PunditZ’ “Dark Escape,” which builds upon traditional Indian tabla to club out a thumping modern beat. The description of Bob Holroyd’s “Rafiki” as the “Rise Ashen Future-Tribal Mix” is also quite telling, as it combines traditional tribal chants in rhythm with twittering electronica, roiling drumrolls and bass figures. “Stiff Jazz” by dZihan & Kamien mixes jazz, Latin, and Middle Eastern music with electronic beats; Rodney Hunter & Richard Dorfmeister remix it into a techno-tribal landscape pierced by a rhythm guitar hook that comes in sharp on the right beat but then sort of just hangs in the air and drifts away in a wonderful technique of production.
“Izgrala” by Lumin features the unmistakable voice of Irina Mikhailova from Kazakhstan on a piece that combines Eastern European vocal tradition with traditional Middle Eastern music and modern electronica. The emotional weight behind the Middle Eastern strings and percussion seem made even more powerfully emotive by the mechanistic backdrop and Mikhailova’s voice, especially when multi-tracked and harmonizing with herself in lower keys instead of higher (like Madonna), is quite beautiful.
‘03 ends powerfully. Kale uses tablas, squealing hooks, and the Madras Chamber Orchestra as building blocks for bone-crunching beats in “GK²”. “Xlao Tshao” by Bushmen of the Kalahari desert, remixed by Holroyd, tumbles and whirls with traditional chants, Caribbean island percussion, and Afro-pop guitars and rhythms, dancing arm-in-arm toward the horizon under a brightly starlit veldt. These tracks, like others, present the sound of the ancient musical world giving birth to the modern.
The initial pressing of ‘03 also include a separate bonus disc of seven Six Degrees tracks never before available on CD.