New Albums Zorn, Blake and Cheek and Bowers

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Continuing with the recent spate of releases, today we have reviews of new John Zorn material as interpreted by the guitar heavy Abraxas band, a much more traditional sax led quintet and Kris Bower’s new debut release.

I believe that part of the secret to lunatic genius John Zorn’s extensive output of consistently high quality work in recent years is in part his tendency to hand out compositions to, or write specifically for, different bands of frequent, or infrequent, collaborators and bands that often do not include him as an instrumentalist. Perhaps I would personally like to see more albums with him on saxophone, since he has a staggering command of the instrument, but the benefit of this system of passing out music to other artists is the ability to create a wide and diverse repertoire of music, where each release can explore sometimes very different things with a band best suited to do so. Read more…

Recent albums, Mehldau and Royston

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More new releases recently including today’s fare: electric new Brad Mehldau and drummer Rudy Royston’s long-time-coming debut as leader. In the near future, look out for reviews of a new John Zorn album with the guitar driven band Abraxas and a more straight ahead, sax heavy release from Seamus Blake and Chris Cheek. It’s hard to imagine a set of more dissimilar albums; in instrumentation, in feel and in background they are all very different. Yet I think taken together they are a good indication of the state of the music, each showcasing high quality musicianship in its own unique way.

I first heard about master pianist Brad Mehldau’s new project months ago. A duo with drummer-percussionist Mark Guiliana wherein Brad largely eschews piano in favor of Rhodes and a variety of synthesizer set ups. The more traditionalist among you may already have been put off the album from this description, but to me this sounded absolutely fascinating. Brad is such a strong technician and usually approaches new projects with a such a complete vision for the final product that no matter how different, the results always seem to work. I went in to my first listen of his album Highway Rider, which at first I viewed as one of those jazz with strings gimmicks, expecting to hate it. Despite my best efforts, by the end of the album it had become one of my all time favorites, on the strength of beautiful long form compositions, well crafted orchestrations and fabulous playing from everyone involved. While I certainly hope he doesn’t abandon the tried and true trio, I see a new format like the one he has with Guiliana as a great opportunity.

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New albums: Metheny and Ballard

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Good start to the year with new releases from Pat Metheny, presenting a slightly augmented Unity Band, and drummer Jeff Ballard. Between the two of them, these albums present a wide array of styles and exceptional musicianship from everyone involved. In all honesty, I had not been anticipating either album with any real eagerness, but found myself very pleasantly surprised with both.

I gave a somewhat mixed review to the first Pat Metheny Unity Band album. The band, with Chris Potter on saxophone, Ben Williams on bass and Antonio Sanchez on drums, is certainly very talented and it’s not hard to find impressive technical feats on that album, yet I found some of it surprisingly sterile and it had the tendency of taking it’s own conceits a bit too seriously. Pat has come out with a second Unity Band album, the frustratingly titled “Kin <–>”, with the new addition of multi-instrumentalist Giulio Carmassi, which I find much more engaging than the first time around.

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New Album Roundup: Nir Felder, Matt Wilson, Sharon Jones

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Expectations may be high for Nir Felder’s Golden Age. The guitarist was named the “next big jazz guitarist” by NPR a few years back and this album has been a while in the making. Joining Felder is a young rhythm section of the absolute highest quality: pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Nate Smith. How did the next big thing do? I found the album hampered a little bit by its own aesthetic constraints, but it certainly has its moments and bodes well for the future.

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2013 year in review

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2013 was a good year for jazz. The highlights were many and diverse, with fabulous classic straight ahead releases and new fusion and funk influenced dates from artists big and small, including a fascinating archival release of early electric period Miles Davis. I struggled to pare to my inevitable best of list down to 10 items, which I suppose says something about the futility of these sorts of tasks. I enjoyed quite a lot of new stuff this year and no matter what your tastes are, you probably can find something to fit them too. Still, I feel compelled to present a year end list, partly because that seems to be what people do and partly because I enjoy the opportunity to rethink all the new music that’s come out this year. My list is after the break, in alphabetical order of first name.

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Miles Davis Lost Quintet

 

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In 1969 Miles was touring with a quintet containing Chick Corea on piano and Rhodes, Wayne Shorter on saxophone, Dave Holland on bass and Jack Dejohnette on drums. Any appreciator of modern jazz will recognize that as a band of heavyweights and 1969 as a year pregnant with musical revolution. Indeed, Corea, Shorter and Holland were part of the band behind Miles’ seminal In a Silent Way, and the whole quintet with Dejohnette, along with a number of other musicians, were part of the even more seminal Bitches Brew. Despite the generally well recorded associations Miles had with the members of this band, the band by itself was never captured in its element and up until recently there were no official releases of the band. This earned the 1969 quintet its own moniker: along with the First Great Quintet with John Coltrane and the Second Great Quintet with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, this was the Lost Quintet.

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New Album Roundup: Carrington & Shorter

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Revisiting the classics this week with a new release by living legend Wayne Shorter and a new take on Duke Ellington by Terri Lynne Carrington.

Terri Lynne Carrington, Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue: Duke Ellington’s 1963 Money Jungle is a singular artistic statement. Enlisting the support of Charles Mingus and Max Roach, both not only heavyweight musicians, but musicians with very distinct personalities, Ellington created an album for the ages: the rebellious, almost subversive quality hinted at in the title mirrored by the palpable tension in the band. It was Ellington’s date and the band played all Ellington compositions (and one not by Ellington but generally associated with him), with the exception of ‘Caravan’ and ‘Solitude’, all of which were written specifically for the date. There can be no doubt that the album was shaped by Ellington’s vision, yet he was working with a rhythm section that would be hard to corral; hearing how he attempts to keep Mingus in check is half the fun. All this together, the tension, the possible subversive nature, means that, depending on your perspective, Money Jungle is either an untouchable idiosyncratic statement or prime material for a reimagining. Now, 50 years later, drummer Terri Lynne Carrington has taken the latter view and released her, very much reimagined and reinterpreted take on Money Jungle.

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