Archive for January, 2012

Further Explorations: Chick Corea album review and thoughts on tributes in general

This last week saw the release of Chick Corea, Eddie Gomez and Paul Motian’s “Further Explorations“, a tribute of sorts to piano great Bill Evans with two alumni of Evans’ groups. As tributes go, it’s pretty good, in no small part I think because it’s only sometimes a tribute and as often as not it’s own album. As a pianist who’s had a lasting impact on the language jazz, Bill Evans has had no shortage of tribute, and we, the listening public, have never wanted for mediocre takes on ‘Waltz for Debby’ as a result. This album may not be truly groundbreaking, neither my favorite of Chick’s nor of Paul’s albums, but it has a sound its own and more than a few interesting moments.

This was basically a pickup band for two weeks at the Bluenote in early 2010, but the pieces fit together pretty well, which is not always a guarantee when people with as idiosyncratic a bent as Paul Motian or Eddie Gomez are put together. Strike of luck that they aren’t stepping on each other’s toes but actually give each other just the right amount of space. Ethan Iverson’s wonderful tribute to Paul Motian has a section which discusses Paul’s personal reminiscences to Ethan, some of which are in regards to Bill Evans. Paul, it seems, tried to get Bill to hire ‘earthier’ bassists, while Bill largely refused. Eddie Gomez, Bill’s bassist for many years, does not have what you would describe as a particularly ‘earthy’ sound. I have mixed feelings about Eddie; he has undeniable technical prowess, but so often his work sounds sort of dry and flat to me. And he is a wordy player; it’s a sound that doesn’t always play well with others. Paul Motian, despite his own proclivity to earthy bass players (see long time partner Charlie Haden) has a sound that is open and spacy enough to actually accommodate Eddie. Chick too knows how to work with Eddie, offering him counterpoint rather than chord-filled comping. Times during Eddie’s solo on the second track, “Gloria’s Step” sound almost like Eddie and Chick trading solo space. It’s the only way to work with someone as constantly active as Eddie and it works well. All in all, a fine album. Not the essential album, perhaps, but the Motian solo on ‘Hot House’ is worth the price of admission alone.

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Show review double (triple) header: Chris Potter and Chucho Valdes

On both Thursday and Friday I got a chance to see some pretty good shows. On Thursday, the Chris Potter Quartet with Marcus Gilmore on drums, Joe Martin on bass and David Virelles on piano at the Vanguard (my second home apparently) and on Friday Chucho Valdes and the Afro-Cuban Messengers with the Alfredo Rodriguez trio as an opening act. Both had some great moments. Chris First

Chris Potter is one of the more impressive saxophonists you can see live nowadays. The quartet pretty much delivered exactly what I was expecting it to. With the exception of one standard, ‘Stardust’, all new tunes, most of which were not even titled yet. Chris’ compositions always have a great feel; he’s so comfortable rhythmically, he can do all sorts of really interesting stuff and make it feel so natural. He can imbue a song in 13/4 with a groove. Neither Joe Martin on the bass nor Marcus Gilmore on the drums got enough time to really stretch out. Martin only took one solo, on ‘Stardust’, and it was killer. Gilmore, who also only took one ‘solo’ (although he had a relatively forward presence in the sound of the band) turned out to be a real highlight. He has such a lyrical feel for the drums. If Jeff Ballard with Brad Mehldau was a case where a drum solo was technically impressive but difficult to sit through, Gilmore’s solo was deceptively simple sounding but eminently enjoyable to hear, like he was composing a piece rather than just showing off his chops (which he has in spades as well).

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Russia and Riverside: Charlie Haden and Hank Jones, Kronos Quartet album reviews

Charlie Haden and Hank JonesTwo album reviews for this week. First a collaboration by two master jazz men and second a classical album dedicated to a Russian composer I know next to nothing about.

Charlie Haden and Hank Jones, Come Sunday, EmArcy

Late great pianist Hank Jone’s last album is this, a series of duets with Charlie Haden celebrating classic hymns and spirituals. This is clearly a true collaboration with both musicians working together and adding their voice, sometimes with Jone’s piano stating the melody and sometimes only adding subtle accompaniment to Haden’s bass. The album is, start to finish, filled with a dedicated, understated and contemplative grace and reverence, and seems something of a missed opportunity. Not to take away anything from the simple beauty of some of these songs, but many of these renditions feel sort of confined to me. I would have loved to hear these two master improvisers open up just a bit. The material is best when at least one of the musicians has a chance to really explore the material, as on my favorite track “Down by the Riverside” or one the title track. But even in these instances, the songs are short, the longest clocking in at 4:28, and don’t leave much room for real exploration. Many of the songs are rendered entirely straight, with no improvisation or real interpretation at all. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman”, for instance, sounds like what I imagine it sounds like out of every church with a piano and a hymnal.

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Reverie: Tom Harrell Chamber Ensemble at the Jazz Standard

Tom Harrell conducting the Chamber Ensemble. Photo credit: William Stone

I am usually pretty skeptical of ‘with strings’ type acts. Obviously the model is Charlie Parker’s “With Strings” album, an album I have always strongly disliked. I don’t think Bird really needed the saccharine, overly lush arrangements behind him. Really, my problem isn’t with the strings, but how they’re used. On “With Strings”, the strings are a bit of tacked on arrangement that don’t really interact with the music meaningfully. On, say, Michael Brecker’s “Wide Angles”, however, I think the strings are used really well. The strings are an integral part of the band, filling out the rhythm section in the absence of a piano. Chris Potter’s “Song For Anyone” works the same way. And what’s really great is that the strings actually take solos there! Marc Feldman is a supremely talented violinist; I love his work on both Potter and Brecker’s albums as well as in John Zorn’s Bar Kokhba band and on in his own. I have a special appreciation for Tom Harrell. In particular, I have found the last three quintet albums (with Wayne Escoffery on saxophone, Danny Grissett on piano and Rhodes, Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Jonathan Blake on drums) consistently satisfying. Last night at the Jazz Standard, this quintet was expanded into the Tom Harrell Chamber Ensemble with violin, cello and flute, and despite my misgivings about such groups in general, I decided to not pass up an opportunity to see Tom live. Happily, while I may actually have preferred to see him with just the quintet, it was a great show. More after the break. Read more…

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(Something Else): Brad Mehldau at the Vanguard

Last night we saw the Brad Mehldau trio, with Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard, at the Village Vanguard. After a smoking rendition of the classic jazz standard ‘Alone Together’ in the second set, Brad paused to introduce the first four songs in the set. He introduced the next song they were going to play saying, “And now we’re going to play… something else.” That something else turned out to be a take on a Soundgarden song and serves as a useful metaphor for the sound and style of the Brad Mehldau trio: ‘something else’ runs through everything they play. Brad doesn’t shy away from any interesting influence or bit of musical language. He draws from everything, perfectly content to mix the most classic jazz phrasing with modernist classical influences on a take of a rock song. Throw in his proclivity for strange time signatures and you have a truly unique experience. Full set list and evaluation after the break. Read more…

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Everywhere You Turn: New Year’s with the Bad Plus

For the first real post on this blog, I’m going to review the first show of the new year (or the last show of last year I suppose). Seeing the Bad Plus at the Village Vanguard on new year’s eve has become a tradition for us in the last few years. This is our third year at the show, and it is always a good time for us. The Bad Plus, known for their irreverent avant garde tendencies and, perhaps unfairly, their predication for pop and rock covers, have always been a supremely satisfying band, particularly live. This new year’s double set was no exception. The first set, which started with a standard played totally straight in homage of Lorraine Gordon and included a number of new songs, was particularly enjoyable. The best way to think about the Bad Plus’ approach to music making, it seems to me, is that they look for new ways to do old things and old ways to do new things. For every rock song they cover or otherwise entirely modern song they write, you can hear that these are some musicians with a clear grasp of the longer tradition of the music. Ethan has said that they’re all big fans of Keith Jarrett’s ‘American Quartet’ with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian, and I think you can hear the strains of it throughout their music. Conversely, on the occasions that they do play an established standard, granted, rare though that may be, they will always look for some new, totally idiosyncratic twist to give it. They aren’t afraid to take a song from the great American songbook and play with the time or add the almost ghostly sound of the point of a drumstick edged along the top of a cymbal. Set list and more thoughts after the jump. Read more…

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