Tag Archives: blurt jazz desk

THE BLURT JAZZ DESK: 6 New Releases

For our latest installment, Prof. Kopp takes a look at titles from Motéma Music, Mack Avenue, Hot Club, Intuition, One Note and Challenge. [Go HERE for previous installments of the Jazz Desk.]

BY BILL KOPP

Gerald Clayton – Tributary Tales (Motéma Music)

Clayton (album cover pictured above) has an impressive family pedigree in music, but his own career deserves serious attention. As Musical director of the Monterey Jazz Festival, Clayton rubs elbows with some of the biggest names in jazz. But the pianist’s work holds up – and quite often towers above – that of many of his contemporaries. Tributary Tales is his fourth album as bandleader, and his first for hip label Motéma. Folding in influences from well outside jazz, on Tributary Tales Clayton creates modern jazz for the 21st century. Walking a fine line between ear candy and abstract, Clayton manages to have it both ways: he is music is adventurous and accessible at once. (Music is here.)

Kevin Eubanks – East West Time Line (Mack Avenue)

Eubanks’ 15-year tenure as Music Director of the house band for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno was a two-edged sword: one one hand, it raised the guitarist’s profile unusually high in the mainstream world for a jazz musician, and afforded him untold opportunities to interact with his musical peers (and lesser musicians) in front of a large and varied audience. But it also gave him at least a bit of a whiff of commercialism, a quality that is often fatal in the rarefied and somewhat insular world of jazz. On East West Time Line, Eubanks embraces that reality, crafting an album divided into two pieces (which can be thought of as A- and B- sides, he readily acknowledges). The first is a set of tasty original tracks cut in New York City; listen for Dave Holland on bass. The second is a set of standards (covers, favorites, whatever) recorded in California. Both build upon his Wes Montgomery influences, and both extend beyond those into something that’s – happily, as he’s earned it – Eubanks’ own bag. (Music is here.)

Hot Club of San Francisco – John Paul George & Django (Hot Club)

Prewar jazz manouche is not this reviewer’s favored substyle in the genre; too often its modern-day exponents betray a lack of imagination; despite opportunities for improvisation, in the hands of far too many current artists relies on rote licks. Against that backdrop, John Paul George & Django stands out like the brightest star. Not only is the basic concept a solid one – it builds upon the old saw that a great song is a great song no matter how it’s recast – but Hot Club reinvent the music of the Beatles in clever ways. If the goal of a jazz reading of someone else’s song is to make it one’s own, to take it where it hasn’t already gone, then this album is an unqualified success. Some of the songs are nearly unrecognizable – Abbey Road‘s “Because,” for example – but that’s fine. Hot Club is both true to the inner light (so to speak) of the originals while embossing the songs with their own brand of originality. Bravo. And bonus points for both the decision to release on vinyl and for commissioning some very clever cover art. (Music is here.)

Günter Baby Sommer – Le Piccole Cose (Intuition)

In the right circumstances, jazz can indeed rock. And it needn’t be fusion to do so. Case in point is Sommer’s latest album. The 73-year-old German drummer swings as he leads a quartet through seven songs that evoke the uptempo, boundary-pushing yet traditional vibe of Art Blakey and His Jazz Messengers. There’s a very playful mindset at work here, as evidenced by the off vocalisms which Sommer employs throughout “Inside Outside Shout”: the tune has as much in common with late 1960s Frank Zappa (Lumpy Gravy and Uncle Meat era) as it does with more conventional jazz traditions. Even the subtler tracks (the aptly-titled “Mellow Mood,” for example) have an adventurous spirit that rewards close listening. The band’s makeup (drums, alto sax and clarinet, trumpet and flugelhorn, bass) is just unusual enough to be interesting on its own; the music takes things to another level. (Music is here.)

Melvin Sparks – Live at Nectar’s (One Note Records)

This one’s not so much jazz as it is soul/r&b/boogaloo. Modern-day fans of bands like The New Mastersounds, Soulive and other current purveyors of the timeless style owe it to themselves to seek out this tasty live date featuring veteran rhythm guitarist Sparks with a stellar band. The guitarist cedes the soloing to his band mates, but he shows can be done within the context of so-called “rhythm” guitar playing. Live at Nectar’s is greasy, sweaty, emotion-filled, high octane instrumental music of the highest order. And the recording also represents one of the last performances by Sparks before his untimely death at age 64 in 2011. (Speaking of New Mastersounds, Eddie Roberts produced and mixed the sessions for release.) (Music is here.)

Trichotomy – Known-Unknown (Challenge Records)

The disc’s cover art may suggest that Known-Unknown is going to be a collection of outré progressive jazz, full of atonalities and skronk. Alas, no: Trichotomy is a relatively straightforward piano/bass/drums trio, albeit one that incorporates electronics into its sonic palette. At least that’s what the back cover tells us. In practice, electronics are far from the defining characteristic of this album. It’s a fine collection of impressionistic and evocative jazz instrumentals, but the trio’s use of electronics is fairly subdued; were one not to read otherwise, one might come away form a listen to Known-Unknown thinking it’s a wholly acoustic album. And while there’s not a thing in the world wrong with that – especially when it’s done as well as it is here – the electronics angle is more than a bit oversold. (Listen to the band live here.)

 

Bill Kopp: The Blurt Jazz Desk – New Releases

Presenting installment #3 of the Blurt Jazz Desk—go HERE to access the previous editions—and our Jazz Editor’s top picks of some new and recent titles from respected labels Mack Avenue, International Anthem Recording Co., Whaling City Sound, Onyx Productions, Ropeadope, Same Island Music, Okeh, Jazzelm Music, and Orleans Records. Guarantee: all sounds are final—and if you wanna debate that, you can find Dr. Kopp at his Musoscribe blog, natch.

BY BILL KOPP

Brian Bromberg

Full Circle

Mack Avenue Records

Bromberg has recorded at least 12 albums prior to Full Circle. The disc opens with a rare archival recording made some 65 years ago; it features his drummer father with a trumpeter and trombonist. Bromberg has added his bass to the recording; it’s delightful. The rest of the disc is much more in a modern vibe; it swings and is full of energy and intensity. Even more impressive, these recordings feature overdubs – still not so common in jazz – so listeners get to hear Bromberg’s sizzling fretwork and his nimble, propulsive bass playing. Arturo Sandoval guests on “Havana Nights.” – Bill Kopp

 

Mazzarella

Nick Mazzarella Trio

Ultraviolet

International Anthem Recording Co.

This disc of seven originals features the trio of Mazzarella on alto sax plus bassist Anton Hatwich and drummer Frank Rosaly. The instrumentals fall on various points along the spectrum between hard bop (“Neutron Star”) and the more abstract sounds of Albert Ayler or Ornette Coleman (“Abacus and Astrolabe”). “Luminous Dials” might remind rock-oriented listeners of Frank Zappa’s jazz-leaning work. Things get wild and atonal on the title track, then the aptly-named “Outlier” reins things in (but just a bit). The rhythm section’s main role is to provide a canvas upon which Mazarella can apply his splashes of wild saxophone. – Bill Kopp

 

Jason Miles

Jason Miles

To Grover with Love: Live in Japan

Whaling City Sound

Miles is a New York-based keyboardist and bandleader who – among an impressive list of credits – was a trusted collaborator of late-period Miles Davis. This live set captures Jason Miles and his band paying tribute to Grover Washington. At their best – which is most of the disc’s run time – these tunes are funky and engaging. At their weakest – which is not often – the performances lean perilously close to “smooth jazz.” Andy Snitzer and Eric Darius take on the challenge of the sax parts, and Nick Moroch’s fiery guitar solo on “Lorans Dance” is a highlight. – Bill Kopp

 

Triangular

Triangular III

Triangular III

Onyx Productions

This live set was recorded at New Haven CT’s Firehouse 12 in October 2015, and features Ralph Peterson on drums, pianist Zaccai Curtis, and Luques Curtis on bass. The recording has a very live and dynamic feel, capturing the intensity and excitement of this superb trio. As often as not, Z. Curtis’ piano is the centerpiece, but the other two players more than hold their own. A mix of original compositions and the occasional standard (Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark”) makes for an engaging set of music. The exotic “Inner Urge” is the most thrilling number, but the entire album is worthwhile. – Bill Kopp

 

Frank Catalano and Jimmy Chamberlin

Bye Bye Blackbird

Ropeadope

Some tasty soul jazz in the vein of Les McCann is the order of the day on this set. Those who enjoy Dr. Lonnie Smith and/or The New Mastersounds will dig this set of a half dozen instrumentals from a crack set of jazz players. Alto saxophonist David Sanborn guests on two tracks, but Demos Petropoulos’ expressive Hammond B3 is often the star. And while you could be forgiven for shuddering at the sight of yet another reading of “At Last,” Catalano shines on the track. The band cuts loose for the closer, sounding like they’re recording live for “Shakin’.” – Bill Kopp

 

Pratt

Dan Pratt

Hymn for the Happy Man

Same Island Music

Pratt plays alto and tenor sax, backed by a piano/bass/drums ensemble; bassist Christian McBride is the most high-profile member of the group. The set is varied, featuring challenging numbers like “Gross Blues” and more straight-ahead offerings such as the piano-centric “New Day.” The album’s longest piece, “River” is also its most atmospheric and contemplative. It’s also perhaps the best track. “Speak Low” is occasionally reminiscent of Dave Brubeck’s deft combinations of classical and jazz. While the more intense numbers are fascinating, this aggregation seems at its best when the players go for subtlety, as they do on the title track. – Bill Kopp

Theo Croker

Escape Velocity

Okeh

If you’re the kind of listener who was disappointed when the fusion movement petered out and dissolved into soft jazz, then you owe it to yourself to check out this disc. The spoken word intro might conjure memories of Nat Adderley’s early 1970s Soul Zodiac, and there’s a vaguely Bitches Brew-flavored aesthetic at work throughout. But the whole affair sounds decidedly modern and forward-looking. Escape Velocity is informed by many genres: jazz, of course, but rock, reggae and hip hop too; Croker has a strong sense of melody that keeps things rooted in accessibility while still creating an ambitious work. – Bill Kopp

 

Warren Wolf

Warren Wolf

Convergence

Mack Avenue Records

Wolf’s buttery vibes and marimba work are guaranteed ear candy, and here he’s aided and abetted by a group that includes bassist Christian McBride and (on two tracks) guitarist John Scofield. The eleven tracks are very melody-forward; while there’s no great exploration happening here, Convergence is perhaps more consistently enjoying than any recently-released jazz album I’ve had the occasion to hear. The album is assured and thrilling in its low-key sort of way, and while it rewards close, intent listening, it makes tasty background music too. The grooves are often deeper and more soulful than they initially appear to be. – Bill Kopp

 

matt-baker-almost-blue

Matt Baker

Almost Blue

Jazzelm Music

Australian jazz pianist Baker relocated to New York City in 2010, to swim with “the big fishes,” as the liner notes say. This set is greatly influenced by Baker’s love of Herbie Hancock, but the tunes themselves are primarily from the Great American Songbook. Joel Frahm’s sax often takes the spotlight, but Baker’s assured and nimble piano playing is always present. Two very different readings of “Theme from The Apartment” are among the highlights, and Baker sings a romantic version of Brian Wilson’s “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” “The End of a Love Affair” is the disc’s most effective track overall. – Bill Kopp

 

Carlo Ditta

What I’m Talkin’ About

Orleans Records

This disc is difficult to classify: sometimes it’s gritty, greasy soul jazz, featuring guitarist/vocalist Ditta backed by a funk band, highlighted by some sexy flute that recalls Herbie Mann. Other times it feels like New Orleans jazz/blues. The production aesthetic is decidedly odd, with certain elements (often Ditta’s voice and/or guitar) far too out-front in the mix; it’s almost as if they skipped the mastering step in production. That makes What I’m Talkin’ About an unnecessarily difficult listen. It’s varied and intriguing throughout, but requires much of the listener. Be warned that this album often sounds quite like a bootleg. – Bill Kopp

Bill Kopp / The Blurt Jazz Desk: New Archival Releases

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Thank you, Zev Feldman, of the Resonance and Elemental labels. Examined: Sarah Vaughan, Wes Montgomery, Bill Evans, Stan Getz, João Gilberto & Getz, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, and Art Pepper.

BY BILL KOPP, BLURT JAZZ DESK EDITOR

Lovers of the classic era in jazz and/or modern jazz owe a debt of gratitude to Zev Feldman. The head of a pair of modern-day jazz labels (Resonance and Elemental) has been exceedingly busy of late, rescuing heretofore unheard recordings of great historical import. Kicking off with a bang a mere four years ago, Feldman unearthed a cache of Wes Montgomery recordings, and released them as Echoes of Indiana Avenue. At the time, the source tapes for that set were thought to be the earliest extant recordings of the acclaimed jazz guitarist. But in 2015 Resonance roared back with In the Beginning, a 2CD set of even more (and even earlier) Montgomery.

Other projects have included a remarkable Bill Evans Trio recording from Greenwich Village (Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate) and a John Coltrane set, Offering: Live at Temple University. The latter earned liner note essayist Ashley Kahn a Grammy award.

But the last several months have seen a flurry of activity from Feldman’s labels that suggests those early successes were merely warm-ups. No less than seven (actually eight) archival releases – all featuring previously-unheard music – have been released by Resonance or Elemental.

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Sarah Vaughan – Live at Rosy’s

The celebrated jazz singer was in her mid-fifties at the time of this recording, taped in New Orleans for an NPR broadcast in May 1978. At the time, Vaughan was enjoying something of a renaissance. Stephen Sondheim‘s “Send in the Clowns” – a reading of which is included on this 2CD set of mostly standards – had become Vaughan’s signature tune. “Sassy” Vaughan had built her reputation fronting big bands, but here she takes a totally different approach form her earlier work. With a spare band – piano, bass and drums – the focus here is wholly on Vaughan and her voice. Because this recording was professionally made for radio broadcast, the sound quality is quite good. The accompanying booklet is generous with both vintage photos and interview content.

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Wes Montgomery – One Night in Indy

Zev Feldman clearly has a thing for the work of Wes Montgomery, and who can blame him? His brief but informative liner note essay tells the story of how he came to release this CD of a 1959 open reel recording. Even with Feldman’s understated description of event, readers will get a sense of the thrill he experienced. And the recording is of more than historical import: playing with The Eddie Higgins Trio, the focus her is squarely on Montgomery’s already fully-developed technique. Those who bemoan his later A&M and Verve outings into reading of pop will appreciate this six-song set of tunes from the songbooks of Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Cole Porter, Neal Hefti and more. Sound quality is simply superb for what was clearly an unofficial recording.

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Bill Evans – Some Other Time: The Lost Session from the Black Forest

Here’s a rare treat. Bill Evans was quite prolific in his day, but until now there have been no studio recordings of his short-lived lineup of his Trio featuring bassist Eddie Gomez (Scott LaFaro‘s different but superb replacement), and drummer extraordinaire Jack DeJohnette. These recordings were overseen by MPS head Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer, the so-called “man from the Black Forest.” As with virtually all recordings made at MPS Studios, the music lives and breathes on this recording. Based on the customary run time of albums at the time these recordings were made (June 1968), had this material been released, it likely would have been spread across two or perhaps three record albums. There’s but one breakdown (“It’s All Right with Me”) and one alternate take (“You’re gonna Hear From Me”). Otherwise it’s all new material, a mix of standards. Some tracks feature the Trio; some are duos, and a few feature Evans alone at the piano. Five days prior to this session, the Trio was in Montreux, Switzerland, performing at the annual jazz festival. Feldman’s brief essay reveals the back story of these tapes, and other essays (from critics, Gomez and DeJohnette) provide all the context one could ever wish for.

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Stan Getz Quartet – Moments in Time

The first of two releases chronicling tenor saxophonist Stan Getz’s May 1976 residency at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner, this is a thrilling single-disc collection of live music by Getz and his three sidepeople (Joanne Brackeen, piano; Clint Houston, bass; Billy Hart, drums). Superb song selection and even better musicianship are the dual highlights of this timeless set, which sounds (stylewise) as if it could have been recorded any time between the late 1950s and the following three decades. Again, our intrepid jazz archivist Zev Feldman tells the story of how he found these tapes and brought them to current-day listeners. His Q&A with drummer Billy Hart – and a short note from Getz’s son Steve – round out a nice booklet that also contains some good live performance photos. Apparently some “sound restoration” took place on these tapes, but by the sound of them, you’d never know the CDs weren’t sourced from pristine pro tapes stored in some climate-controlled vault for forty-plus years.

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João Gilberto & Stan Getz – Getz/Gilberto ’76

The provenance of these recordings is the same as the above title, and the lineup is the same, with the addition of Brazilian vocalist and guitar sensation João Gilberto, he of “Girl From Ipanema” fame and so much more. The program here is give over almost wholly to Gilberto’s original material (no “Ipanema”) and similar material. By its very nature, this material is far more subdued than the Monents in Time set, and – other than some nice sax solos – Getz’s band rarely takes the spotlight. Feldman includes another whole interview’s worth of conversation with drummer Hart for this set.

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Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra – All My Yesterdays: The Debut 1966 Recordings at The Village Vanguard

Few would make the case that big band jazz was anywhere near its peak in the mid 1960s. But likely you couldn’t tell that to bandleader Jones and drummer Lewis; this set finds the big band playing like their lives depended on it. There’s a swinging vibe that – while not exactly loose – feels miles away from the stiff arrangements and readings sometimes associated with large jazz orchestras. The material is built upon a repertoire of standards, yet has the energetic vibe of Buddy Rich‘s pop-leaning shows of the same era. For this set, Feldman made the unusual decision to package the CDs and book in a larger-than-standard case; apparently this engendered complaints and backlash from OCD-leaning consumers who need their CD sets to be either standard size or a box set (a point of view I appreciate), so he’s vowed not to do it again. That issue aside, this is a wonderful set of music in a lovely package.

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Art Pepper – Live at Fat Tuesday’s

Heading in more dissonant and wild direction than most of the other titles discussed here, this live recording of a 1981 concert in New Your City focuses on material that lends itself to ambitious interpretations: Monk’s “Rhythm-a-ning” is the best example. And when they slow it down, as on Gordon Jenkins‘ “Goodbye,” thee band shows off their skills in a different manner. Zev Feldman’s in-depth interview with the saxophonist’s widow Laurie Pepper forms the backbone of a characteristically excellent liner note booklet. This is little more than conjecture on my part, but perhaps the reason this title is released on Elemental (as opposed to Resonance, under the umbrella of the not-for-profit organization Rising Jazz Stars) may have to do with Pepper’s estate owning the material. Omnivore Recordings has also released several Pepper titles over the last year or so.

Note that another title, jazz organist Larry Young‘s In Paris: The ORTF Recordings has also been released recently by Resonance; a review copy was not available at the time of this writing.

The release schedule for Feldman’s labels would be impressive by the standards of a mid-sized record label; that these releases come form a tiny label specializing in jazz, and a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization at that – is truly remarkable. Tantalizingly, and judging by Feldman’s regular Facebook dispatches from locations across the globe, there’s every reason to suspect more jazz treasures will be revealed in the near future.

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Bill Kopp is a music journalist, editor of Musoscribe.com, and editor of BLURT‘s newly-launched jazz desk. He has written liner notes for several jazz reissues, including Cannonball Adderley‘s The Price You Got to Pay to Be Free and Music, You All, both due out in May.

THE BLURT JAZZ DESK

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THE BLURT JAZZ DESK IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS! Announcing our newest department, which we hope will intrigue, enthuse, energize and – if we do our job correctly – even aggravate, thereby prompting a back-and-forth dialogue. Please say hello to veteran Asheville-based music journalist BILL KOPP, the editor of the Jazz Desk. Incidentally, Kopp also publishes his Musoscribe Music Magazine, which can be found right here.

Up first from Dr. Kopp: “Jazz Nazis, Fuck Off: Herbie Mann”, in which he offers the late jazz flautist a reappraisal through the lens of a crucial new archival release, Live at the Whisky 1969: The Unreleased Masters, and interviews with compiler Pat Thomas and Mann biographer Cary Ginell. “Herbie’s efforts helped call attention to jazz among young listeners,” summarizes Ginell. “He always had his ear to the ground to see about the new styles of music that were coming into vogue and what young people were listening to.”

Installment #2: Latest Archival Releases (via the Resonance & Elemental labels). Examined: Sarah Vaughan, Wes Montgomery, Bill Evans, Stan Getz, João Gilberto & Getz, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, and Art Pepper.

Installment #3: New Releases, via respected labels Mack Avenue, International Anthem Recording Co., Whaling City Sound, Onyx Productions, Ropeadope, Same Island Music, Okeh, Jazzelm Music, and Orleans Records.

Installment #4: Sonny Rollins exclusive interview – and an extremely long, in-depth one with the sax legend at that.

Installment #5: Latest MPs Vinyl Reissues – the German label serves up 180-gram wax by the Monty Alexander Trio, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Baden Powell, and the Oscar Peterson Trio.

Installment #6: 7 Recent Archival Releases – A look at titles from Omnivore Recordings, Real Gone Music, TCB Music, Resonance Records and Concord Bicycle Music.

Installment #7: 6 New Releases – A look at titles from Motéma Music, Mack Avenue, Hot Club, Intuition, One Note and Challenge.

Installment #8: 3 ECM Piano Trios – Guest columnist Michael Toland takes a listen to a trio of recent trios from the venerable ECM label.

Installment #9: 6 New Releases –  A look at titles from Codes Drum, Ronin Jazz, Resonance, Mack Avenue, and Cuneiform.

Installment #10: 12 Recent Archival Releases – A dip into the vaults via titles from MPS, Omnivore, Resonance, Sam, TCD Music, and hatOLOGY.