Reviews by J Hunter
EDITOR’S NOTE: J Hunter’ Jazz2K columns are leaping off your computer screen and onto the airwaves with his new “Jazz2K” radio show, heard weekly on Skidmore College’s WSPN-FM at 6pm on Tuesdays… including tonight.
Now that you get to hear this stuff as well as read about it, here are five discs that I’ve played before or will be playing soon:
He’s baaaaaaaaak! Skidmore’s favorite visiting scholar (and all-around monster musician) releases his first disc in four years, and from the sound of it, the trumpeter hasn’t been hanging about. The first notes of the title track bubble and squeak with the dark energy Blanchard’s been pumping out since he made writing soundtracks a secondary occupation. Tenorman Brice Winston makes a triumphant return to Blanchard’s front line, and his work on the bouncing closer “Time to Spare” and the aptly titled “Hallucinations” is like hearing an old friend walk through the door. Winston’s not doing all the saxy work, though, as Blanchard fulfills his wish to play with Ravi Coltrane on “Don’t Run” and Fabian Almazan’s classical gas “Pet Sitter’s Theme Song.” Almazan has not only grown into the piano chair once populated by Aaron Parks, but he may soon be another graduate of the Terence Blanchard School for Genius Musicians, taking his place next to cutting-edge alums like Parks, Lionel Loueke and Eric Harland. (Loueke’s ghostly guitar returns to spice up – and space out – “Pet Sitter” and Kendrick Scott’s drum opus “No Borders, Just Horizons.”) Almazan’s brilliant “Jacob’s Ladder” not only gives Blanchard a platform to shine as in days of old, but it gives guest bassist Ron Carter the best outlet he’s had to get phat in some time. With Blanchard, it’s always the whole and the sum of its parts, and Magnetic is another brilliant calculation that leaps off the blackboard and moves jazz forward once again. NOTE: The Terence Blanchard Group makes a tour stop at Tanglewood’s Ozawa Hall in Lenox at 8pm on Friday (June 28), making the concert the perfect warm-up for this weekend’s Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival at SPAC.
Dave Douglas comes up with amazing concepts (e.g. Keystone, Brass Ecstasy), but sometimes he leaves the grand designs at the idea factory and just plays! Time Travel is one of those times, but that doesn’t mean the trumpet-playing entrepreneur leaves all the creativity back in his Hudson Valley lair: “Bridge to Nowhere” is hard bop played through Douglas’ unique prism, and “Beware of Doug” is a fun tune that reminds us that Gary Larsen was the Dave Douglas of the comics page. On the other hand, maybe the double-secret concept was to prove sax madman Jon Irabegon can step out of the gonzo world of Mostly Other People Do the Killing and still be the beast crusher he is on MOPDTK’s foaming Hot Cup release Slippery Rock. If that’s the case, mission accomplished. Irabegon still throws the screwball here and there, and is a dynamic foil for Douglas on “The Pigeon and the Pie.” But Irabegon also has moments of sheer beauty that both devastate and delight, particularly when he and Douglas make beautiful harmony on the marvelously layered “Little Feet.” Matt Mitchell’s piano adds fire power and depth to the title track, while “Garden State” is a big mover made bigger by bassist Linda Oh and drummer Rudy Royston. Time Travel has that combination of vibrancy and aggression that runs through everything Douglas touches. He just keeps on keeping on, and we’re all better for it.
The Bespoke Man’s Narrative
It makes sense that pianist Aaron Diehl would be tailored to a fare-thee-well as he posed in a cool retro chair for his Mack Avenue debut’s cover shot. The Jazz Journalist Association’s Up and Coming Artist of the Year has the gleaming glass-and-steel of West Coast jazz running through his veins; the difference between The Bespoke Man’s Narrative and other West Coast-intensive discs is that Diehl morphs the genre from a long-dead artifact into a living, breathing thing. Anybody who still maintains West Coast has no passion needs to hear the breakneck “Generation Y” or the funked-out strut of Milt Jackson’s “The Cylinder.” When Diehl dives into jazz’s past and brings out Ellington’s “Single Petal of a Rose” or the Gershwins’ “Bess You is My Woman Now,” his velvet touch instantly evokes Erroll Garner. And when vibes wunderkind Warren Wolf joins up with Diehl and the stellar rhythm section of bassist David Wong and drummer Rodney Green for the Great American Songbook classic “Moonlight in Vermont,” the Modern Jazz Quartet rides again. Diehl’s not afraid to get complex for his own “Blue Nude,” nor does he shy away from bringing Ravel’s epic “Le Tombeau de Couperin” into the jazz idiom. It’s jazz without fear, and it’s cooler than James Bond on his first vodka martini. With the loss of Dave Brubeck, someone’s got to keep this wildly underrated music alive, and Aaron Diehl seems to be up to the job.
Cinema, Circus & Spaghetti: Sex Mob plays Fellini (The Music of Nino Rota)
(Royal Potato Family)
As we saw from the mammoth monster that was 2011’s MTO Plays Sly, Steven Bernstein never does anything small. But while Millennial Territory Orchestra is surely an explosive beat that needs to be reckoned with, the horn maestro’s “small group” Sex Mob is a wild card born out of the late, lamented Knitting Factory – a legendary NYC experimental space that was one of the less-publicized casualties of 9/11. Bernstein and his partners return to the silver screen they once had fun with on 2001’s Sex Mob does Bond, only this time, the subject matter is a bit more serious, exploring music from Federico Fellini’s house composer Nino Rota, and the result is as amazing and bizarre as Fellini’s own films. “Amarcord” could be the soundtrack to a zombie New Orleans funeral; “La Dolce Vita” and “La Strada” deliver the kind of sneaky music film-noir directors would have killed for; and the blaring “Paparazzo” re-enacts the press’ surreal need to catalog a star’s every move while making it all seem like a laugh. Briggan Krauss’ bari sax on the latter tune acts as a howling counter to Bernstein’s relatively sedate slide trumpet, and Krauss’ alto helps give “Il Teatrino Delle Suare” a truly ragged edge. Bassist Tony Scherr and percussionist Kenny Wolleson keep the foundation smooth and solid, allowing Bernstein and Krauss to bring everything weird and wonderful. Not everybody gets Fellini’s films, and not everyone will get Sex Mob plays Fellini. But, as with the films of Fellini, you’ll see the genius of Bernstein’s work if you keep your eyes, ears and mind open. Just don’t get thrown if a tall robed guy with a scythe comes into the room.
PASCAL LE BOEUF
It takes a lot to get me excited about a piano-trio record, if only because some of them are so intent on sounding like Bill Evans (usually missing the mark completely), it makes me want to throw my laptop out the window. Pascal Le Boeuf doesn’t want to sound like anyone but himself, and he is in deep exploration mode right from the jump on Pascal’s Triangle. Originally recorded as a jazz/electronic crossover project, the acoustic work Le Boeuf did with bassist Linda Oh and drummer Justin Brown is so intimate and so intense, Le Boeuf shelved all his computer beats for a later date. “Variations on a Mood” and “Revisiting a Past Self” (which Le Boeuf and Oh conceived while students at the Banff International Workshop) have a mercurial quality that makes them more powerful than music from bigger, electric-based bands. “Song for Ben Van Gelder” seems to dip into the bottomless soul of one of the NYC scene’s fastest-rising stars, while “Return to You” is the antithesis of the opener “Home in Strange Places,” finding peace in familiar surroundings rather than retaining normalcy in a sea of chaos. Le Boeuf’s creative output has been largely electronic, as can be seen in the frenetic (and, frankly, inconsistent) companion release to Pascal’s Triangle, The Le Boeuf Brothers Remixed. Going back to his jazz roots – even if it was unintentional – has opened up a new door for Pascal Le Boeuf, and I hope he keeps exploring what’s on the other side.