CD Reviews: Jazz 2K for January

January 14th, 2015, 2:00 pm by Greg

Reviews by J Hunter

In an effort to keep the momentum going from the last month of 2014, here’s some music you need to check out – either on your own, or on “Jazz2K @ The Saint”:

Between working with Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band and being the George Gee Swing Orchestra’s musical director, trombonist David Gibson has been plenty busy since his tasty 2011 Posi-tone release End of the Tunnel. That said, the Oklahoma native must have found a few minutes to scribble down some notes, because Boom! comes out of the chute like a Brahma bull on Red Bull and doesn’t let up for a second. That doesn’t mean it’s all pedal-to-the-metal like the hard-bopping “Eyes of Argus,” the swirling dervish title track or the charging opener “The High Road”; some of the best moments are the softer ones, like the loving ballad “The Dance” and Gibson’s joy-filled take on “Change the World.” What keeps this date’s emotional needle pinned in the red is Gibson’s choice to bring in two players who match his intensity volt for volt: Josh Evans’ trumpet has the kind of counter-punching power Freddie Hubbard delivered back in the day, and Theo Hill’s Trump-rich keyboard lines weave stunningly striking colors, be they acoustic on Gibson’s high-flying treatment of Tom McIntosh’s “The Cup Bearers” or electric on the sneaky-good “Grass Fed.” David Gibson may have been doing great work for others, but Boom! shows it’s time for him get out there and really blow his OWN horn!

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New Song
Sadly, only a select few in the U.S. are familiar with Third World Love, the acclaimed super quartet bassist Omer Avital maintains with trumpeter Avishai Cohen, pianist Yonathan Avishai and percussionist Daniel Freedman. If you’re not one of the few, New Song lets you hear how TWL would sound as a quintet, as soulful saxman Joel Frahm dives feet-first into the group’s established matrix to help create a crackerjack set of Avital originals. Mixing Middle Eastern ideas with western jazz idioms, New Song is Avital’s most focused (and most riveting) solo effort to date. Yonathan’s in-the-clear piano intro to the opener “Hafla” hops with whimsy even as its cultural roots tell you this is more than just a little ditty. The harmony Cohen and Frahm create gives the group’s normally intense sound brightness and depth on the sun-filled title track and the celebratory “New Middle East.” The loss in “Ballad for a Friend” makes your bones hurt, while the sprawling “Yemen Suite” translates the blood, sweat and tears spilled in that country into musical terms everyone can understand. Third World Love may stay a relative unknown after New Song, but if Avital gets the credit he deserves as a leader and composer, that’s a small price to pay.

Tiddy Boom
One of the problems with jazz musicians accepting grants from arts organizations is that the strings attached to those grants tend to make the resulting music sound like anything BUT jazz. Happily, Chamber Music America let tenorman Michael Blake keep it real on this savory date dedicated to the memory of jazz innovators Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. Rather than pull together a “re-imagining” of Hawk and Pres’ most notable material, Blake created a set of killer originals that reflect the icons’ big-as-all-outdoors sound while letting Blake showcase his own mammoth capacity for playing and composing. Backed by the blinding rhythm section of pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist Ben Allison and drummer Rudy Royston, this music is cool enough to replace your air conditioning when your summertime electric bill gets too huge. Even on uptempo tracks like “Boogaloop,” “The Ambassadors” and the title track (inspired by a direction Young gave to a drummer that wasn’t providing the sound Pres wanted), the effortlessness with which the quartet pumps this satisfying sound could give Zaphod Beeblebrox lessons in how to chill. As you’d expect, though, it’s on fulsome bluesbreakers like “Skinny Dip” and “Hawk’s Last Rumba” where all you can do is sit back, marvel, and drink in every sumptuous ounce.

All Purpose Music
(Jellowstone Records)Butcher-Purpose
This country seems to prefer looking back to facing forward, which explains why there’s always some kind of nostalgia craze going on. The ’70s are being lauded nowadays, which is frightening, because NOBODY wants to see leisure suits worn anywhere, by anyone, ever again! However, the Virginia-based electric quartet Butcher Brown has gone All In on one aspect of 70’s culture I can definitely get behind: The jazz-meets-funk, semi-psychedelic sound of Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters. Between the start of the warped Parliament-like “Intro” and the end of the nominal opener “Forest Green,” you’re thrown into the Wayback Machine and wrapped in a hard-charging groove straight out of Head Hunters’ anthems like “Chameleon” and “Palm Grease.” The cool groover “Jellowstone Room” gets a big boost from trumpeter Nicholas Payton (who’s been pumping the band on social media in no uncertain terms), but it’s multi-instrumentalist Marcus Tenney that helps Butcher Brown deliver Galactic-quality goodness on the hard-hitting “Powhatan,” the smoky “Philly Roll” and the smile-inducing “Sundress.” Forget package tours from bands that should have quit while they were tied! I’d rather live in the NOW with All Purpose Music, an outstanding set from four original thinkers who’ve made something old sound wonderfully new.

Side Up
(Ear Up Records)Coffin-Side
When Felix Pastorius joined the Yellowjackets on their 2013 disc A Rise in the Road, it looked like the Jeff Coffin Mu’tet had suffered the kind of game-changing loss Bela Fleck & the Flecktones experienced when Coffin became the permanent reed player for the Dave Matthews Band. It’s a beautiful thing that Pastorius has returned to the Mu’tet fold on Side Up – partly because the second-generation bass monster was completely wasted on Rise, but mostly because he completes a towering group dynamic that makes Coffin’s solo project such an adventure to listen to. The WTF Factor comes in early on the pensive opener “And So It Begins,” which has Coffin playing piano in the clear; but then Chris Walters takes his rightful seat at the keyboard while Coffin joins trumpeter Bill Fanning on the front line for the rising tone poem “Peace Now.” From there, anything can happen and basically does, including the Latin-flavored driver “Low Hanging Fruit,” the funked-up party piece “Scratch That Itch” and the glowing, growling fusion of “The Scrambler.” Coffin hasn’t lost complete track of the Flecktones, as digital percussion king Roy “Futureman” Wooten keeps the foundation kicking with occasional (and wonderful) help from tabla master Zakir Hussein. Welcome home, Felix. Now, STAY THERE!