Jazz2K: July’s CD Picks of the Month
Reviews by J Hunter
Since summer isn’t cooling down any time soon, here are five more discs that you can use to fight heat with HOT!
WAYNE SHORTER QUARTET
Without a Net
Some years ago, I reviewed the Wayne Shorter Quartet’s second concert disc Beyond the Sound Barrier, and said that if the only way to get music that wild was to have them record live, then keep that band on the road! It took eight years for another Shorter Quartet live date to emerge, but given the divine madness contained on Without a Net, I don’t think we should give the octogenarian saxman any static – and the same goes for his peerless support group. Keyboardist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade are all leaders in their own right, and yet they have unified behind Shorter to create a freewheeling, high-flying sound machine that can create staggering soundscapes like “S.S. Golden Mean” and “Zero Gravity to the 10th Power.” “Starry Night” is a Shorter ballad that becomes an epic love story, and the movie-musical classic “Flying Down to Rio” is happily demolished and then re-built in Shorter’s own image. Certain polls notwithstanding, Shorter’s not the best soprano player on the planet any more. But when it comes to making music that’s boundless in its creativity, and demanding already-brilliant players to take it three steps further, Wayne Shorter is unmatched.
Trombonist Michael Dease was one of the young lions Dizzy Gillespie alum John Lee chose to showcase on his great independent outfit Jazz Legacy Productions. Showing he knows the meaning of “Pay it forward,” Dease went on to his own label D Clef, which he has used to give burgeoning New York players like Andrew Swift and Matt Garrison the platform Lee gave Dease. At the end of the day, though, Dease is at his best when he plays his own music, and Coming Home is his finest performance yet. Supported by bass monster Christian McBride and members of McBride’s acoustic group Inside Straight, Dease makes a riveting case for consideration as one of the best ‘bone players on the current menu. Grooving originals “Solid Gold” and “Good and Terrible” are right on the button, with Dease and altoist Steve Wilson making beautiful harmony before they go their separate ways to make their own respective mayhem. McBride’s own “The Shade of the Cedar Tree” goes wider than it got on Inside Straight’s first disc Kind of Brown, and Dease’s roaring take on “Take it to the Ozone” shows it’s not just the Cookers that can bring Freddie Hubbard back to life. Michael Dease has big ideas and big plans, and it’s going to be a lot of fun watching them unfold.
Nowadays, the Hammond B3 organ only rears its head when an artist decides it’s time to party. But keyboardist Ron Oswanski – an admitted fan of the groundbreaking label ECM – uses his instrument in the time-honored Larry Young/Tony Williams Lifetime tradition on his debut release December’s Moon. Tim Reis’ rampant sax work and John Abercrombie’s uncompromising guitar on the opener “White Meadow” tells you that this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, and this UNQUESTIONABLY ain’t no fooling around! Abercrombie gets to strut his legendary stuff on the volatile “Mercury Retrograde” and helps Oswanski and Reis (who produced December) explore Led Zeppelin’s “The Rain Song” while showing due deference to the original recording. It’s not all about mad-scientist prog jazz, as the group has fun with wedding songs on “Ukrania Polka” (featuring Oswanski on – what else – accordion); later, Oswanski gets with Abercrombie and drummer Clarence Penn for some cool trio post-bop on Kenny Wheeler’s “Kayak.” It’s also not all about the B3, thanks to a quietly swinging piano-trio version of Bill Evans’ “Evanescence” that lets John Patitucci get his double bass on. The latter tune is a marvelous coda for a solid debut that shows more than a little promise.
MICHEL GENTILE, DANIEL KELLY & ROB GARCIA
(Connection Works Records)
A little background here: Connection Works isn’t just some clever label for an indie imprint – it’s a non-profit organization that has mounted over 200 concerts, master classes and workshops for New York-area students to get their music education up close and personal. Flautist Michel Gentile, pianist Daniel Kelly (who opened Lake George Jazz Weekend a couple of years ago) and drummer Rob Garcia make up Connection Works’ resident ensemble, and their time together has created a formidable set of originals that mix jazz and classical tenets in a way that lets you see the commonalities as well as the differences. The influences for some of their compositions range from the work of an Austrian artist/environmentalist to a single line from James Joyce, so you know you’re not getting anything standard. Gentile’s “Voir Dire” works the same melody three different ways, each one adding to your perspective; Kelly’s roiling “Emanglons” starts out quite pastoral, but storm clouds show up in a big hurry; and Garcia’s staccato “Will” dovetails with the unique work the drummer has created with his own outfit Rob Garcia 4. Each player also gets his own “Soliloquy” to make his own kind of expression, but none of the trio stays in that spotlight very long. The ensemble’s the thing on Works, and it’s a dead heat on what’s cooler: The music they make, or the way the music was developed.
Professor David Ake, PhD, is one of the newest faculty members at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University, and he comes in with a new title on his résumé: Bridges, the second great disc of 2013 from the L.A.-based label Pos-i-tone and arguably their most ass-kicking release since Tarbaby’s The End of Fear. Anyone with two books on jazz to his name would be expected to put out thoughtful music, but the range of thought on Bridges is positively byzantine, and the material inspires an all-star sextet to give it more than their best shot. Scott Colley’s bass solos on the spare title track and the progressively explosive follow-up “Sonomads” link the two pieces together, forming an unannounced suite. Colley’s in-the-clear opening to “Year in Review” is the calm before the chaos, and the mammoth front line of tenor master Ravi Coltrane, trumpeter Ralph Alessi and altoist Peter Epstein simply crush it. The front line helps Ake, Colley and drummer Mark Ferber have fun with time signatures on the epic “Dodge”; Coltrane and Epstein have a rollicking dialogue on “We Do?” while Alessi teams with Ake for the lovely duo coda “Light Bright.” Who said music education had to be dull? Not me… and, apparently, not David Ake, either.
NOTE: J Hunter’s 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.