Thursday, May 20, 2010

HANK JONES (1918-2010)

Hank Jones has passed away at the age of 91 and though he’d been making music since the 1950’s, it’s astounding at how many truly great recordings he made in the last 10 or so years of his life. I reviewed two of these for ICON but I never passed up a chance to hear any new Jones recording (along with many vintage reissues) and have been rewarded by each of them. Regrettably, scrolling through his albums listed on Amazon reveal that too many of his recordings are out of print or only available as downloads. Of those in print, here are my CD recommendations. If you don’t know him yet, you’re in for a treat.  Rest in peace, Mr. Jones. (The New York Times obituary is here.)

 The Touch is comprised of two CDs that Jones cut for Concord Records. Rockin' In Rhythm is from 1977 and it's an alright trio date with Ray Brown and Jimmie Smith, but get The Touch for Lazy Afternoon (1989), a superlative trio recording with bassist Dave Holland and drummer Keith Copeland. Alto sax player and clarinetist Ken Peplowski sits in for a few tunes but Jones is in fine form on standards and originals, beautifully recorded by Concord's engineers. A high point for producer and Concord founder, Carl Jefferson, as well.

Our Delight (IPO Recordings)
From 2008, this album pairs Jones with another veteran, the legendary (and self-effacing) saxophonist James Moody. Joined by bassist Todd Coolman and drummer Adam Nussbaum, Jones and Moody engage in a spirited set of bebop standards, the bulk of them written by Dizzy Gillespie and Tadd Dameron. The co-leaders sound terrific, and they make each tune their own. This was released by the audiophile boutique label, IPO, so the sound is robust, warm and very detailed.

(taken from my review from 2006)

He’s an elder statesman of jazz, 87 years young, and a true master of modern jazz piano – the incomparable Hank Jones continues to surprise and delight on another excellent recording, For My Father.  His recent appearance on saxophonist Joe Lovano’s  “A Joyous Encounter” elevated that record to near classic status – it’s on the Blue Note label and highly recommended – and the sheer joy of listening to Jones on this trio session is evident throughout this effervescent session. Jones is among those great pianists from Detroit (Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris and Roland Hanna) who have created indelible slices of sophisticated but not stuffy piano jazz. His experience comes to bear on a fun, bouncy version of Monk’s “Bemsha Swing,” and again on a little-known bossa nova by drummer Al Foster called “Pauletta.” Accompanied by bassist George Mraz and drummer Dennis Mackrel, Jones embarks on a sunny easy-going program of Ellington tunes, Strayhorn’s “Johnny Come Lately” and “Lotus Blossom” and covers Milt Jackson and Cole Porter, too. Mostly though, Hank Jones plays like the consummate professional he is, always capturing the genuine essence of each tune in away that sounds effortless. 

Everything old is new again on Hank and Frank (Lineage Records), starring a pair of legendary jazz masters, pianist Hank Jones and tenor saxman/ flutist Frank Wess.  Hank Jones is one of the finest, most urbane pianists in jazz, perhaps performing as a sideman on more releases since the late 50’s than any other musician. Octogenarian Frank Wess is a Lester Young disciple, having worked in Count Basie and Clark Terry’s bands, and he’s recorded many solo albums as well.  Recorded in 2003, this is the first release from the new Lineage label, founded by Russian guitarist Ilya Lushtak (who plays quite well and along the lines of Kenny Burrell).  With Lushtak, Mickey Roker on drums and bassist John Webber, “Hank and Frank” is a good one, a solidly swinging date with a dose of nostalgia. Wess digs into Cole Porter’s “Just One Of Those Things” with a tenacity that lights up this standard. And I don’t think anyone performed “Autumn Serenade” as well as John Coltrane on his record with Johnny Hartman, but Hank and Frank comes close with their rendition.  Several winning originals by Wess along with Charlie Parker’s “Barbados” are equally memorable but it’s Wess’ “Sara’s Song” and a simmering blues by Jones entitled “A Hankering’” that raises this CD’s profile and turns this unassuming recording into a minor classic.

Jones discography is highlighted by many collaborations with horn players - they just seemed to bring out the bloom in Jones - but the duets and quartet recordings he made with saxophonist Joe Lovano for Blue Note are indeed special. The label has discontinued Joyous Encounter, their first record together, which is a loss but this live gig is an exquisite chronicle of their interplay and should be in every jazz listener's collection.

Jones last recording that's out now is Pleased To Meet You, with Oscar Peterson-style pianist Oliver Jones (JustinTime Records). Other recordings that Jones made will be released later this year.  www.officialhankjones.com


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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Brooklyn Jazz Underground (BJU)

In the old days success for a jazz musician could mean getting a recording contract with a major label. Today, despite corporate disarray, a few clicks of the keyboard prove that jazz is flourishing and success is defined differently. In addition to www.CDbaby.com and networking sites like MySpace, innovative new distribution channels are gaining ground and getting musicians recognized. Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records is, by their definition, an independent and artist-run label committed to creative and adventurous improvised music. BJU is at the forefront of this trend and with more than dozen (and counting) fine releases on the label it’s worth visiting their impressive user-friendly site to learn more. Getting turned on to BJU is like getting an insider’s tip about the best new jazz on the East Coast scene.  www.bjurecords.com

A modern player with a weighty touch, pianist Randy Ingram plays with depth and sensitivity, much like pianist Fred Hersch. In fact, on “The Road Ahead,” Ingram recorded Cole Porter’s “So In Love” – brilliantly, too -- after hearing several renditions by Hersch. Ingram provides novel readings of tunes by Lennon/McCartney, Ornette Coleman and Monk, but his original pieces, “Rock Song #3,” Dream Song,” the swinging title track and “Hope” vibrate with solid melodies, slick licks and tight rhythmic changes courtesy of bassist Matt Clohesy and drummer Jochen Rueckert. Saxophonist John Ellis adds his silky soprano and laid back tenor to several tunes. “The Road Ahead” is an insightful, compulsively listenable debut by one of the best up-and-coming pianists.

On “Emerge,” Daniel Kelly runs his svelte trio through fast and funky compositions like “Moroccan Nutchuck” and “Canary Effect” that riff on indie rock as much as the fusion-pop jazz that CTI popularized in the 70’s. Those showy, dynamic tunes bookend this recording but Kelly’s fleet fingered prowess on piano and Rhodes dovetails with bassist Chris Tarry and drummer Jordan Perlson to lift the tracks in between to something even more special.  Whether flirting with free form improvisation on the electronically enhanced “Doppelganger,” or digging on purely beautiful tracks like “July 25” and “Transience,” Kelly has a gift for merging in-the-pocket grooves with sturdy lyricism.  

Brazilian guitarist Guilherme Monteiro has a full-bodied resume, recording with bassist Ron Carter, pianist Eliane Elias, vocalists Kurt Elling and Luciana Souza along with his own bands and a weekly gig at the club, Nublu, in New York. “Air” is superbly recorded and Monteiro, sounding great on electric or acoustic guitar, carries on the tradition established by Laurindo Almeida and Joao Gilberto. The leader specializes in cool-toned jazz, merging strong Brazilian melodies with precise rhythms. Bassist Ben Street and saxophonist Jerome Sabagh provides warm accompaniment and vocalists Chiara Civello and Lila Downs enrich several tracks. Not a bossa nova album per se, “Air” still plumbs the lush, gently swaying sounds of Rio and beyond. 

Drummer Rob Garcia is a master of deflection. Listening to his album, “Perennial,” you be hard pressed to guess that he was the leader and wrote all the compositions save for a unexpectedly smoky cover of “Cherokee.” Garcia’s tunes unfold over disarmingly simple, not quite delicate themes that are underscored by the sinewy tenor saxophone of Noah Preminger and lyrical pianist Dan Tepfer, who draw out Garcia’s motifs in unison over Chris Lightcap’s fluid basslines. The music is so warmly engaging that you have to concentrate on what Garcia is doing with his sticks, brushes and cymbals. “Perennial” isn’t forceful – a rarity for drummer-led albums – but the music is nicely evocative and completely appealing. 

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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Vince Guaraldi is Cool

Vince Guaraldi
The Definitive
Vince Guaraldi
(Fantasy Records)

Big things do come in smaller packages and this two-disc compilation of career highlight from pianist Vince Guaraldi is the tops for its swinging urbanity and standards with a bossa nova twist despite being recorded in the 50’s and 60’s. His rendition of  “On Green Dolphin Street” and “Days of Wine and Roses” still sound as uniquely hip and modern as they no doubt did in their day.  Guaraldi’s legacy is foremost defined by his iconic scores for the Charlie Brown TV specials and he probably exposed more Americans to jazz than any other artist. Those snappy trio tracks are present as well as collaborations Guaraldi had with guitarists Eddie Duran and Bola Sete. His affinity for Brazilian music is covered with remastered selections from his durable “Black Orpheus” tribute, “Cast Your Fate To The Wind.” For a musician who anticipated his eventual fame (documented in the great liner notes by Doug Ramsey), Guaraldi didn’t seem to let his popularity overwhelm him. He passed away in 1976 in between sets at a club, playing the music he always loved. 

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