JAZZ IN SPACE: September 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010


The Bad Plus is one of the few jazz trios with a reputation that precedes them, primarily based on their inventive bridging of genres that has steered jazz into new territory -- something that’s been their modus operandi since their first release in 2001. They return to their roots for their eighth album “Never Stop” (Entertainment One Music), a strictly instrumental affair of all original tunes that tap into their brand of industrial jazz, a sound that blows the lid off predictability and passivity.

Bassist Reid Anderson, drummer David King and pianist Ethan Iverson, all friends since high school, dive headlong into a mix of rampaging jazz, indie-rock and “avant-garde populism” (their term) that freely pulls ideas from their encyclopedic knowledge of music history. The program of ten tunes constitute the best this band has to offer whether or not the bristling waves of sound from the lead off tune, “The Radio Tower Has A Beating Heart,” rumple your sensibilities or lets you get your jazz freak on. Not every tune moves like a freight train. The title track dials up a feel-good anthem that’s defined by Iverson’s two-fisted melodic theme and locked in place on the chorus by King’s shuffling combination of high hat and kick drum.

Also of note is the glorious “Beryl Loves To Dance,” a sonic gem that explodes with King’s burly energy over which Iverson embarks on a rollercoaster of sound that careens between sumptuous melodic riffs and wild dissonance. Anderson’s rapid-fire bass notes fan the fire until King takes the song out by pounding the crap out of his kit. A dreamy sensitivity underscores “People Like You,” a ballad by Reid Anderson fueled with an infectious, swirling solo from Iverson.  Of course, “Never Stop” doesn’t once fit neatly into a genre box -- that’s what makes it positively sweet. (10 tracks: 56:04 minutes)  www.thebadplus.com Check out Iverson’s music blog - thebadplus.typepad.com – one of the best out there!

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photo by Devin DeHaven
The photogenic pianist Taylor Eigsti is onto something on his seventh overall release (and third for Concord). Entitled “Daylight At Midnight,” Eigsti’s isn’t the first prodigiously talented twenty-something to embrace the music of his generation, nor is he a trailblazer. Following the footsteps of Brad Mehldau and The Bad Plus, he interprets songs by Feist, Rufus Wainwright, Imogen Heap as well as Nick Drake and Elliot Smith, and he does have a knack for combining modern jazz with a pop sensibility that makes “Daylight” immediately accessible. Apart from being Eigsti’s strongest and most cohesive recording, the pianist has forged a deep connection with his rhythmic collaborators, bassist Harish Raghavan and the state-of-the-art drummer Eric Harland. As a trio, they animate the music with a satisfying determination. The group includes singer Becca Stevens on five of the 11 tracks. Her voice exists in that acoustic realm where alt-rock and jazzy pop blends with folk, and Stevens adds a wistful yet lovely consistency to Eigsti’s original tunes, especially “Magnolia” and “Midnight After Noon.”
Eigsti is a vivacious musician full of ideas that explode out of the speakers. He plays a mean piano and dishes out some retro-jazz funkiness on the Fender Rhodes that sets “Little Bird” afloat. For instrumental highlights, the trio gets it right on the Coldplay romp, “Daylight” and the in-your-face interplay on “Chaos.” But this time out, Eigsti is about the art of the song and with a tip of the hat to the steady hand of Matt Pierson (Mehldau’s former producer), Eigsti has fashioned an album that successfully taps into the singer-songwriter vein and that makes “Daylight” shine. (11 tracks; 56:04 minutes)  www.tayjazz.com

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Who did pianist Diana Krall call when she needed a pianist for Barbara Streisand’s pop-jazz album, “Love Is The Answer?” That would be the phenomenal Israeli pianist Tamir Handelman, a guy so gifted on the keys that he draws comparisons to Oscar Peterson. “Destinations” is his sophomore record – he’s played on countless albums as a sideman and currently holds the piano chair with Jeff Hamilton’s trio – and it’s a knockout as Hendelman swings through tunes by Jobim, Fletcher Henderson, Charlie Parker and even Maurice Ravel. Bassist Marco Panascia and veteran drummer Lewis Nash complete the pianist’s super tight trio, and they sound like old chums whether darting through the changes of Charlie Parker’s “Anthropology” or reaching for the sky on the heartfelt lyricism of Fred Hersch’s “Valentine.” (12 tracks; 70:51 minutes)  www.tamirhendelman.com www.resonancerecordings.com

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On the cleverly titled “When Larry Met Harry,” the B-3 wunderkind Larry Goldings joins forces with tenor saxophonist Harry Allen on a set of tunes that swing contentedly and positively glow when dusted with the glorious backing the Metropole Orchestra conducted by Vince Mendoza. Although Goldings is a first-call jazz organist (that’s him backing Madeleine Peyroux on her recordings), here he gets to show his mettle as a pianist and his sound fits hand-in-glove with Harry Allen, a traditionalist in the vein of Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins.

The duo has a soothing sound and easy repartee suggestive of the music that Stan Getz and Kenny Barron made together, especially on “Morning Has Broken,” a beautiful duet that leads this grown up album. Elsewhere, the pair are joined by drummer Andy Watson and alternating bassists, Doug Weiss and Neil Miner. Highlights include the buoyant swing that floats Goldings “Slo-Boat” and his “Lucky Am I,” a breezy mid-tempo cut that plays like a well-known standard. Most of the tunes are Goldings’, a nod to his skills as a tunesmith. Throw in a tasty version of Burt Bacharach’s “The Look Of Love” and a superb “Under Paris Skies,” this is the perfect recording for late night listening – high quality stuff that proves this encounter between two modern jazz masters is no fluke. (12 tracks; 52:33 minutes)   www.larrygoldings.com  www.harryallenjazz.com


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Wednesday, September 1, 2010


In a 1994 profile for “Ebony Man,” the saxophonist Kirk Whalum said, "The music I like to play and write encompasses the four elements I grew up with: Memphis R&B, gospel, rock, and jazz. The emphasis, though, is on melody, period.” And throughout his career, one that is strewn with top selling recordings, he’s pretty much stuck to his guns. A passionate improviser, Whalum combines a potent tone with an easy-going style that often escapes the attention of listeners who shudder at the sounds of smooth jazz.

Whalum is among the many contemporary musicians and singers who’ve found inspiration in Donny Hathaway’s music. Though he died in 1979 at the age of 33, Hathaway’s legacy as a soul singer and composer endures and provides Whalum with opportunity to blow the sweetest of sounds.    

Whalum’s take on Hathaway’s civil rights anthem, “Someday We’ll All Be Free,” has a laid-back finger-popping lilt, punctuated with light strings, over which sails Whalum’s clean, clear tone. His horn provides lush fills on “We’re Still Friends,” a slice of neo-soul and R&B pop carried by vocalist Musiq Soulchild. The percussive backbeat and bass lifted from Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” creates the hook for “Love, Love, Love,” featuring trumpeter Rick Braun, and it’s got that open-hearted positivity that flows from Whalum’s horn.  

Philly’s own Christian McBride plays both electric and acoustic bass on the album, laying down elastic grooves where necessary and a touch of class on “A Song For You.” Robert Randolph brings some Texas grit on his pedal steel guitar to “Trying’ Times” and Donny’s own daughter, Lalah Hathaway takes the spotlight on the affecting ballad, “You Had To Know.” Whalum’s status as a power hitter among smooth jazz fans shouldn’t prevent others from giving this a listen. What you’re really hearing on “Everything Is Everything” is honest music without the usual calories. (11 tracks; 59:42 minutes) www.kirkwhalum.com 

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