JAZZ IN SPACE: November 2012

Friday, November 30, 2012


By the time that bassist Charles Mingus and his wife Sue got the idea to form a company to document and release his live recordings, the 42 year-old musician and composer had already released a string of classic recordings, “Mingus Ah Um” (1959) and “The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady” (1963) among them. Much effort was invested in The Jazz Workshop project, but not all of it has been either heard or released until now -- thanks to the champion music producers at Mosaic Records, the company co-founded by Michael Cuscuna and the late Charles Lourie dedicated to reissuing historically important jazz recordings in limited edition boxed sets.
Postponed from a July 2012 launch due to newly discovered music from performances staged at NYC’s Town Hall and Monterey, CA, the box set was retooled and expanded to seven discs to include dates in Minneapolis and Amsterdam. Sue Mingus supplied Mosaic with the original archived tapes, which were painstakingly restored and assembled, chronicling five essential live performances with a stellar line-up of players – Eric Dolphy, Charles McPherson, Jaki Byard, Johnny Coles, Clifford Jordan and Dannie Richmond.  Sonically and musically, this Mingus set stands among Mosaic’s best efforts and is well-timed to coincide with Mingus’s 90th birthday anniversary.

The sheer volume of music and entertainment leaves one breathless at the veracity of Mingus’s creativity, especially when its contrasted against the turbulent times of the era, and it compounds the bassist’s legendary stature as a master of swing and compositional heft. In addition to standards and music by Duke Ellington, a bounty of originals is presented with tracks stretching as long as 30 minutes. The performances are often played as spiritual awakenings or protesting injustices (“Don’t Let It Happen Here”) with spoken word passages. Mingus is often transfixed, gleefully shouting musician’s names at their solo (“They Trespass The Land Of The Sacred Sioux”) or calling them up on their instruments (“alto!”)  He’s both cheerleader and an exuberant master of ceremonies.

This Mosaic set brings all of Mingus’s passion to life again, supported by a 20-page booklet with vital background info, a track-by-track analysis by Mingus biographer Brian Priestley, an essay from Sue Mingus and rare concert photographs. Like all of their sets, this is strictly a limited edition of 7500. You can’t download it and will definitely sell out sooner rather than later. “Charles Mingus, The Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964-65” is the best historical album released in 2012. (7 discs; about 7.5 hours of music) www.mosaicrecords.com

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Here’s the thing about pianist Frank Kimbrough: he’s been active on the jazz scene for 25 years, with a handful of excellent solo recordings (“Lullabluebye” is a good one) and many more as a founding member of the Jazz Composer’s Collective. He’s a teacher, composer and is currently the pianist with Maria Schneider’s Orchestra, too. But the really amazing part is that for “Live At Kitano” Kimbrough planned no rehearsals, no set list and had little discussion with his trio, bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Matt Wilson, as to what they would play. Though not alone in that practice, Kimbrough makes this session a bit magical by establishing a rapturous conversation between three high-caliber musicians right from the start.

Kimbrough is physically bearish in stature, but asserts his strength with an extraordinarily sensitive playing style. He’s particularly good at delivering delicate melodic statements, as on his improvised “Helix,” and he lets tunes flow to his trio where rhythmic impulses are shaped by contrasting bass notes and intriguing percussion. The pianist explores music by Andrew Hill (the wonderful, shape-shifting “Dusk”) and a tune by Oscar Pettiford, a decisively swinging “Blue In The Closet” that gives bassist Jay Anderson an opportunity to flex. Anderson played with pianist Joe Sample’s trio for many years and his soulful sound is just as rewarding here. It’s a great showcase for Matt Wilson, too. He’s a drummer who artfully works subtle shifts of tone and tempo to great effect. Kimbrough also pays tribute to a former colleague Paul Motian on the moody yet beautiful “Arabesque” and reestablishes Ellington’s “Single Petal Of A Rose,” as something more sacred. The superb “Live At Kitano” led by the one-of-a-kind Kimbrough puts you in a seat at the club and the trio delivers the goods. (8 tracks; 60:41 minutes) www.palmetto-records.com
Frank Kimbrough will be appearing with his trio at Kitano in NYC on December 14 and 15. Plan your visit: www.kitano.com

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Backed with impressive credentials as a musician, teacher and sideman, the persuasive East Coast guitarist Ed Cherry takes his diverse experience with trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Hargrove and saxophonist Henry Threadgill to fashion a rather rewarding career as a leader. His current “It’s All Good” (Posi-tone) builds on the classic guitar-organ-drum format popularized by artists like Grant Green or Wes Montgomery back in the day yet Cherry’s melodic flair and affinity for the groove gives this combo a boldly updated sound.

Swing is the thing here and Cherry’s trio stretches out on deeply felt originals, luscious standards (“In A Sentimental Mood” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is”) and kick ass versions of the Blue Note jazz classics, “Maiden Voyage,” “Chitlins Con Carne” and Wayne Shorter’s “Deluge.” Pat Bianchi, a first-rate jazz organist with a flair for funky riffs lays down a carpet of Hammond B-3 harmonics, an inviting platform for Cherry’s off-the-hook licks. The drummer Byron Landham has played with organist Joey DeFrancesco and guitarist Russell Malone so he’s perfect for this gig, dishing out the soul jazz beats on his kit with righteous assurance. Best of all is Cherry’s twist on Duke Pearson’s “Christo Redentor,” a track off Donald Byrd’s iconic album, as well as his knock out arrangement of Bill Evan’s “Blue And Green.” The trio brings the right amount of heat to the game and as for Ed Cherry, he pulls “It’s All Good” together as an inspired exercise of post-bop spontaneity.  (11 tracks; 65:59 minutes) www.edcherrymusic.com  www.posi-tone.com

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Before establishing the Paul Winter Consort, a group that found fame playing jazz with new age tendencies (“Icarus” was a very popular recording in the 70’s), saxophonist Paul Winter led a sextet from 1961-63 with a singular distinction – they played the first-ever jazz concert at the White House in November, 1962 at the invitation of then First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Later discouraged by President’s Kennedy’s assassination, their optimism defeated, the group disbanded. Though the personnel would change slightly, the band featured Winter, trumpeter Dick Whitsell, baritone sax player Les Rout, pianist Warren Bernhardt, bassist Richard Evans and drummer Harold Jones. Bassist Chuck Israels and Cecil McBee along with drummers Ben Riley and Freddie Waits also recorded with the band.

Fifty years later, “Count Me In” is released featuring 2 discs of the Sextet’s recorded music including 14 never released tracks including the historic concert at the White House. “The Sextet was conceived as a kind of little ‘big band,’” says Paul, “and with our instrumentation of three horns and rhythm, it has quite a different sound from that of the Paul Winter Consort, which people have known me for during the last several decades. But on a primary level, it’s all the same lineage: a spirit of celebration, in the democracy of ensemble, aspiring toward a balance between the improvised and the composed.”

The music is reflective of the era – modern jazz from the early 1960’s that’s similar in sound to groups fronted by Gerry Mulligan or Art Farmer. The White House performance may be of most interest and the remastered tape offers a wide, airy soundstage with a lot of open air although the piano can sound improperly miked and distant. It sounds good but takes a second to get used to. However, the playing is where it’s at. Tight arrangements and fleet interplay characterize the show. Solos by Bernhardt and Les Rout are excellent. They swing on originals and three tracks ply crowd pleasing Brazilian rhythms. Disc 2 is a stronger effort with tunes by Tom McIntosh, Jimmy Heath and John Lewis with originals by Bernhardt and bassist Richard Evans, and the sound is just about perfect to better connect with this band. (17 tracks; 65:39 minutes / 15 tracks; 74:49 minutes) http://paulwinter.com/music/count-me-in/

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Thursday, November 15, 2012


Marc Johnson & Eliane Elias. Photo by John Rogers, courtesy of ECM Records
The Brazilian pianist/singer Eliane Elias may be better known to jazz listeners for her recent records for Blue Note, “Something For You: Eliane Elias Sings & Plays Bill Evans” and “Bossa Nova Stories,” two popular turns that took advantage of her sensuality as much as her musical gifts, which moved her effortlessly into Diana Krall terrain. On the instrumental “Swept Away,” she shares top billing with her husband, bassist Marc Johnson, creating a blissful album that exercises her jazz chops and provides an opportunity to ply her estimable talent against like-minded colleagues, saxophonist Joe Lovano and drummer Joey Baron. Less meditative than most ECM albums, “Swept Away” swings from the bows of Elias’ athletic pianism, ushering in a particularly rewarding brand of straight-ahead jazz. Her charisma goes far on rollicking tracks like “One Thousand And One Nights” and the after hours romanticism of “It’s Time,” two out of five Elias originals. Her warm tone is abetted by the sonically superior studio techniques favored by ECM. Actually, everyone sounds remarkably present, from Johnson’s lush bass notes to Baron’s precise accompaniment on his kit, but it’s Lovano that truly surprises as sideman. On tracks like “Moments,” he enters the soundstage with a heavenly tone that embodies the delicacy of Stan Getz and the grounding emotional sweep that the venerated saxman perfected. Johnson and Elias have an earlier album together, “Shades of Jade” (2005, ECM) that promoted an inventive interplay coupled with an easy-going swing, but “Swept Away” ups the ante. This is an album with mainstream jazz appeal, where Elias embraces her lyrical side (“B Is For Butterfly”) with resolute grace and it gives this quartet a vivid sense of purpose and clarity. (11 tracks; 68:30 minutes) www.ecmrecords.com

This dynamic duo will appear in support of this CD release at Birdland in NYC from November 27 to December 1. Plan your visit: www.birdlandjazz.com

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Seizing the opportunity to record with producer Wayne Winborne and pianist/arranger Bruce Barth (a superior soloist and leader) during a brief visit to NYC in May 2012, Butler calls on top-tier players -- bassist Ugonna Okegwo (Tom Harrell), drummer Rudy Royston and the irrepressible and very busy tenor saxophonist Houston Person, who collectively bring an exemplary depth of feeling and swing to a mix of standards and Broadway tunes. The bluesy “Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home” sets the mood with a tempo that brings out the best in Butler’s voice, its deep, chocolate-like resonance carries plenty of authority. “The Bluest Blues” is a fun number on which Butler invites the boys in her band for a call and response exchange – surely a crowd pleaser in her live act.  Another track, “Travelin’ Light,” is a finger-popping delight with an arresting walking bass line, and Butler sounds equally as glorious on the unexpected ballad, “In My Own Little Corner,” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Her timbre and precise enunciation makes her a compelling chanteuse and certainly deserving of wide popularity.

A word about the saxophonist: with more than 75 solo records under his name, Houston Person has perfected that burnished honeyed-tone that sounds so fine, and he shows no sign of stopping that flow. His current recording is called “Naturally” (HighNote,) another first-rate in-the-pocket studio gig with pianist Cedar Walton, bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Lewis Nash. Person’s sideman role on “Love Lost And Found Again” adds the cherry to Butler’s playlist and turns this dinner-party album into an entertainment that’s as good as they come. (11 tracks; 52:17 minutes)

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The poignant story behind trumpeter Dave Douglas’s recording, “Be Still” begins with his mother, Emily Douglas, who attended over 200 of her son’s performances and asked him to play this selection of hymns at her funeral. Of course, the album is affecting and it’s aesthetically noteworthy in the way that his quintet expresses another side of Douglas’s prolific creativity – the songs lucidly mix jazz with folk, bluegrass and traditional Protestant song forms. In another satisfying turn, the trumpeter adds the vocals and guitar of Aoife O’Donovan, which Douglas underscores with subtle tonalities behind the lyrics. “Be Still” is more celebratory than mournful (“Whither Must I Wander”) with saxophonist Jon Irabagon, bassist Linda Oh, pianist Matt Mitchell and the versatile drummer Rudy Royston on hand to enhance its non-denominational pleasures. There’s also a fitting dedication to drummer Paul Motian (“Middle March”) that resonates with free-form interplay and the track elegantly reinforces the band’s musical cohesion. Recorded in April 2012, “Be Still” is a stand-alone gem in the Douglas discography, an evocative ode to a profound relationship and played with deeply felt significance. (9 tracks; 42:56 minutes)

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With a clear and unusually pleasant voice, Montreal-based singer Elizabeth Shepherd gives frequently heard standards a jolt on “Rewind" (Linus Entertainment), her fourth recording, by updating songs like “Love For Sale,” “Poinciana” and Cannonball Adderley’s “Sack Of Woe” with a pop twist and overt modern groove. Sure, this is a common retro exercise among up-and-coming song stylists today, but Shepherd is gifted and clever enough to push these tunes into contemporary territory. On the leadoff tune, “Love For Sale,” Shepherd lets her core trio (bassist Ross Macintyre and drummer Colin Kinsmore) lay down a percussive groove augmented by her own accompaniment on a Wurlitzer organ that gives this Cole Porter chestnut an edge. She solos on keyboards throughout “Rewind” and very well, too, fusing clever beatbox electronics on Mel Torme’s “Born To The Blue” and an off-kilter rhythm on the Gershwin’s “Buzzard Song.” A popular tune like “Feeling Good” was never covered better than Nina Simone and here, Shepherd’s version sounds slightly forced despite a superior Rhodes solo and dapper bass line.

This is an engaging listening experience and it’s hard to pick the best moments, but I’ll go with two: “Midnight Sun” is a rush of elation with a up-tempo arrangement, a wonderful bass solo by Scott Kemp and a deft piano feature for Shepherd that dazzles. As a sort of grand finale, Ellington’s “Prelude To A Kiss” pairs Shepherd with fellow Canadian Denzal Sinclaire, a jazz singer with a smooth-as-silk voice (think Nat Cole or Johnny Hartman), and their too brief duet is a model of clarity and emotional directness. Her liner notes detail the decision to cut an album of familiar tunes due to being 8 months pregnant with her son and while that alone should qualify Shepherd for an endurance award, “Rewind” is smartly crafted with genuine staying power. (12 tracks; 51:02 minutes) www.elizabethshepherd.com

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