JAZZ IN SPACE: January 2013

Friday, January 25, 2013


Emboldened by her 2011 Grammy® winning “The Mosaic Project” (Concord) a slick, contemporary jazz and funk recording that featured a who’s who of all-female singers and musicians, bandleader and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington strikes hot and cool with the equally confident “Money Jungle: Provocative In Blue,” a reimagining of the classic Duke Ellington trio album from 1963 that featured Charles Mingus and Max Roach. Released 50 years ago this year, Ellington’s album remains a masterwork, a brilliant album of blues and durable tunes as only Ellington could write. Fast forward to Carrington’s concept, which updates the original with renewed motivation – a provocative and artful protestation of the pervasive financial corruption that lingers in American society, expressed through well chosen and organically placed sound clips from the likes of Martin Luther King, Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama who famously calls out “the irresponsibility and recklessness that got us into this mess in the first place.”

Carrington’s “Money Jungle” trio dazzles with two formidable musicians, bassist Christian McBride and pianist Gerald Clayton, and slots in guest turns by singer Lizz Wright, Tia Fuller and Robin Eubanks on horns, along with a remarkable spot by Clark Terry who contributes trumpet and his signature mumble speak growl on “Fleurette Africain.” This finely honed group tags pop grooves and straight-ahead swing, underscored by an innate funkiness that refreshes Ellington’s tunes. Carrington admits to the daunting nature of revisiting this album in her the liner notes, but she does so with respect and a spirit of discovery that would make Ellington proud.

The trio clicks on a groove laden swinger “Wig Wise” a tune that snaps with an off kilter melody that’s voiced beautifully through Clayton’s playing. Carrington drives “Backward Country Boy Blues” and “Very Special” with effusive beats while encouraging ripe solos from McBride who devours the Ellington/Carrington narrative, projecting a visceral feel from his bass that’s also rooted in a deep appreciation of Mingus. “Switch Blade” is a multifaceted blues that Carrington embellishes with an exotic coda that guitarist Nir Felder infuses with tabla-like sounds. Equally appealing are three modernistic originals – two by Carrington and one by Clayton. The experience concludes with “Rem Blues,” incorporating an Ellington poem passionately intoned by Shea Rose and spoken word by Herbie Hancock who channels Ellington’s own declarations – “Freedom of expression! The same people who like jazz are those who like creative things, whether they understand them or not.” Maybe it’s because its scope and band is tightly focused because “Money Jungle” is Carrington’s best record, and its banner cry is shaped by the drummer’s self-assurance as much as her astounding rhythm team that’s in sync with the material and grooves. (11 tracks; 61 minutes) www.terrilynecarrington.com

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The primacy of Jackie Ryan’s affecting singing style is showcased to near perfection on “Listen Here” (Open Art) an ebullient date with bassist/arranger John Clayton and a host of top-flight musicians (pianist Gerald Clayton, drummer Obed Calvaire, guitarist Graham Dechter and the horns of Rickey Woodard and Gilbert Castellanos) who frame the beguiling Ms. Ryan with warm musical precision. Ryan embraces an unusual mix of tunes (standards, jazz/pop tunes by Bob Dorough and Dave Frishberg, an atypical Spanish song) that bring out the best of her deep, sultry voice. There’s a positive trend in jazz these days to embrace originality, particularly with vocalists of a certain age, yet Ryan is quite the pro and so comfortable with her playlist (and her band) that she gives these songs more purpose and reflection. Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away” is a standard that’s been firmly adopted by many jazz performers now, but Ryan’s reading captures its melancholy spirit better than most. I especially love the breezy “How Little We Know” that’s augmented by Clayton’s glittering accompaniment. And the upbeat “Rip Van Winkle” has a catchy melody that shows off Ryan’s effervescent pipes with a delightful panache. Throughout, “Listen Here” maintains an elevated mood with wide swathes of syncopated swing that mesh splendidly with Ryan’s demeanor. “Listen Here” is reminiscent of the great recordings from Concord Records in the 80’s by Rosemary Clooney, Gene Harris and Scott Hamilton, which Ryan, Clayton and Woodard, respectively, conjure up and it gives listeners much to savor of the indelible Ryan and her band throughout its engaging playlist. (14 tracks; 58:04 minutes)  www.jackieryan.com

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There’s no doubting the iconoclast badge that the singular artist, singer and composer, pianist Patricia Barber proudly wears. A Chicago native whose first two albums made her an international jazz star, Barber straddles musical styles as well as her own inventive song forms to create “Smash” (Concord Jazz) a genre-busting album of astonishing creativity. Her original songs vibrate with sophistication and keen truth:
when Sunday
finally comes
and God
isn’t there
the soldier
has his gun
and the war
isn’t where
we thought it would be."

She leads a superior band (guitarist John Kregor, bassist Larry Kohut, drummer Jon Deitemyer) and accompanies herself on piano – her intro on the instrumental ”Bashful” is eloquent and haunting until the tune is carried away on a rhythmic wave and catches fire. And like her previous recordings, “Smash” has audiophile cachet thanks to being recorded and mixed by engineer Jim Anderson, Barber’s equal partner in sound. These songs are urgent (“Code Cool,”) dreamy (“Romanesque”) and sweetly enthralling (“Spring Song,”) while a tune like “Redshift” has echoes under its bossa nova beat of a brainier Michael Frank’s tune.  “Smash” is Barber’s debut recording with Concord Jazz following her many years on the Blue Note label, and it’s a captivating sonic and emotional experience. Barber’s work effectively aims for a transcendent experience as vital as anything being currently produced in the alt-rock, and her embrace of pop and rock melts seamlessly into her one-of-a-kind jazz language. “Smash” is resoundingly adult, intelligent and best of all, musically absorbing. (12 tracks; 53:16 minutes)  www.patriciabarber.com

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“Blue November” (Emarel Music) is the kind of “under the radar” recording that’s always fun to discover. Formed and led by vibraphonist Christos Rafalides, the group includes former child prodigy, pianist Sergio Salvatore, bassist Mike Pope and drummer Vince Cherico. This modern jazz quartet embraces a contemporary instrumental playing style that’s infectious and groove based. “Blue November” is an entertaining date with plenty of robust interplay and attractive compositions – it’s tuneful and melodically engaging. Beautifully recorded, the group’s sound incorporates varying degrees of world music rhythms, veiling a cover of “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing” with a kinetic Latin feel and assigns an unexpected back beat to Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” the other standard tucked in among the album’s fine originals. (10 tracks; 66:13 minutes) Listen to at iTunes and CdBaby.

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An ambitious, unwieldy but favorable musical endeavor, “Wanderlust” (self-produced) aims high for visionary and sonic vistas that guitarist/composer Cliff Hines often reaches. Sleekly modernistic, the album is fused with electro-acoustic touches that flow with genuine wonderment. Hines favors fuzz tones, feedback, electronic pulses and ethereal vocals on “Brothers,” the solid lead tune that sets the stage for the composer’s musical worldview, one that’s unlimited by genre or boundaries, but Hines is such a musical shape shifter that it can be hard to keep up with the vision. A New Orleans resident and educator, Hines creates plenty of adventurous passages and aural textures that inflate tunes like “Dresden” and “Tehran” with mysterious import. Chief collaborators include vocalist Sasha Masakowski whose inflection and manner is suggestive of Esperanza Spalding, while Andrew McGowan on Rhodes and piano, Jasen Weaver on bass and Paul Thibodeaux on drums round out the core band. Guest spots go to some of NOLA’s hottest talents including Khris Royal, Kent Jordan and Bill Summers who handles percussion duties on the title track. The strongest cut, “Aetherea,” is richly evocative of the Crescent City with a boss solo by trombonist Michael Watson and second line rhythm. 

Hines has a fearless quality, incorporating disparate instruments (sitar, slide guitar, shortwave radio) into a cohesive jazz-fed language. The album concludes with a bravura statement, a 12+ minute retro-styled track called “The Path Of Arjuna” that’s cinematic in scope and pleasingly spacey in tone. (12 tracks; 58:06 minutes) Find it here.

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Monday, January 7, 2013


Drummer and composer Reggie Quinerly is the latest shining star from Houston, a town that’s deeply connected to jazz and counts musicians such as Joe Sample, The Crusaders, Kirk Whalum and Robert Glasper among its many famous sons and daughters. For his debut, Quinerly zeroes in on Freedman Town, the former name of Houston’s current Fourth Ward where newly emancipated African Americans settled after the civil war. Currently settled in New York and active on the scene there, Quinerly has created a memorable, swinging recording that’s easy on the ears and inspirational as well.

Quinerly’s an adaptive drummer and resourceful bandleader. He heads up a distinguished group with pianist Gerald Clayton, saxophonist Tim Warfield, guitarist Mike Moreno and bassist Vicente Archer. Enoch Smith, an accomplished singer with a Broadway-ready voice, collaborates with Quinerly on a remarkable blues called “Freedmantown” by also contributing an uplifting piano solo and he fronts this soul jazz cut as a get-together with folksy affability. The album deserves a sustained shelf life due to Quinerly’s gift for composing warm, accessible tracks. Notably, “Live From The Last Row” echoes Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed,” but is not derivative at all and the two standards, “I’m Old Fashioned” and “Sentimental Journey,” showcase the band’s groove and elasticity. The material here took shape over many years and Quinerly’s liner notes detail stories behind the tunes and their personal connection. The packaging and graphics are exemplary; upon receiving this music for review, I mistakenly thought it was a soundtrack to a film or documentary (that I really wanted to see.)

Freedman Town was formed to give its settlers and residents a sense of community and place. Quinerly evokes these moods and gives this moment in history a soulful signature and strong musical identity. To Quinerly’s credit and Houston’s wellspring of creativity, “Music Inspired by Freedman Town” is welcome musical destination. (11 tracks; 56:49 minutes) www.reggiequinerly.com

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The modern guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel has that suggestive aura of coolness that’s embodied by only a handful of jazz musicians. It’s neither deliberate nor studied – it just is and it comes from his playing, which sends a tingle up the legs of influential critics and jazz fans alike. He also wears a distinctive cap. A Philadelphia native, Rosenwinkel establishes a metaphysical connection to his compositions for his double album, Star Of Jupiter, his 10th album as a leader and at 42, a major accomplishment and statement on the possibilities of the music. It’s also his most commercial effort yet. Rosenwinkel, on the album: “Being able to vamp on a simple progression for a long time…” he says, “I’ve never had a band that really wanted to do that and I love the fact that that’s something we do… immerse into and experience that warmth of the groove.”

He returns to a quartet format on “Jupiter” for the first time since “The Next Step” (2001) and his tight, stellar band features pianist Aaron Parks (who’s played with the guitarist on his live dates at the Village Vanguard,) bassist Eric Revis and fellow Philadelphia native, drummer Justin Faulkner. Revis and Faulkner are also part of Branford Marsalis’s quartet, but their work here is transformative and no less inventive. “Star of Jupiter” is the most experiential of Rosenwinkel’s albums. After the angst and release of the fiery opener, “Gamma Band,” the album settles on celestial rhythms and calmer environs that are both beautiful and mysterious. Melodic gems abound -- “Welcome Home” pulses with warm electronic piano, “Something Sometime” soars with indelible guitar playing, “Heavenly Bodies” is an ethereal ballad with a midnight groove – all on disc one. “Kurt 1” places Rosenwinkel in Pat Metheny terrain but retains its originality with its compact melody and riffs on its groove. “Under It All” is another expansive and lovely ballad, while “Déjà vu” mixes things up with a straight-ahead vibe. The set closes with the title track, a pop inflected tune that is streaked with lush harmonics and Latinesque rhythms.

Each of Rosenwinkel’s albums, even those where he collaborated with Q-Tip of A Tribe called Quest, have their merits but the guitarist has invested “Stars” with a cosmic consciousness that rises above anything he’s done previously. Rosenwinkel has his own defined sound and signature vamps and works them into a cohesive, confident statement. “Star Of Jupiter” is a superior and highly involving album, jazz or otherwise. Self-released, you buy or download “Star Of Jupiter” at www.kurtrosenwinkel.com (12 tracks; 42:52 / 48:47 minutes)

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A busy sideman, pianist Gerald Clayton is the keystone talent supporting the alto saxophonist Patrick Cornelius on his third album, Maybe Steps,” along with a quintet that includes bassist Peter Slavov, drummer Kendrick Scott and guitarist Miles Okazaki. The Julliard trained Cornelius leads his quintet on nine originals and three lovely covers. The originals provide the winning moments, from the effusive title tune to the Ravel inspired “Bella’s Dreaming” and the expressive lyricism of “Brother Gabriel.” This is a great showcase for Cornelius’s impressive compositions – his tunes are complex yet accessible and uniquely melodic. Clayton, Slavov and Scott (a formidable drummer with a strong new album, “Oracle”) form a grand rhythm section and underscore Cornelius’s lively tunes with verve (“Shiver Song.”) Clayton pairs well with Cornelius, effusively comping behind the saxophonist and he bundles his solos with great post-bop ideas. Cornelius’s influences may include Coltrane, Parker and Rollins, but he’s definitely got his own thing going on with “Maybe Steps.” This is a confident and assured statement, and it’s an album of hip twists and solos (“A Day Like Any Other”) thanks to a special band of musicians and their gifted leader. (11 tracks; 56:09 minutes)  www.posi-tone.com

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Drummer and percussionist Manu Katché is a musician of the world with a style informed by multi-cultural sounds and techniques, achieving recognition through his work for Peter Gabriel, Sting, Simple Minds and many other rock and jazz groups. Although his first solo record was rooted in rock, his move to ECM has produced a series of groove oriented contemporary jazz recordings. His fourth release for the label, the eponymously titled and highly listenable, Manu Katché, feature textures that score on waves of percussion, soothing rhythms and atmospheric melodies. It’s the closest thing to smooth jazz in ECM’s discography, but the quality and degree of musicianship mitigates any negatives associated the genre.

With new musicians on board – trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær, saxophonist Tore Brunborg and the excellent British pianist Jim Watson – Katché invests his music with cinematic drama. “Running After Years” simmers with urgency, “Bliss” unfolds over a mysterious layer of sustained Hammond B3 tones, while “Loving You” toils in synthetic trumpet loops and propulsive back beats over a lovely, jittery theme. “Short Ride” features nice dynamic interplay and “Beats And Bounce” is a self-referential title that glistens with a pop-like theme. This is inventive and attractive instrumental music and Katché always has a few tricks to play. He has a refined sound and his tunes percolate with interest, and though Katché’s affinity for earthy grooves put him squarely in Harvey Mason and Fourplay territory, that’s not bad company to be included in at all.  (10 tracks; 52:12 minutes) Listen to a sample here.

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German bassist Iris Ornig has called New York home since 2003 and during that time she’s played with some of jazz’s most intriguing contemporary musicians (i.e. Gretchen Parlato, Ambrose Akinmusire, Joel Frahm.)  Her “No Restrictions” is a showcase featuring eight original tracks and two covers, by Michael Jackson and Bjork. Fresh tunes, memorable melodies and illustrious playing distinguish Ornig’s American debut recording and it’s a promising start for this talented jazz musician.

Ornig has assembled an in-the-pocket band with Mike Rodriguez on trumpet, Helen Sung on piano, Marcus Gilmore on drums and current king of the modern jazz guitarists, Kurt Rosenwinkel. Her compositions have clarity and purpose, allowing room for graceful solos, especially from Sung on “If Anything Goes Wrong.” Sung, Ornig and Gilmore set up Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” with Benny Golson’s “Killer Joe” rhythm line, while Mike Rodriguez takes the lead and delivers a bit of sleek improvisation -- his tone often evokes Art Farmer. On the Jackson track, there’s a nice middle section where Ornig takes her solo, a tuneful play on the melody that bops along on its own resolve. The straight-ahead swinger Uptight” is one of the album’s highlights along with “Gate 29,” a tune with a bounce and solid hook that provides the best solo opportunities for Rosenwinkel and Sung. Rosenwinkel doesn’t guest on many albums and his presence here lifts the date a little bit higher. Throughout “No Restrictions,” Ornig provides one catchy tune after another and she’s fashioned a terrific album with satisfying results. Find it at www.cdbaby.com (10 tracks; 63:11 minutes)

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