JAZZ IN SPACE: June 2013

Sunday, June 2, 2013


It’s easy to lean on hyperbole to describe saxophonist Stan Killian, a musician with a keen ear whose originality and strength as a leader is evident throughout Evoke (Sunnyside,) his fourth release of self-penned material. You can trace Killian’s sound back to the glory days of 1960’s Blue Note and the exuberant records by Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon that must have made an impact on the saxophonist. We know from his bio that Killian grew up in a jazz household -- his father, jazz pianist Joe Killian took his son to his many gigs and later played on his first recordings.

A breakout on the NY jazz club scene, Killian retains the sleek rhythm team of Venezuelan pianist Benito Gonzalez, bassist Corcoran Holt and drummer McClenty Hunter that made his 2011 effort Unified so gratifying. Killian adds VIP jazz guitarist Mike Moreno to the line-up and as a band, they make a formidable quintet that fuels this dazzling – and swinging - post bop collection of seven tunes with the perfect amount of go power. The tunes themselves (there’s not a weak track in the bunch) are progressive yet earthy, and Killian promotes eager interplay between his band mates, especially Moreno and Gonzalez whose tasty licks and chord changes respectively yield some of the album’s best moments. For a song named after the gentle bear of a bar tender at 55 Bar in New York’s West Village, the Tyner-inspired runs by Gonzalez on “Kirby” flow with good feeling, a sentiment that runs throughout Killian’s work.

As a player, Killian sounds destined to join the ranks of jazz greats, but you don’t need to be a jazz critic to appreciate how good Killian is.  When I reviewed Unified, I called Killian “a force to reckon with,” and the music and playing on this current collection continues to show that Killian is a saxophonist and composer who’s going places. (7 tracks; 42 minutes)

Killian has a good number of videos on his You Tube channel here. There's more material on his excellent website as well.

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Brooklyn based pianist Noah Haidu brings his estimable talent and fleet lyricism to his sophomore release, Momentum, an above average trio recording of old and new standards and three well-crafted originals. A gifted interpreter who appreciates the melodic structure of songs, Haidu digs into pliable tunes like the charming opener, “I Thought About You,” which swings gracefully. Further on, he navigates fast changes on a shifty arrangement of “The End Of A Love Affair” with an impressive skill that embodies the essence of post bop piano masters like former teacher, Kenny Barron.

Haidu’s rising star is propelled by a sure technique that brings out a welcome emotive quality in his playing -- attributes he brought to bear on a previous quintet album, Slipstream (Posi-tone, 2011.) An equally strong effort like Momentum hinges on the interplay between the musicians, and the in-the-pocket accompaniment by bassist Ariel de la Portilla and drummer McClenty Hunter gives the recording an urbane modern twist. Listening to this collection reminds one of trio recordings by Wynton Kelly yet the pianist isn’t derivative. He does, however, give a tip of the hat to McCoy Tyner on his own spiffy tune called “Cookie Jar” that is instilled with a harmonic freshness and degree of modernism that is all Haidu. (9 tracks; 44 minutes)

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There are not many more superlatives to heap upon the legendary Keith Jarrett Trio, now celebrating its 30th year, except to say that the group represents the pinnacle of modern jazz trios. Sure, Jarrett’s attention to detail and demand for perfection makes the occasional audience wince when they’re reprimanded for their concert-going behavior, but when everything clicks as it does on Somewhere, the result is magical and all is forgiven. Recorded in July 2009 at the KKL Luzern Concert Hall in Switzerland, Somewhere captures the pianist, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette at the height of their talents. The live gig weaves rapturous passages (the improvisation entitled “Deep Space” shape shifts into an electrifying version of Miles Davis’ “Solar”) with straight-ahead swing (“Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.”) Indeed, the title track, coupled with Leonard Bernstein’s “Tonight,” gives the concert its center with a tender reading that bypasses sentimentality and manages to open a deeper emotional vein. Not since the exuberant 6-disc collection, Keith Jarrett At the Blue Note/The Complete Recordings (1994, ECM) has there been a collection of affecting and relatable performances from the KJ trio. Though some may quibble over which gigs and recordings best exemplify the Trio, Somewhere is a recording that gets back to basics, just challenging enough to keep hardcore Jarrett fans happy yet honest enough to wear its heart on its sleeve. (6 tracks; 65 minutes)

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An accomplished leader, producer and composer, the industrious vibes player Joe Locke combines the spirited styling of Bobby Hutcherson with the soul of Roy Ayers, and rarely stays still as a recording artist. He pushes his boundaries from project to project, keeping multiple bands together (Force of Four, Storms/Nocturnes,) and in 2012 launched another, the Joe Locke/Geoffrey Keezer Group, which resulted in the excellent groove-based Signing (Motema.) Lately, Locke has pursued a more romantic side of his art with Wish Upon A Star where the Lincoln Nebraska Symphony Orchestra backs him. Thankfully, for jazz fans everywhere, I have a feeling that Joe Locke is nowhere near the end of his “to do” list.

Locke’s Lay Down My Heart/Blues and Ballads, Vol 1 features a new band that includes pianist Ryan Cohan, bassist David Finck and hot drummer of the moment, Jaimeo Brown, and it doles out its soulfulness in chunks. The simmering groove on Bill Wither’s “Ain’t No Sunshine” has an awesome low-slung funkiness that gives the quartet a chance to swagger, while the Weather Report-style downbeats kick “Bittersweet” into gear. Other highlights include a smooth, straight-ahead read of Frank Foster’s “Simone,’ that chugs along and Locke’s own “This New October,” a misty ballad buoyed by the vibist’s sensitive soloing. The arrangements provide the group with a generous amount of harmonious interplay; particularly pianist Ryan Cohan who impresses with his beefy way with the keys and often brings a Ramsey Lewis feel to his solos. Whether or not Locke is signaling what’s to come on Volume 2, the CD closes with a heartfelt rendering of “Dedicated To You,” evoking the Coltrane/Hartman while achieving its own level of transcendence. (9 tracks; 54 minutes)

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The La Boeuf Brothers are identical twins, saxophonist Remy and pianist Pascal Le Boeuf, who relocated to NYC from California in 2004, seemingly with a plan in hand. Pascal himself has described he and his brother as “always interested in electronic based music production…anything with programmed drums and scratched vinyl.”

In 2011, they put out the buzz-worthy In Praise Of Shadows, a high-flying collection of original tunes and electro-tinged jazz that featured bassist Linda Oh and rightly gave the energetic twins the props they deserved. As a follow up they’ve headed in two different directions.

For Pascal’s solo project launch, the original concept behind Pascal’s Triangle was to create a jazz/electronic crossover recording, but somewhere along the way the interaction between the pianist, bassist Linda Oh and drummer Justin Brown revealed an honest musical conversation that Pascal found convincing, and so the recording was released sans synthetic tinkering. Triangle has 8 acoustic tracks composed by Le Boeuf, written to give the tunes enough space for Oh and Brown to stretch out. “What Your Teacher,” a gratifying jam with a killer piano hook and an evocative percussive feature entitled “The Key” are among the picks here. The most involving track is Pascal’s lovely ballad, “Song For Ben Gelder,” that spotlights his affecting piano style, one that’s flavored with a Brad Mehldau vibe. (8 tracks; 31 minutes) Their website is packed with info and sound clips; some of their earlier music can be listened to here.

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The La Boeuf Brother’s ambition aims high for a project that tapped their fan base with Remixed, a collection that invited musicians, friends and DJs to have at their existing tracks, derived mostly from their 2011 release, In Praise Of Shadows, to create new sonically enhanced versions of their songs. The result is twitchy, loosely strung together collection that merges trip-hop, ambient rhythms and jazz-enabled rap (David Binney’s remix of “Falling Apart.”) It’s generally entertaining, but LA bassist Tim Lefebvre nails the concept’s intent on his tightly wound remix of “Calgary Clouds.” The Le Boeuf Brothers see their compositions as continuously evolving, tweaking the original tracks just so, adding or changing up original vocals and inserting horns and beats where necessary. Whether you’re feeling turbo-charged or chilled, Remixed and Pascal’s Triangle exploit opportunities that other jazz musicians leave alone. (10 tracks; 37 minutes)

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In 2013 pianist/keyboardist Bob James and alto saxophonist David Sanborn are likely to be considered contemporary jazz royalty since their respective careers helped usher in the smooth jazz trend. James has fashioned an exceptional career as solo artist, producer (Paul Simon, Kenny Loggins) and mentor (Kirk Whalum) and currently gets his groove on making music as part of the remarkably durable smooth jazz super group, Fourplay. Sanborn has released 24 albums of his own and won six Grammy® Awards, one of which was the huge selling collaboration with James, the slick and soulful Double Vision (1986, Warner Bros.) that also featured star turns by Al Jarreau and Marcus Miller (“Maputo.”)

Fast forward to present day and the re-animated Okeh label (via Sony Masterworks,) which took the opportunity to reunite James and Sanborn, inviting them to rekindle the fire that burned so brightly back in the day. To their credit they didn’t take the easy route and instead, defy all expectations with Quartette Humaine, an all-acoustic program featuring Double Vision’s original drummer, the illustrious Steve Gadd, and bassist James Genus.

Can two smooth jazz veterans make challenging, gutsy music together? Absolutely, yes, and right from the start of James’ delightful “You Better Not Go To College,” you know this won’t be a nostalgic retread. James and Sanborn achieve a live, in-studio sound – polished, for sure – but the original tracks, four by James and three by Sanborn, leave the door open for atonalities and a few knots (Sanborn performs much further “outside” than what you’re accustomed to hearing; his sound tart and pitched.) James’ uncanny ability for memorable songwriting makes tunes like “Montezuma,” the classical tinged “Follow Me” and “Deep In The Weeds” swing with straight-ahead heft. The quartet injects “Geste Humain” by French singer/songwriter Alice Soyer with a mysterious, poetic beauty. And it’s especially great to hear Gadd again in context with these musicians. Genus, who has collaborated with James on his other acoustic projects, lays down bass lines with polished efficiency, at once soulful and grounding.

Produced in part as a tribute to Dave Brubeck and with the spirit of Paul Desmond floating above, it sounds as if James and Sanborn finally got a chance to make a record their way, and its success rests squarely on the superb four-way dynamic the quartet affectionately shares. (9 tracks; 54 minutes)

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