Tuesday, February 23, 2010

CDs of Note…

Lionel Loueke, Mwaliko (Blue Note)
Singer-guitarist Lionel Loueke’s newest project is an exotic and interesting blend of jazz and the native music of West Africa, produced with a rotation of guest artists from both overlapping genres. They include, on two tracks apiece, fellow Benin native Angelique Kidjo (on “Ami O” and “Vi Ma Yon”), bassist-singer Richard Bona (a Cameroon native) on “Wishes” and Hide Life,” and bassist-singer Esperanza Spalding on the enchanting “Twins” and “Flying.” Interspersed with the duo pieces, three trio tracks combine the talents of Loueke with bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth. My favorites are the interplay of Bona and Loueke on the closing track, “Hide Life” and Loueke’s intimate guitar and drums (Marcus Gilmore) reworking of Wayne Shorter’s “Nefertiti.” As the tune moves along, Loueke boils it down gradually to its melodic essence - eventually settling on the impact of three key notes. The CD title, Mwaliko, means “invitation” in Swahili. It is most fitting for thus essentially duo project with talented good friends.

Carl Fischer & Organic Groove Ensemble, Adverse Times (Fischmusic)
Don’t pigeonhole this CD. Just enjoy it. Carl Fischer’s CD is likely to find a comfortable home on mainstream jazz and instrumental pop charts because of the leader’s pedigree. He toured early in his career with Maynard Ferguson and leads his own Organic Groove Ensemble from his Long Island NY home base when not touring with Billy Joel or subbing in Broadway pit bands. Fischer’s sound is strong and sure - without the constant high-octane, ear-cleansing notes of a Ferguson performance. He can hit it once in a while for impact, particularly on the title track. Other great treats here are the work of guitarist Jay Azzolina and the Hammond B3 work of Ron Oswanski. While the CD contains mostly Fischer originals, the covers here include Marcus Miller’s “Tutu” composition recorded by Miles Davis, and extended versions of Billy Joel’s “Downeaster Alexa” and “Elegy for the Fishermen.”

Various Artists, Putumayo Presents Rhythm & Blues (Putumayo World Music)
Since 1993, Putumayo World Music has been specializing in compilation discs featuring music from specific countries, regions or styles. Its newest in the series, Rhythm & Blues, is terrific because it blends classic tunes and artists with some of the contemporary singers and players touching on the R&B genre. Examples: Lavelle White’s version of “I’ve Never Found a Man to Love,” James Hunter’s original “’Til Your Fool Comes Home,” Sam Moore, Keb’ Mo’ and Angie Stone’s rollicking remake of “Wang Dang Doodle,” Catherine Russell’s take on Sam Cooke’s “Put Me Down Easy” and Irma Thomas’s collaboration with pianist Henry Butler on John Fogerty’s “River is Waiting.” There are a dozen such gems.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Reminders of the future of jazz

For those naysayers and/or moldy figs who say, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, that jazz is dead, don’t buy it. The music isn’t even on life support, given the attention and interest it receives from music educators and their serious students at college, high school and lower levels.

Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington” competition each May draws perhaps the most fanfare. But it certainly holds no monopoly.

Consider last weekend’s Charles Mingus High School Competition at the Manhattan School of Music, where schools from New England dominated the winner’s circle.

Among Mingus’s compositions performed were “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” “Fables of Faubus,” “Better Get Hit in Your Soul,” “Jelly Roll” and “Ecclusiastics.”

Competition co-founder Sue Mingus, the bassist’s widow and musical champion, said: “For years, Mingus’s music was thought to be too difficult to perform, and today, the spirit and vitality that was heard by all of the young musicians playing Mingus’s music was really thrilling.”

The winning ensembles included:
  • Best Big Band – Regular High School: The Rivers Big Band, The Rivers School; Weston, Massachusetts (Philippe Crettienne, director).
  • Best Big Band – Specialized School: Academy Big Band, Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts; Hartford, Connecticut (Douglas Maher, director).
  • Mingus Spirit Award: Rio Americano Combo, Rio Americano High School, Sacramento, California. (Maxwell Kiesner, director).
  • Best Combo – Regular High School: Foxborough High School Jazz Quintet, Foxborough, Massachusetts (Stephen C. Massey, director).
  • Best Combo – Specialized High School: Manasia Improv Ensemble, Manhattan School of Music Precollege (Jeremy Manasia, director).

Congratulations to these winners, as well as the winners of best arranger, and outstanding and section categories from this nationwide competition.

Berklee Festival is right around the corner
It is also good to note that in less than a month – March 13 – Boston’s Berklee College of Music will host its 42nd annual High School Jazz Festival, with 200 bands and 3,000 musicians expected to compete for $175,000 in partial scholarships to Berklee’s Five-Week Summer Performance Program.

The Hynes Convention Center event will also feature free clinics by trombonist and producer Delfeayo Marsalis, drummer Peter Erskine and trumpeter Eric Miyashiro, as well as performances by the Crescent Super Band, an internationally touring all-star high school ensemble from Utah, Berklee's Concert Jazz Orchestra, Global Jazz Institute, City Music, Salsa, and P-Funk ensembles. New this year is Band Slam, a non-competing category for students who play non-jazz styles, ranging from hip-hop to bluegrass.

For more information, visit: http://www.berklee.edu/events/hsjazzfest

Monday, February 15, 2010

CDs of Note…

Sheryl Bailey, A New Promise (MCG Jazz)
New York-based guitarist Sheryl Bailey teamed with the Three Rivers Jazz Orchestra in her native Pittsburgh for this session, which was developed as a tribute to late guitarist Emily Remler, who Bailey feels paved the way for her and other female guitarists. My favorites: her versions of three Remler-written tunes - the Wes Montgomery tribute ”East to Wes,” and the Samba-tinged “Mocha Spice” and “Carenia” - plus Bailey’s own “Miekaniemi” and rather elegiac title track “A New Promise.” This CD has a lot going for it on multiple levels. The big band and soloist support is terrific.

Rose Colella Trio, Small Hours (Lola Bard)
Chicago-based singer Rose Colella tackles an array of American Songbook chestnuts on this debut CD, released in mid-2009. She’s a veteran of quite of a few of the Windy City’s jazz clubs and bistros, and has a pleasant, enjoyable voice. My favorite tunes of the 11 tracks are “After You’ve Gone” and Blossom Dearie’s “Blossom’s Blues.” This project with guitarist Dan Effland and bassist Joe Policastro is a splendid showcase for Effland’s inventive playing and solo artistry. Colella comes by her love of song quite honestly. Her grandmother, and label namesake, Lola Bard was a 1930s singer who recorded with Bobby Hackett and The Original Dixieland Jazz Band.

Big Crazy Energy New York Band, Inspirations (Rosa)
Norwegian-born, New York-based trombonist Jens Wendelboe picked the perfect name for his robust band. It is big, it is based in the Big Apple and it has a crazy sort of energy as it works its way through a blend of originals by the leader, three jazz standards (compliments of Joe Henderson, Scott Lafaro and Billy Cobham) and Lennon and McCartney’s “A Day in the Life.” There’s also a beautiful extended rendition (featuring a fiery solo by trumpeter Vinnie Cutro) of the traditional “Dear Old Stockholm”, which many jazz players have used as a wonderful improvisation vehicle through the years. My favorite: the band’s thorough exploration of the aforementioned Beatles classic. Wendelboe is a great leader and player. He’s also a Blood, Sweat and Tears instrumentalist and musical director for disco diva Donna Summer. This is a February 16 release.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Geaux Saints, with a trumpeter’s fanfare

Once in a while, jazz and popular culture conveniently cross paths. And how fitting that it was on the sporting world’s biggest stage last weekend with the NFL’s Super Bowl XLIV festivities.

CBS’s pre-game broadcast leading up to the New Orleans Saints' gritty, stunning - and most welcome - win over the Colts included Wynton Marsalis’s music-and-spoken word tribute to The Big Easy, and the Saints organization's perseverence through 43 years of suffering before this season.

He did a masterful job of putting the spirit of his beloved city in perspective. And today… it was live-streamed out to the jazz world and other Marsalis followers after an online conversation with the trumpeter/bandleader/Jazz at Lincoln Center Artistic Director on Ustream.

“Down on the Bayou where the mighty Mississippi kisses Lake Pontchartrain and spills into the Gulf of Mexico. There sits that jewel of the Southland. What the French lost to the British who gave it to the Spanish who lost it back to the French who sold it to America for…. Well, some folks say Jefferson conned Napoleon in a card game and won it for some jambalaya and a chicory coffee….” Read more about the ‘haints and the Saints’
here on Wynton's Web site.
Yes, the musical sage captured it perfectly… a unique city in America, a city of struggles, a team of struggles - and pride and perseverance.

Sunday’s improbable victory signaled more - and shined a spotlight back on a city that, with a new mayor-elect ready to take office, that does and will continue to persevere - and someday flourish again post-Katrina. Its spirit is undeniable and unstoppable.

The music hasn’t lost a beat… as it provides the essential rhythm. So how fitting that Mardi Gras began nine days early this year. How uplifting for New Orleans, its team, its residents and its longtime admirers and visitors.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

CDs of Note…

Whitney James, The Nature of Love (Damselfly Productions)
Singer Whitney James’s debut CD is a dandy. The singer, who divides her non-touring time between Florida and New York City, has a very good handle on the essential jazz vocal qualities that elude so many aspirants - phrasing, timing, and a shading / shaping / twisting emphasis on the lyrics in ways that better serve the material. And she knows how to become part of the band, not use it as ornamentation, or vice-versa. She’s got wonderful teammates here - with Ingrid Jensen on trumpet and flugelhorn, Joshua Wolff on piano, Matt Clohesy on bass and Jon Wikan on drums, to explore songs that all tough on aspects of love. Jensen’s playing is masterful, whether she is soloing or comping behind James. The clear highlight is their work on the Benny Golson classic “Whisper Not.” I also love Jensen’s poignant horn work on Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacocks.” She and James make a great team - and James’s project is richer for her creative support.

Jamie Cullum, The Pursuit (Verve)
Not strictly jazz, too sophisticated for pure pop, and enough energy and showmanship to power a small city. That about sums up the talented Brit Jamie Cullum. You’ve got to love his charm and enthusiasm - and way with a song - regardless of whether you enjoy his in-concert piano gymnastics. His latest recording, The Pursuit, is his first in four years - and it is quite interesting. It’s a blend of standards and originals - and a few pop/rock covers. I particularly like the opener, a Frank Wess-arranged version of “Just One of Those Things” (recorded in live performance with the Count Basie Orchestra) and his version of Rhianna’s 2007 hit single “Don’t Stop the Music.” The latter song’s incessant energy could be a Cullum anthem. He also takes on current economic events with his own “Wheels” (key refrain: The wheels are falling off the world”). This a March 2 U.S. release, though it has been out since November in the U.K.

John Stein, Raising the Roof (Whaling City Sound)

Boston-based guitarist John Stein is a mainstreamer whose music always swings hard in service to the melody. This time out, he’s working with Koichi Sato keyboards, John Lockwood bass and Brazil’s Zé Eduardo Nazario on drums. It is a fine, empathetic band tackling Stein’s new arrangements on seven jazz standards, plus two very nice originals: “Elvin!” and “Wild Woods.” The re-arrangements are interesting. For example, they accelerate the tempo on Horace Silver’s classic “Nica’s Dream” without diminishing the tune’s beauty. Conversely, he takes a laid-back approach to Thad Jones’s “A Child is Born.” Stein is an inventive veteran player deserving far-greater recognition. If you’re not yet familiar, do give him a listen. He’s creative and his music is solid, harmonically and melodically inventive - and pleasant.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Grammy/jazz reprise

For those of you lacking the courage or patience to endure the glitz and non-music that dominate the Grammy Awards, here is a rundown of Sunday night’s winners in the jazz-related categories. Congrats to every one of the fine nominees as well.

How sad that jazz doesn’t get a significant place on the Grammy stage anymore. It was great , however, to see Clark Terry present for his Lifetime Achievement Award acknowledgement. The Recording Academy comp’ed him a room - but how unfortunate that Clark had to pony up the airfare from the East Coast for himself, his wife and his nurse who accompanies whenever he travels now.

Here are the winners:

Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group

Five Peace Band - Live
Chick Corea & John McLaughlin Five Peace Band (Concord Jazz)

Best Contemporary Jazz Album
Joe Zawinul & The Zawinul Syndicate (Heads Up International)
Best Jazz Vocal Album
Dedicated To You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman
Kurt Elling (Concord Jazz)

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album
Book One
New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (World Village)

Best Latin Jazz Album -Vocal or Instrumental
Juntos Para Siempre
Bebo Valdés and Chucho Valdés (Sony Music/Calle 54)

Best Improvised Jazz Solo
Dancin' 4 Chicken
Terence Blanchard
Track from Watts (Jeff "Tain" Watts) (Dark Key Music)

Best Instrumental Arrangement
West Side Story Medley
Bill Cunliffe, arranger (Resonance Big Band)
Track from Resonance Big Band Plays Tribute To Oscar Peterson (Resonance Records)

Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s)
Quiet Nights
Claus Ogerman, arranger, track from Diana Krall’s Quiet Nights (Verve)

Best Pop Instrumental Album
Potato Hole
Booker T. Jones (Anti)

Best Pop Instrumental Performance
Throw Down Your Heart
Béla Fleck
Track from Throw Down Your Heart: Tales From The Acoustic Planet, Vol. 3 - Africa Sessions (Rounder)

Best Contemporary World Music Album Vocal or Instrumental
Throw Down Your Heart: Tales From The Acoustic Planet, Vol. 3 - Africa Sessions
Béla Fleck (Rounder)

Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album
Michael Bublé Meets Madison Square Garden
Michael Bublé (143/Reprise)

Best Rock Instrumental Performance
A Day In The Life
Jeff Beck,track from Performing This Week...Live At Ronnie Scott's (Eagle Records)

Best Album Notes
The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions (1935-1946)
Dan Morgenstern, album notes writer Mosaic Records)

Best Historical Album
The Complete Chess Masters (1950-1967)
Andy McKaie, compilation producer; Erick Labson, mastering engineer. Hip-O Select/Geffen Records)

Best Classical Crossover Album
Yo-Yo Ma & Friends: Songs Of Joy And Peace
Yo-Yo Ma wiith Odair Assad, Sergio Assad, Chris Botti, Dave Brubeck, Matt Brubeck, John Clayton, Paquito d'Rivera, Renée Fleming, Diana Krall, Alison Krauss, Natalie McMaster, Edgar Meyer, Cristina Pato, Joshua Redman, Jake Shimabukuro, Silk Road Ensemble, James Taylor, Chris Thile, Wu Tong, Alon Yavnai & Amelia Zirin-Brown. (Sony Classical)

Note: I threw in Jeff Beck for two reasons, even though he won in an instrumental rock category. 1) He recorded his CD at Ronnie Scott’s. 2) He had a super jazz-related performance on the telecast with a Les Paul tribute performance – playing “How High the Moon” – on a Les Paul model guitar, of course.

One thing that doesn’t really make sense to me
You’ll note the category for Best Latin Jazz Album - Vocal or Instrumental.
Latin Jazz is also a part of the now-10-years-old Latin Grammy Awards. Why the duplication? And if it is so necessary, why don’t we have separate nights for Bluegrass Grammys, Blues Grammys, Classical Grammys, Folk Grammys, Jazz Grammys, Movie Soundtrack Grammys and Grab-Your-Crotch & Rhyme Grammys, etc.?

I’m curious why one genre gets its own separate night but NOTeach of the others. Then again, we are talking about a mainstream entertainment awards event.

I think I just answered my own question.