Tuesday, August 23, 2016

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Taking a look at new CD projects by Ken Fowser, the Eric Hargett trio, Kirk MacDonald, and Omar Sosa & Paolo Fresu.…

Ken Fowser, Standing Tall (Posi-Tone)
If you dug the funky grooves and unbridled swing of some of the great jazz quintets of the 1960s – think the Adderley Brothers and Horace Silver’s bands – chances are you’ll very much dig the contemporary tangent offered by tenor saxophonist Ken Fowser. His 2016 release Standing Tall is a gem. His exploration of a dozen original tunes is also a showcase for the chemistry and chops of his working band with trumpeter Josh Bruneau, pianist Rick Germanson, bassist Paul Gill and drummer Jason Tiemann. Favorite tracks: the title track, “Head Start,” the pensive “Filling in the Blanks,” the gorgeous ballad “Hanging On” and the McCoy Tyner’ish ”More For Red.” The closing track, “Somebody Got to Do It,” is loaded with Horace Silver swagger.

Eric Hargett Trio, Steppin’ Up (Whaling City Sound)
For a debut recording, saxophonist Eric Hargett has splendid company in his trio-mates, B-3 player Joey DeFrancesco and drummer Gerry Gibbs. With a bit more maturity as a player, he may even grow out of the tendency to over-play. Too often, it feels like he never took heed of Miles Davis’ wisdom that what you don’t play is even more important than what you do play. Occasionally, the notes pouring forth from his tenor or baritone sax carry the moment. How can you not want to burn trough a melody when there’s a searing B-3 solo right around the corner? Hargett rarely lets up. But he does rein it in substantially on two lovely ballads – “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and his own “Myra’s Song.” On the latter, Los Angeles-based Hargett also doubles on vibes. This is a young talent to keep an eye on.

Kirk MacDonald, Symmetry (Addo)
Toronto-based saxophonist Kirk MacDonald recorded this fine group in 2013 but the session initially was released just in Canada. Fortunately, Addo Records decided to distribute it internationally this year. MacDonald’s quintet includes trumpeter Tom Harrell, pianist Brian Dickinson, bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Dennis Mackrel. For this, MacDonald’s 13th recording session as a leader, the saxophonist decided to write material that emerged from his conceptions of “symmetry” in music. The entire CD is quite powerful. The true gem is its longest exploration – a bubbling 9:36 take called “Mackrel’s Groove.”  This session is proof that quality jazz is timeless – and has an inherent freshness.

Omar Sosa & Paolo Fresu, Eros (Otá)
Pianist Omar Sosa and trumpeter Paolo Fresu have developed a most simpatico musical relationship. Their latest project is a suite of music that focuses on the facets and mysteries of love. While the session’s participants also include cellist Jacques Morelenbaum and Maghreb singer Natacha Atlas, plus Italy’s Alborada String Quartet, it is Fresu and Sosa whose musical personalities dominate. At times, their collaboration draws aural comparison to the electronic jazz that fascinated Miles Davis in the mid-to-late 1980s. Favorite tracks: Fresu’s compositions””Zeus’ Desires” and Eros Mediterraneo,” Sosa’s “La Llamada” and their exquisite instrumental cover of Peter Gabriel’s “What Lies Ahead.” This is a September 16 release

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Newport Jazz Festival delivers again (updated)

Even though it's the granddaddy of America's outdoor music festivals, the Newport Jazz Festival doesn't take that pedigree lightly. It keeps delivering terrific jazz - of all stripes - in a postcard-perfect setting that has a breathtaking view of Newport harbor.
Tierney Sutton

The 2016 edition, held last weekend (July 29-31), offered several new music premieres by Darcy James Argue's Secret Society big band, Wilco guitarist Nels Cline and Cuban saxophonist Yosvany Terry, among others.
Charles Lloyd

Kamasi Washington
It also brought first-time Newport appearances by pianist Monty Alexander's band (heck, he's only 72), the exquisite singer Tierney Sutton, the grooving New Orleans jam band Galactic, pianists Henry Butler, Sullivan Fortner and Rossano Sportiello, and saxophonist Kamasi Washington. There were more new delights, too numerous to mention.

Washington performed twice with his band, providing a Friday highlight on the main stage and a different set altogether on Sunday on the more-intimate tented Quad Stage. It was easy to hear why his debut recording, 2015's 3-CD The Epic ranked at the top of so many year-end critics polls. Four other stupendous sets: Henry Butler-Steven Bernstein and The Hot 9, the Joe Lovano-Chris Potter-Lionel Loueke-Eric Harland superband, Edmar Castaneda's World Ensemble, and the soulful jazz singer Gregory Porter.
Chick Corea

Pianist Chick Corea's Trilogy, with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade, opened Friday's downtown Newport evening program at historic Newport Casino (the festival's birthplace in 1954), and performed again on Saturday at Fort Adams. McBride succeeds founder George Wein as the festival's artistic director beginning with 2017's programming.

Toshiko Akiyoshi
There were homecoming moments as well - none more poignant than Toshiko Akiyoshi's solo piano set on the indoor Storyville club stage - 60 years after making her Newport Jazz Festival debut while a student at the Berklee School of Music in Boston.

The weekend weather was hot and humid for the most part, after a Friday morning-early afternoon downpour decided to skip town far earlier - and faster than predicted. Saturday's program was sold out. 

This was the first time in at least 20 years that the festival had drawn 10,000 people to Fort Adams State Park, though the Newport Folk Festival has had daily sellouts for several years. Credit the July 30 sellout largely to an appearance by singer-pianist Norah Jones.

I'm sharing a few photos to whet your visual appetites. A more extensive variety of my images is posted at jazztimes.com.