Wednesday, September 21, 2016

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a look at new CD projects by A.G.N.Z., Aziza, Joe Mulholland and Ted Nash....

A.G.N.Z., ChanceMeeting, (Whaling City Sound)
This band of savvy jazz veterans came together for the first time on a club stage in Providence RI in July 2014 and discovered a great musical chemistry. So the four – guitarist Jay Azzolina, tenor saxophonist Dino Govoni, drummer Adam Nussbaum and bassist Dave Zinno – decided to schedule a studio date a few months later. This excellent modern take on jazz is the result. All four players brought in original compositions with a variety of moods – and these chance band mates find spirited common ground throughout. 

The band has a wonderful energetic groove, drawn from the same kind of experimental chemistry of the finest fusion groups. There is a strong emotional imprint of the late saxophonist Michael Brecker here. Govoni, a Boston-based reed player heavily influenced by the Brecker sound, first heard him live about 25 years ago at a gig on which Nussbaum was the drummer. Azzolina, for many years a neighbor of Brecker’s, used to jam with him informally in his basement on many an afternoon. Favorite tracks: Govoni’s poignant “Lament for Michael Brecker,” Azzolina’s high-flying “1 of 3” and Nussbaum’s teasing “My Maia.” Also dig the band’s playful back-and-forth on Govoni’s frisky “N.T.I.”

Aziza, Aziza (Dare2) 
The players in this modern jazz supergroup named their band after a mythical African god of inspiration. The quartet includes saxophonist Chris Potter, guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Eric Harland, who have worked with each other previously in a variety of contexts. Potter, for example, has been a regular member of Holland’s bands for two decades. Their eponymous recording debut in this grouping is a gem of varying moods. They show great creativity in exploring the two tunes apiece that each player brought in for development in the band’s distinctive sound. 

There is much to savor: the frisky energy of Loueke’s “Sleepless Night,” the multi-dimensional subtleties of Harland’s “Aquila,” and the conversational combination of Holland’s bass work and Potter’s soprano sax solo on Holland’s “Finding the Light,” and the Caribbean feel propelling Potter’s “Summer 15.” As his soloing shows throughout the project, and particularly on his own “Blue Sufi” and Holland’s “Walkin’ The Walk,” Potter seems to be emerging as a clear successor to Sonny Rollins as the most creative, forceful and versatile saxophonist in mainstream jazz. He’s  reached today’s upper echelon at the very least.

Joe Mulholland Trio, Runaway Train (Zoho)
Boston-based pianist and music educator Joe Mulholland doesn’t record often, but he does it well. His latest, a trio session featuring longtime band mates Bob Neiske (bass) and Bob Tamagni (drums), is a case in point. This both a swinging and cerebral jazz date, highlighted by Mulholland’s six original compositions and three covers of classics by Miles Davis, Jimmy Giuffre, and the songwriting  tandem of Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz. 

On the title track, Mulholland uses the chord changes from John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” to transform the standard 12-bar progression as the band rolls through this hard-driving blues. That contrasts with his cover of the Davis tune a teasing, languid exploration of “Nardis.” The Brazilian-tinged “The Same Sky” is a thing of beauty. “Summer Nights” showcases the beautiful playing of all three musicians. Mulholland’s “Phrenology” is a whimsical bebop romp.

Ted Nash Big Band, Presidential Suite (Eight Variations on Freedom) (Motéma) 
Two months before what may be the most pivotal U.S. presidential election in our lifetimes, saxophonist Ted Nash offers us a profound musical reminder about the values of freedom and democracy around the globe. His Presidential Suite, commissioned by Jazz at Lincoln Center, features eight compositions, plus a mood-setting overture) that he wrote to complement an equal number of the most profound presidential/national leadership speeches given ‘round the world. On disc one, the music follows the words that inspired it. Those speech excerpts are narrated by contemporary arts or political figures. They include former Sen. Joe Lieberman, author Deepak Chopra, former Ambassador Andrew Young, and actors Glenn Close and Sam Waterston. Disc two features just the music.

The material at the heart of the project includes JFK’s “Ask Not” speech, Nehru’s 1947 “Tryst with Destiny” speech, Franklin Roosevelt’s “The Four Freedoms” speech, Winston Churchill’s “We Shall Fight on the Beaches,” LBJ’s 1965 address to Congress on the equal voting rights, and Ronald Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” speech in Berlin in 1987. Two other gems include Myanmar political leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s “Freedom From Fear” essay, recast hear as “Water in Cupped Hands” – and read by Close; and the big band’s joyous musical take on Nelson Mandela’s first inaugural address as the first black president of South Africa. “The Time for the Healing of the Wounds” is a stunning work following Young’s narration of this 1994 speech.

Many of the band members, including Nash, are members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Soloists featured on the nine musical tracks include pianist Dan Nimmer, trumpeters Ryan Kisor, Greg Gisbert, Wynton Marsalis, Marcus Printup and Kenny Rampton, saxophonists Nash, Sherman Irby and Joe Temperley, and trombonist/vocalist Chris Crenshaw. 

 It’s a critical time to revisit the profound wisdom found in all of these celebrated words, which Nash describes as “timeless variations on freedom. It’s our privilege and responsibility as artists and as citizens to remind our leaders of what is important.”

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