Martin Z. Kasdan Jr.

Jazzin'
By Martin Z. Kasdan Jr.

PRELUDE

"Talkin' `bout, talkin' `bout New Orleans. [The Neville Brothers]"

Last month in this space, I told you of a forthcoming Blue Note release, Higher Ground, a CD compilation of performances from the Lincoln Center fundraiser. It has just come out, as has a twenty-five-and-a-half-minute Blue Note EP from Dr. John, entitled Sippiana Hericane. Higher Ground, while focused on jazz (of many styles) includes tracks from many non-jazz artists as well. It begins with a rousing gospel number, "This Joy," performed by Shirley Caesar with piano by Eric Reed. The softer side of gospel, blended with the jazz stylings of trumpeter Terence Blanchard is next, with a heartfelt rendition of "Over There." While a track-by-track dissection would be overkill, suffice it to say that there is something for every jazz taste, ranging from the traditional New Orleans jazz epitomized by the Wynton Marsalis Hot Seven's version of Satchmo's "Dippermouth Blues" to the modern jazz of Joe Lovano performing "[Ed] Blackwell's Message," a tribute to the late New Orleans drummer perhaps best known for his work with Ornette Coleman. In addition, several pop styles are represented, including the post-folk of James Taylor, the second line funk of Art and Aaron Neville (Professor Longhair's "Go To The Mardi Gras ") and the bluesy accordion dance music of Buckwheat Zydeco. Net profits from the sale of the CD will be donated to the Higher Ground Relief Fund. Dr. John's CD is also a fundraiser, with proceeds earmarked for the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, the Jazz Foundation and The Voice of the Wetlands. A four-part composition, "Wade: Hurricane Suite," takes up some fourteen minutes and features the venerable doctor on overdubbed piano and organ, with a stripped-down band consisting of his longtime musical director and drummer, Herman Ernest III, bassist David Barard and guitarist John Fohl. As one might guess from the title, it is in large part a heartfelt reworking of the classic gospel song, "Wade in the Water." The music alternates between second line N'awlins fonk and sophisticated yet spare jazz stylings. Hanukkah and Christmas are around the corner and either or both of these recordings would be welcome additions to your collection or that of your friends and relatives.

RECENT CONCERTS

Adelante Latin Jazz Festival at the Jazz Factory, Part 2

Last month I covered the performance of the Chuchito Valdés Afro-Cuban Ensemble as part of the Adelante Latin Jazz Festival at the Jazz factory and promised to cover the Miguel Zenón Quartet this month. Where Valdés played to the often-dancing crowd, Zenón's approach seemed more focused on the presentation of his original music; serious yet not dry. Zenón was here in the Spring as part of the San Francisco Jazz Collective and recently released his second CD, Jíbaro, on the Marsalis/Rounder label. He was joined by pianist Edward Simon, bassist Ben Street and drummer Henry Cole. The quartet provided two sets of challenging, progressive music, drawn mostly from Jíbaro. As is often the case with improvising musicians, the performances on the CD serve as templates for extended in-performance versions. By way of example, "Llanera," which led off a 43-minute medley of three pieces from this CD, clocks in at 6:18 on the album, but went on for some fourteen minutes in concert, smoothly moving into "Enramada" which, in turn, led to "Villarán." The night closed with the title piece, "Jíbaro," doubled in length from the recorded version. Although Simon and Zenón have played together off and on over the years, as have Cole and Zenón, this particular group of musicians had only been together a short while. Their professionalism was such, however, that they sounded "together" even as they explored the unusual lines and curves of Zenón's original compositions. Both as composer and player, Zenón is a name to watch. He has his own website, www.miguelzenon.com, for further information, including tour dates.

The Turtle Island String Quartet and Kenny Barron at the Kentucky Center

The Turtle Island String Quartet and Kenny Barron joined together for a very special concert at the Kentucky Center, on November 11. The Turtle Island String Quartet is made up of violinists David Balakrishnan and Evan Price, cellist Mark Summer and its newest member, violist Mads Tolling. Barron has been a force in jazz for decades, with recordings accompanying many of the finest artists, such as Stan Getz and numerous albums under his own name, with topflight collaborators including Charlie Haden and Roy Haynes.

In an interview from the road, Balakrishnan commented on the Quartet's tour with Barron: "Great; he's just a master. It's very illuminating to add piano to the string quartet." Balakrishnan was excited about a new work which will be performed here: "We wrote a four-movement piece . . . with Kenny in mind. It has been going over really well in concert." This proved to be prophetic, as the packed house here responded with a standing ovation. He also commented on the challenges of integrating the Western classical string quartet concept with the American jazz ethos and with a pianist such as Barron.

The concert began with three pieces performed by Turtle Island, including one by Paquito D'Rivera, with whom they have also collaborated, John Coltrane's hauntingly beautiful "Naima," and Stanley Clarke's dedication to Trane, "Song for John." They then introduced "our new best friend, Kenny Barron," for a version of Miles Davis' "Milestones." The familiar theme was played first by the violins and viola, before bowed cello was added, all leading into Barron's joining in and taking the song to new heights. Barron's light touch gave new meaning to the phrase "tickling the ivories." A Kenny Barron arrangement of "Caravan" (sans drum solo, of course) followed, before the first set concluded with a Barron original, "And Then Again." The second set opened with Barron performing "Body and Soul" (with an occasional stride punctuation point) and "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" before he was rejoined by the Turtle Island String Quartet for the four-movement composition, "Illuminations," mentioned by Balakrishnan in the interview. All of the Quartet members co-composed this in a round-robin fashion, handing portions off to one another rather than each writing one movement. Throughout the performance, the Quartet and Barron meshed superbly, weaving a tapestry of sound. An encore of Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments" sent the pleased crowd home with the jazzier side of the collaboration.

Eric Person and Meta-Four at the Jazz Factory

Saxophonist Eric Person and his band Meta-Four wowed a weeknight audience at the Jazz Factory on Thursday, November 10. Together with pianist John Esposito, bassist Adam Armstrong and drummer Peter O'Brien, Person switched between alto and soprano saxophones, while also switching adeptly between original compositions and original arrangements of classics such as Miles Davis' "Soular." He opened the first set with Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays," which featured solos by all but the drummer. An as-yet-untitled piece, with a working name of "Song in 6," was next, with an almost rock feel to it. "Tyner Town," Person's dedication to a former employer, McCoy Tyner, was next and was reminiscent of Tyner's 1970's ensembles with its fast pace and high energy. Another dedication, this time to Charles Mingus, was next: "Majestic Taurean." This piece mingled elements of balladry akin to Mingus' "Goodbye Porkpie Hat" with bluesy gospel derived sections such as often utilized by Mingus. The previously mentioned "Soular" concluded the first set and included an understated drum solo. The second set, too, mixed originals with standards. Throughout both sets, Person's artistry on both alto and soprano was apparent, as was the closely knit feeling of a band working together, with all members listening carefully and responding well to one another. In keeping with artists such as Dave Douglas, Jack De Johnette, Branford Marsalis and the Grateful Dead, Person has initiated his own record label, Distinction Records. Reflections (DR 4003) is a generous (77:27) overview of Person's earlier works, including three previously unreleased live performance from 1998 with Dave Douglas and others. His latest release, Live at Big Sur, should arrive in time for a review next month.

NEW NATIONAL CD RELEASES

In addition to the albums covered below, look for a review of the new CD by the John La Barbera Big Band: Fantazm in the CD Review Section this month.

Joe Lovano: Joyous Encounter

Joe Lovano must be one of the busiest saxophonists on the scene. He has kept a steady pace of releases under his own name, as well as gracing the recordings of many other artists (including his work on Paul Motian's I Have the Room Above Her, reviewed here in October). Motian returns the favor on Joe Lovano: Joyous Encounter (Blue Note 7243-8-63405), which also features the exquisite piano of elder statesman Hank Jones and the superb support of bassist George Mraz. Recorded in September of 2004, it serves as a follow-up to the same ensemble's June 2003 recording (released in 2004), I'm All for You: Ballad Songbook (Blue Note 7243-5-91950). From the opening notes of the first song, the classic "Autumn in New York," it is clear that we are in the company of masters. Nothing is rushed, even on the faster songs such as Thelonious Monk's "Pannonica" or John Coltrane's "Crescent." Throughout this recording, there is a warm, relaxed feel. Whether using brushes or sticks (sometimes both on the same song), Motian provides a steady undercurrent of rhythmic color. Jones' piano provides an elegant counterpoint to Lovano's saxophone and is featured in engaging solos throughout (except for the title tune, Lovano's "Joyous Encounter," played as a trio). Jones is heard in duet with Lovano on the beautiful ballad "A Child Is Born," written by the pianist's late brother, Thad Jones. This album is an instant classic of mainstream modern saxophone quartet recordings.

Master Improvisers in Concert: Wayne Shorter and Wynton Marsalis

Wayne Shorter could rest on his laurels if he chose. After all, how many saxophonists could take credit for being the musical director for Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, for becoming a major musical voice in the "second great quintet" of Miles Davis and go on to co-found the groundbreaking fusion band Weather Report and still leave a string of superb solo albums spanning some forty years? Shorter has chosen, however, to reinvent his music with an incredibly tight and responsive quartet, featuring Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blade on drums. Earlier this year this ensemble released Beyond the Sound Barrier (Verve B0004518), a series of live recordings from November 2002 through April 2004. This quartet communicates in a seemingly telepathic manner, as solos are handed off from one member to another with amazing agility. The songs are not as familiar as the ones on the group's prior live outing, Footprints Live!, from 2002 (which included "Sanctuary," "Juju," and, of course, the title track). On Beyond the Sound Barrier, the songs include Shorter originals such as "Joy Ryder" and "Over Shadow Hill Way," as well as original arrangements of lesser known pieces such as "Smilin' Through." If there is any complaint, it is that the pieces are not identified in the jacket as to date and venue of recording. An official release of an entire concert would be a welcome shelf-mate to these live compilations. Shorter and his colleagues are making music that is fresh, inventive, occasionally difficult, but always rewarding.

Wynton Marsalis, once a "young lion," is now a leading light in the world of jazz, with a particular ability to engage in outreach to potential audiences outside of the already committed. While he is sometimes the object of negative attention due to his fairly conservative viewpoints as to what is or isn't jazz, his playing ability remains unquestionably high. After a series of high profile projects, including the big band arrangement of John Coltrane's epic suite A Love Supreme (with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra; reviewed here in March 2005), Marsalis "returns to his roots" with the release of Live at the House of Tribes (Blue Note 7243-4-77132). Here the sometimes too-serious Marsalis seems to enjoy just hangin' and blowin' with friends in a laidback venue. Recorded on December 15, 2002 but not released until earlier this year, Marsalis is accompanied by "Warmdaddy" Wes Anderson on alto sax, Eric Lewis on piano, bassists Kengo Nakamura and Carlos Henríquez, drummer Joe Farnsworth and percussionists Orlando Q. Rodriguez and Robert Rucker. The group starts with a rollicking, almost second line version of Thelonious Monk's "Green Chimneys," respectfully covers standards such as "Just Friends" and "You Don't Know What Love Is," on which Anderson and Lewis trade lines delicately. Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee" is taken out for a spin at roughly 90 MPH, before Cole Porter's "What Is this Thing Called Love" brings the pace down to midtempo. The CD closes with an effervescent run through Paul Barbarin's classic "2nd Line," which virtually epitomizes the traditions of New Orleans jazz. With no "high art" pretensions, Marsalis and company remind us that "chops" and "swing" are still valuable components of jazz.

ON THE HORIZON

The Derek Trucks Band (DTB) returns to Louisville after too long an absence, on Friday, December 2, at Headliners. The DTB, fresh from a European tour, is back on the road to promote a forthcoming studio album (its first in four years), Songlines, scheduled to be released February 7, 2006 on Columbia. The repertoire ranges from traditional blues such as "Crow Jane" to Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "Volunteered Slavery" to a new version of "Maki Madni" coupled with "Sahib Teri Bandi," which most closely emulates the sound and feel of the DTB in concert, stretching to almost ten minutes of Eastern-inspired jazz. During a recent telephone interview, Trucks said that this new CD represents a new peak for the band, "one of the largest steps the band has taken." When asked why he felt this way, Trucks commented that "while you're doing it, it goes smoother . . . there are new ideas, sonic ideas . . . which [together] create a picture of what the band does." In this regard, he also mentioned that it is the first release to feature Mike Mattison as a full-fledged member of the band. I asked him about the jazz tunes in the band's book and he mentioned Dexter Gordon's "Cheesecake," Wayne Shorter's "Angola," and several tunes associated with John Coltrane, especially the 3/4 signature pieces: "Afro Blue," "Greensleeves" and "My Favorite Things." Their Louisville show follows close on the heels of the DTB's first European tour. American jazz artists have long commented about the different audience reactions abroad and at home, so I asked Trucks if he had any observations along these lines. "They are more reserved and pay attention more . . . but our [American] audience has grown up with the band." Those of you who witnessed his performances here back in January of 2003, at Headliners and WFPK's Live Lunch, will undoubtedly be stoked; the rest of you should check out this talented yet modest guitarist and his superb band.

While hardcore beboppers would perhaps question classifying the Windham Hill Winter Solstice Concert as jazz, this year it features the duos of Tuck and Patti and Darol Anger and Mike Marshall, all of whom are serious improvisers. Guitarist Tuck Andress and wife Patti Cathcart sometimes evoke the quiet intimacy of the Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass duet recordings, although they have their own style. Anger and Marshall were among the early members of David Grisman's groundbreaking quintets, blending the Stephane Grappelli/Django Reinhardt "Hot Club" swing with elements of folk, bluegrass and other styles of music. It all takes place on Friday, December 16, at the Kentucky Center's Bomhard Theatre. Further details are available at www.kentuckycenter.org.

The complete lineup for December for The Jazz Factory, (815 W. Market St. in The Glassworks, 502-992-3242) is available at the website: www.jazzfactory.us. A few brief highlights are: December 1, Todd Hildreth Trio; December 2, Jamey Aebersold Quartet; December 3, the return of pianist Rachel Z; December 7, Jazz and The Spoken Word; 8-9, The Don Krekel Orchestra; December 10, David "Fathead" Newman, in support of a CD celebrating his former employer, Ray Charles [attempts to reach him through his agent for an interview were unsuccessful]; December 16-27, Harry Pickens Trio; the remainder of the month's listings were not available at deadline time, except for the New Year's Eve extravaganza featuring the Jerry Tolson Orchestra, with vocalist Jennifer Lauletta.

The Seelbach Jazz Bar, 500 South Fourth St., Louisville (585-3200) continues to present vibraphonist (and occasional pianist and drummer) Dick Sisto, in duet with bassist Tyrone Wheeler on Wednesdays and Thursdays, augmented by drummer Jason Tiemann and guest artists on the weekends: saxophonist Tim Whalen on December 3, with pianist Ray Johnson the next night; the trio the following two weekends; no jazz during Christmas week; a TBA special guest the 30th and guests Barry Ries (trumpet) and Bob Bodley (bass) on New Year's Eve.

I just discovered a newly revived series in Cincinnati, "Jazz at the Hyatt," at the Hyatt Hotel Sungarden Room. Full details are available at www.jazzincincy.com. The emphasis is on local and regional jazz, with occasional national artists. According to an e-mail from its promoter, Dr. Walt Broadnax, past nationally known performers have included Gary Bartz, Clark Terry, Joey DeFrancesco and others. The December schedule, as of deadline time, is: William Menefield Trio, 12/2; David "Fathead" Newman, 12/9; TBA, 12/16; Randy Villars Quartet, 12/23; Roland Ashby Trio 12/30; and The Four Tenors 1/6/06.

CODA

As always, I am interested in your comments. Contact me at mzkjr@yahoo.com.