Friday, December 19, 2014

Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, Hamburg '72

For all the beautiful things Keith Jarrett has done in his career, the original trio of Keith, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian, with or without Dewey Redman, holds a special place in the music of the later 20th-century. After all this was, following Keith's important association with Charles Lloyd, the group that gave us the first phase of Jarrettian music. The amazing runs, yes, and the compositional clout of the man, the free interplay of the three masters which both came out of the influences of Ornette Coleman and Paul Bley in solo and group playing, but then went beyond that into something very special and original.

Sitting here listening to the newly released, previously unreleased Hamburg '72 (ECM B0022313-02), with that trio in their last phase, I am struck anew on the tragedy of loss. Paul Motian is gone and now so is Charlie Haden. We can never hear this trio as a living entity, never again. But we can hear them of course in all their recorded glory. In this case a finely sonic live recording of the trio in their last full flowering is what brings tribute and remembrance in a very fitting way.

It is beautiful to hear this, to me. Make no mistake. They are filled with the special creative synergy of the three as a oneness, no less here than in previous recordings. There is a spirit of adventure in their extraordinarily productive looseness. Keith is playing at one of his peaks, not just from the piano chair but also on soprano sax, something we took for granted then, but in its absence today we shouldn't have. He was singular there as on piano, just a bit less developed technically, of course.

But the interaction of Keith, Charlie and Paul is there. Again we may have taken it for granted in some ways, but there was a magic and a tabula rasa uniqueness of the way Paul and Charlie came up with ways of propulsing freely yet very personally. Add Keith and there is a dynamism of free structure in every way pattern-setting. The trio ultimately had a huge influence, on just about every piano trio that came after, in terms of those with a free avant approach, and even those who didn't.

And you can here why on this recording clearly. More than that, the pieces played on this date sound especially good because they are never played quite like this before or after. Charlie's "Song for Che" is momentous, never played by Keith before or after in recordings, and then so are Keith's "Piece for Ornette," "Everything that Lives Laments" and "Take Me Back."

It is as fitting a tribute to Charlie and Paul as anything, for they sound beautiful. And so does Keith. All three would go on to do other work, great work, but the special magic of these three together would never quite be equalled. This issue is important because it gives us the trio in ways that we didn't hear on record at that point. The trio so late on, as a trio.

If you love this period, or even if you don't know it all that well, this must be heard!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Alicia Olatuja, Timeless

If you heard Brooklyn-born Alicia Olatuja sing at the 2013 Presidential Inauguration, then you are prepared for what you get on her beautiful album Timeless (World Tune). Her voice is rather incredible. And she puts it to excellent use in a series of songs both familiar and less-so. The music is soulful and jazz inflected in a general way, in part thanks to her bassist husband Michael Olatuja who had a hand in the production and arrangements from what I understand. He plays some really nice bass, too.

Listen to her version of "Human Nature" and you'll hear right away that you are in the presence of a vocalist of extraordinary depth, finesse and beauty.

And every track one way or another confirms that, whether it be "Over the Rainbow," "Amazing Grace," or "Truth in Blue."

I don't usually get clammed up, to say the least. Her voice leaves me speechless. Consider me clammed right now. You want something to warm you up inside, the voice of Alicia Olatuja does that.

Hear this one!

Joseph Daley, Portraits: Wind, Thunder and Love

Anybody with an involvement in the modern jazz scene knows Joseph Daley as a prime tuba virtuoso, who has made his mark across the spectrum of new jazz offerings, perhaps most notably as the tuba presence in Sam River's acclaimed Tuba Trio, where he defined how a tuba could be both a backbone and a vivid solo presence in a free yet structured three-way dialog.

What might not be as well known is that Joseph is also a fine composer. His recent Portraits: Wind, Thunder and Love (Jodamusic 002) will set that straight. Maestro Daley conducts a small chamber orchestra on this recording in a series of eight lively portraits.

The orchestra is packed with artists who fill our ears with sounds that reflect the jazz improvisational and the new music camps equally but in line with composer Daley's own special musical ways. So we have players like Jason Hwang, Elektra Curtis, Sarah Bernstein, Akua Dixon, Marika Hughes, Ken Filiano, Warren Smith, and guests Jerry Gonzalez, Onaje Allan Gumbs and more.

The portraits show Daley as an original voice, an inventive persona, a composer of real merit. The first five portraits, "Whispercussion," give pride of place to the percussion master Warren Smith, in a kind of concerto context that shows Mr. Smith in his varied excellence on mallets, percussion and drums as it gives us music that sings out and builds a rich backdrop for his excellent solo work.

"Shadrack" highlights the multiple reed master Bill Cole in a fascinating world-spanning piece. Akua Dixon solos nicely on cello as well. "Doretha and the Blues" is dedicated to Joseph's soul-mate of 43 years, Wanda Doretha. It is a lush and soulful hipness that comes at us with some really beautiful string and orchestral scoring. Charles Burnham takes on the solo violin role with some definite testifying going on! "Industria" gives us Maestro Smith on tympani, Elektra Curtis, violin, and the basses of Benjamin Brown and Ken Filiano as soloists. The music is a sort of Afro-jazz caravan moving steadily into tomorrow, very hip and modern but with very strong roots.

This is music of adventure, Afro-American modern if you will, music of today, filled with both tradition and newness. Joseph Daley is a composer of stature, a real force. The music combines a heritage and a view to the future in ways that make you want to listen often, each time getting more from it all.

Definitely recommended!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Delfeayo Marsalis, The Last Southern Gentlemen

Over time the trombone contingent of the Marsalis family, namely Delfeayo, has not gotten near the attention of brothers Wynton and Branford, yet he is a musician of real stature. He and his father Ellis team up with an excellent quartet on The Last Southern Gentlemen (Troubadour 081814).

Ellis's well conceived pianism adds much to the proceedings. He sounds as great as ever. Filling the rhythm team chairs are bassist John Clayton, who brings excellent note choice and a fullness to his role, and "Smitty" Smith on drums, a monster that we don't hear as much of lately as we might wish, but plays his role to the max here.

The program is a mix of standard chestnuts, originals and a surprisingly fetching New Orleans rendition of the theme from "Sesame Street" with some hip wah-wah bone from Delfeayo.

It's old-school mainstream that manages to sound fresh, thanks to the complete trombone excellence of Delfeayo, in whom you can hear the entire history of the instrument, filtered and selectively grooved and burnished by intensive living within the tradition. I guess by now you should expect such a thing of Mr. Marsalis. But he and the quartet are so dedicated to it, without pretense or contrivance, that it rings very, very true.

It gives you the straight-from-the-heart classicism that warms the soul and mind of this listener, for one. Delfeayo is a master. Like early-middle-period Miles, he can play a worn out old tune and make it come through with bell-like directness, not so much through a noteful virtuosity as via attention to the tone and attack of every note.

So in the doing of all this The Last Southern Gentleman brings much pleasure. A trombone cornucopia such as this fits all seasons. Things never grow tired when the spirit is there. It is there.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Pedra Contida, Xisto

Pedra Contida (Contained Stone) is a Portuguese quintet assembled especially for a Jazz ao Centro Clube invitation to perform for a week in the village of Cerdeira as part of the Schist Village Network project. Leader-organizer Marcelo dos Reis gives us a full album of the music they performed there in July of 2013.

The music is in three parts--the first four pieces composed by Marcelo, the second a series of solos and duos, and the third a collective improvisation by the whole group. All are part of the disk Xisto (JACC 022). The quintet includes dos Reis on acoustic guitar, voice and singing bowls; Angelica V. Salvi on harp; Nuno Torres on alto sax; Miguel Carvalhais on computer; and Joao Pais Filipe on drums and percussion.

This is a group that draws inspiration from open-form new music more than so-called "free jazz" per se. It is abstract music that relies on sound worlds that are colored by conventional and unconventional ways of playing to realize textures that vary and keep interest level high. Each member of the quintet contributes to the sound in ways that blend and become super-organic, so to say.

There is a dispersal of sound that maximizes space and individual contribution for a result that requires somewhat disciplined listening if one is to reap the benefits of this rarified sound abstraction expression. The results are intriguing and very fascinating if one gives the music the attention it deserves. But you must meet it half-way.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Gapplegate Music Review Records of the Year, 2014

Once again it is time to pick the Records of the Year. I am doing this on my other two review sites as well. There were an awful lot of great releases in 2014, so it has not been easy. That only points to the healthy condition of our improvising artists today. Here are my choices.

Best Jazz Album, New Release (tie): Matthew Shipp Trio with Michael Bisio and Whit Dickey, The Root of Things (Relative Pitch) See review, February 12, 2014.

Best Jazz Album, New Release (tie): Connie Crothers, Concert in Paris (New Artists) See review, September 29, 2014.

Best Jazz Album, Reissue: John Coltrane, Offering, Live at Temple Univ, 1966 (Reso- nance Impulse) See review, October 15, 2014.

Best Wild Card Album, Beyond Category: Salsa de la Bahia, Vol. 2, A Collection of Bay Area Salsa and Latin Jazz (Patois) See review, October 9, 2014.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Abelardo Barroso and Orquesta Sensacion, Cha Cha Cha

Abelardo Barroso will be a familiar name only to those who are intimate with the history of 20th century Cuban music. Yet he experienced fame as a singer of son in the earlier recorded days and resurrected himself to acclaim in 1955 as the singer with Orquesta Sensacion. The best of those latter sides have been remastered and reissued as Cha Cha Cha. Leader Rolando Valdez gets a beautifully hot yet sweet sound from the strings, flute and rhythm players of Orquesta Sensacion and Barroso soars atop with his golden-toned voice.

The Cha Cha was a hot commodity in those days and the group scored with several hits that played in Cuban jukeboxes continually. The album covers all of that and more.

It's classic Cuban dance music of the era, sounding today every bit as vibrant and infectious as it no doubt did then. With the strings riffing in bowed or pizzicato style, the solid flute player, the horns and the insistent rhythm...and Barroso! This is the band at their height, a period between 1955 and 1959.

It is music that still packs a huge punch. It is an essential slab of Latin music you definitely need to hear and dig!