Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Mark Masters Ensemble, Everything You Did, The Music of Walter Becker & Donald Fagen

Listening to the Mark Masters Ensemble album before me, I could not help but wonder why the music of Steely Dan's Walter Becker and Donald Fagen isn't covered more often by changes-oriented jazz ensembles. The ingredients have been there in the songs themselves, but they haven't been explored very much outside of the Steely Dan and solo albums of the two artists.

All that is moot since Mark Masters has gathered a big band and cut loose with some hip arrangements of Becker and Fagen on Everything You Did (Capri 74123-2). The band has some heavies in it, including Tim Hagens, Billy Harper, Peter Erskine, Gary Foster, Gary Smulyan, Oliver Lake and Sonny Simmons! Anna Mjoll handles the vocals when needed and she sounds good.

Listen to their "Big Black Cow" and perhaps that will convince you, for it strikes me at least that this song blooms in Masters' hands, in different ways than the original and of course that's the point.

They do good work on some of the very familiar ones like "Aja", "Josie", and "Do It Again", but some lesser-known ones, too.

It makes for some very solid mainstream big-band sounds. Kudos for that.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Rempis/Daisy Duo, Second Spring, Dave Rempis, Tim Daisy

Chicago saxophone notable Dave Rempis continues on with his worthy series of recordings on his Aerophonic label with a couple of new releases. Up today is the Rempis/Daisy Duo and their Second Spring (Aerophonic 003). Dave gets a lot of music out of his alto, tenor and baritone saxophones; Tim Daisy responds in kind on drums/percussion.

Both are key members of a Chicago group of avant jazz musicians who tend to play together. We've heard from many of them in various configurations on these pages, but never these two in duo. It usually helps in these intimate situations if the players know each other's playing well, if they have spend a good deal of time playing together. That's certainly the case with Dave and Tim. The musical sympathies are there to hear in these improvised sequences. This is free blowing of good provenance--they come from inspired places within and the spirit-feel does not flag. Both show why they are fully themselves and in-demand players on the Chicago avant scene.

Second Spring showcases Rempis and Daisy in great form. It is a straightforward blowing romp that gets rolling from the start and does not stop until the last phrase is played. Check it out and get some good sounds!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Mack Goldsbury's Quintet featuring Maciej Fortuna, Live at CoCo's

Working at Cadence as a review writer for many years, I learned that there are so many artists out there deserving greater recognition or working in what comes down to downright obscurity that I could no longer afford to say I knew the scene in and out. The arrogance of ignorance can never be a good thing. But it is especially detrimental in a music that unfolds itself primarily in real-time. So I guess you could say that being exposed to a wealth of rather unknown artists has humbled me.

So now as I continue on and today address a Bob Rusch Cadence Jazz release by a group I did not previously know, I remember that one can never know it all, that one learns by remaining open to the unknown.

Today we have Mack Goldsbury and his Quintet, Live at CoCo's (Cadence Jazz 1245). These are players I don't believe I've heard previous to this recording. I know them now! They are a hard-bop-and-after contemporary ensemble holding forth live in a small club in El Paso. The tunes are band originals, good blowing things, with the addition of "Autumn Leaves" and Monk's "Straight, No Chaser".

The presence of guitarist Shaun Mahoney in place of a pianist opens up the sound and gives the rhythm section a chance to burn up the swinging turf as they might in a pianoless trio, only of course there are three soloists on top in Mack Goldsbury on tenor and soprano, Maciej Fortuna on trumpet, and Mahoney on guitar when he isn't lightly comping. Erik Unsworth (upright bass) and Ricky Malichi (drums) have the field clear, then, and they take advantage with an infectious drive that makes it all foundational.

All three front-liner soloists have fire, guts and soul, and evoke the tradition while taking ownership of it for their time in the spotlight.

This is one fine set. It is where the hard bop rubber-meets-the-road and it has subtlety, too. It's a band I would gladly go hear, and yet I knew virtually nothing of them prior to the recording.

Needless to say it's a good one. Listen and learn! Meet new artists and you'll grow. Perfect example.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Colin Vallon Trio, Le Vent

Time does not stand still. We do not stand still. Music does not stand still. That is the way in life and we should embrace what we can of the new when it is good. Pianist Colin Vallon and his trio come at us with the new on their second album Le Vent (ECM B0020040-02). And to me it is good.

The trio includes Patrice Moret on double bass and Julian Sartorius on drums. They work together in realizing a music that has an impressionistic moodiness, a minimalist sense of cycle and a uniquely tonal palette that invites contemplation.

This is music that has improvisation in it, yes, especially from Colin. Yet it is overall compositional in ways that do not typify a jazz piano trio in the mainstream or even of the free-new-thing sort.

There are moments that remind slightly of the fresh Jarrett of Facing You and some of his trance-pattern improvisations of the early solo years. But Vallon and company go somewhere with it that is farther along as a trio expression, more single-mindedly brooding and perhaps more singular than a reference to Jarrett would suggest.

For Vallon and trio have a musical agenda rather thoroughgoingly their own. There is a sometimes quiet expressiveness that has jazz roots but the bop/postbop figurative signposts one expects in this kind of gathering are virtually gone, removed.

So there is some adjustment you must make to the premise that this is creative, cyclical, periodistic yet spacy harmonic music.

Once you get there you find yourself in a quite interesting zone. I found this album very moving once I got into the idea of it. Vallon is on his own journey. I look forward to future albums to see where it takes him. Meanwhile we have Le Vent, which I very much recommend you hear.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gary Burton, Seven Songs for Quartet and Chamber Orchestra, Music by Michael Gibbs, 1973

ECM has reissued some of its back-catalog gems in deluxe new editions for CD or connoisseur quality vinyl LPs. One in the series I actually never heard when it came out, so I thought it would be good for me to cover it and I hope bring some excellent music to the blog from an era that now seems distant, yet is filled with some seminal jazz, projects that may be somewhat ignored by certain folks yet well deserve a hearing.

The album at hand is Gary Burton's 1973 Seven Songs for Quartet and Chamber Orchestra, Music by Michael Gibbs (ECM 1040). If I am not mistaken Gibbs and Burton attended Berklee School of Music at the same time in the early sixties. They came to know one another and appreciate each other's considerable talents. Gary had performed Michael's music on records before 1973, but the Seven Songs project was their most ambitious collaboration to date.

The Gary Burton Quartet with Mick Goodrick on electric guitar, Steve Swallow on electric bass and Ted Seibs on drums formed the core group around which was arrayed a chamber orchestra composed of members of the NDR Symphony Orchestra Hamburg, conducted by Gibbs.

The music contains one short piece by Steve Swallow ("Arise, Her Eyes"), the rest Gibb works. "Throb" was well known from an earlier album, the rest I believe were recorded here for the first time.

Gibbs' arrangements for the orchestra are quite stunning and set off the quartet's playing in ways that give greater sonance to both. Burton's excellent vibe tone melds with strings particularly well. Yet it is equally true that the entire quartet plus orchestra create a sonorous whole that in the hands of Manfred Eicher's production vision outshines what either of them might do on their own.

The songs, the treatment-arrangements and the performances all come together for a remarkably absorbing listen. By the end of 1973 the idea of a "Third Stream" may have been cast aside, yet perhaps ironically some of the most successful ventures in combining classical and jazz were either in the works or yet to come.

Most certainly this album constitutes one of them. It is extraordinarily beautiful music that loses nothing with the years that have intervened. It sounds as fresh and central as if it were done yesterday. Hear Seven Songs!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Michael Vlatkovich Quartet, You're Too Dimensional

The West Coast jazz scene continues to be vibrant. It may not make headlines over here in the east, but there is vital music being made there. Michael Vlatkovich, trombonist and composer, has certainly been one of the important voices for some time now. He returns with a quartet lineup on the recent You're Too Dimensional (pfMENTUM 077).

In addition of course to Michael V. there is Jim Knodle on trumpet, Phil Sparks on acoustic bass, and Greg Campbell on drums and a very respectable French horn.

The music is modern in the free-composed vein we expect from Vlatkovich. He is one of the free trombonists at the top of his game out there and that is clear from the new album. Jim Knodle adds a vibrant second voice in the front line, with an inventiveness that complements Michael's both in terms of solo utterances but also in a two-way improvised polyphony at times--three-way when Greg Campbell takes up his French horn.

Phil Sparks does riffs with good variations at times when the music has a rock-funk rhythmic underpinning and can walk well, free zone, put down rhythmically and noteful foundations that set things up nicely. He can solo with interesting and effective results. Greg Campbell propulses the band with a nice feel from the drum chair (or rather the throne, as drum manufacturers call it).

Some (not all) of this reminds slightly of M-Base and/or Dave Holland's band of some years ago when they did contrapuntal funk. But only referentially, not in some imitative way.

Vlatkovich sounds limber and up. The compositions stimulate and the band swings, rocks and frees up in nice ways. This may not be his best album to start out with if you do not know his music, but it satisfies and shows him once again a critical member of the West coastal jazz coterie.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Frank Wess, Magic 201

Tenor sax and flautist Frank Wess defied nature by living to a ripe age while still managing to sound great. Like all such things though it could not last forever. And so he passed last year. Fortunately what were I presume his last recording sessions produced a wealth of material. We covered his Magic 101 album here on its release. (See the June 20th, 2013 article). Now we have Magic 201 (IPO 1025).

As before there is the sympathetic piano of Kenny Barron and the tasteful drumming of Winard Harper. On this session Rufus Reid takes the bass slot and added is guitarist Russell Malone. These are the right folks for Frank and he responds in kind.

Wess was always key, especially when with Basie, as a swing-to-bop stylist that was comfortable in either camp. These later sessions bring that home to us forcefully, and in addition remind us of his lyrical side. Listen to the solo flute version of "The Summer Knows" and you hear that. But the blues and standards recorded here also remind us of the beautiful tenor tone he had. Perhaps no living artist except Scott Hamilton remains to channel the sound, and not in quite the same way.

It's primo late Frank, which means nothing in the way of 16th-note runs (not that he did very much of that even in his youth), but just a perfect, direct, unfaltering blowing-at-you classicism.

Goodbye Frank Wess. And thanks. From all of us.