In which the beleaguered reviewer attempts to make some headway into the mounds of CDs seeking reviews accumulating daily by providing quick hits on a few recordings at a time.
Corey Wilkes & Abstrakt Pulse -"Cries from tha Ghetto"
As much as I enjoyed Corey's debut, Drop It (see our review here) Cries From tha Ghetto takes the multi-talented Wilkes' musical output in another, more intense direction and up another level. This great release features the young trumpet lion with his stellar Abstrakt Pulse group (featuring some of the best young players in Chicago: Kevin Nabors saxophones, Scott Hesse guitar, Junius Paul bass and Isaiah Spencer drums - along with tap dancer Jumaane Taylor) on an impressive set of vibrant and insistent compositions that hearken back to the sounds of the 1960s ("First Mind," "Levitation,"), combined with the free jazz styles of the AACM ("SickJJ,"), or both ("Visionary of an Abstrakt") ,while at the same time moving the music forward into the future.
Corey burns brightly with the intelligent and passionate playing that has made him one of the young superstars of the modern jazz scene, while his bandmates also solo with fervor. Hesse especially adds a shimmering angularity, while the fiery Nabors is an up-and-coming sax star who is the perfect complement to Wilkes. Spencer's playing bubbles with primal energy, while Paul is a rock on the bass. And Taylor's taps add a creative element. The playing isn't for the most part "pretty" in a conventional sense, but rather hits with force of purpose that leaves the listener breathless. Extremely relevant in wake of recent violence in Chicago, "Cries" is serious stuff and music that will make you think and feel the spirit of the people of the ghetto who still suffer daily from injustice and poverty. Even a ballad like "Rain" has a bittersweet quality to it, while the band also slows it down on Lester Bowie's lovely "Villa Tiamo." Interesting short instrumental vignettes ("Abstrakt #1-4") break up the album between longer releases, while the 10:53 title track is the centerpiece, and one of the best compositions of the year. Burning album ender - "Chasin' LeRoy" takes things out on a high-stepping note. This is an exceptional recording and one I would highly recommend jazz fans pick up for their collection.
Edmar Castaneda - "Entre Cuerdas"
A jazz harp player? Yes, you read it right. Colombian-born Edmar Castaneda has taken the harp (with strings - not the mouth harp or harmonica such as played by Howard Levy) out of the classical world and brought it squarely into the jazz metier. Backed on much of the album only by trombonist Marshall Gilkes and drummer/percussionist Dave Silliman, Castaneda deftly plays the bass lines with one hand, while performing the duties of a pianist or guitarist with the other, adding shimmering lines, chords, counter melodies and percussive plucking. In fact, there are times when you would swear there was a pianist comping along, but it is all harp. This unusual grouping works stunningly on numbers like the title track, "Colombian Dixie" (where Gilkes' growling trombone shines) Gilkes' "Looking Forward," and "Afro Seis," while the harpist shows a virtuoso touch on the solo piece "Jesus de Nazareth." Adding to the project are guitarist John Scofield on "Sabro Son," vocalist Andrea Tierra on "Canto" and percussionist Samuel Torres (cajon on "Song of Hope"), as well as vibraphonist Joe Locke who blends nicely with Castaneda on "Colibiri" and "Song of Hope." The music of Entre Cuerdas (Between the Strings) , which mixes Latin jazz, folk and classical together in an impressive manner, should bring even more attention to this emerging young talent with an unusual instrument and approach.
Chris Pasin - "Detour Ahead"
Talk about your appropriate titles: Chicago-born/NYC-raised trumpeter Chris Pasin recorded this album in 1987 and only released it this year after a lengthy retirement from the music scene during which he worked outside of the music business while raising his family. Even more puzzling is the fact that this long-dormant recording is excellent and features first rate players like saxophonist Steve Slagle, pianist Benny Green, bassist Rufus Reid and Charles Mingus drummer Dannie Richmond - on one of the last recordings he made in his lifetime. Pasin worked for and studied with numerous big names, like trumpet master Carmine Caruso, noted composers Gunther Schuller, George Russell and Jaki Byard (at the New England Conservatory), Richie Beirach, Buddy Rich, the Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin big band, Victor Paz, Dizzy Gillespie, Slide Hampton and John Lewis. He also performed with Frank Wess, Conrad Herwig and local favorite, pianist Jeremy Kahn.
It is clear that the education and experience Pasin gained sunk in: originals like "Lost and Found," "It Doesn't Matter Now" and "Light at the End of the Tunnel" show his grasp of modern polyphonic techniques and an affinity for the music of masters like Monk and Mingus. Meanwhile, "Jackhammer" lives up to its name as a hard hitting burner, while the dark-toned "Enigma," a joyous cover of Rogers and Hart's "My Romance," Johnny Frigo's title track and a bewitching Latin-tinged "Island" round out this pleasurable gem. The playing by all involved is wonderful, especially the front line combination of Pasin and Slagle on trumpets (muted at times) and alto and soprano sax and flute. Green is spry, Reid steady, and it is truly great to hear the sadly under-recorded Richmond again on this record. The best part of all is Pasin has recaptured his love of playing and has returned to the music scene with the release of this record. One hopes the detour is over and we will hear more from this sweet-toned and talented trumpeter/composer.
Misha Piatigorsky - "17 Rooms"
One of the most inventive pianists of recent memory, Misha Piatigorsky returns with the entertaining and energetic 17 Rooms. Using his masterful knowledge and technique of the classical idiom as a starting point, the young composer leads his trio through pieces that combine classical, jazz and even Middle Eastern styles as they wend their way through multitudes of pleasing twists and turns. As on his Uncommon Circumstance release (see our review here, Piatigorsky is backed by the talented drummer Ari Hoenig, while Mingus Big Band bassist Boris Kozlov fills the low end. Pieces like "Open Window," the title track and "Ballade of Edward vs. Edward Opus 23" take the listener on journeys that pass through Chopin and into a personal vision of modern jazz. Wayne Shorter's "United" features the pianist humming along like Keith Jarrett, while the incendiary "Blackfire" and "Turkish Folk Song" remind one of Brubeck's forays. People expecting quietude will be surprised by the amount of combustion generated by the trio, and Piatigorsky even shows a nice and unexpected touch with the blues. The John Lennon cover ("Imagine") that ends the album seems a bit outside the rest, but functions well as the Russian-born emigre's tribute to his adopted city.
Moraine - "Manifest Destiny"
Incredible jazz chamber rock fusion from the city that gave us Starbucks and flannel. Led by guitarist Dennis Rea - whose inspired tones, inventive riffing and ingeniously twisted sounds center the production, Moraine boasts string players Ruth Davidson (cello) and Alicia Allen (violin), whose lines interweave with Rea's over Kevin Millard's bass and Jay Jaskot's drums to spawn a merger of jazz, progressive rock, classical and Chinese folk music (something Rea is an expert in). From the opening "Save the Yuppie Breeding Grounds" through the ending "Middlebrau," Moraine will intrigue and energize the listener as they obliterate all boundaries. Not for the timid, perhaps, but fans of King Crimson, Terje Rypdal and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, as well as people looking for something new and different will enjoy this powerful and intelligent music. Many great tracks, I particularly enjoy the title track and the astonishing "Kuru."
Jurgen Friedrich - "Pollock"
Painter Jackson Pollock created his art by dripping paint on canvas to create action. German pianist Jurgen Friedrich uses this as an inspiration for this fine trio outing. American bassist and drummer John Hebert and Tony Moreno interact wonderfully with Friedrich, who has a bit of Brad Mehldau and Bill Evans in his tonal palette. Whereas, Pollock's art seemed frenetic, much of this music is atmospheric and placid, but don't let that dissuade you, the interplay and creativity this group creates is organic, full of warmth and extremely listenable. The mostly original music also includes a lovely cover of Monk's "Round Midnight" and shows that a piano trio need not break the furniture to get your attention. Nuanced and full of shimmering colors and lyrical interaction.
George Benson - "Songs and Stories"
Jazz guitar superstar George Benson's metamorphosis into a smooth jazz crooner is one of the more puzzling transitions to occur in the history of modern jazz, but clearly his album sales saw a rise with the move and he truly and honestly seems to enjoy singing as much as he loves playing. On Songs and Stories, Benson recorded songs with lyrics he felt spoke to him personally, while at the same time working with some of his favorite artists and songwriters. Musicians Marcus Miller (who also coproduces with John Burk) David Paich and Steve Lukather of Toto fame, Gerald Albright, Lee Ritenour, Norman Brown, Patti Austin, Tom Scott, Greg Phillinganes, Paulinho da Costa and more assist Benson in covering songs by James Taylor ("Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight"), Donny Hathaway ("Someday We'll All Be Free"), Smokey Robinson ("One Like You"), the legendary Bill Withers (a newly-composed "A Telephone Call Away" - sung with Donny's daughter Lalah Hathaway), Joe White ("Rainy Night in Georgia" - a hit for Brook Benton), Rod Temperton ("Family Reunion") and Christopher Cross ("Sailing").
Fans of Benson's pleasant voice will be happy that he sings on every track of this polished production, but the overly smooth arrangements don't bring anything new to these tunes and fail for the most part to generate much heat. His duet with Brown on "Nothin' But a Party" is funky fun, while "One Like You" and "Family Reunion" recall Benson's "Give Me the Night"-era mix of R&B and pop, but for fans of Benson's guitar work the best tracks include "Exotica," "Rainy Night in Georgia" and Lamont Dozier's wonderful "Living in High Definition," where Benson stretches out and shows flashes of his still potent guitar mastery.
Marbin - "Marbin"
Chicago-based Israeli duo, Marbin, have released their debut album and it is an impressive soundscape created from elements of jazz, ambient, world (Mediterranean) and rock music. Reminiscent of the 1970s work of the groundbreaking group, Jade Warrior (also a duo), guitarist Dani Rabin and saxophonist Danny Markovitch's compositions slide effortlessly from one to the next through styles ranging from Eastern-influenced forays to jazzy interludes to fusion-esque rockers complete with burning slide guitar. Throughout, the two musicians (who also recorded with drummer Paul Wertico on his upcoming Chicago Sessions release) create a layered sonic atmosphere that is quite an entrancing experience for the listener. A compelling debut.
Josh Berman - "Old Idea"
Cornetist Berman is a leading light of the Chicago jazz improv scene and a member of various contingents, including the Lucky 7s, vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz's Rolldown, saxophonist Keefe Jackson's Fast Citizens and Rob Mazurek's Exploding Star Orchestra. On his debut recording as a leader (recorded in 2007 and released this year) he calls on Adasiewicz and Jackson's talents, along with bassist Anton Hatwich and former Chicago-area drummer Nori Tanaka to produce a recording that recalls Eric Dolphy's inventive work of the early '60s. The recording exudes a relaxed feel punctuated with idiosyncratic bursts, and it is clear the players have worked together often. Despite similarities in sound to the aforementioned groups, Berman's musical ideas at times seem a bit more melodic, and as such, more accessible, than his peers, and even those listeners not enthralled by going outside will find much to appreciate in this fine recording. Berman shows a lovely touch and the interplay with his close associate Jackson is great to hear (the first of three versions of "Next Year" is perfromed as a duet between the two). Meanwhile, Tanaka and Hatwich keep the rhythm churning, while Adasiewicz paints sparkling atmospherics that expand the landscape rather than compress as most chordal instruments tend to do. On Old Idea, Berman shows a keen sense of the history of the music and there are hints of the traditional poking through; and even as he writes music that seems free, there are moments that swing.
Richard Harris - "Songs From My Heart"
Not the Harris of "MacArthur Park" fame, but rather a Washington D.C.-based trumpeter, who has surrounded himself with a top notch group of musicians (the D.C. scene impresses me much the more I hear from them) and recorded an album of (mostly) standards like "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Laura," "My Funny Valentine," "When I Fall in Love," "Here's That Rainy Day" and "Smoke Gets in My Eyes." While it may be debated that another album of standards isn't really necessary, Harris' beautiful tone and heartfelt playing, along with the strong supporting cast saves the day. On top of it, Harris adds three fine originals, a Don Sebesky tune, Van Morrison's "Moondance" and ends with a shimmering "A Closer Walk With Thee." Harris suffers from the rare and incurable disease - Amyloidosis, and is donating a portion of the proceeds from the sales of his CDs to help support research, so should you decide to pick up a copy, you can have the added bonus of helping in this cause while enjoying some lush and appealing jazz music.
John Surman - "Brewster's Rooster"
British baritone saxophone veteran John Surman has been known in the past for creating everything from folk music to dance music to soundtracks to even playing with Alexis Koerner's blues band. Here he has assembled an exceptional quartet with guitarist Abercrombie, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Jack DeJohnette on a recording that is a welcome return to the more straight ahead jazz sound. Surman also plays soprano on some of the recording, which moves from peaceful vistas (on opener "Slanted Sky" and "Counter Measures") through the polyrhythmic bounce of "Hilltop Dancer," the lilting waltz of "No Finesse," the kinetic "Kickback" and odd--imed "Brewster's Rooster," the free jazz of "Haywain" through joyful album-ender "Going for a Burton."
A paced version of Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge" is a treat, and shows how slowing a tune with a great melody to a crawl can incite interest and emotion. New collaborator Gress fits right in with Abercrombie and DeJohnette - who have both worked with Surman before - and the result is a relaxed session with spirited interaction between members of the ensemble. Surman's tasteful solos on soprano are mostly smooth-edged and melodic, while his baritone is gruff; both stay well within the confines of his instruments' registers. The leader allows his guitarist and drummer many of the highlights - to which they admirably pitch in with some exceptional playing. DeJohnette is incredibly propulsive and energetic, while Abercrombie delivers sublime guitar work. A splendidly engaging output from a reputable saxman and his virtuoso cohorts.
Curt Ramm, Dan Moretti & Bill Cunliffe - "Foundations"
With Foundations, veteran first-call musicians Curt Ramm (trumpet), Dan Moretti (tenor and soprano sax) and Bill Cunliffe (keyboards), along with an "all-Marty" rhythm section of bassist Marty Ballou and drummer Marty Richards have put out a rollicking album that is one of the pleasant surprises of the year. Nothing earth-shattering or too serious here - just good old fashioned good-time music in a funky, bluesy, swinging and soulful, straight-ahead concoction that recalls the jazz of the '60s and especially the '70s. It is obvious that these players enjoy playing together and that good will spills over for the listener's benefit.
Ramm and Cunliffe cowrote 6 of the 11 tunes together, while Moretti pitches in with five of his own compositions. The songs flow nicely from one to the next and are all well-written and full of steam, with nary a ballad in the bunch. Meanwhile, all three solo wonderfully and with joyful abandon over the "Martys." Ramm soars on trumpet, Moretti delights on both tenor as well as soprano, while Cunliffe shows his skills on the Hammond B-3 and Fender Rhodes along with his usual acoustic piano. Ballou also adds electric bass at times to give the sound a '70s Crusaders/L.A. Express jazz funk feel that will keep your body moving while you listen from start to finish. It is a pleasure to hear these fine players having so much fun and I would recommend Foundations for fans of this style of jazz.