Jazz Consumer Guide (6):
All sorts of big ideas about how today's jazz fits into history and maybe into popular culture
by Tom Hull
This article is an unpublished draft.
On first approximation, this is a piano trio with Steve Lehman playing
the bass parts on alto and sopranino sax, where they take on a life of
their own. Lehman has such a strained, narrow tone that his work tends
to duck behind the piano, anchoring the rhythm and painting the background.
But then the pianist is Vijay Iyer, who can lead by the sheer force of
his percussiveness and has a knack for putting the finishing touches on
whatever Lehman and drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee throw at him.
DENNIS GONZÁLEZ'S SPIRIT MERIDIAN
The good doctor's prescription for a country "sick with Bush" is "Bush
Medicine" -- a delightful calypso fragment recalling "St. Thomas" with
an Ornette twist, but fractured into discrete bits. Small pleasures,
take them when you can. Oliver Lake's playfulness enhances González's
spiritfulness, while the rhythm section keeps things loose. Of course,
Bush Medicine is only a palliative. A cure starts with surgery, and
the rehabilitation is likely to be slow and wrenching, with so much
damage to be undone, and so much that cannot be undone.
An appropriate title, especially since he's already used *Solid*.
His one original is a feisty piece that lets him show off his huge
tone and plentiful chops. Then he works through the covers, a range
of postbop swing including one by his redoubtable pianist Harold
Mabern and a pair by Lerner and Loewe that he takes to the races.
The center of the mainstream, but far from dead.
SCOTT AMENDOLA BAND
This turns the Nels Cline Singers on their head, adding Jeff Parker's
sweet guitar to Cline's sour, reinforcing the string sound with Jenny
Scheinman's violin. Amendola supplements his drums with electronics,
for groove and textures you'd have to be hard of hearing to reduce to
PIERRE DŘRGE & NEW JUNGLE ORCHESTRA
*Dancing Cheek to Cheek*
Two nods to tin pan alley: "Cheek to Cheek" done Louis/Ella style,
except that this Louis is Ray Anderson; and "Body and Soul" slowed
to a savory crawl by Josephine Cronholm. The rest of the album is
Afro-Danish big band, griots and pennywhistles, references to Mingus
and Sun Ra, and a Dukish impression of Jakarta. Dřrge, like his
Jungle Music idol, plays orchestra, but when the occasion calls
for it he also fills in smartly on guitar.
Granelli's music, constructed from clarinets and baritone sax, guitars
and cello, has a spare windswept quality well suited to Rinde Eckert's
plain-spoken words about Billy the Kid and the Sand Hills of Nebraska.
The words make you think, as with the story of a sheriff who quit after
shooting a man, troubled not by regret but how certain he was that he
was in the right: "It's a dangerous thing that kind of certainty. I
believe doubt is what keeps us sane. Without it a man becomes a monster."
The byword on Hall is subtle, but this live trio anchored by bassist
Scott Colley provokes the veteran guitarist to reveal if not himself
at least his bag of tricks: bright lines that take off from Colley's
contrasting bass, tight chords that compress the rhythm, effects that
synthesize a nimble sax on Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas."
*The Peace Between Our Companies*
This starts with the trio's signature sound, drums so sharp and loud
they rip right through you. The drummer is Dave King, better known for
his other band, the Bad Plus. While the latter prides itself as an
*acoustic* piano trio, this one rides happily on Erik Fratzke's electric
bass, with multireedist Michael Lewis adding a voice. The pieces alternate
between hard and soft. In soft mode they go for avant-scratch; in hard
mode Lewis rocks Ayler/Coltrane while King knocks your socks off.
Led by the drummer, but Guadeloupean Jacques Schwarz-Bart could write
a book on state-of-the-art tenor sax, and French pianist Jean-Michel
Pilc can dazzle even when he's dutifully helping out. Recorded live at
Fat Cat, it sneaks up on you, like the realization that you've just
had a real good time.
*Meets Ray Anderson*
When they turn up the heat the Danish guitar-organ-drums trio is more
rockish than its soul jazz avatars. And when they dial it down they're
knee deep in the blues. Neither trait is all that remarkable, but their
meeting with the trombone master was inspired. After all, Anderson's
first language is gutbucket, so when he growls and groans he delivers
the dirt this band needs. But he can improvise on their grind, punching
out lightning solos then diving back into the grime.
Fresh Sound New Talent
This piano trio moves slowly but efficiently, like a team of rock
climbers negotiating difficult terrain. Teamwork matters because
Lossing's compositions leave many variables to be resolved on the
RAVISH MOMIN'S TRIO TARANA
*Climbing the Banyan Tree*
Indian percussion, Chinese violin, Middle Eastern oud -- released in
Lisbon, but recorded in that old melting pot, Brooklyn. Note that
Jason Kao Hwang and Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz are U.S. natives, and
the leader is a Hyderabadi student of the *north* Indian classical
tradition who went to Carnegie Mellon. That none of the three are
too deeply rooted in their ethnicity lets them join together as a
distinctive jazz group rather than limiting them to exotic fusion.
*ONE MORE: MUSIC OF THAD JONES*
A bebopper who never lost his first love for big bands, Jones is
remembered mostly for his compositions and arrangements, less so
for his quirkily unpolished trumpet. After his death, his famous
brothers, Hank and Elvin, recorded a loving tribute called *Upon
Reflection* (Verve). With a dream band listed alphabetically from
Bob Brookmeyer to Frank Wess, this one deserves a place on the
In fifteen years on a major label, Osby has pursued all sorts of big
ideas, especially about how today's jazz fits in history and might fit
into popular culture, but his albums raised more problems than they
resolved. This one delivers, largely because his ambitions here are
formally constrained within jazz itself. In a trio with bass and
drums, Osby wants more than to show off his chops. He wants to make
music that precludes any felt need for harmony. That would be old
hat in the free world but demands uncommon discipline in the postbop
*To Etta With Love*
That's Etta Jones, not James. While the songbooks overlap, and both
did Billie Holiday tributes, Jones never played with dynamite. Nor
does Person, who produced Jones' records from 1975 to her death in
2001, often adding his own soulful sax. On his own, he delivers the
most poignant ballad album of a long career's worth of sax balladry --
perhaps because he's got an excuse for picking sureshot songs, or
perhaps because he's entitled.
Dud of the Month
*Have You Heard*
With his degree from Art Blakey's Hard Bop U. and a masters thesis on
Joe Henderson, Jackson cut a series of mainstream tenor sax albums for
Blue Note that started out impressive and wound down redundant. Since
then he's tried to refashion himself as a soul jazzer with a dash of
funk, but fails at both. He doesn't have the grit to suggest he
staggered into a bar straight from church, and sidekicks Dr. Lonnie
Smith and Mark Whitfield don't have enough gravity to land on dirt.
Lisa Fischer moans and hectors about it being "funky in here," but
nobody in the band notices.
Additional Consumer News
TRIOT WITH JOHN TCHICAI
As when Johnny Dyani's township jive bursts out of the dominant gray
and ominous matrix.
THE NELS CLINE SINGERS
*The Giant Pin*
No vocals, but the power trio plays heavy metal jazz, replete with
BENOIT DELBECQ UNIT
Congo drums and piano dance polyrhythms with sax and viola textures.
FRED LONBERG-HOLM TRIO
Cello-bass-drums, the leader solid and surprisingly mellow.
*The Spirits Up Above*
A robust mainstreaming of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, but Kirk went further
out than anyone here.
JAMES FINN TRIO
*Plaza de Toros*
Living by his wits, with momentary flashes of Spanish bravado.
*The Hills Have Jazz*
Skewed guitar swings on Basie, hops on Coltrane, doodles on Sun Ra.
Faith, hope, charity, a fight for life that isn't a kneejerk slogan.
DUO NUEVA FINLANDIA
Piano-bass improvs by Eero Ojanen and Teppo Hauta-aho, who've played
together forty years -- tight, but never sweet.
Louis Prima's straight lady steals his best songs, cops his best
*New Folk, New Blues*
Not least of all, new new thing.
TORD GUSTAVSEN TRIO
Quiet, almost sedentary piano trio, but remarkably patient and
These are short reviews of records that don't fit into the Jazz
Consumer Guide proper. These will be published on the web somewhere
once the above column is published.
THE DAVID S. WARE QUARTETS
*Live in the World* [1998-2003]
Three discs, three concerts, three drummers. Aside from the drummers,
the Ware Quartet is the longest running small group in history. Ware
almost never works outside of the group, but his cohorts, William
Parker and Matthew Shipp, have distinguished careers in their own
right, and their own stardom gets more play in these looser concert
gigs than on the studio albums. Looking back, the energy jolt that
arrived with Susie Ibarra and the shift to electronics heralded by
Guillermo E. Brown may have been side-effects of the maturation of
the three mainstays. That the drummers matter less is made clear
on the date with the redoubtable Hamid Drake sitting, and merely