Jazz Consumer Guide (9):
Avant or retro, unplugged or wired, guerrilla musicians
defy the neocon millennium
by Tom Hull
BERNARDO SASSETTI TRIO²: Ascent (Clean Feed)
The superscript implies a piano trio raised to a higher power, but
here Sassetti uses cello and vibes to lower the energy--the vibes
add mere ghost harmonics to his piano, the cello a sweeter, more
wistful bass. Some of this was written for soundtracks, which
explains its pensive moods, and why the pieces that pick up volume
and speed never threaten to fly loose. This music fits into no
known jazz tradition. It's more like Eno's Another Green
World-- unplugged. A
IRÈNE SCHWEIZER: Portrait [1984-2004] (Intakt)
Nothing in this year's bumper crop of solo piano is anywhere near
as robust as the three solo cuts on this sampler from 14 albums.
Eight duos, mostly with drummers, impress even more. The Swiss free
jazz pioneer's straight rhythmic undertow rivals Jarrett's, and her
pianistics challenge Cecil Taylor's. But as Schweizer demonstrates
on the longest piece ("First Meeting," with trombonist George
Lewis), her real talent is her spontaneous response to the
challenges of such minuscule aggregations. One of the few
compilations ever that makes me want to hear every single one of
the source albums. A
THE HARRY ALLEN-JOE COHN QUARTET: Hey, Look Me Over (Arbors)
Given that Cohn is Al's son, you might figure this for a tribute.
Indeed, Dad's songbook looms large on what remains an exceptionally
well-rounded Allen showcase, There are nods to Getz and Webster,
but both the lift of his jump shot and the ease of his balladry are
distinctly his own. The son's guitar sets an unobtrustive groove,
and the Charlie Christian feature shows how comfortable he can be
in old clothes. Like Allen. A MINUS
NIK BÄRTSCH'S RONIN: Stoa (ECM)
Citing James Brown as well as Kurosawa, Bärtsch's "Zen-funk" is
minimalism that doesn't risk inscrutability by sticking too long in
one groove. Built from repeating piano figures with clarinet, bass,
and a double dose of percussion for springworks, these "modules"
improvise not note by note but section by unexpected section.
THE CLAUDIA QUINTET: Semi-Formal (Cuneiform)
Leader John Hollenbeck is a drummer, so it isn't a surprise that
the pieces are all rhythm studies and the band has to play along
with him. Although the soft tones--accordion, clarinet, vibes--still
predominate, the textures have loosened up since 2004's I
Claudia, even incorporating a bit of pedal steel. But the most
welcome innovation comes when Chris Speed reminds us that he also
plays a mean tenor sax. A MINUS
GARAGE A TROIS: Outre Mer (Telarc)
Two percussionists, Charlie Hunter guitar, and Skerik sax work
through a soundtrack's worth of moods and atmosphere, all smartly
anchored and acutely detailed. Suitable for background, painless if
you happen to tune in, not so ebullient it wears you out. So
simple--it's what jazz-funk fusion should sound like, or would in
a world free of kitchen-sink production and opportunistic cross-
promotion. A MINUS
MONCEF GENOUD: Aqua (Savoy Jazz)
A blind pianist from Tunisia via Switzerland hooks up with bassist
Scott Colley and drummer Bill Stewart for an album that swims in
the mainstream but offers a few unexpected twists: a "Summertime"
that loses the melody, a Coltrane piece that radically shifts time.
When Michael Brecker guests on three cuts, and Dee Dee Bridgewater
sings "Lush Life" to close, it's more than marketing for once. The
sax rises organically from the mix, and the vocal closes on a
poignant note. A MINUS
STEVE LEHMAN: Demian as Posthuman (Pi)
Twelve short pieces, structured like a bridge with communities on
both ends bracketing duo pieces where Lehman plays alto against his
own programming and Tyshawn Sorey's drums. Dense and cerebral, with
no wasted motion. A MINUS
MARIO PAVONE SEXTET: Deez to Blues (Playscape)
Pavone describes his music as upside down: the bass and piano set
the melody while the horns and violin countermove. Pavone's bass is
certainly at the center of everything, the core force that drives
the piano and drums of long-time comrades Peter Madsen and Michael
Sarin, while perturbing Steven Bernstein's trumpets, Howard
Johnson's bass horns, and Charles Burnham's violin more
erratically. The complexity, even on "Second-Term Blues," is
wondrous. A MINUS
BOB ROCKWELL QUARTET: Bob's Ben: A Salute to Ben Webster
An undeniable pleasure -- if anything, too easy. Rockwell's a
mainstream tenor saxman who moved to Copenhagen in 1983, two
decades after Webster, and settled into a respected if
unspectacular career. He has the master's broad tone but none of
his vibrato, so he keeps a respectful distance while luxuriating in
a dozen ballads. A MINUS
ALEXANDER VON SCHLIPPENBACH: Monk's Casino (Intakt)
Three discs storm through the complete works--the 70 pieces Monk
wrote mostly early, then rehashed as long as he lived without ever
coming close to exhausting their twists and turns. Schlippenbach,
like Monk, refrains from extemporizing, letting the horns grapple
with the melodies. But where Monk usually featured tenor sax, this
quintet spreads out with Axel Dörner on trumpet and Rudi Mahall on
bass clarinet. They're also likely to rush the tempo and/or get a
bit noisy, but even after three decades of post-Monk hermeneutics
they're still in thrall to the text. A
SONNY SIMMONS: The Traveller (Jazzaway)
Sonny goes to Norway, hooking up with Anders Aarum's piano trio and
a string quartet conducted by veteran flautist Vidar Johansen.
Ordinary in themselves, the string arrangements set Simmons so at
ease that he plays with unforeseen grace and clarity. It helps that
Aarum's solos spell him, not least because of how they advance the
music. A MINUS
MIGUEL ZENÓN: Jíbaro (Marsalis Music/Rounder)
This starts out as the music of Puerto Rico's countryside, a thick
stew of Arabic and African roots, its seasoning crossed with
elements from Cuba and points south. But Zenón isn't tempted by
folk instruments or traditional melodies. He maps the extraordinarily
complex rhythms onto standard jazz piano-bass-drums, then improvises
fast, jaunty alto sax lines in lieu of the usual vocalist.
Dud of the Month
TAYLOR EIGSTI: Lucky to Be Me (Concord)
Concord's latest youth pitch at the Adult Contemporary market
looks like the Mod Squad scrubbed up for the neocon millennium:
blonde ingenue Erin Boheme, black trumpeter Christian Scott, and
this slightly scruffy white pianist. All three have talent, of
course--Eigsti is a 21-year-old prodigy on his third album, clearly
a hot property. But they wouldn't have gotten all that hair and
skin budget, not to mention all that advertising, if they looked as
geeky as Steve Lehman. The music is groomed, too: Eigsti gets two
top bass-drums tandems and plenty of cover--Coltrane, Björk,
Porter, Mussorgsky, the Sopranos theme song--for his scrawny
originals. B MINUS
SONNY SIMMONS: The Complete ESP-Disk' Recordings
Kicking off a great career, give or take 20 years in hell.
MARC JOHNSON: Shades of Jade (ECM)
If Eliane Elias's label insists she play the pop star, she'll
release her serious work under hubby's name.
GIANLUCA PETRELLA: Indigo 4 (Blue Note)
A constructive traditionalist, working from Ellington through Sun
Ra, willing to get his trombone dirty.
BEN GOLDBERG QUINTET: The Door, the Hat, the Chair, the Fact
Steve Lacy as Zen master, or Dr. Seuss, with Kenny Clarke the cat
with the hat.
EXPLODING CUSTOMER: Live at Tampere Jazz Happening (Ayler)
Swedish freebop quartet, two horns performing aerial acrobatics,
and the usual great drummer--in this case, Kjell Nordeson.
JAMIE DAVIS: It's a Good Thing (Unity Music)
Count Basie's ghost band, Joe Williams's ghost singer.
JASON KAO HWANG: Graphic Evidence (Asian Improv)
A Chinese tinge to the violin, as Francis Wong's soprano sax looks
east from Coltrane to come full circle.
ANTONIO ARNEDO: Colombia (Adventure Music)
Folk instruments, trad tunes, toned down Barbieri-ish sax, beats by
RAY BARRETTO: Time Was - Time Is (O+ Music)
Another memoir of bebop's Spanish tinge--the congalero's last.
BOB BELDEN: Three Days of Rain (Sunnyside)
A soundtrack for Chekhov in Cleveland, with Joe Lovano to keep you
snug and warm.
BRENT JENSEN: Trios (Origin)
Standard curriculum, but the alto saxophonist aces his orals.
STRING TRIO OF NEW YORK WITH OLIVER LAKE: Frozen Ropes
They spar mostly, but find common ground on "Texas Koto Blues."
RAY RUSSELL: Goodbye Svengali (Cuneiform)
A fusion guitarist remembers his own personal Gil Evans.
JIMMY AMADIE TRIO: Let's Groove! A Tribute to Mel Tormé
The pianist's Tormé is less the point than guest Phil Woods
channeling Benny Carter.
KENNY WHEELER: What Now? (Cam Jazz)
The mild man of Europe's avant-garde in a drumless all-star
ANDREW LAMB & WARREN SMITH: The Dogon Duo (Engine)
Not o0nly does this $6.79-list CD boast the cheapest packaging I've
ever seen, there's nothing bogus in the duets either.
JAMES CARTER/CYRUS CHESTNUT/ALI JACKSON/REGINALD VEAL: Gold
Sounds (Brown Brothers)
JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER'S AFRO-LATIN JAZZ ORCHESTRA: Noche
This table provides a working guide to how the JCG is shaping up.
This does not include anything moved to bk-flush: these include items
relegated to Surplus, reviewed in Recycled Goods, or just passed over.
Entries in black are written, gray graded but
not written, red ungraded but with prospect
notes (all these are at the bottom of their approximate grade levels,
alphabetized). A-list, B-list and Duds are alphabetical; HM lists are
ranked, with breaks for three-two-one stars.
- Bernardo Sassetti Trio²: Ascent (Clean Feed) A
- Irène Schweizer: Portrait (1984-2004, Intakt) A
- The Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet: Hey, Look Me Over (Arbors) A-
- Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Stoa (ECM) A-
- The Claudia Quintet: Semi-Formal (Cuneiform) A-
- Garage A Trois: Outre Mer (Telarc) A-
- Moncef Genoud: Aqua (Savoy Jazz) A-
- Steve Lehman: Demian as Posthuman (Pi) A-
- Mario Pavone Sextet: Deez to Blues (Playscape) A-
- Bob Rockwell: Bob's Ben: A Salute to Ben Webster (Stunt) A-
- Alexander von Schlippenbach: Monk's Casino (Intakt) A-
- Sonny Simmons: The Traveller (Jazzaway) A-
- Miguel Zenón: Jíbaro (Marsalis Music/Rounder) A-
- Sonny Simmons: The Complete ESP-Disk' Recordings (1966, ESP-Disk)
- Marc Johnson: Shades of Jade (ECM)
- Gianluca Petrella: Indigo 4 (Blue Note)
- Ben Goldberg Quintet: The Door, the Hat, the Chair, the Fact (Cryptogramophone)
- Exploding Customer: Live at Tampere Jazz Happening (Ayler)
- Jamie Davis: It's a Good Thing (Unity Music)
- Jason Kao Hwang: Graphic Evidence (Asian Improv)
- Antonio Arnedo: Colombia (Adventure Music)
- Ray Barretto: Time Was - Time Is (O+ Music)
- Bob Belden: Three Days of Rain (Original Soundtrack) (Sunnyside)
- Brent Jensen: Trios (Origin)
- String Trio of New York With Oliver Lake: Frozen Ropes (Barking Hoop)
- Ray Russell: Goodbye Svengali (Cuneiform)
- Jimmy Amadie Trio: Let's Groove! A Tribute to Mel Tormé (TP)
- Kenny Wheeler: What Now? (Cam Jazz)
- Andrew Lamb/Warren Smith: The Dogon Duo (Engine)
- Taylor Eigsti: Lucky to Be Me (Concord) B-
- James Carter/Cyrus Chestnut/Ali Jackson/Reginald Veal: Gold Sounds (Brown Brothers)
- Jazz at Lincoln Center's Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra With Arturo O'Farrill: Noche Inolvidable (Palmetto)
Album count: 32; Word count: 1549 (graded 14: 1178; additional 18: 371).
I try to write up an informal note on every jazz record I hear the
first (or sometimes second) time I play it. Those notes are collected
over the course of a week, then posted in the blog. They are also
The surplus file collects final notes
when I decide that I cannot realistically keep a record under active
consideration for the Jazz Consumer Guide. These notes are mostly
written at the end of a JCG cycle and posted to the blog when the
column is printed. In effect, they are the extended copy to the
column. There are various reasons for this. For especially good
records, it is often because Francis Davis or someone else has
already reviewed it and my two cents would be redundnat. For old
music it is often because I wrote something in Recycled Goods and
figure that was enough. Sometimes good records have just gotten
old. Most of the time the records aren't all that interesting
anyway. I can handle 25-30 records per column. It just doesn't
make sense for me to keep more than 60-80 graded records in the
active list at the start of a new cycle. In many cases, I decide
the prospecting notes or Recycled Goods review suffices, so note
that in the file.
All pending records have been moved forwards.