Jazz-2K: CD Picks of the Week
If the Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival and Lake George’s Jazz at the Lake got you fired up last month (and even if they didn’t), here are a few discs to stoke that fire:
“End of the Tunnel”
One of the downsides of Posi-Tone being the biggest purveyor of trad jazz today is that most of their releases are so earnest, they make your teeth hurt. There are exceptions, though: The wild free-jazz collective Tarbaby, Orrin Evans’ monumental Captain Black Big Band and this tasty re-imagining of Hammond B3-flavored party jazz. David Gibson is one of those trombone players who refuses to let the trumpet players have all the fun, so he brought together a tight little unit and had some fun of his own. The group sets a grinning tone early with Herbie Hancock’s laughing “Blind Man, Blind Man,” and all the originals that follow take their cue from that sound. Gibson’s “Sunday Morning” and keyboardist Jared Gold’s “Preachin'” have that perfect mix of blues and gospel that made Jimmy Smith records so special, “Wasabi” brings the funk in easy take-home portions, and the urgent title track has the same adrenaline rush you get from driving through the Holland Tunnel at 3am with no brakes and no traffic. Gold’s own efforts as a leader have been nothing to write home about, but put him in a sideman situation where all he has to do is bring it, and he brings the B3 into the 21st century. Throw in brutal alto sax from Julius Tolentino and Quincy Davis’ rampant drums, and there’s a happening at “End of the Tunnel.”
“Triumph of the Heavy, Vol. 1 & 2”
Just like Brad Mehldau has re-defined the piano trio, Marcus Strickland has perfected the martial art of sax-trio jazz with exemplary help from bassist Ben Williams and drummer/brother E.J. Strickland. “Volume 2” of “Triumph” confirms that without a doubt, as the band goes live and blows the roof off Firehouse 12 in New Haven. They find the sweet spot in Jaco Pastorius’ “Portrait of Tracy”, and really bust some moves on the originals “Mudbone” and “Cuspy’s Delight.” The thing is, though, can Strickland & Co. maintain their knife-edge when David Bryant brings a piano into the picture on Volume 1? Pianos soften things more often than not, but not here. Driving tracks like “Lilt,” “Bolt Bus Jitter” and “‘lectronic” shows Strickland and his regulars can get even grittier if they don’t have to worry about maintaining the foundation. God knows they can multi-task with abandon, but when they don’t have to, the music is so much more! Bryant’s not just there to keep the beat, though. He’s got a powerful solo voice of his own, and his added texture gives Strickland more colors to paint with. “Triumph” is… well, a triumph – not only because the music is undeniably brilliant, but because it proves that Strickland isn’t content to sit still.
“Mano A Mano”
Latin jazz has a habit of coming at you like Bart Scott on 3rd-and-short – that is, hard and fast and totally dedicated to knocking you flat. Michel Camilo’s played it that way himself, but not on “Mano A Mano.” Conguero Giovanni Hidalgo steps into the percussion chair where trap drums would have been banging out the beat, and that one change makes the date more intimate, more interesting and more original. Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder” is the prototype for city-centric soul jazz, but Camilo’s take here is lighter, breezier and a lot more fun. The inward-looking “Naima” finds an even deeper level of spiritualism in the John Coltrane classic, and Camilo’s deft solo lines seem to dance at Hidalgo’s encouragement. The disc does bust out on originals like “No Left Turn”, “Yes” and the title track, but making the percussion small instead of big lets Mano stand out from the standard Latin form. It’s still a party, but this time the neighbors’ china doesn’t fall off the wall.
It’s been a long time coming, but Yuko Kishimoto has finally recorded her own music as a leader. We always knew she was a great composer, thanks to the efforts of Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble and Michael Benedict Jazz Vibes. But Songbook (which was produced by Pray) shows how a classically-trained pianist can take an elegant style and successfully apply it to a medium that’s cool one second and hot the next. “All That’s Nice” is a nice little bopper, but it’s not a tone-setter, because Kishimoto’s music goes in so many directions: The lively “Humming” and the appropriately-titled “Sultry” are excellent exercises in Latin jazz; “Bow Wow Chow Mein” has a Monk-ish angularity that swings in its own sweet way; and the swirling “Nowhere in the World” has a questing vibe reminiscent of Horace Silver. Kishimoto’s quartet jazz is right in Lee Russo’s wheelhouse, and his reed work simply glows. John Menegon’s bass is fat and juicy, and drummer Conor Meehan’s embroidery is almost as riveting as when he brings the noise on the multi-layered “Elements.” We may have lost her here in the Capital Region (Damn you, State Department! Damn yoooooooooooo…), but with any luck, “Songbook” will take Yuko Kishimoto to a great many places.
Rudresh Mahanthappa’s mash-up of Indian Carnatic folk styles and Western jazz aesthetics was a revelation for a lot of people during Apex’ titanic set at Jazz at the Lake. Samdhi takes that sound one step beyond by morphing the mixture from acoustic to electric. Don’t worry, it’s not as violent as Dylan at Newport: If anything, the joyful white light that streams from Mahanthappa’s music is even brighter. David Gilmore’s shredding guitar matches Mahanthappa’s fire-breathing alto volt for volt. They duel like musketeers on the snarling – and schizophrenic – “Breakfastlunchdinner”, and the two of them flying formation on the melody to “Killer” is absolutely devastating. If you want more action in the octagon, try “Meeting of the Skins”, the breathtaking duel between percussionist “Anand” Anantha Krishnan and drummer Damion Reid (who played drums for Apex at Lake George). Mahanthappa introduces loops and effects into his arsenal, but doesn’t overuse them, saving the biggest bang for the dizzying “Parakram #2.” The disc’s title refers to a period of two ages, when one dawns and another passes. Whether “Samdhi” is a one-time thing or a sign of Mahanthappa’s creative direction from now on, count me in either way!
Reviews by J Hunter
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