Jazz-2K: CD Picks of the Week
Reviews by J Hunter
Five sets of new music — and one newly-discovered gold mine — that are (almost) completely piano-centric:
THE VIJAY IYER TRIO
The cute way to describe Vijay Iyer’s music is “math jazz” – partly because the pianist has a degree in mathematics from Yale, but mostly because his music seems to favor the head over the heart. However, the critical phrase in that last sentence is “seems.” Iyer says he experiences music “on a visceral level,” and that makes sense, given the inspiration for “Accelerando” is movement and dance, which can be as visceral as it gets. The bombastic title track is the last movement of a suite Iyer composed for choreographer Karole Armitage, and if you close your eyes, you can see troupes of dancers flying across an imaginary stage to every track on the disc – from the subtly swinging “Wildflower” to Iyer’s frenetic take on Henry Threadgill’s “Little Pocket Size Demons.” This band should be called “the Vijay Iyer Unit,” because the chemistry Iyer shares with bassist Steven Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore is unparalleled, and the music is all the better for it. They even improve on the thoughtful version of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” that Iyer did on his last disc “Solo.” Genius, I tells ya! Genius!
They always say “Don’t meet your heroes” because the reality is never as good as the picture in your mind. But thanks to a suggestion by his bandleader Ravi Coltrane, Luis Perdomo not only met iconic drummer Jack DeJohnette, he also got DeJohnette to join him and bassist Drew Gress on a razor-sharp set that bathes all three players in a divinely compelling light. DeJohnette’s solo work on Joe Henderson’s “Tetragon” rocks, but Perdomo’s attack throughout the piece is on that same level. The two-part suite “Unified Path” puts drummer and pianist in a duet situation, with riveting results, and DeJohnette (a pianist himself) brings his own dynamic composition “Tin Can Alley” to the party. It’s a great gesture, but it’s not like Perdomo lacks material: The self-explanatory “Rebellious Contemplation” and the evocative “Above the Storm” shows Perdomo is as good a composer as he is a pianist, and that’s a pretty high water mark to match. But match it he does on “Universal Mind,” and he does it with a hero.
“The Eleventh Hour”
If you saw Kenny Barron at A Place for Jazz last fall, you know what percussive brilliance drummer Johnathan Blake can conjure up, both in solo and support. And that’s all very well, but what kind of game does he have when it’s his own ass on the line? As it happens, Blake’s got MAD game as a leader, as we see from this crackling debut disc – and the disc literally crackles, as Blake dubs scratchy vinyl effects over the attention-getting opening title track. The music on “Eleventh” shows Blake’s roots with former bandleader Tom Harrell (who guests on his own “Blue News” and Blake’s grooving “Time to Kill”), while acknowledging that Blake’s mindset is decidedly of his own era. He gets help on the latter distinction from piano wunderkind Robert Glasper, who teams up with Kevin Hays to give the date some world-class keyboards. From Art Blakey to Tain Watts, drummers have made some the genre’s best leaders, and this generation may have found one of its own. Cool.
Anyone whose frame of reference for Tania Maria is wild tracks like “Sangria” might be brought up short by this nuanced set of duets with venerable bassist Eddie Gomez. There are no savage percussion breaks, no warp-speed scat-singing, no get-up-outta-your-seat histrionics of any kind. Instead, we’ve got two veteran players showing us how much beauty there can be in moderation. Maria’s vocals come from a perspective that’s seen it all and done it twice, and has no need to prove anything to anyone. She finds every inch of romance in Jobim’s “A Chuva Caiu” and every bit of relish in Erasmo Carlos’ “Sentado a Beira do Caminho.” Maria’s piano lines are both elegant and crisp as she dances with Gomez, whose solos on Bruno Martino’s melancholy “Estate” and Maria’s bluesy “Yeah Man” shows he’s every bit as lyrical as the woman he’s playing with. A lovely palate-cleanser for anyone needing a break from sound and fury.
“The Aquarian Suite”
(Brooklyn Jazz Underground)
Okay, there’s no piano here, but there’s just no way I could sit on this disc any longer! Blake, the saxman for Julian Lage’s stellar group, gets out and stretches on a piano-free quartet date that shows Blake’s devastating range as player and composer. The opening “The Whistler” lays a groundwork tmade up of equal parts of Monk and Mingus while rocking lines that are completely original. Fellow Lage Group member Jorge Roeder’s bass is a robust anchor as Blake teams up with trumpeter Jason Palmer to stretch the outside of the envelope until that sucker is fit to burst. “How It’s Done” flips from a hushed duet between Roeder and drummer Richie Barshay to an all-out screamfest, “Mister Who” rips through time changes like I rip through wine bottles, and “You Cry So Pretty” morphs from droning tone poem to tearful ballad in the blink of an eye. More challenging music from BJU, fomenting jazz revolution from the other side of the East River.
And now here’s another Jazz2K… (Insert sound effect)… BLAST FROM THE PAST!
“Live in Baden, Switzerland”
In contrast to the bootleg quality of last month’s Blast, the sound on this gem from one of Canada’s leading jazzers is tight as a drum, and so is this heavyweight piano trio featuring bassist Reggie Johnson and drummer Ed Thigpen. Recorded in 1990 during “Piano Night” at Arid Wideroe’s Jazz In Der Aula festival, Jones keeps it classic all down the line, following a burning opening run on Rodgers & Hart’s “Falling in Love with Love” with a transcendent take on Johnny Mercer’s “Emily.” We also get great Jones originals like “Blues for Helen” and “Snuggles,” but it’s on the standards where Jones shines: He takes us on a lovely tour of George Gershwin’s songbook with a solo medley Woody Allen could have used in “Manhattan”; he draws every bit of loneliness out of Monk’s “Round Midnight”, and ends the night on a rousing note with Oscar Peterson’s bright gospel “Hymn to Freedom.” Beauty, eh? (And I do mean “beauty.”)