Jazz 2K: CD Picks of the Week

Reviews by J Hunter

Five more discs to check out, but don’t do it for me – do it for the people at your Saturday night deck party who’ll say, “Dude! This music is AMAZING!!”

Kenny Garrett: Seeds from the Underground
“Seeds from the Underground”
(Mack Avenue)
It’s a chicken-or-the-egg thing: Is it Kenny Garrett’s dynamic, diamond-hard post-bop that makes him so sensational, or his ability to consistently break the sound barrier while he does it? We get more of the former than the latter on “Seeds,” the Detroit saxman’s first studio disc in six years, but that’s because Garrett’s focus is delivering some sublime shout-outs to people and places that loom large in his life. Darrell Waltrip may have co-opted the phrase “Boogety Boogety,” but Garrett’s ripping opener is a nod to his own dad using that phrase whenever they watched westerns during Garrett’s youth. We get three celebrations for the price of one with “Do-Wo-Mo” (Duke, Woody and Monk), plus some brilliant portraits inspired by Jackie McLean, Keith Jarrett and Garrett’s mentor Marcus Belgrave. But that’s the professional side of Garrett; on the personal side, he gives a grateful nod to his high-school band director with the Latin cruiser “Wiggins,” while the haunting ballad “Detroit” is on the same level as Stan Getz’ “The Peacocks” when it comes to longing for something that’s gone. Garrett’s band is tight as a drum, even though Nedelka Prescod’s vocals are superfluous at best. Benito Gonzalez’s piano is right on point, particularly during the Coltrane-esque raver “Welcome Earth Song,” and percussionist Rudy Bird teams up with bassist Nat Reeves and drummer Ronald Bruner to give Garrett a great canvas to paint these bright, loving pictures of the people that helped make him what he is today.

Bill Bartin/Wil Blades: Shimmy
(Royal Potato Family)
Duet dates are usually soft, intimate things, because two instruments can only go so far, right? So much for THAT truism! Billy Martin and Wil Blades amply demonstrate that two instruments will go as far (and as well) as you can ride them, as the Medeski Martin & Wood rhythm devil and the San Francisco keyboardist hit the organ-jazz sub-genre right in the mouth. Anyone familiar with “A Go Go” (MMW’s monstrous jam date with John Scofield) will recognize driving pieces like “Deep in a Fried Pickle” and the and-like-that-BOOM-it’s-gone opener “Brother Bru,” while the righteous take on the traditional “Down by the Riverside” is right up there with MMW’s delicious work-up of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say.” But jazz and R&B went into a blender long before most jam-banders were on this earth, and Martin & Blades do the “We’re not worthy” move to two of the best groovers in the Hall of Fame, sax fiend Eddie Harris and keyboardist Les McCann – first with a bouncing version of Harris’ “Mean Greens,” and then with the monster original “Les & Eddie.” Most B3 dates have some kind of foil on hand, like sax or guitar, but Martin & Blades’ solo voices are so strong and their chemistry is so locked in, adding any other players would have been like pouring nacho cheese on an In’n’Out double-double, Animal style: Completely unnecessary (and maybe a little disgusting). “Shimmy” is the real deal, Neal! Turn it up, and get ready to dance!

Jerome Sabbagh: Plugged In
“Plugged in”
(Bee Jazz)
There’s only one thing better than Hammond B3: That’s the dirty, nasty, greasy, fuzzy-like-a-caterpillar Fender Rhodes Jozef Dumoulin gifts Jerome Sabbagh with on the French reedman’s fifth disc as a leader. Sabbagh’s velvet tenor draws you into the medium-cool opener “Drive,” and his solo gets the piece’s swirl going at a very sweet pace, but then the Belgian keyboardist roars in like a freight train through a glass factory with a break that will have you howling – even if you’re the only one in the room. “Special K” brings the pace of the disc down a gear, but Dumoulin is still in outer space at the time, and that’s why this ballad is not like the others. The 14 tracks are split between Sabbagh originals and Dumoulin originals, which allows you to see the duo’s respective approaches: Sabbagh’s music is more lyric-based, while Dumoulin’s stuff has a free-wheeling, experimental vibe that goes with his otherworldly sound, and it’s all tied together by the muscular foundation of bassist Patrice Blanchard and drummer Rudy Royston (who gave Tia Fuller’s 2011 Nippertown appearances a rock-solid backstop). When the two approaches come together – most notably on the heartfelt ballad “Ronny,” the glorious assault of “UR” and the closer “Slow Rock Ballad” (which is anything but) – it’s addition-by-destruction, and it’s a beautiful thing to behold. Sabbagh’s “Jeli” is a tuneful dancer from the heart of an African shanty town, while “City Dawn” greets another day in the big city with a smile and a bring-it-on attitude. “City” is bracketed by “Boulevard Carnot” and “Walk 3 Bis,” two Dumoulin explorations into rubato and all the fun you can have with it. This is what fusion should be doing instead of revisiting the ’70s and ’80s – AGAIN!!!!

Third World Love: Songs and Portraits
“Songs and Portraits”
(Anzic Records)
Here’s literal proof jazz is world music: Third World Love, one of the innumerable things on trumpeter/SFJAZZ Collective Artistic Director Avishai Cohen’s PDA. This isn’t a side project, either: This band’s been together nearly ten years, packing concert venues in Israel and Europe. And like Brubeck and Satch exported jazz to the Middle East in the ’50s, TWL is exporting the African and Arabic sounds this phenomenal quartet listened to in their formative years. The opener “Im Ninalu” is a traditional Jewish Yemenite theme that slowly morphs into a smoky mid-tempo piece reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s Blue Note period, and Yonatan Avishai’s stellar piano work lives up to that parallel throughout “Songs and Portraits.” Daniel Freedman (drummer for another brilliant Cohen, reed monster Anat Cohen) shows he’s as accomplished a composer as he is a percussionist with the Senegal-inspired “Song for Sakoum” and the dizzying ballad “Alona” – which can also be heard on Freedman’s own, tremendous leader date “Bamako by Bus.” Bassist Omer Avital’s own disc “Suite of the East” didn’t float my boat, but that was because it wilted like a parched rose bush in the face of TWL. Avital’s mid-Songs “suite” starts with an in-the-clear solo that mixes Middle Eastern spiritualism with a flamenco sensibility, and all of it leads beautifully into the stunning “Sefarid” (the ancient Jewish name for Spain); his swirling “The Abutbuls” lets Cohen give us another taste of the effects he used so well on SFJAZZ’ recent Stevie Wonder tribute. Every time I think jazz’ tapestry can’t get brighter or richer, somebody like Third World Love comes along to prove me wrong… and (in this case, anyway) I LOVE being wrong!

Adam Kronelow Trio: Young Blood
“Young Blood”
(Zoho Music)
Zoho is one of the leading purveyors of Latin jazz in the world today, giving us tremendous music from artists like pianist Arturo O’Farrill, multi-instrumentalist Hendrik Meurkens and (as seen in our last episode) guitarist Oscar Castro-Nieves. So where did this devastating trad-cum-avant piano trio come from? Who knows? Who cares? (I know after recovering from the opening onslaught “Black Mamba.”) However it happened, Farrill is the producer on “Young Blood,” and his strategy seems to have been to just roll tape and let these kids go… and DAMN, didn’t it work out well! It makes sense Kronelow would cover “Brilliant Corners,” since there’s a ton of Monk the Explorer in his uncompromising approach. Given that the juggernaut “Bushido” was inspired by Kromelow’s 13 years of karate training, it’d be easy to make jokes about the piano lying in splinters after the date. But Kronelow is just as accomplished at catching flies in his palm as he is at breaking boards, as we see in his thoughtful take on Lennon & McCartney’s “Across the Universe” and his expansive version of Peter Gabriel’s “Mercy Street.” Kronelow’s name may be on the masthead, but it’s the adamantine group aesthetic that answers why this trio jazz is not like the others. Kronelow links with bassist Raviv Markowitz and drummer Jason Burger to form an undeniable force. The soaring closer “Upgrade” definitely leaves a mark, and left me huddled in the fetal position, repeatedly muttering, “Thank you, sir. May I have another?”

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