JAZZ 2K: CD Picks of the Week
Reviews by J Hunter
Okay. Now that Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival and the Skidmore Summer Jazz Institute have passed, the only logical thing to do is throw a little more jazz (and a few more releases) into the air:
JOE LOCKE/GEOFFREY KEEZER QUARTET
Webster’s defines “synergy” as “the interaction of elements that, when combined, produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements.” Someone needs to start lobbying Webster’s to put pictures of Joe Locke and Geoffrey Keezer next to the definition, because when Locke’s vibes combine with Keezer’s keys (both electric and acoustic), the resulting sound is something totally next-level and indescribably beautiful. Whether it’s bewitching originals like Locke’s title track and Keezer’s “Darth Alexis” (a jumping tribute to his wife’s car) or the stunning geometric tapestry they make out of John Coltrane’s “Naima,” this set never stops surprising. Mike Pope’s throbbing electric bass gives “Signing” a real Old School fusion feel that’s contrasted by Terreon “Tank” Gully’s taut hip-hop drum lines. All told, the Locke/Keezer Quartet is a four-headed, eight-armed rhythm section whose massive effort currently sits on top of everything else I’ve heard this year. Don’t miss this, or you WILL miss out!
“Sounds of Space”
Fact: Quincy Jones does not attach his name to cowboys or losers. In this case, Jones has stepped in as producer on the debut disc of Cuban-born pianist Alfredo Rodriguez, a second-generation musician whose sound mixes the spicy tastes of Brazilian and Afro-Cuban with the heady improvisatory wire-walking of Keith Jarrett. (Rodriguez claims Jarrett’s seminal outing “The Koln Concerts” as one of his biggest influences.) The excitement comes at you in waves on the opener “Qbafrica,” which has you dancing to the beat one moment and then reeling from piano lines straight out of the avant-garde. Rodriguez makes Bud Powell a Cuban citizen on “Cubop,” while the frenetic “Crossing the Border” is Rodriguez’ solo-piano version of his own introduction to America. Don’t try to stuff Rodriguez into the traditional Latin box: It’s disrespectful to his rampant talent, and the box will be in pieces at the end.
RALPH BOWEN“Total Eclipse”
Blue Note Records gave Canadian saxman Ralph Bowen his big break in 1985 by putting him in Out of the Blue, a sextet of hard-bopping young lions that included Kenny Garrett, Ralph Peterson and Charles Fambrough. Now 27 years later, Bowen links up with another set of young lions, and the result is the most exciting release of Bowen’s four-year run with Pos-i-Tone, the successor to Blue Note as the No. 1 purveyor of straight-ahead jazz. Spurred on by Jared Gold’s ram-tough Hammond B3 and Mike Moreno’s singular guitar sound, Bowen is blowing hard and nasty on the opening title track, and he keeps throwing fastballs throughout the date. Moreno and Gold strut their nasty solo stuff on “Behind the Curtain” and “On Green,” while Rudy Royston’s status as one of the genre’s best young drummers gets yet another boost. “Total Eclipse” has the combination of artistry and toughness trad jazz needs to stay relevant. Props to Bowen for not standing pat.
THE DUKE ROBILLARD JAZZ TRIO
Duke Robillard isn’t standing pat, either; in fact, he’s gone all in, starting his own label and launching it with a crisp jazz trio date. The hardcore fans that go back to Roomful of Blues may pout about this choice, but tough noogies! The love of Les Paul we heard on 2009’s cheese platter “Tales from the Tiki Lounge” comes shining through as the Duke mixes Great American Songbook classics like “All of Me” and “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” with right-on-point originals like “Jesse’s Blues” and the tipsy title track. We even get a taste of “Tiki Lounge” when Mickey Freeman adds her sensual vocals to “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You.” The date isn’t without problems: Robillard’s still one of the best, but Freeman’s in-and-out cameo shows Duke really needs better foils to make this concept complete. Drummer Mark Texeira does his best, but bassist Brad Hallen’s best just isn’t quite enough. And by keeping the date as straight as he does, we lose that great sense of whimsy you find on past Robillard releases. That said, “Wobble Walkin'” is a good maiden voyage for Duke’s new label, and we’ll be following the next steps he takes with it.
“What’s the Meaning?”
Since we’re on kind of a guitar run here, let’s talk about David Gilmore, who’s quietly become the fastest hired gun in the West. In the past year, Greater Nippertown has seen Gilmore strut his stuff in separate stints with Ravi Coltrane and the Les McCann/Javon Jackson Band. Now he’s hooked up with Mole, the volcanic creation of Mexican keyboardist Mark Aanderud and Argentinian drummer Hernan Hecht. Aanderud and Hecht live free in the musical sense, switching between electric and acoustic to break whatever molds anyone puts in front of them. With the addition of Gilmore and upright bassist Jorge “Luri” Molina, Mole’s RareNoise debut glows like a firefly and hits like a free-falling safe. One moment they’re floating through deep space on the opener “PB,” then they’re surrounding us with a crystalline groove that lets Gilmore go right to town. The uncompromising opening figures on “Greenland” and “Flour Tortilla Variation” tell us in no uncertain terms that prisoners will not be taken. Molina and Gilmore trade beautiful bowing on the pensive “Trees and the Old New Ones,” and Gilmore takes James Brown to Africa with his wildly funky intro to the closer “Grubenid.” “What’s the Meaning?” gives us ripping fusion without the histrionic bullshit associated with the sub-genre, and that’s a welcome relief.
And now, here’s another JAZZ 2K… (insert low-flying jet plane sound effect) BLAST FROM THE PAST!!!
“Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate”
Let’s hear it for old-time college radio – specifically, Columbia University’s WKCR-FM, where then-22-year old recording engineer George Klabin got to set the microphones for a one-time only broadcast of Bill Evans’ October 23, 1968 date at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate, a supper club one floor above above the famed Village Gate nightclub. This show may have been recorded almost 45 years ago, but Klabin’s mic-positioning makes this date sound crisp as a dollar. Not only do we get Evans at the height of his solo career, hitting us with knockout versions of “Alfie” and “In a Sentimental Mood,” but we also get an in-depth view of the exquisite lyricism bassist Eddie Gomez brought to Evans’ music. (Drummer Marty Morell had literally joined the band that week, and wisely stays on the sidelines.) We even get a nice expansion on Evans’ days with Miles Davis, thanks to Gomez’s killer solo on “Someday My Prince Will Come.” Resonance’s choice to release both sets uncut means we get repeats of “Emily” and “Round Midnight,” and Evans didn’t change much in the second set. Nonetheless, “Top of the Gate” may be the best live recording of Evans’ trio found to date. Makes you wonder what’s in the archives at other college stations, doesn’t it?