Header Quote

"If you ain't got it in you, you can't blow it out."
— Louis Armstrong

Monday, December 13, 2010

Will on WNYC's Soundcheck, Monday, 12/13: BEST JAZZ OF 2010

It's that time of year again: Best-of List Time!
John Schaefer, Soundcheck Host

Man, I love a good list.  Love all things enumerated.  Rankings, choosings, comparings.  I'm the decider, baby.

The good people at WNYC's fantastic show "SoundCheck" once again had the wisdom, kindness (and resilience) to invite me to chat up host John Schaefer regarding the year's best jazz.  You can listen to the apprearance HERE.

If you want to look at the list I came up with along with PopMatters colleague John Garratt, then click on through right HERE.

Guillermo Klein: Domador de Huellas, Music of “Cuchi” Leguizamon PopMatters

One of the top jazz recordings of the year is by the distinctive pianist and composer Guillermo Klein, Domador de Huellas, Music of “Cuchi” Leguizamon.  Check out my PopMatter review here.

Klein interprets the tunes of a fellow Argentine, but his own presence is critical, blending warm vocal performances with arrangements that use electric and acoustic pianos, horns, and percussion in a manner that is swinging, impressionistic, pungent, and hypnotic. 
The writing covers a huge emotional territory from melancholy to triumphant, yet the overall feeling never veers too far from the warmly dancing.  Traces of Aaron Copland mingle with the pulse of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.

There are so many truly outstanding jazz pianists on the scene these days, and Klein deserves a spot among them.  He dazzles, however, not in his chops or flights of improvisation but in how he works with a band.

He is, I suppose, the one of the most Ellingtonian of the crop of current fine pianists in the music.  That, of course is high praise.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Danilo Perez: Providencia

Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez took my breath away with his work in Wayne Shorter's quartet, playing blistering modern jazz that defied nearly every category.  Previously, I had heard him as a superb but fairly standard post-bop piano player with an exciting Latin tinge to his mainstream music.  Maybe I needed to hear him again?

And Providencia provides plenty of evidence that he has a wealth of fresh ideas about jazz in his bag.  My PopMatters review is HERE.

This new recording features not only Perez's fine trio but also a woodwind quartet, breezy scat vocals, the acid tones of alto player Rudresh Mahanthappa, not to mention a wealth of fresh compositional ideas.  It's a bit of a mish-mash as a program, but that is intentional.  It offers something new to hear each time you put it on, and it should be a disc that sounds as good in 2020 as in 2010.

What more do you want?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Hilary Kole: You Are There

I had never heard Hilary Kole before, a very young and lovely jazz singer based ('f course) in New York.  She is the youngest singer ever to play in just about every room she has graced, and her chops are remarkable -- remarkably sensitive and subtle.  She's not a Robo-Ella like li'l Nikki Yanovsky.

Her latest (and second) album is called You Are There.  You can read my PopMatters review HERE.  This disc features eleven (11!) different jazz pianists in duet with Kole.  And they are the best in the biz: Cedar Walton, Kenny Barron, Alan Broadbent, the late/great Hank Jones, and on and on it goes.  And some of the tracks here are exquisite.  The version of "I Remember" from Sondheim's Evening Primrose is absolutely sublime.  Some of the more played-to-death standards are good but not revelatory—"Lush Life" with Barron, for example, is merely very good.  But how many very good "Lush Life"s have you heard?

A personal peeve: I love the title track, "You Are There" by Dave Frishberg and Johnny Mercer.  It should be a lock-down jazz standard, what with a searching, melancholy melody and heart-breaking lyrics that are free of cliche.  But this version is clunker, with Kole pushing it way to hard, kind of Broadway-ing it up with too much vocal ACTING.  Sorry, Hilary, but you overdid that one.  Which is an anomaly here.

This project was constructed over four years, and it's incredible that a young singer like Kole could get the deans of jazz piano to work with her on such a focused project.  She's a huge talent.  But you're excused if You Are There isn't a disc you return to over and over again.  It's too much of too little.  Or something like that.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

New JAZZ TODAY: Rebirth in the Treme, New Orleans Ascendant

Your blogger and his oldest friend, struttin' with some BBQ
Over the Halloween weekend I visited New Orleans with three close friends.  We were there to celebrate the 50th birthday of my oldest friend (with my own just two months coming) and to do some work for Habitat for Humanity.

And we planned to eat ourselves into a jambalaya/po' boy/red beans 'n' rice stomach ache.

And there's the music.

What I wasn't expecting, however, was for the music to be "jazz."  These days, the Mecca of jazz is New York, of course.  But we ended up seeing some great New Orleans music—popular New Orleans musicians—who make jazz in the Crescent City feel alive again.

Kermit Ruffins, killin' it at Vaughan's Lounge on a Thursday
The latest JAZZ TODAY, up and readable here, is all about this trip and the experience of hearing Kermit Ruffins and Trombone Shorty over just a few days.  Ruffins seemed at first like merely a good-time player—rough around the edges and merely having fun.  But the longer I listened (and it was fun, I assure you), the more I heard his music as a wonderful melding of the Armstrong trumpet/vocal tradition with modern jazz feeling and groove.

Even more fun, and ultimately more exciting for this music, was a set by Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, his invincibly funky band.

Trombone Shorty started playing second line music in the the Treme when he was a tiny kid, too little to handle his instrument (thus, the nickname), and today he is playing that instrument with amazing precision and attack—as well as trumpet—in front of what amounts to a New Orleans rock rhythm section.  The groove of the band (with drums and congas powering it fiercely) is pure N'Awlins, but the guitar is a fuzz-toned Gibson with plenty of blues fire.  Plus, Shorty sings soulfully, and he plays in a front line with tenor and baritone saxophone.  The result is a truly powerful, incredibly entertaining groove band that blows the roof off a room.  We heard them at Tipitina's, the classic New Orleans club, and it's night I'll never forget.

Photos from Bobby and David Atkins.  Thanks, guys!

The Ray Anderson-Marty Ehrlich Quartet, LIVE

Two summers ago I saw trombonist Ray Anderson give a clinic at the Vancouver Jazz Festival.  It was a great conversation about his history and playing, and his solo trombone playing was a minor miracle.  I asked him that afternoon how a guy like him makes a living from music, and he laughed.  "Now, why'd you have ask that, man?"

Here is the latest recording from Mr. Anderson, in a quartet with Marty Ehrlich, the wonderful clarinetist and alto saxophonist.  Matt Wilson on drums, also fantastic.  My review on PopMatters is HERE.

It growls and and struts, it's funky and loose, it's out it's in.  Wonderful music, particularly Anderson's compositions, such as "Alligatory Rhumba."  All hail musicians who struggle to make but still make it for us.