Header Quote

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

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Bad Plus Plays It Straight(ish): Interview with Ethan Iverson

Last year The Bad Plus released Never Stop, their first disc of purely original songs.  Looking back on the 2010, I think I may have overlooked this disc in the hailstorm of fantastic jazz piano recordings.  There are several tunes here that, as well as anything this great band has ever done, expand the definition of swing to include a variety of creative backbeats.  Unlike the jazz-rock fusion of the ‘70s or the smooth jazz-funk of the last 25 years, this incarnation of rocking jazz is as rubbery and rich as Ellington.

I had the chance to interview Ethan Iverson, the pianist for The Bad Plus, and that interview (after too long a delay) is finally published at Popatters today, RIGHT HERE.

Iverson is an incredibly articulate and even sweet guy, and talking to him is a real pleasure.  He has a lot to say.  I think it is particularly interesting that, when asked about all the slew of great and creative young pianist in jazz today, he agreed with me, but added: "I wish more of them would have the courage to take their name off the marquee and be in a band instead.  That is really the way I want to be influential:  form bands."

Check out Iverson, but more importantly check out his band, The Bad Plus.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Joe Lovano/Us Five: Bird Songs

It's hard to believe, but Joe Lovano has made almost two dozen albums for Blue Note.  And, depending on your taste for certain gimmicks (such as jazz versions of operatic arias), there hasn't been a stinker in the bunch.  Lovano is a premiere saxophonist with a unique tone and a brilliant imagination.

It's hard to believe that, until now, he had never truly taken on the legacy of Charlie Parker.  My PopMatters review is HERE.

Bird Songs features Lovano's recent working quintet, "Us Five," featuring James Weidman on piano (with the best work of his career), Esperanza Spalding on bass (yup, the new jazz star, as a sidewoman), Otis Brown on drums, and Francisco Mela also on drums.  This is not a fleet and nimble unit exactly—they prefer crazier, earthier arrangements, tunes where they can play a little bit bop but also quite a bit free.

On this disc, Lovano's pulls apart these classic Bird tunes (or tunes associated with him) and remakes them fundamentally.  "Passport" and "Moose the Mooche" use short riffs from the original tunes as written to create new structures over which the whole melody turns.  "Birdyard" and "Blue Collage" are original mash-ups of Parker tunes that weave melodies or parts of melodies together in utterly original ways.  And "Koko" lets the saxophonist play mostly free over percussion in an improvised deconstruction of the original.

There are more conventional takes here as well.  "Lover Man" and "Donna Lee" are straight but swinging, with the latter never stating the melody but just licensing Lovano to play like Coleman Hawkins (that is, with unparalleled melodic invention) and the former being a powerful stroll on the new "G Mezzo Soprano" saxophone.

Joe Lovano and his band are a great unit.  This is their second outing for Blue Note.  May there be more.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Jazz Passengers: Reunited

Here is one of very best jazz records of 2010—a lark and joy and also a serious recording, a jazz disc where the solos are short and to the point but not less inventive or innovative, a project featuring pop songs (Peaches and Herb!  Radiohead!) and even pop stars (Debbie Harry!  Elvis Costello!) but where the core band still rules the roost.

Reunited, a comeback album by the great Jazz Passengers.  My PopMatters review is HERE.

These guys were darlings of the downtown NY jazz scene as far back as the 1980s, emerging from John Lurie's "faux-jazz" Lounge Lizards with their sense of crazy theater intact but a fully "serious" musical mission at hand.  Reunited is the first recording by the band (Roy Nathanson's alto, Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, Bill Ware on vibes, Sam Bardfeld's violin, Brad Jones on bass, drummer E.J. Rodriguez, and part-timers Marc Ribot, Harry and Costello) in many years, but it's certainly a return to the band's best form: serious composition mixing with humor, great playing in the service musical entertainment.

This is pungent music with a light touch.  Jazz, usually pretty bad at maintaining a sense of humor needs more from the Passengers.  It's great to hear them again.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Kurt Rosenwinkel and OJM: Our Secret World

Kurt Rosenwinkel has been a smart and sometimes supercharged new jazz guitarist for a while now, and his bands and recording projects have been outstanding.  His "Standards Trio" released a truly fine disc in 2009 (check out my review, HERE) and his efforts in conjunction with Mark Turner on tenor have created a stellar guitar/sex pairing.  Rosenwinkel plays with jazz invention and not a little fire, placing him in the Scofield/Frisell/Abercrombie camp but a generation younger and more vital.

Our Secret World places him in front of a big band for the first time.  Check out my PopMatters review HERE.  This is a Portuguese band called the Orchestra de Jazz de Matosinhos, and their arrangers do intriguing things with Rosenwinkel's own tunes, translating their cascading lines to brass and woodwinds.  The band plays with power and assurance.

The biggest drawback to the disc is that Rosenwinkel is the only soloist on every tune but one.  He sounds terrific, but that's the whole game.  And the band, for all its technical excellence, never really sounds distinctive as a big band.  The days of big bands with clear, unmistakable personalities is likely over anyway, but you wish for a bit more here.

Monday, January 3, 2011

JAZZ TODAY: An Interview with Guitarist Rez Abbasi

I'm an excitable guy, so maybe every year seems like a great one in jazz to me.  But I thought 2010 was a blockbuster.  One of the keenest recordings this year that appeared on far too few top-ten lists was Rez Abbasi's Natural Selection, featuring his acoustic quartet.

My latest JAZZ TODAY column features a long interview with Abbasi—I know you'll find it interesting.  Abbasi is a warm and keenly intelligent man.  He was charming to talk to, revealing plenty of interesting information about how he works, how he approaches improvisation, and how he approaches the economic challenges of being a jazz musician in 2011.

Mostly Abbasi is known for his electric work in a free-wheeling, modern vein.  His previous disc, Things To Come, was a highlight of 2009, featuring Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto, Vijay Iyer on piano, and Abbasi's wife, the vocalist Kiran Ahluwalia.  Abbasi managed to fuse up-to-the-minute jazz with South Asian micro-tonal composing in an thrilling effort.  Abbasi plays as a sideman in groups led by Mahanthappa as well.

But Natural Selection sounds more focused and traditional, perhaps.  The acoustic ensemble is beautifully enhanced by the vibes playing of Bill Ware (The Jazz Passengers), Stephan Crump on bass (from Iyer's recent trio, leader of the Rosetta Trio, and accompanist of his wife, vocalist Jen Chapin), and Eric McPherson's drums.  Abbasi tackles unusual repertoire: Keith Jarrett's "Personal Mountains" as well as Joe Henderson's "Punjab", not to mention an overdubbed guitar duet on "Ain't No Sunshine."  Abbasi's originals have snap and intriguing structure, and he includes some work containing idiomatically "Indian" elements, but that's not mainly that this disc is about.

Thanks for the interview, Rez.  May 2011 bring you more success!  The music is GREAT.