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 Thursday, 31 July 2014
CD/DVD/Book Reviews
Jane Ira Bloom's "Sixteen Sunsets" Sets New Standard for Soprano Sax PDF Print
Written by Ken Vermes   
Thursday, 24 July 2014

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On Steve Lacy’s birthday day (July 23), it seems fitting to write a tribute to someone playing today who has set a new standard for this, one of the loveliest and mysterious of the family of saxophones. As with many musical details, most listeners have no idea how technically challenging this particular sax is, or how musicians spend countless hours on just the mouthpiece problem--how one can find the right one to avoid the harsh grittiness that can infest a player's sound. The problem goes back and forth from plastic mouthpieces that can warm the instrument to metal ones that give it power and presence.

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Denny Zeitlin: Trio Splendor on "Stairway to the Stars" (2014, Sunnyside) PDF Print
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Thursday, 17 July 2014

 

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Stairway to the Stars

I live in Minnesota, pianist/psychiatrist Denny Zeitlin lives in California, yet I feel like I have been his patient for years.  Listening to a Zeitlin recording is surely the equivalent to an hour on his couch without a co-pay--alternately relaxing, provocative, and refreshing. And while his latest release, Stairway to the Stars, was recorded over a decade ago with his then-new trio with Buster Williams and Matt Wilson, the music has lost none of its power to intrigue and endure.

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Hiromi's Trio Project, Volume Three: Definitely "Alive" (Telarc, 2014) PDF Print
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Sunday, 22 June 2014

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Alive
 

If there is a thread running from Hiromi Uhera's very first release (Another Mind, 2003) through her latest album (Alive, 2014), it's one braided from themes of power, velocity and storytelling. But there's also been an evolution, from youthful, often unfiltered exuberance to a more mature balance of virtuosity and artistic circumspection. This new disc, the third from her Trio Project with bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips, continues that evolution. If it doesn't break new ground for the trio, it surely solidifies their partnership as well as Hiromi's depth as composer and arranger. It also reconfirms the faith of her label (Telarc), which has released each of her albums to date, an eleven-year partnership that is increasingly rare, particularly considering Hiromi was a virtual unknown at the time of her maiden voyage. She did have some impressive mentors early on, including Chick Corea, Oscar Peterson and Ahmad Jamal, and her artistic growth over the past decade certainly has supported their faith in her talent.

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A Drummer's Vision: Matt Slocum and "Black Elk's Dream" (2014, Chandra Records) PDF Print
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Monday, 07 April 2014

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Black Elk's Dream
 

Twin Cities native and alum of the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, drummer Matt Slocum has established himself as one of his generation's most effective composers and bandleaders.  With composition grants from the American Music Center, the Puffin Foundation, Meet the Composer Foundation and more, Slocum gained high praise for his first two recordings as leader, Portraits (2009) and After the Storm (2011), both on the Chandra Records label. Where Portraits featured a trio of rotating horns to augment the rhythm section, the second release focused on the core trio, both boasting long-time collaborators Gerald Clayton (piano) and Massimo Biolcati (bass). Yet central to both recordings were Slocum's magical compositions - lyrical voicings, assertive rhythms, subtle shadings and bold statements, reflecting not only the drummer's talents as a drummer, but the skills as writer and arranger that set him apart from most of his peers, regardless of instrument. Returning to the quartet and quintet format, with frequent collaborators Walter Smith III and Dayna Stephens rotating on saxophones, Slocum brings us a new project inspired by the visionary Native American leader Black Elk and the book Black Elk Speaks, appropriately titled Black Elk's Dream (Chandra Records, 2014).

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Kendra Shank and John Stowell 's Musical Experiments and "New York Conversations" (2014, TCB) PDF Print
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Thursday, 27 March 2014

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New York Conversations
 

Acclaim for Kendra Shank’s unique approach vocal jazz has grown steadily over the past decade, including the designation “Talent Deserving Wider Recognition” in the Downbeat International Critics Poll. Initially working as a folksinger, the California native studied with muse Jay Clayton in Seattle, gigged with Bob Dorough, and caught the ear of the late Shirley Horn, who co-produced Shank's debut recording, Afterglow (1994). Two recordings followed her move to New York, Wish (1998) and Reflections (2000), the latter with pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist Dean Johnson, and drummer Tony Moreno, who have been regular bandmates ever since. Her more recent releases have taken her music in almost opposite directions: A Spirit Free (2007) revealed her sharp edges in reinterpreting the music of Abbey Lincoln, while Mosaic (2009) revealed the softer contours of a more personal, perhaps freer spirit. Her latest projects have brought more accolades to the elastic improviser, who has been described as a performer with a “unique and immediately identifiable sound and style” (Don Heckman, LA Times), as “a singer with a sound” (Abbey Lincoln) who “phrases inventively, whether crisp and sizzling or sensuously smoky” (Patricia Meyers, Jazz Times). No doubt New York Conversations (TCB), Kendra's new recording with long-time cohort, guitarist John Stowell, will further cement her standing as one of the true innovators in modern vocal jazz.

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Norma Winstone and Trio "Dance Without Answer" (ECM, 2014) PDF Print
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Dance Without Answer
Dance Without Answer

British jazz vocalist, composer and lyricist Norma Winstone has enjoyed an enviable if not high profile career with the likes of  Rashaan Roland Kirk, John Surman, Kenny Wheeler, John Taylor Steve Swallow, Gary Burton and Fred Hersch, building a reputation as an explorer of sound and word. With her trio of the past 12 years, Italian Glauco Venier (piano) and Austrian Klaus Gesing (bass clarinet and soprano sax), she's released three stellar recordings -- Chamber Music (2002, Universal), Distances (2007, ECM) and Stories Yet to Tell (ECM, 2009). These releases were filled with original compositions and arrangements of largely jazz and classical works, with Winstone often penning lyrics to the songs written by her cohorts as well as those from such giants as Wayne Shorter and Maria Schneider. With or without words, Winstone wields her voice as the third instrument of the acoustic trio, transforming the familiar or making the unfamiliar seem at home. Dance Without Answer, again on ECM,  continues the trio's journey with a lucky thirteen tracks--new compositions, new interpretations of modern songwriters, and arrangements of songs associated with film and television.

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New and Notable: Chip Stephens Trio, "Relevancy" (2013, Capri Records)
Written by Glenn A. Mitchell, LA Jazz Scene   

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Relevancy
I first heard Chip Stephens and his amazing piano playing on a deliciously groovy two-disc CD of famed trombonist Curtis Fuller, titled I Will Tell Her (2010), which I reviewed for L.A. Jazz Scene and Jazz Police website as well.  What stood out about Stephens' playing on several selections from this CD were his amazing, incredible piano runs and his beautifully full chordal voicings.

That work is continued on his latest CD, Relevancy, one of the best, in my opinion, from 2013.  His trio is made up of bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer Joel Spencer, all sturdy and excellent performers who have been working together a number of years.  There are eight tracks on this CD -- three original by Stephens and five other very well picked selections.  One of my favorites is Stephens' “C Hips Blues,” ten minutes of some great chords, piano lines and groovy solos from all of the trio members.    Two more originals (and excellent) are “A Day in May,” and “Somewhere Before the End.”  Two better known tunes are “34 Skidoo” (by Bill Evans) and Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Like Someone in Love.”  The CD begins with a perky number by Carla Bley, “Syndrome,” that gives the trio a real workout and defines each musician’s strength, especially in their solos.    This CD is one that affords the listener lots of exceptional jazz from Chip Stephens Trio from Capri Records: www.caprirecords.com

Reprinted from L.A. Jazz Scene, July 2014 issue

 
Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette, Somewhere (2013, ECM)
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   

ImageI didn't get a chance to listen to Somewhere until well after its release. Now I can't stop listening. It's telling that the latest album from what has been commonly dubbed the Keith Jarrett Standards Trio was released under the three names, highlighting the nature of the thirty years' collaboration among three of the most singular talents in jazz. Somewhere marks the trio's first release since recording material in 2001 that found its way onto three albums released between 2004-2009. And at that, the "new" release was recorded in 2009, live at the KKL Luzern Concert Hall in Switzerland. But it was definitely worth the wait as Somewhere proves the trio's lack of recent discography reflects no loss of empathy or ingenuity as they cover familiar standards from Miles Davis and Harold Arlen and a pair from West Side Story, as well as two from Jarrett himself.

An intertwining of Jarrett's "Deep Space" with Miles' "Solar" starts with Jarrett's solo explorations, hollow-toned sonic crystals a la Marilyn Crispell, the trio sliding delicately into "Solar" as if the intro belonged there all along. Jarrett's right hand and left hand seem to come from different minds before the trio adds a measure of swing, Peacock adding a large helping of propulsive basslines, DeJohnette taking rhythm for a ride. Jarrett has never been more dazzling. "Stars Fell on Alabama" is simply luxurious, Jarrett elegant, Peacock complimenting every note. There's traces of Monk (especially "I Mean You") throughout the trio's playful arrangement of Arlen's "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," as each musician inserts his own quirky rhythmic alterations. (And was that really a snippet of the Andy Griffith Show theme song?)

The two Leonard Bernstein tracks give the Trio their centrifugal force, with "Somewhere" (and Jarrett's addendum "Everywhere") stretching out to nearly 20 minutes of exquisite interplay. There's so much going on worthy of comment, from Jarrett's circuitous but upwardly mobile blues to DeJohnette's a-fib heartbeats to the slowing pulse of the coda. "Tonight" is far more upbeat, even swinging, Jarrett joyriding over the highway driving of bass and drums. The Van Heusen/Mercer chestnut, "I Thought About You," closes the set, showcasing the improvisational talents of the Trio, Jarrett throwing in a side of Gershwin along the way to a sumptuous finish.

Prone to tantrums and meltdowns in live performance, Keith Jarrett still remains arguably the artist best suited to the spontaneity of live interaction, and the trio of Jarrett, Peacock and DeJohnette the epitome of collaborative improvisation. And Somewhere should be heard "Everywhere."

 
 

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