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 Saturday, 19 April 2014
CD/DVD/Book Reviews
A Drummer's Vision: Matt Slocum and "Black Elk's Dream" (2014, Chandra Records) Print E-mail
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) Print E-mail
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) Print E-mail
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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Favorite Vocal Recordings of 2013 Print E-mail
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Wednesday, 12 March 2014

 

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Karrin Allyson©Andrea Canter

In vocal jazz recordings, 2014 is off to a good start with stellar releases already in the stores for Kate McGarry, Catherine Russell, and Norma Winstone, among others. But it will be hard to top the crop of CDs issued in 2013, from the likes of Gregory Porter, Cecile McLorin Salvant and Tierney Sutton. While I never seem to catch up before the onslaught of new releases, here are my favorites from 2013... minus the ones I have yet to hear, of course! (In alphabetical order)

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Catherine Russell Can "Bring It Back" (2014, Jazz Village) Print E-mail
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Tuesday, 25 February 2014

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Bring It Back
 

Jazz/blues singer Catherine Russell was a mere 50 years old when she released her debut solo album, but she was hardly a newcomer. Daughter of the late Luis Russell-- longtime music director for Louis Armstrong-- and the late Carline Ray--bassist, guitarist, vocalist and alum of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Russell was immersed in jazz and blues from earliest childhood. Yet until she released Cat in 2006, Catherine was largely known as the backup singer for David Bowie, Steely Dan, Cyndi Lauper, Jackson Browne, Michael Feinstein, Paul Simon, Rosanne Cash and more. Five albums later, Russell has found a new audience and a "new" career direction as one of the finest interpreters of classic songs, particularly from the 30s and 40s, the era for which her parents were most known. Accolades from Will Friedwald and Nat Hentoff, chart-toppers and award winners Sentimental Streak (2008), Inside This Heart (2010) and Strictly Romancin' (2012), and a Grammy Award as featured artist on the HBO soundtrack for the television series Boardwalk Empire filled the past eight years, paving the way for her 2014 release, Bring It Back, focusing on the Luis Russell/Louis Armstrong collaborations interpreted with the support of a ten-piece orchestra. Jazz Age gems co-exist in stunning fashion with material associated with blues icons Esther Phillips Al Hibbler, Wynonie Harris and Little Willie John. On the one hand, the songs have the sound of an early 20th-century  orchestra; on the other hand, Russell brings to each work not only a reverence for the past masters, but a modern energy and sense of discovery. It's an unbeatable combination of swing, blues, and storytelling.

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Top of the Keys - Favorite Piano Recordings of 2013 Print E-mail
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Tuesday, 25 February 2014

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Craig Taborn Trio©Andrea Canter
 

It was a good year for piano recordings -- solo and ensemble efforts. And I have yet to hear all that I want to check out. This is therefore just a listing of piano-based recordings I have enjoyed and recommend from the past year... before we get too deep into 2014!

Craig Taborn Trio, Chants (2013, ECM). Dictionaries define “chants” variously as “short, simple series of syllables or words that are sung on or intoned to the same note or a limited range of notes;” “a canticle or prayer;”  “a song or melody;” “highly complex musical structures, often including a great deal of repetition of musical subphrases”; or “a monotonous rhythmic call or shout.”  Global cultures use chants in sacred and celebratory traditions; in pop culture, chants form the basis of reggae and rap. In the background, or perhaps in a prolonged religious service or ceremony, a chant can lull the listener into a subconscious zone or trance-like state.  This long-overdue debut recording from the Craig Taborn Trio is not background music. It’s not for lazy ears or subconscious minds. It’s not intended as the sonic wallpaper to complement a beer or martini at the end of a tiring day. Any sense of simplicity in this music is misleading. The angels are in the details. Attention to those details prevents subconscious drift and rewards the listener with new appreciation for the intricacies of sound and space, for artistic collaboration. If you really listen to Chants, you can’t possibly tune out. The nine chants are unique in their development and melodic fabric, yet share a similar sonic imagery – Taborn’s notions of “encircling possibilities” that flow out of “centered” elements of basic rhythms and tight harmonies, the “musical necessities.” And as across all of Taborn's projects, there’s a signature concern for the character of the instrument, the connections among ideas as well as notes, and the magic of the moment. These Chants are all celebrations of that magic. (See full review)

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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."

 
Dave Douglas Quintet Moves Back and Forth in "Time Travel" (2013, Greenleaf Music)
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   

ImageIn 2013, Dave Douglas went 50/40/20: The prolific composer and bandleader turned 50 and released his fortieth album as a leader over the past 20 years. And with his current quintet (saxophonist Jon Irabagon, pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Linda Oh and drummer Rudy Royston), Douglas seems to have found a way to pull together his full multi-band, multi-sonic musical resumé. Sort of a follow-up to 2012's Be Still (same band sans vocalist, more hardcore modern jazz sounds), Douglas wanted "to find something that's in-between soloing and trading and playing together." Over the seven new Douglas compositions, he found something that, rather than "in-between" the group and individual, is a collaborative family where the individual serves the whole, the whole serves the individual. And it all serves the listener extremely well, with echoes of Mingus, Monk, Ellington and even Maria Schneider.

As she does throughout, Linda Oh sets a dramatic pulse on the opening "Bridge to Nowhere," the harmonic dialogue among sax and trumpet playfully dissonant as the music takes off in quirky directions. Oh and Royston make a formidable team, keeping it together while also willing to push it to the edge. Mitchell and Irabagon bring a Monk factor into sharp focus in their solos. The horns darkly introduce the more delicate title track -- perhaps this is a Sci Fi time machine? Bass and drums keep the band lurching forward on a trip that crosses alternately rugged and neatly terraced terrain as well as time. The topography--shallow pools and deep crevices--is particularly cultivated by Royston's daring imagination. "The Law of Historic Memory" is a more regal ensemble trip, Oh and Mitchell seeming to direct from darkness toward a slowly revealing light, the horns more controlled, seeking a companionship in melody and harmony that is ultimately uplifting.

"Beware of Doug" provides a feisty, tumbling dose of New Orleans as if Mingus was directing a high-wire act. It's a raucous romp for Douglas and Royston, while Irabagon and Mitchell do their own bit of time traveling before Oh launches as exciting and essential a solo as any on the album. Or so it seems until she again takes charge with a bouncy monologue on the aggressive nod to Dave's home in the "Garden State." Spare piano, dark bass and tingling cymbals set up a nursery-rhymish pairing for the horns on "Little Feet," augmented by Mitchell's solo spin. The majestic horn harmonies elevate "The Pigeon and the Pie," Irabagon and Mitchell offering perhaps the most elegant solo passages of the set. If Maria Schneider wrote for small ensembles, she might encounter this track along her journey. Time Travel can move back or ahead, and the Dave Douglas Quintet manages to balance their direction without losing a second of motion.

 
 

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