Thursday, November 30, 2017

Wadada Leo Smith, Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk

As we celebrate and commemorate the 100th birthday of Thelonious Monk, we mark the occasion in a number of ways. Perhaps no more touchingly and succinctly a marking can be found than on trumpet master Wadada Leo Smith's Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk (TUM CD 053).

The premise is simple: turn Wadada loose in the studio with just his trumpet and some clear ideas on how solo improvisations can capture the essence of Monk's special mastery while also allowing Wadada to create art wholly his own.

This is tour de force trumpet artistry and a source of insight into Wadada the gifted improvisational inventor. Every phrase seems deliberate, nothing is as if an aside.

You hear Wadada as he is right now, an artist who in a way has come full circle through Yo Miles and ambitious jazz compositions, all of a very high order. Now once again he proudly proclaims his artistic independence as a player and in the process shows his great respect and love for the master, Thelonious Monk.

I could blather on at great length here. It is not entirely necessary. Suffice to say that Wadada Leo Smith is one of our real treasures, a giant among American artists living and excelling today, one of the world's musical wonders, so to speak.

He says it all with the utmost of inspiration and compactness, with just his trumpet and all his considerable innovative faculties.

Can I suggest you get this and live with the music for a while? You'll come away with something you would not have inside you otherwise, maybe. That is how rewarding this set is.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Amjad Ali Khan, Peace Worshipers

There is a special place in my heart for both Hindustani (North) and Carnatic (South) Indian Classical Music. I grew up at a time when there was an intersection of Indian Classical and Rock, much to do with Beatle George Harrison studying with the great Ravi Shankar. It opened up vistas for those who took it seriously, and I did. The rest has been a joyous exploration for me and I am grateful to have been present when it entered Western cultural consciousness and allowed us a pathway to its full presence.

This new recording, Peace Worshipers (Affetto 1706), by arguably the greatest living Hindustani exponent of the Sarod, Amjad Ali Khan, and his colleagues Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash on sarods and Elmira Darvarova on violin is very worthy of our attention. It brings to us the excitement of Jugalbandi (duet improvisations on a Raga structure) and the freewheeling compositional possibilities both inherent in Jugalbandi and beyond.

Most of the music is based on a particular Raga and composed by Amjad Ali Khan, There is also a recomposition of a Bulgarian folk song by Elmira Darvarova.

Davarova is a very fine violinist who fits in well with the Indian classicists. She and Amjad turn in some beautiful performances. And the ensemble as a whole engages in exciting and beautiful exchanges. Some of it reminds of Ravi Shankar's elaborate compositions that went into synchronized variations and thematic expositions based on but travelling beyond Indian tradition. Other have the subtle Jugalbandi interplay.

It is music in every way worth your time.  Amjad Ali Khan brings brilliance to our ears in his lively and beautiful compositions. And the playing is all you could hope for. This is a stunner! Grab it by all means.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Maykel Elizarde Group, South County, Music of Cuba

The dance music of Cuba is as beautiful to me, when well done, as anything I've heard. And when dance elements combine with a pronounced jazz flavor, so much the better. This holds true of the Maykel Elizarde Group and their recent album South County (Ansonica AR0004). It features the exceptional tres guitar of the bandleader, the fine vocals of Yudelkys Perez Jure, and a very together ensemble that includes six other fine musicians and some welcome guests.

The music is very lively, with the tres holding forth nicely, percussion and bass laying down a rock solid foundation and flute and ensemble embellishing it all while Yudelkys' voice soars atop in those numbers where she is featured. Tres solos sprinkle the music with a brilliance anyone can recognize.

In short this is contemporary Cuban music of real distinction, something that sounds great any time of day, any season, whenever you are in the mood to groove and stretch your soul. Recommended. Viva Ansonica Records for bringing this to us.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Rob Schneiderman, Tone Twister, Brian Lynch's Hollistic MusicWorks Presents

Jazz, excellent jazz can still be found. You may not be able to comb the stacks of a trusted record store this day and unearth something that causes you to try out an unknown possibility. Yet we still can take a chance and open up another set of fine musicians that interconnect. I get an awful lot as a reviewer and so get exposed to things in bulk. What emerges from all the listening I must do are various "finds," new worlds of jazz that my ear hears and appreciates whereas in earlier times I had less exposure to this much new music. So I try and help you with various possibilities you might not otherwise be hipped to.

Such an album is most definitely Brian Lynch's Hollistic MusicWorks Presents Tone Twister by Rob Schneiderman (Hollistic MusicWorks HMW 16). It is finely honed quintet jazz capturing the essence of classic Blue Note hard bop in the finely composed, arranged and nicely improvised mode. The piano-trumpet-tenor-bass-drums instrumentation of course is venerable. It is made concrete by the fine players who form Hollistic MusicWorks: Rob Schneiderman on piano, Brian Lynch on trumpet, Ralph Moore on tenor, Gerald Cannon on bass and Pete Van Nostrand on drums. All very good players well suited for the music Schneiderman envisions.

"Unforgettable" is the one standard we hear, and it forms a familiar island in a sea of inventive hard bop. The rest are Schneiderman-penned numbers, each with an element of style known well to us, Latin-tinged,  loping, swinging funk, boplicitous excursions, mid-Trane-ish, Tyneresque feels, Monk-Duke modes, in short a good variety of moods and grooves. Within the whole there are nicely tight interlocking horn voicings, piano strengths and subtleties, and a continual powering by the rhythm team.

A happy confluence is what we get throughout. Put it on and engage!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Denny Zeitlin, George Marsh, Expedition, Duo Electroacoustic Improvisations

Nothing can be taken for granted in music or in life. Yet Denny Zeitlin and George Marsh have been playing together off and on so long and so productively that we might be guilty of overlooking just how much they have grown as individuals and as musical partners over the years. It has not been a continuous unbroken association since Denny had George on hand as a part of an excellent trio in the late '60s.

So with a new installment of their work together at hand, Expedition, Duo Electro-Acoustic Improvsations (Sunnyside SSC 1487), we are well served by listening closely.

Denny, of all the pianists that expanded from just acoustic piano to a live combination of the acoustic instrument and multiple synths, etc., has been one of the most brilliant exemplars of maintaining a very high level of musicality while orchestrating the notes with a composer's sense of variation in timbres and textures.

George in the meantime has become the ideal drummer in such a setting, with a sure sense of swing and a beautiful full and varied drum set sound.

The new one flows so well and so musically that I feel we are in the presence, that a lifetime of talent, and musical soul and brains is culminating in some of the very best "electro-acoustic" jazz ever! This one really ravishes our musical senses and gives us a virtual jazz orchestra that will make a believer out of the mouldiest figs of acoustic purity. This is above all integrated spontaneity, with complete timbral mastery joining fittingly with free jazz inventiveness of the highest order.

In the listening is the confirmation. Expedition is one of the finest jazz albums of the year!