The Jazz Digest, December 2012

Choice snips from Jazz Journal, December 2012

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From the editor
JJ 1212 OFC coverlinkWe are preparing to publish (I hope in the January rather than the traditional February issue) our 2012 record of the year poll. Given the timid response to our critics' poll last year I am going to quietly, NOT PROMINENTLY, suggest readers send in a list (maximum 10) of their favourite records reviewed in Jazz Journal in 2012, in order of preference. It would be fascinating to compare and contrast critical and reader reactions. I wonder if anyone's list will include Yamaha New Jazz Sessions 2012? Apparently this annually issued CD compilation of work from young Yamaha-sponsored players is "now highly regarded as one of the most significant contemporary jazz albums of the year" and "provides a unique insight into the musicians who will take UK jazz forward in the future." That's what Yamaha's PR says anyway. The CD may contain gems but surely none to eclipse that torrent of reckless hyperbole. Will no one move to calm the overheated UK jazz "industry" before its inflated credit ratings provoke a triple-dip recession?


Warren Vaché on how younger players don't match Don Cherry . . .
"I don't find anyone these days as out and thrilling as Don Cherry. I can still listen to him and be amazed. I don't find the same excitement in the younger players. I'm sort of stuck in the mud and enjoying it."

. . . and hard times for jazz in NY
"I have to say we're in pretty desperate straits: hunkering down and circling the wagons. There's about two thirds less work than 10 years ago and the pay scales are still what they were in 1975."

Best jazz acoustic: fjord or canyon?   
"The Consort continues to this day as a vehicle for what Paul Winter calls 'living music', a pursuit which has led him to make remarkable environmental recordings, including one in the by no means modest acoustic of the Grand Canyon (ECM, eat your heart out!)."

Bruce Crowther on the new Johnny Hartman bio
"Gregg Akkerman fills many gaps and corrects often-published errors surrounding a singer of extraordinary talent and merit. Forced into the slow lane in part because the wider world of popular music was not then ready for a black singer of romantic love songs, Hartman never moved into the fast lane when some racial restrictions dissolved. This was the result of a litany of missed opportunities, poor advice, inept or non-existent marketing."

Michael Tucker on Richard Lerner's film What Happened To Kerouac?
"Was Kerouac (1922- 1968) nothing but 'a Neanderthal at the typewriter' – as some of his more vituperative critics claimed – or did his jazz-fuelled poetry and spontaneous 'bop prosody' effect perhaps the deepest transformation of American literature since Walt Whitman? Featuring classic clips such as the 1951 Downbeat Jazz Awards with Parker and Gillespie, plus a suitably mellow and bop-coloured soundtrack from pianist Austin Peralta's jazz quartet with saxophonist Zane Musa, Lerner's film offers plenty of material for viewers to make up their own minds about the life and work of an especially complex figure."

Ognjen Tyrtković describes Duško Goyković's early fusions of jazz and European folk music
"He worked in small groups in which he expressed both his explosiveness as a bebop trumpet player and at the same time a fine lyrical, melodic sentiment that he brought from his native Balkans. As a composer he often used elements of Balkan folk music with its characteristic melismas, modulations and long melodic lines. He incorporated asymmetric metres (such as 5/4, 7/8, 9/8) taken from traditional Macedonian music, a Mediterranean melancholic sentiment and material from Bosnian oriental love songs, or sevdalinka."

Simon Spillett identifies the lack of grit in the British jazz oyster

"Mingus and Ornette Coleman were musical reactions to a political situation in the US. What did British musicians have to react against? Early closing on a Sunday? Watford Gap services? There was no political bias and you can hear it in that music. You can hear they've played rainy one-nighters in obscure places."

Steve Voce welcomes an Englishman to Jazz Record Requests . . .
"It seems strange that for 30 years the BBC didn't use an Englishman to present Jazz Record Requests. Now, under Alyn Shipton, the programme has changed – there's a dialogue between listeners and presenter, and of course the catch phrases are gone. Mr Smith, the previous presenter, suggested that he had merely taken a sabbatical from the programme. We must hope not. At the moment he presents a programme in the middle watches of the night. I'm not allowed to stay up that late, so haven't heard it."

. . . and recalls the BBC's reception of the Alex Welsh Band
"The Alex Welsh band arrived at the Broadcasting House car park with Lennie Hastings driving. 'Alex Welsh band,' Lennie said to the attendant. 'I'll be with you in a moment, Mr Welshband,' the man answered."

Pianist Jacob Karlzon talks about his cover of Nik Kershaw's song The Riddle
"I've loved that song since I first heard it when it was a hit in the 80s. There's something about it that has a strong folkloristic, ethnic touch. I'm crazy about harmony and form and I've always loved the modulation before the last chorus when it changes key. I was very happy to hear the ethnic influences in our version because it wasn't something we'd talked about. Written by an Australian pop singer, interpreted by a Swedish improvising group and turned into the longest song on an album released by a German jazz label – that really says something about the power of a good song!"

Brian Morton describes his last encounter with the late Ted Curson
"The last time I saw Ted Curson he was barrelling down a side street in Helsinki, attracting admiring glances. A woman stopped him. 'Don't say you want my autograph?' he said, sounding pleased but taken aback. 'No,' she replied, 'I don't know who you are. I just want to touch those amazing whiskers.' Later, over a coffee, Ted shook his head. 'There's the deal. Young men, take note! Don't learn the trumpet. Grow a moustache!"


Excerpts from over 50 CD reviews in this issue:

JOHNNY ÅMAN: 9 STYGN (Fresh Sound)
"The musicianship on Åman’s new album is excellent, without question – not least due to Malab Man's towering presence. The band is beautifully integrated, and the improvisations satisfying." (Andy Hamilton) ***

"Where does Jordi Pujol find them? Here's another gem rescued from obscurity by Fresh Sound of two LPs and two tracks from a Hollywood TV show that together represent the complete recordings of vocalist Jane Fielding . . . Where though did she go after 1957? Did she emigrate to Outer Mongolia or marry a prince of a remote Pacific Island, never to sing publicly again? Only 18 when she recorded the first disc here she had a future as a true jazz singer which never got into top gear. And it should have done, it really should!" (Derek Ansell) *****

"Following the release by ECM this year of Keith Jarrett's Sleeper from 1979 and Terje Rypdal's Unfinished Highballs from 1976, here are more striking delights from the relatively distant – but definitely not dim – past. Hearing this largely modal, melodically rich storytelling music, perfectly recorded in Munich's Amerika Haus, brought back fond memories of catching this trio at Norway's Molde festival in summer 1980." (Michael Tucker) *****

"Despite all the legend surrounding his Free Form album, Movement is undoubtedly Harriott's finest hour on record. It's also one of his rarest recordings, and at last makes its debut on CD, and in stereo to boot. The repertoire is first class, mixing themes by the leader and Michael Garrick which cover the gamut from free improvisation to the sanctified vibe of Revival, originally written for Chris Barber . . . It really is up there in the Under Milk Wood class, as an essential example of the best of British jazz." (Simon Spillett) *****

"Of his many albums, three in particular define the musical philosophy of pianist Barry Harris – Live At The Jazz Workshop, Newer Than New and Luminiscence. The first of those, his elegant trio set recorded at the Jazz Workshop in 1960, is included here and stands as impressive testimony to Barry's grasp of the trio context. Of course the set was destined to be a winner because he was in the company of bassist Sam Jones and drummer Louis Hayes, his workmates in the then Cannonball Adderley Quintet of the period." (Mark Gardner) *****

"One of the highlights of this year's Ystad Sweden festival was the energy-pumped set from Elias's Light My Fire quartet with Johnson, American guitarist Rubens de la Corte and the extraordinary Brazilian drummer Rafael Barata. Although I had heard – and enjoyed – Elias in concert before, I was knocked out by the combination of her magnetic vocals and stage presence and the sort of wide-ranging pianism that could stand comparison with not only Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner, but also Oscar Peterson. This 2010 ECM date has plenty of energy, exemplified by the joyous grooves of Nights . . . Superb stuff." (Michael Tucker) *****

"Presented here is pretty much the total output of Beverly Kenney, who committed suicide in 1960 at the age of 28. Just what she might have achieved in a longer life would be speculation; what she did achieve in her short career is outstanding and the evidence for that statement can be heard all through these four CDs . . . I suspect that were Kenney to miraculously appear on today's heavily populated jazz-singer scene, she would comfortably zap most of the competition right out of the running." (Bruce Crowther) ****

WAYNE KRANTZ: HOWIE 61 (Abstract Logix)
"Krantz's dry, sardonic vocal style is perhaps an emulation of the Steely Dan he briefly toured with. It won't challenge Becker & Fagen's primacy, but it offers another angle, at its most striking away from the guitar on the Debussian piano and voice reverie I'm Afraid That I'm Dead. Yet still the ear tunes most often into the ingenious musical backdrop, the edge-of-the-seat harmonies, the rhythmic pulse, the almost intangible riffs. If nothing (and it is much more) it's a major lesson for today's indie rock guitarists (and their 'jazz' progeny). Here's how colourful a riff could be." (Mark Gilbert) ****

"This is undoubtedly Loueke's most coherent and fully realised statement to date, and his fiendishly fast and complex lines, daring phrasing and subaqua synth processing have never sounded so good. Robert Glasper is the critical ingredient, his finely honed studio craft extracting every last ounce of potential from the material. An auspicious start to Blue Note's Don Was era, and Heritage has captured two of today's most formidable talents in their prime." (Fred Grand) ****

"From a Caravan towed well out of Ellington territory to a Lady Be Good reinvigorated after a long career, this recording shows the reconstituted NYJO actively pursuing new horizons under Mark Armstrong's directorship. Can it do this without imperilling the astonishing standards of the last 40 years and more? On this evidence and from its recent exposure at Ronnie's and the BBC, the band's 'crossroads' (which Brian Morton defined in October JJ) is being negotiated with supreme confidence." (Anthony Troon) ****

"Much as I dislike the 'my lady wife' school of jazz reviewing, the present Mrs Morton passed through the music room while this was playing, narrowed her eyes and asked 'That isn’t Kenny G, is it?' How to explain all the things that are wrong with that question? Nothing makes David Sanborn narrow his eyes more than the suggestion he plays 'light jazz', but even he struggles to offer a definition of his music's narrative more specific than 'Everything I feel, and nothing I can explain.' What separates him most completely from Kenneth Gorelick – who really does merit that two-edge epithet 'effortless' – is, I guess, the effortfulness of Sanborn's desire to externalise feelings and to shape a story worth telling. He works." (Brian Morton) ****

"Smith's reverence towards Moholo-Moholo is evident in the first piece, his own tribute to the drummer that proceeds at a stately pace, Smith articulating Milesian figures over resonating bass drum patterns . . . Throughout the set, you get the distinct impression Smith is listening hard and responding in kind, relishing the opportunities he is afforded. Beautifully clean notes hang in the air while, as on Siholaro, the drums keep up a rhythmic commentary beneath. The lengthy title track brings proceedings to a fine end. This is highly intelligent music making, a real meeting of minds and a joy to listen to." (Simon Adams) *****

"Stenson does not make that many discs – his previous ECM release, Cantando, was cut in December 2007 – but more or less every record he does make is a cracker. Indicum is no exception. The Swede's current trio with compatriots Jormin and Fält has been around for a fair few years now, and the level of musical understanding and empathy here recalls the many marvels of the 1999 two-CD set Serenity, when Jon Christensen was in the band." (Michael Tucker) *****

"Jazz draws close on OCD, an impressive Stern line on I Love You, particularly when it's handed over to the fertile mind and fingers of Kenny Garrett – rhythm section and record come alive! Mind you, they are Holland and the mighty Al Foster. Garrett deliciously hangs about before zoning in and we are drawn inexorably into a cat and mouse game with motif and time that's up there with Rollins's finest. There's an album's worth of invention in those 150 seconds and they probably earn two of the above stars." (Mark Gilbert) ****

"It's a bright, bustling jazz-funk album, unlike anything out of Scandinavia reviewed in these columns recently. The last I recall is early albums by Ulf Wakenius or even earlier, the odd LP featuring Janne Schaffer or those heavy duty jazz-rock epics by Susanna Lindeborg's Mwendo Dawa. How refreshing! . . . Is producer and arranger Lars Danielsson, widely involved in all manner of artier stuff, making a statement here? It seems a lot of trouble for mere politicking. For sure he's one of the most versatile and accomplished of contemporary Scandinavian musicians." (Mark Gilbert) *****

"In April 2007, in Berlin on the eve of a major tour with the Jan Garbarek Group, Weber suffered a stroke, which has subsequently prevented him from performing. His new ECM release finds the physically impaired but still mentally sharp bassist and composer looking back over the past 20 years, in order to select and distil, from the many hundreds of solos he contributed to the Garbarek Group's concerts, 12 improvised sequences of singular compositional character and quality. Having selected these sequences, Weber then applied, in part, sparing touches of harmonic and rhythmic colouring, and also invited Garbarek – as well as another long-time playing partner, drummer Michael Di Pasqua – to contribute to some of the tracks. The result is a suite of music of dark and deep, yet also rhythmically engaging, at times even playful, substance." (Michael Tucker) *****

"Wonderwall is a dull tune by pop band Oasis – what good can be made of its dreary drone? Not much, in the hands of some postmodern piano trios who would add shades of grey to the original's monochrome. Here, it becomes a fleet-footed samba, a million miles from northwestern English gloom. It's good too to see a woman (Paris-based B'loon) at work in the male-dominated world of rap. As she enjoins on Intro, 'Écoute ça!'" (Mark Gilbert) *****

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