The Jazz Digest, January 2013

Choice snips from Jazz Journal, January 2013: Heather Cairncross rates elderly gent Jamie Cullum, Julian Joseph champions swing, groove and blues and TCB's Peter Schmidlin says ’They call just about anything jazz now’. JJ critics call the top records of 2012 stuff from Armstrong to Surman



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From the editor

Reader Will Roebuck writes: "I always look forward to JJ's record of the year, but am always disappointed. Not because of the choices, but because most of your critics seem to regard the exercise as a chore, rather than a pleasure. Their comments are desultory at best . . . Maybe this is because you give them too little space." If this has sometimes been true, this year's comments seem predominantly rather positive. Perhaps we are seeing the end of a dark period in which the clouds of spin that followed the co-option of jazz by a generation of arts generalists are clearing to reveal sheer musical merit and a moderation of critical scepticism. Let's hope. For sure, looking through the list of records in this issue's 2012 poll I am reminded of the great riches on offer in jazz – there's something to change everyone's life in the 790-odd discs we reviewed in 2012.

 

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Heather Cairncross on Jamie Cullum

"Heather Cairncross laughs as she relates her first impression of Jamie Cullum. 'I remember hearing him and thinking "Gosh! Who's the elderly gentleman singing?"' Because he's got such a fantastic, grainy voice."

 

Julian Joseph on jazz education

"Jazz education is a bit of a free for all. I don't mind, because encouraging creativity is really important, but I'd like to add respect for history, emphasising the importance of swing, groove and blues in jazz. I want to do that through the music of Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Mingus, Coltrane right through to Chick Corea and so on."

 

Letters: On the playing of Steely Dan on Jazz Record Requests

"I'm writing to defend the playing of Aja by Steely Dan on Jazz Record Requests . . . To judge from what I've heard, and the playlists seem to support me in this, Aja was an exception, albeit not one without a jazz point. I'd be similarly unperturbed to hear on JRR something by Joni Mitchell, particularly from the albums that featured Jaco Pastorius (who is sometimes heard to better effect on Mitchell's songs than on more evidently 'jazz' sessions); or from Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, whose poetically rambling narratives owe their dramatic shape and freedom in large measure to Richard Davis and Connie Kay. But I see little evidence that JRR is even receiving, let alone giving priority to, requests for Lou Reed, James Taylor, Scritti Politti, Sting or other popular songwriters who have recorded alongside jazz musicians."

 

Peter Schmidlin of the TCB label bemused by the Montreux jazz festival

"It all changed about 20 years ago, and it's quite strange, all these young people who go to the festival because it's summer, it's music, and it's festival time, but they don't really know what jazz is. They call just about anything jazz now."

 

Simon Spillett recalls his teenage discovery of Getz's Jazz Samba

"Putting it on, sounds of utter loveliness emerged from the speakers, but the complex themes, subtle rhythms and harmonic sophistication defeated my efforts to join in, a situation not entirely helped by the fact that my cassette player was running a semitone sharp. After a few blustery attempts to graft my teenage trombone playing onto a record of consummate maturity, I gave up and simply listened. It was a revelatory experience."

 

Critics' Poll 2012

TOP FIVE NEW ISSUES

1.  John Surman Saltash: Bells

2.  Branford Marsalis: Four MFs Playin' Tunes

3.  Wadada Leo Smith: Ten Freedom Summers

4= Peter Appleyard: The Lost 1974 Session

4= Alan Barnes/David Newton: Inside Out

 

TOP FIVE REISSUES

1.  Clifford Brown/Max Roach: Complete Studio Recordings

2.  Louis Armstrong: Complete Hot Five & Hot Seven

3= Joe Harriott: Movement/High Spirits

3= Coleman Hawkins: Classic Sessions 1922-1947

4.  Charlie Mingus: The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady

 

This year 32 critics took part, choosing from the 791 or so records reviewed in JJ during 2012. Critics voted for 220 different titles altogether. Check the January print edition of JJ for each of the 32 critics' selections and comment.

 

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Excerpts from over 50 CD reviews in this issue:

 

JOSH BERMAN: OLD IDEA (Delmark)

"There's a gentle harmonic spaciousness, and an intensely musical virtuosity, with Berman rejecting clichéd pyrotechnics and the string of solos approach in favour of a more satisfying collective complexity . . . Old favourites such as Love Is Just Around The CornerSugar and I've Found A New Baby appear alongside modern tributes to the idiom written by Berman. The result is a totally satisfying, refreshing and delightful release." (Andy Hamilton) ****

 

DIGBY FAIRWEATHER: TO FREDERICK WITH AFFECTION (Rose Cottage)

"2012 marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Delius, in honour of which Digby was commissioned by the Delius society to write and record an eight-part jazz suite based on music by, or relating in a sense to, Delius. Digby's band perform with distinction, particularly Stringle and Ashworth, showing exemplary cohesion in group passages, and contributing creative, well-crafted solos. So credit all round, particularly to Digby, for the intelligent and imaginative concepts applied in this challenging, one-off project." (Hugh Rainey) ****

 

STAN GETZ: FOCUS/COOL VELVET (Poll Winners)

"Getz told me in the 80s that he regarded Focus as the greatest musical achievement of his life. It certainly stands with the greatest of Ellington or Gil Evans as a masterwork and one can pay no higher compliment to Getz than to say that he fitted with Sauter like Hodges fitted with Duke . . . If you haven't got Focus then your jazz collection is not complete." (Steve Voce) ****

 

TOM GIBBS: FEAR OF FLYING (Whirlwind)

"All the musicians featured here are on superb form and together demonstrate just why contemporary jazz is in such good shape . . . James Maddren on drums really shines. If you want to hear modern jazz drumming at its inventive best, listen carefully to his playing across the entirety of Fear Of Flying; it's a stellar performance." (John Adcock) ****

 

HIROMI TRIO PROJECT: MOVE (Telarc)

"Hiromi Uehara is certainly not a richly nuanced player in the mould of Mehldau or Taborn and her emotional immediacy and accessible blues-based improvisations suggest more of a latter day Erroll Garner or Oscar Peterson. Offering an incident packed 70 minutes of technical brilliance and pure escapism, Move is almost certainly Uehara's strongest and most even work to date." (Fred Grand) ****

 

LAURA JURD: LANDING GROUND (Chaos Collective)

"The clarity of vision and sophistication of execution gives us six timeless compositions and then, just to prove that she doesn't need structure and sheet music to impress, the duets allow three tantalising glimpses of the leader's sharp improvisatory skills. Plus a Belleville Rendezvous reference; what more could you want?" (Dave Foxall) ****

 

IRENE KRAL: THE BAND AND I + BETTER THAN ANYTHING (Solar)

"Irene Kral was an exceptionally talented jazz singer whose career was tragically cut short when she succumbed to lung cancer at the age of 46. She left behind a superb legacy; recordings that vividly demonstrate her blend of sophisticated elegance and understated yet driving swing. Serious students of the art of jazz singing, be they listeners or learners (or even seasoned practitioners), need to hear this singer. Recommended." (Bruce Crowther) ****

 

RACHAEL MACFARLANE: HAYLEY SINGS (Concord)

"It's a rather delightful track listing, with big-band standards Makin' Whoopee! and Sooner Or Later sitting comfortably with 60s folk-pop from Paul Simon and Carole King. MacFarlane's voice shapeshifts through the genres, switching from schmaltzy and affectedly sexy on Makin' Whoopee! to light and girlish on Feelin' Groovy with ease . . . It's evident she doesn't believe herself to be batting in the big jazz leagues but it's a charmer of an album nonetheless." (Sally Evans-Darby) ***

   

MARCUS MILLER: RENAISSANCE (Dreyfus)

"The sound and groove are inimitable and Miller, with a resumé featuring Miles Davis, David Sanborn, Mike Mainieri, the Brecker Brothers and numerous other NY luminaries from the late 70s on, has his place in history. He was one of the early handful – just after Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorius – who fully realised the potential of the electric bass in the modern jazz ensemble." (Mark Gilbert) ****

 

HANK MOBLEY: WORKOUT (American Jazz Classics)

"Coltrane, Getz and Dexter Gordon, recognised by many as among the top tenor players in modern (sic) jazz are run very close by Hank Mobley – certainly on the strength of his work on this brilliant disc . . . Note for hard boppers and virtually everyone else: this is essential jazz. If not already in your collection – go get it." (Brian Robinson) *****

 

WALTER NORRIS & LESZEK MOZDZER: THE LAST SET, LIVE AT THE A-TRANE (ACT)

"I don't generally go for two-piano albums, unless they're of the Byard/Riley, T'n'T, Schlippenbach/Takase sort, but this one leapfrogs an impressive roster of 2012 releases: one of the records of the year. Shame Walter isn't still around." (Brian Morton)

 

PAVILLON: STRONG TEA (Pavillon)

"It would be a pity if this got bogged down in discussion of how 'suitable' the French horn is as a jazz instrument . . . Rattigan's writing comes out of the same Anglo-eclectic tradition associated with John Surman and John Warren, Kenny Wheeler and others. The voicings are rich and non-obvious and don't drift into Gil Evans pastiche, which is hard to avoid in this territory." (Brian Morton) ***

 

ART PEPPER: UNRELEASED VOL VII (Widow's Taste)

"The proximity of the applause to the mic leads me to think that this was probably an unofficial recording (Laurie Pepper suggests it's a cassette recording made from within the audience). It's certainly not up to broadcast quality." (Steve Voce) **

 

BUDDY RICH AND HIS BUDDIES: PLAYTIME (Fresh Sound)

"This set will be of special interest to admirers of vibist Mike Mainieri, leader of the acclaimed 'acoustic fusion' band Steps Ahead. In two CDs collecting the 1960 LP Playtime and two 1961 dates it shows he was no 1980s parvenu but a jazz veteran with a considerable CV . . . Mainieri told me he spent much of the 60s and more farming. Fresh Sound reminds us then of yet another exceptional musician whose star took a left turn after shining brightly at the turn of the 50s/60s. Unlike some Jordi Pujol has brought to our attention (eg, Beverly Kenney, Joy Bryan) he rose high again in the jazz firmament" (Mark Gilbert) ****

 

STEVE SMITH AND VITAL INFORMATION: LIVE! ONE GREAT NIGHT (Q-rious Music)

"Smith's work typically mixes extremely crisp rock rhythms – stunning feats of instrumental tuning, precision and ingenious creativity – with pieces driven by swinging four-to-the-bar bass lines . . . Altogether an engaging and satisfying set that must have made for a fulfilling night out in Oregon." (Mark Gilbert) ****

 

MARTIN TINGVALL: EN NY DAG (Skip)

"Stylistically, his playing on occasion contains traces of new age maestro George Winston, with the sense of space he develops between the notes, whilst on the jauntier, busier material something of the pomp of prog-rocker Rick Wakeman emerges. Purists will no doubt be wrinkling their noses at the very thought of such a concoction, but the music is superbly executed throughout." (John Adcock) *****

 

JEREMY UDDEN: FOLK ART (Fresh Sound)
"All in all, this is much more than a mere experiment in genre-mixing. Udden's compositions bring together the best features and tonal qualities of the unusual instrumentation and present an enticing, mellow and quietly exotic alternative to the high-testosterone blowing and deconstructed pop tunes that are so often at the fore of today's new jazz." (Dave Foxall) ***


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