20 Standards (Quartet) 2003
Four more CDs from the same tour that yielded last year’s four-CD 23 Standards (Quartet) 2003. The bounty results from Braxton picking fresh songs each show—jazz pieces more often than the usual chestnuts, with old favorites Brubeck and Desmond most prominent. Tracks stretch out leisurely, with Kevin O’Neil’s deft guitar often the highlight, and Braxton’s saxes favoring the high registers. The most accessible and simply pleasurable set he’s done—smart and cool. A
Saxophonist Tim Berne joins frequent collaborators Drew Gress and Tom Rainey for long, freewheeling improvs. They released two records from 1996 to 1998, then nothing until this set at John Zorn’s Stone in May 2005. They probably weren’t planning on releasing this one either, but rarely has spontaneous invention meshed so perfectly. Gress delivers the fat bottom you want in a bass, but the star is Rainey, whose exceptionally loud and precise drums shift the time so adroitly he constructs a labyrinthine cage for the sax. Berne paces, tests his limits, and ultimately plays within himself. He’s never sounded so cogent. A
FRED ANDERSON/HAMID DRAKE/WILLIAM PARKER
The five minutes of solo sax opening the second disc shows off all the tools in Anderson’s kit. He doesn’t really get going until the rhythm section joins in, but when they do, Parker and Drake loom huge, filling the soundscape with shifting grooves and powerful rumble. Anderson finds plenty to say in their wake, until Parker picks up his nagaswaram (an Indian oboe) for a snake-charming duet. A MINUS
New York School
Christensen says his compositions draw inspiration from the circle of poets and painters around Frank O’Hara, but that tells you nothing about the music. He writes for pairs of reed instruments, usually matching timbres rather than looking for contrasts. He’s joined here by Walt Weiskopf and a bass-drums combo that keeps things moving as he and Weiskopf work their way up and down the equipment rack. The tenor sax duel is the liveliest, but the interplay fascinates even when they draw flutes. A MINUS
Place & Time
An Israeli in New York who works most often in Latin bands, Cohen has a light touch with her saxophones and a dollop of klezmer in her clarinet. Her first record syncretizes a world of influences, with none dominating, except perhaps the bebop that never met a music it couldn’t incorporate. More surprising is how well behaved her syntheses are, leaving us with an album that is impossible to pigeonhole as anything except surpassingly graceful. A MINUS
GERRY HEMINGWAY QUARTET
A very potent group. The horns—Ellery Eskelin’s tenor sax and Herb Robertson’s trumpet—deploy in myriad ways, notably Eskelin’s crafty solo constructs and Robertson’s rapid-fire brass. But the rhythm section is evenly calibrated and tightly engaged. With due respect to the leader and his songbook, the MVP is Mark Helias, whose rumbling pulse, on electric as well as acoustic bass, serves as a springboard for everyone else. A MINUS
GEORGE RUSSELL AND THE LIVING TIME ORCHESTRA
The 80th Birthday Concert
In theory, Russell was the guy who moved jazz from bebop to postbop, although in practice Miles Davis and John Coltrane get the credit. His early records, from Jazz Workshop in 1956 until he moved to Europe in 1963, still bear fruit, with especially profound influence in Scandinavia. Returning to the U.S. in 1969, he settled into academia, working on his Lydian Chromatic Concept and writing sweeping orchestral works like “Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved by Nature” and “The African Game”—the two centerpieces reprised for this big-band birthday bash. You’d think he’d have slowed down enough at 80 that we might catch up, but even when he’s just having fun, like here, he’s still several steps ahead of the game. A MINUS
She has quickly established herself as a versatile violinist working everywhere from ROVA to the Hot Club of San Francisco, but she flashes little virtuosity here. Instead she makes her mark elaborating folk tunes into luminous harmonic textures, shaping the melodies with her violin but leaving it to others to buff up the highlights—Ron Miles’s cornet, Doug Wieselman’s clarinets, Rachelle Garniez’s accordion and piano, and most of all Bill Frisell’s never more shimmering guitar. A MINUS
Two versions of “What a Difference a Day Makes”—one with the band, the other a duet with Frank Wess—are her entry in this year’s Dinah Washington sweepstakes, where she’s less consistent but more interesting than Diana Reeves in Good Night, and Good Luck. No idea how old she is—she’s got Louis Jordan on her resume, and a 1961 album with Cal Tjader, but other than that she’s only been recording since 1990. One key to this one is the Geri Allen–led band, whose measured support never intrudes. A MINUS
RALPH SUTTON & DICK CARY
Rendezvous at Sunnie’s 1969
Sutton was the postwar era’s nonpareil stride pianist, so he offers little here that hasn’t already been showcased many times. So focus on Cary, who cut his teeth playing piano with Louis Armstrong and trumpet with Eddie Condon. Here he sticks to trumpet and alto horn—looks like a miniature tuba—adding a wizened soulfulness to Sutton’s flashy little trio. A MINUS
THE VANDERMARK 5
Of course this is over the top, even for an artist as exhaustively documented as Ken Vandermark: Five nights in Krakow, two sets each, plus a couple of jam sessions bring the total to 12 discs. Serious students can plot variations in the repeated songs, note how three new ones compare to the later studio versions on The Color of Memory, and hear how the band works classics by Rollins, Kirk, and others. The rest of us will just pick random discs whose surprises seem endless. A MINUS
THE VANDERMARK 5
The Color of Memory
Clocking in at just over 80 minutes, this could easily have been a single disc. Some pieces, such as the one that jams dedications to Ray Charles, Elvin Jones, and Steve Lacy into a single “Suitcase,” feel underdeveloped. And the recent albums’ spin-on-a-dime arrangements have turned loosey-goosey. Makes one wonder if an album a year for eight years doesn’t add up to a rut. But the expansive stuff on the second disc will overcome your doubts, mostly by showing how the band has grown around its overworked leader. A MINUS
Dud of the Month
In the movie ‘Round Midnight, Hancock played the one musician who preferred food to drink. Can’t begrudge him that, nor the fame he built up with and without Miles in the ’60s. But even if you credit his headhunting ’70s, he’s been coasting for a long time, and in this joint venture with Starbucks he finally cashes out. Ten songs, a dozen singers plus Santana, a little cocktail piano. It’s not awful—not all of it, anyway—but on the whole I’d just as soon hear him read the business plan. In particular, I wonder how much these has-beens and wannabes—Christina Aguilera singing Leon Russell counts as both—had to pay to get their names on the cover. With 9,000 stores peddling a couple dozen titles to millions of caffeine-addled impulse buyers, the rent on rack space has gotta be steep. But how long can they peddle product this mediocre before some accountant figures the real estate is better invested in chocolate? C
Additional Consumer News
Good Night, and Good Luck
She haunts the movie, her role expanded here for an impeccably professional primer, a soundtrack that shadows the separate and unequal ’50s.
They don’t write them like they used to, but Hazeltine’s fogey enough he doesn’t try to push modernity past the Bee Gees’ disco period.
Negrophilia [The Album]
The book might clear a few things up, but meanwhile Ladd’s words fascinate while his friends kibitz.
Worldly beats, guests who could’ve stayed longer— especially Pharoah Sanders.
Full of Life
My fave among four or five recent records by the trumpet legend—working steadily but slower, taking time to soak it all in.
MARC COPLAND/JOHN ABERCROMBIE/KENNY WHEELER
No bass, no drums, nothing to hurry three masters from their luxury.
ERNEST DAWKINS’CHICAGO 12
Misconceptions of a Delusion Shades of a Charade
As the mayor says, “We’re not here to create disorder; we’re here to preserve disorder.”
For My Father
The Great Jazz Trio leader in a reflective mood, settling for a real good jazz trio.
THE DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET
London Flat London Sharp
Bobby Militello doesn’t make you forget Desmond, but he helps Brubeck remember.
GERRY HEMINGWAY QUINTET
Double Blues Crossing
Between the Lines
New players, same odd mix—clarinets, trombone, cello, bass, drums—as his old avant-chamber group.
Perles Noires Vol. I
Free-ranging drums, Sabir Mateen’s struggling sax, guests—Dave Burrell gives Vol. I a slight edge, but Vol. II won’t disappoint.
PETER APFELBAUM & THE NEW YORK HIEROGLYPHICS
It Is Written
BILL CHARLAP SANDY STEWART
Love Is Here to Stay
MARIAN MCPART-LAND & FRIENDS
85 Candles—Live in New York
Mizell: The Mizell Brothers at Blue Note [1972–77]