Vincent Herring, Hard Times (CD review)

Vincent Herring“Is this disc’s title an apropos description of the current era, with its semi-permanent malaise, and anger seemingly just below the surface of all public discourse? Maybe,” I wrote, in my review for JazzTimes.Vincent Herring’s response: Gather like-minded musicians and make a joyful noise with a set of muscular blues-tinted jazz.”

Read the complete review here.

Fun fact: Back in 2000, I played the Nat Adderley memorial concert at Florida Southern College’s Branscomb Auditorium, in Lakeland, my hometown. Nat lived there for many decades after relocating from New Jersey; at FSC, he was artist-in-residence, and, with FSC music prof Larry Burke, he launched the (now-defunct) Child of the Sun Jazz Festival.

How’d I wind up playing that show, alongside former Adderley musical associates and friends, including drummer Jimmy Cobb, pianists Larry Willis and Rob Bargad, saxophonists Vincent Herring and Antonio Hart, and trumpeter Longineau Parsons, among others?

Here’s how it happened: Burke had asked me to lend my upright bass to Walter Booker for the performance, which I was happy to do. I’d previously let another NYC bassist, Santi Debriano, borrow my bass when he played one of the editions of the Child of the Sun fest. About three hours before the show was slated to start, Burke called me, told me that Bookie was ailing (an asthma attack) and unable to play, and asked if I’d fill in.

I couldn’t ever have actually properly filled in for Booker, who died in 2006, but I had a (slightly nervous) blast playing the gig — won’t ever forget that performance.

I’d had a chance to get to know Nat a little bit some years early, when I interviewed him for an extended feature in one of the first issues of Jazziz magazine; I was a part of that mag from the start, beginning with exploratory meetings at the condo of Michael Fagien, who was then a med student (or a resident?) at UF. I recall discussing what the mag should be named — I wasn’t in favor of “Jazziz.” What did  I know? 🙂

And that’s … almost the rest of the story 🙂

BTW — had a chance on Saturday to talk with Debriano after one of his sets at Smalls in NYC. He was leading a great quartet with Craig Handy on tenor, Bill O’Connell on piano, and Living Colour drummer Will Calhoun.

Debriano said he hopes to soon record with that group.

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Best Jazz of 2014: Tom Harrell, Chick Corea, Frank Kimbrough, Snarky Puppy & more

In 2014, Jazz meant a profusion of intriguing and sometimes provocative releases by veterans (Tom Harrell) and young stars (Ambrose Akinmusire) alike, the music as the nominal subject and/or driving force of the score in several films (“Whiplash,” “Low Down,” “Birdman”), and several unfunny satires of jazzers, followed by dust-ups in the jazz community (the Sonny Rollins “interview” in the The New Yorker, etc.).

Full-time institutions of jazz — namely Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, and SFJAZZ in San Francisco — continued to flourish, with many, varied events, as did several competitions (Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, the Jacksonville Jazz Festival Piano Competition), and a profusion of festivals in the United States and abroad, although some of the festivals continued to lean heavy in the pop/rock direction while de-emphasizing their middle name.

Jazz clubs in NYC are still going strong, and still at the heart of the jazz world, as I was reminded during visits to the venerable Village Vanguard (for Christian McBride’s Inside Straight quintet; see my review) and Birdland (for Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, with my friend and former bandmate Jonathan Powell on trumpet; see my review). There are dozens more great venues, of course, in NYC.

More great jazz was released than one person could hear, of course. Here are 10 stand-outs, in a list I was asked to contribute to JazzTimes, NPR Music, the Jazz Journalists Association. and elsewhere.

TOP 10

tom harrell trip

1. Tom Harrell, “Trip” (HighNote)

2. Chick Corea, “Trilogy” (Concord)

3. Frank Kimbrough, “Quartet” (Palmetto)

4. Snarky Puppy, “We Like It Here” (Ropeadope)

5. Henry Butler-Steven Bernstein and the Hot 9, “Viper’s Drag” (Impulse)

6. Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band, “Landmarks” (Blue Note)

7. Ambrose Akinmusire, “The Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Paint” (Blue Note)

8. Stanton Moore, “Conversations” (The Royal Potato Family)

9. Medeski Scofield Martin and Wood, “Juice” (Indirecto)

10. Keith Jarrett-Charlie Haden, “Last Dance” (ECM)

HISTORICAL/REISSUES

1. Charlie Haden and Jim Hall, “Charlie Haden-Jim Hall” (Impulse)

2. John Coltrane, “Offering: Live at Temple University” (Impulse)

3. Miles Davis, “Miles at the Fillmore — Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 3” (Columbia/Legacy)

4. Jaco Pastorius, “Modern American Music … Period! The Criteria Sessions” (Omnivore)

5. Thelonious Monk, “Paris 1969” (Blue Note)

VOCAL

  • Tierney Sutton,  “Paris Sessions” (BFM Jazz)

DEBUT

  • Ben Flocks, “Battle Mountain” (West Cliff)

LATIN

  • Arturo O’Farrill, “The Offense of the Drum” (Motema)

 

Takuya Kuroda, “Rising Son” (CD review)

(originally published in Relix)

Takuya Kuroda, “Rising Son” (Blue Note)

Neo-electro-funk is the dominant flavor on Takuya Kuroda’s Rising Son, the major-label debut for the Brooklyn-based, Japanese-born trumpeter, who is best known for his work with singer Jose James.

James produces, lends his band for the session and sings on a soulful, chill-out version of Roy Ayers’ slinky “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.” Elsewhere, it’s mostly about Kuroda, whose music hints at the likes of ‘70s Miles and Donald Byrd, with blues-edged playing sometimes suggesting Lee Morgan.

Fender Rhodes skronk, hand claps, swirling synthesizers, rolling percussion, deep bass synth and Nate Smith’s sticky drum-kit funk set the stage for Kuroda and trombonist Corey King on the title track, and guest guitarist Lionel Loueke amps the Afrobeat textures of “Afro Blues.” The acoustic “Mala” and mellow closer “Call” are among other standout numbers.

3 Cohens, “Tightrope” (CD review)

(originally published in JazzTimes)

3 Cohens, “Tightrope” (Anzic)

With earlier 3 Cohens albums titled Family, Braid and One, the Israeli-born siblings have always conveyed an appealing unity vibe: They’re tightly bound together by artistic creativity, spirit, blood and, at this stage of their careers, a desire to collaborate on ambitious recordings.

Their appealing musical interconnectivity shines brightly on Tightrope, an album that indeed finds Anat Cohen (tenor saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet), Yuval Cohen (soprano saxophone) and Avishai Cohen (trumpet) participating in a balancing act. They’re torn between vintage sounds and bracingly modern pieces, between unaccompanied tracks and those also featuring notable guests, and between conceptual grandeur and a penchant for all-out improvisation.

That togetherness is most clearly demonstrated on several of those aforementioned siblings-only tracks, including the opener, a bouncy take on Art Farmer’s “Blueport,” and Gerry Mulligan’s “Festive Minor,” with its call-and-response sections and various unison and harmony passages coming off as a lively discussion among equals. (Both pieces are from the repertoire of Mulligan’s pianoless quartet.) The Cohens are also heard sans others on five improvised “Conversation” pieces; a moody-to-sunny take on Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House”; a tricked-out “Indiana”; Yuval’s somber “It Might as Well”; the haunting traditional Yiddish tune “Ai Li Lu Li Lu”; and Avishai’s closing “Mantra.”

Still, it’s nice to have guests to spin things in a slightly different direction. Christian McBride does that chunky and woody thing he does so well on Ellington’s “Just Squeeze Me.” 3 Cohens Sextet drummer Johnathan Blake creates a form-fitting rhythm pocket on Avishai’s bluesy swinger “Black.” And pianist Fred Hersch provides lush underpinnings on his “Song Without Words #4: Duet,” a sublime version of the ballad “Estate” and a playful take on Monk’s “I Mean You.”

Kermit Ruffins, “We Partyin’ Traditional Style” (CD review)

(originally published in Relix)

kermit cd

Kermit Ruffins, “We Partyin’ Traditional Style” (Basin Street Records)

Kermit Ruffins has become Kermit, Inc., gathering crowds for regular gigs in New Orleans, running his own restaurant, touring and memorably playing himself—an eminently good-natured, way laidback jazz cat—on HBO’s Treme.

He’s still releasing appealing audio souvenirs. This time, he applies his distinctive barking, slurring and growling playing and singing to traditional tunes, with several of the city’s top-rank musicians, including drummer Shannon Powell, pianist Steve Pistorius, banjo man Don Vappie and trombonist Lucien Barbarin.

“Careless Love” benefits from a gospel-blues underpinning, “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South” is a suitably warm and mellow salute to St. Louis, the punchy “Treme Second Line” is reminiscent of Ruffins’ days with the Rebirth Brass Band and a playful “When the Saints Go Marching In” caps it all.