SFJAZZ Collective, “Live: SFJazz Center 2013” (CD review)

(originally published in JazzTimes)

SFJAZZ Collective, “Live: SFJazz Center 2013 — The Music of Chick Corea & New Compositions” (SFJAZZ)

With its latest ambitious recording, the San Francisco-based SFJAZZ Collective celebrates another great composer (the group’s modus operandi), a new venue and a new addition to the band. Two years ago, the Collective saluted the music of Stevie Wonder with a release recorded over five nights at Jazz Standard in New York City. For its 11th release, a two-CD set, the octet, with new Miami-born drummer Obed Calvaire in tow, swings back to a jazz composer, the pianist and bandleader Chick Corea. The occasion: a four-night run in March 2013 that constitutes the first recorded performances at the Robert N. Miner Auditorium at the SFJAZZ Center, the multimillion standalone jazz complex that serves as the group’s home base.

Corea’s acclaimed Latin-tinged pieces are here in fresh, robust versions, starting with the disc-one opener, a take on “Spain” arranged by Venezuelan-born pianist Edward Simon, who offers a slow, moody reading of the theme before handing it off to vibraphonist Stefon Harris; the piece intensifies with solos during the samba section before returning to its beginning theme. In a similar vein, on the same disc, is “La Fiesta,” arranged by Puerto Rican-born saxophonist Miguel Zenón, who effectively shuffles the original order of the high-contrast sections. Bassist Matt Penman lays down the flamenco groove, giving rise to Zenón’s soaring alto solo and some rhythmic derring-do from Calvaire, in tandem with Harris and Penman.

Familiar Corea gems are on disc two, too—Harris’ tricked-out, multi-tiered arrangement of “500 Miles High,” its melody given a creative remixing, and Puerto Rican-born tenor saxophonist David Sánchez’s air-hanging take on the gorgeous ballad “Crystal Silence,” led by vibes and later incorporating brass-choir textures and open space for piano. Impressive originals figure in the mix, too, including Harris’ mellow “Let’s Take a Trip to the Sky”; trumpeter Avishai Cohen’s long “Home Is,” inspired in part by music from his native Israel; Penman’s rambunctious, color-shifting “Vegan Las Vegas”; trombonist Robin Eubanks’ funk-grooving “Shifting Center”; and Zenón’s multi-segmented “Grand Opening,” written in commemoration of the SFJAZZ Center’s opening.

 

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.”

Lincoln Goines in Bass Player Magazine

goinesMy q&a feature on Lincoln Goines (Caribbean Jazz Project, Mike Stern, Sonny Rollins) appears in the March issue of Bass Player magazine. Click here to read.

Some of the other features that I’ve done for Bass Player in recent years are also available at the mag’s site. Click here to view the complete list, or access the stories individually via the links below

Wayman Tisdale (October 08)

Barre Phillips & Dave Phillips (June 08)

Esperanza Spalding (cover story, May 08)

Cleve Eaton (April 08)

Ben Allison (March 08)

Morrie Louden (December 07)

Stephan Krump (November 07)

Viktor Krauss (July 07)

Avishai Cohen (June 07)

Esperanza Spalding (December 06)

Reuben Rogers (September 06)

Lisle Atkinson (July 06)

Francois Moutin (March 06)

Jazz Bassists on Parade: David Finck, Ben Wolfe, Anne Mette Iversen, Bill Moring

Jazz sessions led by bassists long ago stopped being the exception to the rule.

Notable bass-playing sidemen — from Ron Carter and Dave Holland (Miles Davis) to Charlie Haden (Ornette Coleman), from Christian McBride to practically every four-string anchor who’s backed Chick Corea, including Stanley Clarke, John Patitucci and Avishai Cohen — successfully graduated from character actor to lead roles, applying distinctive, readily recognized tonal conceptions and compositional approaches to their own projects and tours.

Last year was no exception, with a flood of fine bass-led CDs, including the eclectic Esperanza (Heads Up), a mix of jazz, Latin, Brazilian, pop and funk from rising star Esperanza Spalding, also an affecting singer; Richard Bona‘s rambunctious, live Bona Makes You Sweat (Decca); Charlie Haden‘s Americana-rooted  Rambling Boy (Decca); and  Todd Coolman‘s Perfect Strangers (ArtistShare), an unusual project incorporating tunes penned by little-known composers (see my earlier post).

Also notable were a pair of ambitious sets of compositions and arrangements — Windy City musician Larry Gray’s 1,2,3 (Chicago Sessions), a trio recording with guitarist John Moulder and drummer Charles Heath, and Roberto Occhipinti‘s jazz/Latin/Brazilian/classical project Yemaya (ALMA).

I reviewed several of the above for major music publications.

Herewith, a quartet of other bass-led CDs deserving of greater attention:

david-finck1The David Finck Quartet, Future Day (Soundbrush) — Finck, a reliably supportive presence on sessions by Latin and Brazilian jazz artists, offers a singing tone and typically sturdy rhythm work on this top-shelf collaboration with vibraphonist Joe Locke, pianist Tom Ranier and drummer Joe La Barbera.

The swing, on tunes like “Four Flags,” with aggressive solo turns by guests Jeremy Pelt, on trumpet, and Bob Sheppard, on tenor sax, is clean and hard driving. Locke, throughout, is a wonder – casually virtuosic and, on the gorgeous “For All We Know” and elsewhere, he turns in improvisations marked by clever twists and unexpected phrasings.

The arrangements, too, offer pleasant surprises, including a 5/4 version of “Nature Boy” (a redesign suggested by La Barbera);  a haunting take on Wayne Shorter’s “Black Eyes”; and the closing “Firm Roots,” by Cedar Walton, with more bracing improvisations  by Finck and La Barbera.

(Finck’s next appearances: April 25, San Raphael , California with the Manhattan Transfer; April 26, Denver, with the Manhattan Transfer; May 16, Washington DC with Sheila Jordan; May 22, Cambridge, Mass with Steve Kuhn Trio; May 29-June 1, Blue Note New York with John Faddis)

ben-wolfeBen Wolfe, No Strangers Here (MaxJazz) — Wolfe, best known as an eminently reliable, steady-beat wood chopper for the likes of Harry Connick Jr., Diana Krall and Wynton Marsalis, mixes and matches his quartet (tenor and saxophonist Marcus Strickland, pianist Luis Perdomo, drummer Greg Hutchinson) with a string quartet and several guests on a set of dynamic originals.

The strings blend gorgeously with the band on the vintage-sounding, slow-swimming title track (and elsewhere), and Branford Marsalis raises the artistry of the proceedings even higher, playing soprano on the strolling “Milo” and tenor on “The Filth,” a dirty, twisting blues. Trumpeter Terrell Stafford also makes impressive guest shots, on the start-stop contours of opener “The Minnick Rule” and the aptly titled closer “Groovy Medium.”

anne-metteAnne Mette Iversen: AMI Quartet with 4Corners, Best of the West/AMI Quartet, Many Places (BJU Records) — Band meets string quartet, too, on Best of the West, a heady jazz-meets-classical outing led by Danish-born NYC bassist Anne Mette Iversen. New York/New Orleans tenor saxophonist John Ellis turns in a wonderfully buoyant conversation with the rhythm section and strings on the opening “North” and the searching “North West”; and Iversen’s sensitive work as an improviser is showcased on “North East.”Synchronicity is the byword for this set of intense, often intensely beautiful music.

Also included in this two-disc release is Many Places, which has the same quartet, absent of the strings, sounding considerably more loose and relaxed, and turning even more creative. The bright, swinging “Out the Atlantic” and the delicate “The Square in Ravello” are just two of many gems composed by the leader.

billmoringBill Moring & Way Out East, Spaces in Time (Owl) — The two-horn line of trumpeter Jack Walrath and saxophonist Tim Armacost frontloads Moring’s second CD with plenty of grit and heft, starting with funky opener “Sweat,” penned by Walrath.

Moring shows off his talents as a composer on the ballad-to-Latin piece, “Mary Lynn,” which opens with bowed bass and has Walrath turning in a muted solo; the pensive ballad “A Space in Time,” glued together, like other tunes, by Steve Allee’s electric keys work; and the chunky “iHop,” cued open with a grinding bass line and drummer Steve Johns’ chunky backbeat. The quintet drives furiously on Ornette Coleman’s “The Disguise.”