Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden, “Last Dance” (CD review)

(originally published in JazzTimes)

Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden, “Last Dance” (ECM Records)

(published before Haden’s death)

keith jarrett charlie haden

So maybe this project should officially be known as the Standards Duo. Four years after old friends and onetime musical collaborators Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden released their first batch of vintage material recorded at the pianist’s studio, they return with another set of intimate pieces culled from the same 2007 sessions.

Two of the tunes from 2010’s Jasmine are back in alternate versions: The pair move as one on the stately “Where Can I Go Without You?” and the similarly tinted “Goodbye.” (Yes, Jarrett’s humming again is heard in the background, but it doesn’t spoil the pleasure of his typically searching solos.) As on Jasmine, the feel here is largely relaxed in the extreme, beginning with the elegant “My Old Flame,” which runs more than 10 minutes, opening up for some of Jarrett’s most expansive soloing and a long melodic turn from Haden.

Jarrett delays sounding the familiar melody of Monk’s “’Round Midnight,” handily putting into practice his interpretation-equals-composition ethos, until after Haden’s solo, and makes a foray into midtempo swing on Bud Powell’s “Dance of the Infidels” (more tunes at this tempo would have brought some welcome contrast to the proceedings). And yet the two are experts at crafting ballads, bringing out all the inherently poignant colors and melancholy textures of “Everything Happens to Me” and Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.” Both, like many of the other performances on the disc, are keepers, artfully illuminating well-trod standards.

 

Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio (CD review)

(originally published in JazzTimes)

Gerry Gibbs, Ron Carter, Kenny Baron, “Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio” (Whaling City Sound)

gerry gibbs thrasher

For his seventh album as a leader, relatively unsung drummer Gerry “The Thrasher” Gibbs enlists two revered jazz veterans as rhythm-section partners, bassist Ron Carter and pianist Kenny Barron. Both were childhood heroes to Gibbs; he was 10, in 1974, when he first heard Carter, and 11 when he heard Barron, courtesy of albums bought at a used-records store in California. So why not call the group his dream trio?

Fortunately, the session isn’t merely a document of hero worship. Instead, the three connect as equal partners, with Barron and Carter, who figure heavily in each other’s discographies, livening Gibbs’ compositions. “When I Dream” is a pulsating, stair-stepping tribute to McCoy Tyner; “Here Comes Ron” is a spritely bebop tune for Carter, bolstered by some deft brushes work and a rubbery extended bass solo; “The Thrasher” is a bluesy groove tune for Don Pullen; and “The Woman on the TV Screen” is a lush ballad penned for Gibbs’ wife, Kyeshie.

The three also draw from the elder statesmens’ books, with the twists and turns—and hard swing—of Carter’s “A Feeling,” which he first recorded four decades ago, and the driving bossa rhythms and textures of Barron’s “Sunshower.” And the three explore plenty of tunes they’ve played on various bandstands over the years, including a lively version of Monk’s “Epistrophy,” a sprint through Herbie Hancock’s “The Eye of the Hurricane,” a surprising rework of Coltrane’s “Impressions” and a quick “Beat Box Version” of Miles’ “The Theme.” Another highlight is the swinging stroll through Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing.” No worries here.

 

 

Tampa Jazz Notes: Christian McBride Rules at the Mahaffey; Ybor Jazz Fest Continues; Rickie Lee Jones Cancelled

 
Christian McBride
, easily the most recorded and most honored jazz bassist of his generation, brought his trio to the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg  Saturday night for two impressive sets’ worth of standards and original compositions.

Much of the music was taken from McBride’s new CD, due early next year on the Mack Avenue label.  It wouldn’t be overstating things to say that the group, with McBride (Mahaffey photo by Bridge Burke) joined by monster young pianist Christian Sands and similarly talented drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. (photo by Bridge Burke), played the hell out of the material.

Unlike some of his recent ventures, McBride’s current trio is focused on the acoustic bebop, hard bop and swing side of jazz, with a nod to funk and R&B only coming only at the end of the show, courtesy of a version of Johnny Taylor’s “Who’s Making Love” that also referenced Michael Jackson’s “Gonna Be Starting Something” and Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”

Sands, 23, throughout displayed astonishing chops that were sometimes reminiscent of the likes of Oscar Peterson, and he also showed a lighter, more genteel touch, in the vein of the late Billy Taylor, one of the New Haven, Conn. native’s early teachers. Owens demonstrated precise, intuitive playing, throwing unexpected accents and bomb drops into the mix, and sometimes switching to brushes.

McBride, of course, was the show’s star, turning in jaw-dropping runs, chords, slides and harmonic plucks, and offering beefy tone and walking grooves that were heavily influenced by Ray Brown and Ron Carter, while still distinctly his own.

The trio offered standards and familiar pieces — “Monk’s “I Mean You,” “My Favorite Things,” Billy Taylor’s “Easy Walker,” Benny Golson’s “Killer Joe” — as well as McBride’s smartly turned originals.

Nice seeing McBride back in the Tampa Bay area so quickly, after bringing his “Kind of Brown” quintet to last year’s Clearwater Jazz Holiday; before that, he was last here with Pat Metheny‘s Trio, with drummer Antonio Sanchez, at the Tampa Theatre. McBride more than once told the audience how much he felt at home. So maybe he’ll make it an annual tradition?

(I’m writing a more detailed review of the fest for a jazz mag; I’ll link to it in this space when it’s published)

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If the Mahaffey audience felt like a hometown crowd to McBride, maybe that owed in part to the number of locally based jazz musicians and jazz aficionados in attendance for what felt like a must-see on this year’s jazz calendar. We ran into pianists Kenny Drew, Jr. and Stan Hunter, drummers Ian Goodman, Mark Feinman and Steve Bucholtz (my old rhythm-section mate from the University of Florida jazz band), and bassist Alejandro Arenas, as well as Bob Seymour, the longtime jazz director for WUSF, 89.7 FM. Several musicians, and students, had a chance to attend a Q&A with McBride during sound check on Saturday afternoon.

That “just like home” feeling probably stemmed, too, from the fact that some McBride family members were in the audience, including a cousin, Faith Walston. McBride took a few minutes to give a shout-out to Walston’s recent book, “All Paws In: Lessons Learned From Loving My Rescue Dogs.”

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Many of the above-mentioned locally based musicians are on the bill for the third annual Ybor Jazz Festival, which continues through Sunday at the HCC Performing Arts Building in Ybor City. Drew plays tonight, with Latin supergroup Guisando Caliente. Sunday, the trio Jazztek will be followed by Rayzilla’s Dreamboats. Admission is $15 daily. For more information, click here.

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As mentioned on my Facebook page, I was REALLY looking forward to hearing Rickie Lee Jones, next Sunday (Nov. 11) at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg. Jones’ voice, jazz-pop songs and arrangements and great bands first impressed me back in the summer of ’79, when Chuck E.’s in Love” was part of the soundtrack of my teenage life (and background for an early romance). She had me at hello.

Unfortunately, the show was suddenly cancelled this week. I’ve not made any official inquiries as to why it’s no longer happening. On a whim, I contacted Rickie Lee through her Twitter account, and this is what she wrote in response: “Cancelled by promoter and manager. Come to the other date n florida.”

She’s also playing Nov 7 in Little Torch Key, Nov. 9 in Ponte Vedra, and Nov. 10 in Orlando. For more info, visit her site.

Sonny Rollins: Road Shows, Vol. 1

Sonny Rollins’ latest CD, Road Shows, Vol. 1, has gained loads of critical acclaim and landed on more than a jazz critics’ year-end lists.

sonny-rollins1And for good reason: The disc captures the great saxophonist in full flight, playing at the peak of his considerable powers.

Click here to read my review, published in Las Vegas City Life.

Or read the text, below:

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Sonny Rollins

Road Shows, Vol. 1

(Doxy)

It’s not overstating the case to call Sonny Rollins one of the last living jazz giants. Even on the down slide to 80, the tenor saxophonist continues to roam the earth, playing every solo as if it were his last, threatening to turn every show into an event, the kind where listeners are likely to learn something new about the art of jazz, and discover something unexpected about the playing of a monster improviser who has been thrilling audiences since making his breakthrough in the early ’50s with the likes of Miles and Monk.

That said, too many of Rollins’ studio recordings have been subpar – failed attempts to recreate the live vibe. Not so with Road Shows, Vol. 1, culled in part from concert recordings made by Rollins devotee Carl Smith. Here, in live performances caught between 1980 and 2007, Rollins absolutely romps. His brawny horn digs deep during a long, unaccompanied section in “Easy Living” and turns alternately tender and questioning for a bracing version of “Some Enchanted Evening,” with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Roy Haynes, performed last year at Carnegie Hall.

He stretches to the breaking point on his signature blues tune, “Tenor Madness,” rocks a calypso groove on his “Nice Lady,” and opens up the ballad “More Than You Know,” even slipping in a snippet of a Christmas melody. Undeniably brilliant.