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.

 

 

Nathan East: Consummate Sideman Releases Solo Debut

(originally published in JazzTimes)

NATHAN EAST

“Daft Punk’s Nathan East heads in his own direction,” a
recent headline in a large-circulation newspaper read, announcing the bass
 player’s first solo album, titled simply Nathan East and released through Yamaha. Nice blast of attention
 for the journeyman musician. Truth be told, for three decades East has been a well-known
 session and touring player for the likes of Eric Clapton, Toto and Michael
 Jackson. He also cofounded popular contemporary jazzers Fourplay in 1990, long before 
his steady-pumping bassline helped drive Daft Punk’s catchy,
 eminently danceable “Get Lucky” to mega sales and a Grammy for Record of the
Year.




“Anything to get you a headline,” East says, chuckling, from
 Los Angeles, his home since relocating from San Diego, where he grew up
 and earned a bachelor of music from UC San Diego. “After being in the business for
30 to 35 years you don’t get surprised by anything.




“[Daft Punk] reached out to me,” he continues. “They had put together a list of 
people they wanted to work with. I had just seen Tron: Legacy, so I was
 familiar with their electronica and the fact that nobody knows what they look
 like. [They said,] ‘This is the groove. Let’s throw some ideas out there and we 
could loop it in Pro Tools. We recorded prior to Nile Rodgers putting his
 guitar part on it. Later, they said we have to redo the bass to really lock it
 in with him and get that Chic sound.”




Not long after appearing alongside Daft Punk at the Grammys,
East, 58, is celebrating the completion of a larger career goal. Why the long wait? “I’ve aspired to do
 this for years—for decades,” he says. “My biggest excuse is that I’ve been
 extremely busy. I had to find a time when I wasn’t on the road and I wasn’t
recording somebody’s project.”




The album, with East joined by guitarist
 Michael Thompson, pianist Jeff Babko, organist Tim Carmon, late drummer Ricky Lawson and other
 longtime musical associates, is intentionally rangy. Variously playing his 
five- and six-string
 electric basses as well as an electric upright, East offers new 
takes on old favorites, including two by Stevie Wonder—a reharmonized “Sir
 Duke,” with Ray Parker Jr. on guitar, and “Overjoyed,” with Wonder guesting on harmonica.
Michael McDonald sings “Moondance,” and two Fourplay bandmates appear: pianist Bob
 James on “Moodswing” and guitarist Chuck Loeb on “Sevenate.”

The bassist sings
 on several tracks, including the Beatles’ “Yesterday,” also featuring East’s 13-year-old
 son, Noah, on piano, and Steve Winwood’s “Can’t Find My Way Home,” with Clapton on
 guitar.
“It’s a celebration of my musical relationships—I have
lots of my friends on the album—and these pieces all have special meaning,” East says. “I
 remember playing ‘Moondance’ in my first band. I used to sing that song. With ‘Sir 
Duke,’ I sat in with a big band in Norway last year when I was on tour with 
Toto. I looked around, and everyone was smiling and having so much fun. That
 tune is like an instant love fest.”




East switched from cello to bass at age 14, and began
 playing in his high school jazz band in addition to Top 40 groups around San
Diego. For a while, he tuned his cello like a bass. “I pretended that it was an
 upright,” he says. “It was a weird thing to do.”




His musical interests were diverse—Wes Montgomery, Clapton
and Cream, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, Santana. And he took
 some bass playing cues from the likes of Tower of Power’s Rocco Prestia, Earth,
Wind & Fire’s Verdine White and Paul McCartney, among others.
 After a stint with singer Barry White, East quickly made 
inroads on the L.A. studio scene in the early ’80s, competing against such session 
stalwarts as Abraham Laboriel, Chuck Rainey and Max Bennett.




For his solo album, he handily demonstrates his skills on his instrument, particularly on the African-tinted “Madiba,” one of several tunes he
co-wrote (including the Fourplay favorite “101 Eastbound” and “Daft Funk”), and “America the
Beautiful,” which opens with his unaccompanied lead and chordal work.




But he made the album a song-focused effort. Says East, “I think
everybody expects a bass player to kind of jump out there and [expects] it to 
be a bass fest, and so I kind of consciously opted not to go that route.”

 

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.

 

Jazz Makes Only a Cameo Appearance at Major Obama Inauguration Concert

Jazz is one of Barack Obama’s favorite things, according to some of the statements he’s made, in interviews with Rolling Stone and elsewhere (see my previous post).

So what happened? Was he merely giving lip service?

It looks like jazz will make only a cameo appearance at “We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration” at the Lincoln Memorial on Jan. 18. Herbie Hancock is the sole jazz artist on a list of pop/rock artists that includes some of the usual pop/rock suspects — Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Wonder, Beyonce. Not that I’m not overjoyed to see Stevie get this kind of attention.

“The 90-minute show, which will begin at 2 p.m. and which will be shown that evening in a special free broadcast on HBO, will consist mainly of performers covering songs that have historical resonance or connect to the theme of the concert …,” according to a Washington Post report. Here’s the Billboard story on the event.

Meanwhile, I’ve not heard word of any major jazz artists appearing at the 10 official Inaugural Balls.

A CNN-sponsored Inauguration-related event at the Kennedy Center, however, will feature trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and banjo man Bela Fleck. That program, presented by Jazz at Lincoln Center, will be broadcast live on Jan. 19 at 7 p.m.

For those expecting that Obama would give a boost to jazz … this is  disappointing.