Disc of the Day: Plucky Strum (Sheryl Bailey & Harvie S), “Departure”

plucky strum

Plucky Strum (Sheryl Bailey & Harvie S), “Departure” (Whaling City Sound)

Harvie S first came into my view in the mid-’80s, when he was releasing albums as a leader on Gramavision, and had already built an impressive resume of performances and recordings with practically every major jazz artist you could name.  I was fortunate enough to catch him twice in Greenwich Village — with a group at the old Seventh Avenue South, and in a duo performance with singer Sheila Jordan at the Public Theater. That week, we chatted for a feature I wrote for DownBeat magazine.

The artist formerly known as Harvie Swartz hasn’t slowed down. In recent years, he put together Plucky Strum, a duo with well-traveled guitarist (and Berklee College prof) Sheryl Bailey. For their first, self-titled 2015 release, Bailey stuck to acoustic guitar. This time, she adds electric guitar, sometimes with effects and overdubs, to the mix.

The results are uniformly appealing, and it’s a pleasure hearing the two in a stripped-down sonic setting, each instrument projected with great clarity, with great wood-and-strings aural intimacy.

The program is characterized by intuitive interplay and fluent improvisations, starting with the tricky bebop-esque unison and harmony head of opener “Sublime,” one of three tunes here penned by Harvie. His “Now I Know” is a lush, laidback ballad, with a pretty melody sounded by bass, and “Good Ole Days” is a mid-tempo ditty built on steady walking bass.

Bailey’s “Old and Young Blues” is reminiscent of the kind of folkish pieces Charlie Haden wrote, with the two taking turns leading the theme, and the bassist turning in a typically probing, searching solo, followed by Bailey’s relaxed but rangy improvisation. Bailey also contributes the Latin-flavored, slowly shifting “Sabado Con Mi Amor”; the starting-stopping riff tune “What She Said,” which hints at Wes Montgomery and offers another stunning workout by Harvie;  the bluesy “Cranshaw,” built on a slow-grooving bass line and topped with overdriven, wah-edged guitar; and poignant ballad “Alone,” the disc’s closer.

All that, plus breezy, creative takes on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young hit “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and Joni Mitchell‘s “The Hissing of Summer Lawns,” the latter complete with acid-washed six-string. Here’s to more from Plucky Strum.

Joe Beck Trio, “Get Me Joe Beck” (CD review)

 

(originally published in JazzTimes)

Joe Beck Trio, “Get Me Joe Beck” (Whaling City Sound)

get me joe beck

“My aim on the guitar is to try to get each chord to follow the preceding chord like it was meant to be there, and then sort of hint at what the next chord might be,” Joe Beck says, in one of several spoken introductions sprinkled throughout Get Me Joe Beck. The CD, recorded live in Berkeley, Calif., two years before Beck’s untimely death from lung cancer in 2008, is indeed packed with displays of guitar work that is as artfully logical and eminently musical as it is a thing of beauty.

Beck, demonstrating a real sense of intuitive interplay with bassist Peter Barshay and drummer David Rokeach, handpicked for the performance by the owner of the venue, the intimate Anna’s Jazz Island, offers fresh takes on some of his favorite standards. The trio’s impromptu synchronicity is revealed right away, on “Stella by Starlight,” which shifts from an unaccompanied opening to a mellow reading of the melody to a playful back-and-forth between the leader and Barshay, and some trading eights with Rokeach.

Beck’s impeccable feel for Brazilian jazz is demonstrated on Luiz Bonfá’s “Manhã de Carnaval,” spiked with bent guitar lines and quick drum explosions, and a beautifully resonant “Corcovado.” Harmonics clusters and blues-drenched phrases color “Georgia on My Mind,” while a hard-swinging “Alone Together” (also heard on Beck’sTri07) comes off as a definitive version of the standard, and the trio also offers invigorating workouts on “Tenderly,” “I Can’t Get Started” and “You and the Night and the Music.” Beck’s voice, tradition-rooted yet forward-leaning and consistently adventurous, is sorely missed.

Originally published in August 2014

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.