Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cool and Hot Sounds

As I write this column, the thermometer is nudging 100 degrees and the humidity/dew point is rising. Looking upon the cover of pianist's Gwilym Simcock's 2-CD project, "Blues Vignette" (Basho), it's hard not to cool down a bit.  (Of course, the cynics among us might turn their minds towards global warming - but I digress.)
This is his 2nd release and it's quite an ambitious project.  Disc 1 features 8 solo piano pieces and a 2-part "Suite for Cello and Piano" featuring cellist Cara Berridge.  Disc 2 features Simcock's working Trio composed of bassist Yuri Goloubev and drummer James Maddren.  Taken as a whole (130+ minutes of music), this is quite formidable but never boring.
The solo pieces reveal Simcock's flowing lines, sense of humor and adventure.  "Little People" jumps out with its majestic phrases, fulsome melody and little bluesy asides.  Following that, the "Exploration of Mvt II of Grieg Piano Concerto" sounds and is quite formal at the onset yet the pianist moves the work slowly but steadily forward.  Somber, sober and lovely, the piece is the perfect set-up for the rhythmic and sonic adventure of "On Broadway."  Here, the left hand creates a roiling rhythm while the right hand dances out the melody and solo lines.
The remainder of the solo pieces show Simcock's restless creative mind and technical (but not overtly showy) prowess.  The "Suite" introduces Berridge's lovely cello and, together, the musicians move through the various melodic, rhythmic and harmonic variations Simcock created for them.
The Trio CD introduces the audience to Simcock's excellent Trio.  Bassist Goloubev's displays his sweet arco (bowed) bass tone on "Introduction" - it's easy to tell he spent years as a classical bassist.  Drummer Maddren shows up on the second piece, "Tundra", and one quickly understands why Simcock chose him.  Here, the bassist is in charge of moving the piece forward while the drummer moves along with the pianist, punctuating the flowing lines with sensitive cymbal work and the occasional move around the drum set.  Later in the piece, Maddren takes over, heartily kicking the piece
through to the close. The title track has a fine Latin tinge in the brush-on-snare drum work and an understated yet fiery drive in the pianist's left hand and the bass lines. Goloubev's funky pizzicato lines lead in Sonny Burke's "Black Coffee", the first of 3 standards on the program.  The piece has a playful that spills over to the Trio's take on "Nice Work If You Can Get It", with its ever-shifting tempos. "Cry Me A River" has a mournful feel, moving at a slow pace throughout so that individual notes stand out, like teardrops.
One can hear the influences of the classic Bill Evans Trio as well as Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau in Simcock's approach. Yet, I hear a 29-year old adventurer staking out his own territory, creating music that moves beyond influences.  Such a pleasurable journey should be shared by many -  to find out more, go to www.gwilymsimcock.com

Alto saxophonist/composer Jacam Manricks, a native of Australia, writes complex works, filled with rhythmic challenges and melodic inventions but does so in a way that is accessible for the average listener. "Trigonometry" is his 3rd CD as a leader and first for the Posi-Tone Records label.  The basic group features the solid bassist Joe Martin, pianist Gary Versace and drummer Obed Calvaire. They are augmented on several cuts by trombonist Alan Ferber and trumpeter Scott Wendholt.  Pieces like "Slippery" (with its funky melody line and sweet rhythms) and "Cluster Funk" (more funk and a 3-horn front line)  sit easily next to the more introspective "Mood Swing"  and "Labyrinth."  The former has an melodic and rhythmic approach akin to that of David Binney and a piano solo from Versace that bears the influence of Andrew Hill.  The latter, the title track of Manrick's last CD, moves in on poly-rhythmic feet, the drummer pushing the alto line along.  There's a sweet take on Eric Dolphy's "Miss Ann" with just sax, bass and drums.  Calvaire really stands out, his dancing snare and swirling cymbal work a highlight. Manricks seems to enjoy creating pieces out of rhythmic patterns, rising atop the pulsating lines created by the rhythm  on tracks such as "Sketch" and "Combat." Great interaction with Versace and Calvaire on the latter track is really appealing.
"Trigonometry" may have been a subject that stumped many of us in school but, on this CD, Jacam Manricks and crew have created a musical course that is worth revisiting many times.  For more  information, go to www.posi-tone.com.
Here's the title track, courtesy of Posi-Tone and IODA Promonet:
Trigonometry (mp3)

Trombonist/composer John Fedchock is best known for his Big Band recordings but likes to stretch out on his NY Sextet dates. "Live at the Red Sea Jazz Festival" (Capri Records) was originally recorded for Israeli television but Fedchock loved the sound so much, he asked for and received permission to release the audio soundtrack.  The ambient temperature was over 100 degrees at the time of the band's hit - after all, Eilat, Israel, sits at the southern end of the Negev desert.  Yet the Sextet (Scott Wendholt on trumpet and flugelhorn, Walt Weiskopf on tenor saxophone, Allan Farnham on piano, David Finck on bass, and Dave Ratajczak on drums) sound calm and collected as they move and groove through this inspired set.  With the exception of the final track, "Not So New Blues", all the tunes are over 8 minutes long (with two passing 12 minutes).  Yet, one can hear why Fedchock likes this program and the band - there are few, if any, slack moments.  Weinholt and Weiskopf really dig in on "That's All Right", creating bluesy and melodic solos over the sweet dancing work of the rhythm section. The band moves coolly through Tom Harrell's "Moon Alley" with splendid solos from Wendholt and Fedchock. Again, check out how the rhythm section keeps the piece moving at an easy yet propulsive pace.  "Caravan" is a logical choice for this Festival - this version has plenty of heat in its subtle tempo changes, crackling solos (especially from Farnham and Weinholt) and smart arrangement.
There are moments when mainstream jazz, well-played with excellent solos, just hits the spot.  "Live at the Red Sea Jazz Festival" breaks no new ground but is so much fun to sit and listen to. Give it a try.  To find out more, go to www.johnfedchock.com.
Here's a video of the Sextet moving through "Moon Alley."

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