Tuesday, January 11, 2011

100 + Reviews

This column is dedicated to my Aunt Margaret Gurland who passed away on Thursday January 6th 2011 at the age of 100 years +.  A particularly good person, she remained very involved with the community well into her 90s.  We already miss her sage advice, her incredible walking pace, and sweet disposition.

This is also post # 100.  I had hoped to be more active over the past 13 months but life is wonderful about getting in the way.

Lieb Plays the Blues a la Trane - The David Liebman Trio (DayBreak) - One of the first John Coltrane Lps to catch my ear and hold it fast was the classic Atlantic release, "Coltrane Plays the Blues." To this day, it remains one of my favorite recordings (by anybody.)  This new (2008) recording from David Liebman uses both the blues and 'Trane as its jumping-off point but is far from a carbon-copy.
Recorded in the midst of a European tour during which Liebman (soprano and tenor saxophones), Marius Beets (bass) and Eric Ineke (drums) were playing music by Alec Wilder and Kurt Weill, Liebman called an "audible" and the Trio played this program of blues pieces associated with Coltrane.  The program starts with a burning take of "All Blues" which Liebman roars through on soprano atop a circular walking bass line and driving drums. "Up Against the Wall" is more "straight-ahead", with the leader's bluesy then boisterous tenor sax.  Ineke is the right drummer for this music - he pushes hard, really slamming the drums without overpowering the trio.  The "hard-bop" of "Mr. P.C." opens with a bass solo, then a 3-minute turn from Ineke before Liebman "dances" his way over and through the changes.  "Village Blues", the longest track (15' 34') on the disk features a very impressive soprano sax solo  - Liebman's tone is nothing like Coltrane's in that the former has a thinner, reedier, yet no less compelling sound. Duke Ellington's "Take the Coltrane" closes the program -  after a melodic bass solo, the piece moves forward like a bullet train taking no prisoners.
David Liebman, a 2011 NEA Jazz Master, is a "master", a great teacher and forward-looking musician who is his own man.  Like John Coltrane, he gives every performance his "all" each time out, no resting on laurels, no laying back to preserve his strength. How lucky we listeners are.  For more information, go to www.daveliebman.com

Live at The Penofin Jazz Festival -  Rich Halley Quartet featuring Bobby Bradford (Pine Eagle) -On paper, this may look like a tribute to the sound of Ornette Coleman (cornet, saxophone, bass and drums) but this release from tenor player and composer Halley is much more than that.  This is a celebration of interplay, of shifting rhythms, of the power of intelligent soloists and of having a great time playing together.  Halley has been involved with music over 3 decades, recording with numerous groups and as a leader.  One gets the feeling as he lets loose with a soaring, squalling, phrase (such as he does at the close of his solo on the very funky "Streets Below") that music is his key to personal freedom. Joining him in this band is his son Carson (drums), Clyde Reed (bass) and the legendary Bobby Bradford (cornet.) Bradford is a crisp soloist, steeped in the tradition of Louis Armstrong and Don Cherry yet sounding like neither.  His solo on "Grey Stone/Shards of Sky" over Carson Halley's martial parade beat is understated (and underrecorded) yet pleasingly melodic -
during the second half of the tune, his lines wrap themselves sinuously around the tenor and, later, during his solo, his sly phrases bring out the bebop in the piece.  The program closes with the blues-drenched "The River's Edge is Ice" and, again, the theme allows for the cornet and saxophone to play a dance-like counterpoint 4 of the piece's nearly 10 minutes.  When the rhythm opens up (more "parade-funk" from the drums), Bradford does not try to impress with multi-note phrases; instead, he skates along atop the drums. Halley displays much more fire yet does not overpower the music.
The biggest issue with "Live.." is the mix which often covers Bradford's cornet lines. The music makes for good listening, especially the fine drumming that continually pushes the program forward.  For more information, go to www.richhalley.com

From His World to Mine: Dan Block Plays the Music of Duke Ellington - Dan Block (Miles High Records) - It is said that Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington, in a career that spanned over 5 decades, wrote over 1000 compositions, either by himself or with Billy Strayhorn or a number of other collaborators.  On this recording by reed master Dan Block, he and several different ensembles explore 13 of the lesser-known Ducal pieces plus one from Strayhorn.  A good number of the works come from the period of 1938 - 1949, a time when the Orchestra's popularity waxed and waned.  The "lean" times did not stop Ellington from his composing and allowed for some of his more interesting experiments.  One of those is "The Beautiful Indians", a 2-part work - here, Block chooses the second part, "Minnehaha", and scores it for Eb, Bb and bass clarinets plus basset horn (all played by the leader plus bass and cello. Cellist Pat O'Leary also appears on "Portrait of Bert Williams" (1940) and 1941's "Rocks in My Bed" from "Jump for Joy."  Block plays a very tuneful bass clarinet on these cuts which also feature bassist Lee Hudson and tasteful acoustic guitar work of James Chirillo.  Ellington fans will recognize "Mt. Harrissa" from "The Far East Suite" - -here, the Middle Eastern rhythms give way to a samba beat, Block's solo having the mellow edge of Stan Getz and a fine vibraphone solo from Mark Sherman.  "Cotton Club Stomp", from the early 1930s, features the excellent piano accompaniment of Michael Kanan and the "danceable" rhythms of bassist Hudson and drummer Brian Grice.  His sparkling clarinet work on "Second Line" (from "The New Orleans Suite") is both highly musical and fun. "Ballad Medley (All Heart/Change My Ways)" is the Strayhorn contribution, 2 lovely tunes that Block and pianist Kanan explore. The 2 pieces were written 10 years apart - 1957's "All Heart" features Block on clarinet and then he switches to alto saxophone for the earlier "Change My Ways." 
Block's reed work is exemplary throughout. This music is not concerned with big, technically excellent, musicianship.  Instead, Block moves into the emotional center of each piece and mines the heart and soul of the music. There is no attempt to "modernize" the music; instead Dan Block and his compatriots have a great time playing all these sweet melodies.  Find this music and revel in its musicality.

Here's "Old King Dooji" from Dan Block, courtesy of Miles Hugh Records and IODA Promonet:

Old King Dooji (mp3)

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