Dave Juarez. Juarez, a native of Barcelona, Spain, has created a program that covers much stylistic territory, utilizing an excellent including Seamus Blake (tenor sax), John Escreet (piano), Lauren Falls (acoustic bass) and Bastian Weinhold (drums - he's got a new CD that will be reviewed in the next few weeks.) While there a slew of fine solos, the first thing one notices is the compositions; all these pieces have well-defined melodies and fine harmonies. A handsome ballad, such as "Belieza Anonima", not only has a sweet melody but also wonderful coloring from the supporting musicians. Whether it's a cascading line from the guitar, splashing cymbals or creative piano fills, this portrait is fully developed. The title track, "Round Red Light" (a pleasing take on Mr. Monk's famous tune), is another lovely ballad, with an excellent tenor solo - listen to how Juarez shadows the tenor on the theme (both in and out of the song) and don't miss the splendid rhythm section work from Escreet, Ms. Falls and Weinhold. After a rousing guitar solo, Escreet takes over on "Luna de Barcelona" with a hearty solo built upon Juarez's final lines - he, then, goes off in his own direction, with a rhythmical solo that hints at Flamenco as well as Romantic classical music. "RNP", the final track, is also the most "open", starting slowly then "revving up" for the solos - everybody is "smoking" here, from the poly-rhythms created by Weinhold to the active bass lines to the series of fiery solos (Juarez really lets loose at the climax of his spot), culminating in Blake's tour-de-force.
"Round Red Light" starts out strong and gets better as one moves through the tracks. With nary a false step, Dave Juarez has created a gem of creative music that illustrates his excellent composing skills and the joy of creative interplay. To find out more, go to www.davejuarezmusic.com.
Enjoy the opening track, "Montpellier View", by clicking on the link below - courtesy of Posi-Tone Records and IODA Promonet.
Montpellier View (mp3)
Cuong Vu has issued 2 fascinating CDs, each with its own special flavor. "Leaps of Faith" (Origin Records) features Vu's 4-Tet, comprised of electric bassists Stomu Takeishi and Luke Bergman as well as drummer Ted Poor. Vu's choice of material is as inspired and curious as the instrumentation. The opening 3 tracks are standards, including "Body and Soul", "All the Things You Are" and "My Funny Valentine." Each is given a unique treatment, from the languidly-paced "Body.." where the melody is not revealed until 1/2 way through to the drum-driven "All the Things..." where Poor is really pushing against the slow reading of the melody. "..Valentine" starts slowly with Vu's handsome reading of the melody but begins to pick up speed as the bassists work with and apart from trumpet and drums. The band utilizes amplification, electronic distortion and various effects which, at times creates a murky, noir-ish, atmosphere. But, there are also long stretches where the sound creates something quite special; in fact, on the group's reading of George Harrison's "Something", the low volume draws one in and the ways in which the bassists enhance the melody line are inspired.
The longest tracks (12:16 and 15:09) are the 2 Vu originals. The first, "Child-Like (for Vina)", goes through a number of changes in dynamics and intensity, with a melody line reminiscent of Leonard Bernstein's "Somewhere", a noisy bass solo and hints of "Three Blind Mice" in the closing moments. The interaction of Poor and Takeishi with Bergman and Vu is tense yet invigorating. "I Shall Never Come Back" opens with a distorted bass solo (Bergman) and Poor's active cymbal work before Takeishi comes in and Poor adds floor toms to the mix. The piece builds, with the intensity of a work by King Crimson, slowly, until Vu enters, his austere melody lines in sharp contrast to the full-blown percussion and furious bass work. The 4-Tet really push the track to its sonic limits and it's almost over-whelming.
A gentle reading of Jackson Browne's "My Opening Farewell" brings the program to a genial close and it's then, and only then, do you realize this is a concert recording.
Agogic and their debut CD is issued on Table & Chairs Music. D'Angelo brings a brightness to this music as well as his oft-documented ferocity - 4 of the 7 tracks are his tuines. His "En Se Ne" opens the program; with its "deep" groove, the music immediately under your skin. Bergman has a much more supportive role in this band as he and Woodle nail down the bottom, creating a tremendous cushion of sound for the front line to play off and out from. Check out the scrambling, car-chase, rhythm attack of "Too Well" and the fiery solos that emerge. Vu, sans effects, has a crisp attack and plays sharply off D'Angelo's slippery alto. Woodle's "Old Heap", a ballad built off of Bergman's ringing bass notes and the long tones of trumpet and the subdued alto saxophone, has a fascinating drum interlude, like a slow-motion dream sequence. D'Angelo's playful "Use 2" builds rapidly off the rampaging drums and the swift and thick bass lines - the composer takes the first solo, rapid-fire notes flung out over the rhythm. Vu's fiery solo is a treat as well, slicing through the changes with abandon. The closing track, Vu's "Gently Shifting Next", most resembles the music on 4-Tet CD with its slowly rising melody, long tones, the electronic effects, and the descent into silence at the end.
If I had to choose between the 2, I'd go with Agogic. It's shorter (7 songs in under 46 minutes) and Vu works well alongside D'Angelo. The 4-Tet recording has plenty of good moments but one has to really take the time to explore within each track. Agogic has its quieter moments as well ("Felicia" is an absolute charmer, full of soul and emotion) yet it's the contrast of the uptempo pieces with the ballads makes the second CD more successful (in my mind.) To find out more, go to www.cuongvu.com. To hear excerpts from "Leaps of Faith", go to www.origin-records.com. For Agogic, go to www.tableandchairs.com.
Paul Simon recording, "So Beautiful Or So What" (Hear Music), is a treat from beginning to end. And, a real sonic treat at that. God shows up a lot on the tracks, wisdom as well, which is not uncommon on a Simon CD (God is a fairly new addition) but what's so likable here is that the artist sounds relaxed, confident but not overly so, meaning that the songs don't sound like Simon worked on them endlessly, tweaking the sound until the product was all surface and no glow. Plenty of guitars in the foreground and background, pleasing touches like clay pot percussion, a smoking clarinet solo (on "Love & Blessings"), full swatches of samples from a gospel recording, on Simon's "Christmas" song (no less), well-placed background vocals and paraphrases from older songs inserted into newer ones (for instance, there's an altered couplet from "The Sounds of Silence" in "Questions From the Angels.") Sonny Terry, the great harmonica player who passed in 1986, shows up on "Love Is Eternal Sacred Light" not only in the background but with a pretty "hot" solo.There are plenty of flourishes but so little of what Simon does here seem extraneous (especially on the lyrical side - really, I'm still working on "The Myth of Fingerprints.")
Simply put, this is the best Paul Simon recording since "The Rhythm of the Saints" (my personal favorite) and worth exploring. In the video below, Connecticut residents should be proud of the fact that the drummer is "local son" Jim Oblon who also plays a number of instruments (besides the trap set) on the CD.