Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Listening Pleasures

I have often praised WBGO-FM's "The Checkout", a show heard every Tuesday evening and which I download from iTunes.  Last week, they began a 2-part show honoring the 2010 NEA Jazz Masters. The show featured interviews with vocalist Annie Ross, producer George Avakian, and pianist/composers Muhal Richard Abrams (pictured) and Cedar Walton.  Each person is fascinating in her or his own right and worth your attention (click on the show name above to find out more.) This week, the spotlight turns on pianist Kenny Barron, composer/arranger Bill Holman, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, and reed master/educator Yusef Lateef. If you listen "live", you can hear the NEA Induction Ceremony following "The Checkout."

Hearing the interview led me to Cedar Walton's latest CD, "Voices Deep Within", issued late last year on the HighNote Records label.  It's a sweet set, featuring the splendid, buttery-toned bass of Buster Williams, the high-energy drum work of Willie Jones III, and, on 4 tracks, tenor saxophonist Vincent Herring.  This is mainstream jazz at its best with fine playing and creative interplay, smart compositions, and an overall aura of fun. Walton, who turns 77 this coming Sunday (1/17), sounds as if he is having the greatest time, dropping song "quotes" into his solos and playing with glee.  Even the slower tunes, such as "Dear Ruth" (which the pianist wrote for his mother) and John Coltrane's "Naima", are light-hearted yet heartfelt.  Herring, who is better known as an alto saxophonist, plays well on his appearances and shows great spunk on Sonny Rollins' "No Moe" (he follows the leader's sprightly solo with a muscular tour-de-force.)

When you gets the tag "jazz master" applied to his or her name, one might expect that the artist's better days are in the past.  Listening to the interviews on "The Checkout" and to Cedar Walton's latest recording, you know that's pretty much a crock (gosh, Avakian, who turns 91 in March, is still producing recordings and is excited about new musicians.) 

Perhaps, the best "new music" label in the few years has been Clean Feed. The label, based in Portugal, has released a high number of quality in the past half-decade and starts 2010 off with a bang with the release of "Voladores", music by Tony Malaby's Apparitions. The tenor saxophonist surrounds himself with class musicians including bassist Drew Gress, drummer Tom Rainey and percussionist John Hollenbeck (all great players.) If you want to get a taste of this fine music, go to www.emusic.com and search for the CD (you can also click here.) I'll post my review in a few weeks but, from initial listening, this music is fiery and involving, hard-edged jazz that keeps one guessing.

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