Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Music Continues Moving Forward

Roman Nights - Tom Harrell (HighNote) - Harrell's 3rd CD for HighNote is also the third consecutive release with his working quintet of Wayne Escoffery (tenor saxophone), Danny Grissett (piano, Fender Rhodes), Ugonna Okegwo (bass) and Johnathan Blake (drums). That the younger musicians understand the ins-and-outs of the leader's music is a foregone conclusion and this collection of 9 originals shines brightly from the opening moments to the final notes.
Over the 4 decades, one has been made aware of the consistent high quality of Harrell's projects, his intense love for melody as well as rhythm and his fine solo work (one of my favorites is his breathy closing statement on David Berkman's "Sense of Loss" - hear it here.)
The title track of this recording is a pretty ballad played as a duet with pianist Grissett.  The tune is evocative of summer nights and is more joyful than maudlin - nothing is rushed and the lovely, long, melody line drifts on fine piano chords.  Much of the work here is up-tempo, starting with "Storm Approaching", the first cut.  The trumpet swoops above Blake's high-powered drums and Okegwo's forceful "walking" bass lines. Escoffery lets loose with a short yet powerful tenor solo that seemingly raises the music to its boiling point. 
Grissett's switch to Fender Rhodes on the rhythmical "Obsession" brings to mind Miles Davis and his "Filles de Kilimanjaro" music.  Both Harrell and Escoffery ride Blake's insistent drumming, each pushing the percussionist to up the intensity.  The intensity drops a bit for Grissett's solo yet listen to Blake continuing to accent the beat on his "ride" cymbal and snare while the bassist holds the bottom with his thick-toned phrases. "Bird in Flight" is one more piece where the Fender Rhodes shapes the overall sound and Harrell's melodic yet percussive melody and frequent chord changes gives the work a feeling that is always "rising", like the birds in the title.  "Year of the Ox" closes the CD with another insistent rhythm track - the piece has a a marvelous blend of Chinese and Latin influences and more great work from Blake.
Jazz is definitely not "dead" when an album as inventive and exciting as "Roman Nights" crosses one's desk.  Honestly, there are moments when I hit "replay" because the tune was so solid or the solos highly exciting.  The CD goes on sale March 23 and the Quintet plays the Village Vanguard from March 30 through April 4.  This program sounds great coming through the speakers but would certainly be fun in a live setting.  For more information, go to http://tomharrell.com

Due Reverence - Ralph Bowen (Posi-Tone Records) - Tenor saxophonist Bowen first came to critical attention in the 1980's as co-leader of Out of the Blue, a Blue Note-sponsored group that also featured alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett, bassist Robert Hurst, trumpeter Michael Phillip Mossman and drummer Ralph Peterson (all leaders since those days.)
For this, his 2nd for the hot young label out of Los Angeles, California, Bowen has re-assembled the impressive group of veterans who appeared on his previous "Dedications" CD,  including Adam Rogers (guitar), John Patitucci (bass) and Antonio Sanchez (drums), with young trumpeter Sean Jones appearing on 1 track. First thing one notices is how spacious this music is.  While there is plenty of "fire" in the playing, the sound has no clutter.  Opening with a ballad, "Less is More" (dedicated to guitarist/teacher Ted Dunbar), Bowen displays a full-throated sound that meshes well with Roger's sparkling guitar chords, the wonderful counterpoint from the bass and the quiet yet insistent drum and cymbal work. "One for Bob" (for fellow saxophonist Bob Mintzer) finds Bowen and Sanchez setting a frantic pace while the bass and guitar play intense yet quieter counterpoint.  Patitucci is so inventive, melodic yet rhythmically forceful.
Other highlights include the fascinating "Points Encountered" (dedicated to flutist/composer Robert Dick) -  the piece has a strong melody line and Bowen's solo rises easily from the chordal patterns. Rogers offers a spirited solo above Sanchez's skitterish drums while Patitucci, on electric bass for this track, displays a fine melodic touch. Bowen's dedication to fellow Canadian Phil Nimmons, "Phil-osophy", is a boppish romp with walking bass and several blazing solos (most notably, Rogers really lets loose again.)  Jones joins the band for "Mr. Scott" (like Robert Dick, one of Bowen's teacher at Rutgers, where the saxophonist is now on the faculty.)  His fiery trumpet solo adds a pleasing dimension to the disk yet again it's the rhythm section that really drives this piece.  Sanchez's support underneath the solos is quite impressive, especially his work behind Rogers.
While this is definitely Ralph Bowen's show, his choice of musical comrades makes this music positively shine.  Like Tom Harrell, Bowen started with "real" melodies, not riffs, and the music has great flow.  To find out more, go to www.posi-tone.com or www.ralphbowen.com. The CD Release Party for "Due Reverence" will take place Friday April 30 at the Jazz Gallery in New York City - go to www.jazzgallery.org for more information.

Click on the link to hear "Less is More", the opening track on "Due Reverence." Thanks to Posi-Tone Records and IODA Promonet for the track.

Less Is More (mp3)

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