Friday, November 26, 2010

Sounds of Playing

I Will Follow You - Jerome Sabbagh (BEE JAZZ) - French saxophonist Sabbagh's 4th CD as a leader is his second straight trio "hit".  He retains guitarist Ben Monder from his quartet recordings and adds the classy European drummer Daniel Humair to the mix. The program is a mix of freely improvised pieces and Sabbagh's originals, played sans rehearsals. Only 3 of the cuts are over 5 minutes yet nothing seems rushed, forced or superfluous.  Humair may remind some of Paul Motian's "less is more" approach to the drummer's role but he is also quite melodic.  He and Sabbagh create "Come With Me" out together - listen how their lines weave in and out, complementing each other - the same approach can be heard on the saxophonist's duet with Monder, "Apaise" (meaning "appeased" in English) although the guitar is both atmospheric and melodic.  Monder "wails " on "Rahan", his duet with Humair, for the first 80 seconds then drops into a reflective period before flaring up for a short while then fading out. 
Throughout the program, there is a strong feeling of experimentation, a sense of friends having short conversations - it's no surprise that one piece is titled "Haiku" yet there's a touch of irony that it is the longest cut.  "Saloon" is a freely improvised piece, opening with Monder's distorted riffs over Humair's parade drums  - about 1/2 way through, Sabbagh enters on soprano sax, Humair moves a "rocking shuffle" beat before a frenetic close.  There are sections that sound like Jimi Hendrix sparring with Mitch Mitchell.  The lone standard, "I Should Care", closes the disk, softly, a reflection of the interplay that precedes it and a reminder of the power of what happens when like-minded musicians enjoy their time together.
"I Will Follow You" works best as a complete statement.  Only 44 minutes long, the music goes in many different directions, perhaps sounding (on first listen) a bit disjointed.  Let the sounds wash over you, pay attention to what each musicians does and you'll enjoy this ride.  For more information, go to

cd-leavingLeaving - Scott Lee (Steeplechase) - Bassist/composer Lee has as worked with a surprising array of artists such as Lee Konitz, Zoot Simms, Al Cohn, Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Werner, Andy Statman, Mose Allison and Joe Lovano.  He has also supported a bevy of vocalists including Nancy Wilson, Morgana King, Betty Buckley, Helen Merrill, and Anita O’Day.  It's easy to hear why - he is a very melodic and supportive player with musical ideas that make the pieces fuller.
This session features the sweet reed work of Billy Drewes (tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinet), pianist Gary Versace and drummer Jeff Hirschfield.  There's much to like on these 11 tracks, from the joyous interplay of "Two Ways" (emphasis on the idea of "play") to the reflective title track (Drewes' clarinet work is just right) to the aptly-titled "Old Friends Talking" (contemplative and playful duet for bass and soprano sax.)  "Drummersome" may conjure up images of James Brown exhorting his band to step aside and let the drummer have his time - here, Hirschfield is the backbone of the music, pushing the beat on his ride cymbals in the beginning and "kicking it hard" in the second half.  Solid but not flashy, this is music not "showtime" or even "show-off time." Bass and drums go together on  "The Connection", an example of how creative musicians pay attention to each other while in the process of creating. If the listener pays that attention, he or she can hear the way the rhythm section interacts throughout the program, never in each others way but building the foundation for the lead voices to be able to express themselves.
Versace, best know for his creative organ work in  numerous settings, is being heard more often on piano.  He stands out on several tracks here, including the fast-moving but never frenetic "JGB."  He, Lee and Hirschfield create a wonderful flow, like a rushing stream with each musician moving in and around each other (more impressive cymbal work) while Drewes' soprano darts like a bird above.
The best contemporary jazz is timeless. One can hear the kind of interplay and interaction from the Miles Davis Quintet of the mid-to-late 1960s that is played here but the music is different because the players are different, each with his own style and each being able to be himself within the wide-open spaces of the music. This recording may not instantly knock you for a loop but, if you listen with an open mind, there is much to savor here. 
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