This year's fourth installment of From The Stacks is, as has been the pattern, all jazz. But it's jazz in its many incarnations, from straight ahead post-bop to whack jazz. The protagonists here range from experienced old vets to hungry young newcomers. The common element among all six of these new releases is that I recommend them all, for what that's worth. These concise, one-paragraph reviews don't really do these records enough justice in describing the appeal of them, but I figured that some justice is better than none. The following CD's are just more proof that jazz remains a vibrant art form that too many people are missing out on...
The Cookers Cast The First Stone
Whenever David Weiss is involved in a project, it's worth sitting up and taking notice. Same goes for Billy Hart. Or Eddie Henderson, Or Cecil McBee, Billy Harper or George Cables, for that matter. But a project that involves all of these players demands your full attention. A lineup of luminaries like this one, appropriately called The Cookers, should be gracing the jazz listening public with records as much as possible, and after about four years with this personnel grouping, The Cookers finally did just that last fall for Jazz Legacy Productions (Warriors)and again only about six months later on April 12. To their great credit, the supergroup didn't fall back on overdone standards, covering only Harold Mabern's The Chief." The remaining six songs were contributed from band members themselves, half of those by Harper. McBee's Peacemaker" (amateur video below) and Think On Me" by Harper are the highlights of a strong set. As these are a grouping of veteran players most of whom came of age in the mid 60s, this is old school hard bop jazz. Augmented on some tracks by yet more big namesalto saxophonist Craig Handy and tenor/soprano saxophonist Azar Lawrencethese accomplished musicians keep the flame going with deeds, not words. Cast The First Stone comes to us courtesy of Plus Loin Music.
Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! Quavers!
Yet another product from Moppa Elliot's Hot Cup Records, which already says a lot about a record that shares the same label as Bryan And The Haggards, Puttin' On The Ritz, and Mostly Other People Do The Killing. But we were already saying thingsnice thingsabout Lundbom's last record, Accomplish Jazz (2009). For Quavers!, out since March 29, Lundbom has the same dangerous personnel in his Big Five Chord Band as before: Elliot on bass, Bryan Murray on tenor and balto! (yes, you read that right) sax, Jon Irabagon on alto and sopranino saxophones and Danny Fisher on drums. All of these are members of some or all of the other bands in the Hot Cup sphere of influence, but Lundbom's vision of music is a little different: a grunge/punk disposition but with a great feel for complex harmonic structures and dynamic tonalities that puts his music squarely in the no-man's land between rock and jazz. His music won't swing like MOPDTK, but it shares the same subversive attitude; not a surprise coming from a band full of subversives. Just two minor tweaks from Accomplish: no covers with all tunes were written by Lundbom, and the addition of Matt Kanelos' electric piano for a few tracks. Even when Kanelos is present, the sonic presentation remains very angular and nimble. The band experiments a lot and the fun is picking up on their game. On Jacation" (video below) thrives on Elliott's ostinato for what seems like forever, the repeating chord progression eventually stumbling ahead or behind the rhythm and the two sax dudes battling it out in feats of freakouts. Meat Without Feet" introduces Murray's own balto! on record, sounding like particularly squonky tenor sax. If Derek Bailey is your thing, you'll love Lundbom's skittering lines on New Feats of Horsemanship." Irabagon pulls out a rarely-heard sopranino sax to play a piercing, explosive solo on Faith-Based Initiative."
Dang, Lundbom and his Big Five Chord band has done it again. Call me a fan.
Shane Endsley And The Music Band Then The Other
Shane Endsley might not be a familiar name to you, but the Grammy-nominated funk-rock-jazz group he cofounded Kneebody might be. Even if it isn't, this trumpeter who's recently gigged with Charlie Hunter, Ben Allison and Chris Speed becomes more noticeable with the debut of his own Music Band. Then The Other, on sale last March 7, is supposed to be a vehicle for Endsley's simpler melodies in order to emphasize individual performances within an all-acoustic context, but their maiden release doesn't come off as overtly jamming to me. Sure, with a crew like Craig Taborn (piano), Matt Brewer (bass), and Ted Poor (drums), there's going to be plenty of good musicianship going on, but in the end, it's Endsley's songs that define the character of the band, and they're all interesting and complex enough to keep the material from wearing thin anytime soon. The opener Big" is a good example: the song has a harmony that's easy to follow, but the details like melodic structure, tempo modulation and group interplay are fussed over. The Appalachian folk of Kings County Ramble" or the gospel-inflected Slow Gesture" shows Endsley is drawing from outside of jazz for his composing sources as well. His trumpet keeps making me think of Sarah Wilson, even though he's probably been recording longer; it's got that same human, unpretentious character to it. All of this adds up to a solid record, and opens up yet another facet of this talented composer/bandleader/performer. Then The Other is the first release by Kneebody's own Low Electrical Records.
Anthony Wilson Campo Belo
Wilson, son of legendary L.A. composer, pianist and big band bandleader Gerald Wilson, has established himself as an artist in his own right since leading his own records from 1997 on, including a long, ongoing stint in Diana Krall's band. Though Anthony chose guitar as his instrument and is quite good at it, bandleading and composing are big strengths of his, too. That much is evident on his eighth release, Campo Belo. This one, though, is a project record: Wilson sought to make a Brazilian-inspired album but without falling back on the familiar theme of festive rhythms, acoustic guitar strumming and yet more Jobim covers. Instead, Wilson sought to incorporate Brazilian moods and mystique into his own musical vision. However, to make sure that Brazilian spirit was captured, he recorded this CD in Brazil, with all Brazilian musicians. Wilson also kept the arrangements simple, employing a base quartet format that included André Mehmari on piano and accordion, Edu Ribeiro on drums and Guto Wirtti. If you didn't know beforehand that this was a Brazilian themed record, you might not have noticed it explicitly, but elements of the Brazilian style find its way into every song, all written by Wilson. Really, it's just one dimension of the overall mosaic. Wilson's guitar gets a starring role, but not because he's a flashy player; he cites Wes and Kenny as influences by his touch and his tone are all his own, and it's very tasty. High points abound: the crisp post-bop tune After The Flood" has an astoundingly guileful intro, the acoustic guitar based Elyria" is an inconspicuous blend of Nashville and Rio, and Campo Belo" is esoteric and a little bluesy at the same time. Campo Belo was released March 15 by Wilson's Goat Hill Recordings.
Nadav Remez So Far
Here's yet another young Israeli just beginning to make his imprint on New York's competitive jazz scene. Guitarist and composer Nadav Remez is a recent grad of both Berklee and the New England Conservatory of Music. Last Tuesday with the help of Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records, he issued his first album, a powerful calling card called So Far. Backed by a quintet that includes fellow Isreali and keyboard wunderkind Shai Maestro, Remez set out to combine the jazz of his formal training, the alt-rock of his generation and the Hebrew folk music of his homeland. Remez counts Brian Blade Fellowship with its unique folk and rock approaches to jazz as an influence for this record, and in actuality, the record sounds even more influenced by Blade than it does by Jewish folk music, most evident in the melodic, buoyant tracks Pinchas" (video below) and Untitled." But all of Ramez's compositions are put together thoughtfully and has a soulful center to them. In the midst of all these original, he tossed in an impressive arrangement of the synagogue song Lecha Dodi" that features guest soloist trumpet player Itamar Borochov. To top it all off, Remez's warm, full tone emanating from his hollowed-body electric guitar brings out the rich melodies. I think Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records signed on a winner, here.
Art Hirahara Noble Path
On May 3rd, Posi-Tone Records will deliver a rare new album by NYC-based pianist Art Hirahara, called Noble Path. Lyrical" is an adjective I've seen ascribed to pianist Art Hirahara, and it's one he lives up to on this trio date for his first Posi-Tone record. Though he hadn't been very prolific leading sessions, Hirahara has been busy on the club circuit since arriving in New York in 2002, and done some sideman dates, including this one for Sarah Manning. For Noble Path, he brought in his working trio with him: Dan Aran on drums and Yoshi Waki on bass. This record tends to be pastoral more often than not, but it has its share of unpredictable moments: Change Your Look" ambles along slowly when right in the middle of it, the band brings up the pace to a funky, snappy gait, and Nocturne" flirts with free jazz. The stirring Peace Unknown" leverages the heavy classical training of Hirahara's youth. No matter what the leader throws out, the band is able to stay with it, a clear benefit of all those club dates together. With Noble Path, Hirahara has found a nice home at Posi-Tone and hopefully this signals the beginning of a long-overdue burst of recording activity.