Frahm "A" to Rez A. to Samuel B.
Project A - Joel Frahm & Bruce Katz - (Anzic Records) - Frahm joins forces with blues & jazz keyboard artist Katz for 9 tunes recorded by, influnced by and inspired by Aretha Franklin (hence the letter A" in the title.) Frahm could easily have subtitled it to KC because there are moments galore through the program where the spirit of Curtis Ousley a.k.a. King Curtis comes smoking through. Ousley (1934-1971) influenced many a funk/blues/soul hornman in the 60s and appeared on hundreds of recordings in his career.
Here, Frahm and Katz lead a band that features, at times, 2 drummers and 2 bassists, one of them Jerry Jemmott who was a member of King Curtis's Kingpins and a session man on many of Aretha's biggest hits. To paraphrase a blues lyric, they can't lose with the stuff (they) use." The music explodes out of the speakers at the top of The House That Jack Built" and doesn't really let down until Packing Up, Getting Ready to Go fades out nearly 59 minutes later. Highlights include Frahm shaking the rafters on Don't Play That Song and Katz wringing the gospel blues out of his B3 at the outset of Spirit in the Dark" - it's a treat when Frahm gets deep down into the blues on his solo. Guitarist Chris Vitarello (a graduate of Western Connecticut State University) brings out the slide for What A Friend We Have in Jesus and the results shimmer and shimmy. The band gives the tune a New Orleans bounce and Katz contributes some fine acoustic piano playing. Rock Steady gets slowed down a bit, making the tune a slower yet quite slinky dance tune.
Project A is music that touches the soul and is darned funky to boot. Frahm has played hard tenor in the past (with drummer Matt Wilson's Quartet) but here he's channeling Earl Bostic and David Fathead" Newman, players who knew their jazz changes but could really sink their reeds into a soulful tune. Katz, a stellar player who's worked with the likes of Ronnie Earl, John Hammond, Duke Robillard, Little Milton, Jimmy Witherspoon, Big Mama Thornton, and Mighty Sam McClain, doesn't back down and he, too, gives his all. Turn it up and bring out the ribs. For more information, go to anzicrecords.com.
Things to Come - Rez Abbasi (SSC/Sunnyside) - Guitarist/composer Abbasi, born in Pakistan and raised in California, has assembled a fine group and furnished them with 8 challenging pieces to dig into. The rhythm section features the excellent percussionist Dan Weiss and bassist Johannes Weidenmueller while Rudresh Mahanthappa (alto sax) and Vijay Iyer (piano) join the guitarist on the melody line and are the chief soloists. There is not a weak moment in this program. Weiss, who has worked and recorded with saxophonist David Binney and guitarists Miles Okazaki and Joel Harrison, has been with Abbasi for 3 CDs and it's easy to hear why. He's both re-active and proactive - listen to how he works below the soloists, responding to their energy and prodding them to push harder. His intimate knowledge of classical Indian drumming often colors his work, making it seem as if he's another melodic voice. Weidenmueller, too, is a melodic presence yet truly anchors the group. Mahanthappa's tart and explosive alto saxophone enlivens the music - he delivers a blistering solo on Why Me Why Them, alternating choruses with the guitarist and maneuvers the rhythmic changes on Air Traffic with an exemplary solo. Iyer replaces Gary Versace in the piano seat and, seemingly, delivers an electric charge every time he works his way through a solo. Sometimes he's subtle, as on Realities of Chromaticism, twisting and turning his way through a solo that builds to a forceful, two-handed, finish. His driving comping on Air Traffic really focuses the piece. Punjabi folk singer Kiran Ahluwalia, who like Weiss has appeared on 3 Abbasi recordings, adds Indian vocals to 4 tracks, serving as a 4th instrument in the mix and lending an ethereal voice to the mix. Cellist Mike Block, who's worked with Yo-Yo Ma and fiddler Mark O'Connor, adds a deep sonority to 2 cuts.
Abbasi is a fascinating player. One can hear splashes of blues and Asian music in his fluid lines and he also displays a percussive style, mixing well with Weiss on faster pieces like Dream State." His tonal choices are interesting in that he uses much dynamic variation. Some times, he employs a lighter Jim Hall/Pat Metheny-like tone and there are moments where employs a fuzz-like tone.
Add up the positive qualities of this CD, the intelligent compositions and arrangements, the sparkling solos, the great interplay (Weiss works well as the spark on this date), and the result is Rez Abbasi's most mature and rewarding recording to date. For more information, go to reztone.com.
Pieces of Old Sky - Samuel Blaser Quartet (Clean Feed) - The Swiss-born trombonist/composer Samuel Blaser aims to seduce the avid listener on this recording, his 2nd CD, with his quartet. Utilizing the rhythm section of Thomas Morgan (bass) and Tyshawn Sorey (drums) and the additional voice of guitarist Todd Neufeld, Blaser has created an atmospheric collection of tunes that range from the classically inspired title tracks to the harder-edge of Red Hook the soft balladic Choral I and Choral II." One has to pay close attention to Blaser's music. It's not about solo fire and great technique but melodic interplay and dynamic variations. His trombone style reminds this listener of the late Albert Mangelsdorff (an admitted influence), not for his technical prowess but for the rich tones and subtle use of multiphonics. Mandala has a bluesy feel, with a melody line that references George Gershwin's It Ain't Necessarily So" - the piece moves quite deliberately, allowing each player to paint a delicate picture. Speed Game does not much move much quicker but has a harder edge, thanks to Sorey's active drumming. The percussionist can really drive a non-rhythmical piece (sounds contradictory but on this cut, he leads the way from the drum chair.) Morgan's work is quite delicate; at times, he's like a second guitar line alongside Neufeld ("Choral II being a good example.)
In this time when consumers are used to fast-talking pitchmen and agitated political talk-show hosts, Samuel Blaser has created a program that often whispers and does not scream. Pay attention and you'll discover that this music goes in very interesting directions. For more information, go to samuelblaser.com.