30 March 2010

Review: Magnolia

Ian Tordella

In case you were wondering, there is good jazz to be heard in San Diego (as if that town needed anything else going for it). Ian Tordella, a DC transplant and former student of Charles McPherson, brings us proof with his debut album, Magnolia. Tordella's chops are apparent throughout the album, but what separates this album from most other debuts is his restraint. Rather simply than showing us everything he can do with his horn, Tordella creates some wonderful melodies and solos which employ thematic variationand make enough use of negative space to keep things interesting.

The opening track, Magnolia, gets the album started on the right foot. Tordella plays a bouncy melody over a nice groove of simmering straight eighth notes. Underneath Tordella's ensuing solo, the rhythm section slowly works up to a nice boil, pushing Tordella into full gear without overheating. Pianist Florian Weber matches Tordella's subdued feel, beginning his solo with a series of descending quarter notes which add a dense harmonic complexity, cleansing the palette before moving into a more melodic mode. Bassist Jeff Denson provides a nice platform for the soloists, mixing in pedal points in some places and pushing the soloist with a strong undercurrent in others.

The fourth track, The Way Through, is the highlight of the album. Following a mellow introduction by the full ensemble, Denson and drummer Brian McLaughlin initiate a tasty 5/4 riff which feels incredibly intuitive but still manages to throw the listener for a loop. The riff also provides a nice vamp-like background throughout the tune, giving the soloists ample room to explore.

Florian Weber is a pleasant surprise throughout the album. His solos feature a delightful rhythmic complexity . On The Way Through, he shifts from a flurry of sixteenth notes to a jagged syncopation which sounds like he is playing the same line of sixteenth notes with a few tones dropped out at random, creating a wonderful effect. But this is clearly Tordella's showcase, and he makes the most of it. Once the Padres trade Adrian Gonzalez (as expected), I think it will be safe to say that Ian will be one of the best things going in San Diego.

Bonus Material: Ian and the boys play The Red Dot in the studio:

Visit IanTordella.com and follow Ian on Twitter

Track Listing: Magnolia; D's Melody; Liam's Song; The Way Through; Shadow Dancing; The Red Dot; The Fall Guy
Personnel: Ian Tordella, tenor saxophone; Florian Weber, piano; Jeff Miles, guitar; Jeff Denson, bass; Brian McLaughlin, drums

26 March 2010

Friday Album Cover: Holland/Troxler

Dave Holland released his latest album, Pathways, this week, and had this to say about his cover art on his blog:
I have heard quite a few compliments about the distinctive cover art for my Dare2 releases. When I started the label, I knew I wanted my good friend, the world-famous graphic designer Niklaus Troxler, to do the artwork.

I first met Niklaus during the early 1970s. With the help of family and friends, he was organizing concerts in his hometown of Willisau, Switzerland—an activity that began because of his love of music. These would become the annual Jazz in Willisau festival. I immediately liked his directness and his positive energy, and discovered in him a wonderful sense of humor and intensity of purpose.
So many great images come to mind. Once, I was in Willisau to play a solo concert on a double bill with the Ron Carter Quartet. When we arrived at the hall, we were greeted by 20 large posters in a line across the entrance doors, each showing a lilac bass against a yellow background, with an arm at each shoulder of the bass playing the strings. On another occasion, a poster for a concert by Sam Rivers showed a pink fish jumping out of the bell of a tenor saxophone! Niklaus' posters are full of bold colors—Niklaus himself favors clothes with colors and combinations of equal intensity.
For the release of Pathways, in addition to a standard CD, we collaborated with Niklaus and Grammy-award winning package designer Susan Archie (Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost, Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues: The Worlds of Charley Patton), to create a limited edition set (1,000 copies). This edition of Pathways comes in a 5" x 7" lidded box containing six postcard-sized reproductions of concert posters designed by Niklaus, including a poster commemorating the octet’s recording of Pathways live at Birdland in 2009. This set includes posters for concerts by Gateway, Anthony Braxton, Sam Rivers, and the double bill with Ron Carter mentioned above. The CD comes in a 4-panel folder decorated with Niklaus’ art, as well.
I hope you enjoy his art as much as I do—and don't forget to pay attention to the music!

Always nice to hear an artist discuss cover art. Holland clearly believes as I do that interesting cover art adds to the experience of an album. After the jump is some of Troxler's recent cover art for Holland.

24 March 2010

A Non-Jazz Recommendation

The non-jazz album that I have listened to the most this year (according to my iTunes) is the new Beach House album, Teen Dream. If you're into dreamy indie-pop, then this is for you. To quote Aziz Ansari, "I listen to this album all the time because it is amazing."


23 March 2010

Review: Animal Style

The Wee Trio
Lately I've spent a lot of time listening to piano trios, and have felt the need to break out of that rut (not that it's a terrible rut). So I started out with an admittedly small step: a vibes-bass-drum trio. The Wee Trio, a group of musical transplants who live in the same Brooklyn neighborhood, will release their second album later this month, inspired by their interactions with California surfers and their introduction to the "Animal Style" burger from the legendary In-n-Out Burger.

Replacing the piano with vibes in a rhythm section is not done too much in jazz, but I like the concept. Since a vibist usually plays with, at most, four mallets (often only two), a vibe-led group is a bit more harmonically ambiguous. Dave Holland has used a vibraphonist in his quintet for years, and is one of the reasons I like that group so much.

The Wee Trio are an energetic group. The first full cut of the album, The Oracle, is a bit of a barnburner featuring a disjointed and syncopated melody which flows into an intense solo from vibist James Westfall, who wrote the tune. Drummer Jared Schonig shares Westfall's zeal for disjointed melodies, as evidenced on his tune White Out. Behind a sparse melodic statement from Westfall and bassist Dan Loomis, Schonig pushes the beat without revealing exactly where the one is, or any other beat for that manner. This dynamic nicely encapsulating the all-out "Animal Style" ethos of the surfers mentioned earlier, which inspires the band's work on this album.

Like Casey Benjamin of The Robert Glasper Experiment, the Wee Trio's James Westfall is a proponent of the vocoder, that baroque relic of early electronic music. Unfortunately, Westfall's use of antique electronics does not inspire the same amount of praise I gave to Benjamin. Something doesn't sound right to me when the vibraphone and vocoder are united, as they are on Snow Day and Pinball Number Count. But that does not mean there isn't plenty to love on this album. From the cool intensity of Avril the 14th to satisfying building up and release of tension in The Tunnel, this album reveals a band that is onto something, and I like where this is going.

Bonus Material: Jason Crane interviewed the Wee Trio in 2009 on The Jazz Session. Below, the Wee Trio cover Nirvana's About a Girl.

Track Listing: San Fernando Pt 1; The Oracle; White Out; Avril 14th; Wherever You Go, There You Are; The Mack is Back in Santa Monica; Snow Day; The Tunnel; Shepard; But Beautiful; Pin Ball Number Count; San Fernando Pt 2
Personnel: James Westfall, vibraphone, vocoder, mini-Korg; Dan Loomis, bass; Jared Schonig,drums

18 March 2010

Another Jazz/Sport Analogy

This time from Europe, in a story about Lionel Messi, the Argentine striker currently on a tear for FC Barcelona:
El Pais columnist Ramon Besa: "Messi plays as if he were a seasoned jazz musician, always recognizable but different every night. He improvises with the same old score, the band follows him and he plays with a religious faith, and the fans demand that the music never stops."
The quote comes from Washington Post columnist Steven Goff, who thankfully translates from the original Spanish.

Major h/t to my brother, who is owed a six-pack of Bell's Two Hearted Ale. Photo via si.com.

17 March 2010

15 March 2010

Ides of March

I'll go with the Ph. D. in astrophysics over the dude who may have been a plagiarist. Okay, he probably wrote those plays, but still...
Here is a live recording of the Secret Society playing Zeno at Le Poisson Rouge back in 2008:

11 March 2010

The Standards Market

Via A Blog Supreme, I learned today that former child actress Molly Ringwald has just finished recording an album of jazz standards.


Of course, at this point, it is no longer surprising that anyone other than a professional jazz singer has recorded a standards album. The only surprise is that this time it's Molly Ringwald and not, say, Anthony Michael Hall. While jazz struggles, the Great American Songbook is thriving thanks mostly to aging rock stars, retired baseball players, and the clinically insane. I would criticize these guys (and ladies) for making a money grab and stoking their egos by adding their signature to the Great American Songbook, but if I knew I could make a quick chunk of cash by belting out a few bars of The Way You Look Tonight, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

Perhaps the answer to the Jazz is Dying meme is to get Michael Bublé to record an album of Sun Ra tunes. What do you think?

10 March 2010

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Via two tweets from Nate Chinen, Christian Scott had this to say about the latest "Jazz is Dying" meme:  
If anybody says that jazz is dead, you should kick 'em in the teeth, for me. And when they're passed out and they wake up swallowing their teeth, leave a note saying that it was from me.
Strong words, which I think readers of this blog will appreciate. With that in mind, allow me to implore you to help secure the future of the music: Buy stuff! Purchase an album on Amazon, go to a live jazz show in your hometown,or do some web 2.0 commerce. Jason Parker is running a pledge drive of sorts to help fund his quartet's West Coast tour, and he's offering some choice donation gifts. You can also donate to support The Jazz Session, a Hot House favorite. Here in America, we depend on the private sector to keep jazz thriving, so do your part to support the music you and I both cherish.

Image via Smithsonian

04 March 2010

Review: Free At Last

Tobias Gebb & Unit 7
Free At Last

If there is one thing we can learn from drummer Tobias Gebb, it is that the well of bebop is not yet dry. His latest album, Free at Last, features a rotating front line reminiscent of the early-60s Jazz Messengers, while Gebb and his rhythm section have a propulsive swing reminiscent of Miles Davis' mid-50s rhythm section. From the get-go, on an up-tempo tune called Blues for Drazen, Gebb and his band show they mean business. Alto saxophonist Bobby Watson packs in a flurry of notes on the first solo, but does not overdo it. Gebb features himself on this tune as well, pulling enough music out of his snare drum alone to make Max Roach or Philly Joe Jones smile.

On Softly As In A Morning Contemplation, Gebb and company offer a fresh reading of the standard, worthy of the altered title. The tune begins on an intriguing minor vamp that flows into the melody. Gebb plays the tune more slowly than just about every other version of it that I've heard, but it works nicely. Tenor saxophonist Stacy Dillard plays a slow-burning solo that plays with modes before giving way to Watson, who once again displays ample dexterity on the horn. The solo section is so short, however, that I am left wanting more when the tune is over.

The tile track is offered as a paean to Barack Obama. Gebb writes lush harmonies for his front line on this one, punctuated by periodic obligattos from tenorman Joel Frahm. The tune, a triumphant one at its core, is also a little ambiguous at time, perhaps a reflection of Obama's road to the White House. Regardless of your feelings about Obama, the tune is simply good music.

Gebb won me over completely at the conclusion of his album with his choice to cover the Beatles' Tomorrow Never Knows, the most underrated gem of their canon. The song, comprised of a drone in C, offers many avenues of interpretation, but Gebb plays it relatively straight (though he does add a sitar to the ensemble), amplifying the undercurrent of swing found on the original. Sitarist Neel Murgai adds wonderful color to the band while not making his addition seem like a gimmick. Frahm's tenor solo is intense without losing control, drawing on Coltrane and Ayler while retaining the swing inherent throughout the album.

If I can borrow an overused phrase from sportswriting, Gebb and his bandmates play in a way that makes me think they are having a lot of fun on the bandstand. A few reviewers have already made a connection between this group and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, and for good reason. Aside from the superficial similarities between the two, Gebb reflects Blakey's dictum that jazz is supposed to wash away the dust from everyday life. I walked away with a smile after my first listening of Free At Last, and I can't think of a better compliment to give an album.

Track Listing: Blues For Drazen; My Love; Spitball; You Don't Know What Love Is; Bop Be Dop; Free At Last; Softly As In A Morning Contemplation; Tomorrow Never Knows
Personnel: Tobias Gebb, drums; Bobby Watson,
Mark Gross, alto saxophone; Ron Blake, Joel Frahm, Stacy Dillard, tenor saxophone; Joe Magnarelli, trumpet; Ugonna Okegwo, Neal Miner, acoustic bass; Neel Murgai, sitar; Eldad Zvulun, piano

02 March 2010

Must See TV From Across the Pond

 Christian Scott on BBC Breakfast:

At the risk of beating a dead horse, why can't I see interviews like this on American TV? Am I not watching the right channels at the right times?