Saturday, February 25, 2006

Quick thoughts (aka I'm Back)

I've been away from here for a while now, as I've been busy doing a number of things, including helping to launch a new local non-profit dedicated to promoting and eventually presenting jazz in the Fresno area, plus going to the opera in San Jose (La Boheme), several excellent local jazz concerts, and of course, listening to a lot of great (and not so great) new music. I tend not to write on the bad stuff, so here's some highlights:

Manu Katche - Neighbourhood
One of those rare records that lives up to the potential of its personnel, which in this cases includes Jan Garbarek, Tomasz Stanko, Marcin Wasilewski and Slawomir Kurkiewicz. I'm a big fan of Jan's work, though I find the bulk of his recent output less than satisfying. This cd finds Jan playing the rare role of sideman with his current drummer of choice, leading his first record. Katche wrote all of the music, replete with plenty of hooks and catchy melodies, and a subtle haze of pop production values. The mood is most often contemplative, but there's enough variety here to put aside the typical ECM cliches. Don't take that last statement the wrong way though, it's an all acoustic record, (no drum machines or loops) and Garbareck and Stanko get plenty of blowing space though not all of the cuts are quintet. Katche's drumming solidly anchors the music, yet doesn't dominate, he's a jazz drummer at home in pop settings, or vice versa a pop drummer at very well versed in jazz, and apparently a very talented composer. It's a very pretty album, and I've noticed that the phones always light up when I play it on the air.

Andrew Hill - Time Lines
A new album by Andrew Hill is always a major event. One that brings Charles Tolliver back into the recording spotlight is even more so. Time Lines is (in my view) the companion album to Hill's brilliantly evocative "Dusk" which came out several years ago on Palmetto. The folks at Blue Note, who were as I understand it, pleasantly surprised by the sales of Hill's "Passing Ships" (a session from the 60's that had sat in the vaults unissued for decades), so lo and behold, Hill is back on Blue Note, for the third time. The album opens with one of the most strikingly beautiful tracks I can recall hearing recently, Malachi, which (I assume, since the cd lacks liner notes) is for the late bassist of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Malachi Favors. It's followed by the title track, which is a very free piece with a hint of Hill's Caribbean heratige. The piece "Fly Round 1" has echoes of Hill's early Blue Note recordings from the 60's, with an angular, trumpet/bass clarinet front line (Greg Tardy), riding a churning rhythm section (John Hebert bass, Eric McPherson drums). I'll spare you a complete run down of every track (these were to be short reviews), but this album is a sure bet to be on all the most important top 10 lists at the end of the year, and is a significant addition to Andrew Hill's discography. The thing that strikes me the most about this album is how relaxed and free it is, even in its most frenetic moments. Nothing is rushed, no one is trying to outplay someone else, and Hill (and his band) use space, in a very refreshing way. It's also very beautifully recorded in a way that is very sensitive and compliments the music and musician's personal sounds.

Esbjorn Svensson Trio (e.s.t.) - Viaticum
Think of The Bad Plus for a moment. Now take away the hype and irony, and the goofy outfits from the photoshoots. Add an extra dose of musicality, and jazz chops, and you have E.S.T. Now I don't mean to praise E.S.T. by criticizing The Bad Plus, (I do enjoy some of their material, as I have documented on this site), it's just that I see both groups as trying to do similar things (take the piano, bass, drums "jazz" trio sound in a new direction, through incorporating certain "non-jazz" devices. But while The Bad Plus often seems like an inside joke, and some have questioned their "jazz chops" (not my doing, but I've heard prominent jazz musicians raise the topic) no one is going to question the jazz credentials of pianist Esbjorn Svennson, or at least they'd be foolish to do so. I haven't heard all of E.S.T.'s albums, but this is among my favorite of the half dozen or so I have heard. The production values lend a very fresh sound to the trio, and there's a lot of subtle studio things going on, sort of like what Brad Mehldau was attempting with his Largo record, but more successful (in my opinion). I'm left thinking of Brad's playing quite a lot while listening to this cd, as they both have similar influences, as post-Jarrett pianists. Rhythmically though there's a few things that Svennson does that sound VERY similar to what Brad does. I'm not about to dissect how that came to be, but if you get the album, listen for it, and you can decide if I'm right or not.

Well, so much for "quick thoughts"! More to follow.


Blogger euskir said...

The famous spanish magazine "Cuadernos de jazz" put Esbjorn Svensson in the overrated list. That's tough, and I'm agree with the argentinian pianist Adrian Iaies, it's silly to make public that kind of lists. Underrated and overrated it's a game for a party between friends. The Bad Plus, well, they're ok, but like The Marx Brothers of jazz, not exactly, The Marx Brothers were funnier. You can't repeat a formula once and again, just to make fun of the jazz style, sooner or later the sound is outdated and tired.

7:27 PM  
Blogger Joe M said...

I can see how someone might say that they're overrated. From what I hear they are much better known in Europe than here in the US. They were on Sony here for a while, but now are on an independent label. I hate the overrated thing too, but I think there's a lot of others that you could pin that tag on before you get around to E.S.T. Such "overrated/underrated" debates tell us little about the players involved, but a lot about the person making the list.

8:05 PM  
Blogger euskir said...

Europe is working really hard, since a long time ago, in an interesting jazz voice, of course that kind of critics: the "listos"(sorry for the bad joke, "listos" is "smarter" in spanish)can put Bobo Stenson in an overrated list, but they love Keith Jarrett, and personally, well, they're not play too different.
I can't imagine Ira Gitler, Ralph Gleason, Leonard Feather or Nat Hentoff making an overrated / underrated list. They are (sad, some were...) more into the "bone" than into the "flesh". Thanks for that kind of critics.

7:45 AM  

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