Fred Kaplan

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Jun 10, 2012 0 comments
Three great new offerings from Music Matters Jazz, the house that reissues Blue Note classics on gatefold-covered, double-disc vinyl 45rpm LPs: Wayne Shorter's Speak No Evil, Herbie Hancock's Empyrean Isles, and Grant Green's Street of Dreams. All were recorded in 1964: the first two are among the best titles in Blue Note's catalogs; the third is one of the more purely pleasurable.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: May 18, 2012 5 comments
And now for two soundtrack albums, Chico & Rita and Pina: the first explicitly jazz, the other prancing all around its borders, both completely captivating.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Apr 26, 2012 1 comments
I saw the Vijay Iyer trio at Birdland in midtown Manhattan two weeks ago. It was a great show. Most of the songs were from the band's new CD, Accelerando (which I raved about in my March 31 blog post), some were from earlier albums; all were riveting. The trio weaves in and out of patterns with a swinging agility. Iyer plays piano with precision yet gusto; he could have been a master interpreter of Liszt or Ligeti, had he chosen that direction. If you have a chance to hear this group live, take it.

But my main purpose here is to correct something I wrote in that earlier post about the album's sonics, namely that "the drums have that digital swish (I'd like to hear the ride cymbal ring and the bass drum boom once in a while)." Well, after watching the group in person, I have to conclude that the drummer, Marcus Gilmore, doesn't like to hear those things very much. He tightens his drum heads more than any drummer I've seen (he re-tightened them several times during the show), to the point where banging them (or the cymbals, which I didn't see him tighten, but he must have before the set) produces almost no decay. He seems to aim for razor-sharp control of his share of the rhythm.

In other words, the drum sound you hear on Accelerando, like it or not, comes quite close to the sound of Gilmore live. The real thing swishes forth a bit more air, but the difference isn't huge; if I'd known what he sounds like in person before hearing the disc, I wouldn't have criticized anything. Apologies to the engineer, Chris Allen.

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Mar 31, 2012 2 comments
A few weeks ago, I finally got around to the Vijay Iyer trio's new CD, Accelerando (on the ACT label), and I've listened to at least a few tracks of it almost every day since. This is a stunningly good album: monastically intricate, but also a rousing head-shaker, it's even danceable, I give it a 96.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Feb 29, 2012 1 comments
Ahmad Jamal’s new CD, Blue Moon (on Harmonia Mundi’s new Jazz Village label), is a wonder. Jamal is 82. He still possesses that spacious lightness of touch that knocked out Miles Davis over a half-century ago. But Jamal has since added to this elegance a syncopated boisterousness, a keenness for dynamics, and an adventurous way with mixing and merging styles.

Listen to what he does with the title tune, loping on not only a slow-simmer Latin rhythm but also a bass line (which occasionally gets passed to the piano, then the drums) from the refrain of Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” Or the album’s first track, an original called “Autumn Rain,” where Jamal coaxes clusters of chords, then a sprightly melody, over drummer Herlin Riley’s raucous backbeat.

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Jan 31, 2012 3 comments
Chick Corea's Further Explorations (Concord), with Eddie Gomez on bass and Paul Motian on drums, is my favorite jazz album of the year so far. I've played it maybe 20 times since I got an advance copy a few months ago.

It's a two-disc set, taken from two weeks of sessions at the Blue Note in Greenwich Village (one of which I raved over in this space at the time, back in May 2010). The gig was hawked as a Bill Evans tribute (the title is a spin on Evans' 1959 album Explorations), but that told only the half of it. . .

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Dec 24, 2011 12 comments
If you follow jazz, you know that Ella & Louis, the 1956 Verve album of duets with Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, is one of the most delightful vocal recordings ever.

If you're an audiophile, you've read that Chad Kassem, proprietor of Acoustic Sounds, in Salina, Kansas, has bought the finest vinyl-pressing equipment, hired some of the hottest engineers to modify and operate it, and come up with a new line of LPs called QRP, for Quality Records Pressings.

One of his first QRP products is a 45rpm, 200-gram pressing of Ella & Louis. If you're a jazz-following audiophile, go buy this right away. Flummoxed by the $50 price tag? How much would you pay for the most palpable illusion you'll ever experience that Pops and the First Lady of Song are back among the living—standing, breathing, singing, and blowing, right in front of you?

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Dec 09, 2011 0 comments
I veer away from ruminating on war and peace in my Slate column today, to run down my list of Best 10 Jazz Albums for 2011. My piece over there includes hyperlinks to 30-second sound clips (the maximum that copyright law allows), but here's the list (the more devoted of you readers will notice that I've written in this space about all of them over the past year).
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Nov 30, 2011 3 comments
Most jazz musicians who try to rock out come off lame. Most rock musicians who dig into jazz sound pathetic. Medeski Martin & Wood have long straddled both camps with authenticity. Or actually "fused" is the better word; in fact, they're among the very few rock-jazzers, another being Miles Davis at the top of that game, who turn "fusion" into a tasty term.

On their latest album, the trio are joined by guitarist John Scofield, not as a sideman (as MMW were on his A Go Go from 1998) but as a fully insinuated member of the band, which is thus called MSMW. The double-disc album's (appealingly insouciant) title is In Case the World Changes Its Mind (on the Indirecto label). It was recorded live at various spots on their 2006 tour. It's the best thing any of them have done, together or apart, in years.

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Nov 23, 2011 0 comments
Photo: Claire Stefani

The wondrous drummer Paul Motian died Tuesday morning at the age of 80 (he didn't look much older than 60), and New York, the only city where he ever played for the past decade (and he seemed to be playing somewhere all the time), feels a little emptier.

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Nov 12, 2011 0 comments
Photo: James Matthew Daniel

Darcy James Argue has one of the most original big-band sounds in recent years. His 2009 CD, Infernal Machines, may be the most promising jazz debut of the decade. But his world premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this week—an hour-long suite, accompanying a mix of animation and live painting by graphic-novel artist Danijel Zezelj, called Brooklyn Babylon—puts the composer and his 18-piece big band, Secret Society, on the verge of a quantum leap. . .

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Nov 05, 2011 6 comments
Photo: Dino Perrucci/Blue Note Jazz Club

Chick Corea is at the Blue Note in New York City all for the entire month, celebrating his 70th birthday by riffling through all the chapters of his wildly eclectic career, playing different music with different bands, shifting casts and moods each week, sometimes from night to night.

I caught the early set Thursday, a trio with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Brian Blade, and it was a thorough delight...

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Oct 23, 2011 2 comments
Something rare and wonderful is going on at New York's Jazz Standard this weekend: John Hollenbeck's Large Ensemble is playing the music of Kenny Wheeler, and Wheeler himself is sitting in with the band.

Three things about this are rare: Wheeler, a Canadian and longtime UK resident, almost never plays in the States; his big-band music is almost never played, period (and was recorded all too infrequently); and Hollenbeck's 18-piece Large Ensemble, remarkably inventive and often wittily dissonant, almost never plays other people's music, least of all lush, cushion-of-air arrangements like Wheeler's (though, it should be added, Wheeler's melodies ripple with elusive romance and mystery).

Friday night's 9pm set, though, was wonderful. The ensemble, tight as ever, took to that creamy, wall-to-wall big-band sound as if they'd been covering Basie standards for years, without giving up any of its sharp-edged verve. Wheeler, now 80, was a bit short on breath, but his sinuous lines and those high-note grasps were as captivating as ever.

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Sep 30, 2011 5 comments
In his autobiography, Miles Davis wrote that all his live concerts through the 1960s were taped by someone and that Columbia Records, his label in those days, would no doubt release them after he died.

He was so right. Not that I'm complaining.

A few years ago, after the umpteenth of these high-concept releases, I thought that Columbia (now Sony) must have reached the end of the Miles treasure trove. But it seems the fun is just beginning. The latest multidisc set (three CDs and one DVD) is Miles Davis Quintet: Live in Europe, 1967, subtitled The Bootleg Series, Vol.1.

Take note of that Vol.1. There's more—who knows how much more—to come.

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Sep 17, 2011 3 comments
Photo: John Abbott

A year ago, almost to the day, I raved in this space about Sonny Rollins' 80th birthday concert, which I'd seen the night before at the Beacon Theater in New York City. I wrote: "A few thousand jazz fans are feeling lightheaded this morning," still "marveling" at having finally seen "a concert that made them tremble and that people will be talking about years from now."

This week, Rollins released a new CD, Road Shows, Vol. 2, which consists mainly of highlights from this concert, and I opened the package with some trepidation. Would the music, as a purely audio phenomenon, hold up to my memory of it? Or did my dizziness at the time stem, at least in part, from the thrill of being there, as part of the audience, at an event of such high expectations?

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