Fred Kaplan

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Fred Kaplan Posted: May 20, 2011 4 comments
Shut Up and Dance, on the French label Bee Jazz, should catapult John Hollenbeck into the pantheon of living big-band composers, along with Maria Schneider, Bob Brookmeyer, Jim McNeely, and (if his debut works are matched by what's to come) Darcy James Argue, among perhaps a very few others. I've praised some of Hollenbeck's earlier albums in this space, especially his Large Ensemble's Eternal Interludes and his Claudia Quintet's Royal Toast, but I have to say I admired them more than I liked them. His arrangements were . . .
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Fred Kaplan Posted: May 16, 2011 1 comments
Bill Frisell's Sign of Life (Savoy Jazz) is one of the most gorgeous new albums I've heard in a while. It's in the tradition of his "Americana" albums (Disfarmer; History, Mystery; Ghost Town; Gone, Just Like a Train; This Land), but here he burrows deeper into the roots. There are traces of folk, bluegrass, minimalism, western-blues, as well as certain modes and improvisational cadences of jazz. The ensemble is the 858 Quartet. . .
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Fred Kaplan Posted: May 05, 2011 4 comments
Photo by Zoran Orlic

The Kronos Quartet has won this year's Avery Fisher Prize for chamber music, and the significance is stunning. With one fell (though belated) swoop, the boundaries of the conventional canon are broadened, if not obliterated. The Fisher Prize, set up in 1975 and awarded every three years since, is a conservative enterprise. Somewhat like the American Academy in the field of literature, it was designed to enshrine those who have ascended to the peaks through the established, long-trod paths. Past winners have included . . .

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Apr 24, 2011 4 comments
After seeing Ambrose Akinmusire’s quintet at the Jazz Standard in New York City last Sunday night, I realize that, if anything, my recent blog posting sold him short—or fell short, anyway, in describing what makes him so remarkable.

Unlike many of the best young lions of recent years, Akinmusire is not aiming to expand the realm of jazz to include hip-hop, classical, Latin, or whatever. He is steeped in “the jazz tradition” and aims to deepen his stance within it—but his approach doesn’t seem the slightest bit retro. His trumpet tone, as noted earlier, has traces of Clifford Brown and Booker Little; but how he shapes that sound—as a player, a composer-arranger, and an ensemble-leader—is thoroughly distinctive. . .

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Apr 11, 2011 4 comments
Every few years, a young jazz musician comes along and sets off some buzz. Usually, the excitement soon cools—the kid can’t sustain the initial stir, he turns out to have more technique than depth—but now and then, it turns out there’s something really going on. In the past decade, Jason Moran has been the most prominent of these upstarts who’s the real thing. The latest, I’m pretty sure, is a trumpeter, just shy of 29 years old, named Ambrose Akinmusire.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Mar 29, 2011 4 comments
Has anyone here ever heard of Youn Sun Nah, or am I just out of it? She's a South Korean singer, 42 (though she looks 25), born to a musical family. She's spent the last decade or so in France and has built a strong reputation on the European concert tour the last couple years, but there have been no appearances or even press about her stateside, not that I know of anyway. Well, let me get a ball rolling. Her new CD, Same Girl (on the German label ACT), is one of the most refreshing jazz vocal albums I've heard in a long while.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Mar 09, 2011 4 comments
The latest two offerings from Music Matters Jazz—Lee Morgan's Indeed! and Jackie McLean's Destination Out!—are the company's best in a while: most worthy of the exclamation points.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Mar 01, 2011 5 comments
The Complete Art Pepper at Ronnie Scott's Club, London, June 1980, a 7-LP boxed set released by Pure Pleasure Records, is a total surprise and a sheer delight.

Art Pepper, who died in 1982 at the age of 56, was not only one of the great alto saxophonists of his era but a self-transformer to boot. In the early 1950s, he routinely ranked No. 2 in Downbeat polls (beat only by Charlie Parker), then vanished in the '60s (locked up in various prisons on drug charges), only to emerge in the mid-'70s with a totally different sound.

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Jan 30, 2011 6 comments
Yes We Can is the most jolting, swinging, all-round best album by the World Saxophone Quartet in nearly 20 years.

WSQ, which was formed in 1977, still has at its core two of the founding members, David Murray on tenor sax and Hamiett Bluiett on baritone. The alto parts, which have shifted over the decades, are taken up here by Kidd Jordan and James Carter (the latter also on soprano at times). They’re all playing at peak power.

In its original guise, with Julius Hemphill and Oliver Lake on altos, WSQ was the signature jazz band of the 1980s, the spearhead of a spontaneous “neo-classical” movement (as critic Gary Giddins dubbed it), which combined the avant-garde’s passionate expressionism with the wit, grace and beauty of myriad traditional forms.

Much of this movement was captured on the Italian Black Saint label, as were the quartet’s seminal albums (especially Revue, W.S.Q., and Live at Brooklyn Academy of Music), though their most voluptuous work, the 1986 Plays Ellington, appeared on Nonesuch.

Hemphill, a master of stretched harmony, was the band’s driving force, and his departure. . .

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Jan 24, 2011 4 comments
The tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger is just 24, but already he has a distinctive sound: a confident, husky tone, combined with fleet, sometimes fragmentary phrasings: something like Sonny Rollins channeling Leo Konitz.

It's an unlikely mix of homages, but with an equally surefooted and agile band, it works. And on Preminger's latest album, Before the Rain (on the Palmetto label), his band—pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist John Herbst, and drummer Matt Wilson—is all that.

The disc consists mainly of slow ballads, some originals, some standards, simmered in polyrhythms, cool in demeanor but ripe with emotion. There are also some jagged upbeat tunes, where all the players—and this is more a true quartet than a leader-with-three-backups—step out with a controlled abandon.

The sound quality is good, though I wish the drums were a little less compressed.

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Jan 20, 2011 5 comments
David Murray doesn’t play with a big band much these days, but he’s got one at Birdland in midtown Manhattan through Saturday, so if you’re in the area, check it out.

In the mid-1990s, Murray fronted a big band every Monday night at the Knitting Factory in TriBeCa (in addition to the various quartets and octet he played with all over the city). Then he moved to Paris and experimented with African and Caribbean music, but when he comes back to New York, he usually returns to his distinctive style of jazz.

He started Wednesday night’s early set with an original, “Hong Kong Nights,” and the band unleashed that special Murray sound from the first downbeat: the reeds blowing a lush harmony, the horns a clipped counterpoint, while Murray tapped into some hidden rhythm of the universe with a Ben Webster tone, a Sonny Rollins cadence, capped occasionally by an Albert Ayler outer-orbit flurry—lyrical and frenzied all at once.

The magic unfolded again, later in the set, with his arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge,” proving once again that Murray is one of the era’s great modern balladeers.

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Jan 07, 2011 4 comments
Photo: Michael Black | BLACKSUN©.

If you’re in New York City and don’t mind the snow (which resumed Friday), go to Birdland in midtown and see the Overtone Quartet, which features Jason Moran, Chris Potter, Larry Grenadier, and Eric Harland. They’re as good as you might expect, better even. They play through Sunday night.

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Dec 27, 2010 5 comments
The folks at Rhino Records have just released a 180-gram vinyl reissue of The Shape of Jazz to Come, Ornette Coleman’s groundbreaking (and still riveting) album of 1959, mastered at RTI from the original stereo tapes. It sounds in every way better than the original pressing, which itself sounds quite good.

Everything is clearer, highs are extended, bass is more defined, dynamics are wider. Ornette’s white plastic alto sax has more of that palpable whoosh through the reed and horn. Don Cherry’s pocket trumpet has an airier mouthpiece. Charlie Haden’s bass—you can hear the wood vibrate. And Billy Higgins’ drum set has more sizzle and snap.

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Dec 24, 2010 2 comments
Attention, last-minute Christmas shoppers: No gift could be more welcome to a jazz lover than a copy of Herman Leonard’s last book of photographs, titled, simply, Jazz (Bloomsbury, 320pp., $40 retail).

Leonard was the consummate jazz photographer, a true artist as well as a chronicler, whose black-and-white pictures—most of them taken between the late 1940s and the early ’60s (though with a remarkable reprise in the late ’80s and ’90s)—captured, even visually defined, the passion of the music, the intimacy between the musicians and the moment, the spirit of the times.

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Dec 16, 2010 4 comments
My column on the best jazz albums of 2010 is in today’s edition of Slate, replete with strategically selected 30-second sound clips, illustrating my points (to the extent—very limited—that 30-second clips can do that). Here’s the list, minus the mini-essays and the sound clips, but I’ve written about all of these albums over the past year in this blog.

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