Fred Kaplan

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Aug 08, 2012 3 comments
In a sense, I understand why Thelonious Monk's albums on Columbia, recorded between 1962 and 1968, have been neglected. His earlier sessions, on Blue Note, Prestige, and Riverside, were the ones where he introduced his classic songs, developed his eccentric style, and played with star-studded rhythm sections. The six quartet albums for Columbia feature a total of just six new Monk songs. And they find him playing with a working band of accompanists—no John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Griffin, Art Blakey, or Roy Haynes here.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Mar 10, 2009 1 comments
I have a column in today’s Slate, delving more deeply into the Monk at Town Hall concert that I’ve covered in this blog—and the whole concept, and risk, of jazz tributes.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Nov 22, 2014 2 comments
Maria Schneider, photographed by Jimmy & Dena Katz

It’s Thanksgiving time, and New York jazz fans know what that means. No, not the Macy’s parade down Broadway or the lighting of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. The really big shows for our crowd—annual traditions for a while now—are the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra at the Jazz Standard and Jason Moran’s Bandwagon Trio at the Village Vanguard.

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Feb 04, 2009 4 comments
Keith Jarrett has also just released a trio CD called Yesterdays (on ECM), featuring Gary Peacock on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums, with whom he’s been playing for decades. The album might be described as outtakes from the group’s 2001 concert in Tokyo—portions of which were released the following year on a double-disc recording called Always Let Me Go—except that the new album is dramatically different. Always consisted almost entirely of improvisations; but it turns out the trio also played standards that night (the group is known as Jarrett’s “standards trio”), and they’re all assembled on Yesterdays. Often when a musician releases an album of previously unreleased takes, it’s clear why they didn’t make the original cut. But that’s not the case here. In fact, this is one of Jarrett’s loveliest albums, especially the ballads (“You’ve Changed,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” and “Stella by Starlight,” as well as the title tune). Whatever one might say about the man’s antics and idiosyncrasies, his artistry cannot be disputed. I can’t think of another jazz pianist alive, and only a few from any era, who displays such seamless virtuosity, across so many styles of music, and still conveys the vibrant rhythms and true emotion of a song.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Jan 29, 2009 4 comments
At its best, there’s a quiet majesty to the music of Abdullah Ibrahim, the South African pianist-composer once known as Dollar Brand, and his new solo CD, Senzo (on the German WDR label’s Cologne Broadcasts series), is his most stirring album in years. He was discovered in 1963, at the age of 30, by no less than Duke Ellington, who produced his first recording, then lured him to the States, where he played with Elvin Jones before going on to form his own bands. In the ‘70s, he found his full voice—a swaying pastiche of jazz, spiritual and Capetown rhythms—and, over the course of a few years, recorded a staggering number of great albums: Live at Sweet Basil, Vol. 1 (there was no Vol. 2) and Duke’s Memories with the saxophonist Carlos Ward, Good News from Africa with the bassist Johnny Dyani, Streams of Consciousness with drummer Max Roach, Duet with saxophonist Archie Shepp (the most lyrical album Shepp ever made), and African Marketplace, The Mountain, and Ekaya with his octet known as Ekaya.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Mar 16, 2010 14 comments
In the we-all-make-mistakes department:
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Jun 22, 2009 14 comments
What’s the point of having a blog if I can’t occasionally indulge in self-promotion? So if you’ll forgive my blatancy for a moment, today marks the official pub date of my new book, 1959: The Year Everything Changed. Unlike my last book, which was entirely about foreign policy, this one actually might be of some interest to the readers of this space, because it covers not just politics but also culture, society, science, sex—as the title suggests, everything. More to the point, there are three chapters (out of 25) that deal explicitly with jazz. (Key jazz albums of 1959 included Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come, and Dave Brubeck’s Time Out.) There’s also a chapter about the creation of Motown (another 1959 phenomenon), and a jazz-blues vibe infuses the whole book.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Jan 30, 2008 0 comments
What’s the point of having a blog if you can’t be self-indulgent now and then? So allow me to plug my new book, Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power (Wiley & Sons). As the subtitle may suggest, it is not a biography of the Monkees but rather a journalistic dissection of why the United States’ global adventures and image have gone to hell in recent years. Some of you may know that I write a twice-weekly column in Slate about such matters. My book is not a compilation of my columns; it’s all new stuff. The official pub date is February 4, but it’s already in stock in many bookstores and on amazon.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Jun 08, 2010 4 comments
As I’ve mused before (though only twice), what’s the point of having a blog if you can’t indulge in a little self-promotion?
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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: 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: Apr 04, 2014 4 comments
Three years ago, Ambrose Akinmusire, 28, burst upon the scene as the most promising young jazz trumpeter since Dave Douglas. His debut album, When the Heart Emerges Glistening (on the Blue Note label), was hailed (and not just by me) as one of the best of 2011. His new CD, The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint (also out on Blue Note), is better.
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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: Jul 05, 2007 1 comments
I don’t want to write too much about any one musician, but I just got back from seeing clarinetist Anat Cohen’s quartet at the Village Vanguard, and I can’t resist. Her CD, Poetica, is one of the year’s fresh surprises—breezy, heady, and warm (see my blog of June 17)—but it’s a mere shadow of what she does live. She plays with a perfect clean tone and an insouciant virtuosity combined with a hip-swaying, eyes-rolling, wide-smiling swing—or with a breath-stopping melancholy, depending on the song.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Jun 17, 2007 0 comments
Anat Cohen’s Poetica, on her own Anzic Records label, is a fresh breeze of an album, and I mean that in a good way. Still in her 20s, Cohen plays clarinet with a polished edge and verve second only to Don Byron’s. Born in Tel Aviv, schooled at Berklee, honed in New York clubs, playing not just modern jazz but Brazilian Choro and Dixieland, she lets all her influences show but none of them dominate. Her tone bears something of klezmer’s lilt but none of its schmaltz. Her arrangements have the joyful-melancholic sway of Israeli or Latin folk music but none of its sentimentality. On the album, she also plays two knottily catchy original tunes, a Jacques Brel song, and a tinglingly lovely cover of Coltrane’s “Lonnie’s Lament,” the last backed by a string quartet. The sound, mixed by Joe Ferla and mastered by Sony’s Mark Wilder, is excellent.

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