Fred Kaplan

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Jan 20, 2009 14 comments
Hemispheres, the new two-CD album by guitarists Jim Hall and Bill Frisell, is the year’s first jazz masterpiece, a work of spontaneous lyricism as glittering and joyful as anything either has recorded (and, given their histories, that’s saying a lot). Hall, who’s 78, and Frisell, who’s 57 and something of a protg, both have a tendency toward doodling when they’re not anchored by a rhythm section. But Disc One—10 tracks of barebones duets (including Milt Jackson’s “Bags’ Groove,” Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” Hall’s anthemic “Bimini,” and several pure improvs)—are loose-limbered and air tight, the two trading harmony and melody, then merging the strands to the point where it’s unclear who’s playing what but it meshes and sings all the same. Disc Two—10 more tracks, mainly standards (“I’ll Remember April,” “Chelsea Bridge,” “My Funny Valentine,” “In a Sentimental Mood”), the guitarists joined by Scott Colley on bass and Joey Baron on drums—is no less free-spirited. Colley and Baron, who have played as sideman to both as well as many others, aren’t the sort to lay down rhythmic law; they splash color and weave textures along the leaders’ sinuous lines.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: May 31, 2009 2 comments
Joe Lovano’s Folk Art, his 22nd album on the Blue Note label, is an odd, sometimes jarring record—it took a few hearings before I found my bearings—but once the fragments snap into place, it’s a rousing pleaser, bursting with indigo moods, heart-skipped romance, and free-flow funk riffs. Lovano plays all kinds of reeds—tenor sax, straight alto sax, clarinet, and, on one song, the aulochrome, a Hungarian-built horn that’s a double soprano sax (attached to one reed), each side tuned to a different key, so that you blow melody and harmony simultaneously. He plays with a somewhat hardened tone, reminiscent of Sonny Rollins, but with a more soulful sensibility, stemming from his Midwestern roots (his father was a tenor blues saxophonist in Cleveland), though over the past couple decades, he’s played with, and gleaned ideas from, a wide variety of masters, including Hank Jones, Gunther Schuller, and Mel Lewis, to name a few.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Aug 15, 2012 1 comments
The guitarist John Abercrombie's latest, Within a Song (on ECM) is something of a high-wire act: delicate music of an uninsistent intensity, a quiet swing, that hangs together or collapses on the ensemble's sustenance of balance. The musicians here—Joe Lovano on tenor sax, Drew Gress on bass, Joey Baron on drums—are masters at this sort of thing (and many other things too), and so it's a riveting album. Even when they coast, swish, and twirl along the slightest thread, you're carried along (or I was anyway).
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Oct 01, 2010 4 comments
The latest 3-CD box in Mosaic Records’ Select series, John Carter & Bobby Bradford, is something of a revelation. I’ve heard several albums over the years by the two musicians separately, but never their collaborations of 1969 (as the New Art Jazz Ensemble) and ’71 (as John Carter & Bobby Bradford, though playing with much the same quartet), both recorded on the obscure Revelation label. Now here they are, reissued with unreleased takes and a whole unissued (unknown) duet session that was laid down in ’79.
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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 27, 2010 0 comments
I’m late in coming to the drummer-composer John Hollenbeck. (These things happen: so many records, so little time…) It wasn’t until a few months ago that I stumbled upon Eternal Interlude (on the Sunnyside label), the latest CD by his 20-piece Large Ensemble, which, had I heard it earlier, would have made it on my 2009 Best 10 list. (Ditto, just to set the record straight, for Infernal Machines by Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, that other wondrous big band that escaped my attention.)
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Oct 31, 2009 0 comments
John Surman, a saxophonist of jazz, folk, church, and avant-garde influences, has been a longtime denizen in the ECM stable without gaining much renown. When he recently played at a New York club, leading a rhythm section of guitarist John Abercrombie, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Jack DeJohnette, he acknowledged to the crowd that he was the only player who needed introducing.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Sep 06, 2010 0 comments
John Zorn’s rep as the angry bad boy of the downtown avant-garde has always been a bit of a caricature. His music has long stressed wit and beauty as much as squeals and hollers. But in the last few years, he’s tapped into a buoyant, almost gentle lyricism while still sounding distinctively Zorn.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Apr 30, 2008 6 comments
Has John Zorn gone mellow? His two new CDs, The Dreamers and Lucifer (both on his self-owned label, Tzadik), are swaying, swinging, crazy with catchy hooks, occasionally downright mellifluous. I don’t mean to overstate the contrast with the preceding Zorn oeuvre (which entails over a hundred albums, at least a thousand compositions). The time has long passed when Zorn—whose name is, almost novelistically, German for “anger”—gained notoriety for squealing on the alto sax like a banshee and cutting up compositions into surreal collage. The stereotype was never right: from the start of his career, in the mid-‘70s, he could play be-bop, Hammond-based soul, and Morricone movie-themes at a high level. But in the ‘80s, he delved more avidly into ear-ripping shards-of-sound (with fitting titles like Torture Garden and Grind Crusher). When he turned to exploring chords and melodies in the ‘90s, he didn’t abandon “noise” entirely; several of his great Masada albums alternate between blues or ballads and rippers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Up to a point, I liked that stuff, too. But these two new CDs have almost none of it. They’re jammed with buoyant, playful, joyous music—and I mean that in a good way.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Oct 23, 2013 3 comments
It ranks among the most astounding turnarounds in American music. John Zorn—erstwhile bad-boy impresario of the downtown New York jazz scene—spent last month touted as a modern master, and Manhattan's pride, by the city's most venerable institutions of high culture: the Metropolitan Museum, the Guggenheim, Lincoln Center, Columbia University, and NYU.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Oct 15, 2007 1 comments
I’ve listened to Herbie Hancock’s new CD, River: The Joni Letters (on Verve), three times now, and it gets better with each spin. This is a Joni Mitchell tribute album, with Hancock on acoustic piano heading a straight-ahead jazz quintet (including Wayne Shorter on soprano sax and Dave Holland on bass), fronted on six of the 10 tracks by various singers.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: May 06, 2009 2 comments
There’s been much hand-wringing among the aficionadi over reports that George Wein may call off his JVC Jazz Festival this year, leaving New York City bereft of such an event for the first time in decades. I’m not so bothered.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: May 31, 2010 1 comments
Let’s put the main point up front. The new duet album by Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden, Jasmine (on ECM), is a gorgeous piece of work: all standards, mainly ballads, nothing fancy (not overtly anyway), but such poignance and quiet passion; it’s a glimpse into the intimacy of the act of making art.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Jun 19, 2014 8 comments
Almost exactly four years ago, I posted a Blog that began like this: "Let's put the main point up front. The new duet album by Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden, Jasmine (on ECM), is a gorgeous piece of work: all standards, mainly ballads, nothing fancy (not overtly anyway), but such poignancy and quiet passion; it's a glimpse into the intimacy of the act of making art." A follow-up CD is out now, Last Dance...
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Jun 19, 2010 5 comments
Keith Jarrett’s “Standards Trio” played Carnegie Hall Thursday night, to predictable glories.

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