Fred Kaplan
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Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan 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.

Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan 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. . .

Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan 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...

Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan 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.

Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan 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.

Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan 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?

Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan Aug 31, 2011 6 comments
Photo: Mosaic Images

Sonny's Crib, by Sonny Clark, one of the most tragic and still-underrated pianists in jazz, is one of the greatest blowing sessions on a label—Blue Note—that specialized in blowing sessions, especially in the mid-to-late '50s, when this was laid down.

September 1, 1957 was the recording date, and that's not a gratuitous factoid. First, 1957 marked a pinnacle in Clark's brief career; he recorded 18 albums that year, most of them Blue Notes, as either leader or sideman. (He would die from a heroin overdose in 1963, at the age of 31, and the only surprise was that it didn't happen much earlier.)

Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan Aug 18, 2011 3 comments
Photo: Michael Gross

Violinist Jenny Scheinman is back at Manhattan’s Village Vanguard this week with the quartet she calls Mischief & Mayhem, and judging from the two times I've seen them (the first a year ago, the second last night), I'd say this is one of the great raucous jazz-fusion bands of our time. Go see them. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

By "jazz-fusion," I mean not just jazz + rock (though there is plenty of that, thanks to the presence of Wilco's Nels Cline on electric guitar) but . . .

Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan Aug 01, 2011 6 comments
Newk's Time was the third of four albums that Sonny Rollins recorded for Blue Note, and it's the second reissued by Music Matters Jazz, the audiophile house that does up the Blue Note classics right, each title mastered at 45rpm and spread out across two extremely quiet slabs of vinyl. MMJ has already released Sonny Rollins, Vol. 1. That leaves Sonny Rollins, Vol. 2 and Night at the Village Vanguard (itself a 2-volume album). I hope they put them out too at some point. If they do (does this need to be said?), get them all.

Rollins was signed to Blue Note in 1956–57, one of several transitional periods and an almost absurdly prolific one. He recorded not only the four Blue Notes but also Saxophone Colossus and Freedom Suite for Prestige, Way Out West for Contemporary, and over a dozen sessions as sideman, for various labels, with Miles Davis, Max Roach, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Dorham, and Abbey Lincoln. Listening to all these albums (for the most part, a riveting experience), you can hear the subtle-then-transformative changes in Rollins' sound—and thus in modern jazz itself.

Newk's Time is particularly revealing in this sense. . .

Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan Jul 24, 2011 3 comments
Chris Dingman’s Waking Dreams is a very big, pleasant surprise. I’d never heard of Dingman, who plays vibes and composed all but one of the CD’s 14 tracks. The label, Between World Music, is Dingman’s own, and this is its only release (usually a bad sign). I must confess that I probably put it on at all only after noticing that one of the musicians playing on the album (the only one in the sextet whose work I know) was Ambrose Akinmusire, the most exciting new trumpeter on the scene. And well, as I said, what a surprise.
Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan Jul 11, 2011 4 comments
Trumpeter-composer David Weiss calls his quintet Point of Departure, an intriguing but risky move from the get-go. That's the title, after all, of Andrew Hill's 1964 Blue Note masterpiece, one of the most appealingly adventurous sessions in post-bop jazz. In short, Weiss has set the bar high. The startling thing is, he clears it.

The band's new CD, Snuck Out (on the Sunnyside label), is a terrific album, one of my very favorites so far this year. Its melodic lines swirl in catchy cascades without quite settling into melodies. Its free-style rhythms are tethered to a structure of harmony while floating clear of strict chords. The music's tight, loose, catchy, elusive, knotty and limber, all at once. The musicians (in addition to Weiss, J.D. Allen on tenor sax, Nir Felder on guitar, Matt Clohesy on bass, Jamire Williams on drums) are first-rate. The sound, engineered by Paul Cox, is crisp and airy.

Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan Jun 12, 2011 7 comments
The Jazz Journalists Association held its annual awards party at the City Winery in New York City Saturday afternoon, June 10. Here is a partial list of the winners, followed in parentheses by the musicians I voted for. The awards covered the period from April 15, 2010 to April 15, 2011. (The full list of finalists and winners can be found here and here.

RECORDING OF THE YEAR:
Winner: Joe Lovano's Us Five, Bird Songs (Blue Note). My Pick: Jason Moran, Ten (Blue Note). Lovano's Charlie Parker tribute is a good album, but Moran's is a masterpiece, the career highlight of the most impressive, versatile jazz musician of his age.

Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan May 29, 2011 5 comments
One of the things I admire most about the folks at Music Matters Jazz—the audiophile house that reissues classic Blue Note albums at 45rpm, the tracks spreads out on two slabs of 180gm virgin vinyl, tucked inside handsome gatefold covers—is that they focus on the label's later avant-garde titles as well as on its earlier hard-bop chestnuts. Highlights in that realm to date: Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch, Andrew Hill's Point of Departure, and Jackie McLean's Destination Out.

Now add to this list of treasures Sam Rivers' Fuchsia Swing Song. All four of those albums were . . .

Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan 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 . . .
Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan 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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