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?
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 labelBlue Notethat 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.)
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 . . .
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 195657, 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' soundand thus in modern jazz itself.
Newk's Time is particularly revealing in this sense. . .
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.
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.
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.
One of the things I admire most about the folks at Music Matters Jazzthe 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 coversis 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 . . .
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 . . .
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. . .
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 . . .
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 shortor 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 itbut 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 soundas a player, a composer-arranger, and an ensemble-leaderis thoroughly distinctive. . .
Every few years, a young jazz musician comes along and sets off some buzz. Usually, the excitement soon coolsthe kid can’t sustain the initial stir, he turns out to have more technique than depthbut 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.
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.