Fred Kaplan

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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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Fred Kaplan Posted: Dec 01, 2010 4 comments
Music Matters Jazz—the L.A.-based audiophile label that reissues classic Blue Note titles, each on twin slabs of thick, quiet vinyl, mastered at 45 rpm and eased into gorgeous gatefold packages—keeps churning them out.

One of their latest, and greatest, is Andrew Hill’s Point of Departure, a jaw-dropper from 1964 that sounds as fresh as tomorrow.

Hill, 33 at the time (he died in 2007, active till the end), was a precisely adventurous pianist and one of the most inventive composers of that transition era, pushing metric rhythms and chord-based harmonies right up to the edge dividing structure from freedom (he received informal lessons from Hindemith in his youth). Every player in his band—Eric Dolphy on reeds, Joe Henderson on tenor sax, Kenny Dorham on trumpet, Richard Davis on bass, Tony Williams on drums—was top-notch and hitting their peaks.

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Nov 18, 2010 4 comments
Those who follow this space know of my enthusiasm for the music of trumpeter Dave Douglas: his plangent tone, his spine-tingling way with minor-chord intervals, his knack for evoking joy, melancholy, romance, and a host of other emotions—sometimes all at once—without dipping so much as a toe into sentimentalism.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Nov 15, 2010 4 comments
Henry Threadgill should be better known than he is. A topnotch musician on alto sax and flute, one of the more innovative composers in jazz, a veteran of the Chicago avant-garde and a revivalist of ragtime improvisational styles (the two are not so contradictory, as he was the first to demonstrate), Threadgill started out on small labels, briefly landed contracts at RCA Novus and Columbia during their brief flirtations with experimentalists (in the late ‘80s and mid ‘90s, respectively), then went back to the indies—all the while retaining, even advancing, his spirit of adventure and his restless but disciplined innovation.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Oct 31, 2010 7 comments
Never Stop (on the E1 label) is the album from The Bad Plus that many of us have been waiting for—the first of their albums to consist entirely of original material.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Oct 28, 2010 0 comments
I’ve never been crazy about Ahmad Jamal. His piano style has struck me as patio-cocktails jazz—nice harmonies and rhythm, but soft-spoken, too precious, de-sensualized.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Oct 22, 2010 2 comments
The Israeli pianist Anat Fort’s second CD, And If (on the ECM label), is an album that I like a lot, though it’s hard to explain why or even to describe. Her music is rhapsodic but spare, tender but propulsive, flush with melodic hooks that loop in sinuous, unpredictable shapes.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Oct 14, 2010 Published: Oct 15, 2010 7 comments
For some time now, I’ve been urging (begging) the audiophile vinyl-reissue houses to focus on Duke Ellington’s great 1950s albums on the Columbia label, and finally Pure Pleasure Records has done it.

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