That's It! (Sony Legacy) is a hell of a fun album: the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the treasure of New Orleans music, wailing with cylinders wide open.
Purists might protest. All the songs on this record are new (a first for the PHJB), and the solos tend more toward R&B riffs than trad-jazz polyphony. In short, the vibe seems to pulse more from the rowdy late-night clubs up on Frenchman Street than the band's usual stately sanctuary in the heart of the French Quarter.
A little over two years ago, I raved in this space over Rhino's 180-gram vinyl pressing of Ornette Coleman's 1959 album The Shape of Jazz to Come, one of the greatest and most important in all of jazz. Now I'm here to rave louder still (with one frustrating caveat) about another reissue, mastered by Bernie Grundman at 45rpm for the audiophile label ORG.
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.
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 accompanistsno John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Griffin, Art Blakey, or Roy Haynes here.
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.
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.
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.