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 hereJoe Lovano on tenor sax, Drew Gress on bass, Joey Baron on drumsare 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).
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.
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 . . .
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.)
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.
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.
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.
It ranks among the most astounding turnarounds in American music. John Zornerstwhile bad-boy impresario of the downtown New York jazz scenespent 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.
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.
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.