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Fred Kaplan Posted: 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 . . .
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Fred Kaplan Posted: May 27, 2010 0 comments
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.)
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Jun 26, 2015 0 comments
We seem to be going through a big-band renaissance. In recent months, I've hailed the latest albums by Maria Schneider's Orchestra, Steve Coleman's Council of Balance, Ryan Truesdell's Gil Evans Project, and now—in some ways, the most adventurous—John Hollenbeck's Songs We Like a Lot (on the Sunnyside label).
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Oct 31, 2009 0 comments
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.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Sep 06, 2010 0 comments
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.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Apr 30, 2008 6 comments
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.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Oct 23, 2013 3 comments
It ranks among the most astounding turnarounds in American music. John Zorn—erstwhile bad-boy impresario of the downtown New York jazz scene—spent 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.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Oct 15, 2007 1 comments
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.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Mar 31, 2015 18 comments
I'm usually not a fan of male baritone jazz singers, not even Johnny Hartman (except, of course, on his album with Coltrane): they tend too much toward the operatic, and they're usually too smooth, too eyebrow-arched suave, for my taste anyway. But Jose James is something else, and his new album, Yesterday I Had the Blues (Blue Note), goes down like a rare vintage port on a chilly night.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Oct 02, 2015 1 comments
Thursday night, I took the F train to Manhattan's Blue Note, the 8pm set, to see Trio 3—the longstanding improv band, consisting of Oliver Lake on alto sax, Reggie Workman on bass, and Andrew Cyrille on drums—joined by Jason Moran on piano . . . Moran, the most inventive pianist on the scene today, can play anything with anybody.


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