Fred Kaplan
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Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan May 18, 2012 5 comments
And now for two soundtrack albums, Chico & Rita and Pina: the first explicitly jazz, the other prancing all around its borders, both completely captivating.
Fred Kaplan May 14, 2012 9 comments
Around the turn of the century, a review of the latest hair-raisingly expensive turntable would often begin with a soothing chant that, yes, the RotorGazmoTron XT-35000 is a tad pricey, but it will be the last piece of analog gear you ever buy—so go ahead, take the plunge. A dozen years later, pressing plants are stamping out LPs 'round the clock, and new high-end turntables are rolling off production lines at a respectable clip. So who knows whether today's Cassandras might be equally premature in bewailing the death of the Compact Disc? Which is to say that I can't in good conscience urge you to pay $12,000 for a CD player on the grounds that the medium's about to die, so splurge now while there's still something to splurge on. But if you have the scratch, and the itch for such a product, step right up and let me tell you about the Krell Cipher.
Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan Apr 26, 2012 1 comments
I saw the Vijay Iyer trio at Birdland in midtown Manhattan two weeks ago. It was a great show. Most of the songs were from the band's new CD, Accelerando (which I raved about in my March 31 blog post), some were from earlier albums; all were riveting. The trio weaves in and out of patterns with a swinging agility. Iyer plays piano with precision yet gusto; he could have been a master interpreter of Liszt or Ligeti, had he chosen that direction. If you have a chance to hear this group live, take it.

But my main purpose here is to correct something I wrote in that earlier post about the album's sonics, namely that "the drums have that digital swish (I'd like to hear the ride cymbal ring and the bass drum boom once in a while)." Well, after watching the group in person, I have to conclude that the drummer, Marcus Gilmore, doesn't like to hear those things very much. He tightens his drum heads more than any drummer I've seen (he re-tightened them several times during the show), to the point where banging them (or the cymbals, which I didn't see him tighten, but he must have before the set) produces almost no decay. He seems to aim for razor-sharp control of his share of the rhythm.

In other words, the drum sound you hear on Accelerando, like it or not, comes quite close to the sound of Gilmore live. The real thing swishes forth a bit more air, but the difference isn't huge; if I'd known what he sounds like in person before hearing the disc, I wouldn't have criticized anything. Apologies to the engineer, Chris Allen.

Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan Mar 31, 2012 2 comments
A few weeks ago, I finally got around to the Vijay Iyer trio's new CD, Accelerando (on the ACT label), and I've listened to at least a few tracks of it almost every day since. This is a stunningly good album: monastically intricate, but also a rousing head-shaker, it's even danceable, I give it a 96.
Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan Feb 29, 2012 1 comments
Ahmad Jamal’s new CD, Blue Moon (on Harmonia Mundi’s new Jazz Village label), is a wonder. Jamal is 82. He still possesses that spacious lightness of touch that knocked out Miles Davis over a half-century ago. But Jamal has since added to this elegance a syncopated boisterousness, a keenness for dynamics, and an adventurous way with mixing and merging styles.

Listen to what he does with the title tune, loping on not only a slow-simmer Latin rhythm but also a bass line (which occasionally gets passed to the piano, then the drums) from the refrain of Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” Or the album’s first track, an original called “Autumn Rain,” where Jamal coaxes clusters of chords, then a sprightly melody, over drummer Herlin Riley’s raucous backbeat.

Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan Jan 31, 2012 3 comments
Chick Corea's Further Explorations (Concord), with Eddie Gomez on bass and Paul Motian on drums, is my favorite jazz album of the year so far. I've played it maybe 20 times since I got an advance copy a few months ago.

It's a two-disc set, taken from two weeks of sessions at the Blue Note in Greenwich Village (one of which I raved over in this space at the time, back in May 2010). The gig was hawked as a Bill Evans tribute (the title is a spin on Evans' 1959 album Explorations), but that told only the half of it. . .

Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan Dec 24, 2011 12 comments
If you follow jazz, you know that Ella & Louis, the 1956 Verve album of duets with Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, is one of the most delightful vocal recordings ever.

If you're an audiophile, you've read that Chad Kassem, proprietor of Acoustic Sounds, in Salina, Kansas, has bought the finest vinyl-pressing equipment, hired some of the hottest engineers to modify and operate it, and come up with a new line of LPs called QRP, for Quality Records Pressings.

One of his first QRP products is a 45rpm, 200-gram pressing of Ella & Louis. If you're a jazz-following audiophile, go buy this right away. Flummoxed by the $50 price tag? How much would you pay for the most palpable illusion you'll ever experience that Pops and the First Lady of Song are back among the living—standing, breathing, singing, and blowing, right in front of you?

Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan Dec 09, 2011 0 comments
I veer away from ruminating on war and peace in my Slate column today, to run down my list of Best 10 Jazz Albums for 2011. My piece over there includes hyperlinks to 30-second sound clips (the maximum that copyright law allows), but here's the list (the more devoted of you readers will notice that I've written in this space about all of them over the past year).
Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan Nov 30, 2011 3 comments
Most jazz musicians who try to rock out come off lame. Most rock musicians who dig into jazz sound pathetic. Medeski Martin & Wood have long straddled both camps with authenticity. Or actually "fused" is the better word; in fact, they're among the very few rock-jazzers, another being Miles Davis at the top of that game, who turn "fusion" into a tasty term.

On their latest album, the trio are joined by guitarist John Scofield, not as a sideman (as MMW were on his A Go Go from 1998) but as a fully insinuated member of the band, which is thus called MSMW. The double-disc album's (appealingly insouciant) title is In Case the World Changes Its Mind (on the Indirecto label). It was recorded live at various spots on their 2006 tour. It's the best thing any of them have done, together or apart, in years.

Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan Nov 23, 2011 0 comments
Photo: Claire Stefani

The wondrous drummer Paul Motian died Tuesday morning at the age of 80 (he didn't look much older than 60), and New York, the only city where he ever played for the past decade (and he seemed to be playing somewhere all the time), feels a little emptier.

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