Fred Kaplan

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Apr 24, 2011 4 comments
After seeing Ambrose Akinmusire’s quintet at the Jazz Standard in New York City last Sunday night, I realize that, if anything, my recent blog posting sold him short—or fell short, anyway, in describing what makes him so remarkable.

Unlike many of the best young lions of recent years, Akinmusire is not aiming to expand the realm of jazz to include hip-hop, classical, Latin, or whatever. He is steeped in “the jazz tradition” and aims to deepen his stance within it—but his approach doesn’t seem the slightest bit retro. His trumpet tone, as noted earlier, has traces of Clifford Brown and Booker Little; but how he shapes that sound—as a player, a composer-arranger, and an ensemble-leader—is thoroughly distinctive. . .

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Apr 11, 2011 4 comments
Every few years, a young jazz musician comes along and sets off some buzz. Usually, the excitement soon cools—the kid can’t sustain the initial stir, he turns out to have more technique than depth—but now and then, it turns out there’s something really going on. In the past decade, Jason Moran has been the most prominent of these upstarts who’s the real thing. The latest, I’m pretty sure, is a trumpeter, just shy of 29 years old, named Ambrose Akinmusire.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Mar 29, 2011 4 comments
Has anyone here ever heard of Youn Sun Nah, or am I just out of it? She's a South Korean singer, 42 (though she looks 25), born to a musical family. She's spent the last decade or so in France and has built a strong reputation on the European concert tour the last couple years, but there have been no appearances or even press about her stateside, not that I know of anyway. Well, let me get a ball rolling. Her new CD, Same Girl (on the German label ACT), is one of the most refreshing jazz vocal albums I've heard in a long while.
Fred Kaplan Posted: Mar 11, 2011 0 comments
In my review of Krell's FBI integrated amplifier in the July 2007 issue, I noted that $16,500 (it now costs $18,000) seemed an astonishing chunk of change to spend on a product category generally associated with "budget" gear. Now, the 2011 edition of the Stereophile Buyer's Guide lists no fewer than 19 companies selling integrated amps for five figures—one goes for $100,000!—which perhaps suggests that economic slumps prod even the well-heeled to alter their habits. There are, after all, advantages to cramming a preamplifier and a power amplifier into a single box: you need one less pair of interconnects, one less power socket, one less cabinet shelf. And if the integrated contains state-of-the-art parts, elegant circuitry, and a hefty power supply, what's the problem?

And so we have Simaudio Ltd., the veteran Canadian high-end electronics firm, leaping into this realm after 30 years of business with the Moon 700i, priced at $12,000—only two-thirds the price of the Krell, but aimed at the same downsizing but still toney demographic.

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Mar 09, 2011 4 comments
The latest two offerings from Music Matters Jazz—Lee Morgan's Indeed! and Jackie McLean's Destination Out!—are the company's best in a while: most worthy of the exclamation points.
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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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