Thomas Conrad

Thomas Conrad  |  Sep 04, 2020  |  1 comments
An outburst of saxophone flurries sits you straight up in your chair. The tone is rich but with a cutting edge.

It has to be Rudresh Mahanthappa. The riveting cry of his alto saxophone is one of the most recognizable sounds in jazz.

But those darting runs coalesce into Charlie Parker's "Red Cross." So it can't be Mahanthappa, can it? He has made 15 straight albums of original music. He doesn't do covers, right?

Thomas Conrad  |  Apr 07, 2020  |  7 comments
I remember the only time i ever saw Chet Baker. It was at Parnell's, a jazz club in Pioneer Square in Seattle, long since defunct. It was a few years before Baker died under mysterious circumstances, in Amsterdam in 1988, after a life of creativity, notorious dissipation, and addiction.

Emaciated, with a caved-in face, he already looked near death. He played like an angel. I remember something that happened to me toward the end of the night. Sometimes last sets in jazz clubs, when the crowd has thinned, seem to exist outside of time.

Thomas Conrad  |  Dec 27, 2019  |  4 comments
Keith Jarrett: Munich 2016
ECM 2667/2668 (2 CDs). 2019. Keith Jarrett, prod.; Manfred Eicher, exec. prod.; Martin Pearson, eng.; Christoph Stickel, mastering eng.
Performance *****
Sonics ****

I just measured the Keith Jarrett shelf in my CD library and it's 25" long: 51 CDs and CD sets. But when I played the new Munich 2016, I felt like I was rediscovering him after an unexplained absence.

Jarrett has been off my radar lately. Apparently I am not alone. The single best indicator of a jazz musician's critical standing is the DownBeat International Critics Poll. In 2017, Jarrett did not make the top 10 in the piano category. In 2018, he did not make the top 20.

Thomas Conrad  |  Aug 01, 2019  |  3 comments
Early in 2019, three jazz CDs appeared on a new record label. They were Jason Palmer's Rhyme and Reason, Johnathan Blake's Trion (both double CDs), and Eric Alexander's Leap of Faith. The label was Giant Step Arts.

Given that hundreds of jazz records—many of them good— are released every month, and that new jazz labels pop up all the time, is the release of three new albums really news?

Thomas Conrad  |  Apr 18, 2019  |  2 comments
Francesco Diodati Yellow Squeeds: Never the Same
Francesco Diodati, electric & acoustic guitar, gongs; Francesco Lento, trumpet; Glauco Benedetti, tuba, valve trombone, flute; Enrico Zanisi, piano, Fender Rhodes, synths; Enrico Morello, drums, gongs
Auand AU9080 (CD). 2019. Francesco Diodati, Marco Valente, prods.; Stefano Del Vecchio, Roberto Lioli, engs. DDD. TT: 44:24
Performance ****½
Sonics ****

Guitarist Francesco Diodati is one of the freshest voices to enter jazz in the new millennium. If this news comes as a surprise, you probably live in the US. A disproportionate amount of the innovation and energy within America's only indigenous art form now comes out of Europe. Most of the American jazz community has not gotten the memo.

Thomas Conrad  |  Nov 19, 2018  |  8 comments
Wolfgang Muthspiel: Where the River Goes
Wolfgang Muthspiel, electric & acoustic guitars; Ambrose Akinmusire, trumpet; Brad Mehldau, piano; Larry Grenadier, bass; Eric Harland, drums
ECM 2610 (CD). 2018. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Gérard de Haro, Nicolas Baillard, engs. DDD. TT: 48:15
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

Wolfgang Muthspiel of Austria has been active and respected on the European scene for 30 years. But like so many of the best European jazz musicians, he began to get famous only when he began recording for ECM: His Travel Guide (2013) and Driftwood (2014) were endorsed by critics and embraced by guitar junkies.

Thomas Conrad  |  Mar 22, 2016  |  First Published: Apr 01, 2016  |  5 comments
Avishai Cohen: Into the Silence
Avishai Cohen, trumpet; Bill McHenry, tenor saxophone; Yonathan Avishai, piano; Eric Revis, bass; Nasheet Waits, drums
ECM 2482 (CD). 2016. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Gérard de Haro, Nicolas Baillard, engs. DDD. TT: 53:08
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

In the new millennium, no country other than Cuba has exported more important jazz musicians to the United States than has Israel. But even though the Israeli jazz phenomenon has been much discussed in the jazz press, critics have been late to recognize that Avishai Cohen is one of the best trumpet players alive. Cohen has two siblings who also play jazz, and his charismatic older sister, Anat, who has been winning major jazz polls on clarinet for several years, gets most of the attention in the family. And then there is Avishai's name problem: One of the best-known Israeli jazz musicians, a bassist of the same name, got to New York first.

Thomas Conrad  |  Aug 25, 2015  |  First Published: Sep 01, 2015  |  19 comments
Maria Schneider Orchestra: The Thompson Fields
Maria Schneider, composer, arranger, conductor; 18-piece orchestra
ArtistShare AS0137 (CD). 2015. Maria Schneider, Ryan Truesdell, prods.; Brian Montgomery, eng. DDD. TT: 77:25
Performance *****
Sonics ****

The world's leading figure in orchestral jazz has not released a jazz recording in eight years. In her liner notes, Maria Schneider says, "This album was funded by my ArtistShare fan base. Making a recording like this is becoming increasingly difficult and would now be impossible without the generous support of my many participants."

Today, big jazz bands rarely tour. Some are stable entities, but on a part-time basis. Most, like Schneider's, come together for projects, then go their separate ways. Yet against all odds, large-ensemble jazz survives because no other format offers its range of expression and its power.

Thomas Conrad  |  Oct 27, 2014  |  First Published: Nov 01, 2014  |  1 comments
Henry Mancini: Music for Peter Gunn
Steven Richman, Harmonie Ensemble/New York (22-piece orchestra)
Harmonia Mundi HMU907624 (CD). 2014. Steven Richman, prod.; Adam Abeshouse, prod., eng., mastering; Bill Siegmund, asst. prod., ed.; Andy Rider, eng. DDD? TT: 51:04
Performance ****½
Sonics ****

To get the full benefit of this album, you must be old enough to remember 1959. Detective shows were the rage. Your parents let you stay up for Richard Diamond, Private Detective, starring David Janssen, and Peter Gunn, starring Craig Stevens. They were the first TV dramas with their own original jazz soundtracks. Pete Rugolo scored Richard Diamond. The RCA LP of Henry Mancini's music for Peter Gunn was a smash. It was on the Billboard charts for two years, and in 1959 won the first-ever Grammy for Album of the Year.

Thomas Conrad  |  Mar 28, 2013  |  First Published: Apr 01, 2013  |  3 comments
Around the last decade of the previous century, something significant happened in jazz. Suddenly, many of the best players were no longer Americans. Actually, it was not sudden. It was a gradual flowering that achieved critical mass and could no longer be overlooked.

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