[JPL] MUSIC REVIEWS: In the age of downloads, CDs still reign in jazz

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Fri Dec 28 07:30:00 EST 2007


http://www.sanluisobispo.com/entertainment/national/story/230570.html

MUSIC REVIEWS: In the age of downloads, CDs still reign in jazz
By HOWARD REICH
Somehow, in the age of downloads, iPods, file sharing and what-not, great
jazz keeps turning up on compact disc.
The proof lies in this year's best recordings, which range from the vastness
of trumpeter Terence Blanchard's "A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for
Katrina)" to the intimacy of saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi's free-ranging
"Tenorist" to the muscular virtuosity of pianist Joey Calderazzo's
"Amanecer."
The systems for distributing music may be in flux, but the sounds themselves
still thrill:
1. Terence Blanchard: "A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina)" (Blue
Note Records)
Anyone who watched Spike Lee's masterful 2006 documentary "When the Levees
Broke," about Hurricane Katrina and its tragic aftermath, will recall not
only its searing images but also its comparably haunting music. New Orleans
trumpeter Terence Blanchard, a longtime Lee collaborator, penned the
evocative score and in 2007 expanded it into this stunning, 13-movement
suite. Unlike most film music, this work stands on its own, its combination
of elegiac blues melody, churning jazz rhythm and quasi-classical string
accompaniment amounting to an elegy for a battered American city. Moreover,
"A Tale of God's Will" represents a major artistic leap forward for
Blanchard, who with this work dramatically extends his range of expression.
2. Joey Calderazzo: "Amanecer" (Marsalis Music/Rounder)
An important partner to saxophonist Branford Marsalis, whose label released
"Amanecer," Calderazzo long ago established himself as a top-flight piano
virtuoso (at least among connoisseurs, if not yet the general public). But
with "Amanecer," a mostly solo CD, Calderazzo revealed hitherto unheard
artistic depth - as well as a colossal command of the instrument. The
extraordinarily sophisticated and ambiguous harmonies with which he
reinvents his own "Midnight Voyage," the incredible delicacy of his touch in
"Sea Glass" by the late Michael Brecker (who early on championed Calderazzo)
and the ethereal duets between Calderazzo and Brazilian vocalist Luciana
Souza make this possibly the most important jazz piano recording of the
year.
3. Chris Potter 10: "Song for Anyone" (Sunnyside Records)
Great jazz soloists often yearn to record with larger, orchestral forces, so
perhaps it was inevitable that a performer-composer as accomplished as
Potter eventually would take the plunge. His first effort along these lines,
though slightly flawed, reaches so far beyond most jazz-meets-the-classics
recordings as to represent a milestone in his career, and in the genre
itself. The writing for Potter's tentet is so harmonically advanced,
structurally sound and intellectually rigorous as to demand repeated
listening. To hear Potter's jagged, larger-than-life tenor and soprano
saxophone lines set against his profound string writing is to understand the
scope and ambition of this project. Though Potter hasn't fully finessed the
age-old problem of shifting between jazz and classical rhythm, which often
dooms such efforts, he has achieved so much in "Song for Anyone" as to leave
the listener hoping he'll do more along these lines.
4. Dee Dee Bridgewater: "Red Earth: A Malian Journey" (EmArcy)
In a year of dishwater-dull vocal releases, one stands out: Bridgewater's
daring, revelatory journey to the African roots of her music, and of jazz
itself. By joining forces with musicians and griots of Mali - their chanted
vocals and distinctive percussion instruments dovetailing with her own gauzy
phrases - she transcends the torpor of modern-day jazz singing. Here's music
rich in folkloric impulse and ancient musical ritual, thanks, in part, to
the contributions of major figures such as Baba Sissoko and Toumani Diabate.
Yet this recording also bristles with the spirit of jazz improvisation,
articulated by Bridgewater and instrumentalists such as pianist Edsel Gomez
and bassist Ira Coleman. By offering both jazz classics ("Afro Blue") and
Malian repertoire, Bridgewater eloquently links two cultures. Yet for all
the audacity of this venture, there's no mistaking the sound at its center:
Bridgewater's tonally lustrous, still remarkably malleable voice.
5. Ari Brown: "Live at the Green Mill" (Delmark Records)
There's never a shortage of recordings by saxophonists major and minor, but
Chicagoan Brown turned in one of the most searing, by far. Like Chicago jazz
itself, the music on this CD sounds sinewy, unpretentious and technically
brilliant. You can practically touch the blues impulse of Brown's playing in
"Richard's Tune" and "One for Skip," as well as the bracing language of the
South Side avant-garde in "Shorter's Vibes." Though recorded live, the CD
carries an economy of expression and vividness of tone one sooner associates
with studio releases. By any measure, "Live at the Green Mill" documents a
mighty Chicago saxophonist playing at the peak of his considerable abilities
on tenor and soprano.
6. Wynton Marsalis: "From the Plantation to the Penitentiary" (Blue Note
Records)
In the most pointedly political release of his career, trumpeter-bandleader
Marsalis takes aim at nothing less than the decline of American culture.
Castigating gansta rappers who celebrate "killing and freakin',"
metaphorically calling President Bush a "blunderbuss," railing against
Democrats and Republicans and the mass media that cover them, Marsalis
unleashes a litany of social complaints - as well as passages of palpable
hope. In and of itself, his incendiary text might be tough to take, but it
proves remarkably effective, mostly because it's set in some of the most
beautifully written music of Marsalis' career. By updating classic forms -
from work songs and ballads to marches and blues - Marsalis gives wing to
his political message. The gorgeously sung vocals of Jennifer Sanon, as well
as the characteristically radiant voicing of Marsalis' quintet, brings jazz
to the forefront of our political discourse - where it belongs.
7. Jerry Bergonzi: "Tenorist" (Savant)
Tenor saxophonists everywhere study and savor the work of Bergonzi, and the
master's latest release helps explain why. The originality of its sinuous
phrasings, the epic scale of its solos and - above all - the richly detailed
nature of his craggy tone bear endless scrutiny. On "Tenorist," he leads a
strikingly cohesive quartet, with wide-open harmonies from guitarist John
Abercrombie, lithe time-keeping from drummer Adam Nussbaum and unerringly
empathetic support from bassist Dave Santoro. In all, a small-group tour de
force fronted by one of the mightiest tenorists playing today.
8. McCoy Tyner: "Quartet" (McCoy Tyner/Half Note Records)
Though somewhat frail these days, the leonine pianist heroically reasserts
himself in this exuberant live date, recorded at the end of last year, at
Yoshi's in Oakland. Joined by saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Christian
McBride and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, Tyner effectively rekindles the
spirit of the John Coltrane Quartet in which he played a pivotal role
decades earlier. This time, Lovano does a great deal of the heavy lifting,
yet there's no mistaking the swirl of keyboard sound, the two-fisted chords
and the robust rhythmic energy that long have been Tyner's signature. No, he
doesn't introduce any new jazz vocabularies, but in a career that has
spanned more than half a century, he doesn't need to.
9. Buselli/Wallarab Jazz Orchestra: "Basically Baker" (GM Recordings)
It's still mind-boggling to realize that David Baker - an admired, versatile
composer - had to wait until he was 75 to hear his big-band compositions
documented on disc. "Basically Baker" eloquently made the case for his jazz
writing, or at least the small fraction of it that a single CD can hold.
Tracing the arc of a remarkable career, "Basically Baker" ranges from the
intricate counterpoint of "Screamin' Meemies" (1958) to the soulful
utterances of "Some Links for Brother Ted" (1998), reaffirming Baker's
stature as a jazz original whose full measure has yet to be taken. At the
very least, "Basically Baker" cries out for a sequel.
10. Ryan Cohan: "One Sky" (Motema Music)
Until the recent release of "One Sky," listeners knew Cohan as a fine
pianist and adept composer-arranger. But "One Sky" establishes him as much
more than that: a potentially distinctive voice in jazz. Certainly his
exquisitely delicate writing in the recording's centerpiece, the
five-movement "One Sky: Tone Poems for Humanity," shows the creativity of
his pen, as well as the alacrity of his pianism. The translucence of his
compositions for sextet, as well as the high polish of the playing he
inspires, makes "One Sky" a significant achievement for a composer on the
verge of greater things.

© 2007 San Luis Obispo Tribune and wire service sources. All Rights
Reserved.
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