Jazz Consumer Guide: Festival Visions
William Parker’s New York festival pays dividends for record buyers everywhere
By Tom Hull
Double Sunrise Over Neptune
A large group with freewheeling horns, a string quartet (plus bass), oud, guitar (or banjo), two drummers, and an operatic singer from India named Sageeta Bandyopadhyay. Remarkably, it all holds together, paced by a metronomic bassline that Parker subcontracts so he can work on exotica, including the West African lute called the doson ngoni and squeaky double-reed instruments. The sort of miracle Sun Ra used to conjure up, but two planets further out from Ra’s home base. A
Rob Brown Ensemble
Crown Trunk Root Funk
An unsung hero of many William Parker projects, alto saxophonist Brown finally gets his showcase, leading a superb quartet that started as a Vision Festival gig and worked its way into the studio. Parker is the bassist, of course; Gerald Cleaver, drums; and Craig Taborn will turn some ears with his piano. Brown’s slower pieces take a while to settle in. His fast ones are breath-taking. A MINUS
Originally filmed in 1994, the DVD component of this three-disc package offers little visually, but rehearsal shots strip the seamless music to basic elements, all of which seem to flow through drummer Jim Black’s body. Three years later, those elements merge into the mesmerizing live sets spread over two CDs here; the main trick is how the two reeds—Tim Berne on alto and baritone sax, Chris Speed on tenor sax and clarinet—intertwine in a single, complex harmonic thread. A MINUS
The Roy Campbell Ensemble
The two multi-part suites are hard to gauge as Egyptology, but their depth of feeling is palpable. Billy Bang’s violin carries most of the load, the backdrop for Bryan Carrott’s eccentric vibes and Campbell’s avant-twisted trumpet—shades of Gillespie moving ever deeper into African myth. The closing “Sunset on the Nile” is lighter and gentler, the river of life. A MINUS
Ted Des Plantes’ Washboard Wizards
Thumpin’ and Bumpin’
Trad jazz still yoked to banjo and tuba, but a little more modern, with sax replacing the second cornet and the 1924-to-1937 Harlem repertoire carrying them well into the swing era. Des Plantes is a stride pianist who sings a bit, a scholar from Ohio who makes the old sound bright and shiny-new, without even a whiff of irony. A MINUS
One More Mile
Studied under Lee Konitz. Teaches woodwinds in Idaho. Doesn’t write much, covering Dizzy Gillespie and Sam Rivers while drawing on his band, effectively his Seattle label’s house rhythm section. Sticks with soprano sax, getting a distinctive tone plied with rigorous logic and panache. I run across a lot of good players in out-of-the-way places, but Jensen belongs in a higher league. A MINUS
From Russia to Israel to the U.S., where he plays klezmer clarinet and edgy alto sax. Also teaches math at Brown while researching game theory and stochastic processes—sounds like some of the latter figured into his “New Orleans Funeral March” and “Waltz for Piazzolla.” Brandon Seabrook consistently sets him up with guitar and banjo, and Midrash Mish Mosh drummer Aaron Alexander has the beat down pat. A MINUS
Myra Melford/Mark Dresser/Matt Wilson
Taking a cue from their first names, they call themselves Trio M, but are established enough to keep their names on the spine. I figure the complex, cerebral stuff is pianist Melford’s, and credit the bouncy bits to drummer Wilson. There’s no doubt that the weird arco bass is Dresser’s. He has a huge reputation, but rarely makes albums you can kick back and enjoy. This is the exception. A MINUS
Conducted by Butch Morris
Morris’s registered trademark (Conduction®) still reads like mumbo-jumbo, but he does have an uncanny knack for keeping large groups creative and clutter-free—nowhere more so than with this Avenue C house band, featuring horns from downtown jazzbos and vocals from underworld refugees (Love Trio, Forro in the Dark, Brazilian Girls). A MINUS
At Home (1998)
Recorded by Lounge Lizards/Sex Mob bassist Tony Scherr at home in Brooklyn, laid-back blues for sophisticates with no reason to be blue. Slide-guitarist Dave Tronzo stretches out melodies by Duke Ellington and Neil Young, and saxophonist Michael Blake sails effortlessly along. A MINUS
Mike Walbridge’s Chicago Footwarmers
A career summary, tacking eight new tracks onto the reissue of a 40-year-old LP. The extension is seamless: Trad jazz hasn’t evolved much, at least for the banjo and drum changes. More importantly, Kim Cusack returns on clarinet and alto sax, contrasting sharply and sweetly with Walbridge’s tuba. Minor instruments in most such bands, they take the spotlight here. A MINUS
Additional Consumer News
The Harry Allen–Joe Cohn Quartet
Music From “Guys and Dolls” [Arbors]
The singers follow the book; the leaders rise above it.
Grupo Los Santos
Lo Que Somos Lo Que Sea [Deep Tone]
Rumba in the Bronx, with Brazilian twists to Paul Carlon’s sax and Pete Smith’s guitar.
Dick Hyman/Chris Hopkins
Teddy Wilson in 4 Hands [Victoria]
Two generations of stride pianists recall the master in five solos and 12 duets.
Mary Lou Williams
A Grand Night for Swinging (1976) [High Note]
Of course she can swing, but wait till you hear her deconstruct.
Paul Shapiro’s Ribs and Brisket Revue
Yiddish revivalism so far beyond the pale he’s pinching songs from Slim Gaillard.
And So I Lived in Old New York . . . [Smalls]
The Chris Byars Quartet, bass-ackwards.
Marilyn Mazur/Jan Garbarek
The saxophonist hypnotic as a snake charmer, taming Mazur’s exotic percussion.
Steve Lehman Quintet
On Meaning [Pi]
Complex, thought-challenging abstractions set to offbeat jingle-jangle riddims.
Luminosity [Doubledave Music]
Talks his way into vocalese jams but keeps his cool, the humor of “Hungry Man” and “Full of Myself”; true because he’s neither.
Sal Mosca Quartet
You Go to My Head [Blue Jack Jazz]
A posthumous teaser from the Tristano school pianist—breezy, brainy standards from Gershwin, Parker-Gillespie, Konitz-Marsh.
Flag Day [Sunnyside]
Mellow, measured tenor-sax quartet, with subtle surprises from John Abercrombie, John Hebert, and Paul Motian.
Breakfast on the Morning Tram [Blue Note]
French chanson and samba, a recipe for heartbreak penned by Kazuo Ishiguro and scored with soft sax.
Present Tense [Emarcy]
Showcases his remarkable talents, but not his former ability to conceptualize a whole album.
The Jack & Jim Show
Hearing Is Believing [Boxholder]
Samba with the girl from Al Qaeda, shooting ducks with Cheney.
Hits by Brits [Challenge]
“A Nightingale in Berkeley Square,” “Cherokee, “These Foolish Things”—enough for a record.
Jason Kao Hwang/Edge
Stories Before Within [Innova]
Dense shades of Chinese jazz fiddle, tarted up by Taylor Ho Bynum’s cornet.
Painting Time [T&T Music]
World-wise beats and crisp, healthy horns; pop jazz minus the junk food.
Brad Leali Jazz Orchestra
Maria Juanez [TCB]
Groomed in Basie’s ghost band, still tapping the great atomic power.
Rob Brown Trio
Sounds [Clean Feed]
Another Vision Festival piece, a free sax trio with cello and taiko drums.
Marty Ehrlich & Myra Melford
Deceptively calm sax-piano duets, but not enough tinder to catch fire.
The Rocco John Group
Don’t Wait Too Long [COCA Productions]
Iacovone plays alto sax, cut his teeth in ’70s lofts, cooled his heels in Alaska, returns as gray-haired demon.
The Joe Locke Quartet
Sticks and Strings [Jazz Eyes]
The vibraphonist’s favorite strings are on Jonathan Kreisberg’s guitars.
The Prince’s Groove [Prince V]
New Jersey’s leading Hammond B-3 salesman demonstrates his product with guest stars at every turn, including Houston Person on the sax ballad.
Ernest Dawkins’ New Horizons Ensemble
The Messenger [Delmark]
A tailgate party, Chicago-style, down and dirty but further out.
Maria Schneider Orchestra
Sky Blue [ArtistShare]
Winner of the Voice poll and another Grammy, but leaves me cold; guess I’d rather roll Beethoven over than teach him some Gil Evans tricks. B
Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble
Black Unstoppable [Delmark]
The Pied Piper of the AACM, her great musical mish-mash marred by faux-gospel vocals. B MINUS
Obvious metaphors for Katrina: trumpet buried in heavy keyboard sludge, loud drums, immobile bass. B MINUS