October 16, 2014
Ezra Weiss Before You Know It (Roark Records no number)
Subtitled Live In Portland, this new release by Ezra Weiss has him leading a fine sextet playing music largely composed by himself. An exceptionally talented pianist, Ezra presents an extremely attractive set, the music ranging through sensitive ballads to driving burners. Appearing in the band are trumpeter Farnell Newton, alto saxophonist John Nastos, tenor saxophonist Devin Phillips, all of whom have excellent solos, while the rhythm section is ably rounded out by bassist Jon Shaw and drummer Christopher Brown. John Coltrane’s Alabama is a moving treatment of music composed originally in the aftermath of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, only recently brought unhappily to mind by the Sandy Hook killings. The Gershwin brothers’ standard, A Foggy Day, is given an unexpectedly lively interpretation. All the other tracks vividly demonstrate that Ezra’s listings as winner on more than one occasion of both the DownBeat Critics Poll and the ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award are especially well deserved. Among these tracks are lovely and deeply personal musings written for Ezra’s wife, Jessie’s Song, and his son, Before You Know It. All of the music heard here is rich with soulful undertones while the instrumental virtuosity on display is striking. Recorded live at Ivories Jazz Lounge in October and December 2013, this CD must surely widen Ezra’s growing reputation as a major composer and performer.
Wadada Leo Smith The Great Lakes Suites (TUM Records CD 041-2)
Although he might now be regarded as an elder statesman of free jazz and of contemporary improvised music in general, Wadada Leo Smith has not lost any of the exploratory zeal that has marked his music since the late 1960s. Back then, he left R&B to become an early member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (with Muhal Richard Abrams, Jodie Christian, Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton, Leroy Jenkins, Jack DeJohnette, and others) and he was co-founder of Creative Construction Company (with Braxton and Jenkins). During these years, he worked with Derek Bailey among many leading practitioners of cutting-edge jazz. He also studied extensively, steeping himself in ethnic musical forms from many parts of the world, composed, and by the early 1990s was passing on his musical knowledge and philosophical beliefs to students at Cal Arts. In more recent years he has worked with musicians such as Henry Kaiser, Michael Manring, Anthony Davis, and Malachi Favors. Key factors in Smith’s work include his understanding of the role of musicians, and indeed all artists, in society today. He has declared that this should encourage the development of character and morality, among many qualities, if today’s universal problems are to be faced, understood and solved. On this new double album, Smith is joined by two of his previous collaborators, Threadgill and DeJohnette, as well as John Lindberg, in a performance of music he has composed to aurally depict the impressive scenic wonders of the inland waterways that have contributed so much to the of making and development of his country. Moving, intelligent, absorbing, this music makes clear that Wadada Leo Smith still has much to say about the world in which we live.
Kalle Kalima & K-18 Buñuel de Jour (TUM Records CD 038)
A leading figure on Finland’s contemporary improvised music scene, Kalle Kalima is a guitar virtuoso who plays here with his group K-18, the other members of which are Mikko Innanen, Teppo Hauta, and Veli Kujala. This album’s title will indicate to all the inspiration for the music heard here. The group’s name will need some explanation for those outside Finland: K-18 is the rating for films not suitable for persons under 18 years of age. A little while ago, Kalima was inspired by the films of Stanley Kubrick; here he takes his cue from revolutionary filmmaker Luis Buñuel, whose own career was rooted in the avant-garde from where he developed into an outstanding international figure, making films in many genres and languages. Among his films are several that are frequently listed among the best ever made. Eleven of the twelve tracks Kalima has composed for this album are titled for Buñuel films, among them Belle de Jour, Diary of a Chambermaid, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Un Chien Andalou. Musically, this album is inventive and carries reflections of the intriguing complexity that marked Buñuel’s work.
September 1, 2012
Marshall Gilkes Sound Stories (Alternate Side ASR 005)
An exceptionally attractive CD featuring jazz trombonist Marshall Gilkes and jazz tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin in a selection of the former’s compositions. Backed by pianist Adam Birnbaum, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and drummer Eric Doob, the two horn players ably display their fluent talent on thoughtful ballads and hard swinging yet still lyrical pieces. Although resident in New York for more than a decade, Gilkes decided to move to Germany where he joined the WDR Big Band, an organization very well known to jazz record collectors internationally. Performing at venues around the world, and teaching at leading music institutions wherever he travels, Gilkes has built an excellent reputation and the music on Sound Stories confirms that this acclaim is entirely justified. Matching Gilkes is McCaslin, whose reputation is similarly international and equally justifiable. These are very fine jazz musicians with a lot to say and the skill to say it with great flair.
Pete Zimmer Prime Of Life (Tippin’ TIP 1108)
This album from jazz drummer Pete Zimmer vividly demonstrates why he is so highly regarded. His playing is light, subtle and always swinging; and with Peter Bernstein, guitar, and Peter Slavov, bass, he builds a flowing, rhythmic undertow that takes the music along with enviable energy. The fourth member of this quartet is master jazz tenor saxophonist George Garzone whose wit and invention are apparent at every turn. The music here is all from the pens of Zimmer (six titles) and Garzone (three titles); and all are melodically attractive and spacious, allowing opportunities for solos, mainly from Garzone and Bernstein, that are fiery and inventive. Previous albums by Zimmer include Common Man (Tippin’ TIP 1101), Burnin’ Live At The Jazz Standard (Tippin’ TIP 1102), Judgment (Tippin’ TIP 1103) and Chillin’ Live @ Jazz Factory (Tippin’ TIP 1104). All of these are fine examples of contemporary jazz played by some of today’s best young jazz musicians.
Michael Treni Big Band Boy’s Night Out (Bell Productions)
This sleek set by Michael Treni’s 16-piece big band is his fourth since returning to jazz music after a long spell in the outside world. After studying trombone and music theory, Treni played with many leading jazz musicians but after being pipped at the post (by Curtis Fuller) for a job with Art Blakey, he decided to turn his attention to composing and arranging in the commercial music field. This was in the late 1980s and, together with innovative work in wireless technology this is how he has since spent much of his time since then. Fortunately, Treni never lost his love for jazz and for the past decade he has been writing for and playing with a big band that he has filled with an interesting mix of seasoned jazz and session veterans leavened with a some brightly shining newcomers. The music played here includes three Treni originals that sit comfortably alongside pieces by Leonard Bernstein, Something’s Coming, George Shearing, Lullaby Of Birdland and Billy Strayhorn, U.M.M.G.. There are also a couple of charts by Jerry Coker. Many good soloists can be heard, among them Jerry Bergonzi, Vincent Cutro, Frank Elmo, Charles Blenzig and, of course, Michael Treni. Good music, well played, and a treat for fans of contemporary big band music for whom, these days, there is never enough around.
The Mary Lou Williams Collective Zodiac Suite: Revisited (Mary Records M 104)
Dedicated from one fine jazz pianist to another, this exceptional CD vividly displays the remarkable legacy of Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981) and at the same time makes clear that thanks to Geri Allen that legacy is in safe hands. Accompanied by bassist Buster Williams and drummer Billy Hart, Geri Allen constantly brings to mind just how good and advanced was Zodiac Suite, a Mary Lou Williams composition from 1945. Allen treats this masterly work with respect yet never loses its inherent vitality. This music is timeless. In addition to the suite’s twelve movements, Allen also plays MLW’s Intermission and, with Andrew Cyrille replacing Billy Hart, adds Herbie Nichols’ The Bebop Waltz and Allen’s own composition, the appropriately titled Thank You Madam. This thoroughly absorbing CD is strongly recommended to all who love good jazz piano playing.
Ezra Weiss/Rob Scheps Our Path To This Moment (Roark)
A fine young pianist who has earned a substantial reputation in the New York area, Ezra Weiss is also an accomplished ASCAP award-winning composer. In his performances, Ez (which is how he likes to be known) offers a distinctive contemporary touch to familiar pieces and he is especially interesting when playing his own compositions. On Get Happy (Roark) is accompanied by, collectively, Kevin Louis, Andy Hunter, Andrae Murchison, Antonio Hart, Kelly Roberge, Corcoran Hall, Jason Brown, and Billy Hart, along with singers Heidi Krenn, Samantha Grabler, and Elif Caglar. Throughout, Ez is subtly supportive and powerful and imaginative in his solos. On The Shirley Horn Suite (Roark), with only Corcoran Holt, Steve Williams, and singer Shirley Nanette, Ez pays admiring tribute to one of the best and much-missed jazz artists of recent years. This is delightful music, much of it composed by Ez, all of it lovingly performed. With a new release, Ezra Weiss’s talent as composer and arranger is spotlighted.
On Our Path To This Moment (Roark) by The Rob Scheps Big Band, crisp ensemble playing is interspersed with solos, fiery or reflective as the mood demands, that are always interesting. Among the soloists are Robert Crowell, Scott Hall, Tom Hill, Paul Mazzio, Rob Scheps, David Valdez, and special guest Greg Gisbert. On a few of the tracks, Ez takes over the piano from Ramsey Embick, but it is his writing that form the means and the end of this fascinating example of one of today’s young masters.