Spring Jazz Review Roundup


Eddie Daniels/Roger Kellaway: Live at the Library of Congress (IPO)

The surprising thing about this album is how wild it is. I didn't expect this clarinet/piano duo playing lots of very old standards to shoot off on weird tangents filled with such startling dissonances; I've heard Daniels and Kellaway in separate contexts before this, and they were less adventurous then. They play the themes straightforwardly, but sometimes open those tracks with left-field intros that would make even Erroll Garner smile a bit enviously. And once they get to their solos (mostly in the sense of "featured," in Daniels's case, though Kellaway really is solo and sometimes he drops out to let Daniels fly unaccompanied), you never know whether you're going to hear a sedately prim excursion on bebop-level harmonies or a spurt of exuberance that takes in a wider range of styles. Their reading of Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm-a-ning," while not so big on the dissonance front, throbs with energy from Kellaway in particular, who unleashes some rowdy two-handed runs and also bursts into stride.

Then I rummaged around in my pile of unreviewed CDs (which, I admit, is voluminous) and discovered a previous IPO document of this partnership, A Duet of One: Live at the Bakery (recorded in 2005), wherein I heard that the introduction to "I Want to Be Happy" is pretty wild (even the statement of the melody is relatively freewheeling), and a few other tracks hint where they'd go on the more recent release. If they're going to take more chances each time out, I want to hear these guys play together more often.

Emma Larsson: Let It Go (Imogena)

A young Swedish singer and pianist now based in New York City, Larsson is an exceptional songwriter. She leads off with "Busy Being Blue," a wittily bittersweet uptempo look at the inertia of depression, and it's immediately clear that this is far from the typical jazz-singer session. Jazz singers don’t often actually sing jazz songs; they mostly sing old show tunes. Larsson’s songs ally the harmonically advanced sophistication and melodic cleverness of modern instrumental jazz with the casually expressed psychological depth of the great lyricists. I think it no coincidence that the only cover song here is “Afro Blue,” with lyrics by possibly the greatest of the true jazz songwriters, Oscar Brown, Jr. Larsson’s supple phrasing makes easy work of the engagingly quirky rhythmic and melodic twists of her tunes -- check out "Jealous Fever" for an especially striking example. Larsson often gigs at the Lime Tree, so New Yorkers reading this can experience her talents in person as well.

Joe Locke/Geoffrey Keezer Group: Singing (Motema)

Much fusion is nowadays played as an exercise in nostalgia, pretending that nothing has changed since the ‘70s. This group, on the other hand (this is its second album), lives up to the true definition of “fusion” by fusing some of the sound of ‘70s electronic jazz-rock (Fender Rhodes piano, electric bass, hard backbeats, anthemic melodies) with the sort of serpentine harmonic progressions and complex metrical devices that dominate serious jazz in the 21st century. I knew I would enjoy this album just from noting the presence of Locke and Keezer, veterans of exquisite taste, but I had no idea it would feature that sort of stylistic departure. Some of the difference can also be ascribed to the superb rhythm section of Mike Pope (electric and acoustic bass) and Terreon Gully (drums), who lock into their intricate grooves with accentuated grace. Vibraphonist Locke, the group’s shining melodist, dominates the composing with half of the eight tracks, plus his imaginative arrangement of Coltrane’s “Naima”; Keezer penned two tracks and provided a fairly literal but highly effective arrangement of, believe it or not, Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek.” Even though there’s not a guitar heard on the entire album, for its timbres and melodic sense, I would recommend it to fans of early Pat Metheny looking to hear where that style has gone in the 40 years since.

Peter Appleyard and the Jazz Giants: The Lost 1974 Sessions (Linus)

This impromptu session from September 14, 1974 came about because vibraphonist Appleyard, who was part of an all-star Benny Goodman band, had the good fortune to get much of that band -- Bobby Hackett (cornet), Zoot Sims (tenor sax), Urbie Green (trombone), Hank Jones (piano), and Slam Stewart (bass), with top-notch fill-in Mel Lewis on drums -- to back him on a date as a leader on a night when Benny wasn't playing. After the show, Appleyard took them into a studio for a four-hour late-night session. Though this classy septet basically plays mellow swing on this set of standards, there are occasionally some mildly boppish harmonies thanks to Jones (though no boppish rhythms). Appleyard, well aware that he'd hit the jackpot, made sure each player had a number that put his talents up front. There are some minor technical issues (sounds like the piano pedals had a squeak -- I've got that problem too!), but at this remove, on a session this historic, it just adds to the late-night sense of being in the moment.

Stooges New Orleans Brass Band: It's About Time (Hypersoul)

This disc (dated 2003, but it didn't make its way to us until recently as part of a package promoting a member's later funk band) overflows with raw N'awlins brass, ace parade drumming, and occasionally hip-hop-tinged vocals. Subtlety is absent, unless you count in-jokes, which this is rife with; if the brass parts aren't head arrangements, they're certainly a brilliant simulation of rough-and-ready ear harmonizing. "Paul Barbarin," a cover of that drum master's "Second Line," is the only retro track. There are neither individual credits nor even a member list, which is too bad because I want to know who the super-chops saxophone soloist on "Come and Dance with Me" is. If you want an instant party and don't mind approximate tuning -- just adds authentic street flavor, if you ask me -- throw this on and you're suddenly in your own Treme episode. - Steve Holtje

Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based editor, poet, and composer. Early this month he edited and mixed the recording of his song cycle setting five of James Joyce's Pomes Penyeach.


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