CD Reviews - May 2008
by Don Campbell
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Cuban-born pianist Rubalcalba is a fearless and fearsome pianist. He
has a muscular way of plowing into the most obtuse and complex rhythm
structures and chord patterns and emerging victorious and triumphant on
the other side. This seven-song CD requires some rapt attention and a
strong heart, but the listener is rewarded with some deeply exploratory
jazz, steeped in the heart of Cuban music. Produced by Rubalcalba, the
band features a quartet of Yosvanuj Terry on sax, Mike Rodriguez on
trumpet and flugelhorn, Matt Brewer on bass, and Marcus Gilmore on
drums. They are a formidable rhythm section and deft at a special kind
of polyrhythmic telepathy. Their precise telemetric execution for
implying a groove while dancing around it is impeccable. And the
grooves and arrangements that composers Rubalcalba, Terry and Brewer
contribute here are monstrous. Terry’s alto sax playing is
nothing if not exhaustingly thorough in his melodic and harmonic
explorations on each song. The band sets up impossible heads, and each
player gets ample room to roam.
The material for the most part is edgy and dark, and not immediately or
necessarily accessible to a casual listen. However, commit the ears and
the modal lushness will surprise. On Brewer’s
“Aspiring to Normalcy,” Rubalcalba establishes a
black underlying arpeggio form, with Terry and Rodriguez laying down a
melody that sounds like what you’d hear if insomnia had a
melody. Rodriguez solos first, with staccato punch, followed by
Brewer’s sinewy bass over Gilmore’s stellar brush
and cymbal strokes. This is dense, intrepid music.
2008, Blue Note/EMI
Rabo de Nube,
Charles Lloyd Quartet.
If you’ve not explored the work of Charles Lloyd, this may
not be the place to start. Recorded live in Switzerland to celebrate
Lloyd’s 70th birthday, Rabo de Nube, like Avatar, will
require some auditory discipline. But those who know Lloyd will revel
not only in his compositional skills and reed work (plus alto flute and
tarogato, a single-reed Hungarian woodwind featured on
“Rumanujan”), but the young lions he’s
surrounded himself with. Lloyd has always had great pianists --
Jarrett, Zawinul, Petrucciani and Mehldau – and this
recording is no exception. Blue Note’s Jason Moran plays with
a barely contained enthusiasm. It’s sharp, eloquent, informed
and bursting with melodic invention and a universe of astounding
technique (especially on “La Coline da Monk”).
Lloyd opens the recording with the haunting
“Prometheus.” Propulsive drumming from Eric Harland
and the insistent bass of Reuben Rogers (who bows and double-stops as
melodically as I’ve heard) push Moran’s chordal
expressions, and the sum is the force of nature under Lloyd’s
tenor. The song’s head is quick and transitory, almost like
the quick pass of a baton in a 4x400 relay. That force is carried
through the entire project. It smolders, smokes and erupts in huge
flames in surprising cycles on nearly every composition. Lloyd seems to
take delight in letting each player find every subtle harmonic nuance.
Soto (with David Valdez) – (Diatic Records)
Guitarist Pere Soto teams up with saxman David Valdez on this 11-song
project for a sweetly and lightly arranged Andalusian spin. Released on
Portland, Oregon’s Diatic Records, Soto and Valdez open the
recording with two Soto-penned tunes, “Armonica”
and “Sheila” that feature the gilding of harmonica
ace Damien Mastersen. Both are fresh and lilting Spanish themes.
Soto’s guitar is understated throughout, while
Valdez’s sax, in all its breathy, reedy wonder, permeates. On
Gordon Jenkins’ “Goodbye,” Valdez cops
the strong melody at the top of the piece and then floats a lengthy but
picturesque solo to the end, buoyed by Portlander Randy
Porter’s deft piano.
Soto’s biggest contribution here may be his compositional and
arranging skills. He’s credited with “virtual B3
programming” which, in the case of the Soto tune
“Indian,” may be a hair heavy-handed, along with
the persistent tom-tom thud of Salvador Toscano (and that’s
not necessarily a slam on Toscano).
Soto’s playful “Incognito” features the
chunk of his Flamenco-flourished nylon-string guitar. His Gypsy style
is a welcome counterpoint to Valdez’s sax, reinforcing the
Spanish sound. His chops deep dive to the heart of the melody with
fire, before the sax returns to reprise the melody.
There are a few left turns, like the wah-wah guitar-driven
“If I Knew Where You Were” and the throw-away pop
of “Point of Truth,” but Soto delivers on the tasty
title ballad “Oasis,” “Bon
Viatje,” the Brazilian street parade of “Mr.
88,” and “When I Come Home.”
Architecture, Tim Willcox Quartet.
Eugene-born saxophonist Tim Willcox made his way to music school back
east and gigs in New York City before relocating to Portland in 2002.
On his debut Diatic Records project he teamed up with Toby Koenigsberg
on piano, bassist Chris Higgins and Randy Rollofson on drums. Sonically
the CD – or maybe the room in which it was recorded
– is a bit flat even for a minimalist quartet
recording, but the performances definitely shine. This is fairly
straight ahead playing, but for an inaugural project, it shows a strong
up-and-comer. All nine songs were composed by Willcox. “P.
Dub” is driven by Higgins’ tough walking bass line,
Rollofson’s nearly overpowering drums, and tasty soloing from
Koenigsberg and Willcox. “Have A Heart” is a sweet
ballad that mixes time signatures to good result (which he does
throughout the project), held together by an inventive Willcox melody
line. There’s a certain pop feel to this record, and Willcox
admits his influences include everyone from Ravel to Elvis Costello to
Bjork and the Replacements. Expect more great stuff from him.
2008, Diatic Records.
Thoughts Take Flight: a love and stress compound, Dusty York Trio.
Tenor saxophonist Dusty York is one of the more creative forces to
emerge in jazz, especially locally. The Portlander, son of saxophonist
Michael York, dismissed the rule book in favor of exuberant expression
on his third recording. He’ll flirt with a melodic exercise,
then launch himself, pitching and yawing his way through some soaring
sonic recreation. The stripped down trio sound is a good vehicle for
York. His tone is at once nostalgic and modern, with the same feel
coming from Russ Kleiner’s drums. Bassist Justin Durrie has
his hands full on the acoustic bass, displaying deft technique and
lovely deep woody sound. With no piano as emulsifier, the record has a
wild, freeform appeal. Again, York will tease with a melody line before
jetting off on a bender of tonal exploration.
York opens with “Prelude – Purgatory to
Paradise,” which begins in a slow 4/4 march with a plucked
double-stop figure from Durrie before York enters with an antique sax
line and Kleiner playing a shaker. It devolves (or maybe transcends)
into an avant garde miasma of cacophony before it literally runs out of
steam (and you actually hear York’s last breath through his
horn). “A Sick Man’s Dream” kicks off
with a tight unison figure between Durrie and York that’s at
once playful and a tad foreboding, then slips back and forth from a
more freeform ramble to York soloing over the opening line.
“Interlude I – love and stress
compounded” opens with a few bars of breath through a horn,
over a fade-in of Durrie’s bowed bass, who then exercises his
way up and down the neck in odd intervals. York slides in with his
tenor over Kleiner’s drippy rain stick. It’s all
slightly uncomfortable in that it evokes the stress foretold in the
title. Edgy stuff, and probably not for everybody, but for jazz
adventurers, this CD is a fun ride.
2008, Diatic Records.
Andrew Oliver Sextet.
A student of Randy Porter, Andrew Oliver is a post-bop composer of
considerable talent. He leads a young-lion sextet that includes Mary
Sue Tobin on alto and soprano saxes, Willie Matheis on tenor, Dan Duval
on guitar (and composer of two cuts), Eric Gruber on bass and Kevin Van
Geem on drums. The title is a paean of sorts to the coastal Otis
Café, and this powerful unit covers eight Oliver
compositions, two by Duval and a traditional cut, with remarkable
style. On the title cut, it’s a classic sextet sound with
tight arranging and stellar soloing throughout, very old school.
Oliver’s “How the Moon Broke” is a
Coltrane-style ballad in an inventive mode established early by
Duval’s electric guitar. “Bam! Made In
France” features watertight ensemble playing in 7/4, with a
ridiculously fun and outside solo from Duval. Throughout, each
musician’s contribution helps create a sum bigger than its
individual parts. Gruber and Van Geem are the strong spine for this
group (and Van Geem’s drums and/or the room are tuned to
perfection for this recording – the right amounts of
kick-drum ambient boom, snappy snare and crisp cymbals). Tobin and
Matheis are truly inventive as soloists, and can cop a mean melody in
the arranged sections. This record is a delight, the playing
outstanding, and the fact these guys are young doesn’t hurt
either. They tip the hat to the masters, yet never play it safe.
They’ve gone to school, but still bring something new to the
party. These kids are dangerous. I can’t wait to see what
they do next.
A quick word about Diatic Records. They not only produce standard CDs,
but also release enhanced data CDs replete with video cuts, liner notes
and covers, photos and song tracks, all in a
“green” package. www.diaticrecords.com.
2008, Diatic Records.
Piano-based trio jazz is such comfort food. Brad Mehldau leads his trio
through a two-CD set that captures the group at the Village Vanguard in
late 2006. This is intimate stuff, done with grace and precision.
It’s redolent of every basement jazz club you’ve
ever found yourself in, lending to the intimacy of every cut.
It’s tight and closed in and slightly claustrophobic, like
you could reach up and touch the plumbing in the ceiling, or reach out
and touch the piano. The recordings capture every subtlety of Mehldau
and longtime cohorts Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard. This is smoky
On “Ruby’s Rub,” Grenadier and Ballard
flex some powerful muscle without ever over-bearing their weight.
Mehldau comps big left-hand chords and slices through his solo like a
knife-thrower – unerring accuracy and on target.
I’d love to inhabit the mind of a jazz pianist like Mehldau
for just one song, to wrap an emotion around that dexterity and let
fingers fly. Mehldau tenderly serves up Soundgarden’s
“Black Hole Sun” as a smoldering ballad,
paradoxical as that sounds, proving that a good song is a good song is
a good song. This patient and sultry treatment might help make this a
jazz standard, as opposed to a goofy one-off. Bassist Grenadier takes
the melody after one pass, and hearing it in the basement like that,
with Mehldau comping chordal inversions, somehow works. Mehldau comes
to Eugene on June 5, at the Shedd.
Just had to pay tribute to one of Cuba’s finest singers,
Ibrahim Ferrer. Ferrer, a singer of grace and passion, delivers 12
songs of beauty, melancholy and sweet ardor. This project focused on
the bolero, those slower-tempo songs of romance, and Ferrer wraps heart
and soul around each. Ferrer, of course, found new life with Ry
Cooder’s Buena Vista Social Club (and Wim Wender’s
documentary film). He was coaxed out of musical retirement for that
project – he’d retired from music in the early
‘90s, and subsisted on a tiny government pension and what he
earned shining shoes. He went on to tour, record and earn several
Ferrer’s unique phrasing and vocal style are splendid. One
listen to “Uno,” and understands how completely
Ferrer wraps himself around a song. A deceptively simple melody becomes
something deeper and more complex. Tears are almost guaranteed on
“Convergencia,” a minor-key ballad that finds him
squeezing every ounce of passion out of each note. His slow, warbling
vibrato aches with emotion. He is joined by Buena Vista bandmates Ruben
Gonzalez (piano) and Omara Portuondo (who does an incredible vocal duet
with Ferrer on “Quizas, Quizas”) on one cut each,
and he used the huge talents of Roberto Fonseca on piano, Orlando
“Cachaito” Lopez on acoustic bass, Manuel Balgan on
guitar, and Ramses Rodrigues and Emilio del Monte on percussion.
Ferrer’s dream was this album, dedicated solely to the
bolero. He died halfway through the recording in 2005, and some of the
ensemble arrangements were added posthumously, but unless one knew, one
would never know. The real star is Ferrer’s voice, plaintive,
sweet and fragile, much like the love about which he sings.