Lope and Antilope, Get the Blessing.
Portishead meets jazz? Not really a surprise, if you were a fan of the British trip-hop icons from the 1990s — they knew the in’s and out’s of cool jazz.
Featuring the Portishead rhythm section, with Jim Barr on bass and Clive Dreamer on drums, this is Get the Blessing’s fourth full-length album. It’s cutting-edge stuff that fuses Ornette Coleman’s progressive jazz with noise, thrash, electronic beats, North African music, and rock and roll. In this they are part of a younger generation who feel comfortable combining the rock and hip hop sub-genres of their youth with the artful playfulness of jazz and traditional folk music from across the globe.
The combination creates a cool confidence, a spirited funkiness, and a fresh sound. They flow seamlessly between intensity and calm, creating a journey for the open-minded listener.
The thing is, jazz needs to evolve to stay relevant, and there is oftentimes a lot of push back against music like this from jazz purists. Get the Blessing’s newest recording, like their previous albums, does a superb job of making the musicianship and sensibility of jazz accessible to younger audiences and people with a taste for eclecticism. As open-minded as we’ve become about food from various cultures in the last 30 or so years, we’ve done the same with music. The result is a synthesis of sounds greater than the sum of its parts. This is what Get the Blessing understands.
“Quiet” opens the record with an easy-going, late-afternoon meditative laziness enhanced by a ghostly theremin envoked by Jake McMurchie’s saxophone. For a funky burner, try “Corniche,” while “Antilope” takes cues from Miles Davis’ second great quintet. The album is diverse, killing, and whole-heartedly rooted in jazz. And Get the Blessing is on a roll, each album better than the previous. This one is no exception.
Naim Jazz, 2014.
Between Loves, Florencia Gonzalez.
When Florencia Gonzalez’s album came into the KMHD studio, it was immediately chucked into the discard pile: a cover featuring a no-name musician lying with a saxophone in a bed of flowers. Lame, right? Turns out, not quite.
Because when it went into the CD player … wow!
Evoking the colors of Gil Evans, the thick textures of Mingus, and the dissonance of Monk, this Uruguayan-born, New York-based tenor saxophonist is anything but soft, smooth and noodle-ly. Thoughthis album recalls the works of those greats, it’s steeped in modern jazz, taking its colors from tango, Candombe, and bossa nova. And nearly every track on the record is original.
The tune “Woman Dreaming of Escape” borrows its title from Gonzalez’s self-produced, 2012 debut album and uses three horns plus a rhythm section. The sound seems much larger and fiercer than a sextet, though, and the whole CD showcases her talents from a duo setting to conducting and arranging for large ensemble.
“Weird Pericon” takes the traditional Argentine/Uruguayan folk dance and puts a jazz twist on it. If you’ve never seen the dance or heard Pericon music, the original style is a waltz, similar to a dance you might see in an English period drama, where everyone wears gray wigs. You get the idea.
Similarly, “Chacarera for Greg” borrows from the Argentine “chacarera” — a repetitive, flirtatious line dance in which the partners are only allowed to touch at the end. The dance is a tease, and so is Gonzalez’s modern jazz interpretation, with its distinct Latin flavor. It’s dark and sassy, with a late-night feel. She makes you wait; she doesn’t give you the song all at once. She teases her listener. Like the dance, it’s seductive and playful.
Gonzalez might be new to the scene, but keep your eyes on her, because this young woman is going to go far.
Riverside, Dave Douglas.
Clarinetist and saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre is grossly underappreciated and controversial because he pushed the limits of West Coast jazz with his use of sound, color and texture. If you’ve ever listened to his tune, “The Train and the River,” you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, do that now.
And then listen to the tribute. Finally.
“Riverside was created in memory of the composer, band leader, saxophonist and clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre,” the album liner notes read. “He blazed many trails in music.”
Two-time Grammy-nominated trumpeter Dave Douglas leads the band, reinventing himself as often as Giuffre did throughout a career when he could never be pigeon-holed. He is joined here by frequent Douglas collaborators, the Canadian-born brothers Chet Doxas (saxophones and clarinet) and Jim Doxas (drums), who share a love of Giuffre’s music, and bassist Steve Swallow, a former member of Jimmy Giuffre 3.
It was a perfect match. The result: a modern reworking of many of Giuffre’s tunes, and a worthy tribute to the under-rated reedman.
“The Train and the River” swings with old-school Texas-flair (Giuffre was from Dallas), and, in my opinion, it is Giuffre’s best song. Here, the boys play it ferociously and energetically. “Travelin’ Light” is the title track of the album the Jimmy Giuffre 3 released in 1958. It’s played as a slow crawl, muddy and swampy, like the long, hot days of a Southern summer.
Similar to the way Omar Sosa approached his tribute to Miles Davis’ seminal recording, “Kind of Blue,” all other tracks on this CD are original compositions inspired by Giuffre. And that makes “Riverside” more than just a tribute band. These are artists of the highest order, putting their own spin on the music of a master, and not afraid to showcase that inspiration in a new light, as they do on “Handwritten Letter,” a jaunty swinger and a Douglas original.
If you are a Jimmy Giuffre fan, this is a solid tribute you’ll want to pick up.
Greenleaf Music, 2014.
The Big Picture, David Krakauer.
From the beginning, jazz musicians have looked to pop culture, including cinema, for material to explore and play with. Songs that are nowhere near jazz are fair game and often viewed as a challenge by the jazz artist.
And in that tradition, Krakauer’s new project explores songs from Jewish cinema as well as Jewish Klezmer music, giving these carefully chosen tunes a jazz-funk twist.
Krakauer takes his cues from longtime jazz-Klezmer collaborator John Zorn, and Krakauer also participated in a monthlong engagement playing a “cinematic concert” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. In-demand violinist Jenny Scheinman, who has worked frequently with Bill Frissel, joins the ranks to reinterpret this collection of cinematic gems from Jewish cinema.
To put this album in context: Woody Allen is Jewish, but his Francophile 1920s nostalgic film, “Midnight in Paris,” has nothing to do at all with Jewish music. However, Krackauer’s Klezmer-electro-funk-meets-Triplets-of-Belleville interpretation of Sidney Bechet’s “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere” most certainly is. It’s also the most Gypsy-jazz-like, light-hearted little ditty on the record. And it’s really good.
Also notable is the music-box ballad, “La Vita e Bella,” featuring Krakauer’s poignant clarinet, from the Italian Holocaust film, “Life Is Beautiful.” To counterbalance those sad ballads, you’ll find “Honeycomb,” from the 1974 Dustin Hoffman film, “Lenny.” Sizzling and funky, it combines elements of Klezmer, rock guitar, and jazz-funk. “Tradition” is the closing tune, and by far the most interesting. The hackneyed pop song “Tradition,” from the hugely successful 1964 Jewish musical, “Fiddler on the Roof,” has been done countless times, but Krakauer approaches it with a funky, modern New Orleans approach, combining Klezmer twith contemporary jazz.
Although the album is a novelty of sorts, it’s a terrific interpretation of Jewish Klezmer music through the lens of jazz.
Table Pounding, 2014.
Get the Funk Out! The Quadraphonnes.
Portland’s premier all-girl sax quartet is at it again, getting funkier with their sophomore release. And it’s sizzling hot, steeped in classic funk and fiery, playful vocals. And that’s the keyword for this CD: play. They play with intensity, but unlike the majority of academic modern jazz I’ve heard, these gals are obviously having a great time.
Have you heard the Duke Ellington/Irving Mills tune, “Diga Diga Doo”? It’s one of those songs where you wish you could have been in the room when they recorded it, so you could absorb that infectious, silly excitement. This is one of those records.
“Phone Call,” is a spoken word piece that features a telephone conversation about how the Quadrophonnes have been practicing really hard for a show they’re supposed to play that night, but a friend calls to say their name isn’t up on the marquee. Bummer, because Mary-Sue Tobin, who’s on the phone, doesn’t have time for this because she’s busy “getting a manicure and drinking champaigne.”
That song leads into “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” — the money shot on the album. It has the typical fun, funky Quadrophonnes feel: a mid-tempo groove, saxes playing in unison, and bits of Mary-Sue Tobin’s disappointed words, “I’m trying to get my nails done!” looped throughout.
“Devil’s Dance” is a spicy, Latin-tinged tune with Chelsea Luker on vocals. The song is warm and fun, more reminiscent of Gwen Stephani and the Southern California ‘90s ska revival than Shorty Rogers’ “Diablo’s Dance.”
The album stays upbeat and funky from beginning to end, each woman contributing vocals throughout. All songs are original and guest guitarist Jennifer Batten is featured on three of the songs.
Inevitable Western, The Bad Plus.
Six months ago, this trio of progressive-jazz rabble-rousers took on the task of recreating Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” the controversial work that caused a Parisian riot in 1913. And Bad Plus’ version was just as genre-defying as one could expect from those rogue jazz cowboys.
Which brings us to their latest CD, “Inevitable Western,” though there isn’t anything Western about it. Maybe midwestern, because that’s where they’re from, but that’s just as misleading as the title. But this new record showcases the 14-year-old group’s return to their roots, with a hint of relief after their previous undertaking.
“I Hear You” opens and features pianist Ethan Iverson, who guides the listener through a dream-like adventure. It’s soft and sweet, like an instrumental lullaby for the 21st century and a subtle choice for the opener. Then the trio picks it up on the next tune, “Gold Prisms Incorporated,” a fiery number rooted as much in jazz as it is in math rock.
“Do It Again” is catchy, on the funkier side, and will most likely be their public radio hit. Drummer David King provides the backbone of support, paired once again with the melodicism of Iverson’s piano. “Epistolary Echoes” receives an honorable mention here due to its blend of playful snapping and clapping with a dramatic hard-driving exercise in modern post-bop.
The new Bad Plus is quintessentially Bad Plus: it pushes the limits of jazz, while remaining sophisticated, hip, and energetic. If you think Michele Gondry meeting Trans Am is a good idea, hop on that that bike and head over to pick up this album.
Move Your Body, Rebirth Brass Band.
The Rebirth Brass Band is a New Orleans institution and a staple at the Maple Leaf Bar on Oak Street, where they’ve been serving up jazz and funk for years.
Their latest album is the follow-up to their 2012 Grammy-winner, “Rebirth of New Orleans.” It is rooted in the NOLA tradition: a celebration of heritage, a sense of belonging in the Crescent City and a celebration of being alive. And that’s the theme here, too: let’s celebrate!
It’s also a record that anyone can enjoy. The band prides itself more on the diverse audiences it has attracted, rather than the ample discography it has constructed over the last 30 years. At a Rebirth show, you might see little kids, grandparents, adults, teenagers, black, white, poor and rich – not such an easy task for a jazz band.
The opener, “Lord, Lord, Lord, You’ve Sure Been Good to Me,” is rich in the traditions of blues, gospel and funk, a traditional all-American burst of dancing and clapping for (with?) the big guy in the sky.
How many recordings from local Portland bands have songs about Aardvark’s hot sauce? But “Texas Pete,” presumably celebrating their favorite brand of hot sauce, might be the best song on the record. Lot’s of improvising, hand clapping, and a driving, infectious melody.
“Your Mama Don’t Dance” is a very stylistically different take on the 1972 Loggins and Messina’s hit, which was countrytwangy and sort of cheesy. Perhaps the Rebirth Brass Band drew its inspiration instead from Louis Armstrong.
There is no more danceable jazz that you can shake that steatopygia to.
Basin Street Records, 2014.
V2.0, GoGo Penguin.
Jazz is a sponge for other genres, and it’s that melting pot function of jazz that’s been able to turn unsuspecting audiences into jazz fans. Older jazz musicians played music from musicals, which was essentially the pop music of the time, just as today’s jazz musicians — who have grown up with rock, hip hop, electronica, and techno, in addition to all the earlier stuff their parents and grandparents listened to — turn the popular music of their day into jazz.
UK-based GoGo Penguin is a first and foremost a jazz trio, similar to bands like the Bad Plus, the Blue Cranes, and the Esbjorn Svennsen Trio. It’s steeped in electronic sounds, flirting with trip-hop in the style of late-1990s groups such as Massive Attack. It dazzles listeners with innovation while maintaining a clear European jazz sound. There is never a doubt you’re listening to a jazz group, but the sound is fresh and fuses elements (techno) that have not often been used in jazz.
The album cover offers nothing. No band name or album title. This is a case where you can “judge a book by it’s cover,” because the art work is as minimal as the band itself. However, it’s title, “v2.0,” makes sense, because it’s GoGo Penguin’s sophomore release.
The ominous tune, “The Letter,” was recorded entirely in the dark. It has that bittersweet sound, similar to the early work of Scottish post-rock band, Mogwai, and it would make the perfect score for an indie film about lost love. “Hopopono” is the another Mogwai meets Bad Plus song, and the one most in rotation at KMHD. It’s soft, sweet, and embodies the feeling of taking a journey. Again, like most of the songs on “v2.0,” it sounds like it could be the soundtrack for a Michel Gondry film.
Maybe GoGo Penguin will one day sound cheesy and dated, but for now it’s a rich, emotional roller coaster ride of tenderness mixed with rough patches, love and pain, light and dark. There’s enough familiarity for the jazz beginners and enough technical ability and prowess for the seasoned jazz fan.
Parole e Musica, Helen Merrill.
All that Helen Merrill needed to do was open her mouth once and she was a star.
This recently re-released rare Italian recording of that unmistakable voice is nothing short of sublime, and it brings the noirish jazz singer together with Piero Umiliani, an arranger and composer of scores for Italian exploitation and spaghetti Western films.
This is the most haunting recording I’ve heard in ages. Every other track is a musically-backed, spoken word recitation in Italian that leads into alluring American standards sung by Merrill. The spoken word from Fernando Caiati is as dark as the cinema of the time, his baritone voice stern and Humphrey Bogart sexy. Then Lauren Bacall enters the room and your heart skips a beat.
“Perché Non Fai Di Tutto,” which I suppose is the Italian translation for “Why Don’t You Do Right,” begins with an eerie saxophone from Gino Marinacci backing Caiati ’s spoken word, which leads directly into Merrill’s steaming version of the standard that’ll make you want to shower Merrill with the money she demands throughout the song.
The album opens with “Notte e Giorne,” and has Caiati cooing, and purring the words, “Notte Giorne, Giorne, Notte, Gionrne Notte, Notte, Notte, Giorne…” Snap. Snap. Snap. And through the door walks Bacall … I mean Merrill. She purrs through “Night and Day,” this time in English, backed by a cool Italian band with Umiliani on piano and a bluesy, Kenny Burrellinspired guitar riff from Enzo Grillini.
“Aprile a Parigi” begins again with Caiati’s earnest baritone , backed this time by Grillini’s guitar and the eerie sound of Umiliani on the celesta, a large, piano-like wooden music box. It creates a lullaby effect, and Merrill’s confident yet earthy and maternal coo sings you to sleep.
I bet David Lynch wishes he could have created this.
RCA Italiana, Re-released 2014 (original release 1960).
All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller, Jason Moran.
This is about as un-Fats Waller as you can get, and I’ll wager Fats would be proud.
Sure, the skeletons of the songs are there, and all the classics are represented, but in no way does the always-innovative Moran copy the great stride pianist. This is an entirely accessible modern day work of jazz and R&B, occasionally featuring the sultry and elegant voice of multi-genre bassist and singer Meshell Ndegeocello.
Instead of playing stride, Moran opted to showcase Waller’s larger-than-life personality in a commissioned work for the Harlem Jazz Shrine series presented at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse. The event showcased dancers (deemed The Fats Waller Dance Party), jokes and comic routines, and a large papier-mâché mask that Moran wore of Waller’s face made by Haitian artist Didier Civil.
Moran does something here that’s hard for many jazz musicians: he takes works of the past and makes them entirely his own. While honoring Waller, Moran’s versions are cutting-edge post-bop that sometimes borders on R&B.
Take his funky version of “Ain’t Misbehavin,” with Ndegeocello’s moody, wispy voice creating an entirely modern feel.“The Joint is Jumpin’” has a New Orleans feel; it’s funky and boisterous with a gospel tinge, and again Ndegeocello adds an extra layer with her voice. Moran puts a melodic, post-bop edge on “Honeysuckle Rose,” and Ndegeocello’s voice this time has an Esperanza Spalding sound. Finally, “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” is a sad song, but rather than doing it as a blues, as is often done, Moran’s version has a fresh, ethereal quality but still manages to hold onto to the original feeling.
Moran’s “Joyful Elegy” proves he understands the foundations of jazz history and possesses the ability to innovate farther.
Blue Note, 2014.
Time and Time Again, The Cookers.
Freddie Hubbard battling Lee Morgan … that was what inspired David Weiss’ project, The Cookers, whose namesake is derived from two seminal club dates, recorded one day apart in 1965. They called it “A Night of the Cookers.”
The band named after those sessions is made up of some of the biggest names in jazz. But despite the all-star line-up, The Cookers have managed to sizzle in a collective fashion for the past seven years with only one personnel change.
Their work is a true cooperative process, with five of the seven members contributing songs, some written 40 years ago, some written specifically for this record. Several of the members got their start in hard bop in the golden era of the genre, and have pushed its boundaries for modern ears. This album is tight, hard-bop-influenced post-bop for the modern ear.
Drummer Billy Hart was enlisted as a Cookers member by long-time college buddy and fellow collaborator, musical director and trumpeter David Weiss. “Sir Galahad,” a Harper original, was written in the 1970s and was one of his more obscure tunes. But Weiss liked the song so much he chose to include it on the new record. When you think of Sir Galahad, you might think of King Arthur and Knights of the Round Table, but Sir Galahad was actually Hart’s great dane. If you listen carefully, in the middle of the song is a galloping sound that’s Hart’s tribute to his dog.
“Slippin’ and Slidin’” was contributed by bassist Cecil McBee and it’s the most accessible tune on the record, a sauntering blues with an easy-going, post-bop feel. “Farewell Mulgrew,” contributed by legendary pianist George Cables, is a tribute to his long-time friend and collaborator, the late pianist, Mulgrew Miller. It captures the sadness of his passing, and pays tribute to his influence over younger jazz musicians that came after him.
The group also includes Eddie Henderson on trumpet and Donald Harrison on alto saxophone, and they are incredibly tight. The album cooks, as promised, with quality post-bop and the next stage of the jazz continuum. Straight-ahead fans will dig this.
Afro Physicist, Theo Croker.
When Crocker was 11 years old, he saw his grandfather, the great trumpeter Doc Cheatham, play Sweet Basil in New York City. Though Doc died the following year, he had a profound effect on his grandson, who went home and played around with a trumpet for hours every day until he was able to form notes. The first time he played publicly was at his grandfather’s funeral. Now 29, Crocker, a protégé of Dee Dee Bridgewater, has just released his third record.
He has a deep-rooted knowledge of jazz but blends his sound with funk, R&B, and rock, creating more of a 70s jazz-fusion sound. His brother, who considers Croker a sort of a mad scientist, blending a wide assortment of genres and constructing his own unique blend of jazz, bestowed the name “Afro Physicist” upon him. “I’m a little wild,” admits Crocke, “so the title fits – a crazy person in the basement snatching all these things together.”
Bridgewater joins him on two tracks: a funky Latin-groove rendition of Michael Jackson’s, “I Can’t Help It,” and a subtly humorous version of the classic, “Moody’s Mood for Love,” backed by Crocker’s beautifully constructed trumpet. “Realize” is the most fun and funky number. Explosive in nature, this bluesy fusion cut recalls the mid-70s days of Maynard Ferguson. “It’s Not You, It’s Me (But You Didn’t Help),” on the other hand, is a sweet, summer Latin groove with terrific flute by Irwin Hall.
This is by no means a straight-ahead jazz record, but the young trumpeter has the straight-ahead chops and musical knowledge to go far. The record grooves, fusing Latin sounds, 1970s jazz-fusion, and more contemporary styles. Grandfather Cheatham would have been proud.