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CD reviews: Modern sounds in jazz and jazz-like substances

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesKeyboardist Marco Benevento has released the album, Me Not Me.
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The Bad Plus, For All I Care produced by the Bad Plus (Heads Up)Over four albums, The Bad Plus, a trio of pianist Ethan Iverson, upright bassist Reid Anderson and drummer David King, again opened the debate: Is it jazz or is it rock? They did instrumental covers of Bowie, Tears for Fears and Black Sabbath; their originals were often pounding and rhythm heavy. It held little interest for lovers of mainstream pop; no doubt, it infuriated jazz traditionalists.The simplest reaction to For All I Care is to say that they have taken a step toward rock. The trio is fortified by a singer, Wendy Lewis, an old friend of Kings from the Minneapolis music scene, and the album leans more toward pop tunes (Pink Floyd, Nirvana, Wilco, the Flaming Lips) than original instrumentals. Vocally, Lewis has far more in common with, say, Patti Smith than with Billie Holiday.But what For All I Care marks more than anything is another step toward originality. At times as on the piano intro to Yes Runaround the Bad Plus plays bits that are recognizable from a million spins on the radio. More often, the group is deconstructing those tunes, reinventing the melody, stretching the rhythm, and with the help of Lewis, inventing new moods. The interaction between members is more conversational and animated than ever, and with their take on the Bee Gees How Deep Is Your Love, they show they can play quiet, stay more or less in-bounds, and keep their cool.And, oh yes, theyve added another genre to their arsenal. For All I Care features compositions by Stravinsky, Ligeti and Milton Babbitt. Now the classical hardliners can join the jazz cats in bitching about the Bad Plus is messing with their music.Marco Benevento, Me Not Me (Royal Potato Family)The template used by pianist Marco Benevento best known as half of the rock group the Benevento/Russo Duo, but who has made a series of his own albums of late is remarkably similar to that of the Bad Plus. Here, Benevento is at the head of a standard piano trio, with bassist Reed Mathis, and Matt Chamberlain and Andrew Barr splitting the drum duties. The material is two-thirds other peoples pop tunes split between old and classic (Leonard Cohen, Led Zep, George Harrison) and more recent and edgy (Beck, Deerhoof, My Morning Jacket) and one-third original. The sound is well-balanced between aggressive and melodic; like the Bad Plus Iverson, Beneventos vocabulary can seem limitless. Probably the biggest difference is that Benevento, at least on Me Not Me, is a somewhat more expansive in instruments (he uses Mellotron and clavinet as well as piano) and production (splicing and layering recordings, etc.). But the overall effect is similar a push and pull between jazz and rock tendencies.Todd Sickafoose, Tiny Resistors produced by Sickafoose (Cryptogramophone)Todd Sickafoose has at least a toe in rock; he appeared in Aspen last year as bassist in Ani Difrancos band. Tiny Resistors, however, is a jazz album as long as your definition of jazz can include looping, effects, multiple guitars, truly adventurous compositions. And some whistling. Sickafoose works on a broad canvas here: Theres horns, violin, two drummers; Sickafoose himself plays bass, a variety of keyboards, and accordion, which he routes through a Leslie cabinet. But Tiny Resistors isnt cluttered; its layered and spacious. If it wasnt so fresh and complex, Id call it relaxing. Guests include violinist/whistler Andrew Bird, Norah Jones guitarist Adam Levy, and Difranco, who contributes vocals and ukulele.Bill Frisell, History, Mystery produced by Lee Townsend (Nonesuch)All of the above sounds can be laid, at least in part, at the feet of Bill Frisell. A Denver product who studied at the University of North Colorado, the guitarist began to bust jazz or to put it more broadly, music open in the early 90s, with recordings that fused Americana everything from Copland to Dylan with jazz. His commercial breakthrough, 1997s Nashville, worked along that theme, but Frisell hasnt stopped pushing forward, incorporating blues, funk, country and more into his frequent albums. Only recently has it become apparent that Frisell is probably the most influential jazz player of this era.History, Mystery is a two-disc set, mostly recorded in concert and featuring an octet that includes a three-piece string section; Denver cornetist Ron Miles; and bassist Tony Scheer and drummer Kenny Wollesen, a rhythm duo that has been involved not only with much of Frisells output, but with plenty of other forward-looking sounds. Here, Frisell and company lean toward their classical side: The tunes are short, sharp and precise, rather than jammy and loping. He goes short on interpretations a heart-stopping take on Sam Cookes A Change Is Gonna Come, terrific neo-swing on Lee Konitzs Sub-Conscious Lee to concentrate on original compositions like his three-part suite Monroe, a meditation on bluegrass grandfather Bill.

stewart@aspentimes.com


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