CD reviews: recent jazz releases |

CD reviews: recent jazz releases

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesGuitarist Pat Metheny releases his two-disc album, "The Orchestrion Project," on Feb. 12.

produced by Metheny (Nonesuch)

Part of me wants to say you can only appreciate Pat Metheny’s Orchestrion by seeing it in action. The project, years in the making, and which includes contributions from scientists and engineers, has Metheny playing an orchestra’s worth of instruments – pianos, marimba, tuned bottles – through his guitar. The sounds are not sampled; the physical instruments exist, and are activated by Metheny’s fingers, via his guitar. Metheny’s performance last September at the Wheeler Opera House included Orchestrion segments, and it was a sight.

The other part of me says the truly significant thing is the end product, the music Metheny makes with the Orchestrion. On the two-disc “The Orchestrion Project,” the music is pure Metheny – meaning a fresh, unique, distinctive take on jazz – without the slightest trace of gimmickry. The recording spotlights “Orchestrion,” a breathtaking, five-movement suite, eight of Metheny’s older tunes reinvented for the Orchestrion, and a take on Ornette Coleman’s “Broadway Blues.”

produced by Shorter (Blue Note)

Saxophonist Wayne Shorter can be forgiven for the sparse output of recent years on several grounds. First, he has had periods of wild productivity; look at the ’60s and early ’70s, when he was releasing multiple albums a year under his own name, was also the main composer for Miles Davis’ phenomenal quintet, co-founded the fusion group Weather Report, and appeared as a sideman on numerous albums. Second, Shorter will turn 80 this year.

But there’s a better reason to allow Shorter slack. “Without a Net,” his first album in eight years, is the kind of achievement that takes time for contemplation. The CD liner notes include a photo of Shorter in deep thought, his finger on the side of his head, and it’s easy to imagine Shorter has been in this pose for the past several years, envisioning new musical ground to cover.

“Without a Net” is a live album that doesn’t sound like it. Absent are crowd noises and any flashy jamming that’s meant to grab the live audience. Instead there is thoughtfulness, a lot of space between the notes, and major feats of composition, including the 23-minute “Pegasus,” with its orchestral scope, followed by the 13-minute “Flying Down to Rio.” And there is the profound sense that Shorter’s longtime quartet, with bassist John Patitucci, pianist Danilo Perez and drummer Brian Blade, is creating a musical conversation, built of dark tones, unhurried paces and daring instrumental lines, that hasn’t been heard before. Genius takes time.

produced by Barber (Concord Jazz)

“My favorite part is the internal part – the research,” Patricia Barber says in the liner notes to “Smash,” and she couldn’t be more accurate in her self-assessment. The 57-year-old singer, pianist and composer’s music is, above all, intelligent. Or make that intellectual. You don’t have to know that some of Barber’s songs are written in a tight framework, where each line contains exactly two syllables, or six syllables (“I studied the songwriters; but now I just study the poets,” she says in the liner notes), or that her 2006 album “Mythologies” was a song cycle inspired by the ancient Roman poet Ovid, to recognize the brainy plane her music occupies.

“Redshift” name-checks not only Einstein, but also Heisenberg (not Walter White’s alter-ego meth kingpin from “Breaking Bad,” but German theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg). Even when Barber gets loud (John Kregor’s guitar hits a screech on the title track) or even funky (“Devil’s Food,” a pro-gay marriage number which bursts into a disco-ish beat), she can’t get away from her cerebral essence and the chilliness that goes with it. “Smash” is a more an achievement than a pleasure; go in with your mind engaged.

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