Jazz sounds from unlikely source
The Aspen Music Festival’s season theme, Blue Notes, was a commendable effort at examining the ties between classical and jazz styles. While the Music Festival’s idea of jazz was mostly retrograde, with programming tilted toward Ellington, Bernstein and Gershwin, there were at least two sublime examples of a fresh crossing of genres: bassists Edgar Meyer and Christian McBride hooking up for a recital, and Wynton Marsalis leading his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the African percussion ensemble Odadaa! in a performance of “Congo Square,” which put New Orleans, gospel, Dixieland, western Africa and swing all on the same page.Following are reviews of recent CDs that show musicians pushing at various boundaries of jazz.
Turtle Island String Quartet”A Love Supreme: The Legacy of John Coltrane” produced by Thomas C. Moore (Telarc)The Turtle Island String Quartet (which performed earlier this month in the Aspen Music Festival’s Aspen Late series) is a crossover in itself, a string quartet playing a mostly jazz repertoire with a jazz-inspired sense of dynamics. Here, the foursome endeavors to go farther out on the limb by inviting in the muse of John Coltrane, the most intensely innovative of jazz players. Their tribute to him is a winner, a tricky idea beautifully executed. They never try to mimic ‘Trane – would it be possible for a string quartet to imitate a saxophonist? – but instead take his melodies and spirit, and run with them in a new direction. “A Love Supreme” wraps together tunes played by Coltrane (his own “Naima” and his spiritual masterpiece, the “Love Supreme” suite; Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things”) and tributes to the jazz legend (Stanley Clarke and Chick Corea’s “Song to John” and Turtle Island violinist/founder David Balakrishnan’s “Model Trane”).Bruce Hornsby”Camp Meeting”produced by Hornsby (Legacy)Bruce Hornsby has always veered off on tangents – becoming a part-time member of the Grateful Dead; throwing Gershwin, Samuel Barber and Bill Evans compositions in between his own pop tunes; jamming with Branford Marsalis and Pat Metheny. “Camp Meeting” finds Hornsby a full-fledged jazz pianist leading a trio – with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Jack DeJohnette – in ambitious instrumental music.On certain tracks Hornsby fills the role perfectly, bringing his distinctive tone and adventurous spirit to tunes by Ornette Coleman and Bud Powell. His “Charlie, Woody and You,” an expansion of a Charles Ives etude, displays all the possibilities in his jazz adventure. But there are also several flat spots on “Camp Meeting,” as Hornsby’s jazz ideas seem to get exhausted.
Marco Benevento “Live at Tonic” produced by Andy Hurwitz & Benevento (Ropeadope)Another rock pianist, Marco Benevento (half of the rock combo the Benevento/Russo Duo), establishes his own jazz cred on this live set, recorded at the tiny New York City club Tonic. Everything about this sprawls: It’s three CDs; Benevento plays solo and leads a duo, trio and quartet, with one of the quartets comprising Benevento and three drummers; and the material ranges from classic rock (Pink Floyd’s “Fearless,” Steve Winwood’s “Gimme Some Lovin'”) to pop (Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better”) to all kinds of jazz repertoire (the swing piece “Elmer’s Tune,” Thelonious Monk’s “Bye Ya,” Benny Goodman’s “Moonglow”). Benevento has enough energy and imagination to fill all this space, giving avant-jazz a rocker’s kick in the ass.Chick Corea & Béla Fleck”The Enchantment” produced by Corea & Fleck (Concord)Pianist Chick Corea and banjoist Béla Fleck show a sense of restraint here, restricting their duo record to duo music. But the second track, Fleck’s “Spectacle,” seems to capture another essence of “The Enchantment.” As brainy as the music is, it is also a high-wire adventure, as two geniuses link their ideas without compromise. Fleck’s banjo runs on the tune are, indeed, spectacular.
Avishai Cohen “After the Big Rain” produced by Cohen (Anzic)Israeli-born trumpeter Avishai Cohen, in the final installment of his “Big Rain” trilogy, finds a place where the Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean meet. Joining Cohen are Lionel Loueke, the singer and guitarist from Benin who wowed Jazz Aspen audiences as part of Herbie Hancock’s show earlier this summer: keyboardist Jason Lindner, who adds wonderful texture with the Fender Rhodes; and Cuban percussionist Yosvany Terry. The ensemble never gives in to traditional notions of indigenous music but stirs the elements in a contemporary groove.Charlie Hunter “Mistico” produced by Hunter & Scott Harding (Fantasy)Guitarist Charlie Hunter switches from his customary (for him) eight-string to a seven-string axe on “Mistico.” Hunter also switches gears by bringing in an unusual (for him) side instrument, the keyboards, played by Erik Deutsch. With drummer Simon Lott rounding out the trio and pounding the skins, Hunter plays something closer to instrumental rock than to jazz.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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