McBride’s `Vertical Vision’ doesn’t cut too deep
July 31, 2003
The Cabaret Room is possibly the finest room for acoustic jazz music in Colorado. Yet, I bet a good half of the valley residents couldn’t tell you that the Cabaret Room is in the Silvertree Hotel in Snowmass Village. The room is terribly underused, despite being perfectly arrayed for jazz concerts, with tiered seating, excellent acoustics and just the right size, intimate but not cramped.Last week saw some rare use of the room for jazz. The JAS Academy Summer Sessions, Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ education program for top-level students, had a two-concert series featuring an all-star band of Academy instructors one night, and the Chuchito Valdes Septet the next. I hadn’t seen a concert in the Cabaret Room in too long, but the all-star show reminded me how fine a venue it is, and how amazing those musicians sound there.Following are reviews of recent CDs by artists who have appeared at the Cabaret Room.Christian McBride Band, “Vertical Vision”produced by McBride (Warner Bros.)Bassist Christian McBride, as artistic director of the JAS Academy Summer Sessions program, was the ringleader of last week’s all-star performance. But “Vertical Vision,” the second recording credited to the Christian McBride Band, is a far different thing than last week’s acoustic bebop-oriented concert.With his band CDs, starting with 2000’s “Sci-Fi,” McBride has been delving into the jazz fusion he adores. So McBride moves between acoustic and electric bass; Geoffrey Keezer goes from piano to electric keyboards; David Gilmore makes guest appearances on acoustic and electric guitar. Mostly, though, the fusion feel comes from the compositions – most by McBride, two from Keezer and one from saxophonist Ron Blake – the arrangements and the production. It is well-played, but far from compelling. At times, as on Keezer’s “Precious One,” it is a step away from becoming the dreaded smooth jazz. “Vertical Vision” actually begins with a joke: the opening track is “Circa 1990,” a few seconds of ancient Dixieland interrupted by the sound of a needle scratching vinyl, and McBride saying, “No, no, put that other record on.” The album then moves into the modernistic free funk tune “Technicolor Nightmare.” As with the joke on which it starts, “Vertical Vision” never cuts too deep. Cyrus Chestnut, “You Are My Sunshine”produced by Chestnut and Marcus Roberts (Warner Bros.)Like Christian McBride, pianist Cyrus Chestnut takes a different route on his latest CD than he did at last week’s Cabaret Room concert. But Chestnut moves in the opposite direction from McBride. Where McBride amped things up and went for a modern sound, Chestnut strips it down to the basics. “You Are My Sunshine” is a piano trio record – just Chestnut on piano, with bassist Michael Hawkins and drummer Neal Smith. Chestnut calls this music the essence of him, and it is that. The church-reared Chestnut jubilantly and soulfully runs through the gospel: “Precious Lord,” “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” “Total Praise” and more. There is also evidence of Chestnut’s classical music background, in the precise, clean way he hits every note. There are no gimmicks here, just a major talent getting his message across, plain and true. Joe Lovano Nonet, “On This Day at the Vanguard”produced by Lovano (Blue Note)Saxophonist Joe Lovano performed four years ago at the Cabaret Room, in an all-star configuration that featured Herbie Hancock, John Patittucci and more. As I recall, it was a scrambled affair, with moments of brilliance alternating with less-stellar moments – what often happens in thrown-together jam sessions.No such problem here. Lovano put together his nonet for 2000’s “52nd Street Themes,” which earned a Grammy. He has kept the ensemble together since; this second CD was recorded last September at New York’s Village Vanguard. Lovano’s idea for the nonet was to create a big combo that would develop as a unit, and it has. “On This Day” shows a group that doesn’t rely on one musician after another stepping out for his solo, but true ensemble playing. For material, Lovano and company stick with 52nd Street – the heart of the late ’40s bebop scene – with tunes of Tadd Dameron, Billy Strayhorn, John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. It is tightly arranged, but allows for plenty of individual expression. Along with Dave Holland’s current quintet, Lovano’s nonet is one of the combos of this day.Terell Stafford, “New Beginnings”produced by Stafford & Bruce Barth (Max Jazz)In large part, Terell Stafford, the trumpeter on the Cabaret stage last week, takes a stroll backwards on his fourth recording as a leader. “New Beginnings” opens with three tunes solidly in the bebop mold, from the instrumental tones to the material to the arrangements. The album takes a turn with Stafford’s adventurous, original “New Beginnings Suite,” kicked off by Derrick Hodge’s electric bass notes. They then work back into more standard terrain, ending with “Kumbaya.” Stafford and company – including pianist Mulgrew Miller, and four guest horn players – get to cover a lot of territory, and all of it is worth a visit.Terence Blanchard, “Bounce”produced by Blanchard (Blue Note)Trumpeter Terence Blanchard, part of the JAS Academy a few years ago, speaks in many jazz tongues. He is Spike Lee’s regular film scorer, and his last album, last year’s “Let’s Get Lost,” was a series of collaborations with female vocalists: Diana Krall, Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson and Jane Monheit. Here, on his Blue Note debut, Blanchard stays instrumental, but in an expansive way. He brings in guitar, organ and Fender Rhodes electric keyboard, and the tunes range from the wispy ballad “Passionate Courage” to the African-inspired “Azania” to the highly original “Fred Brown.” Blanchard and band also take on Brazilian composer Ivan Lins’ “Nocturna,” and give a funky shuffle feel to Wayne Shorter’s classic “Footprints.” It adds up to the rare jazz recording that is fresh from beginning to end.Mike Clark, “Summertime”produced by Clark and Frank Perowsky (JazzKey Music)Mike Clark didn’t actually perform in the Cabaret Room. But when the Headhunters kicked off their 1998 reunion tour with a Jazz Aspen gig, Herbie Hancock and the band, including drummer Clark, held their rehearsal sessions in the Cabaret Room (which I was fortunate enough to witness). Renowned as a funk drummer, Clark makes his debut as leader of an acoustic jazz combo here. “Summertime” is not revelatory by any mans, but it is solid, with saxophonist Chris Potter and pianist Billy Childs making substantial contributions. Clark picks out three Wayne Shorter tunes to cover, as well as Ellington’s “Angelica” and the Gershwin title track.Ray Brown, “Walk On”produced by Elaine Martone & Brown (Telarc)Before his death last year, bassist Ray Brown was a regular presence at the JAS Academy, and made several appearances in the Cabaret Room. The first part of this two-CD set features Brown playing in his trio, featuring pianist Geoffrey Keezer and drummer Karriem Riggins. Disc two is a mix of studio and live tracks, and features an array of Brown associates, most of whom have played in Snowmass: pianists Benny Green and Monty Alexander, bassists Christian McBride and John Clayton, and drummer Lewis Nash. Brown was swinging to the very end.