Hot Wax: January 2018

January 16, 2018

Sinne Eeg

Dreams (ArtistShare)

  • Sinne Eeg – vocals
  • Jacob Christoffersen – piano
  • Larry Koonse – guitar
  • Scott Colley – bass
  • Joey Baron – drums
  • Warny Mandrup – background vocals
  • Lasse Nilsson – background vocals
  • Jenny Nilsson – background vocals

Danish vocalist Sinne Eeg has it all. With pitch-perfect delivery, a pen possessed of great depth and sincerity, and a voice owning a timbre capable of providing more warmth and comfort than a fireplace on a cold December’s night, Eeg leaves the ears wanting for nothing. She’s been taking Europe by storm for more than a decade, steadily garnering awards and fans, but she’s only recently started to make a dent with American audiences. Her previous offering – a 2015 duo date with bassist Thomas Fonnesbæk – turned some stateside heads, and this winning album is likely to turn more.

For this, Eeg’s first fan-funded effort on the Artisthare label, she put together a to-die-for band that brings pianist Jacob Christoffersen, the singer’s countryman and frequent collaborator, into contact with a set of American notables – guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Scott Colley, and drummer Joey Baron. The results, not surprisingly, are stellar.

“The Bitter End,” co-written with singer Søren Sko, is low-flame soul all the way, providing an easy entryway into the album. Not too long after that opener, a triptych built around love arrives and makes for an incredibly pleasing mini-set. Eeg’s “Love Song” comes off like a long-lost standard while still owing its lines and life to the lady of the hour, Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love?” launches over Baron’s frolicsome brushes before inviting all to enter, and a flowing take on Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s “Falling In Love With Love” highlights the bond formed between Eeg and Koonse.

While nothing on this playlist is out of Eeg’s sonic comfort zone, she does manage to branch out in two different ways during the second half of the album: with the title track she delivers an original built with a wordless melody line, and with the haunting “Aleppo” she puts her political mindset into musical action. The latter number, speaking to recent Syrian horrors and (young) life moving on in the aftermath of such atrocities, is particularly moving. Whether creating topical fine art, exploring the riches of the Great American Songbook, or sharing her own perspective on universal emotions, Eeg manages to cut straight to the heart. Hers is a voice that resonates with the sounds of beauty and truth. (Dan Bilawsky)         

The Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band

All Smiles (MPS/Edel)

  • Kenny Clarke – drums, co-leader
  • Francy Boland – piano, co-leader
  • Tony Coe, Ronnie Scott, Johnny Griffin, Sahib Shihab, Derek Humble – saxophones
  • Benny Bailey, Idrees Sulieman, Jimmy Duchar, Sonny Grey – trumpet
  • Åke Persson, Nat Peck, Erik Van Lier – trombone
  • Dave Pike – vibes
  • Jimmy Woode – bass
  • Kenny Clare – drums

Now HERE’s a big band album from the mists of history that need be better known. Born in the cultural cornucopia that is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Kenny Clarke (1914-1985) was a demigod of bebop drumming; after playing with Chet Baker in Europe, Belgium-born pianist Francy Boland (1929-2005) relocated to the USA in the ‘50s, arranging for the big bands of Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and Woody Herman. Replete with ex-Duke Ellington bassist Jimmy Woode and engorged with this collective experience, an idea alighted: Let’s congregate a big band in Europe with some of the best players from there and America – the world will be ours! Well, they came close, as the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland outfit was one of the very best orchestral organizations in the 1960s/early ‘70s Euro-jazz scene.

Recorded and originally released in 1968 (and long out-of-print in the USA), it’s fascinating how well this set has aged. No, that’s not damning with faint praise. This set does sound of its time – and the Clarke/Boland Band were not nearly as adventuresome as, say, Don Ellis’ band of that time – yet the passing of years has not dimmed the greatness herein. This lot mix the post-big band era swagger-and-blare of Basie and Herman with the smooth assuredness of Ellington and the snazzy acumen of Quincy Jones’ big band work(s). Note the sumptuous, seamless ensemble writing on the opener “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” – but when there are solos to be soloed, these cats play with the freewheeling élan of a smaller group, as the plump-toned vibes of Dave Pike ably attest. “I’m Glad There Is You” is essayed with the intimacy of a small group and Benny Bailey’s solo flugelhorn is luscious as a pat of butter on freshly made popcorn. The little giant of the tenor Johnny Griffin gets a brief but invigorating, Monk-flavored solo spot on “Sweet and Lovely.”

The gorgeous mid-tempo take on “When Your Lover Has Gone” is enthralling not just because of the crisp tone of Idrees Sulieman’s trumpet and the fiery sizzle of Clarke’s drums, but of how the terse, rapid twists ‘n’ turns of the arrangement seems about to rend it asunder (but does not). Listen up, fans of the TV and movie sounds by Henry Mancini, Dave Grusin, and Oliver Nelson – have a shaken-not-stirred libation to “By Strauss,” composed by George Gershwin, which has plenty of noir-ish undertones, shiny and swinging unison saxophone passages, and a strutting, vaguely slinky, dressed-to-kill rhythm.

No, there’s none of the edginess of ‘60s jazz on All Smiles, just exemplary, vigorously swinging orchestral jazz in the manner of the above masters (without being at all derivative). Fans of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis band, The Vanguard Orchestra, and Gerald Wilson – [pick your favorite gifting holiday] has arrived. Get this before it vanishes again. (Mark Keresman)

Vijay Iyer

Far From Over (ECM)

  • Vijay Iyer – acoustic & Fender Rhodes piano
  • Graham Haynes – cornet, flugelhorn, electronics
  • Steve Lehman – alto sax
  • Mark Shim – tenor sax
  • Stephan Crump – acoustic bass
  • Tyshawn Sorey – drums

Oy, this pianist fellow Vijay Iyer has collected more positive press from everyone from The New York Times to GQ India and this, if Far From Over is any indication, is unlikely to abate soon. As a pianist, he’s one of the best since Keith Jarrett – unfailingly lyrical, draws from a wide breadth of influences, alternately melodious and unpredictable. From solo, duo, and trio contexts to notated classical compositions (for solo cello, string quartet, and orchestra), Iyer is a protean performer as they come. Far From Over is electrifying as it’s for a horns-plus-piano trio (sextet) configuration and it highlights varied aspects of his musical palette, as a pianist, bandleader, and composer, its 10 terse tracks aiming for the mind/psyche, the heart, and the gut.

The opener “Poles” begins subdued and meditative until a contorted, angular march-like theme essayed by the horns enters – then, it’s choppy, volatile, modal hunk of soul bop, featuring a somewhat acid-tongued solo by alto saxophonist Steve Lehman with Eric Dolphy/Oliver Lake-like levels of agitation. Then Graham Haynes applies a sultry balm with a healthy glow of Miles Davis’ lyricism (mid-1960s-era). The brief, interlude-esque “End of the Tunnel” begins with drummer Tyshawn Sorey laying down a dense, tempestuous, almost rock-like beat before Haynes and Iyer ease in some spacy/surreal electronic motifs, setting the stage for the apocalyptic-sounding “Down to the Wire” wherein Iyer unleashes lyrical, free-flowing cascades with some Bud Powell-like jabs here and there, Shim going for some scorched-earth sorties, and clarion-call unison passages from the horns (sounding almost like a big band). The horns sit out the homage/elegy “For Amiri Baraka” in which Iyer pensively engages in some lovely, harmonious gospel-charged chords. “Nope” has a smoldering hip hop-like beat, sparse, pointed funky piano, and loping, bluesy, amiably dissonant statements from the horns – it’s almost as if Iyer and company wanted to distill (and did) the acoustic and electric sides of Herbie Hancock, from Speak Like a Child through Headhunters.

In fact, Far From Over could be viewed as a tribute to Hancock – not that Iyer imitates or references Hancock, but both share a creative mix of acoustic and electric instrumentation; immediacy, adventurousness, accessibility/directness, variety, and both can play driving, straight-ahead jazz, get funky, and drift into outer space. Not implying HH should “retire,” but Iyer is building on aspects of Hancock’s legacy all the while carving out one of his own. (Mark Keresman)

Martial Solal & Dave Liebman

Masters in Bordeaux (Sunnyside Records)

  • Martial Solal – piano
  • Dave Liebman – saxophones

Recorded just a few weeks before Martial Solal’s 90th birthday in 2016, this live encounter between the brilliant French pianist and the American saxophone giant Dave Liebman, himself about to turn seventy at the time, is a rare example of advancing age bestowing maturity while giving no quarter to diminishment of venturesome spirit. Wielding soprano and tenor saxophones, Liebman remains a confidently daring virtuoso who embodies the modern jazz universe in his forthright playing. Solal, for his part, is simply a marvel. Or, as Liebman puts it in his laudatory album notes, a “maestro” – a technically gifted, utterly spontaneous improviser seemingly unencumbered by formal restrictions. Solal isn’t just playing well for his age, he’s playing with a surplus of imagination and audaciousness that places him in the top ranks alongside, if not well above, any present day jazz musician. (For Solalites, it isn’t hyperbole if the goods back up the bravado.)

The duo’s repertoire couldn’t be any more meat-and-potatoes in its reliance on familiar bebop fare: “All the Things You Are,” “Solar,” “What Is This Called Love” et al. Yet Solal and Liebman make the most of the commonplace, allowing the comforts of form to grant them increased freedom. Time is bent, harmonies are stretched, the roles of soloist and accompanist blurred. Displaying the same verve and nerve he has over the past fifty years, particularly in his encounters with another go-for-broke improviser, Lee Konitz, Solal has no inclinational to play the proper duet partner. He pokes and prods Liebman, fabricating his own melodically off center and rhythmically skewed lines alongside the saxophonist’s ruminations rather than laying down a straight harmonic path for his musical companion to drive down in comfort. With the best of intentions, Solal constantly challenges Liebman, and Liebman sounds as if he can’t get enough of the constructive provocations.

Although he’s long returned to the tenor after considerable time concentrating on the soprano saxophone – an often abused instrument that Liebman remains one of its few living masters – it’s still a treat to hear him tear into the deeper-toned horn with controlled fury. He’s all over “What Is This Thing Called Love,” which kicks off with his fervent unaccompanied introduction. “On Green Dolphin Street,” and “Night and Day” exhibit similar tenor gladness.

Ultimately though it’s Solal’s show – his style still as gloriously inimitable as ever. As critic Gary Giddins asserted of this still too often overlooked genius, “Using chords as a grounding point, he is as free in his movements as free jazz can be. His influences were assimilated so long ago that you would be hard-pressed to hear a touch of Tatum or Powell or Garner or Monk. What you do hear of them, beautifully transmuted, is a lineage – the whimsy, the spark and bemused craft of the inspired quick-change artist.” Answering to no one but his own artistic conscience, yet, paradoxically, a sympathetic and nurturing duet partner (as well as a stimulating ensemble player), Solal continues to astound and inspire. For him, the best may still be yet to come. (Steve Futterman)

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