Hot Wax – March 2018

March 21, 2018

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 NY 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)

John Vanore

Stolen Moments: Celebrating Oliver Nelson (CD Baby)

  • John Vanore – trumpet
  • Steve Wilson – alto, soprano saxophones, flute
  • Bob Mallach – tenor saxophone, bass clarinet
  • Tony Kadlek, Augie Haas, Jon Owens, Dave Ballou – trumpet and flugelhorn
  • Ryan Keberle – trombone
  • David Taylor – bass trombone
  • George Barnett, Adam Unsworth – French horn
  • Mike Richmond – bass
  • Danny Gottlieb – drums
  • Jim Ridl – piano
  • Greg Kettinger – guitar
  • Beth Gottlieb (“El Gato”) – percussion

Thank you, Mr. Vanore, for remembering and bringing attention to one of jazz’s most brilliant, too short-lived artists.

Many musicians and critics mentioned comparisons with the deity, Duke Ellington, when writing and/or discussing Oliver Nelson, and many felt Nelson was destined for the Jazz Hall of Fame.  However, the saxophonist, composer, arranger, leader’s career ended at the age of 43 (June 4, 1932-October 24, 1975)

This recording is a thank you, itself, since Vanore acknowledges in his liner notes how strongly affected he was after hearing Nelson at a jazz camp in 1966: “The mere downbeat at a rehearsal became the pivotal moment of my life, changing and shaping my career.”

In Nelson‘s brief career, one composition, arrangement and performance stood out, and Vanore rightfully chose it for his CD title.

‘‘Stolen Moments“ is perfection. Everything about Nelson‘s version sounds right and so satisfying that one could listen over and over… and over.

Vanore‘s rendition is his own, considerably different (remember he uses the word ‘‘reimagined” as well as arranged) and quite inventive, particularly in the way he employs individuals, sections and the full 15-member band.  After Vanore‘s rave over Nelson, one would expect an album devoted entirely to Nelson‘s originals, but the playlist includes “A Taste of Honey” ‘‘St. Louis Blues,” an ‘‘Greensleeves.” Likely, Nelson arranged these tunes, as well as ‘‘El Gato”

Next to ‘‘Stolen Moments” “Blues and the Abstract Truth” is Nelson‘s most noted composition and perhaps his best-known album, as well, since it was where ‘‘Stolen Moments” first appeared.

‘‘Abstract” is anything but; it’s exciting big band jazz, opening with Steve Wilson‘s sharp-edged alto and Vanore‘s screaming trumpet, followed by a rare (these days) extended drum solo. The full band puffs up its chest and takes it out, swinging hard!

Every above-average recording, and this one easily qualifies as such, includes a moving ballad. ‘‘I Hope in Time a Change Will Come” falls very nicely on the ears. Vanore leads, mellowing his trumpet sound, and switching to soprano, Wilson follows. The full band plays a melodious background.

Some other highlights: The punchy brass section on ‘‘Taste;” the subtly funky feel and the fugue-ish close on ‘‘El Gato;” and the full band roaring in the great big band tradition on the closing ‘‘Reuben‘s Rondo.” (Bob Protzman)

Woody Shaw/Louis Hayes Quintet

The Tour Volume Two (High Note)

  • Louis Hayes – drums
  • Woody Shaw – trumpet
  • Junior Cook – tenor saxophone
  • Ronnie Matthews – piano
  • Stafford James – acoustic bass

The name of this band here is a slight misnomer. At the time of these recordings –1977– the band touring Germany and Austria (the locales of this particular set) was billed as the Louis Hayes/Junior Cook Quintet featuring Woody Shaw.

Woody Shaw (1944-1989) was one of the great trumpet voices of jazz. His heyday was in the 1970s and ‘80s, when most of his recordings as a leader were released. Shaw, who was gifted with perfect pitch and a photographic memory, played in wide intervals, considered generally to be comparatively unnatural to the trumpet; he had a clean, bright tone and employed polytonality and the pentatonic scale and could play extremely fast like it was no big deal. Shaw played with such directness and enthusiasm that some listeners mightn’t notice with what complexity he brought to improvisations, compositions, and bands (before becoming a leader, he played/recorded with Jackie McLean, Art Blakey, Horace Silver, and on Joe Zawinul’s debut disc).

“Night in Tunisia” has the horn slightly mocking/mangling a small portion of the iconic theme, then it’s off to the races – Cook delivers an intensely fiery solo, rich with the cry of the blues (evoking the late Booker Ervin) followed by a cracking turn by Shaw, frequently going into the high register without ever shrieking. Bassist Stafford James plays some RIPPLING bass lines here – he doesn’t solo and doesn’t need to…then the track fades out with slight abruptness. “’Round Midnight” gets a longish (10 min.) run-through, maintaining some of late-night romantic ambiance of the original melody until Shaw gets an impassioned, torrid solo, pumping into it many rapid phrases, threatening to leave the groove yet all the while maintaining it. Shaw scales Mount Olympus here (encouragement from band members or audience is audible), and Hayes provides some discrete cracks of his own. Ronnie Matthew lays down some brightly lyrical piano notes, recalling McCoy Tyner’s cascading style while he too keeps the cool-cat blues element going (for a second there I thought I was hearing Gene Harris)…then another abrupt fade-out, just as Shaw was beginning to regale us again. [?!?] On Coltrane’s “Some Other Blues,” Cook is replaced (on this one track only) by Rene McLean, also on tenor. Hayes plays persuasively throughout, keeping that hard swing GOING while not doing any (tedious or show-off) solos.

Aside from the aforementioned fade-outs, the sonic quality on these recordings is excellent. Live Volume Two is sterling hard hop with occasionally free-ish flurries (but nobody ever really goes “free”), the kind of stuff older listeners remember from the glory days of the Milestone, Contemporary, Muse, and Cobblestone labels. Bottom line: Fans old and new of the style and of Shaw: You need to get this, for reals. (Mark Keresman)

 

 

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