Tuesday, January 10, 2012

COMING DOWN THE PIKE


Yes “The Monk Project” is yet another homage to Thelonious Monk. Yes, there is a Monk shot out album on every street corner. But “The Monk Project” is not your average shot out to Monk. Trumpeter Jimmy Owens is the brains behind “The Monk Project”. Owens is a fantastic musician and arranger. Owens made his bones on the jazz big band circuit, so swinging is in his blood.

For “The Monk Project,” which IPO Records will put out January 12. Owens gives a facelift to some of Monk’s classic tunes “Blue Monk,” “Well You Needn’t,” and “Brilliant Corners,” for example. Owens kept things respectable, and he never took stupid risks with Monk’s work. Hell, Monk music is hard enough to play as is. Owens understands that.

Owens staffed the date with name brand swingers such as Kenny Barron, Wycliffe Gordon, Marcus Strickland, Kenny Davis, Howard Johnson and Winard Harper. “The Monk Project” is a worthwhile nod to Monk.

Tom Wetmore is a jazz piano player and a composer from Massachusetts in the process of building his brand brick by brick. Thusly, Wetmore has earned enough street cred to work with greats such as Clark Terry, Slide Hampton, and Bernard Purdie. “Desired Effect” is Wetmore’s first time in the captain’s seat. The album is due out January 17.

On the album, Wetmore made some smart choices. He played the electric piano throughout, which gives many of the songs a latter-day Miles Davis feel, particularly “Wild Card” and the title cut. 


Wetmore smartest move was spreading around the rhythm section duties to guitar players Justin Sabaj and Brad Williams. This is not the can of jazz album picky jazz purists fancy. Wetmore infused every square inch of it with the zest only a hungry upstart embodies.


“Smul’s Paradise,” the new album by baritone sax player Gary Smulyan, is an organ driven project Smulyan always wanted to make. Smulyan is jazz’s sharpest baritone player (at least he is in my book) and is the heir apparent to the greatest baritone player off all times the late Pepper Adams.

“Smul’s Paradise” is Smulyan nod to the era in jazz when organ albums put out my organ greats Lonnie Smith, Don Patterson, Jimmy Smith, and Larry Young were popular. Smulyan was a big fan of that period. Organ jazz is played out now although the jazz world is littered with some wonderful organ players.
Smulyan for this project hired one of the finest in Mike LeDonne. 

Although the album is billed as an organ throwback project, “Smul’s Paradise” is the kind of biscuits and gravy jazz album Smulyan always makes. Still he deserves props for stepping outside his comfort zone at this leg of his career. “Smul’s Paradise will be available nationwide January 17 on Capri Records.


Do not be alarmed if you never feel like dancing while listening to Omar Sosa’s new date “Alma,” which is Sosa most pensive album to date, and which I found hard to categorize. Normally, Sosa plays damn near ever form of jazz from Afro-Cuban to free jazz. Apparently, Sosa was in a solemn mood when he made this album with the celebrated Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu. 


This album is not the first time Sosa and the trumpeter have hooked up. In 2007, they put out the album “Promise,” and two year later they toured Italy.

Fresu is a good trumpeter who invested a great deal of time studying Miles Davis. Fresu fits with Sosa like peanut butter and jam. Sosa is a creative guy. He likes to use gadgets. He uses plenty of them on “Alma”. Sosa is a swinger and an exciting  showman as well. This time around Sosa seems perfectly content with showing off his virtuosity.

What is there left for drummer Jack DeJohnette to do? DeJohnette has been involved in every jazz movement since hard bop. To date, he has made over 30 jazz albums as a leader. It would consume too much time to count his output as a sideman. 


This year DeJohnette will receive the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Fellowship. That is the highest honor for a jazz man. That alone seems like enough for the drummer to prop his feet up on his laurels, right? Not DeJohnette. January 17, he will make public his new album “Sound Travels”.

Many DeJohnette fans will be a bit disappointed because outside of composing all the tunes on the album DeJohnette did not play a big role. He centered the compositions around he’s special guest. There are plenty.


“Sound Travels” is a low-fat jazz album. DeJohnette shares the light with established stars Bruce Hornsby, Tim Ries, and Bobby McFerrin and contemporary heavies Esperanz Spalding, Ambrose Akinmusire, Lionel Louke and Jason Moran. This is a cross cultural get together.
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