Tuesday, February 5, 2013


Rudresh Mahanthappa  Gamak Act Music & Vision
“Gamak” is jazz alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa’s 13th album. Mahanthappa isn't a chart topping recording artist, but over the course of his career he’s managed to put out a string of stellar jazz albums that straddles the lines of post-bop and free jazz. Plus, Mahanthappa is the leading alto player of the day. Clearly, on “Gamak,” which Mahanthappa wrote all the songs, was shooting for something more experimental than on his other albums and his work with the excellent outfit Apex. “Gamak” is a jazz-rock fusion affair, but you wonder if it would’ve been less stunning without the participation of guitarist David “Fuze” Fiuczynski who serves as a tour guide for Mahanthappa, drummer Dan Weiss and bassist Francois Moutin on this unexplored terrain. To Mahanthappa’s credit, he never allows the experimenting on this adventure to sour or to go awry.

Jose James no beginning no end Blue Note Records
Jazz vocalist Jose James is coming of age in an era where many jazz musicians such as Robert Glasper, and Esperanza Spalding, lack self-direction but are getting a lot of press for  being innovative. What they and others of their generation and elk are into is hardly innovative, but they’ve managed to pull the wool over many music writer’s eyes. James, a little dude with a baritone voice that begs likening to the late Joe Williams, is the real deal though his big label debut “no beginning no end” out recently on Blue Note Records doesn’t scratch the surface of how special James is. James has four other albums “Blackmagic,” “For All We Know,” “Dreamer” and “Jungle to Jungle” on the market that offers a more definitive helping of his overall sweetness. “no beginning no end” removes James from his jazz habitat and cast him  as  a R&B crooner. On this album of mostly love songs, James is on cruise control throughout.

Grace Kelly Grace Kelly Live at Sculler Pazz Production
The alto saxophonist and vocalist Grace Kelly is an amazing young lady. No one familiar with her recording output would argue differently. Kelly released her first studio album when she was 14. To date she has seven albums two co-led with the great Phil Woods and Lee Konitz. Kelly has a sweet tone on alto, but she’s not the powerhouse player Anat Cohen and Tia Fuller are. “Grace Kelly Live at Scullers” is Kelly’s new baby. On it, Kelly focuses on singing. The album, which is not Kelly's masterpiece, proves right now she’s a better saxophonist. Her voice isn’t fully bloomed yet and it still has a puppy love innocence. Although this album was an ambitious undertaking at this leg of her career, Kelly would’ve been better served adhering to the formula that made some of her other albums—“Gracefullee,” “Mood Changes,” and “Man with the Hat”—worthwhile.

Myriad3 Tell Alama Records
You probably haven't  heard of the jazz trio Myriad3 or their ball-buster new album “Tell”. The trio is from Canada. Chris Donnelly is the pianist, Ernesto Cervini the drummer and Dan Forlin the bassist and at some point they will be compared to the jazz trio Bad Plus. Personally, I think Myriad3 is a tighter trio and swings harder. I tender this album as evidence. Many will side with me after listening to " "Fractured," "C Jam Blues," "Drifters" and "Mr. Awkward".  “Tell” is more about collective virtuosity than anything. 

Friday, February 1, 2013


Wynton Marsalis

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra is celebrating its 25th anniversary this season. Thursday night at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, Michigan the orchestra offered the audience a helping of the modern swing the orchestra is known for. Of course, it wouldn't have been a true JLCO show without some of Duke Ellington’s work. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, the JLCO’s leader, began the hour plus set with two of Ellington’s jumpers “Bragging in Brass” and “Red Garter”. Both numbers set the level the orchestra performed on the entire set. Marsalis likes the orchestra to swing above sea-level. 

From Ellington’s work the orchestra moved smoothly into two Gerry Mulligan tunes a waltz “Over the Hill and Out of the Woods” and a blues “Yes Sir That’s My Baby”. The latter arranged by alto saxophonist Sherman Irby and sang by trombone player Vincent R. Gardner. Next the orchestra jumped headfirst into Irby’s “Insatiable Hunger”. Midway through that tune the orchestra had the stage hotter than hell in August. 

From Irby’s work the orchestra slid into John Lewis’ “Two Bass Hit”. On saxophone player Ted Nash’s arrangement of Chick Corea’s “Windows,” drummer Ali Jackson was naughty slapping the tambourine like it was a porn star’s ass. It was an odd moment but the audience ate it up nonetheless. Marsalis slowed down things on another Gerry Mulligan song “Lonesome Boulevard,” featuring some state-of-the-art blowing by baritone saxophone player Paul Nedzela. 

In the field of jazz orchestras, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra still ranks first. Thursday night the orchestra was polished as antique silverware, which wasn’t surprising. Marsalis runs a tight ship and the music the JLCO performs swings no matter what. Marsalis ended the set with trumpeter Kenny Dorham’s “Stage West”. Had the orchestra played it on westbound US I-94 the Michigan State Troopers would’ve pulled over the orchestra and issued them a speeding ticket. 

Marsalis had a handful of choice solos but none showed off his skills more than on “Stage West”. Marsalis trumpet has horsepower and he’s still one of the best jazz trumpet players around. The audience showed its love for the hour plus set with a long ovation and begging for an encore, which the orchestra gave them. 

The audience was so worked up had the orchestra decided against an encore the audience would’ve turned Hill Auditorium upside down and shaken it until every member of the orchestra had fallen back on stage. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that.