now, in fact, those of us who are jazz fans may well be engaged in a
vicious war-of-words with one another over whether to recommend Ken
Burns for jazz sainthood or to burn him at the stake for heresy.
(Dr. Out-Hear-&-Beyond prescribes turning off your TV and
resuming round-the-clock allegiance to WWUH, rather than resorting
to either of those options!)
The following titles are
some of my favorite jazz releases of the past 12 months; this does
not pretend to be a definitive “best of” list, nor is it based
on the popularity of these artists or their music. However, I
encourage listeners to tune in to Out Here & Beyond on 91.3
FM, Tuesday, January 9, 2001, 9 a.m. until noon, to hear a
sampling of the recordings which most impressed me during the course
of the last year. The list that follows is arranged in alphabetical
order of the artists’ names, not according to the perceived merits
of each disc.
Andy Biskin Quintet: Dogmental GM Recordings
Biskin admits in his liner notes, “when I take inventory of our
repertory, I’m surprised at the preponderance of polkas, waltzes,
marches and little tone poems over ‘pure jazz’ tunes.”
Yet, it’s precisely because
of this quirky mix of styles that Dogmental is such a delight.
That and the fact that Biskin is working with some of the most
talented inside/outside players on the current jazz scene.
Especially notable is
the brilliant drumming of Matt Wilson, who infuses the proceedings
with a healthy dose of slapstick humor. Joining their leader’s
clarinet in the front line, trumpeter Ron Horton and trombonist
Bruce Eidem form a horn team adept at nailing precisely written
ensemble passages, and equally impressive on solo improvised
Abraham Burton-Eric McPherson
Quartet: Cause and Effect ENJA Records
U-Ha Hartt School classmates Burton and McPherson have remained
buddies since relocating to the Big Apple; more importantly for fans
of improvised music, they’ ve continued honing the considerable
skills they first demonstrated while performing together as members
of the Collective Expression, under Professor Jackie McLean’s
This program of six
original compositions unites them with two other young firebrands:
pianist James Hurt (check out his inventive Blue Note Records debut,
Dark Rhythms, Mystical Grooves)
and bassist Yosuke Inoue (also an integral member a group led by the
aforementioned Matt Wilson). Clocking in at over an hour, Cause and Effect allows ample
time for extended solo work from each man. Burton, having recently
switched from alto to tenor saxophone, may sound like the
heavyweight champion of the quartet, in terms of power and
endurance. More significantly, however, the band displays a unity of
purpose and a level of inspiration rarely found in ensembles that
have been together for such a short time.
Ernest Dawkins’ New Horizons
Ensemble: Jo’burg Jump Delmark Records
too-well-kept secret for more than 20 years, this sextet has played
a key role in maintaining the vitality and the integrity of
Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).
Leader—and sole saxophonist—Dawkins has inherited the bold sound
of Chi-town players from John Gilmore to Roscoe Mitchell and Anthony
Braxton. His group strikes an enticing balance between accessible
lyricism (“Shorter Suite”) and multi-kulti explorations
(“Turtle Island Dance”).
Andrew Hill: Dusk Palmetto
elusive pianist/composer emerges from a lengthy recording absence
with his strongest effort since his prolific output for Blue Note
Records during the 1960s. Besides guesting on Greg Osby’s fine Y2K
release, The Invisible Hand, Hill has also returned to the touring circuit
with the sextet that joins him on this album. WWUH listeners had a
rare opportunity to hear this legendary jazzman discussing his life
and art during an on-air interview with yours truly June 27.
He has always had a
knack for selecting bandmates whose distinctive musical
personalities mesh with his own iconoclastic approach. On Dusk, Hill has assembled a
group that ranks among his very best; each of these sidemen issued a
disc under his own leadership during the past year. As an example of
the terrific musicianship here, listen to Marty Ehrlich and Greg
Tardy engaging in impassioned bass clarinet dialogue on “T.C.,”
one of several memorial tributes to Connecticut native Thomas Chapin which
found their way onto albums in 2000.
Dave Holland Quintet: Prime Directive ECM Records
Holland gets my vote for consummate turn-of-the-century jazzperson.
He’s got it all: originality, chops, brilliant songwriting, great
band...but, what really sets him apart from the crowd of talented
improvisers vying for attention these days is his unfailing ability
to remain innovative, while exhibiting a broad knowledge of the
tradition. At this moment in history, few other jazz
artists--besides David Murray and Dave Douglas--have been as
successful at synthesizing past, present and future into their own
body of work.
outing, Points of View, was
a fine record, but Prime
Directive is superior. That’s due, in large part, to the
quintet’s incessant touring between albums. Despite one personnel
change (Chris Potter having replaced Steve Wilson as resident
reedman), the group’s chemistry reaches new heights on this date.
It’s a sad reflection on the current economics of the jazz
industry that so few working bands are able to remain together long
enough to attain this level of communication.
Many thanks to Mr.
Holland for granting an interview to WWUH last April, which was
broadcast on 91.3 FM a few days prior to his quintet’s exceptional
performance at the Regattabar in Cambridge, MA.
Donny McCaslin: Seen from Above Arabesque
might be the sleeper of the year. Tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin
has established a reputation as first-call sideman during his dozen
years of Big Apple residency. The California native has graced many
straight-ahead, Afro-Cuban and fusion projects with his exuberant
playing, which is clearly inspired by Michael Brecker’s style.
Recently, however, McCaslin has begun devoting more energy to
developing his own artistic vision. Seen from Above presents
listeners with the finest fruits of those labors to date.
Accompanied by three
forward-thinking improvisers—guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Scott
Colley and drummer Jim Black—the saxist offers eight compelling
originals, plus a unique reworking of the Kurt Weill standard,
“September Song.” McCaslin and Colley are also members of an
even-more free-spirited quartet known as Lan Xang, which released
its intriguing sophomore effort this past year for the Naxos Jazz
David Murray Octet: Plays Trane Justin
Lovano gets more ink these days, but don’t let that fool
you...David Murray is still the baddest outside/in tenor man
around! Since 1980, Murray’s brave forays toward reconciling the
avant-garde with its jazz heritage have expanded the sonic
possibilities available to mainstream players, including Lovano.
The Murray Octet remains
a vibrant improvising outfit after over 20 years together. D.D.
Jackson’s piano magic is a welcome addition to the present roster
; octet veterans James Spaulding (alto sax, flute) and Craig Harris
(trombone) also make outstanding contributions to the ensemble’s
long-overdue Coltrane salute. (See
July 2000 WWUH program guide for an in-depth review.)
Paul Nash/Manhattan New Music
Project: The Soul of Grace Soul Note
moment, a saxophone whispers above the gentle ripple of brass
harmonies; the next, foreboding martial drumbeats shatter that
pastoral mood. Bass clarinet and trombone leap forth with sinister
growls, while Nash’s snarling guitar crouches nearby, poised for
attack, just around the next stanza. But fear not, Jack Walrath’s
clarion call will be blowin’ the blues away within minutes!
And so it goes
throughout The Soul of Grace,
each composition in essence a mini-suite, full of shifting moods and
textures. Nash, founder of the decade-old New Music Project,
deserves a place among the most innovative jazz composer/arrangers
of recent times: Gil Evans, George Russell and Carla Bley.
NOJO with Don Byron: You Are Here Koch
the sublime to the ridiculous, and back again—this fun-loving
Canadian big band takes us on a rollicking ride through James-Brown
soul, Phillip-Glass minimalism and Robert-Johnson blues, with
oddball detours to the carnival, the comedy club and the
conservatory. In essence, You Are Here is a wondrous travelogue of 20th century
musical trends, filtered through colorful jazz sensibilities.
Co-leaders Paul Neufeld
(keyboards) and Michael Occhipinti (guitars) alternate composing
duties for their Jazz Orchestra. Guest clarinetist Don Byron further
enhances the proceedings with his distinctive improvisations.
Byron’s own recent release, A Fine Line, was a wildly-eclectic affair that deconstructed
compositions by everyone from Roy Orbison to Frederic
Chopin...demonstrating why his inclusion on You Are Here is such a stroke of
Cuong Vu: Bound OmniTone
you consider yourself a jazz purist, you’re bound to dislike this one;
however, if you ascribe to the theory that the best jazz embodies
“the sound of surprise,” then it’s time to get Bound ! Listen carefully, and listen
often...you’ll be rewarded with highly-charged improvising,
dramatic juxtapositions of electro- and acoustic sounds, and
telepathic quartet interplay...what Ornette Coleman might consider
“the shape of jazz to come.”
I first heard this
Vietnamese-born trumpeter several years ago in one of Bobby
Previte’s envelope-pushing ensembles. The promise he exhibited on
that session is fulfilled here, with Vu finally receiving free reign
to explore his own musical concepts and compositions. Those concepts
are broad enough to encompass both the edgy pop of the title track
(featuring a surprisingly effective vocal by Vu) and the brooding,
post-modern classical textures of “The Drift.”
The trumpeter’s “bound”mates share his enthusiasm for sonic adventures. Jamie
Saft approaches the various components of his keyboard arsenal with
equal fervor and skill; Stomu Takeishi deftly mines the percussive
potential of his electric bass; Jim Black’s renegade rhythms make
him drummer-of-choice for many bandleaders on the current
“downtown” music scene. All four have performed together in
various contexts, and their compatibility proves invaluable here, as they navigate the jagged
edges and stylistic twists that punctuate these pieces.
An Announcement for
all our listeners who have email
now has an email announcement list for our audience! If you would like to receive concert announcements and other
news of station events by email, send an email to WWUHfirstname.lastname@example.org;
if you are not already registered at egroups, you will then receive
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discussion, and only WWUH staff will be sending out messages
Copyright©WWUH: January/February Program Guide,