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Read the latest edition of Hot House Magazine! View and download here in Acrobat: December 2014
Winning Spins By George Kanzler
With the demise of the stable working band, the path to jazz mastery no longer runs primarily through paying dues with bandleaders like Lionel Hampton, Miles Davis or Art Blakey. New jazz talent is now developed as much in the academy as it is on the bandstand. So it’s not surprising that the two young saxophonists whose debut albums comprise this Winning Spins both have already received master’s degrees in jazz programs in the New York area after earning undergraduate jazz degrees at Boston-area music schools.
Besides a solid foundation in jazz history, both bring experiences from life and the influence of mentors to their music. Nir Naaman also carries his Israeli heritage—he played lead alto in the Israeli Air Force Band—and an obvious affection for robust swing saxophonists to his style. Alex LoRe is that rare young alto saxophonist who eschews the dominance of Charlie Parker, taking his cues from such mentor/models as Lee Konitz and Bunky Green. Both Naaman and LoRe enlist a veteran musician along with a band of younger peers on their outings.
Dream House, Alex LoRe (Inner Circle Music), also taps the talents of a veteran who contributes liner notes: tenor saxophonist George Garzone, adding some Trane-ish intensity on three of the eight tracks. Alto saxophonist LoRe’s piano-less trio comprises bassist Desmond White and drummer Colin Stranahan. The CD opener, one of six LoRe originals, is his most indebted to the heritage of Konitz: “Amnesia.” The tune has a serpentine line like those of the Lennie Tristano school, played in close harmony by alto and tenor in a nod to the work of Konitz and tenorman Warne Marsh. LoRe’s creamy-toned solo continues the homage to Konitz but Garzone bursts out of that flowing mode with fiery exclamations.
The following five tracks unfurl the surprising variety of strategies and approaches LoRe’s exceedingly nimble and interactive trio commands. While White’s bass maintains a steady, if melodically and harmonically rangy, base, Stranahan is a constant provocateur on drums, generating elastic rhythms and ever-changing patterns behind and around LoRe’s alto sax. That sax creates richly melodic lines with harmonic daring and a consistently warm, inviting tone.
Some of the best tracks—“December Song,” “Dream House,” “Too Soon”— unfold like a perfectly balanced triad, the musicians equally involved in the final process. The one standard is a stunning revelation, a rhapsodic version of Duke Ellington’s “Tonight I Shall Sleep” with a rapturous LoRe solo.
Alex LoRe leads a quartet at Cornelia Street Café Dec. 29.
Dave Burrell: A Kinda Dukish Pianist
By Eugene Holley Jr.
For five decades, Dave Burrell, a Philadelphia-based pianist, composer and educator, has been one of the most hard-to-classify musicians of the modern era. He’s fluent in all of the eras of jazz, from rags to the avant-garde. He has composed in the classical idiom, worked with Archie Shepp, Pharaoh Sanders and Marion Brown and recorded more than 40 albums as a leader.
In other words: he’s beyond category.
Burrell’s ebullient, full and flowing pianism validates the reference to Duke Ellington, and is most satisfying to hear in the solo format, where the pianist showcases his mastery of the keyboard at age 70. “Now, I’m much more comfortable with myself and the instrument,” he says.
Burrell’s comfort level with the piano is derived from his main influence, Duke Ellington, mostly from listening to his recordings. But especially from his friendship with the great Ellington drummer Sam Woodyard, who met Burrell in Paris where they both lived in 1979 when photographer Jacques Bissiguklia paired them together for a duet at the Club Campaign Premiere.
“We hit it off,” Burrell recalls. “And we started to play our jazz opera Windward Passages (co-composed by Burrell’s wife, librettist Monika Larsson). And I’m doing everything possible to embellish what I had orchestrally imagined.”
Woodyard’s guidance through the enigmas of Ellingtonia helped Burrell find his own voice. “Sam Woodyard was very blunt and honest,” Burrell reports. “He would say ‘What you just did there in your original piece was very much like what Duke would have done.’ And I know what he meant, because I played the same kind of inner voicings that Duke did and he validated that.”
Burrell’s Ellington-flavored piano style also falls within the gravitational pull of Thelonious Monk. “He was my favorite pianist,” Burrell confesses. “He used to send me messages via trombonist Grachan Moncur III, who knew Monk so very well, that he would sit while Monk would compose. And when Grachan left Monk’s apartment, Monk would say, ‘Where are you going now?’ And he said, ‘to Dave Burrell’s’ and Monk said, ‘tell him I said hi.’ I said, ‘You gotta be kidding me.’”
But even as Ellington and Monk form a tasty roux in Burrell’s gumbo piano influences, another stylistic ingredient was added to the mix.
“When the great historian Samuel Charters heard me playing with David Murray down on Sixth Avenue in the Village,” Burrell reveals, “he said, ‘I hear some Jelly Roll Morton in your playing.’ He suggested that I buy James Dapogny’s Ferdinand ‘Jelly Roll’ Morton: The Collected Piano Music (Smithsonian Press). I already had an inkling to go back that far because of my father’s insistence, and at the suggestion of Wynton Marsalis’ pianist, Marcus Roberts.”
Burrell’s triad of influence— Ellington, Morton and Monk— were forged in an equally eclectic array of experiences and opportunities. Raised in Hawaii, he graduated from Berklee College of Music in 1961 and lived in Cleveland before moving to New York in 1965 where Burrell immersed himself in the city’s avant-garde scene performing with Sunny Murray, Giuseppe Logan and saxophonists Shepp, Sanders and Brown. Burrell also wrote a dance drama, Holy Smoke, an arrangement of Puccini’s La Boheme, composed original music for Louis Massiah’s documentary WEB Du Bois: A Biography in Four Voices (1996) and Oscar Micheaux’s silent black and white film, Body and Soul (1925).
He has lectured at schools including Strasbourg Conservatory, Columbia University, New York University, Queens College, Bard College, University of Pennsylvania and Swarthmore College. His latest recording, Dave Burrell Conception, was released in 2013. He serves as a composer-in-residence at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, where he launched a five-year musical project entitled The American Civil War: 1861-1865.
And so with Dave Burrell, as with jazz, everything comes back to the one: how to express oneself in all ages and eras. “My producer, Jim Luce, said, ‘When you play a ballad in 2014, you don’t just play a ballad and just walk away.’ You have to go in depth into the reasons behind the lyrics: What is the story? And do it in a way that it’s so personal to the listeners, and so different from what came in the late ‘40s, ‘50s and on, that people understand that you have a vocabulary that reaches towards the end of this decade. I was stunned, because that was the kind of thing that I wanted to do when I first arrived in New York City in 1965.”
Dave Burrell performs at Jazzhaus, Dec. 22 at Le Parker Meridien Hotel.
Holiday Gift Guide 2014 by George Kanzler
Jazz can always surprise. Take “Little Drummer Boy”—you think you know that Christmas carol in all its pop and jazz variations ad infinitum and ad nauseam. And yet you would be wrong. Among this compilation of holiday gift suggestions of books, DVDs and CD albums, both new and reissued or gathered in box sets, is a completely original, unexpected version of “Little Drummer Boy.”
ONE MORE WHIRL ‘ROUND THE CHRISTMAS TREE
By far, the best new jazz holiday album is an anthology featuring artists who record for Mack Avenue: It’s Christmas on Mack Avenue. It’s also the one with that fresh “Little Drummer Boy,” courtesy of soprano saxophonist Tia Fuller’s quintet, especially percussionist Khalil Kwame Bell, who creates exotic hand drum chatter around a sinuously slow tempo for this sumptuous version of a carol that often serves as an excuse to rave it up. Fuller appears with her alto sax on a dandy, hard boppish version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” from trumpeter Sean Jones’ quintet. Like all the best Christmas jazz albums, this one is more about the musicians as jazz players than holiday celebrators.
Among those making it a worthwhile jazz experience are bassist Christian McBride, with his trio’s wonderful pianist Christian Sands; pianist Aaron Deihl in trio, quartet (with vibist Warren Wolf) and a Monkish striding solo of “Christmas Star.” Singers contributing are Cyrille Aimée, Sachal Vasandani, and Cécile McLorin Salvant in a captivating coda of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with Diehl.
In a more traditional, vocal album vein, we have Christmas (Prescott) with Peter Furler featuring David Ian. Although both principles are rockers, this is a jazz inflected holiday album with Furler’s slightly husky voice amped back into an almost Kenny Rankin sound and guitar-shredder Ian sticking to jazz/pop piano. The songs are all familiar carols, fetchingly done.
Creating your own holiday songs can be dicey, but Rick Lang pulls it off pretty well on That’s What I Love About Christmas: Timeless Seasonal Songs Penned by Rick Lang (RLM). The music is as much country as jazz, as it recruits musicians from the Nashville area, including jazz chanteuse Annie Sellick.
WELL WORTH ANOTHER SPIN
2014 hasn’t been a bumper year for reissues and box sets since many major labels are still peddling CDs issued before the last holiday season. But here are a couple of items well worth hearing: one a luxury box, the other an easily overlooked, unearthed gem.
From that Rolls-Royce of reissue labels, Mosaic, comes the historically indispensable The Complete Dial Modern Jazz Sessions. It collects, in nine CDs, the output of the California label that flourished for a short time after World War II, capturing the best of the Pacific Coast’s beboppers, as well as some of the most historic sessions waxed by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie when they visited the West Coast. But Dial also recorded some of Los Angeles’ Central Avenue’s best beboppers including saxophonists Dexter Gordon, Wardell Grey, Teddy Edwards and Lucky Thompson, as well as trumpeter Fats Navarro. Also included are bop-oriented combos derived from Woody Herman’s big band under the leadership of trumpeter Sonny Berman and arranger Ralph Burns.
The Lost Tapes series from the German Jazzhaus label is well worth checking out in its entirety, but one not-to-miss CD in this series of concert performances captured for radio and TV is The Modern Jazz Quartet: Germany 1956-1958 (SWR-Jazzhaus). Besides catching the MJQ—pianist John Lewis, vibist Milt Jackson, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Connie Kay—at an early peak of their live concert career, this CD also features premiere versions of two Lewis compositions, “Midsommer” and “Django,” and one Jackson, “Bluesology,” with orchestral accompaniment.
NOT JUST FOR LISTENING: DVDs
Jazz isn’t just for listening anymore; watching is also part of the experience. And it can be free if you explore the myriad offerings of jazz musicians on film and TV currently streaming on YouTube. But for the best and latest viewing experiences, here are DVDs that came out this year:
The most heart strings tugging and warmly emotional jazz documentary of the year is Keep On Keepin’ On (Radius-TWC DVD), a film exploring the mentoring relationship of legendary trumpeter Clark Terry and a young, blind pianist, Justin Kauflin. What shines through is Terry’s indomitable spirit and consistently positive attitude, despite horrendous health setbacks he encounters as he enters his 90s and how his spirit encourages Kauflin to persevere in the face of career disappointments. Along the way, Terry’s own career is spotlighted, but it’s his voice and perfect bon mots, that will resonate long after viewings.
Concord has issued a 10th anniversary of Genius Loves Company: Ray Charles Duets, that adds a fascinating bonus DVD on the making of the classic album to a CD of the original.
For the adventurous, two new DVDs present what once would have been called Third Stream music, by jazz pianists and quasi-classical ensembles, combined with impressionistic, sometimes abstract or esoteric videos. My Coma Dreams, Fred Hersch/Herschel Garfein (Palmetto), envisions the dreamscapes of Hersch’s coma as a fantasia-like jazz theater piece. Radhe Radhe: Rites of Holi, Vijay Iyer and Prashant Bhargava (ECM), features jazz pianist Iyer with the International Contemporary Ensemble accompanying a film about the Indian goddess Radhe, in a phantasmagoric ballet.
ON THE BOOKSHELF
From novels to essays, here are some new jazz books to entice the reader: Jazz in the New Millennium: Live and Well by Rick Mitchell (Dharma Moon Press), profiles more than 50 jazz musicians who are currently active, from Randy Weston to Jason Moran, capturing their takes on the state of the art today. Hot House contributor Ken Franckling spotlights his photos as well as interviews in his Jazz in the Key of Light: Eighty of Our Finest Jazz Musicians Speak for Themselves (at Amazon.com), a fine addition to the panoply of coffee table jazz volumes.
There’s also a pair of mystery/crime novels set in a jazz milieu or featuring jazz musicians as leading characters. Saxophonist Scott Schacter’s Outside In features—you guessed it—a jazz saxophonist down on his luck and embroiled in murder. And Joan Merrill’s And All That Moves has PI Casey McKie solving the murder of a leading jazz vocalist. Both are available on Amazon.com.