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Read the latest edition of Hot House Jazz Guide! View and download here in Acrobat: May 2015
Winning Spins By George Kanzler
Guitarist Dave Stryker scored last year with his organ trio (plus vibes), Eight Track, a CD celebrating and covering soul pop hits of the 1970s, released on his Strikezone label. Now he has produced two new albums for the label, one again featuring his organ trio/quartet, this time with a different tenor saxophonist on each of ten tracks. He’s also produced, and appears on five tracks of, veteran drummer Steve Johns’ first date as a leader. Both records reflect the solid mainstream-modern style and emotionally forthright commitment that has been a hallmark of Stryker’s playing for well over three decades.
Messin’ With Mister T, Dave Stryker (Strikezone), is subtitled Celebrating the Music of Stanley Turrentine and Stryker has enlisted ten guests each to play a tune that the late tenor saxophonist had in his repertoire during the last 15 years of his life, when Stryker was a member of his band. Turrentine was known for his bluesy earthiness and ability to connect with and entertain audiences.
The ten guests―all playing tenor sax for the occasion―seem inspired by the spirit of Mister T, playing with a direct, visceral feel for the material to produce what is one of the best recent all-star tribute albums. Each tenor fits in seamlessly with the working band core group: guitarist Stryker, B3 organist Jared Gold, drummer McClenty Hunter and percussionist Mayra Casales (on 6 tracks).
Three of the ten tunes are Turrentine originals. Houston Person, a contemporary of Mister T, kicks things off with “La Place Street,” a blues riff with a backbeat groove perfectly suited to Person’s soulful tenor. “Sugar,” Turrentine’s most famous composition, has Javon Jackson in the tenor chair in a version that celebrates the resilience of the piece. And Tivon Pennicott, at 29 the youngest guest, takes things out with a get down version of “Let It Go,” a quasi-sequel to “Sugar” which closes the album. The oldest guest, Jimmy Heath (88), brings a burnished mahogany romanticism to Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood,” a tune he is known for playing on soprano rather than the tenor he wields here.
Among the highlights of the versions of songs Turrentine liked to play are Chris Potter’s intense “Impressions,” mellowed soulfully down in final choruses that find Stryker initiating, and Potter picking up on, “Wade in the Water.” Also Eric Alexander’s multi-tempo romp through Milton Nascimento’s “Salt Song;” Don Braden’s deep groove “Don’t Mess with Mister T;” alto Steve Slagle’s rare tenor foray on Stryker’s boogaloo “Side Steppin’,” and Bob Mintzer’s tricky interactions with Stryker on Freddie Hubbard’s fusiony, sprung rhythm “Gibraltar.” Mike Lee also interacts deftly with Stryker on Michel Legrand’s “Pieces of Dreams.”
The impetus for Family, Steve Johns (Strikezone), was the imminent departure for college of Johns’ and Debbie Keefe Johns’ son, Daryl, a precociously talented 18-year-old bassist. Johns wanted to document the musical rapport the three have developed, expanding, with producer Stryker or Bob DeVos, into a quartet for this debut album. While Johns’ reputation as a top rank drummer is long established, the other Johns family members are revelations. Debbie Keefe Johns is commanding and authoritative on tenor sax, with strong ideas to match a distinctive tone; she also has an appealingly lilting sound on soprano sax. Bassist Daryl is not only a solid timekeeper on acoustic bass, but also a confident soloist. And, his electric bass work on three of the nine tracks has that too-rare quality of meshing with the rest of the group.
Leader Johns contributes four tunes, one co-written with Jeff Holmes, who also composed “So You Say” for the date. His ballad, “Bogey and Bacall,” is as captivating as the celebrated celluloid couple, with a dreamy tenor sax theme following moody nylon string guitar from Stryker and preceding a lyrical bass solo. “DKJ,” for the three family members, is a catchy swing theme with alternating rhythms and spunky soprano sax, while “Sleepwalk” mixes stop-time and blues, with a Wes Montgomery vibe from Stryker, whose “Shadowboxing” is the CD’s overtly neo-bop tune. As fitting for a drummer’s album, myriad rhythms and a few time signatures are essayed along the way, all entertainingly. The whole thing ends on a quirky note, as Daryl adds his squeaking, squealing rubber pig toy’s noises to the funky, odd-meter “Chunk.”
Dave Stryker’s Organ Trio and surprise guest tenor saxophonists celebrate the CD release of Messin’ With Mister T at Trumpets on May 30. Steve Johns celebrates the CD release of Family with the musicians from the recording at Jazz at Kitano on May 28.
Kenny Garrett: Taking His Audience on a Journey
By Ralph Miriello
Kenny Garrett has been a prominent voice on the alto saxophone for several years and, at 54, he is in the sweet spot of his musical career. He has honed his skills the old-fashioned way: he’s earned it with a career spanning close to four decades and associations with some of jazz’s most celebrated creators. Garrett started in the Duke Ellington Band with Cootie Williams, was a member of The Mel Lewis Orchestra and played in Charles Mingus alum Dannyie Richmond’s band. He was a member of the Art Blakey school of music and gigged with iconic stars Woody Shaw, Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson.
Perhaps Garrett’s most dogged association is with Miles Davis. Garrett played with the legendary bandleader for the last five years of Davis’ life. Garrett recalled a first encounter with Davis when the trumpet player told him “You sound like you’re wearing Sonny Stitt’s dirty drawers.” Although he admits to listening to Stitt and, of course, Stitt’s major influence Charlie Parker, Garrett laughingly disavows the comparison saying, “I don’t actually think I sounded anything like Stitt. But for Miles, he heard that.”
Perhaps a more accurate observation came from his mentor and associate Pharaoh Sanders, who hears a lot of John Coltrane in Garrett’s playing. “I think for me it simply comes out of me… of course John Coltrane is one of my heroes, there’s no denying that, but I can still find a way to get to that feeling in the music, that something which brought me to the music.”
Today Garrett is the consummate professional and certainly his own man. His most recent two CDs, Seeds from the Underground and Pushing the World Away are proof in point. Both albums were nominated for Grammy awards under Best Instrumental Jazz Album. Both feature Garrett compositions that pay homage to some of his influences. “J Mac” from Seeds from the Underground is dedicated to alto great Jackie McLean and was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Instrumental Solo category. “Wiggins,” also from Seeds, is a bow to Garrett’s former high school band and private teacher Bill Wiggins. “Do Wo Mo” is a three-way tribute to Duke Ellington, Woody Shaw and Thelonious Monk, all important influences.
On his most recent album, Pushing the World Away, Garrett continues in the same vein with compositions dedicated to friends and influences. Longtime friend Chick Corea gets “Hey Chick;” his mentor, the late Mulgrew Miller, “A Side of Hijiki;” Sonny Rollins, “J’ouvert;” and his producer Donald Brown is honored “Brother Brown.”
Garrett, no stranger to recognition, has garnered no less than eight wins in the Downbeat Best Alto Saxophonist category. Despite an innate desire to be creative with his music he is always aware of his audience. “What I would like the audience to experience is this journey that I would like to take them on,” he says. “I am hoping the experience will touch them in some way.”
Garrett’s music is energetic, contemporary and yet steeped in tradition. He has grown as a composer, introducing strong melodic content, voices, chanting and Asian influences from his trips to Japan and China. He credits his adaptation of more complex time signatures into his music to his work with guitarist John McLaughlin, whom he played with in the Grammy-winning Five Peace Band.
He is without question an astonishingly creative improviser, weaving his signature sound without making it so complex as to be musically unreachable for the casual listener. His music is not crossover, but bridges the gap between driving hard bop and more popular contemporary fare.
“I just try to play what I hear. I want people to experience what I do…the joy,” he says. As for what’s next, he says, “I would like to do an album with strings and perhaps an album with Japanese Kabuki musicians.”
His current working band includes bassist Corcoran Holt, pianists Vernell Brown and Benito Gonzalez, McClenty Hunter and Mark Whitfield Jr. on drums and Rudy Bird on percussion.
The Kenny Garrett Quintet will play May 22 through 24 at the Iridium.
Crossing Bridges by cary tone
Rich Halley is a saxophonist and composer based in Portland OR who has released 17 CDs as a leader and recorded more than a 100 original compositions. He leads the Rich Halley 4 which has put out five critically acclaimed recordings and features trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, bassist Clyde Reed and drummer Carson Halley. Creating Structure is the band’s latest abum, showcasing 16 spontaneously improvised musical statements. Halley has performed with Tony Malaby, Julius Hemphill, Vinny Golia, Bobby Bradford, Nels Cline, Michael Bisio, Obo Addy, Andrew Hill and Oliver Lake.
Anything in your life that rivals your love, dedication to music?
I’ve always been very interested in nature and the outdoors so I studied biology and love fly fishing, hiking, scuba diving and travel to remote places.
One gig or recording of yours you can’t shake?
The one I can’t shake is the one I’m actively working on. I often hear that music in my head.
One gig or recording of a contemporary?
Probably the most memorable gig I can think of was seeing Sun Ra’s band for two nights in a row during the 70s. It was in Portland at a place appropriately called The Earth.
Favorite place in the world to play, public or private?
I’m usually looking ahead so my favorite place is where I will be playing my next gig. I don’t generally play in places that aren’t conducive to the music.
Do you think playing, appreciating jazz requires intelligence?
Of course! Jazz requires intellect as well as emotion. The music we play makes reference to many aspects of musical tradition and in order to hear those references it helps to have some background in the music.
What do you know today that you didn’t know ten years ago?
I think I’m better at knowing what not to play. And I’ve learned more about how to write for a band in a way that leverages the strengths of the individual players.
Is jazz music a political statement?
It can be, but all instrumental music is abstract and non-verbal in nature so words are required to clearly communicate political ideas.
More musical ideas come to you from dreams or the news of the day?
Although I pay close attention to the news, I operate more on an interior level when it comes to creating music. I’ve definitely had the experience of waking up with part of a composition in my head.
If you were starting out now would you change anything?
I feel fortunate to have come up in the old school where you learned by the oral tradition, so I wouldn’t change a thing.
How have your recorded music listening habits changed over the years?
I tend to listen to more disparate bits and pieces of many types of music these days. That includes music online and on the radio.
What do you struggle with in your creative life?
Figuring out how to fit all the things I want to do into the day!
A life in music, more perspiration or inspiration?
Creating good music requires lots of effort but without inspiration there’s no creativity or deep feeling.
What have you been listening to this week?
This week I’ve listened to Pygmy music, Jimmie Rodgers and Roland Kirk among other things.
What are a few pieces of music that made you the person or musician you are today?
Many pieces of music have influenced me, but in my mid-teens I bought Sonny Rollins’ The Bridge and Coltrane Live at Birdland and they got me started on a musical path.
You’re having a dinner party and can invite three musicians. Who would they be?
The dinners I share with musicians most often involve the members of the Rich Halley 4: Michael Vlatkovich, Clyde Reed and Carson Halley. The time you spend with the people you play with helps to create empathy and feeling which can translate to the music.
The Rich Halley 4 is playing at Quinns May 18 and Korzo May 19.