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December 2015 Hot House Jazz Guide is available! Download or read below!

Winning Spins By George Kanzler

Gerry-GibbsTwo extraordinary albums that share the familiar piano-bass-drums trio of mainstream jazz comprise this Winning Spins. Both also have the popular, and often exciting, “live recording” imprimatur. However, that’s where the similarities end. One date is led by a drummer, Gerry Gibbs, the son of 20th Century vibes great Terry Gibbs; the other session is by a bassist, Christian McBride. The pianists in both instances act as primary sidemen. While both are live recordings, one was made in the studio with an invited audience; the other at that hallowed ground of “live” recordings, the Village Vanguard.

Live in Studio, Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio (Whaling City Sound) has drummer/leader Gibbs following on the heels of two jazz radio chart-topping CDs from the same trio. His cohorts compromise a true “dream” personnel: pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Ron Carter. This time they are joined on six of the 16 tracks by singer Cassandra Wilson or trumpeter/flugelhornist Roy Hargrove and, in one instance, both.

While Gibbs relied heavily on familiar jazz and classic pop standards on the first two Thrasher Dream Trio albums, this time he chose old Top 40 songs he and his wife hear on a middle-of-the-road pop radio station verging on “easy listening.” With no track much longer than six minutes, the songs become as much stars of the album as the stellar cast. There are three each by Burt Bacharach and Michel Legrand along with movie theme songs, semi-novelty instrumental hits and Broadway show tunes, including Rogers and Hammerstein’s “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top.”

But whatever the material, Barron and Carter, along with an empathetic Gibbs, especially fine on brushes, work their alchemy to make each song a listener’s delight. Barron’s piano rings the clarion call of Legrand’s “The Summer Knows,” trading fours with Gibbs, and romps through a Latin-inflected “Watch What Happens.” That same tune returns in a heartbeat-ballad tempo for Cassandra Wilson’s last vocal appearance, her most coquettish of the sessions.

Wilson is at her sultry, seductively breathy best on two Bacharach-Hal David compositions: “The Look of Love” with tantalizing rhythm drop outs; and “Alfie,” begun semi-rubato with just Barron and morphing into an eventual flugelhorn solo from Hargrove. The horn man also plays Harmon-muted trumpet on “On A Clear Day,” burnished flugelhorn on the ballad (also Legrand) “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” and swinging choruses on the album closer, Henry Mancini’s “Charade.”

Other movie scores brought to jazzy life by just the trio include “Spartacus Love Theme” from “A Man and a Woman” and “More (Mondo Cané Theme).” But no matter how obscure or seemingly inappropriate the songs, Gibbs and his Thrasher Dream Trio and guests turn them all into jazz gold.

Live at the Village Vanguard, Christian McBride Trio (Mack Avenue), was recorded one year ago during McBride’s annual December stint at the famous Manhattan jazz club. With only eight tracks, just two barely under seven minutes long, the emphasis here is on the prowess of the trio members as much or more than on the repertoire, much of it raw material for extended soloing. Those members—McBride, acoustic bass; Christian Sands, piano, and Ulysses Owens Jr, drums—display a heady exuberance throughout, beginning with Wes Montgomery’s jumpy riff blues, “Fried Pies,” full of vigorous pianistics and solos from all.

A round of introductions does nothing to slow the band’s enthusiasm as it bounds into J.J. Johnson’s most indelible swinger, “Interlude,” highlighted by a long exchange of four-bar solos by Owens and by McBride, at times sounding like a deep Flamenco guitar. The dynamics of the power ballad, a staple of rock music, are explored with jazz depth on Sands’ “Sand Dune” and the Michael Jackson Thriller song by Rod Temperton, “The Lady In My Life,” on which Sands evokes shades of Errol Garner and Monty Alexander in his joyous verve.

McBride spotlights his arco technique on a languid, haunting “Good Morning Heartache,” his penchant for gospel on “Down By the Riverside” and his command of funk on a “Car Wash,” replete with handclaps. However, the album’s biggest winner is a tour-de-force, multi-tempoed “Cherokee.”

Photo Credit:  Kyeshie Mallery

The Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Drum Band with Jonathan Blake and Clarence Penn joining him on drums with Casey Benjamin, saxes; Vic Juris, guitar; Kyle Koehler, organ; Alex Collins, piano, and Corcoran Holt, bass, is at Smalls on Dec. 8. Christian McBride leads his trio, Dec. 1-6, and quartet, Dec. 8-13 at the Village Vanguard.

Bass is the place: Cameron Brown by Elzy Kolb

Cameron-BrownSometimes it feels as if the “what is jazz?” discussion has been going on as long as the form has existed. However, bassist Cameron Brown has no problem pinpointing the essence of jazz: rhythm, listening and a constantly fresh approach.

“Rhythm’s what this music is all about. It’s the aspect that most pulls people in; it’s the most electric and exciting part,” Brown declares. “The essence of the music is from the drum, from Africa. Drummers have the biggest responsibility in jazz: the subtleties of the music, the shading, moving from solo to solo, the shaping of the music is dependent on the drummer’s sensibilities.”

Over the past half century, Brown worked with storied drummers such as Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Ed Blackwell, Idris Muhammad, Billy Hart, Joe Chambers, Lewis Nash and Matt Wilson. Brown’s decade-long collaboration with Dannie Richmond, Charles Mingus’ drummer of choice, had perhaps the greatest impact. Richmond brought the bassist into his own band as well as into the George Adams-Don Pullen Quartet.

“Playing with Dannie was the thrill of a lifetime, he’s an unsung master,” Brown says. “And Don was so special, that was such a thrill for me, to have a guy with that kind of breadth—he could play like Les McCann and Cecil Taylor. That was the band of my lifetime.”

The quartet aimed to bring something new to every performance, a goal that required careful listening. “Playing jazz you have to be aware of so many things: the rhythm, the harmony, what the others are doing, what you might want to interject creatively into the situation. If another player’s improvisationally suggesting something, are you going to answer it? From there, you see where you’re going,” Brown explains.

“With George and Don’s band, our intent was to make the music different every night. That’s what the listening was all about. Same tunes, same framework, make it new. Not just play all our sh**, but see if we can find some different sh**.”

These skills have served Brown well during his half-century of making music—and more than 100 recordings—with giants of jazz. And the skills will definitely come in handy when the bassist celebrates the lead-up to his 70th birthday with four gigs with four bands in four days. The icing on the cake is finishing out 2015 with a fifth gig, New Year’s Eve at the Cornelia Street Café in a duo with singer Sheila Jordan.

The Manhattan phase of the birthday festivities happens Dec. 17-19, at Cornelia Street starting with an evening dedicated to Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, featuring saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, trumpeter Dave Ballou and drummer Anthony Pinciotti. He never played with Ornette, but so much of his musical history is wrapped up with people who were close to him he says, in particular saxophonist Dewey Redman, with whom Brown played for nine years, and trumpeter Don Cherry. “I met Don when I was 19, he was like a whirlwind coming through my life, an apparent human being who was made of music.”

The following night, Cameron Brown and the Hear and Now band, which first recorded in 2004, reconvenes with Jordan, multi-instrumentalist Don Byron, Ballou and drummer Tony Jefferson. Brown enjoys a long association with Jordan, whom he regards as a mentor. “Sheila is amazingly flexible, she can take the role of a horn, sing a beautiful song, anything. I have a love of the human voice. I love singers. I’m not an instrumentals-only snob or whatever truly terrible attitude instrumentalists are supposed to have.”

The third night at Cornelia Street features Cameron Brown and Dannie’s Calypso—named for a Richmond composition—with Jefferson, trumpeter Russ Johnson, and saxophonists Lisa Parrott and Jason Rigby. “I wanted to keep that tune alive, to keep Dannie’s memory alive and to honor him. He’s so important to me.”

The band focuses on a Don Cherry concept, the Cocktail Suite. “I experienced that in his band when I was 20—we would play 10 or 12 tunes in a long string, we wouldn’t stop playing. It was a moment in history when John Coltrane was playing one tune for an hour. Don played continuously but would play a dozen tunes in that hour.” The horn players in Dannie’s Calypso have made the concept their own, including different tunes each gig. “That’s the essence of jazz,” Brown points out.

The birthday gig marathon travels to the Falcon upstate where Jordan, saxophonist Joe Lovano, drummer Billy Hart, special guest vocalist Judi Silvano join Brown. “It will be amazing to have Joe and Sheila together. I have a special relationship with Billy, and it’s my birthday. Judi will jump in and sing with Sheila, and we’ll feature Joe and Judi doing their wonderful free stuff. It’ll be a lot of fun.”

On Dec. 21, his actual birthday, Brown plans a quiet celebration with his family, “If I survive the previous four days,” he declares, laughing.

Cameron Brown will be at the Cornelia Street Café with the following programs: Celebrating Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry Dec. 17, Hear and Now band Dec. 18, Dannie’s Calypso Dec. 19, and in duo with Sheila Jordan on Dec. 31. He’ll be with special guests including Jordan and Joe Lovano at the Falcon in Marlboro NY on Dec. 20.

 Photo Credit:  Fran Kaufman


Another Reason to Celebrate by Elzy Kolb

Experimental journey

Jane GetterGuitarist, vocalist and composer Jane Getter started out playing an acoustic axe in folkie mode, but it wasn’t long before she plugged in, turned up and dropped into applying her agile hands to jazz, fusion and more.

She’s had creative stints with Brother Jack McDuff, the Saturday Night Live band, the Headhunters, Michael Urbaniak’s Urbinator, Kenny Garrett, Lenny White, Regina Carter and others. Getter continues investigating wide-ranging musical territory with her new recording of all-original material, On (Snapper). “Artists who are constantly growing and changing are most inspiring to me,” the guitarist explains. “Lately, I’ve been inspired by progressive rock, progressive metal, while always maintaining my love of jazz. It’s not a conscious thing with me; it’s my natural process. I have an eclectic love of music, including African, roots music, blues, jazz and rock.”

On is the first release from her new band, Jane Getter Premonition, and she declares it her strongest work yet. “I’m writing what I’ve been hearing recently and I’m continuing to evolve.” Daily experiences fueled the writing process for On. Getter wrote two songs, “Surprised” and “Where,” “in response to the toxic political environment we’ve been living in for a while,” she reveals. “Some of the saddening things that people do, cause to happen, allow to happen, make me wonder, ‘If you have a heart, where is it?’”

Her tune “Logan (Would’ve Sounded Great on This)” came about when Getter was developing a bassline that brought to mind a bassist friend, the late Steve Logan. “Falling” is a reminder that sometimes you have to “pick yourself back up and continue,” while “Train” gets part of its lyrics from a homeless man’s monologue Getter overheard on the subway.

Besides CD and download, On is available on vinyl, another first for Getter. “It’s really exciting to have my music on vinyl. You start comparing the sound quality and it’s totally different—it’s warmer, more atmospheric, spacious sounding. CDs are crisper but almost too perfect. Plus, with vinyl, you’re more involved while listening, turning the album over, checking out the artwork, which looks so good at that size.”

Jane Getter Premonition introduces music from On at a release party at Iridium Jazz Club on Dec. 16; she’ll also present some material from her three previous recordings.

Photo Credit ;  Martin Vandory

Bridge Crossings by Cary Tone

Shunzo Ohno Considered one of the most versatile and influential trumpeters in modern jazz, Shunzo Ohno was born in Japan and came to the United States for the first time in 1974 to tour with Art Blakey. He has also performed with Machito, Gil Evans, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Larry Coryell. He has released 16 recordings as a leader, his latest, ReNew, features his original compositions.

Q. What’s the jazz scene like for you in Japan today?

A. Today, the jazz musicians are advanced. They have more experience technically than I ever had when I was their age. The venues are full and jazz is admired and respected in even small communities in Japan. I find it hard to secure work in the U.S. as the clubs are trying to survive by bringing in what they assume will bring in financial success. Those Sweet Basil days are gone for now. I do have hope that this American Cultural Treasure which is deeply embraced by so many cultures will grow and flourish in New York as well as globally. Jazz has the ability to unite and uplift any generation across any cultural boundary.

Q. You dedicate some of your music to people in crisis around the world. Tell us a little about that.

A. All life has challenges. I went through experiences that threatened to take away my ability to play music and life itself. Besides health issues with cancer and a car accident, I found myself homeless and painfully shy in NYC. I don’t think this is any different from most people all over the world. Millions of people face loss and destructive encounters, isolation, be it from natural disasters, war, poverty or personal illness. It almost doesn’t matter what the trigger is, the critical response to develop the dignity of life and hope for the future is always embedded in these circumstances. Hope, determination, courage, can be contagious! It’s not easy to recover. Once we recognize the inter-connectedness of all life, our own life takes on much more meaning. Collectively, we all are powerful and important towards a future of authentic peace and harmony. Each time we are challenged, we have an opportunity to discover a solution we never thought of before. This forces us to be creative, not to repeat. And, of course, it is certainly not easy, but a wonderful way to take one step towards our true identity.

Q. Is jazz music a political statement?

A. It’s hard to differentiate right and wrong, and politics have too many ways of dividing people. Jazz has a unique history and continues to progress and develop. Jazz crosses boundaries like no other genre.

Q. If you were starting out now, would you change anything?

A. I started playing trumpet in night clubs in Japan as a teenager and was incredibly fortunate to meet Art Blakey when I was young. That changed my life. Today’s young musicians have enormous wealth of references and a precious history of legendary musicians. It’s hard to compare then and now. However, I am very optimistic about where the younger musicians are going to take this abundance of art/history/experience in the jazz form.

Q. What is something you’ve gotten into and excited about lately?

A. The last CD I did included hip-hop, spoken word, free style, classic jazz… “genre bending”… seems like so many people of different generations and cultures had so much fun and really enjoy it. Last week we performed a song I was commissioned for in Japan. We performed it with 233-piece orchestra and chorus. To my surprise, the audience was in tears. Collaboration with multiple generations, cultures and artists for me is my new inspiration.

Photo Credit:  Spencer Kohn


Shunzo Ohno celebrates the release of his CD at The Cutting Room Dec. 19 with Clifford Carter, keyboards; David Berkman, piano; Mark Egan, bass and Billy Kilson, drums.  




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