2006, Rasputin Manifesto
As the title implies, Cuban-born Gonzalo plays his piano unaccompanied on this album. The guy's a dynamic player and packs his phrases densely with swaths of notes, yet also knows when to lay back and take it easy. He plays it soft and gentle on cuts like the opener "Rezo (Praise Be!)" and the old standard "Here's That Rainy Day," but also lets loose with fire and grace on "Quasar" and "Prólogo (Prologue to a Fantasy)." Scattered throughout the program are four short improvised pieces, which go a long way in demonstrating Rubalcaba's expert rhythmic, melodic and harmonic sense. The joy conveyed by this recording indicates an artist who is far from solo, never lonely. For as Rubalcaba himself states in the disc's liner notes, "I have never been more accompanied: by history, nostalgia, memories, affection, faith, and the multitude of unseen companions of solitude." And dig the Tor Lundval painting on the cover!
I always used to think of Concord Jazz as the label of "old fogey" jazz, the stuff that would bore me to tears. That was about 10 years ago. Fortunately, things change, and I was pleasantly surprised when I popped this disc into the changer. Young N'awlins trumpeter Christian Scott's Rewind That makes a great case for the "don't judge a book by its cover" adage, or in this case, don't judge a CD by its artwork. Far from being a trad-jazz retread, Rewind That picks up where Miles Davis left off in the early '80s, just before he started his love affair with drum machines. Funky backbeats, electric guitar and bass, Fender Rhodes, and fiery trumpet playing abound. There's even a take on Miles' "So What" that sounds kind of like how one might imagine Miles himself would have had his band play it in 1983, had he felt inclined to do so. Score for Christian Scott (and Concord too).
You're nobody till Cassandra Wilson covers your songs, so I guess that means we can stop making fun of Jakob Dylan now. Jake's "Closer To You" is in fine company too, as Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Easy Rider" and Willie Dixon's "I Want To Be Loved" also get the Cassandra treatment on Thunderbird. Bob must be beaming with pride. And to top it off, venerable roots-rock producer T Bone Burnett mans the boards for this album, placing Cassandra's trademark husky vocals in a whole new setting. The musicians adding their talents to the pool come from a variety of backgrounds, from classic rock (Jim Keltner) to blues (Keb Mo) to jazz (Reginald Veal) and hip hop (Mike Elizondo), along with the all-around uncategorizable (Marc Ribot). The result is a fresh, exciting blend of jazz, funk, folk and pop, with the genre lines blurring every which way, in classic Cassandra fashion.
With stellar support from Michael Brecker, James Carter and Joe Lovano, and a captive audience in Ornette Coleman, tenor man Odean Pope leads his saxophone choir through this excellent live recording. Pope's arrangements draw equal inspiration from Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus, sounding like semi-chaotic yet tightly controlled big band numbers with wily, transcendent sax solos. Coltrane looms large over this recording too, and not just because "Central Park West" and "Coltrane Time" are in the program. It's his searching, insistent spirit that you hear throughout these performances. Check those liner notes too - Ornette wrote them in his awesomely harmolodic language, and they are presented to us exactly as Ornette handed them in, typos and all. Perhaps he said it best: "Odean pope's [sic] latest cd is the sound map for the use of unresolvebale [sic] ideas which are based on the installation of new territories." Yup, that's it, exactly.
Huh huh, get it? ORGANic VIBES. OK, enough tomfoolery. This is the new Joey DeFrancesco record, and since his mentor Jimmy Smith is no longer with us, Joey has effectively become Jimmy Smith. He leads this session with well-earned confidence, and calls upon a couple of other legends for support - tenor sax man George Coleman appears on two tunes, and putting some vibes to Joey's organ throughout the program is the one and only Bobby Hutcherson. Some young blood is brought on board too in the form of Ron Blake, who adds his talents on flute and soprano saxophone. The program includes a good amount of slow numbers, and Joey holds his usual pyrotechnics back a bit so that his guests can get a word in edgewise. The result is a great soul jazz record more than worthy of the genre's legacy, and Joey's best to date.
Another Jobim songbook? The dude is covered endlessly, though it's certainly understandable. However, this new one by Maucha Adnet, on the all-new Kind Of Blue label, stands out. The light quaver in her voice conveys all you need to know about these songs, which are all sung in her (and Antonio Carlos Jobim's) native Portuguese. No need to take a class to understand what she's singing, though you might end up wanting to. Her support is much like that found on those classic Getz/Gilberto recordings - classical guitar, bossa drums, acoustic bass, and sax. Joe Lovana does the sax honors here, and he's joined by Randy Brecker on flugelhorn and Claudio Roditi on trombone for a full horn section. But these brass players aren't blasting away - this is Jobim material we're talking about here, so everyone's playing nice n' quiet n' tasteful. For a new label set to launch on April 1 of this year, one could hardly do better than to have an album like this in its first batch of new releases.