Published: October, 2005, Rasputin Manifesto
Jazz CD reviews

By Michael Fortes

Asian Crisis
Asian Crisis
(Asian Crisis)

The Bay Area collective known as Asian Crisis plays as if it were at the center of the civil rights movement of the 1960s - intense, spiritual, fearless, political, determined to make great music and move some hearts and minds to action in the process. However, this group is very much here and now, and though their sound echoes an earlier era, the message they send is that the "earlier era" really isn't ready to be over yet - there's still work to be done. As their name implies, their politics lean towards the tortured history of Asian Americans, yet their message applies to oppressed peoples everywhere.

Ah, but the music… the melody of "Spiritual" mourns, "Heart Mountain Seven" exudes hope, "Stolen Fields" reveals a beautifully-sung Korean vocal, "Fire Within" echoes Coltrane's "Afro Blue," "Lament for Joseph Ileto and Vincent Chin" features a stately muted trumpet, and Asian percussion instruments are featured throughout as the ultimate spice to the basic elements of jazz the ensemble employs (piano, bass, horns). There's undeniable passion and beauty here, the kind that's nearly impossible to resist. It's just the kind of thing that a group with an important message needs, and Asian Crisis definitely has it.

Check out Asian Crisis at www.asiancrisismusic.com


Sonny Rollins
Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert
(Milestone)

Actually, this recording was made four days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Sonny and his band play mostly standards on this date, starting with an underwhelming rendition of "Without a Song." Perhaps the shock of the attacks made it difficult to get on with business as usual, but they got over it rather quickly. By the start of the funky, latin-tinged jam "Global Warming," the band got back in the groove and never let up, seemingly determined to carry their audience away to a better state of mind. After all, as the sax master himself stated before "A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square," "perhaps the music can help. I don't know, but you have to try something these days." Good going, Sonny - and thanks!


Robert Glasper
Canvas
(Blue Note)

Pianist Robert Glasper's trio makes an impressive splash on their Blue Note debut. He receives stellar support from Vicente Archer on bass and Damion Reid on drums, passing their audition with 9 originals and a take on Herbie Hancock's "Riot." While a set like this would have fit in just fine during the '60s scene that nurtured Hancock, it'll likely get lost in the scene of today, where trios like the cerebral Brad Mehldau Trio and the explosive Bad Plus are leading the way. Still, for traditionally-minded piano trio lovers, this is a better than average release, mindful of history yet still quite original, and certainly worth a listen or two before moving on to something else (like Suspicious Activity? SEE BELOW, hint hint...)


The Bad Plus
Suspicious Activity?
(Columbia)

The hottest trio in jazz does it again. This one just might be THE best of the year. Bassist Reid Anderson, Pianist Ethan Iverson and drummer David King all contribute original compositions. No one in particular comes off sounding like the leader, lending a teetering-on-chaos vibe to the proceedings. Every track is bursting with untethered energy. This music sounds like it could have come from no other time but now, with rhythmic allusions to techno at times, especially in "Anthem For The Earnest," and a sense of restlessness and ADD emblematic of the mid '00s. The obligatory deconstructed pop recast this time around is "(Theme From) Chariots Of Fire." Only The Bad Plus could take that corny early '80s easy listening instrumental soundtrack novelty and twist it into a bold, in your face smack-you-upside-the-head and LISTEN BITCH performance. These guys are at the forefront of the movement to keep jazz from becoming nothing more than what Miles Davis once called "museum music." This is jazz that moves forward, that breathes unstoppable life, and makes the earth shake. Keep your emergency kit handy.


Freda Payne
After The Lights Go Down Low And Much More!!
(Impulse!)

This is one interesting, and entertaining, reissue. If you've ever wondered what else there was to Freda Payne besides "Band Of Gold," be sure to check out this limited edition goody. Freda turns out to be a more than credible jazz singer on this, her first album, recorded in 1963 with top players like Bob Brookmeyer (trombone), Phil Woods (alto sax), Zoot Sims (tenor sax), Hank Jones (piano) and Jim Hall (guitar), to name a handful. She brings a showy yet classy sense of style to standards like "I Cried For You" and "'Round Midnight," and even takes a pass at Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" with lyrics by Margo Guryan. If only for the latter tune, this disc is a most welcome unearthed treasure, but as it turns out, the "and much more" in the album's title is far from an empty promise.


Marlena Shaw
The Spice Of Life

(Cadet/Verve)

The sassiest singer this side of Sarah Vaughan, Marlena Shaw has a catalog that spans jazz, pop, disco and R&B, with no apologies. This 1969 set has a little of all of that, plus some kalimba, minus the disco. Its two most notable tracks are the classic soul 45 "California Soul" and her first recording of what would become her signature tune, "Go Away Little Boy." Beyond that, Marlena sings "Stormy Monday" with both guts and meekness, and with a lyrical revision that sounds an awful lot like a record company-imposed cover for a reference to getting high (what else could "go and get fly" mean in 1969?). And in "Woman Of The Ghetto," she addresses legislators on, among other things, how they plan on getting rid of rats in the ghetto. Nope, this lady isn't afraid of speaking her mind, and that's why we love her.

The credits list all the supporting musicians as "unknown." However, as Charles Stepney is one of the arrangers (Richard Evans is the other), and as my ears are still in reasonably good shape, I've a sneaking suspicion that the sky-high female background vocalist decorating "Looking Through The Eyes Of Love" is the late Minnie Riperton. Stepney used Riperton's voice to similar effect in his productions for the late '60s psychedelic soul combo Rotary Connection. Collectors take note…