Friday, January 24, 2014
Friday, January 17, 2014
Creative Bottle Music
Who is El Guapo? Is it saxophonist Scott Jeppesen? Is it one of the five other LA-affiliated musicians on this album? Whoever he is, based on the tune named after him, he sounds vibrant, light on his feet and guitarist Larry Koonse is definitely a good friend of his. But it can be misleading to trust someone who answers to such a name.
Is this music handsome? Yes. The band is quite polished, sometimes too polished and occasionally the music drifts into a synthetic smoothness that is not always welcome. The album stays grounded thanks to Jeppesen's earnest playing and creative writing but the occasional jolting blemish would be nice.
Jeppesen's version of Richie Beirach's "Elm" is eerily similar to the original 1979 recording. The two tracks can be played simultaneously and line up almost perfectly. It would've been a more interesting statement if Jeppesen had played over the original instead of enlisting his band to recreate it. Nonetheless, he gently flutters over Koonse's nimble support with dreamy results. Producer John Daversa steps out with his trumpet on two tracks including Jeppesen's "Great Odin's Raven" where he trails the saxophonist a few steps on the prodding melody before Jeppesen, pianist Josh Nelson and Daversa make driving statements of their own.
The album is mostly comprised of Jeppesen's compositions. “I Tend To Agree” pits Nelson’s keyboards against Schnelle’s bumping solo while Jeppesen switches to soprano saxophone for "No Drama," a seductive platform for bassist Dave Robaire's swaying solo.
Scott Jeppesen @ DownBeat
Moments of Eternity
It is risky to name an artwork “Moments of Eternity.” That phrase is rarely used flatteringly but pianist Sasi Shalom does not seem particularly concerned about that. He has employed saxophonist Donny McCaslin, bassist Desmond White and drummer Antonio Sanchez to engage in his self-penned snippets of infinity, delivering a propulsive collection of original tunes that amount to an hour of straight-ahead listening.
This album is dedicated to “the children and heroes of Sandy Hook Elementary” but the record is not a maudlin meditation on loss and violence. Only a pair of the tunes out of the seven could be defined as ballads. For the most part, the record hovers in a muscular medium tempo, dishing out strong solos in a more optimistic but no less respectful tone. “Raging Bull” is an appropriately pugilistic jaunt, pushed by Sanchez’s clanging set-up. Shalom and McCaslin spit the rapidfire melody together. White and Sanchez combine for a funky platform for Shalom to dig into before White jumps into a brisk walk for McCaslin’s tenor. Finally, Sanchez gets a subdued texture for his romp, building with splashing cymbals.
McCaslin engages with his soprano saxophone on a few numbers, exploiting its reedy shriek on opener “Shari,” named after Shalom’s wife, and a soaring sprint on the titular ballad. He is in top form throughout the recording, presenting soulful calls on both horns and captivating lines in the spotlight. Sanchez and White are equally engaged, providing enthusiastic pushes at just the right time.
Not that Shalom is outshined by his bandmates. He is lifted by their efforts, presenting his tender compositions in the best possible light. His spry solos and intimate accompaniment are the soul of this recording.
It seems unlikely that there was a lunch break for this
recording. The accompanying notes are union specific
about the session: “Recorded January 29th, 2013 at
Maggie’s Farm from 12:00pm – 6:30pm.” Breakfast was
probably pretty good but if drummer Matt Wilson and
Company wanted to churn out a 13-tune set of originals
and standards, they probably had to hold out for
dinner. The results were worth the fast.
Wilson’s quartet consists of two horns, saxophonist
Jeff Lederer and cornet player Kirk Knuffke, and
bassist Chris Lightcap. Lederer and Knuffke are
constantly intertwined throughout the recording,
frequently echoing each other’s phrases, if not starting
new ones before the other finishes. Although billed as
a “plus”, pianist John Medeski is a major component
on what is really a session by the Matt Wilson Quintet.
The band opens with a popping version of
Ellington’s “Main Stem”. Knuffke and Lederer
introduce themselves with overlapping solos, pushed
by Wilson’s confident thump. Medeski says a short
hello and the tune is over in less than three minutes.
The late bassist Butch Warren’s “Barack Obama” is
treated with grace, Lightcap taking a brief solo that is
more space than sound before Lederer offers a
stuttering clarinet solo and Medeski floats like stardust,
never descending from the upper registers.
Six of the tunes are Wilson’s. Medeski’s gloves
come off for “Some Assembly Required”, pummeling
the piano with every knuckle and sideways elbow.
Knuffke steps in amid the fisticuffs to thread his way
overhead. “How Ya Going?” boasts waxy horn
harmonies reminiscent of Ornette Coleman’s early
experiments while Medeski skitters around the
simmering quartet, dropping spiky, dissonant lines.
The real curveball is Beyoncé’s “If I Were A Boy”,
handled with a stronger backbeat than the original,
giving Knuffke all the room in the world to state the
melody. Crashing cymbals step in midway as Lederer
takes a throaty solo over Knuffke’s simultaneous
bursts. The cover works, swaggering under its
reinvention, a refreshing addition to the jazz canon.
Wits and Giggles
Wits – Live!
The motto of St. Paul, Minnesota is “the most livable city in America.” The temperature in St. Paul on New Year’s Day was -1 degree. As livable as that might be for a penguin, Wits host John Moe knows that a fieldtrip to Southern California in January isn’t too bad of an idea. Luckily for him, the premise of his public radio show is fairly simple and travels easily: comedians and musicians share the stage for some goofy conversation, a few jokes and a handful of tunes. This evening the roster of comedians outweighs the musicians with the Office’s Ellie Kemper joining Largo fixtures Patton Oswalt and Paul F. Tompkins while songwriters Aimee Mann and Ted Leo will bring the guitars. It appears Los Angeles has its livable moments too.
Blister in the Sun
What is it about California that attracts so many weirdos? Is it the weather? The Pacific Ocean? Or is it all those cameras ready for close-ups? Sacramento-based author David Kulcyzk’s new book California Fruits, Nuts & Flakes: True Tales of Caliornia Crazies, Crackpots and Creeps has dug into the tales of forty-five of those characters who helped define the Golden State for the rest of the world as the home of sunburned eccentrics and motivated lunatics. His profiles include freewheelers like filmmaker Ed Wood, proto-hippie songwriter eden ahbez and Jack Pickford, the misfit brother of Mary Pickford whose liver and genitals cost him his career and his life. Anyone who has spent any time on the Los Angeles subway knows there is a rich tapestry of semi-psychotic creative types with ideas to share. In the old days they all had their own TV shows.
Friday, January 03, 2014
|Courtesy of Sara Gazarek|
|Pianist Josh Nelson and vocalist Sara Gazarek keep themselves amused.|
Jazz vocalist Sara Gazarek has been in Los Angeles for over a decade. In that time, she has established herself as one of the pre-eminent young interpreters of the Great American Songbook as well as tackling her own material and recent pop tunes. She embraces the story of a song, lilting through lyrical gems, buoyed by her great trio of pianist Josh Nelson, bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Zach Harmon. Before the band plays at Spaghettini this Saturday night, Gazarek put a lot of careful consideration into identifying the five vocalists who are currently inspiring her. Ask her at the gig and she might have a completely different list.