Brian's Picks


Ben Monder Trio: Dust (Arabesque Jazz AJ 0131) $15.99
In evaluating Ben Monder's work, there are the inevitable comparisons to Bill Frisell's sonic palette, to John Abercrombie's Gateway trio of the '70s, and additionally to the early '80s work of John Scofield. Compositionally though, Monder's work is at times more expansive and freer than his more famous predecessors. Steadily, Monder has been gathering some impressive credits over the past few years as a member of Marc Johnson's 'Right Brain Patrol' and Maria Schneider's Jazz Orchestra. His newest album "Dust" reflects a quieter, more spacious/less aggressive sound than "Flux", his first work as a leader - which might be a more fitting initiation to Monder's personal sonic offering. "Flux" features more obvious rock influences, denser soundscapes, with more settled grooves (to use the term loosely). But here on "Dust", he adroitly balances sparse, textured chording with single-line excursions that often times reveals an underlying 12-tone/serial approach. The support from Ben Street (bass) and Jim Black (drums, percussion) brings tremendous textural variety and controlled intensity to this session - especially Black, who is an absolute master of shifting, crashing time feels. He darts in, out and against the rhythmic flow with an ingenious array of effects and subtle phrasing which keeps this rather low-key affair more compelling to follow. The inclusion of "I'll Remember April" is only a tease, although bass/drums stay relatively close to home, Monder's oozing tone clusters and his alternating between chords/lines subvert playfully away from the basic changes. Monder's "Gemini" (which seems to be constructed over several movements) begins eerily enough with an angular, minimalistic line that gathers momentum only to fold upon itself again and again, eventually careening headfirst into a grunge-like assault - only to end as curiously minimal as it started. If you were looking for the next big post-bop, toe-tapping, chop-busting, pedal-pushing guitarist - look elsewhere. This is dark, spacious, heady stuff that warrants several listens before locking on to its intended target - but it is certainly a challenge worth pursuing.

Ben Monder, guitar; Ben Street, bass; Jim Black, drums, percussion
ra"I'll Remember April", excerpt

Stan Getz/Kenny Barron: People Time (Verve 510823) $29.99 (2CD)
People Time
We are so very lucky to be able to revisit this document of one of Stan Getz's final recorded performances - perhaps not one of his most memorable, but a moving testament nonetheless to his greatness and a brilliant career that spanned over five decades. All of the expressive trademarks and immediately identifiable devices are here - but more than ever, that unmistakable tone. Caught in duet with the resourceful Kenny Barron, this recording finds Getz less harmonically daring than in the past, but yet constantly able to distill his experience and diminishing physical skills into some of the most poignant and stirring music of his career. Even on "Surrey", where Getz at times loses some forward momentum, there is still an underlying feeling of joy and discovery, evidenced by Barron's choruses which finds the pianist first ruminating over sinewy left hand lines, then developing an exciting and masterfully rhythmic and percussive statement before yielding once again to Getz's tenor, who peppers his phrases with slap-tonguing effects and simultaneously spins lines against Barron's attentive contributions. Barron is consistently creative and unleashes some high-voltage choruses especially when he allows his left hand more rhythmic freedom, but his accompaniment here is always focused and secure.

But the at heart of this set are the ballads - emotionally charged not only because of Getz's illness (which he eventually succumbed to only a few months after this recording), but due to Getz's mastery of phrasing and innate ability to create complete musical statements out of seemingly orphaned melodic fragments. Perhaps the final track here - Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes" sums up the experience best. It is difficult not to feel Getz's sublime musical directness throughout, as his delivery here occasionally falters, only to be redeemed by brief, almost blinding examples of that golden, silken tone which he came to rely on more towards the end of his life. It is impossible to escape both the emotional power of his sound and his boundless lyrical abilities.

Kenny Barron, piano; Stan Getz, tenor sax
ra"(There Is) No Greater Love", excerpt

Jon Gordon: Ask Me Now (Criss Cross 1099) $17.99
Ask Me Now
Winner of the 1996 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition, Gordon has assembled a supporting cast of players that is every bit as creative and fiery as its young, anointed leader. Gordon has spent time in the sax sections of both the John Fedchock and Maria Schneider Big Bands (and covers Schneider's gorgeous mood piece "Gush"), and will undoubtedly receive wider recognition after this prestigious honor. Gordon's approach seems to synthesize all the traditional role models and incorporate them with a decidedly modern, post-bop twist. His improvisations are exciting and filled with such urgency that you can't help but be mesmerized by his playing. The selection of tunes runs the spectrum: Duke Pearson's little-heard "Gaslight" evokes the classic 60's Blue Note sound; a slightly abstracted "What Is This Thing Called Love" demonstrates the sympathetic interplay of this group, especially the propulsive and inventive Billy Drummond. Trumpeter Tim Hagans completes the front line, and turns in one thoughtful ride after another, skating through and around difficult changes with ease. Larry Grenadier shows why he is becoming the bassist of choice in many recent high-profile jazz outings. His time and sound is often reminiscent of Charlie Haden, and plays with unusual depth and economy. But perhaps the news here is the brilliant pianist Bill Charlap - he manages to bring both tradition and vision to this session. His comping is lightning-quick responsive to each member of the group, and his solos are constantly creative, especially how he uncorks an uncanny "Monkish" turn on Monk's "Ask Me Now." Gordon's choruses on the Monk classic serve as a prelude to his future accolades by the Thelonious Monk Competition. This is someone to watch closely.

Jon Gordon (as, ss); Tim Hagans (t); Bill Charlap (p); Larry Grenadier (b); Billy Drummond (d)
ra"Chick's Tune"excerpt

Fred Hersch: Plays Rodgers & Hammerstein (Nonesuch 79414) $14.99
PlaysRodgers & Hammerstein
Hersch has an obvious admiration for, and has absorbed much of Bill Evans' influence - the lithe touch; the attention to compositional details; the wealth of impressionistic chordal voicings - he is the current torch bearer of the lost art of interpreting show tunes, without lapsing into the languid and overly florid realm of "department store" pianistic treatments. This collection of well-known (and not-so-well-known) tunes from the prodigious library of Rodgers & Hammerstein is a compelling and illuminating example of Hersch's complete understanding of the solo medium: he is constantly on track with a playful, yet solid rhythmic concept, and rarely allows his right-hand to stray aimlessly into spirals and scale patterns; a temptation younger and less disciplined pianists would succumb to. But perhaps the most glorious aspect of his efforts here is his uncanny ability to create beautiful lyrical (you can tell he knows the words) and melodic statements while maintaining a 'Chopin-esque' quality - his touch resembles chiseled perfection, and an eloquence rarely exhibited in "jazz" circles. (Witness his version of "Do I Love You (Because You're Beautiful) - the ghost of Bill Evans does seem to pervade his spirit!). This session is not totally devoid of an aggressive edge - romanticism is the operative word here - but his forays into harmonic and rhythmic abstraction are unusually reserved. Gorgeous and supremely musical - this album unfolds treasures upon each listening. An intimate portrait of a pianist in his creative prime, and required listening for all pianists who have ever played a show tune.
ra"A Cock-Eyed Optimist"excerpt

Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra : Coming About (Enja 9069) $15.99
Coming About
A brilliant follow-up to her album Evanescence, this is by far some of the most exciting, original and creative large ensemble writing of the past decade. Even though the instrumentation is pretty standard "big band", there is nothing tired or cliché about these compositions - the use of color and sonority in creating these impressionistic, large-scale works is immediately reminiscent of the late Gil Evans, with whom she spent many years with as student and assistant. Includes "Scenes from Childhood", a suite commissioned by the 1995 Monterey Jazz Festival, and a dynamite arrangement of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps", given a typically 'Schneider-esque' treatment by reworking and displacing harmonic rhythms, with some outstanding soloists to boot.

Features Tim Hagans, Greg Gisbert (tpt); Rich Perry, Rick Margitza (ts); Larry Farrell, Rock Ciccarone (tbn); Ben Monder (gtr).

ra"Giant Steps" excerpt

ra"Love Theme from Spartacus" excerpt

Brian Lynch Quartet: Keep Your Circle Small (SharpNine 1001) $15.99

The current "short list" of outstanding jazz trumpet players must now include Brian Lynch, without question. He has been fairly well documented up to this point, with several fine solo albums, along with his work with Eddie Palmieri, Art Blakey, and Horace Silver. But he is perhaps achieving his most exposure to a wider audience by his work with the current incarnation of the Phil Woods Quintet. Having witnessed this group firsthand, the only disappointment I can voice is he is even more devastating in person than on record. This release is arguably his finest work to date, perhaps more fully realizing his improvisational abilities than before. His solo excursions, not unlike earlier masters such as Lee Morgan, have that rare combination of harmonic daring and technique, giving his playing an abundance of unexpected shifts and turns, beautifully controlled at all times. The first-class rhythm section accompanies with restrained fire and intensity; drumming legend Louis Hayes is naturally inspired and generous.

Brian Lynch (tpt); David Hazeltine (pno); Peter Washington (bs); Louis Hayes (dr).
ra"I'm Getting Sentimental Over You", excerpt

Cedar Walton: Composer (Astor Place 4001) $15.99
A solid, swinging outing from one of the reigning masters of modern jazz piano, featured in a program of original compositions. The all-star group (made up mostly of fearless young talent) accompanies and contributes with surprising maturity, possibly in reverence to the leader's often delicate writing style. There is no doubt this effort showcases Walton's composing skills, evoking the early-60s' Jazz Messengers sound throughout. His piano playing remains one of the most consistent and subtly brilliant models in all of jazz today. Thankfully, this collection seldom turns into a "note-fest"; Roy Hargrove seems to be the least inhibited, ripping off Hubbard-like passages with ease; bass phenom Christian McBride is his usual impressive self, adding to his credentials as the heir apparent to Ray Brown's throne - a rare combination of great comping, technical fluency and magnificent solo ideas. An impressive debut of a new jazz label - graphics and packaging are first-rate, sonics are warm and effortless.

Cedar Walton (pno); Roy Hargrove (tpt); Christian McBride (bs); Vincent Herring (as); Ralph Moore (ts, ss); Victor Lewis (dr).
ra"Martha's Prize", excerpt

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