Reviews

Here is a possibly prejudiced assertion: Jazz albums should have program notes. Listeners want and deserve information about the music. It seems that years ago someone in record company accounting decided that since rock albums sold in the millions without notes, why not treat jazz albums the same way and save a buck? Case in point: Don Byron’s Ivey-Divey titled after a saying of Lester Young’s and inspired by Young’s trio recordings with Nat Cole and Buddy Rich. CD buyers would have no way of knowing from the package about that inspiration unless they happened to catch and decode a reference to Young in the fine print thank-yous near the back of the booklet. Reviewers know because their advance copies of the CD came with a news release full of information about Byron’s addiction to Lester, unusual for an avant garde clarinetist, and his adaptation of Prez’s bassless trio format.
The release has quotes from Byron about why he chose Jack DeJohnette as the drummer and Jason Moran as the pianist (Moran reminded him of Jaki Byard), why he thought Lester’s music made sense as a point of departure for free playing, how he has two degrees of separation from Leopold Stokowski, and why the album includes two pieces from Miles Davis’s repertoire. As I often do in such situations, I cut and folded the news release into a size and shape that would fit inside the noteless Blue Note booklet. The consumer doesn’t have that option and remains in the dark about the genesis of a fascinating piece of work. Not all record company news releases would make good liner notes, but this one easily could have. Miles Davis and many other musicians have said that music speaks for itself and liner notes are unnecessary. Yes and no. I love Mahler more and understand him better because, through their album notes, writers like Jeremy Noble and Andreas Maul helped me hear things I might have missed. Serious listeners to serious music deserve insights other than their own.
So, how’s the Byron CD? Stimulating, fresh, iconoclastic, intriguing, a little upsetting. Byron is terrific on clarinet and bass clarinet. Lester Young comes through in softer clarinet passages and in Byron’s tenor playing, of which I wish there were more. DeJohnette is a wizard. This is the first Moran I’ve heard that gives me an inkling of why there is a good deal of shouting about him. I’m still waiting for the light to go on when I listen to his own Blue Note albums. I am particularly taken with Moran’s comping and soloing on Sammy Price’s “The Goon Drag,” which generates a slinky old New Orleans feeling.
McCoy Tyner’s Illuminations tackles that feeling in Tyner’s “New Orleans Stomp,” with trumpeter Terence Blanchard testifying like someone who grew up there, which he did. Lewis Nash, a drummer for whom my admiration is all but limitless, does a fair approximation of New Orleans parade drumming, but I decided to put it to the test by following it with Astral Project’s Burgundy from their 1998 Elevado and concluded that Johnny Vidacovich is still the modern champion of authentic parade drumming. He is, in fact, quite possibly the greatest little-known drummer alive, for the most part remaining near his home in New Orleans. Tyner’s (noteless) CD has, in addition to Blanchard and Nash, saxophonist Gary Bartz and bassist Christian McBride. His piano is leaner and more focused than I’ve heard it since his early 1960s Impulse! and Blue Note albums and his first work with The Jazztet and John Coltrane. The towering modal structures Tyner often erects are absent here. When he compensates with booting bebop on “The Chase” and Bill Evans-like voicings on “Come Rain or Come Shine,” I don’t mind the respite.
That’s enough for today.

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