Recent Listening: James Farm, Allen, Anschell, Et Al

This is the latest of our periodic efforts to keep up with recorded music. Some of these CDs are recent. Some have been languishing in the holding pen for months. Some are timeless standard repertoire items that the Rifftides staff believes everyone should know about. The album titles in blue italics are links.

Joshua Redman, Aaron Parks, Matt Penman, Eric Harland, James Farm (Nonesuch)
For the most part, leaderless cooperatives in jazz have assembled to record and then gone their separate ways. Some of those brief encounters produced enduring music. The 1937 Teddy Wilson- Harry James-Red Norvo-John Simmons “Just a Mood” comes to mind; Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz with the Oscar Peterson Trio in 1953; John Lewis, Bill Perkins, Jim Hall, Percy Heath and Chico Hamilton in the Grand Encounter session of 1956; Cal Tjader and Getz in 1958; Ron Carter, Sadao Watanabe, Hank Jones and Tony Williams for Carnaval in 1993.

It is less common for prominent leaders and soloists to join forces as a working group. Saxophonist Redman, pianist Parks, bassist Penman and drummer Harland combined for the 2009 Montreal Jazz Festival, stayed together, and are on an ambitious world tour under the name James Farm. All of them contribute compositions. After 20 years of prominence, Redman’s virtuosity is well known. Penman’s strength and the depth and surge of Parks’s playing may come as a revelation to many. The power from these four dynamos throbs beneath the surface. With their degree of intensity, they don’t need volume to transmit urgency. Tension and release operate in harness. The unity of harmonic sophistication among Parks, Redman and Penman combines with Harland’s subtle use of rhythmic muscle to bring elation to the bucolic meander of Parks’s “Bijou”. Flavored by Harland’s accent bursts, “Chronos” recalls Bartók in its Slavic country-folk spirit, if not in its inconclusive ending. Overall, the album has a fine balance between peacefulness and strength.

JD Allen, Victory! (Sunnyside).
The pianoless trio worked for Sonny Rollins, Jimmy Giuffre, John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Joe Lovano and Branford Marsalis and it works for Allen. The young tenor saxophonist’s brevity, though not his style, gives him more in common with Guiffre than with his other predecessors. Through the succession of short pieces that make Victory! a sort of suite, Allen’s sound and passion recall Coltrane, but his ability to capsulize cogent statements puts him in a category apart from most of Coltrane’s longwinded successors. Bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston are close in support and in empathy. Royston’s strategically placed cymbal splashes are a delight.

Bill Anschell, Figments (Origin).
Anschell’s liner notes say that he recorded this solo piano album mostly late at night. It has the qualities of nocturnal reminiscing—relaxation, free association, bemusement. His moods and treatments range from the pointillism of “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” through the beefy swing of “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” to the dreamscape of “All My Tomorrows.” Along the way he constructs a fantasia on “Spinning Wheel” and checks out Fats Waller, the Beatles, Joni Mitchell, and Rodgers & Hart.

Herb Geller, At The Movies (Hep). When this showed up three years ago, I carefully put it where I’d be sure to find it and write a review the following week. I found it yesterday. So much for that filing system. The good news is that this is classic work by the veteran alto saxophonist— full of melody leavened by Geller’s bebop piquancy, and with a rhythm section sparked by bassist Martin Wind and pianist Don Friedman. The album has “Close Enough for Love,” “Laura,” “Invitation” and other standards that began life in film. Geller and Friedman take an exhilarating romp through “Ding Dong The Witch is Dead” from The Wizard of Oz. Unexpected surprises: themes from Taxi Driver and Marnie combined in a waltz and “Troubled Waters,” a gorgeous ballad from the 1934 Mae West picture Belle of the Nineties. Geller was only 79 when he made this satisfying album. How is he doing this year? See this recent post.

Peter Schärli, Ithamara Koorax, O Grande Amor (TCB). Koorax’s soft voice is an instrument of tonal precision, innate swing and variety of emotional inflection. She joins Swiss trumpeter Schärli’s trio (pianist Hans-Peter Pfammatter and bassist Thomas Dürst) in a collection of songs mostly by writers from Koorax’s native Brazil. The exception is Pfammatter’s “Wedileto,” which holds its own with pieces by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Ary Barroso, Vinicius de Moraes and other major Brazilian composers. Koorax and Schärli share the use of quietness to achieve expressive power. Each of their solos on the title tune is a prime example of that ability. The way the Swiss swing with Koorax through the samba rhythms of Baden Powell’s “Deixa” and Fernando Lobo’s “Zum Zum” suggests that there must be favelas in Geneva, Bern and Zurich.

Hampton Hawes, The Green Leaves of Summer (Contemporary). This is not a reissue. It has been on CD since 1990 and LP since 1964, when it was recorded. Thanks goodness it is still available, as it should be always. It is the album that marked Hawes’s return to—ahem—civilian life and reflects his joy at that circumstance. The pianist was feeling elated and free because President John F. Kennedy had granted him a presidential pardon after five years of a 10-year Federal sentence for possession, an indiscretion he evidently never repeated. With Steve Ellington on drums and Monk Montgomery on bass, Hawes enriched film composer Dmitri Tiomkin’s title tune with enhanced harmonies and recorded memorable versions of seven other tunes, including “St. Thomas,” “Blue Skies,” “The More I See You” and two remarkable blues performances. This is one of those basic repertoire items mentioned above.

We’ll have more recent-listening reviews soon.

Well, fairly soon.


Stay tuned.

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