Matthew Shipp, The Art of the Improviser (Thirsty Ear).
This album will not show up on the soft jazz and easy listening charts. Shipp is strong medicine. The first disc of the two-CD set has the audacious avant garde pianist with his trio, the second playing alone. They capture concert performances in 2010. In each, Shipp blends separate pieces of music in an uninterrupted flow so that the audience doesn’t realize for a moment or two that he has melded the end of his “Circular Temple” with the trio into the beginning of Duke Ellington’s “Take the ‘A’ Train” or, in the solo CD, his reflective “4D” into “Fly Me to the Moon.” With bassist Michael Bisio and his longtime drummer Whit Dickey, Shipp throttles back a bit on his power—if not on his intensity—to accommodate trio interaction and sideman features like Bisio’s virtuoso bowing on “Virgin Complex.”
“Fly Me to the Moon” and “’A Train” are the only standards in the release. Beneath Shipp’s hands they serve, like his own compositions, as touchstones for an imagination and a keyboard technique that produce what I described a few years ago as “wild bursts, salvos of repetition, explosions in the lower regions of the piano and plenty of dissonance.” He is also capable of joyous headlong energy and bebop articulation that call to mind his hero Bud Powell, as well as impressionist gracefulness like that of “Patmos,” the lacy solo piece that ends this stimulating collection. Shipp seems to be attracting a widening base of listeners who might have avoided him ten years ago. He is no less intrepid than he was then. Maybe the new century is catching up with him.
Crow has been a stalwart among mainstream bassists from nearly the moment he moved from Seattle to New York in 1950. He has worked with Stan Getz, Claude Thornhill, Terry Gibbs, Marian McPartland, Gerry Mulligan’s quartet and Concert Jazz Band, Benny Goodman, the Al Cohn-Zoot Sims quintet, Quincy Jones, Lee Konitz and the Bob Brookmeyer-Clark Terry quintet. That list covers just a few of his associations. His books, From Birdland to Broadway and Second Time Around are permanent items on the shelves of serious readers about jazz. At 83, Crow is still playing bass, and sometimes tuba, in regular gigs. Many of them are with the trio heard in the first of these CDs on his own unnamed label. He, pianist Hiroshi Yamazaki and drummer John Cutrone were the rhythm section for Carmen Leggio, a splendid tenor saxophonist who died in 2009.
The qualities that attracted so many top-level leaders to Crow—time, tone and firm swing— form the foundation of the group’s treatments of standards, originals based on standards and pieces by Crow and Yamazaki. The tracks include Crow’s “News from Blueport,” a staple of Mulligan’s big band and quartet, with a melodic solo by the composer that incorporates phrases going back to King Oliver’s “Chimes Blues.” Cutrone’s brush work is impressive in his solo on that piece. Yamazaki complements his light touch with lyrical ideas, imaginative phrasing and on faster pieces, earthiness that recalls Wynton Kelly. The extended take on “Embraceable You” is relaxed and irresistibly rhythmic, a combination that characterizes the entire album.
I’ve always been a sucker for jazz musicians who sing on the side. Their vocal chops may not be Sinatra quality, their intonation may slip a bit, but feeling, phrasing and lyric interpretation that arise out of experience can compensate. I don’t have in mind doubly- gifted musicians like Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden, present-day phenomena like Diana Krall and John Pizzarelli or singer-songwriters like Johnny Mercer, Dave Frishberg and Jay Leonhart. I’m thinking of instrumentalists who now and then sing because they enjoy it. Benny Goodman and Dizzy Gillespie could sing and didn’t do it often enough. My favorite recording of “Laura” is still Woody Herman’s. Bunny Berrigan may not have been a singer, but his vocal on “I Can’t Get Started” had a lot to do with its becoming a hit. Tex Beneke stepped out of Glenn Miller’s reed section to do “Chatanooga Choo Choo” and found himself more famous as a singer than as a tenor saxophonist. Zoots Sims recorded a touching “September Song.”
Bill Crow has been a vocalist all his life. He was good enough to be a member of the Dave Lambert Singers in his early New York days but gave up singing to concentrate on his bass playing. Now, on his gigs he’s singing again. He sought out the fine young guitarist Armand Hirsch to go into the studio and accompany him on 14 songs. That line above about feeling, phrasing and understanding of lyrics applies to Crow’s singing. His deep baritone, with its slightly ragged edge, is perfect for classic blues associated with Jimmy Witherspoon, Joe Turner and Leroy Carr. I cannot imagine a more ironic delivery than that he gives Saunders King’s great line, “… I went downtown and bought you some hair, when the good Lord never gave you none.” On standard songs including “That Old Feeling,” “You Came a Long Way From St. Louis,” “Skylark,” “Detour Ahead” and “I Didn’t Know About You,” notes that wander a bit off center do not detract from Crow’s story-telling through lyrics. Hearing him negotiate Frishberg’s tricky “Zoot Walks In” is a treat. I’ll take worldly wisdom and musical understanding over bland perfection every time.
Joan Chamorro, Baritone Rhapsody (Fresh Sound New Talent).
Almost exactly two years ago, I posted a video of the rising young Spanish baritone saxophonist Joan Chamorro, with the notation that Fresh Sound Records planned to release a Chamorro CD. That CD is out. As the title hints, it is an accolade to his predecessors on the instrument, but it is a good deal more. The jazz scene that thrives in Spain, particularly in Barcelona, is far from secret, but the depth of talent disclosed in this disc may come as a revelation to listeners who haven’t paid attention to new European jazz. In that 2006 video, the individuality of Chamorro, trombonist Toni Belenguer, bassist David Mengual and drummer David Xirgu was striking, as it is on the CD. So, too, is that of tenor saxophonists Enrique Oliver, Víctor de Diego and Jon Robles; trumpeter Julian Sánchez; trombonist Sergi Verges; and pianist Joan Monné. I mention all of those young Spaniards because their names are worth noting. It seems inevitable that you will be hearing them in years to come. Visiting American Scott Robinson adds his prodigious talent on six quintet pieces, playing tenor, bass and baritone saxophones and trumpet. Since he discovered the extent of their talent, Robinson has become a fan and advocate of his new Spanish friends.
The pianoless quintet tracks pay tribute to Mulligan and Pepper Adams, primary among Chamorro’s inspirations. It is easy to detect their influences in his improvisations, but they flow beneath the surface of his highly personal solos, which include unexpected interval leaps and tonal quirks. He is adventurous in Adams’s “Bossa Nouveau” and two Mulligan pieces deftly arranged for nonet by Verges, who orchestrates for four saxophones Zoot Sims’ famous solo from Mulligan’s big band recording of “Motel.” On his various instruments, Robinson is the foil for Chamorro in six pieces, among them compositions by Adams and a quick bow to Serge Chaloff, the bebop baritone sax giant. Chamorro’s lyrical solo on Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady” reflects his admiration for Harry Carney, whom Ellington featured for decades in the piece. Chamorro’s and Robinson’s baritones intertwine in mutual improvisation for a stimulating conclusion to the title tune, based on “I Hear a Rhapsody.” Now that Chamorro has paid obeisance to his baritone heroes, we may look forward to his developing the distinctive voice we get satisfying glimpses of in this album.