Steve Coleman, Functional Arrhythmias (Pi)
For more than 30 years, Coleman has been a leader in music on the forward edge of jazz. This album synthesizes and focuses concepts that the alto saxophonist and composer developed through the M-Base movement he founded in the 1980s. The philosophical and metaphysical aspects of M-Base may never have been clearly explained, but there is nothing unclear about this music. Its crispness, directness and compelling movement are expressed in 14 concise miniatures. Coleman says that his inspiration for the music is the human body as it goes about its business of breathing, thinking, pumping blood and managing hormones and lymph functions. It is music that reflects life. The musicians are Coleman, trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, bassist Anthony Tidd, drummer Sean Rickman and—on some tracks—guitarist Miles Okazaki. They manage to sound at once spontaneous and rigorously rehearsed. There are moments reminiscent of some of Igor Stravinsky’s chamber music (notably in “Medulla-Vagus), of early Ornette Coleman (no relation), and of pieces by Shelly Manne, Shorty Rogers and Jimmy Giuffre in their 1954 recording The Three. However interesting, those similarities are tangential. This Coleman album is packed with original, provocative and important music.
(For thoughts by Coleman and others about his music, see this recent article by Larry Blumenfeld.)
Duke Ellington, The Duke At Fargo 1940: Special 60th Anniversary Edition (Storyville)
The Vintage Jazz Classics 1990 release of this milestone recording is disappearing. Storyville’s 2000 reissue was a welcome effort to keep the occasion alive. Apparently, the two-CD set will remain available. Ellington’s 1940-’41 band was his best from several standpoints. Customarily called by critics and historians the Blanton-Webster band, it found Ellington at a peak of composing and orchestrating creativity for a band of young stars that included bassist Jimmy Blanton and tenor saxophonist Ben Webster. He also had Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Rex Stewart, the newly recruited Ray Nance, Barney Bigard, Ivie Anderson, Herb Jeffries and the whole remarkable crew that make hearing the band one of the most satisfying experiences in modern music. Ellington was touring in the Midwest. The one-nighters included a dance at the Crystal Ballroom in Fargo, North Dakota. Some of the music was broadcast live. To the benefit of posterity, young radio engineer Jack Towers recorded all of it with three microphones and a disc recorder. Towers captured the verve and cohesion of the band in sound whose quality is remarkable for the time and under the circumstances. Cootie Williams had recently left Ellington to join Benny Goodman, but Stewart, Nance and Wallace Jones had no trouble keeping the trumpet section fires burning. The soloists are at the top of their games, with Hodges and Stewart frequently brilliant. Nonetheless, the evening’s first place honors go to Webster for two choruses of “Star Dust” that have imprinted on the minds of generations of listeners. If for nothing more than that masterpiece, this set is a basic repertoire item. But, of course, there is much more.
For a story about one person’s reaction to the Ellington-Webster “Star Dust,” see this post from the dawn of Rifftides history.
Jovino Santos Neto, Piano Masters, Vol 4 (Adventure Music)
Santos Neto alternates between his home in Seattle and his Rio de Janeiro birthplace. In this solo album, he concentrates on his own compositions and pieces by other Brazilians but also plays standards of Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter and John Lennon. A protégé of the monumentally influential Hermeto Pascoal, Santos Neto excels in the music of his native country and in jazz, showing no evidence in his playing that he finds conceptual differences between them. He follows a reflective “My Funny Valentine” with his “Sempre” as a brief transition to Ary Barroso’s ”Na Batucada da Vida,” creating a luscious medley. “Hoping For the Day,” a ballad supported by rich harmonic transitions, seems ready for a gifted writer of lyrics. Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “One Note Samba” glides and swings on bossa nova rhythms that recall the sense of discovery the Brazilian music excited when it first traveled north. Santos Neto invests Pascoal’s famous baião “Bebê” with the drama that makes it one of the composer’s most beloved pieces. The recording captures the Fazioli concert grand piano with rich fidelity.
Mike Longo, A Celebration of Diz and Miles (CAP)
In concert, Longo and his trio in concert alternate pieces associated with the two of the most influential musicians of the twentieth century. Dizzy Gillespie’s musical director from l966 to 1974, the pianist performs five of the trumpeter’s best-known pieces, “Con Alma,” “Tour de Force,” the blues “Here ‘Tiz,” a sprightly take on the bop standard “Ow” and a sizzling “A Night in Tunisia” in which Longo steadily builds intensity and ends with a virtuoso unaccompanied coda. Three pieces from the Miles Davis repertoire were in the Kind Of Blue album, but Longo comes closest to Davis’s spirit in a gambol through “Milestones” and in his lyrical treatment of “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” Bassist Paul West and drummer Ray Mosca are strong in support and impressive in their solo features, notably so in their spots on “Here ‘Tiz.”
Kristin Korb, What’s Your Story? (Double K Music)
The bassist and singer Kristin Korb has married and moved from Los Angeles to Copenhagen. She returns to the US now and then, as she did to record this intimate collection. With only Bruce Forman’s guitar and Jeff Hamilton’s drums for accompaniment and no place to seek cover, Korb must “feel all the heat,” to paraphrase part of her ingenious lyric to Jerome Richardson’s “Groove Merchant.” If she feels the heat, it is not evident. What the listener feels is warmth, swing, good humor and compatibility with her colleagues. She and Forman flawlessly recreate the famous saxophone soli section of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis arrangement of the Richardson piece, a feat of unison singing, playing and lyric writing and a joy to hear. Korb’s singing, impressive from the time of her first recording with her mentor Ray Brown, has increased assurance, a knowing use of inflection and flawless intonation in the upper register. Her bass playing is in the Brown tradition; clean, tough, in tune and rhythmically irresistible. Her solo on “Green Dolphin Street” is a high point. In a varied set of songs by Matt Dennis, Mary Lou Williams, Dori Caymmi, Cole Porter and Frank Loesser, she is as convincing in Porter’s 1940s novelty “Don’t Fence Me In” as in Amber Navran’s contemporary “Always Searching For My Baby.” This could be a candidate for vocal album of the year. But, then, there’s that bass playing.