Vacate for a short time, and the postman brings more music than anyone could begin to listen to without abandoning sleep or risking madness. The stack of packages on the left is the accumulation of three days away. In addition, three times that number has piled up since the whaling expedition to Canada. Each package contains at least one CD hoping for a review or a mention. I hate to break it to those who contribute to the flood of mostly unsolicited albums, but it is impossible to sample, much less write about, more than a tiny percentage of them. I wonder if I’m missing the next Charlie Parker. One has no option but to be selective. Here is the latest selection.
Billy Mintz, Mintz Quartet (Thirteenth Note)
Mintz’s range as drummer, composer and setter of moods is on full display in this recording. The variety in his 12 compositions runs from ballads with stately, mysterious, melodies (“Beautiful You,” “Retribution”) through a sort of Detroit boogaloo (“Cannonball”) to what might be called free jazz (“Shmear”) but for its perfectly conceived and executed piano-saxophone melody leading into and out of the fun and games. The multiplicity of rhythms and tonal colors Mintz achieves in “Ugly Beautiful,” would alone make this a candidate for drum record of the year, but every track reflects virtuosity with the instrument and mastery of time. He deserves mention with such percussion painters as Paul Motian and Shelly Manne, and with contemporaries like Joey Baron, Jack DeJohnette, Joe LaBarbera and Matt Wilson.
Mintz’s colleagues are tenor saxophonist John Gross, bassist Putter Smith and pianist Roberta Piket, who also plays organ, and sings on one track. Whether giving body to the long dark tones of “Retribution” or jabbing and darting, as he does in “Dit,” Gross’s daring conception and huge tenor sound command attention throughout. “Flight” is an exercise in quietness, Mintz opening at length with a drummer’s equivalent of sketching before Gross and Smith join him in a brief sotto voce colloquy. Mintz’s resumé includes work with Lee Konitz, Charles Lloyd, Eddie Daniels and Alan Broadbent. Gross was a mainstay in one of Shelly Manne’s most adventurous bands, recorded a memorable trio album with Dave Frishberg and Charlie Doggett and has a track record with musicians as diverse as Ornette Coleman, Lionel Hampton and Toshiko Akiyoshi. Smith is a veteran of work with Broadbent, Thelonious Monk and Bill Perkins, among many others. He resounds in his double-stop support on “Retribution.” Piket, whose own discography has nine albums, plays beautifully on that piece, as she does in her recent solo album.
Despite their substantial backgrounds and high standing with jazz insiders—especially musicians—the members of the Mintz Quart are below the radar of many listeners. This stimulating and accessible album could change that.
Kenny Burrell, Special Requests (And Other Favorites) Live At Catalina’s, High Note
“Age is an issue of mind over matter,” Mark Twain wrote. “If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” It didn’t seem to matter to Burrell when he recorded last November at Catalina’s jazz club in Los Angeles. Just past his 82nd birthday, the guitarist combined the wisdom of his years with the swing and taste that have guided him since he was one of the contingent of young musicians from Detroit who energized jazz in the early 1950s. With tenor saxophonist and flutist Justo Almario, pianist Tom Ranier, bassist Tony Dumas and drummer Clayton Cameron, Burrell’s program includes “Killer Joe,” “In A Sentimental Mood,” ”Little Sunflower” and his charming vocal on Duke Ellington’s and Bobby Troup’s “The Feeling of Jazz.” He moves the audience to quietness with Ellington’s “Sunset and the Mockingbird” and moves them in quite another way, with a swinging stop-time unaccompanied solo, on his classic blues “Chitlins Con Carne.”
Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, Imagery Manifesto (Lefkowitz-Brown)
It is doubtful whether age matters much to Lefkowitz-Brown; at 24, the passage of years is probably not a preoccupation. A tenor sax prodigy who was winning national awards by the time he was 15, the upstate New Yorker is a 2010 graduate of the Brubeck Institute, now working in New York City. His sextet is made up of some of New York’s leading-edge young musicians, here playing 10 of his compositions. Since I first heard him in Rochester when he was 17, I’ve known that Lefkowitz-Brown was one to keep an ear on. With his early promise in full bloom, it is reassuring that he has nurtured his individuality and not succumbed to the post-Coltrane sameness that has made automatons of many in his generation. His conception, tone and control are impressive. He writes interesting tunes that do not function merely as frameworks for blowing; they leave melodic statements. He has surrounded himself with gifted peers: trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, guitarist Travis Reuter, pianist Sam Harris, bassist Linda Oh and drummer Kenneth Salters. Lefkowitz-Brown dovetails beautifully into the end of O’Farrill’s solo on “With Bated Breath.” The two achieve a remarkable blend in their unison playing on the piece. Ms. Oh’s bass provides both power and lyricism. This recording comes as encouraging news about where jazz may be headed.
Bill Anschell, Impulses (Blow Hard Music)
If Raymond Scott (1908-1994) had survived into the full flowering of digital music, he might have produced something resembling Impulses. Like Denny Zeitlin, Anschell is a superb jazz pianist with a fascination for the possibilities of electronic music championed by pioneers like Scott, Robert Moog, Herbert Deutsch and Jean-Jacques Perry. No one familiar with Anschell’s alter-ego Mr. P.C. will be surprised that there are elements of whimsy—even a belly laugh or two—in this electronic project fashioned on his computer. Scott might have recognized himself in the headlong felicities of “Shifting Gears,” but humor is only a surface feature of what Anschell creates in Impulses. Rhythms, notably those from South India on “Shifting Gears” and “For Ranga” and those from rock and roll (and possibly the Black Lagoon) on “Mustang Sally” are essential to its success. So, too, are a marshaling of sounds that can resemble a symphony orchestra one moment and mice scurrying behind walls the next. Everywhere is evidence of Anschell’s thorough grasp of modern harmony. His ethereal treatment of John Coltrane’s “Naima” is a lovely case in point.
Randy Weston, Blue Moses (CTI)
This love child from Weston’s romance with African music and culture was reissued in a remastered CD version a couple of years ago. Somehow, I managed to lose track of it in the stacks. I have made up for that absence by playing the CD repeatedly. It is addictive. My phonograph needle wore the 1972 LP nearly white. Fortunately, laser beams don’t erode CDs. The album features Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and Grover Washington, Jr. on tenor saxophone. Drummer Billy Cobham and bassist Ron Carter are in the rhythm section with Weston on acoustic and electric piano. The percussionists include Airto Moreira. Hubbard and Washington are at the peaks of their careers here, brimming with confidence and power. The big band arrangements, packed with pzazz and canny voicings, are by Don Sebesky. Rudy Van Gelder’s engineering caught the music’s excitement and full range, from the massive bottom tones of the trombones to the delicacy of Hubert Laws’ flute. It’s the kind of all-star sonic fiesta that CTI’s Creed Taylor cherished, and it’s good to have it back. The 37-minute playing length of the album is a refreshing reminder that simply because a CD can hold 80 minutes of music doesn’t mean that it must. Sometimes, less really is more. Pete Turner’s astonishing cover photograph is not as spectacular in digipak size as it was on the jacket of a 12-inch LP, but it is startling nonetheless.
Further Rifftides listening reports will appear in good time. For additional recommendations, see Doug’s Picks in the right column.