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 doesnâ€™t realize for a moment or two that he has melded the end of his â€œCircular Templeâ€ with the trio into the beginning of Duke Ellingtonâ€™s â€œTake the â€˜Aâ€™ Trainâ€ or, in the solo CD, his reflective â€œ4Dâ€ into â€œFly Me to the Moon.â€ With bassist Michael Bisio and his longtime drummer Whit Dickey, Shipp throttles back a bit on his powerif not on his intensityto accommodate trio interaction and sideman features like Bisioâ€™s virtuoso bowing on â€œVirgin Complex.â€
â€œFly Me to the Moonâ€ and â€œâ€™A Trainâ€ are the only standards in the release. Beneath Shippâ€™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 â€œwild bursts, salvos of repetition, explosions in the lower regions of the piano and plenty of dissonance.â€ 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 â€œPatmos,â€ 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 Mulliganâ€™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 Crowtime, tone and firm swing form the foundation of the groupâ€™s treatments of standards, originals based on standards and pieces by Crow and Yamazaki. The tracks include Crowâ€™s â€œNews from Blueport,â€ a staple of Mulliganâ€™s big band and quartet, with a melodic solo by the composer that incorporates phrases going back to King Oliverâ€™s â€œChimes Blues.â€ Cutroneâ€™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 â€œEmbraceable Youâ€ is relaxed and irresistibly rhythmic, a combination that characterizes the entire album.
Iâ€™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 donâ€™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. Iâ€™m thinking of instrumentalists who now and then sing because they enjoy it. Benny Goodman and Dizzy Gillespie could sing and didnâ€™t do it often enough. My favorite recording of â€œLauraâ€ is still Woody Hermanâ€™s. Bunny Berrigan may not have been a singer, but his vocal on â€œI Canâ€™t Get Startedâ€ had a lot to do with its becoming a hit. Tex Beneke stepped out of Glenn Millerâ€™s reed section to do â€œChatanooga Choo Chooâ€ and found himself more famous as a singer than as a tenor saxophonist. Zoots Sims recorded a touching â€œSeptember Song.â€
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 heâ€™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 Crowâ€™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 Kingâ€™s great line, â€œâ€¦ I went downtown and bought you some hair, when the good Lord never gave you none.â€ On standard songs including â€œThat Old Feeling,â€ â€œYou Came a Long Way From St. Louis,â€ â€œSkylark,â€ â€œDetour Aheadâ€ and â€œI Didnâ€™t Know About You,â€ notes that wander a bit off center do not detract from Crowâ€™s story-telling through lyrics. Hearing him negotiate Frishbergâ€™s tricky â€œZoot Walks Inâ€ is a treat. Iâ€™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 havenâ€™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, VÃctor de Diego and Jon Robles; trumpeter Julian SÃ¡nchez; trombonist Sergi Verges; and pianist Joan MonnÃ©. 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 Chamorroâ€™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 Adamsâ€™s â€œBossa Nouveauâ€ and two Mulligan pieces deftly arranged for nonet by Verges, who orchestrates for four saxophones Zoot Simsâ€™ famous solo from Mulliganâ€™s big band recording of â€œMotel.â€ 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. Chamorroâ€™s lyrical solo on Ellingtonâ€™s â€œSophisticated Ladyâ€ reflects his admiration for Harry Carney, whom Ellington featured for decades in the piece. Chamorroâ€™s and Robinsonâ€™s baritones intertwine in mutual improvisation for a stimulating conclusion to the title tune, based on â€œI Hear a Rhapsody.â€ 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.