Recent Listening In Brief
Annie Chen Octet, Secret Treetop (Shanghai Audio&Video Ltd)
Chen is a singer and composer born in China who lives in New York and has an eclectic musical palette with colors from sources as disparate as Turkey, Taiwan and Mongolia. With a rhythm section augmented by guitar, violin, saxophone and trumpet, she employs her robust voice in nine original compositions. Lyrics are in various languages, most of them having helpful English translations in the accompanying booklet.
With impressive effect, the blends of voice and instruments set distinct moods, notably so on the album’s title tune. Chen’s vocalizing in that piece has elements of bebop-like phrasing over complex backgrounds. It produces a feeling of joyous abandon that contrasts with its disciplined setting. Several solos by violinist Tomoko Omura, alto saxophonist Alex LoRe, trumpeter David Smith, pianist Glenn Zaleski, and guitarist Rafal Sarnecki provide further interest. Chen’s voice, gloriously in tune, is an essential element of the arrangements, not only in her solo performance but also as part of the rich blends achieved in Sarnecki’s arrangements.
Sometimes, important recordings linger too long on the Rifftides recent-arrival shelf. That happened to a couple of CDs in Elemental Music’s invaluable series of albums either rescued from obscurity or never issued in the first place. Here, we’re calling attention to a pair of fresh albums recorded long ago in Japan by modern jazz masters.
Woody Shaw, Tokyo 1981 (Elemental Music)
This catches Shaw as he was further refining his adaptation for trumpet of departures that saxophonist John Coltrane had introduced only a couple of years before in his “Giant Steps” period. Shaw was taking harmonic adventuring a step—several steps, in fact—beyond what Freddie Hubbard had achieved conceptually on the instrument. He had a sympathetic frontline partner in trombonist Steve Turre, slightly younger than Shaw, who heard music in much the same way and had the facility to perform in Shaw’s advanced league. The rhythm section for the Japan trip was top of the line in the advanced coterie of young modernists developing in jazz. Pianist Mulgrew Miller, bassist Stafford James and drummer Tony Reedus supported Shaw with a solid understanding of how the music was developing in the early ‘80s. Shaw’s compositions “Rosewood,” “Song Of Songs” and “From Moment To Moment” remind us that at 37 he had honed his compositional ability in parallel with his achievement on the trumpet. His pieces hold up impressively alongside Thelonious Monk’s familiar “’Round Midnight,” the second track on the album.
Dexter Gordon Quartet, Tokyo 1975 (Elemental Music)
The great tenor saxophonist is featured at Tokyo’s eminent Yubin Chokin Hall with the quartet that appeared so often halfway around the world at Copenhagen’s Montmartre club in the years when Gordon lived in Denmark. Indeed, during that period his quartet could nearly be considered the Montmartre house band, with Kenny Drew, piano; Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, bass; and Albert “Tootie” Heath, drums. They were on the road with him in Japan. Nor does the repertoire differ much from that in Copenhagen, with Gordon’s “Fried Bananas,” “It Could Happen To You,” “Days Of Wine And Roses,” “Misty” and Billy Eckstine’s blues “Jelly, Jelly,” Gordon indulging himself in a vocal. They played to a Tokyo audience whose enthusiasm was occasionally on the verge of delirium. Elemental has added bonus tracks from concerts in Laren, Switzerland (Monk’s “Rhythm-A-Ning”, 1973) and New Haven Connecticut (“Old Folks,” 1977). Espen Rud is the drummer in Laren. The rhythm secton on the Connecticut track is Ronnie Matthews, piano; Stafford James, bass; and Louis Hayes, drums. The enthusiasm in both places matches that of the listeners in Japan. If anything Gordon sounds even more ebullient.
Elemental Music deserves credit for discovering and releasing these important installments in the careers of two major artists