ALBUMS OF THE MONTH – January, 2013 (and some related comment)
The November, 2012 issue of The Atlantic contained a pitifully myopic article entitled “The End of Jazz”. Essentially, its author argued that since the traditional songbook has become passe and with nothing new coming into the jazz repertoire since 1960 the music has exhausted its relevancy. What we have here is a severe case of ignoratio elenchi.
In basing the state of jazz music upon the premise of popular song as its soul, substance and raison d'etre, the writer completely ignored over half a century of musical evolution. While the era of the great songwriters: Porter, Kern, Cahn, Rogers, Young, Gershwin, et al has passed, composition is an on-going affair. Since 1960 we have had music from Jobim, Lennon and McCartney, Mandel, Newman, Stevie Wonder and many others that has been incorporated into the jazz songbook. Nor is jazz merely about popular song; it has its own evolving list of jazz standards from such prolific artists as Miles Davis, Benny Golson, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter and Horace Silver, and intriguing new pieces being written ever since their heyday, thereby expanding the jazz book as an on-going proposition. But it doesn't stop there. Not only is the music evolving compositionally, it is perhaps the most vibrant form of rhythmic expression, embracing world influences from afro-cuban and bossa nova through blues in ever metamorphosing arrangements that challenge improvisation and constantly reinvigorate the nature of the music being produced. It is difficult to imagine that anyone who is hearing the cornucopia of jazz music coming our way over the past year could fail to attest to the potency of the music form. Two recent releases are so indicative of this contemporary vitality that we have decided to make both of them our album(s) of the month.
ERNEST DAWKINS – AFRO STRAIGHT - DELMARK
Saxophonist Ernest Dawkins is a longtime staple of the Chicago area jazz community, being former Chairman of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, having established The Englewood Jazz Festival and founded Live The Spirit Residency, a not-for-profit arts organization committed to improving access to creative and improvised music within the city of Chicago. No surprise then, that his recent release “Afro Straight” is on Chicago's Delmark label which has documented Chicagoland blues and jazz for many a year.
Afro Straight's title succinctly establishes the direction of this smoking sextet date full of no-nonsense jazz of the purest kind. Commencing with John Coltrane's Mr. PC (for bassist Paul Chambers), trumpeter Corey Wilkes, Dawkins playing tenor saxophone and pianist Willerm Delisfort glide across a steady rhythmic surf provided by bassist Junius Paul, drummer Isaiah Spencer and conguero Greg Carmouche. It is immediately evident the group is charged with energy and endowed with substantial creativity while riding in a relaxed, in-the-pocket groove.
Dawkins picks up the alto saxophone on Wayne Shorter's “United” - the three soloists again demonstrating a will to cook amidst a vibrant rhythmic underpinning. The facile trick is that the group builds intensity while simultaneously controlling the fire with nicely developed and intricate solos providing manna for the ears.
Dawkins' alto is back for a pleasing reading of Coltrane's “Central Park West” and another Wayne Shorter composition, the intriguing “Footprints”. But perhaps the most striking piece on this captivating date is the group's rendition of “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise”. For those who think the standard book has been exhausted, this track is a clear exhibition of new clothes for an elegant older lady. The ballad comes on with probing tenor and trumpet calls about the melody before the familiar theme is briefly expressed, then Dawkins moves into uncharted territory, his alto negotiating twists and turns that release into straight ahead swing. Wilkes comes on laid back, caressing and teasing the melody then kicking back into a boiling solo that opens the way for Delisfort's simmering outing across the ivories. At its root you know the tune, however, Dawkins' ensemble gravitates toward the blazing sunrise before rejoining the familiar melody and going out as they arrived in a call and response trade between alto saxophone and trumpet.
So if there ain't nothin' new happenin' in jazz, someone forget to inform this group, who do their delightful thing upon “Afro Straight” with one foot in tradition and one foot over the edge, yet serving the whole thing with supple, energetic drive. This sort of music doesn't get old or dated. It's yesterday, today and tomorrow in one tantalizing musical dish.
Ernest Dawkins – alto and tenor saxophones, percussion; Corey Wilkes – trumpet; Willerm Delisfort – piano; Junius Paul – bass; Isaiah Spencer – drums; Ruben Alvarez – congas, bongos, chimes, shaker; Greg Carmouche, Greg Penn – congas; Ben Paterson – Hammond B3 organ
Mr. PC; United; Afro Straight; Central Park West; Woody 'N You; Softly As In A Morning Sunrise; God Bless The Child; Footprints; Old Man Blues; Juju
BILL WARFIELD and the NEW YORK JAZZ OCTET
A WINDOW THAT SHOWS ME THE MOON – Planet Arts
Another thrilling example of jazz in the now is this new release from trumpeter, composer and arranger Bill Warfield. A graduate of the Manhattan School of Music where he won the Maynard Ferguson Scholarship, Warfield has been a member of the New York jazz scene for several decades and is Associate Professor of Music at Lehigh University. He's worked in diverse musical settings, from Ornette Coleman to Mel Torme, has been involved with arranging and orchestrations for Lester Bowie and Eddie Palmieri among others, and his big band has recorded with Dave Stryker and Gene Ludwig as well. Warfield's latest features arranged intros and solos from varied members of the octet with plenty of blowing room for the eminently seasoned musicians comprising the New York Jazz Octet.
The enigmatically titled “Your Reputation Is None of Your Business” features an angular shuffle as starting point for statements from the tenorist Don Braden, Warfield's trumpet, guitarist Vic Juris and pianist Kenny Werner (I said it was a seasoned group). Especially nice upon this recording is the opportunity to hear Don Braden, whose warm-toned tenor notes are a pleasure. Alto and soprano saxist Dave Riekenberg gets his licks in on “Subconscious Lee”; and the title track is a pensive melody that breaks into an easy gait and upon which Sam Burtis's trombone joins the other horn soloists.
“Triple Threat” has a nicely voiced intro and broiling drum beat from Scott Neumann with fine statements from Burtis, Warfield, Braden and Werner. Then “The Revs” brings us to the corner of Bluesy and Funk in Laid Back city. Warfield's “Aubade” is a breezy line with brisk soloing; and his “The Bumpkin Grows A Pumpkin” is reminiscent of “Bye Bye Blackbird” in a casually swinging mode.
The album closes with the entrancing “Kill Flo”, with Juris's guitar, Gene Perla's bass and Neumann's beat setting up a relaxed groove amidst which the horns state the finely arranged theme and the soloists go out upon this exotic rhythm to tell their tales with cascading notes and compelling statements. All in all the octet affords the listener a remarkable combination of arrangements and extensive soloing that again offers clear evidence that jazz music is evolving with unabashed virility, offering compelling rewards for the listener.
Bill Warfield, trumpet, flugelhorn, arranger; Don Braden, tenor saxophone; Dave Riekenberg, alto and soprano saxophones; Sam Burtis, trombone; Kenny Werner, piano; Vic Juris, guitar; Gene Perla, bass; Scott Neumann, drums
Your Reputation Is None of Your Business; Subconscious Lee; A Window That Shows Me The Moon; Triple Threat; The Revs; Aubade; The Bumpkin Grows A Pumpkin; Kill Flo