Monday, October 29, 2012

Expanded Claytons, Koplant's Third - Bob Stewart

A new Clayton Brothers release is always a family affair-not only due to the actual blood ties of siblings John and Jeff Clayton and son/nephew Gerald, but in the sense that quintet-mates Terell Stafford and Obed Calvaire have become part of the Claytons' extended family through years of touring and recording. On their new CD -- The Gathering" -- that family extends even further with the addition of trombone great Wycliffe Gordon and vibraphone wizard Stefon Harris. Using various configurations of this expanded line-up, the Claytons offer up raucous hard bop, tender ballads, deep blues and soul-stirring funk to create a typically wide-ranging and moving experience.

"Distants" is the third studio release for Eastern Iowa's own Koplant No. Comprised of talented musicians trained in the University of Iowa Jazz Department, the band continues to shatter musical boundaries by unleashing jazz chops in combination with electronica and progressive rock. The horn harmonies of saxophonist Joel Vanderheyden and trumpeter Brian Lewis Smith conjure images of Miles Davis' second great quintet, while bassist Drew Morton and drummer Rob Baner propel the band forward with throbbing sub-bass grooves, ambient textures, and drum machine loops. The maturity of their compositions, the depth of their improvisations, and the strange twists present in Koplant No's music make it truly unique.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Mabern Leads, Johnson & Elias Collaborate - Bob Stewart

Harold Mabern, one of jazz's most enduring and dazzlingly skilled pianists, steps into the spotlight as a leader on his new CD, "Mr. Lucky: a Tribute to Sammy Davis Jr." During his time on the scene as sideman and leader, the Memphis native has played with such greats as Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Wes Montgomery and Sarah Vaughan. With his long-time colleague, Eric Alexander, Mabern romps and stomps through an interesting repertoire of songs associated with Sammy Davis, Jr., for whose musicianship and his humanity the pianist has a great deal of respect and admiration.

"Swept Away sees the top-class foursome of bassist Marc Johnson, pianist Eliane Elias, drummer Joey Baron and saxophonist Joe Lovano commune over music that is engaging and sensual, poetic and swinging. There is also a spacious feel to the music that stems from the environment in which much of it was written, the home Johnson and Elias share in the Hamptons, New York. "I've written music in the bustle of Manhattan, on airplanes, every hectic sort of place," Elias says. "But we have a very different sort of relationship to sound out there, one that finds its way into the feel of the writing."

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Not Dead....Not Even Sick - Dennis

Is Jazz on the critical list?

Well-known Jazz Critic and author Nat Hentoff has a guest editorial in a recent edition of JAZZed Magazine, "Jazz Revolution Vs. Radio Station Slashing Jazz." He talks about the recent decision by Boston's WBGH-FM to dramatically reduce its jazz programming.

His main point is the disconnect between media and retail's general attitude toward jazz, summarized as "...audience is diminishing, as evidenced by lower audience ratings and sales, and fewer young people are interested in jazz," and the fact that there is rising interest in high school, college and university jazz bands and programs.

Sax player Rod Pierson works with some Linn Mar
students as a part of KCCK's Corridor Jazz Project.
Certainly, that's something we see right here in Iowa. Jazz is thriving in our schools, both at the high school and college level. Some of the most dedicated jazz fans I know are under twenty-five. A young friend of mine posted a picture of his tickets to see Brad Mehldau with the caption "Best. Weekend. Ever."

And I was ambushed by a couple of other college students last summer, demanding to know why a particular artist (whose name would only be familiar to a very knowledgeable fan), who had previously announced an appearance at the Iowa City Jazz Festival, had cancelled (more money to play in Europe, if you're curious).

I was amazed they'd even remembered the original announcement.

Hentoff mentions another article in a similar vein by a friend of mine from Columbia, Missouri, Jon Poses. Jon directs an outstanding jazz presenting and education organization, "We Always Swing." He is worried that the loss of jazz radio shows on big stations in places like Boston and L.A. will echo through smaller communities. "... in herd-like manner, it could give license to smaller-market stations to do the same: 'If WGBH is doing it, maybe we should, too.'"

Of course, the smallest of the small is not a part of that herd. Iowa's Creative Corridor is by far the smallest metropolitan area in the nation that supports a full-time jazz station, and if KCCK's performance during our most recent pledge drive is any indication, our community is committed to making sure generic Internet and satellite stations won't be the sole home for jazz on the air moving forward.

Back in Boston, jazz fans actually staged a "funeral" outside the WGBH studios to protest the programming cuts. Attendance was strong, although at last report, the station doesn't intend to restore any of the programs.

Do me a favor, though, and don't tell any of the 300 jazz band students we'll work with in the Corridor Jazz Project this year, or the 5000 elementary kids who will groove to Schoolhouse Jazz, that jazz is dead, OK?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Anat's Claroscuro; Cables' Muse - Bob Stewart

"Claroscuro", clarinetist and saxophonist Anat Cohen's sixth recording as a leader, presents the most comprehensive portrait of the award-winning Israeli bandleader to date. The disc takes its title from the Spanish word describing the play of light and shade and its moods range from buoyant dances to darkly lyrical ballads. Cohen is showcased in a global potpourri of musical styles ranging from the Creolized chanson of New Orleans and the evergreen swing of Artie Shaw to African grooves and Brazilian choro and samba. Joining Anat and her ace working band are special guests Paquito D'Rivera and Wycliffe Gordon.

Pianist George Cables has been one of the most sought-after sidemen in jazz for more than four decades. His versatile playing and ability to bring out the best in any group's sound have made him indispensible to artists like Art Blakey and Sonny Rollins. Having absorbed a huge variety of sounds and styles and incorporated them into his playing-from harmonically adventurous post-bop to gospel-tinged blues-Cables mines the mother lode of jazz elements on his newest CD -- "My Muse" -- fusing Bud Powell's feeling, Fats Waller's juke joint geniality and Art Tatum's quick wit into his own persuasive utterances.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Second Act From Maceo & WDR; D.C.'s Jazz Nation - Bob Stewart

Saxophonist Maceo Parker pioneered the sounds of funk and soul in the 1960s as the high-profile sideman to the legendary James Brown. He has since established a solo career that embraces not only that seminal funk sound but also jazz, R&B and more. He first encountered the WDR Big Band in 2008 with a Ray Charles tribute and a collection of his own material in rich big band arrangements. Parker reunites with the band for "Soul Classics", a collection of nine songs recorded live at a jazz festival in Germany last year. The new recording captures Parker and special guests in collaboration with the Cologne-based 15-piece orchestra led by conductor/arranger Michael Abene.

Assimilating the sounds of jazz's greatest composers to masterfully create a voice all his own, the veteran composer, alto saxophonist and bandleader Steve Williams takes his Washington, DC-based big band through a tradition-drenched yet thoroughly modern set of original compositions on "Steve Williams & Jazz Nation." Former music director of the U.S. Navy Commodores, Williams has also been a member of the Afro Bop Alliance, the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and the famed One O'Clock Band from North Texas State. Along with special guest, the mighty Eddie Daniels, Williams and the band not only prove that big bands are alive and well, but also exciting, creative and inspired.