11.20.2004

Historic First Post

There is no better way to kick off a blog than by posting a Best CDs of the Year list. In no particular order:

Joel Frahm with Brad Meldau - Don't Explain (Palmetto): I don't usually like Brad Mehldau; he strikes me as overly intellectual and detached, even bland. But lately I've heard two CDs that feature him in a duo, and I've loved both. This is one; the other is by bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz (Like a Dream - Crypto Gramophone). Somehow, Mehldau becomes much freer and melodic in a duo setting.
Don’t Explain teams him with tenorist Joel Frahm, who possesses an incredibly warm tone and a unique style of improvisation. Friends since childhood, Frahm and Mehldau perfectly compliment each other so that written melody and improvisation are almost indistinguishable. I can't emphasize enough how good this CD is. Every time I listen to it, I feel tingly all over. If only they would tour together; Frahm is a member of Jane Monheit’s band. She doesn't deserve him!

Joe Lovano - I'm All For You (Blue Note): Lovano is officially on fire, what with his CDs On This Day and now I'm All For You. It is a collection of ballads, save Countdown - a welcome selection from the Coltrane songbook. As any jazz musician will tell you, ballads are harder to play than fast tunes. Yet, with the help of veteran pianist Hank Jones, bassist George Mraz, and drummer Paul Motian (what a band!), Lovano shapes every song into a thing of beauty.

and now a short departure from saxophonists' CDs (don't worry. there'll be more.)...
Jeff "Tain" Watts -Detained (Half Note): Jeff Watts is my favorite drummer today. I've seen him with Branford Marsalis, Michael Brecker (Watts’s playing was the only redeeming part of that concert), and with his own group. In the past, his CDs have been uneven, especially 2002’s Bar Talk (Sony). Although they've had some magnificent music, they've also had some...less magnificent music. Well, Detained sets the record straight. With guest saxophonist Kenny Garrett (who is my god) on hand, this is hard-driving bliss. And Watts has a sense of humor: His composition JC Is The Man, according to the liner notes, was written for a bartender, not Coltrane or the Christian savior.
The CD’s best moment comes on Sigmund Groid when Garrett propels the band forward until it is so funky I can hardly stand it. Watts also tries his hand at singing on ...Like The Rose. Although his vocal skills can’t be compared to his technique on drums, the performance is strangely beautiful.

i promised there would be more saxophonists...
Michael Brecker, Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman - Saxophone Summit: Gathering of Spirits (Telarc Jazz): What's better than one great saxophonist? Two great saxophonists. What's better than two great saxophonists? Three great saxophonists. What's better than three great saxophonists? Three great saxophonists playing music written and inspired by John Coltrane.
I knew that Lovano and Liebman were good before I heard this CD. What surprised me was how well Brecker plays. He can hang with these guys, handling way more than the corny shit that’s on his own CDs.
This isn't a sax battle. There is a good deal of group improvisation and each saxophonist drives the others on to play more and more beautiful thoughts. The band reworks some Coltrane songs in new ways and offers a few very nice original compositions, too, especially Lovano's Alexander the Great. Damn! Lovano really is on fire.

Chris Potter - Lift (Sunnyside): Lift is a breakaway from the more polished, studio CDs that Potter has made. It starts off strong with a mind-blowing saxophone solo improvisation and stays strong. My one problem is with the telephone-like-sound produced by keyboardist Kevin Hays on 7.5. It's really weird; I have no idea what he is thinking.
By the end, Potter has played two solo improvisations, both awesome, as well as originals and standards. Oh, I forgot to mention that the CD was recorded live at New York’s Village Vanguard, always a plus.

I'm going to stop here at a nice even number of CDs - five. Some other great CDs that I am too lazy to review, but which deserve mention, are…

Don Byron - Ivey-Divey (Blue Note): A genius. And a member of MENSA; 'nough said.

Von Freeman - The Great Divide (Koch): Chicago’s great, under-appreciated tenor veteran has put together an instant classic.

Branford Marsalis Quartet – Coltrane’s A Love Supreme in Amsterdam Live (Marsalis Music): This package includes the band’s performance on DVD, along with an audio CD. Both are beautiful. The DVD also features interviews with Alice Coltrane, Michael Brecker, Ned Goold, David Sánchez, Miguel Zenón, and follows Marsalis around for a day.

Maybe it's just me, but I think you should buy every CD on this list. Yah, you know what? I command you to go and buy every CD I mentioned.

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