Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Jazz Gems @ In The Groove

My friend and frequent contributor to Jazz Note, Ken Laster, produces the best jazz podcast that I am aware of. In the Groove: Jazz and Beyond brings a lot of excellent jazz to the net every week. If you like jazz and are looking for good music to purchase, I can't think of a better site. His most recent podcast, however, offers something really unique and valuable.

K.L. and I agree that our frequent worship of jazz heroes (Wayne Shorter and Miles Davis in my case), runs the risk of eclipsing jazz artists alive and working right now. It reminds me of the joke about classical music fans: they believe that the only good musician is a dead musician. That's not quite true for us hard bop purists, but it's getting to be true. Ken does a lot more about this problem than I do. He gives you a lot of contemporary jazz at his site.

But in his recent podcast, "Heard Only Here", he gives you some music files that are not available anywhere else. Don't miss this one, because you might not get another chance. Everything on this podcast is toe-twitching good. I especially liked Star Eyes (alt 1), by Greg Abate. Since I first heard Abate on one of Ken's previous podcasts, I have purchased about half of his commercially available music. So much to get, so little coin! My favorite remains Monsters in the Night, a collection of hard bop compositions named after 1930's movie monsters. Halloween and hard bop, that pushes my buttons! But if you don't like Dracula, don't fear, it's all straight jazz.

I missed Greg when he played out in Rapid City, a mere five hours from where I live. Don't miss his piece on this podcast.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Toots! Jazz on Harmonica

I first heard Toots Thielemans when I was a wet behind the ears jazz fan. A college professor, Meade Harwell, turned me on to Bill Evans. I am not sure I understood any of the music, but it intrigued me, and led me down the path. One of the first albums I purchased was Affinity, largely a duet with Evans of course on piano, and Thielemans playing harmonica. The producers, apparently didn't trust in the duet idea, and insisted on a background band: Marc Johnson plays bass, and Eliot Zigmund is on drums. But Evans and Thielemans are in the forefront all the way. It is still one of my favorite disks. I can recall at will Thieleman's haunting, hollowed out melody on"Days of Wine and Roses," and "Jesus' Last Ballad." It's a gorgeous piece of jazz.

I just picked up another Thielemans harmonica disc (he also played guitar), Only Trust Your Heart. Fred Hersch plays piano, Marc Johnson and Harvie Swartz on bass, and Joey Baron on drums. It's delightful. Here is a cut from the disc. It's a Wayne Shorter composition, and Thielemans gets the steadily falling feeling perfectly.

Toots Thielemans/Speak No Evil/Only Trust Your Heart/1988
I found it on eMusic. You can also get it from Barnes and Noble. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of attending the Newport Jazz Festival (oh... now its gone corporate, so its the JVC Jazz Festival in Newport). What was most striking to me about the festival is how jazz has branched out into so many diverse influences. African, Latin, Carribean and progressive rock sounds have permeated jazz in a profound way. The traditional jazz quintet was a rare sight at the festival.

However, one of those traditional groups put on an absolutely outstanding performance. They were a young British quintet called Empirical. Their compositions are complex, often having solos that could get quite free-form, yet firmly rooted in the underlying structure that the composition was built upon. All of these players have the chops to excel at playing in the hard-bop, free blowing or funky musical forms. Many of the compositions play like suites, with several movements knitted together with thoughtful bridges or transitional solos. Their self-titled album is a good representation of what we heard at the Festival. The album has garnered critical acclaim and awards. The track Plantir, a 16 minute track shows the complexity of the compositions, free soloing, and the ability to bring it back home with a swinging-funky beat.

Photo Gallery of Newport Jazz Festival. (note: if you have additional pictures of the Newport Jazz Festival, I invite you to upload your photos to the gallery.)