JAZZ CONTINUES TO EVOLVE AND ENRICH A NATION
By Dee Dee McNeil – jazz journalist
September 25, 2016
Like everything else in nature, art evolves and reflects the past and present, wrapped like a beautiful gift that we cannot wait to open and explore. Below are four very different and talented jazz artists who exemplify the evolving nature of jazz. Each, in their own unique way, enrich our culture and encourage their listeners to open their ears and minds to new ways of appreciating jazz music. There is RICHARD SUSSMAN, who believes that fundamental to “The Evolution Ensemble” is the belief that to meet the changing needs and cultural shifts of the twenty-first century, it’s essential for composers and performers to evolve in their aesthetic perspectives by changing the artistic landscape. DAVID GIBSON uses his trombone to pull at his ‘Inner Agent’ inside himself and finds freedom in jazz music. ALLYSA ALLGOOD looks to the past, learning from the masters and putting her own lyrical spin on compositions and jazz melodies created by iconic Blue Note artists, while LOU CAIMANO and ERIC OLSEN endeavor to transform classical Arias into palatable jazzy, new works of art. Each artist has the goal of evolving the music to one extent or another. Here’s my take on what I heard.
RICHARD SUSSMAN – “THE EVOLUTION SUITE”
Richard Sussman, piano/electronics; Scott Wendholt, trumpet/flugelhorn; Rich Perry, tenor saxophone; Mike Richmond, acoustic/electric bass; Anthony Pinciotti, drums; The Sirius Quartet includes: Gregor Huebner, violin, Fung Chern Hwei, violin; Ron Lawrence, viola; Jeremy Harman, cello and Special guest Zach Brock, electric violin.
The warm tone of violins opens the first track and the other instruments join in, sporadically building on the strings like busy fingers. Here is an orchestrated suite, composed and arranged by Sussman, that is richly rooted in the classical genre, but incorporates jazz as a means of parading improvised solos atop the base. There are rhythms and percussive textures that sometimes remind me of gun shots. Staccato Horn lines sing, while the piano chords play in a legato fashion beneath, locking horns with the rhythm section to create “Into the Cosmic Kitchen”. Scott Wendholt is splendid on trumpet.
Richard Sussman’s “Evolution Suite” written for Jazz Quintet, String Quartet and Electronics is a labor of love that Sussman admittedly has worked on for almost a decade. The five-movement composition was funded by a Chamber Music America New Jazz Works Grant and premiered in December of 2015 at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia of Symphony Space in NYC. It was recorded live and the results is this unusual and very beautiful production. Somehow, Sussman has brought together electronics, Straight Ahead, contemporary classical and pop music in his unique arrangements. Track two of the 5-part suite delivers a lovely ballad titled “Relaxin’ at Olympus”. There’s a bit of blues in the saxophone that enters after a very classical piano introduction. It’s sultry and sweet, played by Rich Perry, with the string quartet, rich as cream, chiming in to elevate the arrangement in a chamber-music-kind-of-way.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
DAVID GIBSON – “INNER AGENT”
David Gibson, trombone; Freddie Hendrix, trumpet; Theo Hill, piano; Alexander Claffy, bass; Kush Abadey, drums; Doug Webb, tenor saxophone; Caleb Curtis, alto saxophone.
I have to begin this review by complimenting Positone Records. Every CD this company has sent to me reflects a high quality of jazz artists. It’s been a joy listening to each and every one of them. David Gibson is no exception to this course of excellence. “Inner Agent”, the title tune, is an original composition by Gibson and sets the mood for this entire project. It’s Straight Ahead, no nonsense jazz, just the way this reviewer likes it. Using a quartet of horns to thicken the musical brew, Gibson graciously shares his stage with a group of seasoned musicians. He lets each one solo and sparkle like jazzy jewels. Hendrix is compelling on trumpet, drawing the listener in with big bold tones and dynamic technique. Doug Webb always brings tenor madness to the studio, playing from the heart and Caleb Curtis on alto is a saxophone force to be enjoyed and celebrated. This is my first time hearing Theo Hill on piano and he’s impressive, innovative and skilled, knowing just how to comp and support the artist, then stretching out with solos that make you pay attention. Abadey on drums is powerful and relentless, giving this band the push and rhythmic inspiration they need to spiral up and over his percussive chops. However, it is Gibson’s trombone voice that bathes in the glow of a singular spotlight. They say that trombone is the closest instrument to human vocals and Gibson sings with emotional dexterity and polished technique. He’s an accomplished composer as well as a musician and offers four original tunes on this project. One is “The Scythe”, a high-powered, Be Bop tune that burns with fiery energy with Gibson’s solo floating solidly atop the rhythm section. You can hear Abadey’s drums throughout, egging the band on like a matador’s cape in front of an angry bull. I love the mix on this recording. Bassist, Alexander Claffy, has written “AJ”, a moderate tempo ballad that allows Gibson to set the melodic theme along with his horn section, sometimes harmonically but mostly in unison. If I were to have any criticism, it would be that Gibson’s improvisational solos are way too short. Gibson tackles two compositions by my Detroit home-boy, trombonist Curtis Fuller; “The Court” and “Sweetness”, where he shows admirable technique and self-expression. This is an album of music to be treasured in any collection. Perhaps Curtis Fuller said it best when he gave Gibson this dynamic compliment:
“Out of all the young players I hear in the music today, David is one of very few who speaks the language of jazz.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
ALYSSA ALLGOOD – OUT OF THE BLUE
Jeru Jazz Records
Alyssa Allgood, voice; Dan Chase, organ; Tim Fitzgerald, guitar; Chris Madsen, saxophone; Matt Plaskota, drums.
Here is a poet/vocalist who has taken on the challenging task of writing lyrics to some well-recognized, popular jazz standards composed by iconic Blue Note record company artists. Starting with “Watch Me Walk Away” originally titled, “Dig Dis” by Hank Mobley, her poetry is a reflection of her last name, ‘All good’. She sings in the mode of Lambert Hendricks & Ross or Eddie Jefferson; scatting with words. Allgood’s accompaniment is outstanding, with Dan Chase playing a mean organ and Tim Fitzgerald laying down an innovative guitar solo on this very first composition. Mobley’s swinging-shuffle-of-a-tune is a good sounding board to introduce the listener to Allgood’s band of musicians, minus saxophone. Madsen’s sax appears on the second cut, John Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice,” where Allgood sings Kim Nazarian and Peter Eldridge lyrics. “Speak No Evil,” Wayne Shorter’s composition, features Allgood as a lyricist again and I enjoyed her scat-singing on this cut as well as her poetic storyline. She trades fours with Matt Plaskota’s drums, while singing along with Fitzgerald’s guitar licks. Plaskota is given a moment to shine with his percussive solo taking stage center. Alyssa Allgood is to be commended for tackling some difficult intervals and challenging jazz compositions, like Sam Rivers’ “Beatrice”. Again, she has put lyrics to the Rivers song. But (for me) her voice is lacking that special stylization and ‘Swing’ that jazz demands. Jazz divas like Betty Carter, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Nancy Wilson have set the bar high for style and delivery. On the other hand, she’s pitch-perfect, as well as a fine songwriter. She’s young and has time to develop her style.
Meantime, her talented group carries her with fortitude and professional tenacity. All in all, this is a well-produced CD and when she becomes an instrument, scatting instead of singing words, I find myself more comfortably drawn to Allgood’s music. That’s when she really swings. Allgood has won several jazz awards already in her young career including the 2014 DownBeat Magazine Student Music Award for Best Undergraduate Vocal Jazz Soloist and was recently named a 2016 Luminart’s Jazz Fellow through the Lumninarts Cultural Foundation in Chicago.
Allgood is based in Chicago and her organist and co-arranger, Dan Chase, along with her entire ensemble, are lauded as mainstays on the Chicago jazz scene. Chase is endorsed by Hammond Organ. Tim Fitzgerald has a critically acclaimed book titled “625 Alive: The Wes Montgomery BBC Performance Transcribed” said to be among the ’50 greatest guitar books’ of all time. Chris Madsen has performed with and written for Wynton Marsalis, Victor Goines, Wycliffe Gordon, Bobby Short and more. Drummer, Matt Plaskota, is an educator who performs regularly throughout the Midwest area.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
LOU CAIMANO/ERIC OLSEN – “DYAD PLAYS JAZZ ARIAS”
Eric Olsen, piano; Lous Caimano, alto saxophone; SPECIAL GUESTS: Randy Brecker, trumpet/flugelhorn; Ted Nash, tenor saxophone.
If you are a lover of classical music, you will find this melding of jazz with master aria composers like Bizet, Verdi and Mozart quite interesting. Using only piano as the rhythm section, Olsen lays down a lush classical track for Caimano’s alto saxophone to improvise on top of, allowing jazz and the classics like “Habanera” to co-mingle. The result is a challenging blend of musical freedom with the more structured classical arias. On the very first cut, “Finch’ han dal Vino” by W.A. Mozart, Randy Brecker breaks the icy and repetitive piano line with his creative approach on trumpet. It was Brecker’s instrumentation that held my attention captive during the duet. Having studied piano, this jazz journalist has a limited background in the classical compositions. However, I believe that when you enter the world of jazz, you have to be able to ‘swing’ and to transform classical ideas from the structured to a dance of freedom. Although competent and obviously, technique-wise, astute on his instrument, I never heard Olsen get totally free on his piano during this premiere aria. I applaud the arrangements and the producing of an album that attempts to marry these two musical styles. I know that Ellington has attempted the same thing in the past, as has George Gershwin when he composed, “Rhapsody in Blue”. However, taking well-known operatic arias and transforming them into jazz arias will take more than a concept to birth a healthy and well-favored baby.
This duo has been performing together for sixteen years under the name of DYAD. The meaning of the word ‘Dyad’ is “two persons in a continuing relationship involving interaction.” Five of these recorded arrangements were written by Olsen with two arias having the arranging credit shared by his musical partner, Caimano; (“Flower Duet” and “Meditation”). I enjoyed the jazz waltz arrangement on the Léo Delibes’ composition, “Flower Duet”, that was written exclusively for two soprano singers in classical ¾ time. Like the operatic singers, Ted Nash and Lou Caimano harmonize beautifully, then break out into individual solos. I was impressed with Olsen’s walking, left-handed bass-line, while his right hand deftly kept the rhythm with opulent, harmonic chords. I also found their final tune, “Dio! mi potevi scagliar” very well adjusted to jazz and converted from classical in a most creative and unique way; almost sounding Avant Garde at times. Again, it features both saxophonists Lou Caimano and Ted Nash, and pulls the best out of each musician in a jazzy way that transcends musical boundaries. I suppose that was the goal of this recording in the first place. On these two songs, mission accomplished.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *