Archives for posts with tag: Ahmad Jamal

Album Review: Focus, Shaun Martin (Ropeadope, July 2018)

I liked Shaun Martin the instant I heard his first chord. His debut 7 Summers album (Ropeadope, 2015) is still one of my favourite piano jazz recordings. Martin has a majestic compositional and musical style. There’s something sweeping and “American” about his sound – a hint of Aaron Copeland.

In Focus, Martin delivers jazz piano in a more conventional trio framework while retaining his knack for rhythm and pleasing chords. This record, more than his last, oozes patience and evokes the touch of a pianist like Ahmad Jamal. To wit, Martin’s version of “Body and Soul” is as classical a rendering of that standard as one can imagine. “Festina Lente” is more grand, bridging contemporary and smooth jazz. “Ms Genell” is an easy-going and bluesy number, named for his grandmother.

Martin writes on his bandcamp page, “this album reminds me to focus on the purity of the instruments and the authenticity of music.” With Focus, he’s achieved this for himself and for the listener.

 

The Players: Shaun Martin (piano), Jamil Byrom (drums), AJ Brown (double bass); On “Focus,” Keith Taylor (bass), Robert ‘Sput’ Searight (drums)

Album Review: The Secret Life of Us, Joey Negro & The Sunburst Band (Z Records, 2012)

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U.K. producer Joey Negro (a.k.a. Dave Lee) has a knack for recreating 70’s funk/disco zeitgeist with a contemporary dance sensibility. This is the fourth album from his Sunburst Band incarnation and its most uplifting and danceable collection.

Missing from this album is some of the innovation we saw in earlier releases which experimented quite brilliantly, with some jazz and electronic fusion. Notably, Until the end of Time from 2004 featured a sensational ode to Ahmad Jamal in the track “Far Beyond,” borrowing Jamal’s climax from his opus, “Swahililand.”

To be fair, there are indeed some unconventional tracks here, including “Jazz the DMX,” a jazz fusion overtop dance beats and “Educated Funk,” a trancey interlude, showcasing some of the talented players in the band, such as bassist Julian Crampton.

Former Incognito guitarist, Tony Remy, also makes his mark, especially in his easy-going rhythm track on “Opus de Soul.”

This album is at its best though across the generous collection of dance tracks that blend soulful house and jazz/funk elements. “In the Thick of It” is a brilliant opener with a nice bossa outro. The title track, sung in duet by Donna Gardier and Diane Charlemagne, is a great melody, reminiscent of Incognito and the Brand New Heavies, circa 1995.

As well as an impressive line-up of vocalists, what stands out are the keyboards of Michele Chiavarini. I don’t think I’ve heard this much use of a bender since 1982! “Where the Lights Meet the Music” showcases Chiavarini’s style, which rekindles the early 80’s pop/funk sound innovated by D-Train keyboardist, Hubert Eaves III.

“Caught in the Moment” uses the Doobie Brothers “What a Fool Believes” rhythm track, continuing a series from prior releases that paid homage to classics. Namely, “Atlantic Forest” from Here Comes the Sunburst Band (1998) is a nod to Paul Hardcastle’s “Rainforest.” And “We Will Turn You On” from Until the End of Time pays tribute to CHIC’s “Good Times” rhythm.

It’s remarkable that a producer as prolific as Lee has managed to keep this outfit together over its now 15 year history. Releasing an album about every 4 years shows confidence, that their music, like its 70’s pedigree, will continue to make people move.

Players:

Dave Lee (producer), Michele Chiavarini (keys), Julian Crampton (bass), Thomas Dyani-Akuru (percussion), Tony Remy (guitar), Pete Simpson (vocals), Frank Tontoh (drums)

Feature: 2012 in Review – New, New to Me, and those we lost

Reflecting on my musical discoveries in 2012, there were many but the theme that emerges is squarely in the 1970’s. That decade pre-dated my musical awareness, which only sprung in the Eighties. But thanks to great DJs and musical curators like Gilles Peterson (@gillespeterson), Jason Palma (@jasonpalma), Kon (@Kon1200), and Huggs (@huggs), I rediscovered an amazing slice of musical magic from the 70’s.

So here are my favourite finds, some new releases, and a reminder of some of the musical greats we lost this year:

New Releases:

New to Me: Re-discovered

  • Leon Ware – An impressive body of work from the 70s that blends soulful vocals, jazz-influenced arrangements, and a dose of disco. The track, “What’s Your Name,” in particular, kills.
  • Ahmad Jamal – Calming, patient jazz that I overlooked in my younger years
  • The Philly Sound – Velvety
  • Donald Byrd – My 70s music hero and a mentor to the Mizzell Brothers, my other 70s heros. Not mention Harvey Mason, a spectacular jazz drummer. Mason’s beats on “Flight time” drive that track more than any other instrument in the arrangement. Not a lot of drummers can do that.
  • D-Train – Groovy synth funk from the early eighties; Credit the keyboard genius of Hubert Eaves III. “Keep on” is simply addictive.

Notable Passings

  • Don Cornelius – Host of Soul Train
  • Donna Summer – Queen of disco
  • Jose Roberto Bertrami – Azymuth keyboardist, one of the world’s best on the Rhodes
  • Sam ‘The Record Man’ Sniderman – Toronto record shop pioneer
  • Dave Brubeck – Legend of jazz
  • Ravi Shankar – Legend of Indian Classical music

Most Anticipated Release in 2013: New album from Alice Russell (expected February 2013)

Happy and Peaceful New Year!

Book Review: The History of Jazz – Second Edition, Ted Gioia (Oxford University Press, 2011)

It is perhaps hubris to use “The” in this book’s title. There are numerous accounts of how “America’s music” germinated and flowered all around the world. But if a handful of people are to be given some latitude, Ted Gioia is one of them. As the founder of the Jazz studies program at Stanford and a former editor of Jazz.com, Gioia has the credentials to speak authoritatively about the jazz form and its beginnings.

Gioia’s research and depth of coverage in this 400 page tome are quite simply awesome. From the root of the African drum, to its evolution in New Orleans during the Slave Trade, to the jazz artists who top the charts today, this account is remarkable for its thoroughness. What Gioia does particularly well is take the reader on a mostly chronological journey through jazz’ family tree without forcing a linear structure. Instead, he takes us along a branch over the course of a decade or so, then pulls back and describes an adjacent branch, explaining its similarities and differences to the former.

I picked up this book simply because I wanted to understand just that – the complex pedigree of today’s jazz music and the great musicians that shaped it over the years. Much of the music I write about has its ancestry in jazz and I enjoy exploring those connections.

In the end, I was delightfully edified by the answers to all the questions I had before I read it: Where did bebop come from? How was it different from hard bop? Why is Ellington so important? Was Bird more influencial than Coltrane? And so on.

What’s more, Gioia cites generous examples of key players, compositions, and recordings. I found it fascinating to read a passage about Ahmad Jamal, for example, and quickly look up the tracks referenced on youtube or iTunes so I could listen along while I read.

At times, The History of Jazz comes across as professorial and academic but Gioia also captures the very human element of jazz with rich biographies of key figures. Generous (and welcome) length is given to Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis among others. Their personal history, influences, and choices are explored in good depth and give us an understanding of what made these musicians unique and how they shaped jazz.

Being a relatively recent Second Edition, the references are up-to-date and on the mark. The book comes full circle with the final sections exploring the “new traditionalists” who have recently reached back to the swing era of the 30s and 40s and the modern jazz era of the 50s and 60s. Reading about Diana Krall or Herbie Hancock in this context and then listening to their current works enriches our appreciation for what their music is today and where it came from.

Although it is a dense and lengthy book, those of you interested in jazz and its many subgenres will find it a valuable resource. For me personally, this book went even further. I hadn’t set out to read it cover to cover but once Gioia started connecting the dots for me, I wanted more. This, for any historian, is a job well done.

Favourite insights I gleaned from Ted Gioia’s The History of Jazz:

  • Louis Armstrong was influenced and mentored by Joe ‘King’ Oliver, one of the first great players of the cornet. But Armstrong was a better virtuoso and heralded the beginning of the age of the soloist.
  • Benny Goodman was the first media celebrity. As radios made their way into American living rooms, band leaders would be among the first household names.
  • Duke Ellington brought a classical approach to jazz, making ‘art’ music instead of popular music. Although not as commercially successful as some of the more dance-oriented bands of the time (e.g. Benny Goodman), his work would later be recognized as some of the most ingenious musical compositions in the genre.
  • Charlie Parker is the father of Bebop, a form of jazz less concerned with the swing rhythm and simple melodies. He and Dizzy Gillespie characterized the form with their super-fast and complex melodies. When challenged about the seemingly off notes he played in his solos, Parker famously said, “there are no wrong notes if you play them in the right context.”
  • The relationships between band leaders and sidemen are numerous and intertwined. All the greats started as sidemen, ascended as leaders, took on new sidemen, who then ascended as the next generation of leaders. Miles Davis is a great example. In the late 40’s Davis at 19 years of age, was one of Dizzy Gillespie’s sidemen. In the 50s and 60s, Davis fostered talents under him like Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and Bill Evans. Each of them went on to be giants of jazz in later years.
  • As with any art form, jazz was shaped not only by its players but by its environment. The advent of the railway, racism, WWII, the rise of television, and the 60s protest ethos all had a significant impact on what kinds of jazz proliferated and diminished through the years. “Free Jazz,” for example, emerged in the 60s when conformity to the norms of the 50s was viewed as artistic compromise.
  • As the big band era gave way to the modern jazz era, some big bands carried on into the 70s. One of the most long-lived was lead by a Japanese-American woman named Toshiko Akiyoshi who, to date, has garnered 14 Grammy nominations. Akiyoshi was discovered in 1952 by Oscar Peterson. She was the first Japanese student at Berklee. Her daughter is Monday Michiru, a well known vocalist in contemporary House and Dance music.
  • Miles Davis’ 1969 release, Bitches Brew, is the progenitor of jazz fusion, most remarkably, the construction of jazz compositions around electronic instruments.