New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: dave brubeck

Prime Dave Brubeck Outtakes Rescued From the Archives

What jumps out at you immediately on the new Dave Brubeck Time OutTakes album is how incredibly fresh these songs were when the iconic pianist brought them into the studio in 1959. There are seven tracks here plus a bonus couple of minutes of self-effacing studio banter, streaming at Spotify. Most everything here other than the banter would appear in sometimes radically different form on the Time Out album, one of the ten most popular jazz records of all time. For anyone who might not rank Brubeck among the alltime great improvisers, he puts that theory to rest here. This isn’t just ephemera for diehards: it’s a shock this material hasn’t seen the light of day until now.

The first number is a practically nine-minute take of Blue Rondo A La Turk, Brubeck matching the go-for-broke rhythmic intensity of the final version, although he chills out almost to the point of getting lost when it comes to his solo – which explains why this didn’t make the cut. Still, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond really nails the dry martini sound he so famously emulated.

Beginning with Brubeck’s long neoromantic intro, a similarly expansive version of Strange Meadowlark captures both the bandleader and also Desmond at their lyrical best. Why didn’t this take end up on the record? We’ll never know.

Why the version of Cathy’s Waltz here also didn’t end up on the original album is another mystery: maybe a single, minor smudge of one of Brubeck’s high notes during the last verse in this otherwise jaunty, spot-on performance?

Hearing drummer Joe Morello subtly edge his way into the rhythm of Take Five on his ride cymbal is a trip: it’s easy to forget how much of the bestselling jazz single of all time is a drum solo. Desmond’s solo is a lot punchier here, as Morello’s turns out to be as well. One suspects he hams it up because he knows the song still isn’t ready.

Three to Get Ready is more wryly playful and slower than the final take, bassist Eugene Wright getting more time in the spotlight and having fun with it. The pianist is in lighter-fingered form, by contrast with Morello, in I’m in a Dancing Mood, another perfectly serviceable take. The last number is a “Watusi Jam,” referencing one of the innumerable dance memes of the late 1950s. Desmond sits out this deviously jungly Morello vehicle. Even when Brubeck and his legendary quartet aren’t at the peak of their form here – and 99% of the time they are – the fun they’re having is irresistible. And it’s no less insightful to witness how they went about making history with it.

Dave Brubeck’s Lullabies: Marginalia or Major Revelations?

Conventional wisdom is that music written for family and kids is ephemera. In reality, the reverse is often true: take the Bach Klavierubung, or Bartok’s Mikrokosmos, for example. Freed from the demands of concert audiences or record labels, a composer can follow his or her own muse. Where does the new Dave Brubeck Lullabies solo piano compilation – streaming at Spotify – fall between those two extremes? Somewhere in between.

Brubeck famously broke up his legendary quartet so he could spend more time at home with his kids, so it’s no surprise that he would record this material, albeit decades later for his grandchildren. It’s his last studio recording, but his chops are undiminished. He bookends the album with appropriately tender, subtly ornamented takes of the famous Brahms lullaby. The tracks everybody wants to hear, obviously, are the originals. Going to Sleep is catchy, on the sparse side and strongly echoes Debussy. Lullaby For Iola, written for his beloved wife, is a similarly spacious pavane.

Softly, William, Softly is arguably the best and most poignantly folksy of the bunch. Brubeck deviously reharmonizes Brahms for Briar Bush. The last one, a solo take of Koto Song wasn’t included with the digital promo for the record.

Gershwin’s Summertime fits in perfectly here, in a casual, lyrical way; brooding bluesiness aside, it’s a lullaby, after all. Brubeck works a low-key, subtly ragtime-inflected sway in When It’s Sleepy Time Down South and makes stately art-song out of There’s No Place Like Home.

He indulges in a bit of unexpected dynamics in an otherwise tender take of A Dream Is a Wish Is Your Heart Makes and finds spare resilience as well as classical heroism in All Through the Night. And he goes deeper into lustrous neoromantic mode with the simply titled Sleep.

He also makes lullabies out of a famous Irish ballad and that number from the Wizard of Oz that needs to be put to sleep forever. This isn’t exactly Brubeck at his most irrepressibly inventive, but it’s unbeatable as functional music. Some of the luckiest members of the generation just being born may someday have fond memories of this completely different side of a jazz icon.

Irrepressible, Purist Fun From an Important, Individualistic New Voice in Jazz Piano

On one hand, pianist Jinjoo Yoo is as purist and trad as they get. She’s Monk-ish in her economy of notes, passion for the blues and laserlike sense of a good tune, but she actually doesn’t sound much like Monk. Brubeck is another touchstone – or imagine John Lewis without the booze (hard to do, but just try). For those reasons, her decision to work with the veteran rhythm section of bassist Neal Miner and drummer Jimmy Wormworth really pays off in her new album I’m Curious, streaming at Spotify. She’s playing Shapeshifter Lab this May 13 at 7 PM; cover is $10. If jazz piano is your thing, this is somebody you need to catch while she’s on her way up.

In addition to a knack for a good tune, Yoo has a killer sense of humor, which pops up all over the place on the album. The first track is Blullaby, a jaunty early-morning wake-up call. Yoo lets the sun radiate in, then works a supple, light-fingered, bluesy shuffle and throws in a wry Ellington quote as Miner dances and Wormworth’s deviously offbeat brushwork takes advantage of the room’s natural reverb. Almost imperceptibly, she builds a crescendo until her insistent attack  channels an unexpected gravitas

Yoo nicks the intro to Dizzy Blossom straight from Brubeck, tosses off a handful of cheery flourishes and then gets down to bluesy business, waiting for just the right moment to go sailing into the upper registers. The rhythm section’s approach is much the same as on the opening number.

With its blend of misterioso neoromanticism and the blues, the album’s title track is unselfconsciously Ellingtonian. The way Yoo works this strut from allusively creepy toward a more optimistic direction is just plain classic. Yoo takes her inspiration for the jaggedly incisive, Middle Eastern-flavored And I Call It Home from filmmaker Teymur Hajiyev’s gritty Azeri suspense flick Shanghai, Baku – its modal intensity reminds of Monk more than any other piece here. It’s the album’s darkest cut.

To Barry with Love – a solo number and a shout-out to Yoo’s teacher, postbop elder statesman Barry Harris – balances gleefully flickering, Errol Garner-ish riffs with oldschool majesty. There’s also a slightly more low-key, alternate take of Bullaby. 

Iconic Noir Pianist Ran Blake Offers a Dark Salute to the Great George Russell

It’s autumn in New York. Finally, in this overheated age, we’ve made it there. And what better way to conclude Halloween week than with the latest album by the definitive noir pianist of our era, Ran Blake, which opens and then after fifteen additional tracks, concludes with that song? The cd, Ghost Tones, a tribute to Blake’s old pal George Russell, sadly isn’t streaming anywhere on the web, but you can get a sense of its magically shadowy gravitas from the momentary clips up at cdbaby.

Throughout the record, the saturnine majesty of Blake’s playing is undiminished. Like Dave Brubeck at age eighty, he’s never played with more depth or poignancy. The album is a mix of pieces by Russell – one of the great individualists of the last half-century, an underrated but vastly influential composer who shares Blake’s dark sensibility – alongside Blake originals and a handful of chilly, sepulchral reinventions of jazz standards. The album’s opening track is a clinic in how Blake, playing solo, uses his signature, Messiaen-esque close harmonies to take a moody ballad far deeper into the night than its composer ever dreamed. Then, to wind up the album, Blake offers a spare, guardedly optimistic, far more straight-up take that hews much more closely to the original.

Alice Norbury (Blake’s shout-out to Russell’s wife) opens stately and stern, but then the clouds lift a bit, Blake multitracking his piano with string synth, broadening his usual noir cinematic sweep. As becomes crystal clear, this is a portrait of a profound and formidable personality. Drunmer Charles Burchell’s clave drives the first Russell composition, Living Time, with a white-knuckle tension as bassist Brad Barrett bubbles, Blake swirls and ripples and the horns – Peter Kenagy on trumpet, Aaron Hartley on trombone – punch in, Doug Pet’s tenor sax soaring like a vulture overhead. It’s 70s noir Morricone taken to the next level.

Blake’s solo piano miniature, Paris, perfectly captures that city’s twilit, rain-drenched angst amid the ghosts of centuries past as it rises to an insistent peak, again recalling Messiaen. Telegram From Gunther, a tongue-in-cheek miniature by Blake and another old third-stream pal, Gunther Schuller, makes an intro to the cumulo-nimbus electroacoustic industrial decay of Biography.

The best-known Russell number here, Stratusphunk, gets stripped to its austere, rust-tinged chassis as a solo piano piece. Another, Jack’s Blues rises artfully from a wary foghorn fanfare to an alllusive stroll through a desolate South Street Seaport or Boston Wharf of the mind, lowlit by Kenagy’s Miles-like muted trumpet. Then Blake makes a good segue with a solo take of Rodger & Hart’s Manhattan, taking that same tangent to its logical, briskly walking conclusion. After that, Russell’s Ballad of Hix Blewitt marks a return to plaintive, cinematic sweep with strings and Dave Fabris’ resonant pedal steel.

One of the most dynamically menacing Blake solo numbers here is his Cincinnati Express, building to twisted ragtime and then back. With its bell-like multi-keys,Vertical Form VI shows just how far into the avant garde – think Louis Andriessen – Russell could go and includes a sample from a 1998 London big band concert recording by the Living Time Orchestra. After Blake’s ominoulsy swaying solo version of Jacques Crawls, a spare, spacious take of Russell’s Lonely Place makes a brilliantly apt segue, Pet’s desolate, wee-hours upper-Broadway sax and Hartley’s trombone enhancing the ambience. Another well-covered Russell tune, Ess-Thetic, gets an insistent, menacingly circular solo piano treatment; there’s also an austerely reinvented take of You Are My Sunshine introduced by vertigo-inducing strings and steel. It’s noir music in its most brooding, bittersweet, distantly heartbreaking perfection, and ought to help introduce the brilliance and individualism of Russell to a new audience.

There’ll be a best albums of 2015 page here at the end of the year, and this will be on it. On the other hand, this album deserves a page all its own: there’s nothing in its category released this year that can compare. Blake gets a likely star-studded 80th birthday tribute at Jordan Hall, 290 Huntington Ave in Boston, his longtime New England Conservatory stomping ground, on November 13 at 7:30 PM.

Titanic, Tongue-in-Cheek Pakistani Versions of Western Classics

[originally published at New York Music Daily’s sister blog Lucid Culture]

The Sachal Studios Orchestra‘s latest album Jazz and All That is more all that than it is jazz – and it is all that, most definitely. The Pakistani orchestral ensemble plays Bollywood-style versions of popular Western themes with a titanic, epic Mahlerian/Spector-esque power, driven mainly by a massive string section. Their shtick is to substitute South Asian instruments like sitar, sarangi, wood flute and tabla in place of piano, sax or drum kit when it comes time for solos. They also prove perfectly competent at playing styles from around the world in their original idioms, without any distinguishable Pakistani/Indian flavor, demonstrated here via a vividly Celtic-tinged version of Morning Has Broken and a lavish, string-driven cover of Jobim’s iconic bossa nova hit, Wave. They’re at Rose Theatre at Jazz at Lincoln Center at 8 PM on Nov 22 and 23, where they’ll be collaborating with Wynton Marsalis’ JALC Orchestra. It’s hard to imagine a more potentially explosive cross-cultural orchestral collaboration on any New York stage in recent memory.

The album opens with a full-throttle vamp through Stevie Wonder’s You’ve Got It Bad Girl, with sitar, flute and harmonium over a Bacharach-esque groove. The French chanson favorite If You Go Away (Si Tu Dois Partir) is as much art-rock as it is cinematic theme, a long, sweeping crescendo building as the thicket of percussion grows denser, handing off to terse vibraphone and then piano solos. Moonlight in Vermont opens with a conversation between sitar and fiddle, then a slide guitar, a hypnotically tricky, rhythmic but aptly dreamy reinterpretation that may well be the best version of this old chesnut ever recorded.

Monsoon, by Wazir Afzal, a trip-hop song, is the most hypnotic number here, flavored with moody harmonica, a long trumpet solo handing off to the sitar. The orchestra’s version of the Pink Panther theme is oldschool Bollywood as S.D. Burman would have done it; they wait til the fourth time through the verse to go completely over-the-top with the sitar. The comedy continues with Ponteio, by Edu Lobo, redone as Pakistani disco with a jawharp intro, bass flute and then harmonica adding gravitas to this otherwise airy vamp. And to the orchestra’s massive credit – pun intended – they manage not only to not butcher Eleanor Rigby, but to beef up the original’s macabre surrealism with a barrage of strings which actually push the delicately nuanced sitar line out of the sonic picture.

The worst song on the album is the weepy early 90s REM hit Everybody Hurts…but by eliminating the vocals and doing it as a stunningly simple Americana waltz, albeit with stark traditional fiddle and harmonium, it’s completely transformed into a catchy lullaby. The best and longest song on the album is the Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays tune To the End of the World, which they reinvent as an uneasily glimmering Isaac Hayes-style crime-jazz theme, bluesy piano and dancing bass paired off against the sitar over a black velvet groove. The Dave Brubeck classic Blue Rondo a la Turk is the closest thing to the original here: lavish as it is, the sitar lead sticks very close to Brubeck’s piano line.  And Kafi Jazz (Five Rivers), by Baqir Abbas has the sitar leading a lush, uneasy bossa groove, the tsunami of strings again subsuming the lead instruments, nimble acoustic guitar and then a sitar/guitar exchange brightening the mist. Fans of all of the above artists will find this anything from exhilarating to maddeningly weird to LMAO funny, all of which seem to be the point of this irrepressible large ensemble.