Rant ‘N’ Roll: Jazzin’ It

Rant ‘N’ Roll: Jazzin’ It

—by , October 2, 2013

The New York band of trumpeter Ralph Alessi is perfect for his mysterioso pilgrimages into outer and inner space on Baida (ECM). Time itself is altered on the title-track. It stands still, then seemingly moves both backward and forward at the same time (a paradox to be sure). By the fourth or fifth listen, one can wrap one’s brain around it…maybe. “Chuck Barris” is more accessible: Miles-like halfway through but then drummer Nasheet Waits confounds the senses by playing a march while Alessi is blowing a dirge. This otherworldly juxtaposition creates a lunar landscape. Tread lightly or you might fall into a crater. “Gobble Goblins” houses a dramatic intensity not unlike that of a good suspense film. “In-Flight Entertainment” has pianist Jason Moran and bassist Drew Gress busy like bees, or, better yet, like traffic on a teeming Manhattan street stopping and starting at rush hour only to slow, gather its strength and build back again. That’s how Baida rolls. Brilliant!

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The self-titled album by Prism (Dare 2) is a no-holds-barred fusion excursion that skirts metal, prog, bop, swing, funk and electric static. This supergroup—bassist Dave Holland, guitarist Kevin Eubanks, keyboardist Craig Taborn and drummer Eric Harland—go for the throat and they don’t care if their animalistic urges aren’t polite. They’ve all performed sweet for the elite in their illustrious careers so now it’s time to rip your throat out. I love it.

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Any new studio recording from Terence Blanchard is an event. The New Orleans trumpeter has firmly established himself, at 51, as the caretaker of a tradition that stems from Pops to Dizzy to Miles. Magnetic (Blue Note) is genius. I can’t get enough of its insinuating melodies, strong adventurous arrangements and star turns by the likes of elder statesman bassist Ron Carter, saxman Ravi Coltrane, West African guitar phenom Lionel Loueke and Blanchard’s band featuring the 21-year-old outstanding bassist Joshua Crumbly. Blanchard can do no wrong. From his unaccompanied ramble to some funk, electronica, modalism, bop and post-bop, Latin and Dixieland, he mixes it up enough to make repeated listenings essential.

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Pianist Roberto Fonseca couldn’t care less about rules. The Cuban composer uses jazz only as his base to explore his own psyche on Yo (Concord), a wide-reaching—jazz, folk, soul, funk—circuitous continent-hopping road trip hitting Africa, Cuba and the U.S. while flirting with Brazil. Daring in conception, with players on both traditional acoustic instruments (dig Sekou Kouyate on the kora, a West African 21-stringed ax) amid oddball synthesized dancehall blips and bleeps, Yo is cool with inventive ideas. The players (four from Africa, four from Cuba), the three singers, the four producers and the spoken-word poet coalesce into an organic whole that captures the imagination like a safari for the soul. “Rachel,” for instance, has not one, not two, but three distinct keyboards—Hammond B-3, Fender Rhodes and Moog synthesizer—in a funkfest worthy of the late George Duke (at only 3:37, it should be the single). Bravo!

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Guitarist Earl Klugh carefully Handpicked (Concord) his material so the 16 tracks of ornate acoustic fingerpicking on such beloved fare as Burt Bacharach’s “Alfie,” George Shearing’s “Lullabye Of Birdland,” Vince Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate To The Wind,” Thelonious Monk’s “’Round Midnight,” Lennon/McCartney’s “If I Fell” and even that old chestnut “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing” sparkle with nimble dexterity. He duets with fellow guitarist Bill Frisell on another chestnut, “Blue Moon” (Rodgers & Hart). He duets with Jake Shimabukuro on “Hotel California” (Eagles). Vince Gill beautifully sings the Everly Brothers hit “All I Have To Do Is Dream.” Klugh’s originals are soft and sensual, make-out music of the highest order. Hey, not everything has to be so bombastic. Klugh’s put me to sleep in the past. Handpicked puts me in the mood.


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