“Genius” is probably the most over-used word in any critic’s vocabulary, but in the case of Seattle saxophonist Steve Treseler, it’s apt. Center Song (Creative Music Adventures), by the Steve Treseler Group, is a 13-track jazz gem (one of the best of the year so far) featuring trumpeter Ingrid Jensen with the same band Treseler used on his 2008 Resonance album: piano, guitar, electric bass, acoustic bass and drums, only this time add a second piano and cello. This is heady stuff! Mix ‘n’ matching the “cool school” of jazz as epitomized by legendary saxman Lee Konitz (whose “Kary’s Trance” is covered) with grunge is a tough task. To balance inspired improvisations like “Ultra Tempo” (and three others) with composed charts, complete with complex arrangements, is even harder. Yet Treseler pulls off all of the aforementioned. He’s also an educator. His book, The Living Jazz Tradition, is being used in courses at the Berklee College Of Music in Boston and Central Washington University in the Pacific Northwest.
Talk about oddball! Nir Felder is a Berklee graduate guitarist/composer from New York whose Golden Age debut (OKeh/Sony MasterWorks) melds non-vocal rock, folk and jazz strains with the avant-garde, complete with samples from the political speeches of ex-New York Governor Mario Cuomo, future president Hillary Clinton, Black Nationalist leader Malcolm X, baseball great Lou Gehrig, Nazi hunter Elie Wiesel and crook Richard Nixon. Pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Nate Smith are on hand to flesh out Felder’s creations in an understated kinetic sweep of mysterioso proportions.
Ghosts In The Attic (self-released) by Austin’s Reed Turner is an Americana gem straddling blues, bluegrass, folk, country and rock. It’s his profound storytelling, though, as told in his likeable, warm, expressive voice, that’s at the heart of this 10-track stunner. Dude’s funny. He’s obviously got a way with words…a real Texas troubadour. Take “Killed That Girl (‘Cause She Was Killing Me),” for instance, where he updates the traditional murder ballad. With spry and sympathetic fiddle, guitar, bass and percussion, Ghosts In The Attic is eminently listenable, entertaining and totally engrossing to the point where you just want to play it over and over to pick up on stuff that gets past you the first time. At least I did.
I’ve always wondered what concert I would go to if I had a time machine. Elvis in 1956? The Beatles in 1961? Billie Holiday in 1932 at the age of 17 singing at Covan’s on West 132nd Street in Harlem? Maybe Jimi Hendrix at the Miami Pop Festival in 1968. The only time I ever saw Hendrix on stage was at a small Greenwich Village nightclub called The Electric Circus when he jumped up to jam with Sly & The Family Stone. I really wanted to wait for him to end the Woodstock festival in 1969 but it was morning before he ever took the stage and, being cold, wet, hungry, thirsty, tripping and having to go to the bathroom, I couldn’t stand there any longer, especially when Blood, Sweat & Tears took the stage. (Al Kooper had already left the band by then and I couldn’t stand David Clayton-Thomas.) Anyway, my time machine arrived at my doorstep in the CD form of Miami Pop Festival (Experience Hendrix/Legacy) by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Considering its age, it’s pretty damn well recorded and to hear Jimi in full flight on “Hey Joe,” “Foxy Lady,” “Fire,” “Hear My Train A’Comin’,” “I Don’t Live Today,” “Purple Haze” and five more is about as close as we’re all going to get to time travel.