Dancing at the Hall
Jerry Granelli’s Dance Hall on Justin Time Records is a keeper. The 76-year-old drummer — a veteran of the touring bands of The Platters (“The Great Pretender” rambles on here for six wonderful minutes) and Mose Allison — hasn’t lost a beat. The two electric guitarists who propel these songs with a daring, sense of adventure and a funky propulsive energy, just happen to be two of the most wildly talented guitarists on the planet: Bill Frisell and Robben Ford. Add the drummer’s son, bassist J. Anthony Granelli, and the leader has surrounded himself with three crackling, static-inducing electric guitars to really bring home the bacon on “Ain’t That A Shame” (Fats Domino), “This Bitter Earth” (Dinah Washington), “Caldonia” (Louis Jordan), “Meet Me In The Morning” (Dylan), “Boogie Stop Shuffle” (Mingus), “Never Gonna Break My Faith” (Aretha), “Driva Man” (Max Roach) and “The Bitter End” (Clyde Otis). Add a punchy three-piece horn section. Let Frisell and Ford do their genius thing. Mix well. Lap this stuff up. It’s good for you.
Toronto bassist/composer/producer/arranger Justin Gray is the first musician in the world to play the bass veena, an instrument he designed and co-created that’s like a cross between a fretless electric bass guitar and a sitar. He calls his New Horizons “Indo-Jazz” and his group Justin Gray & Synthesis. I call it wild-ass worldbeat. It’s a stunning synthesis of post-bop funky grooves and slyly insinuating folkloric music from India that actually swings as played by a plethora of musicians from around the world.
The quintet features guitar, violin, tabla, drums and bass. They’re augmented by: four more guitars, three more violins, viola, cello, piano, organ, hang drum, oud, resonator, tombak, daf, udu, sarangi, mrdangam, bansuri, sarode, esraj and Tibetan singing bowls. Don’t be scared off. I’ve never heard of half these instruments either. Until I heard them. Suffice it to say that the nine tracks flow down a lazy river although oftentimes the current speeds up and you find yourself holding on for dear life. That’s the exhilarating part. If I have to get all genre-like to properly communicate the essence of these New Horizons, it would have to be classical (both from India and the west), world-jazz, electronica and funk. Heartily recommended.
Back To School
Airstream Artistry: Jim Riggs’ Best Of The Two (UNT Jazz) is a three-disc boxed set from the University of North Texas and its Two O’Clock Lab Band under the direction of Jim Riggs, Regents Professor Emeritus at UNT’s College of Music in Denton, Texas. Riggs has taken from 10 CDs worth of material to stuff this box to overflowing with action-packed charts, propulsive soloing, swoon-worthy melodies and complex harmonic structures, not to mention surprising syncopation. The 40 tracks span the gamut from standards, samba, bossa nova and blues to post-bop and swing. Highlights include “Booze Brothers,” “Four Flats in Search of a Theme” and an unerring take on “Polka Dots And Moon Beams” (Sinatra’s first hit in 1940 when he was still with Tommy Dorsey). “Basie” swings like Basie should. “On Green Dolphin Street” sidesteps the world-famous 1957 Miles Davis version to ferret out the root of the song as written for a forgettable 1947 movie of the same name (fascinating to hear, and delicious to hear again and again). Space prohibits me from waxing enthusiastic about other tracks that transcend standard fare like “My Funny Valentine” and a rousing opener of “This Could Be The Start Of Something Big” but suffice it to say that every track moves’n’grooves with either wild abandon or lush romanticism. Bravo!
In concert, Brad Garton and Dave Soldier start with a lecture about how the human brain senses and produces rhythmic waves. These waves from the cortex of the brain can actually be translated into music when using a common EEG sensor from your local med lab. It’s electrical! Soldier has been studying these funky brain waves for over a decade. Musician/Neuro-Scientist Garton helped him articulate his premise by developing the kind of software tools that turn brainwave data into music. They’ve even done it live and are the only duo ever invited to perform at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Md.
The Brainwave Music Project (Mulatta) has 14 such tracks, complete with fiddle, flute, mandolin and trap drums, accompanying the brain music. The soloists were asked to play their instrument solo in accordance with the dictates of Garton’s and Soldier’s feedback loop as they were hooked up, so to speak. In essence, they were playing with themselves.
“Taco Tuesday” has Margaret Lancaster on flute and her EEG. “Serotonin,” “Adrenaline,” “Dopamine,” “Histamine,” “Amygdala” and “Cerebellum” follow.
It’s interesting to note an EEG may be made by the neural activity detected by the sensors but cannot reveal high-level concepts or ideas that are being thought. Its sound, man, blips and bleeps, beeps and boops, percussive and alive, with the four aforementioned instruments swirling above, below, behind and in front of their brains.
Let’s Sail Away (Rupe Media), by Jeff Rupert with Veronica Swift, introduces a 23-year-old vocalist so ingrained in the Ella Fitzgerald vocal school that she takes it one step further…and that’s saying something. Sure, all female jazz singers (especially if they scat) are children of Ella but there’s something about the little wiggles of Veronica Swift’s voice that can move mountains. She’s absolutely irresistible.
Saxophonist Jeff Rupert is a jazz veteran who toured for 15 years and recorded four albums with avant-gardist Sam Rivers [1923-2011], and for six years with trumpeter Maynard Ferguson [1928-2006]. Pianist Richard Drexler has played in Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd for 20 years and now is a regular in 11 orchestras on seven instruments. Drummer Marty Morell played for seven years with Jersey Piano Legend, Bill Evans [1929-1980]. Add bass, trumpet, trombone and sax and Jeff Rupert has presided over one of the most entertaining jazz albums of the year, in no small part to the unbelievable 10:35 reworking of George Gershwin’s 1924 “Rhapsody In Blue.”
From samba and blues to Swift’s remarkable vocal on “Pennies From Heaven” (introduced by Bing Crosby in 1936 but standardized by Billie Holiday mere months later), Swift shines as does Rupert’s sax. His sax and her sex certainly make for beautiful music like Lady Day and Lester Young used to. And they even have the balls to end it all with “Dream A Little Dream Of Me,” first recorded by Ozzie Nelson in 1931 but most famously by The Mamas & The Papas in 1968. I like Swift’s version the best of all. She should have a nice long career. Way to go, Rupert!