Mike Greenblatt’s Rant ‘n’ Roll

If You Buy But One Jazz CD All Year….

In 2014, Trilogy, by pianist Chick Corea’s trio with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade, was a sprawling three-disc affair. Supporting it with an international tour, they recorded enough material for Trilogy 2 (Concord Jazz) and the results are positively magic. It’s like when Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, and Ron Carter backed up Miles Davis. These three maestros are so in sync with each other, the music is a volcano. It erupts, flows and burns. But no one gets hurt.

Blade is the key. His drumming is unerringly like that of Elvin Jones when Jones played with John Coltrane. He’s so light on the cymbals, snare, and toms that it’s like a woodpecker constantly pecking a tree. McBride, a legend in his own right, makes the bass a lead instrument. And what can you say about Corea at this point? At 78, he is Duke Ellington/Art Tatum/Oscar Peterson/Thelonious Monk all rolled into one.

And the material! Stevie Wonder suggested to Corea that he cover his “Pastime Paradise.” There’s a Miles, a Latin, two Monks, and a loving nod to sax man Joe Henderson (in whose band Corea came up in). Those of us who loved Corea’s groundbreaking seventies jazz-rock fusion band Return To Forever will thrill to his reworking of “500 Miles High” from their 1972 debut. Steve Swallow’s energetic “Eidertown” has Blade and Corea taking rapid-fire shots at each other that don’t let up like in a UFC fight. Sometimes McBride can be heard skipping over the action like a stone skimming over a placid lake if thrown just right. If you buy but one jazz CD all year, you couldn’t do any better than this double-doozy.

Midwestern Truth From a New Yorker

Singer-songwriter-arranger Bill Scorzari is a deep thinker. His profundity comes in the form of universal truths that are, at face value, easy to understand, but, once you begin to peel off the layers of meanings, they’re mysteries wrapped within an enigma. His self-released third album, Now I’m Free,  contains 15 nuggets of crystalline observations of human frailty. Helped along by a stellar cast of musicians to give his ideas fully formed musical beds upon which he grunts, talks, sings, cries, whispers, and hollers, they need a second or third listen to sink in. He’s a native New Yorker but you’d never know it. He sounds like a Midwesterner. He’s thoughtful, and he yearns for that which he knows he cannot have. He’s a poet and he should be heard.

The Sum Is Less Than Its Parts

Maybe my expectations were too high. Upon hearing that guitarist Mike Stern—who absolutely thrilled my thirty-something soul in the eighties when he added so much in the Miles Davis band—would be joining the Jeff Lorber Fusion, I started to salivate. Lorber’s band started out as a derivative of Return To Forever (including Chick Corea himself as a guest soloist) and Weather Report. His early seventies work still stands tall. Stern, be it with Miles, The Brecker Brothers, or Jaco, was always ahead of the curve, his solos spiraling almost out-of-control but not quite. Naming their new album together Eleven (Concord Jazz), after a direct quote from Nigel Tufnel in the 1984 movie This Is Spinal Tap, (whose amplifier had a volume knob that went to 11 “for when you need that extra push over the cliff”), made me think Stern was going to rock. Not so. This is post-fusion, a sub-genre of smooth jazz fit for radio formats, dentist offices, and elevators.

Pure Genius

She might look like a K-Pop teen idol but Hiromi is more Chick Corea (with whom she’s collaborated) than the “Gangnam Style” of South Korea’s Psy. At 29, she put out her first solo piano record Place To Be in 2009 which encapsulated the artistic growth of her twenties. Now, nearing forty, she’s done a masterful job with Spectrum (Telarc/Concord) which chronicles the artistic changes of her thirties. Her compositions veer in angular cadences, be it the minimalism of “Kaleidoscope” or the ethereal “Whiteout,” which approximates the surreal hush of walking through deep freshly-fallen snow. Think Ravel or Debussy. “Yellow Wurlitzer Blues” is her idea of fractured funk while McCartney’s 1968 “Blackbird” is stunningly gorgeous. The highlight here is easy. Would you believe a 22:45 version of George Gershwin’s 1924 “Rhapsody In Blue” wherein she incorporates vestiges of John Coltrane’s “Blue Train” and The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes”? Believe it.

Guitar Bonanza

Back in the day, every guitarist I ever sang with in various New Jersey cover bands wanted to be Link Wray. Invariably, we’d cover his 1958 “Rumble” while I left the stage in an effort to recruit local groupies. They say the almighty power chord was invented in that instrumental rocker. Bear Family Records has just released another in its fine Rocks series, this one with 34 Link Wray power blasters. Born in North Carolina, Wray, a Native American, put out two- and three-minute blasts like “Raw Hide,” “Batman Theme,” “Slinky,” “Hand Clapper,” “The Swag,” “Comanche,” “Jack The Ripper,” “The Black Widow,” and “Big City Stomp.” They all sound great when played at ear-bleeding volume.

Profundities Galore

Susan Gibson is nothing if not stoic. She may wear her heart on her sleeve in mourning the death of both of her parents within a few years of each other, but on her seventh album the singer-songwriter faces the future with sanguine equanimity… and a grab bag of songs she wrote while still ensconced in grief. She wrote “Wide Open Spaces” for the Dixie Chicks when still carefree in 1998. Now the Minnesota-born, Texas-based troubadour writes lines like “if you’re gonna be stupid, you better be tough” in the title track of her self-released The Hard Stuff. Strutting her stuff in bars has caused her to flirt and write about it in “The Big Game” where she asks, “why you gotta make it so hard for me to be easy?” Suffering from the loss of mom, she watched dad waste away, and in “Antiques,” she writes “getting older ain’t for the weak/it only happens to the strongest ones.” She plays guitar and banjo and is helped along by drums, percussion, hand claps, kitchen chairs, cookie sheets, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, piano, Hammond B-3, synthesizers, xylophone, clarinet, pedal steel, sax, fiddle, and background vocalists. Her voice is a sexy scratch, rough around the edges and soft in the middle.

On November 14, Abbey Road Is In Newark

The Grammy Museum Experience at the Prudential Center in Newark is the scene for the “Abbey Roadshow” on Nov. 14—with historian Ken Womack and producer/composer/”Deconstructing The Beatles” series creator Scott Freiman—where rare outtakes of this classic Beatles album will be heard, questions will be answered, mysteries will be revealed and, as they say, a splendid time is guaranteed for all. For more information, visit GRAMMYMuseumEXP.org.