Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Playing This Week in the Kevmobile

A few months ago, I subscribed to a service called eMusic. It's a reasonably priced, legal music download site, and they have a pretty decent jazz selection. I'm on the plan that allows you to download 75 tracks a month for $19.95, and it's allowed me to get not only some brand-new stuff, but some classic recordings as well. There may not be anything from the really big labels (Blue Note, Verve or ECM) that I can find there, but my "saved for later" list is up to 70 CD's at the moment, so this should keep me busy for a while.

At any rate, this means that I've been listening to quite a bit of new music on my daily commute; here's a sampling:
  • Kenny Garrett: Sketches of MD: Live at the Iridium featuring Pharoah Sanders (Mack Avenue Records). The alto saxophonist reunites with his Beyond the Wall co-conspirator Sanders in this live set. There are only five long tracks on here, which gives the saxists and their new rhythm section a chance to stretch out. Among the surprises is hearing Garrett play through electronic effects. The set ends with a juiced-up, multiple-ending version of "Happy People," complete with the audience singalongs that he started a decade ago on "Sing a Song of Song."

  • Yellowjackets: Lifecycle, featuring Mike Stern (Heads Up). Bob Mintzer and company are back, this time working with a guitarist for the first time since their Robben Ford days (before Mintzer even joined the band). Stern proves to be the perfect foil for Mintzer, and their sounds blend wonderfully on the seven tunes done in quintet format. (Stern also contributed two compositions to the mix.) This music is contemporary but never "smooth;" as I said in two previous concert reviews of the group, it's "fusion with integrity." Another fine effort.

  • Dave Pietro: The Chakra Suite (Challenge Records). I heard my former schoolmate play this new music at the final New York IAJE conference a year and a half ago, and it's cool to see it come out on CD (for some reason, eMusic had it available way in advance of its official "street date" of next Tuesday). Pietro blends the East Indian influences implied by the title with his usual Brazilian/bop casserole, and the results are very enjoyable. Gary Versace shines on both keyboards and accordion (no, really!). I'd love to hear this music live again in a full-length show; the IAJE showcase only whetted my appetite for this CD.

  • Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Holon (ECM). The newest acquisition to my collection. I'd read about this group in the ECM advertisement in Down Beat Magazine, but I didn't actually get to hear them until Sunday evening via Amazon Downloads. Swiss pianist Bärtsch leads a quintet of electric bass, drums, percussion and a bass clarinetist/saxophonist who goes only by the name of "Sha" (and the compositions all have the word "Modul" in the title, followed by a number). The music, which the leader has described as "Zen funk," is mostly Steve Reich-type minimalism, but with an underlying funky groove (though the woodwinds add a Philip Glass touch at times). One track, "Modul 46," sounds like guitar-less early Pat Metheny Group, so it fits perfectly on ECM (where Pat got his start), and label mogul Manfred Eicher's production makes for an exquisite sound, even on the download version.

  • Dave Holland Sextet: Pass It On (Dare2 Records). I've been a fan of Dave Holland's quintet and big band for a number of years, but for this release, he trots out a slight variation on his small group (which was premiered at Birdland two years ago, at which time it was decided to document the group on this recording, which took place in August of '07). Trombonist Robin Eubanks remains a constant, but all the other chairs have different players: Antonio Hart (on alto) mans the saxophone chair, while trumpeter Alex Sipiagin adds a third horn to the mix; Eric Harland (of SFJAZZ Collective fame) handles the drum duties, while Mulgrew Miller plays piano, a rare feat for a Holland group. The compositions (a couple of new ones, along with some reworked versions of pre-Quintet originals from Holland) are complex and enjoyable, the arrangements are outstanding as always, and the new mix of players adds a lot to the experience. (I'd love to hear a showcase presentation like the one that spawned this group: One night with the big band, one with the quintet, one with the sextet, one in a duet with vibraphonist Steve Nelson. I'd have tickets for every night...)

  • Esbjörn Svensson Trio: Leucocyte (Decca). Since this is the group's final recording (made barely a month before Svensson's passing this summer), I'll review it separately in a day or two.
Not all of the above came from eMusic, but this seemed like the right time to mention the service. I've also managed to land such things as The Remedy, the double-CD live set from Kurt Rosenwinkel at the Village Vanguard; two out-of-print Chris Potter CD"s, Concentric Circles and Pure, as well as SMV, featuring the bassists' dream matchup of Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten.

It's always cool to have fresh tunes in the car. With about 7 new CD's guaranteed to come my way each month, I'll try to do these updates on a regular basis.

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