Friday, September 17, 2010

Road Music: CDs That Transcend Holiday Traffic

© Andrea Canter

Did I mention it took 14+ hours to drive from Minneapolis to Detroit for the Detroit Jazz Festival over Labor Day Weekend? Perhaps the only reason three of us did not go insane or turn on each other was the nonstop music we brought along. We were selective and adventurous, bringing a few well-known favorites but mostly new music, some recordings that were not yet released and only available as review copies, some that we just had not caught up with yet. While this music might not prevent a rush-hour slow down or expressway speed trap, it will do more than pass the time. This music—and it is an eclectic collection—will inspire you to listen again and again in more relaxing, acoustically refined settings.

Favorites for the Road
Miles Davis, Kind of Blue. You can’t listen to his 1959 classic too often or too seriously. Each hearing of “All Blues,” for example, brings new revelations. One has to wonder what directions Miles might have gone if his partnership with Bill Evans had gone on through the 60s. Or what direction Bill might have turned. Ashley Kahn’s “bio” of this recording session is must reading for anyone who finds this music irresistible. (Columbia/Sony, 1959)

Karrin Allyson, By Request. The recording is not an old favorite, having been released a year ago, but these are all tracks from her first dozen or whatever recordings on Concord, and it is a stunning retrospective that traces the development of one of modern jazz’s most effective singers. Allyson seemingly hatched poised for stardom back in the early 90s, but hearing her early renditions of "Nature Boy" and "O Pato" offers a chance to consider her evolution and her sidetrips through the songs of Paris and Rio, the Great American Songbook, the works of the great Brazilian writers as well as the songbook of John Coltrane, and more. The voice is a bit more dusky on tunes from Imagina and Footprints than Collage and From Paris to Rio, but that distinctive alto has never faltered. We also had From Paris to Rio (Concord, 1999) and enjoyed an Allyson encore in French, Portuguese and English. (Concord, 2009)

Bad Plus, Blunt Object: Live in Tokyo. Everything they do seems to incorporate everything that’s been done without sounding retro. This release included such crowd pleasers as “Flim,” “Heart of Glass,” “We Are the Champions” and even a cover of “My Funny Valentine.” The small handful of originals, though, reminded me of my first love of TBP, their own works, subserivent to pop covers on their recordings until the September release of Never Stop….which I brought along to preview (see below). (Columbia, 2006)

New Releases
Turtle Island Quartet, Have You Ever Been…? Fast becoming one of my favorite ensembles in modern music, the string quartet configuration is just a façade. It looks like a classical quartet. Indeed, these four musicians could surely make a good living in staid concert halls. But they have chosen to have more fun and take more chances, reimagining the music of Coltrane and now Jimi Hendrix. If you aren’t familiar with, or a fan of, Hendrix or Dylan or John McLaughlin, it really doesn’t matter. You just have to enjoy music with broad harmonies, interesting rhythms, playful one minute and celestial the next. This recording focuses on Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland recording, but also includes a 4-part suite from founding violinist David Balakrishnan that salutes Darwin as much as Hendrix. That this was a preview of their live show at the Dakota last weekend was icing on the travel cake. (Telarc, 2010) (See review at:

Bad Plus, Never Stop. Another favorite ensemble celebrates its first decade by releasing an all-originals set. They’ve been playing some of these compositions on recent tours, like Dave King’s futuristic herky jerky “My Friend Metatron” or Reid Anderson’s whirling “Beryl Loves to Dance,” but many were new to me as well as to the recording studio. There’s Iverson’s exploration of the inner mind of an off-duty stunt driver and King’s vague satire of “Super America.” It’s pure Bad Plus, unfettered by any preconceptions that might follow their deconstructed pop covers. May they “never stop.” (Do the Math Records, 2010). (See review at:

Anat Fort Trio, And If. Israeli native pianist Anat Fort flew under my radar til last spring when she was in town for a master class and evening concert at MacPhail. One of the pieces she did with Adam Linz and JT Bates was “Something About Camels,” a rather long multilayered composition that began with Anat tugging inside the piano, Adam batting his hands on the top of the bass neck, and JT scraping his sticks across the skins on the tom. It was a collection of oddly beautiful sounds. It evolved into a desert trek on camelback with swirling sand and distant oases. That composition is the centerpiece of And If, but just the tip of the iceberg of ideas that Fort brings to her trio. One of the most beautiful recordings of 2010. (ECM, 2010) (See review at:

Anat Cohen Quartet, Clarinetwork. We heard the agile and electric Anat Cohen with her Benny Goodman tribute quartet at the Dakota last spring --pianist Benny Green, bassist Peter Washington, drummer Lewis Nash. Not the quartet she primarily tours and records with, but a special band for a special salute. Cohen makes Goodman modern without losing the swing, the melodies that made him a legend. Now Cohen is bringing the clarinet new respect, new audiences. She's back in the Twin Cities (at the Dakota) on October 7th. (Anzic, 2010).

Amina Figarova, Sketches. I first encountered this Azerbaijan native/Rotterdam resident at the 2008 Twin Cities Jazz Festival, and again a year later at the Dakota. With her long-standing sextet and a raft of soaring original compositions, Figarova creates tidal waves of glorious melodies and harmonies on Sketches. The concept of the album was to capture the sights and sounds the band encounters as it tours the world, and as such it seemed perfectly suited for our road trip. The band moves together like a well-oiled machine but the interactions are very human. (Munich Records, 2010) (See review at:

Esperanza Spalding, Chamber Music Society. I had this in the car stereo for a few weeks and decided to leave it in rotation. Spalding will be here in the Twin Cities next week with her new project, jazz trio + classical string ensemble. Spalding’s feathery voice is nearly as prominent as her assertive bass, as if another string instrument added to the mix. It’s intriguing although I have to admit to preferring the instrumental tracks. Mostly originals from Spalding, whose talents seem endless, and timeless. (Heads Up, 2010). (See Pamela Espeland’s review at:

Jason Moran and The Bandwagon, Ten: The Bad Plus are not the only trio celebrating a decade of musical togetherness. Since he first organized The Bandwagon with bassist Taurus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits, pianist Jason Moran has seemed limitless in his artistic energy and curiosity. He’s received commissions from the Walker Art Center, assembled a multi-media tribute to Thelonious Monk, and managed to anchor the “new” Charles Lloyd Quartet in his spare time. Some of his most engaging blues, free improvisation and oddball splicing of conversations into the music can be found on Ten. The more I hear Moran, the more I hear some common ground with Craig Taborn on the "out" side, Jarrett on the "in" side. Not a bad place to be. (Blue Note, 2010).

Charles Lloyd Quartet, Mirror. And speaking of Charles Lloyd, his quartet’s September 14th release might be his best yet of the millennium. The wizened High Priest of modern jazz brings his affinity for global (particularly middle eastern) and traditional sounds to the interplay with three young geniuses—Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass, Eric Harland on drums. This is the quartet that released the knock-out Rabo de Nube, and Mirror might even surpass that one. No one can make the saxophone (flute, taragato, whatever) more hymnal, more sacred, than Lloyd, even on standards like “I Fall in Love Too Easily” or Monk classics like “Monk’s Mood” or “Ruby My Dear.” And Lloyd has long loved to elevate the traditional hymn or spiritual, including here “Go Down Moses” and “The Water Is Wide,” along with such priestly originals as “Being and Becoming—the Road to Dakshineshwar With Sangeeta” or “Tagi.” Even at 75 mph, when giant semis are passing you in the right lane, Charles Lloyd is ethereal. (ECM, 2010)

One for All, Incorrigible. This band has been building its book through a long series of live dates in New York, mostly at Smoke. And they smoke! This old fashioned soulful hard bop in the finest sense of the term, and their longevity (13 years) proves it’s a timeless formula. With a hornline of Jim Rotondi, Eric Alexander and Steve Davis, fortified with Dave Hazeltine on piano, John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums, you have to realize you’ll need a fire extinguisher. Sort of gives you courage to pass those semis… in the left lane. From an opening “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” to Davis’ closing “So Soon,” this largely original collection roars like a big band but offers the intimacy of the sextet. The only conflict on a road trip is the tendency to start tapping the wrong foot… (Jazz Legacy, 2010)

Purchased at the Festival
My friends got a bargain at the Mack Avenue tent after hearing sets from Danilo Perez and Tia Fuller. While I had heard these before, I was more than willing to listen again on the return trip.

Danilo Perez, Providencia. For his new Mack Avenue release, Perez sought to move out of his comfort zone with a handful of compositions that reflect experimentation on multiple levels, as well as reconsiderations of a pair of classic Latin compositions from a perspective emphasizing the tragedy of their lyrics. His assemblage of musicians help to pave the way for adventure—bassist Ben Street, drummer Adam Cruz, percussionist Jamey Haddad, and particularly alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, along with a classical ensemble of brass and woodwinds and other guests. Latin rhythms infuse the music throughout, yet more global components take the music well beyond home base. All but Haddad were on stage in Detroit, and the music here—and more—came to glorious life. (Mack Avenue, 2010) (See review here:

Tia Fuller Quartet, Decisive Steps. Perhaps no other release of 2010 has been so appropriately titled. Her fourth recording puts Tia Fuller at the top of mainstream altoists, somewhat reminiscent of Kenny Garrett as well as the unavoidable comparison to Charlie Parker. Fuller plays with more energy than a Bobo doll and seems to push that energy right back into the music of her cohorts—on the album, that’s sister and pianist Shamie Royston, bassist Miriam Sullivan and drummer Kim Richmond, with special guests Christian McBride and Sean Jones. On stage in Detroit, brother-in-law Rudy Royston broke the gender divide on drums. Live or on this record, the Tia Fuller Quartet is volcanic, on standards or on original tunes, with Tia proving her genteel chops as well on an exquisite “I Can’t Get Started.” She got started a while ago, and now we hope she never finds the finish. (Mack Avenue, 2010). (See review here:
I'm looking forward to my next road trip. But maybe I'll keep it under 500 miles.

Photos: Tia Fuller at the Detroit Jazz Festival; Charles Lloyd at the Dakota; Anat Cohen and Lewis Nash at the Dakota. All photos by Andrea Canter.