Thursday, July 28, 2011

More Road Music

© Andrea Canter

Over the past month I’ve traveled twice to Iowa City, for the annual jazz festival and then for my dad’s 90th birthday. I took along plenty of music, most of it brand new. Sure helps to have some modern sounds to break up the monotony of cornfields, although some familiar voices are always welcome when road construction and other annoyances threaten the otherwise welcome escape from daily reality.

New and Notable
Daniel Bennett, Peace and Stability Among Bears. The title is a little odd, but it fits with a couple earlier releases for which titles were inspired by cartoons saxophonist Bennett commissioned to accompany his music. What is not odd at all, but in fact most delightfully folkloric and bouncy, is the music. Particularly blending soprano and flute joyfully with guitarist Chris Hersch, Bennett sounds like no one else; this is music that could bring peace and stability among humans while keeping our ears on full alert. You don’t want to miss any of these lovely notes or melodies, whether a tune that suggests backwoods Americana or one that conjures an East European ceremonial dance.

Judy Wexler, Under a Painted Sky (Jazzed Media). Wexler has a very accessible voice, a super band with Alan Pasqua on piano, Darek Oles on bass and Steve Hass on drums, and a diverse set of uncommonly engaging songs from the likes of Abbey Lincoln, Carmen McRae, Norma Winstone and Benny Golson, and from the songbooks of Blossom Dearie, Johnny Mathis, Shirley Horn, and Jeri Southern. But every tune feels like it was written by Judy Wexler.

Falkner Evans, The Point of the Moon (Consolidated Artists Productions). With help from Greg Tardy, Ron Horton, Belden Bullock and Matt Wilson, Falkner Evans proves a most welcome addition to the crowded field of modern jazz piano. Filling all but two tracks with his own sophisticated compositions, Evans arguable shines most on tracks by Jobim (“O Grand Amor”) and, particularly, Alec Wilder’s “While We’re Young.” There’s just enough old fashioned swing here to make this a modern masterpiece.

Nilson Matta and Roni Ben-Hur, Mojave (Motema). Part of Motema’s “Jazz Therapy” series (20% sales are donated to the Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund to provide care to jazz and blues musicians), this recording would surely cure the bluest of blues. Joining the bassist and guitarist is drummer Victor Lewis, resulting in a sublime trio set of largely classic Brazilian composers along with a few originals and a Burt Bacharach tune. Call it Samba-Bop, perfect for a summer ride through Middle America with the top down. Well, maybe with the top up and the AC running?

Denny Zeitlin, Labyrinth (Sunnyside). A great title for this live solo recording from a pianist who has proven time and again that there’s an orchestra inside the piano. Zeitlin takes us through every conceivable twist and turn, from the spectacular opening “Footprints” (apparently you do not need Wayne Shorter to give this starpower) to the delicate “They Say It’s Wonderful” to the rambunctious “Lazy Bird” to the majestic “Dancing in the Dark.”

Familiar and Fabulous
I can’t imagine a road trip without one of my favorite vocalists. Diane Krall was my “guest” on the earlier drive (From This Moment On, Only Trust Your Heart) – her phrasing alone keeps you from falling asleep at the wheel. But for the second trip, I opted for a favorite I have not heard in a while, the Maud Hixson/Rick Carlson duo, Love’s Refrain. None of the glitz of Diana and decidedly more intimate, as if it’s just you, Rick and Maud in the room (or, in this case, the front seat). The sound is impeccable—easily the best of the lot in overcoming road noise, not a syllable obscured. And you can’t beat Maud’s musical storytelling, especially on gems like “Lotus Blossom” and “Star Dust,” and “love’s refrain” as it penetrates the opening “With a Song in My Heart” and the whimsical “Remind Me.” Remind me to listen to this one more often; it surely puts a song in my heart. Even on I-35.

Images: CD Covers, Daniel Bennett and Judy Wexler; Maud Hixson with Rick Carlson, live. (photo by Andrea Canter)