11 August 2007

Radio: August 10 Jazz Update - notes and links

Another month, another passle of new jazz. Here's what Kraske and I covered on the August 10th edition, along with my notes and some links for further reading/listening.

Listen to the segment (9:46)

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Artist - Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra
CD - Sky Blue (ArtistShare)
Track - The Pretty Road

Maria Schneider's music represents some of the most sophisticated stuff you can ever pull from the great grab bag that is this thing called jazz. It's carefully composed and orchestrated, which puts it in an entirely different category than the head arrangements of most small ensembles or the free-for-all of most free jazz. It's also more deft than most big band music, which too often ends up sounding like a whole bunch of instruments playing a head arrangement. The music is definitely jazz and creates a space for inspired solos by Ingrid Jensen, Scott Robinson, Steve Wilson and Gary Versace among the many other fine musicians in the ensemble.

Each of the five gorgeous tracks on Sky Blue has a story to tell. Each takes you on a journey, whether it's through the Minnesota landscape of Schneider's childhood in Minnesota, or through the avian flights of "Cerulean Skies," complete with birdsong. It's well worth the trip. Less is, indeed, often more in artistic endeavors, but Schneider proves that more can also be pretty damn fine.

Schneider is also a trailblazer in another sense, having abandoned the traditional record company contract for the more entrepreneurial road of ArtistShare. So far it seems to be working. Her 2004 Concert in the Garden was the first Grammy winning album to be sold online only. Read more about the pleasures and pressures of the process in this article.

Artist - The James Ward Band
CD - In Perspective (GroovWard)
Track - Bet That Up

Formed the late 90s at the Blue Room in Kansas City's 18th & Vine District, The James Ward Band has developed a faithful following in town for its mixture of groove and funk infused jazz. The heart of the group is the husband and wife team of James and Angela Ward, with James on bass (and trumpet and bass clarinet) and Angela on keyboards. They share writing duties on most of the tracks, and get great contributions from Gerald Dunn (soprano and tenor sax) and Ray Stewart (percussion).

The JWB continues to perform regularly at the Blue Room, and frequently run the Blue Monday Jam session. Grab your axe and git it.

Artist - Charles Mingus Septet with Eric Dolphy
CD - Cornell 1964 (Blue Note)
Track - Fables of Faubus

Dark days were not too far off for the troubled genius of post-bop, but in this previously unknown recording of a March 1964 concert at Cornell University, Charles Mingus is at his boisterous best, working with a group of musicians he adored, all playing music that they all obviously love. The sextet is clearly in the zone, loose and energized for an upcoming tour of Europe. The set list ranges from Mingus's own work, to Ellington and Strayhorn tunes, to a rollicking waltz through "When Irish Eyes are Smiling." Sadly, within a few months Dolphy would die in tragic circumstances in Germany, his death would contribute to an emotional tailspin for Mingus that would cripple him for the rest of the decade. But on this particular night in upstate New York, the good times rolled.

» Charles Mingus official site

Artist - Bruce Hornsby
CD - Camp Meeting - (Sony)
Track - Giant Steps

Maybe it's the piano, but there was something jazz inspired about the pop music of Bruce Hornsby and his group The Range. The group hit it big with songs like "The Way it Is" and "Mandolin Rain" in the late 80s and early 90s. But once the bloom was off the poppy, Hornsby didn't settle into an oldies act. He's continued to pursue his muse through a series of adventurous projects, among them a stint as the keyboardist for the Grateful Dead and 1995's Hot House, which included fellow square pegs Pat Metheney and Bela Fleck. 2007 has already produced two surprises: a bluegrass album with Ricky Scaggs (featuring a version of "Super Freak" that could conceivably disturb the eternal slumber of Rick James) and now "Camp Meeting."

He's working here quite confidently with two undisputed jazz masters: bassist Christian McBride and drummer Jack DeJohnette. In addition to two Hornsby originals, the album includes an ambitious set of tunes by Ornette Coleman, Bud Powell and John Coltrane, and Miles Davis among others. The result can't be called anything but a jazz album. That's just the way it is.

Read some more: "Hornsby calls jazz "Meeting" with McBride, DeJohnette".

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