Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Review: Hank Mobley - Roll Call

Hank Mobley’s ‘Roll Call’ comes cut from the same cloth as his superb highest-rated work from the same period in the early sixties, namely ‘Soul Station’, ‘Workout’ and ‘Another Workout’. This session though makes its own name for itself with a much more energetic take, right from the opening crashing drum-rolls courtesy of Mr Art Blakey.

It would be fair to say though that all of the three afore-mentioned albums are better efforts, and the clear cream of the crop, mainly due to the greater presence of Mobley himself and plenty of his soft and warm rounded tone. Here, alongside his tenor, Freddie Hubbard lends his considerable talent with the trumpet, and it’s his horn with its harder edgier tone that surprisingly dominates throughout. The quintet are all strong, much as you’d expect from a grouping of Mobley, Hubbard, Blakey, Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers, but it is Hubbard that dazzles the most, with his effortless yet unmistakeable pumped up and muscular playing. On ‘The More I See You’ he even apes/homages Miles Davis, and very successfully too.

Mobley’s tunes are, as always, excellent; as much as his easy-going and songlike saxophone was often criticised at the time, for not being adventurous enough, his skill with writing was, even for the most ardent critic, hard to ignore. Even so, his playing here is stylish and cool, without being unimpassioned. Blakey too makes a great impression throughout with his clattering personalised style of drumming.

‘Roll Call’ has been somewhat overshadowed by the tenor mans other, perhaps more famous, sessions from the late fifties and early sixties, and although justifiable when up against those standout works, it is a consistently strong listen that sits well in their company and is very well-deserving of some greater recognition as being one of Mobleys best dates.


Review: Grover Washington Jnr - Aria

Grover Washington Jnr, the huge star of jazz-funk fusion at its prime, and creator of the original smooth jazz, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly just a few short days after his 56th birthday in 1999, with an only-just recently finished new album in the can and ready to go.

Turning a new corner Washington, having been a student and a lifleong lover of classical music as well as possessing a unique and definite voice on both the soprano and tenor saxophones, chose to fulfil a long-standing personal dream by recording a number of famous pieces by some of the defining classical greats, all in his own inimitable style.

And while it’s probably a bit of an eyebrow raiser for fans of either Washington or the compositions themselves, there is much to love, including plenty of the much-loved saxophonist showing his richly melodic flair on not just his trademark soprano and tenor, but also on the alto and baritone saxes

The majority of the album is made up of famous pieces by the opera composer Puccini, but some golden nuggets are also present from the likes of Bizet, Gershwin, Massenet and Giordano. The highlight though is the beautiful and iconic ‘Flower Duet’ aria from Leo Delibes ‘Lakme’, which manages to maintain the intense and emotional pull associated with the usually vocal duet piece.

Washington is more than ably assisted throughout too by bassist extraordinair Ron Carter and pianist Billy Childs, with the Orchestra of Saint Lukes adding lush backing everywhere and occasionally even being allowed to shine under the spotlight instead of acting merely as a supporting cast.

Overall though, it’s not one of Grover Washingtons most daring, exciting or entirely successful efforts, with the lack of groove or beat obviously likely to turn any of his more casual fans away. And while some of the classical compositions work strongly in Washingtons silky and soulful arrangements, not all of them do so well, with a good few meandering and others drowning in cloying strings and over-production (a trademark of many later Washington recordings), and veering dangerously close to a smooth-jazz schmaltzy take on the classics (‘My Mans Gone Now’ is particularly treacily and guilty of this).

It toes the line then between beautiful re-interpretation and alternatively a very unattractive ‘contemporary’ and lightweight re-imagining, but crucially just like pretty much everything the great man played and recorded, it’s full of his golden sound, and it’s bursting with his heart and soul, that truly shines through on everything here. And after a good few years of some pretty by-the-numbers efforts, it’s good to hear the great man playing with both greater feeling and stronger material. ‘Aria’ is far from essential but, definitely worth a listen, it’s easily his best in well over a decade.


Sunday, 4 August 2013

Gig Review: Greg Cordez Quintet - Live At Fringe Bar 25.07.2013

Greg Cordez was not a name I was overly familiar with before seeing his quintet live at The Fringe Bar. I knew the names and the talents of his entire band, bar the man himself. Jim Blomfield is a stunning piano player and composer, Mark Whitlam is a one-man funk machine in high demand with countless dozens of groups, Nick Malcolm is one of the most rounded trumpet players on the contemporary scene right now, and Jake McMurchie is of course the master tenor saxophonist best known for co-leading the front line of the brilliant Get The Blessing. Greg Cordez though I have to admit I shamefully knew very little. Very little aside from near-unanimous praise from critics and gig attendees.

Cordez though is much more than just a brilliant bassist (which he is), and the gig highlighted his quite considerable skills as composer. His own 'Brown Bear' opened proceedings with subtlety being the key word, from the light rolling drum work, to the gently swooping piano figures and a very catchy bass line. On its own it was enough, and yet the dual front-line of Malcolm's trumpet and McMurchie's sax took to a brilliant high.

The first of two Todd Sickafoose tunes followed. Another new name, but Cordez was full of praise, and the tune 'Blood Orange' was a winner. But the show was at least half about showcasing Cordez as a writer, and his pieces were very good indeed. As well as featuring quite a few nice lines in humour.

'November' was the perfect title to the slow and winter-evoking beautiful composition that had a typically sparkling Blomfield piano solo. 'Camilla Rose' too occupied the same field of beauty, while the sub-atomic particle referencing 'Up Quark' was a suitably more upbeat - almost bouncy - affair.

The second set featured more great fresh-to-these-ears compositions. 'Ron Free', named after the famous drummer, came with a heart-warming anecdote describing how Cordez and Free had come to exchange letters and eventually meet in person, while the gorgeous '8 Minutes And 23 Seconds' (named after the time it takes the suns light to reach Earth - more evidence of Cordez being a fellow science geek?) was possibly the tune of the night.

Reid Anderson (of The Bad Plus) was the writer of the hard-driving 'Pound For Pound', and gave space aplenty for a stunning McMurchie solo, and one of Charles Mingus's lesser-known pieces 'Jump Monk' was the nights most lively performance that had the audience applauding every solo. It was though another Todd Sickafoose composition that was chosen to close the evening, and a superb choice it was too - 'Moonfruit' came ready tooled with a fantastic melody that the band played to perfection, and everyone grabbed a stellar limelight moment to shine.

A great gig led by a brilliant player and bandleader, it was an incredible showcase of Cordez's composing talents that clearly showed him as following in the footsteps of Charles Mingus, but also highlighted some other more lefter-field influences (including clearly Sickafoose who I will make a point of investigating very soon). If there was a criticism to make it would be that Cordez's tunes nearly all occupy the same approximate tempo setting, somewhere between slow and medium, and so perhaps relies on other people's songs to have more variety in the pace of the concert. It wouldn't be a huge criticism however, as his writing is uniformly excellent. Definitely one to watch.