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Inspired by their leader, bassist Christian McBride, the musicians in this big band always sound like they are having the times of their lives.
Christian McBride, For Jimmy, Wes and Oliver (Mack Avenue)
In the late 90’s, I was assigned by Verve Records the pleasant job of writing the notes to reissues of classic albums by the king of the Hammond organ, Jimmy Smith: Blue Bash! was one, another was The Dynamic Duo, co-led by another prince of the music, guitarist Wes Montgomery, who gives one of his sunniest performances.(I also chose the selections as well as wrote the notes for Verve’s The Finest Hour of Jimmy Smith.) Generally, one talks to the musicians before writing these little essays. I tried. I called Smith so many times that I became friends with his wife. He was unwilling to talk, even when Mrs. Smith said, “Oh, Jimmy, do it for Mike.” The one thing he said to me that I remember — and that is printable — is the bleak “What’s in it for me?” What would he get out of a reissue of his music? Not much in terms of cash and he didn’t want his reissues to be competing with his latest recordings. I had a backup plan for my essay on Blue Bash! I called co-leader guitarist Kenny Burrell, whose son got back to me with the discouraging news that Kenny, one of my musical heroes, wouldn’t be available for a conversation “this year.”
Grammy-winning bassist, composer, and all-round jazz impresario Christian McBride has already released one stunning album this year with his major opus paying tribute to Civil Rights leaders on The Movement Revisited: A Musical Portrait of Four Icons, reviewed on these pages. Now McBride brings us another poignant effort, featuring his Grammy-winning big band ((CMBB’s third release) and quartets comprised of his lifelong friend and stellar organist Joey DeFrancesco and frequent collaborator guitarist Mark Whitfield. Regular CMBB drummer Quincy Phillips anchors both the big band and quartets which alternate on renditions of songs inspired by the 1966 recordings of organist Jimmy Smith and guitarist Wes Montgomery at Rudy Van Gelder’s famed studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Over the course of three days, the two jazz icons recorded the material for two now-classic albums: The Dynamic Duo (1966) and Further Adventures of Jimmy and Wes (1968), backed by a big band featuring arrangements by the great Oliver Nelson. As you can imagine McBride and company swing like crazy on this one, inspired by their forbears.
John Beasley has arranged the brass brighter and brasher, the low horns to be more growly and his tasty keyboard parts to be artfully highlighted on his third far-reaching album with MONK’estra. Extending marvelously synchronized section motifs—those indelibly quirky Monk phrases—into swelling backdrops that balance freely impassioned soloists, Beasley as a pianist and composer, too, draws out even more melodic, harmonic and rhythmic implications in music by Monk, Bird and Duke.
The intricate recasting of “Donna Lee” contains several thrills, but the motifs throughout are colored vividly, etched with fine yet robust lines and graceful in their surprising twists. The large ensemble’s performance seems flawless and the small group Beasley’s assembled for a few tracks with longtime colleagues such as bassist John Patitucci, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and soulful harmonica player Grégoire Maret is bonded in camaraderie. Among the virtues of Beasley’s charts is that they never outstay their welcome; instead, they leave us wanting more. And with the abundance of details to absorb here, that’s really saying something. Beasley has a brilliant musical mind and warm yet exploratory touch, and his originals fit sweetly amid the time-honored repertoire. Jazz history is beautifully served here by Beasley leading his orchestra to embody his own unique vision.
Havana-based pianist and composer Harold López-Nussa captures the joyous, dancing, vibrant music of today’s Cuba with an exhilarating marriage of jazz and Cuban pop music, defiantly standing up to the doubters who failed to share his radical vision. To understand the title, many didn’t think he could pull off such a marriage on this, his ninth album and third for Mack Avenue. Much like its near equivalent in English, “I told you so,” the Spanish phrase “Te lo dije” can be deployed as a boast or a put-down – often both at once. López-Nussa throws down that gauntlet on Te Lo Dije, featuring the pianist’s core quartet of drummer Ruy Adrián López-Nussa, bassist Julio César González and trumpeter Mayquel González, bolstered by a number of special guests including Afro-Cuban funk superstar Cimafunk; French accordionist Vincent Peirani; famed Cuban reggaeton vocalist Randy Malcom; and vocalist Kelvis Ochoa.
In a recent interview with Bob Mintzer in the Winter 2020 edition of the Jazz In Europe magazine, Bob Mintzer spoke at length about the Yellowjackets collaboration with Germany’s WDR Big Band. In November this year, the band will release the album documenting the collaboration titled Jackets XL. This album is the fourth album on Mack Avenue and marks the bands 25th release. The project combines the shapeshifting quartet with the renowned big band, re-imagining well-known band originals with dynamic new arrangements that feature twists and turns, textures and colours, moving harmonies and bold solos.
Billy Childs has more than an armful of diverse talents. As a composer he has received five GRAMMY® Awards and 16 nominations, many for composition and arrangement. Presently in continual demand for symphonic and chamber commissions, he has also innovated a collection of compositions for jazz instrumentation and strings that is unique in the American music lexicon: a genre he refers to as jazz/chamber music. His second Mack Avenue release, Acceptance, though is not about that but rather as leader of a small combo playing piano for his jazz compositions. His small ensemble, of course, has large stars – saxophonist Steve Wilson, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Eric Harland.
Billy Childs, Acceptance (Mack Avenue)
Keyboardist Billy Childs won a Grammy for his 2018 album Rebirth, and he’s returned with the same band on this release: saxophonist Steve Wilson, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Eric Harland, accompanied on some tracks by vocalists Alicia Olatuja, Aubrey Johnson, and Sara Gazarek. Flutist Elena Pinderhughes, who’s worked with Christian Scott, is on one track, and percussionists Rogerio Boccato and Munyungo Jackson show up here and there, too. Most of the album is acoustic, except for “Leimert Park,” the track spotlighted here. On that one, Childs switches to Fender Rhodes and synths, and Glawischnig picks up the electric bass. It’s named for the area of Los Angeles that holds the World Stage, an arts center and performance space where Kamasi Washington and Thundercat got their start as teenagers. Childs originally recorded it with Paul Jackson and Mike Clark of the Headhunters, and that’s clearly audible — it’s a strutting, funky retro fusion tune with a head-nodding groove, layers of keyboard, and some sharp soprano sax work from Wilson.
Stream “Leimert Park”
Brian Bromberg dishes on his album 'Bromberg Plays Hendrix' and plays an exclusive playthrough of "Purple Haze"
To mark the 50th Anniversary of Jimi Hendix’s passing, Brian Bromberg is re-releasing his 2008 tour-de-force tribute to the iconic guitarist, Bromberg Plays Hendrix, on Sept. 18, 2020. Bromberg, who played nine different basses in tandem with drum great Vinnie Colaiuta on the album, reports that the updated version contains a new mix and a bonus track from the original sessions, entitled “Jimi.” Album pre-sale begins Friday, August 14th. We asked Brian, who provided Bass Magazine with an exclusive play-along video of “Purple Haze” [below] about both versions.
Classic-rock songs often turn into cultural signposts for no clear reason — what does this 1969 Blind Faith epic really mean, anyway, with its obtuse lyrics and addictive, endless vamping? The pianist Christian Sands and his trio make the song matter again. Yasushi Nakamura's exploratory bass line opens the way for Sands's touch on the keyboard, at first light, then increasingly driven by Clarence Penn's kicking drum. In their hands, the song is about questing itself: its loneliness and excitement, the determination it requires, the way the final destination ultimately doesn't matter. Music is the best place to find yourself, getting lost. — Ann Powers
Barely out of his 20s, Christian Sands is an extraordinarily complete musician. It isn’t just the quality of his playing, although he has the most deft and sensitive touch at the keys; or his compositions, although they are remarkably accomplished for one so young. And it isn’t even his rapid ascent through the ranks of contemporary jazz, which has seen him sharing stages with everyone from Christian McBride to Wynton Marsalis.
No, it’s the fact that he has developed ideas about music from fields as diverse as film and martial arts. Take this new album – his eighth as leader (he recorded his first at the age of 11). “Be water” is no random phrase but a concept that informs Sands’s whole outlook on music and life in general. While studying martial arts, he was struck by a suggestion of Bruce Lee’s – that in order to be an effective fighter, you must be like water, adapting yourself to the shape of whatever vessel you find yourself in.
Billy Childs, “Leimert Park”
Billy Childs is known for the elegance of his designs; he’s a composer, arranger and producer with a feeling for the dignity of form. But of course, Childs is also a terrific pianist and keyboardist, and sometimes it’s all too easy to let that part of his identity slip to the side. Not so on a new album, Acceptance, which Mack Avenue will release on Aug. 28.
Empty your mind,” Bruce Lee said famously (by way of his friend, screenwriter Stirling Silliphant). “Be formless, shapeless, like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle … Now water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”