Friday, September 21, 2007

New CDs: Mina Agossi/Terence Blanchard/Josh Roseman/Jimmy Bruno

So much music, so little time.
I'm constantly receiving good CDs, and I never have enough time to listen to them all, much less review them.
Here's a round-up of several new and notable jazz CDs that I've been listening to lately. Some of these reviews have appeared or will appear, in slightly different form, in newspapers and magazines.
Worth hearing, too, but not reviewed here, are new releases from Christian Scott, Bruce Hornsby, Charlie Hunter, Bill Frisell, and, yes, Porter Wagoner.

The Blanchard review appears in this week's Las Vegas City Life, and in a recent edition of the St. Petersburg Times. The Roseman review appeared in last week's Las Vegas City Life.

Mina Agossi
Who Wants to Love? (Live at Jazz Standard)

Performing for an awe-struck crowd in New York at the IAJE (International Association for Jazz Education) conference in January, during a set that dipped into both Thelonious Monk and Jimi Hendrix, Mina Agossi was a force of nature, a fearless singer whose work was equal parts jazz-rooted experimentation, performance art and trippy spoken word.

The French-African vocalist digs a similar musical vein on Who Wants to Love?, recorded last year at the Jazz Standard nightclub in Manhattan.

The standards here are hardly approached in standard fashion. For Ray Noble’s “The Very Thought of You,” Agossi whispers some of the lyrics, unaccompanied, before launching into the tune proper, joined only by bassist Eric Jacot and drummer Ichiro Onoe, who wander on rather aimlessly without the singer before she returns for a reprise. Backed by Jacot, percussionist Daoud David Williams and trumpeter Rob Henke, she toys with the melody of Ellington’s “Do Nothin’ Til You Hear From Me, elongating some phrases, dropping others and injecting mouth sounds into the proceedings. Cole Porter’s “It’s Alright With Me” is rebuilt on trance rhythms, with Agossi’s improvisations and screeches trailing Henke’s scattershot declarations.

She stretches even farther out on Hendrix’s “Spanish Castle Magic,” decorated with bowed-bass runs and odd vocal maneuvering. Her five originals are similarly adventurous, with a wedding theme coming in for a bruising on the odd “Marry Me.”

Terence Blanchard
A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina)
(Blue Note)

A city’s soul mourns out loud on “A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina),” New Orleans native Terence Blanchard’s affecting cinematic ode to things lost and found during the watery siege of his hometown.

The music created by the trumpeter’s band, and the auxiliary orchestral players, evokes particular images for a good reason: A quartet of the tunes, including “Levees,” with Blanchard’s alternately creamy and braying trumpet riding atop steadily unfolding strings work, were originally heard on Spike Lee’s heartbreaking 2006 documentary When the Levees Broke. Blanchard’s trumpet tone, throughout, is beautiful, and the CD’s emotional tone is poignant.

His exceptional quintet is featured on drummer Kendrick Scott’s ethereal-to-swinging “Mantra,” and the sound is stripped down even more on “Ghost of Betsy,” an edgy duet with bassist Derrick Hodge.

Spirits lurk, too, on “Ghost of 1927,” Scott’s spooky workout with tenor saxophonist Brice Winston, and “Ghost of Congo Square,” livened with the sound of Mardi Gras Indians-style chanting and rhythm making. Blanchard’s trumpet is naked and soaring on the closing “Dear Mom,” a lovely ballad of pain, regret and maybe a small measure of hope, a bitter but potent cocktail the Crescent City has been downing for two years straight.

Josh Roseman
New Constellations: Live in Vienna

Josh Roseman, an itinerant trombone slinger who has worked with the likes of jazz stars Dave Holland and Dave Douglas, and jazzy jam acts MMW and Charlie Hunter, pays tribute to ska founding father Don Drummond (also a trombonist) on New Constellations.

The disc has Roseman riding tough over deep dub grooves, with the horn power augmented by saxophonist/multi-istrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum and young trumpet find Ambrose Akinmusire, and the swirly, squiggling sound effects and rhythm magic provided by bassist Jonathan Maron, keyboardist Barney McAll (both of Groove Collective) and drummer Justin Brown.

Guitarist Marvin Sewell also adds limber lines to this bracing, edgy, hypnotic mass of sound, with intriguing reworkings of Drummond’s “Thoroughfare” and “Confucious,” and two treks through the Beatles’ “I Should Have Known Better.” The CD also includes a piece with the year’s catchiest title: “Olsen Twins Subpoena,” which thrives on a battery of bone slams, drum cracks, unexpected sonic effects and sudden keyboard overlays.

Jimmy Bruno with Tony Miceli and Jeff Pedras
Maplewood Avenue
(Affiliated Artists)

Guitarist Jimmy Bruno makes an elegant noise with vibraphonist Tony Miceli and bassist Jeff Pedras on Maplewood Avenue, an uncluttered session
recorded live at the journeyman six-stringer’s home in his native Philadelphia.

The sound is strikingly intimate on this set of quiet chamber-jazz originals, with Bruno’s warm chord strokes and fluid improvisations nicely contrasted by Miceli’s bright, airy mallets work and Pedras’s full-bodied plucking and bowing.

Mid-tempo swing is the style du jour, with a call-and-response section – Bruno and Miceli answered by Pedras – fronting the slinky title track, and a bop-ish unison line sparking “Pa Turnpike,” parts of which suggest the chord changes to “On Green Dolphin Street.”
Brazilian colors limn the flowing “Easton Street Bossa,” a chunky bass line anchors the blues “Route 611,” speedy solo lines course through the sprightly “Jimmy’s House” and the three successfully fuse jazz and classical forms with “Bach Sonata Trio.”

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