I Remember Brother Ray

[High Note, www.jazzdepot.com]

Keep It Simple

[Savant, www.jazzdepot.com]


[ECM, www.ecmrecords.com]

Waltz Again

[Justin Time, www.justin-time.com]

There's absolutely nothing wrong with the so-called mainstream jazz movement. The trick is knowing how to segregate the cream of the crop from the crap.

In a 1977 interview, Ray Charles had said "If I had focused on sax instead of singing and playing piano, I would have wanted to sound like 'Fathead'. 'Fathead' has the sound, the soul and the melodic mind that make him a jazz giant. He was an important part of my music, and I'm happy I met him so early on." High words of praise from Brother Ray indeed. Considering 'Fathead' Newman played with Ray Charles throughout the 50's and 60's, "I Remember Brother Ray" is a fitting tribute. Heavy on his signature melodic lines and those soulful blows, 'Fathead' dispenses nothing but familiar standards. From the recognizable and uplifting "Hit the Road Jack" to the melancholy tenderness of "Ruby", 'Fathead' gives it his all to impress and show that he still hasn't lost his soulful touch. Steve Nelson's vibe playing accentuates and colours. Check out how he swiftly changes the landscape on "When Your Lover Has Gone". Pianist John Hicks sticks to standard time and does a fair enough job of keeping the other players motivated to play their parts with zest. Most of all, this record is wrapped up in this gritty sort of warmth that only 'Fathead' Newman can dispense. A personal tribute indeed, which comes highly recommended. Curtis Fuller doesn't really need an introduction. For those who haven't come across this name, suffice it to say that this trombonist has done time with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Count Basie and countless others. His distinct direct trombone style has made this man a legend. "Keep It Simple" showcases yet another facet of his work. While his playing is rather satisfying, what I'd noticed is over time, it rather levels off. Curtis seems to be coasting along, as it were, playing what he plays the way he plays it, only because this is the only viable music to his ears. Don't expect grand discoveries or earth-shattering movements. Though Curtis tends to favour the standards [only three out of the eleven pieces were penned by him], there is much to be said about their execution. On the much re-done "Lover Man" for instance, there are some interesting duelling trombone and sax blows. Tenor player Javon Jackson seems to have a feel for Curtis' approach and sticks to the methodology closely. I only wish the rhythm section [made up of bassist Rodney Jordan and drummer Fritz Wise] had a bit more "oomph" to it. It would make this session that much more enjoyable. To be fair, "Keep It Simple" may not be a great session, but still a good effort from the master of the trombone.

After all of this trombone work, a little trumpet toil can't hurt, right? Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava has been exploring new ways of manoeuvring his instrument for the last three decades. The fact that people are only now waking up to his warm sound is really rather a shame. On his latest release "Tati", he has put together a trio made up of pianist Stefano Bollani and drummer Paul Motian. Though there's nothing particularly "wrong" with Rava's playing this time around, my biggest gripe is with this overpowering atmosphere of stillness. Pianist Stefano Bollani takes a stab at his best Paul Bley imitation but even this ends up somehow lacklustre. The strongest contender here is Paul Motian. With his usually articulate and underplayed rhythms, he's clearly a master of his own game. No matter what the other two play, Paul Motian remains true to himself. Though the sound of the recording is a personal distraction [ECM is known for its even recording quality], I still find Rava's playing to be warm and inspiring. Whether he's taking on a standard like "The Man I Love" or the rousing "Fantasm", he is one trumpet player the world has somehow overlooked. While in Europe he enjoys moderate success [due in part to Italian Instabile Orchestra], outside he still has to fight to get the deserved recognition. "Tati" may not be Rava's best work but it shows a player who has not lost his edge. Doing things that are outside of the standard mode is a daily event for saxophonist David Murray. Over the years, he's worked with musicians from Guadeloupe, Cuba, Dakar and many other countries. He's led his own big bands, trios, quartets. He's played solo and in duo scenarios. Finally, he's written a large bulk of the material he performs. So, when David Murray tackled waltz on his latest release "Waltz Again", this was not much of a surprise. Dedicated to his father [who loved waltz] and recorded with a sizeable string section, the album sees Murray at the top of his game. Not only did he have to write material for his quartet, but what's more, he had to arrange it for the string section as well. Joining Murray this time around are bassist Jaribu Shahid, percussionist Hamid Drake and a young Baltimore pianist by the name of Lafayette Gilchrist. Starting off with an extended 26-minute "Pushkin Suite # 1", Murray pumps at the idea that strings are actually an acceptable part of any jazz record [Look back in jazz history and count who hasn't used strings on their records]. Though the developments during this piece are quite nice, overall I find it too sweet. Yes, Murray takes a few scorching solos [nothing too daring], while Hamid Drake puts a light touch on the drum set. The problem is the strings steal the show. Everything on the long suite is centered on the strings. Once we get to the four shorter pieces, scenery changes dramatically. "Dark Secrets" has gulping and screeching solos from Murray throughout, while the rhythm section gets to shine a fair deal of the time. "Steps" turns out to be a traditional Murray ballad - all low register tenor notes - while the quartet plays perfect time. Don't get fooled into believing that "Waltz Again" is only for waltz lovers.

- Tom Sekowski

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