Thursday, December 29, 2005

CD Trolling

With a most generous gift card from the appreciative company I'm pounding salt at, holiday cheer came with the acquisition of The Band's "Musical History", previously ooh-ahh'ed on December 21st. I'm still going through the package so evaluation is still not final, but, in going through the book provided and the first 3 cd's, I'll safely say that, even for those folks who already have The Band cd's or albums, this is a gorgeous collection that would please anyone who loves them. And I'm not talking about loving The Band and Bob Dylan; just The Band. The sheer amount of musical talent in this group is astounding and the box-set does a terrific job (still haven't seen the dvd in the package) of showcasing the full spectrum of the band's existence.

Some additional monies were left over.
Funky money; a chance to just go into a musical emporium and let the fingers do the walking with no set plan. I'd heard and read some bits about jazz pianist Robert Glasper. At Jazz News, All About Jazz, and at Jazz Police, background information all point out that Mr. Glasper is one of the New "New" Young Lions of Jazz (A category adjusted each decade, it seems). Unfortunately for me, I hadn't read the Jazz Police article until this past weekend.
A true bummer; Mr. Glasper had a two night stay at Zanzibar Blue, a gorgeous venue in Philly. Based on his latest effort, "Canvas", seeing him live would have been a treat. Ben Ratliff of The New York Times wrote that (Mr. Glasper) "deserves comparison with the best of the newer piano trios, those led by Jason Moran, Bill Charlap and Brad Mehldau." A high compliment indeed, but one that is a bit mis-leading. Mr. Charlap and Mr. Mehldau have been playing with their trio partners for the better part of a decade (although Mr. Mehldau recently added Jeff Ballard replacing long-time drummer Jorge Rossy on his latest release Day is Done). Mr. Moran has not been playing with his group, The Bandwagon , as long, but certainly longer than has Mr.Glasper with his trio, which includes Vicente Archer on bass and Damon Reid on drums. So, the tightening of the group is still in process. Distribution of the solos is, IMHO, too democratic. Mark Turner, while a fabulous tenor saxman, gets too much play on the compositions he plays on. Of the 10 tracks, Mr. Glasper and his trio play exclusively on 6 and they are joined by the previously mentioned Mr. Turner on 2 and by vocalist/emotist Bilal on 2. If there’s a similarity to the other pianists named by Ben Ratliff, I’d say Mr. Glaser most closely follows in the style of Mr. Charlap. He’s gentle on the keys with soothing passages between solos, unlike the occasional heavy-handing ker-plunking of Mr. Moran and Brad Mehldau. We should count ourselves lucky to be living in a time when such great jazz pianists are just starting on their path to legacy. If anyone has heard Tomasz Stanko they'd understand why I’d include Marcin Wasilewski in this group of young pianists.

Continuing the meandering in the store, I noticed this interesting item,Charlie Hunter, Chinna Smith, Ernest Ranglin joint cd, "Earth Tones". I'm a fan of both Charlie Hunter (he of the 8-string guitar) and Ernest Ranglin (he of the powerful Jamaica guitar sound). Earl "Chinna" Smith was a mystery to me. The selections listed on the back of the cd included McCoy Tyner's "Passion Dance", Irving Burgess' "Island in the Sun", and Eddie Brickell's "What I Am". Based on my positive reaction to Garage a Trois (and here), Analog Playground, All Kooked Out, Below the Bassline, Rocksteady, and Modern Answers to Old Problems I knew that Earth Tones had a 66 2/3% chance of being highly enjoyable since Hunter and Ranglin were the featured players.
Mr. Hunter had already gone Jamaican at least once before with decent results. This cd couldn't be any worse than Natty Dread.
It wasn't. The addition of Mr. Smith, with his acoustic guitar playing was quite the positive addition (as opposed to the re-dundant negative subtraction??). Each player shines on their featured track and their joint versions of standards, particularly "Island in the Sun" livens up the originals.

How many of you out there would be willing to admit that they've purchased at least one cd/album in their lifetime based solely on packaging design?
Entirely based on what you see.
No knowledge of the artist.
No clue as to any reviews of the cd you have in your hands.
Not even commentary (learned or idiotic) by the store's employees.
Just a blind purchase; an item for the ear using only the eyes as judge.

I've had some clunkers in the past, but it is one of life's small pleasures to take a jump into the unfamiliar. At $11.99, this was a cheap thrill of a jump.
Lafayette Gilchrist. Loved the name.
Subdued picture on the front cover, various brown hues centerd by a pianist caught in perfect mid-note. Back cover has a pensive pose struck by Mr. Gilchrist. The pensive pose was accompanied by a light-colored suit, dark shirt, and a Kangol version of Thelonious Monk's pork pie hat.
Nine songs listed, with five over 8 minutes long.
No listing of personnel, so it could be a solo production, trio, orchestra, or how many ever musicians needed to complete his vision.
What the hell, with that hat, it was worth a shot.
So, the third cd I bought was Lafayette Gilchrist's "Toward the Shining Light" (From Jazzitude, a review). While the cd's packaging emphasize Mr. Gilchrist, the music has his piano-playing in the background, a minor moan on my part. He has a unique style, combining stride, Prof. Longhair runs with Dr. John's humour, and a muscular physical playing possibly reflecting his boxing days. It would have been nice to hear more of that playing. But, this is a minor quibble. The brass-playing is front and center, featuring John Dierker & Gregory Tompkins on tenor, with Gabriel Ware on alto and Mike Cerri on trumpet. All of the compositions and arrangements are by Mr. Gilchrist; the uniformity of the presentation is strong throughout. Similar sounding bands? The closest I come up with is Either Orchestra, even though that group has more personnel.
This is a jazz album that begs to be listened to VERY LOUDLY. It'll have you swaying while the walls are thumping. And, at $11.99, this has got to be the musical bargain of the year.

All three cd's are recommended and each covers most any mood you can throw yourself into.

Marcin Wasilewski's ECM debut is trandscentally exquite, or exquisitely transcendent, or something. It's good, too. Now if he can just Americanize that name. How about Mark Wahlberg?
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