Category: Album review

Album review: Christian McBride's 'Conversations With Christian'

November 10, 2011 |  6:45 am

Christian600
Christian McBride, "Conversations With Christian"

(Mack Avenue)

Bassist/bandleader Christian McBride isn't a guy who likes sitting still. The L.A. Phil's Creative Chair for Jazz from 2006 to 2010, the 39-year-old McBride has recently toured with the jazz-fusion super-group Five Peace Band as well as his throwback acoustic ensemble Kind of Brown, which released a sharp debut in 2009. This year marks another active one for McBride with September's rambunctious big-band album "The Good Feeling" and this month's "Conversations With Christian," a collection of duets that rose out of a 2009 podcast series of the same name.

Full of loosely intimate interplay, the results sometimes recall the try-anything spirit of McBride's guest-heavy 2006 live album "Live at Tonic." A duet with Dee Dee Bridgewater on "It's Your Thing" swells with such a sassily off-the-cuff spirit that Bridgewater briefly breaks into laughter, while jazz violinist Regina Carter forms an intricate lattice-work with McBride for a bluesy play on Bach's Double Violin Concerto. A sparkling improvisation with Chick Corea churns through a sea of unexpected twists, and "McDukey's Blues" is a raucous piano-bass sprint with George Duke, who sounds worlds away from his breezier plugged-in fare.

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Album review: Pärt: Piano Music

November 9, 2011 | 11:30 am

Arvo Part

Pärt: Piano Music, Ralph van Raat

(Naxos)

Among these six of the mystical Estonian Arvo Pärt’s 10 solo piano pieces are his earliest from the late '50s when he was neither mystical nor particularly, in his music, Estonian. Shostakovich was a major influence, but already apparent is a gripping terseness of the spiritualist to come. The most recent score is the first recording of Pärt’s “Für Anna Maria,” which is from 2006, barely longer than a minute and almost from another planet.

The big piece is “Lamentate,” 30 times longer than "Anna Maria," for piano and orchestra. It was inspired by an Anish Kapoor sculpture (and given a theatrical premiere at Tate Modern site of the Kapoor installation by Peter Sellars). The concerto-of-sorts is here played with bold contrasts of loud and soft by Raat (an excellent Dutch pianist who specializes in Minimalism) and the Dutch ensemble conducted by the former music director of the Long Beach Symphony. The original "Lamentate" on ECM has more soul, but this disc offers a fascinating look at some parts of Pärt you won’t find elsewhere -- and on a budget label.

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-- Mark Swed

Photo: Arvo Pärt. Credit: Roberto Masotti

Culture Watch: The Claudia Quintet +1, 'What Is the Beautiful?'

October 19, 2011 |  1:16 pm

What Is the Beautiful?

The Claudia Quintet + 1, "What Is the Beautiful?"

(Cuneiform)

Music and spoken-word collaborations can be problematic, especially in the world of jazz. Though the passionate creation in both disciplines can be complementary, sometimes the results clash, leaving listeners either wishing that guy in the beret would hush for a minute or those musicians would take a break so we can focus on what's being said.

But this isn't a problem on the latest from New York's Claudia Quintet. Augmented by pianist Matt Mitchell, the record is a meeting between the knotty compositions of drummer John Hollenbeck and the poetry of the late Kenneth Patchen, whose work influenced the Beats. Though Hollenbeck's arrangements are as evocative as ever in crafting a lush maze of percussion, accordion and woodwinds, Patchen's words remain on equal footing with the help of Theo Bleckmann and Kurt Elling.

While Bleckmann's otherworldly voice lends an ethereal quality to tracks such as "The Snow Is Deep on the Ground," Elling nearly steals the record with his trademark baritone. Burrowing into Patchen's words with sly gravity and wit, Elling adds a working-class patter to the twisted work parable "Job" and taps into his inner Tom Waits with a stumbling slur on "Opening The Window." The meeting reaches its peak on the title track, which features Elling and the band slowly gathering power with each recitation of Patchen's calm command, "Pause. And begin again." When the results are this good, by all means.

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— Chris Barton

Culture Watch: Jeff Gauthier Goatette, 'Open Source'

October 17, 2011 |  9:20 am

The Jeff Gauthier Goatette, "Open Source" (Cryptogramophone)
The Jeff Gauthier Goatette, "Open Source"

(Cryptogramophone)

Somewhere between running the forward-looking local jazz label Cryptogramophone and co-organizing the Angel City Jazz Festival, violinist Jeff Gauthier finds time for his own ensemble. Now on the cusp of its 20th year, the Goatette again features Gauthier with longtime collaborators Nels and Alex Cline, twin brothers who have helped anchor the L.A. improvised music scene with Gauthier since the '70s.

Though Nels has since relocated to New York City, his name draws the most notice these days since joining the celebrated rock band Wilco. And while fans of Nels' unmistakable brand of galaxy-shifting guitar craft will love heavier tracks such as "Prelude to a Bite" and the menacing opener "40 Lashes (With Mascara)," it's an ensemble that's built on years of shared communication that really shines. Written by the late Eric Von Essen, "Things Past" features David Witham's piano delicately teaming with Gauthier's warm violin, and a twisting take on Ornette Coleman's "Joy of a Toy" stretches in a variety of  expressive angles with the help of trumpeter John Fumo and an insistently swung rhythm from Alex Cline.

Add in a 14-minute title track that closes things out with a journey from ambient improvisation to an electrical storm of melodic drive and there's much to be said for Gauthier still making time for old friends.

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 -- Chris Barton

Culture Watch: Ingolf Wunder Chopin Recital

October 11, 2011 | 12:34 pm

Ingolf Wunder Chopin Recital

Ingolf Wunder Chopin Recital

(Deutsche Grammophon)

The Austrian pianist, born in 1985, tied for second place last year at the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw, but he seems to have won the big prize – an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon. His first recording of mostly late Chopin is an extremely elegant and polished affair.

Most impressive is the Polonaise-Fantasie, played with grace, superb restraint, unflashy but utterly secure technique and a wonderfully mellow tone. Add to this a probing performance of the Third Piano Sonata, a flowing Fourth Ballade and a spiffy Andante Spianato/Grande Polonaise Brillante, and this becomes a Chopin recording one can easily live with for a long time.

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-- Mark Swed

Culture Watch: Roger Reynolds' 'Sanctuary'

September 28, 2011 | 10:00 am

  NGA_SchickA-600x337

Roger Reynolds: Sanctuary
(Mode DVD)

An epic work of intoxicating beauty for four percussionists and electronics, “Sanctuary” is meant for a great space. It had its premiere in the atrium of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., in 2007. The next year, it was performed, while the sun set over the Pacific, outdoors at the Salk Institute in La Jolla. This DVD documents the premiere, offers a documentary on the Salk performance and another nuts-and-bolts documentary on the composer, who has been at UCSD for more than 40 years.

Reynolds Sanctuary More important, the two-DVD set also offers a studio recording in stunning surround sound by red fish, blue fish, Steven Schick’s USCD percussion ensemble that inspired the score, with fancy video imaging showing the theatrical aspects of the performance. The visuals, at least for home consumption, are overkill. What matters is the subtle, exquisitely textured, often surprisingly muted and compulsively listenable music. The score begins with quiet tapping that might suggest nerve cells firing. Then, over the span of an hour and a quarter, you might sense the brain of a lyric poet coming to sizzling life.

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-- Mark Swed

Photo: Percussionist Steven Schick  in the world premiere of "Sanctuary" at the National Gallery. Credit: Alex Matthews/Mode

New CDs: 'Miles Davis Quintet - Live in Europe'; 'Miles Espanol'

September 19, 2011 | 10:00 am

Miles-albums
If the sun rose this morning, then it must be time for a record label to take another run at repurposing the Miles Davis catalog. February saw the release of the bracing "Bitches Brew Live," which paired nicely with 2010's sumptuous 40th anniversary set for the landmark album, and then there was last year's massive "Complete Columbia Album" collection.

And that doesn't even count the staggering array of outtake-rich boxed sets and collections over the last 10 years from various albums, labels and eras (sometimes more than once). In short, Miles' music is still as safe a bet for labels as archive releases for rock's heritage artists such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young and many more -- including Nirvana.

With that in mind, this month offers two distinct looks at Davis' legacy, one a rewarding dip into the live vaults while the other uses the jazz legend's music as a springboard into something more exotic.

The first, released Tuesday, is the beginning of a planned series of "Bootleg" sets that includes three 1967 concerts by Davis' vaunted "Second Great Quintet": Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. A DVD compiling two more European performances from the same period, previously only available on grainy YouTube clips and the pricey "Complete Recordings" set, is also included.

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Culture Watch: Gustavo Dudamel's first recordings from Gothenburg

September 13, 2011 | 10:00 am

Dudamel
Gustavo Dudamel and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra: Bruckner, Sibelius, Nielsen.


(Deutsche Grammophon)

Gothenburg is Gustavo Dudamel’s other orchestra. His work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela is well documented on recording. But this three CD set of Bruckner, Sibelius and Nielsen symphonies, recorded live, is his first with the Swedish orchestra he has led since 2007.

The Gothenburg sound that Dudamel inherited is darker and muskier than we in sunnier climes of L.A. or Caracas are used to.  A sense of tradition in Sweden's second city is unmistakable, but so is Dudamel's tweaking said tradition.

Sibelius conducted his Second Symphony in Gothenburg. Nielsen conducted his Fourth and Fifth symphonies, also on this set, with the orchestra. Dudamel approaches the scores with a contagious sense of wow, learning odd and wonderful music from musicians in whose DNA it flows.

But he also eggs on these Swedes. The strangeness of Nielsen is gripping. Dudamel’s Sibelius sails on wings of celebration and his excitement at the symphony’s end is over the moon (check out the Finale on YouTube).

Bruckner’s Ninth is more elusive. Dudamel digs into its depths, and there are moments of wondrously moody spiritual intensity and granitic grandeur. Recorded in 2008, it was Dudamel’s first encounter with the composer. A Brucknerian power and maturity are already remarkable, with a promise of depth to come.

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-- Mark Swed

Culture watch: Bach 5 Keyboard Concertos

August 31, 2011 |  6:00 am

Bach 5 Piano Concerti Bach: 5 Keyboard Concertos

(Decca)

Thirty-four-year-old Iranian pianist Ramin Bahrami went to study in Italy as a teenager shortly before his father, a political victim of the regime, died in jail. Bach, the pianist told an Italian newspaper, saved his life.  And that is how he plays Bach's first five piano concertos,  as matters of life and death.

Some of the movements, with the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig, conducted with extraordinary vitality by Riccardo Chailly, set out to break speed records (five concerti on a single CD is a feat).  The performances have a rhythmic litheness that makes you want to get up and dance. But Bahrami also has a mystical side. The slow movement to the F Minor concerto is out of this world.

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-- Mark Swed

Culture Watch: Slumgum, Pear add new flavor to local jazz scene

August 10, 2011 |  9:00 am

Slumpear600
Slumgum, "Quardboard Flavored Fiber" (Accretions)

Pear, "Extemp'ore" (PearStudio Records)

Released a month apart earlier this year, these albums showcase two relatively new arrivals on L.A.'s eclectic jazz landscape.

A piano-and-drums duo fleshed out by a variety of guests, Pear is inspired by the cut-and-paste songwriting from Miles Davis' electric period (the record opens with a raspy quote from Miles himself). Often mining a jazz-funk seam, bassist Jennifer Leitham provides a fleet-fingered, rubbery counterweight to Nick Pierone's piano, and session-hand guitarist Carl Verheyen throws sparks over an off-center groove in "Carl Session 2." Pear takes so many tangents -- kora by Prince Diabaté, a brief if endearingly clumsy stab at hip-hop and vocal turns in whispered French or mined from an answering machine message -- that it's hard to focus on where it's coming from, but where it's at remains intriguing.

A brightly twisted product of CalArts' music program, the quartet Slumgum has played off-center local incubators like the Blue Whale and the Steve Allen Theater's experimental showcase ResBox. Rising out of Rory Cowal's flickering Fender Rhodes keyboard, "Hancho Pancho" expands into a growling storm led by saxophonist Jon Armstrong, and the thoughtful "Afternoon" showcases the band's care with slow-burning acoustic atmosphere. The group dips into rougher waters with the knotty "Puce Over Pumpkin With a Hint of Lime" and an uneven six-pack of songs under the name "Big Fun," but the group's vivid sense of melody and relentless drive for exploration mark it as a quartet to watch.

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-- Chris Barton

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