Three Old Pros

McBrideNow that I’ve written that title, let me check. Christian McBride qualified as a young lion in the early 1990s, but he’s just turned forty. He’s got some old soul, though, perhaps the result of coming up with Bobby Watson’s group, playing with Milt Jackson, J.J. Johnson, and Freddy Hubbard. He’s a master of control, a craftsman of the first order and an ideal mate for the his very talented pianist Christian Sands, himself a protege of old soul Billy Taylor. Rounding out the trio is an equally top-rank player, Ulysses Owens, Jr. The name of the CD, on Mack Avenue records, is Out Here, and it’s very satisfying, clean and varied with tight, focused performances. This is jazz composition and performance of the highest caliber. There’s a lot of strong material here, but McBride’s own “Ham Hocks and Cabbage” is especially fine. Oscar Peterson’s “Hallelujah Time” is wistful, pensive, and sweet, nicely played by Sands. Dr. Billy Taylor’s “Easy Walker” is another of the CD’s best tracks, mostly because of the strolling, gently swinging motion of McBride’s bass, and its interplay with the Sands’ piano. Best of all: McBride bowing his way through the sentimental melody, “I Have Dreamed.” Selecting individual tracks is fun for me because everything here is so well-constructed and winning, but the funk of “Who’s Making Love” is lots of fun–with McBride doing a bit of showboating on a tune that can easily handle it. If you’re beginning to think about gifts for the holiday season, this is one in the category of “you can’t go wrong.”

So who’s older: pianist Keith Jarrett or vibraphonist Gary Burton? Both musicians started their career in the early 1960s, both have recorded dozens of albums, both are veterans of the jazz fusion era and managed to forge remarkable careers as collaborators.

2200 XJarrett’s work is immediately magical, glorious in its improvisation and sonic exploration. He’s been doing these albums for decades, and yet, every time I put a Jarrett CD on (or, for that matter, an LP), I’m immediately transported into the filagree of his imagination, sipping a drink at an after-hours jazz bar where the player is extraordinary and I just don’t want the evening to ever end. Recorded live at the KKL Luzern Concert Hall, the CD called Somewhere begins with the  mind-bending “Deep Space,” and here, it’s Jarrett’s show with just the right additional color and light provided by double bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette; later in the track (the second part is Miles Davis’s “Solar,” their interplay moves the music into an even more interesting exploration, a testament to the extreme skill, experience and love of experimentation that these three musicians consistently offer. So that’s one track, again the first, and again, a favorite. (And I suppose I should mention that the sonic fidelity of these recordings is at such a high level, it would be difficult to imagine a disc sounding any better.) There are some favorite standards here (mine, anyway); it’s difficult for me not to be captivated by Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere;” and the less-often-heard “Stars Fell on Alabama” and the Jimmy van Heusen- Johnny Mercer tune, “I Thought About You.” Ooops–I’m listening to the wrong track–that’s really catchy, and less schticky than I remembered: “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”–well, a little schtick for me. Back to the dark night sky and mystery of “Stars Fell…” and my mind easily drifts to Perseids and stardust. What a lovely album.

GaryBurtonThe old guy in the crowd–Gary Burton is 70 to Keith Jarrett’s 68–opens with a Antonio Sanchez’s rocking drum, instantly establishing a more ambitious, brighter tone for the new Guided Tour, also from Mack Avenue. This is a quartet with Burton leading as one might do with a piano. Sanchez really drives this music. It’s a bigger sound than you would typically expect from a quartet. Burton is leading an exploration not entirely different from Jarrett, but more clearly articulated, more melodic, catchier. The difference is the way that Julian Lage is playing electric guitar, almost as if he’s playing in the style of Burton and his vibes on “Jane Fonda Called Again,” never passive or receding or relaxed, but instead, aggressive and punchy. Yes, they play pretty, too, working the pastoral mood on “Jackalope,”  and the Latin romance of “Helena” (especially nice guitar from Lage on this one), but it is so much more fun when these guys really go for it, with Burton playing fast and strong. Best example is probably the last track, written by drummer Sanchez, called “Monk Fish.” Scott Colley is the capable, but less showy, bassist; tough to get a word in edge-wise when the other players are clearly having so much fun. Far livelier than the other two CDs, Guided Tour is a terrific introduction to the Burton’s massive catalog.

What a great night of jazz listening. I haven’t enjoyed writing an article about anything in I don’t know how long. Thanks for the opportunity. Go–listen!

Extremely Long Player

1980s: I’m buying lots of LPs.

1990s: I’m buying lots of CDs.

2000s: I’m downloading lots of music files.

2010s: I’m buying lots of LPs.

What’s going on? As record companies contemplate the end of CD production, LPs are gaining popularity. TIME magazine caught the trend early, but failed to mention activity in vast used LP stores (separate blog post, in the works).

For newcomers, or those whose memory was fogged by digital d-rays, here’s what you need to know…

You need a turntable, a tone arm, a cartridge, a stylus, some cables, a phono per-amp, an amplifier, more cables, and loudspeakers. Back in the day, all of this stuff was combined in a “record player.”

Here in 2011-12, it’s more complicated–and that’s without the USB connection to your computer.

One popular, convenient choice is Audio-Technica’s PL-120, available for about $300. It includes everything you need except the amp and speakers. And, you can connect it to your computer to create digital versions of your LPs.

Rega's RP1 Turntable, an audiophile choice.

If you’re willing to invest more money for better sound, the audiophile choice is Rega’s RP-1, which includes a superior tone arm, a better drive system (to spin the platter) and other features that contribute to a cleaner, more focused presentation. The cartridge (which typically includes the stylus) is an accessory–each cartridge design possesses unique sonic characteristics–is a separate purchase. Rega’s RP1 accessory kit costs an additional $200, and includes Rega’s Bias 2 cartridge and several useful accessories.

Audio-Technica's all-in-one, lower-priced USB turntable.

Better would be another favorite cartridge, Audio-Technica’s ML-440. With turntable, tone arm and cartridge in place, you need a phono preamp. At about $150, one good choice is Music Hall’s PA 1.2. I leave the choice of amplifier and loudspeakers to you–the old system stored in your basement or found in a good used stereo shop will be just fine. Audiogon.com is an online store specializing in audiophile equipment, but a local dealer may provide both friendly advice and a place to listen before you buy.

How about a used turntable? Maybe from a reliable high-end dealer, but not from some random eBay source. Used cartridge? I wouldn’t do that. Instead, I would opt for the all-in-one Audio-Technica PL-120. But first, learn from:

Jerry Raskin’s Needle Doctor, which sells all sorts of cool stuff, not just needles!

Audio Advisor

Music Direct

Bill Evans: Last & Found

Late in the summer of 1980, pianist Bill Evans played several trio sessions at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner. Marc Johnson played bass. Joe LaBarbera played drums. Evans knew he was dying, knew that these would be his last sessions. Fortunately, the sessions were recorded. Two weeks later, he was gone.

Twenty years later, in 2000, Milestone released a box of eight CDs, one for each evening’s performance. For the past week or so, I’ve been listening to the discs. (You can, too: I just checked, and you can buy them on Amazon. The link is below.)

The performances are wonderful. Evans’ work has always been described as lyrical, poetic, introspective, relaxed, and a kin to European salon music.

Everybody Loves Bill Evans is one of his most popular single albums–perhaps a place to begin before buying the more expensive box. In a review from a long-ago book about jazz, I wrote: “Classic 1958 piano jazz, played by a musician so widely respected that Miles Davis, George Shearing, Ahmad Jamal, and Cannonball Adderley signed their written praises for use as the album’s cover art. Most songs are confident variations on jazz standards like Sonny Rollins’s “Oleo” and Cole Porter’s “Night and Day.” Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time” is also a highlight. Bassist Sam Jones and (unrelated) drummer Philly Joe Jones keep things moving. More distinctive are Evans’s unaccompanied solos, particularly “Peace Piece” and “Tenderly,” both haunting because of the pianist’s light touch, tiny flourishes, patience, and willingness to allow the piano to resonate.”

In fact, I rediscovered the Last Sessions box after hearing one of Evans’ duets with Tony Bennett on the radio. When the albums was recorded, Bennett was just beginning to taste a possible comeback, and it was this album that led to his remarkable second-round success. I wrote: “Bennett was in his mid-fifties when he recorded this album in 1975. HIs voice is a tad husky and a bit light on the high notes, but his endless experience shapes and sells every word of every song. This adds meaning and depth to “Some Other Time,” “Waltz for Debby,” and other titles that had been in Evans’s repertoire for almost two decades. Evans’s accompaniment is perfect, and his solos are magnificent, fitting ever so perfectly between Bennett’s verses (“Some Other Time” includes a particularly fine example). Some songs such as “The Touch of Your Lips” and “We’ll Be Together Again,” are generally romantic and often sentimental.” The album was called The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album.

There are lots of Evans albums, and most are still available. But the more I listen, the more I favor the Last Sessions box, partly for its intimate club feel, partly because he speaks directly to the audience from time to time, mostly because the work causes me to sit up and listen because it is so clean, so well crafted, and so compelling. Nicely recorded, too.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B00004YLJR/qid=1057202581/sr=1-5/ref=sr_1_5/103-1025772-7999806?v=glance&s=music

Paco de Lucia – One Summer Night…

Paco de Lucia was born Francisco Sánchez Gómez in 1947 in Algeciras, a southern port city in Spain. He learned the guitar from his father, his brother, and family friend Niño de Ricardo, a virtuoso. By age 7, de Lucia was playing flamenco guitar; by 12, he was recording. Before his teen years, he had won several guitar competitions. By 13, de Lucia was touring internationally with José Greco’s flamenco show. He started composing and playing backup for various Spanish singers, notably the great Gypsy singer (or cantador) Camarón de la Isla, with whom de Lucia worked from the late 1960s until the early 1990s. In addition to leading his own group, de Lucia has collaborated on projects with John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Al di Meola, and even Placido Domingo. De Lucia is widely regarded as the finest living flamenco guitarist—and one of several musicians who has modernized the classic Spanish form.

Here’s the thrilling, no-holds-barred, blazing-guitar, high-energy concert recording that caused many rock fans to pay attention to a flamenco guitar player. Recorded by de Lucía’s Sextet in 1983, it’s terrific ensemble work with de Algeciras, a flutist named Jorge Pardo, and an equally facile percussionist, Rubem Dantas. John McLaughlin composed a pretty intro to “Alta Mar,” and “Chiquito” is dedicated to Chick Corea; listen for strong 1980s jazz/fusion influences in de Lucía’s interplay with electric bassist Carlos Benavent, and the flute and guitar arrangement that begins “Gitanos Andaluces.” But it all comes back to de Lucía’s straight flamenco.

http://www.amazon.com/Live-Summer-Night-Paco-Lucia/dp/B0000046UR

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