Jazz Plus: Ron Wynn recommends the week’s best jazz CDs and books

jacobJacob Garchik: The Heavens – The Atheist Gospel Trombone Album (Yestereve)
When a Jewish atheist cuts a gospel LP, that tends to attract attention. Trombonist and accordionist Jacob Garchik’s a fine player, and ambitious composer and arranger. This disc features a nine-part suite, with tunes alternately designed for eight trombones, two sousaphones and two baritone horns. There’s even one for slide trumpet (“This Song Is the Center of the Universe”). Garchik recorded it solo in his Brooklyn home. His overdubbing and studio work proves so effective that it really seems you’re hearing a full band at work on such songs as “The Problem of Suffering,” “Optimism” and “The Heavens”. The array of shimmering lines, overtones, vocal-like bursts and other effects make a strong case for Garchik’s instrumental mastery. But even his excellent playing can’t totally compensate for the absence of vocalists or rhythm instruments. Still, there are several wonderful moments, particularly on the tunes “Digression the History of Jews and Black Music” and “Glory/Infinity/Nothing.” Some Christians have expressed their indignation at an artist with Garchik’s perspective venturing into the world of spiritual music. But he shows on “The Heavens” that he respects the tradition, and has not let his religious views negatively affect the presentation.

bradBrad Hammonds Group: Greene Street (Brad Hamonds)
Acoustic (both six and 12-string) guitarist Brad Hammonds explores many idioms with his intriguing band on Greene Street. Besides a varied menu, Hammonds also eschews reeds, brass and keyboards in his frontline and rhythm section. Instead, he’s selected a cellist (Will Martina), electric bassist (Jason Matteo) and percussionist (Mathias Kunzli) plus an occasional banjo and mandolin player (Nick Russo). Hammonds also penned every selection, and the band ably delves into world music on “Ryan The Lion” (Celtic meets North Africa) and “Further East” (Arabic/Middle Eastern), a 21st century meditation on hot jazz (“Parisian”), a journey into the mountains of Applachia (“Chesapeake”) and straightforward bluegrass/country (“Stomp.”) That they do this in a seamless, fluid manner makes Greene Street a delight, even as all the influences someimes just converge (“Summer Feel,” “If This, Then That.”) Kunzli’s various contributions also bring rhythmic vitality into the mix, adding another ingredient into an otherwise engaging, if sometimes subdued outing.

jasonJason Robinson, Tiresian Symmetry (Cuneiform)
Jason Robinson qualifies as a multi-instrumental virtuoso and outstanding composer. His latest release Tiresian Symmetry shows what happens when he joins forces with two similar types, JD Parran and Marty Ehrlich. This trio plays eight different horns, while Robinson’s band features six other tremendous musicians. The nine-piece unit includes Marcus Rojas (tuba) and Bill Lowe (tuba, bass trombone) up front, with guitarist Liberty Ellman, bassist Drew Gress, and drummers George Schuller and Ches Smith (who doubles on glockenspiel) underneath. There are lengthy, slashing pieces (“Cosmolographie,” “Radiate” and the title rack) alongside shorter, equally adventurous ones (“Stratum,” “Elbow Grease”). But there are two things Robinson and company don’t do. These are play standards and deliver anything remotely predictable. Yet the music’s never so frenetic or chaotic that it becomes undisciplined. Several songs certainly fit the definitionsof “avant-garde,” but they can always be easily followed. Plus, the tunes retain a sense of swing and beauty. This disc isn’t something you’ll hear too often on even the most comprehensive jazz radio station, but it reflects the work of great players able to stretch boundaries without destroying them.

pharezPharez Whitted, For The People (Origin)
Trumpeter Pharez Whitted’s better known in the academic world than the general jazz marketplace. He’s currently Director of Jazz Studies at Chicago State University. For The People is his first release as a leader since 1996. It’s a good showcase that spotlights his ability to operate in many styles. Hard bop’s notably a favorite, and Whitted displays plenty of soul and authority on “Another Kinda Blue” and “Freedom Song.” There’s a Latin tinge to “Keep The Faith,” while he turns to the mute on the title track, and displays ample intensity and prowess in both upper and lower registers on “The Unbroken Promise.” The top soloist among his band mates is brilliant guitarist Bobby Broom (who also co-produced the session with Whitted). But bassist Dennis Carroll gets some fine moments on “Watusi Boogaloo” (a foray into funk and soul/jazz), and drummer Greg Artry excels on fiery and moderate tempo pieces. Pianist Ron Perrillo nicely serves two roles, as a capable third soloist, and an adept contributor to the supporting colors and textures supplied by the rhythm section. “For The People” is a nice reminder of the reliable hard bop, blues and soul/jazz releases that were regular staples during the ’50s and ’60s, but aren’t heard as often today.

kjoHoliday special
It may be bit early for seasonal material, but those seeking quality holiday items should definitely consider The Knoxville Jazz Orchestra’s (KJO) Christmas Time Is Here (Shade Street). East Tennessee isn’t among the first places anyone would consider in terms of having a great big band, but the KJO has several amazing players. These include tenor saxophonist Greg Tardy, alto saxophonists Tim Green and Mark Tucker, and funky organist Dan Trudell among many others. Tardy gets things started in fine fashion on “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” while Green’s spotlights are on “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “Children Go Where I Send Thee.” Trudell shines on “Go Tell It On The Mountain,” and “A Not-So Silent Night.” Tucker steps to the forefront on “Russia Dance,” and vocalist Jill Andrews on “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” While not the biggest fan of Christmas music, here’s one set even those who don’t normally enjoy it will savor.

marianMusic book of the week
Longtime Seattle and West Coast journalist Paul de Barros’ comprehensive new biography Shall We Play That One Together – The Life and Art of Jazz Piano Legend Marian McPartland (St. Martin’s Press) is the most extensive work done on the legendary pianist and radio host. British-born McPartland has overcome the multiple obstacles of being female in a male-dominated industry, English in an American-dominated art form, and a white woman working alongside blacks facing the historical animus and fallout of that situation.

Barros had access to McPartland’s extensive personal files and memorabilia, and spoke with numerous friends and acquaintances. He carefully balances biography, musical analysis, cultural commentary and reporting. His writing gives readers a full view of McPartland’s life, personality and playing style. She began as a classical pianist, but was attracted as a teen to jazz’s rhythms and vitality. An early gift one of her first music teachers discovered was perfect pitch. After getting work in various clubs, McPartland became involved with entertaining soldiers during World War II. Her life changed forever when she met trumpeter Jimmy McPartland, a Chicago native, in Belgium during a USO tour. They instantly fell in love, were soon married, and had a personal and professional relationship for decades. Their bond was such they remained close even after divorce (one caused in large part by her aversion to McPartland’s bad habits, most prominently excessive drinking).

The volume also offers a history of jazz as seen through McPartland’s eyes. When the couple moved to New York, she eventually found her way to the Hickory House. There, she became a celebrity. She was their featured pianist, and her striking mixture of classical foundation and jazz swing attracted such greats as Thelonius Monk and Duke Ellington to the Hickory, anxious to catch the latest piano star. They also gave her plenty of career advice, especially Ellington, who urged McPartland to use more restraint and make better uses of space and tempo in her solos.

It was as the host of “Piano Jazz” on NPR that McPartland achieved recognition beyond the jazz sphere. Part of the book’s title was taken from a line she’s often used when talking with guests about song selections. McPartland began hosting it in 1978. She remained its host until 2011, when she retired at age 93. NPR still has many episodes in its vaults, and the show’s won numerous Peabody awards. McPartland settled early on a format. It was a freewheeling, hour-long show that combined conversation and performance segments.

“Piano Jazz” became such a hit even non-pianists like Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry (both trumpeters) were guests, though Gillespie also played some piano during his segment. It also attracted musicians from outside the jazz realm like Willie Nelson. The show provided a worthy final act for McPartland. Fortunately, she’s still alive and should be pleased by the thorough job Paul de Barros has done in documenting her life and importance with Shall We Play That One Together?

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About Ron Wynn

Ron Wynn is a music critic, author and editor. His features, reviews and articles have run locally in the Nashville Scene, The City Paper (Nashville) and on ArtNowNashville.com among others. Wynn is currently sports editor for the Tennessee Tribune and a contributor to Jazz Times. He is former editor of the New Memphis Star and former chief jazz and pop music critic for the Bridgeport Post-Telegram and the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Wynn has contributed to such publications such as Billboard, The Village Voice, Creem, Rock & Roll Disc, Living Blues, The Boston Phoenix, and Rejoice. He was the editor of the first edition of The All Music Guide to Jazz (1994), and from 1993 to 1994 served as the jazz and rap editor of the All Music Guide. Wynn is the author of The Tina Turner Story. He has contributed liner notes for numerous albums; his liner notes for “The Soul of Country Music” received a 1998 Grammy nomination.