Thursday, July 06, 2006

Music notes for July 2006

Okay, so a dearth of posting here about music does not mean that I haven't been listening to anything new. I did post recently about the "new" Charlie Peacock disc, but haven't mentioned the other stuff that I've been listening to lately.

Just downloaded an album from iTunes by Jason Vieaux called Images of Metheny. This disc is growing on me. At first it bugged me a little that most of the tunes seem to come from the ballad side of Metheny's catalog, but as I realized this effort is a classical rendering of the great guitarist's ouvre, I found myself really enjoying what I heard. I guess what really bothered me is that two of my favorite Metheny songs, "Question and Answer" and "James" (played as two of five sections in a baroque suite), are given rather short attention. Don't get me wrong. I love the mellower songs. But I was not expecting so many.

As I keep listening, however, I see that these compositions lend themselves to the format really well. Vieaux has chosen well and performed these songs really well. The opening, "Every Day (I Thank You)" is particularly masterful. It is one of the few songs that was originally recorded with a saxophone, and I really like what Vieaux does with it. The aforementioned favorites, though shorter than I wanted, work well in their places in this suite, and do demonstrate not only Metheny's powerful abilities as a composer, but Vieaux's technique on the instrument.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that Keith Jarrett is probably my favorite pianist. I am particularly fond of his records of improvised concerts for solo piano. Not long ago, I was able to acquire La Scala (1997) The liner notes tell a story of a man who had worked at La Scala as a assistant to conductors and who had all Jarrett's albums who claimed that the concert he had just been to (which is recorded here) "was the strongest, most moving...musical experience he ever had." I can't say that the disc worked on me that way, but it is terrific recording. There is a short section (maybe a minute or so) in the second of the two parts where Jarrett seems to get lost in his improvisation, but mostly this disc presents the kind of playing that does move people. If you are the kind of musician that likes to now and then take out an instrument and just play whatever comes to mind, this disc will thrill you. The last track is a beautiful rendering of "Over the Rainbow" that should tell you why this song has been recorded so many times by so many people. In the hands of Keith Jarrett, it is fresh with every listen.
Gary Burton brings back guitar sensation Julian Lage from his Generations recording and adds more young, talented musicians on Next Generation, an exciting and thoroughly enjoyable release. Every song is terrific, but standout cuts for me include the Metheny penned "B & G," "'Ques Sez" (written by bassist Luques Curtis) and my favorite, pianist Vadim Neselovski's "Get Up And Go." I think it ironic that there is a song entitled "Summer Band Camp" here because the cover photo might lead you to believe that this is an album of people Burton hand picked from some sort of Camp audition. But this is a band that sounds as polished and tight as if they had been playing together for years. All the above mentioned youngsters stand out in some way on this disc as well as drummer James Williams. Burton, of course, is in top form, knowing when the back off and let others take the stand and when to allow his virtuoso playing to shine. This disc is a joy to listen to.

Speaking of virtuosos (or virtuosi), I do want to recommend An Evening with John Petrucci and Jordan Rudress (2004). Certainly fans of Dream Theater will enjoy this album of guitar and keyboard duets recorded in 2000 at the Helen Hayes performing Arts Center in New York, but others should enjoy it as well, since it doesn't really sound like two guys mimicking their main band (or bands), perhaps with the exception of cut "State of Grace," originally featured on Rudress' second Liquid Tension Experiment project). The duo play well together, creating an environment for each to stand out without always taking over the music with self-indulgent solos, but letting the tunes speak for themselves. There is one studio track, but it doesn't seem out of place because the music is what we hear. Thankfully, we don't have to endure much in the way of audience histrionics. But this is a live album, you can believe it. The sound is crisp as if these guys are playing right inside your head. Much fun from two terrific players.

So what else have I listened to/acquired lately? A couple of things I haven't listened to enough to feel comfortable commenting on, but here goes:

Two "best of" discs by Medeski, Martin, and Wood -- "Last Chance to Dance Trance" (1999) and "Note Bleu" (2006). I already liked these guys, hence my willingness to pick up two collections.

Lee Ritenour's Alive in L.A (1997). Admittedly, I haven't listened much to this, but so far, I'm not thrilled. It has a couple Wes Montgomery tunes, and I do like Ritenour as a guitarist, but the first impression wasn't positive. A little too much on the light jazz (or safe jazz, as I call it) side for me.

Spotlight on Lucille by B.B. King (1991). I haven't listened to this yet, but B.B. is the man (or at least one of them), so I know I have to get around to it eventually. The album appears to be collection of instrumental pieces from a variety of concert appearances.

What else is in the bin to talk about? The Yellowjackets Politics (1988), a compilation of John Coltrane ballads called Ballads, something called New Age Bach: The Goldberg Variations by Joel Speigelman (1988) I found for a dollar, and The Dallas Jazz Orchestra Presents Victor Cager. With a little prodding and some more time, I'll write reviews of these or whatever else comes across my ears. Here's hoping someone sends me the new Ralph Towner cd.

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