Welcome to The Run-Off Groove #226. I am John Book, and when I say read, I mean the column as well as other things in this world. Educate and allow your mind to consume the information. Now that I’ve confused some of you…
It’s been somewhat of a busy month, which is why the amount of columns this month was limited. I was going to wait since I have a lot more music to review but it can’t wait. This is the last Run-Off Groove of 2008, with more to come in the new year.
BTW – if you like the column, please consider clicking the banner below for eMusic. You are able to subscribe and download albums in a way that I feel is more effective than iTunes, and there’s a lot of incredible music here. You will not be disappointed.
Also, each review features links to the artist’s home page or MySpace page, so if you want to hear them, you can do so easily. Links are also provided to make a vinyl, CD, or digital purchase, since your local mall probably doesn’t have most of these titles. If you would like to buy the compact disc, click the icon that looks like this:
If you wish to make a digital MP3 purchase, you can click the digital player icon that looks like this:
If a particular release does come out on vinyl, I of course will make a vinyl icon.
Now, the column.
I’ll be honest, I haven’t been what one would call a Brandy fan. Sure, I liked “I Wanna Be Down” and “Baby” but I haven’t followed her career. I do, however, know a little about the path she has been on over the years, and she has reached a point in her life where she is looking for much more as an artist. That more is explored on her new album, Human (Epic), but it begins in an odd way where she talks about the benefits of being human. I question this only because would she be able to talk about her life as a puppy, an elephant, a tomato, or mold on cheese? She’s proud to be a human at this stage in her life, but… let’s just say the spoken introduction is unnecessary and should have never been placed on this album.
The rest of the album takes off in typical Brandy fashion, and the pop artist that Beyonce isn’t, Brandy is. I say that with the utmost respect, Brandy is a pop artist. She hasn’t done the R&B thing in awhile but her vocals are perfect for pop, and most of the songs stay away from the usual cliches that are often overwhelming in current pop and much of today’s R&B. While I generally hate when an artist tries to conceptualize their life as current events, her recent divorce plays a role on this album in songs that range from heartbroken to heart warming, and feels a bit more authentic than the equivalent in today’s marketplace. Brandy is 29, no longer the young teen with the curious eyes who told the world she wanted to be down. She’s grown, she’s mature, but she’s not afraid to reveal a vulnerable side, nor is she tempted to cash in on what’s hot to remain hot. Some artists try to show their maturity at 18 or 21, but Brandy is just around the corner from turning 30. Her voice, which has always had a lot of character, is put to good use here, and even in uptempo tracks she shows that she is the one in charge, not a particular producer. Even when she is in charge, as she is in “Torn” and “Shattered Heart”, she allows the song to be the reason you want to hear these songs. A song I hope she considers to release as a single is “A Capella (Something’s Missing)”, where it’s just her speaking and singing to herself through the magic of multi-track recording. It’s a bold move that one generally doesn’t expect from Brandy, but she has taken the opportunity to try something out with great success.
I’m surprised I liked this as much as I did. In a small way, Brandy has found a need to prove herself in an everchanging market when the old becomes outdated and if you’re out of sight, you’re definitely out of mind. While Miss Norward has never been out of the public eye for too long, it seems if you’re not on a reality show or a guest judge on something just as bizarre, you’re not relevant. Human is very much a human album, without the extra stimuli that we tend to get lured by. I’m not sure if it’s her way of getting back to the core of who she is, or a way to let people know they need to check themselves too, but it holds up as an album that lets fan knows that yes, she is human, her feelings have been hurt, but when life brings you down, you can only look forward for a better tomorrow. It will be interesting to see how Brandy carries herself as an artist in her 30’s.
Danny Green is a San Diego-based pianist whose love of Latin sounds has been an important part of his development. Some may be aware of the Past Due album by the Caballero-Verde Quintet, with Green of course being the “Verde” of the equasion. Now he’s about to get more caliente (yes, I’ll stop) with the release of his first album under his own name, With You In Mind (Alante Recordings).
The album shows that he will no doubt become one of the more important musicians and names in jazz, perhaps becoming this generation’s equivalent of Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, and Dave Brubeck for this guy not only plays with elegance, but knows how to edge the listener on with his spacing, allowing the arrangements to lure people in to hear not only him, but the musicians (including Dylan Savage on drums, Allan Phillips on percussion, Justin Grinnell on bass, and Tripp Sprague on sax) to get into the precision Green is establishing with each song. There are elements of “Para Chano” that sound like Ram-era Paul McCartney, and just when the song feels like it will end comfortably, Green plays a repetitive chord structure and lets Savage and percussion enhance the flavors of the stew brewing with the kind of drive that will make people dance and perhaps get extra randy. “Doctor Pasta”, “Panic Nap”, and “Lullaby For A Poet” manages to take things as far as they can without ever going overboard, it’s very polished and sustained and Green knows how to create his own style. That might sound silly, but I say this to suggest that sometimes a lot of musicians simply play and emulate. Green and the other musicians are obviously influenced by other great musicians but they’re trying to make an effort to make it feel like them, so that you’ll know this is the music of Danny Green. It is, and I hope he and the other musicians will continue to record and perform for years to come, as this is a continutation of the greatness that is jazz.
Dennis Day is someone who is interesting because his voice has a lot of energy and sounds welcoming, like a friend you hadn’t seen in decades even though that person may be a perfect stranger. All Things In Time (D-Day Media Group) is by a singer who knows how to carry himself and the music with class, partly because he picks a great selection of songs to interpret, including Ray Charles‘ “Hallelujah, I Love Her So!”, and the Duke Ellington standard “Caravan”. Upon listening to this, one tends to think that this guy has been making music for generations, but the biggest shock (for me at least) is the fact that this is his first jazz album. Not only does he pull off the standards with styles, bue he contributes some fantastic new songs that I hope will become a major part of jazz’s landscape, including “African Musing”, touching on the African diaspora and the link many have between the heart and one’s ancestral home. It’s a song that would have been perfect for people like Miriam Makeba, Lou Rawls, Al Jarreau and Harry Belafonte to sing, and I could easily see Bobb McFerrin take this to make it his own, if not used tastefully in animated features. The song becomes the album’s centerpiece even though it’s only the second song in the 12-track program but listen to it and find out why it will become an important piece. When he reaches the last words and creates a sweet falsetto as he sings about the Afircan rainbow, it brings a tear to the eye.
The album then moves back into a jazz motif with tough and rugged tracks such as “Sister Sadie”, “You Are Too Beautiful”, and “Desifinado” (the Antonio Carlos Jobim song), and it’s obvious this guy has a love for jazz and music as a whole. I hope Day will continue to make albums as moving as this, and if he continues to write and release songs as powerful as “African Musing”, he will become one of the most powerful songwriters of all time.
Not sure if she specifically did it this way intentionally, but vocalist Jessie Kilguss begins Nocturnal Drifter (Exotic Bird) with “Gristmill”, an album that may or may not have sound kind of connection with her ethnic roots, whatever it may be. But to my ears it sounds like the comforts of home, creating a vocal and musical style that sounds like the starting line. It is welcoming, and you want to enter barefoot, but once she begins “Americana”, we realize we are very far from home as it sounds like pop, rock, and that ethereal-ness which sounds as if Kilguss is ready to share with us her travelogue.
If you listen to what passes off as pop these days, it’s an embarrassment. Kilguss has the kind of material that used to be a major part of what I heard on the radio growing up, strong and aggressive songs by a woman who is not afraid to share her strength, hopes, dreams, and fears in a way that isn’t apologetic. One would find it easy to compare to a list of strong artists, be it Joni Mitchell, Luscious Jackson, Maxwell, or anyone else, but if there’s a common glue between all of them, it’s a knack to write songs that allow people to get into them lyrically and try to pull out the best and worst of the internal in order for the resulting song to be therapeutic. Kilguss’s voice may sound melodic and delicate, but in “A Little Place Behind My Eyes” you have British-pop mixed in with Muscle Shoals horns mixed in with some leftover sounds from Roni Size‘s database, and one can visualize the colors and the painting that will be created by the song’s conclusion.
While I’m a huge fan of soul music and the Northern Soul sound that artists are tapping into, Kilguss resists the temptation to be like everyone else and makes a successful effort in beind herself. That’s hard to find in the marketplace, the kind of material where someone is exposed like an open wound or a freshly dug Q-tip and is really to reveal the yellow of it all. It reminds me of those secret albums you wish to share with the world, only to know the reality that most people would not care. This my friends is their loss, because Jessie Kilguss is the kind of artists you’d like to meet on the street and simply say “thank you”.
(Nocturnal Drifter will be released on January 6, 2009).
Bands that make me bleed are the kind of bands I want to listen to for life, and Cactus’s are just that band. Let’s get these two words out of the way before I get deep into this review: power trio. Okay.
Put together elements of Mudhoney, Helmet, Unsane, Rapeman, The Cure and Grand Funk and you have the unpredictable energetic force that is Cactus’s, consisting of Jru Frazier (drummist, vocals), Asher Rogers (guitarra, vox), and Sam Rogers (bassims, vogala), and these guys play with a passion not only to play and play with each other, but to create a euphoria that sounds like that millisecond before a boil bursts. Their lyrics can be very abstract but that’s the beauty of it, things don’t have to really make that much sense to get into, only to realize that it does make sense:
I refuse to bare the burden of a thousand child molesters
I refuse to fix my speechI will not fear my mouth
I refuse to wash my claws until I feel pure
I refuse to let you vomit into my ear, now I see you serve the serpent
Cactus’s play the perfect “fuck you” music for a fuck you world, and they’ll hurl into you if you’re not careful. Then again, you’re not careful and that’s why these guys are demons. There’s been a void in music in the last few years, and the 6 songs on this EP will hopefully start up a long awaited revolution. These guys are the Satan I need.
Need the kind of jazz that may bring to mind the best of The Modern Jazz Quartet? May I welcome Roger Kellaway into the mix, and his new double CD Live At The Jazz Standard (Ipo). The double CD features him with Jay Leonhart on bass, Stefon Harris on vibes, Russell Malone on guitar, and Boris Strulev on cello and together they play a number of great standards, including “C Jam Blues”, “Cottontail”, “I’m Beginning To See The Light”, and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”, along with a Kellaway original, “All My Life”.
Anyone who misses the feel of the MJQ will fall in love (be it with the music or a significant other) with the help of the 13 songs here, especially after hearing the 15 minute take on “Cherry”. The thing about Kellaway is that he will play a beautiful melody when the emphasis is on him, or he’ll duet in a solo and compliment them or take things on a different route as he makes his way towards the common goal. He’s a unique player that I could listen to all day, and I will (heh heh). One of the solos he does in “C Jam Blues”, where the band is playing an obvious 4/4 blues while he sounds as if he’s behind and ahead of himself at the same time, only for him to get to where he needed to go without effort. It’s an amazing moment.
Carol Fredette has released a number of albums over the years, and she returns with Everything In Time (Soundbrush), continuing with her grace and elegance on a selection of tracks that are quite good/
For this album she teams up with Lenoardo Amuedo (guitar), Adriano Santos (drums), Victor Lewis (drums), Mauro Refosco (percussion) David Finck (bass), Aaron heicke (sax), Bob Malach (sax), Barry Danielian (trumpet), Helio Alves (piano), Andy Ezrin (piano), and Dario Eskenazi (piano), and together they create a jazz album with a primary influence. Imagine a female version of Bob Dorough and you come close to what Fredette sounds like here. The album is beautifully produced, and her performances for the most part are done without flaws or error.
Her CDBaby pages says Leslie Lewis “A jazz singer with an instrument that can deliver whether it’s Monk, Ellington, or Jobim. She always makes a statement with her own point of view” and that is clearly obvious on Of Two Minds (Surf Cove Jazz), an album that features the Gerard Hagen Trio along with Larry Koonse, Gary Foster, Ron Stout, and Rob Lockart playing the kind of jazz you hope to be able to hear and understand on your death bed.
Lewis has the kind of spunk and classiness that comes from years of listening and singing this style of music, and if Hoda Kotb was a jazz singer, I’d imagine she would sing like this. Lewis sings with a fervor that makes you itch in all the right places, and is the ointment towards the spots that aren’t, listen to “I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good” and it becomes perfectly clear that this one knows the blues because she’s probably been there, but also knows the goods because she’s been good and bad at the same time. “‘Round Midnight” and “But Beautiful” deserves massive airplay if the United States cared about their jazz origins, but it doesn’t so sadly she may be limited to NPR airplay. It makes me wish more people would be able to hear someone like her, because Leslie Lewis is just a personification of what jazz vocals is about, even when she jiggles her vocal chords in “I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good”. She sometimes reaches for that hapa raspiness and I wish I could’ve heard more of that, but perhaps she’ll enhance that on the next one. Kathie Lee Gifford, step off. She would be capable of doing some soul music too, maybe next time. Uh, stroke it Lewis, stroke it! Of Two Minds is the album that will make having affairs worth it. Special recognition to Foster’s flute work in “Nature Boy”, the eden ahbez classic.
That’s the point.
Roger Cairns is the kind of jazz singer that has the old style vibe going for him, and you sometimes don’t hear that outside of Jerry Lewis telethons. He finishes the Let’s… equation by bringing in the listener to listen to this 16-track album of jazz standards, ranging in “Let’s Fall In Love”, “Daydream”, “Stormy Monday”, “Things Are Swinging”, and “Gravy Waltz”. I like the titles but I don’t like the singing, and the reinterpretation of the “Peter Gunn Theme”, refocused as “Bye, Bye” was a bit too much for me.
I’ll stop here and say that his voice is not to my liking, but I found the music (performed by guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Darek Oles, and drummer Roy McCurdy to be incredible. If Cairns was moved to just release this album as an instrumental, I would rave over that.
I’ll be honest, sometimes smooth jazz gets on my nerds because it seems pointless to hear fantastic musicians blow it on wasteful music for coffeehouses only meant to make the unhip feel that they’re cool in an atmosphere that has absolutely nothing to do with the music. What makes this album decent for me is that, while it arguably would fit those same smooth jazz stereotypes, the musicianship on it makes me feel as if they’re making a legitimate effort to make good music outside of the smooth jazz tag. It reminds me a bit of the laid back funky jazz that was popular in the late 70’s/early 80’s, and perhaps the reason I like it is because it takes me back to a time when that jazz felt and sounded good, without the filter of knowledge. Think of Pat Metheny with a pinch of George Benson, Seawind, and Marathon-era Carlos Santana and you got something that might make most smooth jazz fans tingly with uncertainty. In other words, this is music that moves you to interact, not sit there and sip a tall Caramel Macciato breve laka doohickey. Evans is truly a gifted musician on the piano and keyboards, with the piano being the main reason you’d want to hear him. But he is also credit as the album’s bassist and drum and bass programming, so not only can he do things electronically, he takes his knowledge to the real instruments and makes it happen.
I would not mind hearing him with more established vocalists, just to see where he would be able to take them.
In other words, this isn’t your stereotypical smooth jazz album, but more like that laid back quiet storm funk before it got stale and java-fied.
Michael Jefry Stevens is not a madman, but when you look at his extensive track record, I’m not sure what’s keeping him from resting. I guess when you love good music and have a passion for it, why rest when you can do that when you’re read? Fortunately Stevens is very much alive and a part of us, and with the release of For Andrew (Konnex) he continues on with the dialogue he has created over the years, this time making an album in honor of pianist Andrew Hill.
The recordings on this CD were done in 1996 with a trio that includes Jeff Siegel on drums and Peter Herbert on bass, and hearing original Stevens compositions such as “The Lockout”, “The River Po”, “Specific Gravity”, and “Spirit Song” will make the hairs on the back of your neck spine as you are blown away by his capabilities. Stevens is brilliant on the piano, and Siegel and Herbert egg on each other as if this was their last mission ever. Put that together with a recording that was done beautifully by engineer Chris White and this is definitely jazz music of a higher order. One can tell that the spirit of Andrew Hill was in the air, or at least he was on their minds when they were playing this, and Hill fans will appreciate the honor. Jazz fans will appreciate the fact that musicians like this are that passionate about their art.
Zen Zadravec is a musician some consider a virtuoso, and that usually is a lure to bring in readers for a review. I will say that the man is known to play a few instruments very well, but for Coming Of Age (self-released) he plays the piano along with his quartet (Chris Brown on drums, Alex Hernandez on bass, and Todd Bashore on saxophones).
Big deal? It is a big deal when you can make music that surpasses the expectations, especially someone who has won a lot of accolades and is known for studying under the greats of jazz, but now he knows it’s his time to shine. Throughout this album he goes from the cool to the hard bop, from songs that would’ve been comfortable in a Miles Davis Quintet setting to something that would fit in on ECM, Zadravec has a style that feels welcoming, he commands when it’s his time and even when he has Bashore doing a solo you can hear how he compliments him and the others into creating an aura that is undeniably rich. One can hear this in the gorgeous title track, along with “Have You Met Miss Jones”, “We Miss You Mr. Kirkland”, “Have You Meet Miss Jones”, and teh two part “In Memoriam”, written in honor of Zadravec’s mother who passed away. It’s great jazz, one that shows his love of the art and craft of the music, and one which features a lot of compassion through the communication of the musicians involved. All of this is captured beautifully engineered by Dave Kowalski at Bennett Studios in Englewood, New Jersey and while it may not have the classic RVG sound of neighboring Englewood Cliffs, it shows Kowalski has an ear to make his projects sound great. This is no exception.
Fine jazz never sounded any better, and time will show why Coming Of Age will be a necessary addition to any music collection.
Burr Johnson is a guitar wizard of the Al DiMeola variety, and he and his band get up in it and deep with What It Is (Lexicon). These guys mix up jazz with rock to create a fierce brew that doesn’t let up, while it is a guitar-based album, you will enjoy hearing the musicianship of Thierry Arpino (drums) and Al Payson (bass), and together they are a trio that know each other’s musical ways and quirks inside and out, as if they know the hairs on the backs of their hands, yes. In a song such as “Winter” they get smooth and laid back as they help create the scenario described in the title, while in “It Figures” it’s a blitzkreig of sound that one finds hard to resist.
Don’t resist. Each of them is mindblowing, with Johnson of course paving the way towards axe excellence. I didn’t like it when a vocal showed up, but it’s only a minor distraction. For solid jazz, rock, and a pinch of funk (“Slinky”), this is going to be hard to beat.
(What It Is is scheduled for release on February 5, 2009.)