Wednesday, May 30, 2007

... And Their White Tigers

Now, back to my rant about why I Love the 90s. This is the addenda to my list, (I think, at least) the best jazz records you probably didn't hear. As I said earlier, I'm probably a more forceful evangelist for these than I am my top 10. I love him too, but I think Ornette's (and Wayne's, and Threadgill's) greatness is well established by now. I hope these guys (and sadly, they're all guys) get 1/10th of that kind of love in the coming years:

Nguyen Le, Three Trios (Act, 1997)- The 90s were good for guitar gods (Frisell, Stern, Abercrombie, especially in the short-lived Gateway reunion) but somehow Le seemed to fall by the wayside. It could be that his background doesn't fit the mold- Vietnemese, living in France, influenced seemingly equally by modern jazz, traditional Vietnamese music, and Hendrix. 3 Trios is his second widely available US release, after a good debut, Miracles, with another luxury rhythm section of Art Lande (see below), Marc Johnson and Peter Erskine. 3 Trios alternates between (duh) three groups, one featuring Jamie Haddad on hand percussion, one with Johnson and Erskine again. Le favors twisty vamps (Straight No Chaser, the only standard on the album, appears in 5), a strong rockish sound and smart, careful harmonic vocabluary. The tunes are great, the musicians are great- more people need to know this record. (Le's last album, Chasing the Tiger's Tail, with Lande, Paul McCandless and Haddad is good too. A bit overarranged for my tastes, but still good.)

James Carney, Offset Rhapsody (Jacaranda, 1997)- James Carney is, IMHO, the best jazz composer under 40. Period. His compositions are smart, twisty, and tremendously well crafted. The Wayne Shorter influence is obvious, especially on tunes like "Miracle Mile", but he is equally comfortable with groove tunes ("Photo Op"), pretty waltzes ("Last Call at the West Lake Inn") and the occasional Celtic drone ("Tipperary Hill"). Ultimately, his music sounds like him. The band here is a west coast A-list, with Ralph Alessi, Peter Epstien, and Derek "Oles" Oleskiewicz, and even a cameo by Nels Cline. (Okay, Ralph's been in Brooklyn for awhile now...)

(James, now also based in Brooklyn, has a new album coming out this summer, with Ralph and Peter joined by Tony Malaby and Mark Ferber. I can't wait.)

Michael Cain/Ralph Alessi/Peter Epstein, Circa (ECM, 1997)- This is a more personal choice than any of the others for me, since I was studying with Michael and Ralph when they made this. It's ostensibly a sonic tour of the Las Vegas Cain grew up in, and it has the cheesy titles and warped jaunts through that sonic world to prove it ("And Their White Tigers", "Marche". The unusual trio instrumentation and great writing calls to mind third stream thinking, but all three musician's word is much broader than that, from the meditative, deciptively hard "Circa" and the soulful "Red Rock Rain" to another loopy waltz, "Egg". Sadly, this trio stopped performing a couple of years after the album came out, but they left us a wonderful document of what it was.

Art Lande/Mark Miller, World Without Cars (Synergy, 1999) Art is, to my mind, one a criminally underrated pianist, possibly due to the fact that he's never really left his Denver home. He counts Fred Hersch and Michael Cain among his students, and his groups in Denver have included Shane Endsley, Ron Miles and Khabu Doug Young, among others. This is a duo date with old friend and reed player Mark Miller, and a great place to start checking out Art, a set of loose compositions and improvisations that highlight his amazing sound, techniques and versitililty.

Either/Orchestra, The Half Life of Desire (Accurate, 1990)- short list of great musicians who passed through the Either/Or in the '90s: Medeski, Matt Wilson, Doug Yates, Andrew D'Angelo, Jeremy Udden, Jaleel Shaw... This band was for real, the best unit in Boston in a very good time for the scene. (Other bands working out of Boston at the time included Human Feel (the Speed/D'Angelo/Black trio), Frank Carlberg's groups, not a bad deal. Oh, and a bunch of one-and-done young lion outfits, all of whom had major label deals... for a minute) I like the earlier stuff better- Either/Or has always been, to me, on the opposite end of the spectrum from what's "cool" on the jazz scene. They went out of they're way to be weird when buttoned-down rebop was the rule of the day. And when CEF (crazyexpirimenatlfreedom) started to creep back in with the ascent of Dave Douglas and Jason Moran, they went much more straight ahead. Needless to say, I like the weirder stuff better, and this is the best of a good lot with the earlier versions of the band.

My final thoughts on this little project:

I find it interesting the "young lions" barely represented on any of the lists, as their hype, albums and images dominated the first part of the decade in many ways. I know that using D-Out as home base is going to tilt the list left of center, but even so- Mark Turner, Rodney Kendrick and James Carter, in the second wave of kiddos make cameos, but no Marsalis, Redman, Hargrove, etc. (I part ways with Gary Giddens on one I did see; I hated "Jurassic Classics". Carter both live and on record was one of the biggest disappointments of the 90s for me.) Then I tried to think of a really good '90s record from that crop, and I had a tough time. Maybe Branford's "Beautiful Ones are Not Yet Born", maybe Blanchard's "Malcolm X Jazz Suite", but then again, those didn't make my top 40 either.

I can't imagine any other place where Sharrock and Braxton would score in the top 2. I know even a very "mainstream" list would certainly include Dave and Ornette, but we took it way, way out. It'd be interesting to go back to Downbeat and see what they're five star albums for each year were, and which ones crossed over to here. (Not that a 5-star in DB guarantees anything, as Ethan I so aptly pointed out recently in, of all places, Downbeat)

Mostly, I'm just glad this happened. And of course, my "must buy" CD list is bulging again.

Regular programming resumes later this week...


Mwanji Ezana said...

Wasn't Rosenwinkel in Human Feel?

pat said...

You are correct sir- missed that one...