This is a tale of two kinds of jazz: one instrumental, one vocal-based; one pushing at the boundaries of jazz, one celebrating tradition; both well-played and enjoyable.
Alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa mixes western jazz with traditional Indian music and has used varied instrumental configurations over several albums. On Gamak (ACT), he adds guitarist David (Fuze) Fiuczynski, a former member of Jack DeJohnette's band, to bassist Franßois Moutin and drummer Dan Weiss from his own quintet.
Fiuczynski is a vibrant guitarist and a spark in this recording, which features melodies written for the sax-guitar pairing. Fuze is a perfect fit for Mahanthappa's musical vision because he already is a microtonal guitarist, so he doesn't have to adjust his style to play the south Indian themes.
Mahanthappa, a second-generation Indian-American, was steeped in jazz before visiting his ancestral homeland and absorbing its music. The result is more organic than the usual "fusion" generated by westerners embracing eastern music from afar.
This is a multi-hued recording with adventurous, driving sounds like Waiting is Forbidden's prog-rock, or hip-hop grooves, or the blues, or Majesty of the Blues' punk sound.
Mahanthappa's prowess on the alto, and the deluge of musical ideas, is what makes the disc so enjoyable.
Singer Jackie Ryan has a more traditional take on jazz over 14 tracks on her latest, Listen Here (Open Art). Not traditional as is predictable, but paying respect to the jazz canon.
Ryan, a powerful singer with great interpretive skills, nails a variety of songs: Abbey Lincoln's Throw It Away, Johnny Mercer's Accentuate the Positive, Gershwin's I Loves You Porgy, and Before We Fall in Love, a beautiful melody by bassist John Clayton, who leads the superb band of pianist Gerald Clayton (his son), drummer Obed Calvaire, saxophonist Rickey Woodard, trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos and guitarist Graham Dechter.
Ryan is, in a sense, a vocal treasure; albeit not as widely known as she should be with her graceful, yet powerful singing.
As good a singer as she is, a band like this bunch of West Coast pros can only make things sound better. Bassist John and pianist Gerald Clayton shine the brightest -- Gerald is a bright, young musician and leader in his own right who, on a date like this, uses his depth of musical knowledge to play funky, jazzy or churchy as needed.
The band is so good that only a talented singer like Ryan can keep from being overshadowed. And, at first blush, the 14-track length seems like it might overwhelm the listener, but Ryan carries it off.
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Guitarist Ed Bickert celebrated his 80th birthday in November listening to a who's who of Canadian jazz perform in Toronto. He retired from performing in 2001, so the release of a 1999 trio recording featuring the guitarist is a treat.
Tenor saxophonist Mike Murley, bassist Steve Wallace and Bickert -- known as Murley, Bickert, Wallace -- went into the cramped basement studio of Cornerstone Records' Barry Elmes.
The dozen tracks recorded were to replace a live recording that the musicians felt wasn't good enough. But before the studio set was mixed, the trio had a chance to go back into Toronto's Top O' the Senator jazz club and the resulting Live at the Senator won a Juno Award.
The tapes of this recording sat in a cardboard box until Elmes started backing them up digitally and liked what he heard. The trio agreed and the music is finally released as Test of Time (Cornerstone).
The trio swings, soars and lays back on ballads over nine tracks -- mostly standards, but also a couple of Murley tunes.
It's a tasty trio and a very listenable CD.