Her Point of View (1997) by Olga Konkova

Categories: 1997 and Music.

Konkova takes aim at a number of jazz standards and reinvents them and makes them her own. She makes them sound of a piece with her own compositions. And this is what I like about jazz: fresh interpretations of old music so that it sounds more modern, with plenty of improvisation to go around. (As one critic noted, Konkova doesn’t introduce the melody and then improvise – she starts improvising on these standards from the get go.) Read More

Facing You (1972) by Keith Jarrett

Categories: 1972 and Music.

I don’t know if this is Jarrett’s first “spontaneously composed” solo piano record, but it sure sounds like it to my ears (even though it’s not live). Putting aside Jarrett’s claims about his process, I’ve always found his solo piano recordings of this type to be rather incredible. He manages to skirt between extremely inventive playing and simple, easy melodies (some that sound piratically new-agey or, in the case of the opening track, that sound stolen from a Christmas Carol). If Jarrett wasn’t so damned talented, this would be a bad thing. But he is such a creative, beautiful player Read More

Cross Country Tour: 1958-1961 (1998) by Ahmad Jamal

Categories: 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1998, and Music.

This is an excellent survey of the live music of Ahmad Jamal and his trio in the late ’50s and very early ’60s. Jamal’s playing is so far from Monk – to my ears – that it’s rather incredible. His individuality in that sense is rather fantastic. Monk utterly changed piano playing and it must have been extremely tempting to play either in Monk’s shadow or to go back to pre-Monk playing. Jamal manages to do neither. And you can see the rather huge influence he’s had on other pianists, particularly cool jazz pianists. (And there’s an interesting chicken-or-egg question Read More

Break Stuff (2015) by Vijay Iyer

Categories: 2015 and Music.

No, this is not a set of piano jazz covers of Nu Metal, yuk yuk yuk. Rather, it’s stuff about breaks in music, sudden breaks in playing, as it were. And it’s so refreshing to hear a pianist like Iyer who doesn’t sound like he’s stuck in the tradition. Sure, some of tracks sounds very much of the jazz piano tradition, and some of his solos and fills do too, but a lot more often he sounds like he isn’t really a pianist, he just happens to be playing piano. (And this makes sense as, apparently, he’s not a trained Read More

Popsicle Illusion (2000) by Joanne Brackeen

Categories: 2000 and Music.

Brackeen’s playing is accomplished and encompasses multiple styles. She incorporates much of jazz piano history into her style: at times she almost hearkens back to ragtime but she is fully capable of playing as avant garde as anyone else. Her cover of “Michelle” is the best jazz version of it I’ve ever heard and everything else here is strong too. Great stuff, and I’ll need to check out her other records. 8/10 Read More

Piano Man! His Greatest Recordings (1995) by Earl Hines

Categories: 1928, 1929, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1945, 1995, and Music.

This is collection of 25 recordings featuring Earl Hines – solo, leading his orchestra, with Armstrong, Bechet and some other, less famous bandleaders.  It jumps around a little too much… The title track appears to be the 1939 “Piano Man” (there are four, confusingly) and it’s more of a celebration of Hines’ legend than anything else. It’s basically the overture here. “Fireworks” is an absolutely classic Armstrong Hot Five from 1928. On a track like this you can hear why Hines was known as “Fatha” (when he gets his solos). “Skip the Gutter” is another Hot Five from the same Read More

Undercurrent (1962, 2002) by Bill Evans and Jim Hall

Categories: 1962 and Music.

This is an excellent duo outing which shows off both Evans’ sort of left field brilliance and Hall’s kind of safe, kind of conservative, but still very pleasant and exceptionally played lines. (I feel like I’m a little hard on Hall and I really shouldn’t be.) It’s a perfect example of how greatness can be subtle – it doesn’t always have to hit you over the head. And it’s a perfect example of how the right pairings can bring out the best in players. This is sort of a match made in heaven in my mind. They are ideally suited Read More

The Ground (2005) by the Tord Gustavsen Trio

Categories: 2005 and Music.

Gustaven evokes the tradition of Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett – though he is perhaps a little more obviously melodic than the former – though he manages the impressive feat of both sounding like them and not like them at the same time. But just when you think you have him figured out, he throws in some left turns, which keep things interesting, given how laid back everything is. Someone has noted that Gustaven is keeping the romantic tradition alive, and I think that is a fair assessment, but I would actually argue that if this has anything in common Read More

Restored, Returned (2009) by the Tord Gustavsen Ensemble

Categories: 2009 and Music.

This expanded version of Gustavsen’s band is that much closer to a form of jazz I don’t like. Sometimes I appreciate the space of ECM artists. Other times they sound to be harping on cool cliches (only with more tonal adventurousness, most of the time). Gustavsen walks that line a lot. But fortunately his vocalist is unique enough that she makes the tracks with vocals, a lot less cliche than they would have been. (It’s not that she’s a great singer, she’s got a unique enough take for the style of music.) And Gustavsen is his usual self on the Read More

Concert by the Sea (1955, 1956) by Erroll Garner

Categories: 1955 and Music.

This is a pretty fantastic set by Garner, a player I had never heard before. His playing is pretty incredible – his command is fantastic and he has a clear sense of fun. The recording is pretty brutal – you can barely hear the bassist or drummer – but it doesn’t matter since Garner is such a busy player (and I don’t mean ‘busy’ in a pejorative sense). Frankly, I don’t know why he needed a trio setting. He sounds like he would be good enough on his own. The one thing keeping me from giving this full marks is Read More

Songs We Know (1998) by Fred Hersch and Bill Frisell

Categories: 1998 and Music.

It’s hard to know what to make of this. I am not familiar with Hersch, but I am now very familiar with Frisell and I am sort of awed at how conventional this all is. Pretty much every song in this set has been done to death by various jazz bands throughout the last half-century or so. And the question for me is, why record them again? I know the answer, it’s because they wanted to. But that’s not enough for me. For the most part these don’t really go anywhere you wouldn’t expect, and though there are moments of Read More

The Elephant Sleeps but Still Remembers (2006) by Jack DeJohnette with Bill Frisell

Categories: 2006 and Music.

I’m not really sure I understand this. It’s not that I’m opposed to the idea of using live tracks as the basis for studio tinkering – I’m not, some of my favourite prog rock was made this way. I just don’t always understand why it’s done. In this case, it feels like the “additional production” was added to give this set a greater unity, that it severely lacks. DeJohnette is clearly a talented guy, and I appreciate the attempt to do everything, but here he and Frisell are trying too much and not succeeding at enough. The studio touches feel Read More

Waltz for Debby (1961) by the Bill Evans Trio

Categories: 1961 and Music.

This is one of those albums that is perhaps too subtle for its own good. You put it on and you don’t really notice its radicalism because it’s piano jazz and because Evans’ out-of-the-box-ness has been absorbed so much into jazz that it is now cliche. And Evans himself never really grabs the spotlight or forces you to pay attention (LaFaro does). And if you don’t pay attention, you are left wondering what the big deal is. There is a healthy dose of Impressionism here and I think that helps explain this whole mood – which is almost too relaxed Read More

The 1960 Birdland Sessions (1992) by the Bill Evans Trio

Categories: 1992 and Music.

As much as this contains some pretty great music from one of the era’s greatest piano players, I have to think it is only worthwhile for devotees. The music is great but the sets are short – and there is a great deal of repetition between them – and there is an absolute ton of background noise. It doesn’t really take away from the pretty awesome music, but it is distracting. 8/10 Read More

Out Front! (1965, 1994) by Jaki Byard

Categories: 1965 and Music.

I must say I was at least a little interested to see what Byard would do on his own as I am a big fan of his work with Mingus. And so far I can’t say I’m all that impressed. This is, for the most part, very traditional stuff for 1965. The covers are pretty standard and most of the originals are attempts at reviving past jazz genres. There is a variety of those genres, which keeps things from getting boring, but it is still safe stuff. And the fact that he plays with different combinations – and even includes Read More