Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Greg Lewis - Organ Monk
Dave Bass - Gone
James Moody - 4B
You'll be hard-pressed to find a CD in any genre with a more provocative photo than this leader debut by organist Greg Lewis. The inside fold depicts a shirtless Lewis seated, his nude wife (and co-executive producer) sitting astride him and their infant soon, oblivious to the scene, in a baby rocker nearby.
Whether artistic statement or cheap publicity, Lewis has a lot more to recommend him than lurid photography. Indeed, this is an inspired set, and not just because the music of Thelonious Monk travels so well.
Lewis, on the first-call list of several renowned vocalists, has this time brought together two top-notch collaborators i the persons of drummer Cindy Blackman and guitarist Ron Jackson. The interplay between the trio keeps the nergy up throughout the disc. Even on ballads like Monk'd Mood and Light Blue, there's a palpable feeling of the artists diving into the material.
Jackson adds some buttery licks on the aforementioned Light Blue, but also on the revved-up "Four-in-One" which also gives us a stunning dialogue between the leader and the future Mrs Carlos Santna. Blackman's ferocious work on the kit pushes the other two but none of the artists can be accused of hogging the time. The action is always dynamic, organic and respectful of the music.
Whether you're new to the organ trio format, or a longtime devotee, Greg Lewis & Co have crafted a solid addition to the canon.
By day, Bass is a deputy attorney general for the state specializing in civil rights enforcement. Nights and weekends, he indulges the jazz jones that supported him a few decades ago, when he became a familiar figure on the Bay Area jazz scene backing artists such as Bobby McFerrin and Babatunde Lea.
Somehow, the longtime Bay Area resident has also found time to play around in the recording studio. His new album, "Gone" presents 11 tracks (Astor Pollozza's Libertango being the sole non-original) that showcase Bass' considerable gifts asa composer highlight Bass' sharp compositional skills, generosity as a bandleader and understated charm as a pianist.
He begins in fairly conventional mode with "Le Grand" and takes on a Latin tinge on Mi Guajira" with additional percussion from conguero Harold Muniz.
The leader aside, Watts is clearly the preeminent soloist, whether on the aforementioned Libertango, or on the haunting, bluesier "Someday."
Vocalist Mary Stallings shows up for two tunes that provide a welcome kick in intensity, especially as they are inserted on the album, with 5 tunes between them. Her big voice leaves the listener wanting more but ironically, its to Bass' credit that on this occasion h doesn't over-do the vocal numbers. A vocal-piano duet with Stallings may, however, pay dividends in future.
Gone doesn't quite have the "instant stickiness" of some other contemporary jazz group dates, but its a disc that slowly unfurls its understated charms over the course of repeated auditions.
Of course, the "textbook"reference is cliche, but its the cliche that fits best on hearing Moody's crystalline communication on this outing and the cohesive yet expressive support that he gets from the likes of Barron, Coolman and Nash. As one pundit writes, "hearing James Moody playing so well is an experience akin to having Abraham Lincoln still around to re-deliver the Gettysburg Address with undiminished oratory power."
Indeed, the maestro shows on this disc no signs of ageing, but rather the benefits that accrue from having "been around" and lived to tell. Even on standards like "Take The A-Train" recorded undoubtedly thousands of times, there is clarity. and a knowingness that in and of themselves make the tune fresh.
Of course, Moody and pianist Kenny Barron go back 50 years, to Dizzy Gillespie's legendary quintet, and are amazing together.
Another gem is "Speak Low" beginning as it does with a "St Tomas-style" calypso drum phrase then moving silkily in and out between Latin groove and swing. The rhythm men, Todd Coolman and Lewis Nash, make their own sterling contributions, Nash in particular with his deft brushwork.
But this is clearly the master's show.Much has been made -rightly so - of fellow sax legend Sonny Rollins' entry into the octogenarian ranks. Here, as he did with 4A, Moody proves that his own combination wit, energy and intelligence remain undiminished. Age really is just a number.