Tag Archives: John Lennon

ENRAPTURE(D): KEN PEPLOWSKI, EHUD ASHERIE, MARTIN WIND, MATT WILSON

The works of art that move me the most combine and embody intelligence, warmth, playfulness, and love.  Ken Peplowski’s new CD, ENRAPTURE (Capri Records 74141), is a shining example of what I mean.

ENRAPTURE cover

Recorded slightly more than a year ago, this vivid and satisfying session is a portrait of a wonderful band — recorded as if at a gig but in splendid sound.  The band is a balanced, energetic, communal organism: four individuals who listen to and support each other — Ken on clarinet and tenor; Ehud Asherie, piano; Martin Wind, string bass; Matt Wilson, drums.

And the principles behind this CD are so simple, yet often neglected in this era of “projects” and “themes”.  I will let the writer of the elegant liner notes, Mr. Peplowski, explain: “[This CD is] my latest effort – a year or so of sifting through material, a year or so of playing with these great musicians, and very little time in the studio – we really wanted to approximate what we do in the clubs – this is us, in as close to a live setting as one could ask for in a recording environment – every song pretty much in one take – we weren’t going for a speed-recording record, we just like to capture the spontaneity and interplay of four people who enjoy making music together.”

If circumstances permitted there to be more working bands who could record sessions like this . . . but I digress.

Here’s a sonic sample — the title song of the session, composed by Herbie Nichols:

Even the casual listener will notice that this is a delightfully egalitarian melodic quartet: each player contributing an individual energy to the music, rather than a Star and a Rhythm Section.  Each of these players is obviously a Star but the prevailing atmosphere is a friendly communality — humility and eagerness mixed as a loving offering to the Music.

And what Music!  Although some “traditionalists” like to claim Peplowski as their own — after all, he’s recorded with tuba on the session — and then renounce him as a Dangerous Modernist, the truth is that he has a wide and delicious musical intelligence, one that embraces all kinds of music as long as it has a lively center.  So on this CD there are songs by Harry Warren, Bernard Hermann, Barry Manilow, Noel Coward, Ellington, Fats Waller, Lennon, Leslie Bricusse, and Peter Erskine.  There are touching ballads and ruminative introspections; there are quick, spiky ventures into apparently unknown territory; there is rollicking swing (as opposed to tributes to its fabled King — none of that here, please).

There is nothing self-conscious about the breadth of repertoire: it is a mark of an integrity that brushes away “styles and schools” in favor of deeply-felt but never pretentious creativity.  And although Peplowski can play his horns with incredible speed, vehemence, and precision, his is a mature sensibility that does not seek to impress listeners with flash.  Rather there is immense tenderness in his ballad playing, great intelligence and feeling throughout.  I stand in awe of Ehud’s solo and ensemble playing, and have listened to several tracks on this disc just to hear what chords he plays behind everyone else (wow, as we say); Martin’s bass playing is always tuneful, warm, and propulsive (catch him on WILLOW TREE); Matt is a splendidly melodic percussionist in the great tradition, one that extends past the expectations of jazz performance.  Together they are delicious.

If you want tangible reassurance that deep yet light-hearted beauty is being created and preserved in the name of Jazz (or Creative Improvised Music) as recently as last year, this is a CD to get — and savor and replay.  I’ve taken this long to write this review because I didn’t want to take the disc out of the car player.

It’s available at all the usual places, but I urge listeners to do the ancient act of purchasing the actual CD because Ken’s liner notes are wise and to the point, rather like their writer.

May your happiness increase!

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BOB MERRILL’S CHEERFUL MISSION

Bob Merrill CUTU

If anyone can improve the cosmic disposition, trumpeter / singer / composer Bob Merrill has a good shot at it.  He has the right attitude for sure.  On his new CD, he’s got the happy assistance of pianists John Medeski, Matthew Fries, and John Van Eps; guitarist Drew Zingg, string bassist / vocalist Nicki Parrott, drummer George Schuller, percussionist Vicente Lebron, reedman / flautist Russ Gershon, and special guests: tenorist Harry Allen, the legendary trombonist Roswell Rudd, and singer Gabrielle Agachiko.

I’ll let Bob sing, play, and comment here —

The CD itself is a fascinating hybrid — part post-bop Blue Note jazz with its rough edges smoothed off, part cheerful high-level vintage pop that would have sold millions in its own time and will no doubt attract new listeners in 2015.  The range is deliciously broad, the results convincing — from Paul Simon’s FEELIN’ GROOVY (a sweet witty duet for Bob and Nicki) to James Taylor and Randy Newman . . . and the only jazz version of Pharell Williams’ HAPPY that I expect to have on my shelves.

Bob explains this repertoire convincingly: “Most of the songs on this album entered my consciousness during adolescence. Some made me laugh and others made me cry.  All filled me with joy, and perhaps not coincidentally, they all achieved a great measure of popularity as bona fide hits on their respective charts.  Interpreting them in a personal way from a jazz perspective had been a labor of love.”

There are some delicious surprises here — triumphs of imagination.  I won’t spoil all the surprises, but my current favorite is a sharp-edged version of Randy Newman’s POLITICAL SCIENCE (LET’S DROP THE BIG ONE) that features Roswell Rudd, mock antique honky-tonk piano flourishes from Medeski, as Bob croons the dire lyrics over a twenty-first century “Dixieland” frolic.  It made me think, “What if Tom Lehrer had had the chance to record with George Wein’s Storyville band, say, Doc Cheatham, Vic Dickenson, and Pee Wee Russell?” Now, there’s an auditory miracle we can only imagine — thank you, Bob!

Bob is no popularizer, no jokester offering a buffet table of vintage pops played jazzily: even at its most light-hearted, this is a project based on heartfelt conviction: “We hope our music will offer cheer to you and any other beings in the universe capable of entering these sounds into their auditory senses.”

Even if the reach of this CD is narrower, and it cheers up only terrestrial listeners, it’s still a worthy enterprise.  Reach for this CD in the morning instead of your smartphone, perhaps.

Here (that’s Bob’s website) you can hear sound samples, check out Bob’s other CDs, and — cosmically — purchase this one.

You can follow Bob and learn more about his music here and here.

QUIETLY ACCOMPLISHED: CHRIS BARBER’S “JAZZ ME BLUES”

The biographies of jazz musicians often follow a predictable path, from Mother at the organ or Dad’s 78s, precocious talent, hours of rigorous training, encounters with older professionals, early gigs, and then success.  If the musician is stable and fortunate, the narrative quiets down to a series of gigs and concerts; if the subject is tragic, the pages darken: alcohol, drugs, abusive relationships, auto accident, major illness, premature death.

The jazz eminences who have written autobiographies (excepting Billie Holiday and Anita O’Day, although I am sure some readers will add to that list) have been the more fortunate ones, and their books depict elders looking back on friendships and triumphs.  Often the narrator is justly proud, and his / her singular personality is a strong consistent presence.

Trombonist and bandleader Chris Barber, born in 1930, continues to have a wonderful career — one that began with “traditional jazz” and stretched the definition to include different music incorporated into his own.  He’s played and recorded for more than sixty years with British jazz legends Ben Cohen, Ottilie Patterson, Ken Colyer, Acker Bilk, Pat Halcox, Lonnie Donegan, Monty Sunshine, Bruce Turner, Ian Wheeler, Beryl Bryden; with American stars Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Louis Jordan, Ed Hall, Ray Nance, Albert Nicholas, Joe Darensbourg, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Cecil Scott, Don Frye, Floyd Casey, Ed Allen, Sidney deParis, Hank Duncan, Wild Bill Davis, Russell Procope, Dr. John, Big Bill Broonzy, John Lewis and George Lewis, Clarence Williams, Aretha Franklin, Count Basie, Sam Theard, Jack Teagarden, Ornette Coleman, Scott LaFaro, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band . . .so the reader who opens a Barber autobiography hopes for good stories.

But this long list of names isn’t all there is to JAZZ ME BLUES (written with the very capable help of Alyn Shipton . . . Barber says in his acknowledgments that they first talked about this book in 1982) — published this year by Equinox in their Popular Music History series.

Barber follows the usual chronological path from his early encounter with jazz to becoming an international eminence. However, it took me about thirty-five pages (the book is 172 long) to settle in to JAZZ ME BLUES because of his distinctive personality.

He isn’t forceful or self-absorbed, telling us of the wonderful thing he did next. Barber comes across as a quietly modest man who has no need for us to admire him. Chronicling his life, he is so placidly matter-of-fact that it might take readers by surprise. But once we do, the absence of self-congratulation is refreshing, as if we were introduced to a very talented person who had been brought up to think self-praise was vulgar.

An interval for music.  First, STEAMBOAT BILL and HIGH SOCIETY from the Fifties:

GOIN’ HOME BLUES from 2013:

Aside from its subject’s remarkably modest approach to his own life, JAZZ ME BLUES has two great pleasures.  One is Barber’s unwillingness to stay neatly in the style that had brought him success. Beginning in the Sixties, his band takes on different shadings while not abandoning the music he loves: he brings in electric guitarist John Slaughter, altoist Joe Harriott, organist Brian Auger; he works and records with blues and gospel legends; he plays extended compositions. Again, since Barber speaks about these events with polite restraint, one must estimate the emotional effect of being booed by British traditionalist fans who wanted “their” music to stay the same. Barber is not making changes to woo a larger audience or to stay in the public eye, but because he is genuinely interested in adding other flavorings to a familiar dish. He is a determined seeker, and he grows more intriguing in his quests.

The other pleasure I alluded to at the start, delightful first-hand anecdotes. Readers deprived of their own contact with their heroes always want to know what the great men and women were like, and JAZZ ME BLUES — although never mean-spirited in its quick sketches — is a banquet here. Not only do we hear about Sonny Boy Williamson and Zutty Singleton (the latter saying he is most happy in a band without a piano because pianists all “lose time”) but about Van Morrison, George Harrison (who likes the 1930 BARNACLE BILL THE SAILOR) and colleagues Lennon and McCartney; we read of Howlin’ Wolf saying grace quietly and sweetly before a meal. Trumpeter Ed Allen tells Barber that he always used to learn the songs for Clarence Williams record dates in the taxi on the way to the studio.

And Barber has been in the right place at the right time. When he comes to America, he sits in at Condon’s. After an uneventful beginning, “. . . suddenly the rhythm section started to swing. I looked round and Eddie had picked up his guitar and joined in. From then on, with him there, every tempo was just right, and everything swung. His presence was subtle, but it made the world of difference. I knew what a fine player he could be, as, when the band had appeared at the Royal Festival Hall in 1957. I’d gone along to their late night concert. The thing that sticks in my memory from that night was Eddie taking a half-chorus solo on a tune in the ballad medley. It was just perfect, and with the tuning of his four-string tenor guitar it had a very distinctive sound. It reminded me of Carmen Mastren, who was a true virtuoso.”

JAZZ ME BLUES is an engaging portrait of a continuing life in jazz (with rare photographs, a selective discography, and an index). It is available in North America exclusively through ISD ($34.95 hardcover): ISD, 70 Enterprise Drive, Suite 2, Bristol, CT 00610: orders@isdistribution.com.

May your happiness increase!