Ladies Night at the Jazz Club

"Keep playin' that rock n' roll..."

Here’s a pair of CD reviews that appeared on All About Jazz and since they usually pop up in strange places on the web, I might as well run them on my own site before finding them stuck up somewhere else.

I’m starting to find quotes from my reviews showing up in the promotional materials for jazz artists.  I guess I should feel flattered but it just seems a bit weird.   On the other hand,  it’s nice to be taken seriously.   Every now and then it even gets me into concerts so there is that.

HIROMI – VOICE (Telarac)

f there’s no guitar are you playing rock n’ roll? If there’s no vocals does it make any sense to call an album Voice? Sure it does because after all, this is a Hiromi record and, while there is no guitar within earshot, there is plenty of rocking and rolling going on.

Voice is not—repeat—not a rock album or a jazz-rock album—or fusion or any other such hybrid. It’s a jazz record and the seventh Hiromi album is much like the six preceding it: High on energy and higher even still on innovation, improvisation and originality. The concept behind Voice is Hiromi’s belief that the voice that never speaks can be the most powerful of all.

Rock isn’t just turned up guitars and grown out hair. It’s every bit as much about attitude. Or just call it swagger. Hiromi’s approach to playing piano is to play with passion and vitality with a little swagger thrown in and what comes out is an album that, when it’s not in your ears, is in your face, demanding rapt attention.

It rocks, because Simon Phillips plays drums not like he’s part of a jazz trio, but still gigging with The Who, Judas Priest and Toto. This is not just Hiromi’s album, but Phillips’ as well, as he makes his presence felt on every track. In the absence of a screaming guitar, Phillips pounds and thunders away on what is best described as “lead drums.”

The overall effect is pretty amazing. “Flashback” kicks off with Hiromi on the low end of her piano and, as Phillips and Jackson come in, it’s off to the races, with the pianist and drummer sharing the leads while Jackson holds down the bottom. On “Desire,” Hiromi and Phillips duke it out in a piano vs. drums battle that is pure fun. Phillips gets multiple opportunities to run through his repertoire, and he doesn’t seem to mind one little bit. With Phillips in the drum chair, Voice features some of the toughest and most vigorous drumming on a jazz record since the prime of Billy Cobham‘s solo career.

Phillips was recommended to Hiromi by bassist Stanley Clarke, which figures, since Phillips played with guitarist Jeff Beck on There and Back (Epic, 1980), and Hiromi covered Beck’s jazz-rock classic, “Led Boots” on Beyond Standard (Telarc, 2008). Bassist Anthony Jackson has a more traditional role, but gets his licks in as he steps in for Clarke on “Labyrinth,” a composition Hiromi penned for The Stanley Clarke Band. Jackson previously appeared as a guest musician on Hiromi’s Another Mind (Telarc, 2003) and Brain (Telarc, 2004), and while he doesn’t dominate the proceedings as much as his band mates he doesn’t blend into the wallpaper either.

Even on the solo piano piece, “Haze,” Hiromi busily explores just how many preconceptions she can blow with her weapon of choice. Beethoven didn’t know anything about the blues or jazz, but Hiromi does, and her finger work proves it on “Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8, Pathetique,” along with some subtle embellishments from Jackson and Phillips.

No vocals, no lyrics, no guitars. No problem. It’s not rock n’ roll but Voice still rocks.

CINDY BRADLEY: UNSCRIPTED (Trippin’ N’ Rhythm)

Every now and then a musician gets bold and breaks the mold. Cindy Bradley’s Unscripted is the sound of an artist just going for it. The nearly eight-minute “Prelude/Massive Transit/Interlude” suite that kicks off the album is like a rush of cool air to the face on a hot summer day. It’s fast, furious and funky, with Bradley blowing the hell out of her trumpet as she dukes it out with producer Michael Broening’s keyboards and Tim Veder’s sax solos.

Don’t be confused, though. “Massive Transit” is smooth jazz, but it’s still a bit more ambitious than an ordinary bit of funk. It builds upon itself and keeps going with one hard groove after another, goosed along by Broening’s horn arrangement and a bass line by Ernie Donadelle that is irresistibly compelling.

Next up is an impressive take on Wayne Shorter‘s “Footprints” and a gorgeously lush version of “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” Bradley interjects some moody blues soloing over Broening’s arrangements, as they do not try so much to interpret the originals slavishly note for note as to pay homage to two familiar tunes.

The first half of Unscripted is so strong that the middle sags a little, as “Lifted” sounds pretty, but breaks no new ground. If “Deja Blue,” and “Pink Slip” are a bit more familiar, they also give Bradley a chance to show off her trombone chops. The final three selections—”Inevitable,” “Interlude” and the resplendent “One Moment More”—bring a satisfying close to Bradley’s sophomore effort and will continue to make her one of the most respected artists in contemporary jazz genre.

Bradley’s confidence as a player is apparent on every track of Unscripted. On the previous Bloom (Trippin’ n’ Rhythm, 2009), she hung back and deferred to Broening and the other musicians as though she was following their lead. That’s over now, as she delivers fully accomplished, award-winning music. Bradley was named the Best New Artist at the 2010 American Contemporary Jazz Awards, and followed that up with two Oasis Awards, for Best Brass Player and Best New Artist.

The title is slightly misleading. There may not have been a script for Unscripted, but there is definitely a plan and Bradley is executing it to perfection. This is a highly rewarding sophomore effort from Bradley and establishes her as someone on the short list of jazz artists well worth following to see what comes next.

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