For Leather (Dedicated To My Leather Jacket) (C)

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

 

I wish it were cool enough for leather.

I can’t stand this L.A. weather.

In New York we would dress up just to grab a slice or simply meet up,

It’s way too casual in this low-down desert town.

It’s time to put on shorts again, flip-flops and shoot a plastic grin

And there’s no shade when the bus is running late.

 

I wish it were cool enough for leather.

I’m baking in this awful L.A. weather.

In New York we wore silken scarves to uptown theaters and downtown bars,

I thought it was all about looks in this smoggy desert town.

It’s time for a squirt of sun screen, beach-top bimbos full of saline,

And these umbrellas from Brooklyn just sit collecting dust.

 

I wish I were still cool enough for leather.

I’ve let myself go in this sweaty LA. weather.

In New York I killed kings and Queens with shiny guitars and rusty dreams,

Doc just ain’t cool in this dirty desert town.

It’s time for freeway stand-stills, organic sushi, gluten-free pills

And the moths have eaten up my hats and gloves.

 

 

Jazz Review: Melissa Aldana: Back Home (WOMMUSIC)

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

 

So many tenor saxophonists spend their entire careers imitating John Coltrane and they’re fine with that and so are many jazz enthusiasts. People like to hear recycled styles thrown back at them in the name of nostalgia but there are so many other great tenor giants other than ‘Trane to learn from. And it’s always refreshing to hear an artist explore a broader scope of jazz history and not settling on one influence or genre.

Chilean born Melissa Aldana worships Sonny Rollins but there’s so much more to her music than “Newk’s” influence. Back Home is her second trio album and fourth as a bandleader. She is accompanied by Pablo Menares on bass and Jochen Ruecker on drums. This album is a breath of fresh air. Aldana and her fearless trio are tight, adventurous and constantly on the move, seeking new harmonies, textures, and concepts on Back Home.

Melissa Aldana Pic

 

This isn’t music created for a commercial audience. It’s much greater than that. This is hard, pure, uncompromising  and haunting jazz at its best. The compositions are long, soulful journeys into the heart of tenor sax driven post-bop and all of its possibilities.

“Alegria”, “Desde LA LLuvia”, and “Obstacles” are somewhat reminiscent of Sonny Rollins’ Freedom Suite recorded with Oscar Pettiford and Max Roach in 1958 but only in the music’s intense trio setting.  Aldana jumps from the lower register to the altissimo with such ease and wondrous unpredictability. Her sense of spacing and harmonic brilliance puts her heads above any of the male tenor players on the scene right now.

Pablo Menares’s melodic but tough bass lines follow Aldana’s every twist and turn and Jochen Rueckert has obviously studied Tony Williams, Max Roach, Elvin Jones and Art Blakey but like Aldana, he has discovered a unique style of his own from remnants of the past.

Aldana’s tenor lines on “En Otro Lugar” bring tears to my eyes. She’ll bend a note one moment and then hang on another as if her life depends on it. “My Ship” is so mature and powerful. It’s just Aldana and Menares together. “Servant # 2 swings like nothing else you’re likely to hear in 2016. Aldana’s choices are both pure and abstract at once. Aldana’s rhythmic approach is similar to Sonny Rollins’. It’s hard to believe Aldana is only 27 years old.

Aldana has the skill to blaze through a thousand and one notes at once but she knows when to hold back to create these amazing tensions. “Before You” and “Time” are perfect examples of this. Aldana’s dynamics are so masterful and should be studied at music conservatories everywhere. So many cats just blow hard all the time. Aldana’s breathy read work is astounding. Besides Rollins, you hear traces of legends like Don Byas, Lucky Thompson and Gene Ammons in her playing but Aldana is at that level where she’s leaving her influences behind for an instantly identifiable style that is unforgettable. The telepathic chemistry of the trio and the live sound on this recording are all equal parts of the music’s timelessness.

The album closes with the title track “Back Home” which is Aldana’s loving tribute to Sonny Rollins. Again, the presence of “Colossus” is there in short, lovely burst but the rest is pure Aldana.

Melissa Aldana’s Back Home is one of the most important and introspective jazz recordings to surface in a long time. Aldana should be praised as one of today’s greatest jazz masters and innovators who is destined to lead a whole new generation of tenor saxophone players and composers. This is truly a masterpiece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Martin: An Appreciation

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

 

I’ve never been able to relate to pop music on any level or pop anything for that matter. I don’t think of art on those terms. It’s not a choice really. It took a lot of coaxing and soft drugs to get into the music of The Beatles. LSD and pot put me in a forgiving mood when it came to out of tune guitars, nasally vocals, and catchy choruses. I was an arrogant elitist prick who listened to mostly jazz, R&B, funk, classical, good blues, and what many might consider to be “avant-garde” music. It had a lot to do with how and when I was raised in New York City. The ’60s rock/pop/folk bands just weren’t big with my picky little crew, aside from Hendrix, The Velvet Underground, Bowie, and some Dylan. The token hippie kid or art teacher was never cool and to be ridiculed at every turn.

When I finally surrendered to the Beatles’ music, it was the band’s work with master producer and arranger George Martin that got my attention. Sgt Pepper, The White Album, and Abbey Road were so beautifully orchestrated. I could hear Martin’s obvious classical training which gave the Fab Four some much needed form. It gave those pop elements more integrity and depth.

George Martin

Martin made it possible for someone like me to learn to love The Beatles. Those little flourishes, ringing bells, string arrangements and special effects mostly foreign to the pop/rock world transformed pop art into fine art and it was still accessible to all people of all generations and backgrounds. His vision went far beyond a few guitars, bass, drums and old Chuck Berry songs. Martin brought the Beatles into the fourth dimension and changed the way each band member approached songwriting. He introduced the boys to the vastness of the sky and seas and got them far off of the Liverpudlian ground.

Martin was like Stanley Kubrick. He saw the universe through much larger lenses and was always precise and meticulous. The beauty was in the details and that’s where Martin was most focused. I can say without reservation that he was and will always be my favorite Beatle.

And so I thank you George Martin for not allowing me to pass the Beatles by and for opening my mind to artistic possibilities in pop music. I never imagined I’d ever say anything like that but you made it so beautiful and to never be forgotten.

 

CD Review: Andy Brown Quartet-Direct Call (Delmark)

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

 

When I think of Chicago jazz guitar, I instantly think of Andy Brown. He’s been a veteran of the Chicago scene for over 13 years now. His new album Direct Call captures the soul and intimacy of Brown’s live weekly performances at Andy’s Jazz Club in the Windy City. The album features the same quartet that plays with Andy at Andy’s consisting of Jeremy Kahn, piano, Joe Policastro, bass, and Phil Gratteau on drums.

This album is what a studio jazz recording should be all about. It’s sincere, pure, and sounds exactly like a late night live set at a real jazz club. Brown and his band do tasty and dedicated covers of Johnny Hodges “The Jeep Is Jumpin'”, Hank Mobley’s “Funk In Deep Freeze”, Johnny Mandel’s “El Cajon” as well as the title track which was written by Django Reinhardt.

ANDYBROWN

You can hear hints of legends like Wes Montgomery, Lenny Breau, and Joe Pass in Brown’s style but his sense of spacing and dynamics are extraordinarily unique. Jeremy Kahn’s piano accompaniment is swinging and precise. Kahn’s solo on the title track is poignant and masterful. The rhythm backing of Policastro and Gratteau is tight and wonderfully sparse.

The ballads really shine on this recording, especially on Jimmie Guinn’s “Relaxing” and Russ Columbo’s standard “Prisoner Of Love” which has the same feel to it as the version Lester Young did with Teddy Wilson on the classic Verve album Press And Teddy. Brown’s guitar lines and arpeggios are as fluid and lyrical as that of a master class jazz vocalist.The band’s take on Hoagy Carmichael’s “One Morning In May” is syncopated, thematic, and tender. You really feel the strong chemistry between Brown and his quartet on this number. It’s evident that these guys know each other’s styles intimately.

The uptempo “Catch Me” swings as hard as humanly possible. Gratteau’s bop flavored drumming is phenomenal and Kahn delivers his most imaginative piano solo on the album. On Jobim’s “Ela E’ Carioca”, Brown plays with the kind of breath and restraint of a true master. This is a soulfully stellar performance on all levels. Policastro’s bass solo is slick, melodic and sticks to the composition’s theme perfectly. This is truly an album highlight.

The album closes with the bluesy “Freak Of The Week” written by John Coates Jr .Brown really pays homage to Wes Montgomery here, playing those on of a kind octaves that Montgomery made so popular and the band cooks with sheer joy.

If you’re looking for a pure jazz album with no flash and nothing but great music, you must get a copy of Direct Call by The Andy Brown Quartet. This is the real deal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CD Review: Jason Miles Presents To Grover with Love/LIVE IN JAPAN (Whaling City Sound)

By Devon Wendell

 

A tribute album in the wrong hands can often come off sounding syrupy, unoriginal, and boring but this is far from the case with Jason Miles’ To Grover with Love/Live In Japan project. Technically this is Miles’ third tribute project to the late, great Grover Washington Jr.  To Grover With Love and 2 Grover With Love are Miles’ previous studio homages to Washington and Miles also produced the release of Washington’s Grover Live featuring a  spectacular live recording of Washington at his best at the Paramount Theater in 1997, just two years prior to his death in December of 1999. That album was released in 2010. That same year, Miles assembled a cooking band to perform the same music from Grover Live at The Blue Note in Tokyo and the results are burning.

Jason Miles is one of the most original and brilliant keyboardists, composers, and arrangers in the world. He got to play with Grover Washington Jr. as did bassist Gerald Veasley who is featured on this recording as is longtime Washington percussionist and collaborator Ralph MacDonald. MacDonald tragically passed away shortly after this gig. Miles is also joined by guitarist Nick Moroch, Andy Snitzer and Eric Darius on tenor saxes and Buddy Williams on drums.

This album is so pure, funky, and filled with love. It brings me back in time when New York City was filled with the sounds of soul, blues, and jazz all fused together beautifully. Grover Washington Jr. blended all of that music so effortlessly and it’s simply impossible to feel bad when digging on that Grover groove. Jason Miles and company have captured that joy  that is the essence of Grover’s sound like no one else.

JASONMILESGROVER

 

You have steaming reworkings of Washington’s greatest masterpieces such as ‘Winelight”, “Sassy Stew”, “Take Me There”, and “Loren’s Dance” here. The arrangements are pretty true to the originals but the band has this relaxed and funky edge to it that keeps you hanging on every note and nuance. Andy Snitzer’s and Eric Darius’s tenor sax lines are sweet, nasty, and perfect for this music. Jason Miles never falls back on any cliche keyboard gimmicks. He’s such an imaginative and thoughtful texturalist. Check out his clavinet solo on “Inner City Blues” which is just one of many examples of his virtuosity. He’s unpredictable in all of the best ways yet he compliments the other soloists perfectly.

Nick Moroch’s burning lead guitar lines adds a late ’70s Steely Dan feel to the band and the rhythm section of Gerald Veasley, Buddy Williams, and Ralph MacDonald keep everything in that deep and magically hypnotic pocket. Although this is a tribute album, the band has such a unique sound that stays with you long after the first listen.

“Just The Two Of Us” features guest vocalist Ryan Shaw and it’s so good that it rivals the original. “Loran’s Dance”, “Let It Flow”, Take Me There”, and Mr Magic” are so tight, funky and irresistible that you will find yourself playing them over and over again in sheer delight.

Veasley’s slap bass is masterfully precise and the drums sound so real because they are real. There’s no reverb or cheesy effects added. This is a true live performance that will transport the listener back to the late ’70s. The album is gloriously underproduced. If somehow had blind folded me and played To Grover With Love/Live In Japan, I would have thought it was something released over 35 years ago which is the highest compliment I can possibly give.

Whether you’re a longtime fan of Grover Washington Jr’s sound or new to it, this recording is a must. Jason Miles understands that love in Grover’s music because he feels it throughout this magnificent performance. This is easily one of the best live albums I’ve heard in a while. This is timeless music. Do not miss out on this one.