So It Goes
Review: 3 1/2 stars (Out of 4)
"Miles Davis meets Radiohead . . . Chet Baker for the new millennium," say the hypemeisters in their perennial search for The Great Jazz Hope for the New Millennium (see the Bad Plus, E.S.T. and Robert Glasper for other members of the club).
Well, to quote the dead-on laconic judgment of Miles Davis on the subject of Charles Lloyd when he finally checked Lloyd out live after he'd already sold a carload of records, "the cat can play."
And so can trumpet player Matt Shulman -- better, in fact, than Chet Baker ever could. In fact, despite his singing "My Funny Valentine" for Bakeresque romance's sake, Shulman is also that rare trumpet player to play multiphonically (i.e. play more than one tone at the same time). And he sometimes hums while he plays, too, a la Rahsaan Roland Kirk. And yes, he's as happy to use electronics as Radiohead and to add wordless vocalises to his music a la Pat Metheny.
When he's not doing anything all that fancy or innovative, his trumpet tone sounds like what you'd get if you mixed Kenny Wheeler's and Hugh Masakela's. And he has got serious good old-fashioned chops, too -- maybe not enough to terrify Freddie Hubbard in his monster-chopped prime, but more than enough to scare current critical darling Dave Douglas off the stand on occasion (if he wanted to).
His young bassist and drummer here are Matt Clohesy and Jason Wildman, respectively. Taken as a threesome, they really are something a little new in the direction of jazz -- not just a way to add some new integrity to some old fusions but something new that hasn't been heard repeatedly for the past three decades.
Which is why it's a major bringdown that Shulman ends the disc with a version of Bach's "Air for the G String."
If ever a young jazz tiger was way too good to be messing around in Kenny G territory, it's Matt Shulman.
-- Jeff Simon
Schubert, Arpeggione Sonata; Debussy, Cello Sonata; Schumann, Five Pieces in Folk Style
With Benjamin Britten, piano
Review: 4 stars
With the world mourning Mstislav Rostropovich's recent passing at age 80, a lot of his recordings are sure to be hitting the market. But it's hard to imagine any of them being more moving than these recordings from Aldeburgh in the early '60s.
This disc overflows not only with beauty but also with heart. Rostropovich played every phrase as if it meant the world to him. He makes the Adagio of the "Arpeggione" absolutely ravishing, and the piece isn't easy to play on the cello (as the great latter-day accompanist and scholar Graham Johnson points out in his enjoyable notes). The Debussy, too, is full of depth and fire.
Britten's playing is so intuitive, so in communion with the cello, that he commands attention in his own right. This is not only marvelous music but also marvelous synergy. You get the sense you're glimpsing a unique moment in time.
-- Mary Kunz Goldman
Bobby Osborne & the Rocky Top X-Press
Review: 4 stars
Bobby Osborne gained his fame as half of bluegrass music legends the Osborne Brothers, best known for the song "Rocky Top" (hence the band name). But Osborne has been making some noise as a solo artist himself the last few years, and "Bluegrass Melodies" is an eye-opener. He hasn't lost his fastball.
What makes it work is his voice. Unlike Ralph Stanley, who has become known in his later years for his gruff, force-of-nature power, Osborne's voice is as versatile, skilled and subtle as ever.
The album's title is far too generic for a disk that could have been called "Bluegrass Soul." In a field where instrumental virtuosity is almost taken as a given, it's that soulful voice that makes the difference. And while we're at it, the gospel finale, "Go Rest High on That Mountain," a duet with Rhonda Vincent on a Vince Gill song, is enough to bring tears to the eyes. They can play it at my funeral anytime.
-- Elmer Ploetz
Review: 2 1/2 stars
Arturo Sandoval, the trumpet-toting king of suave, has turned out a slick 10 tracks here, with his trademark glistening sky-high notes, good-time drums and choruses of Cubans. You could argue that the package is too polished -- a gritty street festival this is not.
It's also not especially original. Every song reminds me of lazy afternoons at jazz festivals, chatting with friends, drinking a beer, reading who's up next. But Sandoval's effortless artistry makes me smile.
I remember one time when he played a Pops concert with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and as he flitted between drums and trumpets and whatever, a friend of mine laughed, "He looks as if he's in the back yard barbecuing." Next time you're having the gang over for black beans and rice, this is the perfect background disc.
Eberhard Weber with Gary Burton, Jan Garbarek and others Stages of a Long Journey With the SWR Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra
Review: 3 1/2 stars
Universal Syncopations II
Review: 3 1/2 stars
What you have to understand about Manfred Eicher, whose ECM has been one of the greatest corporate presences in jazz and classical music of the past three decades, is that before he became an international musical force, he was a bassist. Here are two jazz bassists -- one good one, one great one -- given their heads by Eicher to think big (i.e. ambitiously, orchestrally, even chorally, on Vitous' disc, and with major jazz guest stars.
The more celebratory of the two discs is Eberhard Weber's "Stages of a Long Journey," which is nothing less than a live concert recording of a two-concert Stuttgart celebration of Weber's 65th birthday commemorating his entire career. What that means in this musical autobiography are musicians like Gary Burton, Marilyn Mazur, Jan Garbarek and Rainer Bruninghaus to help. The contrast of Weber and Garbarek's bass/tenor saxophone duet on "Seven Movements" and the orchestral "The Colour of Chloe" is particularly indicative of the seriousness, even majesty of the enterprise.
Of much more consequence to American jazz -- and more immediately apparent ambition, too -- is "Universal Syncopations II" by behemoth and brilliant bassist/composer Miroslav Vitous, whose early association with Chick Corea led to some of the best records of them both. Corea was on the first volume of "Universal Syncopations" (named after the Italian Recording studio where it was recorded). On this one are some great American jazz players making debuts on ECM -- most notably Bob Mintzer and Randy Brecker. The music here is powerful, large in conception and restlessly inventive -- a true meeting of jazz and classical music, slighting neither.