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Listening Post: Jazz by Jon Lundblom and Big Five Chord; classical cello music by Bach and Prokofiev


Jon Lundblom & Big Five Chord, “Play All the Notes” (Hot Cup Records). This is not a young jazz band that sounds as if it’s afraid that Mom and Dad are about to march out to the garage any minute and berate one and all for playing music that couldn’t possibly be financially successful. Whatever its financial prospects would be, at best, it is splendid music by one of the coolest and boldest jazz bands around who are currently involved in an unusual and first-rate project. The band is guitarist Jon Lundblom and Big Five Chord and the project is to release its bold and terrific current music on a series of EP’s which will eventually be collected in a four-CD EP boxed set. The first two EP’s released by the group were called “Make the Magic Happen” and “Bring Their ‘A’ Game.” The group is a pianoless, two-saxophone quintet where Lundblom’s angular and linear guitar playing takes the place of the usual piano. It’s in the saxophonists that the group is most distinctive – alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon and tenor saxophonist Balto Exclamationpoint. Yes, you read that right. That’s his name. But then, it’s entirely in keeping when you realize that the first time Irabagon came to Buffalo was in the extraordinary “Art of Jazz” series at the Albright-Knox Gallery in the wildly postmodern Moppa Elliott Group cheerfully named Mostly Other People Do The Killing. Elliott is part of this group too with bassist Dan Monaghan. While the influence of others is notable (Tim Berne, say), each of the EP’s ends with a composition by Ornette Coleman, the godfather of this kind pianoless playing in jazz. The Coleman closer here is “Humpty Dumpty.” The asperity of Lunblom’s soloing is powerful but what makes the EP’s irresistible is the counterpoint of Irabagon and Exclamationpoint. If you want to know where the jazz vanguard lives and absolutely flourishes in current jazz, try these guys. Three and a half out of four stars. (Jeff Simon)


Bach, Handel and Scarlatti, “Gamba Sonatas” performed by cellist Steven Isserlis and harpsichordist Richard Egarr with Robin Michael Cello Continuo (Hyperion); Prokofiev, “Sinfonia Concertante” and “Cello Sonata” performed by cellist Zuill Bailey and the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra conducted by Grant Llewelyn and pianist Natasha Paremski (Steinway). Among the Bach works that figure prominently in Lauren Belfer’s new novel “And After the Fire” are the beautiful sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord from relatively late in Bach’s life. Two of them are performed here by one of the great contemporary cellists, 44-year old Steven Isserlis, accompanied by one of the great contemporary harpsichordists, Richard Egarr. What Isserlis says here about the pleasures of being accompanied by a harpsichord rather than a piano is understandable: “It’s lovely for us cellists, used to making our presence felt with some difficulty over the rich sound of the modern piano, to be able to play as lightly as possible without ever courting inaudibility.” Single sonatas by Handel and Scarlatti fill out the disc wonderfully. An entirely different voice for the cello is heard on the gorgeous new record of Prokofiev cello music by another middle-aged master of the modern cello, 58-year old Zuill Bailey. He performs Prokofiev’s C-minor Sinfonia Concertante with the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra conducted by Grant Llewelyn and the composer’s C-Major cello/piano sonata with pianist Natasha Paremski. The excellence of the North Carolina Symphony may take some by surprise but it shouldn’t in this era. Both the Prokofiev works on the disc were composed by the composer for the legendary master of the instrument, Mstislav Rostropovich. Anything less than music of enormous distinction produced under those circumstances would have been close to scandal at best, and, at worst, close to illegal in Soviet Russia. It would have been a betrayal by Prokofiev of one of his greatest colleagues and that was not possible. A beautiful record. Ratings for both records: Three and a half our of four stars. (Jeff Simon)