Man, Kenny Garrett really smokes on that alto sax. He can burn like few other saxophonists. If that wasn’t known before, you’ll know it after hearing his latest release, Standard of Language.
Standard of Language picks up right where his previous release, the excellent Happy People, left off. In fact, five of CD’s nine tracks were recorded during the Happy People session. The other four were recorded with the same band three months later. This tight band is Vernell Brown on piano, Charnett Moffett on bass, and Chris Dave on drums and they effortlessly keep the blazing tempo going.
Aside from being able to blow, Garrett has a fantastic sense of melody. Especially sweet is the uplifting “Native Tongue”. Though it wasn’t recorded on the Happy People sessions, this certainly would have fit with that title of that release. The song gives you a feeling of joy. You’ll remember each of the compositions on Standard of Language, which are all originals by Garrett except for a cover of “What Is This Thing Called Love?”. Tracks like “Native Tongue,” “Doc Tone’s Short Speech” (dedicated to the late Kenny Kirkland), and “Gendai” (a Japanese term meaning present tense) cement Garrett as one of the best melodic composers in modern jazz today.
Make no mistake: Standard of Language is a fiery and exciting CD demonstrating excellent compositions and playing. It’s a hard-hitting piece of work that will find favor with anyone who appreciates kick-ass jazz.
The CD has been out for a month, but if you haven’t picked up the Dave Weckl Band’s Perpetual Motion CD, you’re missing out on another good release by this consistent group. Weckl and his band always put out a great collection of jammin’ tunes. The group has seemed to make any easy transition from keyboardist/composer Jay Oliver (Dave’s longtime collaborator) to Steve Weingart. Weingart really makes his presence known on Perpetual Motion, writing or co-writing all of the music except for Brandon Fields’ “Skipper”. Bassist Tom Kennedy completes the quartet and co-wrote the kickin’ final track “Tiempo de Festival”.
This is the first CD that I can recall that has the band utilizing wordless vocals. Hussain Jiffry and Sanjay Divecha really add a new and welcome element to “Mesmer-Eyes” and “Child’s Play” (the latter features Dave’s little girl, Claire, making her singing debut). The horn trio of Jerry Hey, Gary Grant, and Bill Reichenbach make their mark, joining Fields on three songs, including the first track “Double Up”. Congratulations to the band on another job well done.
Hiroshima celebrates 25 years as a band this year and 20 years since the group first hit the instrumental charts. Their unique East-meets-West sound is on full display on their Windham Hill debut, Between Black and White. Hiroshima continues to effectively blend contemporary jazz with traditional Japanese elements and urban influences. “We’ve always stood apart from other instrumental groups of our time by taking the graceful classical sound of the koto and experimenting with varying American musical idioms around that,” says leader/co-founder Dan Kuramoto. “We create musically a cross-commentary about a multitude of cultures that comes from our backgrounds as Asian Americans growing up in a racially diverse America.”
Between Black and White features a diverse plate of sounds. In addition to the familiar sounds of June Kuramoto on koto and Johnny Mori on the taiko drum, the CD features instrumentation such as bongos, the Hammond B-3 organ, the shakuhachi, vibraphone, and the flan. Guest artist Karen Hwa-Chee plays the Er-hu, a Chinese violin whose origin dates back 5000 years, on the gorgeous “Dreams.” Another gentle, noteworthy track is “After the Rain,” which features sweet interaction between June and guest musician Hammer Smith on the chromatic harmonica. Of the twelve songs, only two feature vocals and those are more in the style of the band’s mid-80s songs like “Tabo” and “A Thousand Cranes” than the more urban-inspired songs featured in later recordings.
If you haven’t picked up a Hiroshima CD in a while, or if you’re looking for quality contemporary jazz that isn’t constrained by today’s smooth jazz format, or even if you just want to try something new, I recommend getting Between Black and White.
[This is an archived review I wrote at some point between 1997 and 1999.]
The ads for Boney’s first holiday release call this “the album to put on after you put the kids to bed.” Sure enough, Boney’s Funky Christmas features the seductive grooves you know the saxman for. This is the smoothest Christmas release I’ve heard in the last two years. Boney’s stamp on these songs (mostly traditional holiday tunes) is distinctive and the rhythms and production by his longtime producer, Paul Brown are top notch. Boney is especially tender on the Chris Eaton/Amy Grant composition “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song).” He has able assistance on the album from guest vocalists Dee Harvey (on “This Christmas”) and Bobby Caldwell (on “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve”). Rick Braun guests on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Although the other eight tracks are in the silky r&b vein, Boney also tries his hand at a stripped down sound with just him and percussionist Paulinho Da Costa on “Jingle Bells.” Overall, this is one of the most solid contemporary jazz holiday releases and one that will be enjoyed for years to come.
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George Duke says he “stretched a little more into the funk area on this one because I had so many people ask me to.” Think he’s kidding? The first half of Is Love Enough?, which is much more like his previous Warner Bros. albums Snapshot and Illusions than last year’s Muir Woods Suite, is heavy on the funk and slow jams. On the opening of “Kinda Low,” Duke, bassist Byron Miller, and drummer Ndugu Chancler declare “Once ya funky, ya always funky!” The groove is deep, with the sole exception of the sweet “Fill the Need.” Duke gets jazzier after the instrumental “Time and Space” interlude (futuristic instrumentals open and close the album). After Duke’s uptempo “Back in the Day” instrumental, he lets Jonathan Butler and Dianne Reeves take over “This Place I Call Home.” Dori Caymmi is featured on “Whatever Happened To…” Duke pulls in many of his frequent partners, including Everette Harp, Rachelle Ferrell, Phil Perry, and George Howard. Also appearing on the album are Doc Powell and Norman Brown. Of his fellow musicians, Duke says “each of you brought gourmet dishes to the musical table.” Is Love Enough? features a table with equal portions of funk and contemporary jazz. Whether you enjoy one or the other, or both, you’ll feel satisfied.
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