George Duke Goes Indie

George Duke - Face the MusicIt’s the year of major modern jazz artists striking out on their own. Branford Marsalis released Footsteps of Our Fathers earlier this year on his own label, Marsalis Music. Now George Duke has released his first album on his label, BPM (Big Piano Music). Face the Music was released September 3 and consists of mostly instrumentals. “The basic idea for this project was to use the same rhythm section for the entire album,” Duke says. “Though there are horns and vocals in spots, the rhythm section is the focus and identity of the music.” The rhythm section consists of Christian McBride and John Roberts.
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Joshua Redman Quote

I read a quote from Joshua Redman in a recent Borders magazine. I thought it was appropriate for the first entry at this site.

“Jazz is going in all different directions now, and most are wonderful. There are great musicians with really original things to say. The music is in a really wonderful, creative time. Jazz is mixing with other forms of music, but there is no one next step.

We have to stop seeing the development of jazz – or the development of any art – in this kind of linear progression. Each step is a little bit higher than the one before. There’s always a next obvious step, which represents obvious progress and linear evolution from what came before. That’s a very modernist conception and it’s worked for a long time. But I think this is more of a postmodern age. It’s less about the next big thing or the next logical extension of what’s happening. It’s more about all these different possible creative avenues that are being explored.”
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Review: Hiroshima – Between Black and White

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.

Review: Boney’s Funky Christmas from Boney James

[This is an archived review I wrote at some point between 1997 and 1999.]

Boney's Funky Christmas from Boney JamesThe 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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Obituary: Nick Webb

LOS ANGELES (Variety) – Guitarist and composer Nick Webb, a founding member of the contemporary jazz group Acoustic Alchemy, died in London Thursday from cancer, the group’s publicist said. He was 43.
Webb, a native of England, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year ago, and at the time of his death was finishing work on the Grammy-nominated group’s 10th album, Positive Thinking, publicist David Millman said.
“Nick was a sweet, wonderful man and a wonderful friend,” said Webb’s chief collaborator, Greg Carmichael, who formed Acoustic Alchemy with Webb in 1987.

“Though this past year was quite difficult for him, Nick managed to write some of the most beautiful music of his life. If there’s any silver lining, it’s knowing that, ’till the very end, he was doing what he loved and that he was surrounded by his adoring family,” Carmichael said in a statement.

Webb is survived by his wife, Kay, and their daughter, Alexandra. Private services were held in his home county of Wiltshire, England.