Review: Spirit of the Season from Hiroshima

Spirit of the Season from HiroshimaEven though Hiroshima had songs on a couple of Windham Hill holiday compilations, Spirit of the Season is the first full holiday release from the band. After listening to this 11-song collection, I’m ready for the sequel. This is an excellent holiday recording and makes me wonder why they haven’t done it before. June Kuramoto’s koto again is the highlight. The distinctiveness of the koto sound makes many of the traditional holiday songs sound like new. June’s expressiveness on “White Christmas” and playfulness on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” demonstrate her mastery of the instrument. The latter song is the best rendition I’ve heard of that song in a long time. Also notable, and appropriate given Hiroshima’s east-meets-west sound, is the use of taiko drums on “Little Drummer Boy.” Two new instrumentals also add to the fun: the atmospheric “Listen (To the Falling Snow)” and the uplifting “Peace On Earth.” The group’s classic “Thousand Cranes” is revisited and is enhanced with a gospel choir.

Overall, Spirit of the Season succeeds in evoking that special feeling of the holiday. It’s perfect for every holiday occasion – decorating your tree, dinner party, or just listening on your own. Even better, tell your friends!

In Praise of Liquid Soul

I saw Liquid Soul in concert at the Kansas City Blues and Jazz Festival three years ago. I had never heard of the band before. My wife and I were sitting on the lawn enjoying the day of music when the group hit the stage around 6 p.m. I wasn’t sitting after about 30 seconds. The sheer power of the sound this funk ensemble put forth was unbelievable. Brassy horns, deep bass, jazz guitar, DJ – this was a tight group and knew how to lay out a groove and work the crowd. Two minutes into the show, I gave my wife some money and asked her to buy every Liquid Soul thing she could find. It remains one of the top concerts that I have ever seen.

Liquid Soul - EvolutionThough there’s nothing like seeing them live, the band’s new CD, Evolution doesn’t hold anything back. You’ll hear it from the start, with the punchy “Action Jackson”. You’ll be dancing to “I Was Meant To Be Rich.” You’ll be jumping around the room when James “Squeeze” Taylor hands off his rap to the horns on “Soul.” The band keeps the music moving, rarely slowing down (it sounds like an attempt at a slower tempo was made on “Bossa Interlude” but that’s scratched at under a minute). The only problem is that I can’t listen to the CD at work since I end up spinning around in my chair and unable to focus on my projects.

Do yourself a favor and see Liquid Soul live. They’ll be in Iowa, Colorado, Utah, and their home state of Illinois (the band hails from Chicago) the rest of this month and the tour continues through next month.

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: Warner Bros. Jazz Christmas Party

Warner Bros. Jazz Christmas Party

Warner Bros. gathered its jazz and contemporary jazz rosters to put together the label’s first holiday collection. But, unlike other label holiday albums, Jazz Christmas Party, doesn’t just feature submitted tracks from its artists. WB artists collaborated together on several songs on this album. Bob James and Béla Fleck duet on “White Christmas. Michael Franks and Kirk Whalum work together on Franks’ “I Bought You A Plastic Star For Your Aluminum Tree.” The constant on the release is the keys of the label’s big three pianists – Bob James, Brad Mehldau, and Larry Goldings. The songs aren’t exactly Christmas standards. Al Jarreau, Boney James, Bob James, and Larry Goldings perform on Kenny Loggins and Bob James’s “Celebrate Me Home.” Whalum lays down his gospel sound on “A Cradle of Bethlehem.” New WB vocalist Gabriela Anders delivers a great debut on her original “Our First Christmas.” The musicianship on the album is top-notch, from the headliners to the rhythm provided by James Genus, Larry Grenadier, Jorge Rossy, and Billy Kilson.

Warner Bros. Jazz Christmas Party is a seasonal album that all jazz fans will enjoy.

t r a c k s
(note that several musicians play on several other tracks)

“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” – Joshua Redman; “Celebrate Me Home” – Al Jarreau; “A Cradle In Bethlehem” – Kirk Whalum; “I Bought You A Plastic Star For Your Aluminum Tree” – Michael Franks; “Our First Christmas” – Gabriela Anders; “Silent Night” – Larry Goldings and Brad Mehldau; “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” – Boney James; “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” – Kevin Mahogany; “Pure Imagination” – Mark Turner; “Christmas Time Is Here” – Brad Mehldau Trio; “Personent Hodie (Sing Aloud This Day)” – Bob James Trio; “White Christmas” – Béla Fleck and Bob James