Christmas music from Santa Bela Fleck and the Flecktones is coming on September 30. Jingle All the Way is the first collection of holiday music from the long-standing band. It features everything from banjo-harmonic arrangements of “Christmas Time Is Here” and “River,” to a Tuvan-inspired, worldbeat rendition of “What Child Is This / Dyngyldai.”
“We always imagined we would do a holiday album,” Fleck said in a statement. “When the Flecktones first got together, we worked out a Christmas medley; it was really fun. People loved it, and we continued to play it every year.”
Tuesday, August 12, is a big day for contemporary jazz fans. It’s the day that several legends will drop new music – and all of them on two recordings. In fact, four of the five artists who were on the Legends tour about a decade ago are on them.
David Sanborn is back with an album that likely will serve as a highlight in his career. What upfront was to funk, Here and Gone might be to soul and blues. Sanborn pays homage to the music that inspired him, especially the music of Hank Crawford. “Hank was the great saxophonist and arranger for Ray Charles in the 1950s and early ’60s, and his arrangements and playing were central to me in forming my ideas about what music was and should be,” states Sanborn. “He had such a wonderful economy in what he did: He didn’t waste any notes, and there was nothing superfluous about his playing.” To help realize the vision he had for this recording, the saxman brought in some names: Christian McBride and Steve Gadd are the rhythm section and Eric Clapton sings and plays “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town.” Also contributing are Joss Stone, Sam Moore, Gil Goldstein, Russell Malone, and Wallace Roney. I didn’t receive an advance on Here and Gone but I did hear three cuts. I don’t know if it’s a word but I’m describing it as “rootsy.” I mean, it’s Sanborn playing the style that influenced him, and it doesn’t sound like it’s a slick, overly polished record. Rootsy.
Thunder. Rhythmic, melodic, rock you out, funk you up. Thunder! Back in the spring when I interviewed Marcus Miller, I asked him what was in the pipeline. He mentioned that there was a bass trio recording that he Stanley and Victor were working on – and oh what a recording it’s turned out to be. I can’t imagine a better name for this all-star collaboration between these three Bass Masters of the Universe. The thunderous power that is conjured up by SMV is awe-inspiring, not just in the low and middle registers, but in the compositions and arrangements as well. This isn’t some ego driven free-for-all that’s all chops and no meat. In my opinion, it’s the compositions that drive this recording, with each bassist unselfishly contributing for the benefit of the whole. I have to admit that of the three players, I’m least familiar with Victor Wooten; but I was easily able to identify each distinctive voice, in fact, this is probably the best setting I’ve heard Stanley play in in quite sometime. To have three of today’s leading bassists, each of which bring much more to the table than just being a recording artist, creating such a cohesive project, speaks volumes of their talents and obvious kinship. One could only hope that this doesn’t end up being a one-off project. Also, kudos to Heads Up for having the guts to release this project, in a year that has been extremely lean for anything remotely approaching quality jazz, yet alone fusion. One last opinion if I may: I’ve purchased maybe five actual physical CDs this year, but I’ve purchased at least 60 downloadable, complete jazz recordings thus far. How come they don’t come with downloadable digital booklets?
Victor Wooten is a musician with a penchant for creativity and this is clearly heard on his latest release, Palmystery. The disc captures this versatile artist in his element as he succinctly takes listeners on a genre-bending tale during which themes of mysticism and spirituality are explored. This premise is shared in Wooten’s concurrently released novel The Music Lesson which tells the story of a young musician’s encounter with a mysterious music teacher who expounds upon him spiritual lessons in music and life. The album opens with the playful and energetic “2 Timers” featuring Derico Watson and JD Blair on drums. The piece is further aided by Howard Levy’s harmonica, Eric Silver’s violin and a full horn section. On “Left Right & Center” guitarist Mike Stern shares the spotlight with Wooten and Neal Evans (Soulive) on the Hammond B3. Perhaps the track’s biggest accomplishment lies in the enlistment of Dennis Chambers, Will Kennedy, and Blair on drums whose combined force provides a fluid backbeat that keeps things moving along at a steady clip. A lively cover of Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father” is included on the release as well. Wooten states that “A song is just an idea until someone brings it into the world,” adding “That’s the great mystery of music or any creative endeavor. The power is in the palm of your hand. You just have to release it to the world.” And release it to the world he did on the satisfying and eclectic Palmystery. Keep an ear out for this one.
A scenario I’d like to see at the 2004 Grammy Awards ceremony: The Grammy returns to honoring jazz during its primetime special. Some of modern jazz’s best known bassists are playing a tribute to Jaco Pastorius. After thunderous applause, the award for Best Large Ensemble Album is announced. The winner: The Jaco Pastorius Big Band – Word of Mouth Revisited.
Word of Mouth Revisited covers Jaco’s compositions from his early days with conductor/arranger Peter Graves’ orchestra to his work with Weather Report and Word of Mouth. There’s an unreleased bass recording of Jaco himself on one of his favorite Herbie Hancock compositions “Wiggle Waggle.” It was recorded in the late 70s and the current Jaco Big Band plays the rest of the parts. This fourteen-piece big band is tight. I can’t say enough about the crispness of their sound. It’s easily the best big band I’ve heard in some time. The thirteen arrangements – by Graves (who hired Jaco in 1971 for his orchestra), Larry Warrilow (Jaco?s longtime friend and collaborator), and Jaco are excellent.
Then there is the who’s who of bass players: Marcus Miller, Christian McBride, Jimmy Haslip, Victor Wooten, Victor Bailey, Gerald Veasley, Richard Bona, and Jaco’s nephew, David Pastorius all contribute to this recording. It goes without saying that the rhythm on this CD is unbelievable. The bassists obviously seem inspired and actually seem to exceed their already formidable skills. Drummer Mark Griffith deserves special recognition for his excellent work on driving the tempo. Griffith is a standout on a CD where every single musician is worthy of note.
Whether you know everything Jaco or not, Word of Mouth Revisited is a release any modern jazz fan will want in his or her collection. It’s this year’s most welcome surprise.