Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Mickey Hart - Mickey Hart's Mystery Box

After the passing of Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia and the venerable band's demise, it was percussionist Mickey Hart who proved to be the most creatively resilient. As Deadheads and appreciators of world music can attest, Hart -- who is also an author and learned ethnomusicologist -- has been fusing genres ever since his debut release, 1972's Rolling Thunder, which included Native American sounds and motifs along with rock and jazz. Mickey Hart's Mystery Box harks back to that project with his first album of pop-oriented material in nearly a quarter-century. He combines the seemingly disparate world of percussion-based rhythms with traditional "Western-style" structures
containing lyrics by Grateful Dead wordsmith Robert Hunter. All the more diverse are the contributions of the Mint Juleps. This female vocal sextet features siblings Debbie Charles, Elizabeth Charles, Marcia Charles, and Sandra Charles as well as Julie Isaac and Debbie Longworth. Collectively, their paradisaical harmonies support Hart's occasional leads, while they're effectively incorporated as primary participants on the infectious groove of the opener, "Where Love Goes (Sito)," and the new wave vibe of "Full Steam Ahead," which is reminiscent of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club. The Hart-sung "Down the Road" offers a nod to the late Garcia and provides a focal point for Hunter's obviously heartfelt tribute. "Only the Strange Remain" resembles something similar to a latter-era Dead song, bringing to mind "West L.A. Fadeaway" and "Days Between," both in terms of Hunter's piercing insight and a practically tangible noir feeling permeating throughout. The bombastic "John Cage Is Dead" is a masterful amalgam of percussive-heavy world beats in an undulating modern context. "The Last Song" is an apt conclusion as cultures once again collide, yielding a tune that wouldn't have sounded out of place on urban contemporary radio. As the name of this 1996 release suggests, Mickey Hart's Mystery Box has a little something for every taste and reinforces the Grateful Dead adage "Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right." - by Lindsay Planer, AMG

Artist: Mickey Hart
Album: Mickey Hart's Mystery Box
Year: 1996
Label: Rykodisc
Runtime: 54:07

1.  Where Love Goes (Sito) (Mickey Hart/Robert Hunter/Mint Juleps/Babatunde Olatunji/Zakir Hussain/Giovanni Hidalgo) 5:25
2.  Full Steam Ahead (Mickey Hart/Robert Hunter/Mint Juleps/Zakir Hussain/Giovanni Hidalgo/Sikiru Adepoju/Karl Jenkins/Vinve Welnick) 5:18
3.  Down The Road (Mickey Hart/Robert Hunter/Karl Jenkins/Vince Welnick/Giovanni Hidalgo) 5:59
4.  The Sandman (Mickey Hart/Robert Hunter/Karl Jenkins/Vince Welnick/Mint Juleps/Zakir Hussain) 4:09
5.  The Next Step (Mickey Hart/Robert Hunter/Karl Jenkins/Vince Welnick/Jeff Sterling/Zakir Hussain/Giovanni Hidalgo/Sikiru Adepoju) 5:23
6.  Look Away (Mickey Hart/Robert Hunter/Mint Juleps/Sikiru Adepoju/Giovanni Hidalgo) 5:58
7.  Only The Strange Remain (Mickey Hart/Robert Hunter)  6:24
8.  Sangre De Christos (Mickey Hart/Robert Hunter/Karl Jenkins/Vince Welnick/Zakir Hussain/Giovanni Hidalgo) 4:14
9.  John Cage Is Dead (Mickey Hart/Robert Hunter/Karl Jenkins/Vince Welnick/Zakir Hussain/Giovanni Hidalgo) 6:02
10.  The Last Song (Mickey Hart/Robert Hunter/Mint Juleps/Sikiru Adepoju/Giovanni Hidalgo) 5:15

Mickey Hart (Drums, Timbales, Castanets, Claps, Vocals, Cowbell, Udu, Berimbau, Prepared Piano, Dumbek)
The Mint Juleps (Vocals)
Giovanni Hidalgo (Bongo, Timbales, Congas, Metal Percussion, Guiro, Cowbell, Bata, ) - 1-3,5-10
Zakir Hussain (Dholak, Shekere, Tarang, Djembe, Octobon, Udu, Dimri, Madal) - 1,2,4-6,8,9
Sikiru Adepoju (Talking Drum) - 1,2,4-6,10
Habib Faye (Bass Guitar) - 1-3,5,7,9
Jeff Sterling (Synthesizer, Burundi Drums, Low Bamboo) - 1-4,6,8-10
Babatunde Olatunji (Backing Vocals, Shekere) - 1,10
Airto Moreira (Bells, Caxixi, Percussion) - 2,4,6,10
Bruce Hornsby (Accordion, Backing Vocals) - 3
Mark Smith (Bass Guitar) - 4,6,8,10
Bob Weir (Guitar) - 4
Robin Millar (Marimba, Sine Bass, Computer Vocal, Keyboards) - 4,7-9
Taro Hart (Drums) - 6
Graham Wiggins (Didjeridoo) - 7
The Gyuto Monks Trantic Choir (Choir) - 7

Monday, December 15, 2014

Gene Ammons - Preachin'

This is a most unusual session. With accompaniment by organist Clarence "Sleepy" Anderson along with bassist Sylvester Hickman and drummer Dorel Anderson, the great tenor performs 11 religious hymns that are straight from the church. Ammons mostly sticks very closely to the themes but gives such melodies as "Abide with Me," "You'll Never Walk Alone," "What a Friend," and "Holy Holy" passion, soul, and honest feelings. Reissued on CD, this little-known album is a rather touching and emotional outing, and is quite unique. - by Scott Yanow, AMG

Artist: Gene Ammons
Album: Preachin'
Year: 1962 (Prestige)
Label: OJC (Digital remastering, 1993)
Runtime: 35:14

1.  Sweet Hour (Traditional) 3:15
2.  Yield Not (Traditional) 2:01
3.  Abide With Me (Traditional) 3:18
4.  Blessed Assurance (Traditional) 3:18
5.  The Prayer (Traditional) 3:00
6.  You'll Never Walk Alone (Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein) 3:44
7.  I Believe (Ervin Drake/Irvin Graham/Jimmy Shirl/Al Stillman) 3:18
8.  Precious Memories (Traditional) 4:11
9.  What A Friend (Traditional) 3:35
10.  Holy Holy (Traditional) 2:45
11.  The Light (Traditional) 2:49

Gene Ammons (Tenor Saxophone)
Clarence Anderson (Organ)
Sylvester Hickman (Double Bass)
Dorral Anderson (Drums)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Herbie Hancock - Inventions & Dimensions

For his third album, Inventions and Dimensions, Herbie Hancock changed course dramatically. Instead of recording another multifaceted album like My Point of View, he explored a Latin-inflected variation of post-bop with a small quartet. Hancock is the main harmonic focus of the music -- his three colleagues are bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Willie Bobo, and percussionist Osvaldo "Chihuahua" Martinez, who plays conga and bongo. It is true that the music is rhythm-intensive, but that doesn't mean it's dance music. Hancock has created an improvisational atmosphere where the rhythms are fluid and the chords, harmonies, and melodies are unexpected. On every song but one, the melodies and chords were improvised, with Hancock's harmonic ideas arising from the rhythms during the recording. The result is risky, unpredictable music that is intensely cerebral and quite satisfying. Inventions and Dimensions displays his willingness to experiment and illustrates that his playing is reaching new, idiosyncratic heights. Listening to this, the subsequent developments of Miles Davis' invitation to join his quartet and the challenging Empyrean Isles come as no surprise. - by Stephen Thomas Erlewine, AMG

Artis: Herbie Hancock
Album: Inventions & Dimensions
Year: 1963
Label: Blue Note (1988)
Runtime: 40:01

1.  Succotash 7:42
2.  Triangle 11:04
3.  Jack Rabbit 6:00
4.  Mimosa 8:40
5.  A Jump Ahead 6:35
All compositions by Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock (Piano)
Paul Chambers (Double Bass)
Willie Bobo (Drums, Timbales)
Osvaldo Martinez (Conga, Bongo)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Jim Hall - Concierto

Guitarist Jim Hall is the sort of musician who displays such technical expertise, imaginative conception, and elegance of line and phrase that almost any recording of his is worth hearing. Still, Concierto ranks among the best albums of his superb catalog. For starters, the personnel here is a jazz lover's dream come true. Paul Desmond (saxophone), Chet Baker (trumpet), Roland Hanna (piano), Ron Carter (bass), and Steve Gadd (drums) are on board, creating -- along with Hall -- one of the highest profile lineups ever put to tape. Yet Concierto is not about star power and showboating. As subtle, nuanced, and considered as any of Hall's output, the ensemble playing here demonstrates great group sensitivity and interplay, giving precedence to mood and atmosphere over powerhouse soloing. Conductor and arranger Don Sebesky evinces a chamber ambience from the sextet on "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," the smoky "The Answer Is Yes," and the Hall centerpiece "Concierto de Aranjuez." - by Anthony Tognazzini, AMG

Amongst the many CTI classics of the 1970s, few stand the test of time as well as guitarist Jim Hall's Concierto, an ambitious album that, in its original form, married one side of modern mainstream with a second taken up by a 19-minute version of Joaquin Rodrigo's 1939 piece for classical guitar and orchestra, "Concierto de Aranjuez." That Miles Davis and Gil Evans already delivered what was considered the definitive jazz adaptation on the trumpeter's 1960 classic, Sketches of Spain (Columbia), and that pianist Chick Corea had grabbed parts as the intro to his now-classic "Spain," were clearly no deterrents to Hall, or to arranger Don Sebesky, who—sticking with this minimalist quintet/sextet rather than the overblown orchestras he'd sometimes resort to on other CTI titles—delivers one of the best charts of his career. Sebesky perfectly balances the innate economy and astute improvisation acumen of Hall's group with written scores that maximize the beauty of space and nuanced understatement. Trumpeter Chet Baker is in terrific form here, in the midst of a relatively brief cleanup period from heroin and with two strong CTI recordings from the previous year—his own She Was Too Good to Me (reissued in 2010 by CTI Masterworks) and Carnegie Hall Concert, with baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan sax, baritone  and a crack band that includes drummer Harvey Mason, and a young John Scofield on guitar. Paul Desmond is also in great shape, interacting particularly empathically with Baker on the swinging opener, "You Be So Nice To Come Home To," before the trumpeter takes over with a solo of surprising fire and even occasional grit. As is the case on the lion's share of CTI recordings, bassist Ron Carter stokes the engine room— this time with drummer Steve Gadd—demonstrating his remarkable versatility. Hall's career has been founded on a thoughtful and restrained economy that's made every note, every voicing, count. What's most remarkable about his playing here is how perfect his choices still are, nearly 40 years later. It's often easy to look back and reassess performances for what they might have been, but there's absolutely nothing here that could (or should) be changed; pianist Roland Hanna also plays with a combination of melodic invention and Spartan lyricism on the two versions of "You'd Be So Nice," including a bonus alternate that, taken at an ever-so-slightly-slower tempo, breathes a tad more than the album version; though, with slightly softer edges, it's easy to see why Hall and producer Creed Taylor made the choice they did. With its reading of "Concierto de Aranjuez" standing easily beside the Davis/Evans version on Sketches of Spain, Concierto deserves to be considered an equal classic, and a masterpiece in its own right—proof that music can be deep, modern, timeless and accessible. - by John Kelman, AllAboutJazz.com

Artist: Jim Hall
Album: Concierto
Year: 1975
Label: CTI
Runtime: 37:55

1.  You'd Be So Nice To Come Home (Cole Porter) 7:06
2.  Two's Blues (Jim Hall)  3:52
3.  The Answer Is Yes (Jim Hall)  7:41
4.  Concierto de Aranjuez (Joaquín Rodrigo) 19:16

Jim Hall (Guitar)
Roland Hanna (Piano)
Ron Carter (Double Bass)
Steve Gadd (Drums)
Chet Baker (Trumpet)
Paul Desmond (Alto Saxophone)


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