Jazz CD reviews

On 'Somewhere,' Jarrett not only displays his prodigious keyboard control but also unfurls styles and genre-dippings at will.

March 26, 2014 22:18

'Somewhere' album cover. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Keith Jarrett is arguably the megastar of the entire jazz fraternity, and probably has been for some years now. He churns out CDs at a pretty frantic tempo – predominantly live recordings of concerts – and most feature his longstanding trio of bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette, with whom he has been doing the business for a full three decades.

Jarrett is universally recognized as possessing masterly technique, and a highly creative mind but, for my money, his performances often come across as distant and somewhat clinical. Music, after all, is not just about technical mastery, but also soul and heart. The latter are thankfully front and center in the trio latest recording, Somewhere, which came out recently on ECM. The recording was actually made at a concert in Lucerne, Switzerland, in 2009 but ECM boss Manfred Eicher is known to choose the timing of the company’s releases with great care.

On Somewhere, Jarrett not only displays his prodigious keyboard control but also unfurls styles and genre-dippings at will.

The first track, “DeepSpace/Solar”, for example, opens in a quasi-classical atmospheric manner, with Jarrett on solo piano, before the leader slides seamlessly into a warmer blues-tinted passage and his trusty colleagues slip into the fray. Peacock soon delivers an evocative solo of his own and the three pals’ generous comfort zone is there for all to see and hear.

There are delectable vignettes galore as the ideas come thick and fast. Jarrett proffers dainty tripping asides which evoke an immediate response from Peacock and DeJohnette, before taking off on a breakneck keyboard riff, and the whole affair ebbs, flows, meanders and undulates with consummate ease.

There is ne’er a dull moment on any of the six tracks, and Somewhere finds the veteran trio at its very best.

Light from Old Stars
Basho Records

Light from Old Stars, the latest offering from Kit Downes, has plenty going for it too. This is the young British pianist’s third release as leader and it confirms him as one of the rising stars of the European jazz scene and a top-notch composer.

The album is shot through with subtlety, high energy, lyricism, daring departures and intriguing changes of texture, shade and temperament. On the opening number, “Wander and Colossus”, Downes displays his polished keyboard technique, as he spearheads a multilayered attack that never fails to surprise but always keeps the melodic intent front and center.

The material on Light from Old Stars is generally multilayered and sumptuously seasoned but Downes never slips into cheap-thrill mode, sinewy sax solo on “Bleydays” – for example – notwithstanding, and there is ne’er a dropped note in the whole nine-track exercise.

Of course it helps to have tried and trusted sidemen, and reedman James Allsopp, cellist Lucy Railton, bass player Calum Gourlay and drummer James Maddren have been on board the Downes train of thought and creation for some time now.

“Owls” opens with a tripping ostinato reminiscent of Downes’ earlier work on, for example, his debut 2009 release Golden. The number eventually segues smoothly into a spooky, ethereal, Africanesque bowed-bass slot, before the sax leaps in and spins out frenetic, airy lines and Downes unfurls a rolling piano underpinning before subtly reintroducing the undulating theme, and closing with a gently thudding piano block slam.

The stylistic reach extends even further on “The Mad Wren” which starts off with a hauntingly beautiful cello opener, before Downes takes the reins with some velvety colored chords and dovetails with Maddren’s brushed substratum. Then, as Gourlay stretches out a gossamer-thin note, Downes drops in some bluesy thoughts to the proceedings before the players take a breath and launch into a somewhat funk-inclined avenue with sudden, pulsating changes of tack.

All good stuff.

Anzic Records

When it comes to knowing your fellow players it can help to have known them from an early age and through their formative years. In that respect, Yuval, Anat and Avishai Cohen – the latter refers to the trumpeter, not the bass player of the same name – have a march on most, as they are siblings. Yuval, the eldest, is a fine soprano saxophonist who figures in many leading jazz projects in this country and often makes appearance in New York. Meanwhile, saxophonist-clarinetist Anat and Avishai reside most of the time in the Big Apple, and make several forays over here each year. Anat frequently garners awards, generally for her clarinet playing, in the annual readers’ and critic’s polls in Downbeat magazine.

is the fourth release by the Cohens, on Anat’s Anzic Record label, and it displays all the trademark signs of the siblings’ almost telepathic relationship. Guest artists pianist Fred Hersch, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Johnathan Blake all fit comfortably into the familial slipstream too. Hersch’s “Song Without Words #4: Duet”, primarily featuring Hersch and Avishai, is a point in case.

As the siblings all play horns there is also something of a sonic common denominator at the core of the album, but on “Conversation #2”, which is written and performed by the threesome, you can find a multitude of colors, textures and mindsets, and all smoothly intertwined.

On “Festive Minds” the Cohens display their bluesy inclinations, with just a touch of “Jewish” seasoning, and the homey content peaks on “A Li Lu Li Lu” which is based on a Yiddish lullaby the Cohens’ mother used to sing to them. And delicately rendered it is, too. There is a nod to the early, insouciant years of jazz history on “Indiana”, while Duke Ellington’s “Just Squeeze Me” gets a thoughtful outing, with McBride deftly spinning out a tasty bass foundation, with more than a modicum of blues substance.

There is also something of a refreshing, uncutstone feel to some of the shorter numbers, which makes for an exciting listening experience.

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