Jonathan Greenstein .
(photo credit: courtesy)
Motema – Piano Culture
French-born NYC resident pianist Jean-Michel Pilc has
been one of the most adventurous musicians on the jazz scene for some time. He
has put out several excellent trio albums, notably Welcome Home with bassist
Francois Moutin and drummer Ari Hoenig, and there was a solo venture called
Follow Me released in 2004.
Essential is the work of a far more mature
artist, replete with rich colors, playful asides and some impressive
muscularity. The 18 tracks cover a wide swath of genres and styles with, for
example, some delightfully caressive blues on Pilc’s self-penned title
There are some singular renditions of standards too, including
Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” which Pilc starts out with a dense one note ploy
before the theme suddenly materializes. For most of the first half of the number
Pilc maintains a tense staccato approach but meandering flurries eventually
follow and furtive references to the original score peek though his energized
The crashing forays to the nether regions of the keyboard may
seem to have little to do with the source melody but there is a constant
presence of the Ellingtonian way of expressing drama in Pilc’s portrayal. And
there is a trippingly meditative rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s
“Scarborough Fair” for good measure later.
Maintaining the listener’s
interest through a solo piano album can be a very demanding task, but Essential
meets that challenge head on.Delfeayo Marsalis Sweet Thunder Troubadour
On the one hand, when it comes to tackling material originally
recorded by the likes of Duke Ellington, you’ve got to be pretty sure that you
know how to go about it. On the other hand, when the source material is so
strong you can allow yourself some poetic license here and
Trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis has availed himself of both those
lines of attack on his latest release, Sweet Thunder, which offers a new take on
Ellington’s 1957 big band outing Such Sweet Thunder. The original release was
composed at the behest of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, Canada
and, naturally, fed off several of the Bard’s works. Marsalis has an intimate
knowledge of the Ellington score, having studied it at university and written a
master’s degree thesis on the connection between the Duke and the
One of the pitfalls of revisiting revered material is that you can
overdo your efforts to honor the original, while not offering much in the way of
added value. Marsalis has managed to avoid this trap and has brought the
Ellington score into the here and now with some highly energized readings,
particularly by himself and older brother saxophonist Branford.
Down, Up & Down”, for example, was composed by Ellington’s longstanding
sidekick pianist Billy Strayhorn and dedicated, as the liner notes of the LP
have it, to a “court jester who knew exactly how to make folks laugh” – the
Shakespearean character of Puck being the clown in question. The number has a
suitably airy insouciant feeling to it, but there is plenty of serious stuff in
Sweet Thunder too.
“Star-Cross Lovers” references Romeo and Juliet and is
suffused with a heady romantic vibe, with Mark Gross alto sax solo evoking
images of a darkly lit classic 1940s movie.
The handsomely packaged CD
closes with the double quick time “Circle of Fourths”, with the leader going all
out on trombone.
This is an album to savor.
Fresh Sound New Talent
Spanish-based Fresh Sound record label has
offered its recording and marketing services to quite a number of Israelis over
the years, including the likes of trombonist Avi Lebovich and saxophonist Eli
Degibri – the latter was also one of Greenstein’s early mentors. Young Israeli
saxophonist Jonathan Greenstein is the latest, with his Thinking album which
includes 11 original scores.
It is clear from the outset that Greenstein
has a lot to offer. His sax playing runs the gamut from meaty lower registers to
rougher edged expletives of the higher end of the scale. On his web site
Greenstein cites his influences as ranging from 20th century classical music to
neo-soul and the roots of jazz, and that comes over loud and clear on
There is a surprising maturity to Greenstein’s playing and
writing, and he allows his sidemen generous room for maneuver throughout.
Guitarist Ilan Bar-Lavi and guest trumpeter Darren Barrett shine particularly
brightly, and the rest of the gang – pianist Victor Gould, bassist Dan Carpel
and drummer Jeff Fajardo – all do the business as required.
“The Big 6” starts out with a dense big band-ish feel, before Greenstein tears
into the theme with gay abandon. Barrett puts in his own mellifluous pennyworth
– sounding something like a hybrid of Freddie Hubbard and Chet Baker - as the
number ebbs and flows with ease.
There is a lovely tete-a-tete between
Greenstein and Bar-Lavi on “Bencotish II” and the sidemen lay down a velvety
substructure as they take in turns to spin their own take on the
One looks forward to further offerings from young Greenstein with