Cannonball Adderley

Burnin’ In Bordeaux: Live In France 1969

With 10 new Record Store Day releases, some of producer Zev Feldman’s bounties might get lost in the shuffle this year; Burnin’ In Bordeaux won’t be one of them. There are beloved classics in Cannonball Adderley’s catalogue that aren’t this good. Roy McCurdy, the drummer for Adderley’s quintet on this 97-minute live date from March 1969, snaps the listener to attention immediately after pressing play — or dropping the needle on the first record of the two-LP deluxe 180g vinyl set.

That opening track/McCurdy tour-de-force is “The Scavenger,” and, in fairness, the drummer is the best-miked of the bunch — but that doesn’t dilute his killer work. While it’s happening, alto saxophonist Adderley, his cornet-playing brother, Nat, and pianist Joe Zawinul chew the tune to bits. Then they attack “Blue ’n’ Boogie” as if rabid (with a long and devastating McCurdy solo), offer a quick taste of funk on “Walk Tall” and close by wringing every drop of blues out of “Oh Babe.”

Yet Adderley and the boys hit the ballads with the same zeal. This take on “Manhã de Carnaval” is practically a tear-jerker, helped along by Victor Gaskin’s beautiful arco bass solo; “Somewhere” and “Come Sunday” are irresistible features for Adderley and Zawinul, respectively — with Zawinul getting two more (electric) features on the medium-tempo “Why Am I Treated So Bad” and requisite “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.” The real triumph, however, is a treatment of William Fischer’s “Experience In E” that alternates between hard-driving swinger (in the head and the Adderleys’ solos) and ballad (Zawinul’s solo and his duo with Nat).

It must be acknowledged that quite a lot of this recording is Adderley talking to the audience (nearly half the track in the case of “Walk Tall”). But his deep, rich speaking voice turns out to be as warm and engaging as his high, creamy alto tone. It doesn’t slow things down a bit. Burnin’ is right.

Rudy Linka/George Mraz

Just Between Us
(Independent Release)

This all-acoustic session of duets recorded a quarter-century ago by a pair of Czech-born jazz musicians — guitarist Rudy Linka and bassist George Mraz (1944–2021) — has emerged from the archives to reveal its timeless, delicate beauty. These 10 crisply captured tracks, recorded by engineer James Ferber in 1998 in New York and initially released as a limited pressing in Poland, have been revived by Linka and are now available worldwide on vinyl and (coming soon) as a digital download. The rapport between these two expatriate artists, both of whom established their careers working in New York clubs and studios after attending Boston’s Berklee College of Music (first Mraz in the late 1960s, followed by the younger Linka in the mid-’80s), is instantly apparent. As on previous small-group recordings made with Linka for the Enja label, including 1995’s Czech It Out! and 1996’s Always Double Czech!, Mraz imparts his hard-swinging bass lines, refined melodic sense and deep mastery of the bebop lexicon on seven Linka originals and three standards. Linka engages the former bassist for Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson and countless other heavies with the openheartedness of an artist in his true element, in an intimate musical conversation with his fellow countryman that touches on everything from intense post-bop improvisation to intriguing harmonic progressions to subtle conjurings of ancient slavic folk music. Highlights include a reading of Miles Davis’ “Nardis” that sparkles under Linka’s tender touch and draws strength from the guitarist’s ability to spin out gorgeous melodic lines while simultaneously comping the corresponding chord changes; the subtle syncopation of the medium-up Linka-penned swinger “Would You?”; a free-spirited waltz written for Linka’s daughter Steff and a more intriguing piece dedicated to his wife, Solveig; the Sam Rivers composition “Beatrice,” which elicits some especially lively duo interaction; and a reflective Linka piece titled “Page Before,” which finds these two kindred spirits in tacit agreement on where the song’s simple syncopated figures land and how the harmonies ultimately resolve. The centerpiece of this delectable program is their take on the standard “Too Young To Go Steady,” which proves to be an ample showcase for both players to bring their instrumental prowess to the forefront as they draw from wells of deep-seated emotion and toy with flights of pure whimsy, Czech style. Linka has a way of ending many of the pieces here with ambiguous-sounding chords strummed with a flamenco-like flow that makes it seem as if he’s stroking some celestial harp. Indeed, in this completely unplugged environment, with the warmth of vinyl further revealing the human element at the heart of these recordings, nearly everything about Just Between Us feels just right.

Alina Bzhezhinska & Tony Kofi

Altera Vita

Wow! Altera Vita, the new recording by harpist Alina Bzhezhinska and tenor saxophonist Tony Kofi, shimmers with grace and beauty. This is a duets recording, just the two of them on their instruments, as well as handling percussion, which consists of a variety of chimes, kalimbas, singing bowls and such. The proceedings are called to order with three rings on a metal bowl before Kofi introduces the simple, sweet melody of “Tabula Rasa–Blank Slate.” It’s a quiet ballad of hope and yearning with both Bzhezhinska and Kofi taking their time to soak in every moment of this music. So begins this six-song, perfectly paced set where the two ooze soul and spirituality. It’s quiet and meditative, boisterous and thought provoking, with Kofi keeping his cool, offering well-timed explosions of power on tunes like “Audite Me–Hear Me.” Bzhezhinska flows water-like throughout, especially on the tune “Anima–Breathe.” If this sounds like a tribute to John and Alice Coltrane, there’s a definite element of that here. Bzhezhinska and Kofi performed together in 2017 for a concert honoring “the first couple of jazz” at the EFG London Jazz Festival. But it’s even more of a tribute to the late saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, a major influence for both artists. After Sanders passed away in 2022, Kofi wrote “Altera Vita (for Pharoah Sanders),” this album’s namesake, and its closing number, here titled “Altera Vita–Another Life.” He and Bzhezhinska recorded and released it as a single last year. This magazine gave it 5 stars, a rarity because DownBeat doesn’t often review singles. The concept for the album, thankfully, grew from there. It’s a fantastic work, one that does the memory of those legends proud and expands on the tradition of jazz spirituality. Altera Vita is a powerful, moving, take-your-breath-away masterpiece.

Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra

Tidal Currents: East Meets West

In a very real, geographical sense, the gorgeous Tidal Currents is a panorama of Canadian jazz. The 16-piece Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra — resident in the city closest to Canada’s geographic center — has commissioned two charts apiece from East Coast-born, West Coast-based Jill Townsend and West Coast-born, East Coast-based Christine Jensen. In addition to the Trans-Canadian perspectives that are the focus of their work here, they also happen to be (arguably) their country’s two most accomplished writers for big band. (They also perform, Jensen on alto and soprano saxes and Townsend as conductor.)

The WJO proves more than up to the task of interpreting their music. Details matter: The ensemble is smooth as sea glass on Townsend’s “Inside The Wave,” a waltz evoking her childhood in the maritime province of Nova Scotia. But the secret weapon is drummer Fabio Ragnelli, whose cymbals mimic the hiss and crash of the breakers from a distance, while his tom-driven solo suggests the same sound from, well, inside the wave. On Jensen’s “Crossing Lachine,” meanwhile, the tune’s opening stop-and-start rhythms echo the trepidation of navigating the titular St. Lawrence River rapids; Niall Cade’s game tenor solo scans like a real-time narrative of that crossing.

At the same time, though, those details are just the icing on the cake. One need not examine it under a microscope to hear the joyful catharsis in Jensen’s soprano solo on her pensive romance “Rock Skipping Under The Half Moon,” or the orchestral swells that push it along. Likewise, there’s no need for granular analysis in appreciating peak after rhapsodic brass peak in Townsend’s “Tidal Currents.” All four of the tracks overflow with memorable melody, rich harmony and easy groove. Winnipeg is high in the running for North America’s ugliest city, but, man, can they create beauty.

Marshall Gilkes & the WDR Big Band

(Alternate Side)

Inspired by life itself, this brilliant new recording by a great jazz artist leading an elite ensemble through a program of original big band music relates directly to everything going on in the world these days. LifeSongs represents something of a musical homecoming for Marshall Gilkes, the virtuoso trombonist and composer who spent four years in Germany making his mark within the ranks of the WDR Big Band’s brass section until his departure in late 2013. A month after his WDR tenure ended, Gilkes and the mighty Cologne-based big band reunited for what would become the album Köln, his auspicious large-ensemble project debut. In 2018, the two teamed up again for Always Forward. And now, the two entities come together for yet another go-round with LifeSongs, Gilkes’ third album fronting WDR and his eighth release as a leader. The program finds Gilkes channeling events and experiences from his own personal sphere as well as the world itself. The bold opener “Fresh Start” is a mini concerto that relates to human existence in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, while the soulful followup “Back In The Groove” references the pace of life renewed, with solo spotlights on alto saxophonist Johan Hörlén and pianist Billy Test. Gilkes revisits and revises his composition “Cora’s Tune” (written for his daughter), a piece he’s recorded in different configurations on two previous albums and which appears here in a texturally enriched format. “My Unanswered Prayer” addresses gun violence in the U.S.; its combination of elegiac tones and haunting harmonies prove an appropriate fit for the disturbing subject matter. Other album highlights include the spellbinding “All The Pretty Little Horses,” commissioned by the Air Force Academy Band and featuring vocalist Sabeth Pérez, and the supercharged “Sugar Rush,” which paints a portrait of candy-fueled youth and gives tenor saxophonist Paul Heller a healthy stretch of solo space while reminding listeners of the power of play and the sweetness of life itself. The digital download version of LifeSongs includes two substantial bonus tracks: the thrilling “Taconic Turns,” a medium-up romp distinguished by hard accents, rhythmic displacement and bright soloing (by trumpeter Ruud Breuls and alto saxophonist Pascal Bartoszak); and the Brazilian-flavored, wistful “Longing For Home,” a soulful reflection on the nature of inspiration itself that features uplifting solo statements by bassist John Goldsby and tenor saxophonist Ben Fitzpatrick. Traversing the realms of big band swing, post-bop, Latin jazz and classical chamber music in one fell swoop, LifeSongs reaffirms Gilkes’ status as one of the premier large-ensemble composers of our time, and once again establishes him as a first-rate instrumentalist and improviser whose many gifts amount to a gift from the universe to anyone eager and brave enough to embrace life itself.

On Sale Now
April 2024
Béla Fleck
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