LOS ANGELES — Herbie Hancock, a pianist of sparkling touch and brisk intuition, has often seemed like a figure rushing ever onward, and the direction in which he has increasingly hurled himself is globe-trotting cultural diplomacy. “I don’t consider myself a spokesperson for jazz,” he said recently, implying that he has bigger concerns.
Seated in the living room of his casually elegant home here in West Hollywood, not far from an alcove crowded with Grammy Awards — more than a dozen of them, including one for album of the year — Mr. Hancock, 73, was in a cordial mood, quick with a disarming laugh. He was also still jet-lagged from an East Asian tour that had ended in copious meetings with government officials about International Jazz Day, his signature initiative as a good will ambassador for Unesco. Fortunately, there was a stretch of relative calm ahead before he was due in Washington, for this year’s Kennedy Center Honors, where he’ll be among a class of five honorees that includes Billy Joel and Shirley MacLaine. (The gala concert, which happens next Sunday, will be broadcast by CBS on Dec. 29.)
Chico Hamilton, a drummer and bandleader who helped put California on the modern-jazz map in the 1950s and remained active into the 21st century, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 92.
His death was announced by April Thibeault, his publicist.
Never among the flashiest or most muscular of jazz drummers, Mr. Hamilton had a subtle and melodic approach that made him ideally suited for the understated style that came to be known as cool jazz, of which his hometown, Los Angeles, was the epicenter.
He was a charter member of the baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan’s quartet, which helped lay the groundwork for the cool movement.
Veteran saxman Doug Webb has a big-time jazz saxophone voice, in league with some of the great purveyors of the instrument. This sound is on full display on his latest effort Another Scene. Webb can burn hard on a swing tune or find the tenderest approach on a ballad. He knows his stuff and he’s joined by a collection of musicians who know theirs as well. Joining Webb on the project are Peter Zak on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. The group covers an array of material, from Webb’s excellent compositions, as well as tunes by the likes of Dave Brubeck, Benny Carter, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Kenny Wheeler. Webb’s big, bright sound in the midst of all this great rhythm is tremendous and the performances here make this one of our favorites of the year.
Click to listen to a clip of “Rhythm With Rudy”:
Tracks: Mr. Milo, One for Art, Smatter, Southern Scene, Another Step, Double Rainbow, Eulogy, Rhythm with Rudy, What Is There To Say, Verdi Variations, Bird Song, Only Trust Your Heart .
Some books make me wish they came with sound tracks. Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington and Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker are both that kind of book.
These two new biographies of giants of 20th century American music focus on the mid-century decades that saw an explosion of creativity and interest in jazz, and their authors’ passionate evocations of that music had me reaching for YouTube or iTunes every few pages.
Both books were written by men who are notable critics and jazz enthusiasts. Duke is by Terry Teachout, an accomplished music and drama critic, author of biographies of Louis Armstrong and George Balanchine and himself a jazz musician. It’s a full-length biography of the man born Edward Kennedy Ellington in 1899 in Washington, D.C. Grandson of a slave and son of a butler, he grew up to lead one of America’s most popular orchestras, compose more than 1,700 pieces of music and receive the Medal of Freedom from President Richard Nixon.
Trumpeter Carol Morgan’s fifth recording Retroactive is an excellent work of diverse moods and eras. Morgan’s sound is gentle and effective without great volume or instrumental gymnastics. She knows her sound and works that territory very nicely. Contributing to the eclectic vibe of this effort is a great line of musicians which includes, guitarists Mike Stern and Chris Cortez (on separate tunes), bassists Lincoln Goines and Keith Vivens (on separate tunes), keyboardist Andrew Lienhard, drummer Jeff Sipe and percussionist Tim Keiper. The mix of music includes compositions from Morgan, Cortez, Sipe and Vivens. There are also nice covers of tunes by Fats Waller,Irving Caesar and Vincent Youman and Led Zeppelin. This is a fantastic showcase of a solid musician.
Click to listen to a clip of “Wholly-O”:
Tracks: Stern Language, Melody’s Milleau, Tea for Two, When The Levee Breaks, To Be Continued, Into It, Wholly-O, Jitterbug Waltz, Jam, Spirit of God Descend Upon My Heart.
Bassist, vocalist, composer and bandleader Esperanza Spalding has just released “We Are America,” a new music video highlighting the injustice of prolonged indefinite detention at the prison at Guantánamo Bay.
Spalding says she was motivated by nagging concerns that grew as she was on tour with her band. “It was the first time I heard about the hunger strike. I was touring in Europe, and I was appalled and embarrassed about what was happening. When I returned home, I remember I started researching online to see what I could do about it, and I saw that I could download this action pack. With that you had some important info to use to call your representative. And I did, I did call my representative and Senators. In fact, I got a letter back from one Senator who basically said that she was not going to proactively deal with it but that they would ‘keep my comments in mind’, or something like that. But I really wanted to do more. And my band actually came to me first and said they wanted to do something too.”
Saxophonist Michael Pedicin has one of the most pleasing tones on the instrument of modern players. Why Stop Now, his 13th release, features his pleasing sound on full display in a project of original tunes. The mood swings from fiery to solemn on this effort. Pedicin is joined by guitarist Johnnie Valentino, bassist Andy Lalasis, drummer Vic Stevens and pianist Rick Germanson. For Pedicin, who wrote 4 of the recording’s tracks, the spirit of the project was guided by a tune which Valentino contributed to the effort, written in memory of the Newtown tragedy. The album, like Pedicin’s sound, is a work of color and richness that is truly fantastic.
Click to listen to a clip of “Trane Stop”:
Tracks: Why Stop Now, Tunji, Downtown Found, Then I Saw You, Trane Stop, 27 Up, Newtown, Song of The Underground Railroad, Ubuntu.
Out of Nowhere, the latest recording from virtuoso guitarist Fareed Haque, is a mesmerizing display of technical brilliance and artistic excellence. The production is a showcase for Haque’s mastery of the six strings and a really good listening album. The production features daringly different takes on classic tunes that work wonderfully. Haque is joined by a stellar lineup of talents, including drummer Billy Hart, bassists George Mraz and Doug Weiss on one set of tunes, and the talents of pianist Rob Clearfield, bassist John Tate, drummer Corey Healey, and percussionist Salar Nader on another. The outstanding complement of talent serves to enhance the effort and allow Haque to shine even brighter.
Click to listen to a clip of “Flood In Franklin Park”:
Tracks: Waiting For Red, TexMex Jungle, Flood In Franklin Park, I Got It Bad, Giant Steps, Out of Nowhere, Lollipops and Roses.
The Poet ,the third release from Chicago-based trumpet and flugelhorn player Marquis Hill, brims with a raw energy and power that is exciting to hear. The 26-year old Hill brings a new voice to the genre that is really welcomed. The music grooves, swings and soothes; this is not only due to Hill’s skill on the horn, but his fantastic compositional talents, as he wrote most of the package’s tunes. The music is further enhanced by outstanding contributions from the lineup of talents heard here, including vibraphonist Justin Thomas, saxophonist Christopher McBride, bassist Joshua Ramos, drummer Makaya McCracken and pianist Josh Moshier. There are also spoken word pieces to bookend the project delivered by Mary E. Lawson and Keith Winford, respectively. This is a tremendous project from an artist that deserves serious recognition and rotation.
Click to listen to a clip of “Return of The Student”:
Tracks: Mary’s Intro, Return of The Student, Justin’s Interlude, B-Tune, Phase II, Giovanna, Nouvelle Orleans, Josh’s Interlude, The Poet, The Color of Fear, Vella, the Indicator, Marquis’s Interlude, Again Never, Legend’s Outro .