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Album Reviews

Can These Songs Be Jazz? In Broom's Hands, Yes

September 30, 2001|HOWARD REICH | Howard Reich is jazz critic at the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune company

* * * 1/2, BOBBY BROOM, "Stand!", Premonition Records

Though best known for the years he toured and recorded with Dr. John, guitarist Broom emerges as a top-notch bandleader-soloist in a recording bound to appeal to anyone who values the hit tunes of the 1960s and '70s (and perhaps even some who don't). Works such as "House of the Rising Sun," "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" and "Happy Together" may not get a lot of respect in certain pop circles these days, but Broom's transformations prove musically telling. "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," for instance, becomes a kind of latter-day "Cherokee," with Broom's fleet lines flying over extraordinarily fast-moving chord changes. The melodic urgency that Broom brings to "The Letter," the blues-tinged riffs and march-like rhythms with which he reinvents "El Condor Pasa (If I Could)" and the easy swing backbeats that accompany his throaty lines on "Monday, Monday" argue persuasively for the songwriting craft that went into these tunes, and for Broom's profound understanding of how they work. But even apart from the specific titles, "Stand!" represents guitar-trio jazz of the most dramatically succinct and musically soulful kind.

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* * * * THE VANDERMARK 5, "Acoustic Machine", Atavistic

For those who dismiss avant-garde jazz as noisy, dissonant, chaotic and often impenetrable, this important recording from composer-bandleader-reedist Ken Vandermark could offer welcome insight into this idiom. Even before Vandermark won a MacArthur Foundation grant in 1999, he was maturing beyond the relentlessly high-decibel, high-energy quality of his music. With "Acoustic Machine," Vandermark and his band offer succinct yet fully formed compositions, most centered around a particular riff, rhythm or chord sequence that's not difficult to follow. From the solemn tones of "Hbf 4" to the incendiary ensemble playing on "Auto Topography," from the unabashed swing rhythm and searing blues solos on "Fall to Grace" to the eloquent horn solos on "License Complete," this CD uses the vocabulary of the jazz avant-garde in uncommonly expressive and dramatic ways. And though the music on "Acoustic Machine" does not lack for sonic ferocity or rhythmic vigor, its ideas hardly could be stated more forthrightly or eloquently.

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* * * * TOM MCDERMOTT, "The Crave", STR Digital Records

New Orleans has given the world more than its share of groundbreaking pianists, from Jelly Roll Morton to Professor Longhair, from James Booker to Henry Butler. The noted Crescent City pianist Tom McDermott explores this remarkable legacy on "The Crave," an excursion into the solo piano music of several New Orleans giants, as well as those who influenced them. By articulating the distinctly Iberian dance rhythms of Ernesto Lecuona's "Gitanerias," the gently rolling blues sensibility of Dr. John's "Dorothy" and the relentless syncopations of Morton's "The Crave," McDermott vividly shows the intermingling of African, Cuban and Spanish cultures that long has powered music in New Orleans. Yet he goes further, as well, reinventing Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" with a party-time, Louisiana fervor and revivifying the old Brazilian choro "Tico Tico" with an avalanche of fast-flying chords and running octaves.

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* * * 1/2 LAURENCE HOBGOOD, "Left to My Own Devices ... ", Naim

The spirits of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel pervade this exquisite solo recording by the brilliant Chicago pianist Laurence Hobgood. Though best known as pianist and music director for singer Kurt Elling, Hobgood proves a worthy soloist, redefining standard songs on his own, unabashedly idiosyncratic terms. Who else, after all, would open 'It Could Happen to You" with a reference to the Prelude movement of Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin" or recast "Witchcraft" with the harmonies and textures of Debussy's "The Sunken Cathedral"? The way the main theme slowly emerges from the mist in "Heather on the Hill" and the gorgeous touch and tone that Hobgood brings to "Say It (Over and Over Again)" attest to the breadth of the pianist's imagination. Though he errs in featuring Elling as special guest, the solo tracks that dominate this recording make it a near-classic.

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