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'Diaspora Blues' Forges New Musical Language

July 21, 2002|HOWARD REICH



"Diaspora Blues"


Many artists who record for this indispensable label have explored the links between jazz and Hebraic music, but few have done so as eloquently as trumpeter Bernstein, who's assisted here by the Sam Rivers Trio.

Using ancient cantorial chants as his starting point, the trumpeter creates deeply affecting, fantastically melismatic horn lines. Meanwhile saxophonist Rivers' trio produces a swirl of accompanying sound.

The music veers from serene to tumultuous, from primeval to modern. Yet neither the spirit of improvised jazz nor the minor-key phrases of Jewish liturgical music ever recede into the background. Instead, they merge into one exultant ensemble sound, as if born of the same source.

The triumph of this recording is not simply that Bernstein and Rivers' band found common ground, but that they forged a startling new musical language, fusing jazz, blues and Jewish music in original and seamless ways.





Nagel Heyer

Trombone-piano duos are not exactly commonplace in jazz, but trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and pianist Eric Reed transcend the presumed limitations of such a partnership.

Like a great vocalist, Gordon unspools gloriously inventive lines, his plunger mute so expressive in "Embraceable You" and his phrases so sinuously unpredictable in "Paris Blues" that one nearly forgets a trombonist is at work.

Reed, a nimble accompanist for all occasions, gives Gordon precisely the musical contexts he requires, from gospel-tinged pianism on "The Lord's Prayer" to Fats Waller-like stride style on a Gordon original, "This Rhythm on My Mind" (with Satchmo-inspired vocals from Gordon).

Thomas A. Dorsey's "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" stands as the most moving cut on the disc, but its spirituality is characteristic of a unique, unflaggingly optimistic recording.

*** 1/2


"Sweet Science"

Palmetto Records

On his newest trio outing, Goldings--an exceptionally versatile jazz organist--combines harmonically clever organ riffs with sleekly understated ensemble playing. And although the music-making might seem practically nonchalant on first hearing, the precision, control and balance of these performances are far more difficult to attain than one might assume.

Listen to Goldings' elliptical solos and soft but relentless accompanying figure on "Lookout" or his breezy musical dialogue with guitarist Peter Bernstein on the title cut, and there's no question that these musicians prefer to say more with less.

The anthem for this economical brand of playing has to be the venerable Burt Bacharach-Hal David tune "This Guy's in Love With You," which Goldings, Bernstein and drummer Bill Stewart deliver with delectable restraint.

*** 1/2


"Age of Everything"

Riti Records

Only a few young artists legitimately can claim to be expanding the expressive possibilities of their instruments, and this avant-garde guitarist stands out among them. Anyone who has heard Morris in concert already has experienced his phenomenal virtuosity and extraordinarily subtle use of color and shading.

But those who haven't yet encountered him should find "Age of Everything" an excellent and mostly accessible introduction to his art.

Although there's no doubt that Morris and his trio explore sometimes arcane, nontraditional harmonies and revel in ferociously volatile rhythms, there's usually some element of the music-making that even casual listeners can latch onto.

Whether improvising freely above a straight swing backbeat by bassist Timo Shanko and drummer Luther Gray, or creating openly lyric melody lines in unaccompanied statements, Morris takes pains to give listeners entree into an otherwise rarefied but daringly innovative musical language.


Howard Reich is jazz critic at the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune company.

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