John Abercrombie has been a jazz guitarist’s jazz guitarist for over 40 years, and this tribute to the music of his formative years (covers of songs composed and/or made famous by Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, and Sonny Rollins predominate) doesn’t disappoint. Even Abercrombie’s original compositions belong. The album does, however, concede the spotlight to the tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, whose breathlike playing imbues the songs with a sensuous intimacy beyond the scope of even the most sensitively picked, electrically amplified strings.
Nat “King” Cole doesn’t need any more tributes, and even if this album does become a “hit” in any sense of that now practically meaningless word, it won’t return Benson to household-name status. Perhaps it’s Benson’s likely realization of both facts that explains how relaxed and playful he sounds singing these staples of Western pop culture, many of which have a life apart from their ever having been recorded by Cole. Most relaxed and playful of all: the recording of the 8-year-old Benson singing “Mona Lisa.”
You’ve got to love a song titled “You Better Not Go to College,” even if it lacks lyrics to make explicit its implicitly anti-leviathan sentiments. It’s ironic too in that it draws attention to this music’s structural similarities to that of the Dave Brubeck Quartet—which made its reputation on university campuses. Well, colleges have declined and fallen a lot since then. James and Sanborn, however, have gotten better with age. On the evidence of these nine cuts, they might never be mistaken for mere smoothies again.
The liner photos document the extent to which this piano-bass-drums trio has aged, but the music—recorded live in 2009—doesn’t. “Grown” or “matured” maybe, but even those adjectives feel ill-suited to describe what’s essentially a pleasure fest, a chance for each virtuoso to abandon the burdens of his solo career and to have fun exploring and expanding the inner life of standards (Mercer, Arlen, Bernstein, Bernstein/Sondheim). Meanwhile, continued kudos to Peacock and DeJohnette for putting up with Jarrett’s kazoo-like vocal noises.
ECM Records has been good to fans of the Keith Jarrett Trio in recent months—first, by releasing the live-in-Switzerland Somewhere and, second, by releasing the latest projects by the trio’s double bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette. Anyone who thinks Peacock and DeJohnette sound unfettered with Jarrett should hear how free they sound when they’re calling the shots.
Peacock’s Azure is a collection of 11 duets with the pianist Marilyn Crispell. Without drums or any other external timekeeping, the duo hits upon a nimbly percussive pitter-patter that at its most staccato sounds like musical rain and at its most fluid sounds like musical patience. On DeJohnette’s Special Edition, however, a reissuing of four highly regarded albums DeJohnette recorded with a rotating cast of clarinetists and saxophonists between 1979 and 1984, loud-fast rules. Interestingly, given all the drumming, wailing, and blowing, it’s DeJohnette’s lyrical piano on “Pastel Rhapsody” that’s most special of all.