Named after a “jazz-education” program that Batiste oversees at Harlem’s National Jazz Museum, this album finds the 27-year-old, Louisiana-born pianist and his bass-drums-tuba Stay Human Band coming on friendly, loose limbed, and funky by turns. Exactly how much more forceful they’d be were they to combine all three traits at once remains to be heard. But for now the rhythms swing, the timbre survives the “harmonaboard,” and Batiste plays “The Entertainer” as buoyantly as he sings “Sunny Side of the Street.”
After decades as one of rock’s most highly prized drummers for hire, Gadd has as much right to be leading his own band as fans of his work with more-famous people have to be wondering why he’d want to. Well, it turns out that he and his combo mates have something to say—not literally, of course, but vibewise. Whether bringing out the Southern soul in Abdullah Ibrahim’s “The Mountain of the Night” or putting Larry Golding in touch with his inner Rick Wakeman, they’re articulate.
These nine live performances from 1976 and 1977 are ideal for those fans of the world’s greatest drummer (no quotation marks please) who always waited for him to burst into a solo the way that certain Bruce Banner fans anticipate the coming of the Hulk. And who knows? Now that Rich has been gone for over a quarter of a century, maybe shearing his solos of their big-band contexts and absorbing them in rapid succession really is the best way to appreciate their (and his) breathtaking genius.
The standout track, should you wish to cut to the chase, is “Bounce,” nearly eight minutes of the saxophonist Trygve Seim lovingly and tastefully gilding the most gorgeous of Jacob Young’s latest melodic lilies. The formula, however, recurs throughout: Seim on top and Young (guitar), Marcin Wasilewski (piano), Slawomir Kurkiewicz (double bass), and Michal Miskiewicz (drums) providing diaphanous rhythms and countermelodies below—a musical safety net if you will. Do the soft-focus chord progressions run enough risks to justify such a metaphor? No. But the diaphanousness does.
Chick Corea has been so many things to so many people that it’s easier these days to approach his new recordings without preconceived notions than with. And because some of the things that he has been are pretentious, it’s nice to encounter him the way that he presents himself on his recently released Solo Piano: Portraits (Universal)—alone onstage before a paying audience, with an unfamiliar acoustic piano and no set list. “So welcome to my living room,” he says. Less pretentious it would be hard to get.
He plays Irving Berlin’s “How Deep Is the Ocean” and Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise.” He plays Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, and Bud Powell. He plays Bartók and Scriabin. He even plays some of his own “Children’s Songs” and geographic “Portraits.” That he plays them all equally well is almost as unpretentious as the approximately 10 total minutes that he spends introducing what he has just decided that he wants to play next.