Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Some Cool Discs

Gerry Gibbs
I haven't done any CD reviews for a good stretch, but I'm determined to tell you about three recent CDs which have come across my desk. Who am I kidding? CDs? These were all in a digital format. Although CDs are in danger of extinction, reports of their complete demise have been greatly exaggerated. There are places in the world where people love to buy actual CDs; some folks still love buying vinyl, believe it or not. Still, I find myself dealing more and more with an all digital experience with many recent albums. Anyway, what's really important is that the music survives, and that we don't take it for granted. A CD, or even a record, has a certain tangibility that digital doesn't; you are more aware of that particular disc, whereas when you have your music in a bunch of folders, it just seems like a bunch of.....well.....folders. Who knows? Perhaps twenty years from now, we will be thinking back on Mp3s with much nostalgia. And we will be kvetching about it on whatever will be the future equivalent of Facebook.

The first Steeplechase album I ever played on was a date lead by tenor saxophonist Jed Levy (called "Sleight Of Hand" on the Steeplechase label). The date featured the wise bassist Ron McClure and the precocious drummer Gerry Gibbs. Mr. Gibbs has been on the New York scene for decades; although he's always busy with various projects, he's fairly underrated in the lager scheme of the jazz world. Hopefully, his latest disc, "Thrasher Dream Trio" will change this notion. The "dream" refers to the all star line up of pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Ron Carter; clearly, it would difficult to dream of a better line-up than this! ( It was also recorded at the "dream " studio of Systems II in Brooklyn, which has always been one of my favorite places to record.While oftentimes all star projects can seem to be more about the name combination and sound a bit uninspired, "Thrasher Dream Trio" sounds like a BAND! It's a great sounding focused trio sound, and the playing is virtually flawless. There are a lot of snappy presentations of familiar jazz or pop material, but none of it sounds hackneyed; Monk's "Epistrophy" is finger poppin' good, " The Shadow Of Your Smile" is subtly arranged in a fresh key ( D major, or starting in B minor), and "Impressions" is more relaxed than usual, with some tasty hits. Some tunes like Freddie Hubbard's "Mr. Clean" and Stevie Wonder's "Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing" will surprise you with a burning swing feel. I was quite impressed with the fastest version of Herbie Hancock's " The Eye of The Hurricane". I was also touched by Gibbs' original "The Woman On The T.V. Screen", a hauntingly beautiful ballad which Gibbs wrote for his wife Kyeshie. I'm not exactly sure if this album is available yet but here is some more info on the project. Anyway, keep an eye and and ear out for this special project.

 Another project you might enjoy is by a pianist and vocalist who I met here in Portland; Kerry 
Kerry McCoy
McCoy, who currently resides in Los Angeles, has released a beautiful disc called "Chasing After Shadows", which is a collection of his original songs backed by his own piano playing in a jazz trio setting. It's refreshing to listen to honest music; McCoy's lyrics are heartfelt and unpretentious, and his accompaniment is a great bed on which his melodies can rest. Songs like "A Million Roads" and "Until Tomorrow" and of course the title track are songs not about trite subjects, but about  experience and wisdom. There's also some humor; "You Want Fries With That?" is a silly commentary on how we end up in our stations in life. I won't spoil the surprise, but it's cool because it intersperses the lyrics with some light piano soloing. McCoy also presents "Angel's Sleeping", a lush ballad which I'm guessing is about his
young daughter ( who I think is about as old as my son, 3 and halfish). McCoy has a vocal style which is a clear mid tenor. He's no slouch as a pianist, which you will hear in his expert comping and his tasteful solos. I don't think Portland gave McCoy enough attention while he was here. But you can check out "Chasing After Shadows" on CD Baby.

Finally, I downloaded this third album a bit reluctantly; actually I'm mostly joking. It's just that when I listen to Geoffrey Keezer play piano, I love the music, but the pianist in me wants to at best quit piano, and at worst kill himself! I kid, but if you play piano and you've listened to Keezer on recording or especially live, you'll feel me. Indeed, hearing Keezer at
Geoffrey Keezer
Bradley's in the early 90's has been kicking my ass to practice ever since. His latest solo piano record is called "The Heart Of The Piano" on the Motema label. I used to listen to his solo disc entitled "Zero One" and this is reminiscent of that; the material is not exactly what you might expect from a "jazz pianist." The frist song is from the Canadian rock band Rush; if you were a fan of "Moving Pictures," I guarantee you have never heard "Limelight" played like this.( It might interest you to know that I saw Keezer at my gig in Los Angeles; he told me he's seen Rush live almost 30 times. I was quite jealous...) Keezer plays an almost Keith Jarrett-ish version of Peter Gabriel's "Come Talk To Me", which showcases his lyrical touch, but his still driving rhythm, even in the midst of a more impressionistic setting. I would expect Keezer to play a crushing version of Donald Brown's "New York," a composition which says much about the arguably Mecca of Jazz.
There's a shade of eastern mystery on Alanis Morrissette's "Still," which is a bit more impressionist; Keezer demonstrates more depth of tone control as the album goes on. I dig his treatment of Christian McBride's "Lullabye For A Ladybug"; it's got everything in it, from classical tinges to gospel implications to impeccable right hand lines, and the whole range of the piano is well used. This album is not only a great collection of performances, it's a piano lesson and a music lesson.

Speaking of Geoffrey Keezer, if you happen to pick up the August issue of Keyboard Magazine, there is an article by Keezer called "5 Things I've Learned About Solo Jazz Piano." It's the hippest article not only in the entire magazine, but one of the hippest short articles I've seen in Keyboard in a while. I'll have to nudge Jon Regen as to why it was not mentioned on the cover. If you have questions about solo piano, buy Keezer's CD and the August issue of Keyboard and you'll have lots of work to do.

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