Thursday, December 3, 2009

Three to Consider: Dinner Party Music

OK—I have to get some of the music blogging out of the way as it is getting crowded in in my mental music blog closet—and since College Roomy seems worried that I have completely abandoned jazz as of late, we shall start there with a quick look at two newer jazz albums and one other that came out last year. Bottom line here is that these are three well-performed and recorded disc, better than average, but ultimately not the kind of discs I might listen to routinely because they are so incredible. They are more apt to be a discs I could imagine lining up for different stages of a dinner or cocktail party—people swinging and chatting, they might ask who it is, but no one is going to run out and pick them up afterward. But let’s see what you think. Here is a mix of six songs (two from each) that you can listen to while you read on, or make dinner, or whatever.

I Can't Help It (Parlato)
"A" Dance (Figarova)
Uncle James (McBride)
Theme for Kareem (McBride)
Weak (Parlato)
Bedtime Story (Figarova)

First up we have Gretchen Parlato’s newest album, In A Dream (we are skipping including album cover art here for previously stated reasons). For those who don’t know Parlato, she is an up-and coming jazz vocalist who first got real attention when she one the Thelonious Monk Jazz Vocals Competition in 2004. I ran into her this summer when she did a bit on The Checkout. The album was billed as a minimalist showcase for Parlato’s voice with only limited instrumentation on most songs. There is no doubt that she is a talented singer and particularly if you like the Brazilian flavor, bossa nova type sound you will dig the interpretations here. It keeps you feeling like you should be gliding through a hip crowd of sleekly dressed folks, in a mod bar sipping elegant drinks as Parlato gently swings the joint with her slightly funky interpretations (although you might wonder who brought their kid along at a couple of points). Very cool, very competent—just not so amazing I will regularly chose the disc over other vocalists.

Shifting gears, let’s move on to the new Christian
McBride album, Kind of Brown, which has also been getting a lot of attention, because, well, it’s Christian McBride and he has played bass of every sort with just about every jazz musician alive (and passed) even though he hasn’t even hit 40 yet. I had been avoiding it a bit because the band, “Inside Straight,” included vibraphones and I am just not a big fan. But people kept asking if I had heard, people were calling it the best album of the year, best in recent years, etc. and so I checked it out.

Kind of Brown is probably the best of these three albums and it will definitely get a lot of accolades this year. The performances are really, really solid and it is the kind of straight ahead jazz I typically really like. But again, I wasn’t as moved as others. It just didn’t grab me and make me really want to just turn it up and get into the groove of the music—it seemed almost too clean, too well-performed . . . safe. Now that said, I do think this is an album I will come back to and see if it just hit me wrong at the time, but for now it just isn’t coming across as the amazing albums others see it as.

Last up, we have Amina Figarova’s Above the Clouds (with another bad cover). Figarova is a Dutch pianist who fronts a nonet here, playing all original pieces. She has been composing and performing a while, but this is the first offering of hers I have listened to. I should note that the instrumentation includes flute which is right up there with vibes for me, but similarly here as with the vibes on McBride, it is okay.

The tunes are, for the most part, very straight forward jazz pieces with someone laying down the theme, the passing around of that theme to various soloists, and then a return to the full band synthesis of that theme--reminds me a bit of Blue Note albums I like that way. I don’t know a lot about European artists, but the ones I have listened to all have a certain smooth quality to them, very precise and clean but not hard. I don't mean that as a warning that this is tame or smooth jazz as in the kind you hear on radio stations with names like "The Breeze," but rather that they have a certain lyrical quality to them I enjoy. In fact, of these three albums, this is the one that has had the most listening time--although it does get a bet too theme-oriented in the middle if the disc.

Ultimately, they are all worth a listen, and if you like what you heard here, below are links where you can pick them up.

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