Jan 20 2016
Recommended: Scott Jeppesen – “Wonders” and “El Guapo”
Scott Jeppesen – Wonders
There’s something intriguingly elusive about the emotional tones Scott Jeppesen uses to color the compositions on his 2015 release Wonders. Causation can be traced back to the saxophonist’s talent at working the thin divide between smile and somber, light-as-a-feather blues and its weight-of-the-world counterpart. It’s why so many of his melodies step right up to immediately engage with a cheerful announcement of “I’m here!” while simultaneously providing a strong indication that a greater depth lies below the surface of the warm welcome. It’s the kind of thing that keeps a listener hanging on, buying time while sussing out all the pertinent details. But more on that later. For now, the first thing to note about opening track “Hanging Gardens (Of Babylon)” is that it’s the first in a series of tracks that grasp at the album theme of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World.
The opening salvo is purely modern post-bop, though the warmth it develops has a classic 1960s hard bop quality to it that’s simple to embrace. The melody isn’t complicated or fussy, nor does it serve as a thesis statement in support of the album theme. It grabs the attention and holds it tight. There’s an abundance of cheerfulness, but also more than a hint of introspection. It’s carried along by a rhythm section that scoots ahead with a friendly chatter that’s no less arresting than the melody. And nothing about any of it really speaks to the majesty of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. But when the quintet sighs out the drop-dead lovely melody of “The Marble Tomb” and follows it up with solos that possess the flickering beauty of a city skyline at night, this, too, doesn’t elicit the imagery of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. It certainly doesn’t matter. Not when the music is this good. I like a nifty theme or concept album as much as the next listener, but mostly I want well-crafted melodies, a rhythm section that knows how to set them to motion, and I want it gift-wrapped in some harmonic action that fits perfectly to the shape of the song. On Wonders, Jeppesen does this to a tee, and that’s where to find the source of awe and inspiration on this winning album.
The contrast between the pulsing tempo of “Colossus (of Rhodes)” and the gentle cooing of its melody is a positively magnetic song intro, and that Jeppesen then flips the script and lights a fire under the melody and has the rhythm section take a turn at being the patient one just makes the tune even more arresting. Keyboard effects give a space-y vibe to “Last Man Standing (Great Pyramid Of Giza)” and the walking bassline of “Big Daddy (Statue Of Zeus At Olympia)” adds something familiar to something new, but mostly this is just more of the good stuff provided by the opening track. Something new, however, can be found in the alluring “A Guiding Light (Lighthouse Of Alexandria),” with its curiously loping tempo and slow exhalation of melody.
The concluding chapters of the album are best exemplified by “Hubris,” a song that is emblematic of the album’s ambiguous emotional textures and its penchant for enchanting melodies talked up by rhythms that know how to carry a conversation.
There’s never enough space to fit all the top albums of a particular year on a year-end Best Of list. Wonders is yet another example of an exceptional recording that probably didn’t get as much attention as it deserved.
Your album personnel: Scott Jeppesen (tenor sax, melodica), Larry Koonse (guitar), Josh Nelson (piano, keyboards), Dave Robaire (bass), Don Schnelle (drums) and guest: Bob Sheppard (tenor sax).
This Self-Produced album was released in 2015 on Jeppesen’s Creative Bottle Music label.
On his site, Jeppesen gives a pretty decent rundown of his insights and thoughts about the Wonders project on a wonder-by-wonder basis. Definitely worth checking out (LINK). Plus, he’s got additional music embedded throughout. This is an example of where the concept of liner notes can flourish in the internet age.
Jazz from the L.A. scene.
Scott Jeppesen – El Guapo
Much in the same way that the musical quality of Jeppesen’s Wonders made irrelevant the fact that the theme didn’t really translate into the finished product, really, the same could be said of Jeppesen’s El Guapo. The Spanish theme is evident right from the outset via the Latin Jazz rhythm from bassist Dave Robaire and drummer Don Schnelle given added color by Larry Koonse’s acoustic guitar action, it doesn’t really scream “This Is A Latin Jazz Recording.” But when an ensemble is able to generate the friendly tone and infectious liveliness as they do immediately on opening track “El Guapo,” as a listener, seriously, who really cares if the music fits a particular mold or meets the creator’s intent. And when it melts into a gorgeous track like “Elms,” which, as with the title-track, exudes certain Latin Jazz qualities while maintaining a flight path over the heart of straight-ahead modern jazz, again, just sit back, listen, and appreciate the little sonic gift being given. Because it is.
The arrival of “Great Odin’s Raven” pretty much cements this album’s roots as belonging to those of modern post-bop, and its wide smile of a melody and boisterous solos as engaging as a raconteur’s best anecdotal material is a conspicuous amount of evidence that Jeppesen and crew really know how to put together a solid modern jazz post-bop recording. Jeppesen’s way with the tunes, how his lyricism possesses both weight and substance while threading the needle between blues-make-me-happy and no-hurt-like-the-blues is a quality that should never be overlooked or under-admired. It’s not easy ground to tread, and it’s not often done with such an absorbing tunefulness. The egregiously under-the-radar UK pianist and composer Julian Joseph would be a bird of a feather in this regard, but it’s not something often encountered on a recording that sticks to jazz’s standard avenues and thoroughfares. The upbeat “I Tend To Agree” hits this sweet spot, too, though more subtly as it trades some of the nuance for an extra dose of heat. A similarly successful trade-off is made on “Maybe Later,” though in this instance, the net gain is a contemplative tone and a gathering of shadows to mute the album’s sunny disposition.
It’s the kind of thing that lets a musician get away with inserting some iffy mainstream groove action into the middle of “Overlapping Conversations.” As a stand-alone track, it’s easily dismissed. But in the flow of the album’s songs, on an album where the nuance exploited within the expanse of a melody’s emotional spectrum is focused squarely on the divide between joy and pain, light and dark, this approach to the music eclipses the measure of its cohesiveness to the entirety of the album. Besides, when Jeppesen digs right back into the heart of this recording with “Hidden,” the sense of logic returns full circle to the first, and ultimately, last impression.
Released back in 2013, this solid recording definitely deserves another turn in the spotlight.
Your album personnel: Scott Jeppesen (saxophones, bass clarinet), Larry Koonse (guitars), Josh Nelson (piano, keyboards), Dave Robaire (bass), Don Schnelle (drums) and guest: John Daversa (trumpet, flugelhorn).
This Self-Produced album was released in 2013 on Jeppesen’s Creative Bottle Music label.
Check out more about the album at the artist site.
Jazz from the L.A. scene.
Jan 25 2016
The music of Thomas Maintz: “Present” and “Duets in June”
I’m gonna focus on two recent recordings by Danish guitarist Thomas Maintz, because aside from both being solid albums, they’re a nice illustration of how a musician can thrive in both straight-ahead and off-road forms of jazz while keeping true to their own personal sound. It also shows how the slightest shifts and exploitation of nuance can bring about some profoundly different results.
Thomas Maintz, Scott Colley and Johnathan Blake – Present
“Life in the Key of C” opens Present with some standard fare. Maintz’s guitar methodically runs through lines of bright notes emitting a distant warmth, and drummer Jonathan Blake keeps to a calm chatter and gets his cymbals to sound like the comforting crash of gentle waves on the shore while bassist Scott Colley serves as the driving force, lyrically, with an undercurrent that resonates with no little strength. It’s much the same on subsequent track “Miller Watermark,” and at this point, it’s safe to say that this is going to be a pleasant straight-ahead guitar session, with tasteful compositions, pleasant solos and a sense of unison among the trio that is as enjoyable to chart the course of as it is to chase after the wandering soloists.
But then there’s a track like “East Village Waltz.” It doesn’t turn its back on the prevailing sound, nor does it flee from the notion of a straight-ahead jazz recording, but it undergoes a slight transformation to an expression that leans increasingly toward a folk or pop influence, and that small change results in a huge burst of texture, of colors changing like the leaves from Summer to a brand new Autumn season. And when the subsequent tracks return to a more familiar sound, they sound all the richer with the understanding of what they could be, could become, and what might happen again with the sounding of the next note.
“New York Butterfly” gets the pulse rate up, spurred on by a series of nifty flurries from drummer Blake. The rendition of Bill Evans’ “Very Early” keeps to an inside-voice, a murmur that carries far on the slightest breeze. And the album’s other cover song, “If I Should Lose You,” will make you regret that Maintz didn’t use his acoustic baritone guitar on the entire session. And, again, it’s yet another small shift that creates a big sonic reaction… while still keeping things in the sphere of a solid straight-ahead recording.
Your album personnel: Thomas Maintz (electric & acoustic baritone guitars), Scott Colley (bass) and Johnathan Blake (drums).
Released in 2014 on Gateway Music.
Listen to more of the album on the artist’s Soundcloud page.
Available at: Amazon
Thomas Maintz & Aaron Parks – Duets in June
And much in the same way that the song “East Village Waltz” had a transformative effect on Present while remaining wholly in the flow of the album, the 2015 collaboration between Maintz and pianist Aaron Parks illustrates how differently things might’ve sounded had that approach been applied throughout. Duets in June share four of the same compositions as Present, including the aforementioned “East Village Waltz,” and though the changes between the two recording are relatively small in the grand scheme of things, the albums radiate two entirely different facets of the same central beauty. Where Present stuck to more familiar roads running through capital-J Jazz, Duets in June takes the scenic paths that circumnavigate Jazz center and the avenues and alleys that bypass the main thoroughfares.
The album’s high point are the three improvisational tracks (“Prelude,” “Interlude” and “Crystals”) interspersed throughout the recording. The first of those three open the album up with a powerful statement that melodicism was held in high regard during the creation of the recording, and that the obliteration of form and structure was a small price to pay to see that the melodic intent achieved its ultimate goals. “Prelude” is the soothing colors of a gorgeous sunrise combined with the queer uneasiness of the ever-changing scenery and the reminder that a new day promises new challenges and new changes of its own. That kind of emotional duality is emblematic of the entire recording, and the approach of fragmentary beauty over structural foundation are constant through each of the improvisational tracks.
A shared composition like “Nude in Red Armchair” immediately distinguishes between the two albums. Parks provides the song a greater presence with easy-going yet pronounced turns of phrase on piano, and Maintz’s use of acoustic baritone guitar opens the composition up to possibilities that extend far past the horizon line established by the same song on Present. And “Riddles Dressed in White” takes a circuitous path to the melody and a starkly contemplative tone in comparison to the up-tempo burner of Present. The two versions of “Secret Hallway” are the closest between the two recordings, but where the Present trio goes with calm brushstrokes, Maintz and Parks go about painting the song with a pointillism technique and a wild streak of happenstance relative positioning.
The album ends with the solemn “Please Hum (A Hymn),” a piece that offers up the faintest drone, the loveliest melody rolled out slowly with patience and care, and a comforting sense that all is right with the world, contrasting so nicely with the intriguing, vague unease of the opening track.
Just a gorgeous album that also comes armed with a sharp intelligence. It’s also an album that received some year-end consideration for this site’s Best of 2015 list. Go scoop it up.
Your album personnel: Thomas Maintz (guitar, soundbox) and Aaron Parks (piano, melodica).
Released in 2015 on Gateway Music.
Available at: Amazon
And here’s a cool video that incorporates the Duets in June track “Crystals/Improvisation 3″…
By davesumner • Artist Overviews, I Listen To All Of This, Jazz Recommendations, Jazz Recommendations - 2014 Releases, Jazz Recommendations - 2015 Releases, The Two-Fer Review series • 0