If your interest in jazz has been whetted by Ken Burns's monumental televised history, you might want to check out these two new recordings by contemporary jazz greats:
Patricia Barber - Nightclub (Bluenote): Vocal stylist-pianist Patricia Barber will likely have another hit with "Nightclub," a collection of 12 American standards done in Barber's unique laid-back jazz style.
She employs three different trios - one of which includes Charlie Hunter on eight-string guitar - to back her piano as the instrumental centerpiece of the melodies.
Barber's first track, "Bye Bye Blackbird," begins with her delightfully slow and funky playing, which sets the stage for her restrained vocal interpretation. Her delivery is a stark contrast with the more upbeat treatment usually afforded the tune and creates an air of intimacy, something evident throughout the recording.
Barber allows her sidemen space for expression within the time limits of each song. Bassist Marc Johnson opens "Yesterdays," embellishing the verse with his full-toned sound, as she chords lightly underneath before singing the haunting melody slightly above the level of a whisper.
Barber abandons her piano on Louis Armstrong's "Just for a Thrill" and sings supported only by the gentle accompaniment of Hunter's guitar and the soft brush work by drummer Adam Nussbaum. Hunter also solos here brilliantly.
On the ballad "You Don't Know Me" (the plaintive wail of someone in love with someone who thinks of her only as a friend), the listener can hear a definite blues feel in her opening piano statement. Beneath her vocal, the bass is elegant in the background.
The disc includes a pair of rhythmic changes with "Summer Samba" and "A Man and a Woman," a relaxed bossa nova, but does so without disturbing her easy-listening format.
Pat Metheny - Pat Metheny Trio - Live (Warner): This two-CD set could be titled "The Best of Pat Metheny, Past and Future," because the two hours of music offer previous Metheny classics and new material - compiled from 1999 and 2000 Japanese, European, and American tours - which sparked enthusiastic responses from live audiences.
The musical dimensions of the trio - Metheny is joined by bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Bill Stewart - are gargantuan. Metheny is heard on a variety of guitars, including electric, acoustic, guitar synthesizer, and a 42-string guitar.
The first disc begins with "Bright Side Life," a tune originally released in 1976 by Metheny's first band. It's a nice introduction. But what follows is an awesome 18-minute display of what one talented musician can do with a guitar as the trio embarks on "Question and Answer."
It's more than a showcase of Metheny's immense creativity. It literally raises the bar for a cliche-free guitar-bass-drum trio performances of extended works. Metheny leads off, followed by Grenadier laying down a solo with an impeccable, fresh flow. Metheny returns to team with him in a fierce, momentum-building run, reminiscent of the epic John Coltrane and Elvin Jones tandem.
Metheny doesn't ignore ballads, either. The second disc includes the gorgeous "Unity Village," named for a place near the town where he grew up in Missouri. That song, and "Night Turns Into Day," are the prettiest pieces on either volume.
The guitarist dips into the blues on "Soul Cowboy." He treats it gently, avoiding the usual blues licks. "Faith Healer" is touted as a tour de force, but its raucous 20 minutes won't be for everyone. It is, however, an adventure. Among its highlights are guitar-bass duets, bass-drum duets, and ensemble work. "Faith Healer" adds a new dimension to this group, something no similar trio possesses.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society