Noteworthy new jazz CDs
Dave Brubeck produces his defining artistic statement and The Maria Schneider Orchestra proves that big-band jazz is still relevant.
Dave Brubeck – Indian Summer (Telarc): Go figure. After dozens of bestselling jazz albums over five decades, the ailing 83-year-old pianist/composer goes into a studio and does a solo piano album that totally transcends his previous output by light-years. There are a lot of old standards among the 16 tunes Brubeck reinterprets with consummate skill. This might be the saddest version of "September Song" ever recorded in history – but the album isn't maudlin. It's a magnificent swan song. Grade: A
Harris Eisenstadt – The All Seeing Eye + Octets (Poo-Bah Records): Eisenstadt is a superb drummer and composer who deserves wider recognition. He gathered nine gifted instrumentalists together – including a bassoonist and vibraphonist – and reinterpreted what might be the greatest Wayne Shorter composition ever, "The All Seeing Eye." On trumpet is Wayne Shorter's brother, Alan Shorter, a mean soloist. The unusual instrumentation and bravura soloing make this a moody masterpiece – a tone poem of spiritual depth – worthy of serious listening. Grade: A–
Quartet Equinox – Flamenco Jazz (DIP Records): There are a number of CDs on the market synthesizing flamenco music with jazz. Truth be told, the majority I've heard sound contrived conceptually and are as melodramatic as any TV soap opera. This CD by an obscure quartet from southern California might be the best of the lot. The group does atmospheric, original pieces that gently blend flamenco guitar rhythms with tenor sax, flute, clarinet, bass, and a sprinkling of hand percussion. This is chamber jazz for when you want to conjure sketches of Spain in your musical imagination, without the trumpet fanfares or foot stomps. Grade: B
Charles Mingus Sextet With ERIC dOLPHY– Cornell 1964 (Blue Note): Here's a previously unreleased concert that records the explosive bassist in good spirits, attacking his bass gleefully while shouting encouragement to a fiery band that hardly needs cheerleading. There are some sloppy ensemble passages, but there's plenty of excitement from Eric Dolphy buzzing on alto sax and flute and the versatile Jaki Byard on piano. A bizarre version of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" proves rousing jazz can be alchemized from just about any song. If you didn't know the vintage from the CD cover, you'd think it was from 2007. Grade: B
Maria Schneider Orchestra – Sky Blue (Artist Share): Twenty-one musicians of tremendous technical sophistication and emotional energy channel their talents through the direction of the most significant big-band jazz composer of our time. The result is a rhapsodic set of five original compositions moving from an evocative elegy to a celebration of bird song. Think of Duke Ellington's exquisite writing for competitive brass and woodwind pros. Combine that with Aaron Copland's lush symphonic lyricism. Then make it swing fiercely. Is the age of the unforgettable big bands long gone? Hardly. Grade: A+