Jazz

 

RAY COMISKEYreviews a selection of Jazz CDs

JOHN SURMAN

Brewster's Rooster ECM ****

The great baritone and soprano saxophonist leads old colleagues John Abercrombie (guitar) and Jack DeJohnette (drums), with Drew Gress (bass), in, for Surman, a relatively straightforward blowing session. It works. Abercrombie, in particularly rich form in recent years, is a superb soloist and accompanist and with Surman never less than impressive. Gress and the marvellous DeJohnette provide brilliantly interactive support. The repertoire (all by Surman except John Warren’s lovely Slanted Sky and a fairly straight reading of Strayhorn’s Chelsea Bridge) offers a variety of solo options. The buoyant

Hilltop Dancer and Kickback make much use of bass vamps, and Haywain is a relatively free collective improvisation in which the (presumably underlying) theme is made explicit only at the end. In addition, the changes of Counter Measures sustains the longest and best performance here.

ANDREW RATHBUN

Where We Are Now Steeplechase ****

The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings calls Rathbun “a rising star” and, on this evidence, that’s spot on. The Canadian saxophonist/ composer is a gifted performer who writes challenging and complex pieces; their main raison d’etre may be harmonic, but their lines also have a kind of cerebral lyricism ideally suited to his tenor and soprano. There is also a wider ambition here: no less than a state-of-the-US-nation address in music. Whether it has the resonance of Rathbun’s earlier, Bush-bashing Affairs of State is arguable; a sense of unease lurks here, especially in the four-part

Son Suite, dedicated to his child, so the points being made are more subtle. But the music, with Nate Radley (guitar) and a George Colligan-Johannes Weidenmuller- Billy Hart rhythm section, is seldom less than engrossing, with Rathbun’s soprano captivatingly eloquent and Hart a force of nature. www.steeplechase.dk

PETER HAND

The Wizard of Jazz Savant ***

The “wizard” is Harold Arlen, one of the less celebrated names in the Great American Song Book, for whom arranger/guitarist Peter Hand conceived this big band tribute. Packed though it is with some of New York’s finest jazzmen, including trumpeters Cecil Bridgewater, Valery Ponomarev and Jim Rotondi, trombonist Jim Pugh, reedmen Don Braden and Ralph Lalama, and pianist Richard Wyands, it’s really just a backdrop for saxophonist Houston Person. In effect, Person takes the place of a vocalist. And he plays very well. So for those who like a swinging big band used this way, and who are partial to Person’s beefy, assured tenor, of which there is a lot here, there is much to enjoy. The live recording is serviceable, though Person is very closely miked, and the band sounds a tad under- rehearsed. Still, this tribute does exactly what it says on the tin. www.jazzdepot.com