Reviews: Sean Jones' latest is top-notch work
Sean Jones Quartet (Mack Avenue)
Trumpeter Sean Jones moves into the neighborhood of the legendary with “Im·Pro·Vise.” Playing in his ever-improving quartet setting, Jones has put together an album that is mindful of that of the famous Miles Davis quartets of the mid-'60s. This album is a display of jazz at a peak level. The songs are well-conceived and presented. The technical work of the musicians is top-notch. The cohesion of the group is remarkable on mid-tempo tunes such as “60th and Broadway” of “Don't Fall off the L.E.J.”, on the quick-cooking “Dr. Jekyll” or on the “I Don't Give a Damn Blues,” which has a title that defines its nature. But easily the best piece is Stephen Sondheim's “Not While I'm Around,” which Jones plays with remarkable taste. The quartet includes drummer Obed Calvaire, bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Orrin Evans, all of whom, like Jones, are carving out starring spots in jazz. Besides playing with his usual mastery and great musical grasp, Jones also wrote eight of the 11 songs on the album. Coming out so near Jones's imminent departure for Boston, this album has a touch of the bittersweet to it for area jazz fans. But let's hope the trumpeter returns as often as he expects to.
Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein, Bill Stewart (Pirouet)
Keyboardist Larry Goldings turns to the Hammond organ on this “Ramshackle Serenade” but not in the usual way. That originality is the album's strength. Rather than approaching the Hammond in the funky manner of Jimmy Smith or Groove Holmes, Goldings takes a more restrained approach. The result gives the organist and his two compatriots freedom in laid-back setting. Besides Goldings, the album also features drummer Bill Stewart and guitarist Peter Bernstein. It features nine pieces, with three covers and six originals by members of the trio. Most are easy-going like Bernstein's “Simple as That” and Goldings' title track, but even when the mood is a little more forceful, such as on “Mr. Meagles,” (cq) the output is in control. Each of the players contributes solid work on each piece either as a soloist or in backup roles. Stewart stands out steadily, particularly with his strong cymbal work. These three have worked together in many settings and this one suits them well.
Chicago has been much in evidence lately. They collaborated with Robin Thicke on January's Grammy telecast. They appeared in Larry David's outrageous HBO flick “Clear History” (in which every girlfriend of David's character had relations with several band members). At the very least, the brassy R&B-jazz outfit has finally outrun the ghost of the '80s power-ballad sound foisted on it by the legendarily lame Peter Cetera. On “Now: XXXVI,” co-founders Robert Lamm, James Pankow, Walter Parazaider, Lee Loughnane and some newer Chicagoans sound closer to their rough roots than they have since their first albums. The CD's arrangements may not be quite as raunchy or contagious as “25 or 6 to 4,” but cuts like “Free at Last” come close in punch and gruffness, with a nod to Chicago's psychedelic start on “Another Trippy Day.” While maintaining its robust brass sound (those trombones!), Chicago hasn't forgotten the luster of its harmony vocals (“This Is the Time” could be disco-era Bee Gees) or the rich romanticism of a good slow song. The first 10 Chicago albums set the gold standard for blue-eyed, big-band rock-and-soul. “Now” sounds like Chicago wants that feeling back.
Old Crow Medicine Show (ATO)
“We're talking happiness here,” banjo wiz Critter Fuqua says as an aside a few minutes into “Remedy,” which neatly sums up the latest album from Old Crow Medicine Show. Lickety-split tempos and kitchen-sink arrangements make for a set that's foot-stomping, thigh-slapping and grin-inducing. The string band's wide range of influences ensures variety. “Brave Boys” recalls the Pogues, “Doc's Day” is hillbilly blues, and a composing collaboration with Bob Dylan results in “Sweet Amarillo,” which would fit on “The Basement Tapes.” All are terrific, as are songs about a fallen vet, hating on haters and a certain creek one goes up without a paddle. The hilarious “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer” is a celebration of liberation, while “The Warden” offers a darker perspective on prison in lovely five-part harmony. Five-part is nothing — all seven band members sing on a couple of tunes, and the result is a glorious chorus. In fact, from start to finish, “Remedy” creates a mighty roar.