By Mike Greenblatt
Barrett Martin, 52, is a renaissance man for the ages. He’s a Grammy-award winner in the Latin category. He was the drummer on the last two albums by that semi-psychedelic semi-grunge Pacific Northwest band Screaming Trees. Over the last 30 years, he’s been a producer, percussionist, composer, arranger, lecturer, author and educator. What he is most, though, is a died-in-the-wool ethnomusicologist. Scattered Diamonds (Sunyata Records/Sony Music Distribution) by the Barrett Martin Group, his ninth, has his amazing collaborations with musicians from Iraq, India, Senegal, Ghana and the U.S. (including Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil and R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck), 16 international A-List musicians. Thus, Scattered Diamonds is, truly, a world-music spectacle (heavy on jazz).
He’s had some amazing experiences in his life. Dude’s been on a state-sanctioned musical odyssey to Cuba. He’s explored the Peruvian rainforest. He’s recorded with Brazilian vocalist Nando Reis, and he’s jammed with the tribes of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. All of these trips have left him with residue of the music he’s explored. Thus, this is one packed-solid album of titillating grooves, funky rhythms, and, most of all, complex post-bop soundtrack music for an action-adventure that doesn’t exist. The 17 tracks traverse numerous genres and, as a direct result, are widely disparate, surprising, profound and wholly satisfying.
The stunning self-released debut by the Taiwanese classically-trained vibraphonist-composer Chien Chien Lu, The Path, is an amalgamation of perspectives. The nine members of her nonet all bring individual sensibilities and talents to Roy Ayers’ 1993 “We Live In Brooklyn, Baby,” which kickstarts this 12-track party off on the good foot. “Blue In Green,” the 1959 classic by Miles Davis and Bill Evans, gets a gorgeous update. It all ends with “Mo’ Better Blues,” the title tune from the Spike Lee movie of the same name, written by the director’s father, Bill Lee. In-between, bassist/producer/arranger Richie Goods positively shines, as does this entire conglomeration of exquisite interplay of Lu’s vibes counter-balanced by Jeremy Pelt’s Miles-like trumpet as well as piano, guitar, drums, congas/percussion, violin and cello. You won’t hear anything else even remotely close today to what they’re laying out here.
Cheap Thrills: The Music of Rick Margitza (Summit Records) by the South Florida Jazz Orchestra, under the direction of bassist Chuck Bergeron, celebrates this progressive big-band’s 15th anniversary, utilizing the cream of the Miami crop of cats on eight Margitza originals and one sumptuous cover of George Gershwin’s “Embraceable You,” first sung by Ginger Rogers in the 1930 Broadway musical Girl Crazy but immortalized by Billie Holiday 14 years later in 1944.
Cheap Thrills is a tribute to saxophonist Margitza, who has collaborated with legends like Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner, Maynard Ferguson and Chick Corea. The Detroit area native studied in South Florida before finding his voice in New Orleans where he met Chuck Bergeron and started a life-long musical partnership. They both moved to New York City right around the same time to record together on a number of successful albums by other artists, always maintaining a yin-yang chemistry that works so well. So many highlights here but the 10-minute “Premonition” stands out as does “45-Pound Hound” with exceptional trumpeter Brian Lynch.
The self-released, self-titled album by the Alex Moxon Quartet has the Canadian guitarist, 30, leading his crack unit of pianist Steve Boudreau, bassist John Geggie and drummer Michel Delage through seven of his originals and two terrific covers which includes a total surprise. The first cover is opener “In A Capricornian Way” by trumpet pioneer Woody Shaw [1944-1989]. The surprise is a slam-dunk: Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun” has never sounded like this. Moxon makes a grunge classic into a new jazz standard. His guitar playing throughout is exemplary and there’s no doubting Moxon will have a long and illustrious career.
Brothers Phil (drums) and Pete (guitar) Templar have resurrected Axiom, their long-dormant jazz-rock fusion band, for the release of the terrific Starburst (Extrasensory Records), their self-produced, all-original gem with a cast of nine. Leaning towards instrumental Progressive Rock, it still contains enough Latin and Funk to flesh out what the brothers call “Contemporary Jazz Fusion.” Opening with “Vaporware,” a solid romp of prog, continuing with “Indigo Wave,” sounding like an Afro-Cuban Waltz, and “Magunda,” complete with Santana flourishes. Although most of the attention will probably focus on the four-track “California Suite,” which goes through such a myriad of changes, you’ll need a scorecard to keep up with the action, the highlight has to be the title track, a zippy little slice of deliciousness. Bravo!
Reincarnated (IAN Productions), by acoustic guitar virtuoso Hazar, features Al Di Meola on Chick Corea’s “Spain.” With both of their acoustic guitars in full flower, complementing each other, prodding each other on, Al adds cajon (a Peruvian percussion instrument), and arranges the hand-claps in a staccato burst of energy. Hazar, raised in Germany, picked some great international material which includes Brazilian Bossa-Nova, European Gypsy Swing, American bebop and Spanish Flamenco, in a freewheeling kaleidoscope of action utilizing his guitar backed by percussion, piano and bass clarinet.
The Art Of The Quartet (Unit Records) has Danish alto saxophonist Benjamin Koppel blowing mightily with three Americans: pianist Kenny Werner, bassist Scott Colley and super-drummer Jack DeJohnette. This two-CD set is absolutely gorgeous yet climbs out on a limb for some adventure. Disc #1 starts and ends with “Free 1” and “Free 2,” spontaneously composed in the studio. These collective improvisations—at 9:57 and 17:32—take long, meandering routes to get where they’re going. They went into the studio with no direction home, inventing art from a mutually agreed-upon premise. “Bells Of Beliefs” was written by Koppel after hearing a bell-like piece by Austrian avant-garde composer Gyorgy Ligeti. Upon DeJohnette hearing it for the first time, he knew just how to spice it up, quickly going home and returning to the studio with a set of bells someone had just given to him as a gift that he played to perfection. DeJohnette’s 1984 “Ahmad The Terrible” is rousing but it’s pianist Werner’s tribute to Brazilian composer Weber Iago that steals the show, that, and a mellifluous rendition of Ralph Rainger’s “If I Should Lose You,” written for the 1936 movie Rose Of The Rancho that’s gone on to become a standard, recorded by everybody from Aretha and Sinatra to Keith Jarrett and Dinah Washington. Also out now is Koppel’s quintet project (Ultimate Soul & Jazz Revue) with trumpeter Randy Brecker and drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie.