By Mike Greenblatt
Why would guitarist/composer/producer/educator Henry Robinett wait 20 years to release Jazz Standards Volume #2 (Nefertiti Records)? His quartet with pianist Joe Gilman, bassist Chris Symer and drummer Michael Stephans is sterling, the best of the best of the Northern California scene. Mingus was his cousin. He lived with the legend for three months in New York City where he got to know Sonny Rollins and Joni Mitchell. His playing is reminiscent of Joe Pass and Barney Kessel. The material has been elevated from the dated to the sublime.
Written for a long-forgotten Broadway musical Mexican Hayride, Cole Porter’s rather tepid “I Love You” wasn’t anywhere near hip even when Bing Crosby made a hit out of it in 1944. Somehow, though, these guys have squeezed the inner essence out of the tube to make it—like a magic trick—one of the highlights here. That also goes for the melody of Jimmy Van Heusen’s 1939 “I Thought About You.” Excavating rock from the substratum of long-dead culture and making it shine anew like a rare gem is no small feat. Besides two Monk covers, the 1956 My Fair Lady—“On The Street Where You Live”—chestnut gets spit-roasted on an open flame and comes out delicious. Think you’ve had enough of these songs? Think again.
Austrian-born drummer/composer/arranger Peter Kronreif has been in-demand in Brooklyn for over a decade. Eleven years after his European Gloaming debut, Aeronautics (Sound New Talent Records) is his debut stateside statement and, boy, it’s a doozy. He surrounds himself with such great players, that in the tradition of the legendary drummer Art Blakey, he lets his band, Wayfarers, shine. Dig that alto/tenor saxophone frontline! Dig those two tracks with added guitar! It all weaves so intricately together of one mind that its nine tracks are like one long suite going through a myriad of changes. Held together with the glue of pianist Addison Frei and bassist Martin Nevin, there’s a sense of dislocation that’s not quite so disorienting as it is mystifying, eclectic, adventurous and ultimately satisfying. The music moves in mysterious ways but joins together at its center and the more listens you invest, the bigger the pay-off as you’ll hear new things with each listen. That, right there, is the mark of a great jazz album.
Bernstein Reimagined (Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild), by the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, takes 10 pieces from Leonard Bernstein (not the usual suspects) to create a dazzling, wondrous trip through reggae, gospel, jazz, folk and classical. In short, it’s a total blast! Five different arrangers were called in to meld the music into a living, breathing entity, one that meanders between the mind and body, surprises, delights, sometimes confounds, yet is all the more rewarding for it. Three from Bernstein’s 1944 On The Town Broadway debut surprises most of all. The rapid-fire tempo shifts alone should appease the most ADD-addicted listener. “Dream With Me” is from the 1950 Peter Pan stage musical (when Boris Karloff played Captain Hook). “Morning Sun” transposes the opera voicings of Trouble In Tahiti (1952) into pure horn heaven. Bravo!