Bear Family Productions celebrates the centennial of novelist Jack Kerouac’s birth with 100 Years of Beatitude. Kerouac died in 1969 at 47. In his short turbulent life, he epitomized the gusto of the ‘40s/‘50s beats who set the scene for the hippies of the ‘60s. Along with fellow beats like poet Allen Ginsberg and novelist William S. Burroughs, they traveled, got high, and listened to tons of bebop. This 52-track 2-CD set has such jazz stalwarts as Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Clarke, Charlie Parker as well as readings from Kerouac himself (with comedian Steve Allen on piano) as well as Ginsberg. There’s also Big Jay McNeely, Babs Gonzalez, audio clips from the 1959 movie The Beat Generation as well as novelty tracks making fun of the beatniks by Louis Armstrong and Slim Gaillard.
When Emerson, Lake & Palmer took Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures At An Exhibition” into the prog-rock zone in 1971, the Russian composer surely must have turned over in his grave. You can’t help but wonder what he would think of Swiss avant-garde jazz trio Vein turning it into the closing track of their self-released Our Roots and renaming it “On The Underground Road.” They do the same with Beethoven, Mozart and Stravinsky. This ain’t no disco! This ain’t no fooling around! And it certainly isn’t classical music. It is, without a doubt, one of the most fun wild surprising jazz trips of the year as pianist Michael Arbenz, bassist Thomas Lahns and drummer Florian Arbenz will keep you on your toes and if you ain’t concentrating (no background music this!), you’ll get whacked on your head by sudden dramatic stops and starts that will have you playing it over and over just to make sure you heard what you thought you heard. These are some of the most creatively out-there cats on the Euro jazz scene.
With over 100 albums as a leader, Ivo Perelman stands supreme as one of the most unique cats out there making his idiosyncratic brand of jazz, refusing to bend to commercial reality, uncompromising in his vision and clarity. That’s not to say his music isn’t accessible. D(IVO) (Mahakala Music) is his all-sax quartet wherein his tenor is intertwined with soprano (Tony Malaby), alto (Tim Berne) and baritone (James Carter). Sure, dissonance prevails, but these seven jams, the result of spontaneous composition, ebbs and flows like a windmill through your mind. “Each artist simultaneously maintains his individual train of thought and remains responsive to his three bandmates,” writes Hrayr Attari in his illuminating liner notes.
Danish composer Anders Koppel’s Mulberry Street Symphony (Unit Records) is a love letter to the photographs of social reformer Jacob Riis [1849-1914] who documented the life of impoverished immigrants in the slums of New York City exposing the conditions they were forced to endure in the 1880s. Opening with “Stranded In The Strange City,” on through “Tommy The Shoeshine Boy” and “Blind Man,” it’s a cinematic sweep of dramatic proportions, fueled by the jazz trio of his son Benjamin Koppel (alto sax), Scott Colley (bass) and the legendary Brian Blade (drums) whose work with Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell has always been exemplary. Martin Yates conducts the Odense Symphony Orchestra. The result is a soundtrack masterpiece for seven Riis photographs, filled with strains of swing, post-bop, fusion, blues, folk and classical.
One of the most enjoyable albums of the year has to be SAAM: Spanish American Art Museum (Whirlwind Recordings) by the super-talented pianist-composer Marta Sanchez. It’s her fourth quintet album and encompasses her experiences in two countries. She even has hotshot trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire augmenting her usual personnel. Born in Madrid, making her mark in New York City, she can ride roughshod over worldbeat, classical, swing, bop, fusion and folk, infusing subtle traces of each with her 15 fingers, well, certainly seems that way. Her poly-rhythms, her arrangements—dig those dueling saxophones on closer “When Dreaming Is Only”—and her use of motifs associated with composer Arnold Schoenberg [1874-1951] all coalesce for a truly magnificent listening experience. When I finished this one for the first time, I had a similar feeling to finishing a great book. And I just had to play it again. So will you.