Norwegian jazz pianist Gustavsen's first major label release is an absorbing exercise in melodic beauty and understated trio interaction. Gustavsen, bassist Harald Johnsen, and drummer Jarle Vespestad collectively shape these delicate, quiet original works into elegant gems. You'll hear hints of Bill Evans' romanticism, filtered through Gustavsen's gift for soft melody and ECM's production excellence, which allows every subtle nuance to resonate. A truly beautiful recording. --Gene Hyde
This aptly titled recording pleasantly blurs the lines between jazz, country, and blues, following the lead of such successful genre-busters as Olu Dara, Cassandra Wilson, and Bill Frisell. Harrison puts his individualistic stamp on songs by Johnny Cash, Woody Guthrie, George Jones, and A.P. Carter, plus a handful of traditional tunes. Each song's melody and structure serves as a platform for improvisational freedom, complete with surprising tempo shifts and sections where Harrison's guitar blends with violin, accordion, sax, and piano in unexpected ways. This really is free jazz meets country music. Multi-Grammy winner Norah Jones adds smoky vocals to Johnny Cash's "I Walk The Line" and the classic "Tennessee Waltz." --Gene Hyde
Dave Holland Quintet
Extended Play / Live at Birdland
After playing together for six years, bassist Holland's quintet has become one of the most exciting working units in jazz. They've garnered Grammy nominations for their last three studio recordings (Not for Nothin', Prime Directive and Points of View), and won a Grammy in 2003 when they added horns and recorded a big band disc (What Goes Around).
Jazz, with its emphasis on improvisation in a collective setting, is made for live performances. And while the Holland Quintet's studio recordings are consistently exciting, this outfit really explodes on stage, and this new two-disc recording captures the energy and amazingly tight group dynamics that have become the band's hallmark. Rhythmically, Holland, drummer Billy Kilson, and vibraphonist Steve Nelson can drive a soloist with breakneck abandon, while shifting tempi and dynamics to highlight an explosive sax solo or gently color a trombone passage. Saxophonist Christ Potter opens the set with a blistering solo on "The Balance," keeping to form throughout, while trombonist Robin Eubanks alternately roars and whispers in the lower register, showing that he's one of the most expressive and fluent slide players in jazz. This is one of the finest live jazz recordings in years.--Gene Hyde
Jaco Pastorius Big Band
Word of Mouth Revisited
Heads Up International
Before you Jaco-heads get too excited, this is not a newly unearthed recording of the late, legendary electric bassist. With producer/arranger Peter Graves at the helm, Word of Mouth Revisited takes a series of Pastorius compositions, along with a few of his arrangements of other writers' songs, and casts them in big band mode -- nine horns, a three-man rhythm section, along with a string of vaunted electric bassists. In all, the project is quite a success. The integrity of Jaco's music is well preserved. To wit: The Weather Report tunes chosen are particularly amenable to large-ensemble treatments: "Havona," "Teen Town," "Barbary Coast" and "Elegant People." The cream of electric bassists steps up and pays homage to the man widely regarded as the best ever to play their instrument: Victor Bailey (Jaco's successor in Weather Report), Christian McBride, Jimmy Haslip, Richard Bona, Gerald Veasley, Victor Wooten, Jeff Carswell and Marcus Miller. Also appearing is Jaco's nephew David Pastorius, who turns in a solid performance on "Opus Pocus." And Jaco himself turns up. Graves lifted a bass line from an early Jaco performance of Herbie Hancock's "Wiggle Waggle" and built the rest of the song around it. Even though we only get this small taste of new Jaco, his spirit courses through the songs. All of the guest bassists stick close to his style, full of legato phrasing and that gurgling tone. It all serves to underscore his pervasive influence. --Eric Snider
Pete Seeger & Friends
Seeds: The Songs of Pete Seeger Vol. 3
Seeds is the final volume in an important trilogy of music inspired and written by Pete Seeger and released by Appleseed Recordings. The record opens with Seeger's newly revised version of his Vietnam-era "Bring Them Home (If You Love Your Uncle Sam)," which he updated during the early days of the American invasion of Iraq. Powerful and poignant, Seeger's new lyrics are delivered with gripping intensity by a quartet featuring Seeger, Ani DiFranco, Steve Earle, and Billy Bragg. The music (and its lyrics) come at a timely moment in US history, and feature somewhat relaxed arrangements for Seeger's political and social insights. The other two volumes in this set, however, are somewhat stronger musically than this recent volume, and feature a wide array of musicians and a rich mix of diverse arrangements.
All told, over 400 musicians played a part in this epic series dedicated to -- and often featuring -- one of the most important voices of the folk revival movement. As the Patriot Act erodes civil liberties, hard-won environmental protections are withering away, and the war in Iraq drags on endlessly, the voices of Pete Seeger and those he influenced are a welcome ray of hope. --Gene Hyde