Friday, January 6, 2012

Under The Influence

This is the third installment in a mini-series about albums introduced to me by my students, that have really captured my interest.  After this post I plan to switch gears for a bit.

You may have noticed in my last post that I tend to fixate on the pianist when listening to recordings.  It's a habit that has been hard to break.  While I was a student, I somehow adopted the hardline mindset that if a disc had no pianist on it, I had no use for it.  Back then, I unfortunately allowed myself to lose sight of listening to music for fun.  It was more about gathering information that I could incorporate into my own playing.

I've come almost full circle now, finding myself gravitating towards music without piano so that I can listen without the obsessions stemming from having devoted a good chunk of my life to mastering the instrument.

This Chris Cheek recording, "A Girl Named Joe", has no pianist and represents over an hour of sheer musical delight.  I love the wide palette of sounds Ben Monder gets from the guitar, and the two tenor saxes together create a truly unique timbre.  The tunes are modern, yet often blues drenched and gritty.  There is tons of variety, but the album is cohesive and it makes a strong musical statement.

As I listened to this disc again for the umpteenth time, today for some strange reason, I started to think about jazz's young lion movement of the 1980s, and what utter nonsense it was.  I remember really buying into what Wynton Marsalis said in interviews about the importance of absorbing "the jazz tradition", and how someday one of the young recording musicians would eventually forge the path of innovation for the others to follow.

Well Wynton, innovation and progress came, but it certainly didn't stem from the young lions of the 80s.  All the while that the young lions were getting the attention of reviewers and record labels, there were serious, older artists in the trenches, devoting their souls and lives to the music while very few paid attention.  This "lost generation" includes Richie Beirach, Dave Liebman, Fred Hersch, Dick Oatts, Jim McNeely, George Garzone, and countless others.

Thankfully, for the sake of the art form, many of them turned to teaching.  It is almost a miracle that players like Ben Monder, Chris Cheek and other contemporary improvisers managed to escape the damaging philosophical influence of Wynton, when it was so present in DownBeat magazine during their formative years.  Thank goodness! ...or like Wynton, they might be trying to play the music of Buddy Bolden today.  Instead, the music has vitality and a future.

Here are the specifics pertaining to the album that sparked both joy and today's fury:

RECORDED: MAY 19, 1997

CREDITS (production) :
All compositions by Chris Cheek, except "Late Green" by Ben Monder
Produced by Chris Cheek and Jordi Rossy
Produced for CD released: Jordi Pujol
Recorded at Tedesco Studios, New Jersey, May 19, 1997
Mastered at Foothill Digital Studio, NYC
Cover Art by Ana Golobart
Photos by Rebecca Layton
Ben Monder appears courtesy of Arabesque Records
CREDITS (musicians) :
Chris Cheek:tenor saxophone (right channel)
Mark Turner:tenor saxophone (left channel)
Jordi Rossey:drums (left channel)
Dan Rieser:drums (right channel)
Ben Monder:guitar (right channel)
Marc Johnson:bass (left channel)
TRACKS (total time 67:00) :
1.Slide (7:28) [Chris Cheek]
2.September (6:17) [Chris Cheek]
3.Arctic Barbeque (5:57) [Chris Cheek]
4.Lowered (5:42) [Chris Cheek]
5.Late Green (7:37) [Ben Monder]
6.Planet Dance (4:47) [Chris Cheek]
7.A Girl Named Joe (6:29) [Chris Cheek]
8.Then (7:15) [Chris Cheek]
9.Siege (5:53) [Chris Cheek]
10.Water Mile (9:36) [Chris Cheek]

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