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This Time on EARS NEW YORK, Jeff reviews Pat Metheny's current record 'What's It All About' and Karrin Allyson's 'Round Midnight'

 

PAT METHENY
What’s It All About
Nonesuch

With What's It All About (a title owing to the fertile minds of Burt Bacharach and Hal David), Pat Metheny lays bare the evidence for a compelling discussion: Is he the most thoughtful jazz guitarist of our generation? Could very well be.

Best heard as a companion record to One Quiet Night, Metheny's 2003 collection of solo acoustic meditations, What's It All About traverses similar stylistic territory, though it delivers more.

Relying heavily on a baritone guitar, distinctively tuned, he shuns original compositions for this record - a first in his career. Rather, he expands and reimagines the definition of the jazz songbook by examining tunes drawn from the AM/FM radio of his youth. (He's 56.)

The result fortifies or emboldens tunes originating with the baby boomers who emerged at the close of World War II, the creators and consumers of culture whose influence on popular music was massive. These songs mean much to Metheny, quite obviously - "The Sounds of Silence," "Pipeline, "Betcha By Golly, Wow," "Rainy Days and Monday," "Cherish," "Alfie" (whose opening lyric titles this record).

In sum we’re treated to strong melodies and rich harmonies - refracted, molded, newly invented. This most thoughtful guitarist caresses all, sharing his intimate miniatures.

What's It All About is the question. It is also the music of life and breath, the sound of Pat Metheny’s gorgeous quest for answers.

KARRIN ALLYSON
‘Round Midnight
Concord

Drawing from a similarly quiet place, Karrin Allyson’s latest is a soulful offering boasting echoes of vulnerability. ‘Round Midnight is a production decidely spare and unadorned. It is the musical equivalent of “Nighthawks,” Edward Hopper’s timeless canvas depicting diners lost in their own thoughts.

Over a span of 11 tunes, Allyson paints her own picture, applying a moody wash to works by Steven Sondheim (“Send In The Clowns”), Bill Evans (“Turn Out The Stars”), Duke Ellington (“Sophisticated Lady”), Paul Simon (“April Come She Will”) and Thelonious Monk (the title track).

It is a dreamy and romantic survey, meticulously crafted. Allyson’s individual essays are threaded by a haunting air of longing, detailed and nuanced by her vocal shadings and piano play.

This may be key to the album’s overall feel – Allyson’s acoustic and electric keyboards, which she handles exclusively. As a result she actuates the subtle shifting of moods smartly - waxing bittersweet or sensuous, plaintive or etheral. Her piano accompaniment unifies all. It is a controlled performance, assisted by guitarist Rod Fleeman, saxophonist Bob Sheppard, harmonicat Randy Weinstein, bassist Ed Howard and drummer Matt Wilson.

Is Karrin Allyson world-weary, a somber observor commenting on life and love? Perhaps so, but viewed otherwise she is experienced and knowing, deliberate and brave, a most accomplished jazz singer. “Round Midnight is a vocal record distinguished by its own design and execution. As she confesses in song, Allyson is “always chasing rainbows.” This disc is the pot of gold.

 

Jeff Levenson is a label executive, writer-producer, and jazz journalist. His affiliations include posts at Half Note, Sony, Warner Bros, Downbeat and Billboard. He currently produces the annual Thelonious Monk Instrumental Competition, and has authored and/or produced events for the NEA, the US State Department, the White House, the New School for Social Research and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. His credits include collaborations with Michael Brecker, Herbie Hancock, Branford Marsalis, Bela Fleck, Arturo Sandoval, and McCoy Tyner. He has produced and/or supervised six Grammy albums - 2 winners, 4 nominees. He currently chairs the National Jazz Committee for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, serves as Board Governor for its New York Chapter, and digs the company of jazz musicians.

SECOND EDITION


Bruce Ricker, a filmmaker steeped in the worlds of jazz and movies and popular culture died on May 13. His death from pneumonia was unexpected. He was a friend of mine.

Bruce produced, directed or had his hand in numerous jazz films - "Straight No Chaser," Clint Eastwood's "Bird," biopics on Johnny Mercer, Tony Bennett and Dave Brubeck. His most revealing work, however, might have been his first, "The Last of The Blue Devils," a documentary chronicling the survivors of Kansas City's big band era, including Count Basie, Big Joe Turner and Jay McShann. His cinema verite style enabled all to reveal themselves, not least of whom was Bruce. His role of quiet catalyst proved essential to the movie and its humanity.

Bruce was an idea person trained to observe. He was a lawyer without practice or even portfolio, yet he recognized the irony of being an outsider operating within the mainstream. He was a cultural subversive playing by the rules and getting things done. I loved that about him - his quick dispatch of pomposity, with a wry acceptance of the ridiculous. He often referenced his own place in the professional food chain, issuing self-deprecations borne from his decision to traffic in jazz. Respectable wages? Earning power? What's that...

He was a one-of-a-kind guy - a nightfly Subterranean transversing roads both low and high, rubbing shoulders with accomplished cohorts. I'd see him in California, he'd be running with Eastwood; I go to his wedding, I'm sitting with Sandy Koufax. I could never figure it out. In person, Bruce was an odd contradiction of impulses, a dynamo moving in legato time. His speech was laced with bursts of thought, rapidly fired, like an automated tennis server gone wild. At the receiving end I'd need to assemble the narrative or duck and cover. It was tough keeping up with him; when we chatted I mostly shook my head.

Eastwood, who had come to depend on Bruce's tenacity and single-mindedness, recounted a classic story: "He said he'd take a date out in New York City and he'd take her to hear two or three sets in a row of Thelonious Monk. And by the time it was over, she didn't want any part of him." Bruce had to be proud of that story.

He loved a poem I wrote about Max Gordon and the Village Vanguard, and reminded me always that when it came time for the movie, the opening frames needed to feature the poem. We both grew to recognize how special the Vanguard was, how it seemed to embody a time and a place and a value system here yet long gone, at once past and present. Bruce was a New Yorker bowing before a New York institution, a basement temple with spiritual power transcending geography. He shared the understanding that this was a phenomenon representing something far greater than music, and how privileged we were to have it. Our connection was special to me.

Sad stuff. What's left are his movies. They're here and they'll be listed in the standard filmography of works dedicated to jazz, the music, the musicians. What won't be cited, however, is that this quirky guy had as much on-going rhythmning as his beloved Monk, that he was an excellent companion, that he ventured unassumingly through worlds he was not born into, and he triumphed. He left suddenly, my friend Bruce. And I now feel the way we both felt 20 years ago when Max died - the music sounds different without him.

Jeff Levenson is a label executive, writer-producer, and jazz journalist. His affiliations include posts at Half Note, Sony, Warner Bros, Downbeat and Billboard. He currently produces the annual Thelonious Monk Instrumental Competition, and has authored and/or produced events for the NEA, the US State Department, the White House, the New School for Social Research and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. His credits include collaborations with Michael Brecker, Herbie Hancock, Branford Marsalis, Bela Fleck, Arturo Sandoval, and McCoy Tyner. He has produced and/or supervised six Grammy albums - 2 winners, 4 nominees. He currently chairs the National Jazz Committee for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, serves as Board Governor for its New York Chapter, and digs the company of jazz musicians.

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