Ronnie Cuber – Cubism (1991)

The album is a multi-genre music adventure with Latin echos from the past and a passion which reaches forward and demands we listen. Whether you like or dislike music with a Latin flare this album has a little something for every listener. From straight ahead, bop, and rock, this album is loaded with his precise use of articulation and rhythmic variation which is textbook Cuber and is tremendously enjoyable.

If you prefer the straight ahead  jazz then set your ears to bop and listen to the track “No Smokin” and hold on for the ride. Joe Locke on vibes explodes into his solo section and sets the perfect stage for the solos of Cuber  and Bobby Broom (guitar). This track is paired expertly with the track “In a sentimental mood” which as a tribute to Harry Carney is both gentle and soulful.

Of course it wouldn’t be a Cuber album if he didn’t do the unexpected. On the swinging track “I Ronic” Cuber plays tenor saxophone. His tenor playing features all the excitement that cuber brings to the Baritone while not sounding disingenuous to the tenor tradition at that time. In some ways he plays the tenor like a smaller baritone. Which suits my ears just fine.

It goes without saying that this album is a product of its day. By this I mean there are stylistic artifacts of being an early 90’s jazz-fusion type album. Joe Locke’s Yamaha DX7 keyboard really reminds us of what decade we are listening to without being too much like the over electronic sounds of Cuber’s album “Passion Fruit“. Though not as dated sounding, the hard driving rock-funk track “Cheetah” is  a prime example of what was happening in pop jazz of the day.  Of course this track would not be possible with out Ben Perowsky’s driving drumming. He pushes this track along like no one else and his drumming is as genuine sounding as any rock drummer of the day.

This album touches on several Latin traditions without trying to be something it is not. The tracks range from the afro-cuban of “Arroz con pollo“, to the swaying bossa nova of the title track “Cubism”. Cuber has had a long tradition of playing Latin and Latin inspired music. This began as early as his work on Eddie Palmieri’s 1973 album “Sons of Latin Music”. At least one Latin inspired track can be found on most of his albums. On this album the addition of Carlos “Potato” Valdez really lends the afro-cuban credibility which is hard to capture when the percussive responsibilities lay purely with the set drummer. on this album both Carlos and Ben seem  to trade phrases and and lead each other on rhythmic trails. 

TAKE AWAY:  This album has had a regular place in my listening roundup and you would be hard pressed to find an album which brings as much enjoyment for as moderate a price. In this case under $10 from Amazon.

Lars Gullin – Portrait of my Pals (1965)

This album was recorded in Lars Gullin’s native Sweden in 1964. The line up on this album is as follows: Rolf Billberg on alto, Jan Allan on trumpet, Harry Backlund on tenor, Torgny Nilsson on trombone, and Lars Sjosten on piano, accompanied by a string section.

It goes with out saying that one can not describe a baritone saxophone sound of the era with out comparing it to one of two musical titans of the day, Gerry Mulligan or Pepper Adams. Tonally Mr. Gullin was more firmly encamped in the West Cast jazz tradition but with his own flavor. He was not a duplicate of Mulligan but was clearly inspired by the west coast jazz movement.

Lars’ tone is clean and full throughout the entire register through he rarely dips below the staff in his soloing. It is not all that uncommon for baritone saxophonists of the day to solo exclusively in the middle to upper registers. Serge Chaloff rarely dipped below the staff as well unless it was to comp the current soloist. Gullin’s bouncing and laid back swing style keeps his solos moving and enjoyable to listen to.

The other major voice on the album has to be Rolf Billberg. His alto playing is what I would consider the perfect melding of Charlie Parker and Paul Desmond. The edge of tone from Parker but the round fullness of Desmond. Listening to Prima Vera is a great example of Rolf’s ability to use empty space, rhythm, and dynamics to lead the listener down a melancholic and reflective path as reinforced by the violins that follow. It is a tragedy that Rolf died at the young age of 36. I am sure that had he lived longer his impact on jazz in the United States would have been more apparent and significant.

Take Away:  I have a rather large collection of Gerry mulligan albums and transcriptions in my collection and find it hard to listen to them often. Some albums seem almost cliched in today’s jazz environment. This album has all the cool, easy to enjoy jazz you would expect from California in the 1960’s but with a European twist. This album is on my monthly play list and it should be on your as well.

Serge Chaloff – Boston Blow–Up! (1955)

Produced by Stan Kenton in 1955 and with a fantastic lineup this album has garnered a special place in my rotation. While many consider “Blue Serge” to be Serge Chaloff’s preeminent recording I find this album to be every bit as fantastic as the later album.
The first thing that has always grabbed my attention in Serge’s playing is his tone. It is a husky and slightly reedy tone with a hint of the mellowness associated with the west coast jazz of the day. I wouldn’t consider it an honest west coast cool jazz sound.  It is easy to hear the influence of Harry Carney on his tone.  Chaloff’s tone would fit nicely with the current trend towards brighter tones and more projection. Of course he’d have to use a brighter reed but otherwise he’d drop right into current musical trends.
The second thing that grabs me is how delicate he can make the big horn sound. His technique is quite light and fluid and his expressiveness is exquisite.  Just listen to “What’s New?” and you will hear the haunting, almost melancholy moaning of a passionate player and his perfect medium. The track is minimalist while still carrying the expressive load of a church choir 10 times its size.
Chaloff did not create this magic on his own. The crew is as follows: Everett Evans on bass, Boots Mussulli on alto saxophone, Herb Pomeroy on trumpet, Ray Santisi on piano, and Jimmy Zitano on drums. Mussulli and Pomeroy create the feel of a full horn section due to the excellent arranging and their performances are an excellent match for Chaloff. In fact this album sent me looking for more on Boots Mussulli.  His Charlie Parker styled improvisations combined with a tone reminiscent of Lennie Niehaus really drove me Amazon in search of more.
Take Away: This album is great on its own or when listened to in rotation with “Blue Serge”. I recommend adding this recording to your collection and enjoying this album for its great phrasings, quality arranging, and virtuoso playing. 

Colin Stetson – The History of Warfare Volume 2 – Judges

This album gained good reviews for a reason. Simply put this album is better placed between Jackson Pollock and a Pablo Picasso paintings in any museum. It is sonic painting in its most expressive without being constrained to particular genre. Each piece on this album travels from the surreal to the abstract and back.

This album may be his magnum opus as his ability use advanced circular breathing, multiphonics, altissimmo, microtones, vocalisations, and growling techniques may never be duplicated on bass saxophone again.  The breadth of tones he is able to channel includes; a bass saxophone, distorted guitar, human voice, didgeridoo, multiple percussion, and string bass. Bass saxophone is not the only instrument he plays on this album. On the solo track The righteous Wrath of an Honorable Man he plays an alto with the same expressiveness as he brings to the bass.

Aside from the expressiveness and amazing control Colin puts on display it is his talent for weaving together his self-accompanying pieces with the spoken word of Laurie Anderson and Shara Worden. The husky femininity of their voices is the perfect juxtaposition to his rapid fire and haunting lines.

My favorite piece on this album is the Blind Willie Johnson piece “Lord, I just can’t keep from crying”. In this piece Collin fills the track with a deep dark didgeridoo like sound rich with harmonics. Shara Worden’s vocals captures the blues anguish of Blind Willie’s words. This track is moving in its simplicity and soulfulness.

This album is not always an easy pill swallow. If you are expecting Bix Beiderbecke styled 20’s era bass saxophone you are going to be very disappointed. Colin takes saxophone playing in new directions and the average listener will have to leave their expectations at the door. In fact I played this album for my non-musician mate and she couldn’t tell it was a bass saxophone. When I then explained that he was playing all of the tones in the piece Judges real-time, she was impressed but still unsure if it was a bass saxophone.

Take away: This album is playful, serious, and hectic at times. It is not something to listen to while driving or out for a run. Instead it is my opinion that this album should be listened to like a fine wine. Not to be consumed at every occasion but to be enjoyed when the mood strikes and you want a auditory journey.

Enjoy this piece:

Enrico Pieranunzi, Ronnie Cuber Quartet – Inconsequence (1982) rel. (2000)

This album was given to me by a close friend because he knew I played baritone sax and he didn’t listen to it any longer. What a god send. This album has garnered a very high spot in my musical rotation list.

From the moment you press play this album smacks you in the face with Ronnie Cuber’s amazing soul and style. The very first song begins with a rapid fire “Adams” style lick and from there takes off in a non stop adventure in rhythmic variations and bouncing lines. Throughout this album Cuber demonstrates how lyrically baritone altissimo can be folded into moving lines.

This album is Enrico Pieranunzi’s but at times the interplay with Cuber really gives the album the feel of being two guys against the world. Yet at other times Cuber steals the show. This album features a track with Cuber on flute. I don’t have many examples of Cuber on flute in my collection of 7 Cuber lead albums so this was a real treat. His flute tone is full and warm with a hint of fuzz which really helps to identify him on the instrument. You certainly won’t mistake him for Galway but he sounds fantastic. His tone is very reminiscent of Herbie Mann.

This album seems to be hard to find but  if you do I think you will find a rewarding listening experience.

Dave Holland Octet – Pathways

I bought this 2010 released album on a whim because Gary Smulyan  is on it and I am fascinated by lyrical bass solo’s. To which Dave Holland brought in spades. Of course there is plenty of amazing playing happening on the album the lineup is as follows:

Rhythm Section 
Dave Holland – bass
Nate Smith – drums
Steve Nelson – vibraphone and marimba


Antonio Hart – alto sax, flute
Chris Potter – tenor and soprano sax
Gary Smulyan – baritone sax
Alex “Sasha” Sipiagin  – trumpet, flugelhorn
Robin Eubanks – trombone

The album opens with a moving and dynamic solo by Smulyan which then gives way to Holland’s lyrical bass improvisations. One particularly enjoyable aspect of this album is hearing Chris Potter on soprano sax. His tone is warm and slightly woody which I enjoy immensely as the soprano can lend itself to sound shrill.

To quote Earl Lundquist’s review of the album:

The octet is anchored by Holland’s quintet of ten years, a nucleus that includes Chris Potter on tenor and soprano, Nate Smith on drums, vibraphonist Steve Nelson, and Robin Eubanks on trombone. Added to that mix is Antonio Hart on alto saxophone, Alex Sipiagin on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Gary Smulyan on baritone saxophone. These added horns bring a welcome power and swing to Holland pieces like “Ebb and Flow.” Compare the original recording — in the quartet setting of Dream of the Elders — to the arrangement on Pathways and you’ll hear how the additional horns push the melody and ratchet the swing even higher. “Shadow Dance,” another song from Holland’s repertoire, has never grooved so hard.

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To sum it up in as few words as possible. This album is a good anytime listen with enough variety to keep you returning and there are more than a few great licks to learn on this album.