As a member of the Robert Glasper Experiment, bassist and composer Derrick Hodge is no stranger to the multi-idiomatic mash-up. Glasper’s album, “Black Radio,” broke new ground with its bold fusion of serious jazz chops with hip-hop grooves and straight-up soul music, and Hodge played a significant role in the music’s success.
For his debut as a solo artist, Hodge offers his take on the new hybrids he had such a hand in crafting with Glasper. “Live Today” is perhaps not the album you would expect from such a hyper-virtuosic bassist. It is not comprised of compositional exercises designed to showcase Hodge’s instrumental prowess, but rather, of fully fleshed compositions that run the gamut from funk and soul to hip-hop to progressive rock world beat-inflected jazz. It’s refreshingly forward-looking music.
It helps that Hodge has corralled a few of his brethren from the Glasper Experiment – notably drummer Chris Dave, one of the most dynamic and exciting young drummers currently working – to help out. Hodge’s composition “Table Jawn” begins with Dave, Glasper and Hodge banging spoons, coffee cups and a kitchen table in complex rhythm, with Hodge’s overdubbed bass lines providing startling counterpoint. “Message of Hope” is a stunning Hodge melody, a lovely and wistful series of notes with an African rhythmic pulse provided by drummer Mark Colenburg, and some haunting Hammond organ fills played by Travis Sayles. Hodge then solos with a distorted, electric guitarlike tone. This is what one imagines it might sound like if Radiohead was comprised of seasoned jazz musicians. Thrilling and unusual stuff, yet somehow familiar and comforting.
This same trio of musicians tackles the aptly titled “Anthem in 7,” another winning Hodge melodic line that unfolds into a piece that flirts with the edges of the avant garde, and suggests as much in common with post-rock as with contemporary jazz. “Still the One” finds Casey Benjamin, Hodge’s cohort in the Glasper Experiment, joining his ethereal vocoder to a lovely balladlike tune of Hodge’s for which its composer plays all the instruments. “Holding Onto You” is another experiment, this one featuring Hodge playing upright acoustic bass while guitarist/singer Alan Hampton performs a folk-based indie rock tune, and the American String Quartet adds aching harmonies.
“Live Today” is stylistically all over the place, but still coherent in the presentation of its multi-idiomatic vision. Hodge has already proven himself as a major bass talent. Now he can add composer and bandleader to the resumé.
– Jeff Miers
Oliver Jones and Josee Aidans
Just for My Lady
When this is good, it’s awfully good (the opening “Josee’s Blues,” “Lady Be Good”). When it’s not so good, you’re hit over the head with two ineluctable facts: Oliver Jones is no Oscar Peterson, and young classical violinist Josee Aidans is no Stephane Grappelli. Whatever she does on Bartok, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven violin concerti doesn’t mean that she can swing with as much mercurial lightness as Grappelli. Her tone, for one thing, is heavier. But when she leads into and out of Jones’ middle uptempo section of Michel Legrand’s “The Windmills of Your Mind,” she and Jones’ regular rhythm section (bassist Eric Lagace and drummer Jim Doxas) are a perfect fit. Jones, at 79, is a venerable figure in Canadian jazz. On the “Saskatchewan Suite” he wrote for his guest violinist, he’s no better a composer than Peterson ever was. But he’s always a pleasure to hear – salon jazz of a vanishing sort.
– Jeff Simon
Mark Masters Ensemble
Everything You Did: The Music of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen
Get the guest stars on this disc: tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, trumpet player Tim Hagans and drummer Peter Erskine. Nor is that all. Masters claims he’s been inspired by the music of Steely Dan for 35 years and has wanted to adapt their work for a large jazz ensemble since 1977. “The premise of this recording,” he says, “is to free (Walter) Becker and (Donald) Fagen’s music from the earthly confines, in some cases, of harmonic structure and allow the quartet of Harper, Hagans, (bassist Hamilton) Price and Erskine to create the magic that great improvisors birth. The record is a quartet recording with an ensemble.”
And all that is what’s good about it. Not only are those soloists in it, but Oliver Lake, Sonny Simmons and Gary Foster came along for one tune apiece. Lake and Steely Dan. The mind reels. He’s on “Chain Lightning” bringing freedom to bluesmanship that would have scared most Steely Dan audiences silly. It all fits better than you might think.
Delights & Dances
Performed by Harlem Quartet, Chicago Sinfonietta and Mei-Ann Chen, conductor
There are a couple of goodies in this modern-themed grab bag. The first two pieces, by Benjamin Lees and Michael Abels, can be tough to take. The rest is a lot of fun. The “Saibei Dance” of An-Lun Huang, born in 1949, is a winner, with a fluttery Asian melody bursting into four minutes of brassy razzle dazzle. Orchestras should pick this up. It would bring the house down at outdoor concerts.
The other winner is Randall Craig Fleischer’s “West Side Story” Concerto For String Quartet and Orchestra. The Bernstein melodies never get boring, but just in case, Fleischer varies the textures wildly. “Mambo” snaps and pops with aggressive percussion and vocals, “Cha Cha” gets its delicacy from the string quartet solo, and “Tonight,” which has the quartet playing against the orchestra, has a silver-screen romance.
The Harlem Quartet gives the piece a wonderful, sensual charm.
– Mary Kunz Goldman
Marc Anthony has remained his own man. He married Jennifer Lopez and never got a stupid hybrid title (no J-Arc or Ma-Lo). He sang “God Bless America” at baseball’s All-Star Game and got Twitter grief for it (“How dare immigrants sing our song?”). But he brushed it off, went on TV, and reminded audiences he was of Puerto Rican descent and born in New York. As a singer, he’s rarely succumbed to slick, gringo pop.
But salsa is where Anthony lives, where he made his bones, and where his pointedly expressive voice settles most handsomely. It is thrilling, then, that “3.0” is his first original tropical recording in eons (he covered salsa sensation Héctor Lavoe for his 2007 film “El Cantante”). Make no mistake: There is lush pop in ballads such as “Espera.” For all the beauty of his voice and the rocky romanticism conveyed throughout “3.0,” there is swagger. “Hipocresía” is as gutsy as it is graceful. The guaguanco grooves of “Flor Pálida” open wide for Anthony’s warning – that an untended flower is a dead one. Impresionante.
– A.D. Amorosi