Alternate Takes Week #11: Album for the Week

Introducing Keyon Harrold

Trumpeter Keyon Harrold is the epitome of what it really means to be a modern jazz musician.  He is also arguably the most important and incredible trumpeter of this generation.  On his ironically titled Criss Cross debut, Introducing Keyon Harrold, he clearly needs no introduction.  The St. Louis phenom has one of the most commanding sounds you’ll ever hear, and it’s likely that if you listen to any other medium of Black music, you’ve already heard it.

Harrold is a producer, arranger, and writer who has collaborated with hip-hop’s giants: Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, and 50 Cent to name a few.  He is also an integral part of R&B superstar Maxwell’s renowned live band, for whom he has also been an arranger for.  He can be seen in Jay-Z’s “Roc Boys” video, as well as on any number of stages, including, and currently Cirque du Soleil’s The Immortal Tour, an epic tribute to King of Pop, Michael Jackson.  But be not mistaken; Harrold’s versatility and affinity for a profusion of musical styles in no way denotes his indisputable paramountcy in the realm of jazz.  His debut album could not be more validating.

For Introducing… Harrold calls upon his contemporaries; saxophonist Marcus Strickland, pianist Danny Grissett, guitarist Jeremy Most, bassist Dezron Douglas, and drummers E.J. Strickland and Emanuel Harrold.  The album also features Harrold’s teacher, mentor, and employer of many years, Charles Tolliver.

The album is an outstanding collective of mainly original tunes, as well as a gorgeous take on the Horace Silver classic “Peace”.  Harrold’s compositions are brilliant and authentic, and also infuse touches of his gospel roots and hip-hop predilections.  Harrold’s performance throughout is exceptional.  Not only is he one of the most masterful living technicians on his instrument, his evocation of passion and beauty in his playing is unparalleled.  There are few musicians who can bring me to tears from playing one line…Harrold is that cat.  He doesn’t even have to be soloing, or playing a lead melody for that matter.  There is an anointing on his playing that is rare and supremely ancestral.  And while he has certainly learned and assimilated the language of the masters before him like Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, and Woody Shaw, Harrold has distinctively reinvented the foundation, creating a vernacular that is unique, fresh and inspiring.

Along with the stellar performances from all involved, Harrold’s mixture of beauty, grit, fluidity, and rawness bring this album to life.  His amazing sense of melody is demonstrated on original tunes like “Sudden Inspiration” and “The Awakening”, where Harrold’s entrance on his solo is such a pretty mixture of said melody and rhythmic perfection, with drummer Strickland propelling the whole band.

I can’t say enough about this musician or album.  But I will say this: If you don’t own it, or you haven’t heard Harrold in this context, do yourself a favor and modify your library, and your soul.



Alternate Takes Week #8: Album for the Week

Alternate Takes Readers!

Thanks for your patience.  Sorry about the Album for the Week hiatus!  It’s been a busy summer!  But this album is worth the wait.  Closed my eyes, and ran my fingers across the library and came up with THIS gem!

Ahmad Jamal’s 1970 classic The Awakening is a preeminent outing, which embodies and fuses a range of pianistic heritage and innovation, making this album a timeless reference for every modern pianist to follow.  This album explored the trio in ways that had not been done before.  Jamal’s warm, gospel feel and lush re-harmonizations on “I Love Music” are so ahead of their time; a mass appeal to hip-hop producers and DJs.  The mix alone is raw, edgy and moody.  Sampled by the incomparable Pete Rock for rapper Nas’ debut album Illmatic, “The World Is Yours” was one of the most stand-out tracks on this seminal hip-hop album.  (I spent many days with my investigative ears on, determined to figure out exactly how Mr. Rock chopped this song.  And I did!)  Nas’ brilliant and jazz-inspired phrasing over Jamal’s haunting progressions and Pete Rock’s gritty drum programming and scratching created a modern day masterpiece.

Jamal Plays Jamal, released in 1974, is another hip-hop treasure, with songs like “Swahililand” and “Pastures” being sampled by J Dilla and producer Ski, who created an impeccable New York inspired backdrop to Jay-Z’s “Feelin’ It” from the classic Reasonable Doubt album.  But unlike the funk/groove oriented Jamal Plays Jamal, with all original compositions, the use of electric keyboards, and intricate string arrangements, The Awakening is a musical love letter to integral artists like Herbie Hancock, Jobim, and Oliver Nelson, whose compositions Jamal interprets most bewitchingly.  Songs like “Dolphin Dance”, “Wave”, and “Stolen Moments” are transformed without compromise, or even intricate rearrangements; a testament to the elastic possibilities of the acoustic trio, and Jamal’s obvious openness to all that was modern and happening around him in the present.  Like Herbie Hancock, and Hank Jones, Jamal always sounds ahead of his time because he always embraced what was both current and on the horizon.  As stripped down as this album is in theory, at points it sounds almost symphonic, thanks in big part to the deft and melodic bassist Jamil Nasser, and the agile Frank Gant on drums.

This is just one of those perfect records.


Alternate Takes Week #6: Album for the Week

Herbert Laws' The Rite of Spring

A little late this week, sorry!

This is an album that I have owned for about five years, and I have always wanted to get to it, but never did until today.  This is a big part of why I love doing these weekly album explorations!  What a gorgeous album!  Hubert Laws’ The Rite of Spring is was certainly a worthwhile find.  This 1971 CTI release features Bob James on piano and harpsichord, Jack DeJohnette on drums, Ron Carter on bass and cello, Airto Moreira, and others.  The album is made up entirely of classical interpretations of pieces by Fauré, Stravinsky, Debussy and Bach.  I’m always intrigued by these kind of musical marriages.  Miles and Wynton were two of my earliest examples of orchestral and classical merges in jazz.  This album is strikingly different and I think it has something to do with the era.  We’re talking the 70s here, and I’m willing to bet these classical pieces have never met so much FUNK in their existence!  “Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, First Movement” is as sample-able as any James Brown track.  Well, it is DeJohnette on drums, so that’s not such a surprise!  But, outside of the stellar lineup, there are just really some lovely tunes on this album.  The album opens with a moving interpretation of  Fauré’s “Pavane” which is an album’s worth of a journey alone.  But there are other gems on this very short album (it’s barely over a half-hour) and hearing some of my favorite jazz musicians in this context is always eye-opening.  I appreciate them even more.

Alternate Takes Week #5: Album for the Week

Freddie Hubbard’s Here to Stay

Ooooh yeah! This is a gem! This lesser known Freddie Hubbard album was recorded in 1962 but was not officially released until sometime in the 80s.  Featuring Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Cedar Walton, Reggie Workman and Philly Joe Jones, Here to Stay is all vibe. Not in the sense of slow tempos or meditatively structured tunes, (the album opens with the blistering “Philly Mignon,” one of two compositions by Hubbard on this session), but in terms of the energy between the musicians, the compositions and sonic recording quality, this is mood music all day.  Almost all members of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers at the time of this recording, the synergy is undeniable and the execution is nothing less than stellar. Hubbard’s “Nostrand and Fulton” (BROOK-LYN!) and Cal Massey’s “Assunta” are among my favorites on this album.

I often see colors when I listen to music. For me, this album is definitely grey. The perfect early morning coffee or late night wind down or rainy afternoon album. Of course I can listen to Freddie Hubbard any damn time. Enjoy! Have a great weekend!

Week #4 Alternate Takes: Album for the Week

Miles Davis’ Nefertiti

This is probably my favorite album from Miles Davis’ second classic quintet of pianist Herbie Hancock, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams. Nefertiti is the fourth album from this group, and for me, the best. Before this album, the group had already recorded three ground-breaking and ridiculously killing albums: E.S.P., Miles Smiles, and Sorcerer. These albums produced some of my favorite songs like “Footprints”, “Iris”, “Pee Wee”, “Sorcerer”, and “Little One”.  But for me, Nefertiti is just IT! Tune selection, vibe and execution are all unparalleled here. Some of the tunes on this album exhibit some of my favorite solos and playing from these five musicians. Ron Carter on “Pinocchio” is some of the nastiest bass playing I’ve ever heard, for example. Herbie on “Fall” is completely entrancing. A collection of tunes written by everyone in the band (except Miles) the album has something for everybody. It swings like nothing else ever heard when it wants to, it is simply mesmerizing and moody with loop-like tunes like “Nefertiti” and “Fall”.  t’s just a splendid album that I never skip through, never gets old, and is always inspiring. A timeless, brilliant classic.

Week #3 Alternate Takes: Album for the Week

Roy Hargrove's "Family"

Aaaah, the 90s.  This was one of my favorite eras, because this was around the time that I was now old enough to buy my own records, and check out music with friends my own age.  I was a sophomore in high school (LAG, stand up!) when this album came out.  I remember going to see Roy for the first time when I was about 16 years old at the Jazz Gallery, where he was performing the music of John Coltrane. I remember thinking that he played so much “older” than his years.  If there is one jazz musician who has been here before, it’s Roy Hargrove.  His feel (especially on a ballad) for me, is unsurpassed.

On Family (Verve), the first three tunes feature Hargrove’s incredible quintet of Ron Blake, Stephen Scott, Rodney Whitaker, and Greg Hutchinson, as they play songs that are an homage to Hargrove’s own family.  On “Roy Allan” (tribute to Hargrove’s dad), Hutchinson’s feel is so infectious, you can’t help but bob (must be the Brooklyn in him).  The album also features two other awesome rhythm sections and a hell of a list of special guests including Christian McBride, Wynton Marsalis, Karriem Riggins, Lewis Nash, and David “Fathead” Newman, to name just some.  A beautiful mixture of standards and originals, young lions and masters, Hargrove has always been such an important figure in jazz not only because of the way he set the jazz scene ablaze as part of one of the most important eras in jazz, but because of this balance he always seems to be able to strike; super modern, yet steeped in tradition.  Definitely one of my favorite RH albums, and the perfect day to play it!

Have a great weekend!

“Roy Allan” with Roy’s Big Band…

Week #2 Alternate Takes: Album for the Week

Dianne Reeves' When You Know

Eyes closed, I reached out to my music library and picked out this little gem.  Dianne Reeves singing love songs in a tasteful array of genres.

Dianne Reeves has always been that singer that if you knew her personally, you would probably solicit her to sing all of your favorite songs.  She just has that kind of voice that makes you want to hear her interpret anything…and she actually can.  Produced by George Duke, When You Know (Blue Note) is Valentine’s Day on disc.  With arrangements from Duke and Billy Childs, it’s hard to go wrong.  The album is well composed, with R&B classics like The Temptations’ “Just My Imagination” and Minnie Ripperton’s “Loving You,” Jobim’s “Once I Loved” and American Songbook classics from Alan and Marilyn Bergman, for example.  Reeves is no stranger to singing repertoire out of the jazz box (think her 90s album, Quiet After the Storm, for example) but her robust yet sweet voice singing love songs, is especially inviting.

She is neither trying to reinvent the wheel nor is she doing a carbon-copy dealie (a pet peeve of mine. Why re-make a song exactly the way it’s already been done?).  Her re-interpretations are worthwhile.

Caution: may result in some romance ❤

Week #1 Alternate Takes: Album for the Week

I’m excited that this brilliant musician is kicking off my Album of the Week series!

Mulgrew Miller's Solo

Mulgrew Miller’s Solo (Space Time) is a collection of standards (and one original piece), performed solo piano and recorded at various points in France over the course of a decade.

I actually had never listened to this album, and I don’t think I realized I owned it.  What a nice surprise to find untapped material of one of my favorite pianists – and solo piano at that.  Hearing Mulgrew performing solo is, for me, the best way.  I think because he plays so much piano, I absorb it so differently when he’s playing solo.  I will never forget finding out on a whim that Mulgrew was doing a duo gig with Robert Hurst at Smalls Jazz Club in NYC.  Oh. My. Goodness.   I mean, I had a lot of the solo piano bootlegs of Mulgrew (sorry…**embarrassed face**) but…that duo performance is an experience I will never forget.  Their version of Freddie Hubbard’s “Up Jumped Spring” is forever embedded in my spirit.  But anyway, this album was such a treat to discover on my shelf and I’ll be listening to it again this weekend.  He does some of my favorite classics like Con Alma (I’ve always loved the changes of that tune, and appreciate them so much more with just solo piano) and Dreamsville, Body & Soul and Giant Steps, which is not always easy for me to enjoy solo (though I love Kenny Werner’s version).  But he pulls it off masterfully…but what else would you expect from Grew?  Have a good weekend!

Alternate Takes: album for the week

a portion of my music library.

For those of you who have read my “An Album a Day” post on my blog, you know that in an effort to curb the tendencies of allowing technology to dictate how we listen to music, I have gotten back to listening to full albums from front to back, and really taking in the project the way the artist intended.  It’s also a way for me to get to know my immense music library again, and in some cases, discover music I own but have never checked out.  Hence, Alternate Takes: album for the week.  My library is organized alphabetically, so they will not be completely “blind” picks, but the picks will still be random!  I will be posting my picks every Friday (just in time for your relaxing weekend, when you would actually have the time to listen to a whole album!)  This should be fun! 

I’m warning you — I’ve got a lot of guilty pleasures, so I’m asking in advance — no judging!