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Kevin Hays - 'New Day'

Ben Gray
Staff Writer
bengray417@gmail.com

Kevin Hays' excellent new release New Day finds the pianist in a very melodic zone, surrounded by musicians from a singer-songwriter tradition while keeping his jazz bona fides very much intact. Hays is joined by Rob Jost and Greg Joseph on bass and drums on all of the songs here. Gregoire Maret adds his harmonica and Tony Scherr adds his guitar to quite a few of the tunes as well.

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Con Alma: A Critical Analysis of Covers

Ben Gray
Staff Writer
bengray417@gmail.com

Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma" first appeared on his 1954 album Afro (which also featured "Manteca", "Caravan", and "Night in Tunisia", among others). Gillespie's trumpet is backed by Rene Hernandez on piano, Roberto Rodriguez on bass, and percussion from Jose Mangual, Ubaldo Nieto, and Ralph Miranda. The tune starts with the bass and piano setting up a nice groove along with the layers of percussion before Dizzy's trumpet comes in at about 0:20 with the melody over the descending bassline. That big trumpet swell at about 0:40 is perfect… Dizzy's trumpet solo starts just before 1:30, and he's fitting right in with this relaxed feel imparted by the bass and percussion. Minimal piano accompaniment and Dizzy in that relaxed mode, though occasionally he drops in a great line like the one around 2:20 that he takes to the end of this solo before handing the reins to Hernandez for a piano solo. Hernandez keeps the tune's feel intact while putting together a fine piano solo with some nice cascading lines. At about 3:00, Dizzy's trumpet again takes the lead. His soloing here has a little more fire than before, but the percussion and bass keep this relaxed groove going. The head returns at about 4:30 or so and the tune comes to a close just after 5:00. All too short, given the fine trumpet and piano solos here and the relaxed groove that could keep going forever (though the percussion is a little stuff and unvarying, in all honesty). Dizzy's trumpet playing is great and the short piano solo in the middle gives this a bit of variety to keep it interesting.

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Ben Gray's Favorite Jazz Releases of 2014

Ben Gray
Staff Writer
bengray417@gmail.com

10. Medeski, Martin, and Wood with Nels Cline - Woodstock Sessions, Vol. 2 (Woodstock Sessions)
The payoff on this album is in the deep grooves that this quartet falls into, but the messy, abrasive jams that come before and after those grooves provide the necessary context. When MMW hooked up with John Scofield, the resulting album smoothed out some of the rougher edges - not so here, as Nels Cline provides some crunchy tones that Medeski is happy to play off of.

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Brad Mehldau Trio at Duke's Baldwin Auditorium - December 11, 2014

Ben Gray
Staff Writer
bengray417@gmail.com

The Brad Mehldau trio played Duke University’s Baldwin Auditorium last night. Mehldau is coming up on twenty years since the 1995 release of Introducing Brad Mehldau, which was followed by his Art of the Trio series and a number of mind-blowing solo piano and piano trio albums, to say nothing of his work as a sideman and on a number of other projects like Largo, Highway Rider, and Mehliana. I mention this up front because after putting together this incredible catalog of work and after blowing so many minds with his staggering piano playing, it can be very difficult to listen to the Brad Mehldau trio in December 2014 with fresh ears. As the band has evolved, the spotlight has moved from Mehldau’s piano to a far broader circle to include more equal contributions from bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard. This is not to say that Grenadier and Ballard haven’t been playing their asses off for years now! But the Mehldau trio’s current playing has a very equitable feel, with fewer pyrotechnics from Mehldau than the listener might be accustomed to based on those previously mentioned records. That said…

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Ron Carter's "A Quick Sketch" and Cecil McBee's "D Bass-ic Blues"

Ben Gray
Staff Writer
bengray417@gmail.com

In what seems to be a case of convergent evolution, two bassists wrote a pair of tunes that started with a nearly identical premise. Very simple - a single note on the bass repeated three times. And then something less simple - starting with that repeated-note bassline, spin out an engaging tune. This column will look at a few different versions of Ron Carter's "A Quick Sketch" and Cecil McBee's "D-Bass-ic Blues".