Monday, May 5, 2008

Leftovers: "One Peace" and "Surfin' USSR"

When I say that these two albums are "leftovers," I'm not suggesting in any way that they aren't worthwhile, or that they should be passed on. Quite the opposite, actually, these two albums are kind of like the tasty little hard to get at morsels that people are usually too lazy to find, or too full to eat. "One Peace" by the Gregg August Sextet and "Surfin' USSR" by Farmers Market have virtually nothing in common other than that they are both good records that are seriously in danger of being overlooked during what is shaping up to be an incredibly good Spring season for jazz (and that they both happen to be full of brilliant arrangements, but that's just a fluke).

Gregg August has played bass for a ton of major latin jazz artists (Paquito D'Rivera and Chico O'Farrell among them), but if "One Peace" is any sort of indicator, his real love is old-school blue note style hard bop. The tunes themselves are nothing particularly special, but between some great three-horn arrangements (written by August himself) and some should-be-famous sidemen (Yosvany Terry or Stacy Dillard on tenor sax, Myron Walden on alto, Luis Perdomo on piano, E.J. Strickland on drums), the record really sizzles, particularly on the slow number "In Dedication," on which Walden and Dillard are given ample time for solos. August himself plays a pretty great solo in a modal Charlie Haden sort of vein on "Change of Course." Recommended.

"Surfin' USSR" is the fourth album from Norway's Farmers Market, a group that sounds sort of like Naked-City-goes-to-a Balkan-wedding. If that description turns you off (perhaps you have a bad childhood memory of a Balkan wedding), you should still be advised that "Surfin' USSR" is probably the most fun record I've heard all year, and one of the most technically chopsy. Farmers Market has the ability to change tempos and styles at the drop of a dime, and Stian Carstensen's compositions are extremely involved, in spite of the hilarious titles ("From Prussia with Love" is an odd-meter goof on the James Bond theme). This is another record that probably won't be coming to record store near you, but if you see it out there its worth getting or at least hearing. Highly Recommended.

That's all for now, but next time I'll have a review up for trumpet player Ambrose Akinmusire's "Prelude: to Cora." You can hear a version of one of the tracks (not the version from the album, but actually way more interesting) as the background music on his website.

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