Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Good Vibes

As I sit here, watching the Olympic gymnastics competition, wondering how the scoring works, and what exactly differentiates one performance from another, I'm trying to think about exactly what to write about the two vibes players I've recently listened to and how to tie them in to the gymnasts. Neither Bill Ware nor Ed Saindon is elven, nor is either one female. I suppose the only thing they have in common is their ability to achieve superhuman feats; just listen to the lightning speed at which Ware and Saindon can play their instruments. While I've never seen Bill Ware live, I have had the fortune of seeing and playing with Saindon numerous times (full disclosure: I've studied with him in one of his ensembles at Berklee), and am still awestruck by the idea that any human being can have the coordination required for the four-mallet vibe technique- pioneered by Gary Burton- which he uses.

Of course the fact that I'm awestruck by his technique would be totally meaningless if his record weren't any good, but luckily it is. On "Depth of Emotion," his recent collaboration with the much more high-profile Dave Liebman, who plays soprano here, Saindon's extremely complex compositions and reharmonizations shine; in spite of their complicated chord changes and rhythmic motion, they never manage to lose accessibility. Take the versions of "Moon River" and "On Green Dolphin Street," for example. Both are reharmonized with odd chord changes, but in neither is the melody of the tune not readily apparent. Liebman's work here is pretty great, although Saindon, who barely ever records, steals the show with his brilliant vibes playing and piano. Is "Depth of Emotion" going to change the jazz world? No. But that said, it is an interesting, modern, and entirely accessible record that I'd recommend to just about anybody.

Bill Ware, who has added his gymnastic (ha!) ability to Bobby Previte's most recent incarnation of Bump, is, I suppose, the downtown vibes player now that Bobby's settled to spend most of his time playing his drum kit. Having spent time in The Jazz Passengers, recorded for the Knitting Factory label and played on records for Previte and Marc Ribot, all that Ware needs to consolidate his rep is a guest spot in John Zorn's latest Jewish Jazz ensemble (Masada Marimba?) and a record deal with Pi. "Wonder Full: The Music of Stevie Wonder," corny name aside, is probably only going to help. Odd concept? Check. Japanese bassist? Check. Lounge-y vibe? Check. The only problem is, it isn't great. The sequenced keyboards are too corny for words, and his group would work fine as a quartet without them. Ware himself sounds great, but his band just sounds too much like elevator music, albeit self-aware, ironic elevator music. There simply isn't enough variation in the tunes from Wonder's originals- or from eachother, for that matter. Worth a listen if you can get ahold of it, but not worth the search it would probably take to find it anyway.

Next time I may have a smooth jazz round-up of some sort (there are tons of high-profile smoove-cats releasing records right now- Dave Sanborn, David Benoit, that ex-football player who had cancer... the list goes on and on), but then again I may decide to review something good. I suppose we'll see.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello Callum,

I hope you are doing well. Thanks a lot for your nice comments about Depth of Emotion. It was a treat to have Lieb on the recording.

Good luck with the critic thing. It's great to have someone that plays also write about the music. I hope you can continue with that. We need more guys like you to doing that.

Anyways, thanks again. Best,

Ed Saindon