This Week on Jazz Spectrum - 2/10

By Kim Kleinman
Contributing Writer 

PROGRAMMER’S NOTES—Song of the Week (“I Should Care”) and a Coda

I often decline Fritz’s annual invitation to write about my favorite albums of the year.  I don’t track new album releases nor do I feel I have a wide enough vantage point. In his January 5th blog, Fritz took up the decline of record labels and albums. I could falsely assert that I’ve been ahead of that curve, but the reality is that I’m just part of the problem.

But I do pore over his lists to catch up on things I should know about. Mark Turner’s Live at the Village Vanguard was at the top of that list. Alas, it isn’t available on the well-known streaming service that takes my money and gives precious little to the artist, so I haven’t yet heard it. But they do have Turner on an album with Miki Yamanaka, who plays a monthly late-night set at Small’s on Mondays with husband Jimmy McBride on drums and an available bass player before she supervises the jam session at midnight. I like Yamanaka’s pluck, her smarts, and her chops, so when I found a set of her trio with Turner from August 2022 I was on it, navigating the Small’s Live Archive to plumb its riches yet again.

They did “I Should Care” which undoubtedly I’ve heard, and it was the most striking tune of that night. So I looked it up in Ted Gioia’s “Jazz Standards (Second Edition)” to find that he framed it as a quintessential world-weary Frank Sinatra song with stunning solo versions by Thelonious Monk. More than sufficient for me to explore further.

Gioia recommends versions by Bud Powell and Bill Evans, among others. I could have just followed his recommendations for this or any song and cranked out a perfectly acceptable Song of the Week playlist. I enjoyed following those leads but didn’t deny myself the fun of finding other versions and making my own juxtapositions.

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But the Sinatra opener is irresistible, so, with thanks to Mr. Gioia, I did not resist and put the Riverside Monk solo version (the earlier of the two that Gioia recommends) to end the first set. The middle of the first set is given to two master saxophone improvisers deep into their venerable careers. Listening to Lee Konitz and Sonny Rollins side by side is a chance to learn so much about the tune and jazz improvisation in general.

If we hear Monk solo to close the first set, the second set opener is another chance to hear him explore the composition, this time with Kenny “Pancho” Hagood’s vocal and, even better, Milt Jackson’s vibraphone extending the conversation about the tune and improvisation that Konitz and Rollins started.

Alan Broadbent’s and Steve Wilson’s versions are worthy too. I know them from the streams I got to know and treasure from the 2020 lockdown, the renewing  pitcher of lemonade I started making from the lemons live and the pandemic gave me. Small’s and Mezzrow’s in particular stream all their sets, and Smoke Jazz Club also presents several streaming sets every weekend. Like Yamanaka, Broadbent is a favorite whose elegant sets with Harvie S and Billy Mintz I never miss. His “I Should Care” is with a different trio from roughly 30 years ago, but he brings that same touch and deep knowledge to this version. Steve Wilson’s presence on a gig makes it worth attention. On one of the ones I’ve caught, the pianist Bill Charlap said nobody makes a tune sing like he does. I haven’t settled on how he sings, but he’s a perfectly modern altoist who is not in Charlie Parker’s broad lineage, nor Konitz’s. That makes his version of the Song of the Week worthy.

My coda, the last set of the hour, is a further celebration of favorites from the streams. Fritz honored Aaron Diehl’s masterful orchestration of Mary Lou Williams’s Zodiac Suite on his Best of 2023 list. “Cancer” features Nicole Glover’s tenor solo, and she is a treasure. The Yamanaka album with Turner conveniently has “A Song for Mary Lou” as a complement to Diehl with Glover. Sean Mason used to do amazing duets with trumpeter Giveton Gelin at Mezzrow’s, “just playing tunes,” as he put it from the bandstand after one of their stunning extended suites. He’s a precocious melodist and his album is full of them, lush and catchy. Finally, Ethan Iverson gets himself to Mezzrow’s often enough to work through standards and compositional ideas that have born fruit in his new “Technically Acceptable” album. His “Victory Is Assured (Alla Breve)” is meant to evoke Kansas City and Count Basie, just as he did in a Mezzrow set that featured both Basie and Ellington, although more of the former.

I too may “just be playing/programming tunes.” Still, they are ones that I should care about—and I do.

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