Dave Royko’s Music Rambles
August 28, 2016
Quinsin Nachoff: Flux (Mythology)
Don Stiernberg: Good Numbers (Mando Traveler)
Randy Newman: Songbook; Songbook Volume 3 (Nonesuch)
The older I get, the more Sunday mornings are replacing Saturday nights for spinning old and new music with full concentration. I must be getting (really) old. Thirty years ago, 5:30 in the morning would’ve been the end of my listening, not the beginning. But anyway...
Returning to a recent discovery, I hadn’t read the press release for reed player/composer Quinsin Nachoff's Flux (Mythology) before listening, so to me it sounded simply like my favorite kind of jazz, balancing intriguing modern composing with compelling improvising, a.k.a. “inside/outside” jazz. The promo materials describe it as “exploring the elusive terrain between modern jazz and contemporary classical, between the cerebral and the organic,” and if so, that’s also a good description of much other inside/outside jazz, with or without the explicit classical conceit. To my ears, Flux is simply terrific modern jazz. Drummer Kenny Wollesen’s been involved with too many of my favorite recordings to even count and he was my main draw to this one. And what a satisfying spin it’s been. Second saxist Dave Binney and keyborder Matt Mitchell (that’s right, this isn’t “all about the bass” since they don’t use one), like their session-mates, have plenty of high-profile (at least in this arena) history, and they fit perfectly with the leader’s vision. Tasty stuff.
Jazz of a completely different sort comes from mandolin master Don Stiernberg, Skokie’s very own. Good Numbers (on Mando Traveler) is a title of understatement, of both composition and execution. Stiernberg’s right-down-the-center old-ish school swing comes from his family upbringing and his tutelage under the cornerstone for this type of thing, Jethro Burns. Rest assured, Stiernberg’s anything but a Burns clone -- I don’t think “Jethro” when listening, only Don. As he’s done in the past, the disc wraps up with a delightful original after moving across one classic (not classical) masterpiece after another. Arlen, Heusen/Mercer, Porter, Hall, Pettiford...you get the idea. But Good Numbers is really about Stiernberg’s touch, tone and improvising, and nobody ploughs this field better and, really, never has. His long-time trio with guitarist Andy Brown and Jim Cox (there’s some bass for you) give Stiernberg everything he needs to fly.
And Randy Newman. What more can you say after nearly a half century of superbitude? Well, plenty. Next month, courtesy Nonesuch, will bring the combination of reissue and new release. The Randy Newman Songbook will be on four LPs only (and I never would’ve believed, 30 years ago, that vinyl releases would even be happening AND feature vinyl-only tracks, reversing the trend when CDs were new), while Songbook Volume 3 will complete the CD series. A career-spanning compendium of gems stripped down to their piano and vocal essentials, either way it’s like a gift to long-time fans, covering highlight after highlight from virtually every stage of Newman's professional life so far -- and then some. Volumes one (2003) and two (2011) hold a combined 34 cuts, and the CD issue of Volume 3 adds another 16, but if you want the half-dozen “bonus” tracks, you better have a turntable. Perhaps confusingly (at least to old brains like mine), due to everything being called "Songbook," the vinyl is four LPs, with everything from the CDs, with some re-sequencing, and the bonus cuts. Either way, this is beautifully rendered music, and as good a way as any -- maybe even the best way -- to explore or re-explore the work of one of the good’le USA’s gen-u-wine geniuses.
It’s been a good Sunday already, and my first dose of coffee hasn’t even worn off.
August 28, 2016