Sunday, 26 August 2007

Chris Cheek & Brad Mehldau...

This one was also supposed to be in the July 2006 edition of the magazine but didn't make it. The only time a review has been rejected, or was it perhaps 'lost', or left out to make way for stuff in a busy month?

It's not the worst review I've ever written, and I can only surmise that it was either the scathing remarks about Paul Motian's Electric Be-Bop band or the use of the word 'orchidaceous' that did it...

Blues Cruise

Flamingo; Low Key Lightly; Coo; Squirrelling; Song Of India; Falling; Blues Cruise; John Denver; The Sweetheart Tree.

Chris Cheek (ts/as/ss); Brad Mehldau (p/elp); Larry Grenadier (b); Jorge Rossy (d). (March 2005).

The New Talent imprint of Jordi Pujol’s Fresh Sounds label has brought some notable talent to our attention in recent years, not least pianists Robert Glasper and Brad Mehldau. Blues Cruise is saxophonist Chris Cheek’s fourth recording as leader, and the second to feature the backing of the original Brad Mehldau Trio. When does ‘new talent’ crossover to become established talent, I wonder?

In Cheek’s case, if not Mehldau’s, some profile raising is overdue, and listeners only previously aware of Cheek mired in Paul Motian’s Electric Be Bop Band should be in for a nice surprise here. Blues Cruise is a straight ahead disc resembling the most open recordings of mid to late period Stan Getz or Art Pepper. Blues Cruise is no ordinary record, and to my mind conjures an imaginary soundtrack to a glitzy night party packed with ‘30s and ‘40s Hollywood screen stars on the terrace of an exclusive Californian terraced restaurant. Subtly working elements of modernity into fundamentally classic song forms, and all played at or only slightly above ballad pace, the disc shocks with uncommon simplicity.

Cheek’s careful note placement and thoughtful, confident phrasing make Mehldau a true simpatico, and the pianist’s superb trio are vital to this recording’s great success. His use of Fender Rhodes on several tracks brings appropriately orchidaceous textures to a sprinkling of pieces, but in the main it is his widely renowned mastery ot the acoustic instrument that he favours. Opening with a latin-lilted reading of “Flamingo”, Blues Cruise enters a richly exotic zone and stays there. Carefully selected chestnuts share space with originals by the leader, of which the hypnotic “Falling” is the nearest to a standout track.

Mehldau’s luscious Rhodes on the title track is every bit as satisfying, whilst the anthemic “John Denver” is the one most likely to get into your head to be hummed or whistled. An unexpected homage to the optimistic spirit of the Country Music songsmith, the piece in no way sounds out of place alongside material by Ellington, Rimsky-Korsakov and Mancini. In lesser hands the classic material could be a problem, but Cheek reminds us of a time in jazz when the singer was more important than the song and he has delivered an impressive statement relying on nothing more than good old fashioned artistry. Strongly recommended.

Fred Grand

1 comment:

The Ghost of Jerry Reed said...

probably your use of "country music songsmith" instead of "Muppet Show wastrel" to describe John Denver is what put the kibosh on this review. i've actually heard this album... for once!