Who's Your New Professor
There's a strange sense of anticipation that accompanies any new Sam Prekop recording. You know his songs are going to find a way to grab you, even though you've basically heard them all before.
The Sea and Cake frontman has recently issued his second solo recording, and much like the first, it's full of Prekop's chill and sophisticated pop. Where he stands apart is his ability to draw on jazz, bossa nova, and even slight Jamaican influences. And this isn't some shtick. These forms have been deeply embedded in his song structures for more than a decade now. And Prekop's been fortunate to draw on a pool of talented Chicago people (John McEntire, Archer Prewitt) to help realize his sound.
Prekop's lyrics have always been loosely impressionistic --- jumbles of words that seem to bounce perfectly with his music while following no other apparent logic. He claims to have taken a different approach with Professor, crafting music to match his lyrics. But we defy you to detect any real difference.
Like Prekop's humanly geometric paintings (he's been exhibited in New York's Clementine Gallery and the Pompidou Center in Paris), Who's Your New Professor bristles with all manner of shimmery minutia. Check the guitar interplay between Prekop and Archer Prewitt, his partner in Sea and Cake and cartoonist of the well-adored Sof' Boy strip. Their vibrant and colorful lines even earned Professor a glowing review in (eeek!) Guitar Player magazine.
--- Chad Oliveiri
Nothing to Declare
The title of Paul Bley's wonderful new album has got to be one of the most disingenuous in the history of jazz. While it's true that Bley walked through the studio door with no music in hand, once he sat down at the piano there was a deluge of notes. Of course, as is his custom, not even Bley knew which notes they would be until he turned on the stream. While Keith Jarrett has captured most of the attention as a free improviser over the last few decades, Bley is one of the true innovators.
Pianist Frank Kimbrough's liner notes indicate that the title tune is loosely based on Jerome Kern's "All The Things You Are" and the final tune, "8th Avenue," is derived from Fats Waller's "Black and Blue." But if ever the term re-composition applied to anything, it would be these tunes. Kern's chord structure may be in Bley's head as he plays "Nothing To Declare," but the themes and the gorgeous cascades of notes he plays while dancing around them are all his. And the stride references on "8th Avenue" are merged with a contemporary sense of experimentation encompassing all five decades of his career.
In between these two pieces are "Breakdown," a lovely bit of blues-tinged impressionism, and "Blues Waltz" a Monk-like fresh take on both the blues and waltz forms with some powerful avant-garde flourishes. All four of the pieces are extended meditations, lasting from eight-and-a-half minutes to 18 and a half. Because Bley is feeling his way through these pieces for the first time, following where they lead, listeners may find themselves blissfully lost in the music.
--- Ron Netsky