Thursday, June 20, 2019

Jazz Pianist Ed Roth’s Third Solo Album

from the Web page for this recording

This past February, jazz pianist Ed Roth made his debut album release on Funzalo Records. To the best of my knowledge, JazzLand, which is his third solo album, is currently only available for digital download. I would feel sheepish about having taken my time to get around to listening to it were it not for the fact that I only learned about it at the beginning of this month.

I have many pet peeves about download releases. For this particular recording, the one that matters the most is that download sites are frequently very skimpy and/or negligent when it comes to providing the sort of background that one would encounter in a booklet packaged with a CD. Roth’s selections are rich with historical import. Those with an interest in history, if there be such (to draw upon Eric Crozier drawing upon William Shakespeare), would appreciate a bit of background on the origins of the tunes that Roth selected for this album.

In my book what matters most is his interest in the classic Miles Davis album Kind of Blue. He draws upon two of the tracks on this album, both composed by Davis himself, “Freddie the Freeloader” and “Blue in Green.” In addition Davis explores his own take on “Milestones,” from the album of the same name on which it was originally listed as just “Miles.” Other significant jazz composers represented on this album are John Coltrane, who played in the original recordings of the Davis tunes (“Big Nick’), Horace Silver (“Peace”), and Oliver Nelson “Stolen Moments” (originally listed as “The Stolen Moment”).

In this context I particularly appreciate the way in which Roth can honor these classics (and I feel justified in using that noun without blushing) without trying to imitate, or even evoke, any sense of how they were originally performed. True, his edges tend to be smoother than what those of us with active memories still recall of the Fifties and early Sixties. Nevertheless, Roth’s interpretations reinforce the historical significance of these tunes; and if, in the process of finding his own way through them, his tracks prompt listeners to seek out how other jazz players approached these compositions, so much the better.

For my part I would say that Roth is a little too smooth for my own tastes. This is particularly evident in his two takes on Chick Corea’s “Crystal Silence,” the second of which Roth describes as the “extended dreamy version.” That epithet reminded me of the classical music broadcasting that used to be available to me in Singapore, where it was described by an announcer as “music that gives your mind a rest!” My mind is a bit too hyperactive for Roth’s aesthetic, but I am still glad that he released an album that takes historical legacy seriously.

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