Mike Pardew: Azul (Afan Music)
Release date: April 21, 2009
Ever since I convinced my mom to buy me a copy of Miles Davis's album Kind of Blue and listened to it intently on my cheap Walkman-knockoff for about a week straight, I've been fascinated, confounded and absolutely in love with jazz.
Luckily for me I live in a city that seems as jazz crazy as I am. Portland is wonderful in that it reveres hometown heroes like Mel Brown and Darrell Grant while paying heed to the young bucks that are breaking into this sometimes-insular world.
One such player is pianist Ben Darwish. This native Portlander has been making quite a name for himself of late through his work with hip-hop and funk groups like Ohmega Watts and his own group, Commotion. But where his abilities on a keyboard really shine is when he fronts his own trio. And it is with this group that Darwish is putting out a new CD entitled, Ode To Consumerism (out on February 20th).
Recorded live at Jimmy Mak's, the trio works up a very rowdy crowd with a heady concoction of originals and some interesting covers. In the former category, Darwish and his cohorts (bassist Eric Gruber and drummer Jason Palmer) work in a post-bop milieu. The multi-part title track takes them from the rollicking drive of the opening section to a more plaintive middle that allows Darwish to extemporize in a state of controlled chaos. And it all builds up to a gloriously cacophonic conclusion.
As for the cover songs, there aren't going to be too many jazz trios willing to put their stamp to a Green Day hit, but they do, pulling "Longview" apart and stretching its familiar melodies like taffy. And they have the gumption to close this album with a lovely workout of the well-worn ground that is "Killing Me Softly". That they manage to find unexpected nuance in this modern standard is a testament to this group's estimable skills in arrangement.
Another interesting young player in Portland jazz is guitarist Mike Pardew. He's not new to the scene, having shared the stage with Brown, Mary Kadderly and Dan Balmer, amongst others. But he is releasing his second album as the leader of a trio - Azul (out this spring on Afan Music). It's a lean, muscular album that shows Pardew and his band - including bassist Damian Erskine and drummer Micah Kassel - as a force to be reckoned with.
Some tracks on Azul carry a fusion flair, mixing in elements of psychedelia on "Road Worn" and "Velonis", with Pardew tearing into his guitar with a very Carlos Santana-like tone and attack. Others take on a more subdued flavor, like the swinging "Transgression" and a quite lovely track that takes its name and inspiration from the small Italian town of Ferrazzano. It's a strong collection from an equally strong group of players.