critic's pick 29

"it's magic"

ahmad jamal: "it's magic"

Nearly four decades of age separate piano giant Ahmal Jamal and trumpet stylist Roy Hargrove. But on two feverishly streamlimed new albums, their grooves, if not their very jazz intellects, discover common ground.

Jamal, who turned 78 earlier this month, plays like a giddy, boppish teen on It’s Magic but displays the tough-knuckled tone of a prize fighter.

On Swahililand, a Jamal original the pianist first recorded in 1974, the introductory rolls on piano are dynamic indeed. Then the more modal turns in Jamal’s playing become almost symphonic. The richness of tone, performance power and changeling spirit all echo McCoy Tyner, but then the music brightens and, briefly, settles as a solo of restless melodic grace glides over the thick Motherland groove established by Jamal’s longtime touring band – bassist James Cammack and drummer Idris Muhammad augmented by veteran percussionist Manolo Badrena.

Jamal’s stylistic vocabulary is as vast as ever on It’s Magic. Though his band’s attack is full of boppish drive, Jamal is something of a jazz alchemist. He briefly quotes The Beatles in the midst of a fiery piano break on the album-opening Dynamo, tosses Ned Washington’s classic Wild is the Wind into a medley with the Sesame Street relic Sing and invests the album’s title tune, an Oscar-nominated gem by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne (from the 1948 film Romance on the High Seas) with a piano voice that sounds orchestral even without his band’s subtle support.

Aside from the addition of Badrena, there is no seriously uncharted territory on the album. Instead, it’s the continually youthful cast to Jamal’s playing that impresses most. On It’s Magic, he exhibits intuitive solo, compositional and interpretive skills that befit a jazz elder. But his tone and performance vibrancy remain outrageously youthful.   


roy hargrove: "earfood"

For Hargrove, part of a new traditionalist pack that emerged at the dawn of the ‘90s that hesitated for years before revealing their more contemporary leanings, Earfood is the sound of coming home. It’s a bright but often understated return to ensemble cool cut with his touring quintet. Here, Hargrove applies the lyricism, if not the very groove, of more progressive emsembles. No, that doesn’t mean the electric funk of Hargrove’s RH Factor band directly intrudes on these sessions. But there is a knowing lyricism, especially to the ballads on Earfood, that likely comes from some of his more stylistically daring globetrotting.

Brown, for example, flirts with post-bop before creating soulful dialogue between the trumpeter (especially in his muted solos) and pianist Gerald Clayton. Lou Marini’s Starmaker further hushes the tone to suggest Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage with more sustained cool and romanticism. But the killer is Mr. Clean, which was recorded over 30 years ago by Freddie Hubbard. The groove approaches funk while the piano becomes more strident and percussive as Hargrove unleashes his most unabashedly vibrant solos.

Capping it all, is a live version of Sam Cooke’s Bring It On Home to Me played as a gospel-tinged blast of soul and pop with Hargrove and saxophonist Justin Robinson engaging in playful tag team runs and boisterous unison leads.

Slap all of that on your plate and you will discover quickly what a feast Earfood is.

Schoolchildren suffer new loss with wipeout of honor rolls

AZ Daily Star February 1, 2004 | Bonnie Henry COLUMN There is no honor in the honor roll anymore.At least not in Nashville, Tenn., where, according to recent news accounts, schools have stoped publicizing honor rolls and are contemplating banning any display of good works in the hallways.

Naturally, the lawyers are to blame – as well as a few asinine parents who can’t stand the idea that their kids are being slighted.

Never mind that these particular children are turning out work not worthy of the honor roll – or a nail in the hallway.

Haven’t you heard? We’re all moving closer and closer to Lake Wobegon, where “all the women are strong, all the men are good- looking, and all the children are above average.” There’s only one little problem with that destination: Lake Wobegon is fictional. website blocked games at school

Meanwhile, here in the real world, honors – at least the ones that mean anything – usually go to those who excel.

They don’t give the Academy Award for best picture to “Dude, Where’s My Car?” – no matter how many adolescent males wish it were so.

They don’t pin the Medal of Honor on soldiers who toil in the typing pool.

And they don’t award the top prize in the National Spelling Bee to kids who can’t spell Mississippi.

Tell me, parents: Did your children feel like lesser human beings after hearing that 13-year-old Sai Gunturi nailed “pococurante” to win last year’s Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee?

If so, maybe your kids should have done what young Sai did. You see, this wasn’t his first time in the competition.

In 2002 he tied for seventh place. In 2001 he tied for 16th place. A year earlier, he tied for 32nd. place.

Rather than give up – or ask a lawyer to file suit against the contest because his feelings were hurt – he just worked harder.

But apparently, that sort of old-fashioned work ethic doesn’t apply in Tennessee.

For according to The Associated Press, some schools there have also stopped academic pep rallies and others are thinking about canceling spelling bees.

Ah, yes. The spelling bee – an activity likely to set off many a sweaty palm and churning stomach. blocked games at school

Friday afternoons were when ours were held back in elementary school. Thirty words on a list. Learn ’em or else.

I usually did, though some of the kids struggled. Sure, they probably hated the spelling bee more than I did.

On the other hand, we all knew who was going to be picked last once recess came and it was time to choose up sides for softball.

My particular hell was out on the playing fields. Theirs was in the classroom.

Somehow we all survived the trauma without the need for litigation.

Yet what are we to make of Steven Baum, principal of Julia Green Elementary School, in Nashville?

After sacking the spelling bee at his school, he told the press: “I discourage competitive games at school. They just don’t fit my world view of what a school should be.” Look out, kids. Today, the spelling bee. Tomorrow, the baseball game.

Actually, it’s already happened. When was the last time you went to a kids’ playoff game where everyone didn’t go home with a trophy?

Nothing wrong with that – if you’re 5 years old. But sooner or later, our children have to learn that excellence matters.

And in the real world it deserves to be honored.

Bonnie Henry’s column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Reach her at 434-4074 or at or write to 3295 W. Ina Road, Suite 125, Tucson, AZ 85741.

Bonnie Henry

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