CD Reviews - September 2005
by George Fendel
Sunday Afternoons at Hermosa Beach, Lennie Niehaus, alto saxophone. Lennie Niehaus apparently found time to break away from writing and arranging for his pal, Clint Eastwood, in order to put together this tantalizing new live recording. It's the Lennie Niehaus Octet with a couple others from the "old guard" in Jack Nimitz, baritone sax and Bob Florence, piano. The remaining five players must be the crème de la crème of the younger generation and they fit hand in glove here. Niehaus, who has, over the years, been a prodigious writer, contributes only one tune here, a tight ensemble thing called Rush Hour. Other than that, it's all time tested standards like Nobody Else But Me, Dindi, Star Eyes, Along Together, Love Is Here To Stay, If I Should Lose You, I Didn't Know What Time It Was and There Will Never Be Another You. The youngsters get loads of opportunity to strut their solo stuff; the writing is solid and these wonderful tunes never lose their luster. Not when Lennie Niehaus is in charge. Woofy Productions, 2005; Playing Time: 70:20, ****1/2.
Special Encounter, Enrico Pieranunzi, piano. If you haven't yet heard this Italian master of the piano, and if you're a piano freak like me, don't overlook Enrico Pieranunzi simply because he's not "a name." So, just what is it that makes this a special encounter? Surely you have a message when you can attract trio colleagues like Charlie Haden and Paul Motian as our pianist has done here. Pieranunzi understands the riveting factor of space. He's not shy about beginning his CD with two ballads, My Old Flame and You've Changed, rather than trying to raise your eyebows with a grand slam style opener. On his original compositions, Pieranunzi succeeds in bringing forth a Kenny Barron (Voyage) or Tom Harrell (Sail Away) airiness which is supremely beautiful and often theme like. Haden has proven in the past that he too adores a serene melody and he contributes two in Waltz For Ruth and Hello My Lovely. Another ballad, Why Did I Choose You, is gradually finding its way toward standard status, and Piernanunzi and pals play it with reverence. Mo-Ti, a final, quirky, minor, boppish statement, brings a stunning album to a close. There's no longer any question as to whether the Europeans have "caught up." Just give a listen to Enrico Pieranunzi. Cam Jazz, 2005; Playing Time: 56:59, ****1/2.
Moonglow, Bucky Pizzarellli, guitar and Frank Vignola, guitar. This is a relaxed of set of ballads and easy going standards by two fine guitarists, equally dedicated to playing timeless tunes from yesteryear, but in distinctly different styles. Pizzarelli is more the modernist, while Vignola opts for a broader reverb, a style which hearkens back to earlier times. On this decidedly easy going session, Vignola plays the melody lines and Pizzarelli provides the tasty chordal backdrop. Included are rare chestnuts such as I Can Dream, Can't I, Temptation, In the Blue of Evening, If I Had You, Dream A Little Dream Of Me, Serenade In Blue, Golden Earrings and many more - 16 titles in all. So, if you admire guitar playing in the manner in which it was intended in the first place(or if you're looking for some candlelight and dining music with more depth than Muzak can ever provide) this is your CD. Hyena Recordings, 2005; Playing Time: 51:57, ***.
Blues Alley - Second Set, Hod O'Brien, piano. It seems to make sense that Hod O'Brien's reputation is growing with each new disc he does for Reservoir. This one is a follow up to an earlier live performance from the Washington D.C. club, Blues Alley. O'Brien's trio includes two of the best in the biz, Ray Drummond, bass and Kenny Washington, drums. There can be no doubt that Hod O'Brien has put in his time absorbing the varied components of the jazz art. Just look at the "jazz's greatest hits" choices in this scintillating set: Pent Up House, How About You, Little Niles, Love Letters, In A Sentimental Mood, a medley of Do Nothin' Til You Hear From Me and Take The "A" Train, and the one lesser known tune, Billy Strayhorn's finely crafted Snibor. O'Brien possesses a sure handed confidence in interpreting these classics of bop and Tin Pan Alley. His is a joyous spontaneity, surely one of the most important ingredients in playing jazz piano. And his new album is a hands-down winner! Reservoir, 2005; Play Time: 57:56, *****.
Keep It Simple, Curtis Fuller, trombone. One of the few remaining greats from the golden era of mainstream jazz, Curtis Fuller is in no mood to rest on his laurels. For this (mostly) quintet session, he joins forces with some like minded young cats in Javon Jackson, tenor; Doug Carn, piano; Ronny Jordan, bass and Fritz Wise, drums. The session gets underway with Fuller's nice, round melody on The Court. Maze, another Fuller original, opens the door to some searing solo work by the leader as well as his tenor man and pianist. Neal Hefti's Girl Talk features Fuller at a relaxed pace and two fixtures from his Jazz Messenger years, A La Mode and Arabia, are welcome favorites. Jordan's bowed solo opens Lover Man, and everyone gets a taste on this timeless classic. Pianist Carn apparently spent some years lost in fusion land. However, you'd never know it based on his trio feature on Western Sunrise, his own composition. Jackson is featured on his ballad, Diane, a beauty not to be confused with the ancient tune of the same name. The session closes with an upbeat treatment of the jam session warhorse, It's You Or No One. Curtis Fuller's chops remain solid on the bop stuff and his emotive ballad playing is still a lesson on how to make the trombone sing. Savant, 2005; PT: 54:49, ****.
Make Someone Happy, (A Further Remembrance of Maxine Sullivan, Volume 2), Rebecca Kilgore, vocals. Here's a delicious sequel to Rebecca's earlier Maxine tribute, issued on the same label a few years back. Once again, she's joined by Bobby Gordon on clarinet, with Chris Dawson, piano and Hal Smith, drums. And once again, Rebecca is peerless on a palette of 17 sparkling tunes, many of which you will remember from the wonderful Maxine Sullivan. Among them, we are treated to familiar fare in such titles as Devil And The Deep Blue Sea, They All Laughed, Come Back To Me, By Myself and You're A Lucky Guy. But there's also the Rebecca we know so well, "sleuthing out" rarely heard gems like Don't Let It Bother You, My Very Good Friend The Milkman, It's Wonderful (not to be confused with ‘S Wonderful); the high spirited Good Morning Life, and a heartfelt version of a gorgeous ballad called Too Late Now. Rebecca eschews the "show biz" thing in favor of depending on her enchanting, silky voice to interpret these timeless melodies. It's simply "what she does" and I am hard pressed to think of anyone who does it better. Audiophile, 2005; Playing Time: 64:35, *****.
Easy As It Gets, John Sheridan's Dream Band, John Sheridan, leader, piano; featuring Rebecca Kilgore, vocals. It seems that what was once Portland's best kept musical secret, Rebecca Kilgore, has been discovered by lots of folks who agree with us that she is indeed something special. One of them is John Sheridan, a pianist with a clean, concise Teddy Wilson-ish approach. Sheridan has assembled an octet of Arbors label regulars who simply shine on a menu of distinguished, but less well known tunes. And that's territory which Rebecca Kilgore loves to explore. Of the fifteen selections on the CD, Becky sings on eight of them. Her affinity for these well written "underdog" melodies is clear in titles like Spring Cleaning, Someone Like You, It's So Peaceful In The Country and Me, Myself and I. Sheridan himself becomes a singer with a "musicianly" pleasant voice on Burke and Van Heusen's rarity, You Lucky People, You. The instrumental titles allow room to feature Sheridan's excellent soloists on such tunes as Devil May Care, Cherry, The Gypsy, and You Do Something To Me. A major surprise in the set is Duke Ellington's Morning Glory, certainly an obscure gem which deserves to be heard more frequently. So there you have it, a well balanced, no gimmicks approach to making delightful music, both instrumental and vocal. And extra kudos to our very own Rebecca Kilgore! Arbors Recordings, 2005; Playing Time: 63:50, ****.
Music Of Jimmy Van Heusen, Rebecca Kilgore, vocals. Gosh, it's been a busy month for Rebecca! The title of this CD says a lot. Jimmy Van Heusen was, for decades, one of our foremost composers of wonderful, life affirming melodies. His collaborators were quite a few, but the two most prominent were Johnny Burke and Sammy Cahn. Enter Rebecca. You know by now that she just inhales terrific tunes like these, and always with particular devotion to lesser known ones like My Heart Is A Hobo, Suddenly It's Spring, Chicago Style, Walking Happy (which opens with a line from Gerry Mulligan's Walkin', Life Is So Peculiar and a long time fave of mine called The Last Dance. But then Rebecca is just as effective on "hits" like Here's That Rainy Day, The Second Time Around, It Could Happen To You and Darn That Dream. There are seventeen Van Heusen standouts here, and Rebecca treats them with great reverence and her wonderful, "ain't life grand" voice. There are many different configurations of musicians participating, but pianist Keith Ingham is in the leader's chair. The tasty piano and "just right" arrangements are his. Ingham's quartet, with Bob Reitmeier, clarinet; Dan Barrett, trombone and Nicki Parrott, bass are subtle and supportive throughout. But it's Rebecca who, as always, comes through with a loving tribute to the great Jimmy Van Heusen. Jump Records, 2005; Playing Time: 65:59, *****.
Bouncing With Bud And Phil, Bud Shank, alto sax; Phil Woods, alto sax. It's mind boggling to consider that between these two alto sax legends, somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 years of playing bristling bebop has passed. But here they are, still dedicated to their art, and playing in a first cabin quintet with Mike Wofford, piano; Bob Magnusson, bass and Bill Goodwin, drums. This session, recorded live at the Bay Area club called Yoshi's, starts out with a barn burner, Bouncing With Bud. It continues with a George Cables original, Helen's Song. Each alto wizard gets a feature here with Shank turning in a riveting Nature Boy and Woods appropriately elegant on Benny Carter's Summer Serenade. A medium tempo Shank original, Carousels, follows, and the set is closed by a Bill Mays ballad, Gemma's Eyes, and a bop flag waver, Gigi Gryce's Minority. Shank's style has become a bit strident over the years while Woods, easier on the ears, sounds pretty much the same as always. To be kind, let's just say that their contrasting styles leave no guesswork as to which one is playing at any given time. And let's not forget Mike Wofford! A pianist of great depth with a long list of impressive, credentials, Wofford brings well earned expertise to any session. Capri, 2005; PT: 68:52, ***.
Stairway To The Stars,The New York Trio featuring Bill Charlap, piano. Bill Charlap is rapidly becoming the standard bearer for the definitive piano trio versions of America's rich songbook. On this Japanese label CD, he continues in that vein, this time with Jay Leonhart, bass and Bill Stewart, drums. It may be tempting to compare Charlap's elegant manner with that of masters like Bill Evans, Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan, but even though he's absorbed the influence of these and other greats, he's very much his own man. His statements of melody are respectful of the composer's intent and his improvisations are crystal clear excursions of taste and beauty. Charlap readily admits that he is anything but a prolific composer, but, like Art Tatum decades ago, he finds great riches in the work of our foremost songwriters. And that's great news for those of us who love these memorable melodies. For this outing, Bill and friends give us ten examples of trio heaven including Lover Come Back To Me, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, I'll Be Seeing You, A Sleeping Bee, Stella By Starlight and the title tune itself. Bill Charlap's responsibility is a huge one. But about eight bars of this CD will convince you that he's more than up to the task. Venus Records, 2005; PlayTime: 56:13, *****.
Bill Charlap Plays George Gershwin: The American Soul, Bill Charlap, piano. At age 19, a series of fortunate circumstances allowed me to meet Ira Gershwin in his Beverly Hills home. It remains one of the overwhelming single moments of my life. My George and Ira passion has remained constant over all these years. So when Bill Charlap records an all-Gershwin album, I can't help but think, "aha, genius meets genius." Or, said another way, Charlap Plays Gershwin. This time, instead of the exclusive use of Charlap's magnificent trio (Peter Washington and Kenny Washington), some guests are added on various selections. Pretty good company, one might say, in Phil Woods, alto; Frank Wess, tenor; Nicholas Payton, trumpet and Slide Hampton, trombone. Even with the lofty musicianship of these cats, there's still plenty of BC piano to lock into on George and Ira gems like Who Cares, Somebody Loves Me, Liza, How Long Has This Been Going On, A Foggy Day, ‘S Wonderful, Bess You Is My Woman, Nice Work If You Can Get It and Soon. The one extreme rarity is I Was So Young, You Were So Beautiful. Charlap spoke proudly of this George Gershwin-Irving Caesar beauty when he was in Portland last February for First Jazz. We may thank our lucky stars that Bill Charlap has come along to interpret the outpouring of work by our revered American songwriters. Each and every performance seems to be a definitive one. Blue Note, 2005; Playing Time: 57:20, *****.
Bird On The Wire, Jean Crowe, vocals. It seems that each time I write reviews for Jazzscene, I face a choice of at least a half dozen female singers. Some are wanna-be's, some are out of their league in jazz, and others bring a pleasant surprise. Jean Crowe handles a lyric nicely enough, but her vocal quality (or timbre, if you prefer) is probably better suited to pop and present day Broadway material than it is to jazz. This fact is made clear here with subpar pop material and accompaniment to match on forgettable material like Every Night I Sleep With An Angel, Petite Southern Woman, I'm Only Sleeping, Everything and the title tune, Bird On A Wire. The inclusion of better quality songs like The Way You Look Tonight, I Cover The Waterfront and Twisted certainly indicates that Crowe can sing with sincerity and feeling. And her accompaniment on these tunes was solid, especially pianist Todd Firth. So, it might be said, that while this CD is uneven in many respects, Crowe sings well when she holds back a bit, and when she chooses tunes worth hearing.
Self-Produced, 2005; Playing Time: 43:13, **1/2.
One Step Closer, Mark Sherman, vibes, marimba. Admit it now, there's a certain swagger to New York bop musicians. They say it clearly on the bandstand before ever blowing a note. And what they tell themselves is this: "I'm gonna make it in the toughest town of them all, and here's the reason why." Then the music starts and these cats always back it up with bravado. This quintet goes for broke with Joe Magnarelli, trumpet and flugelhorn; Allen Farnham, piano; Dean Johnson, bass and Tim Horner, drums. Add tenor star Joe Lovano on one piece, ostensibly to help sell some copies. And why not? These guys get it done on no less than seven Sherman originals, covering the gamut of tempos and moods. The two standards here, both beautifully interpreted, are My One And Only Love, and the surprise of the set, Henry Mancini's Moon River. Sherman makes it abundantly clear that his is a new voice on vibes and it's one that we need to hear from again. Consolidated Artists Productions (CAP), 2005; Playing Time: 67:04, ****.
Vibrant Tones, City Rhythm Orchestra with special guest Joey De Francesco. I guess one might say that jazz wise, Philadelphia, only a couple hours drive from New York City, lives in the shadow of its more famous jazz brother. That's not to say that Philly hasn't provided more than its share of jazz stalwarts over the years. So, while you may not know many of these names, you may rest assured that there's some crackerjack musicianship in this Philadelphia big band. Their album is mainly a "cover" (as the pop people like to say) of jazz staples; songs such as Senor Blues, Billie's Bounce, One Mint Julep, Whirly Bird, The Cat and standards Time After Time and It Could Happen To You, among others. The band sometimes has a Basie flair with arrangements from the hot burner on your stove. Many of these sizzling solists get to show their stuff, with a decided edge in favor of B3 wiz, Joey De Francesco. As one who is not a raving B3 maniac, I must say that this is an ideal surrounding for a jazz organist. Why? Because in a big band setting, there's so much "happening" in addition to De Francesco's cooking B3 solos. A welcome bonus here is an additional disc, a DVD of a live performance of the band with several of the same tunes appearing on the studio recorded CD. Limehouse Records, 2005; Playing Time: 73:04, ***1/2.
Good Road, Dave Peck, piano. If you're one of those jazz fans who leans in the direction of piano trios, then lean in the direction of Dave Peck. This Seattle pianist finds an airy beauty in nearly everything he plays. Peck adheres to the theory that every note is important, so he never surrounds you with too many of them. Simplicity and space, as you know, can be a gorgeous and riveting quality in the kingdom of jazz piano. The pianist who really works these gifts well isn't "holding back", he or she is just making a personal statement. It's called "playing from the heart" and I believe that Dave Peck does just that on Yesterdays, Green Dolphin Street, Just In Time, What Is This Thing Called Love and She Was Too Good To Me. The program is completed by Peck's haunting original, The First Song of Spring and two Ellington beauties. The Star Crossed Lovers is a rarely heard delicacy written in collaboration with Billy Strayhorn. Low Key Lightly is strictly Duke's, and yet another Ellington number which rarely sees the light of day. Peck's co-workers are the brilliant Jeff Johnson, bass and premier ex-Evans drummer Joe La Barbera. Together, this trio performs works of grandeur. And it all starts with Dave Peck, pianist. Let's Play Stella Records, 2005; Playing Time: 54:04, *****.
Yesterday's Thoughts, Art Farmer, flugelhorn. Art Farmer was one of the first jazz cats to switch to flugelhorn, and let me say right out of the chute that this CD is worth the "price of admission" for the stunning, subtle and sexy lead off tune, What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life. It's Art Farmer at his lyrical best, and Art was in the small circle at the top of the pack when it came to lyricism. This CD is a real "find" in that I believe it is issued here for the first time. It puts Farmer in the company of Cedar Walton, piano; Sam Jones, bass; and Billy Higgins, drums. That's a dream quartet in anyone's book, and they prove it from first note to last. If "What Are You Doing" isn‚t somehow enough to convince you that this is a first rate musical meeting, the foursome continues with How Insensitive, Alone Together and an under appreciated but lovely DePaul-Mercer creation called Namely You. Art then honors his long time partner Benny Golson with the title tune, Benny's gentle ballad, Yesterday's Thoughts. The session is completed with Firm Roots, a medium-up Walton tune with an attractive melody line. And so ends a surprise recording from a trumpet-flugelhorn master who is very much missed. Art Farmer never made a "bad" record, so this "very good" one is, perhaps, no surprise at all. Test Of Time Records, 2005; Playing Time: 44:55, ****1/2.
Ballads For Night People; June Christy, vocal. If Jazzscene had ever designated a "reissue of the month", certainly this long out of print Capitol gem from June Christy would be our September '05 winner. Recorded between 1959 and 1961, the arrangements are by June's tenor saxophone playing husband, Bob Cooper. And Coop assembled a cadre of LA's finest in three separate sessions. As a result, June gets the good fortune of working with players like Frank Rosolino, Bud Shank, Joe Gordon, Shelly Manne and Cooper himself, among many others. With colleagues like this, it's no surprise that June's at the top of her game. The album is, in effect, an opportunity for June to test some little known tunes and she's right on target with I'm In Love, Shadow Woman, I Know About Love, Cry Like The Wind, Asking For You and All You Need Is A Quarter. My top choices among these "new" tunes were Night People, a Tommy Wolf-Fran Landesman winner, and Bill Strayhorn's Kissing Bug, a bouncy melody perfect for June Christy. Rounding out the program is more familiar fare like Bewitched, My Ship, Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me, Don't Get Around Much Anymore and Make Someone Happy. June Christy fans will celebrate the release of this long unavailable set. Capitol, 2005; PT: 49:57, ****.
The Swinging Mr. Rogers, Shorty Rogers, trumpet, leader. To answer your question, this is that "other" Mr. Rogers, Shorty, of West Coast jazz fame. This long out of print recording, originally on Atlantic Records, is available once again by mail order through Collectables at www.oldies.com. If the above review is our "reissue review of the month," this one follows a close second. Shorty Rogers hand-picked the cream of the crop of LA musicians to create a "sound" all his own in both his big band, and in this case "the Giants", his smaller ensemble. Seems like two bars and you know it's Shorty Rogers. Anyway, this time it's a scintillating quintet with Rogers and pals Jimmy Giuffre, reeds; Pete Jolly, piano; Curtis Counce, bass and Shelly Manne, drums. The tunes? Two by Rodgers and Hart (Isn't It Romantic and My Heart Stood Still and six by the leader himself. I don't know how Rogers did it, but this quintet often sounds like a larger group than a mere five guys. It's gotta be some way in which Shorty arranges, but let me make it clear that this 1955 mono session sounds right up to date fifty years after it all went down. Timeless music has a funny way of doing that. Collectables, 2004; PlayingTime: 45:37, ****.
Do It! Pancho Sanchez, leader, percussion. I know that a lot of you dig Latin music and this CD features some fine soloists and arrangements which allow them plenty of room to maneuver. It's simply a personal opinion, but for me Latin music, as exciting as it often can be, is still ethnic music. The fact that Pancho Sanchez plays it with about as much aplomb as anyone, would certainly recommend this CD to fans of the genre. Personally, I've just never quite arrived there. Concord Jazz, 2005; PlayingTime: 59:28, **1/2
Lyric, Jazz Chamber Music, Vol.1; Billy Childs, piano. Billy Childs has produced some ethereal chamber jazz on these nine selections, eight of which are his own compositions. Childs said, "It's called ‘Lyric'‚ because I wanted to bring people to a place of serenity. It's lyrical." The CD explores the relationship between classical music and jazz with rich harmonies and haunting melodies. Please note that this CD is available ONLY on line at www.billychilds.com. Lunacy Music, 2005; PlayingTime: 75:48, ****.
Labor Of Love, Angelyna Martinez, vocals. Martinez sounds like a pop singer trying her hand at quality material. Although she chooses some good tunes like Route 66, Fever, It Don't Mean A Thing, God Bless The Child and Stormy Weather, Martinez works too hard at being stylish and doesn't let the music just happen. The result is a cross between "cutesy" Teresa Brewer and vanilla Norah Jones. A valiant try,but Martinez would be better suited to the palette of pop. Self-Produced, 2005; time not indicated, H1/2.
Imaginacion, Bill Cunliffe, piano, leader. Piano maven Bill Cunliffe's octet adds a couple extra percussion padres to give this CD a Latin flavor, but the strong suit here is in the leader's striking piano solos and invigorating arrangements. Well appointed jazz hands like those of trumpeter Bobby Shew and reedman Bob Sheppard add some snap to several originals. Also included here are fresh new takes on Heat Wave, How High The Moon and Pure Imagination. Cunliffe is subtle, slippery and satisfying. Torii Records, 2005; PlayingTime: 67:31, ***1/2.
Soul Force, Noah Baerman, piano. Noah Baerman's second CD is inspired by the life and message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Baerman, who daily faces life's physical challenges unknown to most of us, undoubtedly finds strength in the ideals of Dr. King. The music ranges from a brisk and buoyant trio on Thelonious Monk's Justice to several originals, some of which include a strong orchestral presence. It's clear that Baerman is a talent worth noting, and this is a worthy effort. Still, I'd love to hear him in a straight-ahead trio setting. Lemel, 2005; Playing Time: 71:57, ***.
Work Done, Sonny Stitt, tenor saxophone. The back panel of this CD reads in "caps", NEVER BEFORE RELEASED. And that's going to be good news for fans of proto-bopper Sonny Stitt. Making this even more intriguing is Sonny playing tenor exclusively, rather than his usual alto. But just a few bars into the opening high spirited blues lets you know this can only be the swingin' Sonny Stitt. Recorded live at San Francisco's Keystone Korner, Sonny and his energized rhythm section gives us a scintillating collection of bop, blues and ballads. Stitt lives! High Note Records, 2005; Playing Time: 62:02, ****.
Out Of Nowhere, James Carter, saxophones. The title tune begins this live performance at New York's Blue Note, and Carter keeps it all under control. He switches from tenor to soprano for Along Came Betty, and things begin to slide downhill at this point. Enter Hamiet Bluett on baritone and James "Blood" Ulmer on guitar for a Blood composition call Highjack. At this point, I was ready to say "bye, Jack." The two sax players continue on a depressing thing called Song For Camille. It makes one wonder what Camille did to deserve it. I Believe I Can Fly ends this extravaganza. Fly? Maybe? Playing anything musical and staying in key? No. Half Note Records, 2005; Playing Time: 71:27, *.
Holiday, Bob Brookmeyer, piano. Some 40+ years ago, Bob Brookmeyer made a two piano album with Bill Evans. This is the first time since then that he's done an entire recording without playing trombone. And don't think this is some kind of novelty outing. Brookmeyer, along with Mads Vinding, bass, and Alex Riel, drums, has a quirky, punchy style occasionally reminiscent of Jimmy Rowles. He's right down the center of the highway on The Man I Love, It Could Happen To You, I Thought About You, I Should Care and lots more. Brookmeyer is a deep cat. But then, we've always known that about him and his music. Challenge Records, 2005; Playing Time: 73:45, ***1/2.
The Returnsman, Craig Wuepper, drums. OK, I'm hoping this 2001 release is still available from Double Time Records. It gets some attention here because Craig Wuepper is a new resident of our area. And he's a stimulating drummer, obviously dedicated to the grand tradition of bop, ballads and blues. This CD is a burner and features Eric Alexander, Ryan Kisor and Mike LeDonne, among others. They cook up a storm on some battle tested standards and a few of the drummer's steaming originals as well. Welcome to Portland, Craig. Here's hoping you'll stay and PLAY for a long time to come! Double Time, 2001; Playing Time: 71:29, ****1/2.
Friday At Five, Kenny Carr, guitar, guitar synthesizer, Rhodes. First, let's not confuse this guitarist with the former Blazer standout. That out of the way, Carr brings credentials including ten years with Ray Charles. I'm hardly a good judge of funk, but this music is way too rocky for me. Still, in listening to the big time reverb of Carr's guitar, one can understand why he was just what the doctor ordered for Ray Charles. The presence of a couple good trumpet players brings this CD above the banal. And no doubt, Carr is polished at what he does, but how many backbeat funk recordings do we need? Self-Produced, 2005; Play Time: 45:23, **.
Safe At Home, Russ Freeman, piano. Usually a sideman in the heyday of West Coast Jazz, Russ Freeman gets his chance anchoring a very swinging trio in a 1959 previously unreleased live performance in Vancouver, B.C. The record label failed to identify the other players, but it's okay because the ebullient Freeman and his pals swing with authority through The Party's Over, Sweet And Lovely, Lush Life, Billie's Bounce, With A Song In My Heart and a few originals with baseball titles! This is a rare treat because Freeman, who helped bring Chet Baker to fame, rarely worked as a leader. On this occasion, he seizes the moment! Just A Memory Records, 2005; Playing Time: 56:32, ****.
Dingo Jazz, Phil Hatton, saxophones, clarinet. Just how Phil Hatton, a native of Australia, landed in Portland, I don't know. I'm sure glad he did, though, and those of you who like small group swing will want to pick up this CD. Several of the musicians assembled here double on other axes. As a result, there's an element of delightful surprise in these sparkling arrangements of tunes from such heroes as Dave Pell, Charlie Shavers, Shorty Rogers, Duke Ellington, Benny Carter and others. The ensemble work is clean and fresh, and the soloists get to make their swingin' statements as well. For your copy, give Phil a ring at 503-282-2497. Self-produced, 2005; PlayingTime: 60:11, ****.
As Long As I Live, Randy Reinhart, cornet. The Arbors label just keeps cranking out these marvelously skilled, lyrical players and so, folks, meet Randy Reinhart. His tone is in the Bobby Hackett-Bill Berry arena. His septet (7 cats) draws from both the early days (Nobody's Sweetheart, At The Jazz Band Ball) up through Mood Indigo, Too Late Now and the title tune, As Long As I Live. Great sophistication and lovely tonality are the key ingredients here. Arbors, 2005; PlayingTime: 68:00, ***.
Super Heavy Organ, Robert Walter, Hammond organ, other keyboards, percussion. Seems like if you've heard one B3 play funk, you've pretty much heard ‘em all. Walter leans too heavily down rock beat boulevard for these ears. So much so, in fact, that it seems as though the beat takes on more importance than oh, say, the melody. Magna Carta Records, 2005; PlayingTime: 69:48, *1/2.
Minor Changes, Liam Sillery, trumpet, flugelhorn. This is my first acquaintance with Liam Sillery, and I must say that the veteran New York trumpet ace has produced a nicely balanced program of mostly original bop and ballads. Sharing center stage is California based tenor man David Sills. With a finely tuned rhythm section, this quintet is right in the center of the groove. OA2 Records, 2005; Playing Time: 50:24, ****.
The Definition Of A Toy, Dylan van der Schyff, drums. Call me demanding or old fashioned, but I keep waiting for the melody on records like this. I guess this is what they call free jazz, and in this case, from a quintet of Vancouver, B.C. musicians. But "instrumental sound effects" seems to describe it better. Well, that or bulldozing a building. Songlines, 2005; Playing Time: 61:46, *.
In My Life, Wesla Whitfield, vocals. Wesla (formerly Weslia) possesses one of those scrumptious Broadway-cabaret voices that jazz people are crazy about. That's because she feels the music - tells the story - and obviously loves her work. On this latest collection, it's just Wesla and the duo of Mike Greesill, piano and John Witala, vibes. On fifteen delicious standards, she puts it over with the same dramatic results and high caliber musicianship as always. High Note, 2005; Playing Time: 58:50, ****1/2.
Live At Jazz Standard, Bill Mays, piano. Those in the know get their tickets early every time Bill Mays comes to town. He's the all-around, incredible, creative piano maven and in this magical live performance, he appears with bassist Martin Wind and drummer Matt Wilson. Together they bring freshness and spirit to Have You Met Miss Jones, Squeeze Me, Darn That Dream, Smile, Glocca Morra, Let's Call This and more. An outstanding performance! Palmetto, 2005; Playing Time: 72:15, ****1/2.
Matador, Native Language (or is it the reverse?). Bad, fusiony, electronic funk, so I had thought, had disappeared. After all, the so-called smooth jazz station is long gone here in PDX, and nobody shed a tear. But on this CD, it's back; worse than ever, in all of its glossy, noisy, percussive, synthetic, phony, ear-splitting glory. Native Language Music, 2005; Playing Time: 55:56, *.
Dance Delicioso; Chris McNulty, vocals. I guess it's gal singer month. Chris McNulty shows up pretty well with standards like All Of You, Meaning Of The Blues and Star Eyes. Much of the rest of this CD is turned over to original compositions, some of which tend to be a bit overindulgent. I'd like to hear her stretch a bit more and try some steamy bopware. Bet she could pull it off. Elefant Dreams, 2005; Playing Time: 64:58, **.
The Great Jazz Trio At The Village Vanguard, Vol.2; featuring Hank Jones, piano. For decades his piano colleagues have considered Hank Jones to be one of those top of the ladder pianists. His touch is exquisite; his choice of notes elegant, and, he swings. This 1977 trio, with Ron Carter and Tony Williams, is yet another example of those very qualities. With this performance, we are reminded of the enduring talent and grace of Hank Jones. In his hands, every tune is a rich, rewarding renewal. Test Of Time, 2005; Playing Time: 37:59, ****1/2.
Live At The Jazz Standard, Dave Stryker, guitar; Steve Slagle, alto and soprano saxes. Since the late 1980s, Stryker and Slagle have gigged together, and it shows in eight tightly knit originals plus one standard, I Loves You Porgy. The quartet is completed by Ed Howard, bass and Victor Lewis, drums. Some of the music is a bit cerebral for my ears, and,with no reflection on Mr. Stryker's talent on the guitar, I miss a piano in this setting. Zoho Music, 2005; Playing Time: 65:42; **1/2.
Nocturnal Velvet, Melodye, vocals. The female vocalists just keep comin' at us, and this one's pretty darn good. Melodye reminds me just a bit of Julie London. She sings an even dozen standards in the outstanding company of LA cats like Jack Sheldon, Jeff Clayton, Luther Hughes, Ralph Penland and a bunch more. Just for fun, Sheldon even vocalizes with her on Baby, It's Cold Outside. If you want to "take a flyer" on a new voice, try Melodye. It's her real name! SMS Jazz, 2005; Playing Time: 60:00, ***1/2.