CD Reviews - January 2006
by George Fendel
Timeless, Don Friedman, piano. Let's put it this way: the Bill Evans-inspired pianist Don Friedman has been making great trio recordings for decades, yet remains less well known than what should be the case. Go figure. On his third CD for 441 records, he is wonderfully lyrical, he swings and he adheres to the theory of the beauty of economy. Oh, and let's not forget the rich and arresting ideas that just flow from him. Working here with John Patitucci on bass and Omar Hakim on drums, Friedman explores eight tunes, which, as the title indicates are indeed, timeless. All are standouts, but I particularly dug the crisp, cheerful opener, Alone Together; the pace of What Is This Thing Called Love (which Friedman plays without ever stating the melody); the bristling bebop bounty of Bouncing With Bud; and a moody, definitive ‘Round Midnight. The shadow of Bill Evans lingers here with an elaborately crafted Emily, a piece Evans often played; and Turn Out The Stars, one of his most romantic and beautiful compositions. Completing the album are equally well honed renditions of Star Eyes and Body and Soul. If you've somehow missed out on the elegant, swinging Don Friedman, here's your chance to discover a treasure. 441 Records, 2004; *****.
Boss Horn, Blue Mitchell, trumpet. Sometimes good records get lost in the shuffle, and maybe this is one of them. Recorded in late 1966, just as jazz was beginning to incorporate unnecessary gimmicks, this record stays on the straight and narrow path. It opens with Millie, a Duke Pearson blues utilizing a vamp much like that on Lee Morgan's Sidewinder. O Mama Enit is Blue's celebratory, slightly Latin line and I Should Care is the trumpet master's only standard for the album, but which enjoys a subtle Pearson arrangement. The oddly titled Rigor Mortez is a soulful burner with sharp solo statements from Blue and tenor saxman Junior Cook. There's one personnel change for the last two tunes. Chick Corea replaces Cedar Walton on two of his own compositions, Tones For Joan's Bones, a "near jazz standard" and the set closer, Straight Up And Down, a sizzler displaying the piano prowess of the composer. Other stellar contributors to this album include Julian Priester, trombone; Jerry Dodgion, alto sax and flute; Pepper Adams, baritone sax, Gene Taylor, bass and Mickey Roker, drums. As for Blue Mitchell, he simply states his case as one of the premier trumpet players of his time. Blue Note, 2005; Playing Time: 38:44, ****.
Sunday Afternoons At The Lighthouse Café, Dave Pell, tenor saxophone. Way back in the '50‚s, Dave Pell captained a series of tailored small group sides for RCA. Well, I guess there are enough of us still around who dug what he did then, and dig what he,s doing now. Many of the names have changed since those semi-halcyon days, but Pell remains in charge of some scintillating arrangements and sparkling solos from his present day octet. The best known of the current cast include Carl Saunders, trumpet; Bob Efford, baritone, Bob Florence, piano; Grant Geissman, guitar and, of course, Pell himself on tenor. Everybody gets a "taste"on a well balanced program of standards and originals by band members past and present. In addition to evergreens like The Lady Is A Tramp, It Never Entered My Mind and Time After Time, there are some goodies like the rebirth of Bill Holman,s Jazz Goes To Siwash and a couple of energetic rarities from Marty Paich, Nap's Dream and Klump Jump. Toss in the ageless 42nd Street, Paris In The Spring, I Found a New Baby and even a few more surprises, and, well, it sure doesn't feel like nearly a half century has elapsed. Why? Because Dave Pell's still got it in gear. Woofy Productions, 2005; PT: 58:53, ****1/2.
The Essential Frank Sinatra With The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Right off the bat, let me say that the very young Frank Sinatra on display in this two CD set is not my favorite Francis era. This was a time when the orchestra was still the prime draw. As a result, these tunes begin instrumentally, and then feature a "vocal chorus" by what was then known as the band singer. That was all destined to change some years later when the singer became the "item" and the order was reversed (singer - instrumental chorus - singer). Dorsey's arrangements and sweet, muted trombone are understandably dated. Still, for Sinatra collectors, these sides from the early '40‚s reacquaint us with the bobby soxer heart throb, the Sinatra who was later to become the swaggering, confident supreme singer of all time. But at this moment of a long career, the teen idol was caressing "vocal choruses" on songs like I'll Be Seeing You, Fools Rush In, Imagination, I'll Never Smile Again, Stardust, Blue Skies, Everything Happens To Me and about three dozen more. A nicely annotated 14 page booklet is included with several pics of the young crooner. Bluebird (originally RCA-Victor), 2005; Playing Times: CD#1: 64:13; CD#2: 72:38; *** 1/2.
Back In The Swing Of Things, The Clayton Brothers. John and Jeff Clayton have remained busy with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra in recent years, but this disc marks a return to the smaller group anchored by John on bass and Jeff on alto sax and flute. Big band partner Jeff Hamilton remains on board here, and along with the Claytons, is joined by Terell Stafford, trumpet and Bill Cunliffe, piano. Interesting to note that the next Clayton generation debuts here, with Gerald Clayton on piano for two tunes. So, what we have here is the standard quintet alignment with two horns and rhythm. There's some very muscular blowing here on a near "all-Clayton" menu of tunes. Some of the most energetic included Gina's Groove, Blow Your Horn, Quick Delivery and my personal fave, Firestorm, a Jeff Clayton groover. More moderate tempos are also given sway here. Try Stafford's sensitive trumpet on Professor T; Jeff's fleecy flute flight on Untra Sensitive; or Cunliffe's heartfelt piano solo on Next Time. The Clayton Brothers are always a breath of fresh air. Sensitive, dedicated, deep musicians are John and Jeff. Great human beings too. And these qualities, musical and otherwise, are always evident in their music. Hyena, 2005; Playing Time: 62:26; **** 1/2.
Holiday For Lovers, Johnny Holiday, vocals. This rarity from LA's Mode label was recorded way back in 1957, and shows Johnny Holiday as a fine singer of the day. On this release, he is smartly surrounded by a cast of LA's premier cats of the time, names like Marty Paich, Bob Enevoldsen, Jack Sheldon, Herb Geller and more. Holiday's voice falls somewhere in the Jack Jones-Vic Damone camp, an attractive, clear baritone who phrases with feeling and warmly conveys the meaning of a lyric. The recording also benefits from some choices of obscure tunes which are well worth hearing. You know your music if you remember Rodgers and Hammerstein's Boys And Girls Like You And Me; Harold Arlen's Fun To Be Fooled and Jerome Kern's Nobody Else But Me. Along with these are chestnuts like I Love You, Star Eyes, Street Of Dreams , There's No You, My Foolish Heart and several more. Holiday is very comfortable in the setting of these West Coast wailers, and one can only wonder why we didn‚t hear more from this very polished singer. VSOP, 2005; PT: 35:55, ***1/2.
Retromania, Dave Frishberg At The Jazz Bakery. By admission, Dave Frishberg is the living, breathing epitome of Retromania. He thinks about the past, admires the past, longs for the past and writes about the past. Even the fact that he writes real SONGS (remember songs?!!!) and poetic lyrics is something mostly out of the past. So what if Dave's one of only a few doing it so well for so long. Make no mistake about it, he's now in the league of major contributors to the American songbook. Right there with names like Loesser, Coleman, Mandel, Wolf and Landesman and the Bergmanns. For this lively performance at LA's Jazz Bakery, Dave reprises a number of his classics. Those "greatest hits" include Can't Take You Nowhere, Zoot Walks In, My Attorney Bernie, The Dear Departed Past, Gotta Get Me Some ZZZ and Listen Here. Dave also pleases the audience with newly recorded gems like Walkin' On Wall Street , The Wife And The Kid and Who Do You Think You Are, Jack Dempsey? From his baseball bag comes Van Lingle Mungo, Dodger Blue and two nostalgic gems, Play Ball and Matty. Dave's patter with the audience adds humor and charm to another absolutely terrific CD. Oh, and don't forget, the guy plays a pretty mean piano too! Arbors, 2005; Playing Time: 62:05, *****.
Joy Spring, Harold Mabern, piano. Over a stellar career spanning several decades, pianist Harold Mabern has worked with tons of jazz stars, but has only occasionally enjoyed the role of leader on a recording. This time, not only is Mabern the "leader", he's the whole orchestra. To my knowledge, this is his first recorded effort as a solo pianist, and it's loaded with style, swing and chops from the opening bars of I've Got The World On A String. Following that evergreen, Mabern takes us on a stridey-blues journey with Blues In F and T-Bone steak. Wayne Shorter's House Of Jade follows with some Tatumesque runs and Clifford Brown's Joy Spring is sprightly solo material. The remainder of the concert is spent with such dependable delights as Indian Summer, Manhattan, Dat Dere, Pent Up House and an unusual ballad treatment of Thou Swell. Mabern brings his program to a close with a Ray Bryant-like Mabern's Boogie. All this great fun and superb musicianship occurred at Toronto's Café Des Copains way back in 1984. It is released here for the first time on CD, a welcome addition to the catalog of a first cabin piano cat. Sackville, 2005; PlayingTime: 60:00, ****.
Too Darn Hot, Claire Martin, vocals. Okay, I'm just gonna come right out and say it. The Norah Joneses of the world get the press and, in this era of idolizing mediocrity, the awards. But Claire Martin is the real thing; a jazz singer of the first order. Okay, she's messed with a little fluffy pop stuff on a couple of CDs, but she returns here to well written material and some stirring arrangements. Claire hits the bullseye on up tempo tunes like Something's Coming, The Gentleman Is A Dope, Noir, and Love Is A Necessary Evil. But she's also stunning and sensuous on the ballads, particularly Black Coffee, When I Fall In Love and a tender treatment of It's Raining In My Heart. These Foolish Things doesn't benefit from an overly contemporary arrangement and Blue Motel Room is an odd choice in that it's a doo-wah duo with singer Ian Shaw. Both selections seem slightly out of place here. Other than that, I suggest you put on a Norah Jones CD and follow it immediately with one by Claire Martin. You'll understand. I rest my case. Linn Records, 2002 (it only recently came to my attention); times not indicated; ***1/2.
Sunday Afternoons At The Lighthouse Café, Jack Sheldon, trumpet. Here's a musical truism: you always know when it's Jack Sheldon. There's that famous "wet" trumpet sound, that little bending of notes and, of course, a grainy, engaging vocal style truly all his own. For this Sunday session, Sheldon is joined by Tom Kubis on saxophones; Ross Tompkins, piano; Tony Dumas, bass and Ralph Penland, drums. The program begins with a romp through Lester Leaps In and is followed by a lengthy treatment, complete with Sheldon's vocal, of My Funny Valentine. Old warhorses, Dinah, Satin Doll and Cherry are pure fodder for Jack's swift trumpet lines and some tongue-in-cheek vocals as well. The set is completed by such familiar fare as Robbin's Nest, Star Dust, Love Is Here To Stay and I Can't Get Started. Reedman Tom Kubis concentrates most of his effort on soprano sax. I would have preferred more tenor and less soprano. And Ross Tompkins is always the epitome of tasteful, swinging piano playing. Sheldon's been a fixture on the LA jazz scene for many a moon, and it's music like this which has undoubtedly kept him there. Woofy Productions, 2005; Playing Time: 74:48, ****.
Transcriptions, King Cole Trio; Nat King Cole, piano. In the 1930's, radio featured live music, but found they needed to rely on recorded music as well. To provide for this need, transcription services were formed and they put out 15 minute music segments for radio stations to use. Once the record companies realized that playing commercial recordings helped (not hindered) sales, the transcription companies declined. These miraculous recordings were made toward the end of the transcription era, from 1946-1950. Three different Nat Cole-led groups are featured, with collective personnel including Oscar Moore and Irving Ashby, guitars; Johnny Miller and Joe Comfort, bass; and on one series of tunes, Jack Costanzo, congas and bongos. Over 70 tunes are featured on three CDs, with Nat and colleagues hip and timeless on both familiar and is some case, very obscure tunes. From the first camp, how about I Want To Be Happy, Somebody Loves Me, Too Marvelous For Words, Exactly Like You, Deed I Do and loads more. The "unknowns" include such colorful titles as Loan Me Two Till Tuesday, Cole Slaw, Flo And Joe and Top Hat Bop. For years after these juicy sides were made, Nat Cole achieved huge success as a great pop singer. But for the jazz fans who loved his piano work along with his silky vocals, this is the meat and potatoes. Blue Note, 2005; Playing Time: Disc #1: 62:05 , Disc 2: 72:01, Disc 3: 62:34, *****.
Solos And Duets, Jay McShann, piano, voice. One of the few remaining legitimate stride-blues pianists remaining on planet Earth, McShann delivers a knockout punch on a 3 LPs on 2 CDs set that's just brimming with piano pleasure. It's mostly solo piano here with bassist Don Thompson heard on just four selections. McShann interprets Fats Waller on classics Honeysuckle Rose, Ain't Misbehavin' and Squeeze Me and of the 27 total selections, shines on period pieces like I Ain't Got Nobody, Lulu's Back In Town, Rockin' Chair and many more. McShann is nearly one of a kind, and this is pure fun. Sackville, 2005; Playing Time: 68:10 and 73:55, ***1/2.
Generations, Bill Ransom, drums, percussion. Like any sizable city in America, Cleveland has produced its share of jazz musicians and this CD gathers some of the present day Clevelanders for a session comprised of originals from such contributors as Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, Kenny Kirkland, Tony Williams and others. The two best pieces are Miles Davis' Solar and Leonard Bernstein's Some Other Time. The CD as some nice moments of straight ahead high energy, even though occasionally the cuts with soprano sax and electric piano sound like 70's leftovers. Bongo Time Records, 2005; Playing Time: 62:58, ***.
‘S Wonderful,The Great Jazz Trio featuring Hank Jones, piano. Now in his 87th year, Hank Jones, I'm convinced, is that battery bunny that just keeps on going. He's amazing as ever with his long standing colleagues John Patitucci, bass and Jack DeJohnette, drums. Beautiful, elegant ideas continue to flow from this more than half century marvel of peerless piano playing. The trio chooses nine familiar favorites here, including the title tune, ‘S Wonderful, Sweet Lorraine, Moanin', The Days Of Wine And Roses and Lover Come Back To Me. If ever there's a Jazz Hall of Fame, Hank Jones will be a shoo-in choice! 441 Records, 2005; no time indicated, **** 1/2.
You're Coming Back Again, Jane Fuller, voice, guitar. Give some credit to Ms. Fuller for choosing some great standards with titles like I'm Beginning To See The Light, Route 66, No Moon At All, Ain't Misbehavin, Black Coffee and All Of Me. She employs a bevy of musicians, eleven in all, for some well crafted arrangements, with not every player on each tune. Fuller's whispery vocals are pleasant enough and on tune. However, there's nothing here that authoritatively reaches out and grabs you. Self-produced, year not indicated (probably 2005); Play Time: 53:00, **.
Menza Lines, Don Menza, leader and tenor saxophone. Reason to celebrate! This is Don Menza's first big band recording since 1981, and it's a sizzling live performance. Amazingly, much of the band is intact from two dozen years ago, and they just blow the roof off on Menza originals like T ‘n‚ T and Hark The Harold. Gravy is based on Walkin' and Time To Leave on After You've Gone. The ballad choices, Nina Never Knew and Prelude To A Kiss feature Menza and Bobby Shew, respectively. Don Menza and company light the fire on this disc. Let's not wait another quarter century to strike the next match. Jazz Media, 2005; Playing Time: 70:49, *****.
Ten Variations On An Unknown Theme, Binder, Weber and Ulrich (trio). Well, you've got to say that the title of this CD is accurate. I also couldn't uncover a theme or any kind of stated melody line in this experimental yawner. It seems that it's mostly a chance to display the multitude of noises that are offered by the drummer, Dieter Ulrich. As for the pianist, Claudia Ulla Binder, her aimless, percussive statements sound pretty much like the background for one of those "two spies on a train" movies. Origin, 2005; Playing Time: 41:34, *.
Autumn Waltz, Brad Mersereau; piano and synthesizers. This is a mixed bag for Brad Mersereau. Nearly all the tunes are his creations, and many of them have engaging, "catchy" melodies. One such tune is My My Mambo with Steve Christofferson working away at the piano and Nancy King and Tom Grant handling a fun filled vocal duo. Another is Sanya Grace, Mersereau's delicate waltz. Others that caught my ear were Lucky Blues, Autumn Waltz and a charming piano solo on Next Dance. The synthesizers are mostly kept at arm's length and with a cadre of Portland pals, Brad Mersereau has given us a CD showing lots of thought and care. Self-produced, 2005; Play Time: 47:01, ***.
Friends, Treasures, Heroes, Bob Florence, piano. While he's probably better known as a respected big band leader and arranger, Bob Florence is also a force playing solo piano. He proved as much on an earlier album aptly titled Another Side. It was a luscious solo excursion and this one's almost as good. Florence divides his song choices into little groups of medleys with tributes to various contributors who have meant a great deal to him from a musical perspective. Among them are Bronislaw Kaper, Johnny Mandel, Jerome Kern and Harold Arlen. There is idyllic beauty in every note.Summit, 2005; PT: 55:36, ****1/2.
Sugar Pill, Johnny Martin, vocals. Johnny Martin has carved out a nice niche in the Rose City as a singer who keeps a bundle of timeless standards in the mix. Martin's fondness for nearly "everything Sinatra" continues here with some FS material such as How Little We Know, Summer Wind, It Was A Very Good Year and Hello Young Lovers. Martin has studied these and other standards and sings their lyrics with ease and practiced skill. On this very listenable CD, Martin is joined by John Fresk, piano; Ray Tindell, horns and Tim Gilson, bass. Self-produced, 2005; times not indicated, ***. More info at www.johnnymartin.com .
Sentimental And Melancholy, Joe Williams Sings About You; Joe Williams, vocals. Joe Williams never made a secret of the fact that he wanted to be a singer of popular songs in addition to the reputation he established as a great blues singer. These two LPs on one CD are among the ballad efforts that he did with Jimmy Jones arranging for strings. There's also a bit of well placed Sweets Edison trumpet and Ben Webster (I think) on tenor here and there. There are 23 tunes in all, with Joe at the top of his game. One highlight among many is I Was Telling Her About You, a lovely tune written by Moose Charlap, father of pianist Bill Charlap. Capitol-EMI (originally on Roulette), 2005; time not indicated **** 1/2.
Favorites From A Long Walk, Greta Matassa, vocals. If you missed the recent Vocal Madness gig at the Benson Hotel, here is your chance to get acquainted with Greta Metassa, a Seattle-based singer who wowed the crowd on that occasion. She gets to the heart of a song, expressing the lyric with great feeling, but never indulging in show-biz shtick. For this album, Metassa chooses 13 tunes, most of which, while familiar, are welcome, lesser known gems. Her pianist, Darin Clendenin, is especially effective throughout, and Tom Marriott's trumpet solos on If I Love Again and The Man With The Horn, are at their Clifford Brown-ish best. Origin, 2005;Playing Time: 59:43. ****.