CD Reviews - May 2006
by George Fendel
Live, The Bill Holman Band; Bill Holman, leader, arranger. When Bill Holman gets his band assembled for a new recording, there's an undeniable air of excitement present. This invigorating live performance, from LA's Four Points Sheraton Hotel, was released last year, but escaped my awareness until recently. Holman, considered one of planet earth's best arrangers for decades, once again brings it all into focus here. His program includes selections by as diverse a roster of composers as Charlie Parker, Frank Rosolino and Lennon and McCartney, as well as five by the leader himself. Holman's charts are creative, sizzling and swinging and his soloists are given free rein to do their thing. Among others, they include Carl Saunders, Bob Summers, Bob Enevoldsen, Andy Martin, Lanny Morgan, Bob Efford and Christian Jacob. All in all, this well balanced program of bop and ballads affirms Bill Holman's status as one of the brightest lights in the big band firmament. Jazzed Media, 2005; Playing Time: 61:55; *****.
Get It Right; Stuart Elster, piano. In Stuart Elster, we have another gifted piano player who has emerged from that eclectic music milieu called Los Angeles. Since 2002, Elster has been house pianist at The Vic in Santa Monica. On Thursdays, he leads his own trio there with Luther Hughes, bass and Paul Kreibich, drums. It is that same trio which is heard here, beginning with a snappy blues, Elster's title tune, Get It Right. Three more originals follow, including Waltz For Rachel, a flowing example of taste and economy. The remainder of the progam consists of familiar fare ranging from Juicy Lucy to Willow Weep For Me; from Jitterbug Waltz to You're My Thrill. A few other faves included a melodically rich How Deep Is The Ocean, and a nicely relaxed, yet bouncy take on I've Never Been In Love Before as well as Taking A Chance On Love. Elster retains throughout the CD an elegant "John Bunch-like" touch, and most importantly, he swings. Primrose Lane, 2005; Play Time: 68:22, ****.
Footprints; Karrin Allyson vocals. This may well be Karrin Allyson's most heavy duty jazz album to date. In addition to a couple of welcome surprises, we are treated to the lyrics of Chris Caswell on Con Alma, Lazy Bird, Equinox Unit 7, Jordu and others. The Surprises? Well, how about the great Jon Hendricks joining Allyson on Strollin' and Everybody's Boppin'. And for some Portland flavor, consider the presence of PDX's own Nancy King on Never Say Yes, Footprints and Everybody's Boppin'. Most of the tunes have been given alternate titles as a result of the new lyrics.Arrangements and stellar piano work are provided by Bruce Barth. And what of Ms. Allyson? Well, she takes on these tunes from the jazz book with skill and savoir faire. This is certainly her most adventurous disc to date, and, to my way of thinking, her best. Concord Jazz Records, 2006; Playing Time: 50:26, *****.
Brotherman In The Fatherland; Rahssan Roland Kirk, tenor sax, flute, nose flute, mandello, stritch and clarinet. This previously unreleased peformance will undoubtedly create a stir among Kirk's fans. He's a bit busy on all those strange instruments, (some of which he actually played two (even three!) at the same time for this reviewer. Still, one must give Kirk credit for being his own man in the history of jazz. And he will be remembered that way. Hyena Records, 2006, Playing Time: 68:31, ** 1/2.
Planet Jazz; In Orbit. I'm not sure where the name "Planet Jazz " comes from, but this now seasoned New York sextet, featuring Grant Stewart, tenor; Joe Magnarelli, trumpet and flugelhorn and Peter Bernstein, guitar perform admirably on a program mainly consisting of the music of Johnny Ellis, a musician who peaked during the rough decade of the 1970's. A nice bonus is Dual Highway, an Ellington-Hodges blues which must be considered rare. Outstanding players here! Sharp Nine Recordings, 2006; Playing Time: 58:03, ****.
Dues In Progress, Keith Oxman, tenor sax. Oxman, a Colorado product, gives us a gorgeous sound on tenor, and believe, me, he's a dedicated bebopper. For this date, he brings in Curtis Fuller, still playing marvelous trombone, and some local players, all of whom account very well for themselves. Standards included I Hear A Rhapsody, Darn That Dream and The Masquerade Is Over, and among several originals, a brief, silvery Billy Strayhorn tribute. I hope Denverites are aware of the talent they have in Keith Oxman. Capri Records, 2006; PT: 72:29, **** 1/2.
What Love Is, Erin Boheme, vocals. Concord Jazz, I'd imagine, is trying to find the next Norah Jones, a pop singer being presented on a jazz label. And I guess Erin Boheme is the one. And like Norah Jones, she's no jazz singer. Not even Teach Me Tonight, Let's Do It, I Love Being Here With You nor all the synthesizers of Let's Make The Most Of A Beautiful Thing can overcome the syrupy pop heard on this disc. You want a GREAT singer from the younger generation? Try Claire Martin, but pass on this one. Concord Jazz Records, 2006; Playing Time not available, *1/2.
Keyboard, Oscar Peterson, piano. This reissue, out of print more than 50 years, brings the not yet "fully formed" but still startlingly good Oscar Peterson from the year 1950. These are all piano-bass duos with Major Holley on most and Ray Brown on a few. You'll know all the tunes, and the Nat Cole piano influence was a strong one at this time. Oscar sounds fine here, but he was on the verge of becoming a giant. Original Long Play Albums, 2005; PT: 37:40, ***.
Iron Man, Jim Rotondi, trumpet, flugelhorn. Trumpet wiz Rotondi continues to state his case as one of the premier players of today. Just catch him on the title tune, Iron Man, a remake of Tune Up, with Jimmy Greene, tenor and Steve Nelson, vibes, contributing mightily. This is scintillating original music, the one exception being Rotondi's Cliffordish tone on Embraceable You. Criss Cross Recordings, 2006; Playing Time: 60:40, ****.
Once To Every Heart, Mark Murphy, vocals. Maybe his voice is a bit grainier than the youngster on Capitol in the 50's, but Mark Murphy remains one of the few great jazz singers and balladeers of the day. With some exquisite string arrangements, he proves it here with I'm Through With Love, It Never Entered My Mind, Love Is Here To Stay and some stirring newer material as well. Mark Murphy always brings drama to the table.He's one of those few singers who means it when he sings a lyric. And as a listener,you'll get the message.Verve Records, 2005; PT: 57:10, *****.
Film Noir Project, Bob Sneider, guitar; Joe Locke, vibes. There's an air of urban melancholy to these lovely melodies, all written for films of the last few years. And they're performed here with the feeling of rain slicked streets and flickering neon in the big city. Guitarist Sneider and vibist Locke are co-leaders, but John Sneider on trumpet and Grant Stewart on tenor both excel as well. Sons Of Sound, 2006; Playing Time: 64:38, ***1/2.
Urban Flamingo, Bob James, various forms of electrical current and a couple of piano tracks. After doing his first legit (and darn good) album a few years back, Bob James has returned to the money machine with a Muzak disaster. The so-called smooth jazzers will eat this one up, but I'd suggest the rest of us will not find it very digestable. Fluff pretty much all the way through. Koch Records, 2006; Playing Time not indicated, *.
Marsalis Music Presents Michael Carvin. Michael Carvin, drums. Relax, this is not a "drum record." It is, rather, a straight down the middle of the highway quartet working out on some standards. The names are all new to me, but I sure was impressed with Marcus Strickland, sax; Carlton Homes, piano; Dezron Douglas, bass and Carvin on drums. The tunes include evergreens like I'll Remember April, The Lamp Is Low, In Walked Bud, A Night In Tunisia, You Go To My Head and Hello Young Lovers. No pretense here, just great tunes played with skill and passion. More please! Marsalis Music, 2006; Play Time: 67:15, **** 1/2.
On My Way To You, Ellen Robinson, vocals. To compare Ellen Robinson's vocal timbre to that of Irene Kral may be the ultimate compliment to Ms. Robinson. But there's a hint of Irene present here on both some excellent material and a couple of toss away pop tunes. Best of the lot: From This Moment On, There Are Such Things, The Song You Left Unsung and How Deep Is The Ocean. Robinson is the kind of singer who could silence a jazz club in a hurry. EMR Music, 2001; Playing Time: 49:58, ***.
Lucky To Be Me, Taylor Eigsti, piano. In his debut album, Taylor Eigsti gives notice that he's a contender. Just pick up on his reharmonized Giant Steps and I promise you'll be impressed. I'd like to have had fewer original pieces and more standards to really put this youngster to the test. However, Love For Sale, Darn That Dream, Freedom Jazz Dance and Lucky To Be Me all signal talent and great potential for Taylor Eigsti. Concord Jazz Records, 2006; Playing Time: 59:24, ***.
Nina Simone Sings The Blues, Nina Simone, piano, vocals. True it is that Nina Simone was a peerless blues singer and pianist of her day, but then again, she was so much more. Some of the standout tunes here, recorded between 1966 and 1969, include In The Dark, My Man's Gone Now, I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl, Since I Fell For You and Backlash Blues. Whether the lyric dealt with flirty innuendo or a heavy racial message, Nina put it across as few artists have before or since. RCA Victor Recordings, 2006; Playing Time: 37:41, ***.
The following reviews are by Dick Bogle:
Miles Davis Plays For Lovers, Miles Davis, trumpet. There are giants, then there are legends. Miles Davis is in the latter category. His famous quintet of John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones backs him on four of the 12 tracks. There are some surprises too. For example, big name bassist Charles Mingus plays piano on "Smooch" while Percy Heath is the bassist. On "Easy Living," there is no piano. Instead, Teddy Charles is on vibes with Britt Woodman, trombone; Mingus, bass and Elvin Jones, drums. Davis makes extensive use of his mute, extending and bending his notes on this fabulous collection of ballads. Some would say this mid 1950's period was Davis' finest. The music here doesn't dispute that. Some of the tunes are; "My Funny Valentine," "You're My Everything," "Just Squeeze Me," "You Don't Know What Love Is" and more. Prestige, 2005; Play Time: 72:12, *****.
Piano A Là Carte, Tony Pacini , piano. Get ready to look deeply into the soul of Portland pianist Tony Pacini as you listen to his brand spanking new solo piano effort. Here he is, all alone with the total performance resting solidly on his broad shoulders. He is more than equal to the task. The recording was done from start to finish without any technical manipulation like splicing, editing or overdubbing. It's Pacini, pure as fresh snow but much warmer. He begins with Ellington's " Do Nothin' ‘Til You Hear From Me" and then slides into a very thoughtful and pretty treatment of "Moonlight In Vermont." Way before Pacini was born, there was a young man attending Grant High School who went on to world fame as a pianist-composer and vocal coach. Pacini takes one of Phil Moore's compositions, "Eastside Westside" and displays all the joyfulness written into it Ah, but Mr. Pacini writes also. He includes two of his own compositions among the 15 on the disc. The first is titled "Golden Boy" and is a pretty ballad with what could be described as an Ellington influence. The second is "Goodbyes" and fittingly is the last song on the record. It is a somewhat somber piece but far from morbid. Pacini includes his luscious interpretations of standards like "If I Loved You," "Skylark," "Come Rain Or Come Shine," "Body And Soul," "Georgia" and others. Two of my favorites are "Emily" and "Come Sunday. This is a golden opportunity to become better acquainted with a pianist of depth and great talent who honors those who wrote the songs he performs. His CD release party will be May 19 at Wilf's. Accompanying him at Wilf's will be Ed Bennett on bass and Tim Rap, drums. Saphu Recordings, 2006; Playing Time: 72:38, *****.
Blue, Diana Ross, Diana Ross, vocal. This was recorded more than three decades ago but sat in a Motown vault unreleased until now. It was originally envisioned as a companion product to her number one soundtrack to "Lady Sings The Blues" which resulted in an Oscar nomination for Ms. Ross. She sticks to standards for the 16 tracks, and several song writing legends have their compositions performed by her. The Gershwin's " I Loves You Porgy" is especially poignant. She delivers a vibrant version of Cole Porter's "Let's Do It." One of the prettiest offerings is Johnny Burke's and Jimmy Van Heusen's "But Beautiful." They also contribute "What A Difference A Day Made." Ms. Ross gets a little bluesy with "You've Changed," My Man," and "Ain't Nobody's Business." Just three stars for this however. Her solo voice is really too light to carry the weight of these fine chestnuts. Universal Music, 2006; Playing Time: 50:33, ***.
TNT, Sherrie Maricle and the Diva Jazz Orchestra, Maricle, drums. This is a wonderful big band tribute to Tommy Newsome who was a member of and arranger for Doc Severinson's Tonight Show band. The leader, Sherrie Maricle, is the drummer and kicks the band right along as they play all Newsome arrangements. The opener, "Titter Pipes" is up tempo and was in Benny Goodman's book when he took his band to Russia in 1962. Scheila Gonzalez is featured on a strong tenor solo. Pianist Chihiro Yamanaka is brilliant on "Pensativa." Baritone saxophonist Lisa Parrott teams with trumpeter Jamie Dauber to add a lot of life to Newsome's fine arrangement of Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday." It's Ms. Yamanaka providing the piano opening to a delicious Nat Cole medley. "Mona Lisa" is first, followed by "Nature Boy," "Straighten Up And Fly Right and concludes with "Route 66." There is even a group vocal on "Straighten Up And Fly Right." This is an excellent band, a great successor to the International Sweethearts Of Rhythm, a famous all female band of the 1940s and ‘50s. Lightyear, 2005; PT: 63:56, *****.
Round Midnight, Alan Broadbent, piano. Alan Broadbent is one of those artists who seemingly has been around forever, but yet when one sits down to listen to this Artistry Music release, the listener discovers a magnificent pianist who combines a highly refined melodic sense with an innate rhythmic approach. Add the scintillating abilities of bassist Brian Bromberg such as he exhibits on "Die Vereinbarung" together with the veteran drummer Joe La Barbera and wham, it's five stars. La Barbera's brush work on the tune has to rank him high in the delicate regard. No tune has been played more often and more wrongly than Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight." However, Broadbent hits it dead center with his facile right hand reaching deeper than most to plumb out the song's true essence. No wonder he titled the CD after it. Again, Bromberg's bass adds its' own luster. This is trio jazz at the sublime level. Artistry Music, 2005; PT: 55:29, *****.
Dave Brubeck Plays For Lovers, piano. This release by pianist Dave Brubeck can go a long way in letting those folk who think Brubeck is either "Blue Rondo A La Turk" or "Take Five" know he is much, much more. He begins with altoist Paul Desmond opening "You Go To My Head." Originally recorded in 1952, it uses drummer Lloyd Davis and bassist Ron Crotty. Brubeck turns "My Romance" into an excellent solo piano version. He lays the same treatment on "Our Love Is Here To Stay." A refreshing touch awaits listeners when they hear tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi join Brubeck on "I Thought About You." Perhaps the prettiest love ballad is "For All We Know" with Desmond issuing one of his patented vibrant solos. Fantasy Records, 2005; Playing Time: 56:28, ****.
Prestige Profiles Coleman Hawkins, tenor saxophone. In the pre-John Coltrane days, it was a toss up between tenorists Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young as to who was king of that instrument.These eleven cuts taken from previously recorded and released material from the late 1950's and early ‘60's state Hawkins' case eloquently. So, not only do we get to hear the legendary Hawkins, we also get to hear many of his famous pals. On "Since I Fell For You," Pepper Adams is on baritone sax; Jerome Richardson, alto and Idrees Sulieman, trumpet. Coleman's solo is strong and soulful. Pianist Ray Bryant is the same as he sets the table for Richardson's foray."Soul Blues" uses guitarist Kenny Burrell, Bryant; bassist Wendell Marshall and drummer Osie Johnson from a 1958 recording. Hawkins articulates the blues with passion. Other tunes include; " I Want To Be Loved," In A Mellow Tone," " Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," " Greensleeves" and more. Prestige Records, 2005; Playing Time: 64:59, *****.
Genuine Chestnut, Cyrus Chestnut, piano. Pianist Cyrus Chestnut mixes ballads, groove tunes and Latin influences and comes up a winner on this Telarc release. Besides his rhythm section of bassist Michael Hawkins and drummer Neal Smith, Chestnut utilizes the talents of guitarist Russell Malone and percussionist Steve Kroon, integrating their efforts ever so nicely with his own. In fact, on the first cut, "The Brown Soldier," it's Malone's sensitive guitar which sets the pace. When it comes to ballads, it doesn't often get any better than his treatment of "If." Malone solos first, but it is the joint effort of all involved which makes this the standard by which all other tracks are judged. "Mason Dixon Line" provides the up tempo groove missing until now. Bassist Hawkins and drummer Smith are key here. On the hypnotic "Eyes On The Prize," the bass and the light touch of percussionist Kroon behind Chestnut's piano stamp it a solid contender as the best. Telarc Jazz Records, 2005; Playing Time: 55:00, ****.
Collector's Choice: Love For Sale, Chet Baker, trumpet. This is not the best of Chet Baker, not even close. Recording live at a club date in 1978 in Montreal, Canada, he begins with a 17:51 version of "Milestones." His trumpet is engaging and when compared with his vocals on "Oh You Crazy Moon" and "There Will Never Be Another You," it was the better of the three."Love For Sale" surprisingly was an instrumental on which Baker's trumpet solo was forced to compete with the baritone saxophone of Roger Rosenberg. Just A Memory Recordings, 2005; Playing Time: 60:35, ***.
My Romance, Jon Mayer, piano. Pianist Jon Mayer, accompanied by bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Dick Berk take on ten delightful ballads and deliver them in a manner spotlighting the talents of Mayer. On this release, Mayer almost forsakes his bebop roots to visit Tin Pan Alley for this wonderful collection. His takes on Johnny Burke's and Jimmy Van Heusen's "But Beautiful" are the signs of a master at work translating the notes of others into his own glorious personal statement. "Be My Love" takes him back to a bop feel. Drummer Berk is the driving force in this up tempo romp. A surprise awaits with the hearing of Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays." Mayer, in concert with his first call rhythm section, lays down another bop influenced version of this usually somber tune. Reservoir Records, 2005; Playing Time: 47:15, ****.
Prestige profiles The Red Garland Quintets, piano. This is a true all star set of groups with the one constant being the piano and leadership of Red Garland. Saxophone legend John Coltrane is on four of the six tracks including "Billie's Bounce," "Solitude," "Soul Junction," and "Our Delight." Trumpeter Donald Byrd is on all the Coltrane tracks. Oliver Nelson assumes tenor duties on "Soft Winds," and "On Green Dolphin Street." Richard Williams is on trumpet on those selections. "Soul Junction" is an out and out blues and runs for 15:27. On that tune, Garland's piano is so funky that it resembles that of Gene Harris. Arthur Taylor and Charlie Persip are the drummers. It is another opportunity to hear legendary players performing at their peak. Prestige, 2005; Playing Time: 54:27, *****.
Prestige profiles Kenny Burrell, guitar. Guitarist Kenny Burrell is excellently profiled on this re-released material originally on the Prestige label which is now owned by Fantasy. What a bonanza for jazz collectors or neophytes alike. One reason is that styles of several of the greatest tenor saxophonists of all time can be held up for contrast. Coleman Hawkins joins Burrell, pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Major Holley, drummer Eddie Locke and percussionist Ray Barretto on "Montano Blues." Hank Mobley along with Jerome Richardson, Donald Byrd and pianist Mal Waldron are on "Boo Lu." John Coltrane is on "I Never Knew" and "Minor Mishap." Frank Foster is on an 18:16 cut of "All Day Long" with Donald Byrd and pianist Flanagan. But, it's the artistry of Burrell that is the main focus. That is the treat, hearing a leading exponent of the guitar translating the various moods of the songs. Prestige Records, 2005; Playing Time: 61:00, *****.
All Your Love I Miss Loving, Otis Rush,vocal. If you are ready for some real nitty gritty blues about unrequited love, broken hearts and human weakness, this Otis Rush live recording has it all. Chicago, the main destination in the diaspora of Black Americans from the south, has managed to maintain a stranglehold on being the nation's blues capitol. The Wise Fools Club in that city is where Rush laid down the 12 tracks here. On "It Takes Time," Rush issues a warning to a lover that as happy as she may be today, tomorrow could bring tears. This, he sings over an up tempo shuffle beat. Rush's guitar speaks every bit as eloquently as his vocals. It becomes an emotional force on "Gambler's Blues." There is not a weak cut on this release. Delmark, 2005; Playing Time: 64:44, ****.
Barney Kessel Plays For Lovers, guitar. Barney Kessel was the guitar master of the love ballad during his era. Kessel could jam, too. Who will ever forget his relentless swinging on those wonderful Norman Granz Jazz At The Philharmonic concerts and recordings when he often played with Oscar Peterson. But these cuts are easy listening standard ballads highlighting the melodic side of Kessel. It's a compilation of works recorded between 1953 ("Tenderly") and 1988("I'm Glad There Is You") with Bobby Hutcherson, Kenny Barron, Rufus Reid and Ben Riley. Tunes include, "Laura," "My Funny Valentine," "Angel Eyes," "You Go To My Head," "My Old Flame," " Love Is Here To Stay," " My Reverie" and more. Ray Brown, Red Mitchell, Leroy Vinnegar, Hampton Hawes, Shelly Manne, Jimmy Rowles and Elvin Jones all contribute to the greatness of this CD. Contemporary, 2005; PT: 67:32, *****.
Stan Getz Plays For Lovers, Stan Getz, tenor sax. I don't know of a single person or beast who doesn't love the music of tenorist Stan Getz. This release is evidence as to why, even years after his passing, his recognizable tone and melodic empathy invades that special romantic corner in most everyone's heart. He is heard here on nine cuts together with some of the finest cats of his era like Cal Tjader, Vince Guaraldi, Billy Higgins, Billy Hart, Percy Heath, Bill Evans and others. The tunes are first rate too. "Easy Living," "My Old Flame," "How Long Has This Been Going On," "Spring Is Here," are a few. If you are already a Getz fan, get ready for a grand reunion. If you are not familiar with this giant, prepare for a memorable treat! Concord Jazz Records, 2005; Playing Time: 56:28. *****.
Close To My Heart, Jeremy Pelt, trumpet. Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt certainly doesn't try to blow down any walls but instead relies on his lyricism to make his point.This young man has a warm, pleasant tone whether on trumpet or flugelhorn. His trumpet duo with guitarist David O'Rourke on " This Is The Moment" is a gorgeous testament to what two can do. Pelt is accompanied by the stellar rhythm section of Mulgrew Miller, piano; Peter Washington, bass and drummer Lewis Nash. In addition, on several ballads, he uses a four piece string section. They make the best possible use of O'Rourke's fine arrangements on "Weird Nightmare," "All My Life," and "It's A Beautiful Evening." Max Jazz, 2003; Playing Time: 53:02, ****.
All Soul, Houston Person, tenor saxophone. This is another in a long list of five star recordings by Houston Person. He begins with a straight ahead re-do of "Why Not," a tune he first recorded in the early 1990's featuring organist Joey De Francesco. "All Soul," the title tune, is vintage Person with his soulful ballad delivery. It's one of those tunes that begs you to dance, but only with someone very special. The savvy veteran pianist Stan Hope embellishes nicely behind Person's second solo. Trumpeter Eddie Allen, a new name to me, comes forth with warmth and great clarity. Guitarist Randy Johnston is a perfect fit.Person, with this CD introduces us to the newest member of his band, bassist Per-Ola Gadd. He is Swedish and took private lessons from Niels Henning Orsted Pedersen. Nuff said! He makes a nice opening statement on "So What." Allen handles the bebop mission with aplomb. In fact, he handles it so well, one wishes the track was longer than its' allotted 3:54. Person's robust embracing tone makes the ballad, "Time Stood Still" his. No one plays a ballad on a tenor with the same superb blend of soul and passion as Houston Person. It is his trademark and there's no better example than his work on this CD, "All Soul," his latest. Highnote, 2005; Playing Time: 53:06, *****.