CD Reviews - July 2006
by George Fendel
Hoop Dreams, Joe Magnarelli, trumpet, flugelhorn. I was among the lucky ones who caught this gifted player a year or so ago at Portland's Blue Monk. I knew at that time that Magnarelli was something special, a trumpet player who owes more to Clifford than Miles. Lyricisim and consistency of tone are his bag; so much so that I often hear the late Art Farmer in Magnarelli's playing. His group includes former Eugene, Oregon pianist Gary Versace; Paul Gill, bass; Tony Reedus, drums. The CD has a definite Monkish leaning with no less than three Monk selections; Ask Me Now, I Mean You and Monk's Mood. Other familiar, but certainly not overdone material includes Paris In The Spring and the rarely heard Dance Only With Me, an album highlight. Old Folks has, by now, become a standard and Mags delivers this balled with poignancy and passion. Four originals complete this recording and my faves were Genet, a medium tempo opener with an attractive melody lin; and Division Street, Joe's sprightly visit to the land of Bossa nova. On this, his sixth album for Criss Cross, Magnarelli and friends give us a well balanced and impeccably realized palette of bop and ballads. Criss Cross, 2006; Playing time: 66:05, ****.
Mean What You Say, Eddie Daniels, clarinet, tenor sax. This most welcome CD celebrates the return of Eddie Daniels to a very mainstream surrounding with the ageless and wondrous Hank Jones, piano; along with Richard Davis,bass and Kenny Washington, drums. Daniels splits his time between a slightly Benny Golson-ish tenor sax and an absolutely silvery clarinet sound on a menu of standards sure to please. Among the standout tunes are It Had To Be You, Passion Flower, Azure, The Touch Of Your Lips, You And The Night And The Music, and Charlie Parker's vigorous line, My Little Suede Shoes. While Daniel's solos are rich and rewarding, check out the amazing Hank Jones. The epitome of taste, Jones must be nearing 90, and still plays like a dream. Having said that, this is, make no mistake, Daniel's chance to shine. And he does just that on what one hopes will mark a sustained return right down the center of the jazz highway. IPO Recordings, 2005; Playing Time: 68:33, ****.
Small Day Tomorrow, Bob Dorough, piano, vocals. Bob Dorough is over the 80 mark and still singing, playing, writing and touring like a man half his age. He records infrequently enough so as to make each new Dorough CD something of an event to his fans. And this time around he devotes the entire recording to tunes he wrote with the long time cult lyricist, Fran Landesman. As a matter of fact, I had mainly associated Landesman as a collaborator with Tommy Wolf. And so, surprise, surprise, here come twelve new and slightly older Dorough and Landesman gems. A few standouts to consider: the title tune, Small Day Tomorrow; Marilyn, Queen Of Lies; Harry In The Night; The Ballad Of The Sad Young Men; Nothing Like You and Feet Do Your Stuff. Bob Dorough continues to display his long admired hipness as singer, pianist and composer. Seemingly, he and Fran Landesman are two peas in a pod. Candid, 2006; Playing Time: 62:57, **** 1/2
Live At The Blue Note, Eldar, piano. Sony got its act in gear and released Eldar's second astounding album shortly on the heels of his debut effort. In case you've not heard of him, his family immigrated here in 1998 from Russia. He was eleven. So now that makes him about 19 -- and a virtuoso. Just put him to the test on his riveting opener, What Is This Thing Called Love or on his own composition, Someday; complete with classical orientation, rapid fire velocity and skilled chord work. Two trumpet players make guest appearances. Smooth jazzer Chris Botti steps away from the pop pablum and turns in an impressive reading of You Don't Know What Love Is. The great Roy Hargrove is also on hand, and he is featured on Monk's Straight No Chaser. Eldar and his trio, Marco Panascia, bass and Todd Strait, drums, keep the Blue Note crowd rooted with Dat Dere, Besame Mucho and a couple originals, the stately Sincerely and the scintillating Chronicle, complete with some neat "fours" with Strait. Eldar wraps up the set with a brief ‘A' Train, and everyone goes home happy. You will too ‘cause this kid has incredible chops. Sony Classical, 2006; Playing Time: 80:49, *****.
Jazz Play, Carol Robbins, harp. And here you thought that the use of a harp as a featured voice ended with Dorothy Ashby or perhaps Corky Hale. Well, along comes Carol Robbins and in addition to some very well crafted originals, Robbins and crew explore the likes of O Grande Amor, The Meaning Of The Blues, Skating In Central Park, I'm Old Fashioned and Johnny Mandel's rarity, Don't Look Back. Don't overlook the gorgeous trumpet and flugelhorn work by Steve Huffstetter and the tenor and soprano sax prowess of Bob Sheppard. And the next time someone suggests to you that the harp should be confined to its place in the symphony orchestra, out of harm's way, and far removed from the jazz arena, just say these two words: Carol Robbins. Jazzcats Records, 2005; Playing Time: 71:20, ***.
Down The Line, David Sills, tenor sax, flute. Hooray for David Sills for a few reasons. He opts for a tenor sound which is rich and righteous AND on this recording, he includes two of the world's greatest players in Alan Broadbent, piano and Gary Foster, alto sax. If you haven't heard them, pick up this CD. I promise you'll be mesmerized. To the rhythm section, add Larry Koonse, guitar; Putter Smith, bass and Tim Pleasant, drums. That all makes for an outstanding aggregation. But back to David Sills. What you just have to like about him is that he plays beautiful, serene lines and never overplays. In a slight way, a Paul Desmond on tenor, if you will. With the exception of Never Let Me Go and Bag's Groove, most of the tunes are originals written by various group members, and there's some very satisfying work and fascinating interplay here. Origin, 2006; PT: 45:36, ****1/2.
Liftoff, Mark Elf, guitar. The velocity of the first few notes of Mark Elf's opener and title tune. Liftoff, will give you ample warning: if you love jazz guitar, this is your man. With high profile cats, David Hazeltine, Peter Washington and Lewis Nash, Mark mixes in Thanks For The Memory and I've Never Been In Love Before with a bevy of well written originals. Listen carefully for a change of pace on Deception Blues and How Low Can You Go as Mark performs on the baritone guitar, a true rarity. Other standouts include Fundingsland Waltz (I dig time!); and Left Hand Corner. Elf brings to his music a superb, crisp tone right down the center lane of jazz history. He certainly sounds inspired working with some of Gotham's busiest musicians. Jen Bay Records, 2005; Playing Time:53:52, ****.
Don't Look Back, Warren Vaché, cornet. No doubt some of you remember the great Bobby Hackett and his unique and often stunning sound on trumpet and cornet. Well, the closest I've heard to Hackett is the brilliant Warren Vaché. This recording is backed subtly and discreetly by none other than a Scottish string section. And the result is a beautiful "listening" album that should make Vachéand Arbors Records proud. Among many, a few highlights include Harold Arlen's It Was Written In The Stars; a little tip of the cap to the ensemble with Molly On The Shore; a tender I Fall In Love Too Easily and the title tune, Don't Look Back, a rare gem by Johnny Mandel. But for me the big surprises were two stunners by film composer David Raksin. My Love And I was originally titled Theme From Apache, a truly forgotten film from 1954. But I recall its gorgeous melody from a Coleman Hawkins LP. The other Raksin tune, equally beautiful, is Love Is For The Very Young. Let's just say you'll know it when you hear it. Warren Vache has many great albums to his credit. But for sheer perfection, this may be his ultimate triumph. Arbors, 2006; Playing Time: 56:48, *****.
Go To Play B, Paul Brusger, bass. Here's yet another hard bop feast led by bassist Paul Brusger, but featuring the sax duo of Ronnie Cuber, baritone and George Allgaier, tenor. Sadly, this was probably the last hurrah for pianist John Hicks who was lost to us recently. His solo on Don't Stop Now (the irony of the title is striking) makes clear the loss jazz has suffered. The quintet is completed by John Jenkins, drums. With the exception of the old warhorse, Love Letters, this recording is comprised of original music covering the gamut of tempos and emotions. A few faves included the two leadoff tunes, both high flyers, Don't Stop Now and Enough Is Enough. Waltz For Lady Nancy displays a nice medium groove. These guys are very together and sound as if they've worked extensively as a group. Check ‘em out, bop fans! And thank you for your wondrous music, John Hicks. CAP (Consolidated Artists Productions), 2006; Play Time: 62:27, ****.
Second Helping, Luther Hughes, bass and the Cannonball-Coltrane Project. As the title indicates, this is the high rollin' follow-up to the debut album by this boppin', funky assemblage. Leader Hughes is joined by Glenn Cashman, tenor; Bruce Babad, alto; Ed Czach, piano and Paul Kreibich, drums. The quintet starts right where they left off last time, digging in with dense, generous solos and a clipped, tight sound. The tunes, only a few of which were written by Coltrane or Adderley (in this case, NAT Adderley) reflect the style and approach of these departed jazz icons. Several were actually composed for the date by Cashman, who comes up with some sizzlers. Among the ones associated with Cannon or Coltrane are Work Song, Unit 7, Green Dolphin Street and Mr. Syms. In addition to some well honed solo work by all comers, drummer Kreibich gets that nice little Adderley backbeat going, and it all just pulls you right in. Primrose Lane, 2006; Playing Time: 71:00, ***.
Out Of The Past, Ed Bickert, guitar. In the wrong hands, the guitar has become the most abused musical instrument in history. But to remind us that the guitar can be a thing of unabashed beauty, along comes Ed Bickert. He has for decades been Canada's premier jazz guitarist and this previously unreleased trio session from 1976 catches this masterful player at his best. He's joined here by two other esteemed talents from north of the border in Don Thompson, bass and Terry Clarke, drums. The nine tunes heard here represent an altogether satisfying mix of jazz standards and pop staples. Songs like Skating In Central Park, Con Alma and Nica's Dream. And from the other side of the coin how about When Sunny Gets Blue, I'm Just A Lucky So And So, Deep In A Dream and Have You Met Miss Jones? Bickert creates a special "guitar mood," much like his late colleague Paul Desmond did on alto sax. He never gives you an extraneous note, choosing, rather, the pretty, romantic and rich ones. Sackville, 2006; Playing Time: 63:30; **** 1/2.
It's A Great Feeling, Eddie Erickson, guitar, vocals, banjo. If you're in a sour state of mind, put on this "feel good" music. It'll revive you. And some of you might know Eddie from BED (Becky Kilgore, Eddie and Dan Barrett (trombone). They perform here in Portland on occasion and the B and D of BED both appear on this album. Erickson has a delightful, upbeat voice, perfectly suited to most of the 19 songs heard here (not all vocals) including I'm Old Fashioned, I'm Crazy ‘Bout My Baby, Accentuate The Positive, Make Someone Happy and no less than three tunes with Becky as a guest vocalist. One of the best, Cahn and Styne's title tune, is the rarely heard It's A Great Feeling. And wait til you hear the humorous liberties Erickson takes with C'est Si Bon. You can't help but grin. He even recites a "failed" limerick for your pleasure. This CD is pure fun, with loads of chops and wonderful, life affirming tunes. Nice going, Eddie! Blue Swing, 2006; Playing Time: 71:37, *****.
Round Trip, Marilyn Harris, vocals. In addition to Marilyn Harris' non-forced, no nonsense, all grown up voice, this album shines due to some great, new, swinging tunes. These are songs the way songs used to be written, with clever, intelligent lyrics and actual strong melody lines that go right where they should. Harris is backed by vigorous arrangements and the high wire players of the LA All-Stars Big Band featuring soloists such as Pete Christlieb, Bill Watrous, Andy Martin and Don Shelton. A special appearance here on a tune called Cool (not the one from West Side Story) pairs Harris with everybody's jazz raconteur, Bob Dorough. Together, they present a list of characteristics and people they deem, in one case, even "Chet Baker cool!" This is a very well conceived album of excellent tunes by a voice who, it should be said, "gets it." Wrightwood Records, 2006; PT: 53:02, ****.
Richie Cole Meets Art Pepper, Richie Cole, alto and baritone sax; Art Pepper, alto sax and clarinet. Bet you didn't know that these two reed mavens got together on one recording. It was for the short lived but excellent Palo Alto label, and in its vinyl version has become a certified collector's item. It finally appears here on CD, with an extra track to boot. With a rhythm section of Roger Kellaway, Bob Magnusson and Billy Higgins, the group starts with Richie on baritone and Art on clarinet on a blues, Return To Alto Acres. Richie then turns romantic on alto for a serene reading of The Things We Did Last Summer. Art's Opus #2 follows and turns the solo spot exclusively to Art. Then it's mainly Richie and Roger on a thing called A & R. Perhaps the grooviest melody follows in Palo Alto Blues with Art taking the first chorus, Richie the second. The one standard is Broadway, and the two players give us a straight ahead romp with each taking exhilarating solos. The bonus track, a repetition of Art's Opus #2, gets a bit avante-screechy for these ears, but maybe you'll dig it. In any case, it's sure nice to have this long out of print meeting available once again. Jazz Excursion, 2006; Playing Time: 40:51; ***.
Live in New York, The Uptown Quintet. Now and then someone puts out a deep in the shed hard bop record. Kinda like the old days of Blue Note. And these guys, co-led by Ryan Kisor on trumpet and Ian Hendrickson-Smith on alto have it going right down the center lane of the bebop highway. Their album just burns on six originals plus a couple of rarely heard tunes by two acclaimed pianists, Blue Minor by Sonny Clark and Sweet Pumpkin by Ronnell Bright. Recommended enthusiastically! Cellar Live, 2005; Playing Time: 56:33, *****.
Promise, Danny Grissett, piano. Criss Cross Records keeps mining exciting young jazz talent and Danny Grissett fits the mold well. On this, his first release on the Holland label, he and mates Vicente Archer, bass and Kendrick Scott, drums, draw you immediately with a confident run through Coltrane's Moment's Notice. Other standards include Autumn Nocturne, You Must Believe In Spring and Everything Happens To Me. Grissett's originals incorporate intricate melody lines, rich chords, precise phrasing, and mature use of space. Chalk up yet another one for Criss Cross. Criss Cross, 2006; Playing Time: 59:17, ****.
Afrosano, John Mattern, tenor sax. Here's more proof of talent remaining under-recognized as Mattern's quartet has assembled an impressive collection of standards and originals. Mattern presents the listener with a soft touch on ‘A' Train and Smile, but gets a little buzz going on Have You Met Miss Jones. Several originals of varying moods complete a versatile and very nicely executed CD. Gravel Plant Records, 2006; PT: 58:40, ***.
Live, Linda Lee Michelet, vocals. Portland's Linda Lee Michelet doesn't really try for a "Peggy Lee sound," but her well-performed CD, recorded live at the Heathman Hotel, reprises Peggy Lee hits like Fever, Why Don't You Do Right, I Lost My Sugar in Salt Lake City and See See Rider. Accompaniment by a solid group featuring trumpet man Dick Titterington enhances Michelet's clear, well enunciated, jazz tinged delivery. Eader's Bakery, 2005; Playing time: 52:04, ****.
Sophie Millman (self-titled), vocals. I'd think that Sophie Millman might better be thought of as a quality pop singer with a slight jazz leaning. On what I assume is her debut CD, she sings mostly good songs like Guilty, The Man I Love, La Vie En Rose and I Feel Pretty. A few others were not as effective due to some syrupy over-arrangements not well suited to the songs. Linus, 2004; Playing Time: 48:51, **.
Just Like Old Times, Jerry Kalaf, composer, drums. Here are eight original tunes, mostly delicate vehicles with very flowing melody lines, some rather like movie themes. The strings are subtle, perfectly "laid in" by arranger Doug Walter. Although trio pianist Rich Ruttenberg receives only small print credit, he has a fleeting touch and sounds like someone we need to hear more from. Palm Mountain Records, 2005; Play Time: 50:11, *** 1/2
Helpless Romantics, Michael Feinstein, vocals, George Shearing, piano. This CD could have easily been titled The Harry Warren Songbook, and in performing Warren's timeless music, Feinstein and Shearing certainly show themselves to indeed be hopeless romantics. Michael Feinstein has always been terrific at getting into the heart of a lyric, and he remains possessed with keeping the standards "out there." Add George Shearing's eloquent piano accompaniment and you have an intimate performance of such fare as At Last, You're My Everything, The More I See You, You'll Never Know, I Know Why and lots more. Melody lovers, get set. You're gonna love this one. Concord Jazz, 2006; Playing Time: 60:42, *****.
It's Now Midnight, Len Bryant, drums, vocals. Who knew that Philly piano wizard Ray Bryant had a younger bro with a very musicianly voice? He handles some standards with confidence, including Angel Eyes, When I Fall In Love, Lush Life and My Funny Valentine. The quintet backing him plays with precision and the whole thing fits like your most comfortable old sweater. Self-produce, 2006; Playing Time: 40:14, ***.
Happy All The Time, Chuck Redd, vibes, drums. Barney Kessel will long be remembered as one of the pioneers on jazz guitar. Chuck Redd's tribute to him is enthusiastically performed and along with the likes of Laura, Tenderly, Lil Darlin', and Love Is Here To Stay, the CD includes five of Kessel's tunes. Howard Alden and Gene Bertoncini step in to split guitar chores and how nice to hear Monty Alexander as a guest on a few tunes. As for Redd, well, let's just say he's deep into his music. Arbors, 2006; Playing Time: 67:31, ****1/2.
Billy's Theme, Jessica Williams, piano As one of jazzdom's most eloquent spokesmen and a major pianist for over 50 years, Dr. Billy Taylor has earned this glowing tribute from piano colleague Jessica Williams. Her all original compositions, rich in melodic quality and mostly on the introspective side, will surely be received with admiration by Dr. Taylor. Jessica is a big league player, and has been so for years. This lovely recording adds a new and welcome chapter to her wide ranging discography. Origin, 2006; Playing Time: 68:07, ****.
Relax, Buck Hill, tenor sax. Call it my own little idiosyncrasy if you must, but I much prefer horn soloists accompanied by a piano trio over an organ trio. Nothing against Hammond A100 organist John Ozment. He's just fine. And so is Buck Hill, a native of Washington, D.C., who spent most of his career in that locale. Hill plays it close to the vest on some blues, bossa and three Miles Davis tunes, Flamenco Sketches, Pfrancing and Milestones. Severn Records, 2006; Playing Time; 51:51, ***.
A Scot In LA, Roger Cairns, vocals. There aren't many male vocalists on the jazz horizon these days and that makes it very nice to hear Roger Cairns. For the most part, he chooses songs not often done, and sings them in a most pleasant, always on key baritone.Self-produced, 2006; Playing Time: 52:12; available through fax: 706-210-9453, ***.
Music Of Gershwin, By George! Dale Bruning, guitar. Gershwin lovers (and who isn't?) will be spellbound by Colorado guitarist Dale Bruning and his polished quartet on time honored GG classics like Love Is Here To Stay, ‘S Wonderful, Love Walked In, But Not For Me, Embraceable You and more. Kudos also to pianist Jeff Jenkins who swings vigorously.Jazz Link Enterprises, 2006; Playing Time: 67:48, ****.
Group, Joe Locke, vibes; Geoff Keezer, piano, keyboards. These immensely talented musicians co-lead a quartet and get "locked" into rather dense, sometimes confusing music without much melody line, and frankly, not much interest either. Technique? Chops? Loads of both. But these seven originals don't seem to resolve of "go anywhere." Maybe you'll find something to hang your hat on. I didn't. Origin, 2006; Play Time: 56:31, **.
Dream, Aimee Allen, vocals. As they say nowadays, "give it up" for Aimee Allen. She chooses quality tunes like Daydream, Triste, Here's That Rainy Day and Cry Me A River, among others. And in a well controlled, near-soprano, she and her trio have given us a splendid initial effort.Self-produced, 2006; Playing Time: 50:44, ***.
Sharik's Syncopated Faint Septet; leader not clearly indicated. This stuff gets far out fast with rock beats, electronic noise making, and, imagine, here and there something which actually bears resemblance to a together ensemble. The music often sounds downright sinister to me. But if that's your cup of tea, drink on.Hyena, 2006; playing Time: 70:44, *.
The Very Best Of Nat King Cole; Nat King Cole, vocals For those of you seeking Nat's hip vocals with his influential piano trio, be alert to the fact that this is mainly the pop side of the master musician. Still, among its 28 tunes, there are outstanding ones like Mona Lisa, A Blossom Fell, Nature Boy, Ballerina and Sweet Lorraine. Capitol-EMI, 2006; time not indicated, ****.