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CD Reviews - September 2006
by George Fendel

Precious Moments, Eddie Henderson, trumpet and flugelhorn. Let's put it this way: if you appreciated the warm, lyrical style of Art Farmer, you're going to be drawn to those qualities in Eddie Henderson. This CD, one of many fine Henderson efforts over the years, puts him in the company of Kevin Hays, piano; Ed Howard, bass, and Billy Hart, drums. It is interesting to note that although Henderson doesn't usually opt for a Miles Davis-type of sound, his muted versions of Bill Evans' Blue In Green and the traditional Swedish tune, Dear Old Stockholm will bring Miles to mind. Perhaps the surprise of the set is Henderson's exquisite flugelhorn on Unforgettable (yes, it's that same tune that Nat King Cole sold a jillion copies of). Two Wayne Shorter tunes, Dance Cadaverous and Wild Flower are subtle vehicles for Henderson's expressive nature, and the same may be said for two originals, Around The World in and the title tune, Precious Moments, presumably written by his wife, Natsuko Henderson.The only choice I would not have made is the synth-laden Silent Night, the "sore thumb" on an otherwise fine album. Blue Thumb Records, 2006; Playing Time: 55:18, ****

Big Phat Band, Gordon Goodwin, piano, tenor sax, leader. Undoubtedly there are still lots of gigs in LA for the best players in what I'd imagine to be a very competitive environ. Gordon Goodwin has, it appears, hired some of these crackerjack players to appear on an album with rippingly good arrangements and lots of breathing room for the soloists. Too bad that the liner notes don't identify all of them. Most of the original tunes, with names like Cut ‘N' Run, Count Bubba's Revenge, The Phat Pack and Whodunit were all bundles of energy and extremely well played. Some guest artists added up to a mixed bag. Diane Reeves sings well on the CD's only standard, Too Close For Comfort. The clarinet of Eddie Daniels will spin you around in your chair on something called Under The Wire. The vocal group Take 6 performs pleasantly enough on It Was A Very Good Year, but nobody will ever top Sinatra's version. David Sanborn lays a smooth jazz egg on Play That Funky Music, the one piece of music totally out of place on this CD. As a bonus, there's a DVD included with concert videos, a photo gallery, solo transcriptions, bios of band members and more. Innergent Records, 2006; time not indicated, ***

Live At The Jazz Standard; Nancy King, vocals. George's advice for today: If you ever get the chance to gig with Fred Hersch, do it! Not that Nancy King needed to hear that from me, for goodness sake. But when the opportunity came her way, Nancy jumped on it, and here's the recorded proof. Here are two very creative jazz artists somehow making each tune, even oldies like Ain't Misbehavin', a new experience. Nancy, as her fellow Portlanders know well, always finds something fresh in her scat journeys, and it seems that Hersch too is able to "dig up'" something we haven't heard before. And that's what they do on such standards like Everything Happens To Me, There Will Never Be Another You, Autumn In New York and more. But just when you think they've pulled all the stops, hand the two of ‘em a couple of bop classics like Bird's Little Suede Shoes and Miles Davis's Four. On the first of these tunes, Nancy finds a parallel in Day By Day, an old hit for the Four Freshmen. Nobody but Nancy King would put those two together, but leave it to Nancy, it works! And so it goes for this duo throughout an adventurous, happy, full of life CD. Max Jazz, 2006; Playing Time: 73:35, *****

Teranga; Jon Faddis, trumpet, flugelhorn, vocals. Jon Faddis has never backed off from a debt of musical gratitude to his mentor, Dizzy Gillespie. Just check out his muted stacatto phrasing on Hey, Lalo. It's pretty darn close to Diz! For a change of pace, try Jon's original, Waltz For My Fathers And Brothers, a lovely expression of lyricism done on flugelhorn. An album highlight is The Courtship, a perfectly named Benny Carter tune with an air of formality. Clark Terry guests on the laid back Fibble-Ow Blues and the trumpet titan team takes on a fresh "Mumbles" routine. It's pure fun! Among other titles, the album concludes with The Baron, a test of rapid paced bop chops featuring baritone ace Gary Smulyan. Other guests include Frank Wess on alto flute and Russell Malone on guitar. Faddis's basic trio features David Hazletine, piano; Kiyoshi Kitiagawa, bass and Dion Parson, drums. With all the drop-ins, the album is well named. You see, Terranga means hospitality, brotherhood and sharing. Koch Records, 2006; Playing Time: 56:35, ****

Ennis Anyone? Ethel Ennis, vocals. If you weren't around in the 60's, you need to know that artists like Ethel Ennis, who did four or five excellent LPs for RCA, were cast aside in that decade in favor of screamy singers who couldn't hold a candle to Ms. Ennis. What's really nice is that with the passage of the years, this CD shows her voice to be in fine form. With accompaniment provided by pianist Stefan Scaggiari and his trio, Ethel Ennis is at her best in this live performance on It's A Wonderful World, In The Days Of Our Love, Danny Boy, and But Beautiful. On the latter tune, she even does a brief, but quite remarkable imitation of Billie Holiday Some of the remaining tunes are surrounded by too much talking and not enough singing. And Tomorrow (from Annie) is a lovely tune which doesn't work as a "swinger." There are some high points in this album, but some distractions along with them, namely the choice of some material not up to the standard expected from a singer of Ethel Ennis' stature. That and too much "jabber " with the audience. However, the fact remains that Ethel Ennis is a primo, natural singer. See if you can find any of her old LPs on RCA-Victor. Jazzmont Records, 2005; Playing Time: 67:20; ***

Heroes, Roger Kellaway, piano. The major influence on the young Roger Kellaway was the series of guitar trios led by Oscar Peterson. In preparing for this recording, Kellaway indicates what a pleasure it was to return to those cookin' sides with Barney Kessel or Herb Ellis on guitar. Kellaway set out to do an "Oscar tribute" and enlisted the help of his colleagues of the last couple years, Bruce Forman, guitar; and Dan Lutz, bass. Most of the tunes can be found on Peterson discs of long ago, and while Kellaway loves to indulge in the Oscar-ish block chord thing now and then, this is most assuredly Roger at work at what he does best. Come to think of it, I don't recall, among a fair number of RK recordings in my own collection, another piano-guitar-bass effort. The group starts out in high gear with Benny Golson's Killer Joe, and continues in that vein with Cottontail. Just to show you they can handle a Tin Pan Alley rarity, the trio deftly takes on Gershwin's I Was Doing All Right. Among other delights, you'll find Night Train, Nuages, Midnight Sun, Moten Swing and Oscar's own Hymn To Freedom. Roger Kellaway can coax about as much from a piano as it will willingly give. Just listen! IPO Records, 2006; Playing Time: 61:46, ****1/2

Live: An Evening With The Mel Brown Quartet, Mel Brown, leader, drums. This is it! Some infectious bebop to just wrap your arms around. No big surprise when PDX legend Mel Brown is the man in charge. And his quartet gets the message from their leader on a mixed bag of standards and originals, with a few surprises along the way. After a high octane line called Dandyish by pianist Tony Pacini, the group takes on Prelude To A Kiss at a fast paced clip. The quartet then reverses the process by playing Yardbird Suite at a rather relaxed, slower tempo. Another Pacini original follows, the bossa flavored First Light. The group then stokes the fire and the resulting burner of a blues is entitled One For Jimmy Mak, featuring Dan Balmer's riveting guitar. The first of two tunes by bassist Ed Bennett is a bouncy, attractive melody line called May Song. Another Pacini creation, The Message, gives the pianist a chance to shine on an exhilarating solo. Ditto Dan Balmer. Charlie Chaplin's Smile gets a fresh look and is followed by another Bennett original, Ticondeep. Appropriately, the quartet ends with a rip-roaring Gone With The Wind. The good news is that this ebullient group is hardly "gone." Catch ‘em any Wednesday at the new and beautifully appointed Jimmy Mak's. Saphu Records, 2006; PT: 69:08, ****1/2

Collaboration, Hank Jones, piano. Now and then, one just gets by you. This trio gem was recorded in 2002 and released in 2004. Glad I finally became aware of it in 2006. Of course, the name Hank Jones brings with it thoughts of musical elegance and economy. There are few musicians playing today more admired than one of the early deans in the jazz school, Hank Jones. His trio this time out features Richard Davis, bass and Elvin Jones, drums. And, as always, Hank delivers the goods in every department....swing, bop, blues, ballads. Just check out a buoyant Rhythm-A-Ning and compare it to a bare bones, beautiful Summertime. The Shadow Of Your Smile is taken a skosh faster than usual; ditto Autumn Leaves, and we're all the better for it. Maybe the surprise of the set is Memories Of You, an old warhorse from long ago. But guess what? In the talented hands of Hank Jones, "Memories" is heard anew. One could say with ease that Hank Jones is one of those rare cats who seems to provide us the definitive version of nearly any song he plays. Some guys just have it. 441 Records, 2004; Playing Time: Not indicated, ****

Legacy, Paul Cacia, trumpet, arranger, leader. He may not be a "household name" but Paul Cacia can challenge Maynard Ferguson and Cat Anderson when it comes to range, and hitting that belly-bursting high note squarely on target. On this big band blast, Cacia enlists the arranging skills of Pete Rugolo, Bill Holman, Sammy Nestico and Ernie Wilkins. Impressive credentials, eh? And I'm confident that last names will suffice for soloists Menza, Edison, Christlieb, Watrous, Bellson, both Candolis, Rowles and Sheldon, among others. The tunes, mostly familiar fare, give this power-packed Los Angeles crew an opportunity to shine on ‘A' Train, Stormy Weather, Angel Eyes, Jordu, Round Midnight, Love For Sale and a big band bebop bonanza called Overtime. Rugolo's arrangement of Matt Dennis's Angel Eyes will bring the Four Freshmen to mind, and Harry Edison chimes in for some subtle trumpet work on the Jennifer Sood Vocal on Why Don't You Do Right. Big band boosters — here's your album! Empressario Records, 2006; Playing time not indicated, ***

The Lineup, One For All (group name). With several sterling albums already to their credit, One For All keeps the ball rolling with The Lineup. Comprised of Eric Alexander, tenor; Jim Rotondi, trumpet and flugelhorn; Steve Davis, trombone; David Hazeltine, piano; John Webber, bass and Joe Farnsworth, drums, this New York based sextet has all the tools; chops, imagination and stellar compositional and solo skills. You'll concur after no more than a few bars of their opener, a fast paced Eric Alexander composition called Anatolia. The tenor man is also responsible for Little Lucas, a crisp medium-up opus with especially stirring solo work by the muted trumpet of Jim Rotondi. After a visit with the album's one standard, Sweet And Lovely, Hazeltine switches to Fender Rhodes for Downtown Sounds. Steve Davis's ballad, Letter To Mary follows and provides a delicate framework for the group's ensemble sound. The Lineup, by David Hazeltine, is an in-the-pocket bop vehicle, and Rotondi's Express Train follows in a similar groove. The closer, Steve Davis's Smooth, has a subtle funk beat, with the trombone player as the feature guy. This group plays together, anticipating, creating, and staying within the bountiful boundaries of classic bop. One For All, you might say. Sharp Nine Recordings, 2006; Playing Time: 57:42, ****1/2

Ballads, George Mitchell, piano. If, like me, you're a piano freak, and if, like me, you treasure the standard American songbook, you'll want to check out George Mitchell's new solo piano CD. What you'll find is a recital-quality George, with nary an effort to spin your head around with unnecessary "fill" or any "look what I can do" technique. Instead, he gets to the heart of ten evergreens, examining their timeless melody lines with lovely harmonies. George Mitchell plays these songs as though he cares about them, and I'm sure he does. A few which found the most favor for me were One For My Baby, A Time For Love, Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most, Invitation and Darn That Dream. A couple of surprises included Where Are You, a Jimmy McHugh "sleeper" that Frank Sinatra had much success with, and Billy Strayhorn's Lush Life, a song so difficult that not many musicians want to tackle it. Melody lovers, George Mitchell is going to make you very happy. More info may be found at www.georgemitchellmusic.com. Libran Music, 2005; Playing Time: 51:59, ****

Mort Weiss Meets Sam Most, Mort Weiss, clarinet; Sam Most, reeds. If you're looking for a clarinet player to take you magically back to the sound of the big band dance halls and the revolving glass ball which bounced light all over the room, then this is not your clarinet album. But if you marvel at the very notion of playing bebop on an instrument as demanding as the clarinet, Mort's your man. For a little added spice, how about the appearance of veteran Sam Most on flute and tenor with a couple vocals thrown in for good measure. The quintet is completed impressively by Mort's "usual suspects," Ron Eschete, guitar; Luther Hughes, bass and Roy McCurdy, drums. The entire set was recorded live at LA's Steamers Jazz Club & Café, and the quintet explodes out of the gate with a take-no-prisoners Four. Just to show you his ease at medium tempo, Mort and friends play Jerome Kern's I'm Old Fashioned. After a "Dizzying" workout on Night In Tunesia, Most's vocal and flute work are featured on I Got It Bad. Fats Waller's Jitterbug waltz, a challenge for most players, is no sweat for Mort and company. Following Poor Butterfly, With A Song In My Heart and My One And Only Love, Mort counts out a blistering tempo for Donna Lee and Blues In The Closet. As you shake your head in wonderment, you'll understand that the crowd got their money's worth. SMS Jazz, 2006; Playing Time: 71:15; *****

What's Your Story, Roberta Donnay, vocals. To these ears, Roberta Donnay sounds like a pop singer trying her hand at better quality material than that which the world of pop normally provides. So it should be said that there are some good tunes here, tunes like Small Day Tomorrow, Devil May Care, Blue Monk, Dindi and a Johnny Mercer creation called Drinkin' Again. Pianist Eric Reed's trio is in fine fettle backing Ms. Donnay, but she's a pop singer out of her element. Rainforest Records, 2006; Playing Time: 52:53, **

Jazz For The Heart, Harry Allen, tenor sax. With an impressive string of fine albums to date, Harry Allen continues on that path with no less than fourteen standards played as few do these days, in the heart of the jazz tradition. With John Bunch, piano; Joe Cohn, guitar; Joel Forbes, bass and Chuck Riggs, drums, Allen serenades us with such winners as Nancy, Mona Lisa, Skylark, Moonlight In Vermont, I'll Be Seeing You and lots more. Manna from heaven. McMahon Jazz Medicine, 2006; Playing Time: 72:00; *****

Call It A Good Deal, David Bixler, alto sax. Here's a quintet featuring Bixler's alto and the excellent trumpet work of Scott Wendholt on no less than seven original compositions by the leader. With apologies to guitarist John Hart, I must say that I miss the sound of a piano. Bixler's compositions might be described as dense and complicated, a bit over the edge for this straight ahead dude, but played with great presence and skill. Zoho, 2006; Playing Time: 52:53, **1/2

Kind Of Blue And Pink, Jon Crosse, alto and tenor saxes; clarinet, trumpet. Not even Carmen McRae, one of the hippest singers of all time, can put over such fare as Mary Had A Little Lamb, Baa Baa Black Sheep and Hickory Dickory Dock. The same may be said for other guests Freddie Hubbard and Clare Fischer on Twinkle Twinkle, London Bridge and more. Crosse plays well enough, but the idea of nursery rhymes in jazz settings is one which, unfortunately, doesn't work. Jazz Cat Productions, 2006; PT: 59:10, **

Goin' Wes, Ken Song, guitar. The liner notes give us no info or bio on Ken Song, but I can tell you that he's as swingin' a guitarist as the title "Goin' Wes" would suggest. His quartet hits the target with a welcome mix of blues and standards like In A Mellow Tone, Everything Happens To Me, Like Someone In Love and more. Song's warm guitar sound reminds me of Josh Breakstone, and big time kudos also for pianist Llew Matthews. Primrose Lane Records, Probably 2006; Playing Time: 52:04, ****

In The Loop, Ted Nash, tenor sax. What makes this a pretty decent recording is the combination of Nash's tenor with the trumpet of Marcus Printup. The music itself, nine original tunes, runs the gamut of tempos and moods, sometimes quite expressive or complex, and at other times a bit off the center lane of the jazz highway. Call it what you want, but give me at least a standard of two so I can make some kind of judgment as to whether a guy can swing. Palmetto, 2006; Playing Time: 45:29, **

Hot Swing, Cool Jazz, Nancy Osborne, vocals. If you're not old enough to have experienced the "big band with gal singer era," this will give you an idea of what it was all about. Nancy Osborne handles a generous 16 tune set with flair, and an LA big band comes through with some well crafted arrangements on It's Delovely, Something's Gotta Give, Two Lost Souls, Georgia On My Mind, And The Angels Sing and lots more. Check out: www.nancyosborne.net. Self-Produced, 2006; Playing Time: 48:49, ***

Castaneda's Dreams, Rick Wald, alto sax. Rick Wald, a new name to me, has gathered sixteen of New York's finest, to produce an "in-your-face" CD of very urban, original music. The soloists include modern day masters like Valery Ponomarev on trumpet and Gary Smulyan on baritone. The music both simmers and soars, making this a wide ranging, well performed session. It often goes in odd directions, but is so well constructed, it'll catch your ear. Self-produced, 2006; Playig Time: 73:25, ***

Something Good, Mitzi Zilka, vocals. With a welcome, no-gimmick freshness, Portland's Mitzi Zilka interprets a handful of songs in the company of some of the Rose City's finest jazz musicians. In addition to admired jazz standards like When Lights Are Low, Blue Bossa and Lady Bird, Mitzi finds some rare gems like Introduce Me To Your Friend, Short People and Gigi Gryce's Social Call. Mitzi's sincere renditions of these and others are a pure delight. More info at www.mitzizilka.com. Self-produced, 2005; Playing Time: 48:19, ****

Copyright 2007, Jazz Society of Oregon