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CD Reviews - November 2006
by George Fendel

Reflections, Frank Morgan, alto sax. This CD marks another fine release in a long line of them by Frank Morgan, brother of the late trumpeter Lee Morgan. He strikes a nice balance between up tempo vehicles like Walkin‚, Solar and Out Of Nowhere with his usual warm and expressive sound on ballads such as Monk's Mood, I'll Be Around, Crazy She Calls Me and an achingly slow and sensuous version of Blue Monk. On these and others, Morgan is supported by a first cabin rhythm section of the under-rated Ronnie Matthews, piano; Essiet Essiet, bass and Billy Hart, drums. If you're one of those people who somehow believes that every new album needs to "break new ground" (whatever that means), then perhaps this isn't your main dish. But, if like me, you appreciate the straight ahead sound of four seasoned jazz musicians applying their considerable skills to a menu of well chosen tunes, you'll certainly like what Frank Morgan has to say. High Note, 2006; Playing Time: 51:37, ****

Blues For Breakfast, Mary Foster Conklin, vocals. Somebody needed to make this album sooner or later. The fact that it happened "later" doesn't detract from the talent and the significant musical contribution of Matt Dennis, a composer of such timeless tunes as Angel Eyes, The Night We Called It A Day, Will You Still Be Mine and Violets For Your Furs. These and ten additional Matt Dennis tunes are interpreted here by Mary Foster Conklin, a singer who understands and communicates the lyric of every song she sings. Conklin brings a cabaret element to her singing and it works well on the above named tunes as well as less well known Matt Dennis creations like Show Me The Way To Get Out Of This World, That Tired Routine Called Love, Let's Pretend, and Learn To Love. Having heard Angel Eyes by dozens of artists over the years, I never knew, until this album, that the song had a verse (intro). An album highlight is Before The Show, an expressive minor key waltz with a lyric in part by Sammy Cahn. All in all, Conklin puts it across with a flair, and the album is an overdue reminder of the honored place of Matt Dennis in American music. Rombus Records, 2006; Playing Time:55:28,****

Wish Me Well, Mark Masters Ensemble. Gary McFarland was a nearly established jazz star when he passed away in 1971 at the age of 38. For the record, McFarland, who lived on the southern Oregon coast for awhile, was a standout vibes player, but really shined as an arranger and composer. This CD will, one hopes, serve as a means to keep McFarland's music "out there" for us to enjoy. Mark Masters has arranged eleven of Gary's tunes to a group of accomplished players including Steve Kuhn, piano; Gary Smulyan, baritone sax; Gary Foster, saxophones, flute, clarinet; Tim Hagans, trumpet; Dave Woodley, trombone; Darek Oles, bass and Joe LaBarbera, drums. Masters' arrangements are nothing short of brilliant, allowing for the best of ensemble sounds as well as more than adequate room for these first cabin players to solo adventurously. The tunes may be unfamiliar, but the joy of "digging in" to some juicy writing is apparent from the opening bell. If you buy a dozen CDs per year, this should be one of them. Capri, 2006;Playing Time: 73:46, *****

Lazy Afternoon, Elin, vocals. If you're hip to Helen Merrill, you might go for Elin, a singer with a similar husky and pleasant vocal style. Her CD takes a bow in the direction of Latin music with such titles as Aquarella de Brasil, Vera Cruz, Bonita, La Luna and Casa Forte. A couple of additional tunes were part of the Getz-Gilberto phenomenon, namely Doralice and The Telephone Song. The latter tune is cleverly combined with the Gershwin's Fascinating Rhythm, an unlikely pairing which, for some reason, works well here. Finally, there's a tune called Sugar. It should not be confused with the tired Turrentine tune. Other songs than those out of the Latin bag include yet another ode to the apple, I Love New York; the title tune, Lazy Afternoon; and Billy Strayhorn's classic, Lush Life. The recording benefits from well crafted arrangements and some key players in Harry Allen, tenor sax; Claudio Roditi, trumpet and flugelhorn; and Hendrik Meurkens, vibes.If you're into the Brazilian thing, you're going to enjoy Elin. Self-produced, 2006; Playing Time: 58:36,***

The B3 And Me, Mort Weiss, clarinet. Okay, just how many clarinetists can you name who play bristling bebop on that most exasperating of instruments? Not many, that's how many. Enter Mort Weiss, a relatively new on the scene "seventy something" who will spin your head around ten ways from Sunday. Weiss plays challenging Charlie Parker lines like Ornithology and Billie's Bounce with incredible fluency and ease and is equally effective on standards I Thought About You, Falling In Love With Love, Love Letters, Autumn Leaves, Yesterdays, You Stepped Out Of A Dream, and Fools Rush In. In the summer of 2005, Weiss fractured everybody lucky enough to have seen him at Portland's Cathedral Park Jazz Festival, and obviously things have gone well for him since that time. On this, his sixth CD, he is joined by Joey DeFrancesco, Hammond B3; Craig Ebner, guitar; and Byron Landham, drums. DeFrancesco keeps it well within the sphere of a small group bop session, and never steals the spotlight. As for Mort Weiss, you'll simply ask yourself, "How does he do that?" SMS Records, 2006; Playing Time 67:27, ****1/2

Jazz At Monterey, Virgil Gonsalves, baritone saxophone. Based on the fine tuned arrangements and muscular baritone heard here, one can only wonder why Virgil Gonsalves never ascended higher on the jazz ladder of fame. These reissues, originally saw the light of day way back in 1959, on the small Omega label. Gonsalves leads a big band on five tunes and a sextet on another four. Most of the players were, I'd guess, Bay Area cats and great section guys, but the only familiar names were Junior Mance, Leo Wright, Eddie Kahn and Benny Barth. The big band roars through Stablemates, A Sunday Kind Of Love Moment's Notice, Blue Bird and co-leader, trumpet man Jerry Cournoyer's Steresis. The band sounds vital, timeless and even scorching on some great solo work generously passed around among several players. The sextet than takes over on Little Melonae, Sharon, Oasis and Lover Man. Their presence is equal to that of the big band, only scaled down of course. The subtle, finely honed solos of the leader will grab you, and the next time you're in the company of that pal of yours who "knows all there is to know" about West Coast jazz, mention the name Virgil Gonsalves. VSOP, 2006; Playing Time 48:12, ****

You Know, Mike Melvoin, piano. Mike Melvoin is one of those guys who's "done it all"...playing, arranging, composing, conducting, and tons of studio work and concert accompanist for heavy hitters such as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Joe Williams and Peggy Lee, among a multitude of others. Yet, as a gifted and elegant pianist, Melvoin's opportunities as a leader have been few indeed. This CD will hopefully make up for some lost time, as Mike Melvoin's trio (Tony Dumas, bass and Ralph Penland, drums) tackle standards like Long Ago And Far Away, Blue Skies, Giant Steps , Exactly like You and I'll Be Seeing You. Several originals add some luster to this outing. The best of them include Life Is What You Make It, a sprightly melody line in bossa attire; a real "blues down to my shoes" line called They Sing The Blues In Kansas City; and a spirited thing oddly titled Son Of The Beach. Mike Melvoin has acquired a long list of admirers over the years. One can only hope to hear more from him and his trio.City Light, 2006; Playing Time: 70:58, ****

You Taught My Heart To Sing, Houston Person, tenor sax; Bill Charlap, piano. Sometimes the magic just works. You get a couple musicians into the studio who are on exactly the same wave length regarding what they are attempting to achieve, and as the session progresses, they know it's one of those moments. Such must have been the case with Houston Person and Bill Charlap on this recital-quality recording. Person keeps his solos on a very intimate level, never straying too far from the melody, but always playing lovely, long lines. Charlap plays every piano solo as though it's the definitive one, and his comping behind the tenor man is, one might say, perfection Personified. Among the ten tunes, I especially liked Namely You, Where Are You, If I Ruled The World, Where Is Love, the title tune You Taught My Heart To Sing and I Was Telling Her About You, a lesser known treasure written by Bill's father, composer Moose Charlap. This is an album of simplicity and beauty, and you'll be touched by it. Thanks go to High Note Records for their belief that "there still room for pretty." High Note, 2006; Playing Time: 56:20, *****

Livin' On Love, Wesla Whitfield, vocals. Make no mistake, Wesla Whitfield is a cabaret singer whose voice is so entrancing and delivery so real that jazz fans have scooped her up as one of their own. On this album of thirteen marvelous all-timers, Whitfield weaves her spell with two distinct groups providing accompaniment. Her husband, pianist Mike Greensill leads an octet featuring five French Horns and reedman extraordinaire, Gary Foster. Greensill also anchors a quintet featuring foster on flute, alto and tenor, but in addition to Whitfield's classy renditions, you'll want to pick up on the sound of the French Horns. They add a beauty rarely heard in jazz. Toss Gary Foster's scrumptious solos into the mix, and wow, what a recording! For the record, all participants shine on such fare as This Can't Be Love, Love Is Here To Stay, Pure Imagination, For All We Know, Once In A While, Do I Hear A Waltz and a Johnny Mandel beauty called Whistling Away The Dark. These and others result in a melody lover's delight. High Note, 2006; Playing time: 57:45, ****1/2

I'll Always Know, The Music Of Reed Kotler; Tomo (a quintet). In a review of a previous album devoted to the music of Reed Kotler, I indicated that he's a link to the past in the art of songwriting. You see, Kotler writes a distinct and real melody line followed by a bridge, and eventually resolving back to the original melody. In this day and age, when only decibels reign supreme, Kotler's approach is more than simply welcome. It is, perhaps, a small miracle. Tomo means 'friends" or "soulmates" in Japanese, and that's apparent from the moment you tuck this one into your player. Kotler enlists the talent of five lyrical LA cats to interpet his finely honed melodies. They are: Bob Sheppard, tenor and soprano saxes, flute; Larry Koonse, guitar; Bill Cunliffe, piano and arranging; Darek Oles, bass and Mark Ferber, drums. The songs somehow "breathe" with the pleasure the musicians are having in playing crisp, vital ensemble passages and solos which convey an equal measure of enthusiasm. Kotler's writing is fun, swinging and accessible, bringing it all into focus. Trust me, you're going to want to add this one to your collection. Torii, 2006; Playing time: 65:04, *****

Above The Clouds, Dave Glasser, alto saxophone. Since its inception, Arbors Records has always found room for outstanding players who don't have tons of name familiarity. Well, here's another in Dave Glasser, a purveyor of warmth and sincerity, who now and then brings to mind Johnny Hodges, although with a little more bite. Glasser leads a quartet with yet another new name, Larry Ham on piano; and veterans Dennis Irwin, bass and Carl Allen, drums. The tunes run the gamut from chestnuts Our Love Is Here To Stay, Easter Parade, In A Sentimental Mood, and the ancient warhorse, Every Day I Fall In Love to some well penned originals like A Little Funky, the slippery, slow Blues For Mat; the boppy Stitt's Bits; and the real surprise of the set, none other than I've Been Working On The Railroad, in brand new shuffle rhythm attire. Glasser brings a very welcome consistency of tone, and never indulges in what I call "look what I can do.‰" On what I assume is his debut album, he's sure made a good one. Arbors, 2006; Playing Time: 60:24, ****

Every Time I Think Of You, Alan Broadbent, piano. I have sung the praises of Alan Broadbent in print and on the radio for the last twenty years. In his playing, I hear the romanticism of Bill Evans and the structure and economy of Lennie Tristano. But mostly what I hear is the exquisite classical background and the swinging improvisational chops of the man I refer to as my favorite living pianist. Alan has finally scored a string section for this incredible new album, and he and his trio, Brian Bromberg, bass and Kendall Kay, drums, make the most of it. The first selection, Autumn Variations, is based on changes to Autumn Leaves. It seems that Alan has found every worthwhile possibility within those changes, and the strings are absolutely stirring. It's tough to single out other outstanding tracks here, because each one somehow is as brilliant as the last. I say "brilliant" from a standpoint of the Broadbent arrangement for strings and the Broadbent piano which is as emotive here as ever before. Some of the other tunes include Bess Oh Where's My Bess; Blue In Green, Last Night When We Were Young; Spring Is Here, Lover Man and AB originals East 32nd Elegy and a reprise of the gorgeous title tune, Every Time I Think Of You. Alan Broadbent conveys the beauty and the bop like no one else. To me, every note is a great gift. Artistry, 2006, Playing Time: 60:38, ***** and for emphasis, a large *

Misbehavin', John Cipolla, clarinet; David "Doc" Livingston, piano, clarinet. Tell me, "off the top of your head", how many recorded duos of piano and clarinet can you think of? I'd venture them to be few and far between, but these two Western Kentucky University music professors have come up with an invigorating two man performance of eleven timeless standards and one new (but old) one. That tune is Sidney Bechet's Blackstick, certainly new to me, but from Bechet's era, making it an "oldie" for sure. Some of the best of the remaining selections include Artie Shaw's Moon Ray; a quick-paced Deep Purple; Livingston's piano solo on On A Clear Day; Cippola's full toned Comes Love; an album highlight with a two clarinet (and no other accompaniment) on Gershwin's classic, Lady Be Good; and the same instrumentation on Fats Waller's Ain't Misbehavin'. The recording is done before a live audience at Western Kentucky University. There's no doubt that the two WKU profs had the crowd's enthusiastic endorsement. And, seemingly, they had the most fun of all. Self-produced, 2006; Playing Time: 41:27, ***

Written In The Stars, Barbara Fasano, vocals. A singer with clear enunciation and and on-the-mark intonation, Barbara Fasano interprets fifteen magical songs by one of the great Tin Pan Alley era composers, Harold Arlen. You'll find both the familiar (Let's Fall In Love, Devil And The Deep Blue Sea, My Shining Hour, One For My Baby) and less well known gems (Don't Like Goodbyes, I Had A Love Once, The Eagle And Me) and more. Excellent support from John Di Martino, piano; Joel Frahm, saxophones and Time Quinette, trumpet, who sounds, for all the world, a lot like Jack Sheldon. Human Child Records, 2006; time not indicated, ***

The Phat Pack, Gordon Goodwin, leader; The Big Phat Band. I don't get it on the word "phat", but that aside, with the exception of one tune with David Sanborn's screechy saxophone, this band has the enthusiasm of, say, one of Rob McConnell's bands. Lotsa fire, some good arrangements, and Diana Reeves as guest singer on Too Close For Comfort, Eddie Daniels on Under The Wire and the vocal group Take 6 on the Sinatra opus, It Was A Very Good Year. The Sanborn fiasco hurts as do a few other tunes using the funk beat of the electric bass. Sometimes it's not wise to try to be everything to everyone. Immergent Records, 2006; times not indicated, ** 1/2

My Museum, Phil Kelly, leader, arranger.They could have titled this CD "LA Meets Seattle," as it brings together some stellar players from both those communities. Try on for size: Andy Martin, Lanny Morgan, Gary Foster, Pete Christlieb, Jay Thomas, Bill Ramsay, Bill Cunliffe, and on one vocal, Greta Matassa. Bursting with riveting big band charts and explosive solo work from all comers, the album features four standards and five originals. With the exception of one cut devoted to out of place funk, this is uniformly excellent, highly crafted material. Origin, 2006; Playing Time: 57:55, ***1/2

First Time Out, Gene Cipriano, tenor sax. I know I've seen the name Gene Cipriano buried in the small print of saxophone sections, but as the title suggests, this two CD set marks his initial recording under his name. Working with LA stalwarts Tom Ranier, Gary Foster, Pete Christlieb, Andy Martin, Dick Nash and more, Cipriano scores on tunes familiar as your favorite blanket. His beautiful sound is right out of Lester Young via Zoot Sims, perhaps. He swings with the ease of a master, and guess what? You're gonna love his "first time out." Vinno Rosso Records, 2006; Playing Time: CD one: 47:06; CD two: 54:25, ****

Duets - An American Classic, Tony Bennett, vocals. By the time Frank Sinatra released his duet albums, he was so past his prime that it made little difference. But Bennett, at age 80, can still sing. So why must he find it necessary to include Elvis Costello, Celine Dion, The Dixie Chicks, Elton John, Paul McCartney and Sting (among even more) to pollute what could have been a rewarding CD. As of this writing, they're even running ads for this dud on television. What does that tell you about the taste of the average American? Alas, the uphill battle is always a tough one. RPM/Columbia. 2006; time not indicated, *1/2

Beautiful Bones, Jack Quinby, leader trombone. Dundee resident and tenor horn man Jack Quinby has thrown all the ingredients into the stew, and the result is an enjoyable CD loaded with Portland-based artists. Just a few include Rich Cooper, Paul Mazzio, Stan Bock, Jeff Uussitalo, Warren Rand, George Mitchell, and on a couple of vocals, Ms. Shirley Nanette The tunes run the gamut form pop things (Green Onions) to standards (Summertime); from jazz fare (Caravan) to Broadway (Maybe This Time). There are 16 in all, with a few standout originals by Quinby himself. A nice bonus here is the guest appearance of trombonist Bill Watrous on The Shadow Of Your Smile. Self-produced, 2006; time not indicated, ****

Standards And More, Rob Mullins, piano. Until now, the name Rob Mullins was one I mainly associated with a certain pop-fusion approach, so this CD presents him as leader of a quartet worth hearing. Jimmy Roberts contributes on a sometimes delicate, sometimes edgy tenor sax to especially fine effect on Angel Eyes, In A Sentimental Mood, Giant Steps, Moanin', and When I Fall In Love, among others. Beethoven's Fur Elise did not work well with a rock beat, but really, that was the only apple with the worm. Mullins proves himself to be a swinging, authoritative piano player. Planet Mullins. 2006; Playing Time: 68:54, ***

Rise's Rose Garden, Richie Cole, alto saxophone. It's nice to have Richie back playing the music he loves. This two CD set is a loving tribute to his wife Rise. A constant inspiration to Richie, she passed away earlier this year. The program features The Alto Madness Orchestra, an eleven man aggregation full of vitality. The tunes are nearly evenly split between Richie's lively originals and familiar fare such as Canadian Sunset, Speak Low, Beyond The Sea, Blueberry Hill, and a surprising treat from Fiddler On The Roof, Now I Have Everything. Way to go, Richie!!! Jazz Excursion, 2006; Playing Time: CD one: 49:07; CD two: 44:41, *** 1/2

Thermal Strut, Jay Lawrence, drums. No, this is not another "drum record". It's a piano trio date for Tamir Hendelman, a polished pianist who has worked extensively with the Clayton Brothers. And Tamir has his bop chops in gear with Topsy, Love For Sale and Opus De Funk. And just to prove he can play the pretty stuff, try his composition, Almost Summer, or that by Lawrence, Eulogy. The two very pleasant surprises here were Jobim's Agua De Beber and Jimmy Rowles' miracle tune, The Peacocks, a "pass the test" tune for any pianist. This fine trio is completed by veteran drummer Lynn Seaton. The young Mr. Hendelman has listed well to his elders. You‚ll know. OA2 Records, 2006; Playing Time:54:59, ****

Common Men, Brian Pastor Big Band; Brian Pastor, leader, trombone. Here are some Philadelphia cats who obviously get a kick playing these crackling big band charts. They have a rhythmic feel sometimes akin to Basie, but with all that brass, mainly trumpets and trombones, there's a Kentonesque or maybe a Maynard thing here as well. Lots of superb solo work as well. It's mainly originals of varying tempos and moods, and a little side venture into It's Allright With Me, A Foggy Day and Make Someone Happy. Speaking of Kenton, don't miss Fanfare For The Common Man, a staple in Stan's book, and played well here. BPO Music, 2006; Playing Time: 68:18, *** 1/2

Passages, Scott Burns, tenor sax. A new name to me; one could indeed say that Scott Burns, in jazz parlance, burns. His eight original tunes played here run the gamut from dreamy ballads to hard bop burners (there's that word again). With a rhythm section of Ron Perrillo, piano; Dennis Carroll, bass and George Fludas, drums, Burns, sounding a bit like Eric Alexander, hits the bullseye.Origin, 2006; Playing Time: 52:56, ****

Song Spirit, Sathima Bea Benjamin, vocals. I must admit that I've seen this fine singer's name here and there in the jazz world for years, but this recording is the first time I've actually heard her. Her unique delivery gives warmth to such songs as I Got It Bad, It Never Entered My Mind, Memories Of You, Lush Life, I Only Have Eyes For You, and mainly lesser known tunes, rendered with strength and emotion. Ekopa Records, 2006; times not indicated, ***

The Evening Sound, Neal Miner, drums. Drummer Neal Miner leads a very spirited sextet through some bop and ballad changes on ten of Miner's originals. All the players come through with sparkling solos and well integrated ensemble passages. Richie Vitale, a trumpet player with a couple outstanding efforts of his own on TCB Records is especially riveting. Smalls Records, 2006; Playing Time: 65:11, ****

Every Note Counts, Joe Jewell, guitar. Guitarist Joe Jewell comes to jazz with an impressive list of classical credentials. For his debut jazz CD, he chose some essential jazz tunes in A Child Is Born, Alone Together, Dream Dancing, In Walked Bud and others. However, I would like to have heard him with an acoustic piano instead of the Fender Rhodes used exclusively here. It's too smooth jazzy to me. Self-produced, 2006; Playing Time: 64:15, **1/2

It's All In The Game, Eric Alexander, tenor saxophone. One of the real standout tenor players among the younger generation, Eric Alexaner scores high marks once again with his quartet of Harold Mabern, piano; Nat Reeves, bass and Joe Farnsworth, drums. Alexander is in "bop til you drop" mode on Where Or When, Where Is The Love, It's All In The Game, Ruby My Dear, Bye Bye Baby and some startling originals. High Note, 2006; Playing Time: 53:08, ****

Now, Javon Jackson, tenor saxophone. Once again, Javon Jackson seems mired in funk, and he can't find his way out. To my ear, the "backbeat and organ stuff" becomes quickly predictable. The sad thing is that Jackson can really play, and brings this huge, often gorgeous tone from his tenor. Lisa Fischer's vocal on Where Is The Love is is simply tired pop and Fun Time, complete with belching Fender basses, is anything but fun. The 2 1/2minutes given to I Remember You can't save this sinking ship. Palmetto, 2006; Playing Time: 48:11, *1/2

All The Things We Still Can Be, Jacob Varmus, trumpet, cornet. Here's one of those New York guys who's listened intently to Miles, Chet and Art Farmer. His quintet, all new names to me, takes charge on five energetic originals and three standards, two of which are in new attire; namely All The Things and What Is This Thing. His Chet Baker-ish vocal and serene horn on Everything Happens To Me is an album highlight. Crow's Kin Records, 2006; time not indicated, ****

Quantum Leap, Matt Savage, piano. Oh! Oh! Look out, here comes another jazz prodigy in 14 year old Matt Savage. Jimmy Heath has already referred to him as 'the future of jazz' and his trio easily slides through a bevy of originals plus Lullaby of Birdland, A Child Is Born, All The Things You Are and Monk's Dream. If he's this good at 14, just think of what you'll hear when he‚s an old man of, say, 24! Savage Records, 2006; Playing Time: 63:15, ***

Copyright 2007, Jazz Society of Oregon