CD Reviews - January 2007
by George Fendel
Cookin'; Reeds And Deeds. This is the second recorded effort for a quintet billed as Reeds And Deeds. It's actually co-led by young lion tenor mavens Eric Alexander and Grant Stewart, with a searing rhythm section comprised of David Kikoski, John Webber and Joe Farnsworth. You'll be able to distinguish between these two terrific tenors after a "couple hearings" and perhaps a little help from the liner note booklet. A few highlights from a "cover to cover" standout recording are the following: Hittin' The Jug, an in-the-pocket blues from Gene Ammons, himself half of a two tenor team with Sonny Stitt. An eleven minute version of So In Love allows everyone time to rip and roar through this Cole Porter favorite. Each tenor man has a ballad feature as well: Alexander on Never Let Me Go and Stewart on Alec Wilder's long neglected Trouble Is A Man, both of which are delivered with hearts on their sleeve sincerity. Who Can I Turn To sounds just great taken a skosh faster than one usually hears it. From the oft used changes to I Got Rhythm, Charlie Parker gave us Passport, a bop burner and a great place to bring this CD to a close. Reeds And Deeds obviously admires the tradition and this "deep in the shed" performance should serve to further brighten the careers of all its players. Criss Cross, 2006; Playing Time: 67:29, ****1/2.
My Time, Dave Wilson; tenor and soprano saxophones. The Dave Wilson Quartet exemplifies yet another group of young cats who are dedicated to the jazz art. From the photos, they all look like twenty-somethings (or are you and I just looking‚ a bit older?) and they're blowin' straight down the center of jazz boulevard. For the most part, they play some pretty good tunes too. The CD begins with Moon And Sand, an Alec Wilder tune which seems to be enjoying a rebirth of sorts. The quartet continues with a solid take on the standard Just Friends, then applies too fast a tempo and too much extraneous "stuff" to Gershwin's Summertime. It is, after all, a lullaby. Rockin' Tonight, a medium-up original, sounds loosely based on the famous I Got Rhythm changes, and Smatter (could that be short for "what's the matter"?) is a rollicking roller coaster from trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. Time Remembered, a Bill Evans ballad, gives pianist Matt Hochmiller a chance to shine and Funtime features the leader‚s charming soprano sax. The CD continues with three additional Wilson originals, and then, rather curiously, returns to an eleven minute reprise of Summertime, once again played fully out of context. Despite this singular clinker, there's lots of good, straight ahead playing here. For more info, visit www.DaveWilsonMusic.org. Self-produced, 2005; Playing Time: 67:25, ***.
Songs For Lovers, Carlos Franzetti, vocals. Carlos Franzetti is not a newcomer to the jazz world, so how is it that I only became of aware of him very recently? I took a "flyer" on this CD, after perusing the list of great tunes on the album and seeing that they were performed with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The CD didn't indicate what "instrument" Franzetti played, so imagine my surprise when I got it home, put it in the player, and this outstanding singer emerged! In actuality, I have since found out that Franzetti is also a more than capable pianist, but this time out it's a vocal treat from a voice in the Sinatra tradition. He sounds more like another "Frankie" to my ears, namely Frankie Randall, a marvelous singer who enjoyed a brief time in the 1960's spotlight, just before the demise of good music in this country. But more on Franzetti: among eleven standout selections, Franzetti weaves his vocal magic on It Might As Well Be Spring, I Do It For Your Love, Skylark, These Foolish Things, Once Upon A Summertime, My One And Only Love, My Ship and More Than You Know. He's one of those rare singers who understands that frantic vocal excess is never necessary, or even recommended, when one simply has chops and taste. I, for one, am going to try to find more recordings by this fine singer. Chesky Records, 2006; Playing Time: 43:43; ****1/2.
The Last Recordings, Frank Rosolino, trombone. I scanned the entirety of the liner notes to this CD in order to determine the exact recording date of Frank Rosolino's final appearance in the recording studio. It was nowhere to be found, but most probably occurred in late 1978, the year of his demise at his own hand. It would be easy to assume that additional recording sessions were planned because this disc gives us two takes each of just three tunes; Misty, I Thought About You and Waltz For Diane. The time devoted to each version however, differs considerably, thereby helping to make each individual performance stand quite well on its own. Rosolino's quartet includes the underrated Larry Willis, piano; a new name to me, Kevin Brandon, bass and modern master drummer Billy Higgins. While Misty was awfully good to Erroll Garner, I've grown a bit weary of it over the years, but Rosolino was the kind of force who could make it come alive one more time. I Thought About You is, of course, one of the great standards and Frank "owns it" on this recording. The final tune, Waltz For Diane, is the most adventurous and contemporary performance on the album, with Rosolino and company really digging in. So here it is, the last bit of recorded evidence of the place in jazz history for one of its greatest trombonists. Sea Breeze Records, 2006; Playing Time 55:41, ****.
Moon And Sand, John Proulx, vocals, piano. Now and then, a new jazz voice comes along and really impresses from several standpoints. John Proulx is such an artist, and I'll tell you why. First of all, he's a skilled jazz pianist, and his musicianship, as is often the case, comes through clearly in his singing. Think of Chet Baker (trumpet), Jim Ferguson (bass) and Jimmy Rowles (piano); all of whom are singers who could put over the meaning of a lyric. Then consider that this newcomer sings smack on key and knows not to overindulge the time honored lyrics he chooses to interpret. Finally, Proulx (probably pronounced as though it rhymes with "pool"; the x being silent) scats with ease through I've Never Been In Love Before and You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To. To all this, add the veteran skills of bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Joe LaBarbera and you wind up with a totally honest, very musical and hip-as-can-be debut CD. Oh, let's not forget that Proulx sings great tunes like Alice In Wonderland, Do Nothin' Til You Hear From Me, I Should Care, So In Love and East Of The Sun. He also includes two original ballads, My Love For You and Stuck In A Dream With Me. Both are rare beauties, but My Love For You may rank with the more romantic songs I've ever heard. John Proulx, singer, pianist, composer and a welcome new talent. In the jazz world, John Proulx is the complete package. MaxJazz, 2006; Playing Time: 54:59, *****.
Blue Mercer, Andrew Scott, guitar. Johnny Mercer lives on thanks to delightful musical tributes such as this one. Although Scott gets in his share of great guitar licks, he generously gives a lot of breathing room, both ensemble and solo wise, to his quintet members. They include Randy Sandke, trumpet ; Mike Murley, tenor sax; Bernie Senensky, piano; Louis Simao, bass and Joel Haynes, drums. Eight of the ten selections were outfitted with the "ultimate", lyrics by Johnny Mercer. On Dream, the tune that always ended high school dances of my era, Mercer wrote both melody and lyrics. The other two, Lullaby For Mason and Blue Mercer are attractive lines written by the guitarist. Mercer collaborated with nearly every leading composer of his time, and it shows here with the likes of Richard Whiting (Too Marvelous For Words); Harold Arlen (My Shining Hour and This Time The Dream‚s On Me; and Henry Mancini (Days Of Wine And Roses) to name just a few. Other collaboration with Johnny's lyrical imprint include Tangerine, Day In Day Out and Have A Heart. This is a program of stylishly swinging evergreens and especially fine solo work from Sandke and Murley, in addition to the leader's guitar. Mercer fans, pick this one up! Sackville, 2006; Playing Time: 61:14, ****.
Live At Jimmy Mak,s, Tony Pacini, piano. This is the album Tony's fans just knew would come along sooner or later. And let's hope there are "more from where this came from," so to speak. You see, this album gives Tony's ever-swinging trio (Ed Bennett, bass and Tim Rap, drums) an opportunity to record live before an attentive, enthusiastic audience. It also was an occasion upon which Tony had the privilege of playing a top of the line Yamaha, a piano valued at more than I paid for my first two houses! Given these plusses, Tony and his pals were at the top of their game, and having been in his audience that night, I can attest to that. It doesn't hurt at all that Tony chooses such evergreens as Freddie Freeloader, Stompin'At The Savoy, a funky Love For Sale and the rarely heard Brotherhood Of Man, all from the upbeat list. To these, add gorgeous renditions of Percy Faith's Maybe September and Thad Jones' tender A Child Is Born, both on the ballad side of things. Two expressive Pacini originals illustrate Tony‚s facility for writing attractive and cohesive melody lines, Beyond The Veil and First Light. Tony Pacini has grown in all facets of his music in recent years. He‚s getting more gigs and with his plentiful musical gifts strongly surfacing, deserves them. Catch him at Jimmy Mak's or Wilf's sometime soon. He‚s something special! Saphu, 2006; Playing Time: 57:23, *****.
Cookin' At The Corner, Les DeMerle, drums. The Les DeMerle "band" (as it‚s referred to on the CD cover) is really a quartet with drummer DeMerle joined by Bonnie Eisele, vocals; Mike Levine, piano and Ricky Ravelo, bass. DeMerle himself drops in a few grainy voiced vocals to pretty good effect on the humorous Eddie Jefferson take on Pennies From Heaven, known here as Bennie's From Heaven. He joins singer Bonnie Eisele on Smack Dab In The Middle and The More I See You and tries to get through the Les McCann vocal on Compared To What, a song I never much cared for. The best vocal for DeMerle and Eisele is Jumpin' With Symphony Sid, but unfortunately, it‚s used as an "out tune" taking us to the break. The strong points of the CD include some stellar piano work by pianist Levine, and the choice of tunes which, in addition to those mentioned above, includes Cute, Lullaby Of Birdland, Stardust, The Shadow Of Your Smile and It Might As Well Be Spring, among others. The CD does not benefit from an overabundance of vocals. I would have preferred hearing what they could do instrumentally. Also, there's something of a ‘Louie and Keely" Vegas stageshow feeling to this live performance. I'd rather that the music alone was the vehicle to inspire the audience. Origin, 2006; Playing Time: 63:47, **.
Hurley Burley and Love Call (2 individual CDs); Joan Stiles, piano, arrangements, vocals. Although I wasn't familiar with Joan Stiles, my curiosity was piqued when I noticed that her colleagues on these two CDs included names like Jeremy Pelt, Joel Frahm, Peter Washington, Lewis Nash, Clark Terry, Frank Wess, Warren Vache and a host of additional talented contributors. The first of the two CDs, Hurley Burley, gets off to a rousing start by combining Monk's Brilliant Corners and Johnny Hodges‚ The Jeep Is Jumpin'. Unlikely as that may sound, it works to perfection. The Monk thing asserts itself again later with both Panonica and ‘Round Midnight. Other highlights included Steve Wilson's shimmering alto on The Peacocks and a faster than usual All Too Soon. Love Call, the other Stiles CD, more orchestral in nature, continues with outstanding performances of great tunes like When I Fall In Love, Surrey With The Fringe On Top, I've Never Been In Love Before, My Man's Gone Now and Almost Like Being In Love. Rather than the Monkish tone of Hurley Burley, this time there's' an Elliington-Strayhorn presence with Creole Love Call, Take The ‘A Train and a stunning piano solo on Blood Count. Ms. Stiles' piano is sometimes a little reminder of the wonderful Jimmy Rowles, but it's her arranging for a roster of great soloists which wins the blue ribbon prize here. Hurley Burley, 2006; Playing Time: 53:24, ****; Love Call, 2004; PT: 52:15, **** 1/2.
I Thought About You, Norm Kubrin piano, vocals. Score another winner for Arbors Records in Norm Kubrin. His piano and unforced vocals will make you feel just like you're a guest in his living room, enjoying an intimate concert. He's assisted most ably here by Bob Hanni, guitar and Don Coffman, bass, and the trio gives us a menu of simply great songs. I thought that Kubrin was especially stirring on the ballads and so My Ship, Love Walked In, I Thought About You, The Shining Sea, and Summer Me, Winter Me were most impressive. The two big winners among the ballads were Where Do You Start and the rarely heard Gershwin gem Isn't It A Pity. In addition to these, Kubrin and friends bring the tempo up on It's A Wonderful World, You Make Me Feel So Young, Let's Get Away From It All, Nice Work If You Can Get It and It Could Happen To You. Kubrin's piano is in the elegant, John Bunch style, and guitarist Bob Hanni hits the bullseye with some solo guitar work which perfectly complements the pianist. If you're the kind of listener who demands "new doors" to be opened with each recording you purchase, you may need to look elsewhere. But if, like me, you revere standards performed with sincerity and warmth, Norm Kubrin's your man. Arbors, 2006; PT: 60:03, **** 1/2.
Pursuits, Full Spectrum Jazz Band. This scintillating performance was recorded in the Los Angeles area, so I'd assume these are all LA cats. It's just that all the names were unfamiliar to me. Perhaps it's another example of the younger generation of musicians asserting itself with some musical muscle. In any case, the band begins with a high powered Au Privave, the Charlie Parker line. From that point, you know something pretty good is happening. Other highlights include perhaps the only big band version I've ever heard of Dave Brubeck's It's A Raggy Waltz; a nice take on the pop tune Somewhere Out There; and Willowcrest, a rarely heard tune previously done by another LA band led by Bob Florence. Not as successful were vocals on Almost Like Being In Love, The Way You Look Tonight, So Many Stars and Night In Tunisia. Kind of a mixed bag here with some good material, quality solos, and a few cuts which didn't quite make the grade. Sea Breeze Recordings, 2006; Playing Time: 62:25, ** 1/2 .
The Band And I, Irene Kral, vocals. This long out of print treasure, originally on the United Artists label, begged for years to be reissued on CD, and now it's finally happened. Irene's fans, and I'm certainly one of ‘em, will be thrilled because the vinyl version has been collector stuff seemingly forever. With none of the trappings of show biz, Irene Kral simply told the story in song, making lyrics come alive as though she herself had lived them. For this recording, made way back in 1959, Irene is backed by Boston based Herb Pomeroy and his band. The standard at that time for singers was to do twelve songs, six to a side, and that's what Irene and friends give us. And does she ever choose some good ones! Among them are standards Detour Ahead, Comes Love, Lazy Afternoon, I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart, Memphis In June, The Night We Called It A Day and Something To Remember You By. Of particular interest to me were two Tommy Wolf-Fran Landesman tunes, This Little Love and It Isn't So Good It Couldn't Be Better. Irene recorded the latter tune on other occasions and over the years, it's become associated with her. But how about I'd Know You Anywhere, a Jimmy McHugh-Johnny Mercer gem which has been hiding from us for years. Pomeroy's arrangements hold up well all these years later, and Irene is just Irene, kid sister of Roy Kral of Jackie and Roy fame; lost to us by cancer while still in her 40's; and one of the purest, most perfect jazz voices of all time. This will likely be my personal "reissue of the year." Capitol Records, 2006; Playing Time: 30:51, *****.
Monsoon, Marc Rosen, tenor and baritone saxophones. One doesn't have to get too far into this recording to understand Rosen's debt to fellow baritone ace Gerry Mulligan. Having said that, there's also a "touch" of Serge Chaloff in Rosen's approach. The CD is comprised of eleven originals from various members of Rosen's sextet, thus providing the listener with a variety of tempos and some well-conceived melody lines. The piano used sounded tinny -- perhaps an electric model set to sound like the real thing. (Visit SweetThunderJazzSextet.com.) Self-produced, 2006; Playing Time: 59:45, ***.
Open, Dominique Eade, vocals; Jed Wilson, piano. Native Portlander Jed Wilson joins Dominique Eade in a duo performance which marks quite a departure from past recordings for this fine, refreshing, right on key singer. It includes no less than seven original compositions, the best of which are these: Series Of One, an intricate line that Annie Ross would have loved taking on; and Open Letter, a tune which will remind you of Waters Of March. The standards include You Fascinate Me So, Home and Never Let Me Go. While I prefer Dominique in the fast lane of bop, she and Wilson have crafted a lovely, intimate CD which tells a multitude of stories. JP Records 2006; Playing Time: 45:25; ***1/2
No One Else But Kenny, Kenny Davern, clarinet. Not long before press time, I learned of the sudden and unexpected passing of Kenny Davern at age 71. This lovely recording will serve as a fine legacy to one of the deans of swinging clarinet. On a slate of mostly familiar fare Davern delivers the goods on Sugar, Moonglow, You're Lucky To Me, All By Myself, Pretty Baby, Beale Street Blues and a half dozen more. His seemingly effortless sound shines through with his trio which includes David Bodinghaus, piano and Trevor Richards, drums, making the title of the CD rather deceptive. The music's sure fine though! Sackville Records, 2006; Playing Time: 64:34, ****.
The Lyric, Jim Tomlinson, tenor saxophone; with Stacy Kent, vocals. This is a rather odd album under the name of Jim Tomlinson, a gifted tenor player from the school of one Stan Getz. Odd, however, because with the exception of two tunes (out of eleven) it's a vocal effort from Stacy Kent. She's a singer with a contemporary vocal touch, but is completely at ease with the likes of Corcovado, If I Were A Bell, Cockeyed Optimist, I Got Lost In His Arms, and the album highlight, the rarely heard Something Happens To Me. Tomlinson and crew sound just fine, but the CD really belongs to Kent. Along with her English colleague Claire Martin, Kent ranks high on the list of British singers. O+ Records, 2005; Playing Time: 60:17, ****.
Emily's Song, Alex Clements, piano. The key word for Alex Clements, I would think, is pretty. In a solo piano performance, Clements has chosen a combination of standards and original compositions, each with a flowing, uplifting, pretty presence. For example, Inspired By suggests that Clements has played some Chopin someplace in his career. Others, all worthy of hearing, include Pieces Of Dreams, I Loves You Porgy and You Must Believe In Spring. Several additional originals round out a very listenable, recital-like disc. Clements possesses a crystalline touch and I hope we‚ll hear more from him. Self-produced, 2006; Playing Time: 53:30, ***1/2.
Minor Inconvenience, Dennis Plies, vibes; Howard Whitaker, saxophones. To my knowledge, this CD marks the recording debut for Dennis Plies, a longtime presence in Portland jazz circles. In addition to Plies‚ considerable chops on vibes, we are introduced here to saxophonist Howard Whitaker who also wrote most of the material for the CD. The quintet is rounded out by Clay Giberson, piano; Dave Captein, bass and Charlie Doggett, drums. A couple favorite tunes include the boppy Take Four and the bluesy Inflation-Recession-Energy Crisis Blues. Many moods and tempos are explored on this impressive outing, suggesting that it's time for you to get acquainted with Dennis Plies. Self-produced, 2006; Playing Time: 62:21, ****.
Awake, Travis Shook, piano. On this ‘mostly trio album," Travis Shook makes a case to be more widely recognized. The title tune, Awake, is a no holds barred burner while Seattleite Jay Thomas' Touch And Go slows the tempo a bit, but not the intensity. Counterblues brings back the muscle and Leviathan is the creation of another Seattle musician, the amazing bassman, Jeff Johnson. The album is completed with a brisk take on the standard, Broadway and a vocal by Veronica Nunn on Bob Dorough's Nothing Like You. Shook is the main man here and he's a powerhouse piano player. Full Gallop Recordings, 2005; Play Time: 50:28, ****.
I'll Always Know, Tomo (a quintet). In case you're unfamiliar with Tomo via their previous recordings, the word means "friends" or "soul mates" in Japanese. This is the latest release of the compositions of Reed Kotler, a composer doggedly determined to write "real songs" with distinct melody lines "the way they used to." And given players like Bob Sheppard, reeds; Larry Koonse, guitar; Bill Cunliffe, piano; Derek Oles, bass; and Matt Porter, drums, the music pours out into your consciousness most lyrically and in high style. Kudos to Tomo, and Mr. Kotler...please continue fighting the good fight. Torii Records, 2006; Playing Time: 66:06, *****.
Intuition, Dan Brubeck, drums; Chris Brubeck, fretless bass, bass trombone. The Brubeck brothers have some good moments here, but I wish they could settle in with jazz and drop the funk material. Guitarist Mike DeMicco provides scintillating solo work, and a few tunes, namely West Of One, Still In Winter and Change Up show Dave's boys to be quite credible playing bop and ballads. Pianist Taylor Eigsti is fired up and is a name to watch. Koch Jazz, 2006; Playing Time: 62:06, ** 1/2.
From Studio Four, Jeff Hamilton Trio, Jeff Hamilton, drums. Jeff's present trio includes the up and coming Tamir Hendelman, piano and Christopher Luty, bass, and the threesome pulls no punches with a fine, dependable journey down the mainstream highway with winners such as I've Never Been In Love Before, Lullaby Of The Leaves, So Many Stars, Autumn Nocturne, Epistrophy, Moonglow and more. Azica Records, 2006; Playing Time: 56:18, ****.
In Flight, Paul Painter, piano. This is the kind of solo piano one might expect as accompaniment to a fine meal in a very classy restaurant. Painter gives some luster to tunes such as You Don't Know What Love Is, Alone Together, Angel Eyes and the rarely heard Some Other Time, among others. I particularly enjoyed his version of Wayne Shorter's Footprints. For more info, visit www.paulpainterjazz.com. Paintbrush Records, 2001, Time not indicated, ***.
Guess Who's In Town, Daryl Sherman, vocals, piano. Vocally, she sounds a bit like Blossom Dearie, and she plays a pretty solid piano as well. Daryl Sherman takes on no less than fifteen tunes with her trio of piano, bass and guitar. Helping out on three of them is tenor sensation Harry Allen. Daryl pleases on Love You Madly, I Concentrate On You, Angel Eyes, Embraceable You, Lullaby Of Birdland and more. Arbors Records, 2006; Playing Time: 56:00, *** 1/2.
Billiance, Torben Waldorff, guitar. Lengthy, original compositions are the order of the day here for guitarist Waldorff and Donny McCaslin, tenor; Matt Clohesy, bass and Seattle‚s Jon Wikan, drums. The music never jumps totally off the bridge, but lacks cohesive melody lines in several instances. McCaslin's tenor can be very stirring. I wish I could hear him play more along mainstream lines. Artist Share, 2006; PT: 47:30, **.
The Way Of Time, Pamela York, piano, vocals. Ms. York's trio (add guitar on two cuts) plays the standards with imagination and authority, playing some well crafted originals as well. In the former category, try I Hear Music, April In Paris and check out her awesome left hand on Caravan. Of several originals, I liked CountingThe Stars, a delicious bossa nova, and Sphere Of Influence, her clever reference to Thelonious Monk. York also sings pleasantly on East Of The Sun and You've Changed. Jazzful Heart Music, 2006; PT: 62:35, *** 1/2.