CD Reviews - March 2007
by George Fendel
I’m All Smiles, Nate Najar, acoustic guitar. Any of you who recall with delight the sound of Charlie Byrd’s fresh and unfettered acoustic guitar will certainly take a liking to Nate Najar. There have been others who have occasionally opted for the acoustic sound, most notably Gene Bertoncini and the late Joe Pass. And Nate Najar compares favorably with the best of acoustic sessions that the above named guitar mavens ever gave us. His trio subtlety wends its way through some lovely Brazilian melodies like Jobim’s Samba De Avio and Inutil Passagem, and there’s a clear bossa feeling to his original composition, Remembering Charlie Byrd. Najar effectively takes on a few standards as well, notably the invigorating title tune, I’m All Smiles, as well as a medley of Summer Of ‘42 and What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life, Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most and even the old chestnut I Cover The Waterfront. On what I assume is his debut recording, Nate Najar reminds us just how serene and satisfying the accoustic guitar can be when in the right hands. Blue Line Music, 2006; PT: 46:30, **** .
Shopping For Your Heart, Jeff Baker, vocals. Nowadays, a scatting male jazz singer is just about as rare as, well, Giacomo Gates. And while Jeff Baker doesn’t take aim on the Eddie Jefferson thing (a la Gates), one CAN hear some Mark Murphy lurking nearby. It’s more in the phrasing, rather than the pure vocal equipment. Baker’s voice is in a higher register, but nothing like that other Baker who liked to sing a little. You might remember him. Chet. Jeff Baker’s is a voice that grows on you with repeated listening. On one of those repetitions, I also heard some allegiance to an early bop singer named King Pleasure. If he doesn’t have the pure chops of some other guys, he makes up for it, both in his 100% jazz approach and in the selections he brings us. To name a few, how ‘bout All Blues, Wee Small Hours, Billie’s Bounce, Stolen Moments, Yardbird Suite and Time After Time. Joining Baker is the boppy and bristling Seattle area quartet of Brent Jensen, saxophones; Bill Anschell, piano; Jeff Johnson, bass and John Bishop, drums. Give Jeff Baker a shot because there’s a lot to like here.OA2 Records, 2007; Playing Time: 63:13, ***.
Cancaos Do Amor, Bobby Shew, trumpet, flugelhorn, plays the music of Reed Kotler. Put Bobby Shew’s name on the cover of any CD and count me in! I first heard him at an Otter Crest Jazz Party, and oh, what a beautiful, lyrical player he is. Shew has been the main man on a couple earlier Reed Kotler albums, so it’s nice to welcome him back on Candaos Do Amor (Love Songs). All of these well written melodies are performed with a Latin touch. What you don’t hear is the stereotyped Latin thing of blaring trumpets and ten different percussive things all at once. Not here. What you DO get is Shew’s gorgeous, sculptured tone on trumpet and flugelhorn against a backdrop of subtle, never in the way strings. My personal favorite among the rest of the cast is reedman Gary Foster who’s never played a note I didn’t love. Of Gary, Shew says “to sit next to Gary Foster is always an education in taste and integrity.” And we know what to expect of Reed Kotler’s songs. As we’ve noted in previous reviews, they’re REAL songs, crafted with care. One might even say “they DO write them like they used to” - but just not as often. And when they do, I’m glad we have musicians like Bobby Shew to play them.Torii Records, 2007; Playing Time: 70:07, ***** .
Sketches Of Spain Y Mas, Conrad Herwig, trombone. A few years back, it was “The Latin Side Of John Coltrane” and I remember thinking “they’re going to mess with Coltrane.” Surprise surprise from yours truly who is not wild about Latin music…..I loved it!!! By the time “The Latin Side of Miles Davis” came out, I was ready for, as they say in the movies, the sequel. It too was a winner. Now we find Conrad Herwig live at the Blue Note with even more Miles material. And once again, we are treated to exciting, high energy playing from Herwig and his nonet (nine players). Familiar names include Brian Lynch, trumpet; Paquito D’Rivera, alto sax and clarinet and Dave Valentin, flute. All the other cats are ready for a furious session, and they hit high marks on Solar, Seven Steps To Heaven, a 24+ minute Sketches Of Spain, and a lesser known Miles vehicle entitled Petits Machins. Maybe, like me, you kinda grew up with most of these pieces. And I think, like me, you’re going to them sizzling and irresistible in their brand new attire. High Note, 2007; Playing Time:48:44, ****.
Five For Freddie, Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar. In the midst of the nearly twenty piece Count Basie band, there he was, Freddie Green, playing unamplified rhythm guitar. And, surrounded by all those trumpets, trombones, etc., one could always hear the pulse of the Basie band, Mr. Freddie Green. It was Bucky Pizzarelli who got some of the best in the business together for this Freddie Green tribute. The cast includes Warren Vache. cornet; John Bunch, piano; Jay Leonhart, bass and Mickey Roker, drums. Fittingly, the quintet puts several FG tunes to the test. Namely, Bustin’ Suds, Up In The Blues, High Tide, and arguably Green’s two best known tunes, Down For Double and Corner Pocket. Also included are Dizzy’s Groovin’ High; Mancini’s Dreamsville; Frank Foster’s Shiny Stockings Sweets Edison’s Centerpiece, and a Quincy Jones delight called For Lena And Lennie. When Basie had to break up the band for a short while in the early 50’s, Freddie Green, guitar case in hand checked in for a gig he was not invited to play. Basie said, “what are you doing here?” Said Freddie, “we’re working tonight, aren’t we?” Basie replied “I guess so” and Freddie Green remained with Basie for the next 40 years! This “at long last” tribute is deserving and fun. Arbors Records, 2006; Playing Time: 68:17, ****.
In The Still Of The Night, Grant Stewart, tenor saxophone. And here you thought that an exciting, in-the-tradition tenor and rhythm bop session was nearly a thing of the past. Well, look out for Grant Stewart because there’s still a market for this electrifying music and Stewart is here to take the cue and run with it. Part of what makes this CD a five star keeper is that apparently Grant Stewart didn’t see the need for presenting a ton of original music here. As a result, he stays with the tried and true like Autumn In New York, If Ever I Would Leave You, Theme For Ernie, Lush Life, Thelonious Monk’s Work, a nearly forgotten Richard Rodgers tune called Loads Of Love, and the title tune, In The Still Of The Night. Tempos vary from the norm at times, adding a sense of adventure, and solos are, for the most part, stunningly perfect. Not much less than perfection might just well be the expectation with a rhythm section of Tardo Hammer, piano; Peter Washington, bass and Joe Farnsworth, drums. I know it’s only March, but I’d predict that this remarkable session will make my personal Top Ten list for 2007. Sharp Nine Records, 2007; PlayTime: 60:06, *****.
You Don’t Know Me, Rebecca Parris, vocals. You might think I’m totally bananas when I say that Rebecca Parris sounds a bit like Rosemary Clooney. Rosemary sang throw-away (Come-On-A-My-House) pop material earlier in her career and it never suited her. Later, she discovered the “forever” tunes and her career surged. Like Clooney, Parris sings in a lower register, but does so with a much stronger jazz sense. And she’s got it down from the start with great material like I Didn’t Know About You, Lush Life, Don’t Go To Strangers, I Wish I Knew, My Ship, Too Late Now, All Of You and a good half dozen more. Her basic rhythm section of Brad Hatfield, piano; Peter Kontrimas, bass and Matt Gordy, drums, is augmented with guest appearances by no less than Jerry Bergonzi, Gary Burton and Houston Person. But make no mistake about it, Parris puts over these evergreens in fine fashion, tossing in just enough it’s-easy-when-you-know-how scat singing.And she does it all with that low pitched but very hip voice. It’s not an easy road to take in saying “singer ‘A’ is a jazz singer and singer ‘B’ is not. My ear tells me that Rebecca Parris is a jazz singer. And a very good one. Saying It With Jazz, 2007; PT: 72:49, ***1/2
PDXV, Jazz Quintet Of Portland, Oregon. If you had been at Jimmy Mak’s last month for the CD release party, you’d already own this disc! This is a high energy, Blue Note style hard bop group led by trumpeter Dick Titterington. The remaining cast, all enthusiastic boppers, includes Rob Davis, tenor; Greg Goebel, piano; Dave Captein, bass and Todd Strait, drums. Titterinton noted at the gig that the basic trumpet, tenor and rhythm section alignment is one of the timeless gifts of jazz. It doesn’t need to change. And you’ll agree once you see what these guys are up to. The ensemble passages are crisp and refreshing. The solos sizzle with the joy of playing in this heady style. The tunes may not all be familiar because they’re all the creations of fellow jazz musicians. That fact alone strongly suggests that Titterington is just as good a listener as he is a player. A few faves of mine included the Harold Land opener, a challenging burner called Step Right Up To The Bottom. Catch the leader’s shimmering flugelhorn playing on Dick Oatt’s Red Giant; and Rob Davis’ intense solo on Gary Dial’s But, But, What If…? And Greg Goebel, the “kid” in the band, is right at home on this menu and contributes consistently fine solos. These guys are going to get lots of work in our city. Do yourself a favor, check ‘em out. Heavywood Records, 2007; Playing Time: 57:27, ****1/2.
Chanson Duvieux Carre, Harry Connick Jr; piano, arrangements, composer. Could this be Harry Connick Jr’s first all instrumental release? Well, to be honest, there are a couple of vocal solos, but Harry doesn’t sing ‘em. A product of New Orleans, Connick wrote charts on both familiar tunes associated with the Big Easy and new material with a New Orleans flavour. He explains that he used the “endless hours of rolling concrete” (found on big band tour buses) as a perfect opportunity to write these arrangements. Having performed them nightly on the road, the band was sharp and ready to play once they reached the studio. And Connick’s arrangements do indeed reflect a leaning toward trad, street marching bands, French titles and the like. Standards include Someday You’ll Be Sorry, Bourbon Street Parade, Fidgety Feet, New Orleans, I Still Get Jealous and Petite Fleur. Completing the album are several Connick originals, all of which stay close to the New Orleans theme. Harry’s 17-piece big band, undoubtedly all New York cats, swings mightily through these charts, putting Connick’s outstanding arranging skills directly onto center stage. Rounder Records, 2007; Playing Time: 61:27, HHH1/2. Very Early, Octobop. Octobop. Take it apart with me and you’ll discover an eight piece group which plays, what’dya know, bop! On this recording, the group, which is made up of four horns, vibes, guitar, bass and drums, puts its music mainly into a West Coast framework. Notice the absence of a piano here. That alone, if not a West Coast trademark, was a phenomenon begun by the Mulligan-Baker quartets of the 50s. And there’s something “very California” about titles like Keester Parade (Johnny Mandel); Pink Panther (Hank Mancini); A Ballad (Gerry Mulligan); Very Early (Bill Evans); Powder Puff (Shorty Rogers); and Born To Be Blue (Mel Torme). Among other familiar fare, you’ll find Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans, Goodbye Porkpie Hat and You’re My Everything. This is the fouth CD for Octobop, and it makes me curious about lending an ear to the other three. Mystic Lane Productions, 2006; Playing Time: 61:50, ****.
Both Sides Of The Fence, Thomas Marriott, trumpet, flugelhorn. I knew thirty-something Seattleite Thomas Marriott when he was the twenty-something Tom Marriott, and thought at the time that his trumpet tone was worthy of Clifford Brown. I still think that Marriott is a scary good trumpet player and he’s surrounded himself here with some of the queen city’s best in Marc Seales, piano; Jeff Johnson, bass and John Bishop, drums. For good measure, add guest appearances from vibist Joe Locke and tenor man Hadley Caliman, and you’ve got a great straight ahead record. Marriott’s originals are interesting in that they possess melody lines that make you listen, and I especially liked the high wire opener, Both Sides Of The Fence and a ballad entitled What The Mirror Said. The remainder of the album features stellar jazz tunes like Freddie Hubbard’s Sky Dive and Chick Corea’s Tones For Joan’s Bones. Add a couple standards in So Near, So Far and an album highlight in Summer Night, and Mr. Marriott has created a recording with great balance and solid blowing throughout. I knew he was the real deal “way back when”, and here, for your enjoyment, is the proof. Origin, 2007; Playing Time: 56:23, ****.
Play It Where It Lays, Kerry Strayer, baritone sax. Kerry Strayer has taken his inspiration from Gerry Mulligan, perhaps the only baritone player to have done so. Mulligan’s sense of lyricism and swing are paramount in Strayer’s sound, yet he’s very much his own man. This wonderful album begins with 3623 Central, both a new tune and one with a history. It started as Out Of Nowhere until Lennie Tristano came along and its chord changes became 317 East 32nd Street. When Strayer further expanded those changes, he was living in Kansas City at, you guessed it, 3623 Central. Once again here, Gary Foster is a special guest, and wait ’til you hear him on a voice chasing voice pattern on this tune. There’s not enough room here for a tune by tune analysis, but a few standouts were these: Blues O’Mighty, a rarely heard Johnny Hodges tune; Jammin’ At The Kirk (on Pennies From Heaven changes); Hank Mobley’s Funk In A Deep Freeze; Warne-ing, a complex Warne Marsh tune on What Is This Thing changes; the gorgeous Duke ballad, All Too Soon; Bertha The Dragoness, a Jimmy Knepper line on Sweet Gerogia Brown changes and Gary Foster’s bouncy title tune, Play It Where It Lays. Kudos to pianist Paul Smith and the rest of the rhythm section, but the two peas in a pod combination of Strayer and Gary Foster is a treasure worth hearing again and again. Self-produced, 2006; Playing Time: 62:22, *****.
A Spirit Free, Kendra Shank, vocals. A sub-title to this recording is as follows: “Abbey Lincoln Songbook.” I must admit that while I can feel the drama in the singing of Abbey Lincoln, I’ve just never quite “arrived” in the circle of her many admirers. And so it is that while many of these all original tunes possess a nice rhythmic quality and some pretty melody lines, they remain “outside’ for many listeners more attuned to jazz singers like Ella, Sarah, Billie and Carmen, to name a few. Shank sings right on key and with plenty of emotion, and is especially effective on A Circle Of Love, the CD’s best tune. Challenge, 2006; PT: 66:29, **.
A Jazzy Way, Maria Anadon, vocals. Maybe the “catch” here is the presence of Anadon’s more than capable vocals performed with an all-female quartet of Anat Cohen, tenor and clarinet; Tomoko Ohno, piano; Norida Ueda, bass and Sherrie Maricle, drums. Anadon is quite comfortable with a variety of tunes ranging from Charlie Parker’s Confirmation to Comes Love, Stolen Moments, I’m Old Fashioned, The Best Is Yet To Come and even Wouldn’t It Be Loverly. Pianist Ohno swings with authority throughout, receiving swinging help from her cohorts. Anadon pulls off an impressive debut CD. Arbors, 2006; Playing Time: 56:21, ***.
Feeling Good, Randy Crawford, vocals; Joe Sample, piano.Has Randy Crawford had a career in some other form of music? Maybe r & b? I ask that because I must admit being unfamiliar with her. In the case of Joe Sample, it’s nice to hear him on a Steinway without electronic effects. The material ranges from the dependable (Feeling Good, But Beautiful, Save Your Love For Me) to the deplorable (Lovetown, When I Need You, Some More And Then Some, See Line Woman). If indeed Crawford is an r & b singer, she’s a good one with a mellow, distinctive delivery. But her choice of material betrays her. PRA Records, 2007; Play Time: 53;16, **.
Keeping It Alive, Bobby Ryder, vocals. Many tried. A few eventually found their own thing, and found success without going for the Sinatra magic, the Sinatra swagger. Bobby Ryder is, one might assert, one of those “locals” (every city has at least one) who covers the show biz route with a Sinatra-Prima-Darin approach. Trouble is there was only one FS. Still, Bobby gives it all he’s got on a lounge act which includes A Foggy Day, The More I See You, That’s Life, Time After Time, I Wish You Love and even Mack The Knife. Good tunes, good enthusiasm, good try. Sweet Jazz Recordings, 2006; Playing Time: 66:01, **.
Surprisingly Good For You, Barbara Lusch, vocals. Barbara Lusch brings a rare intimacy to a selection of tunes mainly from the “etched in stone” standards category. I think she’s at her best and indeed, most sensuous, on come-hither material like Bobby Troup’s Daddy; Peggy Lee’s little known Baby Come Home and Cole Porter’s My Heart Belongs To Daddy. Other evergreens include I Won’t Dance, Stardust and a lovely rendition of For All We Know. With Dan Gaynor on piano and a host of PDX cats, Babrbara Lusch has made an album sure to please. For more info, try barbaralusch.com. Blush Records, 2006; PT 48:21, ****.
Action: Reaction, Steve Herberman, guitar. Steve Herberman’s trio, with Drew Gress, bass and Mark Ferber, drums, presents a program of nine original compositions illustrating Herberman’s vital, modern day guitar playing. His writing seems to run the gamut in both tempo and mood, but as I occasionally say, I would have enjoyed the comparison had he chosen to include even a couple of standard tunes. Reach Music, 2006; Playing Time: 59:58, HHH. Jazzed! Sandy Dennison, vocals. Portland’s own Sandy Dennison’s new CD contains a nice balance of standards and a few well written tunes new to me. In the latter category, try Billy Strayhorn’s intricate You’re The One, a delicacy with Stray’s stamp on it. Other delights include Close Your Eyes, They Say It’s Wonderful, A Sunday Kind Of Love, and a piece you may not remember from the title, Sway. You’ll know it when you hear it. Sandy’s a fine singer who never forces a note, and the quintet accompanying her is well suited to the task at hand. Nice going, Sandy! Sandy Dennison Records, 2007; Playing Time: 57:29, ****.
In The Middle Of The Night, LaFayette Harris Jr.; piano, keyboards, synth bass. Don’t get trapped by the names Donald Harrison and Terrell Stafford, both talented trumpet players, and both of whom appear on this album. Other than their fish out of water presence here, this is fodder for the so called smooth jazz radio stations. That’s made clear by a look at the rest of the instrumentation: drum programming, background vocals, keys, samples, synth and…well, you get the idea. If smooth jazz just “went away”, nobody would miss it. Airmen Records, 2006; Playing Time: 53:46,*.
Boneyard, Jim McNeely, piano. The liner notes don’t tell us much, but I assume this is the same Jim McNeely who worked a few years in the Phil Woods group. And his trio (Kelly Sill, bass and Joel Spencer, drums) provides lots of high moments on Speak Low, Con Alma, In Your Own Sweet Way and In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning, along with several originals. The best of these was a hard bop tribute, complete with a reference to Take Me Out To The Ballgame. It’s entitled Ernie Banks. McNeely, no doubt a Cub fan, has the chops. Origin, 2007; PT 63:08, ****.
Las Cumbias……Las Guitarras, Juan Carlos Quintero. It would be a stretch to catagorize these ten originals as jazz. There’s a very upbeat energy to this music, but call it what you want, World Music, Ethnic Music, Latin Music. Your choice. One thing it is and that’s nice music. But jazz? Not really. There are a lot of instruments whose names I can’t pronounce in addition to the guitars, accordions, and various percussive devices. Don’t let the rating fool you. If you’re into this style of music, go for it! Innerknot Records, 2006; Playing Time: 48:31,**.
Unfailing Kindness, Chie Imaizumi, composer. Some Denver area musicians perused the charts of composer Chie Imaizumi, and the result, just what she was striving for, is an album of original music to bring you joy and make you happy. And these ten Denver-ites dig right in on bristly tempos like Round And Round or on a ballad like Lonely. Among the best known are Greg Gisbert and Ron Miles, trumpet and flugelhorn, Gary Smulyan, baritone and Mark Simon, bass. Capri, 2006; Playimg Time: 53:10, ***1/2.
The Crooked Line, Nathan Ecklund, trumpet, flugelhorn. Again we transport you to the land of Blue Note, circa early 1960’s. Not a bad place from which to draw inspiration. And that seems to be the case with Nathan Ecklund’s quintet of trumpet and flugelhorn; saxophones, and piano, bass, drums. They’ve created some innovative original music with rhythmic and melodic variation enough to definitely keep your attention. All The Things You Are and Lee Morgan’s tune, Totem Pole are the only familiar vehicles. And that’s okay because the performance level and the original music heard here are both first rate. Jazz Excursion Records, 2007; Playing Time: 60:42, ****.