CD Reviews - July 2007
by George Fendel
Note from George Fendel: The stars must have been aligned in the direction of piano trios over the last two months. You’ll find quite a few of them in the reviews that follow. Please remember that we review what “comes our way,” and so for July, 2007, we salute the mighty Steinway, Baldwin, and Yamaha pianos!
Evolution/Revolution, Martin Bejerano, piano. From the opening bars of Martin Bejerano’s Blues Evolution, you know you’re in for a thrilling ride with an accomplished, bop-drenched pianist with chops galore. More new names (to me at least) round out Berjerano’s trio in Edward Perez, bass, and Ludwig Afonso, drums. In addition to the opener, standout originals include the slightly mysterious Truth And Illusions; and a test of will on Blues Revolution, a high speed chase if ever there was one. Standards include a beautifully paced and harmonically inventive Lover Man; a passionate reading of You Don’t Know What Love Is; an in-the-groove Solar, displaying Berjerano’s soaring improvisation; a fresh new look at Bouncing With Bud that would have Bud Powell smiling broadly; and another head turner on a strictly solo version of Monk’s Dream. Berjerano, who up until now, has been a sideman with the likes of Russell Malone and Roy Haynes, was the subject of the following comment from Haynes: “it is a treat to have Martin in my band. I loved him from the beginning.” You will, too. Reservoir, 2007; PlayTime: 55:40, ****.
On The Verge, Adonis Rose, drums. Adonis Rose leads an impressive sextet through a set of tunes contributed primarily by various band members. The players include Nicholas Payton, trumpet; Tim Warfield, tenor and soprano sax; Warren Wolf, vibraphone; Aaron Goldberg, piano and Reuben Rogers, bass. Robin in Pink is Rose’s dedication to his wife, and features Payton’s gorgeous trumpet solo highlighting its melody. Liyah’s Blues features Wolf’s muscular vibes solo in rapid transit. Lies In Beauty is Warfield’s composition, and his earthy tenor takes a hold of you. Shed is Goldberg’s contribution, and its quirky lines and rhythm make for an interesting ride. Jimmy Heath’s Gingerbread Boy, complete with its famous descending line, is a chance for Warfield to show off his soprano bop chops. On The Verge, the title tune, is taken at a breathtaking pace, featuring Warfield’s tenor in Coltrane mode. Finally, there’s a Hubert Laws tune, Shades Of Light, with a modest Latin touch, and once again, the exquisite trumpet of Nicholas Payton. As is often the case, Criss Cross gives mostly younger generation players the chance to strut their stuff. And their stuff is highly improvisational and impressive hard bop. Criss Cross, 2007; PT: 62:49, *** 1/2.
Dearest Duke, Carol Sloane, vocals. Like most of the rest of us, Carol Sloane must consider Duke Ellington’s music “beyond category” as the maestro himself used to say. Indeed, this is her third recorded recital of Ellingtonia, having previously done Sophisticated Lady for Trio Records of Japan and Romantic Ellington for the domestic label DRG. For this outing, Carol works only with the very intimate piano of Brad Hatfield and the completely sympathetic choice of Ken Peplowski on clarinet and tenor sax. Ken even handles the vocal harmony on Just Squeeze Me, adding a touch of his typical humor to the session. Other standout tunes, and really, they’re all wonderful, included one of the best, most direct, straight to the heart versions you’ll ever hear of I Didn’t Know About You; Duke’s excursion into the blues with Rocks In My Bed and I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But The Blues; a medley of two songs that sound like they could have been written for Carol, In A Sentimental Mood and Prelude To A Kiss; and the rarely heard verse to Day Dream. As great as Carol sounds here, one should not overlook the contributions of Hatfield and Peplowski, both of whom contribute in so many subtle ways to the intimacy and beauty of this session. After all these years, how do we still love Duke Ellington? Madly, that’s how. Arbors, 2007, Playing Time: 61:09, **** 1/2.
Tubbs: Tubby Hayes, tenor sax, vibes. As early as 14 years of age, Tubby Hayes was well on hi way to jazz stardom in his native England. This album presents Hayes both as soloist in a big band setting and as a leader of a quartet, playing tenor and vibes. Hayes and company kick it off with The Late One, a vigorous bop vehicle built on changes to a standard I couldn’t quite identify. Love Walked In follows with Tubby’s big and brazen, Coleman Hawkins-influenced sound. Tubby picks up the vibes mallets for an engaging run through Sposin’ and the big band returns for a medium blues called Tubbsville. Hayes pulls out some big time chops on RTH, yet another Blues, but this time in the quartet setting. Then it’s back to the big band for a blistering ride through Cherokee. Next, at a pleasant, ballroom dancing sort of tempo, comes Falling In Love With Love. The big band re-enters and Tubby returns to the vibes for a lovely visit with The Folks Who Live On The Hill. The close and certainly the surprise of the set is Wonderful, Wonderful, a pop tunes made famous by Johnny Mathis Hayes brings the tempo up a bit and this otherwise banal tune really swings. The early demise of Tubby Hayes at 38 was a huge loss to English jazz fans and to his admirers throughout the world. The fact that many of his albums are finally being reissued is testimony to his timeless playing and his secure place in jazz history. Fontana, 2005; Playing Time: 33:48, ****.
Holding On To What Counts, Chip Stephens, piano. Hold on to your hats! Here comes another pianist to dazzle you. Chip Stephens is a fixture in the Denver area, working with Ken Walker, bass and Todd Reid, drums. The trio grabs your attention right out of the chute with Cookin’ At The Continental, a Horace Silver tune at breakneck tempo. Among other standards presented here are Cole Porter’s exquisite tune, Everything I Love; a muscular version of Monk’s Epistrophy; an authoritative take on McCoy Tyner’s Passion Dance: and an unlikely, but well crafted medley of Up A Lazy River, Sweet Georgia Brown and finally Miles Davis’ Dig, which serves here as sort of an exclamation point to an exciting session. Among several original compositions, a couple standouts were Smiles Surrender, a contemplative piece that builds in intensity and then settles back into a sweet solo ending; Beans And Weenies is a blues which alternates between block chords worthy of Monty Alexander and single note construction a la Phineas Newborn. Chip Stephens is the complete trio pianist, and I hope Denver appreciates his big time chops. I look forward to his next release on Capri. Capri Records, 2007; Playing Time: 61:00, ****.
Surrender, Jane Monheit, vocals. With a voice like chocolate mousse, Jane Monheit gives us her fifth (or is it her sixth?) album. And this time around, she concentrates her attention on soft bossa nova rhythms, whether or not the songs were written with that in mind. The concept succeeds on selections like If You Went Away, Like A Lover, So Many Stars, A Time For Love and even Moon River. A couple which didn’t work quite as well were the title tune, Surrender, and something called Overjoyed. Both came off as too “poppy” for Monheit’s sensuous voice. On Rio de Maio, she teams up with composer-singer Ivan Lins and on Cominhos Cruzados, her guest is the esteemed harmonica wizard, Toots Thielemans. Both songs are stirring and beautiful. The presence of a synthesizer, subtle as it is throughout, is rarely a welcome sound to this ear. But, having said that, there’s still a lot to like here — even if it doesn’t quite stand up to her earlier work. Concord Jazz, 2007; Playing Time: 42:36, ***.
Live At The Village Vanguard, Bill Charlap, piano. It seems over the past few years that Bill Charlap has advanced to the top of the heap in New York’s jazz piano circle, and what greater achievement could there be for a musician? It’s proof that there’s still room in this world for musicians who play exclusively great tunes and play them with passion and love. It doesn’t hurt, of course, to have Peter Washington and Kenny Washington on your team, and these supreme talents have helped make Charlap’s trio stand out from any other. Bill Charlap can improvise with the best of ‘em, but I think I know his secret. Bill Charlap loves these superb songs from the Great American Songbook, and his greatest joy is in sharing them with you. I love the fact that Charlap fully understands the role of economy in playing the piano, a lesson some players seemingly never learn. He has a way of making every tune sound like the definitive version. And so it is here with such runaway winners as Autumn In New York, The Lady Is A Tramp, My Shining Hour, While We’re Young and Last Night When We Were Young. The trio also salutes other great players like Gerry Mulligan, Charlap’s former boss, with Rocker as well as George Wallington’s Godchild, both tunes which may hearken memories of Miles Davis’ Birth Of The Cool. And Jim Hall’s All Across The City may evoke thoughts of the guitarist’s duet with Bill Evans. Bill Charlap has blossomed into one of the unforgettable pianists of his generation. And this glorious recording continues to tell a story not even nearly completed. Blue Note, 2007; Playing Time: 54:34, *****.
A Whole New Ballgame, Boots Randolph, tenor sax. Surely you remember Boots Randolph and his zillion seller Yakety Sax? Well, Boots is 79 now, and this CD represents his first try at the Great American Songbook. Boots takes on such standards as I’m Beginning To See The Light, Billy’s Bounce, Candy, Dream Dancing, Cry Me A River, Nature Boy and You’ll Never Know. And Boots’s sound comes off just as one might expect from the Yakety Sax guy. The music has more than a hint of the cowboy sound that made Randolph famous. Don’t misunderstand, he’s certainly adequate on the above pieces and others, but he sounds like the dude in the society band saxophone section who stands up to take a solo. The music is too wooden, and I’m afraid, “it ain’t got that swing.” And you know what that doesn’t mean. Add to the mix some synthesized strings, and well, at times it’s a bit on the syrupy side. Now, all that said, wait and see…….this release will win a Grammy next year. But that’s a whole “nother” story. Zoho Music, 2007; Playing Time: 59:37, *.
What’s Up? Oscar Peterson, piano; Milt Jackson, vibes. One can only wonder just why it took the better part of a decade to get this riveting performance released. Recorded at New York’s Blue Note in 1998, Oscar and Milt join forces with Ray Brown, bass and Kareem Riggins, drums, under the name The Very Tall Band. Of course Oscar and Milt had previously recorded with one another on Verve and Pablo, and their reunion on Telarc is a joy to hear. These are musicians who immediately step onto the tightrope and begin their set with a tune and a tempo that others would end with. In this case, it’s Johnny Hodges’ Squatty Roo which starts a take-no-prisoners set. As if that wasn’t enough to stir the crowd, the guys break into Dizzy’s Salt Peanuts and the high wire act continues. Next comes Ad Lib Blues, a very bluesy medium tempo vehicle with roots in the old Jazz At The Philharmonic days. The excitement continues with If I Should Lose You, Limehouse Blues, Soft Winds and finally, The More I See You. Milt Jackson did all his cerebral stuff with the MJQ, and as wonderful as all of that was, he now and then wanted to swing hard. And that, my friends, is when he rang up pals like Oscar Peterson. Telarc Jazz, 2007; Playing Time: 57:13, *****.
On The Other Side, Tierney Sutton, vocals. Most everyone who has heard Tierney Sutton’s previous works agrees that she is one of the better singers of the younger generation. On her newest release, she takes on some great tunes with mixed results. For example, there are two versions of both Get Happy and Happy Days Are Here Again. Each is first treated in a very somber manner and then, as these songs should be interpreted, with abounding energy. It seems that Tierney gets a bit “out there” on several tunes, either by altering the rhythmic patterns or by adding unnecessary vocal “fills” here and there. But check out Happy Talk, Great Day and a vocal duet with Jack Sheldon on I Want To Be Happy. These all work wonderfully well, and her treatment of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile is ballad singing at its best. Special kudos to Christian Jacob, a sensitive and creative accompanist who has worked regularly with the singer. Their ease of communication is readily apparent. This, then, is not my favorite Tierney Sutton album despite the label’s comparison with Sketches Of Spain and In The Wee Small Hours (I kid you not!) But, if you’re a fan, there’s plenty here for you to hang your hat on. Telarc, 2007; Playing Time: 60:04, ***.
Love Dance; Victor Goines, tenor and soprano sax, clarinet. Victor Goines is a totally fluid, sizzling sax player with a never ending wealth of ideas -- one of those guys who loves to play and it shows. And he obviously has no hesitance in starting his CD with an old Johnny Mathis hit, Wonderful, Wonderful. But it becomes a quick paced bop chameleon in his hands. Part of this wonder may also be credited to a blistering rhythm section of Peter Martin, piano; Reuben Rogers, bass and Greg Hutchinson, drums. And just when you think he’s got the bop ship in full orbit, he switches to clarinet for a tender look at Ivan Lins’ beautiful tune, Love Dance. The other familiar opus on the album is Charlie Parker’s Confirmation. The hook here is that Goines once again picks up the clarinet and Bird’s classic, thus gains a new perspective. Among the remainder of the tunes, I was especially drawn to Cootie, a bouncy, medium tempo melody just looking for a lyric; an expressive piece called Midnight; and a steamy, unorthodox blues entitled Out The Box. Goines and company have given us a consistent, groovy, straight-ahead album without pretense. And how many of those do you find nowadays? Criss Cross, 2007; Playing Time: 68:32, ****.
Night And The Music, Fred Hersch, piano. Fred Hersch has rarely failed to mesmerize listeners with a series of recordings dating back quite a few years now. He gives us huge chops, a silvery touch, and brilliant use of space. He is as modern as today but respectful of yesterday. Hersch’s present trio includes Drew Gress on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. This CD brings to light ten selections, so let’s examine a few highlights. The trio gets underway with a beautifully conceived version of Cole Porter’s evergreen, So In Love. Heartland is a reflective original, gentle and serene original. You And The Night And The Music is preceded by something he calls Galaxy Fragment, and it’s just spacey enough to be the perfect lead in for the standard. One of Monk’s rarely played tunes, Boo Boo’s Birthday is next, and has the Monk stamp all over it. Change Partners is a beautiful melody line and, as Hersch makes clear, gives forth all kinds of rhythmic and improvisational possibilities. How Deep Is The Ocean is played with deeply felt emotion and another original, Gravity’s Pull, maintains an attractive rhythmic quality. The session is completed with Monk’s Misterioso, a masterpiece of simple and complex. All told, Fred Hersch is once again artful, vital and fascinating. Palmetto, 2007; PlayTime: 62:28, **** 1/2.
Moving Target, Dick de Graaf; tenor and soprano saxes. Dick de Graaf and his quartet move with ease on a program of ten boppy originals. I was particularly impressed with his ballad playing on Stolen Dreams and the energy of the title tune, Moving Target. Other pleasantries here included an intriguing melody line on the opener, Cascade, and the quirky rhythmic pattern of Demasque. There’s way too much Fender Rhodes piano and electric bass here, and those are sounds that don’t cut the mustard with me. As is the case with most reed guys, I preferred de Graaf’s tenor to his soprano, but there are some nice moments here. Soundroots, 2007; Playing Time: 56:53, **.
Carousel, Larry Ham, piano. New York pianist Larry Ham gives us a refreshing trio and solo album and to these ears, some of his chord work reminded me of Ray Bryant. At faster tempos, I thought there was a resemblance to Pete Jolly. Ham alternates between standards like Softly As In A Morning Sunrise, What A Difference A Day Made, All God’s Children Got Rhythm, Easy Living and My Funny Valentine and some extremely well constructed original melodies. His trio is completed by Lee Hudson, bass and Tom Melito, drums. No gimmicks here and none needed. Just some fine, swinging straight ahead piano! Self-produced, 2007; Playing Time: 55:22, ****; for more info: www.larry ham.com
Live At The Half Note Again, Zoot Sims, tenor sax. While this is billed on the cover as a Zoot Sims disc, it’s really a swingin’ 1965 example of Zoot’s partnership with Al Cohn, his alter ego tenor pal. Two separate groups perform here. The first one features Zoot ‘n’ Al with Roger Kellaway, Bill Crow and Mel Lewis. The other aggregation adds a third tenor, Richie Kamuca, along with Dave Frishberg, Tommy Potter and Mel Lewis. For good measure, Jimmy Rushing pops in for a vocal on I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me. Other stalwarts include Doodle Oodle, Red Door, Saratoga Hunch, Broadway and Tickle Toe. All hail Zoot and Al! Lone Hill Records, 2006; PT: 76:04, ****.
Re-Imagination, Eldar, piano. The young piano prodigy’s third album is quite a departure from the two that preceded it. The incredible virtuosity is still intact, but this time Eldar adds “keyboards, electric bass, turntables, programming, effects and a sampled guitar solo” (whatever that is!) to his brilliant acoustic piano technique. A few tunes, however, attempt saving this misadventure, Eldar keeps it all acoustic on Place St. Henri, a dazzler originally heard in Oscar Peterson’s Canadiana Suite. And two ballads, Tears and Dream Song are played with great feeling. The gimmicks hurt, especially when the pianist doesn’t need them. Masterworks Jazz (Sony), 2007; Playing Time: 50:39,**.
Live In Japan, Enrico Piernanunzi, piano. If you’re not yet hip to this Italian monster pianist, get crackin’. Pieranunzi was and remains a staunch devotee of Bill Evans, and this two CD set gives him the opportunity to work with Marc Johnson, one of Bill’s premier trio mates. Drummer Joey Baron completes this group. The songs are nearly all Pieranunzi originals or the work of renowned Italian film composer, Ennio Morricone. In both cases, the material is delivered alternately with passion, fire and intense beauty. Enrico Pieranunzi is deservedly building a reputation here as one of Europe’s great gifts to the United States. CamJazz. 2007; PT: CD#1: 50:30; CD#2: 51:40, *****.
Spot, Barney McClure, Hammond B3. Many of you will remember former mayor of Port Townsend, Washington, Barney McClure as one of the mainstay piano gurus of Northwest jazz. For some years now, he’s resided in Alaska, and this is his first CD (that I’m aware of) since his move there. Barney sounds like a jazz player on B3 where most B3 dudes are into the funk scene. That’s a good thing, but I must say, as I peeled the shrink wrap, I was expecting McClure the pianist. Not being an overwhelming B3 fan, naturally, I was disappointed. Having said all that, this is still one of the better organ records I’ve heard in a long time. OA2 (Origin), 2007; Playing Time: 64:52, ***.
Swing Is Still The King, John Sheridan, Leader, big band; Rebecca Kilgore, vocals. Sheridan’s band has that ballroom feel to it on chestnuts like Always, You Turned The Tables On Me and a rarely heard Hoagy Carmichael gem, Ballad In Blue. The big bonus here is the voice of Rebecca Kilgore on nine of the fifteen tunes. And just where Rebecca discovers obscurities like You’re A Heavenly Thing, Did You Mean It, Keep Me In Mind, Behave Yourself and Take Another Guess, I have no idea. But I’m certainly glad that she’s able to unearth them, and few can match her for making them truly her own. But that’s something her Portland fans have known for years. Arbors, 2007; Playing Time: 68:32; Sheridan’s instrumentals: HHH, Kilgore’s vocals: *****.
Amanecer, Joey Calderazzo, piano. Calderazzo tries to put all his eggs in one basket with some arty originals on solo piano, some wordless vocals by Claudia Acuna, and even a couple evergreens in I’ve Never Been In Love Before and Waltz For Debby. There’s some lovely introspective playing here, but the album lacks direction and balance. Marsalis Music, 2007; PT: 57:14, **.
A Song For You, Janine Gilbert-Carter, vocals. Ms. Gilbert-Carter brings lots of vim and vigor to a nicely balanced program of standards like All Of Me, Green Dolphin Street, At Last, Candy, and many more. Her accompanying quintet swings enthusiastically behind her, but there’s nothing here that really lifts this performance to the higher rungs of the jazz ladder. Self-produced, 2006; Playing Time: 51:09, **.
Song Garden: Francois Ingold, piano. Europe continues turning out one fine, classically oriented jazz pianist after another, and the latest is Francois Ingold. The 30 year old’ s debut CD on the new Swiss label, Altrisuoni, is a palette of original compositions played with understatement, passion and beauty. Certainly he is an artist to keep an eye on. Altrisuoni, 2007; PT: NA, ****.
Meraviglioso, Alessandro d’Episcopo, piano. And here comes another European piano master with his first CD. d’Episcopo posseses a more percussive touch than Ingold, and his trio reflects his admiration for Thelonious Monk by including, some soaring originals, to go with In Walked Bud, Eronel, Rhythm-A-Ning and Ugly Beauty. Altrusuoni, 2007; PT: 58:25, ****.
The Path To Infinity, Todd Herbert, tenor sax. Herbert’s quartet swings with authority on a selection of seven originals. There can be no doubt that Herbert’s primary influence was John Coltrane, and he gets the trane thing down well. I was also impressed with some sizzling piano solos from George Colligan and a one track guest appearance from pianist David Hazeltine. Metropolitan Records, 2007; PlayTime: 53:45, ***.
Flurry; Nordic Connect with Ingrid Jensen, trumpet, flugelhorn. Ingrid Jensen plays a stunning trumpet and flugelhorn, but the question I’ve always asked about her is “when does she swing?” This is very cerebral music, all originals with some sort of connection to “Swedish sadness and joy“, and it features a bit more soprano sax than I need to hear. Nice in spots but pretty close to New Age music. Artist Share, 2007; PT: 66:20, **.
United We Swing, The Spanish Harlem Orchestra. And swing they do. This, I would surmise, is the “real thing” with brisk arranging, multi-voiced vocals, and all tunes unrecognizable to me but probably familiar to fans of the genre. To my uninitiated ear, this sounds like some of the Latin, orchestral music one might here on Spanish speaking radio stations. Lots of energy here! Six Degrees Records, 2007; Playing Time: 68:28, **.