CD Reviews - September 2007
by George Fendel
Monk On Mondays; Monk's Music Trio. This Bay Area trio has been a Monday night fixture at San Francisco 's Simple Pleasures Café since 1999. And give them credit because as simple and straight forward as many of Monk's melodies might sound, they're a challenge to play. Kind of like Bach in that respect. So, let's pass out the kudos to pianist Si Perkoff, bassist Sam Bevan and drummer Chuck Bernstein as they keep the Monk flame brightly burning. What makes this CD doubly delightful is the fact that the trio is careful not to True, they're all Monk tunes, but these players don't sacrifice their own musical perspective in performing them. I also like the fact that in addition to bringing us familiar evergreens such as Let's Call This, Bya-Ya, Ruby My Dear, Well, You Needn't and Straight No Chaser, the group includes some Monk obscurities like Brake's Sake, Locomotive, Something In Blue and Hornin' In. One of my personal favorite Monk tunes, and one which is hardly ever done by anyone other than the maestro himself, is Criss Cross. Dig this trio's freewheeling version of it! Monk fans will find this music to be less angular than the versions by the composer, but these guys swing in their very own unique way! CMG Records, 2007; PT: 71:42, *** .
B. E. D. featuring Becky Kilgore, vocals. Do you have a rough day now and then? Well, we all have ‘em from time to time, and some reaffirming type music may be just what you need in order to get back on track. And, I would suggest, this is it. B.E.D., in case you didn't know, stands for Becky (Kilgore, vocals and guitar); Eddie (Erickson, vocals, guitar and banjo); and Dan (Barrett, vocals and trombone). As a working trio, these three are on same track. Namely, well written tunes to make you happy, whether familiar melodies or obscure tunes which should never have been overlooked. B.E.D. brings ‘em all to you and examples of the former include ,This Could Be The Start Of Something Big, A Hundred Years From Today, Canadian Sunset, I'm An Old Cowhand, There I've Said It Again and Bye Bye Baby. A few of the rare old beauties have names like The Waiter And The Porter And The Upstairs Maid, Watch Out, Skrontch, Lonely Moments and The Pearls. There are seventeen in all and they're meant to elicit a memory or two and to put a smile on your face. Blue Swing Records, 2007; Playing Time: 69:50, **** 1/2.
Essence Of Green, Ron Di Salvio; piano, composer, arranger. If you were into Kind Of Blue (and who wasn't?), or if you tend to lean in the direction of what is sometimes referred to as chamber jazz, give this one a listen. Di Salvio has brought together a skilled and sensitive group of musicians, the most famous of whom is drummer Jimmy Cobb (who, you might recall, sat at the drum set on King Of Blue). These are all original tunes, but they were written with the essence of the Miles Davis trumpet and the Bill Evans piano very much in mind. And give credit to the cats who make it work: particularly Derrick Gardner, trumpet; Diego Rivera, tenor sax; Pat Terbrack, alto sax and the leader, pianist Ron Di Salvio. A quartet of singers add some extra flair to a very well arranged and well thought out listening experience. Origin Records, 2007; Playing Time: 51:00, **** .
You And The Night And The Music, Jackie Ryan, vocals. One can only hope that Jackie Ryan keeps making albums like this one. She's a natural jazz singer with perfect intonation, precise enunciation, and that almost innate ability to know just how much “decoration” (and it's not much) a standard needs in order to give a singer a musical personality. Ryan has it down to a tee. Just listen to her on any of these time tested treats. How about, for example, The Very Thought Of You, Let There Be Love, The Best Is Yet To Come, Never Let Me Go and While We're Young. But there are a couple of delightful surprises in the wings with Something Happens To Me, a bright little jewel that I associate with Betty Carter. And consider Johnny Mandel and Dave Frishberg's You Are There, a ballad on the cusp of becoming a latter day standard. Or a rapid fire tempo on I Know That You Know. All of these and more are placed in the hands of some terrifically talented Los Angeles accompanists. Among them, I was just knocked out by the piano of an emerging monster named Tamir Hendelman. Larry Koonse, guitar, Christopher Luty, bass and the great Jeff Hamilton, drums, round out this scintillating group. Veteran Red Holloway shows up in a guest role on tenor sax. Jackie Ryan's got a lot going for her . . . worth checking out all her earlier albums! Open Art, 2007; Play Time: 66:10, ****
75th Birthday Bash Live! Kenny Burrell, guitar. Here's a test for you. Can you name even one pop or “sell out” album ever made by Kenny Burrell in a fifty year career? I didn't think you could, and I can't either. He's always brought the art of jazz guitar to the highest level, and at 75 years of age, there's no reason to stop now. This celebratory CD features the legendary guitarist in a featured role with no less than the mighty Gerald Wilson Orchestra on six selections. Highlights include a very bluesy Burrell on a medley of Stormy Monday and Blues For The Count; a touch of Latin on Wilson 's composition, Romance; and a Duke Ellington salute on Love You Madly, Sophisticated Lady and Don't Get Around Much Anymore. From this point on, Burrell works in smaller settings with such musicians as Hubert Laws, Jeff Clayton and Herlin Riley, among others. In this context, we're treated to such wondrous and varied tunes as Footprints, Lament, All Blues, A Night In Tunisia, I'll Close My Eyes and Take The 'A' Train. The latter tune gives Kenny a chance to honor all his accompanying musicians via his own special brand of scatting. Surprised? You shouldn't be because Kenny Burrell's been carryin' on and carryin' the torch for all these years! Blue Note Recordings, 2007; Playing Time: 64:56, **** 1/2.
Folk Songs For Far Out Folk, Fred Katz, arranger. During the folk craze of the fifties and sixties, it was not exactly uncommon for jazz musicians to attempt a try at the cash cow with albums on the folk theme. But this one stands out as perhaps the best attempt. Why? Well, Fred Katz's arrangements of these tunes are wonderfully crafted, leaving plenty of room for the musicians to improvise. For much of his life, Katz taught college courses on subjects ranging from religion to jazz to anthropology to magic! But jazz fans will likely remember him as the first cellist in jazz with the groups of Chico Hamilton. This CD, originally issued by Warner Brothers in about 1959, features three classifications of folk tunes: American, Jewish and African. There's a stellar roster of musicians participating on the album (not every cat on every tune). How about names like Johnny Williams, Billy Bean, Paul Horn, Buddy Collette, Pete Candoli, Don Fagerquist, Bob Enevoldsen and lots more. You'll be surprised with the richness and complexity of these tunes. With Fred Katz in charge, these folk songs will hold your interest as jazz adaptations. Reboot Records, 2007; Playing Time: 41:51, *** .
Hurly Burly, Joan Stiles, piano, vocals. Well now…..bet you never thought that Monk's Brilliant Corners and Duke's The Jeep Is Jumpin' could ever be successfully combined. But I guess that Monk put one over on us by inventing his tune on the changes to Duke's classic. Wait until you hear it. It's quite amazing and it works perfectly. After you have that one all mentally digested, along comes Fats Waller's Jitterbug Waltz in the capable hands of alto saxman Steve Wilson. Stiles' own composition, the rolling, churning Hurly Burly follows with generous solo space for Wilson and trumpet maven Jeremy Pelt. Monk encores with Stiles' silvery solo on Round Midnight and a lovely slow paced Pelt flugelhorn solo on Pannonica. Stiles tries her hand impressively on a couple of vocals in Ray Charles' What Would I Do Without You and Mary Lou Williams' In The Land Of OO-Bla-Dee. Other highlights include a surprisingly breezy, quick-paced trio version of All Too Soon; a delicate reading of Jimmy Rowles' The Peacocks featuring tenor soloist Joel Frahm; and it's all hands on deck (Stiles, Pelt, Wilson , Frahm , Peter Washington and Lewis Nash) for Stiles' quirky, boppy Bluesicity. Along with this you'll find the swinging piano and fresh arranging of Joan Stiles. This is a very enjoyable, deep in the shed jazz album. Oo-Bla-Dee Music, 2007; Playing Time: 52:59, ***** .
Restless, Joe Cohn, guitar. Tenor great Al Cohn's kid, Joe, is carving out quite a sterling reputation in his own right as one of New York 's busiest jazz guitarists. Quite comfortable in just about any musical framework, Cohn sure scores on his debut album in the role of leader. Don't think for a moment that it doesn't help to have a supporting cast of players like Hod O'Brien, piano; Dmitry Baevsky, alto sax; Dennis Irwin, bass and Chuck Riggs, drums. To sweeten the recipe even more, toss in Harry Allen as guest tenor soloist on five of the eleven tunes. And those tunes range from dependable standards like Too Marvelous For Words, Shadow Waltz, Comes Love and I Hadn't Anyone Till You to a few Cohn originals in Never Look Back (Joe), Fast (Al) and Woody's Lament (Al). Pianist O'Brien is also represented with his composition, Diffusion Of Beauty. Some of my impressions: 1) Thad Jones's tune, Little Juicy is a bop delight with Cohn and Baevsky trading fours and chasing one another all over the map; 2) Dmitri Baevsky is a new name to me, but I was left thinking that his dry sound is most effective in this setting; 3) Al Cohn never received enough credit for his joyous melodies and 4) his son Joe is the real deal on guitar. His debut CD should please both swing and bop aficionados. Arbors, 2007; PT: 63:04, **** .
Echoes, Jackie Cain, vocals, Roy Kral, piano and vocals. Bassist Howard Rumsey was undoubtedly better known as owner of The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach , Calif. from 1948 to 1971 than as producer of Concerts By The Sea. Yet this unlikely treasure was recorded in 1976 and sees the light of day here for the very first time. Jackie and Roy had a loyal, if not overwhelmingly large, following throughout their five decades performing together. This CD spotlights both established Jackie and Roy tunes like Mountain Greenery, I Wonder What's The Matter With Me and The Runaround. But the couple also covered several newer compositions of that time in The Fat Man, New York State Of Mind, a couple of Alec Wilder gems in Walk Pretty and The Echoes Of My Life; Jobim's Corcovado and Samba Do Aviao and Dave Frishberg's The Wheelers And Dealers. And what Jackie and Roy date would be complete without at least one exercise in pure vocalese, the wordless scat style that partially defined their art. The tune, Roy 's composition, is appropriately entitled The Way We Are. This well recorded live and lively date provides you a front row seat at Concerts By The Sea for a unique husband and wife duo whose approach to their music was always hip, creative, entertaining and perhaps most of all, full of fun. Jazzed Media, 2007; Playing Time: 66:10, **** 1/2
Hommage, Bill Holman, leader, arranger, composer. Bill Holman has been a first cabin arranger for so long that many are not even aware of his beginnings in the LA jazz pantheon as a highly regarded tenor sax player. But somewhere along the line, arranging won out. Holman became a sought after contributor, and singers, for instance, were proud to link their names with his via the words “arrangements by Bill Holman.”Aren't we lucky that Holman, by now a master of his craft, continues to amaze and delight us with albums like this one. These are demanding charts. They feature arrangements with tempo changes, challenging ensemble passages and high voltage solos. The familiar material heard here includes Raincheck, Bemsha Swing, If You Could See Me Now and Woodchoppers Ball. As compelling as these tunes are, the original material is just as exciting with such fare as Sunshinola, a dolled up blues with a happy attitude; an intricate, vigorous thing called Zamboni; and Hommage A Woody, a suite in three parts in dedication to the great Woody Herman. This is not your father's big band swing music. Instead it is vital and compelling listening. But that's the way Bill Holman has always approached his art. Jazzed Media, 2007; PlayTime: 66:29, **** .
Soul Searching, Dick Sisto, vibraphone. Most of the music on this CD was used as a soundtrack for a documentary film, but someone in the know realized that the music was good enough to be made into a CD. I'm not familiar with the name Dick Sisto, but I found that his original compositions made very pleasant jazz listening. Sisto must be well connected on the scene, because his recording includes the likes of Bobby Broom, guitar; Barry Ries, trumpet; Dennis Irwin or Jim Anderson, bass and Mike Hyman, drums (not every cat on every track). Anyhow, the thing you've got to admire in Sisto, is that lesson hard learned of when not to play. Sisto doesn't need to turn your head around with virtuosity. In fact, if he reminded me of anyone, I'd say Milt Jackson because of his elegant touch and his crafty use of space. But make no mistake, Sisto swings with authority on such tunes as Boppy, 12 Steps, Love Grows Deep and Thelonious Monk's Work. Barry Ries gets a halting, yielding and sensitive tone on Summer Of Love and New Water. Mostly original music here, but well conceived and performed. Vibes fans, here's some new sounds for you. Ear X-tacy Records, 2007; Playing Time: 55:23, *** 1/2.
Make Someone Happy, Sophie Millman, vocals. Russian born, Israeli-Canadian has the look and voice of someone who could be easily marketed by a management group. Her rich and creamy voice has some definite jazz feeling, and with a very swinging group of accompanists, she shines on a palette of finery including People Will Say We're In Love, Matchmaker Matchmaker, Like Someone In Love and It Might As Well Be Spring. Among several lesser known tunes, a couple of standouts included the sprightly So Long, You Fool and the tender Israeli melody, Eli Eli. Millman could work a bit on her enunciation, but other than that, she's going to delight a lot of audiences for a long time to come. Linus Entertainment, 2007; Play Time: 49:11, *** .
Green, David Sills, tenor sax, flute. By now there can be no doubt that David Sills has eased into the position of one of LA's top echelon tenor players. On his latest CD, he brings us a group of stellar Southland colleagues, including the presence of the brilliant Gary Foster on alto saxophone. Together these simpatico players work out on a menu of lyrical, well crafted originals and a couple of familiar chestnuts in Prelude To A Kiss and Moon And Sand. Sill's sextet sounds so much in the center of the groove that one might think they're a permanent working group. He and Foster make a great team and earn high marks together. Origin Records, 2007; Playing Time: 78:25, **** .
Sarah + Two, Sarah Vaughan, vocals. Sassy's fans will want to pick up this extraordinary reissue of a very rare old Roulette (now under the Blue Note umbrella) record. It's Sarah - fresh, timeless and intimate with just the accompaniment of Barney Kessel on guitar and Joe Comfort on bass. All the tunes are sung with Vaughan 's special magic intact, but a few faves included When Sunny Gets Blue, When Lights Are Low, Just Squeeze Me, All Or Nothing At All and The Very Thought Of You. Finally, there's Key Largo , a tune that Sarah just owned. A jazz musician in every way, Sarah is hand in glove with Kessel and Comfort. Others tried valiantly, but there was only one Sarah Vaughan. Roulette Recordings, 2007; Playing Time: 36:02, **** .
Fantasy, Bill Mays, piano. It's been my impression over many years of listening to and admiring Bill Mays, that he's always searching for something fresh and new. Well, he's found it in what he calls The Inventions Trio. The music has strong classical connections, as Mays is joined by Marvin Stamm on trumpet and flugelhorn and Alisa Horn on cello. Baubles, Bangles and Beads gets the date underway, but from there on it's almost all original music, serene and beautiful. Try to imagine the lovely tune, Sometime Ago in the setting of piano, flugelhorn and cello, or, if you can, try the same exercise on Bird's Ah-Leu-Cha or imagine some primo George Gershwin in this setting. This is disarmingly creative, brilliantly conceived music. Palmetto Records, 2007; Playing Time: 46:34, ***** .
Trio Of Doom, John McLaughlin, guitar, leader . The only thing I could find about this album to like was its title. If anything can make you feel doomed, this is it. McLaughlin completely disrespects the beauty of the guitar; Pastorius pretty much destroys the concepts of playing bass, and Williams keeps time for these wasteful activities. I'm told that this is called jazz rock, but to my ears, it's more the latter than the former. Columbia hypes this by informing you that seven of the ten tracks are previously unreleased. If you can get through one hearing of this claptrap, you'll wish that they had stayed unreleased. Sony/Columbia Records, 2007; Playing Time: 39:39, no stars .
Heartplay, Charlie Haden, bass; Antonio Forcione, guitar. Now if you wish to experience a guitar played with reverence, try Antonio Forcione and compare him to the review above. The only thing this album lacks is descriptive liner notes, so I can't tell you anything about Forcione. Charlie Haden, on the other hand, remains one of the most durable bass players in jazz. He's a cornerstone these days for beauty, sincerity, and often nostalgia, and those qualities seem to be his game plan in working with Forcione. On this tranquil CD, the two are act as composers of seven of the eight tracks, the remaining one from pianist Fred Hersch. This is contemplative, unpretentious, honest music. The Naim Label, 2007; Playing Time: 49:16, *** .
All By Myself, Sue Raney; vocals. Sue Raney has been described as the best “unknown” singer in the business. And this reissue of a 1963 date for Capitol reaffirms Ms. Raney's superb singing skills. The Ralph Carmichael charts include some unidentified instrumental soloists such as Jack Sheldon and Sweets Edison, and collectively, they all work well with the singer. The twelve tunes (as was the custom of the era) include standouts like Here's That Rainy Day, All By Myself, Just A-Sittin' And A-Rockin', How About Me, Maybe You'll Be There and one of those “it's quarter to three” tunes called No Place To Go. Still active, Sue Raney's as great as ever! Capitol, 2006; PT: 35;32, **** .
We Used To Dance, Joel Frahm, tenor sax. You know you've made the big leagues when you can get Kenny Barron, Rufus Reid and Victor Lewis on your record. Welcome to “the show,” Joel Frahm. On this, his second CD, Frahm continues to impress with a sound right out of the tradition, but with a little attitude now and then as well. His two standards this time out are a beautifully rendered Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most and a pristine My Ideal. The remainder of the tunes are originals by the leader or by that pretty fair piano player of his, Kenny Barron. As Downbeat used to say, here is an artist deserving of wider recognition. Joel: more please! Anzic Records, 2007; PT: 60:59, **** .
Dreamsville, John Vance, vocals. Think about it. When was the last time you saw a review for a legit male singer? Lotsa gals, out there, but where are the fellas? Well, here's one, and the more you hear, the more John Vance is gonna grow on you. He's easy going all the way with an LA based sextet featuring, among others, Stacy Rowles on trumpet and Larry Koonse on guitar. Vance celebrates Songbook Americana with fare such as Invitation, My Foolish Heart, Speak Low, Bluesette and You Don't Know What Love Is. I was particularly drawn to Vance's version of Bob Dorough's Better Than Anything and Henry Mancini's lovely title tune, Dreamsville. Erawan Records, 2007; PT: 48:59, *** .
Dear Miles, Ron Carter, bass. It makes perfectly good sense that sooner or later Ron Carter would get around to doing a Miles Davis tribute album. After all it was he who played in Miles' 60's group, a fixture there until 1968 when he left to explore his own musical horizon. With a quartet of Stephen Scott, piano; Payton Crossley, drums and Roger Squitero, percussion, Carter sticks to the Miles material from the acoustic era of the trumpet icon's career. Hence, we are treated to Seven Steps To Heaven, My Funny Valentine, Bag's 'Groove, Stella By Starlight, Bye Bye Blackbird and a gem which I don't believe Miles ever played, As Time Goes By. A couple of very Miles-like originals complete the CD. The spirit of Miles Davis lives on through recordings like this. Blue Note, 2007; Playing Time: 48:11, **** .
Eternal Licks And Grooves, Bob Florence, leader, piano, arranger, composer. Every new Bob Florence recording is a cause celebre and this one fits right into an impressive list of past triumphs. Florence is one of the premier arrangers for big band and his LA based aggregation soars on several originals and a couple dyed in the wool standards in Invitation and I'm Old Fashioned. Of the original compositions, I especially liked the lilting tempo and the melodic richness of Mirror Images; the serenity of Guiding Star and the brassy, Kenton tribute, Appearing In Cleveland. Florence always comes up with a new twist of some sort, and everything he does is fresh and vital. Amidst all this grandeur, it should not go unnoticed that he's also a heckuva piano player! Mama Records, 2007; Playing Time: 70:01, **** 1/2.
Chris Connor At The Village Gate, Chris Connor, vocals. It's an old story and you've heard it many times, but in 1962 Atlantic Records purportedly dropped Chris Connor due to poor sales. She signed on with the short-lived FM Records and this rarity was the result. Now it's available for the first time on CD. The husky voiced jazz singer works well here with Ronnie Ball, piano; Mundell Lowe, guitar; Richard Davis, bass and Ed Shaughnessy, drums. Chris is right in the groove on up tempo gems like All Of Nothing At All, Something's Coming and Old Devil Moon. She's equally expressive on the ballads. Try Black Coffee, Goodbye and Only The Lonely. This is a must for Chris's many fans. Roulette, 2006; Playing Time: 37:35, *** 1/2
Caminhos Cruzados -- Crossroads, Marsha Campagne, vocals. Marsha Campagne brings a pleasant, if not uniquely distinctive vocal quality, to a group of tunes mostly in the Brazilian bag with a couple of standards Americano tossed in the mix as well. She interprets the south of the border material with practiced skill, but I couldn't find the magic to lift her from the ordinary crop of female vocalists. Impetus, 2007; Play Time: 44:36, ** 1/2.
The Timeless Now, Dayna Stephens, tenor saxophone. Dayna Stephens brings a consistently warm sound to seven originals and two standards in On The Trail and But Beautiful. On his first CD as leader, he combines his talent with that of a much reeled in John Scofield on guitar and pianist Tayhor Eigsti, among others. This initial outing contains some highlight reel moments. Dayna Stephens is a name to watch. CTA, 2007; PT: 60:00, *** .
Sky Blue, Maria Schneider, composer, arranger. It ' s a minor miracle that albums like this can still be made. It takes the care and the funding of a lot of people who care about music for this to happen. After all, there are some twenty musicians who participate in this orchestra. Schneider writes for texture as well as feeling, much like Gil Evans of an earlier time. It ain't bebop but it'll make you sit up and take notice. Artist Share Records, 2007; Playing Time: 62:38, **** .
The Other Road, Ed Johnson, guitar, vocals. If names like Jobim, Gilberto, Lins, and Naciemento cause a little stir in your soul, then you're a fan of Brazilian music, and this is an album you'll want to check into. It's a certainty that one Ed Johnson is American as a Big Mac, yet he's composed these lilting “Brazilian” melodies that that fit like the fries with the Mac, much in the style of the fellas listed above. His mellow, understated vocals are nicely suited to the Brazilian flavor his group, which he calls Novo Tempo . Cumulus Records, 2007; PT: 66:42, *** 1/2
Wixwax, Bob Hamilton, piano. San Diego area pianist Bob Hamilton has an extensive and impressive resume and finally a debut CD. And it's a good one with Jeff D'Angelo on bass and Duncan Moore on drums. The trio performs impressively on a number of Hamilton 's well written and varied originals, plus the two standards for the date -- Wayne Shorter's Lester Left Town and Victor Young's Love Letters. Capri Records, 2007; Playing Time: 57:11, **** .
Paint A Picture, Tell A Story, Greg Chako, guitar. On such familiar tunes as The End Of A Love Affair and People Will Say We're In Love, Greg Chako displays impressive jazz guitar chops, and a few of his originals were built around very nice melody lines. Some of the other tunes may have been a little less interesting, but give Chako credit for a generally well planned CD where his quartet welcomes guests like Don Byron and Delfdayo Marsalis. Self-produced, 2007; Playing Time: 66:53, *** .
First Flight, Pete McGuinness, trombone, vocals, leader. This is my initial awareness of Pete McGuinness and his solid, swinging New York big band. His arrangements crackle with excitement; his writing is fresh and vigorous; his soloists play with the authority expected in The Apple, and to top it all off, McGuinness is a hip singer. Check out his high flying scat solo on Smile and you'll do just that! A winning debut CD! Summit Records, 2007; Playing Time: 61:13, **** .
15 West, Dan Fogel, Hammond B-3 Organ. You can say this about Dan Fogel: he chooses great tunes like Just Friends, A Night In Tunisia, It's You Or No One, Out Of This World, Broadway and more. His quartet is comprised of organ, guitar, tenor sax and drums, and if indeed, this kind of thing is your bag, I think you'll be very pleased with this group's effort. It swings straight down the middle of the groove (and without the grease!) Laughing Waters Records, 2006; Playing Time: 54:34, *** .
May I Come In? Gail Pettis, vocals. Maybe a few of you remember a very talented, generally unheralded singer named Ethel Ennis. Well, Gail Pettis reminded me a bit of Ms. Ennis, and that's to say, she's very good and sings effortlessly and with no “frosting.” Great tunes here like Black Coffee, Desafinado, Show Me and lots more. Ms. Pettis's trio accompaniment includes Randy Halberstadt and former Portlander Darin Clendenin, both of whom are classy piano practitioners. Origin Recordings, 2007; Playing Time: 58:34, *** .