CD Reviews - December 2007
by Kyle O'Brien
En El Aire, Alain Perez, bass . Perez takes many cues from the late Jaco Pastorius as an electric bassist with fleet fingers, but he adds a heavy dose of Cuban heritage to the mix, with some big band horn arrangements and plenty of percussion, making this a decidedly Latin jazz album. But it is also a modern jazz album, with plenty of underlying funk, fusion, bop, and contemporary thrown in to make it interesting. He borrows a page from Pastorius by using Charlie Parker's “Donna Lee” to show off his prowess. But instead of just modernizing bop, Perez uses the melody as a jumping off point for a bubbling Latin groove and bass solo. He retains a great sense of melodicism and doesn't just go for the flash. And Perez is also a triple threat, with a passionate voice (singing in Spanish on several tunes, including the poignant “Convergencia”), as well as talents with percussion, keyboards and composition. This is a disc that shows off a young artist and all his range. The production may be a little too clean at times, which takes away from the passion, but overall Perez deserves to be heard and paid attention to. 2007, Ayva. 66 minutes. (four stars).
A Song for You, Janine Gilbert-Carter, vocals. Gilbert-Carter is a relatively unknown jazz and gospel vocalist from Washington , D.C. who gained attention at the FMJS East Coast Jazz competition in 2003. Here, she is singing live at the competition with a small group, and her voice is in fine form. While it begins with the fairly tepid swing of “There is No Greater Love,” the disc improves when Gilbert-Carter gets a bit bluesier. The ballad “Don't Go to Strangers,” is a pretty and emotive interpretation, with saxophonist doing a gorgeous and mellifluous solo. While there is plenty of swing here, and Gilbert-Carter's phrasing is nice and laid back, she is better when courting ballads and the blues, as on the slow blues track, “Please Send Me Someone to Love,” where her voice gets bigger and more emotive, and “At Last,” which is done as a soft and tender ballad. Gilbert-Carter is a solid regional artist and certainly a nice addition to the D.C. jazz scene. 2006, Jazz Karma, 58 minutes. (three stars).
All In, Westchester Jazz Orchestra. This big band is a group of New York-metro area jazz veterans, many from the height of the big band era (Kenton, Bellson, Rich, etc.) playing together to promote both jazz as an art and provide the greater New York north metro area with quality music. That we get to hear it on the left coast is a treat, since this is a tight and practiced group playing solid arrangements of interesting compositions. These thankfully aren't your usual standards, as the WJO plays tracks like Joe Henderson's “Caribbean Fire Dance,” Horace Silver's lovely “Peace,” and Wayne Shorter's “Ping Pong,” a complex piece with descending lines handled wonderfully by this precise group. The soloists aren't slouches either, with solid and inspired takes from trumpeter Marvin Stamm, trombonist Larry Farrell, saxophonist Mike Migliori and pianist Ted Rosenthal, plus great leadership from Mike Holober. But it's the ensemble that pulls it all together. Crisp arrangements, strong horn hits and a veteran sensibility make this an orchestra deserving wider distribution. 2007, WJO. 61 minutes. (four stars).
Taking Chances (Live at the Dakota), Terell Stafford, trumpet. This disc, recorded live at a famed Minnesota jazz club, captures a considerable amount of energy, much of it generated by the vibrant Stafford and fed by his quartet of musicians – saxophonist Tim Warfield, pianist Bruce Barth, drummer Dana Hall and bassist Derrick Hodge. It starts with a ripping Latin jazzer, Stafford's own “A Nick Off the Mark,” which finds both Stafford and Warfield diving head first into some highly creative solos. Barth's “Pegasus” lets the octave melody of sax and trumpet shine, while “Taking a Chance on Love” gives Stafford a chance to show off his lovely tone on flugelhorn. And who knew traditional Christian hymns could create such excitement, as the searing bop version of “Jesus Loves Me” shows, a version that could have even had the Lord grooving along. Soul jazz is courted as well, with Stafford 's hipster “Blues for J.T.” This disc displays how a label does it right when it comes to live recordings. The sound is full and crisp, but the audience is still present, keeping the energy high, while letting the dynamics of the evening come to life. And Stafford is a perfect subject, his lively nature magnified by the setting and the group. A fine live disc. 2007, MaxJazz. Playing Time: 77:17. (four and a half stars).
Sax a la Carter, The Benny Carter Quartet. Portland audiences will consider this a great reissue, Carter's third recording on United Artists back in 1960. It features the great walking bass of late Portland resident, Leroy Vinnegar, a tremendous asset. Vinnegar's strength pushes the tunes forward and gives them a steady flow. Carter, by this time already a longtime industry vet, shows both poise and inspiration on highly accessible songs. His signature quick vibrato is evident throughout and can sound both engaging and dated. But when he slows things down, the tone is absolutely luscious, as on “Everything I Have Is Yours,” and “I'll Never Smile Again.” But Carter also bops with the best of them, if in short spurts, throwing out fleet runs on tunes like the bouncy “If I Loved You” and “Far Away Places.” He has a keen sense of melody, which his group, that includes Jimmy Rowles on piano and Mel Lewis on drums, heightens, even if a key or two on the piano is slightly out. Carter even doubles the melody on the exotic “Moon of Manakoora,” and plays a lovely, haunting soprano on the dark “Ennui.” 2004, Blue Note Records, 47 minutes. (four stars).
Good News, Patrick Flynn, guitar. I always cringe when I hear “woke up this morning” as an opening lyric in a blues song, which is exactly what happened when I spun this disc. It's the biggest blues cliché around and should be stricken. Despite the hackneyed opening, I kept listening, mostly because I saw that Charlie Musselwhite was a guest on one track. While the lyrics only got slightly better from this singer-songwriter, the music was varied and the musicianship better than good. The tone is upbeat and one could picture the heavily bearded Flynn on stage at the Waterfront Blues Festival, playing and singing with an all-star band. But his voice is decent at best, and many of his lyrics clichéd. Still, the music – a mix of folk, blues, jazz, rock and Americana – has its charms. It's best when it's bluesy, but with guest violin, harmonica, horns and banjo, there's enough diversity here to make things interesting. 2007, Silverado Records, 62 minutes. (two and a half stars).
Waltzing the Splendor, Claire Ritter, piano. The heart of this disc is a series of jazz serenades for Georgia O'Keeffe, specifically her abstract art and “ Orange and Red Streak,” the painting that graces the cover of the album. Those four short serenades capture the flowing beauty of O'Keeffe's masterpieces. With her chordal piano leading the way, Ritter waltzes through these original compositions, backed by cello, violin and vibes, and the result is pretty and proper melodic chamber jazz. The rest of the album is a mash of styles, tempered by the stark instrumentation. The cover of “Over the Rainbow” seems out of place between more interesting original music, the likes of which have elements of Monk and Bill Evans, like the obtuse stride of “Hot Pepper.” The track “Funky Feet” reminds me of Chick Corea/Gary Burton recordings. Dave Holland makes a welcome appearance on “In Between,” playing an inspired bass solo on the four-plus minute song. The texture of the solo bass goes well within the structure, but one longs for more throughout. A couple of alternate takes are superfluous, but the disc is still a success. 2007, Zoning Records, 40 minutes. (three and a half stars).
Unfailing Kindness, Chie Imaizumi, composer. It's rare to have a debut by an artist where the artist doesn't perform, but such is the case with this Japanese native. Colorado trumpeter Greg Gisbert essentially found this upcoming young artist and arranged a band and dates for her to have her compositions performed. A little background – Imaizumi showed talent as a young age in Japan and was rigorously trained on keyboards. She attended Berklee College of Music in Boston and started making a name for herself as a composer. When she met Gisbert, he recognized a great talent and put together a crack band to record this disc in Denver . With great players like Gisbert, bari saxophonist Gary Smulyan and trumpeter Ron Miles, Imaizumi's tunes are in good hands. She has a decidedly western flair, with the opening track a light Latin tune with big band-style hits and form. “The More the Merrier,” is a New Orleans-style groover with an infectiously simple melody. “Unfailing Kindness” again shows her penchant for melody, as a simple phrase is altered and repeated by different voices and tonalities in a pretty fashion and flow. “Round and Round” is punchy and fun, kind of a Latin bop, with horn blasts and an “I've Got Rhythm” changes spike. Imaizumi gives plenty of room for solos in-between her melodies and runs. As a first disc, this is impressive, as Imaizumi has some serious chops. But it's almost too western for its own good, especially the gospel-ish closer, “Another Day,” which sounds like something from a Peabo Bryson album from the 80s. If she draws from other sources, including her own heritage, it might be even more interesting. 2006, Capri Records, 56 minutes. (three and a half stars).
Beyond Brooklyn , Herbie Mann & Phil Woods. This is Mann's last recording, recorded in Glen Campbell's home studio in Phoenix just before Mann passed away in 2003. He's slightly breathier here, but the spirit of his life and music come through, supported wonderfully by Woods, who underplays here, plus an impressive band. The long runs and tones are behind him at this point, but Mann plays with a sense of importance and beauty. His flute is his longtime friend, and he plays each phrase with love and courage, and seems to be having fun with his musical friends. There's bop here (“Bohemia After Dark,” “Au Privave”), bossa-waltz (“We Will Meet Again”), and mellow Latin (“Caminhos Cruzados”), where Mann does a touching solo on alto flute. It's a fitting finale for Mann, both enjoyable and poignant, especially the bonus track, a languid version of “Time After Time,” where Mann sounds like he's saying goodbye. 2004, MCG Jazz, 64 minutes. (four stars).