CD Reviews - March 2008
by George Fendel and Kyle O'Brien
Reviews by George Fendel
New York Accent, Mike Di Rubbo, alto and soprano saxophones
A handful of past recordings have shown Mike Di Rubbo to be an adherent
of the virile tradition of hard bop, and this live recording continues
in that vein. Di Rubbo’s rhythm section is certainly a battle
tested one in Harold Mabern, piano; Duane Burno, bass and Tony Reedus,
drums. Their appearance at a club called The Kitano gives them
opportunity to really stretch out on several of Di Rubbo’s high
energy originals; a run through Ray Brown’s Ray’s
“Idea”; and the surprise of the set, a Billy Joel (of all
things) tune called “She’s Always A Woman.” The
ballad feature, an album highlight, is Duke Ellington’s
“Prelude To A Kiss.” Di Rubbo’s lengthy coda is in
itself worth the price of admission. Among his original compositions, I
liked the complex melody line and the brisk tempo of “Better
Days.” For those of you, like me, who sometimes cringe at the
sound of the soprano saxophone, not to worry. Di Rubbo plays it only on
one tune, another original of his called “The Sage.” Di
Rubbo’s ease in putting a wealth of ideas out there would have to
be called impressive. While not for everyone, if a bristling hard bop
quartet is your thing, you’re gonna like this one.
Cellar Live; 2007, 56:12.
Return, Pamela Hines, piano
This CD once again points out to us the wealth of talent out there,
which, to use an old Downbeat expression, is deserving of wider
recognition. Pamela Hines has those attributes one admires in a
skillful jazz pianist: surety of touch, clean, authoritative lines;
diligence with space; and what’s more, she swings. My two years
of high school Spanish tell me that her first tune, “Ojos de
Rojo” translates to “Red Eyes.” It moves along
at a nice pace and keeps your attention. It’s followed by a fresh
and frisky “My Heart Stood Still.” Enter guest tenor man
Jerry Bergonzi on the title tune, “Return.” His allegiance
to Coltrane works well here. In fact, this might be among the more
restrained Bergonzi performances I’ve heard on record. An
absolutely torchy “I’m Through With Love” is next,
with Hines really putting it over. Among the rest of the selections, it
is interesting to note two very rarely heard Bill Evans tunes,
“Displacement” and “Comrade Conrad.”
Hines’s trio includes John Lockwood, bass, and Bob Gulotti,
drums. Bergonzi encores on another Hines creation called
“Very.” He’s an innovator, no doubt about that. This
well-balanced album travels straight down the middle of the jazz
highway, with something for everyone.
Spice Rack Records, 2007; 53:50.
You Are There, Roberta Gambarini, vocals, Hank Jones, piano.
For many years I’ve wondered when, if ever, will the next
Ella-Sarah-Carmen arrive on the scene? Well, folks, she’s
here and her name is Roberta Gambarini. On this, her second CD, she
welcomes one of the all-time jazz piano heroes, Hank Jones, for an
intimate reminder of what vocal jazz singing is all about. It’s
music from the heart, so good that it reminds me of an Ella-Paul Smith
(also voice and piano only) album from long ago called “Let No
Man Write My Epitaph” (reissued as “The Intimate
Ella”). There are fourteen virtual first takes on this CD, and
space doesn’t allow me to cover ‘em all. Hence a few
highlights among an “all highlight” effort: Johnny Mandel
and Dave Frishberg’s title tune, “You Are There,”
which by now can be called a jazz standard; Benny Carter’s
“When Lights Are Low”; a shimmering Gigi Gryce beauty,
“Reminiscing,” with a stunning Jon Hendricks lyric; always
and always Duke and Strayhorn with “Just Squeeze Me,”
“Something To Live For,” “Lush Life” and
“Come Sunday”; and how about the charm of “How Are
Things In Glocca Morra”? This is how songs should be sung, a
rarity these days. The torch has finally been passed. And the recipient
is Roberta Gambarini.
EmArcy, 2007; 64:27.
It’s What I Do, Jack Sheldon, trumpet.
Whenever a new Jack Sheldon CD comes out, many of us look forward to
Jack’s unique trumpet sound spiced with his hip and humorous
vocals. But sometimes, in the midst of all his vocal antics, we lose
sight of the fact that Sheldon is a monstrously good trumpet player.
Let this CD serve as a reminder of that, because it’s
instrumental all the way, and Jack still delivers that solid Sheldon
sound on a selection of ten regal bop tunes. Without enumerating all
the titles, let’s just mention the composers (!) and you’ll
get the idea! How about Coltrane, Miles, Monk, Strayhorn and
Bird? Jack calls his current quartet “California
Cool,” and in addition to his sunny California trumpet, it
includes Joe Bagg, piano; Bruce Lett, bass; and Dick Weller, drums.
While this rhythm section accounts for itself with authority and chops,
it’s Sheldon’s gig, and on a pallet of tunes he’s
probably played longer than your nephew Henry has been alive, Sheldon
hits the bulls eye from beginning to end. My earliest Jack Sheldon
recordings date as far back as the late fifties. Well, be assured, this
senior statesman of the trumpet sounds as great now as he did then.
Butterfly, 2007; 74:55.
Young At Heart, Grant Stewart, tenor saxophone.
If you’re one of those who has a tough time opening the door to
the younger generation of jazz, take a breath and give Grant Stewart a
try. Here’s a 36 year old who has done his homework with Rollins,
Coltrane, Stitt, Bird, Dexter and others, and, from those heroes, has
honed his own big and burly sound. Along with Eric Alexander, I think
Stewart is the most complete of the younger cats. He blows in the
center of the bop tradition, improvises with clarity and direction, and
never loses sight of the fact that it’s okay to swing! And
he can tear you up on a ballad too. Just listen to “You’re
My Thrill” or Jobims’ poignant “Modinha” for
proof. But Stewart also shines on up tempo vehicles like Elmo
Hope’s quirky line, “Roll On” or Neal Hefti’s
tune made famous by Charlie Parker, “Repetition.”
“Serenade To Sweden” is a lovely but rarely heard Duke
Ellington chestnut, one of those “you’ll know when you hear
it” tunes, and Stewart gives it a glorious treatment. Perhaps the
surprise of the session was “Young At Heart,” the old
Sinatra hit from the fifties. After an opening legato statement Stewart
picks up the tempo and, in so doing, brings a freshness to this
evergreen. As on an earlier CD, Stewart’s colleagues are Tardo
Hammer, piano; Peter Washington, bass; and Joe Farnsworth, drums. All
of them now fall into the category of “young veterans” and
swing they do! Grant Stewart is keeping the tradition alive and,
I must say, adding to it. He’s simply that good!
Sharp Nine, 2008; 55:21.
For The Moment, Margaret Slovak, guitar.
In 1989, four years before her move to Portland, guitarist Margaret
Slovak entered a New York City recording studio to do a quartet album
with Fred Hersch, piano; Michael Formanek, bass; and Michael Sarin,
drums. Through the 1990’s, she shopped it to countless labels,
most of whom were swallowed up by larger outfits. Hence, this recording
of eight beautifully crafted Slovak originals finally sees the light of
day in 2008. Since the time of this session, Fred Hersch has emerged as
one of the brilliant pianists of the day, so one would have to believe
that Margaret Slovak must feel a real sense of pride in this work. And
well she should. Slovak always showers love and respect on the guitar
for the elegant instrument that it can be … when in the right
hands. And Fred Hersch’s exquisite accompaniment and solo work on
the album signal what was just around the corner for him. There is a
delicate sense of intricacy and depth to these meetings of guitar and
piano, suggesting that Slovak and Hersch found a real simpatico musical
bond. You can hear it in the music.
Slovak Music, 2007; 45:04.
Invisible Cities, Pete Malinverni, piano.
Pete Malinverni likes to mix it up. You never know what he’s
going to come up with next, and each step in his jazz journey is
compelling. Instead of the piano trio approach of past albums,
Malinverni adds a couple of stunning Gotham horn players. Tim Hagans on
trumpet and flugelhorn and Rich Perry on tenor saxophone help make this
release rise far above the ordinary. They are all supported by New York
cats by Ugonna Okegwo, bass, and Tom Melito, drums. The tunes seem to
alternate between standards like “I Love Paris,”
“Chicago,” “Lonely Town” and
“There’s A Boat That’s Leavin’ Soon For New
York” and some riveting writing on Pete’s originals. Among
these is “New Orleans - Cities And Desire.” It’s
rather like a funeral march, a dark and foreboding reminder of
post-Katrina promises not kept. But other selections weave stories of
hope, joy and optimism. And Pete’s piano, as always can express
poignancy one moment and abundant energy the next. It seems he’s
always looking for that little musical niche he hasn’t covered in
the past, making each Malinverni CD something unique and, in this case,
Reservoir, 2008; 65:42.
Haunted Heart, Mundell Lowe, guitar, and Jim Ferguson, bass and vocals.
Perhaps you remember those old Chet Baker records on Pacific Jazz. You
know, the ones where Chet would sing a few tunes in his intimate,
rather high-pitched voice. And we all dug it, right? Well, in Jim
Ferguson, we have a splendid reminder of those Baker sides. Ferguson,
certainly no slouch on bass, is the picture of warmth, sincerity and
intimacy on eleven selections from Songbook America. Joining him on
this journey of genuine music making is the veteran guitarist, Mundell
Lowe. I was fortunate to have heard the two of them some years back in
a home concert” sponsored by Diane Mitchell, the late Red
Mitchell’s wife. I remember it as a glorious, recital-quality
evening, and now it’s available on this straight to the heart
disc. The two peas in a pod players take on such winners as “Gone
With The Wind,” “Detour Ahead,” “Mean To
Me,” “There’s A Small Hotel,” “My Foolish
Heart” and “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Two choices
from more recent years are “Close Enough For Love” and a
stunning medley of two of Bill Evans’ works, “Very
Early” and “Waltz For Debby.” Top all of that off
with a perfect rendition of the title tune, “Haunted
Heart,” and little fun with an old Mose Allison warhorse,
“I Don’t Worry About A Thing.” This is a “made
in heaven” pairing of musicians who think alike. In Ferguson, we
have a singer who feels the lyrics and expresses them with affection,
clarity and high-level musicianship.
Lily’s Dad Music, 2007; time not indicated.
In The Dark, Rossano Sportiello, piano.
Once Rossano Sportiello really digs into the heart of “After
You’ve Gone,” the first tune on this album, you’ll be
hooked. Sportiello, who still makes his home in a small town outside of
Milan, Italy, covers the gamut of tempo, mood, style and era on this
invigorating solo piano CD. After the burning opener, he settles into
an easy-going, stride-like “Don’t Blame Me.”
You’ll notice Sportiello’s music is complete with Tatum-ish
runs and figures, with a strong sense of the history of solo jazz
piano. You can hear it in “’S Wonderful,”
“Strike Up The Band,” “How Deep Is The Ocean,”
“Sunday,” “A Handful Of Stars,” “Love
Letters” and many more. Just to show you that he’s also hip
to some delicious morsels of the masterful Bill Evans, Sportiello also
shines on a gorgeous trilogy of Evans tunes. Other winners on this disc
include a Jimmy Van Heusen medley; a tip of the hat to his Italian
heritage on “O Solo Mio”; a rapid-fire
“Rosetta” featuring a left hand that will make you dizzy;
and even more, 23 selections in all. The thing is, Sporitello is
equally compelling on a delicate ballad as he is on an ancient rhythmic
warhorse. You gotta love it!
Sackville; 2007, 64:27.
Wheel Of Life, Johnny Martin, vocals.
PDX tunester Johnny Martin has loosened the reigns on his new CD, and,
I think, has decided to just tackle some great tunes with a cadre of
solid area musicians. Martin sounds as though he’s having a great
time. He’s loose, easy going and carefree as he lets a dozen
examples of Songbook America simply take care of themselves. And how
could it be otherwise in the company of Dave Evans, tenor; Steve
Christofferson, piano; Dan Balmer, guitar; Dave Captein, bass; and
Garry Hobbs, drums. Among my faves were familiar fare like “Comes
Love,” “I Guess I’ll Have To Change My Plan,”
“We’ll Be Together Again,” “I Concentrate On
You,” “Come Dance With Me” and even
“There’s A Boat That’s Leavin’ Soon For New
York.” Not quite as successful was an attempt to
“contemporize” the old standard, “A Hundred Years
From Today.” Martin is wise in giving some breathing room to his
quintet, resulting in some sparkling solo work from all the players.
Not to mention Martin himself.
Warning Voice Music, 2007; times not indicated.
Sound-Effect, Steve Nelson, vibes.
I’ve been waiting quite awhile to hear the vibraphone player who
would pick up the mantle from the great Milt Jackson. Many good ones
have come along in recent years, but the guy who most impresses me is
Steve Nelson. Why? Well, first of all, his style is based in
classic bop and blues. Secondly, his sound is such that the instrument
is not treated in a percussive fashion, but rather as a lyrical but
swinging vehicle. Add to this the fact that Nelson, like Milt,
understands the use of space; that his original compositions have depth
and definition, and his choice of standards and bop tunes is flawless.
Certainly it doesn’t hurt a bit that his colleagues on this
quartet album are Mulgrew Miller, piano; Peter Washington, bass; and
Lewis Nash, drums. By this time, all are seasoned Big Apple pros. They
support Nelson with aplomb on a handful of original tunes as well as
standards like “Desafinado,” “You And The Night And
The Music,” “Up Jumped Spring” and “Night Mist
Blues.” It’s nice to see Nelson gaining in stature and
getting his music out there on a well-distributed label like High Note.
He may well be a disciple of Milt Jackson, but like all musicians
worthy of hearing, he’s very much his own man. Check him out,
High Note; 2007, 58:00.
The Three Optimists At The Old Mill, Gene DiNovi, piano.
Any jazz listener worth his history books has experienced the majesty
of the trios led by Art Tatum, Nat Cole and Oscar Peterson. All three
of them were drummer-less, opting instead for piano, bass and GUITAR.
And so it is with Gene DiNovi, a north of the border pianist now in his
early 80’s who loves the golden era of songwriting in America.
With fellow Canadians Andrew Scott on guitar and Dave Young on bass,
DiNovi bestows his elegant piano stylings on us on treasured tunes.
Some of the best include “So In Love,” “All Through
The Night,” “Jump For Joy” and “The Song Is
You.” Of special interest to the bop crowd is “I Got
Rhythm.” After one chorus, DiNovi and company steer us into three
bebop anthems, “Anthropology,” “Shaw
‘Nuff” and “Oleo.” All of this and more was
recorded live before an appreciative audience at Toronto’s Old
Mill Restaurant. One time through this CD and you’ll wish you had
Sackville; 2007, 66:48.
Charlie Cat II, Buddy DeFranco, clarinet.
The amazing Buddy DeFranco, the most celebrated bebop clarinetist of
all time, is now 84 years young and still playing his flawless, beloved
bop and blues. DeFranco somehow managed, more than fifty years ago, to
get on Bird’s bandwagon. And there he has enthusiastically
stayed. The album opens with the energetic title tune, a successor to
Charlie Cat, a tune he wrote in the fifties. The remainder of the album
features a well balanced menu of standards, jazz classics,
one original from Buddy and one from his long time playing mate, Terry
Gibbs. The tunes include the rarely heard chestnut, “All My
Life,” and other proven evergreens such as “By
Myself,” “What Is This Thing Called Love,” and
“Ill Wind.” De Franco’s group includes the very
swinging Derek Smith, piano; Lew Soloff, trumpet; Rufus Reid, bass; and
Ed Metz Jr., drums. Howard Alden and Joe Cohn split the guitar chores.
A couple other album highlights are the jazz classics “Joy
Spring” and a hold on to your hat version of the bop anthem
“Anthropology.” A high five to Buddy DeFranco, who at 84,
is not a stroll down memory lane. He’s a vibrant, rampaging bebop
clarinet player. Same as always.
Arbors; 2007, 59:40
Live At Salty’s, Jof Lee, piano, Tim Gilson, bass, Mel Brown, drums.
Salty’s is more a fine dinner house than it is a jazz club per
se. However, someone in Salty’s management decided quite a number
of years ago that fine dining and jazz form a pretty nice alliance. One
of the stellar jazz groups well established there has been the Lee,
Gilson, Brown trio, and this welcome recording puts them in the
spotlight. The trio opens with a Lockjaw Davis blues called
“Light And Lovely” and then moves into a refreshed
Bacharach-David pop tune, “The Look Of Love.” The tune
never had it so good. On “Blue Moon,” an old Rodgers and
Hart warhorse, Jof Lee finds lots of new angles and possibilities.
After a satisfying romp through “Wrap Your Troubles In
Dreams,” Gilson introduces, of all things, “Billy
Boy.” And why not? Ahmad Jamal and Oscar Peterson both
reveled in it back in the day. The guys explore “Old Devil
Moon” with a near modal approach. Bring on the blues -- and what
better example than “Basin Street Blues.” That’s
followed by the vamp from “All Blues,” but it’s a
hoax, as the trio winds into “Willow Weep For Me.” Very
nifty. Don’t miss the “Rhythm-A-Ning” quote on
“Taking A Chance On Love,” and winding up this satisfying
and swinging CD is Jof’s terrific melody line on his original,
“Mambo Jambo.” This is classic piano trio jazz at its
finest. How lucky we are to have musicians of this caliber right here
in our own backyard!
Saphu; 2008, 70:28.
Landscapes, Frank Macchia, tenor saxophone, with The Prague Orchestra.
If you like your mellow tenor man with a sterling silver orchestral
accompaniment, don’t overlook Landscapes. It features six songs
from yesteryear (“Sidewalks Of New York,”
“Shenandoah,” “Avalon,” etc.) and
Macchia’s “Landscape Suite,” six original
compositions full of thrilling musical colors. Macchia’s rich,
full-bodied tenor works perfectly with The Prague Orchestra. Kudos to
all of them! For more info, try www.frankmacchia.net.
Cacaphony Inc., 2007, 62:05.
A note from George: I
swear I hadn’t planned it this way, but in perusing my reviews in
this month’s issue, I noted a long list of Italian and
Italian-American musicians. Check it out: DeFranco, DiNovi,
DiRubbo, Gambarini, Malinverni, Sportiello and Macchia. Salud!
Reviews by Kyle O'Brien
Live at the Village Vanguard, Bill Charlap Trio.
Charlap is his understated best here. Toning it down heightens the
impact for the listener, making one almost strain to hear the layers in
his playing. With his longtime trio of Kenny Washington on drums and
Peter Washington on bass, Charlap is in a comfort zone. The disc opens
on an upbeat groove with “Rocker,” then settles down on the
lovingly discreet “Autumn in New York,” which in lesser
hands could sound trite but with Charlap gets a fresh face. The music
was recorded in 2003, though it sounds timeless. Charlap pays attention
to every note, from the subtlest accent to the swinging chord changes
on “The Lady is a Tramp.” Even when the trio pushes the
tempo, the rhythms are still laid back, as on “My Shining
Hour,” with Charlap underplaying the melody before whipping over
the keyboard on his technically adept solo. Understated works on this
exceptional trio album.
2007, Blue Note Records. 54:37.
The Hidden Land, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.
Fusion jazz came on strong in the 70s, then morphed into smooth jazz in
the late 80s and through the 90s. It took a scary turn with Kenny G and
other “elevator jazz” criminals. Some survived throughout,
like David Sanborn and the late Michael Brecker. Others didn’t
change enough to be relevant, and others changed but never lost their
edge. Of them all, banjoist Fleck and his eclectic crew have utilized
deft musicianship, a unique sound and the ability to experiment while
staying true to themselves to stay alive and kicking after so many
years in the business. Fleck has returned to his
familiar-yet-cutting-edge musical roots without sounding like fusion
has-beens. Fleck, as a solo artist and with the Flecktones, has
ventured into various territories over the years, but this disc returns
to his signature mix of jazz, instrumental rock and world music. Call
this ultra-modern chamber jazz, as Fleck plays with Bach on several
tracks. His penchant for world folk leanings takes over with Latin
jazz-meets-American folk on “Rococo,” and a funk-fusion
leaning on “Labyrinth,” where lauded bassist Victor Wooten
wows with fleet-fingered skills. While I usually abhor electronic
percussion, the amiable and bizarre Futureman continues to impress with
his electric ‘keytar’ drum device, as well as his prowess
on traditional drums. Flutist/saxophonist Jeff Coffin shares melodies
with Fleck and their tones blend beautifully as their notes crash
together in fluid motion. Sometimes we hear a retro fusion jazz sounds,
but the musicianship involved elevates them far above the smooth fray.
2006, Columbia, 59:58.
For the Moment, The Margaret Slovak Quartet.
Portland musicians seem to do well when partnering with pianist Fred
Hersch. Nancy King and Hersch found themselves a Grammy nomination with
their duo album. Now, guitarist Slovak releases an album where the
cooperative pianist makes a strong showing as part of this wonderful
quartet, which also includes drummer Michael Sarin and bassist Michael
Formanek. But this is no recent recording. Slovak is finally releasing
this pleasing fusion of modern jazz, folk and instrumental composition
after 18 years. The four musicians recorded this disc in New York in
1989, when Slovak lived there for four years before she made the move
to Portland. It’s too bad we had to wait so long to hear it.
Slovak’s electric guitar work is fluid and rich, Hersh’s
piano lyrical and inspired, Sarin’s drumming light and textured,
and Formanek’s bass solid. While it may sound a bit Metheny-like
in its chordal meanderings, it is still well performed, and
Slovak’s compositions show an artist who pays attention to
layering and rich chords, especially evident on the solo piece
“Twice.” The mastering, by original engineer A.T.
MacDonald, updates the sound and gives vibrancy. Those who know
Slovak’s work will be surprised and pleased.
An update on Margaret: Due to an auto accident she suffered several
years ago, she is still working to correct faltering function in her
shoulder, arm and wrist. Breedlove Guitars in Bend built her a special,
ergonomic nylon-string guitar, which she named “Hank”
(after her father), and she is learning to play it well with her
2007, Slovak Music. 45:02.
Sucker Punch Requiem: An Homage to Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lisle Ellis.
Ellis is a bassist, electronics specialist and “sound
designer,” which might explain why he is paying homage to a
short-lived, yet explosive, impressionistic visual pop artist.
Ellis’s work here is tonal in nature, as if he is staring at a
canvas, wondering which direction to take it. The textures of flute
(Holly Hofmann), saxophone (Oliver Lake), piano (Mike Wofford), drums
(Susie Ibarra), trombone (George Lewis), and voice and electronics
(herself and Pamela Z), are all treated as different brush strokes
– avant-garde voices that sometimes mesh in interesting hues and
sometimes collide in a musical conundrum. Is it always pretty? No, but
neither was Basquiat’s art. His volatile, self-destructive life
was ultimately the basis for his artistic understanding. Ellis takes a
more reflective approach, utilizing acoustic jazz and the punch of
electronica to fill the ears with artistic questions and some obtuse
answers. Don’t look for a solid sense of melody nor an easy
listen. Like Basquiat, this is thick, volatile and over before you
quite knew what hit you … but it lingers.
2008, Henceforth Records, 63:03.
A Song About Forever: Songs by Kurt Weill, The Kurt Weill Project.
Many have addressed Weill’s music and influence, but few have
attached his name to their group. This brave quartet is a
“jazz-based exploration of Kurt Weill’s songs, with a nod
to their musical theater roots,” according to the liner notes.
Weill, of course, was the ultimate collaborator, teaming with great
writers like Ogden Nash, Ira Gershwin, Langston Hughes and Alan Jay
Lerner and others to put together his interpretation of the American
musical. Here, those songs are interpreted by a quartet that puts
obvious knowledge and love into their performances. Vocalist Hilary
Gardner is up to the task of putting a jazzy and theatrical spin to
tunes like the slinky “I’m a Stranger Here Myself,”
the melancholy “Lonely House,” and the swing-meets-Latin of
“September Song.” Her voice is full and expressive, able to
handle the chord alterations from pianist/producer Frank Ponzio and
company. Adding the occasional trumpet and clarinet interlude serves
this music well, and the proceedings could have even used more layers
to accent Gardner’s borderline operatic voice. Torch songs like
“Love Song” go over slightly better than the more swinging
tunes, but this ambitious project works through the strengths of her
voice and its interesting arrangements.
2008, Consolidated Artists Productions, 59:00.
Azucar de Amor, Kat Parra, vocals.
Bay Area vocalist Parra embraces Latin jazz and adds her sweet,
powerfully intimate voice as a guiding light. Often with Latin jazz,
vocals are just another element to the spicy blend of rhythm and
melody, but Parra takes control of her arrangements, using her lyrical
quality to push things forward. There’s no doubt that she is the
sun around which these instruments orbit. Yet this is a collaborative
record. Ray Vega makes a strong statement on trumpet, while Masaru Koga
shows off brilliance on the pulsing “Por La Tu Puerta.”
Parra sings well in both English and Spanish, which serves her well and
gives her a double-barreled arsenal. She is co-writer on several tunes,
with trombonist Wayne Wallace, and those tunes stand up just as well as
those by Stanley Turrentine, Dizzy Gillespie and Errol Garner. She
gives Garner’s familiar “Misty” an
unfamiliar-yet-welcome bolero approach. Parra is a refreshing, strong
voice who deserves a wider audience.
2008, Kat Parra/Patois Records, 54:46.
Blackout Conception, John Chin, piano.
A sense of melody is still highly important in the jazz world, and this
debut album by Brooklynite Chin shows that melody can be had while
putting forth a modern sound that is comforting yet contemporary. As
arranger, player, composer and bandleader, Chin is accomplished. His
dual roles allow him freedom but he never gets in the way of the song
or the melody. The Brazilian arrangement of “Joanne Julia”
is propelled by Chin’s pulsating piano but led by Mark
Turner’s flowing saxophone. Chin is an adept soloist, which he
learned from the great Kenny Barron. Chin pays and plays tribute to
Barron, with two of these tracks, including the waltzing
“Lullaby,” which he treats tenderly but with enough oomph
to make it interesting. Chin is a promising talent as both an arranger
and bandleader, provided he sticks to his great sense of melody as a
2007, Fresh Sound Records, 65:29
Brother Ray, Eric Byrd Trio + 4.
Brother Ray refers to the late Ray Charles, so this disc is obviously
blues and R&B based. Pianist/vocalist Byrd is at the helm and is an
able bandleader, his honed piano charging through while letting his
plus four horns punch up the soloing. “Let the Good Times
Roll” drives with energy and musically sets the bar high. But
Byrd’s voice, while nice, doesn’t have the bluesy soul that
Charles did. It’s a bit too bland for these songs and
doesn’t do them enough justice. It fits better on slower,
prettier tunes like “Come Rain or Come Shine,” where he can
let his tone lead. He probably would have been better served bringing
in guest vocalists, like he does on a couple with Lea Gilmore, who
surpasses Byrd in energy and personality, which serves her well but
makes him sound like a lesser talent. Still, the music on here, played
superbly by the band, is a fitting tribute to Charles – more
polished to be certain, but finely executed. It just could have used a
more unique voice.
2008, Eric Byrd, 46:51.
Come Home, Carmen Lundy, vocals.
Acclaimed vocalist Lundy puts forth her 10th album, and it’s
obvious that she hasn’t lost a step in her modern jazz approach.
Her voice is pliant, versatile and has a full range, which allows her
to create a wide array of emotions and tonalities, while still being
focused on the melodies. Those melodies, all composed by Lundy, are
delivered with character and emotion. She is understated and shows
beautiful restraint on “Nature Boy,” a contemporary piece
with a Latin flavor. Some of the music recalls the fusion that was done
in the 70s, with the meandering chord changes and big production
quality, but Lundy’s voice is so strong it doesn’t matter
the era. We hear bits of Betty Carter, Sarah Vaughan and even touches
of Ella. Lundy draws you into her world with a flair for the dramatic,
without being melodramatic. On “My Wedding Vow,” her vocals
jump in a near scat-like sense, pushing the energetic song and steering
the ship, while guest pianist Geri Allen bangs away with elegance and
verve. Occasionally Lundy goes a bit too far, especially when she soars
in her uppermost register, but one can’t deny that she has one of
the most unique and appealing voices in jazz today, full of texture and
2007, Afrasia Productions. Playing Time: 64:33.
United We Swing, Spanish Harlem Orchestra.
This New York jazz orchestra was founded in 2000, but Latin Jazz was a
driving force in New York long before these talented musicians came
together. Oscar Hernández leads and directs the thirteen-member
all-star ensemble, which has brought the sizzle of New York City salsa
back to the former barrio. Unlike Poncho Sanchez’s fiery,
Texas-bred sound, SHO has a more urban feel, merging sophisticated
immediacy with south of the border sounds. There is a nod to the
Palladium ballroom, (“En el Tiempo del Palladium”), home to
the mambo sounds of Tito Puente and Machito. With “Salsa
P’el Bailador,” things heat up considerably, and the vocals
by both soloists and the band are emotive and lively. The horns and the
rhythm instruments punch and burn, and the energy is high throughout.
Save for the touching “Danzon for My Father,” this album
surges forward, almost relentlessly at times, bringing back the passion
of NYC Latin jazz.
2007, Six Degrees, 69:15.