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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, something special.
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, jazz heads!
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 been there.
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 signature finger-style.
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 guiding force.
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 life.
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.

Copyright 2007, Jazz Society of Oregon