CD Reviews - April 2008
by Kyle O'Brien
Crossing Lines, Plamen Karadonev, piano.
This Bulgarian pianist has obvious chops, a fact
that Berklee College of Music in Boston found out, offering him an
international scholarship. While the adept Karadonev may have the
technical abilities, which are on display here throughout, he has yet
to master the conveyance of emotive music. Everything on here speaks
more on a cerebral level, from the outside-the-box title track (with a
nifty “trom-o-tizer” – an electric trombone,
essentially – solo by Hal Cook) to the ethereal
“Sianie,” with floating vocals over a wash of chords. But
one doesn’t feel the passion of the music, rather only the honed
prowess on the keyboard. There are hints that Karadonev has the
potential to bring more heart to the matter, as on the melancholy
“Prelude in F,” but until he gets out of his own head,
he’ll be just another technically stunning player.
2007, Mu Records, 68:37.
Day, The Bridge Quartet.
The combination of talented musicians assembled in
this band intrigued me from the second I opened the envelope. Pianist
Darrell Grant, bassist Tom Wakeling, drummer Alan Jones, and Canadian
saxophonist Phil Dwyer got together first when Jones returned from
Europe on a tour of his old stomping grounds. On a tight schedule, the
four found musical magic and decided to record it. Considering the
slapdash, two-day recording schedule on top of a full gig schedule,
it’s a wonderful collection of covers and a couple of originals.
It unfortunately opens slowly, with a serviceable but unspectacular
“Wouldn’t it Be Loverly.” But from there it takes
off, with Jones’s Coltrane-like, epic “Exidence,”
which lets all players mesh in a free-flowing composition that ebbs and
surges with power and subtlety. One wants to hear more original
compositions, but considering the time constraints, it’s
understandable why that didn’t happen. Still, Dwyer’s
introspectively pretty “Three for Three” closes out the
disc with original elegance. The inclusion of Sonny Rollins’s
“Strode Rode” brings muscle in hard bop form, while the
lesser known “Italian Sorrow,” by Alain Jean-Marie, shows a
lighter touch by this incredible group. The Miles Davis classic,
“Milestones” seems a bit too easy a choice for these guys.
I’d love to hear a disc of all originals, with each letting the
others experiment with their individual sounds.
2008, Origin Records, 60:06.
The Sky at Our Feet, John Stowell, Anson Wright, Open Path Music.
Stowell’s intricate acoustic guitar work is at
the center of this fairly new-agey disc. These are soundscapes as done
by Stowell. His guitars are occasionally double tracked, so his own
lines cascade down from each other. It’s a stark beauty that
evokes the Southwest, which is fitting since much of the content here
is about the Chaco Canyon, a sacred and historic Native American place
in New Mexico. That content – poems by Anson Wright -- is read
with understated elegance by Stowell. The words are few but powerful,
and the combination of music and poetry comes across as sincere and
effective, rather than maudlin, as it could have been. With light
electronic scores by the Open Path Music collective, this sparse album
serves its purpose -- giving Wright an aural landscape to tell his
2007, Open Path Music, 40:00.
Here with You, Libby York, vocals.
York has some serious fans in the jazz world. The
talented vocalist found a great fit with guitarist Howard Alden at a
concert, then got an email from Russell Malone stating his love of her
voice. Both guitarists are on this disc, which gives considerable heft
to the proceedings, but neither gets in the way of York’s mature,
dusky voice. Her interpretations of classics like “You Go to My
Head” and “But Beautiful” put her vocals at the
forefront, with the arrangements (by Alden) letting her voice lead the
way in laid back fashion. York’s voice is beautiful to the point
of being soothing, especially with the sublime guitar work by Alden and
Malone, plus understated bass work by Jon Burr and some nice cornet
playing by Warren Vache. The only track that doesn’t really work
is a vocal duet with Vache on “Walkin’ My Baby Back
Home.” Sounds like they had fun recording it, but York’s
voice is so far superior to Vache’s low talk style that the two
just don’t mesh. With a voice this good, there’s no reason
she shouldn’t be headlining big clubs and festivals.
2008 Libby York Music, 48:00.
Trombone Encounters, Nick Sweet & Ben Medler, trombones.
I can’t quite recall the last time I heard a
dueling ‘bones CD, but this one, by longtime Portland jazz
educator Medler and one-time student Sweet, is a nice return. Sweet, a
former Beaverton Arts & Communication Magnet Academy student, has
taken his talents to the next level, at Berklee College of Music in
Boston. He has returned a more polished player and composer/arranger,
and hooking up with his old mentor brings a level of respect and fun.
With Brian Ward on piano, Tim Gilson on bass and Charlie Doggett on
drums, the musicianship is solid. The compositions are fairly middle of
the road. The first two tracks sound similar, loping along at a
mid-tempo swing with easy-to-read melodies and dual trombones that play
too long in unison. Occasionally the writing is better than the
execution, as on Medler’s harmonic “Delightfully
Tadd’s,” which hits all the right notes on the page but
comes across a bit timid on the counter-melody. “Salsa on Tower
Hill” is a welcome change of pace, with enough spice to accent
the energy by the two horns. Sweet’s “Uncontrived”
builds throughout, with Sweet taking a solo that pushes things forward.
Overall, though, I could have used more energy and connection between
the musicians. As Sweet keeps learning, hopefully he’ll return
with an album that states even more than this pleasing starting point.
2008, Shoo-Wah Records, 47:00.
Swing Gitane, Pere Soto & Django’s Castle.
I unfortunately speak no Spanish, so the brief liner
notes on this disc were lost on me. Thankfully the music saved the day.
The jump swing and Gypsy swing of Django Reinhardt crosses all language
barriers, and in the able hands of Pere Soto, a Barcelona guitarist who
plays often in Portland, we hear the music celebrated in true acoustic
fashion. With Josep Traver on guitar and Joan Marti on bass, the
arrangements are traditional and tight. While this may not bring much
new to the Django songbook, it is a deserving tribute to the Gypsy jazz
master. And Soto’s own Django-inspired tunes have just the right
amount of Spanish and more modern jazz flair to change things up enough
to make this a departure from a straight cover album.
2007, Blau Records, 51:00.
“Compasino,” John Keyser, guitar.
Keyser has assembled a heck of a group for his disc, with Tony Pacini
on piano, Ed Bennett (who also produced) on bass, and Dick Berk on
drums. Keyser is well up to their level, both as a player and
compositionally and the four mesh well here. It’s an old-style,
classic quartet setup and Bennett records it that way, giving the disc
a live feel and an urgency. Keyser’s originals, which take up
most of the album, are bases to showcase his easygoing guitar style,
and the others glide along with him. Pacini and Bennett both play
exceptional as backing and solo players, and Berk is his usual solid
self, never overstating the beat but always bringing a sense of touch
and life. “Grassy Knolls,” is a lovely piece, with Keyser
laying lush chords as Pacini serenades with melodic passes. Keyser is
not a flashy showman, but he has a sweet sense of melody and a
straightforward approach to jazz that is calmly refreshing. 2007, Saphu
Records. Playing Time: 58:37.
A Simple Thank You, Virginia Mayhew Septet.
The title refers to saxophonist Mayhew’s
recovery from breast cancer, and the title track, written for her by
bassist Harvie S, is a lovely compositional piece that showcases the
horns in the septet, who work tightly as a unit. A solo by guest
trumpeter Ingrid Jensen adds to the texture of the piece in lovely
fashion. Mayhew herself has a penchant for interesting tunes that also
show off the clicking horn section, as on “Apple Flambe,” a
smokin’ bopper which sounds much bigger than the four horns and
three rhythm section players it actually has. I would like to hear how
she does with a true big band, as her sense of harmony and color are
fully realized. Thankfully Mayhew has beaten breast cancer for now and
can concentrate on what she does best, which is interesting
compositional jazz music, topped with a fine soloing sense.
2007, Renma Records,: 65:16.
Celebrates the Music of Antonio Carlos “Tom” Jobim, Phil Wilson’s Pan-American All-Stars.
Trombonist Wilson’s tone is distinctive, to
the point of being an acquired taste, but there’s no doubt that
this longtime educator and player has the chops, even if the tone is
pinched and odd. Here he has assembled a group of players to play some
Jobim, and the cast, featuring a rhythm section from the Caribbean Jazz
Project plus a few talented others, works the music with tenderness,
energy and passion. Jobim would have loved these smooth-as-silk
arrangements, especially the haunting bass flute work by Matt
Marvuglio, which adds something we’ve rarely heard on bossa
favorites. The disc starts with two well-known compositions,
“Desafinado” and “Corcovado” but strays from
the norm with the dreamy “Triste,” “Chega de
Saudade” and “Look to the Sky.” Wilson and Marvuglio
share and trade melodies and the feel never strays too far from the
Jobim bossa and samba mode. It’s a pleasurable tribute to the
bossa king, even if you’re not a huge fan of Wilson’s
2006, Capri Records, 55:25.
Musically Yours – Remembering Joe Henderson, Paul Carr, tenor saxophone.
Yet another tribute album, this one comes from the
heart for Carr, a native Houston tenor man who admired Henderson and
actually sounds a bit like him, with a mellowness that builds into a
frenzy, as on the Carr-penned title bopping track. Helping Carr with
this tribute are Terrell Stafford on trumpet, Mulgrew Miller on piano,
Lewis Nash on drums and Michael Bowie on bass. It’s a searing
group, especially when the tempos are up. Henderson’s “Our
Thing” smokes along and the band pushes ahead; Stafford playing
at the top of his volume level while Carr uses his somewhat harsh tone
and flurry of notes to make a statement, much like Henderson did in the
’60s. The inherent difficulty when doing a tribute album is that
you will be compared, whether fairly or unfairly, to the original
artist. Luckily Carr is a more than able player, especially when he
channels the soul jazz of Henderson, as on “Mamacita.” He
even shows a tender side with some nicely placed altissimo on
“Black Narcissus.” Still, Carr doesn’t have the
subtlety of Henderson, especially that of his later years. Too much
flourish and not enough long tones. Still, it’s a nice tribute to
one of the great voices on the tenor saxophone, and the inclusion of
one of the great but unsung Henderson tunes, “Y Todavia
LaQuiero” is a wonderful touch.
2008, PCJ Music, 60:29.