CD Reviews - May 2008
by George Fendel
(Previous CD Reviews are available at the CD Archives page. )
Teddy Wilson In Four Hands, Dick Hyman and Chris Hopkins, pianos.
In the wake of modernists and modal manners,
the genteel elegance of a master like Teddy Wilson is, sad to say, all
too rarely heard these days. Kudos to Mr. Hyman and Mr. Hopkins, for
this reinvention of the piano delights of the great Mr. Wilson. I have
always thought of Dick Hyman as the chameleon of jazz piano in that he
comfortably covers the entire gamut: stride and swing to bop and blues.
And he does it with such ease and panache that he's sometimes
overlooked for the great talent he is. Hyman's debt of gratitude to
Teddy Wilson is one of the gifts of his playing. Over forty years
separate Hyman and Hopkins, but it makes little difference, because, as
Hopkins puts it, Teddy Wilson was “a foremost source of
inspiration.” So I guess we could use the old cliché: the
two are a match made in heaven. And listening to them on standards
associated with Wilson and his long time colleague Benny Goodman, as
well as a number of rare Wilson originals, is akin to a sparkling,
fresh and welcome piano recital in your own living room. The fads come
and go, even in the jazz world. But music like this is timeless. Irving
Berlin once wrote a song called "I Love A Piano.” Those four
words probably define my jazz preferences as succinctly as any others.
But in this case, I love TWO pianos!
Victoria Records, 2007, 62:13.
Bright Moments, John Swana, trumpet and flugelhorn.
For some years John Swana has created numerous
"bright moments" for the Criss Cross label, and once again he brings us
his sterling silver trumpet sound on some stirring, sinuous hard bop.
Seems to me a guaranteed great record when one is in the company of two
sensational younger generation trumpet players in Eric Alexander and
Grant Stewart. To that, add David Hazeltine, piano and the Washingtons
-- Peter on bass and Kenny on drums. Ten of the eleven tunes are
Swana's compositions, and he gets things underway with an eye-opening
tempo on “Wilbert.” Other faves included easy, laid back
“Chillin' Out,” which features a perfectly constructed solo
by Alexander. “Ferris Wheel” is Swana's waltz tempo vehicle
for the session and features the composer's winding, impressionistic
flugelhorn. “Shrack's Corner I and II” is a melody line
that lingered in the back of Swana's mind for years and ended up as a
hard swinging blues featuring Swana and Stewart. “Bright
Moments,” a another vigorous original, is slightly reminiscent of
“My Shining Hour,” and "Inevitable Encounter" is a
dark-hued blues at a brisk tempo. “Everything I Have is
Yours,” the one standard, is a beautiful example of simple
trumpet virtuosity. The CD closes with “KD,” a Kenny Dorham
tribute and “Open Highway,” an energetic, high-flying romp.
It clearly indicates what a solid groove this entire date was for all
of the players.
Criss Cross, 2008, 73:00.
Brand New, Alex Graham, alto saxophone.
I must admit that the first thing that caught my eye
on this CD was, with apologies, not the name Alex Graham, but the names
Jim Rontondi (trumpet); Steve Davis (trombone); David Hazeltine
(piano); Rodney Whitaker (bass); and Carl Allen (drums). When you're in
that kind of musical company, it's a pretty fair bet you too have what
it takes. And Alex Graham shows there's no doubt on an array of
interesting tunes ranging from a couple high flying originals to
standards like “All The Things You Are,” “Just You
Just Me,” “Where Or When" and “Skylark” to a
couple pop things which I'm convinced couldn't be played better.
“You Make Me Feel Brand New” and “For The Love Of
You” were originally pop tunes by The Stylistics and The Isley
Brothers. Maybe I need to check out the pop scene more carefully.
Finally, there's the Cannonball classic, “Wabash,” and an
early R&B vehicle, “Save Your Love For Me.” Graham,
Rotondi and Davis get a very satisfying three horn groove going
throughout. It adds up to an impressive debut.
Origin, 2008, 59:18.
Language, Lorraine Feather, vocals.
Lorraine Feather's new album is an absolute delight
in its topical presentation of many of life’s everyday
occurrences. She sings of “Traffic And Weather,” two
subjects you’re already only too well aware of in the midst of a
traffic jam (on I-5, no less!). And then there’s the recorded
message “We Appreciate Your Patience” while you’re
put on hold. Or how about “Very Unbecoming,” a song about
failed relationships, the aging process, fears of the unknown and other
upbeat and inspirational thoughts! “Hit The Ground
Runnin’” seemingly covers every sports cliche on ESPN while
“Where Are My Keys” explores the question we’ve all
been perplexed with from time to time. The delicate waltz “In
Flower” is a hybrid of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lotus
Blossom.” Then there’s the Broadway star awaiting celebrity
status, but until that time she's “Waiting Tables.”
Once fame finds her, however, it’s not all brandy and roses, as
Lorraine makes clear on “A Household Name.” As she sings of
these life adventures, all the clever and witty lyrics are her own.
Several of the melodies are from the emerging talent of pianist Shelly
Berg, so perhaps we’re hearing the unveiling of a new songwriting
team. Suffice to say, this CD is full of surprises, style and fun!
Jazzed Media. 2008, 46:35.
In Search of the Third Dimension, Enrico Granafei, accoustic guitar and chromatic harmonica.
Can you pat your head and rub your tummy at the same
time? That's likely a cinch for Enrico Granafei, who, amazingly,
has rigged a system by which he can play guitar and chromatic harmonica
(for which you MUST use at lease one hand) simultaneously. Fellow
guitarists Gene Bertoncini, Bucky Pizzarelli and Stanley Jordan have
all sung his praises. And before you reach the conclusion that this is
one of those gimmicks, let me tell you straight away that Granafei
excels and delights on both instruments. In addition, he chooses grand
examples of American and Brazilian song writing in tunes like
“Out Of Nowhere,” “Meditation,”
“You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To,”
“Bag’s Groove,” “The Shadow Of Your
Smile,” “Wave,” and my favorite from the session,
Benny Carter’s beauty, “Only Trust Your Heart.”
Granafei’s vocal on “Autumn Leaves” is a bit off the
mark, but he comes back for one more try on a bossa called
“Calabrossa,” and this time hits the bullseye. This CD
combines technical ingenuity and fine artistry, usually a suspect
combination. But in Granafei’s case, it all comes together with
warmth and charm.
Miles High Records, 2007, 43:36.
A Night In The Life, Frank Morgan, alto saxophone.
One look at the titles on Volume 3 of Frank Morgan's
live appearances at the Jazz Standard, and you’ll understand
Morgan’s lifelong allegiance to the bop idiom. This admitted
disciple of Charlie Parker (in both artistic and less admirable
pursuits) and brother of trumpet great Lee Morgan, doesn’t try to
redecorate the garden here. Instead he plays it close to the bebop vest
on such tried and true titles as “Confirmation,” “On
Green Dolphin Street,” “Half Nelson,” “Hot
House,” “Billie’s Bounce” and “It’s
Only A Paper Moon.” Why mess with a good thing, one might say,
and Morgan has proven time and again that he’s way better than
just good. And so it is on these bop evergreens, and in the company of
sympathetic colleagues George Cables, piano, Curtis Lundy, bass and
Billy Hart, drums. If you need to stretch the boundaries, whatever than
means, then you’ll need to go elsewhere. But if you admire the
tradition and still think there’s a place for music that swings,
Frank Morgan’s your man and this is your album.
High Note, 2007, 51:45.
Dreamsville, Scott Whitfield, trombone and vocals, Ginger Berglund, vocals.
I was one of the lucky ones who attended a concert
at The Old Church a couple of months ago featuring the music of Scott
Whifield and Ginger Berglund. Here’s a pair who sing with
exuberance, write wonderful songs mixed with established standards,
and, in Scott’s case, the player of a most swinging trombone.
They will remind you more than a little bit of Jackie Cain and Roy
Kral. In fact, on this CD they perform “On A Slow Boat To
China,” “The Wheelers And Dealers” and “The
Best Thing For You,” all of which are associated with Jackie And
Roy. And, like Mr. And Mrs. Kral, they are attuned to the music of
Tommy Wolf and Fran Landesman, as well as Dave Frishberg and Bob
Dorough. Scott and Ginger contribute a few of their own compositions as
well. “Come To Me,” “Pardon Me While I Fall In
Love” and “Lorelei” offer a sophistication worthy of
the era of great American songwriting. A few other highlights include
Cahn and Van Heusen’s masterpiece, “All My Tomorrows”
and medleys of “Dream Dancing” and “Dancing In The
Dark” as well as a scintillating pairing of “How High The
Moon” and “Ornithology.” What a wonderful discovery
for me, and now, through this CD, for you too! www.GingerAndScott.net
Artios Group, 2008, 58:12.
Twilight World, Marian McPartland, piano.
If you’ve been a regular listener to KMHD's
Piano Jazz over the last umpteen years, you’re well aware of the
deep musicianship of Marian McPartland. Had she exclusively served as
host to the radio program (with no other artistic contribution), Marian
McPartland would have been held in high esteem. But beyond her award
winning radio program, add the fact that she is a stirring purveyor of
jazz piano in a league, I’d say, with the likes of Hank Jones,
Tommy Flanagan and Eddie Higgins. On this beautifully performed CD, she
is joined by Gary Mazzaroppi, bass, and Glenn Davis, drums. She begins
with two of her own compositions, both of which she has recorded
previously, “Twilight World” and “In The Days Of Our
Love.” It is interesting to note that she includes in this
program two compositions by Ornette Coleman: the quirky, oddly
constructed blues “Turn Around,” and one of Coleman’s
greatest hits, “Lonely Woman.” Other selections paramount
in producing an album full of feeling included Johnny Mandel’s
“Close Enough For Love”; the Irving Berlin classic
“How Deep Is The Ocean”; and perhaps a surprise in
Bacharach and David’s “Alfie.” Other standouts
include John Lewis’s “Afternoon In Paris” and the
etched-in-stone classic by Miles Davis, “Blue In Green.”
Don't overlook Marian McPartland on your list of great jazz piano
players. She deserves to be there.
Concord Jazz, 2008, 59:47.
Forever Lasting, The Compositions Of Thad Jones, Scott Robinson, saxophones, flutes, cornet, French horn, flugelhorn and others.
The great Thad Jones wrote a lot of music in a
relatively short lifespan, and it varied widely in complexity, color,
and tempo. Some of Jones's charts for big band were smashingly
exciting. dense and, I'm sure, challenging to the players. It was
highly urban stuff, big city music for players with big city chops. But
then Thad could turn around and write something as tender and beautiful
as “A Child Is Born” or the lesser known but equally pretty
“All My Yesterdays.” Jones left a legacy of brilliant,
timeless compositions, and Scott Robinson does them honor on a huge
variety of things to blow into, both reeds and brass. Rhythm section
duties are led by outstanding pianists Richard Wyands on nine tunes,
Hank Jones on one and the Hammond B-3 work of Mike LeDonne.
Robinson’s creations make for an interesting contrast to all
those Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra discs on your CD shelf.
Arbors, 2007, 61:43.
Little Did I Dream: Songs Of Dave Frishberg, Connie Evingson, vocals.
After receiving this CD for review, I called Dave
Frishberg to congratulate him on this very ear-friendly CD on which he
played piano. While we proudly claim Dave as one of our own here in
Portland, he’s a native of St. Paul, Minnesota, and this
recording was made during a visit to the Twin Cities. Connie Evingson
(pronounced Ee-vingson) has been a longtime contributor to the
Minneapolis jazz scene. The Frishberg menu of tunes performed here
reads like a Dave Frishberg’s Greatest Hits list, and Evingson's
pleasant, easy going approach fits very nicely with the material. Of
fourteen tunes in all, some of your faves, I’m sure, include DF
chestnuts like “Our Love Rolls On,” “Heart’s
Desire,” “Wheelers And Dealers,” “Zoot Walks
In,” “You Are There,” “Listen Here,” and
of course, “My Attorney Bernie.” A side note on the album
was Dave’s musical reunion with a 50’s friend from U of
Minnesota, flute and tenor man Dave Karr, himself a very skilled
musician. Frishberg’s songs are as accessible for discriminating
listeners as any music of high quality can be in these days of American
Idol and other atrocities. I’d like to think that Connie
Evingson’s CD will give these deserving tunes even more exposure.
And that's a good thing for Dave, for Connie and for the rest of us as
Minnehaha Music, 2008, 53:16.
Louie And Clark Expedition 2, Louie Bellson, drums, Clark Terry, trumpet,
With regret, it can be safely said that there aren't
many still with us who were treading the jazz path back in the day. But
happily, two of the greats, Louie Bellson and Clark Terry, have joined
forces once again and these two octogenarians still fill the room with
exceptional big band sounds, scintillating arrangements and solos that
make you glad you have ears. Louie Bellson contributes the lion’s
share of the fifteen originals. Clark Terry’s dependable
and personal trumpet and flugelhorn, and Bellson’s drums are
surrounded by a 17-piece big band that belts it out with authority. As
a composer, Bellson’s heart is intertwined in the blues, as is
made clear in his four part “Chicago Suite.” The same may
be said for “Davenport Blues.” But there’s more to
Bellson’s writing. “Give Me The Good Time” sounds,
for all the world, like something out of the Basie-Hefti bag, and his
“Ballade” breathes a hint of Michel Legrands’
“The Summer Knows.” Clark Terry is awarded generous solo
space all over the place, and the trumpet legend still blows with
chops, wit and, of course, that indescribable sound he’s brought
us for parts of six decades. Our wish: the continued long reign of
Louie and Clark.
Percussion Power, 2007, 63:02.
Groovin' with Junior, Junior Mance, piano.
I think it must have been sometime in the early 60's
that I discovered Junior Mance through a series of bluesy things he did
for Capitol, both trio and big band stuff. Well, here we are all these
years later, and Junior Mance still has that crisp and brisk touch, and
that strong grounding in the blues, a trademark. A master of the
standard trio of piano, bass, and drums, on this recording he is
visited by Toronto stalwarts Don Thompson, bass, and Archie Alleyne,
drums. The trio gets a chance to stretch out on some rather extended
versions of such familiar fare as “Falling In Love With
Love,” “For Dancers Only” and “Stormy
Weather.” But the threesome also swings hard on jazz classics
like “Ask Me Now,” “Bag’s Groove” and
“The Theme.” They also shine on a down-in-the-dumps blues
of Junior’s called “Blues For The Bistro.” Because
Mance prefers the spontaneity of live recording, this studio date was
done for an invited, responsive, live audience and hence, has that live
feel. This is a fine recording, with Mance working the keys as
skillfully as ever. Recommended!
Sackville, 2008, 65:01.
Dreams and Shadows, Judy Wexler, vocals.
Who was it that once said "you'll know it when you
hear it?" Well, there are those who would strive to be called
jazz singers and others who actually may claim the title. Judy Wexler
fits in the latter category. And you’ll know it when you hear
it. Among those qualities which provide the answer: intonation,
telling the story of the lyric, phrasing, choice of material, knowing
how much improvisation is perfect, hiring hip accompanists, and more.
And Judy Wexler is the complete package. She’s wonderfully on key
( a welcome change of pace in this day and age) and seems to have a
natural jazz sensibility interpreting such tunes as “Comes
Love,” “Almost Blue,” “In Love In Vain”
and even the Wizard Of Oz opus, “If I Only Had A Brain.” A
true test for any singer would be the intervals in Sonny Rollins’
“Pent Up House.” It’s child’s play for Wexler.
Two delightful surprises were “Life’s Lesson” and the
title tune. The first of those is better known as “Blue
Daniel,” Frank Rosolino’s lovely waltz, all dressed up with
a new lyric. “Dreams And Shadows” is also known as
“Delilah,” a Victor Young composition long a favorite in
the jazz pantheon. Pianist Alan Pasqua leads a group of on target West
Coast cats tailored to Wexler’s vocal adventures. She’s the
real deal ... a jazz
Jazzed Media, 2008. 53:13.
Gratitude, Hadley Caliman, tenor saxophone.
Long time Seattle resident, Hadley Caliman actually
got his start gigging on LA’s Central Avenue with the likes of
Art Farmer, Dexter Gordon and Gerald Wilson, among numerous others. At
some point, he was influenced by the sound of John Coltrane, and
it’s the Coltrane thing which you can hear in the high energy
opener, “Back For More,” and on many other selections as
well. For this recording, Caliman chooses to work with a rather
unusually constructed piano-less quintet. His playing mates include
Thomas Marriott, a rapidly advancing, often riveting trumpet player;
rising vibe star Joe Locke; Seattle veteran Phil Sparks on bass; and
the very musical Joe LaBarbera on drums. In addition to the opening
tune, the program is comprised primarily of Caliman’s originals,
all of which give all players plenty of room to blow. All three of the
standards on the date, “This Is New,”
“Invitation” and “Old Devil Moon” are offered
with gusto. Caliman’s many fans will welcome this overdue date
for the bristling tenor man.
Origin, 2008, 48:44.
Brother Ray, Eric Byrd, piano, vocals.
Inspired as a youngster by Ray Charles, for this
recording, Eric Byrd chose to concentrate primarily on lesser known RC
tunes. A wise decision because nobody does Ray quite as well as Ray. So
here we have a soulful voice, but one very unlike that of his idol,
playing bluesy, soul-drenched piano and singing such winners as
“Let The Good Times Roll,” “I’ve Got News For
You,” “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” “Baby
It’s Cold Outside,” “Don’t Let The Sun Catch
You Crying” and “You Don’t Know Me,” among
others. On several of the tunes, Byrd has written some earthy, muscular
arrangements for trumpet, tenor, alto and baritone saxophones. All in
all, this is a nice tribute to Ray Charles, a true crossover artist who
had a legit following in jazz, soul, pop and even country-western. His
fans will enjoy the fact that Byrd doesn’t try to be Ray, but
instead offers a sincere, well conceived tribute. www.ericbyrd.com
Self-produced, 2008, 47:12.
Out Of The Blues, Thom Rotella, guitar.
It seems to me that I associated the name Thom
Rotella with what the slicksters call smooth jazz. So, it’s a
good thing I opened this CD and actually previewed it. Wonder of
wonders ... a smooth jazzer comes home. Welcome, Thom. We’re glad
to have you in the fold, and congrats on a stellar debut jazz album.
Rotella takes his cue from Wes Montgomery, and you’ll know it not
too far into the opener, “Who Dat?” Well, Wes,
that’s who. And it’s the spirit of Wes on several tunes,
some of which are straight forward blues or bluesy, if you will. Among
these are “Bluze For Youze,” “The Dr. Is In,”
and “Be Here Now.” Rotella also opts for a few well-played
standards in “My Foolish Heart,” “The Way You Look
Tonight” and “I Hear A Rhapsody.” His quartet
includes accomplished players Lew Matthews or Rich Eames, piano; Luther
Hughes, bass; and Roy McCurdy, drums. Rotella proves here that he is
more than able in the finer air of the real art form, and I found both
Matthews and Eames to be solid piano mavens.
Four Bar Music, 2007, 65:35.
A few more worth checking into ....
Tippin', Jim Snidero, alto saxophone.
This is one of those alto, Hammond b-3 and guitar
things for fans of the genre. High Note, 2007,
Everybody's Got A Name, Greg Chako, guitar.
Swinging originals and a few standards; nice bop
feeling from both trio and quartet. http://www.gregchako.com
Self-produced, 2007, 72:19.
I'm Just The Guy For You, Rick Blessing, composer, lyricist, singer.
Clever writer of originals that sound like Songbook America type
standards. Refreshing! rickblessing.com Fast Friends Music, 2007,
From The Heart, Bobby Watson, alto saxophone.
Watson's back, with scorching up tempo tunes and delicate, lacy ballads. Palmetto, 2007. 61:57.
An Upper West Side Story, Trio West.
A finely honed, mainstream trio with special guests;
great standards and a few originals. Yummy House Records, 2008, 56:45.