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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 well.
    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 singer!                                                                                                                                                
    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, 51:34.                                                                                         

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, 54:28.

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.

Copyright 2008, Jazz Society of Oregon