CD Reviews - June 2008
by Don Campbell and Kyle
by Don Campbell
With the Waterfront Blues
Festival nearly upon us, we thought it wise to check in with several of
the acts appearing at our 2008 Independence Day celebration of American
& Claiborne, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews
& Orleans Street.
If you take what Brandford Marsalis did in 1994 with his funky
“Buckshot LeFonque” project add Roy
Hargrove’s “RH Factor,” and steep the
whole thing a little deeper in New Orleans’ Sixth Ward/Treme
neighborhood, you’d have tiny taste of Troy Andrews and his
band, Orleans Street.
Andrews, who plays both trumpet and trombone, has earned his bones
playing straight-ahead New Orleans jazz, and can count himself among
the elite musical families in the Big Easy (including the Marsalises,
Nevilles and others). But he’s synthesized a ton of modern
music, and happily incorporates it into his ensemble playing.
The CD is serious as a coronary, and funky as year-old cheese. Credit
his young-lion band and his passion for playing. In the shadows you can
feel the old school fire of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter, but
Andrews and company stink it up good with sinewy funk rhythms and
monstrously tight horn lines and solo playing.
The opening title cut is a driving funk featuring the sax of James
Martin and a blistering and manic solo by Andrews.
“Frontin’” is less successful, offering
Shorty’s weak vocal stylings. The song grooves, but the
vocals detract from the tight ensemble playing. “Get
Down” is authentic New Orleans brass band, including the tuba
line on the low end.
The slick “No Thing on Me” is hampered by vocals as
well. But when the band returns to form on “Can’t
Get Enough of Dat Funky Stuff,” all is well. Even the rappish
“Act Bad With It” is well-served by the
grease-soaked funk the band can lay down. The band has absorbed some
Afro-Caribbean vibe as well, with the pleasant rollick of
“Suite Azari,” as well as the smooth-groove of,
say, CTI-era Grover Washington, on a song like “I
Don’t Know.” All in all, this is the real deal and
Shorty’s a player to watch down the road.
2008, Treme Records
Talkin’ ‘Bout Miss Thing! Lavay Smith & Her
Red Hot Skillet Lickers
Jump blues in the hands of a big band never goes out of favor. Though
many acts seem to rely too much on a re-creationist attitude, others
prefer to concoct an authentic sound, featuring fresh arrangements.
Such is the case of Lavay Smith, a smooth swing-era vocalist who fronts
a 14-piece band that plays as sharp as it dresses.
Smith and pianist Chris Siebert ringlead this smooth unit. Arranging
credits are spread among scholar and legendary musician David Berger,
contemporary swing arranger Bill Elliot, the late Indianapolis
bandleader and saxophonist Jimmy Coe, the band’s Allen Smith
(with Siebert), Graham Bruce (also with Siebert) and Siebert by his
lonesome. I mention arrangers first because it’s those notes
on a page that make a big band jump, and these guys are first-rate.
Smith, who could pass for Betty Page’s love child,
doesn’t bring much new to the party (except for a hot take on
the vintage pinup look, with more curves than a dangerous mountain pass
and lips that pout from here to next week – a re-creationist
nod we usually tolerate, because what guy isn’t swayed just a
little bit by fishnet stockings and a batted eyelash). She vamps and
coos and can hold a melody, but one gets the impression that
she’s mostly eye candy at center stage when the band plays
live. She slurs like Lady Day, and can probably count some Helen Hume
records among her collection.
But the strength of the record is the tight arranging and sumptuous
soloing, spread out among the band members. Six of the 16 cuts are
Liebert/Smith compositions. The rest draw essentially from the Count
Basie/Jimmy Rushing and Ellington/Strayhorn books. It’s sweet
stuff for ‘30s-era big-band, swing and jump blues fans.
2008, Fat Note Records
The Hard Way,
British soul singer James Hunter is a throwback to the slippery soul
sounds of the ‘60s. Fat horn lines punctuate
Hunter’s cool vocals through his new CD, “The Hard
Way,” which by the way you’ll find in a Starbucks
near you in June. There’s plenty of greasy sax, courtesy of
Damian Hand, and Hunter’s chunky guitar is reminiscent of
Steve Cropper’s work on the Stax label.
Hunter and company can lay it down fat and funky in songs like
“Don’t Do Me No Favours,” but can turn
around and play it cooler than air conditioning on the title cut, a Sam
Cook soul groove that percolates like roadhouse coffee.
Hunter dabbles in a light, almost Caribbean ska sound with
“Carina,” with its pizzicato violin against the
chunky blat of Hand and Lee Badau’s duel-sax line.
It’s as fresh as the first morning waking up sober.
Hunter hit the scene as a discovery of Van Morrison, who hired him as a
back-up singer for several albums and tours. Hunter’s love of
old ‘50s and ‘60s soul music has helped him adhere
to a strict analog sound, and he found a musical soul mate in producer
Liam Watson. The new CD, like Hunter’s previous releases,
were done at Toe Rag Studios, a paean to the warm tube sound
that’s missing from much of today’s music.
2008, Starbucks/Hear Music
Marching Band, MarchFourth Marching Band.
On CD is probably not the best way to experience Portland’s
MarchFourth Marching Band. This mobile circus, replete with stilt
walkers, acrobats, dancers and other assorted freaks, also features a
dynamic 12-piece horn section 0f saxes, trombones and trumpets, a
10-piece drum unit, and a battery-powered electric bass. The band draws
on the funk of New Orleans second line parades (only maybe with a
little too much John the Conqueror root rolled up and smoked
beforehand), but easily covers anything remotely funky, including the
sounds of Eastern Europe’s gypsy bands, samba, funk,
Afro-beat and rock.
Their self-titled CD is reasonably low-fidelity, but captures the soul
and manic energy of the group. For this troupe, it’s all
about the groove. And this ain’t no starched-uniform Sousa
unit. On “Crack Haus,” the electric bass propels an
insistent staccato horn line. Trombones always seem to play a driving
role in the band’s headier tunes. Every song sounds like
it’s on the edge of disaster, but never is.
“Matador” features an Afro-Caribbean beat with
chanting vocals. “Nej Nej” features the lushest of
horn arrangements, tightly rendered for such a large marching ensemble.
“Pilo Erect” takes it to the Casbah, for some
Middle Eastern rock.
The CD is a tease until you can catch the act live. Other live cuts are
available on the band’s MySpace website, but the full glory
comes when this group marches your way.
Here are a
couple of blues-esque releases by acts not appearing at the blues fest,
but that just might catch the ear of jazz lovers.
Prince’s Groove, Vince Sineri 2008,
Sineri is a masterful Hammond B3 organist from New Jersey. Though
it’s easy to lump him in with Jimmy Smith, he’s a
power in his own right. On this, Sineri’s fourth album, he
teams up with Randy Brecker, flautist Dave Valentin, Houston Person on
tenor sax, guitarist Paul Bollenback, drummer Buddy Williams and
percussionists Richie Flores and Gary Fritz.
You can feel the warmth of every glowing tube in Sineri’s B3.
This is the kind of smooth organ jazz that makes babies. It’s
sensual playing from some of the very best. “Renegade
Man,” a Sineri composition (he contributes five cuts to the
project), lopes along with a serious strut. “Dearly
Beloved” swings hard, with Sineri copping the head figure and
Bollenback adding sinewy guitar. “Sway (Quien
Sera)” is a mambo fired by Valentin’s flute and
Bollenback’s sleek guitar. “The Stinger”
jumps like a Cadillac doing 85 mph.
Lay It Down,
Al Green, vocals.
Couldn’t resist sampling the Rev. Al’s new and
highly anticipated “Lay It Down.” This is neo-soul
from a timeless artist. Produced by Ahmir Thompson (known in the music
world as ?uestlove), James Poyser (whose credits include Jill Scott,
Mariah Carey and Erykah Badu), and Green, the 11-song gem finds Green
in rare and brilliant form, as he duets with Corinne Baily Rae, Anthony
Hamilton and silky-smooth R&B phenom John Legend. The CD also
features the Dap-Kings Horns, who lay down honey-thick lines. This
might not scratch the itch of hardcore jazz lovers, but the
underlayment of case-hardened grooves, gentle guitar, expressive organ,
tight horn punctuation and Green’s melt-in-your-ears vocals
shows the power of soul.
Unlike other slicker productions, the drums sound absolutely live in
the studio. On every cut, from the opening “Lay It
Down,” to the sweet ache of “Take Your
Time,” the album sounds like one-take, in-studio recording.
It’s the way records used to be made (and good ones still
are). The album gets a big boost from the Dap Kings, as well as
Chalmers “Spanky” Alford (who’s worked
with the Mighty Clouds of Joy and youngster Joss Stone) and bassist
Adam Blackstone (an alum of Jill Scott and DJ Jazzy Jeff bands, among
others). This one sparkles, and proves once again that soul, in the
hands of Al Green, never goes out of style.
2008, Blue Note.
by Kyle O'Brien
Cafe Cirque, Shoehorn.
They say to make it in show business you need to find your niche.
That’s certainly what Michael “Shoehorn” Conley has
done over the years in Portland. The tap dancing saxophonist has
perfected his multi-talented vaudevillian niche role, but as he shows
here he’s more than just a snappy novelty act. He can actually
play pretty well, and he gets off to a decent start on the slow
groover, “Okonomide,” where, despite a fairly straightly
delivered melody, he shows some prowess in the altissimo register on
his alto sax. From there, we get to hear his tapping talents on the
self-penned “Carbon Footprint,” a bouncy bopper. Nobody
will call Shoehorn a great sax player. His solos are somewhat
rudimentary and sometimes his rhythmic tapping outshines his playing.
But for a combination of talents, he works it as best he can. Backed
here by Ward Griffiths on drums, the always great Dan Gaynor on piano
and Skip Elliott Bowman on bass, Shoehorn knows to surround himself
with talent. This disc goes to many different musical areas, including
Latin (“Waking Up in Mexico”) jazz waltz (“The
Strawberry Waltz”) and even the blues, as on “Wet Foot
Blues,” where he sings enough to get by. While his tone can be
pinched at times, Conley knows when to stick to the melody and not try
anything too out there. That rule unfortunately doesn’t carry
over to “Raptapsody in Blue,” a rap based on
Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” This novelty tune is
neither a good rendition of the original composition nor a solid rap,
coming off stilted and odd, but not in a good way. Throw that out and
the disc is interesting enough, especially when the tap kicks in.
2008, Shoehorn Music; 52 minutes.
Quixotic, The Stein Brothers Quintet.
If the production here weren’t so crisp, I might have thought
this was a long lost disc from the late ‘50s/early ‘60s. It
has that laid-back be-bop meets post bop feel that someone like Dizzy
or Bill Evans might have put out. The Stein Brothers are Asher and
Alex, who play alto and tenor sax, respectively. They clearly were
influenced by bop pioneers, as their dual melodies suggest, especially
on “Jammin’ at the JCT,” written by the
quintet’s pianist, Mferghu. It breezes along at mid-tempo and
gives nice, tight solo time over traditional bop chord changes. Duane
Eubanks, guesting on trumpet, gets a nice couple of choruses before
Asher does his best Sonny Stitt. The group even does its best to recall
the Parker era by doing a lovely, subtle “Embraceable You,”
which isn’t too far removed from Bird’s version in the
actual bop era, save for rich alto and tenor solo by the brothers. They
even borrow the chord changes from “Cherokee” and add a
cascading melody to make their own “Trailblazer.” If the
playing on here weren’t so good, this might be a throw away disc,
but the group lovingly pulls on bop’s history and adds its own
flourish to update slightly.
2008, Jazzed Media; 58 minutes.
Latin Dreams, “Killer” Ray Appleton, Melvin Rhyne Quartet, featuring Milton Cardona.
Another trip back in time takes us to the soul jazz era of the
60s, when Hammond B-3 organs ruled. Drummer Appleton and organist Rhyne
have performed together since 1955, when they were the other two in the
Wes Montgomery Trio. Things start out promisingly enough, with a subtle
sizzler in Rhyne’s “Night Vision,” a dark and
brooding Latin groover, with Appleton’s bell-like cymbal hits
propelling the tune forward. It takes a swing turn with a nice, if
uninspired “I’ll Take Romance.” When the Afro-Cuban
rhythms return, things get more interesting. The disc has the feel of
some of the good stuff from the ‘60s with some updates for
current listeners, including some fine guitar work from Ilya Lushtak.
Appleton shows off subtle brush work on “The Very Thought of
You,” as Lushtak lovingly strums the melody. Really nice stuff.
The title of the disc is a tad misleading, though, since only about
half the tracks feature Latin rhythms. The rest, like the bopping
“Melvin’s Masquerade,” swing it out. These veteran
musicians certainly have good chemistry, and while the feel is mostly
retro, it’s a pleasing disc that recalls an era where good
melodies met new sounds.
2006, Lineage Reocrds; 52 minutes.
I Ain’t Looking at You, Alvin Queen, drums.
Queen spent time as Don Pullen’s stick man before succeeding
Billy Cobham in the Horace Silver Quintet. He worked with George Benson
and others, but as this disc displays, his heart is with the soul jazz
and post bop that Silver helped make famous. He’s helped out by a
great group that includes firebrand alto sax player Jesse Davis,
trumpeter Terell Stafford, organist Mike LeDonne and guitarist Peter
Bernstein. The quintet smokes through a blistering “Seven Steps
to Heaven,” complete with a cymbal-bashing drum solo by Queen,
then pulls it back for a groovy “Contemplation.” Queen
isn’t the most subtle of drummers, favoring for the flurrying
style popular during the ‘60s, and he’s occasionally too
high in the mix, but he is full of flash and energy. He gets downright
funky on the title track, with its stop choruses, and he even pays
tribute to Silver with a spicy version of “Nutville.” This
disc recalls earlier times, but with Queen, it’s warranted, and
with his band, it’s also well-executed.
2007, Justin Time Records; 63 minutes.
Word, Jessica Jones Quartet.
This disc is listed as a marriage of poetry and jazz, but it starts
with a pretty jazz ballad, “Everything Is,” sung
beautifully and with passion by Jones’s daughter, Candace. We are
serenaded by Candace Jones’s lilting voice for the first half of
the album, singing jazz and cabaret songs by her mother, including the
sophisticated, playful “The Roses.” We don’t get to
the poetry until track 8, when Arisa White recites an intensely
cadenced “Saratoga Avenue,” over an urban pastiche of jazz
saxophone and drums. It reminds a bit of Mingus when he worked in the
same medium. It’s distinctly Beat, but the musicians involved and
the poetry are way above what you’d hear at a poetry slam. Abe
Manieri is the other poet utilized on “Side B” of the disc,
alternating tracks with White, his slightly nasally, sing-song tenor
not having quite the impact as White’s throaty delivery.
I’m often turned off by poetry and jazz, as it can seem forced,
but Jones’s arrangements are loose enough to hold the capacity of
this sophisticated street verse.
2008, House With a Garden Music; 55 minutes.
Minamo, Carla Kihlstedt, Satoko Fujii.
Violin and piano duos seem more appropriate for classical music, but
this one is clearly on the edge of both jazz and classical, heading
mostly into the avant-garde. This is highly improvised music with two
players who clearly know where the other is going. If you hold no
desire to listen to minimalist, atonal jazz, this is clearly not for
you, but for those that like their tunes pushed farther, then the
blending of bowed and hammered strings is quite intriguing.
Kihlstedt’s searching violin can be at once attractive and harsh.
On the opening track, “Remembering Backwards,” Fujii sets
up a pulsing background while the violin jerks, slashes and screeches,
albeit finely controlled, into the concert hall where this was recorded
(actually two different live recordings, in 2002 and 2005). “One
Hundred and Sixty Billion Spray” utilizes space and swirling
energies in its approach, as the two dance into a frenzy of pedaled
chords and long tones. “Lychnis” has Eastern European folk
overtones in its opening before Fujiia’s pounding entrance takes
it to its quick conclusion. The master track, “Remainder of one,
Remainder of two,” runs 26 minutes and starts with sparse, harsh
effects and evolves slowly from there, utilizing silence and space
until it finally finds a churn of tones. This is not a toe tapper nor a
melodic bit of fun; it is intense and experimental, but the two
musicians are uniquely intertwined.
2007, Henceforth Records. Playing Time: 50:56.
Step Right Up, Jim Templeton’s Cosmic Dust.
Pianist Jim Templeton has only been a Portland-area resident
(Vancouver, Wash. to be exact) for a few years. But in that time
he’s made plenty of musical friends and has formed Cosmic Dust, a
contemporary fusion band that recalls some of the predecessors in the
genre. In Templeton’s electronic keyboards we hear bits of Joe
Zawinul, Jeff Lorber and Tom Schuman from Spyro Gyra. Luckily Templeton
doesn’t rely solely on the electronics, switching back and forth
between plugged in keys and acoustic piano. Still, this is a fusion
disc that might have fit better back in the ‘80s, with its square
wave synthesis, as on the bass-keyboard funk of “Spank Me
Easy,” which sounds like a soundtrack for an early ‘80s
love fest movie. Thankfully, the whole disc isn’t stuck in time,
as the contrapuntal “Spanish Ears” displays; it’s a
waltz with a nice sense of melody. The musicianship is fine, featuring
Chris Mosley’s pinpoint guitar work, lyrical sax work by John
Nastos, and restrained rhythm by bassist Dave Turner and drummer
Charlie Doggett. Still, Templeton relies too heavily on dated
electronic keyboards, especially when he pulls out the Yamaha DX7, a
synth which had its day during the big hair ‘80s. If he stayed
acoustic more often, as on the swinging blues of “Whose
Blues,” it would give more credence to the proceedings.
2008, Jim Templeton; 51 minutes.
Then, Now & Again, CNY Jazz Orchestra.
This group, from the Central New York Jazz Arts Foundation, has been
around 12 years, but its regional location kept us left coasters from
hearing it until this disc. You won’t recognize any names, but
the band is tight while retaining a sense of character. They obviously
have a sense of humor, doing a fun and free take on the “Get
Smart” TV theme to open the disc, with playful solos by
saxophonists Joe Carello and John Jeanneret. The CNY Orchestra is a
fairly typical big band, with solid horn sections, crisp arrangements,
a few original compositions, and a full sound. Maybe the big band
isn’t dead yet, and regional orchestras like this help keep them
alive and doing surprisingly well.
2008, CNY Jazz Arts Foundation; 60 minutes.
Solace, Jamie Baum Septet.
Jazz flutists are few and far between. Many sax players double on
flute, but there are only a handful dedicated to the silver stick.
Jamie Baum joins the James Newtons and Herbie Mann’s of the
world, and does so with talent and a great sense of composition. Here
is a woman that is not just a pretty tone, but someone who can write as
well. The opening track is a modern tonal journey, with the flute
combining with horns to create a pleasing harmonic combination, one
that propels the searching melody. “Wheeler of Fortune” was
influenced by Kenny Wheeler. It starts with thick, obtuse harmonies
that blend reedy and brassy textures -- clarinet, flute, trumpet and
French horn intertwining rapid-fire chord changes over a swinging beat.
The song displays a depth of chordal knowledge and bites with an edge,
especially on an intense solo by George Colligan. Baum is also a
respectable soloist, and at her most captivating when she pulls out the
deep-toned alto flute. Her compositions are evocative, setting mood and
place with finely crafted chord lines. Baum may be one of just a
handful of flutists in the jazz world, but she’s certainly one to
2008, Sunnyside Communications; 74 minutes.
Changing Tide, Kenny Carr, guitar.
Carr spent over a decade with Ray Charles, but this is his third disc
as a leader, and it cements him as a diverse artist who can switch
easily between straight-ahead and contemporary without missing a note.
The disc starts off swinging, with melodies shared by Carr and
firebrand saxophonist Donny McCaslin, who does a blistering solo on
“Tempo Tantrum.” The rest of the originals run the gamut,
from bluesy shuffles (the amiable “Blues for Ray”) to
soothing bossa novas (“Bossa Luna”) to tender contemporary
jazz (“Soaring”) and light Latin jazz (“Costa del
Sol”). Throughout, Carr shows off a lyrical soloing nature, a
nice attention to melody and solid compositional skills. The tunes
aren’t groundbreaking, but their melodic nature will hook you,
even some of the tracks that tend more towards jazz-lite, like the
innocuous “Bay to Breakers.” Carr is better when leaning
towards swing and blues, and sometimes the contemporary tracks lessen
the impact of the others. With a little more focus, Carr can separate
even more from the lite fare.
2007, Kenny Carr; 52 minutes.