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CD Reviews - July 2008
by George Fendel and Kyle O'Brien

Reviews by George Fendel

Glass Enclosure, Rob Schneiderman, piano.
This is Rob Schneiderman’s tenth recording for Reservoir, and, as on previous occasions, he delivers the goods, albeit this time with a welcome bonus. I speak of Charles McPherson, the Bird disciple who proves on five of the ten selections that his alto saxophone is as fluid and boppy as ever. The quartet leads off with two Schneiderman originals, the scintillating “Reunion,” which is followed by a medium tempo on “Ready Or Not.” There are abundant delights here, including a couple of Bud Powell tunes, the sprightly “Buster Rides Again” and the daunting title tune, “Glass Enclosure.” Catch McPherson’s well-spring of creativity on Gershwin’s “Embraceable You”; and for pure fun there’s the old chestnut “Fine And Dandy”; or, if you like, a bop staple in “Yardbird Suite.” Gigi Gryce’s “Social Call,” a tune gaining renewed attention in recent years, is given an elegant run here, and the surprise of the session for Spike Jones fans is “Cocktails For Two”!  It’s the set closer, and be sure to pick up on McPherson quoting ‘every little breeze seems to whisper Louise.’  Schneiderman’s rhythm section is completed by veterans Todd Coolman, bass, and Leroy Williams, drums. Altogether, yet another spirited outing from a dedicated and swinging pianist.
2008. Reservoir, 59:16.

PDXV Vol. 2, Dick Titterington, leader, trumpet, flugelhorn.
You know you’re in for fun on the hard bop roller coaster after the first few notes of the PDXV opener, Monk’s quirk and witty “Trinkle Tinkle.” And so, folks, this burly, banner bop band blows again on a live gig at Portland’s Jimmy Mak’s. After a nice workout on the Monk opus, the guys bring it up another notch on “Rhythm Form,” a scorcher that gives pianist Greg Goebel the initial solo on these subtle, furiously-paced ‘Rhythm’ changes. He turns things over to Titterington, who finally opens the door for the tenor of Rob Davis. The mood then changes with Fred Hersch’s “Rain Waltz,” a lovely choice among more recent compositions. Rob Davis offers a fluent soprano sax solo and Goebel displays some chops as well. Guest tenor Tim Jensen joins the gathering on Tom Harrell’s well-named “Train Shuffle.” Jensen takes off on a meaty, probing solo; then Titterington plays some high wire staccato chops. Joe Henderson’s “Our Thing” is a hard bop showcase, and PDXV nails it. Finally there’s Kenny Dorham’s “Lotus Blossom,” (not the Strayhorn tune) a little more lyrical bop tune with an attractive melody line. These guys own it. If you’re looking for laconic Lombardo, don’t go here. If, however, you want to test some pure jazz fire from our hometown, this is it. They call themselves PDXV, but you’ll be proud to call them Portlanders.
2008, Heavywood, 60:00.

Open Up, Jeff Barone, guitar.
Jeff Barone, a new name to me, brings a broad pallet of music to this CD, and it’s all good from lots of perspectives. For instance, notice the presence of B-3 organist Ron Oswanski. I personally am not a big B-3 dude, so how happy was I in discovering that Oswanski is totally laid back and subtle throughout. Good start. I was also stoked to see the presence of trumpet whiz Joe Magnarelli on five tunes. Try him, for instance, on “Here’s That Rainy Day,” taken here with just a little Jobim-ish touch. Breathtaking! For good measure, enter Jack Wilkins, an under-appreciated guitar guru. He puts some splendor into “Jenna’s Song,” a delicate Barone original with an opening borrowed from a fella named Chopin. Barone and Wilkins also team up on Denny Zeitlin’s “Quiet Now,” a timeless ballad thanks to many recordings by Bill Evans. This version is every bit as beautiful. Other entries include Dusan’s “Groove,” a lively opener which fulfills the bop requirement for the album. “Falling In Love With Love,” “I Hear Music,” “My Funny Valentine” and even Herbie Hancock’s “Toys” complete a versatile outing from Jeff Barone, certainly a talented new voice on guitar.
2008, Jazzed Media, 68:58.

Luminous, Giacomo Gates, vocals.
A number of years ago, at the urging of a very hip friend, I dropped by what was then The Red Lion Inn in Portland to hear a singer by the name of Giacomo Gates. I was hooked nearly from note one. Gates may well be the last link to the great bop singers of the mid-twentieth century; in particular, the great Eddie Jefferson. Among many treasures on his new CD, a word or three on these: “Me, Spelled M-E, Me” is nothing more than a musical suggestion. It was introduced by another bop throat, Babs Gonzales, and I’ve never heard it sung until now. Monk’s “Let’s Cool One,” with a Gates lyric, becomes “Peace Of Mind.” An obvious play on words, Meredith d’Ambrosio’s “Melodious Funk” becomes another easy scat vehicle for Gates. Another rarity is “Hungry Man,” a Bobby Troup gem nicely reprised here. “Romancin’ The Blues,” a song that says ‘I should be the headlines, not yesterdays news,’ has, as Gates notes, a Sinatra saloon feeling. Duke’s “What Am I Here For,” comes at you with a scintillating scat lyric by Jon Hendricks, and the rarely done 1950s ballad, “P.S. I Love You” gets a tender treatment from Gates. As if all this was not enough, there’s also a DVD tucked into this package. It features our bop champ in live performance with all motors humming. There was King Pleasure, Babs, Jon and Eddie J. And now there’s Giacomo Gates carrying on the tradition. True to his muse, Giacomo Gates can do it no other way. Highly recommended!
2008, Double Dave Music, 63:33.

Stompin’ The Blues, Harry Allen, tenor sax; Joe Cohn, guitar.
While most of the tenor players of his generation decided to jump on the Col-trane, Harry Allen chose the older, more lyrical style of greats like Prez, Ben and Getz. And that’s still a great place, as evidenced by his performance on this album with co-leader, guitarist Joe Cohn. One would suspect that Cohn’s old man, Al, was indeed one of those tenors who very likely influenced a young Harry Allen. Another influence, Scott Hamilton, actually appears on three selections here. Two peas in a pod, one might say. The rest of this piano-less group consists of Joel Forbes, bass, and Chuck Riggs, drums. Trombone meister John Allred also does a few guest shots. The music is, for the most part, the dependable menu of standards that Harry loves. Forever tunes like “You’re Driviing Me Crazy,” “I’ll Get By,” “My Old Flame” and “I Only Have Eyes For You.” Harry seems to be sending a message to his listeners with the titles of three of his four originals:  “Don’t Want To Have To,” “But I Will” and “So There.” All have nicely constructed melody lines, and, as with all the music here, give both co-leaders a real chance to shine. This is timeless music thankfully being kept in our consciousness by labels like Arbors and players such as Harry Allen and Joe Cohn.
2008, Arbors, 65:45.

Live At The Bird’s Eye, Mark Sherman, vibes.
Want to check out a furiously hip vibes player? Well, Mark Sherman’s live, two-CD set will convince you that his hard bop chops are on fire! Of course, it takes a village to put out all that heat, and this village includes Allen Farnham, piano, Dean Johnson, bass, and Tim Horner, drums. If you’re not young, you gotta be brave to tackle a pace like this, but Sherman and associates are up to the task and then some. Things get underway with “Tip Top Blues,” at a Big Brown sort of tempo. Sherman’s quartet is put to the test on several other originals throughout the set, but one I particularly like had the rather odd title, “Hardship.” It’s drone-like beginning leads to a rapid-fire exhibition of vibraphone pyrotechnics! After another hip outing called “Explorations,” disc two turns its attention to standards with lengthy workouts on “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” “There Is No Greater Love” and a sign-off surprise, “Moon River.” The jury is still out on the question of vibraphone hero Milt Jackson’s heir apparent. But this steamy entry would seem to put Mark Sherman on the short list.
2008, Miles High Records, CD 1: 49:19; CD 2; 58:46.

Tatum’s Ultimatum and Deep Monk, Jessica Williams, piano.
Jessica Williams has a couple of new solo CDs, and each celebrates a legendary piano hero. Art Tatum was a technical genius, a player whom, you’d swear, must have had more than two hands.  I’d imagine Jessica, an absolute piano maven herself, could imitate lots of Tatum’s keyboard flights, and certainly there are some terrific Tatum licks throughout this performance. But she also wisely informs the listener that this is Jessica’s take on Tatum tunes. If you’ve heard Tatum’s flying fingers on such goodies as “Gone With The Wind,” “Begin The Beguine,” “Embraceable You” and a host of others, then you need to check out Jessica’s affectionate tribute. Deep Monk, the other CD, is a revisit to one of Jessica’s main muses. Her solo outings on such Monk evergreens as “Mysterioso,” “Ugly Beauty,” “Monk’s Mood” and “Crepescule With Nellie” provide much pleasure. But in the spirit of the great bop piano pioneer, Williams adds some standards which Monk found to his liking, including “April In Paris,” “I Should Care” and “Ghost Of A Chance.” With these two new recordings, Williams, as always, displays the highest level of creativity, musicianship, flare and, no doubt, fun!
2008, Red And Blue Recordings.

Remembering Russ, The Las Vegas Jazz Connection.
Because Russ Freeman spent virtually a career outside New York, he remains under-recognized for his major contributions as both pianist and composer. Anyone with sufficient chops to play in groups led by such icons as Chet Baker and Shelly Manne is far from an also-ran, and that’s part of the reason this tribute is both overdue and extremely welcome. Bringing us this good-feeling mix is the Las Vegas Jazz Connection, a big band of LV resident musicians who perform eight of Freeman’s compositions with intricate skill, drive and obvious affection. The only non-Freeman tune, a shimmering beauty called “Peace For Russ,” features Bobby Shew’s silvery flugelhorn solo; and it will stir your emotions. Another highlight is Don and Alicia Cunningham’s recitation of fallen greats on a stirring tune called “Music Is Forever.” This CD, a delight on its own, will make you want to reacquaint yourself with those Chet and Shelly sides, to say nothing of Art Pepper, Clifford Brown, Annie Ross, Charlie Parker, Shorty Rogers and tons of other cats Freeman worked with.
2008, Peacock, 52:13.

Musically Yours, Paul Carr, tenor saxophone.
Don’t kid yourself. There’s still an enormous amount of pure, un-fooled around with jazz talent out there. And it’s still possible to unearth stellar new voices such as Paul Carr, a tenor player obviously inspired by the hero he honors on this recording, Joe Henderson. If you’re out searching for some playing mates who can help state your case, how about hiring Terell Stafford (trumpet), Mulgrew Miller (piano), Michael Bowie (bass ), and Lewis Nash (drums). They provide a bop-drenched program of tunes Henderson wrote or performed. Among the best of them are “Our Thing,” Henderson’s Blue Note romp from years past; “Mamacita,” a juicy Latin original; and “Black Narcisus,” a thoughtful, gentle line that goes somehow to unexpected places. Other winning entries include a high energy “Night And Day”; a stop and go melody line on Henderson’s snappy tune, “Granted”; and a soulful solo on Tadd Dameron’s great bop ballad, “If You Could See Me Now.” Based on this finely honed and varied CD, it would seem that Paul Carr is a tenor man who needs to be heard again. More info? www.PaulCarrJazz.com
2008, Self-Produced, 55:45.

Movin’ Up, Joe Ascione, drums.
The versatile Joe Ascione is at it again as leader of a very swingin’ set. And you’ll feel good about it from the opening notes of the title tune, a medium tempo, happy blues. From there, it’s essentially a workout on some time-honored standards, with Allen Vache, clarinet, John Cocuzzi, piano and vibes, and Frank Tate, bass. A couple of unlikely medleys are among many highlights here. Try “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” and “I Got Rhythm” or, even more outlandish, how about “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face” and “Norwegian Wood.” Cole Porter’s gems get a nice cover here with “So In Love,” “Get Out Of Town,” and a surprising Latin groove on “True Love.” Ditto for George and Ira on a fresh and flighty “Love Walked In” and another Latin touch on “Summertime.” “It Was A Very Good Year” features Cocuzzi’s vocal. Sinatra he ain’t, but he lends a sincere, musician-ly touch to the song Frank made famous. Allan Vache’s clarinet is solid and rich throughout, but especially on “The Touch Of Your Lips.” The CD ends with a surprise, “Abba Dabba Honeymoon.” If you’re like me, that’s a trip back to your childhood. And a good journey it was. As is the entire CD.
2008, Arbors, 54:18.

Concerti, Gene Bertoncini, accoustic guitar.
Melody lovers, get ready. Gene Bertoncini, who has absolutely nothing to prove when playing acoustic guitar, has done it again. This time, he’s added two violins, a viola and a cello to join him and bassist David Finck. The result will remind classical listeners of the beauty and delicacy of chamber music. He gets the program underway with two etched-in-stone standards, “East Of The Sun” and “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To.” Right away, you’ll tell yourself that this is something very special, and you’ll ask yourself, ‘has this ever been done before?’  Bertoncini’s “For Chet” is a languid waltz in celebration of lyrical trumpet player, Chet Baker. The pop opus “Eleanor Rigby” is followed by a Cole Porter all-timer, “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” Perhaps an album highlight is the combining of a Chopin Prelude with Jobim’s “How Insensitive.” Pure genius! The strings take a prominent role on a stirring version of “Invitation,” and then the capper -- a 13-minute presentation of the adagio movement from “Concierto de Aranjuez” which is combined in a medley with Chick Corea’s “Spain.” Masterful and inspiring music. Bertoncini only makes great albums, not just good ones. And this one ranks right there alongside all the others.
2008, Ambient Records, 51:40.

Jammin’ Uptown, Alvin Queen, drums.
Recorded in 1985, this searing, soaring CD sees the light of day for the first time ever on compact disc. Alvin Queen has a major league resume in the jazz biz, having worked with the likes of Randy Weston, Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Peterson, among others. All seven of the tunes here were composed by various members of the group. Joining drummer Queen are Terrence Blanchard, trumpet, Robin Eubanks, trombone, John Hicks, piano, Ray Drummond, bass; and perhaps the least known, but definitely a fiery sax man in Manny Boyd. This CD has a Freddie Hubbard-later Art Blakey type of hard bop feel in which the players alternate taking blistering solos that lesser lights would shudder to attempt. However, it all swings with vigor, with no evidence of anyone trying to burn his buddy.  If really pressed, I’d have to opt for the writing of Robin Eubanks, whose melody lines were slightly more defined to my ear on his originals, “After Liberation” and “Resolution Of Love.” This is a take no prisoners outing … not for your Uncle Mo who dug Glenn Miller.
2008, Just A Memory, 47:47.

Short Takes

Tales Of Love And Longing, Sheila Cooper, alto saxophone and vocals.
Oftentimes instrumentalists have a way of delivering a lyric in a most direct and intimate fashion not always matched by singers. Such is the case for alto sax player Sheila Cooper, whose intimate vocals are accompanied by pianist Fritz Pauer along with her own saxophone, which reminds at times of Lee Konitz. Ten songs of love and regret are straight to the heart.
2007, Candid Records, 51:08.

Then, Now And Again, CNY Jazz Orchestra.
Trumpet ace Marcus Printup called the CNYJO “groovy, modern, abstract and sassy.” Great Gotham soloists abound here, playing arrangements full of spontaneity, breathing room and excitement. My favorite song title is “Hip Not Hop,” of course, but check out the last tune for unexpected fun. It’s “Mr. Sandman”!  And it swings!  Anyone for the Maguire Sisters?
2008, Self-produced, 60:13.

Retta Christie Trio with Dave Evans And Dave Frishberg.
If you’re one of those folks who leans occasionally in the direction of Western Swing, this may be just your cup of tea. Retta Christie grew up with this style of music, and interprets it here in the company of jazz stalwarts in the two Daves: Evans on tenor sax and Frishberg on piano. Lots of familiar tunes and a few new ones combine for a nice outing. www.rettachristie.com
2008, Self-produced, 41:03.

A Ride To The Other Side: Derrick Gardner, Derrick Gardner, trumpet and flugelhorn.
Seems like hard bop is the sound of the day for this month’s reviews, and here’s a bop trumpeter who keeps in mind a touch of lyricism in both his writing and his playing. Gardner’s group, The Jazz Prophets, opt for a tight, well-honed ensemble sound here and there, and yet leave more than adequate room for some mind blowing solos. A solid groove throughout!
2008, Owl Studios, 68:33.

Woody ‘n Me, Michael’s Jazz Quartet: Michael Antonelli, tenor saxophone.
This group is, in fact, another MJQ. Their name tells you that. But this MJQ is a pianoless foursome dedicated to a straightahead bebop sound. You’ll know for sure when you hear “Well You Should,” a close relative of Monk’s “Well You Needn’t.” Antonelli opts for a very pleasing, classic tenor sound, and his group works out with precision on eleven original tunes.
2008, Self-produced.

Maplewood Avenue, Jimmy Bruno, guitar.
This rather unusual trio, consisting of Bruno’s guitar along with Tony Miceli on vibes and Jeff Pedraz on bass, brings a warm and mellow journey through an all-original menu. Bruno’s guitar sounds for all the world like a guitar. And that’s a good thing in this era of overdubbing and electronic misconduct. Nice licks for all players assembled here!
2007, Affiliated Artists, 51:03.

Let It Come To You, Taylor Eigsti, piano.
Taylor Eigsti demonstrates lots of chops on a group of original tunes and standards including “I Love You,” “Caravan,” “Portrait In Black And White” and even the Peggy Lee opus, “Fever.” I sometimes get the feeling that Eigsti is overdoing it in trying to find new wrinkles on such tunes, and while his intricacies are very creative, he’s often too percussive for me.
2008, Concord Jazz, 66:29.

How Long Has This Been Going On, Peter Yellin, alto saxophone.
If you like a little hot sauce in your alto players, take a flyer on Peter Yellin. He provides a generous portion on a well-crafted album of standards, bop originals and a ballad or two. Yellin cites Bird as a main influence, but I hear a much thicker, more aggressive style. Yellin’s cohorts include Renee Rosnes, piano, Dwayne Burno, bass, and Winard Harper, drums.
2008, Jazz Media, 56:29.

I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good, Lisa Hearns, vocals.
Too bad Eddie Fisher didn’t survive to hear Lisa Hearns sing “Heart Of My Heart” in French! The song never had it so good. Hearns’s youthful, innocent voice works very nicely on this and a bunch more standards, from “Easy Living” to “Wild Is Love.” It doesn’t hurt having pianist Keith Ingham on hand and guest guitarist Howard Alden as well. info@lisahearns.com
2008, Self-produced, 40:30.

Swing Theory, Gust Spenos, tenor saxophone.
The city of Indianapolis, I’d imagine, keeps swinging thanks to Gust Spenos and the Indy cats who help out on this disc. Among them is Wycliffe Gordon, the versatile trombonist who makes the big difference on half the songs presented here. Among them are all-timers such as “Cheek To Cheek,” “Secret Love,” “Star Eyes” and even Dizzy’s opus, “Ow!”  Swing they do! And how!!
2008, Self-produced, 67:14.

Clarity, Michael Dease, trombone.
Another new name to me, Michael Dease impresses in his ensemble arranging for three horns and rhythm. His trombone sound has that burnished, J.J. feel, and it’s joined by Brandon Lee, trumpet, and Sharel Cassity, alto sax, on bright and quixotic originals which display high spirit and excellent musicianship. www.mikedease.com
2007, Blues Back Records, 62:02.

La Dolce Vita, Warren Hill, saxophones.
Just when you think smooth jazz has finally folded the tent, along comes another Kenny G clone with every electronic gimmick in the book. Is there any recycling function for CDs?
2008, Koch Records.

Let’s Get Lost, Dawn Lambeth, vocals.
Dawn Lambeth approaches her vocalizing from a laid back, casual place and, performing a group of well-considered standards, it works very nicely. Among her choices are “Beginner’s Luck,” a Gershwin rarity; a Dorsey sounding trombone on “If You Were Mine”; a rare meeting with “C’est Si Bon”; and a period piece by Cole Porter, “Let’s Misbehave.” Many more pleasantries here!
2007, Spanish Shawl Music, 74:38.

Reviews by Kyle O'Brien

Azul, Mike Pardew Trio.
There is fusion jazz and there is “contemporary” jazz. This falls in the former category, and thankfully so. The folks who practice the bland instrumental pop that I like to call elevator jazz have stolen the term “contemporary,” leaving the more adventurous folks in modern jazz to use the aging fusion tag. That stated, Portlander Pardew definitely knows those who came before him and is using their influences and the fusion medium properly, with gusto. In Pardew’s rich compositions and fat electric guitar sound, we hear artists like Mike Stern, John Scofield, Pat Metheny and John McLaughlin, but he is not imitating, merely utilizing techniques that allow him to explore the past and future of fusion. There is certainly plenty rooted in the past, but this is also a youthful album. Pardew, an instructor at Lewis and Clark College, knows music and how to combine the technical with the passionate, and this disc is a nice balance of both. With bassist Damian Erskine, who comes from the Jaco/Stanley Clarke/Victor Wooten school of electric bass, and Micah Kassell on drums, the three create a mash of rhythms and tones. It’s clearly a trio album, but the crew thinks bigger. Erskine is a non-stop player with a great sense of melody. His fleet fret work fills the gaps when Pardew is soloing, and while it can sound a bit sparse for a fusion group, even with Kassell’s powerful fills (as on the rockin’ “Velonis”) there is also an urgency to the music, much like when Jimi Hendrix took the stage. That sparseness can be welcome too, as on the tunes that tone down, like the tender-yet-searching “Welcome Home,” which finds a contrapuntal interplay between Erskine and Pardew. Changing time signatures sound effortless and welcome in the hands of these young players, meaning fusion must still be alive and well ... without being “contemporary.”
2008, Afan Music, 51:28. 

Homing Patterns, Blue Cranes.
Having just moved back to Portland after two years away, I had never heard of the Blue Cranes, but I’m certainly happy to know about them now. With a double-headed sax attack leading the way, this genre-fusing, experimental group is a welcome addition to a scene that too often tries to define itself as straight ahead, though it’s much more diverse. And diversity is what this group is all about. Saxophonists Reed Wallsmith and Sly Pig share obtuse but somehow engaging melodies, trading lines with harsh tones before taking the proceedings outside the chords. This is not necessarily just free jazz. There are many compositional elements involved, as on the frenetic but held-together “Awesome Hawk,” a blaring example of how modern jazz can be while still being plenty accessible. And it isn’t just atonal jazz, though those elements exist. Take the melancholy “Seven Swans,” a sparse but beautiful and melodic composition that wins with simplicity and tone before finishing in a Bad Plus-like bombast that also somehow works. This is not music for the masses. It is rooted in many traditions, but it feels young and vital. It is rough around the edges but also sophisticated. It’s a guy wearing a tuxedo begging for change. It’s the bungalow on a street of mansions -- you know it’s there and you don’t want to look but if you don’t, you might be missing a gem. It’s not a jazz album as much as it is a mash-up of styles and instruments. “X” is a brash rocker with a sweet melodic heart as played by the group, which also includes Ji Tanzer on drums, Keith Brush on acoustic bass and Rebecca Sanborn on keys and piano, along with guest guitarist Ila Cantor. This is fun music that pushes the limits ... but not too far. The disc is not crisply produced. The sounds all seem very live and with you, which works in building a feeling of hipness. The avant-garde sax duet, “Washington Park - Eastbound” was recorded in a Max tunnel, giving it an other-worldly feel. As I said, fun.
2008, Blue Cranes Music, 52:65.

Vol. 2, PDXV.
I loved the first go around with PDXV, and I’m equally happy with this live disc, recorded at Jimmy Mak’s in February. This great bunch of musicians -- Dick Titterington on trumpet and flugelhorn, Rob Davis on tenor and soprano sax, Greg Goebel on piano, Dave Captein on bass and Randy Rollofson on drums -- is as tight as a group gets. And as is obvious in this live setting, they all have tremendous ears, playing off one another with ease. From note one you know you’re listening to true professionals. The fairly difficult Monk tune, “Trinkle Tinkle,” is nailed by Davis and Titterington, which leads into some great solos, especially by Goebel, who captures Monk’s essence while staying himself. This group loves a challenging melody, since they tackle the harder-than-“Giant-Steps” melody on Nicolas Folmer’s “Rhythm Form” before turning around to Fred Hersch’s melodic “Rain Waltz.” Saxophonist Tim Jensen joins the group on Tom Harrell’s “Train Shuffle,” perhaps the simplest tune on the disc, but one ripe for great solos. And Jensen’s brash tone fits the tune well, giving a little grit to a polished group. There are no original tunes by any of the band members here, but the originality they bring, and the fact that they stray so far from the jazz canon, makes everything sound new. Straight ahead jazz fans rejoice ... and wait for Vol. 3.
2008, HeavyWood Music,57:25.  

No Strangers Here, Ben Wolfe, bass.
Former Portland standout Ben Wolfe has already made a name for himself many times over as a backing musician, and he has done plenty as a solo artist as well. But this, his debut on MaxJazz, is, as he says, the album he’s always wanted to make. What seems like it might be a traditional quartet album is expanded and revised as the disc goes on. It starts with a thick bop composition, “The Minnick Rule,” which finds Terrell Stafford joining Marcus Strickland on the front as they blast through the edgy tune. Just when you think you’ll get more modern bop, Wolfe turns the album into a lovely string-based chamber jazz group, complete with lush orchestration and candlelit ambience. Then Branford Marsalis comes in on soprano sax for an easygoing, back porch swinger, “Milo.” The obtuse swing returns briefly, before giving way to a slinky number, “The Filth,” which also stars Branford as he smokes through a solo that would make Coltrane proud. Strings and quartet combine again on the sizzling “Circus,” with Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums. But then the Gershwin-like melancholia comes in with Victor Goines on bass clarinet sharing a melody with the strings for a rich, textured tune. With all this switching going on, you’d think it would get confusing, but Wolfe’s attention to detail make it interesting and mostly cohesive, save for the beginning, where you’re not sure what to expect. Wolfe’s expert low end holds down the whole thing, and it’s the compositions that shine -- a mix of modern classical and jazz that works, if a bit oddly.
2008, MaxJazz, 49:56. 

“Simple Forms,” Anomalous Quintet.
The lineup has changed in this group’s rhythm section since the last disc, but the focus on funky jazz remains. New to the fold are drummer Ronnie LaGrone and bassist Arcellus Sykes, and they do an admirable job of keeping the grooves strong. The dual sax lines of tenor player Michael York and baritone saxophonist Daniel Covrett are stronger than on the last disc. They do a good job separating their lines and doing some counter melodies. Still, these aren’t the most interesting tunes, and they rely more on the grooves, some of which are robust and powerful, as on the Average White Band-style “Entanglement,” and some which don’t seem to pick up much steam, like the rather bland “Precession.” The band does a good job of staying true to the theme of the disc, which is inspired by blues forms, and more generally, the AAB song form. And the blues-based funk is good if not spectacular. Little things like intonation issues and some sloppy interplay keeps it from reaching the next level. The one slow tune on the disc, “In the Rustle of the Leaves,” stands out with York’s smooth tone, LaGrone’s mallet work, and guitarist Jason Newsom’s pretty, melodic soloing. As groove jazz goes, the Anomalous Quintet is a solid group, and they know that keeping it simple here is a good thing.
2008, Fine Grooved Records, 51:65.

Retta Christie with David Evans and Dave Frishberg, self titled.
There is something absolutely charming about Christie’s straightforward, sweet delivery. She’ll never win any “biggest voice” awards, and that’s absolutely fine, since her style is simple and melodic. Christie loves a good melody and a jaunty beat, especially those from the early days of jazz and western swing. In this pared down format, she keeps perfect company with woodwind player Evans and master stride pianist Frishberg, who holds down the bass and chords as Christie sings such sweet and approachable melodies like the delightful “Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?” with Evans doing melodious clarinet. Frishberg’s 40-plus year-old tune, “Wallflower Lonely, Cornflower Blue,” a perfect fit for Christie’s light two step, makes a welcome appearance here, a western-style jazz number that has Frishberg’s usual smart wordplay. Christie even gives her cohorts a chance to shine on their own on “The Thrill is Gone,”and on a song from the stage show, “George White’s Scandals of 1931,” a minor-keyed ballad where Evans does his breathy best and Frishberg stretches they chords a bit. All three do a lovely job of channeling the past, being retro while being in the here and now. Christie is more jazz here than country, but her finale, “Ridin’ Down the Canyon,” assures us there’s still plenty of country in this girl. A lovely and cheery album by three musicians perfectly in their realm. 

The Latin Side of Wayne Shorter, Conrad Herwig, trombone.
Herwig has successfully “Latin-ized” the music of Miles and Coltrane, so the next logical artist to get the treatment is another Davis collaborator, Shorter. The re-arranged tunes fit nicely into Herwig’s progressive arrangements of tunes from Shorter’s hard bop era, the early to mid-60s, when he played with greats like Art Blakey, and Davis. Herwig’s septet is arranged like a big band and sounds much bigger than its numbers, all playing with fire and precision. It starts with a fiery version of the 1963 Blakey favorite, “Ping Pong,” then goes cha cha with “Tom Thumb.” Aside from the melodies, these tunes get new life with the energy generated by a group that includes trumpeter Brian Lynch, Ronnie Cuber on bari sax, Luis Pedromo on piano, Ruben Rodriguez on bass, Robby Ameen on drums and Pedro Martinez on congas. Shorter certainly would have enjoyed the new harmonies on “El Gaucho,” as they bring new aural textures to the plate. Eddie Palmieri brings even more depth to the group on “Adam’s Apple,” where he plays a wicked montuno, on “Masqualero,” and on “Footprints,” which finishes off the disc with a minor-keyed sizzle, with Martinez’s congas flurrying away. Anyone who likes Shorter no doubt loves experimentation, and this live recording works like a charm.
2008, Half Note Records, 70:27. 

Luckiest Girl, Rosey, vocals.
I’ve never heard fn the single-named Rosey, and her slick, seductive photo on the front makes me suspicious, especially when she’s being sold as a jazz artist. It looks more like pop positioning. But maybe this is what jazz needs, a little sexiness. The music is as slickly produced as the cover, but at least it’s pretty decent, soulful jazz-meets-pop-meets-Latin-meets world music. Rosey’s voice is distinctive, deep and soulful. At times, as on the rather overdone “It’s a Ruse,” it sounds like she’s acting. But listen deeper and you’ll hear a vocalist who was obviously raised on music of the past, which is why Latin-style cabaret songs like “Luckiest Girl,” and the toe-tapping “Those Eyes” made it on to the disc. I’d like to hear Rosey without all the slick production to see what she truly sounds like, but as a disc, one could do worse than this. She may be playing a role, but it’s intriguing enough to make me want to hear more.
2008, Quango Music, 42:75.  

From the Heart, Bobby Watson, alto sax.
Watson is a well-respected saxophonist in the Kansas City mode. And like any good KC guy, he starts off the disc with a little barbecue on “Wilkes BBQ,” an upbeat shuffle featuring the Live and Learn Band - Leron Thomas on trumpet, Harold O’Neal on piano, Warren Wolf on vibes, Curtis Lundy on bass and Quincy Davis on drums. The loose group flows through the set of tunes with urban intensity, but there is always a bluesy core somewhere there, even if it’s buried in a bop frenzy, as on “Deep Pockets,” or a Latin groover, like “Aye Carumba.” You can hear Watson’s Blakey roots, with the double horn front, the attention to in-the-front rhythms. But he does know how to bring out some tenderness, as on the vibe-friendly “For Milt,” which also features Watson’s clear tone. The mix of young and seasoned players in the band continues the Blakey tradition of mentoring, but everyone here fits in well and the sound is cohesive, led by Watson’s big sound. An approachable disc of original tunes from a master of the horn.
2007, Palmetto Records, 60:00.  

Chicken or Beef? Reptet.
If you like to live outside the chords, Seattle is a good place to be. The Emerald City has developed a reputation with its younger musicians who like to be outside the realm of normal swing by incorporating funk beats, atonal melodies and lots of experimentation. The sextet Reptet falls into that category and they continue what groups like Critters Buggin’ have started -- a fusion of sounds that is purely Seattle experimental. It’s not inaccessible avant-garde, as the opening track, “Danger Notes” proves. In fact, it could be an outtake from a ‘70s crime drama score. With instrumentation as diverse as baritone guitar, euphonium, flute, saxophones, brass and “bull moose call,” you know you’re not getting just another jazz group. This is fusion way past the jazz meets rock variety. There is Spanish-influenced bombast (“Reptet Score!”), Eastern-influenced horn jazz (“Eve of Thrieve”), tribal chanting on the title track, ska (“That’s Chicken or Beef”), and plenty of other styles to keep you on your toes. To call this jazz is confining that which can’t be kept. It’s silly at times, always experimental, and not for the squeamish. But it can be fun if you keep a very open mind.
2008, Monktail Records, 59.40.

Copyright 2008, Jazz Society of Oregon