CD Reviews - August 2008
by George Fendel, Kyle
O'Brien, and Don Campbell
Why Fight The Feeling? The Songs Of Frank Loesser, Rebecca Kilgore, vocals, Dave Frishberg, piano.
On one of his previous live recordings, I remember that Dave Frishberg
referred to Frank Loesser as “my hero.” One of the
last of the major contributors to Songbook America, Loesser’s
lyrics, and in many cases, music as well, couldn’t be in better
hands than those of Frishberg and Rebecca Kilgore. This twosome has
worked together compatibly and gloriously for many years in Portland.
As a result, they’re in cruise control on familiar tunes like
“The Lady’s In Love With You,” “On A Slow Boat
To China,” “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So,”
“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” and “I
Believe In You.” Among other delicacies are “Say It (Over
and Over Again),” a ballad prominently played by a fella named
Coltrane; “Let’s Get Lost” (certainly you remember
Chet’s vocal); and the big surprise, “Then I Wrote the
Minuet in G.” The latter features Loesser’s lyric to a
melody from Ludwig Beethoven! Just like the communication between a
veteran pitcher and his favorite catcher, Rebecca and Dave find all the
little nuances and niceties on this menu of 17 examples of the
brilliance of Frank Loesser.
2008, Arbors, 58:20.
Boss Bones, Wycliffe Gordon, trombone.
Hey boneheads! I know you’re out there, those of you who
dig the trombone more than any other horn. Well, gather ‘round
this new CD from master bone surgeon Wycliffe Gordon and new trombone
associate, Andre Hayward. This invigorating twosome is joined by Mike
LeDonne, piano; John Webber, bass; and Kenny Washington, drums. You get
a good idea where this group is headed from the opener,
“Spop.” It’s Gordon’s description for a
Washington drum lick, and a fresh, nicely moving blues. After another
Gordon original, the quintet moves into a series of jazz staples like
Joe Henderson’s “Recorda-Me”; Dizzy’s
“Wheatleigh Hall”; Horace Silver’s
“Nica’s Dream,” and a vigorous, take no prisoners
workout on Bird’s “Anthropology.” Each of the
trombone meisters also gets a ballad to show off his skills. Hayward
chooses the old warhouse, “Stardust,” and certainly brings
new luster on this relaxed, delicate reading. Equally impressive is
Gordon’s intimate take on “Here’s That Rainy
Day.” This is a complete, compelling two-trombone workout, and
the only thing that’s hard to determine is which of these bone
breakers is having more fun!
2008,Criss Cross, 62:46.
Vibe Over Perfection, Jamie Davis, vocals.
Bay area vocalist Jamie Davis makes the most of the seemingly rare
opportunity for a singer to record with a big band. Davis has a
compelling vocal presence, which touches on the likes of Lou Rawls and
maybe a smidge of Arthur Prysock. The band, fronted by trumpeter Scotty
Barnhart, has a definite Basie sound. And it all unfolds vigorously
with Davis’ lively delivery on such standards as “Blue
Skies,” “Pennies From Heaven” and “’Round
Midnight .” A tune new to me, “If You Want Me To
Stay,” reminds a bit of the energy of “Smack Dab In The
Middle,” and, I must say, Jimmy Witherspoon would have nodded
approval on Davis’ “I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts
Of Town.” Even Lionel Richie’s pop opus,
“Hello,” is wrapped in a spicy, swinging arrangement. New
to these ears was the swinging “You’ll Never Find Another
Love Like Mine,” and the set ends with a refreshing, more
quick-paced than usual, “Nature Boy.” Jamie Davis was
fortunate enough to gather some super players in his corner, a
testament to his talent.
2008, Unity Music, 39:45.
Break, Dawn Clement, piano and vocals.
My son, Marc, a longtime resident alto sax player in Seattle, has told
me on many an occasion that Dawn Clement is the real deal: an
incessantly swinging bop pianist with chops galore and a beautiful
sense of intimacy and feeling when it comes to ballads. Just catch how
joyously creative she is on Jerome Kern’s “I’ve Told
Every Little Star.” She’ll get your attention! A couple of
Clement’s Seattle colleagues are nicely represented here with
Julian Priester’s airy waltz, “First Nature” and
Denny Goodhew’s minor quasi-blues, “Distant Oasis.”
Clement is one of those pianists who likes to offer up a vocal now and
then, and she handles the assignment with class on a diverse threesome:
“Just One More For You,” a lesser known Jobim tune; a
welcome surprise on the old chestnut “Dream A Little Dream Of
Me,” and the pairing of “All Of Me” with a tender
sentiment called “On Love That Will Not Let Me Go.” Among
other pleasures provided by Clement’s piano, Dean Johnson’s
bass and Matt Wilson’s drums are “Sweet And Lovely”;
a couple additional of the pianist’s originals,
“2-Day” and “Singing Hands,” and a delicate
closer by Ellington, “Heaven.” Marc was right. Dawn Clement
is the real deal.
2008, Origin, 48:03.
Persistence, Joe Magnarelli, trumpet.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Joe Magnarelli electrify
an audience at Portland’s Blue Monk. And the excitement that I
witnessed is once again captured on Magnarelli’s debut recording
for Reservoir Records. Mags is joined on the front line by the
versatile Gary Smulyan on baritone sax, and they get off to a rousing
start with the title tune. Another Magnarelli original follows in a
more lyrical setting. Then it’s time for a standard, and
Mags’ choice of “I Had The Craziest Dream” is right
down the center of mainstream alley. “Haunted Heart,” a
tune which seems to have arrived in recent years, is taken just a skosh
faster than usual, and it works to perfection. Magnarelli attaches the
mute for a blistering ride through “You And The Night And The
Music” and Smulyan always conquers these rapid tempo flights.
“Soul Sister” is a slightly juiced up version of
“Body And Soul.” Put in the hands of these monsters, it
brings a new twist on the old standard. And speaking of monsters, how
about the rhythm section on hand here? David Hazeltine, Peter
Washington and Kenny Washington need no accolades other than the solid
fact that they hold forth as swingingly as ever. Magnarelli is a
trumpet player’s dream. Don’t miss this one.
2008, Reservoir, 57:20.
Every Time We Say Goodbye, Marilyn Scott, vocals.
Get ready for a new major league voice in Marilyn Scott. I know
absolutely nothing about her other than the fact that she delivers the
goods on a scrumptious menu of standards. You see, the liner notes are
entirely in Japanese, but you don’t need the liner notes to hear
with your own ears that Scott gets it from a jazz standpoint. She does
not indulge in unnecessary decoration or frosting of any kind. Like
Irene Kral, Roberta Gambarini, Claire Martin and others, she lets her
voice and her feeling for the music do the talking. It all comes across
with highest marks on well chosen material like “I Got Lost In
His Arms,” “Lonely Town,” “Detour Ahead,”
“Autumn In New York,” “Cry Me A River,”
“Somewhere” and much more. One look at the group that
accompanies her and you know that Scott has already garnered attention
from an impressive circle. How about Cyrus Chestnut and Ken Peplowski
for starters? I am tough on supposed jazz singers, and it takes a
certain combination of musicianship and an understated approach to
really ring my bell. Marilyn Scott has done just that.
2008, Venus Records, 46:42.
Just For You, Sharel Cassity, alto saxophone.
Most certainly their numbers have dwindled over the last few decades,
but they’re still out there. Who? Well, those people who
classify all female jazz musicians as either pianists or singers. If
you’re one of them, you really need to hear Sharel Cassity
blowing straight ahead, finely honed bebop on alto saxophone. Leading a
seven piece group through some very lyrical originals, Cassity plays in
a warm, fluid, free flowing fashion right down the center of the
swing-bop boulevard. Somebody put in a great deal of effort in writing
arrangements for this group. They get things underway with
“Phibe’s Revenge,” a bop-drenched exercise for the
leader. She nails it! The title tune is done at medium tempo, but
Cassity’s groovy solo is perfection. Other highlights include an
alto feature on “Lover Man”; an intricate and soaring
ensemble piece simply called “Wow”; and a no holds barred
rip through “Cherokee.” Jazziz Magazine said “the
altoist’s flights are positively Bird-like.” High
praise indeed. And well-deserved.
2008, DW Records, 38:26.
Just Me, Just You, Larry Ham, piano.
You’ll notice on the cover of this CD that Larry Ham is no twenty
something. So, you might ask, where has this outstanding piano
practitioner been all your life? Well, how about on a State
Department Tour of eleven African nations, or on extended stays in
Japan, Germany and Poland? You’ll find a lot to like on this solo
piano recording as Larry Ham plays everything from Rodgers and Hart to
Bud Powell; Duke Pearson to Mercer and Arlen; not to mention Duke and
Strayhorn. It’s all there with no extraneous licks nor any look
what I can do’s. Ham just puts it out there in marvelous
recital-like fashion. This is a very personal statement; music to be
admired and listened closely to at first. Then it will beam into your
consciousness and you’ll also want it as accompaniment to any
pleasant portion of your day. With this CD, Larry Ham takes his place
among a plethora of jazz pianists who have made great solo piano
statements for the Arbors label. He should be proud of his contribution.
2008, Arbors, 59:33.
An Upper West Side Story, Tobias Gebb, drums.
The percussive device which starts this album will make you think you
mistakenly put on an Ahmad Jamal record. No kidding. It’s
“Poinciana,” and Gebb and his trio do it with flair and
finesse. “Brazil Bossa” is a flighty Bossa Nova, and
“The Barnyard” is a ripping blues which adds the sizzling
tenor of Joel Frahm. Both are Gebb originals. The trio’s pianist,
Eldad Zvulun, then gives us a tender and delicious version of Billy
Strayhorn’s “Star Crossed Lovers.” Next on the menu
is guest vocalist Champian Fulton on the old standard “Autumn
Serenade” (remember Johnny Hartman’s version?). Neal
Hefti’s “Cute” has long been a drum feature, and the
trio does it with the usual polish and precision. Fulton returns for
one more vocal, and she’s up to the task on “What A Little
Moonlight Can Do.” “Two By Two” is another Gebb
original, this time in a lyrical and serene atmosphere. Irving
Berlin’s “How Deep Is The Ocean,” is given a crafty
rhythmic feel. Frahm returns on Gebb’s “The
Monument,” a sturdy tribute to those, in or out of uniform, who
have struggled in life. The trio brings things to a close with a salsa
treatment of “And I Love Her.” Gebb gets in lots of
impressive licks, but this is not a “drummer album.”
Instead, everyone gets a chance to shine. Highest marks, however, go to
2008, Yummy House Records, 56:45.
I Had The Craziest Dream - The Music Of Harry Warren, David Berger, arranger, conductor.
To this very day, the name Harry Warren doesn’t produce the
immediate recognition of, say, Gershwin, Berlin, Kern or Porter. But
while he never gained the fame he intensely desired, Warren was a
prolific composer of timeless tunes. Arranger-conductor David Berger
has put together a very swinging octet to interpret Warren’s
evergreens, and they do it with panache. Of course, it doesn’t
hurt when you have players like saxophone greats Harry Allen on tenor
and Joe Temperley on baritone. But what really gets to you is the
quality writing for this octet. Berger is wise to let these songs
practically play themselves, leaving generous solo space for Allen and
Temperley, along with some lesser known but outstanding players. Among
them were trombone ace Marshall Gilkes who shines on “Summer
Night”; and Brian Fletch Pareschi, whose relaxed, warm trumpet
was nearly Bobby Hackett-ish on “Serenade In Blue.” Harry
Warren could sure write ‘em, and David Berger’s
interpretations of Warren’s gems make for pleasant listening
mixed with a dash of nostalgia. For more info, try www.sultansofswing.com.
2008, Such Sweet Thunder, 61:33.
Silence, David Murray, saxophones and Mal Waldron, piano.
David Murray and Mal Waldron, to my ear, have somehow always found the
right rung on the ladder between mainstream and the avant garde. On
this duo outing, they explore both the out possibilities on “Free
For CT,” “Silence” and “Hooray For
Herbie” as well as the more accessible (but always with
Murray’s eclectic approach) “I Should Care,”
“All Too Soon” and Waldron’s hit, “Soul
Eyes.” This is not for your aunt Harriet who dug Lester Lanin.
But the rest of you will find some worthwhile moments
2008, Justin Time, 66:10.
Love, Peace And Jazz, Al Foster, drums.
Those of you with a little gray in the sideburns will remember the name
Al Foster as one of the eminent drummers dating back to the
1970’s and beyond. His current quartet of Kevin Hays, piano; Eli
DeGibri, saxophones, and Douglas Weiss, bass, is heard in live
performance at The Village Vanguard. A couple highlights include the
group’s poignant version of Miles’ “Blue In
Green” and Blue Mitchell’s cheeky calypso, “Fungi
Mama.” DeGibri spends most of the set on soprano sax, and while
he plays it well, that alone is usually a red light for me.
2008, Jazz Eyes, 69:26.
Play That Thing, Rick Wald, and 16/nyc/.
One listens to this tight assemblage of NYC cats and realizes the
incredible wealth of jazz talent in The Apple. The arrangements here
are complex, challenging and demanding to be heard. Familiar tunes like
“Maiden Voyage,” “Prince of Darkness” and
“Stompin’ At The Savoy” are joined by several sharply
honed originals. The solo work and the ensemble passages here are
consistently riveting and interesting. How did that tune go ... if I
can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere …. For more
2007, Glowbow, 63:29.
November, Jeremy Pelt, trumpet and flugelhorn.
One of the blossoming trumpet players in jazz, Jeremy Pelt and his
quintet offer an all original program of probing, challenging material.
Pelt shares front line chores with Jo Allen on tenor and a rhythm
section of Danny Grissett, piano; Dwayne Burno, bass; and Gerald
Cleaver, drums. I am drawn to originals with a discernible melody line,
and I found those in energetic outings like “Clairvoyant”
and “Monte Christo.” Pelt’s ballad entry,
“Rosalie,” was played with passion and beauty. I’d
like to see Pelt explore a few more jazz standards next time out.
2008, Max Jazz, 53:40.
Rough Edges, Alexandra Caselli, piano.
Ms. Caselli’s impressionistic style comes down the line from Bill
Evans and Keith Jarrett, and some of her all original program is served
up with elegance. I’d like the opportunity to hear what she can
do in a trio setting, rather than adding vocals, flute, guitar and
saxophone as she does here. Having said that, there’s still a
shimmering delicacy to selections like “Colors Of The Rain”
and the oddly titled “Butterfly Eyebrows.” Find out more at
2008, Self-produced, 55:11.
Modern Antique, Robin McKelle, vocals.
Although Robin McKelle sounds a little more affected than a pure jazz
singer, you’ve got to give her some kudos on several fronts. She
sings good songs: “Comes Love,” “Lover Man,”
“Day By Day,” “Lullaby Of Birdland,”
“Make Someone Happy,” “Remember” and such; she
works with both a driven big band and, on some cuts, a bevy of strings,
all to her advantage. And most importantly, her intonation and
enunciation are spotless. Just a little less “frosting” and
she’d really be on to something!
2008, Cheap Lullaby Records, 44:07.
Five, Ralph Bowen, tenor sax.
This CD gets off to a nice start with Joe Henderson’s “Step
Lightly.” However, with the exception of Bowen’s
composition, “Blues Cruz,” which had good energy and some
lusty solo work, the rest of the CD didn’t grab my attention.
Perhaps it was the presence of a Hammond B-3 organ (instead of piano),
or maybe it’s just that Bowen’s other original works left
me kinda looking for the elusive melody line. Trumpet dynamo Ralph
Swana and guitar wizard Peter Bernstein add a front row presence to the
album, but even so, it was a bit too edgy for me.
2008, Criss Cross, 64:04.
For You, Chris Flory, guitar,
I would make the same initial observation as I did above for Chris
Flory’s otherwise excellent new CD from Arbors, and that is the
use of the organ instead of the piano. Otherwise, Flory’s quintet
gets after it on well selected tunes like “For You, For
Me,” “Forevermore,” “The Lamp Is Low,”
“Three Little Words,” “Young And Foolish” and
“A Beautiful Friendship.” Flory is a no-frills,
straightahead guitarist who, thankfully, makes the guitar sound like a
guitar. And that’s not always a guarantee these days.
2008, Arbors, 60:57.
No Limits, Nick Colionne, guitar.
Maybe Koch Records, a well-respected jazz label, is telling us that
they’re moving into the land of smooth jazz. This is their second
consecutive embarrassment, following last month’s review of
Warren Hill. Once again, what we have here is music mostly without
recognizable melody. Some call this formula music because every tune
sounds pretty much like the last one. It’s a shame because given
material worth hearing, my guess is that Nick Colionne can play.
2008, Koch Records, time not indicated.
by Kyle O'Brien
Dragonfly, Steve Allee Trio.
Indiana isn’t exactly a hotbed of jazz, but the Hoosier Steve
Allee is bucking the trend by putting out this disc of smart original
material. It’s a typical jazz trio, with pianist Allee at the
helm, but the music is rich and full, especially when augmented by
guest saxophonist Rich Perry, who shines with a bracingly modern tone
and plenty of musical ideas. Allee is a fine pianist with a knack for
meaty chords, which he utilizes to create textural tunes, as on the
title track, which journeys through a chordal landscape of a melody
before giving way to a thick bass solo by Bill Moring. The trio is
tight throughout, with Tim Horner showing equal amounts of flair and
restraint, pushing the music forward without getting in the way. Allee
is a veteran of the Buddy Rich big band, but is better known for his
soundtrack work. It’s this compositional nature that makes
“Dragonfly” a step above other jazz trio works. His tunes
are like short journeys, building and evolving through chords and
pointed soloing by all members. His three-part “Dedication
Suite” pays tribute to Bill Evans, Thad Jones and Oscar Peterson.
All three are smart dedications, capturing their essences without
trying to mimic those great artists.
2008, AlleeOop Music, 62:30.
Leef, Industrial Jazz Group.
If ever there were a perfect band for a Fellini film, this is it.
Raucous, intense, whimsical and accomplished, the Industrial Jazz Group
is like a carnival for the ears. Leader/composer/pianist Andrew Durkin
describes his music as “avant-garde party music,” which is
fitting. The music is challenging and, at times, cacophonous, but
it’s just accessible enough to be fun. With multiple saxes,
trumpets and percussion, this 15-piece L.A. group marches to their own
beat, meshing tones and styles, big band swing to classical,
Gershwin-esque flourishes with Mingus-like harmonies. This live
recording finds the group playing to an Amsterdam audience, who
apparently likes the rather bizarre nature of the music. It’s a
big soup of a sound but it manages to be somewhat charming in its
oddity. Give a listen, if you dare.
2008, Ugly Jazz, 60 minutes.
Thirsty Soul, Randy Porter Trio.
Porter is such a gifted pianist and arranger that he can elevate what
is essentially a basic trio album to the next level. Taking a melodic,
pretty tune like “It Never Entered My Mind” and adding
chord alterations and polyrhythmic lines makes it a new listening
experience, while still keeping the integrity of the song. And Porter
jazzes up Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”
with alternating time signatures and a funky backbeat, thanks to
Reinhardt Melz’s deft touch. John Wiitala holds down a steady and
strong bass throughout, while Melz and Todd Strait trade off on the
drum chair. Porter pleases the entire disc, changing up the offerings,
from the straight-ahead of “Along Came Betty” to the homey,
countrified title track, a Porter original, to the challenging, thick
“Boomer-Angst,” another Porter composition. Even with the
diversity of styles, the flow is natural and cohesive. It’s worth
it to keep listening the whole way through, just to see where Porter
will take the melodies and how he pushes the trio forward. The only
track that doesn’t have as much weight is the somewhat tepid
cover of Paul McCartney’s “I Will,” which is done as
a light bossa and doesn’t dig deep enough. Still, there are 12
other tracks that deliver on all cylinders.
2008, Heavywood Music, 60 minutes.
Greenspace, Belinda Underwood, vocals, bass.
Underwood is a talented bassist and singer who has made some great
connections on both the local and national scene. That’s why
she’s able to get great guest players like percussionist Martin
Zarzar, vocalist Nancy King and pianist Benny Green. Her vocals have an
earnest airiness, floating yet pointed. She unfortunately hides her
bass talent, save for a few tracks, opting instead for Phil
Baker’s steady hand. And she lets King take the lead on the
opening track, a scatting “Bass Blues.”
Underwood has grown as an artist, especially as a songwriter. She wrote
half the tracks on the disc, and the first self-penned number is an
unexpected surprise. For a woman who walks effortlessly between folk
and jazz styles, “Seeing Red” is an embrace of jazz, a
funky little soul jazz blues that grooves with substance. But aside
from writing the tune, Underwood is absent, letting Green and her
sister, Melissa, share the melody on piano and sax, respectively. Her
vocals have gotten stronger as well. She sings with more force but
still has the willowy, carefree quality that makes her stand out. She
delivers the ballad “Blue Gardenia” slow, laid back and
breezy, a mature take. When Underwood finally pulls out the bass,
it’s seven tracks in. While Baker plays with more force,
Underwood is quieter with a lighter touch. But her strength is as a
songwriter on this disc. The whimsical, storytelling “Midnight
Snatcher” is a joy, and her jazz waltz ballad,
“Limitless,” is rich in chords, giving Green a chance to
show off his sense of touch. And “Odd Meter Blues,” is a
fun tune in 9. She even goes exotic, with the middle eastern tonalities
of “The Oasis,” which features the haunting violin work of
Egyptian musician Alfred Gamil. This is a fine outing for this up and
coming musician, and hopefully next album we’ll hear more of her
songwriting and bass playing.
2008, Cosmik Muse Rekords, 53 minutes.
I Had the Craziest Dream: The Music of Harry Warren, David Berger Octet.
Warren may be lesser known that Gershwin, Mercer, Porter and others
from the jazz canon, but the composer wrote quite a few memorable
melodies, and arranger/conductor Berger reminds us how much Warren
contributed to our musical history with this smart group. It’s a
small big band that features big names like Harry Allen and Joe
Temperley. Berger starts it off with a bang, doing a frantic version of
“Jeepers Creepers,” letting Temperley and Allen trade licks
on the upbeat tune. Warren wrote a lot for the big screen and many of
the tracks here were written to accompany films or even cartoons.
“September in the Rain” is a lovely swinger, though Matt
Hong’s tone on alto is a bit pinched, taking away from what is
otherwise solid playing. “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa
Fe” is a classic rail song, and Berger does it as a slow boogie,
swinging and bouncing along. Marshall Gilkes impresses on “Summer
Night,” taking both the melody and soloing roles with a sweet,
high tone on trombone. Berger doesn’t get too crazy with the
arrangements. He stays true to the retro aesthetic, letting the
melodies speak loudly, accented by horn blasts and fine soloing.
Temperley proves why he’s one of the best bari players in the
country on “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” utilizing his
smooth tone to great effect on this sultry tango. “I Only Have
Eyes for You,” gets a swing treatment, accented by flute on the
melody. “I’m an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande)”
gets more jazzy than western, with Allen taking a sweet as pie solo.
This is fun, melodic music that deserves to be heard. Thanks to Berger
for reacquainting us with Warren.
2008, Such Sweet Thunder, 60 minutes.
Some Other Time, Diane Schuur.
This may well be the finest disc in Schuur’s catalog. It was
written to pay tribute to Schuur’s mother on the 40th anniversary
of her passing. Schuur wanted to recall the music her mother used to
listen to on the radio, the great pop hits of the day and music that
influenced a young Schuur. The opening track is “Nice Work if You
Can Get It,” classic Gershwin with a modern twist, full of chord
changes and Schuur’s fantastically ebullient voice. The
arrangements are courtesy of Portland’s Randy Porter, who also
plays piano on most of the disc. Porter takes these timeless melodies
and updates them so they’re fresh, while still keeping the
integrity of the original. For those who forgot, Schuur is an amazing
talent. Her voice has become even richer and she sings with such
passion and reverence on this disc, she pulls you into her world and
connects seemingly one-on-one. Irving Berlin’s “They Say
It’s Wonderful” is gorgeous, slow and sweeping, tender and
strong, and the band plays with just the right amount of restraint,
letting Schuur lead the way through her vocals. Joining Porter in the
group are fellow Portlanders Scott Steed on bass and Dan Balmer on
guitar, with Reggie Jackson handling the drum duties. “Blue
Skies” is done as a poignant, minor-keyed waltz, while
“Without a Song” swings like crazy. “My Favorite
Things,” is open ended, taking it out of the fixed sing-songy
waltz style, with plenty of chord alterations to really open it up. An
interesting track is “September in the Rain,” a scratchy,
muffled recording from 1964 at the Holiday Inn in Tacoma, featuring an
11-year-old Schuur singing at the top of her lungs. It’s
surprisingly mature for an 11-year old and gives us a great view of
what a great talent she would become. The final track is a clear
tribute to her mother, a beautiful and tender “Danny Boy,”
backed only by Balmer’s sparse guitar. It’s not your usual
maudlin version of the classic, just touching.
2008, Concord Records, 51 minutes.
Tales of Love and Longing, Sheila Cooper with Fritz Pauer.
Sometimes production values can make all the difference. Cooper is a
decent enough balladeer on the alto sax, but it sounds like the mike is
shoved down the barrel of her sax. You can hear every key push, every
breath, and every spittle in her mouthpiece, and frankly it’s a
bit off putting. While trying to listen to tender, pretty ballads like
“Winter Moon,” and “I’m a Fool to Want
You,” I can only hear the distractions. So instead of enjoying,
I’m cringing. I breathe a sigh of relief when she puts down the
horn and sings instead. Austrian pianist Fritz Pauer is wonderful,
painting musical pictures and holding the disc together. But the
distractions of the sax unfortunately make me want to tune out.
2007, Panorama Records, 51 minutes.
Dry Bridge Road, Noah Preminger Group.
This is Preminger’s debut recording and it’s impressive.
The young saxophonist has a mature tone and a sense of modernity in his
compositions. The wandering “Luke” starts things off with
rich chords and a sense of searching. It’s followed by “A
Dream,” a wispy legato composition which lets Preminger show off
his tone and restraint with color, against Ben Monder’s airy
guitar. While many young saxophonists might want to show off in the
high-fast-loud mode, Preminger goes the opposite direction, letting his
tunes develop and letting his talented group -- Monder, trumpeter Russ
Johnson, pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist John Heber, and drummer Ted
Poor -- get plenty of time. Not that there aren’t some fireworks.
“Today is Okay” is a searing urban hard bop piece, and
Preminger attacks the horn without being showy. The melody actually
goes half time and utilizes tone rather than glitz. Here’s an
artist that’s already years past his actual 22 in terms of how he
approaches both playing and composing -- with restraint, an incredible
full tone and with a great sense of self. The disc is strong
throughout, always with a sense of discovery, as on the slowly building
“Rhythm for Robert,” a tune that strays outside the norm
but pulls you in with a sense of urgency.
2008, NOWT Records, 56 minutes.
Grupo Yanqui Rides Again, Bennett Paster & Gregory Ryan.
Grupo Yanqui is the brainchild of pianist Bennett Paster and bassist
Gregory Ryan. It’s a modern Latin jazz sextet that sizzles. The
group embraces sounds south of the border, mixing it into a Latin jazz
cocktail that zings with spice and precision playing. Helping Paster
and Ryan along their journey is saxophonist Chris Cheek, always a
welcome addition to any group, trumpeter Alex Norris, drummer Keith
Hall and percussionist Gilad. After kicking off with a tight Chick
Corea number, “Tones for Joan’s Bones,” they launch
into their own tunes, including the funky “The Unabonger,”
which features Cheek doing a slick solo over thick chord changes. This
is not typical or traditional Latin jazz; instead it is highly modern,
with near constant chord changes and many elements of contemporary jazz
(the good kind). We hear elements of Brazil, Cuba, the Caribbean and
other Latin countries, all mixed together in a heady brew, as on the
montuno-laden “If Woody Had Gone Right to the Police ...”
This is fun music that’s also challenging, a winning combination.
Even Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge” gets an
overhaul, becoming a slow Latin number that deconstructs the original.
2008, Miles High Records, minutes.
Reviews by Don Campbell
It just happened that most of the following releases fall at least somewhere in the vicinity of soul music.
Into the Mystic, Lavelle White, vocals.
Praise all that’s good and right in the universe for Lavelle
White. White had soul and R&B hits back in the ‘50s and
’60 on Texas’ Duke label, and has enjoyed a roaring
comeback in the past few years on the Antone’s Records label. On
“Into the Mystic,” she covers the Van Morrison classic
among others, intoxicatingly infusing it with her own deeply soulful
style. Her voice has lost little in the ensuing years.
It’s pure heaven when she can take a pop song like the Box
Tops’ “Soul Deep” and pull it deep into decidedly
true-soul territory. And there is no prettier ballad than “At
Last,” covered by one of her contemporaries, and another artist
who’s still showing us how it’s live, Etta James. It would
be easy to think White would have nothing new to bring to the party,
but she wraps herself around this one like you’d wrap a Pendleton
blanket around yourself in winter. She even breathes fresh life into
Stevie Wonder’s nugget, “Livin’ for the City,”
giving it a gritty-city edge. This is one scary-good record.
2008, Antone’s Records/TMG
Hope and Desire, Susan Tedeschi, guitar, vocals.
There’s a sizzling contemporary blues vocalist and guitarist on
the scene named Susan Tedeschi, who’s evolution from blues belter
(1998’s breakout “Just Won’t Burn”) to
self-assured song stylist we’re enjoying immensely. Tedeschi has
at times, maybe through no fault of her own, wondered too close in
vocal sound to Bonnie Raitt, and for many listeners, it’s been a
distraction. But of late, especially on this new CD, she’s coming
into her own as gutsy alto, with plenty of smoke and torchy fire,
gravel, whisky, and soul. Her fourth album, and first on the Verve
Forecast label, takes the focus away from her guitar skills, which are
formidable, and puts the spotlight on her vocal chops. While her range
is not spectacular, her phrasing and passion for a melody are showing
definite muscularity. Here she tackles Dylan’s “Lord
Protect My Child,” a slow but strident gospel tune where she uses
her voice to implore. On Ray Charles’ “Tired of My
Tears,” she goes uptown soul on a song that would have easily
charted back in the ‘60s in the hands of Ahmet Ertegun’s
Atlantic label. She does Aretha proud on a cover of “Share Your
Love with Me,” and tears up the Stones “You Got the
Silver,” a Western lope with a blistering slide solo by husband
and slide guitarist Derek Trucks (see review below). She even
powerfully covers Donny Hathaway’s “Magnificent Sanctuary
Band,” with full gospel accompaniment of the Blind Boys of
Tedeschi’s also not with her road band on this recording, using a
hand-picked cast that includes Doyle Bramhall III on guitar, bassist
Paul Bryan and drummer Jay Bellerose, along with keyboardists Jebin
Bruni and David Palmer. The band can get dark and moody, on a cut like
“Danger Zone,” and turn around and lighten it up on a soul
send-up like “Soul of a Man.”
It’s always a joy to hear young artists push their own limits. To
her credit, this past spring Tedeschi performed with the Wynton
Marsalis Septet at Lincoln Center, a nice nod to her vocal prowess.
2008, Verve Forecast.
Live at the Baby Grand, Jimmy Smith, Hammond B-3.
We’re a big sucker for the overdriven-tube sound of a Hammond
organ, and therefore, are generally nuts for anything by the legendary
Jimmy Smith. On “Live at the Baby Grand,” first released in
1956 and rereleased this year on the Blue Note label, Smith gives
full-on live club treatment to gems like “Caravan,”
“Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Love is a Many Splendored
Thing,” and even “Rosetta.” These are 10-plus-minute
romps, captured in Wilmington, Del. He’s backed by the firepower
of guitarist Thornell [cq] Schwartz on guitar and Donald Bailey on
drums. As usual, Smith kicks a mean pedal bass with huge ferocity. Once
the head is covered, it’s all hands on deck as the trio roars
along at 90 mph, never dropping a note or a beat.
For Smith fans, this is a must-have. It’s easy to imagine a smoky
club, the highball glass of rye sweating rings on the table, and
Eisenhower-era couples swaying to Smith playing and smiling his version
here of “Where or When.” Huge props to Bailey, a force of
nature on the drums, who can quietly make omelets with his brushes, and
turn around on “Rosetta” and drive the band with the power
of an Atlas rocket at ignition.
Rumor has it that Blue Note is releasing in September of this year yet
another Smith CD, “Jimmy Smith Plays Fats Waller.” Keep
your ears open.
Susquehanna, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies.
We wanted to like this record, we really did. Steve Perry’s
Cherry Poppin’ Daddies brought their slightly twisted jump blues
and swing back into the pop spotlight for a minute back in the
‘80s with their zany and radio-friendly “Zoot Suit
Riot.” Perry had compiled a tough touring horn band with just
enough punk sensibility to be interesting. Here on the indulgent
“Susquehanna,” Perry, who never was the strongest singer
(more of a song stylist), takes a kind of lightweight approach to world
music. The closest he comes to accessible is “White Trash Toodle
Oo” that pretty quickly devolves into punk noise. We just
couldn’t find a foothold here to climb aboard.
2008, Space Ace.
Certified Organic, Pete Levin, Hammond B-3.
Hammond B3 monster Pete Levin – a session dude for the likes of
Paul Simon, Annie Lennox, Lenny White, John Scofield and Gil Evans,
serves up a funky 10-song CD, “Certified Organic” (wink,
wink) that’s powered by Levin originals, one by Jaco (“Teen
Town”), one by Prince (“The Question of U”), and the
Cole Porter chesnut, “Love for Sale.” On that cut his organ
tone is at its impeccably strongest yet supplest. He’s aided by
guitarist John Carrididi, the supremely and fluidly funky Harvie Sorgen
on drums (who’s drum sound is impeccably warm and room-like on
every cut), and Ernie Colon on percussion.
Levin spreads the guitar love around, using in addition to Carrididi,
Mike DeMicco, Joe Beck and Jesse Gress throughout. He slows the funk
down on his own “Patience,” a scorching piece that offers
ample room for his own keyboard insight and DeMicco’s guitar. He
shares the inventive Jaco melody in the verse of “Teen
Town” with Gress, with an inspired Erik Lawrence sax solo over
the top. It’s delicious romp for all. Beck gets his turn on
“Where Flamingos Fly,” a brooding minor-key ballad, and
turns in a swirling and complex guitar accompaniment that plays nicely
off Levin’s keys.
The whole project shines as basically an organ trio, with simple
augmentation from the guitar team and occasional Lawrence sax line. All
in all, if you love organ, this one should find its way into your
Songlines, Derek Trucks Band.
This young hotshot has proven himself to be of far more substance than
just a family member of Southern rockers the Allman Brothers Band.
Nephew of Allman drummer Butch Trucks, and member in good standing of
the perennially popular band, himself loves to stretch out his ample
slide-guitar and finger-picked chops on jazz, blues, world beat, and
much much more. His decade-old Derek Trucks Band is no slouch either. A
tight unit, they provide muscular backup for his musical forays. Though
he clearly inherited the fluid guitar style of Duane Allman, whose
career was tragically cut short at age 24, Trucks continues to push the
boundaries of his instrument. On his latest CD,
“Songlines,” he criss-crosses the world with a variety of
songs all imbued with a Southern sensibility. “This Sky”
floats dreamily on his soaring guitar. He sends up the soul classic
“Blind, Crippled and Crazy, absolutely pegging the funk meter.
He’s positively incendiary on “Revolution,” and gives
the Southern funky-strut treatment to “Crow Jane.” He
touches the African continent with a delightful guitar take in
“Mahjoun,” as well as going Moroccan on “Sahib Teri
Bandi – Maki Maki.”
This is a guitarist’s treat and will take you places you didn’t know a guitar could get to.
Clean Getaway, Curtis Salgado, vocals, harmonica.
Northwest soul vocalist Curtis Salgado is known primarily as a
bluesman, one who’s helped shape the blues scene in this neck of
the woods for well over two decades. In reality, Salgado is more
comfortable cooking up funky soul stew, which he does admirably on
“Clean Getaway,” his latest Shanachie release. While
staying with longtime producer Marlon McClain, Salgao tapped the
members of the Phantom Blues Band, a tight unit that’s backed up
everybody from Bonnie Raitt to Taj Mahal, with special help from New
Orleans keyboard legend Jon Cleary.
This is a joyful and buoyant project, with plenty of sterling
performances at every turn. Salgado, battling his way back from liver
cancer, is clearly having a great time. His voice is in good form,
especially on songs like “Both Sorry Over Nothin’,”
where he belts with the best of them, and his O.V. Wright gospel style
on “Who’s Lovin’ You?” The recording quality
throughout is appropriately analog, and well-mixed. We’re a
stickler for drum sound and this recording delivers. The only complaint
is that Salgado occasionally, in his interpretations, runs too close to
the original artist. Like in the case of “What’s Up With
That,” it’s clearly a tip o’ the pork-pie to Johnny
Guitar Watson, which is fine, but even the guitar solo is almost a
note-for-note knock-off the legendary Watson. But still, we’ll
take a well-rendered muscular stop-time shuffle any day of the week.
Salgado runs the gamut of emotions on this record, and handles them all with deep, soulful strength and clarity of purpose.