CD Reviews - September 2008
by George Fendel, Kyle
O'Brien, and Don Campbell
Live At The 1994 Monterey Jazz Festival, Shirley Horn, piano and vocals.
Fans of Shirley Horn will scoop up this previously unreleased gem in no
time flat. Horn, whose stunning voice and piano went largely
unappreciated until later in her life, holds the audience spellbound
with her trio of Charles Ables, bass, and Steve Williams, drums.
She’s in full flower here with such evergreens as
“Foolin’ Myself,” “The Look Of Love,”
“Nice And Easy,” “I’ve Got The World On A
String” and “Hard Hearted Hanna.” I can think
of no other singer who stretched lines on ballads quite like Shirley
Horn. She was always riveting on such tunes, and she feels the fever
(as does the audience) on “A Song For You,” “L.A.
Breakdown” and the exquisite “Here’s To Life,”
a song which she would later come to own. Shirley finishes with the
only instrumental selection of the set, Oscar Peterson’s vibrant
“Blues For Big Scotia.” This was Shirley Horn’s first
and only appearance at The Monterey Jazz Festival. And that’s
okay, because it’s hard to improve on perfection.
2008, Monterey Jazz Festival Records, 47:21.
The Odd Couple, Ron Kalina, chromatic harmonica, and Jim Self, tuba.
If you had told me that the combination of harmonica and tuba could
work for anything other than a novelty album, I would have thought
somebody had slipped something in your drink. But lo and behold, Ron
Kalina and Jim Self play it serious, and by golly, it works. Of course,
it’s wise to add to the mix three of the most sought after
musicians in Southern California: Larry Koonse, guitar; Tom Warrington,
bass; and Joe LaBarbera, drums. Among many highlights, I was delighted
to find Neal Hefti’s catchy theme to “The Odd
Couple”; alto sax maven Lanny Morgan’s line on “Just
Friends,” herein titled “Friends Again”; the rarely
heard crowd pleaser “I’m All Smiles”; a warm
rendition of Michel Legrand’s “You Must Believe In
Spring,” and a couple of Charlie Parker opuses,
“Confirmation” and “Donna Lee.” Trust me,
there’s no tongue planted firmly in cheek here. Just good,
dependable, straight down the middle jazz. Only instead of the
co-leaders being, say, trumpet and tenor, we meet here with those two
bastions of bebop, the harmonica and the tuba!
2008, Basset Hound Music, 55:17.
A Perfect Time, Janis Mann, vocals.
For her fifth CD, Janis Mann altered the usual plan a bit by honoring
no less than four of LA’s premier drummers: Peter Erskine, Paul
Kreibich, Joe LaBarbera and Roy McCurdy. Don’t worry, the drum
chores are all split up, with no more than one drummer per tune. Other
musicians on hand include the Clayton Brothers, John on bass and Jeff
on reeds; Chuck Berghoffer, also on bass; and the emerging piano giant,
Tamir Hendelman. Janis sings effortlessly and with perfect intonation
on a well-chosen menu of tunes. She begins with a faster than usual
“All My Tomorrows,” and then shines on Harry Warren’s
gem, “Summer Night.” Johnny Mandel’s “Quietly
There” is shimmering with the backdrop of Jeff Clayton’s
alto flute, and brother John’s arco intro is perfect on Bobby
Troup’s “Meaning Of The Blues.” And Mann is no
stranger to scat, as she and McCurdy skate through Leonard
Bernstein’s “Cool.” Other highlights include
“Someone To Light Up My Life,” “Love Walked
In,” “Just In Time” and a from the heart reading of
Matt Dennis’s “Everything Happens To Me.” Janis
Mann’s phrasing is meticulous, and she puts across a lyric in a
way that most other singers could only aspire to. This lady’s a
2008, Pancake Records, 79:06.
Compositionality, Dan Heck, guitar.
Some of you might remember Dan Heck as the talented guitarist in
Seattle’s Bebop And Destruction. Well, B&D went their
separate ways (amiably), and Dan went the furthest; now he’s
based in Florida. However, on this CD he reacquaints with a couple of
Seattle pals in Thomas Marriott on trumpet and Jose Martinez on drums.
Rounding out the quintet are Stuart Shelton on piano and Rick Doll on
bass. As the title suggests, the tunes are all Dan Heck originals, and
the guys get underway with a medium tempo blues line called “One
For Flo.” The tempo and the intensity pick up considerably on
Blade’s “Groove” while “Stand Pat” has a
nice down-home feeling. One can only wonder where the title
“Tommy’s Teeth” may have come from, but it has a
spirited sense of swing to it. Dan’s “Hit Tune” is a
mellow trip with a lightly Latin flavor and a delightful vehicle for
Marriott’s trumpet. “Blue Stone” is another blues,
but this time with a hint of gospel. Again, Marriott is relaxed and in
total control on trumpet. These and others show off Dan Heck’s
very solid, center of the groove writing. To say nothing of his warm,
always swinging guitar.
2008, Origin, 48:07.
What The World Needs Now, Five Play.
Five Play is a quintet created out of the all-female Diva Jazz
Orchestra. Led by drummer Shari Maricle, they open with Burt
Bacharach’s title tune, adding some sizzle to an otherwise tired
oldie from the land of pop. “I Want To Be Happy” is given a
rhythmic twist which will raise your eyebrows, and “Moon
Song” features the muted cornet of Jami Dauber in ‘Sugar
Blues’ style. Jerome Richardson’s “Groove
Merchant” is a gospel-tinged, feel-good tune, and in a complete
change of pace, is followed by Benny Goodman’s “Slipped
Disc.” It is, of course, a feature for Janelle Reichman’s
finely honed clarinet. On a soulful “Cry Me A River,”
Reichman continues on clarinet, but shares the spotlight with
Dauber’s trumpet. The trio, featuring the piano of Tomoko Ohno,
takes over on a swinging “I Could Have Danced All Night,”
and is followed by “Jo-House Blues,” an up tempo rouser
featuring Dauber’s Clark Terry-ish trumpet solo. A favorite
ballad of jazz musicians, “Old Folks,” is a delicacy for
bassist Noriko Ueda, and the program ends with Helen Reddy’s
anthem to womanhood, “I Am Woman.” In this well-balanced
and entertaining CD, Five Play makes a case as a group that needs to be
heard from again.
2008, Arbors, 58:35.
Here And Gone, David Sanborn, alto saxophone.
David Sanborn takes a shot at some legitimate music for a change, but
he just can’t get past his screechy, screamy saxophone sound.
Sanborn takes on music associated with Ray Charles, and that alone
could have been intriguing. The only two cuts that had any interest for
me were “St. Louis Blues” and “Basin Street
Blues.” Having said that, I could easily unearth a dozen
renditions of each of those classics that, simply put, at least do them
justice. “I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town”
features Eric Clapton on the vocal, I guess (because the notes
don’t tell me what it is that Clapton does!). Joss Stone, a
singer who can scream as loud as that chick on Jay Leno, tries to sound
cool on “I Believe To My Soul,” and Ray Charles-wannabe Sam
Moore tries hard on “I’ve Got News For You.” Not even
the presence of esteemed jazz players like Christian McBride, Russell
Malone, Lew Soloff and Wallace Roney can save Sanborn’s bacon.
What saddens me is the knowledge than Sanborn can play. But his
insistence on the big paycheck pretty much throughout his career is
frustrating. It seems he’s trapped in a maze of the
public’s pop expectations and can’t escape. And perhaps he
doesn’t wish to.
2008, Decca, 41:20.
Live At The Monterey Jazz Festival, 1958-1980, Cal Tjader, vibes.
It’s a real treat to hear the voice of Cal Tjader as he
introduces his group to a past-midnight audience at the 1958 Monterey
Jazz Festival. With clarinet bopper Buddy De Franco sitting in, Tjader
and company open with a nearly 14-minute romp through
“Summertime,” the only previously released selection on the
album. De Franco stays onstage for another 14-minute bop-drenched
treatment of Charlie Parker’s “Now’s The Time.”
Tjader gained great respect for his forays into Latin music, and the
set closes with energetic versons of Ray Bryant’s “Cubano
Chant” and Tjader’s “Tumbao.” Now fast forward
eighteen years to 1972, and waddaya know, Tjader’s still in the
Latin bag with a new cast of players on Dizzy’s Gillespie’s
classic, “Manteca.” After a distinctively Latinized version
of “Afro Blue” from the 1974 festival, the program ends
with two standards, from 1977 and 1990. Almost all of this music is
being heard for the first time (unless, of course you were in
attendance), and considering Tjader’s legacy in both Latin and
straightahead genres, this becomes an important addition to his
2008, Monterey Jazz Festival Records, 65:33.
It Amazes Me, Bob Mover, alto and tenor saxophones, vocals.
It seems to me that I’ve seen the name Bob Mover in the small
print of reed sections and in other supportive roles for many years.
Indeed this is only his second CD as a leader in over two decades. One
gets the idea that the tunes included here, mostly standards in the
jazz book, are things Mover loves to play. And why not surround oneself
with all-star colleagues in Kenny Barron (piano), Dennis Irwin (bass)
and Steve Williams (drums). The basic quartet is augmented on four
tunes by guitarist Reg Schwager. Those familiar with Bob Mover’s
reed prowess, will most likely be pleasantly surprised to hear how nice
a job he does on no less than six of the ten tunes presented here.
Among these standout vocals were riveting versions of Al Cohn and Dave
Frishberg’s “The Underdog” and Cy Coleman and Carolyn
Leigh’s rarely heard title tune, “It Amazes Me.”
Other standouts included a Serge Mahanovich delicacy that I remember
from Gerry Mulligan, “ Sometime Ago,” and Schwager’s
guitar sounds especially rich. There are lots more gems here. Mover,
both instrumentally and vocally, never forces the issue. Instead he
lets the music speak for itself. This is a wonderfully paced,
thoughtful recording date. Highly recommended!
2008, Zoho, 67:04.
Home, Kelley Johnson, vocals.
The thing you have to really admire about Kelley Johnson is her hip,
understated, real-deal jazz singer approach to her material. Combine
that with some solid accompaniment, and you have a keeper. Kelley
starts the proceedings with “Should’ve Been,” a
challenging ode to sorrow and regret written by Abbey Lincoln.
It’s followed by Irving Berlin’s rarely heard “Be
Careful, It’s My Heart.” The title tune is about loss and
disappointment, but hope remains as the singer returns. A couple of
theater tunes, “The Sweetest Sounds” and
“Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” are slightly offbeat but
nice on your ear. The latter is combined in a medley with another
expressive Abbey Lincoln creation called “Living Room.”
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “A Lovely Night,” at very
quick tempo, is a perfect vehicle for a jazz singer. The remainder of
the album moves from standards such as “Moon River” to
newer material like the easy-going “For An Hour,” or yet
another song of regret, Ivan Lins’ “Even You And I.”
Finally, there’s “Where Do You Start.” It’s
preceded by a poetic recitation by Johnson, and it’s a perfect
mood setter for the Mandel-Bergmann beauty which is approaching the
status of modern day standard. Johnson pulls off the entire album with
a little whimsy and a lot of passion. I think she’s something
2008, Sapphire Records, 59:32.
Counterpoint, John Stein, guitar.
It’ll only take the first couple bars of “Jordu” for
you to realize that John Stein is traveling straight down the
mainstream highway. Stein opts for a beautiful and bountiful guitar
sound. No wah-wah pedals, electronic effects or sampling here. As a
matter of fact, other than Stein’s guitar, the only electricity
here comes from the keyboards of Koichi Sato. He plays electric piano
and organ through most of the album, but he’s so steady, subtle
and in the middle of the groove, one hardly knows he’s there. The
album is well balanced between jazzy originals (including a lovely
waltz titled “Trois” and the intriguing
“Half-Whole Blues”) and standards (“Dindi,”
“Close Your Eyes”). Just listen, for example, to Stein tear
it up on “Close Your Eyes,” or take note of his command of
tempo on “So Danco Samba.” Or if it’s ballad
perfection you want, try Stein’s warm reading of “You
Don’t Know What Love Is.” I am convinced that modern guitar
heroes, guys with names like Burrell, Hall, Farlow, Kessel and
Bertoncini, rode in on the right train. And one time through this album
clearly indicates that John Stein has climbed aboard.
2008, Whaling City Sound, 53:59.
Nightcap, Marilyn Scott, vocals.
Perhaps you remember a review in last month’s Jazzscene of
Marilyn Scott’s latest CD, “Everytime We Say
Goodbye.” Well, here’s another outstanding effort from
Marilyn; one that shouldn’t be withheld from your consideration
simply because it dates back to 2004. Importantly, it’s still
available through www.marilynscott.com. As she did on the previous
disc, Scott once again takes on a thoughtful selection of tunes, this
time in a slightly more contemporary setting featuring George Duke on
piano and keyboards. The tunes are all familiar, but hardly overdone,
standards. Marilyn never forces a note, never goes for bombast, and
seems to innately understand the public’s expectations of a jazz
singer. As she so aptly puts it in the liner notes, “let Mother
Jazz lead the way.” If only more singers could wrap themselves
around that simple concept.
2004, Prana Entertainment, 39:02.
Live At The Monterey Jazz Festival, 1958-2007, Dave Brubeck, piano.
The 1958-2007 referred to in the title would suggest to some that this
is another of those compilation discs done and done again in order to
fill the coffers of the record company. Not so here, and I’ll
tell you why. With the exception of two tunes, none of this material
has ever been issued before. For extra measure, throw in nearly 40
minutes featuring either Paul Desmond or Gerry Mulligan that’s
new to your ears! It’s worth the price of admission, if for
nothing else, a 12-minute conversation between Brubeck and Desmond
called “Two Part Contention.” Desmond’s delicious
alto is also heard on “Someday My Prince Will Come” and, of
course, his deal maker, “Take Five.” Mulligan steps in for
two more tunes never before released, and the good news continues with
later Brubeck colleagues Bill Smith on clarinet and Bobby Militello on
alto sax. Brubeck, still playing as he approaches his 90’s, was a
Monterey mainstay, and hearing him once again with Desmond and Mulligan
is better than Ben & Jerry’s!
2008, Monterey Jazz Festival Records, 70:19.
Sausalito Summer, Court Mast, trumpet, flugelhorn, programming, keyboards.
This material has a sort of late Maynard Ferguson-Herbie Mann feel to
it. Sugar-coated pop jazz for the most part. The twelve originals have
more to offer and sound better than the pariah Madison Avenue calls
smooth jazz, but it’s a kissin’ cousin. I’d bet the
mortgage that Mast can play music of more substance, but on this
outing, it’s pretty much all cotton candy.
2008, Self-produced, 41:50.
Jazza Mostaza, Funky Mustard.
Funky Mustard is a Houston-based nonet specializing in guitar led
electronics. Their sound isn’t exactly smooth jazz, nor is it
anything close to the center of the jazz highway. I found them, more
than anything else, to be rather mundane sounding, without much real
definition from one tune to another. Houston is a nice city. I’d
recommend that Funky Mustard stay there.
2008, Moosepie Records.
Live At The 1972 Monterey Jazz Festival, Art Blakey & The Giants of Jazz,
Here is a previously un-issued gathering of all-time jazz greats on one
stage. The group lasted barely two years, with all kinds of obligations
causing its eventual breakup. But before that occurred, giants indeed
roamed the earth, at least in Monterey, in 1972. We need not go into
detail about the individual songs here. Instead let’s name the
players: Sonny Stitt, Clark Terry, Roy Eldridge, Kai Winding,
Thelonious Monk, Al McKibbon and Art Blakey. Does that catch your
attention? I thought so. And well it should!
2008, Monterey Jazz Festival Records, 59:25.
View So Tender: Wonder Revisited, Volume Two, Joe Gilman, piano.
Though Gilman’s trio swings with authority, I’m not
convinced that Stevie Wonder’s music has solidified itself in the
jazz pantheon … at least not enough to be saluted when dozens of
jazz composers await similar recognition. Every tune played here is
probably well known in the pop world. I didn’t know a single one,
but I must admit I was considerably more impressed with Wonder’s
often lilting melody lines than I thought I would be. But how about
recognizing the writing of Oliver Nelson or Tadd Dameron; perhaps
Benny Golson or Bill Holman; or maybe Tom McIntosh, Earl Zindars or Lee
Morgan? Get my point?
2008, Capri, 62:53.
Doug Hamilton Jazz Band.
Doug Hamilton’s story is amazing in that he didn’t begin
playing trombone until age 40. He was, you see, busy being head of
surgery for two hospitals! So it was doctor by day and jazz
student by night! I might say, right off the bat, that
you’re going to enjoy these well-loved standards in this ensemble
setting. From “By Myself” to “Up Jumped
Spring”; from “Oleo” to “That’s
All”; or “Very Early” to “My Funny
Valentine.” Hamilton’s arranging is crisp as a new dollar
bill, and he allows generous solo space for his small big band.
Everyone digs in and grooves with authority, making this high-spirited
session an exercise in pure joy.
2008, OA2 Records, 78:33.
Blauklang (Bluesounds), Vince Mendoza, composer, conductor.
The prevailing idea here is a complete musical pallet of the blues.
With a string quartet added to an 11-piece jazz orchestra, it succeeds
on most accounts. The only two compositions not contributed by Mendoza
are Miles Davis’ “All Blues” and Gil Evans’
“Blues For Pablo.” Mendoza’s suite,
“Bluesounds” (in six movements) conveys a very
Miles/Evans-like feeling. This is mostly very introspective music, with
layer upon layer of sadness. But that’s the essence of the blues,
right? It’s definitely not for your Uncle Ned who dug the
2008, Act Music, 63:36.
Live At The 1972 Monterey Jazz Festival, Jimmy Witherspoon, vocals.
On this previously unreleased (all but one cut) set from the Monterey
Festival stage, “Spoon” sounds as great as ever. What
doesn’t quite measure up to his previous Monterey performances,
where he shared the bandstand with jazz stars Ben Webster and Gerry
Mulligan, is the presence of Robben Ford’s guitar. It’s a
bluesy guitar, to be sure. But to my ear, it’s dangerously close
to a rock sound, and that, of course, doesn’t cut it for me.
Still, Spoon digs deep, and the 1972 audience loved it.
2008, Monterey Jazz Festival Records, 45:27.
by Kyle O'Brien
Woot, Garaj Mahal.
Remember when fusion jazz was quality music -- a hybrid of jazz, funk
and rock that made the music world wonder what was happening ... in a
good way? If so, you’re not alone. Fusion slowly morphed into
contemporary jazz, then to an even duller hybrid often derided as
“elevator jazz.” If you miss the days of Return to Forever,
Weather Report and the like, then you’ll love Garaj Mahal. This
isn’t a new group, having formed in 2000, but they continue to
bring the retro funky vibe back in new and innovative ways. Comprised
of bassist Kai Eckhardt, guitarist Fareed Haque, drummer Alan Hertz and
keyboardist Eric Levy, this group is in the pocket consistently. They
pull out the backbeat rhythms like they were dipping into a 1972
recording session, with Levy’s sonic explorations on synth and
electronic keyboards, Haque’s rhythmic playing and
Eckhardt’s exceptional bass work. But they update their sound
with shifting time signatures, as on “Pundit-Ji,” which
sounds like it could have been part of a Frank Zappa album, and
“Corner Peace,” which has plenty of Middle Eastern
influences in its decidedly American folksiness. And, dare we say,
there’s even some Hebrew goodness, on the lighthearted
“Ishmael and Isaac.” What’s not to like?
2008, Owl Studios, 72 minutes.
Proverbs for Sam, Bill Cole’s Untempered Ensemble.
I’m always skeptical when I see didgeridoo on an album unless
it’s from an aboriginal group. The droning instrument rarely fits
in well in the context of a modern sound. But since this disc was a
tribute to a member of the band that had died, I decided to give it a
listen. Luckily the didgeridoo isn’t front and center, and the
disc is an exercise in strangeness and texture. Sam is Sam Furnace,
saxophonist and flutist and part of multi-instrumentalist Cole’s
ensemble. He died in 2004, and this release is from his last recorded
performance. If you’re a fan of Anthony Braxton and chaos
theories, you might enjoy this. It’s a mash of non-jazz and
western instruments: Chinese sona, Ghanaian flute, baritone horn,
saxophone, diddly bow and more. It’s influenced by world music
and jazz, avant garde leanings and folk traditions. If that all sounds
like a little much, it is. But there’s no denying that it’s
interesting and, from what I can tell, well executed. Furnace is on
full display, his attacking saxophone one of the few defining threads.
Other than that, this is odd. Only four tracks mean that the
explorations stretch out often too long, as on “If a Blacksmith
Continues to Strike an Iron at One Point, He Must Have a Reason”
(see, even the titles are long), where the extensive work-cry yelping
gets highly annoying. But if you’re into musical excavation, this
might be for you.
2008, Boxholder Records, 74 minutes.
High Wall: Real Life Film Noir, Larry Vuckovich Trio.
Vuckovich is a respected pianist, and this taut trio disc shows why.
The interplay between the players, including a rotating cast of bass
master Larry Grenadier, fellow bassist Paul Keller, and drummers Eddie
Marshall and Chuck McPherson, is inspiring. When the lineup changes,
the action never loses intensity. From the opening of the intense
“Afro 6/8 Minor Blues,” to the closing flourishes of
“Locomotion,” the tension never lets up. This trio, which
also includes the welcome addition of percussionist Hector Lugo, feels
bigger than its parts. Vuvkovich pushes forward and keeps energy high.
From his own tunes, like the pretty ballad, “View From Telegraph
Hill,” to the smartly picked covers -- Dizzy Gillespie’s
“Ow!” and Barry Harris’s Latin-meets-swing
“Lolita” -- this is a smart album, and the trio simply gels
from note one. The theme is film noir, and all selections capture the
feeling. I could watch more of this movie.
2008, Tetrachord Music, 70 minutes.
El Mas Alla, Steven Kroon.
I had never heard of percussionist Steven Kroon before this disc, but
apparently he has backed a few known names, including Bette Midler, the
Temptations, Aretha Franklin and Gary Bartz. This Spanish Harlem native
is a polished player, and this disc shows that he can lead a band as
well. The rhythm is up front throughout, with Kroon leading the charge.
That said, this isn’t the most original of Latin jazz albums.
There’s fine playing all around, and Kroon’s tunes are just
as good as you’ll hear from a Poncho Sanchez or the like, but
it’s not groundbreaking. Not that it needs to be. Kroon and his
tight band tackle the pan-American workload with precision, and flutist
Craig Rivers shines on his melodic opportunities. Freddy Cole makes a
nice appearance on vocals, his dusky voice melting the melody on
“I Wish You Love,” a great track but one that doesn’t
quite fit the album’s overall vibe. The Jaco Pastorius tune,
“Used to Be a Cha Cha,” fits better and is the kind of tune
that makes this a solid Latin jazz album.
2008, Kroonatune Records, 59 minutes.
A Ride to the Other Side, Derrick Gardner and the Jazz Prophets.
Trumpeter Gardner was obviously inspired by the great soul jazz groups
of the ‘60s. His funky bop group takes a retro approach to jazz
but doesn’t get bogged down in the era. His band is vibrant,
updated and well versed in the style. The opening track, “Funky
Straight,” sounds like it could have been on a Lee Morgan disc: a
soulful backbeat combined with bop sensibilities. The title track
swings in traditional hard bop fashion, and Gardner blows a mean solo
after a multi-horn melodic attack. But they know subtlety too, as they
display on the medium swinger, “Mac Daddy Grip,” which has
an understated melody. Pianist Anthony Wonsey is bedrock with his
sharp, pointed comping, letting soloists like Gardner, trombonist
Vincent Gardner and saxophonist Rob Dixon explore the chords. Gardner,
who has played with the Harry Connick Jr. big band and Count Basie,
obviously has a knack for big sounds and this delivers, combining the
best elements of soul jazz with a stylized uptake.
2008, Owl Studios, 68 minutes.
Sacred Machines, Glenn White.
New York is the nexus of the jazz universe, so it’s no surprise
that talented guys from all over the country, like Phoenix native Glenn
White, end up there. It gives them a chance to share their talents with
like minds. Sometimes, though, that can lead to a creative sameness.
Not saying that this disc is like any other-- indeed White is a
talented and original player-- but the new wave of jazz adventure
sounds a bit like the older wave of jazz adventure. Meandering chord
changes, light Latin rhythms and non-memorable melodies are all
products of this evolution of jazz. And frankly, it’s not as
interesting as it could be. Even though White is experimenting with
time changes and pushing chordal boundaries, the sound is just a bit
too unadventurous. It’s not for a lack of musicianship; White is
a fine player, and his band is solid, including flutist Jamie Baum,
it’s just that it doesn’t lift itself above the fray.
Originality is only groundbreaking if it truly has something to say.
This searches quite a bit but it ultimately doesn’t go deep
2008, OA2 Records, 42 minutes.
The Nature of the Beat, Wayne Wallace.
Wallace is a trombone player in demand, so when he does his own
records, there’s reason to listen. This, according to a press
release, is the second in a trilogy, bringing together three genres
from the Americas -- jazz, Latin jazz and R&B. It delivers a punch
from the opening montunos on the spicy “Mis Amigos,” which
gets an extra kick with lines by a large vocal group. Wallace is a
solid songwriter, but he’s a better arranger, as the Latin take
on Gerry Mulligan’s “Jeru,” proves. He keeps it
subtle but full, with rich horn arrangements and a great
jazz-meets-Latin feel. He also takes Earth, Wind & Fire to the
Latin side, with a cover of “Serpentine Fire” that takes it
to a new level. Unfortunately, the large vocal group is a little too
in-your-face here, but it’s still a quality cover. The vocals are
better on the more Latin numbers, where they pull the music even
higher. Wallace is an inspiring player as well, as his soaring melody
on “Besame Mucho” proves. The Latin version of
“Unchain My Heart” is a perfect storm of Wallace’s
three genres; a searing Latin beat over R&B funky vocals with jazz
pads by the horn section. Overall, a fun and inspired album.
2008, Patois Records, 60 minutes.
Panama Suite, Danilo Perez Big Band.
Perez is already a big name in jazz, so his efforts to bring jazz to
Panama, as with the Panama Jazz Festival which he founded, are
respected and worthy. This ambitious disc combines elements of
Panamanian musical traditions with the smart American jazz traditions
Perez has played for years. It has Perez’s trademark intensity,
and the band him lets him realize his vision of a jazzy Panama. The
tunes have a Latin feel, but the chords are all jazz, and they are full
bodied. Sadly, this disc only lasts three tracks (movements). So just
when you’re into it, as the female vocal group sings on
“The Celebration,” it’s over. But for 15 minutes,
it’s a gem.
2008, Berklee College of Music, 15 minutes.
View So Tender: Wonder Revisited, Joe Gilman Trio.
Gilman is into tribute albums, having already done two for Dave Brubeck
and one for Stevie Wonder. So it’s fitting that he should return
to the well on the Wonder front. But one might think one straight-ahead
jazz trio tribute to an R&B songwriter and singer would be enough.
Well, it’s not for Gilman, a solid Bay Area pianist. This is a
good vehicle to reinterpret Wonder’s classic melodies, but it
also downgrades the tunes from soul and R&B to light trio jazz. Not
that it’s bad, it’s just that ... well, Joe, write some of
your own tunes. Still, this is a good dinner jazz disc, with tunes like
“Whereabouts” and “Another Star” getting soft
jazz and bop treatments, respectively. And the inclusion of the rarely
heard “Contusion” as a hard bop swinger is an inspired
take. But ultimately this disc is too lean to make a huge impact via
Wonder’s music. Good yes, but not thrilling.
2007, Capri Records, 60 minutes.
Unsaid, Undone, Mosaic.
This group has been together for years, but this is the first time
they’ve recorded their own music. It’s not a bad debut,
though the sound is a bit thick. They could handle pulling back the
reins on the percussion, as it can come across as heavy at times; for
instance, on “Seconds Out,” you’re waiting for the
bridge to end so the band can tighten up. Still, solid musicianship is
well on display here. Pianist Ned Judy, who wrote several of the
tracks, leads by chordal example, while saxophonist Matt Belzer conveys
the often intense melodies with energy and fluidity. When things go
Latin, as on “Speak Down,” it can get muddy. Drummer Mark
Merella and percussionist David Font get whipped into a frenzy, and
they overpower the rest of the group. But when they pull it back,
it’s fine, as on the Wayne Shorter tune,
“Sightseeing,” which has precision and bop goodness. Part
of the messiness is the mix, which is layered in reverb to the point of
annoyance. Get this group back into the studio with a new producer and
they could get great results.
2008, Snack Records, 52 minutes.
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, instead 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
within its bounds. It's silly at times, always experimental, and not
for the squeamish. But it can be fun if you keep an open mind.
2008, Monktail Records, 59.40.
Reviews by Don Campbell
Mississippi Number One, Eden Brent.
For all its rehash and re-creationist offerings, the modern blues scene
occasionally drops a bomb on us. This month’s rare find is blues
pianist and vocalist Eden Brent. And what is even more delicious, she
manages to deftly combine old blues, new interpretations of old blues
and even some heavily jazz-tinged pieces that will jumpstart any
She opens with a song penned by her mother, Carole Brent, who passed
away in 2006, called “Mississippi Flatland Blues,” a
rollicking good-time jump blues in stop-time. It is a great
introduction to not only her superb piano chops, but her sometimes
breathy, sometimes edgy and cutting vocals. She rolls with a strong
left hand and a crispy right to great effect. She’s clearly done
Brent serves up six original cuts on the 15-song project, three by her
mom (“Love Me Till Dawn” and “Close the Door,”
plus the aforementioned opener), and gems by those Gershwin brothers,
Amos Milburn, W.C. Handy and others. She had a firm hand on straight
ahead barrelhouse blues, roadhouse rockers, ragtime, ballads,
front-porch pickin’, and more. Brent pulls up sweet and nasty on
her solo piano and voice take on “Darkness on the Delta”,
and her cut on the Gershwin’s “The Man I Love,” which
has been done nearly to death is breathtakingly beautiful.
Can’t tell you what a delight it is to find someone like Brent. It gives the genre hope.
2008, Yellow Dog Records, 57:19
Simply Grand, Irma Thomas.
I’ll be honest. New Orleans soul singer Irma Thomas could sing
the phone book and I’d be enraptured. A long and storied
performer, Thomas has enjoyed many decades as New Orleans’
premier singer. The years may be taking a tiny toll on her supple and
expressive voice, but on her new Rounder recording “Simply
Grand,” she’s still got more soul than any ten other
singers of her ilk.
On this 14-song outing, she surrounds herself with twelve of the most
accomplished roots pianists of our time, including Marcia Ball, New
Orleans greats Henry Butler, Jon Cleary, favorite sidekick David
Torkanowsky and the inimitable Dr. John. Plus Davell Crawford, poster
Norah Jones, jazz legend Ellis Marsalis, Tom McDermott, David Egan,
John Medeski, and Randy Newman
Needle-drop anywhere on the disc and you’ll find a moving
rendition beautifully executed and heartrendingly performed. Thomas
opens with John Fogerty’s “River is Waiting,” with
virtuoso Henry Butler on the bench. She moves through “If I Had
Any Sense I’d Go Back Home,” with Dr. John on keys. She
slips into an Afro-Caribbean mode with “Too Much Thinking,”
a lilting New Orleans take with Cleary. Jam band fans of Medeski,
Martin and Wood, will dig “Somebody Told You,” with John
Medeski on the keys, waxing second-line and Fess-like. She touches jazz
with Ellis Marsalis on sweet piano on “This Bitter Earth,”
a tender torchy ballad.
There are no weak points on this recording, hats off to Rounder’s
Scott Billington, who produced the project. Oh, to have been the fly on
the wall at each of the twelve sessions for this one.
2008, Rounder, 55:24
Two Men with the Blues, Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis.
This little project has nutty written all over it. Take a country music
legend and noted musical maverick and put him on a stage with one
jazz’s finest instrumentalists. We’re talking Willie Nelson
and Wynton Marsalis. Yeah, I know. But if you know just a couple of
things about either player, this makes a cool kind of sense. Nelson,
you may be surprised to know, loves and emulates the guitar stylings of
Django Reinhart. If you listen closely to Willie’s solo outings
on the nylon-string guitar, you’ll quickly make the connection.
Add to that his love of melody, and you’ll quickly see that this
forum, the blues, with a jazz trumpeter of Marsalis’ depth,
breadth and finesse, makes perfect sense.
OK, and Willie’s love to shake up the norm goes without saying.
Marsalis has always had big ears and a sense of adventure. Aside from
being one of the most eloquent speakers on jazz and American music, and
his predilection for educating the unknowledgeable about music, this
partnership is brilliant.
Born of a two-night stand in January 2007 at Jazz at Lincoln Center,
the pair covers some dusty but intriguing nuggets. “Bright Lights
Big City” is a slick urban shuffle with Willie’s earthy
warble and unique phrasing. “Nightlife” gets the smoky jazz
lounge treatment with Wynton’s stunningly pugnacious trumpet. The
pair take on “Caledonia,” a song which by most accounts
doesn’t need redoing. That’s true here too, but Willie gets
twelve bars and makes the most of them on his gut-string guitar. Even
“Stardust” sounds dreamily timeless in the hands of these
two, as does “Basin Street Blues” and “Georgia on My
Mind”. “Rainy Day Blues” gets the big-band
treatment to nice effect, but lacks a bit of dynamics. “My
Bucket’s Got a Hole In It” wants to be a New Orleans
second-line tune, but Willie has trouble pulling it off. The Dixieland
feel is more than competent in Marsalis’ hands, but the vocals
All in all, this is one for collectors of either musician’s fan
camp, and a lovely slice of American music in the hands of masters. Not
perfect, but then neither is America.
2008, Blue Note Records, 53:27
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.