CD Reviews - November 2008
by George Fendel, and Kyle
On The Radio: Live 1956-57, Dave Brubeck, piano, Paul Desmond, alto sax.
Acrobat Music is a new label devoted extensively to radio broadcast material by outstanding artists. Twelve of the fifteen tunes included here were recorded live at New York’s Basin Street Jazz Club in 1956. The remaining three were played at The Blue Note in Chicago, 1957. They all arrive on your speaker system complete with announcer introductions and surprisingly good sound quality. Liner notes are extensive and well written, and there are period photos in each release. Most Brubeck fans treasure his work with Paul Desmond as his very best, so this “new to your ears” material is prized indeed. Tunes include DB staples such as “Stardust,” “In Your Own Sweet Way,” “The Trolley Song,” “All The Things You Are,” “The Song Is You,” and a number of choices distinctly NOT associated with Brubeck. This was the real early quartet, with Norman Bates on bass. Eugene Wright would arrive just a bit later. But for me, the presence of Paul Desmond is the hands down game winner.
Acrobat Music, 2008.
Lifeline, Deborah Latz, vocals.
It seems that among all the “okay” singers whose CDs are sent to Jazzscene for review, there’s one or two which step to the head of the line every month. Such a singer is Deborah Latz. She is one of those relatively few singers who expresses the emotion of the lyric with style and sensitivity. As an example, most singers start an album with an explosive up tempo grabber. Latz leads off with the French lyric to “Autumn Leaves,” strictly ballad style. And does she ever grab your attention! Other passionate items include “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” “Don’t Explain,” “How Deep Is The Ocean,” “Waltz For Debby” and even “La Vie En Rose,” which brings back the French touch to end the performance. Latz is equally impressive on medium swingers like “Witchcraft,” “Make Someone Happy” and “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.” Her trio, led by Daniela Schachter on piano, is warm to the task, and tenor sax man Joel Frahm makes a couple guest appearances. No trickery here. Just tasteful, straight-ahead, gimmick-free singing. Just the way you like it! Give her a shout out at www.deborahlatz.com.
June Moon Productions, 2008, 59:54.
For Kenny Wheeler, Don Thompson, piano and vibes.
Don Thompson must be one of those chameleons of jazz. You know, perfectly adaptable to swing, bop, avant, you name it. He also plays a bevy of instruments, but on this CD, he “limits” himself to piano and vibes. Thompson is a great admirer of pianist and composer Kenny Wheeler, whom he thinks of as today’s Duke Ellington. Hence the album title. Thompson and friends (Phil Dwyer, piano and saxophones; Jim Vivian, bass; Terry Clarke, drums) get things underway with “Birdbath,” a rip roaring, bop-infused salute to Charlie Parker. “K.T.T.,” which means Kenny Type Tune is much more in the serene, lyrical bag; and “Moonwalk” puts Thompson’s elegant piano on display along with Dwyer’s lyrical soprano sax. A very intricate, challenging melody line is no problem for these players on “For Kenny Wheeler.” “Days Gone By” is a wistful entry by another Canadian jazz mainstay, Moe Koffman. These and several additional Thompson creations give all of his band mates a chance to flex their solo musculature. It ends up as an album with, not surprisingly, a little swing, a little bop and a little avant. Which, of course, raises the question, what will Don Thompson on his next recording?!
Sackville. 2008, 65:38.
Four Jokers In The Pack, Echoes Of Swing.
Echoes Of Swing is celebrating its tenth year together, and during that time, the group has received high acclaim throughout Europe. As their name makes clear, this quartet specializes in the small group swing which helped define the jazz of the twenties and thirties. Some of the tunes date back to that era, like “Royal Garden Blues,” “June In January” and “I’ll Get By.” The grand master, Duke Ellington, is nicely represented here with “Dancers In Love” and “Conga Brava.” And who can ever mention Ellington without also giving recognition to Billy Strayhorn, whose composition, “Lament For Javanette” is also on the bill. There’s even a tip of the hat to Billie Holiday in the lovely ballad, “Some Other Spring.” The quartet is comprised of Colin T. Dawson, trumpet and vocals; Chris Hopkins, alto sax; Bernd Lhotzky, piano; and Oliver Mewes, drums. The remainder of the tunes, 17 in all, were contributed by band members and other period writers. It is imperative that the music from this rich period of jazz history be kept alive and accessible to both aficionados and students of the music. Echoes Of Swing is filling that niche with abundant talent, dignity and superb musicianship. More info at www.jazz-network.com.
Self-produced, 2008, 55:23.
Broadcast Sessions, 1956-1959, Miles Davis, trumpet.
For me, this period was part of the golden age of modern jazz. Consider this group. Between 1956 and 1959, Miles Davis employed three of the premier jazz pianists of all time, Bill Evans, Red Garland and Wynton Kelly. To say nothing, of course, of John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley and Gerry Mulligan, all of whom are heard here. These ten tracks were all recorded live at various locations in New York and Washington, most of them over the Mutual Radio Network. The tunes were all Miles Davis staples of the era, and each one is a classic. You’ve heard ‘em all, includoing “Four,” “Walkin,” “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “Bag”s Groove” and “What Is This Thing Called Love.” But on this recording, as on the others reviewed in this series, you are treated additionally to the patter of the announcers and the real feel, the ambiance or the intimacy of these night spots. Unlike many broadcast recordings, the sound quality is excellent, considering the surroundings. Miles Davis took the music to various places throughout his career. But I submit to you that these years were some of his most creative.
To Al And Zoot, With Love, Lew Del Gatto and Bob Keller, tenor saxophones.
Few could possibly argue the claim that Al Cohn and Zoot Sims were two of the most relentlessly swinging tenor cats of all time. And tenor men Del Gatto and Keller take on a Zoot ‘n Al Songbook with gusto! Cohn was the easily the more prolific composer of the two, and he is represented here with “Haley’s Comet,” “The Wailing Boat,” and others, all of them standbys from the earlier part of his career. Zoot, along with Gerry Mulligan, wrote an everlasting swinger called “Red Door.” Portlanders may know it as “Zoot Walks In” because of the lyric provided by Portland’s Dave Frishberg. Indeed, it was Dave who played with Zoot and Al back in 1960s New York. And so it’s fitting that Dave’s tune, “Saratoga Hunch,” is included in the set. The CD begins with “Doodle Oodle,” one of those swinging lines you know when you hear it, and continues with Gary McFarland’s wonderfully crafted “Blue Hodge.” A couple of standards complete the quintet’s effervescent tribute to two timeless heroes of jazz.
220 Music Corp., 2008, 66:01.
The Music Of Irving Berlin, John Bunch, piano.
At The Otter Crest Jazz Weekend, host Jim Brown always introduced the pianist as “gentleman John Bunch.” And to a tee, that describes John Bunch, the man and John Bunch, the pianist. You see, there’s a gentle, elegant touch which, inspired by such players as Teddy Wilson and Hank Jones, John Bunch has mastered. Over the years, he’s made dozens of albums, and each one is a joy and a treasure. This time around, Bunch gives us an Irving Berlin menu which includes such timeless entries as “How Deep Is The Ocean,” “What’ll I Do,” and more than half dozen more. Joining Bunch on this Berlin-Fest is Frank Vignola, guitar; John Webber, bass; and, guesting on six selections, the inimitable Frank Wess on flute. Bunch never goes for the jugular. His musical byword would seem to be “treat it with respect.” As a gentleman would always do.
Arbors, 2008, 74:28.
On The Radio, Frank Sinatra, vocals.
Sinatra collectors will scoop this one up in a hurry, as Frank powers it up on some Lucky Strike “Lite-Up Time” radio shows from 1949 and 1950. While Jazzscene certainly discourages you from lighting up, Sinatra lights up his adoring young audience with eighteen tunes, both familiar (“All Of Me,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Body And Soul” and lots more) and very obscure (“Maybe It’s Because,” “There’s Yes Yes In Your Eyes,” etc.) You’ll also get a kick our Frank’s patter with the audience and his fellow musicians. A little dated and corny sometimes, but this material, understand, is nearly 60 years old! Which brings us to the sound quality of this recording. All of this material has been re-mastered, obviously with great care. And as a result, you get surprisingly good sound. Not today’s standard, of course, but pretty darn good nonetheless. But this is really all about Frankie. The bloom had faded from the rose in 1950 (but would return permanently with “From Here To Eternity” in 1952), but you wouldn’t know it from the screams of Sinatra’s fanatic young listeners. There will never be another Sinatra, and these new recordings find him in fine fettle.
Sunday At The Village Vanguard, Bill Evans, piano.
When Concord bought the Fantasy labels some years ago, they came into one of the most glorious treasure troves in jazz history. Think for a moment about label names like Prestige, Riverside, Milestone, Galaxy and more. That’s what Concord got, when, in essence, David bought Goliath. Hard to understand why Concord didn’t immediately take advantage of its possession of these treasures, but it’s taken some time for them to finally issue what they’re calling the Keepnews Collection (for jazz producer Orin Keepnews). Among the early reissues is this one, an etched in stone classic in anyone’s collection. Bill Evans’ lyrical genius was still evolving at the time of these 1961 recordings, which feature the great Scott La Faro on bass and Paul Motian on drums. Four of the six tunes are examined on alternate tracks. Bill Evans was the riveting romantic, and this trio may have been his most brilliant. This is, without a doubt, a recording to savor.
Concord (originally Riverside). 2008, 68:19.
Edmonton Festival, ’76, Paul Desmond, alto sax.
Can it be true? Well, it is! Here’s an entire hour of previously unreleased Paul Desmond. And it’s beautifully recorded to boot! This is what Desmond called his Canadian Quartet with Ed Bickert, guitar; Don Thompson, bass; and Jerry Fuller, drums. You’re going to find that this group recorded pretty much these same tunes on other late-in-life Desmond albums. Still, it’s a great thrill to uncover new Paul Desmond material. Each of the six tunes covered here either flirts with or exceeds the ten minute mark, allowing all participants to make complete musical statements. But make no mistake, this is Desmond’s gig, and the Edmonton audience ate it up. Desmond would sound, well, like Desmond if he played the Vernonia phone directory, but just so you know, the menu here includes “Just Squeeze Me,” “Darn That Dream,” “Wave,” “Someday My Prince Will Come”, of course, one more journey through “Take Five.” The sixteen-page booklet accompanying this disc includes a fascinating interview with PD which occurred just after the performance. One caution: take a deep breath because you’re going to have to shell out around $23 for this CD. For Desmond fans, it’s well worth it.
Gambit Records, 2008, 61:23.
More To Come, Jonathan Voltzok, trombone.
A newcomer on the scene, Israel born Jonathan Voltzok delivers the hard bop message with a lyricism rarely heard among trombone players, and his pinpoint control will tantalize you. Voltzok’s quartet features the sizzling piano of Aaron Goldberg, and a couple of high flyers, Slide Hampton and Antonio Hart, make guest appearances. Voltzok wisely chooses to split the program between classics like “Con Alma,” “‘Round Midnight,” “Opus de Funk” and “Shawnuff,” and a variety of well written, swinging originals. A very impressive debut recording!
Kol Yo Records, 2008, 64:34.
Crossings, The Russ Freeman Project.
Those of you who acquired “Remembering Russ,” the CD reviewed a few months ago, will want to pick this one up as well. Crossings was actually the initial recording by The Russ Freeman Project, and it too puts Russ Freeman’s memorable compositions in the capable hands of a big band led by arranger Nathan Tanouye. Surely you’ll remember some of the tunes from Russ’s association with Chet Baker, including “Maid In Mexico,” “Bea’s Flat,” “Russ Job,” and perhaps his greatest hit, “The Wind.” Freeman lent a mighty hand to the West Coast jazz sound. His music deserves to remain out there for us to enjoy.
Peacock Entertainment, 2008, 60:15, www.peacockent.com
Across The Crystal Sea, Danilo Perez, piano.
It seems to me that every time arranger Claus Ogerman puts his stamp on a jazz project, it works to perfection. This time it’s the trio of Danilo Perez with Christian McBride, bass, and Lewis Nash, drums, augmented with some additional, but subtle, percussion. The compositions, mostly original, are beautifully suited to the string sections that Ogerman has always earned high praise in leading. Cassandra Wilson contributes two flawless vocals on the only standards on the album, “Lazy Afternoon” and “All Of A Sudden My Heart Sings.” This is beautiful, life-affirming balladry from the first note to the last.
EmArcy, 2008, 57:44.
Take Me Anywhere, Marcus Goldhaber, vocals.
If you remember Chet Baker’s silvery vocals from early in his career, or if nowadays, you lean toward the singing of Jim Ferguson or John Proulx, you’re going to really go for Marcus Gooldhaber. His no-frills style might even be likened to a male version of Meredith d’Ambrosio. With the Jon Davis trio providing sterling support, Goldhaber impresses on evergreens like “No Moon At All,” “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” “My Ship,” and even the old warhorse, “With Plenty Of Money And You.” Equally compelling is the collaboration between Goldhaber and Davis on several clever originals. And all this just when you thought that good male singers were an endangered species. Check him out at www.marcusgoldhaber.com
Fallen Apple Records, 2008, 75:11.
2 Grover With Love, Jason Miles, saxophones.
Grover Washington, Jr. was a frustration. We all knew he could really play, and on occasion, he did. But most of the time, he made forgettable records like this; loaded with burping electric basses, boring, unchanging percussion, and unending electronic gizmos. In my world, synthesizers don’t rule. Records like this eventually end up in the bargain bin. But even there, they’re no bargain.
Koch Records, 2008.
Live At The Jazz Standard, Volume 2, Dena Derose, piano and vocals.
Dena Derose has really grown on me over the last few years. I think she improves with each new album, and this one scores very high marks. Derose keeps the vocals subtle, understated, and, if you will, jazzy. Her piano work is always tasty and hip, and on this CD, she’s joined by bassist Martin Wind and drummer Matt Wilson. Her tune selection couldn’t be better with such winners as “When Lights Are Low,” “Detour Ahead,” “In Your Own Sweet Way” and “Laughing At Life,” among others. Check her out. She’s the real deal.
MaxJazz, 2008, 62:25.
The Nature Of Things, Mike Turk, harmonica.
Well, let’s see … first there was Toots Thielemans. Then Hendrik Meurkens. Now I’d suggest that you meet Mike Turk, the new kid on the jazz harmonica block. In a trio setting of Jon Wheatley on six and seven string guitars and Marshall Wood on bass, Turk keeps it close to the vest on a menu nicely mixing the familiar and the obscure. Most importantly, he phrases and swings with a strong jazz presence, and his trio mates turn in well-constructed solos. Tunes include “East Of The Sun,” “Mood Indigo,” “Con Alma”; an upbeat line by nearly forgotten pianist, Elmo Hope, called “Bella Rosa”; and the surprise of the set, Johnny Mandel’s dark and moody “I Want To Live.”
Sandwich Music, 2008, 61:12.
Above The Clouds, Amina Figarova, piano.
On a program of all original music, Figarova seems to cover all the bases; from the lyrical and almost wispy title tune to some very contemporary, challenging material (sometimes a little too funky for me). Figarova’s Dutch collection of musicians (a “small” big band with nine players) features some crackling good solo work, including that of the pianist herself. Of particular interest was the trumpet/flugelhorn player Nico Schepers on “Nico’s Dream”; a well-performed ensemble passage on “Summer Rain”; and the strong melodic statement of “Sailing Through The Icy Waters.”
Munich Records, 2008, 64:12.
Live From Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, The Diva Jazz Orchestra.
The concept of an “all-girl” (if you’ll excuse the sexist expression) orchestra is not a new one. All-female bands have occasionally dotted the landscape for decades. And if there’s once place on the face of the earth where such an organization could thrive, it’s gotta be New York. I was impressed with some effervescent arrangements, some very solid solos, and the overall energy of these excellent player. The only aspect of the record which didn’t reach me was the vocalist. I’m one of those guys who likes hipness over show biz. And this singer was in the latter category.
Self-produced, 2008, 65:10.
Nextep, Benny Powell, trombone.
Benny Powell can hand you a resume with the likes of Basie, Jones-Lewis, Heath, and Benny Carter, to name a few. This time out, however, it’s Benny’s own band with TK Blue on reeds; Sayuri Goto, piano; Essiet Essiet, bass; and Billy Hart, drums. The group begins with a New Orleans-like street march called “Free To Be Me.” It seems to set the pace for the remaining nine originals by various band members. For the most part, there’s a nice, laid back, confident, free-swinging feeling to this music. Powell calls it his best CD to date, and I wouldn’t argue the point.
Origin, 2008, 57:44.
Thelonious Himself, Thelonious Monk, piano.
A true original and heroic figure in American music, Monk flies solo on this classic recording, another in the Keepnews collection from Concord (originally Riverside). Monk applies all his little flights of fancy, his abrupt staccato figures, and, of course, his personal conception of what block chords should sound like on nine tunes, four alternates and one, “Monk’s Mood,” with John Coltrane on tenor and Wilbur Ware on bass. Other than that, it’s all Sphere soloing superbly. You Monk diehards already own this album. But the rest of you would do yourself a favor by following suit.
Concord (originally Riverside), 2008, 66:05.
by Kyle O'Brien
I Remember You, Tuck & Patti.
Guitarist Tuck Andress and vocalist Patti Cathcart have been around for three decades, and their brand of soft jazz that bordered on New Age has certainly gone out of popular favor. Which is why they’re doing what many older acts do when they’re making a comeback of sorts -- playing standards. The disc begins unfortunately with Andress playing a disjointed bass line on the title track while Cathcart does her best to follow his lead. Fortunately the ship is righted on tracks like “In a Sentimental Mood” and “Deed I Do.” Patti’s lush, dusky vocals fit well in the standard mode, and her phrasing rivals some of the better singers of our day. Tuck seems less at home with the swing mode, his feathery staccato guitar work not filling the gaps as it did with their original tunes. The light Latin version of “The Very Thought of You” suits his style much better, though Patti’s scatting is less than stellar. She’s best as a stylist, not an improviser. Fans of Tuck and Patti may welcome the change of styles, and for those who haven’t heard them, this is a decent introduction, but the two have a long way to go to be taken seriously as a straightahead act.
2008, T&P Records, 42:00.
Once Upon a Melody, Javon Jackson, saxophone.
Jackson is an enduring tenor man, having made the transition from Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers to viable solo artist and sticking around as a fine live player who easily jumps between jazz and R&B. He’s not considered in the elite, but he is a uniquely likable player and accessible, even when he’s playing bop. This recording takes Jackson back to his roots, playing tunes that have had meaning to him over the years, like Wayne Shorter’s slinky “One by One,” which he played with Blakey. It’s a fairly straight ahead quartet disc, with Eric Reed on piano, Corcoran Holt on bass and Billy Drummond on drums. It gives Jackson a chance to show off his chops, especially on his own tracks, like the modal “Mr. Jones,” where he does a fine job alternating space and fleet runs. He also shows off his smooth tone on one of the most beautiful tunes ever written, “My One and Only Love,” to which he does great justice with his flowing largo treatment. Those who have missed Jackson’s straight ahead persona won’t be disappointed with this one.
2008, Palmetto Records, 54:00.
Recommended Tools, Donny McCaslin Trio.
McCaslin is a monster tenor player. His playing with Gary Burton, Maria Schneider and Dave Douglas marked him as one of the most fiery players to come along since Michael Brecker. That fire is well evident on this, his seventh solo disc. It’s a trio album, with bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Jonathan Blake, letting McCaslin open up the sonic possibilities on his horn, which he does on the opening title track. He flies across the keys on this exploration of intervals and gives both rhythm players plenty of time to solo. It’s a cerebral album played with exacting precision and intense emotion. Most tunes are open ended, with melodies that evolve into improvisations. It’s hard bop squared, and the three players are easily in sync, letting the tunes build. While it’s hard to catch a breath within the first few tunes, the loping rhythm and long, plaintive notes of “Late Night Gospel” show that McCaslin can utilize dynamics and tone to his advantage. And with his midnight ballad version of the Strayhorn classic, “Isfahan,” he shows great attention to melody. But it’s his muscular playing and challenging compositions that garner the most attention here, as on the octave-jumping “The Champion,” and the Latin grinder, “Fast Brazil,” where McCaslin shows off his above-the-register playing. If all saxophonists played with this kind of verve, it would be a competitive market.
2008, Greenleaf Music, 60:00.
Axiom, Bill Cantrall.
Trombonist Cantrall makes his debut album with a septet album that comes across live and vibrant. As a trombonist Cantrell may not be the smoothest of players; his solos sometimes meander. But as a composer and arranger of a multi-horned group, he is spot-on. You can hear influences of the post-bop ‘60s in his arrangements, but it’s not just a trip to jazz past that makes Cantrell’s tunes viable; he also infuses them with elements of the blues (“Minor Transgression”), ballads (“Shanice”), and hard bop (“Torrent”), all the while keeping a sense of the now. And he knows how to arrange for horns, combining the sounds of his bone, Ryan Kisor’s trumpet, Sherman Irby’s alto sax and Stacy Dillard’s tenor sax. While this may not be cutting edge material, it is melodic and pleasing, played well and arranged fluidly.
2008, Up Swing, 66:00.
This is Our Moosic, Mostly Other People Do the Killing.
Young jazz groups often infuse a little too much energy into their playing. Sometimes it can lift up the attack and cover up inefficiencies. Other times it can get in the way of a quality listening experience. With Mostly Other People Do the Killing, it’s a little of both. While they have unbridled enthusiasm, their in-your-face approach is both appealing and surprising. It’s slightly messy music (or moosic in this case), but it’s played with such energy that you allow them to be a bit sloppy. It’s like fusing a Dixieland band with an avant-garde jazz group, as on their whimsical two-beat “Two Boot Jack,” which straddles two generations of music and devolves into a somewhat silly musical exercise. But darned if it isn’t a blast to listen to. This Pennsylvania quartet is experimental, grabbing influences from all realms of the jazz and rock world, often changing tempos numerous times during a song, sometimes to frenetic effect. But they’re also good players, able to cover the myriad styles without batting an eye. The fact that they have no chorded instrument makes the interplay between saxophone and trumpet vital, and Peter Evans and Jon Irabagon pull it off by honking and harmonizing through the lot. Is it perfect? Far from it, but it’s also intriguing and way too much fun, even the somewhat reverential cover of Billy Joel’s “Allentown.”
2008, Moppa Music / Hot Cup Records, 53:00.
Let’s Live Again, Elaine Lucia.
Lucia’s voice comes across clear and sweet, if a bit thin. You can hear the lyrics of her songs easily, thanks to her exacting diction, but her little-girl voice is both pleasing and simplistic at the same time. Her song choice plays to her strengths, though, as on the western-tinged swing of “The Wildest Girl in Town,” and “All Dressed Up with a Broken Heart.” When she tries to go sultry, as on “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps,” her voice sounds out of place. Still, Lucia is a decent singer on songs that fit her whispery delivery, like the jaunty title track. She might work best in a cabaret setting, so it would be nice to hear her try out that genre.
2008, Songflower Records, 45:00.
To Jobim with Love, Toninho Horta, guitar.
It seems as though a lot of artists are paying tribute to bossa nova master Antonio Carlos Jobim lately. In some cases it makes perfect sense, as with Brazilian guitarist/vocalist Horta’s latest disc. Horta is a solid guitarist, and he brings lush, orchestrated arrangements to this tribute. Sometimes the orchestra can get in the way of a good tune, though, as on the string-heavy “Portrait in Black and White,” which buries Horta’s guitar and smooth voice under a pile of over-produced strings. Sounds more like a romantic musical interlude from a ‘70s era James Bond film. It’s better when we can hear Horta’s guitar without all the extra instrumentation, which is unfortunately all too rare on this disc. But we get glimpses of it on “From Ton to Tom (Silent Song),” and “Christiana.” With guest artists like Gary Peacock, pianist Dave Kikoski, saxophonist Bob Mintzer and percussionist Manolo Badrena, I expected a more scaled back tribute. Instead, this is a full-blown contemporary jazz tribute with far too much orchestration. Sure, it’s played well, but I lose Jobim’s sense of space and quiet lushness.
2008, Resonance Records, 59:00.
Live at the Village Vanguard, Bebo Valdes and Javier Colina.
Pianist Bebo Valdes is a revered Cuban jazz pianist is 90, but you’d never know it from this disc, where the esteemed Valdes sounds just as vibrant as those a quarter his age. The live disc, a duo with bassist Javier Colina, is a tribute to the fact that music can keep you young. It begins with Valdes’s “Con poco coco,” with Valdes playing rhythmically on both the melody and an energetic solo. Colina keeps it strong by holding down a steady bass line before taking a bowed solo that is impressive in its dexterity and sense of melodic interpretation. Valdes knows how to keep it pretty too, as on the nimble, “Sabor a mi.” The set is a trip through the Latin jazz world, including a jaunt to Spain for the classic “Andalucia.” He even brings some Cuban magic to Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays.” Valdes sounds like he’s having the time of his life, and Colima brings out the best in the old Cuban, pushing forward while never getting in the way. It’s a strong duo and a magical musical postcard of a special time.
2007, Calle 54 Records, 60:00.
Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 2, Billy Harper. Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 3, Donald Bailey.
The “Blueprints of Jazz” series features veteran artists that don’t get the play of the majors, and these two discs are a fine representation of artists deserving wider recognition. The uncompromising Billy Harper, a fiery tenor man with a hard bop aesthetic, keeps to his guns and channels Coltrane on the searing “Africa Revisited,” an adaptation of Trane’s “Africa,” with spoken word by Amiri Baraka. Powerful, if a bit retro. The rest of the tunes are what has kept Harper outside of the realm of mainstream jazz popularity -- ambitious compositions with a foot well planted in the past. Still, this is a player that’s earned respect and deserves a second listen.
2008, Talking House Records, 70:00.
Donald Bailey is another player who has earned his stripes, having played on numerous Blue Note sessions and worked with luminaries like Jimmy Smith, Blue Mitchell and Carmen McRae. This solo disc features his penchant for older styles, and a love for attacking rhythms and a dose of dissonance. He’s a heavy-handed drummer but only to the point of laying back on the beat. This quintet disc lets him be himself and gives his friend, the equally heavy Odean Pope, a chance to stretch out on open-ended tunes.
The Blueprints series gives us a chance to hear some historic players doing what they do best. As co-producer Marc Weibel said in a press release: “The Blueprints of Jazz series is unique in that it presents a collection of modern recordings by some of the few remaining musicians that have a true historical connection to jazz scene of the 50's, 60's, and 70's. These artists didn't learn their craft by listening to old records from the masters; they lived the life themselves and actually played alongside the greats - both on stage and in the studio.”
2008, Talking House Records, 60:00.
Blue Plate Special, Will Bernard.
Guitarist Bernard is one of the leaders of the modern funk-jazz movement, and he’s right at home here, backed by fellow funksters, John Mediski on organ, Stanton Moore on drums and Andy Hess on bass. That explains the New Orleans-meets-New York sound here. Moore provides his signature Big Easy backbeat and lets Medeski and Bernard solo to their hearts’ desire. The grooves are infectious and lay a great base for Bernard to play his melodic and rhythmic solos. It’s jam music for the intellectual scene, able to appeal to a wide range of jazz fans. The Latin-style groove of the title track opens up the sonic possibilities for the group, letting acoustic piano come into the mix, but most tunes tend to be in the groove mode, as on the minor-keyed, retro-’70s, “571.” There’s even some surf guitar fun, on the Dick Dale-like “Gen Pop.” This music will appeal to those that think that jazz is more than just swing beats, but traditionalists will still call it instrumental rock, which may be unfair since it has all the trappings of jazz, just with different beats.
2008, Palmetto Records, 56:00.