CD Reviews - December 2008
by George Fendel, and Kyle
Smile, Gene Bertoncini, acoustic guitar and Roni Ben-Hur, electric guitar.
concept of two guitars in a jazz setting is not new, but the pairing of
Gene Bertoncini and Roni Ben-Hur is one that works to perfection.
Bertoncini, a fountain of lyricism and a guitarist often called the
“Segovia of jazz,” never fails to amaze the listener as he caresses his
acoustic guitar through this lovely program. Ben-Hur, who has often
worked with bebop heroes such as Barry Harris, takes it down a notch,
and responds to Bertoncini almost as one voice. The two begin the
program with a pop tune from years back, “Killing Me Softly.” To be
succinct, it has never sounded better. Perhaps the best known tune of
the set is Cole Porter’s evergreen, “I Concentrate On You.” The title
tune, Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” is followed by an early Dizzy
Gillespie opus called “That’s Earl, Brother.” Each of the guitarists
contributes two originals to the program. I was drawn to Gene’s “You
Are a Story” in a lilting and lovely ¾ time; Roni’s bluesy “Anna’s
Dance” and Gene’s reworking of “Bluesette,” which he titled “Set Blue.”
Standards “Out Of This World” and “Besame Mucho” complete a lesson in
guitar brilliance from two of the best out there.
Motema Records; 2008; 48:27
Jubilation, Warren Vache, cornet and vocals, John Allred, trombone.
Vache has made it clear over the years that if it can be played on
cornet, he can play it. Totally at home in any style, Vache and
co-leader John Allred take it down mainstream boulevard this time out.
From the opening strains of a no-prisoners “Old Devil Moon,” you know
it’s going to be an exciting ride. How could it be otherwise with the
presence of New York phenom Tardo Hammer on piano, along with Nicki
Parrott, bass, and Leroy Williams, drums. The program, recorded live
for an enthusiastic audience in Bern, Switzerland, includes two tunes
from Horace Silver (“Song For My Father” and “Strollin’”) and two from
George Gershwin (“They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “Strike Up The
Band”). Other winners include “My One And Only Love,” “Change Partners”
and “Caravan.” Vache and Nicki Parrott reprise an old Billie
Holiday-Louis Armstrong goodie called “Sweet Hunk O’ Trash,” followed
by a gospel tinged Junior Mance line called “Jubilation.” The program
is fittingly completed with a brief Vache vocal on “We’ll Be Together
Again.” No barriers broken here; just five players doing what they
love. And you can feel it.
Arbors, 2008, 69:06.
Django Music, Hot Club De Norvege (Hot Club of Norway).
do you have in a group consisting of two acoustic guitars, an upright
bass and a violinist who doubles on harmonica? Sounds like the makings
of a swing group in the style of guitarist Django Reinhardt, right?
Well, that’s what the Hot Club De Norvege is all about, and just for
good measure, you can throw in a few well-chosen vocals, too. Reinhardt
the composer is well represented with four tunes, the most famous of
which is “Nuages,” a lovely jazz classic that parallels musically what
it translates to: clouds. Another pretty Reinhardt composition is
“Manor De Mes Reves,” featuring a melodic line which sounds very ‘30s.
Among the more familiar fare are swing style workouts on “I Can’t Give
You Anything But Love,” “Coquette” and “My Heart Belongs To Daddy.” And
do you want to hear these Norwegians swing with authority? Try
something titled “Karius and Baktus.” All comers get a chance to play
with fire. Happily, no one gets burned. This is well-performed, very
authentic “period” music. Thank goodness it’s being kept alive by fine
groups such as this one.
Hot Club Records, 2008, 51:19.
Spaceton’s Approach, Clay Giberson, piano.
Portlander Clay Giberson’s fourth release for Origin Records puts him
back in the company of former playing mates from his New York years,
David Ambrosio on bass and Matt Garity on drums. The CD opens with a
Keith Jarrrett-like, fresh, wide open take on “It Might As Well Be
Spring.” The first of five of Giberson’s original compositions is
entitled “From The Outside,” written in ¾ and with a rather dark, minor
feeling. The title tune, “Spaceton’s Approach,” moves through rhythmic
changes with a tricky melody line. “Trust” is a very attractive
composition somewhat reminiscent of the work of composer Tom McIntosh,
and “Passing By” is in more of a mainstream groove; perhaps my favorite
of the original music presented here. The second of the two standards
on the CD is a sprightly and totally fresh outing on Miles Davis’s
“Solar” and the trio brings their performance to a close with “Beyond
The Horizon,” showcasing Garity’s fluid bass solo. The Jarrett/ Evans
influence plays a role in Giberson’s approach to the piano. His touch
is subtle and silvery, laden with expression, but never florid. He has
a lot to say on this new release.
Origin; 2008, 64:56.
Winter Sunshine, Sheila Jordan, vocals.
79 years of age, Sheila Jordan’s been part of “the scene” for many
years, but somehow, with the exception of an album she did with Mark
Murphy, she’s escaped my consciousness. She’s through and through a
jazz singer, stylistically somewhat out of the Anita O’Day/Betty Carter
bag. This recording finds Jordan working a responsive audience at a
Montreal club called Upstairs. Her trio (Steve Amirault, piano; Kiean
Overs, bass; and Andre White, drums) provides fresh accompaniment. Most
of them are from the standard bag, but with lots of vocal liberties (as
any jazz singer worth her treble clef should do!) Jordan finds new
possibilities in “Comes Love,” “Dat Dere,” “It Never Entered My Mind,”
“All God’s Children Got Rhythm” and several lesser known, well chosen
vehicles. Among many highlights, she sings a little coda on “I Remember
You” as follows: “did you notice that I sang the last chorus in the
exact melody?” And she treats “Lady Be Good” as a rich tribute to Ella,
in which she sings the words “nobody in this world could scat like Ella
Fitzgerald? Thank you very much, but I ain’t gonna scat that fast?”
Some singers try to do what Jordan does and it comes out as excess. But
Sheila Jordan is hip from the first note to the last.
Justin Time; 2008, 58:42.
Live In Graz, Lee Shaw Trio, Lee Shaw, piano.
me put it this way … after doing jazz radio for nearly 24 years and
writing these reviews for I forget just how many, I’ve developed at
least as much knowledge of jazz artists as the next guy, right? So here
comes a swinging pianist named Lee Shaw … and she’s been playing on the
East Coast for forty years … and she’s appeared on Marian McPartland’s
Piano Jazz … and she studied with Oscar Peterson … and … and … where in
the heck have I been? This stop catches her in live performance during
a European tour. With her seasoned colleagues, Rich Syracuse, bass and
Jeff “Siege” Siegel, drums, Shaw brings her listeners a well-balanced
program of standards and thoughtful, well-constructed originals.
Perhaps my favorite selection was Ahmad Jamal’s “Night Mist,” also
known as “Night Mist Blues.” I often think of Nancy Wilson’s vocal on
this tune as a nearly definitive version, but Lee Shaw comes up all
aces here and on everything else she plays in this decidedly delightful
Artists Record Collective; 2008, 78:43.
Acoustic Heat, Marty Grosz and Mike Peters; acoustic guitars.
‘30s swing style is your bag, you’d be wise to pick up on these two
acoustic guitarists. They’re obviously having a grand ol’ time playing
both obscure numbers by past masters such as Carl Kress and Eddie Lang.
With titles like “Chicken a la Swing,” “Eddie’s Twister” and “Stage
Fright,” Grosz and Peters showcase the guitar style of days gone by.
But, not to worry, there are also familiar melodies galore with the
likes of Duke’s “The Mooche” and “I’m Beginning To See The Light”; as
well as Hoagy Carmichael’s” Jubilee,” “Washboard Blues” and “I’ve Found
A New Baby.” Among other memorable selections are “Three Little Words,”
“Gone With The Wind,” “Street Of Dreams” and “If Dreams Come True.”
There are twenty tunes in all, and Grosz warns in the liner notes not
to listen to more than four tunes consecutively. There is danger of
what he calls “plunkitis,” for which there is no known cure. It is, I
should think, a condition that most of us would welcome.
Sackville, 2008, 69:49.
Reflections, Mark Colby, tenor saxophone.
cover photo of Mark Colby suggests that he’s put on a bit of mileage,
so why is it that I haven’t encountered his big, burly tenor before
now? Can’t answer that, but I can tell you, Colby takes it straight
down the middle of the jazz highway on this scintillating collection of
blues, bop, bossa and standards. In various settings (mostly tenor and
rhythm section), Colby and crew go for all the marbles. Even the
starter, “Close Enough For Love,” finds some tempo and muscle along the
way. Other titles were equally compelling. In particular, there’s a
silky romp through “Desafinado”; a couple of fresh piano-less looks at
“Like Someone In Love” and “Over The Rainbow”; a riveting ballad
treatment of “So In Love”; a boppy original called “Caroline’s Romp”;
and a set closer that adds Phil Woods on alto and Bob Lark on
flugelhorn. It’s a medium tempo swinger called “Squire’s Parlor.” It
brings the proceedings to a swinging close. Colby’s big sound (but
decidedly not a “Texas tenor” type) hits the bullseye here, and you’re
going to have a good time as well.
Origin, 2008, 55:48.
Cape Breton, Aaron Lington, baritone saxophone.
Lington serves in the music department of San Jose State University. So
I guess when he’s not busy in her classroom, he gets the opportunity to
play music like the seven original compositions for this quintet. His
writing is lyrical; his songs have distinct melody lines, and often
remind one of classic jazz writing from the past. His baritone can bite
like Pepper Adams or float like Gerry Mulligan. And I was very
impressed with trumpet/flugelhorn man Paul Tynam, whose fluidity and
sparse approach were very expressive. For more information,
Nohjoh Music, recorded, 2005, 55:22.
So Hard To Forget, Bucky Pizarelli, seven string and accoustic guitars.
years of outstanding recordings to his credit, this is, to my
knowledge, Bucky’s first shot at a disc with strings. The writing, for
violin, viola and cello, is subtle and pristine, and never gets in
Bucky’s guitar path. Among 13 tunes examined here, a few standouts
included “Laura”; “It’s Easy To Remember”; a classy Duke Ellington
medley; Harold Arlen’s beauty, “Last Night When We Were Young”; and a
return to Duke with “Prelude To A Kiss.” It all adds up to a pleasant
detour for Bucky Pizarelli and a CD his many fans will scarf up!
Arbors; 2008, 62:16.
by Kyle O'Brien
Home, Kelley Johnson, vocals.
found her voice in Seattle thanks to a workshop with acclaimed vocalist
Mark Murphy. You can hear his influence on her use of tonality within
her lithe, deep voice. The singer has since gone on to grow and become
an educator and a musical ambassador abroad. Her ability to connect
with a familiar melody and keep it fresh, with an approach that stays
comfortably behind the beat, makes her approachable. On this disc she
courts a handful of familiar tunes, like “A Lovely Night” by Rodgers
& Hammerstein, which she does as a bouncy bop, jumping around her
range like a young Abbey Lincoln (an artist she covers twice on the
album). “Moon River,” gets a slow swing treatment, which lengthens the
notes, giving them a deeper meaning. She transitions easily from bop to
ballads and with her pianist/husband, John Hansen, she is a fine
arranger as well. Johnson is an unheralded vocal talent with a fine
sense of melody and inviting presence.
2008, Sapphire, 59.
I Want to Be Happy, Jo Lawry, vocals.
vocalist Lawry utilizes every corner of her vocal chords to relay her
music. The opening track, a modern arrangement of the traditional “The
Water is Wide,” finds her working the tones of her voice in a
semi-scatting solo that is much like an instrumental. She launches that
voice on the title track, a modern jazz layer cake with a Latin beat
that also allows her to create excitement and subtlety at the same
time. Her non-lyrical solos can go a bit over the top at times, working
tones that take away from the sweetness of the tunes. Sometimes her
simplistic approach is best, as on the poignant “February,” an original
track on love lost. Lawry is an able jazz vocalist but has a fine pop
sensibility, making her a dual talent with a promising outlook.
2008, Fleurieu Music, 60:00.
More to Come, Jonathan Voltzok, trombone.
isn’t becoming a lost art, but it is losing key players every year,
which is why it’s refreshing to hear a young player with talent to
spare that keeps this important jazz tradition not only alive but
vibrant. The title track kicks things off here, and Voltzok fires off a
flurry of notes so quick you think his slide might catch fire. Backed
by Aaron Goldberg on piano, Barak Mori on bass and Ali Jackson on
drums, Voltzok is in energetic and talented company. The Israeli
native, now living in New York, is still in his 20s and is already
light years ahead of most bone players his age. How else would he get
trombone legend Slide Hampton to guest on two tracks on this debut CD?
Hampton, in press materials, calls Voltzok an amazing talent. Certainly
he is, but the two collaborations with Hampton unfortunately have some
tonal inconsistencies between the two bones. Still, the rest of the
disc is a superb modern bop disc, especially the two tracks with
saxophonist Antonio Hart, the Voltzok-penned medium bopper “A Moment of
Sunshine,” and the jazz waltz, “The Fire Dance.” The alto-trombone
countermelodies harken back to the early 50s, when guys like Parker and
Johnson were playing this new music. Voltzok is a mature player already
and as time goes on he’ll become even more vital on his instrument.
2007, Kol Yo Records, 60.
The Tortoise, Rob Mosher’s Storytime.
jazz composers are an ambitious lot, and self-taught Canadian compser
Mosher is no exception. He wrote all the tunes on this disc, and the
result is a modern compositional jazz outing that is a journey through
both musical styles and tones. Mosher, also an accomplished soprano
saxophonist and English horn player, utilizes the instruments at his
disposal to create varying personalities, like the searching drone and
flugelhorn solo on “On a Clear Day,” and the weaving lines of “The
Sands of Maundune.” The double reeds give a melancholy air to
“Sleepless Lullaby,” while the horn, clarinet and flutes on “What
Snowflakes are Plotting,” are dizzyingly whimsical. This musical
odyssey blends multiple classical and jazz styles, a mash of tones and
instruments, and seems to have multiple personalities...Hawaiian slide
guitar anyone (“Twilight”)? It may be too ambitious of a task to pull
together but it is impressive. Mosher has done a fine job but may want
to streamline his sound to make more of a connection rather than an
2008, Canada Council for the Arts / Rob Mosher, 71.
Caminhos Cruzados = Crossroads, Masha Campagne, vocals.
first listen I would never guess that this Brazilian jazz disc is by a
Russian ex-pat who now lives in the Bay Area. Campagne sings in both
Portuguese and English with flawless accents in both. She utilizes her
sweet, breathy vocals to bring her love of the Brazilian traditions to
life, even on Cole Porter (“So In Love”) and Rodgers & Hammerstein
(“It Might as Well Be Spring”). When she sings in Portuguese she has
only the slightest Russian tinge, but her phrasing is flawless. She
floats over melodies like “Doralice,” and a medley of Jobim tunes. The
album, which features some fine players, including guitarist Carlos
Oliveira and saxophonist Harvey Wainapel, is a testament to the
strength of Brazilian jazz to move through pointed melodies and breezy
beats, and Campagne does an admirable job singing in two languages,
neither her native tongue.
2007, Impetus Records, 44:30.
Waiting for You, Alex Clements, piano.
is a film composer. Sometimes film composers court textures and moods
more than melodies when they venture outside their studios and into the
jazz world. Clements doesn’t seem to have that problem. The disc starts
off with a searing hard bopper, “Blues for GB,” which features
incredible playing by saxophonist Alain Bradette, and thick, meaty
chords by Clements. His sense of melody comes out in his rendition of
the smoky “Nuits de Paris,” and the loping “Waiting for You...” Like
many composers, he gives his other players much of the spotlight, and
Bradette is in good company with drummer Danny Gottlieb and bassist
Chris Queenan. But we get enough of Clements, in his compositions and
his deft comping, to make it a complete quartet album. This is
sophisticated modern jazz that has both focus and melody.
2007, Alex Clements, 75.
Farewell Walter Dewey Redman, Mark Masters Ensemble.
his lengthy career, Dewey Redman was often on the fringes of jazz,
taking bop and swing norms and turning them upside down and inside out.
It was cutting edge for its time but didn’t exactly make him a
household name outside the jazz community. So it’s nice that this
collection exists, to bring his copious talents as player, composer and
collaborator to such vibrant life. With such stellar players as Oliver
Lake and Gary Foster on alto, and Don Shelton and John Mitchell on
tenor, this disc, held together well by Masters’ big band arrangements,
is a treat for those who know Dewey’s music, and a fantastic
introduction for those who don’t. The ensemble, a 16-piece big band,
can be as sparse as a trio and as thick as its many pieces. The
drumming of Peter Erskine certainly helps things along, but the whole
ensemble brings these tunes into the here and now. The free-flowing
swing of “I-Pimp,” the bluesy blasts of the downright dirty “Boody,”
and the harsh atonality of “Thren,” show off the deep musical
understanding of this late artist. That’s rounded out by the pretty
waltz of “Love Is” and the rich ballad, “Joie de Vivre.” Add in some
new originals, like the atonal angles of “Transits,” and the spirited
avant-garde “Adieu Mon Redman” and you have a loving but true tribute
to an artist that deserved more recognition than just being a great
2008 Capri Records, 65.
El Alquimista - The Alchemist, Pete Rodriguez, trumpet.
Rodriguez has played with some of the best in the Latin jazz world,
including Celia Cruz and Tito Puente, but as a leader he has a distinct
voice all his own. The Latin influence is still at the forefront, but
his compositions reach much farther. In the opening suite, “Jive State
Suite,” we hear modern beats, thick-as-molasses chords, avant-garde
leanings, fiery conga beats (Roberto Quintero) and double-horn
improvisations between Rodriguez and saxophonist David Sanchez.
Rodriguez states that the album is about various personal journeys, and
if that’s so, he has had some bumpy but very interesting life
experiences. One of those apparently was being attacked by a scorpion,
as on the frenetic “Scorpion,” a Latin hard-bopper that stings with
solos by Sanchez and Rodriguez. This disc takes Latin traditions and
updates them for the here and now, in a personal way for the artist. It
lets us see the passion and virtuosity of Rodriguez. Not only is he a
fine player, he is a composer not afraid to dig deep to bring out the
best in his music.
2008, Conde Music, 55.
Perfect Strangers, Todd Coolman.
Coolman created an internet-based ‘learning community’ to put together
this project. Composers were invited to an open call to the website for
compositions, many of whom Coolman didn’t know. The result was a mix of
tunes written by relative unknowns yet played by Coolman and talented
NYC players, like saxophonist Eric Alexander and trumpeter Brian Lynch.
The quintet makes these unfamiliar tunes seem comfortable. The musical
journey of Bill Stevens’ “Full Circle,” stands out with its multiple
chord changes, while some are more basic tunes, like the medium bop of
“Could You Imagine?” by Mark Saltman. The criss-crossing lines of
“Pastorale,” by Ryan Truesdell is another fine track, its tones and
harmonies linking the quintet together like silk. A nice idea for a
project, though lacking the depth that you often get when composers
play their own works.
2008, Bottom Line Music, 59.
World Jazz, Lua Hadar with Twist.
to the popularity of Pink Martini, world music blended with jazz and
classical traditions have become more mainstream, and more popular.
Hadar takes that concept and mashes it up even more. The native New
Yorker has a penchant for languages, and the opening light funk-jazz
track is sung in over-the-top French. It’s both intriguing and
off-putting. Her dramatic flair over a fairly normal contemporary jazz
track is nearly campy. Her voice is more cabaret than jazz, which works
better on “Twilight World/Dancing in the Dark,” a bossa-style cabaret
arrangement. The same can be said for the French waltz of “Sous Le Ciel
de Paris (Under Paris Skies),” but not for her version of Joni
Mitchell’s “All I Want,” which is ill-suited for her quirky delivery,
and the hideously sappy version of the already syrupy Dan Fogelberg
tune, “Longer.” Perhaps Hadar would be better suited singing to the
crowds on the Rive Gauche.
2008 Bellalua Records, 41.