CD Reviews - January 2009
by George Fendel, and Kyle
Chet In Chicago, Chet Baker, trumpet.
It’s no secret that in order to support a nearly life-long
chemical dependency, Chet Baker made some records that did not
represent his best work. This previously unreleased studio recording is
distinctly not one of those. Recorded in 1986, two years prior to his
still unsolved demise, Chet sounds great as ever. In fact, what is
listed in the personnel as “trumpet” sounds an awful lot
like a flugelhorn to me. He must have been inspired by the opportunity
to record with the swinging Chicago trio of Bradley Young (piano),
Larry Gray (bass) and Rusty Jones (drums). And the addition of windy
city tenor man Ed Petersen, on “Ornothology,” “Crazy
Rhythm” and “Sippin’ At Bells,” gives Chet a
chance to dig in with another horn on some textbook bop. In addition,
the group scores on “Old Devil Moon,” “It’s You
Or No One,” “We’ll Be Together Again,”
“Solar,” and Chet’s signature tune, “My Funny
Valentine.” If you’re a Chet Baker fan, don’t
hesitate on this one. It’s a gem.
Enja, 2008, 54:02.
Brother To Brother, The Clayton Brothers: John, bass and Jeff, alto sax.
Most of the Claytons’ recorded work in recent years has been with
their acclaimed Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. So, it’s
especially nice to hear them again in this vibrant and exciting quintet
setting. The “hook” for this CD is these “jazz
brothers” celebrating the work of other jazz brothers. The two
which come most clearly into focus here are the Jones brothers and the
Adderleys, who established themselves as hall of famers decades ago.
The CD brings the gifted trumpet and flugelhorn man, Terrell Stafford,
into the mix, and the result is a much more muscular, hard bop edge
than on past Clayton bro efforts. Personal faves include: Jeff’s
“Big Daddy Adderley,” very much in the soulful, swinging
Adderley groove (Stafford’s solo is a stunner); “Bass
Face,” Kenny Burrell’s tribute to Ray Brown, complete with
a Lil’ Darlin’ kind of feel; “Walkin’
Bass,” a vocal feature for John, one that delighted Otter Crest
audiences every time we heard it; the show tune, “Where Is
Love,” puts John’s peerless arco bass and Jeff’s
tender alto in the spotlight. Completing the trio are Gerald Clayton,
piano, and Obed Calvaire, drums. The Clayton Brothers are gifted,
dedicated jazz musicians. They also happen to be two of the kindest and
most caring people I know. You ought to make their acquaintance.
ArtistShare, 2008, 55:53.
Coming Of Age, Zen Zadravec, piano.
When no less of a giant than Kenny Barron refers to Zen
Zadravec’s playing as “muscular and filled with a sense of
adventure,” we had better sit up and take notice. Zadrevec oozes
confidence and authority on a program of hard swinging originals and a
couple of standards. The one horn in his basic quartet, the alto and
soprano of Todd Bashore, is played with equal enthusiasm. But Zadreved
chooses to include several guests. Among those making impressive
contributions were Derrick Gardner on trumpet and Conrad Herwig on
trombone. There’s a little of everything here: variety of tempo,
mood, emotion, thoughtful and intelligent arranging, and solo skills to
please the veteran jazz listener. This is an exciting debut recording
and should serve notice that good things are on the horizon for Zen
Self-produced, 2007, 73:00.
Everything In Time, Carol Fredette, vocals.
I remember being impressed with a previous disc by Carol Fredette on
which she dealt with a lot of Dave Frishberg tunes. On this recording,
she divides her attention between tunes ranging from Ivan Lines to
Harry Warren to Jerome Kern. Surrounded by various players in both the
New York bop tradition and the Brazilian arena, Fredette never forces
the issue, allowing these great songs to practically sing themselves. A
sampling of titles among fifteen overall, includes “I Wish I
Knew,” “Dream Dancing,” “The Way You Look
Tonight,” “Only Trust Your Heart,” and “O
Pato.” A couple faves: “Without Rhyme Or Reason,” a
lesser known creation of Bob Dorough and Fran Landesman; “I Was
Born In Love With You,” a stunner from Michel Legrand and the
Bergmanns which deserves more attention that it’s received; and
“Would You Believe,” an emotive opus from Cy Coleman. Of
Ms. Fredette, the late Stan Getz said,” she’s as good as
they come,” and who am I to argue with Stan Getz?
Soundbrus, 2008, 57:45.
Live At The Jazz Showcase, Bob Lark, flugelhorn, Phil Woods, alto sax.
Over the years, Chicago’s Jazz Showcase has hosted dozens of
great jazz musicians, so it’s no surprise that Bob Lark and Phil
Woods would blow some serious bop and ballads from this venue. Joined
by longtime Woods associates Jim McNeely, piano Steve Gilmore, bass and
Bill Goodwin, drums, the crew gets thing underway with the Lark
original, “Ravenswood.” It’s seemingly casual, medium
tempo puts Woods in the spotlight. “Mad Dan’s”
highlights the soloist on a Latin outing, and “Cathy’s
Song,” a ballad, features Woods’ alto in high lyrical gear.
Four standards follow. The quintet gets to the heart of Miles’
“All Blues,” and Lark’s flugelhorn solo floats along
in a manner similar to Miles himself. A no holds barred
“It’s You Or No One” is meat and potatos for Woods,
who attacks like a running back with an alto in his hands. Two Cole
Porter evergreens bring the set to a close. “Everytime We Say
Goodbye” is pure Lark and McNeely, and “What Is This Thing
Called Love” finds the same two breathlessly trading fours. This
is what I call “the real deal.” No pretense, no odd
combinations, nothing terribly outside or experimental. And maybe
that’s why it’s so good.
Jazzed Media, 2008, 70:30.
High Noon: The Jazz Soul of Frankie Laine, Gary Smulyan, baritone sax.
I know there are those of you who remember the singer Frankie Laine.
Although hits like “Mule Train” and “Jezebel”
had little jazz content, Laine was jazz hip, and also a very adept
composer. It is in the latter arena that Gary Smulyan has mainly
celebrated his music. In doing so, he gathered some of Gotham’s
busiest cats: Joe Magnarelli, trumpet, John Fedchock, trombone, Dick
Oatts, alto sax, and Pete Malinverni, piano. Smulyan also struck a
chord of genius in hiring Mark Masters to arrange. Masters, with
several celebrated albums under his own name, is one of the best at
arranging for ensembles of this size (nine pieces). All shine on
non-Laine fare like the title tune, “High Noon.” All the
remaining selections were either Laine’s compositions or
collaborations. It’s a nice tribute to an artist who has faded
from memory somewhat. It makes me think Gary Smulyan is always thinking
about worthy thematic material. And in this case, he’s hit the
jackpot with great colleagues and fresh, invigorating arranging.
Reservoir, 2008, 70:51.
Lightsey To Gladden, Kirk Lightsey, piano.
This 1991 recording, released for the first time, serves to honor the
work of drummer Eddie Gladden, who passed away in 2003. Kirk Lightsey
is a riveting piano giant. Though he’s never attained star
status, there’s no question he’s earned it. On this overdue
outing, he joins forces with Marcus Belgrave, trumpet and flugelhorn,
Craig Handy, tenor sax and flute, David Williams, bass, and Gladden on
drums. A burly blues, “Donkey Dust” gets the session
started. An up-tempo romp, “Number Nine,” gives Lightsey an
airy flight of a solo, and “Everyday Politics” features
Craig Handy’s skillful flute. Other standouts include Wayne
Shorter’s plucky, “Pinocchio”; a very artful trumpet
feature for Belgragve called “Moon”; and the one standard,
a duo of Lightsey and Handy on a beautifully crafted “Midnight
Sun.” Both the ensemble passages and the solos suggest that the
cats heard here were ready to step up. Their musicianship runs deep.
Criss Cross, 2008, 66:40.
Live At Care Loup, Bob Kindred, tenor saxophone.
Being that Bob Kindred is likely a New Yorker through and through,
those of us in the West may be less familiar with him than those in the
Apple. I’ve tried to compare his fluid, in-the-tradition tenor,
to tenor giants of yesteryear. And I’ve come to the conclusion
that he sounds like Bob Kindred! And that’s a mighty fine
sound. On this date, he leads a piano-less trio featuring John Hart on
guitar and Steve LsSpina on bass, augmented by some guests. And you
know you’re in New York when the guests are Wycliffe Gordon,
Warren Vache and Tim Horner! Kindred chooses standards like
“Alone Together,” “Do You Know What It Means To Miss
New Orleans,” “Tenderly,” “Dream
Dancing,” “In A Mellow Tone,” “Skylark,”
“Sweet And Lovely” and “Memories Of You.” All
told, Kindred gets a full and captivating sound from his Selmer.
Somehow I missed this CD when it came out in 2006. I hope you find it
Conawago Records, 2006, 62:14.
Live At The 1971 Monterey Jazz Festival, Sarah Vaughan, vocals.
This previously un-issued material by Sarah Vaughan is certain to get
immediate attention. The 1971 Monterey Jazz Festival audience was
treated to an obviously inspired Ms. Vaughan. She sings up a storm, but
also jokes (she introduces pianist Bill Mays as “Willie
Mays!”). But Sarah’s all business on “I Remember
You,” “The Lamp Is Low,” and one of her signature
tunes, “Tenderly.” A mild surprise was perhaps the best
rendition one could ever hear of “And I Love Him.” Sarah
displays her peerless scat chops on a blues titled
“Scattin’ The Blues.” If that’s not enough, she
introduces Clark Terry, Roy Eldridge, Zoot Sims, Lockjaw Davis, Benny
Carter, Bill Harris, John Lewis, Mundell Lowe and Louie Bellson
for a rippin’ jam session. One of the cats asks “what
key?” And Sarah answers, “I don’t know -- any
key!!!” And then she hits it out of the park!
Monterey Jazz Festival Records, 2008, 44:14.
For The Last Time, Ruby Braff, cornet and Scott Hamilton, tenor sax.
On what was truly his final performance, Ruby Braff was still in
complete control of his beloved cornet. The audience that evening in
Nairn, Scotland, was zeroed in on the ten tunes delivered by Braff and
Hamilton, along with Jon Wheatley, guitar, John Bunch, piano, Dave
Green, bass, and Steve Brown, drums. This two CD, specially priced set
gives them plenty of time to stretch out. Seven of the ten tunes exceed
ten minutes in length, and all comers make the most of the opportunity.
Braff’s silvery sound just slides out of his horn, and Hamilton
is a tailor-made partner. The tunes, virtually all older classics,
include “Sometimes I’m Happy,” “Rockin’
Chair,” “I Want A Little Girl,” and “The Man I
Love,” among others. Much of Braff’s “rap” with
the audience is absolutely charming. The essence of this music may be
found in “Why Shouldn’t I?” a relaxed conversation
between two great players who inspired each other.
Arbors, 2008, 2 Cds, over two hours.
Crossroads, Peter Sommer, tenor saxophone.
The state of Colorado apologizes to no one when it comes to jazz
talent. Peter Sommer, a resident of Fort Collins, issued an invitation
to steadily rising New York tenor man Rich Perry to join him in a
two-tenor quintet. The result is an invigorating post bop meeting of
two titans. The quintet is completed by three additional Colorado jazz
vets; Eric Gunnison, piano; Ken Walker, bass and Todd Reid, drums. I
like the fact that Sommer chooses tunes from great jazz contributors
like Kenny Dorham, Bud Powell, Wayne Shorter and Thelonious Monk. But
the interesting catch is that the quintet takes on neglected titles
like “Escapade,” “The Fruit,” and “Think
Of One.” Sommer also offers two originals, and the CD is
completed with an intricate voice chasing voice intro on a swinging
“Alone Together.” The two tenor concept, of course, has
always worked well in jazz. This is no exception.
Capri, 2008, 64:20.
That Being Said, DePaul University Jazz Ensemble.
While many jazz pundits continue to warn us of the steady decline of
the art, college music departments continue to turn out dedicated and
often hugely talented jazz musicians. Take DePaul University’s
swinging aggregation, for example. The band is led by trumpeter Bob
Lark, and, on this recording, features several guest shots from superb
pianist Jim McNeely. The college kids nail this date with tunes ranging
from Monk’s “’Round Midnight” to Sweets
Edison’s “Centerpiece” to scintillating originals
from McNeeley and the DePaul students. Hail the next generation. We
Jazzed Media, 2008, 72:08.
Of Two Minds, Leslie Lewis, vocals.
The first thing one notices is that Lewis is a jazz singer. She has
that tough to define “something” which separates the jazz
and pop worlds; phrasing, expressing real emotion in a lyric; knowing
how much liberty to take -- these, I guess, are some of the
qualities I look for. And Leslie Lewis gets it. On tunes ranging from
“In Walked Bud” to “Honeysuckle Rose”; from
“Well, You Needn’t” to “Hello Young
Lovers” and several more, you’ll like the husky voiced, Ms.
Lewis. Slightly reminiscent of Carmen McRae to these ears. Add
formidable LA talent like Gerard Hagen, piano, Ron Stout, trumpet, and
the brilliant Gary Foster on alto sax and flute, and you’re
rewarded with sterling results.
Surf Cove Jazz, 2008, 41:29.
Pathways, Luis Perdomo, piano.
Let the doomsayers rattle on. The jazz art continues to inspire young
players throughout the world, such as Luis Perdomo, born and raised in
Venezuela, and now another daunting jazz pianist working out of New
York. Perdomo’s studies in classical music add exquisite color to
his original music, much of which is included on his first release for
Criss Cross Jazz. There is also a sense of clarity and confidence in
his work. In addition to his striking original compositions and those
of others, Perdomo gives us three standards. Here’s a distinctive
new voice. You’re going to be hearing more from Luis Perdomo.
Criss Cross Jazz, 2008, 61:06.
Samba To Go, Hendrik Meurkens, harmonica.
Armed with some superb Brazilian colleagues, Hendrik Meurkens presents
some high energy, joyful composition and performance. Most of the songs
are his own creations, and they are indeed upbeat, “happy”
refrains. As the heir apparent to harmonica master, Toots Thielemans,
Meurkens also shines on one of A.C. Jobim’s tunes. For the only
standard, Meurkens and friends provide a lovely and tender “My
Zoho, 2008, 52:56.
Finally Ron, Ron Hockett, clarinet and soprano sax.
For nearly 30 years, Ron Hockett has been content to be one of those
“treasured locals.” For him, the setting was
Washington, D.C. It’s taken awhile, to be sure, but this is his
first shot as a leader. And he makes the most of it. With a very
sympathetic group, Hockett offers up simply gorgeous clarinet work on
such tunes as “Too Close For Comfort,” “My
Ideal,” “Memories Of You,” “Reverie,”
“If Dreams Come True,” “Undecided,” “Gone
With The Wind” and many more. The standout for me was a dreamy
interpretation of Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages.”
Hockett is a clarinetist par excellence, and let’s hope Arbors
gives him more work!
Arbors, 2008, 73:15.
Say You’ll Understand, The Klez Dispensers.
It’s not trad, swing or bop ... but if you can broaden your
horizons a bit, this music just may delight you. The vocal selections
are sung in Yiddish, the language of my ancestors, but alas, hardly a
word can I understand. What I can derive is both the joy and, in some
cases, the sadness of these tunes. The players and arrangements are
first rate, and if you’ve never given Klezmer a try, this one
beckons. For more info, try www.theklezdespensers.com
Self-produced, 2008, 61:04.
Where Or When, Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra.
There’s obviously loads of musical acumen in this Indiana-based
big band, but this album could almost have been issued under the name
“Everett Greene.” His deep baritone reminds one a bit of
singers like Arthur Prysock, Earl Coleman or even Billy Eckstein.
Anyway, Greene gets the spotlight on eight of the thirteen tunes and
handles the assignment with class. Oddly perhaps, my favorite tune was
the instrumental arrangement of Benny Carter’s
“Wonderland,” just one example of Benny’s peerless,
Owl Studios, 2008, 50:46.
Hemispheres, Jim Hall and Bill Frisell.
This two CD set finds Hall and Frisell as a duo on one disc and in a
quartet setting on the other one. I think that in the last decade or
two, Jim Hall has moved from the swinging, lyrical sound of jazz to the
concept of what sort of sounds he can derive from the guitar. I, for
one, don’t find much to love in spacy music with no identifiable
melody line. So much for CD #1. The second CD is a mixed bag made more
palatable by a stunning Chelsea Bridge; a tip of the rhythm guitar hat
on “Owed To Freddie Green,” and a nice workout on Sonny
Rollins’ “Sonnymoon For Two.” Definitely a mixed bag
for me, but the CD will probably sell 11 zillion copies.
Artist Share, 2008.
by Kyle O'Brien
Traditional Hebrew music has been infusing its way into the jazz world
for the past decade. Klezmer and other folk styles from the Middle East
have brought new sounds and modalities, evolving the traditional forms
of the genre. Pitom takes the fusion to a new, harder-edged level.
Releasing their debut on John Zorn’s Tzadik Records, the coarsely
titled disc is a radical blending of musical cultures, which they refer
to as a Jewish jazz-punk-country-metal hybrid. It’s in-your-face
instrumental music, with guitarist Yoshie Fruchter leading the charge
with fuzzy distortions. With influences as wide as Zorn, Frank Zappa,
Coltrane and traditional Jewish folk, this band rocks more than it
jazzes it up, and those who are averse to edgy rock guitar will want to
stay away. But for those with an adventurous palate, Pitom
(“suddenly” in Hebrew) is a fiery group, able to sound like
Jimi Hendrix one minute (“The Robe of Priestly
Proportions”) and avant-garde folksters the next (“Freigel
Rock”). The band, which also includes violinist Jeremy Brown,
drummer Kevin Zubek, and bassist Shanir Blumenkrantz, is already
lighting up the New York scene. Outside of the Big Apple, their
eclecticism might be a bit much, but it’s a welcome burst of
energy and edge.
2008, Tzadik Records, 57:50.
Infinity, Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet.
Wallace has been a prolific artist lately. This refined Latin jazz disc
comes closely after the release of his recent CD, “The Nature of
the Beat.” The trombonist, arranger and composer has crafted an
album of original tunes and smart covers, with a core quintet and a
handful of guest artists. Musically speaking, the band is tight and
Wallace has a smooth tone on his crafted solos. The disc doesn’t
break any new ground, and with the amount of Latin jazz flooding the
market lately, this doesn’t stand out from the pack. Still,
it’s smart, well-produced and has a fine sense of melody,
especially on the beautiful “Memories of You,” a Eubie
Blake tune redone as a loping Bolero, and Gershwin’s “Love
Walked In,” sung lovingly by Jackie Ryan. Wallace has captured
the Latin jazz feel well, but it could use just a bit more sizzle.
2008, Patois Records, 57:30.
Lifeline, Deborah Latz.
Vocalist Latz opens up this disc with “Les Feuilles
Mortes,” essentially a French version of “Autumn
Leaves,” and the mood created by her passionate vocals and the
light Latin beat are as fragile and lovely as the title suggests. Latz
pulls off the French delivery with exquisite pronunciation and a tender
affectation. In liner notes, she says this disc was a tribute to her
mother, who succumbed to breast cancer in 1975, but she didn’t
realize it until after it was recorded. The emotional, lyrical nature
of her song style draws the listener into her world, and it’s a
lovely place. On ballads she is superb, managing to be emotive without
veering into sappy, as on the nearly heartbreaking, “I Get Along
Without You Very Well.” And she knows how to lay back on swing,
as she displays on her elongated melody on “Witchcraft.”
Her easy style, as on “Jump In,” is endearing, and her
tonality is spot on. Joel Frahm accents the core quartet with
complementary sax solos, but Latz’s poignant vocals pull
everything together. She draws out the melodies, making each note
count, and may be one of the finest balladeers in some time.
2008, June Moon Productions, 60 minutes.
Django jazz with cello might be the simplest way to describe
Billet-Deux. Cellist James Hinkley adds depth to the two guitar,
Parisian jazz concept with his swinging bowing. And cello seems to bop
just as easily as violin would in this setting, as Hinkley proves on
Gillespie’s “Be-Bop,” where he holds his own with the
fleet fingers of guitarists Josephina Hunner and Troy Chapman. The
thing that makes Billet-Deux stand out from the usual Django-style
groups is their adaptation of more modern jazz composers, like Sonny
Rollins (“Pent-Up House”) and Charles Mingus
(“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”). Their tunes fit into the jump
swing mold, and when the group tackles more modern styles, like Latin
jazz on Chapman’s “Sarita,” the switch from swing to
Latin chamber jazz is seamless. The sole Django tune,
“Anouman,” is a ballad, handled gorgeously by both cello
and guitar with melodicism and fine use of harmonics. The group even
tackles contemporary Latin jazz (“Ordinary Girl”) with
aplomb. Billet-Deux is thankfully not your father’s Django cover
2008, Billet-Deux, 54 minutes.
Second Season: Progressive and Classic Rock as Jazz, Wave Mechanics Union.
When I first saw the tunes included here, I was reluctant to listen.
Groups that try to repurpose classic rock tunes into jazz often have
trouble bringing new life to those timeless melodies. But the large
group, led by the core trio of vocalist Lydia McAdams,
trombonist/composer Ryan Fraley, and drummer/composer Ralph Johnson,
intrigued me enough to plug it in. When the iconic organ line from the
Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” was redone by
chirping flutes, the disc automatically went into the
‘doesn’t work’ category. Digging deeper didn’t
find much improvement. “Killer Queen,” brought nothing new
to the table, and I’d rather hear Freddy Mercury sing it than
McAdams, as nice a voice as she has. Pink Floyd’s “The
Great Gig in the Sky,” is done as a simple swing tune, and the
Police’s “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da,” is basically
muzak in 7/4. “Eleanor Rigby” sounds like a pops orchestra
arrangement, and King Crimson’s “Elephant Talk” is a
schtick-y swing travesty, sucking away any intensity that the original
had. This ambitious project unfortunately falls flat.
2008, HX Music, 55:10.
Modes of Limited Transcendence, Gene Ess.
Guitarist Ess was raised on an Air Force base in Okinawa and had many
influences growing up, from classical piano to indigenous Okinawan
music to jazz. He honed his craft at George Mason University and
Berklee, where he was steeped in hard and post bop. He was no doubt
influenced by jazz guitarists who preceded him, like Abercrombie,
Scofield, Stern and Pat Martino. In a quartet setting, with Tyshawn
Sorey on drums, Tigran Hamasyan on piano, and Harvie S on bass, Ess is
free to play his own compositions, which range from the eclectic bop of
“Ryo’s First Flight,” to the contemporary jazz waltz,
“Discovery in Three,” and the introverted trance of
“Gagaku Dreams.” There’s an undertone of eastern
spirituality here, and the tunes are both accessible and slightly
lofty. Ess’s soloing follows chromatics and cascading lines, but
his compositions reach both backwards and forwards into jazz’s
past and future to make for a musical vision that seems to be searching
for something more.
2008, Simp Records, 65 minutes.
Crossroads, Peter Sommer.
Colorado saxophonist Sommer teams with fellow tenor man Rich Perry on
this double sax attack. It allows for harmonies on the melody lines, as
on the hard-bop version of Kenny Dorham’s “Escapade.”
It also lets two distinct voices solo; Sommer with his forward attack,
and Perry with his developing, breathier expressiveness. The tunes
aren’t plucked from the usual canon. Instead, we hear Wayne
Shorter’s “Dance Cadaverous,” and Monk’s
“Think of One.” But nothing really strays too far from the
norm otherwise. Standard swing beats and soloing forms abide by the
rules. Only Sommer’s own “Shoshin” breaks free, with
a searching, meandering melody that softens the approach. One wishes he
would have written more here to bring out some differentiation. Still,
the playing is solid, especially from drummer Todd Reid, and it gives a
voice to Rocky Mountain jazz.
2008, Capri Records, 60 minutes.
Brother to Brother, Clayton Brothers.
There are plenty of great brother acts in jazz: Nat and Cannonball
Adderley, the Heath Brothers, the Dorseys, the Joneses, and of course,
the Clayton Brothers. Here, alto man Jeff and bass brother John pay
tribute to those great brother acts, starting with Jeff’s
“Wild Man,” a nod to the Joneses, specifically Elvin, which
gives drummer Obed Calvaire a workout on the modal bop tune. Jeff and
Terell Stafford make like Nat and Cannonball on John’s
“Still More Work,” a call-and-response swinger that spews
energy and gravity. The Adderleys are well represented here, with at
least three tunes in their honor, including the grooving “Jive
Samba,” which lets John’s son, Gerald, crank the chords on
piano while dad and uncle Jeff lay down a solid foundation. The
brothers even pay tribute to ... themselves on the whimsical,
“Walking Bass,” which lets John goof on the prowess of the
upright bass. It’s not an exhaustive exercise in brotherly
tributes, but in the Claytons’ hands it’s a fun ride.
2008, artistShare, 60 minutes.
Hemispheres, Jim Hall and Bill Frisell.
From the liner notes, it sounds like the recording of this double disc,
at least the “Duo” part, done at producer Tony
Scheer’s house, was a fun session. The freedom of a house setting
allowed the two to be unconstrained, which brought out different sides
of the guitarists. They do both straight tunes and then free versions
and improvisations. The result is a collaboration of respect and
friendship. At times, as on the urban meditation of Hall’s
“All Across the City,” Hall leads the way with his fluid
touch. When Frisell takes the lead, as on “Monica Jane,”
it’s still clearly collaborative, with Hall floating around
Frisell’s sometimes staccato lines. When it’s a dual
improvisation, Frisell and Hall play off each other with interesting
and exciting results, as on “Beijing Blues,” where you can
hear the impromptu nature and energy emanating from the room, each
player searching, and finding, their paths. The transcendental
“Migration” is a fascinating exploration of texture and
tone. In the “Quartet” setting, the feeling is slightly
more rigid, but still satisfying. Hall and Frisell go back and forth
with melody, comping and soloing. Backed subtly by Joey Barron and
Scott Colley, Hall and Frisell are free to roam about the fretboards
and continue growing as a duo. It’s on the group improvisations,
like the freewheeling “Barbaro,” that we catch them at
their most interesting. Hall goes Frisell modern, not letting the
non-swing setting get in the way of the experimental nature. In terms
of compositional representation, Hall leads the way, and his more
reserved style takes prominence, but Frisell clearly has his influence,
taking the swing norm and going angular with the chords. It’s a
great meshing of styles from two truly great guitarists.
2008, ArtistShare, 1:55:30.
Backward Compatible, Steve Shapiro and Pat Bergeson, featuring Annie Sellick.
There are plenty of jazz artists on this disc, but this is far from a
true jazz recording. More of a pop-folk-jazz hybrid, buoyed by
Sellick’s easygoing, dusky vocals, it begins with orchestrated
folk rock, “Free Man in Paris,” a propulsive Joni Mitchell
tune. Then it goes cabaret with a slinky version of Cole Porter’s
“My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” with Shapiro’s vibes and
Bergeson’s guitar bringing out the jazz. Marc Johnson holds down
the low end solidly, while guest saxophonist Scott Kreitzer and
accordion player Will Barrow bring soloing prowess and texture to the
mix. The Bergeson and Shapiro tunes bring out more jazz than some of
the covers, as on the instrumental bopper, “I’ll Take the
Soup.” But Selleck is clearly more suited to jazz-inflected pop
tunes, a la Norah Jones, and her vocals, as on Neil Young’s
“Heart of Gold,” backed by vocalists Janice Pendarvis and
Vaneese Thomas, make this a clear crossover disc. Perhaps this is
Shapiro and Bergeson’s attempt to reach a wider audience, but it
also puts doubt as to what kind of musicians they want to be, and it
gives question to the disc’s intentions. It might work better as
a double-personality double disc, with the pop influence on one and the
jazz influence on the other.
2008, Apria, 56:45.