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CD Reviews - February 2009
by George Fendel, and Kyle O'Brien

Reviews by George Fendel

Perfect Strangers, Todd Coolman, bass.
For this stimulating recording, New York bassist Todd Coolman created the internet based ‘Learning Community,’ putting out the call to new composers of original jazz melodies. Of the dozens of responses received, these seven were put in the hands of Coolman’s quintet: Eric Alexander, tenor; Brian Lynch, trumpet; Jim McNeely, piano; and John Riley, drums. To Coolman and his colleagues, the material represented the work of perfect strangers, hence the title of the CD. They open with “Crescent City Ditty,” a funky, boppy, bluesy stew, and continue with “Full Circle,” a tune with building intensity, and flawless solos from Lynch, McNeely and Alexander. “Connotation” puts the ensemble  in a muscular framework, and “Could You Imagine” swings with authority. “C Minor Waltz” brings a tinge of regret to mind, and “Carribbean Sunset” is one of those controlled, high-energy vehicles with scintillating solo work. With these talented players, any project of this kind would come off successfully, as this one most certainly does.
Artist Share, 2008, 58:38.

88 Fingers, Eyran Katsenelenbogen, piano.
Once you wend your way through this Kat’s last name (really, just try it phonetically, and it’s not that tough!) you’’re going to find some solo piano to sink your teeth into. In fact, let’s call him ‘Kat.’ He gets your attention immediately with a stirring “Close Enough For Love.” And then the sparks start to fly!  On comes “Lover” with more than a hint of Art Tatum and even a touch of the thunder of Roger Kellaway! The Tatum shadow also lingers close by on such adventures as “Groovin’ High,” “Mack The Knife” and even “A Night In Tunisia.” On the more reflective side, there’s “September  Song,” “What’ll I Do,” “The Summer Knows” and, among others, a little touch of gentle finery called “Maura’s Tune.” The liner notes give us nothing on Kat’s background, but you may sure this guy practiced all the Czerny and Bach before turning his attention to these masterful solo piano impressions. Now, try that name again: Kastenelenbogen. That’s it, just like Henry Higgins, I think you’ve got it. And so does Eyran Katsenelenbogen!
ER Records, 2009, 61:33.

Deux, Billet-Deux (a guitar-cello based quintet).
This seemingly one-of-kind group has taken the instrumentation and basic style of such celebrated artists as Django Reinhardt and Stephhane Grappelli and applied that style to modern era heroes like Diz, Mingus, Wes, Clifford and others. You may well be dubious about such an experiment, but one time through this disc and you’ll admit, it works. And so, this quintet of two guitars, cello, bass and drums works with panache on Wes’s Four On Six, Diz’s Bebop; Clifford Brown’s Joy Spring and Charlie Mingus’s opus, Goodbye Porkpie Hat. To those, add such delights as Pent-Up House, Softly As In A Morning Sunrise, Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans and a half a dozen or so of lesson known, but compelling melodies, and you come out with a different take on some magnificent music. For example, from the latter group, there’s a Reinhardt composition called Anouman which features an album highlight  solo from cellist Michael Yocco. All in all, you’ll find here a most intriguing album which holds your interest through its superb material and first rate musicianship
Self-produced, 2008, 50:02.

Melancholia, Matt Criscuolo, alto saxophone.
Right from the get-go, one realizes that it’s the rare jazz CD that includes strings nowadays. Matt Criscuuolo  (pronounced Chris-quall-o) wanted to concentrate his effort on this some pensive material, so it made sense to get that extra boost that often only strings can give. His basic quartet includes a rhythm section of Larry Willis, piano; Phil Bowler, bass; and Billy Drummond, drums. To that illustrious group he added two violins and a viola and hired Willis to write some subtle string arrangements. And while Criscuolo indeed achieves his melancholic, movie theme sound, there are moments when he revs up the alto, especially on his two originals. Willis contributes “Ethiopia,” a riveting entry on this disc. It is followed by two tunes each from Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. All are artful and beautiful, but I must say that I’ve always been drawn to Hancock’s lovely, lyrical “Chan’s Song,” from the film, “Bird.”  I was impressed both by the concept of the album and Criscuolo’s distinctive alto as well. More at tonematt@yahoo.com.
M Records, 2008, 46:23.

Ideals, Steve Herberman, guitar.
A new name to me, and one I’ll look for in the future, Steve Heberman gives notice here of guitar chops galore. His trio, with Tom Baldwin, bass, and Mark Ferber, drums, gets you shaking your head in amazement right off with a ripping version of Kurt Weill’s “This Is New.” Herberman has the single note jazz guitar style down pat on other evergreens like Matt Dennis’s “Will You Still Be Mine,”and he has a lot of fun meandering through the changes of “I Want To Be Happy,” a lilting Jobim tune, “Someone To Light Up My Life,” and Herberman’s heated original, “Upbeat.” Other standouts included “Delilah,” a Victor Young tune which seems to be enjoying something of a renaissance among present day jazz musicians; Mal Waldron’s “Soul Eyes,” taken at a little faster tempo than usual;  a lovely opening arco solo statement from Baldwin on Gershwin’s classic, “Soon”; and another Herberman original, a medium tempo lilt called “She’s For Me.” I know you guitar freaks are a special breed among jazz fans, so be aware: Steve Herberman is a guitarist you need to check out. And you may do just that at www.reachmusicjazz.com.
Reach Music, 2008, 65:36.


The Second Time Around, Denise Perrier, vocals.
Denise Perrier is a singer of considerable gifts, and she is effective in this live performance from a San Francisco club called Pearl’s. She stays mainly with tried and true standards like “’S Wonderful,” “Here’s That Rainy Day,” “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” and the tile tune. A nice addition was “You Better Love Me While You May,” a swinging but obscure tune which I remember from an old Buddy Greco record. Tenorman Houston Person adds some spark to Perrier’s excellent trio.
Self-produced, 2008, 60:07.

With You In Mind, Danny Green, piano.
Danny Green is a young (27) San Diego area pianist who shares some very attractive original compositions on this CD. Some of the material has a slightly Latin flavor, and while I’m not passionate about Latin music, these crisply played melodies stand by themselves as solid, groovy piano music. I might add that a few cuts are augmented by soprano sax and Latin percussion. Green’s compositions  are well-written and briskly performed. Next time out, I’d love to hear him play a few standards. For more info, visit www.dannygreen.net.
Alante Recordings, 2008, 42:15.

To Be Continued, Ken Hatfield, acoustic guitar.
Bill McCormick, a Berklee educated guitarist, long ago had to come to grips with a condition which ended his career as a player. Instead, he turned his attention to guitar instruction books and composition. This CD introduces some of those compositions in the capable hands of a quintet led by acoustic guitar maven Ken Hatfield. The tempos range from bebop to Latin; from moody ballads to lyrical melody lines. Whether in the role of soloist or as a composer to the musical expressions of his colleagues, Hatfield is a gifted purveyor of the acoustic guitar.
M Pub Corp, 2008, 36:18.

Live At The Jazz Standard, Vol. 2, Dena Derose, piano and vocals.
Can it be that Dena Derose has matured and grown into a polished jazz singer?  Not that she didn’t impress on earlier recordings. But she sounds even better this time out. With her own understated piano accompaniment and that of Martin Wind, bass, and Matt Wilson, drums, Derose is right in the center of the groove on eight selections, including “When Lights Are Low,” “Detour Ahead,” “In Your Own Sweet Way” and  a personal fave of mine, “Laughing At Life.” This being volume two, I’m convinced that I’m gonna have to get my hands on volume one!
MaxJazz, 2008, 62:25.

East Harlem Skyline, Greg Skaff, guitar.
I know there are a lot of you out there who dig these guitar-Hammond B-3 groups, but sorry, for me they tend to be a ‘you’ve heard one, you’ve heard ‘em all’ thing. Still, there’s no doubt that Skaff is a fluid, skilled guitarist. Proof lies in his solo version of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom,” the one delicacy on the album. I’d love to hear Skaff fire up some Bird, Monk or Miles. I’ll bet he could maneuver with ease in that territory.
Zoho, 2009, 57:35.

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 Foolish Heart.”
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, lyrical excellence.
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.

Reviews by Kyle O'Brien

Mosaic: A Celebration of Blue Note Records, The Blue Note 7.
Blue Note Records is celebrating 70 years of recorded jazz, so it’s fitting that a handful of the label’s artists would get together and record some forward thinking covers of classic artists. Nicholas Payton, Steve Wilson, Ravi Coltrane, Peter Bernstein, Bill Charlap, Peter Washington and Lewis Nash join forces to retell potent moments in Blue Note history from great artists like Monk, McCoy, Horace Silver, Joe Henderson and others. The disc kicks off with a hard bop bang, as the septet sears its way through Cedar Walton’s “Mosaic,” driven by Nash’s propelling rhythms. Each player gets a chance to show off here, but this disc is more about the cohesiveness of the ensemble. Smart horn arrangements bring the frontmen together, especially on the tonal take of Henderson’s “Inner Urge.” The group courts the edgier side of Blue Note, with less than classic tunes, like Monk’s dense “Criss Cross” and Horace Silver’s “The Outlaw.” The most recognizable of the bunch is Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance,” which gets a modern interpretation from Charlap and Payton on the head. Hopefully Blue Note milks another disc out of these guys.
2009, Blue Note, 58:00.

Guitars, McCoy Tyner.
Tyner is one of jazz’s greats with really nothing left to prove. He has been on the cutting edge for so long one would think he could rest easy. But the work of an improvisor is never done, and this collaboration with some fine string players proves he doesn’t need to slow down. With a core trio of himself, Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette, he’s joined by John Scofield, Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, Derek Trucks and (stretching the guitar theme) Bela Fleck. Ribot’s outing is mixed. The opening improvisation, just a duet between he and Tyner, is dissonantly intriguing, but his distorted work on “Passion Dance” doesn’t fit as well with the hard bopping trio. Scofield hits a home run taking the lead on Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.”; his restrained, rhythmic soloing fits perfectly with Tyner’s heavy comping style. Fleck’s contributions on banjo, playing Fleck’s original tunes, give an opportunity for Tyner to open up his chordal palette to some eastern modalities, especially on “Trade Winds.” Their cover of “My Favorite Things” sounds a bit odd on banjo though, even with Fleck’s dexterity. Trucks, a blues guitar phenom, isn’t as adept at bop, but his soulful blues riffs are refreshing. Frisell ends the recording with three tunes that fit he and Tyner like comfortable gloves, including the African-flavored “Baba Drame.” If I had to pick, though, I’d love to hear Tyner and Scofield do a whole disc together. A DVD extra disc includes over three hours worth of insider video of the studio sessions.
2008, Half Note Records, 74:20.

 The Cole Porter Mix, Patricia Barber.
Barber’s stock continues to rise with smart songwriting and arranging and a voice that conveys both emotion and musical fortitude. So departing from her more ambitious projects, Barber doesn’t rest musically with this tribute to one of music’s greatest songwriters. Barber reshapes Porter’s classic melodies, but she doesn’t go for the obvious tunes, thank goodness. Instead, she lends her rich voice and piano to thoughtful arrangements of tunes like the acoustic guitar version of “C’est Magnifique,” with her mellow melodica solo and a darker take on “Get Out of Town.” She adds a few choice melodies of her own, including the tender “I Wait for Late Afternoon and You,” and a midnight-cool, whip-smart “Snow.” The slowed down version of “I Get a Kick Out of You” doesn’t quite hit the mark, but the overall take on Porter’s tunes is a huge success in Barber’s able vocalese.
2008, Blue Note, 56:00.

Artist in Residence, Jason Moran.
It is possible to appreciate something without liking it. Such is the case with the first two tracks on pianist Moran’s experimental disc. The opening funk of “Break Down” includes a sampled voice reciting the words “break down” ad nauseum. The second, “Milestone,” features Alicia Hall Moran’s vibrant soprano voice, but the mix of operatic vocals with modern chamber jazz is grating. That said, Moran’s talent as a pianist and arranger, especially on the tight quartet numbers, like the flurrying “Refraction 2,” makes this worth a listen. Do I like it all? No, but I applaud the originality and the musicianship.
2006, Blue Note, 50:00.

Karibu, Lionel Loueke.
Loueke smartly blends his West African roots with modern jazz on his latest outing, even singing to bring an exotic fullness to this trio disc. He also gets a little help from some talented friends, like Herbie Hancock on a couple tracks, and Wayne Shorter. It’s jazz through and through, with the vibrant polyrhythms and tonal styles of Africa thrown in to make a solid world beat jazz album. Even the classic “Skylark” gets a pan-Atlantic makeover, becoming sparser and more playful than Hoagy Carmichael ever imagined. Coltrane’s “Naima” gets an avant-garde, deconstructed makeover by Loueke, Shorter, bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth. When Shorter and Hancock both guest, on “Light Dark,” the result is experimentalist jazz with eastern, African and European influences. Not terribly melodic but always engaging and interesting.
2008, Blue Note, 60:00.

 Invisible Cinema, Aaron Parks.
Parks is a highly adept pianist who began as a young sideman with Terence Blanchard. The mid-twentysomething has come into his own as a composer and solo artist with this, his debut disc. He plays what I call journey jazz -- longer compositions, ethereal, searching and meandering, ambitious in chords and drawn out melodies. It’s intellectual but played passionately and deftly. Parks lets the tunes build and evolve, a sign of a mature composer and bandleader. He is joined by a trio of talented players, including Mike Moreno on guitar, who brings a Metheny-like quality. When Parks plays solo he is aces, as on the pensive and sparse “Into the Labyrinth.” Definitely one to watch.
2008, Blue Note, 55:00.

Symphonica, Joe Lovano.
Lovano is always searching for new musical ways to reach people, and this is no exception. In a retro twist, the tenor man takes the lead over the WDR Orchestra and revisits some of his favorite compositions (along with one Mingus chart). The disc was recorded live, but the quality of both the playing and recording are studio perfect, and it isn’t until the audience claps that you realize it’s live. The tunes, arranged beautifully for orchestra by Michael Abene, cover Lovano’s 12-year career with Blue Note, hitting high notes with the elegant “Emperor Jones,” and the complex and dense, “Alexander the Great.” Lovano is more feature artist than bandleader here, and it lets his artistry flourish. His sax meshes wonderfully with the orchestra, and the arrangements never get in his way. It’s both fun and challenging.
2008, Blue Note, 60:00.

Loverly, Cassandra Wilson.
Wilson’s is one of the most unique voices in jazz -- deep, rich, dusky and emotive -- so it’s nice to hear it in this pared down, quintet setting. Her mastery comes to the fore as she molds the vocals with a steady hand. The quiet nature of her group, which includes Jason Moran, Herlin Riley, and Marvin Sewell, lets Wilson steer these classic melodies, like the lush “Black Orpheus,” the exotic “Caravan” and the funky  “St. James Infirmary.” Her choice of popular tunes would be pedestrian in the hands of most vocalists, but Wilson brings such new life, thanks to wise arrangements and a comfortable vibe, that the listener is compelled to take the whole disc in one sitting.
2008 Blue Note, 60:00.

Cuban Odyssey, Jane Bunnett.
Bunnett is a highly respected, vastly underappreciated artist. To jazz buffs, the soprano saxophonist and flutist is an incredible talent. But some may not know that she’s also an expert in Cuban music. Her knowledge is deep, and this disc from ’02 shows the passion this Canadian has for the music of the solitary island nation. Bunnett takes a back seat for the most part and lets a plethora of Cuban musicians drive the music with their incredible rhythms and voices. Bunnett merely peppers her soprano in, producing a blend of North American jazz and Latin folk music. It’s interesting as a study of this rich musical culture and fun to hear for the joy and inspiration of the music and musicians.
2002, Blue Note, 65:00.

Live at Yoshi’s, Pat Martino.
There’s something to be said for a really good B-3 trio. In this case, it doesn’t get much better. The masterful Martino is joined on stage by Joey DeFrancesco and drummer Billy Hart, and the vibe is electric. Martino is at the top of his game, flying over the frets like a new man on bop classics like “Oleo,” blues groovers like “Blue Bossa,” and other choice tracks. This is stripped down jazz at its best, with three great musicians clicking on all cylinders. No frills, just fantastic playing. What’s not to like?
2001, Blue Note, 70:00.

When You Know, Dianne Reeves.
If this weren’t Dianne Reeves singing this collection of songs that celebrate the stages of love in a woman’s life, I would run away ... fast. Familiar melodies like “Just My Imagination” and “Lovin’ You” would normally find me turning the dial quickly, but even these sappy tunes are nicer with Reeves’ beautiful voice. I still can’t say that this is my favorite collection by Reeves, but there are some gems. “I’m in Love Again,” is a tender winner, with Russell Malone and Romero Lubambo adding light guitar touches, and the swinging “Social Call” features Reeves at her best, lilting over the beat. Even the best voice can’t make a song like “When You Know” less syrupy. Personally, I’ll leave the love songs alone.
2008, Blue Note, 53:20.

The Artist Selects, Lou Donaldson.
Alto man Donaldson never was as big a name as Parker or Cannonball, but he has outlasted all of them, and this retrospective, chosen by the man himself, looks back on his many years on Blue Note, starting with a few bop gems from 1952. Donaldson is cut from the same cloth as Bird, bopping with dexterity and playfulness. Here we hear him with greats like Clifford Brown, Philly Joe Jones, Horace Silver and Art Blakey on Donaldson tunes like the upbeat “Cookin’” and the lightning quick “Lou’s Blues.” While Bird never had time to evolve, we hear Donaldson go from bopper to Latin jazz purveyor on late ’50s sessions, to soul jazzer in the mid ’60s. On “What Will I Tell My Heart,” we hear Donaldson as an emotive balladeer, backed by an all-star group that includes Wayne Shorter, Pepper Adams, McCoy Tyner, Ron Carter and others. Donaldson certainly deserves recognition after a lifetime of good jazz, and this is a great way to hear the evolution of an artist who lived through the peak of jazz innovation.
2005 Blue Note, 80:00.

Copyright 2009, Jazz Society of Oregon