CD Reviews - February 2009
by George Fendel, and Kyle
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.