CD Reviews - March 2009
by George Fendel, and Kyle
by George Fendel
Memory, Bill Henderson, vocals.
It’s really something to celebrate when Bill Henderson comes
out with a new recording. And this one’s a corker! For
decades, Henderson has been ‘the jazz musician’s
singer’ who has additionally delighted a special circle of
fans. At 81, Henderson sounds the same as he did at half that age. His
are not Johnny Hartman type pipes, but his kinda raspy delivery is
rooted in the jazz art. Bill Henderson knows no other way.
He’ll grab you by interpreting a lyric’s meaning or
by bending and whooping his way through a standard without ever giving
it too much frosting. In a performance which obviously features an
inspired Henderson and an audience solidly in his corner, Bill and the
trio joyfully wend their way through some tunes that have been BH
staples for years. Perhaps my two favorites were a romping blues called
“Never Make Your Move Too Soon” and Duke
Ellington’s little charmer, “Tulip Or
Turnip.” I’ve been a Bill Henderson fan since his
Veejay days in Chicago. It’s just great to see him still in
the game. And still winning it.
Productions, 2008, 53:54.
Just A Little
Taste, Al Hood, trumpet and flugelhorn.
A Denver area musician and music educator, Al Hood is in complete
command here and has released a beautifully balanced CD with a few
surprises. First of all, there’s Hood’s fine wine
tone on both trumpet and flugelhorn. Then some hand-picked tunes
including “I Remember Clifford,” “Pure
Imagination,” “In The Wee Small Hours Of The
Morning,” “If I Loved You,” and an almost
dreamy version of “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New
Orleans.” To further entice you, Hood has chosen to include a
subtle, perfectly positioned string section on most tracks. And
finally, there’s the perfect arranging and composing from
Hood’s pianist, Dave Hanson. He contributes four originals to
the CD, and they range from the engaging to the sublime
(“Pastoral Blues”). There are a couple of bonuses
here in the vocal debut of Al’s brother, Steve Hood. In
addition, the group includes Ken Walker, bass; Todd Reid, drums; and
Rich Charaluce, guest reedman. Check out this perfectly paced,
exquisite recording at alhoodtrumpet.com
2008 , 66:25.
A Duet Of
One, Eddie Daniels, clarinet and Roger Kellaway, piano.
Get two monsters like Daniels and Kellaway together in the same room,
and you may be that sparks will fly. These guys have so much stored up
in their jazz craniums that the listener must work hard just to ingest
it all. This performance was recorded live before a riveted audience at
the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles. The twosome leaves nothing to chance,
opening with a bop laced “I’m Getting Sentimental
Over You.” The mood shifts with two examples of amazing
musical communication in Daniels’ artistic tone poems,
“Slow Dance” and “Adagio
Swing.” From there the two investigate just about every
musical crevice possible on “I Want To Be Happy.”
The rarely heard Hoagy Carmichael piece, “New
Orleans,” is played with appropriate reverence and is
followed by a challenging Kellaway original. After a lengthy, near
classical intro on “After You’ve Gone,”
the two launch into the old warhorse in full regalia. Three more
originals close out this recital quality appearance by two stunning
Sheldon, piano, vocals.
Why is it that not always, but invariably, the singers who most appeal
to me also play something? And usually itís piano.
Think of the likes of Sarah, Carmen, Frishberg, Dorough and umpteen
others. And Nina Sheldon has caught some Monk and Tristano in her piano
style. Maybe even some Eddie Costa, with a below middle C solo here and
there. And her singing is thoroughly jazz hip, somewhere between Norma
Winstone and Jackie Cain. Her trio is completed by John Menagon, bass,
and Bob Meyer, drums. To sweeten the menu, she brings on David Fathead
Newman on tenor on Bobby Troup’s “Baby, Baby All
The Time” and Duke’s opus, “I’m
Just A Lucky So And So.” Newman, who passed away only weeks
ago, may have been participating on his final recording. As for Nina
Sheldon, you’re going to dig her singing, her subtle scatting
and her choice of tunes. She’s the kind of intimate jazz
singer you’d love to hear in a club setting ... or in your
own living room.
Media, 2009, 47:19.
The Blues And
The Abstract Truth, Take 2, Bill Cunliffe, piano.
I’d imagine that many of you remember the original pressing
of the classic Impulse recording from the very highly regarded composer
and arranger Oliver Nelson. His tunes used strong, rich melody lines
but still left room for wide ranging improvisation. Bill
Cunliffe’s new take on Nelson’s work puts these
compositions in the capable hands of present day LA cats who are razor
sharp. The two primary soloists are Terrell Stafford, trumpet, and Jeff
Clayton, alto sax. Both are stunning at every turn, and Cunliffe, as
always, is an infectious, bring on the world pianist whose
skills know no limitations. The best known tune is “Stolen
Moments,” by now a jazz standard. Compare it, for instance,
to “Hoe Down,” and you’ll get an idea of
the scope of Nelson’ writing. Anyway, these and a half dozen
others give all comers a chance to stretch out. Try it on for size at www.ResonanceRecords.org.
Records, 2008, 45:58.
Tradition, Theo Croker, trumpet, vocals.
You gotta hand it to Arbors Records. They keep coming up with one new
voice after another. And so it is with Theo Croker, just 23 years of
age and more than ready for prime time. Croker is the grandson of Doc
Cheatham, a trumpet ace who let us in 1997 at age 92. And Coker, either
by design, genetics or both, has chosen the ebullient swing style
favored by his grandfather. There’s even an eerie resemblance
on the five tunes Croker sings! His quartet includes Sullivan Fortner,
piano; Joe Sanders, bass; and Albert Tootie Heath on drums. Trombone
maven Benny Powell drops by on “Jada” and
“I Cover The Waterfront,” but this CD brings to
light Coker’s sophisticated trumpet, and he plays it way
beyond his years. Good tunes here too! This impressive debut
is full of life, and I should think we’ll be hearing more
from Theo Croker.
Arts, Marshall Vente, piano, percussion.
A new name to this Portlander, Marshall Vente has apparently
established a stellar reputation in Chicago. This recording of all
original music shows him to also possess a diversified approach. His
basic trio includes Scott Mason on bass and Isidro Isi Perez on drums.
Various guest artists appear on such suspect items as udu, shaker and
the dreaded steel drums. But Vente keeps most of the extraneous stuff
well under control, and his piano skills are in the foreground. And
anyway, one would expect the percussive patrol on his Brazilian-like
compositions, and there are several lively ones here. Vente’s
original music has a spark to it, no doubt. I’d imagine
he’s also very comfortable with Songbook America, and
I’d like to hear him tackle some of those revered melodies
next time out. For now, there’s some freshness to both his
original melodies and his distinctive piano style.
Sessions Ltd, 2008, 61:18.
Live At The
Freight And Salvage, Live At Pearlís, Jeff Sanford and The
Cartoon Jazz Orchestra; Jeff Sanford, leader and reed instruments.
Did you ever give a thought to where that slightly wacky music in the
classic cartoons of long ago came from? Well, neither did
I. It was created by American composer Raymond Scott, who
wrote these fanciful, frantic melodies based on everything from
classical to Klezmer. Scott had no intention of writing for cartoons,
but his exuberant creations found a home with Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig,
Daffy Duck, Roadrunner and others. A few years back, San
Francisco’s Jeff Sanford formed the Cartoon Jazz Orchestra, a
thirteen piece gathering of the city’s crackerjack jazz
players. The music they play is almost all by Raymond Scott. And to
give you an idea of what they’re up to, consider titles such
as “Dinner Music For a Pack of Hungry Cannibals,”
“Huckleberry Duck,” “The
Penguin” and “New Year’s Eve in a Haunted
House.” Sanford and his guys are clearly having a great time,
and so will you. Want to know more? www.sanfordmusic.com Th,
th, th, that’s all folks!
Freight And Salvage, 2004, 49:52; Live At Pearlís, 2005,
Sunny Days, Marc Courtney Johnson, vocals.
Male jazz singers are pretty rare these days, so when a good one comes
along, it may be time to sit up and take notice. Marc Courtney Johnson,
of Chicago, takes on some standards and a handful of well-written
originals with aplomb, authority and creativity. For instance, try the
waltz tempo “Nola’s Song.” It’s
melody line would be enough for most singers to say, but Johnson nails
it. Or how about the fine old standard
“Invitation”? Johnson treats it as a
burner, and finds some well placed scat moments. And speaking of
burners, Freddie Green’s “Corner Pocket”
(which, with lyrics, becomes “Until I Met You”) is
taken at a ripping tempo worthy perhaps of Jon Hendricks. Johnson also
contributes several of his own tunes, and he’s especially
adept on some heartfelt ballads. It’s no secret that Chicago
is still one of the bastions of jazz, and the group accompanying the
singer is solid throughout. Johnson ends his CD with the optimistic
original, “Brand New Day.” Indeed that may be the
case for him. Learn more at MarcJohnson@dreamjazz.com
Second Time Around, Denise Perrier, vocals.
Here’s a San Francisco bay area singer who gets it right on
some dependable standards and one nearly forgotten gem, Y”ou
Better Love Me,” a well written swinger that I associate with
Buddy Greco. Perrier is backed by a well-honed trio, enhanced by the
tenor solos of Houston Person. Her stylish presentation is worth
Don’t Mean A Thing, Graham Covington, piano.
Are you ever in the mood for some uncomplicated, polished piano music
which politely swings and thoroughly entertains? Then perhaps
Portlander Graham Covington’s your man. He and bassist Dennis
Caiazza form a delightful duo which features sets by Duke Ellington and
George Gershwin, but also includes evergreens like
“Georgia,” “When Sunny Gets
Blue,” “That’s All” and many
more. To my ears, Covington is a disciple of the Teddy Wilson school, a
melody lover and mood maker.
Records, year not indicated, 76:58.
Steve Haines, bass.
This is your basic gathering of five hard bop musicians all on the same
page with some riveting, high energy playing on a program of originals.
Veteran drummer Jimmy Cobb is present on six of the eight selections,
and he is surrounded by a new generation of jazz educators with
impressive credentials. This is a brisk and breezy performance with
some stellar solo work from Rob Smith on trumpet and soprano sax (!);
David Lown on tenor; and Chip Crawford on piano. There’s
something of a classic Blue Note feel here, and I like it!
Records, 2009, 51:38.
World’s Edge Philippe Saisse, piano, keyboards.
I got real nervous when I read in the notes that Saisse has worked with
the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Bill Joel, Al Jarreau, David Sanborn,
Rick Braun, Dave Koz and other suspects. I’ll bet
I’d love to hear him play piano in a legit setting, but this
is simply highly-produced claptrap, complete with background voices. In
one instance, I thought aliens had landed from the planet Electronica.
More, Blue Sky 5 +2.
If you’re a fan of ‘30s and ‘40s swing,
the Blue Sky 5 provides plenty of feel good material. The group is
comprised of tenor, trumpet, piano, bass and drums. Many of the tunes
are complete with vocals, and the pianist, Craig Gilner, doubles on
Freddie Green-style rhythm guitar. There are sixteen tunes in all, with
highlights like “Sunday,”
“Rosetta,” “Just Friends,”
“Gotta Be This Or That,” the neglected
“Me, Myself and I,” and some clever originals as
Records, 2008, 49:05.
Steve Carter, piano, electric piano.
Perhaps you ‘sound freaks’ will like
what’s going on here. For me, there’s just too much
electronic decor. Still, Carter’s piano is pretty straight
forward on Cole Porter’s “Night And Day.”
But even there one finds too many percussive bombs. The remainder of
the disc, all originasl, has some pleasant moments amidst all the
electric piano, fretless electric bass, and rocky tempos. I’m
a poor judge of contemporary jazz, but despite my less than
enthusiastic remarks, I’d imagine this is about as good as it
gets. Judge for yourself.
Up! Dr Lonnie
Smith, Hammond organ, vocals.
Okay, it’s no secret that I’m not into guitar-organ
funk. The smart thing that Smith did on this recording was to get
Donald Harrison, alto; Peter Bernstein, guitar; and Herlin Riley,
drums, into the studio. They make what is usually ordinary and bland
occasionally palatable and even quite stirring on the gospel-tinged
tune “Pilgrimage.” Other than that, if
you’re into funk and predictable backbeat, maybe this is for
by Kyle O'Brien
TV Trio, John Stetch.
disc of TV themes redone as jazz tunes is a nice, kitschy idea, but
it’s not much more than a novelty as done by pianist/arranger Stetch.
While he is a quality player, jazzing up the “Looney Tunes” theme and
“The Waltons” won’t really cement him in the jazz canon. Still, for
nostalgia purposes, it’s fun to hear themes from youth done with a bit
of swing, like the jovial version of “Star Trek” and the playful “Rocky
and Bullwinkle”. But for the most part, this disc is fluff, as “The
Price is Right” would suggest, in its pure television shallowness.
2008, Brux Records, 50:00.
White Rocket, White Rocket.
seeing that this was a bass-less trio of drums, piano and trumpet, I
thought that this New York group might be too top heavy, but the music
that came out was brash, adventurous and intriguing. Pianist Greg
Felton attacks the keyboard with verve. His in-your-face style is
jolting at first, but his dexterity and his ability to add bass and
still retain a flourish on the high end makes him a double threat. The
music borders on the avant-garde at times but never strays too far to
be detached from jazz roots. Drummer Sean Carpio uses dynamics well,
keeping things rolling but never too heavy. Trumpeter Jacob Wick uses
polyrhythms to mesh with the percussive nature of the group, but he
also adds a needed dose of melody throughout. For those who like
adventures in jazz, this White Rocket is red hot.
2008, Diatribe Recordings, 60:00.
Saxolollapalooza, Frank Macchia.
disc takes the concept of four tenors to the nth degree. Six of the top
saxophonists in Los Angeles join forces to play leader Macchia’s
arrangements. The only accent besides woodwinds is Peter Erskine’s
smart drumming. Otherwise it’s all saxes. Eric Marienthal, Sal Lozano,
Bob Sheppard, Macchia, Gene Cipriano and Jay Mason handle all the
parts, from the highest piccolo tweets to the lowest bass sax blasts.
The vibe is old school, with thick harmonies, countermelodies and
traditional-style arrangements with a New Orleans street flair. “Down
By the Riverside,” is done as a NOLA march, bringing out the
playfulness of the setup. Macchia does a good job balancing the voices,
letting the reeds mesh together and utilizing doubles to bring
different textures, as the lush “My One and Only Love” displays.
Everyone gets a chance to solo, from Marienthal’s contemporary alto
licks (“Working Day and Night”) to Cipriano’s bari booms. This album
could have strayed into cheesy territory easily, but Macchia’s taut
arrangements and the level of musicianship keep this interesting. I
would have liked to see some rarer gems and more risk taking on the
tune selection, but as is this is a fun disc for sax lovers.
2008, Cacophony, 54:00.
The King of All Instruments, Charles Evans.
the sax theme is this disc, played entirely on the baritone saxophone.
Evans was influenced by a range of genres, from traditional jazz to
chamber music, avant-garde classical and free improvisation. It opens
with a three movement piece, “On Tone Yet,” slow, methodical layering
of the numerous tones of the big horn. Evans is clearly a master of his
instrument, coaxing out notes, textures and ranges not often heard
from the bari. He hits many altissimo notes that most bari players
wouldn’t try, and the multi-layered effect brings depth to the
self-penned tunes. The only problem here is that some tunes sound more
like exercises rather than compelling compositions. It’s more
impressive than it is listenable. Still, for saxophiles Evans’s work is
2008, Hot Cup Records, 51:00.
Edge of the Mind, Sound Assembly.
York composers David Schumacher and JC Sanford team up to conduct this
very modern big band. The group, made up of noted New York jazzers,
handles the pair’s thick arrangements with a surprising ease. The
opener alone, “Breaking Point,” is denser than anything Thad Jones put
forth. It has a Scofield-like quality, with Andrew Green’s distorted
guitar flying over the mashed harmonies. This is muscular music, even
when the feel is lighter, with sounds coming from every direction.
There is some levity here, with the playful “Slide Therapy,” which
rises and drops around the textural chords, but for the most part this
is serious stuff. It’s more soundscape than song and melodies aren’t
obvious. Singer Kate McGarry provides the only discernible melody, on
the lovely “The Radiance of Spring.” But otherwise this ambitious disc
gets bogged down in the over-orchestration. Not enough attention is
paid to space so there is a slight listener fatigue.
2008, Beauport Jazz, 60:00.
Flat Planet, Fareed Haque and the Flat Earth Ensemble.
influences abound on this disc. The Indian chants at the top of the
opening track, “Big Bhangra,” let you know that this isn’t a simple
swing disc. Haque, a respected guitarist, blends Hindustani folk
rhythms with groove jazz for a world music blend that is both exotic
and approachable. Mesmerizing tabla rhythms mesh with sitar and violin
on the meditative, “The Chant,” with Haque’s guitar work bringing east
and west together. Haque’s contemporary jazz chops come to the
forefront on “Uneven Mantra,” but on the more east-leaning tracks he
lets his guest artists shine, as on “32 Taxis,” a rush of voice and
rhythm from Ganesh Kumar over a bed of guitar. The four-part “Four
Corners Suite,” pulls together the two musical worlds Haque lives in,
with a nice dose of free improvisation thrown in for good measure.
2008, Owl Studios, 70:00.
Sweet Nothin’s, Midnight Serenaders.
Portland group travels back in time to the ‘20s and ‘30s for an upbeat
mix of popular tunes, retro-originals and a touch of Hawaiian island
fever. Singer and ukulele strummer Dee Settlemier does her best Betty
Boop - albeit with more substance than the cartoon character - on the
vocals and the band grooves nicely in the pocket, so it’s impossible to
keep your toes from tapping. David Evans and Garner Pruitt capture the
improvisational nature on sax/clarinet and trumpet, respectively, while
the rhythms of bassist Pete Lampe and guitarists Henry Bogdan and Doug
Sammons keep the swing jumping. Settlemier’s original tunes capture the
era nicely, as on the torch song, “Pettin’ in the Rain,” which lets her
stretch out her vocals with a fine strum behind her. Otherwise, the
song choices range from popular composers, like Fats Waller and the
Mills Brothers, to lesser known gems from Clarence Williams and Annette
Hanshaw. This music doesn’t break any new ground, but it sure is fun.
2009, Midnight Serenaders, 54:00.
Confluence, Ken Ollis, drums.
is a Portland drummer and composer on the way up. While he’s more known
for his sideman work, Ollis clearly knows how to compose. He has a
sense of adventure, as on the sparse marching tempo of “Respite March,”
where he lets Tim Jensen’s alto flute move the tune while he and
bassist Willie Blair lay quietly under. Ollis can get a bit frenetic at
times, as on the propelling “Distant Cousins,” a flurry of tones and
hyperkinetic samba rhythms. Same goes for the opener, “Bum Song,” which
is led by Dave Fleschner’s catchy B-3 solo. The disc is best when there
is use of space, as on the light and airy, “Sitka,” which has more
melody. The production is fairly sparse as done by producer Fleschner,
which doesn’t allow for any softened edges, but the band is tight and
on task, letting the tunes develop. Still, it can sound slightly busy
at times and a little more restraint would have served the songs
better. Ollis has a fine sense of harmony and melody, as displayed on
tunes like “Pop Smash #1, which features Jensen and trombonist Lars
Campbell sharing the lead, and certainly has a future ahead of him as a
bandleader and composer.
2009, Ken Ollis , 52:00.
Indigo, Cheryl Hodge, vocals.
has a striking voice. At once playful and childlike, as on the melody
of the slinky “Give In,” other times full and rich, others breathy and
sultry. It’s difficult to compare her to anyone because of her pliancy.
She sings mostly original tunes in the jazz fusion mode. Her style
might fit better in a swing setting but it’s difficult to tell since
we’re presented with several styles, sometimes within the same song, as
on the title track, where once she will sing big and full-voiced then
switch to a somewhat nasally, whispery delivery. Still, her range is
impressive and her band, which includes guitarist John Stowell, drummer
Charlie Doggett and bassist Dave Captein, helps bring out all the
qualities of her vocals. Hodge holds down the piano chair well too. I
find Hodge’s vocals more intriguing than pleasing but with every spin
she’s growing on me.
2007, Jazz Boulevard, 45 minutes.
Ode to Consumerism, Ben Darwish Trio.
Darwish recorded this vibrant disc at Jimmy Mak’s and the energy of the
concert comes through, as does Darwish’s prowess on the keyboard. After
a drum intro by Jason Palmer, Darwish and bassist Eric Gruber kick in
the melody and challenging rhythms of the title track, an original by
Darwish that’s every bit as hip as you’ll hear coming out of New York.
Darwish does an exceptional job of balancing contrapuntal lines,
fleet-fingered runs and heavy chords as his solo develops and the band
feeds on his licks, ramping up when needed. It makes for an exciting
listen, and luckily Darwish is not just youthful energy on the piano.
His “Interlude,” is a pensive ditty that utilizes space and texture
before giving way to Gruber’s loping “Bass Intro.” Taking a page from
the Bad Plus, Darwish takes a popular rock tune, Green Day’s
“Longview,” and transforms it into a medium jazz swinger. Had I not
known the tune I would never know it was originally done by a Bay Area
pop-punk band; Darwish smarts it up without losing the melody, then
adds a little attitude on the bridge with a needed bash of the keys.
The live setting lets Darwish and company stretch out and explore the
solos. His own “Out Comes Grim,” is a Latin-tinged groover that shows
he is a quality composer with plenty to say. It would be nice to hear
an entire album of originals since this collection of tunes shows so
2009, Ben Darwish, 48 minutes.