CD Reviews - April 2009
by George Fendel, and Kyle
by George Fendel
Shape Shifter, Scott Reeves, alto flugelhorn, alto valve trombone.
Hands down, New York City continues to be the mecca of jazz musicians. Here is one of perhaps dozens of stellar groups playing the real deal in Gotham. As noted above, Reeves has done some surgery on the standard flugelhorn and valve trombone, giving each horn a new dimension without affecting character. The only musician in Reeves’ quintet with whom I’m familiar is tenor saxophonist Rich Perry, a stunning player deserving of much greater recognition. I must say that I was also impressed with the driving hard bop of pianist Jim Ridl. Rounding out the quintet are bassist Mike McGuirk, who, I remember, had Portland ties some years back, and the drummer on the date, Andy Watson. All nine tunes in the set are Reeves compositions. One of the features, “The Soulful Mr. Williams,” is a tribute to pianist and gentleman, James Williams, who was lost to the jazz world much too soon. Reeves’ compositions are intricate and sometimes deep, but this is a tight knit group with strong solo work and a well-honed ensemble sound.
Miles High Records, 2009, 75:07.
Hank and Frank II, Hank Jones, piano and Frank Wess, tenor sax and flute.
Think about it. Hank Jones and Frank Wess were both busy making wonderful recordings in the early days of LP records! And that goes back before 1950. Which means that between them, these two jazz heroes have clocked some 120 years in the business! And from the sound of things on their follow up to Hank And Frank, they’re still at the top of their game. The two vets are joined by John Weber, bass, and Mickey Roker, drums, and bring in a couple of guests most sympathetic to the goings on here. Guitarist Ilya Lushtak adds an elegant dimension. Singer Marion Cowings, a fixture for years in the Big Apple, is on several tracks. He’s especially impressive on a charming tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, “The First Time I Saw Ella.” All in all, there’s lots to like here, with both standards and jazz classics. So when you add this to your collection, look for it’s predecessor as well, “Hank And Frank.” They’ve been at the party a long time. And they’re still happy to attend!
Lineage Records, 61:50, 2009.
We’d Like New York ... In June! Antti Sarpila, clarinet, tenor and soprano saxes.
Want proof that the jazz art touches every corner of the planet? Just put this disc in your player, and while you’re listening, think about the fact that the quartet’s players hail from Finland, Italy, Australia and the U.S. It’s the music that brings these cats together, and they’re straight down the middle of jazz boulevard on seventeen tunes, mostly standards. Sarpila, the Finn and leader of the group, is equally facile on all the reeds. The quartet also includes the Teddy Wilson-esque piano of Rosanno Sportiello (Italy); Nicki Parrott (Australia) on bass; and Ed Metz, Jr.( USA) on drums. Among the standards they play with precision and delight include “How About You,” “From This Moment On,” “Everything Happens To Me,” and “Love Walked In.” Sound pretty good so far? You bet, and a few Sarpila originals and some surprise obscurities complete a nicely conceived, affectionately performed recording.
Arbors, 2008, 71:20.
Fireball, Dupree Bolton, trumpet.
One of the true mysterious figures in jazz history, little was known about Dupree Bolton’s life outside of music until relatives filled in the blanks following his death in 1993. There was no mystery regarding his talent, though, and the CD’s title is certainly well chosen. It features Bolton in three separate settings. The first is a radio broadcast with Bolton playing in a sextet led by the soulful tenor of Curtis Amy. However, Bolton gets plenty of solo action and is featured on “Laura,” where he displays some Clifford-ish chops. The second setting is for Pacific Jazz Records on two tunes and finds Bolton playing with a group entirely unknown to me with the exception of Hadley Caliman, the tenor player who now resides in the Puget Sound area. Bolton shines on a beauty called “Midnight Lament,” somewhat like “’Round Midnight.” The last session finds Bolton leading a band inside the walls of an Oklahoma state prison. Unfortunately, he served several years in various lock-ups due either directly or indirectly to a heroin habit. The level of inmate musicianship is quite amazing. And there’s much more to Bolton’s story: recordings with Amy, Harold Land and others. His is one of those sad stories of having the skill but not the will.
Uptown Records, 2008, 54:28.
Solitary Tales, John Stowell, guitar.
Anyone who has witnessed a performance by master guitarist John Stowell, knows that he is far from your everyday guitarist. From the nearly vertical position of the guitar (not unlike the positioning of a cello) to the artist’s expression and his closed eyes, Stowell is nearly one with the guitar. On this solo expedition, he plays both acoustic and electric guitars in the Portland, Oregon, living room of his luthier, Mike Doolin. Stowell plays five new originals here, but also explores music by as eclectic a group as Ornette Coleman, Steve Swallow, Bill Evans and even Cole Porter. One can only wonder what the derivation might be of titles like “Fun With Fruit” or “Laughing River,” for we are given no clue in the notes. Stowell’s concept is truly unique, earning him praise from such guitarists as Larry Coryell, who said “John is a master creator.” If you’re ready to step out, even a little, from the ordinary, check out Stowell’s passionate creativity.
Origin, 2009, 51:09.
The Children’s Suite, Phil Woods, conductor, alto saxophone.
The common phrase “been there, done that” would certainly apply to the multi-talented Woods. One of the few survivors of bebop’s golden age, Woods has provided inspiration for countless younger musicians and continues to thrill his loyal fans as well. Maybe, just maybe, this project represents something not even the prolific Woods hasn’t ìdone, nor perhaps, has he been here before. Because this time around, Woods has put melodies to the verses of children’s writer, A. A. Milne. As Woods put it, “Milne’s words were magic for me, and the music just poured out.” His effort results in fourteen original tunes. A bonus here is that several of them are sung by the inimitable Bob Dorough. He’s the ideal choice on this whimsical material, as is vocalist, Vidki Doney. Actor Peter Dennis handles the narration, and it seems everyone finds the spirit of fun that Woods brings to the table. Milne’s work, of course, dates back to the ‘20s with his enormously popular Pooh books for children. But guess what? This isn’t exclusively for children. All of you grown up kids will dig it too!
Jazzed Media, 2009, 77:24.
New York City, 1964-65, Lucky Thompson, tenor and soprano saxophones.
If you’ve missed the limited amount of material available by Eli ‘Lucky’ Thompson, here’s your opportunity to catch up. Thompson was a superb player somewhere in the line that brought us Don Byas and Ben Webster. But he was a double threat in that he often played soprano. On this two CD find, Thompson is featured in two Big Apple Concerts, the 1964 gig at The Little Theater, and in 1965 at The Half Note. The two appearances differ considerably in that the first has Thompson leading an eight-piece group with standout colleagues like Hank Jones, Cecil Payne and Benny Powell. The Half Note date finds Thompson leading a quartet comprised of Paul Neves, piano; George Tucker, bass; and Oliver Jackson, drums. The two gigs also offer both the opportunity to hear Thompson play his own compositions with the octet, while offering gems like “What’s New,” “Lady Bird,” and “Strike Up The Band” with the quartet. Thompson wrote invigorating and often beautiful original tunes, and possessed a sound very much his own. Despite his nickname, Lucky Thompson deserved to climb higher on the ladder to fame than was actually the case. There’s a bonus here in a 44-page booklet, which will help acquaint you with one of the more under-appreciated marvels of jazz.
Uptown Records, 2009, 39:51 and 44:38.
Boneyard, Tom Brantley, trombone.
In a myriad of instrumental settings ranging from a trombone-guitar duet to a five trombones and rhythm group, Tom Brantley solidly states the case for all of you bone freaks. The tune list also provides plenty of variety when one considers Saint-Saens’ “Adagio” alongside Randy Weston’s “Hi Fly,” Jack Wilkins’ title tune, and a surprisingly funky, rather outside take on Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation.” But be assured that as a leader, Brantley has done his homework and takes on all comers with style, wit and, most importantly, musical acumen. Other winners on his menu include “Stardust,” “Body and Soul” and “In A Mellow Tone.” The last tune, “Venice At One,” goes a bit overboard in the electronic funk department, but the rest offers some creative arranging and high power bonework.
Summit, 2008, times not indicated.
Cerulean Blue, Laura Klein, piano and Ted Wolff, vibraphone.
Just how many piano-vibes duos can you come up with? Well, if you’re like me, you might think of Gary Burton and Chick Corea, but you may be hard pressed to think of any others. There’s no doubt that the two instruments are elegant and beautiful together, and Klein and Wolff, both Berklee grads turned San Franciscans, have created a well-conceived album of bop, standards, a contemporary touch here and there, and several impressive originals. Kenny Barron’s “Voyage” has by now become a jazz staple. It is played to perfection in this duo setting. From the standard book there’s “It Could Happen To You” and “I Concentrate On You.” Another jazz composition which seems on its way toward that elusive ‘forever’ status is J. J. Johnson’s “Lament.” The remainder of the album is devoted to several originals plus a few contemporary forays into the music of Steve Swallow, Wayne Shorter and Pat Metheny. The sound of the vibes and piano together is altogether satisfying and often stunningly pretty. Hopefully we’ll hear more. www.lauraklein-tedwolff.com
Self-produced, 2008, 61:13.
Dave Siebels & Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, Siebels, Hammond B-3 organ.
Seems to me that there’s been a dearth in recent years of B-3 with big band recordings. In fact, the last one I recall paired Jimmy Smith and Oliver Nelson. Fast forward a few decades and you have the association of Dave Siebels and Gordon Goodwin, a musical meeting sure to please B-3 fans. Siebels is in complete control of the back beat thing, and he and Goodwin explore the whole a wide range of blues, gospel, samba and even a bit of Stevie Wonder.
PBGL Inc., 2008, times not indicated.
Once Is Not Enough, Frank Wess, tenor saxophone and flute.
Jazz icon Frank Wess formed this nonet in 2008 and successfully debuted in New York City. Now the rest of us can hear what the mecca’s excitement was all about. Wess, a legend of the Count Basie band, presents six driving originals and three standards, “Sweet And Lovely,” “Lush Life” and “Fly Me to the Moon.” To give you an idea of the tremendous talent in the band, how about Terrell Stafford, Steve Turre, Gerald Clayton, Peter Washington and Frank Green, to name just a few. Wess is a busy man. See the review above called Hank And Frank!
Labeth Music, 2008, 62:59.
One Way/Detour, Bob Albanese, piano, with Ira Sullivan, reeds.
I’ve seen little of multi-instrumental threat Ira Sullivan since his juicy partnership with the late bopper, Red Rodney. So I was very curious about this CD, because I had not heard of Bob Albanese. In a phrase -- monster jazz pianist, the real deal. Where he’s been ‘til now, I don’t know. But I can see why Sullivan hooked up with his trio on “Ugly Beauty,” “Midnight Sun,” “Yesterday’s Gardenias,” and a host of originals straight down the main street of the bop tradition. Keep an eye out for Albanese. Touch, phrasing, swing, and bop chops. He’s got it all.
Zoho, 2009, 62:18.
All Things Familiar, Dan Adler, guitar.
Right off the top, anyone who can get tenor maven Grant Stewart on his disc is going to get my attention. Adler does that and more on an album nicely balanced between his own invigorating original material and evergreens like “Star Eyes,” “Emily,” “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to” and “I Love You.” Pick up on Adler’s single note style, and you know he’s spent time digging players with names like Pass, Kessel, Farlow, Montgomery, Burrell and others. No pretense here. No rebuilding the pyramids. Just some attractive, straight ahead playing!
Emdan Music, 2009, 74:23.
It’s Clear, Helio Alvves, piano.
Born and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Helio Alves studied the classics as a child, eventually turning his attention to jazz. He writes with a Brazilian sense of both rhythm and melody, and many of his original compositions are imaginative and compelling. His basic trio includes Scott Colley, bass, and Ernesto Simpson, drums. On this disc he adds the excitement of acoustic guitarist Romero Lubambo, a musician seemingly tailor made for both the tender and invigorating melodies of Helio Alves.
Reservoir, 2009, 54:27.
Moanin’, Nancy Wright, tenor saxophone.
According to the liner notes, Nancy Wright is originally from Dayton, Ohio. But one might think she’s one of those Texas tenors upon hearing her big sound. It’s what some call ì’he groove’ and others affectionately refer to as ‘grease.’ In any case, Wright is in overdrive with Tony Monaco on B-3, and some willing help on guitar and drums. Wright’s originals are bluesy and big toned, and she also sores well on “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to,” “When Sunny Gets Blue” and “Minority.” Fans of the genre will dig it.
Chicken Coup Records, 2009, 62:38.
Euphrates, Me Jane, Bipolar with Jed Feuer, trumpet, flugelhorn.
Here’s a refreshing new look at both some classical melodies by the likes of Debussy, Beethoven, Bach, Faure and Brahms with a few standards in the mix and some dynamic originals by various players in the group. Thankfully, it doesn’t come off like ‘Swinging the Classics.’ It is, instead, very tightly arranged, highly listenable, inviting music. I must admit I was pleasantly surprised and loved the musicianship and the freshness of this group.
Self-produced, 2008, 70:24.
Bare Bones, Madeline Peyroux, vocals, acoustic guitar.
The opening notes of Peyroux’s first tune, “Instead,” sounded for all the world like Leon Redbone was about to render one of his down home country tunes. And the album continues that way, with Peyroux’s originals sounding way too poppy for my ears. It’s too bad because her no-frills voice would be well suited to worthy material. Oh well, I have plenty of records by Norma Winstone, Ruth Cameron and Claire Martin.
Rounder Records, 2009, 49:43.
Arrival, Jacques Voyenmant, trombone.
Perhaps his is a new name to you, but Jacques Voyenmant is all over the place in big band trombone sections and functions as a faculty member in the music departments of no less than four colleges in the L.A. area. His high-energy septet erupts with enthusiasm on nine originals. Among the SoCal high rollers appearing here are Alan Pasqua, piano; Bob Shepard, reeds; and the late Dave Carpenter, bass. Voyenmant’s music is often deep and probing, and he gives his associates plenty of room to display their solo chops.
Elyria Records, 2008, 62:24.
No Regrets, Randy Crawford, vocals, Joe Sample, piano.
Knowing of Joe Sample’s years of electronic misadventures and his leanings toward R&B and pop, I was ready to dislike this album. Randy Crawford is well known in the R&B field, but this was my first acquaintance with her. First of all, Sample plays acoustic piano throughout! I was impressed. And while Crawford would not win awards in the jazz field, she handled several tunes well, including “Everyday I Have The Blues,” “This Bitter Earth” and “Me, Myself and I.” Some of the material was too pop for me, but overall, the CD exceeded my expectations by a long shot!
PRA Records, 2009, times not indicated.
Blues Citizens, Radam Schwartz, Hammond B-3 organ.
I guess it comes down to this – there are jazz organ records and there are soul-funk organ records. I’ll never be accused of being head over heels about the B-3 in any context, but I liked what I heard, from a jazz standpoint, on this CD. Several of the leader’s original melodies had riveting lines, and his choice of standards included “Misty,” “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance,” and Herbie Hancock’s jaunty line, “Driftin’.” The latter was certainly a highlight. Extra kudos to Bill Saxton, whose sexy tenor hit the mark.
Savant, 2009, 55:13.
by Kyle O'Brien
Cube, Renolds Jazz Orchestra.
This all-star big band is led by the team of Helen Savari-Renold and Fritz Renold and is an amalgam of European and American jazz notables. With saxophonists Donny McCaslin and Tommy Smith, trumpeters Randy Brecker and Barrie Lee Hall, bassist Miroslav Vitous and drummer Adam Nussbaum, among others, the musical firepower is impressive. And Renold’s compositions are a blend of western jazz traditions, European classical, Latin rhythms and Eastern modalities. Savari-Renold is an impressive vocalist, but her high voice can be jarring, especially as she utilizes an Indian singing style over the New Orleans-blues-influenced opener, “Grave Intrigues.” Without the vocals, the band shines, as on the Latin mover, “Caiaphas,” where Smith blows a muscular solo. McCaslin and Smith get to go head-to-head on “Let This Blood Be Upon Us!” an angular swinger, allowing us to hear two true saxophone giants feed off each other. There is a religious theme to the album, but it’s limited to inspiration and a few select lyrics, meaning that it doesn’t dominate the listening experience. Instead we’re free to hear a finely-tuned band impress us with intensity and finesse.
2005, Shanti Records, 65:00.
Blessings, Anthony Branker & Ascent.
Composer-arranger Branker wrote this set of nine tunes during a residence at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre. While nothing here seems Estonian (frankly, I’m not sure I could tell if it were), Branker is a masterful crafter of tunes. His modal title track plays with chord shifting, buoyed by Jonny King’s forceful piano and Bryan Carrott’s floating vibraphone. Branker lets his musicians build the pieces with their smart soloing, but it’s his chordal structure and his easygoing melodies that make this a winner. The tracks aren’t overly ambitious; rather they create pleasing textures and moods, as on the mesmerizing “Sacred Song,” which builds through simple chordal melodies. But it’s challenging enough to stay interesting, as it is the Afro-Cuban-influenced “Arise.” Branker has a knack for combining intriguing song structures with fine musicians. Let’s hope he continues to write and grow.
2009, Origin Records, 60:00.
Solitary Tales, John Stowell, guitar.
Portland guitarist Stowell returns to familiar territory: playing solo. Like fellow guitarist Pat Metheny, Stowell is able to engage the listener from note one, with a style that is both structured and improvisational. His opening track, Cole Porter’s “Everything I Love,” is re-imagined as a free-flowing modern improvisation. The melody is teased and alluded to, but his nylon stringed musings make for a song that transcends genre. His original tunes show his prowess on the fretboard, as on “Friendly Giant,” a loping tune that is ripe with thick chords and fleet runs while retaining a sense of rhythm and melody. All tunes were recorded live at Mike Doolin’s home, in front of a small audience. Every tune is a first take, which is impressive since there are no obvious mistakes. When Stowell pulls out the electric guitar, tuned a major third lower, it gives a new direction and tone to the disc. The electric is fuller but less subtle, and the lower tuning brings a depth, especially on Ornette Coleman’s “Blues Connotation.” Stowell is an amazing talent, but after two solo discs, it would be great to hear him with a bassist so he’d be even freer to roam the frets.
2009, Origin Records, 51:00.
Shape Shifter, Scott Reeves Quintet.
Reeves plays alto flugelhorn and alto valve trombone, which aren’t exactly run-of-the-mill instruments. The texture they bring to the quintet setup is velvety, though occasionally clashing with Rich Perry’s tenor sax. Still, it’s something different on what is otherwise a fairly straightforward post-bop disc. Reeves also plays composer and arranger here, and his progressions are journeys in chordal exploration, much like the greats of the hard bop era. Jim Ridl hits the keyboard like McCoy Tyner, attacking and then letting the chords ring so the soloists can build their lines steadily. The disc was recorded live in New Jersey, and there is a slight bit of occasional sloppiness in the delivery, but since it’s live, it’s forgivable. The band is otherwise sharp. Perry seems to be the feature horn player, and his inventive soloing lifts the proceedings. He pushes the limit of the horn and lets the open-ended chords be a platform for his musings. The overall effect is solid but not spectacular. This is retro hard bop that is well played but doesn’t truly say anything new.
2009, Mile High Records, 70:00.
Echoes of Ethnicity,” Derrick Gardner & the Jazz Prophets +2.
Gardner’s Jazz Prophets lineup has been steady for two decades, but here he expands the group by a deuce with alto saxophonist Brad Leali and baritone saxophonist Jason Marshall. That lets trumpeter Gardner, trombonist Vincent Gardner and tenor saxophonist Rob Dixon fill out the horn section, which adds considerable punch on the arrangements. The result is positively explosive. It sounds like a full big band even though there are only eight players. The opening bopper, “4Newk” comes alive with the vibrancy of brass and woodwinds before the Gardner brothers and Marshall burn through solos. The group takes a face forward approach with Afro-Cuban rhythms, swing, hard bop, and even R&B ballads. The puzzling pick of “Natural Woman” -- played here by all men -- is actually pretty cool, delivered in a funky, slight New Orleans groove, and it gets a slinky feel from Gardner’s big tone and the orchestrated horn hits. “Autumn in New York” gets an a cappella beginning, with horns trading lines and harmonies, with atypical combinations. The thing that keeps this moving is the energy and fortitude of the musicians. The addition of the two new members means more solos, more harmonies and even better music from this incredible group.
2009, Owl Studios, 70:00.
Lasting Impression, Rob Thorsen, bass.
There was a time, a couple decades back, when covering Charlie Parker and other bop tunes was the norm. Enough time has passed so it doesn’t feel like a retread if someone does it now, so when Thorsen opens with Parker’s “Dexterity,” it seems fresh, especially since the original chords are expanded upon, opening them up to a new sound and flavor. His version of “Giant Steps” isn’t exactly a deconstruction of the original, but it does reinterpret Coltrane’s masterpiece in alternating half and double time feels. Plus, it’s piano-centric, letting Josh Nelson fly his fingers over the rapid-fire progression, taking time to slow down and let it breathe before kicking it into high gear again. Nelson takes turns with Geoffrey Keezer in the piano chair, and no matter who is there, it makes the band that much better. Thorsen is a solid bassist and arranger, so his takes on classic melodies, such as Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” and Gershwin’s “The Man I Love,” dance between touch and force, creating an ebb and flow. Thorsen intersperses his own compositions in as well, which balance out the covers. Overall, Thorsen proves himself a first-rate bassist and an even better arranger and composer.
2009, RTHO Music, 65:00.
New Album” Gypsy Schaeffer.
This quartet has a wide open sound due to the fact that they have no chordal instruments, just two horns, bass and drums. It allows for a raw, modern feel. Trombonist Joel Yennior and saxophonist Andy Voelker front the group, and their interplay can feel both spontaneous and tightly arranged, depending on the original composition at their fingers. They move, with help from Jef Charland on bass and Chris Punis on drums, from frenetic bop (“New Egypt”) to meditative avant-garde (“Live a Little” and “Standard Candles”) to melodic swing (“Grape Soda and Pretzels”) with considerable ease. Not having a piano or guitar leaves things a bit sparse, but their style allows for that and frees them up to explore the space. They work nicely as an ensemble, each one listening and playing off the other. At times the music can be a little too free and unfocused, but the tunes that click, do so with gritty realism.
2009 Peace Time Records, 60:00.
Brazilian Wish, Matt Finley.
Nobody told Finley that smooth jazz was on the outs, apparently. This Brazilian-lite, breezy jazz disc is fine, and Finley’s easygoing flugelhorn playing is relaxed. But discs like this don’t really have the substance to dig in. If you wanted to use this as a soundtrack for yachting about the Caribbean, it would be great, but as a jazz listen it just doesn’t hold up.
2006, Kingsmill Music, 43:00.