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

Reviews by George Fendel

We Couldn’t Agree More, Brent Jensen, soprano sax, Bill Anschell,  piano.
Two Northwest-based musicians get together for a duo performance of mostly familiar standard material, and it all works extremely well. Anschell is one of Seattle’s most respected first call pianists and Jensen, a native of Idaho, teaches at College of Southern Idaho. Together they explore the myriad possibilities of such evergreens as “I’m Old Fashioned,” “You and the Night and the Music,” “Ask Me Now,” “Beautiful Love” and “Sunny Side of the Street.” These often intricate musical portraits ask much from both players, because in a duo setting, there’s no place to hide.  One particularly stunning tune was “What Is this Thing Called Love,” with the communication between the two at the highest level. Other tunes drawing high marks were “The People Versus Miss Jones,” a reworking of the Rodgers and Hart standard, and “You Are All That,” a new journey through “All the Things You Are.” There’s a lot to hang your hat on here. But you have to pay attention because it’s recital-like in quality. Not at all like Uncle Leo’s old Glenn Miller 78’s. Jensen, I might add, is also an A+ alto player, with several past recordings to his credit, and Anschell’s piano skill is also well represented on the Origin label.
Origin, 2009, 49:37.

New, Borrowed And Blue, Frank Potenza, guitar.
I must admit that two of the four instruments on this session have never cracked my hall of fame list: flute and organ. That’s 50% of this group. Even so, flutist Holly Hoffman and organist Joe Bagg keep things under control, and for what this CD is supposed to convey, it works well. It seems to this set of ears that the quartet’s goal was to put out a funky set, but one which remained somehow rooted in the jazz arena. Or, to put it another way, jazz treatments of funky little tunes like “Ode to Billie Joe,” “I’m Walkin’” and even the pop opus “You’ve Got a Friend.” Potenza and friends get it rolling with a sizzling Jimmy Smith blues. And to make sure the proceedings don’t get too far afield, the quartet also throws in a couple of etched-in-stone standards. I prefer Potenza in a more conventional quartet setting, but there’s some very stirring playing on much of this recording. And Hoffman, by the way, is something of a monster on flute.
Capri, 2009, 54:33.

Mostly Standards, David Kikoski, piano.
Nice to see a new album by David Kikoski, even one with a rather misleading title. Four of the eight tunes, I’d think, would rightly be called standards. But more importantly, Kikoski and the trio -- Eric Revis, bass, and Jeff Tain Watts, drums) get off to a rousing start with a steaming and muscular Kikoski original, “Grey Areas.” The first of the standards, Mcoy Tyner’s “Blues on the Corner,” keeps the proceedings on the fiery side, and then the trio digs deeply into a passionate reading of the ballad, “Old Folks.” The trio stays on the delicate side with a Kenny Kirkland waltz called “Chance” before moving straight down the middle of bebop boulevard on Sonny Rollins’ “Doxy.” “TBS,” an original from drummer Watts, has a movie theme quality, and is followed by a dreamy bass intro to “Autumn Leaves.” Eventually the leaves fall as in a storm. After this riveting tempo, the trio brings things to a close with “Leaves,” a piano portrait very loosely based on “Autumn Leaves” (I think!).  Kikoski is a gifted pianist with lots to say. And on his new offering, he and his trio say it clearly and artistically.
Criss Cross, 2009, 68:01.

Say It Plain, Scotty Barnhart, trumpet.
Could it be that there’s a new monster just over the horizon? Well, pick up on Scotty Barnhart’s opener, a treatment of “Giant Steps” in a danceable New Orleans style. Blasphemy, you say? Well, I beg to differ. Amazingly, it works to perfection. But it also alerts you to the fact that you’d better ready yourself for a trumpet player who’s clearly on the right track. Guess it didn’t hurt that Barnhart spent 17 years in the Basie band trumpet section. And with all this going for him, it’s no wonder he attracted a few pals to share the wealth. Guys like Clark Terry, Wynton and Ellis Matsalis, Marcus Roberts and Bruce Barth, to name a few. Barnhart also turns to several originals which demonstrate his considerable skill in settings running the gamut from blues to hard bop to a passionate ballad. For most of the remainder of the album, Barnhart and his many associates turn their attention to more familiar fare. They’ve simply got it down on “Put on a Happy Face,” “Con Alma,” “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” “I’m Glad There Is” and even “Young at Heart.” Clark Terry always finds the witty side of the jazz art, and his vocal on “Pay Me my Money” is, well, pure Clark Terry. But it’s Barnhart’s record all the way, and he clearly states the case of rising star.
Unity Music, 2009, 73:46.

The Music Of Ralph Rainger, Thanks For The Memory, Chuck Berghofer, bass.
Ralph Rainger was one of those composers who “quietly”gave us timeless tunes, but never gained the fame of a Gershwin, Porter or Rodgers. Chuck Berghofer has been one of the premier bassists on the LA scene for decades, having names on his resume like Pete Jolly, Howard Roberts, the Capp-Pierce big band and literally dozens of others. You can’t deny a prominent place in the jazz pantheon to Rainger, the creator of “Miss Brown to You,” “Easy Living,” “Please,” “If I Should Lose You,” “I Wished on the Moon,” “June in January” and even “Blue Hawaii”!  For this session, Berghofer assured himself a swinging time with the heavy duty talents of European piano whiz Ian Lundgren and veteran bassist Joe LaBarbera. Among the other tunes on the CD, it’s interesting to note the presence of two themes associated with comedians far more than with Rainger himself. “Love in Bloom” was Jack Benny’s staple, and “Thanks For the Memory” will always bring Bob Hope to mind. Sue Raney, one of the best singers in the business, adds her gorgeous touch to “Thanks …” and “If I Should Lose You.” As the leader on the date, Berghofer scores with some beautifully crafted solos. And Ian Lundgren, in the tradition of the great swinging jazz pianists, is a credit to anyone’s album, and an absolute delight. Hats off to all who collaborated on this wonderful album. Players, producers, engineers, et al.
Fresh Sound, 2008, 79:21. 

Shining Hour, The Oster-Welker Alliance, Jeff Oster, vocals,  Peter Welker, trumpet, flugelhorn.
Funny thing about jazz singers. We often decide who qualifies as a jazz singer within moments of hearing a candidate for the first time. Jeff Oster qualifies. He gets it. And believe it or not, he reminds me just a bit of the great Dave Lambert. And like Lambert, he puts across the meaning of a lyric as the composer intended it. Both on ballads and on up tempo, boppy romps complete with just enough improvisation, I repeat, Oster gets it. And when you glance at the tune list, you know that Oster and his co-leader, trumpet and flugelhorn man Peter Welker, get it from that standpoint as well, including “Sweet Pumpkin,” “This Masquerade,” and a host of Songbook Americana standards like “Laura,” “Sophisticated Lady” and “Speak Low,” among others. Special kudos for Oster’s “Bean,” a bebop romp fully equipped with a few bristling scat choruses. Welker’s arranging is spot-on perfecto for an accompanying group mostly about octet sized. Welker put it this way: “ … I honestly think that this is the best thing that I’ve ever been associated with. Recording this music with this group is a dream fulfilled.”  I heartily agree, and further hope that these guys get together soon for volume two!
Jazzed Media, 2009, 69:39.

The Nearness Of You, Shelly Berg, piano.
The University of Miami pried Shelly Berg away from USC in order to bestow upon him the title of Dean of their music school. LA’s loss is Miami’s gain, you may be sure. And it was no big surprise that Florida-based Arbors Records picked up on the opportunity to include him in their ongoing series of piano soloists. Berg is #19! And his solo skills shine brightly. He begins with a medley from “My Fair Lady,” a show with chord changes which have long held sway with improvising jazz musicians. Among his well-chosen standards are beautifully crafted tunes like “The Touch of Your Lips,” “The Nearness of You” and “Where or When.” A couple of change of pace winners were the pretty Brazilian piece, “Like a Lover,” and a near classical orientation on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma.” Berg also offers a refreshing three-song medley from “Guys And Dolls.”  The Peter Gunn score gave us the delicate “Dreamsville,” a longtime Henry Mancini favorite. Berg’s treatment is an album highlight. Shelly Berg, a too long kept secret, is emerging as an artist of brilliance, buoyancy and beauty.
Arbors, 2009, 60:38.
Confeddie, Hailey Niswanger, tenor saxophone.
Put on this CD by Portlander and Berklee College of Music student Hailey Niswanger, and you’ll breathe more easily about the future of jazz. Of course, many of us have known for some years that Hailey was something special based on frequent live appearances at various Portland venues during her high school years. Now she has her first CD out there, and it’s interesting that she has chosen some classic jazz titles, but NOT the ones you hear all the time. Her all-Berklee quartet plays it straight down the center of hard bop boulevard with such titles as “Four In One” (Monk); “Oblique Valley” (Hancock); and “Yes Or No” (Shorter). Two additional tunes deserve special mention. Serge Mahanovich’s lovely line, “Sometime Ago,” is taken a skosh faster than usual, and how nice that Hailey has discovered this rather rare gem. Her own composition, “Confeddie,” is a brisk, challenging blues, and she nails it! All are played with great spirit, abandon and jazz chops. Hailey Niswanger is the real deal, playing in the bountiful bebop tradition and with no gimmicks. You can judge for yourself at her CD release party, Friday, June 5 at Jimmy Mak’s. Be there to hear her perform with Randy Porter, piano; and two of her Berklee College buddies, Greg Chaplin, bass, and Mark Whitfield Jr., drums.
Self-produced, 2009, 53:08.

Shades, Jack Prather, bass, vocals, composer, lyrics.
There are no liner notes enclosed here to tell us anything about Jack Prather. But this I can tell you -- he’s one of those very clever writers whose voice is perfectly suited to his songs. A likely comparison might be made to the songwriting side and the voice of Jay Leonhart, or perhaps even the master of songwriting wit, Dave Frishberg. You gotta like a Prather lyric which states “like your average plants, I don’t dance.”  If there’s humor to be found in an anti-violence song, Prather is there with “if there’s a fracas in the bar, you can view me from afar, ‘cause I’ll be waiting in the car.”  But I think my personal favorite was something called “Italian Jazz” that celebrates the lengthy list of Italian-American contributors to the jazz art. You know the names:  Marmarosa, Venuti, Prima, Sinatra, Rosolino, Candoli, Mancini, Mariano, Strazzeri and many more. And he ends the tune with “when the bop hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s Italian jazz!” Not lost on these ears was the fact that Prather also writes melodies that actually sound like songs! And you remember songs, don’t you? Want to know more? jackprathermusic@gmail.com
Displaced Hip Productions, 2009, times not indicated (total 15 songs).

Shared Contemplations, Joe Cohn, guitar.
With this CD, Joe Cohn continues on the path to becoming an acknowledged guitar maven of his generation. He chooses the lyrical approach of the masters -- the one where the guitar sounds, amazingly, just like a guitar! And on this occasion, Cohn called on Europe’s monster bebop pianist, Peter Beets. Two sets of bass players and drummers share the load here, and each quartet is other worldly good. Cohn, Beets and colleagues don’t find it necessary to re-invent the wheel. And why should they when all they have to do is swing with authority. And that’s just what they do on a superb set of standards. To add extra fuel to the fire, toss in Gary McFarland’s rarely heard “Blue Hodge” (incorrectly shown as “Blue Serge” in the notes) and Charlie Parker’s bop opus, “Barbados.” Add the alto sax of Dmitry Baevsky on another rare gem called “Man With a Horn.” Finally, there’s a lively line from Cohn’s dad, the tenor hero, Al Cohn, called “Something for Lisa,” and another of Al’s tunes, a lilting bossa called “Danielle.” Undoubtedly it was from Al that Joe learned to make it lyrical, make it swing and keep it real. He does all that and more on this highly recommended recording.
Criss Cross, 2009:  59:16.

PIZZArelli Party, Bucky, John and Martin Pizzarelli and the Arbors All Stars (including Rebecca Kilgore, vocals).
Two generations of Pizzarellis have thrown a PIZZA (relli) Party and invited some of their best Arbors label pals. Among many superb moments, we get a chance to experience John Pizzarelli, the composer. He contributes several tunes which just might encourage the guitarist and sometimes singer to keep on writing. One of the best of them was a swinging thing called “Joe And Zoot.” It’s dedicated to Joe Venuti and Zoot Sims, who made one glorious record together many years ago. Portland’s Rebecca Kilgore, another invitee, nearly steals the show on a rare Mack Gordon gem, “I’m Making Believe.” Among several other attendees are Harry Allen, whose tenor style fits this music like a glove, and Larry Fuller, former Jeff Hamilton trio pianist and a most versatile and tasteful contributor. You can also hear Kilgore in the company of singer Jessica Molaskey, John’s wife, on a Harold Arlen-Ira Gershwin rarity, “I Knew Him When.” The next time these people party, may I please crash?
Arbors, 2009; 69:24.

Short Takes 

Mozart’s Blue Dreams & Other Crossover Fantasies, Burgstaller Martignon 4.
Don’t let the word crossover cause alarm. Joe Burgstaller, trumpet and flugelhorn, and Hector Martignon, piano, co-lead a quartet which brings a jazz perspective to the works of Mozart, Chopin and Astor Piazolla as well as a new and fresh look at jazz champions Ellington, Jobim, Chick Corea and Claude Bolling. It’s very engaging music, beautifully crafted and likely to please both the jazz and classical listener. Compare it perhaps with Jacques Loussier,  The Swingle Singers or Lalo Schiffrin, all of whom have successfully brought the classical and jazz families together.
Summit Records, 2009, 50:45.

No Worries, Larry Slezak, tenor sax.
Houstonian Larry Slevak is apparently one of the well kept secrets somehow harbored in every city of any size. My Houston connection here in Portland tells me that Slezak was best known in Southern Texas as leader of a reliable dance band. In any case, he comes through on this CD as a center of the highway tenor and soprano player whose slightly thin sound reminds just a bit of Benny Golson. Slezak turns out some good tunes too; consider “How About You,” “You’ve Changed,” “Girl Talk,” “Wee Small Hours” and more. He even adds a string section on “Young and Foolish.” I never thought of Houston as a jazz haven, but look out for Larry Slezak!
Self-produced, 2009, 74:11.

Kenya Revisited Live, Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Orchestra.
The first tune on this disc is titled “Frenzy,” and that  kinda says it all for me of Afro-Cuban material. Exciting? Absolutely! Challenging arrangements? No doubt about it. Intense, driving solos? Without question. And the music has a loyal following willing to travel anywhere to hear that percussive machine. I don’t personally react that way to Latin music, but I guess that’s what makes the horse race. I’m not the best judge, but this Afro-Cuban band brings heavy chops to the table.
Jazzheads, 2009, times not available.

Bienvenida, Venissa Santi, vocals.
This is my first exposure to Venissa Santi, and I would guess that she has some pop singing background. I’d further surmise that with this CD, she wanted to step up a few notches and try her hand at jazz. Her excellent re-working of the lyric to “Embraceable You” sounds like something Eddie Jefferson or Giacomo Gates might have done. Occasionally more electronic, Latinized and overdubbed than what I’d prefer, Santi has some high points and expressive moments just the same. I’d love to hear her in a more consistent jazz setting.
Sunnyside, 2009, 53:32.

Patterns Of Change, Adam Shulman, piano.
This CD marks my initial acquaintance with pianist Adam Shulman. His quintet takes on eight of his original compositions, and comes through in solid, straightahead fashion with an assortment of tempos and moods. I was especially drawn to “Take Notice,” Shulman’s line based on Coltrane’s “Moments Notice.” A jaunty, nicely paced “4th Street Strut” also hit the target. In addition to Shulman’s understated piano, there was some riveting solo work from trumpeter Mike Olmos and tenor man Dayna Stephens. No gimmicks, no frosting, no big surprises. And none are needed.
Self-produced, 2009, times not indicated.

Night Songs, Jonathan Kreisberg, guitar.
Criss Cross keeps on putting out the welcome mat to newer jazz personalities, and they all respond with CDs to take pride in. Jonathan Kreisberg couldn’t have chosen a more elegant menu of tunes in a month of Sundays. Try “Laura,” “Autumn in New York,” “September Song,” “Prelude to a Kiss,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “Blue In Green” and “Warm Valley.” His quartet, featuring some silvery flights by Gary Versace on piano, brings these ballads to you with great warmth and intimacy.
Criss Cross, 2009, 61:34.

Chasing Horizons, Fred Forney, trumpet, flugelhorn.
A musician who has been a long-standing presence on the Phoenix jazz scene, Fred Forney has assembled a quintet of skilled Arizonans to interpret his original music. Being a native Northwestener, I was drawn to a lovely, lilting line called “Astoria.” And yes, it’s our Astoria, not the one in New York. Forney, who at times reminded me of Art Farmer, writes invigorating, fresh melodies, allowing adequate solo space for all the players in his impressive quintet.
OA2 Records, 2009, 51:15.     

Reviews by Kyle O'Brien

Quiet Joy, Jennifer Lee, vocals.
There’s something to be said for purity of voice, especially in a jazz world glutted with female vocal talent. Bay Area singer Lee possesses that purity, delivering both swing and bossa with grace and beauty. Her voice is inviting and easygoing, putting the listener at instant ease. This disc starts out with a far too popular tune, “I Hear Music,” done as a straight-ahead swinger, just like most everyone else does it. That said, her voice is sophisticated enough to hold the listener through to track 2, the lovely bossa title track written by Lee. She proves an agreeable composer again on the slinky “Music of Your Soul,” a bluesy number that allows her to bleed between the notes and show off some real soul. Lee shuffles back and forth between swing and bossa easily, but it might be nice to hear a full disc of bossa so she can focus on the expression of that subtle art form. Her band moves along with her, backing her rather than getting in the way, so her voice is the main focus. “S’Wonderful” may be my least favorite vocal tune, perhaps because every toothy-grinning high school choir alive does it with annoying joy, but somehow Lee makes it palatable, mixing it into a bossa-samba stew with “Amor Certinho.” Lee’s voice will keep her a viable jazz artist for years to come, and hopefully she’ll find a bigger audience outside of California.
2008, SBE Records, 72:00.

The American Dream, Frank Carlberg.
This disc starts off with a disturbing warble by vocalist Christine Correa, jolting the listener into rapt attention. Thus begins a 12-part song cycle set to the poetry of the late Robert Creeley. In pianist/composer Carlberg’s muscular hands the music is provocative and heady. The 7/4 time signature of the frenetic opener, “We Get Crazy,” sets a tone of unease. This is a poetry slam set to modern jazz, with Correa wresting tonal control with her uniquely strong and pliable voice. This isn’t tap your toes swing. Rather it goes for the gut, both lyrically and musically. Carlberg and his band, which includes brilliant tenor man Chris Cheek, bring a mastery that somehow makes this right-brain vs. left-brain tone poem work. Certainly this is not jazz for the masses, but those who love a good challenge and those bent towards poetic sensibilities will find it intriguing.
2009, Red Piano Records, 71:00.

The Sage, Jason Rigby, saxophones.
On his second disc as a leader, New York-based Rigby continues where his first left off -- frenetic jazz that teeters on the avant-garde. The opener, “Magenta,” has multiple shades of Coltrane, Corea and Coleman. It’s thick and jittery, like canola oil bouncing around a searing hot pan. Mike Holober’s Fender Rhodes piano brings in the ‘70s vibe, while Gerald Cleaver’s drums hop and jag across the ears. Rigby proves himself a strong player, hefting his tenor with considerable muscle on “Crux” while trumpeter Russ Johnson blasts counter melodies. Things don’t calm down until the tone painting, “Shift of Color,” brings in new textures, thanks to Rigby’s flute. This is intense music even when relatively quiet. We’ve heard this kind of playing before over the last 40 years, but Rigby and company manage to bring a new angle to it with their kinetic modernism.
2008, Fresh Sound New Talent, 60:00.

I’m in Heaven Tonight, Sarah Deleo, vocals.
A soul jazz version of “Rockin’ Robin” doesn’t really kick off Deleo’s new disc with much of a statement. The original pop hit was pedestrian at best, and this bluesy take doesn’t take it much higher, especially since Deleo walks through the melody. The same kind of treatment is given to “I Feel Pretty,” and since Deleo’s vocal quality is slightly throaty, it doesn’t lift it above the fray. It’s not until the mellow “I’m in Heaven Tonight,” that Deleo starts bringing the interesting phrasing and delayed delivery that helps the disc gets rolling. The slower tunes are the ones that make a difference here, as on the midnight subtlety of “No Moon at All,” and the laid back swing of Patricia Barber’s “Let it Rain,” that’s done in bluesy goodness. This sophomore release is hit and miss at best but still shows promise of an artist still finding her niche. Hint - stay bluesy.
2008, Sweet Sassy Music, 43:00.

Live in Graz, Lee Shaw Trio.
Simple, pleasant and a disc you can play again and again and not tire of, Shaw’s live disc captures the jazz trio as an entity. Veteran pianist Shaw, bassist Rich Syracuse and drummer Jeff “Siege” Siegel let the music flow, each taking their turns at soloing but each listening to the other intently, so the songs feel practiced yet organic. Shaw’s piano captures a love of melody but also an ease with chordal structure and a nimble contact on the keyboard. Her “Song Without Words” is a pretty little number that plays with touch, while Victor Young’s “Street of Dreams” bounces nicely at a slow swing. Shaw’s trio fits like a well-worn glove -- comfortable and reassuring but still as vital as ever. Shaw’s melodic nature carries the listener through the head of the tune into the soloing without losing focus, making this one of the most pleasing discs of the year for lovers of melody. A bonus DVD and photo disc gives fans a chance to get to know the artist and band better.
2008, Artists Recording Collective, 77:00.

Destination Moon, Jerry Costanzo, vocals.
Costanzo is your talented Italian uncle who always sings at family gatherings. When he’s not with family he’s probably performing at jazz clubs, weddings and maybe a Vegas showroom or two. While I’m not sure that’s the case with Costanzo, it certainly seems that way. Not that there’s anything wrong with a singer who swings the American songbook with a big band, but ever since Sinatra and Dean Martin found this niche, they’ve been followed by plenty of guys trying to do the same. But Costanzo is a solid singer, honest and straightforward. Like Sinatra he doesn’t have the strongest voice, but in this big band setting, backed by Andy Farber and his Swing Mavens, Costanzo is in good company with his sincere delivery. There’s an underlying sense of fun -- you want to get up and dance, you want to join the party. There’s a swagger that’s needed when doing tunes from the jazz canon like “Fly Me to the Moon,” (cliched) and “Come Fly with Me,” (ditto). Luckily, Costanzo doesn’t just go for the obvious tracks, though there may be one too many of those. He also finds gems like “What Would You Do” and “I Thought About You.” Costanzo won’t win any great vocal awards, but you can’t hear this without smiling.
2008, Semi Quaver Jazz, 38:00.

American Waltz, 3 Play +.
For a band that describes itself as an improvisational group, this disc starts mellow and with melody. The title track is Americana as done by contemporary jazz artists, a tender waltz layered with Phil Grenadier’s muted trumpet, Josh Rosen’s chordal piano and Mick Goodrick’s Metheny-like guitar. The jazzy improvisations don’t come until “Buttah,” a deconstruction of a familiar bop melody, giving George Garzone a chance to flash his brilliance on tenor. Things get looser from there as Marcello Pellitteri on drums and Lello Molinari lock into a crazed hard bop and let the rest of the gents go to town on “Happy Cramping.” The group does return to its more compositional side on “How Do I Know What I Don’t Know?” and “Old Fashioned,” but it also takes it outside, sometimes pretty far out, making me think that this Boston-based group is still experimenting, finding out where it wants to go musically. In the meantime we have a disc of two personalities played well by enthusiastic artists.
2009, ZiggleZaggle Music, 64:00.

Open the Gates, Alt Tal.
Inspired, young musicians can make some interesting music. With unbridled enthusiasm, talent and a sense of adventure, they often dive into styles that let their energy unfurl. Alt Tal, a trio of young talent, is one of those bands, though maybe not as young as they seem. David Alt is a saxophonist who looks to the likes of Steve Lacy, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Anthony Braxton and others who previously pushed the limits. With drummer Andrew Ryan and bassist Kenny Annis, Alt makes music that no doubt pleases them more than us. That doesn’t mean that it should be dismissed. The group is loose and free and they are a talented bunch, but we’ve heard this kind of experimentation and open-ended structure before from the artists previously mentioned.   It’s good avant-leaning music, but it just doesn’t have that sense of urgency that those pushing the limits in the ‘60s and ‘70s had. Alt’s licks aren’t as precise as, say, Coleman’s, and the tunes don’t build to a crescendo as much as they should. It would be interesting to hear this group with a chorded instrument to bring some depth.
2007, Aural Imaging, 59:00.
Red Goddess, Jeff Presslaff Trio.
Almost guaranteed that nobody in the Northwest thinks of Winnipeg as a jazz hotbed, but that’s where pianist Preslaff has settled and made a name for himself after spending time in New York with notables like Benny Carter, Howard Levy and Bill Barron. With Julian Bradford on bass and Scott Senior on drums, he makes an interesting modern jazz disc. The compositions are often meditative, sometimes intense and occasionally thick for a trio. But Preslaff is an impressive player, using chords to lay an often darker mood, as on the title track, which features an extended solo by Bradford as Senior lays behind the beat. Senior, an accomplished conguero, brings polyrhythms to the trio, rounding out the sound and often sounding like a drummer and a percussionist rolled into one. His funky vibe on “‘Nother Monkish Thing” gives the close harmonies of the head a nice bed of beats. If this is what Winnipeg jazz is like, perhaps it’s time to venture to the cold north for a listen.
2008, Jeff Preslaff, 55:00.
Old New Borrowed & Blue, Frank Potenza Trio.
Guitarist Potenza borrows some older tunes from folks as varied as Jimmy Smith, Carole King and Bobbie Gentry and throws in one of his own for a sense of communal jazz. The disc starts swinging from the start with Smith’s “Ready and Able,” a lean bopper which features great solos by organist Joe Bagg and guest flutist Holly Hofmann, as well as a respectable solo by Potenza. The mild funk of “Ode to Billie Joe” is a little too much on the contemporary jazz side, and Potenza’s voice is serviceable but nothing to write home about on “I’m Walkin’.”  The disc is best when it goes jazzier, as on Lee Morgan’s “Party Time,” a slinky groover on which Potenza and Hofmann share a slick melody, and “Road Song/OGD,” a Wes Montgomery tune. His own “Jacaranda,” proves that he can write a nice bossa-tinged melody, which goes perfectly with Bagg’s organ playing. It’s a nice disc with solid performances and some inspired arrangements and just a couple bumps along the way.
2009, Capri Records, 54:00.

Copyright 2009, Jazz Society of Oregon