CD Reviews - August 2009
by George Fendel, and Kyle
by George Fendel
Nightscape, Jon Mayer, piano.
has several albums on the Reservoir label, all of which place him in
the inner circle of great jazz pianists. As on previous recordings,
Mayer includes veteran bassist Rufus Reid, and for the second time, Roy
McCurdy handles the drums. If you have not yet heard Mayer, perhaps his
combination of swing and elegance can be described by using names like
Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones and Eddie Higgins, among others. Mayer
always presents a wonderfully balanced menu of standards and jazz
classics (Harold Lands’ “Rapture,” Horace Silver’s “Room 608” and the
beautiful ballad by Fred Lacey, “Theme For Ernie”). To provide the
blues touch that every straight ahead album requires, Mayer offers
“Blues Junction,” a cousin, one might say, to “Billy’s Bounce.” Mayer’s
other original is the title tune, a melodic picture of the sounds of
New York deep in the night. The program is completed with a memorable
Jobm tune, “Once I Loved.” If the classic piano trio (no gimmicks, no
electronics, no shamaltz) speaks volumes to you regarding what jazz is
truly all about, Mayer’s new album is your cup of tea.
Reservoir, 2009, 59:06.
Doozy, Jackie Ryan, vocals.
not a ‘gimme’ that even someone as talented as Jackie Ryan is going to
maintain a career as a jazz singer. Survival of the fittest, of course,
and Ms. Ryan states her case here as one of the finest of the current
crop. And make no mistake, she’s a jazz singer through and through. One
doesn’t team up with such stalwarts as Cyrus Chestnut, Eric Alexander
and Jeremy Pelt without being able to walk the walk. On this two CD
set, Ryan runs the gamut from Benny Carter’s charming title tune to
Leonard Bernstein’s everlasting “Some Other Time.” In between, she
travels a varied path through the likes of Nat Cole, Kurt Weill, Jimmy
McHugh, Billie Holiday, Oscar Brown Jr., and many others. Among a bevy
of highlights: “Do Something” may be one you remember as a staple for
Betty Carter; “My How the Time Goes By” was a minor classic for Bill
Henderson; and Burke and Van Heusen’s “Get Rid of Monday” brings Lena
Horne to mind. A bonus here is an absolutely splendid liner note
booklet giving a complete roster of soloists on every tune and a ton of
great photos from the recording session. All told, Ryan certainly
states her case for inclusion on the honor roll of present day jazz
Open Art Productions, 2009, CD #1: 49:44; CD #2: 51:10.
Baker’s Dozen, John Proulx, piano, vocals.
had the pleasure of hearing Proulx (pronounced like ‘shoe’) on two
trips to Los Angeles. I was blown away both times by his swinging piano
prowess and his hip, Chet Baker-ish vocal style. Out on a limb I go,
but I’d rate him ahead of Chet as a singer. And so, for his second CD
on MaxJazz, music associated with Chet was an easy choice. As was the
case on his initial CD, Proulx’s trio includes LA stalwarts Chuck
Berghofer, bass, and Joe LaBarbera, drums. To give the performance an
additional Baker touch, Proulx smartly brought in laid-back, lyrical
New York trumpet man Dominick Farinacci on selected tunes. Just so you
know, the “Chet tunes” include “Let’s Get Lost,” “Time After Time,” “I
Remember You,” “Line for Lyons,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Long Ago and
Far Away” and others. Proulx caresses ballads like “I Fall in Love Too
Easily,” and scats here and there effortlessly and always very
musically. The surprise of the set is “Before You Know It,” an
impressive and optimistic Proulx original. It’s no secret that there’s
a dearth of A+ male jazz singers out there, and thank goodness, here is
one to really celebrate! An added bonus is that he plays piano with all
the class and skill of the best of them. Proulx, please understand, is
a keeper of the flame, and if Chet were here, he’d be Proulx’s biggest
fan -- after me!.
MaxJazz; 2009, 62:31.
Sound Check, Jack Cortner, leader, arranger.
York bassist Jay Leonhart once wrote a song that explained the
difference between bands led by Lester Lanin and Louie Bellson. Of
course, Louie’s band was the clear-cut choice of the two, and this band
would also walk away with the blue ribbon. Cortner has crafted his
arrangements to feature the trumpet and flugelhorn of Marvin Stamm, a
long favorite of Apple insiders. Indeed this is a hand-picked
aggregation of New York heavies including Jim Pugh, Jerry Dodgion, Bob
Malach, Jon Gordon and Bill Mays. And Stamm’s shining tone and supreme
musicianship are a wonder to experience. Cortner obviously reveres the
great American songbook, with such staples as “Strike Up the Band,”
“Speak Low” and “ Caravan.” Other goodies here include the title tune
-- straight down the middle blues, with winning solos from Stamm and
Mays. Cortner’s other original is “a la Mode,” a buoyant, boppy,
blowing banquet! And don’t forget a visit to Herbie Hancock’s
“Cantaloupe Island,” nicely dressed up in big band apparel. Cortner
allows his musicians to flex their New York chops throughout.
Thankfully, it’s a long way from Lester Lanin.
Jazzed Media: 2009, 59:20.
Jim Turner’s Jelly Roll Blues, Jim Turner, piano.
such as this one immediately communicate historical significance, aside
from their value as wonderful entertainment. The music of Jelly Roll
Morton might be thought of as a curious museum piece by some, but great
art is usually housed in a museum. I rest my case. Jim Turner,
self-described as “spellbound” by Morton’s music, spends much of his
time as pianist in the San Antonio-based Jim Cullen Jazz Band. As a
performer in that setting, these solo performances are Turner’s bread
and butter. Morton, as anyone worth his suspenders would know, wrote
joyous melodies that extended the work of ragtime writers, and made it
swing relentlessly. Turner tackles 14 Morton melodies with obvious
affection. He turns in sparkling solos on familiar fare such as “King
Porter Stomp,” “Grandpa’s Spells,” “Wolverine Blues” and “The Pearls.”
But he also unearths rare Morton-isms like “Perfect Rag,” “Winin’ Boy
Blues,” and lots more. This is music to brighten your day and put a
smile on your face.
Arbors; 2009, 56:01.
When The Heart Dances, Lawrence Hobgood, piano.
starters, who among jazz artists would start their CD with the old
Doris Day opus, “Que Sera Sera”? But right off the bat, one picks up on
the fact that something awfully nice is unfolding here. This is
primarily a duo effort between Hobgood, a vastly undervalued pianist,
and Charlie Haden, a household name bassist. It seems to me that Haden,
especially in his efforts with Quartet West, is a nostalgic kind of
guy, and he seems to transfer that quality to Hobgood with such entries
as the opener as well as “Stairway to the Stars,” “Why Did I Choose
You” and “Daydream.” Kurt Elling offers two vocals, one on Haden’s
beautiful “First Song.” It’s a gorgeous creation, and while Elling’s
vocal doesn’t quite match up to Ruth Cameron’s (Haden’s wife) on a
previous recording, he gives it a passionate treatment. Several lesser
known songs present Hobgood and Haden in virtual recital mode. I know
that there are those among you who agree there is still plenty of room
for pretty in the jazz hemisphere. And this session is very pretty.
Naim Jazz; 2009, 64:37.
Next Set, Jim Ketch, trumpet.
learned from nearly two decades of writing reviews that it’s never a
wise idea to dismiss a recording simply due to the unfamiliar names of
the players. There are skilled, swinging, dedicated jazz musicians
everywhere. So why not in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where Jack Ketch
serves as Director of Jazz Studies at the University of North Carolina?
In addition to numerous other musical activities throughout the world,
Ketch has put together a bristling, high voltage quintet in the best of
the hard bop tradition. Wally West, tenor; Stephen Anderson, piano;
Steve Haines, bass; and Thomas Taylor, drums, are the remaining newbies
to this listener. Among a few original compositions and a couple of
stirring tunes by trumpet ace Tom Harrell, the quintet examines a few
rarely performed gems like Kenny Dorham’s “Short Story”; John
Coltrane’s “Lonnie’s Lament” and an album highlight medley of “Peace”
and “Blue Silver.” To these, add a few standards. And the result? A
perfect balance of song selection, varied tempo, skilled solo work, and
as any bop group must, they cook! Thirty bucks a head at the door if
these guys were working a club in New York. Undoubtedly somewhat less
in Chapel Hill. And, familiar names or not, let’s hope the locals
appreciate what they have in Ketch and his swinging quintet.
Summit, 2009; 73:55.
In Concert At The Old Mill Inn, Dick Hyman, piano.
start by reminding you that Dick Hyman has been a certified master of
his craft for maybe fifty years. I think of him as the chameleon of
jazz because he does it all: ragtime, boogie woogie, bop, it makes no
difference. And he does it in any setting: from symphony orchestra to
piano trio or, as in this case, a solo piano performance before an
attentive and appreciative audience. Dick Hyman has nothing to prove.
He simply sits down at the Steinway and carries you away on a flight
that includes a tip of the chapeau to Andy Razaf, who collaborated with
Fats Waller on “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Honeysuckle Rose”; Benny
Goodman on “Stompin’ At the Savoy” and Leon Berry on a little gem
called “Christopher Columbus.” The Gershwin brothers are also tapped
here with “The Man I Love” and “I Can’t Get Started.” Be assured,
however, that Dick Hyman is right at home at other locations on the
musical map. For instance, Lennon and McCartney’s “Blackbird.” And he
does it all with the ease and savoir faire on might expect from one of
the best that jazz has ever offered.
Sackville; 2009. 64:55.
Big Moon, Faith Gibson, vocals.
you just know. It takes two or three tunes to verify it, but as the
well-written originals continue, one can distinguish quality song
writing. Faith Gibson, a new name to me, contributes a few tunes here
and turns other selections over to very hip wordsmith Christopher
Morse. His melodies, along with those of others here, are fresh and
invigorating. And Ms. Gibson interprets these tunes in an ultra-cool
but totally unpretentious manner that she’s seemingly perfect for the
task. Gibson chooses a small jazz group, all unknown names to me, to
provide ideal, understated backup. The two standards on the disc are
also performed with pizzaz. Gibson isn’t going to spin your head around
with show biz shtick. Instead there’s a touch of Meredith d’Ambrosio or
Lorraine Feather here and there. In any case, I really liked her
approach and wouldn’t mind hearing more from her.
Capricopia Records, 2009, 55:26.
Detour Ahead, Chris Pasin, trumpet.
if you can get a gig with a rhythm section of Benny Green, Rufus Reid
and Dannie Richmond, you’re going to grab the attention of this
reviewer. Add sax and flute man Steve Slagle and you can be sure
there’s going to be some fire in the factory. Pasin, a driving force on
the trumpet, has served New York’s jazz community (obviously way too
anonymously) for many years. He’s toiled in the trumpet sections of
Buddy Rich and the Toshiko-Tabackin band among others. So here it is:
his first chance as a leader, and Pasin and his Gotham colleagues cook
up a hard bop stew that is the very essence of New York jazz. Most of
the tunes are originals, but certainly you’ll recognize the title tune.
The other familiar vehicle is Rogers and Hart’s evergreen “My Romance.”
Pasin and company bring a bit of tempo to it, making this version
quite memorable. All in all, what you have here is five dedicated
musicians playing the music they’d play in a club; East Coast hard bop
in all its glory!
H2O Records; 2009, 60:56.
Sleeping Lady, New West.
first encountered John Storie as a high school musician here in
Portland at least a half dozen years ago. I was pretty much blown away
by both his chops and his interest in jazz. Now he’s taken that talent
in the direction of an all-acoustic guitar trio with fellow plectrists
Brady Cohan and Perry Smith. The three-guitar acoustic sound is pure
ear candy, and I’m quite confident you’ll find their efforts much to
your liking on an all original program. Gretchen Parlato’s two sweet,
soprano vocals are rather akin to a fourth (!) acoustic guitar.
Self-produced, 2009; 46:06.
Politico, Frank Glover, clarinet.
get it out of your mind completely, because Frank Glover is not in the
Goodman-Shaw camp. On this CD, the clarinet gets a contemporary, ‘out’
but thoroughgoing examination, and Glover’s technical prowess is
impressive. His quartet (clarinet and conventional rhythm section)
deliver a tightly knit level of communication, sometimes testing you a
bit as an astute listener. All tunes are originals, and while I
wouldn’t call this exactly avante garde, there is an edge to it that
urges you to listen.
Owl Studios, 2009; 42:45.
I’ll Play The Blues For You, Jeff Golub, guitar.
response to the title of this CD is ‘no, you won’t.’ I guess this is
what a younger generation calls blues, but to my ear, it’s very
unsubtle rock, loaded with electronic goo and annoying vocals. One
wonders who’s in charge at the Koch Jazz label.
Koch Jazz, 2009.
It’s Time, Art Lillard, drums.
you sometimes become weary of music intended to ‘stretch the
boundaries,’ give these guys a try. Art Lillard leads a quartet
featuring the lyrical saxophones of Danny Walsh in a program of music
sure to please. Lillard and his pals take you through originals with
real melody lines (remember those?) and finely honed standards. Lillard
refers to his music as ‘accessible.’ I’d agree, but I’d add swinging,
lyrical, listenable and well-performed.
Summit; 2009, 60:39.
A New Day, Mimi Jones, vocals, bass.
guess the smooth jazz audience would be the target for this recording.
After all, it was filled with electronic gimmickry, overdubbed vocals,
electric piano and the rest. All of the material is rather pedestrian
pop, and most of Jones’ enunciation comes off as very tough to
understand. With all of that going for it, look for it to sell a
zillion copies and win a Grammy.
Hot Tone Music, 2009; 68:26.
Under My Skin, Mark Lambert, voice, guitars, percussion.
the guy credit for trying something that, to my knowledge, has never
been done before: Singing great American standards in instrumental
settings primarily leaning towards Brazilian, Indian and Arabic sounds.
Lambert has a pleasant enough voice, and the Brazilian part of the
program works nicely. The other ethnic sounds, although minimal, don’t
quite fit the material. Among Lambert’s choices are “I Love Paris,”
“Tenderly,” “But Not for Me” and “Without a Song.”
Challenge Records, 2009, 40:26.
Paris, 1957, Brother John Sellers, vocals.
is a reissue of two original vinyl albums from French Columbia
featuring blues singer Brother John Sellers. For reasons unknown to me,
Sellers never made the big splash in American jazz circles, but if you
like the style of Jimmy Rushing, you’re going to find something here
that you can sink your teeth into. Guy Lafitte, a nearly forgotten but
excellent French tenor man, leads a group that backs Sellers with
bravado. If you’re an authentic blues fan and not a pretender to the
throne, this is a nice find.
Sackville, 2009, 51:15.
by Kyle O'Brien
Hello Young Lovers, Corey Brunish.
is a veteran theater actor/director/producer and singer in Portland.
This, his fifth full-length disc, is a decent if uninspired collection
of pop and jazz standards. The song choices are fairly predictable:
“Makin’ Whoopie,” “For Once in My Life,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It,”
are all present here. Brunish takes a standard approach to the tunes,
delivering them with attention to melody and an easygoing feel. He has
a pleasing tone and on ballads, such as “Some Other Life,” he shows a
tenderness and softness. The arrangements, by Reece Marshburn, who also
plays piano, are straightforward and don’t bring anything new to the
familiar melodies. The production is the thing that draws away from
Brunish’s talents. At times it can sound like a karaoke track, with not
enough connection between the musicians and the singer. And the use of
reverb isn’t sophisticated enough; simply putting more echo on
Brunish’s voice doesn’t give it the hall-like resonance it should have
on the classic pop tune, “You Send Me.” Brunish’s cabaret style would
be better served live in a nightclub setting, where his theatrical
nature can come to life. Perhaps his next disc should be a live
2009, Brundog Records, 43:30.
Facing the Mirror, Dave Rivello Ensemble.
Brookmeyer hired Rivello as a copyist in 1996 and nurtured his
compositional talents. Seems to have paid off, since this disc wows
with its tight compositions, tense chords, and big sound. Rivello is a
teacher at Eastman School of Music in Rochester and has a crack
12-piece band to pull off his musical vision. There are elements of
Mingus, Gillespie, Brookmeyer and Gil Evans. The pieces reach beyond
normal big band charts. They take the listener on a journey. “(of) Time
and Time Past,” offers a wonderful use of texture, methodic beats,
eastern modalities and tight harmonics, while “Stealing Space” utilizes
passing chords and Latin rhythms to move the piece along. There is an
incredible amount of touch and intensity here, and the musicianship is
elevated beyond that of many other big bands. They are able to grasp
the varying dynamics of a piece like the modern, “Beyond the Fall,”
with exacting punches and restraint. This is not easy listening, but
for those looking for a zestful big band and a composer willing to push
to new heights, Rivello may be your guy.
2009, Dave Rivello Music/Allora Records, 62 minutes.
Politico, Frank Glover.
too early to say that the clarinet is making a comeback, but it’s
certainly not dead, as the talented Glover displays here on this modern
disc. Glover can be a showy player, as his fleet-fingered solo on the
opener, “One Way Ticket,” displays. But he is also a wise composer,
taking influence from the likes of Bartok and Toru Takemitsu. He plays
with time signatures, rhythms and chordal structure, as on the swift
title track. His band is impressive, with Steve Allee providing rich
chords on piano, Jack Helsley taking control on bass, and Bryson Kern
tempering the rhythm on drums. The disc takes a swift right turn with
“The Last Blue Tang,” which is listed as “music for film,” and features
Glover soloing over a nearly over-orchestrated string group. A studio
jazz orchestra joins in on “Plastic Plants,” an angular piece ripe with
woodwind and brass textures, and the strings return for the lovely “A
Thousand Ships.” Still, this disc feels like it’s a bit disconnected.
While Glover is an exceptional composer, he can’t quite decide if this
disc is supposed to be a moody soundtrack or a solid modern jazz album.
2009, Owl Studios, 44:30.
Epic Journey, Volumes 1 & 2, Adam Niewood & His Rabble Rousers.
son of noted woodwind specialist, the late Gerry Niewood, goes big on
this two-disc set. In fact, it’s epic, with two hours of compositional
jazz. Niewood has proven himself a fine tenor man, and here he adds an
impressive title as composer and arranger of a band that includes many
notable New York creative musicians. The first track lets the listener
know that they’ll be in it for the long haul, with a dizzying “Demented
Lullaby” that changes chords faster than a Coltrane tune. Like many
modern composers, Niewood likes to utilize non-conventional instruments
and tonalities in his works, and he does so here, adding extra
woodwinds and non-western percussive accents. But he also goes retro,
as on “Ella Bella,” a Metheny-like Americana fusion piece that is quite
lovely. We also get elements of bop, chamber music, post-bop,
avant-garde, and on the second disc, lots of free group improvisation.
The group improvisations sound more put together than what most
consider free musical thinking, and some tracks come out nicely, as on
the slowly building “Loved Ones.” Still, this is a lot of music to take
in, some of it very intense. Niewood is ambitious here but manages to
make it work through talent and a willingness to diversify the sound
2008, Innova Recordings, 118 minutes.
World on a String, Paul Meyers, guitar.
a minute-thirty into the opening track, you finally realize you’re
listening to the classic title tune, but acoustic guitarist Meyers
takes us through a contemporary intro before hitting us with a smooth
version of the melody. It’s not until the second track, the fine samba
“Eyes That Smile,” that we hear his true essence as an artist come out.
While Meyers can swing, it’s his prowess as a bossa and Latin
specialist that makes us listen. This isn’t just Jobim-style bossa,
it’s bossa with a sense of modernity, of polyrhythmic sensitivity, of
chordal complexity. Meyers isn’t content to blow a soft breeze onto the
listener. He adds an urban feel, even on the light “Twilight,” which
creates atmosphere rather than just melody. Meyers is helped along by
fiery saxophonist and flutist Donny McCaslin and pianist Helio Alves,
along with his rhythm section. Meyers is a nimble guitarist and an
inspired composer in this modern jazz-meets-bossa setting. It remains
interesting throughout, which should appeal to both bossa and new jazz
2009 Miles High Records, 60 minutes.
Sally, Sally Kellerman, vocals.
Kellerman is no stranger to singing, having done so in her film career
several times. As a solo singer she’s more impressive than one might
think. Possibly because she has such a distinctively smoky-gravelly
speaking voice, it works just as well for blues-based tunes, like
“Nobody’s Perfect,” and a funky version of “I Put a Spell on You.”
Kellerman’s husky voice and laid-back delivery make for an approachable
pop-jazz-blues disc. Still, her blues works better than her
contemporary soul; the saccharine “Say It Isn’t So” falls flat, and
Diane Warren’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” (made famous by
Aerosmith), as a duet with RJ Ross is really forced and out of place.
But as a blues and jazz singer, Kellerman shines. It would be nice to
hear her in a club with a band rather than on a slickly produced album.
2009, Music Force, 43:30.
Live at Smoke, David Berkman Quartet.
is a now famous jazz club in New York, and pianist Berkman was happy to
record his live disc there. With saxophonist Jimmy Greene (a
powerhouse), bassist Ed Howard and young drummer Ted Poor, Berkman
creates building excitement for the house crowd. The recording quality
is vibrant, letting Greene build his fine solos but also letting
audience noise help with the energy. All songs are Berkman originals,
save for the Benny Golson tune, “Along Came Betty.” The rest mark
Berkman as a definite New Yorker, pushing chords and tempos while
reminding us of the great past of New York jazz with nods to swing and
bop. The disc seems to have reverence for those who came before in the
jazz world while remaining forward thinking and original. Berkman is an
inspired soloist, playing comforting chord comps one minute and taking
it outside the next, and he’s helped along by a band that follows his
moves. Recording live brings out the best of the group.
2009, Challenge Records, 54 minutes.
Under My Skin, Mark Lambert.
look of this disc suggests a normal vocal disc of standards. The
standards are certainly there, but world music influences dig into the
fabric of the recording, so Cole Porter’s “I Love Paris” sounds more
like a trip to Marrakech, with Arabic rhythms and modalities from the
Avenue C Orchestra bringing two musical worlds together. It swings,
then moves back to the Middle East throughout the track. Soothing
Brazilian beats take over “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” while Cream’s
“Sunshine of Your Love” gets re-harmonized and mashed with Latin and
swing rhythms. It’s an interesting concept that makes these canonical
tunes new, save for melody. Lambert’s voice is breathy and, one might
say, almost French in attitude. Still, his guitar work and his ability
to bring cohesion to this varied program (thanks in large part to the
Vana Trio), makes it work. Lambert seems most at home while swinging,
but give him kudos for taking himself out of the comfort zone for the
sake of the listener.
2009, Challenge Records, 44:10.
Live at Yoshi’s, Eric Vloeimans’ Fugimundi.
piano and guitar is not a normal jazz lineup, and this is not your
normal jazz album. Recorded at famous Bay Area jazz club Yoshi’s, this
is more chamber jazz than straight ahead ... by a long shot. The mix of
two chorded instruments, no rhythm and a horn makes for sometimes busy
sometimes sparse and never categorize-able music. It creates moods, as
on the dark opener, “Corleone” or the strangely playful “Wet Feet.”
Vloeimans is a renowned Dutch trumpeter with an odd tone. Harmen
Fraanje on piano and Anton Goudsmit on guitar make music that stops and
starts, begging the listener to be alert because there may be something
around the corner that might just bite, like the “March of the
Carpenter Ants.” I’m not sure what to make of this music. It intrigues
me enough to keep listening, and I’m never sure what to expect with
each passing minute, since the compositions seem to morph and build,
but not always to a recognizable climax. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
is the only notable melody, and aside from its non-tempo, it’s
something to latch onto. Otherwise, tune in, because you won’t hear
anything else like this.
2009, Challenge Jazz, 61:03.
Foundations, Curt Ramm, Dan Moretti, Bill Cunliffe.
Ramm, saxophonist Moretti, and keyboardist Cunliffe have joined
together, adding bassist Marty Ballou and drummer Marty Richards to the
mix for an interesting blend of talent. Fans of Cunliffe have never
heard him this, well, intense. With the high-powered horn section,
Cunliffe is pushed past his usual restraint. The musicians, who have
all played in numerous jazz and pop settings, combine influences, from
the upbeat swing of “Little Bit” to the groove of “K-Funk” to the
shuffle of “Vine Street” and the New Orleans strut of “Birmingham
Blue.” Ramm and Moretti blast away with energy and precision while
Cunliffe provides a soulful base on both piano, electric keyboards and
organ. The recording is buoyant and fun throughout and highly
accessible for all jazz listeners. Can’t go wrong with this disc.
2009, Foundations Jazz Records, 60 minutes.
Gut Feelings, Peter Piazza, violin and composer.
and baritone horn player Piazza has assembled an A-list group of
Portland-area talent for this disc of jazz-classical-world music
fusion. It kicks off with the upbeat “Song for Essiet,” a
Nigerian-influenced dance song for bassist Essiet Essiet. It’s a
lighthearted way to begin this mostly optimistic recording. Piazza, an
ebullient player with plenty of chops, composes his own music and seems
to have fun with it, especially with this big group with fellow
violinist Eddie Parente, pianist Tom Grant, guitarist Dan Balmer,
bassist Al Criado drummer Carlton Jackson, saxophonist Renato Caranto,
percussionist Bobby Torres, viola player Kim Lorati and cellist Guy
Tyler. It’s hard not to like this disc, with its sense of musical fun,
as on the classical-mashing “Five Klene Klownmusic,” and the
retro-whimsical “Leila’s Dance,” a deceptively simple-sounding tune in
9/8. It takes the traditions of Django and fuses them with Jean Luc
Ponty and world influences for a modern fusion album. The only knock
might be that it’s over-orchestrated. Every tune seems to have too much
instrumentation going on. The timbre of the multiple strings sometimes
clashes and the sound of the melody, with all those players, can get a
bit muddy. Still, enthusiasm and energy certainly make for a disc that
you’ll want to play, despite a few frayed edges.
2009, Saphu Records, 51:50.