CD Reviews - November 2009
by George Fendel,
Symbiosis, The Jeff Hamilton Trio.
the last decade, Jeff Hamilton’s trio has experienced
changes, but it seems that each departee is replaced by someone with
equal talent. In sports, they call it reloading. And perhaps the term
applies nicely with Hamilton’s present day trio of Tamir
piano and Christoph Luty on bass. It’s a wise old adage that
good tunes and swing with authority.” And it seems to be the
this trio wishes to go. You’ll know it from the first phrases
Make Me Feel So Young.” Hendelman is following the path of
masters like Oscar Peterson, Gene Harris and Monty Alexander. One
clearly understands this trio’s mission is not to present
murky music with hard to decipher melody lines. Instead, they want to
play with all the chops they have at their disposal and make sure
you’re entertained (is that a bad word?) by a swinging trio
right down the center of the highway. On
“Midnight Sun,” “Fascinating
Rhythm,” “Blues In The Night” and others,
they come through with
aplomb. They’re a tight, rehearsed, solid piano trio in the
that time-honored tradition.
The Fittest, Eric Alexander, tenor saxophone.
knew I wasn’t getting any younger when I read recently that
Alexander is nearing his twentieth year as a leader on great recording
dates such as this one, where he keeps bearing the hard bop torch to
perfection. On this riveting quartet date, he joins forces with Harold
Mabern, piano, Nat Reeves, bass, and Joe Farnsworth, drums, on a varied
menu of tunes which take us on a journey to many musical destinations.
His opener, “Revival,” is a blistering hard bop
vehicle with Alexander
blowing the roof off. Other impressive entries included Ivan
near-standard, “The Island”; Mabern’s
funky “Too Late Fall Back Baby”;
a rather Coltrane-ish “Love Wise,” a pretty thing
that I remember from
Nancy Wilson; a no punches pulled blues and a Joe Farnsworth-inspired
Latin version of Michel Legrand’s “You Must Believe
In Spring.” Eric
Alexander is one of those artists that doesn’t have to
pyrotechnics on tenor. He puts the whole story out there, rather like
Dexter Gordon might have done, leaving you to decide that this guy can
Mercer: A Centennial Tribute, Daryl Sherman, vocals.
my message to Arbors Records: anytime you wish to release an
Johnny Mercer’s music, go for it! Mercer was one of the great
contributors to the joyous American Songbook, and Daryl Sherman seems
to understand what Mercer was all about. Her tribute to our
“huckleberry friend” features tunes like
“Midnight Sun,” “Jeepers
Creepers,” “Come Rain Or Come Shine” and
“Charade.” But the real treat
comes in more obscure gems like “I’m Shadowing
You,” “Peter Piper” and
“Here Come The British.” My personal fave is
“Little Ingenue,” a tune
which Mercer wrote with pianist Jimmy Rowles, and one which enjoyed a
separate life under the title “Baby, Don’t You Quit
Now.” Here and
there, Sherman joins forces with trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and/or
bassist Jay Leonhart. Other pals on board include Jerry Dodgion, Howard
Alden, Chuck Redd, Marian McPartland and Barbara Carroll. Mercer, a
grand master of lyric writing, was an outdoor writer as compared to an
indoor type like Cole Porter. This session, full of fun, makes it clear
that people will be singing Johnny Mercer’s lyrics a hundred
Marius Nordal, solo piano.
Nordal is one of those virtuoso pianists who can spin you around in
your chair and make you rue the day you ever started taking piano
lessons. I know this to be true because I own his first two albums for
Origin, and I’ve heard his Tatum-esque exploits on both. He
complete command of the piano, and you can’t reign him in, so
try. And, by the way, it’s all very musical and lots of fun!
around, Nordal tackles the music of the last 40 years, hence the title.
I don’t think any serious listener will ever come to the
that tunes by Chuck Berry, the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the like
will ever measure up to the sophistication of the Gershwins, Porters,
Kerns and Ellingtons. And that’s my only argument with this
Nordal plays as brilliantly as ever, but “School
Vibrations” and “She’s Leaving
Home” don’t have the jazz clout of the
previous generation of composers. Other than that, just breathe in his
virtuosity and understand that “Eleanor Rigby” and
never sounded better.
Together, Friends of Brendan Romaneck.
Romaneck was a promising tenor saxophonist and composer who died at age
24, just as he embarked on what was to be a very promising career. At
the time of his passing, he was preparing his first recording. It would
have included the original music played here by friends Chris Potter,
tenor, Steve Wilson, alto and soprano, Terrell Stafford, trumpet and
flugelhorn, Keith Javors, piano, Delbert Felix, bass, and John Davis,
drums. His compositions cover the gamut of emotions and tempos, and one
can hear the depth of feeling in the playing of his musical colleagues.
A few standards are also covered. Among them are “My Shining
“Nancy With The Laughing Face,” both of which
sometimes stirring tenor sax. A highlight here is the pop tune
Me Softly With His Song,” putting the passionate soprano of
Wilson in the spotlight. And Terrell Stafford is the man on several
tracks, with an absolutely juicy solo on a swinging vehicle entitled
Records, 2009, 66:54.
You, John Hicks, solo piano.
love it when musicians are hip to the fact that they don’t
rebuild the pyramids every time they step foot into a recording studio.
And with that in mind, we are grateful for this brilliant, recital-like
performance from the late John Hicks. I don’t know whether or
Note has more of John’s work waiting to be released. But if
stunning solo effort would be worthy of any of his best work in the
past, and would totally stand up as a final musical statement. Every
tune is a gift-wrapped winner, and Hicks divides up the program between
the work of jazz composers and the American Songbook. Hence, we are
treated to rich entries like Monk’s
“Reflections” and “Nutty”;
“Sonar” and Strayhorn’s “Upper
Manhattan Medical Group.” From the
latter category, Hicks gives us “I Remember You,”
“A Nightingale Sang
In Berkeley Square” and other standards. It adds up to a
balanced, strikingly performed set of solo piano from a master artist.
In a 45 year career, John Hicks was consistently a winning contributor
to the art of jazz piano. It makes perfect sense that his last CD
should be called “I Remember You.”
The Way They
Make Me Feel, Angela Hagenbach, vocals.
you remember singers like Chris Connor and Julie London who
dazzle with show-biz whoops and hollers, but instead tantalized with
sensuous low-pitched, husky voices? Angela Hagenbach is somewhere in
that niche and offers a swinging, extremely well arranged performance
of tunes by Johnny Mandel, Henry Mancini and Michel Legrand, including
“Cinnamon And Clove,” “Slow Hot
Wind,” “Quietly There,” “Sure
Born,” “Close Enough for Love,”
“Charade” and many more. The pianist on
the date is the rapidly rising star, Tamir Hendelman. He’s
responsible for several of the arrangements. And with some obviously
inspired players on board, even a shimmering string section on several
tracks, the band is first cabin all the way. Hagenbach’s
voice handles the assignment with pizzazz and a nice jazz fell
throughout. Connor and London aside, today’s parallel might
Patti Wicks, also a low-pitched standout. In any case, Hagenbach and
company are impressive on a well conceived and beautifully performed
Records, 2009, 60:34.
So Far From
Home, The Shook-Russo 4Tet.
say, and correctly so, that jazz education is a never-ending process,
so it’s a delight when we hear a new and impressive group for
time. The Shook-Russo 4Tet was a new listening experience for me, but I
sure liked their studied, lyrical, hip bop sound. And you
astray when you hire Colorado trumpet and flugelhorn wiz Greg Gisbert
as a guest. The group’s leaders are Amy Shook, bass, Pat
sax, and Frank Russo, drums. Along with Tim Young on piano, this group
makes it all happen in the shadows of great, galloping bop groups from
jazz history. There is a strong sense here of the joy of playing this
American art form. The writing is full of energetic, compelling and
witty melody lines, which inform you that these cats really love to
Moods, Tony Foster, piano.
a Northwest guy, originally from Vancouver, B.C., now living in
Seattle. So why in the heck didn’t I know of him before? From
opener, “Take the A Train,” you’ll
discover that Foster, like one of
his two piano heroes, Ahmad Jamal, realizes both the importance and the
impact of space. His sparse approach gives a totally new look to the
old standard. Having plowed ground under the shadow of Jamal, Foster
then does a 180 and plays “Cakewalk,” a joyous romp
composed by his
other hero, Oscar Peterson. Needless to say, Peterson and Jamal are
worlds apart, but Foster does ‘em both with ease and flair,
while not sounding like either of them. Some shades of color and
texture follow on several Foster originals, and he ends the program
with a medley of “Someone to Watch Over Me” and
followed by the closer, a down-home John Clayton blues called
Grease.” Foster’s playing mates, both
sharpshooters, are Russell
Botten, bass, and Joe Poole, drums. Foster’s got a lot going
and somebody needs to invite him to travel the short 175 miles to play
here in Portland.
Time, Graham Dechter, guitar.
you buy a new jazz guitar album sight unheard these days, you never
know if you’re going to get a true, straightahead jazz
guitarist or an
expert in electronic gimmickry. In the case of Graham Dechter,
delighted to say, he’s released a pure and true and swinging
guitar album. Without question, there are certain musical standards to
be met in order to record with Jeff Hamilton, John Clayton and Tamir
Hendelman. You’d better have chops or these guys will digest
lunch. And Dechter passes the test with sizzling single note journeys
and astonishing chord work as well. All of this talent gives some new
excitement to tunes such as “Wave,” “The
Nearness of You,” “I Ain’t Got
Nothin’ But the Blues” and a few scrappy, fresh
originals. So keep an
eye out for the warm and wonderful guitar of Graham Dechter.
Undoubtedly, you’ll be hearing more from him.
Daniel Smith, bassoon.
you have more than a little gray at the temples, you might remember
some of the more unusual voices of jazz. Like Dorothy Ashby’s
Cooper’s oboe or John Graas’s French horn. Joining
them is Daniel
Smith, probably the world’s one and only bebop bassoon
Normally, bebop and bassoon would never be uttered in the same
sentence, but here comes Smith to put that idea to rest with bop
anthems. The bassoon, usually a proud presence in symphony orchestras,
gets a good workout here in jazz. Joining the fray is Martin Bejerano,
a stunning pianist well on his way up the jazz ladder, as well as
Edward Perez, bas,s and Ludwig Alonso, drums. Don’t be
this is some novelty outing. Smith’s a solid improviser on
one of the
most unwieldy instruments that has ever come down the line. Give him
credit. He pulls it off with jazz chops intact.
Thread, Amanda Carr, vocals and Kenny Hadley, big band leader.
guess we all have to sit up and take notice when Nat Hentoff tells us
in the Wall Street Journal, “Amanda Carr is a true jazz
singer in a
time of wannabes.” The Boston area singer works
hand in glove with a
bevy of Beantown’s best in Kenny Hadley’s Big Band.
Carr sings on key
and respects melody lines but doesn’t shy away from the
earn that monicker of jazz singer. The tunes, all skillfully
for big band, include “They All Laughed,”
“Time on My Hands,” “There’s
a Small Hotel” and a bunch more. It’s nice to see
singers discovering these A+ songs, thus keeping them accessible. And
it’s particularly pleasing to hear them interpreted honestly
and with a
quality orchestral backing. Nicely done!
Within, Cedar Walton, piano.
seems to me that after some forty years of occupying one of the
penthouse suites in the jazz piano condo, that Cedar Walton could rest
on his laurel if he was inclined. But as you’ll hear on his
recording, it ain’t gonna happen. Walton was armed and ready,
you’ll believe on the title tune, his own composition. In
everybody arrives equipped for heavy duty hard bop, including Vincent
Herring, Buster Williams and Willie Jones III. The guys establish a
deep, in the shed bop groove on the opener, and then,
surprise-surprise, the trio (without Herring) strolls into a medium
tempo evergreen, “Memories of You.” Stevie
Wonder’s “Another Star”
receives a scintillating treatment featuring the tenor sax of Herring
(who, incidentally, does not play any alto on the date).
“Dear Ruth” is
Waton’s lilting original named for his mom, and
“Something in Common”
has been a Walton staple for decades. Another standard “Over
Rainbow,” is played with a nod to Bud Powell. By now, John
“Naima” has become a jazz standard, and Walton
plays it with great
respect. The closer, Sonny Rollins’ “No
Moe,” is one of hundreds of
rhythm changes tunes. Just another day at the office for
Walton. And a
great day it was!
Lexicon, John Wojciechowski,
tenor and soprano saxes.
Coltrane left a huge imprint on scores of saxophone players, and most
certainly John Wojciechowski is one of them. His recording of all
original material features a quintet delivering a variety of moods and
tempos, much of which seems to bear a connection to Trane. Much of his
writing is lyrical and almost thematic, but his group can also throw a
knockout punch on some fast-moving hard bop.
you like spacey guitar music with lots of electronic effects, this may
be your CD. At some point in time, musicians are going to come to the
conclusion that they don’t have to synthesize and electrify
to make it palatable or even ìcurrentî.
There’s a seamless quality to
most of this stuff, making me ask when does the
ìsoundî cease and the
Ascension, Christian Fabian, bass.
what I assume to be a debut album, Christian Fabian has written some
melody lines that are both catchy and melodic. Some of them are playful
enough that you might find yourself whistling them. The honored guest
of the session is pianist Don Friedman, a standout Bill
Evans-influenced artist. His classy piano is featured on several trio
cuts. Fabian also invites a number of horn guys who contribute solid
solo work here. Amidst his pallet of fine original compositions,
find standards like “Sunny Side of the Street,”
“Wave” and “What Is
this Thing Called Love.”
Artists Productions, 2009, 70:15.
The Jury Is
Out, Eric Muhler, piano.
Bay Area pianist who has carved out a nifty niche as a both a composer
and pianist, Muhler’s quartet performs a half dozen saucy
with a most engaging style. He can alternate between Coltrane-inspired
lines, bluesy grooves and intimate melodies with ease. His band mates
include Mitch Wilcox, bass, Brian Andres, drums, and Sheldon Brown,
saxophones, all of whom seemingly work hand in glove with the leader.
Records, 2009, 69:39.
Jon Gordon, alto saxophone.
Gordon describes his latest work not so much as jazz, but rather as
disparate music which includes elements of many styles. Sometimes
there’s a classical bent to the nine original pieces included
other times, it takes on something of a film noir sound, a thematic
throwback, if you can imagine such a thing. Interesting too are a
couple of duets with the great pianist Bill Charlap. Gordon is a
virtuoso on alto, but if you’re looking for Bird, Stitt or
this won’t quite work for you.
Share, 2009, 62:46.
Love? Kelley Suttenfield, vocals.
may be in a recession, but there are plenty of female singers to keep
everyone happy. Kelley Suttenfield brings a sweetness and sincerity to
a dozen most familiar melodies including “Charade,”
“West Coast Blues”
and “My One and Only Love.” Of less interest were
pop throwaways like
“And I Love Her” and “Ode to Billy
Joe.” On the other hand, the
inclusion of Betty Carter’s obscure “Open the
Door” was a welcome
surprise. Reminiscent just a bit of Susannah McCorkle, Suttenfield
eases her way into some vocals which will get your attention.
Records, 2009, 57:26.
by Kyle O'Brien
On the Bright Side, The American
band name is a too basic attempt to explain what this group is about --
a fusion of the various musics that we call American, from jazz and
rock to funk and rap. As a jazz band the Detroit collective is darned
good, with pianist Keith Javors leading the chordal charge and drummer
Alex Brooks kicking in layered funk beats. As far as mixing rap and
R&B with jazz, it’s been done better. Rapper Dejuan
Everett is talented enough, but his raps seem to be fighting with the
music on occasion. Revolutionary rap and fusion jazz are not exactly
complementary, and Greg Osby and his bunch back in the ‘90s
had a more
Inarhyme Records, 39:50.
Together, Chris Potter, Steve Wilson, Terell Stafford, Keith Javors,
Delbert Felix, John Davis.
disc is a tribute to promising saxophonist Brendan Romaneck, who died
shortly after his 24th birthday and shortly before he was scheduled to
make his recording debut. This collective of prominent modern jazz
musicians, led on tenor by Potter, is impressive and at times moving,
especially since the group is playing Romaneck’s original
Shining Hour” is a searing post bopper that gives Potter a
flex his muscle, while “Full Moon” is a melancholy
nighttime textures. Stafford and Wilson join on the melodies of a few
tracks, including the minor-keyed swinging title track. The musicians
involved play the music with reverence and passion, and the
compositions are very mature for a 24-year-old. It’s too bad
never get a chance to hear Romaneck in his splendor but this tribute is
Inarhyme Records, 66:54.
Area physician, actress and poet Estrada adds singer to her resume with
this second album, a collection of love songs with the rhythms of South
America and lyrics in English, Spanish and Portuguese. The tunes range
from a sultry “Nature Boy” in English with a slinky
beat, to a
traditional Mexican tale (“Llorona”), to a Latin
version of Bacharach’s
“Always Something There to Remind Me,” which
doesn’t work so well.
Estrada has a lovely voice, with a slightly dusky delivery. When she
sings in Spanish or Portuguese she is impressive, as on the passionate
version of “Flor Sin Retono.” Her band is an able
bunch of Bay Area
musicians with some guest performances by trombonist Wayne Wallace and
saxophonist Charlie McCarthy. A full album in Spanish should be in the
works for this rising star.
Flight Productions, 51 minutes.
projects to lesser-known artists seem to be growing in popularity.
Perhaps it’s because all the great artists have already been
musically, or perhaps it’s to bring attention to artists that
made the mainstream. This disc is a tribute to Polish pianist and
composer Krzysztof Komeda ... 40 years after his death. Pianist Andrzej
Winnicki and saxophonist Krzysztof Medyna are the driving forces behind
this overdue tribute. It possesses the melancholy, intense nature of
Komeda’s original work (Komeda scored several Polanski films)
bringing a new modern jazz twist. Medyna is a fiery saxophonist with
technical prowess, and Winnicki has a nice touch on the keyboard.
They’re joined by Scott Colley on bass, Nasheet Watts on
drums and the
impressive Russ Johnson on trumpet and flugelhorn, who brings passion
and emotion to the tunes. If you didn’t know
Komeda’s work before, this
is a good chance to get acquainted.
guitarist Segal was born in Russia, but his influence is definitely
from the American ‘70s and ‘80s. The first two
tracks, “Red Eyes” and
the title track, sound like outtakes from a Mike Stern album, with
funky beats and heavily effects laden guitars. Scofield gets into the
mix as an influence on “Free Fall,” a tender ballad
where Segal plays
melodic and quietly. Otherwise Segal is a rhythmic player, as on the
funky “Alef” or the bopping “Blues
Again.” He can solo with a flourish,
with the shredding on “Captain Chaos,” and he can
pay attention to
melody, as on the aptly named “Quiet.” He even
gives plenty of solo
time to his band, including organist Sam Barsh and trumpeter Jonathan
Powell. Still, Segal is stuck in a bit of a time warp, and it would be
nice to hear his sound updated.
River Suite, Inventions Trio.
Mays is a respected pianist, and rightfully so. His sense of touch and
melody are exceptional, and his sophisticated music elevates it above
much of the jazz currently out there. It floats between jazz and
classical, especially with this project, a trio of Mays, trumpeter
Marvin Stamm and cellist Alisa Horn. It begins with a light and
chordally rich “Zingaro” that takes it north of its
native Brazil. The
“Suite” begins with Mays talking about his love of
the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware, where Mays lives. They take away
from the flow of the music, but the words gives a great insight as to
his inspiration. It then takes a journey down river, with the three
instruments creating a greater sound than their combined power, thanks
to open chords and lines that criss-cross with grace. The journey takes
stabs at chamber music, free jazz, Americana folk, boogie woogie and
lush ballads, and it all works as it floats, flows and meanders to the
Atlantic. Mays makes it all fit together and Stamm and Horn bring
melody and texture to the suite with near perfection. A delightful
Blooze Music, 57:53.
the Sidewalk,” David Widelock Trio.
Widelock is a veteran Bay Area player who is comfortable with both
electric and acoustic guitar. This simple trio, with drummer Jim Kassis
and bassist Fred Randolph, doesn’t push the envelope, opting
for nice swing, funk and modern jazz numbers that let Widelock display
his soloing. His solos are easy to listen to, with fluid phrasing and
chord punches that seem to fall at the right time. It’s a
album, one that won’t offend and may introduce you to an
deserves some recognition.
Records, 53 minutes.
guitarist Bittelli takes influences from his Mediterranean homeland and
blends it with western jazz. The opener, a modern waltz titled
1997,” is a tender fusion piece that displays
Bittelli’s full sound and
sense of melody. The flute on “Nudo,” sounds too
predictable, but is
forgiven on “Vento Sulla Palouse,” where the flute
is plaintive and
floats through the Washington-influenced tune. The flute is played by
Horace Alexander Young, who also adds fine tenor playing on tunes like
“Nexus” and “Pulses.” But the
flute is overused and takes away from
Bittelli’s guitar and compositions. Bittelli is a solid
his compositions are hit and miss, not pushing hard enough to take them
away from typical modern jazz. I’d like to hear more European
and less safety.
Coast Jazz, 43 minutes.
Now, Luis Bonilla.
Bonilla pays tribute to his father, who would yell the title phrase at
the dinner table in frustration. It also is a way for Bonilla to say
that this disc is him speaking his mind. The frenetic title track is in
your face, with Bonilla pushing his horn to its sonic limit, blatting
and sliding with fervor. The band keeps up nicely, with drummer John
Riley, exceptional pianist Arturo O’Farrell, saxophonist Ivan
bassist Andy McKee pushing just as hard as Bonilla. This is urban
fusion, as the constantly changing feel of “Uh, Uh,
Uh,” displays. It’s
brash and bold with a sophistication that allows for the punchy nature
and balances out the muscle. Bonilla’s Costa Rican heritage
in the numerous Latin beats and undertones, but it’s
certainly not a
Latin disc. At times the horns can push too hard, as on the shared
melody of “Fifty Eight” which sounds more like
musical jousting than
exacting playing. Still, it’s a fun listen, and one that
be a blast to hear live. With a bit more restraint Bonilla could have a
Arts, 57 minutes.
sure this is really a jazz album, but that’s also what people
about the Bad Plus when they came out. The opener,
“Somewhere,” is more
prog rock than jazz, with a heavy beat and sludgy guitar and keys and a
hint at Jewish folk music. Guitarist Eyal Maoz was a guest artist with
John Zorn’s Cobra, and he is clearly influenced by the
artist. The heavy use of synthesizers and effects on his guitar make
this an odd but intriguing blend of middle eastern folk, prog rock,
synth pop, and something that resembles jazz. The mash of styles and
the electronica-meets-acoustic is hard to pin down. One wonders what
exactly they’re listening to as they make their way through
but jazz is not the first thing that springs to mind. Is it
interesting? Yes. I kept wanting to hear what was coming next, but
not something I’m pulling out at a dinner party. If you ever
know what Jewish folk would sound like if Rush or King Crimson got a
hold of it, this might be it.
Tzadik, 62 minutes.