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CD Reviews - January 2010
by George Fendel, and Kyle O'Brien

Reviews by George Fendel

A note from George:  Every December, we are sent fewer CDs for review than at any other time of year. The likely reason for this is that the labels get their material out in time for holiday shopping. As a result, you’ll find fewer reviews from me than usual. Wishing you all a 2010 simply loaded with great jazz ... both live and recorded.

New York State Of Mind, Harry Allen, tenor saxophone.
Hearing Harry Allen play brings reminders of past masters like Zoot Sims on swinging vehicles and Ben Webster on ballads. Allen is nearly single-handedly maintaining the tradition of playing melodies on the tenor saxophone. With absolutely nothing to prove to anyone, he stays on course with album after album of simply stunning saxophone sounds. So go ahead and add this one to the list. As the title suggests, it’s an ‘all Gotham’ menu with tunes that include “Autumn in New York,” “Harlem Nocturne,” “Manhattan Serenade,” “Broadway Melody” and even “Sidewalks Oo New York.” Joining the fun is Rossano Sportiello, (see the review below), a pianist equally at home with stride, swing or sizzle. Joel Forbes, bass, and Chuck Riggs, drums, complete the basic quartet, with the versatile trombonist John Allred sitting in on about half the tracks. If you’re one of those listeners who requires new ground be tilled with each recording you buy, then you’ll want to go elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you think there’s still a place in your jazz arena for a lyrical and luscious player of real songs, then Harry Allen is your man.
Challenge Records, 2009, 68:23.

The Flamboyan, Queens, NY, 1963, Kenny Dorham, trumpet.
Kenny Dorham and tenor great Joe Henderson worked together on no less than six Blue Note sides during the years 1963-64. But imagine Dorham, Henderson and a rhythm section featuring pianist Ronnie Mathews, playing at this New York club for, as radio host Alan Grant, informs us, ‘no cover charge and no minimum.’ Ah, those were the days! As great as he was, Dorham’s career got sidelined for various reasons, and Henderson went on to become much more recognized. But on this date, and with Steve Davis, bass, and J. C. Moses, drums, rounding out the rhythm section, the two horn players sample both some originals and dyed in the wool evergreens like “I Can’t Get Started,” “Autumn Leaves” and particularly riveting solos from both headliners on “Summertime.” Dorham also contributes two originals, “Una Mas,” his slightly harder-edged entry into the then popular bossa nova world, and Dorham’s very familiar theme, “Dynamo.” Fortunately, this set was well-recorded and preserved over the 45 years since it all went down. It constitutes a welcome addition to the discographies of two thoroughgoing jazzmen. And now you’re ‘right there’ at a small table down front.
Uptown, 2009, 53:15.

Sinatra: New York (4 CDs and 1 DVD).
I know, I know. I reviewed a teaser disc of this incredible set in last month’s issue, but now I have the whole megila in my hands, and let me tell you, it’s better than I said. Without going into intricate song by song detail, let’s just cover the venues: Manhattan Center 1955; United Nations 1963; Carnegie Hall 1974; Madison Square Garden 1974; Carnegie Hall 1984 and Radio City Music Hall 1980. For good measure, toss in a DVD also from Carnegie Hall in 1980. Depending on which concert you’re listening to, Frank’s accompaniment ranges from a simple solo piano to a full orchestra. The four CDs run the gamut of Sinatra -- peerless voice with a lots of banter and jokes with musicians and his audiences; and including numerous little asides like occasionally forgetting a lyric but covering for it as only The Leader could do. I would imagine that there are loads of additional unreleased and pirate Sinatra recordings out there in the hands of collectors. This set has all of that sort of intimacy, personality and even a few flaws, but it’s legal, it swings, it’s hip and, of course, it’s Sinatra.
Reprise, 2009, times not indicated. 

Ten Cents A Dance: A Remembrance Of Lorenz Hart, Lynne Jackson, piano and voice; Mike Palter, bass and voice.
Every new CD from Jackson and Palter is reason to celebrate. This one, recorded live, puts the sophisticated lyrics of Lorenz Hart into the hands of a couple who understands and interprets them as joyously as anyone on the planet. As has always been their strong suit with other composers and lyricists, Lynne and Mike interweave narration on the life and writing of Lorenz Hart with their performance of Hart’s witty, literate lyrics. Simply stated, they deliver yet another intimate performance, loaded with affection and admiration of the supreme art that was the Great American Songbook. If you are also an admirer of the ‘great songs of our heritage,’ you’ll revel in such fare as “Manhattan,” “Thou Swell,” “Mountain Greenery,” “Spring Is Here,” “Little Girl Blue,” “I Could Write a Book,” “The Blue Room,” “Johnny One Note” and lots more. Trust me, there is nobody better at these wondrous recitals. They’ll climb right into your heart; command your attention; and, if you share their message, bring a tear or two. Lynne and Mike enjoy a loyal following in both the jazz and cabaret camps, from people who ‘get it’ regarding just how important these songs are in their lives. What more can I say other than this is a tender, loving performance of the work of an true American genius by a couple who puts it across like no other.
The Cabaret Consortium, 2009, apprx 52:00. 

Pleased To Meet You, Hank Jones, piano and Oliver Jones, piano.
Two very different piano styles converge here when the elegant and frugal Hank Jones crosses paths with the swinging virtuosity of Oliver Jones. The eleven tunes are divided into various settings, including three as a quartet; six as a duo with the two pianists; and two stunning solos by Hank. Throughout, the Joneses are a joy to hear and are obviously inspired by one another. This meeting also brings to mind the late piano giant Oscar Peterson, a longtime great friend of both our stars, and Oliver’s fellow Canadian. With OP in mind, they perform two of his tunes, “Blues for Big Scotia” and “Cakewalk,” and Oliver contributes “I Remember OP,” a shining ballad awaiting an appropriate lyric. Among other delights, you’ll find “Groove Merchant,” a gospel-infused Jerome Richardson tune; “Ripples,” a light and polite original of Hank’s; and the required menu of standards such as “Makin’ Whoopee,” “I’ll Remember April” and “Star Eyes.” And don’t overlook Hank’s solo on “Monk’s Mood,” one of Monk’s rarely played but totally charming ballads. This meeting of two highly respected and dedicated jazz pianists is a treat worthy of a volume two.  One can only hope that might happen sometime soon.
Justin Time, 2009, 47:59.

Ballet Of The Bouncing Beagles, Phil Kelly, leader, arranger, composer.
Somebody out there needs to give some high fives to Phil Kelly. Really, it’s not very common these days for anyone to release a big band CD this good. And why? Well, among a plethora of highly skilled band barons, a few of the all-star types include Jay Thomas, trumpet; Jerry Dodgion, alto; Pete Christlieb, tenor; Bill Ramsay, baritone; Dave Marriott, trombone; John Hansen, piano, and two Portland faves, Dave Captein, bass, and Gary Hobbs, drums. You’ll know from opening notes of” Play Tonic Buds,” a rewrite of “Just Friends,” that this is a sharply honed aggregation playing stimulating charts and featuring cracker-jack soloists. An album highlight was the only standard on the bill, “Limehouse Blues,” played with  vigor and musicianship worthy of a fella named Basie. The title tune is named for Kelly’s two beagles who were apparently caught on camera in mid-romp, mid-air. And so it goes through a tour of Kelly’s scintillating, bright originals. Kelly, a resident of the Seattle area, calls his band The Northwest Prevailing Winds. And prevail they do!
Origin, 2009, 70:29.

It Amazes Me, Rossano Sportiello, piano.
To a long list of great melody players, which would necessarily include names like Wilson, Previn, Bunch, McKenna and Hyman, you can now add Rossano Sportiello. Maybe it’s not the easiest name to remember, but you’d do well by doing so. I can tell you this: it is a name I’m beginning to see more often in various roles during the past year or two, and for good reason. Sportiello shines in this solo piano performance, playing with a gentle, feathery touch, but with a certain sense of surety that is charming and refreshing. He opts mostly for older but infrequently played standards including “I’ve Told Every Little Star,” “What Is There to Say,” “Never Let Me Go” and the title tune. But he digs back even further for such oldies as “Christopher Columbus” (remember Fats Waller’s version?); “When I Grow too Old to Dream” and the ancient “Sleep.” Every note has value in Sportiello’s playing, and you’re gonna feel like he’s playing the family piano in a recital exclusively for you.
Sackville, 2009, 61:21.

Look, Stop And Listen; Dameronia, Philly Joe Jones, leader, drums.
Tadd Dameron insisted from the beginning of his career that his goal was to create beautiful music. Sure it had to swing, but most of all, beauty was the goal. Dameronia, a working group for far too short a time, devoted itself primarily to these beautiful Dameron compositions. This edition of Dameronia featured a host of stars, including Johnny Griffin, Don Sickler, Cecil Payne. Frank Wess and Walter Bishop Jr. To underscore Dameron’s belief, one of the selections played here is actually titled “Dial B for Beauty.” Perhaps the two most famous of his tunes, also included here, are “Our Delight,” a bop staple for decades; and “If You Could See Me Now,” which I like to refer to as the number one bebop ballad of all time. These and some lesser-known Dameron gems are played here with great affection and superb musicianship. Having purchased this album years ago in LP form, I’m personally delighted at its first appearance, complete with a couple of alternate takes, on compact disc. Another bonus here is Uptown’s painfully meticulous, 32-page liner booklet, loaded with information and marvelous photos. But it’s the music that counts, and this release helps keep accessible a unique contributor to the jazz pantheon, Tadley Erwing ‘Tadd’ Dameron. He sought beauty, and he found it.
Uptown, 2009, 55:17.


Behind The Smile, Antoinette Montague, vocals.
Here is a singer who comes through with stellar delivery and on target intonation, and she has done a bit of homework in her choice of tunes. Among the most interesting selections were “Give Your Mama a Smile,” from the old-time blues singer, Big Bill Broonzy; “Lost in Meditation”; and Dave Brubeck’s sweet opus, “Summer Song.” These and others make up an enjoyable pallet of tunes from Montague who, in another era, would have been a standout ‘band singer.’
In The Groove, 2010, 51:59.

No Such Thing, Matt Vashlishan, alto, soprano and tenor saxophones.
Right from the get-go, one hears Vashlishan’s silvery tone, sometimes reminiscent of Paul Desmond or Gary Foster. Most of the tunes here are originals, but it’s interesting to note in particular a few which are based on changes to well known standards. Hence, “Amalgamation” is built on “Giant Steps””Solar”; “Lennie’s Place””Green Dolphin Street”; and “Pieces” shadows “All the Things You Are.” Vic Juris’s guitar is fine, but in groups such as this, I miss the sound of a piano. All in all, a debut CD with some fine moments.
Origin, 2009, 58:42.

It’s Time For U, U. O. Project.
When I first saw this album, I though perhaps it was a release from the University of Oregon Music Department. Instead it’s a program of all original soul-jazz under the leadership of the drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. Therein lies the ‘UO.’  With the inclusion of Hammond B-3 and some earthy vocals in the soul genre, this wasn’t exactly my entree. Still, you’ll find “The Maestro Blues” to be invigorating and straight ahead. For fans of the r&b-soul thing, this is better than most I’ve heard. For more info, try www.usojazzy.com.
Self-produced, 2009.

Reviews by Kyle O'Brien

New York State of Mind, Harry Allen.
From the first breathy, legato tones of “Autumn in New York,” to the last few bouncy strains of “Sidewalks in New York,” Harry Allen shows us what it is to interpret a great melody. Allen, a tenor man known for his exceptionally smooth tone, creates the jazzy New York of yesteryear, all the while paying attention to the melodic structure of the tunes. While listeners will be plenty familiar with the songs here - “Harlem Nocturne,” “New York, New York,” “Autumn in New York” - the songs seem fresh and alive, in a retro sort of fashion. Allen’s exquisite phrasing and signature tone are highlighted in this New York tour. Here he swings with abandon on “Down in the Depths of the 90th Floor,” and brings haunting beauty to the title track. Joined by trombonist John Allred and backed by a wonderfully attentive band, this album is a winner all the way around.
2009, Challenge Records, 62 minutes.

Live at Caramoor, Jovino Santos Neto & Weber Iago.
Not being familiar with either pianist featured on this disc of piano solos and duets, this was new territory, but one that became a joyful listen. Recorded live at the Caramoor in New York, Iago and Neto both display their grasp of multiple styles, from classical and jazz to Brazilian and other world musics. Iago starts the disc with his chordal, rhythmic style. Neto’s attention to melody and rhythm come next, and his South American flair creates energy, especially on the bouncy “Lamentos (Laments).” When the two join together, it gives them both the opportunity to create rich music. Their styles mesh perfectly, especially when joined by saxophonist Joe Lovano, who plays his soprano in avant garde fashion as an intro to “Wave,” and the two pianists create a rhythmic wall of sound on the Jobim classic. His reedy tone brings a tonal complement to the two pianists and allows for a harmonic convergence of sorts.
2009, Adventure Music, 50:45 minutes.

Perspective, Tom Tallitsch.
Tallitsch is a Philadelphia-based saxophonist with a sound that shows both restraint and passion. His tunes are modern jazz through and through, not adhering to genre or style in any significant fashion. The tune “Conscious Contact” is an introspective minor melody that lets Tallitsch’s soprano speak in cohesion with his group. Piano, guitar, bass, drums and reeds build to a crescendo, and Tallitsch doesn’t let loose until the tune is good and ready to speak up. His use of dynamics and his restraint make his songs come alive. Some swirl and eddy, as on the circular “Propellerhead,” while others bubble under, like “Red Giant.” His tone is emotive and his compositions allow him to take us on short musical journeys with his more than able band. Here’s a guy to watch in the future.
2009, OA2 Records, 60 minutes.
Carswell, Tom Gullion.
Gullion is a muscular sax player, in the style of Michael Brecker or Donny McCaslin. He pushes his horn from the first tune and doesn’t let up. The disc, recorded in two sessions - in Wisconsin and Chicago - sets up as a fusion album. The Chicago sessions feature the fiery drumming of Ernie Adams, an impressive stickman that occasionally becomes the focal point of the music. The Wisconsin sessions add trumpeter David Cooper, giving more texture and chances for harmony. The electric tune, “Monkey’s Tale,” features Cooper with an electronically altered trumpet. It’s reminiscent of Randy Brecker, and it seems that’s what he and Gullion are going for, but without as much precision. The melody up front is brash and a tad sloppy. But the energy makes up for the glitches. Gullion likes the ‘70s, retro electronic sound alterations, which he brings to his soprano on “Hot Tin Roof,” and with electric piano on several tunes, we quickly discover Gullion’s love for fusion past. There are elements of Brecker Brothers, Return to Forever, Mike Stern, Weather Report and Pat Metheny throughout Gullion’s original music. Perhaps if he steps out of the past we can hear him in a new light without comparison.
2009, Momentous Records, 55:50.

Ballet of the Bouncing Beagles, Phil Kelly & the Northwest Prevailing Winds.
The Northwest doesn’t have a lot of big bands, so this group that composer/arranger Kelly has pulled together is a welcome sound for our little corner of the universe. Who cares that half the players are from elsewhere? Bellingham resident Kelly has enlisted some L.A. and New York cats, like saxophonists Jerry Dodgion and Pete Christlieb, and Dallas players Randy Lee and Pete Brewer. Throw in Portland drummer Gary Hobbs, noted Seattle trumpeter Jay Thomas, and guitarist Grant Geissman, and you have a powerhouse big band. Let’s not forget Portland bassist Dave Captein, who holds down the bottom end and brings together these huge horns. Kelly has them swing with abandon on the classic “Limehouse Blues,” then takes them down to New Orleans with the street beat of “Ewe Doo on Bubbas Shoux.” The sound is big and lively, thanks to Kelly’s firm hand as conductor, though at times it sounds like a studio group - a bit too refined. Still, when he pulls out the Latin rhythms, on “Estos Frijoles Causa Me Falta Pasar A Los Vientos,” with horn punches and a great batch of solos, it’s a joy to listen to.
2009, Origin Records, 64 minutes.

Extended Shelf Life, Ramsey Embick.
Many Northwest jazz fans will know Embick for his Latin outings with Ramsey Y Los Montunos. This is not that project. Here Embick shows off his quiet and tender sides. We get to hear his control of the keyboard on classic tunes that include “I Remember Clifford,” “Stardust” and “Skylark.” There are some originals on here too, and they fit right in. Embick draws out his chords and lets his fluid fingers explore the length of the keyboard. It’s a simple concept and a simple setup, but one that allows us into Embick’s world outside of Latin music. Though I could have used a little more diversity -- the tunes are all rather slow and there isn’t much rhythmic variety -- it’s a lovely album, great for dinner parties or a romantic evening.
2009, Ramsey Embick, 59:30.

Joy Not Jaded, Josh Moshier & Mike Lebrun.
Northwestern grads, pianist Moshier and saxophonist Lebrun have kept the musical collaboration going past the classroom. Their tunes are sharp modern jazz pieces, giving each the opportunity to say what they want musically. Harmonically and rhythmically rich, as on Lebrun’s polyrhythmic “Jambo,” these are two musically mature players. They’re not concerned with cramming too many notes in, instead concentrating on textures and melodies, as on Moshier’s “Saturnine,” which juxtaposes full piano chords with John Moulder’s light guitar work. There is still a little flash, as on “The Second Handers,” which builds with Lebrun’s pointed soloing. With some touring on behalf of this impressive disc, the two might just reach beyond the Chicago area.
2009, OA2 Records, 62 minutes.

Evolution, Jon Gordon.
Most jazz saxophonists don’t begin their discs with avant garde strings. Luckily, altoist Jon Gordon doesn’t follow convention. This mish-mash of styles somehow comes together, even though the strings sometimes seem like an overlay rather than an integral part of the group. On the title track, Gordon’s alto shines through, as does Sean Wayland’s rapid-fire piano. Remove the strings and you have a completely different mood, as on “Shane,” where Gordon is joined by Bill Charlap on piano. It’s a winning combo, with Gordon playing a distant soprano while Charlap comps quietly behind the melody. The larger group is an odd sort of mix, but it works because the compositions allow for multiple textures and colors. The tracks with Charlap work even better in their sparseness, but Gordon takes some sonic risks overall and comes out on top.
2009, ArtistShare, 60 minutes.

Sculptures in Time, GR Project.
From first glance, this looks like something from the  GRP label, but the GR stands for Gabriel Riesco, a guitarist currently living in New York who has performed around the globe. The disc, a tribute to the famous sculptor Eduardo Chillida, was recorded with very little rehearsal, which was supposed to capture the fresh feel of the project. While there are some fresh modern sounds, there are also some transitions that don’t work well, as on the opening track, where a rhythm transition stops abruptly rather than flows. Never having seen Chillida’s works, it’s hard to know how the music represents them, but there is an artistic quality to it, and Riesco is a solid guitarist. I’d call these more paintings than sculptures, but the sense of art in Riesco’s music is in tact.
2009, WUC Records, 52:50.

Gypsy Rendezvous, Vol. 1, The Dynamic Les DeMerle Band.
Any time anyone calls their group Dynamic, it’s cause to put up a red flag for cheesiness. But the rousing Gypsy jazz that comes from this group is, well, rather dynamic. The disc came about during DeMerle’s vacation to Maui, where he and Bonnie Eisele jammed with a local group. The result is a modern Hawaiian Gypsy jazz disc with a bit of a surf vibe, thanks to the dual guitars of Gypsy Pacific, Tom Conway and Phil Benoit. DeMerle’s energetic drumming propels the music, especially on the instrumental tracks that really cook. Eisele’s vocals aren’t the strongest; her intonation goes awry a few times, but it does bring a new dimension to the music. If you want to have fun and hear what Django may have sounded like if he lived island style, this is a fun listen.
2009, Origin Records, 60 minutes.

Copyright 2009, Jazz Society of Oregon