CD Reviews - February 2010
by George Fendel
Twelve Nights In Hollywood; Ella Fitzgerald, vocals.
fans, this is it! A four-disc set featuring Fitzgerald at the height of
her power, mesmerizing her 1961-62 audience at The Crescendo, a
Hollywood jazz and comedy club. Because Verve Records was in the midst
of all the songbook activity of Ella’s, these phenomenal, relaxed and
pure jazz performances have remained UNISSUED since the time they went
down. And Ella’s in her ‘ella-ment’ with a superb quartet: Lou Levy,
piano, Wilfred Middlebrooks, bass, and Gus Johnson, drums. Interesting
to note that while the accompaniment is absolutely hand-in-glove
perfect for Ella, there are no instrumental solos anywhere. So it’s
‘all Ella all the time’ with the same group that worked with her on the
brilliant album, “Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie.” Rather than trying
to entice you with the names of a few of the 75 or so tunes, just let
me say that it’s the Great American Songbook all the way, with Ella
tapping the honored circle of Ellington, Gershwin, Porter, Berlin,
Kern, Rodgers, Mercer and more. Ella’s obviously having a ball,
shmoozing her audience here and there between tunes; forgetting a lyric
now and then, but making up her own; and swinging and scatting as only
Ella could do. The last of the four CDs puts her in the same club, but
this time with another long-time accompanist, Paul Smith and his trio.
All in all, you’ll shake your head in amazement that it took nearly
five decades to get this gem out there. Beautiful packaging, liner
notes and photos will further delight you. But the First Lady of Song
is the star. Then, now, always.
Verve; 2009, 4 CDs, one hour each.
Raising The Roof, John Stein, guitar.
Stein’s been quite active over the last few years with several very
well-performed CDs. Here, Stein comes through with a very classic,
in-the-tradition guitar sound, and he gets the proceedings underway
with a virile reading of Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream.” His rhythm
mates, all swinging and sizzling, include: Koichi Sato, piano, John
Lockwood, bass, and Ze Eduardo Nazario, drums. In addition to the
bristling opener, other album highlights include a tender reading of
Thad Jones’s “A Child Is Born”; a “Caravan”-like rhythmic backdrop for
“Invitation”; one of Jobim’s rarely done chestnuts, “Vivo Sonhando”; a
straight ahead, but still stubtle version of “Beautiful Love”; and a
classy exploration of all the possibilities of “Falling in Love with
Love.” Stein adds a couple of originals as well, and he came up with a
catchy, waltz-tempo line on “Wild Woods.” Stein and friends have worked
it out with class and polish. Jazz guitar lovers should definitely
check him out!
Whaling City Sound, 2009, 57:24.
Complete At Newport 1958, Gerry Mulligan Quartet and Chico Hamilton Quintet.
seems as though just about every month Jazzscene uncovers one or two
previously unreleased gems to salivate over, so here comes another.
Gerry Mulligan’s pianoless quartet was one of the in things of the era,
and it stands up fine today. It was at this time that Mulligan’s front
line partner was trumpet ace Art Farmer, and they were joined by Bill
Crow, bass, and Dave Bailey, drums. Much of the CD is devoted to this
group playing their ‘hits’ of the day, including “Bernie’s Tune,”
“Blueport,” “As Catch Can,” “Festive Minor” and “Line For Lyons.” This
fine performance is augmented by an additional treat where Gerry joins
pianist Marian McPartland’s trio on a couple of Duke staples. And if
that’s not enough, there’s also four tunes from the Chico Hamilton
Quintet featuring the multi-faceted reedman Eric Dolphy. But this is
mostly Mullgan’s disc as he is prominently featured on thirteen of the
seventeen selections. The back panel of this CD reads “for collectors
only,” and Gerry Mulligan collectors are going to pounce on it!
RLP (Rare Live Performances) Records, 2008, 77:44.
Sing Me A Love Song, David Berger Jazz Orchestra.
any other composer, you may be sure that for every “There Will Never Be
Another You” or “The More I See You,” Harry Warren probably wrote
dozens of songs that never achieved the fame of those two. And this
interesting CD, which obviously must have been fashioned with great
effort and purpose, explores exclusively those neglected Warren
melodies. What makes the work even more intriguing, are the lyrics
written in the here and now by Paul Mendenhall. It’s a daunting task to
come up with ‘period’ lyrics which sound like original ones, but
Mendenhall is somehow up to the task. The two singers on the project,
Freda Payne and Denzal Sinclaire, are new names to me. Payne handled
the task with appropriate band singer chops and sounds just fine.
Sinclaire wins the blue ribbon with perfect interpretations of these
new but old tunes. We need to hear more from him! David Berger also
deserves some high fives for creating something entirely new and fresh.
His arrangements, never corny or vanilla, reflect the respect and
admiration that anything written by Harry Warren certainly deserves.
Such Sweet Thunder, 2009, 53:57
2, 5, 1, Dan Duke, bass.
now, when was the last time you read a real good review from me on a
recording which includes Hammond B-3 organ on four tunes and accordion
(!!!) on two? Maybe never. Well, hold your horses, ‘cause this one’s
darn good! The leader on the date, Dan Dean, is the only participant
new to me, but he joins forces here with pianists (different guys on
different cuts) George Duke, Gil Goldstein and Kenny Werner. Goldstein
doubles on squeeze box on two tunes, and Larry Goldings enters the fray
on B-3 on four. So why does the album earn my praise? Because nobody
goes for the jugular. Everybody keeps it strictly under control on
dependable tunes like “’S Wonderful,” “One Note Samba,” “All The Things
You Are,” “In Walked Bud” and two of our favorite ladies, “Stella” and
“Georgia.” Interesting too that there’s no drummer in the vicinity.
There’s some very pleasant musical conversation here among some players
who rarely get in the midst of this kind of music.
Origin, 2010, 77:33.
Paul Meyers Quartet, Paul Meyers, accoutic guitar.
to me that acoustic guitar is fading slowly from sight in the jazz
world. So when you encounter one played with the panache and subtlety
of Paul Meyers, you want to breathe it in. Of course, it hurts not a
bit that Meyers has called upon one of the sages of the tenor and
flute, Frank Wess. The former Basie band hero is still playing as
wonderfully as ever, and his tenor cooks up a nice entree on the
opener, a Billy Strayhorn tune called “Snibor.” Wess then switches to
flute for a lively Meyers original. An additional treat is singer Andy
Bey, whose vocal is rich and riveting on “Lazy Afternoon.” The pairing
of Meyer’s dessert-like guitar and Wess’s even keel reed expertise is
exceptionally pleasing to the ear. Additional highlights here include
standards like “In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” “Just One of
Those Things” and “I Cover the Waterfront.” Incidentally, the quartet
is rounded out by Martin Wind, bass, and Tony Jefferson, drums. It’s a
pretty special encounter from note one to note last.
Miles High Records, 2009, 65:40.
32nd Street, Dave Nelson, trumpet, vocal.
roots in Washington state, Nelson now makes his home across the border
in Saskatoon. He’s been fortunate enough, however, to have made some
connections in New York and found the time to make this recording on
one of those visits. Nelson’s laid back trumpet style will remind you a
bit of Miles Davis, and his choice here of Gotham tenor saxist Joel
Frahm is definitely a good one. The rhythm section is comprised of
three more New York cats in Jon Davis, piano, Joe Fitzgerald, bass, and
Marcello Pellitteri, drums. The CD kicks off with a mid-tempo romp
through “Have You Met Miss Jones” and follows with no less than four
Nelson originals. Of the four, I especially liked his take on the
blues, another medium tempo journey with some glitzy blowing from
Frahm. The CD continues with four more standards. A very nice surprise
on one of them was Nelson’s very hip vocal on “We’ll Be Together
Again.” The guys then play Bird’s “Confirmation” at a nice, nearly
relaxed pace. “My Favoite Things” follows with a bit of a Latin touch,
and the set ends with brisk “Softly As in a Morning Sunrise.” This CD
is, one might say, the essence of the creativity of jazz.
Self produced, 2009.
Ages, Lorraine Feather, vocals, lyricist.
couple of years ago Lorraine Feather’s “Language” received kudos for
its witty, fun-loving content. Feather, who is the daughter of the late
jazz writer Leonard Feather, is a terrific interpreter of her own
material. And what she writes sounds almost conversational; totally
unique; frequently offering a lesson in life or a reason to laugh at
ourselves. Her song titles may at least make you curious enough to
check her out. Consider for a moment that nobody else has ever come up
with titles such as “I Forgot to Have Children,” “Old at 18” and “Two
Desperate Women in Their Thirties.” In addition to Ms Feather’s vocal
and writing talents, a few of the melodies were contributed by two of
today’s premier piano talents, Dick Hyman and Shelly Berg. Feather
simply must be heard for one to understand what she’s all about. And to
me anyway, hers is a remarkable talent in singing and writing songs
that say “don’t concentrate on your frailties, but don’t strut your
stuff too much either.” Lorraine, I am your fan.
Jazzed Media, 2010, 52:28.
Straight Ahead, Hadley Caliman, tenor saxophone.
Hadley Caliman is one of those versatile cats completely at ease in
just about any musical setting. But I must say, it’s sure nice to hear
his return to a straight ahead tenor, trumpet and rhythm section gig.
He’s joined here by other Seattle area stalwarts, including Thomas
Marriott, trumpet, Eric Verlinde, piano, Phil Sparks, bass, and Matt
Jorgensen, drums. His choice of tunes reflects his lifetime of
listening and playing. Consider such underplayed items as Harold Land’s
“Rapture” or Lee Morgan’s “Totem Pole.” The standards on the date are
“You Leave Me Breathless” and “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” and
there’s even a tip of Caliman’s cap to the Ellington era with Billy
Strayhorn’s immortal “Lush Life.” Caliman’s tenor sound is slightly
rough-hewn, reminding me sometimes of Joe Henderson or even Benny
Golson. Marriott is a trumpet player of great gifts, and his
composition for this date, “Cathlamet,” is filled with life and vigor.
Caliman may perhaps be called a musician’s musician, but he has a story
for all to hear.
Origin, 2010, 39:00.
Lagos Blues, Antonio Ciacca, piano.
in Italy, and a product of an Italian conservatory music education,
Ciacca is a “burner,” in the jazz lexicon. On this impressive outing,
his basic quartet is joined by veteran tenor man Steve Grossman, a
longtime resident of Italy and mentor to Ciacca. The music played here
is mostly heavy-duty hard bop, but classy, creative and highly
listenable. Highlights included “Whims of Chambers,” an old bop line
from the revered bassist Paul Chambers, and a medley of Ellington
Motema Music, 2009, 53:16.
After The Rain, Gaea Schell, piano and vocals.
is it that I am often hip to piano players who also sing? Well, that’s
the case with Gaea Schell. She is first and foremost a solid, swinging
pianist who, in a clipped, staccato style, sometimes reminds me of
Eddie Costa. But she sings well too, subtle and jazzy, as you’ll
discover on such tunes as “September in the Rain,” “It Could Happen to
You,” “How Insensitive” and the best vocal of the bunch, “Social Call.”
Schell adds some original compositions to create a nicely balanced
effort. Bonus for locals: Portland’s exceptional bassist, Scott Steed,
is featured on about half the selections.
Roadhouse Records, 2009, 70:29.
Copacabana, Nilson Matta, bass and acoustic guitar.
is a lovely sampling of mostly the original compositions of Nilson
Matta, a native of Brazil. The distinguished guest here is Harry Allen,
the purveyor of a gorgeous sound on tenor sax. In fact, some of this
material will bring reminders of the sound of Stan Getz and his seminal
bossa nova work. Brazilian jazz tends toward more subtlety and
expression than what we usually call “Latin” style jazz. And this
Brazilian music is classy, elegant and easy on the ear.
Zoho, 2010, 49:52.
The Culprit, Jason Bodlovitch, guitar.
a program of all original material, I found some of Bodlovich’s work
interesting from a jazz perspective, but some seemed more closely
aligned to the pop thing. Bodlovich sounds kinda like a guy who may
have outgrown rock guitar and is now trying to till the fields of jazz.
His tune called “B Flatted” swung nicely in a jazz manner, and one
called “Bella Swing” had a cheerful melody line. Finally, something
called “SGB” created a nicely-paced groove. His chosen guitar sound
didn’t, however, fully connect with me.
Moon Rise Productions, 2010, 49:31.
Bright Future, Vince Norman-Joe McCarthy Big Band.
only indication on this CD as to where all these hot player hail from
is the name of a recording studio in Springfield, Virginia. Go figure.
But there’s some sparkling musicianship in a menu of all original music
mostly from co-leader and reedman Vince Norman. Several high-energy
soloists are given plenty of opportunity to fly their colors as this
band cooks it up on one cut after another. Kudos to anyone who can even
keep a big band together nowadays. From the sound of their energetic
big band, they indeed deserve a bright future.
OA2 Records, 2010, 61:46.
Karen Marguth, Karen Marguth, vocals.
one can get an idea of how “into it” a singer is by simply looking at
their tune list. And when I saw titles like “Unit 7,” “Sister Sadie,”
“In the Land of Ooh-Bla-Dee,” “Day Dream” and “Squeeze Me,” I was
somewhat prepared for a jazz singer (as opposed to a band singer or,
perish the thought, a pop singer), and Karen Marguth fills the bill. In
a higher-pitched voice than usual, she’s spot on key, phrases with ease
Wayfae Music, 2009, 49:40.