CD Reviews - April 2010
by George Fendel,
E Pluribus Duo, Dick Hyman, piano, Ken Peplowski, clarinet, tenor sax.
On his way to a Eugene gig, Dick Hyman visited KMHD last month and presented us with this superbly crafted CD. Eleven of the 14 tracks put Hyman in the company of Ken Peplowski, the gifted, all-purpose reedman. Speaking of all-purpose, Hyman has made a career of meeting whatever musical assignment requested of him. Ragtime, stride, swing, bop, accompaniment, arranging, film scores … all part of Hyman’s resume. So it’s quite easily understandable that a musical meeting with Ken Peplowski would be a natural for both players. This is one of those sessions where two highly musical cats create and communicate eerily well. It’s a gift given to jazz musicians of the highest echelon, and to hear these two reading and reacting to one another is a rewarding experience. To give the recording a little extra juice, add Joel Forbes, bass, and Chuck Redd, drums, on three selections. But this is mainly about the incredible communication of Hyman and Peps on such fare as “Godchild,” “The Red Door,” “Waltz for Debbie” and even the old standard, “I’ll See You in My Dreams.” To these, add a sprightly Hank Jones melody called “Vignette” plus a few winsome originals and a couple of gems from Charlie Parker and Lennie Tristano. The end result affirms your long time admiration of Dick Hyman and Ken Peplowski as relentless guardians of the jazz art.
Victoria Company, 2009, 73:28.
Noir Blue, Ken Peplowski, clarinet and tenor saxophone.
Speaking of Ken Peplowski, here he is, and once again in high wire company. This time it’s Shelly Berg, piano, Jay Leonhart, bass, and Joe LaBarbra, drums. In the notes, Peplowski explains that he’s reached the point where he now records only “when I feel I have something to say.” To that I might add that Peplowski always has something to say about making great music. He’s a virtuoso clarinet player and a do anything tenor ace. He and colleagues turn out an appealing set of music with a nice mix of the familiar and the rather obscure. In the former category consider such fare as Irving Berlin’s “The Best Thing for You,” Ray Noble’s “Love Locked Out,” a cousin to Duke’s “All Too Soon”; and Jerome Kern’s evergreen, “Nobody Else But Me.” Berg brought to the session “Home With You,” a lovely original ballad, and Joe LaBarbra contributed the lively and lilting “If Not for You.” Peplowski indicates a life long passion for a phenomenon known as Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, and two of Sweet Pea’s lesser known gems, “Multi-Colored Blue” and “Noir Blue,” are performed with great feeling. All these and more create a recording rich in feeling and rewarding in pure musicianship.
Capri, 2010, 63:14.
Catch Your Breath, Debbie Poryes, piano.
Try as we might, there are too many ‘uderdog’ pianists out there to acquaint ourselves with all of them. However, one of those worth discovering is Debbie Poryes, a jazz pianist with taste, touch and talent. Her trio includes Bill Douglass, bass, and David Rokeach, drums. On most of the tunes here, she adds the alto and soprano sax of Bruce Williamson. Poryes displays a well-balanced program of standards and originals. Check out her introduction to “I Should Care,” with its classical bent. She then transforms it into a delicately swinging rendition of that evergreen. Another highlight is Sonny Clark’s uplifting “Melody for C,” zestfully played here. I think I’m one of the only guys on planet Earth who never got much into the Beatles, but even I have to admit that “Here, There and Everywhere” is a charmer, and Poryes and pals give it lotsa love. On these and others, notably “My Heart Stood Still” and Irving Berlin’s nearly forgotten “I’ve Got the Sun in the Morning,” Debbie Poryes adds her name to the list of pianists deserving of our ears and attention.
OA2, 2010, 52:13.
We’ll Meet Again, Carol Sloane, vocals.
For a brief time in the late ‘50s or early ‘60s, I thought surely Carol Sloane was the next Ella Fitzgerald. But Sloane didn’t dig the music of the ‘60s and left the scene for a decade or so. With the jazz renaissance of the ‘70s, she returned, and since then, has remained one of the premier singers in the jazz pantheon. On this very intimate date, her direct to the heart vocals are surrounded by some equally gifted colleagues Ken Peplowski, clarinet and tenor sax; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; and Steve LaSpina, drums. She is one of those rare singers, like Maxine Sullivan or Rebecca Kilgore, who simply seems to be singing to you and no one else. How is this done? It’s hard to define because so few can do it, but there’s never anything extraneous or show-offy with Sloane. It’s rather like ‘this is who I am and what I do and I would never do it any other way.’ Nor should she. She is, as always, right on target on no less than fifteen beauties here, including “Something To Remember You By,” “I Haven’t Got Anything Better To Do” and the title tune. With this recording, it’s not at all surprising that Sloane maintains her place in the top echelon of America’s jazz singers.
Arbors, 2010, 63:50.
Zoot. Zoot Sims, tenor, alto and baritone saxophones.
Somebody once affectionately dubbed Zoot Sims a ‘playing fool,’ meaning he’d play at the drop of a hat. This disc actually is comprised of two LPs, one of which was originally titled simply “Zoot.” The other was called “Zoot Sims Plays Alto, Tenor and Baritone.” Both were originally recorded in 1956 and feature Sims leading a quartet with John Williams, piano, Knobby Tatah, bass, and Gus Johnson, drums. Of the two, “Zoot” is the superior date, but only because Sims, a brilliant tenor man if ever there was one, is featured solely on his main axe. The other album, while not gimmicky in the least, simply showcases Sims’ skills on the other horns as well. Zoot, perhaps the hardest swinging Lester Young disciple of them all, is a 10 on eighteen tunes, ranging from “Blue Room” to “Bohemia After Dark,” and from “Woody’n You” to “Where You At.” On the latter, we are treated to a surprisingly hip vocal from the leader. I can only surmise that Dave Frishberg, who many years later recorded the tune, must have picked that one up from his old pal John Haley Sims. It was always a joy to hear Zoot play tenor. His sound was as satisfying, swinging and timeless as anybody’s in the business.
Poll Winners Records, 74:24.
Blues For Brother Ray, Jim Rotondi, trumpet.
Most of the Ray Charles tribute albums get so funky that one nearly forgets that Charles also had a distinct and loyal following in the jazz arena. And while the funk feeling is inevitably to be found here (Mike LeDonne plays organ throughout), this is a jazz outing and there’s a simple reason why. “It’s in there,” as the pasta sauce people like to say. Well, in this case in there refers to the players on this date. Eric Alexander, tenor sax; Peter Bernstein, guitar; LeDonne, organ; and Joe Farnsworth, drums -- are all on hand working with leader and trumpet ace Rontondi. The solo work is clean and concise and purposeful, and to my ear, it’s definitely a jazz setting. Ray Charles left his indelible mark on each of the eight tunes, but it’s a real treat to hear such winners as “What’d I Say,” “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and “Georgia on my Mind” as played by this polished aggregation. Once considered among the young lions of the New York scene, these players have now established themselves as Apple veterans, each a well respected, versatile musician. And it’s rather nice that Rontondi chose to honor the music of Ray Charles. It’s certainly well played here!
Post-Tone Records, 2009, 50:56.
Buenos Aires Blues, Johnny Hodges, alto saxophone.
Half of this very welcome CD was the result of a meeting between alto giant Johnny Hodges and Argentine pianist-arranger Lalo Schifrin. Recorded in early 1963, it is the first of two LPs here, and was originally titled “Johnny Hodges.” Along with Schifrin, the other contributors were Barry Galbraith, guitar, George Duvivier, bass, and Dave Bailey, drums. The result is creamy, authentic, pure and relaxed Johnny Hodges at his best. Schifrin takes a back seat, comping seamlessly. The tunes are primarily easy-going Hodges blues lines, but the standards include “I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love with Me,” “Somebody Loves Me” and, of course, one Duke tune, “All Too Soon.” The second LP was originally called “The Eleventh Hour,” and it puts Hodges in the solo spotlight along with Oliver Nelson’s orchestra. In this setting, Hodges warms up the room with old hat tunes like “Something to Live For,” “I Didn’t Know About You,” “Solitude,” “Warm Valley” and more. Hodges was so good and so special that it was simply assumed he would have leadership recording opportunities outside of his Ellington presence. These performances, released on CD for the first time, showcase his mastery.
Lone Hill Jazz, 2009, 67:17.
Dream Dance, Enrico Pieranunzi, piano.
If you haven’t yet hipped yourself to this incredible Italian, trust me, it’s time. I know he plays a lot of original material. And you may be among those who are cautious about not seeing a standard on the menu. Well, Pieranunzi frequently tackles the standards, just not on this particular recording. His original material is stunning, often muscular in nature. But his ballad work is achingly beautiful every time out. His pretty stuff reminds me of lush, romantic music written for a very sensuous film. Pieranunzi has more recordings available than you might imagine, so whether it’s this one or another, do what the Mercury lady says: you gotta put Pieranunzi on your list. With frequent colleagues Marc Johnson, bass, and Joey Baron, drums, Pieranunzi gift wraps nine examples of piano trio perfection. He’s made major strides in the American jazz consciousness over the last four or five years. And it’s recordings like this that explain why. His is a unique voice among jazz pianists, and if, like me, you ‘breathe’ piano trios, don’t overlook Pieranunzi. His name may be tough to remember. But his music is straight from the heart.
Cam Jazz, 2009, 49:20.
Classical Connection, Vol. 2, Dale Bruning, guitar.
Every city has its resident jazz heroes, and it’s easy to assume that guitarist Dale Bruning holds a lofty position in Denver. With other veterans of the mile high city in Jeff Jenkins, piano, Mark Simon, bass, and Paul Romaine, drums, Bruning delivers volume two of a selection of themes taken primarily from classical sources. The result is a sampling of such composers as Ferde Grofe, Gabriel Faure and even that jazz cat, J. S. Bach. The bonus here is the appearance of Ali Ryerson on flute, who, along with her colleagues, swings with authority on Grofe’s “On the Trail,” but also finds the delicacy and intimacy of Faure’s “Pavanne.” Other highlights include a heartfelt Jenkins solo on “Danny Boy”; Simon’s arco introduction on “Daybreak”; and a very swinging closer on Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To.” Bruning is very generous to his colleagues regarding solo opportunities, comping behind them with great skill. But he’s also a gifted, straightahead, no frills soloist who reminds us just how satisfying jazz guitar can sound --when, as the insurance people say, it’s in good hands.
Jazz Link Enterprises, 2010, 63:38.
They Still Live, Jeffrey Leppart, composer, lyricist, tenor sax, arranger, vocals.
How about the idea of an entire recording celebrating the players and the playing of jazz? Leppart makes it clear just how passionate he is about the art form he loves. Perhaps a few examples will clarify just what is happening here. On a tune called “I’d Like to Hear from Charlie Parker,” Leppart and friends work over a lyric with references to “Chi Chi,” “Donna Lee,” “Now’s the Time,” “Barbados” and many more. On “Jazz Is What I Really Want to Play,” they rhyme ‘extemporaneous’ with ‘spontaneous’ and on “There’ll Be Some Changes PLAYED,” they address the fact that ‘chord changes give me so much to blow for.’ “Jazz Baby” describes the ideal girl friend. On all these and much more, Leppart’s tenor sax and vocals are joined by singer Susan Elliott; pianist Pamela York; bassist David Craig; and drummer Sebastian Whitaker. It all adds up to a nice party feeling honoring the musicians and their music.
Self-Produced, (recorded in 2004, 2008, 2009), times not indicated.
Timbasa, Mark Weinstein, concert, alto and bass flute.
If you were at all a fan of the Cal Tjader small group Latin sound and/or the Herbie Mann Latin flute fare, you’re gonna shout ole at what’s happening here. Weinstein’s sextet, loaded with salsa-rich percussion, brings you nine selections. Three of them, “Milestones,” “Footprints” and “Caravan” are jazz standards, and it’s quite an eye opener to hear them in this fresh Latin attire. The rest of the program is given over to lesser-known tunes, all of them combining Weinstein’s flute prowess with bongos, congas, timbales et al.
Jazzheads, 2010, 60:25.
Stick With Me, Peppe Morolla, drums.
A native of Italy, Morolla has taken to the hard bop sound as he were from The Bronx instead of The Boot. On a program of eight original compositions and one surprising visit to Willie Nelson’s “Crazy,” Morolla has assembled a blistering Gotham bop group. Put the music in the hands of cats like Jim Rotondi, Steve Turre, John Farnsworth and Mike LeDonne, and you may be sure that sparks will fly. This is an exciting, well-performed debut disc.
PJ Productions, 2009, 63:26.
Smile, Sylvia Bennett; vocals.
I really liked Sylvia Bennett’s voice, and it would be hard to argue with her choice of tunes. But the syrupy string accompaniment with bongo drums and guitar licks gave her music an uncomfortable pop feeling. I’d like to hear her clear spot-on intonation and very pretty voice in a jazz setting. I think she’d fare much better there.
Out of Sight Music, 2010, 49:48.
3ology with Ron Miles.
When I read that this group drew inspiration from Michael Brecker, U2, The Yellowjackets and Rush, I readied myself for something off the beaten path. The original tunes performed here are too edgy, out and avant for my jazz sensibility. To best describe the music played herein, I offer this question: are melody, harmony and rhythm now considered dated? This group would fit right in at the Portland Jazz Festival. Someone had to say it, and I just did.
Tapestry, 2009, 63:35.
This Time, Nelda Swiggett, piano, vocals.
They just keep rolling out these lyrical piano players for us to admire. Nelda Swiggett is first a pianist and composer. She sings her own lyrics on three tunes, but instrumentally, she writes and plays with attractive melody lines and in many cases, a buoyancy not always heard these days. With her playing mates Chris Symer on bass and Byron Vannoy on drums, Ms. Swiggett has produced a versatile pallet of songs, all which land attractively on the ear.
OA2 Records, 2010, 66:11.
Core 3.0, Fred Fried, guitar.
It was quite an innovation when George Van Eps added a seventh string to his jazz guitar. Along comes Fred Fried, and he brings us a nylon eight string acoustic guitar. So perk your ears up a bit and dig the richness of eight strings! Fried’s new trio, Core 3.0, includes Michael Lavoie, bass, and Miki Matsuki, drums, in a sterling performance of nine of the guitarist’s original compositions. The trio works absolutely as one on the entire outing, and Fried’s compositions are accessible and finely crafted.
Ballet Tree Jazz Productions, 2010, 59:02.
I’m In The Twilight Of A Mediocre Career, Jim Pearce, piano and vocals.
You just gotta love it when, in a voice nobody will compare to Sinatra, Jim Pearce sings “to these rules I adhere ... won’t work for food or exposure or beer ... I’m in the twilight of a mediocre career.” This and others from a hip and swinging piano player (as proven on several instrumental selections) bring you a high five album. And just when you think they’ve covered every possible subject in lyric writing, Pearce brings us something called “Sasquatch Is Falling in Love.” You’ve heard of feel good movies. Well, this is a feel good CD.
Self-Produced, 2010, 49:28.
Reviews by Kyle O'Brien
More Mr. Nice Guy, Garaj Mahal.
Garaj Mahal does a great job of updating the funk-fusion sound of the ‘70s and ‘80s with world music influences, complex tempos and energy to spare. Here, Kai Eckhardt shows us his incredible dexterity on bass, with some solos that would impress Jaco. Fareed Haque continues to display genre-blending, jaw-dropping abilities on the guitar, and here, the Moog Guitar - a funky instrument that combines the analog wonders of the Moog keyboard with the control of a guitar. Speaking of the Moog, Eric Levy blends his Moog keyboard and electric piano with Haque’s guitar to harken back to the days when Corea, Zappa and Miles took electric to new levels. The only places this disc falls short are some grooves that stay around a little too long, and vocals by drummer Sean Rickman, who calls himself, the Rick on liner notes. The Rick has a decent enough voice, but like with the Yellowjackets and other mid-80s fusion guys who tried to cross over to the pop airwaves, the songs with vocals end up being the weakest on the disc. “Today” is a disco-influenced groover that seems like it wants airplay but won’t get it because it just isn’t compelling enough. The group is best when blending musical influences and putting together tight and sometimes frenetic melodies.
2010, OwlStudios; 60 minutes.
Dos Amantes, Kat Parra & the Sephardic Music Experience.
Talented Bay Area vocalist Parra has chosen an interesting inspiration for her latest disc: the traditions and songs of the Sephardic Jews. The multi-cultural society of the Iberian peninsula, beginning in the eighth century, makes this disc a Latin-jazz melting pot. We hear multiple Latin styles, sung in both Spanish and Portuguese, but also the dying language called Ladino, or Judeo-Espanyol. We also hear Moorish influences and middle eastern modalities with a South American spirit. Keyboardist Murray Low directs the music, and his influence makes for a tight ensemble to back Parra’s passionate and pointed vocals. Jason McGuire’s fiery guitar spices up the flamenco of “En La Mar,” and the Temple Sinai Choir of Oakland fills out the arrangement of “Fiestaremos.” Parra has a wonderful voice, rich and expressive, with a fine ability to sing rhythmically, as she demonstrates on the modal “Avrix Mi Galancia.” Parra should be commended for reviving a dying language and calling attention to the Sephardic traditions with such class.
2010, JazzMe Records; 48:30.
The Gettin’ Place, Sam Howard Band.
Wyoming native Howard recently moved to Portland from New York City, bringing with him his bass and his funky vibe. This disc is rooted in the funk-jazz of the ‘70s, but influenced by decades before and after. The title track is a dirty, New Orleans-style groove, with guitarist Scott Pemberton working the low end of his hollow body. Howard’s compositions all have serious backbeat, even the tonal and experimental “The Astoria Waltz,” which sounds like a prolonged echo effect, with electric keyboardist Andrew Oliver twisting the knobs on his keys as a pulsating beat winds through like clockwork. Its dissonance has a mesmerizing effect. Howard wavers between the retro-funk and the textural. It’s not anything terribly groundbreaking, but it is a fun listen played well by this young band. It’s nice to have Howard and his talents in the mix here in Stumptown.
2010, Diatic Records, 40 minutes.
3Ology with Ron Miles.
Colorado trumpeter Ron Miles is one of the best talents to come from the Rocky Mountains. With saxophonist Doug Carmichael, bassist Tim Carmichael and drummer Jon Powers, Miles and company have made a disc of improvisational, one-take music that speaks to the quartet’s talents. Carmichael is a mature saxophonist, concentrating on tone and the flow of the music over flash. Miles is the consummate professional, letting the tunes build while connecting with Carmichael on phrases and altering melodies. The core trio is perfectly in sync. Considering this is improvisational music, you wouldn’t know they’re essentially winging it. There is an organic sense of song, with the freedom to let things grow, as Miles does on the funky “Back in Hotchitakee.” Tim Carmichael holds down the fort with his powerful bass work while Powers lets things evolve without overstating his presence. This is improvisational music that’s actually a pleasure to listen to. It remains interesting without ever going too far outside.
2010, Tapestry; 60 minutes.
Tweet Tweet, Abraham Inc.
Unconventional is definitely the word to describe Abraham Inc. The core trio consists of David Krakauer on clarinet, Fred Wesley on trombone and ‘Socalled’ on keyboards, sampler and vocals. The trio builds on multiple guest artists, so the title track, a funk-rap, becomes a Parliament Funkadelic-style party tune, grabbing influences from diverse genres including rap, klezmer, funk, jazz and rock. Is it actually jazz? Not really, but it doesn’t quite matter. Wesley was part of Parliament, so his influence is felt with the rump-shaking beats. Krakauer brings in the klezmer and jazz influences, while hip-hop renegade Socalled lets the mayhem ensue, adding beats, samples and soul. “Moskowitz Remix” is a frenetic tune that combines a Russian Jewish wedding with a New York club scene. The hip-hop lyrics aren’t as strong as the instrumental tunes, but the general party nature of the disc lets the lyrics fit. The musicianship is strong and the mash of genres is refreshing, even if it doesn’t always work.
2010, Table Pounding Records; 42:05.
Forward, Brian Landrus.
There aren’t a whole lot of baritone saxophonists who come out from the big band shadows, so it’s refreshing to hear this Reno native on his debut solo disc. He has a lovely, breathy tone, like Gerry Mulligan, and his balladeer-ing, as on the opener, “Ask Me Now,” is impressive. Here he employs a talented band that includes George Garzone on tenor and John Lockwood on bass. Most tunes are written by Landrus, and his compositional talents are solid. The flowing “The Stream” sounds like a Bob Florence tune, with big sound up front and an easygoing nature. Landrus is also solid on bass clarinet, as on the improvisational “Shadows.” Landrus must have had plenty of background in big band work, since his tunes have a sense of largesse and could easily work with even more instrumentation. It’s a fine debut by someone who deserves attention.
2009, Cadence Jazz Records; 57:20.
Noir Blue, Ken Peplowski.
Peplowski is perhaps the best clarinetist working in jazz. His ultra-smooth style, exceptionally fine tone and his ability to swing are all on display on this recording. With Shelley Berg, Jay Leonhart and Joe La Barbera, Peplowski has made a disc that is joy on a licorice stick. He is often a sideman on other people’s recordings, so to have a solo disc is a treat. We get to hear him bop to Irving Berlin, wax modern on Duke Ellington and swing to Jerome Kern. While his clarinet is still his main instrument, his tenor work is equally impressive. He pulls out clarinet tones on the top end, as he plays on Kern’s “Nobody Else But Me.” La Barbera understates the beats and Berg backs the horn well before coming out with his own well-crafted solos. For those who like jazz from the older school, this disc is sure to please.
2010, Capri Records; 60 minutes.
The Journey, Kelley Shannon with John Stowell.
Vocalist Shannon has a poetic delivery, breathy and metered, with a rhythmic quality not heard from many singers. Here, with guitarist John Stowell, she creates a sonic journey that sounds bigger than just guitar and voice. Stowell’s picking style makes a rich bed for Shannon’s colored vocals. Utilizing lyrics from poet Tom Taylor on several tracks, like the visceral “Miracle Fiber,” Shannon creates a world that pulls in the listener, so we’re waiting to hear what the next line, the next phrase, will bring. Stowell and Shannon have a musical intimacy that we are allowed to share, and the result is a treat for the ears.
2010, Zero Degrees Music; 58:30.
Muziek, VW Brothers.
Despite the band name, there are no Volkswagens involved. The VW Brothers are Paul and Marc van Wageningen. The Dutch brothers provide the drums and bass for a slickly produced disc of modern jazz, adding guest artists like saxophonist Joe Cohen, guitarist Ray Obiedo and woodwind player Harvey Wainapel. The opener, “Simone,” sounds like a Steps Ahead track, a funky groove with a complex melody and layers of sound. They funk up Miles Davis’s “Milestones” with polyrhythms and a Latin-influenced head. The lines are dense but clean, and the production is so polished that it would be impossible to pick out any mistakes. That ultra-clean nature may sound good, but it’s a bit impersonal, which doesn’t make the listener as engaged. Still, it’s a fine album full of talent, including the VW brothers.
2010, Patois Records; 60 minutes.
Stick with Me, Peppe Merolla.
Despite the cheesy name - Merolla is a drummer - this is a decent modern jazz disc, featuring inspired stick work by the artist. Opening with Steve Turre’s plaintive conch shell cries, the disc dives in with gusto. Merolla is a forceful drummer, able to drive the beat without being overbearing. He crosses between Latin and swing rhythms with ease and plays his and saxophonist John Farnsworth’s tunes with artistic fortitude. The Jom Rotondi arrangement of Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” brings new chords to the classic, and with Farnsworth’s melodic interpretation, it’s a worthy cover. Merolla may have to work on his titles, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with his drumming and composing.
2009, PJ Productions; 61 minutes.