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

Reviews by George Fendel

Century of Jazz Piano, Dick Hyman, piano.
In a dozen or so lines of a CD review, it’s impossible to adequately describe a five CD, one DVD set covering the entire development of jazz piano. So please accept my attempt to cover a few highlights. Dick Hyman is better suited than anyone to take on an exhaustive task such as this. And if you know someone who wants to learn volumes about the history of jazz piano, this set would make an awesome gift. Let’s put it this way: in stunning solo fashion, Hyman covers Joplin, James P, Jelly Roll, Mary Lou, Gershwin, Meade Lux Lewis, Waller, Hines, Willie the Lion, Tatum, Teddy, Duke, Basie, Erroll, Brubeck, Oscar, Monk, Tristano, Evans, McPartland, Lewis, Corea, Hancock, Silver and lots more. And if that’s not enough, Hyman then proceeds to blow you away with a group of on the spot improvisations of his own. But there’s more yet, He then plays 28 more original tunes and brief figures which he calls ‘in the manner of’ such stalwarts as Sir Roland Hanna, Hank Jones, Jay McShann, Joe Bushkin, Roger Kellaway, Derek Smith, Bud Powell, George Shearing, and even Bill Charlap. This is nothing less than jazz piano history, and kudos to Arbors Records for realizing the value of the art rendered here -- and the importance of this recording to future generations.
Arbors Records, 2010 (five CDs and one DVD).

Afterglow, Jody Sandhaus, vocals, Pete Malinverni, piano.
It seems hard to believe how very few recordings there have been featuring a singer and a pianist. Period. I remember an Ella-Paul Smith disc, and a couple beauties from Irene Kral and Alan Broadbent. But think about it -- how many others can you come up with? Well, here’s hubby and wife in a serving of beautiful, romantic ballads that they probably have shared in their own living room over the years. There are few examples of this kind of intimacy, as Sandhaus interprets these lovely tunes with a tenderness inspired, in part, by Malinverni’s perfect, direct to the heart solo piano. Musicians know when every note counts, and certainly that’s the case here. Most of the tunes are obscure gems, heretofore mainly overlooked by others, including the Gershwins’ “Isn’t It a Pity,” Marian McPatland’s “In the Days of Our Love” and Buke-Van Huesen’s “Do You Know Why,” among others. Some of you might recall “I’m In Love Again,” an album highlight that Peggy Lee had a hand in writing; and a rarity by Bob Dorough called “Love Came on Stealthy Fingers.” The surprise of the set? An easy call: Steve Allen’s “Impossible.” How nice to hear it again. It’s all for ‘pretty,’ and if there’s a place for pretty in your life, this lovely duet is waiting just for you.   
Self-produced, 2009, 50:30.

Cone And T-Staff, Wycliffe Gordon, trombone.
If you ventured a guess, you were right. ‘Cone’ is Wycliffe Gordon’s nickname among his pals in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and his co-leader on this date is ‘T-Staff,’ or trumpeter Terrell Stafford. And with a dynamite rhythm section of Mike LeDonne, David Wong and Kenny Washington, Cone and T-Staff have a new, straight ahead, blowing session for you. You know the proceedings are headed in the right direction with the opener, Wes Montgomery’s “West Coast Blues.” Other familiar vehicles include Oscar Pettiford’s “Tricotism,” Curtis Fuller’s “Arabia,” and a relaxed rendering of the not-yet-battle-weary “Robbin’s Nest.” Each of the leaders gets an exclusive also, with Stafford soloing ever so beautifully on Matt Dennis’s “Everything Happens To Me,” and likewise for Gordon as he growls his way, Al Grey style, through Duke and Strayhorn’s “Star-Crossed Lovers.” And each contributes an original or two to give balance and color to a set that proves it’s still okay to swing and to participate in the pure joy of making good jazz.
Criss Cross, 2010, 63:43.

Brasil Beat, Bill Beach, piano, vocals, composer, lyricist.
Okay, it’s one thing to sing nice Brazilian tunes. Many fine American singers have done so ever since the ‘60s bossa nova craze. But it’s a totally different ballgame when Portland, Oregon’s Bill Beach writes Portuguese lyrics to his own well-constructed melodies.   What’s more, Bill sings in a very subtle, unblemished and sincere manner. And, of course, he’s accompanying himself on the piano. Do you have any idea just what a challenge this must have been for one whose native language is a zillion miles distant from Portuguese? Well, Beach pulls it all off with great taste. Joined by fellow Portlanders Dave Captein, Reinhardt Melz and, on selected tunes, Gary Hobbs, Beach has crafted tunes that are imaginative, fresh and quite captivating. As if all this wasn’t amazing enough, the English translations to his lyrics are, for the mot part, literate and sometimes quite touching. For quite a few years now, Beach has been one of our city’s consistent treasures in its jazz piano cadre. With this album, we hear just where his Brazilian muse has taken him. Very highly recommended.
Axial Records, 2010, 52:49.

Have Band Will Travel, Stan Kenton Alumni Band directed by Mike Vax.
Whether you loved the Stan Kenton band or not, there’s no arguing that his brassy sound was unique, entertaining and immediately recognizable. His organization was also a springboard for some of the heroes of West Coast jazz. I’m not sure if every one of the players in the alumni gathering actually played under Kenton’s baton, but there are some familiar names here: Kim Richmond, Steve Huffsteter, Don Rader, Scott Whitfield, Kenny Shroyer and even Portland area drummer Gary Hobbs. You may expect a band like this to be regurgitating old Kenton material, but instead, they tackle quite a few tunes not necessarily linked to the Kenton era. Among them are “Softly As I Leave You,” “Long Ago and Far Away,” “This Could Be the Start of Something Big” and even Gerry Mulligan’s “Swing House.” Of course there are a few revisits to SK land, like “Intermission Riff,” Bernstein’s “Tonight” and the evergreen, “Invitation.” You’ll also notice a sprinkling of former Kenton arrangers in Johnny Richards, Lennie Niehaus, Scott Whitfield and Bob Florence, among others. All in all, it’s simply ‘that Kenton sound’ once again filling your living room and testing your speaker system!
Summit Records, 2010, 58:02.
Five Play Jazz Quintet, Five Play Jazz Quintet.
This San Francisco area fivesome has apparently played together for quite a period of time, but this is their debut recording, and a real sparkler it is! The 10 original tunes are almost all creations of either the group’s guitarist, Tony Corman, or its pianist, Laura Klein. The first tune, for example, is the aptly titled “Off the Ground,” a hard bopping yet lyrical vehicle featuring a Klein piano solo with major league chops. Other standouts included reedman Dave Tidball’s solo on an energetic, Latin-ish tune called “Indigone”; the attractive melody line of “Bright Golden Sunshine”; and the satisfying, down-home sound of “Sidesteppin’ Blues.” The group is completed by Paul Smith on bass and Alan Hall on drums. To their credit, the music presented here stays in a straightahead groove, never becoming too outside. Or, as the liner notes suggest, “modern jazz to be enjoyed by everyone.”  I couldn’t have said it better.
Jurassic Classics, 2010, 63:18.

Uncertain Living, The Britton Brothers Band.
The younger generation is coming on strong as is shown here by the Britton brothers, John on trumpet and Ben on tenor sax; on a menu of all originals, seven of the eight were contributed by one or the other. The music takes on every mood, tempo and color imaginable, sometimes quite compelling, although occasionally a bit off the edge of the diving board for me. An added attraction is the presence of tenor man Chris Potter, who guests on two selections. Completing the group in fine fashion are Jeremy Siskind, piano, Taylor Waugh, bass, and Austin Walker, drums. A couple standout tracks included “Molo,” perhaps the most straightahead, swinging track; and the oddly titled “June Humidity,” a composition written somewhere in the shadow of Thelonious Monk.
Self-Produced, 2009, 64:38.

Horace To Max, Joe Chambers, drums, vibes, marimba.
Now 67 years young, Joe Chambers was there in the halcyon late ‘50s thru the ‘60s, making post bop history on dozens of now famous recordings. Chambers makes it clear that two of his primary influences from that period were Max Roach and Horace Silver, hence the album title and the inclusion of several selections written by his two jazz heroes. Except for a sprinkling of guests here and there, Chambers’ basic group includes do-everything tenor man Eric Alexander, pianist Xavier Davis, and bassist Dwayne Burno. A new name to me, Nicole Guiland, provides very grown-up and hip vocals on two of Max’s tunes, “Mendacity” and “Lonesome Lover.” Other entries herein include Silver’s “Ecaroh” (spell it backwards), Monk’s “Evidence,” Wayne Shorter’s “Water Babies,” and a rare rowser by Kenny Dorham, “Asiatic Races.” It’s a nice bonus to hear Chambers chime in here and there on the vibes, and Alexander is the king of versatility, subtlety and swing in any setting. This is very accessible, classic, gimmick-free jazz. Hats off to Joe Chambers and company!
High Note, 2010, 49:52.

Living The Dream, Chris Tedesco, trumpet and leader.
The list of big bands out of L.A. is quite impressive. Consider, over the years, names like Terry Gibbs, Bill Holman, Bob Florence and Clayton-Hamilton. Now it’s Chris Tedesco’s turn to take the wheel, and he does so in fine fashion here with ten examples of big band excitement. Six of those ten selections were written either by Tedesco himself and/or his trombone player, Jim McMillen. They are bouncy, buoyant and invigorating. To give some extra flavor, add the voice of singer Tony Galla on four selections, and a bevy of strings on two tunes. The standards on the disc include “Willow Weep for Me,” “Moody’s Mood for Love” and an old Sinatra warhorse, “Learnin’ the Blues.” Among the originals, Tedesco displays top of the line trumpet chops on “I’ve Got Some Kind of Rhythm,” a distant cousin to Gershwin’s classic, “I Got Rhythm”; and one entitled “The Opener,” an ebullient winner. I’d have nixed James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World.” The tune is simply out of place on an album that otherwise displays fine musicianship and solid solos.
Angel City Music, probably 2010, 54:56.

Live At The Red Sea Jazz Festival, John Fedchock, trombone.
Any of you who have been hip to John Fedchock’s past recordings know him as leader of a peerless New York Big Band. But this time we are treated to the trombone ace as leader of a sextet. It was August at the southern tip of Israel; not warm, but hot like Phoenix in August. Yet Fedchock and friends turned up the heat in an awesome set of real-deal jazz. The friends,’ all New York buddies of the leader, included Scott Wendholt, trumpet/flugelhorn; Walt Weiskopf, tenor sax; Allen Farnham, piano; David Finck, bass; and Dave Ratajczak, drums. With the exception of “Caravan” and Tom Harrell’s “Moon Alley,” the remaining tunes are all Fedchock originals. And in listening to these performances, one understands why Fedchock’s ‘other hat’ is that of band leader. The sextet roars, swoops, chides and solos with gusto and passion, but it’s funny how much of Fedchock’s writing sounds as though it could have easily been played by a big band. Well, maybe not so surprising after all. In any case, this is a five-star, high wire performance. It’s just what we’ve come to expect from John Fedchock.
Capri Records, 2010, 61:52. 

The Move, Jim Rotondi, trumpet, flugelhorn.
Despite the title, this recording is more about returning to a comfort zone, a straightahead swing sound, than it is about a move into other musical territory. Rotondi, with several earlier Criss Cross discs to his credit, brings familiar musical colleagues to this set, and it all comes off with precision, passion and power. Ralph Bowen, for example, is an under-rated tenor saxist who is rippingly good in the best of blowing session tradition. Alto sax ace Mike DiRubbo is by now a veteran of the hard bop wars, and how can one argue a rhythm section of David Hazeltine, John Webber and Joe Farnsworth? Five of the nine tunes are steamy original compositions from the players on the date, and all of them illustrate some inventive and often quite lyrical writing. Of the remaining tunes, “Progress” is a rather obscure Horace Silver creation, and the Burton-Lane beauty, “Too Late Now,” puts the solo spotlight on Rotondi and Bowen. Theirs is as pretty a version of this tune as any I’ve heard. Bacharach’s pop opus, “The Look of Love,” was never a favorite of mine, but Rotondi and company alter the tempo slightly, and it comes off well. Finally, there’s Harry Warren’s old warhorse, “I Wish I Knew.” It’s played muted, Miles-ish, and straight down the middle. Rotondi is a force on trumpet and flugelhorn, and he pulls off this recording with aplomb. Don’t they call that ear candy?
Criss Cross, 2010, 61:12.

Rhyme And Reason, Oleg Kireyev, tenor sax; Keith Javors, piano
According to the publicity piece accompanying this CD, Kireyev has earned high marks as one of the premier Russian saxophonists. The late Bud Shank said that Kireyev incorporates styles ranging from the 1920s through John Coltrane. There can be no doubt that Kireyev has done his homework, and it’s produced a big, full and satisfying tenor sound, sometimes a bit like a slightly more contemporary Dexter Gordon or Tubby Hayes. His co-leader on the date, pianist Javors, works seamlessly with Kireyev on six originals. Each of the selections had its own character, with widely divergent tempos. But it was easy to conclude that they all followed an uncluttered mainstream path. Nicely swinging at times, lyrical and lovely at others. The quartet is completed by the sympathetic work of Boris Kozlov, bass, and E. J. Strickland, drums. This quartet played with purpose, polish and precision. But most importantly, they still swung.
Inarhyme Records, 2010, 54:05.  


Motives, Wellstone Conspiracy.
Despite the name, this is basically Idaho reedman Brent Jensen on soprano sax with a Seattle rhythm section of Bill Anschell, Jeff Johnson and John Bishop. Jensen plays with great feeling, but I prefer his earlier efforts on alto. The music here is nearly all original, and it’s airy, bright and tasteful. The one standard is Billy Strayhorn’s classic “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing,” and it’s a rare beauty. However, anytime Jensen wishes to return to alto saxophone, as Cole Porter once said, it’s alright with me.
Origin, 2010, 51:11.

Opening, Carol Morgan, trumpet.
Morgan’s a contender. In a piano-less trio setting with Harvie S, bass, and Rich DeRosa, drums, Morgan carves out an intimate, rich trumpet sound on a host of well-crafted tunes that include Bud Powell’s “Celia,” Kenny Dorham’s “Prince Albert” and a silvery ballad treatment of Horace Silver’s Nica’s Dream.” The one standard from Songbook America is “Like Someone in Love.” Morgan has listened to lyrical players such as Chet Baker and Art Farmer, and like them, he brings to the table a refined, nearly flugelhorn-like sound. I was very impressed!
Blue Bamboo Music, 2009, 44:17.

Aliso, David Binney, alto saxophone.
Binney chooses to mix in a few items that swing with authority amidst some original compositions which did not resonate with me. His quintet moves nicely through Sam Rivers’ “Fuchsia Swing Song,” which is essentially the changes to “Night and Day.” And Monk’s “Think of One” is given a thorough reading. Other than those two, a couple of Wayne Shorter tunes had recognizable, even attractive melody lines. This is far more accessible than the aimless meanderings of the avant garde; however, it was a little over the horizon for me.
Criss Cross, 2010, 73:23.

The Bickel-Marks Group, Doug Bickel, piano, Dennis Marks, bass.
The familiar name in this group is actually tenor and soprano saxist Dave Liebman. And therein lies a cautionary note. I’ve always found Liebman’s tenor too growly for my straightahead sensibilities, and I’m just not a fan of the soprano as played by nearly anybody. But, having said that, Liebman holds back here, playing some very lyrical original music. The up tempo choices are soaring and sometimes searing; the best of them is “Truncated Theme,” a rapid fire romp on the changes to Miles Davis’s “The Theme.”
Zoho Records, 2010, 46:59.

If Only For One Night, Wallace Roney, trumpet.
Sixty seconds of Roney’s trumpet is all one needs to recognize his debt to Miles Davis. The opening tune, “Quadrant,” is loaded with electronic gimmickry far beneath Roney’s talent. Beyond that, this is a mesmerizing album. The title tune, for example, is pure Miles in its simplicity and passion. “Only With You” stops, goes and surprises; and Roney’s “Metropolis” is robust, in-your-face hard bop. “I Love What We Make Together” is a tender example of Miles’s most lyrical writing, and Roney gives it respectful gentility. Drop “Quadrant” from this album and Roney’s quintet is into something with depth and feeling.
High Note, 2010, 61:53.

Reviews by Kyle O'Brien

Brasil Beat, Bill Beach.
Veteran Portland pianist Beach has always done his own thing, and that’s a good thing. His versatility and his originality have led him to a long recording and performing career, and it continues with this ambitious and ultimately pleasing project -- all original tunes with Brazilian beats, written and sung in Portuguese by the pianist. Beach’s rhythmic nature comes alive in these tropical tunes, and his supple voice fits well with the fluid Portuguese delivery. Beach made every attempt to get the language correct, even consulting Brazilian tutors for pronunciation. Not that he sounds like a native, but for a Northwester to sing lyrics he wrote in a foreign language, this is impressive. And the music soothes like a Bahia breeze. These aren’t just bossas; Beach utilizes the many musical forms of South America, including Spanish and folk music. While this isn’t Beach’s first venture into Brazilian music, it is his most complete, and his visits to Brazil have certainly paid off. With Dave Captein, Reinhardt Melz, and Gary Hobbs, Beach has assembled a fine band to complete his Brazilian vision.
2010, Axial Records, 52:20.
Truth Be Told, Mark Egan.
Bassist Egan’s earlier years were spent nimbly traversing Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays’s complex tunes. As a solo artist, he has gone into New Age and contemporary jazz, but always stayed above insipid elevator jazz, mainly due to the fact that he is an incredible bassist. His fleet fingers fly over the fretboard like a guitarist, much like Jaco used to do. Here Egan explores the simplicity of the quartet. It doesn’t make the strongest statement up front: “Frog Legs,” the opener, is a standard-sounding, contemporary funk-jazzer that doesn’t get too meaty until Egan unleashes one of his signature solos and saxophonist Bill Evans digs into his soprano. But the melody doesn’t scream originality. In fact, the light funky vibe of the disc makes me think Egan could have taken this further. With powerhouse players like Evans, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and keyboardist Mitch Forman, Egan has all the tools to take his music to the top level, but these tunes harken back to the ‘70s and ‘80s too much, not taking enough chances. Still, it’s a really good example of how contemporary jazz fusion can be done well. But the layered keyboards and funk-jazz rhythms just don’t push enough boundaries to make it great.
2010, Wavetone Records,60 minutes.

Keys in Ascension, Christian Fabian and the Fabian Zone Trio.
Bassist Fabian and his trio -- pianist Don Friedman and drummer Willard Dyson -- are augmented by a horn section of seasoned professionals. All the musicians are veteran sidemen, and that makes for a pleasurable recording. The opener, “All One,” is a New Orleans-style jam, with the horns blasting and noodling over a street beat. “On the Sunny Side of the Street” is a pedestrian version of the classic, while Miles Davis’s “Jean Pierre” is requisitely funky. Fabian’s own tunes are more interesting than his covers, like the chordal horn arrangements of “Marty’s Flair” and the funky “Black & White.” Fabian and his cohorts are a talented bunch, but they could take a few more chances to come out with a winner.
2009, Consolidated Artists Productions, 62 minutes.

Quite Frankly, Frank Tribble.
Guitarist Tribble has only been a part of the Portland scene for about seven years, having spent much of his musical time in Des Moines. But he is a pleasant addition,and  his funky contemporary jazz sound is something Portland doesn’t have a whole lot of these days. Tribble concentrates on tone and melody over flash but manages to keep his tunes interesting. The taut backbeat of “Fire Dancing,” with drummer Ward Griffiths and bassist Mark Schneider keeping the riffs tight, is a fun minor-key tune, and Tribble’s big sound makes for a nice listen Tribble isn’t a wild technician or a cutting-edge songwriter, but his style of contemporary jazz, with its bluesy edges, is engaging and easy on the ears.
2009, Chillithumb Entertainment, 58 minutes.
Obsession, Erika.
The Erika here is Japanese native Erika Matsuo. Her Japanese accent is fairly charming on the traditional swing of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day,” and her voice is clear and lilting. On Milton Nascimento’s “Bridges,” her voice is better suited to its soft, breezy vibe. Erika is clearly a talented singer. Some might be taken aback by her accent, which doesn’t fit neatly into a jazz category, but her passion for the music is obvious. She even pulls off an interesting Portuguese take of “Atras da Portra.” Erika’s own tunes are interesting, as the ethereal “Obsession” and the Latin themed “I Close My Eyes” show. It would be nice to hear her do a full disc of originals to highlight her original voice.
2009, Erika Records, 62 minutes.

The Avatar Sessions, The Norbotten Big Band.
The music of composer/trumpeter Tim Hagans is highlighted in this powerful big band disc. The band is from Sweden, but the guest musicians are international all stars. Saxophonist George Garzone goes crazy on the thick arrangement of the opener, “Buckeyes,” while trumpeter Randy Brecker is featured on the boogaloo, “Boo.” Hagans often mashes chords together like too many ingredients in a stew. The arrangements are thick and occasionally over-composed, but the musicianship is amazing. Pete Erskine holds down the rhythm with his amazing drumming, and Rufus Reid is his usual fantastic self on bass. A shining tune is the pensive “Here With Me,” which features Dave Liebman’s gorgeously haunting soprano sax. Wade through the soupy chords and you’ll be rewarded here with musicianship that just won’t quit.
2009, Fuzzy Music, 60 minutes.

Slammin’ the Infinite, Steve Swell.
Trombonist Swell’s free jazz venture is about as in your face as free jazz can get. “Not Their Kind” smacks the listener over the head with blaring trombone, frenetic rhythm by pianist John Blum, bassist Matthew Heyner and drummer Klaus Kugel. Not all tunes are as aurally offensive, but all definitely have an edge, even the softer “Sketch #1” and the sparser “My Myth of Perfection.” Woodwind player Sabir Mateen provides some welcome texture, but this disc is not for the faint of heart. Free jazz has always been more enjoyable for the musicians than the listener, and that certainly holds true here. Still, the musicianship is spot on, and the interplay is exceptional. So if it’s free jazz you like, this is an ear opener. Otherwise stay away.
2009, Not Two Records, 70 minutes.

Rumors, Frank Kimbrough.
Kimbrough is an established pianist and composer who plays with sophistication and inspiration. His intellectual nature is on display here, on this sparse but musically rich trio recording. The music has an immediacy that many recordings do not. Perhaps it’s the spontaneous interplay between the musicians -- bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Jeff Hirshfield -- who all recorded without headphones in a chamber-like setting. You can almost feel them looking at one another to gauge the musical mood. Kimbrough’s gorgeous “Six” starts off the disc, and it continues to evolve from there. The title track is a gem of space and modal exploration, building freely and organically. As trio discs go, this is a winner.
2010, Palmetto Records, 53:20.

Live at the Red Sea Jazz Festival, John Fedchock NY Sextet.
Fedchock is perhaps best known for his big band outings, but this tight sextet is astounding as well. The trombonist wows with his crisp arrangements that recall his big band charts. Fedchock features himself up front, and that’s a very good thing. He stretches out on his own “This Just In,” while the rhythm section, buoyed by drummer Dave Ratajczak, swings and bops along. This is straight ahead jazz that will please both traditionalists and those who like things a bit more modern. The thoughtful arrangements, as on “Caravan,” bring the tunes to life, and Fedchock’s own compositions are wonderful. With trumpeter Scott Wendholt and saxophonist Walt Weiskopf, this is a disc for jazz lovers everywhere. The crowd at the Red Sea Jazz Festival surely seems to like it as well.
2010, Capri Records, 60 minutes.

Bessarabian Breakdown, Jim Guttmann.
Klezmer Conservatory bassist/arranger steps into the lead role with this very large group. It’s klezmer times 12, so if you don’t enjoy traditional middle eastern folk music with a jazz edge, try another disc. If you happen to like the joyous and exotic Jewish music, tune in, because Guttmann has assembled a group of klezmer masters. The opener is like New Orleans street music meets a Jewish wedding, with tons of reeds and horns blaring over a celebratory traditional “Philadelphia Sher.” Things do get jazzier, as on the swinging version of “And the Angels Sing,” and the funky title track, but the traditional tunes are more interesting, like the haunting “Doyne, Hora, Sirba” and the clarinet-driven B-flat “Feylekhs.” Klezmer in its traditional and modern hats is on display, and it’s fun to hear how diverse this genre can get.
2010 Kleztone Records, 56:50.

Copyright 2009, Jazz Society of Oregon