CD Reviews - August 2010
by George Fendel,
Live At Ronnie Scott’s, Johnny Griffin, tenor saxophone.
What a pleasant surprise to hear “the little giant,” Johnny
Griffin, on his final recording. Griffin’s in-your-face tenor
helped define hard bop and post bop, and he takes no prisoners here in
a live and lively appearance at London’s famed jazz club. Fellow
American Roy Hargrove’s trumpet and flugelhorn help enliven a
typical Griffin set of steaming bop stew and luscious balladry. An
example of the former is the fiery opener, “Lester Leaps
In,” with appropriate vigor. Hargrove’s flugelhorn opens
Griffin’s ballad, “When We Were One,” and then Johnny
comes in to give it every¬thing he’s got. And what would a
Johnny Griffin date be without “The Blues Walk”? Hargrove
gives it his “Cliffordian” best, and Griff follows suit on
tenor. Roy’s original ballad, “Mentor,” is a beauty,
and is followed by the album’s one standard, “How Deep Is
the Ocean.” And guess what? Johnny Griffin turns singer, and a
pretty darned good one, on the Irving Berlin classic. The set closes
with two JG trademark tunes: a blues called “The JAMFs Are
Coming,” and hard bop opus “Hot Sake,” a cousin of
“What Is This Thing Called Love.” Griffin and Hargrove are
joined here by David Newton, piano, on most tunes; and Billy Cobham on
drums. Recorded in May 2008, this CD might well be thought of as a last
gift to his many admirers — it finds him in full flower, always
faithful to his hard bop muse.
In & Out Records, 2008,60:49.
Touch, Jessica Williams, piano.
Williams might say otherwise, but really, she has nothing to prove.
Each new CD she has brought out in recent years is a pas¬sionate
and joyous journey. Especially so is this new CD, where she plays solo
and allows the piano to sing exquisite melodies, both hers and those of
others. The opener is Gershwin’s “I Loves You Porgy,”
and it receives a nearly rhapsodic treatment, played as lovingly as
possible. Williams has composed prolifically over the years, but she
comes up with a delicate and silky thing called “Soldaji,”
with a touch of the East and the mysterious hand in hand. “Rosa
Parks” has a charming and pleasing melody line, and one of John
Coltrane’s rarely heard works, “Wise One,” will
de¬mand your attention. They are followed by “Gail’s
Song,” another lilting and lovely JW line. Two standards are
next, a stunning workout on “I Cover the Waterfront” and a
heartfelt “Goodbye Porkpie Hat.” This live performance at
The Triple Door in Seattle ends with another original, the stately
“Simple Things.” Through¬out, Williams concentrates on
beauty, passion and heart, keeping in mind always that the sound of the
unfettered piano can be a joy to hear. Especially when it’s
caressed by Jessica Williams.
Origin Records, 2010,56:28.
Live! Phil Wilson, trombone and Makoto Ozone, piano.
Back in 1982, when this rather astonishing duo performance was recorded
live at the Berklee Performance Center, Makoto Ozone was a young but
promising piano virtuoso at the famed Boston music institution. Phil
Wilson, a daunting trombonist, was well into his second decade on the
school’s faculty. And thank goodness, someone had the presence of
mind to record this meet¬ing of two musicians, from different
generations and cultures, communicating in an eerily amazing fashion.
Toss up all the bar¬riers you wish, but when two musicians are on
same page, they can’t be stopped. And so it is that Wilson and
Ozone sound like a one-man band on six astonishing performances ranging
from “Stella By Starlight” and “Here’s That
Rainy DFay”to “Giant Steps” and even “Blues My
Naughty Sweetie Gave to Me.” The musical ideas and virtuosity
flow like Mrs. Butterworth’s as these two seemingly read one
another’s thoughts. At one point, you hear Wilson chuckle during
some applause as he mum-bles “I liked that one.” Talk about
understatement. You’ve heard musicians talk of being in the zone.
Well, both Wilson and Ozone were there on this noteworthy New England
Capri, 2010, 39:26.
Detour Ahead, The Oster-Welker Jazz Alliance featur¬ing Jeff Oster, vocals.
Just when you get that nagging feeling that the male jazz singer is
becoming a threatened species, along comes Oster to give you renewed
hope! On this most welcome follow-up to last year’s “My
Shining Hour,” Oster and co-leader, trumpet ace and arranger
Peter Welker, once again team up to bring us a set of standard,
straightahead, no-frills music. Oster is one of those fortunate cats
who gets to revel in the invigorating sounds of Welker’s big (but
understated) band. In a featured role are two shining lights on
trombone in Bill Watrous and Scott Whitfield. Most of the other names
in the band are new to me; probably younger cats on the SoCal scene,
but fine players all. And Oster plays it straight as well, with solid
interpretations and a bit of scat when needed on such faves as
“Invitation,” “Never Let Me Go,” “Gentle
Rain,” “A Beautiful Friendship,” “A Weaver Of
Dreams,” “All Through The Night,” and the title tune.
So settle into your favorite easy chair and enjoy a distinctive new
voice. Thanks, Jeff, Peter and pals for “keeping it going.”
Jazzed Media, 2010, 67:27.
Top Shelf, Warren Vache, cornet, John Allred, trombone.
I was long ago convinced that Vache is one of those jazz
cha¬meleons. But no matter the colors he takes on, he simply knocks
it out of the park whether it’s swing, trad or, in this case,
bop. And if you haven’t heard Allred on trombone, well... focus
(!) ‘cause he’s in the pocket! The quintet is completed by
the under-rated Tardo Hammer, piano, Nicki Parrott, bass, and Leroy
Williams, drums. The entire program will lift your spirits, but a few
highlights in¬clude: “Sweet Pumpkin,” by pianist
Ronnell Bright, a terrific little melody that I remember from a vocal
by Bill Henderson; bop clas¬sics “Ba-lue Bolivar
Ba-lues,” by Monk, Clifford Brown’s joyous “Tiny
Capers,” Cannonball’s “Spontaneous Combustion,”
Benny Golson’s evergreen, “Whisper Not,” and a
delicious Bud Powell opus, “A Parisian Thoroughfare.” For
good measure add a few gems from Songbook America in “Moonlight
In Vermont,” “The Best Thing For You,” “By
Myself and “My Romance.” This CD is another lesson in
lyricism from Vache, a player who epitomizes taste and who always seems
to communicate timelessness in his music.
Arbors, 2010, 72:28.
Handful Of Stars, Adam Schroeder, baritone saxophone.
It’s not exactly an everyday occurrence to find a baritone sax
player who is taking his jazz journey along the center of the
high¬way. So kudos for Schroeder, who has learned his lessons well
from the likes of Carney, Chaloff, Adams and Mulligan, to name a few.
On his debut recording, Schroeder is joined by emerging gui¬tarist
Graham Dechter and top tier pals John Clayton, bass, and Jeff Hamilton,
drums. In describing his approach to the recording, Schroeder said,
“I wanted it to be a straightahead, no frills, cut to the chase
representation of how I sound.” And he sounds darn good on a
program of standards and a few originals. One can’t help but
notice the selection of a few tunes that can hardly be de¬scribed
as overplayed. How often do you hear lesser-known stan¬dards like
the title tune? My favorite version of that was by Serge Chaloff, and
undoubtedly Schroeder received some inspiration. Other rare gems
include “I Don’t Wanna Be Kissed” and Cole
Porter’s “I Happen to Be in Love.” To those, add jazz
tunes like Quincy Jones’ “Jessica’s Birthday,”
Neal Hefti’s “Pensive Miss” and Barry Harris’
“Nascimento.” All these and more suggest a new and very
talented voice on baritone.
Capri Records 2010 ,61:21.
Live At The Detroit-Montreux Jazz Festival, Bob Szajner, piano.
A fixture on (and for long periods off) the Detroit jazz scene, Szajner
(pronounced ‘Zayner’) is featured in a 1981 live
perfor¬mance of his original and very swinging tunes. A prodigy who
started playing improvisational music in his pre-teens, Szajner became
disenchanted with the music biz on several occasions but always
returned to the piano. His only previous recordings were on local
labels, now long out of print. And for what this CD lacks in sound
quality (it’s a “B”), it deserves to be circulating
and ready for curious collectors to sample. His trio includes Ed
Pickens, bass, and Frank Isola, drums. Isola might be remembered for
stints with the likes of Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan and Mose Allison. As
for Szajner, his style embodies incessant swing, well-constructed
melodies and, all in all, very upbeat, optimistic music for a piano
trio. Some guys are fulfilled as resident jazz musicians, finding a gig
and a living in their own hometown. That’s fine and dandy, but so
many of the Bob Szajners should be heard outside their own territory.
And in thiscase, here’s you opportunity.
Cadence Jazz Records,2008,75:09.
The Audience, Ralph Lalama, tenor saxophone.
Lalama has been tilling the jazz fields of New York City since the
mid-1970s, but he has never fully broken through as — if there is
such a thing in jazz — a household name. This time out, he elects
to play in a piano-less quartet with John Hart, guitar, Rick Petrone,
bass, and Joe Corsello, drums. Lalama is a fully formed post-bop tenor
player, comfortable at any tempo and able to com¬municate in any
style. For this recording, he chooses some rare material like Wayne
Shorter’s “Marie Antoinette,” Duke Pearson’s
“Minor League” and a neat, nearly forgotten ballad called
“Kiss And Run.” In addition to a few original tunes, Lalama
scores on “Portrait of Jennie” and also tips his hat to
fellow tenor man Sonny Rollins with “I’m An Old
Cowhand.” I’ve heard most of Lalama’s recordings, and
I must say that I prefer him in the stan¬dard quartet setting,
utilizing a piano. The guitar quartet may give him a bit more breathing
space — a chance to play more free than usual. That’s not
at all a bad thing. I just hear Lalama as more inspired on the piano
Mighty Quinn Records, 2009, 55:51.
The Endless Search, Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra.
Please don’t refer to them as a big band. About five minutes with
this recording, and you’ll agree that this is a jazz orchestra.
Boasting many of Seattle’s top-flight jazz cats, the SRJO
pres¬ents here the recorded debut of Jimmy Heath’s remarkable
new suite in three movements, “The Endless Search.”
Commissioned and first performed by the SRJO in 2006, sax legend Heath
is on hand to personally provide vigorous solo work. These charts are
complex, but rewarding, and the players bring on a similar feel to a
Bill Holman or Thad Jones-Mel Lewis event. Among many premier players
here, a few that always ring my bell include Jay Thomas and Thomas
Marriott, trumpets; Dave Marriott, trom¬bone; Mark Taylor, alto and
tenor sax; and Randy Haberstadt, piano. In addition to the riveting
“Endless Search,” other tunes of special note include
Charles Mingus’ “Haitian Fight Song” and Duke
Ellington’s “Creole Love Call,” both great and
stimulating vehicles for big band. But then, virtually everything the
Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra takes on might be described that way.
Great and Stimulating.
Origin, 2010, 51:32.
Stirred, Not Shaken, Rebecca Richardson, vocals.
Probably half a dozen singers arrive each month in my mail box, and
most of them are wanna-be’s who don’t quite measure up to
review standards. Enter Rebecca Richardson. A native of Seattle,
Richardson now gigs four nights a week out of Naples, Florida. But she
tapped some present and former Seattle talent on her recording with
Dawn Clement on piano, Dan Heck, guitar, Jeff Harper, bass, and split
drummer chores between Bryon Van¬noy and Steve Korn. Richardson is
blessed with understated jazz chops, never indulging in the extraneous
excess that separates the men from the boys. And you can’t argue
her selection of tunes, including “All of You,” “Do
It the Hard Way,” “Whisper Not,” “My
Romance” and even Bobby Troup’s “Daddy”
(remember Ju¬lie London?). Besides Richardson’s altogether
hip jazz vocalizing, a big high five goes to the pianist Clement. She
gets it perfectly with little nuances, subtle shadings and hip licks
tailor-made for the singer.
A-Me, Hiroe Sekine, piano.
A product of Japan’s jazz scene, Sekine has put together a varied
program featuring a basic sextet on most tunes. Her concept seems to
follow the classic approach, and her arrange¬ments are fresh and
invigorating. Among the excellent players in her group, standouts
include John Daversa, trumpet, and Bob Sheppard, tenor sax.
Daversa’s trumpet was somewhere in the shadow of Miles Davis, and
Sheppard was fluid and very modern throughout. Sekine seems to prefer a
classic jazz sound, some¬times re-harmonizing or altering tempos to
bring a new twist to the mostly familiar material. Four original
compositions complete this debut recording from a pianist who brings
both depth and musical color to her artistic canvas. As rich and
rewarding as this CD is, I’d love to hear Sekine in a trio
setting next time around.
Self-produced, 2010, 66:52.
Violin Jazz: The Music of Eddie South, Jeremy Cohen, violin.
Eddie South (1904-1962) was a violin virtuoso, right up there with Joe
Venuti, Stephane Grappelli, Stuff Smith and Ray Nance. It was the color
barrier that prevented him from achieving the star status he clearly
deserved. But jazz violin enthusiasts know all about him. So this
tribute to a formidable contributor in jazz history is long overdue and
a delight to hear. In real tiny print, we learn that the violinist is
Jeremy Cohen. He interprets this menu of period pieces, standards and a
couple of surprises as though he were cutting 78s in a late 1920s
recording studio. Joined by ex-Portland pianist Larry Dunlap, Dix
Bruce, guitar, and Jim Ker¬win, bass, the quartet offers familiar
fare such as “Deep Purple,” “Rose Room,”
“Yesterdays” and “I Can’t Get Started.”
From the obscure bag, there’s titles like “Black
Gypsy,” “Mad Monk” and “Dr. Groove.” In
the surprise category, consider the most sacred of Jewish melodies,
“Kol Nidre,” and a stimulating “Rhapsody In
Blue,” boiled down to four minutes and four seconds! Suffice to
say, there’s something for everybody with ears here. Eddie South
Dorian Recordings, 2010, 59:46.
Introducing Takao Iwaki, tenor saxophone.
Another native of Japan, Takao Iwaki is also a product of
Boston’s Berklee College of Music. He’s now doing club
work, teaching, and playing occasional cruise gigs as well. In
listening to Iwaki, I was trying to discover his influences. As is the
case with many startlingly good musicians, I could only come up with
the ones he doesn’t sound like. Iwaki chooses a big full tenor
sound, but he’s not in the Hawkins-Webster bag. He has moments of
lyri-cal swing, but no one would suggest he’s out of Zoot and Al.
He sounds as though hard bop may have been a this very impressive
recording, Claassen sings an array of songs from eras ranging from
Louie Jordan to Strayhorn, Jobim and even Joni Mitchell. There are
surprises here, too. How many of us remember Cy Cole¬man’s
“You Turn Me On,” a song I only know from an ancient
recording from The Js With Jamie! Or how about “Tea For
Two”? No kidding. And you’ve never heard it swing quite
like this! So, let it be said that Claassen is all over the map, and
equally impres¬sive in every camp. She needs to get over to this
country and get in front of lots of people at big festivals. Claassen
is the real deal.
Challenge Records, 2010, 64:47
Conversations, Dave Anderson, piano, Mike Wingo, percussion.
This Washington D. C. duo works skillfully together.
Ander¬son’s concept is to play acoustic piano with a
percussionist rather than a drummer. And Wingo brings some percussive
instruments not normally seen in a standard drum set. It adds up to a
rather unusual but always pleasant sound. If Anderson reminds me of
anyone, I want to say there is a bit of Vince Guaraldi at the faster
tempos. His ballads sound as though he may have once upon a time heard
the nearly forgotten purveyor of pretty chords, Don Shirley. The song
selection is split between standards and singing originals. In the
latter category, the twosome includes “It Might As Well Be
Spring,” “Gentle Rain,” “I’ve Grown
Accustomed to Her Face,” “Autumn Leaves” and
“Spring Is Here.” I hesitate to call this dinner jazz,
because that can carry negative connotations, and this is well
performed. If it doesn’t spin you around in your chair, well,
that’s not what you should be doing at dinner anyway.
Self-produced, 2010, 61:48.
Thinking Out Loud, Nadav Snir-Zelniker, drums.
It is apparent over the last decade or so that Israeli-born jazz
musicians are becoming increasingly a factor in the jazz pan¬orama.
Consider the arrivals of guitarist Roni Ben-Hur, scat singer Ori Dagan,
piano maven Tamir Hendleman, and, in the review that follows this one,
tenor saxist Benny Sharoni. This time it’s drummer Nadav
Snir-Zelniker who has followed his passion for the jazz art from the
Mediterranean to the Atlantic. Now a busy resident of The Apple,
Snir-Zelniker would be required to display considerable jazz chops to
connect with established New York vets like Ted Rosenthal, piano, and
Todd Coolman, bass. He does just that on a recording that’s
loaded with invigorating piano trio material, both his stimulating
originals and standards such as “Se¬cret Love,”
“Isfahan” and a special rarity from Bill Evans simply
entitled “Interplay.” It also becomes clear that this is a
showcase for former Gerry Mulligan pianist Rosenthal, as he cooks up a
straightahead brew that steams with pleasure. For decades, the jazz art
has welcomed esteemed players from such far away places as Sweden, New
Zealand, Spain, Brazil and Russia, among others. Now it has extended to
the state of Israel, to which we American jazz fans can only
enthusiastically say shalom!
OA2 Records, 2010, 60:22.
Eternal Elixir, Benny Sharoni, tenor saxophone.
Score another soaring tenor sax monster from Israel. While serving a
mandatory three years in the Israeli army, Sharoni was saved, during a
quiet moment here and there, by the music of Sonny Rollins, among
others. I was impressed with the fact that Sharoni plays tenor
exclusively; not seeing a need to double on soprano, as is often the
case today. His tone brings Rollins, his hero, to mind, and Joe
Henderson’s earthy sound is lingering somewhere nearby.
Sharon’s sextet includes only one familiar name to me, Barry Ries
on trumpet. In fact, Ries is heard to great advantage on the pop tune
of yesteryear, “Sunny,” which enjoys a sunnier rendition
than ever before. Other carefully chosen vehi¬cles include a
delicate “Estate,” a couple of Donald Byrd rarities in
“French Spice” and “Pentacostal Feelin’,”
Blue Mitchell’s ironclad “The Thing to Do,” and the
surprise, a jazzy “To Life.” You'll no¬tice a sense of
veteran musicianship and a strong link to tradition from a player who
undoubtedly did not grow up hearing much jazz on a kibbutz near the
Gaza strip. So it is these days with a music that has spread beyond its
native borders. The horrors of war taught Sharoni how critical jazz was
as an emotional uplift. He put it in these terms: “music is the
only reason I’m still alive.”
Papaya Records, 2009, 67:34.
Destinations, Tamir Hendelman, piano.
Some things are just meant to be. Just a couple days after writing the
above two reviews of Israeli jazz musicians, this CD arrives at my
doorstep. Having mentioned Hendelman briefly in the Snir-Zelniker
review, something was at work here. So, let me put it this way: if the
classic trio of piano-bass-drums has always held sway over you, if
you’ve felt that this setting is the very heart of jazz, you must
get acquainted with Hendelman. He’s already worked in various
contexts, ranging from big bands to the accom¬paniment of singers.
He’s a young guy who must have gobbled up all the jazz he could
while growing up in Israel. Despite his youth, he has managed to
successfully acquire the essence of the history of jazz piano. Who does
he sound like? Well, he swings his derriere off, so right off the bat,
there’s Oscar. An extensive (I’d guess) classical
background would suggest the influence of Bill Evans or Alan Broadbent.
Gorgeous phrasing and economy of notes might conjure up Bill Charlap or
Tommy Flanagan. Judge for yourself, as Hendelman and his trio offer a
menu of tunes ranging from Keith Jarrett’s “My Song”
to Charlie Parker’s An¬thropology.” Henelman is the
complete package. I knew it the first time I heard him some three or
four years ago. He is destined to join the small circle of revered, top
of the mountain jazz pianists.
Resonance Records, 2010, 68:51.
Cathy’s Song, Bob Lark, flugelhorn.
On his fourth release for Jazzed Media Records, Chicagoan Lark brings
on a host of players in three separate ensembles. On “Blue
Skies,” “My Shining Hour” and his original title
tune, Lark’s trio meets up with four violins, one viola and a
cello. Being that strings are usually not economically in the picture
these days, this is a nice change of pace. Lark’s frequent
playing mate, alto sax great Phil Woods, drops by and brings with him
several ad¬ditional horn players on two of his own tunes, the
sprightly “Rava Nova,” and his gorgeous ballad,
“Goodbye Mr. Evans.” The latter is coming very close to
standard status, and you’ll understand why when you hear Lark and
Woods give it all they’ve got. The last of the three settings
features Jim McNeely, piano, and Rufus Reid, bass, who join
Lark’s silvery flugelhorn on two originals and the old standby,
“All Of You.” The same group takes on the old warhorse,
“On Green Dolphin Street,” with Lark switching to a
Miles-like muted trumpet. All in all, this is a varied program from an
obviously dedicated player. Lark plays so beautifully at times that he
can give you the shivers. It sure feels good!
Jazz Media, 2010, 55:11.
After-Birth Of Cool, Chris Graham, vibes.
Anyone with a sense of jazz history will be intrigued with the
CD’s title. Graham’s vibes-bass-drums trio plays it very
cool indeed on a selection of original compositions that swing nicely
and reflect some close communication among the players. Gra¬ham
manages to use five (!) mallets, giving him the opportunity to nearly
bend notes and create interesting chord combinations. His music is a
bit cerebral at times, but when it seemingly is ready to fall off the
diving board, it pulls back and retains your interest.
Transient Journey, Pharez Whitted, trumpet and flugelhorn.
Some years back, somebody convinced Whitted to do some smooth jazz
shlock. Thank goodness those days are gone, as Whit¬ted here gets a
chance to really show what he can do with well conceived material and
inspired, hard boppy colleagues. On a program of originals, Whitted
leaves no prisoners in a high flying, free flowing fanfare which, at
times, shows some Freddie Hub¬bard influence.
Owl Studios, 2010, 69:44.
Clarity, Dave Anderson, alto and soprano saxophones.
What do you think the odds would be that I’d receive two Dave
Anderson CDs in the same month, and they’d be different people?
I’d better go buy a lottery ticket. Well, our second DA this
month plays a varied selection of original tunes and two standards in a
Seattle-based quartet featuring the versatile John Hansen on piano. It
seems that the soprano took honors over the alto here, and while
Anderson plays both horns very well, I’d opt for the alto
virtually anytime over the fish horn. Be that as it may,
Anderson’s tone and concept were very musical and adventurous.
Pony Boy, 2010, 59:26.
Dangerous Liaisons, Sylvia Brooks, vocals.
Apparently Brooks is a Los Angeles area singer who’s been
garnering some positive press in the Southland. I wouldn’t
char¬acterize her as a jazz singer per se. She is, rather, a pop
singer with the good sense to choose quality material such as
“Harlem Nocturne,” “Cry Me a River,”
“Lush Life” and more. The use of electric keyboards here
and there did not settle comfortably in my ears. But in a pop sort of
vein, Brooks puts forth a nice effort.
Self-produced, 2009, 43:39.
Representante De La Salsa, Susie Hansen, electric violin, vocals.
I’ve always held on to the notion that Latin music, as fun and
gregarious as it often is, should not reside in the jazz castle. This
is very good, spirited, well-arranged and performed Latin music. It
should, in my opinion, be in the world music category because more than
anything else, that’s what it truly is. Hansen and a couple of
lead male singers put it over with bravado. Even though the label name
insists otherwise, it ain’t jazz.
Jazz Caliente, 2010.
Slow Moving Dog, Eric Skye, acoustic guitar.
Well, I’ve heard more than my share of guitar-led funk
al¬bums, but never one from an acoustic guitarist. If you’re
into bluesy soul jazz grooves, as the group is described, then this is
your thing. It’s heavy backbeat funk, not exactly my idea of a
jazz album. Skye’s concept probably works well in a soul-drenched
nightclub, but it doesn’t float my jazz boat. I should add,
however, that the cover art is some of the best I’ve seen in
Half Diminished Records, 2010, 55;27.
Big City Circus, Joel Yennior, trombone.
It took me awhile to realize it because the sound of this trio is so
complete as is. But yikes — there was no pianist and no bassist!
What could trombone whiz Yennior have in mind? Well, his trio of
trombone, guitar (Eric Hoffbauer) and drums (Gary Feldman) communicates
on brisk tempos and ballads alike. I promise, you won’t miss the
conventional instrumentation as Yennior’s trio impresses on
original compositions and surprises like Bacharach’s “A
House Is Not a Home” and Monk’s rare“Gallop’s
Brass Wheel Music, 2009, 44:05.
Straight Ahead Soul, Paul Carr, tenor and soprano sax.
If you’re a fan of the soul-jazz sound ... not the Hammond B-3
stuff, but rather the Hank Crawford type of thing which utilizes a
standard rhythm section, this may be the ace in your deck. Carr gets
down (or is it nowadays finds the groove?) This is significant¬ly
superior to the dreaded smooth jazz, but it’s a distant cousin.
Pianist Allyn Johnson and guitarist Bobby Broom have some nice moments
in what is primarily a formula approach. They’re all quite good
at what they do. What they do is the problem.
Self-produced, 2010, 50:45.
Four Plus Four, Ernie Watts, tenor saxophone.
When Watts is playing in the Charlie Haden Quartet, there’s a
special film noir-nostalgia sound completely unique to him and
perfectly suited to Haden’s penchant for ‘40s era
Hollywood. And that, for me, is preferable to these sides recorded with
two differ¬ent groups, one American and one European. I know Watts
has a multitude of fans who scarf up everything he does, and I’m
sure that they will welcome this varied, internationally flavored
Flying Dolphin Records, 2009, 59:27.
by Kyle O'Brien
A Hamster Speaks, Brinsk.
I’ll admit, the only reason I listened to this disc was because
of the graphically hilarious cover, a comic rendering of a cyborg
hamster blasting a cobra with a laser. The music inside is as eclectic
as its cover, though maybe not quite as fun. The Brooklyn group is led
by bassist Aryeh Kobrinsky and features drums and three horns playing a
truly odd mash of straightahead jazz, rock and avant-garde. If
you’re a fan of folks like John Zorn, Bartok and Anthony Braxton,
this group might be for you. It can be atonal and loose, tight and
sparse, and just about everywhere in between. I think the cover may be
more entertaining, but the mu¬sic is ripe for lovers of the
2009, NOWT Records, 62 minutes.
I Will Tell Her, Curtis Fuller.
Fuller is one of the last legends of bop, and this double disc set
shows off his talents with a group put together in Denver, featuring
saxophonist Keith Oxman, trumpeter Al Hood, pianist Chip Stephens,
bassist Ken Walker and drummer Todd Reid. Ox¬man and Fuller had
been playing together at Denver club Dazzle for several years when they
decided to record the gig and put together a studio session as well.
While Fuller’s name carries the weight, it’s an ensemble
recording through and through. Fuller may not be the player he was in
his early days — his sound isn’t as strong and his licks
aren’t quite as tight — but his innate musi¬cianship
and his sense of ensemble is still powerful. The title track on the
studio side is a lovely tribute to Fuller’s late wife, Cathy, and
he plays the track with as much love as he obviously had for her.
Fuller is more “lively” on the live tracks, and the band
kicks much more as well. It’s also more bop oriented, with tunes
like “Tenor Madness” and the hard-swinging Fuller tune,
“Maze.” A fine recording from one of jazz’s noted
2010, Capri Records, 1:53:30.
Inspirations, Big Crazy Energy New York Band. Vol. 1.
How can you resist a band with this nutty a name? Funny enough, the
group lives up to it with high-powered energy from the start, with the
double sax attack of Mark Fineberg and Ken Gioffre powering through
Billy Cobham’s “Pleasant Pheasant.” The two saxes do
their best to out blow each other while the at¬tacking horn lines
of the group propel them forward. It’s a suit¬able morning
coffee replacement. Thankfully, the whole disc doesn’t have that
much crazy energy. Led by trombonist and com¬poser Jens Wendelboe,
this big band has serious chops, a sense of sophistication and, oh yes,
big crazy energy. They can also be tight, as on the tender
“Seasons Wander,” with guest vocalist Deb Lyons singing
over full and lush orchestration. Otherwise, things get funky, they
swing, and soloists do their best to take advantage of every note. With
discs like this, the art of the big band will never die.
2009, Rosa Records, 55 minutes.
Accomplish Jazz, Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord.
This group of New York-area musicians have to be some of the busiest
working today. They all juggle several projects at once, intertwining
their talents and creating jazz-fusion music that is young and vibrant,
always on the cutting edge. This time at the helm it’s guitarist
Lundbom. He’s joined by alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon, tenor
saxophonist Bryan Murray, bassist Moppa Elliott and drummer Danny
Fischer. This is free jazz with structure, compositional jazz with
freedom, fusion with modern classical. There’s room for everyone
in this setup, and considering the play¬ers, this one leans
slightly more melodic, even though it often ends up punching through
the layers. “The Christian Life,” is downright folky and
simplistic in its country-like melodicism, though there is a free jazz
edge that inches up as the tune pro¬gresses. These musicians like
to push the limit. Tones are brash, including Lundbom’s guitar on
occasion. Sounds are right up front. It’s urban music with folk
twists, and certainly a disc that will get some listeners excited about
the future of jazz.
2009, Hot Cup Records, 48 minutes.
The State of Black America, The Mark Lomax Trio with Edwin Bayard and Dean Hulett.
The name intrigued me enough to give this one a spin. Drummer Lomax
poses the question, though one might not find a true answer and maybe
there isn’t one. Maybe there’s just music, at least for the
listener. With bassist Hulett and saxophonist Bayard, Lomax explores
jazz history, starting with later Coltrane; “Stuck in a
Rut” is a blistering hard bop flurry of notes and cymbal
crashing. It’s accomplished, and something Trane would have found
worthy. Other tunes search different aspects of the music that have
made up black his¬tory, but without being derivative. It’s
mostly about the greater meaning, and considering this is a chordless
trio, one that has a limited capacity for full composition. On the
surface, it’s avant-garde post-bop, but listen closer and
you’ll hear a sense of per¬sonal identity coming through.
2010, Inarhyme Records, 50:20.
Live at Fraser Performance Studio at WGBH, Avery Sharpe Trio.
Sharpe is a veteran bassist who has worked with some of the best in the
business, including McCoy Tyner, Archie Shepp and Art Blakey. He has
had a successful solo career for over two decades, and it pays off here
with a recorded performance at one of the top studios. With drummer
Winard Harper and pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs, he puts out an impressive,
sophisticated and near flawless recording of trio music. It ranges from
the swing of Tyner’s “Blues on the Corner,” to the
modern “Morning Glow” from Gumbs, to Sharpe’s own
pieces, like the nimble swinger, “Oh No!” and the lengthy
bass solo “I Understand.” This is an example of trio music
done with panache.
2010, JKNM Records, 44:05.
The Playmaker, Mads Tolling.
I had never heard of Tolling before, but one look at the players here
— Stanley Clarke, Stefon Harris, Russell Ferrante — made me
want to give it a spin. Tolling is a Grammy-winning violinist and
composer. He plays with the Turtle Island String Quartet, but this disc
is more of a blend of modern rock and jazz than classical. It begins
with “Just,” a Radiohead tune that is more rock than jazz,
with Tolling bowing the length of his instrument, soaring to the upper
register with ease. The title track is actually a three-part suite,
dedicated to sports playmakers, including LeBron James, Tom Brady and
Zinedine Zidane. Harris and Clarke make appearances on one of the
movements, and their contributions lend different textures to the
music. In addition, Mike Abraham’s open-ended guitar work brings
modern structure to the pieces. This disc picks up where Jean Luc Ponty
left off — contemporary jazz done on violin with a cavalcade of
quality players. If you don’t like jazz violin, this isn’t
for you, but if electric fusion is your thing, this is worth a listen.
2009, Madsman Records, 60 minutes.
Quadrangle, Mercury Falls.
Bay Area group Mercury Falls is a contemporary quartet that creates
moods both mysterious and fluid. It uses acoustic instruments —
alto sax and flute by Patrick Cress, drums by Tim Bulkey, bass by Eric
Perney — and combines them with electric guitar and electronica
from Ryan Francesconi. The musicians work together in harmony to create
soundscapes that are a mix of jazz and trance music. It can be at times
mesmerizing, at times contemplative, and almost always interesting.
This is one for the headphones.
2010, Porto Franco Records, 38:45.
In Concert, and Both Sides, Corey Brunish.
Stage actor and singer Brunish has two new albums, one live and one
studio recording. The live disc features Brunish singing traditional
crooner music in a distinctively older style. Classics like “All
of Me,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “South of the
Border,” and “Anything Goes” all get straight forward
treatments. Not sure if Brunish meant to have a near AM radio sound to
this, but that’s what’s here. The recording quality on the
live disc is not great, but the delivery is solid and crowd appealing.
The studio recording is stronger, but still sticks to the classic
crooner approach. Brunish knows who he is as a singer. Straightforward,
melodic, with roots deep in the music. Brunish isn’t breaking any
new ground, though his swinging version of Elvis’s “Love Me
Tender” is a fun departure from the original. It would be nice to
hear Brunish do more updated takes on these classics, or tackle some
lesser-known tunes from bygone eras to give them new life.
2010, Brundog Records, “In Concert”: 33:50; “Both Sides”: 37:45.
Morning Star, Vincent Herring & Earth Jazz.
Veteran alto saxophonist Herring has played plenty of straightahead
jazz in his career, so it’s fine when he decides to go funky, as
he does here with pianist Anthony Wonsey, bassist Richie Goods and
drummer Joris Dudli. He funks up Coltrane’s “Naima”
but manages to keep its integrity. Wonsey reaches back into the
‘70s for inspiration on the hard grooving “The
Thang,” and Herring’s sole composition, “Never
Forget,” is a light funker that recalls Grover Washington, Jr.,
and the whole disc feels like an updated version of something vaguely
cool from 1982. It’s retro all right, but quite a bit of retro
2010, Challenge Records, 64 minutes