Close Your Eyes, Bob Sheppard, tenor and soprano saxes, other reeds.
You've probably heard veteran LA reedman Sheppard on numerous occasions without any idea who was playing. In addition to a part-time position in USC's Music Department, Sheppard has played in over a hundred movie and television soundtracks. To my knowledge, this is his first shot as a leader, appearing on a brand new label, BFM Jazz. Sheppard's ensemble of LA players includes, among others, pianist Alan Pasqua and guitarist Larry Koonse. Sheppard and friends get underway with a rather funky, contemporary take on the title tune. The only other standard on the date is a riveting version of Gordon Jenkins's ballad, "Goodbye." Sheppard is a multi-instrumental master, playing flute, alto flute, piccolo, clarinet and bass clarinet in addition to his two saxophones! To further stir the soup, throw in some doubling on Hammond B-3 organ on the part of the CD's two pianists! The result of all this versatility is a recording full of twists, turns and tempos.
BFM Jazz, 2010, 50:20.
Port Said Street, Francis Coletta, guitar and Jonas Tauber, cello.
Here is a duo of guitar and cello featuring two musicians who communicate with simple elegance. It is a performance of rare intimacy, not unlike what you might hear in a home concert, if you were extremely lucky. Coletta plays what he terms an electro acoustic guitar, seemingly a conflict in terms. But then you hear it, and amazingly, it doesn't sound quite electric nor acoustic. And it's a beautiful, sometimes poignant sound. Tauber plays the cello as one would play a bass, but its higher pitch is a perfect partner for the guitar. The duo plays six originals, with varying tempos, but always at the highest level of musicianship. The standards on the CD include "Nica's Dream," "Body And Soul," "How Insensitive" and "Caravan." All of the music here adds up to a spellbinding session from a gifted duo.
Origin, 2011, 59:09.
Blue Room, Tony Guerrero, trumpet and flugelhorn.
You'd have trouble convincing me that the audience for "standards" is diminishing. Because scores of CDs simply exclude standards. Apparently, Guerrero feels there's still a place for a swinging interpretation of a tune or two from Songbook America. Or in this case, nine of them. With a scintillating rhythm section of Llew Matthews, piano, Dave Enos, bass, and Matt Johnson, drums — plus a generous scattering of guests here and there — Guerrero smacks a homer with "It's Only a Paper Moon," "Black Orpheus," "Body and Soul," "Blue Room," "Secret Love," "Over the Rainbow," "Just Squeeze Me," "Candy" and "My Romance." His original melodies, sometimes playful in nature, are "real" songs with melodies and bridges. Remember those?! Guerrero prods a "Mrs Butterworth" tone (thick and rich) from both horns, and I must say, it's sure nice to hear someone making joyous music instead of trying to reinvent the wheel at every turn.
Charleston Square Recordings, 2010; 55:28.
On The Bench - In The Zone, Bob Szajner, piano.
Detroit native Szajner was one of many musicians who became disillusioned with the music business in the 1960s and pretty much dropped off the scene. But around 2005, the itch returned, and Szajner had to scratch it. This recording, one of very few under his name, is the result. Szajner joined forces once again with his bass player from way back when, Ed Pickens, and added Allan Colding on drums to complete a very swinging, refreshing trio. This album, recorded live at the Detroit Music Hall Jazz CafÈ in 2008, contains no less than thirteen of the pianist's original compositions. Szajner has a knack for writing nicely moving, sprightly tunes with real melody lines and bridges. His compositions swing authoritatively, and he also writes with savoir faire in waltz time. To illustrate Szajner's versatility, check out "Theo," an original line with Monk lurking in the shadows. A pianist this good should never have stepped away from the jazz muse, but it's sure nice that he's back.
Quixotic Records, 2010, 71:55.
Jazz Brasil, Mark Weinstein, alto and bass flute.
You know me — I'm not much of a flute fancier. But I think I recognize virtuosity when I hear it. And Mark Weinstein's a flute freak! And one more thing. You have to be "up there" to get Kenny Barron on your record. That was the thing that initially turned my head when I unpacked this CD. Kenny Barron, eh? Well, this Weinstein guy must have some chops. The title of the CD is slightly misleading, because much of the material is hardly Brazilian. Not when you have titles that include "I Mean You," "Nefertiti," an especially beautiful "Ruby My Dear," "Memphis Underground" and Joe Henderson's "Isotope." The remaining tunes are either Jobim or Jobim-ish, and everyone holds forth on a muscular, well-performed and extremely well-recorded disc. If, unlike me, you are a flute maven, Weinstein is heavy in the chops department. The quartet is completed by Nilson Matta, bass, and Marcello Pellitteri, drums; both new names to me. High level musicality finds a home here, and Weinstein has to feel good about an impressive new album.
Jazzheads, 2010, 56:26.
Home, Putter Smith, bass.
Smith has been a first-call, do-everything bassist in Los Angeles for many years. As a matter of fact, more than 20 of those years have found him solidly entrenched in Alan Broadbent's magical trio. But now and then, Putter takes the leader's role in writing much of the music for recordings under his name. To give this playing date some versatility and pizazz, Smith brings two saxophones to the session. John Gross on tenor and Jon Whinnery on alto are joined by Theo Sanders on piano and Smith's trio-mate, Kendall Kay, on drums. Among his original compositions, I especially liked the sprightly, life-is-good melody line on "For Us" and the air of mystery on "Desert Passes." The CD also includes music from a host of colleagues or influences of the leader: pianist Kent Glenn; the late bassist Eric Von Essen; guitarist Baden Powell; alto giant Ornette Coleman; and even a cat named J. S. Bach! For good measure, toss in "Evidence "and "Epistrophy," two evergreens from the genius of Monk. All of that results in a CD full of surprises, differing moods and tempos, solid solos from all participants, and stirring musicianship. But then, Putter would have it no other way.
SP Records, 2011, 69:13.
Rapture, Dave Miller, piano.
This is the kind of piano trio music that serious jazzers would enjoy hearing in a club setting. And I'd suspect that Miller probably relishes every opportunity to "play for the people," because his daytime gig is the practice of law for the city of San Francisco. Rounding out his trio are longtime colleagues Mario Suraci, bass,and Bill Belasco, drums. Belasco say this of Miller: "Dave has a focus on playing the tunes. He's not into technical super chops or being competitive." And I submit that you're going to like the tunes here. There are 12, and, to name a few, how about "Line for Lyons," "Little Niles," and "Alice In Wonderland." This is gimmick-free, dependable, swinging piano jazz. And there's always room in my world for that sort of thing!
Summit Records, 2010; 56:24.
Magic, Nancy Marano, vocals.
Quite a few years back, I had the pleasure of hearing Marano in person at the Otter Crest Jazz Weekend. Her pinpoint enunciation and spot-on intonation won me over in a hurry. Oh, not to forget, she's got super, built-in jazz chops too! On this splendid recording, she enlisted some top-of-mountain cats in Claudio Roditi, Joel Frahm and Mike Renzi, among others. Only those who have "arrived" attract that kind of support. And the great tunes she chooses are usually the result of a singer who has done her homework. In Marano's case, it's "Nobody Else But Me," "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most," "I Didn't Know About You," "Nothing Like You" and "This Happy Madness." A couple of shining surprises were Johnny Mercer's silvery lyric to "Mirror, Mirror, Mirror," by film composer David Raksin. And then there's "Carousel" (no relation to the musical). This one is by the English composer, Duncan Lamont. He writes stunning songs and, over the years, Marano has performed many of them. She is, plain and simple, one of the foremost interpreters of Songbook America. You owe it to yourself to make her acquaintance.
Laughing Face Productions, 2011, 56:47.
In Good Company, Jake Fryer and Bud Shank, alto saxophones.
"The last words Bud said to me with a warm handshake were 'Best of luck with the recording.'" So said co-leader Jake Fryer, a British alto player influenced by Bud Shank. Bud would return home from this session and pass away the very next day, April 2, 2009. The two fiery alto players enlisted the assistance of a dynamic West Coast rhythm section in Mike Wofford, piano, Bob Magnesson, bass, and Joe La Barbera, drums. Of the nine selections heard here, six are Fryer originals. And Fryer emerges with a balance of lyricism and bebop chops to make this a blowing session of magnitude, but distinctly not a competitive one. The three standards are examples of tunes Shank must have played for over a half century, and the fire and flight are still intact. All in all, one would have to agree that playing a gig with old pals and a promising youngster would be a great way to spend one's last day on earth. Bud gave it his all every time he walked onto the bandstand or the studio. You can hear the passion on this, his final recording.
Capri Records, 2011, 66:10.
Long Time Comin', Marty Williams, piano, vocals.
If you're into late Lou Rawls or the vocals of Les McCann, Williams may float your boat. He plays acoustic piano throughout, so that's a good start. His choice of tunes seems to run about 50-50 between pop/soul vehicles and jazz standards. From the soul bag, there's "Brother Where Are You," "Come Together," "Sunny," "Compared to What," "The Look of Love" and "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy." The examples of higher caliber writing include "Caravan," "Falling in Love Again," "Love for Sale," "Monk's Dream," "On a Clear Day" and "Sweet and Lovely." Apparently, Williams can't quite decide in which camp he's most comfortable. Judging strictly from his singing voice, kinda like a gravelly Babs Gonzales (but without the humor), I think he best fills the bill on the soul side. My guess is that he plays piano well enough that he may not be completely fulfilled doing the pop stuff. Interesting and rather odd at the same time.
In Moon Bay Records, 2010, 71:54.
In Your Own Backyard, a collection of jazz singers.
OA2 Records, out of Seattle, has issued a compilation of singers and most of them are well worth hearing. I guess everyone has their own favorites, but here are mine: John Proulx, a singer-pianist with a similarity to Chet Baker (but he's a better singer). He does a Frank Rosolino rarity called "Please Don't Bug Me" and also contributes a delicate love song to his newly born daughter entitled "Welcome to My World." Proulx has a couple CDs out on the MaxJazz label which I highly recommend. Kristin Korb is a dedicated jazz singer who scores on "Comes Love" and "You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me." And Seattle resident Kelley Johnson comes on strong with "Blue Monk" and "Triste." Finally, there's Hanna Richardson, a straight from the heart singer who reminds me just a bit of Maxine Sullivan. You'll love her no-gimmick renditions of "Back in Your Own Backyard" and "These Foolish Things." There are five more singers on the disc, and not a bad apple in the bucket. So if you're into quality jazz singing, this is a disc worth seeking out.
OA2 Records, 2011, 72:52.
Waltz For Anne, Shawn Costantino, saxophones, clarinets and flutes.
And here I thought by 2011, the whole smooth jazz thing had finally gone the way of the Edsel. But here's a guy apparently bent on keeping it alive with a tired, electric version of "Can't Buy Me Love" (not a great song in the first place); a New Agey title tune; and even an overly schmaltzy, screechy "The Touch of Your Lips." "Bailout," an appropriately titled hard bop vehicle, tries hard to save this album, but one tune out of eight can't bail this one out.
Self-produced, 2010, times not indicated.
Unrehurst Volume 2, Robert Hurst, bass.
Hurst is, I suppose, the "famous" name in this trio, so he gets the billing, and rightly so. But it's pianist Robert Glasper that does the pyrotechnics here. Glasper leaves no stone unturned, especially on Cole Porter's "I Love You" and "Monk's Dream"; to say nothing of his scintillating original, "Truth Revealed." This is a tight, blistering trio playing in a very modern vein. If they approach the edge now and then, it's okay. Because they never fall off.
Bebob Music, 2010, 71:46.
Mad Heaven, Peter Eldridge, piano, vocals.
When I read in this CD's bio that Peter Eldridge might be compared to Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Van Morrison and Steely Dan, a red flag appeared. To be blunt, none of 'em will ever claim to be jazz guys, and this is still a review page of jazz Cds. Eldridge's enunciation is sometimes a little rough, but that's often the case in the pop world. So there you are, this is sort of pop complete with background voices and a Latin orientation. Not exactly my cup of tea.
Palmetto Records, 2011, 60:16.
Two Phonographs and a Microphone, AnnaPaul And The Bearded Lady.
If you know what I mean in referring to the high-pitched, stylized, '20s vocals of Betty Boop, this is it! Anna Leander is the singer, and she's captured this fun-loving musical era really well. She also doubles on trombone (!) and is joined here by Paul Evans on reeds and melodica and Joseph Appel on guitar. The tunes? Fifteen in all with the likes of "Button Up Your Overcoat," "Honeysuckle Rose," "Exactly Like You" and lots more. They'd be great fun at a party..
Self-produced, 2010, times not indicated.
The Storyteller, Randy Weston and his African Rhythms Sextet.
Weston's roots are in Western jazz and bop, but his schooling is from his many trips and stays in Africa. This disc, recorded live at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in New York, is the culmination of Weston's decades of travel, incorporating the musics of the world, from his first tunes in New York to his recent travels to Western African nations. This disc is important for several reasons; we get to hear Weston live with an incredible band that includes the late Benny Powell on trombone; we get to hear all of Weston's worldly influences; and it is an accompanying piece to his autobiography, African Rhythms. There are several tunes that feature Weston solo, working the entire keyboard with his big hands, sometimes with octave reaches, at others with Monk-like close harmonies. Then the rhythms of drummer Lewis Nash and percussionist Neil Clarke creep in, as on the complex tune, "The African Cookbook Suite." T.K. Blue is a star here, his brash alto blaring through with fiery solos and his flute evoking African spirituality on the Middle Eastern-inspired "The Shrine." Bassist Alex Blake shows diversity, going from the slick bop of Weston's first hit, "Hi-Fly," to the polyrhythms of the invigorating "Loose Wig." Through it all, Weston's reverential take on the music of Africa, combined with Western and Latin jazz, makes for a complete look at his career.
2010, Motema, 64 minutes.
Americanvas, Joe Gilman.
Sacramento's Gilman is the primary pianist with Bobby Hutcherson, and he has performed with artists as diverse as Marlena Shaw and Joe Locke, George Duke and Chris Botti. As a solo artist and composer, Gilman's compositions are sophisticated and cerebral. The title is meant to evoke the painterly arts, and it does that through its creative process. The opener, "Gossip," is a minor-keyed, hard bop burner that has a staccato, angular melody. Gilman's pouncing solo is a highlight, as is the tenor solo by young saxophonist Ben Flocks. In fact, Gilman, who is a jazz educator as well, utilizes young talent throughout. Gilman uses texture like oil paint. "Where the Wild Things Are," is a Afro-Latin number using both broad strokes and pointed stabs, while "Cebola Church" goes for long tones and greater uses of white space. The music here is not easy. Chords are dense, even on prettier tunes such as the moody "Nighthawks." But you can appreciate and enjoy its drive, youthful energy and tight structures.
2010, Capri Records, 62 minutes.
If You Would Dance, Wayne Brasel Quartet.
Drummer Peter Erskine brings an assuredness on rhythm to every project he plays. Here, he works with guitarist Brasel, whom he toured with early on in the Stan Kenton Big Band. His stick and brushwork highlights this easygoing Latin jazz and swing-influenced contemporary disc. The tunes aren't complex, but they do have some weight to take them past the usual contemporary jazz product. Erskine swings with touch and flourish as Brasel plays a fluid solo over "The Oaks of Mamre." The feel throughout is light and airy, and the acoustic nature, highlighted by Erskine, bassist Tom Warrington and pianist Alan Pasqua, makes for an easy listen. It's mellow, but there is depth here.
2009, Brazjazz Records, 60 minutes.
This Could Be the Start of Something Big, Andy Farber .
Woodwind player, composer and arranger Farber had this big band together for a two year stint at Birdland, and the culmination of those years is this smart, retro big band recording that harkens back to the heyday of the era. But despite its decidedly retro feel — some of it coming from Farber's use of clarinets in the horn blend — it has a modernity that lifts it from the '40s. The waltz, "Space Suit," for instance, is a groovy number that siunds as if Benny Goodman were playing now. The classic "Body & Soul" defers to Coleman Hawkins but manages to sound "now" enough to be current. The addition of Jon Hendricks on vocals on the title track gives the album more credence, and Farber's arrangement of the hilarious Mel Brooks song, "High Anxiety," shows that he has a great sense of humor while bringing legitimacy to a novelty movie tune. Big band fans should have fun with this one.
2010, Black Warrior Records, 59:50.
To Hear From There, Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Orchestra.
The prolific Wallace continues a successful run of albums with this nod to the bridge between West African and American music. Wallace is a sure-handed leader, directing the proceedings with his sturdy and boisterous trombone. But he's more than just a 'bone; Wallace is a fine composer and arranger in the Latin jazz vein. He is well versed with the mambo, Afro-Cuban rhythms, and tropical sounds. His band is tight and cohesive, as on the complex horn lines on "Serafina Del Caribe," a driving, polyrhythmic number handled by Wallace and fellow trombonists Jeff Cressman and Natalie Cressman. Other guests include Kenny Washington and Bobi Cespedes, and both handle their roles in the ensemble with aplomb. While this disc shows more of the Latin side of the Afro-Panamerican bridge, it is the African influence that drives the base of the music, which can be heard in the layered rhythms of tunes like "Ogguere (Soul of the Earth)" and "Bebo Ya Llego."
2011, Patois Records, 60 minutes.
In Good Company, Jake Fryer / Bud Shank Quintet.
This disc, led by U.K. alto player Fryer, has become a tribute to the late Shank, since the famed alto saxophonist died the day the album was completed. Shank had been in failing health, and one can hear a labored delivery at times from him. The big, harsh-sounding tone is still there, but intonation seems a bit off at times,. and the runs aren't as fleet as they once were. But it's still Shank. Backed by the steady rhythms of Mike Wofford on piano, Bob Magnusson on bass, and Joe LaBarbera on drums, this is a fitting band for Shank's last disc. Unfortunately, it's not as high-quality as one would like to hear from a legend. Fryer isn't up to the task as much as he should be, either. His tunes are familiar and approachable, but his playing is simplistic at times, his swinging capability is a bit jerky, and his solos not terribly interesting. Still, if you want to hear Shank's last hurrah, here is your chance.
2011, Capri Records, 60 minutes.
Five on One, Contact.
Contact is a supergroup composed of Dave Liebman on saxes, John Abercrombie on guitar, Marc Copland on piano, Drew Gress on bass and Billy Hart on drums. While one might think this pairing of strong voices would lead to a clash of personalities, one would be wrong. These five live up to the title of the disc — five great musicians playing as one. Everyone has a piece among these modern compositions. Abercrombie's complex fusion, including the hard-edged swinging opener, "Sendup," harken back to his early days — but with an updated sound. Hart can be a bit heavy-handed at times, as on Gress's quieter "Like it Never Was," where restraint would have served better. Copland's introspective piano composition, "Childmoon Smile," is a lovely exercise in tonality and color, while Liebman's (with Caris Visentin) "Lost Horizon" is a thick chordal exploration, with Liebman and Abercrombie sharing obtuse harmonies. Hart does capture the requisite subtlety on his beautiful ballad, "Lullaby for Mike." There is a bit of muscle flexing, as one might expect from a group of this stature, but that also makes for an album of vigor and excitement. It's a bit thick, but modern supergroups are difficult to come by.
2010, Pirouet, 59:09.
Universe B, Will Swindler's Elevenet.
Saxophonist/composer Swindler's band isn't quite a big band ... call it a medium band. But its eleven members create a wall of sound, with the added textures of bass clarinet, alto flute, euphonium and French horn to make it interesting. From the get-go Swindler, the 2008 Gil Evans Fellowship winner, sets up the band as his tool for delivering smart compositions and arrangements. "Universe B" is a smokin' modern bopper with enough chord changes to challenge any soloist, though tenor saxophonist Peter Sommer tackles it with ease. Like Gil Evans, Swindler likes a big, orchestral sound. Sometimes the mix is overly orchestrated, adding too many layers when one or two would do. But when he gets it right, as on the jaunty swinger, "The Equestrian Pedestrian," or the colorful waltz, "Glass," his blend of horns and rhythm pays off. When Swindler finds that balance between melody and orchestration on a regular basis, he will be a compositional force.
2010, OA2 Records, 60 minutes.
Botanic, Tyler Blanton.
The vibes have an amazing ability to be incredibly diverse while sounding completely derivative. Perhaps because the tonality of the vibes doesn't change, it will always sound remotely like bells, no matter the player. That said, Brooklynite Blanton, playing on his debut CD, covers both chords and solos on tunes that range from swing numbers to contemporary compositions. There is a bit of soul jazz on the bluesy opener, "Already Here," that sounds like a take on Horace Silver. Blanton knows his way around a melody, but he isn't afraid to take it a bit further out, as on "Good Ol' Joel," a medium swinger that takes the melody outside the chords, but not uncomfortably so. It helps that his vibraphone is tempered by Joel Frahm's inspired tenor work. Blanton's compositions show off his diversity as a writer, from the layered relaxation of "Mellow Afternoon" to the jagged swing of "Hemming and Hawing," to the modern journey of "Vestibule," featuring the drumming of Richie Barshay. The range makes for an interesting listen, but Blanton has room to grow and show maturity.
2010, Ottimo Music, 51:10.
The Australian trio Trichotomy mines the diverse influences that propelled groups like The Bad Plus and Tortoise to popularity, even though categorization isn't easy for a group like this. Their influences range from Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau to Aphex Twin and Radiohead, but the foundation is jazz. Like The Bad Plus, they are a piano/bass/drums trio, but they don't look to popular music for their melodies. This disc is full of original compositions, and it owes a debt to Scandinavia, where highly compositional, cerebral jazz is the new norm. The music from pianist Sean Foran, drummer John Parker and bassist Pat Marchisella is refined and precise, with an undercurrent of youthful vigor. When strings and electronics are added, as on the chamber-orchestral number, "Start," we're treated to the breadth of Trichotomy's compositional nature, and it is good. And they do have rock-like energy at times, as on the heavy "Variations on a Bad Day." Trichotomy may not have as much bashing fun as The Bad Plus, but they do have exacting musicianship, energy and a versatile take on compositional jazz.
2009 Naim Jazz, 60 minutes.