Source, Benny Green, piano.
Sometimes the "tune list" tells us volumes about a jazz artist. On Green's first trio album in over 10 years, his choices reflect the fact that he's "put in his time" as a student of jazz. With two of the best in the business, Peter and Kenny Washington, Green opts for classic jazz. But what is really cool here is that he doesn't go for "jazz hits" like "Confirmation" or "'Round Midnight" (not that those aren't worthy). Instead, he includes rarities, but welcome ones, including "Way 'Cross Town" by pianist Carl Perkins; "Little T" by Donald Byrd; "Cool Green" by Kenny Drew; "Blue Minor" by Sonny Clark; and "Park Avenue Petite" by Benny Golson. This, my friends, attests to Green's listening habits. Incidentally, the other luminaries whose music is played here are giants like Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Duke Pearson, Mel Torme and Horace Silver. As for Green and the trio, well, great players always advance to the head of the class, and Green and the Washingtons are established stars. This will undoubtedly be "in the running" as one of the best piano trio recordings of the year.
Jazz Legacy Productions, 2011, 53:52.
Sophisticated Ladies, Charlie Haden's Quartet West.
Haden adds yet another nostalgic rendezvous to the long list of outstanding recordings of "Sophisticated Ladies." These ladies are all of that and more on a program of lovely ballads, many of which are lesser-known gems. Six female vocalists are featured here, one tune each. Melody Gardot gets things underway with a whispery "If I'm Lucky." Norah Jones is less successful on "Ill Wind," perhaps because she always sounds to me like a pop singer, regardless of material. Cassandra Wilson's sultry, low-pitched voice is right on target on "My Love and I"; and the most effective, straight to the heart vocal of the set is done by Ruth Cameron, Haden's wife, on a gorgeous vehicle called "Let's Call It a Day." Other vocals include the surprisingly good (as a jazz singer) Renee Fleming on "A Love Like This" and a breathy" Goodbye" from Diana Krall, whom I admire more as a pianist than as a singer. Most of the CD features arrangements for strings by pianist Alan Broadbent, and it should be said that he understands perfectly the very urban, shimmering concept his boss wants to convey. The quartet is featured on six additional selections, among them standards "Sophisticated Lady" and "My Old Flame." Another winner from the champion of nostalgia (but never corny).
EmArcy, 2010, 60:26.
The Very Last Performance, Bill Evans, piano.
Recorded live at Fat Tuesday's in New York City on September 10, 1980, this was indeed the last hurrah for Bill Evans. He would die just five days later. The only drawback to this recording is that it was done with non-professional equipment, and one would never refer to it as high fidelity. Yet it is eminently listenable, and from an historical perspective, certainly one that collectors will want to own. Evans was very ill by this time. In fact, he cancelled the remainder of his Fat Tuesday gig. But you wouldn't know it from this performance. With Marc Johnson on bass and Joe LaBarbera on drums, Evans mixes some later-in-life originals of his – "Bill's Hit Tune," "Knit for Mary F" (probably an anagram, but I couldn't come up with it), "Letter To Evan," "Your Story" and others. A few standards find their way into this set as well as his own compositions from earlier years: "Time Remembered" and "Turn Out the Stars." Evans' rhapsodic style, romantic and lyrical, orchestral and stunningly beautiful, remains in full flower here. It's rather amazing considering the fact that these very well may have the last notes he ever played.
Domino, 2010, 76:36.
Don't Follow The Crowd, Eric Alexander, tenor saxophone.
I've reviewed Alexander's CDs for more years than seems possible. I still think of him as part of the "younger generation" players, but, alas, he's 43 and it's hard for me to believe. One thing's for certain, though — he gained my admiration and respect "all those years ago" by playing a full throttle tenor saxophone and being totally honest about it. How so? Well, lots of reasons. One: he plays tenor saxophone and I've never seen him listed playing "tenor and soprano" or tenor and anything, just tenor. No foolin' around with other instruments. Two: he always plays in a standard jazz setting. For example, the rhythm section here includes Harold Mabern, piano, Nat Reeves, bass, and Joe Farnsworth, drums. Three: he's creative enough to give us exceptional original compositions, but he never forgets to include a few standards. Four: he often finds obscure melodies that virtually no one has touched in years. Five: his tone is about as perfect as any tenor in jazz. And six: he swings! All of these are comfortably in place as Alexander explores a couple originals, a few obscurities, and two standards in "Charade" and "Don't Misunderstand." Keeping the faith, that's Eric Alexander!
High Note, 2011, 52:55.
Hairpins And Triggers, Trombone 8.
Do your remember those recordings from years back by a group known as The Trombones Unlimited? Their arrangements were tight and fresh, their musicianship impeccable, and their music lighthearted fun. Well, the same may be said for the Trombone 8, a brainchild of Portland trombone ace and music educator Ben Medler. His concept here goes something like this: put eight bone mavens in the studio with a scintillating rhythm section; let the players groove on some solos throughout; make sure the arrangements are loose enough for everyone to excel; and see how it all comes out. Six of the eight tunes are Medler originals, and, I must say, he has a knack for writing swinging melody lines. Try, for example, "Sue Loves Mabel," a nicely moving blues with a bevy of solo statements from the various trombonists. Or for a more pensive outlook, try "Trombones At a Sunset," a totally different aspect of Medler's writing, and a very pretty one to boot. Another of his tunes, "Late to the Gig," has an early jazz feel and, once again, a most engaging melody line. To all of these and more, add a couple standards. Nice going. Medler and his trombone buddies hit the bulls eye with this one.
Shoo-wah Records, 2011, 37:13.
Under A Painted Sky, Judy Wexler, vocals.
Of Wexler, Jazz Times said: "One of the most focused, unpretentious, no-nonsense, bop-oriented jazz singers around." Judging from both her first CD, "Dreams and Shadows," as well as this one, I would enthusiastically agree. Wexler possesses a nearly engrained, somehow automatic feeling for delivering a lyric with total honesty. And she does this with spot-on intonation and respect for her material. For this session, she works hand-in-glove with some first cabin Southland cats like Alan Pasqua, Bob Sheppard, Larry Koonse, Darek Oles and Bob Mintzer, among others. Her choices of tunes are quite varied and include a few real surprises. Remember Johnny Mathis and "Wonderful Wonderful"? Well, her new spin on that tune will get your attention. Or how about the Sinatra vehicle, "Don't Wait Too Long"? It's such a well-written song that I've never understood why nobody else has sung it until now. Both Shirley Horn and Joe Williams gave us great takes on "The Great City," and Wexler revives it with aplomb. Benny Golson's classic, "Whisper Not," is another top tier choice, and other surprises include "An Occasional Man "(from South Pacific) and "Till There Was You" (from The Music Man). All these and a handful of well-chosen obscurities add up to another bright, breezy and buoyant effort.
Jazzed Media, 2011, 59:04.
Kayak, Ray Brown's Great Big Band.
Just in case there's a kernel of confusion, let's clear it up right off the bat. This is not the giant of the bass, the late Ray Brown. It is, however, New Yorker Ray Brown and some of his best pals presenting a stirring big band recording. That in itself is a considerable accomplishment in an era when big band discs often are a financial challenge. Brown's arrangements on a menu of stellar tunes are fresh and scintillating, and they give his soloists plenty of room to maneuver. All the names of the players are unfamiliar to me, a testament to the awesome talent often under-recognized in the jazz world. His tune list encompasses both standards and gems from jazz composers, including "So In Love," "Indian Summer," "I Fall In Love too Easily and "I've Never Been in Love Before." But the program also includes the richness of "Blue Daniel," "Del Sasser," "Turn Out the Stars" and "Seven Steps to Heaven." All in all, we have here a no-nonsense, straight down the middle big band playing great arrangements and featuring skilled soloists.
Brown Cats Productions, 2010, 67:30.
Setting The Standard Vol. 1, Terrence Brewer, guitar.
Regrettably, we live in a time when jazz guitarists often don't sound remotely like guitarists. Fortunately, Brewer's guitar is the real deal, and according to the notes accompanying this disc, he's won several awards in the San Francisco Bay Area. Brewer gets the bulk of the solo work on eight standards, but turns to saxman Kasey Knudsen and pianist Kelly Park for some sympathetic solo work. The group is rounded out by Brandon Essex, bass, and Micah McClain, drums. The tunes, as the album title informs us, are all standards, including " What Is This Thing Called Love," "What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life," "You Don't Know What Love Is" and a Joe Zawinul tune made famous by Bill Evans and others, "Midnight Mood." My favorite was "I Could Write A Book." The Rodgers and Hart evergreen is simply and definitively stated. Not every jazz album needs to "explore new horizons." I wish more would do as Brewer has: play great songs without attitude. It's refreshing, and you know it when you hear it.
Self-Produced, 2011, 45:25.
Shaken Awake, Johnny Martin, vocals.
A survivor among the few male vocalists still singing quality material, Martin's new CD may be his best yet. He exudes delight in performing some timeless tunes, and who wouldn't with an all star PDX lineup that includes pianists Steve Christofferson and Tony Pacini, David Evans and Tim Wilcox on saxes and clarinet, Ed Bennett on bass and Mark Griffith, drums. Always an admirer of Frank Sinatra, Martin gets into a few of the chairman's tunes – "Lean Baby," "Same Old Saturday Night," "You're Nobody Til Somebody Loves You," and a real oldie from Frank's Columbia days, "How Cute Can You Be." Don't miss the opening phrase, a clever reference to Neal Hefti's "Cute." And how about a tribute to the late pianist, "Professor" Eddie Wied, who wrote "Gee Whiz," a bouncy little instrumental that never made it past a 45 rpm. The great Nat Cole is brought to mind on a two of his hits, "Straighten Up and Fly Right" and "Answer Me My Love." Aclever combination of the use of the pianists and reed guys, all of whom are given generous solo space, results in a well-conceived presentation. So nice that Martin stays in the game, and in very skilled company, wins it.
Thanks For The Memory, Frank Tate's Musical Tribute to Bobby Short.
Musicians call it a good gig when they play in the same place for nearly 40 years. Such was the case for singer-pianist Bobby Short, who held forth at New York's Cafe Carlyle from 1968 until his passing in 2005. Short straddled the line between jazz and cabaret, and was hugely admired in both camps. He was, perhaps more than anyone else, the essence of New York sophistication, and this tribute to him is most fitting. Tate, a veteran bassist, is the leader, but the album is sprinkled with numerous other musicians, all of whom contribute to what it was that made Short a unique figure in American music, including Mike Renzi and Barbara Carroll, piano, Joe Ascione, drums, and a host of fittingly elegant singers in Charles Cochran, Chris Gillespie, Daryl Sherman, Ronny Whyte and Portland's own Rebecca Kilgore. No less than 18 tunes are featured here with typical Short entries such as "That Face," "You're Sensational," "Harlem Butterfly," "I Walk a Little Faster" and "Thanks For The Memory." We won't see the likes of Bobby Short again, but his very special place in our music is assured. How nice that these delightful artists have honored his memory.
Arbors, 2011, 65:29.
You're It! The H2 Big Band.
My initial knowledge of Bobby Shew came in the Otter Crest Jazz Weekend years ago. Having lost track of him for some time, it was a treat to see him surface with this Denver-based big band, co-led by pianist Dave Hanson and another trumpet monster named Al Hood (hence the name H2). This a no-nonsense big band in the best of that tradition, playing eleven tunes with gusto and unfettered joy. Seven of the eleven represent Hanson's composing skills, and he arranged all of them. His writing is right down the center of the big band highway, with solo space for a number of deserving candidates, namely Hood, who never wastes an opportunity. The standards include a couple surprises: "Singin' in the Rain" and Cy Coleman's "Big Spender," a hit for Peggy Lee. Two jazz tunes, "Blue In Green" and a rousing, extended "Joy Spring," complete the menu. This is an impressive blend of arranging and performing talent. Big bands may not prevail as they once did, but it seems that every city of any size has one or two that do more than just "keep the faith." Denver's H2 Big Band is a fine, well-oiled example!
Jazzed Media, 2011, 76:50.
Melodious Monk, Kim Pensyl, trumpet, Phil DeGregg, piano.
First of all, did you catch the subtle shift in the CD's title? It's sonically a cousin to "Thelonious," wouldn't you say? While I connect Pensyl with New Age music (perhaps in years gone by), this recording is a far cry from that realm. Pensyl teams up with pianist Phil DeGregg for duo performances of "Reflections," "Blue Monk" and "Ask Me Now." The duo becomes three different trios with the addition of Rusty Burge's vibes on "Monk's Dream," "Misterioso" and "Hackensack"; Rick VanMatre's sax on "Ruby My Dear," "I Mean You" and "Ugly Beauty"; and Doug Richeson's bass on "Straight No Chaser" and "Nutty." Their performances are relaxed and comfortable, and as a group, they show respect for Monk's magnificent melodies; never attempting to make Monk's music something it is not. As tribute outings go, this one is very nice.
Summit, 2011, 77:11.
Fe, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, piano.
Cuban-born piano virtuoso Rubalcaba inaugurates his own new label, 5 Passion, with a solo performance of a number of original compositions surrounded by his very personal takes on Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Bill Evans, plus his own creation in a John Coltrane-like setting. Both "Con Alma" and "Blue in Green" receive two distinctly different interpretations with varied rhythms and searching melody lines. His two Coltrane improvisations present vastly different takes on "Giant Steps," the second of which is taken at a tempo most pianists would not attempt. The original compositions here present Rubalcaba in varied tempos, moods and melodies. While his music is always filled with wonder and great feeling, I can't help but ask "when does it swing?" Still, this is an impressive recital-like atmosphere for Rubalcaba. And for what it is, I'd suspect he does it about as passionately and impressively as anyone might imagine.
5 Passion, 2010, 71:05.
Live, Walt Weiskopf, tenor saxophone.
One of the myriad of tenor men largely influenced by John Coltrane, Weiskopf's quartet holds forth here in concert at the University of South Carolina. His colleagues, all major league hitters, include Rene Rosnes, piano, Paul Gill, bass, and the late Tony Reedus, an all purpose jazz drummer who died less than a year after this 2008 performance. The CD is dedicated to his memory, and Weiskopf speaks of Reedus as "the best jazz drummer I ever knew." The CD is comprised primarily of the tenor man's original compositions. including a bouncy, festive melody line to "Little Minor Love Song"; a "cousin" to "Con Alma" in "Dizzy Spells," combined with some hard bop motoring on "Jay Walking"; and an intricate, tricky line called "Blues in the Day." One of two standards featured here is Oscar Levant's "Blame It on My Youth," a ballad rarely heard but played with passion here. The other is Cole Porter's "Love For Sale." Like Coltrane, sometimes Weiskopf gets a bit "out" for my straight ahead vision, but there's a strong sense of jazz history in what he does as well. That identifies him as a major player.
Capri Records, 2011, 69:00.
The Other Duke, Swingadelic.
On this CD, the New Jersey-based band, Swingadelic, pays tribute to the nearly forgotten Duke Pearson. It was he who significantly influenced the hard bop and soul sound of Blue Note Records in the 1960s. Nine of the ten tunes here were written by Pearson; perhaps the best known is "Jeanine," a tune that has found its way into the jazz standard category. As one might suspect, there's a heavy backbeat flavor to this record, typical of Pearson's soulful approach. Other Pearson-penned entries which you might remember include "Cristo Redentor," "Sweet Honey Bee" and "Big Bertha," my fave on the album and a tune that resembles the writing of the Duke named Ellington. Swingadelic is comprised of 11 musicians, none of whom were familiar to me. However, they sound as though they're having a ripping good time interpreting the music of Pearson.
Zoho, 2011, 46:21.
Parting Shot, Steve Khan, guitar.
Jazz with a distinct Latin flavor rules the day as Khan meets up with assorted percussionists and even singers here and there. The program consists primarily of Khan's originals, two Ornette Coleman entries, a new, refreshing outing on Thelonious Monk's classic, "Bye-ya," and even a James Brown-influenced selection. If you dig the Latin sound in a small group setting, and with generous improvisational space, then this is your record.
Tone Center, 2011, 70:37.
Free For All, Jim Stranahan, alto saxophone.
A fixture on the Colorado jazz map for over 40 years, Stanahan gathered together a bevy of Denver pals and put together a hard boppy offering of 10 originals. Stranahan writes sensible, swinging melody lines and gives his colleagues lots of breathing room with solo space for all. Abounding energy, but solid jazz writing is the order of the day, as Stranahan and company put this one in high gear.
Tapestry Records. 2011, 52:59.
Something To Sing About, Lisa Kirchner, vocals.
Something of a potpourri of jazz, cabaret, classical and art songs, rolled into one by the distinctive voice of Kirchner, whose approach seems to fit this material. Don't look for Bird or Monk here. Instead you'll find songs by the likes of Samuel Barber, William Bolcom, Aaron Copeland, Charles Ives and more. Kirchner works with a subtle jazz group, which includes several familiar names. This ain't Anita O'Day or Roberta Gambarini, but it will find its audience.
Albany Records, 2011, 70:36.
Back In The Saddle Again, "Buck" Pizzarelli, guitar.
Here we go again, podner, on Volume 2 of Bucky Pizzarelli's insistence that there's something of value in cowboy music. Okay, I'll admit that everybody's having barrels of fun, and perhaps you will too, with Monty Alexander and lots of other pals including Rebecca Kilgore on three vocals. Saddle up and snap your fingers on "Folsom Prison Blues," "Navajo Trail," "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" and even Roy and Dale's "Happy Trails." Oh, and don't forget to dig that ripping pedal steel guitar! Yee-hah!
Arbors, 2010, 60:35.
Harlem Jazz Machine, Melvin Vines, trumpet, flugelhorn.
One would think Art Blakey would smile at the sound of The Harlem Jazz Machine. The instrumentation is nearly Blakey-ish with trumpet, tenor, alto and rhythm section. The only difference here is the addition of percussion on most tracks. And the players and soloists are out of the hard bop bag with a spicy contemporary touch here and there. The menu of tunes is quite varied, ranging from three Vines originals to the "period" vocal by Kay Mori on "My Heart Belongs to Daddy"; two Lee Morgan flagwavers in "Our Man Higgins" and "Totem Pole," and a Freddie Hubbard's "Sky Dive." Vines and his young players are maintaining a revered style while adding to it a hint of gospel and Latin. They've updated some classics while retaining respect for the originals. It all lands quite solidly and splendidly on the ear.
Self-Produced, 2011, 53:18.
Let's Fly, Amy London, vocals.
We reviewers get more CDs by female vocalists than you can imagine, and most are yawners. Not so with London. She brings an impressive sense of lyricism and warmth, and she sings right on key! With some top-caliber cats like Richard Wyands and Tardo Hammer splitting the piano duties, and Roni Ben-Hur on guitar, there's no fog in London town on "Out of This World," "How Deep Is the Ocean," "Here's to Life" and a host of well crafted newer melodies as well.
Motema, 2011, 58:06.
The Talented Mr. Pelt, Jeremy Pelt, trumpet, flugelhorn.
We can assume, perhaps, that with this CD, Jeremy Pelt has forever set aside the programming and synthesiz foolishness of his last one. As the title aptly says, Mr. Pelt is too talented to waste his time on that stuff. Here, his quintet works out on a vigorous menu of originals, with the exception of Cy Coleman and Peggy Lee's "(I'm) in Love Again," a ballad of considerable beauty. Welcome back, Mr. Pelt. We always knew you were talented!
High Note, 2011; 53:09.
Until the Sun Comes Up, Atsuko Hashimoto, Hammond B-3 organ.
Oh my goodness, it's happened again! A real good organ player! And she's in the company of a sizzling young guitarist and an all-star drummer. Trouble is, I don't dig jazz organ playing all that much. But if you do, pick up on Hashimoto's great session with Graham Dechter and Jeff Hamilton. You'll know most of the tunes. Great for B-3 fans!
Capri Records, 2011, 64:28.
Beautiful as the Moon, Bobby Matos & his Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble.
Latin jazz records seem to be everywhere these days, but this one trumps most others because it's not a big, overdone production with a zillion players. Instead, it's timbale player Matos leading a Latin-flavored sextet through several original compositions and two jazz classics, "Monk's Mood" and "Maiden Voyage." Special kudos to pianist Theo Saunders, who spun me around in my chair a few times. Suffice to say that the word "Jazz" in the group's name is just as important as the word "Latin." That tells you a lot.
LifeForce Jazz, 2011; 63:41.
In The Wings, Maggie Herron, piano, vocals.
After listening to three or four of Herron's original melodies and her thoughtful, sometimes romantic lyrics, it's clear that she writes songs of substance. Among her instrumental selections, I was most impressed with the sprightly, heady feeling of "Stepping Out." Herron's sextet accounts very nicely for itself, and her singing seems defined by a little edge of emotion.
Self-Produced, 2010, 55:35.
With Many Hands, Michael Feinberg, bass.
Leading a sextet with none of the players over 24 years of age, Atlanta-born bassist Feinberg's album consists of all original pieces, which he describes as "characters in a novel with different personalities." The music borders on the avante-garde at times, with elements of funk and free playing as well. It may at times be a bit over the top for my mainstream sensibilities, but this apparently is the direction some of this generation is taking. Kudos in particular to pianist Julian Shore, whose solid solos stood out from the crowd.
Self- Produced, 2011, times not indicated.
Too Hick For The Room, Cow Bop with Bruce Forman, guitar.
"This album announces the official repeal of jazz snobbery," says guitarist Bruce Forman who, with his colleagues, including guest Roger Kellaway on two tunes, take the music out behind the barn, tackling the likes of "San Antonio Rose," "Cool Water," "Tennessee Waltz," "Alabamy Bound," "Crazy" and others. The Tulsa World called it "Count Basie on Horseback." You'll never assign heavy jazz chops to the female singer, but still, this is a fun listen and a diversion of sorts.
B-4 Man Music, 2011, 54:06.
Body And Soul, Wes Montgomery, guitar.
Here's Wes live at Ronnie Scott's in London. Comfortably working with the London-based trio of Stan Tracey, Rick Laird and Ronnie Stephenson, he stretches out on lengthier-than-usual versions of "Gone With the Wind," "Broadway," "Body and Soul" and even the old warhorse, "Sonny Boy," among others. The date of the appearance is not indicated, but judging from the material, it must have been late fifties or early sixties, before Wes started monkey-ing around with banal pop tunes. The sound quality is not perfect, but more than adequate for pleasurable listening.
Candid, 2010, 78:22.
Souvenir Of You, Deborah Pearl, vocals.
You gotta give Pearl some kudos for putting literate lyrics to the life-affirming melodies of that most versatile of jazz heroes, Benny Carter. The bonus here is that Pearl is a hip singer, and she and a solid trio make it all work on 13 of Benny's sterling songs. A few that you'll know include "Wonderland," "An Elegy in Blue" and "Souvenir (Of You)." Benny Carter wrote melodies often so serene and perfect that it makes sense that lyrics should have been applied. Now Pearl has done that. Thank you, and long live the very special music of Benny Carter.
Mi Bossa Nova, Carmen Cuesta, vocals.
Madrid native turned New Yorker Cuesta brings authenticity and a lovely, sensuous voice to this tribute to master composer Antonio Carlos Jobim. On a menu of 11 tunes, Cuesta is silk and satin on "Triste," "Fotografia" and others. Her accompaniment is soft and subtle, mostly acoustic guitars, flutes and the like. One can hear Cuesta's affection for Jobim in every track.
Twenty Records: 2009, 43:15.
Diamond In The Rough, Nasar Abadey, drums.
Abadey, a formidable percussionist with a long list of credentials, has put together a quintet of tenor, alto, piano, bass and drums (with some additional guests here and there) on six of his own compositions and one standard. The group sounds ethereal and sensitive on some tunes and quite contemporary and "boppy" on others. I particularly liked the groove on the title tune, as well as Allyn Johnson's sizzling piano on "There Is No Greater Love."
Another Bridge Born, James M Gregg.
Portland trumpeter/composer/arranger Gregg may be more known as a bandleader at Tony Starlight's, or for his role with other local groups, but this new disc lets him shine on an album of original retro-fusion tunes that may remind some of artists from decades past. The opening title track fuses techno and electro jazz-pop with Maynard Ferguson-style bravado before dissolving into a Miles Davis-ish fusion groove. The frenetic "The Smell of Smoke/Miles of Fires" is more "Bitches Brew," with Gregg utilizing an effective wah-wah pedal as the rhythms swirl around him. Andrew Oliver's electric piano comps with serious alterations, a la Herbie Hancock. The disc is a mix of late '60s electrics and mid-'90s acid jazz that evokes both periods with ease, and guitarist Neil Mattson's playing buoys it all. Gregg is a fiery player who is at home with both rock and jazz idioms, and his band gloms onto this aesthetic with verve, including drummer Kevin Van Geem. The tune "Red Gaze" adds a Randy Brecker polyphonic electricity and disjointed funk rhythm, while "Praxis Axis" evokes Vernon Reid and his harder edge. Gregg has an innate melodic sensibility, but this album presents his avant-garde side. The undercurrent melodies keep this semi-experimental album grounded, however. The tune "Verdant," for instance, is as close as the album gets to melodic, and it rings nicely with long tones and thick chords. Gregg has found success with sounds from fusion's past, but he could have attempted more new ground in his search backwards.
2011, Major Third Entertainment, 62 minutes.
Third River Rangoon, Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica.
This is the latest project from Brian "Mr. Ho" O'Neill, whose last album was a tribute to the space age music master Esquivel. This vibes-based quartet mines the same era of jazz but in a much more relaxed way. Gone are the bells and whistles of the Esquivelian muse. In place is a journey into Exotica, an escapist genre that's often called Tiki music. It's influenced by Asia and other world musics, but it's decidedly mellow, meant to put the listener into a trance-like state. Mission accomplished. With O'Neill on vibes and assorted percussion, and Geni Skendo's flutes as the main melodic tool, the music is indeed exotic and often lush. It takes the listener on a journey, but one that can be enjoyed sipping a mai tai in the backyard. There are elements of Middle Eastern music ("Tchaikovsky's "Arab Dance"), the American Southwest (Cal Tjader's "Colorado Waltz"), Southeast Asian modalities, and Polynesian rhythms. The various styles all fit together under Mr. Ho's watch. It's a pleasing journey, and one you might just want to put on at a late night cocktail party.
2011, Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica, 44 minutes.
Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord.
There's a lot of connections between the members of Big Five Chord. They can be found in the bands Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Bryan and the Haggards and ensembles led by saxophonist Jon Irabagon and Lundbom. These young musicians push their instruments and their music to the edge. "Quavers..." aurally punches the listener from note one. A grungy beat on "On Location" by drummer Danny Fischer and bassist Moppa Elliott is accented by Lundbom's guitar effects, and he wavers like a young Scofield over the repetitive horn line by Bryan Murray and Irabagon. The original tunes are a blending of avant-garde, a la Dolphy and John Cage, plus '70s and '80s fusion. The horn players honk and blat, while the rhythm section steers a shaky ship. All the musicians are bold, young and accomplished, and they're able to pull off music that borders sometimes on cacophony. The grooves, as on "Meat Without Feet," are infectious, which keeps the listener tuned into the atonal improvisations going on around them. This music isn't for everyone, but it does mark a new generation of musicians pushing themselves to create.
2011, Hot Cup Records, 50 minutes.
Plays Cole Porter, The David Leonhardt Jazz Group.
Pianist Leonhardt mines familiar territory here. The Cole Porter songbook is one of the most covered in all of jazz, so doing a Porter-themed album better bring something new to the table. This group performs the familiar, uber-catchy melodies well, but adds some new chords and feels to the tunes. "Love for Sale" is done as a minor-keyed, slinky swinger, while Nancy Reed's supple vocals highlight a bluesy version of "Every Time We Say Goodbye." Leonhardt gives "Just One of Those Things" a bossa treatment, using the smooth tenor tones of saxophonist Larry McKenna. The veteran Philly saxman also does a lovely job on a ballad version of "All of You," with Leonhardt padding the chords behind him. While this may not be groundbreaking material, it's a fine alteration of the originals, staying true to form while adding new touches.
2011, Big Bang Records, 57 minutes.
Pursuit, Richard Nelson Large Ensemble.
Guitarist/composer Nelson wrote this five-movement work to "honor a quality of child-like innocence in these over-stimulated, conflict-ridden times," according to liner notes. But I'm not really hearing that connection. Don Stratton's soaring solo trumpet work at the beginning of the first movement isn't exactly child-like. The horn and string blasts that accompany him are nearly dissonant. Maybe it's the free-jazz feel that it dissolves into that seems at odds with his intentions. Not sure, but the movement labeled "Innocent" is filled with thick chordal lines that are anything but. I hear touches of Ellington on "Search," a more orchestral movement led by Tim O'Dell's plaintive soprano saxophone. The live recording, done at the University of Maine, makes for inconsistent miking, which means not all instruments have equal sound, so some is lost in the hall. Nelson's guitar work highlights the final movement, "Strive," which builds from a quiet trio to a full ensemble blast. I'm not sure the work captures what Nelson set out to do, but good for him for accomplishing a fairly dense piece. The quintet tunes at the end — "Abol Stream" and "Stillness" — prove more pleasurable to the ear than "Pursuit," which is perhaps where Nelson should roam on his next outing.
2011, Sound Around Music, 54 minutes.
Point of No Return, Michel Reis.
Young New York pianist and composer Reis (originally from Luxembourg), plays jazz with a classical sophistication. The opener, "The Power of Beauty," sounds a bit like early '80s Michel Petrucciani, with long runs over a building beat. But Reis takes it a step further than the late French pianist would have, letting the piece develop a density that's more in line with what The Bad Plus would sound like with horns. Reis knows that quietude and subtlety make for a more powerful composition, and his "Folk Song" is a beautiful, haunting tune that seems to bubble under, ready to build but never actually doing so, thanks in large part to drummer Adam Cruz's understated lines. Reis is an impressive pianist, both restrained and muscular. He uses dynamics patiently, but lets tunes flourish when they need to, as on the swelling title track. This is an artist with a bright future.
2010, Armored Records, 52 minutes.
Out of the Hub (The Music of Freddie Hubbard), Suzanne Pittson.
Hubbard's music never needed lyrics. The bop and fusion melodies of one of jazz's best trumpeters worked just fine coming from a horn. But Hubbard fan Pittson felt the need to sing his tunes, and some of it works. She captures the rhythmic feel of the lines on "Our Own (Gibraltar)," though her tonality occasionally wavers on some of the more difficult tonal jumps. The classic "Up Jumped Spring" uses Abbey Lincoln's lyrics that are better suited to her unique voice than Pittson's sweeter tone. The title track is just not quite right for voice. Luckily, the band is insanely talented. Jeremy Pelt fills in nicely for Hubbard against Steve Wilson's sax work, and John Patitucci and Willie Jones III are an exceptional rhythm section. Pittson's voice, while nice, doesn't have the power that made Hubbard's songs so vital and vibrant, and her scatting isn't up to snuff.
2010, Vineland Records, 62 minutes.
Time, John Funkhouser Trio.
This is not just a regular piano trio disc. Even though the opener is "On Green Dolphin Street," the disc quickly addresses its title by offering a variety of time feels and time signatures. "Ellipse" is a math experiment, with multiple time signatures coalescing into a lovely composition. On it, bassist Greg Loughman does a beautifully bowed solo as Funkhouser and drummer Mike Connors play in 5/8, 6/8 and 7/8 time. Like a good Lyle Mays tune, it sounds less complex than it actually is, which is a feat. "Prelude & Fugue in A Minor" is more fun than Bach, with a "More Cowbell" prelude giving way to a contrapuntal fugue of Latin overtones. Funkhouser has a curious sense and peppers his music with humorous musical asides. He has a winking sense of humor, but his music is layered with subtlety and fortitude. "Eleventy One" may be the grooviest tune ever in 11/8, and "Ode to a Lame Duck" also experiments with changing time signatures. Funkhouser and crew are able to pull it off thanks to a their musical dialogue and great touch overall. To make changing time signatures fluid and fun is truly amazing.
2010, Jazsyzygy Records, 73 minutes.
Live at Jazz Standard NYC, Dafnis Prieto Si o Si Quartet.
Drummer Prieto has assembled a fiery band, including bassist Charles Flores, pianist Manuel Valera and saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum, for this live disc. Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz are at the forefront, but this is anything but typical. Prieto weaves in hard bop, modern composition and complex time signatures to give considerable heft to the music. "Claveteo" simmers with a repeated phrase, ebbing and flowing with contrapuntal lines. "Seven by Seven" adds melodica for texture and punch. One can hear influences from the islands as well as the streets of New York, and the mix is welcome. Prieto's use of space is something rarely heard in Afro-Cuban music, but then again, this isn't just Afro-Cuban. The tune "Thoughts" leaves space, then clutters, just as thoughts do. Apfelbaum, Valera and Flores push the music forward but blend expertly. It's a pleasure to hear modern jazz with this kind of depth, energy and sophistication.
2009, Dafnison Music, 74 minutes.
Shades, Gia Notte.
Notte's voice is dusky yet sweet. It goes perfectly with the , low and sultry style she puts forth on this disc. Her version of "Caravan" is swaying and sexy, slower and less exotic than usual. Don Braden pulls triple duty here, playing flute and saxes as well as arranging several tunes, including a swinging version of "Close Your Eyes" and a lush version of "Autumn Leaves." Notte doesn't try to go anywhere her voice shouldn't. She is a fine interpreter of melodies, letting the songs speak through her rich tone and laid back feel. Mark her as a true singer.
2010, GNote Records, 56 minutes.