Stride, Danny Grissett, piano.
To most jazz fans, the word "stride" carries a connotation of such early piano cats as James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, or in more recent years, Dave McKenna. But at age 35, Grissett defines it as his current state of musical development. "Hitting his stride" you might say. On his third release for Criss Cross, the consistently fine label out of The Netherlands, Grissett's trio includes two young jazz standouts in Vicente Archer, bass, and Marcus Gilmore, drums. The latter is the grandson of Roy Haynes. Great genes, nodoubt. On this very nicely balanced album, Grissett includes three of his own compositions. I was particularly impressed with "Viennese Summer," a charming and romantic melody. Grissett's background in classical music is evident in his choice of a Chopin Etude. After a solo statement of the melody, Grissett and crew explore every musical crevice. Other highlights include two standards in Leonard Bernstein's "Some Other Time" and Hoagy Carmichael's "Two Sleepy People." The CD is completed by two tunes by musicians in whose groups Grissett has worked: "Scene" by Tom Harrell and "It Take Two To Know One" by Nicholas Payton. All in all, the very creative and contemporary music should continue building Grissett's reputation.
Criss Cross, 2011, 61:14.
A Night Like This, Bryan Anthony, vocals.
Call him a throwback: a singer with musicality strong enough to be placed in the jazz camp, but at the same time, a singer who finds his inspiration in the Great American Songbook. There aren't many in that camp. Especially men. But that pretty much describes Anthony. And the good news is that he backs it all up with a very expressive, "this is easy to do" sort of voice. With a trio led by superb Houston pianist Gary Norian, Anthony is sleek and on target on such standards as "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "April In Paris," "I'm Confessin'," "The Song Is Ended," "What'll I Do," and perhaps the surprise of the set, a nearly forgotten gem that Frank Sinatra once caressed his way through called "Sleep Warm." At the very least, it suggests that Anthony has done his homework. To these and others, add three original melodies from pianist Norian. It all adds up to a fetching, often romantic outing from a singer who "gets it" and puts it across with charm and sincerity.
Mercator Music, 2011.
Fractals, Rick Stone, guitar.
As it is in most of the arts, New York City has long been considered the mecca of jazz guitar. Stone is a new name to me, and he accounts for himself most impressively leading a trio of Marco Panascia, bass, and Tom Pollard, drums. Stone really covers the gamut with standards such as "Stella By Starlight," "Darn That Dream," "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" and the luscious but unfairly obscure Billy Strayhorn tune, "Ballad For Very Sad And Very Tired Lotus Eaters." Among the originals, try the title tune, "Fractals," a clever cousin to "All The Things You Are"; or "The Phrygerator," with more than a hint of the chord structure of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps." Stone can also "cook it up" as he does with vigor on "Nacno Mama's Blues." Throughout the set, his warm and radiant tone is sometimes reminiscent of another New York guitar phenom, Josh Breakstone. This is a nicely balanced, engaging set from a guitarist who deserves whatever musical rewards come his way.
Jazzand, 2011, 61:41.
The Complete 1960 Sextet Jazz Cellar Session, Ben Webster, tenor sax, Johnny Hodges, alto sax.
In case you've ever wondered about it, we jazz reviewers don't get "freebies" all the time. I was excited to shell out the $15 for this one, as it features two all-time greats in a previously unreleased session. Ben Webster and Johnny Hodges were masters of their era on tenor and alto, and are joined here by a rhythm section absolutely tailor-made for their inimitable brand of infectious swing. How would you like to work with Lou Levy, piano, Herb Ellis, guitar, Wilfred Middlebrooks, bass, and Gus Johnson, drums? All were veterans of Ella Fitzgerald's traveling ensemble, and man, do they ever cook it up with Ben and Hodge! Most of the tunes are little blowing session riffs, credited to the two stars, so I'd imagine they came up with a dozen or so of these basic lines, and agreed to "just blow" after stating each one. The only exception, oddly, is "I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me." As a bonus, there are five additional tracks from a larger group co-led by our two saxophone idols with the addition of some Ellington cats and a brisk LA rhythm section featuring Russ Freeman on piano. The sextet performances were all recorded in a studio-like setting in the San Francisco club, The Jazz Cellar. An audience was not present, so there's no background chatter to wade through. Altogether, over 73 minutes of heretofore unheard jazz heaven!
Solar Records, 2011, 73:18.
At This Time, Norman David, soprano sax; and The Eleventet.
I always feel a little cheated when an otherwise real good recording date gives me no information about the leader. I do know that David directs, writes, and plays with a sizzling group of 11 musicians, most of whom are new to me. The few familiar ones are Dick Oatts, a veteran of hundreds of Ease Coast recording sessions in tons of different settings; George Garzone, a Boston tenor ace with Berklee credentials; and Tim Hagans, a versatile trumpet star with vast experience. David's writing is brisk, fresh, and, at times, very orchestral in nature. There is occasional dissonance, quick-paced ensemble playing, and often playful, but startling solo work. The only standard on the date is the Cahn-Van Heusen pop tune from the fifties, "Secret Love." Otherwise, it's all David's high-flying, challenging and adventurous material. The Philadelphia Inquirer described it as "at times more Monkish than Monk." I wouldn't go quite that far, but it might be said that Monk had to have been an influence. But this is such vital, direct, in-your-face music that David's muse had to extend in numerous directions. A bit "out," but definitely not overboard. For what it is, I liked it a lot.
CoolCraft, 2011, 60:51.
Silent Photographer, Scenes Trio, John Stowell, guitar.
Portland guitarist Stowell has been performing and recording with Seattlites Jeff Johnson and John Bishop for some ten years now. Like any recipe worth waiting for, the time has been worth it, as this threesome communicate and anticipate one another with ease and symmetry. Cadence magazine calls this trait "an enviable tightness," and it's easy to sense in this talented threesome. Of the 10 selections here, most are the original compositions of either Stowell or Johnson. Three other entries come from jazz giants Wayne Shorter ("Black Eyes"), Herbie Hancock ("Chan's Song") and John Coltrane ("Resolution"). Among the original material, I liked the funky playfulness of "Sepia"; the slightly dissonant melody line of the title tune; and the movement of"Three French Nuns." Stowell is a creator of sound unlike most any other guitarist. And in this trio, he has found compatriots who share his lofty musical ideas.
Origin, 2011, 55:06.
I Remember, Trish Hatley, vocals.
I'm being straight with you when I say that I listen to between five and ten female vocals CDs per month. But you never see more than one or two reviewed. That's because there are so many "wanna-be's". Not so with Hatley. I retained her CD from a few years back, and have played from it now and then on the radio. I hope that she finds it complimentary when I say I hear just a smoosh of two vary good singers in her voice. How about Eydie Gorme and Keely Smith? Mostly, she sounds like herself, and that's a very good thing. Working wonderfully with a solid cast of musicians, including former Portland pianist Darin Clendenin, Hatley weaves her way through some satisfying evergreens as diverse and well written as "Young And Foolish," "Don't Explain," "Cry Me A River," "Mountain Greenery," "Sophisticated Lady" and "Shiny Stockings," to name a few. Hatley treads the line between pop and jazz with consistent swing, great taste and tonal purity. I hope she does another umpteen albums!
Kiss Of Jazz, 2011, 54:58.
Live In Louisville, 1968, Zoot Sims, tenor saxophone.
Sound the trumpets! Ring the bells! Blow horns! Beat gongs! Here's previously unreleased gold from the swingin'est tenor man ever, Zoot Sims! Appearing at what was apparently a short-lived club in Louisville, Zoot did the gig with a local rhythm section of Louis Knipp, piano, Jack Brengle, bass, and John Ray, drums. The liner notes indicate that Zoot opens with an original simply entitled "blues." I think, however, that it's really one of a zillion Al Cohn lines, the name of which escapes me. From there, Zoot launches into a high energy "That Old Feeling," a tune he rarely played and only recorded one time. "Willow Weep For Me" follows, with Zoot really digging in to find the essence of this standard. Next comes a bristling pace on "I'll Remember April," a staple in the Sims book. The nearly 50-minute set concludes with "Come Rain Or Come Shine," the Arlen-Mercer beauty. It's tailor-made tune for Zoot, but oddly, one I don't recall him playing on any other recording. The Louisville locals provide a solid footing, and, as always, he gives it his all. One gets the idea that Zoot (1925-1985) was one of those cats who always said — "tell me where the gig is, and I'll be there to play."
Gambit Records, 2011, 49:20.
Michael Benedict & Boptitude, Michael Benedict, drums.
Care to play a little game? I'll mention the names of a few jazz composers, and you respond with what sort of album I have in mind. Ready? Dexter Gordon, Clifford Brown, Hank Mobley, Kenny Dorham and Bobby Timmons. Did you say something like "must be a good CD if all of those jazz heroes are represented." You're absolutely right. Benedict leads a quintet through an exploration of hard bop classics, all of which were written by those mentioned above and a few more. Benedict's musical colleagues, save one, are all new to me, proving, as if we needed it, just how much great talent there is. The pianist is Bruce Barth, and his keyboard prowess has long been recognized. Anyway, how about "Cheese Cake" (Dexter); "Joy Spring" (Clifford); "B Is For BB" (Hank); "Whistle Stop" (Kenny); and "Moanin'" (Bobby). Jjust how good is it to hear newly recorded, unabashed, no-apologies, throw-it-all-out-there hard bop? It's great!
Planet Arts, 2011, 51:35.
Kaiso, Etienne Charles, trumpet.
Jazz is a coat of many colors, often enthusiastically borrowing from people and cultures far from its birthplace. A native of Trinidad, Charles stirs up a hefty helping of calypso and jazz. These rhythms borrow from New Orleans and various Caribbean ports. Most of the tunes are rhythmically infectious, and some feature brief, high-spirited vocal phrases in languages foreign to me. Charles also shines on ballads. His tone is earthy, plaintive, sweet and under control. Among many plusses on the album is the presence of piano giant Monty Alexander on four of the 11 selections. Born and raised in Jamaica, Alexander is thoroughly grounded in the calypso musical world, and he puts that knowledge to good use here. He even brings the genres of calypso and bebop very close together on "Kitch's Bebop of Calypso." This is "specialty" music to be sure, and it will find its audience. Undeniably joyous!
Culture Shock Music, 2011, 76:19.
Heaven Bound, Vincent Lyn, piano.
An alternate title for this CD may have been, "Something For Everybody," as that seems to be the path that Lyn is traveling. Indeed, there's a mix here of original compositions, a few standards, some well-chosen classical selections, a bossa nova, all mixed in with some lead and background vocals. Whew! Some of the tunes come off a little "poppy" with all these frill and fancies. For instance, "Stolen Moments," is given a funky beat. Not a wise choice for this evergreen. But on the plus side, two arrangements of the lovely Eric Satie piece, "Gymnopedie," are tastefully rendered. One features Lyn's solo piano and the other spotlights the guitar of Camila Meza. An Oscar Peterson composition from his later years, "Nigerian Marketplace," gives Lyn an opportunity to demonstrate some chops. "Toccata In D Minor" features a brisk piano solo, and an equally riveting chorus or two from the rest of the quartet. When Lyn has the chance to show his stuff, his piano skills are impressive. I'd simply prefer to hear him sans the frosting, especially the vocals.
Self-Produced, 2011, 66:28.
The Story Of Cathy and Me, Curtis Fuller, trombone.
This is a love story of Cathy and Curtis Fuller, who, as any jazz fan knows, has occupied a prominent place among jazz trombonists for over 50 years. This recording covers three phases: how he and Cathy met, how they lived, and how he now lives without her. It runs through all the expected emotions of joy and excitement, heartbreak and sadness. Most of the music, I would suspect, was written for this recording. But there are a few familiar melodies which describe various aspects of the lives of the Fullers. Among them are "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," "The Right To Love" and Betty Carter's "Look What I Got." The trumpet player, Lester Walker, offers a particularly poignant "Too Late Now," and the evergreen "Spring Will Be a Little Late this Year" is a feature for pianist Kenny Banks Jr. Among the bright and upbeat compositions, I liked Fuller's own entry, "Sweetness." Fuller begins and ends the CD with spoken reminiscences and personal philosophy. He tells us, "I've had the love of my life. You get yours! I wish everybody well on earth, wherever they are." All told, this is a bittersweet tribute. After hearing this recording, I feel fortunate that I was in Fuller's audience when he played Portland several months ago.
Challenge Records, 2011, 64:13.
Three Penny Opera, Renolds Jazz Orchestra.
The year 2000 marked the centennial observance of the birthday of composer Kurt Weill. Eventually, this inspired this International Orchestra to produce a two-CD set featuring 24 selections of Weill's compositions for "The Three Penny Opera." This work was first performed in 1928, and it is played here instrumentally as opposed to the vocals in the original version. Thanks to Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin and many others, the most famous song from this work is "Mack The Knife." The orchestra truly has an international flavor, but the Americans on board include Bobby Watson and Walt Weiskopf, reeds; Wayne Bergeron and Randy Brecker, trumpets; Buster Cooper, trombone; Christian Jacob, piano; and Victor Lewis, drums. In a stirring live performance, this gifted orchestra, chosen according to the requirements of each specific production, engages the listener in interpreting Kurt Weill's varied entries. Varied tempos, moods, and even a little playfulness dot the landscape in this impressive production.
Shanti Records, 2011, two cd's: 54:35 and 61:49.
Everyone But Me, Marc Pompe, vocals.
Well now, apparently the art of jazz singing from the male gender still has a heartbeat. Take Chicago's Marc Pompe. Apparently a staple in the Windy City jazz scene, he's new to us in the West! Pompe is a natural jazz singer. There's no pretense, no fluff and no frosting. The lyrics and the lyricism flow easily in moving performances of great tunes. Funny how I liked him a lot, but find a comparison to a singer who has never reached me, Kurt Elling. It's all a personal thing, but I find Pompe to be the more compelling, honest singer. With a stellar quartet supporting him, Pompe offers a varied menu, including "The Touch Of Your Lips," "If You Could See Me Now," "Devil May Care," "Lush Life," "This Is All I Ask" and other winners. And if you dig scat singing, Pompe's got the scat thing perfected. My guess is that he received some inspiration from master singer Mark Murphy. He learned his lesson well.
Self-Produced, 2010, 66:3.
Mingus! Gebhard Ullmann, leader, and Ta Lam 11.
I know some of you will think it absolutely blasphemous that I never got much into Charles Mingus. With the exception of "Nostalgia In Times Square" and very few others, I always found Mingus too dense and cerebral. And often I wondered, "When does it swing?" This CD did nothing to change that opinion. But for you Mingus-ites, this very intense, 11-piece German ensemble may score some points. At least there are a number of familiar titles, such as "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting," "Fables Of Faubus" and "Jelly Roll." Forgive me, but much of this sounded like film music for a "B" mystery. But here's what'll happen: You'll buy it and absolutely love it. But that's what makes the horse race.
Jazzwerkstatt, 2011, 61:33.
The Southland Big Band, Glenn Cashman, leader, alto sax.
Say what you will about Los Angeles, but no one can deny that over the years, Tinsel Town has given us some great big bands, including Stan Kenton, Gerald Wilson, Shorty Rogers, Bob Florence, Clayton-Hamilton and more. This CD from 2009 somehow got lost in the shuffle, and was never reviewed. It features many of the crËme de la crËme of LA's huge stable of jazz and studio guys, including such standouts as trumpet men Bob Summers, Ron Stout and Carl Saunders; trombone ace Andy Martin; guitarist Ron Eschete; and the leader himself, Cashman. He composed all the tunes except A. C. Jobim's "Aguas de Marco," better known as "Waters Of March." The remaining nine selections are varied in tempo and character, but give many of the band's soloists generous time to spread their musical wings. Particularly stunning work is offered by Carl Saunders on "Cookin' With Shorty and Coop" and "Chesapeake Bay." Another highlight is "Lighthouse Keeping Man," Cashman's tribute to club owner and jazz musician Howard Rumsey. Ron Stout delivers a gorgeous solo. Considering that this CD is not a "new release," it might involve a bit of surfing to find a copy. It would be well worth it.
Primrose Lane, 2009, 65:16.
Flights Of Mind/Pensamientos En Vuelo, Elspeth Savani, vocals.
I'd have to say that my knowledge of Latin music is limited. I can tell you that it would be a stretch to consider this a jazz recording. However, it features a spot-on-key singer who interprets nine tunes flawlessly in Spanish, Portuguese and English. Five of them are her compositions. If this is your cup of tea, it's very nicely done. And there's no electronic gimmickry to spoil the soup!
Self-Produced, 2011, 47:29.
The Business, Charlie Apicella, guitar, and Iron City.
I guess that there's always a market for funky, guitar-organ-tenor groups, and if you lean in that direction, this quintet seems to have the formula down pretty well. They call themselves Iron City, and they reinvent some funky material from the books of such stalwarts as Grant Green, Sonny Stitt and Stanley Turrentine. Most of the remaining tunes are originals. I liked the fact that there's no attempt to re-invent the wheel here. Iron City is a very clean, brisk, what you see is what you get kind of group. While I'm not a devotee of organ-based funk, I admired the honest musicianship.
Carlo Music, 2011, 52:39.
Time Gone By, Mace Hibbard, saxophones.
A fixture on the music landscapes of Austin, Texas and later, Atlanta, Georgia, Hibbard has assembled a stirring quintet of saxophone, trumpet and rhythm section in performance of a nearly all-original tunes. His approach runs the gamut from intense hard bop to whimsical, attractive melody lines. Strong kudos also to trumpet man Melvin Jones and stellar pianist Louis Heriveaux. The quintet is precise and flawless, with a polished ensemble sound. I must admit, however, that I would have enjoyed a standard or two.
Junk Wagon, John Daversa, leader, trumpet, other instruments.
Glendale, California. That's where this big band barrage was recorded. But I didn't find a single SoCal name familiar to me. This is big band music with a contemporary edginess, and even a bit of rap tossed in here and there. All the tunes are the leader's creations, and it must be said that Diversa simply brims with ideas that take us down new big band boulevards. At times, however, he overdoes the electronic gimmickry. Still, whether Diversa is writing about "Camels" or "Your Mother" (two of the titles here), this music will get your attention.
BFM Jazz, 2011, 74:34.
First In Mind, Mike Moreno, guitar.
An emerging name in jazz guitar, Moreno's second release for Criss Cross Jazz is a quartet date with Aaron Parks, piano, Matt Brewer, bass, and Kendrick Scott, drums. The title tune is the only original, and beyond that, Moreno offers a menu of two selections by Josh Redman, two stunning Brazil-flavored ventures, and some revered standards in "Airegin," "By Myself" and "But Beautiful." Moreno exhibits youthful vigor but is clearly focused within the parameters of the jazz art. And his guitar always sounds like a guitar. Imagine that!
Criss Cross, 2011, 66:16.
No Comment, Augusto Pirodda, piano.
What caught my eye was the presence of Gary Peacock and Paul Motian as two thirds of a piano trio led by Pirodda. I was anxious to hear this new acquaintance in the jazz world. Call me old fashioned, but I couldn't detect a melody line anywhere in the eight selections. Aimless meandering might hold one's interest for awhile. But soon enough, one has to ask, "where is this all going and what is it trying to express?" Can anyone enlighten me?
Jazzwerkstatt, 2011, 48:59.
Shot Through with Beauty, John Stowell, Michael Zilber Quartet.
Stowell is one of Portland's most refined jazz guitarists. He is versatile and sophisticated, along with being highly inventive. But instead of being brash like many bold improvisers, his persona is controlled and tempered. Here, with like-minded saxophonist Michael Zilber, bassist John Shifflett and drummer Jason Lewis, Stowell is well within his element. Playing covers, like a nice mellow version of Dizzy Gillespie's "Alma," or a modern version of Kenny Wheeler's "Kayak," along with original tunes and a couple by John Scofield, Stowell and company create a sound that is both warm and creative. The improvisations, as on Zilber's "Cold Rain Warm Heart," push the boundaries of melodicism, searching and squealing, but never veering out of control. Plus, Stowell's honeyed guitar sound brings a pleasing richness throughout. This never gets "out" enough to be avant-garde, though it courts its jagged edges, especially on Stowell and Zilber's "Lost and Found." But it's accessible throughout.
2011, Origin Records, 62 minutes.
Silent Photographer, Scenes.
John Stowell is a busy guitarist. This is his second of three releases in several months, here with the Scenes trio that includes Jeff Johnson on basses and John Bishop on drums. The trio has been playing together for a decade, and the connection between the musicians is enviable. They seem to have a musical ESP that makes what could be a fairly standard trio disc into a feat of amazing connectivity. Even though the liner notes say that the recording session was "freewheeling," it's obvious that there is an understanding between the musicians that made exacting rehearsals unnecessary. The tunes range from medium hard bop, like Wayne Shorter's "Black Eyes," to Stowell's airy title track, to Johnson's light-bopping "Contours." Stowell's warm guitar draws the listener in, and Johnson and Bishop's tight playing keeps things moving. It's a trio worth exploring as they expand their sound.
2011, Origin Records, 55 minutes.
Portland Sessions - Vol. 1, Rob Scheps /John Stowell.
Stowell continues his collaborations with saxophonist/flautist Rob Scheps on a duo album of mostly post-bop and modern jazz tunes. Scheps is an inventive improviser ,and Stowell's tempered-yet-creative guitar work helps frame the tunes. The onus is on Stowell to cover the chords and bass lines and mesh with Scheps's muscular playing. Luckily, he's more than up to the task. This version of "Kayak" gets a treatment on acoustic guitar and soprano sax. Stowell utilizes his comping skills, letting Scheps roam free on the solo, often pushing his horn to the limit before toning it back on the melody. Frank Kimbrough's "Hope" shows off a prettier side, letting Stowell pick and strum while Scheps plays long, pretty tones. Dave Holland's "First Snow" has a melancholy beauty, with Scheps playing a rounded, rich tone on flute. Percussion is added for a Latin flair on Steve Swallow's "Outfits," while "Days of Wine and Roses" gets a boppier, modern touch. The song selections here are inspired, including the loping version of Wayne Shorter's "Fall," and the playing by both artists is stellar throughout. Both have great ears and play off each other smartly, making for good duo music.
2011, Doctor Digital, 57 minutes.
Parting Shot, Steve Khan.
Guitarist Khan, in his liner notes, traces his love of many classic songs — rock, Latin and jazz — to the use of the cowbell. For this disc, the veteran player enlists three exceptional percussionists: Manolo Badrena, Marc Quinones and Bobby Allende, plus drummer Dennis Chambers. They help propel these tunes with cowbell and other percussive elements. Khan sizzles on Ornette Coleman's "Chronology" before launching into his own tunes and other inventive covers, like a vibrant blend of post-bop and Latin rhythms on Monk's "Bye-Ya." Bassist Anthony Jackson's contrabass is a little light in the mix, but his rhythmic playing makes up for the subtlety. The disc is fine Latin jazz, but doesn't have the raw energy of some of the best. Still, hearing those percussionists is amazing anytime.
2011, Tone Center, 62 minutes.
SuperJazzers Vol. 1, Tim Willcox.
Saxophonist Willcox is originally from Eugene but cut his professional teeth in New York. Now back in Portland as a refined saxophonist, he is quickly rising, thanks to smart musicianship and a fine compositional sense. The comic book-style cover art doesn't hint at the subtle, compositional nature of the music inside. Joined by pianist David Goldblatt, bassist Bill Athens and drummer Charlie Doggett, Willcox creates a pastiche of styles, from chamber music to bop and Americana folk. The songs are journeys; aural landscapes with a strong sense of place and movement. Willcox doesn't overmuscle his playing. Rather, he lets the tunes move his sense of melody and improvisation. From the lovely brush strokes of "The Rain Before it Falls," to the hard-bop-meets-light-funk of "Vast Crap Perfume Universe," to the sparse waltz of "Moab," there is diversity but also cohesion based on a common thread: long tones mixed with constantly moving chords, accented by Doggett's touch on drums.
2011, Ninjazz Records, 61 minutes.
Cuban Rhapsody, Jane Bunnett and Hilario Duran.
Soprano sax/flute and piano don't seem like the most likely pairings for an album of Cuban music, but in the highly capable hands of Bunnett and Duran, the music comes alive, albeit in softer form than one might expect. Both artists are highly influenced by the music from the Caribbean island, composed and performed between the mid-19th Century and the 1960s, and those influences are evident here. Some tunes are performed ion a manner true to the originals, while others take more liberties. Some sound like Spanish-influenced chamber pieces, including "Contradanzas: La Tedezco," while others sound more like the Latin jazz we are familiar with, such as the lively "Son de la Loma." Their love of the music comes out in each song, and Bunnett and Duran lock their musical passions together to create a sound not often heard in jazz but one that is so infectiously beautiful it needs to be heard. Bunnett's flute work is astounding, and Duran's rhythmic-meets-classical takes are inspiring. A beautiful album of unexpected delights.
2011, ALMA Records. Playing Time: 51 minutes.
Fractals, Rick Stone Trio.
New York guitarist Stone has put out a pretty straightforward, straight ahead trio disc here, but it's not without quirky charms. It begins with a standard, "Stella By Starlight," but it gets more interesting with the title track — the angular lines of the head are based on "All the Things You Are" in 5/4 time, which gives a nice musical juxtaposition. Since it's a trio, there isn't much diversity in the soloing, but both bassist Marco Panascia and drummer Tom Pollard do ably on their opportunities. It's Stone's fluid bop lines that are highlighted here, though, and his full-bodied tone shines in its mellowness. Stone's originals are more interesting than his standards. "Nacho Mama's Blues" shows a sense of chordal adventure, while "Speed Bump" shows nice picking work. Stone is a fine straight ahead player, and this trio disc lets his sound loose.
2011, JazzAnd, 60 minutes.
The Story of Cathy & Me, Curtis Fuller.
Legendary trombonist Fuller lost his wife of many years, Cathy, and this album is a loving and often touching tribute to her memory. It starts with a jazz bed, laid down by pianist Kenny Banks, Jr. and saxophonist Akeem Marable, with Curtis speaking to introduce himself and tell us how he met Cathy. Several tunes in, after Fuller plays an emotive solo on "Little Dreams" and Marable blows a lovely "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," vocalist Tia Michelle sings "The Right to Love," a song of sadness. This might be one place where the balance between emotion and music is a bit out of skew, especially since the next track, "My Lady's Tears," is also melancholy. Fuller's spoken words return on "My Children," where he talks about he and his wife's relationship with their children. It's a nice insight into his personal life, something we hear so little of from jazz artists. He talks again after several instrumentals, this time about "A Horrible Experience," the cancer that took her life. It's tough to hear but touching nonetheless. So often, we take specific emotion out of jazz, but this disc dives into it. It is poignant and insightful, and the music that surrounds Fuller's words can be loving, sad, and ultimately uplifting. The liner notes by Benny Golson reveal even more. For Fuller fans, this is a must.
2011, Challenge Records, 60 minutes.
1910, Les Doigts de l'Homme.
Les Doigts de l'Homme is a French quartet that specializes in the upbeat gypsy jazz popularized by Django. In fact, they use the guitarist's birth year as the title for this disc, and this takes the listener back to the time when this sophisticated-celebratory jump jazz was all the rage. The group updates the sound, however, with refined musicianship and a more modern feel. Still, it's deeply rooted in early European jazz. Guitarists Olivier Kikteff, Benoit Convert and Yannick Alcocer are joined by bassist Tanguy Blum and additional players to make full-bodied versions of classic tunes like "Blue Skies," "St. James Infirmary" and "I've Found a New Baby." The guitar playing is classically influenced but all swing at the same time. This band knows its stuff, so if you like gypsy jazz, this is tops.
2011, ALMA Records, 60 minutes.
The Desert and the City, Mike Rood.
The debut release from guitarist Rood shows an artist influenced by modern jazz, probably due to one of his early mentors, John Patitucci. He pays attention to dynamics in the opener, "The Desert and the City," a contemporary jazz composition geared towards the expressive tenor work of Mike Bjella. The Pat Metheny-like tunes continue with "Atonement," a searching and soaring work. One can hear elements of Scofield and other early' 80s fusion pioneers, but with a modernity of composition. Sometimes it gets a bit thick, as on the schizophrenic, "The Reckoning," which ebbs and flows but ultimately washes. Some of it is overly ambitious, the mark of a composer who is still searching but has some brilliant ideas. Rood's sound is full and inviting, so listening to the bumps along the way is still pleasurable.
2011, Self produced, 57 minutes.