CD Reviews - September 2011 

by George Fendel, and Kyle O'Brien

Reviews by George Fendel

Doin' The Gigi, Gigi Gryce, alto saxophone.
When Gigi Gryce, in his prime, changed his name and made his exit from the jazz world, it must have created shock in some circles. Gryce became a teacher, and was so much admired in that profession that his school now bears his name. It was a head scratcher, though, because Gryce had played with the likes of Clifford Brown, Donald Byrd, Curtis Fuller, Oscar Pettiford and Lee Morgan, to name a few. His recorded output is limited as a result, so it's a real treat to have another 70 minutes of well-recorded material to add to his discography. All four of the sessions here are previously unreleased, and three of them feature such sterling colleagues as Eddie Costa, vibes, Richard Wyands, piano, and the vastly under-rated Richard Williams, trumpet. Gryce was a disciple of Charlie Parker, with a fluid, controlled mastery of the alto saxophone. On this welcome recording, his various groups take on jazz standards that include "A Night In Tunisia," "Sonor," "Take The 'A" Train" and "Caravan," but also offer a menu of standards in "I'll Walk Alone," "All the Things You Are" and "There Will Never Be Another You." These sessions took place between 1957 and 1961, and offer a quality look at a gifted player, arranger and music publisher, albeit one who was to eventually leave the scene in favor of the classroom.
Uptown, 2011, 70:04.

The Composer, Don Friedman, piano; (with trio and string quartet).
Over the last couple of decades, pianist Friedman has made a big impression on me. Without question, he is one of the most lyrical, satisfying and complete piano virtuosos currently playing. On this simply gorgeous album, we are treated to his trio (Martin Wind, bass, and Joe LaBarbra, drums) and a dashing string quartet of Europeans performing before a live audience in Salzburg in 2009. It is a spectacular performance entirely comprised of the pianist's lilting, beautiful compositions. Friedman was bitten hard by the Bill Evans bug, but it should be said that his bebop chops are also in high gear. Stunning tunes like his "Friday Morning" and "Almost Everything" would indicate that Friedman has devoted much time and effort to classical studies. His communication with the string players is at times delicate and sensitive, and at other times vigorous and robust. Another work that merits mention here is "Memory Of Scotty," the pianist's heart-rendering tribute to bassist Scott LaFaro, with whom Friedman worked, and who was tragically lost at almost the beginning of his career. All told, this is a marriage of classical music and jazz that measures up to any such undertaking I've ever heard and a stunning work of art. Bravo!
Enja, 2010, times not indicated.

Re: Person I Knew; A Tribute To Scott LaFaro, Phil Palombi, bass, with Don Friedman, piano.
Okay, here's a double dip for pianist Friedman, and a totally different assignment from the one reviewed above. This time, his piano brilliance is joined in a magical trio with East Coast cats Palombi, bass, and Eliot Zigmund, drums. Palombi has indulged in serious study of LaFaro, having transcribed numerous solos. As fate would have it, LaFaro's 1825 Abraham Prescott bass was made available for Palombi to play on this recording. It must have been a heart-pounding experience. No doubt any LaFaro tribute must take on a certain Bill Evans spirit. And so it was, I'm sure, easy for the three players to agree on tunes like "Israel," "Turn Out The Stars," "Re:Person I Knew" and LaFaro's own contribution to the Evans book, "Gloria's Step." Among other selections, you'll also have the opportunity to compare Friedman's trio version of "Memories Of Scotty" with the string version from "The Composer." Which brings us to the pianist. A one-time room mate of LaFaros's, Friedman is, as always, expressive, elegant and economical. This marks 50 years since LaFaro perished at 21 years of age in an auto accident. Tributes such as this one underscore his lofty jazz legacy.
Le Goat Records, 2011, 56:51.

Dancing With Duke, John Brown, bass.
How embarrassed am I to not know the name "John Brown" when he's worked with such eminences as Elvin Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Lou Donaldson, Frank Foster, Cedar Walton and tons of others! On this very tasty outing, Brown is in the company of Cyrus Chestnut, piano, and Adonis Rose, drums. The trio takes on nine Duke Ellington classics and one obscurity. Perhaps I've encountered Duke's "Pie-Eyed Blues" somewhere, but I'm glad this medium tempo, "life is what you make it" blues appears here. Chestnut climbs the ladder of intensity, and then slides his way back down to earth. The trio communicates with ease throughout, and the affection for Edward K. is always right on the money. Other of the maestro's creations include "In A Mellow Tone," "Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me," "Isfahan," "I'm Beginning to See the Light" and "It Don't Mean A Thing." Three evergreen ballads are presented under the name, "Sweet Ballad Suite," and they include "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing" (actually written by Billy Strayhorn), "I Got It Bad" and "Solitude." With all due respect to Mr. Brown, who offers a gorgeous, big tone, this is a Cyrus Chestnut CD under the name John Brown. Call it what you wish, it's timeless music, and I can never get enough of it.
Brown Boulevard Records, 2011, 69:23.

Electric, Charlie Christian, guitar.
Anyone playing jazz guitar over the past 70 years owes a debt of gratitude to Charlie Christian, who was the first "major" guitarist to plug in. That changed the landscape for guitarists, allowing the guitar to become a featured instrument as opposed to a rhythm section support vehicle. And when you listen to this program of material from 1939-1940, you'll be amazed at just how "up to date" they really sound. The first four selections, "Tea For Two," "Stardust" and two takes of "I Got Rhythm," are from a casual after-hours jam session with Christian's quartet of Jerry Jerome, tenor sax, Francis Hines, piano, and notably, Oscar Pettiford, bass. The remainder of the program features two Benny Goodman sextets from radio broadcasts of the same era. This famous group brought Lionel Hampton into the fray, and the only personnel change involved pianists Fletcher Henderson (early) and Johnny Guarnieri (later). You'll hear the Goodman gang on evergreens "Flying Home" and "Seven Come Eleven" as well as a menu of lesser known goodies. If you're curious about "where it all started" regarding jazz guitar, and want some spirited playing along the way, you'd be wise to check this out.
Uptown Records, 2011, 54:48.

Maiden Voyage Suite, Westchester Jazz Orchestra.
Can it possibly be 36 years (1965) since Herbie Hancock gave us a Blue Note masterpiece in "Maiden Voyage"? Nonetheless, here it is once again, dressed up in new attire by players with resumes from teams Gillespie, Rich, Jones-Lewis and many more. A few of the WJO's best-known names and major soloists include Marvin Stamm and Jime Rotondi, trumpet and flugelhorn; Ted Rosenthal, piano; and Ralph Lalama, tenor saxophone. Hancock's writing, fresh and new years ago, remains so, but this time in brilliant orchestral attire, thanks mostly to the arrangements of Artistic Director and Conductor Mike Holober. Make no mistake, there are great players here, and many of their high-octane solos swirl around like massive ocean waves. For the record, the tunes here include "Maiden Voyage," "Eye Of The Hurricane," "Little One," "Survival Of The Fittest" and "Dolphin Dance." But be informed that it's not so much the tunes, but more the vibrant, arresting arrangements, color and solos from the Orchestra that make this recording something truly far from ordinary.
WJO Productions, 2011, 54:02.

Noble Path, Art Hirihara, piano.
Are there certain little trivialities that drive you crazy? Me too. And one of them is when I receive a recording with no liner notes, no biographical info, nothing, nada. And it's doubly exasperating when the artist is as compelling as pianist Art Hirihara. So, I googled him. It turns our that Hirihara is a San Francisco area native who's been living in New York for nearly a decade. His resume of players worked with and recordings in a supportive role is impressive, so it's about time his path crossed mine. With equally new-name colleagues Yoshi Waki, bass; and Dan Aran, drums, Hirihara offers eight original compositions amidst standards such as "All Or Nothing At All," "Con Alma" and "Every Time We Say Goodbye." His originals have melody, form and movement in all the right places. To put it another way, they sound like "songs" and you don't always get that simple concept these days. I loved his Tommy Flanagan-Hank Jones-like touch and his understanding that not every space needs to be filled with notes. His CD "landed in my lap" quite by accident, but I'm delighted that it did. There's a hard to define joy in Hirihara's playing, and we all could use a little of that.
Post Tone Records, 2011, 63:03.

Three Organ-Guitar CDs
Wonderful! Deep Blue Organ Trio; Origin, 2011, 62:02.
Flubby Dubby, Ron Jackson, guitar; Roni Music, 2011, 63:53.
Plain 'N' Simple, Chuck Loeb, guitar; Tweety, 2011, 71:05.
There must remain a lot of demand for these funky organ-guitar trio sets, because they consistently arrive in my mailbox seeking review and/or airplay. Anyone who has come to understand my personal leanings through these reviews as well as radio, knows that I find organ music an occasional pleasant detour, but not a road I wish to travel very often. Because these three recordings are so similar, it seemed a good idea to put all of them in the same wrap. Indeed, they all feature original blues riffs for the most part. Now and then there's a standard or two, a blast from the past, or a gospel choice. It should be said that there's always ample rhythmic vitality to these soul-funk encounters, and you'll have no trouble tapping you foot to the beat. So, for what it is, it's well done, but really quite predictable. And how many of these sets is it necessary to have in one's collection when probably one or two Jimmy Smith dates will cover the whole megillah?

Music And Mirth, Richie Kaye, guitar and voice.
It doesn't always have to break new ground or "push the envelope," whatever that means. Sometimes it's just out there for fun. This is definitely one of those times. Kaye is a guitarist and occasional singer who works hand in glove with reedman Tony Lavorgna and, on a handful of cuts, pianist Sam Kuslan. It's melody that carries the proceedings, and these "forever" tunes from the 1920s forward are rich in melodic content. Lavogna is a particularly gifted clarinetist, with a full-bodied, unforced sound. The guys take on a variety of tunes, some of which are quite surprising. Who would guess that on the same record one would find Clifford Brown's "Tiny Capers" as well as "My Sweet Tooth Says I Wanna But My Wisdom Tooth Says No!" Or for additional variety, how about "Desafinado" and a virtually forgotten Frank Sinatra opus called "My Lean Baby." And then, of course, there's "Out Of Breath and Scared to Death of You." These and lots more (22 titles) make for some genuine, home style cookin'.
Freshen Up Records; 2011, 47:45.

Somethin' Special, Larry Vuckovich, piano.
A wizard of the piano, Vuckovich opted for sane living in the San Francisco Bay Area rather than the rigors of the East Coast. He has honed his craft in the tradition of bebop and classic Americana. An icon no less than Jon Hendricks has guested on a few previous LV recordings, and apparently the concept has held its appeal. This time it's the big beautiful tenor of Scott Hamilton on five of the eleven tunes here. Another tenor man, Bay Area vet Noel Jewkes, holds forth on several cuts, and Paul Keeler, bass, and Chuck McPherson, drums, complete the band. To add further variety to the proceedings, Vuckovich plays solo on Monk's "Pannonica" and the evergreen, "Stardust." Most of the tunes are from the jazz book as opposed to the standards department, and most are not frequently heard. How about Sonny Clark's title tune, "Somehthin' Special"; a Horace Silver rarity called "Enchantment"; Tadd Dameron's "Soultrane"; or Dexter's "Cheese Cake." Add in a couple of the pianist' originals, one of them a vigorous blues, and a rich Scott Hamilton on "What Will I Tell My Heart," and you have an album "the way they used to make them." Keep the faith, Larry!
Tetrachord Music, 2011, 70:08.

Kiss Her Goodbye, Johnny Richards Orchestra.
The name Johnny Richards will most likely remain forever associated with Stan Kenton's band, for whom he was a valued arranger. Of lesser fame was his own orchestra, and these recordings, all previously un-issued, give us a nice retrospective on both his writing and choice of some high-spirited jazz cats who occupied chairs in his orchestra. The CD opens with the soundtrack to the 1958 movie, "Kiss Her Goodbye," perhaps not at the top of the list of movie gold. But the music is often Kenton-esque, and the players include such valued voices as Jimmy Cleveland, Phil Woods, Frank Socolow, Billy Byers and Charlie Persip. An even more jazzy set with generous blowing room for some high-stepping soloists is included in two 1959 Birdland broadcasts. These include rare features for quality players like Frank Rehak, Gene Quill and Dave Schildkraut. I don't have a clue as to how the folks at Uptown Records unearth these fascinating musical glimpses from days gone by, but they do a superb job of it. Even the liner note booklets, usually at least 24 pages long, reflect all the affection for each project. And now we get to acquaint ourselves with the very swinging band of Johnny Richards. What a treat!
Uptown Records, 2011, 77:39.


Trust In Me, Yvonne Washington, vocals.
A fixture on the Houston music scene for better than a decade, Washington's duo CD with pianist Gary Norian will find its audience in the soul crowd. While she isn't entirely entrenched there, she tends to "go for it" a la Aretha and others of that ilk. However, her choice of tunes is more geared to standards like "When You're Smiling," "Sunny Side Of The Street," "Summertime" and such. There's a nice chemistry between pianist and singer, but the intimacy of, say, Alan Broadbent and Irene Kral, is not to be found here.
Mercator Music, 2011, 57:51.

Metamorphosis, Chris Donnelly, solo piano.
I think you'll have to decide for yourself just what Connelly's muse might be. Sometimes his melody lines were quite compelling, and at others they were rather hard to find. At one turn he's very "new age" and at another, I could hear Chopin. The music is all original so we can't test Connelly's chops on a Dameron or Monk tune. This is pretty music for those who like a "dinner jazz" kind of thing. It would probably not be high on the list for those who prefer Bud Powell.
Alma Records, 2011, times not indicated.

Pots And Kettles, Woody Witt, tenor and soprano saxophones.
An active player and jazz educator in the Houston area, Witt goes for a varied pallet here, ranging from "Eddie Harris funk" to a taste of bop, a hint of Monk and even a lullaby. Of his originals, I liked the quirky, unexpected melodies of "Slink," "The Loop" and "Loose Change." While the guitarist sounded dangerously "poppy," Gary Norian's piano heated up the proceedings with vigor.
Blue Bamboo Music, 2011; 60:55.

The Red Arrow, Jason Raso, guitar, bass.
You already read reviews of the three funky guitar-organ discs above. Well, here's one more, but it engages a whole host of players on various saxophones. There's also a vibraphone on four cuts, two organ players and a trumpet ace who pay a quick visit. So instead of your basic guitar-organ-drums setting, there's more versatility here. The music is pretty much the same: finger snapping blues riffs with Raso's well-paced guitar in the starring role.
Summit, 2011, 43:50.

Kensington Suite, Richard Underhill, alto sax.
Canadian alto man Underhill has put together an energetic, funky set of originals with a revolving cast of musical colleagues from one selection to another. His alto sound sometimes reminds me of the funky side of Cannonball or perhaps a reigned in Hank Crawford. All 10 tunes here are Underhill originals, and what they seemingly have in common is vigorous energy and drive. One can also readily hear that his melody lines are never sophomoric, thus retaining your interest and attention.
Stubby Records, 2007, 56:56.

Reviews by Kyle O'Brien

Something Special, Larry Vuckovich.
Northern California jazz vet Vuckovich is a typical West Coast piano player — cool, sophisticated and tasteful. On this album, he's joined by one of the coolest tenor players on the circuit, Scott Hamilton. Hamilton lays back on the beats provided by bassist Paul Keller and drummer Chuck McPherson with such ease you just want to slip into a hammock and waste the afternoon away. Tenor man Noel Jewkes heightens the sense of mellow with his tonal melodies. Playing tunes by Tadd Dameron, Horace Silver, Dexter Gordon and Jobim makes perfect sense for this group, and Vuckovich takes the reins with confidence like the seasoned pro he is. There's nothing that gives a big wow factor here, just great straight-ahead jazz played the way it should be — cool.
2011, Tetrachord Music, 64 minutes.

Maiden Voyage Suite, Westchester Jazz Orchestra.
Westchester isn't just a New York City bedroom community. It's also home to one of the top big bands on the East Coast. Following up their lauded debut album, this concept disc explores the music of Herbie Hancock with smart, layered big band arrangements by artistic director and conductor Mike Holober and contributor Pete McGuinness. The title track is a soaring piece that pays much homage to the original, but adds snaking chordal alterations and fine solos. "Eye of the Hurricane" sizzles and swings, while "Little One" features a fine trombone solo by Larry Farrell. The two-part "Survival of the Fittest" doesn't pack the punch it should and meanders a bit, but the slow swing of "Dolphin Dance" brings it back with a punch and nice flugelhorn solo by Jim Rotondi. Hancock I'm sure is happy with the result.
2011, WJO Productions, 53 minutes.

Simplicidade: Live at Yoshi's, Grupo Falso Baiano.
This Bay Area group recorded this disc live at the famed jazz club, Yoshi's, to champion the Brazilian music that preceded bossa nova and samba, the folk style called choro. It's an American jazz take on music that not many Americans know, but one that is infectious in its rhythms and practiced musicianship. The music is rougher around the edges than bossa, but the elements that make it Brazilian are evident, from the Iberian tonalities to the mandolin and guitar instrumentation. It's kind of like Brazilian bluegrass or early jazz, with countermelodies, joyful rhythms and a samba undertone. The usual quartet becomes a sextet with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Jovino Santos Neto and extra percussionist Brian Rice. Neto contributes several tracks, including the piano solo feature, "Feira Livre," a samba burner. If jazz fans want to hear a style of Brazilian music seldom played outside that country, this band is tops.
2011, Massaroca Records, 54:20.

Metamorphosis, Chris Donnelly.
Toronto pianist Donnelly tackles a mighty ambitious project here — a solo piano, 50-minute composition based on M.C. Escher's 1939 work of the same name. Donnelly is a talented pianist, and his composition contains both pleasing elements, as in the buoyant waltz of "In the Time-Scape of Sound," and some dissonant moments, as on "You Hear the Voice." But considering it's about an Escher work, it's surprisingly melodic, which keeps the listener focused and engaged — not an easy feat for a lengthy solo piano work. Hats off to Donnelly for pulling it off.
2011, ALMA Records, 50:43 minutes.

Signature Time, Laszlo Gardony.
Pianist, composer and arranger Gardony here pays tribute to Africa as the basis for the forms of the music he loves, including gospel, New Orleans, R&B and swing. But he puts a twist on in the form of unconventional time signatures. It makes for an album of rhythmic complexity and chordal intensity, but also one that focuses on melody. There's a rollicking roadhouse blues version of the Beatles' "Lady Madonna" that follows a different form from the original and breathes new energy into it. Then there's a creeping minor funk version of "Lullaby of Birdland" that is a refreshing departure. Saxophonist Stan Strickland joins the bunch for a few tunes, including adding a modern flair to Strayhorn's "Johnny Come Lately." The Beatles return in another reworking, this time a bluesy modal version of "Eleanor Rigby." It's a fun disc, but one that features exceptional compositional and arranging work.
2011, Sunnyside Communications, 49:45.

Gema, Maria Jameau and Blue Brazil.
Boston native Jameau has the type of voice that's tailor-made for Brazilian music — a deep, rich lilt that dances over the Portuguese sung here. There are a couple of requisite Jobim tunes, most notably a true-to-the-melody "Girl From Ipanema." The bossa tunes are quite pleasing, as are some of the folkier Spanish numbers, but the African vibe leaves something to be desired. The repetitive tune, "Malaika," goes nowhere, and "Fatou Yo" is similarly watered down. Jameau is best when utilizing her sweet voice in songs from south of the border.
2011, Challenge Records, 42:30.

Rome in a Day, 5 After 4.
Vito Rezza is an Italian-born, Canadian-raised drummer who had never been to his home country until recently. The trip inspired him, and this disc, while not Italian in nature, is his ode to the city of Rome. As a drummer, Rezza is sharp. His funk and fusion beats and his rapid-fire fills are impressive. As a songwriter, he is a bit on the bland side. His melodies meander, as on the muggy "Mr. Govindas." The tunes border on smooth jazz at times but with better musicianship, especially by saxophonist Johnny Johnson. The tunes improve when in the hands of pianist and composer Matt Horner, who puts a punch on things. His funkier tunes, like the angular "Top Hat," with sharp, Brecker Brothers-like horn arrangements by Peter Cardinali (bass, organ), have much more character and focus. The free-form improvisation, "Animal Crackers," is actually one of the more interesting outings on the disc.
2011, ALMA Records, 62 minutes.

She Likes That, Geoff Vidal.
Vidal is a brawny player with monstrous chops, but he possesses a rich, warm tone not unlike Coleman Hawkins. The young New York saxophonist lights things on fire from the first track, a flurrying rush of notes and rhythms called "Darjeeling." The rest of the disc doesn't let up either, but it does utilize enough dynamic range to remain interesting, as on the understated swinger, "Different Planes," which features guitarist Joe Hundertmark on a Scofield-like solo. Vidal displays a huge altissimo range on "Time Apart," and he gets back to the funk on the title track. It's an impressive debut from an artist deserving to be heard.
2010, Arts and Music Factory, 47:05.

Pots and Kettles, Woody Witt.
Texas tenor man, educator and composer Witt plays a big-sounding horn. The title track utilizes a simple melody, then launches into a monstrous solo over a contemporary rhythm. Witt channels Eddie Harris several times, including the infectious groover, "Listen Here," and his sound — reminiscent of the legendary tenor player – is sparse and soulful. This disc jumps between soul jazz, contemporary compositions, straight-ahead numbers and soft, soprano ballads ("Heart First"). It seems caught somewhere between the styles, not sure when to make up its mind. All the songs are pleasing, but the cohesion between them isn't quite there. Still, Witt is an impressive talent, and it's always nice to hear regional talent that doesn't get much national play.
2011, Blue Bamboo Music, 57:10.

EnCore, Fred Fried and Core.
Cape Cod via New York acoustic guitarist Fried has a unique sound full of rhythmic variations, and the fact that he plays an eight-string guitar makes his sound more complex. Along with drummer Miki Matsuki and bassist Michael Lavoie, Fried makes rich music, full of thick chords, rhythm-filled strumming, light finger-picking, and interesting melodies. "The Gathering Storm" is a flurry of rhythm and chords that swells with each passage. "Three Fall" is a lovely, light waltz, while "Sing Me a Puzzle" is a simple melody with chordal alterations in 7/4. The trio has a tightness and energy that make the music flow smoothly. But it's Fried at the helm, using his instrument and inspiration to light the way.
2011, Ballet Tree Jazz Productions, 67:10.