Trip The Light Fantastic, Hal Galper, piano.
I’m really delighted to see Galper return to a straight ahead orientation on a fresh, buoyant new release. Working with Seattle veterans Jeff Johnson, bass, and John Bishop, drums, Galper makes it clear that this is going to be a brisk outing from note one. And that first note brings in “Alice In Wonderland.” But this version, as opposed to most others, leaves no prisoners, as Galper and company go for broke. Having gotten out of the gate in a whirlwind, Galper also shows a penchant for ballads with “Babes of Cancun” and a stunning solo on “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry.” The pianist also takes charge on three of his own compositions, the best (and most lyrical) an off-beat sort of waltz, the title tune. And then what does Galper do? He reincarnates a Mario Lanza (!) opus from the early ‘50s. Granted, Lanza never approached an interpretation quite like Galper’s on “Be My Love,” but there it is in all it glory. Galper is a high-energy pianist; very contemporary and, in places, extremely percussive. He’s definitely on high beam with this trio.
Origin, 2011, 44:10.
Take Flight, Liz Childs, vocals.
This is the second CD for Childs, a singer who seems quite comfortable with both classic material and more contemporary vehicles. She works here with the polished trio of Ed Maceachen, guitar, Dan Fabricatore, bass, and Anthony Pinciontti, drums. I particularly liked her easy, carefree style on such standards as “Dindi,” “Lover,” “Just One Of Those Things,” “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To,” “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and many others. I did find it a bit odd that, among these great tunes, Childs mixes in a few by pop purveyors Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. But those oddities are more than made up for by a couple of deliciously obscure “baby” tunes. Bobby Troup’s “Baby, Baby, All The Time” is combined with an ancient Bessie Smith line, “Reckless Blues.” The other “baby” tune is a real rarity that I first heard from the wonderful Carol Sloane called “Baby Don’t You Quit Now”; probably the reason it earns such a high grade is that it was written by Jimmy Rowles and Johnny Mercer. Childs seems to have a built-in feeling for jazz interpretation. She never forces a note, sings nicely on key, and offers just enough scat singing and imaginative phrasing to please any grizzled old jazz fan. Like me!
Self-Produced, year probably 2011, 78:57.
Breaking News, The New World Composers Octet.
Not all of the swagger is in The Apple. Take a group with an unwieldy name like The New World Jazz Composers Octet, for example. This is a Boston-based ensemble just brimming with musicianship. Many of the musicians and arrangers have long ties to Berklee College of Music, Boston’s bastion of jazz education. All of the music is original and puts the ensemble to the test in a variety of settings. For example, the CD opens with a vigorous, brisk selection called “Poco Picasso.” But it switches gears on the very next tune, a ballad titled “Wishful Thinking” that features a gut-wrenching solo by the group’s leader, Daniel Ian Smith. The title tune is a boppy blues in the manner of the Blue Note type of things that dotted the landscape back in the day. For contrast, how about “Song Sung Long,” a tune that features the recitation of a poem by Smith’s daughter! Perhaps the high point of the disc, however, is a three-tune trilogy by Ted Pease, one of Smith’s fellow faculty members at Berklee. The three tunes -- “Thad’s Pad” for Thad Jones, “Strays” for Billy Strayhorn, and “Willis” for Bill Holman -- capture the essence of those distinguished members of the jazz fraternity. But what you should keep in mind is that this band swings authoritatively; it’s freewheeling jazz with numerous vibrant solo opportunities; and the arrangements cook up a storm.
Big And Phat Jazz, 2011, 61:42.
Live At Bird’s Eye, Hendrik Meurkens, harmonica, vibraphone.
Ah, the truth comes out! Here we’ve admired Meurkens for years as a wizard of the jazz harmonica, but for the first time, we get to hear him on vibes. It only makes one wonder why it took this long. Just pop in the first cut, a fiery Joao Donato line called “Amazonas,” and there’s Meurkens in flight on vibes! The mood changes as his quartet moves effortlessly to “Estate.” Meurkens’ passionate harmonica is something to behold. The buoyant Brazilian beat resumes with “Sambatropolis,” and again the leader is featured on vibes. Jobim’s “Dindi” has worked its way to standard status, and Merukens’ harmonica works seamlessly with the piano of Misha Tsiganov. “Lingua De Mosquito” brings out a playful, childlike quality, and Meurkens follows that with another swinging line, “Noa Noa,” a little-know Sergio Mendes tune. His vibraphone reading of “Body And Soul” is absolutely perfect as a mood setter, and then the leader follows with another rich Brazilian melody line on Donator’s “Minha Saudade.” The set closes with Jobim’s “Voce Vai Ver,” typical Jobim lyricism all the way. What a gorgeous detour for Meurkens. As much as you’ve admired him as “the next Toots” over the years, here he is in the same league as guys like Milt, Hutcherson and Burton.
Zoho, 2011, 54:48.
A New Kiss, David Budway, piano.
Marking his debut on the impressive, St. Louis based Maxjazz label, Budway shows himself to be a powerful piano presence in a variety of styles and settings. His basic trio includes Eric Revis, bass, and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums. Being a piano guy first, I would have left well enough alone, but Budway brings in both Branford Marsalis and Marcus Strickland, who play soprano saxophones individually on no less than four cuts. But the trio takes over with p’zazz on George and Ira’s classic, “Strike Up the Band.” And it’s here you get to experience some remarkable Budway chops. Among other winners you’ll find Budway’s exquisite ballad, “Love You Tonight”; a ripping tempo on a Latin-inspired original called, of all things, “Stinky”; and “Round Midnight” gets a solo reading full of adventurous little flights, twists and turns -- and a few Monkisms, of course. If I were to choose a favorite cut on the disc, I’d have to go with an inspired version of Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To.” Budway treats it along the lines of a Bach invention, with voice chasing voice. I’ll bet Porter would have loved it. One can hear all the hours of classical music that Budway must have spent practicing in his youth. These and more make mark the debut of a startlingly inventive new piano voice.
Maxjazz, 2011, 62:49.
Whirlwind, Dominique Eade, voice, Ran Blake, piano.
This is quite a departure for the superb singer Eade. It’s been in the making for years, as apparently she and pianist Blake have held like-minded musical leanings for a long time. Blake is considered by many to be a “third streamer”: a player who makes dissonances, odd meanderings and stops and starts sound just fine, thank you! Ms. Eade takes Blake’s cue with a highly creative performance, giving familiar melodies new vocal attire. Some might call it “chance taking”; some might call it “improvising”; some might call it “art.” Take your pick, because Eade turns this material into individual and unique little “tone poems.” I might say with emphasis that there are very few singers who could pull this off without sounding pretentious and over the top. But Eade indulges in neither. Instead, she perfectly puts forth these new creations as though she means every word. And Blake is right there “conversing” with her in nearly surreal alignment. It’s an approach that probably isn’t for everybody. But if you have ears for it, there’s a lot happening here to dive into. For the record, a few of the familiar titles include “My Foolish Heart,” “Dearly Beloved,” “Old Devil Moon,” “Where Are You” and “The Thrill Is Gone.” But, I’d submit, you’ve never heard them sung quite like this.
Jazz Project, 2011; 46:02.
Opening Statement, Tito Carillo, trumpet, flugelhorn.
For some 15 years, Carillo has been Chicago’s post-bop standard bearer. A trumpet player in the tradition of Freddie Hubbard or Woody Shaw, Carillo leaves no doubt that he’s a force in the power department. His basic group includes Windy City colleagues Benjamin Lewis, piano, Lorin Cohen, bass, and Dana Hall, drums. Two saxophone players are guests on a number of selections, bringing the quartet to a quintet. Eight of the ten tunes played here are original compositions by the leader, and he makes it quite clear that he’s in charge on high-energy pieces such as the opener, “Truth Seeker,” and the equally energetic “Shades of Morpheus.” But Carillo also delivers the message with great feeling on ballads that include “Song For Elisa,” the Miles-like “Stillness,” or the strongly stated melody line of “Where You Come From.” Carillo, who is a full-time jazz trumpet professor in the Illinois higher education system, carries forth the honored tradition of scintillating post bop on what I assume is his debut album.
Origin, 2011, 72:05.
The Sinatra Project, Vol. 2: The Good Life, Michael Feinstein, vocals.
I somehow missed out on volume one of Feinstein’s Sinatra tribute, so let’s give it a go on volume two. Feinstein’s passionate, Broadway-style renderings are as solid as ever, but his choice of songs is at the very least, odd. His opener is a rather tasteless pop opus called “Thirteen Women.” If Frank ever sang it, well, he shouldn’t have. Other tunes are of much better quality, but I would at best only peripherally associate them with Sinatra. For instance, did Frank ever record “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby?” He probably did, but it just doesn’t resonate as a Sinatra tune. The same could be said for “Hallelujah I Love Her So” and the Latin-tinged “Sway.” A complete and total mystery is the inclusion of something called “C’est Comme Ca,” a rather nice tune, but where are the Francis memories? And, truthfully, wouldn’t you put “The Good Life” and Tony Bennett together? Same for Sammy Davis and “For Once In My Life” and “Once in a Lifetime.” Okay. Having said all that, a medley of “Luck Be A Lady” and “All I Need Is the Girl,” and classy takes on “I’ll Be Around,” “The Way You Look Tonight” and “The Lady Is A Tramp” are 100% Ol’ Blue Eyes. Feinstein is in fine voice and the arrangements, including strings here and there, are well suited to the singer. It’s simply the menu of so-called Sinatra tunes that, in some cases, befuddles me.
Concord, 2011, 41:13.
Minor Returns, Jeffrey Snedeker, French horn.
The rich, resounding French horn may not have carved out a marquis place in jazz history, but a few brave cats have excelled on this challenging instrument. Consider such players as Julius Watkins, John Graas and Willie Ruff, among others. Well, Central Washington University in Ellensburg boasts faculty member Jeffrey Snedeker as a versatile French horn expert. With an array of fellow faculty members and a few students, Snedeker lights up the room with stellar, straight ahead arranging and some tunes that would qualify as classic jazz choices on anybody’s list. Among them, how about the rarely played George Wallington gem, “Godchild,” or Billy Strayhorn’s timeless “Chelsea Bridge.” Others scoring high marks include “Oleo,” “Autumn Leaves,” “Summertime,” “Straight, No Chaser,” “In A Sentimental Mood,” and even “Take Five.” A couple of surprises (and great choices) were “Moonlove,” a romantic melody written by that jazz icon Peter Tchaikowsky (!) and “Allegretto” from “Jazz Symphony No. 1” by John Graas. It comes from a recording so rare you’d never even find it with one of those metal detectors. But apparently Snedeker did, and nice going, friend. There’s still room on my jazz menu for some refined French horn cuisine, and this is it!
Self-Produced, 2010, 72:01.
El Cumbanchero, Mark Weinstein, concert, alto and bass flutes. What sets this CD apart from the run of the mill Latin disc is the instrumentation and the arranging. To the usual group of percussion-eers, Weinstein added arrangements by Aruan Ortiz, and he in turn brought a bevy of strings to the date. The added voices make for quite a compelling album. All the music is built around a Cuban base, but Weinstein’s virile flute and the vigorous arrangements really cover the ground here. A real departure from the “same ol, same ol” that Latin music seems to usually spin out.
Jazzheads, 2011, 53:52.
Our Modern Lifestyle, The Young Lizards. I was all set to “bash” this as yet another Hammond B- 3-based yawner. But it’s a lot better than the usual ensemble of this type, because the players take on well chosen, underexposed tunes by composers such as Woody Shaw, Joe Henderson, John Coltrane and Clare Fischer. In my head, I just can’t get the organ out of the church, but that’s my problem. As for you, there are some hip things happening here, and if this is your cup of tea, you’d be well advised to drink it.
Pony Boy Records, 2011, 64:27.
Legacy, Al Naylor, trumpet and flugelhorn. If you thought Iowa was all cornfields and Central Standard Time, well, yes, Virginia, there’s jazz in Iowa. At least in the Marion, Iowa school district, where you’ll find trumpet ace Naylor. At every opportunity, he’s out there playing with students and former students, and this album brings a quintet of some of the best of them together. The songs are nearly all original compositions by the leader. He writes swinging, boppy lines and gives ample solo opportunities to his talented colleagues. A jazz gig in Iowa? Well, why the heck not?!
Self-Produced, 2011, 47:21.
In a Yuletide Groove, Chris Bauer.
This holiday disc is subtitled "Harmonica Jazz for the Holidays." So when you ask yourself, how many different ways can we hear jazz versions of traditional Christmas tunes, here's yet another. Harmonicist Bauer is a decent player, though not quite on par with Toots Thielemans. His improvisatory lines are easy and laid back, and his melodies on target, so you know what you're getting on this disc of yuletide standards such as "Winter Wonderland," "Frosty the Snowman" and "White Christmas." If you're a fan of the mouth harp, you'll probably dig this straightahead take on the season. If not, there are plenty of other holiday options out there.
2011, Chris Bauer Music, 60 minutes.
Send Me Some Snow, Chris Standring & Kathrin Shorr.
If you've heard "The Little Drummer Boy" one too many thousand times and are looking for some new holiday tunes, this cheerful disc of originals by composer/guitarist/ arranger Standring and vocalist Shorr should lift you from the doldrum-pa-pum-pums. The tunes are hooky and melodic, like a good holiday tune should be, but it's the quality of the musicianship and lyrics that make this a winner. The opener, "Send Me Some Snow," is a catchy tune, featuring nice harmonies and Shorr's breathy, invitingly expressive voice. She's like a modern Billie Holiday meets Doris Day. The orchestration is understated and jazzy, with Standring's mellow guitar highlighting many tunes, including the light Latin, "There's No Time Like Christmastime." You may not initially recognize any of the tunes on this disc, but they somehow seem familiar. They make for a lovely, and non-repetitive holiday listen.
2011, Ultimate Vibe, 34 minutes.
Vintage Christmas, David Ian.
Christmas is a time for memories, nostalgia and joy. Ian has the nostalgia down, with this retro collection of holiday classics, done like the great Christmas records of the '50s and '60s. Here, the jazz trio plays a perfect vehicle to drive the melodies on songs including "Let it Snow," "The Christmas Song," and "I'll Be Home for Christmas." While the album doesn't break any new ground, it is a pleasing listen and one to have on holiday rotation, due to its warm sound, due in part to Ian's piano channeling players such as Bill Evans and Vince Guaraldi that brings the jazzy warm-fuzzies out. The inclusion of guest vocalists Acacia and Andre Miguel Mayo brings welcome changes of pace but takes away none of the honest "vintage" tone. Put this one in the player with Nat King Cole and Sinatra, and you're sure to have a happy holiday party.
2011 Prescott Records, 34:25.
2Tone Christmas, Cindy Horstman & Michael Medina.
This Texas duo is an unlikely jazz pair -- harp and electric bass – the first clue that this is anything but traditional Christmas music. Sure, you'll recognize the titles: "Deck the Halls," "Joy to the World," "Carol of the Bells." But the execution is New Age meets Smooth jazz. The digital production and the mellow nature of both the bass and harp make this disc sound like a Christmas lullaby. But after the initial Smooth jazz boredom of "Deck the Halls," complete with drum programming, the music gets a tad more interesting, including a swinging jazz waltz version of "Joy to the World," which features a fine soprano sax solo by Tom Braxton. The harp isn't overdone – thankfully -- but this disc borders on the cheesy, as on the plunky version of "The Little Drummer Boy" or the R&B version of "Angels We Have Heard on High." It's certainly not your normal Christmas album, and it's also a bit sleepy.
2010, Seahorse Records, 36 minutes.
Christmas in July, Elisabeth Lohninger Band featuring Axel & Walter Fischbacher.
Serious jazzheads will love this Christmas disc by Austrian native and vocalist Lohninger. Right off the bat, you know you're getting something refreshingly different. She sings Mel Torme's "Christmas Song" to the chords of "Giant Steps," calling the hybrid "Giant Chestnutz." Backed by guitarist Axel Fischbacher and pianist Walter Fischbacher, along with bassist Johannes Weidenmuller and drummer Ulf Stricker, Lohninger shows off her impressive vocal chops while taking a trip around the musical world. She visits Brazil, Italy, Mexico, Japan and Germany, among other global spots, bringing a sense of Christmas from those locales, and, most impressively, singing mostly in the languages of those countries. Christmas is a global holiday, and Lohninger makes sure she is respectful of the traditions she brings together. Her ear for dialects is astounding, and her band makes sure that the multicultural music behind her is infused with a good amount of jazz to keep it cohesive and fresh. If you want a global Christmas, this is your disc.
2011, JazzSick Records, 60 minutes.
Still Alive and Kickin' Down the Walls, Bryan and the Haggards.
I sang the praises of this group's debut album, and there's no reason not to keep the accolades coming on their sophomore release. The group's approach is completely unique -- they take songs written or recorded by Merle Haggard, and place them into a two-beat avant-garde jazz setting. It's an odd but completely engaging mash of Bakersfield twang and Ornette Coleman-style free jazz. The opener, "Ramblin' Fever," keeps its simplistic country form, but saxophonists Jon Irabagon and Bryan Murray blast through with solos and lines that stray far from the original chordal base. With guitarist Jon Lundbom chunking away at the chords, as on the two-step of "Seeing Eye Dog," and bassist Moppa Elliott and drummer Danny Fischer holding down the fort, it's a fun romp through the country-fried Southwest, with a big dose of New York cutting-edge jazz. On some, I almost wish they took it just a bit further on the jazz side, since a few tracks play it too safe, but the overall impact is just as cool as the original ... if you can handle it.
2011, Hot Cup Records, 42 minutes.
One Way…Or Another, Guilhem Flouzat.
Drummer Flouzat creates the kind of sophisticated jazz that can't be defined easily, combining influences as vast as chamber music and funk into a smart and cohesive modern vision. It goes from the edgy jumps of "One Way," featuring Laurent Coq's taut piano, to the pensive darkness of "Black Magic," to the metered outside rhythm of "Sometimes at Night," and the music is always intriguing, if not quite melodic. For being a drummer-led group, the percussion is surprisingly sparse. Flouzat prefers calculated crescendos and accents over blatant flourishes, which elevates the music above club jazz. Saxophonists Antonin Hoang and Ben Wendel use rounded, mellow tones to relay their lines, making them speak louder than their actual volume. This is a fine example of where jazz should be going.
2011, Onze Heuresonze. 51:10.
Black Lace Freudian Slip, Renee Marie.
Marie is a true vocal jazz talent, as she has proven with each consecutive release. This one is a winner, showcasing her powerful voice and a knack for writing expressive and soulful tunes, like the bluesy title track, a sultry song with a teasing whimsy. Her diversity is evident here as well, ranging from pretty ballads ("Thanks, But I Don't Dance") to swinging blues ("Rim Shot"), to a quick jazz samba ("Rufast Daliarg") to country-folk pop ("Wishes"), with touches of bop, gospel and R&B. Marie's voice is big, vibrant and exciting, exuding energy and a joy for the music. If we still gave stars, this one would get five.
2011, Motema, 67:30.
Capsule, The Landrus Kaleidoscope.
On his debut, baritone saxophonist Brian Landrus shined, displaying a mastery of his big instrument while nodding to its past stars. Here, he branches out with doubles on bass clarinet and bass flute, among other woodwinds, while fronting an electro-acoustic quintet. This is a more ambitious project than his debut, and it shows his diversity. The opener, "Striped Phase," is a soaring fusion tune featuring Landrus's command of the bass clarinet over a retro-70s style groove, layered with acoustic bass by Matthew Parish and electric piano by Michael Cain. Add guitarist Nir Felder and drummer Rudy Royston, and you have a fiery group playing solidly cool fusion jazz. The players are allowed to stretch out, but it never feels like a jam session. Instead, that looser feel gets reined in by well-arranged original tunes, like the reggae-meets-funk of "Like the Wind," where Landrus plays a breathy bass flute solo. Landrus is certainly an artist to keep an eye on, especially considering he is one of the few folks dedicated to big and low horns.
2011, Blueland Records, 60 minutes.
Current, Jovino Santos Neto Quinteto.
Neto is a three-time Latin Grammy nominee from Seattle, and this native Brazilian pianist and composer is an international star on the Brazilian jazz front. Here, Neto enlists his Quinteto group to play a mix of Brazilian jazz styles on his original tunes. They are lively and fun, with enough musical complexity to keep it interesting throughout on styles ranging from sambas and choros to marchas and modern tunes. It's the interactivity of the players that makes this a thoroughly engaging disc. Saxophonist Harvey Wainapel is one of the best on the West coast, and he plays off Neto's rhythmic comping seamlessly. Percussionist Jeff Busch and drummer Mark Ivester lay down the beats, with strong bass lines from Chuck Deardorf. It's a tightly woven group playing great Brazilian jazz right here in the Northwest.
2011, Adventure Music, 57:55.