Blue Moon, Ahmad Jamal, piano. One critical slice of wisdom in the music world has always been this: “Find your own voice.” It may be said with certainty that Ahmad Jamal did just that over five decades ago, and he continues that practice to this day. Now past the 80 year milestone, Jamal still is a master of the use of space. He also has a unique way of making certain phrases fade into the stratosphere, and he sometimes uses repetition unlike any other player. All in all, when it’s Jamal, you simply know it. As much as any pianist in jazz history, he “grabs you by the ears” and requires you to listen. On this very welcome and wonderful recording, he is joined by Reginald Veal, bass, Herlin Riley, drums, and on some selections, Manolo Badrena, percussion. All the “Jamal-isms” are intact. Just check out “Invitation,” and you’ll be carried back to his trios on Argo and Chess Records. Other standouts include the title tune, “Gypsy,” a stunning rendition of “Laura” and a salute to the bop era with Dizzy’s “Woody’n You.” For me, the surprise of the set was a tune from the musical “Oliver,” made a winner bySammy Davis, “This Is the Life.” These and others remind us, without doubt, that what Ahmad Jamal had to say back in 1958 still rings with vitality and freshness a half century later.
Jazz Village, 2012, 78:06.
Double Exposure, Frank D’Rone, vocals. Quite long ago, when good music and popular music were one and the same, there was a very hip singer-guitarist named Frank D’Rone. He made several standout LPs for Mercury; one or two for Cadet; and then rock and roll had its way. Through many lean years, D’Rone, along with many other quality singers, stuck to his guns and continued singing worthwhile material. But recording opportunities were few and far between. So how delighted was I to see this new CD! And as I would have guessed, he’s still insistent on singing the evergreens, including “When The Sun Comes Out,” “Make Someone Happy,” “Pick Yourself Up,” “The Very Thought Of You,” “Oh You Crazy Moon” and lots more. From a later era, and an album highlight, is the lilting melody, “Pure Imagination.” The CD’s title is a reference to the instrumentation for the project. On half the songs, D’Rone is accompanied by a (mostly) Seattle area big band arranged and conducted with aplomb by Phil Kelly. The remaining tunes feature D’Rone accompanying himself on guitar. We who remember D’Rone from years back are reminded that if had never sung a note, he’s a superb jazz guitarist. But, lucky for us, he sang then, and he’s still singing now. And how!
Whaling City Sound, 2012, 47:56.
Here’s To The Messengers, Clayton Cameron, drums. It seems that I first heard Cameron on one magical night at Portland’s Keller Auditorium, when he was not yet out of his teens and already Tony Bennett’s drummer. Obviously, he’s up to other musical pursuits now, and his “jass explosion” offers an energetic musical picture of the great Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers. A couple of Cameron’s colleagues are veterans of the jazz wars: Billy Childs on piano, Darek Oles on bass, and Bob Sheppard on tenor sax. The remainder of the group, I suspect, are the kind of young cats that Blakey groomed into stardom. The tunes are a mix of Cameron’s original compositions, a few choices from Blakey “grads,” and one Americana standard in “Autumn Leaves.” The opener, for instance, is Curtis Fuller’s “A La Mode,” a riveting, post-bop classic that paves the way for the tunes yet to come. The late pianist, James Williams, another Blakey alum, gave us “What Do You Say, Dr. J,” a typical Blakey choice with more than a hint of gospel. And then there’s Bobby Timmons’s “So Tired,” another familiar melody line which cooks vigorously. “We For Blakey” is Cameron’s shuffle rhythm tribute to the master, and Bobby Watson’s “ETA” is yet another high-octane choice. On all these and others, Cameron and crew, young and not quite so young, provide a ripping, stirring performance. Blakey would have loved it!
Brushman Records, 2012, 42:07.
Prisoner Of Love, Marianne Solivan, vocals. In this era of self-produced CDs at relatively reasonable cost, there’s a multitude of “wannabe” female jazz singers. Now and then an impressive one arrives in my mailbox for review. And this month, it’s Solivan. She’s the kind of singer who delivers a lyric without pretense. No show biz, no glitz, no frosting on the cake. It’s a tough assignment unless you have the jazz chops. On this debut recording, she has all the tools, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have some stellar New York cats in your corner, including Xavier Davis and Michael Kanan splitting duty at the piano, Christian McBride and Ben Wolfe on bass, and trumpet ace Jeremy Pelt and guitar star Peter Bernstein as guest artists. Solivan mixes it up nicely on a program of well-chosen songs rarely done by others. For instance, there’s “Moon Ray,” “I Guess I‘ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry,” “Day Dream,” and two tunes which elicit memories of Betty Carter -- “I Can’t Help It” and “Social Call.” Perhaps my two faves were “May I Come In” and “After You,” both obscure but well written. Solivan definitely makes a splash as a singer from whom we need to hear more.
Hipnotic Records, 2012, 45:50.
Bass 10, Mark Simon, piano. After leaving his native Chicago to experience the excellent music department at Mt. Hood Community College, Mark Simon decided Portland was the right place for him, musically and otherwise. That was in the 1980s, and Simon has established himself as a solid performer in the Rose City ever since. For this new CD, he chose a concept that I don’t recall ever having seen: an entire menu of songs played as duos with, count ‘em, ten of Portland’s all-star bassists. Since there are 12 tunes, two of the bass players get two tunes, and eight others are heard on one each. Hence the title. More importantly, it’s a very happening, recital-like performance, as one experiences Simon oh-so-comfortably interpreting standards and jazz classics with ten like-minded pals. The tunes range from oldies such as “Avalon” and “If I Had You” to jazz choices such as “Four Brothers,” “A Child Is Born” and “Sonora,” a lesser known gem from one of Simon’s piano gods, Hampton Hawes. In addition, there’s “Alone Together”, “Dindi,” “Stella By Starlight” and a Cy Coleman rarity called “Why Try to Change Me Now.” These and others result in a nicely conceived and beautifully performed CD. Mark is currently battling liver failure, and his many friends wish him blessings as he courageously waits for the phone call which would provide a liver transplant. Despite his medical needs, Simon has provided a wonderful, new CD to savor.
Saphu Records, 2012, 61:49.
Girl Talk, Kate McGary, vocals. Here’s a singer who sounds like she really wants to carve out a career in jazz. But it seems there remain some evidence of a pop orientation, perhaps at an earlier time. And so a tune such as “I Just Found Out about Love” works well, but “We Kiss in a Shadow” is approached with unnecessary fluff. “The Man I Love” starts out pretty straight ahead, but dies when it journeys, with too much guitar “fill,” into the clouds. “O Cantador” is a lovely Brazilian “hit,” and Kurt Elling joins McGary in a delicate interpretation. McGary once again puts it all together with a fresh take on “This Heart of Mine” and “I Know that You Know” is rendered rapid fire with just the right amount of scat. A stirring Jimmy Rowles tune, “Looking Back,” is a great choice, but with solo guitar accompaniment, it lacks the power it had when sung by the late Stacy Rowles. “Charade” is another well-written tune. The guitar-organ backing may be hip in 2012, but it doesn’t fit what Mr. Mancini had in mind. A bright and breezy “It’s a Wonderful World” ends the session. McGary is way too sophisticated to appeal to a young audience. But from a jazz standpoint, she needs to reel in the “cutesy” stuff and let her talent do the work.
Palmetto, 2012, 44:28.
Motor City Scene, Paul Chambers, bass, Tommy Flanagan, piano. Let’s see if I can explain this clearly. Back in 1959 and 1960, two labels, United Artists and Bethlehem, released LPs under the same title, “Motor City Scene.” The premise was simply that all the players on both albums were products of an active Detroit jazz scene. Those original LPs were under the leader’s names: Thad Jones on one and Donald Byrd on the other. Paul Chambers and Tommy Flanagan appeared on both, and so this reissue, two LPs on one CD, is in their names. The United Artists “Motor City Scene” features four Thad Jones originals of somewhat extended length and includes Al Grey, trombone, Billy Mitchell, tenor sax, and Elvin Jones, drums. The Bethlehem session adds an additional five tunes. Four of these are also originals, mostly by the participants in the session with one exception, Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust.” The additional players on this session included Pepper Adams, baritone sax, Kenny Burrell, guitar, and Louis Hayes, drums. The music, casual and creative, amounts primarily to a couple of invigorating small group blowing sessions. They features one superlative solo after another; not surprising in that these were some of the premier players of their day. Being a “piano guy,” I direct your attention particularly to Flanagan. Quietly and elegantly, he was a true giant of jazz piano.
Phoenix Records, 2011, 75:03.
Taurey Butler, piano. As a youngster, Butler started playing trumpet. Then one day, his band teacher gave him an Oscar Peterson record. So long, trumpet. Butler eventually graduated from Dartmouth with degrees in electrical engineering and Japanese! Those pursuits are honorable indeed, but the world can be thankful that the piano won out. After gaining some experience in far-flung places, Butler, a native of New Jersey, decided to check out Oscar’s hometown, Montreal. And now he calls it home. His swinging trio examines a near perfect balance of standards and some originals with real melody lines! The session opens with something of a surprise, “Sunrise Sunset,” from “Fiddler On The Roof,” and continues with a rousing “The Lady Is A Tramp.” Other evergreens in the program include “Moonlight in Vermont,” “Please Send Me Someone to Love,” “Emily” and “The Preacher.” Among Butler’s compositions, two standouts included the high-flying “Grandpa Ted’s Tune” and the downright scary tempo of another ripper, “From the Other Side.” The Peterson influence is definitely there, but Butler has fashioned it to his own concept, and he’s going to begin turning heads with this outstanding debut recording.
Justin Time, 2012, 55:24.
Midnight Sun, Leslie Lewis, vocals. If you remember the hip and husky sound of singers like Chris Connor and June Christy, you’re quite likely to dig what’s happening with Lewis. As she did on her earlier recordings, she brings the “under the radar” but swinging Los Angeles pianist Gerard Hagen and his trio to the studio. They’re all joined by a couple of guests who add sugar and spice to the proceedings. Chuck Manning’s tenor and Joey Sellers’ trombone are heard generously, and most definitely add some musical muscle to the session. Lewis opts, mostly, for standard tunes. Winners include “Love Me or Leave Me,” “It’s Alright with Me,” “Lover Come Back to Me,” “The Man I Love” and “Where Or When.” Equally well sung, but not among my personal faves, are two pop tunes: the Beatles opus, “My Love,” and Burt Bacharach’s fluffy hit, “A House Is Not a Home.” Lewis’s smoky voice delivers the lyrics with the skill, phrasing and feeling of a dedicated jazz singer. And that’s just what she is!
Surf Cove Jazz, 2012, 50:09.
Celebrando, Hendrik Meurkens, harmonica and Gabriel Espinosa, bass. If you’re a fan of Brazilian music, this recording should reach out to you nicely. Meurkens is most likely the only jazz harmonica cat to surface since Toots Thielemans, and like his elder colleague, he’s a master jazz musician. A collection of 11 stylish Brazilian tunes features Meurkens in some heady company. Co-leader of the session is the Mexican-born bassist, Gabriel Espinosa. Perhaps the most prominent guest is clarinetist Anat Cohen. Her silky sound adds an element of sheer beauty to the recording. Other instrumentation and “here and there” voices weave their way through the session, adding a touch of solemnity one moment and joy the next. A few standout tunes include the fresh, life-affirming melody line of “Frenzelosa (Choro No. 2),” the wordless, fresh vocal on “She Lives in Brazi,l; the attractive, airy melody line on “Mountain Drive,” and the set closer, “Celebrando.” It seems that Meaurkens’ recording activity over the last few years has taken a turn toward these lyrical adventures combining jazz with the attractive music of places south of the border.
Zoho, 2012, 54:13.
Peach, Karen Johns, vocals. If you sometimes lean in the direction of swing era vocals, this CD just might be lotsa fun. Johns has even gone so far as to overdub her voice here and there, creating a sound reminiscent of the Andrews Sisters, or the Maguire Sisters, or your mom and her three choir mates when they sang in their high school musical extravaganza! Johns is a stylist, not a jazz singer per se; certainly not Ella or Carmen or Anita. But there’s a lot of fun here, and if I had the chance to meet her, I’d bet the mortgage she’d concur that a “fun disc” was her goal. Many of the tunes are Johns’ original melodies and lyrics, and ----something quite rare these days -- they actually sound like real songs. You know …. melody line - bridge - back to melody line. In the midst of her own creations, she tosses in a few familiar items. How about Henry Mancini’s “It Had Better Be Tonight”? Or tap your toe to “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” Finally, there’s a re-working of a pop thing Nancy Wilson did a long time ago called “How Glad I Am,” and perhaps some of you remember it. Anyway, all this fun and frivolity takes place with a very polite and hip small group of accompanists. A day brightener, that’s what this is!
Self-Produced, 2011; 44:40.
Presenting Oscar Moore, guitar. Here, most likely, is the mystery disc of 2011. Those of you who admired Nat Cole’s early trios will remember his excellent guitarist, Oscar Moore. This CD, reissued on the San Diego label VSOP, was recorded in 1957 but never released on vinyl, only as a reel to reel tape on the Omega label. Liner notes are nonexistent. They would have helped explain why Moore apparently chose to overdub the nine selections here. It would seem that this may have been one of the very early attempts at overdubbing. From that standpoint alone, it’s quite an interesting recording. If it’s not Moore at his best, it certainly provides some pleasant listening. Accompanying the guitarist in a duo setting is bassist Leroy Vinnegar, much beloved here during his Portland years (1986-1999). Anyway, the two work seamlessly on a selection of standards that includes “I Can’t Get Started,” “There’s a Small Hotel,” “Angel Eyes,” “It’s A Pity to Say Goodnight,” “Tangerine” “Sweet Lorraine” and more. It is, for sure, rather an “oddball” recording, and less than 30 minutes in length. But it is a long lost document from a much admired guitarist, and that’s got to be worth something.
VSOP, 2011, 27:30.
Secret Love, Sara Leib, vocals. Great songs which have stood the test of time don’t need to be, as the orange juice people like to say, messed around with. Leib has a nice enough voice. Sounds to me like a singer probably raised on pop and rock who’s trying to spread her wings. And you can’t fault her choice of “It Might as Well Be Spring,” “The Thrill Is Gone,” “Secret Love,” “Willow Weep for Me” and other gems. But the attempt by Leib and her accompanists to transport these superb songs melodically and sometimes rhythmically, detracts from their very essence as great material.
OA2, 2012, 54:03.
Bright Morning, Johnny Padilla, saxophones. This CD landed in my lap without a bio sheet and with zero liner notes. Only a list of personnel and the notation that all the music was written by Padilla. I don’t know if he resides in Spokane, St. Louis or Sarasota. I liked his energy, tone and, for the most part, a straight ahead attitude. His guitarist had juicy chops on nearly every cut. His pianist swung with authority. His bassist and drummer had things well in hand. So, I ask, just who is Johnny Padilla, and when can I hear him play something like “Whisper Not,” “Up Jumped Spring” or “Come Rain or Come Shine”?
BP Productions, 2011, 69:08.
Just Sayin’, Alan Rosenthal, piano. A multi-faceted musician who has distinguished himself in both the classical and jazz spheres, native New Yorker Rosenfeld has “played everywhere” in The Apple, and in recent years, has worked extensively as an accompanist for a variety of singers. On this session, he returns to his first love, the piano trio. With Cameron Brown, bass, and Steve Johns, drums, Rosenfeld interprets a menu of accessible original music -- with one exception: “Red Red Robin” (of all things!) gets a fresh and feisty new sound. Apart from that, Rosenfeld’s trio comfortably finds all the twists and turns, shades and tempos.
Self-Produced, 2011, 50:30.
Girl Talk, Kate McGarry. McGarry is one of the few voices that can both stun and lull at the same time. Her vocal quality is pure and straightforward, with a sweetness that fills the ears. Here, the Grammy-nominated singer pays tribute to her role models, visionary women such as Carmen McRae and Betty Carter. The disc has the soul of those artists, but it is completely modern in approach. The title track is a organ-led bluesy wonder, while the opener, “We Kiss in a Shadow,” is a breezy take on the Rodgers and Hammerstein original. With Keith Ganz on guitars and Gary Versace on piano and organ, the chords are full but not overwhelming, and all the textures work well, especially backed by bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Clarence Penn. Kurt Elling lends his signature vocals on the Brazilian beauty, “O Cantador,” an airy wonder; but it’s McGarry’s quirky, slinky version of “Charade” that really shows why she’s one of the most unique vocalists of the current generation.
2012, Palmetto Records. Playing Time: 44 minutes.
Dark Lady of the Sonnets, Wadada Leo Smith’s Mbira. Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith is one of the more unconventional voices in jazz, but also one of it’s most diverse. He composes without thought of structure or rhythm, yet as things come together, there is cohesion, as with this intriguing trio. With Min Xiao-Fen on pipa (a Chinese stringed instrument) and voice, and Pheeroan akLaff on drums, the group exhibits a sparse musicianship that utilizes spaces and atonal punches in a mash-up of cultures. The eastern tonalities of the pipa, along with jazz-like drumming and avant-garde trumpeting is something I have not heard before, and the blend is strangely engaging. From the African and Asian influences, to the cohesiveness and communication between all three players, this is global free jazz at its finest.
2011, TUM Records. Playing Time: 56 minutes.
Tales of the Unusual, Lorraine Feather. Feather’s title lives up to the name. Her quirky vocal style fits expertly with her self-penned lyrics, which are poetic and let her lilt lift the music -- played, arranged and written by L.A. area pros, including Eddie Arkin, Russell Ferrante, Shelly Berg and Michael Valerio, among others. Their work allows Feather’s buoyant vocals to shine through, and her stories to be the highlight. A good example is the slinky-bluesy “Off-the-Grid Girl,” inspired by the off-the-grid islands in the San Juans. Some are inspired by movies (“The Usual Suspects”) or television (“Where is Everybody,” from the “Twilight Zone”). It’s zany at times, humorous and a pleasing listen, even if the songs go against jazz convention half the time.
2012, Jazzed Media. Playing Time: 61 minutes.
Afropean Affair, Oscar Perez Nuevo Comienzo. As the title implies, this disc blends African and European traditions, with Latin and contemporary jazz mixed in. Pianist and composer Perez blurs the lines, but it’s obvious that Cuban rhythms fueled the compositions on this smartly executed disc. Tunes range from tight modern Latin tunes (“Canaria”), to textural ballads (“As Brothers Would”), to a three-part chamber music suite (“The Afropean Suite”). Perez leads the group -- which includes trumpeter Greg Glassman and saxophonist Stacy Dillard -- with precision. While there is a sense of adventure here, the fairly rigid compositions don’t have the free nature of some Latin music, but that’s not really the point. The tunes allow for improvisation from everyone, but this is also a buttoned up tear through the Afro-Cuban world. A blending of cultures for sure, and a smart one at that.
2012, Chandra Records. Playing Time: 61 minutes.
The Calling, Romain Collin. Soundscapes. That’s the first word that comes to mind after hearing French-born pianist Collin’s compositions. They are full of color and broadly painted sounds, along with diverse rhythms and inventive melodic tonal arcs. Many younger jazz artists court this type of intricate jazz, but few do it with just a trio, as Collin does here, thanks to the talents of bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Kendrick Scott. Collin has a nimble touch on the keys, and Curtis and Scott both keep up with precision. When more texture from guitarist John Shannon and cellist Adrian Daurov are added -- as on the grandiose, “Burn. Down.” -- the result is nearly symphonic, even with the sparse instrumentation. Collin has an ear for bigger things, but keeping it at a trio level for now means it can’t get bombastic, which, if he were given an orchestra, might happen.
2012, Palmetto Records. Playing Time: 64 minutes.
Secrets of Secrets, Aaron Novik. San Francisco clarinetist and composer Novik shares his five secrets on this original disc, which combines classical, improvisation, jazz and more with the Jewish “Kabbalah” traditions. One doesn’t have to understand the traditions to listen to the music, but it may help. It begins as a Middle Eastern-tinged classical piece, on “Secrets of Creation,” with a bizarrely endearing electric violin solo by Carla Kihlstedt. The electric and acoustic combine throughout, including Novik’s electric clarinet work over the small orchestra. Guitarist Fred Frith brings a rock sensibility to these ancient sounding modes, including some fast fingering on the frenetic finale, “Secrets of Formation.” This is Jewish traditional music turned upside down. It’s strange, it’s exotic on more than one front, and somehow I like it.
2012, Tzadik. Playing Time: 68 minutes.
Forget-me-Not, Yelena Eckemoff. Russian pianist Eckemoff has been trained in the classical traditions, but this disc, recorded in Copenhagen with bassist Mats Eilertsen and drummer Marilyn Mazur, encompasses more than just classical. There is contemporary composition, flowing jazz rhythms, introspective passages, and conversational interplay, from the quietude of “Maybe,” to the polyrhythmic dance of “Sand-Glass” and the classical-jazz of “Schubert’s Code.” This is cerebral jazz with feeling, as Eckemoff’s subtle touches bring a deep feel to the sometimes classically avantgarde.
2011, L&H Production. Playing Time: 72 minutes.
4, The Clarinet Trio; and Transatlantic, BassX3. The thread between these two seemingly disparate discs is multi-instrumentalist Gebhard Ullmann. Ullmann is a free thinker, a composer who uses the highly unconventional to relay his ideas. That he is a clarinetist first means he thinks from a woodwind sensibility, which is why the Clarinet Trio is on its fourth album. With Jurgen Kupke and Michael Thieke, this is solely clarinet-based music with no backing. For fans of experimental music and woodwind sonic possibilities, this is an album of interest. For the rest of us, it can be just rather shrill noise under the guise of exploration. Ullmann gets more sonic diversity from the BassX3 trio, with him on bass clarinet and flute, and Chris Dahlgren and Clayton Thomas on double basses. It’s oddly low, but kind of cool because of the bellowing tonalities. It’s still niche music and not the kind of disc you’d want during a conventional dinner party, but the low blows are surely more palatable than three squealing licorice sticks.
2012, Leo Records (both albums). 60 & 63 minutes.
Plays and Sings, Dida Pelled. Pelled is just in her early 20s, but she’s already made a mark in her native Israel. Now U.S. audiences can hear her easygoing vocal style and laid back, hollow-bodied guitar work on this debut CD. She mostly goes by her first name, and her talents were recognized by trumpeter Fabio Morgera, who arranged the recording of this disc with such notable names as Roy Hargrove, Gregory Hutchinson and Tal Ronen. Pelled’s guitar work is fine for such a young player, especially when backing her endearing vocals with a casual strumming style, and her soloing is solid. Her voice is young, sometimes teasing (“Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”) and warm. It’s a bit like a younger Nora Jones. Most of the tunes here are from the jazz canon, with familiar melodies, but her delivery shows promise that takes her beyond just another girl singer.
2011, Red Records. Playing Time: 58 minutes.
The One Constant, Danny Fox Trio. Piano trios have always been a mainstay in jazz, but there seems to be a rise in their popularity lately. Possibly that’s because the trio is jazz in its most simple form, but good players can rise above, especially if their music has integrity and interest. Fox has made a disc of particular interest for those who enjoy good modern jazz with a twist. His original compositions combine traditional trio jazz with chamber jazz, plus elements of rock and scoring. Fox has a broad palette, ranging from whimsical runs to simmering chordal work, and his group of drummer Max Goldman and bassist Chris van Voorst van Beest, form a cohesive union of acoustic jazz.
2011, Songlines Recordings. Playing Time: 69 minutes.