CD Reviews - June 2012 

by George Fendel, and Kyle O'Brien

Reviews by George Fendel

Live At Giannelli Square, Vol. 2, Alan Broadbent, piano.
 A couple of years ago, when Volume one of this music was issued, my review said, in part, that an apparent “Volume two” would be welcomed and anticipated with delight. Well, here it is. By now you’re probably aware that for me, Broadbent occupies the top rung of the jazz piano ladder. His playing is a listening adventure that gathers in the glories of J.S. Bach, Chopin, Lennie Tristano, Bud Powell and Bill Evans. But mostly it’s all about Broadbent and his consistency in providing music that swings and is beautiful. Once again, he’s with long-time associates Putter Smith, bass, and Kendall Kay, drums, and he writes another chapter in just what the classic piano trio is all about. His peerless interpretations of two standards, “Yesterdays” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” get this set off to a stirring beginning. They’re followed by the first of four original compositions: a medium tempo exercise in the blues called “Blues In ‘n Out.” “Wandering Road” is his musical statement on one aspect of the life of a musician. George Shearing’s outstanding composition, “Coneption,” follows. It’s a rarely heard gem and Broadbent makes it an album highlight. Always an admirer of the richness of Tadd Dameron’s compositions, Broadbent then launches into “Sing a Song of Dameron,” a beauty. But then, beauty was a Tadd trademark. The session is completed with “Three For All,” Broadabent’s bright and bouyant take on the changes to “Just Friends.” Let me simply state it this way: Alan Broadbent is my miracle piano player. Find out for yourself by buying this CD. And don’t miss hearing him in person for two nights, August 28 and 29, here in River City.
 Chilly Bin Records; 2012; appx. 60 minutes.

By Myself, Meredith d’Ambrosio, piano, vocals.
 In a world where people refrain from idolizing the screamers, a singer such as d’Ambrosio would be “famous.” Fortunately, for those of us who consider her in the top echelon, she’s recorded better than a dozen albums over the years, each a statement of intimacy and very high musicianship. This time, with only her own piano accompaniment, she examines the music of an American icon, Arthur Schwartz. For any of you who need some information about that name, consider these winning titles: “By Myself,” “All Through the Night,” “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan,” “You and the Night and the Music,” “Something to Remember You By,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “Then I’ll Be Tired of You” and many more. A real bonus here is the inclusion of a handful of equally lovely Schwartz obscurities, 14 tunes in all. d’Ambrosio would sooner fold the tent than ever indulge in musical excess. As in the past, this CD brings us the gift of her gentle, serene voice, her near perfect piano accompaniment, and a menu of simply delicious, “must hear songs.”
Sunnyside Records; 2011; 65 minutes.

Lester Young In Paris, Lester Young, tenor sax.
 I am not aware that this important recording has ever been available until now. That’s strange, because first, it was Lester Young’s last music statement. He died just 13 days later upon his return to New York. And second, it’s “really good Lester,” regardless of what you might have read about his “decline.” With a Paris-based quintet which included the under-rated Rene Urtreger, piano, Jimmy Gourley, guitar, George Joyner, bass, and Kenny Clarke, drums, Prez and friends explore over a dozen classics, including “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” “Lady Be Good,” “Three Little Words,” “I Can’t Get Started,” “Pennies From Heaven” and a bunch more. As one might expect, knowing Lester’s preference for a soothing, in-the-pocket sound, that’s the order of the day from these five accomplished cats. Don’t overlook Urtreger’s silvery piano solos. Likewise guitarist Gourley. This is nothing less than a major addition to the discography of one the truly “unforgettables.” To the present day, Lester Young remains a jazz original and an artist who inspired countless others who followed. You can hear it in every note.
American Jazz Classics, 2012; 63 minutes.

Send A Little Love, Roger Chong, guitar.
 Right off the top, a couple of things that impress in regards to guitarist Roger Chong: 1. He makes the guitar sound like a guitar; that isn’t always the case in this era of the electronic gimmickry indulged in by too many guitarists. 2. His original compositions, which make up the majority of the 10 tunes here, have distinct melody lines and even bridges! Imagine that! Songs that sound like songs! It would have produced only a shrug of the shoulder in years gone by, but it’s something to be admired now. And check out his ever so crafty vocal on one of the two standards, “Georgia on My Mind.” The other familiar entry is a pop tune (and a good one) from yesteryear, “Save Your Love for Me.” Among his original tunes, I found the charming melodies to “Send a Little Love My Way” and “Standed in a Love Affair” among his best. It seems that Chong and his quartet are in the game not to create a frenzy, but rather to charm us with an album of ear-friendly jazz.
Self-Produced, 2012; 40 minutes.

Per Sempre, Eddie Gomez, bass.
 It’s a good thing there are still a few folks out there making beautiful music. And when you think about it, that’s just what we’d expect from one who devoted a significant portion of his career as Bill Evans’ bassist. Gomez is joined by a group of Italian musicians who are skilled and sensitive on tenor and soprano saxophone, piano, flute and drums. Seven of the eight selections are original compositions, mostly by Gomez or other members of the ensemble. It would seem that the idea here is to play some lilting, lyrical, lovely music, sometimes with a rather pastoral touch, and often with great tenderness. Among the highlights are Gomez’s “Forever,” a stunning ballad featuring intricate interplay between Marco Pignataro on tenor and Matt Marvuglio on flute; and an almost painfully beautiful arco bass solo by the leader on a composition oddly titled “Pops and Alma.” The one and only bow to the standard book is a gorgeous rendition of “Stella By Starlight” done in 3/4 time. There’s a Third Stream quality to this music. It’s very pretty jazz with a tip of the hat to the classical repertoire. As such, it’s comforting and heartfelt.
BFM Music, 2012; 56 minutes.

Generations, Rich Thompson, drums.
 This is actually a standard piano trio with dummer Thompson in a leadership role. Of the nine tunes included, seven are original compositions by trio members. A few comments on the two standards might be in order. “I Hear a Rhapsody” is explored from every angle by pianist Chris Ziemba. He finally states the melody line the “last time around,” making this an intensely creative and rewarding version of the classic tune. The other familiar melody is “I Thought About You,” which is approached completely from a different perspective. It’s taken at a jaunty, come-what- may tempo, but also leaves room to roam for Ziemba. Among the originals, I liked the energetic uplift of “Nascimento”; and the sonic picture created by bass player Miles Brown’s “New Morning.” This is one of those CDs under the name of the drummer, and that’s just fine. However, it’s Ziemba’s swinging and steady piano which earns the blue ribbon in this performance.
Origin, 2012; 45 minutes.

Fresh Heat, Jens Wendelboe Big Band.
 Fasten your seat belts. It may be 2012, but there’s still an invigorating big band to be heard now and then. This one get the show on the road with a wordless vocal to Clifford Brown’s effervescent “Joy Spring,” complete with a New Orleans tuba-ish chorus. The singer, Deb Lyons, is well-suited to the material, but is somewhat overshadowed by the volume of the band. A mixing mix up, perhaps? Other familiar fare includes Joe Henderson’s “Black Narcissus” and the Rodgers and Hart anthem, “My Funny Valentine.” On the latter tune, Lyon’s vocal is heard much more clearly, although a bit “shouty” here and there. The remainder of the album is devoted to original material primarily from the leader. I must say that the CD is well-named. This band generates a lot of heat, with very solid arranging and meaty solos throughout. Perhaps it’s Wendelboe’s excellent trombone work that brings memories of Rob McConnell’s brilliant “boss brass” from the’70s and ‘80s. Anyway, these guys take full advantage of hip, high calorie charts. Big band folk will surely want a taste.
Rosa Records, 2012; 51 minutes.

Impromptu, Ted Rosenthal, piano.
 My initial acquaintanceship with pianist Rosenthal came, I’m pretty sure, from his role in one of Gerry Mulligan’s later ensembles. I remember being very impressed by his touch, ease and fluidity at any tempo, and by his apparent deep- in-the-shed chops! On this superb effort, Rosenthal tries his hand at something few jazz cats other than Jacque Loussier have been willing to tackle. In a phrase, it’s the music of classical music’s luminaries. All the pieces were composed by giants of the art, including Bach, Brahms, Chopin, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Schubert and more. With playing mates Noriko Ueda, bass, and Quincy Davis, drums, Rosenthal puts a little tempo and more than a touch of improvisation to these shining examples from the classical repertoire. It’s a recording which, one can only hope, will find an appreciative audience in both the jazz and classical camps. It deserves no less because it honors both art forms with precision, delicacy and beauty.
Playscape Recordings, 2010; 63 minutes.

Live in Portland, 1959, The Dave Brubeck Quartet.
 Yes, you read that correctly. Brubeck’s peerless quartet with Paul Desmond, Eugene Wright and Joe Morello played right here in PDX on an April night in 1959. Exact date - unknown. Performance location - also unknown. But here they are in a recording never before issued. The recording quality, while not quite in today’s ballpark, is eminently listenable. And the guys work out on seven numbers with extended performances featuring lengthy solos. They open with a Brubeck jammer called “Two Part Contention.” The standards on the bill include “Lonesome Road,” “Take The ‘A’ Train” and “Someday My Prince Will Come.” The surprise of the set is “When the Saints Go Marching In.” And it’s the only known performance of that tune by the Brubeck foursome. Bless them, the audience is quiet and respectful, applauding every solo. For me, of course, it’s the presence of Desmond which is the selling point. His altogether unique alto sound elevated every group he ever played in. He lifted the Brubeck quartet to great heights of popularity. More importantly, his once in a lifetime alto sound made Brubeck’s quartet a joy to hear. How nice indeed to hear all of them right here in our own backyard.
Domino Records. 2010; 69 minutes.

Uptown, David Basse, vocals.
 Am I ill-informed, or does it seem that there’s a dearth of male jazz singers these days? Giacomo Gates is true to the bebop bible, and Mark Murphy is still out there on occasion. Kurt Elling seems to have his following. John Proulx is a big time talent, and Dave Tull is a hip singer. And don’t forget Bob Dorough and Dave Frishberg, two crafty contributors to be sure. Well, that’s a few, but not so many that we’d hesitate to welcome another real good one. Basse combines an earthiness, a bluesy orientation and a vocal presence that’s hip without being forced. He’s simply a natural, “you know it when you hear it,” real deal jazz singer. He was apparently strong enough to impress sax master Phil Woods, whose quartet works hand in hand with Basse’s vocals. Much of the material is new to my ears, and lots of the lyric content deals with glories and the challenges of the New York jazz life. Titles such as “Uptown,” “52nd & Broadway,” “Like Jazz” and “Traffic Jam.” A few of the more familiar choices include “Parker”s Mood,” “Bidin’ My Time” and even “Slow Boat To China.” Perhaps the biggest winner is Johnny Mandel’s little-known beauty, “Living Without You,” a tune I first heard by yet another great but under-rated singer, Bill Henderson. David Basse has all the “right stuff” going for him, and you need to check him out!
Cafe Pacific Records, 2012; 53 minutes.

The Good Life: The Songs Of Tony Bennett, Monty Alexander, piano.
 Two or three times a year I include something in these reviews that failed to get my attention when initially released. This glorious Monty Alexander CD dates back to 2008, but it’s so good and joyous and pure Monty, that I thought you need to know about it and begin your search. All songs were winners for Tony, including “Smile,” “Maybe September,” “Just In Time,” “Put on a Happy Face,” “I Wanna Be Around,” “Once Upon A Time” and even the old warhorse, “Because Of You.” Monty’s musicianship always brightens my day, and I’m sure that you’ll agree when you hear his finely crafted trio take on these memorable melodies. I missed this one in 2008 but sure am glad it crossed my path in 2012.
Chesky Records, 2008; 62 minutes.

The Spider and the Fly, Sylvia Herold & The Rhythm Boys.
 If you sometimes have a yen for those swing tunes of a 1940s vintage, this CD will bring you right back to those days. The group is led by guitarist Herold. Her happy vocals are part of a vocal trio which also includes Jennifer Scott, piano, and Ed Johnson, guitar. Cary Black, bass, and Jason Lewis, drums, complete the basic group, which is generously sprinkled with guest artists on select tunes. Most of the musical menu is made up of rather obscure novelty songs. that put a smile on your face and help you put whatever is bugging you back into perspective. The arrangements on a disc like this could have been sappy, but that’s not the case here. The players shape their skills effectively to fit each of the tunes, and the singers provide finely-crafted harmonies. Of 14 cuts, a few titles, familiar and sleepers, include “Bessie from Basin Street,” “San Fernando Valley,” “Mohair Sam,” “The Continental,” “Happy Feet” and “Fine And Dandy.” Count Basie was once asked to describe his band. His answer was quite concise: “tap your foot.” When you listen to this uplifting performance, you’ll most certainly follow his advice.
Self-Produced, 2012; 45 minutes.

Formanism, Bruce Forman, guitar.
 I haven’t heard much about the musical whereabouts of this guitar guru in the last few years, so I was quite pleased to enounter this new release. Forman is a solid jazz guy with prize winning tone and endless chops. His trio, which includes Gabe Noel, bass, and Jake Reed, drums, takes us on a nice little detour here. Part of their program is devoted to those timeless changes of the great standards, which Forman restructures into his own melodies. Thus, “It Could Happen To You” becomes “Formanism”; “There Will Never Be Another You” becomes “Gone For Good”; and, curiously, “Oh, Lady Be Good” becomes “Underdog.” I was trying to find “Bluesette” in Forman’s cleverly titled “Bruzette” but wasn’t sure! In addition, the trio provides straight ahead gems like “Flamingo” and “I’ve Told Every Little Star” and the complex swinger with yet another great title, “Obstacle Chorus.” On all these and more, Forman continues to inform us that he’s a devoted, swinging, jazz guitar ace.
B-4 Man Music, 2012; 58 minutes.


Twelve, Amina Figarova, piano.
 Pianist Figarova’s new CD is comprised of twelve (hence, the title) original compositions. Her history of creative composition once again is highlighted here, as usual, in a sextet setting. Special kudos to trumpet-flugelhorn ace, Ernie Hammes, whose contribution to the group is notable. As usual, Figarova’s melodies are modern, urban, sometimes Latin tinged, and always expressive.
In + Out Records, 2012; 64 minutes.

Blood Songs, Matt Garrison, saxophones.
 If you’re on the prowl for a nifty sextet playing invigorating arrangements of well-constructed tunes, this may be your ticket. Garrison is a very versatile player; swift and sure on baritone and right down the center on tenor and soprano. His writing is often very much a day brightener, and colleagues Greg Gisbert, trumpet and flugelhorn, and Michael Dease, trombone, are also in it to win it. Pianist Roy Assaf also exhibits major league stuff. Don’t miss a guest shot from tenor sax monster Eric Alexander. Upward and onward, there’s some exciting playing here.
D Clef Records, 2012; 63 minutes.

Convergence, Allan Harris, vocals.
 There’s a special recital quality to the pairing of singer Harris and pianist Takana Miyamoto. The two team up on a reliable menu of standards, including “My Foolish Heart,” “But Beautiful,” “The Touch of Your Lips” and “We’ll Be Together Again.” More recent vintage winners include Bill Evans’ honored “Waltz For Debby,” a Sammy Cahn triumph called “Some Other Time,” and Michel Legrand’s gorgeous “You Must Believe in Spring.” And Harris absolutely shines on “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” Miyamoto’s piano accompaniment is sensitive and serene. What a lovely musical meeting.
Love Productions, 2012; 45 minutes.

Reviews by Kyle O'Brien

Fromage, Randy Hoexter Group.
 Bad music can be made better. Take pianist/arranger Hoexter’s attempt here to take some of the most iconic but “bad” songs of the 1970s and make them into art. Too often, jazz takes itself seriously, but this disc is a refreshing bit of humor married to solid musicianship that’s used to reinterpret pop songs so they become viable modern jazz tunes. You’ll be able to pick out the melodies here, as on the opener, “Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves,” made famous by Sonny & Cher, but here re-worked as a modern Latin jazz tune, with dense melodies and touches of flamenco. “You Light Up My Life” is almost unrecognizable at first as a 7/4 steamer, until vocalist Angie Driscoll sings the familiar, sappy melody. I would have preferred it without vocals to retain the integrity and mystery, though. The Captain & Tenille’s “Muskrat Love” gets a polyrhythmic backing by drummer Dave Weckl, while the normally god-awful melody on “Seasons in the Sun” gets a chordal bump and an uplifting bop swing. Bassist Jimmy Haslip does a fantastic solo on “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero,” and chordal alterations saves the bubble gum of “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy.” This is a fun exercise in transformation, and Round 2 is greatly anticipated.
 2012, Rhombic Records. Playing Time: 62 minutes.

Covers, Oregon Guitar Quartet.
 The Oregon Guitar Quartet is rooted in classical music, and the four guitarists – David Franzen, John Mery, Jesse McCann and Bryan Johanson – are all adept classical players. Here, they take familiar jazz melodies and interpret them as only they can, with precision and harmonious interplay. “My Funny Valentine” is a lovely baroque-style interpretation that is layered in picking and strings. “Fly Me to the Moon,” is laden with elements of Schubert and bolero, while “Tequila” is a heady take on a light song. “All the Things You Are” is a lovely, rippling version of the standard, though not terribly recognizable. “St. Thomas” is about as close to the original as there is, with it’s uplifting melody intact. “Autumn Leaves” takes on a melancholy feel, while Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” isn’t terribly funky, but this big string sound is a fun way to hear it. A bonus track of Tom Waits’ “Jesus Gonna Be Here” is the only time the group strays from its classical roots, going instead to an Americana sound, with banjo.
2012, Cube Squared Records. Playing Time: 60 minutes.

Give Thanks, Darren Klein.
 Klein was a New York transplant to Portland until he recently moved back. But while he was in Portland, he recorded this EP disc with area musicians. It’s a textural modern jazz outing, and slightly retro, with Akila Fields’s electric piano and Damian Erskine’s reassured electric bass. It occasionally sounds like Flim & the BBs, with an easygoing feel offset by a complexity of chord changes and Noah Bernstein’s longing soprano sax, as on “Twin” and “Paper Wings.” Klein has a nice, open sound on his guitar, and his playing is ripe with space and thoughtful runs. It would be nice to hear a full disc by Klein.
2012, Darren Klein. Playing Time: 37 minutes.

My Blue Heaven, Cheryl Jewell.
 The opening track has Jewell sounding more like a showperson rather than a true jazz singer. Still, she has a nice, strong voice, but one that also can veer to over-expressive. The Seattle-area singer had a long run with various bands and settings in Los Angeles, and she obviously picked up some theatricality down there. I can see her in a Broadway show or as a feature performer more than a club singer. She is better on ballads, such as “When Do the Bells Ring for Me?” When backed by a big band, her strength is that she can hold up to the power, but that’s where she also over-emotes. Give me her melancholy version of “Cry Me a River” over her not-so-bluesy version of “People Get Ready.” Jewell has a strong voice, and when used with the right restraint and in the right setting, she sounds great.
2012, CherylCo Productions. Playing Time: 40 minutes.

What is Hip, Soul Vaccination.
 Soul Vaccination is one of the Northwest’s top funk and soul bands -- has been for years. They’ve channeled the sounds of various great bands, from Sly & the Family Stone to James Brown and Tower of Power. Here, the band is joined by former TOP guitarist Bruce Conte, playing many of the tunes that made him and the band from Oakland famous. This disc was recorded live at Jimmy Mak’s last year after the Waterfront Blues Festival, and it captures the energy of the group. It’s starts with a bang – the title track and one of Tower of Power’s biggest tunes. Conte rips up the licks right away, and fans will recognize his fiery sound. The recording doesn’t quite capture all the nuance of the 13-piece band, but the horn-powered dance music will get you tapping your toes in no time, thanks especially to a backbeat that just won’t quit. Conte is definitely a welcome feature performer here, but he’s really just one strong piece in an already strong ensemble.
2012, self-produced. Playing Time: 60 minutes.

Bohemian, Cathy Segal-Garcia & Yoonseung Cho.
 Los Angeles-based Segal-Garcia has a lilting voice that goes perfectly with Korean pianist Cho’s buoyant playing. Her voice has a carefree quality, but one born of years training and teaching. Cho and Segal-Garcia follow each others’ leads, and the result is a connection that goes beyond borders. Her addition of lyrics to Pat Metheny’s “Her Family,” is inspired. The music ranges from chamber jazz to bluesy funkiness, and the intimacy of the duo is inviting.
2011, Dash Hoffman Records. Playing Time: 76 minutes.

Celebration: Life, Love, Music, Tony Monaco.
Hammond B-3 organist Monaco has put together a two-disc set – one of new original tracks that shows his level of groove and proliferation of compositions, the other a collection of tunes previously played and recorded. Disc One has everything from slinky grooves with drummer Jason Brown and saxophonist Ken Fowser, to full-blown gospel numbers with the Columbus Choir Singers. All have the signature vibrato sound of Monaco’s organ paired with a rock-solid groove. There’s a bit more sonic diversity on Disc Two, though the groove remains. We hear guests like Joey DeFrancesco, Bruce Foreman, Donny McCaslin and Adam Nussbaum helping push the music forward . His mentor, Jimmy Smith, would have been proud.
2012, Chicken Coop/Summit Records. Playing Time: 142 minutes.

Six, Noah Bernstein.
 This disc captures the ear immediately with its pulsing reed sounds featuring Bernstein on alto, Eugene Lee on soprano, Blake Lyman on tenor and Mary-Sue Tobin on bari. The three saxes are balanced by Andre St. James on bass and Mark Griffith on drums. This is an auspicious debut for this Portland group, and Bernstein’s mix of modern post-bop and avant-garde leanings make it interesting musically, especially with the saxophone quartet up front. All are able players and add something different to the mix. Bernstein’s harmonic interplay with repetitive phrases highlights the ensemble sections, and there is a welcome tension-release going on throughout. What makes this really intriguing is that we haven’t heard the saxophone quartet used quite in this way before, especially here in Portland, and it’s a refreshing difference. This would be a fun group to hear live.
2012, Hanley Records. Playing Time: 45 minutes.

David Caceres, David Caceres.
 Is Houston-based Caceres an R&B singer, a pop-jazz saxophonist or a contemporary renaissance man? Well, listening to this disc, one gets bits of it all, but not a real sense of what direction he wants to go. It starts with a cover of R&B star Maxwell’s “Symptom Unknown,” a groovy tune that doesn’t really get better in Caceres’s soulful but slightly thin voice. Vocal interpretation seems to be where he wants to be, but frankly he’s a better contemporary saxophonist. His tone is somewhere between Sanborn and Desmond, and his licks are nimble and bright. Unfortunately, we don’t get enough of it. Backed by a small orchestra and a rhythm section that includes guitarist Larry Campbell and bassist Larry Grenadier, plus organist and arranger Gil Goldstein, Caceres has a band that can pull anything off, and the arrangements are smart. But his voice wears thin after a bit, especially when he tries to push it too much into the R&B realm, as on a funky version of “‘Round Midnight,” where his alto solo is far too short and his vocals way too long. Caceres would do himself a favor to keep the horn in his mouth and play some instrumentals.
2010, Sunnyside Records. Playing Time: 60 minutes.

Silent Movie, Melissa Sylianou.
 Plenty of jazz artists incorporate popular music into their repertoire, and if it’s done in new and different ways so as to bring about a new meaning, it’s a pleasure to hear. If not, it’s a cover record. Vocalist Stylianou has thankfully brought new sounds to familiar melodies, letting her mix of reinterpretations and original music stand out. She has a storytelling voice, lyrical and lush, innocent and beautiful. Her tender version of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” is nearly lulling in it’s simplicity. The original title track is similarly gorgeous, thanks to a band that knows to lay back and build only where necessary. Players such as guitarist Pete McCann, bassist Gary Wang, drummer Rodney Green and pianist Jamie Reynolds paint light landscapes so Sylianou can wash her voice over the top. Guest artist Anat Cohen adds touches of texture on soprano sax and clarinets. Granted, this isn’t the most uplifting or energetic disc, but it is consistent in its beauty.
2012, Anzic Records. Playing Time: 54 minutes.