Down Home, Curtis Fuller, trombone.
The “Blue Note Formula” was a phenomenon of the 1950s and beyond which brought enormous success to that honored label. It went something like this: a predominance of up tempo original hard bop tunes; a ballad or two from Songbook America; and, of course, a blues, played by a couple of lead horns and a rhythm section. As both a leader and a sideman, Fuller was a part of that era, and he brings it back most joyously on this new release. Working with sympathetic, in-the-groove, Denver-area musicians, Fuller and friends get this session underway with the title tune, a gospel-tinged opener that’s a cousin, one might say, of “Sister Sadie” or “The Preacher.” The blues choice on the session, “Chip’s Blues,” is a medium tempo entry from the pianist on the date, Chip Stephens. His solo is something of a brief handbook on the blues, as are those by Fuller and super tenorman, Keith Oxman. The example from Songbook America is the rarely heard ballad, “Then I’ll Be Tired of You.” It’s primarily a feature for Oxman, who delivers every ounce of beauty possible. The other primary soloist on the CD is trumpet and flugelhorn master Al Hood. He is featured throughout --and to stunning effect. The remaining selections are all originals from the bandmates, true to Blue Note form. Melody reigns supreme; ensemble playing is precise and effective; and tempos are varied and always interesting. Veteran trombone maven Fuller should be proud of this new addition to his discography. Close your eyes and listen. The Blue Note formula lives!
Capri Records, 2012,63 minutes.
Live At Art D’Lugoff’s Top Of The Gate, Bill Evans, piano.
The colorful history of Greenwich Village included a club which featured jazz, folk and comedy in nearly equal quantities. The Village Gate was a deservedly popular New York nightspot, and the “not quite as famous” Top of the Gate was the upstairs room. It was also the site of this miraculous two CD set, recorded in 1968 with Bill’s trio of that period: Eddie Gomez, bass, and Marty Morell, drums. Never before released, this recording differs from other posthumous Evans releases in one very important aspect: the recording quality is excellent (in comparison to some mildly disappointing material released over the last decade or two). In 1968, Evans was still playing mostly standards. So we are treated to glorious evergreens such as “My Funny Valentine,” “In a Sentimental Mood,” “Someday My Prince Will Come” and “Here’s That Rainy Day.” Because two complete sets are heard here, a few songs are played twice, notably, “Round Midnight,” “Emily” and “Yesterdays.” Evans is in total control, alternately swinging joyously and probing passionately. His concept changed the landscape of piano trio jazz, and continues to do so to this day, nearly 32 years after his all too early death at age 51. His fans will celebrate this wondrous, energetic, well-recorded live performance. The jazz recording of the year? Perhaps.
Resonance Records; 2012; two cds, 50 and 42 minutes.
Live At Yoshi’s, The Hot Club of San Francisco.
I can’t tell you just how much fun a barrel of monkeys actually would be, but I can say that this beats it! The Hot Club of San Francisco is comprised of four versatile players who get maximum music out of guitar, banjo, violin, electric violin, mandolin, bass, trombone, trumpet, rhythm guitar and dobro! On selected tunes, the four are joined by Isabelle Fontaine, a singer who seems to grasp the “period” nature of these melodies. Django Reinhardt and Stephanne Grappelli are lurking somewhere in the shadows as the SF ensemble takes on winners like “It’s Alright with Me,” “Ooh, What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” “Just One of Those Things,” “C’est Si Bon,” “I Love Paris” and a particular personal favorite, “Milord,” a little gem you might remember from recordings by Edith Piaf, Bobby Darin and others. If you can’t tap your foot to these tunes, you’d better take your pulse!
Azica Records; 2012; 75 minutes.
Something Cool, Wanda Stafford, vocals.
For the two decades that I’ve written jazz reviews, I’d like to think that I’ve fervently tried to be a jazz reviewer. And keep it at that. So when a thorough-going jazz singer crosses my path, I’m duty bound to review her work. Stafford is just such a singer. We know it when we hear it -- no one needs to inform us of something so pleasingly obvious. Wanda Stafford just naturally follows the path of a glorious list of influences, including Ella, Sarah, Billie, Anita, Chris and June. She’s been a Bay Area chanteuse for years, and on this recording, she enlists a crème de la crème quartet led by pianist Grant Levin with well-placed solos from Noel Jewkes, saxophones, and Bob Switzer, trumpet. The dozen evergreens Stafford chooses include “All of You,” “Get Out of Town,” “Street Of Dreams” and a half dozen more. From the list of singers above, Stafford is more reminiscent of Anita O’Day than any of the others. Anita was a true jazz singer, blindfolded and at 7 o’clock in the morning! She knew no other way. And if I hear some Anita in Stafford, that’s a pretty good place to be.
WINK Productions; 2011; 62 minutes.
Swing of Many Colors, The Jazz Arts Trio.
This is an intriguing CD from a few perspectives. First, it’s housed in a book-like binding, unlike any other CD that has crossed my path. Second, the graphics, both the covers and the permanently attached booklet, are colorful and creative. So let it be said that lots of thought went into one of the more attractive “presentations” I’ve yet seen. Then there’s the music. The idea here is to faithfully reproduce, note by note, the exact renditions of classics, most from Ahmad Jamal and the remainder from Red Garland, Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett, Marian McPartland and Chick Corea. There are no losers on that list, and one has to admire the fortitude of pianist Frederick Moyer for taking on this heavy duty task. His trio is completed by Peter Tillotson, bass, and Peter Frankael, drums. With all the exact notes and nuances safely in place, the trio opens with eight tunes originally included in “The Pershing Suite” by Ahmad Jamal. Among them are Jamal’s timeless versions of “Poinciana,” “But Not For Me” and “Music! Music! Music!” Oscar is represented faithfully note by note on “Night Train” and “Fly Me To The Moon.” Same for Jarrett on “All the Things You Are”; McPartland on “For All We Know” and Corea on “Matrix.” It’s very nice to be reacquainted with these artful renditions from jazz history. However, I would pose a couple of questions: why wouldn’t one simply play the originals? And having asked that, what purpose do these well done copies serve?
JRI Recordings; 2012; 68 minutes.
Single Petal of a Rose. Duke Ellington Legacy.
No one can deny it. The music of Duke Ellington is an essential element of American history. Timeless, to be sure. And it deserves to be lovingly re-examined as it is on this recording. Guitarist Edward Ellington II, Duke’s grandson and Mercer’s son, has assembled a nine-piece group with perhaps the best-known in the ensemble the distinguished pianist, Norman Simmons. He gets the session underway with a delicate solo treatment of the title tune. Simmons also has solo assignments on “After Hours,” an Avery Parish classic. And he closes the program with a tender reading of Strayhorn’s gorgeous “Lotus Blossom.” In between all this majestic music, it’s Duke galore with “Happy Go Lucky Local” -- better known as “Night Train” -- “Johnny Come Lately,” “In a Mellow Tone,” “Lush Life” and “Love You Madly.” One might say “Duke’s Greatest Hits,” wouldn’t you agree? Tenor sax star Houston Person guests on several selections, and Virginia Mayhew’s tenor adds additional sparkle. Veteran singer Nancy Reed guests on a few. The guitarist Kenny Burrell once made an album titled “Ellington Is Forever.” I couldn’t say it better.
Renma Recordings; 2012; 72 minutes.
Continuum, Richard Sussman, piano and synthesizers.
When CDs contain mostly or exclusively original music, I look for one primary characteristic. If I can’t find it, the CD is usually not a prime candidate for review. It’s as simple as … a well-defined melody. If that’s old-fashioned, so be it. But I lose my sense of direction when I can’t discern a melody as a foundation for the improvisation which follows. I know nothing of Richard Sussman other than he’s probably a New Yorker (judging from the recording studio in New Jersey.) But that aside, I have to give him credit for writing distinguishable and distinguished (!) melodies. Apparently some other cats know about Sussman. He employed Randy Brecker on trumpet and flugelhorn and the rarely heard but greatly respected Jerry Bergonzi on tenor sax. They’re joined by Mike Richmond, bass and Jeff Williams, drums. Mike Stern’s guitar also shows up on one cut, the overly electric “Mike’s Blues.” There are two standards: “Alone Together,” from the American Songbook, and “Theme For Ernie,” a sumptuous tune of slightly more recent vintage featuring Bergonzi at the top of his game. I’m not, as you most likely know, a proponent of the synthesizer, but it’s used very sparingly here. The remaining selections, all Sussman originals, showcase a versatile composer and strikingly good pianist, who writes real melodies!
Origin; 2012; 62 minutes.
VA, Virginia Schenck, vocals.
I admit it. I’m tough on female vocalists. For every one that gets reviewed, there are three or four that don’t make the cut. There’s a subtle distinction between a pop singer trying to be hip and a jazz singer who is hip without trying. Schenck falls into the latter category. You’ll know it from tune one, a burner from Stanley Turrentine called “Long As You’re Living.” Her own composition, “Compromise,” bears a cousinly relationship to “Wave,” and “Better Than Anything” is a good exercise in jazz singing introduced back in the day by Bob Dorough. Jobim is front and center on “How Insensitive,” and Schenck honors the late Abbey Lincoln with two of her tunes, “Learning How to Listen” and “The Music Is the Magic.” Betty Carter once implored, “Do Something,” and Schenck reprises it with aplomb. Other winners include Monk’s “Round Midnight” and a couple popular standards. Schenck is accompanied by a very swinging, center of the groove trio led by pianist Bates. There’s no extraneous frosting on this cake. Schenck makes it work because she’s hip and it’s on automatic pilot.
Self-Produced, 2012; 62 minutes.
Centennial - Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans, Ryan Truesdell, producer.
When Ryan Truesdell was granted permission from the Gil Evans family to study Evans’ archives, he found a number of new arrangements. Five of the 10 selections here were originally arranged with the Claude Thornhill Orchestra in mind. Thornhiil’s third stream approach, rich harmonies and unusual instrumentation were all ground breakers. Evans was a force behind all that, and eventually it evolved into his own compelling orchestral sound. A few examples of the stirring arrangements given life here are: “The Maids of Cadiz,”which would become a feature for Miles Davis years after this arrangement; “How About You” receives a center-of-the-highway reading; and “Barbara’s Song” is dark and dense, typical Evans writing. “Dancing on a Great Big Rainbow” is a richly upbeat choice in “feel good” mode. A three-part selection, “Waltz/Variation on the Misery/So Long,” is 19 minutes of brilliant arranging in Gil Evans’ altogether unique style. It’s classical; it’s third stream; it’s very orchestral; it’s an ocean of harmonies; it’s generous in solo assignments. Pure Gil Evans. The CD also include three vocals, each by a different singer. I would have shelved the vocals in favor of more instrumentals. A few of the better known soloists include Greg Gisbert, trumpet; Joe Locke, vibes; and Steve Wilson, alto sax. If Gil Evans had only participated in the timeless Miles Davis Columbia sides, that would have assured his place in jazz history. This newly discovered material affirms the fact that indeed he did much more.
Artist Share; 2012; 73 minutes.
Consequences, David Kikoski, piano.
There’s an old adage among jazz pianists suggesting that when you want to please your audience, play the blues. And it’s not a bad way to inaugurate a new CD for Kikoski and his trio with all-stars Christian McBride and Jeff “Tain” Watts. So Watts’ “Blutain” opens this set as a slightly funky blues with a burly but positive attitude. Other highlights include “Placidity,” an original and soulful ballad by the pianist; “Mr. J.J.,” another Watts entry, is an uptempo roller coaster ride with a melody that might be compared to a steaming Horace Silver concept; and its title “Still A Glimmer of Hope” would suggest a 3:45 A.M. saloon song. Instead, it’s another ride in the fast lane. The one and only standard is Kikoski’s solo venture on the CD, “Never Let Me Go,” an absolute album highlight in his tender, heartfelt rendition. On all these and others, Kikoski reaffirms the lofty status he has enjoyed for quite some years now as a prominent pianist and composer.
Criss Cross; 2012; 62 minutes.
This Time/Last Year, Kris Berg & The Metroplexity Big Band.
I believe that big bands survive (and sometimes thrive) in major cities across the country due to the persistence, dedication and never-say-die attitude of their leaders. In Dallas, Berg demonstrates those qualities with his cleverly named Metroplexity Big Band. It features a plethora of solid soloists on a menu of mostly original tunes. The familiar fare includes the opener, “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise,” which has been a jazz staple forever. “The Gentle Rain” is a Luis Bonfa hit from the bossa nova years and a feature for the silvery alto flute of Chris Vadala. A rarely heard Wayne Shorter tune, “Night Dreamer,” is another highlight. Brian Clancy and Clay Jenkins offer distinguished solos on tenor sax and trumpet. The remaining six selections are all originals by the leader, and they offer a range of tempos and moods. Among them, I was drawn to the rather Kenton-esque majesty of the title tune; the not so distant cousin to “Stolen Moments,” a tune called “Forgotten Thoughts”; and a fitting, high energy closer that reminded me somewhat of a Rob McConnell chart, “I’m Okay, We’re OK!” A tip of the hat to hard working big band leaders everywhere, and special kudos to Kris Berg for keeping the faith in Dallas.
Mama Records; 2012; 58 minutes.
Show Me the Way, Stephanie Nakasian, vocals.
Nakasian has been a standout singer on the national scene for a number of years. Possessed of both a sweet, velvety voice and an ability to select great tunes that others overlook, Nakasian hits both of these targets on her new release. Although she’s the wife of New York monster pianist, Hod O’Brien, she chose a trio led by pianist Harris Simon for this session. Several of the 15 winners here merit special mention. “Control Yourself” was written by An dre and Dory Previn, and this is the first version of it since Jackie and Roy absolutely nailed it many moons ago. “Times Are Getting’ Tougher than Tough” was actually written by Van Morrison. Still, there’s no question that this staple for Jimmy Witherspoon is a goodie. Then there’s Dave Frishberg’s “Zanzibar,” a tune gaining in stature over the last decade, with Frishberg’s wit fully on display. “Nica’s Dream” has become a jazz staple over the years, and Nakasian scats her way through it with ease. On these and lots more, Nakasian is well worth hearing.
Capri Records, 2012; 70 minutes.
Seven, Pearl Django.
This Seattle-based group has been in the forefront of “Gypsy Jazz” for nearly a dozen years. And if this is your cup of tea, they seem to handle the assignment about as well as anyone. The group is made up of two guitars, violin, accordion and bass. On this session, they bring us 12 tunes, nine of which are originals by band members. Pearl Django, if nothing else, can always be depended on for its infectious and incessant sense of swing. That, of course, is an essential and vital characteristic of this style. The three tunes from other sources are all from the jazz book. “Jeanine,” a catchy melody by Duke Pearson, is transformed comfortably from its usual bluesy-boppy setting into the familiar territory of this quintet. Monk’s “Pannonica” is a charming melody in nearly any setting, and it works seamlessly as a feature for violin and rhythm guitar. Count Basie and Harry “Sweets” Edison wrote a little riff back in the ‘30s called “Jive at Five,” and Pearl Django gives it a nice, medium-tempo ride. As if the two guitars weren’t enough, British guitar monster Martin Taylor guests on “Jive” and two others. All of the original tunes convey Pearl Django’s musical ethic: make it swing and make it happy. Not a bad place to be.
Modern Hot Records, 2012; 50 minutes.
Signing, Joe Locke-Geoffrey Keezer Group.
Vibist Locke and pianist Keezer are among the “seasoned veterans” of today’s jazz world. Old enough to have absorbed the tradition, and perhaps young enough to utilize it in shaping their own sound. This follow-up to their meeting on “Live in Seattle” several years ago, puts them in a quartet setting with Mike Pope, acoustic and electric bass, and Terreon Gully, drums. With the exception of a very unusual and subtle version of John Coltrane’s classic “Naima” and “Theme for Ernie,” the CD features six original compositions. And they certainly give the listener a mixed bag, which includes some attractive melody lines; some overly contemporary pop-oriented rhythms, and for my taste, too much electric bass. Also, Keezer is not only heard on piano, but also on Rhodes electric piano … and on something called an omnisphere. I would assume that the contemporary leaning of this session is indicative of the influence of the music Locke and Keezer listened to in their youth. This is probably great for younger ears, just a bit too “poppie” for mine.
Motema; 2012; 55 minutes.
Sophisticated Ladies, Peter Appleyard, vibes.
At 84 years of age, Appleyard is as active as ever, mostly on the stages and studios of his native Canada. On this rather unusual album, Appleyard and his all-north-of-the-border quintet accompany 10 of Canada’s most acclaimed jazz singers. As one might expect from such a “dangerous” exercise, there’s a wide variety of styles (and talent) here. Of the ten, the only familiar name to me is that of Sophie Millman, who is quite impressive on Tadd Dameron’s classic bebop ballad, “If You Could See Me Now.” Others with impressive jazz chops included Emile-Claire Barlow on “After You’ve Gone” and Elizabeth Shepherd on “It’s Only a Paper Moon.” The other singers give it their best on such timeless fare as “Love For Sale”, “Georgia On My Mind,” “Smile” and others of the same era. Appleyard’s swinging orientation is right down the center. Likewise for his colleagues. Go Canucks!
Linus Entertainment Inc., 2012.
Mary Lou Williams - The Next 100 Years, Virginia Mayhew, tenor sax.
A shining light among musicians, Williams was underrecognized by much of the jazz community. So it’s appropriate that New York tenor sax veteran Mayhew should honor the 100 anniversary of Williams’ birth. Most of the tunes are Mary Lou’s blues lines and variations. Guest Wycliffe Gordon, trombone in hand, drops in to sweeten the proceedings. Mayhew’s big tone is hip and satisfying, and it’s easy to assume that Mary Lou would be delighted. You will be too!
Remna Recordings; 2012; 64 minutes.
Belezas, Carol Saboya, vocals.
An established singer in her native Brazil, Saboya makes her U.S. recording debut with this CD. It features a mix of melodies from two Brazilian master composers, Milton Nascimento and Ivan Lins. Saboya sings in both Portuguese and English in a most pleasant manner, and welcomes guests saxman Dave Liebman and harmonica maven Hendrick Meurkens on a couple of tunes. I’d classify this more as “world music” than jazz. And as such, it’s a very polished, classy recording.
AAM Music; 2012; 54 minutes.
It’s You I Like, John Ellis, tenor sax and bass clarinet.
If you or perhaps your children grew up watching Mister Rogers, you’ll get a kick out of this new release by reedman Ellis. It turns out that Fred Rogers wrote melody and lyrics to a host of nicely-crafted tunes. Six of the ten on this CD are his creations. Ellis and his quintet charm us with “What Do You Do,” “You Are Special,” the title tune and Fred’s famous theme, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.” Among the tunes from other sources is “Because We’re Kids”, a delight I first heard from the ultra hip singer Bob Dorough. As they say, something for everybody.
Criss Cross, 2012; 59 minutes.
Down Home, Curtis Fuller.
One of the last of the old guard of the hard bop era, Fuller is seemingly ageless, playing with a top-notch group that includes tenor saxophonist Keith Oxman, trumpeter Al Hood and drummer Todd Reid. The mostly blues-based swing on here includes six Fuller originals; the laid back swing of “Ladies Night,” for instance, finds Fuller playing a jaunty solo, crafted finely over the chords. Fuller’s tone isn’t as strong as it was in the days he played with Coltrane on “Blue Trane,” but then again, that was more than five decades ago. This disc is a continuation of a long, smart career, one where he is elevated by those around him but certainly not carried. Every player here gets a chance to shine, and all do fine jobs, as Oxman proves with his lovely tonal turn on the ballad, “Then I’ll Be Tired of You.” Fuller proves that jazz musicians don’t get older, they just find more great people to partner with.
2012, Capri Records. Playing Time: 60 minutes.
Smashups, Jazz Punks.
If you don’t like your classics messed with, don’t get this album. But if you’re a fan of bands like The Bad Plus, which fuse the jazz tradition with rock bombast, this will excite you. This quintet takes familiar melodies and adds modern touches and at times other songs, then mashes them together – thus the title of the disc. “Oleo” becomes “Foleo”, the Sonny Rollins classic done bop-meets-hard rock. “Clash-Up” blends “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by the Clash, with Brubeck’s “Take Five.” Doing a disc like this can only be pulled off if the players are adept and the band tight, and luckily that’s the case. Saxophonist Robby Elfman handles the melodies with ease, while his backing group creates searing energy and sometimes over-the-top rock. While there are some inspired smashups, like pairing “Take the A Train” with Radiohead’s “Creep,” and “Night in Tunisia” with Led Zeppelin’s “Misty Mountain Hop,” the disc still walks a fine line between novelty and integrity. Regardless, it’s a jolly good bit of fun.
2012, Foam @ the Mouth Reords. Playing Time: 60 minutes.
New Street, Ben Powell.
It’s a bit odd to have a partial tribute album, but violinist Powell has only dedicated part of his latest outing to jazz violin great Stephane Grappelli, though one might argue that any current jazz violin disc owes something to the pioneer. Still, this is a beautiful disc, whether Powell is playing with his quartet or with the tribute trio, which includes Gary Burton on vibes and Julian Lage on guitar. The quartet originals by Powell show both a modernity and a nod to earlier styles, a blending of jazz and classical elements. The blending of vibes, guitar and violin on songs such as “Gary” and “La Chanson Des Rues” combines rich textures and becomes a touching tribute to Grappelli’s emotive playing.
2012, Ben Powell Music, Playing Time: 55 minutes.
Live, One Great Night, Steve Smith & Vital Information.
Drummer Smith keeps the fusion jazz torch burning with this live disc, recorded live in Ashland, Oregon, in 2007 and released now as the band makes its 30-year Anniversary tour, which unfortunately has no Oregon dates as of yet. Smith proves again why he is one of the top fusion drummers of all time, with syncopated rhythms and exceptional attention to his band in all its intricate detail. With bassist Baron Brown, guitarist Vinnie Valentino and keyboardist Tom Coster, there is great interplay among the members as they plow through a full set of original fusion tunes. The music is complex but not inaccessible, and while it doesn’t stray from the fusion formula of funky rhythms combined with jazz aesthetic, it’s the musicianship that makes this shine. A companion DVD features one extra track.
2012, BFM Jazz. Playing Time: 58 minutes.
Show Me the Way to Get Out of this World, Stephanie Nakasian.
Nakasian is a public radio favorite, having been featured on NPR’s “Fresh Air” and other shows. Her singing is easygoing and effortless, even when the tunes are more demanding. The recording was inspired by her work with fellow William and Mary teacher, pianist Harry Simon, and Simon’s trio, with drummer Billy Williams and bassist Chris Brydge, backs Nakasian’s lengthened vocal style. The recording shows a diversity of tunes, from torchy ballads to Cole Porter re-interpretations to straight ahead swing tunes and Latin-style favorites such as “Nica’s Dream”. Nakasian handles the different styles with ease, including doing some fine scatting and ripping the blues, along with a fine job on Dave Frishberg’s “Zanzibar.”
2012, Capri Records. Playing Time: 62 minutes.
Las Aventuras de Pasion, Kat Parra.
Parra is a vocalist who doesn’t hold back. The Latin singer goes bigger on her latest release, working with several arrangers to create a full-bodied sound full of horns, backing vocals and contemporary vocal turns. It starts with a cover of the overdone “Iko Iko,” which nonetheless gets new life through its infectious bomba rhythm. Parra’s bilingualism helps lift this to the next level of Latin jazz, since she can go back and forth between Spanish and English with no hiccups. And the diversity of the songs makes each stand out, ranging from the Afro-Cuban “Call Your Name” to the touching bolero, “Lo Siento Mi Vida,” and the tender ballad “Nature Boy.” Parra has a big voice but also one that can cover a world of Latin jazz with a feminine touch.
2012, JazzMa Records. Playing Time: 54 minutes.
Cruisin’ on Burnside, Steve Hall Quintet.
Hall’s quintet may not be the best-known in town, but the Portland-based group is one of the few Hammond organ groups out there, which gives them a special place. On this, their third disc, they stick with the B-3 tradition of bluesy shuffles (the title track), a few choice funky covers (“Footprints,” “Round Midnight”), and soulful swingers (“Emerald City Turnaround”). With John Dover on trumpet, Bill Harris saxes, Peter Schwimmer on guitar and Kenny Morse on drums, the group creates a big and vibrant sound. It’s perhaps not the cleanest record, maybe a bit too loose, and occasionally the unison horn lines blare through a bit much, but the music calls for the players to be loose and carefree and for that, it’s good fun.
2011, Steve Hall Music. Playing Time: 69 minutes.
Single Petal of a Rose, The Duke Ellington Legacy.
This group, founded by Edward Kennedy Ellington II, Duke’s grandson, calls upon saxophonist Houston Person to bring Duke’s legacy of great horn player to life. Person, along with tenor saxophonist and bandleader Virginia Mayhew, give the old Ellington and Strayhorn tunes rightful dedications and due, even in a smaller ensemble setting of just nine pieces. Ellington II plays guitar here, but it’s Person and pianist Norman Simmons who bring out the soul for the most part. Person’s big sound and playful nature make us remember how much fun Ellington’s music could be, and Simmons’s thoughtful arrangements on tunes such as the title track (tenderly interpreted on piano), “In My Solitude” (with smart vocals by Nancy Reed), and a swinging “Lush Life,” pay homage to the Duke.
2012, Renma Recordings. Playing Time: 64 minutes.
Unfolding, Natalie Cressman & Secret Garden.
Jazz has always had its share of young phenoms, usually schooled by industry veterans who try to encourage talent while tempering youthful exuberance. Cressman is from a musical family, so she was schooled early, which is why the trombonist, composer and vocalist, at 20, is already a respected sideperson and now solo artist. On this debut, she shows why she deserves wider recognition. Her tone is spot on, and her improvisations are smart beyond her years. Backed by a young and equally talented band, Cressman displays a knowledge of chordal music not usually associated with such young players. Her vocals are still a work in progress – her tone is sweet but lacks the fullness and confidence of those who live to sing – but she does have a great sense of interpretation, as her Joni Mitchell-style lyrics on her tune, “Whistle Song” display. The only cover here, “Honeysuckle Rose,” gets a modern, sultry and funky treatment, and the chords are twisted towards a contemporary sound, which is refreshing. Peter Apflebaum, with whom Cressman has played, makes a guest appearance on the wide open “That Kind,” as he adds his outside-in saxophone to the already impressive debut.
2012, Natalie Cressman. Playing Time: 60 minutes.
A Portrait of Brooklyn, Brooklyn Jazz Underground.
Some of the most exciting music coming out of New York is emanating from Brooklyn, and this group is in the forefront. While this is a debut recording, all the members are solid bandleaders in their own right. Brooklyn Jazz Underground is an artist run association, but this is the first time the artists have performed and recorded as a group. The result is a gritty, urban disc of smart, edgy jazz. All the members wrote several songs, but all have a connection through their shared Brooklyn experience. Some are tight compositions, like the funky “Buttermilk Channel,” while others stray outside the lines, like “JV,” which meanders through an urban landscape, while “The Cherry Bees” captures a lighter side of the city. It’s always an interesting listen, and members David Smith on trumpet, Adam Kolker on saxes and woodwinds, Dan Pratt on saxes and woodwinds, Anne Mette Iversen on acoustic bass and Rob Garcia on drums, work together cohesively to make it all happen.
2012, BJU Records. Playing Time: 60 minutes.