Mr. Lucky: A Tribute To Sammy Davis Jr; Harold Mabern, piano.
Few would deny that Sammy Davis Jr. was the last of a show biz breed. A gifted singer, actor, dancer and impressionist, Sammy could simply do it all. And better than just about anyone. So it comes as no surprise that a Sammy tribute CD (at long last!) has been made available. Veteran pianist Harold Mabern, born in 1936, lived through both the triumphs and tribulations of Davis’s life. Mabern admired him as one of the greats, and teamed up with three outstanding players to present nine tunes closely associated with SD Jr. Eric Alexander, one of today’s top tier tenor titans, is joined by John Webber, bass, and Joe Farnsworth, drums. The menu of tunes includes “As Long As She Needs Me,” “Hey There,” “I’ve Gotta Be Me,” “Mr. Lucky,” “What Kind Of Fool Am I” and “Something’s Gotta Give.” My favorite was “Night Song,” a winning melody from the movie, “Golden Boy,” in which Sammy starred. It’s taken at a faster than usual tempo and features Mabern’s vamp and Alexander cookin’ up the stew! Two unfamiliar pieces were “The People Tree” (perhaps from the later stages of Davis’s career) and a Mabern original called “Soft Shoe Trainin’ With Sammy.” The latter is, effectively, Mabern’s update of “Hit The Road to Dreamland.” The pianist, on the other side of 75, sounds as fresh and vigorous as ever, and this Sammy tribute is a grand event!
High Note, 2012, appx. 58 minutes.
It’s About Time; Hope Morgan, vocals.
You’d be surprised at just how many female vocalists I am asked to review every month. Bless ‘em all for the old college try, but most don’t make the cut. Now and then, someone “arrives on my doorstep” who has real jazz chops. Certainly you’ve heard the old cliché, “You know it when you hear it.” Well, I hear it in Morgan. A singer with the little subtleties that separate her from the pack, Morgan possesses a thick, Betty Carter-ish quality, and she just grabs you with improvisations worthy of a horn player. She doesn’t shy away from challenging tunes, either. Among others, consider these: “Well, You Needn’t,” “All Blues,” “Lush Life,” “Out of this World,” “Dindi,” “Afro Blue” and “Jitterbug Waltz.” Morgan, a resident of Austin, Texas, is accompanied by a very swinging and subtle quartet of Austin musicians. A couple of my personal faves included “The Island,” a gorgeous Brazilian tune I recall from a stunning Sarah Vaughan version; and “Beautiful Love,” a semi-standard which Morgan simply caresses. Hope Morgan is very real, very compelling and very much a jazz singer. Just listen! Get in touch at http://www.hlmmusic.com
Self-produced, 2012, appx. 59 minutes.
The Best Thing For You; John Proulx, piano and vocals.
Proulx is an artist on the rise, a pianist and singer of significance, and a composer of “real” songs with distinct melody lines. On his new release, Proulx decides to try a mixture of bop, Songbook America, a contemporary touch, a few new original compositions, and even a couple of countrified items. Let’s give it a closer look. From the standard bag, there’s the title tune, “The Best Thing for You,” and an updated, backbeat style “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” Out of the pop bag comes “Sing,” a huge hit for The Carpenters, but Proulx fearlessly takes it on and nails it. Country fare includes Sarah McLaughlin’s “Angel,” the tune you’ve seen in the ASPCA spots on TV with all the sad-looking animals seeking new homes; and a Billy Joel opus called “And So It Goes.” Stronger, jazz-oriented choices include Cannonball’s “Wabash,” which features John’s wordless, scat vocal; and “Proulx’s Blues,” the lyric of which read “The more harder I work, the behinder I get!” And “Push Hands Anna,” a Proulx original, is a charmer written, I do believe, for his daughter, now five years old. My two faves on the album were “Two Of A Kind,” a rare Darin/Mercer delight on which Proulx is joined by Michael Feinstein; and “Here’s to the Chuckster,” Proulx’s salute to the bassist on this session (and hundreds of others), Chuck Berghofer. This CD is something of a departure from his previous efforts, but Proulx was aiming for “something for everybody,” and he achieves it. And all, as one would by now expect, in the best of taste and at the highest level of creativity.
MaxJazz, 2012, appx. 71 minutes.
‘Round Midnight; Harry Allen and Scott Hamilton, tenor saxophones.
Although they’re 12 years apart in age, both Allen and Hamilton grew up in an era when every young saxophone cat wanted to sound like Coltrane. Well, not quite everyone. Allen and Hamilton opted for the influence of icons like Hawkins, Webster, Ammons and Sims. That being the case, it makes perfect sense that these similar stylists should join forces and do a “two saxophone” album. Indeed they have done so on two previous occasions, and this high spirited session is number three! Joined by the rising piano star, Rossano Sportiello, along with veterans Joel Forbes, bass, and Chuck Riggs, drums, the twosome explores some straight down the middle of the highway material. Never forgetting Duke’s advice that “it don’t mean a thing …,” Harry and Scott swing with authority. The nine tune program includes winners such as “My Melancholy Baby,” “How Am I to Know,” “Baubles, Bangles and Beads,” “Lover” and the title tune, “’Round Midnight.” Allen’s “Great Scott” is based loosely on “Indiana” changes, while “The Opener” is a cousin of “Jada” and “Doxy.” It was written by Al Cohn for his own partnership with Zoot Sims. And “Flight of the Foo Birds” is a Neal Hefti creation, originally part of the Count Basie book. I recall that the great Milt Jackson once made an album called “Ain’t But a Few of Us Left.” Thankfully, we still have Allen and Hamilton, present day practitioners of classic, swinging jazz. And practicing it with exemplary taste!
Challenge Records, 2012; appx. 68 minutes.
My Muse; George Cables, piano.
Since the 1970s, Cables has occupied one of the most honored positions among jazz pianists. With a resume including Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins and Art Pepper, Cables has the whole thing down pat. From bebop to blues to ballads, from definitive standards to simmering originals, Cables is simply one of the few remaining jazz piano stars. How nice it is to encounter a real piano trio album. It’s a rarity these days for a pianist to not feel compelled to do two or three tunes on the Rhodes or, worse yet, have a synthesizer lurking somewhere. Apparently, Cables agrees, and we’re the beneficiaries. With veteran players Essiet Essiet, bass, and Victor Lewis, drums, Cables presents a piano trio album “the way they used to make them!” Brave man that he is, Cables opens with a lullaby. Most artists want to shake the roof a bit on the opener, but George’s “Lullaby” is two minutes of gentle, serene communication. Several enchanting standards also are brought to life here, including “You’re My Everything,” “My One and Only Love,” “My Old Flame” and “I Loves You Porgy.” But the standout for me was McCoy Tyner’s beauty, “You Taught My Heart to Sing.” On all these and a few stirring originals, it’s a rare pleasure to hear a solid, stately pianist do his classic “thing” -- especially when that pianist is George Cables.
High Note; 2012; appx. 62 minutes.
The New Classic Trio; David Hazeltine, piano.
My goodness! How lucky can one guy get? In the review above I just sang the praises of George Cables, and lo and behold, here’s another “real” piano trio recording. As Sharp Nine Record producer Marc Edelman explains in the notes, Hazeltine issued two superb recordings in the last dozen years called “The Classic Trio, Vols 1 and 2.” Well, the personnel has changed in the interim, as Hazeltine is joined by two giants, George Mraz, bass, and Joe Farnsworth, drums. Hazeltine and friends swing with impeccable taste and authority throughout, but let me clue you to a few of the tunes. “My Heart Stood Still” is the opener, and it’s pure and simple straight ahead perfection. “I Wish I Knew” arrives with a bit of a Latin beat, one of two tracks on the album where the trio enlists the services of conga man Jose Alexis Diaz. “Hob Nob with Brother Bob” is a Buddy Montgomery tune with a bluesy bloodline, and “I’ll Let You Know” is Cedar Walton’s lovely creation, just waiting for a dreamy lyric. Bud Powell gave us an abundance of great melody lines, and “I’ll Keep Loving You,” while not often heard, is certainly one of them. Though we are not told that “Sharpie” refers to Mr. Edelman, it would seem to make sense, as does the trio’s brisk (but not overly so) tempo on “Sharpie’s Blues.” The other standard is “Come Rain or Come Shine,” a chance for bassist Mraz to shine. The CD is completed by a few of Hazeltine’s well-constructed originals. Edelman was right: this is David Hazeltine’s NEW classic trio.
Sharp Nine Records, 2012; appx. 57 minutes.
The Jerome Kern Concert; Pete Smyser, guitar.
It’s pretty rare these days to access a recording dedicated to the music of one composer. And when that composer is American Songbook hero Jerome Kern, well, it’s gonna raise some eyebrows! I was unfamiliar with guitarist Smyser, but I’ve been acquainted with the glories of Mr. Kern for decades. Turns out that Smyser is part of the jazz faculty at Moravian College, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and that’s where this deliciously melodic event took place. The guitarist is a dedicated devotee of the rich songwriting period of the 1920s through the ‘40s, and his quartet is gimmick-free in its interpretations of these Kern masterpieces. Joined by high profile Philadelphians Tom Lawton, piano, Madison Rast, bass, and Dan Monaghan, drums, Smyser plays a seven-string, George Van Eps style guitar. And make no mistake, in this world of guitars which too often sound like anything but guitars, Smyser is right on target with a rich, resounding sound, lovely chords and clean, elegant single note work. The quartet shines on 11 tunes, including “Look for the Silver Lining,” “Dearly Beloved,” “Make Believe,” “Remind Me,” “Pick Yourself Up,” “The Folks Who Live on the Hill,” “A Fine Romance” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” There’s nothing extraneous here, no glitter or schmaltz. Instead, we are treated to a quartet having a great time playing music by a genius named Jerome Kern.
Self-Produced, 2012; appx. 57 minutes.
Don’t Wait too Long; Ellen Robinson, vocals.
At some point in life, I realized how much I appreciate singers who are very deliberate in their choice of material and manage to “unearth” quality tunes just waiting to be performed. Bay Area singer Robinson fits that mold. She’s been a hometown favorite for many years and comfortably tells the story of each song she sings. With an understated, supportive quartet on board, Robinson opens this CD in waltz tempo on a rare Comden- Styne gem “Dance Only with Me.” Her own composition, “Soon” (not to be confused with the Gershwin tune), follows, and it’s a politely swinging opus. “Almost Like Being in Love,” usually taken at a fast clip, is treated as a ballad by Robinson, and “pared down,” it works well. Other superb choices include Michel Legrand’s hopeful “You Must Believe in Spring; Burke- Van Heusen’s “But Beautiful”; and another rare entry, Irving Berlin’s “Be Careful, It’s My Heart.” Don’t get confused by the title tune, “Don’t Wait too Long.” It’s not the Tony Bennett hit from years back. It’s a rhythmic, bouncy, shuffle beat bit of advice saying, Get in the game, take a risk, and “don’t wait too long.” Sounds like good advice for any aspiring young musician. On all these and a few originals, Robinson holds forth as a singer with style, flair and jazz chops.
EMR Music, 2012; 71:58.
Coexist; Winard Harper, drums.
One time through with Harper’s new recording and I bet you’ll come away with the same thought I did: Wynard Harper is a believer. He believes there’s still a place in his musical world for distinct melody lines; that here’s still value to the concept of mixing standards and jazz tunes with relevant original compositions; that there’s still excitement and anticipation in stirring improvisations. And, don’t forget, he believes it’s still okay to swing. Harper and a crew of musicians whose names are all new to me keep the above mantras central to their task. The CD opens with a Sonny Clark’s bright and breezy melody,. “Somethin’ Special,” and continues with a George Cables charmer, “Helen’s Song.” I’m of the opinion that religious songs belong on religious albums, so I would have omitted the nine thousandth rendition of “Amazing Grace” on a jazz album. But in a more positive light, Harper and friends deliver a Mingus-like opus called “Hard Times” which certainly gives hope that times will get better. The CD’s delightful surprise is guest Frank Wess whose flute solo lights up “In a Sentimental Mood.” There’s a “Blakey-Blue Note” feel to “Get Tough” and “Triumph,” and “Dedicated to You” is Wess’s other feature, this time on tenor sax. On these and others, Winard Harper & Co. have given us an old school record that satisfies and excites from nearly every perspective.
Jazz Legacy Productions, 2012; appx. 64 minutes.
We Remember Helen; Roger Davidson, piano.
Anyone who followed the career of Bill Evans will undoubtedly know the name Helen Keane. She was a much admired producer and manager for many jazz artists, working in that capacity for 17 years with Evans. She also assisted Roger Davidson in embarking on his career, helping him produce his first album in 1991. Since that time, Davidson has worked as a music chameleon, recording frequently in such disparate areas as Latin, sacred, klezmer and jazz. On this straight ahead effort, he takes on 11 tunes that were among Helen Keane’s favorites, and four original compositions as well. His trio includes two prominent players in David Finck, bass, and Lewis Nash, drums. Davidson’s reverence for these timeless tunes is obvious as he and his talented colleagues ease their way through such winners as “Yesterdays,” “Whisper Not,” “Charade,” “Beautiful Love,” “How Deep Is the Ocean,” “Early Autumn” and “Waltz For Debby.” His title tune is a lyrical, classical beauty, and surely an album highlight. Helen Keane did much to advance the careers of great artists. How very apropos that she be honored in such a stately fashion.
Soundbrush Records, 2012; appx. 67 minutes.
Stepping Back; Joel Behrman, trumpet.
In the jazz trumpet panorama, I’d vote for Clifford Brown as the all-time “King Of Warm,” but others easily come to mind. How about players such as Joe Wilder, Art Farmer, Warren Vache, Carl Saunders and even Don Fagerquist, to name a few. To that formidable list, add the name Joel Behrman, a San Francisco Bay area cat who coaxes a very silvery, solid sound from his trumpet. Behrman covers lots of territory, ranging from the hip, faster than usual tempo on “I Cover the Waterfront” to Joe Henderson’s hard bop burner, “Inner Urge.” Or from a rare Ellington-Hodges gem, “Mood to Be Wooed” to Louis Armstrong’s playful New Orleans style ditty, “The Faithful Hussar.” Behrman’s sextet includes Bay Area colleagues Dayna Stephens, tenor sax, Danny Armstrong, trombone, Matt Clark, piano, Marcus Shelby, bass, and Howard Wiley, drums. On all of the above tunes, plus seven originals, three of which comprise his “Justice Suite,” Behrman and friends display versatility, solid chops, inventive composition, and downright fun on an impressive debut album. And, oh, above all, there’s “that sound” of Behrman’s trumpet.
Killer Kat Records, 2012.
A Voice through the Door; Conrad Herwig, trombone.
It’s tough to catagorize this music “conveniently.” I get the impression that the terms “hard bop” and “post bop” may have gone out of fashion. Yet here’s a very standard quintet of trombone, tenor and rhythm section, and they’re playing nearly all original music -- kinda like the Blue Note “brand” of the past. All of the tunes, with the exception of one standard, were written by trombonist Herwig. And most of them give wide ranging solo freedom to tenor ace Ralph Bowen. His sound is very contemporary, sometimes far-reaching and, if I may use the term, “Coltrane-ish.” Herwig, who by now has earned the praise of many fans and musical colleagues, is a free blowing, hugely creative, boppy (there’s that word again!) trombone master. Add the piano pyrotechnics of Orrin Evans, with Kenny Davis, bass, and Donald Edwards, drums, and you have a snarling, in-yourface quintet which takes no prisoners. As mentioned above, the one standard is “All or Nothing at All,” and these guys just rip through it like a medium rare filet. This music isn’t for your Aunt Mildred, but if a dose of powerful musicianship floats your boat, well, sail away!
Criss Cross, 2012; appx. 61 minutes.
A Celebration of Diz And Miles; Mike Longo, piano.
For the past nine years, the John Birks Gillespie Auditorium, in New York’s Baha’i Center, has presented a series titled “Jazz Tuesdays.” On this disc, the founder of the event, Mike Longo, has been captured live with trio mates Paul West, bass, and Ray Mosca, drums. As the title indicates, Longo and friends examine music either written by or closely associated with either Dizzy Gillespie or Miles Davis. The two of them, of course, are responsible for many timeless examples of bop and modal jazz. So, as one might imagine, it’s a treat to hear the trio blast off on “All Blues,” “Con Alma,” “Milestones,” “Freddie Freeloader,” “Summertime,” “So What,” “Ow” and “A Night in Tunisia,” among others. The jazz historians among you will rec- ognize Longo’s name from many years in Gillespie’s employment. So you can bet that Longo lays down these classics with abandon and total delight. These tunes hail from perhaps the most creative, incredible period of jazz history. We never tire of the Bachs and Beethovens of jazz, and it’s clearly a pleasure to hear them, one after another, in the hands of bebop master, Mike Longo.
Consolidated Artists Productions, 2012; appx. 71 minutes.
The Greg Abate Quartet featuring Phil Woods; Greg Abate, saxophones and flute; Phil Woods, alto saxophone.
“I sleep a lot better knowing there are players like Greg.” So said alto icon Phil Woods regarding his opportunity to guest on five of the 10 tracks here. It seems, in recent years, that Woods is showing up on numerous recordings of deserving colleagues. And there’s a “tipoff” when you see the words “featuring Phil Woods.” It’s simply this: if Phil Woods is on the session, you just know you’re in for some heavy duty, classic, real deal bebop. Fellow reedman Greg Abate is no rookie in the jazz biz, so teaming up with Woods feels almost like it was inevitable. Abate actually plays alto, soprano, baritone and a bit of flute, while Woods sticks strictly to his trusty alto. Rounding out the quintet are Jesse Green, piano, Even Gregor, bass, and Phil’s longtime drummer, Bill Goodwin. Eight of the 10 tunes are Abate’s creations, mostly energetic bop lines which allow lots of room for heady solos. Woods contributes one tune to the session, a tribute to the late alto giant Art Pepper titled “Goodbye Mr. Pepper.” But it’s not dirge-like or “sad” in the style of such compositions. With an attractive melody line, at medium tempo, it’s more triumphant than anything else. Abate makes the case throughout this session that his name should be more familiar in the jazz world. And Phil Woods is, well, Phil Woods.
Rhombus Records, 2012; appx. 69 minutes.
Two For The Road; Tianna Hall, vocals.
I’m thinking that just about every city of any size is home to a few singers who command a lot of respect in their hometowns and are deservingly busy in their own locales. That’s kinda the idea I get concerning Houston based Tianna Hall. Some 10 years ago, Ms. Hall shared the stage with the Mexico City Jazz Trio at a festival across the border. A very comfortable musical association grew from that experience, and Hall has worked steadily with them ever since. Hall brings a very distinctive, easy on the ears, no gimmick approach. She’s not a ripping scat singer, nor does she take unadvisable liberties with lyrics. She does, however, possess a radar-like jazz orientation, in a sense, letting these songs “sing themselves.” And one can’t argue with choices like “What Is this Thing Called Love,” “They Can’t Take that Away from Me,” “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” “Good Morning Heartache,” “So in Love” and even Henry Mancini’s hit, “Moon River.” Speaking of Mancini, an album highlight is, most assuredly, the title tune, a Mancini masterpiece gaining in popularity by the year and nearing standard status. Hall and the Mexico City Trio have an “easy chair” intimacy going for them. Kudos all around!
Self-Produced, 2012; appx. 53 minutes.
Down Beatrice Street; Bob Szajner, piano.
A native of the fertile jazz scene in Detroit, Bob Szajner, born in 1938, was active in the heyday of hard bop. This marathon session, recorded in 1978, took place following a self-imposed, nearly three-decade hiatus from music. Twenty seven original tunes were recorded (!), all first takes with no previous rehearsals. Truly an example of on-the-spot music. Szajner’s trio includes fellow Detroiters Ray McKinney, bass, and drummer Roy Brooks, who had already established considerable national credentials. Of the 27 tunes, 15 are heard on this record. Szajner is obviously right at home in a classic bebop piano sort of way, and one can hear the influence of fellow Detroit icon Hank Jones. Szajner’s melodies are fresh and vital, and a few words about specific tunes would seem to be in order. “136.5”, a title derived from a cassette counter, is a bop delight with a Bud Powell-ish turn or two. “Black Monk” is Szajner’s tribute to Thelonious Monk. Catch the similarity to “Misterioso.” “Flying Horace,” named, of course, for Horace Silver, is an uptempo, bluesy item, with lots of positive energy, and “The Parson” shows Szajner’s gospel chops. On all these and more, Bob Szajner’s melodies possess a certain classic jazz feeling. It’s unfettered, not monkeyed around with, real deal piano jazz which seems to say, “what we have is what you get.”
Quixoticv Records, 2012; appx. 70 minutes.
Step By Step; Ray Zepeda, alto, soprano and tenor saxophones.
You might as well get ready to hear the name Ray Zepeda quite a lot in jazz circles during the coming years. Here’s an emerging player with a solid musical education and a substantial grounding in the jazz book. Zepeda strikes me as one of those prodigy types who probably blew everyone away in his high school and college stage bands. And he continues doing so on this energetic outing. Based in Los Angeles, Zepeda cooks it up with three LA area monsters, Rich Eames, piano, Darek Oles, bass, and Joe LaBarbera, drums. The session gets underway with a straight forward reading of “Stella By Starlight” and continues with “Step By Step,” a Zepeda original which bears a cousinly musical relationship to John Coltrane’s mega-hit, “Giant Steps.” His take on “Body And Soul”, a duet with drummer LaBarbera, is too edgy and eerily avant for my straight ahead leanings, but he recovers nicely on a Billy Childs tune called “Midland.” It’s a feature for soprano sax, and Zepeda makes it a dramatic ride. “You Haven’t Changed” is a warm 3/4 time Zepeda original, and it’s charming melody line features pianist Rich Eames. The set concludes with the rarely heard Frank Loesser opus, “Never Will I Marry,” played with a subtle backbeat. Except for the one bug on the windshield, Zepeda is off and running. Keep an eye on him or get in touch at MusicRay@yahoo.com .
Soundsketch Records, 2012.
Vitalogy; Richie Vitale, trumpet and flugelhorn.
If you’d like to sample yet another relative of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” try the first cut of this vigorous, hard bop album led by New Yorker Richie Vitale. It’s called, of course, “Vitalogy,” and it gets this session off to a more than rousing start. I don’t know a lot about Vitale aside from a couple of sides he did on the short-lived but excellent TCB label. As I discovered on those sessions, Vitale is a devoted bebopper with, alternately, a sound that’s searing or as gentle as an alpaca wrap. His quintet here is made up of almost all new names to me, and I was equally impressed with Frank Basile on baritone sax and Nial Djuliarso, piano. “A Promise Kept” is a silky ballad, and “Nattahnam” is Vitale’s tip of the hat to the Sonny Rollins classic, “Airegin.” Try spelling both words backwards and you make come up with something interesting. “To the Beat of a Different Drummer” is classic, burning hard bop with steamy solos for all brave enough to blow. “Eulogy for Freddie” shows Vitale in majestic mode with a gorgeous melody line for Freddie Hubbard. Finally, there’s the danceable “Rumba para los Ninos,” a lyrical Latin delight. I’m telling you, Richie Vitale should be right up there “fame wise” with the biggest names. Without question, he possesses great musical gifts.
Gut String Records, 2011; appx. 40 minutes.
A Tribute To Benny Goodman; Julian Bliss, clarinet.
Julian Bliss, a classical clarinetist who has performed with more symphony orchestras than you can mention in one breath, fell under the spell of Benny Goodman at age seven. Among all his triumphs in the classical world, he always wanted to do this album, and at long last, here it is. Right off the bat, you have to agree that Bliss’s tone on clarinet is, well, pure bliss. It’s a refined, silvery slice of perfection, and Bliss and his septet are right on target on 13 tunes, all of which were prominent in the Goodman book. To name a few, how about a medley of “Don’t Be that Way” and “Stompin’ at the Savoy” to get the program underway. Also on the bill are winners such as “Up a Lazy River,” “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise,” “Moonglow,” “Lady Be Good,” “Seven Come Eleven,” “Avalon,” “After You’ve Gone” and much more. Some listeners question the whole idea of tribute recordings, asking, “Why a tribute album when one can easily hear the real artist himself?” I’ll let you form your own opinion on that, but I should say the obvious -- Benny Goodman was a giant of American music. And that, along with the gorgeous clarinet of Julian Bliss, is reason enough for a lovely album such as this.
Signum Classics, 2012; appx. 50 minutes.
Homes; Jonathan Orland, tenor and soprano saxophones.
Bee Jazz is a new French label which has been sending me some of their recordings for review. Most of their material has been a bit too far down the avante garde path to hold my interest, but this one has promise. Paris-born Jonathan Orland is a Berklee College of Music product. And even Orland takes it nearly to the edge of the diving board for my ears. What I liked here is that while the music is diverse in tempo and feeling, it is creative and interesting and it never wanders off into shadowy, spacey places. Of the eight selections, six are Orland originals. Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way” is given a fresh new rhythmic twist, and Ray Noble’s “The Touch of Your Lips” is one of three tunes on which George Garzone, one of Orland’s Berklee profs, chimes in with class and panache. The approach and style of Orland seems to be where younger generation players are headed on their jazz journeys. In the case of Jonathan Orland, even an ancient reviewer like me came away impressed.
Bee Jazz, 2012; appx. 59 minutes.
Urban Nightsong; Chad McCulloch, trumpet and flugelhorn, Bram Weijters, piano and Rhodes.
Seattle based trumpet and flugelhorn ace McCulloch teams up with Belgian pianist Weijters on nine original compositions, eight of which were written by the pianist. McCulloch displays a warm, lyrical approach sometimes reminiscent of Art Farmer, and Weijters writes distinctive, unhurried melodies featuring a silky, crystalline touch. The quartet is completed with Piet Verbist, bass, and John Bishop, drums.
Origin, 2012, appx. 51 minutes.
Ritzville; Allen Vizzuitti, trumpet, flugelhorn.
This is an attempt, perhaps, to be all things to all people. Some of it works, and some is lost in a fuzzy fusion frenzy. Portlanders will welcome the presence of pianist Darrell Grant, who always accounts well for himself. There’s all kinds of things happening here. Strings on some cuts, burping electric bass here and there, one vocal that’s hard to understand, and, thankfully, three or four cuts on which Vizzutti displays some lyrical, sweet playing. Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke show up as guests on one cut each, adding up to a confusing, uneven recording.
Village Place Music, 2011; appx. 55 minutes.
Aurora; Ran Blake, piano, Sara Serpa, vocals.
In the last year or two, the creative pianist Ran Blake has appeared in what may now be called a series of piano-vocal duets. This time he’s with singer Sara Serpa for another group of “arty” songs. The communication between the two is almost eerily excellent and “recitallike.” As one who responds to the American Songbook, I was glad to see them take on “Strange Fruit,” “Fine and Dandy,” “Last Night When We Were Young” and, of all things, “The Band Played On.”
Clean Feed Records, 2012; appx. 51 minutes.
Warm Winds; Lanny Aplanalp, saxophones, flutes.
A consistent presence in the Los Angeles jazz scene for many years, Larry Aplanalp’s saxophone and flute escapades are divided into two distinct groups on this disc. On most of the tunes, he’s heard in a standard quartet setting, but on a handful, he is joined by the late Victor Feldman, a double threat on piano and vibes. The tunes are all originals by the leader and his various colleagues. And in case, like me, you are fulfilled by a clear statement of a strong melody line, well, there’s plenty to like in the playing of Aplanalp.
Self-Produced, 2012; appx. appx. 70 minutes.
Accidental Tourists; The L. A. Sessions.
I have no idea where the name “Accidental Tourists” comes from, but I can inform you that this is a piano trio album featuring Markus Berger, piano, Bob Magnusson, bass, and Joe LaBarbera, drums. Burger has a deft, silvery touch, and of course, Magnusson and La- Barbera carry resumes a mile long. The CD contains 12 selections, eight of which are Burger’s originals. I was impressed with his work on “I Loves You Porgy” and “In Love in Vain” but would like to have heard more from Songbook America. Having said that, it should also be noted that much of his original writing was sound, melodic, and sometimes passionate.
Challenge Records, 2012; appx. 68 minutes.