Jessica Molaskey and Dave Frishberg; At the Algonquin.
Here’s a fresh look at the old and the new. As for the “old,” most of the material here amounts to a Dave Frishberg Songbook. And, of course, his tunes are always urban, jazzy, witty and hip -- to the point, of course, where one of them is titled “I’m Hip!” The “new” here is the pairing of Frishberg with Jessica Molaskey, an in-tune, no-gimmicks singer who might better be thought of as a cabaret type as opposed to a jazz singer. But she and Dave are obviously getting a kick from working with one another before an attentive audience at the now defunct Oak Room at New York’s Algonquin Hotel. Also new is the inclusion of two songs Dave wrote for the stage play, Tales From The Algonquin Roundtable. “Will You Die” and “Excuse Me For Living” may be morbid titles, but the lyrics amount to typical Frishberg wit. The opener here is “Who’s on First,” a clever recitation dealing with top billing. Many of you will remember Dave’s original version done with another hip singer, Bob Dorough. Other Frishberg entries you’ll enjoy include “I Want To Be a Sideman,” “Do You Miss New York,” “Can’t Take You Nowhere” and “Listen Here.” Moaskey is a charmer on the Alan Broadbent melody, “Heart’s Desire,” to which Dave crafted a perfect lyric. Not to be missed are his lyrics to Johnny Mercer’s “My New Celebrity Is You.” On these and others, Frishberg and Molaskey provide an enchanting evening.
Arbors; 2012; appx. 52 minutes.
Dream Garden; George Mitchell, piano.
When Mitchell is not on the road with singer Diana Ross (which has kept him busy for the better part of two decades), he’s one of the most dependable and respected pianists in his hometown of Portland, Oregon. Fortunately for his fans, he finds the time to record now and then, and his new CD is a swinging delight. That’s no surprise when considering his own straight ahead orientation, plus the fact that his trio consists of Scott Steed, bass, and Dick Berk, drums. Both are veteran disciples of the real deal, and it shows. The session is nicely divided between standards and a few Mitchell gems. The opener, Jerome Kern’s “Dearly Beloved,” informs the listener that this group will take no prisoners. Other familiar melodies include “Dedicated To You,” a pretty thing made famous in jazz circles on Johnny Hartman’s session with John Coltrane; and a great take on “Old Devil Moon,” a favorite for jazz musicians to jam on. The blues entry is a particularly good one called “Berk’s Groove.” Taken at a brisk tempo, it’s an album highlight. Another winner here is Mitchell’s tip of the hat to Bud Powell, “Bud’s Birthday,” and it’s pure piano trio bebop with no apologies! Finally, among several others, there’s “Red Dress,” a medium tempo cousin to “I’ve Got Rhythm” and a brisk closer to the album. It’s always a pleasure to hear what Mitchell is up to!
Self-Produced; 2012; appx. 53 minutes.
The Procrastinator; Dorian Devins, vocals.
It’s simply a case of you know it when you hear it. Bless ‘em all for contributing and trying, but I see perhaps as many as a dozen female singers per month, all hoping for reviews and/ or airplay. Some are strikingly good, most are wanna be’s, and once in a while, I encounter a “she-gets-it” jazz singer with a cooking ensemble backing her. Such a singer is Devins. All you’d have to do is look at her tune list and you’d think “there must be something good going on here.” Consider “under exposed” titles such as Wayne Shorter”s “Momentum”; Kenny Dorham’s beautiful “La Mesha”; and no less than three obscurities by Lee Morgan -- “Lament For Stacy,” “Soft Touch” and the title tune. To these, add a few very well-chosen standards in “Let’s Get Lost,” “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry”, “Better Than Anything,” “Speak Low” and an old big band chestnut, “Time W,a.” To round out the program, toss in Al Cohn’s “Nightbird” and a Jobim beauty, “Dreamer.” If all this doesn’t entice you, please understand that Devins works seaamlessly with a spot-on New York quintet featuring the under-rated but simply outstanding trumpet-flugelhorn ace Richie Vitale. There’s no frosting on the cake with this singer. And that’s the way it usually is with the best. They never need to depend on gimmicks, show biz or shmaltz. Devins interprets these songs straight down the middle of the highway. And there’re no detours.
Rain Jazz; 2012; appx. 65 minutes.
Two At The Top; Frank Wess, saxophones, Johnny Coles, flugelhorn.
In its vinyl version, this record has merited an honored place in my collection for quite a few years. Now, for the first time, this 1983 session is available on compact disc. And it gets better! We are also treated to six additional tracks, five of which are alternate takes, and the remaining one is a Tadd Dameron diamond called “A Blue Time.” Wess and the vastly under-appreciated Johnny Coles are joined by master pianist Kenny Barron, whose rhythm mates are Reggie Johnson, bass, and Kenny Washington, drums. The tunes are minor classic bop and jazz standards from your nearest “real book” in Kenny Dorham’s “Whistle Stop” and “An OscarfFor Oscar”; Gigi Gryce’s “Nica’s Tempo” and “Minority”; Bud Powell’s “Celia”; and Benny Golson’s “Stablemates.” Now if that’s not enough to make you salivate, we’re not finished. This is a two-CD set, and the second disc features a live performance with the two co-leaders working with bay area stalwarts Smith Dobson, piano, Larry Grenadier, bass, and Donald Bailey, drums. This second set has never been issued in any form. To put everything into perspective, there are still jazz recordings out there that clearly define just what the jazz art is all about. This is one of those.
Uptown Records; 2012; 78:19 and 60:20.
Naturally; Houston Person, tenor saxophone.
If, perchance, you have a few gray hairs, you’ll probably know what I mean in saying that “this is how they used to make jazz records.” A leader and a rhythm section. Nobody doubling on soprano. No Rhodes. No pretense, no extraneous, unnecessary filler. And a menu of standout tunes that swing! Leave it to jazz masters Houston Person, Cedar Walton, Ray Drummond and Lewis Nash to come up with such a novel idea. And thanks, guys, for doing it. Person’s tenor is authoritative, vital, and definitely out of the “big sound” bag. If he reminds me of anyone, I might lean just a bit in the direction of Gene Ammons or Dexter Gordon. And how nice is it to hear Person and his pals on nine familiar standards solely for the sake of making good music! How can you go wrong with such pleasantries as “Bag’s Groove,” “That’s All,” “How Little We Know,” “Namely You,” “Doncha Go ‘Way Mad,” “It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dream,” “Sunday” and even the old warhorse (speaking of Gene Ammons,) “Red Sails in the Sunset.” Cedar, Ray and Lewis are the epitome of taste and subtlety, and, you might say, Houston sounds like a very nice Person.
High Note; 2012; appx. 52 minutes.
Some Like It Hot - The Music of Marilyn Monroe; Rebecca Kilgore, vocals.
It’s often a great source of frustration that some of today’s best jazz is recorded on Japanese labels, and the unhappy result is that it often takes some prestidigitation to acquire such material. By now, it’s no secret that Portland’s Kilgore is, plain and simple, one of the world’s premier singers. It may take some scurrying to get your hands on this CD, but believe me, it’s worth the effort. With a perfectly honed quartet featuring Ben Webster disciple Harry Allen and his bright and bouyant tenor, Rebecca devotes this set to a dozen songs associated with, of all people, Marilyn Monroe. In case you’ve forgotten, Marilyn, thanks in part to some extensive vocal coaching from pianist Jimmy Rowles, could “put it across” when called upon to sing (mostly in her films.) On this very happy performance, Rebecca takes on a few familiar titles such as “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” “Bye Bye Baby,”’ “I Wanna Be Loved By You” and “I’m Through with Love.” But there are others, much more obscure, which are special, not to be missed discoveries. Among these are a sweet melody called “She Acts Like A Woman Should”; a Cahn-Van Heusen gem, “Incurably Romantic,” which deserved fame it never received; and a trippy little novelty called “A Little GirlfFrom Little Rock.” But the highlight for me is a tune Marilyn never sang and never heard. It’s a tender and wistful melody by Alan Broadbent with a perfectly crafted lyric by Dave Frishberg called “Marilyn Monroe,” and it’s a game winner. In addition to Allen’s timeless tenor, Kilgore is treated to a rhythm section of Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes and Chuck Riggs. So, if you can find it, have at it. Kilgore’s cheerful, life affirming vocals are always a ray of sunshine, even on a cloudy day in March.
Swing Brothers (Japan); 2012; 57:55.
Side By Side – Sondheim Duos; Tommy Cecil, bass, Bill
Intersection; Bill Mays and Road Work Ahead.
Delaware River Suite: Bill Mays and the Inventions Trio.
Twenty-some years ago, I had the honor of interviewing alto sax icon Bud Shank. I asked him the following “fantasy” question: “if you could work with only one pianist for the rest of your career, who would it be?” With no hesitation whatsover, Bud answered, “Bill Mays.” An endorsement like that doesn’t arrive every day. And when you listen to these CDs, you’ll fully understand Bud’s enthusiasm. The first recording, the Stephen Sondherim material, is an intimate, recital-like presentation of Sondheim’s gems, both older and newer. My personal faves were the ones I tended to know. Like me, they were the “old timers” such as “Something’s Coming,” “Small World,” “Anyone Can Whistle” and “Comedy Tonight.” Five additional choices, of somewhat more recent vintage, clearly reflect the timeless quality of Sondheim’s contribution to American music. And in the hands of Mays, they are truly something special.
“Intersection” reintroduces us to Mays’ West Coast group. Although he’s been an East Coast cat for years, Mays has maintained his connection with the Californians he regularly worked with during his LA years. They include Peter Sprague, guitar, Bob Magnuson, bass, and Jim Plank, drums. This very straight ahead quartet interprets a variety songs ranging from “Inchworm” (remember Danny Kaye in “Hans Christian Andersen?) to Lennon and McCartney’s “And I Love Her”; from standards that include “The Very Thought of You” and “There’s a Small Hotel”; to a lovely tune of more recent vintage, “Estate”; and even the rarely heard gem “Our Waltz.” These and others present this quartet in stirring musical communication. It’s simply an album of the highest musical level.
Finally there’s “Delaware River Suite.” Somehow I missed out on this when it was issued in 2008, but if you can find a copy today, it just might be the most gorgeous of the three. Mays re-aquaints himself with two brilliant musicians with classical connections and jazz chops -- Marvin Stamm on trumpet and flugelhorn and Alisa Horn’s cello combine with Mays’ piano in a trio that is rich, rare, sultry and sensuous. The tunes range from bossa (Jobim’s “Zingaro”) to bebop (a medley of Miles’ “Sippin’ At Bell’s” and Bud’s “Dance of the Infidels”) to Django’s classic beauty, “Nuages.” Among other stunning selections, you’ll also experience Mays’ original work in both spoken and musical interpretations with his picturesque seven-track extraganza, the “Delaware River Suite.” Mays is an amazing, invigorating, unique and creative presence in the pantheon of American music. And, by the way, Bud Shank was right.
Sondheim: 2012: times not indicated; Intersection: 2012: appx. 57 minutes; Delaware: 2008: 57:53.
Let’s Go to Town; George Shearing, piano, The Hi-los, vocals.
I don’t know why, but “Let’s Go To Town” was the name for a series of 15-minute radio programs devoted to recruitment for the National Guard. They’re 1950s vintage, and include with dated notions of the glories of military service. There are four, 15-minute segments here, and it’s important that you understand that Shearing and the Hi-los are nowhere to be found together. Instead, they alternate from one tune to another with the announcements in between. Aside from the mild disappointment of not finding these giants working with one another, there’s still a lot to like here. The Hi-los offer such goodies as “Goody Goody,” “Fascinating Rhythm,” “A Lot of Livin’ to Do,” “Tenderly” and more. Shearing and the quintet bring us “Speak Low,” “Laura,” “Isn’t It Romantic,” “I’ll Take Romance” and, of course, “Lullaby of Birdland.” The featured artists even engage in some rehearsed conversation with the host, the “too friendly and much too happy” Sargeant. If, like me, you remember the days of quality on radio, this material will bring a smile. Interesting to think that music this good was actually used to encourage young guys to “sign up.” How times have changed, right?
Submarine Records; 2012; appx. 60 minutes.
This Time the Dream’s on Me; Bill Harris, alto and tenor saxes.
Portland reedman Harris follows up a terrific recording from a year or so ago with another grand day in the studio. He is obviously a believer in the richness and vitality of the American Songbook. As a result, we’re treated to “Suddenly It’s Spring,” “Teach Me Tonight,” “Soon,” “Bye Bye Baby” and the title tune itself. To complete the temptation, add some heralded jazz compositions like Tadd Dameron’s “On A Misty Night,” Horace Silver’s “Nutville,” Benny Golson’s “Stablemates,” and Wayne Shorter’s “One by One.” The “required” blues is a Harris origi- nal, “Bluesy Lucy.” Once again, Harris employs a lineup of outstanding Portland-area players in Paul Mazzio, trumpet and flugelhorn, George Mitchell, piano, Dave Captein, bass, and Dick Berk, drums. To be succinct, let’s just say that this is the way records used to be made, but it’s a rare occurrence now. Scott Hall has arranged these tunes in a fresh, vital manner, allowing all the players generous wiggle room for solos. And the ensemble passages just “sing” these great songs. Harris himself sounds very much at home, quite comfortable in his interpretations and improvisations without ever putting too much frosting on the cake. Nice going - you’ve done it again!
Self-Produced; 2013; appx. 70 minutes.
Champian Sings And Swings; Champian Fulton, piano and vocals.
It’s rather unusual for Sharp Nine Records, a consistently high-quality jazz label, to issue anything by a singer. So when this record arrived, I thought, “If Sharp Nine mogul Marc Edelman was impressed, perhaps I will be as well.” Another tipoff was the presence of tenor titan Eric Alexander, a player whose presence on anyone’s disc is a matter of pride. New to me was the name Stephen Fulton on trumpet and flugelhorn. Both he and Alexander are welcome guests on four tracks. I read a little further and discovered that Champian Fulton is also the pianist on the date. And a good one she is! Not even 30 years of age, it’s cool to check out (1) her Red Garland-ish block chords on “It’s Allright With Me”; (2) her tip of the hat to Erroll Garner here and there; and (3) her ease in the language of scat on “Samba de Orfeu.” Fulton also handles a blues like a vet on “It’s Too Late, Baby.” Other titles rarely heard and delivered with impressive style include “Foolin’ Myself,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” “The Shadow of Your Smile,” a bebop journey on Bud Powell’s “Celia,” and a lilting tune that Joe Williams caressed some years back called “I’d Give a Dollar for a Dime.” On all these and a few more, Champian Fulton shows us a resilient, energetic, real deal jazz performance on the piano, with a voice to match.
Sharp Nine; 2012; 56:41.
Blues For Night People; Nate Najar, guitar.
Seven or eight decades ago, Charlie Christian “plugged in” the guitar and sorta changed the world. From that time until the present, few guitarists have chosen to remain un-amplified. Laurindo Almeida and Charlie Byrd come to mind. In fact, it is Byrd who is paid tribute here by yet another un-amplified guitar whiz, Nate Najar. And just for the record, the guy who doubles here on drums and vibes is longtime Charlie Byrd trio member Chuck Redd. This trio is rounded out by Tommy Cecil (see Bill Mays review above) on bass. It’s no surprise that Najar’s tune list leans strongly in the direction of compositions either played often or written by Byrd. And there’s an attractive variety as well. Consider these: “Django,” “Desafinado,” “O Pato,” “The Single Petal of a Rose,” “Have You Met Miss Jones” and “Who Cares.” Najar also adds his own “Remembering Charlie Byrd,” a lilting closer. On all these and a few others, his beautifully recorded sound is a delight. And how very nice it is that Byrd, one of the bright lights of Washington D. C. jazz, should be honored on this wholly delightful recording.
Candid; 2012; appx. 59 minutes.
The Montreal Sessions; North American Jazz Alliance.
Feel some pity for the embattled accordion. It’s been the object of jazz jokes forever. Most people associate it with polkas and skating rinks. But then, you know, there was Art Van Damme. And even pianist Pete Jolly occasionally doubled on accordion. All of which suggests that in the right company and literally, in the right hands, it stands a fighting chance. In this case, those hands belong to Kenny Kotwitz, and he seamlessly innovates and improvises on Lawrence Welk’s favorite instrument. Kotwitz and his fellow American, vibist Steve Hobbs, team up here with three Canadians: Greg Clayton, guitar, Alec Walkington, bass, and Dave Laing, drums. Into that mix, throw in another Cannuck, John Labelle, on several vocals, and that is the North American Jazz Alliance. As for their choice of tunes, well, you know almost all of them. Instrumentally speaking, there’s “Just One of Those Things,” “Cute,” “Angel Eyes,” “Charade,” “It Could Happen to You” and “Only Trust Your Heart,” among others. Labelle, with a very pleasant voice which may remind you of Vic Damone or Jack Jones or perhaps Kurt Reichenbach, chimes in on “Close Your Eyes,” “Nobody Else But Me” and “Dancing in the Dark.” This is a very nice record, but I can’t help it -- I’m still going to tell some of those accordion jokes.
Challenge Records; 2012; appx. 62 minutes.
3.2.1.; Pamela Hines, piano.
Here’s a pianist who has a serene touch, displays crystalline chord work, and, yikes, is a real deal jazz pianist. With superb support from Dave Clark, bass, and Yoron Israel, drums, Pamela Hines is an impressive new presence among jazz pianists. She plays real melodies, and that alone is becoming increasingly rare these days. On this particular album, Hines plays nine selections, and at least five of them have some connection with a pianist by the name of Bill Evans. It was he who wrote four of the tunes here: two versions of “Loose Blues”; “34 Skidoo”; and a stunning sleeper from Bill’s book called “B Minor Waltz.” I also associate Evans with Tadd Dameron’s timeless “If You Could See Me Now,” simply because no pianist on earth could top his version. That’s no knock on Hines. She gives this beauty a rarified reading. Other selections include “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” “East of the Sun,” and a delicate solo performance of Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn’s standard, “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry.” Hines and friends have made a jazz trio record which honors that respected tradition. You really ought to check it out.
Spice Rack Records; 2012; appx. 51 minutes.
Lush; Joe Clark, leader, arranger, trumpet and flugelhorn.
It seems to me that in every urban area, there’s a big band or two keeping that tradition alive. It’s no surprise that leading a big band or participating in one is mostly a labor of love these days. And thank goodness there are dedicated guys like Clark, who carries the torch in the city of Chicago. His 17-piece aggregation found itself with an opportunity to record with “star power” drummer Jeff Hamilton, and they seized it! The opener, taken at a fresh, new and funkier than usual tempo is Thelonious Monk’s classic, “Well You Needn’t.” Among other standouts on the disc are “Lush Life,” Billy Strayhorn’s classic tale. Tenorman Chris Madsen and pianist Ryan Cohan offer especially stirring solos. “Femme Fatale” is a Clark original with a very big city feeling and includes yet another impressive outing from Cohan. A couple of standards, “Tenderly” and “Yesterday’s Gardenias,” bring this session to a close. Clark’s pristine trumpet highlights “Tenderly,” and trumpet man B.J. Cord shares the solo spotlight with other band members on “Gardenia.” On all these titles and more, Clark is keeping the big band fires burning in Chicago!
Jazzed Media; 2013; 52:04.
Live: New York Voices.
Can anyone get me past my lack of wild enthusiasm for today’s “vocal groups”? I’ve always felt that Manhattan Transfer, for instance, does a lot of well chosen songs, but they’re usually too “slick” for me. Too much show biz; too much frosting on the cake; over-arranged. While I feel the New York Voices present an often luxurious vocal blend, they too are a bit too “put together” for me. On this album, there’s also quite a bit of solo singing mixed in. And as soloists, the New York Voices are rather average. Adding to the mediocrity are banal things like “Baby Driver” by Paul Simon, and a lot of rock guitar on something called “Cold” by Annie Lennox. The better material includes “Stolen Moments,” “Love Me or Leave Me,” “Darn that Dream,” “Almost Like Being In Love” and others. While the blend of voices is admirable and the arrangements of the European WDR Big Band are most welcome, there’s just too much drama here. I guess I just can’t escape from the jazz chops of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, or the sterling silver vocal arranging of Gene Puerling for the Singers Unlimited.
Palmetto; 2012; appx. 75 minutes.
Feelin’ It; Stan Bock, trombone and euphonium.
Anyone who has performed with Bock or witnessed such a performance knows that he is a dedicated player with a likeablility factor that loosens everyone up, making them play at the top of their game. There are few who obviously enjoy blowing bop changes with like-minded colleagues more than Bock. That’s why this CD took me a bit by surprise. I noticed that Clay Giberson spent time at both the piano and the Rhodes. Bassist Tim Gilson also “went electric.” But then I put on the CD and figured things out pretty quickly. Bock and his Portland friends decided to take a contemporary turn, even on standards such as “Let’s Fall In Love” and “Maria” from West Side Story. This sort of approach can border on dangerous territory, but fortunately, it works quite well here. Perhaps it’s due to some intriguing but far from “over the top” arrangements. Even “Bein’ Green,” a tune your grown up kids know better than you do, is given new and fresh attire. All respected Portland players, the sextet also includes Renato Caranto, tenor sax, John Nastos, reeds, and Christopher Brown, drums and alto sax. Aside from the above mentioned tunes, the menu is made up of original compositions by Bock and others featured here. Some, I’m told, call this “groove” music. And I’d bet that Bock’s guys pull it off better than just about anyone else.
OA2 Records; 2013; appx. 70 minutes.
Relentless Pursuit of the Beautiful; Bennett Paster, piano.
A new name to me, Paster is apparently ascending the ladder in New York, and here’s a good chance to hear what he’s all about. His quintet utilizes two well-respected tenor sax players, Joel Frahm and Tim Armacost, who pretty much split the saxophone chores on the nine pieces here. The remainder of the group includes Alex Pope Norris, trumpet, Gregory Ryan, bass, and Willard D. Dyson Jr., drums. The material consists of all original tunes by Paster and features frequent and intricate exchanges among all the players. Sometimes there was a near Mingus density to the music, or perhaps a tip of the Paster hat to Monk; and at other times these sounds were absolutely shimmering and delicate. Having said that, I found Paster’s writing to be very accessible and yet quite adventurous. There’s some serious creativity going on here, and it seems to represent the road being taken by a number of younger players who keep things in the mainstream yet make very fresh and often quite exciting music.
Self-Produced; 2012; 67:45.
A Quiet Thing; Madeline Eastman, vocals, Randy Porter, piano.
These sorts of intimate piano and voice duos don’t happen often, but they sure can create some impact when they do. I remember an Ella Fitzgerald-Paul Smith album originally called “Let No Man Write My Epitaph,” a real sleeper but nonetheless deeply moving. And then there were Irene Kral’s two records with Alan Broadbent. Talk about perfection. So today, we are given the results from a few days recording at Randy Porter’s Lake Oswego studio. Eastman chose 13 ballads and one more tune usually done uptempo, but not this time, “Pick Yourself Up,” and guess what? It works ever so nicely as a ballad. Other familiar standards include “Alfie,” “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” and David Raskin’s stunning movie theme, “The Bad and the Beautiful.” Most of the remaining tunes would probably be called “rare” if not obscure. A few of them come from the pop world, and considering that fact, they’re better than you might expect. Regarding Porter, Portlanders are hip to the fact that he’s perhaps the most versatile piano marvel in our city, and he takes on the role of accompanist to virtual perfection. As for Eastman, it’s easy to hear that she is on an emotional journey singing these stirring ballads that she loves. For another piano-vocal duo, read on!
Madkat Records; 2012; appx. 60 minutes.
Lock My Heart; Heather Masse; vocals, Dick Hyman, piano.
Okay, here we go again. Yet another lovely, intimate, recital quality performance by pretty-voiced, totally under control Heather Masse and musical chameleon Dick Hyman. I use the term “musical chameleon” because Hyman can do (and has done!) everything possible on 88 keys for, I’m sure, more than a half century! Do you want a touch of Bach here or a Garner lick there? Dick Hyman’s your man. So he and Masse, who met on the set of a Prairie Home Companion radio broadcast, have collaborated on a pretty darn nice new recording. And hurray, you’ll know all the tunes! Well, almost all. Masse penned a delicate, folksy melody line called “If I Called You,” and a countryfied entry with an odd title, “Morning Drinker.” Other than those, this twosome offers “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” “Lullaby of Birdland,” “Since I Fell for You,” “Love Is Here to Stay,” a medley of “September Song” and “Lost In The Stars,” “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good,” “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing,” and finally, “I’m Gonna Lock My Heart and Throw Away the Key.” Once again, there’s a high level of intimacy achieved. Hyman and Masse are definitely onto something.
Red House Records; 2013; times not indicated.
Blue Sud; Art Johnson, guitar, Marc Devine, piano.
I like honest records, and I’ll bet you do too. So what the heck do I mean by that? Well, to me an “honest” record is one featuring a succession of familiar tunes played in a very straight forward fashion by musicians whose devotion to them is obvious. Such an “honest” session is this by two musicians who encountered one another at a European Jazz Festival. Something “clicked,” and this CD is the result. If you’re looking for “earth shaking,” you might wish to look elsewhere. But if you appreciate timeless tunes played by folks who care about them, here’s your record for today. Eleven tunes with titles such as “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” “Alone Together,” “My One and Only Love,” “Somebody Loves Me,” “Time After Time,” “Ghost of a Chance,” “Beautiful Love” and more. Both musicians have an opportunity or two to strut their stuff solo-wise. This is a very pleasant musical partnership, one which we’d enjoy hearing from again sometime.
ITI Records; 2012; appx. 48 minutes.
The Song That Sings You Here; Chris McNulty, vocals.
I make no apology for it. I’ve always had a “thing” for pretty. I love melodies that soar and stir the senses. I would suggest that McNulty’s take on “How Are Things in Glocca Morra” is an example of the above. But it doesn’t stop with silvery ballad singing. McNulty opens “Jitterbug Waltz” with some cool scat and then takes on the Fats Waller classic with a lyric brand new to these ears. Other swinging treats include “How Little We Know,” “On the Street Where You Live” and “The Lamp Is Low.” And how about this ... Horace Silver’s “Lonely Woman” is a tune dramatic in content, much like the more famous Ornette Coleman work by the same name. I found “One Less Bell to Answer” an odd choice, but then I can’t get close to lyrics that state “one less egg to fry.” McNulty’s accompaniment, mostly from trios or quartets, is solid and supportive, particularly from pianists Andrei Kondokov and Graham Wood. On all of the above mentioned tunes and a few originals, McNulty displays a Helen Merrill-like buttery smooth delivery and a rare understanding of lyrics.
Challenge Records; 2012; appx. 64 minutes.
Ruby Diamond; Bill Peterson, piano.
Talk about the ultimate “tribute” record! Peterson heads a trio with Rodney Jordan, bass, and Jamison Ross, drums, on a tribute to some jazz greats, most of them fellow pianists. The opener, “Thelonious”, is quite Monkish in spots, but aside from the Monk character, holds its own as a quirky, bluesy starter “Wes” is an up tempo outing in the style of Montgomery’s clipped, fastpaced originals. And “Horace” brings a surging left hand and a hint of Horace Silver’s funk into the program. Next comes the surprise of the set: a beautiful rendition of the traditional tune, “Shenandoah.” If it doesn’t quite fit the thematic idea, well it’s okay ‘cause it’s really pretty. Next comes “Oscar,” and as one might expect, the tempo goes up a notch. “Bob James,” for me, is an odd choice, because while I know James is capable of playing the real deal, I only know of him as a “smooth jazzfusion” type player. Still, the melody is lyrical and lilting. This is followed by the power and presence of “Mr. Wynton Kelly,” another boppy and cool entry. The program is completed by additional tributes to “Marcus” (Roberts?) and “McCoy.” Aside from the idea of tributes to revered colleagues, the album holds its own as some very swinging piano trio jazz. And seeing that such a thing is rare today, that’s what I really liked about it.
Summit Records; 2013; appx. 60 minutes.
Sweet Lime; Jay Lawrence, drums.
If you’re like me, you probably thought that the only jazz in Utah was the outfit that plays in the National Basketball Association. But then I found out about a Salt Lake City drummer by the name of Lawrence. And what a cool quartet album he’s put together, with Bob Sheppard, tenor saxophone, Tamir Hendelman, piano, and John Clayton, bass. Seven of the 11 tunes are Lawrence originals, but here’s the rub: Lawrence writes real melodies with distinct (and distinctive) melody lines. Nothing too edgy; everything sensible, swinging and/or lyrical. Sheppard is an under-rated tenor man with a very crisp but melodic presence. And Hendelman? This guy is simply a monster soloist at just the beginning of his career. Watch out. He’s going to spin your head around. As for John Clayton, well, as always, he aligns himself with big time music makers. Real music. No pretense. And that’s the case here. For the record, the “non- Lawrence” tunes include Chick Corea’s “Senor Mouse,” Monk’s “I Mean You,” and the reliable standard, “The Very Thought of You.” All in all, this highly recommended session features players who celebrate the art of jazz.
Jazz Hang Records; 2012; appx. 65 minutes.
Bangkok Edge; Dan Phillips, guitar.
Here’s an American teaching at a university in Thailand and playing gigs throughout Bangkok and environs. This recording gave Phillips an opportunity to reconnect with Danish tenorman Jakob Dinesen on four of the ten selections. The two had worked with one another in Europe and the United States. The remaining tunes feature Phillips fronting a fine trio of Thai musicians. The opener, “Beatrice,” is a Sam Rivers composition not often heard. The group works well with standards too, as exemplified by “Days of Wine and Roses,” “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing” and “Have You Met Miss Jones.” And from the “Real Book,” there’s two Monk evergreens, “Ask Me Now” and “Evidence,” along with two John Coltrane inventions, “Ask Me Now” and “26-2.” A couple of the guitarist’s own compositions complete a forward-thinking, solid performance from all players.
Self-Produced; 2012; appx. 72 minutes.
Ciudad De Los Reyes (City of Kings); Gabriel Alegria, trumpet, flugelhorn.
My expertise in Latin jazz leaves a lot to be desired, but I believe that I recognize solid musicianship when I hear it. Alegria is a trumpet and flugelhorn player with lots of very melodic ideas on the 12 compositions which make up the bulk of this program. Alegria, who possesses a first-cabin sound on his instrument, wants to enlarge American musical horizons to include Afro-Peruvian music. As he puts it, “It’s a unique and separate brand of Latin jazz that warrants consideration and placement alongside Afro-Cuban and Brazilian jazz.” Peruvian rhythms in 12/8 are used throughout, giving this music a very individual feel. The one standard on the album, perhaps surprisingly, is Henry Mancini’s mega-hit, “Moon River.” All dressed up in subtle, Latin attire, it sounds newly-minted and quite charming. Alegria’s group keeps these proceedings almost understated and eloquent with finely-tuned arrangements and fresh and interesting melodies. This may be something new for us, but it seems to have a certain charm all its own. And it’s certainly different from the musical menu that we usually identify as Latin jazz.
Saponegro Records; 2013; appx. 63 minutes.
Bernt Rosengren Big Band; Bernt Rosengren, tenor and alto saxophones, flute.
You may not know the name Bernt Rosengren unless you’ve been to Sweden and absorbed that country’s jazz. Rosengren is a first-cabin player there, among the most respected for decades. This scintillating big band session was recorded in 1980, but finds its way to compact disc for the first time. It features a lineup of Sweden’s top echelon jazz cats and a few Americans. Pianist Horace Parlan and guitarist Doug Raney had made Europe home turf for some years. Add trumpet player Tim Hagans, and there you have your three Yanks. Parlan and Raney actually receive “billing” here and are featured quite prominently. As for Rosengren, you’ll find him to be a masterful player and an arranger somewhat in the style of the Count Basie band. In his words, “big bands should be swinging and danceable.” Kinda describes Basie’s “creed” right? Seven of the nine tunes are the leader’s originals, straight ahead vehicles with real melody lines, tension, high class solo outings ... very real music. The other two entries are the standard “How Deep Is the Ocean” and John Coltrane’s “Naima.” You gotta hand it to Rosengren. This is very much a big band delight. It’s a keeper.
Caprice Records; 2012; appx. 43 minutes.
My Funny Valentine - Live 1956-59; Anita O’Day, vocals.
The late 1950s were great years for Anita O’Day. She had exited the confinement of the big band era and was making one great album after another on Verve. And very jazzy albums they were, too. So this odd recording is from that altogether terrific period for O’Day. I say “odd” because this compilation of live sessions give us absolutely no information as to where, who or precisely when. So here’s Anita, probably working with her longtime drummer, John Poole, and a bevy of solid musicians playing lively arrangements. For that time period, it’s well-recorded too, and Anita’s at her best. But at what venues did all this take place and who the heck are all those exceptional cats backing the singer? I don’t know, but I can fill you in on a number of tunes here, including “Four Brothers,” “Love Me or Leave Me,” “You’re the Top,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Have You Met Miss Jones,” “Four” and lots more. All great, but tell us more!
Kayo Records; 2012; times not indicated.
Live At The Jazz Showcase In Chicago, Vol. 1; Hampton Hawes, piano.
Jazz history, I believe, has already spoken when it comes to Hampton Hawes. If the piano gods every legitimize the term “monster” (in its positive sense), Hawes will be remembered that way. Personal problems dogged him, and he departed this life much too soon, so it’s quite a surprise that this previously unissued, 1973 live date should show up. Forty years waiting time and the “Vol. 1” in the title suggests that there’s more yet to be heard! Joining Hawes on piano are Cecil McBee on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. The trio performs just four songs, encompassing what was likely one set. The opener is the standard, “Stella By Starlight,” which is followed by Charlie Parker’s blues, “Bluebird.” Hawes’ original, “Spanish Moods,” is next, and the set closes with “St. Thomas.” Of the four, the only title which did not completely resonate for me was “Spanish Moods,” which I found to be melodically less interesting and rhythmically excessive. The others, however, more than make up for one “clam.” And, as is so often the case with jazz icons from the past, anything newly minted is worth discovering.
Enja; 2012; appx. 45 minutes.
St. Louis 1959; Grant Green, guitar.
Heads up, Grant Green fans! Here in a live performance is the great guitarist himself at a place with a rather colorful name, The Holy Barbarian Coffee House. Also, you may wish to take note that all material is previously unissued and, to make the frosting a little sweeter, it’s well recorded. Grant’s colleagues are undoubtedly resident St. Louis musicians of that era: Bob Graf, tenor saxophone, Sam Lazar, organ, and Chauncey Williams, drums. This is exactly the type of guitar-organ group that would bring Green fame on Blue Note Records. Because it’s a live gig, most of the tunes are of generous length, giving Green opportunity to really fly on some extended solos. There are eight tunes, with just two standards, “There Will Never Be Another You” and “Out of Nowhere.” Also here are two reliables from the jazz book, Dizzy’s “Groovin’ High” and Coltrane’s “Blue Train.” The album is completed by a few very bluesy originals from Green or organist Lazar. As is the case with all Uptown recordings, the liner book is 20 pages packed with history, photos and reprints of rare album covers. All told, this is a rare opportunity to catch blues drenched guitar maven Grant Green in a relaxed live date. A front row seat awaits you.
Uptown Records; 2012; 69:59.
Music And Friends; Dick Reynolds, piano, composer, arranger.
The liner notes indicate that Reynolds has spent much of an honorable music career as a do-everything musician in Chicago. All well conceived work, to be sure, but I have this notion of having seen his name on scores of albums by quality pop and sometimes jazz singers “back in the day.” The “friends” referred to in the title are both the talented players on the album and the recipients of several tributes. Among these are a few to personal friends and others to well-known musical colleagues. For example, there’s “A Song for Johnny” (violinist Frigo); “Fancy Miss Nancy” (Wilson); and “A Song for Stan” (Getz). Reynolds, apparently an avid fisherman, even wrote a tribute to his “fishing pond” entitled “Reflections.” The remainder of the tunes, all happily arranged, display real melody lines, skilled soloists, sensible arranging, and lots of spirit and variety. Reynolds may not have gained the notoriety of Bill Holman or Neal Hefti, but I do believe he’s somewhere in that well respected company. As has been often said, all you need is a pair of ears.
Origin Records; 2013; 56:04.
Monica Ramey and The Beegie Adair Trio.
You’re probably aware of Adair from a host of previous albums. She’s a polite, John Bunch-Teddy Wilson-ish style pianist who most likely pleases both the lounge and jazz crowds. On this album, Adair and her trio, Roger Spencer, bass, and Chris Brown, drums, are joined by stylish singer Monica Ramey. Her not-so-common last name makes me wonder if there might be a connection to Gene Ramey, a bass player held in high esteem from another generation. In any case, she treats 14 evergreens with charm and respect. And I liked the fact that, along with the familiar material, there are few lesser known gems on the menu, tunes you don’t often hear that are simply too good to ever go away, including “I’ll Close My Eyes,” “You Fascinate Me So,” “It Amazes Me,” and “Why Did I Choose You.” Adair’s trio is augmented on several cuts by soloists George Tidwell on trumpet and flugelhorn and Denis Solee, saxophones and flute. With additional tunes like “Change Partners,” “Whisper Not,” “Oh, Look At Me Now” and “Will You Still Be Mine,” this is a dandy meeting featuring some classy contributors.
Adair Music Group; 2013; 72:33.
I’ve Got Your Number; Tom Wopat, vocals.
Someone told me that Wopat was once a primary player in a television sitcom. But if you’re aware of that fact, don’t be thinking “TV star trying to be a singer.” Wopat has some talent, and with a real dearth of male singers these days, he needs to be considered. I must say that I liked his prior CD more than this one, and it’s my job to tell you why. Along with all the quality tunes Wopat chooses, he decides this time around to go with some pop material, much of which doesn’t ring my bell. From the quality list, there’s “I’ve Got Your Number,” “The Good Life,” “Devil May Care,” “The Folks Who Live on the Hill,” “Born To Be Blue” and “I Won’t Dance.” But, most unfortunately, there are also songs by pop stars Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Judy Collins, James Taylor and Bruce Hornsby. Kinda like diluting your coffee with “half and half.”
LML Music; 2012; appx. 55 minutes.
Live At The Trane; Roger Chong, guitar.
Toronto-based Chong and his quartet turn out a varied jazz guitar program with a funky, bluesy emphasis. On a 12-tune set, the two standards are “Exactly Like You” and “Work Song.” The bulk of the selections are in the foot-tapping, guitar/B3 realm. Chong also encloses a five track DVD (at no extra charge, I presume) of the group in this live performance. Nowadays, I guess they call this “groove” music. And “groove” it does.
Self-Produced; 2013; appx. 46 minutes.
You Are an Edgy Visionary Seer; Jim Pearce, piano and vocals.
You’ll have no problem differentiating Pearce’s rough-hewn voice from, say, the pipes of Vic Damone. But Pearce, in his own way, gets it done with some very hip, clever and often downright humorous writing. He accompanies himself on piano, and is way more than just capable. You’re gonna get a kick out of tunes like “You Picked Me,” “Old as Dirt” and my personal fave, “Even Big Monsters Love Music.” You may want to roll the dice on Pearce. I think you’ll come up a winner.
Self-Produced; 2013; appx. 38 minutes.
Crazy Aquarius; Stockton Helbing, drums, composer.
Dallas, Texas has had no shortage of jazz talent, and drummer Helbing’s quintet/sextet, based in that Texas metropolis, impresses on 10 originals. His writing is quite varied, both rhythmically and stylistically, but his snappy melodies resonate, occasionally resembling the hard bop treasure trove that was once the very heart of Blue Note Records. Special kudos for the two lead players, Psul Tynan on trumpet and flugelhorn and David Lown on tenor saxophone.
Armored Records; 2012; appx. 75 minutes.
We’ll Be Together Again; Rob Parton Big Band.
Of course New York has the highest profile in nearly anything artsy, but after listening to this recording, I’d bet that Chicago is simply oozing with top o’ the mountain jazz players. Leader Rob Parton, a windy city fixture, has assembled some blistering soloists playing edgy, challenging charts, including Clark Terry’s “Serenade to a Bus Seat”; Joe Henderson’s “Tetragon”; Miles Davis’s “Blue In Green”; Monk’s “Ugly Beauty”; and a host of standards. An extra treat is Parton’s three-part “Fantasy for Trumpet and Jazz Orchestra.” Lots of goodies here.
Jazztech Records; 2012; appx. 61 minutes.