Heart To Heart; Alan Broadbent, piano.
I never entertained the slightest notion that this might ever happen. But it did. Alan Broadbent, who is for me the ultimate living jazz pianist on earth, has released a recording of his 2012 concert at Classic Pianos in Portland, Oregon. In the three years of joyously producing this series of concerts, this is a “first” and, for me, a moment of pride, to say the least. From this glorious performance, Alan chose nine tunes to touch your heart. The title tune is also one of four original compositions in the program. And it would be good to know a few important aspects of Alan’s writing. First and foremost, it “sings” with beauty and body. The listener is always presented with a clear melody line, what we call a “song.” Imagine that! Second, as Mr. Ellington once informed us, it’s got to swing. And that’s the essence of jazz, wouldn’t you agree? Alan takes you on a dreamy solo outing with the four originals and five additional gems. Among the latter are Charlie Haden’s delicacy, “Hello My Lovely”; Dietz and Schwartz’s standard, “Alone Together”; and Miles Davis and Bill Evans’s reliable “Blue In Green.” All performances are stunning beyond description, but I’m compelled to save the best for last: Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” is pure piano drama and technically as close to impossible for one person to play as you’ll hear. And then there’s the finale, Ray Noble’s “Cherokee.” It flies and whoops and sizzles and celebrates an evening that 100 lucky people agreed was a musical high point in their lives.
Chilly Bin Records; 2013; 61:15.
Ballad of the Sad Young Men; Clipper Anderson, bass,
Anyone involved in Seattle’s active jazz community knows respected bassist Anderson, a solid contributor for many years. But what about that “other” Clipper Anderson? I’ll bet you didn’t know about Clipper Anderson, the singer. In an era of “dimea- dozen” female singers, how often do we encounter a male jazz singer? Not often, and that makes Anderson’s debut vocal album all the more a winner. He conveys that “I’ve been there” feeling in his approach to a lyric. This elusive quality comes mostly from within. And Anderson “gets it.” With Seattle colleagues Darin Clendenin on piano and Mark Ivester, drums, Anderson shines on an entire program of standards, mostly ballads. Among numerous highlights, how about these: the title tune, Tommy Wolf and Fran Landesman’s opus; Cole Porter’s resonating melody, “Everything I Love”; a tender sleeper called “Why Did I Choose You”; and Kurt Weill’s optimistic, “Here I’ll Stay.” Finally there’s Billy Strayhorn’s final composition, “Blood Count.” Anderson’s take on this jarring emotional entry compares favorably to the drama brought to it some years back by Mark Murphy. On all these and more, Anderson’s first venture into “vocal land” is no novelty. It’s first rate jazz singing. Origin; 2013; appx. 53 minutes.
Refraction; Alex Levin, piano.
From the first notes, one can’t help but notice Levin’s elegant, Hank Jones-like touch. But it’s also evident that he’s taken his cue from Bill Evans in finding beauty and lyricism in virtually everything he plays. And he never loses track of that all-important requirement: it must swing! His trio consists of Diallo Hines, bass, and Ben Clines, drums, and they prove to be very simpatico to Levin’s crystalline concept. And how can one argue with his choice of tunes, every one a timehonored winner. We are treated to “My Romance,” a staple in the Evans book; two Cole Porter gems, “Night And Day” and “All Of You”; the piano favorite, “Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise”; a right hand with Pete Jolly crispness on “If I Were A Bell”; and a fresh visit to “Green Dolphin Street.” On an album that delights from the first note to the last, Levin’’s final two entries were my favorites: Thelonious Monk’s rarely heard “San Francisco Holiday (Worry Later)” is an “all Monk” curio; and Matt Dennis’s “Everything Happens to Me” is an example of straight forward piano perfection. I’m very impressed with Levin’s total honesty. He honors a tradition of impeccable jazz pianists, and thus becomes one of them.
Alex Levin Jazz; 2013; times not indicated.
Brilliant Heart; David Friesen, bass.
With a heavy heart, but with as much passion and beauty as he has ever created, Friesen set about the task of memorializing his son, Scott, in music. “Scotty,” as his father refers to him, was just 41 when he died, and, like his dad, was active in the arts. Friesen has written 13 original compositions, most which have titles reflecting the joyous aspects of Scott’s life. “Sailing” was one of his happiest of pastimes, as was “Painting the Blues.” Some of Scott Friesen’s striking paintings are included in the booklet accompanying the CD. “Where The Light Falls” refers to yet another of his artistic endeavors, photography. Scott loved jazz, and played both guitar and bass. But classical music also held sway over the violinist, as his father shows us on “Violin.” In fact, “Circle of Three” refers to all three creative art forms he loved -- music, painting and photography. Yet another delight of his life was “My Dog Elie.” On all the musical portraits of Scott Friesen, his father is joined by two distinctive trios. Portland based Greg Goebel, piano, and L.A. veteran Larry Koonse, guitar, are heard on several selections. Koonse is replaced on others by drummer Charlie Doggett. Portlanders claim Friesen as “one of us” with great pride. Here, he has given us music from his heart. One hopes that he finds solace in these stirring remembrances of his beloved son.
ITM Records; 2012; 63:23.
Fig Tree; Deborah Latz, vocals
Okay, you know me pretty well when it comes to the subject of female singers. Very few resonate with me. But one who does is Latz, a singer who has obviously done her homework, and one who avoids overkill and schmaltz in favor of vocal purity and honest interpretation. Latz works comfortably and often intimately with a trio of Jon Davis, piano, John Hart, guitars, and Willard Dyson, drums. Reedman Peter Apfelbaum guests here and there as well. On a menu which is thoughtful, versatile and now and then a bit “out there,” Latz and friends score several direct hits. Among them you’ll hear a rhythmic detour on “Blue Skies”; a trippy little take on “Hi Fly”; a complete change on “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” with Latz slowing it way down, and impressively too; a rollicking, bluesy thing called “I’m Having a Good Time”; a couple of Gershwin staples in “S’Wonderful” and “Embraceable You”; a stirring take on Harold Arlen’s “Ill Wind”; and perhaps the surprise of the set, Henry Mancini’s “Moon River,” interpreted in a soft, Southern, summery style with just Latz and Davis’s silky piano. In addition, Latz offers a few Brazilian tunes and some thought-provoking originals. There’s quite a variety here, much of it quite compelling. Latz is right there among the higher echelon of jazz singers. She means it and you can hear it.
June Moon Productions; 2012; appx. 78 minutes.
Duke At The Roadhouse; Eddie Daniels, clarinet and tenor sax; Roger Kellaway, piano.
Duke Ellington’s music has been interpreted in literally thousands of ways. But being that it is the timeless work of an American musical genius, it can sound as fresh and exciting as it was when written over a half century ago. It helps a lot if the players are dedicated Dukophiles (to say nothing of being virtuosos on their respective axes) like Daniels and Kellaway. Indeed they bring new life to these Ellington indigos, but they do so without ever sacrificing the essence. For this 2012 live performance in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the two players, established champs of the duo setting, brought in a third player. Cellist James Holland adds a subtle additional dimension to these proceedings. And you and I get to revel in Ellingtonia such as “I’m Beginning to See the Light”; “Creole Love Call”; “In a Mellow Tone”; “Sophisticated Lady”; “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” and lots more. Daniels and Kellaway each contribute one original to further honor the man we loved madly. If you’re seeking new ground, you may need to tread elsewhere. But if you celebrate brilliant musicianship and enjoy sailing on the ship of Ellington, this is a must hear experience.
Ipo Recordings; 2013; appx. 56 minutes.
The Intimate Ellington: Ballads And Blues; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone, trumpet, soprano trombone, vocals.
And here’s a totally different look at the master. This time, it’s by the bright and joyous, New Orleans-tinged talents of Wycliffe Gordon. who’s going to make you feel good whether you like it or not. With a cast of gifted, albeit less well-known players, Gordon and friends get it rolling in classic Ellington style. In contrast to the Ellington disc reviewed above, they rediscover a few of Duke’s rather obscure delights in addition to well known fare. From the former list, there’s “Pie Eye Blues,” once a feature for Clark Terry, while “Stevie” dates back to Duke’s 1962 session with John Coltrane. For reasons I don’t know, one of Duke’s compositions came to be known as “Something Sexual,” with an alternate title of “Dual Highway.” It too is a rarity in the Ellington book. From the familiar side of the ledger, singer Dee Daniels is featured on a passionate “I Got It Bad,” and she joins Gordon on an altogether satisfying scat vocal on “Creole Love Call.” Others of Duke’s Greatest Hits include “Jeep’s Blues,” “The Intimacy of the Blues,” “Sophisticated Lady” and “Caravan.” The only non-Ellington entry here is “Lotus Blossom,” one of Billy Strayhorn’s ultimate delicacies and surely an album highlight. From what I’ve gathered of Gordon over a distinguished career so far, he’s deeply dedicated and dialed in to the history of jazz. One hears it in every note, every phrase. Thanks, Wycliffe.
Criss Cross; 2013; 72:37.
The Compositions Of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn; Dorothy Doring, vocals; Phil Mattson, piano.
Maybe there was something in the air. But I’d rather suggest
that the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn is so excellent,
so uttertly timeless, and so worthy of being examined time
and time again, that we have here a third Ellington effort in one
month of reviews! This time it’s a vocal and piano duo featuring
the mature, gimmick free voice of Doring and the silvery piano
perfection of Mattson. As they say in that orange juice commercial,
it’s pure, “unfooled around with” Duke and Strays. If
you close your eyes, you might imagine yourself in the midst of
a home concert recital as Doring and Mattson pour forth an affectionate
tribute to their idols. The hits just keep comin’: “Day
Dream,” “Everything But You,” “Something to Live For,” “I Got
It Bad”, “In A Mellow Tone”, “Lush Life,” “I’m Just a Lucky So
and So,” “I Didn’t Know About You,” “I Let a Song Go Out of My
Heart” and perhaps the least known Ellington gem of the session,
“Heaven.” It’s a tune with odd intervals, undoubtedly a
challenge to any singer. And it’s a perfect set closer. In closing,
we offer this familiar refrain: the music of Ellington and Strayhorn
is a gift. Doring and Mattson have placed it in a serene
and special wrapping.
Self-Produced; 2013: appx. 40 minutes.
The Magic of 2; Tommy Flanagan, piano; and Jaki Byard, piano.
Stylistically, one wouldn’t put Tommy Flanagan and Jaki Byard in the same bag. They weren’t quite a generation apart in age. Byard was Tommy’s senior by eight years. But that very difference put Byard in big band and r & b camps -- places Flanagan rarely, if ever, visited. But both were improvisational giants, and although they approached the music from differing perspectives, each was effective and valuable individually. Here, thanks to Resonance Records, is a one-time opportunity to hear them in a duo setting. Recorded at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner in 1982, the two fly first class on five riveting tunes. Bird’s “Scrapple From The Apple” leads off the set, acting somewhat as a warn up vehicle. Having had way too much fun on the opener, the two expand their adventurous pairing on a nearly 10-minute ride which seemingly covers every style of jazz piano. The tune, incidentally, is Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things” and, if you please, try to curb your enthusiasm! The three other tunes done as duos include Duke’s “Satin Doll”; Tadd Dameron’s timeless “Our Delight”; and “The Theme” by Miles Davis. The remainder of the set offers each pianist on three solos. Tommy takes on a Strayhorn program with “Something to Live For,” “All Day Long” and “Chelsea Bridge.” Byard’s solo choices are: “Send One Your Love,” a Stevie Wonder tune; “Sunday,” from the standard book; and a Chuck Mangione vehicle called “Land of Make Believe.” The sound quality is excellent, the players were in high spirits, and the music is, well, just exceptional. One can only hope that Resonance has more heroes up its sleeve. We’ll look forward to them.
Resonance Records; 2013; 56:56.
Right To Swing; Phil Woods, alto saxophone, and the DePaul University Jazz Ensemble.
Do the math. Phil Woods, still playing up a storm, is one of the elder statesmen in the world of jazz. I mean, this guy was worshipping at the temple of Charlie Parker when I was celebrating my Bar Mitzvah at an altogether different temple. And that was a long time ago. And here he is, vital and virile with a big band and a smaller ensemble from DePaul University. The program opens with Woods’ “Rights of Swing,” a revisit to a five part suite he recorded in 1961. His writing is bright and bouyant; his alto as riveting and direct as ever; and his youthful college colleagues are spot on the money. Among the remaining “all Phil Woods” tunes, there’s “Weekend,” a happy, jaunty breath of fresh air; and “Hank Jones,” obviously Phil’s elegant thank you to one of the all-time piano giants. Then there’s “Pairing Off,” an up-tempo steamer whose title takes me back (I think) to an old LP he did with fellow sax man Gene Quill. On all of these and more, Woods makes it clear that there’s still bebop fire in the belly. Long may it burn!
Jazzed Media; 2013; 70:08.
True To Love; Anandi Gefroh, vocals.
Get ready, ‘cause there’s lot to like about Anandi’s new recording. First and foremost, she’s a Portland-based, no nonsense, real deal jazz singer. No show biz shtick here. Just straight forward, thoroughly honest jazz chops! Secondly, when one has the “smarts” to hire Randy Porter, piano, John Witala, bass, Todd Strait, drums, and David Evans, tenor saxophone, it assures accompaniment and arrangements at just about the highest level. Finally, there’s the intriguing range of songs. She wisely dips into both the Songbook America bag and features a few jazz gems as well. How about Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments” with a hip lyric by none other than Mark Murphy; or Benny Golson’s timeless “Whisper Not”; George Shearing’s classic “Lullaby Of Birdland”; or Horace Silver’s wistful beauty, “Peace.” From Tin Pan Alley and environs comes “Teach Me Tonight,” “The Masquerade Is Over,” and “Accentuate the Positive.” And then there are a few absolutely delightful surprises. The old reliable “Undecided” is taken at a very modest tempo. In this new attire, it sounds better than ever. “I Just Found Out About Love” is a sleeper that I seem to associate with Betty Carter, and, in more recent years, John Proulx. In any case, it’s a very hip little tune. Other winning choices include a medley of “minor” tunes: “Les Feuiles Mortes” (Autumn Leaves) and a rarity by King Pleasure called “Tomorrow Is another Day.” And Portland piano great, Gordon Lee, with a little help from Serge Rachmaninoff, contributes “Full Moon,” featuring Anandi’s new lyric. Anandi supplies these and more with her natural jazz leanings; a creative turn of a phrase here; a touch of scat there; and throughout, a swinging feel for all of her material. What a delight this is!
Self-Produced; 2013; appx. 60 minutes.
I Remember Chet; Eric Le Lann, trumpet.
Serious collectors of Chet Baker’s numerous recordings know that, later in his life, Chet frequently worked with guitarists rather than pianists, though I’m not sure that French trumpet ace Eric LeLann had this in mind in recording his Chet tribute. In a very intimate, tightly bound trio setting, Lelann works seamlessly with Nelson Veras, guitar, and Gildas Bocle, bass. While LeLann names Chet, Miles and Clifford as his three trumpet heroes, his sound leads mostly into the poignant corner occupied by Baker. There are 11 tunes in all, and Baker “owned” many of them. Only one, “Backtime,” is a LeLann original. The remainder include such Chet staples as Jimmy Heath’s “For Minors Only”; A. C. Jobim’s “Zingaro”; Davis’s “Milestones”; and well honed standards such as “I Should Care,” “The More I See You,” “Summertime,” and “Love for Sale.” For me, the standouts were “I’m a Fool to Want You” and “Angel Eyes,” both of which are very sad songs -- reminders, in a way, of Baker’s very sad life. This is, make no mistake, a stirring trio of musicians paying homage to one of the tragic stories, too often told in the jazz art, the gifted jazz icon, Chet Baker.
Bee Jazz; 2012; 49:09.
Lay Down My Heart; Blues And Ballads, Vol. 1; Joe Locke, vibes.
In Locke’s words: “There is no highbrow concept here, just some songs pulled from a deep well, which will hopefully serve to feed the soul.” By now, of course, Locke has attained the status of one of the major voices of his generation on that curious, beautiful instrument, the vibraphone. This session finds him in a classic, quartet setting with Ryan Cohan, piano, David Finck, bass, and Jaimes Brown, drums. The foursome explores a variety of tunes, most of which are blues-rooted or related. Locke and company open with a pop hit of the past, “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and this tune never had it so good. The first of two Locke originals is an intimate and moody thing called “Broken Toy.” The quartet then takes a sudden detour into an upbeat Sam Jones blues called “Bittersweet.” For the record, it’s more sweet than bitter. “I Can’t Make You Love Me” is, I believe, another pop tune with a country touch and a very pretty melody line. Bobby Troup’s “The Meaning of the Blues” is, seemingly, a tune being rediscovered in recent years, and deservedly so. Frank Foster’s rarity, “Simone,” is followed by another Locke original, “This New October.” It is a ballad, but one which attempts to express Jocke’s positive outlook at the time it was composed. The session concludes with two standards, quite different from one another, “Makin’ Whoopee” and “Dedicated to You.” All told, this is a diverse program played by a no-nonsense quartet. They communicate with the passion and ease of guys who know what to do and love doing it.
Motema; 2013; appx. appx. 56 minutes.
Louie’s Dream; For Our Jazz Heroes; Eli Yamin, piano; Evan Christopher, clarinet.
Here are a couple of finely-crafted voices involved in an exercise honoring some early jazz luminaries. Their songs of choice tend to be rarely heard gems, evidence that Yamin and Chritstopher are likely cut from the same cloth as dedicated students of jazz. As a result, we are the lucky benefactors of such tunes as “Louie’s Dream,”a “buried” treasure that Louis recorded one time only. Other salutes include “You Got to Treat It Gentle” (for Sidney Bechet); “What’s Your Story, Morning Glory” (for Mary Lou Williams); “Let His Love Take Me Higher” (for Mahalia Jackson); “Impromptu” (for John Coltrane); and a couple of Duke Ellington rarities in “The Mooche” and “Dancers In Love.” In addition, the two players have added several original compositions, all of which are in the same spirit as the above mentioned selections. The reverence for this era and style is clearly evident in their playing. If you’d like to brush up on an era of jazz that should never be overlooked, these two dedicated purveyors of this classic music might be just your cup of tea.
Self-Produced; 2013; appx. 52 minutes.
It’s About Time; The Verve Jazz Ensemble.
This welcome recording shows me that a jazz group can still make an impact playing straight ahead bop tunes and acclaimed standards. It’s really a simple concept, right? But it’s rather odd that it’s done so rarely these days. The Verve Jazz Ensemble is an East Coast quintet which has been together since 2008. Despite the advantage of playing together for a solid period of time, this is their debut disc. And what great tunes they’ve chosen! The session gets underway with Tadd Dameron’s classic “Lady Bird” and continues with a bona-fide jam session favorite, “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise.” Then, the big surprise of the set -- “Big Swing Face.” It’s a tune that some may remember from a Buddy Rich big band session. And it was written by Bill Potts, a very underrated big band leader and arranger out of Washington, D. C. Pared down to a ripping quintet version, it’s an album highlight. Next comes “Boplicity,” an etched-in-marble classic from the Miles Davis-Gil Evans “Birth of the Cool” era. It’s played in a rather spare, slower than usual fashion that shows us that “Boplicity” is perhaps a “prettier” piece than we ever realized. “The Days of Wine and Roses” recalls Oscar Peterson’s version. It’s a swinging feature for pianist Matt Oestreicher. Duke Jordan’s “Jordu” is a winning set closer and a great vehicle for improvisation. If this set reflects this group’s book, I’d like to sample additional chapters.
Self-Produced; 2012; appx; 35 minutes plus three alternate takes.
Bing Bang Boom! John Stein, guitar.
Stein is a guitarist who has come to my attention over the last half dozen years through just about one new CD per year. Unlike many of his guitar colleagues, Stein insists on making the guitar sound like, you guessed it, a guitar. You see, the innocent ol’ guitar is often subjected to overdubs, electronic pablum and other unwelcome tricks. Not so here, as Stein teams up with Jako Sherman, piano, John Lockwood, bass, and Zo Eduardo Nazario. Except for possible variations in the pronunciation of the drummer’s name, there’s nothing tricky about this lineup. The program gets underway with Stanley Turrentine’s neo-standard, “Sugar.” Not exactly a favorite of mine, but I know that a lot of you love it. Stein and friends then continue with three originals that express varying colors and tempos: “Monina,” “Unraveled Plans,” and the grooving title tune. A change of pace follows with a two-piece medley courtesy of Duke Ellington (my, but his name has dominated these reviews!) in “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love” and “Chelsea Bridge.” Stein then hits the Latin trail with another original, “Bolo Horizonto.” Most of the remainder of this program is devoted to well-regarded standards in Rodgers and Hart’s “Lover”; Victor Young’s sultry “Delilah”; and Cole Porter’s dependable “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To.” In these last few years of getting acquainted with Stein, we’ve come to expect straight down the middle of the highway jazz guitar. This new outing lives up to that lofty standard.
Whaling City Sound; 2012; 54:18.
Uplift 2; Monty Alexander, piano.
For the follow-up to “Uplift” from a year or two ago, Jazz Legacy Productions was smart enough to compile these 11 selections from, as they put it, “concert halls and jazz clubs from around the globe.” Hence, we are treated to Mr. Alexander’s dynamic piano in two distinct trios. Some selections feature John Clayton, bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums. Others find him working with Hassan Shakur, bass, and Frits Landbergen, drums. What is consistent is that Alexander is, as always, one of the swinging-est, most satisfying, grooviest and entertaining jazz pianists ever to sit down at the Steinway. He hits a certain tempo and simply pulls you into the palm of his hand. It’s infectious fun, and I don’t believe he’d have it any other way. In that spirit, Alexander gives us “Saints,” “Love You Madly,” “You Are My Sunshine,” “Night Mist Blues,” “St. Thomas” and “Close Enough For Love,” among other high water marks. I’m one of those people lucky enough to have heard Alexander in person, in the late ‘80s I think, at the Otter Crest Jazz Weekend. I thought then that he was the complete virtuoso, swinging piano cat. All these years later, my opinion remains the same.
Jazz Legacy Productions; 2013; appx. 63 minutes.
Hard Hittin’ at The Bird’s Eye: Jim Rotondi, trumpet and flugelhorn.
One of the younger generation of players steeped in the hard bop tradition, Rotondi’s career continues to unfold in a multitude of exciting directions. On this live date, recorded in 2012 in Bawel Switzerland, he shares the front line with another “young” monster, Eric Alexander. Like Rotondi, somewhere in his youth, Alexander “osmosisized” the tenets of bop and ballads. He’s been spinning heads ever since. The quartet is completed by organist Renato Chico and drummer Bernd Reiter. Although I’m old school in my preference of a piano over an organ, Chico is a sizzling, bristling organist who’s smart enough not to treat the instrument like a slick, greasy, “look what I can do” R&B sideshow. On a nearly 70-minute disc, there are only six tunes here, and that’s often typical of live dates that feature plenty of “stretching out” room. The program features one original each from Alexander (“Summit Meeting”), Rotondi (“Higher Calling”) and Chico (“The Loop.”). The menu also includes George Coleman’s lyrical entry, “Amsterdam After Dark,” and two reliable standards, “Cry Me a River” and, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the old warhorse, “Blue Moon.” Rotondi and Alexander are alarmingly brilliant players. Most importantly, they’re resolute guardians of a revered style of classic jazz. My hat is off to both.
Sharp Nine; 2013; 68:09.
Birch Hall Concerts Live; The Bechet Legacy; co leaders: Bob Wilber, soprano sax and clarinet; Glenn Zottola, trumpet.
How about this! Two evenings of well-recorded swing jazz from way back in 1981. That means all this juicy material sat on the shelf for over 30 years. But now it’s out there to be enjoyed in a two-CD set with artful packaging and extensive notes. The group features Bob Wilber, a devotee of the soprano sax and a fine clarinetist as well, and Glenn Zottola, a trumpet player zeroed in on the era of Louis Armstrong. And speaking of Louis, his compositions are prominently featured here, as are those of Duke Ellington and, of course, Sidney Bechet. His tunes may be less familiar to many listeners, but they are constructed with strong, sensible, well-defined melody lines and thoughtful arranging. There are 22 tunes in all, and to name a few of the better known ones, how about “Oh, Lady Be Good”; “The Mooche”; “Daydream”; “Sweet Lorraine”; “I Let a Song Go Out Of My Heart”; “I Got It Bad” and “Just One of Those Things.” The coleaders are joined by an enthusiastic group comprised of Mark Shane, piano, Mike Peters, guitar and banjo, Len Skeat, bass, Butch Miles, drums; and a couple of vocals by Wilber’s wife, Pug Horton. This is music to make you smile. It’s music to feel very okay about your indulgence in a touch of nostalgia. And, if you’re so inclined, it’s music to savor with a little shot glass of Bailey’s or some such sweet libation.
Classic Jazz; 2013; two CDs: appx. 73:00 and 68:00 minutes.
Coming Home; Michael Dease, trombone.
Master bass player Christian McBride describes Dease like this: “His sense of musicianship, his wonderful personality, his professionalism, and his staggering command of the trombone has rightfully made him the in-demand player that he is today.” How’s that for an endorsement? One glimpse of the company Dease has attracted on his new CD will underscore McBride’s glowing words. How about Steve Wilson, alto sax, Rene Rosnes, piano, McBride on bass, and Ulysses Owens Jr., drums. A few examples of Dease’s virtuosity and versatility include “Blues Etude,” a tour de force, and a “dangerously” fast tempo that left listeners open-mouthed when composer Oscar Peterson played it. No doubt that that response will repeat itself in hearing Dease take on this test of will (and skill). “In A Sentimental Mood”, Duke Ellington’s timeless gem, shows the other side of Michael Dease. It features a finely honed solo by Steve Wilson and a muted trombone chorus perfectly executed by the leader. The only other familiar melody on the bill is Julie Styne’s “Just In Time.” And indeed, it’s all about time as Dease once again takes on a bristling tempo and asks Rosnes to do the same. Not to worry, they manage to survive the high wire. Of several remaining tunes, I especially liked “All Heath,” Dease’s tribute to tenor man Jimmy Heath. It’s a lilting line based on the changes to “All The Things You Are.” You might as well make note of the name Michael Dease. Trust me, you’re going to be hearing it often.
D Clef Records; 2013; appx. 70 minutes.
Less Is More; Rich Thompson, drums.
For his second session on Seattle’s respected Origin label, Thompson has put together a solid quintet and chosen some intriguing jazz compositions, often overlooked by others. The opener is Kenny Dorham’s “Lotus Blossom,” a hard bop vehicle. Or how about Ornette Coleman’s “Invisible,” a tricky melody line that nobody has given any attention to for years. Then there’s “This Is for Albert”, a rather lyrical and tuneful Wayne Shorter creation. Finally, Thompson’s group gives us “Step Lightly,” one of tenor great Joe Henderson’s best known tunes. From the standards side of the menu, Thompson and company offer “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” “It’s Easy to Remember” and “I’ve Never Been in Love Before.” This well-balanced effort is completed by a few originals, including the title tune. The quintet is made up of trumpet and flugelhorn giant Terrell Stafford, emerging tenor saxophonist Doug Stone, versatile pianist and organist Gary Vercase, Jeff Campbell, a new name to me on bass, and the leader. A high level of musicianship is the order of the day, and it should be said that these guys sound like they’re enjoying every minute of it.
Origin; 2013; appx. 59 minutes.
Eye of the Beholder; Tim Warfield, tenor and soprano saxophone.
If you’re looking for a modern day all-star lineup, look no further. Warfield has assembled a dream team of Nicholas Payton, trumpet, Cyrus Chestnut, piano, Rodney Whitaker, bass, and Clarence Penn, drums. Warfield is also responsible for six of the nine tunes. The opener, “Blues for Mr. Bill,” is a straight forward, medium tempo blues written for one of Warfield’s former employers -- Bill Cosby. “The Undaunted,” a muscular entry, refers to a mindset one must acquire to play this sort of creative music. “Tied a Dish,” in two parts, is a play on the words “tired of this.” The idea here was to allow each player to “shout” musically “tired of this!” It’s easily the most free material on the disc. To get you back on straight ahead boulevard, the quintet gives us the only standard on the disc, a better than 10-minute workout on “I Remember You.” It’s taken at a quirky, almost splashy temp,o and following Warfield and Payton’s intense solos, Chestnut swings with intensity. In the midst of all this high-wire activity, there’s Warfields’ ballad feature, “Ramona’s Heart.” The tenor man is pensive and delicate, and Chestnut’s role as both accompanist and soloist is like fine brandy. On all these and others, Warfield has put together a thoughtful collection of original music and first cabin colleagues to pull it off without a hitch.
Criss Cross; 2013; 68:34.
Thou Swell; Richard Lanham, vocals.
You probably haven’t given this much thought, but consider this question. Can you name five legitimate, active male jazz singers? Guys currently on the scene, playing clubs or festivals and doing recordings? I didn’t think you could. So, please welcome Lanham, a singer who took a very long and winding trail to get to this CD. In fact, it was recorded some 15 years ago. Due to a myriad of circumstances, it’s finally out there. Lanham has spent many years in “show biz” but not the jazz biz. He served in vocal groups and doo-wop outfits like the Ink Spots, The Cadillacs and The Drifters. His voice, in fact, reminds me just a bit of Tony Williams, one-time lead singer for The Platters. Throw in a tinge or two of Ray Charles and perhaps Lou Rawls, and you have Lanham. He sings great songs like “All Of You”, “Stardust”, “I Wish You Love” and a Gershwin rarity called “Isn’t It A Pity” among many others. For good measure, throw in some Gotham cats who were known for some years as The New York Hardbop Quintet. To be clear, they are, collectively and individually, some of the best players in New York. And Lanham brings loads of energy and joy to his old/new CD.
Self-Produced; 2013; appx. 44 minutes.
Introducing The C. J. Heptet; Cleave Guyton Jr., alto sax, flute, piccolo.
In the note that accompanied this recording, we learn that over the past 25 years, Cleave Guyton Jr. has worked in the reed sections of such formidable organizations as The Count Basie Band, The Lionel Hampton Orchestra and an ensemble led by Abdullah Ibrahim, among dozens of other prime musical endeavors. This, however, is his first session in a leadership role, and it’s an intriguing one from a few perspectives. First, Guyton’s versatility is impressive. I mean, how many jazz musicians pick up the piccolo and make it work perfectly on Clare Fischer’s lyrical piece, “Pensativa”? Another aspect of this session that really jumps out at you is the fact that Guyton’s colleagues include two tenor sax players, one of whom doubles on baritone. Now think about how many possibilities that gives you with the leader all over the place on reeds! Another “semioddity” is the absence of a pianist. That’s not uncommon, to be sure, but the group is completed with trombone, guitar, bass and drums. A myriad of musical ideas is simply “built in” with such instrumentation. Besides “Pensativa,” the other standard here is the Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin beauty, “My Ship.” The remainder of the disc is devoted primarily to Guyton’s original compositions. As you might expect, he takes full advantage of the variety afforded by a talented group of players.
Consolidated Artists Productions; 2012; appx. 45 minutes.
Tonk - A Tribute To Ray Bryant, Vol. 2; Lenny Marcus, piano, flute, vocals.
Ray Bryant had a certain open, bluesy sound with chords seemingly from heaven. It turns out that Bryant, who passed away in 2011, was Lenny Marcus’s teacher and mentor and a best friend of Marcus Sr. So it’s entirely sensible that Marcus should follow his earlier RB tribute with Volume 2. His basic trio of Rick Eckberg, bass, and Larry Scott, drums, is augmented here and there with additional instrumentation. And Marcus keeps these proceedings squarely in Bryant’s corner with a very bluesy orientation and a swinging menu from the first notes. How could he do otherwise on a tribute to this great Philly giant? There are 16 tunes in all, ranging from evergreens such as “C Jam Blues,” “Old Devil Moon,” and “St. Louis Blues,” to Bryant blues specials such as “Slow Freight,” “Up Above the Rock,” “Break Tune in G,” and two of Ray’s best, “Blues #2 and #3.” These -- and all the others on this disc -- remind us of the individuality, the fresh and invigorating vitality, and the reliably joyful sound that was, plain and simply, in the DNA of Ray Bryant.
Self-Produced; 2013; appx. 58 minutes.
Tango Caliente; Jay D’Amico, piano.
My usual procedure is to proceed with caution regarding any “Latin” album. I simply haven’t gained loads of knowledge in that area. But one little facet caught my eye, and I knew it would receive some attention on my part. And what was that light that went on? The presence of trumpet and flugelhorn player Richie Vitale. My own collection boasts a few of his CDs, and I think he’s a gifted player worthy of much more attention. And his playing in this eight-tune menu of D’Amico’s original music lives up to the standard I’m accustomed to. The album title suggests an “all-tango” bill of fare here, but D’Amico’s writing is quite versatile, even accessibly quirky and offbeat at times. Just compare titles like the urban, busy sound of “23rd & 8th,” with the plaintive “Maura’s Chant.” “Different outfits worn by the same guy,” one might say. Completing the quintet are Andrew Sherman, tenor sax and flute, Paul Gill, bass, and Tim Horner, drums. These are seasoned Big Apple players, and one can hear that New York swagger in their resolute solo work. D’Amico is wise in sharing the load with these skilled colleagues, and his piano solos range from solidly swinging to delicate and lyrical. And while we’re on the subject of lyrical, don’t forget Vitale’s trumpet and flugelhorn. He is something special.
Consolidated Artists Productions (CAP); 2012; appx. 55
Whosoever; Chris Massey, drums.
In the spirit of the drummer’s drummer, Art Blakey, Massey is a powerhouse. His musical muse appears to be those timeless 1960s Blue Note sides which featured peerless soloists playing in consistently high quality ensembles. Most of the tunes here fall into that genre -- with two exceptions: the standard “Old Devil Moon,” and the classic “Giant Steps.” Massey’s traditional grouping of tenor, trumpet and rhythm section also follows that long-admired orientation. Nothing ground breaking here, but you can still dig it.
Self-Produced; 2013; appx. 41 minutes.
Bob: A Palindrome; Robert Hurst, bass.
It might be said that the career of Robert Hurst has placed him in many settings, not all of which would be considered jazz. But here, with the help of an all-star lineup, he presents 10 original compositions, some of which have been “brewing” in his consciousness for 20 years or more. Reedman Branford Marsalis and trumpet-flugelhorn ace Marcus Belgrave offer par- ticularly impressive solos, and Bennie Maupin also shines on flute and clarinet. Like his idol, Duke Ellington, Hurst writes with specific soloists in mind for each of his compositions. And this sessions confirm the fact that he does it very well.
Bebob Records; 2013; appx. 77 minutes.
Look Again; Bruce Torff, keyboards, percussion, compositions.
Most of the dozen songs on this CD are so quirky, so “jazzy” (if you will), so complex and surprising, that I first marveled that composer Torff was able to “teach” them to singer Pete Mc- Guiness. We’re talking crazy intervals, unexpected leaps and frolics, challenging roadmaps of songs -- almost every one of them. But real great jazz feeling is in abundance here, too. Torff is helped out by Joel Frahm, a tenorman on the rise, and by veterans Brian Torff, bass, and Matt Wilson, drums, among others. Some of these lyrics come at you pretty fast. But worry not, they’re all in print in the liner note booklet. You’re going to have some fun with this one.
Summit Records; 2013; appx. 50 minutes.
Lenny White Live; Lenny White, drums.
If you like your music electrified, this might be of interest. With two people on “keyboards,” two bass players, and a heavy dose of predictable ‘70s funk, you’re gonna ask, “Haven’t I been here before?” Incidentally, wasn’t there an era when we referred to “keyboards” as pianos? Not even the lead voices on trumpet and saxophone can rescue this weary foray into fusion. And the burping bass guitar is downright annoying. Pardon me for yawning. I know it’s not polite.
BFM Records; 2013; appx. 68 minutes.
Suit Up! Matt Kane, drums.
Hey, we almost got through two months without a single organ-guitar trio arriving in our mailbox. This one beat my deadline by just a couple days. I get very weary of these, but this one’s better than most. It’s just that I’m not a raving B-3 fan. Having said that, drummer Kane is joined by Dave Stryker, guitar, and Kyle Kohler, organ. Together, they succeed in keeping this from getting overly funky. In fact, it works as a jazz record due to some classy chops from all players. With the exception of the standard “Who Can I Turn To,” the tunes are new to my ears, and these guys do swing. You gotta give ‘em that!
Bounce Step Records; 2013; appx. 55 minutes.