George Shearing At Home; George Shearing, piano.
Sometimes we just get lucky. These 14 exquisite examples of Shearing’s elegance were recorded in 1983 in his own New York apartment. On 10 of them, he’s joined by his long-time bassist of that period, Don Thompson. Maybe the two of them simply got busy with other projects and forgot about this session. For whatever reason, it sat in a drawer for 30 years. Thompson rediscovered the tapes a year or two ago, and the result is this unexpected new Shearing gem. As Thompson describes it, “we just decided to ‘lay down’ a few tracks; drink some tea; and then try few more.” Over a couple of days, this was the result. A few highlights on their menu include “The Things We Did Last Summer,” “Laura,” “Confirmation,” “The Girl Next Door,” “That Old Devil Called Love” and lots more. Among the four Shearing solos, Thompson had special praise for “Beautiful Love.” “I’d never heard him play it before, and he never played it again. I think it’s one of the most amazingly beautiful things I’ve ever heard.” His legion of admirers are going to be very happy to be reacquainted with one of the timeless masters of jazz piano.
Jazzknight Records; 2013; appx. 57 minutes.
Beautiful Friendship; Doug Sertl, trombone.
As in the above review, this session also sat in never-never land, but not for quite so long. Recorded in 1998, it’s seeing the light of day in 2013. I can’t say I’m thoroughly familiar with Sertl, but I certainly remember him from a disc he did with trumpet marvel Bobby Shew. The instrumentation is different this time around, as Sertl partners with Peter Bernstein, guitar, Rick Montalbano, B3 organ, and Terry Clarke, drums. What we have here is a straight ahead, piano-less presentation by some formidable players taking on seven great tunes and nailing them. Sertl leans comfortably toward the bop arena, but there’s a lyricism in his playing which suggests he’s listened to someone like Bob Brookmeyer. He and his talented colleagues sail through “Beautiful Friendship,” “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” “I Hear A Rhapsody,” “Nancy,” “Groovin High,” “The Nearness Of You” and “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be.” Montalbano’s B3 is all about subtle understatement, and Bernstein’s guitar is clean and classy. It took awhile, but this one’s well worth the wait.
Self-Produced; 2012; appx. 49 minutes.
Miles Tones; Giacomo Gates, vocals.
Bebop in all its vocal glory was, at one time, pretty much the province of a jazz hero named Eddie Jefferson. To our great good fortune, along came Gates, picking up where Eddie left off, keeping alive the bop and scat treasures, but doing so from his own very unique baritone perspective. His new release celebrates the music of Miles Davis, both his compositions and some standards which “belong” to Miles. One listen to Gates and you know for sure that this cat was born to sing bop. And, present day, I can think of no one better. Gates brought some sympathetic colleagues into the studio in Freddie Hendrix, trumpet, John Di Martino, piano, Dave Stryker, guitar, Lonnie Plaxico, bass, and Vincent Ector, drums. In this lively setting, Gates rings the bell with “All Blues,” “Four,” “’Round Midnight,” “So What,” “Walkin’,” plus a medley of “Bebop Lives” and “Boplicity.” The two standards are “I Fall In Love too Easily” and “You’re My Everything.” This is classic bebop sung by a guy whose dedication to his muse is obvious from note one.
Savant Records; 2013; appx. 50 minutes.
Magic 101; Frank Wess, tenor saxophone.
If you are/were a follower of the exploits of the Count Basie Orchestra, you’ll know the expression “the two Franks.” They were, of course, Frank Foster and Frank Wess, two tenor stalwarts of Basie’s sax section, and stars in their own right. Both often played feature roles, and Wess is considered an important voice on flute as well. That was all back in the fifties, over a half century ago. Turn the pages, and here’s Frank Wess, at age 89 in a 2011 recording, and for this session, playing tenor exclusively. Of course, it doesn’t hurt a bit to have on hand another superstar, Kenny Barron on piano, along with Kenny Davis, bass, and Winard Harper, drums. Just tenor sax and a rhythm section. The way they used to make records, one might say. And Wess is in his element playing a selection of grand and timeless tunes, including “Say It Isn’t So,” “The Very Thought Of You,” “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” “Easy Living,” “Blue Monk,” a stirring solo version of “All Too Soon,” and his own composition, “Pretty Lady.” The CD’s title refers to a “basic course in making magical and timeless music.” This is what great jazz is all about, and as you might expect, Frank Wess earns an “A” in Magic 101.
IPO Recordings; 2013; appx. 53 minutes.
To Bill Evans; Kerem Gorsev, piano, with The City of Prague Symphony Orchestra.
A native of Turkey, Gorsev came under the spell of Bill Evans during his conservatory years in the 1970s. As one who idolized Evans, it was inevitable he should discover Alan Broadbent, a pianist who, like Evans, finds truth, beauty and intense feeling every time his hands touch the keys. After collaborating with Broadbent on an earlier album, Gorsev requested he write arrangements for full orchestra on a series of original compositions in remembrance of Bill Evans. Broadbent jumped at the chance, and before you know it, the partners in the project had enlisted The City of Prague Symphony Orchestra to participate in seven luscious “tone poems” recalling life’s goodness, something Evans always communicated. Gorsev is heard on six of the seven pieces, and Broadbent “sits in” on “To Bill Evans,” an album highlight and an emotional, uplifting piece. An example of the remaining selections is “Music Pudding” which brings to mind “Waltz For Debbie” and “Very Early,” two of Bill’s best. Broadbent’s arrangements for symphony orchestra, along with Gorsev’s serene, Evans-like touch, combine to send us on a captivating, artful musical journey. Albums like this don’t come along often. When they do, they re-affirm the idea that all can be right with the world. That’s just how pretty this music is. Thank you Kerem Gorsev, Alan Broadbent and orchestra ... and thank you, Bill.
Garanti; 2013; 47:08.
Artistry: A Tribute to Stan Kenton; Kim Richmond, alto sax, conductor, arranger.
Tribute albums are, in my opinion, best when the group making the tribute has something to say of its own. Richmond has been a dedicated big band section guy and leader-arranger for many years in the LA area. His wealth of experience easily earns him the role of “the-buck-stops-here” guy for a project such as this. And, as one would expect, there’s lots of brassy “Kentonese” in these grooves. Still, it clearly stands on its own merit. Kenton staples such as “Artistry In Rhythm,” “Intermission Riff,” “Invitation” and “The Peanut Vendor” are revisited with a harmonic detour here, a rhythmic alteration there, and enough classy, riveting solos to keep you happy. Richmond even contributes four of his own tunes, keeping the tuba, french horn and various percussionists appropriately busy a la Kenton. Amidst other selections like “Over The Rainbow,” “Willow Weep For Me” and Neal Hefti’s obscurity, “Virna,” the standout for me was a Johnny Mandel beauty called “Seascape.” I recall only one other version of the tune, a heart warming one by Fred Hersch. It’s simply as pretty a tune as Mr. Mandel (or anyone) ever wrote. I’m thrilled to hear a big band performance of it. Kenton was a unique presence who came along at just the right time in American music. He is honored here by Richmond and his orchestra with thoroughly enjoyable arranging and, above all, great taste.
Mama Records; 2013; appx. 73 minutes.
New Point of View; Michael Hackett, trumpet and flugelhorn.
“No nonsense, no theatrics, just straight ahead and honest.” That, in part, is how fellow trumpet man Scott Wendholdt described Michael Hackett. And I would have to agree. Hackett is one of those gifted guys tone-wise, and get this: he writes real melodies. Obviously not out to rewrite the book, Hackett and his quintet have taken their cue from great players of the past. There are similarities here to the exceptional Blue Note sound and concept: clear statements of melody, creative improvisation, and consistent swing. Hackett’s sound is pure hard bop pleasure and ballad finery, as is that of his tenor saxophone player, Tom Walsh. A sympathetic rhythm section is comprised of Luke Gillespie, piano, Jeremy Allen, bass, and Jason Tiemann, drums. One cannot help but feel good about distinct melody lines among the seven originals, and the session also includes two standards in the beautiful “Estate” and a shimmering, near-ballad version of “Time After Time.” This is how records used to be made. I hope Hackett will continue making them.
PS: in a bygone era, there was another Hackett trumpet man. Any relation to Bobby?!
Summit Records; 2013; appx. 60 minutes.
To the Ladies of Cool; Kathy Kosins, vocals.
This CD is defined as a “love letter” to four divas of the past; Anita O’Day, June Christy, Chris Connor and Julie London. All were prominent back in the rich, halcyon fifties, an incredible decade of high art in the jazz world. Now along comes Kosins, a jazz singer with style, confidence and chops. She knows how to put together a sterling group of accompanists too, with arrangements and the piano of emerging giant, Tamir Hendelman. His charts for a small ensemble are fresh and invigorating. Kosins chooses 10 tunes, all of which are associated with the ladies of cool. Among them are “Nightbird” (Connor), “Kissing Bug” (Christy), “Don’t Wait Up For Me” (Connor), “Hershey’s Kisses” (O’Day) with Kosins’ “sweet” lyric to Johnny Mandel’s “Hershey Bar,” “Learnin’ The Blues” (London), “Lullaby In Rhythm” (Christy), and, I think, my favorite of the set, a neglected little gem called “All I Need Is You.” On all these and more, Kosins sounds very much like a skilled jazz singer who’s having way too much fun!
Resonance; 2013; appx. 50 minutes.
Rainy City; Greg Goebel, piano.
There’s a new generation of scintillating players in the process of establishing themselves right here in Portland, Oregon. One who is very much admired is pianist Goebel. And you’ll understand why when you listen to the nine original compositions and one classic on his new CD. Goebel surrounds himself with stellar colleagues in Rob Davis, tenor sax, Dave Captein, bass, and Todd Strait, drums. One aspect of Goebel’s writing seems to be that, at any tempo, he writes clever lines with wit, subtlety and movement. For example, the title tune (wonder what inspired that?) has a drone-like aspect, but at the same time, a hopeful feeling. The only standard is the Gershwin’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” one of many bright spots from “Porgy And Bess.” Goebel alters the rhythm a bit, but not so much as to suggest a “look what I can do” attitude. I don’t know where these song titles came from, but I liked the quirky energy of “The Bucky Rug,” “Eastern Blue Ice” and “In The Red.” Really, all the originals on the CD have something quite unique to offer. And Goebel deserves all the praise hereabouts. He’s a burner!
Ninjazz Records; 2013; appx. 70 minutes.
Understanding; Wallace Roney, trumpet.
Right out of the gate, let me inform you, as the liner notes tell us, that this is Roney’s first release in more than 10 years that does not utilize some form of electricity. To that I say hooray! No Rhodes, electric bass or turntables. Roney is, of course, a direct descendant of Miles Davis and a trumpet star in his own right. For this session, he sought the service of a very young band. They’re all new names to me, and believe it or not, the bass player is only 16 years old. Prodigy time perhaps? With a couple exceptions, the tunes are all underexposed hard bop goodies from heavy contributors such as Roy Brooks, Duke Pearson, and two from McCoy Tyner. Never one to seek music shelter of some kind, Roney is a powerful, disciplined player who can blow circles around just about anyone. To be honest, some of the music was a bit edgy for me, but the absence of electronic meandering makes up for any of my problems with wattage. The best cuts were Roney’s very boppy and bluesy original called “Combustible,” and two ballads. Roney is muted and very Miles-like on Tyner’s torchy “You Taught My Heart to Sing.” Another Tyner offering, “Search For Peace,” is an equally compelling piece.
High Note Records; 2013; appx. 59 minutes.
In The Rain Shadow; Chris Amemiya, trombone.
This all-Seattle group is dedicated to the bebop tradition and they explore it with great vigor and solid musicianship. Amemiya, a new name to me, has done his homework and finds his muse in the shadows of Curtis, J. J. and other revered bone bopsters. The name I know best in this quintet is Jay Thomas, a longtime standout Seattle cat who plays nearly everything, but settles in on trumpet and flugelhorn. Thomas is right at home in this setting. The group is completed by Travis Ranney, alto and tenor saxes, John Hansen, piano, Jon Hamar, bass, and Steve Korn, drums. The guys open with an ancient warhorse, “Memories of You.” But not the one you remember. This “memory” is clad in new, bright, shrink-free, in-your-face bebop. It’s a sizzling opener! The other standard on the date is an old Doris Day hit, “Secret Love.” Thomas re-harmonizes it ,and it’s no secret that the result is invigorating. “Bolivia,” Cedar Walton’s classic, is the other familiar offering. The quintet cooks it up, that’s for sure. The originals also feature extra-fine ensemble playing where something called melody is still important. I certainly hope that we’ll hear more from Amemiya & Jazz Coalescence.
OA2 Records; 2013; appx. 71 minutes.
Relevancy; Chip Stephens, piano.
Breathe it in! Some real, muscular, no apologies hard bop piano! Let me start by saying that several years ago, I reviewed “Holding on to What Counts.” Indeed, I did hold on to that album for my personal collection. And once again, Stephens, direct from that stronghold of jazz in Colorado, has caught my attention. He and his two sons were seriously injured in an auto accident in 2008. Whether he would ever play the piano again was an open question. Well, play he does, and wonderfully well, I might add. The CD opens with the title tune, Stephens’ message to “go for it” rather than always playing it safe. “Like Someone In Love,” a great standard, gets a thorough examination and is followed by the pianist’s unusual but lyrical blues, “Somewhere Before the End.” Rodgers and Hart gave us a little-known ballad called “This Funny World,” a rare beauty in Stephens’ hands. “A Day In May” is about the grim process of recovery, rehabilitation and all the emotion which follows a traumatic auto accident, and “C Hip’s Blues” is a brusque, confident blues. Stephens and his trio colleagues -- Dennis Carroll, bass, and Joel Spencer, drums -- give “Be My Love” the swing and style that Mario Lanza could never imagine, and the CD ends with a bright Bill Evans rarity called “34 Skidoo.” Stephens is a real deal, head-spinning jazz pianist. I love what he does, and I think you will too!
Capri Records; 2013; appx. 66 minutes.
La Rumba Is a Lovesome Thing; Paul Carlon, tenor and soprano
saxes, flute, arrangements.
If you had asked me if anyone might ever “Latinize” the compositions of Billy Strayhorn, I would have responded “no way.” But saxophonist Carlon has dealt with a passion for Latin sounds for a long while. And obviously, he thinks quite well of American treasure Strayhorn. Such an approach is almost a “brave” thing to do, given Strayhorn’s higher than high place in jazz history. And he didn’t get there composing Latin rhythms! From my personal purist vantage point, this music did not resonate. But then, I’ve never hidden the fact that I’m not the world’s biggest proponent of Latin music. But if you are, you’re going to find a lot to like in “Johnny Come Lately,” “Day Dream,” “’A Train,” “UMMG,” Passion Flower,” “Chelsea Bridge” and more. Granted, it’s Strayhorn as you’ve never heard him before. A detour to be sure, but it’s honest music which simply puts these classics in brand new attire.
Zoho; 2013; appx. 54 minutes.
Let Me Love You; Chad Carter, vocals.
We could use a few more singers like Carter. Think about it. In a world of female vocalists (some good, some wanna-be’s), male singers are at a premium. So, welcome Chad Carter. I’m trying to think just who it is you remind me of, and I’ve come up with a few names. On a couple of bluesy items, I heard a bit of Jimmy Witherspoon. Here and there, especially on ballads, I could sense a touch of Billy Eckstine, but there’s also a hint of Ernie Andrews. Carter and a host of fine LA area accompanists give us 15 selections with titles such as “Exactly Like You,” “Let Me Love You,” “Sweet Lorraine,” “This Is Always,” “Dearly Beloved,” “How Little We Know” and other standout songs. Carter’s freshness and enthusiasm shine through. In addition, a great deal of effort obviously went into some excellent graphics for this disc. It’s sure nice to hear a fella handle a song with as much pizzazz as Carter.
JKBJ Records; 2012; appx. 53 minutes.
When Freedom Swings; Ira Wiggins, tenor sax and flutes.
The title of this two CD set suggests that jazz, as an art form, equates to the ideals of democracy. It is improvisational music with contributions from various players, all within a certain established boundary. Wiggins, Director of Jazz Studies at North Carolina Central University, has gathered a group of outstanding players to play (mostly) his own compositions on CD #1, and those of others on #2. Wiggins possesses a classic, swinging approach on tenor and an understated, subtle touch on flute. He’s the kind of tenor player who would have become “big time” in 1950s New York. His original compositions never waver from Duke’s admonition -- “it don’t mean a thing ...” There were actually two familiar names among Wiggins’ colleagues: Cyrus Chestnut on piano and Jon Metzger on vibes and marimba. The other musicians on the date all contribute impressive performances, but it’s Wiggins’ reed work that really shines. CD #2 is the “heavy duty” offering with evergreens such as “Killer Joe,” “In A Sentimental Mood,” “Bloomdido,” “Cherokee” and “Red Top.” Wiggins is a “major league” player who just happens to be one of those guys who’s quite content being the big fish in the small pond. His two cd set is really what the jazz art is all about.
Twiggs Music; 2012; CD #1: appx. 44 minutes; CD #2: appx. 52 minutes.
From The Hip; David Kikoski, piano.
It doesn’t happen all that often nowadays, but from time to time, an honored jazz ensemble will actually take on an entire menu of standards (whether or not the critics like it). Well, this one likes it a lot. In May, 2006, Kikoski invited four very busy LA area players and a select audience for this studio recording. Answering the call were Bob Sheppard, saxophones, the late Dave Carpenter, bass, and Gary Novak, drums. It took awhile to get it out, but here it is for you to enjoy. Sheppard recalled that there was no plan and only a brief “talk through” before these four heavyweights sat down and hit bullseye. And that’s the way some of the best jazz happens. For the record, the offthe cuff tune list ended up with “Star Eyes,” “Bolivia,” “My One and Only Love,” “If You Could See Me Now,” “Autumn Leaves,” “Tones for Joan’s Bones” and “Mr. PC.” The only unfamiliar selection was Tonito Horta’s sprightly “From Ton to Tom,” perhaps his tip or the hat to “Tom” Jobim. Sheppard is a riveting sax guru, deserving of wider acclaim, and Kikoski is the picture of perfection whether as a soloist or in a supportive role. The double-meaning CD is called “From The Hip,” and it’s welltitled.
BFM Jazz; 2013; appx. 70 minutes.
Humaine Quartette; Bob James, piano; David Sanborn, saxophones.
The title of this album actually says a lot. It informs us that this is a “human quartet” as opposed to all the electronica that these two players experimented with in times past. James acknowledges that their “smooth jazz” days are over by saying, “times have changed. The music business has changed. We have changed.” As a result, what we have here is a very straight ahead quartet of James, Sanborn, James Genus on bass, and Steve Gadd on drums. Seven of the nine tunes are originals by one or the other of the two co-leaders, with “My Old Flame” offered as the only standard. James, who actually played some straight ahead acoustic piano in his younger years, sounds absolutely fine as both a soloist and in support of his co-leader. Sanborn, on the other hand, was “born” an r&b, blues, funk and fusion player. Try as he might on this CD, he can’t escape his old habits. I presume that his DNA simply puts him in that camp. His intonation is suspect; his vibrato is excessive and, well, he still sounds like the Sanborn of the seventies, but now in acoustic musical attire. This is, incidentally, a new release for the rejuvenated Okeh label, a name from 78 rpm days. But to even call this record “okeh” might be an overstatement.
Okeh Records; 2013; appx. 55 minutes.
Ballads...mostly; Marlene Ver Planck, vocals.
If this polished singer hasn’t quite reached the summit of fame, it’s only because today’s public lines up around the block for mediocrity and too often loses focus on real talent. Ver Planck is no newcomer to the business, but against all the odds, she plows forward singing great songs and insisting on first cabin accompanists. On this outing, piano duties are split almost evenly between Tedd Frith and Mike Renzi. Two very notable guests, Claudio Roditi, trumpet, and Houston Person, tenor sax, drop in on a handful of tracks to lend some classy licks. The CD just as easily could have been titled “Cy Coleman’s Songs … mostly,” as Coleman is represented in no less than eight of the 15 selections: “Witchcraft,” “It Amazes Me,” “The Rules of the Road,” “I Walk a Little Faster,” “You Fascinate Me So,” “Why Try to Change Me Now,” “I’m Gonna Laugh You Right Out of My Life” and perhaps my personal favorite, a delicious little morsel called “Baby, Dream Your Dream.” Others are drawn from both the familiar and the obscure. All told, Ver Planck transmits a lyric’s meaning, and that’s a nearly impossible thing to “teach.” As has been said, either a singer “has it” or she doesn’t. On this very intimate performance, Ver Planck has made a real deal, gimmickfree, tell-it-like-it-is CD. Indeed, she has it, gets it and does it.
Audiophile; 2013; times not indicated.
The German Recordings 1952-55; Jutta Hipp, piano.
Trained in classical piano in her native country, Hipp turned to jazz and, with the encouragement of Leonard Feather, immigrated to the U.S. in 1955. She turned a lot of heads with successful Blue Note sides, but eventually fell out of Feather’s favor, left the jazz world, and became reclusive. These sides, recorded with various personnel, represent some of her early work. Many include colleagues Albert Mangelsdorff on trombone and the Lester Young-influenced Hans Koller on tenor saxophone. While she is heard here primarily in a supportive role, it is easy to admire her sensitive and swinging backing, mainly for Koller and Mangelsdorff. Among those tracks are notable standards such as “What’s New,” “These Foolish Things,” “Moonlight In Vermont” and a well disguised “Out of Nowhere” under the name “Sound-Koller.” We are also treated to a few tracks featuring Hipp as leader of a trio. In this setting, she gives stellar takes on “Indian Summer,” “Everything Happens To Me,” “After Hours” and “Erroll’s Bounce.” Although her recorded output was limited, she was described as a precocious talent. For both of those reasons and more, this document of her early efforts is most welcome.
Jazz Haus; 2013; 64:33.
Pop Culture Blues; Michael Treni Big Band.
Don’t be thrown by the title. There’s nothing “pop” about this. There is, however, a heavy dose of culture and blues. East Coast bandleader Treni has given us a suite of 10 original compositions, examining the blues in all its colors, all from a sizzling, steaming big band perspective. Each selection is “inspired” by a jazz hero who knew a thing or two about the blues. The result is some big band fire with more than a touch of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Charles Mingus, Lee Morgan, Gerry Mulligan, John Coltrane and Oliver Nelson, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, the Brecker Brothers and McCoy Tyner. How’s that for an impressive cast?! What’s more, these guys hit a grand slam on every track, no matter the tempo. There are too many burning soloists here to go into detail on any one. Suffice to say that Treni has taken us on a journey of the “development of the blues” in a big band setting. This riveting performance is well worth hearing.
The Bell Production Company; 2013; appx. 67 minutes.
Touching; Eric Alexander, tenor saxophone.
It was only a matter of time until Alexander got around to recording an all-ballad CD. His sound is rich with history, and yet totally contemporary. In addition, it’s consistently some of the most gorgeous tenor being played anywhere. Alexander always seems to unearth a surprise or two on each of his albums, and on this one, he chooses a few underdone standards and some new sounds as well. Joined by Harold Mabern, piano, John Webber, bass, and Joe Farnsworth, drums, Alerxander opens with the title tune. It’s in 3/4, but still sounds very much “today.” The same might be said for “Gone Too Soon,” a heartfelt ballad. “The Way She Makes Me Feel” is a little known tune by Michel Legrand and the Bergmanns. It has that Legrand “stamp” -- a delicious melody line. The standards follow, and Alexander and crew are spot on throughout. They include his stunning duo with Mabern on “Dinner For One Please, James”; and the quartet in its entirety on “Central Park West,” “I’m Glad There Is You” and “September of My Years.” Something which I assume is from pop land, “Oh, Girl,” completes the program. How does he get that rich, thousand calorie sound that’s simply beyond exceptional? Alexander is a “must hear” tenor artist who, somehow combines old school with the current and fresh. And always comes out a winner.
High Note; 2013; appx. 51 minutes.
River Edge, New Jersey; Bill Cunliffe, piano.
A first call piano wizard on the Los Angeles jazz scene, Cunliffe is a reliable, versatile and gifted player. One of those “do anything” types, he is at his best in a conventional trio setting. And that’s exactly where we find him here, with two of his preferred colleagues in Martin Wind, bass, and Tim Horner, drums. The threesome opens the session with a funkier-than-you’d-think “Sweet Andy,” named for one of the cornerstones of LA jazz, the late bassist Andy Simpkins. Cunliffe’s take on “The Girl From Ipanema” seems to suggest a slightly mysterious side of this lovely creature. “Blue Notes,” for friend and trombonist Bruce Paulson, is a sometimes subtle, sometimes solid blues, and “For Wanda” is a hello to a current flame. “You and the Night and the Music” is a burner with some rhythmic detours, and “What Might Have Been” is one of those “quarter to three” things with a certain sense that the sun will shine again. “One” (not to be confused with the song from “Chorus Line”) is drawn from the pop world, while “Choro” is Cunliffe’s original with classical and Latin shadows nearby. A tune by one of those “one name” people, Bjork, is another pop offering which is prettier than you might expect. It’s called “All Is Full of Love.” Incidentally, the album title is a tip of the Cunliffe hat to the location of the recording studio. All told, it’s another winner for Cunliffe!
Azica Records; 2013; appx. 60 minutes.
Another View; Alan Jones, drums; Francois Theberge, saxes, recorder, wood flute, trombone.
One of Portland’s most admired drummers, Jones has maintained a 20-year musical connection with Parisian saxophonist Theberge. For the first time, however, the two have collaborated on a program of originals featuring voice. They split the composing tasks just about evenly and then invited two impeccable Portland-based singers to join the project. Most of the vocal work is assigned to Marilyn Keller, a versatile City of Roses favorite with a dramatic delivery and a touch of gospel here and there. Rebecca Kilgore’s haunting voice is featured on one delicacy called “I Will Be There.” The ensemble that backs these two singers will be of interest to Portland jazz fans. It leans heavily on a roster of resident favorites including Tom Wakeling, Glen Moore, Dan Balmer, John Gross, John Moak and others. A special treat is what is probably the vocal debut of Alan Jones on his own composition, “One More Time Around.” He is spot on perfect on this silky ballad. Alan, please sing more often! This new CD, quite compelling in places, marks an artistic detour for Jones and Theberge. New musical roads keep creative musicians in “drive.” And this one works ever so nicely.
Origin; 2013; appx. 56 minutes.
Fortunate Action; Alex Snydman, drums.
Can’t decide which players to use on your recording date? Well, how about using all of them? I doubt that drummer Snydman was ever troubled by such a dilemma. But he does utilize the talents of three pianists and two bass players, making this session a sampling of no less than three different trios. Originally a guitarist, Snydman turned to the drums about a decade ago, and it would appear he’s there to stay. Seven of the nine tunes are original compositions by various group members. The remaining two are familiar to most jazz fans -- the Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn delicacy, “Star Crossed Lovers” is a stirring feature for pianist Miro Sprague; Herbie Hancock’s “Tell Me a Bedtime Story” puts the spotlight on pianist Doug Abrams; and the third of the piano contributors, Chris Pattishall, is heard on three of the originals. Saxman Carl Clements also guests on a couple selections. So, there you have it. Quite a lot of variety. And some colorful, often subtle and downright pretty writing from all the participants. Snydman may have kept the piano chair warm for the next guy in line. But it turned out to be a darn good idea!
Self-Produced; 2012; 57:10.
Dawn Of Goodbye; Dominick Farinacci, trumpet and flugelhorn.
Somehow, I missed this stunning recording from 2011. I would bet it’s still available, however. When I spotted it at Amoeba Records on a recent visit to Los Angeles, I remembered how impressed I was by Farinacci in a guest role on a CD by singer-pianist John Proulx. And let me tell you, I’m still impressed. With the exception of some subtle, additional percussion here and there, this is an album of Farinacci and rhythm section. He brings a gorgeous sound, head-shaking perfection at brisk tempos, and an overall “presence” that would suggest a much older player. If you remember the stirring lyricism of someone like Art Farmer, you might hear some similarity in Farinacci. On this session, he balances five standards and four originals. Among the standards, there’s “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” “It’s Alright With Me,” “I Concentrate on You,” “Lover Man” and “Willow Weep for Me.” His original, “Dom’s Blues,” reflects admiration for Louis Armstrong, and he writes romantic theme-like entries in “Midnight Embrace” and “Dawn of Goodbye.” Kudos to the pianist on the date, Don Kaufman, who contributes “Windshadow,” an airy and fresh original, just as its title suggests. And then, a surprise! There are two “hidden” tracks here, “You Made Me Love You” and “Moanin’,” which only serve to make a great album even better! Finally, it comes down to that sound -- that beautiful, haunting Farinacci sound.
Entertainment One; 2011; appx. 64 minutes.
Watch What Happens, Dave Damiani, vocals.
This is an energetic debut for singer Damiani, who is surrounded by some crackling arrangements by no less than two large ensembles, The Vacancy Orchestra and The Jazzadelics. While there was only one guy named Sinatra, Damiani certainly belongs in the category of “swingin” singers. And his material, 13 tunes in all, is quite varied, and most of it well chosen. Among the standards are “Watch What Happens,” “On the Street Where You Live,” “I’m Old Fashioned” and a particularly nice take on an old Nat Cole rarity called “Welcome to the Club.” Happily, the great composer, Matt Dennis, himself a gifted singer, is represented on “Everything Happens to Me” and “Angel Eyes.” From the “odd choice” department, there’s a pop hit from the past, “Happy Together,” and Damiani’s original, rather pessimistic “The World Is Against Me.” With a title like that, however, it swings quite politely. On these and others, Damiani’s dashing debut is hip and happy.
Hard Knocks Records; 2013; appx. 50 minutes.
It’s Personal; Mike Wofford, piano.
I’m always heartened when a new Wofford album comes out. For the last several years, they’re all been trio efforts or collaborations with his wife, flutist Holly Hoffmann. Nothing wrong with all of that, to be sure. But I was especially pleased to see the first Wofford solo outing since I can’t remember when. Wofford, based in San Diego, has “quietly” carved out a career as a highly regarded player, always in demand. And this CD will give you some understanding as to why. He generously taps the hard bop menu with longtime winners like “Little Melonae,” “I Waited for You,” “Springsville” and “Nica’s Tempo.” From Duke Ellington’s endless cauldron of great songs, there’s the rarely heard “The Eighth Veil”; and “No More” is another gem associated with Billie Holiday. Wofford also offers several original compositions, two of which are tributes: “Cole Porter” and “Hines Catch-Up,” a clever shout out to Earl “Fatha” Hines. Perhaps the most unusual is the inclusion of two songs with the same title, “Once In A Lifetime,” an Anthony Newley hit which Sammy Davis once belted. The other, “Once,” comes from the Talking Heads. I guess Wofford’s musical horizons extend beyond my own. In any case, this is a recitallike CD from a great player who just keeps putting it out there for us to enjoy.
Capri Records; 2013; appx. 60 minutes.
Lost Tapes; Oscar Pettiford, bass.
Had his life not ended in an auto mishap, Pettiford would have continued to blossom in a career already marked with one success after another. One of the numerous players who chose Europe as his base, Pettiford participated in these recordings in 1958 and 1959. There are highlights here, so we’ll try to cover a sampling of them. The opener, Gershwin’s “But Not for Me” features the strangely under-appreciated trumpet master, Dusko Goykevich. It’s the only track he’s on, but it’s a standout. Speaking of the under-appreciated, how about Lucky Thompson’s soprano sax work on “Sophisticated Lady”? With the exception of another expatriate colleague, drummer Kenny Clarke, most of the remainder of the CD features Pettiford’s colleagues from the other side of the pond. Among them are startling good players such as Rolf Kuhn, clarinet; Hans Koller, tenor sax; Attila Zoller, guitar; and Hans Hammerschmid, piano. Koller’s “O.P.” is one of the best of the half dozen original compositions here, and gives Pettiford a solid solo. Standard make up the bulk of the several sessions here and they include “Poor Butterfly,” “The Nearness of You,” “Yesterdays” and Pettiford’s own “Real Book” classic, “Blues in the Closet.” This is a very valuable addition to the limited number of Pettiford recordings.
Jazz Haus; 2013; appx. 72 minutes.
Born to Be Blue; Steve Heckman, tenor and alto saxophones; clarinet and bass clarinet.
There’s something affirming when albums like this reach our ears. In an era when many musicians discard the Great American Songbook, it’s a pleasure to encounter an album of 11 tunes, nine of which are classics of that era of premier songwriting. Heckman is one of those multi-reed players who crosses our path from time to time. And notice, if you will, that he “ditches” the sometimes beautiful, but often overused soprano saxophone on this date. His quartet/quintet includes the outstanding guitarist, Howard Alden, with Matt Clark, piano, Marcus Shelby, bass, and Akira Tana, drums. And if, like me, you treasure the glorious works of stalwarts like Dietz and Schwarts, Mel Torme, Irving Berlin, Van Heusen and Mercer and Cahn and Styne, consider reacquainting yourself with the joy of solid, well played, gimmick-free music. Heckman and friends have plenty of it to share.
Jazzed Media; 2013; 65:54.
Get Your Kicks: The Music and Lyrics of Bobby Troup; Deborah Shulman, vocals.
If you’re somewhere in my age range, surely you remember Bobby Troup. If you don’t know of him, don’t miss this chance to hear his songs. Troup was a classy, smoky, small jazz bar type of pianist who was also blessed with an ultra-hip singing voice. In addition, he turned out some delightful melodies and lyrics, did some acting and, lucky guy, was married to Julie London. In fact, it was she who originally sang some of these while Bobby did others. Well, all these years later, along comes a singer named Deborah Shulman to do honor to the “Troup book,” and she does so with solid accompaniment from the Ted Howe Trio. I’ll bet you remember titles like “You’re Looking at Me,” “Daddy,” “Baby, Baby All the Time,” “Girl Talk,” “The Meaning of the Blues” and Troup’s mega-hit, “Route 66.” On all these and more, Shulman takes care in never putting too much frosting on the cake. After all, it’s a recipe which enjoys a solid place in American jazz history.
Summit Records; 2013; appx. 50 minutes.
By Any Other Name; Jerry Bergonzi, tenor saxophone and piano.
The restructuring of a popular tune, resulting in an original jazz composition, is hardly a new concept. It was a common practice of the bebop fraternity, very possibly for reasons both artistic and financial. For example, Charlie Parker created “Donna Lee” from “Indiana”; Tadd Dameron gave us “Hot House” from “What Is This Thing” … and hundreds more to this very day. Of course, royalties were created by these new creations. But artistically, the players, then and now, seek to add their own “take” to familiar melodies. Bergonzi’s new CD is entirely given over to this concept. As one might expect, Bergonzi takes these re-interpretations a step or two further “out” than what you may have heard in the past. With Phil Grenedier, trumpet, Will Slater, bass, and Karen Kocharyan, drums, Bergonzi hovers somewhere in the vicinity of the original melodies of “Giant Steps,” “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “Lady Bird,” “Joy Spring” and others. You had better ready yourself to work pretty hard to distinguish the “hidden” melody lines. Think of it as brain exercise: musical soduku, one might say.
Savant Records; 2013; appx. 66 minutes.
8; David Arnay, piano.
Native New Yorker and USC Professor of Music Arnay had this cool little idea. And I know of only one other jazz musician who has ever done it. More on that in a minute. Arnay’s idea was to begin with a piano solo, which he did in a nifty arrangement of “Caravan.” Next, the pianist added a bass player, Edwin Livingston, on something called “11/12/11,” an original with a Keith Jarrett flavor. To the duo, add drummer Peter Erskine for a trio performance of “Billville,” an original in the spirit of Bill Evans. And so it goes for the remainder of the CD. On each additional selection, another musical voice is added, eventually ending in an octet. Hence the title of the CD. The only other standard on the album is the sextet entry, John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” It is taken at a very modest tempo and includes a touch of rather odd synthesizer action. Back to my little reference to jazz history, I am aware of only one instance where the “8” idea was done before. In the late 1950’s, Benny Golson used this same gradual “building” of his band for an album on Argo called “Take a Number From One to Ten.” Most importantly, Arnay has assembled, piece by piece, a fine collection of musicians playing very solid, straight-ahead, inspired jazz.
Studio N Records; 2013; appx. 37 minutes.
So In Love; Perry Beekman, guitar and vocals.
If you’re a Cole Porter fan, listen up! Beekman is a young singer-guitarist who has obviously discovered the riches of the American Songbook. And, coming from that perspective, why not debut with an entire album of the songs of Cole Porter? Pretty classy idea, right? Some might make comparisons with another singer-guitarist, John Pizzarelli. He’s a great guitarist, but I for one would take Beekman’s baritone vocals over J.P’s. Beekman’s trio, incidentally, is drummerless, with Peter Tomlinson, piano, and Lou Pappas, bass. Interestingly, the threesome opens with perhaps the least known of 15 Porter “forever” tunes, “Let’s Misbehave.” It is, however, typically Porter-ish in its suggestive sophistication. Beekman sings on nearly all of them, and in many cases he takes the extra effort of supplying rarely heard verses, definitely a plus. And which ones does he choose? To name a few -- “Anything Goes,” “Miss Otis Regrets,” “Night And Day,” “Let’s Do It,” “So in Love,” “You’re The Top” and other classics. Beekman and friends seem to connect in a way that suggests a real affection for these songs.
Self-Produced; 2013; times not indicated.
Lineage; Dave Liebman, saxophones, wood flute; Michael Stephens, drums, percussion.
Maybe you can help me out on this one. If asked, I’m confident that I could come up with dozens of underappreciated candidates whose musical output deserves to be honored. So why is it that co-leaders Liebman and Stephens could do no better than to revisit some pallid, forgettable rock and roll “hits” from the past? I am of the opinion that rock and roll should be left to the rock and rollers, and jazz musicians should not swim in waters so shallow. Take me to task if you wish, but “Tequila,” “Wipe Out,” “Mr. Sandman” and “Walk, Don’t Run” are simply examples of mediocre music. But mediocrity rules. Just turn on your tv some night to one of those amateur shows. I outgrew it when I discovered folks like Sinatra, Tatum, Oscar, Ella, Duke, Sarah, Getz and about a hundred more. I just can’t get with “Wipe Out” when I can hear Bill Evans. If that’s snobbish, so be it. There is nothing happening here that is worthy of your musical dollar.
Whaling City Sound; 2013; appx. 56 minutes.
The Chris Parker Trio; Chris Parker, drums.
With no disrespect to the drummer whose name appears here as the leader, this CD is very much a showcase for a very heady, creative pianist by the name of Kyoko Oyobe. She’s a product of Japan’s ever-evolving jazz community, and has been a New York mainstay for the better part of a decade. The trio is completed by drummer Ameen Saleem. Among three compositions by Parker, I particularly liked the opening tune, “C’est Possible.” It somehow communicates a certain warmth and a feeling of well being. The trio then takes on the only real standard on the session, “Love For Sale.” Oyobe’s crystalline piano touch and her apparent vivid imagination find lots of new things to say on this reliable evergreen. Two other choices may be familiar to some of you, although neither is a household name. Horace Silver’s “I Want You” and Woody Shaw’s “In a Capricornian Way” are rarely played, but welcome choices. The session is completed by originals from pianist Oyobe and others. A delicate example is her composition, “A Waltz for Apple.” In fact, the standout aspect of the disc is the very serene and beautiful touch of this pianist. I’d like to hear more from her.
GPR Records; 2013; appx. 62 minutes.
Live At Birdland And More; Django Festival All Stars, 2012.
If you’re a “Django-phile” -- that is, if you love the swing sound of guitar, violin and rhythm section, and even an accordion here and there -- then this is your high calorie dessert. A family named Schmitt takes center stage with Dorato on guitar and violin and Samson, Amati and Bronson on various other guitars. The program features Schmitt originals, Reinhardt delicacies like “Nuages,” and a couple of standards in “Out of Nowhere” and “Them There Eyes.” All delicious stuff for fans of this genre.
Three’s A Crowd Records; 2013; appx. 68 minutes.
In Extremis; Clotilde Rullaud, vocals.
If you like the idea of arty songs sung in French, Rullaud just may strike a chord with you. Her song list ranges from Bill Evans to Astor Piazzolla; from Baden Powell to Mongo Santamaria; and from her own original material to songs by Sting. Rullaud has the vocal presence to make it all work seamlessly. She handles brisk tempos and ballads with ease and precision. I’d love to hear what she could do in a stronger jazz setting.
LC Records; 2010, but newly released; appx. 51 minutes.
The Circle Starts Here; Larry Corban, guitar.
The first thing a jazz guitarist can do to get a “thank you” from me is to simply make the guitar sound like a guitar. Corban passes test #1! In addition, he can alternately lay down sizzling tempos and deliver ballads with ease. His trio consists of Harvie S., an in-demand New York bassist, and Steve Williams, drummer for many years for no less an artist than Shirley Horn. Corban’s writing runs the gamut from quirky and quick to sultry and subtle. Impressive guitar chops can be found here!
Nabroc Records; 2013; appx. 55 minutes.
To The Unknown; Omer Klein, piano.
A native of Tel Aviv, a former student of Fred Hersch, and now living in Germany, Klein is a brilliant technician whose cascades of shimmering notes and beautifully expressive touch are really something. This is an album of nine original compositions, encompassing everything from Klein’s obvious classical orientation to some pretty heavy-duty jazz licks. His trio is completed by Haggai Cohen, bass, and Ziv Ravitz, drums. There’s nothing too “outside” here. Just some riveting piano playing by a guy who’s obviously done his home work!
Plus Loin Music; 2013; appx. 53 minutes.
Mostly Jobim; Annie Kozuch, vocals.
Singing the songs of Tom Jobim can be cool enough in English, but sung unforced and naturally in Portuguese is even more impressive. And Kozuch takes them on with style, sophistication and perfect intonation. There’s a “sweetness” to her voice that lends itself well to Jobim classics. Her accompanying group, featuring a dose of Brazilian style guitar, is suave and savvy. If you dug the Getz-Jobim collaborations from the past, you’ll surely know every tune. And you’ll like what you hear.
Self-Produced; probably 2013; appx. 39 minutes.
Gettin’ It Done; Steve Davis, trombone.
One of the busiest of East Coast trombone players, Davis has put together a hard bop sextet quite reminiscent of classic Blue Note dates. With seasoned players Mike DiRubbo on alto and Larry Willis on piano, Davis indeed “gets it done” on a program of six original compositions plus Coltrane’s “Village Blues” and a rather odd choice in the pop tune “Sunny.” Newcomer (to me) Josh Bruneau scored big on trumpet and flugelhorn, and the group is completed by Nat Reeves, bass, and Billy Williams, drums. Solid, in the pocket musicianship with generous room to roam. That is the key here and it works real well.
Post Tone Records; 2013; appx. 57 minutes.