Swedish Ballads ... And More; Scott Hamilton, tenor sax.
Sometime in his youth, Scott Hamilton reached the conclusion that he was not going to “chase the Trane” as most of his generation of tenor players did. Instead, he followed the muse of Ben Webster and other lyrical players. Good decision, because it’s served him well for over 35 years. Once again, Hamilton comes up all aces with the dynamic Swedish pianist Jan Lundgren, veteran bassist Jesper Lundgaard and drummer Kristian Leth. The quartet explores six tunes from the Swedish songbook and one from Quincy Jones. The program begins with “Dear Old Stockholm,” a traditional Swedish tune which Stan Getz first brought to American audiences over 60 years ago. “Swing In F,” a tune associated with Teddy Wilson, is a bright and cheerful entry, while “You Can’t Be in Love with a Fool” is the sort of gorgeous melody line that has become a Hamilton trademark over the years. “Trubel” is yet another pretty thing which was once sung by Sweden’s Monica Zetterlund. Its minor to major melody is enchanting. Quincy Jones then steps into this picture with “Stockholm Sweetnin’,” nearly a jazz standard. It’s taken at a perfect medium tempo, tailor-made for Scott Hamilton. On an album featuring stunning ballad playing, perhaps my favorite was “Minsoldat,” another Swedish delight with a bridge that is virtually lifted from “If I Only Had a Brain,” of all things. The album closes with “Bluesioktover,” or “Blues in Octaves,” a medium tempo groover which Hamilton and company handle like cotton candy in a child’s hand. Hamilton never fails to give it all he’s got; and Jan Lundgren is a straight ahead wonder deserving greater fame in the states. Beautiful stuff, every tune!
Charleston Square Recordings; 2013; appx. 52 minutes.
The World According To Andy Bey; Andy Bey, vocals, piano.
How often these days does a record company take a flyer on a singer accompanying himself on piano with no other players? If you answered “practically never,” you’re in the right ballpark. So right off the bat, so to speak, kudos to High Note Records for presenting singer Andy Bey, solo. Bey is one of those dedicated jazz singers whose unique vocal quality is recognizable immediately. For example, his range, from hearty baritone to surprising falsetto, is something to admire. He swoops, scats and sings like he means every word, and if he might compare to anyone, there’s an occasional hint of Bill Henderson lingering here or there. But, make no mistake, Andy Bey is an original. From the standard bag, he leans toward a couple of American idols in George Gershwin and Harold Arlen. From Mr. Gershwin, we are treated to “But Not for Me,” “Our Love Is Here to Stay” and “’S Wonderful.” The Arlen selections, much less familiar, and indeed, new to these ears, are “The Morning After” and “Dissertation on the State of the Blues.” In addition to these, Bey gives us a dramatic “It Never Entered My Mind” and a rollicking “The Joint Is Jumpin’.” And don’t overlook Bey’s three original tunes, one of which is an all-scat journey called “Dedicated To Miles.” You simply need to know that Andy Bey is not in the jazz biz to sugar-coat cute tunes but to produce art. Definitely his own man, Bey puts across the message quite unlike anyone else.
High Note; 2013; appx. 51 minutes.
Boston, 1950; Lester Young, tenor saxophone.
The owner of Uptown Records, Dr. Bob Sunnenblick, keeps coming up with historical and valuable jazz recordings by giants of the art. I don’t know how he finds the material; gets clearance from the estates of departed greats; and puts together 20 page or more liner note booklets loaded with information and photos. But I’m glad he takes on these herculean tasks, because we jazz fans are the beneficiaries. This time, believe it not, it’s previously unreleased Lester Young quintet in a live performance and radio broadcast from The Hi Hat in Boston. The recording quality is just fine and Lester swings his inimitable way through 16 tunes with Jesse Drakes, trumpet, Kenny Drew, piano, Joe Schulman, bass, and Connie Kay, drums. You’ll know most of the tunes, many of which were pretty in Lester’s repertoire for years, including “Too Marvelous For Words,” “She’s Funny That Way,” “How High the Moon,” “Talk of the Town,” “Indiana” and “Sunday.” Two selections not commercially covered in his career are also winners: “You Can Depend on Me” and “Slow Boat to China.” I repeat ... I don’t know how you’re doing it, Dr. Bob. But by all means, don’t stop now!
Uptown; 2013; 64:08.
Four Of A Kind; The Miami Saxophone Quartet.
Saxophone players take note! For you, this is filet mignon. The Miami Saxophone Quartet has been together for some 15 years, and they get into an ensemble groove that also leaves plenty of room to roam the fields of improvisation. This recording represents some of the highlights from two performances at a University of Miami concert hall. The quartet is actually augmented by a superb rhythm section and by trumpet marvel Brian Lynch. The quartet itself is comprised of Gary Keller, soprano, Gary Lindsay, alto, Ed Calle, tenor, and Mike Brignola, baritone. And they’re a brave lot. Why do I say such a thing? Well, how many groups would open their recording with “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”? I can guarantee you’ve never heard it quite like this, and it works to perfection. The other standards on the disc include Duke’s “Sophisticated Lady”; Ralph Burns’ gem from the ‘40s, “Early Autumn”; and the rarely played Dave Brubeck gem, “It’s a Raggy Waltz.” Four originals from Lindsay complete the program. I was particularly drawn to the suite-like “Lost (and Found),” and a breezy burner called “Sweet Bread.” The complex arrangement reminded me of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, and it certainly got my attention. Solid musicianship and upbeat arrangements are the rule of the day. A winner!
Fourtitude Records; 2013; appx. 62 minutes.
Every Little Star; Abigail Riccards, vocals.
Here’s the way it works in my world. I’d guess that at least five, sometimes as many as ten female singers come to my attention every month. Bless ‘em all for their dedication, but very few “make the cut.” One who made the decision easy is Riccards. She simply has all the characteristics that are easy to admire: perfect intonation, ease of delivery, no pretention, natural jazz chops without drama, and never any overkill. If I could compare her to anyone, I might come up with Maxine Sullivan, Hanna Richardson or Portland’s own Rebecca Kilgore. And for this delightful session, she works with a high-profile New York quartet — Michael Kanan, piano, Neal Miner, bass, Peter Bernstein, guitar, and Eliot Zigmund, drums. Most of the tunes are dependable standards, and Ms. Riccards shows them ultimate respect. To name a few: “I’ve Told Every Little Star,” “If I Had You,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “How Deep Is the Ocean,” “Sleepin’ Bee,” “I Didn’t Know About You” and lots more. This is her third album. I’m going to surf around for the other two!
Self-Produced; 2013; times not indicated.
A Relected Journey; Tom Goehring, trumpet and flugelhorn.
Here’s a gathering of five seasoned East coast cats who take music-making quite seriously. Goehring is a long-time presence in New York jazz circles, but probably underexposed on recordings. His in-the-pocket, tasteful playing anchors a quintet of Roger Rosenberg on reeds, Dave Leonhardt, piano, Paul Wells, drums, and Matt Parrish and Roy Cummings sharing bass chores. Goehring’s relaxed, understated tone is somewhere out of early Miles or perhaps Art Farmer. Of the four original tunes which open the album, I particularly liked the straight-forward honesty of “For Beverly” and the quirky fun of “Clarion Call.” Following his own creations, Goehring and friends take on five standards. Thad Jones’s fiesty “Bossa Nova Ova” gets this portion of the CD off to a solid start. “Old Folks” has, over the years, reached standard status, and Goehring’s reading is appropriately sentimental and sincere. Dizzy’s “Con Alma” is always a showpiece for trumpet players, and perhaps the surprise of the set is a pop tune from way back, “Grazin’ in the Grass.” The quintet brings the program to a close with a personal favorite of mine, DePaul and Mercer’s “Namely You.” It’s a lovely melody line that seems to have gained ground with jazz musicians over the years. All in all, this CD brings a valued player to our attention. We need to hear more from Goehring.
Mengli Music; 2013; appx. 65 minutes.
Voice Like A Horn; Pete McGuiness, vocals, trombone.
When I first heard singer-pianist John Proulx, I thought “a Chet Baker influenced singer with his own unique presence.” Now, along comes big band leader Pete McGuiness in brand new musical attire. And again I’m thinking, he’s listened to Chet a lot, but by golly, he’s got his own thing going. And going very well, I might add. With his own quartet and guest shots from alto sax man Jon Gordon, and Bill Mobley on trumpet, McGuiness gives hope to those who often ask “where are the male jazz singers?” His intonation is spot on; his phrasing communicates that rare “you can’t teach it” quality; he’s altogether serious and direct on the ballads; and he scats like he’s on steroids. And that’s a compliment. You know what I mean. There are those who can scat and then there are those who try. Mc- Guiness has it nailed! The tunes, almost all familiar, give him the chance to strut his stuff. They include timeless entries like “Yesterdays,” “Oh, You Crazy Moon,” “Never Let Me Go,” “Birk’s Works,” “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” “Who Cares,” and even “Tea for Two.” Mobley contributes a bop-drenched “49th Street.” So here he is with a high wire vocal album. He doesn’t need a net.
Summit Records; 2013; appx. 47 minutes.
Maybe September; Ken Peplowski, clarinet, tenor saxophone.
For some three decades, Peplowski has remained a staunch defender of the often-maligned clarinet while doubling to perfection on tenor saxophone. On his third outing for Colorado’s Capri Records, Peplowski is “all over the place” from a standpoint of tune selection. Considerably more open-minded than many of us, he insists that there are “good songs” in every genre, and this session seems to support that theory. Partnering with Ted Rosenthal, piano, Martin Wind, bass, and Matt Wilson, drums, Peplowski plays clarinet on 10 selections and tenor sax on just one, the title tune. The diverse menu ranges from Irving Berlin’s “All Alone” to the Beach Boys hit, “Caroline, No”; from Artie Shaw’s “Moon Ray” to Francis Poulenc’s “Romanza”; and from Duke Ellington’s “Main Stem” to an Elvis tune, “A Fool Such as I.” On these and others representing quite a wide musical pathway, Peplowski and colleagues weave in and out between various duo, trio and quartet performances. But whatever he plays, Peplowski has always done his homework prior to the session. Thus we get peerless performances from a now seasoned player who only wants to convey the message of the composer. For proof, check his subtle but sunny, “I’ll String Along with You.” We’ve come to expect a lofty level of artistry whenever Peplowski plays. Once again, it’s all right here.
Capri Records; 2013; appx. 62 minutes.
Live At The Kitaro; Dick Hyman, piano, and Ken Peplowski,
clarinet and tenor saxophone.
Having said all the kinds words in the review above, here is something almost mystifying in the “did I really hear what I thought I just heard” department. Recorded live in New York City, Hyman and Peplowski enjoy a musical communication so uncanny that words are inadequate. Just pop on the opener, Rodgers and Hart’s “The Blue Room,” and you’ll shake your head in puzzled amazement. The two of them spin one chorus after another absolutely and completely on the same page. Their improvisational ideas are endless, intricate and altogether absorbing. And, of course, it only starts with “Blue Room.” There are nine tunes in all, and every one is a fascinating example of two heads thinking as one. A few standouts among the standouts are Monk’s “I Mean You,” Bernstein’s “Lucky to Be Me,” the ageless “World Is Waiting for the Sunrise,” Kurt Weill’s “My Ship,” and the rollicking closer, “Lover Come Back to Me,” and the Horace Silver hybrid, “Quicksilver.” One might say that these days it’s odd to be awed. Take it from me, you’ll be awed.
The Victoria Company; 2013; appx. 66 minutes.
But Beautiful; Brandon Bernstein, guitar.
Recordings like this give me belief that the great song writing of American masters will survive. Bernstein is in his early thirties. More often than not, musicians of that age don’t really know much about guys like Sammy Fain, Hoagy Carmichael, Jimmy Van Heusen and Warne Marsh. But Bernstein has obviously done his homework and understands that those songsmiths had lasting gifts. His trio includes two Alan Broadbent teammates of long standing, Putter Smith on bass and Kendall Kay on drums. From the above named composers and more, they play with sheer delight on standards that include “That Old Feeling,” “Skylark,” “You Go to My Head” and “Nancy With The Laughing Face.” From the jazz composers book, they deliver the goods on Bud Powell’s “Celia” and Warne Marsh’s “Background Music.” Bernstein never overplays; instead, he provides an understated, lyrical and lovely tour of some great songs. What a novel idea, right? And don’tcha just wish some other players would pick up on it?
Self-Produced; 2013; 55:04.
Mess of Blues; Johnny Hodges, alto saxophone, and Wild Bill Davis, organ.
I’m not the guy who’d wait in line to hear a jazz organist. But here, finally, is the exception. This is reissue material from mid- 1960s Verve and has never before appeared on CD. The album title is a bit confusing, because the CD also includes the entirety of another Verve date from the same era, “Stride Right,” with pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines. But back to Wild Bill and the B-3. Johnny Hodges is so ideal a partner for the subtleties of Davis that you’ll somehow think that this music (and this partnership) was inevitable. Add Kenny Burrell’s guitar to the mix, and you have a true dream team. The selections are divided between cheeky Hodges-Davis blues riffs and a couple of Ellington classics. The other LP offers Hines on both organ and piano and pretty much the same bill of fare — Ellington gems, Hines or Hodges creations, including “Rosetta,” and one or two standards. If all that isn’t enough, the CD also presents, for good measure, three bonuses from “Blue Rabbit,” yet another meeting between Hodges and Davis. I know that music is sometimes called “rich,” but this is more — this is delicious!
Lone Hill; probably 2013; 74:26.
Links; Luis Perdomo, piano.
A native of Caracas, Venezuela, Perdomo brought his piano pyrotechnics to this country several years ago. He applies them regularly throughout New York City. On this CD, he is heard on a versatile menu of tunes mainly from sources other than himself. But it’s Perdomo’s album, since he is given (and has earned) extended solo opportunities. After all, the session is under his name. He does welcome Miguel Zenon on alto saxophone, who proves to be an equally fiery presence. The quartet is completed by two musicians who are frequent contributors on past Criss Cross releases, Dwayne Burno on bass and Rodney Green on drums. You may not recognize most of the titles, but surely you’ll know of some of the composers whose work is explored here, including Harold Danko, Woody Shaw, Roland Hanna and Elvin Jones; to say nothing of entries from the individual quartet members themselves. Not to take anything away from Zenon’s high energy presence, but I’d love to hear Perdomo in a trio setting. I’d think he’d really cook up the stew! Until that happens, there’s some excitement in the air with this quartet!
Criss Cross; 2013; 69:37.
Attachments; Lorraine Feather, vocals.
Seems to me that I first encountered the considerable talents of Lorraine Feather as recently as three or four years ago. And since then, I’ve become a big fan. As a very literate lyricist, Feather is like nobody else. She’s appropriately poetic, as any good lyricist should be, but at the same time, she manages to somehow be conversational in style. That simply means that what she sings is what she’d say. It’s an altogether unique way of writing, and I’m glad Feather applied this gift in a jazz setting. She easily could have chosen the world singer-song writers. — and her talent would have been wasted. Having said that, this happens to be a bit less of a jazz effort than her previous releases. Several of the tunes have an edge of sadness in their potent lyricism. But Feather’s ultra-hip delivery makes everything work, regardless of tempo. I happen to lean toward the “up tempo stuff,” such as “I Thought You Did,” “159,” “Smitten with You,” and my personal favorite, “I Love You Guys” a snappy little melody by pianist Shelly Berg. And Feather’s lyric is a clever recitation of affection for her accompanying musicians. It contains lines like this one: “I love you guys; hearing you improvise” … “oh God, I love you guys; you’re heroes in my eyes.” See what I mean? Every day conversation. And Feather is the best (and perhaps the only) one to pull it off.
Jazzed Media; 2013; 64:16.
Orchester, Kurt Edelhagen, leader.
The brief liner notes to this CD inform us that, while Germany in 1954 was still feeling the scars of its Nazi past, bandleader Edelhagen was giving it all he had to become the European Stan Kenton. While never climbing anywhere near the heights of Kenton’s fame, Edelhagen achieved his own brand of brassiness, a la Stanley. He also gave his soloists license to shine, and although the names won’t ring a bell, shine they do. Edelhagen, known as a strict disciplinarian, was smart enough to lean on a lot of standard American tunes too. And so his players give us “St. Louis Blues,” “You Go to My Head,” “Yesterdays,” “Easy to Love,” “There’s No You,” “You Go To My Head” and something called “3x2,” a not-too-well disguised “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To.” A couple of guests add some historic luster. Mary Lou Williams plays a couple of ad-lib type blues with Edelhagen’s rhythm section. And Caterina Valente was a very capable singer whom the American labels later tried to make into a pop diva. She sounds perfectly jazzy on “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “Pennies From Heaven.” So this was something of a potpourri of musical happenings “over there” in 1954, and it’s likely to be of considerable interest to collectors.
Jazz Haus; 2013; 68:19.
Burstin’ Out; Chicago Jazz Orchestra.
This CD could have easily been released under the name of the singer on the session, Cyrille Aimee. She sings on all 12 tracks and that, in essence, makes it her album as much asthe Chicago Jazz Orchestra’s. The CJO has been making music since 1978, and I’d suggest that if they were out of New York, we’d all be well acquainted with them. The arrangements are picture perfect, and the soloists tell the story with profound musicianship. The liner notes compare Aimee to Ella Fitzgerald in terms of phrasing, ease of scat singing, and overall jazz presence. She’s very good, that’s for sure. Just check out her scat map on the evergreens “Sometimes I’m Happy,” “Them There Eyes” and the Oscar Brown Jr. lyric on “Long As You’re Living.” I don’t hear the parallel with Ella Fitzgerald at all. I do hear the happy and young Billie Holiday, and that may be the ultimate compliment to Aimee. Other tunes covered here include “What A Little Moonlight Can Do,” “September in the Rain,” “A Night in Tunisia,” “Dindi,” “Yardbird Suite,” “Easy Living” and more. This is a smart start for a singer who will grab some attention in the newcomer category.
Origin Records; 2013; appx. 56 minutes.
In The Spirit Of Duke; The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra.
Edward Kennedy Ellington was such a large and deservedly honored figure in American music that one might argue that his own recordings fill the need to celebrate him for decades to come. Probably true, but for me, anyway, there’s always room for fresh new interpretations of two geniuses named Ellington and Strayhorn. The Scottish National Orchestra, in a beautifully recorded live performance, plays no less than 16 emeralds of Ellingtonia. And part of what makes this really compelling is the fact that much of the program represents “early Duke.” Hence we get to hear some material that Duke didn’t regularly perform in his later years, including stunning melodies like “Black and Tan Fantasy,” “Jack the Bear,” “Daybreak Express” and many more. Listen closely. You’ll hear the excitement, enthusiasm and genuine love that went into this project. The players are having a grand time. The solos soar, and the ensemble passages sizzle. This is a beautiful recording and The SNJO has reason to be proud. As for Duke, he would have smiled and told them that he loved them madly.
Spartacus Records; 2013; 72:50.
But Beautiful; Mary Stallings, vocals.
It’s hard for me to believe it, but the promo sheet that accompanied this CD informed me that Stallings has been in the jazz biz for some 40 years. And, as you’ll discover upon listening to her latest, she still has that timeless “something” that marks her clearly as a jazz singer. And a very good one. And speaking of “timeless,” she chooses tunes that have not been overexposed, but have earned the timeless tag nonetheless: “Dedicated to You” (remember Johnny Hartman’s version with Trane?), “Just a Gigolo,” “Some Other Spring,” “Time on My Hands,” “The Lamp Is Low,” “I Thought About You” and more. Most of the arrangements are by talented pianist Eric Reed. He and Stallings perform some very intimate magic here — just the two of them on much of the album. But they also have brought in some sympathetic young associates who guest on various tracks. Let me remind you that the answer to the question, “Do we always have to break new ground?” is a resounding No! These were great songs then and they’re great songs now. And Stallings tells the story with passion, maturity and lots of love for what she’s doing.
High Note; 2013; appx. 46 minutes.
Music Without Borders; Glenn Cashman, tenor saxophone.
About eight years ago, tenor saxman Cashman consulted with Howard Rumsey of Lighthouse at Hermosa Beach fame regarding putting together an annual jazz festival in Fullerton, California, where Cashman serves on the Cal State faculty. It was decided to keep the music very much in the straight ahead vein, and to the delight of all, it sells out every year. From that venue comes this nonet of hand-picked, top-echelon L.A. jazz artists. It’s quite remarkable how a nine-piece group can sound twice that size, but these guys pull it off with players like Carl Saunders and Ron Stout, trumpet and flugelhorn; Andy Martin, trombone; Bruce Babad, alto; and Cashman on tenor. He composed seven of the ten original compositions here, most of which are hard-swinging, zesty and energetic. Most of the players have ample opportunity to strut their stuff solo-wise, and they definitely take advantage. It should also be noted that proceeds from this recording will go to Doctors Without Borders. Come to think of it, when we combine great music with a great cause, everybody wins.
Primrose Lane Records; 2013; 64:25.
Owl Trio; Lage Lund, guitar, Will Vinson, saxophone, Orlando le Fleming, bass.
If you occasionally lean in the direction of chamber jazz, you might want to give these guys a listen. Critics have used these phrases to describe them individually or collectively: “spectacular, adroit and sophisticated”; “casual magnatism”; “a dream like sound.” On all of these one-take performances, the trio presents three original, somewhat free-form pieces, and eight works of mostly prominent composers. Among them is the opener, an Ellington rarity called “Morning Glory.” They continue with Jim Hall’s “All Across the City,” a tune Hall originally recorded in a duo with Bill Evans. A very languid “I Should Care” might remind you a bit of Paul Desmond’s version, and “Dear Lord” is a rarely heard John Coltrane composition. Other standards played with passion are “Yesterdays,” “Sweet and Lovely” and “From this Moment On.” Vinson’s alto is dramatic in its beauty, and Lage’s tender guitar just resonates, and Fleming’s bass is thoughtful and fully supportive. Several additional tunes complete a lovely album that showcases a communicative trio, with each participant carrying the keys to the kingdom.
Losen Records; 2013; appx. 62 minutes.
Foolhardy; Lage Lund, guitar.
It must be a good month for Norwegian-born guitarist Lund, ‘cause here we go again. This is the second CD of his reviewed in the same issue — how often does that happen? As you’d probably suspect, it’s very different from the above session. This time, Lund leads a quartet of guitar and rhythm section with Aaron Parks, piano, Ben Street, bass, and Bill Stewart, drums. What is consistent in both sessions is Lund’s subtle, understated lyricism. Regardless of tempo, it’s a stunning and remarkable sound; perhaps somewhat comparable to Jim Hall, if anyone. The quartet is loaded with expression and shimmering simplicity on several of Lund’s original compositions. There are six of them in all and, for example, the warmth of the title tune is a total departure from the more heated “Unanswered Call of the Wild.” The program ends with a few surprises, considering the earlier bill of fare. First, there’s David Rose’s hit from the fifties, “Holiday For Strings.” It’s a good piano romp for Parks, and Lund joins the frantic fray as well. Ron Carter’s blues, “Keystone,” is followed by Frank Sinatra’s first ever hit, “All or Nothing At All,” which dates from 1939! Lund was a Berklee whiz kid right out of high school. After some years in New York in many musical contexts, his star is on the rise. And deservedly so.
Criss Cross; 2013; 59:29.
Alone (and) Together; Enrico Granafei, harmonica.
I wouldn’t be surprised if, like me, you thought that Toots Thielemans and Hendrick Meurkens pretty much held the patent on jazz harmonica. Well, along comes Granafei,who shows that he too is a solid player in this league. Several guests weave in and out among the 13 selections. Perhaps the best known among them would be Amina Figarova, piano, Dave Stryker and Vic Juris, guitars, and Billy Hart, drums. The CD opens with two originals, a delicate ballad called “Christine,” and one with a little more movement tempo-wise called “Destiny.” Most of the remainder of the session is devoted to wellchosen titles such as “I Love You,” “Body and Soul,” “I Wish You Love,” Estate,” and “Gentle Rain,” among others. Granafei gets that Toots-Like tenderness on the ballads, somehow bending notes on the harmonica. And when the tempo picks up, as on “Yardbird Suite” or his medley of “Stablemates,” “Giant Steps” and “Cherokee,” he blows the changes with vitality. He even sings a chorus on “Estate” with European intensity and romanticism. Perhaps my personal fave on this album is “The Peacocks.” Granafei’s harmonica is particularly spell-binding on this classic by Jimmy Rowles. Watch for Enrico Granafei. He’s serious about making the harmonica sound beautiful.
Consolidated Artists Productions; 2013; appx. 68 minutes.
A Giant Step Out And Back; Mort Weiss, clarinet.
How often does an artist inform us that a recorded work would be his last? Well, that’s the decision Weiss made: “I now leave my works to the scrutiny of the years to come, as this will be my last recorded effort.” And Weiss decided to bid adieu with an all-clarinet album. No other instrumentation, although some pieces are overdubbed so that clarinet meets clarinet, so to speak. It’s a beguiling album, beautifully serene one moment and full of head-shaking virtuosity the next. In addition to some rather brief original statements, his tunes run the gamut from “Dark Eyes” to “Straight, No Chaser,” from “Invitation” to Benny Golson’s “Fair Weather.” Other familiar fare includes “All The Things You Are,” “Summertime” and “Waltz For Debbie.” There are 15 in all, and when Weiss plays Gordon Jenkins’ “Goodbye” with intense affection, you know he’s bidding you farewell. If any of you clarinet mavens haven’t yet picked up a MW album, get this one. It’ll be textbook clarinet for you. In the meantime, thanks, Mort, for your great gift.
SMS Productions; 2013; appx. 45 minutes.
NY After Dark; Sacha, vocals.
You know by now that a big bunch of hopeful jazz singers are brought to my attention month after month, including many wannabes and, now and then, the real deal. Look at it this way. Can you get Lewis Nash, Peter Washington, Peter Sprague and Terrell Stafford among your accompanists? Among other, less familiar names, that’s just what Sacha did. What is it that sets her apart from the wannabes? Youthful spirit; spot-on intonation; phrasing, phrasing, phrasing; the ability to slightly alter a melody and not lose the intent of the composer; and, in the jazz world, that elusive “something” that separates a jazz singer from even a good pop singer. You know it when you hear it, but it’s hard to put in words. Anyway, Sacha’s got it, and she delivers the goods on 11 tunes from “Devil May Care” to “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”; from “The Best Is Yet to Come” to “Autumn Serenade” and lots more. Perhaps the surprise of the album is her vocal duet with Lewis Nash on “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You.” This may be the vocal debut for the esteemed veteran drummer, and Nash nails it. As for Sacha, what a pleasant surprise. A jazz singer? You bet!
Self Produced (by Sacha Boutros); 2013; appx. 52 minutes.
My Groove, Your Move; Gilad Edelman, alto saxophone.
The last time in my memory that an artist chose to record only the verse to an established standard was when Frank Sinatra sang “Stardust” and never launched into the body of the tune. Hoagy Carmichael’s verse was strong enough to stand by itself. Well, the same might be said of the opening tune here, the verse to Cole Porter’s “I Love You. Edelman, we understand, is currently enrolled at Yale Law School. A little insurance plan, if you will, to what one hopes will be a successful career in jazz. He’s off to a great start with other solid choices, nicely dividing his repertoire between standards and jazz compositions. From the former camp, there’s “On The Street Where You Live,” “The Way You Look Tonight” and a medley of “For All We Know” and “We Kiss in a Shadow.” A couple of rare gems from jazz icons Duke Pearson and Hank Mobley give some additional punch to this session. And tell me, if you were issuing your debut recording, I’d think you’d be honored to be heard with Joe Magnarelli, trumpet and flugelhorn, David Hazeltine, piano, John Webber, bass, and Jason Brown, drums. In this heady company, Edelman more than holds his own. His alto is fluid, unforced and mature. Yale Law School is a great honor. But please, Gilad, don’t let that Selmer remain in its case.
Sharp Nine; 2013; 59:09.
Books On Tape, Vol. 1; Craig Hartley, piano.
How about this for coincidence? Another Yale grad! Along the way, it might be said, Hartley found the time to study with a couple of heavy lifters in Gary Dial and Jackie McLean. I liked a lot of things about his playing. First of all, he plays piano. No forays into electronica, no gimmicks, nothing cutesy. Most of the tunes here are Hartley’s own creations. The two exceptions are “My Foolish Heart” and “Just For Me,” an adaptation, conceptually, of Bach’s French Suite #5 in G Major. The session opens with “Dial 411,” Hartley’s tip of the hat to Dial. It’s a complex burner, and it’ll get your attention! “K2?” named for a Yale area coffee shop that Hartley often haunted, has a nice flow and attractive major/minor movement. Hartley explains that in “I Should Love You More,” he wanted to write a Rodgers and Hart or Porter-like song and lyric. It’s sung with charm, the CD’s only vocal, by Dida Pelled. “Froghollow,” named for a Hartford neighborhood where Hartley frequently played, is a pretty thing — laid back, light and polite. Another stab at “Just for Me” brings the album to a close. This time, Art Farmer-ish trumpeter Fabio Morgera is featured, and he’s right down the center of the highway. Hartley has a good thing going, and I’ll be anxious to hear just where he steers the ship on volume 2!
Self-Produced; year not indicated; times not indicated.
The DePaul University Jazz Ensemble Salutes Woody Herman (with Jeff Hamilton).
Woody Herman’s Orchestra will long be remembered for its high level of musicianship; for acting as a springboard for the careers of dozens of outstanding players; for its strong jazz orientation; and for a number of etched in marble tunes that “belong” to Woody and his herds. It seems as though it was inevitable that Bob Lark’s DePaul Jazz Ensemble would tackle a Woody repertoire. Of course, there’s a special treat with the presence of the peerless former Herman drummer Jeff Hamilton. Like nearly all big bands of his era, Herman always included a few “snuggly” ballads for the dancers. For this recording, two of his best make the list in “Early Autumn” and “Laura.” But the remainder of the album is devoted to those little riffs and jump tunes from jazz composers such as Neal Hefti, Ralph Burns, Sonny Berman, George Wallington and Jimmy Giuffre with tunes such as “Lemon Drop,” “Sonny Speaks,” “Apple Honey,” “Four Brothers” and “The Good Earth.” On these and others, the DePaul crew puts it straight down the middle. And Jeff Hamilton paves the way as only he can!
Jazzed Media; 2013; appx. 62 minutes.
I Carry Your Heart; Alexis Cole Sings Pepper Adams.
Most of us probably remember Pepper Adams as a baritone sax icon with a burly, brisk, barreling hard bop sound. As prominent as he was as a player, his output as a composer has been mostly overlooked. And this album corrects that. It’s actually Volume Five of a set titled “Joy Road: The Complete Works of Pepper Adams.” And this portion of the set contains lyrics written by Barry Wallenstein and sung by Alexis Cole. If you’re not familiar with Alexis, you need to get acquainted. She’s one of a select few top echelon jazz singers out there today. I’ve played her material on the air since discovering her a few years ago. Cole is the perfect singer for Adam’s sometimes odd intervals and challenging melody lines. Her accompaniment is flawless, with Pat LaBarbera and Eric Alexander on tenor saxes, Jeremy Kahn, piano, Dennis Carroll, bass, and George Fludas, drums. Adams’ tunes soar and swoop; joyful and complex one moment, subtle, serene and\ beautiful the next. I can think of no singer other than Cole to make it all work to perfection.
Motema Records; 2012; appx. 60 minutes.
Core Bacharach; Fred Fried, guitar.
New York guitarist Fried was one of the fortunate who studied with George Van Eps, the “father” of the seven string guitar. Fried was quick to follow his lead, but several years ago went one step further, and now plays an eight string guitar! It gives him increased range beyond the low “E” and the high “E”; and it’s a full and beautiful sound. With playing mates MichaelLavoie, bass, and Miki Matsuki, drums, Fried takes on an entire program of songs by Burt Bacharach. These were transitional pop songs of the 1970s. Pop music declined rapidly even after most of these so-so tunes were written. My problem, if not yours, is that, when I hear them, somewhere close by there’s the lingering voice of Dionne Warwick, a rather ordinary pop singer who made millions off Bacharach’s writing. If it’s not Warwick, it’s Tom Jones screeching and gyrating for the ladies. So, while I find Fried’s guitar attractive and inviting, songs such “I Say a Little Prayer,” “Walk On By,” “The Look of Love,” “This Guys’s in Love With You” and “What the World Needs Now” just don’t work for me. There’s one exception — “Alfie” is, by far, Bacharach’s only real winner. I’d love to hear Fried salute another composer. How about Gershwin or Porter or Berlin or Ellington or Mercer or Rodgers or Dameron or Monk or Mandel or Miles or Van Heusen or Warren or Mancini or ...
Ballet Tree Productions; 2013; appx. 65 minutes.
Feelin’ Good; Les DeMerle Band; Les DeMerle, drums, vocals.
This is trivial, but I find it interesting that the word “band” has taken on new meaning in the last couple of decades. A band was once about an 18-piece aggregation with horns, reeds and rhythm. Nowadays, any sized group, even the trio heard on this recording, is termed a band. Odd, but true. Drummer DeMerle is the leader, and he works vigorously with pianist Johannes Bjerregaard and bassist Chris Luard. The tune list is something of a potpourri of swinging things from long ago and not quite so long ago. Hence, our musical menu ranges from “Speak Low” and “Cheek To Cheek” to “Feelin’ Good” and “Watermelon Man”; from “Mambo Inn” and “The Great City” to “Fever” and “Sing, Sing, Sing.” Vocalist Bonnie Eisele joins the trio on most of the tunes and gives it her best. DeMerle tries his hand as a singer on two or three numbers. Sinatra he ain’t. The trio sounds solid, and the CD would have been strengthened by trimming the vocalizing.
Origin; 2013; appx. 67 minutes.
An unusual group in the jazz pantheon, Resonance is an octet, the brainchild of Stephen McQuarry, pianist and arranger, comprised of five women and three men, playing pin-point arrangements on saxophones, flutes, violin, viola, cello with standard rhythm section. Such instrumentation would necessitate an ensemble “sound,” and Resonance achieves it with ease. Most everyone gets a chance to solo, and they all do so with precision and skill. Their diverse menu of songs runs the gamut from “Eleanor Rigby” to Miles Davis’s “So What”; from Duke’s beautiful “In a Sentimental Mood,” to Alec Wilder’s “Moon and Sand”; and several less familiar compositions complement the standards. Resonance has been a valuable and unique musical experience for some eight years for San Francisco Bay area residents. While not a big band per se, Resonance has a full, flavorful sound — and a satisfying one at that!
Mandala Records; 2013; appx. 55 minutes.
West Coast Cool; Mark Winkler and Cheryl Bentyne, vocals.
The 1950s scene in white Los Angeles jazz featured highly arranged statements of melody followed by creative and often lyrical improvisation. It became known, deservedly or not, as cool jazz. This CD celebrates that creative period in history with the voices of two singers who give it the old college try. The challenge for both Mark Winkler and Cheryl Bentyne is that neither could honestly be called a jazz singer. They are capable pop warblers singing songs either composed by or associated with West Coast Jazz names such as Neal Hefti, Bobby Troup, Chet Baker and Steve Allen. Other composers heard here actually had little connection with the West Coast movement. Winkler and Bentyne sing both together and individually on a collection that includes Hefti’s “Lil’ Darlin’” (which they re-title “West Coast Cool”), Troup’s “Girl Talk,” “Route 66,” “Lemon Twist,” “Hungry Man” and Allen’s “This Could Be the Start of Something Big.” Together, the twosome can’t match up to supreme jazz singers like Jackie and Roy. And individually, they take good care of these songs, but they just don’t jump out at you as do the hip cool jazz singers of that era (Chris Connor, June Christy, Troup and Chet and Matt Dennis, for example). Kudos to accompanists Rich Eames, Jon Mayer and Ed Brueggeman, three pianists who share the wealth in fine fashion. The concept here is a good one. It simply doesn’t come off as the hip West Coast sound that it’s attempting to portray.
Summit Records; 2013; appx. 53 minutes.
Free Flying; Fred Hersch, piano, and Julian Lage, guitar.
Piano and guitar duos are infrequent but not unknown in the jazz world. Bill Evans and Jim Hall’s “Undercurrent” remains a classic, and Fred Hersch and Bill Frissel’s “Songs We Know” was well received. This time, Hersch has enlisted the talents of young guitarist Lage in a display of musical communication that is both rare and beautiful. Most of the tunes are Hersch originals; highlights include a brisk, airy example of intimate conversation titled “Song Without Words #4”: Duet”; an exquisite ballad called “Heartland”; the title tune, a scintillating, incredible example of musicians on the same page; “Stealthiness,” a tune dedicated to the afore-mentioned Jim Hall; and a couple of standards in Sam Rivers’ “Beatrice” and a Thelonious Monk tune not often heard, “Monk’s Dream.” What one notices, perhaps above all, is the amazing, “I can read his mind” musical sense from both Hersch and Lage. It’s sometimes eeire, and you find yourself asking, “Did they really do that?!” Well, the answer is “yes.” While you’ll wish you were in the New York audience that February night, this beautifully recorded recital puts you pretty close to the good seats right up front.
Palmetto; 2013; 52:53.
The Bones Of Art; Steve Turre, trombone.
First of all, let’s deal with the double meaning of the title. All four trombone players on this session — Turre, Frank Lacy, Robin Eubanks and Steve Davis — spent time with Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers. And then there’s the obvious. Artistic trombones or “bones of art.” So much for that. For quite some time, Turre has envisioned an “all trombone” (with rhythm section) album. That vision is realized here with Xavier Davis, piano, Peter Washington, bass, and Willie Jones III, drums. It’s not really anything all that new. Some of you will remember the trombone partnership of J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding and fewer might recall a less ballyhooed group called The Trombones Unlimited. A few of the tunes pay homage to fellow trombone players. Thus, we have “Slide’s Ride” for Slide Hampton; “Blue and Brown” for Lawrence Brown of Duke Ellington fame; “Fuller Beauty” for Curtis Fuller; and “Julian’s Blues” for Julian Priester. Other musicians honored here include Charlie Parker on “Bird Bones,” and both Wayne Shorter and Blakey on “Shorter Bu.” (Bu or Buhaina was Blakey’s Muslim nickname.) Turre and friends have produced an album of varying tempos and moods and throughout, jazz trombone at its finest.
High Note; 2013; appx. 67 minutes.
Just Play! Tom Kennedy, bass.
Monster chops! That’s how Kennedy is described. Much of his activity over a number of years has been with contemporary musicians rather outside my sphere. On this recording, though, Kennedy does not remove the electric bass from it’s case. His second wise decision was to put together a spicy, near all-star group of players who take on a selection of jazz standards with their very own brand of electricity. Among them are hard blowing Berklee icon, George Garzone on tenor; Rene Rosnes in attack mode on piano; Tim Hagans in command on trumpet; and the well-behaved guitars of Mike Stern and Lee Ritenour. Someone apparently decided to go for the gold with some timeless, respected tunes, and obviously, everyone was on board. There are nine in all with strong performances and bristling, cutting solos on “Airegin,” “Moanin’,” “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” “Ceora,” “In a Sentimental Mood” and “What Is This Thing Called Love.” Mike Stern’s “One Liners” is the only original. This is a blowing session with players who sound as though they really “mean it.” Winning performances all around!
Capri; 2013; appx. 73 minutes.
Atlanticos; Ricardo Silveira and Roberto Taufic, acoustic guitars.
Brazilian Silveira and Honduran Taufic are two peas in a pod. They came together in Rio for two days to record this enchanting album of Brazilian tunes and one North American standard, Henry Mancini’s “Moon River,” which is wistful and delicate, as is much of the rest of this stirring performance. This is music for those who love what the guitar can sound like when in the right hands.
Adventure Music; 2013; appx. 50 minutes.
Red Hot; Mostly Other People Do the Killing.
You probably need some medication if you’ve ever given thought to what might happen if Charles Mingus met the Hot Fives of the 1920s. This group (with a grim name) seems to play in the style of flapper era jazz, but with attitude! The title cut is great fun once you escape the opening electronic maze. It’s all here -- from bebop piano to squeaky morning wake-up music to the legit sounds of top hats and twirling necklaces. If there is something to “get” here, I guess I don’t get it. But the septet seems to be having lots of fun!
Hot Cup Records; 2013; times not indicated.
Rhapsody in Blue Live; Scottish National Jazz Orchestra.
Here’s the question: “How does one expand George Gershwin’s 15-minute masterpiece into 53 minutes and make it compelling, fascinating, and most importantly, still “Rhapsody in Blue?” This version asks the listener to absorb a plethora of scintillating solos and passages of movement between the melody lines that we all know in the “Rhapsody.” Tenor saxist Tommy Smith enlisted the help of pianist Brian Kellock, and together they re-orchestrated the work for the exciting result you hear on this recording. It’s “Rhapsody In Blue” strictly for jazzophiles, and it’ll make you sit up straight in your chair!
Spartacus Records; 2009; 53:58.
It’s All Good People; James Zollar, trumpet and fluglehorn.
It’s always troubling to me when gifted players such as Zollar have to resort to keyboards, burping electric basses, pallid rap vocals, background voices and heavy backbeat. It’s one thing not to have the chops. But that’s certainly not the case with Zollar, whom I found very impressive on a previous recording. I know. I know. Everybody has to pay the bills. So we’ll let this funk stew slide and hope that Zollar soon returns to his sterling silver trumpet sound in a legitimate jazz setting.
JZAZ Records; 2013; 50:56.
Hidden Journey, Imer Santiago, trumpet and flugelhorn.
A native of Ohio and now making great strides in the Nashville jazz community, Santiago debuts his basic quartet along with an impressive list of guest players on various tracks. The two familiar tunes, “What a Wonderful World” and “The Very Thought of You” (with a nicely rendered vocal by Stephanie Adington), share the bill with original compositions displaying a fiery brand of trumpet playing. Highlights included “Flat 2176 (For Miles),” a muted, brisk burner, and “Keenan’s Lullaby,” a tender tip of daddy’s hat to his young son.
Jazz Music City; 2013; appx. 56 minutes.
Gattitude; Steve Gadd, drums.
If you can stretch to the point where you define fusion as tolerable, this might be the place. It’s mostly electric keyboards and funky guitar sounds, and as is often the case these days, “real” melody lines are hard to pin down. The one horn on the session, that of trumpet man Walt Fowler, provides some good moments. But other than that, this is pretty predictable electronic meandering. Better than most of this genre, still, this is format stuff made with the intention of putting coins in the bank.
BFM Jazz; 2013; appx. 57 minutes.