Down Home; Zoot Sims, tenor sax.
Bethlehem Records was a prominent 1950s label that covered both East coast hardbop and West coast cool. Thus our first three reviews this month are devoted to three new Bethlehem reissues, all with original covers and liner notes, starting with the ultimate swinging tenor giant, Zoot Sims. His sympathetic rhythm section is comprised of Dave McKenna, piano, George Tucker, bass, and Dannie Richmond, drums. The CD opens with two Basie standouts, “Jive at Five” and “Doggin’ Around.” They make the mission clear: a hard-swinging blowing session! Zoot, ever the musician’s musician, takes charge of a group of timeless titles that include “Avalon,” “I Cried for You,” “Bill Bailey” and even “Good Night Sweetheart.” McKenna’s piano, as always, is like relentless waves from the ocean. On all these and other tunes, we are reminded that Zoot gave us a unique lyrical gift. If you’re a Zoot-ophile, this is meat and potatoes for your collection.
Bethehem (Naxos); 2013; times not indicated.
The Songs Of Bobby Troup; Bobby Troup, piano and vocals.
For our second Bethlehem reissue, we’ll switch coasts and head to Hollywood to join singer-pianist-composer Troup and his ultra hip quintet with Bob Enevoldsen, valve trombone, Howard Roberts, guitar, Red Mitchell, bass, and Don Heath, drums. Troup, who is probably best remembered for “Route 66,” stays mostly with the material of others in this set. Hence he gives us “Midnight Sun,” “Laura,” “That Old Black Magic,” “One for My Baby,” “Jeepers Creepers” and “Skylark,” along with two of his own, “Cuckoo in the Clock” and “I’m With You.” Back in the day, this was music that you and your date would hear in a quiet little neighborhood bistro. And you did it to show her just how very hip you were! Eventually, Troup left great music like this behind due to his disgust with the dominance of rock and roll, and reinvented himself in movies and television. But these 1955 sides remind us that he was a major leaguer, no doubt about it.
Bethelhem (Naxos); 2013; times not indicated.
Motor City Scene; Donald Byrd, trumpet.
Now we land in Detroit, or “Motor City,” which most if not all of these players once called home. Trumpet ace Byrd and baritone sax man Pepper Adams co-lead the session with outstanding help from Kenny Burrell, guitar, Tommy Flanagan, piano, Paul Chambers, bass, and Louis Hayes, drums. Where most CD’s open with a burner, this one gets underway with a ballad, Hoagy Carmichael’s immortal “Stardust.” It’s a feature almost exclusively for Byrd’s beautiful trumpet. He never gets too far off the melody line, yet delivers a stunning version of the classic. Flanagan’s piano solo is a pure delicacy. Adams’ blues with the odd title “Philson” follows. It’s a medium tempo affair featuring a savory Adams solo. An Errol Garner rarity called “Trio” is next, even though it is rendered by a bopping sextet. “Libeccio” is another Adams tune with a Latin hint here and there. The set ends with a Thad Jones staple, “Bitty Ditty.” It’s one of those classy bop lines you know you’ve “heard before.” All in all, this is a satisfactory session from some Michigan transplants -- all New Yorkers by the time of this 1950s date.
Bethlehem (Naxos); 2013; times not indicated.
Gerry Gibbs’ Thrasher Dream Trio; Gerry Gibbs, drums,
Kenny Barron, piano, Ron Carter, bass.
Indeed, time flies. It must have been more than 15 years ago when the JSO brought Kenny Barron into that nice space which later became the short-lived but delightful LV’s Uptown. I was hooked, and remain a “big Barron guy” to this day. While this CD is being offered under the leadership of drummer Gerry Gibbs, it is essentially a Kenny Barron trio record. And to my memory, it’s his first trio recording in some years. He’s a master musician in every phase and nuance of jazz piano. He, Carter and Gibbs get your attention immediately with a ripping Monk classic, “Epistrophy.” The compositions of other jazz stalwarts are also well represented, with Herbie Hancock’s “Eye of the Hurricane” and “Tell Me a Bedtime Story.” Other jazz composers are also heard here, including John Coltrane (“Impressions”) and McCoy Tyner (“When I Dream”). Speaking of others, Gibbs likely borrowed the “Dream” part of his trio’s name from his pop, the vibe hero Terry Gibbs, whose “Dream Bands” were always filled with premier LA talent. Incidentally, the only tried and true standard here is a faster than usual take on Johnny Mandel’s “The Shadow of Your Smile.” All the remaining tunes are originals of various tempos, giving happy solo space to all players. It’s all under Gibbs’ name, but it’s really a Barron record and as such, another reminder of just what a monster this guy is.
Whaling City; 2013; 72:59.
Hans Koller & Friends; Hans Koller, tenor sax.
While Hans Koller never achieved “household name” status in the U.S., this Vienna born tenor saxist climbed well up the ladder in European jazz circles. These sides feature Koller in two distinctive settings — a quintet from 1959, and Koller’s Brass Ensemble from 1960. Both account very well for themselves. Among other players, the quintet features the outstanding French pianist Martial Solal, and on a couple of cuts, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Connie Kay. Five of the quintet’s six tunes are Koller originals with imaginative melody lines and lots of variety in composition. The sixth selection is the venerable “All The Things You Are.” In addition to Koller’s well-honed solos, we are treated to the Baker-ish trumpet of Roger Guerin. He was a gifted player who never quite broke through in the states. The remaining four tunes are all played by Koller’s later group, The Brass Ensemble. Among them are two beauties, “Ella’s Dream,” and a faster than usual “I’ll Close My Eyes.” Koller’s “O.P.” is an oscar Pettiford tribute with a politely swinging melody line. As for Koller himself, his tenor has some Stan Getz lyricism and some Al Cohn bite. He should have been a bigger factor on this side of the pond -- at least judging from these well performed samples.
Jazz Haus; 2013; appx. 60 min.
Elements; Ben Paterson, piano.
A native of Chicago, Paterson has now pitched his piano tent in New York, as have so many before him. You may not know his name yet, but I can assure you he is one of the most lyrical, elegant pianists I’ve heard in recent years. To put it another way, I’d bet that Paterson has put in many an hour worshipping at the shrine of Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan and Bill Evans. He has a magical, lithesome and consistently beautiful touch, certainly worthy of those piano heroes. And he even opened this old guy’s eyes on his first two tunes. Neither Stevie Wonder nor Lennon and McCartney have exactly warmed my heart. But Wonder’s “Golden Lady” and L & M’s “Here, There and Everywhere” are resoundingly pretty. Ditto for Stevie’s “I Can’t Help It.” Paterson and the trio are equally inspired on three standards: “I Should Care,” “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” and “You’re My Everything.” There’s also the playful, “Life Is Good”; a Keith Jarrett tune, “Lucky Southern”; a Ray Charles entry called “Hard Times”; and from Paterson himself, originals that possess strong melody lines landing in the center of the piano tradition. In particular I was knocked out by his Errol Garner tribute, “Around the Block,” and the swinging good feeling of “St. Mark’s Place.” Paterson’s trio mates (Joshua Ramos, bass, and Jon Deitemayer, drums) are subtle, supple and solid throughout. Meanwhile, Ben Paterson is one of those piano monsters who both continues an honored tradition and adds to it.
Max Jazz; 2013; 59:26.
Unreleased Art; Art Pepper, alto sax.
Laurie Pepper, wife of the late alto sax icon, has over the last several years released a series of previously unheard Art Pepper dates. This one, Volume 8, was recorded at a jazz festival in September, 1976, at California’s Paul Masson winery. As a result, Art plays with a Bay Area trio of Smith Dobson, piano, Jim Nichols, bass, and Brad Bilhorn, drums. Dobson had played on many occasions with Art, and the saxophonist considered him high on his list of rhythm section cats. Of the six tunes here, four are Art’s originals, and more on these in a moment. The standards include a blistering “Caravan,” and a ballad Art was fond of, “Here’s That Rainy Day.” His originals include his signature tune, “Straight Life,” based on “Sweet Georgia Brown” changes, and “Saratoga Blues,” most likely composed on the bandstand. The latter tune gave Art his opportunity to do what he most loved: to play the blues. “Ophelia” is yet another Pepper creation which he leaned to during this period. The one original which did not resonate with me was “What Laurie Likes.” Laurie may have liked it, but it was too “rocky” for me. The rest of this set, however, features Art in high gear -- a brilliant, complex artist who played hard, lived hard, and for all time gave us an alto voice both unique and passionate.
Widow’s Taste; 2013; appx. 63 min.
Frame Of Mind; The LA 6.
The lure of Los Angeles as a destination for jazz musicians was pretty strong back in the ‘50’s. Think about it. Nice weather the year around. Tons of guaranteed, well-paid studio work. And lots of places to play jazz at night. While the studio work has diminished, L.A. continues to draw many top players. Six of them are known as the LA 6, maintaining a small group ensemble sound harkening back to the glory days of Shorty Rogers, Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan. Horn duties are shared by Clay Jenkins, trumpet, Ira Nepus, trombone, and Tom Peterson, tenor sax. The rhythm section enlists the talent of Rich Eames, piano, Jeff D’Angelo, bass, and Dick Weller, drums. They cook on 11 tunes, including standards and originals by group members. On the familiar side, we are treated to Sonny Stitt’s best-known bop item, “The Eternal Triangle.” In addition, the LA 6 offers “I Wish I Knew,” “How About You,” “You’re My Thrill” and “If I Should Lose You.” On all these as well as their originals, the LA 6 retains the spirit of its predecessors with bright and buoyant arranging and first-rate musicianship. But the LA 6 is very much today in that they add a contemporary flair to the proceedings. I hope they get back into the recording studio soon!
Jazzed Media; 2013; 65:46.
Celestial Anomaly; Janis Mann, vocals; featuring Kenny
Janis Mann stays the course, refusing to succumb to the ordinary. This time she makes a significant jazz statement by adding the very inventive pianist Werner to the mix. Also on board are Hamilton Price, bass, and drum chores split between Roy McCurdy and Joe La Barbera. The opener is none other than Thelonious Monk’s “Ugly Beauty,” all dressed up in new attire as “Still We Dream.” Mann has always made great song choices, and she does so here with the likes of “Wild Is the Wind,” “You Must Believe In Spring,” “Early Autumn,” “So In Love,” “Once I Loved,” “If I Loved You” and “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Perhaps the surprise of the set was “With a Song in My Heart,” a tune often played but rarely sung. There are some very creative things going on between Mann and Werner, certainly beyond the ordinary. And with Mann, well, there’s no shtick, no frosting on this cake. She simply pours it out, puts it over, and does so with the “you can’t teach that” sensibility of a true jazz singer.
Pancake Records; 2013; appx. 55 min.
Live From New York! Mike Longo, piano and big band.
Last November, Mike Longo played a very well-received solo concert in POrtland. A resident of The Apple for many years, Longo is all over the musical map, leading a straight ahead trio, a funk group and a roaring big band. It’s the latter we find featured on this occasion. He calls them the New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble. I perused the names of the 16 players, and aside from Longo, none were familiar to me. Which goes a long way in expressing the depth of superb jazz talent in New York. The CD opens with a high energy version of Benny Golson’s timeless “Whisper Not.” Two of Longo’s originals follow, “Afro Desia” and “Yoko Mama,” a tune from Longo’s funky side. Ira Hawkins then takes the mike on “Over The Rainbow,” “I’m Old Fashioned,” and a tune I recall from Jimmy Witherspoon, “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water.” The latter is clearly Hawkins’ high point. “Inner City Hues” is another Longo creation, and it’s definitely one of those New York at night type of things. The closer is “Wee,” a bop staple also known as “Allen’s Alley.” You’ll know it when you hear it. There’s considerable variety in this set, and in addition, much high octane playing -- especially on the instrumental tracks. Longo, Dizzy’s longtime music director and pianist, is a Gotham treasure. You may be sure of that!
CAP Records; 2013; appx. 48 min.
Sixteen Sunsets; Jane Ira Bloom, soprano sax.
A certain soprano sax player who sells out the Moda Center ruined the soprano saxophone for me. But I must admit, along comes Jane Ira Bloom playing a heartfelt program of standards and originals, and I feel that I should take a second look. With a rhythm section comprised of Dominic Fallacaro, piano, Cameron Brown, bass, and Matt Wilson, drums, Bloom is all warmth and beauty on “For All We Know,” “Darn That Dream,” “Good Morning, Heartache,” “But Not for Me,” “My Ship,” “The Way You Look Tonight” and “Out Of This World.” A second Gershwin entry brings us a brief intro called “Gershwin’s Skyline,” and it is followed by a luscious version of “I Loves You Porgy.” To these add another half dozen pieces, equally compelling but less well known. One thing is for sure: Bloom is a gifted player, and her passion for these elegant melodies is clearly on display.
Out Line; 2013; 77:40.
Blue Rose; Dave Liebman, saxophones, piano, flute; John Stowell, guitar.
There must have been something in the air this month, because here comes yet another soprano saxophone record. Actually, Liebman plays some tenor here as well. He meets up with Portland-based favorite John Stowell in a highly communicative duo session on some memorable material. One can’t argue their varied choice of tunes featuring American Songbook goodies like “Everything I Love,” “My Ideal,” and “How Deep Is the Ocean.” Duke Ellington’s title tune, “Blue Rose,” is a rarity, and Duke’s brilliant associate Billy Strayhorn is also represented with a wistful “Isfahan.” And how very nice to hear Bill Evans’ “Time Remembered” in this intimate setting. Two Wayne Shorter tunes, “Fe Fi Fo Fum” and “Black Eyes” are also explored here. Completing the program are works by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Kenny Wheeler and Joe Farrell. Liebman and Stowell are really locked in. In fact, Liebman sounds as good as I’ve ever heard him. As for Stowell, well, I think he lives for beauty, and there’s a lot of it right here.
Origin; 2013; appx. 58 min.
Balance; Adam Unsworth, French horn; Bryan Olson, arranger/conductor; and John Vanore, trumpet and flugelhorn.
What happens when you combine some heavy jazz cats with a stirring chamber ensemble? This CD, that’s what. It was an idea of the three above named gentlemen, and they wrote and arranged the eight sterling tracks here. Two years after the initial recording session, some strings were added, giving this recording a sense of freshness and color. The French horn is something of a rarity in jazz, but when you hear Unsworth, you’ll wonder why it isn’t heard more often. John Vanore adds a ray of sunshine on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Bill Mays is the perfect pianist for this project. Classical meets jazz on the best terms possible here, and the result is music that is passionate, consoling and often extremely beautiful.
Acoustical Concepts; 2013; appx. 58 min.
Memoir; Libby York, vocals.
OK, yet another female singer, and what a fine one! York possesses a natural jazz feeling that reminds me a bit of a more highly-polished Annie Ross. On this very listenable excursion, she works seamlessly with John Di Martino, piano, Martin Wind, bass, and Greg Sergo, drums. A couple of blue ribbon guests, Russell Malone on guitar and Warren Vache on cornet, drop by as visitors on a few tracks. Vache even vocalizes on the Gershwin brothers’ “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” and on a fun-filled Bing Crosby-Bob Hope item called “Put It There, Pal.” Speaking of Mr. Hope, York also revisits the comedian’s theme song, “Thanks for the Memory.” And while on the subject of George and Ira, she also shines on “How Long Has this Been Going On” and the lesser known, “I Was Doing Alright.” York’s other choices, all lighthearted fun, include “Give Me the Simple Life,” “When in Rome,” and two “boat” songs — “Slow Boat to China” and a less familiar little gem that I recall from guitarist Charlie Byrd, “My Little Boat.” York puts it all across with ease, charm and occasional wit in this superb collection.
Libby York Music; 2014; appx. 54 min.
Baltimore 1969; Duke Pearson big band.
If you had a 16-piece big band after 1969, would you somehow be able to come to grips with the fact that by that time, the concept of a big band was changing from an emphasis on dancing to one on arranging and performance? Pearson must have been aware of the direction big bands were going when he hired premier soloists and jazz talent such as Donald Byrd, Julian Priester, Eddy Bert, Jerry Dodgion, Frank Foster, Lew Tabackin, Pepper Adams, Bob Cranshaw and Mickey Roker. This exciting concert, recorded live in Baltimore, is seeing the light of day for the very first time. The aforementioned evolution of dance bands to stage bands brought forth challenging arrangements and generous solo statements from many players. The band’s intricate arrangements might compare to those of Bill Holman, Bob Florence, or Thad Jones-Mel Lewis. Pearson, under-appreciated to this day, was a gifted pianist and arranger, and his high-energy mates cooked up 79 minutes of big band excitement on this April day in 1969. The opener is a no-holdsbarred version of Randy Weston’s “Hi Fly.” Two of Pearson’s compositions, “New Girl,” and “Ready When You Are CB,” are both ideal big band vehicles. The latter is Pearson’s medium tempo tip of the hat to Count Basie. Other inspired choices include two Chick Corea tunes, “Tones for Joan’s Bones” and “Straight Up and Down.” “Night Song” is from “Golden Boy,” the highly praised musical of the period. And finally there’s a romp through Cole Porter’s “In the Still of the Night.” Pearson’s career would have undoubtedly continued to flourish were it not for a battle lost to multiple sclerosis in 1980. He was 48 years old. But in his brief time in the jazz spotlight, he was greatly admired. And this new visit from his old band is most welcome indeed.
Uptown Records; 2013; 79:26.
Live At The Sahara: Las Vegas, 1964; Tony Bennett, vocals.
While we’re dealing with nostalgia, let’s go further back in time to 1964. Right off the bat, the announcer tells the audience that the performance is being recorded for release on Columbia Records. What he didn’t mention was that it would take 50 years for this to be accomplished. For a concert this great and well-recorded, it makes one wonder just who was asleep at the switch at good ol’ Columbia. Beyond all that, Bennett’s just super, with pianist Ralph Sharon and a big stage orchestra. Bennett shmoozes the audience, credits composers, and even goofs around a bit with Milton Berle, Danny Thomas, and Mickey Rooney! To this day, Bennett chooses the best songs out there, both new and old. To a very appreciative audience he delivers more than 20 of them in this most enjoyable setting. Want to know a few titles? Just a handful? “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Time After Time,” “One for My Baby,” “Mamselle,” “From this Moment On,” “Quiet Nights” and a funny parody on one of his mega-hits, “Rags to Riches.” Bennett is at the top of his game; the band sounds great; the audience loves it; and you have a front row seat. Thanks, Columbia. But what the heck took you so long?
Columbia; 2013; times not indicated.
Flash Mob; Anton Schwartz, tenor sax.
Don’t shy away from the title, which sounds like it would apply to rock material. Not to worry. It’s jazz with a bit of attitude, as provided by Bay Area tenor man Schwartz and his quintet. First CD from him in quite some years, and it’s no nonsense all the way. Right out of the gate I like the fact that Schwartz plays tenor exclusively, finding no need to double on alto or soprano, something all too common these days. I was also impressed with the leader’s choice of Dominick Farinacci on trumpet and flugelhorn. He’s a monster player with whom you may not be familiar, but trust me, Farinacci is knocking on the door to jazz prominence. Most of the compositions, nine out of 11 to be exact, are Schwartz’s original creations. They offer a variety of tempos and moods, much of which is in a hard-hitting, contemporary style. The quartet also includes Taylor Eigsti, piano, John Shifflett, bass, and Lorca Hart, drums. Listeners will likely recognize the two selections from sources other than the leader. Kenny Dorham’s “La Mesha” is one of those 2:30 AM ballads, while Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy” has by now become a classic in the jazz art. To my ear, much of this music has a Lee Morgan-Hank Mobley Blue Note feel. Schwartz has a wealth of musical ideas and always backs them with a solid high wire tenor!
Anton Jazz; 2014; appx. 66 min.
On And On; Jonathan Karrant; vocals.
Somewhere along the line, Karrant must have discovered standard American popular music. He’s a young guy and certainly could have pursued the music of his generation. But that would have been a waste of talent. Granted his CD starts with three tunes from pop land. However, “On and On,” “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight,” and “In My Life” are all well-written songs. But by track five, Karrant takes a big detour -- all the way to Horace Silver’s “Doodlin’.” A few other well-conceived choices merit mention here. “May I Come In” is a killer ballad which in essence says, “I really messed up, but can we give it one more try?” Mose Allison’s “Ask Me Nice” is pure Mose and dates back to his early years. And “Drinking Again” is a song with one of those “quarter to three” lyrics courtesy of Johnny Mercer. Sinatra sang it on an otherwise forgettable album. The fact that the young Jonathan Karrant even discovered these songs speaks well to his ability as a songsmith. He’s accompanied here by a solid piano trio with visitors from time to time. There aren’t many impressive male singers these days, but Karrant certainly gets it right.
Self-produced; 2013; appx. 40 min.
Note: Organ recordings just keep arriving for review. We receivedfive for this issue. So let’s lump ‘em all together and seeif that makes any sense.
1) A Meeting Of Minds; Sheryl Bailey, guitar; with organ and drums.
This is a nicely laid-back guitar trio playing nearly all original tunes by Bailey. More a jazz release than a funk offering. As a result, there’s some nice playing here.
Cellar Live Records; 2013; appx. 62 min.
2) Shadow Box; Bob De Vos, guitar; with tenor sax, organ, bass and drums.
Guitarist De Vos takes a similar path to Bailey’s in that this is a jazz-blues approach. But De Vos adds tenor man Ralph Bowen to very good effect. Most of the tunes are well-thoughtof titles from your friendly Real Book. Nice fresh playing.
American Showplace Music; 2013; times not indicated.
3) Tonight Is Now; Ian Hendrickson-Smith, saxophones and flute; with trumpet, organ, electric piano and drums.
Hendrickson-Smith steps away from his more conventional rhythm section on previous recordings. He and his colleagues take on just six tunes, three of which are his originals. One of the others is a very groovy version of “The Duke” by Dave Brubeck. Hendrickson-Smith, it should be said, has one of the silkiest alto sounds of anybody currently playing.
Cellar Live Records; 2013; appx. 50 min.
4) Organ Monk: American Standard; Greg Lewis, organ; with guitar, tenor, trumpet and drums.
A follow up to an earlier all-Monk set, this CD features standards associated to one degree or another with Thelonious Monk, including “I Should Care,” “Tea For Two,” “Dinah,” “Just A Gigolo,” “Lulu’s Back in Town” and many more. This is more hard-hitting than you might think, and it’s done with a dash of T. Monk wit.
Self-produced; 2013; times not indicated.
5) CYO3; Craig Yaremko Organ Trio; Craig Yaremko, saxophones and flutes; with organ and drums.
Hooray! This CD brings our number to five (out of five) that are more oriented to jazz ears than funk-r&b. Yaremko and friends kind of shuffle between bluesy originals and blue ribbon choices such as “Jitterbug Waltz,” “Little Sunflower,” “Bye-Ya” and “Isfahan.” There’s some good cooking going on here.
OA2 Records; 2013; appx. 72 min.
Alone Together; VR Smith, vocals.
This one didn’t come to my attention when it was released in 2012. But it’s so good and so very unusual that I thought it deserved some praise. Smith happens to be the wife of LA’s master bassist, Putter Smith. But she’s a lot more than that. Perhaps alto sax giant Gary Foster says it best: “Singers who take liberties and change the melodies of songs to suit their vocal techniques distort the songs for me. I love VR’s musical honesty; she never tries to put something on the song that doesn’t belong there.” I can’t state it any better. What I can do, however, is to tell you that VR chooses exceptional songs and sings them with great care, and without pretense. In addition to the title tune, how about some of these “forever” tunes: “Day Dream,” “Comes Love,” “I Wish I Knew,” “Round Midnight,” “If I Should Lose You,” “A Weaver of Dreams,” “Peace” and “Wonder Why.” The surprise of the set is Jimmy McHugh’s “I Just Found Out About Love.” This little rarity is a pure delight. VR is accompanied with sparkle and polish by the late pianist Jim Szilagyi and several friends, including hubby on bass. Singers don’t make records like this very often because they’re simply incapable of doing so. But VR Smith, in her very relaxed and sincere manner, gets it ... just right.
SP Records; 2012; 49:40.
From Here I See; Ben Wolfe, bass.
Former Portlander Wolfe is all over the map in his adopted home of New York City. When he isn’t playing in some of the Apple’s most prominent ensembles, he can be found on the faculty of the Julliard School. This time around he enlists a grand string quartet to help bring some fanciful finery to an entire program of his original compositions — most are ballads. In addition to the string players, Wolfe welcomes some of his New York jazz pals for guest shots on select tracks, high profile cats like Wynton Marsalis, Russell Malone, and Marcus Strickland. They join Wolfe’s basic quartet of Orrin Evans, piano, Donald Edwards, drums, J.D. Allen, tenor saxophone, and Wolfe on bass. This is a very introspective album, but by no means is it moody. The strings help create an urban “midnight” atmosphere, and it should be said that all of the soloists immerse themselves in it. Musically, it’s at a very high level and succeeds because of its creative compositions and its first-rate players. Wolfe returns home to Portland to play on occasion. You really should catch him on one of those visits. And his new CD is quite a thing of beauty.
Max Jazz; 2013; 55:56.
Toronto 1947; Illinois Jacquet, tenor sax; Leo Parker, baritone sax.
It would be accurate to characterize Illinois Jacquet as a “tweener” — his presence in various bands, and eventually in Count Basie’s, brought him to fame in the swing era. But later assignments, including work with Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic, put him in a modern jazz setting. This recording, from what sounds like a big dance hall date, puts him in some great company. Trumpet ace Joe Newman, brother Russell Jacquet, who also blows trumpet, and Leo Parker, a pioneer on baritone sax, are all major contributors. The under-appreciated pianist Sir Charles Thompson led a rhythm section with Al Lucas, bass, and Shadow Wilson, drums. In many respects, this was a blowing session, with Illinois and Parker the combatants. They “duel” in high energy on blowing vehicles such as “Bottoms Up,” “Music Hall Beat,” “Mutton Leg” and “Oh, Lady Be Good.” Russell even offers a gutsy vocal on “Throw It Out of Your Mind, Baby.” Other selections include two medleys plus choice standards and an intense “Body And Soul.” Understandably, the sound on a 1947 live concert is not up to today’s standard, but if anything it somehow adds to the authenticity and casualness of the date. If you’re into the hard blowing sound, this is it!
Uptown Records; 2013; 70:54.
The Endless Mysteries; George Colligan, piano.
Portland has always enjoyed a wealth of superb jazz pianists. And what was consistently top tier got even better when George Colligan became part of the music faculty at Portland State University. His new CD, his first for Seattle-based Origin Records, is a trio gig with two masterful colleagues, Larry Grenadier on bass and Jack De Johnette on drums. All 10 selections were composed by Colligan who, in the liner notes, provides an explanation for two of the more dramatic tracks. “Thoughts of Ana” was written in memory of Ana Greene, one of the children who perished in the Sandy Hook tragedy and the daughter of friend and prominent saxophonist, Jimmy Greene. “Outraged” expresses Colligan’s reaction to the loose gun laws which allowed this horror. On these very serious works and others which are often wistful and thoughtful, Colligan and friends bring us immense creativity, imagination and color. This is a varied musical journey. At one moment brimming in intensity and frustration and, at another, expressing reflection and beauty. We’ll look forward to more from Colligan.
Origin Records; 2013; appx. 64 min.
Silva, Bell, Elation; Dee Bell, vocals; Marcos Silva, piano and electric piano.
I can’t recall ever hearing it, but I have a dim memory of Dee Bell’s recording with Stan Getz. But since the Getz date in the 1980s, I’ve heard nothing from Bell. Too bad, because this CD has some good moments, and a few things that miss the mark. Perhaps Bell is trying to reach a diverse audience because, in addition to great standards like “World on a String,” “Nature Boy” and “’S Wonderful,” she opts for rather banal choices by Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Lennon/McCartney. However, on the plus side, she also includes Jobim’s “Dreamer,” Joe Zawinul’s “Midnight Mood,” and a charming Brazilian tune called “The Face I Love.” Pulling the annoying steel pans from two cuts would have helped. Also, the guitarist gets way too rocky on Abby Lincoln’s “The World Is Falling Down.” Put it this way: Dee Bell possesses a very pleasant voice, but she made some ill-advised decisions on both material and accompaniment.
Laser Records; 2014; appx. 44 min.
Alone (and) Together; Enrico Granafei, harmonica and guitar.
Jazz harmonica? Well, for years and more there was only one: Toots Thielemans. Then along came Hendrick Meurkens, and the harmonica category doubled! Now the field is getting “crowded” with the arrival of Enrico Granafei. But this guy brings an extra to the bandstand. On some tunes he plays harmonica hands free, giving him the opportunity to play guitar at the same time. No less a guitarist than Bucky Pizzarelli referred to Granafei’s doubling as “truly amazing”. On this CD several guests leap in and out, hence the title. It’s a beautifully conceived album featuring Granafei’s poignant sound along with some exceptional piano work from Amina Figarova. Check out her silvery solo on “Body And Soul,” for example. Other winners here include “Yardbird Suite,” “Round Midnight,” “Gentle Rain,” a medley of “Stablemates,” “Giant Steps” and “Cherokee,” plus a stunning “I Wish You Love.” Two of my favorites, seemingly made for jazz harmonica, are “The Peacocks” and “Estate.” The latter features Granafei’s touching vocal. Granafei, all told, is quite the romanticist, but he’s never indulgent or cheesy. So, harmonica fans, you’d be well advised to make room for one more virtuoso.
CAP Records; 2013; appx. 58 min.
Lucky People; Ellen Starr, piano, vocals, arrangements.
I don’t know why it happens so frequently that when I’m drawn to a new singer, he or she invariably is also a piano player. Such is the case with Starr. But even before removing the shrink wrap, there were a couple of giveaways that something good was happening here. First, the presence of rising tenor star Joel Frahm on this session. Second, one has to have some knowledge of “the book” to choose tunes like “Monk’s Dream,” “Recorda Me,” “No More Blues,” “Blame It on My Youth,” “Reflections,” and even Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” In a sea of mediocrity, Starr is a jazz singer well worth hearing.
Dancing Spirit Records; 2012; appx. 58 min.
Generations; Shauli Enav; tenor and alto sax.
I received no bio sheet with this recording, nor were there any liner notes. However, judging from the leader’s name, I would guess that he’s one of the young Israelis coming to to play jazz in the U.S. But what really caught my eye is the presence of piano great Don Friedman and mega-drummer Eliot Zigmund in Enav’s quintet. Of the 10 tunes, eight are originals. The two standards are “The More I See You,” and John Coltrane’s “Crescent.” One of the originals, “Almost Everything,” is Friedman’s re-working of “All the Things You Are,” and it’s worth five stars! Enav’s sound is one of practiced beauty and great respect for the tradition. I hope we hear more from him.
Positone Records; 2013; appx. 50 min.
The Performer; Carolyn Lee Jones, vocals.
So many female singers to sample, and now and then a legitimately good one. That’s Carolyn Lee Jones who reminds me just a smudge at times of Julie London or Mavis Rivers. She sings (mostly) good songs with excellent arrangements by various combinations of musicians. Some standout tunes include Bob Dorough’s “Small Day Tomorrow” and standards such as “I Wished on the Moon,” “Old Devil Moon,” “Let’s Get Lost,” “Lazy Afternoon” and “The Island.”
Self-produced; 2013; appx. 60 min.
Blue Divide; Rob Derke, soprano sax.
The soprano saxophone has never been an award winner for me. But for those who would take issue with my leanings, this would be the CD for you to use. Derke’s soprano leads the New York Jazz Quartet in a program of nearly all original compositions. Pianist Aruan Ortiz and bassist Carlo De Rosa also shine with free and easy solo space. If you’re into soprano, this is the real deal.
Zoho Records; 2013; appx. 55 min.
Easy To Love; Lizzie Thomas, vocals.
A product of Nashville, Thomas is anything but a country singer. In the company of a bevy of stellar New York musicians, she brings freshness to 10 honored standards from the American Songbook. Among them are “You Do Something to Me,” “Close Your Eyes,” “I Only Have Eyes for You,” “The Way You Look Tonight” and lots more. Thomas delivers the goods with jazz pizzazz.
Self-produced; 2013; times not indicated.