Everything Is Cool; Giacomo Gates, vocals.
I wanted to lead off this month’s reviews with singer Giacomo Gates because I need to clearly bring him to your attention. First of all, just how many male jazz singers remain on planet Earth? Not many. And Gates’ booming, boppy baritone is easily the best out there. Did you get that? The BEST! Gates is true to his bebop heritage in choosing under-recorded bop vehicles by composers like singers Babs Gonzales and Oscar Brown, Jr., bop icon Thelonious Monk, trombone master Frank Rosolino, and even a tune (music and lyrics) by none other than Lenny Bruce! On all these and more, Giacomo Gates is the ultimate jazz/bop singer. You’ll hear with your own ears that it’s as natural for him as breathing. His well-honed rhythm section is led by pianist John Di Martino and prominently features Grant Stewart, a sensational younger generation tenor player that you’re going to love. Put it this way: if you dig Jon Hendricks and Eddie Jefferson, you’re going to flip over Giacomo Gates!
Savant; 2015; appx. 50 min.
Live Intentionally! Larry Newcomb, guitar.
In his younger years Larry Newcomb began checking out Jim Hall, Joe Pass, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel and Kenny Burrell. “My direction was established,” says Newcomb. The influence of those guitar greats is clearly displayed here, as Newcomb brings to the table what drummer Grady Tate calls “exceptionally beautiful guitar tone and facility.” Working with a tight and talented rhythm section comprised of Eric Olsen, piano, Dmitri Kolesnik, bass, and Jimmy Madison, drums, Newcombe launches the session with the venerable Mario Lanza opus “Be My Love.” It’s followed by one of the favorite tunes for jazz musicians to “blow on,” “All The Things You Are.” Other album highlights include Bird’s bop anthem “Au Privave,” two more revered standards (“Stardust” and “Have You Met Miss Jones”), and a few originals. I particularly liked “Thanks, Jack!” a zippy melody which sounds like it could have been one of those Neal Hefti lines from the fifties! On all these and many more, Larry Newcomb’s quartet is, as they say, “in the pocket.” We need more records like this.
Essential Messenger; 2015; appx. 42 min.
Luminosity; Don Braden, tenor sax, flute, alto flute.
Don Braden has been an important tenor saxophone voice for a couple of decades now, and for this session he decides to take a slight detour. His quartet takes on a little different look as he works with Kyle Koehler, Hammond organ, and Dave Stryker, guitar. In other words, no piano and no bass! The foursome is completed by drummer Cecil Brooks III. But despite the absence of a piano, this is distinctly not a funk record. The quartet leads off with the title tune, a cousin, one might say, to “Giant Steps.” Other standouts include “Bud Powell,” a bop drenched Chick Corea line; a high spirited take on “I Could Write a Book” which includes guest Claudio Roditi on trumpet; a stunning solo version of Billy Strayhorn’s masterpiece “Chelsea Bridge”; and a revisit with Herbie Hancock’s “Driftin’” with Sherman Irby guesting on alto sax. With a touch of soul here and there, this is mostly a straight ahead effort. And Don Braden, even in this unique setting, affirms his place as a tenorman of highest quality.
Creative Perspective Music; 2015; appx. 60 min.
Two Songbirds Of A Feather; Rebecca Kilgore and Nicki Parrott, vocals.
Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, Jackie and Roy, Carmen McRae and Betty Carter, Johnny Mercer and Bobby Darin. Vocal duo albums are a rarity. After some brief effort, I could only come up with those four. So this meeting of Rebecca and Nicki, while something of a novelty, is a classy and enjoyable session. Just for the record, both singers are also players. Becky is an accomplished rhythm guitarist and Nicki is a stalwart on bass. Perhaps that weighs in on their easy going and substantial vocal talent. The 13 tunes on the album are divided between duets and features for each singer on her own.
A few of the top tier songs are: “Life Is So Peculiar,” a rarity with a good message; “Do You Know Why Stars Come Out at Night” is a Ray Noble gem that I associate with a great growly vocal by Jimmy Rowles; “They Say It’s Spring” is yet another underdone beauty that Zoot Sims once caressed; “A Woman’s Perogative” is a charmer once done with style by Pearl Bailey; and “El Cajon” is a witty Dave Frishberg creation. On all these and more, Kilgore and Parrott are having more fun than the law should allow. Add Harry Allen on joyful tenor, Mike Renzi on piano and Chuck Redd on drums, and you too will undoubtedly share the fun.
Arbors; 2015; appx. 53 min.
House Of Pianos; Dick Hyman, piano.
I think I have some ancient bebop stuff dating back to 1949 or 1950 in my collection. And who is the pianist on that material? None other than Dick Hyman. Now somewhere in his eighties, he’s playing as beautifully as ever. That’s made clear by an amazing display of some solo exploits by this master pianist. I’ve often referred to him as the “chameleon of jazz” because he does it all--solo, trio, arranging, accompaniment---and with total ease whether it’s the era of James P. or Thelonious! On this versatile musical journey, Hyman takes us from “Sweet Georgia Brown” to Monk’s “Ugly Beauty,” from Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” to his original “Beat The Clock Theme”! from “Yesterdays” to his own “Theme from the Purple Rose of Cairo.” In addition to “Ugly Beauty” Hyman gives us two more Monk classics, “Misterioso” and “Blue Monk.” He takes off on high velocity runs, settles into lush chords and head shaking improvisational ideas. One day, when it’s all written down, his name will be right there with the most complete giants of jazz.
Arbors; 2015; appx. 57 min.
Complete Capitol Years, 1956-1960; Sue Raney, vocals.
In 1958, an 18-year-old out of Albuquerque made her recording debut with Capitol Records. The thing that was absolutely eerie about this was that Raney’s intonation, phrasing, timbre and jazz feeling was fully in place at 18! She was simply great right away. Maybe too great, because the two Capitol LP’s heard here, and a third one in the early ‘60s, didn’t exactly put Raney on the map. But she persevered and is still singing today--and marvelously well. These early efforts pair her with two very in-demand band leader/arrangers of that era, Nelson Riddle and Billy May. And she shines on such winners as “My Ideal,” “Moon Song,” “I Remember You,” “September in the Rain” and lots more. Also included are some obvious efforts on Capitol’s part to score a hit single for Raney. As you might expect, the writing on these tunes doesn’t hold up well. But it’s okay because on the two LPs included here, Sue Raney gives clear notice that talent will prevail while other singers eventually fade into obscurity. One last note: notice the year 2013 on this release. It simply didn’t come to my attention until a few months ago. Sue Raney is a gem. You should make it a priority to find every album she ever made!
Fresh Sound; 2013; 2 CD’s; appx. 52 and 50 min.
Live In Santa Cruz; Benny Green, piano.
I almost got a little lightheaded when I read in the liner notes that Benny Green hit 50 in 2013! Time races by, I guess, because in my head Benny’s still the fresh-faced youth who plays the heck out of the piano. Fortunately, that’s still the case, as Green appears here before a live and lively audience with two colleagues who are themselves jazz masters: David Wong, bass, and Kenny Washington, drums.
On this occasion Green opts for nine original tunes, displaying incredible creativity and the monster chops which have always been his trademark. Listen in particular to “Sonny Clark,” his tribute to the great pianist. It takes off at a tempo which shouldn’t be possible and just stays there! On the other side of the musical spectrum, the slower tempos like “Golden Flamingo” and “Forgiveness” are tender beauties. There’s also a revisit to “Bish Bash,” another rapid fire item that Green recorded on one of his earliest albums. “Anna’s Blues” brings the session to a close and it’s a “hand clapper” in the Oscar Peterson fashion. On all these and more it’s nice to hear Benny Green still in the game. And as brilliant and ebullient as ever!
Sunnyside; 2015; appx. 42 min.
Fly Away; Molly Ryan, vocals.
If the world of swing era singers is topped by Portland’s Rebecca Kilgore, well maybe Molly Ryan deserves to be somewhere on the list. Working here with a highly polished swing ensemble which features piano marvel Dick Hyman (see earlier review), Ryan’s no-gimmick presentation works with vigorous fun on a menu of tunes which deal with travel and exotic far away locales. Hence we are treated to titles like “Flying Down to Rio,” “The Road to Morocco,” “Beyond the Blue Horizon,” “Far Away Places,” “Under Paris Skies” and the like. Ryan and her swingin’ friends pull it all off with style and vitality.
Loup-garous Productions; 2015; times not indicated.
Like It Is; John Fedchock, trombone and leader, New York Big Band.
Let’s put it this way: when it rains in New York City, the droplets probably fall in the shape of little treble clefs on John Fedchock’s windshield. That little fantasy illustrates as well as anything just how musical this ex-Hermanite arranger really is. If that’s not enough, Fedchock completes the picture as a stellar composer and riveting trombone ace. From 3000 miles west of the Apple I’ve been a Fedchock fan for many years. His band attracts some of Gotham’s finest with names like Gary Smulyan, baritone, Allen Farnham, piano, Rich Perry, tenor sax, and of course Fedchock is near perfection on that most unwieldy of instruments, the trombone. The band opens with a rouser, “You and the Night and the Music,” and includes three more familiar choices in “Never Let Me Go,” “Just Squeeze Me” and “For Heaven’s Sake.” The remainder of the CD is devoted primarily to Fedchock’s outstanding writing and arranging for big band. Over the years he has carved out an A+ reputation among musicians, critics and listeners as one of the heavy duty New York cats who “gets it.” And it all continues right here.
Mama Records; 2015; appx. 70 min.
In New York City; Jacob Fischer, guitar.
There’s so much talent out there. How can we possibly keep up with it all? Well the answer is, of course we can’t. So it’s especially rewarding to encounter someone like Jacob Fischer. He plays very mellow acoustic guitar the way Charlie Byrd did. He even brought along Byrd’s former vibist/drummer for this occasion, the exceptional Chuck Redd. Chuck is heard exclusively on vibes here, leaving the drum chores to Matt Wilson. Bassist John Webber completes the quartet. It’s primarily an opportunity for Fischer and Redd to communicate, trading fours and solos and getting in some intricate, beautifully crafted licks. There are twelve tunes in all, with highlights like “How About You,” “Tenderly,” “Love For Sale,” “Day Dream,” Oscar Pettiford’s rarely heard “Laverne Walk,” and a personal fave, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.” As is often said, a good time was had by all!
Arbors Records; appx. 63 min.
In Good Company; George Cables, piano.
In the latter stages of his relatively short life, the great Art Pepper employed George Cables as his quartet’s pianist. Art gave him the admirable nickname “Mr. Beautiful,” and it’s wholly apropos, as proven on this classic trio session. Cables is joined by two marvels on bass and drums, Essiet Essiet and Victor Lewis. With the exception of two Cables originals, the album is given over to nine welcome but not overplayed evergreens. There is a definite leaning toward a phenomenon called Ellington-Strayhorn. Consider the inclusion of “It Don’t Mean a Thing”,,”Love You Madly”,,”Daydream,” “Lush Life” and “Lotus Blossom.” Does it get any better than that? Well not really, but Cables and friends also impress on Kenny Barron’s “Voyage,” John Hicks’ “Naima’s Love Song,” and “After the Morning.” This is flawless, swinging piano trio music the way it used to be. The great ones always make it sound so effortless, and that’s what you get with Cables, Essiet and Lewis. Very highly recommended!
High Note; 2015; appx. 55 min.
Puzzle; Mitchel Forman, piano.
In the latter years of a brilliant and varied career, Gerry Mulligan hired no less than three young piano wizards, Bill Charlap, Ted Rosenthal and the leader of this trio session, Mitchel Forman. I recall his work for Mulligan with admiration. Well, all these years later, here is Forman at the helm of a swinging and highly creative trio. With Kevin Axt on bass and Steve Hass on drums, Forman examines both standards and attention getting originals. He mesmerizes with lightning execution on “What Is this Thing Called Love” and then gets all droopy-eyed on “Alfie.” Another old fave is Mingus’s pert blues, “Nostalgia in Times Square.” His original tunes exhibit varied tempos and often joyous melodies. Mitchel Forman and his trio earn high marks on a well balanced album of passion and directness. But you have to LISTEN!
BFM Jazz; 2015; appx. 57 min.
Flirting With Disaster; Lorraine Feather, vocals.
There’s some irony in the title to this CD. I’m sure that Lorraine Feather is not “flirting with disaster” on her newest effort. I’ve been a Feather fan for a decade or more and have sung high praises for her in prior reviews. If you missed them, I’ll just say that she is a totally unique and gifted lyricist in that her lyrics always sound conversational--and not just to make words rhyme. Nobody else comes close in writing lyrics in this effective and casually literate style. But alas, it just doesn’t work on this album.
Feather is all about wit, cleverness and person-to-person communication. But 11 of the 12 tunes here nearly have a whiny, singer-songwriter feel to them. The one exception is her well-honed lyric to “I’d Be Down with That,” which is pure Feather. Granted, the liner notes indicate that she was going for a romantic approach this time out. But there’s a sameness to the rest of the material. I won’t give up on Lorraine Feather. I know what she’s capable of and I love it. And I will be looking for it on her next CD.
Jazzed Media; 2015; 58:22.
Live at Smalls; Scott Hamilton, tenor sax.
It is interesting to me that in the 1960s and ‘70s, most likely his formative years, Scott Hamilton-- unlike most of his peers- -chose not to travel down Coltrane Boulevard. Instead Scott opted for the older style of celebrated players like Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Don Byas and the like. It has served him well considering his dozens of albums, constant bookings and wildly loyal fans. Hamilton and his rhythm section stay securely on swing avenue with dependable choices like “Runnin’ Wild,” “Estate,” “Easy Does It,” “The Nearness of You” and perhaps my personal favorite, Al Cohn’s “Ah Moore.” You may know it better with Dave Frishberg’s lyric as “The Underdog.” And don’t overlook the contributions of swing/stride pianist Rossano Sportiello. He fits with Hamilton like strawberries with shortcake. Lots of high-wire swingin’ fun here! But that’s always the case with the supremely gifted Scott Hamilton.
Smalls Live; 2014; appx. 68 min.
With Respect to Monty; Donald Vega, piano.
A pianist whose star is definitely on the rise, Donald Vega pays tribute to one of his own piano heroes, Monty Alexander. Seven of the ten selections here are Alexander compositions. I’ve heard many positive things about Vega for some time now and am glad to finally have this opportunity to hear him. Like Alexander, he swings relentlessly and unapologetically. And like Alexander, there’s a bit of wit, mystery and surprise in Vega’s arsenal. His all-star quartet includes Anthony Wilson, guitar, Hassan Shakur, bass, and Lewis Nash, drums. Alexander’s melodies, of course, cover a wide variety of tempos and moods, and often with a tip of the hat to the blues or his native Jamaica.
Pay particular attention to “Sweet Lady,” an exquisite ballad that I spoke to Alexander about back in the days of the Otter Crest Jazz Weekend. It seems that one of the two labels that had recorded the tune mistakenly credited it to someone else. I asked him if he indeed had written it. With his lovely accent, he replied: “Yes, I wrote it, and the error was like a knife to my heart.” All in all, the young Donald Vega is an old school player, dedicated to a proud tradition. He’s well on his way to jazz prominence. Judging from this performance he has all the tools to complete the task.
Resonance; 2015; appx. 63 min.
Too Marvelous for Words; Beegie Adair, piano; Don Aliquo, tenor sax.
Ya gotta give her credit. Beegie Adair has been putting out dependably listenable jazz records like clockwork,or so it seems, at a rate of two or three per year. And when I say dependable, I refer mainly to the fact that she always chooses songs you know and love. But there’s one little detour here. Instead of her usual trio effort, the silky tenor sax of Don Aliquo is added for this session. Aliquo keeps it tasty and safe throughout as he, Adair and friends explore some “hits” that include “Daydream,” “This Can’t Be Love,” “Isfahan,” “If You Could See Me Now” and even Monk’s “Bye-Ya.” There’s no head-scratching new ground here, but really, do we always require such things? I think a well-performed album of great tunes will suffice any time.
Adair Music Group; 2015; 71 min.
Solo; Fred Hersch, piano.
For well over twenty years, Fred Hersch has established himself as one of the premier pianists of our time. Hearing him play solo is a rare treat, and if you have an ear for shimmering beauty, you need to hear this one. Hersch opens with a medley of Jobim tunes with classical elegance reminiscent of George Shearing. After that he sneaks up on you with a quirky, almost mysterious version of “Caravan.” Two of his originals, “Pastorale” and “Whirl,” offer very different examples of Hersh’s creative concepts. Jerome Kern’s “The Song Is You” is treated with nearly aching beauty, and Monk’s “In Walked Bud” is as always full of boppy fun. The album concludes with the pop tune “Both Sides Now.” Artistry is the name of the game for Fred Hersch. Always has been and most likely always will be. And artistry finds a home on his latest album.
Palmetto Records; 2015; appx. 60 min.
After You; Mason Razavi, guitars and Bennett Roth-Newell, piano.
Clifford Brown’s magnificent jazz treasure “Joy Spring” opens this recital-like album in all its glory. But this well-matched duo impresses throughout on a variety of original compositions plus a couple of standards in Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy Mercy” and the Beatles’s opus, “Yesterday.” A jazz duo often creates a very special intimacy, and that’s certainly what happens here.
First Orbit Sounds; probably 2015; appx. 36 min.
Penny Lane; John Basile, guitar.
Although there’s a lot of synth action here, guitarist and programmer John Basile takes on the Beatles songbook with much better results than one might expect. Fab Four fans will find new directions in the improvisational journeys on “Penny Lane,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Norwegian Wood,” “In My Life” and seven more.
String Time Jazz; probably 2015; appx. 49 min.
Jazz Suite For Bassoon; Daniel Smith, bassoon.
Daniel Smith is dedicated to the possibilities of the bassoon within the jazz art. All due credit to him, but don’t look for a surge in bassoon sales in the near future. This CD borrows strongly from the classical world, but offers a lot of jazz content as well. Three Scott Joplin rags are especially delicious.
Summit; 2015; appx. 40 min.
Minga Minga; Clay Giberson, piano.
The birth of his daughter (could she have been named for Charles Mingus?) inspired Clay Giberson to spend two weeks creating some special material to honor the new arrival. The Oregonian has called Giberson’s sound one of “intelligence, lyricism, depth and accessibility.” I’d predict that you would agree.
Origin; 2015; appx. 52 min.
It’s About Time; Andrea Petrity, piano.
Jazz in Calgary, Alberta? You bet! Andrea Petrity’s debut album has some very attractive moments, especially on standards like “Harlem Nocturne,” “If You Could See Me Now” and “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” Her originals display virtuosity and chops. Jazz is everywhere, and apparently it is thriving in this Canadian metropolis.
Self-produced; 2014; appx. 42 min.