CD Reviews - May 2015 

by George Fendel

(Last Update 05/01/2015)

(Previous CD Reviews are available at the CD Archives page. )


The Warren Vaché Quintet Remembers Benny Carter; Warren Vaché, cornet.
Benny Carter was a musician’s musician. He was blessed with a pure, lyrical alto sound which was completely his own. He was a gifted arranger no matter the musical setting. And he wrote tunes that breathed the joys of life. His music was celebrated quite some years ago on a CD by Marian McPartland. But since then, Benny’s happy melodies have waited to be revisited on an entire recording. And this one simply shines! Certainly Warren Vaché needs no introduction to Jazzscene readers. His mellow and beautiful cornet has delighted us for a long time on perhaps two dozen albums under his own name. Vaché’s inspired colleagues include Houston Person, tenor sax, Tardo Hammer, piano, Nicki Parrott, bass, and Leroy Williams, drums.

Bassist Parrott is a crafty singer on Carter’s most famous tune “When Lights Are Low” and on “Only Trust Your Heart,” as well as a tune that Irene Kral owned, “Rock Me to Sleep.” Vaché, who loves to sing a bit now and then, does a slick little vocal duet with Parrott on “All That Jazz.” Carter was a dreamy ballad writer, and Vaché, Person and Hammer offer stunning solos on such beauties as “Evening Star,” “Summer Serenade” and the luscious “Souvenir.” And then there’s “Key Largo,” a modest hit for Sarah Vaughan back in the day. On all these and more, Vaché and friends mine some gold in the music of one of jazz history’s beloveds.
Arbors Records; 2015; appx. 67 min.

The Music Is The Magic; Laurie Cooke, vocals.
Sometimes one can get a lot of insight into a singer before ever hearing a single note by perusing the list of songs the singer has chosen. That’s what I did. Aside from etched in stone standards like “Out of This World,” “Fascinating Rhythm” and “Them There Eyes,” Cooke clearly shows with these and lesser known gems, that she’s listened to a lot of music. Want proof? Well, consider the inclusion of pianist Ronnell Bright’s obscure but whimsical “Sweet Pumpkin,” a tune brought to my attention by another fine jazz singer, Bill Henderson. Or how about “How I Wish,” a Thelonious Monk tune we know instrumentally as “Ask Me Now” with a Jon Hendricks lyric. Consider also English composer Leslie Bricusse’s “When I Look in Your Eyes,” or Dave Frishberg’s triumph “Our Love Rolls On.” For me, the biggest surprise is Roger Kellaway’s under-appreciated beauty “I Have the Feeling I’ve Been Here Before.” For good measure, toss in “Lazy Afternoon,” Peggy Lee’s mega-hit “Mañana,” and a few others, and you have quite an album.

But what makes it all work so well is the control, intonation and pure jazz feeling of Cooke, a 73-year-old singer who sounds a good 30 years younger. With well-honed colleagues backing her, Cooke puts it all out there on this session. I was sure impressed; I think you will be as well.
Onyx Records; 2014; appx. 58 min.

Fluidity; John Fedchock, trombone.
A number of years ago, John Fedchock was one of the “young Turks” in the Woody Herman band. His dexterity, combined with a masterful, round tone, earned him a ton of trombone solos with Woody. From there he went on to form his own big band and recorded regularly for Reservoir, a respected label whose owner simply retired. As a result, I’ve heard “nada” about Fedchock for several years. So how glad was I to be made aware of his welcome new quartet album? Very glad!

Fedchock’s quartet includes John Toomey, piano, Jimmy Masters, bass, and Dave Ratajczak, drums. On this winning live performance from 2013, the quartet romps through five wellloved standards, one tune from the Real Book, and a couple of the leader’s originals. With tunes like “East of the Sun,” “I Hear a Rhapsody,” “Make Someone Happy,” “Weaver of Dreams,” “Days of Wine and Roses” and “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” this is a “can’t miss” performance. Add Joe Henderson’s “Homestretch” and Fedchock’s own work, and you have a perfect set of real deal jazz. As for Fedchock, he hasn’t lost a step: beautiful phrasing, a tone so pretty that one forgets he’s playing a trombone (!), and never a showy “look what I can do” lick. It’s still early in the year, but this may be among my favorite CD’s of 2015.
Summit Records; 2015; appx. 72 min.

Love Looks Good on You; Russell Malone, guitar.
I know the years are rolling by when I look at the handsome “young lion” of years ago, Russell Malone, and see the gray of middle age. How did that happen? Well, be that as it may, the fact remains that Malone is a top-of-the-mountain, straight-ahead no gimmicks jazz guitar player. On this CD, his first in quite a while, he is joined by a cast of equally gifted players in Rick Germanson, piano, Gerald Cannon, bass, and Willie Jones III, drums. Their selections are mostly underplayed jazz items, several of which were composed by fellow musicians. Consider such choices as “The Elder” (Thad Jones); “Mirrors” (Joe Chambers) “Amsterdam After Dark” (George Coleman); and “Suite Sioux” (Freddie Hubbard). True to form, Malone takes it straight down the center of the highway, always opting for a true and honest sound. His rhythm section works solidly behind him, now and then taking brief solos, and always tasteful and fully in the moment. But clearly, this is Malone’s album. He seizes the opportunity and plays his beloved post bop and ballads to perfection.
High Note; 2015; appx. 51 min.

PDX Soul; Hailey Niswanger, alto and soprano saxes.
I’ve never met Portland native Hailey Niswanger personally, but I’ve heard her play on a number of occasions. I always came away favorably impressed with an obvious blooming talent. I don’t know if she became discouraged playing in the straight ahead tradition. We all know that it’s not easy to gain a foothold in the jazz art. Or perhaps, plain and simple, not enough bread was coming her way. I’m hoping of course that this album simply represents a one-time effort at funk. She manages to bring to the studio a host of Portland-based talent including Thara Memory, trumpet and vocals; Stan Bock, trombone; and two keyboard players, George Colligan and the late Janice Scroggins, among others. It’s always a disappointment to see significant jazz talent go to the “other side.” And most unfortunately that’s what Niswanger has done on an album of burping electric bass, electronic keyboards, screechy vocals and a tedious funk backbeat. One try at this — OK, we’ll give you that. More than one, and I would assume that you have been lost to us.
Calmit Productions; 2015; appx. 44 min.

Standard Elevation; Dana Landry, piano.
Now here’s a Colorado-based quartet that is out to prove that great tunes and solid musicianship are still at the very heart of jazz. Dana Landry is one of the piano mavens who probably knows a barrelful of tunes from the American Songbook. His quartet plays nine of them in swinging, elegant fashion, leaving you wanting more. Landry offers a deft but attractive touch and understands the artistry involved in economy and subtlety. Interestingly, he leaves a very generous amount of solo space for his guitarist Steve Kovalcheck who takes full advantage with engaging solos that sparkle with delight. The quartet is completed with the fully supported work of bassist Erik Applegate and drummer Jim White. The CD opens with an Irving Berlin evergreen, “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” And as the album’s title implies, it stays with a standard bill from that point on. A soon-to-be classic and an album highlight is “Pure Imagination,” and for good measure, Landry and friends give us one original, “Shades of Grays.” So, music lovers, here’s a recording just for you. Swinging, sophisticated elegance. Maybe they do make albums the way they used to!
Artist Alliance Records; 2015; appx. 47 min.

Ernestine Anderson Swings The Penthouse.
Long before Jazz Alley became Seattle’s Mecca for nationally acclaimed jazz talent, there was a glamorous room called The Penthouse. If you trekked to Seattle to hear jazz in the 1960s, The Penthouse was your destination. And Ernestine Anderson happened to record a scintillating set there in 1962. A long time Seattle resident, Anderson was indeed right at home in The Penthouse. Trouble is, the session sat “in the can” for 53 years! So for the first time ever, here’s a “new old” album by Anderson. Working with a finely honed rhythm section of Dick Palombi, piano, Chuck Metcalf, bass, and Bill Richardson, drums, Anderson takes it right down the mainstream boulevard with no less than 13 satisfying standards, including evergreens “Time After Time,” “World on a String,” “Angel Eyes,” “This Can’t Be Love,” “Just in Time,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Little Girl Blue” and lots more. You’ll know all the tunes, and you’ll be happy to hear the great Ernestine Anderson sing them!
High Note; 2015; appx. 45 min.

Soloist; Andy Brown, guitar.
Perhaps some of you elders remember a category in the Downbeat jazz polls with the title “Artist Deserving of Wider Attention.” Well, I would think that guitarist Andy Brown would be a serious candidate in such a poll. Here he is on the distinguished Chicago label Delmark Records, playing a collection of wide-ranging titles with a perfect and respectful tone, tons of musical ideas brewing constantly under his hands, and overall an album that any serious guitarist should love hearing. His choices run the gamut. From the swing charts come “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” “Talk of the Town,” and “Drum Boogie.” Jazz choices include “Estaté,” “Godchild” and O Barquinho” (aka “Little Boat”). Great standards also dot this musical map: “Dancing in the Dark,” “Nina Never Knew,” “Anything Goes,” “When Your Lover Has Gone,” “You’re My Everything,” “Memories of You,” and “By Myself.” Brown’s purity of tone and endless ideas take me back to some of the outstanding albums from guitar virtuoso Joe Pass. Andy Brown is certainly deserving of widest attention. How about yours?
Delmark; 2015; appx. 65 min.

Wallflower; Diana Krall, piano and vocals.
There was so much promise in the beginning. Never blessed with a great voice but always able to deliver the meaning of a lyric, Diana Krall really excelled as a pianist. But on this album she has set aside her jazz sensibilities in favor of a pop-rock menu. And no doubt a healthier bank balance. You know immediately that we’re in trouble when this CD opens with a tired and repetitious thing called “California Dreamin’.” Additional titles, mostly totally unfamiliar to me, are credited to the likes of Gilbert O’Sullivan, Jim Croce, Bob Dylan, Elton John, and Don Henley who, I’m told, made his money in The Eagles. Compounding this disaster, Krall does a couple of the tunes as cheesy duets with pop singers. And so far I haven’t said one word about the banal, vanilla arrangements throughout. Diana, Diana, please come back home.
Verve Records; 2014; times not indicated.

Jive Samba; Duduka Da Fonseca.
Adderley, Jarrett, Henderson, Tyner, Barron, Hancock, Shorter, Corea ... and more. In samba rhythm? Before you say “impossible,” you’d be wise to check out this CD under the name of Brazilian master drummer Duduka Da Fonseca. Together with his playing mates David Feldman, piano, and Guto Wirtti, bass, Da Fonseca interprets stellar compositions by American musicians who were inspired by Brazilian rhythms. Pianist Feldman is especially impressive, never wasting a note — and playing all the right ones. So, in subtle but suitable samba style, we are treated to Nat Adderley’s “Jive Samba,” Joe Henderson’s “Recorda Me,” Herbie Hancock’s “Speak Like a Child,” Wayne Shorter’s “El Gaucho” and lots more. Incidentally, the trio becomes a quartet in “Recorda Me” with the sparkling addition of tenor man Paulo Levi. All of the players are thoroughly into the session, and their vigor and enthusiasm shines throughout.
Zoho; 2015; appx. 54 min.

It Could Happen; The H2 Big Band.
Out of the gate it might be a good idea to explain the name of this outfit. It’s simple. Co-led by Denver area trumpet ace Al Hood and L.A. pianist Dave Hanson, this is a no-punchespulled gathering of some of the premier studio cats in Los Angeles. Featured are such stars as Gary Foster, alto sax, clarinet and flute; Carl Saunders, trumpet; Andy Martin, trombone; Larry Koonse, guitar; and Joe LaBarbera, drums. Also on board are singer René Marie, who hits a free wheeling groove on three of her own compositions (the sensuous “Black Lace Freudian Slip,” a fiery cousin of Bob Dorough’s “Better Than Anything” called “I Like You,” and “Autobiography,” a change of pace with a sensitive lyric). Other highlights include Foster’s solid clarinet work on a second-line-ish thing called “B in C”; his shimmering alto feature on “You Go to My Head”; and a freshly fashioned “It Could Happen to You,” with a Phil Woods-like alto solo from Rich Chiaraluce and some trumpet virtuosity from Carl Saunders. Or for a nice kick, there’s Hanson’s “C.P. You,” a tricky up-tempo romp with an especially ripping solo from co-leader Hood. On all these and more the H2 Big Band certainly seems to be enjoying the ride. I think you will too.
Origin Records; 2015; appx. 67 min.

Messin’ With Mr. T; Dave Stryker, guitar.
By now you know Hammond B3 records don’t often get heavy praise from this corner. Too many of them just drip with overkill in the slick ‘n’ hip department. This one however, manages to play a shipload of blues without getting goofy. Stryker it should be said, is a groove guitarist who always has a strong blues orientation. His basic trio of guitar, B3 and drums is augmented on several cuts with some extra percussion. The hook here is actually a different added guest on each of the ten tunes. And what a group! Eric Alexander, Don Braden, Jimmy Heath, Javon Jackson and Houston Person, to name a few! With the exception of standards like “Pieces of Dreams,” “Impressions,” and “Sugar,” the tune selection leans toward lesser known Real Book choices and of course some fat and juicy blues. It seems like B3 records are all over the place these days. I’d better get used to it, and this would be a pretty good place to start.
Strikezone Records; 2015; appx. 70 min.

Lines Of Color; Ryan Truesdell and The Gil Evans Project.
The association of Gil Evans with the Claude Thornhill Orchestra was a door-opener for Evans’ concept as a leader of his own ensemble. His use of instruments, mostly foreign to the jazz world, brought new colors and textures to all of us. Our musical horizons were widened with the use of French horns, tuba, bass trombone and even bassoon. Truesdell has distinguished himself as a leading exponent of the music of Gil Evans. His East Coast aggregation takes on a menu of several tunes associated with the composer, among them “Davenport Blues,” “Greensleeves,” “Just One of Those Things” and “Easy Living.” If songs can breathe in a big band setting, Gil Evans was the artist who made that possible. Truesdell’s vital big band continues in that vein, but also makes its own singular statement. This is an album for serious listeners and a very worthwhile musical experience.
Blue Note/Artist Share; 2015; times not indicated

Clarity; Unhinged Sextet.
Here are six players representing five universities spanning the country. How they ever came together to record as a group might be a good story in itself. The 12 originals here were all contributed by the players themselves, so there is a variety in tempo and melodic ideas. If anything, the album has a passionate Blue Note quality to it, although some of the music is contemporized for today’s musical mindset. The players, all simply wonderful in both ensemble and solo assignments, are: Will Campbell, alto sax; Matt Olson, tenor sax; Vern Sielert, trumpet; Michael Kocour, piano; Jon Hamar, bass; and Don Moio, drums. This is a straight ahead, tied-with-a-blue-ribbon sextet playing their music with confidence and vitality.
OA2 Records; 2015; appx. 66 min.

Karla Harris Sings the Dave & Iola Brubeck Songbook.
Until now, Carmen McRae was the only singer to issue albums of the music of Dave & Iola Brubeck. And she did it no less than three times for Columbia with “Tonight Only,” “Take Five” and “The Real Ambassadors.” On the latter album, a classic, Carmen and Dave shared the bill with Louis Armstrong and Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. Well, along comes former Portlander Karla Harris to revisit the wonderful work of the Brubecks. With a quartet led by arranger and pianist Ted Howe, Harris takes on ten tunes from the Brubecks and one (“Take Five”) from Paul Desmond. Her choices include both the familiar and the obscure. Certainly anyone who has been a Brubeck fan knows “The Duke,” “In Your Own Sweet Way” and a delicacy called “Strange Meadowlark.” But there are lesser known gems here as well, like “Weep No More,” “Far More Blue,” and “My One Bad Habit” among others. A personal fave is “Summer Song,” a charmer from The Real Ambassadors. Harris brings a bit of show biz flair to her work, but it’s all to the good. Her fresh rendition of this mostly rare material will give you some new insight into the Brubeck phenomena.
Summit; 2014; appx. 56 min.

When Grappelli Meets Latin America; Hot Club of the Americas.
You know of course that it was Cole Porter who once informed us “heaven knows, anything goes.” So when a fun loving ensemble called The Hot Club of the Americas adds Latin percussion to the period pieces associated with jazz violin great Stephane Grappelli, well indeed, anything goes. This Hot Club is a sextet of violin, guitar, piano, bass, drums and percussion, and there’s an added string section on a few selections. Really, it’s quite a fun excursion to hear “La Vie en Rose,” “The Sheik of Araby,” “I’m Confessin’,”,”Exactly Like You,” “Honeysuckle Rose” and such with more than a touch of Latin. And here’s the craziest part — it works! The players are wise in never going into percussion paranoia. The Latin treatments are tasteful and tantalizing, and they all retain intact respect for these timeless melodies. I’ll bet that Django would smile with delight and whisper “anything goes.”
3 Knocks Entertainment; 2015; appx. 62 min.

For George, Cole and Duke; Harry Allen, tenor sax.
Some 20 or 25 years ago, I’d guess, Harry Allen had to come to grips with the reality that he needed to seek the path of guys with names like Webster, Hawkins, Byas and even Scott Hamilton. He would not become another Trane-head; it just wasn’t in him. And I’m happy to say that Allen has remained true to that muse over all these years. In that spirit, an album such as this is at the very heart of who he is. In this tribute to three giants of American music, Allen finds sympathetic colleagues in Chuck Redd, drums and vibes, Nicki Parrott, bass and a few vocals, and the versatile Ehud Asherie, piano. Some additional percussion is also featured on three tracks.

Part of the charm of this session lies in the choice of tunes. It would have been easy to lean on dependable, well known material throughout. And indeed the album is enhanced with the inclusion of “In a Mellow Tone,” “How Long Has This Been Going On,” “Love for Sale” and “Mood Indigo.” But Allen and company also chose welcome rarities like Duke’s “Happy Reunion” and “Purple Gazelle”; Gershwin’s “By Strauss” and “Shall We Dance”; and Porter’s “Silk Stockings” and an album highlight from the fifties film “High Society” called “I Love You, Samantha.” There are 13 tunes in all. Each clearly supports Allen’s decision from years back to play timeless classics from the American Songbook -- and play them in the heart of a tradition established by saxophone heroes of the past.
Blue Heron Records; 2014; appx. 71 min.

Live At Kitaro; Janice Friedman, piano.
From the first notes of this CD, Janice Friedman lets us know that she’s an adherent of the swinging styles of players like Monty Alexander, Junior Mance and Gene Harris. With Ed Howard, bass, and Victor Lewis, drums, the trio opens with the scrappy blues “Get Set.” That is followed by “Half And Half,” probably so named because the tempo both romps and strolls. On “Lovely Sky,” an original ballad, Friedman adds one of three well-delivered vocals. The other two, incidentally, are “God Bless the Child” and “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly.” Among other highlights are Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” and a classic from Porgy and Bess, “My Man’s Gone Now.” On these and a handful of others, Friedman is the epitome of the great tradition of the piano jazz trio. She really makes you sit up and take notice.
Consolidated Artists Productions (CAP); 2015; appx. 54 min.

Room; Nels Cline, guitar and Julian Lage, guitar.
I have always found it a challenge to sacrifice recognizable melody in favor of intricacy and interplay. To state it another way, I love it when two musicians engage in the conversation of counterpoint. But it’s of greater interest to me when I can detect a melody of some sort. So I’m rather torn by this record. Two avant-gardists engaging in intimate musical communication, each an obvious world class talent. Interesting musical exchanges indeed, if this is your muse. But if like me you’re seeking that elusive melody line all the time, an hour of this playing may be too much. Virtuoso guitarists? No doubt about it. But I need to hang my mainstream hat somewhere.
Mack Avenue; 2014; appx. 59 min.

You Are a Great One; Nick Sanders, piano.
How might we best describe Nick Sanders? Quirky, offbeat, witty and surprisingly quite accessible. A New Orleans-born musician, Sanders is quite far removed from the musical influences and history of that city. I wouldn’t be shocked if I was told that Sanders had been influenced by as widely varied piano icons as Monk, Mose and McShann. The album is foremost a series of piano journeys, but Sanders’ trio includes the subtle contributions of Henry Fraser, bass, and Colin Baker, drums. The titles are as unusual and off-center as the music: “Red Panda,” “The Cat Repeater,” “Wheelchair,” “Peculiar People,” and “Day Zombie,” to name a few. This is not music for your Aunt Bertha, but somehow Sanders manages to keep everything between the lines. It’s “out” but it works.
Sunnyside; 2014; appx. 55 min.

All My Tomorrows; Steve Cromity, vocals.
Male jazz singers may not be considered an endangered species, but they are at the very least a rarity these days. Every month in this space there are a few female singers reviewed, but the guys — well, few and far between. So here comes Steve Cromity, with solid jazz chops, excellent choice of tunes, and a well-crafted ensemble providing accompaniment. If Cromity reminds me of anyone, I might single out the great but under-appreciated Bill Henderson. There’s a hint of Henderson in Cromity’s phrasing and the slightly edgy aspect of his voice. And what great tunes! For starters, how about these: “Old Devil Moon,” “When Lights Are Low,” “All My Tomorrows,” “Where Do You Start,” “How Little We Know,” and “I Was Telling Her About You.” His rhythm section is mildly embellished here and there by the two tenor saxes of Patience Higgins and Eric Wyatt. Don’t get me wrong. I love the ladies. But in an ocean of female “wanna-be’s” and a smaller number of the gifted, it’s nice to occasionally be treated to a hip, straight, no gimmicks male jazz singer. And Steve Cromity is just that!
Self-Produced; 2015; appx. 45 min.

Live From The Cellar; Dan Brubeck, drums.
Surprise! Here’s another CD dedicated exclusively to the music of Dave and Iola Brubeck. Most listeners agree that the glory years for Brubeck were with alto giant Paul Desmond. But even after Desmond’s much too early departure (too many cigarettes), Brubeck’s contribution to jazz cannot be disputed. Some of the post-Desmond highlights involved one or another of his musical sons. One of them, drummer Dan Brubeck, leads the quartet here. He teamed up with talented Vancouver, B.C.-based Steve Kaldestad, tenor sax, Adam Thomas, bass and vocals, and Tony Foster, piano. This is a two-CD set with a combined total of 13 cuts, almost all of which are the elder Brubeck’s melodies and his wife Iola’s lyrics. Nine of the 13 feature Thomas’ vocals. He puts forth his best effort and comes up aces on “It’s a Raggy Waltz” and “Summer Song.” Among otherclassics are “In Your Own Sweet Way,” “Strange Meadowlark,” “The Duke” and of course the obligatory Desmond anthem “Take Five.” This August, 2013 live date at the Vancouver club The Cellar does honor to the music of the Brubecks. It’s good to hear these classics presented here with love and vitality.
Blue Forest Records; 2015; appx. 41 and 45 min.

The Crepuscule Variations; Ralph Lalama, tenor sax; Dave Lalama, piano.
Seattle-based alto sax player Marc Fendel calls them “New York shredders.” It’s a complimentary reference to certain Big Apple players who can read anything, play in any setting, and generally possess all the tools to excel, no matter the assignment. Ralph Lalama would easily qualify. He’s been a prominent and respected New York shredder for a long time. But he takes a clear detour here. He works with his brother, pianist Dave Lalama, on no less than 13 tunes which the brothers claim that they learned from their musical parents. There’s a lot of creative and adventuresome chemistry going on here, as Ralph and Dave trade fours, indulge in some complex counterpoint, and obviously enjoy all of the musical communication. Singer Nicole Pasternak Lalama makes it a family effort, adding wistful vocals on about half the tunes. A few of my faves included “Days of Wine And Roses,” “The Shadow of Your Smile,” “Here’s That Rainy Day,” “Just in Time” and “There Will Never Be Another You.” These timeless tunes are treated with the respect they have earned. Shred away, boys!
Lalama Music; 2014; appx. 74 min.

SHORT TAKES

Shapes And Analogies; Andrew Diruzza, guitar.
Here is a clever combination of a contemporary approach with more than a spark from the tradition. The result is jazz that is fresh and new and accessible at the same time. Diruzza’s compositions, with crazy names like “Freezer Burned Fried Ice Cream,” “Balloon Animals” and “Too Early for Eye Contact” are often quirky and witty. His quintet never takes itself to a point where one loses interest. Out? Yeah, but not too far.
Self-Produced; probably 2015; appx. 51 min.

Pinnacle; The Ted Howe Jazz Orchestra.
On this impressive and wide ranging session, Los Angeles area pianist-composer-arranger Ted Howe presents a 13-piece big band playing an original suite of music dating back to 1981. Howe and company explore a variety of textures and tempos. And along the way there’s some in-the-pocket solos for the listener to absorb.
Hot Shoe Records; 2014; 52:33

Live At Firehouse 12; Manuel Valera, piano.
Cuban-born pianist Manuel Valera is simply an astonishing artist. His virtuosic skills are on display here in a live session with trio mates Hans Glawisching, bass, and E.J. Strickland, drums. Six of the eight compositions are originals, and they clearly illustrate every aspect of his head-shaking talent. Wayne Shorter’s classic “Footprints” gets a particularly vigorous workout. But all of Valera’s work soars with elegance and wonder.
Mavo Records; 2015; 64:10

That’s What She Says; Phill Fest, guitar.
If you liked the refreshing Brazilian sound of Sergio Mendes & Brazil 66, you ought to take a flyer on this CD. The tunes, both originals and otherwise, are not all vocals (as they were with Sergio). But his influence in the vocal arranging and actual sound is clearly there. And oh, by the way, Fest the guitarist is perfectly suited to these lively and life affirming Brazilian melodies.
Fest Productions, Inc.; probably 2015; appx. 44 min.

Peace In Time; Steven Feifke, piano.
The jazz art just keeps spinning out these wonderfully imaginative and fresh artists like Steven Feifke. As a composer, arranger and pianist, one has to be impressed with his versatile, vital talent. He writes tunes that “sound like real songs,” something of a rarity these days, and at widely varying tempos. His septet includes trumpet, tenor, alto, and a rhythm section, and they even toss in a couple of standards — Monk’s “Evidence” and Vernon Duke’s “Autumn in New York.” What a nice, refreshing new discovery. Remember the name: Steven Feifke.
Self-Produced; 2015; appx. 72 min.

Show Me; Barney McClure; Hammond B3 organ.
Barney McClure, a former mayor of Port Townsend, Washington, hasn’t been heard from in quite a spell. So it’s a treat to welcome him back in a solid setting with the University of Central Washington Jazz Band. Everyone cooks up a storm on several originals and standards such as “Willow Weep For Me,” “Slow Boat To China” and the title tune. An album highlight is “Spot,” a McClure original reprised here in B3 attire. Barney’s a force on B3 to be sure. But he’s also one of the under-recognized swinging, buoyant, fiercely natural pianists as well. And I, for one, much prefer him at the Steinway or the Yamaha or the Boesendorfer.
OA2 Records; 2015; appx. 66 min.