November 2013 Reviews by George Fendel
Unreleased Art, Vol. 8; Art Pepper, alto saxophone.
Eight years ago, I got my hands on a CD called “Unreleased Art Pepper, Vol. 1.” After that, I scoured the hinterlands looking for Vol. 2 and beyond. No luck. Eventually, I gave up. Well now, what a shocker we have here in Unreleased Art, Vol. 8!! Recorded at a Northern California jazz festival in 1976, Pepper uses a Bay Area rhythm section featuring a pianist he particularly admired, Smith Dobson. Pepper and friends kick it off with a bristling “Caravan”; go to a bouncy medium tempo on “Ophelia”; and then they break your heart on “Here’s That Rainy Day.” During this period, Pepper was still experimenting with some jazz-rock things (which he later dropped entirely). Here, it’s “What Laurie Likes.” That is followed by his signature tune, “A High Wire Act Called Straight Life.” The session concludes with “Saratoga Blues,” a deep-in-the-well blues most likely created on the spot. Two more items of note: 1) Art introduces all the tunes with sincere affection for his band mates and the music itself; 2) the recording quality is solid throughout. And as always, you know in about three notes that it’s the great Art Pepper. Now, how in the heck am I going to get my mitts on Volumes 2 through 7?!
Widow’s Taste Records, 2013; appx. 67 minutes.
Bella Napoli; Gary Smulyan, baritone saxophone.
I’ll bet you’ve never indulged in a fantasy that has you in a little rowboat, floating down a stream just outside a picturesque Italian village. And to further fantasize, the music you hear is Italian-style jazz! Well, your dream comes true with perhaps the first ever “Italian jazz album.” The unlikely leader of this session is baritone saxophone giant Smulyan. My own knowledge of beautiful Italian serenades is limited. As a result, the only two titles familiar to me were “Funiculi Funicula” and “O Sole Mio.” The remainder of the material ranges from typically emotive Italian balladry all the way to festive, colorful Mediterranean fun. To complete the picture, the first mate of our little boat is singer Dominic Chianese, who handles several of these pretty melodies with appropriate Italian affection. This is to be sure a major detour for Smulyan. However, if you’re a bit adventurous in your musical taste, hop on board and enjoy a new adventure.
Capri Records, 2013; appx. 53 minutes.
Look Out For Love; Todd Londagin, trombone and vocals.
You think you had it rough? Singer-trombonist Londagin grew up in an itinerant family which experienced lengthy stays in cars, trucks and other conveyances. It was a lifestyle geared to home schooling, resulting in Londagin’s lack of formal music education. As is often said, he did it the old-fashioned way, honing his vocal chops by listening to such greats as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. On the instrumental side, his trombone heroes include the traditional stylings of Jack Teagarden and the bop chops of J.J. Johnson. Londagin’s quintet, which includes piano, guitar, bass and drums, is right on target on a number of dependable standards, including “Bye Bye Baby,” “Some of These Days,” “I Concentrate on You,” “Long Ago and Far Away,” “Pennies from Heaven” and “You Go to My Head.” A well-written but somewhat out-of-place Stevie Wonder tune, “I Can’t Help It,” is an odd choice considering the vintage of the other material. The only original, “Bust Your Windows,” dealt with the idea of breaking the car window of a spurned lover. To put it succinctly, violence is not something we normally deal with in song lyrics. Londagin’s trombone hails from the lyrical, understated camp, and his rather high-pitched vocals puts him among the disciples of Chet Baker. Londagin and his colleagues have produced an infectiously happy, upbeat session worthy of your attention.
Self-Produced, 2013; times not indicated.
Tell Your Story; Adam Rongo, alto and tenor saxophones.
New York swagger in the Midwest? You bet! Michigan-born Rongo’s new CD is a bop lover’s dream. Loaded with exceptional playing from a host of musicians, Rongo’s album grabs your attention immediately on the opener, “Turn the Corner” — the first of several joyously conceived originals by the leader and others. It’s likely that Rongo has done his hard bop homework, considering the inclusion of Jimmy Heath’s “Two Tees” and Johnny Griffin’s “Fifty-Six,” both of which are little known but revealing choices. From the standard bag, Rongo and friends turn up the heat just a bit on “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” His alto and Randy Napoleon’s guitar caress “Star Dust” and the rarely heard “You’re Mine, You.” It should be emphasized that much of the pleasure of this session is found in its skillful and fresh arrangements. Rongo has chosen to include numerous guest players who weave in and out on the various tracks. This is simply exceptional bop arranging and playing the way it used to be. From all of the CDs reviewed in this issue of Jazzscene, this is the one I’d recommend for purchase. If we were still assigning stars, Rongo’s debut would get five.
D Clef Records, 2013; appx. 61 minutes.
Professor Cunningham & His Old School; Adrian Cunningham, saxophones and clarinet,
A pox on anyone who says you can’t have loads of fun playing jazz. And at this point in my life, no one has ever accused me of being an expert in the field of New Orleans style music. But one thing was clear in listening to this recording: these New Orleans cats are hitting the bull’s-eye in the fun department. Besides, New Orleans jazz is by nature joyous. Professor Cunningham, as he is referred to here, finds ample room for his own solo work as well as including generous solo opportunities for Charles Caranicas on trumpet and Jim Fryer on trombone. As one might expect, the tune list ranges from ancient stalwarts such as “Bourbon Street Parade,” “Maple Leaf Rag,” “When My Dreamboat Comes Home” and “Harlem Nocturne”; to swing-era goodies such as “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “Jumpin’ at the Woodside,” “What Will I Tell My Heart” and “St. James Infirmary.” Completing the bill are some lesser-known but equally infectious New Orleans delights. The Professor even sings with New Orleans flavor on several tunes, sounding not just a little bit like Harry Connick, Jr. So don’t feel guilty about a serving fun with your jazz. Because this is it!
Self-Produced, 2013; appx. 49 minutes.
Lost Tapes 1956-1958; The Modern Jazz Quartet.
Jazz Haus Records continues its series of fine and rare recordings from the other side of the pond. This time it’s the Modern Jazz Quartet, brainchild of leader and pianist John Lewis, and an early champion of chamber jazz. In his quest for the ideal marriage of classical forms with jazz, Lewis found sympathetic colleagues in Milt Jackson, vibes, Percy Heath, bass, and Connie Kay, drums. These well-recorded sessions are compiled from the years 1956 through 1958, and present the MJQ in various musical settings. One of those meetings combined the foursome with the Kenton-esque Kurt Edelhagen Orchestra, featured on two of the quartet’s biggest “hits,” Jackson’s “Bluesology” and Lewis’s timeless “Django.” Among other evergreens performed with various European orchestras are “Willow Weep for Me,” “I’ll Remember April,” “You Go to My Head” and “I Can’t Get Started.” An album highlight which was included at the request of the date’s producer is Jackson’s solo version of “Tenderly.” The vibraphone master’s take on this standard is all delicacy and tenderness. The album is completed by a selection of distinguished original compositions performed in typically elegant MJQ fashion. How wonderful for jazz fans that a recording such as this escaped an undeserved oblivion. After all, it’s the Modern Jazz Quartet in all its glory.
Jazz Haus, 2013; 68:20.
State Of The Art; Dee Daniels, vocals.
You are the president of a well-respected, 30-plus-year-old jazz label called Criss Cross Records. During that span you have issued over 300 jazz recordings, and every single one has been an instrumental affair. So this release by singer Dee Daniels marks a first for the label and certainly something of an honor for her. Daniels is surrounded by a quartet that includes two young veterans in Eric Alexander, tenor sax, and Cyrus Chestnut, piano; and two newer names, Paul Beaudry, bass, and Alvester Garnett, drums. She has been singing songs like those heard on this album for many years, and all of that experience is evident in her phrasing, feeling, and overall delivery. Let’s put it this way: you know it when you hear it, and Dee Daniels, with no compromises, is a pure, real deal jazz singer. And who can argue with a menu of Songbook America gems that range from blues-drenched ballads such as “I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone,” “He Was too Good to Me,” and “Lover Man”; to spirited entries such as “Almost Like Being in Love,” “Cheokee,” “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” and “How High the Moon.” A personal favorite is the lovely ballad, “Why Did I Choose You.” This long overlooked beauty has gained favor with singers in recent years, and Daniels gives it well-deserved respect. On all these and more, the first-ever vocal effort for Criss Cross is a winner.
Criss Cross Records, 2013; 59:31.
Just For My Lady; Oliver Jones, piano; Josée Aidans, violin.
Sometime in the late 1980s, I settled into my chair at the Otter Crest Jazz Weekend to hear a Canadian pianist previously unknown to me. Oliver Jones sat down at the Steinway and proceeded to tear the joint apart! His devotion to his hero, Oscar Peterson, was obvious and riveting. Jump several years ahead to the early 2000s, when I learned that Jones had retired. I was bummed at the time, so I’m certainly glad to see this brand new recording from our “retiree.” Turns out that Jones’ long-time friend and mentor, Oscar P., took him aside and told him, “Oliver, a jazzman never retires. He can only stop playing when he passes away.” So … welcome back, Oliver Jones! On this new release, his sparkling trio is joined by violinist Aidans on eight of the 12 selections. This wonderfully talented violinist is at her best on titles such as Jones’s creamy ballad, “Lights of Burgundy”; standards such as “The Windmills of Your Mind” and “Lady Be Good”; and the leader’s dramatic three-part work, “Saskatchewan Suite.” The trio takes over on the remaining tunes, and two highlights include an O.P. staple, “You Look Good to Me” and “When Summer Comes,” one of Oscar’s most gorgeous melodies. Hey, let’s put it this way — last winter, Canada Post issued a stamp honoring Oliver Jones. Does it get any better that that?!
Justin Time, 2013; appx. 58 minutes.
Live at the Jazz Cave, Vol. 1; Joe Dividian, piano.
Aren’t we lucky that there are so many blissfully talented jazz pianists in the world! Those whose progress we’ve followed for decades and those we discover along the way, among them, for me, Joe Dividian. In the great American piano tradition, he swings consistently and adds a touch of drama. His trio includes Jamie Ousley, bass, and Austin McMahon, drums, and the threesome impresses on both familiar fare and newer compositions by Dividian, Ousley and Keith Jarrett. Among the standards. consider such evergreens as “All of Me,” “I’ll Remember April,” “Secret Love,” “Last Night hen We Were Young,” “Emily,” “Everything I Love” and “If I Were a Bell.” One might wonder if Dividian was aware of the old June Christy title, “My Heart Belongs to Only You,” since he’s included his own composition under the same name. On all these, and a couple others, Dividian and colleagues prove themselves to be a solid piano trio.
Self-produced, 2013; app. 77 min.
Idylwild, Jon Hamar, bass.
The versatile bassist Jon Hamar has established himself as one of Seattle’s first call bass players over the last few years. For this rather unusual session, he leads a quartet with two saxophones, bass and drums. One of the saxmen, Rich Perry, has been a formidable presence in New York for quite a while. This session marks something of a detour for Perry, in that it is more in the free-avant garde camp than his prior mainstream orientation. Perry’s saxophone partner is Todd DelGiudice, and they indulge in some interesting twists and turns — chasing each other around the musical block. All the selections are original compositions by the leader, whose painless concept added to the free, outside nature of the session. This is the meat and potatoes of the Origin label — highly improvisational and creative. It’s not for everyone, but if you wish to step out of the mainstream now and then, this would be a new exercise for your ears.
Origin, 2013; app. 54 min.
Live at the Freight; Jessica Jones, tenor sax, Connie Carothers, piano.
When Lennie Tristano, Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz invented new melodies based on standards, there remained a certain depth and lyricism that gave these efforts charm and character. One can’t take anything away from tenor saxist Jones and pianist Carothers for their attempt to catch a similar groove, but they take it to an extreme. Their three standards of choice are “All the Things You Are,” “In a Sentimental Mood” and “There ill Never Be Another You.” On all three, they seem too far out — not so much to demonstrate the alternate possibilities and richness of these timeless tunes; rather, it seemed to me, their aim was simply to get as far out as possible. The rest of the CD presents four originals, three of which are simply titled “Improv 1, 2 and 3.” The result is a lot of aimless wandering, and I find on a musical path without resolution. So I found myself unable to climb on board for this highly adventurous, risk-taking music.
New Artist Records, 2011 (newly released); app. 52 min.
Stepping Out, Anthony Strong, vocals, piano.
He’s already been named England’s new jazz superstar, and Strong has the energy and pizazz to live up to it. His “strengths” include an effervescent, high-energy voice and more than adequate piano chops. Strong’s arranging skills are also a big plus, and he has surrounded himself here with a big band of other superbly-skilled Brits. Strong seems to walk the line between American Songbook classics and some high-quality pop material. Among the latter are five originals. Two that resonated with me are “Change My Ways,” an up-tempo effort with lyrics expressing remorse, and “Learning to Unlove You,” with a lyric similar to Michel LeGrand’s “How Do You Keep the Music Playing.” Pretty heady stuff for a young guy who has put his work next to classic American songwriters such as Frank Loesser, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and Cy Coleman. He handles their timeless melodies with the same flair he gives his originals. He sounds like the kind of guy I’d love to hear in person. One might say, he’s a “strong contender” for superstar status over here as well.
Naxos, 2013; 48:16.
One Up Front, Jon Davis, piano.
How is it that I’ve been writing reviews for Jazzscene for more than 20 years and somehow missed out on pianist Jon Davis. I can’t blame it on his youth. He’s had lengthy stints in both San Francisco and New York, where he’s currently playing frequently at top jazz clubs. On this straight-ahead trio effort, he is joined by Joris Teepe on bass, a former associate on European tours, and drummer Shinnosuke Takahashi, another new name to me. Davis and friends nicely balance jazz classics and originals. From the first camp we are treated to Horace Silver’s “Strollin’” and Charles Mingus’s “Goodbye Pork-Pie Hat,” but the trio also samples the American Songbook with “How Deep Is the Ocean,” “You’re the Top” and “My Ideal.” Among the originals, I liked all his work, but I was particularly affected by the quirkiness and rhythms of the oddly-named “The Joker’s a Smoker.” Bassist Teepe provides one entry titled “Candid Camera,” with a nicely lilting hint of Brazilian charm. Davis seems to understand the important balance of playing classic bop with just enough breathing room to remind the listener occasionally of the early Ahmad Jamal. In any case, Davis is a pianist to be reckoned with. After all these years, I’m glad I found him.
Posi-tone, 2013; app. 57 min.
Projecto B.F.C; Phil Fest, guitar and vocals.
As you know, there’s a world of difference between Afro-Caribbean and Brazilian jazz. Coming from a famous family, Fest puts the Brazilian tradition into a beautifully focused and artfully performed session. His group features piano, bass, drums and a few guests shots harmonica wizard Hendrik Meurkens. Fest and friends deliver these original Brazilian compositions in a joyous, life-affirming performance.
Reifsteck/Fest Productions, 2013; times not indicated.
The Poet; Marquis Hill, trumpet and flugelhorn.
Chicago-based trumpet/flugelhorn artist Hill offers a new CD of 15 compositions, most of which are original works. He combines a studied hard bop sensibility with interesting and often quirky and challenging melody lines. As leader of a septet on this recording, Hill allows room for inventive ensemble passages along with his own exceptional and often powerful trumpet work. Based on this album, Hill is most certainly a name to be watched.
Skiptone Music, 2013; appx. 46 minutes.
Lost Tapes; Volker Kriegel, guitar.
Now and then, I miss one — but maybe I can be excused for a couple of reasons: first, Kriegel spent his entire career in Europe, and second, his musical road eventually settled into the world of jazz rock, an area in which I have no interest. Glad to say, these recordings from 1963 to 1969 place Kriegel in various straight ahead settings. This two-CD set is loaded with original compositions, but Kriegel also handles several standards in fine fashion. Probably a must-hear for jazz guitar freaks.
Jazz Haus, 2013; 2 CDs; 138:48.
December 2013 Reviews by Jessica Rand
Liquid Spirit, Gregory Porter.
What do you get when you cross football, musical theater, and Nat King Cole?
Answer: The booming, baritone voice of Gregory Porter. Everything this guy touches turns to gold. After an injury, he was forced to stop playing sports, but was allowed to keep his football scholarship and became a jazz singer with the extra time on his hands. He grew up listening to his minister mother’s collection of Nat King Cole records, from which he drew fatherly advice. But gospel was the thread that held his religious family together. He’s also a veteran of musical theater, and his written a musical of his own.
Why the biography for a record review? Because it’s his history with musical theater, football, gospel, and Nat King Cole that provides the strength behind his voice and music. There’s a sturdiness, a solid foundation, throughout this CD that’s rooted in a funky backbone. The vocals are deep and handsome, grounded in a strong gospel soulfulness.
Porter’s debut for Blue Note Records falls somewhere between R&B, post-bop and soul jazz. The title track might make you want to sway back and forth, get your bones moving and hands clapping. You feel like you’re in church, but the really fun kind. “Musical Genocide” has that cool-school feel, while “Brown Grass” is a bittersweet love ballad, a play on the “grass is greener.” Perhaps the best song on the record is “Movin’,” with its sunny horns and Porter’s contagious smile. At times, this album picks you up with an adrenaline-charged whirl, at others, it invites you to reminisce about lost loves.
Blue Note, 2013.
Live Today, Derrick Hodge.
What the heck is happening to Blue Note?
The direction of this iconic jazz label raises the issue of what jazz is and how its always changing.
Whether it’s the last eight years of Robert Glasper, or the recent Blue Note debuts of Jose James and Derrick Hodge, there’s one common thread linking the label’s new sound: the unmistakable beat of hip hop. That, in part, is because of Blue Note’s eccentric and innovative president, Don Was, who accidentally fell into the job in January, 2012, after a breakfast with the head of Capitol Records.
Was takes Alfred Lion’s 1939 Blue Note mission statement literally. It read, in part: “Any particular style of playing which represents an authentic way of musical feeling is genuine expression. By virtue of its significance in place, time and circumstance, it possesses its own tradition, artistic standards and audience that keeps it alive.”
Hodge’s latest recording authentically incorporates a mishmash of musical genres, including funk, hip hop, rock and electronic, creating a new sound that is becoming fairly identifiable with Blue Note. What appears to be Was’ strategy is to sign artists that are easily relatable to the next generation of jazz fans, which will ensure Blue Note’s success in the future. And it sounds great!
“Gritty Folk” is the gem of the album, with warm trumpets reminiscent of Blue Note’s earlier days and backed by a contemporary, funky rhythm section. “The Real” sets the tone for the rest of the album by combining jazz, spoken word, hip hop, samples, and looping. The title track features the rapper Common, rhyming with a strong message over a jazzy background. Appearing as a sideman is pianist Robert Glasper, and Hodge has appeared on several of Glasper’s Blue Note albums. If there’s one thing that remains from the about Blue Note past, it’s keeping the best jazz talent of the day immersed in each other’s projects, just like in the golden days.
Blue Note, 2013.
The Bespoke Man’s Narrative, Aaron Diehl.
Art Blakey was known for spotting young talent, and it turns out his protégé, Wynton Marsalis, is going to be known for the same. Blakey, constantly scouting for new Jazz Messengers, found Marsalis, and now Marsalis, arguably the most respected trumpeter of his generation, has spotted the young and immensely talented pianist Diehl.
I propose that Diehl and vibraphonist Warren Wolf, his partner on this CD, re-name themselves the “Post-Modern Jazz Quartet,” because they are a completely unique, 21st century version of the Modern Jazz Quartet. These Generation Y-ers are just as sophisticated, talented and dapper as John Lewis and Milt Jackson were, but without being a direct throwback to the past. There’s nothing old-fashioned about them.
Diehl’s debut record, “The Bespoke Man’s Narrative” (the title means “the story of a man who wears fine, tailored suits”) swings with all the sophistication of the MJQ. The record guides you through Diehl’s narrative, opening with the gentle, mid-tempo Prologue, and moving through the hills and valleys of ballads and swingers, nurturing the blues, and emphasizing the ensemble. “Stop and Go,” one of my favorite tracks, is a dialogue between Diehl and Wolf, each racing for the finish line, then slowing down while their wrists catch a breath. If Art Tatum and John Lewis had a love-child, it would be Diehl’s command of every individual piano key on this tune. The narrative closes with the warm, feel-good, bluesy “Epilogue,” leaving you to wonder what the career of young Diehl will bring to the future of jazz.
Say This To Say That, Trombone Shorty.
When you were eight years old, did you have a jazz club named in your honor?
New Orleans native Troy Andrews, aka Trombone Shorty, did — because of his mastery of the instrument at such a young age. He started playing professionally when he was five, and today he embodies the living, breathing spirit of New Orleans. His third record for Verve is no exception.
The jazz-rock-funk opening title track overflows with youthful energy. It’s a big song with bigger horns that will send you parading down the alleys of New Orleans. As the scent of gumbo draws you into the French Quarter, mid-way through the album you’ll discover “Vieux Carre,” the anthem to the heart and soul of New Orleans. We get a glimpse of Andrews’ talent as he plays horns and drums on this number. The album cools down three-quarters of the way through with “Sunrise,” an easy afternoon groove reminiscent of Kenny Burrell or Grant Green.
The vocals of Andrews, Raphael Saadiq and Cyril Neville are peppered throughout the record. Andrews is a terrific horn player, but the vocals detract from the rest of record. The best tracks are instrumentals, and there’s enough to save the album, and fortunately, it closes with “Shortyville,” a jaunty, funk number with Andrews playing all the instruments, with the exception of Saadiq’s bass.
This album offers a fresh take on the classic New Orleans groove and spirit that is sure to flourish into the future with musicians like Andrews rising to prominence.
Gouache, Jacky Terrasson.
When you think of John Lennon, the words “haunting” and “alluring” don’t usually come to mind. But it’s the best way to describe Terrasson’s exquisite cover of Lennon’s “Oh My Love” on the French pianist’s new record.
Making a guest appearance is the girl with the golden voice, Cecile McLorin Salvant (look for a feature story on the remarkable young singer in the next issue of Jazzscene). Combined with the unique phrasing of Terrasson’s piano, Salvant’s sensual, timeless voice adds a bittersweet edge to a normally positive, happy song. The duet may well draw a tear of empathy and send you home with goosebumps and a burning desire to put the song on repeat for the next three hours. The Latin-tinged “Je Te Veux” is a cover of a tune by modern classical composer Erik Satie and also features the vocals of Salvant. She’s clearly inspired by Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker, but she’s no copy-cat, and she sounds as contemporary as anyone.
Covering pop music in jazz is nothing new. Terrasson just takes a fresh, 21st-century approach to this concept, exploring pop music that’s as diverse as his French-German-American background.
He transforms Justin Bieber’s “Baby” from middle school pop to an upbeat, jaunty jazz tune with hand clapping and swinging piano, while his take on Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” is as sassy and dramatic as the title suggests. Terrasson’s original compositions are not to go unnoticed either. The mid-tempo “Happiness” is solid piano trio work with a hint of classical composition. From start to finish, this album is as diverse as the spectrum of jazz, but tied together through the sophistication and personality of Terrasson’s piano.
Eggun: The Afri-Lectric Experience, Omar Sosa.
“Kind of Blue”? The connection to Miles Davis’ seminal record is just one of the mysteries we hear on this Omar Sosa tribute album. In fact, this might be the only tribute to a record without a single song from the original. Does it work? The answer is yes.
“To create a tribute,” Sosa explained, “I transcribed all the solos from the disc [“Kind of Blue,” with Davis, Adderley, John Coltrane and Bill Evans] and took small fragments from each solo to create a melody based on the ones already played by the masters. Then I had to recreate those melodies with a harmonic accompaniment that was different from the original tracks, but at the same time respecting the Omar Sosa essence of the pieces.”
Thus Sosa explores “Kind of Blue” as an untraditional tribute with his original compositions. Although we don’t specifically hear “Freddie Freeloader” or “Blue in Green,” Eggun is a multilayered album inspired by the original work and meticulously performed by the Cuban-born pianist.
The album showcases Sosa’s Latin roots as you’ll hear on “So All Freddie,” nearly the same tempo as the original. “Alternativo Sketches” is a clear extension of “Flamenco Sketches,” but with its sound rooted African folk music rather than Spanish folk. Sosa says when he plays, he’s communicating with his ancestors and spiritual guides. Some of the mystery comes out in the soft piano, somewhat incomprehensible lyrics, and dissonant saxophones of “Calling Eggun,” a call to the dead, and maybe directly a call to the spirit of Miles Davis.
Sosa’s album hints at the tracks on “Kind of Blue,” though it’s not to be taken literally; his music is merely a suggestion. This album communicates with the ghost of Miles Davis and his method is a sound that Sosa and Davis share: introspective, strikingly thoughtful jazz music.
Ota Records, 2013.
Marcel Marceau praesentiert Swing Im Bahnhof, Clarke-Boland Sextet.
Imagine a once-in-a-lifetime party, taking place on the Rhine, showcasing some of the best art in the world, and presented by a French mime.
Far from silent was the evening in 1963 when Marcel Marceau presented the Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Sextet, a session finally reissued 50 years after the original performance. Kenny Clarke, a major innovator of bebop, is now considered one of the top jazz drummers in the world. Like so many black American jazz musicians in the mid-twentieth century, Clarke was an expatriate living in Europe, where the environment was more hospitable, there was less racism, and jazz was treated as art. Teaming up with Francy Boland, a classically trained Belgian pianist, diminutive and shy but hard-working and talented, they became one of the most famous big bands to emerge outside of the United States.
The music of this Sextet, which features Jimmy Woode on bass and vocals (another American expat in Europe), Fats Sadi on bongos, Joe Harris on vibes and percussion, and Sahib Shihab (another expat) on flute, is sophisticated, swinging and Latin-tinged. The performance conjures images of well-dressed, well-mannered, slightly crazy 1960s European artists coming together for a night of passionate creativity and beauty. For me, the image combines the image of Andy Warhol’s lifestyle and art, and David Lynch’s films, brimming with rich velvets, fleeting moments, mime-style face paint, bossa nova, and hints of unhinged, twisted darkness. Lynch would have been inspired by this performance.
The version of Dizzy Gillespie’s standard, “Con Alma,” is perhaps the best I’ve heard, maybe because at least half of the members played with Gillespie and Boland was his arranger. The tune is sometimes done in a slow, haunting fashion, but this version is fast-paced, exotic and intense. This recording succeeds in transporting you to an evening on the Rhine, but it also makes you feel like you’re at a party in Cuba.
Jimmy Woode’s vocal on “Born to Be Blue” is subdued and highly original. His voice is imperfect, but it’s full of emotion and soul. You believe him when he gently croons a melancholy love song. Best of all is the flow of the record. The songs glide into each other without pauses, impeccably crafted to creating an experience of mood, image and emotion.
Juno Records, 2013.
New Music From Your Own Backyard - Various Portland artists.
When it comes to jazz, Portland artists are creating a distinct and contemporary Northwest sound.
There’s a lot of common elements that tie these albums together. The musicians are young, eclectic in their musical tastes, and all reside in Portland (with the exception of recent transplant to London, Andrew Oliver). These artists run the gamut of influences — world sounds, funk, straight ahead, classically-inspired music, guitar rock, and electronic beats. But the common thread is their open-mindedness and willingness to take risks.
Jazz is a spectrum of constantly evolving sounds. It’s a melting pot, reflecting the era in which it was created. Right now, we’re all witness to an undeniable, increasingly globalized world. It’s fascinating that forward-thinking, highly eclectic, young jazz musicians are also doing this with their music, probably without much thought. They are pulling from everything they’ve been exposed to.
The Ocular Concern probably does this the best. It’s made up of pianist Andrew Oliver, the founding member of the Portland Jazz Composer’s Ensemble, as a co-composer, along with the skilled guitarist, Dan Duval. Drummer Stephen Pancerev, vibraphonist/percussionist Nathan Beck, and saxophonist Lee Elderton round out the ensemble.
Their new album, “Sister Cities,” is literally inspired by 21st century globalization and based on Portland’s sister cities. The title track is a magnificent suite with classical string arrangements, a cello which flows into electronic beats with jazzy vibes, and an Argentine bandoneon. It ends gloriously in hand-clapping and violins. It’s not a mish-mash of sounds, but a beautifully arranged four-part suite. “Ghost Town City Council” is an eerie piece that conjures images of old westerns. The classical string arrangements and bandoneon add a helping of creepy.
The heavy punk rock guitars at the end are like a chase scene on horseback, with rifles and cowboys everywhere. The song is an adventure, and maybe scoring films will be a future project for The Ocular Concern. That piece flows directly into “The Island Milonga,” a song that’s just as dramatic but with a latenight, summertime beachy feel. It’s directly inspired by a subgenre of Argentine tango called “Milonga,” both a style of music and dance. It will make you move.
Ryan Meagher (pronounced “Marr”) is Portland’s newest transplant by way of Brooklyn. He’s already making headway in town and just released his first record on the Portland Jazz Composer’s Ensemble label, “Tango in the City of Roses.” He has called his music “modern jazz for the indie rocker,” and if you’re a Bill Frisell fan, this is something you’d enjoy.
His song, “Hard Times,” hearkens back to images of the Old West: a song for waltzing in an old grange hall — before the arrival of Peter Epstein’s bluesy saxophone, transforming it into a sophisticated jazz song. “Empty Spirits” opens whimsically with George Colligan’s classically-inspired piano. It’s a graceful, delicate piece which shifts into a light swing. Colligan’s piano and Meagher’s guitar provide a rich compliment to each other. As a tango dancer, I can tell you that the title track is un-tangoable, but its an elegant jazz number with dark, minor notes and a late-night mood. Is tango a theme here with the PJCE?
George Colligan’s new record, “The Facts,” is the most straight-ahead of the bunch. Hard at work this year, this is the first of Colligan’s 2013 releases. Saxophonist Jaleel Shaw opens the record with youthful vigor, while Colligan’s piano supplies the backbone on “Blue State” — a tune about the perceived liberalism of the state of Oregon (both Colligan and Meagher are New York transplants). The classically-inspired ballad, “Missing,” shines during the bowed bass solo by Boris Kozlov. Colligan also arranged a jazzy version of Joe Jackson’s early 1980s new wave hit, “Steppin’ Out.” It swings more and substitutes Shaw’s bold saxophone for the original’s vocals.
Trio Subtonic’s new record, “Night Runners,” might be their best to date. It’s the funkiest album on this list, anyway, with a direct indie-rock appeal. The record begins with the title track, easing the listener in with the mellow, solo keyboards of Galen Clark. Jesse Brook slowly enters with the drums, and it’s a full-fledged funky jam by the time BIll Athens’ bass is added to the mix. “How Do You Feel” should be a radio hit. It has all the markings of a great pop song, with a catchy beat, cool rock guitars layered with keyboards, and it’s jazz! The rough-around-the-edges, Nirvana-inspired grunge guitar sounds are rooted distinctly in the Northwest. It’s an adventure, in part because of Bill Athens’ driving bass line.
Nick Drake’s haunting ballad, “Way to Blue,” shifts the record to a more traditional piano trio approach. The tune begins in a melancholy spirit, but picks up highlighting the hopefulness in the lyrics of the original. A high quality release from these local jazz-funk fusionists.