CD Reviews - July 2014 

by George Fendel

(Last Update 07/23/2014)

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


Intersecting Lines; Jerry Bergonzi, tenor saxophone.
The title pretty much covers what is happening here with Bergonzi’s tenor and the alto sax of another veteran player, Dick Oatts. Both have flown somewhat under the radar for years. Bergonzi has served on the faculty of Berklee College of Music, and while Oatts has appeared on hundreds of recordings, most have been in a supportive role. Here the two of them meet to engage in some heavy-duty counterpoint. It’s not a boxing match; neither is out to burn the other. It is, however, highly creative, dense and intense music. I am reminded of the intricacies of tenor man Warne Marsh and the alto icon Lee Konitz. They too did some interesting and creative work along these lines. One tune is actually “Marshland,” no doubt a tribute to the late Warne Marsh. With subtle support from Dave Santoro on bass and Andrea Michelutti on drums, Bergonzi and Oatts take a more contemporary, edgy direction than their predecessors. This isn’t “dinner jazz” and won’t work for everyone. However, there’s a lot of adventurous creativity happening here, if you have the ears for it.
Savant; 2014; times not available.

Code Blue; Doc Stewart, alto saxophone.
Chris “Doc” Stewart’s “other job” finds him in the Mayo Clinic as an ER physician. But don’t worry. This is distinctly not one of those, “I think I’ll make a record” vanity things. Instead, Stewart is an accomplished alto player in the lineage of Cannonball Adderley and other soulful cats such as Sonny Criss or Ike Quebec. For this impressive session, he got some respected Los Angeles players into the studio for a stirring big band session with a soulful emphasis. Stewart’s “Code Blue Suite,” a four-part endeavor, gets things started. It is followed by additional works by the likes of Bobby Timmons, Charles Lloyd, Hal Galper and Cannonball himself, among others. A couple of standards, ”Poor Butterfly” and “The Way You Look Tonight,” also work very well. Finally, there’s an album highlight in Oscar Pettiford’s “Bohemia After Dark.” Arrangements are from another big band dude, Tom Kubis, and from the pianist on the date, Matt Catingub. Try your best to avoid Stewart’s ER services. His alto saxophone is where you want to be.
Cannonball Jazz; 2014; appx. 78 minutes.

Live in Amsterdam, 1960; Oscar Peterson, piano.
May I ask — was there ever a piano trio that swung harder? Was there ever one to rival the eerie communication of the leader with Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen? And was there ever a piano trio held in higher esteem than the Oscar Peterson trio? No, no and no. So here they are in all their swingin’ attire, from a session never released in any format. The introductory voice of Norman Granz leaves no doubt that this was a set from a Jazz At The Philharmonic presentation. And the trio was on fire for an audience ready for the flames.

The tunes are mostly reliable jazz compositions that Oscar often performed during this stage of his career. As a result we are treated to “Jordu,” “Cubano Chant,” “Con Alma,” “Woody ‘n’ You” and “The Maids of Cadiz.” All these are exceptional examples of the O P Trio at work. But the three highlights for me are Gershwin’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” from “Porgy and Bess”; Oscar’s relentless “Blues For Big Scotia”; and a scintillating take on Clifford Brown’s timeless opus, “Daahoud.” Peterson came along at just the right time. He took his cue from Art Tatum and Nat Cole and never looked back. He was a head-shaking, “did he really do that?” piano marvel.
Solar; 2012; 51:33.

Lazy Aspirations; Mitzi Zilka, vocals, Mike Doolin, guitars.
“Ready! Set! Stop!” That directive came from the notes written for this album. And the highly regarded Portland-based jazz singer Mitzi Zilka emphasizes that point with a selection of appropriate and delightful songs. Most of them have “lazy” in the title. Others certainly recommend a non-strenuous posture. And as you might suspect, Zilka is at her relaxed, intimate best as she clearly delivers the message: drop your cares, enjoy the moment, and even bask in it. But it should be made clear that the acoustic guitar work of Mike Doolin helps create this summery, come-what-may atmosphere. He and Zilka are two peas in a pod, creating a carefree musical pallet of relaxing songs, both familiar and rather obscure. A few that I’m sure you know include “Up a Lazy River,” “Easy Street,” “Lazy Bones,” “Feelin’ Good,” and a personal favorite of mine, “Lazy Afternoon.” Several less familiar goodies put the frosting on this cake. So, stretch out on a hammock, lemonade in hand, and enjoy this summertime treat.
Self-Produced; 2014; appx. 54 minutes.

Continuation; Peter Lerner, guitar.
Chicago has boasted an active, healthy jazz community since the earliest days of the art form. And guitarist Peter Lerner is establishing a strong presence in it. He wisely enlisted Chicago piano legend Willie Pickens for this session, and his basic quartet also includes Marlene Rosenberg, bass, and Charles “Rick” Heath IV, drums. On several selections, the quartet is enhanced by additional instrumentation. Here are a few highlights: “Southside Strut” has that Horace Silver “Strollin’” gait but with a bit more attitude; Grant Green’s rarely heard piece, “Jean De Fleur,” is a rapid transit delight; and for contrast, try another rarity, Kenny Dorham’s serene ballad “La Mesha.” “My Blues” puts Pickens deep in the shed, and Jay McShann would love his real deal blues piano. The session is completed with an 11-minute piano/guitar duet on “When Sunny Gets Blue.” Lerner never travels down the excess boulevard, keeping it straight in the center of the tradition. A good dose of Chicago pride here for the listening.
Origin; 2014; appx. 79 minutes.

Floating; Fred Hersch, piano.
Among a few dozen outstanding pianists of his generation, Fred Hersh belongs in the handful at the top. He is constantly creative, finding fresh harmonies and alternative rhythms as easily as you and I put on a baseball cap. One gets the idea that music engulfs him and he is its willing partner. After his last two or three recordings, all done in live performance, Hersh’s trio returns to the studio for this luscious set. Joined by John Hebert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums, Hersh brings us seven stunning original compositions and three welcome standards.

Few measure up to his delicate and beautiful ballad playing. In that arena he’s at the top of his game on the originals, “Floating,” “Far Away,” and “A Search To The Sea.” From the standards book, the trio dresses up “You and the Night and The Music” in fresh new rhythmic attire. From the Broadway stage, Hersh and friends play “If Ever I Would Leave You,” and it’s tender and sweet. Typical Hersh. The program ends with “Let’s Cool One,” a Thelonious Monk tune not often heard these days. The trio gives it a playful, scampering run-through, loaded with nuance and ideas. Hersh has never made a bad album. Not even close. And as always, this one has a little bit of everything …and something for everyone.
Palmetto; 2014; 58:34.

Mosaic; Terrence Brewer, guitar.
I always appreciate encountering a straight ahead, no frills jazz album. And that’s precisely what we have in this quartet led by guitarist Terrence Brewer. Active in the San Francisco Bay area and highly acclaimed there, Brewer’s colleagues are Jarrett Cherner, piano, Gabe Davis, bass, and Lorca Hart, drums. Six of the seven tunes are dyed-in-the-wool jazz standards, including “I Remember You,” “All the Things You Are,” “Children of the Night,” “Oleo,” “Our Delight” and “Long Ago and Far Away.” Brewer opts for a warm and true guitar tone not unlike guitar master Josh Breakstone. His accompanists are solid and swinging, with Cherner in particular providing some brilliant and quirky solo work. The name Terrence Brewer is a new one to me. But here’s hoping our paths cross again and again.
Strong Brew Music; 2014; appx. 45 minutes.

Turn Out The Stars; Martin Wind, bass.
Want to get my attention in a hurry? Just say two words: “Bill Evans.” And the subtitle of this CD is “music written or inspired by Bill Evans.” That’s all I had to see, and it went into the player right away! Turns out it’s the respected bassist Martin Wind in charge. His quartet includes Scott Robinson, saxophones, Bill Cunliffe, piano, and Joe LaBarbera, drums. All of them simply caress these exquisite Evans highlights. But it’s the presence of an Italian string orchestra that really puts this album over the top. Don’t be thrown off or misled by the presence of strings. They are beautifully arranged and never get in the way of the four major players. And certainly any Evans fan worth his “Waltz For Debbie” will recognize titles such as “Turn Out the Stars,” “My Foolish Heart,” “The Days of Wine and Roses,” “Twelve Tone Tune,” “Blue In Green” and Phil Woods’ heartfelt, “I Remember Bill,” among others. The concert was recorded live for a large and appreciative audience in Pesaro, Italy. The music is serene and beautiful. And Bill Evans would have loved it.
What If Music; 2014; appx. 74 minutes.

Time Remembered, The Music Of Bill Evans; Pat Hall, trombone.
Considering the fact that Bill Evans passed away nearly 35 years ago, this second of two tribute recordings, released in the same month, are proof of his timeless legacy. While this album doesn’t have the emotional pull of the disc reviewed above, it features Evans tunes, coincidentally I’m sure, that are not included in the Martin Wind release. Surely you remember titles such as “Gloria’s Step,” “Elsa,” “Time Remembered” and “Peri’s Scope,” to name a few of the high points. Hall’s trombone possesses the Bob Brookmeyer-like touch of wit and charm, and his improvisational choruses never veer too far off the center of the highway. Hall’s quartet includes Greg Lewis, organ, Marvin Sewell, guitar, and Mike Campenni, drums. Lewis does no harm on organ. But for an album honoring Bill Evans, I would have preferred a pianist over the Hammond. Having said that, I should add that any Evans tribute feeds my “good side,” and while this is something of a detour, it works for me.
Unseen Rain Records; 2014; appx. 56 minutes.

Road Shows, Vol. 3; Sonny Rollins, tenor saxophone.
This is the third in a series of live Sonny Rollins performances. The six tunes here were performed between 2001 and 2012 in Japan, France and even St. Louis, Missouri. Right off the bat one must give some credit to Okeh Records for issuing an album containing three tunes ranging in length from 12 to 23 minutes. Not exactly radio friendly, but I guess it doesn’t matter when your name is Sonny Rollins. Four of the tunes are Rollins originals, but the two lengthiest adventures are Noel Coward’s “Someday I’ll Find You” (15 minutes) and Jerome Kern’s “Why Was I Born” (23 minutes). Rollins displays some wit on “Solo Sonny,” quoting a dozen or more tunes ranging from “String of Pearls” to “Someone to Watch Over Me”; “Tennessee Waltz” to “It Never Entered My Mind”; and from “Moonlight Becomes You” to “The Most Beautiful Girl In the World”. Quite amazing, to be sure, and the audience went bonkers! The concert(s) conclude with the more manageable four minutes of Rollins’ calypso caper, “Don’t Stop the Carnival.” While Rollins carries things to the edge, he never falls into the pool. At 80-something years of age, he remains one of the living legends, a unique master of the tenor saxophone.
Okeh; 2014; appx. 72 minutes.

Timeless; Wendy Moten Sings Richard Whiting.
First things first: I scoured the brief liner notes trying to determine a relationship between Wendy Moten and the early leader of what would become the Count Basie Orchestra, Bennie Moten. Apparently there is none, because I struck out. Now — on to Richard Whiting. Do you know of him? Well, he wrote “My Ideal,” “Miss Brown to You,” “When Did You Leave Heaven,” “He’s Funny That Way,” “Too Marvelous for Words,” “Guilty,” “True Blue Lou” and many other American Songbook standards. On all these and a few lesser known gems, Wendy Moten puts it all together with spot-on intonation, consistent jazz feeling, and never too much sugar. A former backup singer, Moten now gets her chance to shine with a spirited, clean-as-a-whistle quartet of piano, bass, drums and guitar. How nice to revisit the songs of Richard Whiting, especially in the company of Wendy Moten.
Woodward Avenue Records; 2014; appx. 37 minutes.

Lotus Blossom; Jeff Colella, piano, Putter Smith, bass.
With Alan Broadbent’s move from L.A. to New York, his bassist Putter Smith has made some new connections in the Southland. This beautiful, recital-like album is a duo with L.A. pianist Colella. The two have created an elegant musical conversation featuring one original composition from each of them and one from guitarist Larry Koonse. The remaining tunes are beauties that include “The Very Thought of You” and “You Must Believe in Spring”; and a few revered jazz standards such as “Time Remembered” by Bill Evans, “All Blues” by Miles Davis, and the finale, the fine-china-delicacy of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom.” There’s no grandstanding here. If you have room in your life for “pretty,” this is your record.
The American Jazz Institute; 2014; appx. 49 minutes.

Hooray For Love; Curtis Stigers, vocals, tenor saxophone.
If you’ve followed the paths of male jazz singing over the past 20 years, it seems like it’s laden with so-so singers. Kurt Elling is okay, but he’s no Mark Murphy. Kevin Mahogany gives it the old college try, but Joe Williams he ain’t. And Dr. John is just plain annoying. Welcome to the so-so world, Curtis Stigers. His rather grainy voice has its appeal, I guess. He’s made lots of albums. On this one he balances evergreens such as “Love Is Here to Stay,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “That’s All” and “If I Were a Bell,” with a few less familiar but quite well-written tunes. A duet with singer Cyrille Aimee on “You Make Me Feel So Young” is musically solid, but somehow a little too cutesy for these ears. At least Stigers comes across as though he is familiar with his material. Still, he sounds like a Triple-A singer trying to make his way into the big leagues.
Concord Jazz; 2014; appx. 38 minutes.

Absinthe, The Music Of Billy Strayhorn; Joe Locascio, piano, Woody Witt, saxophones.
I’ve never heard Houston, Texas referred to as a hotbed of jazz. But these two Houstonians have produced an exhilarating recital of the music of Strayhorn. Often lost in the shadow of his employer, one Duke Ellington, Strayhorn was nonetheless a composer of lilting, lyrical, life-affirming melodies. Indeed, his tunes have enjoyed a renaissance over the last couple of decades. On this thoughtful recording, Locascio and Witt, with no other instrumentation, perform nine of Strayhorn’s gems. The most familiar of them might be “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing,” “Raincheck,” “Chelsea Bridge,” “Lotus Blossom,” “Isfahan” and “Day Dream.” But don’t overlook the three other tunes, less well known: “My Little Brown Book” is a charmer that I recall from a vocal version by the great Johnny Hartman; “Charpoy” (is that an anagram?) is a rare delight with a melody line that plays tricks on you; and the title tune is one of Strayhorn’s blue and moody pieces. Locascio and Witt nearly let these masterpieces “play themselves.” And there’s lots of love in every note.
Blue Bamboo Music; 2013; appx. 60 minutes.

For the Love of Lori; Charles Davis, saxophone.
Lori Samet-Davis lost her battle with cancer in 2012, and this album is a tribute from her 81-year-old-husband, saxophone great Charles Davis. He enlisted the help of some of New York’s finest, including Joe Magnarelli, trumpet, Steve Davis, trombone, Rick Germanson, piano, David Williams, bass, and Neil Smith, drums. Three of the tunes certainly reflect the pain of loss; the titles just say it all — “What’ll I Do,” “I’ll Be Seeing You” and “For The Love Of Lori.” The latter is one of three Davis composed for the session. In addition to a couple of other originals from various sources, the other “famous” tune is “Cedar’s Blues,” a standard in the post-bop book, named of course for the late pianist Cedar Walton. Each of the players on the session is a freaky good New York musician with the highest of credentials. It’s all straight ahead, beautiful and respectful. I only wish there were more records like this these days.
Reade Street Records; 2014; times not indicated.

Trilogy; guitar-piano-bass trio.
If you really pressed me about it, I’d probably cast my vote for the Most Swinging Piano Award as a three way tie between Art Tatum, Nat Cole and Oscar Peterson. They all led successful trios of piano, bass and guitar. And this frolicking, infectious threesome seems to have roots in that musical garden. They even open their program with “Ray Time,” a tribute to Ray Brown, Oscar’s world-renowned bassist; and pianist Miles Black has composed a very “Ray-like” opener. The standards on the album include an infectious “Sweet Georgia Brown”; a version of “If I Love Again,” taken at a slower tempo than the one you remember from Clifford Brown; some sprightly communication on “Pennies From Heaven”; and the closer, a swift “I Got Rhythm.” Among several originals by various group members, I especially liked the fresh, happy flavor of “Broadway and Alma,” and the confident, forward-moving tempo of “Adanac” (try spelling it backwards). And before I forget, these three swinging players are Bill Coon, guitar, Jodi Proznick, bass, and Miles Black, piano. They are continuing an honored piano tradition, and kudos to them for doing it so well. I hope to hear more.
Cellar Live; 2014; appx. 53 minutes.

Ooh, What An Outfit! — New York City 1949; Chubby Jackson Big Band.
Okay, here we go again! Anothe stroll through jazz history. This time it features the bop-drenched sounds of the Chubby Jackson Big Band. It’s all emceed by Symphony Sid, because this was broadcast material. The band was loaded with jazz and bop purveyors with names like Al Porcino, Frank Socolow, Teddy Charles and Red Mitchell. The tunes are mostly little bop lines and riffs for the guys to take flight on. The two-CD set also includes extensive material by Gene Roland’s Boppers, Paula Castle with the Joe Roland Quintet, and Jackson’s Fifth Dimensional Jazz Group. Collectively, these other ensembles feature stars such as Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Conte Condoli, Lou Levy and Terry Gibbs. They were all highenergy youngsters in 1949, and their enthusiasm is infectious. Anyone who believes that jazz can’t be rollicking fun needs to listen to these grooves. Oh, this time the liner note booklet, loaded with juicy history and photos, is 44 pages long!
Uptown; 2014; 2 CDs: 67:08 & 59:46.

Without a Song; Paul Marinaro, vocals.
In an ocean of female jazz singers, some good, some wanna- be’s, the male vocalist has become an endangered species. Thankfully, one comes along, albeit rarely, to remind us of an era when they dotted the map. Such a singer is Chicago’s Paul Marinaro. Somewhere between a gifted pop singer and a vocalist with strong jazz feeling, Marinaro has obviously done his homework. His intonation is spot on perfect, his breath control rivals Sinatra’s, his phrasing is hip but never forced, and while he will tweak a melody to make it his own, he does it with taste and built-in “singer’s radar.” And his choice of tunes tells us he’s listened to many of the greats: “Fools Rush In,” “Devil May Care,” “All My Tomorrows,” “Everything Must Change,” “I Have Dreamed,” “When I Look in Your Eyes” and lots more. Accompanied by a variety of small group players, Marinaro tells the story within each and every song. If I were really locked in a corner, I might compare him to a slightly jazzier Jack Jones or Frankie Randall. Refreshing, sophisticated and real. There must still be an audience for all of that.
Myrtle Records; 2013; appx. 66 minutes.

Self Portrait; Manuel Valera, piano.
Anyone who knows me from my 28 years on jazz radio is aware that I’m a piano guy. Deep in devotion, you might say. One of my great musical delights is the discovery of a new pianist who reaches me on an emotional level, and Manuel Valera, a 33-year-old native of Cuba, sure did on his first solo album. The first thing one notices is Valera’s feathery, sterling silver touch. It’s a giveaway that this young man is classically trained, and that he practiced up a storm in his youth. That classical training is clearly evident in the sheer beauty of his original compositions. But what is really neat is he’s equally comfortable with Bud Powell (“Hallucinations”), Thelonious Monk (“Ask Me Now”), and Bill Evans (“Very Early”). Three impromptus feature his original impressions of classical works by Satie, Gershwin and Nicolas Slominsky. Valera is the whole package with never a wasted note. My goodness, how I love a piano!
Mavo Records; 2014; 60:43.

Aquarela Do Brasil; Nate Najar, acoustic guitar.
With several new releases over the last few years, it would appear that the career of guitarist Nate Najar is making some positive headway. For this very original session, he features the acoustic guitar a la Charlie Byrd. As the CD’s title suggests, it’s an all-Brazil session with both familiar and newer tunes. Much Brazilian music is of course all about the joys of life, and Nadar and his talented friends find just that groove with ease. The “friends” in his basic trio are Tommy Cecil, bass, and Portland fave Chuck Redd, drums. Chuck switches to vibes on two tunes, handing the drumsticks over to Duduka Da Fonseca. A very welcome guest on two selections is the tenor giant Harry Allen. There are bright and happy things going on here one mo- ment, and wistful delicate things the next. All in all, just pretty, satisfying music to brighten your day or enhance your evening.
Candid; 2014; appx. 65 minutes.

Last Dance; Keith Jarrett, piano, Charlie Haden, bass.
One of the pleasures of jazz occurs about every other year when Keith Jarrett issues a new all standards CD. This album, recorded in 2007 but held back from release until now, finds Jarrett in the company of gifted bassist Charlie Haden. Jarrett has a knack for nearly definitive versions of these all-American delights. He finds no need to go too far outside the melody because these are such beautifully constructed songs. And Haden’s support is elegant and finely crafted. And how can one argue with a tune list which includes “My Old Flame,” “My Ship,” “Round Midnight,” “Dance of the Infidels,” “It Might as Well Be Spring,” “Everything Happens to Me,” an unexpected highlight in “Where Can I Go Without You,” and two “farewell” songs, “Every Time We Say Goodbye” and, finally and fittingly, “Goodbye.” Jarrett’s work on standards, over many years, is pure poetry. And here’s a bonus: his sometimes annoying background vocal groaning is virtually absent on this session. This is a real find for melody lovers.
ECM; 2014; 76 minutes.

SHORT TAKES

Get Me; Joe Beck, guitar.
If Joe Beck hadn’t gotten so involved in pop and funk pursuits, he could have attained big time stardom in the jazz world. He was a master guitarist, as he clearly demonstrates in this posthumously issued live date from 2006. Joe could do it all, and his trio aims for the stars on “Stella By Starlight,” “Manha De Carnival,” “Alone Together,” “Corcovado” and many more.
Whaling City Sound; 2014; appx. 75 minutes.

Low Life; Holly Hoffman, flute.
You flute fans better get to Holly Hoffman if you haven’t already done so. She’s about as hip and warm and real as they get. And she works here with a world-class little band of Mike Wofford, piano, John Clayton, bass, Jeff Hamilton, drums, and Anthony Wilson, guitar. The tunes are mostly a mix of originals by various band members and one timeless standard, “The Very Thought of You.” A very polished session from all the participants!
Capri; 2014; appx. 50 minutes.

The Messenger; Gerald Beckett, flute, piccolo.
And while we’re on the subject of flutes, here’s another force to deal with. Beckett’s CD is a hard-swinging feast of original works from various sources, all mixed in with surprises written by Lee Morgan, Duke Pearson and Bud Powell. Beckett invites a host of fine reedmen and rhythm guys to the session, resulting in a well-balanced, invigorating performance. Everyone gets generous solo space, making this much more than just flute and backup guys.

So, we have here two flute records, by Hofmann and Beckett, both of which impressed a guy who normally doesn’t do cart wheels when it comes to the flute.
Summit; 2014; appx. 52 minutes.

Playing With The Trio; Francy Boland, piano.
French pianist Boland co-led a sizzling European big band in the 1960s with American drummer Kenny Clarke. They achieved a lot of success, but Boland got rather “lost” as a stimulating trio pianist. On this CD, you get to hear him in that role with Clarke on drums and Jimmy Woode on bass. This studio session dates from 1967 and concentrates on happy, high-energy detours on tunes such as “I’m All Smiles” and “Like Someone in Love.”
Schema Records; 2013; appx. 37 minutes.