Joyful Noise - The Music Of Horace Silver; Chuck Israels Jazz Orchestra.
Horace Silver’s bluesy, soulful, finger-snapping compositions will forever be admired and played by jazz musicians drawn to his undeniable magic. For this most welcome session, Portland bassist and leader Chuck Israels has arranged some of Silver’s timeless works and has put them in the hands of his eight piece jazz orchestra. The Portland-based musicians embraced the project with obvious enthusiasm, and you can hear it from note one. It’s quite the thrill to hear these great melodies once again.
But Chuck and his guys give them a new and fresh approach.
As you know, Silver’s ensemble was almost always a quintet. So the addition of three more voices in Israel’s orchestra brings new colors and textures not heard in the original quintet setting. The arrangements are never slick or pretentious, and they allow for generous solo space from nearly all the players. There are eleven Silver gems here, with titles such as “Sister Sadie,” “Doodlin’,” “Strollin’,” “Peace,” and among others my personal favorite, “Cookin’ at the Continental.” This is honest, classic jazz played by eight superb players. And they often sound like a much larger aggregation. I only wish that Silver could have heard this performance. I think he would have loved it! And I further expect that this will be among my preferred albums of 2015.
Soul Patch Music Productions; 2014; 69:40.
2nd Avenue; Joshua Breakstone, guitar.
I’ve been a Joshua Breakstone fan for something more than 25 years. What I always hear in his superlative playing is a warmth of tone truly all his own. He is also a dedicated jazz-ophile who holds the classic jazz repertoire in highest esteem and plays it all. This CD, named for the Manhattan street which has been central to several of Breakstone’s domiciles, marks a return to the “cello quartet.” Cellist Mike Richmond joins Breakstone’s basic guitar trio on five selections. It results in another example of that satisfying J.B. warmth I just referred to.
His sense of jazz history results in the choice of some rarely played gems by past heroes. For example, there’s Lee Konitz’s take on “All The Things You Are” called “Thingin’.” Additionally there’s Cannonball Adderley’s “Home”; Dexter Gordon’s “Evergreenish”; and Sonny Clark’s “My Conception.” All are somewhat overlooked, but leave it to Breakstone to reacquaint us with them. The two standards on the set, both equally welcome, are “The Lamp Is Low” and “I Wish I Knew.” And the barrel of fun is “I’m An Old Cowhand”! On all these and others, Breakstone and colleagues remain at their bebop best. And always there’s that exquisite warm sound. No reason to change something this good!
Capri Records; 2015; appx. 72 min.
Circulation: The Music Of Gary McFarland; The Gary Mc- Farland Legacy Ensemble.
If perchance you don’t know the music of Gary McFarland, there’s certainly reason why. McFarland’s career spanned a bit over ten years. He died way too young in 1971 at the age of thirty-eight. But in that brief period he was widely recognized as a composer, arranger, player and big band leader. The album’s liner notes even draw comparison to Duke Ellington, the ultimate compliment. Speaking of Duke, two of McFarland’s tunes, “Why Are You Blue?” and “Blue Hodge,” were written for Johnny Hodges, Ellington’s star alto sax giant. “Blue Hodge” has since been recorded by dozens of players, nearing standard status. McFarland’s writing was widely varied, sometimes intricate, busy and challenging, and at other times quite direct and poignant. The trick was this: it was always accessible and highly musical. The Legacy Ensemble is comprised of Joe Locke, vibes; Sharel Cassity, saxophones; Bruce Barth, piano; Mike Lawrence, bass; and Michael Benedict, drums and leader. On ten varied and sophisticated compositions, they do honor to the music of a valued contributor to the art of jazz.
Planet Arts; 2015; appx. 65 min.
Nothing But Soul; Tiffany Austin, vocals.
Don’t let the odd album title sidetrack you. This is most certainly not a “soul” album, but rather a “soulful” one in many respects. Want proof? Well, for starters six of the nine tunes were written by Hoagy Carmichael.
Tiffany Austin is an emerging singer in Northern California jazz circles. She’s really good, and parallels might be drawn with the likes of Nancy Wilson, and even Portland diva Shirley Nanette. With backing from a solid Bay Area quartet, Austin brings fresh feeling to Hoagy’s “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” “Skylark” and “Sing Me a Swing Song.” On “Stardust,” “Baltimore Oriole” and “Georgia,” the instrumental arrangements detour too far from the original conceptions, and they didn’t consistently work as a result. The strangest choice is Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line” — not a bad tune, but not exactly a revered example of jazz. Oh well. Austin, despite the above-mentioned dips, has a lot to offer. Her intonation is spot on, her phrasing is hip, and in terms of jazz singing per se, she “gets it.”
Con Alma Music; 2015; appx. 38 min.
Live In Albany 1979; J.R. Monterose, tenor sax.
A tenor player of great vitality, range and skill, J.R. Monterose didn’t climb to the top of the ladder of fame. But he had the chops to do so. With a no-holds-barred approach that fell somewhere in the Dexter-Rollins- Coltrane arena, Monterose was still very much an individual, but one who honored the tradition and could spin your head around with a myriad of musical ideas. This live and lively set, some of which is previously unreleased, finds Monterose on his home turf in Albany, New York. “I prefer to play the joints,” he was quoted as saying, and most likely, Albany’s Lark Tavern qualified. For this gig Montrerose brought in a couple of NYC pals, Hod O’Brien on piano and Teddy Kotick on bass. The quartet is completed by the lesser known Eddie Robinson on drums.
The seven-tune set was, of course, not originally intended as a commercial release. Hence, most of the cuts exceed ten minutes in length. Monterose chooses some great standards in “The Shadow of Your Smile,” “Ruby My Dear,” “Just Friends,” “I Should Care” and “Giant Steps.” Two originals — a quirky blues called “Green Street Scene” and the ballad “Lu-An” — complete the set. As always, producer Bob Sunenblick includes a 24-page liner note booklet loaded with info, photos and history. Monterose sounds inspired and happy, and O’Brien and colleagues are in the center of the groove. Highly recommended!
Uptown Records; 2014; appx. 73 min.
At Home Everywhere; Phil Maturano, drums.
A new name to me, Phil Maturano has enlisted a couple of heavy hitters in pianist Matthew Fries and bassist Phil Palombi. This trio is heard on most of the material here, but there are others who appear on a few tunes. The program represents a strong, well chosen menu of jazz classics and some bright and listenable titles by Maturano. The classics include two Wayne Shorter tunes, “Fee Fi Fo Fum” and “Speak No Evil,” as well as the John Carisi classic “Israel” and a freshly minted arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie’s Groovin’ High.” The remaining tunes are Maturano’s original works, and they’re loaded with earcatching meter and sometimes unexpected melody lines. Pianist Fries is especially impressive and needs to be heard from more frequently. This album neatly combines a traditional piano trio sound with a contemporary feel. It all works very well.
Self-produced; 2015; appx. 58 min.
Yesterday I Had The Blues - The Music of Billie Holiday; Jose̒ James, vocals.
It’s no secret that the Blue Note label is a shadow of what it once was. But once in a while Blue Note manages to detour from the electronic mush of most of its current releases. This CD is an example. First of all, James had the good sense to rely on the accompaniment of a very straight ahead trio. And Jason Moran, piano, John Patitucci, bass, and Eric Harland, drums, are flawless in support. The singer takes on nine tunes once “owned” by Lady Day, and he does it in a very unadorned manner. One gets the notion that James has done his homework in expressing the meaning of these dramatic lyrics by his very understatement. That’s really the only way to get the job done on tunes such as “Good Morning Heartache,” “Fine And Mellow,” “Lover Man,” “God Bless The Child,” “Strange Fruit” and more. James has loads of soul but would never be called a soul singer. He brings just the right perspective to this material, never delivering anything extraneous, always keeping a steady eye on the target.
Blue Note; 2015; appx. 50 min.
Banned From New York City; Live 1948-1957; Billie Holiday, vocals.
For the latter part of a decade, New York City musicians were required to possess a “cabaret card” in order to play at live venues. Cards could be revoked for a variety of reasons, mostly involving drugs, and it all wreaked havoc on the lives of many. Among them was Billie Holiday, whose life was terror-filled from childhood.
The cabaret card ordinance forced Billie to work as often as possible at rooms a long way from the Apple. These performances, as an example, find Billie in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago and even Brussels, Belgium. Her accompanying groups featured a wide range of musicians, from Red Norvo to Red Mitchel,Neal Hefti to Jimmy Rowles to Skitch Henderson and Paul Quinichette. Included on two CDs are no less than 42 selections, some of which are instrumentals. But most put Billie in the spotlight on many of her staples and several surprises. The sound quality is very good considering that these were live performances. These sides predated Billie’s decline, and she sounds just great. And true to form, Uptown Records also encloses a 40-page booklet telling you everything you need to know. Talk about hidden treasures — well here they are aplenty.
Uptown Records; 2015; 2 CD’s: appx. 57 and 53 min.
In The Beginning; Wes Montgomery, guitar.
Previously unreleased efforts by long departed jazz heroes are almost always looked upon as unexpected treasures. Such is the case with this two-CD set recorded between 1949 and 1953, featuring guitar virtuoso Wes Montgomery and a number of his native Indiana colleagues. These were formative years for Wes, and these sides represent his wood-shedding days with locals such as Alonzo “Pookie” Johnson and Gene Morris, tenor saxes; and Jack Coker and Douglas Duke, piano. There are additional players who grabbed a chunk of fame later on, mainly through the group called “The Mastersounds.” They include Wes’s bothers: Buddy on piano and vibes, and Monk on bass. Pianists Richie Crabtree and Melvin Rhyne (who later became prominent on organ) are also heard here.
The two CDs include 26 selections, both jazz staples and standard pop fare of the day. You’ll hear titles such as “What Is There to Say,” “Four,” “Wes’s Tune,” “Caravan,” “Love for Sale,” “Robbin’s Nest,” “My Heart Stood Still” and many more. For the most part these are live performances, probably captured on a less than ideal recording device. So be prepared for something less than outstanding sound quality. Having said that, this material is eminently listenable. And of course its historical importance easily overrides the reduced fidelity. So here, playing for fun with some of his “homies,” is pre-super star Wes Montgomery. Just call it another previously unreleased treasure.
Resonance; 2014; 2 CD’s: appx. 67 and 66 min.
Under My Skin; Heather Keizur, vocals.
Chalk up yet another local new singer to these ears. Apparently, Heather Keizur has been gigging in and around her Hillsboro, Oregon home territory for some time. Her fans finally convinced her to release a new CD, and this is it. It helps a lot when one is able to record with a solid trio of Rose City vets in Steve Christopherson, piano, Dennis Caiazza, bass, and Ron Steen, drums. And you certainly can’t fault her choice of tunes. Standards like “’S Wonderful,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Embraceable You,” and “The Touch of Your Lips” are joined by exotic entries that include Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” and the emerging jazz standard, “Estate.” But for me the nicest surprise was the semi-obscure “That Sunday, That Summer.” It is an overlooked charmer that I remember from the duo of Sarah Vaughan and Jimmy Rowles. Keizur also displays a wonderful comfort with the French language on four beautifully crafted titles. All in all, this is an impressive offering from Keizur. I see bright days ahead for her.
Self-produced; 2015; appx. 49 min.
Hear, Here; The Montgomery Hermann Quinlan Sextet.
This Colorado-based sextet with a rather unwieldy name blows a lot of straight ahead, unfooled-around-with jazz. On this session they present nine tunes, most well-established jazz classics. The co-leaders, Bob Montgomery, trumpet, Al Hermann, trombone, and Josh Quinlan, alto and tenor saxes, provide an exhilarating front line. And their veteran rhythm section of Dave Hanson, piano, Ken Walker, bass, and Todd Reed, drums, is right on target. The sextet opts for a clean and tight ensemble sound with plenty of solo space for all. Other than a couple of well-conceived originals, the CD features familiar fare such as “Just Friends,” “All the Things You Are,” “O Grande Amor,” Miles Davis’s “Blues by Five,” Coltrane’s “Mr. Sims,” and an album favorite, Hank Mobley’s energetic “This I Dig of You.” There’s nothing real complicated going on here. Just great tunes played by skilled Colorado cats who obviously love what they do.
Summit Records; 2015; appx. 60 min.
Swing Zing!; Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo, guitars.
Guitar duos have dotted the jazz landscape through the years. Think of Barney Kessel and Herb Ellis or George Van Eps and Howard Alden. Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo continue in that vein and do so in a strong swing atmosphere. And as a bonus, this dessert is sweetened by guest appearances here and there from even more guitar virtuosos in Gene Bertoncini, Bucky Pizzarelli and Julian Lage, among others. The tune list reads like a rundown of swing era favorites with such winners as “Cheek To Cheek,” “September Song,” “Sleepy Time Gal,” “Tico Tico,” “Stardust,” “Whispering,” and lots more. If there’s such a thing as guitar heaven, well maybe this is it!
Self-produced; 2015; appx. 50 min.
Viewpoint; Steve Smith and Vital Information.
I must admit getting a bit worried when I read on the bio sheet for this CD that Modern Drummer had named Steve Smith “Fusion drummer of the year.” But fortunately, this is distinctly NOT a fusion record. It is however, heavy on the percussive side of things with Smith’s very contemporary style and the nearly exclusive Fender Rhodes piano of Mark Soskin. The quintet is completed by the very funky guitar of Vinny Valentino; the soulful alto of Andy Fusco; and the electric bass of Baron Browne. A menu of mostly upbeat originals also features a few jazz cornerstones. It’s kinda interesting to hear “Bemsha Swing,” “Chan’s Song,” “Take Five” and “Oleo” in this no-holdsbarred style. It’s all a bit too funky and contemporary for me. But if indeed this is fusion, it might be the best fusion I’ve yet heard.
BFM Jazz; 2015; appx. 60 min.
Sur L’instant; Deborah Latz, vocals.
Oh so many female vocalists. I probably hear a half dozen per month in search of a review in Jazzscene. Hats off to all for trying, but it’s the exception that makes the grade. And Deborah Latz gets that nod. I’ve reviewed two of her past CDs in recent years and have always been impressed. Latz is a natural. She never pushes a note beyond where it needs to be. I also very much like the way she balances obscure tunes, standard fare and jazz classics. Hence we hear everything from Abby Lincoln’s rarity “Throw It Away” to “All The Things You Are” to “Blue Monk.” Or how about Dave and Iola Brubeck’s nearly forgotten “Weep No More” and “Over the Rainbow,” to Coltrane’s jazz hit, “Mr. P.C.” Along with these goodies, there’s “Nature Boy,” Miles’s classic “Four,” and another nearly “lost” tune that I seem to remember from Coleman Hawkins, “Love Theme from Spartacus.” In every tempo and in varied styles, Latz is a thoroughly cool jazz singer. With Alain Jean-Marie on piano and Gilles Naturel, bass. Latz is the real deal and you ought to discover her.
June Moon Productions; 2015; appx. 38 min.
Riding The Moment; Denny Zeitlin, acoustic piano, hardware and virtual synthesizers, and keyboards.
For a long time I simply thought that the lyrical and inventive pianist, Denny Zeitlin, would come as close as anyone to filling the huge void left by the death of Bill Evans. And while Zeitlin did make some stunning albums, those days are over if this effort is any indication. In a duo with drummer George Marsh, Zeitlin is all over the place on every electronic noisemaker possible. Oh, there are sections of Zeitlin’s considerable chops on acoustic piano. But this seems to be primarily an exercise in creating sounds rather than making music. As a long time admirer, dating all the way back to his days of “Carnival” on Columbia, I have to say that I find this electric soundscape a major disappointment.
Sunnyside Communications; 2015; appx. 68 min.
But Beautiful; Brandon Bernstein, guitar.
What instantly caught my eye about this CD was the presence of bassist Putter Smith and drummer Kendall Kay. You see, the two of them have worked in the trio of my favorite pianist on the planet, Alan Broadbent. But a few years back, Broadbent left LA for New York. And Putter and Kendall have obviously found new musical opportunities such as this one. Guitarist Brandon Bernstein is a new name to me, but I can only imagine how thrilled he must have been to join forces with Smith and Kay. He possesses a lovely, unforced, relaxed guitar sound, and he clearly is hip to great tunes. To name a few, how about “That Old Feeling,” “Skylark,” “I Should Care,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and even Warne Marsh’s under the radar tune called “Background Music.” Plain and simply, this is a straight guitar trio playing music we all know and love, and playing it quite beautifully.
Self-produced; probably 2015; 55:04.
The Heart Of The Matter; Jeff Hackworth, tenor saxophone.
If you’re a fan of bluesy, soulful tenormen like Stanley Turrentine, Arnett Cobb or Red Holloway, you’ll want to check out Jeff Hackworth’s new album. He uses a tried and true recipe for that style of music with accompaniment from Ed Cherry, guitar, Kyle Koehler, organ, and Vince Ector, drums. And the three are deeply enveloped in the appropriate soulful groove. The tunes are for the most part Hackworth originals, tailor-made for the task at hand. But you’ll also find very hip versions of evergreens such as “That Old Black Magic” and “September Song.” The surprise of the session was a Duke Ellington rarity called “Mr. Gentle and Mr. Cool.” On all of these and others, the quartet remains rooted to its mission: a soulful, accessible, well played groove.
Big Bridge Music; 2015; appx. 61 min.
Tema (Theme); Antonio Adolfo, piano.
If you like the spontaneity and the uplifting, lively rhythms of Brazil, you should hear what’s happening on this very happy session. Rather than another run through of the alluring music of the Jobims, Gilbertos, and Lins, this is 100% original music of pianist Antonio Adolfo. But like the works of the aforementioned champions of Brazilian sounds, Adolfo’s music offers similar life-affirming joy. The instrumentation differs considerably from one piece to another. It includes both acoustic and electric guitar, flute, soprano sax, bass, drums and very rhythmic and precise additional Brazilian percussion. Amidst it all is Adolfo’s engaging, often mesmerizing piano. And by the way, not one note on Rhodes! I sometimes think that the world would be a happier place if everyone could write Brazilian style melodies. One almost wants to raise a glass and utter the Jewish toast, “L’chaim!” It means “to life,” and there’s a whole lot of life offered here.
AAM Music; 2015; appx. 52 min.
You Must Believe In Love; Brianna Thomas, vocals.
Is it the summer weather that brings out the female singers? Probably not, but here comes yet another one. And, I might add, a startlingly good one. In fact, critic and author Will Friedwald said that Thomas “may be the best young straight ahead jazz singer of her generation.” High praise indeed. But it’s well earned from the very first note of her debut album. Thomas and her well-honed trio welcome some high voltage guests on selected cuts. Guitarist Russell Malone, trumpet ace Marcus Printup and trombone king Wycliffe Gordon are all on hand. It takes chops to attract cats like that. And Brianna Thomas makes her statement right away on the scat choruses of “Bye Bye Blackbird.” Other well-chosen standards include “Don’t Be That Way,” “Stardust,” and two Duke Ellington gems, “Day Dream” and “In a Mellow Tone.” She also offers four original compositions. And for one so young, her melodies and lyrics are refreshingly real and well-constructed. The modern day Michel LeGrand classic, “You Must Believe in Spring” brings this album to a close. Thomas has all the tools: phrasing, control, delivery and what must be an innate jazz feeling. She is going to raise eyebrows and turn heads. Trust me.
Sound On Purpose Records; probably 2015; appx. 68 min.
BrotherLee Love: Celebrating the Music of Lee Morgan; Terell Stafford, trumpet.
Mention the ten greatest trumpet players of all time, and you’d have to begin with names like Louis, Clifford and Miles. But somewhere on that list would be the name Lee Morgan. One of the most important players and composers of the glory years of Blue Note records, Morgan was one of those artists who helped shape the art of hard bop. He is honored here by one of the trumpet greats of the present era, Terell Stafford. It’s hard to put into words just how wonderful it is to hear Morgan’s joyous compositions in the hands of a letter-perfect quintet. Stafford’s miraculous trumpet is joined by Tim Warfield, tenor sax; Bruce Barth, piano; Peter Washington, bass; and Dana Hall, drums. All are veteran New York clean-up hitters, and their energy is over the top.
The nine Morgan tunes here represent an overview of “hits” and lesser-known entries. In the “hit” category there’s “Hocus Pocus,” “Mr. Kenyatta,” “Petty Larceny,” and the standard from years ago “Candy.” My personal two faves are the infectious melody line of “Yes I Can, No You Can’t” and the classic “Speedball,” a tune used as a background for a Dodge commercial back in the day. This is the true art of jazz played with passion and power. It’s as thoroughly good a jazz record as any you’ll hear all year.
Capri Records; 2015; appx. 75 min.
The Dream I Dreamed; Michael Dees, vocals.
Several weeks ago I got caught a TV movie, more for the solid score that featured a really good singer with solid tunes. That’s rare these days, so I watched the credits roll by and discovered the singer to be Michael Dees. To continue the story, about three days later, his CD arrived for review. For this session, Dees shows what a fine and lyrical composer and lyricist he is. These 14 songs have very distinct melody lines (and good ones) and bridges that are perfectly constructed. To put it another way, these are real songs, created in the manner of the great songsmiths of decades ago. Dees makes it all work with vitality and feeling, and his L.A. rhythm section and guests are perfectly supportive. In this age of screechy singers and “nonsongs,” Dees is a breath of fresh air.
Jazzed Media, 2015; 60:33.
The Jazz Giants; Wild Bill Davison, cornet.
This infectious music rides the divide between traditional jazz (a.k.a. Dixieland) and swing in both construction and style. The use of a clarinet rather than a saxophone harkens back to days gone by, and clarinetist Herb Hall knows all the licks. Also, the use of the trombone in these settings was common, and trombonist Benny Morton knows all the tricks. Claude Hopkins, Arvell Shaw and Buzzy Drootin, all well-known names in this genre, form a veteran rhythm section. And Wild Bill? Well, he’s got built-in DNA in this sort of setting. The session was actually recorded in 1986, so this is a reissue (with bonus tracks) of some very rare material. To whet your appetite, how about titles like these: “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue,” “I Found a New Baby,” “Them There Eyes,” “Three Little Words,” “Black and Blue,” and lots more. This is real, true and authentic musicmaking where joy and fun reign supreme. Add the high wire musicianship of all these players, and you have something rare and quite delicious!
Sackville; 2015; appx. 55 min.
Wherever You Go, There You Are; Michael Kocour, solo piano.
You probably haven’t agonized over this, but solo piano recordings nowadays are nearly as rare as the Mariners in the playoffs. So not only was I surprised to see such an item, I took a look at the tune list and said, “Wow.” Michael Kocour is not a rookie in the jazz biz. He’s originally from Chicago, where he spent years working with no less a bop icon than James Moody. For the last ten years he’s been director of jazz studies at Arizona State University. And that’s only part of his resume. He lists players such as Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan and Barry Harris as influences. But except for a healthy respect for subtlety, clarity and precision, he is very much his own man. Now about those tunes! “Con Alma,” “Just in Time,” “How About You,” “How Deep Is the Ocean,” “An Affair to Remember,” and “Evidence,” to name a few. If there’s one little blister here it’s Kocour’s use of Fender Rhodes piano on three of the ten selections. Other than that, he spins beautiful, original ideas on an impressive solo session.
OA2 Records; 2015; appx. 48 min.
Jeff Denson Trio + Lee Konitz.
The spirit and influence of Lennie Tristano is all over this welcome new recording. Bassist Jeff Denson obviously has followed the path of Tristano, the great teacher and innovator. Inevitably that path would lead to alto giant Lee Konitz, another Tristano disciple. The quartet is completed by Dan Zemelman, piano, and Jon Arkin, drums. They open with “Baby,” a Tristano composition which interestingly he never recorded. Konitz discovered it, and sharp listeners may find it based on “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You.” Next is “Duet,” which as the name indicates is played by Denson and Konitz. To these ears it is loosely constructed on the changes to “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” The three standards on the disc — “Blue Skies,” “Body And Soul” and “Skylark” — are all pleasant vocals from Denson. The remainder of the album has a distinct Tristano flavor with tunes like “317 East 32nd Street,” based on “Out Of Nowhere,” and Lennie’s lesser known similar title, “East Thirty Second.” Another Tristano follower, tenorman Warne Marsh, composed “Background Music,” and Konitz’s “Subconscious Lee” has enjoyed tenure in the Tristano tradition. On all these and others, the spirit of one of the unique contributors to the jazz art, Lennie Tristano, lingers nearby.
Ridgeway Records; 2015; appx. 58 min.
Reflections Of Brownie; Rayford Griffin, drums.
We learn from the CD notes that Rayford Griffin is the nephew of the peerless trumpet giant Clifford Brown. So here is Griffin with the great Roy Hargrove in the company of a bunch of smooth jazzers. So what we get is Rhodes piano, tired backbeat and electronic backing on “Daahoud,” “Jordu,” “Sandu,” and “Joy Spring.” To be kind, it simply doesn’t work.
RazorEdge Productions; 2015; appx. 39 min.
Experiment; Lauren White, vocals.
Singer Lauren White honors the magnificent Irene Kral on an entire album of songs that Kral pretty much owned. And therein lies the dilemma with vocal tribute albums. White gives it a good go, but it’s tough not to opt for the miraculous Kral, given the choice. Still, kudos to a singer as young as White for even being aware of Irene Kral.
Cherry Pie Records; probably 2015; appx. 57 min.
The Deep Below; Brian Landrus, low woodwinds.
The Deep Below indeed. That’s the specialty of Brian Landrus. More specifically, he plays baritone sax, bass sax, bass clarinet and bass flute. So in answer to the question “how low can you go,” check out Mr. Landrus. With a trio of bass and drums, the group takes on a menu of mostly originals and a few standards in “Sohisticated Lady,” “Giant Steps” and “I’m a Fool to Want You.” Remember pianist Eddie Costa? He loved the lower reaches of the piano. Ditto Landrus on these deep, dark woodwinds. Interesting, sometimes quite compelling stuff.
BlueLand Records; 2015; times not indicated.
Rigamaroll; Jerry Bergonzi, tenor saxophone.
A powerhouse quintet led by Berklee College of Music faculty member Jerry Bergonzi. A Berklee grad whom I know well described Bergonzi as a complete and thoroughly modern tenor player. He’s assisted on the front line by trumpet ace Phil Grenadier, and the much admired pianist Bruce Barth leads a torrid rhythm section. The eight originals provide for generous stretching out from all soloists and a variety of tempos and musical stories for all to tell. There’s some muscular playing here, but it’s surprisingly accessible at the same time.
Savant; 2015; appx. 62 min.
Trio; Grant Stewart, tenor saxophone.
Along with Eric Alexander, I would have to name Grant Stewart as one of my two favorite younger generation New York tenormen. This is his first trio album, and although I miss the presence of a piano, Stewart is so good that he carries the day with easy and formidable chops. And he finds wonderfully neglected items like Freddie Redd’s “A Time to Smile,” Walter Bishop’s “Uranus,” and even the Peggie Lee hit “Is That All There Is!” The other six tunes are well-chosen standards, and Stewart and company skate through them like Gretzky on ice.
Cellar Live; 2015; appx. 55 min.