IF LOVE WERE ALL
Life goes by too quickly. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 25 years since Wayne Powers recorded his last CD, “Plain Old Me” with his Los Angeles “Hoi Polloi” band in 1993. But simple math can be unforgiving. In the intervening quarter century, Powers’ life has been full with both the poignant and the joyous — as all lives are. Over the last few years, Wayne has been busy working on getting his “chops” back up with the idea of returning to the studio and giving voice to the last 25 years of life and love as he’s lived it and felt it. “I’ve got so much inside me still left unsung,” says Powers, “and so, with The Great American Songbook as my script, I’ve chosen some truly classic, compelling tunes which speak deeply to me and, hopefully, to you. Some you’ll know and a few you may not be familiar with — yet.”
The result is Powers’ personal yet universal saga of love lost and love found. We’ve all been there. Each tune on this album explores with authenticity a different aspect of an eternal story you’re sure to recognize. There’s a choice array of torch songs, or what Wayne and other crooners call ‘Saloon Songs’ — heartfelt ballads that will bring to mind a jukebox, wet quarters and soggy dollar bills in some dimly lit barroom. And then there are those uplifting tunes of love’s pure, unbridled joy. It’s all captured on this album. Wayne says, “I’m excited and honored to work with some top-flight jazz musicians on this live-in-studio recording: Ziad Rabie, Sax. Keith Davis, Piano. Ron Brendle, Acoustic Bass. Al Sergel, Drums.” This is a magical combination of talent that makes each of the 14 tunes sparkle and resonate in their own unique way. Powers invites you to “…share in the musical and lyrical truth, love and joy which we all brought to this special project, appropriately titled, “IF LOVE WERE ALL. ”The album is available for digital download on most major online music platforms, as a CD — and as a limited edition 180-gram audiophile vinyl double LP. Available From: Amazon • CDBaby • iTunes Artist Website: http://waynepowers.com
THE RICHARD SHULMAN GROUP
TURNED INTO LEMONADE
(RICHHEART MUSIC 1826)
About Turned into Lemonade
This is the fourth album of original music from The Richard Shulman Group and I’m honored to be working with such skilled and intuitive musicians. Turned into Lemonade is melodic, harmonically inventive jazz influenced by Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays, Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Paul Winter, Oregon, Bill Evans, and Jay Beckenstein. This collection of compositions/performances is a blend of melody, fire, water, groove, mutual exploration and beauty which I hope will uplift you the listener as much as creating it has uplifted me.” —Richard Shulman
“Richard Shulman is a gifted pianist/composer with a distinctive goal: creating music that’s joyful to the ear and uplifting to the spirit. Bothsophisticated and accessible, his work has the harmonic sense of Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans and is designed to inspire and soothe, even when it swings.” —All Music Guide Biography by Dr. Judith Schlesinger.
Hugh Wyatt of the New York Daily News calls Shulman “most enticing.. a new find… in the Keith Jarrett tradition who cleverly and interestingly weaves a number of different cultures into his music.”
“The playing throughout is consistently superb. The music is worth repeated listening and offers different dividends each time. Richard Shulman is a major composer and performer who deserves and will attain wider recognition.” — Frank Salamone, in reviewing Shulman’s recording “A Simple Gift.” Artist Website: https://richheartmusic.com
The Grand Concourse
Dayramir Gonzalez is a very talented pianist from Havana, Cuba. The son of a trumpeter, he began on piano when he was eight. Gonzalez showed great promise from the start, studied at Cuba’s National High School for the Arts, and worked in several groups including Diakara and Klimax. He made his recording debut in 2007 in Cuba with Habana EnTRANCE. After that he moved to the U.S. where he studied at Berklee (graduating in 2013), spent time living in Southern California, and is now based out of New York. The Grand Concourse is an ambitious project that is quite successful. Rather than record a solo piano or trio album, Gonzalez utilizes quite a few musicians with an expanded rhythm section, several horns (including altoist Yosvany Terri), a few strings, and a vocal coro as he introduces 11 of his originals. The music is episodic and sometimes tightly arranged, particularly the one non original “Camello Tropical” which is a little reminiscent of 1970s Chick Corea. Occasionally the performances develop into an adventurous production number. However there is also plenty of space for Gonzalez (on piano and keyboards) and some of his sidemen to solo. Among the highlights of this wide-ranging set are the joyful “Smiling,” an assertive jazz waltz (“Moving Forward”), a traditional and charming “Sencillez,” the orchestral ballad “Blood Brothers,” and the romantic love song “Lovely Time With My Dear.” While paying tribute to the Cuban tradition, Gonzalez also moves the music forward and displays a strong and winning musical personality. The Grand Concourse, which includes a colorful and informative booklet, is an important step forward for the pianist-composer. It is available from www.dayramirgonzalez.com.
An eclectic singer who is known for her versatility and her quirky sense of humor, Nellie McKay’s singing sometimes comes close to crossing over into jazz, particularly on her 2009 tribute to Doris Day called Normal As Blueberry Pie. On Sister Orchard, Ms. McKay mostly plays it straight, performing ten veteran standards by herself. She accompanies her singing on piano and electric keyboard and one assumes that the harmonica on one song and the occasional background singing is also by her. The set begins with an odd version of “My Romance” that has her keyboard sounding like it is being played by a merry-go-round while she sings fairly straight. But, other than an unexpected hot boogie-woogie departure during the middle of “Willow Weep For Me,” the other performances are straight forward and mostly taken as ballads. Nellie McKay’s singing is quite touching on “The Nearness Of You” and “Georgia On My Mind” and most of her renditions are wistful and charming, displaying her beautiful
voice and laidback style. And, as if to make amends for the opening performance, she concludes the set with a second and more conventional version of “My Romance.” The success of Sister Orchid (available from www.amazon.com) makes one hope that Nellie McKay will dig even deeper into jazz in the future.
If Love Were All
Actor, comedian, radio personality and jazz vocalist Wayne Power has had a busy and colorful life in many areas. 25 years ago in 1993 he recorded Plain Old Me with his Hoi Polloi band. A quarter-century later, it is not an understatement to say that an encore was long overdue. While Plain Old Me could partly be considered Retro Swing, for the recent If Love Were All, Powers simply picked out some of his favorite songs from the Great American Songbook, gathered together four excellent players, and sang. Fortunately Wayne Powers’ voice has become stronger through the years. He now has a sound that is both mature and youthful while also being inviting and good-natured. Joined by pianist Keith Davis, bassist Ron Brendle, drummer Al Sergel, and occasionally tenor-saxophonist Ziad Rabie, he performs a set of familiar standards with his own flair. Much of the time, he lets the high quality songs speak for themselves as he sings close to the melody and sticks to the lyrics. The improvising is in his swinging phrasing and the playing of his sidemen. Among the highlights are a medium-tempo and cheerful “Never Let Me Go,” the top-notch ballad singing on “Body And Soul,” a swinging “East Of The Sun,” and a version of “When Your Lover Has Gone” that has Powers stretching out, performing the verse twice, and giving plenty of life, swing and subtlety to the early 1930s standard. “All Of Me” is a real change of pace for, after taking a slow opening chorus, Powers scats and ad-libs words (almost like a G rated version of Jack Sheldon) quite colorfully. He should do this more often. Rabie has some nice tenor solos on “You’ve Changed,” “Lush Life” and “Willow Weep For Me” and Davis’ piano is a strong asset throughout, whether accompanying Powers or taking short spots of his own. Fans of first-class swinging singers will enjoy Wayne Powers’ If Love Were All which is available from www.waynepowers.com.
For the past five years, singer Cyrille Aimee has been touring and performing regularly with a group comprised of acoustic guitarist Adrien Moignard and electric guitarist Michael Valeanu along with a couple different bassist and drummers; most recently bassist Dylan Shamat and drummer Dani Danor. The French jazz singer, long
based in Brooklyn, has a beautiful voice, a real feel for Gypsy jazz (having attended the Django Reinhardt Festival in France since she was a young child), and a versatile style and repertoire. She recently moved to New Orleans and decided to break up her longtime band. Live captures their final concert from Aug. 16, 2017, following their two excellent studio albums It’s A Good Day and Let’s Get Lost. A celebratory rather than a mournful affair, Live captures a fine performance by the quintet. After the opening “It’s A Good Day” and the singer’s original “Nutt Blanche,” Aimee performs a vocal version of “Sidney Bechet’s “Si Tu Vois Mia Mere” (made famous in the Woody Allen movie Midnight In Paris) and a swinging rendition of a rare blues by Stephen Sondheim, “Live Alone And Like It,” which gives the group and the scatting singer a chance to stretch out. The group goes on a bit of a departure with a Michael Jackson medley and “Off The Wall” but returns to swinging on “Day By Day,” an assertive “It’s Over Now” (a vocalized “Well You Needn’t”), and a rapid rendition of “Three Little Words.” The concert concludes with the infectious and upbeat “Each Day.” Live, which is available from www.mackavenue.com, is a fine closer for this chapter in Cyrille Aimee’s musical life. It will be quite interesting to see what she comes up with next.
Ted Nash Quintet
Live At Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola
These days, Ted Nash is most often heard as a key soloist and arranger for the Jazz At Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola gives the altoist a chance to stretch out with an all-star quintet, performing a few of his favorite songs. Nash, who is heard on alto and one song apiece on clarinet, flute and piccolo, is joined by vibraphonist Warren Wolf, pianist Gary Versace, bassist Rufus Reid, and drummer Matt Wilson for this high-quality set. Nash performs likable versions of his fairly free blues “Organized Crime,” Chick Corea’s “Windows” (which features him on flute), Herbie Nichols’ “Spinning Song,” a lengthy and spirited exploration of Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy,” “Emily” (taken as a clarinet-piano duet), his driving and hyper “Sisters,” and a boogaloo version of Henry Manciní’s “Baby Elephant Walk” which, although one might expect a tuba in the lead, Nash plays on piccolo. The leader shows plenty of technique, taste and individuality on each of his horns. The music, which also features plenty of fine solos from Wolf and Versace, is melodic, lyrical and occasionally stirring. The enjoyable set is available from www.tednash.com.
Thank You Elvin
One of the greatest drummers of all time, Elvin Jones became a permanent force and influence in the jazz world during his period (1961-65) as a member of the John
Coltrane Quartet. After leaving Coltrane, he became an important bandleader himself, stretching the music while staying tied to its foundation. On Sept. 9, 1972, his quartet’s engagement at the Lighthouse was recorded and soon released as the double-Lp Live At The Lighthouse. In the audience was a 17-year old aspiring drummer named Paul Kreibich. Kreibich was already a professional by then. After studying at Berklee, he settled permanently in Southern California. Along the way he toured extensively with Carmen McRae, Ray Charles, and the Gene Harris Quartet, and has played and recorded with a countless number of top jazz artists in the L.A. area ever since. His straight-ahead jazz playing has kept him in great demand for decades. More than 45 years after seeing Elvin Jones at the Lighthouse, Kreibich and his specially assembled group paid tribute to the music that he heard that night, not by repeating the repertoire or the solos but by playing creatively within the post-bop style of Elvin Jones. While the Jones group consisted of David Liebman (tenor, soprano and flute), tenor-saxophonist Steve Grossman, and bassist Gene Perla in addition to the leader, Kreibich’s unit has three saxophonists (Doug Webb, Glenn Cashman and Jeff Ellwood on tenors with Ellwood doubling on soprano) and bassist Chris Colangelo plus his drums. They performed at the same venue (the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach) which, although no longer featuring jazz every night, still presents jazz groups two or three days or nights a week. Thank You Elvin has the quintet performing five Kreibich originals, the standard “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Try,” John Coltrane’s “Naima,” Doug Webb’s “Triple Play,” and one song (Gene Perla’s “Sambra”) that was also part of the Jones recording. The three saxophonists are as fiery and passionate as Liebman and Grossman had been in 1972, generally making fairly concise statements that are full of heat. While inspired by John Coltrane, they play in their own voices. Colangelo also takes some fine solos along the way and Kreibich, while not shy to display Jones’ influence and drive, never copies the master. The repertoire consists of the minor-toned swinger “Fastrak,” the modal jazz waltz “Sabai Sabai,” some funky rhythms on “Space Mistress,” Webb’s ballad feature on “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry,” the samba-flavored “Sambra,” “Blues Trek” (a medium-tempo blues), the rhythm changes of “Triple Play,” a respectful but intense “Naima” and the joyful calypso “Cookie’s Calypso.” Plenty of fireworks take place. Elvin Jones would have enjoyed this strong set which is available from www.paulkreibich.com.
A major jazz pianist since the early 1990s and one who thus far has led at least 29 CDs and appeared on over 100, George Colligan has his own style within the modern mainstream of jazz. He has worked with such notables as Cassandra Wilson, Buster Williams, Gary Bartz, Jack DeJohnette, Benny Golson, Miguel Zenon, Tom Harrell, Steve Coleman, Vanessa Rubin, Ravi Coltrane, Michael Brecker, Nicholas Payton, Sheila
Jordan, Janis Siegel, Lee Konitz and many other giants. Nation Divided is a set of solo piano musings in which Colligan seems to think aloud (and in his words “dream”) at the piano. Some of the 13 improvisations have political titles (including “Nation Divided”) while others depict scenes or philosophical ideas. The wide-ranging set includes the free and violent “Street Fight,” the downbeat “Blues For Charleston,” a tension-filled “Nights Of Passion,” a purposeful “The Strength To Move On,” “Cognac Logic,” “Sentimental Foolishness” and “Saddest Of All Keys.” Although Nation Divided succeeds as background music since many of the pieces display a peaceful serenity, a closer listen reveals passion, intensity and tension that are just beneath the surface. The music rewards repeated listenings and is well worth exploring. Nation Divided is available from www.whirlwindrecordings.com.
Little Freddie King
Fried Rice & Chicken
Little Freddie King (no relation to his fellow blues performer Freddie King who passed away in 1976) is one of the last of the authentic blues guitarists and singers. Born in 1940 as Frederick Martin and raised in Mississippi, he fell in love with New Orleans at an early age and has been based there throughout much of his life. King spent many years as a sideman playing in small clubs and juke joints with a variety of performers including Slim Harpo, Champion Jack Dupree and Harmonica Williams, making his recording debut with the latter in 1969. However he did not get a chance to record as a leader until 1995’s Swamp Boogie. At the age of 55 King, who had been working a day job as an auto mechanic, suddenly had his career rejuvenated. The release of Swamp Boogie made King well known and resulted in him touring Europe and recording 2000’s Sing Sang Sung. He has been performing with higher visibility ever since. Fried Rice & Chicken has selections drawn from those two King releases. The first six numbers, a mixture of hot instrumentals and low-down blues, feature King with a quartet that includes Rick Allen on electric piano and organ. While his version of “What’d I Say” will not make one forget Ray Charles’ classic recording, King plays the song his own way. Other highlights include “Cleo’s Back,” “Mean Little Woman” and “I Use To Be Down.” The remaining five selections, drawn from Sing Sang Sung, were recorded live in 1999 with a group that includes Bobby Lewis DiTullio on harmonica. Whether playing a straightforward blues, a low-down vocal piece, or some country blues (which has an irregular number of bars per chorus), Little Freddie King shows a great deal of individuality, soul and passion throughout these enjoyable performances. While one might prefer the complete original releases, Fried Rice & Chicken (available form www.orleansrecords.com) serves as an excellent introduction to the music of Little Freddie King who at the age of 78 is still active today.
Don Ellis (1934-78) was a very original trumpeter, bandleader and thinker. While he began his career as an adventurous trumpeter who worked with the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra, the George Russell Sextet (where for a time he sat next to Eric Dolphy), and as leader of a few inventive combo albums. Ellis also appeared in settings ranging from the New York Philharmonic to his Hindustani Jazz Sextet but he will always be best remembered for his remarkable big bands. Starting in 1965 when he formed at 20-piece outfit that included three bassists, two drummers and several percussionists along with the usual brass and reed sections, Ells became an innovator in utilizing unusual time signatures which could range from 9/4 to 31/4. The hit of the 1966 Monterey Jazz Festival, the Don Ellis Orchestra evolved during the remainder of the decade, sometimes utilizing electronic devices on their horns (such as echoplexes, ring modulators and phasers), changed its instrumentation at various times, and always included the leader’s crazy wit along with plenty of humorous false endings. All of the music from the 1968-69 albums Shock Treatment and Autumn are reissued on this two-CD set from BGO (www.bgo-records.com). For Shock Treatment, the orchestra was comprised of five trumpets, three trombones, five reeds, keyboards, three bassists (one of whom doubled on sitar), drums and three percussionists. Whether it is the exuberant “A New Kind Of Country,” “The Tihai” (displaying Ellis’ interest in Indian music), the chorale effects on “Star Children,” “Beat Me Daddy Seven To The Bar,” or the eerie “Milo’s Theme,” this is a colorful and memorable set. However Autumn was the Don Ellis Big Band’s finest recording. Ellis is showcased on the lengthy “Variations For Trumpet,” “Scratt and Fluggs” is a humorous satire, and altoist Frank Strozier takes a memorable solo on “K.C. Blues.” The two most famous songs to come out of the Ellis band, the episodic and exciting “Indian Lady” (which has a very wild tenor battle by John Klemmer and Sam Falzone) and the classic “Pussy Wiggle Stomp” (the definitive 7/4 song) are the highpoints. Autumn belongs in every serious jazz library and Shock Treatment is close, making this twofer a must. After listening to the Don Ellis Orchestra, nearly every other big band sounds quite straight and sober in comparison!
Dial It In
(Treated and Released)
Reverend Freakchild has a deep and dark voice and is a fluent blues-based guitarist. In his career he has performed in a variety of settings including with Soul Coughing, Bananafish, the Neptune Ensemble, the Soul Miners, the Lucky Devils and the Cosmic All-Stars in addition to being a key soloist with the Metro Mass Gospel Choir. Dial It In has the Rev joined by drummer-percussionist Chris Parker, Hugh Pool on harmonica, steel guitar and rhythm guitar, Robin Sylvester or Tim Kiah on bass, and a few guest musicians. The music could be classified as blues although it stretches the
idiom quite a bit, delving into rock, pop, folk and unclassifiable blends of styles. The leader’s vocals cover a wide range of emotions (and include some witty moments) and he improvises well on guitar. Among `this CD’s 11 songs are the atmospheric opener “Opus Earth,” “Hippie Bluesman Blues,” the catchy “Dial It In,” a folkish “Skyflower,” the exuberant “15 Going On 50” (with pianist Brian Mitchell) and the closing instrumental “Opus Space.” Listeners who are open to blues and its many relatives will find Dial It In (available from wwww.treatedandreleasedrecords.com) to be quite enjoyable. Scott Yanow
Vinny Raniolo is a very talented swing-oriented guitarist in the tradition of Bucky Pizzarelli, Carl Kress and Dick McDonough. In addition to playing guitar, he also loves to fly. It is therefore fitting that for his debut CD as a leader, Air Guitar, Raniolo has managed to combine his two passions by picking out 15 standards that have something to do with flying. Performing duets with bassist Elias Bailey, Raniolo revives such numbers as “Come Fly with Me,” “Blue Skies,” “Airmail Special,” “Fly Me To The Moon” and “East Of The Sun” along with “Volare” and the obscure George Smith number “Test Pilot.” Raniolo plays a lot of beautiful chords, shows that he is also a fine single-note soloist, and leaves space for occasional spots by Bailey (who is particularly skilled when creating bowed solos). The melodic and concise music (no selection clocks in over 4:30) is easy to enjoy and is full of subtle creativity, even while Vinny Raniolo pays respect to the melodies. There are enough tempo and mood variations to keep one’s interest throughout, making Air Guitar an easily recommended set, available from www.vinnyraniolo.com.
Both Directions At Once – The Lost Album
The discovery of a previously unknown John Coltrane recording is always an important event, but most have been live performances released as bootlegs, some of which have inferior sound quality. Both Directions At Once is a real rarity for all of the music was recorded during one day (Mar. 6, 1963) at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio. Only one selection (“Vilia” which came out on a various artists sampler) had ever been released before.
John Coltrane and producer Bob Thiele recorded much more music during 1961-67 than the Impulse label could release. Some of the performances were lost in the shuffle and the tapes eventually destroyed. The music on this “lost” album was given to Coltrane as a tape and it eventually found its way into the closet of his first wife, Naima. Recently it was discovered and fortunately the 55 year old tape was still in excellent condition.
Recorded the day before Coltrane and Johnny Hartman made their classic album and made during a period when Trane’s studio recordings (including Ballads and his quartet outing with Duke Ellington) were purposely more accessible and conservative than his live performances, Both Directions At Once just did not fit into the marketing plan that Impulse had at the time and it was quickly forgotten.
During that day the Coltrane Quartet (with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones) performed two untiled originals, “Nature Boy,” “One Up, One Down” (the released versions of the latter two selections are from two years later, 1965), “Vilia,” a lengthy “Slow Blues” and “Impressions.” “One Up, One Down” is much different (and relatively restrained) than the later version, and the “Slow Blues” is fascinating with Trane’s second solo really finding him preaching the blues. “Impressions” was never otherwise recorded by Coltrane in the studio. It was unnamed at the time and soon a lengthy and fiery club version would be released. Along the way there are some worthy solos by Tyner and Garrison (who is featured a bit more than usual) with stimulating support from Jones.
The deluxe two-disc version of Both Directions At Once also includes three more tries at “Impressions” (each are at different tempos and clock in around four minutes apiece as opposed to the much longer club renditions), two more versions of the second “Untitled Original” (a song that deserves a name and to be played by others), and alternate takes of “Vilia” and “One Up, One Down.”
The discovery and release of Both Directions At Once is analogous to a discovery of a “new” Miles Davis session from 1958, an unreleased Charlie Parker studio date, or a few unknown Louis Armstrong Hot Five numbers. While it does not include any major revelations, the music is of such high quality that this unexpected John Coltrane album (available from www.vervelabel.com) is just what one would hope for.
Live At The Purple Pit
It is a unique concept. The musicians of Nutty often start out playing a jazz standard before Sonny Moon enters the performance, singing an unrelated rock tune that (due to the inventive arrangement) somehow fits. All kinds of unusual musical combinations take place during a set, performed by a group that dresses as if they are playing a Las Vegas show of the Rat Pack era.
On their latest CD, one gets to hear John Coltrane meeting Steppenwolf in 3/4 time (“Giant Steps” and “Magic Carpet Ride” become “Magic Trane Ride”), ZZ Top co-existing with Ramsey Lewis, Basie interacting with Cheap Trick, and Cannonball Adderley teaming up with Heart. In addition to the humorous mixture of two unlikely songs, the arrangements also have quotes from other pieces that add to the levity.
All of this would come across as a gimmick was it not for the high musicianship of the musicians. Sonny Moon is a fine singer who knows the material quite well and is not shy to add hip (if purposely dated) Las Vegas humor to the show. The instrumentalists (bassist Guy Wonder, pianist Dan Spector, drummer Abe Lagrimas Jr, percussionist Pete Korpela, Edmund Velasco on alto and tenor, Mike Reznick doubling on baritone and flute, and trumpeter Brian Beukelman) are all flexible jazzers who can emulate the giants of the past while adding their own personalities and humor to the music. The three horns and pianist Spector take turns creating concise solo statements that perfectly fit each individual piece before Sonny Moon ends the performance with a second spirited vocal.
It all works quite well. Nutty frequently perform in the Los Angeles area (including at Vitello’s and Vibrato), and are fun to see live. For an excellent sampling of their “Nutty music,” be sure to pick up Live At The Purple Pit (which is available from www.nuttyjazz.com); it will leave you smiling.
Hendrik Meurkens & Bill Cunliffe
Cabin In The Sky
Hendrik Meurkens, who was born in Germany and has long been based in New York, is one of the masters of the chromatic harmonica in addition to being a top-notch vibraphonist. While all jazz harmonica players start out in the shadow of Toots Thielemans, Meurkens has come the closest of anyone to filling the gap left by Thielemans’ passing. Meurkens has his own sound and approach to the instrument and can play bop, Brazilian music and ballads with the best. His only real competition these days is Gregoire Maret.
Bill Cunliffe has long been an important part of the Los Angeles music scene as both a pianist and an arranger-composer. Like Meurkens, he has been featured on quite a few recordings. However Cabin In The Sky, a set of harmonica-piano duets, is unique in both of their discographies.
The duo performs melodic and swinging versions of such songs as the 1940s title cut, Wayne Shorter’s “Miyako,” Joe Zawinul’s obscure “Young And Fine,” “Invitation,” “Speak Low,” “Wave,” and an effective “Ode To Billie Joe.” In addition, they introduce four originals that could pass for standards. Cunliffe functions as the full rhythm section (one never misses the bass or drums) and Meurkens is a full horn section by himself. The two musicians think along similar lines in building up their solos and act as equals during most of the ensembles.
This is a delightful and easily recommended set that features both of the musicians at their best. It is available from www.amazon.com.
Joshua Redman/Ron Miles/Scott Colley/Brian Blake
Back in 1976, four of Ornette Coleman’s top former sidemen (cornetist Don Cherry, tenor-saxophonist Dewey Redman, bassist Charlie Haden. and drummer Ed Blackwell) formed a new group called Old And New Dreams. At a time when Coleman was leading the electric free funk group Prime Time, his alumni was extending his 1960s acoustic style, performing a few of his songs plus originals of their own. During their existence they recorded three albums for the ECM label (two titled Old And New Dreams and 1980’s Playing) plus a Black Saint album of their final concert, 1987’s A Tribute To Blackwell.
Still Dreaming features a similar group three decades later. Tenor-saxophonist Joshua Redman, who years ago shared a joint recording with his father Dewey, can be said to have put together a group paying tribute to another band paying tribute to Ornette Coleman. Cornetist Ron Miles, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade are perfect for the roles formerly filled by Cherry, Haden and Blackwell, hinting at their predecessors but improvising in their own voices.
Still Dreaming consists of four Joshua Redman originals and two by Colley plus Charlie Haden’s “Playing” and Ornette’s obscure “Comme Il Faut.” The group is particularly successful at building on the musical legacy of Old And New Dreams during the first two numbers, “New Year” and “Unamity.” They not only sound close to the original group but their brand of free bop (which is all-too-rarely performed these days) is inventive and colorful. The other selections work well too although a few more uptempo pieces would have been welcome.
Throughout Still Dreaming, the musicians balance reverence with their own musical personalities in winning fashion. This inspired set (hopefully there will be more) is available from wwww.nonesuch.com.
For Erroll Garner, the Nov. 7, 1964 concert at Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw was probably just another night at work. He had been an international success for over 15 years at that point. He was not only one of the world’s most popular jazz pianists but a brilliant player with his own sound who was always capable of greatness. On numerous occasions, Garner recorded a full album (or as many as three) in a single session, playing one perfect take after another while rarely looking at the keyboard. His live performances were generally sold out and this one was no exception. The music was recorded that night and eight of the 16 songs (which were originally edited a bit) came out as an album in Europe that has been long forgotten. Now, thanks to Octave Music and the Mack Avenue label, all of the unedited performances are available for the first time in the U.S.
That night found Erroll Garner at the peak of his powers. He starts each song with an unaccompanied introduction that is so humorously esoteric that, when he finally launches into the song, both the audience and his long-time sidemen (bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Kelly Martin) are surprised to find out the tune’s identity. While his treatments of ballads are generally dreamy, it is his medium and up-tempo romps that really stand out with their joy and exuberant swing.
Among the many highpoints of this set are “Where Or When,” “Easy To Love,” “Cheek To Cheek,” “What Is This Thing Called Love” and “’S Wonderful.” The latter title could very describe Erroll Garner’s performance throughout Night Concert. Available from www.mackavenue.com, this long elusive set contains a large dose of essential Erroll Garner.
Virginia Ayers Dawson
Standards Of Love
Virginia Ayers Dawson has certainly had a varied career, touring and recording with the likes of Ahmad Jamal, Joe Cocker, Marvin Hamlisch, Sly and the Family Stone, and even George Burns! A soulful and expressive singer with an attractive high voice and the ability to express deep emotions with a sigh or a shout, Ms. Dawson seems to be on the brink of greater recognition as a solo artist.
Standards Of Love features the singer with such top L.A. musicians as pianist-keyboardist Robert Turner, guitarist Craig T. Cooper, bassist Kevin O’Neal, and either Lyndon Rochelle or the late Ndugu Chancler on drums. Virginia Ayers Dawson and her players give their own spin to such songs “I Wish You Love,” “L-O-V-E,” “If I Were A Bell,” “What A Difference A Day Makes,” and a surprisingly funky (and almost disguised) “Almost Like Being In Love.” While the program is primarily filled with standards, she also performs her own original “Let The Love Begin.”
The mood, tempo and groove variations give the set a fair amount of variety while the vocalizing is on a consistently high level. One can tell that Virginia Ayers Dawson really believes in the words she sings as she balances extroverted moments with more subtle passages. The result is an impressive set of soulful singing that is available from www.virginiaayersdawson.com.
Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band
West Side Story Reimagined
West Side Story, featuring the music of Leonard Bernstein and the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, has one of the great scores. For the hit play in 1957 and a classic movie from 1961, such songs as “Jet Song,” “America,” “Maria,” “Cool” and “Somewhere” became famous. And even with its Romeo and Juliet plot, the story was enlightened, showing both the joy and the dangers of growing up as Puerto Ricans in New York City.
Drummer Bobby Sanabria imagined what the music would have sounded like if it had been played by a large Afro-Cuban jazz orchestra rather than studio musicians. To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the play’s debut and the upcoming centennial of Leonard Bernstein’s birth, Sanabria and his 21-piece orchestra performed and recorded all of the music from the play before a live audience. This two-CD set not only has the eight main songs along with the “Prologue” and “Epilogue,” but also the incidental music and other brief themes that appear in the show.
Although there are some verbal outbursts, chants, a little bit of narration, and a brief Sanbaria vocal, this is very much an instrumental set. The soloists (of which there are many) are consistently inventive while keeping the themes in mind, the ensembles are stirring, and the percussionists (three in addition to the leader) are exciting.
Because there is so much to discover during the 80-minutes of West Side Story Reimagined, this well-conceived and memorable program rewards repeated listenings. It is heartily recommended and available from www.jazzheads.com.
The Angel City Big Band
Livin’ The Canary Life
The Angel City Big Band, which is based in Los Angeles, is a 17-piece orchestra that was founded by baritone-saxophonist Tim Miller in 2009. The band performs a variety of music ranging from classic swing and dance music to more contemporary orchestra arrangements. Singer Bonnie Bowden has long been a special feature with the band and on Livin’ The Canary Life she is featured during eight of the 12 selections.
Ms. Bowden has a wide range, an impeccable instrument, is a swinging improviser and, does justice to the lyrics that she interprets. Among the songs that she performs on this CD are “Til You Come Back To Me,” “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die,” “You Are So Beautiful,” and Patrick Williams’ “Livin’ The Canary Life” which pays tribute to many of the earlier jazz vocal giants.
The Angel City Jazz Band features such fine soloists as tenor-saxophonist RW Enoch, trumpeter Mike Muench and trombonist Dave Hickok and the instrumental numbers include “Swing, Swing, Swing,” “All The Things You Are” and “Giant Steps.” With such arrangers represented as Patrick Williams, John Williams, John Clayton, Sammy Nestico and Mark Taylor, it is not surprising that the music always swings, is tasteful, and is quite danceable. This is clearly a fun band to see live and this recording is excellent.
Livin’ The Canary Life is available from www.angelcitybigband.com.
Between Yesterday And Tomorrow – The Songs Of Alan & Marilyn Bergman
To do justice to the lyrics of Alan & Marilyn Bergman, a singer must have flawless pitch, a very attractive tone, the ability to enunciate perfectly so one always understands the lyrics, and a solid sense of swing. Marieann Meringolo, who interprets 20 of the Bergman’s works (including many performed as two or three-song medleys) during her live set from the Iridium, has all of those qualities.
A regular on New York’s cabaret scene who becomes better known each year, Marieann Meringolo is sometimes a little reminiscent of a young Barbra Streisand in her style, range, and ability to hold notes for a long period without wavering. She has a powerful voice yet uses restraint and a range of emotions to give her performances variety.
Accompanied by her musical director pianist Doyle Newmyer, bassist Boots Maleson and drummer Sipho Kunene on the night of Aug. 13, 2017, Ms. Meringolo performs both hits and obscurities. Many of the Bergmans’ famous collaborations with composer Michel Legrand are included on this set including a dramatic “What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life,” “Summer Me, Winter Me,” and “The Windmills Of Your Mind,” but she also includes some lesser-known numbers such as Dave Grusin’s “It Might Be You” (the theme from Tootsie), and Legrand’s “Between Yesterday And Tomorrow” and “Something New In My Life.” She digs into the blues on “Love Makes The Changes” and her version of “Summer Me, Winter Me” is a real showstopper. She makes each of the songs sound fresh and relevant. Her improvising is subtle and she serves the music rather than the other way around, always focusing on the stories that are told in the lyrics.
Fans of cabaret and powerful vocalists in general should know who Marieann Meringolo is. Her tribute to the Bergmans, which certainly must have pleased the lyricists, will also delight fans of high-quality American songs. It is available from www.marieannmeringolo.com and www.blujazz.com.
Y Barrio Opa
(Far Out Recordings)
Hugo Fattoruso, who was born in Uruguay 75 years ago, is perhaps best known for his work with Opa, a group that was most active during the 1970s and ‘80s. The fusion group, a trio with Fattoruso on keyboards and vocals, released two albums for the Milestone label during 1976-77. They often included guests including the reeds of Hermeto Pascoal, guitarists David Amaro and Barry Finnerty, Flora Purim and Airto. Opa not only combined together aspects of jazz, rock and funk with Latin rhythms but infused their music with the traditional rhythm of Uruguay, the candombe. Fattoruso, who lived in New York in the 1970s, moved to Brazil the following decade, working with Milton Nascimento and other Brazilian greats.
Y Barrio Opa finds Fattoruso updating the Opa sound. He is well featured on electric piano, giving the group a 1970s vibe but with more sophisticated rhythms, a stronger Brazilian tinge, and fresh melodies. Fattoruso is joined by bassist Francisco Fattoruso, drummer Tato Bolognini, percussionist Albana Barrocas and guitarist Nicolas Ibarburu on ten originals. The music grooves, has high musicianship and catchy rhythms, and features many inventive yet accessible keyboard solos from the leader.
The London-based Far Out label (www.faroutrecordings.com) has released a wide variety of recordings by Brazilian artists and those who have been inspired by Brazilian music along with forgotten but important recordings from the past. Hugo Fattoruso’s Y Barrio Opa is just the latest of their recordings to be recommended to jazz listeners.
The Society Syncopators
Now You’re Talkin’ My Language
The Society Syncopators (who are now known as the Syncopators) from Melbourne, Australia were founded in 1984 by trombonist Chris Ludowyk. They have their roots in swing and 1920s jazz but are also a top show band, covering a variety of material that reaches up to 1950s Louis Prima. The band has toured Europe 18 times and have recorded the same number of CDs. Now You’re Talkin’ My Language, which was recorded back in 2002, is an excellent sampling of their talents.
The septet, which consists of trombonist Ludowyk, Peter Gaudion on trumpet and vocals, Richard Miller on clarinet and saxophones, guitarist-banjoist Jeff Arthur, pianist Ben Johnston, James Clark on bass and tuba, and drummer Andrew Swann, is in top form throughout this wide-ranging program. Highlights include the opening title cut (which is a relative of “Doin’ The New Lowdown”), the Duke Ellington-Rex Stewart piece “Mobile Bay,” a spirited “Down Home Rag,” a version of the early Ellington theme “East St. Louis Toodle-oo” that avoids sounding like a copy of the 1927 arrangement, a rare revival of Jelly Roll Morton’s “If Only Someone Would Love Me,” and a spectacular feature for Gaudion’s trumpet and vocal on “When You’re Smiling.” Also quite enjoyable is “Oh Marie” (which is associated with Louis Prima) and Ray Charles’ “I’ve Got A Woman.” And be sure not to miss the hidden “bonus cut” at the disc’s conclusion.
The music is fun, swinging and inventive within the vintage eras; well worth checking out. This CD, along with many of the group’s other sets, is available from www.newmarketmusic.com.
A Little Workout
Tubby Hayes was arguably the United Kingdom’s finest saxophonist of the 1950s and ‘60s, with some competition from Ronnie Scott, John Dankworth, Joe Harriott and just a handful of others. Hayes, who also played vibes and flute quite well, had the speed and superior articulation of Johnny Griffin and Sal Nistico, making every note sound clear even at the most rapid tempo. He also had a warm sound that was sometimes reminiscent of Stan Getz while he was open to some of the innovations of early John Coltrane.
A Little Workout was recorded Dec. 4, 1966 and Apr. 2, 1967 with his quartet of the time: pianist Mike Pyne, bassist Ron Mathewson and drummer Tony Levin. Although other performances from those two dates have emerged, only one of these six selections was previously released and that was just four years ago. The recording quality is listenable even if Levin’s drums are a bit too loud in spots.
Hayes was on fire during these performances, playing blistering solos at very fast tempos on each number other than the lone ballad “Here’s That Rainy Day” where he switches to flute. His solos on his “A Change Of Setting,” a blazing “Seven Steps To Heaven,” “For Members Only,” the lengthy “Dear Johnny B.” and a version of “Walkin’” that recalls Miles Davis’ mid-1960s rendition, are dazzling but might wear out some listeners. One occasionally craves to hear Hayes hold a long note, but that rarely happens during this collection.
Pianist Mike Pyne often shows the inspiration of McCoy Tyner while bassist Ron Mathewson and drummer Tony Levin are tireless while sometimes hinting at Scott La Faro and Tony Williams. As for Hayes, the influence of John Coltrane is felt in his desire to stretch himself and in his sheets of sound improvisations although his tone is closer to that of the 1950s Four Brothers.
The liner notes by Hayes biographer Simon Spillett are quite lengthy and very informative, not only setting the scene for these recordings but giving one an overview of the state of Great Britain, its jazz, and Tubby Hayes’ life at the time. While not quite essential as an intro to Hayes’ brilliant playing, A Little Workout will be enjoyed by his fans. It is available from www.mvdb2b.com.
Hunters & Scavengers
For free improvisations to be successful, the musicians need to listen closely to the music as it is being created, have to have the ability to react quickly to each other’s ideas, need to pay attention to dynamics and mood changes, and hopefully have a sense of humor. The three musicians on Hunters & Scavengers are skilled in all of those areas.
Drummer Jeff Cosgrove, Scott Robinson (mostly on tenor but also occasionally switching to other reeds) and bassist Ken Filiano create nine new pieces and also perform Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman.” Their group improvisations are concise (only two performances exceed six minutes and not by much) and, while each of the players contribute constant input, Scott Robinson is generally the lead voice. While sometimes utilizing some of John Coltrane’s ideas, Robinson (who can play in any style on any reed and even brass instrument) displays his own sound and approach to improvising in this intimate setting. Bassist Filiano and drummer Cosgrove, while occasionally keeping time, offer their own voices in their interplay with Robinson.
The results always hold one’s interest and are unpredictable, both to the players and listeners. This is an explorative set well worth exploring; it is available from www.jeffcosgrovemusic.com.
“What we had”
(TIMELESS GROOVES RECORDS RA143)
The 22 year-old vocalist has an appealing and captivating voice. Using jazz as her base to explore different grooves, she collaborated with Grammy-winning Jason Miles, who produced recordings of celebrity artists including Miles Davis, Grover Washington Jr., Luther Vandross, etc. Jason is producer and arranger of “What We Had”, her debut EP, Miles and other top-notch musicians accompany her with a variety of backgrounds that showcase her soothing and distinctive voice at its very best.
In addition to Miles’ keyboards, the six selections (plus two remixed performances) utilize such fine musicians as soprano-saxophonist Hailey Niswanger, guitarists Ricardo Silveira, Jonah Miles Prendergast and Christian Ver Halen, bassists James Genus, Reggie Washington and Adam Dorn, drummer Brian Dunne, percussionists Mino Cinelu and Cyro Baptista, cellist Sebastian Stoger, flugelhornist Dennis Angel and flutist Gottfred Stoger. Rebecca excels at singing heartfelt lyrics and showcases her innovative scatting.
Rebecca’s version of the rarely performed Hoagy Carmichael gem “Winter Moon” features interplay between the singer and Niswanger on saxophone, catchy Latin rhythms and a haunting melody.
Rebecca co-wrote the minor-toned and nostalgic “What We Had” with her father Dennis Angel and guitarist Prendergast, a celebratory look at the past.
The Brazilian vocalese “Agora Sim” puts the focus on her instrumental ability in unison with Jonah’s guitar.
“Feel Alive”, which was also co-written by Rebecca, is a superior pop tune that is both funky and infectious.
Leiber and Stoller’s “Stand By Me”, heard in both radio and electro mixes, has a tight bass-drum rhythm, dynamic keyboards, a bluesy vocal by Rebecca and some natural and creative scat-singing.
The program closes with the first-ever vocal recording of Marcos Valle’s 2005 instrumental hit “Jet Samba” which is given both a radio and an electronic Ipanema mix.
Rebecca Angel has loved music all of her life. She remembers her father introducing her to the recordings of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Elvis and the Beatles, Astrud Gilberto and Sade, all of whom became inspirations in her eclectic style. She graduated with a degree in Vocal Jazz Studies from Ithaca College and has performed at the Iridium, The Metropolitan Room and CaféNoctambulo in New York.
Rebecca Angel creates consistently memorable musical statements throughout “What We Had”, with her substantial talents, a very impressive debut. http://Rebeccaangel.net
We’re All in The Dance
There’s no mistaking the message of “We’re All in The Dance,” the title track of singer Rachel Caswell’s latest album. It’s a lovely waltz that pairs the dance of life with the dance of music and somehow, through her purity of tone, intelligent phrasing, and flowing time feel, Caswell—cosigned by an ascendant solo by her younger sister, Grammy-nominated violinist Sara Caswell—navigates an alternate, bespoke pathway through a song whose simplicity and elegance pose a challenge to a singer steeped in the complexities of jazz expression.
She addresses the subject of love head-on throughout the proceedings, comprising ten songs culled from a long timeline and a panoply of stylistic genres. Caswell tells each story with equivalent levels of individualism and interpretive mojo, imparting a continuity and identity from the first track (an inflamed, incantatory reading of Sting’s “Fragile”) to the last (a mesmerizing meditation on Jon Hendricks’ bittersweet-yet-optimistic lyric to Thelonious Monk’s “Reflections”).
Along the way, Caswell puts deep blues inflections on “Drown in My Own Tears,” the Ray Charles classic, followed by a soulful guitar declamation by master blues practitioner—and album producer—Dave Stryker. She channels her inner Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan on “A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening,” eschewing a balladic approach for a well-wrought, lightly swinging delivery of the lyric. She renders the late Bob Dorough’s “Devil May Care” with apropos vertiginous flair, developing her rhythmic ideas on an instrument-like improvisation. She applies a spacious Latin feel to Henry Mancini’s “Two for The Road,” and showcases her broad registral range and deep pocket in conveying Tom Lellis’ evocative lyrics to Herbie Hancock’s “Tell Me A Bedtime Story.” Dave Stryker’s arrangement of Rodgers & Hart’s American Songbook classic “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” plays on the title, shifting odd meters with finger-popping swing. And Rachel scats the melody of Charlie Parker’s “Dexterity” with an idiomatic bebop feel, giving her A-list partners full autonomy to play it in their manner and responding to their postulations with a pithy scat.
Another of the record’s great pleasures is an opportunity to hear how deftly each world-class member of the kinetic rhythm section locks into their task of reimagining and reconfiguring “standards.” Hopefully, Stryker’s imprimatur and this cutting-edge band will induce gatekeepers from radio and the press to listen closely to this superb album. If they do, and respond accordingly, Caswell may be moving to another level of visibility in the not so distant future.
Edited from liner notes by Ted Panken
“Rachel Caswell is that rara avis who is truly a jazz vocalist. Her intonation is impeccable, her diction precise, her jazz sensibilities above reproach, and she swings like mad!…Few
improvisers – vocal or instrumental – have better ears than she possesses and she has an exceptional instrument that is immediately identifiable among a sea of other vocalists.”
David Baker, NEA Jazz Master & jazz education pioneer
AVAILABLE FROM: CDBaby / Amazon / iTunes
Bobby Sanabria’s New CD
“West Side Story Reimagined”
Hits The Street’s Today
Aids Puerto Rican Relief Effort There’s every reason to hope that Steven Spielberg’s remake of “West Side Story” will improve upon the 1961 film, but I doubt if we’ll ever hear a more thrilling interpretation of that immortal score than that of the Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band. Will Friedwald-Wall Street Journal
Recorded live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in NYC, this exciting new reimagining is West Side Story like you’ve never heard it before as performed by the amazing multi-Grammy nominated 21 piece Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band. This set includes an accompanying 16 page booklet containing rare photographs of Maestro Leonard Bernstein, along with the timeless music of West Side Story featuring the rhythms of various Latin American countries with exciting breaking-down-the-wall instrumental big band arrangements all done through the lens of the Latin jazz continuum. It’s the most ambitious reimagining of the music I have ever heard!” – Jamie Bernstein
Partial proceeds from this special commemorative set will be donated to the Jazz Foundation of America’s Puerto Rico Relief Fund. The island has been completely devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria and the government’s response has been less than adequate. What better way to help my ancestral homeland Puerto Rico and its people, than through the music of West Side Story Reimagined. – Bobby Sanabria
Bobby Sanabria Talks About The Making of West Side Story Reimagined -BronxNet
Mad Romance and Love
(Jumo Music 1007)
Street Date: July 6, 2018
Maurice Frank-vocals, John DiMartino-piano, arrangements,
Eric Alexander-tenor sax, Aaron Heick-soprano sac, clarinet, alto flute,
Paul Meyers-guitar, Luques Curtis-bass,
Obed Calvaire-drums, Samuel Torres-percussion
Maurice Frank is a native New Yorker. He grew up listening to the great singers of the 50’s and 60’s and it left its mark on him.
Mad Romance and Love is his debut release. It’s heart felt and striking for its warmth, sensitivity and choice of songs. The musicians are top notch! Featuring the groove tones of tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander and pianist/arranger John DiMartino, who provides a palette of swing and latin colors. Performing on the East Coast and beyond and now residing in Florida, “Moe’s” new release is a sophisticated sound coming from a “new to the scene”, yet seasoned artist, who is a fresh interpreter of both standards and not frequently heard songs.
“What I feel so abundantly from Maurice’s singing is a deep and honest affinity for the ballad, the love song and the swinger.Congratulations for nailing a gem of a recording.” —Benny Green
Lost In A Crowded Place
Daryl Sherman has been a major swing singer and pianist for at least 30 years. Her tender yet quietly expressive voice sometimes hints at Mildred Bailey or Lee Wiley but sounds very much like herself while her piano playing is fluent and creative within swing.
Ms. Sherman is very much in prime form throughout the recent Lost In A Crowded Place. She performs a few superior if mostly little-played standards (how often does one hear a vocal version of “Stars Fell On Alabama” these days?), two of her originals, and a variety of long-forgotten gems such as Barbara Carroll’s title song, Duke Ellington’s “Azalea,” the Gershwin’s “The Lorelei,” and Louis Armstrong’s “If We Never Meet Again.”
In addition to her singing and occasional piano solos, a major reason to acquire his CD is for the trumpet playing of Jon-Erik Kellso. His solos and accompaniment are a little reminiscent of Johnny Windhurst’s on his sessions with Lee Wiley and Barbara Lea, or Ruby Braff on his duet albums with pianist Ellis Larkins. He is powerful yet tasteful, melodic yet unpredictable; always a joy to hear including his plunger mute work on ‘The Lorelei.” Guitarist Don Vappie (who takes a surprise vocal with Ms. Sherman on “You Go To My Head” that is quite effective) has some fine guitar solos, and bassist Jesse Boyd stars on “Turkquoise” in addition to anchoring the drumless rhythm section.
Daryl Sherman’s choice of notes, both vocally and instrumentally, makes the music a consistent delight. This highly recommended set is available from www.jazzology.com.
Randy Brecker Quintet
The music on this DVD was originally put out as a CD nearly 30 years ago by Sonet in Europe and (with one additional selection) the GNP/Crescendo label in the U.S. The set of seven songs were played at New York’s Sweet Basil during Nov. 18-20, 1988. Now for the first time, the performances can be seen as well as heard.
In addition to the consistently fiery solos of trumpeter Randy Brecker and the excellent rhythm section (pianist Dave Kikoski, bassist Dieter Ilg and drummer Joey Baron), the DVD is of particular interest for giving listeners the rare opportunity to see tenor-saxophonist Bob Berg, who died tragically in a car crash in 2002 when he was just 51.
This package not only includes the DVD but a CD with the same music. The performances largely define the modern jazz mainstream of 1988, and even to an extent that of today. The program begins with explosive versions of “Mojoe” and “No Scratch.” Brecker is passionate, Berg sounds like an extension of Michael Brecker but with his own conception, Kikoski is quite animated and enthusiastic, and the rhythm section (with intense playing from Baron) never lets up.
The other selections continue along the same line. “Moontide” (with Brecker switching to fluegelhorn) is a little calmer as is the modern ballad “Incidentally” while “Ting Chang” is filled with heat. The mostly high-powered set concludes with an uptempo version of “Love For Sale” (the only song not composed by Brecker) and “Hurdy Gurdy.”
Fans of Randy Brecker and Bob Berg should consider this release to be essential for features the musicians in inspired form. It is available from www.mvdb2b.com.
James Reese Europe’s Society Orchestra and Others
The Product Of Our Souls
It would not be an exaggeration to say that this collection was a long time coming. On two sessions during 1913-14, James Reese Europe’s Society Orchestra became the first African-American dance band to be recorded, resulting in eight selections. Although the numbers had been reissued on a haphazard basis through the decades, the Archeophone CD is the first time that all eight performances have been collected together. It only took 104 years!
James Reese Europe (1880-1919), who had his life cut short when he was murdered by a disgruntled drummer in 1919, was a giant of his era. While not a performing musician himself, Europe was an arranger-composer and a pioneer as a bandleader. He organized the Clef Club Orchestra in 1910 and two years later played a concert at Carnegie Hall, a groundbreaking event for an African-American group and for any dance band. His orchestra, which at times had up to 125 members, performed popular songs of the era, renditions of classical music and music that was sometimes influenced by ragtime. The orchestra gained fame for its work accompanying Vernon and Irene Castle, influential performers who introduced many dances including the foxtrot. During World War I, Europe gained great acclaim overseas when he led a syncopated military band (the Hellfighters) throughout France. That orchestra recorded jazz-oriented performances in 1919 with some vocals by Noble Sissle. But James Reese Europe, who was poised to make major accomplishments in the “Jazz Age,” was killed just two months later.
The 1913-14 performances, despite their syncopations and even an improvising violinist on one song, are pre jazz rather than jazz. Of greatest interest, in addition to the band’s obvious enthusiasm, is the inventive drumming of Buddy Gilmore who adds a lot of color and excitement to the uptempo pieces. The Dec. 29, 1913 session has Europe leading a group consisting of five banjo mandolins, three violins, a single piano (played by two pianists), cornet, clarinet and drummer Gilmore. They perform a pair of conventional South American dance tunes (“Amapa” and the tango “El Irresistible”) and, most importantly, spirited renditions of “Too Much Mustard” and Wilbur Sweatman’s “Down Home Rag.” The second session from May 5, 1914 has different instrumentation (cornet, clarinet, flute, baritone horn, three violins, piano, cello and Gilmore on drums) performing the Broadway show tune “You’re Here And I’m Here” plus three Europe compositions: the waltz “Castle’s Lame Duck,” “Castle Walk” and the exciting “Castle House Rag.” The music is the closest that any recording group came to jazz before the Original Dixieland Jazz Band debuted in 1917.
14 other rare recordings, dating from 1912-16 with one vocalist from 1908, are also on this CD. Nine are other band’s versions of the songs recorded by Europe, and five are additional Europe compositions. Dating from Featured are singers Ada Jones, Bob Roberts, Kathleen Kingston and Billy Murray, the Metropolitan Military Band, Prince’s Band, the Van Eps Trio (“Down Home Rag”), the National Promenade Band, the Indestructible Band and the Victor Military Band. It is interesting to hear these straight and rigid performances next to the looser playing of James Reese Europe’s orchestra; only the Van Eps Trio generates excitement.
The accompanying 56-page booklet is definitive, colorful, and a major plus to the historic set which finally gives listeners the opportunity to hear all of James Reese Europe’s early recordings. In the future I hope that Archeophone (www.archeophone.com), the top label in compiling pre-1920 recordings, will also put out extensive sets on the early virtuoso ragtime banjoists Vess Ossman and Fred Van Eps. Those are the most important gaps left in the reissue of early music.
On Your Way
Greg Robbins, a fine jazz singer based in Atlanta, recently released his debut CD. On Your Way features the vocalist joined by pianist Kevin Bales (Tyrone Jackson takes his place on three numbers), bassist Kevin Smith, and drummer Justin Varnes (Kermit Walker plays drums on one song), with occasional contributions from tenor-saxophonist John Sandfort and trumpeter Melvin Jones.
Robbins has a warm and attractive voice that is distinctive, he swings at every tempo and, while generally sticking to the lyrics, he proves to be a subtle improviser throughout this wide-ranging set. On Your Way begins with pianist Ronnell Bright’s. “Don’t Call It Love,” a relative to “Just Friends” both in its chord changes and the content of its lyrics. “On Your Way,” which is about being blindsided by the surprise end of a love affair, is one of the singer’s two originals on the project. The bossa nova has a nice spot for Sandfort’s tenor. The ballad “Meadowlarks” is a fine showcase for Robbins’ voice and includes a fiery solo by trumpeter Walker. “I Fall In Love Too Easily” is taken as a tasteful and heartfelt duet by Robbins and pianist Bales.
The obscure “Cat Meets Chick” was written by jazz critic Leonard Feather and had not been recorded by anyone since 1957. It is heard as a vocal for the first time with lyrics by New York bassist Rob Duguay; it has another colorful statement from Melvin Jones. Ronnell Bright’s medium-tempo cooker “Sweet Pumpkin” is highlighted by Robbins swinging particularly well during his second vocal chorus. A change of pace, “Tell Me Friend” is an anti-racism song that includes funky rhythms and a brief rap by Sho Baraka. A second version (with a trumpet solo instead of the rap) is also included. The remainder of the set includes the expressive “Helplessness Blues,” the contemporary ballad “Everlong,” and a joyful medium-tempo romp on “It’s Got To Be Love.”
On Your Way is a pretty impressive debut for Greg Robbins and is easily recommended. One looks forward to the singer’s future accomplishments. More information can be found at www.facebook.com/GregRobbinsMusic
On The Levee Jazz Band
(Big Al Records)
During 1944-61, veteran trombonist Kid Ory led a series of classic New Orleans jazz bands. The musicianship was always excellent (there was no question that the musicians would be in tune), the soloists were colorful and melodic, and the many ensembles were both clean and exciting. Whether it was his bands with cornetist/trumpeter Mutt Carey, Andrew Blakeney, Teddy Buckner, Alvin Alcorn (my favorite edition) or Henry “Red” Allen, Ory performed spirited and memorable music.
The On The Levee Jazz Band brings back the sound of Ory’s groups. While the lack of liner notes or information beyond the basic song and personnel listings is unfortunate, the music very much speaks for itself. Drummer Hal Smith is the leader of a septet comprised of trumpeter Ben Polcer, multi-instrumentalist Clint Baker on trombone (probably his best ax), clarinetist Joe Goldberg, pianist Kris Tokarski, guitarist Alex Belhaj and bassist Joshua Gouzy. The band comes close to sounding like Ory’s group with Alcorn. Baker really has the Ory style down on trombone, trumpeter Polcer offers a solid but not dominating lead, clarinetist Goldberg is fluent while staying melodic, and the rhythm section is subtle and swinging.
The 14 selections are all taken from Ory’s repertoire on his Good Time Jazz recordings with the highlights including jubilant versions of “Original Dixieland One Step,” “Wolverine Blues,” “Royal Garden Blues” and “Panama.” Actually all of the performances are quite enjoyable. The band even explodes now and then going into the final chorus just as Ory and Alcorn used to.
Fans of Kid Ory, New Orleans jazz, and joyful music in general will certainly want this excellent outing which is available from www.ontheleveejazz.com.
Music From Man Of La Mancha
After the surprise success of the Shelly Manne Trio’s recording of the music from My Fair Lady in 1956 (which featured pianist Andre Previn and bassist Red Mitchell), a countless number of jazz groups recorded their set-long interpretations of the music from a play or a film. For every version of the score of Guys and Dolls and The King And I, there were several recordings of the music from a soon-to-be-forgotten production such as L’il Abner and The Proper Time.
Back in 1995, Mitch Leigh, the composer of the music for Man Of La Mancha, commissioned Eliane Elias to record an album of songs from his famous play. While Ms. Elias occasionally sang at that point in time, this was before her vocalizing began to dominate her recordings. Music Form Man Of La Mancha is a strictly instrumental set in which she is joined by either Eddie Gomez or Matt Johnson on bass, Jack DeJohnette or Satoshi Takeishi on drums, and percussionist Manolo Badrena on all but one of the nine selections.
The only song from the play that became famous (or perhaps infamous) was “The Impossible Dream” which is usually performed as an over-the-top vocal. On this set, the pianist largely disguises the melody at first and comes up with a creative version. The other pieces that she chose, which include “Dulcinea,” “What Does He Want Of Me,” “I’m Only Thinking Of You” and “A Little Gossip,” are obscure and certainly qualify as fresh material. While the pieces generally do not offer memorable themes, the playing by Eliane Elias is inventive, thoughtful, and full of subtle surprises. She was always a brilliant pianist and it is rewarding to hear this long-lost set from her earlier days.
The music on her Concord disc (available from www.concordrecords.com) was only previously heard and enjoyed by the composer and his friends. It is great that it has been finally released for everyone else to savor.
Valentine’s Day 1964 Live
Although he would not have known it at the time, veteran tenor-saxophonist Ben Webster was near the cross roads of his career when he recorded this previously unreleased set at the Half Note in New York on Feb. 14, 1964. It had been 21 years since he had left Duke Ellington’s orchestra (although there was a later stint and guest appearances) and, while he had toured with Jazz At The Philharmonic and recorded regularly for Norman Granz’s Verve label in the 1950s, Webster was being overshadowed by such younger saxophonists as John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins. While he recorded the classic album See You At The Fair a month later, by year end he had moved permanently to Europe where he was better appreciated.
Still very much in his prime, Webster is teamed with pianist Dave Frishberg (whose singing and song-writing were still a few years away), bassist Richard Davis and drummer Grady Tate for a typical set of swingers and ballads. Webster excelled in both settings with his choice of sounds (from roars to whispers) being more significant than his choice of notes. There are no surprises in the repertoire which includes “Chelsea Bridge,” “How Long Has This Been Going On,” “Cotton Tail,” “The Theme” (mistakenly listed as “52nd Street Theme”) and two versions of “Caravan,” but Webster plays everything with enthusiasm and feeling. Frishberg also has a few excellent solos although the main focus is on the great tenor.
This excellent addition to Ben Webster’s discography is available from www.dottimerecords.com.
The Al Fairweather Collection 1953-1957
In the world of British trad jazz, Al Fairweather was one of the top trumpeters during the 1950s. Like Humphrey Lyttelton, he began his career primarily performing 1920s-style jazz but later evolved into a swing/mainstream player. Since he spent much of his career working as a sideman (particularly with clarinetist Sandy Brown and later on with Acker Bilk), just leading an occasional recording session, he is not as well-known as Lyttelton or Kenny Ball although he was on their level as a player. This two-CD set, compiled by Lake (today’s top British trad label), features Fairweather in a variety of worthy settings.
During the first disc, Al Fairweather is heard on two selections on which he guests with Lyttelton’s band, jamming happily with the great clarinetist Albert Nicholas on four numbers, on sessions headed by Sandy Brown and pianist Stan Greig, and leading a date of his own. The music includes 1920s, Dixieland standards, and some obscurities plus Basie’s “Swinging The Blues.” The other key musicians include trombonist John R.T. Davies (who became best-known as an innovative recording engineer) and guitarist Diz Disley.
The second CD has the music from two full albums. Trombonist John Picard’s Angels, a sextet with clarinetist Wally Fawkes, romps on such unexpected tunes as “The Lady In Red,” “Shortnin’ Bread” and “Show Me The Way To Go Home,” along with some more typical songs. Brother John Sellers, an American blues, folk and gospel singer who recorded for several labels during 1954-57, has an intriguing matchup with Fairweather, Fawkes, Greig and Disley in a sextet. It all works out fine for space was left for his sidemen and Sellers displays a strong and flexible voice along with sincere feeling.
This set of enjoyable rarities is just one of scores of valuable CDs available from Lake (www.fellside.com).
A Jazzman’s Broadway
Cy Coleman (1929-2004) gained fame as a top Broadway composer starting in 1960. He later wrote “If My Friends Could See Me Now” and “Big Spender” with lyricist Dorothy Fields. Before that, he had already become a successful songwriter, often collaborating with lyricist Carolyn Leigh including on “Witchcraft” and “The Best Is Yet To Come.”
But unlike nearly all of the Broadway composers, Cy Coleman was also a skilled jazz pianist. He actually started out as a child prodigy in classical music (giving recitals starting from the age of six) before leading the Cy Coleman Trio throughout the 1950s.
A Jazzman’s Broadway features Coleman performing other people’s music from Broadway plays, with separate sets of the songs from Jamaica (1957) and Flower Drum Song (1958) plus four songs from South Pacific (1949). Jamaica uses a vocal group on a few numbers, most prominently on “I Don’t Think I’ll End It All Today.” Coleman took his first recorded vocals on this project. The instrumentals could pass as being by Red Garland although Coleman also hints at Dave Brubeck (without the polyrhythms) in spots. Flutist Romeo Penque and guitarist Skeeter Best sometimes augment the trio. Flower Drum Song, which has Coleman leading a trio with bassist Aaron Bell and drummer G. Hogan, has some of the strongest music with close interplay between the pianist and bassist. The South Pacific numbers (taken solo) are brief and uneventful but nice to have.
A Jazzman’s Broadway (available from www.harbingerrecords.com) serves to remind listeners of the jazz talents of Cy Coleman and it makes for an enjoyable listen.
Blues In The Nude
These days, the jazz world is filled with a countless number of talents. In fact, there are more brilliant musicians active in jazz today than there has ever been, and they are based throughout the world. One new name to remember is Zack Varner, an excellent alto and tenor-saxophonist who calls Austin, Texas his home.
Originally raised near Atlanta, Varner has been a pro for over 15 years but he is long overdue to be discovered. Blues In The Nude, his debut recording as a leader, finds Varner sounding a bit like Phil Woods on alto. Joined by an excellent rhythm section (pianist Ross Margitza, bassist Daniel Durham, and drummer Wayne Sulzmann II.), and occasional guests (including trumpeter Adrian Ruiz and trombonist Mark Gonzalez on three songs apiece, and alto and tenor-saxophonist Bennett Wood on two), he performs 11 of his originals.
Among the highlights of this enjoyable set are the boppish “Blues In The Nude,” the slightly tongue-in-cheek “Faux Tango #4,” Carter Arrington’s guitar on “How Bout It,” the melancholy waltz “Russian Dog Dreams,” the surprisingly fiery freeform outbursts on “Stonehenge Throwdown,” some atmospheric cello by Illia De La Rosa on “Asterism,” and the joyful closer “I Looked Around For You” which uses a bit of stop-time.
The music is excellent, easily recommended, and available from www.zackvarner.com
Jim Self/John Chiodini Duo
Floating In Winter
(Basset Hound Music)
When one thinks of jazz duos, the instrumental combinations that come quickly to mind are piano & bass, saxophone or trumpet & piano, two guitars, and even voice & bass (thanks to Sheila Jordan). Very few would immediately think of tuba & guitar.
Listening to Jim Self, one quickly forgets all of the stereotypes of how a tuba sounds. His tone is mellow, his technique is unbeatable, and he often seems to sound like a bass trombonist with a well extended lower register. On a program consisting of two songs apiece by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Chuck Mangione, Henry Mancini, Thelonious Monk and Gerry Mulligan plus a pair of standards, an obscurity, and one original apiece by the co-leaders, Self and Chiodini sound very much like a complete band. Usually the melody is stated by the tuba. Then Self accompanies the guitarist during his solos while Chiodini plays rhythm guitar behind the tuba improvisations. A special treat is hearing Self on the fluba (a tuba-sized flugelhorn); a photo in the liner notes shows that it is pretty enormous!
Whether it is “So Danco Samba,” “Children Of Sanchez,” “In Walked Bud” or “Two For The Road,” Jim Self and John Chiodini create beautiful music at a variety of tempos and moods. The blend between their instruments is surprisingly effective and the results (available from www.jimself.com) are rewarding.
Soul Blade Orchestra
Despite its name, the Soul Blade Orchestra is actually a sextet. Formed in France in May 2011 by drummer Thierry Bonneaux, it exclusively performs the compositions of vibraphonist Thierry Collin. Vol. 1 is, as one might guess, their first CD.
The group consists of three Thierrys (vibraphonist Collin, drummer Bonneaux and bassist Thierry Colson), two Damiens (soprano-saxophonist Damien Hennicker and tenor-saxophonist Damien Prud’homme) and guitarist Olivers Cahours. Their music ranges from “Hymne A Zanzibar,” a folk/jazz tune that sounds like something that Oregon might have performed, to an energetic “The Green Fairy,” the thoughtful ballad “Mado,” and the playful waltz “Freaky.” “Bahia” is one of several numbers that recall Chick Corea’s writing style a bit while the closing “Le Mas De Thuir” includes a bit of free playing before ultimately becoming a mood piece. The two saxophonists add a lot of energy and fire to the date, vibraphonist Collin is a major part of the group’s musical personality (keeping the band from sounding like anyone else), Cahours contributes some fine solos, and the rhythm section is tight throughout the varied material. Soul Blade’s Vol. 1 covers a lot of ground and holds one’s interest throughout. It is well worth acquiring and is available from www.thierry-collin.fr and amazon.com.