Tell Me The Truth
Deep down, Roseanna Vitro has always kept her roots in Texas and Arkansas. While she has enjoyed steady success over the years in the North as a jazz singer, she is quite at home with bluesy, funky and r&bish material too. Unlike say Dee Dee Bridgewater’s recent soul project or when many jazz singers tackle singer/songwriter material (sometimes losing their own musical personality in the process), Vitro interprets the material in her own way, always improvising, ad-libbing, and making the songs into creative jazz despite its diverse origins.
Tell Me The Truth has Ms. Vitro joined by a top-notch sextet consisting of pianist Mark Soskin, bassist Dean Johnson, drummer Rudy Royston, guitarist Mitch Stein, trumpeter Nathan Eklund, and saxophonist Tim Reis. Some of the songs that she interprets may seem a bit offbeat, but she makes each one her own. Whether it is Allen Toussaint’s “On Your Way Down” (which is given a rhythmic riff reminiscent of Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder”), “Walkin’ After Midnight,” a jubilant “Respect Yourself” (with singer Al Chestnut proving to be a perfect musical partner) or a stretched-out and slightly reinvented version of Mose Allison’s “Your Mind Is On Vacation,” Roseanna Vitro finds something fresh to say. Several of the pieces have political aspects to their lyrics including “Respect Yourself,” and the late Jon Hendricks’ “Tell Me The Truth” (which seems to predict the current situation). Of the other highlights, the swing standard “Foolin’ Myself” is modernized a bit but has some excellent wordless vocalizing along with an inventive soprano solo from Reis. The singer gets quite soulful on “When Will I Be Loved” (one of several songs with solos from guitarist Stein that are passionate and bluesy) and is full of determination on Boz Scaggs’ “I’ll Be Long Gone.” “Fortunate Son” has a torrid tradeoff by Reis (on soprano) and Eklund. The set concludes with the spirited “A Healing Song” and the gospel song “I’ll Fly Away” which has violinist Sara Caswell and the harmonized singing of Kate McGarry and Cindy Scott uplifting the music.
Everything works throughout this heartfelt release, one of Roseanna Vitro’s finest recordings. Tell Me The Truth is available from www.roseannavitrojazz.squarespace.com.
If Doris Day in the 1950s had been a jazz singer, could scat with the cool assurance of Anita O’Day, and expressed the happiness of Ella, she might have sounded a little like Rebecca Hardiman. Not that Ms. Hardiman sounds like a copy of anyone, but she fits very comfortably into the classic style. Her voice is attractive in all ranges, one can always understand the words she sings, her phrasing is inviting, and she swings at every tempo. A member of the top-notch jazz vocal group the Ritz in the late 1980s, she settled in Oregon in 1990 and has been a local treasure ever since.
Rain Sometimes is the singer’s fifth CD since 2013. Joined by her husband, the skilled pianist Ray Hardiman, bassist Craig Snazelle, drummer Ron Steen, and quite often Laird Halling on tenor and flute, she performs ten standards, many of which are not sung all that often.
The first two songs are among the most memorable “Look For The Silver Lining,” which effectively uses a vamp between choruses, immediately displays the beauty of Ms. Hardiman’s voice as she sings the melody and scats sweetly during the second chorus. Ray Hardiman (sounding like a vibraphonist on his keyboard) takes a fine solo before the song ends with laidback scatting over the vamp. “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” turns its title into reality with the piano chords being purposely played behind the pulse while Rebecca sings right on the beat, making the song sound out of balance. Things straighten up immediately during some swinging choruses (with a nice spot for Halling’s tenor) before the piece ends as it started, pretending to search for the time!
Among the other highlights are a happy romp through “No More Blues” (with Halling contributing some fine flute), the obscure Arthur Hamilton ballad “Rain Sometimes,” a joyful “The Things We Did Last Summer,” and a revival of “The Late, Late Show.” All ten selections have their bright moments.</p>
Rebecca Hardiman deserves to be much better known beyond the Pacific Northwest. Give Rain Sometimes a spin and see if you agree. It is available from www.rebeccahardiman.com
Rob Dixon Trio
Coast To Crossroads
Rob Dixon is a tenor and alto-saxophonist who loves to play music on the funkier side of jazz. Earlier in his career, he worked with the Illinois Jacquet big band for four years and was a member of Tana Reid. While he spent time in New York, he has been part of the Indianapolis jazz scene since 2003, sometimes working with the late organist Mel Rhyne.
Coast To Crossroads has Dixon showcased in a group with guitarist Charlie Hunter, drummer Mike Clark and trombonist Ernest Stuart. Due to Hunter’s remarkable playing, not only does one hear basslines in addition to his guitar, but it is easy to think that there is also an organist in the band.
The group plays eight of Dixon’s funky originals (one could imagine Stanley Turrentine performing many of these songs) and two recent pop songs, with Dixon and trombonist Stuart often playing off of each other while Hunter and Clark keep the rhythms funky and give the music a strong forward-momentum. In addition to the group jams, as a change of pace, Dixon closes the set with an unaccompanied ballad version of the standard “It Could Happen To You.”
All in all, this is an enjoyable CD of often-rollicking music which is available from www.robdixonmusic.com.
Concerts In Miniature, Vol. 24
(Sounds Of Yester Year)
During 1952-53, Stan Kenton led what was arguably his finest band, his New Concepts Orchestra. With the bulk of the arrangements provided by Bill Holman and Bill Russo, the band evolved to the point that it had quite an all-star lineup, with solos provided by trumpeter Conte Candoli, trombonist Frank Rosolino, altoist Lee Konitz, tenor-saxophonist Zoot Sims and guitarist Sal Salvador while being driven by drummer Stan Levey. There was some tension in the band as the swinging contingent of Holman supporters gradually “won” over the more third-steam and experimental writing of Russo. The group had a definitive musical personality of its own along with plenty of spirit.
Very fortunately, Kenton had a regular weekly radio program called Concerts In Miniature that resulted in 48 programs. While many of the shows had been out before in incomplete and piecemeal fashion, the Sounds Of Yester Year label (whose releases are available from www.cityhallrecords.com) have released all of the broadcasts in excellent sound on 24 CDs. Vol. 24, which has the final broadcasts from Oct. 27 and Nov. 3, 1953, has recently been put out.
All two dozen CDs are rewarding, with Kenton proving to be a genial and humorous host. Vol. 24 is highlighted by versions of “Sweets,” Candoli’s feature on “Poem For Trumpet,” Rosolino’s playing on “Frank Speaking,” trumpeter Buddy Childers on “Autumn In New York,” Zoot Sims on “Zoot” and every time that Lee Konitz gets to solo.
Ironically Kenton begins the final broadcast by confidently saying, “We feel reasonably secure now that we’ll be back on the air next week.” A car accident that hurt a few musicians, disgruntlement over the grueling schedule, and a desire for the star soloists to go out on their own soon resulted in both the broadcasts and this version of the Stan Kenton Big Band quickly coming to an end. But as these 24 volumes show, this was quite an orchestra.
Bassist Ervin Dhimo, originally from Albania, spent six years living in Greece where he graduated from Nakas Conservatory, and was awarded a European scholarship to study at Berklee in the U.S. where he has since settled. Veteran keyboardist Steve Hunt has been an important musical force since the 1980s, working along the way with Billy Cobham, Stanley Clarke, and Allan Holdsworth (1987-1995) in addition to leading his own sessions for his Spice Rack label. Dhimo and Hunt co-lead Elektrik Market, a unit that on the recently-released Attraction also features either Vancil Cooper or Steve Michaud on drums and Jerry Leake or Ricardo Monzon on percussion. The fusion-oriented unit performs colorful originals (mostly by Hunt and Dhimo) that are full of surprises and superior playing with many inventive solos from both the bassist and keyboardist.
The program begins with a brief prelude “Portrait Of A Painter” that features Dhimo’s fluent yet thoughtful bass over Hunt’s background keyboards. “Attraction” is much lengthier with Dhimo’s bass creating a funky groove that becomes denser as it progresses. Hunt’s orchestral keyboard and a four-note phrase that pops up in various spots make this an accessible and dynamic performance. “A River Flows” reminds one of Weather Report’s original goal to have “everyone and no one soloing.” The ensemble piece has strong contributions from each of the musicians with Hunt’s keyboards in the lead. Speaking of Weather Report, one is reminded of the interplay between Joe Zawinul and Jaco Pastorius on “Dafina’s Journey.” The performance includes an outstanding keyboard solo, a few changes in tempos, grooves and moods, and an Eastern European feel, making for a fun musical adventure.
“Tirana’s Sunrise” does have the feeling of a sunrise, starting as a thoughtful ballad and picking up steam along the way. The episodic “Witch Hunt” includes catchy grooves that are a little reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters although they are more modern. Concluding this CD is the melodic “Fusion Collusion” and “Time Traveler” which has a rhythmic four-note riff by Dhimo that inspires some fine improvising by Hunt.
The impressive Elektrik Market has created a set in Attraction (available from www.ervindhimo.com) that fusion fans will enjoy.
(Stella Sound Productions)
This recent CD can be thought of as a celebration of the long-time friendship of vocalist Janet Planet and pianist John Harmon. They have performed together on an occasional basis over the past 40 years. Ms. Planet was originally a folk singer but changed direction after hearing the classic Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley record. She has a very inviting voice and can sing bebop quite well while not forgetting her roots in folk music. One of her recent recordings (there are over two dozen) is her versions of Bob Dylan songs. John Harmon is on Ms. Planet’s recording debut (1986’s Sweet Thunder), recorded a duet album with the singer (1995’s More Beautiful Than Planned), joins her as part of a trio on the Gene Bertoncini recording Just Above A Whisper, and is an important part of her Get Happy and Of Thee I Sing CDs.
Harmon, who is now 83, studied with Oscar Peterson at the Lenox School of Jazz in the late 1950s, was an influential educator at Lawrence University, and led the successful fusion group Matrix during 1974-81. He has freelanced as a pianist and composer ever since.
Da Capo has Planet and Harmon performing 13 of the pianist’s songs. He also provided the words to eight of the numbers (“El Tigre” is wordless) with the vocalist writing the lyrics for the other four tunes. Eight of the selections have the duo joined by bassist John Gibson and drummer Zach Harmon with tenor-saxophonist Tom Washatka making two guest appearances and guitarist Tom Theabo helping out on “Sundowner.” A few of the numbers were previously recorded years ago including “Another Lonely Spring” and “I Raise My Glass” which were part of the More Beautiful Than Planned album.
Da Capo is full of memorable melodies and top-notch singing. The program begins with the medium-tempo “To Be Yet Again,” a happy tune celebrating friendship. “Lucky Me” is a little funky but also has some boppish singing from Planet. The next few songs are ballads. “The Gift Of Surrender” features tender singing and sensitive piano. “Sundowner” is picturesque song, has attractive piano patterns, and is an Americana song that Vince Guaraldi would enjoy playing. “In A Perfect World (A Father’s Dream)” is a touching piece with quietly emotional singing while “Child Of Light/A Lullabye” has some particularly heartfelt piano playing.
One could imagine “Today And Everyday,” one of several songs on this set that cross musical boundaries while being based in jazz, becoming a standard in the future if it is heard enough; the melody is that good. The rhythm changes tune “Half A Bubble Off” has a witty and tricky melody and some excellent scat-singing before it gives Harmon an opportunity to stretch out, recalling his days leading a trio in New York in the early 1960s. The introspective “Lately” and the melancholy “Another Lonely Spring” are followed by the happily swinging “The Time Is Right.” Other than some wordless explorations at its beginning, “El Tigre” is primarily an infectious instrumental with spots for Washatka’s tenor and Harmon’s electric piano, hinting a bit at vintage Chick Corea. The satisfying set concludes with the heartwarming “I Raise My Glass (To You”).
Da Capo, a set of warm and beautiful music, features Janet Planet and John Harmon at their very best. It is available from www.stellarsound.net.
Pianist Scott Routenberg is an award-winning arranger, composer and orchestrator who teaches Jazz Piano at Ball State University. His Supermoon release builds upon the success of his previous Summit CD Every End Is A Beginning. As with the earlier set, he leads his regular trio (which frequently performs in the Indianapolis area), a unit also including bassist Nick Tucker (who takes several melodic solos) and drummer Cassius Goens III. Their familiarity with each other’s playing is obvious for the trio often seems to think as one, sounding quite tight but also spontaneous with the pianist being the first among equals.
Supermoon consists of ten Routenberg originals that are inspired by his two young sons. The music often seems to be a soundtrack for the activities and thoughts of his children. “Supermoon” is a fairly simple and catchy number that mostly features the ensemble and serves as a fine introduction to the program. “Everything Is Alive” is a happy performance full of discovery and is filled with the wonder of life. “Locomotivity” has constant movement and displays plenty of energy. In contrast, “Children Of The Orchard” is a thoughtful performance, a jazz waltz that starts as a ballad before it builds up a bit.
“Our World” is a song of exploration, depicting how the world of children grows as they mature, getting more exciting as it progresses. “My Julian” is a tender tribute while “Secret Neighbor” has mystery and some intense moments. Here, as is true throughout this set, the close interplay of the musicians is quite impressive. “Quiet Time” fits its title and is dreamlike. “Bebop Baby” gives the trio an opportunity to romp through rhythm changes and for there to be a tradeoff by bassist Tucker and drummer Goens. The pretty “Little Song” wraps up the set beautifully.
Supermoon almost operates as a suite, with one song leading logically to the next. It features the playing of Scott Routenberg at its best and is available from www.scottroutenberg.com.
Easy To Love
Born in Pittsburgh, after growing up in Georgia and studying music in Nashville, Lizzie Thomas has been part of the New York jazz scene for the past decade where she performs regularly. Easy To Love finds her singing ten of her favorite standards with a top-notch jazz group in settings ranging from duets to a septet.
Lizzie Thomas considers Billie Holiday one of her main inspirations and at times her phrasing and expressive style recall the late Etta Jones (who was also touched by Lady Day’s style) although she has her own distinctive voice. She is uplifted by the inventive arrangements of pianist Xavier Davis and the tasteful and stimulating contributions of Davis, guitarist Ron Affif, either Yoshi Waki or Greg Ryan on bass, Frank Levatino or Alvester Garnett on drums, trumpeter Antoine Drye, trombonist Frank Lacy, and clarinetist Janelle Reichman.
From the start of an infectious rendition of the late 1920s tune “You Do Something To Me,” Ms. Thomas displays a real joy in her voice. She swing easily and digs into the meaning of the lyrics, even at faster tempos. “Close Your Eyes” starts out with sparse accompaniment over a vamp, really gets swinging in the second chorus, has fine guitar and trumpet solos, and ends with the singer sailing over the closing vamp. “One Note Samba” is taken for a wild ride at a speedy tempo. Lizzie Thomas manages to sound relaxed even when scatting at the rapid pace in unison with Drye’s trumpet.
The momentum never slows down. Displaying her versatility, she also excels at the medium-slow tempo of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” before she gets cooking on “I Only Have Eyes For You.” “Easy To Love” is given a slow, saucy and soulful treatment, partly as a duet with pianist Davis before Drye takes a thoughtful muted solo. During this performance, the singer really draws out the long notes, putting plenty of feeling into her rendition. “Just The Way You Look Tonight” is surprisingly taken as a charming waltz and “You Stepped Out Of A Dream” is swung hard before Lizzie Thomas sings a touching version of “The Shadow Of Your Smile.” She starts with the rarely-heard verse and creates an intimate version with the horns harmonizing behind her. The enjoyable program concludes with “Our Love Is Here To Stay” which is taken as a relaxed duet with the bassist.
Throughout Easy To Love (available from www.lizziethomas.net), Lizzie Thomas is in top form, bringing out the hidden beauty in these timeless standards. It is easily recommended to lovers of the Great American Songbook and first-class singers.
Although he has his own sound and approach, guitarist Bill Boris is a little reminiscent of Pat Martino in the way that he plays within chord changes while at the same time pushing them forward, adding a bluesy and soulful feeling even when he is at his most adventurous.
Bright Moments features the guitarist in a trio with organist-keyboardist Dan Chase and drummer Tyrone Blair, performing five of his originals plus three jazz standards and two transformed pop songs. While at times sounding a little like a throwback to the late 1960s/early ‘70s soul jazz tradition, the trio is far from a copy. They use the vintage sound as a platform to launch into more modern solos and their own brand of grooves and swing.
The opening “Bright Moments” (no relation to the Rahsaan Roland Kirk song) is a swinger that serves as an excellent introduction to the trio with each of the musicians getting to solo. The trio gets a little funky on Stevie Wonder’s “I Can’t Help It,” showing that they are expert at setting an infectious groove. An offbeat choice, the Young Rascals’ “How Can I Be Sure” is reinvented as a jazz waltz. It is a bit reminiscent of how Charles Earland could take unlikely material in the early 1970s and make it into a new song. “The Fallen Angels’ is quite danceable, featuring an attractive ensemble sound with active drums and Chase’s keyboards. “My Funny Valentine” is taken at a medium-tempo pace that finds Boris sounding relaxed even during the more heated moments. Of the remaining pieces, “Cozumel” (which has a Latin tinge), the medium-slow “You’re The One,” and “Number 3” feature the group exploring the funkier side of soul jazz while a cooking “Stablemates” and the excellent straight ahead version of Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way” are closer to hard bop.
Bill Boris’ fluent solos, Dan Chase’s stimulating accompaniment and brief spots, and the driving Tyrone Blair come together to create a trio with its own musical identity. Available by writing email@example.com, Bright Moments lives up to its name and is easily recommended to fans of the classic organ trio.
Bob Washut Dodectet
Journey To Knowhere
Bob Washut, who was an important force at the University of Northern Iowa during 1970-2018 as the director of Jazz Studies for 22 years and a Professor of Music, in his career has written for many college and high school ensembles, professional musicians and symphony orchestras. While he has recorded two albums as a pianist, Journey To Knowhere finds him arranging and composing for a talented 12-piece ensemble which performs seven of his originals and his arrangement of Kenny Wheeler’s “Smatter.”.
Each of the members of the “Dodectet,” which is comprised of three trumpeters/flugelhornists, two trombones, four reeds, and three rhythm, is not only a fine ensemble player but an excellent improviser as Washut shows by giving each of them some solo space.
The opening “Melt Down,” which is inspired by Brad Mehldau, is a fairly mellow piece with excellent solos from tenor-saxophonist Peter Sommer and flugelhornist Greg Gisbert, some playing by pianist Dana Landry over the ensemble, and a few drum breaks from Jim White. It serves as a fine introduction to the sound of the band. “Bluezone” is a medium-tempo blues that has an arrangement a little reminiscent of Thad Jones. The muted trumpet and trombone solos by Peter Olstad and Mike Conrad along with the fluent and swinging alto of Chris Merz sound like logical outgrowths of the arrangement. The jazz waltz, “3 For McKee,” is a showcase for trombonist Paul McKee while Wheeler’s “Smatter” has tenor solos by Sommer and John Gunther before the tempo slows down a bit and the great trumpeter Bobby Shew gets to stretch out a bit.
The medium-tempo ballad “Nora Rae” (which has some fiery interplay by Gisbert and Sommer) builds to a triumphant conclusion. “Thick Plot” (inspired by late-period Bob Brookmeyer) has Merz excelling on soprano and baritonist Wil Swindler getting explorative. “A Nod To Ahmad” is a tribute to the drum rhythm utilized on Ahmad Jamal’s famous version of “Poinciana” with Shew and McKee getting their spots. The concluding “Malecon” utilizes Afro-Cuban rhythms and a Shew-Gunther tradeoff. Also making solid contributions on the set are bassist Erik Applegate and (on “Bluezone”) guest cellist Brett Andrews.
But the real stars of Journey To Knowhere are the swinging and colorful modern mainstream arrangements of Bob Washut. His charts bring out the best in the players and vice versa, making this a rewarding release for those who love the sound of a modern big band. It is available from CD Baby and www.amazon.com.