Greg Fishman Quintet
So You Say
(Greg Fishman Jazz Studies)
Greg Fishman, a top tenor-saxophonist based in Chicago and Arizona (depending on the time of year), considers Stan Getz to be one of his idols. His fellow tenor great Doug Webb thinks of John Coltrane in the same way. One would think that in their heated matchups, it would be easy to tell the two apart, but both of the musicians are quite versatile. Webb, a busy studio musician in addition to being one of L.A.’s top jazz artists, can play as cool as Lester Young when he wants while Fishman has his own sound and certainly knows his Coltrane licks. Together they team up with pianist Mitch Forman, bassist Kevin Axt and drummer Dan Schnelle on ten originals (six by Fishman and four from Webb) that are boppish and full of fire.
Fans of tenor battles will enjoy this set which features the two complementary tenors performing at the same high level. Along the way they play a rapid run-through on the chord changes of “Lover” (“Fast Forward”), and really burn on the high energy and Tranish “254 West 82nd,” the swinging “One For Hank,” the medium-up blues “Adams Street” and a blistering “All The Things You Are” (“Those Things’). There is also a soulful song that Stanley Turrentine would have enjoyed (“So You Say”), the relaxed and melodic “Harlem Avenue,” a bossa closely related to “Wave” (“Wells Street”), “Solar” with a different melody (“Lunar”), and a feature for Fishman (“Nikki’s Waltz”).
Along with the frequently explosive tenor solos, pianist Mitch Forman creates many passionate improvisations (occasionally taking solo honors) while the rhythm section never lets up. Little more need be said, get this one! It is available from www.gregfishmanjazzstudios.com.
Claudia Villela is a Brazilian singer who has been based in Northern California since 1984, making her recording debut a decade later. While she can sing the usual bossa-novas, she is also an adventurous improviser. Her voice is beautiful in all registers which allows her to stretch out and be as creative as she wants.
Encantada Live consists of nine live performances that feature Ms. Villela in a variety of settings. Three songs have her leading her septet including “Taina,” part of which is freely improvised. However I most enjoy her singing in more intimate groups. “Cuscus,” which has her dueting with guitarist Bruce Dunlap, is quite free yet melodic, continually coming back to the melody of “St. Thomas.” “Negra” is an original bossa that displays her range as she stretches herself in a duet with guitarist Jeff Buenz. She performs a brief and straightforward melody reading of Villa Lobos’ “Bachianas #5” with guitarist Ricardo Peixoto (a long-time associate) and does melodic and logical free improvisations (including making up Portuguese lyrics) with both pianist Kenny Werner and Bruce Dunlap.
Throughout these performances Claudia Villela is fearless, creating new melodies and ideas while interacting with her sidemen. How many other Brazilian vocalists singing in Portuguese are on this level? Encantada Live (available from www.claudiavillela.com) features Ms. Villela at her best.
Benito Gonzalez/Gerry Gibbs/Essiet Okon Essiet
Passion Reverence Transcendence
(Whaling City Sound)
The two most influential pianists to emerge during the 1960s were McCoy Tyner and Bill Evans. Tyner, who became famous for his playing with the John Coltrane Quartet of 1960-65, recorded many classic albums during the half-century that followed. His passionate and powerful style with its personal chord voicings and mastery of modal jazz certainly made an impression on pianist Benito Gonzalez as can be heard throughout this tribute album to Tyner. Bassist Essiet Essiet and drummer Gerry Gibbs have been good friends since they were teenagers when Gibbs was leading a McCoy Tyner cover band. The three musicians all came together in 2011 as the Azar Lawrence Quartet, leading to Gibbs’ decision to produce this memorable CD.
The trio performs nine Tyner originals including “Fly With The Wind,” “Blues On The Corner,” “You Taught My Heart To Sing” and “Atlantis.” In addition, Gonzalez is showcased on an unaccompanied version of Coltrane’s “Naima” and each musician contributes an original that is very much in Tyner’s style. Throughout the program, Benito Gonzalez not only sounds very close to McCoy Tyner in his playing but he really captures the pianist’s spirit, particularly from the era when Tyner was most creative and fiery, the 1970s. Essiet and Gibbs play enthusiastically in the same style that they would be utilizing if actually performing with Tyner. Essiet contributes some outstanding solos while Gibbs, who also is heard on percussion, really pushes the other musicians.
McCoy Tyner contributed a quote to the liner notes, saying how happily surprised and pleased he is by this tribute. Fans of his music and modern jazz piano in general will feel the same way. This wonderful set is available from www.whalingcitysound.com.
Superheroes is one of the most unusual jazz recordings of the past year. Pianist Randy Waldman wanted to pay tribute to the television and movie superheroes of his youth along with some of the jazz superheroes of today. He and Justin Wilson wrote arrangements to 11 TV and movie theme songs and then, over time, he was able to gather together many of his favorite jazz artists.
The result is a set that includes such songs as “The Adventures Of Superman” (both the television and movie theme), “Mighty Mouse Theme,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “The Six Million Dollar Man” and even the “Super Chicken Theme.” While the melodies often appear at the beginning of each performance, the arrangements give the jazz artists plenty of room to stretch out and take the music to new places.
Along with the rhythm section (pianist Waldman, guitarist Michael O’Neill, bassist Carlitos Del Puerto, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and percussionist Rafael Padilla), featured along the way are such major players as trumpeters Randy Brecker, Arturo Sandoval and Till Bronner, clarinetist Eddie Daniels, tenor-saxophonists Joe Lovano and Chris Potter, guitarist George Benson, drummer Steve Gadd (who plays next to Colaiuta on three numbers), pianist Chick Corea, trombonist Bob McChesney and even Wynton Marsalis.
Superheroes will be of greatest interest to those who are familiar with such pieces as the “Underdog Theme” and the “X-Men TV Theme” although there are enough heated solos that even those who avoid television will find the music to be worthwhile. It is available from www.bfmjazz.com.
Yo Soy Ritmo! Danzon
This is a fascinating release. Bobby Ramirez pays tribute to the roots of the Danzon, the official dance of Cuba. On You Soy Ritmo! Danzon, Ramirez’s flute is the main voice on nine historic pieces. He is joined by pianist Livan Mess, bass guitarist Yorgis Goiricelaya, violinist Luis Aguiliar Torres, Antonio “Pacha” Portuono on timbales and Amaurys Perdomo on congas and guiro.
The set begins with two of the earliest influences on the danzon, a contradanza from the 1850s (“Los Ojos de Pepea”) and a habanera (the familiar “La Paloma” from 1841. The first danzon to be officially performed in Cuba, Miguel Falide’s “Las Alturas de Simpson” from 1879, is next and followed by six other pieces dating from 1910 to the 1940s.
Beyond the historical importance, the performances on this CD are delightful and filled with rich melodies, catchy rhythms, and top-notch playing. Bobby Ramirez has done a superlative job of presenting timeless music in an entertaining and very musical fashion, putting together a very enjoyable set that is recommended and available from www.ritmodanzon.com.
(Porter House Press)
It is surprising that 40-year old trumpeter Charlie Porter is only now making his recording debut as a leader for he is an excellent and versatile player. On his self-titled CD, Porter utilizes a fun concept. The opening “Prologue” features him as an unaccompanied soloist, “Mel Smiles” teams him in a duet with drummer Mel Brown, and then each selection adds another instrumentalist with the sixth song, “Brown Study,” featuring a sextet. The last five numbers each use one less musician until the closing “Epilogue” again has Porter playing all by himself.
The one fault to this CD is nonmusical and has to do with the packaging. Although each of the musicians that Porter utilizes is pictured, nowhere does it say who is on which selection. Because there are 20 other musicians, it is not a matter of the same players appearing throughout the disc. Four drummers, seven bassists, four pianists, three horn players, a violinist and a guitarist make appearances throughout the date with the best-known musicians including pianist George Colligan and bassist Chuck Israels.
That reservation aside, the music is excellent. From swing to bop, with a bit of New Orleans (“Skain Train”), ballads and romps, Porter and his sidemen are excellent throughout. A highlight is the one piece that Porter did not write, a rare revival of Duke Ellington’s “Morning Glory” which is played in a trio with Israels and guitarist Christopher Woitach.
Throughout the project, Charlie Porter displays impressive technique, a warm sound, creative ideas, and a reverence for past styles while pushing ahead. His album (available from www.charlieportermusic.com) is easily recommended and makes one look forward to his future recordings.
With Heart And Soul
Claudia Koval is a fine local singer who does justice to the lyrics that she interprets. Her voice is attractive and sultry (when it fits the mood of the song), and she swings at all tempos. With Heart And Soul, which is dedicated to her mother, is a set of 11 standards that she uplifts through her infectious personality and joy at singing.
The vocalist is joined by pianist Andris Mattson (who also plays trumpet and accordion), bassist Nick Klingenberg, and drummer Ken Herrera with four appearances by Marc Macisso on flute, soprano, tenor and harmonica, and one by guitarist Paul Jameson. The instrumentalists are excellent but the main credit for the success of this CD goes to the singer.
Whether it is “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams,” “The Shadow Of Your Smile” or “Sentimental Journey,” Claudia Koval comes up with something fresh to say through her phrasing. She very ably sings a medley of “Moody’s Mood For Love” and “I’m In The Mood For Love,” puts sincere feeling into “Home,” and is even successful with the pop song “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”
With Heart And Soul, which is available from www.claudiakoval.com is a happy surprise.
M-Pact, an a cappella group that has been together since 1995, currently consists of singers Jeff Smith (the ensemble’s leader), Aaron Schumacher, Andy Degan, Drew Tablak, Jamond McCoy, and Tracy LJ Robertson. One of its former members, Trist Curless, is now with the Manhattan Transfer.
M-Pact (short for Music Pact) has explored a wide variety of styles in its career with jazz as its foundation. Wonderful World consists of eight selections including inventive versions of “Come Together,” “We Can Work It Out,” “Celestial Sojourn” and “Fly Like An Eagle.” The range of the singers makes one think that a female voice or two is included, and there are times when one would swear that they hear bass, drums and even a keyboard. However there are no instruments utilized other than the six male voices.
The music swings, is soulful, and is filled with subtle surprises. Wonderful World, the group’s sixth CD, is an excellent place to begin in exploring M-Pact’s music. It is available from www.m-pact.com.
It is fair to say that the young drummer Sanah Kadoura has had more than her share of struggles during the past two years. In Jan. 2017, she suffered a traumatic brain injury that forced her to start literally from scratch, relearning how to breathe, walk and talk. Playing drums seemed a low priority at first but she has made a full comeback. Hawk Eyes, consisting of her originals, musically depicts her way back.
Born and raised in Canada, Ms. Kadoura had impressed many observers in New York before her injury, working with such notables as Kirk Lightsey, Philip Harper, Joe Locke, Roy Hargrove, and Sullivan Fortner among many others. On the evidence of her playing throughout Hawk Eyes, she is happily back in prime form again.
Ms. Kadoura utilizes a core quartet comprised of guitarist Mark Whitfield, electric pianist Willerm Delisfort and bassist James Genus. Jeremy Pelt (on flugelhorn) and tenor-saxophonist Tivon Pennicott are on four songs apiece (three of them together) while violinist Eylem Basaldi is a strong asset during the opening number. The music is episodic, has both straight ahead and funky sections, and includes such titles as “Ummm…This Isn’t Real,” “Amnesia,” “This, That & Others,” and the four-part “Hawk Eyes.” While the performances are sometimes cinematic and dramatic, the individual pieces also stand alone, featuring stimulating chord changes and fine solos, particularly from the versatile Whitfield and Delisfort.
Sanah Kadoura, who mostly plays a supportive role on this set, driving the ensembles and adding color and rhythm to the music, clearly has a great future. One is grateful that she is back on the scene. Hawk Eyes is recommended and available from www.sanahkadoura.com.
Mark Turner/Ethan Iverson
Mark Turner is considered one of the more influential tenor-saxophonists on the scene today while Ethan Iverson was until recently the pianist with the Bad Plus. Temporary Kings is a set of duets consisting of six Iverson originals, two pieces by Turner, and Warne Marsh’s “Dixie’s Dilemma.”
The music is dominated by brooding ballads that are quietly dramatic with the two musicians often seeming to think as one. The first three numbers are a bit dry and quite laidback. Things wake up during the swinging “Dixie’s Dilemma” which recalls the music that Marsh had played with Lennie Tristano in the 1950s. Perhaps in the future Turner and Iverson can record a full set of music in this vein. There is more mood variation during the final five numbers although the emphasis remains on thoughtful ballads and subtle interplay between the musicians.
Temporary Kings, which grows in interest with each listen, is a subtle outing that features Mark Turner and Ethan Iverson at their “coolest.” It is available from www.ecmrecords.com and www.amazon.com.
Memphis Ukulele Band
Holidays Ain’t The Same
(Memphis International Records)
Most Christmas albums feature the usual Yuletide favorites and perhaps an original or two. The Memphis Ukulele Band, a group that is difficult to musically classify, performs more unlikely material on their EP.
The group, which was formed a few years ago, consists of singer Kyndie McMahon, and Jason Freeman, Mark Edgar Stuart, Logan Hanna and Jon Hornyak on various types of ukuleles (including tenor, 8-string, baritone, bass and banjo ukuleles) plus the guitarlele; Freeman also contributes vocals and plays harmonica and kazoo.
The seven songs on the brief but enjoyable set include Irma Thomas’ “Gee Whiz It’s Christmas,” Charles Brown’s bluesy “Merry Christmas Baby,” Blue Christmas” and two originals: “Merry Christmas Broken Hearts” and “Holidays Ain’t the Same (Without You).” While I wish that there had been more stretching out and lengthier solos, this offbeat collection adds a bit of variety to the holiday musical season and is a joy to hear. It is available from www.memphisinternational.com
Algorhythm is a Polish jazz group founded in 20013 that consists of trumpeter Emil Miszk, tenor-saxophonist Piotr Checki, pianist Szymon Burnos, bassist Krzysztof Stomkowski, and drummer Slawek Koryzno. Mandala is Algorhythm’s second recording.
From the beginning of the 11 originals (all of which were composed by either Miszk or Burnos), it is obvious that this group has its own sound and conception. Some of the selections feature the band playing over a repeated rhythmic riff rather than strict chord changes. At other times the quirky music is quite episodic, changing moods and grooves unexpectedly. The performances manage to sound spontaneous while often being tightly controlled. To name a few highlights, “Taco Taco” has some particularly intriguing rhythmic figures (especially near its conclusion), “Kenef” sounds like an elephant walking in 3/4 time, “Oizde” is an all-too-brief trumpet-tenor duet, and “Jasmine Vines” has a particularly strong theme. Even the more conventional pieces such as “Ribbons” take surprising left turns along the way.
On Mandala, the individual solos are consistently strong (Checki’s occasional violent outbursts on tenor are quite fun) but it is the interplay between the musicians and the tightness of the ensembles, along with the unorthodox ideas, that make this CD of greatest interest.
Mandala, which is well worth checking out, is available from www.alpakarecords.pl/en.