By Devon “Doc” Wendell
Mats Homquist is one of the most celebrated arrangers and composers in jazz today. He has been featured with Dick Oats and the Vanguard Orchestra, The Dave Liebman Big Band and many others. Holmquist has recruited the 18-piece UMO Jazz Orchestra from Helsinki Finland with Randy Brecker for “Together”. Randy Brecker remains one of the most prolific and masterful trumpeters for over four decades now. The results are magical.
UMO consists of Ville Vannemaa on lead alto, soprano saxes and clarinet, Mikko Makinnen on Alto Soprano sax, clarinet and flute, Teemu Salminem on teno sax and clarinet, Max Zenger on tenor sax and flute, Pepa Paivenen on baritone sax and flute, Heikki Tuhkanene, Mikko Mustonen, and Mikael Langbacka on trombones, Mikel Ulfberg on guitar, Seppo Kantonen on piano, Juho Kivivuori on bass, Markus Ketola on drums and Jakob Gundmundsson on trumpet.
Mats Holmquist’s compositions and arrangements often sound like a cross between 1950s Duke Ellington and early ‘60s Wayne Shorter but with a signature sound with a modern tough which will stay with the listener forever. The most Ellingtonian pieces are “Summer And Winter,” “Never Let Go,” and “Windows.” Randy Brecker’s trumpet Seppo Kantonen’s piano work is masterful and soulful throughout but most especially on “One Million Circumstances” and “Crystal Silence.”
One of the most striking elements about these compositions and the way they’re executed is the sense of dynamics. The band will take it all the way down to a whisper and then swing in the higher range, creating a compelling excitement from start to finish. “All My Things” is a minimalist masterpiece by Holmquist. It’s both modern and traditional in a big band setting. Ville Vannemaa’s soprano sax solo dances atop of the rhythm section. Brecker’s solo swings beautifully.
UMO’s big band sound weaves together a tapestry of the entire history of big band jazz and beyond. Chick Corea’s “Humpty Dumpty” is an uptempo piece that is syncopated like a Monk composition with a dash of
Mingus. Max Zenger’s tenor sax solo almost sounds like a baritone sax. His angular lines cut through the song’s melody with a sense of fearlessness. Brecker burns beyond belief as does Mikel Ulfberg’s guitar solo. Homquist’s arrangement are tight and stellar.
If you’re looking for a big band recording with both a modern and traditional touch, look no further. This is a fabulous album and hopefully the beginning of several more outings between Randy Brecker, Mats Holmquist and the UMO Jazz Orchestra.
“Together” will be released on September 7th, 2018 and available through Amazon, CDBaby and ITunes.
Unfortunately, big band jazz is slowly becoming a dying art form.
It’s taught in schools and universities all over the world but big band recording projects and shows aren’t taken as seriously these days as smaller jazz ensembles.
Luckily David Ricard dedicates most of his time to his big band when he isn’t working on TV jingles and cartoons. Ricard’s big band is made up with some of the finest musicians on the scene today. On his upcoming CD release Parallels Ricard pushes the boundaries of the big band idiom with originality and humor.
The album starts out with “Spider Man.” Many might not think that the theme song from Spider Man could swing hard but Ricard’s band lays it all on the line. And with Wayne Bergeron on trumpet, this rendition burns. There’s also a cooking rock-inspired guitar solo by Will Brahm.
The David Ricard Big Band consists of Chad Willis, Dave Richards, Wayne Bergeron, Anne King, Mike Cottone, Josh Aguiar and Blake Martin on trumpets; Dave Ryan, Erik Hughes, Sean Shackelford, Dennis Rollins, Juliane Gralle and Jake Kraft on trombones; Doug Webb, Geoff Nudell, Aaron Heick, Michael Czaja, Noah Preminger, Dave Thomasson, John Mitchell, Kyle O’ Donnell, Brian Clancy and Stehen Taylor on Sax/Woodwinds; Brandon Covelli, Jordan Seigal and Bill Fulton on piano; Will Brahm, Matt Hornbeck, Grant Geissman and James Leibow on guitar, David Ricard, bass, Sammy K, drums and Bill Hulting on Vibes.
Ricard and his band do fascinating covers of “The Odd Couple” theme by Hefti/Cahn, Bobby Timmons’ “Pretty Memory” and The JB’s funk anthem “Pass The Peas,” but it’s Ricard’s originals such as “Wandering,”
“The Big To Do List,” “Come Out Swinging,” “Too Much,” and “Stick Shift” that swing the hardest with a healthy dose of funk. The horn arrangements are tasteful and clever and the rhythm section holds down the fort with precision and dedication. These originals are filled with a sense of fun and humor that is relentless.
Ricard’s “Sarah’s Theme” is a sweet lullaby in swing with a most soulful Aaron Heick on alto sax.
David Ricard produced, arranged and even mixed this glorious recording. The production quality is slick and as clean as it gets.
Many may argue that big band jazz doesn’t appeal to all age groups but David Ricard’s Big Band’s Parallels will surely reach music lovers both young, old and in-between. This is an exciting project presented with love and a masterful understanding of the many intricacies of big band jazz.
Parallels will be available through davidricardbigband.com starting October 5th, 2018. Don’t miss it.
Hendrik Meurkens and Bill Cunliffe
Cabin In The Sky
(Height Advantage 002)
By Devon “Doc” Wendell
An instrumental jazz duo album is hard to pull off. There’s a lot of space to fill plus the instrumentation has to be interesting enough to hold the listener’s attention.
What could be better than pianist Bill Cunliffe and harmonicist extraordinaire Hendrik Meurkens teaming up for an album of standards mixed with several originals? Cabin In The Sky kicks off with the title track from the 1943 film classic. Meurkens’ harmonica soars as Cunliffe’s piano comping and fills are tasty and soulful. Meurkens’ original “Afternoon” has Cunliffe playing synthesizer. Meurkens’ harmonica lines are exploratory yet wonderfully thematic.
The duo’s takes on Wayne Shorter’s “Myako” and Joe Zawinal’s “Young and Fine” are sublimely lyrical. Cunliffe and Meurkens are a tight duo with a magical ESP that shines through every composition. Cunliffe’s two originals “You Don’t Know Me” and “Time To Say Goodbye” (co-written by T. McConnell) have a deeply haunting quality to them; something mysterious yet bluesy. Cunliffe and Meurkens play the melody lines in unison. Meurkens’ harmonica playing is full of risk.
He clearly is a virtuoso from the Toot Thielemans school of the chromatic harmonica but with his own musical language and sense of adventure. Cunliffe is a master of harmony and melody. His genius lays in his subtleties.
This album is also filled with dashes of humor. Meurkens and Cunliffe’s reading of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode To Billy Joe” swings with more of a blues feel than country. Both Cunliffe and Meurkens play two phenomenal solos making this an album highlight. Another top album performances are the duets rendition of “Speak Low,” and the Meurkens original “Prague In March.”
Another humorous moment is the duet’s insertion of Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water” in Jobim’s “Wave.”
Cabin In The Sky is one of the finest jazz duet albums to be released in a long time by two top masters in the jazz world today. Do not miss this one.
Beverley Beirne – Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun (NOVA)
By Devon “Doc” Wendell
Who could possibly take Slade’s 1973 proto-metal “Come Feel The Noize” and make it swing in the jazz realm? That would be British jazz vocalist Beverley Beirne on her latest recording project “Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun.”
This album features fantastically pure but fun jazz versions of Adam And The Ants’ “Prince Charming,” Kim Carne’s “Bette Davis Eyes,” Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer” and Billy Idols’ “Hot In The City.”
This project was skillfully produced by legendary keyboard wiz Jason Miles. Beirne is accompanied by a top-notch band consisting of Sam Watts on piano, Flo Moore, bass, Ben Brown, drums & percussion and Rob Hughes on saxophone and flute. The band is tighter than tight and inventive. This is not swing by numbers jazz accompaniment by any means. Jason Miles guests on Hammond organ on “Deeply Dippy” and “Waiting For A Girl Like You.” Guitarist Dean Brown appears on “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” and Romero Lubando adds some tasty guitar on “Cruel Summer.”
This isn’t merely a novelty album. The arrangements are subtle yet deeply sophisticated. Beirne’s rollicking tenor vocals are lush and rich with pure soul. Her take of Right Said Fred’s “Deeply Dippy” is a compelling highlight, featuring fantastic bass work by Flo Moore and piano comping by Sam Watts. Beirne’s reading of ABC’s “When Smokey Sings” has a soaring ethereal quality with wonderful tenor sax work by Rob Hughes. Beirne’s vocals often sound like the phrasing of a tenor saxophone. She knows how to hit those notes and get in between the cracks of them like a virtuoso instrumentalist.
Beirne’s delivery of these pop/rock classics make them feel like they’re part of the great American songbook.
The idea of jazz versions of Foreigner’s “Waiting For A Girl Like You” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” might make some cringe but you can’t judge a book by its cover and contempt prior to investigation always fails in the jazz world. This is certainly the case with Beverly Beirne’s “Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun.”
Kajagoogoo’s “Too Shy” is reminiscent of Ella swinging with Ray Brown. The production is superb with no compressed drums or anything insulting to the purity of jazz.
Take a second listen to these pop/rock tunes in a new light with Beverley Beirne’s delightful “jazz just Wants To Have Fun.” This album is both masterful and fun, so who needs anything more? Don’t miss out on this one.
“Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun” can be purchased starting June 15th at www.beverleybeirne.com.
By Devon “Doc” Wendell
Taking on this music of pianist Richie Beirach and saxophonist Dave Liebman is no easy feat. After years of collaborating together, Liebman and Beirach have an almost telepathic musical intimacy that is complex, soulful and most of all, unique.
Vocalist Fred Farell’s latest project Distant Song captures the music of Liebman and Beirach beautifully. Farell didn’t merely copy Liebman’s and Beirach’s compositions, he added sublime lyrics and a magically ethereal vocal style.
Farell is accompanied by Liebman on Wooden recorder, as well as soprano & tenor saxophones. Richie Beirach appears on acoustic piano, of course.
“Broken Wing” takes us back to Richie Beirach’s days with Chet Baker. Farell’s lyrics and vocal delivery are mournful and tender. Liebman’s soprano sax work sails in and out of the perfectly stated changes comped by Beirach. The listener is instantly hypnotized into a visceral world of love, light and often sorrow.
“Lonnie’s Song” features one of Farell’s finest vocal performances on the album. And after all these years, it is apparent that Beirach and Liebman were both students of modern bop pianist master and composer Lennie Tristano. Those dissonant chords and suspenseful silences add a challenge to the music that Farell is certainly up for.
Dave Liebman’s “Forgotten Fantasies” is a haunting instrumental. That soulful symmetry between Liebman and Beirach is stronge than ever before.
On Liebman’s “Tomorrow’s Expectations,” Farell’s meditative lyrics about inner explorations adds a new dimension to this classic. It feels as if the lyrics were part of this composition from the beginning.
Farell’s melancholy lyrics on Beirach’s “Leaving” tell a story of a broken romance. “A train ride sends me leaving you;” Farell paints a vivid picture of the passing scenery on the train ride and every contemplative thought along the way.
Fred Farell’s debut on www.whalingcitysound.com/ is accessible yet exploratory. Fred Farell’s vocals and lyrics are nothing short of compelling on every level, as is the genius of Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach. This is a must for all jazz lovers.
By Devon “Doc” Wendell
Frustration is what often drives an artist to reach that new creative plateau. An artist sometimes feels that they must break away from the past where their new innovations no longer fits. But being forced into the confines of the past while presenting the new can create something beautifully unexpected.
This was certainly the case with John Coltrane in the Spring of 1960 when he embarked on his final tour with Miles Davis. Supposedly the tensions between Miles and Trane were so strong that Trane didn’t talk to Miles or the rest of the band during that European tour, captured on the 4 CD box set: Miles Davis & John Coltrane-The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series Vol. 6.
This plush and historically important set features 5 different shows; two in Paris, two in Stockholm and one in Copenhagen. Trane sounds frustrated throughout these shows, as if he’s searching for a way to implement his ever-bourgeoning style into fragments of the past from which he fears is keeping him stagnant.
Miles and Coltrane are joined by the brilliant Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and the dynamic Jimmy Cobb on drums. “All Of You,” “Bye Bye Blackbird,” and “Oleo” from the two shows at The Olympia Theater in Paris are harrowing. Trane’s sound is closer to his Impulse records works than his previous sessions for Atlantic and Prestige Records. But no matter how far out Trane flies, Miles acts as the galvanizing center piece, giving the music a thematic sense that is often needed after a whirlwind Trane solo from 1960. Miles’ chops are in top form, in fact, this set features some of Miles’ finest work. “All Blues” from The Copenhagen show is a prime example of this. Kelly, Chambers and Cobb are stellar and keep the music grounded along with Miles.
On “Fran Dance” from the first Stockholm show, Trane is playing beyond the stated changes. It’s fair to say that it feels as if Trane is practicing on stage during this and most of the performances on this set instead of focusing on the theme of the compositions. Magically it all makes for some compelling music. Miles must have known that it would both shock the audiences and work in a way that might not be realized for decades to come. There are even some whistles, boos and shouts from the audience after Trane solos, which I’m sure added to Trane’s growing frustration.
Miles was still able to get Trane’s most lyrical playing during this short era on “‘Round Midnight” from the second show at The Olympia in Paris. Although it still feels light years from the album version from over four years earlier, it’s Trane’s least frenetic solo on this collection. Wynton Kelly’s fleet fingered, blues tinged style is both elegant and imaginative. Jimmy Cobb’s sense of dynamics behind the drum kit is awe-inspiring and Paul “Mr. PC” Chambers plays the bass with a bold and powerfully confident ease on every single track.
This is not the kind of music that the listener will “get” with the first listen but the most rewarding music, especially in jazz, is most often like that. The contrasts, tensions and newer arrangements of these Miles classics makes this collection essential for both hardcore jazz lovers and jazz tourists alike.