by Scott Yanow
Rob Mullins has been a major pianist for the past 30 years, leading at least 33 CDs and exploring music that ranges from straight ahead to more pop-oriented jazz. He has appeared in many settings (including working and touring with Hubert Laws) and is a busy educator, so getting to hear him playing as a leader in a boppish trio is a rare treat.
Pierre’s Fine Pianos on Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles recently hosted “An Afternoon of Classical & Jazz Music.” Classical pianist Tania Stavreva opened with concise classical works by Erik Satie and more recent composers including six of her own pieces.
The second half of the program had Mullins along with bassist Jonathan Kirsch and drummer Evan Stone performing fresh renditions of straight ahead jazz. On “Tangerine,” he and his trio swung a bit like Oscar Peterson, “Moonlight In Vermont” was given a light-hearted treatment, Mullins performed his catchy “Tango Delicioso,” and the trio explored such numbers as “Take Five” (during which Mullins added a long quote from “My Favorite Things”), a tender “The Nearness Of You,” and Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower.” Kirsch had some brief solos and he and Stone contributed stimulating support behind the pianist.
On the final three numbers, “Scrapple From The Apple,” “Satin Doll,” and “Comin’ Home Baby,” Mullins’ student guitarist Izzy Einstein sat in with the group and fared pretty well.
It made for an enjoyable afternoon. Rob Mullins deserves greater recognition for his talents and hopefully will be heard in similar settings more often in the future.
One of the top jazz guitarists ever since he worked with Harry Connick Jr. and was a member of the Diana Krall Trio, Russell Malone has led his own CDs since 1992 and his own groups since at least the mid-1990s. In addition to his attractive and bright sound plus his ability to swing at all tempos, Malone’s solos are particularly intriguing because of his familiarity with all eras of jazz. It is not uncommon for him to contribute to the depth of his improvisations by adding in an obscure song quote or a hint of an earlier guitarist.
At the Moss Theater during a concert sponsored by Ruth Price and the Jazz Bakery, Malone led a quartet that also featured pianist Rick Germanson (who has also led his own rewarding recordings), bassist Luke Sellick, and drummer Neal Smith. The guitarist began the night performing Mulgrew Miller’s “Soulio” (which featured exciting interplay with Germanson over the closing vamp) and continued with the pianist’s “Thanks For What,” “Love Looks Good On You,” and “Witchcraft” (which found Malone playing a mostly chordal solo that sometimes used humorous dissonances). One of the night’s highpoints was a medley of “Wild As The Wind” (which the guitarist took unaccompanied) and a slow version of “The Shadow Of Your Smile” on which both Malone and Germanson let the rich melody speak for itself.
Swing, taste, bluesiness, and subtle unpredictability were qualities heard throughout the fun performance. Russell Malone is always well worth seeing.
One of the handful of world-class jazz singers living in Southern California, Angie Wells is a delight to see perform live. Feinstein’s At Vitello’s recently paid host to Ms. Wells who was joined by pianist Andy Langham, bassist Edwin Livingston, and drummer Dan Schnelle.
The set began with an instrumental version of “You Stepped Out Of A Dream,” serving as evidence that Langham is a masterful pianist. Angie Wells started off with Peggy Lee’s “I Love Being Here With You” and then continued with “Honeysuckle Rose” (the first chorus had the singer reinventing the melody a bit while accompanied by Livingston), a slow rendition of “Midnight Sun,” a swinging “All Of Me” (a little reminiscent of Carmen McRae), “That Old Devil Moon,” and “Peel Me A Grape” which was taken at a perfect tempo, a little faster than usual. Throughout the night, Angie Wells often acted out the words she was singing and her talking between songs was filled with humorous comments.
Always hitting notes perfectly in tune and never being shy to use space, Ms. Wells also performed a quietly dramatic “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” a joyful and scat-filled “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To,” a medium-slow and soulful “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “When Did You Leave Heaven” (reminiscent of early Nancy Wilson), “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” and a duet with Langham on “Here’s To Life.” Persuaded to sing a little more and not wanting to end with a ballad, Angie Wells scatted her way through a blues, leaving the audience smiling.
The Lp was succeeded by the CD during the mid-to-late 1980, but, starting 15-20 years later, it made an unlikely comeback. Considered almost worthless in the late 1990s by many who should have known better, it is now seen by some as a luxury item. Three recent releases are covered in this piece.
An excellent and very popular pianist from New Orleans, Jon Batiste (who is 33) released his first album 16 years ago. He has traveled the world extensively, has had success with his group Stay Human, and since 2015 has been the bandleader for The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.
Chronology Of A Dream (Verve 31063) was recorded live at the Village Vanguard during Nov. 2-4, 2018 during the same sessions that resulted in the previously released Anatomy Of Angels. Batiste heads a group also including bassist Phil Kuehn, drummer Joe Saylor, percussionist Negah Santos, trumpeter Giveton Gelin, altoist Patrick Bartley, Tivon Pennicutt on tenor, and Joe Lampley on tuba and trumpet. Guitarist Louis Cato makes a guest appearance on “Blacck,” a happy opening theme that introduces the band’s brand of funky jazz. “Prince” is a modern party song that could have been composed by Abdullah Ibrahim and features a fine alto solo. “Higher” is a medium-tempo hard bop blues with good spots for Batiste and trumpeter Gelin. “Pwwr” has some vocalizing and comments by the leader, “Birthe,” one of Batiste’s stronger originals, includes some fine piano by the leader and catchy tuba playing that drives the rhythm section. “Kenner” features Jon Batiste’s boogie-woogie playing; the audience enthusiastically claps out the rhythm throughout. Trumpeter Roy Hargrove had passed away during the week of this recording. Batiste tells a brief story about him, his group performs a spirited version of the trumpeter’s “Soulul,” and Hargrove makes a brief cameo appearance during “Ordr” in a sample during which he talks about Jon Batiste’s ability to play exciting solos. One wonders if the latter really needed to be included since it comes across as a tribute to Batiste rather than to the fallen great. But, that reservation aside, Chronology Of A Dream (available from www.amazon.com) gives a good sampling of Jon Batiste’s recent work.
Lars Bech Pilgaard is an adventurous improviser on guitar, keyboards, and even bowed banjo. Based in Copenhagen, Denmark, he has led the avant-garde group Slowburn since at least 2012 and Folketro (available from www.momeatdad.com) is their fourth recording. Slowburn consists of Pilgaard, bassist Thommy Andersson, drummer Thomas Eiler, and Lars Greves on reeds. Some of the selections on Folketro add violin, viola, accordion, trumpet, trombone, tuba and/or percussion.
The music is quite cinematic, filled with sound explorations, and both colorful and occasionally disturbing. Pilgaard who composed all eight soundscapes, is the dominant voice in the ensemble-oriented performances. Sometimes, as on the opening “Bezirk,” the music is classical-oriented with its use of strings while given one the feel of science-fiction. “Folketro” has a menacing and rhythmic machine-like sound that Pilgaard improvises over. Other pieces, such as “Diablo” and the quietly brooding “I Skyggerne,” are gentler, at least for a time. “Azur” has a particularly catchy rhythm even while electronic distortions and Greve’s purposely noisy clarinet are heard on top. One can certainly imagine many of these pieces being used as a soundtrack although they also sound complete without a video. And it seems right that this program is available as an Lp because dj’s will probably be intrigued by some of the rhythms and sounds.
The third Lp in this article is a reissue of an Azar Lawrence album from 1975 that was originally on the Fantasy label, Summer Solstice. Lawrence gained a strong reputation when he first emerged in the early 1970s, playing tenor and soprano with McCoy Tyner, Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard. He especially excelled on Tyner’s recordings of the era (Enlightenment, Sama Layuca and Atlantis) and led three albums of his own during 1974-76. Then, after a long period when he had a much lower profile, he made a comeback in the jazz world around 2007 and has recorded rewarding recordings ever since. Still very much in his prime, Lawrence (who is based in Los Angeles) can sound just like John Coltrane when he wants but displays a more individual sound on Summer Solstice.
Joined by trombonist Raul de Souza (it is a treat to hear him again) and two different rhythms sections that have bassist Ron Carter with either Albert Dailey or Dom Salvador on piano, Lawrence performs five rhythmic pieces that are both fiery and accessible. He plays soprano on the opener, “From The Point Of View,” which has a two-chord groove similar to Pharoah Sanders’ “The Creator Has A Master Plan.” Other selections include the simple but effective “Novo Ano,” “From The Point Of Light” (which features some particularly passionate tenor playing), the uptempo “Summer Solstice,” and “Highway” which is uplifted by the fine flute playing of Gerald Hayes.
The return of Azar Lawrence’s Summer Solstice, which is available from the Concord subsidiary Craft Records (www.craftrecordings.com) is a welcome event.