This Bitter Earth
One of the top young jazz singers on the scene today (although she actually has quite a few years of singing experience), Veronica Swift keeps one guessing throughout her most recent recording. Her repertoire is filled with many little-known but worthy pieces.
Swift’s warm voice is both beautiful and powerful, and she is very good at utilizing dynamics and mood changes. She is also an expert scat-singer and completely knows the bop vocabulary; listen to her singing at the close of “The Man I Love.” Most selections find her joined by pianist Emmet Cohen, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and drummer Bryan Carter although sometimes they are augmented by up to four strings. “This Bitter Earth” starts the set off with a quietly expressive and introverted treatment, a strong contrast to the joyful “How Lovely To Be A Woman” and the saucy “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught.” “Getting To Know You” begins as a quiet ballad before becoming a swinger while “The Man I Love” receives a particularly welcome revival.
On the hard-swinging and uptempo “You’re The Dangerous Type,” after some hot and inventive scat-singing, altoist Aaron Johnson makes the first of two welcome guest appearances. He also plays flute and bass flute quite effectively on the exotic “Trust In Me.”
Swift’s voice sounds lovely on Carole King’s rather controversial “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)” which she takes as a duet with guitarist Armand Hirsch. She displays mature ballad sensitivity on a tender “As Long As He Needs Me” and “Prisoner Of Love.” The other selections include “Everybody Has The Right To Be Wrong” (which features drummer Carter), Dave Frishberg’s “The Sports Page” (which is of lesser interest other than Cohen’s McCoy Tyner-inspired solo), and “Sing” which has her joined Hirsch (who takes a rockish solo) and two student choirs.
One wonders how Veronica Swift managed to record This Bitter Earth in the middle of the pandemic. It is the latest accomplishment in a career that with any luck will be quite significant for decades. Veronica Swift’s fine CD is available from www.mackavenue.com
Evan Christopher’s Django a la Creole
(Fremeaux & Associates)
One of the finest New Orleans-style clarinetists on the scene during the past 20 years, Evan Christopher formed Django A La Creole around 2008. The quartet, which also featured guitarist David Blenkhorn, rhythm guitarist Dave Kelbie, and bassist Sebastian Girardot, performed a repertoire that included Django Reinhardt-associated songs, swing standards, a few New Orleans jazz numbers, and an occasional departure. They recorded Django A La Creole for the Lejazzetal label in 2008, Live (for Fremeaux & Associates) in 2012, and Finesse in 2010. Since I missed reviewing the latter set, a review was way overdue.
The quartet was a classic group in which Christopher and his sidemen brought out the best in each other. On Finesse they perform two songs recorded by Django (“Songe d’Automne” and the guitarist’s lesser-known “Féerie”), a pair of rousing Sidney Bechet numbers, two by Hoagy Carmichael (hot versions of “Riverboat Shuffle” and “Jubilee”), Billy Taylor’s “Finesse,” “Mood Indigo,” Rex Stewart’s “Solid Old Man,” and Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s ancient but exciting “Creole Eyes.” Along with all of those pieces, Christopher also adapted Reinhardt’s “Improvisation #3” (originally played as an unaccompanied guitar solo) for the quartet, renaming it “Django a la Creole”
The result is a well-rounded program (available from www.fremeaux.com) that is full of welcome revivals of some forgotten songs, and an opportunity to enjoy the blend of Django, Bechet and New Orleans jazz that was Django a la Creole.
Come What May
Jane Monheit had a fast start to her career, making a strong impression with her first recording when she was 22. Come What May, which is at least her 12th recording as a leader, is her first album in five years.
Joined by pianist Michael Kanan, bassist David Robaire, drummer Rick Montalbano, percussionist Kevin Winard, guitarist Miles Okazaki, and an occasional string section, the singer is very much in the spotlight during the ten standards. Ms. Monheit generally sounds quite happy and youthful on the medium and uptempo pieces including a scat-filled “When A Woman Loves A Man,” “Let’s Take A Walk Around The Block,” and a medley of “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” and “Get Happy.” The ballads find her sounding more mature, displaying a strong Judy Garland influence (with a bit of Ella), occasionally going a bit over the top with emotion (such as during “Lush Life”), and giving one the impression that she has really lived a lot of the lyrics.
Come What May, which is available from www.club44reccords.com, is Jane Monheit’s most rewarding album in some time and it is well worth acquiring. Her voice still sounds as beautiful as it did early in her career.
The British Gearbox label has released several archival gems during the past few years. These three CDs are part of a series called “Still Hard Boppin’” that was put together for the Japanese market but is available from www.gearboxrecords.com.
Monk features the Thelonious Monk Quartet with the leader-pianist, tenor-saxophonist Charlie Rouse, bassist John Ore, and drummer Frankie Dunlop. That particular unit stayed together for two years (1961-63) and was heard on several Columbia albums. However the performances from their Mar. 5, 1963 concert in Copenhagen, Denmark had not previously been released.
The four musicians are in top form throughout swinging versions of “Bye-Ya,” “Nutty,” “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” and “Monk’s Dream,” with the leader taking “Body And Soul” as a solo piano feature. While one could say that there is nothing new on this set that cannot be heard on their Columbia albums, Monk and Rouse sound particularly exuberant and joyful throughout the consistently inspired performances, and of course the solos are different. The results are quite fun, featuring Monk and his men in excellent form.
Live At Ronnie Scott’s
Yusef Lateef was in one of his career peaks when he appeared at Ronnie Scott’s in London on Jan. 15, 1966. He was in the midst of recording several notable albums for the Impulse label. A very good tenor-saxophonist, Lateef had also become an innovator on the flute and the oboe along with a few other more exotic horns. For the Ronnie Scott’s engagement, he was joined by pianist Stan Tracey, bassist Rick Laird, and drummer Bill Eyden. While one often thinks of Lateef as a top tenor player, he is only heard on that instrument during the closing “Yusef’s Mood,” a joyful r&bish romp. Otherwise Lateef plays flute (often humming through the horn), the shenai (an Indian oboe), and the xun (a Chinese flute). He stretches out on “Angel Eyes” (which starts out with the music being a bit outside before becoming the familiar ballad), “Blues For The Orient,” the haunting “Song Of Delilah,” and “Last Night’s Blues.”
Two years ago, pianist-composer-bandleader Abdullah Ibrahim performed with his group Ekapa at the Jazz Bakery. The Balance, a recent studio session, has a similar program. Other than Thelonious Monk’s “Skippy,” all of the selections are originals by Ibrahim, pieces that are full of strong picturesque themes that look back towards his earlier life in South Africa. As was true of the Jazz Bakery concert, Ibrahim mostly plays quite gently while putting the focus on his melodies and his sidemen. He is joined by bassist Noah Jackson (who switches to cello on two numbers that have Alec Dankworth added on bass), drummer Will Terrill, tenor-saxophonist Lance Bryant, Cleve Guyton Jr. on alto, flute and piccolo, baritonist Marshall McDonald, trombonist Andrae Murchison and, on one number, Adam Glasser on harmonica. While Ibrahim’s own solos are mostly brief, the music, the way his themes are treated, and the sound of his band are very much his vision. This is a set that grows in interest with each listen.
All three of these Gearbox releases (which are also available as limited-edition Japanese edition Lps) should be of great interest to modern jazz fans.
Out Of This World
Molly Hammer passed away last Nov. 24 at the age of 48 from breast cancer which she had been battling for over a decade. An excellent jazz singer, she was a major force in the jazz scene of Kansas City. Originally a stage actress, she dedicated herself to singing in 2005. In her life Ms. Hammer released four CDs including Live At Green Lady Lounge (a quartet date from 2016 with organist Ken Lovern) and a tribute to Julie London called I’m Feeling Mellow.
Out Of This World (from 2017) is probably the best recording of Molly Hammer’s to acquire first. She is joined by pianist Joe Cartwright, bassist Steve Rigazzi, drummer Todd Strait, and occasionally tenor-saxophonist Brad Gregory. Ms. Hammer displays a lovely voice and a flexible yet always swinging style. She rips throughout the Jon Hendricks lyrics of Horace Silver’s “Doodlin’” with ease, recalls Irene Kral on the Dave Frishberg ballad “Listen Here” and a fetching version of “Detour Ahead,” rocks out on the 1940s rollicking boogie-woogie “Pig Foot Pete” (assisted by background vocalists Molly Denninghoff and Jessalyn Kincaid), swings hard on an uptempo “Never Will I Marry,” is infectious on the Dinah Washington hit “TV Is The Thing This Year,” and makes Peggy Lee’s “I Love Being Here With You” sound like it was written for her.
Molly Hammer’s early demise was a major loss to the jazz world but at least her recordings survive as evidence of her strong talent and joyful spirit. Out Of This World is available from www.josephlcartwright.com.
John Patitucci/Vinnie Colaiuta/Bill Cunliffe
This trio outing is essentially a straight-ahead bop-oriented set. The lack of liner notes or any designated leader makes the set a little bit of a mystery although there is no mystery about the high quality of the performances.
On such numbers as George Shearing’s “Conception,” “Seven Steps To Heaven,” “My Shining Hour,” and “Just In Time,” pianist Bill Cunliffe is the first among equals, taking the majority of the solo space as one would expect from a piano trio. Utilizing his own modern chord voicings, Cunliffe avoids playing the obvious yet captures the essence of each standard and swings easily. He is certainly inspired by having bassist John Patitucci and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta playing behind him. Patitucci gets his share of solos and Colaiuta definitely makes his presence felt.
The set also includes such numbers as “Laura,” Wayne Shorter’s “Ava Maria,” Chick Corea’s “The One Step,” “Good Morning Heartache,” and Thelonious Monk’s “We See.” While the three musicians have worked together in a variety of settings through the years, they had never recorded as a trio before. But listening to their effortless interplay, they sound as if they had been performing together nightly for years.
Trio is easily recommended and available from lecoqrecords.bandcamp.com.
Message From Groove And GW
When one thinks of an organist being featured with a large ensemble, Jimmy Smith playing with Oliver Nelson’s orchestra and Richard “Groove” Holmes with Gerald Wilson’s big band come quickly to mind. On two songs that Holmes recorded with Wilson, the organist played all of the basslines.
Radam Schwartz, a veteran organist who led his first album in 1992 and has uplifted recordings led by Russell Gunn, Cecil Brooks III, and Charlie Apicella among others, on Message From Groove And GW has become the first organist to ever play all of the basslines on an entire big band album.
Teamed with the ten horns of Abel Mireles’ Jazz Exchange Big Band, guitarist Charlie Sigler, and drummer David F. Gibson, Schwartz is featured on a variety of mostly medium-to-uptempo performances. While Schwartz and Sigler are the main soloists, the arrangements (five are by the organist) include space for nearly all of the horns to get individual spots; they take consistently excellent solos.
Ranging from John Coltrane’s “Blues Minor,” the Bach classical piece “Von Gott,” and three Schwartz originals to two numbers that are from the r&b world (“Ain’t No Way,” and “Between The Sheets”), this set is a joy from start to finish. The highpoint is probably a lengthy version of Charles Mingus’ “Work Song” which inspires passionate statements from trumpeter Ben Hankel, trombonist Andrae Murchison, and altoist Anthony Ware before Schwartz contributes an intense solo of his own.
Fans of the jazz organ will certainly want to pick up Message From Groove and GW which is available from www.arabesquerecords.com.
A fixture on the Portland, Oregon jazz scene since 1990, bassist Ed Bennett has an endless resume filled with associations including working with Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Henderson, Sonny Stitt, Benny Golson, Frank Morgan, Richie Cole, Joe Albany, Dave Frishberg, Carmen McRae, Jimmy Witherspoon, the Mel Brown Quartet, and on and on. Suffice it to say that his bass playing is welcome on any bandstand. He founded the Saphu label in 1993, a company that now has over 20 albums in its catalog including at least five of his own.
Portland Calling features Bennett as a bassist and a composer (he contributed all 11 songs) with a quintet also including trumpeter/flugelhornist Paul Mazzio, Tim Willcox on tenor and soprano, pianist Dan Gaynor, and drummer Tim Rap. The songs are sometimes reminiscent of West Coast jazz of the 1950s although they often utilize more modern harmonies. Bennett’s soloists are quite skilled with Willcox’s high-powered tenor playing sometimes recalling Johnny Griffin, Mazzio contributing many colorful statements, and pianist Gaynor occasionally stealing the show with his own inventive improvisations. Bennett takes short solos of his own that keep the momentum flowing while Rap makes the most of every drum break.
Among the highlights are the boppish “Portland Calling,” the pretty “Waltz For Jill,” “Ecaz” which evolves from repetition to pure exhilaration, the happy “Holiday In Portland, an atmospheric ballad “March Mist” and the uptempo romp “News Blues.”
Portland Calling, which is filled with exciting music, is easily recommended and is available from www.saphurecords.com.
Till Bronner/Bob James
This is a tasteful set of easy-listening jazz. Till Bronner’s fluegelhorn and trumpet playing at various times recalls Chuck Mangione, Chet Baker, and Miles Davis during one of his more laidback moods. He also takes four vocals where his light tone and quiet style sound a bit like Michael Franks.
Bronner performs in a quartet setting with pianist-keyboardist Bob James and a few different bassists and drummers (including Harvey Mason). James plays well, adding color, a gentle swing, and consistently melodic solos. Of the 13 songs, four are by Bronner, James brought in three, Mason contributed one, there are three pop songs, and also versions of “Save Your Love For Me” and (the biggest surprise) “Basin Street Blues.”
Nothing too startling takes place in the tempos or improvisations, but the overall mood is pleasing and likable. On Vacation is easily recommended for those who want to hear something mellow. It is available from www.amazon.com.
Swingin’ In The Spirit
Tyler Pedersen, a fine guitarist and bassist, has long considered it his mission to bring swing into the 21st century, but without the period trappings or World War II. nostalgia. His guitar playing harks back to the 1950s (hinting at both jump blues and rockabilly) and he performs originals at consistently swinging tempos.
On the EP Swingin’ In the Spirit, which has seven of his concise pieces, Pedersen is heard (via overdubbing) on both guitar and bass while joined by rhythm guitarist Nathan James and drummer Craig Christensen (with Blake Armstrong in his place on one song). There is a variety of moods and a few catchy melodies along with excellent guitar soloing.
The only fault to Swinging’ In The Spirit is its brevity, so consider this a sampling of Tyler Pedersen’s talents, and be sure to pick up his previous Swingin’ In Space too. They are available from
The Rufus Temple Orchestra
New Orleans Joys
(Syncopation Society Berlin)
1920s-type jazz has long been played all around the world and has had a strong audience in Europe. The Rufus Temple Orchestra is a sextet from Berlin that made its recording debut with New Orleans Joys, a set of ten songs composed by Jelly Roll Morton.
The Rufus Temple Orchestra is comprised of trumpeter Johannes Bohmer, Johannes Lauer on trombone and piano, Bastian Duncker switching between clarinet, alto and baritone, banjoist Katharina von Fintel, Nikolai Scharnofske on sousaphone and bass, and Fidelis Hentze on drums and cornet. In addition, guest guitarist Jack B. Latimer takes vocals on “Buddy Bolden’s Blues” and “Winin’ Boy Blues.”
While the musicians are not virtuosos and the performances are not flawless, the group sounds like it is from the 1920s and they put plenty of honest emotion and swing into Morton’s pieces without copying the original recordings. Trumpeter Bohmer takes some worthy solos, Lauer’s growling trombone works well on “New Orleans Stomp,” Duncker is best on baritone, and Katharina von Fintel’s vocals on “Sweet Substitute” and on “Original Jelly Roll Blues” (sounding a little like Adelaide Hall) are a nice feature.
The performances are mostly taken at a relaxed medium-tempo pace with “Shreveport Stomp” (the hottest number) and “New Orleans Blues” (which has fine bass playing) getting excellent arrangements. While I would have preferred to have another uptempo piece or two, New Orleans Joys is an enjoyable debut for the band. It is available from www.rufus-temple.de.
Groove Tantra is a very likable septet that plays accessible and melodic music that grooves. The group is comprised of Loran Cox on flugelhorn and trumpet, keyboardist Abel Pabon, pianist Lawrence Ross, guitarist Michel Gonzalez, bassist Raymond Love, drummer Willie Sells, Jr, and Edwin Torres on Latin percussion. Tantra means to weave. The word fits the group’s sound since they weave together several different styles of music, with their brand of jazz also utilizing aspects of r&b and Latin music.
Their recent eight-song collection is filled with strong melodies, consistently warm and concise trumpet/flugelhorn solos, colorful playing from keyboardist Pabon, and a tight but loose feel from the rhythm section. All but one of the songs is an original by Cox, three of which were co-written with Pabon.
The opener, “Juégalo,” has the rhythm section establishing a Latin groove, Cox’s flugelhorn lead being a bit reminiscent of Chuck Mangione, and a joyful feeling being set. The ballad “Even Now,” which is worthy of Bob James, has a brief but effective tradeoff between keyboards and flugelhorn. “A Thousand Words” is a bit catchy and conversational in its relaxed phrasing.
“Yo No Se Manana” is a nice soulful tune with warm flugelhorn and a very singable melody. “Free At Last” has a concise trumpet solo that works quite well in conveying the feeling of the piece. One of the most intriguing numbers on the set, “Always Know,” alternates between two different but complementary themes and gets a bit funky in spots. “Sketches In Silk” is highlighted by one of the best flugelhorn solos of the set, leading to the spirited closer “Follow Your Heart” which has a determined feel that fits its title.
Throughout their release, Groove Tantra performs music that is very easy to enjoy and is easily recommended to those who enjoy danceable yet subtle jazz and captivating grooves. This fine set is available from www.groove-tantra.com.
Yuto Mitomi & Yuto Kanazawa
Guitarist Yuto Kanazawa and tenor-saxophonist Yuto Mitomi were both raised in Japan but are now part of the New York jazz scene. Kanazawa was born in Tokyo, grew up in Fukushima, and started on the guitar when he was 14. After a period of playing rock, he switched to jazz while in college and moved to the US in 2007 to attend Berklee. His first album, 2013’s Earthwards, included Kurt Elling. Mitomi grew up in Yokohama, Japan, started on the piano when he was three, and switched to tenor in junior high school. While he performed often in Tokyo, he spent a period working as a mechanical engineer. He relocated to New York in 2011 to take jazz courses at City College, graduating in 2015. In 2017 the two Yutos stated teaming up as Utopia, recording a duo album of the same name and touring Europe as a quartet.
Utopia’s second duo recording finds the musicians turning a wide variety of songs into melodic jazz. In addition to Thelonious Monk’s “Ugly Beauty” (which is given a particularly beautiful interpretation), “Blackbird,” “Sweet Lorraine,” and Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” they also explore an adventurous original, the always-likable bossa nova “Doralice,” a Japanese folk song, and Michael Jackson’s “I Want You Back.” Mitomi, who is heard on tenor, alto, and soprano, has a soft and lyrical tone on his instruments, a quietly adventurous style, and enjoys embracing melodies. Kanazawa, who is mostly in a supportive role, proves to be a very self-sufficient rhythm section by himself, providing rhythms, chords, and stimulating support for the saxophonist. Perhaps next time the duo can stretch out a bit more (the CD is fairly brief) and Kanazawa can get some solo space.
This is an enjoyable release from two musicians with strong potential. Utopia Imaginably is available from www.yutokanazawa.com.