Teodross Avery and Gary Motley
Tenor-saxophonist Teodross Avery started his career fast. He picked up the tenor when he was 13, began attending Berklee at 17, led his first album (In Other Words) for GRP when he was 19, and was soon playing with many jazz greats. Since then he has mixed jazz with aspects of hip hop, toured with Lauryn Hill, worked on many films, been a session musician, and earned a Doctorate in Jazz Studies from USC. Dr. Teodross Avery is currently the head of Jazz Studies and Commercial Music at Cal State University Dominguez Hills.
In recent times he has recorded and released two particularly strong CDs. Soulful Equanimity (available from www.teodrossavery.com) is a set of duets with pianist Gary Motley. While the majority of the pieces are passionate explorations of spiritual ballads, the music is never overly predictable. With Motley mostly in a supportive but stimulating role, Avery digs into such pieces as John Coltrane’s “Dear Lord,” Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday,” Donny Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free,” and Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” with equal fervor, sincerity and creativity. Particularly riveting is his lengthy and intense version of “What’s Going On.” Throughout much of this set (which finishes with a “Dialog” by the two musicians who talk about their music and lives), Teodross Avery preaches through his horn in a memorable fashion.
After The Rain
After The Rain is a tribute to John Coltrane that teams Avery on tenor and soprano with pianist Adam Shulman, bassist Jeff Chambers and drummer Darrell Green. This project is particularly effective because Avery, while certainly inspired by Coltrane’s innovations, has his own sound (particularly on tenor) along with a great deal of energy. It also helps that, other than “Afro Blue,” the other five selections (a surprisingly intense “Blues Minor,” “Bakai,” “After The Rain,” “Africa,” and “Pursuance”) are not performed all that often.
The rhythm section is a logical extension on Coltrane’s famous group with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones, and keeps the momentum of the music flowing. As for Avery, he never seems to run out of ideas or energy during a performance that, other than one ballad (“After The Rain”), is full of intensity. “Africa” is a particular highpoint of a memorable outing that lovers of John Coltrane’s music will have to get. After The Rain is available from www.tompkinssquare.com.
In Any Key
Jazz singer Gretje Angell was born in Akron, Ohio, played string bass early in life, and studied classical music in college. She has been an important part of the jazz scene in Los Angeles during the past few years. While Ms. Angell has sung with the big bands of Ladd McIntosh and Glen Garrett, she is regularly heard in intimate jazz settings, often with the complementary guitarist Dori Amarilio. She has a beautiful voice, is a sensitive interpreter of lyrics, and is also a superior scat-singer.
In Any Key (which gets its name because Gretje has the ability to sing any song in any key) is her debut recording. She is joined by Amarilio (the set’s producer who also provided the arrangements), Kevin Axt or Gabe Davis on bass, drummer Steve Haas, and percussionist Kevin Winard, with one appearance apiece by bassist Chuck Berghofer and trumpeter Michael Hunter.
Starting with a bossa-nova version of “Our Love Is Here To Stay” (which includes some inventive scatting), In Any Key includes such highpoints as a swinging “I’m Old Fashioned,” a romantic “Deep In A Dream,” “Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me,” and three duets with guitarist Amarilio including a charming rendition of “Tea For Two” (which includes the verse) and an uptempo “Them There Eyes.”
In Any Key is a strong start for Gretje Angell, who will hopefully record many more sets in the future. It is available from www.gretjeangell.com.
Pianist Andrew Carroll makes his recording debut as a leader on Alliterations. Based in New York, Carroll was performing professionally as a teenager. He attended USC’s Thornton School of Music, recording an unissued CD with the Thornton Jazz Orchestra that included two of his arrangements. Since moving back to Central New York, Carroll has worked with Jane Monheit, Nancy Kelly, Ralph Lalama and other top local players.
Alliterations teams the pianist with bassist Michael Pope and drummer Jonathan Barber. The close interplay between the musicians is at times reminiscent of that heard in the Bill Evans and Ahmad Jamal Trios with Barber offering subtle support and Pope having a fair amount of solo space. But even at this early stage, the pianist already has his own individual approach to playing jazz and he displays plenty of potential.
The Carroll Trio performs a ballad-oriented set on Alliterations with much of the music being gentle and soothing but with a quiet swing and inner heat. The opener, “Arrive,” is a jazz waltz that picks up steam along the way. “Midnight Blues” gives the unit an opportunity to cook and it has a memorable melody. Andrew Carroll caresses the theme of “Impossible,” playing it simply and letting the romantic song speak for itself. Of the originals, “On Franklin Street” has a melody that could catch on someday. It is followed by a thoughtful “Blackberry Winter” (which at times is a little reminiscent of “Some Other Time”) and the introspective “Interlude.”
The most swinging number on the CD is a medium-tempo romp on “How Am I To Know.” The remainder of the enjoyable program includes the tender and partly out-of-tempo “3 X 4,” “Flower Pedal” which has a hypnotic rhythm set by the drums, ballad treatments of “I Didn’t Know About You,” “I’ll Look Around” and the passionate “The Dove,” and finally the haunting “Turn The Page.”
All in all, Alliterations (available from www.andrewcarrollmusic.squarespace.com) is an impressive debut for Andrew Carroll and the perfect way to discover the talented pianist.
Lisa Rich was one of the most promising jazz singers of the 1980s. Blessed with a very attractive voice, she performed in a wide variety of often-prestigious settings during a 15 year period. She made her recording debut with her album Listen Here in 1983, recorded Touch Of The Rare with Clare Fischer in 1985, performed at a series of groundbreaking concerts in China (the first jazz events in that country since 1949), and also sang in India in 1990. Unfortunately bad health forced her to stop performing altogether in the early 1990s so she opened up a music studio and has worked as a teacher ever since. She hopes to make a comeback soon.
In 1987, Ms. Rich recorded her third album which she recently remixed and is releasing for the first time. She had made the acquaintance of Chick Corea who gave her several of his songs, none of which had been sung before and only one of which (“Bud Powell”) has since become well known. With sensitive support provided by pianist Marc Copland (David Kane takes his place on two numbers), bassist Drew Gress and drummer Michael Smith, Lisa Rich interprets five Chick Corea songs, two by Ralph Towner, one apiece by Duke Ellington, Ornette Coleman and Loonis McGlohon, and the standard “We’ll Be Together Again.” Although the material is often challenging with some wide interval jumps (the Corea and Towner pieces were not originally meant to feature a singer), Rich sounds relaxed throughout, and her vocal flights are effortless and natural.
The opener, Corea’s “High Wire The Aerialist,” was not recorded by anyone else until the composer with singer Chaka Khan documented it in 2009, 32 years after this version. The beauty of Lisa Rich’s voice and the ease in which she sings the intervals are very much in evidence. Next up is Corea’s “Contessa,” an obscure jazz waltz that the pianist never recorded, and a straightforward ballad medley of Towner’s “Celeste” (with words by Norma Winstone) and Ellington’s “Prelude To A Kiss.” “Bud Powell” is one of Corea’s happier melodies and this is its first and possibly only vocal recording. Lisa takes the song for a joyful and swinging ride. “Stardancer,” which was also receiving its recording debut, is an adventurous jazz waltz with the singer hitting each note perfectly.
Most of the second half of the program is comprised of slow ballads (other than Corea’s brief and energetic “The Jinn”), including out-of-tempo duets with pianist Kane on a quietly emotional version of Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” and Copland on Towner’s “The Silence Of A Candle.” McGlohon’s “Songbird” features classic ballad singing and the vocalist really digs into each word during a tasteful “Well Be Together Again.”
Although it was recorded 32 years ago, the performances on High Wire (which is available from www.cdbaby.com) are timeless and still sound fresh. This is arguably Lisa Rich’s finest recording and is easily recommended.
Smoking Time Jazz Club
The Smoking Time Jazz Club, a New Orleans jazz combo that has recorded at least ten CDs thus far, is comprised of trumpeter Jack Pritchett, trombonist Russell Ramirez, Joe Goldberg switching between clarinet and saxophones (playing piano on one number), Brett Gardner on guitar and banjo, bassist John Joyce, drummer Mike Voelker, and singer Sarah Peterson.
On Contrapuntal Stomp, it is a tossup if one is more impressed by the band’s expertise at playing 1920s jazz, their enthusiasm and consistent creativity within the style, or the repertoire. It is not very often that one hears revivals of such pieces as Sidney Bechet’s “Characteristic Blues,” “Okey Doke,” the Johnny Dodds-associated “My Baby,” “You Made Me Love You” (the song recorded by Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five, not the Al Jolson hit), and “Sweetie Dear.” A particular delight is the charming and witty “Trombone Slide” which was only previously recorded by Roy Palmer in 1932.
Each of the versatile horn players has a colorful sound and a style that fits very well into classic jazz, the rhythm section swings in the vintage fashion, and Sarah Peterson’s bluesy vocals are a major asset. Whether it is Bechet’s charming “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere” (made famous in recent times by it being used throughout the soundtrack of Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris), “Come On and Stomp Stomp Stomp,” or “Everything I’ve Got Belongs To You” (which has no relation to the Rodgers & Hart piece from 1942), the performances are inventive and fresh rather than being copies of earlier versions.
Although it would have benefitted from including liner notes, Contrapuntal Stomp is highly recommended and available from www.smokingtimejazzclub.com.
(Melissa May Music)
An up-and-coming trombonist who has been making a strong impression with her inventive playing, Melissa Gardiner in her career thus far has worked with such giants as Geri Allen, Gerald Wilson, Patti Austin, and Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. She has a deeper message than usual on her second CD, Empowered.
Gardiner’s new recording has song titles and some vocals that pertain to the struggle of being a female in a male-dominated field. Utilizing a core trio with drummer Byron Cage and either
Willerm Delisfort, Daniel Pugh, William Gorman or Andrew Carroll on organ and keyboards, Empowered also features such guests as trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, altoist Tia Fuller (the two horn players are on three selections apiece), two appearances from the rockish guitarist Anthony Saturno, percussionists David Donley and Weedie Braimah and, on “Let Me Lead” and “Home,” singers Sydni Eure and Marissa Jones. The leader also takes a few vocals along the way.
Melissa Gardiner wrote or co-composed all of the selections which, while based in jazz, also contain some funky and electronic rhythms along with aspects of r&b and soul music. “Rain Reprise” utilizes a funky and electric ensemble, Gardiner’s warm and soft vocal, and an outburst from guitarist Saturno. “Slowly” has close interplay between Jensen’s muted trumpet and the leader’s voice while “Bump” gives the trombonist an opportunity to stretch out. Tia Fuller is a strong asset on “Mask” and the catchy “People Pleaser.” The latter has a warm melody and is particularly memorable. Other highlights include Gardiner’s fiery solo on “Brass Ceiling,” the modern soul jazz number “Influence,” and the fine singing by the guest vocalists on “Let Me Lead” and “Home.” In keeping with the main subject matter, there are also four brief conversations with some of the musicians about sexist incidents and the general struggle to make it based on one’s merits.
The performances on Empowered are thought-provoking, a little provocative, and grooving. This CD is available from www.melissamaymusic.com.
You Must Believe In Spring
Silvie Rider-Young has been a fixture on the U.S. jazz scene since 2007. Born and raised in Switzerland, after meeting her future husband keyboardist Red Young, she settled in Austin, Texas. You Must Believe In Spring is her third American album after the well-received Je Te Connais and Reviens.
For this project, Silvie Rider-Young is joined by Red Young on piano and organ, guitarist Rick Hirsch (Billy Watts is on one number), either Roscoe Beck or Daniel Durham on bass, Daniel Dufour or Tom Brechtlein on drums, a horn section on two songs, and one guest appearance apiece by five horn soloists. The repertoire is filled with many of the singer’s favorite standards (including three by Michel Legrand) plus her own original “Viva Musica.”
Throughout You Must Believe In Spring, Silvie Rider-Young displays a warm, friendly, versatile and quietly expressive voice. She begins the set with a cheerful version of Jobim’s “Once I Loved” which has her interacting with tenor-saxophonist Max Abrams who is a bit reminiscent of Stan Getz. “Unforgettable” has her singing the happy lyrics quite simply with fine accompaniment from Red Young and his trio. Her voice is haunting on “You Must Believe In Spring” and she swings joyfully on “I’m Just A Lucky So & So.” The latter features her scatting a little and welcoming a few short solos from members of the horn section.
“Windmills Of Your Mind,” after a memorable piano introduction, is given a dramatic interpretation. Silvie is quite expressive on “Prelude To A Kiss” (Elias Haslinger’s spot on tenor fits right into the mood) and assertive on the swinging “Love Me Or Leave Me.” During Legrand’s “I Will Wait For You/Les Parapluies de Cherbourg” she sings in both French and English with an orchestral backing. Things get soulful on “What A Difference A Day Made” which has the singer joined by Young’s organ and the horn section. She certainly has fun on a saucy version of “I’m Walking” before thing settle down for heartfelt renditions of “Embraceable You” and “Stormy Weather” with the latter featuring Kaz Kazanoff’s tenor. After a joyful and satisfying version of “The Good Life,” Silvie Rider-Young switches to the piano and closes the program by performing her original instrumental “Viva Musica,” a classical melody with a jazzy middle section.
You Must Believe In Spring (which is available from www.silvierideryoung.com) makes for a very enjoyable listen and a perfect introduction for those who are not already familiar with the talented Silvie Rider-Young.
Dreaming On My Feet
Jonathan Ng is a swing-oriented violinist and singer based in Seattle who has toured with the ragtime/swing group Ellis Dyson & the Shambles. Because he is a swing dancer himself, on his debut recording as a leader (actually a six-song EP), Ng pays close attention to setting the right tempos.
Leading a group that also includes the fine accordionist Gabe Hall-Rodrigues, rhythm guitarist Victor Horky, bassist Ryan Donnelly, and drummer Max Holmberg, Ng sings on four of the six songs in a friendly and likable voice. While his vocals on his own “Dreaming On My Feet,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Stars Fell On Alabama,” and “After You’ve Gone” are fine, it is his violin playing on those numbers (plus the instrumentals “Jordu” and “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To”) that is of greatest interest. Playing in a style closer to Stuff Smith than Stephane Grappelli, Ng swings hard and comes up with lively ideas on renditions that are at times reminiscent of a Count Basie small group.
Dreaming On My Feet (available from www.jonathanngmusic.com) is an excellent outing for Jonathan Ng, who will hopefully stretch out on an extended program the next time around.
Bassist-singer Casey Abrams gained his initial fame by coming in sixth place on American Idol in 2011, adding a rare bit of jazz to the series. His debut for the Chesky label (www.chesky.com) is his third recording as a leader.
For this set, Abrams is joined on various selections by guitarist Mark Whitfield, flutist Anne Drummond, trumpeter Giveton Gelin, and tenor-saxophonist Jimmy Greene. The intimate setting, with just a guitar-bass rhythm section, is reminiscent of 1950s West Coast cool jazz. That atmosphere is definitely present on the numbers on which Gelin contributes his fine Chet Baker-inspired trumpet.
Abrams has a high and gentle voice, one that sounds fine on such numbers as “Autumn Leaves,” “I’ve Got The World On A String,” and “Fly Me To The Moon.” He takes occasional bass solos while also giving space on various songs to the three horn players. Flutist Drummond is a major asset while guitarist Whitfield is indispensable in keeping the rhythm steady, particularly during the vocals. Perhaps next time, Abrams should utilize a full rhythm section.
All in all, this is a pleasing effort that is well worth checking out. It will be interesting to see where Casey Abrams evolves from this point.
Alex Owen and the Messy Cookers Jazz Band
Get Out And Get Under The Moon
Alex Owen is a trumpeter/cornetist whose medium-register style and versatility sometimes make him a little reminiscent (but not derivative) of Bobby Hackett. He has an attractive tone and is a melodic player but he can also get hot when it fits the music. Owen has led the Messy Cookers Jazz Band in New Orleans since 2012, using a variety of top players and different instrumentations.
On Get Out And Get Under The Moon, Owen splits the 14 songs between two different groups. Seven numbers have him playing cornet and taking a few likable vocals while joined by guitarist John Eubanks and bassist Andy Reid. This is the unit that Owen often uses to play at hotels and private events. While the majority of those songs are ballads (including beautiful renditions of “Manhattan” and “Skylark”), the trio also excels on medium-tempo versions of “You’re Driving Me Crazy” and “S’posin.’”
The remainder of the numbers feature Owen’s trumpet with James Evans on clarinet and tenor, pianist Steve Pistorius, guitarist Albanie Falletta and drummer Benny Amon (surprisingly there is no bass) in a quintet that performs at festivals and clubs. The group plays such trad jazz favorites as “Dippermouth Blues” and “Wolverine Blues,” featuring Ms. Falletta’s complementary singing on “Louisiana” and “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.”
No matter which group he is performing with during this well-balanced program, Alex Owen is in top form, creating a lyrical blend of swing and Dixieland that is difficult to resist. The excellent set is available from www.messycookers.com.
Modern Jazz Quartet
Live In Paris – 1960-1961
(Fremeaux & Associates)
The Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ) was a fixture in jazz for so long that they were often taken for granted, as if they would last forever. Consisting of pianist John Lewis, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, bassist Percy Heath, and drummer Connie Kay (Kenny Clarke was the original drummer during 1952-55), the group was very active during 1952-74, again during 1981-93, and on an occasional basis after Kay’s death until 1997.
This three-CD set of previously unreleased live performances from Paris is a real gem. The recording quality is top-notch as is the playing. The first CD has a dozen performances from April 9, 1960, the second CD has nine from the first concert of Nov. 4, 1961, and the remainder of the release has 17 selections from the latter night’s second concert. On Nov. 4 the usually very reliable MJQ was an hour late in starting and Milt Jackson was not present for the first two numbers (“I Can’t Get Started” and “A Night In Tunisia”), leading to some catcalls from the unruly audience. But all was well when Jackson made it and the musical magic flowed.
Among the highlights of this wonderful release are “Bluesology,” Ray Brown’s “Pyramid,” “Skating in Central Park,” “Bag’s Groove,” “Odds Against Tomorrow,” “It Don’t Mean A Thing,” “Animal Dance” and two versions of “Django,” but every selection is enjoyable. A special bonus is having a rare chance to hear a live version of a three-part version of “The Little Comedy” that lasts over 15 minutes.
Fremeaux & Associates (www.fremeaux.com) is a classy French label that has released quite a few very valuable sets of previously unreleased music by American artists. Anyone interested in the MJQ will certainly want this opportunity to spend three hours with the classic group.
Abdullah Ibrahim, who began playing professionally in his native South Africa in 1949 and has been a major pianist since 1959, is now 87. Throughout much of his career, he has also been a significant composer who writes impressionistic and vivid pieces that reflect the South African folk music that he heard while growing up, along with the inspirations of Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk.
The Balance is Ibrahim’s first new album in four years. He is joined by Ekaya, the group that he formed in 1983 although the personnel has changed quite a bit since then. The ten selections on this program form an informal suite, covering a variety of moods while containing Ibrahim’s rich melodies.
Along the way one hears the mellow ballad “Dreamtime,” the riff-filled “Nisa,” “Jabula” which sounds like it could be a dance from South Africa, and “Tuang Guru” which features the raging uptempo bass of Noah Jackson and statements from Cleave Guyton Jr. on piccolo (he also plays alto and flute on this set), baritonist Marshall McDonald, some colorful trombone by Andrae Murchison and Lance Bryant’s forceful tenor, driven by Will Terrill’s drums. The leader’s piano is featured on “Tonegawa” and “ZB2” with his warm ballad “Song For Sathima” (with Bryant in the lead) heard between the two thoughtful statements.
The only piece on the set not written by Ibrahim is Thelonious Monk’s “Skippy” which gives the horns (including Guyton on piccolo) chances to stretch out a bit. After a spot for the leader’s gentle piano on “Devotion,” the CD concludes with “The Balance” which features Noah Jackson’s cello, bassist Alec Dankworth, Cleave Guyton on flute, and guest Adam Glasser on harmonica.
The mostly laidback music of The Balance, recorded 60 years after Abdullah Ibrahim’s recording debut, shows that the pianist-composer is still making a major contribution to modern music. It is available from www.gearboxrecords.com.
On King 1957-1959
60 years later, it seems strange that Lorez Alexandria (1929-2001) not only did not make it big but is somewhat forgotten today. Her vocal talents were very close to being on the level of Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, she had a big sound and a wide range, and Alexandria could improvise as skillfully as most horn players, often phrasing behind the beat. Born in 1929 as Dolorez Alexandria Turner, she sang with church choirs and for 11 years was part of an a cappela singing group before switching to secular music in the early 1950s. Alexandria worked for a time with pianist-vocalist King Fleming’s quintet whose musicians also sang, forming a vocal group. Emerging from that unit, she recorded four albums for the King label during 1957-59, sang with the Ramsey Lewis Trio, and recorded for Argo and Impulse. But with the change in popular music brought on by the rise of the Beatles in the mid-1960s plus her decision to spend her key years in Chicago and Los Angeles rather than New York, she was largely off records during 1965-76. Later in life she made a comeback, recording for Discovery and Muse before retiring in 1996.
The two-CD set On King 1957-1959 contains all of the music from Lorez Alexandria’s first four albums plus, as a bonus, four singles that she made for the Blue Lake and Chess labels. The first disc has two particularly strong albums. This Is Lorez has the singer joined by King Fleming’s sextet in 1957 which was a rhythm section plus bongos and Ronald Wilson on flute and oboe, While the opener, “I Thought About You,” has some of the musicians joining in by singing, the rest of the program focuses on Alexandria. On such songs as “I’m Glad There Is You,” “Penthouse Serenade,” “Baltimore Oriole,” and “You Stepped Out Of A Dream,” Alexandria is heard in her early prime. Sometimes she hints at Sarah Vaughan and Ella (she could scat very well), and in other spots she sounds slightly like today’s Roberta Gambarini.
The second album, Lorez Sings Pres, was quite unusual for it iwa a tribute to the songs that tenor-saxophonist Lester Young (who was still alive and active) played. On some songs that did not have lyrics (“D.B. Blues,” “No Eyes Blues,” and “Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid”), Alexandria scats while other tunes (such as “Fooling Myself,” “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” and “This Year’s Kisses”) find her getting into the lyrics. She does not try to copy Young’s phasing except in a few spots. For the tribute album, she is joined by a different version of Fleming’s sextet, one that includes bass trumpeter Cy Touff, trumpeter Paul Serrano, and Charles Stepney on vibes. The first disc concludes with the four singles from 1954-56 with Fleming’s earlier vocal-oriented quintet. The music ranges from early rock and roll to “One O’Clock Jump.”
The two albums on the second disc have a strange history. The Bethlehem label during 1955-57 had recorded music with top jazz-oriented studio musicians that, while complete by itself, could be used to sing over. The State Department was interested in distributing the music to foreign countries for native vocalists to perform with. Some of the selections appeared on a Francis Faye album and two were on a Russ Garcia record. In 1959, the King label (which had bought Bethlehem) did its best to hide the fact that its two recent Lorez Alexandria records (The Band Swings – Lorez Sings and Standards With A Touch Of Jazz) were actually her singing with the pre-recorded tracks. Listening to the results, unless one recognizes the arrangements, it is impossible to tell that she was not in the studio with the musicians. There are solos from some of the sidemen, the balance makes sense, and the singer makes the most of her time during these concise performances of 23 standards, most of which clock in around three minutes. She sings superbly throughout. Four songs have her backed by the Ralph Sharon Trio/Quartet while the arrangers of the larger bands include Johnny Richards, Russ Garcia and Frank Hunter, none of whom knew that they were writing for Lorez Alexandria!
This perfectly conceived reissue, produced by Jordi Pujol (who managed to dig up the personnel listings for the two previously anonymous albums), is one of many gems available from the Fresh Sound label (www.freshsoundrecords.com).