Carla Bley/Andy Sheppard/Steve Swallow
Life Goes On
It is funny how some recordings seem to predict the pandemic of 2020. Life Goes On, a set of Carla Bley compositions that feature the pianist leading her longtime trio with electric bassist Steve Swallow and Andy Sheppard on tenor and soprano, does just that.
The opening four-part suite (“Life Goes On,” “On,” “And On,” and “And Then One Day”) has titles that make it seem that the shutdown was obvious. Starting with a relaxed blues that lets each musician stretch out, it segues into a melancholy ballad, a medium-tempo jazz waltz, and then a rhythmic piece filled with uncertainty that gradually and reluctantly slows to a stop at its conclusion. This may seem like a musical depiction of the shutdown, but it was actually recorded along with the rest of the CD in May 2019.
The three-part “Beautiful Telephones” could be a suggestion of how to stay in touch these days, but it is actually a trio of unrelated pieces, each one a feature for one of the musicians with Bley’s playing in Part III. quoting some patriotic songs (including “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “It’s A Grand Old Flag”) for unknown reasons. Another ballad (“After You”) and the brief “Follow The Leader” precede “Copycat” which almost sounds like a Monk tune or a variation of a standard without being either. It features some fine Sheppard soprano playing and a melodic bass solo. Carla Bley is content to play in a supportive role on many of the pieces including this one, but her whimsical wit and musical ideas give Life Goes On its rather mysterious plot
Rachel Therrien is an excellent modern jazz trumpeter from Canada. Her inside/outside playing and ability to jump into the upper register on a moment’s notice recall Kenny Wheeler at times but she mostly displays her own sound and style on Vena, her fifth recording as a leader. She has worked in her career so far with the DIVA Jazz Orchestra and such notables as Claudio Roditi, Paquito D’Rivera, Lee Konitz, Ken Peplowski, Michel Legrand, and Carol Welsman.
Therrien performs 15 of her originals in a European group with pianist Daniel Gassin, bassist Dario Guibert, and drummer Mareike Wiening that has tenor-saxophonist Irving Acao guesting on two numbers. She begins and ends the set playing boppish trumpet with Gassin’s organ on the brief “Folks Jam” and “Folks Tune.” The other selections are post-bop explorations, music that looks towards the avant-garde without quite crossing the line away from chordal improvisations. One could imagine Woody Shaw playing some of these pieces. Most memorable is the ballad “Emilio” which displays Therrien’s warm tone at its best. She creates plenty of fire on the other numbers, taking solos that zig and zag into unexpected ideas. Her sidemen listen closely and follow her effortlessly with Gassin taking quite a few rewarding solos.
Vena is an excellent example of today’s modern mainstream jazz and it makes for a stimulating listen. It is recommended and available from www.racheltherrien.com.
The Bebop Years
(Dutch Jazz Archive)
Rob Pronk (1928-2012) is best remembered as an excellent big band arranger from the Netherlands. However early in his career he was an important trumpeter and pianist who was among the first in his country to credibly play bebop. His Rob Pronk Boptet was active during 1950-51 but unfortunately never recorded as a unit. By the late ‘50s, Pronk was working as a trumpeter-arranger with the Kurt Edelhagen Orchestra. Starting in the 1960s, he arranged for the Metropole Orchestra (contributing over 1,200 charts) in addition to writing for other orchestras although he occasionally recorded as a pianist as late as the 1970s.
The Bebop Years has Pronk’s most significant early recordings as a player. The bulk of the CD features Pronk on trumpet leading a quintet, septet and a nonet in 1957. The music is straight ahead cool-toned bebop that could pass for a West Coast jazz session. His relaxed trumpet playing (sounding particularly haunting on “I Waited For You”) is not that distant from that of Chet Baker although he does not copy him. Other key soloists include altoist Herman Schoonderwalt, pianist Rod Madna, and tenor-saxophonist Ruud Brink. While none became known in the U.S., they were all top-notch soloists on the level of many Americans.
The final six selections are Rob Pronk’s earliest recordings and feature him as a pianist. In 1953 when the Stan Kenton Orchestra toured Europe, Pronk was pressed into service, recording two songs with a three trombone sextet also including Frank Rosolino, Bob Burgess and European Ake Persson, and a pair of numbers in a quartet with tenor-saxophonist Zoot Sims, bassist Don Bagley, and drummer Stan Levey. The last two songs are private recordings from 1950 that include a trio version of “Boplicity” (during which Pronk’s chordings are a bit reminiscent of George Shearing) and a feature for his sister singer Babes Pronk on a fine ballad treatment of “I’ll Remember April.”
This historic CD should be of strong interest to anyone who loves 1950s bebop. It is available from www.jazzarchief.nl.
James Carney Sextet
James Carney, who lived in Los Angeles during 1990-2004 but has been an important pianist-composer in New York ever since, can always be relied upon to perform creative modern jazz. On Pure Heart, he is joined by other inventive and versatile players: trumpeter Stephanie Richards, Oscar Noriega on bass clarinet and alto, Ravi Coltrane (tenor, soprano and sopranino), bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Tom Rainey.
The performances of Carney’s five originals, while giving the musicians solo space, are perhaps most notable for the many ensembles which are crowded and often dissonant yet full of joy and spirit. Improvised ensemble playing sometimes seems like a lost art that was forgotten in the transition from swing to bebop, but Charles Mingus and some of the avant-gardists brought it back from time to time. Carney gives the three horns plenty of opportunities to interact with each other, whether accompanying each other’s solos or sharing the lead. Noriega’s bass clarinet is particularly effective in this setting but none of the musicians are overshadowed, coming together to form a happily ragged group sound that digs deep into the pianist’s compositions.
The results are well worth hearing several times. Pure Heart is easily recommended and available from www.sunnysiderecords.com.
Gerry Mulligan and the Concert Jazz Band
Live In Amsterdam 1960
(Dutch Jazz Archive Series)
Baritonist Gerry Mulligan, who originally came to fame with his pianoless quartet that featured Chet Baker, always wanted to lead a big band. He had begun his career as an arranger for orchestras (including Claude Thornhill, Gene Krupa and Stan Kenton) and that was his first love. In 1960, when he was at the height of his fame, he organized a 13-piece unit that consisted of three trumpets, three trombones, five saxes, bass, and drums. Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band just lasted two years but it left behind some classic music, much of which can be heard on a four-CD limited edition Mosaic box set that reissued all of the group’s Verve recordings.
Live In Amsterdam 1960 is a previously unreleased concert from Nov. 5, 1960. Surprisingly Mulligan wrote relatively few arrangements for the band with most of the ones on this CD being by valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer (a key soloist with the group), Al Cohn or Johnny Mandel. With such soloists as Mulligan, Brookmeyer, trumpeters Conte Candoli and Don Ferrara, altoist Gene Quill, bassist Buddy Clark, and tenor-saxophonist Zoot Sims (who is showcased on two songs), the band performs three Mandel originals from the 1958 movie I Want To Live, six Mulligan pieces (including “Young Blood,” “As Catch Can,” “Walkin’ Shoes,” and a brief “Utter Chaos”), Ben Webster’s “Go Home,” and three standards including “My Funny Valentine.”
This was a classic band and every recording that the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band made is well worth owning. Live In Amsterdam 1960 is no exception. The same can be side for the other 13 live recordings (mostly by Americans including Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald and Thelonious Monk) in the valuable Dutch Jazz Archive Series, all of which are available from www.jazzarchief.nl.
Stafford James String Ensemble
Bassist Stafford James, who made his recording debut with Albert Ayler in 1969, was originally associated with the avant-garde, working with Sun Ra, Rashied Ali, Joe Lee Wilson, Andrew Hill, and Oliver Lake. However he was always a very versatile and well-rounded musician, he was a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1974, and had associations with Gary Bartz, Dexter Gordon, Woody Shaw (with whom he played for many years) and Jimmy Heath. Active in Europe in recent times as both a bassist and an educator, and performing and composing a wide variety of music, James is very much in the spotlight on Live.
During his sixth record as leader, Stafford James is featured throughout as a soloist who often bows his bass. He is joined by a string quartet, bass, and drums during a 2019 concert from Zurich, Switzerland. James and his musicians perform nine tunes including five of his originals (his ballad “To Say You Love” is one of the highlights), one other song, and three standards: “Giant Steps,” “In A Sentimental Mood,” and “’Round Midnight.” The latter adds a supportive guitar and tenor-sax.
Stafford James plays brilliantly throughout and always holds one’s interest. Live, one of the finest recordings of his career, is available from www.staffordjames.com.
Lizzy and the Triggermen
Good Songs For Bad Times
Lizzy and the Triggermen have emerged during the past year as one of the most intriguing swing groups in Los Angeles. The classically-trained Lizzy Shapiro is versatile (alternately sensuous and swinging) in her singing, the musicians in the ten-piece band (which include the great trombonist Dan Barrett who also contributed most of the arrangements, trumpeter Corey Gemme, and pianist Chris Dawson) are top-notch, and the repertoire mixes together vintage obscurities with the leader’s originals.
Their debut six-song EP starts with “Outta Your League,” a Retro Swing number with a solid groove and a big band feel to the ensembles. “Someday” begins as a bluesy ballad before it gets cooking. The 1930s “Weed Smoker’s Dream” is quite atmospheric with some excellent trumpet playing. “Ev’s Lament” is episodic and a bit over the top but fun, while “Dance Song (For The End Of The World),” which adds four additional singers, is rather bombastic and somewhat bizarre. Ending the EP on a quieter level is Duke Ellington’s “Transbluency” which has Lizzy in Kay Davis’ place as an operatic wordless vocalist.
There is plenty of potential displayed on this set and, although I wish the band had more opportunities to cut loose, this is a fine beginning for Lizzy and the Triggermen, available from www.lizzyandthetriggermen.com. I bet that they are a blast to see live.
A top New York-based swing orchestra that performs each Monday night at Swing 46 (at least it did up until the pandemic), Swingadelic is a blues-oriented jazz band that is also sometimes thought of as a jazz-oriented blues band. The 10-18 piece group (the personnel and size vary throughout the CD) has a spirited sound, clean ensembles, and fine soloists plus occasional vocalists. It is sometimes reminiscent of the big band that Ray Charles used for years, being both soulful and swinging.
Bluesville is their tribute to big band blues, covering tunes mostly from the 1930s through the ‘60s with “The Mooche” being from 1928. Ironically, some of the songs, including “The Late Late Show” (which opens and closes the set) and “Harlem Nocturne,” are not actually blues but the bluesy feeling is felt throughout. There are five different singers with Vanessa Perea taking two vocals, pianist John Bauers getting four, and one apiece by trombonist Neal Pawley, pianist Mitch Woods (“Parchman Farm”) and guitarist Andy Riedel, but they do not dominate. There are many fine solos sprinkled throughout the set (guitarists Riedel, Boo Reiners and Joe Taina take particularly strong improvisations) and there are really no slow moments throughout a program that includes Ray Charles’ “Mary Ann,” “What’s Your Story, Morning Glory,” Charles Brown’s “Fool’s Paradise,” and the Ruth Brown hit “I Don’t Know” plus a pair of in-the-tradition originals.
There is plenty to enjoy throughout the fine outing, available from www.zohomusic.com.
The Unique Quartette
During the past two decades, the Archeophone label has been the premiere label at reissuing historic performances from the pre-1920 period, everything from the complete Bert Williams and all of the recordings by the Six Brown Brothers (a saxophone sextet), to a recent set featuring James Reese Europe.
The Unique Quartette was the first African-American barbershop quartet to record, starting in 1890 and continuing until later in the decade. Until recently it was believed that only one title survived, their 1893 version of “Mama’s Black Baby Boy.” Archeophone’s fascinating two-CD set Lost Sounds added “Who Broke The Lock” from 1895. But now, on the 10-inch Lp Celebrated, the latter is joined by five newly discovered performances, music that has not been available since its original release 124 years ago!
Over its existence, The Unique Quartette (which lasted until at least 1900) had ten different singers with Joe Moore as its leader. The music on Celebrated starts off with three slow pieces (including a remake of “Mama’s Black Baby Boy” from 1895) before becoming more spirited on the final three numbers which include “Who Broke The Lock” and the “Hot Corn Medley.” The recording quality is surprisingly good on most of the numbers. “I’se Gwine Back To Dixie” is unusual in that a pianist accompanies the singers but otherwise the performances are a capella. The blend of the four attractive male voices, plus the fairly sophisticated arrangements, make Celebrated, which dates from the era of Buddy Bolden, well worth hearing. It is available from www.archeophone.com.
Arthur White and Merge
When You Find It
Arthur White has long been an influential educator, working as the director of jazz studies at the University of Missouri, Oklahoma’s Northeastern State University, and currently at California Polytechnic State University. While he has produced 11 albums thus far for his college ensembles, contributed arrangements for a long list of jazz greats (including Christian McBride, James Carter, Peter Erskine, Mulgrew Miller, Kevin Mahogany, Bobby Watson, and Randy Brecker), and recorded as a sideman, When You Find It is his long overdue debut at the head of his own record date.
For this project, White is featured on tenor and contributed all eight selections. He is joined in his group Merge by guitarist Mark Tonelli, pianist Ken Kehner, Andrew Stinson or Sam Copeland on bass, Marty Morrison or John Kizilarmut on drums and, on two songs, vibraphonist Greg Carroll. All of the musicians are world class players. White’s music is modern post-bop jazz that utilizes original chord changes along with some fresh melodies.
The opener, “When You Find It,” is a little reminiscent of the music that Keith Jarrett performed in the 1970s when tenor-saxophonist Dewey Redman was in his band. A strong introduction to Merge, this selection has creative tenor, piano, and guitar solos and displays an appealing group sound. “Intuition” has a catchy melody that inspires inventive solos while “Cyan” is a modern swinger most notable for the passionate improvisation by the leader. The melancholy ballad “Second Time Around” is a change of pace that has thoughtful playing while “Sweet Baby Sam” features a strong forward momentum and spots for vibes, tenor and guitar that swing hard.
“Tunnel Vision” is a little funky and has a rockish guitar solo from Tonelli along with some particularly adventurous playing from White. “Hiccups” is a happily eccentric piece that is often a bit witty and unpredictable. The program concludes with one of the most memorable selections, “Great Plains.” This original has fast lines in the melody, cooks hard, and features Arthur White playing his own sheets of sound a la Coltrane. The closer could have easily been much longer and leaves one wanting more.
Hopefully there will be many encores in the future. When You Find It, which is available from www.arthurwhitedma.com, is easily recommended and a strong example of inventive modern jazz from Arthur White and Merge.
Karen Lyu is a promising jazz singer from South Korea. For her American debut recording, she is joined by pianist Misha Tsiganov, bassist Lonnie Plaxico and drummer Mike Melito.
There are good and bad points to this set. Karen Lyu has a strong voice, scats well, is always in-tune, and clearly enjoys singing. The rhythm section is excellent and the singer plays a heartfelt piano solo on the closing instrumental “Changes With Time.”
On the minus side, she overwhelms many of these songs and rarely shows any real connection to the lyrics. While “Ain’t Misbehavin’” swings well, “God Bless The Child” completely loses its message under the display of her vocal technique, “Stormy Monday,” “Autumn Leaves” and “Moon River” do not benefit from yet another revival, and “Feeling Good” is nearly out of control. Like Jazzmeia Horn, Karen Lyu often throws too much into many of the tunes, constantly showing us what she has but not providing an interpretation that matches the mood of the songs.
With more attention paid to dynamics, mood variation and space, Karen Lyu has the potential to be a rewarding jazz singer. This early effort is available from www.karenlyu.com.
Baker’s Dozen: Celebrating Chet Baker
A fine trumpeter and singer from Calgary, Alberta, Johnny Summers pays tribute to Chet Baker throughout Baker’s Dozen. He has a similar cool-toned style on the trumpet although he occasionally hits notes a bit higher than Baker usually could. Summers’ singing is laidback but fortunately he does not try to imitate Baker’s voice. He sounds quite natural performing 13 songs that are associated with Chet Baker.
Summers is joined by pianist Egor Ukoloff, bassist Kodi Hutchinson, and either Karl Schwonik or Jamie Cooper on drums. Gordon Towell or Sahen Statz is on tenor during three of the songs, pianist Chris Andrews takes Ukoloff’s spot on two, and two other numbers add a string quartet with “My Funny Valentine” also having Summers accompanied by the Calgary Jazz Orchestra.
The focus throughout is mostly on the leader who takes excellent trumpet solos throughout, singing on the majority of the selections. Highlights include “Time After Time,” “It Could Happen To You,” “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To,” “Look For The Silver Lining,” and “That Old Feeling” although Chet Baker fans will enjoy all of the performances. While paying allegiance to Baker’s recordings, these are not exact reproductions and allow Johnny Summers’ own musical personality to shine through.
This is nice, tasteful and lightly swinging music that is easily recommended and available from www.cellarlive.com.