Nat King Cole
Hittin’ The Ramp: The Early Years 1936-1943
When one thinks of early Nat King Cole, it is often of his first Capital sessions from 1943-44 including “Straighten Up And Fly Right,” or perhaps the dozen selections that he cut for Decca during 1940-41 including his first hit, “Sweet Lorraine.” But as this magnificent seven-CD set shows, the King Cole Trio from which the pianist-singer originally became famous was quite active from its start in 1937.
Nat King Cole made his recording debut the previous year as a sideman with his brother bassist-singer Eddie Cole’s group on four numbers, and that is the beginning of this compilation. Cole began teaming up with guitarist Oscar Moore and bassist Wesley Prince (later succeeded by Johnny Miller) in Los Angeles in 1937. They recorded an extensive series of radio transcriptions during the next six years for such companies as Standard Transcription, Davis & Schwegler, Keystone, and MacGregor. During 1937-39, Cole was mostly featured as a pianist and an ensemble singer with the other two musicians, often vocalizing with Moore and Price on rhythmic and swinging novelty numbers. Cole’s Earl Hines-inspired piano (which also shows touches of Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson) is a consistent delight throughout although he was not taken seriously as a solo singer yet.
That all changed in 1940 when he took his first solo ballad vocals a few months before recording “Sweet Lorraine.” Still, throughout this package, his piano and the influential guitar solos of Oscar Moore are the dominant forces.
In addition to the radio transcriptions (which had previously been released but never in one package), Cole is featured on the Decca dozen, music that was released on 78s by the Ammor, Excelsior and Premier labels, and the existing radio performances which include a few previously unreleased selections. Cole is also heard on a trio date with tenor-saxophonist Lester Young and bassist Red Callender and on four songs with a combo that includes a young Dexter Gordon on tenor and trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison.
Nat King Cole, whose career only lasted 30 years, went through many phases. After he signed with Capitol, he balanced his jazz piano playing with his very likable singing, achieving a series of pop hits while influencing many jazz pianists including Oscar Peterson. His piano-guitar-bass trio was adopted for a time by Peterson, Art Tatum and Ahmad Jamal. Cole’s career changed after 1950’s “Mona Lisa” became a #1 best seller. For the remainder of his life he would be best known as a ballad singer and a crooner although he never lost his ability to play inventive jazz piano solos.
Hittin’ The Ramp has all of the music from the first chapter of Nat King Cole’s musical life, 183 selections in all. It is perfectly done and includes a very informative 56-page booklet. Do not hesitate to acquire this set, which is available from www.resonancerecords.org.
Alex Hahn is a young saxophonist who won quite a few awards while studying at the University of North Texas, USC, and the Thelonious Monk Institute. He is the Director of Jazz at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and his previous albums as a leader were Traveling and Emerging.
New Flight has Hahn on soprano, alto, tenor and flute performing eight of his originals. He is joined by Simon Moullier on vibes and synth, keyboardist Jacob Mann, bassist Luca Alemanno, and occasionally singer Michael Mayo. There is also a guest appearance apiece by saxophonist Bob Mintzer and singer Amber Navran.
The music starts out with the passionate and spiritual-sounding “Falling” (which serves as a fine and concise intro to the music) and includes such titles as “Thoughts,” the picturesque “Clouds,” “Raindrops,” and “Give And Take.” Hahn is particularly strong on his mellow-sounding (but quietly intense) soprano and on alto during the hard boppish and relatively straight ahead “Walk Your Way.” Most of the other selections use light grooves that add to the cinematic nature of the music. Michael Mayo, one of the most promising jazz singers around today, is particularly winning on “Tomorrow” while the supporting cast consistently creates colorful ensembles for Hahn to improvise above.
The music on New Flight, which is available from www.alexhahnmusic.com, grows in interest with each listen. Alex Hahn shows great potential and his future progress will be well worth watching.
Monty Alexander is one of the all-time great jazz pianists, a brilliant player who can sound like Oscar Peterson but also infuses his playing with his own musical personality, Jamaican soul, and sometimes his reggae roots.
Wareika Hill has Alexander interpreting a dozen Thelonious Monk songs. While his playing is typically excellent, his decision to have most of the songs utilize reggae and Jamaican rhythms gives a certain sameness to the music. The “Monk-Goes-Reggae” idea comes across as a novelty that would have been fine for a few numbers but wears thin during a full-length set.
Despite that, the pianist plays quite well throughout. Three different tenor-saxophonists (Wayne Escoffery on seven songs, Ron Blake on two, and Joe Lovano during “Green Chimneys”) are strong assets. Escoffery comes close to sounding like Monk’s long-time tenor Charlie Rouse on a few numbers. Guitarist Andy Bassfort helps out on ten songs with John Scofield guesting on “Bye Ya.”
In the instances where the rhythm section swings and Alexander stretches out, one sees what this project could have been. But even with that reservation, when taken in small doses, this CD does demonstrate that Monk’s music was flexible enough to be played in a reggae-oriented setting. Every Monty Alexander recording is worth checking out, including Wareika Hill (which is available from www.montyalexander.com).
One And Only
Trombonist Ed Neumeister has been an important musician for at least 40 years. He gained experience playing in San Francisco, moved to New York in 1980, was a longtime member of the Mel Lewis Big Band/Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, and has been a guest soloist and conductor in many different settings including with classical orchestras and big bands. He currently leads the NeuHat Ensemble and his own big bands in New York and Los Angeles.
Albert Mangelsdorff was the first trombonist to record a full album by himself (1972’s Trombirds and 1976’s Tromboneliness). One And Only is at least Ed Neumeister’s fifth CD as a leader and his first as an unaccompanied soloist.
On the opener, “One And Only,” it sounds like overdubbed trombones but it is actually Neumeister at a concert playing off of his own echoes to construct a melodic and rhythmic improvisation. He utilizes a plunger mute on “Chelsea Bridge” to create a rambunctious sound worthy of Quentin Jackson, plays a Monk medley which has its wild moments (showing off his wide range on “’Round Midnight”), talks through his horn on “Know What I Mean,” and treats “The Single Petal Of A Rose” in a reverent manner. While the first seven selections date from 2015-16, the closer, a lengthy “Feldkirch Castle,” is from a 1994 concert in Austria.
With his technique, wit and imagination, Ed Neumeister he keeps the music continually interesting and colorful. His very impressive set is available from www.edneumeister.com.
Nobody Else But Me
Elizabeth Lamers is an award-winning songwriter (winning an Ivor Novello for Song of the Year for “Too Much Love Will Kill You” which she co-wrote with Queen guitarist Brian May and Frank Musker), has performed on a countless number of television shows, films and commercials, produced and hosted shows for jazz and classical radio stations, supplied voices for Warner Brothers cartoons, and been a backup singer for Linda Ronstadt and Nelson Riddle. As a jazz singer she recorded two CDs with the Hi-Fi Quintet (which teamed her with trumpeter Tony Guerrero and tenor-saxophonist Robert Kyle) and has appeared at many Southern California jazz clubs.
On her most recent recording, Nobody Else But Me, Elizabeth Lamers sings a dozen of her favorite standards with three notable Southern California jazz artists who each have their own creative musical personalities: vibraphonist Nick Mancini, guitarist Bruce Forman and bassist Lyman Meideros. While the instrumentalists, who together often sound like a slightly modernized version of the Red Norvo Trio, play behind her and supply concise solos, Ms. Lamers is heard throughout in top form.
The singer has an appealing and inviting voice that invites listeners in. She mostly sticks to the classic lyrics and melodies, uplifting them through her phrasing and understanding of the messages in the songs. While the only obscurity among the tunes is “Autumn Mood,” she picked out a set of superior songs, none of which anyone would mind being revived. Among the highlights are the swinging “Nobody Else But Me,” a bossa-nova flavored “I Concentrate On You,” the nice rhythmic countermelodies of “The Boy Next Door,” a quietly joyous “Isn’t This A Lovely Day” (which has a particularly rewarding Mancini arrangement), a surprisingly uptempo “It Might As Well Be Spring,” the lightly swinging “My Ship,” and a spirited “No More Blues.”
The result is Elizabeth Lamers’ finest recording to date and an easily recommended set for those who enjoy hearing straightforward and enthusiastic treatments of classic American songs. Nobody Else But Me is available from www.elizabethlamers.com.
The Jungle Jazz Band
The Animule Dance
(Syncopation Society Berlin)
An excellent young classic jazz group from Europe, the Jungle Jazz Band consists of trumpeter Laurent Humeau, Carlos Santana (obviously no relation to the guitarist) on trombone and piano, Eldar Tsalikov on clarinet and alto, banjoist Quentin Bardi, Jack Butler on tuba, and drummer Francois Perdriau. The Animule Dance (available from www.syncopation.de) is their first recording, a six-song EP.
The tunes date from 1918-23 except for the title cut which is from 1906. The band features loose but exciting ensembles, excellent horn solos, and an appealing group spirit. They revive “Stumbling” and King Oliver’s “New Orleans Stomp,” and play fresh versions of three standards: “Clarinet Marmalade,” a sweet rendition of “Old Fashioned Love” which features a vocal by Tsalikov, and a heated “Grandpa’s Spells” by Jelly Roll Morton. In addition, they put plenty of life into the theatrical title tune which Morton recorded for the Library of Congress in 1939 (as “Animule Ball”) and has rarely been performed since.
The music is quite fun, with the only reservation being the brevity of the 21-minute program. Hopefully this band will record more extensively in the future for they display plenty of potential.
(Plastic Sax Records)
Usually when the music of West Side Story is recorded, it is by a large orchestra or a big band. The beloved songs of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim have been performed a countless number of times through the years and still usually come across as fresh and lively.
Somewhere Else is a bit different in that its ten West Side Story songs are played by an intimate trio consisting of Ted Nash on tenor and clarinet, guitarist Steve Cardenas, and bassist Ben Allison. Perhaps this is what it might have sounded like if the Jimmy Giuffre 3 (with Jim Hall and Jim Atlas) had performed this material but, then again Nash, Cardenas and Allison sound like themselves. They debuted their versions of these songs at the Havana Jazz Festival to celebrate Leonard Bernstein’s centennial and were inspired to record a studio version.
Among the highlights of this fine set are “Jet Song” which, after the theme, becomes a medium-tempo blues, the hot interplay between Nash and Cardenas on “Tonight,” the Latinized “America,” a swinging rendition of “Cool” that is a tenor-bass duet, and the two very different versions of “Somewhere.”
Listeners who enjoy hearing a new twist on the classic score of West Side Story will want to pick up Somewhere Else which is available from www.tednash.com.
(Frame Up Music)
A versatile modern jazz guitarist with his own sound, Wolfgang Schalk was born in Austria but has long been a fixture in both New York and Los Angeles. Along the way he has played with Michael Brecker, Rick Margitza, Dave Kikoski, Geoffrey Keezer and John Beasley among others. However the guitarist is usually heard leading his own bands. Obsession is his eighth album as a leader.
Schalk contributed all ten pieces to the set which teams him with keyboardist Andy Langham, bassist Carlitos Del Puerto, drummer Gene Coye, and percussionist Luisito Quintero. The leader is featured on both acoustic and electric guitars.
The program begins with the pretty ballad “Symbols” which Schalk plays solo. After its introduction, “Obsession” becomes a cooker for the group with a fine spot for Langham’s piano. Of the more memorable songs, the relaxed medium-tempo “Sambo Mamba” has hints of Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower” and the thoughtful ballad “When Two Auras Kiss” has Schalk really drawing out the emotion; the latter also includes some sensitive bass playing from Del Puerto. Also notable are the funky “Next Time P22” and the uptempo blues “Locker Room Talk.”
Actually all ten pieces on this program (which concludes as it started, with unaccompanied guitar) are quite enjoyable and serve as an excellent showcase for Wolfgang Schalk’s guitar playing and his writing. Obsession is easily recommended and available from www.wolfgangschalk.com.
Reynold D. Philipsek
Reynold D. Philipsek has always loved overdubbing his guitars to create warm and varied musical landscapes. He began on the guitar when he was nine, joined the Musicians Union at 14, and has released over 40 CDs of his originals since 1989. While he has spent periods playing rock, his main focus in recent years has been jazz and Django Reinhardt-style Gypsy jazz. Among his main influences are Django, Johnny Smith and Joe Pass although he has long had his own sound. Because he is based in Minnesota, he is not as famous as his talents deserve.
On Picture This, Reynold D. Philipsek performs 11 of his originals, six of them played solely by himself. While one song, the moody “Someday Maybe,” finds him joined by keyboards, bass, percussion and harmonica, and four other songs are duets (or a trio) with bass, keyboards, accordion, and/or percussion, the main emphasis throughout is on Philipsek’s guitars.
The concise performances are musical sketches that set moods and rhythmic patterns while creating a variety of colorful ensembles. The opener, “Bohemian Flats,” is both hypnotic and rockish while “Chrysanthemum” finds the guitarist creating more of a Django Reinhardt sound although the song is more modern. “Tango Blue” is a slightly eccentric electric tango. Philipsek switches to mandolin on “Silesian Mist,” jamming over assertive rhythmic patterns played by bass and percussion. “Someday Maybe,” which has Clint Hoover’s harmonica in the ensemble, is a touching and wistful ballad.
“Matka” has Philipsek playing a fluent lead over his guitars and Denny Malmberg’s accordion. “Goatee and Shades” is a swinging minor-toned blues in which the leader’s Djangoish guitar floats over Matt Senjam’s bass while “Rara Avis” (a relative of “Bye Bye Blues”) sounds like a piece that Reinhardt could have written in the mid-1940s. The bluesy vamp piece “Vienna Blues,” an energetic and danceable “1969,” and the melodic “Pavane” conclude this fine outing.
Picture This (available from www.reynold.com) is an excellent all-round showcase for Reynold D. Philipsek’s guitar playing and writing, serving as both a recommended acquisition for his fans and an introduction to those who are not familiar with his talents.
Sue Keller & Jeff Barnhart
Return To Cripple Creek
Max Morath, who was born in 1926, is one of the best friends that ragtime has ever had. Not only a skilled pianist and a ragtime composer, Morath has educated a countless number of listeners about ragtime through the decades. While he worked for many years on radio, television and the theater, writing music for commercials and jingles, he has constantly been involved in promoting ragtime. During 1959-61, Morath co-produced 26 half-hour television programs in The Ragtime Era series. As a performer, he has appeared in a countless number of settings including one-man shows, and made quite a few influential recordings.
Return To Cripple Creek puts the focus on Max Morath’s composing. Pianists Sue Keller and Jeff Barnhart, separately and together, perform 21 of Morath’s compositions. The music ranges from rags to rambunctious pieces and novelties with Barnhart and Keller also taking an occasional vocal.
Among the performances are an exuberant “Gold Bar Rag,” “Tribute To Joplin” which hints at Joplin’s style and some of his melodies (most notably “Maple Leaf Rag”), “Echoes Of The Rosebud” (an infectious piece that could have been composed in 1901) and “One For Amelia” which perfectly defines classic ragtime. “New Black Eagle Buck” and “Polyragmic” are a bit more eccentric and rhythmically tricky, contrasting with the thoughtful “One For Norma.” Ann Barnhart’s flute guests on the beautiful “Three For Diane.” “Temporary Baby,” which has vocals by both of the pianists, sounds like a mid-1920s jazz number. Barnhart and Keller also perform Morath’s six-part “Cripple Creek Suite” (which is topped off by his earliest composition “Imperial Rag”) and the closing stride romp “One For The Road.”
The only fault to this release is that the informative liner notes by Morath do not identify which pianist is playing on which numbers, and which selections feature both of them although the latter is usually obvious. But otherwise, Return To Cripple Creek (available from rtpress.com) is a gem, serving as an excellent tribute to the brilliant Max Morath.
Bill Dixon/Cecil Taylor
(Triple Point Records)
Trumpeter Bill Dixon (1925-2010) and pianist Cecil Taylor (1929-2018) were friends for decades, encouraging each other since the 1950s. But although they were both major avant-gardists and had overlapping ideas about free improvisation, they only recorded together on three occasions. Dixon was part of Taylor’s 1966 Conquistador album, and in 2002 a live concert at the Victoriaville festival (with drummer Tony Oxley making their group a trio) was documented.
The only other occasion took place in 1992 but went unreleased until now. Dixon and Taylor were booked to perform as a duo at that year’s Verona Jazz Festival in Italy and the Vienne festival in France, celebrating their 40 years of friendship. While in France, Dixon booked studio time and they recorded around 93 minutes worth of music. The results have recently been put out as a double-Lp by the Triple Point label (www.triplepointrecords.com).
No rehearsal took place either before the concerts or for the recording sessions even though the two musicians had not played together in over 20 years. Dixon and Taylor perform 11 free improvisations that range in length from two minutes to over 20. Usually when Taylor recorded with others, it was up to the other musicians to meet him on his own terms, whether it was Mary Lou Williams, Max Roach, Archie Shepp or Evan Parker. Taylor was famous for creating dense atonal ensembles that were often unrelenting in their intensity. While one could say that much of Ornette Coleman’s music was in one chord, Taylor’s could be said to be in no chords, or every chord simultaneously. One had to be very strong and secure to perform with the pianist.
But for Duets 1992, Taylor shows his affection for Dixon by playing more in the trumpeter’s musical world. Dixon tended to utilize space more, could be quite gentle in his playing at times, and let the sound explorations in his music develop gradually rather than hitting one with full force from the beginning. The opening improvisation on Duets 1992 starts so peacefully for its first three minutes that it is a bit of a shock when Dixon suddenly lets out a high-register blast from his trumpet. At times in the program, Taylor almost sounds like he is a sideman, but it is fair to say that he takes control at various times, playing dazzling explosions of sound behind Dixon’s long tones and very expressive sounds. Still, he is mostly on the trumpeter’s turf.
The end results are often fascinating and are easily recommended to those with open ears towards free form music.
Reid Hoyson Project
Drummer Reid Hoyson has worked in the Pittsburgh area for the past 50 years, performing with such greats as Richie Cole, Hendrik Meurkens, Eric Kloss, Cleo Laine, and Tony Monaco among many others. He has also been an occasional bandleader and had previously recorded two albums with his group The Soiree Band.
Natural Gifts was originally designed to feature the music of pianist-composer Don DePaolis and guitarist Mark Lucas. Shortly after its completion, DePaolis passed away so the project is dedicated to his memory. It includes four of the pianist’s songs, two from Lucas, one apiece by bassist Tony DePaolis and Hugo Fattoruso, and three standards. The music is mostly modern hard bop and modal jazz. Due to the changing personnel and instrumentation, and a close attention to mood and tempo variations, there is an impressive amount of variety on Natural Gifts.
The set begins with the urgent theme of “Bottom Without A Top” which becomes a hard bop groove with strong solos from trombonist Jeff Bush, pianist DePaolis and tenor-saxophonist Erik Lawrence who shows a lot of personality in his improvisation. “Dinner At The Borgia’s” is an atmospheric slow-medium blues that has spots for Eric DeFade on soprano, and trumpeter James Moore in addition to Bush and DePaolis. Lucas’ “Indigo” is one of several pieces that are performed by the rhythm section, a quirky melody by the quartet driven by Tony DePaolis’ bass.
The pleasing singer Lisa Klein is featured on three numbers. “Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is” showcase her with the rhythm section and trumpeter James Moore while she sings Thelonious Monk’s “Ruby My Dear’ with backing by the Balcony Big Band. The other selections include the haunting ballad “The Chalice,” a feature for Eric Defade’s soprano on “Natural Gifts,” two more numbers for the rhythm section (“Tokens” and the brief “Not What Walt Would Have Wanted”) with Defade’s tenor added to the latter, and the fast samba “Romance Of Death” which is performed by a ten-piece group.
The soloists are consistently inventive, the ensembles are tight, and Reid Hoyson, who confines himself to taking a few short drum breaks, was obviously happy to add stimulating support to his successful and rewarding project. Natural Gifts (available from www.cdbaby.com) will be enjoyed by anyone who loves modern straight ahead jazz.