Swingin’ In Seattle
(Reel To Reel)
Altoist Cannonball Adderley was at the peak of his powers during 1959-66. While his first boppish quintet (1955-57) was unable to catch on, his second attempt at leading a group in 1959 was a resounding success, spurred on by their hit recording of “This Here.” The Cannonball Adderley Quintet’s albums for Riverside including the year that Yusef Lateef made the group a sextet (1962-63) were consistently rewarding, swinging hard while being soulful. The leader’s brilliant playing and his informative talks with his audiences made his quintet one of the most popular in jazz.
With the bankruptcy of Riverside, Adderley signed with the Capitol label. After a few additional recordings, the group had such a big hit with their late-1966 Mercy, Mercy, Mercy album that their albums for the next few years were much more commercial and funk-oriented. They were mixed affairs with the altoist not even playing all that much on his own recordings. Does anyone really consider Why Am I Treated So Bad, Country Preacher or The Black Messiah to be classic Adderley albums? However Cannonball never lost his abilities and his final few records before his premature death found him regaining the balance between swing and soul.
The previously unreleased recordings that comprise Swingin’ In Seattle were recorded live at the Penthouse in Seattle during 1966-67. Fortunately they find Cannonball and his group with cornetist Nat Adderley, pianist Joe Zawinul, bassist Victor Gaskin and drummer Roy McCurdy) still in creative form even during the selections from Oct. 6 & 13, 1967. The group performs very enjoyable versions of “Big ‘P,’” a tasteful “The Girl Next Door,” “Sticks,” “Manha De Carnaval,” “Somewhere,” “74 Miles Away,” “Back Home Blues,” and “Hippodelphia.” Both of the Adderley brothers are in top form, Zawinul displays his roots in both bebop and r&b (these are among his last recordings on acoustic piano) and the rhythm section keeps the music grooving and swinging.
The informative 28-page booklet is typical of a Zev Feldman production although the Reel To Reel label is a joint venture by Cory Weeds (who runs the Cellar Live label) and Feldman. The previously unreleased radio performances have found a happy home and are easily recommended to Cannonball Adderley fans. Swingin’ In Seattle is available from www.cellarlive.com.
Then And Now
In a productive career that reaches back to the mid-1980s, Benny Green has long been one of the top hard bop pianists on the scene. He has often paid tribute to the styles and repertoire of his predecessors while playing in his own swinging voice.
Then And Now is a slight departure for Green in that his trio with bassist David Wong and drummer Kenny Washington is joined on five selections by singer Veronica Swift, on three by flutist Anne Drummond, and for two songs by percussionist Josh Jones. Green performs a dozen selections (five originals and a song apiece by Dexter Gordon, Cedar Walton, Hank Jones, Horace Silver, Duke Pearson, Hank Mobley and Sammy Fain) with the biggest surprise being their consistently short length. None of the performances clock in over 4:46 and three are under three minutes apiece.
Then And Now opens with Green’s “Donny Hath A Way,” a relaxing piece with Drummond’s flute in the lead. Swift’s voice is heard on Dexter Gordon’s “For Regulars Only” in the ensembles and scatting and singing the melody of “Naturally.” Cedar Walton’s “Latin America” has Green partly on electric piano with Drummond playing the theme.
But with the fifth piece, an uptempo trio romp on Hank Jones’ “Minor Contention” that packs a lot of music into the three-minute gem, it becomes more obvious that this is a Benny Green album. Highlights of the other numbers include a hot version of Silver’s “Split Kick,” a tasteful trio rendition of “Say You’re Mine,” some of Ms. Swift’s best scatting on “Humphrey,” and her warm singing on “Something I Dreamed Last Night.”
Although I wish that some of the pieces had more extended playing, the music throughout Then And Now is as tasteful, inventive and swinging as one expects from every Benny Green recording. It is easily recommended and available from www.sunnysiderecords.com.
Joe Magnarelli Quintet
If You Could See Me Now
Tadd Dameron (1917-65) was one of the top composers and arrangers to mature during the classic bebop era. He first contributed charts to swing era big bands including those of Count Basie, Artie Shaw and Jimmie Lunceford. Dameron played piano and arranged for Harlan Leonard’s Rockets during 1940-41 but really became significant during the bop era, writing arrangements for Dizzy Gillespie’s orchestra and leading combos that featured Fats Navarro (1948) and Miles Davis at the Paris Jazz Festival the following year. Dameron stayed active throughout the 1950s and early ‘60s although drug problems and an early death cut short his career. Along the way he wrote such pieces as “Hot House,” “If You Could See Me Now,” “Good Bait,” and “Our Delight”
This recent CD, which features trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, tenor-saxophonist Ralph Moore, pianist Anthony Wonsey, bassist Dezron Douglas, and drummer George Fludas, has the quintet interpreting nine of Dameron’s songs. While “If You Could See Me Now” (which Sarah Vaughan originally made famous), “Lady Bird” and “On A Misty Night” are well known, the other six songs are more obscure. In fact, “Sando Latino” had never been recorded before while “The Dream Is You,” “I Think I’ll Go Away” and “Bula Beige” had only been recorded once apiece in all of these years.
The five musicians give the Tadd Dameron songs conventional but swinging and inventive treatments. There was no need to rewrite or deconstruct the classic material so instead they let the rich melodies speak for themselves, creating swinging solos and spirited ensembles that reach back to the bebop era without ever sounding overly predictable.
The results are quite fun, easily recommended, and available from www.cellarlive.com.
Judi Silvano/Bruce Arnold
From her very first recordings in 1989, Judi Silvano has always been an adventurous improviser, whether it was on projects with her husband Joe Lovano, sessions with Mal Waldron, duets with pianist Michael Abene, or her own inventive records.
Although some of her sets have featured standards, Cloudwalking is quite a bit different. Ms. Silvano improvised a dozen free form yet often melodic duets with guitarist Bruce Arnold. Both musicians utilize electronics and effects tastefully and spontaneously. Nothing was added later on during mixing.
The music is quite impressionistic and covers a variety of moods. The performances somehow manage to fit such titles as “River Crossing,” “Cloudwalking,” “Meanderful,” “Journey Past,” and “Back Country” with the emphasis on laidback moods, concise improvising, out-of-tempo sound explorations, and subtle surprises. The singer displays a wide range both in notes and emotions and is fearless in taking chances while also making creative use of space and having an unhurried delivery. Bruce Arnold is right there with her, sometimes leading the way while at other times following her musical ideas with his own musical adventures.
One should not come to Cloudwalking expecting swinging jazz but instead should be open to electronic mood music that often convey an optimistic feeling. This CD is available from www.muse-eek.com.
Bill Stewart/Walter Smith III./Larry Grenadier
Walter Smith III.
Tenor-saxophonist Walter Smith III. has a light and cool tone and is a modern mainstream player who has been in great demand during the past decade. He debuted on records with singer Christine Fawson in 2002 and has since recorded with Darren Barrett, Sean Jones, Christian Scott, Ambrose Akinmusire, Eric Harland, Kendrick Scott, Terence Blanchard, Ralph Peterson, and Dayna Stephens. In addition he had led several of his own albums including the recent Twio which found him stretching out on standards.
Band Menu (which is available from www.cdbaby.com) features Smith in a trio led by drummer Bill Stewart that also includes bassist Larry Grenadier. The drummer contributed all nine of the selections other than Bill Evans’ “Re: Person I Knew” (which is almost treated here as if it were a prayer) and Smith’s “Apollo.” Most of the performances are fairly gentle, a bit surprising when one considers that one of Stewart’s originals is called “F U Donald” (which actually has a catchy melody). Because Stewart mostly assumes a supportive role, Smith is the lead voice during much of the music. Highpoints include “Good Goat” (a boppish figure played over more advanced rhythms), the rhythmically exciting “Hair And Teeth,” the ballad “Invocation,” and “Modren” which uses a two-note pattern as its basis. Overall, Band Menu is a thoughtful and relaxed set with plenty of space for the three musicians to improvise melodically and to engage in subtle interplay.
In Common finds Smith leading a quintet that also includes guitarist Matthew Stevens, vibraphonist Joel Ross, bassist Harish Raghavan, and drummer Marcus Gilmore. One assumes that the nine originals (which include two versions of “ACE”) are by the saxophonist; the composing credits are unfortunately not listed. The quintet has an attractive sound and the music (10 performances in 37 minutes) features concise solos by tenor, guitar and vibes. None of the originals are destined to become standards since their melodies are not particularly memorable, but the pieces are effective devices in inspiring focused post-bop solos and interplay between the lead voices.
After starting out with “Freelive” (a brief statement by Smith while backed by Stevens), the more memorable performances include the melancholy jazz waltz “YINZ,” the interaction by tenor and vibes over the guitar pattern on the first version of “ACE,” some beautiful playing by Smith and Ross during a duet on the first half of “Foreword,” the rhythmically intricate “Baron,” and the fine tenor-guitar duet on the second “ACE.”
In Common is filled with music that is both modern and pleasing with Walter Smith III.’s tone always sounding attractive. This set is available from www.whirlwindrecordings.com.
The New Orleans Rhythm Kings
Complete Recordings 1922-1925
In 1922, the New Orleans Rhythm Kings were not only the finest jazz group to record but the best heard on record up to that time. The NORK built upon the innovations of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (the dominant influence on jazz recordings of 1917-20) and, rather than being an all-ensemble band like the ODJB, featured fine soloists in leader-cornetist Paul Mares (who always said that he was influenced by King Oliver who had not recorded yet), trombonist George Brunies and particularly clarinetist Leon Roppolo. The NORK was only in existence for two years (1921-23) and recorded just three two-day sessions resulting in 24 selections and 10 alternate takes, but they made history. Among the songs that they either wrote or helped introduce were such future standards as “Farewell Blues,” “Wolverine Blues,” “Tin Roof Blues,” “Angry” and “Milenburg Joys.” The sound of the group set the standard for what was to follow, and hints strongly at the Dixieland music that would not be solidified into a set style for another dozen years.
All of their recordings plus six songs and two alternates from a pair of partial reunion dates in 1925 are included on the Rivermont two-CD set. However the biggest news is not the gathering of these timeless performances (which has been done before) or even the superior 40-page booklet (with excellent notes by David Sager and Sue Fischer), but the sound quality. Doug Benson’s digital remastering has done wonders with the formerly scratchy recordings. Finally, for the first time, one can really hear everything that was going on in the studio, including the rhythm section’s accompaniment of the horns, all at the correct speed and without the hisses and scratches. The recordings, from up to 97 years ago, now sound fresh and lively, almost as if one were actually attending the sessions.
The frontline of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings (Mares, Brunies and Roppolo) is heard in four very different settings. During Aug. 29-30, 1922 they were an octet with Jack Pettis on C-melody sax, On the Mar. 12-13, 1923 sessions they were a quintet with drummer Ben Pollack, and during July 17-18, 1923 they had grown to a nonet with two saxophonists (including Don Murray). The immortal Jelly Roll Morton guests on six of those performances; listen to his wonderful playing behind the horns on the first alternate take of “Milenburg Joys.”
The Jan. 23, 1925 session has a reunion by Mares and Roppolo in an octet that includes trombonist Santo Pecora (who brought in “She’s Crying For Me Blues”) while the final Mar. 26, 1925 set is a septet in which Charlie Cordella replaced the ill Roppolo. While there would be later sessions listed as by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings including one in 1935 with Paul Mares, the group was really history after 1925.
1920s collectors will have to get this perfectly-conceived twofer (available from www.rivermontrecords.com) which has the complete musical legacy of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings and really shows what an enjoyable group it was to experience.
Guitarist and bassist Tyler Pedersen’s goal is to bring swing and jump blues into the 21st century. A veteran of many Retro Swing and blues groups, he made his recording debut as a leader last year with the enjoyable Swingin’ In Space.
Swingin’ Beyond consists of a dozen of his originals, the majority of which are blues at various tempos while also including the countryish waltz “Celeste,” “Extreme People” (based on “Limehouse Blues”), and other jump originals. Pedersen sounds quite distinctive on his four-string guitar (which sounds inspired by Tiny Grimes, pre-rock & roll players of the early 1950s and even slightly by Hawaiian guitarists) and is also heard (via overdubbing) on string bass, piano (on two numbers), and on one cut playing Midi organ. He is assisted by rhythm guitarist Nathan James and drummer Blake Armstrong.
Tyler Pedersen’s music is quite accessible, danceable, and often-rollicking and infectious. Anyone interested in swing and swinging guitar will want to try out this fun excursion which is available from www.bluebeatmusic.com. It serves as proof that swing can continue to evolve without merely copying the past.
The BMC (Budapest Music Center) label has over the years released hundreds of interesting jazz sets, mostly featuring Hungarian and Eastern European jazz artists. Exploring their catalog opens up a new and largely underpublicized world of jazz to listeners. Their latest batch of new music includes several jazz interpretations of the music of Bela Bartok including Bartok Impressions (by a trio consisting of bass, violin and cimbalom), 15 Hungarian Peasant Songs (from the Modern Art Orchestra) and the Parniczky Quartet’s Bartok Electrified. However pianist Peter Rozsnyoi’s Serenity Prayer is more American-oriented.
Rozsnyoi, who is classically trained, has been leading his own trio since 2004. Serenity Prayer is a change of pace that showcases him a solo pianist. Like Keith Jarrett, Rozsnyoi is a melodic improviser who creates new melodies along the way. He displays his classical technique and love for Bach along with his joy for embracing superior melodies but has also developed his own voice within that area.
On his consistently colorful set, Rozsnyoi explores three standards, his own “Little Song,” and five pieces that are listed as improvisations although they sound like composed works, particularly “Passing” and “Fable.” Of the highlights, “Little Song” is a particularly infectious set of chord changes that Rozsnyoi takes for a joyful and explorative ride. On “Dreamcatcher,” he jams over repetitive patterns played by his left-hand that regularly change. His “Fable” sound very much like a folk song. Rozsnyoi digs into “What Is This Thing Called Love” which at its conclusion purposely runs out of steam over a vamp, as if it were the end of a love affair. He gives a slow and very expressive reading of “Someone To Watch Over Me” before building it up with logical variations and some speedy runs from his right hand. The closing “Invocation” is pretty and has a spiritual melody that gives a hopeful end to the album.
Peter Rozsnyoi’s solo recital holds one’s interest throughout. It is available along with many other worthy sets from www.bmcrecords.hu.
Spirit Of Gaia
(Gotta Let It Out)
Jazz has been an international language since the 1920s and its current scene is so widespread, diverse, and huge (even if much of it is underground) that it is impossible for any listener to keep in touch with every rewarding recording although it is fun to try!
The Gotta Let It Out label was founded in Copenhagen in 2017 by musician Tomo Jacobson and photo/video artist Malwa Grabowska. Their releases give artists complete freedom to record whatever they like as long as they have a burning need to make their original music public. Commercial considerations are irrelevant.
Pianist Nikita Rafaelov, who was born in Russia and lives in Finland, has created an intriguing solo set on Spirit Of Gaia which is comprised of six originals and three free improvisations. It is an augmented solo piano set with some overdubbing of other pianos and electronics. Inspired by the movement and evolution of time, life and the universe, Rafaelov utilizes repetition and monotony in inventive ways, creating music that is both colorful and sometimes a bit maddening.
The opening “Spirit Of Gaia” sets the tone for the album with an endlessly repeating left-hand movement that conveys the feeling of a ticking clock while his right hand makes dramatic statements. Other pieces are similar with “Places Oblivious” sounding like a soundtrack in which one can imagine outer space orbits. While some numbers such as “First Wind” are relatively peaceful, the monotony of “Kiertorata” may be a little difficult to get used to although the set wraps up well with “The Gift Of Moral Clarity.” Certainly Nikita Rafaelov will not be accused of sounding like anyone else.
(Gotta Let It Out)
Hobama features a trio comprised of trumpeter/flugelhornist Claus Hojensgard, keyboardist Emanuele Maniscalco, and drummer Nelide Bandello. Hobama uses the first two letters of each of the musicians’ last names.
If Miles Davis had decided to record a set of new ballads around 1971-72, it might have sounded a bit like the music on Hobama. Hojensgard’s moody trumpet floats over the keyboards and subtle drums which set subtle grooves. He puts plenty of feeling into his slowly moving lines which occasionally take surprising turns while Maniscalco adds a lot of color to the background. The seven group originals, which one could imagine Davis exploring during his post-Bitches Brew period, are both accessible and unpredictable with the three musicians creating colorful and sometimes-eerie moods.
Both of these intriguing CDs plus around 20 others are available from www.gottaletitout.com.
Capathia Jenkins/Louis Rosen
Phenomenal Woman – The Maya Angelou Songs
Louis Rosen, a singer-guitarist, author, and lyricist for the theater and stage, is also a notable composer. He learned directly from Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. Among his most significant recordings are his Dream Suite (14 songs that utilize the poems of Langston Hughes) and One Ounce Of Truth: The Nikki Giovanni Songs. Those two sets plus Phenomenal Woman form the Black Loom Trilogy, full-length sets that feature the poetry of major African-American poets put to music.
Capathia Jenkins acts on Broadway and occasionally on television, has sung with many symphony orchestras, and is a powerful vocalist. She has now been part of five of Rosen’s recordings including each CD in the Black Loom Trilogy
Maya Angelou (1928-2014) had a long, colorful and very productive life including writing seven autobiographies, performing in Porgy and Bess, working as a journalist in Egypt and Ghana, dancing professionally, producing plays and movies, writing screenplays, being a civil rights worker and a public speaker and, most importantly, developing into one of America’s top poets. She also loved jazz.
In 2005 Louis Rosen set 11 of Maya Angelou’s works to music (titling the production “Phenomenal Woman”) and they were premiered by Capathia Jenkins. Recently, he adapted the music for a small combo and wrote some instrumentals (the four-part “Song Without Words”) which serve as an introduction and preludes during the set.
Capathia Jenkins is outstanding throughout this recording, really digging into Angelou’s poetry She puts plenty of feeling into the lyrics and, while not a jazz singer, she gives one the impression that she could be one (or sing opera) if that were her desire. She must rank as one of the most soulful singers on Broadway.
Rosen’s “Songs Without Words” works quite well during the set, giving the musicians opportunities to be featured briefly with clarinetist Andrew Sterman and vibraphonist Erik Charlston making strong impressions. His settings for the poems range from the big band feel of “Preacher Don’t” to the ballad “But They Went Home” and the dramatic “Poor Girl, Just Like Me.”
Phenomenal Woman (which is available from www.louisrosen.com) deserves to be listened to in one setting. It is a superior tribute both to Maya Angelou’s poetry and the voice of Capathia Jenkins.