Altoist Vincent Herring has been an important figure in the jazz world since the 1980s. While he had long associations with Nat Adderley and Cedar Walton, he has also led a long series of rewarding recordings. Hard Times is one of his finest hours on record.
There are many reasons for this set’s success. The tunes are both soulful and swinging, Herring’s arrangements are inventive and make the best use of the all-star cast, the solos are generally melodic but full of subtle surprises, and there are no throwaway tracks.
Herring is joined by pianist Cyrus Chestnut, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, drummer Carl Allen and, on various tracks, guitarist Russell Malone, trombonist Steve Turre, trumpeter Brad Mason, and tenor-saxophonist Sam Dillon. Turre and Chestnut in particular take plenty of rewarding solos. The repertoire includes welcome revivals of John Handy’s Hard Work,” the classic “Hard Times” (made famous by David “Fathead” Newman), Mulgrew Miller’s “Eastern Joy Dance,” Carl Allen’s “Piccadilly Square,” and arguably George Coleman finest original, “Amsterdam After Dark.” In addition, Nicholas Bearde contributes three vocals (on Bill Withers’ “Use Me” and fresh renditions of “Summertime” and “Embraceable You”) that effectively make the case that he is one of today’s top male jazz singers.
As for the leader, Vincent Herring (who has long had his own voice on the alto) sounds quite inspired in this setting. While he does not dominate the music, his solos make optimal use of every moment and his concise statements are consistently memorable.
Get this one! It is available from www.smokesessionsrecords.com
The Dirty River Dixie Band
High Life In San Antone
There is so much talent in the huge (if underground) world of jazz that one never runs out of new names to discover. The Dirty River Dixie Band is a hot jazz band from San Antonio that was initially inspired by cornetist Jim Cullum and his approach to playing early jazz. While, like Cullum, they possess excellent musicianship and a deep knowledge of the era, the Dirty River Dixie Band does not copy the playing of Cullum’s group but uses it as a point of departure.
Comprised of Kris Vargas and Curtis Calderon on trumpets and cornets, trombonist Ian Anderson, Nick Brown on clarinet and tenor, pianist Dan Walton, Tyler Jackson doubling on banjo and guitar, sousaphonist Edwin Brown, and drummer Chris Alvarado (who takes occasional vocals that fit the music perfectly), the group has its own sound. Even though the band has two trumpets, it never sounds like a group trying to sound like Lu Watters’ Yerba Buena Jazz Band, nor are the ensembles ever overcrowded. Each of the players is a fine soloist, with the banjo and tuba playing on a much higher level than is often heard in trad bands. In addition, there are occasional arranged ensembles that contrast with the jammed ones.
The repertoire is quite strong on this set. “Dipper Mouth Blues” looks towards both the King Oliver and Fletcher Henderson versions, “Dinah” swings joyfully, “Moonglow” and “China Boy” are excellent features for the fluent clarinet of Nick Brown, and the remainder of the set ranges from “Snake Rag” to “Stevedore Stomp” with Duke Ellington’s “Jungle Nights In Harlem” receiving a rare revival. At the very end of the CD, in a brief hidden track, the late Jim Cullum makes a special appearance.
This is fun music, very well played. The Dirty River Dixie Band deserves to be discovered. Their fourth recording (preceded by two CDs and an Lp) is highly recommended and available from www.dirtyriverdixieband.com.
Roseanna Vitro has been a beloved singer and educator for decades but relatively few of her fans have probably heard her debut recording. Back in 1982 she recorded Listen Here for the Texas Rose Music label, five years before her second album and around a decade before she began to attract national attention. While her early background was in rock and gospel and she has never run away from her roots, she was very much a jazz singer by the time she made this formerly rare set.
Ms. Vitro was certainly joined by some of the very best on her early effort. Imagine being accompanied by pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Ben Riley with three guest appearances by the great tenor Arnett Cobb at the start of one’s career.
Among the highlights of this set are “Centerpiece” (during which the singer is joined by the duo of pianist Bliss Rodriguez and Arnett Cobb), her exuberant phrasing on Duke Ellington’s “Love You Madly,” the title cut (a Dave Frishberg ballad, not the Eddie Harris song), “It Could Happen To You,” a saucy “Easy Street,” her joyfully swinging version of “You Took Advantage Of Me” which co-stars Buster Williams, and a soulful over-the-top rendition of “Black Coffee.”
38 years later, Listen Here (available from www.skyline-records.com) still sounds wonderful. It is nice to finally have it widely available, and to know that Roseanna Vitro lived up to her great potential.
The George Coleman Quintet In Baltimore
(Reel To Reel)
While George Coleman is still best-known for being the tenor-saxophonist with the Miles Davis Quintet during 1963-64, he should really be more acknowledged as one of the great tenors in general. Coleman has always had his own sound and a powerful style, his technique remains remarkable, and he bridges the gap between hard bop and the avant-garde. His solo career during the past 57 years is well worth exploring for it contains plenty of gems, including this set.
The latest project from Reel To Reel (a collaboration between Cory Weeds and Zev Feldman) is a previously unreleased set from Baltimore’s Famous Ballroom that features Coleman’s group on May 23, 1971. The saxophonist is joined by trumpeter Danny Moore (long underrated but a strong talent), pianist Albert Dailey, bassist Larry Ridley, and drummer Harold White. The quintet explores five jazz standards and, while Moore and Dailey take many rewarding solos, Coleman consistently steals the show.
“Afternoon In Paris” and a pair of Clifford Brown songs (“Sandu” and “Joy Spring”) receive extensive treatments, “I Got Rhythm” is taken at a ridiculously fast tempo (one wonders how Ridley was able to keep up the pace), and Coleman takes his showcase, a faster-than-usual “Body And Soul,” to some unexpected places. His playing is outstanding throughout this time capsule which certainly does not sound 50 years old.
The classy release, which has extensive liner notes by Michael Cuscuna and interviews with Eric Alexander, John Fowler of the Left Bank Jazz Society and Coleman himself, is very well done and highly recommended. It is available from www.cellarlive.com and a fine testament to the musical greatness of George Coleman.
17 November 1962
(Fremeaux & Associates)
On Nov. 13, 1962, the John Coltrane Quartet with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones recorded their Ballads album. They soon went on a tour of Europe which, while not generating any studio albums, resulted in a few bootleg records and several radio broadcasts being preserved. These include concerts in Helsinki, Finland from Nov. 20 (released by the Le Chant Du Monde label), Copenhagen, Denmark on Nov. 22 (put out by Domino), Graz, Austria from Nov. 28 (on a Magnetic CD), and Milan, Italy from Dec. 2 (released by RLR).
On Nov. 17, the quartet performed two concerts in Paris. The Pablo label released much of the music as part of a two-Lp set while Le Chant Du Monde came out with six titles from the first concert. Now Fremeaux & Associates has released a single CD that has four performances from the night’s second concert that does not duplicate any of the previous music.
After producer Norman Granz introduces the group, the classic John Coltrane quartet performs a hard-swinging version of “Mr. P.C,” (which gives each of the musicians an opportunity to solo), a relatively concise “Everytime We Say Goodbye” (the only number that is under 15 minutes), “Impressions” and “My Favorite Things.”
While the performances do not offer any new revelations about Coltrane and his sidemen, those fans who love his music and want new versions of his repertoire will particularly enjoy this fine outing, available from www.fremeaux.com. All of the musicians get to stretch out with John Coltrane in typically brilliant form on tenor and soprano, making this a fine addition to his large discography.
Ted Des Plantes
1974-2020, Vol. 3
Ted Des Plantes, a talented stride and classic jazz pianist since the 1970s who also occasionally plays tuba, has appeared and recorded with a variety of excellent combos through the years. In recent times on his TdS label, he has released a series of vintage recording sessions, some of which were previously unreleased while others have been pretty scarce since the Lp days. Although this set says Vol. 3, it is the seventh CD compiled for his label so far.
All 20 selections on 1974-2020 (which is programmed in chronological order) are making their debut. First, Des Plantes is heard on tuba in 1974 with Hal Smith’s Down Home Jazz Band (“Papa Dip”) and as a piano soloist on “Skag-A-Lag” From the 1980s, Des Plantes plays piano with Chicago Rhythm and is on two numbers by the Jim Cullum Jazz Band including a particularly hot version of “Bugle Call Rag.” Other highlights include his vocal on “Poor Papa,” a hard-swinging instrumental version of “The Music Goes ‘Round And ‘Round,” more current performances with Dave Greer’s Classic Jazz Stompers, songs from when he sat in with Les Rois Du Fox-Trot, taking “Old Rugged Cross” as a tuba solo, and two additional solo piano numbers.
With a couple of exceptions, the recording quality is quite good and 1974-2020, Vol. 3 serves as a fine addition to the musical legacy of Ted Des Plantes. It is available from www.soundcloud.com/teddesplantes and teddesplantes.bandcamp.com. All 7 TdS CDs are easily recommended to fans of classic jazz.
Been Down This Road Before
Clifton Anderson gained some recognition as the trombonist in the bands of Sonny Rollins (his uncle) during the 1980s and ‘90s. I always felt a little sorry for him in that role because, while he had his spots, he had to frequently stand around for a long time on stage during Rollins’ marathon solos, smiling at Rollins’ artistry while remaining pretty inactive. I felt that he deserved better.
Anderson, who led three albums of his own during 1995-2012, is very much in the spotlight throughout the recent Been Down This Road Before. He composed all ten selections except for “A House Is Not A Home” and, while there are solo spots for pianist Stephen Scott and saxophonists Antoine Roney and Rene McLean, and guest appearances by singer Andy Bey on the title cut, guitarist Peter Bernstein, and pianist Monty Alexander (for a tribute to the late bassist Bob Cranshaw called “T.U.B.C.”), this is very much the trombonist’s showcase.
Clifton Anderson, who has grown a bit away from his earlier J.J. Johnson influence, developing his own sound within the modern hard bop tradition, is in top form throughout this colorful and well-conceived release. Been Down This Road Before, which can be considered his definitive recording so far, is available from www.ropeadope.com and www.cliftonanderson.biz.
No Local Stops
Some jazz recordings take a lot of listening in order for one to be able to fully appreciate the music, but that is certainly not true of pianist Andrew Oliver’s No Local Stops. From the first notes of the opener, Jelly Roll Morton’s “The Pearls,” the happiness of the music along with Oliver’s melodic style, virtuosity, and comfort with classic jazz make this a joyful listening experience.
Oliver has the ability to interpret early jazz and ragtime in his own voice, sounding very much like a pianist of the era. While very familiar with the best-known recordings of each piece, he also adds a bit of his musical personality to the pieces, making them sound fresh and lively without “modernizing” the music.
On No Local Stomps, Andrew Oliver plays 15 piano solos and welcomes the supportive drummer Nicholas D. Ball to three other pieces. Ranging from ragtime (a pair of Joseph Lamb rags) to swing (Duke Ellington’s “Bert Williams”), Oliver puts an emphasis on 1920s jazz and includes six Jelly Roll Morton pieces. He revives such superior obscurities as Willie “The Lion” Smith’s “No Local Stops” (which the composer never recorded), Jimmy Blythe’s “Five O’Clock Stomp,” Arthur Schutt’s tricky “Piano Puzzle,” and Seger Ellis’ “Sentimental Blues.” He also contributes an original (“The Aether”) and romps on James P. Johnson’s “Carolina Shout.”
No Local Stomps is a gem and will be loved by anyone who enjoys early jazz piano. It is available from www.rivermontrecords.com.
Live At Ronnie Scott’s
Love You Madly
The apparently tireless Zev Feldman can be thought of as “the Sherlock Holmes of jazz” for the producer has been responsible for the discovery and release of what is now a long series of formerly unknown recordings by jazz greats. In addition to the rewarding music, his releases on the Resonance label always have extensive liner notes that include interviews with survivors of the era and that is true of the recent two-CD sets from Bill Evans and Monty Alexander.
Live At Ronnie Scott’s is the fifth Bill Evans release by the label and the third by Evans’ trio with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette. It is hard to believe that, prior to all of the Resonance releases, the only recordings by this particular trio were the Verve album Bill Evans At The Montreux Festival plus four titles from the Village Vanguard that were not released until decades later on a Milestone box set.
While DeJohnette’s work with Evans in 1968 found the drummer playing with great subtlety and being felt more than heard (only taking a few brief solos), the interplay between Evans and Gomez (who was in the trio during 1966-77) is typically outstanding throughout Love You Madly. Recorded at Ronnie Scott’s in London during a four-week run, Evans plays his usual repertoire including “A Sleepin’ Bee,” “Turn Out The Stars,” “Quiet Now,” “Very Early” and “Nardis.” The trio sounds quite relaxed yet some of the pieces are taken faster than one would expect, including “Waltz For Debby” and “Autumn Leaves.” While Evans became most famous for his interpretations of ballads, he could play inventive solos at hot tempos and there are plenty of exciting moments to be heard throughout this program. The recording quality on a few of the first tracks is a little erratic at times but is always listenable and it improves as the program evolves. The packaging, which includes several interviews including Jack DeJohnette in a conversation with Chick Corea, is as high-quality as usual. Listeners who feel that there cannot be too many Bill Evans records will certainly be delighted by this set’s release.
Always a brilliant pianist, Monty Alexander has been creating stirring music for over 55 years. Listening to any of his many recordings, it is difficult to believe that Alexander was self-taught and never learned to read music. Love You Madly captures him on Aug. 8, 1982, performing at Bubba’s Jazz Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his quartet. For Alexander, it may have been just another superb performance in a career filled with them, a night at the office. But thanks to the release of Live At Bubba’s, it will be remembered as another milestone in his career.
The 13 selections with bassist Paul Berner, drummer Duffy Jackson, and percussionist Robert Thomas Jr. (each of whom are interviewed along with Alexander and Kenny Barron and joined by essays by Benny Green, Emmet Cohen and Christian Sands in the typically exhaustive booklet) document a group that otherwise never recorded. Alexander’s other three albums from 1982 were with all-star trios. It is a pity that this unit was not otherwise recorded because Alexander’s sidemen fit his music very well with Thomas in particular adding a lot of color to the group’s sound.
While Monty Alexander can sound close to Oscar Peterson (as he shows on the closing “SKJ”), he has long had his own voice within straight ahead jazz while mixing in the influence of his roots in early reggae. Among the highlights of this release are “Love You Madly,” “Samba de Orfeu,” Alexander’s original “Sweet Lady,” “Reggae Later” (which is a cooker), Blue Mitchell’s infectious “Fungii Mama,” and “Body And Soul.”
Both of these superior releases are major finds that are available from www.resonancerecords.org.
Ran Blake/Andrew Rathbun
Pianist Ran Blake has always been in his own musical category. He takes apart songs (much of it unlikely material) and then reinvents the tunes in his own way. A lover of film noir, he has often explored themes from dark movies along with jazz standards, instrumental versions of songs associated with favorite female vocalists, and an occasional pop tune, usually in fairly brief improvisations. His chord voicings can be quite dissonant while still keeping the melody intact, his use of dynamics is often both inventive and jarring, and one would never mistake his playing for anyone else.
Northern Noir is a set of duets with tenor-saxophonist Andrew Rathbun, a student of Blake’s from 25 years ago and one who has his own successful solo career. On this set of 18 songs (which clock in at an average of three minutes apiece), Rathbun simplifies his style and mostly sticks near the melody while Blake is free to comment in his own eccentric and colorful fashion throughout. While the set includes esoteric versions of “Midnight Sun,” Thelonious Monk’s “ Pannonica,” “I Should Care,” “Laura,” Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away,” Al Green’s “Judy,” and two versions of “Strange Fruit” plus three brief Rathbun originals (played unaccompanied by the composer) that are dedicated to musical idols, most of the other selections are themes taken from favorite films of the pianist.
But no matter the source, these duets could serve as a soundtrack to a rather moody and melancholy film. Northern Noir, which makes for a fascinating listen, is available from www.statesidemusic.com and www.amazon.com.
Jesse Snyder is a singer and reed player based in Hawaii. Originally a clarinetist from Pennsylvania, he added the saxophone, gained experience playing locally, and moved to Hawaii in 2009, performing in a variety of groups as both a leader and a sideman. Snyder has a light singing voice similar to that of Michael Franks. In fact, on the opening number on his debut album (Franks’ famous “Popsicle Toes”), he sounds so close to the songwriter that he could pass for him. However there are obvious differences heard throughout the set. Snyder is more jazz-oriented as a singer and he is also a skilled reed player who is featured playing tenor, baritone, clarinet and flute in addition to drums and percussion.
Performing such numbers as the witty “She Blinded Me With Science,” Mose Allison’s “Your Molecular Structure,” “It Had To Be You,” “You’re Mine You,” and Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me,” Snyder features his likable singing which is easy-to-take and quite accessible while also being swinging. His horn playing is heard throughout and spotlighted on the occasional instrumentals including Charles Lloyd’s “Forest Flower” and John Coltrane’s “Central Park West.” Snyder is joined by either Loren Wilken or Maggie Herron on piano, guitarist Curt Warren, Matt Spencer on bass and guitar, drummer Michael Suprenant, and a few guest musicians including steel guitarist Dwight Tokumoto who uplifts two numbers.
Muse (available from www.jessesnyder.com) is a fine debut and introduces listeners to the talents of Jesse Snyder, a performer who should definitely be checked out by those who are lucky enough to be visiting Hawaii.
Trumpeter Diego Urcola has a wide range (sometimes sounding a little like Kenny Wheeler when he blasts out surprising high notes), versatility, and the ability to play whatever he desires. The veteran altoist and clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera, who has appeared in many settings through the years, has probably never recorded before in a pianoless and guitarless quartet, but he was certainly up for the challenge that Urcola gave him on El Duelo.
With stimulating support and musical commentary from bassist Hamish Smith and drummer Eric Doob, the quartet explores a wide variety of rhythmic and Latin-tinged material that includes three originals from Urcola and pieces by Guilhermo Klein, Ornette Coleman (“Una Muy Bonita”), Kenny Wheeler, Astor Piazzola, and Wayne Shorter. They give a tip of the hat to Gerry Mulligan’s famous pianoless quartet by sounding quite credible on “I Know, Don’t Know How,” and concludes the program with a trio of standards: Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma,” Benny Golson’s “Stablemates” and Thelonious Monk’s “Bye-Ya.”
The solos and interplay between Urcola (who is quite outstanding) and the always-brilliant D’Rivera are often dazzling. They bring out the best in each other throughout El Duelo which is available from www.sunnysiderecords.com.
Smoking Time Jazz Club
Mean Tones & High Notes
The Smoking Time Jazz Club is a hot New Orleans jazz combo that has released a series of rewarding CDs. Their current lineup consists of trumpeter Jack Pritchett, trombonist Russell Ramirez, James Evans on clarinet and C-melody sax, Brett Gardner on guitar and banjo, bassist John Joyce, drummer Mike Voelker, and singer Sarah Peterson. Their earlier reed player Joe Goldberg is also heard on either clarinet or tenor during five of the 13 selections on this disc.
Mean Tones & High Notes features the band performing obscurities from the 1920s plus a few standards. The soloists are all excellent, the ensembles are exciting, clean and sometimes witty, and Sarah Peterson’s vocals (including on songs associated with Monette Moore and Trixie Smith) are very much in the vintage style and are a strong attraction. It is a particular joy hearing such songs as “Keep It To Yourself” (recorded by Bessie Smith in 1930), “Put ‘Em Down Blues,” “Breeze,” “Blue Trombone Stomp” (originally a feature for Roy Palmer who Ramirez emulates on this piece) and a pair of wild Fess Williams numbers (with slap-tongue clarinet playing by Evans on “Friction”) being brought back to life in such spirited fashion.
This is a fun CD by an enjoyable band that really knows and inhabits the vintage music. Mean Tones & High Notes is easily recommended and available from www.smokingtimejazzclub.com.
14 March 1961
(Fremeaux & Associates)
During a musical career that has now exceeded 70 years, Quincy Jones has had quite a few accomplishments. However I suspect that among his proudest achievements were his big bands of 1960-61.
After occasionally leading larger ensembles on record dates, in 1960 Jones put together a working orchestra to tour Europe and participate in Harold Arlen’s Free And Easy show. Unfortunately the production fell apart in Paris, the orchestra was stranded, and Jones had to struggle for several months to pull together enough engagements so the musicians would have the money to return to the U.S. Despite that, a lot of rewarding music resulted as can be heard on live recordings that have been released through the years.
Despite the difficulties, in 1961 Quincy Jones brought another similar orchestra to Europe and this time everything went much smoother. He kept the band together until they had a triumphant concert at that year’s Newport Jazz Festival.
The previously unreleased performances from the big band’s Paris concert of Mar. 14, 1961 have now been made available on this fine CD (available from www.fremeaux.com. Performing Jones’ arrangements are 18 top-notch musicians including the young trumpeter Freddie Hubbard (well featured on “Stolen Moments”), trombonists Curtis Fuller and Melba Liston (she is on the spotlight on “Solitude”), Julius Watkins on French horn, altoist Phil Woods (the main soloist on “Bess You Is My Woman Now” and “The Midnight Sun Will Never Set”), tenors Budd Johnson and Eric Dixon, and Patato Valdes on congas. The 12-minute “Africana” is quite unusual for it has long stretches in which Valdes plays duets with several of the horn players including most notably trombonist Fuller.
While it is a shame that the Quincy Jones Big Band did not survive past the summer of 1961, it is fortunate that recordings such as this fine outing have lasted, letting one hear some of the arranger’s most significant music.
Lori Zuroff, who makes her recording debut as a solo jazz singer on Ladybug, is a bit of a late bloomer. While she has always loved a variety of music, she did not begin seriously singing until she was nearly 40. At that time, she started by joining a women’s barbershop quartet and the Acton Community Chorus. Since then she has performed with a variety of rock, blues and r&b bands while blossoming into a fine solo jazz singer based in the Boston area. Along the way she studied with the late Rebecca Parris and Sheila Jordan, developing her own individual sound.
Ladybug features Lori Z. with a group that also includes pianist-arranger Molly Flannery, bassist Bill McCormack, drummer Miki Matsuki, and tenor-saxophonist Bill Vint. Performing eight of her favorite songs from the Great American Songbook, the vocalist puts plenty of quiet feeling into the lyrics, swings lightly, and displays a warm voice. She begins by reviving “You Made Me Love You,” a rarely-performed standard that had three prior lives as hits for Al Jolson, Judy Garland and Harry James. Her concise version makes the song sound fresh and lively.
Other highlights include “When Sunny Gets Blue” (which has a nice swinging piano chorus), “The Nearness Of You” (during which Vint takes an explorative spot on tenor), and the interplay between the singer and the saxophonist on “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” Lori Z. is heard at her best during her slow and saucy vocal on “Honeysuckle Rose” and on “In A Sentimental Mood” which has the pianist hinting at Duke Ellington’s classic version with John Coltrane. Also included are the bossa-nova “Meditation” and the closing “For All We Know” which has some particularly heartfelt singing.
Ladybug, which is available from www.amazon.com, is an excellent outing for Lori Zuroff and recommended to listeners who love hearing vintage songs sung with honest feeling and optimism.