Monk’estra Plays John Beasley
The third release by pianist-composer-arranger John Beasley’s Monk’estra contains quite a bit of variety. While his 16-piece big band is featured on six selections, the other eight numbers utilize smaller units. There are also several notable guests and the music, while including four Thelonious Monk songs, also has eight Beasley originals along with unusual versions of “Donna Lee” and “Come Sunday.” The leader contributed all of the arrangements for the wide-ranging program.
The opening “Steve-O” utilizes a two-note punctuation by the ensemble that sounds Monkish. Brian Swartz takes a short but effective trumpet solo. “Sam Rivers” is an uptempo piece played by a septet. Here, as throughout the CD, Beasley is the main soloist, coming up with consistently inventive ideas. “Monk’s Mood” has interplay between the leader and guest harmonica player Gregoire Maret while “Donna Lee,” in a version that sounds a little like both the Gil Evans Orchestra of the 1970s and Jaco Pastorius’ famous recording, is transformed from bebop into avant-Latin funk.
“Song for Dub” is an original ballad with Beasley in the lead while “Five Spot” has a strong solo from tenor-saxophonist Bob Sheppard. “Implication” has a mysterious feel about it along with a dark ensemble sound for the quintet which features a bass clarinet-trombone frontline. After a very brief “Intermission” (some color provided by two synthesizers), “Masekela” includes a bit of South African flavor although it is much more complex than any of Hugh Masekela’s music. A combination of “Rhythm-A-Ning” with “Evidence” (which is mostly the former) features organist Joey DeFrancesco as a guest with the ensembles hinting at “Cotton Tail” in spots. The set concludes with Monk’s “Off Minor,” a trio with bassist John Patitucci exploring Beasley’s relaxed “Be.YOU.tiful,” a slower than expected version of “Locomotive” (with Hubert Laws on flute), and a stormy rendition of “Come Sunday” with singer Jubilant Sykes and Ralph Moore on tenor.
This stimulating and continually surprising set is available from www.mackavenue.com.
Rollins In Holland
Sonny Rollins recorded one gem after another during 1955-58, cementing his place as one of the all-time great tenor-saxophonists. His decision to take time off in 1959 made headlines in the jazz world. He re-emerged in 1962 with his album The Bridge which found Rollins not sounding all that different than he had before his sabbatical. However he was soon exploring freer sounds, inspired by Ornette Coleman and even using two of Ornette’s sidemen (cornetist Don Cherry and drummer Billy Higgins) along with either Henry Grimes or Bob Cranshaw on bass during 1962-63. While he often performed standards during his RCA recordings of the era, Rollins’ playing was unpredictable, sometimes embracing melodies but at other times creating sound explorations. After recording his 1966 album East Broadway Run Down, Rollins did not make another studio album for six years. He mostly stopped playing in public during 1969-71 although this “vacation” did not generate the publicity of his earlier exodus.
The tenor-saxophonist was still occasionally active during 1967-68, taking a pair of European tours. A few selections from 1968 (with pianist Kenny Drew, bassist Niels Pedersen and drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath) were released on bootleg albums by the Moon, Gambit and Japanese SSJ labels, none of the music from his visit to the Netherlands in 1967 has ever been out before this new release.
Resonance’s two-CD set, which contains a 100-page booklet filled with information about the short tour (including interviews with all three musicians), teams Rollins with bassist Ruud Jacobs (who usually played straight ahead jazz) and drummer Han Bennink (who was becoming a European pioneer of the avant-garde). Although they had no rehearsals before their May 3, 1967 concert, the combination works very well. Rollins plays a nonstop barrage of creative and spontaneous ideas, bassist Jacobs finds a place for himself in the music, and Bennink displays a lot of energy and the desire to inspire the saxophonist. Rollins stuck to standards during this tour and often improvises based on the melody. He sometimes plays outside of the chord changes and in two cases switches to another song altogether during his solo. His playing is both logical and full of surprises, sometimes taking adventurous cadenzas and always keeping the other musicians (who are fortunately very alert) guessing.
While there are some drum solos and spots for the bassist, Rollins is the main soloist throughout, taking long solos on such pieces as “Three Little Words” (which is over 22-minutes long), “Love Walked In,” and “Four.” The May 3 session is joined by four briefer performances from a May 5 television show and two other numbers from their club appearance later that night. The recording quality is pretty good for the era and, while one may want to listen to this set in smaller doses since there is a lot of music to consume, Rollins In Holland will certainly be desired by anyone who enjoys Sonny Rollins’ playing. It is available from www.resonancerecords.org.
Trumpeter Ron Miles has always had a mellow sound and a quiet but explorative style. For his latest recording, Rainbow Sign, he performs originals, most of which he wrote in the summer of 2018 when he was caring for his ailing father.
Joined by guitarist Bill Frisell, pianist Jason Moran, bassist Thomas Morgan, and drummer
Brian Blade (quite an all-star group), Miles plays thoughtful music through the set, often using a mute. While there are some fine solos, the performances are ensemble-oriented and quite interactive, with Frisell and Morgan’s accompaniment of the trumpeter of equal interest to Miles’ lead. The lengthy opener, “Like Those Who Dream,” sounds a bit like a more acoustic and less crowded version of Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis, eventually becoming a blues. The happily ragged “Queen Of The South,” the loose jazz waltz “Average,” the relaxed freedom of “This Old Man,” and “A Kind Word” (a relaxed ensemble jam over a vamp) are among the highlights with the boppish and happily eccentric “Binder” (which has strong solos over rhythm changes) being particularly memorable.
In general, the pieces on Rainbow Sign are high-quality mood music, melodic without being dominated by a melody. They utilize loose chord structures and a blending of the instruments that results in an atmospheric suite. It is well worth checking out and is available from www.bluenote.com.
Soul Of The Water
An actress who is also a talented and adventurous singer, Dyan Kane has an extensive background in jazz. She grew up in New York City and worked as a waitress at the Blue Note for a long period where she got to hear jazz greats on a nightly basis, participating in some late night jam sessions. Since moving to the Los Angeles area, she has worked with a variety of top players (including Rickey Woodard and the late Sam Most) and recorded her debut album Dyatribe.
On Soul Of The Water, the singer is joined by some of L.A.’s best including pianist Robert Turner, guitarist Joe Gaeta, and tenor-saxophonist Keith Fiddmont. One of Dyan Kane’s trademarks is her surprising (and often-witty) treatments of standards. That can be heard on a rapid version of “Summertime” (which has some fine scat singing), her joyfully eccentric “Caravan,” a relatively straightforward and warm “Moonglow,” an exuberant “Brazil,” and a really uptempo rendition of “Lover Man.” She is also a fine writer, contributing the memorable medium-tempo jazz waltz “Papi’s Back In Town” and her love story “Dial Rio For Me.” The last part of the set finds Dyan Kane reaching beyond acoustic jazz with the rhythmic “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and an electronic transformation of Kurt Elling’s “Esperanto” with keyboardist Dominique Xavier Taplin.
The music overall is quite stimulating and features the inventive Dyan Kane in top form. Soul Of The Water is easily recommended and available from www.dyankanemusic.com.
Due to suffering a major stroke, pianist Keith Jarrett is retired, probably permanently. His latest recording, Munich Concert, was performed on July 16, 2016. At that time he had not recorded since Creation (2014) and Rio (2011) while his final trio album with the late bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette was 2009’s Somewhere.
Budapest Concert, a two-CD set, was performed on July 3, 2016, 13 days before Munich Concert. The program is comprised of a dozen improvisations plus two standards played as encores, While Jarrett became famous in the 1970s for his hour-long free improvisations, he changed his approach in later years, choosing to create shorter pieces spontaneously.
Part 1, which is, easily the longest performance at 14 minutes, is mildly disturbing, hyper, and evolves as it goes, holding one’s interest as it develops. Part II is somber as if it was performed at a funeral while Part III is wandering, thoughtful, and builds to a climax. The other sections include a piece with strong forward momentum as if one was on a road trip (Part IV), a lullaby (Part V), a boppish number (Part VI), a soulful ballad (Part VII), an operatic piece with a ringing trill (Part VIII), a freer exploration (Part IX), two notes being used to punctuate behind speedy right hand runs (Part X), a tender ballad (Part XI), and a bluesy party piece which serves as a reward to the audience for staying with Jarrett this long (Part XII). The encores (“It’s A Lonesome Old Town” and “Answer Me My Love”) are given a melodic and somewhat dramatic treatment.
While not quite as essential as the earlier Solo Concerts and Koln Concert, Budapest Concert (available from www.amazon.com) finds Keith Jarrett still in his creative prime. One hopes that, against all odds, he will make a comeback someday.
What Comes Next
What Comes Next, a quartet album with guitarist Peter Bernstein, pianist Sullivan Fortner, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Joe Farnsworth, was probably one of the few jazz dates recorded in June 2020. After several months of isolation, the opportunity arose for Peter Bernstein to leave his home and record in the studio (utilizing social distancing) with three of his favorite current players. The guitarist contributed six originals, some of which have very topical titles that fit the gloomy times (“What Comes Next,” “Empty Streets,” “Harbor No Illusions,” and “Dance In Your Blood”) but are actually filled with optimism, excellent solos, and a joyful spirit.
The program, which also includes a tribute to the late drummer Jimmy Cobb (“Blood Wolf Moon Blues”), “We’ll Be Together Again,” Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma,” and a previously unrecorded Sonny Rollins calypso (“Newark News”), is both topical and timeless. Listeners do not have to know that it was recorded in 2020 for them to be able to enjoy the boppish yet thoughtful music. The musicians listen closely to each other (Peter Washington’s basslines are worth focusing on by themselves), Bernstein and Fortner take many sophisticated solos, and Farnworth’s playing is supportive and stimulating including a heated drum solo on “Harbor No Illusions.”
What Comes Next is a relaxed set which has its fiery moments and features each of the four musicians in excellent form. It is recommended and available from www.smokesessionsrecords.com.
WJ3 All Stars
Lovers & Love Songs
(Night Is Alive)
The WJ3 All Stars, taken from the roster of artists who record for drummer Willie Jones III.’s label, is an all-star sextet comprised of trumpeter Terell Stafford, tenor-saxophonist Ralph Moore, trombonist Steve Davis, pianist Donald Vega, bassist Gerald Cannon, and Jones on drums. Lovers & Love Songs seeks to musically tell the story of a love affair’s rise and fall, and to serve as music for Valentine’s Day.
While most of the eight standards are love songs (except “I’m An Old Cow Hand”), the results are never just background music. Starting with a medium-tempo version of “I’ve Never Been In Love Before,” this is a high quality set of modern and swinging hard bop. Moore’s tenor gives an early 1960s Coltrane vibe to “First Time I Ever Saw Your Face” even when he is just playing the melody. “I’m An Old Cow Hand” and “From This Moment On” are revived for hard-swinging and joyous jamming. Moore is in the spotlight on “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You” (which is heard in a rare instrumental version), and there are features for Stafford (“Here’s That Rainy Day”) and Davis (“Cry Me A River”). Surprisingly the program concludes with just the piano trio on “Jitterbug Waltz” rather than bringing the full group together at the end.
Whether it really tells the story of an affair, the release of Lovers & Love Songs does serve as an excuse to hear some good music by top-notch players. It is available from www.nightisalive.com.
Over The Rainbow
John Cutrone is a tasteful and supportive drummer who always adds swing and subtle creativity to the bandstand. In his career he has worked with such notables as pianist Lou Stein, guitarists Bucky Pizzarelli and Joe Beck, trombonist Bill Watrous (in his legendary big band the Manhattan Wildlife Refuge), saxophonists Carmen Leggio, Frank Foster and Al Klink, trumpeter/flugelhornists Clark Terry and Scott Wendholt, and organist Dr. Lonnie Smith among others. In addition to his 2008 album Four X Four with Bucky Pizzarelli, he recorded two records with the Bill Crow Trio that included pianist Hiroshi Yamazaki.
Yamazaki, a master of swing and bop piano, has been a major player ever since moving to New York where he has worked with Eric Alexander, Kenny Washington and Lonnie Plaxico. He started at the top with his first recording which teamed him with Ron Carter and Lewis Nash.
Bassist David Finck toured early in his career with the Woody Herman Orchestra and has since worked with the who’s who of jazz including Joe Williams, Al Cohn, Ernestine Anderson, Tom Harrell, Phil Woods, Paquito D’Rivera, Freddie Hubbard, Eddie Daniels, and countless others. He can always be counted on to contribute a large and attractive tone, perfect time, and a rhythmic drive.
Over The Rainbow, a set of standards for the trio, is dedicated to Nick Cutrone, John Cutrone’s father who was a lifelong musician. Yamazaki is the main soloist, creating improvisations that are worthy of Bud Powell but in his own voice. Finck contributes a perfect placement of notes while Cutrone is very much in a supportive role, keeping the music swinging while being felt as much as heard.
This is a tight trio as can be heard on such numbers as “Let’s Fall In Love,” a joyful “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea,” an exuberant “On the Street Where You Live,” “On The Sunny Side Of The Street,” Tadd Dameron’s “On A Misty Night,” and a medley of Henry Mancini’s “Moon River” and “Dreamsville.” All 11 performances are quite enjoyable, swinging, and full of bright moments.
Fans of straight ahead jazz trios will find listening to Over The Rainbow to be a delightful experience. It is available from www.johncutrone.com and www.amazon.com.
Dave Brubeck passed away after a very full life on Dec. 5, 2012, one day before his 92nd birthday. Lullabies, from Mar. 2-4, 2010, is probably his final recording and his only one after 2007. The solo piano set finds Brubeck going back to the very beginnings of his love of music.
Among his earliest memories are hearing his mother play piano while he fell asleep as a toddler. On Lullabies, Brubeck performs 15 pieces with strong melodies that can easily serve the same purpose for today’s children. Do not look for his trademark explorations of polyrhythms or polytonality on this set. What one hears is Brubeck playing gentle versions of such songs as “Brahms Lullaby,” “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” “Over The Rainbow,” “Danny Boy,” “Summertime,” and some originals (including “Koto Song”) in brief (mostly around three minutes apiece) and soothing versions.
This is a set of music that is purposely designed for backgrounds as if, after an exciting life, Dave Brubeck wanted to fade away peacefully. It is available from www.amazon.com.
Mike Melito/Dino Losito Quartet
While this quartet set is co-led by drummer Melito and pianist Dino Losito (with bassist Neal Miner completing the rhythm section), it will probably be of greatest interest for the playing of the legendary Philadelphia tenor-saxophonist Larry McKenna who is in consistently inspired form. All four of the musicians make strong contributions to the straight ahead jazz date and together they sound like a regularly working group rather than a one-time affair. McKenna is one of the last major tenor-saxophonists to have a tone that is related to the classic “Four Brothers” sound of Zoot Sims and Al Cohn while Losito’s piano solos are worthy of Wynton Kelly. Miner contributes a few melodic and relaxed improvisations on bass while drummer Melito’s spots are concise and inventive.
The repertoire is of particular high quality throughout the CD. McKenna’s “You’re It” is a boppish swinger, “These Foolish Things” (taken at a medium-tempo pace) deserves the revival and, in addition to three other standards (including a surprisingly rapid version of “What A Difference A Day Makes”), there is a song apiece by George Coleman (“Blondie’s Waltz”), Cedar Walton, John Lewis (“Afternoon In Paris”) and Wes Montgomery. The band is full of energy as they show on a medium-fast bossa version of “You’ve Changed” but they also make warm ballad statements on Walton’s “I’ll Let You Know.”
For those who want a swinging jazz set, You’re It will certainly suffice. The enjoyable outing is available from www.cellarlive.com.
Twist Run Road
Singer-guitarist Elaine Lucia’s three prior releases (Sings Jazz and Other Things, A Sonny Day, and Let’s Live Again) displayed her beautiful voice performing mostly jazz-oriented material. Twist Run Road is a bit different in style if not quality.
Ms. Lucia has worked on the material and her latest evolution over the past six years. Joined by a four-piece rhythm section with guitarist Dave MacNab and an occasional string quartet, she performs a dozen originals that at various times could be considered folk music, modern country, singer/songwriter material, middle-of-the-road pop, or modern day Americana. More important than the category is that the songs, which often deal in fresh and varied ways with love and the joys of life, generally have a happy, infectious and optimistic feel.
Among the highpoints are the carefree “Milkweed,” “Fireflies” which is in 5/4 time, her playful wordless singing on “The Instrument You Are,” and the melancholy waltz “At The Dance.” The most jazz-oriented piece, “Starting All Over Again” which has her overdubbing her voice and hinting at the Boswell Sisters during a swinging performance.
Twist Run Road is an enjoyable set of music that is available from www.elaineluciamusic.com
Paolo Alderighi/Stephanie Trick
I Love Erroll/I Love James P.
(AT Music Productions)
This double-CD contains two separate projects. Husband and wife pianists Paolo Alderighi and Stephanie Trick both had significant solo careers going before they met and married. While Ms. Trick developed into one of the finest stride pianists around, Alderighi’s style is based more in 1950s jazz although he can also play stride and swing. In recent years they have often appeared together, playing a single piano with their four hands. Those who feared that they were potentially losing their individual styles have nothing to worry about as shown on these two equally enjoyable discs.
Stephanie Trick performs 19 compositions by the master of stride piano, James P. Johnson. Other than five piano duets with her husband, her set features her unaccompanied solos. While Johnson’s “Carolina Shout,” “If I Could Be With You” and “Old Fashioned Love” are included along with such hot stride pieces as “Jingles,” “Riffs,” and “You’ve Got To Be Modernistic,” Trick also performs some of Johnson’s worthy obscurities including “A Flat Dream,” “Toddlin’,” and “Victory Stride.” Her playing is consistently brilliant throughout these exciting and often-heated performances.
On the second disc, Paolo Alderighi performs a tribute to Erroll Garner consisting of a dozen Garner pieces, Red Callender’s “Pastel,” and his own “I Love Erroll.” On ten of the 14 numbers, Alderighi is joined by bassist Roberto Piccolo and Nicola Stranieri on drums and congas. A surprise is that Stephanie Trick sits in quite effectively on congas during three of the numbers, taking a fine solo on “Mambo Carmel.”
While many pianists have satirized the very distinctive and playful Garner style, there is none of that in Alderighi’s tribute. He comes close to sounding like Garner at times (particularly on the slower pieces) but also improvises in his own style, bringing Garner’s music back to life without having to imitate its composer. While Erroll Garner only wrote one standard (“Misty”), many of his other originals should have caught on, particularly “Dreamy,” “Play, Piano, Play,” “Nervous Waltz” and “Trio.” Paolo Alderighi plays all of his songs with affection and understanding.
I Love Erroll/I Love James P. is a double gem, available from www.paoloandstephanie.com.
The British jazz tenor-saxophonist Nubya Garcia grew up in a very musical family, originally played classical violin and viola, started on the tenor when she was ten, studied with Jean Toussaint (formerly with the Jazz Messengers), and in 2017 released her debut EP. She has since appeared regularly at European festivals, done quite a bit of touring, and worked with some of the top young players in the modern jazz scene of London.
On her debut for the Concord label, Nubya Garcia is joined by pianist-keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones, bassist Daniel Casimir, drummer Sam Jones, occasionally trumpeter Ms. Maurice, and vocalists (mostly in the background) on three of her nine originals. The music ranges from Pharoah Sanders-type jazz (“Pace”) and the slightly funky “The Message Continues” to unpredictable ensemble pieces, bits of reggae (particularly on the lengthy and episodic “Source”), and numbers that reference other musical idioms while still being connected to jazz.
The surprising part of this set is that, although Nubya Garcia has been hailed as one of London’s finest saxophonists of today, her solos on Source are mostly fairly mellow and her rhythm section is as much a factor in the music as the leader. While she has some good spots including playing romantically on “Together Is A Beautiful Place To Be,” and with some heat on the funky “Inner Game” and the soul jazz romp “Before US,” I suspect that one is only getting a hint of what the saxophonist can do. While Source (available from www.amazon.com) has enough worthwhile music for it to be acquired, I look forward to a more uninhibited outing from Nubya Garcia in the future.
Sweet Fruits Salty Roots
Art Of The New Orleans Trio
When one thinks of a New Orleans quartet comprised of trumpet, clarinet, acoustic guitar and bass, the 1940 sessions featuring Sidney Bechet and Muggsy Spanier stand out as the supreme example of that instrumentation. Jon-Erik Kellso, one of the hottest trad and swing trumpeters of the past 30 years, teams up with clarinetist Evan Christopher, guitarist Don Vappie, and bassist Peter Harris on Sweet Fruits Salty Roots, creating music that come close to the Bechet-Spanier level.
While they were certainly aware of their historic predecessor, the quartet does not try to copy them. Kellso sounds closer to Bunny Berigan and (when he uses a plunger mute) Cootie Williams than to Spanier and is in top form throughout. While Bechet is an inspiration for Christopher, he also has his own sound on clarinet and, unlike Bechet, he does not double on soprano. Vappie and Harris perform similar roles as guitarist Carmen Mastren and bassist Wellman Braud did on the original dates but get a bit more solo space. Also, the quartet does not duplicate any of the eight songs recorded by Bechet and Spanier.
In fact, in addition to the strong musicianship, colorful solos, and interplay between the two very complementary horns, one of the main strengths of this CD is the repertoire. Of the dozen songs, “Coal Cart Blues,” “Wild Man Blues,” and “Shake It And Break It” were performed by Bechet (the first two were actually made most famous by Louis Armstrong), and “Russian Lullaby” is an underplayed standard. The other songs are mostly pretty obscure including Duke Ellington’s “Have A Heart,” Fats Waller’s “Lonesome Me,” Johnny Hodges’ “One For The Duke,” and “Heah Me Talkin’ To Ya.” When was the last time any of those vintage tunes was recorded?
Art Of The New Orleans Trio features Evan Christopher leading two separate trios. Vappie and Harris return for the second half of the CD but first pianist Kris Tokarski (an excellent and versatile 1920s soloist) and drummer Benny Amon join the clarinetist for six songs. They perform four excellent Christopher originals although the highpoints of this half are a rollicking version of Scott Joplin’s “The Cascades” and the always joyous “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” While Christopher mentions the influences of Darnell Howard and Omer Simeon in this type of trio, I hear more of Tony Parenti in his playing here. The session with Vappie and Harris has five Christopher songs, some of which utilize the chord changes of vintage standards (including “Alone At The Ball” which is based on “Darktown Strutters Ball” and “Old Sober March” which is really “China Boy”). As a bit of a bonus, the CD concludes with an alternate take of the Waller ballad “Lonesome Me” from the quartet session with Kellso.
These two recommended CDs (available from www.jazzology.com) add to the musical legacy of both Evan Christopher and Jon-Erik Kellso. Any fans of hot jazz should own at least several of their recordings.