Ella At The Shrine
In 1956, producer Norman Granz started the Verve label specifically to feature his star attraction, Ella Fitzgerald. He had been her manager for seven years and presented her at concerts, but it took time for him to get the Decca label to let her out of her contract. 1956 was a very busy year for Ella. She cut a few singles on Jan. 25, recording full-length songbooks of the music of Cole Porter, Rodgers And Hart, and Duke Ellington, made a few other sessions, and was constantly performing and touring. Two years ago, Verve came out with Ella At Zardi’s, a wonderful and previously unreleased set from Feb. 2 that seemed to be the launch of her association with the Verve label (despite the slightly earlier singles).
However Ella At The Shrine from Jan. 21, 1956, which has never been out before, predates everything. The seven songs have been released as a 12-inch 45. Hopefully they will someday also be reissued as part of a CD. The singer was appearing at Zardi’s during a long engagement but managed to get away one night to the Shrine, performing as part of an all-star concert organized by Granz. She was probably accompanied by pianist Don Abney, drummer Frank Capp and either Vernon Alley or Joe Mondragon on bass.
Ella put everything she had into the miniset. She sounds wonderful on “’S Wonderful,” her luscious voice is full of emotion on “Cry Me A River,” she takes “Lullaby Of Birdland” for an exuberant ride, and on “Glad To Be Unhappy” (which is associated with Lee Wiley), she shows that really could sing ballads with subtlety and honest feeling, one of her more underrated talents.
The momentum really picks up after that with “And The Angels Sing” evolving from a ballad to a swinger. On “Joe Williams Blues,” Ella sings some of Williams’ best lines with Count Basie while adding a few of her own comments. She tops off everything with one of her most inventive versions of “Air Mail Special.” Taken quite fast, this hard-swinging scatfest has several humorous moments (with Ella commenting on what she is doing); at one point she sings “Am I still in key?” Ella was always in key.
The last part of this 45 shows how much the audience loved her. As Norman Granz explains that they have to get back to Zardi’s, the crowd refuses to stop applauding and shows that they did not want to let her go.
If you have a 45 player, definitely get this one. It is available from www.amazon.com.
One of the top harpists today in jazz and other related musics, Brandee Younger is a modern extension of Dorothy Ashby and particularly Alice Coltrane. Like Coltrane, her playing is as significant when part of the ensemble as during solos.
Soul Awakening consists of previously unreleased performances from 2012-2013, with the personnel changing from track to track. The melodic and spiritual music is reminiscent of late 1960s acoustic jazz although generally much gentler. Ravi Coltrane (one of Younger’s mentors) is featured on tenor during the occasionally stormy “Soulris” and the ballad “Love’s Prayer.” Other notables heard throughout the program include saxophonists Chelsea Baratz, Stacey Dillard and Antoine Roney, flutist Nicole Camacho, trumpeters Sean Jones and Freddie Hendrix, trombonist Corey Wilcox, bassist Dezron Douglas, drummers Chris Beck and EJ Strickland, and (on “Save The Children”) singer Niia.
Among the more memorable selections are “Soulris,” Sean Jones on “Respected Destroyer,” Dorothy Ashby’s “Games” (a trio number with Younger in the spotlight), the Alice Coltrane modal blues “Blue Nile,” and “Soul Awakening.” The latter features everyone (including the three saxophonists) improvising together over a floating rhythm and a light vamp, as if this was a Pharoah Sanders early 1970s Impulse date. Through it all, Brandee Younger consistently pushes and inspires the ensembles.
The enjoyable and atmospheric set is well worth acquiring and available from www.brandeeyounger.com.
One of the top hard bop-oriented trombonists in jazz, Steve Davis studied with Jackie McLean, was a member of the last version of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and worked with McLean, Chick Corea’s Origin, the all-star group One For All, the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Star Big Band and many other straight ahead jazz greats. He has also headed many groups of his own, particularly on recordings. Correlations is his 20th CD as a leader and fourth for the Smoke Sessions label; all are worthy acquisitions.
For this set, Davis is at the head of an impressive sextet also featuring tenor-saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, trumpeter Joshua Bruneau, pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Dezron Douglas, and drummer Jonathan Barber. The group performs seven of the leader’s originals plus a song apiece from Horace Silver (a beautifully arranged version of “Peace”), George Cables, Thad Jones (“A Child Is Born”), and McCoy Tyner. Of the new songs, particularly memorable are “Batista’s Revenge” (which has a guest appearance by percussionist Cyro Baptista), the driving “Can’t Complain,” and the cooking “Blues For Owen.”
With this instrumentation and style, one immediately thinks of the Jazz Messengers although Art Blakey’s group probably never played any of these pieces. All of the musicians are impressive with the three horn players and pianist Davis taking creative solos in the tradition. 31-year old trumpeter Bruneau shows that he is a real up-and-comer in the Lee Morgan/Freddie Hubbard tradition.
What’s not to like? Fans of modern hard bop will enjoy this swinging affair, available from www.smokesessionsrecords.com.
Steve Slagle is best known as an alto-saxophonist who plays flute. With the release of Spirit Calls, his first almost all-flute project, he hopes to change that.
An important musician since moving to New York in 1976, Slagle was the musical director of the Mingus Big Band and has worked with many of the who’s who of jazz including the Joe Lovano Nonet and Carla Bley. He has often headed his own groups since the mid-1980s, co-led a long-term band with guitarist Dave Stryker, and has released 20 CDs under his name so far.
On Spirit Calls, except on the title track, Slagle left his alto-sax in the case and exclusively played flute, alto flute and, on the opening “Goin’ Home,” his Indian six-hole Bansuri bamboo flute. During the varied program, he is usually joined by bassist Ugonna Okegwo, seven songs add drummer Jason Tiemann and/or Roman Diaz on congas, and there are two guest appearances by pianist Keith Brown and one from guitarist John Scofield (a quiet version of Jobim’s “Luiza”). In addition to the Jobim piece, the repertoire includes Dvorak’s “Goin’ Home,” Keith Jarrett’s light and catchy “De Drums,” Ralph Burns’ “Bijou,” “Estate,” Ernie Wilkins’ “Dizzy’s Business” (which was played by the 1963 Cannonball Adderley Sextet), John Coltrane’s “Expression” and three originals by the leader.
Most of the selections had never been recorded with a flute in the lead before. These intimate treatments are quite effective both at displaying Slagle’s flute playing and at casting new light on some of the more familiar pieces such as a lighthearted “Bijou,” the boppish “Dizzy’s Business,” and “Expression” (from Coltrane’s final studio album) which is an unaccompanied flute solo.
Throughout Spirit Calls (available from www.steveslaglemusic.com), Steve Slagle shows that he is well deserving of recognition as one of the top jazz flutists on the scene today.
Back On Indiana Avenue
Producer Zev Feldman and Resonance Records have greatly expanded the discography of guitarist Wes Montgomery. Back On Indiana Avenue is their sixth Montgomery release, following In The Beginning, Echoes Of Indiana Avenue, One Night In Indy, Smokin’ In Seattle (co-led by Wynton Kelly) and Wes Montgomery in Paris. Only the latter set and part of In The Beginning had previously been released, with the other three releases uncovering performances from the formerly dark period before Montgomery began recording for the Riverside label in 1959.
Back On Indiana Avenue, as with the previous Echoes Of Indiana Avenue, releases previously unknown tapes compiled by the late composer-pianist Carroll DeCamp of the guitarist performing in his native Indianapolis. Unfortunately the personnel is not completely known, nor the recording dates which are probably from 1956-59. However the recording quality on this two-CD set is excellent and Montgomery is heard in his early prime.
The music is divided into piano quartets, an organ trio (with organist Mel Rhyne and drummer Paul Parker), a sextet on two songs with trombonist David Baker, tenor-saxophonist David Young and probably Buddy Montgomery on piano), and drumless trios with piano (either Mel Rhyne, Buddy Montgomery, John Bunch or Carl Perkins) and bass. Some of the selections were never otherwise recorded by the guitarist while others that are more familiar often use different arrangements than the studio recordings. The drumless trio numbers are particularly boppish and among the many highlights of the 22 selections are “Four On Six,” “So What,” “West Coast Blues,” “Sandu,” “Stompin’ At The Savoy, “Opus De Funk” and “The Song Is You.” The guitarist sounds quite recognizable and was poised for greatness.
All Wes Montgomery fans will want this “new” music, which is augmented by a 44-page booklet that includes tributes to Carroll DeCamp, the inside story behind the release of these priceless performances, and interviews with John Scofield and George Benson. The perfectly conceived release is available from www.resonancerecords.org
Mike Durham’s International Classic Jazz Party 2017
Mike Durham founded the International Classic Jazz Party in 1990 to feature some of the top early jazz performers in inspired settings. Although Durham passed away in 2013, the annual three-day event still continues to this day. Highlights of the 2017 party are on this 36-selection-two CD set available from www.whitleybayjazzfest.com. It was certainly a memorable party.
Rather than just being a string of songs from various all-star groups, many of the performances on the twofer feature top players performing in the style (and sometimes utilizing similar arrangements) as specific early recording bands. Featured along the way are selections that purposely sound like the Georgians (“Hot Lips”), King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, the 1927 Duke Ellington Orchestra, the 1923-24 Fletcher Henderson Big Band, the Luis Russell Orchestra (with trombonist Kristoffer Kompen really capturing the sound of J.C. Higginbotham), young Benny Goodman, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five (performing two songs that the original group did not record), Jabbo Smith, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, and Bennie Moten’s Orchestra. There are also performances that are creative within the idiom but not necessarily beholden to one particular early group including selections by Bleach’s Boys, pianist Martin Litton (who plays “Laura” as a change of pace), banjoist-singer Spats Langham, vocalist Nicolle Rochelle, Trombonium (featuring three trombones on “In A Mellow Tone”), the Fat Babies with David Boeddinghaus on piano, pianist Morten Gunnar Larsen (an improvised version of Scott Joplin’s “Original Rags”), and several other groups. Among the other big names on this release are drummer-leader Josh Duffee, cornetist Andy Schumm, trumpeter Duke Heitger, clarinetist Jean Francois Bonnel, pianist Keith Nichols, and trombonist Jim Fryer although many of the less familiar musicians perform on the same high level.
Anyone interested in early classic jazz will have to pick up this very enjoyable set.
Jeff Rupert with Veronica Swift
Let’s Sail Away
Jeff Rupert is a Stan Getz-influenced tenor-saxophonist who is the Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Central Florida. A versatile player who has worked in many big bands including those of Sam Rivers, Maynard Ferguson and Benny Carter, he has also recorded with the Jazz Professors and his own group, Dirty Martini. Veronica Swift is one of the brightest young jazz singers on the scene today, inspired by Anita O’Day and the bop vocalists of the 1950s while adding her own enthusiasm, inventive ideas and fresh spin to the music.
Jeff Rupert and Veronica Swift teamed up in 2017 with pianist Richard Drexler, bassist Charlie Silva and drummer Marty Morell, and the result is this delightful CD. While Rupert takes many swinging and warm solos, Swift is very much an equal partner, sometimes functioning as another wordless horn and creating sophisticated and boppish improvisations. In other spots, she interprets the lyrics, including the title cut (composed by Rupert) and her own words to the tenor’s ballad “Beauty Becomes Her.”
Among the highlights are a rare revival of Johnny Mandel’s “Pernod,” “Pennies From Heaven” (featuring the singer’s vocalese lyrics to a Stan Getz solo), the speedy and tricky Vince Guaraldi song “Ginza Samba,” and “Home Blues” which is a theme from George Gershwin’s “An American In Paris.” Particularly memorable is a fresh adaptation of “Rhapsody In Blue” which, in addition to using some of Gershwin’s themes from the work, has the co-leaders jamming on a cooking blues.
Bebop fans will love this infectious and joyful set which is available from www.amazon.com.
Snaketime: The Music Of Moondog
Moondog, who was born Louis Thomas Hardin (1916-99), was a unique figure. A drummer as a youth who was inspired by Native American music, he performed with his high school band. When he was 16, a farm accident resulted in his permanent blindness. He continued studying music, moved to New York in 1943, and among those who were impressed by his compositions were Leonard Bernstein, Toscanini, Benny Goodman and Charlie Parker. He adopted the name of Moondog in 1947, worked as a street musician and a poet, and appeared to be a mystical figure due to his long hair and beard, often wearing a Viking-style horned helmet and a cloak. His music, which mixed together aspects of classical music, jazz, Native American music, folk, and the sounds that he heard on the street, was considered quite original and became an influence on Phillip Glass and Steve Reich. Moondog recorded albums for Epic, Prestige and Columbia, sometimes playing piano, reed instruments and percussion, ending his life living and writing in Germany after 1974.
Tenor-saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi has long been intrigued by Moondog’s music and recently recorded an Lp for the Feeding Tube label (available from www.astrallaurenzi.bandcamp.com), adapting seven of Moondog’s composition for an octet of top improvising musicians from Chicago. The group consists of Laurenzi’s tenor, bass clarinetist Jason Stein, trumpeter Chad McCullough, altoist Nick Mazzarella, guitarist Dave Miller, bassist Matt Ulery, and Quin Kirchner and Ryan Packard on drums and percussion.
The music is generally rhythmic, sometimes a bit hypnotic, and given adventurous interpretations. Stein is featured on “Nero’s Expedition” while backed by a catchy and simple rhythm played by the two percussionists and bassist Ulery. “Lament I (Bid’s Lament)” is a repetitive song, and “Remember” sounds a bit like Bach with its inclusion of plenty of counterpoint and interplay, while “Fiesta Piano Solo” and the dirge-like “Down Is Up” put the focus on the leader’s explorative tenor. “All Is Loneliness” utilizes an effective drone while the somewhat spooky “Lullaby” is anything but restful.
Moondog’s unique music as played by the Dustin Laurenzi Octet grows in interest with each listen.
A major swing and classic jazz singer since the late 1990s, Alex Pangman was called by Dan Barrett “Canada’s Sweetheart Of Swing.” After a strong start to her career, she survived two double lung transplants when she was in her mid-thirties, making a complete comeback in 2014.
Alex Pangman’s Hot Three, which is her most recent recording, is quite unusual. If the sound quality makes the performances sound ancient, that is no coincidence for the music was recorded directly on to a 78 acetate disc! Consisting of seven songs, only one of which clocks in over three minutes, the rather brief 19 ½ minute CD has the singer joined by violinist Matt Rhody, guitarist Nahum Zoybel and bass saxophonist Tom Saunders. The performances sound as if they were cut in 1926 although a few of the songs (“Sweethearts On Parade,” “It’s The Talk Of The Town” and Nellie Lutcher’s “Hurry On Down” among them) are from a slightly later period. While a bit of a novelty due to the technical quality, the music is enjoyable on its own level with “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me” and “You’ve Got The Right Key But The Wrong Keyhole” being among the highlights. This set allows one to imagine the singer teaming up with Joe Venuti and Adrian Rollini.
Now was Ms. Pangman’s official comeback CD and recorded much more conventionally. The singer was joined during a visit to New Orleans by trumpeter Kevin Clark, clarinetist Bruce Brackman, violinist Rhody, guitarist John Rodli, bass saxophonist Saunders, bassist Robert Snow and, on two songs apiece, trombonist Charlie Halloran and pianist John Royen. Starting off with “Fit As A Fiddle,” a song that definitely fit her situation, Alex Pangman performs classic standards (“I’ll Never Smile Again,” “Rhythm Is Our Business” and “The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise” which is given an arrangement reminiscent of the Boswell Sisters), superior obscurities (including “When I Get Low I Get High” and “Who-oo? You-oo! That’s Who!”), the lowdown “My Man Rocks Me,” and her own “It’s Never Enough.” In addition to the swinging and infectious vocals, which fit very well into the vintage material without closely copying any of her historic predecessors, New has concise and hot solos from most of the sidemen.
Both of these enjoyable sets are available from www.alexpangman.com.
(Solid Jackson Records)
Javon Jackson has been such a reliable tenor-saxophonist through the years that it is easy to take his excellence for granted. He had a notable association with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, has appeared on over 130 albums as a sideman with a long list of jazz greats and now, with the release of For You, has led 15 CDs of his own since 1992.
For You teams the tenor with pianist Jeremy Manasia, bassist David Williams and drummer McClenty Hunter. Jackson contributed five originals to the ten-song program including tributes to Freddie Hubbard (the high-powered “My Man Hubbard”), Pharoah Sanders and McCoy Tyner (“88 Strong”). The quartet also performs David Williams’ “Native Son,” Wayne Shorter’s “Backstage Sally,” “I’m Old Fashioned” and a pair of Cedar Walton songs: “Simple Pleasure” and his classic “Holy Land.”
The modern mainstream music has Jackson at times hinting at early John Coltrane in his tone although his playing is personal and his ideas are original within the tradition. Manasia also contributes some excellent hard bop piano solos while Williams and Hunter are stimulating in support of the lead voices.
The music swings throughout and features each of the musicians in top form. For You is easily recommended and available from www.javonjackson.com.
(Whaling City Sound)
Greg Abate has been an important bop-based alto-saxophonist since his recording debut in 1980. Based in New England but a regular world traveler, Abate has led at least 20 CDs through the years including meetings with Phil Woods (one of his main inspirations) and Richie Cole, tributes to Horace Silver and Dave Brubeck, and albums titled Bop City, Straight Ahead, Bop Lives, and Birds of a Feather.
Gratitude teams Abate with pianist Tim Ray, bassist John Lockwood and drummer Mark Walker, playing alto on four selections, tenor on three others, two on flute, and one on baritone. Abate shows equal fluency on each of his horns. He contributed all of the songs except Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “Serenade To a Cuckoo,” “Jitterbug Waltz” (taken as a feature by Tim Ray), and Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge.” Among the highpoints are “Gratitude,” the minor-toned and rather spectacular “Bop Lives,” “Farewell Phil Woods,” and “In The Stratosphere,” the latter a heated feature for the leader’s baritone.
This set of spirited straight ahead jazz is an easy one to enjoy and an excellent example of Greg Abate’s talents. It is easily recommended and available from www.whalingcitysound.com.
Clemens Grassmann is a drummer from Berlin who moved to Boston in 2013 to attend Berklee. He had opportunities to perform with Danilo Perez, John Patitucci, Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman and Kenny Werner among others, moving to New York City in 2016. Following up on his debut CD Labyrinths and Tales, Midnight Apple is a relatively brief (36 minute) but exciting release.
The drummer heads a quintet also including altoist David Milazzo, tenor-saxophonist Alex Madeline, both Jernej Bervar and Yoav Eshed on guitars, and bassist Nick Dunston. The six Grassmann originals fall into the area between free bop (a la the Ornette Coleman Quartet) and post-bop with a joyous and swinging feel to much of the playing, even when the music is at its loosest.
The opener, “Midnight Apple,” is particularly exuberant. It is followed by uptempo romps on “Zig Zag” and “On The Treadmill.” The latter, a rapid run through of rhythm changes, has hot solos from altoist Milazzo and one of the guitarists; unfortunately the soloists are not identified. “Sphere” is taken at a lazier tempo but also gradually gets heated. A cooking minor blues (“The Beat Zapps”) and the exotic and adventurous “Mystic” conclude the set.
While each of his sidemen have solo space along the way, Clemens Grassmann (who solos on “Mystic”) is mostly in a supportive if assertive role, contributing colorful sounds and an unpredictable but solid swing that is a little reminiscent of Ed Blackwell. His playing and his writing are equally impressive throughout Midnight Apple, a very enjoyable outing that is available from www.clemensgrassmann.com. I look forward to his future projects.