Collections, Volume 1
Rebecca Hardiman is one of the best jazz singers that many jazz listeners have never heard of. Because she is based in Oregon and has not traveled enough in recent years, and her solo recordings have been released independently, she has thus far flown beneath the radar. However a quick listen to any of her previous recordings (I’ll Remember April, Easy Living, The Merriest, Honoring Ella: A 100th Birthday Tribute, and Rain Sometimes) makes it obvious that she is one of the music’s current greats.
In addition to having a beautiful voice and singing every note perfectly in tune (which should be the goal of anyone trying to sing jazz), Ms. Hardiman is a masterful scatter, puts the right amount of feeling into each word that she interprets, always swings, and sounds like she absolutely loves to sing. She also picks high-quality songs, whether they are superior obscurities or beloved standards, that she fills with fresh ideas.
On Collections Vol. 1, she is joined by pianist Ray Hardiman, bassist Whitney Moulton, drummer Kurt Deutscher and, on a few songs, Laird Halling on alto, clarinet and flute. The band is an asset throughout although the main focus is on the singer. Beginning with a boppish and all-too-brief version of “Too Marvelous For Words,” Rebecca Hardiman performs an atmospheric “’Round Midnight” (which begins effectively with the ringing of a grandfather clock), a quietly sensuous rendition of “Moon River,” some hot scatting on “Godchild,” and a version of “Here, There And Everywhere” that makes the Paul McCartney song sound as if it is a natural fit for a swinging jazz date.
“Time After Time” (which has a particularly memorable second chorus by the singer), some superior ballad singing on “Don’t Go To Strangers,” and a cooking version of “It’s All Right With Me” complete the memorable set.
Only a handful of other jazz singers on the scene today combine together a voice on Rebecca Hardiman’s level with her brand of joyful swing. Collections, Volume 1 is easily recommended and available from www.rebeccahardiman.com.
In the 1920s, at the same time that the blues were being documented for the first time and jazz was evolving rapidly, string band music (which was the predecessor of both bluegrass and country music) was being recorded in the South. The white rural music should be of strong interest to anyone who collects 1920s jazz for, although most of its performances fall outside of jazz, it occupies a parallel world and has its fair share of improvising within the confines of each folk song.
The 93 selections on Texas Hillbillies, a four-CD set from the British JSP label, are accurately described by liner note writer David Bragger (who sequenced the collection) as “Rags, breakdowns, animal sounds, waltzes, songs, yodels, early blues, throat singing, ballads, banjos, primitive drones, cellos, unearthly guitar progressions, groundbreaking fiddling, old-world accordion, polished country jazz and so much more.” Filled with hot fiddle and banjo playing, occasional vocals (including an unusual unaccompanied vocal by Dick Duvall from 1929) and plenty of spirit, this wide-ranging collection of rarities is full of joy. While some of the performances are a bit primitive, many feature excellent musicianship by a variety of long-forgotten musicians.
There are two minor faults to the packaging. The enthusiastic liner notes only cover around half of the performers, and the music is not programmed in chronological order (although it often includes both sides of a 78). Since the release spans the years 1922-37, with a lot of the selections being from 1928-29, having it be in chronological order would have made it easier to trace the music’s evolution.
But those reservations aside, Texas Hillbillies (which is available from www.mvdb2b.com)
is a very valuable release filled with music that has mostly gone unheard during the past 90 years. After all, when was the last time you heard the Red Headed Fiddlers, the East Texas Serenaders or the Fox Chasers?
The Django Experiment IV
(Water Is Life)
The superb guitarist Stephane Wrembel, in his Django Experiment series, extends the gypsy jazz style of Django Reinhardt on some selections. He always plays creatively within Django’s style but also ventures occasionally into areas that the guitarist never had an opportunity to explore.
The Django Experiment IV actually has fewer of those departures than the other entries in the series. Wrembel is joined by electric guitarist Thor Jensen (whose solos are a little rockish at times), bassist Ari Folman Cohen, drummer Nick Anderson, and the versatile Nick Driscoll on tenor, clarinet and bass clarinet. Guitarist Simba Baumgartner guests on “Petriarka.”
While Reinhardt never had an opportunity to record “Afro Blue,” “Valse Pour Jeanette” (which is heard in two versions), “Ou Es-Tu Mon Armour,” and “Les Deux Guitars,” one could in most cases imagine him playing those songs like this (particularly if he was around in the 1960s and had heard Gabor Szabo). Included from the great guitarist’s repertoire are such songs as “Topsy,” “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” “All Of Me” and his most famous original, “Nuages.”
Stephane Wrembel swings throughout, he, Jensen and Driscoll take many fine solos, and there are enough subtle surprises to make The Django Experiment IV (along with the three previous releases) heartily recommended. It is available from www.stephanewrembel.com.
When one thinks of Bobby Jaspar, it is of a superior cool-toned tenor-saxophonist and flutist from Belgium who during 1956-63 spent much of his career playing and recording in the United States. He worked along the way with Miles Davis, Chet Baker and J.J. Johnson before his premature death from a weak heart.
However as this CD shows, Jaspar had already had an important career in Belgium and Europe before coming to the U.S. He started out during 1945-49 as a member of Belgium’s pioneering bop group the Bob Shots. Originally a swing unit in which Jaspar doubled on clarinet (there are four numbers from their earliest period including “I’ve Found A New Baby” and “Ain’t Misbehavin,’”), by 1947 with the underrated but excellent trumpeter Jean Bourguignon (who was strongly influenced by Dizzy Gillespie) and altoist Jacques Pelzer completing the front line of the septet, the Bob Shots were modern and impressive. They are heard performing such then-recent numbers as “Oop Bop Sh’Bam,” “Our Delight” and “Relaxin’ At Camarillo” along with their own boppish originals, both live and in the studios. Early Years also includes Jaspar’s first date as a leader, a quartet outing from 1951 on which his sound had evolved and matured.
With extensive and definitive liner notes by Fresh Sound’s founder and producer Jordi Pujol, Bobby Jaspar’s Early Years is a valuable addition to any jazz collector’s library, particularly those who love bebop. It is available from www.freshsoundrecords.com.
Lucas Gillan’s Many Blessings
Chit-Chatting With Herbie
Herbie Nichols (1919-63) was a very original pianist and composer who, while from the same generation as Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and Elmo Hope, sounded nothing like them. His compositions were often of unusual lengths, his chord structures were unconventional, and his quirky melodies were logical if not particularly catchy. Nichols’ piano playing was just as unorthodox although, ironically, he mostly found work and appreciation playing with Dixieland musicians of the 1950s and ‘60s while being largely ignored by most of the modernists.
Drummer Lucas Gillan’s Many Blessings is a pianoless quartet that features tenor-saxophonist Jim Schram, trumpeter Quentin Coaxum and bassist Daniel Thatcher. On Chit-Chatting With Herbie, they perform their versions of the ten songs that were originally on a record simply called Herbie Nichols Trio, the pianist’s third of three Blue Note albums.
The music is comprised of nine Nichols originals (including “The Gig,” “House Party Starting,” “Hangover Triangle” and the closest song that he had to a hit, “Lady Sings The Blues”) plus a lone standard in Gershwin’s “Mine.” Not utilizing a pianist was a good idea since Nichols’ playing style is very difficult to duplicate. Instead, Gillan’s pianoless group is a cross between the pianoless quartets of Gerry Mulligan and Ornette Coleman without sounding exactly like either. The musicians had closely studied the complex material and their playing in the spirited ensembles and colorful solos perfectly fits the music.
Chit-Chatting With Herbie deserves several listens, both by itself and in comparison to Nichols’ versions. Lucas Gillan’s Many Blessings does Herbie Nichols’ complex but swinging and timeless music justice. This recommended set is available from www.jerujazzrecords.com.
Beverley Church Hogan
Can’t Get Out Of This Mood
Beverley Church Hogan makes her very long overdue recording debut on Can’t Get Out Of This Mood which is available from www.cdbaby.com. Early on she was a professional singer and was on the verge of signing a contract with Capitol in the early 1960s but, because she was raising a young daughter and the contract stipulated that she spend long periods on the road, she turned it down. While during the past 15 years she has performed an annual concert at Catalina’s in Hollywood, there were no recordings until this CD was made last year.
On Can’t Get Out Of This Mood, a set comprised of ten of her favorite songs, Beverley Church Hogan displays a mature yet youthful voice. She is sensitive to the lyrics, improvises with subtlety, and proves herself to be a fine storyteller. Joined by an all-star crew of Los Angeles area greats (pianist John Proulx, guitarist Graham Dechter, bassist Lyman Medeiros, and drummer Clayton Cameron plus guest appearances by trumpeter Ron Stout and Doug Webb on tenor and flute), Ms. Hogan performs fresh interpretations of such songs as “Take My Breath Away,” “You’re Looking at Me,” “Wait Till You See Him” and “Speak Low.” The tempos (mostly on the slower side) could have used more variety and it would have been nice to hear the singer stretch herself a bit more beyond the melody and lyrics, but she does a very good job of drawing the listener in and uplifting the songs.
The result is a nice tasteful effort. Hopefully Beverley Church Hogan will give us an encore soon.
The Boogie Kings
Disturbing The Peace
The Boogie Kings, which was formed seven years ago, consists of Bob Baldori on piano, harmonica and vocals and pianist Arthur Migliazza. While the opening number on the CD, “Shake That Boogie,” has Baldori on harmonica, most of the other pieces feature the pair battling it out on piano.
The music, which includes such pieces as “Yancey Stomp,” Albert Ammons’ “Boogie Woogie Stomp,” “Honky Tonk Train Blues,” and even “Sing Sing Sing” and “The Tennessee Waltz,” is at the corner where swinging jazz, boogie-woogie, the blues and early rock and roll all meet. The duo inspires each other, they occasionally quote wittily from other songs and artists, and they have a rollicking good time with many sparks flying.
Lovers of boogie-woogie piano will certainly enjoy Disturbing The Peace which is available from www.boogiestomp.com.
Jazz has been an international music for so long that it has become impossible to keep up with every strong talent who is currently active around the globe. The brilliant veteran French jazz pianist Daniel Goyone, who recorded with Bunny Brunel back in 1979 and worked with tabla master Trilok Gurtu, has led his own stimulating sessions since 1983. His sessions in the 1990s often utilized the great accordionist Richard Galliano.
The recent French Keys is a set of duets with vibraphonist and percussionist Thierry Bonneaux. On 18 concise performances (all Goyone originals except for Bonneaux’s drum solo on “La Vie est un”), the duo says a great deal in a short period of time; six songs are under three minutes and only four exceed five minutes. The music is episodic, a bit cinematic, filled with original melodies and chord changes, and sets a variety of moods. Some of the performances are Goyone piano solos (he is usually the lead voice) and his compositions blend together as if they were a suite, or a movie soundtrack.
French Keys, which is available from www.danielgoyone.com, is well worth discovering and enjoying.
Mark Turner Meets Gary Foster
Mark Turner is considered one of today’s most influential tenor-saxophonists. This double-CD, which has previously unreleased performances from a Feb. 8, 2003 concert. features Turner meeting up with altoist Gary Foster, bassist Putter Smith and drummer Joe La Barbera. The music is strongly inspired by Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh.
Foster, who can sound close to Konitz, has long been a master in the Tristano style of improvising which often involves lengthy unison lines, advanced chordal improvising, an accompanying rhythm section that mostly keeps quiet time, and unexpected accents. Turner fits right in, meeting Foster and the other musicians on their own turf and excelling on such pieces as “Background Music” (based on the chords of “All Of Me”), “Lennie’s Pennies,” and “Subconscious-Lee.” The tenor is showcased on a lengthy version of “Come Rain Or Come Shine” and Foster is in the spotlight during “What’s New.” Smith has occasional bass solos while La Barbera mostly offers quiet but steady support.
Those who enjoy the music of Konitz and Tristano will want to pick up Mark Turner Meets Gary Foster, a successful if unexpected encounter available from www.caprirecords.com.
Holly Cole made a strong impression in the 1990s with her very individual versions of standards, recording for several labels including Blue Note. But after that, the Canadian singer mostly left jazz, concentrating on rock and pop music.
Fortunately in recent times she has returned to jazz. Holly features her performing a set of wide-ranging standards with such notables as pianist-organist Larry Goldings, guitarist Ed Cherry and guests Scott Robinson (on tenor and cornet) and trombonist Wycliffe Gordon.
While Holly Cole does not get that adventurous in her improvising, she gives each song a happy spirit and her own appealing personality, still singing very much in her prime. Among the highlights are “I’m Beginning To See The Light,” “It Could Happen To You,” “I Could Write A Book,” and offbeat choices in a pair of Dean Martin-associated tunes: “Ain’t That A Kick In The Head” and “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime.”
The result is a fun session that represents the long overdue jazz comeback of Holly Cole. Holly is available from www.shanachie.com.
Miles Davis toured Europe twice in 1960. The first visit was his last opportunity to have John Coltrane in his group, along with pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb. Coltrane went out on his own right after returning to the U.S. but fortunately music from many of the concerts was broadcast in Europe and has been released on CDs. Due to Coltrane’s lengthy and very adventurous solos, the European audiences sometimes gave the group a mixed reception.
Things were different a few months later when Davis returned with the same rhythm section and Sonny Stitt as Coltrane’s temporary replacement. While the repertoire is similar to that on the first tour, Stitt played his usual brand of bebop, and the results often sounded like they might have if Charlie Parker had been Miles Davis’ sideman. It is similar to how, decades later, when trumpeter Wallace Roney was in the Tony Williams quintet, it sounded as if Miles was a member of Williams’ group.
Four of the Davis-Stitt concerts (from Manchester, England, Paris, Stockholm and Amsterdam) have been released on CD by a variety of record companies and hopefully someday all of the music will be reissued as a seven-CD set. Recently the Sleepy Night label (www.sleepynight-records.com) selected some of the most rewarding performances from the Paris and Stockholm concerts, improved the sound, and released the music as the single CD 1960.
It is fascinating hearing Stitt in this context. He did not normally play such songs as “So What,” “Four” and “All Blues” but he fits in his bebop licks with no difficulty, swinging hard as always. Miles Davis was entering one of his prime periods chops-wise, and he takes several blazing solos (particularly on “Four”), hitting high notes that one would not expect from him. He was clearly a bit inspired by the competitive Stitt, fighting successfully to avoid being overshadowed. The classic rhythm section is in their usual soulful and swinging form.
While the music may not be as essential as the Miles Davis-John Coltrane performances from earlier in the year, they are certainly enjoyable. And when one considers that Davis and Stitt did not record anything in the studios together during this era, 1960 is an excellent souvenir of their brief musical partnership.
Mauricio De Souza’s Bossa Brasil
The Brazilian-born drummer Mauricio De Souza, who studied with Joe Morello for 11 years, has been leading his own bands since 2004. On Five Roads, his Bossa Brazil consists of altoist Andrew Beals, pianist Bob Rodriguez, and bassist Gary Mazzaroppi, with Charlie Dougherty playing bass on one selection. Beal has a versatile tone on alto, sometimes sounding a bit dry and a little dissonant but at other times expressing joy. Rodriguez is a particularly skilled piano soloist while Mazzaroppi keeps the music grooving on bass.
While he is a fine drummer who consistently comes up with catchy drum rhythms that add to the ensembles and inspire the soloists, Mauricio De Souza is equally significant as a composer. His quartet performs seven of his originals on Five Roads plus Schubert’s “Ave Maria” and the standard “O Barquinho.” De Souza’s pieces, while often utilizing Brazilian rhythms, are actually superior modern straight ahead jazz compositions that are both infectious and a little challenging for the musicians. His songs, which are filled with accessible complexity, grow in interest with each listen.
This is an excellent effort which makes me wish that I could see Bossa Brasil alive. But until the East Coast-based group comes to the West Coast, this fine CD (available from www.mauriciodesouzajazz.com) will suffice.
Kristen Lee Sergeant
(Plastic Sax Records)
Kristen Lee Sergeant, who made her recording debut on Inside Out, follows it up with her fine sophomore release Smolder. The jazz singer has a beautiful voice, a wide range, and a coolly sensuous style. While she does justice to the lyrics that she interprets, her phrasing helps make many of the songs on Smolder her own.
A talented songwriter (she contributed “Balm/Burn” and “Afterglow” to the ten song set) and arranger, Ms. Sergeant utilizes an impressive cast of sidemen: Ted Nash on alto sax and alto flute, pianist Jeb Patton, bassist Cameron Brown, drummer Jay Sawyer, cellist Jody Redhage Ferber, and percussionist Rogerio Boccato. The music includes such standards as “I’m Beginning To See The Light,” “Midnight Sun,” “It’s All Right With Me,” and a haunting medley of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and “These Foolish Things.” Nash and Patton take several excellent solos along the way but the focus is mostly on the singer, who while not quite smoldering, burns quietly in the right spots.
Smolder, which is available from www.kristenleesergeant, is an excellent introduction to the promising young jazz singer/songwriter
Bega Blues Band
While it may be an underground music in the United States, rarely making it on to television, radio or in the press, jazz can be found everywhere in the world by those who look.
The Bega Blues Band, which was founded in 1982 by the late singer Bela “Kamo” Kamocsa, is one of the longest running music groups in Romania. While its name makes one think that this is strictly a blues group, it is actually a colorful and open-minded jazz band. And while its latest release is called Brassica Soup, it does not actually have any brass instruments!
The group consists of Lucian Nagy on tenor, flute and other reeds, singer Maria Chioran, keyboardist Toni Kuhn, guitarist Mircea Bunea, bassist Johnny Bota, and drummer Lica Dolga plus a couple of guests. On Brassica Soup, they perform originals by Nagy and Bota plus a rendition of “Afro Blue.” At first on “Finkenstein Strut,” which features some over-the-top singing from Chioran, the music is quite high-powered and a bit exotic. However other pieces are a little more relaxed with the solos of Nagy and Bunea really standing out. The music is sometimes bluesy and at other times funky or swinging without ever being merely derivative.
The Bega Blues Band has its own sound and plenty of spirit. This CD from Romania, which is available from www.facebook.com/begabluesband, is well worth discovering.