As related in Neil Tesser’s fine liner notes, this album is an unlikely success. Burak Bedikyan, a very talented pianist from Turkey, went through many obstacles to move to the United States. After he finally settled in New York City, he had almost no access to a piano to practice on during the six months before this recording session. He had never met bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Adam Nussbaum before going into the studio with them although he was familiar with their talents. The trio did not have any prior rehearsals, Bedikyan was getting over the flu, and he did not bring a list of songs to record. Certainly the odds were against rewarding music being documented.
And yet New Beginning is filled with magical music. After a few false starts, Bedikyan decided that it would be best if the trio would improvise freely, with Anderson and Nussbaum following his lead. They improvised for 45 minutes, much of which is included on this CD. The results are straight ahead rather than avant-garde and often hint at other songs including “Stella By Starlight,” “Oleo” and “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” with “Things We Are” essentially being “All The Things You Are,” but the playing is quite spontaneous. Bedikyan, who sometimes hints at Bud Powell and McCoy Tyner but mostly sounds like himself, is relaxed and logical in his playing as are the contributions of his famous sidemen.
Of the other songs, Bedikyan contributed “No Complaints,” “Blues Me Up” (based on the blues) and “Magic Carpet,” and also performs “Stella By Starlight” (with Anderson taking the melody chorus).
Despite the odds, New Beginning works quite well and gives no hint in the playing of any turmoil or struggle. This is a first-class trio date and an important step forward for Burak Bedikyan. It is available from www.statesidemusic.com.
Jason Kao Hwang’s Burning Bridge
(True Sound Recordings)
This is certainly an intriguing release. Violinist Jason Kao Hwang leads an ensemble comprised of cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, trombonist Steve Swell, Joseph Daley on tuba, bassist Ken Filiano, drummer Andrew Drury, Sun Li on pipa (a four-string Chinese instrument) and Wang Guowei on erhu (a Chinese violin with two strings). “Blood” is a 48-minute work that on the CD is divided into five parts although the music is continuous.
The music is avant-garde jazz with enough variety and intriguing tone colors to hold one’s interest throughout. It begins practically out of nowhere on the opening “Breath within The Bomb,” evolving from still life to a variety of colorful sounds and excellent improvising particularly from trombonist Swell. While always open to freer improvising, several different themes pop up along the way including a catchy rhythmic vamp and on “Evolution” a stretch in which the music is essentially a medium-tempo blues.
The mix of Western and Eastern instruments, some heroic soloing (including from violinist Hwang), the mood variations, the consistent creativity of the musicians, and the unpredictable frameworks make Blood a rewarding set for those with open ears. It is available from www.jasonkaohwang.com.
Jazz At The Philharmonic
Live In Amsterdam 1960
(Nederlands Jazz Archief)
Norman Granz came up with the concept of Jazz At The Philharmonic in 1944. He loved jam sessions and great jazz artists so he combined the two together, starting with a special concert and evolving into two major tours a year in the United States. Granz made it possible for one to see trumpeters Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie, trombonist Bill Harris, tenors Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Illinois Jacquet and Flip Phillips, altoist Charlie Parker, Gene Krupa and the Oscar Peterson Trio (not to mention Ella) on the same stage jamming a blues, “Perdido,” “I Got Rhythm” or other standards. The personnel changed a bit from year to year but the concept remained quite popular, drawing large and sometimes noisy crowds that made some jazz critics (those who did not like it when the horn players battled for the most applause) complain. It did not matter to Granz, who paid his musicians very well while fighting racism and enjoying the music.
Eventually the audiences shrunk in the United States. Granz started featuring regular jazz groups and/or Ella Fitzgerald during the second half of the concerts. By 1958 JATP was mostly performing in Europe and after 1960, JATP was largely gone, just revived later on for a few special events.
Live In Amsterdam 1960, which was recorded on Nov. 19, 1960 (as was a set issued elsewhere by Cannonball Adderley’s group), features two different groups that are equally rewarding. A band with Eldridge, altoist Benny Carter, Hawkins and Don Byas on tenors, pianist Lalo Schifrin, bassist Art Davis and drummer Jo Jones performs “Take The ‘A’ Train,” a four-song ballad medley and “Stoned” (an uptempo blues). Each of the horn players get to solo on a different song during the ballad medley with Byas taking honors on “I Remember Clifford.” Eldridge is typically explosive on the two other numbers, Hawkins and Byas get to romp, and Carter sounds thoughtful even on the uptempo numbers.
The second half of the CD features the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet of the time (with trumpeter Gillespie, Leo Wright on alto and flute, Schifrin, Davis and drummer Chuck Lampkin) plus two special guests: trombonist J.J. Johnson and tenor-saxophonist Stan Getz. The septet performs “The Mooche,” “Kush,” and “Wheatleigh Hall”; the latter has Candido added on congas. The presence of Johnson and Getz (who are both in blistering form on “Wheatleigh Hall” and inventive on the Mid Eastern-flavored “Kush”) clearly inspired Gillespie, who is at the top of his game.
As with most JATP recordings, this one is a gem. It is Vol. 13 in a series of previously unreleased recordings from the 1950s and ‘60s that are part of the Jazz at the Concertgebouw series put out by the Nederlands Jazz Archief (www.jazzarchief.nl). All are heartily recommended.
The Lost Tapes, Vol. 2
Live In India
Don Ellis (1934-78) was a remarkable musician. A technically skilled trumpeter with a sound of his own, Ellis had an interest and roots in prebop jazz, was part of the avant-garde jazz scene in the 1960s, held his own next to Eric Dolphy in George Russell’s sextet, and was one of the very first jazz musicians to explore Indian music and rhythms. He led big bands from 1965 on that became famous for their ease in playing very complex time signatures, utilizing electronics, swinging with a strong sense of humor, and their infectious spirit. Ellis, who gained some fame outside of jazz for writing the score to “The French Connection,” was always open to trying new things. Unfortunately he had a weak heart, resulting in his death when he was only 44.
The Sleepy Night label (www.sleepynight-records.com) has thus far come out with two CDs of previously unreleased Don Ellis recordings; a third will be released in the future. The Lost Tapes, Vol. 2 consists of nine performances by Ellis’ big band, all but 1968’s “Head Quarters” date from 1971-73. The recording quality is okay at best but most of these arrangements were not recorded elsewhere by Ellis’ orchestra and the spirit and enthusiasm certainly come through. In addition to Ellis, the soloists include keyboardist Milcho Leviev, tenor-saxophonist Sam Falzone and altoist Fred Selden with the compositions provided by Ellis, Falzone, Hank Levy and Leviev. Those listeners who loved the Don Ellis Orchestra and have his classic albums Autumn, Live At The Fillmore and Tears Of Joy will enjoy this.
Live In India, which is subtitled The Lost Tapes Vol. 1, is on a different level. Ellis passed away on Dec. 17, 1978 and in April 1978 had to give up playing due to his heart condition. However two months earlier, he had the only opportunity of his life to visit India when he was invited to perform at Jazz Yatra. Because the festival could not afford to pay for Ellis’ big band, the trumpeter put together a quintet with pianist Randy Kerber, bassist Leon Gaer, drummer Dave Crigger, and singer Emilie Diehl whose voice was used to fill in some of the ensembles.
Considering where his life was at that moment, it is remarkable how well Don Ellis plays throughout his seven originals (none of which had been recorded before) which are decently recorded. Most intriguing is “Storyville” which is his tribute to Joe Zawinul’s “Birdland.” While the rhythms are sometimes complex and there are hints of Indian music in spots (particularly on the opening “Fine Line,” the music is essentially modern jazz. Ellis holds nothing back and plays at the peak of his powers. In retrospect, it would have been much better if he had skipped the trip and stayed at home; possibly he would have lived longer. However performing in India was something that he really wanted to do and, while it has taken the music over 40 years to come out, it serves as a final testament to the greatness of Ellis’ trumpet playing and his ideas. Live In India is essential for anyone with any interest in the music of Don Ellis.
Producers Gary Gillies, Sean Gillies and the late Ken Orton (along with Nick Di Scala and David Crigger) are to be congratulated for these very worthy projects.
Back In Time
Ilya Serov, who was born in Russia 32 years ago, studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory before moving to Los Angeles. A fine trumpeter and a pleasing singer, Serov enjoys performing vintage and swinging standards. Back In Time is the follow-up album to his debut September In The Rain.
There will be many centennial tributes to Nat King Cole this year and, although Back In Time is not entirely a Cole tribute, quite a few of the songs (most notably “L-O-V-E,” “Frim Fram Sauce” and “Route 66”) are from his repertoire. For this project, Serov utilizes an all-star cast of mostly L.A.-based musicians including pianist Roger Kellaway, guitarist Bruce Forman, bassist Kevin Axt and, guesting on “Tangerine,” Poncho Sanchez.
The music is fairly predictable including a version of “C’est Si Bon” that has Serov joined by a nice vocal group (the Swing Kittens) and such numbers as “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Fly Me To The Moon and “Old Devil Moon.” The main surprise is an instrumental rendition of Django Reinhardt’s ‘Swing 42” which closes the set. However Serov’s enthusiastic yet laidback singing and his melodic trumpet playing are a joy to hear, and the music always swings well.
This pleasing and enjoyable set is available from www.ilyaserov.com.
Victor Janusz, who is based in Seattle, has had a wide-ranging career as a pianist, singer, actor and director. His music reflects his experiences in the theater and he performs in a style that falls between jazz and cabaret.
Café Pluvieux is a fine showcase for Janusz. He contributed the words and music to six originals including “Don’t Start The Show Without Me” and “Le Baiser (French Kiss),” takes personable vocals, and leads a fine group (the VJ Band) that features singer Arwen Dewey, Medearis “MD” Dixson on alto and tenor, and a solid rhythm section.
The music, which is sometimes dramatic and on other occasions a bit witty, includes fresh versions of “Night & Day,” “Under Paris Skies,” and “Over The Rainbow” along with a few lesser known tunes. Victor Janusz knows how to sell a song and the obvious joy that he has in performing is appealing.
Café Pluvieux is available from www.cdbaby.com.
Jeanne Lee/Ran Blake
The Newest Sound You Never Heard
In 1956, pianist Ran Blake and singer Jeanne Lee met when they were freshmen at Bard College. They were attracted by each other’s musicianship, originality and willingness to take chances. In November 1959 they recorded a set of duets that was released by RCA as The Newest Sound Around, creating some waves due to their originality and ability to come up with fresh statements on a wide variety of standards. Over 50 years later an unknown duet album from 1966 called Free Standards was finally released and added to their legacy.
The two-CD set The Newest Sound You Never Heard doubles the discography of their musical partnership. The first disc was recorded on Oct. 21, 1966 while the second is from 1967; both originated from radio broadcasts made while visiting Europe. Lee would marry vibraphonist Gunter Hampel and settle in Europe (performing up to the time of her 2000 death) while Blake has taught at the New England Conservatory of Music for over 40 years and continued his productive career as a very original pianist up to the present time.
The music on The Newest Sound You Never Heard, while repeating some of the titles from their debut album, is much more advanced. On many of the mostly concise numbers, Blake does not keep time, instead playing dramatically both behind and in front of Lee; they are very much equals much of the time. Lee, while doing justice to the words and melodies, also performs out of time as if she were thinking aloud. An exception is a swinging version of the Ray Charles hit “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” (changed here to “Hallelujah, I Love Him So”). Blake and Lee constantly comment musically on each other’s ideas during a wide variety of songs that includes such unlikely tunes as “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” along with “Parker’s Mood, “Caravan,” and “Night In Tunisia.” They spontaneously reinvent many of the songs while casting a new light on them.
The Newest Sound You Never Heard, which is available from www.a-siderecords.com, is an important slice of history that has finally been uncovered.
Gabor Gado/Laurent Blondiau
Veil And Quintessence
The Hungarian guitarist Gabor Gado has had an active career in jazz since 1982, performing with various groups in Hungary until 1995 when he moved to Paris. He has since led his own quartet, written film music and arranged both for jazz groups and folk music ensembles. Always considered an adventurous guitarist, in recent years Gado has opened his playing and writing to the influence of classical music and particularly Bach.
On Veil And Quintessence, Gado performs duets with trumpeter Laurent Blondiau whose sound and introspective style sometimes recall Kenny Wheeler a bit. They introduce ten Gado originals which often have folkish themes that lend themselves to melodic improvising filled with classical-type melodies. The duo works together closely with Blondiau expressing ideas very complementary to the guitarist’s musical thoughts. While the titles include “Mahler – Strauss Memorial,” “Little Protestant Jazz Song” and “Anywhere Out Of The World,” the music flows logically from one piece to another. More memorable than any of the themes or even the individual solos are the laidback mood and cinematic playing of the duo.
The results are both relaxing and stimulating. This worthy CD is available from www.bmcrecords.hu.
A longtime fixture in the Colorado jazz scene, Bob Montgomery is both an excellent straight ahead trumpeter and an influential educator. La Familia is a project close to his heart for it salutes many of his former students. In fact, this set of 13 Montgomery compositions (he and Annie Booth did the arrangements) features some of the finest players who he taught through the years; all of the soloists are former students.
While Bob Montgomery does not seem to play trumpet at all on this big band project (which is a pity), there is plenty of fine playing from his students with the key soloists being trumpeters Greg Gisbert (who is outstanding on “La Familia”) and Miles Lujan, trombonist Mark Patterson, altoists Josh Quinlan and Anisha Rush, tenor-saxophonist Rico Jones, guitarist Alex Hefron, and pianist Annie Booth (who is showcased on “A Song For Nicholas”).
Some of the originals are based on standards; “La Familia” is close to “Love For Sale” and “Peace Now” is a relative of “’Round Midnight.” To name a few of the highpoints, the minor blues “Because She Cares” has a light tango rhythm and a haunting melody, “Madison’s Waltz” includes an excellent statement from Quinlan that recalls Paul Desmond a little, and the soulful “Blues For Samantha” is highlighted by a hot tenor battle by Rico Jones and Eric MacGregor.
All of the music on La Familiar will be of interest to those who enjoy bebop-oriented big bands. It is available from www.bobmjazz.tumblr.com.
Candy Jacket Jazz Band
Unstuck In Time
(Maximum Future Records)
The Candy Jacket Jazz Band’s second release (following their self-titled debut) sounds like it is a collection of small-group swing sides recorded for the Savoy label during 1944-45. The 11 performances (all originals by either drummer John Collazo or trombonist Dan Weinstein and arranged by Collazo, Weinstein or tenor-saxophonist Albert Alva) are given concise performance that clock in around three minutes. The style is late-period swing as if these musicians (like many others in the mid-forties) had heard some bebop and are resisting the new music while still being touched by it. One could imagine many of these pieces being performed in small 52nd Street clubs of the time. Even the recording quality sounds very much from the era.
Some of the Los Angeles area’s top swing/trad musicians are in the octet (formed in 2016) which is comprised of Nate Ketner on alto and occasional clarinet, Alva, Weinstein (who in this setting often recalls Dickie Wells), cornetist Corey Gemme, pianist Chris Dawson, guitarist Jonathan Stout, bassist Seth Ford-Young, and Collazo, the band’s leader. Weinstein and Collazo take occasional brief vocals that fit very much into the style.
Starting with the catchy “Rise And Shine,” which sounds like it could have been played by the Teddy Wilson sextet of the time, through “Lost In The Fog” (an exotic and purposely awkward swing/bop number), “Candy Jacket” and the medium-slow tempo of “Reds, Greens & Blues” (highlighted by an explosive half-chorus from Gemme that is worthy of Roy Eldridge), this is a fun set that swing fans and dancers will equally enjoy.
Unstuck In Time is available from www.candyjacketjazzband.com.
(Real And Imagined Music)
Kait Dunton has already had an impressive career as a pianist and a composer, recording five previous CDs and becoming an increasingly significant force in the modern jazz world. However Planet D’Earth is a particularly special project for her.
Back in 2001 when she was attending the University of Virginia as a Spanish major and unsure what to do with her music, she took an improvisation class from trumpeter John D’earth that changed her life. Inspired by the lessons, and considering D’earth (who gave her important advice) her mentor, Dunton sought to create her own world of music. 17 years later on Planet D’earth, she teams up with the trumpeter, playing tribute to him while also having him as her collaborator.
In addition to Dunton (who wrote seven of the ten pieces) and D’earth (who brought in the other three songs), the group includes electric bassist Dave Alderson (from the Yellowjackets), drummer Jake Reed (the pianist’s husband) and, on three songs, tenor-saxophonist Bob Mintzer.
The set begins with the most memorable original, a beautiful picturesque number called “Dear John” that could be part a soundtrack depicting a Midwestern town. The rest of the program alternates high energy, particularly the ones with Mintzer, with a more melancholy mood. The solos are concise and colorful, the ensembles are tight and the pieces mix together swing and light funk rhythms. “Mister Zen” does a particularly good job of blending together the two horns, Dunton and the rhythm section. D’earth is well featured on the energetic “Sarah’s Bracelet” and the ballad “River On The Rocks” with the latter also having an excellent piano solo from the leader. The three-part “Thread Suite” begins and ends as a quiet ballad with some heat expressed during the second section.
All of the music is thought-provoking and subtle (even the more heated performances) and rewards a close listen. Planet D’earth, which features Kait Dunton and particularly John D’earth at their best, is available from www.kaitdunton.com.