Although a relatively new name to most American listeners, Céline Rudolph has been singing inventive jazz since the 1990s. Born in Germany to parents from France and Germany, she has worked along the way with Bob Moses, Gary Peacock, Lee Konitz, Dusko Goykovich, Lionel Loueke (including touring as a duo), and a variety of Europeans on many adventurous projects. Her tone is beautiful, she can hold endless notes with ease, and she is not shy to stretch herself.
In 2013 Céline Rudolph recorded Pearls, a project that was finally released recently. Joined by guitarist Lionel Loueke, keyboardist Leo Genovese, bassist Burniss Travis, drummer Jamire Williams, and sometimes John Ellis on bass clarinet, Ms. Rudolph performs a set of her originals plus a version of “I’m Old Fashioned” that is anything but old-fashioned; retaining the lyrics but dropping the melody and chord changes.
Much of the music features the leader’s soft voice floating over her rhythmic accompaniment in a haunting and attractive manner. She sings in English, French and Spanish but the philosophical lyrics actually matter less than the sound of her voice, her improvising, and her interaction with the other musicians. Among the highlights are “Pearls” (a piece in 5/4 that has her voice blending into the ensemble), her boppish singing over funky rhythms and Travis’ harmonized vocal during “On The Way,” the atmospheric ballad “Be With You,” and the joyful and infectious “C’est Un Love Song,” but all 14 selections hold one’s interest even those like “Dim Lights” that are wordless and essentially electronic mood music.
Céline Rudolph’s singing and this music are difficult to classify as anything but creative modern jazz that is both accessible and unpredictable. Available from www.obsessionsmusic.com, Pearls grows in interest with each listen.
Roots & Reflections
(Next Steps Projects)
Bart Flos is a very skilled jazz pianist from the Netherlands with an enthusiastic style that fits into the mainstream of straight ahead jazz. He began playing with top local musicians in the late 1980s, led his own short-term big band, and had a bebop trio in the 1990s. In 2000 he began documenting his originals in his Next Steps Series Solo Projects and his recordings since then have primarily featured his solo piano.
Roots & Reflections is a three-CD set that has selections from Flos’ jazz suite of the same name along with “Autumn Leaves” and two obscurities. While Flos says that the originals are all related to the opener, “Origin Alpha Prime,” there is quite a bit of variety in tempos, moods and chord changes. The first CD features Flos as a solo pianist. Sometimes his basslines are a little reminiscent of Lennie Tristano but otherwise his sound and style are quite original even as he explores some numbers that could have fit easily into the 1950s or ‘60s period. His two-handed style is so complete that one never misses a bassist and drummer.
The second disc has Bart Flos in a trio with bassist Eric van der Westen and drummer Marc Schenk. Their interplay is often quite exciting and it is obvious that they listened closely to each other; the three musicians often seem to think as one. The final CD, which is listed as a bonus, consists of alternate takes and a few additional numbers from the solo and trio projects.
It is rewarding to hear fresh new compositions in the classic style played at this high level. Bart Flos’ Roots & Reflections, which is available from www.bartflosmusic.com, is a feast for straight ahead jazz fans.
Jazz harmonica players have never been all that plentiful. The great Toots Thielemans led the way for 50 years. Since his passing, several talented players have emerged, including Hermine Deurloo. Based in the Netherlands although appearing all over Europe, she has worked in a wide variety of settings, from the Willem Breuker Kollektief, the Metropole Orchestra and with a string quartet to a Brazilian group and jazz combos. She has an attractive tone on her instrument, impressive technique, and a laidback style.
Riverbeast teams her with an American rhythm section comprised of Kevin Hays on piano and electric keyboards, bassist Tony Scherr, and drummer Steve Gadd. There are also a few guests who make appearances on one or two selections apiece with the cellists Marika Hughes and Hank Roberts adding to the ensembles on three numbers. The musicians perform six originals by Hermine, three by band members, and two obscurities.
The opener, “The Man With The Hat (On The Train),” has a funky groove worthy of Eddie Harris and a brief solo from Hays but is mostly a showcase for Hermine’s fluent harmonica. “If We Can’t Trust Each Other” features a soulful vocal from guest Alain Clark while guitarist Luca Benedetti takes a heated solo over his infectious “Hoop And Pole.” “So Long, Redhead” is an easy-listening medium-tempo ballad that is simple but effective.
The title cut, “Riverbeast,” has Scott Robinson on bass clarinet lurking menacingly in the background and is a catchy number despite the tricky rhythms which are sometimes in 5/4. Two of the most memorable selections are the quirky “Doctors Wind” (which has a purposely eccentric walking bass) and “Zombie Chicken.” There is nothing spooky or scary about the latter which is quite exuberant and ambles along joyfully.
“The Road To Gargonza” sounds like a road trip and has Hermine sharing the lead with Hays. “Song For My Sister” is a country-flavored piece that musically depicts a relaxed summer day. Hays takes an effective vocal on the funky strut “Walk With Me” which includes some assertive harmonica. The colorful program concludes with “Blueberry Hell,” a distant relative (in its rhythmic feel rather than its melody) of “Blueberry Hill.” Throughout the set, Kevin Hays, Tony Scherr and Steve Gadd give Hermine subtle and swinging support, with the legendary Gadd sounding quite content to be in a supportive role.
Riverbeast is one of Hermine Deurloo’s most accessible jazz releases and it serves as a fine introduction to the talented harmonicat. It is available from www.zennezrecords.com
I Believe In Love
(Disk Eyes Productions)
A talented and adaptable singer who has a beautiful voice, Marsha Bartenetti has sung in several styles throughout her career including pop and r&b, and she spent a long period focused on jingles and voiceover work. Fortunately she began recording jazz-inspired albums seven years ago; I Believe In Love is her fourth CD as a leader.
I Believe In Love is dominated by love songs that cover a variety of moods and themes. The personnel and instrumentation changes from song-to-song with the key sidemen including Stephan Oberhoff (who supplied some of the arrangements, plays guitar on two numbers, keyboards on one, and all of the instruments on “Alfie” and an inspired version of “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most”), Robert Kyle whose soprano is an asset on two numbers, pianist Kevin Madill, and guitarist Pat Bergeson.
Ms. Bartenetti’s versatility and comfort in different settings is very evident on such numbers as “Fragile,” “I Got It Bad,” a country-flavored “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “The Very Thought Of You” and Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away.” She gives plenty of warmth to the ballads, adds a light swing to each performance, and really digs deep into the meanings behind the lyrics.
The results are quite delightful. I Believe In Love is a fine effort that is available from www.marshabartenetti.com.
Ben Webster’s First Concert In Denmark
Ben Webster (1909-73) was one of the big three of the tenor-sax during the swing era along with Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. His large tone and ability to play shouting and raspy solos on faster material while purring on ballads made him an individualist throughout his career. The expressive sounds that he created were more important than the actual notes he played and they were quite effective.
While he only spent three years (1940-43) as a member of Duke Ellington’s orchestra, not counting a return stint in 1948 and a few brief reunions, Webster was always associated with Ellington. He was well recorded by Norman Granz in the 1950s but by the early 1960s was feeling somewhat neglected, overshadowed by such relative newcomers as Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane.
In Dec. 1964, Ben Webster moved permanently to Europe, living in London for a year, spending four years in Amsterdam, and settling in Copenhagen in 1969. While he played in an unchanged style and his repertoire was not very large, Webster still sounded at his prime during his last period.
First Concert In Denmark features Webster along with pianist Kenny Drew, bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, and drummer Alex Riel on Jan. 10, 1965. While the music had been previously released as part of a box set, it is nice to have this historic session by itself. The first selection, taken from a rehearsal earlier in the day, features Webster on piano (an instrument that he loved to play at home), jamming happily on “In A Mellotone.” The rest of the program is from that night’s concert which was broadcast on the radio. Such numbers as “Pennies From Heaven,” “My Romance,” “In A Mellotone,” “Over The Rainbow,” and “Cotton Tail” would remain in Webster’s repertoire until the end but he always managed to come up with fresh statements that sounded as if he had just discovered the beauty of those songs.
Ben Webster fans will want to pick up this fine CD which is available from www.storyvillerecords.com.
The Fat Babies
Ever since they were formed in 2011, the Chicago-based Fat Babies have consistently been one of the hottest and most exciting bands in the trad jazz movement. It was originally a septet consisting of Andy Schumm (cornet, alto and clarinet), trombonist Dave Bock, John Otto (clarinet and alto), pianist Paul Asaro (who takes an occasional vocal), banjoist Jake Sanders, bassist Beau Sample, and drummer Alex Hall. That unit recorded three excellent albums for the Delmark label: Chicago Hot, 18th & Ravine, and Solid Gassuh.
Uptown has the same personnel except that Johnny Donatowicz has succeeded Sanders on banjo and guitar, and Jonathan Doyle (tenor, clarinet and soprano) has made the group an octet. The addition of Doyle is particularly significant since it has resulted in the Fat Babies relying a bit more on arrangements for the four horns and getting a cooler ensemble sound on some of the numbers without losing the group’s general hotness.
Uptown has three originals (including Schumm’s title cut) and a variety of obscurities from the 1920s, none of which would be considered a standard. Among the many highlights are their versions of “Edna” (recorded by King Oliver in 1929), Bennie Moten’s “Harmony Blues,” “Riff Scufflin’,” James P. Johnson’s “Thumpin’ ‘N’ Bumpin,’” and “Harlem Rhythm Dance.” That is not exactly common material.
Throughout Uptown and their earlier releases, The Fat Babies show that when talented musicians fully immerse themselves in vintage music of the past (in this case most of it being over 90 years old), there is no reason that they cannot come up with their own original voices. Uptown, which is available from www.delmark.com, is the Fat Babies’ latest gem.
Tania Grubbs Quintet
Live At Maureen’s Jazz Cellar
Tania Grubbs is a very appealing jazz singer whose light voice and quiet expressive style are a bit reminiscent at times of Irene Kral. She learned about jazz and singing while attending Youngstown State University, met her husband bassist Jeff Grubbs, lived and worked in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (performing along South Florida’s coast), sang at many of its clubs and with the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra, and has been based in Pittsburgh for the past two decades. She has been a major force on the local jazz scene as a singer and educator. In 2014 she released her debut CD, Lost In The Stars.
Live At Maureen’s Jazz Cellar was recorded in Nyack, New York before an attentive and appreciative crowd. Tania Grubbs is joined by pianist David Budway, guitarist Ron Affif, Jeff Grubbs on bass, and drummer James Johnson III. They perform a variety of high-quality standards and a few originals.
The program opens with Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing.” Taken a little faster than usual, it is an excellent showcase for Tania Grubbs’ warm voice and honest emotions. She excels on the picturesque “Bird On A Wire” and the dreamy medium-tempo ballad “Love,” demonstrating an expertise for telling stories through her music. Ms. Grubbs uplifts Horace Silver’s “Peace” with her soft high notes. She wrote “Hope Is A Thing With Feathers” (which features an inventive bass solo) with the text of Emily Dickinson. On Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology,” she sings the melody in unison with her husband’s bass, does a bit of scatting, and then has the band stretch out a bit. Budway and Affif are in fine form throughout the night, taking concise solos with Affif’s improvisation on “Ornithology” hinting at Wes Montgomery.
Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacocks” can be a difficult song for singers to interpret since it has wide intervals, but Tania Grubbs sounds effortless, making it all sound easy. She concludes the set with “Autumn” (paying tribute to Fall), “Harvest Moon” (which has a catchy bass line), the wistful “I Remember,” a revival of “Wichita Lineman,” and a bluesy version of “Don’t Take Your Love From Me.”
It is obvious, listening to Live At Maureen’s Jazz Cellar that Tania Grubbs deserves to be much better known. Her singing is classy, very musical, and a consistent delight. This easily recommended CD is available from www.taniagrubbs.com.
Live In London
Live In London Vol. II.
Chet Baker (1929-88) had a life that defied expectations. An excellent cool-toned trumpeter in the 1950s who emphasized the middle-register of his horn, Baker had a limited singing voice but, due to his charisma, he became a popular singer and seemed to have unlimited potential as a possible star and celebrity in Hollywood. His lifelong drug addiction, which resulted in several jail sentences and a continually dangerous lifestyle, cut short a possible acting career and resulted in him becoming a cult figure. He survived a beating in the late 1960s that ruined his teeth for years. After a period of barely playing, Baker made an unlikely comeback in the 1970s. His Hollywood looks were long gone and his singing was even more of an acquired taste than in his earlier days (although it was effective in small doses) but, against all odds, his trumpet playing on his better days was on a higher level than it had been in the ‘50s.
During Mar. 28-April 2, 1983, Chet Baker performed at the Canteen in London with a fine local trio comprised of pianist John Horler, bassist Jim Richardson and drummer Tony Mann. The Ubuntu Music label (www.weareubuntumusic.com) has released a pair of two-CD sets that include the highlights of this engagement, nearly four hours of music that were recorded by Richardson and never released before. Baker, who just takes a few short vocals, is often in superb form on trumpet. He hits high notes with confidence, plays many fast runs, and sounds at the peak of his powers. While there are a few brief off moments (particularly on “Strollin’” from Vol. 2), it is remarkable how well Baker plays (particularly when one considers his life) on such numbers as “Have You Met Miss Jones,” “For Minors Only,” and “I Remember You” from the first release and “Broken Wing,” “Down,” “Dolphin Dance” and “Dear Old Stockholm” from Vol. 2.
The rhythm section is quite complementary and pianist Horler (who sometimes hints at Bill Evans) mostly displays an original voice during his solos, but the main star is naturally Chet Baker. Live In London Vol. I and II., which are well recorded, ranks with his finest work from his later years.
Mays Plays Mays
(No Blooze Music)
Pianist Bill Mays, who is now 76, has had a productive career for decades. He has worked with such notables as Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan, Shelly Manne, Gerry Mulligan, Art Pepper, Bud Shank, Sonny Stitt and Phil Woods among many others, and led over 20 albums as a leader.
While one does not think of Bill Mays first as a composer, on Mays Plays Mays he shows that he is a talented songwriter. Other than “How Long Has This Been Going On” and a piece written in tribute to him (“Mays In The Mirror”), he composed all of the selections on this CD. Joined by bassist Martin Wind, drummer Matt Wilson and, on three songs apiece, trumpeter-flugelhornist Marvin Stamm and guitarist John Hart, Bill Mays (who occasionally doubles on electric piano) is heard throughout in excellent form. Many of the songs are dedicated to figures in his life including his wife (“Ten, Chelsea Evening”), pianist Mike Wofford (“For Woff”), and a four-song suite for his parents and siblings. A surprise is that he takes effective vocals on two numbers: “Play Song” and “Kalavrita.”
The music is swinging, mostly relaxed, and flawlessly played. Several of the numbers (including “Snow Job”) deserve to be covered by other artists. This fine set is available from www.billmays.net.
Jeff Barnhart and the Galvanized Jazz Band
The Joint Is Jumping!
Throughout his career, Jeff Barnhart has often displayed the ability to sing and play stride piano in a similar vein as Fats Waller. While Barnhart does have his own sound, his Waller tributes have always been a delight, filled not only with Waller’s phrases but a strong wit.
On Aug. 11, 2018, Barnhart teamed up with the Galvanized Jazz Band (cornetist Fred Vigorito, Russ Whitman on clarinet and saxophones, trombonist Craig Grant, Art Hovey doubling on bass and tuba, and drummer Bob Bequillard) to perform 17 songs associated with Waller including ten of Fats’ compositions.
Between an oral introduction and closing comments by Linda Vigorito that sum up Fats Waller’s life, Barnhart and the Galvanized Jazz Band perform hot versions of such numbers as “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Lulu’s Back In Town,” “Everybody Loves My Baby,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” “I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby,” “Handful Of Keys,” “Dinah,” and “The Joint Is Jumpin’.” Barnhart’s vocals, which are heard on most of the songs, are joyful as are his piano solos. The other musicians get their spots with Vigorito’s cornet playing (whether as a soloist or leading the ensembles) being consistently stirring.
The Joint Is Jumping is as difficult a CD to resist for hot jazz fans as was Fats Waller himself. It is available from www.galvanizedjazz.com.
& The Clarinet Kings
French drummer Guillaume Nouaux has long had the dream of recording with many of his favorite clarinetists. Recently he dived into the project and for this two-CD set he utilized 11 different classic jazz and swing clarinetists, but one at a time rather than all together. Each clarinetist is heard on two songs apiece (one on each disc) performing in a trio with Nouaux and either Luca Filastro, Alain Barrabes, Harry Kanters or Jacques Schneck on piano. The mostly European cast of clarinetists (Esaie Cid, Evan Christopher, Antti Sarpila, Eiji Hanoaka, David Lukacs, Frank Roberscheuten, Jerome Gatius, Lars Frank, Aurelie Tropez, Engelbert Wrobel, and Jean-Francois Bonnel), which only includes one American (Christopher), display similar styles on music ranging from Jelly Roll Morton to Benny Goodman but without copying the past. There are two songs that are clarinetless by the Schneck-Nouaux duo. “Moanin’” is particularly remarkable for it has Nouaux playing the melody and his solo on his tuned drums.
All of the clarinetists are in excellent form, exploring such numbers as “The Minor Drag,” “Stealin’ Apples,” George Lewis’ “Burgundy Street Blues,” “China Boy,” “Liza,” “Shreveport Stomp” and “Avalon” plus a few complementary originals. The pianists play in the vintage stride-to-swing style and Nouaux (who can hint at Baby Dodds, George Wettling and Gene Krupa) does well in his solo space.
While it would have been fun to have several of the clarinetists interacting with each other on a few numbers, the clarinet-piano-drums format is always enjoyable to hear when it is explored by musicians of this caliber. This extended set does makes one realize that there are many great jazz clarinetists currently active, and these are only some of the vintage players. This twofer is recommended and available from www.guillaumenouaux.com.
Road To Bahia
Adolph Minassian is a talented local pianist who is also a skilled songwriter. On his recording debut, he performs ten of his originals with a group also including bassist Alfred Garcia, drummer Dean Rohan, and occasionally flutist Gary Rohan.
Although the pianist does not think of himself as primarily a jazz player, this is a melodic jazz set that often utilizes light Latin rhythms. The melodies are friendly and accessible, there is a strong forward momentum set by the rhythm section, the piano solos are a logical outgrowth of the themes, and the music is both danceable and worth a close listen. The picturesque music is often well described by the song titles which include “Night In Rio,” “Funky Mood In Town,” “Walk In The Rose Garden,” “Like Your Samba Spirit,” and “Aguas Tropicais.”
The flute playing by Gary Rohan is fluent and adds a tropical flavor to the music, the bass solos of Alfred Garcia are creative, and Dean Rohan provides a steady stimulating support throughout the date.
But the main focus is on Adolph Minassian’s fine playing and excellent writing. Hopefully there will be an encore in the future. Road To Bahia is available from www.cdbaby.com and www.amazon.com.
Mushy Jazz Plus One
The latest release from Tom Tomoser is a set of heartfelt love songs (eight originals and two standards) plus one ringer. The singer has had quite a life and career, one that he has written about in his book With God All Things Are Possible. In addition to being involved in several successful businesses, and working in music as a composer, producer, and the head of his own Lone Eagle label since 1997, Tomoser has been married eight times. So if someone knows all about love, heartbreak, and relationships, it is Tom Tomoser.
The music on Mushy Jazz Plus One covers several musical genres. The set begins with the joyful love song “Gloria Jane” which can be considered country/rock. The singer is joined by pianist Paul Parker (a valuable asset throughout this project), guitarist John Novak, bassist Brian Sampson (who played with Mannheim Steamroller in its early years), and drummer Rick Swanson. Tomoser puts a lot of feeling into “I Need Your Love Always” which also features a short guitar solo from Jimmy Butler with additional instruments contributed by Brett Holihan. “The Girl In My Dreams” is a dreamy ballad about finding what one always wanted. “I Dreamed Of You” was recorded by Barbra Streisand and Dolly Parton and became a giant hit for Whitney Houston. Arranged and performed by Chuck Pennington (also of Mannheim Steamroller), the slow ballad discusses the joy of finding true love. On “Trust Me,” which features the same quartet as heard on “Gloria Jane,” the singer sounds quite sincere in asking a wary woman to trust him. “I Want To Wake Up With You In My Arms,” a sensuous pieces that is also a love song about passionate love, was inspired by Tomoser’s sixth wife. He is accompanied tastefully by Paul Parker (who has stated that this song is his favorite of Tomoser’s originals), guitarist Jeff Sheffler, and bassist Brett Holihan.
The ringer of the program is “My Way” which Tom Tomoser considers his anthem and could serve as the theme song for his unusual life. He builds up his performance very well. “Open Your Heart” features him joined by a Nashville rhythm section and the love ballad, which has him pleading with a woman to open her heart despite all that she has experienced in life, has the feel of a country song. On “Before You Go,” which is about finding one’s soulmate, Tomoser is joined by 30 strings from the Omaha Symphony, guitarist Ron Cooley, pianist Parker, bassist Sampson, and Mestover Moten on backup vocals. The consistently heartwarming Mushy Jazz Plus One concludes with the tender “Handle My Heart With Care” (with pianist Chuck Pennington and guitarist Sheffler) and the classic r&b swing soul song “Since I Fell For You.”
Mushy Jazz Plus One succeeds as both background music for romantic evenings and a rewarding showcase for Tom Tomoser’s quietly emotional singing. It is available from www.amazon.com.