Aimee Nolte, who has a sweet and soft voice, is a jazz singer based in Southern California who is also a fine pianist. Her singing style often seems laidback but actually contains a great deal of inner heat. Her first three CDs, Up Till Now, Just Us (the latter a set of duets with guitarist Hideaki Tokunaga) and Looking For The Answers, did well but Lighten Up is her finest recording to date.
For this set, Ms. Nolte is joined by guitarist Mike Scott, bassist Bruce Lett, and drummer James Yoshizawa, each of whom add tasteful support and swing to the music. While her program mostly has versions of standards (with a few departures), the arrangements and treatments often make the songs sound brand new while retaining their essence.
The collection begins with an offbeat choice, “Brandy,” which was a hit for the Looking Glass in the 1970s. The singer sounds quite comfortable on the soulful funky piece. Next is a surprisingly haunting version of “All The Things You Are” which has Aimee Nolte taking a wistful vocal over a pattern that she sets on piano, giving the piece the feeling of floating. After a melancholy and introspective “Where Or When,” “If I Should Lose You” begins out-of-tempo before the group cooks. Here, as throughout the set, Mike Scott’s concise guitar solos are a major asset.
The other pieces are also generally thoughtful including a pretty rendition of “Moon River,” a bossa-nova treatment of “Moonlight” (Aimee Nolte’s singing on this piece is worthy of Astrud Gilberto), a particularly inventive treatment of “Skylark” which has some wordless interplay with piano and guitar, a bluesy version of “Old Devil Moon” (with drummer Yoshizawa playing the entire song with mallets), and the singer’s original “Ella’s Song” which had previously been released as a single.
Lighten Up is the type of jazz CD that grows in interest with each listen. It is available from www.aimeenolte.com.
New York All-Stars
Burnin’ In London
Tenor-saxophonist Eric Alexander has recorded dozens of albums as a leader in his busy career. A superior and versatile improviser, Alexander has yet to record an unworthy album. At various times he can sound close to such giants as Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane while still sounding like himself.
Many of his finest recordings were made with his mentor the late Harold Mabern on piano. This live set from 2017, listed as being by the New York All-Stars, has Alexander and Mabern joined by bassist Darryl Hall and drummer Bernd Reiter for extended versions of five standards and Mabern’s “Nightlife In Tokyo.”
Most notable is the huge amount of passion and energy that Alexander displays much of the time, particularly on the two first two selections, roaring versions of “Almost Like Being In Love” and “I Could Have Danced All Night.” No one could have danced all night at the tempo that the group plays on the latter tune! Even on a relatively slow version of ‘It’s Magic,” the tenor’s double time runs are full of power and rapid ideas. Mabern, who grew in stature steadily every year throughout his long career, is heard in top form while Hall and Reiter keep the music swinging no matter the tempo.
Burnin’ In London, which lives up to its name, concludes with a blistering version of “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” and a faster than usual “Summertime” which becomes quite intense a la Coltrane. Eric Alexander must have drunk a lot of coffee that night.
This frequently explosive set is easily recommended to all but the faint-hearted; it is available from the admirable Ubuntu Music label (www.weareubuntumusic.com).
Kat Edmonson has long created her own fantasy world in her music. She has a sweet and attractive voice, loves vintage jazz and pop, and often writes songs that sound as if they could have been from the 1930s. While she is clearly aware of the current world, in her music she does her best to overlook many aspects of it.
Dreamers Do, her fifth release, is in some ways her most unusual. Many of the songs have to do with dreaming, being in a dream, and living a dream. With a large portion of the tunes being from Disney films (dating from 1934-71), it is as if Ms. Edmonson is starring in her own vintage film, one with brief interludes between some of the songs by keyboardist Rob Schwimmer.
Highlights include a swinging version of “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes” which has her joined by a quartet that includes guitarist Matt Munisteri (happily, a second rendition closes the CD), the dreamy “Go To Sleep” (with backing by some exotic instruments and her voices forming a choir), “In A World Of My Own” with the vocal group Duchess, a duet with pianist Matt Ray on “Very Good Advice,” and her dramatic “Too Late To Dream” (one of her two originals). A surprisingly dark “When You Wish Upon A Star” (which does not include the classic melody and has her mostly reading the words) and an overly brief “Chim Chim Cheree” are less satisfying.
While Dreamers Do is eccentric at times, it makes one want to enjoy the nonexistent movie, or see Kat Edmonson star in a film. It is available from www.spinneretterecords.com.
In The Bright And Deep
(Nut Tree Music)
Two years ago, Daniel Nissenbaum made his recording debut as a leader with Bismuth. A very talented trumpeter who had worked mostly behind the scenes up until then including as an educator, film scorer, and composer for Nickelodeon, the Smithsonian Channel, a music production library and other outlets, he showed on Bismuth that he could play modern straight ahead jazz with the best. That set featured seven of his originals with a top-notch hard bop sextet.
In The Bright And Deep is a very different type of project, one that puts the focus equally on Nissenbaum’s trumpet playing and his composing. Most of the release was recorded in Holland with a quintet that also includes altoist Donald Simoen, pianist Koen Schalkwijk, bassist Tijs Klaassen, and drummer Joan Terol Amigó. Three brief pieces have Nissenbaum as part of an a capella horn quartet with trombonist Steve Tirpak, altoist Andrew Urbina, and Mark Allen on tenor and baritone. In addition, some pieces add a string quartet or a string orchestra.
The ten originals and two covers function very much as a suite, with one piece going logically to the next one. First the trumpeter leads his quintet through the episodic “Ribbons Down My Back” (taken from Jerry Herman’s musical Hello Dolly) which covers several different moods and sets the standard for the project, blending together aspects of jazz and classical music. After the brief “Prelude” by the string quartet, the group performs the pretty folk melody “Ach Kesem” which features expressive statements from Nissenbaum and altoist Simoen that are a logical outgrowth of the theme.
The classical-type melody of “Carry Me Gently (and Lay Me Down in Fields of Heather)” inspires a powerful trumpet solo over a rhythm section reminiscent of McCoy Tyner and Jimmy Garrison. There are two brief pieces (the ballad “Rounder’s Dream” which features the four horns and “Allegro”) before Nissenbaum leads the quintet through his contemporary post-bop original, “In The Bright And Deep”; the leader and Schalkwijk on electric piano star. The funky “Granite Shapes” has an attractive groove and short solos that form a unified whole. “Rounder’s Prayer” with the four horns and the voice of KJ McNeill is haunting. “Magic Doors,” which is built off of a repetitive riff, has a fine drum solo from guest Erik Johnson. The colorful project concludes with a final statement from the four horns on “Rounder’s Tempo,” and the wistful “Requiem (For My Father).”
With the release of the atmospheric In The Bright And Deep (available from www.nuttreemusic.com), Daniel Nissenbaum takes a strong step forward as a trumpeter, composer and conceptualist. It is well worth several listens.
Alan Barnes + Eleven
60th Birthday Celebration
Alan Barnes was born in 1959 so, as he looked forward to celebrating his 60th birthday in 2019, he decided to record a full set of songs that became famous in the year of his birth. In 1959 altoist Art Pepper recorded the classic Art Pepper Plus 11 album on which arranger Marty Paich wrote for a group that consisted of two trumpets, two trombones, French horn, two altos (including Pepper), tenor, baritone, piano, bass, and drums. For his own celebration, Barnes had trombonist Mark Nightingale write for the same instrumentation except that, instead of the French horn, there is a second tenor-saxophonist.
Alan Barnes is perhaps best known for his alto playing but he has always been versatile and on this set he also plays clarinet, bass clarinet and baritone on various tracks. While Barnes has solo space on every selection, unlike on the Pepper/Paich collaboration which mostly featured Pepper, all of the musicians on this CD also get opportunities to solo.
The repertoire and the consistently inventive arrangements cover a wide ground of music, showing just how rich 1959 was in jazz history. The compositions include “Take Five,” “Naima,” “Hi-Fly,” Horace Silver’s “Blowing The Blues Away,” Charles Mingus’ “Boogie Stop Shuffle,” Jobim’s “A Felicidade,” Thelonious Monk’s “Little Rootie Tootie,” and pieces by Quincy Jones, Henry Mancini, Gerry Mulligan and Duke Ellington. Nightingale’s reworkings of these tunes are full of subtle surprises, the British musicians take excellent solos, the ensembles are tight despite the many styles that are covered (from Mingus and Monk to bossa nova and Henry Mancini), and Alan Barnes is heard throughout at the peak of his powers, displaying original sounds on each of his instruments.
Suffice it to say that this is a great album that virtually all jazz fans should get. It is available from www.woodvillerecords.com along with many other rewarding Alan Barnes recordings.
In England With Humphrey Lyttelton
Although they had parallel careers for decades, trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton and clarinetist Claude Luter (doubling on soprano) had never performed together until this 1985 concert which was fortunately recorded. Lyttelton was a giant on the traditional jazz scene of Great Britain, starting in the late 1940s. Although he modernized his band in the mid-to-late 1950s towards mainstream swing, he always had a love for 1920s jazz and never lost his ability to switch gears and return to the earlier style. Luter, who spent most of his career playing in France and on the continent, is still best remembered for the work that his band did with Sidney Bechet in the 1950s. He was naturally influenced by Bechet, particularly on soprano, but also could sound close to Johnny Dodds on clarinet.
Their 1985 concert, which is available from the British Upbeat label (www.upbeatrecordings.co.uk), teams the two classic jazz masters with Lyttleton’s rhythm section: pianist Johnny Parker, bassist Jim Bray, and drummer Stan Grieg. Luter and Lyttelton work together magically (they had similar styles), blending their sounds very well in stirring ensembles, taking consistently colorful solos, and clearly inspiring each other. This is also true on the two numbers (Bechet’s “Ce Monsieur Qui Parle” and “Cake-Walking Babies From Home”) on which Lyttelton switches to his equally effective clarinet. Among the other highlights are frequently explosive versions of “Weary Blues,” “Avalon,” and “I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None Of My Jelly Roll” along with Luter’s fine feature on “Roses Of Picardy.”
A lot of sparks fly during this exciting concert which is highly recommended to those who enjoy New Orleans classic jazz.
For this excellent modern straight ahead jazz album, five friends got together to play a set of tunes from the 1950s and ‘60s: pianist Jacob Sacks, bassist Dave Ambrosio, drummer Vinnie Sperrazza, trumpeter Dave Scott, and tenor-saxophonist Rich Perry. All of the musicians have known each other since at least 2000 and some of their friendships date back to the 1980s, so they are compatible both musically and personally.
While the songs date from an earlier time, the treatments are inventive within today’s modern jazz scene. The quintet digs into Kenny Dorham’s “Lotus Blossom,” “Groove Yard,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Never Let Me Go,” and two songs apiece by Thad Jones and Herbie Nichols. Scott has a fragile style and a sound that is a little reminiscent of Kenny Dorham, Perry’s light tone contrasts with his explorative style, Sacks creates inventive solos that often take honors, and the rhythm section is up-to-date yet tied to the hard bop tradition.
Further analysis is not needed. The easily recommended Nice Treatment, which is filled with swing, worthy solo statements and great tunes, is available from www.statesidemusic.com.
Tommy Cecil/Nate Najar
Bassist Tommy Cecil (based in Washington D.C.) and guitarist Nate Najar from Florida make for a very compatible team on this fine set. Najar plays acoustic guitar and, while Charlie Byrd was an early inspiration, he has since developed his own melodic style. Cecil shows versatility as both a superior accompanist and a fine soloist. The two musicians listen closely to what is being played and react quickly to each other’s ideas.
Calling a CD American Melodies certainly leaves the repertoire wide open, and this set covers a large area while having a strong unity. The songs are mostly obscurities with the best known tunes being the ballad “Glad To Be Unhappy,” Duke Ellington’s “Black Beauty,” and “Rosalie.” Other number include songs by Gershwin (“Of Thee I Sing”), Tommy Flanagan (“Minor Mishap”), Stephen Sondheim, Thad Jones, Benny Golson, Hoagy Carmichael, and Billy Joel among others, and the duo never plays the obvious tunes.
While Najar is the lead much of the time, Cecil often shares in the melody statements and gets a generous amount of solo space. The two musicians often think as one, they blend together well, and the set (which includes a few faster tunes along with many laidback explorations) holds one’s interest throughout. American Melodies (available from www.bluelinemusicrecords.com) is well worth acquiring.
Break Up With The Sound
(Cabinet Of Wonder)
Michelle Lordi has an attractive voice with a laidback delivery that often serves as a perfect foil for her sidemen, who sometimes provide a mildly disturbing accompaniment. The contrast works quite well throughout Break Up With The Sound. Ms. Lordi is also a skilled songwriter, providing four of the ten selections on her third set as a leader, following her earlier releases Drive and Dream A Little Dream.
Break Up The Sound teams the singer with tenor-saxophonist Donny McCaslin on four of the numbers (their infectious interplay on the catchy “Poor Bird” is a highpoint), the versatile guitarist Tim Motzer, bassist Matthew Parrish, and drummer Rudy Royston. The deceptively lazy feel to the vocals and the colorfully distorted guitar, along with a country/Americana feel, sometimes is a little reminiscent of Bill Frisell. Among the highlights of a set that ranges from a Rolling Stones song (“No Expectations”) to “Lover Man” are the memorable melody of the Lordi-Motzer original “Double-Crossed,” the quiet yet unsettling interpretation of Cole Porter’s “True Love,” a wistful “Red House Blues,” and an offbeat version of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”
The thought-provoking Break Up With The Sound CD is recommended and available from www.michellelordi.com.
The New Orleans Swinging Gypsies
The New Orleans Swinging Gypsies
The New Orleans Swinging Gypsies is a hot jazz group based in the Crescent City. Guitarist John Saavedra can sound like Django Reinhardt and he also contributes occasional vocals while Giselle Anguizola is a spirited singer who also tap dances. The rest of the personnel is fluid but generally features top musicians from New Orleans who have a real feel for vintage jazz.
Swing 17 from 2018 has the two lead voices joined by rhythm guitar, bass, and up to four horns drawn from trumpeter Jack Pritchette, trombonist Nick Garrison, Fari Bonie on clarinet and soprano, clarinetist Bruce Brackman, and saxophonist Marty Peters. The result is an intriguing set that goes from heated New Orleans jazz (including “Weary Blues” and “Wolverine Blues”) to swing standards and Gypsy Swing, including a revival of several Django Reinhardt songs. There is plenty of variety and driving swing heard throughout this program.
The more recent Hot Boudin has the New Orleans Swinging Gypsies as a sextet that is more swing-based, displaying its own individual sound. Saavedra and Anguizola are joined by altoist Connor Stewart, trombonist Nick Garrison, bassist Matt Booth, and drummer Paul Thibodeaux. They perform two originals apiece by Saavedra, Stewart and Django (from his later period) plus numbers by Artie Shaw, Fats Waller, Sidney Bechet, Irving Berlin and Benny Goodman (“Till Tom Special”). While one misses the New Orleans jazz and trumpet, this version of the group performs solid swing, has more space for tap breaks from Anguizola, and includes tighter vocals along with fine guitar, alto and trombone solos.
The New Orleans Swinging Gypsies, in any configuration, would be quite fun to see live. For those listeners not in New Orleans, these two CDs (available from www.thenosg.com) give a strong sampling of the group’s enjoyable music.
All Or Nothing At All
Kelly Eisenhour has had a wide-ranging career in music, starting as a backup singer including with Gladys Knight, touring with the Boston Pops Orchestra as a guest soloist, working as an educator including being the chordal director at Green River College outside of Seattle, and developing into a fine jazz singer during the past decade. Her previous albums, Now You Know, Seek And Find, and Invitation, received favorable reviews.
On All Or Nothing At All, one understands why. Kelly Eisenhour has a warm voice and attractive phrasing, she knows how to pick out superior standards, and she uplifts each song with subtle creativity. For this set she is joined by three of Los Angeles’ finest jazz musicians: pianist Tamir Hendelman, bassist Christoph Luty and drummer Jeff Hamilton. Hendelman and Hamilton wrote the arrangements for the 13 songs and the trio is quite supportive behind the singer, providing swing, color, and occasional short solos.
Kelly Eisenhour starts the program with a straightforward and swinging version of “All Or Nothing At All” which sets the stage for the rest of the CD. It is rare to hear a version of “So Rare,” a song from 1937 that became an unexpected hit for Jimmy Dorsey nearly 20 years later. Billy Strayhorn’s “Daydream” is brought in by Luty’s bowed bass, has the singer performing the rarely-heard verse, and includes a Brazilian feel. “Poinciana” which became a trademark piece for Ahmad Jamal in the 1950s, finds Hamilton giving it a slightly different rhythm than Vernell Fournier had with Jamal and it is taken by the singer at a faster pace.
After a saucy treatment of “The Lady’s In Love With You,” Ms. Eisenhour performs a quietly emotional version of “So Many Stars,” revives the lesser-known Cole Porter song “Do I Love You,” and recalls Carmen McRae a little on “I Just Found Out About Love” which has a particularly inventive arrangement with Hamilton playing a prominent role on brushes. “The Very Thought Of You” inspires one of Kelly Eisenhour’s finest performances of the project; she takes it slow and gives the song plenty of feeling. In contrast, a spirited “Come Rain Or Come Shine” is happily loose and this version of “I’m Glad There Is You” is quite joyful. The memorable CD concludes with a haunting rendition of “Dreamsville” which has some fine wordless singing during its first half, and a touching and wistful revival of “We’ll Be Together Again” which begins and ends with Luty’s bowed bass.
All Or Nothing At All (which is available from www.kellyeisenhourmusic.com) serves as an excellent introduction to the singer and a good excuse to hear a set of first-class standards.
Jason Miles’ Kind Of New
Jason Miles is a versatile keyboardist and producer who loves the early fusion music of Miles Davis (who he worked with a bit in the 1980s) and his contemporaries. In his career, Miles has recorded tribute albums to Weather Report, Ivan Lins, Grover Washington Jr, Miles Davis and Marvin Gaye while in recent times he has often worked with his modern fusion group Kind Of New.
Black Magic features Miles leading Kind Of New which also includes trumpeter Philip Dizack, saxophonist Jay Rodriguez, drummers Gene Lake and Steven Wolf, and Jimmy Bralower on electronic percussion. While the first few numbers are mostly concise electronic groove music that is danceable, the final four selections are the meat of the project. Miles Davis “Jean Pierre” (the only selection on the set that is not composed or co-written by Jason Miles) is given an adventurous treatment, and Miles is also heard in top for on “Ferrari,” “Kats Eye” and “Street Vibe” which were co-written with Michael Brecker, Ingrid Jensen, and Tom Harrell respectively. Dizack (not too surprisingly sounding a bit like Miles Davis) and Ray Rodriguez (sometimes hinting at Wayne Shorter) take their share of rewarding solos, Miles’ colorful playing always keeps the music intriguing, and the use of electronic rhythms does not stop the playing from grooving and sounding spontaneous.
Black Magic, which is available from www.ropeadope.com, shows that there is still plenty of life to be found in jazz/rock fusion.
Richie Kaye’s Space City Funtet
This is an unusual set of music. Richie Kaye, who plays guitar, ukulele, and a variety of percussion instruments (including a whistle, wood block, small gong and even a trash can lid and an ice machine) teams up with altoist-clarinetist Tony LaVorgna, Ernesto Vega (on tenor, clarinet, bass clarinet and flute), pianist Sam Kuslan, and bassist Thomas Helton (doubling on tuba) to form the Space City Funtet.
On Blast Off, the quintet performs 17 brief pieces by LaVorgna and/or Kuslan that were written with the purpose of accompanying films, television shows, and commercials. Some of the numbers are novelties and clearly meant for children’s shows, but there are also some strong swing numbers that feature the two reed players including such titles as “Dapper Dinghy,” “Sarah And Christine,” “Richie’s Romp,” “Jimmy’s Tick-Tock,” and “Penguin Parade.” All of the selections except one are under three minutes in length so the musicians have to make optimal use of each second, and they succeed at creating a few memorable performances that sound quite complete.
Hopefully in the future, Richie Kaye and his players will get a chance to stretch out on some of the better pieces, a few of which one could imagine becoming a standard in the future. In the meantime, their goal of creating fun music has been realized on Blast-Off which is available from www.funtet.com.
Just Lovin’ The Ride
David Duvall clearly enjoys life. He has had very productive and wide-ranging careers in music as a composer, lyricist, arranger, orchestrator, musical director, and vocal coach for an endless number of television shows, theatre productions and recordings during the past few decades. When he recently entered his sixties, he became not only a solo recording artist but a singer-songwriter. His three-disc set Observations & Commentary was filled with his fresh new music.
Just Lovin’ The Ride continues David Duvall’s musical legacy with joyful grooves, philosophical lyrics, and an impressive cast of musicians. Duvall, who also plays all of the keyboards, is joined by background singers on seven of the 16 songs (all but three are his originals), interacts with supportive players in his rhythm section, includes horns and two string players on a few numbers, and also utilizes a choir on two songs.
Very much a celebration of life and love, Just Lovin’ The Ride begins with the joyful groove of “The Reason (Love Is the Only ‘Why’).” Some of the other selections include “My Precious Baby,” “The Kettle Is Always On,” “Gotta Get Back Up,” “Listening To Life,” and “What Is Glowing” The lyrics for those songs are as optimistic as their titles. Among the other highlights are the dramatic “Lost At Sea” (a Duvall original with lyrics by Robin Clark), the beautiful instrumental “Chinon Chanson” which features violinist Garrett Overcash and multiple woodwinds played by Bruce Carpenter, the countryesque “I Just Can’t,” the witty “No Salt, No Deal,” the highly appealing vocal duet with Christine Deaver on “Nothing More,” and the bluesy and infectious rendition of the classic “Ooh Child,” a duet with vocalist Sheldon Craig.
David Duvall’s heartfelt interpretations, friendly voice, and thought-provoking lyrics make Just Lovin’ The Ride (which is available from www.dduvallmusic.com) a rewarding listen.
Bega Blues Band
I reviewed the Bega Blues Band’s previous CD Brassica Soup a few issues ago. The Romanian ensemble, which was founded back in 1982, consists of singer Maria Chioran, Lucian Nagy on reeds, keyboardist Toni Kuhn, guitarist Mircea Bunea, bassist Johnny Bota, and drummer Lica Dolga plus guest violinist Sasha Bota and an occasional string quartet. Despite the band’s name, they are a modern jazz group rather than a blues band although their music is sometimes bluesy.
On Miracles, there are seven songs plus spoken interludes written by keyboardist Kuhn. Since the talking is in Romanian and no translation is provided, those mostly brief interludes will not be of much interest to those unfamiliar with the Romanian language.
On the plus side, Maria Chioran’s enthusiastic and often-powerful singing on half of the songs (which includes some scat-singing inspired by Ella Fitzgerald) is enjoyable to hear. “Resist” is passionate, “Mall Blues” swings joyfully, and the thoughtful “St. John” (which eventually becomes a medium-tempo blues) is a showcase for Bota’s fine bass playing. “Urmascapaturma” gives the band a chance to play some explosive funk/fusion, “Tonic Blue” is a menacing and rockish strut, “Big Change” is a post-bop romp which has some fine soprano playing from Nagy, and Ms. Chioran returns for the closing “Miracles,” a straight ahead piece which also has some excellent flute playing .
Miracles is available from www.facebook.com/begabluesband, and contains plenty of bright moments that are well worth exploring.