Jazz Dance Suites
(Chazz Mack Music)
Altoist Charles McPherson was 80 when this recording was made in 2019, but it is impossible to know that from his playing. Very much in his prime, McPherson has retained his distinctive tone and Charlie Parker-inspired style from the 1960s when he became well-known for his association with Charles Mingus. McPherson has excelled on quite a few projects since then, but this set is a bit different than the others in its origin.
McPherson’s daughter Camille (for whom all of this music is dedicated) is a soloist with the San Diego Ballet. Her father began writing works for the SD Ballet in 2015 including the three pieces that comprise Jazz Dance Suites. While one misses the dancers, the music easily stands by itself.
The eight-part “Song Of Songs” is inspired by some stories from the Old Testament and sometimes has a strong hint of Middle Eastern music. Lorraine Castellanos takes vocals on “Love Dance” and “Praise” (the latter is a charming duet with guitarist Yotam Silberstein), McPherson plays beautifully on his showcase “Heart’s Desire,” and there is also a happy samba (“Wedding Song”), a haunting ballad (“Hear My Plea”), the joyful “Thinking Of You,” an impressive feature for guest pianist Randy Porter (“After The Dance”), and the catchy “The Gospel Truth.” This 29-minute suite has McPherson and Silberstein joined by pianist Jeb Patton, bassist David Wong, and drummer Billy Drummond with every musician making strong contributions throughout the eventful suite.
McPherson is featured on “Reflections On An Election,” a moody and slightly unsettling ballad that was composed after the 2016 election. The remainder of this CD is taken up by the six-part “Sweet Synergy Suite.” While a bit more conventional than “Song Of Songs” and in the hard bop vein, the quintet (which has trumpeter Terell Stafford in place of Silberstein) really digs into the pieces. Stafford takes a couple of spectacular solos, Patton is in top form, and each of the originals (the swinging “Marionette” is the only one from the altoist’s past) inspires inventive playing.
As both an altoist and a composer, Charles McPherson is featured at the top of his game throughout Jazz Dance Suites which is available from www.charlesmcpherson.com. I would love someday to see how dancers interpret this music.
(Gut String Records)
Tenor-saxophonist David Sills began using two guitarists in his quintet when he found that some clubs did not have a piano. He liked the way that the combination sounded so on Natural Lines he is joined by both Larry Koonse and Mike Scott on guitars along with bassist Blake White and drummer Tim Pleasant.
Sills’ 17th album features him playing a variety of originals (some utilizing the chord changes of standards including “Mellow Stone,” an uptempo “Foggy Daze” and “Jones’ Tones” which is “Have You Met Miss Jones”), “Lover Man,” and a song apiece
from Koonse, Alan Broadbent, Miles Davis, and Bill Evans. The mellow-toned tenor sometimes sounds like a classic West Coast jazz saxophonist of the 1950s, creating sophisticated solos that, due to his thoughtful approach and attractive sound, are quite accessible.
Sometimes when two guitarists are teamed together in a band, there is a competitive rather than cooperative spirit as they try to top each other. But Mike Scott and Larry Koonse have nothing to prove and, since they have similar lyrical styles and quiet sounds, the combination works quite well. I wish that the liner notes identified who solos when but the guitarists’ playing is consistently at the highest level.
Among the highlights are “Sonny’s Side” (a cooker utilizing rhythm changes), Broadbent’s light Latin-tinged “Quiet Is The Star” (featuring the leader on alto flute), and Sills’ original “Outside Corner,” but all dozen selections are quite enjoyable.
If you enjoy swinging bebop, Natural Lines is one to get. It is available from www.gutstringrecords.com.
Harlem Stories: The Music Of Thelonious Monk
A powerful tenor-saxophonist who had recently recorded a tribute to John Coltrane, Teodross Avery tackles the music of Thelonious Monk on Harlem Stories. Rather than closely copying Monk’s top saxophonists (which included Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Johnny Griffin, and Charlie Rouse), Avery plays in his individual sound and style, creating his own powerful sheets of sound solos on the uptempo pieces.
This set is split into two, utilizing two different rhythm sections. Avery, pianist Anthony Wonsey, bassist Corcoran Holt, and drummer Willie Jones III. perform the rarely-heard “Teo,” “Monk’s Dream,” “Ruby, My Dear” (which has Allakoi “Mic Holden” Peele added on cajon), and heated versions of “Evidence” and “Rhythm A-Ning.” While their renditions are generally hard-swinging, fresh and modern, the second rhythm section (pianist D.D. Jackson, drummer Marvin “Bugalu” Smith, and returning bassist Corcoran Holt) is much more adventurous on “In Walked Bud,” “Ugly Beauty,” “Pannonica,” “Trinkle, Tinkle,” and “Boo Boo’s Birthday.” It is good to have Jackson, who had been away from jazz for several years, back on the scene and his explorative playing is inspiring. Avery, who switches to soprano on “Ugly Beauty” and a two-part “Pannonica,” never coasts and is clearly pushed and inspired by both rhythm sections. Neither group tries to sound like the Thelonious Monk Quartet, instead paying respect to Monk’s creativity by being themselves while retaining the essence of each song.
Harlem Stories is easily recommended and available from www.wj3records.com.
Shuffle And Deal
Eddie Henderson, who will be turning 80 later this year, apparently has no plans
to age. The trumpeter, a member of the Cookers (a group filled with musicians who were considered masterful 50 years ago), still sounds very much in his musical prime, a rarity for trumpeters of his age.
For his third release for the Smoke Sessions label (www.smokesessionsrecords.com), Henderson is joined by altoist Donald Harrison (also a member of the Cookers), pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Gerald Cannon, and drummer Mike Clark. The music is often in the classic Blue Note hard bop tradition but not derivative of the past. Henderson is too creative and fluent a player to merely repeat earlier glories.
The program begins with his solid medium-tempo strut “Shuffle And Deal,” a fine introduction to the quintet. Also heard on this set are a pair of very good Kenny Barron originals (“Flight Path” and his attractive “Cook’s Bay”), a slow and expressive version of “It Might As Well Be Spring,” a mellow piece in 5/4 time (“By Any Means’), the danceable boogaloo “Boom,” “Burnin’ (which lives up to its name), and features for the trumpeter on “Over The Rainbow,” “God Bless The Child” and “Smile.”
Everything works on Shuffle And Deal, a set that is both contemporary and timeless, one of many gems in the Smoke Sessions catalog.
Dance With Me
Always a delightful singer, Carol Welsman had long wanted to record a Latin jazz album. Dance With Me, which was co-produced by Oscar Hernandez, gives her a chance to be featured on a variety of musical styles including salsa, boleros, cha cha cha rhythms, and calypsos.
Welsman, who also plays piano although she emphasizes her singing on this set, is joined by Justo Almario on tenor, soprano and flute, bassist Rene Camacho, drummer Jimmy Branly, and percussionist Joey De Leon. Other than the opening “You And The Night And The Music” and “I Won’t Dance,” the music consists of Latin pieces and obscurities. A special treat is “Dance With Me” which has guest Juan Luis Guerra joining the leader for a charming vocal duet.
The music is quite accessible, melodic, and (not too surprising) rhythmic. From the jazz standpoint, Almario’s occasional solos are of greatest interest but this is as much a Latin dance or easy-listening set as it is jazz. Fans of Carol Welsman’s warm voice will want Dance With Me which is available from www.justin-time.com.
Points On An Infinite Line
One of the most creative jazz trumpeters living in Southern California, Dan Rosenboom always puts on performances and makes recordings that are stimulating, thought-provoking, and full of fire. On Points On An Infinite Line, he is joined by altoist
David Templeton, bassist Billy Mohler and drummer Anthony Fung.
The quintet performs eight Rosenboom originals. There are times when the playing is a bit reminiscent of Ornette Coleman, both in the one-chord jams and Templeton’s sound, but the improvisations are quite original within free bop. “Momentum” is a menacing strut with an outstanding trumpet solo and a heated alto statement. “A Force For Good” has plenty of forward momentum and is one of several pieces where Mohler’s assertive and forceful bass really pushes the other musicians. Mohler’s dancing bass lines inspire particularly strong solos from the two horns on “Fellowship” while “Impulse And Influence” is highlighted by a dramatic trumpet-drums duet.
The interaction between Rosenboom and Templeton on “Solidarity” is quite stirring as are Mohler’s ideas “accompanying” the soloists on “Come Humble.” “A Moment Of Clarity” puts the focus on the bassist before Templeton and Rosenboom make intense statements while “2020” is a brief but explosive performance that says a great deal in its 83 seconds. Points On An Infinite Line (which is available from www.orendarecoreds.com) contains stirring and adventurous music that looks forward to the future. It is well worth a close listen.
The Dime Notes
The Dime Notes (Cab Calloway’s slang for a $10 bill) is a British quartet comprised of pianist Andrew Oliver, clarinetist David Horniblow, guitarist Dave Kelbie (the founder and head of the Lejazzetal label), and bassist Louis Thomas. These musicians have been creating a stir overseas in the trad jazz world both as this group and in similar bands.
The Dime Notes’ second release, Daylight Savin,’ has the group’s hot jazz versions of several Jelly Roll Morton tunes and other songs from the 1920s plus their original “Ten Cent Rhythm.” The Morton material includes fresh versions of “Grandpa’s Spells“ the one-chord “Fickle Fay Creep,” “Pep” (only previously recorded as a piano solo), and “Why” plus “The Chant” which Morton had helped make famous. Other highlights include a heated rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Jubilee Stomp,” “San,” and rare band versions of “Daylight Savin’ Blues” and “Worried & Lonesome Blues.”
While naturally hinting at Morton, pianist Oliver has his own sound within classic jazz as does the fluent and versatile clarinetist Horniblow. Kelbie’s acoustic guitar is a major asset behind the soloists and as an occasional lead instrument, while Thomas’ playing keeps the music swinging.
Those who love early hot jazz will certainly enjoy The Dime Notes’ reworking of these classics. Daylight Savin’ is available from www.lejazzetal.com.
River Raisin Ragtime Revue
Blaze Of Glory
(White Pine Music)
Before New Orleans jazz began to be recorded in 1917, the trombone was primarily used as a minor instrument in classical music, an important part of the popular brass and concert ensembles, and as a comic foil in vaudeville. The great virtuoso and bandleader Arthur Pryor helped to popularize the instrument (playing it with the facility of a masterful cornetist) starting in the late 1890s, inspiring others to write music for the instrument.
The River Raisin Ragtime Revue on Blaze Of Glory consists of trombonist Robert Lindahl, two cornets/trumpets, clarinet, flute/piccolo, tuba (founder and musical director William Pemberton), banjo, piano, percussion, and a string quartet. The 13-piece group performs 18 vintage numbers on this CD that showcase the trombone plus a newly commissioned work, “Carbondale Rag.” Lindahl performs admirably on humorous numbers (including “A Trombone Misunderstanding,” “Trombone Sneeze,” and “That Laughing Trombone”), sentimental ballads, rags, and even a very rambunctious version of “Ory’s Creole Trombone” by Kid Ory.
The high musicianship which is very apparent in the ensembles, the musicians’ familiarity with the pre-1920 styles and phrasing, and Robert Lindahl’s versatile and superior trombone playing make Blaze Of Glory an enjoyable listen and a must for ragtime collectors. In addition, the 24-page booklet is a definite plus. Blaze Of Glory is available from www.ragtimeband.org.
Jason Robinson, who plays tenor, soprano and alto flute on his recent CD Harmonic Constituent, has worked with many avant-gardists (including George Lewis, Anthony Davis, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Marty Ehrlich, and Eugene Chadbourne) and has led at least 15 albums of his own. In his music, he blends together aspects of the past with more futuristic ideas.
Harmonic Constituent has Robinson leading a quartet that also features pianist Joshua White, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Ches Smith, performing a set of originals inspired by the coastline of Mendocino County in Northern California.
The title cut is an episodic suite with Robinson and his quartet passionately taking apart the melody. After a brief piece, the group next confounds one’s expectations by performing a quiet ballad waltz “Jug Handle” (a second version is a piano solo) that is almost straightforward. Of the other major workouts (not counting some interlude pieces) “Seventh Wave” is almost Monkish at times but has a stretch when it uses a heavy avant-funk rhythm, preceding some fairly free piano and a bit of unaccompanied tenor. “Melange Geomertry” (with Robinson taking solos on both flute and tenor) is both adventurous and thoughtful. “Isobathic Sounding” balances some interesting rhythms with White’s stormy piano. “Apogean Tide” is a nearly conventional medium-tempo ballad and “Mountain In Your Mind” is an uptempo swinger that switches grooves and tempos several times.
This is an unpredictable set of music that will keep one guessing. The expected almost never occurs while the musical quality remains at a consistently high level with Jason Robinson displaying both consistent creativity and versatility. Harmonic Constituent is recommended and available from www.playscape-recordings.com.
It has been over a decade since Axiom, a top-notch fusion quintet co-led by guitarist Peter Templer and drummer Phil Templer, had recorded. Starburst continues in their earlier direction of creative 1970s/80s-style fusion. The brothers are joined by either Alan Palmer or Frank Villafranca on reeds, keyboardist Jared Stewart, and one of four bassists. The ensemble-oriented performances have a rockish sound, feature strong musicianship, and contain catchy melodies and grooves along with inventive solos. “Vaporware” puts the focus on the passionate guitarist, Villafranca’s soprano on “Indigo Wave” and Palmer’s flute on “Magunda” are noteworthy, “Mountain Dream” (part of a four-part “California Suite”) is high-quality easy-listening music, and “Starburst” is the most ambitious and exciting performance.
Those who love the classic sound of Return To Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra and early Weather Report will find much to enjoy on Axiom’s Starburst, which is available from www.axiommusic.net.
Trombonist Brian Scarborough is based in Kansas City where he plays with many groups including the People’s Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City, the Boulevard Big Band, and the Zen Brass. Sunflower Song is his recording debut as a leader.
The trombonist leads a quintet that also includes tenor-saxophonist Matt Otto, guitarist Adam Schlozman, bassist Jeff Harshbarger, and drummer Brian Steever. They perform nine of Scarborough’s originals which are harmonically complex, use original chord changes, and are viable platforms for the creative solos of the musicians. While it is doubtful that any of these melodies will catch on elsewhere as future standards (the slightly whimsical “City Lights” and the ballad “Sunflower Song” come the closest to being memorable), the improvisations are consistently strong and inspired. Scarborough, who has his own musical personality on the trombone, is quite fluent and Otto sounds unlike any other tenor-saxophonist. Schlozman’s guitar and bassist Harshbarger engage in close interplay throughout the colorful set while Steever’s drumming is subtle and quietly stimulating.
One could call some of the uptempo pieces “free bop” since they often have a swinging bass while utilizing advanced chord changes, but most of the music is beyond category as anything but high quality modern jazz. This fine CD is available from
The Charlie Barnet Collection 1946-50
Charlie Barnet (1913-91) had quite a life and for ten years (1939-49) was pretty significant in the jazz world. One of the very few swing era big bandleaders who was a millionaire before he ever led an orchestra (his grandfather was a vice-president for the New York Central Railroad and a successful banker), Barnet was able to do pretty much anything he wanted in his life. And he did, marrying 11 times, not counting a few annulled semi-legal marriages in Mexico.
Barnet was a fine tenor-saxophonist with his own sound, a talented altoist, and one of the few soprano-saxophonists of his era. After leading a series of so-so bands and recording sessions during 1933-38, he became very successful in 1939, recording “Cherokee” (which became his theme song) and the similar “Redskin Rhumba.” During the next decade he led a series of very good big bands which sometimes emulated the sound of Duke Ellington. “Skyliner” was a big hit for Barnet in 1944 and singer Kay Starr was one of his discoveries.
The Charlie Barnet Collection is a two-CD set that covers the second half of Barnet’s bandleading career. This is a particularly interesting period because it found Barnet gradually embracing bebop while striving to hold onto his earlier popularity. The twofer has 45 selections originally recorded for the National, Aladdin and Capitol labels, comprising every Charlie Barnet studio recording of the era other than three numbers (“Power Steering,” “Sleep,” and “Bop A Boogie”), not counting three of the five songs in which the orchestra accompanied Martha Raye.
The first 11 selections are in the usual Barnet style including remakes of “Cherokee” and “Redskin Rhumba.” However things began to change in 1947 with the addition of such players as trumpeters Clark Terry and Doc Severinsen, and pianist Claude Williamson. The arrangements became much more modern in 1949, the trumpet section was remarkable (including three screamers in Severinsen, Maynard Ferguson and Ray Wetzel along with soloist Rolf Ericson), and the other sidemen included trombonist Herbie Harper, tenor-saxophonist Dick Hafer, Williamson, bassist Eddie Safranski, and drummer Tiny Kahn.
Listening to such titles as “Charlie’s Other Aunt,” “Overtime,” “Be-Bop Spoken Here” (with vocals by Dave Lambert and Buddy Stewart), “All The Things You Are” (which has a Maynard Ferguson solo that was considered so radical that the original 78 was withdrawn), the Afro-Cuban “Pan Americana,” and “Claude Reigns,” one can make the case that Charlie Barnet led one of the finest and most exciting bebop orchestras of the time.
It did not last long for in late 1949 Charlie Barnet gave up the financially unsuccessful orchestra. This set concludes with his four titles from 1950 which find him returning to swing. Although his glory years were behind him, Barnet played music on a part-time basis whenever he wanted until his retirement in 1967.
This well-conceived and rather fascinating twofer, which contains a hilarious
satire of Dixieland on “Darktown Strutters Ball,” is highly recommended and available from www.mvdb2b.com.