(Whaling City Sound)
It has always been true that females can excel at any musical instrument but they have had to fight many obstacles through the years and even in these days. There are more superior female jazz musicians on the scene today than at any time in the past. Monika Herzig, a very talented modern jazz pianist, leads an all-star all-women septet on Sheroes. The fact that all of the musicians are females (and the diverse material was composed by women) is irrelevant to the musical quality which is very high, but it does result in the artists sharing some camaraderie.
There are many bright moments to be heard throughout the post-bop music. Trumpeter Ingrid Jensen is brilliant on “Time Again, D.B.” (a tribute to educator David Baker) and “Wayning.” She also displays plenty of warmth throughout “Nancy Wilson Portrait,” a Herzig ballad that has a melody based on the numbers in Wilson’s birthdate. Trombonist Reijt Regev displays a boisterous personality and introduces her intriguing “I Am A Superstar.” Tenor-saxophonist Ada Rovatti gets to romp on the hectic “Just Another Day At The Office,” flutist Jamie Baum is an asset throughout, and guitarist Leni Stern is the star of the spirited “Bubbles” which features African rhythms. Bassist Jennifer Vincent, who contributes stimulating bass lines throughout the set, brought in the episodic “Song For C.C” which is highlighted by passionate interplay between trombone and flute. Drummer Rosa Avila and percussionist Mayra Casales keep the momentum flowing and display plenty of versatility and fire.
As for Monika Herzig, her piano playing is consistently inventive and at times quietly witty. She has her own voice on the piano and this impressive album (which also includes transformed versions of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “The House Of The Rising Sun”) is one of her most enjoyable and satisfying. Sheroes is available from www.whalingcitysound.com.
In Coventry, 1966
Duke Ellington regularly performed Sacred Concerts during 1965-73. While three separate programs were recorded and released, his Sacred Concerts were generally in transition as he changed selections and altered their order. In Conventry, 1966 (which is being released for the first time) was recorded in St. Michael’s Cathedral which had parts of the original building from 1434.
Only a few of the numbers are overtly religious. The opening “New World A-Comin” features Ellington on solo piano for nine minutes, thinking aloud and sharing his musical thoughts with the audience. That piece debuted at Ellington’s second Carnegie Hall concert of 1943. “Come Sunday” (which features some beautiful playing from altoist Johnny Hodges) and “Light” debuted at the first Carnegie Hall concert as part of Duke’s monumental suite “Black, Brown and Beige.”
The Ellington Orchestra next performs a somber ballad (“Come Easter”) that was soon forgotten and the joyful gospel romp “Tell Me It’s The Truth.” The 20-minute “In The Beginning God” has the powerful vocalist George Webb and the Cliff Adam Singers guesting. Some of the sections of this episodic work are a bit bombastic but its religious message meant a lot to Ellington.
In Conventry, 1966, which is available from www.storyvillerecords.com, is a valuable addition to Duke Ellington’s huge discography.
The Great Revival
Traditional Jazz 1951-57
Before the Beatles permanently changed the pop world in the mid-1960s, one of the most popular types of music in Great Britain was Trad Jazz. It caught on in England after the end of World War II, picked up steam in the 1950s, and resulted in some pop hits in the early 1960s before being pushed back underground by rock. While Great Britain also had an interesting modern jazz scene going on at the same time, it was Trad that caught the fancy of many younger listeners who enjoyed dancing and drinking to the exuberant and sometimes-riotous music. The 1962 film It’s Trad, Dad actually portrayed Trad as a rebellious anti-establishment music. One somehow cannot imagine Dixieland being thought of that way in the U.S., at least after 1930.
The Lake label has through the years released hundreds of valuable sets that compile many of the best sessions from the Trad years. The Great Revival, which is subtitled Traditional Jazz 1951-57 Vol. 5, is a particularly fine introduction to the music, consisting of three or four selections apiece from five different bands early in their histories.
Trumpeter-singer Kenny Ball became famous in the early 1960s for his hit recording of “Midnight In Moscow.” A spirited and exciting player, he stars on his first studio recordings with his septet, playing heated versions of “Struttin’ With Some Barbeque” and “Riverboat Shuffle” in addition to singing “St. James Infirmary.” Clarinetist Acker Bilk (famed for his easy-listening recording of “Stranger On The Shore”) is featured on three numbers from 1956 with his Paramount Jazz Band including a hot rendition of “Dippermouth Blues.” The popular clarinetist Terry Lightfoot is showcased during “Lady Be Good” and jams three standards with his sextet that are fun even if the band gets a bit lost on “Panama.” Trombonist Chris Barber, who is still active today, is heard back in 1951 on rare recordings with his two-cornet octet which was recorded before the musicians became officially professional; the performances are quite good. And finally, singer George Melly is heard on his first solo recordings including two songs in which he is accompanied by just piano and drums. The Great Revival gives listeners some important glimpses of Trad Jazz when it was really starting to take off.
Remembering Ben Cohen
Cornetist Ben Cohen, who is heard with Chris Barber in the 1951 session, is the most prominent soloist throughout Remembering Ben Cohen. The music, consisting of a session apiece from 1979, 1984 and 1987, finds Cohen in top form throughout a program dominated by hard-charging classic jazz. The repertoire is particularly inspired, featuring both standards and such obscurities from the 1920s as Freddie Keppard’s “Stockyard Strut,” “Don’t Forget To Mess Around,” “Put ‘Em Down Blues” and “You Made Me Love You When I Saw You Cry.”
Cohen was thought of as a Louis Armstrong admirer, but he had his own sound and impressive style within vintage jazz. These performances, recorded with groups led by the fine clarinetist Brian White and also featuring pianist Alan Thomas and (for the first eight numbers) trombonist John Beecham, will delight fans of Chicago jazz and Eddie Condon. Ben Cohen, who passed away in 2002 at the age of 73, left behind some highly enjoyable music.
Both of these releases, and hundreds more put out by the Lake label (www.fellside.com), should be explored by anyone with an affection for Trad, Dixieland, New Orleans and 1920s jazz.
Back At The Roadhouse
Teague Bechtel, who is originally from Orlando, Florida, is currently part of the Denver jazz scene. While he led and recorded with a blues/rock trio in the past, Bechtel has also extensively studied the music and life of Grant Green and has performed with Antonio Hart and Jon Faddis.
Back At The Roadhouse is comprised of nine originals played by Bechtel with pianist Michael Conrad, bassist Seth Lewis and drummer Ryan Leppich. Three guests (tenors Kenyon Brenner and Joel Harris and baritonist Alyson Agemy appear on two songs apiece, making the group into a quartet on six of the selections.
Teague Bechtel has a quiet swinging style that at times recalls Jimmy Raney, Wes Montgomery (particularly when he plays octaves on “Naptown”), and other 1950s straight ahead guitarists. His tone is attractive, he plays with subtle creativity, and he works closely with the members of his very complementary quartet.
Among the highlights are the solid swingers “Naptown,” “El Dorado,” “Back At The Roadhouse” and “It’s As If I Never Left” which is based on “You Stepped Out Of A Dream.” The quiet waltz “Gibraltar” and the bluish “The Real” are also memorable. The horn players each have their opportunities to shine and they blend well with the guitarist, particularly Brenner on “When I Was Younger.”
This is fine straight ahead jazz that is easily recommended and available from www.teaguebechtel.com.
The Heart Already Knows
It takes a lot of courage to record duets, particularly when one is a singer. In a duet, there is no place to hide, and every note and sound is heard. A vocalist has to have a lot of confidence in their ability not only to keep the music continually interesting but in-tune. Kate Reid, on her recent The Heart Already Knows, easily overcomes any possible fears and excels in the sparse setting.
Based in both Los Angeles (where she is a studio singer) and Miami, Kate Reid has worked with such notables in her career as John Hart, John Daversa, Ron Eschete, Ernie Watts, Otmaro Ruiz, John Clayton, Jon Hendricks, and Mark Murphy.
On The Heart Already Knows, Ms. Reid performs two duets apiece with pianist Taylor Eigsti, and guitarists Larry Koonse, Romero Lubambo and Paul Meyers, and three with pianist Fred Hersch. While the emphasis is on ballads (one wishes there were a few more medium-tempo explorations) the music ranges from swing standards such as “I’m Confessin’ That I Love You” (which includes a fine half-chorus of scatting) and “If I Should Lose You” to a pair of Fred Hersch originals (“Lazin Around With You” is particularly effective) and folkish songs from Joni Mitchell and James Taylor. While the latter are of lesser interest, Kate Reid’s fetching, quietly versatile, and attractive voice makes everything quite listenable.
This recommended set is available from www.katereidmusic.com.
David Chesky is best-known for founding and running the Chesky label. But as has been becoming increasingly clear in recent years, he is a very original pianist whose approach and sound fall between jazz and modern classical music. In his career he studied jazz with John Lewis, led a contemporary big band in the late 1970s that recorded Rush Hour, wrote for the studios, collaborated with Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo, and been a highly-rated sound engineer. Chesky has also written many classical works, and three operas in addition to rags, tangos and other types of music.
Aural Paintings features Chesky leading a trio with bassist Peter Washington and drummer Billy Drummond that performs eight “Paintings,” simply named “Painting No. 1” up to “Painting No. 8.” The music is picturesque, sometimes dense, abstract and, as accurately stated by Chip Stern in the liner notes, somewhere between Anton Webern and Paul Bley. While the first few “paintings” are a bit heavy in mood, the music gradually becomes more light-hearted as it progresses. The results are sometimes cinematic although the “plot” of the absent movie is up to listeners to create in their thoughts. While Washington and Drummond have their spots, they mostly concentrate on adding to the ensemble of David Chesky’s very original music.
This is a fascinating set that not only rewards repeated listenings but demands it for there is a lot to discover. It is available from www.chesky.com.
Peter Zak Quartet
(Fresh Sound New Talent)
An excellent jazz pianist with a flexible style, Peter Zak sought to document his collaboration with bassist Marcos Varela on One Mind. The quartet set also features tenor-saxophonist Seamus Blake (who sometimes steals the show with his fiery statements) and drummer Billy Drummond.
Zak was born in Los Angeles but grew up in Ohio. He began playing the piano at five, studied at Berkeley, and worked around Northern California before moving to New York. He has had opportunities to work (and sometimes record) with Junior Cook, George Coleman, Etta Jones, Scott Hamilton, Peter Bernstein, Eric Alexander, Jon Hendricks, Walt Weiskopf, and Doug Webb among others. Zak began leading his own record dates back in 1988 for the small Gania label, was a featured sideman on a few albums by trumpeter Ryan Kisor, made a dozen CDs of his own for Steeplechase during 2004-16, and recently debuted on the Fresh Sound label.
His quartet performs five Zak originals and one apiece by Varela, Herbie Hancock, Cole Porter, and Thelonious Monk. On some selections, particularly “For Sonny” and “Backseat Driver,” Zak’s modal playing recalls McCoy Tyner but other numbers find him playing in his own inventive post-bop style. Many of his originals grow in interest with each listen for they have their own quirky logic and inspire passionate improvisations. Zak’s solos are consistently rewarding, Varela is well featured (being showcased on Monk’s “Reflections”) and Drummond is excellent in support of the lead voices. Seamus Blake, who is on most of the performances, plays at his best throughout, coming up with one unpredictable but logical solo after another, adding plenty of heat to the excellent set.
One Mind, which is available from www.freshsoundrecords.com, is a high-quality example of today’s modern jazz mainstream and is well worth acquiring.
The Complete Warner Bros. – Seven Arts Recordings
Vince Guaraldi (1928-76) had an unusual and episodic career filled with accomplishments. Born and raised in San Francisco, he served in the Army and made his recording debut in 1951 as the pianist with Cal Tjader’s trio. He led his first session in 1955, and spent much of 1955-56 as a member of the Woody Herman Orchestra. In 1957 Guaraldi recorded with Frank Rosolino, Conte Candoli and Richie Kamuca and led an album (A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing) on which, in addition to some standards, he sounds on a few ballads like a New Age pianist from the 1970s. Guaraldi played regularly with Cal Tjader during 1957-58 and freelanced for a few years. In 1962, on his album Jazz Impressions Of Black Orpheus, he had a hit with his ballad which was not from that film, “Cast Your Fate To The Wind.”
Vince Guaraldi was always a versatile pianist, boppish in general and a fine blues player (as he showed on an album with Jimmy Witherspoon and Ben Webster), but also quite at home playing Afro-Cuban jazz, bossa-novas (co-leading a group with guitarist Bola Sete), and easy-listening music. In addition, in 1962 he composed, performed and recorded one of the first jazz masses.
In 1964 Guaraldi found his greatest fame, writing for the animated Charlie Brown television series. Among his originals were “Linus And Lucy” and “Christmas Time Is Here.” He was involved in all of the Peanuts shows until he died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1976 when he was just 48.
The pianist’s last three albums, Oh, Good Grief! (eight songs from the Peanuts series), The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi, and Almaville, are reissued along with four previously unreleased performances on the two-CD set The Complete Warner Bros. – Seven Arts Recordings. The Peanuts songs (mostly remakes) are fine, featuring Guaraldi on piano and harpsichord in a quartet that also includes guitarist Eddie Duran. The unissued tracks do not add much to the pianist’s legacy although “The Sharecropper’s Daughter” is a rollicking boogie-woogie flavored performance. However The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi and especially Alma-Ville contain quite a bit of rewarding music.
The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi lives up to its name, featuring Guaraldi not only on piano and harpsichord but guitar and two vocals. The music ranges from easy-listening (and a rather tedious “The Beat Goes On”) to a tasteful version of Jobim’s “Once I Loved” and some hotter performances. Alma-Ville, which also has Guaraldi on electric piano, includes six of his better originals plus versions of “Eleanor Rigby” and “Watch What Happens.” Guaraldi’s playing is melodic, lightly swinging and bluesy a la Ramsey Lewis.
It is strange to think that these performances from 1968-69 were Vince Guaraldi’s final studio recordings, made seven years before his death. It is very good to have the long unavailable music out again. This set is available from www.omnivorerecordings.com.
Norbert Stachel & Karen Stachel
Leh Cats – Movement To Egalitaria
Leh Cats, which is co-led by reed player Norbert Stachel and flutist-singer Karen Stachel, can be thought of as their version of World Jazz as reflected by the mixture of musical cultures that they experience in the San Francisco Bay area. The Stachels, who are joined by a variety of rhythm section players who bring in rhythms from across the globe, perform original melodies that reflect the influences of many cultures, particularly from Latin and South America with a taste of the Mideast (“Meshugaza”) and Africa.
Movement To Egalitaria salutes a fictional land where human rights reign supreme; sort of like the idealized (if somewhat lost) dream of the United States. Norbert Stachel is featured on flute, tenor (taking a fiery solo on “Step On It”), alto, soprano and bass clarinet while Karen Stachel is heard on flutes, piccolo and an occasional vocal. Among the other soloists who make strong impressions are pianists Axel Laugart and Edsel Gomez, guitarists Mike Stern (who is blazing on “Doppler Effect”) and Bob Lanzetti, and bassist Peter Washington. The large supporting cast includes such notables as drummer Lenny White, bassist Lennie Plaxico, guitarists Ray Obiedo and Will Bernard, and percussionist Pete Escovedo.
The music, even with its variety of rhythms, is primarily straight ahead (although with a few funkier selections), melodic and swinging. The fresh melodies, happy and optimistic vibes, and high musicianship make Movement To Egalitaria a musical journey well worth taking. It is available from www.lehcats.com.
The Bass Master
Bassist Kenny Wright has worked with both jazz (Oscar Brown Jr, Michael White and his own band Experience) and r&b groups during his career thus far. He is a very fluent player, able to swing or play funky whenever inspiration strikes. The Bass Master is an unusual set in that he not only plays bass but (via overdubbing) piano, guitar and (on keyboard) Midi sax and flute. Other than one guest appearance apiece by pianist Charles Etzel and Morris Dow on harmonica, all of the music is performed by Wright.
The bassist contributes six of the eight numbers and they cover several moods and grooves. “Solo Flight” has colorful ensembles, “Robin” gives Wright (including on his midi horns) a chance to jam a blues, “Mars Landing” is a bit rockish, and “The Bass Master” is quite catchy. The strongest original is probably “Ellerbie” which changes time signatures (the melody is in 5/4, the solos are in 4/4), has a strong melody, and inspires excellent statements on piano and bass.
The last two numbers (mistakenly listed as Wright originals) are “My Favorite Things” (a solo feature for his inventive bass) and a lightly funky “Star Spangled Bass” which is based on a well-known anthem.
All in all, this is a fine effort, available from www.kennywrightexperience.com.
Sam Braysher & Michael Kanan
(Fresh Sound New Talent)
On Golden Earrings, Altoist Sam Braysher and pianist Michael Kanan perform a set of duets, swinging and digging tastefully into superior standards and obscurities. Braysher, who is based in London, was 27 at the time of this 2016 recording. He has a beautiful tone that is sometimes a little reminiscent of Paul Desmond while his approach to these songs is often boppish in a fresh way. Kanan, who is from Boston, studied with former Lennie Tristano students Harvey Diamond and Sal Mosca and has worked with many top artists including Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner, Jimmy Scott, and Jane Monheit.
The music swings from the start with a medium-tempo “Dancing In The Dark.” While Braysher takes the lead, Kanan is not only a very alert accompanist but consistently offers a second equal voice. The repertoire also includes such delights as Charlie Parker’s “Cardboard,” a three-song Irving Berlin waltz medley, Tadd Dameron’s underrated “The Scene Is Clean,” and an advanced and little-known Nat King Cole composition “Beautiful Moons Ago.” “BSP” is “Love For Sale” as Lee Konitz and Lennie Tristano might have played it, and it is gratifying to hear the beautiful “Golden Earrings” interpreted with such obvious affection. The memorable program closes with an all-too-brief “Way Down Yonder In New Orleans” that climaxes with the duo playing Lester Young’s recorded solo.
Golden Earrings has many highlights and makes for a fun listen. It is available from www.freshsoundrecords.com.