Mad Romance and Love
(Jumo Music 1007)
Street Date: July 6, 2018
Maurice Frank-vocals, John DiMartino-piano, arrangements,
Eric Alexander-tenor sax, Aaron Heick-soprano sac, clarinet, alto flute,
Paul Meyers-guitar, Luques Curtis-bass,
Obed Calvaire-drums, Samuel Torres-percussion
Maurice Frank is a native New Yorker. He grew up listening to the great singers of the 50’s and 60’s and it left its mark on him.
Mad Romance and Love is his debut release. It’s heart felt and striking for its warmth, sensitivity and choice of songs. The musicians are top notch! Featuring the groove tones of tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander and pianist/arranger John DiMartino, who provides a palette of swing and latin colors. Performing on the East Coast and beyond and now residing in Florida, “Moe’s” new release is a sophisticated sound coming from a “new to the scene”, yet seasoned artist, who is a fresh interpreter of both standards and not frequently heard songs.
“What I feel so abundantly from Maurice’s singing is a deep and honest affinity for the ballad, the love song and the swinger.Congratulations for nailing a gem of a recording.” —Benny Green
Lost In A Crowded Place
Daryl Sherman has been a major swing singer and pianist for at least 30 years. Her tender yet quietly expressive voice sometimes hints at Mildred Bailey or Lee Wiley but sounds very much like herself while her piano playing is fluent and creative within swing.
Ms. Sherman is very much in prime form throughout the recent Lost In A Crowded Place. She performs a few superior if mostly little-played standards (how often does one hear a vocal version of “Stars Fell On Alabama” these days?), two of her originals, and a variety of long-forgotten gems such as Barbara Carroll’s title song, Duke Ellington’s “Azalea,” the Gershwin’s “The Lorelei,” and Louis Armstrong’s “If We Never Meet Again.”
In addition to her singing and occasional piano solos, a major reason to acquire his CD is for the trumpet playing of Jon-Erik Kellso. His solos and accompaniment are a little reminiscent of Johnny Windhurst’s on his sessions with Lee Wiley and Barbara Lea, or Ruby Braff on his duet albums with pianist Ellis Larkins. He is powerful yet tasteful, melodic yet unpredictable; always a joy to hear including his plunger mute work on ‘The Lorelei.” Guitarist Don Vappie (who takes a surprise vocal with Ms. Sherman on “You Go To My Head” that is quite effective) has some fine guitar solos, and bassist Jesse Boyd stars on “Turkquoise” in addition to anchoring the drumless rhythm section.
Daryl Sherman’s choice of notes, both vocally and instrumentally, makes the music a consistent delight. This highly recommended set is available from www.jazzology.com.
Randy Brecker Quintet
The music on this DVD was originally put out as a CD nearly 30 years ago by Sonet in Europe and (with one additional selection) the GNP/Crescendo label in the U.S. The set of seven songs were played at New York’s Sweet Basil during Nov. 18-20, 1988. Now for the first time, the performances can be seen as well as heard.
In addition to the consistently fiery solos of trumpeter Randy Brecker and the excellent rhythm section (pianist Dave Kikoski, bassist Dieter Ilg and drummer Joey Baron), the DVD is of particular interest for giving listeners the rare opportunity to see tenor-saxophonist Bob Berg, who died tragically in a car crash in 2002 when he was just 51.
This package not only includes the DVD but a CD with the same music. The performances largely define the modern jazz mainstream of 1988, and even to an extent that of today. The program begins with explosive versions of “Mojoe” and “No Scratch.” Brecker is passionate, Berg sounds like an extension of Michael Brecker but with his own conception, Kikoski is quite animated and enthusiastic, and the rhythm section (with intense playing from Baron) never lets up.
The other selections continue along the same line. “Moontide” (with Brecker switching to fluegelhorn) is a little calmer as is the modern ballad “Incidentally” while “Ting Chang” is filled with heat. The mostly high-powered set concludes with an uptempo version of “Love For Sale” (the only song not composed by Brecker) and “Hurdy Gurdy.”
Fans of Randy Brecker and Bob Berg should consider this release to be essential for features the musicians in inspired form. It is available from www.mvdb2b.com.
James Reese Europe’s Society Orchestra and Others
The Product Of Our Souls
It would not be an exaggeration to say that this collection was a long time coming. On two sessions during 1913-14, James Reese Europe’s Society Orchestra became the first African-American dance band to be recorded, resulting in eight selections. Although the numbers had been reissued on a haphazard basis through the decades, the Archeophone CD is the first time that all eight performances have been collected together. It only took 104 years!
James Reese Europe (1880-1919), who had his life cut short when he was murdered by a disgruntled drummer in 1919, was a giant of his era. While not a performing musician himself, Europe was an arranger-composer and a pioneer as a bandleader. He organized the Clef Club Orchestra in 1910 and two years later played a concert at Carnegie Hall, a groundbreaking event for an African-American group and for any dance band. His orchestra, which at times had up to 125 members, performed popular songs of the era, renditions of classical music and music that was sometimes influenced by ragtime. The orchestra gained fame for its work accompanying Vernon and Irene Castle, influential performers who introduced many dances including the foxtrot. During World War I, Europe gained great acclaim overseas when he led a syncopated military band (the Hellfighters) throughout France. That orchestra recorded jazz-oriented performances in 1919 with some vocals by Noble Sissle. But James Reese Europe, who was poised to make major accomplishments in the “Jazz Age,” was killed just two months later.
The 1913-14 performances, despite their syncopations and even an improvising violinist on one song, are pre jazz rather than jazz. Of greatest interest, in addition to the band’s obvious enthusiasm, is the inventive drumming of Buddy Gilmore who adds a lot of color and excitement to the uptempo pieces. The Dec. 29, 1913 session has Europe leading a group consisting of five banjo mandolins, three violins, a single piano (played by two pianists), cornet, clarinet and drummer Gilmore. They perform a pair of conventional South American dance tunes (“Amapa” and the tango “El Irresistible”) and, most importantly, spirited renditions of “Too Much Mustard” and Wilbur Sweatman’s “Down Home Rag.” The second session from May 5, 1914 has different instrumentation (cornet, clarinet, flute, baritone horn, three violins, piano, cello and Gilmore on drums) performing the Broadway show tune “You’re Here And I’m Here” plus three Europe compositions: the waltz “Castle’s Lame Duck,” “Castle Walk” and the exciting “Castle House Rag.” The music is the closest that any recording group came to jazz before the Original Dixieland Jazz Band debuted in 1917.
14 other rare recordings, dating from 1912-16 with one vocalist from 1908, are also on this CD. Nine are other band’s versions of the songs recorded by Europe, and five are additional Europe compositions. Dating from Featured are singers Ada Jones, Bob Roberts, Kathleen Kingston and Billy Murray, the Metropolitan Military Band, Prince’s Band, the Van Eps Trio (“Down Home Rag”), the National Promenade Band, the Indestructible Band and the Victor Military Band. It is interesting to hear these straight and rigid performances next to the looser playing of James Reese Europe’s orchestra; only the Van Eps Trio generates excitement.
The accompanying 56-page booklet is definitive, colorful, and a major plus to the historic set which finally gives listeners the opportunity to hear all of James Reese Europe’s early recordings. In the future I hope that Archeophone (www.archeophone.com), the top label in compiling pre-1920 recordings, will also put out extensive sets on the early virtuoso ragtime banjoists Vess Ossman and Fred Van Eps. Those are the most important gaps left in the reissue of early music.
On Your Way
Greg Robbins, a fine jazz singer based in Atlanta, recently released his debut CD. On Your Way features the vocalist joined by pianist Kevin Bales (Tyrone Jackson takes his place on three numbers), bassist Kevin Smith, and drummer Justin Varnes (Kermit Walker plays drums on one song), with occasional contributions from tenor-saxophonist John Sandfort and trumpeter Melvin Jones.
Robbins has a warm and attractive voice that is distinctive, he swings at every tempo and, while generally sticking to the lyrics, he proves to be a subtle improviser throughout this wide-ranging set. On Your Way begins with pianist Ronnell Bright’s. “Don’t Call It Love,” a relative to “Just Friends” both in its chord changes and the content of its lyrics. “On Your Way,” which is about being blindsided by the surprise end of a love affair, is one of the singer’s two originals on the project. The bossa nova has a nice spot for Sandfort’s tenor. The ballad “Meadowlarks” is a fine showcase for Robbins’ voice and includes a fiery solo by trumpeter Walker. “I Fall In Love Too Easily” is taken as a tasteful and heartfelt duet by Robbins and pianist Bales.
The obscure “Cat Meets Chick” was written by jazz critic Leonard Feather and had not been recorded by anyone since 1957. It is heard as a vocal for the first time with lyrics by New York bassist Rob Duguay; it has another colorful statement from Melvin Jones. Ronnell Bright’s medium-tempo cooker “Sweet Pumpkin” is highlighted by Robbins swinging particularly well during his second vocal chorus. A change of pace, “Tell Me Friend” is an anti-racism song that includes funky rhythms and a brief rap by Sho Baraka. A second version (with a trumpet solo instead of the rap) is also included. The remainder of the set includes the expressive “Helplessness Blues,” the contemporary ballad “Everlong,” and a joyful medium-tempo romp on “It’s Got To Be Love.”
On Your Way is a pretty impressive debut for Greg Robbins and is easily recommended. One looks forward to the singer’s future accomplishments. More information can be found at www.facebook.com/GregRobbinsMusic
On The Levee Jazz Band
(Big Al Records)
During 1944-61, veteran trombonist Kid Ory led a series of classic New Orleans jazz bands. The musicianship was always excellent (there was no question that the musicians would be in tune), the soloists were colorful and melodic, and the many ensembles were both clean and exciting. Whether it was his bands with cornetist/trumpeter Mutt Carey, Andrew Blakeney, Teddy Buckner, Alvin Alcorn (my favorite edition) or Henry “Red” Allen, Ory performed spirited and memorable music.
The On The Levee Jazz Band brings back the sound of Ory’s groups. While the lack of liner notes or information beyond the basic song and personnel listings is unfortunate, the music very much speaks for itself. Drummer Hal Smith is the leader of a septet comprised of trumpeter Ben Polcer, multi-instrumentalist Clint Baker on trombone (probably his best ax), clarinetist Joe Goldberg, pianist Kris Tokarski, guitarist Alex Belhaj and bassist Joshua Gouzy. The band comes close to sounding like Ory’s group with Alcorn. Baker really has the Ory style down on trombone, trumpeter Polcer offers a solid but not dominating lead, clarinetist Goldberg is fluent while staying melodic, and the rhythm section is subtle and swinging.
The 14 selections are all taken from Ory’s repertoire on his Good Time Jazz recordings with the highlights including jubilant versions of “Original Dixieland One Step,” “Wolverine Blues,” “Royal Garden Blues” and “Panama.” Actually all of the performances are quite enjoyable. The band even explodes now and then going into the final chorus just as Ory and Alcorn used to.
Fans of Kid Ory, New Orleans jazz, and joyful music in general will certainly want this excellent outing which is available from www.ontheleveejazz.com.
Music From Man Of La Mancha
After the surprise success of the Shelly Manne Trio’s recording of the music from My Fair Lady in 1956 (which featured pianist Andre Previn and bassist Red Mitchell), a countless number of jazz groups recorded their set-long interpretations of the music from a play or a film. For every version of the score of Guys and Dolls and The King And I, there were several recordings of the music from a soon-to-be-forgotten production such as L’il Abner and The Proper Time.
Back in 1995, Mitch Leigh, the composer of the music for Man Of La Mancha, commissioned Eliane Elias to record an album of songs from his famous play. While Ms. Elias occasionally sang at that point in time, this was before her vocalizing began to dominate her recordings. Music Form Man Of La Mancha is a strictly instrumental set in which she is joined by either Eddie Gomez or Matt Johnson on bass, Jack DeJohnette or Satoshi Takeishi on drums, and percussionist Manolo Badrena on all but one of the nine selections.
The only song from the play that became famous (or perhaps infamous) was “The Impossible Dream” which is usually performed as an over-the-top vocal. On this set, the pianist largely disguises the melody at first and comes up with a creative version. The other pieces that she chose, which include “Dulcinea,” “What Does He Want Of Me,” “I’m Only Thinking Of You” and “A Little Gossip,” are obscure and certainly qualify as fresh material. While the pieces generally do not offer memorable themes, the playing by Eliane Elias is inventive, thoughtful, and full of subtle surprises. She was always a brilliant pianist and it is rewarding to hear this long-lost set from her earlier days.
The music on her Concord disc (available from www.concordrecords.com) was only previously heard and enjoyed by the composer and his friends. It is great that it has been finally released for everyone else to savor.
Valentine’s Day 1964 Live
Although he would not have known it at the time, veteran tenor-saxophonist Ben Webster was near the cross roads of his career when he recorded this previously unreleased set at the Half Note in New York on Feb. 14, 1964. It had been 21 years since he had left Duke Ellington’s orchestra (although there was a later stint and guest appearances) and, while he had toured with Jazz At The Philharmonic and recorded regularly for Norman Granz’s Verve label in the 1950s, Webster was being overshadowed by such younger saxophonists as John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins. While he recorded the classic album See You At The Fair a month later, by year end he had moved permanently to Europe where he was better appreciated.
Still very much in his prime, Webster is teamed with pianist Dave Frishberg (whose singing and song-writing were still a few years away), bassist Richard Davis and drummer Grady Tate for a typical set of swingers and ballads. Webster excelled in both settings with his choice of sounds (from roars to whispers) being more significant than his choice of notes. There are no surprises in the repertoire which includes “Chelsea Bridge,” “How Long Has This Been Going On,” “Cotton Tail,” “The Theme” (mistakenly listed as “52nd Street Theme”) and two versions of “Caravan,” but Webster plays everything with enthusiasm and feeling. Frishberg also has a few excellent solos although the main focus is on the great tenor.
This excellent addition to Ben Webster’s discography is available from www.dottimerecords.com.
The Al Fairweather Collection 1953-1957
In the world of British trad jazz, Al Fairweather was one of the top trumpeters during the 1950s. Like Humphrey Lyttelton, he began his career primarily performing 1920s-style jazz but later evolved into a swing/mainstream player. Since he spent much of his career working as a sideman (particularly with clarinetist Sandy Brown and later on with Acker Bilk), just leading an occasional recording session, he is not as well-known as Lyttelton or Kenny Ball although he was on their level as a player. This two-CD set, compiled by Lake (today’s top British trad label), features Fairweather in a variety of worthy settings.
During the first disc, Al Fairweather is heard on two selections on which he guests with Lyttelton’s band, jamming happily with the great clarinetist Albert Nicholas on four numbers, on sessions headed by Sandy Brown and pianist Stan Greig, and leading a date of his own. The music includes 1920s, Dixieland standards, and some obscurities plus Basie’s “Swinging The Blues.” The other key musicians include trombonist John R.T. Davies (who became best-known as an innovative recording engineer) and guitarist Diz Disley.
The second CD has the music from two full albums. Trombonist John Picard’s Angels, a sextet with clarinetist Wally Fawkes, romps on such unexpected tunes as “The Lady In Red,” “Shortnin’ Bread” and “Show Me The Way To Go Home,” along with some more typical songs. Brother John Sellers, an American blues, folk and gospel singer who recorded for several labels during 1954-57, has an intriguing matchup with Fairweather, Fawkes, Greig and Disley in a sextet. It all works out fine for space was left for his sidemen and Sellers displays a strong and flexible voice along with sincere feeling.
This set of enjoyable rarities is just one of scores of valuable CDs available from Lake (www.fellside.com).
A Jazzman’s Broadway
Cy Coleman (1929-2004) gained fame as a top Broadway composer starting in 1960. He later wrote “If My Friends Could See Me Now” and “Big Spender” with lyricist Dorothy Fields. Before that, he had already become a successful songwriter, often collaborating with lyricist Carolyn Leigh including on “Witchcraft” and “The Best Is Yet To Come.”
But unlike nearly all of the Broadway composers, Cy Coleman was also a skilled jazz pianist. He actually started out as a child prodigy in classical music (giving recitals starting from the age of six) before leading the Cy Coleman Trio throughout the 1950s.
A Jazzman’s Broadway features Coleman performing other people’s music from Broadway plays, with separate sets of the songs from Jamaica (1957) and Flower Drum Song (1958) plus four songs from South Pacific (1949). Jamaica uses a vocal group on a few numbers, most prominently on “I Don’t Think I’ll End It All Today.” Coleman took his first recorded vocals on this project. The instrumentals could pass as being by Red Garland although Coleman also hints at Dave Brubeck (without the polyrhythms) in spots. Flutist Romeo Penque and guitarist Skeeter Best sometimes augment the trio. Flower Drum Song, which has Coleman leading a trio with bassist Aaron Bell and drummer G. Hogan, has some of the strongest music with close interplay between the pianist and bassist. The South Pacific numbers (taken solo) are brief and uneventful but nice to have.
A Jazzman’s Broadway (available from www.harbingerrecords.com) serves to remind listeners of the jazz talents of Cy Coleman and it makes for an enjoyable listen.
Blues In The Nude
These days, the jazz world is filled with a countless number of talents. In fact, there are more brilliant musicians active in jazz today than there has ever been, and they are based throughout the world. One new name to remember is Zack Varner, an excellent alto and tenor-saxophonist who calls Austin, Texas his home.
Originally raised near Atlanta, Varner has been a pro for over 15 years but he is long overdue to be discovered. Blues In The Nude, his debut recording as a leader, finds Varner sounding a bit like Phil Woods on alto. Joined by an excellent rhythm section (pianist Ross Margitza, bassist Daniel Durham, and drummer Wayne Sulzmann II.), and occasional guests (including trumpeter Adrian Ruiz and trombonist Mark Gonzalez on three songs apiece, and alto and tenor-saxophonist Bennett Wood on two), he performs 11 of his originals.
Among the highlights of this enjoyable set are the boppish “Blues In The Nude,” the slightly tongue-in-cheek “Faux Tango #4,” Carter Arrington’s guitar on “How Bout It,” the melancholy waltz “Russian Dog Dreams,” the surprisingly fiery freeform outbursts on “Stonehenge Throwdown,” some atmospheric cello by Illia De La Rosa on “Asterism,” and the joyful closer “I Looked Around For You” which uses a bit of stop-time.
The music is excellent, easily recommended, and available from www.zackvarner.com
Jim Self/John Chiodini Duo
Floating In Winter
(Basset Hound Music)
When one thinks of jazz duos, the instrumental combinations that come quickly to mind are piano & bass, saxophone or trumpet & piano, two guitars, and even voice & bass (thanks to Sheila Jordan). Very few would immediately think of tuba & guitar.
Listening to Jim Self, one quickly forgets all of the stereotypes of how a tuba sounds. His tone is mellow, his technique is unbeatable, and he often seems to sound like a bass trombonist with a well extended lower register. On a program consisting of two songs apiece by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Chuck Mangione, Henry Mancini, Thelonious Monk and Gerry Mulligan plus a pair of standards, an obscurity, and one original apiece by the co-leaders, Self and Chiodini sound very much like a complete band. Usually the melody is stated by the tuba. Then Self accompanies the guitarist during his solos while Chiodini plays rhythm guitar behind the tuba improvisations. A special treat is hearing Self on the fluba (a tuba-sized flugelhorn); a photo in the liner notes shows that it is pretty enormous!
Whether it is “So Danco Samba,” “Children Of Sanchez,” “In Walked Bud” or “Two For The Road,” Jim Self and John Chiodini create beautiful music at a variety of tempos and moods. The blend between their instruments is surprisingly effective and the results (available from www.jimself.com) are rewarding.
Soul Blade Orchestra
Despite its name, the Soul Blade Orchestra is actually a sextet. Formed in France in May 2011 by drummer Thierry Bonneaux, it exclusively performs the compositions of vibraphonist Thierry Collin. Vol. 1 is, as one might guess, their first CD.
The group consists of three Thierrys (vibraphonist Collin, drummer Bonneaux and bassist Thierry Colson), two Damiens (soprano-saxophonist Damien Hennicker and tenor-saxophonist Damien Prud’homme) and guitarist Olivers Cahours. Their music ranges from “Hymne A Zanzibar,” a folk/jazz tune that sounds like something that Oregon might have performed, to an energetic “The Green Fairy,” the thoughtful ballad “Mado,” and the playful waltz “Freaky.” “Bahia” is one of several numbers that recall Chick Corea’s writing style a bit while the closing “Le Mas De Thuir” includes a bit of free playing before ultimately becoming a mood piece. The two saxophonists add a lot of energy and fire to the date, vibraphonist Collin is a major part of the group’s musical personality (keeping the band from sounding like anyone else), Cahours contributes some fine solos, and the rhythm section is tight throughout the varied material. Soul Blade’s Vol. 1 covers a lot of ground and holds one’s interest throughout. It is well worth acquiring and is available from www.thierry-collin.fr and amazon.com.