Oscar Hernandez & Alma Libre
Love The Moment
A superior pianist, arranger-composer and leader, Oscar Hernandez has had a wide-ranging career that includes leading the popular salsa band the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, working as Ruben Blades’ musical director, having associations with Ray Barretto, Celia Cruz, Paul Simon and others, and writing for stage shows and films.
From the Latin jazz standpoint, Hernandez’s most significant work might very well be as a leader-composer for Alma Libre, his quintet featuring Justo Almario on tenor, flute and soprano, bassist Oskar Cartaya, drummer Jimmy Branly and percussionist Christian Moraga. On their second CD, Love the Moment, the group is joined on various selections by trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos and violinist Dayren Santamaria.
On Love The Moment, the all-star band performs ten Hernandez compositions with plenty of solo space for Hernandez, Almario and occasionally Branly and Castellanos. The opening “Otro Nivel,” with its concise solos and spirited ensembles, serves as an excellent introduction to the group. Other highlights include the heated “Latino Jazz,” “Danzon For Lisa” (which teams together Almario’s flute with Santamaria’s violin), Almario’s powerful tenor solo on ‘”Mi Cancion Es Para Ti,” the jubilant post bop romp “Alternate Roots,” and the romantic “Sentimento De Amor.”
It is a pleasure getting to hear Oscar Hernandez in this intimate jazz setting, displaying plenty of ideas on the piano that are original yet fitting securely into the Afro-Cuban jazz tradition. Love The Moment is easily recommended and available from www.originarts.com.
Getz At The Gate
In 1962, Stan Getz hit pay dirt when he collaborated with guitarist Charlie Byrd for the best-selling Jazz Samba album, launching the bossa-nova movement in the United States. But what would the tenor’s career and music have been like if he had not teamed up with Byrd?
Getz At The Gate is a previously unreleased two-CD set that features the Stan Getz Quartet during two sets performed at New York’s Village Gate on Nov. 26, 1961. The great tenor is at the head of a group also including pianist Steve Kuhn, bassist John Neves and drummer Roy Haynes. Getz, who had returned to the U.S. after a few years in Europe and recorded the classic Focus album with arranger Eddie Sauter a few months before, is in top form. His lengthy solos are surprisingly fiery while still retaining his beautiful tone. Kuhn, whose improvisations are often chordal, sounds strongly inspired by McCoy Tyner (who was his successor with the John Coltrane Quartet), bassist Neves is supportive and takes some inventive solos, and Haynes is as consistently stimulating as he has always been during what is now a 73-year career.
Getz performs some older standards (including a heated “Airegin,” “Like Someone In Love” and “It’s You Or No One”) and a few lesser-known tunes (“Wildwood,” “Where Do You Go” and “Yesterday’s Gardenias”), featuring Kuhn on a trio version of “Impressions.” Getz (who had heard a lot of John Coltrane during the past year) shows that he was modernizing his style without losing his musical personality.
However this group would be short-lived and it is very doubtful if it could have sold 20% of the records that Stan Getz’s bossa-nova projects would during the next three years. The world would have been a lot poorer without those classic bossa nova albums, so Getz obviously made the right move, but it is nice to have these rare performances (from www.universalmusicenterprises.com) available after 48 years.
Melodic Ornette Coleman – Piano Works XIII
Throughout much of his career, the innovative altoist and composer Ornette Coleman performed his music without a piano in settings that gave him freedom tonally and in his improvisations. Coleman was one of the major pioneers in playing jazz without steady chord changes, giving soloists after 1959 new options in what they could create.
However there were exceptions in Coleman’s career. In 1996 the altoist recorded two albums that used pianist Geri Allen, and that year’s Colors was a set of duets with pianist Joachim Kuhn. Not documented was that during 1995-2000, Coleman and Kuhn performed 16 duet concerts, performances for which Ornette composed a total of 170 originals that were played live once and then discarded. While Coleman wrote the themes, Kuhn supplied the chords behind the melodies.
Recently Kuhn, who has recordings of their rehearsals along with sheet music of the songs, recorded piano solo versions of 11 of what he considers the most rewarding of the originals. In addition to the 11 songs, Melodic Ornette Coleman includes the pianist’s original “The End Of The World” and two versions of Coleman’s famous “Lonely Woman.”
One has to fill in the blanks a bit while hearing these performances for Ornette Coleman’s distinctive sound is not present. However by using a bit of imagination, one can imagine Coleman playing the themes and improvising freely in a manner not that different from how Kuhn does although obviously with a different tone. The pianist brings out the beauty of such obscure songs as “Physical Chemistry,” “Hidden Knowledge,” “Somewhere,” and “Food Stamps On the Moon,” mostly keeping his improvisations fairly brief although utilizing plenty of freedom. Some of these songs could be adopted by other jazz artists if they are wise enough to explore this intriguing set.
Melodic Ornette Coleman is available from www.actmusic.com.
Veronica Swift is one of the most impressive up-and-coming jazz singers around today. She may seem to be an “overnight success” but the 25-year old recorded her first jazz album when she was nine (Richie Cole and her father the great pianist Hod O’Brien were among her “sidemen”) and she has been singing regularly ever since. While she made her second album when she was 12, 2015’s Lonely Woman was her first adult recording and Confessions is her follow-up.
Perhaps “up and coming” is a phrase that no longer fits for Ms. Swift is already there. Joined by pianist Emmet Cohen, bassist Russell Hall and drummer Kyle Poole on most of Confessions (three songs have her accompanied by pianist Benny Green’s trio), Veronica Swift displays a very attractive voice, sings every note perfectly in tune, and her phrasing always swings. While she is a superior scat-singer, she also has the maturity to dig into sophisticated ballads and mean every word she interprets.
Most of the material on Confessions is comprised of superior obscurities rather than the usual standards. Starting with an assertive and enthusiastic version of Andre Previn’s “You’re Gonna Hear From Me,” the singer uplifts such tunes as the Johnny Hodges-Dave Frishberg piece “A Little Taste,” Pete Rugolo’s “Interlude” (which is rarely performed as a vocal), a heated “Forget About The Boy,” and an atmospheric “A Stranger In Town.” Among the other highlights is her excellent original “I Hope She Makes Me Happy” (which becomes quite sarcastic and vengeful), a duet with bassist Hall on “No Not Much,” an updated version of “I’m Hip” (now Lady Gaga rather than Sammy Davis Jr. “knows my friend”), and a show-stopping “No Regrets.”
All in all, it is a very impressive outing by Veronica Swift that will be remembered as an early milestone. Confessions is available from www.mackavenue.com.
The Fine Line
Bob Sheppard has been such a valuable saxophonist and flutist in the Los Angeles area for the past 30 years that it is rather surprising that The Fine Line is only his fourth album as a leader. It has only been preceded by 1991’s Tell Tale Signs (Windham Hill Jazz), 2000’s In The Now (Sirocco), and 2009’s Close Your Eyes (Challenge). In contrast, as a sideman Sheppard is listed in Tom Lord’s jazz discography as being on over 200 sessions as a sideman since 1978.
The Fine Line features Sheppard on tenor, alto, soprano, flute and alto flute while joined by pianist John Beasley, bassist Jasper Somsen, drummer Kendrick Scott and a few guests including Maria Puga Lareo (who sings wordlessly on the title cut) and vibraphonist Simon Moullier who is on three numbers.
Sheppard contributes five post-bop originals (most memorable is the uptempo “Run Amok” and “Maria’s Tango”), and also performs Somsen’s “Above & Beyond” and four standards including a waltz version of “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” and an expressive rendition of “Thanks For The Memory” on alto. While the leader is often in the spotlight, Beasley’s contributions as a soloist and accompanist should not be overlooked and the rhythm section is pretty tight.
With its variety of tempos and moods, The Fine Line (available from www.challengerecords.com) makes for a very enjoyable listen and a good excuse to experience Bob Sheppard in a rare role as the leader. He should do this more often.
Songs From The Raggedy Road
Claudia Koval seemed to emerge out of nowhere five years ago when she began singing in Southern California area clubs, but she has an extensive musical history. Born in Edmonton, Canada, she studied classical piano for seven years and discovered jazz when she was 13. While she studied classical voice at the University of Victoria, Ms. Koval also performed during that period with a jazz trio led by pianist Richard Whitehouse and had opportunities in Edmonton to sing with many top Canadian players including altoist P.J. Perry. She moved to Los Angeles to study at the Dick Grove School of Music where she composed and arranged for different types of ensembles including a 40-piece orchestra. But after performing around the area with the Phil Sobel Big Band and pianist Joanne Grauer, she changed careers and worked in entertainment business management for years. In 2014 she finally returned to singing and the following year recorded her debut, With Heart and Soul, a set of standards dedicated to her mother.
Claudia Koval’s second CD not only features her lovely voice but her composing. She wrote or co-composed the music and lyrics for eight of the 11 songs, and arranged all but one selection. The program includes jazz pieces, ballads, a bossa-nova, one number that could be a country song (“Dealer’s Choice”), and melodic originals that are beyond simple classification.
Some of the singer’s best originals are the bossa-nova “You Never Tasted An Oyster,” a search for love that has not arrived yet (“Where Are You”), “The Well Ran Dry” which has her interacting with the muted trumpet of Andris Mattson (who plays piano elsewhere), and a heartfelt tribute to a departed friend (“Sheri Lynn”). She also contributed a pair of dramatic pieces (“On The Outskirts” and “Forever This Time”) that one could imagine being part of a play, plus “Dealer’s Choice,” and “Ode To Big Sur.” On the latter, a light breezy piece that is a remake of her final orchestral project for the Dick Grove School, she sings wordlessly like a flute. In addition, she performs Lieber and Stoller’s “Some Cats Know,” Richard Rodney Bennett’s joyful waltz “Early To Bed” (which is uplifted by Alex Budman’s flute), and an expressive version of “Lush Life.”
Assisted by pianists Mattson, Rique Pantoja or (on “Some Cats Know”) Bill Cantos, John B. Williams, Gabe Davis, Edwin Livingston or Gary Wicks on bass, Michael Shapiro, Kevin Winard or Lucas Vieira on drums, violinist Andy Leftwich and guitarist Dori Amarilio, Claudia Koval is joined throughout by sympathetic accompanists who clearly inspired her to sing with plenty of warmth. This fine set is available from www.claudiakoval.com.
Julia Zuzanna Sokolowska
Preludia Do Kawy
Julia Zuzanna Sokolowska is a composer, orchestrator and pianist who has worked with television shows (including Jay Leno’s Tonight Show and Empire) and films. In addition, she is the founder of the organization Hollywood Arrangers.
Preludia Do Kawy is a thoughtful set of her piano solos. She performs a dozen originals which have such subtitles as “Sneaky Fox,” “Homestead,” “Whispers In Vienna,” and “If I Had Only Known.” The brief performances are laidback, sometimes introspective, and usually melodic and cinematic. One could easily imagine some of these themes used as a soundtrack. While Ms. Sokolowska has excellent technique, her playing is subtle and makes excellent use of space.
Preludia Do Kawy, which is available from www.juliazuzannasokolowska.com, is the type of solo piano album whose quiet beauty is worth experiencing several times.
Love & Liberation
The promising young jazz singer Jazzmeia Horn recently released her second CD as a leader. Ms. Horn is capable of a great deal. While her originals are not overly memorable at this point, she can engage in high-powered and inventive scat-singing, caress a ballad credibly, and stretch herself beyond straight ahead jazz.
For this set, she is joined by pianist Victor Gould, bassist Ben Williams, and drummer Jamison Ross with four appearances apiece by trumpeter Josh Evans (who takes an explosive solo on the opening “Free Your Mind” that is worthy of Freddie Hubbard), tenor-saxophonist Stacy Dillard, and pianist Sullivan Fortner. Ross is in the spotlight during the spoken word duet “Only You” and singing with Horn on the love song “Reflections Of My Heart.”
While Jazzmeia Horn’s intense scat singing on such numbers as “Out The Window,” “When I Say” and “Searchin’” is impressive, it is sometimes a bit over-the-top as if she is trying to prove herself on each song. At this point she actually sounds at her most individual and effective on ballads. Her assertive singing on “No More,” “Legs and Arms” (an original that is a little reminiscent of both “Body And Soul” and “I Can’t Get Started”), and the lowdown blues “Still Tryin’”) are most memorable as is her sassy singing on “I Thought About You,” a duet with bassist Williams.
Love & Liberation, which is available from www.concordjazz.com, is a step forward for Jazzmeia Horn who has a great deal of potential.
Jazz At The Philharmonic
Live In Paris – 1958-1960
(Fremeaux & Associates)
Jazz At The Philharmonic (JATP) was founded by producer Norman Granz in 1944 to showcase some of his favorite jazz musicians in organized jam sessions. During 1944-57, JATP toured regularly in the United States, featuring such remarkable artists as Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Illinois Jacquet, Flip Phillips, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Shavers, Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald among others in exciting combinations. The emphasis gradually shifted from lengthy all-star jam sessions (which fortunately did not disappear) to minisets by Ella, Peterson and organized groups like the Modern Jazz Quartet. JATP, which was loved by fans and often hated by critics, featured integrated lineups and audiences (Granz demanded that), and resulted in a great deal of rewarding music being documented and later released on records.
With the rise of television and rock and roll, by 1957 JATP was no longer that profitable in the U.S. The American tours stopped but Granz continued presenting JATP concerts in Europe through 1960.This three-CD set of previously unreleased performances from Paris date from April 30, 1958, and Feb. 23, March 21 and Nov. 25, 1960. The first CD is very much in the JATP tradition, featuring jams on “Idaho” and “The Walker” (the latter is based on “Stompin’ At The Savoy”) plus a ballad medley by a group consisting of trumpeter Roy Eldridge, altoist Sonny Stitt, tenor-saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, pianist Lou Levy, guitarist Herb Ellis, bassist Max Bennett and drummer Gus Johnson. Hawkins and Stitt get in some hot solos but the exciting and excitable Eldridge takes honors; he never took it easy, particularly during jam sessions. The second half of the first CD teams Eldridge and Hawkins with altoist Benny Carter, Don Byas on tenor, pianist Lalo Schifrin, bassist Art Davis and drummer Jo Jones on another ballad medley, “Take The ‘A’ Train,” and “Indiana.” Despite the heavy competition, Eldridge again steals the show whenever he plays.
The second CD is different than the usual JATP show for it features two regular groups in 1960. Drummer Shelly Manne leads his quintet with trumpeter Joe Gordon, tenor-saxophonist Richie Kamuca, pianist Russ Freeman and bassist Monty Budwig on five songs in a set of cool-toned West Coast jazz, and tenor-saxophonist Stan Getz is showcased with a European rhythm section on five other numbers, playing with as much warmth and swing as usual.
The final disc features trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie in three settings. He is teamed with Getz, Lou Levy, bassist Ray Brown and Gus Johnson on two swinging numbers (“Just You, Just Me” and “Bernie’s Tune”) from 1958; Getz gets “You’re Blasé” as his feature. From 1960, Gillespie, Getz, trombonist J.J. Johnson (sounding relaxed at the rapid tempo) and a different rhythm section stretch out on “Blue ‘N Boogie.” Finally, Dizzy and his 1960 quintet with altoist Leo Wright and pianist Lalo Schifrin perform Schifrin’s five-part “Gillespiana Suite.”
All of the music is well recorded on this three-CD set (available from www.fremeaux.com) and a joy to hear. If you love swinging jazz, go out of your way to get this one.
Nat King Cole & The Quincy Jones Big Band
Live In Paris
(Fremeaux & Associates)
One of the finest jazz pianists of the 1940s and a popular jazz-oriented singer with his King Cole Trio, Nat King Cole changed in the 1950s (after having a major hit with “Mona Lisa”) into a very popular crooner who occasionally played some piano for variety in his shows. Instead of being a competitor of Teddy Wilson and Earl Hines, by the mid-1950s he was competing with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. While many of his later fans in the U.S. did not even know that he had been a major jazz pianist, in Europe his audiences preferred that he play piano. During his 1960 European tour with the Quincy Jones Big Band, at a concert in Zurich, Switzerland, he was actually booed for singing so much. After leaving the stage, Cole was convinced by Jones to go back and perform “Sweet Lorraine” with just the rhythm section, showing the audience that he was still a top pianist when he wanted to be. That strategy worked and he won back the crowd.
The previously unreleased music on Live In Paris is taken from slightly later in the tour, featuring highlights from two concerts performed on April 19, 1960. First Cole, who was in top voice, performs “Dance Ballerina Dance,” “Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup” and “The Continental” with the orchestra. Then on “It’s Only A Paper Moon,” “Sweet Lorraine” and a rollicking “Route 66,” he plays and sings with the rhythm section, taking excellent piano solos while giving his longtime guitarist John Collins some chances to stretch out. Having proven that he could still play jazz, Cole finishes the concert by singing “Welcome To The Club” and “Joe Turner’s Blues” for the satisfied audience.
Since it covers two concerts, this CD repeats all of those songs in the second show, adding three instrumentals (“Tickle Toe,” “Blues In The Night” and “Lester Leaps In”) from the Quincy Jones Big Band plus a Cole encore on “Thou Swell.”
Nat King Cole fans, whether they prefer his singing or piano playing, will enjoy this fine set which is available from www.fremeaux.com.
Hard Times, Bad Decisions
Lisa Mann is an impressive and versatile blues-based singer who I recently saw perform in Portland, Oregon. She began playing the electric bass when she was 11 and, while she initially listened to rock, by the time she began performing professionally at 19, the blues and early r&b were the foundation of her music. Hard Times, Bad Decisions, is her fifth CD as a leader.
Ms. Mann and her regular group with guitarist Jason JT Thomas, keyboardist Brian Harris, and drummer Michael Ballash, while joined by several guests on this set, are the main nucleus of the music. Thomas contributes colorful guitar solos in a few different styles and Harris (often on organ) and Ballash are also major assets.
Starting with the powerful and insightful title cut and following with the country waltz “Two Halves Of One Broken Heart” (which has guest Andy Stokes sharing the vocals) and the blues ballad “Certain Kinda Man,” the program really hits its stride with “I Go Zoom,” an exuberant and fun jump piece. Other highpoints include the spirited and witty “Doghouse” (which includes some barking), the classic lowdown blues ballad “I Don’t Hurt Anymore,” a romp on “Ain’t Nunna Yo Bizness” (a relative in content of “Tain’t Nobody’s Business”), the shouting and strutting piece “My Father’s House,” and the uptempo swinging blues with a bridge “You Need A Woman.”
Sounding both contemporary and classic, Lisa Mann and her blues group put on a great show. If they ever venture down to Southern California, be sure to catch them live. But for now, Hard Times, Bad Decisions is available from www.lisamannmusic.com.
This I Dig Of You
Four great musicians form the Jimmy Cobb Quartet on this recent release: drummer Cobb, guitarist Peter Bernstein, pianist Harold Mabern and bassist John Webber. One expects excellent music from these players and that is what one gets, but the results are surprisingly predictable.
On most of the ten selections, guitarist Bernstein takes the melody and the first solo, Mabern follows, and there is an occasional bass solo or tradeoff with Cobb before the closing melody. Nothing unusual occurs such as a stop-time chorus, a guitar/piano trade, an opening bass solo, a segment where bass and drums drop out, etc. While there are some excellent individual solos, one waits in vain for a bit of variety, wit, or something that one cannot predict in advance. In addition, most of the tempos are relaxed so the music is a bit lazy if well played.
Perhaps a musical choreographer who could have come up with some inventive frameworks should have been hired. But since that did not happen, Jimmy Cobb’s This I Dig Of You is mostly worth acquiring for the top-notch musicianship. However due to the lack of excitement and the program’s predictable nature, it should only be listened to 3 or 4 songs at a time. It is available from www.smokesessionsrecords.com.
Paul Bley/Gary Peacock/Paul Motian
When Will The Blues Leave
Back in the late 1950s/early ‘60s, pianist Paul Bley came up with a different way of playing free than Cecil Taylor. While Taylor played atonally, created dense ensembles, and sometimes sounded like a thunderstorm, Bley was more lyrical, used space, and was not opposed to improvising melodies and utilizing a steady rhythm when he felt that it fit the music. Bley’s work with trios was the next step beyond Bill Evans, creating a musical democracy in which each musician played off of each other.
Bley, who passed away in 2016, teamed up with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian (who died in 2011) for the previously unreleased March 1999 concert that comprises this ECM CD. While Motian is very subtle in his playing (generally felt more than heard), Bley and Peacock share the solo space and take turns leading the ensemble. They perform four of the pianist’s originals, one by Peacock, and their joint effort “Dialogue Amour” in addition to “I Loves You Porgy” and the Ornette Coleman title cut. The performances are generally thoughtful, spontaneous, and often melodic, taking the music in unexpected directions particularly during “Told You So” and “When Will The Blues Leave.” The episodic results are never predictable and the veteran musicians (all of whom had matured 35-40 years earlier) sound inspired by each other’s presence.
When Will The Blues Leave is well worth several close listens. It is available from www.amazon.com.
I Woke Up Needing Coffee
Buddy Love is a fine Australian singer-songwriter who is based in Melbourne. He is a subtle vocalist who is effective at getting his message across, whether on his originals or on standards from the jazz and rock worlds, and he has a likable musical personality.
For his latest release I Woke Up Needing Coffee, Buddy Love is joined by an excellent and supportive jazz combo that is most notable for featuring pianist Kosta Glouzman. The set begins with the catchy title cut which is about a happy but necessary addiction. “Stormy” is a catchy tune that one could imagine Michael Franks writing and performing; the rhythmic piano solo is an extra plus.
Love comes up with his own fresh variations on “Good Morning Heartache,” “Light My Fire” (which has some excellent flute playing from Ann Craig), Fleetwood Mac’s “Black Magic Woman” (given a joyfully funky treatment), and “Cry Me A River.” His low notes on “My Funny Valentine” recall Chet Baker (although he has a wider vocal range) and he mostly talks the lyrics on Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” which has him assisted by Alex Burns’ harmonica in the ensembles.
I Woke Up Needing Coffee, which is just one of several worthy Buddy Love albums, is available from www.amazon.com.
Kevin Hays/Chiara Izzi
Across The Sea
(Via Veneto Jazz)
Born and raised in Italy, Chiara Izzi won first prize at the 2011 Montreux Jazz Festival Vocal Competition. She recorded her debut album Motifs (Dot-Time) in 2013 and the following year moved to New York where she has kept busy ever since, working with many top artists including Leon Parker, Ken Peplowski, Aaron Goldberg, Bruce Barth, Eliot Zigmund, Warren Wolf, and Anthony Wonsey..
In recent times, the singer has often collaborated with Kevin Hays. While best known as a pianist who has been on records steadily as a leader and sideman since 1990, Hays has occasionally sung through the years, starting with Nicholas Payton’s Sonic Trance in 2003 and his own Open Range CD from 2004. In addition to many fine piano solos, Across The Sea has him joining Ms. Izzi with vocal duets on several of the numbers.
The co-leaders are joined on a wide-ranging program by bassist Rob Jost (who also plays some beautiful French horn on “Two For The Road”), drummer Greg Joseph, and such guests as Chris Potter on tenor and soprano, Gregoire Maret on harmonica, guitarist Nir Felder, percussionist Rogerio Boccato, and Omer Avital on oud (during an exotic combination of “Nardis” and “Tierna”).
Chiara Izzi has a beautiful tone and a clear voice and excels throughout a program of modern jazz, Brazilian music and pop/jazz. She is also a fine songwriter who contributed two songs and co-wrote two others. Among the highlights of the fine set are her melodic original “Circles Of The Mind,” effective vocal duets with Hays on “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face” and James Taylor’s “Secret Life,” Maret’s harmonica playing on the Pat Metheny-Kevin Hays piece “James” and “Across The Sea,” Potter’s soprano on “Viaggio Elegiaco” (co-written by Hays and Izzi), and the catchy “Verso Il Mare.”
The music on Across The Sea is modern, timeless, creative and accessible. It serves as an excellent introduction to the talented Chiara Izzi and is available from www.amazon.com.