DOUG MACDONALD AND THE L.A. ALL-STAR OCTET – “OVERTONES”
Doug MacDonald, guitar/arranger/composer; Bill Cunliffe, piano/Electric piano/Hammond B3 organ; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Roy McCurdy, drums; Paul Kreibich, shaker; Aaron Janik, trumpet; Kim Richmond, alto saxophone; Rickey Woodard, tenor saxophone; Ira Nepus, trombone.
Doug MacDonald has assembled some of L.A.’s best for this project. MacDonald has written seven out of the eight songs recorded and he’s also arranged everything. “Night by Night” is one of his originals and it swings with refreshing horn lines that skip over the medium tempo tune harmonically. When Doug takes stage center, his guitar solo is bright and boisterous. He borrowed the chord changes from “Day by Day,” but adds a refreshed melody. Doug shares plenty of the spotlight with these amazing musicians and rightfully so. Each is a master of their instrument and make the team project sound effortless. Solo by solo, players take a few minutes to introduce themselves on this opening tune. Kim Richmond’s alto saxophone swings, as does Ira Nepus on the trombone. “Bossa for PK” is a song commissioned by the California State University, Fullerton music program. It is dedicated to prolific drummer and professor, Paul Kreibich. Doug’s tune “Blues by Eight” was inspired by Miles Davis and a song called, “Blues by Five.” His guitar opens the piece and sets both tone and tempo. Drummer, Roy McCurdy shuffles along beneath the hot horn arrangements. MacDonald’s composing talents shine on this recording, as well as his tasty arrangements. Rickey Woodward’s style and technique rides over the rhythm section, smooth as silk. Speaking of Rickey, this is his fifth recording project with Doug and MacDonald composed a song especially for him. It’s titled “Rickey Speaking” and is a tribute to how Rickey Woodard answers his phone. Bill Cunliffe always brings the best out of any piano, keyboard or organ he touches. This project is no exception and he tackles all three instruments with spirit and style. I enjoyed Doug’s expressive way of slow-swinging “Lover Man” on his guitar. In the past, Doug MacDonald has worked with such notables as Buddy Rich, Ray Charles, Bill Holman, the Clayton-
Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Jack Sheldon and too many more to mention here. Overall, this is an enjoyable listen from beginning to end. “Overtones” is a solid forty-three minutes of great music interpreted by an All-star Octet and guitarist, producer, arranger and composer, Doug MacDonald. By the way, the cover is beautifully designed. Take a bow Shaina House!
EUBANKS-EVANS-EXPERIENCE – “EEE”
Kevin Eubanks, guitar; Orrin Evans, piano.
This is a duo album, and from the very first moment of listening, the peace and comfort that these two musicians bring to this recording is palatable. Clearly, both artists are adventurous and super talented. They share Philadelphia roots, but even more than being raised in the city of brotherly love, they also display their grittier side celebrating deep blues and gospel roots. Clearly, they each strive to touch humanity through the power of sound, music and the freedom of jazz.
Kevin Tyrone was born to Vera Eubanks on November 15, 1957. His family is rich with music history. His mother is a gospel organist and pianist with a Master’s Degree in music education. His mom’s brother, Ray Bryant, was a celebrated jazz pianist who worked with Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Sarah Vaughan and even John Coltrane. Mr. Ray Bryant had hit records of his own. So, young Kevin Eubanks was exposed to world-class music and entertainers throughout his youth. Kevin’s first instrument was violin at age seven. His brother, Robin, became a trombonist, arranger and tenured professor of music at Oberlin College. His other brother, Duane, became a trumpet teacher. Kevin also studied trumpet before finally finding his deep love for the guitar more satisfying. While attending Berklee College of Music Eubank’s career took off. Living in the New York area had him rubbing shoulders with the best of the best. Kevin became a respected sideman with notable jazz icons like Slide Hampton, McCoy Tyner, Sam Rivers, Roy Haynes and Ron Carter (among others). The guitarist also formed his own group and established himself as a bandleader. He was twenty-five when his first album was released on the Elektra label. Kevin’s cousins, the late bassist David Eubanks and pianist Charles Eubanks appeared on this debut recording.
Kevin Eubanks became guitarist and Musical Director for the Tonight Show band with Jay Leno for 18-years (1992 – 2010). Moving to Los Angeles, during that gig with the Tonight Show, encouraged him to score film. In November, 2010, Kevin released the CD Zen Food on Mack Avenue Records. It debuted in the Top Five on the Billboard Jazz Chart and was Kevin’s fastest selling record ever. In February, 2013 his CD The Messenger was released, garnering a 2014 NAACP Image Award nomination for “Outstanding Jazz Album.” That same year, he toured extensively as a member of Dave Holland’s ‘PRISM.’ In March 2015, the acclaimed Duets album was released, featuring Kevin paired with fellow guitarist Stanley Jordan. That album garnered rave reviews and several concert performances. Now he is releasing a new duet album that is sure to also receive critical acclaim.
Orrin Evans is a well-respected jazz pianist, composer and bandleader. He has deep roots in hard bop, post-bop, rhythm and blues and neo-soul music. Born March 28, 1975 in Trenton, New Jersey, Orrin has led an extraordinary life of musical adventures. Although born in Trenton, NJ, Orrin was raised in Philadelphia and studied with Kenny Barron while attending Rutgers University. He worked with the late, great drummer, Ralph Peterson, with Bobby Watson and Kevin Eubank’s younger brother, trumpeter Duane Eubanks. So, Orrin and Kevin go way back. As a serious individualist on the music scene, Orrin has released twenty-five albums as a bandleader or co-leader. Orrin is an educator and quite passionate about helping people through the power of music and artistry. Establishing his own label, “Imani Records,” his release of Captain Black Big Band, was GRAMMY nominated. The genres and styles Orrin plays stretch from his Philadelphia roots to embrace funk, neo-soul, acid jazz and bebop. That wide variety has stimulated creativity in his recordings. Orrin Evans has enlisted a long line of exceptional musicians to work with including Smoke Sessions Records release of his recent piano trio featuring bassist Christian McBride and drummer, Karriem Riggins titled, “The Evolution of Oneself.” This duo recording with Kevin Eubanks presents opportunity for a new evolution.
There is undeniable chemistry between these two master musicians. Both are fearless in their musical perceptions and abilities. Their repertoire reflects each one’s composer abilities. It’s a thrilling listening experience. “I Don’t Know” is buttered down and basted in the blues. They co-wrote this one and its down-home delicious. Their tune reaches back to deep roots in the people-of-color community, conjuring up ghosts of John Lee Hooker, Little Milton and Robert Johnson. Orrin Evans colors the track with his improvised piano parts, as gritty as Gene Harris or Les McCann. On the Eubanks/Evans composition, “And They Ran Out of Biscuits!” the duo delves into freedom of expression, a little heart and Soul along with a taste of avant-garde. This duo combination creates both excitement and art right before your ears. The song “Dawn Marie,” penned by Evans, is a lovely ballad. But tunes like “Variations on the Battle” stretch my imagination and tease my musical appetite. I had to play this cut three times, because their musicianship was so inspired and in-depth. The duo closes with “Variations on Adoration” and I walk away, adoring this experience and appreciating the complexity that these two musicians bring to this project. Bravo!
JOSH NELSON BOB BOWMAN COLLECTIVE
“TOMORROW IS NOT PROMISED”
Steel Bird Records
Josh Nelson, piano/composer; Bob Bowman, bass; Steve Houghton, drums; Larry Koonse, guitar; Bob Sheppard, saxophone; Clay Jenkins, trumpet.
Here is a group of musicians and close friends who have come together to create a project of beauty and depth. In 1972, Bassist Bob Bowman first met trumpeter Clay Jenkins in North Texas. Shortly after, he made the acquaintance of drummer Steve Houghton and a little later, woodwind player, Bob Sheppard. As fate would have it, they all turned up in Southern California at about the same time. In Los Angeles, Bob would meet guitarist Larry Koonse, when that young musician was still in high school. Eventually, Bowman would make the acquaintance and play with piano master, Josh Nelson. He felt an immediate connection to the pianist and they talked about recording a duo album. All these years later, this group of seasoned jazz musicians and old acquaintances wound up in Talley Sherwood’s famed studio to finally make this album.
They open with the title tune, a pensive reflection on the times we live in. Josh Nelson is the composer and penned this tune during the challenge of COVID infections worldwide. Today, the beauty and blessing of living life continues to be challenged by war and rumors of war, political disparities and cultural changes. So, as he reminds us with this music, “Tomorrow is Not Promised.”
Josh said, “The title of the album seems more relevant than ever these days. …I strived to convey a sense of uncertainty and mystery, but also a feeling of determination and resolve.”
Bob Sheppard composed Track #2 titled, “Your Night Your Music.” It swings hard. “Sometime Ago” is a beautiful waltz and the tinkling beauty of Nelson’s piano magic leaps into my listening room, with Bob Bowman’s bass setting the pace and establishing the groove. When Bowman steps into the spotlight, his solo is innovative and imaginative. Larry Koonse has contributed his composition, “Blues for Albert E” to the project. Bob Sheppard’s saxophone interpretation puts a capital B in the blues and Clay Jenkins displays his bright talent on trumpet. Bowman has written “Yae San” and plays the introduction a’ cappella on his bass. The arrangement on this tune embraces Asian influences with a beautiful melody. Larry Koonse uses his guitar to pluck the recurring melody, before offering his imaginative solo in concert with Josh Nelson’s piano conversation. The inter-action sounds like their instruments are talking warmly to each other. This is a great composition. The ensemble reinvents popular tunes like “Weaver of Dreams” where drummer Steve Houghton steps into a bright spotlight to display his talents. They arrange the familiar Miles Davis tune, “Blue in Green” in an unforgettable way. It features Josh Nelson’s piano and Bob Bowman’s expressive bass. This arrangement has got to be one of my favorites on the album. Yes. Bob and Josh should record a duo project. All in all, here is music that moves as smoothly as a well-oiled machine. You can tell that these musicians know each other very well and find comfort, inspiration and creativity blending together on this project.
HENRY FRANKLIN, ROBERT TURNER & CARL BURNETT – “3 MORE SOUNDS PLAY RAY CHARLES”
Henry Franklin, bass; Robert Turner, piano; Carl Burnett, drums.
This is my kind of trio; bluesy and swinging! These three incredibly talented musicians have chosen to celebrate the unforgettable brilliance of Ray Charles. Well, to do that you have to be able to play the blues, drenched in gospel, and also know how to swing. No problem! Each of these players are more than proficient to do just that! Opening with “Let the Good Times Roll,” this trio splashes on the scene with confidence and credibility. You have to be amazing players to reference the legendary Three Sounds, a jazz group who was originally comprised of Gene Harris, Bill Dowdy and Andy Simpkins. These three gentlemen were some of my favorite jazz musicians on the planet and man, could they swing! Franklin, Turner and Burnett wave the “swing” flag brightly and precociously. Each is a master musician in their own right. Just listen to their take on Ray’s “Unchain My Heart” or “Hit the Road Jack” smokin’ with gospel flavor, straight-ahead arrangements and solid jazz swing. When they play, “Georgia” I am captured by the dexterity and deep, blues inuendoes that Robert Turner plays on the piano. What a wonderful and uniquely talented pianist he is!
Robert Turner gained his first musical “chops” playing at the local Baptist churches in California before studying music at LA City College and Sacramento State University. You quickly hear how Turner is influenced by piano genius Gene Harris and perhaps he was also inspired by Erroll Garner. On a more contemporary note, Robert Turner has performed with the likes of Stevie Wonder and Dr. Dre. Turner spent 5 years in Japan, partly studying music at the Yamaha school of music in Nagoya and the other part of the time, “gigging.” Later he relocated to Shanghai, China and became a steady member of the band PGP, as well as working as a featured and award-winning artist with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. Turner has scored music for films such as “Contradictions of the Heart” and produced several CDs including “China Piano,” “Silent Night,” and “Blues for Gene” (referencing Gene Harris).
Henry Franklin has long been a mainstay of jazz bass in the Southern California community. At age eighteen, he was the bassist with the now historic Roy Ayres congregation.
“Roy had the Latin Jazz Quintet that included Bill Henderson (piano), sometimes Elmo Jones on piano, me and Carl Burnett (drums),” Henry recalled.
Henry has worked with Billy Higgins, Willie Bobo, and was part of the Hugh Masekela ensemble that recorded the historically famous “Grazin’ In the Grass” hit single. He recorded with Stevie Wonder on the “Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants” album and recorded with Gene Harris for Blue Note’s “Soul Symphony” release and “Live at the IT Club.” Franklin has toured with jazz nobility like Freddie Hubbard, Archie Shepp, O.C. Smith, Count Basie and Al Jarreau, just to name a few. He continues to be an in-demand bandleader and sideman.
Carl Burnett, the drummer in this 3 More Sounds group, has also experienced an illustrious career. Carl’s drums have backed artists ranging from Sarah Vaughn, Freddie Hubbard, Billy Childs, Art Pepper and Eddie Harris to Marvin Gaye and O.C. Smith. He can be heard on albums by Horace Silver, Art Pepper, the Three Sounds, Freddie Hubbard and Kenny Burrell, among others. Together, these three very impressive gentlemen offer an album beautifully produced and exquisitely played to tribute not only Ray Charles, but the unforgettable memory and music of The Three Sounds.
MARK CHRISTIAN MILLER “MUSIC IN THE AIR”
Mark Christian Miller, vocals; Jamieson Trotter, piano/arranger; Mike Gurrola, bass; Kevin Winard, drums; Larry Koonse, guitar; Danny Janklow, alto saxophone.
Mark Christian Miller, an L.A. based vocalist, let’s his voice float, dip and swing his way through Track #1, “If You Never Fall in Love with Me.” He tackles the challenging intervals with a nonchalance that makes them sound simple. Mark and pianist Jamieson Trotter have created a scat passage, where Miller sings along, in unison with the instrumentation. The excellent alto saxophone solo of Danny Janklow spices up the arrangement.
“Lullaby of the Leaves” is another beautiful song that’s both rangy and melodically challenging. Mark Christian Miller has no problem hitting the notes with precision. His tone is clear, clean and accurate as he glides over the cool changes of Jamieson Trotter’s arrangements. The arrangement of “I Wished on the Moon” features the inspired bass work of Mike Gurrola and Larry Koonse is brightly featured with a swinging guitar solo. Mark joins in, scat-singing along with the guitar and then breaking off into spoken word, reciting a 1956 poem written by Pablo Neruda called “Ode to a Beautiful Nude.” Clearly, Mark Christian Miller delves into the stories that lyrics unravel. He knows how to sell his songs. Mark’s honest, heart-felt emotions reach, like invisible fingertips, to touch us with his sincerity. This repertoire, along with his impressive quintet, entertain us artistically. Speaking of art, Mark has painted his own CD jacket cover. It’s a soft, summer scene of pastel colors, leaves and flower petals. Mark sings “If You Could See Me Now” choosing a lilting Latin rhythm that’s propelled by Kevin Winard’s masterful drumming. This album moves like a sweet, summer breeze caressing our ears with the freedom and creativity that good jazz always promises.
THE JIM SELF/JOHN CHIODINI DUO – “HANGIN’ OUT”
Bassett Hound Music
Jim Self, F tuba/Fluba/CC tuba; John Chiodini, electric & acoustic guitars; GUEST SOLOISTS: David Angel, baritone saxophone; Tom Peterson, tenor saxophone; Scott Whitfield, trombone; Ron Stout, trumpet/ flugelhorn.
Jim Self and John Chiodini have been hanging out and jamming together on Friday mornings for several years. Thus, the inspired title of this album is simply, “Hangin’ Out.” They met while rehearsing with the David Angel Jazz Ensemble and became close friends. It’s not often that you hear the tuba as a featured jazz instrument. Jim Self aims to change that conception. Even more exceptional is hearing a tuba partner with a guitar to create a duo project. Self and Chiodini pair well with each other and on the original Chiodini composition and title song, they swing effortlessly. Chiodini composed this song especially for Jim Self’s F tuba. A flamingo guitar style introduces us to the classic Chick Corea composition “Spain.” Jim gets to play his big, bad Fluba on this spirited arrangement. Impressively, these two need no drummer, thanks to the steady time and mastery of John Chiodini on his guitar. His rhythm guitar is just beautiful as a backdrop of Jim playing the melody on his Fluba. Jim Self returns the rhythm favor, using his Fluba like a bass-line to hold the time in perfect place during John’s guitar solo. They throw in a jazz waltz written by and featuring trombonist Scott Whitfield on Track #3 titled “Lydian Afternoon.” When they return to a duet arrangement on “Dindi,” I enjoy their warm, musical camaraderie and the duo shines! They surprise me with their interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” song.
Jim Self explains, “This is a popular funk song that was fun to play on my Fluba. I get a little ‘disco’ groove going under the guitar solo.”
“It’s always fun to play funky stuff. This is a blend of New Orleans-street music, R&B and a funky samba. … we get to play that great pentatonic line together. Love the energy,” John Chiodini expresses himself.
They add Tom Peterson as a guest on tenor saxophone, featuring Tom’s original composition “Another Thing.” It’s a song based on the changes to the “All the Things You Are” and it swings. I believe you will enjoy hearing the tuba elevated squarely into the spotlight and the extraordinary union of guitar and tuba as a duet project. It’s both fresh and entertaining. These two gentlemen have a notable chemistry together. Check them out ‘Live’ below on the “Conical Supremacy Podcast” hosted by John Noreyko and Doug Tournqist.
Matt Clark, piano/Fender Rhodes; Roger Glenn, vibes; Russ Howe, guitar/composer/arranger; Erik Jekabson, trumpet/flugelhorn/arranger/composer; Henry Franklin, bass/composer; Gregory Howe, percussion/composer; Mike Hughes, drums; Mads Tolling & Anthony Blea, violins; Charith Premawardhana, viola; Ben Davis, Cello.
On their recent release, the Daggerboard group is featuring the big, bad bass of Henry Franklin. As usual, they have a tight, cohesive sound as an ensemble. However, on this project they have added the beauty of strings, that give these arrangements a peaceful, lovely ambience. When people speak the name Henry Franklin, or ‘The Skipper’ (as he is lovingly referred to) you might see those people smiling. There is a certain respect and reverence attached to this historic bassist. He has played with such a long list of luminaries; it would take the whole page to list their names. ‘The Skipper’ has a gold record for his “Grazin’ in the Grass” hit record recorded with the late, great Hugh Masekela. He was part of the Roy Ayers ensemble when they were all fledgling musicians. Based in Southern California, you may have seen him working the jazz scene in a number of places. Most recently he has recorded with and toured with drummer Carl Burnett and pianist, Robert Turner under the banner of “3 More Sounds.”
Franklin (The Skipper) opens the first tune of this album, “The Dream Within a Dream” with a funky bass line that sets the mood and tempo. The strings hoover, like a circling bird, and then the guitar of Ross Howe takes over. It sounds like the soundtrack to a Western film. The drums shuffle like horse hooves and the trumpet of Erik Jekabson soars above the groove. It’s a compelling composition. Track #2, “Agapanthus” (is the name of a lavender ‘Lily of the Nile’ plant) and becomes a springboard for trumpeter Erik Jekabson to explore. He has a smooth, relaxed approach to his solo exploration. On Track #3 titled “Involuntary Separation” the arrangement reminds me of the Miles Davis ‘Sketches in Spain’ album. It’s not the tone of Jekabson’s horn, but the ‘vibe’ of the production that recalls the Davis history-breaking album. The featured artist, Henry Franklin, has contributed one original composition for this project called “Henry’s Garden.” He opens the piece on double bass and it’s a heartfelt solo that grabs the attention immediately. Oaxaca is a city in Mexico, and Daggerboard’s “Oaxacan Standoff” tune is very Spanish-influenced; a composition that features guitarist Russ Howe and the spectacular drums of Gregory Howe and Mike Hughes. Gregory Howe has written seven of the nine songs on this album in collaboration with Erik Jekabson. The strings are given a bright spotlight on a tune called “Video Culture.” Mads Tolling and Anthony Blea on violin, along with Charith Premawardhana on viola and Ben Davis on Cello whisk me away to imaginative places, where fiddles gather around a campfire in the wild, wild West and people dance into the fire-lit night. This is a lovely listen.
The Lost Album From Ronnie Scott’s
This three-CD set, the latest release produced by Zev Feldman (along with David Weiss), features a short-lived version of the Charles Mingus Sextet, a group that only lasted during part of a European tour in 1972. The music is very well recorded and often quite fascinating if a bit long-winded at times.
In 1972, Mingus was making a successful comeback after a few years off the scene. He is joined by the 19-year old trumpeter Jon Faddis (who had made a strong impression when filling in for an ailing Roy Eldridge at a Mingus all-star concert a few months earlier), altoist Charles McPherson (a veteran of the bassist’s groups off and on since 1960), tenor-saxophonist Bobby Jones (also heard on clarinet and soprano), the brilliant if largely forgotten pianist John Foster, and drummer Roy Brooks. Other than some briefer bootleg recordings from the tour, this sextet had previously gone completely undocumented and seemed lost to history.
Faddis certainly adds a lot of fire to the band although he tended to utilize his upper register a bit excessively at times and solos too long on “Orange Was The Color Of Her Dress, Then Silk Blues.” Jones, who was best known as a tenor-saxophonist, is particularly effective on soprano and clarinet, playing quite free in some of his dialogues with Mingus and Brooks. McPherson often acts a bit like a straight man in this group (“the adult in the room”), staying grounded to his bebop roots even when the music is at its wildest. While Brooks may not have had the instant communication with the bassist that Dannie Richmond had, he was more technically skilled, fit into the group quite well, and also contributes an effective solo on the musical saw. As for the bassist-leader, Charles Mingus sounds inspired by the group and is heard very much in his prime.
Most intriguing among the players is pianist John Foster who worked with Charles Mingus during 1971-72, settled in Europe, and died young in 1976. He was the perfect transitional pianist for Mingus between Jaki Byard and Don Pullen, having the musical versatility and wit of Byard and (like Pullen) the ability to make his occasional atonal rumblings sound accessible due to playing accessible and exciting rhythms. Foster is often the solo star during these performances and everything he plays here is colorful and unpredictable, ranging from swing/bop to wild ramblings.
The performances on The Lost Album are mostly quite lengthy with five selections (“Orange Was The Color Of Her Dress, Then Silk Blues,” “Noddin’ Ya Head Blues” which has Foster taking a humorous blues vocal, “I. Mind Readers’ Convention In Milano,” a superb “Fables Of Faubus,” and “The Man Who Never Sleeps” clocking in between 18:33-35.00. Other than a couple of brief themes used to close sets, there is also a version of “Pops” (“When The Saints Go Marching In”) that starts out overly loose but ends up with a few hilarious and over-the-top ensembles.
If you love Charles Mingus’ music, this release (which includes a 64-page booklet highlighted by a fascinating interview with Mingus and McPherson by Brian Priestley) is essential. It is available from www.resonancerecords.org and www.amazon.com.
Dave Wilson Quartet
(Dave Wilson Music)
Tenor and soprano saxophonist Dave Wilson pays tribute to John Coltrane on the majority of the selections on this live CD. A follow-up to his previous One Night At Chris,’ Stretching Supreme was also recorded at Chris’ Jazz Café in Philadelphia.
The Coltrane selections are from Oct. 19, 2017 and team Wilson on tenor with pianist Kirk Reese, bassist Tony Marino, and drummer Alex Ritz. The quartet performs fresh and personal renditions of the first two movements from John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme (“Acknowledgement” and “Resolution”) and a pair of ‘Trane’s best ballads: “Dear Lord” and “Naima.” To Wilson’s credit, while Coltrane is an influence, he does not attempt to sound like him and instead digs into the material and comes up with personal statements while retaining the essence of the originals. The rhythm section is quite complementary with Reese consistently coming up with inventive solos and Marino (whose bowed bass is very effective on “Dear Lord”) and Ritz being attentive and quietly creative in support.
The other two selections, Wilson’s “On The Prairie” (which has the leader switching to soprano) and “Days Of Wine And Roses,” are from Mar. 29, 2018 with the same group except that Dan Monaghan is on drums. “Days Of Wine And Roses” is modernized while “On The Prairie” is episodic and covers a wide variety of moods, being quite free in spots yet containing a ballad section.
With the exception of “Resolution” at 9:22, all of the performances are between 11-15 minutes long yet they never lose one’s interest or run short of passion. The selections, while most highly recommended to those who love John Coltrane’s music, should interest anyone who wonders how to create a tribute without merely copying the past. Stretching Supreme serves as an excellent introduction to the fine playing of Dave Wilson and is available from www.davewilsonmusic.org.
Roberto Magris is a veteran pianist from Italy who has recorded a long string of rewarding albums for the J Mood label (www.jmoodrecords.com). Alfredo Chacon, who is heard on this quartet album on vibes and congas, is a Cuban based in Miami and an up-and-coming voice in Latin jazz. During Match Point, Magris and Chacon are joined by the supportive bassist Dion Kerr and drummer Rodolfo Zuniga (from Costa Rica) for a set of music that sometimes recalls the occasional collaborations between McCoy Tyner and Bobby Hutcherson.
Match Point begins with “Yours Is The Light,” a modal piece made famous by Santana that sounds like something McCoy Tyner might have performed. It is followed by an actual Tyner piece, “Yours Is The Light,” that begins as a ballad before becoming a heated medium-tempo romp. That 15-minute performance is highlighted by an outstanding and very fluent Magris solo although the Chacon improvisation that follows is on the same level.
In addition, the quartet interprets four Magris originals (the swinging “The Insider,” the Latin-flavored “Samba For Jade,” a straight ahead “The Magic Blues,“ and the title cut), and Randy Weston’s lively “Caban Baboo Highlife.” Magris takes Thelonious Monk’s “Reflections” as a piano solo, one with some unpredictable outbursts that make the tune sound fresh and unpredictable.
Match Point is one of Roberto Magris’ strongest releases to date and is highly recommended to straight ahead jazz fans.
The Caribbean Canvas
Yuko Mabuchi is an impressive pianist with strong classical technique who shows admirable self-restraint throughout the melodic and often-soothing music of The Caribbean Canvas. Born and raised in Japan, she started playing classical music when she was four. In high school she turned towards the improvising and self-expression of jazz, soon putting together a trio. The pianist moved to Los Angeles in 2010 and, after spending 2013-16 back in Japan, has lived in the Los Angeles area since then, performing jazz and making several of her own recordings.
With a core rhythm section of guitarist Troy Dexter, bassist Del Atkins, drummer Bobby Breton, and percussionist Munyungo Jackson (a strong asset throughout) plus occasional background singers, Yuko Mabuchi performs five of her originals (one co-written with Billy Mitchell), a couple of complementary songs, and one standard.
The music covers a variety of grooves and will appeal to those who like the easy-listening side of jazz, Caribbean-inspired rhythms, and strong piano playing. “Caribbean Canvas” is an excellent opener for it is a bit episodic, blending together various aspects of Caribbean music. “Land Of The Sun” musically depicts a journey to the New World and the struggle to overcome slavery. Despite that heavy topic, the music is joyfully rhythmic, includes a haunting background vocal, and has a triumphant feeling by its conclusion. “Orville’s Way,” which is about the search for a better life, features guest steel pan player Russ Henry. The happily funky “A Spanish Moment” shows the influence of Spain and Africa in the music of the Caribbean.
“After The Storm” is peaceful, picturesque and a bit cinematic. “Magic Island” (a tribute to St. Croix) utilizes singers in a laidback number that picks up steam during the piano solo. John Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice,” a change of pace, fits in with the set’s theme by keeping the melody and rhythms nearby. The Caribbean Canvas closes with a straightforward and soulful version of the African-American spiritual “Oh, Freedom.” The Caribbean Canvas (available from www.yukomabuchi.com and www.amazon.com) is an excellent showcase for the inventive and melodic playing of Yuko Mabuchi.
Charles Tolliver’s Music Inc.
Live In Tokyo
He was one of the top trumpeters of the 1970s and, with pianist Stanley Cowell, was the co-founder of the beloved Strata East label. Charles Tolliver was able to take blazing solos that competed well with Freddie Hubbard yet could also play with great warmth while being harmonically advanced.
Live In Tokyo is an Lp reissue from the Pure Pleasure label (www.purepleasurerecords.com) of a Dec. 7, 1973 quartet date featuring Tolliver, Cowell, bassist Clint Houston, and drummer Clifford Barbaro. While the music was reissued back in 2005 on a limited-edition Mosaic Select release, it has been scarce ever since.
The opener, “Drought,” begins with Tolliver’s unaccompanied trumpet setting a dramatic mood. The piece becomes an uptempo cooker that contains fiery solos from Tolliver and a fluent yet relaxed Cowell. The medium-tempo “Stretch” is a feature for Houston’s rapid double time ideas on bass with the trumpeter also having his say. Tolliver’s “Truth” is his ballad feature while “Effi” is a jazz waltz. The Lp concludes with an unusual version of “’Round Midnight,” a real showcase for the trumpeter who is featured at several different tempos including a section that is taken quite fast before the performance returns to its usual ballad pace.
It is very good to have this exciting music back again. Charles Tolliver had a lower profile in the 1980s and ‘90s but made a comeback in more recent times. Live In Tokyo shows just how brilliant a trumpeter he was during his early prime years.
Pianist-arranger-composer Oscar Hernandez has worked with the who’s who of Afro-Cuban jazz and salsa in his career including six years with Ray Barretto. While he is probably best-known as the leader of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra (a unit that emphasizes salsa) for the past two decades, I enjoy him best when he is playing jazz, particularly with his group Alma Libre.
Alma Libre could accurately be called the Los Angeles Afro-Cuban All-Stars. Visión is their third release following The Art Of Latin Jazz and Love The Moment. While the personnel has changed a bit on each recording, the core of Hernandez, Justo Almario on tenor and flute, and drummer Jimmy Branly has been a constant. Visión also features bassist Oskar Cartaya and percussionist Christian Moraga in the core group with guest spots for the excellent trumpeter Aaron Janik on five of the ten selections, three appearances by percussionist Luisito Quintero, and one from vibraphonist Joe Locke.
Oscar Hernandez wrote all ten compositions and they cover a wide range of Latin jazz, from the traditional sounding “Dona Provi” and the exuberant “Visión” to the Chick Corea tribute “Chick Forever.” Hernandez and Almario (particularly on flute) take many rewarding solos, the rhythms are infectious, and Janik is a strong asset whenever he appears.
Anyone who enjoys Latin jazz will want Visión, which is available from www.ovation-records.com.
Long one of the top male jazz singers on the scene, Giacomo Gates usually stretches out with bop-oriented improvising. You is a bit different in three ways. All 18 standards have the word “You” (with one “You’ve” and one “You’re”) in their song titles. The selections are arranged in an order that allows them to depict the rise and fall of a love affair. And these performances are quite concise, with only six songs exceeding three minutes in length and just two a little longer than four.
Accompanied by his regular trio (pianist Tim Ray, bassist John Lockwood, and drummer James Lattini), Gates discovers love (“Exactly Like You,” and “I Didn’t Know About You”), enjoys the feeling (“The Nearness Of You” and a witty “It Had To Be You”), sees the relationship fall apart (“Are You Having Any Fun” and “You’re Blasé”), and experiences its breakup (“Everything But You,” “You’ve Changed,” and “You Never Miss The Water ‘Till The Well Runs Dry”). In a few cases he adds a spoken introduction that comments on the situation but generally the original lyrics tell the story.
While some of the selections could have been a bit longer, the songs hold together quite well; as it says on the back cover of the CD, “like the chapters in a book.” The rhythm section is perfectly complementary and swinging in a supportive role, Gates’ voice is heard at its prime, and the music works well when experienced in its entirety. You is easily recommended and available from www.jazzdepot.com.
Inspired by Miles Okazaki’s recordings of all of Thelonious Monk’s compositions on his solo guitar project, Samo Salamon decided to give Eric Dolphy the same treatment. Dolphy was a very original stylist on alto sax, bass clarinet, and flute but he had a pretty brief career. Although he was active in the 1950s and had a stint with the Chico Hamilton Quintet, his prime period only lasted a little longer than four years (1960-64) and he was much better known as a soloist than as a composer.
Samo Salamon is a consistently adventurous and versatile guitarist originally from Slovenia. He has released over 30 albums as a leader for a variety of labels and in different settings. Despite all of that productivity, his double-CD Dolphyology is a unique project that is different than any of his previous recordings.
Playing either six-string or 12-string acoustic guitar (one song has him on mandoline), Salamon explores all 27 Eric Dolphy compositions, performing “Inner Flight” twice. Most of the music is concise (19 of the performances are under four minutes in length) and taken at relaxed tempos although there are occasional exceptions. While one can easily recall Dolphy’s recording of some of these songs, the focus here is on his compositions rather than his innovative improvising style. Salamon plays the
music in his own distinctive voice, does justice to the themes, and makes each chorus count.
The fact that most of the songs still sound futuristic 60 years later is a testament to how far ahead of his time Eric Dolphy was during his main period. And the fact that Samo Salamon’s playing holds one’s interest throughout and contains its share of subtle surprises is a testament to the guitarist’s creativity and love of Dolphy’s music. The always intriguing Dolphyology is available from www.samosalamon.com.
An excellent jazz pianist from Turkey who moved to New York City in 2017, Burak Bedikyan’s Introspection is his sixth set as a leader for Steeplechase and first solo piano recording. At the time (July-Aug. 2020), he was suffering a bit from an identity crisis, feeling that his immersion in playing piano was fruitless due to the COVID pandemic. Bedikyan actually sold his piano and had not played for months when he received a request from the Akbank Jazz Festival to compose a piece for their 2021 event. After doing that, he recorded himself performing some free improvisations just for the fun of it.
Introspection is the result. Despite its title, this solo piano outing is not comprised exclusively of ballads. While “Warm At Heart,” “Call For Peace,” and “Simply For You” are quite laidback, the rollicking “See It For Yourself” is among several pieces that generate some heat. The set of 11 improvs, each of which were created on the spot, contain a variety of moods. The music is not atonal and is actually quite melodic. In some ways it resembles Keith Jarrett’s solo concerts (the later ones where he created shorter pieces) although Bedikyan has his own style within the modern mainstream of jazz.
Many of the selections sound like pre-planned compositions rather than spontaneous creativity, showing that the pianist thinks like a composer when he is improvising. The music is enjoyable to hear and hopefully will result in Burak Bedikyan having a renewed interest in playing. Introspection is easily recommended and available from www.steeplechase.dk and www.amazon.com.
Love For Connoisseurs
(Gut String Records)
Canadian jazz singer Angela Verbrugge made a strong impression last year with her debut recording, The Night We Couldn’t Say Good Night. She performed nine standards and four of her originals, sounding very much like a high-quality singer of the 1930s/40s.
Love For Connoisseurs is a strong step forward for, in addition to her very appealing voice, Ms. Verbrugge wrote all of the lyrics to the dozen songs, in three cases also composing the music. Other than her own works, the songs were formerly
instrumentals by musicians Ray Gallon, Neal Miner, Ken Fowser, Saul Berson, Nick Hempton and Miles Black. Some of the melody lines are a bit tricky since they were originally written for horn players and pianists (one cannot imagine many vocalists thinking of tackling “Enough’s Enough”), but Angela Verbrugge has a wide range, a lovely tone, and swings easily at all tempos.
Joined by tenor-saxophonist Dave Say, pianist Miles Black, bassist Joel Proznick, and drummer Joel Fountain (all of whom get solo space along the way), Angela Verbrugge puts on an impressive performance. Her lyrics are witty and sometimes philosophical, ranging in topics from “This Is Manhattan,” “Not Here, Not Now” and “Quarantine,” to “Twentieth Century Fox.” The latter is not about the movie company but about dealing with a behind-the-times mate.
Rather than sounding like she is a forgotten hero of the swing era, on Love For Connoisseurs Angela Verbrugge (who has a lovely voice) is closer to a bop singer in the vein of Annie Ross although still sounding very much like herself. The minor blues “Mr. Right” and “Maybe Now’s The Time” feature some fine scat singing while her “Corn On The Cob” is particularly memorable and could catch on if heard by enough of her fellow singers.
Love For Connoisseurs, which is available from www.angelaverbrugge.com, is a delight.
While one can worry about the future of jazz as far as the size of its audience goes (although I suspect that many more people listen to creative improvised music than the statistics show), there is no reason to fret about the music retaining its high quality. There are a countless number of younger musicians who are constantly invigorating jazz with their own inventive ideas. The future of the music actually looks quite bright.
Proof is offered by 30-year old tenor-saxophonist Nicole Glover who makes her recording debut as a leader on Strange Lands. She performs in a trio with bassist Daniel Due and drummer Nic Cacioppo (both of whom she has frequently played with during the past dozen years) plus guest pianist George Cables on four of the nine selections. Along with the originals, she performs three standards.
Glover has a powerful and personal sound that ranges from being relatively mellow to a bit intense. She begins the set with her minor-toned blues “Strange Lands” and her blues waltz “Hive Queen,” displaying plenty of passion. “The Twilight Zone” and particularly an affectionate “Dindi” are more laidback before the tenor nearly blows the roof off during “Parks.” “The Switch” is a little reminiscent of Thelonious Monk while, after a complex melody, “Notturno” returns for a stretch to an exploration of a minor blues. The program concludes with a warm rendition of “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing” and a relatively straightforward “I Concentrate On You.”
Nicole Glover shows an impressive amount of variety throughout the set, exploring several different moods. Duke and Cacioppo follow her ideas while contributing some important input of their own. Cables fits in well whenever he appears,
making the ensembles fuller and taking a few short solos. Strange Lands (available from www.jazzdepot.com) is a fine debut from Nicole Glover, a saxophonist who is clearly capable of making strong contributions to the music for many years to come.
Fred Tompkins & Greg Mills
Fred Tompkins is a masterful flute player based in St. Louis. He worked early on with Elvin Jones, developed into a significant composer of third-stream works (including writing music for the poetry of Emily Dickinson, E.E. Cummings and others), and has led at least ten albums of his own.
During the past six years, Tompkins has often performed free improvisations with pianist Greg Mills who enjoys playing avant-garde music and has recorded prolifically as a leader. Generally the two musicians briefly discuss what the upcoming piece might be like (completely free form, melodic, quiet or more intense) and then simply create music. Their familiarity with each other’s playing is a large factor in the improvisations of Curving Away being successful.
Most of the 17 pieces on this CD are concise (only three exceed four minutes) and they range from atonal excursions to being meditative and peaceful. Five of the numbers were recorded outside with Mills switching to melodica. Tompkins, who sometimes makes birdlike sounds on flute, is in the lead much of the time on this set and has “Harmony” as an unaccompanied feature for his bass flute but Mills gets two pieces (“Etude” and “Ballad”) as moody solo showcases.
The thought-provoking music effectively serves as background for one’s thoughts while also rewarding close listenings. It rests in the juncture where modern classical music, jazz, composition, and spontaneous improvisation all meet. Curving Away is available from www.tompkinsjazz.com.
Amber Light (Luz Ambar)
Corina Bartra is a jazz singer and arranger-composer who splits her time between New York and her native Peru. She was one of the very first to blend together jazz improvisation with Afro-Peruvian rhythms and her native folk music.
On Amber Light, Ms. Bartra casts a wide net. The music ranges from five of her diverse originals to Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Wave,” an unusual version of “Send In The Clowns,” Afro-Cuban jazz, World Music, and the influence of Peruvian music. The complex yet infectious rhythms are infectious throughout while not being predictable; they change from song to song. The guitar playing of Wesley Amorim, Pedro Perico Diaz’s cajon, and Dave Morgan’s spots on tenor are all strong assets and there is a guest appearance by George Garzone on alto.
Corina Bartra, who supplied the arrangements and mostly sings in Spanish, shows a great deal of versatility, a wide range, and plenty of feeling throughout her distinctive and memorable vocals. No matter the rhythm or the style of the music, she always displays the influence and chance taking of jazz in her singing.
While I wish that a translation of the lyrics were included as liner notes, Amber Light is a unique and invigorating set of music, available from www.bluespiralrecords.com.
(Tertiary Stream Music)
A young pianist from Houston who made his recording debut with the EP Jubilate Deo, Tomás Jonsson is featured on the double-CD First Impressions, his first full-length release.
While the first disc has a few numbers in which Jonsson added quiet background synths, bass, percussion and strings, all played by himself), the second CD is exclusively his solo piano. The focus throughout the 18 selections is on Jonsson’s piano and his melodic explorations of his originals. The program includes many pretty and heartfelt themes including the memorable “Valsa de Saudade” (which has a melody that hints at “It’s Been A Long Long Time”) and some material on which he displays his strong classical technique. While the pianist certainly knows how to caress melodies, a rare trait for a jazz musician in his early twenties, Jonsson also plays a few gospel-oriented themes, the medium-tempo blues “D Midnight Blues” (which changes tempo and grooves a few times), a straightforward “Bossa Melancolica,” and his Erroll Garner tribute “Air Of Garner.”
The music on First Impressions is mostly relaxed and laidback with a few exceptions, all of it infused by Tomás Jonsson’s subtle creativity. Hopefully next time he will include some uptempo pieces for added variety. His future progress and musical evolution will be well worth watching. First Impressions is available from www.musicbytomas.com.