The Midnight People
(Universal Music Group)
Nearly all jazz musicians have a framework that they follow when they play onstage. While their solos are generally improvised, they have a guideline that serves as the basis of the performance, whether utilizing a set of chord changes, playing off a certain rhythm, or building from a preplanned emotion.
When one listens to altoist Justin Chart on The Midnight People and his prior recordings, it sounds very much like he and his group have rehearsed his set of originals several times. They react quickly to each other, the compositions are melodic and tonal, and the music progresses in a logical fashion. One would never think that everything was being created on the spot.
It is one thing for Keith Jarrett to improvise solo piano concerts, or for avant-gardists to perform free improvisations that are often dissonant and emphasize emotion over melodies. But it is quite another for Justin Chart and his group to be making up melodies, grooves, and frameworks while they are playing before a live audience. Chart simply picks a key and a tempo and off they go, creating new music that not only sounds coherent but quite exhilarating.
A virtuosic alto-saxophonist with a passionate sound and creative spirit of his own, altoist Justin Chart is a true original who seems incapable of playing an uninspired note. For his latest release, The Midnight People, the altoist is joined by trumpeter Mike Rocha, Stuart Elster on keyboards, bassist Bill Markus, and drummer Danny Beallo. These are all skilled musicians who follow Chart’s example of making spontaneous music that sounds as if it were a set of standards, not an easy feat to say the least.
The opener, “A Blaze Of Well Being,” is a swinger with Chart taking a blazing solo and Beallo contributing some colorful drum breaks. “Welcome To the Midst” has the group jamming over a funky rhythm while “A Rose Tinted Realm” is a straight ahead romp; both feature particularly powerful alto and trumpet solos. “Lettin’ Go” is a change of pace, a vehicle for the leader’s wild scat singing.
On “The Tale Was Told” (which includes some excellent bowed bass from Markus) and “She Absorbed Him,” Chart’s group shows that they excel on jazz waltzes. “Lickity Split” has the altoist playing a fast pattern that serves as the basis of the piece. “One Pure Star,” which has another memorable bowed bass solo, is a modal swinger while “With The Bunch” is a funky one-chord exploration with a trumpet solo from Rocha that will remind some of Freddie Hubbard. The closer, “The Midnight People,” features Chart swinging away with a different rhythm section comprised of pianist Charlie Ferguson, bassist Andrew Hill, and drummer Abel Bolano.
In addition to being a remarkable set of music due to the way it was created, The Midnight People (which is only available digitally), with its passionate solos, mood variations, melodic themes, and often-irresistible grooves, makes for a very enjoyable listening experience. It is available from www.justinchartjazz.com.
Horace Tapscott Quintet
Legacies For Our Grandchildren
Pianist, composer and bandleader Horace Tapscott (1934-99) was a jazz giant who, due to his decision to spend most of his career based in Southern California, never received the recognition that he deserved. He could have become much more famous moving to New York, but he preferred to stay in the L.A. area where he worked in the local music community and groomed young talents. During his lifetime, he was beloved but made fewer recordings than one would hope, particularly by his classic trio with bassist Roberto Miranda and drummer Fritz Wise.
Fortunately during the past decade, several “new” Tapscott recordings have been discovered and released, particularly by the Dark Tree label. Legacies For Our Grandchildren, which was recorded at Catalina Bar & Grill on Dec. 19-20, 1995 (co-produced by Don Snowden, David Keller and Tapscott), documents the pianist’s working quintet of the time. In addition to Tapscott, Miranda and Wise, the group features Michael Sessions on alto, tenor and soprano, trombonist Thurman Green, and (on three of the six selections) singer Dwight Trible. Sessions, who could be quite adventurous in his solos, provided an excellent contrast to the more bop-based Green; they were very good for each other.
This CD begins with “Ballad For Deadwood Dick” which has an extensive alto solo from Sessions, some down-to-earth playing by Green, and a fine statement from Tapscott. “Motherless Child” has effective singing by Trible, a solid example of Tapscott’s highly original playing, a solo from Green that could have been created by J.J. Johnson or Curtis Fuller, and a bowed statement by Miranda.” Breakfast At Bongo’s,” the lengthiest piece at 17 minutes, is classic forward-looking hard bop with each of the five musicians getting moments in the spotlight; it builds and builds in momentum and intensity as it progresses. Dwight Trible also sings on the joyful “Close To Freedom” (which has Tapscott sounding surprisingly close to Thelonious Monk at times) and “Little Africa” while “The Theme” is a wild uptempo romp for the trio.
In addition to his solos, one of the joys of this set is getting to hear Horace Tapscott accompanying other soloists, adding just the right notes and punctuations to uplift the music. The result is one of his finest all-round recordings, a highly recommended set available from www.darktree-records.com.
Ella At The Hollywood Bowl: The Irving Berlin Songbook
During 1956-64, Ella Fitzgerald recorded her famous songbook albums, entire sets of the music of Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, and Johnny Mercer. With the exception of the Ellington set which was split between an all-star jazz group and Duke’s orchestra, the songbooks feature Ella singing fairly straight (although generally swinging) with large orchestras. While the Songbooks are perfect for young singers to use to learn how to sing the great standards, they were rarely as jazz-oriented and freewheeling as Ella’s most exciting sessions.
This previously unreleased live CD features Ella at a Hollywood Bowl concert in Aug. 1958 singing some of the songs that were on The Irving Berlin Songbook project that she had recorded the previous March. She is joined by the same arranger and conductor from those sessions, Paul Weston, and accompanied by a large but unidentified orchestra that is probably comprised of top West Coast jazz studio musicians. The arrangements are tight and concise with the obscure “Get Thee Behind Me Satan” being the longest performance at 4:00 and seven of the 15 selections clocking in under three minutes apiece.
Ella at 39 was in her prime period and her voice sounds wonderful, whether swinging on “Cheek To Cheek,” “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” and “Let Yourself Go,” or showing that she was a superior ballad singer on “Russian Lullaby,” the first chorus of “Always,” and a heartfelt “Suppertime.” These versions are a little looser than on the studio recordings, but one wishes that Ella could have had the chance to drop the arrangements for a few songs and really cut loose as on the closer, a very spirited “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”
This CD is the first released recording of Ella exclusively singing the works of one composer live in concert. The first half of the concert (which has yet to be released) found her singing songs from the Cole Porter Songbook and in 1959 she performed a Gershwin concert with Nelson Riddle. Hopefully those recordings will be released in the near future, for the more Ella the better! While it is not essential, Ella At The Hollywood Bowl is still quite fun. It is available from www.amazon.com.
During the past few years, Pasquale Grasso has emerged as one of the top guitarists in jazz even though he is not yet a poll winner. Born in Italy and based in New York since 2012, Grasso is in his early thirties. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Grasso’s musical role models are Bud Powell, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. He has gained recognition for his digital recordings as an unaccompanied guitarist and for his work with up-and-coming singer Samara Joy.
Be-Bop, which is fortunately available as a CD, showcases the guitarist in a trio with bassist Ari Roland and drummer Keith Balla. Grasso’s fluent playing and mastery of the bebop vocabulary are a joy to hear. He swings such classics as “A Night In Tunisia,” “Shaw Nuff,” “Ornithology,” “Quasimodo” (Charlie Parker’s line on “Embraceable You”), and “Groovin’ High,” performs an original that is in the bop tradition, and welcomes guest singer Samara Joy for the boppish “I’m In A Mess.”
Suffice it to say that listeners who love bebop guitar will find much to enjoy on this swinging release and in Pasquale Grasso’s playing. Be-Bop! is available from www.amazon.com.
Jordan Seigel has had two overlapping careers as a jazz pianist and an arranger-composer for film and television. On Beyond Images, he combines together his two musical loves.
Back in 1967 tenor-saxophonist Eddie Harris recorded an original titled “A Theme In Search Of A Movie.” Beyond Images could be called “A Soundtrack In Search Of A Film.” Jordan Seigel performs nine originals, each of which he cites as being inspired by a different film composer. His pieces, which utilize a rhythm section with bassist Alex Boneham and drummer Christian Euman, the altoist Natsuki Sugiyama, vibraphonist Nick Mancini, four woodwinds, and sometimes the Vertigo String Quartet plus a few guests (including singer Keeley Bumford on “No Chance”), are quite cinematic, sometimes pretty dramatic, and serve as both colorful background music for a nonexistent movie and, in many cases, a creative jazz foundation for concise solos Seigel’s originals are listed as being inspired by film composers Jon Brion, John Williams, Randy Newman, Johnny Greenwood, Bernard Herrmann, Henry Mancini, Ennio Morricone, Jerry Goldsmith, and Thomas Newman Taken as a whole this CD would work quite well in an Alfred Hitchcock movie, yet it also stands alone apart from the nonexistent film. Beyond Images (available from www.jordanseigel.com) makes for a stimulating listen.
The Astrud Project
It can be a risky recording songs associated with Astrud Gilberto because her 1960s renditions of bossa-novas by Antonio Carlos Jobim were quite definitive. Gilberto had a small voice but always sounded fetching, quietly sensual, and filled with inner passion.
Anne Walsh gained early experience singing in choirs, a rock band, light operas and musicals. However her true love has been Brazilian jazz as she showed on her 2009 release Pretty World and each of her albums since.
While her voice is stronger than Astrud Gilberto’s and she is a bit more of an improviser, Anne Walsh retains the spirit of Gilberto on her new release. Joined by a fine rhythm section that includes her husband pianist-arranger Tom Zink, three strings, and a few excellent horn players (with trumpeter Tony Guerrero, trombonist Andy Martin and Gary Meek on flute getting some solo space), the singer is in excellent company. Highlights include “Call Me,” “Dindi,” “Fotografia,” and “Once Upon A Summertime.”
This collection of songs by Jobim, Eumir Deodato, Carlos Lyra, Baden Powell and other Brazilian greats (plus Michel Legrand) receives treatments that, while paying tribute to Astrud Gilberto, are fresh and lively. The Astrud Project is a delight that bossa nova fans will want to acquire. It is available from www.annewalsh.com.
Live At Birdland
Carol Sloane, who is now 85, made her recording debut as a 16-year old back in 1953 on a single cut for the Cadillac label. While she made a demo in 1959 that was finally released by a Japanese label nearly three decades later, her first commercially available album (Easy Goin’ Swing) was with the Larry Elgart Orchestra in 1960. Signed with great fanfare to Columbia, she had some success with Out Of The Blue and Live At 30th Street and was a hit at the Newport Jazz Festival. But the rise of rock hurt her career for a time and, other than a few Japanese releases, she was off records for 15 years, having a day job and only occasionally performing. Fortunately by the late 1970s Sloane was much more active and she recorded an extensive series of rewarding albums through 2009. At that point, the singer took a long period off to take care of her late husband.
Live At Birdland was recorded in 2019 when Ms. Sloane was 82. While she sometimes sounds her age, her expressive qualities, phrasing, sense of swing, and youthful spirit are very much present on the program of veteran standards. She is joined by the great tenor-saxophonist Scott Hamilton (his playing throughout is a joy), pianist Mike Renzi (who passed away in 2011), and bassist Jay Leonhart.
Carol Sloane is heard in a happy mood, telling stories between songs and getting progressively stronger as the set evolves. Her soft voice recalls Maxine Sullivan at times. Among the highpoints are a medium-tempo “As Long As I Live,” her scatting on “You’re Driving Me Crazy” (which reminds one that she sometimes substituted for Annie Ross with Lambert, Hendricks and Ross), and a heartfelt medley of “Glad To Be Unhappy” (which is associated with Lee Wiley) and “I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues.”
This is an album that grows in interest with each playing. By the time Carol Sloane sings a triumphant “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams,” virtually every listener will be won over. Live At Birdland is available from www.amazon.com.
Vivian Buczek, who is from Sweden, was raised by her parents who were both Polish jazz musicians. She has led at least six albums since 2003 and grown into a versatile jazz singer. On Roots, she is joined by pianist Martin Sjostedt (who also wrote the arrangements), bassist Jesper Bodilsen, and drummer Morten Lund with guest appearances by tenor-saxophonist Seamus Blake and trumpeter Marten Lundgren.
The music ranges from touching ballads to powerhouse performances with Vivian Buczek excelling at whatever mood or message she is conveying. While such ballads as “Who Are You,” Pat Metheny’s “Always And Forever,” and a touching version of Bill Evans’ “Waltz For Debby” are memorable, the singer also shows on a very uptempo “Devil May Care,” an extroverted version of Horace Silver’s “The Jody Grind,” and a rollicking “Better Days Ahead” that she can really cut loose when the song deserves it. A special highpoint is one of the finest versions of Bobby Troup’s “The Meaning Of The Blues” ever recorded.
The soloists are also consistently excellent with trumpeter Lundgren (who has a few powerful statements) and pianist Sjostedt not being overshadowed by the always passionate Seamus Blake. Throughout Roots, Vivian Buczek (who has a very good voice) is heard in top form, making her a singer well worth discovering. Roots is available from www.naxos.com.
Shades Of Jazz
Ron Burris is a talented saxophonist who is based in Vallejo, California. His early background was in r&b including performing with Project Soul, a group that later had success as Con-Funk-Shun. After becoming inspired by Gene Ammons, he switched his focus to jazz. A few years ago Burris released his debut CD, Mr. Cool, and it has now been followed by Shades Of Jazz.
For his set of six standards, a superior obscurity and four originals, Ron Burris is joined by guitarist Leo Cavanagh, pianist John Simon, bassist Stephen Webber, drummer George Smeltz, and percussionist Ron Carson. Throughout the program, which has plenty of variety, Burris shows that he is equally skilled on tenor, alto and soprano saxophones. He begins on tenor, swinging hard on John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” Here, as on most of the songs, Cavanagh and Simon also make strong statements while Webber, Smeltz and Carson provide stimulating support. Next is some excellent no-nonsense bebop playing on Kenny Burrell’s “Lyresto” (a fine song that is not performed that often) and an uptempo “Yardbird Suite” that really cooks and features Burris on alto. Bassist Webber displays both courage and creative fluency by soloing on the latter.
The mood changes a bit on the saxophonist’s “Cruizzin With The Top Down,” a piece with a relaxed melody and effective laidback solos. “Let The Children Dance” is a happy party number with a calypso feel and a spirited vocal by Laurice McCoy Ozyuwah. It is followed by “Clouds,” superior easy-listening music with Burris on alto that has an upbeat melody with a bossa nova beat.
Freddie Hubbard’s classic jazz waltz “Up Jumped Spring” is warmly embraced by Burris on soprano-sax and receives one of its most rewarding treatments in years. After he is featured on a warm version of “My One And Only Love,” Burris performs his catchy Tranish song “Mr. J.C.” It sounds like a piece that John Coltrane would have enjoyed stretching out on. The enjoyable CD concludes with a beautiful and picturesque version of the leader’s “Sunset.”
Listening to Shades Of Jazz, it is not surprising to realize that it was on JazzWeek’s top 50 jazz chart for eight weeks. From bop to bossa, John Coltrane to Freddie Hubbard, it succeeds on every level and features Ron Burris and his musicians in top form. Shades Of Jazz, which is available from www.ronaldburrisjazz.com, is highly recommended to anyone who enjoys melodic modern jazz.
Play Or Die
After leaving the Miles Davis Quintet in 1969, drummer Tony Williams led three versions of Lifetime, high-powered fusion bands featuring either John McLaughlin, Ted Dunbar or Allan Holdsworth on guitar. In 1978, Williams recorded the eclectic Columbia album The Joy Of Flying and a Japanese release (The Tony Williams All Stars) that featured keyboardist Brian Auger, guitarist Ronnie Montrose, and Billy Cobham sharing the drum slot. With one exception, Williams’ next recording as a leader would not take place until 1985’s Foreign Intrigue, a mostly acoustic affair that was a stepping stone towards him forming his quintet with trumpeter Wallace Roney, tenor-saxophonist Billy Pierce, pianist Mulgrew Miller, and bassist Charnett Moffett.
A true rarity is a 1980 limited-edition trio set with keyboardist Tom Grant and electric bassist Patrick O’Hearn. The original release was limited to just 500 Lps but now it is finally making its debut on CD. The unit (Williams’ working group at the time) performs five of the drummer’s originals. The music is electronic and fusion-oriented while including some straight ahead sections. While Williams (not too surprisingly) is a driving force throughout and has a few solos and O’ Hearn keeps the groove going, Grant does some of the most inventive playing of his career. He is often the lead voice in the ensembles and his solos are always of strong interest both for his ideas and the colors that he creates.
Four of Tony Williams’ pieces (“The Big Man,” “Beach Ball Tango,” “Jam Tune,” and “Para Oriente”) are obscure and find the trio building upon structures and patterns that seem simple on first listen but are actually more complex than they initially seem. The final number, “There Comes A Time,” had been recorded before but this time Williams takes a brief and effective vocal.
Tony Williams (1945-97) passed away much too soon during gall bladder surgery. Play Or Die (which is available from www.mig-music.de) is a welcome addition to his discography.
Four Classic Albums
Jerome Richardson (1920-2000) was always a valuable musician to have around. Not only did he emerge as one of the top flute players in the 1950s (when the instrument was finally being accepted in jazz) and a fine tenor-saxophonist but his soprano-sax playing became a major part in the 1960s of the sound of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, and he occasionally played effective solos on baritone and alto (not to mention clarinet, bass clarinet, and piccolo). While Richardson did plenty of studio work, he was an excellent and swinging jazz improviser on all of his instruments. Four Classic Albums, a two-CD set from the British Avid label (www.avidgroup.co.uk), reissues in full all of the music from four of Richardson’s albums dating from 1955-62. Actually to be completely accurate, the first set, Flute & Reeds, was originally led by Ernie Wilkins who contributed three of the six selections and played alto. Richardson teams up with Frank Wess, both of whom mostly play flute but also double on tenor. The rhythm section (pianist Hank Jones, bassist Eddie Jones, and drummer Kenny Clarke), the repertoire, and Wilkins’ arrangements keep the music in the Count Basie tradition with Richardson and Wess getting plenty of solo space.
The other albums (Roamin’ With Richardson, Midnight Oil, and Going To the Movies), are the only ones headed by the multireedist prior to 1967. Roamin’ With Richardson has the leader on flute, tenor and baritone with a trio that includes pianist Richard Wyands, Midnight Oil (with Richardson on flute and tenor) is with a sextet that also includes trombonist Jimmy Cleveland, guitarist Kenny Burrell and Hank Jones, and the somewhat obscure Going To The Movies is a quintet set on Richardson doubling on tenor and baritone while joined by a rhythm section that includes Wyands and guitarist Les Spann who also provides some flute.
The overall music is primarily melodic bebop with Richardson displaying both versatility and consistency. He only led three other albums in his career (two were on European labels) and tended to be underrated due to working as a sideman much of the time, but this twofer shows that Jerome Richardson was certainly a major player for decades.
Tyshawn Sorey Trio
This is a somewhat unusual release for drummer Tyshawn Sorey. Normally he plays avant-garde jazz (he has worked with Vijay Iyer, John Zorn, Billy Bang, Steve Coleman, Roscoe Mitchell, and David Binney among many others), performing adventurous originals.
But for Mesmerism, Sorey teams up with pianist Aaron Diehl and bassist Matt Brewer for a set of songs written by veterans of the past. The music is still quite adventurous but it is intriguing hearing Sorey and his trio interpreting Horace Silver’s obscure “Enchantment” (from Six Pieces Of Silver), “Detour Ahead,” “Autumn Leaves” and Duke Ellington’s “REM Blues” in addition to Paul Motian’s “From Time To Time” and Muhal Richard Abrams “Two Over One.”
Ironically the Abrams piece, a jazz waltz, receives the most conventional treatment along with the Duke Ellington blues. “Enchantment” is given a slow and melancholy version while the 14-minute exploration of “Detour Ahead” is quite abstract with the melody only popping up near the end. “Autumn Leaves” swings a bit after its explorative opening section while “From Time To Time” is mostly taken out of time. Sorey is primarily in a supportive role, adding color to the music, while the solo space is split almost evenly between Diehl and Brewer.
So although this is a sort-of standards date, the music is as adventurous as one would expect from a Tyshawn Sorey session. Mesmerism is available from www.tyshawn-sorey.bandcamp.com.
Dancing In Darkness
Laura Karst is a top-notch jazz singer based in the San Francisco Bay area who has a haunting voice and an adventurous spirit. Surprisingly, Dancing In Darkness is only her second solo album (following Little Did I Dream) and she had a long-term career as the head of a college’s French department. While still involved in the latter before becoming a fulltime vocalist in 2019, she sang with the vocal jazz ensembles Vocal Flight and JAZZ-ology.
Dancing In Darkness has Ms. Karst joined by pianist Walter Bankovitch, bassist Noriyuki Ken Okada, drummer Greg German, and occasionally trumpeter Modesto Briseno. While her repertoire includes John Carisi’s “Israel” (an unusual blues made famous by Miles Davis in the late 1940s and now with lyrics renamed as “It’s Your Dance”), “Footprints,” and Clifford Brown’s “Daahoud” (retitled “Beloved” with lyrics by Meredith d’Ambrosio), the other eight songs cover a pretty wide range of music. The repertoire includes pieces by Caetano Velosa, Connie Bryson, Peter Eldridge, Kenny Wheeler (with lyrics by Noma Winstone), and Zbigniew Namyslowski among others.
While she scats in a few places (particularly on “Israel”) and Namyslowsi’s “Quiet Afternoon” is wordless, Karst mostly digs into the lyrics. Some of these songs were originally composed as instrumentals but she makes the interval leaps with apparent ease. In addition, trumpeter Briseno is a strong asset whenever he appears, the rhythm section is attentive and versatile, and Bankovitch proves to be equally skilled as a very original soloist and an accompanist. A special surprise is Laura Karst’s very effective flute solo on the last-to-last piece of the set, “Dans mon ile.” Dancing In Darkness, which is available from www.laurakarst.com, has plenty of fine singing from Laura Karst along with enough variety and surprising moments to hold one’s interest throughout.
Made In Kalamazoo – Trios and Duos
Drummer Keith Hall, who has worked during the past decade with Curtis Stigers and has performed with such notables as Betty Carter, Sir Roland Hanna, Joe Lovano, Wynton Marsalis, Mark Murphy, Mark Turner, and Claudio Roditi among others, is a member of the jazz faculty at Western Michigan University. He pays tribute to Kalamazoo in some of his song titles on his recent CD.
In addition to three brief drum solos (including one apiece dedicated to Billy Hart and Max Roach), Made In Kalamazoo consists of seven trio numbers with Andrew Rathbun (tenor, soprano and bass clarinet) and bassist Robert Hurst III, and ten duets with Rathbun. All of the pieces are originals (mostly by Hall and Rathbun although the drummer is the sole composer of a few of them). The trio numbers are often melodic in spots with Rathbun generally in the lead while supported by active playing by Hurst and Hall. One naturally thinks of Sonny Rollins in this pianoless trio setting but Rathbun has a different sound. Highlights include the energetic “Boiling Point,” Rathbun’s unaccompanied soprano during the first half of the ballad “Coming Of Age,” the swinging free bop of “Creative Force,” and the medium-tempo blues “Wall Of Hope.”
The duets, which are all free improvisations, also cover a variety of moods. Rathbun utilizes electronics to make the ensembles denser on a few numbers, most notably on “Map It Up.” The tenor-drums explorations, which range from the quiet tenor with brushes “Sweep” and the New Orleans-flavored “Lakeside” to the rockish “Young Man’s Game,” are concise (never overstaying their welcome) and mostly more esoteric than the trios.
The intriguing program, which holds one’s interest throughout, is available from www.keithhallmusic.com.