Rebecca Coupe Franks
Planets is trumpeter Rebecca Coupe Franks’ seventh album as a leader and first since 2011. It also may very well be her most rewarding.
Joined by pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Johnathan Blake, Franks performs 11 originals which are dedicated to and named after the eight planets in our solar system (sorry, no Pluto), plus “Sun,” “Moon,” and “Planet X.” While some may say that the music is “out of this world,” it is well grounded, acoustic, and swings hard. Rebecca Coupe Franks, who is influenced a little by Miles Davis (particularly in the intensity of some of her long notes) and Clifford Brown, has long had a modern mainstream sound and style of her own.
The set begins with a Horace Silver-type medium tempo blues (“Sun”) and includes an uptempo jam (“Jupiter), a type of lullaby (“Moon”), a rhythmically tricky jazz waltz (“Mercury”), cookers (“Saturn” and “Uranus”), an assertive blues strut (“Neptune”), a stirring blues waltz (“Venus”), a piece with a Latin flavor (“Planet X”), the complex and mysterious “Mars” and the joyful “Earth.” Three of the originals (“Moon” “Neptune” and “Earth”) are heard twice in separate quartet and duet versions. The duets match the trumpeter on one number apiece with each of her sidemen.
There are concise piano and bass solos heard throughout the disc along with some drum breaks, but the main credit for Planets’ success lies with Rebecca Coupe Franks. Her trumpet playing is consistently passionate, inventive, and exciting, and her songs (which she describes in the liner notes) manage to convey aspects of each of its subjects. Planets (available from www.rebeccacoupefranks.com) is highly recommended.
(Mesa/Bluemoon – Futurism)
Guitarist Grant Geissman has had a wide-ranging career since th4e mid-1970s. He worked early on with the big bands of Gerald Wilson and Louis Bellson, toured extensively with Chuck Mangione, became a busy session and studio musician, and has played music ranging from borderline smooth to bebop, pop to cooking jazz.
Blooz features the guitarist on 11 of his bluesy originals, many of which blues of various tempos and styles. Some are medium-tempo boppish blues, a few are rockish, some are laidback, others use augmented chord changes, and there is a closing ballad, “Sorry Not Sorry.” Geissman utilizes a few different rhythm sections. The keyboardists include Jim Cox, Russell Ferrante and Emilio Palame while most selections have bassist Trey Henry and drummer Ray Brinker. On most selections he welcomes a guest or two including trumpeter Randy Brecker, pianist David Garfield, saxophonist Tom Scott, and guitarists Robben Ford (on “Robben’s Hood”), Josh Smith, Joe Bonamassa, and John Jorgensen.
In each case, Grant Geissman plays with creativity, sensitivity, and a soulful musical personality. One can feel him smiling throughout many of these performances for he consistently displays joyful enthusiasm as if this is the type of music he loves best. Whether that is true or not, he has constructed a high-quality set of mostly blues-oriented material that listeners will enjoy. Blooz is available from www.mesabluemoon.com and www.amazon.com.
Ivory Forest Redux
Listening to this recording without looking at the liner notes, I considered the music to be excellent modern mainstream jazz probably recorded during the past year. The playing is adventurous and full of variety, the interplay between piano and guitar is quite up to date, and the rhythm section pushes the soloists.
To my surprise, I discovered that this quartet session with pianist Hal Galper, guitarist John Scofield, bassist Wayne Dockery, and drummer Adam Nussbaum was recorded in 1979! It was released at the time by Enja (and domestically by Inner City) as Ivory Forest. It just goes to show listeners that the best jazz is timeless.
The one main difference between this session and many recorded recently (other than the fact that Dockery passed away in 2018) is that Scofield is not as distinctive as he would soon become. However his fluency, versatility and general brilliance was already very much in evidence 43 years ago.
The quartet starts off the program with a pair of Galper originals taken at relaxed tempos that are built off of subtle rhythms, utilize original chord changes and, despite the thoughtful pace, include some dazzling guitar and piano solos with Galper and Scofield playing off of each other during parts of “Continuity.” “My Dog Spot” (which one imagines is a tribute to the famous used car dealer Cal Worthington) is a first cousin of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.”
The mood shifts as Scofield takes “Monk’s Mood” as an unaccompanied guitar solo and the trio without the guitarist sounds boppish on “Yellow Days.” The excellent set concludes with some ferocious playing on “Rapunzel’s Luncheonette” as Galper shows that he can play quite freely while still swinging hard.
Hal Galper is still playing very well these days at the age of 84. Ivory Forest Redux is an overlooked classic that will probably sound just as fresh 43 years from now as it does now. It is available from www.originarts.com.
Love And The Catalyst
A superb jazz singer with a lovely voice, Aimée Allen is also a skilled songwriter and lyricist. Her musical talents are very in evidence throughout Love And The Catalyst, her sixth album as a leader.
Accompanied and stimulated by her excellent and attentive trio (pianist Toru Dodo, bassist Francois Moutin and drummer Kush Abodey) with one appearance apiece by guitarist Tony Romano and trumpeter Noah Allen, the singer performs inventive and memorable versions of Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower,” “Star Eyes,” and a Chick Corea medley of “Crystal Silence” and “500 Miles High.” Otherwise she is featured on nine originals, writing all of the lyrics and in seven cases the music too. Her lyrics are often philosophical and deal with some social issues including global warming (“Earth Is Waiting”), the wonder of the sky (“The Comet’s Tail”), and the immortality of George Floyd (“Man Ripples Through Time”) in addition to some new angles to love (“Quantum Entanglements,” “Love & Crescendo” and “Reaction Time”). A special treat is “Mortally Immortal,” her words to a Mozart melody.
Whether performing a standard, introducing an original, interpreting lyrics or singing wordlessly, Aimée Allen continues to grow in depth, power, and creativity. Love And The Catalyst (available from www.aimeeallenmusic.com) is one of her strongest recordings to date.
Ron Kobayashi Trio
Pianist Ron Kobayashi has been a fixture in Orange and Los Angeles Counties for quite some time, and he can always be relied upon to perform swinging music that is filled with his own accessible musical personality and subtle surprises. He and his trio with electric bassist Baba Elefante and drummer Steve Dixon are celebrating their 25th year together with the release of Forward Motion, their fifth CD.
Forward Motion alternates fresh versions of four well-known standards with five originals; three by the pianist and two from Elefante. Each of Kobayashi’s pieces adds the tenor-sax of Doug Webb who is always a welcome presence although his role is relatively minor on this set. In addition, on “Well You Needn’t,” tap dancer Sam Katz joins in to temporarily make the group a quartet but without making much of an impact.
While there are a few funky pieces (including the one-chord title cut), best are the straight ahead performances. Among the highlights are a joyful “Sweet Georgia Brown” (which can serve as an excellent introduction to the trio), a bass feature for Elefante on “’Round Midnight,” the catchy “CFB Blues,” and Kobayashi’s closing solo piano exploration of “Stella By Starlight.”
Forward Motion is a fine showcase for Ron Kobayashi and his trio, a group that is well worth seeing live. Their CD is available from www.amazon.com.
Vince Guaraldi Trio
Jazz Impressions Of Black Orpheus – Deluxe Edition
Pianist Vince Guaraldi (1928-76) is today best remembered for his writing for the very popular Charlie Brown animated television specials. However before that took place, Guaraldi was a popular bop-based pianist based in San Francisco who was a pioneer in exploring Brazilian rhythms that became known as bossa nova.
Jazz Impressions Of Black Orpheus from 1962 was not really what its title advertised. The original album has four songs from the groundbreaking film Black Orpheus with two songs apiece written by Luiz Bonfa (“Samba De Orfeu” and “Manha De Carnaval”) and two from Antonio Carlos Jobim (“Felicidade” is best known). The bossa-nova connection is mostly downplayed with these performances focusing on the rich melodies but often with a more straight ahead jazz rhythm. However the real reason why the album became a best seller is that it includes Guaraldi’s hit “Cast Your Fate To The Wind,” a strikingly original piece that was quite catchy. Also part of the trio album (which has the pianist joined by bassist Monte Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey) are “Moon River” (which at the time was a new piece), Guaraldi’s “Alma-Ville” (a relative of “Ja Da”), and the r&b standard “Since I Fell For You.”
The Deluxe Edition of this music is a two-CD set that has two alternate takes apiece of the four Bonfa and Jobim pieces, three of “Cast Your Fate To The Wind,” and a single alternate
performance of “Alma-Ville” and “Since I Fell For You.” In most cases, the alternates are of a high quality that comes close to the released versions. Also included as a bonus are three versions (all previously unreleased) of the trio playing Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz.” The first attempt at the song has Guaraldi struggling through the melody but the other two takes are better.
While the double-CD is not as essential for general listeners as the original album, fans of Vince Guaraldi and of the session in general will enjoy the additional versions of the beloved performances. It is available from www.craftrecordings.com.
Nestor Torres & Corey Allen
Veteran flutist Nestor Torres and pianist-arranger-composer Corey Allen have collaborated on this CD to pay tribute to the musical heritage of the Dominican Republic. Both artists have an endless number of credits in jazz and beyond but this is the first time that they have worked together on a project.
The personnel and instrumentation changes from track to track but in general Allen utilizes a medium-sized group that has top musicians from Southern California and the Dominican Republic. Torres is the main soloist throughout a program that includes the four-part “Dominican Suite” which is highlighted by some warm ballad playing. The latter, which also has some spots for Allen’s piano and keyboards, guitarist Federico Mendez, and (on “Hija Del Caribe”) tenor-saxophonist Doug Webb, is comprised of instrumentals except for a brief “Interludio.” In contrast, three of the five shorter pieces have vocals by Pavel Nunez, Maridalia Hernandez, or Alvaro Dinzey. But even on those performances (which includes both a vocal and instrumental version of the beautiful “Coda Dia”), the main focus is on Torres, Allen, and the easy-listening ensembles.
Utilizing the rhythms of Merengue, Bolero, Bachata, Savle, and Mangulina along with the melodic improvising of Torres, the music on this appealing set is often romantic and soothing but never sleepy or overly predictable. Dominican Suite is a very easy recording to like and it is one of Nestor Torres’ best showcases. It is available from www.amazon.com.
The Music Of Don Thompson
This is a rather unusual project. Bassist Don Thompson has been a major force in the Canadian jazz scene since the 1960s. While long based in Toronto, he has worked with such notables as John Handy (in the famous quintet that was the hit of the 1965 Monterey Jazz Festival), Paul Desmond, Jim Hall, Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass, George Shearing, Jay McShann, and countless others. In his career he has also doubled effectively on piano and occasionally played vibes.
Joel Quarrington has spent his career as a classical bassist, performing with symphony orchestras and opera companies. Thompson has long thought that Quarrington would be a masterful jazz player if he had chosen to pursue that path. In 1989 Quarrington commissioned Thompson to write a piece for a bass quartet to play at a concert, resulting in “Quartet 89” which featured Thompson himself on pizzicato bass along with three classical bassists.
On this release, four songs (three Thompson originals and an adventurous version of “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square” that he arranged) are duets by Thompson on piano and Quarrington. The music is mostly comprised of thoughtful ballads with Quarrington (who often bows his bass) as the main soloist.
The second half of the CD has the recording debut of Thompson’s nearly 17-minute “Quartet 89,” an episodic work that is performed by four bassists: Quarrington, Roberto Occhipinti, Travis Harrison, and Joseph Phillips. Occhipinti is in Thompson’s role as the soloing jazz bassist throughout the colorful work.
While I wish that there had been a bit more variety in tempos and perhaps instrumentation, The Music Of Don Thompson is easily recommended to those who love hearing the acoustic bass being showcased on Third-Stream works. It is available from www.modicamusic.com.
In The Christmas City
Corinne Mammana’s Christmas jazz EP features the singer’s renditions of five songs. Her voice is beautiful and inviting, and she improvises with subtlety while sticking to the lyrics. The vocalist is joined by a top-notch rhythm section comprised of pianist Sean Gough, guitarist Tom Kozic, bassist Gene Perla, drummer Ian Froman, and occasionally Missy Salvadeo on viola.
The music, which includes a reverent “Carol Of The Bells,” lightly swinging versions of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here,” and two of Ms. Mammana’s originals (“In The Christmas City” and “In The Bleak Midwinter”), swings lightly and includes some piano solos but mostly puts the spotlight on the singer.
Corinne Mammana has a voice that every lover of the Great American Songbook and of jazz singers should definitely hear. As with the best Xmas jazz albums, In The Christmas City sounds warm and enjoyable no matter what time of year it is played. The recommended EP is available from www.corinnemusic.com.
Charles Lloyd, who is now 84, is still in his musical prime. He has a much gentler sound and style on tenor than he did earlier in his career but he still has a sense of adventure to his playing along with unpredictability. During the past year he has released three trio albums for Blue Note: Chapel (with guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan), Sacred Thread (featuring guitarist Julian Lage and Zakir Hussain on Indian percussion) and Ocean.
Ocean teams Lloyd with pianist Gerald Clayton and guitarist Anthony Wilson, both of whom have notable fathers (John Clayton and Gerald Wilson). While the instrumentation may not be all that unusual, typically Lloyd makes the results a bit unique. There are individual solos but the music is mostly ensemble-oriented with the three musicians constantly reacting to each other.
Starting with the slow ballad “The Lonely One,” Lloyd, Clayton and Wilson also perform a one-chord jam (“Hagar Of The Inults”), the medium-tempo “Jaramillo Blue” (which has Lloyd
contributing some fairly free flute playing), and the rather charming “Kuan Yin.” Although this was a short-lived trio, the musicians blend together quite gracefully, forming a personal group sound. Rather than being solo stars, Clayton and Wilson sound quite content to be part of Charles Lloyd’s unusual musical world. Ocean is available from www.bluenoterecords.com and www.amazon.com.
Tawanda, whose musical background includes singing choral music and appearing in school musicals, did not discover jazz until she was 18 or perform in a jazz club until she was 24. The following year (2021) she tied for first place in the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition. Smile is her recording debut.
A storyteller who is influenced a bit by Dianne Reeves (particularly in her low notes), Tawanda has a very attractive voice and perfect articulation; one can always understand the words she sings. On her recording, she does not improvise all that much and her renditions of a variety of standards are mostly fairly safe, but her voice is a pleasure to hear.
Tawanda is joined by either Josh Nelson or Tamir Hendelman on piano, bassist Kevin Axt, Gene Coye or Ray Brinker on drums, guitarist Anthony Wilson, and occasionally Gary Meek on tenor and flute. Among the more notable songs on the tune list are “Out Of This World,” Sting’s “Sister Moon,” an uptempo “What A Little Moonlight Can Do,” “A Child Is Born”, and “You And The Night And The Music.”
Tawanda sings very well throughout and her vocals are inviting and friendly. While the set is a bit ballad-heavy and could use more adventure (particularly during its second half), this is a fine debut for a singer who hopefully will stretch herself more in the future. Smile is recommended and available from www.resonancerecords.org.