Mon David & Josh Nelson
D + N + A
During the Pandemic era, nearly all of the in-person (as opposed to overdubbed) jazz recordings have been by necessarily small units. In the case of Mon David and Barbara Morrison, two of the very best jazz vocalists based in Southern California, who are used to singing with full rhythm sections, they used the opportunity to get down to the basics, performing duets with one of their favorite pianists.
Mon David at first gives the impression that D + N + A will be primarily a ballad outing with the inventive and sensitive pianist Josh Nelson. He performs dramatic renditions of “Did I Ever Really Live,” “You Must Believe In Spring,” and “Lush Life,” pouring plenty of emotion into his interpretations. However “Devil May Care,” which starts out with some witty free-form scatting before the melody arrives, shows that this set will not be all that predictable. After “Here’s To Life” returns to the original mood, Mon David performs three intriguing medleys. He pays tribute to Bill Evans by singing Don Sebesky’s “I Remember Bill,” “Very Early” and “Waltz For Debby,” doing justice to each song. An unlikely medley of Jobim’s “If You Never Come To Me” and “Skylark” is next, following by a rollicking “Straight No Chaser/Billie’s Bounce.” The set concludes with “Imagine,” a touching “Blame It On My Youth,” Mark Winkler’s “I Chose The Moon,” and Mon David’s own lyrics to Pat Metheny’s “Always And Forever.” Throughout the date, Josh Nelson’s playing is subtle but he clearly pushes Mon David a bit to take chances, and the singer displays many creative moments. D + N + A is well worth a close listen; it’s available from www.mondavid.net.
Barbara Morrison & Stuart Elster
Warm & Cozy
(Blue Lady Records)
Barbara Morrison is always a joy to see. She uplifts the Los Angeles jazz world not only with her singing but her behind-the-scenes championing of the music in many ways. Warm & Cozy teams her with the talented and very complementary pianist Stuart Elster, who gives her a solid foundation and keeps the music swinging. Other than Irving Berlin’s relatively obscure “You Can Have Him,” the 15 songs that they perform on Warm & Cozy are all well-known standards but Ms. Morrison comes up with fresh interpretations, brings out the meanings behind the lyrics, and singing with a smile in her voice.
While the majority of the songs are taken as ballads, every third tune swings at a medium-pace. These include an exuberant “Them There Eyes,” “The Touch Of Your Lips,” “Red Top,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” and the closer, a particularly passionate version of “Stormy Weather.” The ballads all work well too including “Detour Ahead,” “Crazy He Calls Me,” and “The Music That Makes Me Dance.”
She may have been singing for quite a few years, but Barbara Morrison is still in her prime. Her enjoyable set is available from www.amazon.com.
Hays Street Hart
All Things Are
The trio of pianist Kevin Hays, bassist Ben Street, and drummer Billy Hart performed a LiveStream at New York City’s Smoke during Dec. 4-5, 2020 to celebrate Hart’s 80th birthday. Although there was no audience in the club, the musicians were quite happy to have the opportunity to play with each other after nine months of near-silence.
Hays has long been a delight to hear. His piano playing stretches the boundaries of bop and hard bop in a manner similar to Keith Jarrett, embracing melodies and bluesiness while often teetering on the verge of going outside the changes. With Street and Hart following him closely while offering some potential directions of their own, All Things Are is one of the finest piano trio albums of the past year.
The opener, “New Day” (one of seven Hays originals) sets a mood of optimism that is heard throughout the set. Other highlights include “Unscrappulous” (an offbeat piece based on “Scrapple From The Apple”), a heartfelt rendition of the standard “For Heaven’s Sake” that ends as a long unaccompanied piano solo, and a largely hidden “All The Things You Are” (reborn as “All Things Are”), but every selection is enjoyable to hear.
All Things Are is available from www.smokesessionsrecords.com.
(Fresh Sound New Talent)
Originally from Russia, a longtime resident of New York and now based in Paris, Dmitry Baevsky has been playing alto-sax since he was a teenager. Along the way he has worked with such musicians as Benny Green, Willie Jones III, David Hazeltine, Peter Bernstein, Cedar Walton, and Jeremy Pelt among many others in the mainstream of jazz. Soundtrack is his ninth CD as a leader.
For this excellent set, the saxophonist is joined by pianist Jeb Patton (who takes many swinging solos), bassist David Wong, and drummer Pete Van Nostrand. The altoist often sounds a bit like Stan Getz during the first few numbers, but his own musical personality shines through.
Baevsky performs a diverse and high-quality repertoire throughout Soundtrack, one with some songs often associated with Russia, New York or Paris. “Evening Song” is a beautiful folk melody in the vein of “Dear Old Stockholm,” Joao Donata’s “Vamos Nessa” is given a stop/start rhythm and, on his own original “Baltiyskaya,” a blues with a bridge, Baevsky gets to cut loose.
Among the other selections are rarely performed songs by Sonny Rollins (“Grand Street”) and Dexter Gordon (the charming “Le Coiffeur”), a welcome revival of Horace Silver’s “The Jody Grind,” a surprisingly hard-swinging version of “You Must Believe In Spring,” Baevsky’s uptempo original “Over And Out”), a warm and relaxed “Autumn In New York,” and inventive versions of such numbers as “Stranger In Paradise,” Ahmad Jamal’s “Tranquility” and “Afternoon In Paris.” Ornette Coleman’s “Invisible,” while having a little freer playing than usual, utilizes the chord changes of the melody and is taken uptempo like a hard bop piece.
Each of the 13 selections offers excellent examples of Dmitry Baevsky’s playing, making Soundtrack easily recommended to those who enjoy modern straight ahead jazz. It is available from www.freshsoundrecords.com.
Jill McCarron Trio with Will Anderson
Jill McCarron is such a skilled and versatile jazz pianist that Jazz Motif, her recording debut as a leader, is long overdue. Born in Minneapolis, she grew up in Canada and graduated from Toronto’s Humber College with a degree in jazz performance and arranging. The pianist moved to New York to attend the New School and has since worked with such notables as Randy Brecker, Vincent Herring, Don Braden, Jay Leonhart, and Bill Warfield’s Hell Kitchen Funk Orchestra among many others.
Jazz Motif features Jill McCarron with bassist Paul Gill, drummer Andy Watson, and Will Anderson who plays two songs on alto and three on flute. The trio/quartet mostly performs lesser-known but superior pieces composed by jazz artists plus a Jobim composition and two standards that are not played all that often. In addition to the leader’s consistently inventive piano solos, her arrangements for her group are colorful and consistently filled with surprises. The ensembles are tight, Gill’s virtuosic solos (which are sometimes bowed) are virtuosic, and Watson’s drumming is swinging and supportive.
The opener, “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm,” begins with some sophisticated piano chords and a quick waltz transition before becoming a cooker. The rapid tempo is no problem for McCarron (whose solo includes some heated octaves), altoist Anderson, and the impressive bowed bass work of Gill. The two choruses on which the pianist and altoist solo together are one of the performance’s highlights.
John Lewis’ “Concorde” has plenty of lively counterpoint and interplay between piano, bass and Anderson on flute. The next four numbers showcase the trio. “My Ideal” is given a moody and explorative treatment with the swing era standard being creatively reharmonized. Sam Jones” catchy “One For Amos” gives the musicians an opportunity to jam on a boppish blues while Kenny Dorham’s “Short Story” has McCarron hinting at McCoy Tyner with Gill contributing some speedy lines. Tom Scott’s “Looking Out For Number 7” is a change of pace, some high-quality groove music that finds McCarron getting funky on electric piano while still being creative.
Will Anderson’s flute adds to the Brazilian flavor of Clare Fischer’s likable “Ontem A Noite.” McCarron really swings hard on Ray Brown’s obscure but memorable “Lined With A Groove” which is very much in the tradition of the Oscar Peterson Trio. Anderson’s flute has the lead on Jobim’s “Chovendo Na Roseira” (best known as “Double Rainbow”) which receives a particularly joyful treatment. With him back on alto, Horace Silver’s “Cool Eyes” is taken on an exhilarating bebop ride; the piano solo is full of fire. After McCarron’s soulful solo rendition of Doug Riley’s “Jump For Joy” which is worthy of Keith Jarrett, the program concludes with a Bud Powell medley of “Glass Enclosure” and “Tempus Fugit.” The set closes just as it began, with inventive cooking by the leader.
Jill McCarron’s playing throughout Jazz Motif successfully makes the case that she is one of the top pianists in today’s jazz scene. Her enjoyable CD (available from www.jillmccarron.com) is highly recommended.
What If?/Why Not?
A decade before Esperanza Spalding burst upon the scene, Kristin Korb was one of the jazz bassists to accompany her own singing. She was a regular in the jazz scene of Southern California during 2002-11 before moving to Copenhagen where she has remained active and continued evolving.
What If?/Why Not? Is a double-CD with two different half-hour projects that could have fit on one disc. The Why Not section is a tribute to Ray Brown, Ms. Korb’s mentor. She studied with him early in her career and he presented the bassist-singer on her debut Introducing Kristin Korb. There are times during this disc that the trio with pianist Magnus Hjorth and drummer Snorre Kirk sounds a bit like the Ray Brown Trio (or its model, the Oscar Peterson Trio). Hjorth is a particularly skilled soloist. This is not so much a copy of Brown’s music as a good excuse for Korb to sing and swing some impressive songs, She excels on such numbers as “I’ve Told Every Little Star,” “Warm Valley,” Dave Frishberg’s “Zanzibar” and a joyful “Summer Wind.”
What If? is a bit different, a set of pop tunes that Kristin Korb always liked. While one would not expect to find “Copacabana,” Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed,” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” on a jazz album, the arrangements and playing can certainly be considered creative jazz. The trio is joined on five of the seven songs by one of three horn soloists (Mathias Heise’s two appearances on harmonica are pretty impressive) and there is a percussionist added on all but one tune.
The singer sounds attractive, comfortable, warm, and occasionally fetching in both settings, improvising throughout. While de-emphasized, her bass playing is typically solid and she has some fine solos. What If?/Why Not? reminds Los Angeles listeners about the talented Kristin Korb; it is available from www.kristinkorb.com.
Love Is The Key
Sue Maskaleris is a versatile and multi-talented musician. A superior jazz pianist, she is also a skilled jazz singer who improvises well, and an arranger-composer-lyricist who produces her own recordings. All of her skills are in evidence on Love Is The Key.
Maskaleris performs eight of her original compositions on Love Is The Key plus two Brazilian songs for which she wrote the English lyrics. While some of her originals deal with love (“Bliss,” “Love Will Overflow,” “Love Is The Key”) or the lack of (the humorous “Valentine’s Day For One”), she also discusses social issues (most notably
“March Of The Refugee”) and universal topics (“Procrastination”). The lyrics are sophisticated and contain their own surprises, the performances leave room for solos (soprano-saxophonist Doc Halliday and violinist Sara Caswell are among the guests who take honors), and the background singers include Janis Siegel (Manhattan Transfer) and Darmon Meader (New York Voices).
The result is a consistently intriguing CD filled with high-quality singing, lyrics and improvisations. Love Is The Key is well worth exploring and available from www.suemask.com.
Sack Full Of Dreams
A powerful yet subtle singer based in Washington D.C., Hazel Mitchell-Bell straddles several genres on her second CD, following her 2018 debut Stronger Than Ever. She sings jazz very well yet, as the last few numbers on Sack Full Of Dreams demonstrate, she also loves r&b and soul music.
The diverse set has the singer working with her musical director and keyboardist Vince Evans, a fine rhythm section, occasionally trumpeter Kenny Rittenhouse and saxophonist Craig Alston (both of whom are strong assets whenever they appear), a string quartet on four numbers, and background singers on three selections.
The set begins as a jazz album with the singer recalling Ernestine Anderson and Nancy Wilson with her injection of soul into such songs as “Where Is Love,” “When Did You Leave Heaven,” and the title cut. She has a mature and confident delivery, does a close impression of Abbey Lincoln on the classic “Throw It Away,” and can belt out notes whenever a song needs it. She should record a full jazz CD sometime.
The last four songs (including one apiece by Aretha Franklin and Luther Vandross) find her switching to r&b and pop, assisted by the four background singers on two of the numbers. Hazel Mitchell-Bell excels in this area too, making this an excellent CD (available from www.hazelmitchellbellmusic.com) for listeners with ears open to the different styles.
13 Mars 1961
(Fremeaux & Associates)
Johnny Hodges, the luscious-toned altoist with an expressionless face, was one of the main stars in the world of Duke Ellington during his two lengthy stints (1928-51 and 1955-70). For a period in 1961, the Ellington band was in France, working on the soundtrack of the Paul Newman film Paris Blues. While the leader was arranging the movie’s music, in March Hodges toured Europe with a septet of Ellington’s sidemen. Al Williams filled in for Duke on piano. The group was captured playing in Stockholm (music that was released by Storyville), somewhere else in Scandinavia (Rarities), Berlin (Pablo), and San Remo, Italy (a Jazz Connoisseur cassette).
Their Paris concert of Mar. 13 was previously unreleased. Hodges is joined by trombonist Lawrence Brown, cornetist Ray Nance, baritonist Harry Carney, bassist Aaron Bell, drummer Sam Woodyard, and Al Williams. Considering that this was a vacation from the Ellington orchestra, it is a little surprising that all of the songs except for Hodges’ “Blues For Madeleine” are taken from the music that these musicians often played on a nightly basis. Since this was not a big band, one can sense the playing spontaneously deciding how closely they should stick to the orchestra arrangements, knowing that some of the usual parts could not be played by this small a group.
Ray Nance, who gets a spot on “Take The ‘A’ Train” and sings “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and “Squeeze Me” with his usual spirit, is a bit underutilized. Harry Carney does not have a specific feature but, whenever he solos, he competes with Hodges for honors. Lawrence Brown is typically distinctive on “Solitude” and he gets to reprise his famous solo on “Rose Of The Rio Grande.” Unfortunately Al Williams does not get to solo but his accompaniment is full of Dukish touches.
While Hodges does not dominate the music, his beautiful tone always stands out. He owned “Jeep’s Blues” and his playing on “All Of Me” and “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” (which has a surprisingly heated double-time solo) steal the show.
Fans of Duke Ellington’s music and Johnny Hodges will enjoy 13 Mars 1961, the latest of scores of rewarding jazz recordings released by Fremeaux & Associates (www.fremeaux.com).
The Montreux Years
Nina Simone (1933-2003) certainly occupied her own musical category. Originally frustrated at the lack of opportunity for her to become a classical pianist (the racism of the 1950s prevented that), she began playing her brand of jazz in nightclubs where she was persuaded to also sing. In the 1960s she became a civil rights crusader whose very eclectic repertoire included jazz standards, blues, folk songs, r&b, gospel, covers of rock tunes, and social protest originals. Simone was at her prime during that era but, starting in the 1970s, she suffered from some mental problems, erratic output, and a troubled personal life. However she was still capable of great musical moments until around a decade before her death.
All of the music on the two-CD set The Montreux Years is previously unreleased. The second disc contains her full performance at the 1968 Montreux Jazz Festival including such numbers as “Go To Hell” (who else in that era could have gotten away with that title?), “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” “Ne Me Quitte-Pas,” a radically transformed “House Of The Rising Sun,” and “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life.” Although there is some fat and meandering moments during the set (recorded just one day after the murder of Robert Kennedy), Simone is generally in excellent form.
The first disc has highlights from her Montreux appearances of 1975, 1981, 1987 and 1990. Included are such numbers as “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” (on which Simone plays a bit of stride piano), a haunting “Little Girl Blue,” “Don’t Smoke In Bed,” “What A Little Moonlight Can Do,” “Four Women,” “Liberian Calypso,” and an obligatory “My Baby Just Cares For Me”; she sounds reluctant to revive her hit in this version from 1990.
Housed in a handsome CD-size booklet, The Montreux Years (available from www.amazon.com) should be of great interest to those who love the musical legacy of Nina Simone.
Ira B. Liss Big Band Jazz Machine
Mazel Tov Kocktail
(Tall Man Productions)
The Ira B. Liss Big Band Jazz Machine is celebrating its 42nd year by releasing their sixth recording. Based in San Diego, the 18-piece big band swings hard, plays modern arrangements, includes consistently inventive solos, and has a musical identity of its own.
Few jazz orchestras have lasted close to four decades and there is certainly no lack of energy or inspiration displayed on the Big Band Jazz Machine’s enjoyable release. The musicians perform a dozen songs with arrangements by eight different writers. Peter Herbolzheimer’s writing on “Springtime” is a particular standout. Guest tenor-saxophonist Andrew Neu contributes and stars on his medium-tempo blues “Gimme That.” Other noteworthy soloists include Greg Armstrong’s flute playing on “Keys To The City” (he also takes some fine tenor solos), guest Nathan East’s showcase on “Bass: The Final Frontier,” and vibraphonist Matt DiBiase’s contributions to the highly appealing “West Wings” and “Where Or When.” Few modern big bands utilize singers but fortunately this ensemble is an exception. Trombonist Carly Ines (who is particularly memorable on “Joy Spring”) and Janet Hammer take three vocals apiece that add to the music’s appeal and variety. Another highlight is Dan Radlauer’s humorous and swinging “Mazel Tov Kocktail” which pays tribute to Jewish music.
This excellent outing by the Ira B. Liss Big Band Machine (available from www.bigbandjazzmachine.com) is easily recommended to fans of spirited big band jazz.
Marty Nau Group
Marty Nau is best known as a very skilled straight ahead jazz alto-saxophonist based in the Washington DC area. He played for years with the Navy Commodores, works with the Great American Music Ensemble, and has led three CDs of his own.
Mood Ebony was a definite change-of-pace for him. Nau is heard exclusively on his first instrument, the clarinet. He is joined by bass clarinetist Scott Silbert, pianist Robert Reed (Wade Beach takes his place on three songs), bassist Tommy Cecil (Steve Novesel fills in on two numbers), and vibraphonist Chuck Redd; drummer Brooks Tegler is a guest on two songs. During some of the ensembles, Nau overdubbed two or three times on additional clarinets. The blend of his clarinets with Silbert’s bass clarinet is quite effective.
While Marty Nau’s playing is a bit more modern, he fares well on the Benny Goodman-associated “Slipped Disc” and “As Long As I Live.” His good friend, the late Phil Woods, contributed and arranged three excellent originals and among the other songs are Thad Jones’ “Three In One” (a number well worth reviving), “A Night In Tunisia,” and three Nau originals: “Bossa For Eddie,” “Blues For Benny,” and “You Cane Into My Life.”
Marty Nau has his own sound on clarinet and his solos are consistently rewarding. Scott Silbert is an asset both as an occasional soloist and in the ensembles, the rhythm section is excellent, and Chuck Redd is always an asset on vibes. This somewhat neglected but rewarding CD (which was recorded in 2010) is well worth acquiring; it is available from www.summitrecords.com.
Close To Home
Pianist Ari Erev was born and raised in Israel. After studying classical piano, he switched to jazz when he was 17. He has since played in the main jazz clubs of Israel and performed at festivals in Europe. Along the way Erev has been the musical director for several jazz singers, taught jazz piano improv, and worked with a variety of instrumentalists including Joel Frahm and Freddie Hendrix. Close To Home is his fourth album as a leader.
On this CD, Erev is joined by bassist Assaf Hakimi and drummer Gasper Bertoncelj. Hadar Noiberg guests on flute during two numbers (starring on the opener, “Israeli Story”), soprano-saxophonist Yuval Cohen makes welcome appearances on five songs, and percussionist Gilad Dobrecky joins the group on eight of the 13 selections.
The music sometimes has the flavor of Latin jazz with the attractive minor-toned “Israeli Story” having the feel of a tango. Erev’s eight originals are often picturesque and a bit cinematic, displaying his classical roots on several numbers (most notably during “Childhood Scenes”) and providing a lovely melody to “Afar,” the lone performance with both horns. The pianist also interprets songs by Paul Simon, Keith Jarrett (“So Tender”), Antonio Carlos Jobim, and a tune apiece by lesser-known composers from Brazil and Israel, contributing lightly swinging solos throughout.
Ari Erev has a gentle and melodic style that is appealing. He is heard at his best on this relaxed set, available from www.arierev.com.