Harold Danko has always been an inventive pianist who, while touched by the earlier post bop greats, has a sound and an approach all his own. But even in his large discography, Spring Garden is a standout.
Danko has long considered Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite Of Spring” to be his favorite piece of music and he has studied it extensively for years. For Spring Garden, the pianist had a reunion with his long-time quartet (tenor-saxophonist Rich Perry, bassist Jay Anderson, and drummer Jeff Hirshfield) to record his impressions of the work. He utilized some of Stravinsky’s themes and ideas but transformed them into ten originals of his own, adding his own musical personality, changing the plot to symbolize a garden rather than a tribal sacrifice, and included plenty of improvisation that builds on the mood of each section. The resulting music (which is expertly played by the quartet) is complex yet holds onto one’s attention throughout.
Ranging from desolate ballads like “Blossom Tango” and “Second Act” (Perry’s dry tone is a perfect fit) to an adventurous and well-disguised blues (“Rising Aspirations”) that has interplay between Perry and Danko worthy of Warne Marsh and Lennie Tristano, and the more upbeat if diverse “Address Unknown,” Danko has created an imaginative work of his own that grows in interest with each listen. Spring Garden (available from www.statesidemusic.com) is highly recommended even to listeners not that familiar with “The Rite Of Spring.”
Trumpeter Don Cherry (1936-95) had his roots in bebop but became famous in the jazz world for his playing with Ornette Coleman, particularly during 1958-61 and on an occasional basis during the next 15 years. Cherry had his own strong solo career leading avant-garde sessions in the 1960s (including for Blue Note) and then becoming a world traveler who explored various types of ethnic folk music in the ‘70s, often doubling on flute.
Cherry Jam is a four-song EP that features Cherry on a radio broadcast from Copenhagen in 1965. He leads a quintet that also includes four fine Danish musicians: tenor-saxophonist Mogens Bollerup, pianist Atli Bjorn, bassist Benny Nielsen, and drummer Simon Koppel. The previously unreleased music is a bit unusual for the first number, “The Ambassador From Greenland,” gives one a rare opportunity to hear Cherry playing hard bop. Even more unique is a version of “You Took Advantage Of Me” which was made famous in the 1920s by Bix Beiderbecke and Frankie Trumbauer with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. After Cherry starts the song as a medium-tempo piece, it abruptly becomes a slow ballad with Bollerup hinting at Coltrane and Bjorn displaying the influence of Monk. The other two songs, “Priceless” and “Nigeria,” are Cherry originals that are more in the expected Ornette Coleman free bop style.
While it is a pity that this EP is only 22 ½ minutes long, the music is well worth hearing and is a strong addition to Don Cherry’s musical legacy. It is available from www.gearboxrecords.com.
One of the top clarinetists in jazz, Evan Arntzen is originally from East Vancouver, Canada. He began playing clarinet when he was seven, started doubling on tenor six years later, and moved to New York City in 2014. Arntzen has worked frequently with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, Catherine Russell and Jon-Erik Kellso among others. Countermelody is his third album as a leader.
For this set, Arntzen leads a hot ensemble consisting of both Kellso and Mike Davis on trumpets, trombonist Charlie Halloran, pianist Dalton Ridenhour, the leader’s brother Arnt Arntzen on guitar and banjo, bassist Tal Ronen, and drummer Mark McLean with Catherine Russell taking a few vocals.
The first eight numbers are all spirited renditions of New Orleans jazz and swing. Ms. Russell sings on “Muskrat Ramble” and “If You Were Mine,” the leader takes a vocal on “Georgia Cabin,” the two trumpeters work together very well (without closely emulating King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band or Lu Watters), and trombonist Halloran in particular takes consistently exuberant and inventive solos. Arntzen, on clarinet, tenor and soprano, generously does not take more solo space than the other horns and sounds excellent whenever he is briefly in the spotlight.
The style of the set changes quite a bit during the following four songs. The band performs Halloran’s calypso “Alvita,” Kellso’s complex but swinging “Counter Intuitive,” Benny Green’s tribute to Art Blakey “Bu’s March,” and Arntzen’s celebratory “Solitarity,” often credibly sounding like a modern hard bop jazz band. It shows that these musicians are more flexible than one might have thought.
The last two numbers, “After You’ve Gone” and “Muskrat Ramble,” are also quite different for they were recorded as cylinders. The primitive recording quality and the musicians’ familiarity with early jazz makes these performances perfect for a blindfold test. Catherine Russell’s vocals sound very much like they were made in 1924.
Countermelody is easily recommended and available from www.dottimerecords.com.
The Echo Park Project – Latin Jazz Octet
It’s My Turn
(The Echo Park Project)
This is an easy album to recommend. An excellent septet from Los Angeles performs seven Afro-Cuban jazz originals by Joe Mannozzi and one by bassist John Belzaguy. The music is filled with enthusiastic ensembles, fiery solos, and catchy rhythms played by the percussionists.
The Echo Park Project consists of tenor-saxophonist and flutist Frank Fontaine, trumpeter-flugelhornist Ron Francis Blake, pianist Jonathan Montes, bassist Belzaguy, Carlo Lopez (the project’s producer) on congas, Joey de Leon on timbales, and Tomars Martin Lopez playing bongo and several percussion instruments. While the material is unfamiliar (“Felicity’s Harvest” has a particularly memorable theme), it is quite accessible and infectious. Fontaine in particular takes exciting solos, the three percussionists make all of the music quite stirring, the arrangements (which sometimes have the horns overdubbing for the riff-filled ensembles) are colorful, and the musicians form a very attractive group sound.
The Echo Park Project’s release (available from www.theechoparkproject.com) is well worth supporting. Hopefully there will be many more releases.
Slowly: Song For Keith Jarrett
With the forced musical retirement of Keith Jarrett due to serious health problems, there is a major gap in the jazz world. Pianist Noah Haidu, in his heartfelt liner notes, tells about how he became introduced to Jarrett’s music and his attendance at several of his concerts including what would be his final one. After hearing news about Jarrett’s physical condition, he decided to record this tribute to the older pianist.
Rather than try to directly imitate Keith Jarrett or just duplicate his repertoire, Noah Haidu, in a trio with bassist Buster Williams and drummer Billy Hart, mostly chose to pay homage to Jarrett by playing in his own complementary style. He did include a tribute to Jarrett’s solo style (“Slowly”) and coupled “Rainbow” (which Jarrett had recorded a few times) with his own original “Keith Jarrett.” But on some of the other pieces, such as Williams’ “Air Dancing” and a swinging “What A Difference A Day Makes,” Haidu simply plays in his own voice.
The interplay between the three musicians and the excellent song selection (which also includes a pair of fine Hart originals, a slow “Georgia On My Mind,” and the closing “But Beautiful”) make Slowly (available from www.sunnysiderecords.com) recommended to anyone who enjoys hearing a high-quality piano trio, or who admires the musical legacy of Keith Jarrett.
All Without Words
Guitarist Justin Morell has a nonverbal son who sometimes sings spontaneously. One night he taped his sounds and came up with two different melodies that his son had made up on the spot. Morell utilized those two themes as the basis for the dozen pieces that he arranged for trumpeter John Daversa’s recent All Without Words album.
Daversa is showcased throughout while being accompanied by up to 19 strings, two flutes, two saxophones, two clarinets, two bassoons, two French horns, a four-piece rhythm section and a percussionist. The trumpeter sometimes recalls Miles Davis from the Sketches of Spain period (particularly on the more brooding ballads such as “The Smallest Thing”) but he also creates his own ideas over the colorful backgrounds. Although there is not much mood variation in the arrangements, Daversa (who takes some heated double-time runs on “Three Roads Diverged”) is heard throughout in top form during what is quite a tour-de-force for the trumpeter.
All Without Words succeeds on its own level. It is available from www.allaboutwords.org.
(Outside In Music)
Trombonist Mariel Bildsten grew up in Santa Barbara, attended the Manhattan School Of Music, and before the pandemic had worked regularly in New York including with Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Jazz Orchestra. The six-song EP Backbone is her recording debut.
Backbone is an impressive start for Bildsten’s solo career. She is joined by Stacy Dillard on tenor and soprano, pianist Sean Mason, bassist Ben Wolfe, and drummer Evan Sherman with an appearance by percussionist Keisel Jimenez on one number.
The repertoire covers a wide amount of ground, from a Latin hard bop version of Horace Silver’s “Ecaroh,” to a rare jazz rendition of “The Man That Got Away,” from a charming rendition of “Rosita” to “Mood Indigo.” Ms. Bildsten has impeccable technique, a warm sound, and an improvising style touched by her musical idol J.J. Johnson. Dillard also takes many fine solos, particularly on soprano, and the rhythm section is excellent.
The only fault to this enjoyable CD is that it is only 29 minutes long, but it does leave a favorable impression Mariel Bildsen has plenty of potential for the future, and this EP (available from www.outsideinmusic.com) serves as a fine beginning.
Live At The Deer Head Inn
During Oct.-Nov. 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic, altoist Jim Snidero had a rare opportunity to play a couple of live gigs at the Deer Head Inn in Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania. The musicians, other than the saxophonist, wore masks but they were able to please a socially distanced audience, and must have been quite happy to get a chance to perform together.
Snidero and his musicians (pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Joe Farnsworth) chose to play a set of straight ahead standards including two songs (“Now’s The Time” and “My Old Flame”) that were performed by Charlie Parker whose centennial was in 2020. Jazz musicians of Snidero’s generation, and to a certain extent the younger players who have followed, grew up playing bop and that remains the foundation for much of their music. So while it might seem a bit unusual for Orrin Evans to be performing such songs as “Autumn Leaves,” “Bye Bye Blackbird” and “Yesterdays,” he easily slips into the role of a 1950s jazz pianist while displaying his own voice. Snidero, with a tone a little reminiscent of Jackie McLean but with fresh and creative ideas, is in excellent form. Washington (who has a few short solos) and Farnsworth keep the momentum flowing throughout.
There are plenty of good vibes and solid swinging heard on the eight songs which include Grant Green’s “Idle Moments,” “Who Can I Turn To,” and a slow and atmospheric “Ol’ Man River.” The happy spirit create translates to listeners. Especially during a period when live performances are rare, Live At The Deer Head Inn (available from www.jazzdepot.com) will put a smile on one’s face.
Ramiro Pinheiro is a subtle and creative acoustic guitarist from Brazil who is also a talented songwriter. He was mostly self-taught at the beginning, learning the guitar by ear before attending the Conservatorio Souza Lima in Sao Paulo. Pinheiro moved to Barcelona, Spain 14 years ago and has been an important part of the local music scene ever since, working with a wide variety of top jazz and Brazilian musicians. While he has appeared on several recordings since 2010, Sentido is his debut CD as a leader.
Pinheiro, acoustic bassist Horacio Fumero (replaced on two tracks by electric bassist Rodrigo Balduino), and drummer Nicolas Correa form the core trio for this set although there are guests on every selection. The leader composed or co-wrote (with various lyricists) all but two of the nine selections. Sentido begins with “Quatro Ventos,” a pretty and soothing melody that is filled with inner heat. Pinheiro’s classic acoustic Brazilian guitar plays the melody, clarinetist Gabriel Amargant (who recalls Paquito D’Rivera a little) builds on the mood, and the blend between clarinet and guitar is quite beautiful.
“Viagem Nova” features the warm singing of Hugo Arán, a subtle rhythmic figure that is heard throughout the piece, and another fine guitar solo. On “Sabor De Madrugada” the trio is joined by vocalist Marina Ribeiro, trombonist Rita Payés, and electric guitarist Rodrigo Bezerra who plays a constant rhythm behind the lead voices. Ribeiro (who takes a floating vocal) and Payés co-star, both individually and together at the end where they harmonize in memorable fashion.
“Nasceu Pra Navegar,” the first of four pieces that welcome Pablo Giménez on flute, is an original bossa-nova that is worthy of Antonio Carlos Jobim. Edie Barcelo’s singing and Crá Rosa’s quiet percussion are major assets as is the leader’s accompanying guitar. “Choro Do Poeta,” which has Giménez’s flute making the trio a quartet, features a long melody statement and an attractive blend between the instruments. Egberto Gismonti’s lesser-known Pr’um Samba” is most notable for Ana Rossi’s singing and the mellow trumpet of Alvar Monfort.
“Tutu” (an original by the leader, not the famous Miles Davis/Marcus Miller collaboration) has a catchy melody that is played by Giménez on flute and built upon by guitarist Pinheiro. “Balao De Longe” (with Giménez, Pedro Bastos on accordion, and percussionist Ed Moreira) is most notable for its repetitive theme which is quite haunting. Sentido closes with Edu Lobo’s “Canto Triste,” a very likable feature for Pablo Selnik’s flute playing.
Ramiro Pinheiro’s Sentido (available from www.freshsoundrecords.com) is highly recommended to any listener having a love for Brazilian jazz. The rich melodies, variety, and top-notch musicianship along with the consistent creativity make this a memorable release.
One Night At Chris’
(Dave Wilson Music)
An excellent tenor and soprano-saxophonist, Dave Wilson has long had his own sound. While well versed in bop and inspired by Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane, Wilson is not shy to take his improvisations a bit outside when it fits the music.
One Night At Chris’, which was recorded live at Chris’ Jazz Café in Philadelphia in March 2018, is the saxophonist’s fifth album as a leader and first live recording. Joined by pianist Kirk Reese, bassist Tony Marino, and drummer Dan Monaghan, Dave Wilson performs four originals, “Summertime,” and four songs from the pop music world, turning everything into creative jazz.
The opener, “Ocean Blues, is a joyful medium-tempo boogaloo. It is bluesy while not quite being a blues with Wilson’s expressive playing sounding inspired by the catchy melody. He switches to soprano on the Grateful Dead’s “Friend Of The Devil” for an infectious treatment that includes a particularly inventive piano solo from Reese. After the familiar melody of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” is played, Wilson takes the song to some unexpected places during his improvisation as does bassist Marino.
One would not normally expect songs by Creed and Ambrosio on a jazz album. But just as Sonny Rollins used to take unlikely material and embrace their melody, Wilson digs with affection into the funky “My Own Prison” while transforming “Biggest Part Of Me” into a new piece altogether. His original “Movin’ On” has one of the saxophonist’s more passionate solos of the set, making an intense statement full of originality.
Brian Wilson’s “God Only Knows” is taken as a lyrical vehicle for Dave Wilson’s soprano. The rollicking uptempo “Untitled Modal Tune” sounds like a piece that John Coltrane might have played but Wilson’s tenor sounds quite individual. One Night At Chris’ concludes with the two longest performances. “Summertime” is taken for a fresh and rather stormy ride by the quartet while the cooking “Spiral” has a concise spot for Monaghan and another powerful solo from the leader.
One Night At Chris’ (available from www.davewilsonmusic.org) is one of Dave Wilson’s most memorable recordings thus far, and serves as an excellent introduction to his playing.
A top jazz pianist from Canada, Brian Buchanan performs in a modern mainstream style in his own original voice. He has worked with many top Canadian players and some Americans during the past 40 years, releasing several albums of his own. While he has battled cancer in recent times, he is still playing and has not lost his spirit or his enthusiasm at playing jazz.
Solo Sessions is a relaxed session consisting of Buchanan’s solo piano renditions of eight standards plus his original “Goin’ Home” and Kenny Barron’s lesser-known “Spiral.” Most of the tempos (other than “East Of The Sun”) are medium-slow and laidback although Buchanan’s playing is filled with quiet creativity. Among the songs that the pianist uplifts are “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” “In A Sentimental Mood” (which quotes from Duke Ellington’s playing on his album with John Coltrane), “More Than You Know,” and “’Round Midnight.”
The results are quite pleasing. While I wish that there were some uptempo tunes for variety, Solo Sessions is an excellent showcase for Brian Buchanan’s thoughtful and heartfelt interpretations. It is available from www.brianbuchananmusic.com.
Sam Braysher Trio
Dance Little Lady, Dance Little Man
Sam Braysher, an altoist with a distinctive vibratoless tone of his own, is based in his native England. While his sound and style could be mistaken for a West Coast jazz player of the 1950s, he is a versatile player equally adept at early and modern-day jazz. Golden Earrings, his debut album from 2017, was a set of duets with pianist Michael Kanan.
The recent Dance Little Lady, Dance Little Man has Braysher featured in a sparse setting with bassist Tom Farmer and drummer Jorge Rossy who plays vibes and marimba on one song apiece. The repertoire includes fresh versions of a few well-known tunes, one original, and several superior obscurities. While the pianoless trio setting is a bit reminiscent of Sonny Rollins, Braysher does not sound like anyone else.
Among the highlights are Dexter Gordon’s “For Regulars Only,” a swinging “One Note Samba,” Braysher’s “Pintxos” (which hints at “Giant Steps” in spots), “Little White Lies,” and “Shall We Dance.” The altoist enjoys embracing superior melodies and uplifts the veteran songs with affection rather than feeling compelled to completely reinvent them. Farmer has some fine short solos and Rossy is supportive with his moments on vibes and marimba adding color to the set.
This easily recommended CD is available from www.unitrecords.com.