Dawn Derow
My Ship: Songs From 1941

A top cabaret singer based in New York who early in her career also sang opera, Dawn Derow had success in 2018 with her show My Ship: Songs From 1941. Her CD of the same name was released last year.

            Dawn Derow has a beautiful voice that is quite expressive and flexible. Her 14 performances on her CD (covering a total of 18 songs) find her mostly sticking to the classic melodies and lyrics and showing how timeless the music still is. She is accompanied by a fine group that includes her music director and pianist Ian Herman, three horn players, a few string players, and a rhythm section that has Daniel Glass on drums. Unfortunately, other than Herman, the backup band is not featured at all.

            The singer revives such 1941 hits as “Lover Man,” “Let’s Get Away From It All,” “Skylark,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “My Ship,” and “The White Cliffs Of Dover,” displaying her operatic chops on the latter. The repertoire of classic songs, which were written in the early part of World War II. just before the United States entered the war, is full of gems. While Dawn Derow is not a jazz singer (one hopes that in the future she will challenge herself to master that field too), she swings when it is called for and clearly enjoyed the experience of singing these 80-year old songs. Fans of the era will also enjoy hearing her perform these tunes for she does them justice. My Ship is available from www.zohomusic.com.


Chet Baker Trio
Live In Paris

            Chet Baker, who found fame in the 1950s as a cool-toned trumpeter and a vulnerable romantic singer, managed to survive many harrowing episodes (mostly brought on by his heroin addiction) and the loss of some key teeth to make a comeback that began in 1973. He spent much of his final decade before his death in 1988 playing in Europe. While there were off nights, much of the time his trumpet playing was heard at its prime during the era despite all that he had gone through in his life.

            This two-CD set of previously unreleased radio broadcasts has been put together by producer Zev Feldman with the cooperation of Baker’s estate. Baker is heard on June 17, 1983 in a trio with pianist Michel Graillier and bassist Dominique Lemerle, and on Feb. 7, 1984 with Graillier and bassist Riccardo del Fra. The intimate drumless setting was one that Baker favored during this era (he also recorded some notable sets with guitar and bass) and allows him to make maximum use of space.

            On the 11 songs (nine standards plus two lesser-known tunes including one by Hal Galper), Baker is heard in excellent if not quite flawless form. He and the trio really stretch out with nine of the 11 songs being over ten minutes long and one other tune missing the ten minute mark by seven seconds. The playing is relaxed and comfortable and Baker sounds happy in this setting, taking long solos and many brief vocals. While there are some fine piano solos and spots for the bassists, the focus is mostly on the leader. His tone is quite recognizable and his solos are full of subtle surprises and spontaneous moments, as if Baker were having a conversation both with the audience and himself.

            An added plus are the extensive liner notes (which includes interviews with the two bassists), a trademark of Zev Feldman’s many productions. Fans of Chet Baker will certainly want this enjoyable release which is available from www.amazon.com.


Melissa Aldana
12 Stars
(Blue Note)

            When Melissa Aldana began to get national attention, the Chilean-born tenor-saxophonist often played in a pianoless trio and recalled one of her musical heroes, Sonny Rollins. She has since continued to evolve and on 12 Stars, a quintet outing with guitarist Lage Lund, pianist Sullivan Fortner, bassist Pablo Menares, and drummer Kush Abadey, she sounds very much like herself.

            Like Wayne Shorter, Aldana’s playing and writing have a logic of their own. Other than “Intro to Emilia,” she co-composed all of the music on this set with Lund. While none of these songs are destined to become future standards, they are quite atmospheric and set a consistently melancholy mood that is reflected in the solos. That seems only right for the music is inspired by the dark events of COVID and Aladana’s separation from her husband. The performances are concise with the individual statements being secondary to the ensembles and the mood. The solos and the ensembles convey a quiet strength and determination to overcome these times and have a bright future.

            With Melissa Aldana’s musical talents, one could easily bet that happier and very productive times are ahead. In the meantime, her debut for Blue Note (available from www.amazon.com) serves as both a musical depiction of where she is now, and an opportunity for one to have stimulating background music for one’s thoughts.


Azar Lawrence
New Sky

            Tenor and soprano saxophonist Azar Lawrence is best known in the jazz world for his passionate John Coltrane-inspired solos and for his early recordings with McCoy Tyner. He has also had two other musical orbits, playing spiritual music and being a busy saxophonist and composer in the r&b world, most notably with Earth, Wind & Fire and Marvin Gaye.

            Until now, Lawrence has generally separated his musical worlds. New Sky, which is comprised of ten of his compositions, is groove music that is often spiritual while including some soulful jazz solos. Lawrence (heard on tenor, soprano and alto) is joined by a core group comprised of pianist John Beasley, bassist Sekou Bunch, drummer Tony Austin, and percussionist Munyungo Jackson. Guests on various selections include guitarists James Saez, Gregory Moore and (on one cut) Greg Poree, singers on three numbers (Lynne Fiddmont fares best on “New Sky”), harpist Destiny Muhammad, and keyboardist Nduduzo Makhathini.

            The dance music is lighter than Lawrence’s other recordings of recent times with the saxophonist playing mostly melodically while joined by light funky rhythms. He does get in some fine solos along the way on what is one of his most accessible recordings. While not essential for jazz listeners, the music (a bit reminiscent of Lonnie Liston Smith’s albums of the 1970s and ‘80s) is likable and can serve as a gateway to his more significant releases. It is available from www.azarlawrence.com.


Lynne Arriale Trio
The Lights Are Always On

            Veteran pianist Lynne Arriale’s The Lights Are Always On is dedicated to the heroes of the world from the past few years: those who fought COVID directly, stood up against injustice, and risked their lives to try to improve the world. Among those who she salutes in her music are surgeon Dr. Prakash Gada, Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman (whose military career was ruined after testifying truthfully about Trump), Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and civil rights leader John Lewis.

            While one can forget the political nature of her originals while listening to this instrumental set with her trio, Arriale’s interpretations of her ten originals are mostly somber and always thoughtful. Bassist Jasper Somsen (who has occasional solos) and drummer E.J. Strickland accentuate her musical thoughts and play with great subtlety and sympathy.

The simple but effective “Sounds Like America” and the cheerful jazz waltz “Sisters” are among the highpoints of this quietly passionate set of sophisticated and determined music. The Lights Are Always On is available from www.amazon.com and www.challengerecords.com.


Jorge Garcia
Dedicated To You

            Guitarist Jorge Garcia, who was born in Cuba, has worked extensively in Florida and the East Coast, performing with such notables as Cécile McLorin Salvant, Jon Faddis, Tony Bennett, and the late Richie Cole. Garcia shows throughout the rather brief (27 ½ minutes) Dedicated To You that he is a particularly skilled bebop soloist.

            Richie Cole (1948-2020), who is still greatly missed two years after his death, helped bring back bebop with his Alto Madness recordings in the 1970s. He is on the first two selections of Dedicated To You which were recorded in 2009. Cole rips through Gigi Gryce’s “Minority” and the guitarist’s “This One’s For Richie”; the latter utilizes the chord changes of “There Will Never Be Another You” and is dedicated to Cole. Those two selections are a reunion of some of the members of Cole’s Alto Madness Orchestra that he led while in Florida, teaming the altoist and Garcia with pianist Paul Banman, the late bassist Rick Doll, and drummer James Cotmon.

            The bossa “With You Always” is a feature for the fluent harmonica playing of Hendrik Meurkens while “Over The Rainbow” (also given samba rhythms) has Wendy Pedersen taking a fine vocal. Garcia gets to stretch out on a cooking version of “You Fascinate Me So” and “S’Wonderful” while the closer, “Dedicated To You,” is a brief atmospheric ballad.

            The diverse music is consistently enjoyable and makes one look forward to Jorge Garcia’s future releases. It is available from www.jorgegarcia.com.


Peter Curtis
Pete’s Pandemic Playlist
(Bella Barktalk Records)

            It is not an understatement to say that the pandemic has made life very difficult for virtually all musicians during the past two years. As with all of his contemporaries, guitarist Peter Curtis found himself without any gigs and with a lot of unexpected time on his hands.

            Since he is fortunate enough to play an instrument that sounds quite complete unaccompanied (when played by the right person), Curtis did the logical thing and recorded a set of solos. Pete’s Pandemic Playlist, other than on “The Nearness Of You” where he is joined remotely by saxophonist Charlie Richard, features the guitarist alone in the studio, playing thoughtful and mostly gently swinging solos.

            The 14 titles are taken from a wide variety of sources and all of the titles have something to do with the isolation caused by COVID. These include “I Will Survive,” “It’s A Small World,” “Stayin’ Alive,” “Sting’s “Don’t Stand So Close To Me,” “Solitude,” “In The Air Tonight,” “Toxic,” and Wayne Shorter’s “Amrgadeddon.” On some of the songs, such as “Don’t Fence Me In,” Curtis’ tone and style hint strongly at country music while at other times he sounds a little like a classical guitarist, but this is very much a jazz album, one that despite the world situation sounds cheerful and optimistic.

Peter Curtis’ subtle improvisations, which often keep the melodies close by, are enjoyable to hear and this CD will sound good even when COVID is history. It is available from www.petercurtismusic.com.


Shawn Purcell

            Guitarist Shawn Purcell, who is based in the Washington DC area, worked with the U.S. Air Force’s The Airmen Of Note for 15 years and with the US Navy Band Commodores jazz ensemble. He has appeared on over 30 recordings including with his wife singer Darden Purcell, tenor-saxophonist Chip McNeill, and trombonist Ben Patterson. In 2019 he led his first album, Symmetricity, and the recent 180 (his debut for the Origin label) proves to be a giant step forward.

            For this consistently stimulating project which is mostly comprised of his originals, the guitarist leads a trio with organist Pat Bianchi and drummer Jason Tiemann. Darden Purcell makes three guest appearances while trombonist Patterson helps out on “Soul Blue.”

            Shawn Purcell begins the set by playing with great passion on the uptempo romp “Cat And Mouse.” There are also spots for Bianchi’s fluent organ and drummer Tiemann, making this an excellent introduction to the trio. There is plenty of variety to be heard throughout the set as is displayed on the augmented and extended blues “180” and the adventurous “Fond Illusion”; the latter has Purcell playing quite freely and with intensity over a groove.

            Darden Purcell contributes some warm and attracting singing to the standard “A Time For Love” before the trio digs into the cooking “ChicaD” which is a close relative of Miles Davis’ “Half Nelson.” “A Long Stroll” has a complex melody that almost sounds like someone talking, a mood and feeling that is continued throughout the organ and guitar solos. One of the set’s highpoints is the boppish but modern “Hoodang” which builds in momentum and excitement as it evolves. A contrast is offered on “LTG (Little Toni Girl”), a melodic and thoughtful piece that one could imagine being given lyrics. The rewarding program concludes with the funky “Window Games” (which contains some colorful drum breaks), the struttin’ medium-tempo blues “Soul Blue,” and the heated “Search And Destroy.”

            There are no slow moments on 180 or throwaway tunes, and the trio never coasts. Shawn Purcell is consistently inventive while altering his sound and approach depending on the song, always serving the music  With Bianchi contributing many colorful solos and the supportive Tiemann keeping the momentum flowing, 180 is an update on the classic organ trio. The result is an enjoyable outing (available from www.originarts.com) that is heartily recommended.


Tim Lin
Romance In Formosa
(Linsanity Music)

            From the first notes that one hears from Tim Lin on his debut release, it is obvious that the young tenor-saxophonist already has his own sound and a mature style. While he has the technique to play rapid lines, he shows throughout this impressive recording that he is not afraid to take his time, let the music breathe, and make every note count.

            Tim Lin, who was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area and is now based in New York, has worked with such notables as Kenny Burrell, Russell Ferrante, Albert “Tootie” Heath, Terri Lyne Carrington, Carl Allen, and Mike Clark among others, in addition to leading his own groups.

For his debut recording, he is joined by a superior veteran rhythm section comprised of pianist Andy Laverne, bassist Jay Anderson, and drummer Billy Drummond plus Bob Sheppard (who produced the set) on tenor, soprano and bass clarinet on three of the seven numbers.

            Sonny Rollins’ “Airegin” serves as a fine introduction to Tim Lin as he rips through the song’s chord changes with no difficulty. Here, as throughout the release, he plays consistently creative ideas that push the tradition. “You’re My Everything” is most notable for the interplay and trading off of Lin and Sheppard as the two tenors interact with each other and exchange ideas. Lin takes the World War II. ballad “Long Ago And Far Away” at a cooking medium-tempo pace and expertly builds up his solo to a chorus in which he plays a duet with Drummond. In contrast, “My Foolish Heart” is played quite slow with the melody telling the story during the thoughtful tenor solo, even as the chords of the standard are modernized a bit.

            The vintage standard “How Deep Is The Ocean” is uplifted as Lin’s melody statement is accompanied by Sheppard’s rhythmic phrases on bass clarinet. Each of the musicians is expert at telling their story within a short period of time as witness the one-chorus bass, piano, bass clarinet, and tenor solos, all of which feel quite complete. Next, Lin displays plenty of maturity during a relaxed version of “Weaver Of Dreams,” a performance that also has a particularly worthy statement from Laverne.

            Romance In Formosa concludes with Lin’s original piece “Pursuing Resolution.” While the two saxophonists both play tenor during the ensembles, Sheppard is featured on soprano before Lin takes his final improvisation. The solos are quite concise, leaving listeners wanting more.

            It seems obvious that much more will be heard from Tim Lin in the future. Romance In Formosa (available from timlinmusic.com) is a very good start.


Kristina Koller
Get Out Of Town

            Kristina Koller is an adventurous jazz singer, one who is not shy to introduce challenging originals influenced by rock and pop as much as jazz, or to shine fresh light on standards. She does the latter on Get Out Of Town which is subtitled “Cole Porter Re-Imagined.”

            Joined by her regular trio (pianist Fima Chupakhin, bassist James Robbins, and drummer Juan Chiavassa), Kristina Koller begins the brief 29-minute program with a fairly straightforward version of “Get Out Of Town.” On “What Is This Thing Called Love” and a laidback “It’s All Right With Me” (which is virtually reinvented), she sings with passion and is accompanied by rhythms that are inspired by r&b and hip hop. “Greek To You” and the straight ahead “Why Don’t We Try Staying Home” are real obscurities. Koller discovered those two songs in a book that she picked up called Unpublished Cole Porter Songbook. While neither are classics, it is nice to hear some “new” Cole Porter and it makes one wonder what other potential gems are in the book.

The set also includes a haunting version of “In The Still Of The Night” (Chupakhin’s musical depiction of a ticking clock is quite effective), a lightly funky “Just One Of Those Things,” and the album’s highpoint, “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” Taken at a medium-tempo pace rather than as a slow ballad, the song has Koller accompanying herself on ukulele while she scats and swings. It would be particularly rewarding to hear her perform a full hour set in that setting.

The enjoyable and consistently surprising Get Out Of Town is available from www.kristinakoller.net.


Larry Bluth Trio
Never More Here
(Fresh Sound)

            Larry Bluth (1940-2020) was a pianist and educator influenced and inspired by Lennie Tristano and Sal Mosca but a soloist with his own sound. He enjoyed improvising over common chord changes and creating new melodic lines while engaging in close interaction with his sidemen. Bluth made relatively few recordings, just three albums for the Zinnia label in the 1990s with bassist Don Messina and drummer Bill Chattin. This new set from Fresh Sound (www.freshsoundrecords.com) features the same musicians.

            Never More Here consists of previously unreleased performances from 2001 and 1996. Bluth, Messina, and Chattin perform pieces by Charlie Parker (“Klactoveedsedstene” and “Sippin’ At Bell’s”), a pair of originals based on other songs (“Riverdale” and “Larry’s Line”), Lee Konitz’s “Sound-Lee,” and four standards: “Sweet And Lovely,” “Ghost Of A Chance,” “Yesterdays” and “These Foolish Things.” The themes are generally discarded after the first chorus as the trio digs in and swings on a continuous flow of ideas. Messina has occasional solos and Chattin gets a few drum breaks but the focus is mostly on the pianist and the interplay of the trio.

            Lovers of bebop and the Lennie Tristano legacy will certainly enjoy this CD from the little-known but talented Larry Bluth.


The Gathering
Healing Suite
(The Village)

This first-time release of a performance from 2015 looks into the future of an important part of the spiritual jazz scene in Los Angeles, a movement partly centered at the World Stage. It begins with a rather anguished vocal by Dwight Trible and adventurous and somewhat thunderous piano from Theo Saunders that fit the all-too-true horrors of “Strange Fruit.” Next, Kamau Daáood reads his poem “Healing Suite” with great emotion, talking about how the world is out of tune and needs to recover from its endless series of injustices. It was a year before Trump won his election, so things would not be getting better anytime soon.

Horace Tapscott’s three-part “Freedom’s Sweet” starts with Saunders’ piano recalling McCoy Tyner a bit, a vamp emerging, and more poetry by Daáood. Finally, after a relatively brief and effective vocal by Maia, the instrumentalists get an opportunity to stretch out. There are powerful solos from trombonist Phil Ranelin, bassist Roberto Miranda, and drummer Fritz Wise. After some very original wordless signing from Maia, altoist Marcedes Smith leads the group through a series of explorative ensembles. The concert concludes with a return appearance by Dwight Trible on Nate Morgan’s “Mother.”

            While I wish that the instrumentalists (led by Jesse Sharps) had more opportunities to be heard, Healing Suite is an important time capsule that deserves to be heard. It is available from www.thegatheringjazzfilm.com/video.


Meredith d’Ambrosio
Sometime Ago

            Throughout her career, singer Meredith d’Ambrosio, who is also an effective pianist, has consistently created sensitive interpretations of high-quality lyrics, many of them her own. Her voice is quiet, her improvisations are subtle, and she always gets into the deepest meanings of the words that she sings.

            For her 17th release on the Sunnyside label, she is joined by pianist Randy Halberstadt (who has many rewarding solos), drummer Steve Johns, and his son bassist Darryl Johns with trumpeter-flugelhornist Don Sickler making welcome guest appearances on two of the ten numbers. In addition to fresh versions of a few standards (“I Wished On The Moon” is particularly delightful), the singer wrote “Oh Well, What The Hell,” and contributed lyrics to two of Halberstadt’s songs with “Feast” becoming the witty “Feast Your Eyes.”

            Comprised of medium-tempo performances and slower ballads, Sometime Ago is a thoughtful and often-romantic set of lightly swinging jazz that features Meredith d’Ambrosio’s warm vocals at their best. It is available from www.sunnysiderecords.com.


Mark Wade Trio
True Stories
(Mark Wade Music)

            Mark Wade is equally skilled as a stimulating bassist and an inventive composer. On True Stories, his fourth album as a leader, he is joined by pianist Tim Harrison and drummer Scott Neumann. The bassist fills True Stories with his original music while also borrowing and transforming themes from other artists who he admires. Throughout the set, the close interplay by the trio (Wade is well worth listening to even during the piano solos) and the subtle surprises uplift True Stories above the level of most trio sessions. The music is harmonically rich and never uses predictable chord changes yet swings in its own way. Harrison’s piano playing and drummer Neumann fit in perfectly with Wade’s assertive bass and the trio has its own group sound.

            After performing the leader’s passionate “I Feel More Like I Do Now,” the trio explores a combination of a pair of Wayne Shorter tunes (“Falling” and “Delores”) that are joined by a Wade theme and renamed “Falling Delores.” Having looked towards Miles Davis’ classic album Miles Smiles for inspiration with the first two numbers, Wade displays the influence of his classical background and his love for Igor Stravinsky’s music on “The Soldier And The Fiddle.” “In The Market” utilizes some of the themes from the Weather Report album “Black Market” in an unusual swinging way. Wade turns Fred Hersch’s “Swamp Thing” into “Piscataway Went That-A-Way,” an eccentric blues-based performance, and pays tribute to his teacher the late Frank Kimbrough on “A Simple Song” which is anything but simplistic.

            The two-part “Song With Orange & Other Things” has a related piece by Wade before concluding with an exhilarating version of Mingus’ “Song With Orange.” The program ends with “At The Sunside” which has a bit of the Swedish jazz group CORPO’s “Solokvist” before becoming another stimulating Wade original.

            True Stories is well worth several listens. It is available from www.markwademusicny.com.