Brent Fischer Orchestra
Pictures At An Exhibition
Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s ten-part suite “Pictures at an Exhbition” was composed in 1874. The Promenade theme, which occurs several times throughout the suite, will be quite familiar to most listeners. Mussorgsky was inspired by the pictures of artist Viktor Hartmann, a friend who had passed away the previous year. “Pictures At An Exhibition” proved to be quite popular and was later arranged several times for a full orchestra, most notably by Ravel in 1922. Musicians from other genres have occasionally adapted it for their styles including Emerson, Lake & Palmer in 1971 and, in jazz, Ralph Burns (1957) and Allyn Ferguson (1963).
Arranger Brent Fischer has done a superb job of transforming all of Mussorgsky’s themes into jazz while retaining the melodies. On this CD, he utilizes his big band, creates consistently colorful textures, and gives nearly all of the musicians an opportunity to create solos that are logical extensions of the ensembles. His orchestra has five trumpeters including Ron Stout and Carl Saunders (who is featured on “Promenade V”), a mighty trombone section (Scott Whitfield, Francisco Torres and either Ido Meshulam or Andy Martin plus bass trombonist Steve Hughes), six or seven woodwinds (including Alex Budman), and a four-piece rhythm section with guitarist Larry Koonse and pianist Quinn Johnson. With his inventive utilization of such instruments as piccolo, alto clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, bass sax and contrabassoon in addition to the more usual big band horns, Fischer makes Mussorgsky’s music sound quite timeless and modern without changing their essence. The original suite is augmented by three mostly very different alternate versions of certain movements.
With its variety, attention to detail, and superb playing by some of L.A.’s best musicians, Brent Fischer’s Pictures At An Exhibition (which has very informative liner notes by the arranger) is one of the finest big band albums of the year. It is available from www.brentfischer.com and www.amazon.com.
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers
First Flight To Tokyo
Imagine hearing a previously unreleased and very well recorded live set by what was arguably the finest version of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Imagine hearing trumpeter Lee Morgan, tenor-saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Bobby Timmons, bassist Jymie Merritt, and the drummer-leader stretching out and sounding consistently brilliant on two extended sets of standards. First Flight To Tokyo perfectly fits that description.
One of the many discoveries found by Zev Feldman (the Sherlock Holmes of jazz), this two-CD set makes available the music performed in Tokyo on Jan. 14, 1961. The Jazz Messengers were met with an enormous amount of acclaim when they landed in Japan that they had never received in the U.S., and they were inspired by their audiences’ affection. While there have been previous Japanese releases of the music from Jan. 2 and 11, the Jan. 14 concert was at the end of the band’s stay in Tokyo and is really quite outstanding.
The contents include lengthy versions of “Now’s The Time” (heard twice including a 22 minute rendition), “Moanin’,” “Blues March,” “Dat Dere,” a feature for a muted Lee Morgan on “’Round About Midnight,” and “A Night In Tunisia,” plus two very brief versions of “The Theme” that close the sets. Morgan sounds superb and creative throughout yet the solo honors often go to Shorter (whose playing was already quite original and displaying musical curiosity) and an inspired Timmons who shows that he was more than just one of the definitive soul jazz pianists. Merritt has a few short spots but is mostly in an important supportive role while Blakey is typically powerful, taking two solos apiece on the renditions of “Now’s The Time.”
As is true on all of Zev Feldman discoveries, there is an extensive booklet (in this case one that is 56 pages) full of liner notes and interviews. By itself, Wayne Shorter’s memories of being with the Jazz Messengers (in a conversation with Don Was) are worth the price of the set.
Even collectors who own all of the other albums by the Morgan-Shorter-
Timmons-Merritt version of the Jazz Messengers (The Big Beat, Like Someone In Love, A Night In Tunisia, Meet You At The Jazz Corner Of The World Vols. 1 & 2, Pisces, Roots and Herbs, The Witch Doctor, and The Freedom Rider) will have to get First Flight To Tokyo. This timeless music, which is quite stirring, is available from www.bluenote.com and www.amazon.com.
On The Town
Leonard Bernstein had such a productive and consistently creative life that even his occasional departures from the classical music world are of great interest. While not the most prolific songwriter, he composed “Lucky To Be Me,” “Some Other Time,” and the scores of West Side Story, On The Town, and Wonderful Town among other works.
Part of the New York jazz scene for 40 years, pianist Pete Malinverni had led at least 15 albums of his own prior to On The Town. For this exploration of nine Leonard Bernstein songs plus his own “A Night On The Town,” Malinverni is joined by bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Jeff Hamilton. Included are songs from Bernstein’s shows (including “Somewhere,” “Cool” and “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story”), “Lucky To Be Me,” and “Some Other Time.” The latter, which is taken faster than usual, is the only disappointment for me since it sounds at its best as a slow lyrical ballad.
But otherwise, Malinverni’s interpretations of these songs are quite satisfying, being melodic, swinging, and explorative within the hard bop tradition. They do Leonard Bernstein justice and are quite enjoyable. On The Town is recommended and available from www.planetarts.org.
Blues In The Air
Evan Christopher has been a major New Orleans clarinetist since at least the early-1990s. He worked with Jim Cullum’s Jazz Band during 1998-2001 and spent time after Hurricane Katrina living in Paris where he formed and recorded with Django á la Créole. An expert on early New Orleans clarinetists, Christopher has long displayed the ability to pay tribute to Sidney Bechet without copying him too closely.
Blues In The Air features 11 Bechet compositions, from the fairly well-known (“Si To Vois Ma Mére” which was utilized by Woody Allen in his Midnight In Paris movie, the rollicking “Polka Dot Stomp,” and “Ghost Of The Blues”) to the obscure (“Southern Sunset,” “Girl’s Dance,” and “This Is That Tomorrow That I Dreaded Yesterday”). Christopher is joined by the French group Three Blind Mice (trumpeter Malo Mazurie, guitarist Félix Hunot, and bassist Sébastian Giradot) which is augmented by drummer Guillaume Nouaux on half of the selections.
The expressive clarinetist is heard in top form throughout the set, trumpeter Mazurié is a hot player who adds excitement to the music, and acoustic guitarist Hunot knows the idiom quite well. Fans of classic jazz and Sidney Bechet will find much to enjoy on this easily recommended set, available from www.camille-productions.com.
Sebastian Noelle Quartet
(Fresh Sound New Talent)
Originally from Germany, guitarist Sebastian Noelle has been based in New York since 2002. He has worked extensively with Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Chris Potter’s big band, and the Aaron Irwin Quintet among others in addition to being a busy session guitarist. System One is his fourth CD as a leader for the Fresh Sound New Talent label.
Other than a famous quote from J.R.R. Tolkien (“Not all those who wander are lost”), there are no liner notes on this CD. However the quote does fit the music which often gives one the impression of the improvisations wandering a bit while certainly never being lost. The guitarist is joined by pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Chris Tordini, and drummer Dan Weiss on ten of his originals. While Noelle is generally in the lead during the ensembles, all four of the musicians make strong contributions to the complex yet often surprisingly accessible music.
The opener, “Uncanny Valley,” changes moods and themes several times, as if the music were purely intuitive and spontaneous. However some of the other pieces, such as “Kaonashi” and the lyrical “Winter Boat,” are a bit more tightly controlled even during the soloists’ inventive flights. The playing is generally abstract, but the thoughtful nature of the improvising makes the results inviting to those with open ears, and repeated listenings reveal its original logic and some lightly disguised beauty.
System One, which is available from www.freshsoundrecords.com, is well worth exploring.
Eric Person, who plays alto and soprano, first became widely known for his association with veteran drummer-bandleader Chico Hamilton in the 1980s and ‘90s. A versatile musician, Person has also worked with Ronald Shannon Jackson, McCoy Tyner, Dave Holland, and the World Saxophone Quartet, in addition to leading at least 11 albums of his own.
Although he is only on four of the seven selections of Blue Vision, the participation of tenor-saxophonist Houston Person (83 at the time of this 2018 set and unrelated to the leader) is pretty noteworthy. With organist Adam Klipple, guitarist Pete McCann, and drummer Tony Jefferson, the two saxophone giants team up on a pair of medium-tempo blues (“Blue Vision” and “Old Hat Feathers”), “Lover Man” and “Dear Old Stockholm” with “Stockholm” being among the highpoints. While Eric is a bit more modern than Houston, they blend together well and both inspire and complement each other during these swinging numbers.
In addition, Eric Person is showcased in a trio with Klipple and Jefferson on his slow and slightly funky jazz waltz “Soul Saturation,” the quirky “Geri” (which pays tribute to the late Geri Allen), and an uptempo “No Doubt True Dat.” The latter is a
particularly rewarding showcase for his fluent soprano playing.
The Ballad Artistry Of David Murray
Tenor-saxophonist David Murray has been a giant of the avant-garde since the late 1970s, whether playing unaccompanied solos, working with the World Saxophone Quartet, McCoy Tyner, and some of his most adventurous contemporaries. Rather than take John Coltrane as his musical role model, Murray’s big tone has always been more influenced by Ben Webster and Paul Gonsalves.
This particular project from the Fresh Sound label is quite a bit different than most of Murray’s many recordings. Originally designed in 1990 to be a set of duets with pianist Tete Montoliu (who became unexpectedly ill shortly before the recording), it instead teams Murray with the versatile French pianist Georges Arvanitas. Arvanitas, who passed away in 2005, was a bop-based player who along the way recorded with such Americans as Pepper Adams, Cat Anderson, Jimmy Archey, Chet Baker, Don Byas, Bill Coleman, Buck Clayton, Sonny Criss, Ted Curson, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Bud Freeman, Dexter Gordon, Coleman Hawkins, Barney Kessel, Yusef Lateef, Anita O’ Day, Stuff Smith, and Ben Webster; quite a discography!
For this outing, Murray and Arvanitas perform seven ballads and Arvanitas’ “Blues For Two.” The tenor plays quite melodically, always keeping the theme in mind and only occasionally hinting at going outside. He shows a great deal of self-restraint on such songs as “Polka Dots And Moonbeams,” “Body And Soul,” “I’m In The Mood For Love,” and the only medium-tempo song, “Star Eyes.” The pianist is very much at home in this setting, playing with taste and swing while being in a mostly supportive role.
The Ballad Artistry Of David Murray, which is available from www.freshsoundrecords.com, is a delight. Who would have thought that Murray would be caressing the melody of “La Vie En Rose?”
Pursuance: The Coltranes
This is an ambitious and intriguing tribute album to the music of both John and Alice Coltrane. Altoist Lakecia Benjamin, while inspired by tenor-saxophonist John Coltrane a bit, has her own sound and adventurous style. For her project, she utilizes a core rhythm section of pianist Sharp Radway, bassist Lonnie Plaxico, and drummer Darrell Grant, and generously features an all-star cast of guests.
Benjamin performs seven John Coltrane compositions, four by Alice Coltrane, and a couple of traditional hymns. She shares a blistering version of “Liberia” with altoist Gary Bartz, utilizes strings, Brandee Younger on harp, and bassist Reggie Workman on an atmospheric “Prema,” updates “Central Park West” which includes some scat-singing
from Jazzmeia Horn, and tears into “Walk With Me” which has a cameo from violinist Regina Carter. An emotional “Goin’ Home” with strings, Younger’s harp, bass clarinet and flute is particularly effective. Benjamin takes a very passionate solo on “Syeeda’s Song Flute” in a quintet that also includes trumpeter Keyon Harrold and bassist Ron Carter. “Spiral” has her sharing the spotlight with altoist Steve Wilson. Intense singing and spoken word by Georgia Anne Muldrow are featured on “Om Shanti.” “Alabama” has Benjamin caressing the theme with an oversize rhythm section that includes Reggie Workman and pianist Bertha Hope, “Acknowledgment” and “Pursuance” are taken from A Love Supreme; the former has some spoken word and a vocal by Dee Dee Bridgewater but “Pursuance,” featuring the leader with her quartet, works best. “Turiya And Ramakrishna” features a McCoy Tynerish piano solo from Surya Botofasina. “Affinity,” which closes the CD, has altoists Benjamin, Greg Osby and Bruce Williams all getting to solo with the rhythm section before it ends inconclusively.
While not every selection is equally successful, and the Alice Coltrane compositions generally pale compared to the ones by her husband, there are enough bright moments on Pursuance: The Coltranes to make this a recommended set, available from www.amazon.com. It also serves as a fine introduction to the talented Lakecia Benjamin.
These two CDs both contain unusual and somewhat unique duets. Both euphonium player Brad Felt (1956-2011) and bassist John Dana (1941-2018) are no longer with us. They worked together now and then starting in the mid-1980s and regularly during 2009-11, recording often during the latter period. The previously unreleased music on Dana Sessions is taken from their archives and consists of their versions of 11 jazz standards and two Felt originals.
Brad Felt had a strong career as a modern jazz tuba player (including playing with Howard Johnson’s Gravity) before gradually switching his focus to the euphonium during his last 15 years. John Dana played piano and trumpet before he switched to bass while attending college, becoming an important part of the Detroit jazz scene.
Dana Sessions has Felt playing with great fluency within the hard bop tradition on euphonium, often sounding like a valve trombonist while creating ideas that would also sound quite appropriate on a trumpet. He and the supportive Dana swing such numbers as Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge,” “Star Eyes,” “Stablemates,” “Up Jumped Swing,” and “The Song Is You” on their fine set, which acts as a memorial to the two talented musicians. It is available from bradfeltmusic.com and www.amazon.com.
Tara Minton & Ed Babar
Two For The Road
Harp-string bass duets are not overly common although Brandee Younger and Devron Douglas have been performing in that setting in recent times. Two For The Road introduces the team of harpist-singer Tara Minton and bassist Ed Babar, a duo that has worked together frequently during the past eight years. Ms. Minton is originally from
Melbourne, Australia and often performs in London and throughout Europe while Babar is a versatile player who often works with Jools Holland.
Two songs on Two For The Road have tenor-saxophonist Stan Sulzmann added to the group and three others have tasteful percussion played by Lilia Iontcheva, but the music essentially focuses on the interplay between Minton and Babar. Their repertoire ranges from a modernized “On the Sunny Side Of The Street,” “Caravan” (one of the highpoints), “The Shadow Of Your Smile,” and “You Go To My Head,” to a few more recent pieces. Minton is quite fluent as a harpist, does plenty of improvising, and has little difficulty sometimes singing at the same time. She has a lovely and haunting voice with a wide range and sounds equally at home whether singing lyrics or wordlessly. Babal’s bass blends well with the harp while also swinging and inspiring her to stretch herself, resulting in a delightful and very musical set of colorful music. Two For The Road is available from www.taraminton.com.
Jimmy Halperin-Dominic Duval Trio
While so many CDs are concept albums, sometimes it is fun to just hear skilled jazz artists jam some favorite songs. That was the case on this 2013 session which was finally released in more recent times.
Tenor-saxophonist Jimmy Halperin started off his career recording with fellow tenor Warne Marsh in music inspired by Lennie Tristano. He also recorded in some slightly freer settings but always retained a love for standards. Halperin had a longtime musical association with bassist Dominic Duval who passed away in 2018. Duval was mostly associated with the avant-garde (including playing with Cecil Taylor, Mark Whitecage and Ivo Perelman), leading many free jazz sessions of his own. But he was versatile and knew every worthwhile standard. Drummer Jay Rosen, who played often with Duval, also worked with Sonny Simmons in the Cosmosamatics, Joe McPhee and Duval in Trio X, and with many other avant-gardists.
All that said, Work-Play is a straight ahead set of trio playing by Halperin, Duval, and Rosen, one recorded right after they had recorded a full program of Billy Strayhorn songs for another CD. The musicians spontaneously stretch out on such numbers as “Good Bait,” Dizzy Gillespie’s “Bebop,” a medium-tempo “Sophisticated Lady,” “My Shining Hour, and “Corcovado” (which is taken as a cooker rather than a bossa-nova). While Duval has a fair number of solos, Halperin is the main soloist and the lead voice. The tenor felt no need to stretch the music into freer explorations and in this sparse setting he keeps the playing within the boundaries of hard bop while being creative and coming up with fresh ideas.
Work-Play is easily recommended to bebop lovers and is available from www.cimprecords.com. It serves as a reminder of just how skilled a bassist the much-missed Dominic Duval was during his career.