Silver Lining Suite


Hiromi is one of the most remarkable jazz pianists of the past 20 years. On her classic solo piano albums Place To Be and Spectrum, she plays with the technique of Art Tatum, but with her own uninhibited musical personality. While she has often toured with a trio in which she played electric keyboards, her musical genius really shines when she is heard on acoustic piano, preferably solo.

Silver Lining Suite features an acoustic Hiromi joined by a string quartet. For this project Hiromi composed and arranged a four-part “Silver Lining Suite” and five other originals. The writing is often complex and sometimes has the strings (violinists Tatsuo Nishie and Sohei Birmann, Meguna Naka on viola, and cellist Wataru Mukai) playing very fast lines; fortunately they are all brilliant and versatile musicians.

“Silver Lining Suite,” which can be seen as a musical depiction of the pandemic, is comprised of “Isolation,” “The Unknown,” “Drifters,” and “Fortitude.” It starts out sounding a bit like classical music with Hiromi’s relatively restrained but virtuosic playing keeping the theme of “Isolation” in mind. The suite gets more adventurous and jazz-oriented as it progresses with “Drifters” really swinging and the heavy chordings during the first part of “Fortitude” depicting one sounding quite determined to overcome the present situation. The walking cello of Mukai is particularly noteworthy on some of the harder-swinging sections.

The music remains at a high level on the other pieces. “Uncertainty” is a dreamlike ballad with floating strings and relatively sparse piano. The writing on “Someday” is so involved (including mood changes and a hot swing section) that it could almost be considered a suite by itself. “Jumpstart” is quite uptempo and must have been a challenge for the strings to play perfectly. While “11:49 PM” is a bit dark, “Ribera Del Duero” is absolutely exuberant with Hiromi at one point playing stride piano and the violinist really wailing.

Silver Lining Suite, which is quite dazzling, is a major success for Hiromi. It is available from www.concordjazz.com.

Benito Gonzalez

Sing To The World

(Rainy Days)

A superb pianist whose main inspiration is McCoy Tyner, Benito Gonzalez was born in Venezuela, moved to the U.S. in the early part of this century, worked with Jackie McLean (2003), and was a member of Kenny Garrett’s Quartet during 2006-13.He has also been in the groups of Azar Lawrence, Pharoah Sanders and many others in the who’s who of modern jazz in addition to recording four albums of his own.

Sing To The World is his fifth, a particularly passionate outing. The pianist performs with bassist Christian McBride (Essiet Essiet is on one number) and either Sasha Mashin or Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums. Trumpeter Nicholas Payton guests on four songs while trumpeter Josh Evans and saxophonist Makar Kashitsyn are on one apiece.

From the start of the opener, “Sounds Of Freedom,” the music is energetic and intense yet lyrical. The complex “Views Of The Blues” is full of fire while Payton is a major asset on the relatively mellow “Father,” a Roy Hargrove original that the composer never had a chance to record. The other selections include the jazz waltz “Offering,” an adventurous and moody “Visionary,” the soulful “Smile” (which has the most memorable melody of the set), a dark but exuberant “Sing To the World,” Tain Watts’ ballad “412,” the hyper and exciting “Flatbush Avenue,” and a relatively straight ahead “Colors.”

Benito Gonzalez is in top form throughout, and this is an ideal setting to hear Christian McBride as a driving bassist and concise soloist. Sasha Mashin (who is from Russia) shows plenty of talent (as does Tain although that is no surprise) and the trumpeters add to the excitement whenever they appear. Sing To The World is an invigorating set of modern jazz that anyone interested in the current scene should own. It is available from www.rainydaysrecords.ru and www.amazon.com.

Chick Corea Akoustic Band


(Concord Jazz)

When Duke Ellington passed away in 1974, it only accelerated the steady stream of previously unreleased material and reissues of his music, continuing for years as if he were still with us. Hopefully the same thing will happen with Chick Corea’s recordings.

The Chick Corea Akoustic Band, his trio with bassist John Patitucci and drummer Dave Weckl, was originally formed in 1985 as a side project to his Elektric Band (which also included saxophonist Eric Marienthal and guitarist Frank Gambale). The Akoustic Band had occasional gigs and a few recordings during the next 13 years. While there were reunions of the Elektric Band, the Akoustic Band did not have any activity after the late 1990s until Jan. 13, 2018 when the trio played together in St. Petersburg, Florida. This double-CD documents that night.

The musicians sound as if Corea, Patitucci, and Weckl had been performing together on a nightly basis for the previous decade even though they actually only had a single brief rehearsal. While the pianist is the first among equals, the many short solos by Patitucci and Weckl build upon Corea’s ideas and their constant interplay is often magical. Together they perform six of the pianist’s originals (including two versions of “Humpty Dumpty” and such obscurities as “Japanese Waltz” and “Eternal Child”), fresh and inventive renditions of five standards (“Summer Night” and “You And The Night And The Music” are among the highpoints), and Thelonious Monk’s “Monk’s Mood.” Gayle Moran Corea (Chick’s wife of over 40 years) sits in and sings an outstanding version of “You’re Everything” (check out her final high note) to conclude the set.

Chick Corea is definitely missed, but fortunately there is no shortage of his rewarding recordings to discover. All of his fans will want this twofer which is available from www.amazon.com.

Angela Verbrugge

The Night We Couldn’t Say Good Night


Many jazz singers these days show the influence of the pop and folk music scene of the past half-century, being more influenced by Joni Mitchell than by Ella and Sarah. Angela Verbrugge is a happy exception. She loves the singers and styles of the 1930s and ‘40s, her obvious inspirations as can be heard throughout her delightful debut album.

Joined by a world class trio (pianist Ray Gallon, bassist Cameron Brown, and drummer Anthony Pinciotti), Angela Verbrugge sounds very much like a singer from that era but one who has her own individual spin on the music. She swings hard on a rousing version of “This Could Be The Start Of Something Big,” interprets “A Night In Tunisia” (under the title “Interlude”) as a concise and touching ballad, displays subtle creativity on a warm version of “All Too Soon,” sings “You And The Night And The Music” in Spanish, and also performs “Speak Softly Love” which was one of the main themes used in The Godfather. In addition, Angela Verbrugge contributes four originals that are each memorable in their own way and sound like they could have been vintage jazz standards, particularly the purposely excitable “I’m Running Late” and “How Did I Know This Was The End?”

But actually all 13 selections on this impressive outing are enjoyable and display the great potential of the jazz singer-songwriter. Angela Verbrugge’s next recording (Love For Connoisseurs) will be comprised completely of her original lyrics. If those songs are on the level of the ones on her debut, it would not be surprising if some become standards in the future. The Night We Couldn’t Say Good Night (available from www.angelaverbrugge.com) is highly recommended.

Freda Payne

Let There Be Love


Freda Payne, who is now 79, started out her career as a jazz singer, recording an album for Impulse (After The Lights Go Down Low And Much More) that is long overdue to be reissued. However her success in the pop world, most notably her hit recording of “Band Of Gold,” took her career in a different direction. She recorded disco albums, had her own talk show, and appeared as an actress in some movies and on Broadway. But in recent times, she has been working more often as a jazz singer including successful appearances at Catalina Bar & Grill.

Let There Be Love is an EP that features Freda Payne backed by the big band arrangements of Gordon Goodwin (using the nucleus of the Big Phat Band). The five songs consist of a solo version of “It’s All Right With Me” and a duet apiece with four notable singers. Kenny Lattimore performs on “Let There Be Love,” Johnny Mathis sounds fine on “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” Dee Dee Bridgewater is her usual spirited self during “Moanin’ Doodlin’” (a combination of two similar jazz standards), and Kurt Elling co-stars on “Our Love Is Here To Stay.” The latter is included twice with the second version being a bit shortened for potential radio airplay.

Good as the guest singers sound, Freda Payne is the star. Her youthful voice is timeless, she scats very well on “It’s All Right With Me,” and her singing is full of joy

and swing. Decades may have passed but she is still in her musical prime. The only reservation is that this EP (even with the bonus cut) is only 28 minutes long. But what is here is great. Let There Be Love is available from www.thesoundofLA.com.

Scott Reeves

The Alchemist


Scott Reeves was originally a trombonist and he still plays that horn with the Dave Liebman Big Band and in gigs in the New York area. But he is also one of the few jazz artists who specializes in the alto flugelhorn and the alto valve trombone, both of which are pitched a fourth above the standard trombone.

The Alchemist consists of six selections (five Reeves originals plus a modernized “All Or Nothing At All”) performed at a concert in May 2005 that is being released for the first time. Reeves on his two obscure horns is joined by guitarist Russ Spiegel, Mike Holober on acoustic and electric piano, bassist Howard Britz, and drummer Andy Watson.

On some of the performances, most notably the opener “New Bamboo,” Reeves utilizes electronics on his horns (a pitch follower and a ring modulator) which allow him to sound like a horn section. Fortunately he does not overuse those devices, displaying his fluidity and creative ideas on the challenging yet mostly accessible material. “Shapeshifter,” which begins in 6/4 time, becomes quite free during the piano solo, and then ends quietly, is one of the most intriguing of the performances.

Other selections includes the acoustic and medium-slow “Without A Trace,” a tribute to early 1970s Miles Davis on “The Alchemist,” the moody ballad “Remembrances,” and the slightly funky revival of “All Or Nothing At All.” In addition to Reeves, guitarist Spiegel and keyboardist Holober display their versatility throughout the set while Britz and Watson are stimulating in support of the lead voices.

The music, which should not have taken more than 15 years to release, is well worth acquiring. It is available rom www.originarts.com.

Terry Waldo & Tatiana Eva-Marie

I Double Dare You

(Turtle Bay Records)

In recent years there has been a major revival of 1920s and ’30s jazz taking place in New York City. While there are virtually no survivors left from that era, a generation of young and talented musicians have been exploring classic jazz, performing the music in their own voices without making the mistake of trying to modernize it. However up to this time, much of the music has not been documented very extensively. The new Turtle Bay label plans to change that situation. I Double Dare You is their first release.

Veteran pianist Terry Waldo and the young singer Tatiana Eva-Marie co-lead this memorable effort. While Waldo is a known quantity who has performed rewarding music

for the past 40 years, Eva-Marie is a bright new voice who has a very good feel for early jazz, an attractive and distinctive voice, and an effective delivery. She does justice to the lyrics that she interprets and sounds very much like a singer from the late 1920s.

I Double Dare You features the singer joined by a top-notch septet of up-and-coming players. On the opener, “Do Do Do,” cornetist Mike Davis provides one of the set’s highpoints, a solo that sounds remarkably like Bix Beiderbecke circa 1928. The other musicians (trombonist Jim Fryer, Ricky Alexander on clarinet and saxophones, Nick Russo doubling on banjo and guitar, bassist Brian Nalepka, and drummer Jay Lepley) also play very much in the tradition. They do not copy the past but are creative within the classic style.

This CD includes both fresh versions of standards (“Back In Your Own Backyard” and “Runnin’ Wild” are given hot renditions) and such obscurities as Lee Morse’s “Be Sweet To Me” and “Take A Picture Of The Moon.” “Two Sleepy People” is a treat, a vocal duet by Waldo and Eva-Marie. While there are plenty of excellent soloists, Tatiana Eva-Marie never gets overshadowed and shows on her wide-ranging program (whether singing “Button Up Your Overcoat” or “Deep Purple”) that she has the potential to be one of the future greats.

One greatly looks forward to the future releases of Turtle Bay Records which with luck will be filling a role formerly held by the Stomp Off label. I Double Dare You is available from www.turtlebayrecords.com.

Elijah Rock

Matters Of The Heart


Elijah Rock is a stage performer (he played Cab Calloway in the musical revue I Only Have Eyes For You), dancer and actor who is also an excellent singer. His deep baritone voice was previously featured on his debut album Gershwin For My Soul. For his second CD as a leader, Rock continues his crusade to revive songs from the Great American Songbook while also contributing a pair of originals.

Rock’s swinging style and large voice recall Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, and Nat King Cole of the 1950s without closely copying any of them. He utilizes a few different combos (soprano-saxophonist Charles McNeal on “Around The World,” pianists Uli Geissendoerer and Kevin Toney, and guitarist Jacques Lesure are among the key soloists) and two songs utilize a string section, but the main focus is on the singer. He is at his best on a swinging version of “All I Need Is The Girl,” “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off,” a bossa-nova flavored “Whisper In The Night” (which has its composer Josh Evans on piano), and “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” which has the feel of a tango. As a bonus, there is a second version of “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” which has Dominique Toney joining Rock for a charming vocal duet that concludes with some fine scatting.

While Elijah Rock is not that much of an improviser, he succeeds at inhabiting each song and making them sound like they were written for him, no easy feat. Matters Of The Heart is easily recommended and available from www.elijahrock.com.

Earl MacDonald


(Outside In Music)

Pianist Earl MacDonald designed Consecrated as a modern jazz album that pays tribute to the values and teachings of his Christian faith, as opposed to what passes for Christianity in political discussions today. The words that vocalist Karly Epp sings on the ten pieces include “Be Still” (which takes its lyrics from the Bible) and poems and writings that date as far back as 1752; only three pieces are from as recent as the 20th century. Most of the melodies are nearly as old but Epp’s straightforward and fetching singing, along with MacDonald’s arrangements, make the music seem both timeless and contemporary.

The playing by the quintet is modern, sometimes hinting at John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner but generally a bit gentler with more concise solos. MacDonald is joined by Kris Allen (soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxes) who is particularly effective on soprano, trumpeter-flugelhornist David Smith, bassist Karl Kohut, and drummer Rogerio Boccato. French horn and/or bass trombone are added for color on two numbers.

“Be Still My Soul,” the waltz “Sweet Hour Of Prayer,” the complex “By Our Love,” and the heated trumpet solo on “Take My Life, And Let It Be Consecrated” are among the highlights although every selection has a colorful arrangement, strong solos, often a hummable melody, and fine singing.

Even for those who have little interest in religion, Consecrated makes for an enjoyable listen. It is available from www.outsideinmusic.com.

Stan Kenton

Four Classic Albums


Stan Kenton’s orchestras through the years were usually identified with dense arrangements, screaming trumpets, forceful saxophonists, loud volume, and plenty of excitement. Kenton was one of the first jazz big bandleaders who went out of his way to avoid playing dances, feeling that his band’s innovative music deserved a concert audience

But even Kenton had occasional departures from his musical philosophy. During 1958-61 he recorded four ballad albums that were quite danceable and romantic: The Ballad Style Of Stan Kenton, Standards In Silhouette, The Romantic Approach, and The Sophisticated Approach. All four sets are reissued in full on this Avid double-CD.

The Ballad Style of Stan Kenton is particularly unusual in that the leader is the only soloist (other than some muted trumpet) and that Kenton did the arrangements himself. Other than one original from the band, all of the songs are standards, none of which were associated with Kenton. His orchestra’s playing is quietly passionate, the charts are melodic, and the music displays a very different side of Stan Kenton. Standards In Silhouette is in a similar vein except that Bill Mathieu provided the arrangements and several of the horn players (most notably altoist Charlie Mariano) also get solo space.

The Romantic Approach and Sophisticated Approach feature Kenton’s 1961

orchestra which was expanded with the addition of four mellophoniums and a tuba. The leader arranged the former set while Lennie Niehaus did the writing for Sophisticated Approach. Along the way there are some solos beside Kenton’s but the emphasis is on the restrained ensembles, the piano, and the classic melodies.

When these albums were originally released, they must have been a major surprise to both the fans and detractors of Kenton who probably asked themselves “Who would have thought that Stan Kenton was a sentimental romantic?” The enjoyable music is available from www.avidgroup.co.uk.

Tony Taravella

In A Sentimental Mood


Tony Taravella is a veteran jazz guitarist who has a melodic and thoughtful style. In A Sentimental Mood, which was recorded back in 2013, finds the guitarist holding his own with four impressive musicians from San Diego: pianist Mike Wofford, bassist Bob Magnusson, drummer Duncan Moore, and saxophonist Tripp Sprague. The group performs a dozen familiar standards, mostly taken at relaxed tempos. Taravella is at his best on such numbers as “In A Sentimental Mood,” “Black Orpheus,” “Satin Doll,” and “Take The ‘A’ Train.” Other highlights include his beautiful unaccompanied versions of “Yesterday” and “Over the Rainbow.”

Tony Taravella

Dedicated To Les Paul


The recent Dedicated To Les Paul has Taravella performing (via overdubbing) on acoustic and electric guitars, bass guitar, and drums. Other than co-producer Vince Lauria contributing a little bit of mandolin, Taravella plays all of the instruments that are heard. His homage to Les Paul pays tribute to both Paul’s repertoire and his mastery of overdubbing. The tempos are all pretty laidback with Taravella’s guitars often echoing and answering each other’s musical comments while backed by his basic bass and drums. While there are hints of Paul’s hit recordings with Mary Ford, the arrangements are mostly new and fresh with the highpoints including “It’s Been A Long Long Time,” “Limehouse Blues,” “Vaya Con Dios,” “The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise,” and “Brazil.” While Les Paul’s original recordings are impossible to top, Tony Taravella does a fine job of doing justice to the music of one of his idols. Both CDs are available from www.tonytaravella.com.