Marcus Shelby Orchestra
An important musical force in the San Francisco Bay area, Marcus Shelby is a fine bassist but his greatest legacy will probably be as a bandleader and arranger. He formed the Marcus Shelby Orchestra in 1990 and their occasional recordings have all been quite rewarding.
Transitions features the 16-piece orchestra in top form. The opener, “Remember Rockefeller (At Attica),” is a Charles Mingus piece that finds the big band hinting at both Mingus and Shelby’s biggest writing influence, Duke Ellington. “On A Turquoise Cloud” was originally a feature for violinist Ray Nance and the wordless singing of Kay Davis with Ellington. The new version has violinist Mads Tolling in the spotlight, interacting with the horns and playing beautifully. The powerful and versatile singer Tiffany Austin is featured on “Begin The Beguine,” a happily swinging “Lullaby Of Birdland” (which also has fine solos from Patrick Wolff on tenor and altoist James Mahone), “Solitude,” and “It’s All Right With Me.”
Just when it seems that the big band is going to be relegated to a supporting role, the orchestra gets to stretch out on four songs that form the “Transition” suite. While it is not obvious why the sections are dedicated to Pittsburgh, New York, Chicago (“Barnstormin’” which often quotes from “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”) and Kansas City (“Black Ball Swing”), the ensembles swing and there are many fine solos (including from pianist Matt Clark). The program closes with a return appearance from Tiffany Austin on “Mood Indigo.”
It is always a pleasure to hear the Marcus Shelby Orchestra and to experience its leader’s inventive arrangements. Transitions (available from www.marcusshelby.com) is easily recommended.
One of the best movies of 2018 was Green Book which depicted a road trip by pianist Don Shirley (1927-2013) through the segregated South in 1962. While it was a chance for audiences to discover the music of Shirley, few of his recordings are in print since he spent much of his career recording for the tiny Cadence label.
Piano, which has been compiled by the Spanish Blue Moon label (and is available from www.freshsoundrecords.com), has reissued all of the music from two former Lps (Piano and The Don Shirley Trio) as a single CD. Shirley, who was trained to be a classical pianist but was discouraged from fully entering the field as a performer due to the racism of the 1950s (although he continued writing works that would be performed by symphony orchestras), created his own brand of jazz. While he improvised and could play quite bluesy, he was just as interested in folk melodies and was never shy about displaying his impressive classical technique.
On these recordings from 1959-60, Shirley is joined by bassist Ken Fricker and cellist Juri Taht with tumbadora added on three pieces and French horn on four. Much of the repertoire is comprised of swing standards including a four-song Billie Holiday tribute. Of the lesser-known material, Shirley performs “Blues For Basses,” “Dites-Moi,” “In A Moorish Market Place,” “Adieu Madraz,” a medley of “Freedom” and “I’m On My Way,” and “Water Boy.” The latter was his one hit, a hypnotic performance that was on the Billboard charts at #40.
Piano is a perfect introduction to Don Shirley’s often-overlooked recordings as he comes up with fresh but affectionate interpretations of both standards and obscure material, playing in his own original style.
Everyone loves Poncho Sanchez’s music. A traditionalist in the way he performs Afro-Cuban jazz, his music is always rhythmic, lively and fun. If one enjoys hearing the recordings of Tito Puente, Machito, Cal Tjader and Ray Barretto, then the chances are very good that they will like Poncho Sanchez too.
In his first recording in several years, Sanchez and his current group perform a partial tribute to John Coltrane. While the band interprets and Latinizes several songs that were recorded by Coltrane (“Liberia,” Duke Ellington’s “The Feeling Of Jazz,” “Giant Steps,” and “Blue Train”) plus the title track which is a cousin of “Our Delight,” the other six selections (which include “Poncho Sanchez Medley #2”) have much less of a direct Trane connection.
All of the music, no matter its source, is played in the infectious Poncho Sanchez style of mambos, cha-cha-chas, salsa, boogaloos, and soulful Latin funk. With fine solos from trombonist Francisco Torres, trumpeter Ron Blake, Robert Hardt (who does not try to emulate Coltrane) on alto, tenor and flute, and pianist Andy Langham plus consistently stirring rhythms, Trane’s Delight is a fine addition to Poncho Sanchez’s legacy. It is recommended and available from www.concordjazz.com.
Airmen Of Note
The Jazz Heritage Series – 2019 Radio Broadcasts
(United States Air Force Band)
Ever since Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force Band of 1943-44, the military has sponsored a series of very impressive jazz big bands. The Airmen Of Note (the United States Air Force Band), which was founded in 1950, has long been one of the very best. Their musicianship is impeccable, their personnel is filled with world-class jazz players, and their performances swing at the level of the top civilian orchestras. And best yet for the leader, the sidemen cannot ask for a raise or suddenly decide to leave for another band!
For the past few years, the Airmen Of Note have released several of their radio broadcasts as a multi-CD set, with each performance including a notable guest artist. For the 2019 edition, a four-CD package was released featuring three broadcasts plus a highlights CD that just contains the best of the music.
Singer Cyrille Aimee, pianist Kenny Barron, and tenor and soprano-saxophonist Branford Marsalis are the guests on this release. Each program begins with the Airmen Of Note performing an instrumental or two plus a vocal piece. The guest is featured on three or four numbers and is also interviewed about aspects of their life. The interviews are well done and not only contain some interesting information but show off the subject’s personality. It is obvious throughout that each of the guests are quite pleased to be performing with such a top-notch orchestra.
Cyrille Aimee is excellent on such numbers as “September In The Rain,” “Sometimes I’m Happy” and “Cheek To Cheek.” Kenny Barron performs “Golden Lotus,” ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is” and his most famous original “Voyage.” Branford Marsalis, who comes across as warm and cheerful in his interview, plays such songs as “Syeeda’s Song Flute,” “Infant Eyes” and “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes.” The biggest surprise is his closer, the New Orleans Dixieland standard “Panama,” on which he sounds quite credible performing within the trad style on soprano.
More information about this set and earlier releases can be found at www.usafband.af.mil. It is gratifying to know that some of our tax dollars are very well spent!
(Outside In Music)
Roxy Coss is a very talented tenor and soprano-saxophonist who deserves to be well known. She plays with passion and intensity yet can also caress a melody with warmth.
Born in Seattle, she began playing piano and then switched to tenor-sax when she was nine. The saxophonist moved to New York a decade ago, made her recording debut as a leader in 2010, and recorded three albums as a leader during 2016-18. Although she has worked with such artists as Clark Terry, Louis Hayes, Claudio Roditi, Jeremy Pelt and the Diva Jazz Orchestra and guested with many top musicians, she is becoming best-known as a leader and has worked extensively as an educator.
On her fifth CD as a leader, Quintet, Ms. Coss is joined by keyboardist Mimi Yamanaka, guitarist Alex Wintz, bassist Rick Rosato and drummer Jimmy MacBride. She performs seven originals plus a hard-swinging version of “All Or Nothing At All.” Among the highlights are the hard bop-oriented “Don’t Cross The Coss,” her soprano playing on “Free To Be,” her relaxed ballad “Enlightenment,” and the driving uptempo blues “Females Are Strong As Hell.”
While her sidemen are excellent, giving her the support she needs along with some concise solos, Roxy Coss dominates her set, showing that she is one of the top up-and-coming talents on the New York jazz scene; in fact, one could argue that she is always realizing her potential. Quintet (available from www.outsideinmusic.com) gives listeners a strong sampling of the powerful playing of Roxy Coss.
Four Visions Saxophone Quartet
The saxophone quartet, although often utilized in classical music, is still a rarity in jazz. If one does not count the Seven Brown Brothers, an all-saxophone ensemble from the 1915-20 period, and a few similar groups from the era that largely copied that band, the first significant jazz saxophone quartet was the World Saxophone Quartet in the 1970s, which was originally comprised of Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, David Murray and Hamiet Bluiett. Among those that followed are the still-active Rova and the 29th Street Saxophone Quartet.
In 2012 baritonist Samuel Blais organized the Four Visions Saxophone Quartet with his former teacher Dave Liebman on soprano plus altoist Dave Binney and tenor-saxophonist Donny McCaslin. They enjoyed playing their originals together and in 2015 they toured Canada and recorded this CD which was recently released.
The quartet performs ten originals with three apiece written by Blais and Binney and two from both Liebman and McCaslin. Despite the name of the group which implies that four different visions are featured, there is a strong unity to the program. Each of the saxophonists contributed picturesque works that gracefully blend together arrangements and improvisation. In fact, much of the time it is difficult to know what was written down and what was made up on the spot.
While there are individual heroics along the way, the most memorable moments on this CD are when the four saxophonists play together in ensembles. Their music could be called avant-garde and episodic but the results, which often utilize melodies, rhythms and harmonies, are quite unpredictable and surprisingly accessible, as if one were hearing a sophisticated soundtrack for one’s thoughts.
The CD, which is available from www.sunnysiderecords.com, is well worth investigating.
Chicago Cellar Boys
Busy ‘Til Eleven
Hot jazz lives! Although when reading most of the main jazz magazines, one can be led to believe that the only jazz that exists is modern post-bop, the avant-garde, and various forms of fusions, the jazz world is much wider than that. Beneath the radar of those magazines has been a classic jazz movement that has been going strong for several decades.
The Chicago Cellar Boys consists of Andy Schumm on cornet, clarinet and tenor (a rare triple), John Otto on clarinet and alto, pianist-singer Paul Asaro, John Donatowicz on banjo and guitar, and Dave Bock on tuba. These musicians are each world class players and masters of 1920s jazz.
Busy ‘Til Eleven is filled with superior obscurities, most of which are rarely revived. The best known songs are “Hot Lips” (which is given a much hotter rendition than Henry Busse’s hit version), “He’s The Last Word,” “Sweet Lorraine” (performed in Jimmie Noone’s style), and “The Sheik” (which is really “The Sheik Of Araby”). The Chicago Cellar Boys play some of the songs in the style of Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra, Clarence Williams, Oliver Naylor, Bennie Moten and Fats Waller but mostly they sound like themselves, as if they were part of the scene in 1929.
The solos are inventive within the idiom, the ensembles are full of joyful spirit, and the result is a hot set that is highly recommended to anyone who enjoys hearing jazz that makes them smile. Busy ‘Til Eleven, which includes a very informative 16-page booklet, is available from www.rivermontrecords.com.
It is only right that singer Lila Ammons record an album titled Genealogy, which is subtitled “A Celebration of Jazz Tradition & Family Legacy.” After all, she is part of jazz’s royalty, being the granddaughter of the masterful boogie-woogie pianist Albert Ammons (1907-49) and the niece of the highly influential tenor-saxophonist Gene Ammons (1925-74). While inspired by their huge legacies, like all creative jazz artists, Lila Ammons has gone her own way in her career.
Born and raised in Chicago, Ms. Ammons was based in New York during a long period, performing opera and classical music throughout the world. After moving to Minneapolis, in 2007 she shifted to becoming a blues-oriented singer, one who had strong success during her performances in Europe, Brazil and the U.S. However her deepest musical desire was to sing jazz. In 2013 she recorded her debut jazz album Nearness Of You which teamed her with top musicians including tenor-saxophonist Houston Person. Having gained additional experience since then as a solo jazz singer (including in England, Ireland, France and Spain), on Genealogy she displays a versatile and appealing voice on a wide variety of infectious material.
Joined by Javier Santiago, Benny Weinbeck or Bryan Nichols on keyboards, bassist Jeff Bailey, and Kevin Washington or Arthur “LA” Bruckner on drums, with important appearances from tenor-saxophonist and flutist Pete Whitman, Lila Ammons is heard in top form throughout Genealogy.
The well-rounded set begins with a version of Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream” (which has lyrics by Dee Dee Bridgewater) that is a bit funky but with straight ahead cooking during the bridge. The inventive arrangement by the singer (who contributed all but one on this set) has strong spots for Santiago’s keyboard. Lila’s singing is particularly expressive on a dreamy version of the medium-tempo ballad “No Moon At All.” She takes “In A Sentimental Mood” at a slow pace, sounding fetching and putting plenty of feeling into the fresh and heartfelt treatment of the Duke Ellington ballad.
“E Preciso Perdoar” is a change of pace, a happy Brazilian piece uplifted by Whitman’s flute. Billy Eckstine’s lowdown “Blues, You’re The Mother Of Sin” is a tribute to Albert Ammons, featuring the type of 1940s groove that the pianist often played. Lila really excels on the soulful ballad “I Feel You,” making each note count. “Man That Was A Dream” (made famous by Carmen McRae), which is “Monk’s Dream” with Jon Hendricks’ lyrics, is modernized and given a catchy if unpredictable rhythm along with a fine statement by Whitman on tenor.
A straightforward version of “Old Folks” and a cheerfully swinging “I Love You Madly” precede Lila’s tribute to her uncle Gene. “Canadian Sunset” was a popular record for the tenor. This version is taken at a faster tempo and has fine interplay by Lila and Whitman along with a more contemporary feel. The enjoyable set concludes with a warm version of “Sophisticated Lady” that shows how Lila Ammons has evolved into an individual and pleasing jazz singer during the past few years.
Her uncle and grandfather would be proud of her. Genealogy is available from www.lilaammonsmusic.com.
Andrew Oliver/David Horniblow
The Complete Morton Project
Pianist Andrew Oliver and clarinetist David Horniblow, who perform with several classic jazz units in England including the Dime Notes, made it a goal during 2017-18 to record all 93 Jelly Roll Morton compositions, posting them to You Tube. After having done that, they decided to record a CD featuring 15 of the Morton songs with an emphasis on the lesser-known tunes.
Jelly Roll Morton was not only one of jazz’s first major pianists, an important bandleader in the 1920s, and an early arranger, but he was arguably jazz’s first important composer. Many of the songs that he wrote during 1910-20 were far ahead of their time and he continued writing modern pieces in his own style up until the time of his death in 1941.
On this set of clarinet-piano duets which occasionally have Horniblow switching to bass clarinet or bass sax, the clarinetist sometimes recalls Omer Simeon (one of Morton’s favorites) while Oliver brings back the spirit and style of Jelly Roll. They perform two Morton pieces (“Croc-O-Dile Cradle” and “Gan Jam”) that were only discovered decades after the pianist’s death and never recorded by Jelly Roll. In addition, they revive nine other Morton obscurities along with four songs (“Shreveport Stomp,” “Jungle Blues” which is a pioneering one-chord romp, “Black Bottom Stomp,” and “Mr. Jelly Lord”) that are somewhat better known. The repertoire ranges from early in Morton’s career to the last song that he ever recorded in the studio (“My Home Is In A Southern Town”) including the joyous “Good Old New York,” the Latin-tinged “Mamacita” and his virtuosic piano workout “Finger Buster.” This highly enjoyable set is available fromwww.lejazzetal.com.
Don Friedman Trio
Don Friedman (1935-2016) was a major jazz pianist who was largely overlooked during his lifetime except by his fellow artists. Classically trained from the age of four, he switched to jazz when he was 15 and was inspired early on by the bebop pacesetter Bud Powell. Friedman was part of the West Coast jazz scene of the mid-1950s, working with such notables as Dexter Gordon, Chet Baker, Buddy DeFranco and even Ornette Coleman. After moving to New York in 1958, he performed with everyone from Bobby Hackett to Eric Dolphy, Elvin Jones to Herbie Mann and Clark Terry. However Friedman was mostly heard at the head of his own trios, developing a style that was influenced by both Bud Powell and Bill Evans.
1978 was a busy year for Friedman who led five albums including four with trios. Love Music teams him with bassist Frank Luther and drummer Billy Hart. The musicians dig into eight standards including a previously unreleased version of “Fine And Dandy” which has the most rapid tempo of the set.
Friedman is both melodic and explorative on such numbers as “Where Are You,” “Easy Living,” “The Shadow Of Your Smile,” and an effective rendition of “The Way We Were.” While his interplay with the trio hints at Bill Evans, his ideas are his own and he creates a nonstop flow of inventive ideas. Although the emphasis is generally on ballad tempos (with a few exceptions), the music is never sleepy and is filled with subtle creativity.
Love Music is well worth listening to closely several times for it has a great deal of inner beauty and quiet creativity. It is available from www.jazzology.com.
The Best Part
Tish Oney, a talented jazz singer with an attractive soft voice, recently released her fifth CD, The Best Part. Among her earlier recordings were a full-length tribute to Peggy Lee (Dear Peg) and a duet album with Lee’s former guitarist John Chiodini (Songs From The Heart).
The Best Part has Ms. Oney joined by Chiodini’s trio (with bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Ray Brinker) and is particularly notable for debuting three songs co-written by Peggy Lee and the guitarist that were never recorded before: the coolly passionate “Most Of All – I Love You,” a happy “I’ve Got A Brand New Baby,” and the country ballad “I’ve Been Too Lonely For Too Long.”
However there is more to Tish Oney than her love for Peggy Lee. The Best Part includes some beautiful ballad singing on “Dust Off Your Dreams.” “Grab A Little Bit Of Golden Sunshine,” with its joyous feel and attractive chord changes, is a new song that could have come from the swing era. Tish Oney’s version swings well, has excellent bass and guitar solos, features the singer scatting with spirit as she trades off with drummer Brinker, and some fine interplay with Chiodini over the closing vamp. In addition, her voice is quite fetching on the love song “Sweet Angel,” every one fares well on the bossa-nova “One More Spring,” and she sounds like a top-notch bop singer on “Conundrum” which she co-wrote.
The versatile Tish Oney is one of the most appealing jazz singers on the scene today. The Best Part serves as a perfect introduction to our talents and is available from www.blujazz.com.
Ken Teel is a skilled guitar and a singer with a soothing voice who is based out of Sacramento. He operates very much as a one-man band, performing his original music.
On his EP Handmade Music, Teel plays music that is soothing but filled with subtle creativity. His guitar playing is very self-sufficient and one never misses the bass or drums, particularly since he often provides bass lines. His singing is closer to folk music than jazz but it works well with the sophisticated chords of his guitar playing.
On seven of his originals, Ken Teel plays music that can work well in the background but is well worth listening to closely. He makes it all sound easy and natural. Handmade Music makes for an enjoyable listen and it is available by writing email@example.com.