Kent Engelhardt & Stephen Enos
Central Avenue Swing & Our Delight
(Madd For Tadd)
During the bebop era, arguably the most significant composer and arranger to emerge was Tadd Dameron (1917-65). Dameron, who was also a decent pianist, gained experience writing for big bands during the later years of the swing era including the orchestras of Harlan Leonard, Count Basie, Jimmie Lunceford, Artie Shaw, and Billy Eckstine. By the mid-1940s he had evolved into a bop-oriented writer whose compositions included “Hot House,” “If You Could See Me Now,” and “Good Bait.” Dameron led short-term bands for club dates and record dates, recording classic performances with Fats Navarro, Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, and John Coltrane among others. Unfortunately drug problems plagued his life and he passed away from cancer when he was just 48.
Dameron was originally from Cleveland and so is the big band Madd For Tadd. Co-led by saxophonist Ken Engelhardt and trumpeter Stephen Enos, both of whom are important educators in the Cleveland area, the ensemble makes its recording debut on this double-CD. Engelhardt adapted Dameron’s early big band charts for the ensemble and arranged his later small-group works for the orchestra. His writing is very much in Dameron’s style, including the opener which is his original “Central Avenue Swing.”
Rather than just play Tadd Dameron’s greatest hits (“Hot House,” “If You Could See Me Now” and “Good Bait” are not among the 22 selections on this set), the band performs a few of Dameron’s standards and many lesser-known pieces. In fact, the first disc has ten selections that Dameron composed for Harlan Leonard’s Rockets, a top-notch if largely forgotten Kansas City swing band of the early 1940s. It is a joy to hear such numbers as “Dameron Stomp,” “A La Bridges,” and “Rock And Ride” being revived and played in such swinging fashion.
The second half of this twofer includes numbers originally recorded by, among others, Dizzy Gillespie’s big band, Blue Mitchell, and John Coltrane (in a quartet with Dameron) including “Our Delight,” “Lady Bird,” “Soultrane,” “Cool Breeze,” and “Mating Call,” ending with Dameron’s theme “The Squirrel.”
Mad About Tadd is filled with flawless ensembles and many excellent soloists including trumpeters Enos, Brad Goode, and Tim Leahy, trombonists Michael Dease and Jeff Bush, tenors Dave Kana and Mike Tomaro, and Engelhardt on alto among others. Erin Keckan does a fine job with her four vocals including “Lady Bird” which has new lyrics by Engelhardt.
Bebop fans are strongly advised to get a copy of Central Avenue Swing & Our Delight, a highly enjoyable release which is available from www.maddfortadd.com and serves as a superior tribute to the great Tadd Dameron.
James Brandon Lewis
For Mahalia, With Love – expanded edition
Tenor-saxophonist James Brandon Lewis grew up with the music of Mahalia Jackson, one of the most powerful singers of religious songs and gospel tunes of the 20th century. Lewis’ grandmother was an early influence on him (she had seen the powerful Jackson perform) and the young saxophonist played in churches when he was growing up. For Mahalia With Love is his tribute to both Mahalia Jackson and his grandmother.
For this heartfelt project, Lewis is joined by the members of his Red Lily Quintet: cornetist Kirk Knuffke, cellist Chris Hoffman, bassist William Parker, and drummer Chad Taylor. Together they perform eight pieces that Mahalia Jackson had sung: “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Go Down Moses,” “Wade In The Water,” “Calvary,” “Deep River,” “Elijah Rock,” “Were You There,” and “Precious Lord.” In addition, the CD begins with “Sparrow” which is a medley of the traditional “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” and the saxophonist’s “Even The Sparrow.”
The spiritual themes are turned into explorative jazz. The quintet shows great respect for the melodies and some of the playing is fairly straight, and at other times their treatments are a bit reminiscent of Albert Ayler although this group generally does not go quite that far outside. They keep the themes in mind even during the stormiest parts of the performances. There is a celebratory feel to much of the music, particularly when the full group jams together as on the last few minutes of “Go Down Moses.” Each of the musicians makes strong contributions with Knufke (whose tone is relatively mellow) and Lewis constantly playing off of each other. Hoffman’s cello is a major asset whenever he is in the spotlight, Taylor displays both fire and subtlety, and the always-remarkable Parker’s rare ability to play both inside and outside at the same time serves as the foundation for the ensembles.
The deluxe edition of For Mahalia, With Love also includes a second CD that contains an unrelated session. In 2021, James Brandon Lewis debuted his extended work for tenor and string quartet, These Are Soulful Times, at the Jazztopad Festival in Wroclaw, Poland. Comprised of four movements, a prologue and an epilogue (plus the brief unaccompanied encore, “Take Me To the Water”), the performance with the Lutoslawski Quartet starts out peacefully, gains momentum and passion as it progresses, is somewhat cinematic, and has plenty of dynamic tenor playing from Lewis. Surprisingly “Wade In The Water” pops up during part of the third movement. The very active and assertive strings clearly inspire Lewis and his work holds one’s interest throughout.
The success of these projects makes one look forward to James Brandon Lewis’ future accomplishments. For Mahalia, With Love is available from www.aumfidelity.com.
Mark Lotz Trio
Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out!
Although its title might lead one to think that this is an album of rock warhorses from the late 1960s or some variation of acid jazz, Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out is actually a set of post- bop originals played by an intimate jazz trio.
There are not that many recordings by a flute-bass-drums trio but this outing works quite well. Mark Lotz, who was raised in Thailand, Uganda and Germany and is based in Europe, is one of the world’s top jazz flute players. While he has performed with Don Byron, Chris Potter, and Han Bennink, he has mostly been heard as a leader, heading at least 19 CDs, mostly for European labels.
His latest CD teams Lotz with bassist Zack Lober and drummer Jamie Peet on a set of the flutist’s ten originals. The brief liner notes say that eight of the pieces were inspired by Timothy Leary’s eight-circuit model of consciousness. While it is difficult to find much of a connection between this music and Leary’s experiments with LSD, Lotz’s originals do cover a variety of moods and grooves including straight ahead playing and the occasional utilization of vamps.
More significant than the Leary connection is that Lotz displays both creativity and virtuosic technique on his concert, alto and bass flutes, Lober and Peet listen closely and react instantly to his ideas while supplying some of their own (Lober’s solos are thoughtful and inventive), and the music has more variety than one might expect with its sparse instrumentation.
Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out is a stimulating set well worth checking out. It is available from www.lotzofmusic.com.
Stan Kenton Legacy Orchestra
The Stage Door Still Swings (And Movies Too)
Stan Kenton (1911-79) often said that he did not want a ghost orchestra to be formed after his passing. Trumpeter Mike Vax, an alumnus of the Kenton band, thought that it would be a tragedy if the many great arrangements that Kenton’s orchestra performed were never played again so he came up with a compromise. Rather than merely recreating what Kenton had already accomplished and churning out remakes of his hits, his Stan Kenton Legacy Orchestra uses the classic arrangements and recordings as a jumping off point to build upon the rich music; none of the original solos are repeated. The result is that the timeless and vital music is kept alive and performed for a countless number of audiences. I rather doubt that Kenton would have minded.
The Stan Kenton Legacy Orchestra has been together on a part-time basis for 32 years and has gone on 22 tours to date. The Stage Door Still Swings (And Movies Too) is comprised of 15 songs taken from a dozen different concerts spanning a couple of decades. It gives one a strong sampling of what the orchestra is about.
Many musicians are featured during these consistently inspired performances. It is wonderful to hear the late great trumpeter Carl Saunders in dazzling form during his showcase on “My Foolish Heart.” Among the other musicians who make particularly notable appearances are trombonist Scott Whitfield (who also sings with Ginger Berglund on “How High The Moon/Ornithology”), trumpeter Don Rader, altoist Kim Richmond, pianist Bob Florence (featured on “Young And Foolish” and a tender version of “All The Things You Are”), and Mike Vax. The arrangers include Lennie Niehaus, Bill Holman (“Yesterdays”), Johnny Richards, John Boice, Frank Mantooth, Dale Devoe, Dave Barduhn, Scott Whitfield, Joel Kaye, Norm Topach, and Stan Kenton himself (“Love Theme From Hair”).
While the CD’s title might not make that much sense (only “Baubles, Bangles & Beads” and “The Party’s Over” are from the 1958 Kenton album The Stage Door Swings), the music is a joy to hear. Big band fans and Stan Kenton collectors will definitely want to get this well-conceived release which is available from www.summitrecords.com.
Buddy Rich, one of the greatest drummers of all time, is best known for his work with big bands, not only his own but that of Tommy Dorsey and Harry James. While he frequently recorded with smaller groups in the 1950s, there have been few sounds more exciting than hearing him drive a large ensemble.
Trios is a set of previously unreleased performances recorded by saxophonist Alan Gauvin during 1976-77. Rich usually gave his big band a rest during one or two songs a night and featured pianist Barry Kiener (who was with the Rich Orchestra for over ten years) in a trio number. With bassist Jon Burr (Tom Warrington is on two of the three songs from 1977) and Rich sticking to brushes, the music focused on Keiner’s renditions of standards.
The recording quality of this CD is listenable if not flawless during its ten performances while the playing is consistently excellent. While in an unusually supportive role and restricting himself to playing brushes, Buddy Rich takes a few short solos that are typically impressive. Burr and Warrington also have occasional spots but the main value to this set is getting to hear Barry Kiener stretch out. Kiener, who only lived to be 30, made few recordings apart from the Rich Orchestra and only led one obscure duet album in 1981, so this album is a valuable addition to his slim discography. Among the highlights are his versions of “Just Friends,” “Groovin’ High,” “Secret Love,” “There Is No Greater Love,” and an unaccompanied piano solo outing on “Here’s That Rainy Day.” This historic set is available from www.lightyearentertainment.com.
One of the most significant jazz guitarists of the past 50 years, Pat Metheny has displayed more than his share of variety in his recordings through the years. From his prolific work with Lyle Mays in his Group to a meeting on record with Ornette Coleman, his one-man band Orchestration and his renditions of jazz standards, Metheny seems to travel in a new direction every couple of years while always sounding like himself.
Dream Box consists of unaccompanied solo recordings that Metheny made during the past few years simply for the fun of it. To his surprise, when he rediscovered his folder of spontaneous recordings, grouping these nine songs together made sense even though they were not originally meant to be released to the public.
Metheny is mostly heard playing both an electric guitar and a baritone guitar via overdubbing. The ballad-oriented music, which consists of six of his originals, “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” “Morning Of The Carnival,” and the lesser-known “Never Was Love,” is quiet and dreamlike. A close listen reveals Metheny’s subtle creativity but mostly this is a nice laidback set of superior background music played by one of jazz’s masters, a pleasing set of melodic guitar. Dream Box is available from www.patmetheny.com.
1954-1956 Quartet Sessions
Boots Mussulli (1915-67) was a fine altoist and baritonist who worked with the big bands of Mal Hallett, Teddy Powell, and Gene Krupa, becoming best known for his association with Stan Kenton (1944-47, 1952, 1954). He also worked and recorded with Vido Musso, Charlie Ventura, Serge Chaloff, and Herb Pomeroy. Mussulli ran his own jazz club (the Crystal Room) in his native Milford, Massachusetts from 1949 on and eventually became a music educator while still playing although he did not record at all after 1957.
Mussulli only led one album in his career and that is reissued on this Fresh Sound CD. While he was mostly thought of as an altoist, one who evolved from swing to bop and hard bop, he was equally skilled as a gruff-toned baritonist. The dozen songs on the original album feature him on both instruments while joined by pianist Ray Santisi, John Carter or Max Bennett on bass, and Peter Littman or Shelly Manne on drums. The music, consisting of both his originals and such standards as “Lullaby In Rhythm,””Diga Diga Doo” and “Tico Tico,” swings hard and finds Mussulli in fine form.
Also included on this CD are his five appearances from pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi’s 1956 album Her Trio And Her Quartet. Sticking to alto, Mussulli swings with Akiyoshi, bassist Wyatt Ruther, and drummer Ed Thigpen on a piece by the pianist and four jazz standards.
The music overall is high quality modern mainstream jazz of the mid-1950s. It is a pity that Boots Mussulli did not record in his later years. Fortunately he is at the top his game throughout this well-conceived reissue which is available from www.freshsoundrecords.com and www.amazon.com.
The Golden Sékéré
Douyé, who was born and raised in Nigeria, has long been based in Southern California. While she started her career with two r&b-oriented albums, she has since switched to jazz which was actually the first music that she ever heard. Her father, who passed away when she was 11, loved jazz and made her promise that when she was grown up, she would sing high-quality standards. Douyé grew to love the music and The Golden Sékéré is her finest recording to date.
The singer performs 14 well known standards but in her own way. Utilizing different instrumentation on each piece and five different arrangers, she creates fresh and sincere versions of the songs. To name a few highlights, “Cherokee” (which is usually taken at a racehorse tempo) is sung slower than usual, “Speak Low” (with noteworthy flute work from Itai Kris) is recast as a waltz, and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” is performed with a rollicking Latin-flavored big band. Guitarist Dokun Oke accompanies Douye’s fine ballad singing on “The Very Thought Of You” and she scats well on a partly-funk partly-swing version of “It Don’t Mean A Thing.” A particular highpoint is a sensuous ballad version of “I’m Confessin’” with guitarist Lionel Loueke. Other notable guest soloists include trumpeters Sean Jones and Freddie Hendrix (“Key Largo”) and bassist Buster Williams (“Devil May Care”) plus several African percussionists.
Throughout this set, Douyé comes up with colorful and sometimes surprising treatments of the familiar songs and displays her versatility, sensitivity and warmth. The Golden Sékéré is easily recommended and available from www.rhombus-records.com and www.amazon.com.
An outstanding bop-oriented trombonist and educator based in New York, Robert Edwards can play rapid lines with ease, is a quick thinker, and keeps the legacy of J.J. Johnson alive without copying him. On Up Swing, he is teamed with the equally fluent trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, pianist Adam Birnbaum, bassist Mike Karn, and drummer Aaron Kimmel.
The quintet performs six originals by the trombonist and five jazz standards with the emphasis on uptempo cookers. Starting with the hard boppish “Edges,” it is obvious that Edwards’ technique is quite impressive as is his ability to really dig into chord changes with colorful ideas. Every selection on this set is impressive. “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” is taken as a medium tempo waltz (featuring an attractive blend between trumpet and trombone), “Stand Up” is a blues with a bridge that has an outstanding stop time section for Edwards, and such numbers as Cedar Walton’s “Groundwork,” “Cupbearers,” “Rocks, Lime” (a soulful strut which sounds like something Bobby Timmons might have written for the Jazz Messengers), and even “My Way” are swung hard. “Time To Shine” (based on “My Shining Hour”) and “The Manhattaners” (closely related to “Manhattan”) are among the many highpoints. The lone ballad of the set is the heartfelt “Healing The Heart” and Vanessa Perea (who the trombonist has frequently worked with) contributes a happy vocal to a medium-tempo “Don’t Blame Me.”
Up Swing, a set of spirited bebop, is easily recommended and available from www.robertedwardsmusic.net.
Subtitled Crazy Rhythm: Exploring George Gershwin, this CD features the always-adventurous Denny Zeitlin digging into 11 Gershwin songs. A major pianist ever since his recording debut in 1963, Zeitlin has long had his own sound and style. Harmonically adventurous and (to simplify things) a bridge between hard bop and free jazz, Zeitlin can always be counted upon to perform and record stimulating and unpredictable music.
While the songs on Solo Piano (with the exception of “By Strauss”) are all quite familiar, Zeitlin comes up with fresh and unpredictable ideas throughout the date. His chord voicings are original, he sometimes adjusts the time signature or adds unexpected rhythms, and he consistently takes the Gershwin songs in unexpected directions even while paying homage to their melodies. For example, “Summertime” begins with a free improvisation before evolving into the famous piece. “’S Wonderful” is practically rewritten, “My Man’s Gone Now” is quite dramatic, and “I’ve Got A Crush On You” is played as a bossa-nova.
Denny Zeitlin’s recordings are always inventive and well worth hearing several times. Crazy Rhythm: Exploring George Gershwin, which is available from www.sunnysiderecords.com, is no exception.
(Mint 400 Records)
Guitarist Greg Chako is a very talented straight ahead jazz guitarist in the vein of Wes Montgomery and early George Benson, but not derivative of either one. Originally from Cincinnati and now based on the East Coast, he would be much better known in the U.S. but he spent periods living and playing in Hong Kong, eight years in Singapore, China, and six years in Japan.
The previously unreleased Yokohama Live features Chako in top form back in 2008 when he was in Japan. He leads a quartet that also features pianist Hiroshi Tanaka, bassist Brent Nussey, and drummer Gene Jackson. The final selection has bassist Yasuhiro Hasegawa and drummer Taro Koyama in the group.
Chako and his players stretch out on six songs that clock in between 7:58 and 14:26. They perform three of the leader’s originals and a song apiece by George Benson, Billy Higgins, and Miles Davis.
The program begins with the uptempo “Blues For Redd.” It is obvious from the start that Tanaka is a world class pianist; his solos throughout the set are consistently exciting. Also during the opener, Nussey contributes an excellent bowed bass solo and Chako swings up a storm in his stirring solo. The guitarist’s “Ballad For Andy” begins as a slow feature for Tanaka before the tempo picks up for Chako’s spot. George Benson’s “Mimosa” has an easy-listening melody but soon gains momentum and passion during the solos. Chako’s singing tone is well displayed during Billy Higgins’ “Marilyn’s Dilemma,” an obscure swinger that deserved to catch on. A free improvisation featuring a guitar-drums duet followed by a piano solo that quotes from “Milestones” eventually becomes “So What.” The set concludes with a lengthy and burning treatment of Chako’s original “Everybody’s Got A Name.”
Yokohama Live! is an excellent showcase for Greg Chako and his quartet, and a good excuse to become familiar with the guitarist’s passionate playing. It is heartily recommended and available from www.gregchako.com.
Life Is Like A Song
Vanessa Thomas has a warm and powerful voice, a soulful and swinging style, and she always seems to sound enthusiastic. Among her most significant musical experiences was singing with Doc Severinsen’s big band for a decade.
Life Is Like A Song is her long overdue debut recording as a leader. She is joined by a fine group consisting of pianist Roger Wilder (who also provided the arrangements), bassist Eric Hitt, drummer John Kizilarmut, and tenor-saxophonist Matt Otto with trumpeter Clint Ashlock guesting on “Every Day I Have The Blues.”
The performances are excellent throughout although the choice of songs could have been more inspired. With the exception of “Creole Love Call” (which Ms. Thomas sings wordlessly a la Adelaide Hall in the 1920s) and “Orange Colored Sky,” all of these tunes are warhorses that have been recorded a countless number of times. Certainly “At Last,” “Every Day I Have The Blues,” “Smile,” “Summertime,” and “Come Sunday” were not waiting to be revived again and, despite her best efforts, these renditions will not make one forget the definitive versions.
That reservation aside, Life Is Like A Song is an enjoyable effort. This fine set finally brings to record a talented singer with a lot of potential who will hopefully be featured on many future projects. It is available from www.vanessathomassings.com.