Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trios
Songs From My Father
(Whaling City Sound)
Drummer Gerry Gibbs had long wanted to record a tribute to his father, the great vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, while the 96-year old was still around to enjoy it. During the pandemic, the younger Gibbs decided that the idea was long overdue. He traveled around the country to record 18 of his father’s songs with four different all-star trios and the result is this double-CD.
While Terry Gibbs is well-known as one of the top jazz vibraphonists of all time, his songwriting abilities have always been a bit overshadowed. In his career he composed more than 300 songs, including many that he recorded on his own albums. Some of his tunes were recorded by the likes of Woody Herman, Nat King Cole, George Shearing and Cannonball Adderley among others. None of the songs became standards but, as the music on Songs From My Father shows, some deserved to catch on.
With Gerry Gibbs playing drums on every selection, four songs apiece feature either the trio of pianist Chick Corea (in his very last recordings) and bassist Ron Carter, or that of pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Buster Williams. The teams of pianist Geoff Keezer and bassist Christian McBride and of pianist Patrice Rushen and organist Larry Goldings are heard on five other songs apiece. Corea contributed the one piece not written by Gibbs (“Tango For Terry”) while a new number called “Hey Chick” (in tribute to the late keyboardist) has spots for all four trios (every musician on the project except Corea); that must have taken a lot of work to edit. The latter piece actually starts out with a Terry Gibbs solo taken from a 1961 recording. It is a pity that the vibraphonist could not be coaxed out of retirement to take a new solo. If he could be persuaded to make one more recording, Gibbs would be the only musician in history (if one counts a radio broadcast that he made as a kid in the 1930s) to record in ten different decades. Someone needs to talk him into it!
Each of the trios fares quite well on Songs From My Father. Chick Corea doubles on electric keyboards on the ambitious “Sweet Young Song Of Love” and swings happily on “Bopstacle Course.” Kenny Barron revives “T & S” and is in top form on the uptempo romp “Kick Those Feet.” The team of Rushen and Goldings puts plenty of spirit into the funky boogaloo blues (“Smoke ‘Em Up”) and is tasteful and melodic on one of Terry Gibbs’ best compositions (“Pretty Blue Eyes”) while Keezer and McBride excel on the dazzling “Nutty Notes” and “Gibberish.” Gerry Gibbs drives each of the trios and has a few short but impressive solos of his own.
Songs From My Father (available from www.whalingcitysound.com) is a success on all levels. I have no doubt that it makes Terry Gibbs smile.
Only Love Will Stay
(Whaling City Sound)
Guitar-organ-drums trios have been part of jazz since the 1950s and have often been heard in soul jazz settings. While guitarist Rale Micic’s recent outing with organist Jared Gold and either Johnathan Blake or Geoff Clapp on drums is certainly soulful, it has a very different feel than one might expect from this instrumentation.
The uniqueness of the group, which can really be heard on the opening “Only Love Will Stay,” is in the sounds of Mimic and Gold. The guitarist, born in Serbia, has a lyrical style influenced a bit by Eastern European classical music in addition to his own inventive musical personality. Organist Gold avoids the usual dominant Jimmy Smith influence to display a fresh tone, one that hints at the pre-Smith organ style of Wild Bill Davis and Bill Doggett while also being open to freer explorations.
Only Love Will Stay is Rale Micic’s fourth CD as a leader. The guitarist’s trio explores five of his originals, John Abercrombie’s “Even Steven,” the swing standard “How Deep Is The Ocean,” and a Serbian rock song from the 1980s (“Lipe Cvatu”) that is recast as quiet jazz. The latter and “Only Love Will Stay” have the strongest Balkan influence of these performances while Micic’s warm ballad “January” and his jazz waltz “Savas” are among the most memorable selections on the program.
Rale Micic’s music on this set is generally mellow, thoughtful and filled with subtle creativity. Only Love Will Stay, which is available from www.whalingcitysound.com, is well worth acquiring.
One of the greatest guitarists of all time, John McLaughlin had slowed down a bit before the pandemic, no longer touring but not quite ready for retirement. He turned 78 in 2020 and felt so frustrated by the restrictions caused by COVID that he gathered together 11 of his favorite musicians in separate London sessions and recorded Liberation Time.
The first number, “As The Spirit Sings,” shows that McLaughlin has lost none of his passion and intensity as he unleashes a fiery solo in a quartet with pianist Gary Husband, bassist Sam Burgess, and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. “Singing Our Secrets” is relatively mellow in comparison, featuring a fine piano solo from Roger Rossignol and McLaughlin on guitar synthesizer. “Lockdown Blues” (a title long overdue to be used) has the guitarist taking a blazing improvisation with a powerful quartet.
John McLaughlin alternates powerful explorations with quieter pieces throughout this set. He offers two brief unaccompanied piano solos as surprise interludes. They sandwich the uptempo jazz romp “Right Here, Right Now, Right On” which has a raging tenor solo from Julian Siegel and a very fluent and speedy improvisation from McLaughlin. The closer, the rapid and explosive “Liberation Time,” can serve as evidence by itself that the guitarist is still at the top of his game. There is no possible way that he sounds 78.
Liberation Time, which is available from www.abstractlogix.com, features John McLaughlin playing with more creativity, technique, and emotion than nearly all guitarists half his age. It is highly recommended to anyone who has enjoyed his music in the past.
It is a bit ironic that the last great composer who contributed many standards to the Great American Songbook was not from the U.S. but from Brazil. Although he was not alone, Antonio Carlos Jobim (1927-94) was largely responsible for bossa-nova catching on in a similar way that Scott Joplin made ragtime into a national sensation six decades before. Jobim’s ability to compose songs that were both highly appealing and a bit melancholy, all of them accompanied by gentle Brazilian rhythms, popularized a style of music that is still played constantly today.
Veteran pianist Antonio Adolfo has been a major musician in Brazil since the 1960s and has led at least 25 albums to date. Since Jobim was an important early inspiration (and Adolfo had the opportunity to know the composer), a tribute to his music was long overdue.
Utilizing a four-horn nonet, Adolfo performs nine Jobim songs, all but 1956’s “A Felicidade” date from the 1960’s. Starting with “The Girl From Ipanema” and including such classics as “Wave” and “How Insensitive” (which has the set’s only vocal by Ze Renato) plus some lesser-known but rewarding pieces, Adolfo not only contributes rewarding piano solos but inventive arrangements that make the songs sound particularly fresh and lively. Along the way there are concise solos from virtually all of the sidemen. Trumpeter Jesse Sadoc and trombonist Rafael Rocha are standouts although every musician is top-notch..
Jobim Forever is an easy album to enjoy and it does full justice to the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim. Thus far, every recording of Antonio Adolfo that I have heard is recommended and this one (available from www.antonioadolfomusic.com) is certainly no exception.
Roman Miroshnichenko and Henrik Andersen
A powerful electric guitarist who has led more than ten albums so far, Roman Miroshnichenko can be considered one of the pacesetters in today’s fusion scene. He has performed with such greats as Larry Coryell, Steve Vai, Paul Wertico, Bunny Brunel, and Al DiMeola. Born and raised in the Ukraine, he started out exploring blues and rock before deciding to become a jazz guitarist, one who is always looking for a new challenge. New Shapes is just that for it shows that Miroshnichenko is just as impressive on acoustic guitar as he is on electric.
On New Shapes, Roman Miroshnichenko teams up with fellow guitarist Henrik Andersen. Born and raised in Copenhagen, Andersen is not only a top-notch guitarist but a vocal percussionist who can sing rapid lines. Trilok Gurtu, a famous Indian percussionist who worked with John McLaughlin and Oregon, and is a special guest on New Shapes. The project also includes appearances by percussionists Bickram Ghosh, Frank Colon, and Gumbi Ortiz plus violinist Charlie Bisharat.
Sticking to nylon and steel string acoustic guitars, Miroshnichenko and Andersen constantly challenge each other throughout New Shapes while exploring a wide variety of styles. Both are capable of lightning-fast runs and those are used for punctuation throughout the set without losing the essence of the melodies, moods, and rhythms.
The opener, “Russian Mountains,” makes it clear that the guitarists are both virtuosos but ones who always keep the melody in mind. This is one of several pieces in which Andersen’s rhythmic scatting (which interacts closely with the percussionists) has a memorable spot. “New Shapes” begins quietly, has close interplay between guitar, percussion and voice, and consists of several colorful sections. On “Playground” the guitarists trade off playful ideas throughout and utilize a childlike theme that fits the piece’s title.
“Flying Dragon” has a particularly catchy melody and a fairly simple structure over which the guitarists create some miraculous lines during their solos. A moody rhythmic pattern is the basis of “Corona Funk,” a performance that builds up in tension and passion quite effectively. “Bodhran’s Magic” is a jazz waltz with an Indian feel that features violinist Bisharat trading off with Miroshnichenko. On “Salvador” the two guitarists utilize the feeling of flamenco with a touch of gypsy swing while the closing “Simona’s Summer Samba” gives them an opportunity to play Brazilian samba in 7/8.
New Shapes, which is available from www.romanmiroshnichenko.com, is filled with variety and excitement. It features Roman Miroshnichenko and Henrik Andersen at their most inspired.
Then And Again, Here And Now
Veteran pianist Todd Cochran (known early in his musical life as Bayeté) has had a wide-ranging career. He grew up in a musical household in San Francisco, started playing piano when he was five, and had extensive classical training before switching to jazz as a teenager. Cochran played with John Handy when he was 17, worked with Bobby Hutcherson for several years, and through the years has appeared on many records as a sideman including with John Klemmer, Stanley Turrentine, Julian Priester, Stanley Clarke, Aretha Franklin, Grover Washington Jr. and Freddie Hubbard. He has also led seven albums of his own, starting with 1972’s Worlds Around The Sun, has explored electric keyboards, and played free jazz, rock, fusion, and music that crossed boundaries.
Then And Again, Here And Now is Cochran’s first acoustic jazz album in some time and it features him mostly playing standards in a trio with bassist John Leftwich and drummer Michael Carvin. Cochran’s treatments of such songs as “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise,” “A Foggy Day,” Dave Brubeck’s “The Duke,” and “Bemsha Swing” are often modernized (a version of “I Got Rhythm” is largely unrecognizable) and are filled with melodic and rhythmic surprises that are quite individual. Sometimes Cochran improvises out-of-tempo as if he is thinking aloud at the piano (as on “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”) while on other occasions (particularly during “Invitation”) he swings hard. While in supportive roles, Leftwich (who takes a few impressive bowed solos) and Carvin listen closely, react quickly to Cochran’s often-spontaneous ideas, and have their opportunities to shine.
The program which, in addition to the standards, also includes four original interludes and a Bach piece, always holds onto one’s interest. The trio never coasts. Then And Again, Here And Now (available from www.sunnysiderecords.com) is simply one of Todd Cochran’s most rewarding recordings.
Saxophonist and keyboardist Gary Meek has been a valuable and versatile sideman for many years including for over two decades with the Flora Purim-Airto Moreira band. He has also led occasional albums including his previous set, Originals, which is a memorable straight ahead acoustic outing with a group that included pianist Mitchel Forman, bassist Brian Bromberg, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, trumpeter Randy Brecker, and guitarist Bruce Forman.
Monterey Groove is a bit different. Utilizing a core unit with guitarist Michael Lent, bassist Robert Wilder, and drummer Skylar Campbell, Meek introduces a set of music that grooves, is a bit funky, and gives him many opportunities to wail on tenor, piano, electric keyboards, soprano and flute. Along the way there are several guest appearances, most notably by drummer Dave Weckl, Flora Purim (on the ballad “The Hope”), and trumpeter Akili Bradley.
In addition to being catchy and filled with some attractive melodies (the relaxed “Midnight Sky,” a soothing “Jeanne’s Song,” and the eccentric “Bosphorous Blues” are among the highlights), the performances include many fine solos by Meek (showing that he is equally skilled on tenor and piano), and the rockish guitarist Michael Lent who is explosive during his short spots. Sure, I wish that a few of the songs did not fade out and that some of the improvisations were a bit more extended, but the music is quite pleasing and has more variety and subtlety than one might expect. Gary Meek is heard throughout Monterey Groove (which is available from www.garymeek.net) in top form.
Better Days Ahead
There is always a danger in trying to classify current jazz artists, and expecting the predictable from them. Creative musicians have a habit of doing whatever they want despite what fans, critics and consumers might predict.
John Pizzarelli is primarily known as a swinging guitarist-singer who plays vintage standards. Never mind that he recorded full-length tributes to the Beatles, Paul McCartney and Antonio Carlos Jobim in the past (along with sets honoring Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mercer and, on several occasions, Nat King Cole). Even given his extensive discography, one certainly would not expect him to record the music of Better Days Ahead.
This CD features Pizzarelli playing unaccompanied acoustic seven-string guitar solos on 13 songs either composed by Pat Metheny or co-written by Metheny and Lyle Mays. The musical worlds of Pizzarelli and Metheny may seem miles apart but Pizzarelli (who in the CD says “Thank you to Pat Metheny for decades of genius”) obviously has long admired Metheny without feeling compelled to play like him.
The performances are relaxed and thoughtful as Pizzarelli explores the rich melodies of such songs as “Spring Ain’t Here,” “Letter From Home,” “If I Could,” “Last Train Home,” and “Farmer’s Trust.” The guitarist brings out the beauty of the tunes and one could imagine other musicians hearing these versions and deciding to also come up with new interpretations of some of these numbers. John Pizzarelli plays beautifully throughout the instrumental set, casting a fresh light on some of Metheny’s better originals.
Better Days Ahead is available from www.amazon.com.
Molly Miller Trio
Guitarist Molly Miller, who is based in Los Angeles, has extensive experience playing with rock and pop groups. She is a fine improviser whose style is really difficult to categorize. On St. George, a 30-minute EP, she teams up with bassist Jennifer Condos (who has worked with B.B. King, Elton John and T-Bone Burnett) and drummer Jay Bellerose who is probably best known for performing with Bruce Springsteen. They had previously appeared on the Shabby Road Recordings in 2017.
While Ms. Miller’s style and sound sometimes make one think of folkish country music, the improvising and spontaneity of these performances (even when they are tightly arranged) is closer to jazz. The majority of the ten selections on St. George (“Wherever You Call” is heard in two versions) are taken at a relaxed pace and express longing and a quiet optimism. Halfway through the program, the music becomes more energetic (particularly “Hear It Calling”) before returning to its laidback mood.
St. George contains enjoyable playing that is bluesy and lyrical, a fine showcase for Molly Miller’s guitar. Hopefully her next release will be twice as long, have more mood variation, and give the musicians more of an opportunity to stretch out. But for now, St. George (which is available from www.mollymillermusic.com) serves as a fine introduction to the talented guitarist.
Keeper Of The Flame
Tenor and soprano-saxophonist Tim Mayer, who is an excellent player, recorded with a variety of mostly lesser known groups during 1996-2013 including sessions led by pianist Rusty Scott, drummer Jon Hazilla, and altoist Adam Rongo plus his own Resilience album in 2011. He has not been heard from on records much since, mostly working as an educator. Mayer currently lives in Mexico where he recently completed his Master’s degree at Universidad Veracruzana.
Keeper Of The Flame was recorded in 2013 but went unreleased until recently. The reason for its delay is not given and it was certainly not the quality of the music. Mayer utilized a swinging octet that, with Diego Rivera’s arrangements, has a big band sound despite only having five horns. Jimmy Heath’s minor blues “Big P.” is a fine outing for the ensemble with solos from Mayer and bassist Rodney Whitaker. The leader switches to soprano on “Bye Bye Blackbird” which is played by Mayer, Whitaker and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. as a trio feature. Cedar Walton’s “Hand In Glove” (a relative of “Love For Sale”) features the full group sounding a bit like the Jazz Messengers and includes spots for pianist Miki Hayama and trombonist Michael Dease while “Blame It On My Youth” is a Mayer-Whitaker duet with the leader sounding a little like Dexter Gordon.
The other selections are all played by the octet. These include the straight ahead “Blues By Four,” a faster than usual “Naima,” the wistful Michael Dease ballad “Elusive” (which features Mayer on flute), a modern original (“Get Organized”), and an uptempo version of McCoy Tyner’s “Passion Dance” which has Mayer hinting at John Coltrane and pianist Emmet Cohen making a guest appearance.
Despite its arrival being delayed for eight years, the music on Tim Mayer’s Keeper Of The Flame still sounds fresh and modern. It is easily recommended and available from www.timmayermusic.com.
Kisses You Awake
Jeanie Brandes has an attractive voice and an appealing delivery that is filled with subtle creativity. While sticking to the lyrics of songs which she clearly loves, she gives each one a personal touch that uplifts the material and makes them her own.
Kisses You Awake was her fourth recording, following Love In The World I Remember (which is also the name of her best-selling book of poetry), Soul Serenity, and When I Look In Your Eyes. Recorded back in 2010 but easily available today (from www.jeaniebrandes.com), the jazz-oriented set features Ms. Brandes accompanied by pianist Corey Allen, bassist Brian Bromberg, drummer Dave Tull, and Doug Webb on tenor and flute. While the emphasis is on ballads, Jeanie Brandes shows on a swinging “Night And Day” that she sounds quite comfortable on medium-tempo songs too.
The repertoire consists of a dozen superior standards including “What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life” (which has an excellent spot for Bromberg), “Where Or When,” “My One And Only Love,” and a heartfelt rendition of “The Folks Who Live On The Hill” that features Jeanie Brandes at her best. Doug Webb is a major asset throughout with his well-constructed solo on “Night And Day,” warm flute on “A Day In The Life Of A Fool,” and pretty tenor playing during “Moon River” being particularly memorable. Corey Allen’s piano (as a concise soloist and an accompanist) is also a constant joy. Shelly Markham (the singer’s long-time musical director) guests on a duet performance of “Here’s That Rainy Day” that wraps up the easily enjoyable effort.
Jeanie Brandes will be appearing at Catalina’s on October 16. Kisses You Awake, a superior example of first-class ballad singing, is her finest recording so far.
Strings Ain’t What They Used To Be
Wheatley’s Arcadians, a quartet consisting of Martin Wheatley on guitars, banjo, mandolin, Hawaiian guitar, and vocals, Tom Langham on guitar and vocals, Mike Piggott switching between violin, mandolin, and the Strohviol, and bassist Louis Thomas, play vintage music that is consistently fun. On Strings Ain’t What They Used To Be, they perform early jazz, blues, ragtime, early country music, and pieces that blend together the overlapping styles.
Their repertoire includes a few standards such as “Nagasaki,” “Dinah,” “I’ll See You In My Dreams” and “Besame Mucho” (how often does one hear the latter with a banjo lead?) and plenty of vintage obscurities ranging from “Tickling The Strings,” and “A Banjo Oddity” to “Ragging The Scale,” “Old And Only In The Way,” and “Don’t Be Ashamed Of Your Age.” The good-time music is filled with hot violin, guitar and mandolin solos plus Wheatley’s joyful vocals. The band sounds quite authentic and, other than the improved recording quality, could pass for a group from 1931.
The only faults to this set are the lack of liner notes, a list of the composers, and solo identifications. The music is certainly easy to enjoy and those who love 1920s recordings and the go-for-broke style of Joe Venuti’s Blue Four will definitely want to acquire this CD which is available from www.lejazzetal.com.
For this project, pianist Scott Oakley gathered together three other top Los Angeles-based musicians (tenor-saxophonist Scott Gilman, trumpeter Mitch Manker, and bassist Paul Morin) to perform 11 of his compositions. The songs are quite original (not utilizing any obvious chord changes) and inspire consistently inventive solos.
The drumless quartet (Sans Batterie means “Without Drums” in French) has a floating sound which perfectly fits Oakley’s thoughtful melodies. Gilman and Manker blend together very naturally and their light tones contrast with their creative improvisations, making this music instantly accessible. While Oakley’s solos are often energetic, the horns tend to be laidback and quiet.
The opener is a tribute to Abdullah Ibrahim (“Whispers Of Dollar Brand”) but much of the music is actually closer to the more mellow side of Charles Mingus, attached to the tradition while pushing it ahead and avoiding being predictable. A few of the song titles are humorous (such as “Drunk Girl Singing,” “It’s You Or Someone Else,” and “If Something Isn’t Wrong, Something’s Wrong”) although the wit contained in the music is pretty subtle. The Latinish “Simple y Dulce” is a particular delight. The only fault to this enjoyable set is the lack of liner notes; I assume that the unidentified and excellent trombonist on “It’s You Or Someone Else” is Manker.
Sans Batterie, which is available from www.invisiblerecords.com, makes for an enjoyable listen and is easily recommended.
Arthur White and Merge
(Artists Recording Collective)
Dr. Arthur White, an excellent tenor-saxophonist, composer and arranger who has written for many top jazz artists, became the director of jazz studies at California Polytechnic State University in the fall of 2019, following periods teaching at Northeastern (OK) State University and the University of Missouri. He had produced 11 earlier albums for the large ensembles at the universities prior to Unify.
On this new project, White gathered together faculty members, graduates and students from Cal Poly plus some faculty members from Cuesta College to form a big band. Actually “gathered together” is not quite accurate. Recorded during the COVID period, it was necessary for each of the musicians to record individually at home. Despite that, they sound very much like a tight ensemble with their own group sound.
On Unify, Dr. Arthur White welcomes as guests trumpeter Randy Brecker and tenor-saxophonist Ada Rovatti. They made major contributions to the project, not only with their solos, but by bringing in five of the ten songs that were recorded; the first three numbers are Brecker’s.
Unify begins logically with “First Tune Of The Set.” A funky piece with George Stone’s keyboards being prominent in the ensembles, the performance has some exciting Brecker trumpet, a comparatively laidback statement by Rovatti, and some colorful playing from Stone.
The happy medium-tempo blues-based tune “Dirty Dogs” has some fine scat-singing by John Knutson and includes fluent playing from trombonist Brian Scarborough along with some adventurous soloing from baritonist Dave Becker. “Marble Seas” is a picturesque Brecker original with spots from both of the guests while Rovatti’s jazz waltz “Never Grow Old Peter Pan” features John Knutson’s singing and some excellent playing by vibraphonist Sean Collins.
Arthur White, who arranged six of the ten songs, is in the spotlight on George Stone’s ballad “(I Have) So Much To Tell You,” a piece that is both melancholy and a bit romantic. White displays his own individual sound on tenor during his warm improvisation. The mood changes on Brecker’s “The Slag,” a soulful number that is quite catchy. Stone sets the groove on keyboards and also is heard on trumpet, followed by an inventive solo by altoist Ron McCarley. Rovatti’s “Ghost Stories” starts out a little spooky before becoming a funky strut that has spirited playing from the composer, Brecker, and White.
Unify concludes with a vocal feature for Talia Phillips-Ortega on Mike Mainieri’s “Fly Away,” White’s relaxed original “Megan’s Dance” that builds to a climax with Jeff Miley’s blazing guitar, and a showcase for the Cal Poly Vocal Jazz Ensemble on “Do You Wanna Know What I Want.”
There is plenty of variety, solid musicianship, and colorful solos throughout Unify, making it easily recommended to fans of modern big bands. This set is available from www.arthurwhitedma.com.