George Avakian Presents
One Step To Chicago
This is a project that was lost for 30 years despite featuring an all-star cast. It was produced by George Avakian (1919-2017), a remarkable pioneer who in the late 1930s put together the first jazz reissues, and in 1940 produced what is considered the first jazz album. The latter was six 78s released as Decca Presents an Album of Chicago Jazz and featured a reunion of some of the members of what in the 1920s was known as the Austin High Gang. It also had the very first liner notes.
In 1992, Avakian revisited Chicago Jazz of the 1920s, producing a session featuring two overlapping bands of classic jazz greats and saluting early clarinetist Frankie Teschemacher (1906-32). But amazingly enough no record label was interested in the project and the music was not released despite its high quality. Avakian always regretted that he could not get the album out. Finally in 2020, Dan Levinson told Bryan Wright of the Rivermont label about the project and now it is finally available.
The first group (Dick Hyman’s Frank Teschemacher Celebration Band), which recreates six recordings from the 1920s, consists of Levinson on clarinet during his earliest recording session (recreating Frankie Teschemacher), cornetist Peter Ecklund, trombonist Dan Barrett, Ken Peplowski on tenor, pianist Dick Hyman, guitarist Marty Grosz, bassist Bob Haggart, and drummer Arnie Kinsella. Cornetist Dick Sudhalter and Jon-Erik Kellso on mellophone are on one song apiece with Vince Giordano on tuba for two. Levinson does sound a lot like Teschemacher on this date and the band sounds spontaneous despite actually reading the music. They perform “One Step To Heaven,” “Sugar,” “I’ve Found A New Baby,” “China Boy,” “Liza”(an obscurity rather than the Gershwin standard), and “Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble.”
The second group is a septet (Kenny Davern’s Windy City Stompers) that jams seven Dixieland standards a la Eddie Condon. They play in the style of the Chicagoans while offering their own individual personalities. The group consists of trumpeter Kellso, trombonist Barrett, Davern on clarinet, Hyman, guitarist Howard Alden (switching to banjo on one number), bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Tony DeNicola. Their versions of “The Darktown Strutters Ball,” “Wabash Blues,” “Nobody’s Sweetheart,” “The Jazz Me Blues,” “Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home,” and “Wolverine Blues” are as hot as one would expect from these masterful musicians and the music is quite exhilarating. A surprise is that Davern with the rhythm section plays “Indiana” as a slow ballad.. The album concludes with a version of “Farewell Blues” that has all of the musicians (eight horns including Giordano on bass sax, Hyman and both rhythm sections) playing together. Imagine hearing solos on the same piece from Ecklund, Davern, Sudhalter, Giordano, Kellso, Peplowski, Barrett, and Levinson with Grosz and Alden trading off (on banjos), and trades between the bassists and drummers.
Beyond the music which is absolutely wonderful, an 80-page book is included with the CD that has extensive liner notes from Dan Levinson plus contributions by Dick Hyman, Hank O’Neal, Hal Smith, and Marty Grosz. This classy, historic and joyful set, available from www.rivermontrecords.com, will certainly be on many best of 2022 lists at year-end, even though it should have come out 30 years ago.
Meditations On Mingus
Performing a set of Charles Mingus’ music is not like playing a program of Duke Ellington or Thelonious Monk songs. Mingus put so much of his emotions into his music, whether it be anger, humor, sadness or joy, that it takes a lot of work to bring back his spirit. In addition, his original pieces, while sometimes based in bop or swing, tended to look both backwards to the origins of jazz and ahead to freer improvising, sometimes featuring several soloists playing at once along with some wild ensembles. It is not surprising that his pieces are rarely ever performed at jam sessions.
Bassist Ethan Philion, in this set of eight Charles Mingus songs (which he transcribed), chose pieces that emphasize social issues in their titles including “Haitian Fight Song,” “Prayer For Passive Resistance,” “Meditation For A Pair Of Wire Cutters,” and “Remember Rockefeller At Attica” even though these are all instrumentals. Philion put together a ten-piece band of superior players consisting of trumpeters Russ Johnson and Victor Garcia, trombonists Norman Palm and Brendan Whalen, saxophonists Rajiv Halim, Geof Bradfield and Max Bessesen, pianist Alexis Lombre, and drummer Dana Hall plus himself on bass.
Although one misses such highly individual greats from Mingus’ bands as Eric Dolphy, Booker Ervin, Ted Curson and Jimmy Knepper, Ethan Philion’s group does a superior job of interpreting these rarely played works. How often does get to hear new versions (outside of the Mingus Big Band) as “Self Portrait In 3 Colors” and “Pithecanthropus Erectus?”
The only fault to this release is that the individual soloists are not listed, but since the purposely overcrowded ensembles (an important feature in Mingus’ music) provide some of the highpoints and all of the musicians play quite well, it is a minor reservation. Meditations On Mingus, an admirable project which is easily recommended and available from www.sunnysiderecords.com, will send listeners back to the original recordings.
(Manhattan Craftsmen’s Guild)
Tone Paintings features pianist Craig Davis, bassist John Clayton, and drummer Jeff Hamilton playing the music of Dodo Marmarosa (1925-2002). Marmarosa was one of the top bop-oriented pianists of the 1940s, a classically trained virtuoso who had stints with the Johnny “Scat” Davis, Gene Krupa, Tommy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet (he is on Barnet’s hit “Skyliner”), Artie Shaw, and Boyd Raeburn big bands during 1943-46. There were also early small group recordings with Krupa and Buddy DeFranco in a trio, Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five, Corky Corcoran, Barney Kessel, Slim Gaillard, Lem Davis, Ray Linn, and Lester Young (including “D.B. Blues”). All of that took place by the time Marmarosa was barely 20. In 1946 he had his first recording sessions as a leader, and was on record dates with Charlie Parker (including the original versions of “Moose The Mooche,” “Yardbird Suite,” and “Ornithology”), Howard McGhee, Ralph Burns, George Handy, Wardell Gray, and Mel Torme. Marmarosa had a few more sessions of his own (including a groundbreaking trio date that had Harry Babasin on cello rather than bass) and in 1947 was on Parker’s “Relaxin’ At Camarillo” session in addition to recording with Lucky Thompson, Willie Smith, Lionel Hampton and Red Norvo. But while he appeared at some slightly later all-star concerts in Southern California (including with Benny Carter and Stan Hasselgard) and there was another trio date in 1950, his career was largely over at 25. Due to a beating that he had suffered years earlier (similar to Bud Powell’s), Marmarosa suffered from mental problems. He spent much of the remainder of his life at his family’s home in Pittsburgh, only playing occasionally locally. In 1962 he briefly re-emerged tor record dates with Gene Ammons and Bill Hardman along with a final trio session, but otherwise little was heard from him during his final half-century.
Craig Davis, an excellent jazz pianist from Pittsburgh who toured with the Artie Shaw ghost orchestra for three years (sometimes playing parts originally performed by Marmarosa), revives ten of Dodo’s pieces (also performing his own original “A Ditty For Dodo”) on Tone Paintings. Dodo Marmarosa was not a major composer and none of his songs became standards but a few were standouts. While some of the songs on Tone Paintings use common chord changes and are devices for jamming (such as “Opus No. 5” which is “Sweet Georgia Brown” and the rhythm changes of “Battle Of The Balcony Jive”), a few of the others (including “Mellow Mood,” “Dodo’s Bounce,” and “Tone Paintings 1”) are more original and are worth discovering.
Other than the incomplete liner notes (which oddly enough only discuss Marmarosa’s story up to 1947 and does not mention anything about John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton), Tone Paintings is an excellent release. Craig Davis plays in his own style but is boppish enough to frequently hint at Dodo Marmarosa. There is also stellar support and occasional solo spots for Clayton and Hamilton, making this a very good trio session of obscure songs. Tone Paintings is available from www.mcgjazz.org.
Best Next Thing
Michael Dease recently won the 2022 Downbeat Critic’s Poll, beating out such notables as Wycliffe Gordon, Steve Turre and Steve Davis. Dease has been at it for quite for 20 years, playing major gigs since joining Illinois Jacquet’s big band in 2002 and leading a series of consistently satisfying and swinging records. Best Next Thing is his 15th (and ninth for Positone) since 2005.
Dease heads an all-star sextet on this project that includes altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa, trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, pianist Renee Rosnes, bassist Boris Kozlov, and drummer Rudy Royston. It is a bit unusual to hear the adventurous Manhathappa playing on this type of modern hard bop set, but he shows that he can play inside when he wants to. To Dease’s credit, rather than relying on vintage standards or exclusively playing his own originals, on this project he performs lesser-known but superior songs by other jazz artists including a number apiece by Steve Turre, Renee Rosnes, Sonny Rollins (the lone standard, “Doxy”), Rufus Reid, Claudio Roditi, and Charles Tolliver. He and his sextet also play four of his own tunes.
The individual solos are consistently rewarding with the musicians building their ideas off of the songs’ melodies and mood while displaying their own musical personalities. Among the highlights is Turre’s modal piece “Rainbow People,” Dease’s “Parker’s Brood” (a relative of “Lady Be Good” that sounds like something Charlie Parker might have played), the leader’s fluent solo on Roditi’s tongue twisting “One For Dease,” and the uptempo blues “Horse Trading,” but all ten selections are well worth hearing. “Doxy” is given a very witty treatment with a purposely crazy trombone solo and an ending that is really a crackup. Rosnes is in top form throughout as both a soloist and an accompanist, Sipiagin has some heated spots, and the rhythm section always swings while rarely playing the predictable.
Best Next Thing, which is full of variety in its moods and tempos, is an excellent outing or Michael Dease and his players. It is recommended and available from www.posi-tone.com.
Glenn Zottola & Chick Corea
The Legend & I
(Audio Verse Music)
Glenn Zottola, one of the few jazz artists to be equally skilled on trumpet and saxophones (tenor and alto), gained fame in the jazz world during the late 1970s and ‘80s, mostly as a hot swing-based trumpeter. He worked with Bob Wilbur’s Bechet Legacy, led a string of rewarding solo recordings, and along the way played and/or recorded with Benny Goodman, Butch Miles, Peanuts Hucko, Steve Allen, Maxine Sullivan, Gerry Mulligan, Zoot Sims and Joe Williams among others. After working as the musical director for Suzanne Somers (including for her television variety show), he went into semi-retirement but fortunately never stopped playing.
Zottola became very good friends with Chick Corea around 2000 and during the next two decades they frequently jammed together. There was talk of Zottola touring with Corea, but although that never happened, tapes were made of some of their jams. The Legend & I consists of a few of their better collaborations. While some of the performances date back to the early 2000s (the exact dates are not given on the CD), these versions of ‘Skylark,” “Crystal Silence,” “Z-Mother Test Project,” and “Moog 1 Arp Project” are among the very last (possibly the final) recordings made by Corea, who passed away on Feb. 9, 2021.
The set begins with “But Not For Me” as played by the co-leaders plus bassist Avishai Cohen and drummer Adam Cruz. Zottola takes fine solos on both muted trumpet and alto-sax. The duo of Zottola on tenor and Corea perform a rare version of the keyboardist’s classic ballad “Crystal Silence.” “Autumn Leaves” may at first seem conventional with Zottola contributing some fine trumpet, but it also features Corea (via overdubbing) on marimba, bass and drums (each of which he plays quite credibly) rather than piano. “Z-Mother Test Project” finds the co-leaders improvising quite freely and with plenty of energy, clearly having fun in each other’s musical company.
“Skylark” is given a beautiful statement by Zottola on tenor (sounding a bit like Stan Getz) and Corea on acoustic piano. “Mood 1 Arp Project” is another mostly free improv, “You Go To My Head” is a feature for Zottola on tenor while “Gliden Not Haydn” is a high-powered outing for the quartet with Cohen and Cruz. Corea and the rhythm section really push and challenge Zottola who responds with competitive fire on alto and trumpet.
As a bonus track, there is a second version of “Crystal Silence” that was recorded after Corea’s passing. Zottola plays warmly on tenor, guitarist Romero Lubambo provides tasteful accompaniment along with a solo, and Pamela Driggs sings Corea’s rarely-heard lyrics.
It is very good to hear Glenn Zottola back on record again, and to have this final chapter in the remarkable Chick Corea story. The Legend & I is available from www.audioversemusic.com.
Steve Cardenas/Ben Allison/Ted Nash
Although Carla Bley has been a major composer since the early 1960s, many of her songs have not been recorded all that often by others. Healing Power, which features the trio of guitarist Steve Cardenas, bassist Ben Allison, and Ted Nash (on tenor, soprano and clarinet) fills in some of the gaps by recording nine of Bley’s most enduring pieces.
Bley’s music is quirky and, even when utilizing common chord changes (as on the witty medium-tempo blues “Donkey”), includes some offbeat moments in the melody along with a bit of the composer’s wit. The trio featured on this set does justice to her material, not only playing the themes flawlessly but creating concise improvisations that have plenty of spirit.
The mood and tempos change from song to song. Featured along the way is a laidback “Ida Lupino,” three ballads (“And Now The Queen,” “Lawns,” and “Healing Power”), pieces that recall Ornette Coleman in spots (“Ictus” and “King Korn”), the jazz waltz “Ad Infinitum,” and “Olhos De Gato” which has a tango feel with clarinet in the lead.
Each of the musicians gets solo space but it is the ensembles and, most of all, their colorful interpretations of Carla Bley’s melodies that make Healing Power (available from www.sunnysiderecords.com) an easily recommended set of inspired music.
Octet and Originals
Antonio Adolfo has been a major force in Brazilian jazz as a pianist, composer and bandleader since the 1960s. He was part of the bossa-nova scene (working with Elis Regina, Flora Purim and Milton Nascimento) and has since led over 25 albums. Some of his recent recordings are tributes to other songwriters (including Nascimento, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Wayne Shorter) but for this recent outing, he felt that it was long overdue that he record ten of his own originals.
While Adolfo’s music on this CD utilizes understated Brazilian rhythms with a strong role for bassist Jorge Helder, the emphasis is on strong melodies, tight ensembles, and lively jazz solos. He enlisted a high-quality group that consists of trumpeter Jesse Sadoc, altoist Danilo Sinna, Marcelo Martins on tenor and flute, trombonist Rafael Rocha, guitarist Ricardo Silveira, bassist Helder, and drummer Rafael Barata. Adolfo’s arrangements usually feature two or three soloists on each song. Trombonist Rocha is a consistent standout but every musician fares well.
The music is quite pleasing, whether it is the soothing “Heart Of Brazil,” an energetic “Boogie Baiao” (which could serve as a theme song for a detective show), the lively “Cascavel,” or the easy-listening (think prime Ramsey Lewis) of “Pretty World.” Much of the music is mellow but a close listen reveals plenty of subtle creativity.
Antonio Adolfo can always be relied upon to make recordings that are both melodic and inventive. Octet and Originals (available from www.aammusic.com) is well worth picking up.
(Mint 400 Records)
The very best jazz albums sound timeless and do not date with the passing of time. That statement can certainly apply to guitarist Greg Chako’s Sudden Impact, a 1996 recording that was barely promoted in the United States when it was released since Chako was living in Singapore. After a quarter-century, it was recently reissued and is now gaining some attention.
Chako, who is originally from Cincinnati, had an on and off career until moving to Hong Kong in 1992. A fulltime player ever since, he relocated to Singapore in 1994-2002, played in China during 2002-03, and was in Japan for six years before returned to the U.S. in 2009. He is now based on the East Coast.
Sudden Impact is a straight ahead jazz outing that finds Chako joined by bassist Billy Martinez, drummer Darryl Ervin, and (on various numbers) pianist Dom Gomez, Otrie B. Barrett Jr. on tenor (it is a pity that this fine player is only on two songs), and both Tama Goh and Norman Talbert on percussion for the Latin-flavored performances. Percussionist Pedro Campana guests on one other selection.
The group performs four Chako originals (including the jazz waltz “Sussy’s Song” and the Wes Montgomery-inspired medium-tempo blues “Fried Curry Pies”) and seven standards. Of the latter, the bossa-nova renditions of “Nancy With The Laughing Face” and “Everything Happens To Me” are particularly memorable although every selection is enjoyable.
Greg Chako displays a clear tone on guitar, sounds relaxed no matter what the tempo (always letting the music breathe), and performs music that will still sound fresh another 25 years from now. Sudden Impact (which Wes Montgomery fans in particular will enjoy) is available from www.mint400records.com.
Live In The Netherlands
Tenor-saxophonist Scott Hamilton has been a major force in keeping small group swing alive ever since he arrived on the major league jazz scene in the mid-1970s. His string of recordings for Concord and his many worldwide tours spread the gospel of swing at a time when the music had been in danger of being seen as pure nostalgia played by the few remaining veterans.
Since that time he has relocated to Europe and has lived for years in Italy, but continues to record regularly, he occasionally visits the U.S., and he still enjoys playing what he calls “good tunes.” His tone (originally inspired by Ben Webster and Zoot Sims but always individual) is unchanged from his early days as is his approach to playing swinging jazz.
Live In The Netherlands, which was recorded on Sept. 14, 2021, features Hamilton still very much in his playing prime. He is joined by four talented Europeans who play in a complementary style (vibraphonist Rene Ten Cate, pianist Johan Clement, bassist Hans Mantel, and drummer Barry Olthof). No rehearsals took place beforehand, the players quickly decided backstage what they would be playing, and then the music was off and running.
Hamilton is the lead voice throughout, Cat and Clement create many suitable solos, and Mantel and Olthof are stimulating and swinging in support. The quintet performs eight standards plus the riff piece “Basie Kick.” The set begins with an uptempo “Apple Honey,” a lengthy version of “A Beautiful Friendship” that clocks in at 10:43, and a cooking “It’s You Or No One.” It never loses momentum and each selection will satisfy fans of high-quality small-group swing. Sure, one may not need to hear another version of “On Green Dolphin Street,” “Stella By Starlight,” and “Sweet Georgia Brown” (which is taken at a fast pace), but these renditions are enjoyable and often quite heated.
Scott Hamilton was clearly happy to be working with these musicians and vice versa. The results (available from www.oaprecords.com) will delight his many fans.
Tin Pan Alley: Songs I Sing To My Deer
(Garret Mountain Records)
I first knew of Chip Deffaa as the author of a series of very valuable jazz books (Voices Of The Jazz Age, In The Mainstream, Swing Legacy, Blue Rhythms, Traditionalists and Revivalists In Jazz) that consist of interviews with veteran jazz artists including many who were from the 1920s. He seemed to catch every living survivor of the early days when he wrote those books during 1989-96, documenting their life stories and thoughts just in time. For 18 years Deffaa covered the entertainment news for the New York Post and during that period he largely moved away from jazz towards early show business, writing no less than 20 published plays including shows that saluted George M. Cohan and Irving Berlin.
One of his longtime wishes was to record his own CD. Chip Deffaa always loved to sing and he made appearances on a few earlier productions, but Songs I Sing To My Deer is the realization of his dream. His voice is decent and personable, his style is conversational (some of the lyrics are as much talked as sung), and his enthusiasm is infectious. He essentially plays the part of an old-time vaudevillian (several of whom he knew) as he performs 27 vintage songs with suitable accompaniment by pianist Richard Danley. The great violinist Andy Stein guests on ten songs, there is some tap dancing by Jon Peterson, and several other vocalists share the spotlight with Deffaa on various numbers.
The repertoire includes some early jazz songs (like “Bill Bailey,” “Nobody’s Sweetheart” and “Beale Street Blues”) but there are also such obscurities as “Yes! Yes! My Baby Said Yes,” Jimmy Durante’s “I Know Darn Well I Can Do Without Broadway,” “The Song’s Gotta Come From The Heart,” and Berlin’s “I Want To Be In Dixie.” Even with the inclusion of a few later tunes (“Young At Heart,” Sylvia Fine’s “Lullaby In Ragtime,” and Deffaa’s “All-American Sweetheart”), the program is like listening to a 1930s vaudeville show on the radio that salutes the music of 20 years before, complete with dialogue and storytelling that set up many of the songs. While Deffaa makes no attempt to imitate Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Ted Lewis and his mentor Todd Fisher, his delivery and showmanship are very much in their tradition.
Lovers of vaudeville and early 20th century show biz will find much to enjoy on this nostalgic CD which is available from www.amazon.com.
Hard to believe but the Yellowjackets have now been together for 45 years, and Parallel Motion is their 26th album. The quartet first came together in 1977 and was originally comprised of guitarist Robben Ford, keyboardist Russell Ferrante, electric bassist Jimmy Haslip, and drummer Ricky Lawson. Ford went out on his own in 1983 and, after brief periods with a couple of other guitarists, the spot was taken by altoist Marc Russo for four years. Tenor-saxophonist Bob Mintzer succeeded Russo in 1991 and, with William Kennedy being the drummer during 1987-99, the group’s personnel was very stable throughout the 1990s. After Kennedy’s departure in 1999, a few other drummers filled in (including Peter Erskine) before Marcus Baylor took over during 2000-10. When he left, Kennedy returned. Jimmy Haslip left the group in 2012 after 37 years, Felix Pastorius (Jaco’s son) was in his place for three years, and Dana Alderson has been the group’s bassist since 2015.
The Yellowjackets (which now consists of original member Russell Ferrante, Bob Mintzer, Dana Alderson, and William Kennedy) have never really fit into an obvious musical category. They have been mistakenly been called fusion, contemporary jazz and even smooth jazz but they have always had their own sound. They are lightly funky, perform original music, and feature both long melody statements and inventive solos.
Parallel Motion consists of three songs apiece from Mintzer (including the catchy yet complex title cut) and Ferrante, two by Alderson, and one from Kennedy. Mintzer’s pieces in general are the most challenging and have the perfect balance between complexity and setting an attractive groove, mixing together the creative with the accessible. That is particularly true of “Parallel Motion” and “Intrigue” with the latter indeed being somewhat intriguing. Other highlights include the funky “Onyx Manor,” a catchy “Samaritan,” and the lyrical “Il Mio Amico” (which has a fine soprano solo from Mintzer). “If You Believe” features a haunting vocal from guest singer Jean Baylor (whose husband is the group’s former drummer Marcus Baylor). While none of the songs on Parallel Motion (available from www.mackavenue.com) are probably destined to become future standards, taken as a whole they offer a fine sampling of the Yellowjackets of 2022. Even after all of these years, the band still shows signs of remaining a vital musical force for many years to come.
Hard Bop Jazz Messengers
Live At The Last Hotel
(Pacific Coast Jazz)
An excellent trombonist based in the Midwest, John Covelli has led the Hard Bop Messengers for several years. The group has had a longtime weekly Friday night engagement at the Last Hotel in St. Louis which, like everything else, was cut short during the pandemic. With time on his hands and wanting to have his quintet make their first full-length recording, Covelli devised a story about the Last Hotel.
The two act, 11-part suite called Live At The Last Hotel has the Hard Bop Jazz Messengers (comprised of the trombonist-leader, Ben Shafer on tenor, alto and flute, pianist Luke Sailor, bassist Chris Meschede, and drummer Nick Savage) joined by singer Matt Krieg. The story, which is related by Krieg in his brief vocals, is fairly simple. The band is enjoying their weekly gigs in the lobby of the Last Hotel as can be heard on “The Lobby” and “Meeting Friends.” The bandleader’s drive to the gig through heavy traffic is depicted on “Traffic Both Ways” while “Valet Valley” is about the busy valet parkers at the hotel.
The second act starts with “Standin’ Up Against The Wall” which has the club owner wondering if, after a slow winter, he should sell the club to a shady character. However the arrival of spring (“Hello Robin”) and a new cook (“Chef Can Cook”) convince him that good times are back. “Rooftop View” and “Make The Beds” depict the wisdom of his decision since business is booming again. As bonus tracks, one gets to people watch during “The Spy In Room 314” and see a pool game (“Rack ‘Em Up”).
Beyond the story, the individual pieces hold their own. There are many concise solos from Covelli (whose playing is quite fluent) and the versatile Shafer (who provides some fine flute to “Rooftop View”), pianist Sailor’s improvisations are consistently inventive, and the rhythm section swings throughout. The Hard Bop Messengers have an attractive group sound and Covelli’s originals, while straight ahead, are full of original chord changes and subtle surprises.
The result is an easily enjoyable set of cinematic modern jazz (available from www.pacificcoastjazz.com) that will make one long to see the Hard Bop Messengers playing at the real Last Hotel.
Rafael Rosa was already a top guitarist in his native Puerto Rico before moving to New York in 2011. Since then, he has worked with Lula Mason (with whom he recorded Mixtura), Kenny Werner, Steven Frieder, Ben Rosenblum’s Nebula and others, performed in many of the major clubs in NY, and become an influential educator. His debut album, Portrait, was a strong start to his solo career and he has developed an original sound on guitar.
The Axiomatic EP contains four selections that display Rafael Rosa’s continued growth as a colorful and inventive improviser. The first two numbers have the guitarist leading a quintet that also includes keyboardist Carlos Homs, bassist John Benitez, drummer Joel Mateo, and saxophonist Edmar Colon. “Music For The People” starts out with the first of several catchy rhythmic riffs. While there are excellent guitar and keyboard solos along with drum breaks, the emphasis is on the fusionish ensemble which has all of the musicians (propelled by the active bass playing of Benitez) contributing to the group’s sound and momentum. The performance culminates in a repeated riff over the closing vamp. “Obliquity” is notable for its joyous if complex melody, a particularly fluent guitar solo from Rosa, and some nice electric keyboard work by Homs before the ensemble grooves to the piece’s conclusion. The other two selections feature Rosa interacting with keyboardist Leo Genovese, bassist Francesco Marcocci, drummer Joel Mateo, and saxophonist Alejandro Aviles. “The Hand That Draws Another Hand” has a thoughtful melody statement and then builds up effectively with Rosa’s passionate and bluesy guitar in the lead throughout. The fairly brief ballad “Libelua (Song For An Angel I Never Met)” has a sweet melody that is accentuated by Genovese’s electric piano.
As a bonus, there are two videos available from these sessions that are on You Tube. “Music For the People” gives one a chance to see Rafael Rosa’s quintet performing the adventurous number. One can really appreciate how much each musician adds to the performance and how they play off of each other in an intuitive and inventive fashion. “The Hand That Draws Another Hand” is a different type of video with Rosa’s group providing the soundtrack for a short but effective film. It alternates between color film of a demonstration against racism and black-and-white footage of the musicians performing the piece. The performance and the demonstration both build in intensity before ending peacefully with a message aimed at politicians that can be seen as a plea for sanity: Do your job/serve the people/equal justice/end all wars…” Axiomatic is an enjoyable set of modern jazz that makes one look forward to Rafael Rosa’s future projects. More information about Axiomatic can be found at www.rafaelrosamusic.com.
Azymuth was originally a Brazilian funk trio formed in 1973 that consisted of keyboardist Jose Roberto Bertrami (who passed away in 2012), Alex Malheiros on bass and guitars, and drummer-percussionist Ivan Conti. They had their greatest success with a series of albums for the Milestone label during 1979-88, having a hit with “Jazz Carnival.” Azymuth’s music mixed together Brazilian jazz with electronics and funk. They created selections that were always danceable, featuring an easily identifiable group sound, and some creative playing within the grooves, particularly by Bertrami.
The 40th anniversary of the release of their 1981 recording Telecommunication (Azymuth’s eighth album) has resulted in the Lp being reissued by Craft. The trio is joined by guitarist Helio Delmiro on two of the seven songs along with an occasional additional percussionist. While some of the electronics and grooves are a bit dated (the Headhunters-inspired “May I Have This Dance” does not go anywhere), “What Price Samba,” the mellow “Country Road,” and the 11-minute “Last Summer In Rio” hold one’s interest and feature the musicians in top form.
After the late 1980s, Azymuth had a lower profile, being based in Brazil and occasionally playing in Europe. The individual players have had busy solo careers and now, with keyboardist Kiko Continentino in the late Bertrami’s place, Azymuth has gone back to touring.
Telecommunications is a good example of Azymuth’s playing and serves as a fine introduction for those not familiar with the easy-listening Brazilian funk band’s pleasing music. It is available from www.jazzdispensary.com.
80 Years Of International Friendship
(Hip & Happy Records)
Janice Harrington, who was born in Cleveland, moved to Scandinavia in 1980 when she was 38. A powerful singer in a variety of styles, she sang bluesy jazz on her 1988 Nagel Heyer CD Yesterday Today Tomorrow and paid tribute to Dinah Washington on an album from 1993-94.
However the music on 80 Years Of International Friendship is mostly blues and 1960s-style r&b/soul. The wide-ranging project has Ms. Harrington performing with bands in Norway (1982 and 1985), Denmark (1988), Austria (1994) and two recent selections (2021-22) that she made to celebrate her 80th birthday. None of the music has been previously released.
After starting out with Harrington at 80 effectively singing “Old Age” with a rockish blues band, she is heard 30-40 years earlier on several blues (“Work Your Magic,” “Seven Day A Week Man Blues,” “Wheeler Dealer,” and “Telephone Blues”); three of the songs also features spirited blues guitar solos by Kenn Landing. After the music shifts to r&b/soul for several numbers, there is a fine remake of the Ray Charles hit “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” some 1960s-type pop/jazz (“Learn To Live Without You”), the funky “Blues Rocking,” a rollicking blues (“Making Plans”), and a few other numbers before closing in 2022 with “What A Wonderful World”; the latter has the singer’s husband Werner Gurtler on trombone.
Janice Harrington is an excellent performer who displays plenty of passion and a strong voice. 80 Years (which is available from www.janice-harrington.com) is a fine introduction to the soulful singer’s talents.