Enlightenment – Solid Waves
Emerging from the flourishing New York City jazz scene is singer/composer/arranger/producer and educator June Yun. She was born in South Korea, raised in London and returned to Korea to study music, focusing on pop and R&B songwriting. In that vein, Yun successfully collaborated with Korean singer Seunghwa Park, but afterwards was unfulfilled.
She subsequently, moved to NYC to study jazz, earning a BFA from the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, and a Masters from the Manhattan School of Music. Since earning those degrees, she has thrived as an artist and educator, and worked with many top-flight musicians. Among them are Jean Baylor, Theo Bleckmann, Shai Maestro, Joel Ross, Ingrid Jensen, Amy London, Mike Moreno, Jeremy Manasia and Dr. Richard Harper.
Enlightenment – Solid Waves, actually two different tracks, is Yun’s debut release and showcases superb vocal, arranging and producing skills. Musically, the recording possesses an ethereal, somewhat meditative quality, yet also includes appealing singing and invigorating post-bop playing. Core support comes from pianist Maestro, bassist Kanola Menderhall and drummer JK Kim. Guests, vibist Vid Jamnik, guitarist Brad Kang and alto saxophonist Nicola Caminiti round out the project with tasteful solos and engaging band interactions.
Yun serenely sings and scats on “Little Mighty Soul” and “You Whom She Saved” with Caminiti gorgeously backing and soloing to a lightly pulsing backdrop. Otherwise, she sings wordlessly for Enlightenment, “Wherever Dark Takes You There Shall be Light,” “Light in Your Eyes,” “Light Cycle,” and “Mirrors (Dear Mom)” a spiritual duet with her pianist. Vastly different is the second title track, Solid Waves, a spoken word affirmation to be yourself and turn dreams into reality. Unquestionably, a promising debut! For more info go to: www.juneyunmusic.com
Chick Corea & Orchestra da Camera Della Sardegna
The Chick Corea Elektric Band
The Future Is Now
Chick Corea fans looking to expand their collections will be delighted to find two new previously unreleased recordings, Sardinia and The Future is Now. Sardinia is classical and features the renowned pianist who was trained in the genre while growing up and returned to it intermittently throughout his celebrated career that sadly concluded in 2021.
He is accompanied by Sardinia, Italy’s Orchestra da Camera della Sardegna, conducted by Simone Pittau in 2018. The program/sub title is A Night of Mozart & Gershwin, which also were reoccurring themes for the pianist. From Mozart’s 27 piano concertos, No. 24 with Allegro, Larghetto and Allegretto with improvisation were magnificently rendered by Corea and orchestra.
Most significant throughout the works is Corea’s extremely light and nimble prowess that is perfectly synchronized with Pittau and the assembly. Contrarily, the Gershwin section will sound more familiar to listeners and in the introduction, Corea cited that the composer was basically a jazz musician who wrote songs.
Comparatively, The Future Is Now seems like it’s from another planet with Corea and cohorts, Eric Marienthal-reeds, John Patitucci-bass, Frank Gambale-guitar and Dave Weckl-drums. The hard-hitting lineup with a couple of hiccups and hiatuses remained intact for 30 years and last performed in 2018. This recording captures some of their live performances between 2016 and 2018, beginning and ending at Catalina in Los Angeles, with shows at the Blue Note in New York and Tokyo, along with one in Sonoma, CA.
Though not as powerful as Corea and Stanley Clarke’s Return to Forever, this group generates plenty of firepower that is nuanced and occasionally grooves. Among the tunes are “C.T.A.” and “Johnny’s Landing,” fusion jamming “Charged Particles,” classical/Latin flavored “Alan Corday,” and signature tune “Got a Match” featuring the master keyboardist wailing away on synth. For more info go to: candidrecords.com and chickcorea.com.
Cartos ao Vento
San Francisco Bay Area treasure, Brazilian vocalist/pianist/composer Claudia Villela returned to her homeland to visit family, and was so taken by the experience that she decided to record her first album originating from there. To make it happen she enlisted old friends from her adolescence, such as drummer Marcelo Costa, bassist Jorge Helder and producer/arranger Mario Adnet.
Additionally, top Brazilian guitarists Toninho Horta and Romero Lubambo, reedists Edu Neves and Zé Nogueira, and accordionist Vitor Goncalves were recruited for Cartas ao Vento (Letters to The Wind in Portuguese).
The results are astounding and her original songs track beautifully from start to finish. Villela’s mesmerizing singing in Portuguese and melodic playing easily transports listeners to the pulsating rhythms and vivacious spirit of her hometown Rio de Janeiro. Also in that regard, the singer sought not to make a jazz record and wanted everything to be part of the song, without emphasis on virtuoso solos.
Moreover, the Brazilian’s songwriting is stellar, beginning with the inviting title piece. “Agua Santa” embodies a classic mix of samba and bossa including enchanting singing with the band and a cappella, along with a well-integrated bass solo. Villela’s singing for “Chamego” is sanguine with a heavenly intro. While ballad “Flores Do Mais” is based on South American poet Ana Cristina Cesar’s writing and texturally resembles Jobim’s “Insensatez” with very impassioned singing.
“Instrumento” influenced by Mario Palomares’s poem is by no means an instrumental and instead is lifted by unearthly singing and gentle saxophone accentuation. Villela furthermore takes things to an even higher level on “Chorinho Pra Elas,” with beyond belief scatting and is fluidly supported by her players. Ending on a high note is “Batucador,” dedicated to master percussionist Airto, with Villela and accordionist Goncalves getting into intense exchanges. For more info go to: https://claudiavillela.bandcamp.com and www.claudiavillela.com
Summer Me, Winter Me
London-based American, Grammy Nominated singer Stacey Kent has amassed an impressive international following, winning numerous awards. Among them are France’s Chevalier dans Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and the Jazz Japan Award for Best Vocal Album. In 2023, the Prix Ella Fitzgerald at the Montreal International Jazz Festival and the La Granada del Festival de Jazz at the Granada International Jazz Festival.
Besides possessing a purring mezzo-soprano voice, Kent has an affinity for languages. She studied Italian, German, Portuguese and French at Vermont’s Middlebury Language School, and has recorded French and Brazilian themed albums. Summer Me, Winter Me produced by her reedist/multi- instrumentalist/arranger husband Jim Tomlinson highlights the singer’s appealing talents.
Additionally, the project is in response to fans’ inquiries about songs she’s performed in concert, but aren’t on any of her recordings. In that regard she gracefully rendered the title song composed by Michel Legrand with Marilyn and Alan Bergman, “Under Paris Skies” popularized by Andy Williams in the ‘60s and Jacques Brel’s beautifully interpreted “Ne Me Quitte Pas.” It was also sung in English as “If You Go Away” (the first time she recorded one song twice on the same album).
Another serving of Kent’s soothing French vocal prowess comes by way of Legrand’s superlative “La Valse des Lillas” and included exceptional tenor saxophone playing from Tomlinson. He also contributed several of his own gently sung ballads, “Thinking About The Rain” adorned with his flute playing and “A Song That Isn’t Finished Yet” accented by saxophone. They both were cowritten with lyrist Cliff Goldmacher. While, the producer’s “Postcard Lovers” previously recorded by Kent with lyrics by his longtime collaborator, Nobel Prize-winning writer Kazuo Ishiguro was modified to an easy flowing ¾ cadence. Overall, a comforting record perfect for snuggling and other things… For more info go to: staceykent.com
(Cornell House Records)
A dinner conversation between Sergio Mendes and his longtime Musical Director/collaborator Scott Mayo after he finished the film Babylon’s soundtrack, was the impetus for the reedist/multi-instrumentalist/singer’s Meu Brasil. Mayo through projects with many stellar Brazilian artists has become quite adept at interpreting South American music.
Besides Brazilians, he has worked with R&B/contemporary jazz superstars Earth, Wind & Fire, Beyonce, pop EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony winner) John Legend and reggae legion scion Damian Marley. Furthermore, Mayo performed on big TV network special programs, such as the Motion Pictures Academy and Grammy Awards, along with playing at the White House when Obama was President.
Interestingly, Mayo’s third album focuses on his connection to many of the 16 songs on his third solo record. Helping him bring the music to fruition were Legend, Mendes and wife Gracinha Leporace, Brazilian master composer/guitarist/singers Guinga and Dori Caymmi, and his son, fast emerging vocalist Michael Mayo. Central to the absorbing tracks is the headliner’s amazing musicality that includes layers of reeds, keyboards and vocals all impressively arranged.
Opening tune, Milton Nascimento’s “Ponta de Areia” abounds with Mayo’s willowy multi-reed playing and piano support, and Mendes bandmate Michael Shapiro on percussion. It seamlessly segs into breezy bossa “Trezinho do Corcovado” with his feathery flute enhanced by Guinga’s cool guitar strumming.
Alternately, son Michael melodically sings and scats on “Samba Gringo” with dad profoundly soloing on baritone saxophone. Mayo also does some spirited singing with Leporace for funk grooving “Vista do Corcovado” and expressively for “Don’t Say Goodbye” with Mendes and Legend helping out on backing vocals. While ballad “Folhas Secas” features Caymmi doing lead vocals with Mayo and wife Jen Guess-Mayo supporting. For more variety, uptown jam “Onda Negra” features percussionist Gibi dos Santos and hot brass choruses from Mayo. For more info go to: www.scottmayomusic.com
SAM ROSS – “LIVE AT THE MIRA ROOM, VOL. 11” – Independent Label
Sam Ross, piano/Fender Rhodes; Simba Distis, upright & elec. Bass; Dr. Mimi Mured, drums.
This is one of those albums where you immediately are intoxicated by the piano player’s music and his recording transports you right into the club, along with the enthusiastic audience you hear applauding loudly. Sam Ross is excellent at what he does. Immediately I am drawn into his swinging piano presentation as he and his bassist play a song called “Breakfast for Dinner.” After a couple of choruses of that song, Dr. Mimi Mured drops in on drums and the trio punches harder than Joe Louis in his prime. This is classic bebop!
Sam Ross has composed every song on this album and even designed the CD cover. A strong bass line opens a tune called “New Shoes” with the drums slapping the groove into place. Ross enters with the blues on display and shows us his soulful side. His press package says that he’s an artist who lives in Long Beach, California and I immediately want to go out and hear him play ‘live.’ On this ‘shoes’ tune, the bass takes an impressive solo and Dr. Mured builds the arrangement by adding colorful drums and energy to the piece. Ross can lay a groove down like Les McCann or Gene Harris. His nimble fingers explore the keyboard and deliver not only soulful rhythms but memorable melodies. This tune is followed by another original titled, “What is TOP.” It begins with a repetitious six-note melody, then stretches out and becomes a real ‘cooker’ that invites a spirited bass solo and spotlights the drums on a trading-fours part of the tune, with a full drum solo at the end. “New Socks” is a funk tune that reminds me of something Herbie Hancock might have played, more electric than the other arrangements have been, and Ross is playing a Fender Rhodes electric piano on this one. The trio closes out with Sam Ross tributing Chick Corea with a tune he penned called “Dear Chick.” Every song on this album showcases Sam Ross’s composer abilities. But there is something else that must be said. It’s a very unusual aspect to this recording. Simba Distis, listed as the bass player, is actually an anagram of Midi Bassist and Dr. Mimi Mured does not exist either. The drummer is a program called Midi Drummer and Sam Ross is actually playing every instrument of this trio. What?? !! Yes, and playing all three instruments dynamically. Sam Ross used the lock-down period caused by the COVID pandemic to master production, playing the piano parts, and programming the bass and drums using Loic Pro X. He did this album solo (all by himself) and it was good enough to fool me. There is no Mira Room. He simply invited thirty of his friends to attend his solo concert and asked them to react the way they would in a real nightclub.
Sam Ross earned degrees in both Sociology and Jazz Studies at the University of Michigan. Of course, he has performed jazz with other human beings at clubs and festivals around the
Southern California area. He also prides himself as being a jazz educator and enjoys inspiring his students. In 2023, Ross won the Downbeat Graduate Student Arranging Award for his version of “Blue in Green.”
This album sparkles with brilliance and ingenuity, and it features Sam Ross in top form as not only a pianist and composer, but also an innovator, arranger and leader of his own unique and well-played trio, a trio that he created himself playing every instruments. Impressive!
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DONALD VEGA – “AS I TRAVEL” – Imagery Records
Donald Vega, piano/composer/arranger; Lewis Nash, drums; John Patitucci, bass; Luisito Quintero, percussion.
A flurry of drumbeats opens this album. Lewis Nash and Luisito Quintero provide the percussion that perpetuates Vega’s tune titled, “Baila! Dance Like No one’s Watching.” Here is a piece of original music by pianist/composer Donald Vega that makes you want to get up and dance, or at least tap a toe. The tempo is energized.
We are all on a journey in this lifetime. Vega refers to that life travel as an ode to the family and community that empowered him to make a physical, musical and a career path towards his metaphorical journey; a journey that has taken him to where he is today.
At age fourteen, Donald Vega fled his Nicaraguan country and immigrated to the United States. That was 1989. As a blossoming pianist, who was trained classically on piano in Nicaragua, young Vega worked locally (in Los Angeles) with jazz legends like Billy Higgins, John Clayton, Francisco Aquabella and Al McKibbon. He attended Crenshaw High School and the Coburn School of the Performing Arts. Next, he sought higher education at University of Southern California, then off to the East Coast where he attended the Manhattan School of Music and the Julliard Music School. In fact, Donald Vega is currently a professor at the Julliard School of Music and based in New York City.
In 1991, Vega was awarded the Los Angeles Music Center’s Spotlight Award. He was labeled Downbeat Magazine’s 2007 Jazz Student Soloist Award, and garnered 1st Place at the 2008 Phillips Jazz Piano Competition at the University of West Florida. That same year he released his debut album as a bandleader called “Tomorrows.” In 2012, Vega released “Spiritual Nature” and in 2015 he recorded a tribute to piano icon, Monty Alexander, “With Respect to Monty.” Vega featured seven of Alexander’s original compositions.
This recent album, (cut in a single day) showcases Donald Vega’s own, respectable, composing skills. He offers the listener nine self-penned tunes that are plush with lovely melodies and rich, cultural rhythms. The title tune is Track #2 and exemplifies Vega’s love of motion and melody in his music. John Patitucci is showcased on bass during the arrangement of “I Know You Can Fly.” Vega has surrounded himself with music masters, who stand as a testament to Vega’s own awesome and celebrated musical journey.
This album embraces Donald Vega’s world travels, his cultural Nicaraguan roots, as well as his impressive piano playing. His love of jazz music and the freedom it inspires is obvious along with his wonderful composing talents. Donald Vega is the whole, universal package. It’s a joy traveling with him during this presentation of “As I Travel,” riding along while listening to his own personal and musical autobiography.
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ROB DIXON/STEVE ALLEE QUINTET featuring AMANDA KING & DERRICK GARDNER – “STANDARDS DELUXE” – Independent Label
Rob Dixon, tenor & soprano saxophone; Steve Allee, piano; Amanda King, vocals; Nick Tucker, bass; Greg Artry & Kenny Phelps, drums; Derrick Gardner, trumpet.
On the Caravan composition, Rob Dixon plays his soprano saxophone and on Love for Sale he switches to a gutsy solo improvisation on his tenor saxophone. Both sax solos are impressive.
After the Dixon solos, Steve Allee tinkles the piano to invite Amanda King to the party. They slow their roll on “the Very Thought of You” where Amanda presents her interpretation of this favorite. She appears with just a trio at first. On verse two, Dixon re-enters and tastefully accompanies the vocalist with tender saxophone touches. This quintet embraces the lovely vocals of Amanda King on other tunes, including familiar standard jazz tunes like “Love for Sale” and “Caravan.” She does a wonderful job of swinging both tunes, enunciating each lyric with casual precision and unfolding the song lyrics like pages of a novel.
Amanda began her career in showbusiness as an actress in Louisville, KY, then switched to singing in 2000, once she moved to the San Francisco area. There, Amanda King found success in recording and stage work. She made a big splash in Northern California with her one-woman show, “It’s About Damn Time!” This was followed by another show met with positive reviews and great acclaim, “Chanteuse.” It soon became the title of her CD release in 2008, featuring a Bay Area trio. In 2018, she released a Christmas holiday EP, co-produced by Barry Manilow’s musical director, Joey Melotti, and featuring some of Las Vegas’s finest musicians. That same season, she opened “Ella Fitzgerald: A Centennial Celebration” in the Venetian Room of the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, alongside Lillias White, Freda Payne, Sony Holland & Janis Siegal. She has also performed as the title character ‘Queenie’ in the Oakland Opera Theater’s rendition of Duke Ellington’s incomplete and rarely performed jazz opera, “Queenie Pie.”
California vocalist, Amanda King is brightly featured on this new album along with the Rob Dixon and Steve Allee Quintet. This woman has taken all her talents and combined them to become an in-demand vocalist and actress across the country. In February of 2024, the Dixon/Allee Quintet album will be available. It’s a winner!
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JULIE KELLY – “FREEDOM JAZZ DANCE” – Laurelwood Records
Julie Kelly, vocals/guitar; Josh Nelson, piano/keyboard; Larry Koonse, guitar; Luca Alemanno, bass; Dan Schnelle, drums; Aaron Serfaty, percussion; Danny Janklow, alto saxophone/flute; Andrew Synowiec, guitar.
Julie Kelly grew up in Oakland, California, a city in the San Francisco area. She and her twin sister, Kate, loved music and sang in their Catholic School choir. The two formed a folk singing act in the 1960s and worked the coffee house circuit. They even opened for Peter, Paul, and Mary, a very popular folk/pop group back-in-the-day. Meantime, she was listening to jazz, blues, and gospel.
“When I was thirteen, I was listening to Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, as well as Dave Brubeck, and those wonderful albums with Miles Davis and Gil Evans. It wasn’t long before I was sneaking into clubs in Oakland to hear people like Earl “Fatha” Hines. The Blues is what guides me, and the great ones have shown the way,” Julie Kelly says in her online bio.
But before she had crossed that vocal threshold of jazz, in 1971 Kelly packed a backpack and her guitar, (like a hippie) she and a friend took buses and boats down the Amazon landing in Rio de Janeiro. There, Kelly developed a great love of Brazilian music.
On this album she sings “A Ra” which translates to “The Frog” with the wonderful accompaniment of Josh Nelson on piano, who also co-produced this album. Impressively, Kelly sings in Portuguese. I was surprised to hear her interpret a Gregory Porter tune, “Take Me to the Alley.” That was no easy feat. The tune is very beautiful, quite spiritual, and has a challenging melody. Julie Kelly successfully put her own artistic stamp on it.
In 1984, she released her debut album on Pausa Records called “We’re On Our Way” and this is the voice I remember.
I also recall hearing Julie on her album “Kelly Sings Christy” and enjoying her “Never Let Me Go” album. Her vocals are no longer the powerhouse they used to be, but Kelly still knows how to tell a story with her songs. She is emotional and honest. I can appreciate that. Barbara Brighton, Kelly’s old friend, produced this album. Brighten is a very fine producer, who also produced Kelly’s former album release called, “Happy to Be.”
One thing I have always admired is that Julie Kelly knows how to choose and interpret songs with lyrics she believes in and melodies that are unique and lovely. For instance, her take on the Sting tune, “Practical Arrangement” is striking and reflects vulnerability. The guitar additions of Larry Koonse and Andrew Synowiec on this project lends sensitivity and beauty. Kelly was co-writer on “River People” a song composed with memories of her trip down the Amazon. Her folk roots become apparent when she chooses the Gordon Lightfoot tune, “Early Morning Rain.” The Brazilian arrangement on Bill Wither’s composition, “Hello Like Before” is wonderful.
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DAGGERBOARD – “ESCAPEMENT” – Wive Records
Erik Jekabson, trumpet/arranger/composer; Matt Clark, keyboard/piano; Gregory Howe, percussion/ composer; Mike Clark, drummer; Henry ‘the Skipper’ Franklin, bass; Mads Tolling, violin; Kasey Knudsen, alto saxophone; Mike Rinta, trombone/tuba; Ben Davis, cello; Jonathan Ring, French horn; William Winant, timpani/marimba.
What better way to start the day than to put on some solid, Straight-ahead jazz and let it soak into the morning air. The new album by Daggerboard was the perfect way to begin my day, opening with the original song of Gregory Howe and Erik Jekabson, “Centrifugal.” It’s a blend of old-school jazz with contemporary overtones. Funny, the title tune, “Escapement” sounds more like the motion of a centrifuge than the opening track. I participated in lab work during biology class, and we often had to use a centrifuge to separate matter. It spins in a certain way, and the introduction of the title tune reminded me of that circular spin, of how it starts slowly than gains momentum. However, Daggerboard’s arrangement soon settles down to a smooth, unobtrusive groove. Matt Clark steps forward with a piano solo that puts the ‘J’ in jazz. Erik Jekabson’s trumpet dances over the chord changes bringing light and energy to the arrangement. All the music has been composed by Erik Jekabson and percussionist, Gregory Howe. “Shiva’s Mode” has a very Middle Eastern essence with Howe’s precise percussion riding alongside Mike Clark’s trap drums like horse’s hooves. The addition of Mike Rinta’s tuba and Jonathan Ring’s French horn to this project bring delightful color to these arrangements. Their tune called “The Balance Board” takes me back to the early1960s when Coltrane was king (1961 – My Favorite Things). Daggerboard offers us a pretty ballad with Jekabson’s trumpet introducing the melody and sirens echoing ominously in the background. I Flashback to the Peter Gunn television series, a popular detective series that ran from 1958 to 1960, that utilized jazz as their music of choice. The bass of Henry Franklin is distinctive beneath Clark’s piano solo and throughout their arrangement. Mike Clark shows off his brilliance on drums, building the suspense in the song. This is perfect music for that new series, Mr. & Mrs. Smith or any detective show.
I have reviewed several of the Daggerboard albums in the past and this one is my favorite to date. The compositions are creative, inspiring, imaginative, and just good listening. The blend of horns and electronics are perfectly matched with Erik Jekabson’s orchestral arrangements lifting the production beautifully.
Patti Austin had already been quite famous as an r&b singer for many years when in 2001 she surprised everyone by recording her superb album For Ella. While joined by the WDR Big Band and the WDR String Ensemble Koln, she performed 11 songs and her own “Hearing Ella Sing,” sounding pretty close to Ella Fitzgerald and showing that she could swing as hard as anyone. The recording was such a success that since then Austin has often performed in jazz settings 22 years later, she recorded For Ella 2 with the Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band and a string section. The results are almost as successful as its predecessor. Austin sounds a little less like Fitzgerald this time around but she pays a warm and knowledgeable tribute to Ella’s style and choice of songs, with Goodwin contributing the colorful arrangements.
There are two slight misfires among the ten numbers. The opener, “Mack The Knife,” is a throwaway that pales in comparison to the famous versions by Ella, Louis Armstrong and Bobby Darin. And the rendition of “Sing Me A Swing Song,” which Ella recorded with Chick Webb in 1936, is turned into funk even as Austin extolls the joys of swing. It is a strange choice to perform that way.
But otherwise, For Ella 2 is a gem. Patti Austin sounds in prime form on such songs as “Lullaby Of Birdland,” “Anything Goes,” and “Let’s Do It.” Goodwin’s arrangement of “April In Paris,” which begins with David Witham on accordion and eventually has the ensemble hinting at Count Basie (although one wishes that the singer had said “One more once!”) is a classic. The outstanding trumpeter James Morrison sits in on two numbers, Take Six makes a guest appearance in the background of a beautiful medley of “I Fall In Love Too Easily” and “It Never Entered My Mind,” and the Big Phat Band is a major asset throughout.
Patti Austin sounds exuberant and enthusiastic throughout the memorable For Ella 2 which is available from www.amazon.com.
Betty Bryant can be heard throughout Lotta Livin’ singing and playing piano very much in her prime. The fact that she was 94 at the time of this recent recording is remarkable, as is the fact that she still seems to be getting better with age.
A swing singer and pianist with a gentle but sometimes saucy approach, Ms. Bryant is joined throughout this highly enjoyable set by Robert Kyle (heard on tenor, flute, and on one song on blues harmonica), bassist Richard Simon, and drummer Kenny Elliott. There are a few guests on one song apiece and trumpeter Tony Guerrero helps out on two numbers.
In addition to her warm and swinging versions of such standards as “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea,” the Nat King Cole hit “Baby, Baby All The Time,” “The Very Thought Of You,” a lengthy and fascinating “Stormy Monday,” and the title cut, Betty Bryant performs four of her originals including the assertive “Put A Lid On It,” and the light-hearted “Chicken Wings.” Lotta Livin’ (available from www.bettybryant.com) is an excellent sampling of what Betty Bryant sounds like when performing in Los Angeles area clubs. Pick a copy up and be sure to see her live whenever she appears. She is a delight.
Steve Huffsteter Big Band
Racing The Clock
Unlike during the Swing era when big bands toured the United States, performed for dancers, and were working nearly every night, most big bands today are part-time affairs. With the exception of a handful (the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra, the Count Basie Orchestra and a few ghost bands), big bands in the U.S. are fortunate if they perform live once a month. In most cases, they are led by arrangers who are eager to hear their new works played.
Steve Huffsteter has played trumpet in many big bands through the years while occasionally leading his own orchestra. For Racing The Clock he utilized an 18-piece orchestra that was filled with many of the top jazz musicians based in Southern California. He wrote all of the music (“Innocence” is co-composed with Randy Aldcroft) and provided the arrangements in addition to taking some fine trumpet solos.
There are many highlights to the set. The opening “Diz‘Ception” is a jazz waltz that evolves as it progresses. Kim Richmond, who takes a rewarding flute solo on that number, is showcased on alto along with trombonist Ido Meshulam on 7th Heaven” and is in the spotlight on “Billy’s Mood.” “SloMo” is a catchy piece with a light Latin feel that has fine spots for Huffsteter and guitarist Yarone Levy while trombonist Meshulam is showcased on the warm ballad “Melancholia.” Huffsteter’s writing for the background on “Innocence” recalls Thad Jones a bit while the swinging “It Had To Be Duke” mixes together “It Had To Be You” and parts of “In A Mellotone.”
The most exciting selection is “Racing The Clock,” an uptempo run through rhythm changes that has hot solos from tenor-saxophonist Doug Webb and pianist Adam Hersh. It is a pity that this performance is not twice as long. The haunting ballad “Night Scene” features the other tenor, Jerry Pinter,” “Sneaky” has a touch of Charles Mingus in the ensembles, and the closer, “Mr. Nat’ral” (which also features Webb), sounds a bit like something Henry Mancini would have been proud to write.
All of the 11 performances work quite well. Hopefully the Steve Huffsteter Big Band will have an opportunity to play these enjoyable arrangements in a club sometime the near future. Racing The Clock is available from https://www.facebook.com/steve.huffsteter/.
An up-and-coming bop-based pianist based in Northern California, Charles Chen is in impressive form on his recent quartet album with tenor-saxophonist Ralph Moore, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Kenny Washington.
The program mixes together standards and the pianist’s originals. Of the former, Chen performs a reharmonized “How About You,” a welcome revival of “Be My Love,” the ballad “These Foolish Things,” Charlie Parker’s, “Passport” and Cedar Walton’s lesser-known but worthy “Simple Pleasure.” Chen’s four originals include “Peter And The Big Bad Wolf” (which has the group sounding a bit like Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers), an uptempo “Swing State” (based on “Indiana”), “Chopin,” and a tribute to Benny Golson simply called “Golson.”
The music on Charles, Play! has the loose feel of a jam session and yet the ensembles are tight and the solos of Chen and Moore (who is heard in prime form) are concise and make each chorus count. With the two Washingtons being their usual superb selves in support, Charles, Play! serves as a very good opportunity for listeners to be introduced to the enjoyable music of Charles Chen. It is available from www.cellarlive.com.
Live At Dizzy’s Club: The Music Of Elvin & McCoy
Far too often, there will be an article or a comment from those who should know better about how jazz is dead, dying, or ailing. My usual retort is that jazz has been in its golden age since around 1920 and it shows no sign of ending. Bassist Gerald Cannon’s new CD, a live set consisting of six songs written by either McCoy Tyner or Elvin Jones plus two of his originals, can serve as evidence as to jazz’s continuing excellence.
The all-star band on this CD (available from www.cannonmusicandart.com), each of whom had played earlier with Tyner and/or Jones, is simply superb: trumpeter Eddie Henderson, altoist Sherman Irby, tenor-saxophonist Joe Lovano, trombonist Steve Turre, pianist Dave Kikoski, drummer Lenny White, and the bassist-leader. When jazz history books are written a decade or two from now, each of these players will be included. But rather than just being historic figures, the members of the septet are all still performing at the peak of their powers.
The music on this set is inventive and forward-looking post bop. Such songs as “EJ’s Blues,” “3 Card Molly,” and “Inception” are not performed that often, so it is a joy getting to hear them interpreted by the masterful improvisers. The music that results is passionate, sometimes intense, and quite expressive while also being melodic and lyrical. Rather than listing a few individual highlights, suffice it to say that the full set is a highpoint, showing that creative jazz is not only very much alive but thriving.
Plays And Sings – Complete Recordings 1957-1960
Clora Bryant (1927-2019) deserved much better. A very good trumpeter who could hit high notes with power and personality, Bryant’s playing ranged from bop to Dixieland. But because she was a female who matured in the 1950s, she was often treated as a novelty, constantly struggled to be taken seriously, and was given many less opportunities to record than she deserved. In fact, she made no recordings at all during 1961-81 despite being very active, and she appeared on just three albums after that; one apiece with Linda Hopkins, Johnny Otis, and the Cheathams.
All of the trumpeter’s pre-1981 recordings fit into Plays And Sings, a single CD. Most of this release is taken up by her one record date as a leader which was called Gal With A Horn. Bryant, who also sings on most of the selections, is featured leading a combo in 1957 that also includes pianist Roger Fleming, bassist Ben Tucker, drummer Bruz Freeman, and occasionally tenor-saxophonist Walter Benton and Norman Faye playing in the background on trumpet. The eight songs are all standards and include excellent versions of “Gypsy In My Soul,” “This Can’t Be Love,” and “”S’Posin’” among the highlights.
This CD also has Bryant as one of many soloists featured on a lengthy version of “Rifftide” with an impressive group of West Coast all-stars (including trumpeter Don Fagerquist, altoist Herb Geller, Bill Perkins on tenor, and baritonist Pepper Adams) and being showcased on two numbers (“Angel Eyes” and “Blueberry Hill”) from 1960 with the Billy Williams Revue.
Producer Jordi Pujol’s lengthy liner notes which take up 13 panel sides give one the definitive Clora Bryant story. Although it is a bit of a tragedy that she recorded so little despite a very active career, jazz fans can be grateful that at least she was documented on these early recordings. Plays And Sings (available from www.freshsoundrecords.com) is highly recommended.
Everybody Loves A Lover
Everybody Loves A Lover may be Hannah Gill’s debut recording as a leader, but the singer already has plenty of valuable experience. She has toured with Postmodern Jukebox, sung with the Hot Toddies and the Glenn Crytzer Orchestra, and performed all over the world including in Australia, Europe, South Korea and Morocco. However at the age of 26, she is just getting started.
On Everybody Loves A Lover, Hannah Gill proves herself to be a superior swing singer with a warm and inviting voice. She is joined by a swing septet comprised of trumpeter Danny Jonokuchi, trombonist Sam Chess, Ryan Weisheit on tenor and clarinet, guitarist Greg Ruggerio, pianist Gordon Webster, bassist Tal Roven, and drummer Ben Zweig. Some of the songs feature tight horn arrangements but the best instrumental moments are when the band gets to cut loose and jam together in exciting fashion.
Hannah Gill ranges in style from Doris Day to Anita O’Day and Nat King Cole. Her voice is very attractive, she swings even on the slower ballads, and one can always understand the words that she sings. She is also generous in featuring her sidemen, making her statement and then letting them stretch out a bit.
Highlights of this consistently enjoyable outing include “Moonlight Savings Time,” “You’re Getting to Be A Habit With Me,” “What Can I Say After I Say I’m Sorry,” and an uptempo “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie” although there are no throwaway songs. Hannah Gill obviously loves this swing-oriented music and her joy is infectious. Everybody Loves A Lover (available from www.turtlebayrecords.com) is one to search for.
Emerald and Sapphire
Trombonist and arranger-composer Ryan Haines worked with the US Air Force Falconaires Jazz Ensemble for many years. When he retired from the service in 2009, he moved to Arizona where he has worked as an educator. Haines is a virtuoso soloist with a wide range, and a writer whose big band charts are both swinging and modern.
For Emerald and Sapphire, Ryan Haines leads his 17-piece big band, contributing all of the arrangements and compositions except for the opener, a flag waving version of “Look For The Silver Lining.” He is the main soloist on most of the 11 selections and his colorful solos are never short of creative ideas and excitement.
The music on Emerald and Sapphire covers a wide range. Highlights include the ballad (“Little Jewel,” a jazz waltz (“A Lifetime In 24 Hours”), a little bit of funk (“Intracoastal Turnaround” which has lead trumpeter Kevin Burns and guest trumpeter Wayne Bergeron blowing the roof off of the studio), the boppish “Bonezalone,” and “The High And Low Road” which matches Haines’ trombone with bass trombonist Alex Dubrov and becomes quite witty in its final section. My favorite selection is the stirring “Gobbledygook,” a cooking blues with a bridge that has sections that sound a bit like “Sing Sing Sing.”
While there are some solos from some of the other players (including the leader’s wife altoist Courtney Haines who sounds fine on “La Jolla Cove”), the main focus is on Ryan Haines’ dazzling trombone playing and the often-heated ensembles. Just on the evidence of Emerald And Sapphire (which is available from www.amazon.com), he deserves to be rated as one of the top trombonists and arrangers around today.
A veteran New York-based pianist who has recorded with George Adams, the Harper Brothers, T.S. Monk, and Angela Verbrugge in addition to performing with many other jazz greats, Ray Gallon recently came out with his second album as a leader for Cellar Music. Grand Company, which teams Gallon with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Lewis Nash, follows his earlier trio album Make Your Move.
Gallon holds his own in the grand and heavy company. A boppish player who displays the inspiration of Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, he performs four standards and five of his originals. On the opening “Drop Me Off In Harlem,” he manages to sound a bit like Duke Ellington in his chord voicings and Monk (who was influenced by Ellington). Among the other highlights are Gallon’s stark ballad “Zombette,” “Acting Up” (which is based on “Lullaby Of Rhythm”), the bluesy “Two Track Mind,” and fresh renditions of “If I Had You” and “Old Folks.”
Ray Gallon had played with Carter and Nash in the bassist’s nonet and quintet 35 years ago and their swinging reunion (which includes occasional bass and drum solos) is a happy occasion. The pianist, who often sounds like a throwback to the classic bop era but is creative in his own voice within the style, was clearly inspired by his sidemen. Grand Company (available from www.cellarmusicgroup.com) is easily recommended and Ray Gallon’s finest recording to date.
Tierra Y Alma
The recording debut of Yocoya is an exciting event. The sextet, which is comprised of leader-drummer Angelo Velasquez, tenor-saxophonist Kosta Kutay, guitarist Kelan Walters, pianist-keyboardist Josh Wong, bassist David Reynoso, and veteran percussionist Luis Conte, primarily plays the original music of Velasquez. The music is generally swinging modern jazz although some tunes are more left-of-center (particularly rhythmically) and a few numbers have a strong Latin tinge.
“Gates Of Tollan” opens the program in dramatic fashion and displays the group’s diversity. During the piece, which could be considered a mini-suite, there is some fairly free playing by pianist Wong, a fine tenor solo from Kutay (a bright new talent) that hints at Joshua Redman in spots, a bit of rockish guitar from Walters, and some drum breaks over the closing vamp. “Mariposas” is a bit mellower and includes some tasteful guitar and fluent tenor along with a nice melody. “Murciealago” has a theme that includes a section that oddly enough quotes from John Coltrane’s “Naima.” The scalar piece “Please (Don’t Push Me Away)” is one of two numbers that utilize the voice of Sophie Augustine singing wordlessly during the melody statements.
“The Chieftain” could be considered a tribute of sorts to John Coltrane for Wong’s piano is very much in the vein of McCoy Tyner (quoting “Afro Blue” at his solo’s conclusion) and there is a tenor/drums duet. Of the other selections, “Xibalba” has a mysterious theme and some fairly concise solos, the standard “I Hear A Rhapsody” is given a tricky time signature in its melody, “Levantate” is the most Latin-oriented piece on the program, “Ashley” is a medium-slow strut, and the closing “Dynamo” finds the band performing high-powered fusion.
Yocoya plays all of the idioms that it explores quite well and each of the musicians displays plenty of potential. Angelo Velasquez drives the ensembles (whether they are swinging or rockish) and the results are consistently colorful, inventive and full of spirit. This is a band well worth checking out. Tierra Y Alma is available from www.amazon.com.
Dick Sisto is a major if somewhat underrated veteran vibraphonist. Fortunately he has recorded a series of stimulating albums along the way including Soul Searching which was recorded in 2007.
Most of the selections on this album (which consists of eight Sisto originals plus a song apiece by Bobby Broom, Kenny Dorham, Thelonious Monk, and Kenny Kirkland) were used for the soundtrack to a documentary on Thomas Merton, a Monk, writer and social activist. However the music stands alone from the film and sounds quite undated.
Sisto is joined by guitarist Bobby Broom on seven of the selections, trumpeter Barry Ries on four of the other cuts, either Dennis Irwin or Jim Anderson on bass, and drummer Mike Hyman. Several of the numbers with Ries are dramatic and stick to the themes which were probably important in the documentary. However the other selections swing at every tempo and include plenty of inventive playing with Bobby Broom in particular sounding at his best. Whether it is “Boppy,” Broom’s “Like A Mist,” Dorham’s “La Mesha,” or Monk’s complex “Work,” these performances contain some of the best playing by Sisto and Broom on record. Their solos, the bluesiness of some of the numbers, and their close and colorful interplay make Soul Searching pretty memorable. Soul Searching is available from www.earx-tacy.com.
Klas Lindquist Nonet
Alternative Source Of Energy
Sweden was one of the major centers for West Coast cool jazz in the 1950s. Swedish altoist Klas Lindquist’s nonet, which performs his compositions and arrangements, is a bit more modern but definitely connected to the classic style.
The unit, which consists of Lindquist on alto and clarinet, Robert Nordmark on tenor and flute, Fredrik Lindborg doubling on baritone and bass clarinet, trumpeters Karl Olandersson and Nils Janson, trombonist Magnus Wiklund, pianist Petter Carlson Welden, bassist Kenji Rabson, and drummer Daniel Fredriksson, is essentially a small big band. Lindquist, whose alto playing sometimes sounds a little like Phil Woods (although his choice of notes is very much is own) is mostly the main soloist and two pieces (“Swells” and “Dream”) are showcases for his cool-toned clarinet work. Trumpeter Janson is featured on “Thorium,” trumpeter Olanderson is in the spotlight throughout “Bernadette,” and guest organist Leon Lindberg is a strong asset on the soul jazz of “Joey,” a number dedicated to the late Joey DeFrancesco. The one piece not composed by Lindquist is “Nilsie,” a ballad written by the legendary singer Alice Babs who was a fan of the band.
Klas Lindquist’s arrangements sometime recall the 1960s work of Oliver Nelson and Gerald Wilson, a viable area of music that is not explored all that often these days. Alternative Source Of Energy, which is easily recommended and available from www.amazon.com, gives listeners an opportunity to discover some of the fine jazz talents who are currently active in Sweden.
Classic Trio Sessions 1956-1957
Gerald Wiggins (1922-2008) was a Southern California legend for decades. Early on he worked in the big bands of Louis Armstrong and Benny Carter and by 1947 had settled in Los Angeles. He worked with the Gerald Wilson big band, became an accompanist for a long line of singers (most notably Lena Horne, Kay Starr and Eartha Kitt), was employed as a vocal coach for some actresses (including Marilyn Monroe), and was a constant at L.A. area jazz clubs, both as a pianist and as a member of the audience cheering on others.
Wiggins first recorded as a leader while in Paris in 1950. This double-CD from the Fresh Sound label (www.freshsoundrecords.com) has all of the music from his next four opportunities to lead his own albums: five songs from a Crown Lp that he shared with others along with Relax And Enjoy It, Wiggin’ With Wig, and Reminiscin’ With Wig. The pianist heads trios with either Eugene Wright or Joe Comfort on bass and Bill Richmond, Jackie Mills or Bill Douglass on drums. Dating from 1956-57, these sessions feature Wiggins at times showing the influence of Erroll Garner (and to a lesser extent Art Tatum) but mostly displaying his own swinging musical personality and consistently coming up with fresh ideas and infectious riffs. There are also some witty moments along the way particularly on some of the more vintage songs included on “Reminiscin’ With Wig.”
In addition to the four albums, this twofer includes three of the songs that the Gerald Wiggins Trio performed on the Stars Of Jazz television show and a rare alternate take of “In My Merry Oldsmobile” that was only originally available on a reel-to-reel tape.
Another Fresh Sound Gerald Wiggins CD (Modern Jazz Renditions) includes Wiggins two other 1950s albums (The King And I and Around The World In 80 Days). Otherwise the pianist only led two other albums (one on organ) until 1974.
While his recordings from later years are quite worthy, Classic Trio Recordings 1956-1957 is the Gerald Wiggins set to get, featuring the pianist at his very best.