text Waxing Poetic Reviews

 

CATHY SEGAL-GARCIA

SOCIAL ANTHEMS – VOLUME 1.

Origin Records

Cathy Segal-Garcia, vocals; Anthony Wilson, guitar; Josh Nelson, piano/keyboards; Lorca hart, drums; Edwin Livingston, bass; Paul Jost, vocals/harmonica; Mon David, vocals.

One thing I’ve noticed about vocalist, Cathy Segal-Garcia.  She has a unique and lovely way of re-arranging songs to suit her jazzy perspective.  You hear this clearly on her new “Social Anthems” album when she opens with the socially relevant composition, “For What It’s Worth.”  The rhythm section arrangement is absolutely wonderful.  Some thirty-five years after releasing her debut album, Cathy continues to record and release a variety of quite diverse music, ranging from large orchestrations to duets.  Recently, she experienced an epiphany about the universal situation we face as human beings on a climate-challenged planet full of wars and rumors of war; poor and privileged; protests and prayers.  For this project, Cathy has chosen songs that tickle our social consciousness, including one original composition titled, “What Are We Gonna Do?”  However, her original composition is quite folksy and not at all like the jazzy arrangement I would have expected.  Billy Joel’s song, “And So It Goes” comes next.  It features Anthony Wilson on guitar (who has arranged many of these songs) and Cathy Segal-Garcia’s identifiable vocal sound floats nicely above the track.  Cathy is a vocalist with a tone and style all her own.  On this cut, there is the unexpected addition of spoken word by Paul Jost, inserted as a thought-provoking surprise as he reads aloud these poignant lyrics. 

“I’ve been experiencing feelings of malaise and angst for quite some time now.  And most of my friends have said the same thing.  People are afraid for the future.  I chose the songs on this album because I felt they are timely and speak to those feelings,” Cathy explained her motivation for this recording.

The musical arrangements for “Down to Earth” mirror outer-space sound effects, woven into the track like sparkling silver threads, but the song itself is not anywhere near jazz.  Her rendition of “Get Together & Can’t Find My Way Home” has qualities, that in an unforeseen way remind me of the great jazz artist, Abbey Lincoln.   Once again, this arrangement is far from the original, but fits perfectly into the soul and spirit of Cathy Segal-Garcia’s mindset for this album.  The tracks themselves are all jazz.  The musicians play beautifully and successfully they transform this particular pop tune with improvised freedom and creativity.  Josh Nelson has also contributed his brilliance to arranging some of this music.  Cathy closes with Al Cleveland, Obie Benson and Marvin Gaye’s hit, Motown soul song, “Save the Children.” Cathy receives creative assistance from talented, L.A. based jazz vocalist, Mon David on this final song.

Cathy Segal-Garcia is popular in the Southern California area for her ‘Open Mic’ series she hosted years ago at the once popular Sportsman’s Lounge in Studio City.  That series lasted, with great community support, for seven years.  She moved her Open Mic series from space to space; club to club, giving musicians a platform to perform and practice and introducing audiences to the rich talent that Southern California has to offer.  She has been creating work for jazz musicians and singers around Los Angeles for decades.  Cathy began her musical career, inspired by her father, who played reeds and was a big band leader and her mom, who was a singer before she married and settled down.  Her dad was also a music programmer at a local radio station in Boston, where Cathy grew up.  Consequently, she was exposed to all the popular music of the day including Rosemary Clooney, Ella Fitzgerald, The Hi Los singing group, The Four Freshmen and Stan Kenton’s band. 

“I was a ham from age three.  My sisters and I sang together, so we were like this little act, the Segal Twins and Cathy.  We grew up in a little corner of Newton, MA, about seven minutes West of downtown Boston,” Cathy told me.

After graduation from Berklee School of Music, she settled in San Francisco for a time and finally landed in Los Angeles, where she made the rounds as a struggling jazz vocalist and settled down.  With a winning personality and a zest for life in the music business, she exhibited an ability to bring people together.  Cathy has put together several groups of singers, poets and musicians.  One singing group is “Alone Together” and another is “Fish to Birds.”  “Fish to Birds” is an improvisational group of voices made up of various professional singers around town.  She enjoys singing with acapella groups and has a good ear for harmony.  Cathy has traveled internationally and taught vocal coaching in Japan and at home.  Her dedication to jazz and jazz artists is undeniable, as is her work to keep jazz alive in our community.  That’s why this latest release is a bit puzzling to me, because I wouldn’t necessarily consider it a jazz CD.  I do know, Cathy Segal-Garcia is always pushing the boundaries of music and, like a restless bird circling the scene, she looks for new songs to sing and fresh ways to sing them.  Consequently, this album is most certainly a “Social Anthem” whose lyrics tickle our brains.  Using creative arrangements that challenge the norm and jazz musicians who bring their best to the project, Cathy Segal-Garcia once again asks us to push past the predictable and to embrace unexpected possibilities.  I’m up for the challenge.

 

GRAHAM DECHTER

“MAJOR INFLUENCE”

Capri Records Ltd

Graham Dechter, guitar; Tamir Hendelman, piano; John Clayton, bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

Guitarist, Graham Dechter, has reunited with his dream trio for this recording. The dream-team includes L.A. based, Tamir Hendelman, John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton.

Dechter has composed all but one song on this project. “Pure Imagination” is the cover tune that he co-arranged with master drummer, Jeff Hamilton.  Hendelman and Dechter join instruments (piano and guitar) on the “Pure Imagination” ballad, blending perfectly, with the blues laced throughout their arrangement.  Dechter’s guitar is as beautiful as a field of bluebells or a trellis of lavender and blue morning glories. 

“When I first met nine-year-old Graham Dechter, I didn’t imagine that we would one day be working together.  His passion and conviction of the music have taken him where he wants to be.  He set goals and attained them by working hard.  For this, his third recording as a leader, he asked me to produce it.  I suggested he compose most of the material, since he is so talented in that area.  What you hear on this recording are mostly his originals, and by the end of each song, you would bet they were standards,” Jeff Hamilton praised Graham Dechter’s composer talents.

Dechter opens with a blues-based song called, “Orange Coals;” a title reflective of the energy and burning hot tempo of this tune.  Graham Dechter generously shares the spotlight with his all-star band members.  They each take a solo to show off their tenacious talents.  Hendelman, as always, is brilliant on piano.  Track #2 is titled “Reference” and John Clayton’s rich bass is featured throughout.  I especially enjoyed the conversation Clayton and Hamilton musically shared on bass and drums.  Graham Dechter has a guitar style that bleeds navy, turquoise and sky-blue tones into these tunes.  One thing is obvious. He embraces the blues with an open heart.  The talented guitarist says he was inspired by jazz luminaries like Herb Ellis and Wes Montgomery, but I wonder what blues guitar players he was also listening to?  You hear the Montgomery style somewhat incorporated into his title tune composition, “Major Influence.”  But on his original composition, “Moonithology,” you can tell he was also influenced by Charlie Parker.  This song opens with the powerful but tender drum brushes of Jeff Hamilton tap-dancing across his instrument.  Also, on “Bent on Monk” Dechter pays obvious homage to Thelonious and the quartet swings hard, adding those personal ‘licks’ that immediately conjure up familiar Monk tunes. 

At age nineteen, Graham Dechter joined the Clayton Hamilton Jazz orchestra.  He was the youngest member to join in the history of that band.  At twenty-two he released his first album as a bandleader; “Right on Time.”  You can hear his talent and potential blossoming on this, his third album release. This gifted guitarist is bound to have a “Major Influence” on the world of jazz. 

 

 

CHARGED PARTICLES WITH TOD DICKOW

“PLAY THE MUSIC OF MICHAEL BRECKER – LIVE AT THE BAKED POTATO”

Summit Records

Tod Dickow, tenor saxophone; Murray Low, keyboards; Aaron Germain, acoustic & Electric basses; Jon Krosnick, drums; SPECIAL GUEST: Omar Ledezma, congas.

For those of you unfamiliar with “The Baked Potato,” it’s not a carb, but a popular night spot in Los Angeles that features a host of iconic musicians, especially known for their showcasing of fusion and contemporary jazz artists.  The Northern California based group ‘Charged Particles’ performed there and this recording captures the essence and musical spirit of the late, great Michael Brecker.  This musical project investigates Brecker’s tunes spanning three decades.  On March 17, 2019, Tod Dickow joined the band of ‘Charged Particles’ to perform in Studio City, California at that intimate, but famed ‘Baked Potato’ nightspot and recorded this album ‘live.’  The band opened with Brecker’s composition “Peep” from the saxophone icon’s third Impulse Release titled, “1990’s Now You See It … (Now You Don’t).”  It’s an energy driven and exciting arrangement that began with a flurry of drum sticks and solo rhythm conjured up by Jon Krosnick on trap drums.  His sticks tore open the stage curtains for Tod Dickow to march through.

“I was a Coltrane/Brecker/Bob Berg/Liebman/Grossman kind of guy ever since the ‘70s,” Tod Dickow lists his influences. 

“I certainly listened to enough of Mike’s music that it’s going to come out in my playing, but it’s not really like I’ve ever outright tried to imitate him.  I just know that some of the devices he used have become a part of my playing,” Dickow elaborated in the liner notes.

Michael Brecker (who died January 13, 2007, after a prolonged illness) exited this earth at fifty-seven-years-old.  Brecker left behind a massive stack of compositions and an impressive recording discography that features his unique and gifted articulation on the saxophone.  Reed man, Tod Dickow, has captured the magic and brilliance of Brecker during his excursion into Michael Brecker’s music and legacy.  On “Arc of the Pendulum,” keyboard master, Murray Low, adds organ to the mix, while Tod Dickow continues to saturate the group with power and purpose.  With their feet solidly planted in fusion fields and contemporary jazz arrangements, this ‘Charged Particles’ group has been working in the Bay area since 2011.  Drummer Jon Krosnick is the founder of the group, originally formed in Ohio back in 1993. They made a name for themselves in the Bay area by tackling the challenging material of Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock.  At first, they were a trio.  Then they decided to add a reed player and they all agreed that Tod Dickow was the man.

“This band has always been willing to take on difficult compositions like Mike’s,” said Krosnick.  “… We’ve spent tremendous amounts of time rehearsing as a group and practicing on our own.  When people listen to us, they realize that we’ve done the homework to put on a show that took preparation and has lots of dramatic value and communicative power as a result.”

All three rhythm section members bring excitement and creativity to the bandstand and into the studio.  During this live recording, Murray Low segued from piano to organ and sampled sounds, using assorted synthesizers during their set.  These complicated splits on his keyboard allowed Murray to cover multiple parts at the same time and his inventiveness captured the richness of Brecker’s original studio recordings.  Aaron Germain switches between upright bass and electric bass with ease and accuracy.  This is a joyful listen, full of the spark and spunk that Michael Brecker’s group always brought to the stage, but also incorporating the creativity and integrity of these four musicians.  ‘Charged Particles’ has a big, fat, funky sound and although they are tributing Michael Brecker, they are all master musicians themselves.  ‘Charged Particles’ brings their own sense of power and play to this recording, along with the historic legacy of the man they are tributing. 

 

 

Eliane Elias

Mirror Mirror

(Candid)

            Eliane Elias has been a brilliant jazz pianist since at least 1983 when she was a member of Steps Ahead. She first sang on records in 1989 and much more frequently starting in the mid-1990s but, while a pleasing vocalist, I always thought that her skills at the piano were on a much higher level.

            Back in 1994 on her Solos and Duets album, Elias held her own with Herbie Hancock. Mirror Mirror is her first set of piano duets since then and it is quite special. Four of the songs are collaborations from 2018 with the late great Chick Corea while the three other numbers match Elias with the equally remarkable pianist Chucho Valdes.

            While piano duets can result in overcrowded ensembles, that is never the case on these seven selections despite the virtuosity of the three pianists. Elias, Corea, and Valdes blend in very well together, sounding like a dazzling pianist with four hands. Another major strength is the superior material that they explore. While the Corea sessions consist of two of his better originals (“Armando’s Rhumba” and “Mirror Mirror”), “Blue Bossa” and “There Will Never Be Another You,” the three numbers on the Valdes dates are by Mexican and Spanish composers, pieces with rich melodies that the pianists eagerly explore.

            One could say that, rather than having a few highlights, all of the music on Mirror Mirror is one highpoint. Eliane Elias not only sounds inspired during her interactions with the two immortal pianists, but Corea and Valdes display plenty of enthusiasm at the opportunity to create music with her. Mirror Mirror (available from www.amazon.com) is a gem

 

Tony Coe & John Horler

Dancing In The Dark

(Gearbox)

            Tony Coe, who is now 86, has had a remarkable career in his native England. He started off by playing mainstream swing and classic jazz with Humphrey Lyttelton’s band during 1957-62, doubling on clarinet and tenor. He also played straight ahead jazz with the big band of John Dankworth and the Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Orchestra, and was invited in 1965 to join the Count Basie Orchestra although he turned it down. Coe next took a left turn, creating free improvisations with Derek Bailey and other avant-garde players in England. He also performed on the Pink Panther movies with Henry Mancini (usually playing the theme on tenor), worked and recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Sarah Vaughan, Buck Clayton, Ben Webster, Lee Konitz and many others, and was part of the chamber ensemble Matrix. Coe has long been capable of playing very credible solos in a wide variety of idioms from swing to free.

            The equally versatile pianist John Horler (a decade younger than Coe) has worked with many top British jazz artists through the years including Tommy Whittle, John Dankworth, Kenny Wheeler, Peter King, Ronnie Ross and, on and off since the late 1970s, Tony Coe. He was also a member of the Maynard Ferguson big band for a stretch.

            Dancing In The Dark, a live concert from 2007 that was never released before, has Coe (exclusively on clarinet) and Horler performing eight duets. Their explorations of five standards, two songs by Horler, and Coe’s “Some Other Autumn” (based on “Autumn Leaves”) cover a variety of moods and tempos. While one might think that this would be a ballad-oriented set, the duo has no problem playing at faster tempos while always retaining a thoughtful approach.

            Such songs as Bill Evans’ “Re: Person I Knew,” “Night And Day,” “Body And Soul,” and “Dancing In The Dark” are uplifted by Coe and Horler who create fresh variations that are filled with beauty and subtle creativity.

            Dancing In The Dark, which is available from www.gearboxrecords.com, grows in interest with each listen.

 

Roseanna Vitro

Sing A Song Of Bird

(Skyline)

            The many planned celebrations of Charlie Parker’s centennial, which would have been in 2020, were mostly postponed until this year due to COVID. While many of the tributes “update” Bird’s music, placing his repertoire in much more modernized settings with solos that are far removed from his style, Roseanna Vitro took a different approach. Her project, which first began back in 2017, features her, Sheila Jordan, Marion Cowings, and the late Bob Dorough mostly singing and scatting Charlie Parker’s songs, often with their own lyrics.

            The earlier sessions feature Vitro, Dorough and Jordan joined by altoist Mark Gross, pianist Jason Teborek, bassist Dean Johnson, drummer Bill Goodwin and, on one song apiece, guitarist Paul Myers and percussionists Mino Cinelu. Dorough, who passed away just a few months after his date, sounds typically personable and musical singing his lyrics to “Red Cross” (a duet with Vitro) and Bluebird,” and making a brief appearance on a version of “These Foolish Things” that he shares with Vitro and Jordan. The ageless Sheila Jordan is as wonderful as always on “Relaxin’ At Camarillo” (which she turned into “Bird’s Song”), “Sheila’s Jazz Child” (a transformation of “Cheryl” that she shares with Vitro), and “Quasimodo.” Roseanna Vitro is joyful and quite fluent on “People Chase” (“Steeplechase”), “Scrapple From The Apple,” and “Yardbird Suite,” displaying her love for bebop.

            The later session has altoist Gary Bartz (who is featured recreating Charlie Parker’s solo on “Ko Ko”), pianist Alan Broadbent, bassist Dean Johnson, and drummer Alvester Garnett on four numbers including a pair of features for singer Marion Cowings who fares quite well on “Parker’s Mood” and “Now’s The Time.”

            This well-conceived Charlie Parker tribute, which Bird would have enjoyed, is recommended and available from www.singasongofbird.com.

 

Dexter Gordon

Willisau 1978

(TCB)

            There can never be too many Dexter Gordon albums. The tenor-saxophonist, whose colorful life included three major comebacks and should someday be made into a movie, always played well and consistently sounded inspired. His distinctive sound, cheerful ideas, and solid swinging combined to create a joyful musical personality. While his basic style did not change much after the early 1960s (one could say since the late 1940s), Gordon never sounded tired, lacked enthusiasm, or seemed to run of ideas.

            Willisau 1978, which is Vol. 45 in TCB’s valuable Swiss Radio Days Jazz Series of broadcasts, features Gordon in his later period. Joined by his regular quartet of pianist George Cables, bassist Rufus Reid, and drummer Eddie Gladden, the tenor really stretches out on five songs, only one of which is under 14 minutes in length. While the repertoire (“On Green Dolphin Street,” “The Jumpin’ Blues,” “Hi-Fly,” Old Folks,” and Horace Silver’s “Strollin’”) is familiar, the saxophone and piano solos sound quite fresh and lively with Gordon and Cables clearly enjoying working together. Reid and Gladden keep the music swinging and also have occasional spots.

            Dexter Gordon’s Willisau 1978 (available from newartsint.com) will be enjoyed by anyone who loves the playing of the great tenor.

 

Chris Standring

Wonderful World

(Ultimate Vibe)

            Guitarist Chris Standring has had a notable career in contemporary and pop/jazz ever since he made his first solo album in 1996, leading at least 14 other records since then. His guitar playing has always been easy-to-take and creative in its own way even when he is performing pop-oriented material.

            Wonderful World is a change of pace, Standring’s first album of standards. With either Geoff Gascoyne, Chuck Berghofer or Darek Oles on bass, Peter Erskine, Dave Karsony or Harvey Mason on drums and an occasional quiet string section, the guitarist is in the spotlight throughout. He brings out the beauty of such songs as “Night & Day,” “Autumn In New York,” “Estaté” and “Alfie,” and contributes his original “Sunrise” which has a guest spot on flugelhorn by Randy Brecker. The other guest, Kathrin Shorr, is featured on “What A Wonderful World”; the guitarist also revives the Steely Dan song “Maxine.”

            The results are easy-listening and accessible. While I wish that Chris Standring, whose chord voicings are sophisticated, had included a cooker or two, the brand of beautiful music that is heard throughout Wonderful World (available from www.christstandring.com) is quite pleasing.

 

Lyle Mays

Eberhard

(Self-Released)

            Lyle Mays, who made his first recordings with the University of North Texas band, trombonist Phil Wilson, and the Woody Herman Orchestra (a live concert from Poland) during 1975-76, became a key member of the Pat Metheny Group in 1977. During the next century, nearly all of his recordings and performances were with Metheny where his keyboards and compositions helped give the band its own unique identity. There were occasional side projects, including appearing on bassist Eberhard Weber’s  ECM recording Later That Evening in 1982.

            After 2005, Lyle Mays largely dropped out of music, leaving Metheny’s band and having nonmusical jobs. An exception was in 2009 when he performed at the Zeltsman Marimba Festival, debuting his piece “Eberhard” in tribute to Eberhard Weber who he considered a major influence on his writing and music. In 2019 when his health began to decline, Mays decided to make his first recording in 14 years. The result is Eberhard, a 13-minute EP which is comprised solely of the title cut.

            Lyle Mays is prominent throughout the piece which starts as a ballad, gets a groove going, and explores a variety of colors and moods. Mays on piano and synthesizers is joined by the reeds of Bob Sheppard, Mitchel Forman on electric piano and organ, both acoustic (Steve Rodby) and electric (Jimmy Johnson) bass, two drummer-percussionists, Wade Culbreath on marimba, vibes and xylophone, guitarist Bill Frisell, three background singers including Aubrey Johnson, and four cellists.

            The atmospheric music (available from www.lylemays.com), which is Lyle Mays’ final musical statement (he passed away in 2020), rewards repeated listens. I just wish that there were more of it.

 

The Cookers

Look Out

(Gearbox)

            The Cookers is a septet filled with all-time greats. Five of its musicians (tenor-saxophonist Billy Harper, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, pianist George Cables, bassist Cecil McBee, and drummer Billy Hart) were at the top of their field over a half-century ago and still are in their musical prime. Altoist Donald Harrison has been a major improviser for 40 years and leader-trumpeter David Weiss, while a bit younger, has been recording significant music since 1995.

            The music played by the Cookers is similar to the advanced hard bop/modal style that these musicians performed 50 years ago although the music on their recent Look Out CD is comprised of recent originals by Cables, Harper and McBee. While the pianist gets to solo on each piece, just two horn players are featured during each number: one of the trumpeters and one of the saxophonists. There are no trumpet tradeoffs or performances where both Harper and Harrison are heard from as soloists.

            However the four horns are heard together in many rousing ensembles, the ageless Billy Harper displays plenty of fire whenever he is featured (particularly on “Somalia”), Cables is typically brilliant throughout, and it is a joy hearing these veteran players really stretching themselves. No one takes it easy or uses their age as an excuse to coast.

            Look Out is easily recommended and available from www.gearboxrecords.com.

 

Noel Jewkes

Moods Modes Muses

(Black Olive Jazz)

            Veteran tenor-saxophonist Noel Jewkes and the excellent jazz singer Kay Kostopoulos have frequently team up in their group Black Olive Jazz, performing in the San Francisco Bay area. While not officially by that group, Moods Modes Muses has the vocalist featured on half of the eight selections.

            Noel Jewkes (who is heard on tenor, clarinet, flute and soprano) utilizes a septet that also includes trumpeter Dave Bendigkeit, trombonist Max Perkoff, altoist Charlie McCarthy, pianist Keith Saunders, bassist Chris Amberger, and drummer David Rokeach. While the material covers a wide area, one is immediately struck by its consistent high quality, not only in the solos and ensembles but in the leader’s inventive arrangements.

            Kay Kostopouos is featured on an exotic version of “Temptation,” a modernized but warm “Prisoner Of Love” (Jewkes’ tenor on this piece is reminiscent of Paul Gonsalves), the hard-swinging “Get Happy,” and wordlessly on “Dreamsville.” The instrumentals include “One By One” (one of Wayne Shorter’s best songs written for the Jazz Messengers), “Sveeda’s Song Flute” (which logically features the leader on flute), a funky and catchy “Musing On Miles” that could have been played by Miles Davis in his early fusion days, and Duke Ellington’s “The Mooche.”

            Everything works well on this very enjoyable set which is available from www.blackolivejazz.com.

 

Julian Lage

Squint

(Blue Note)

            Guitarist Julian Lage, who is now 33, was a child prodigy who was featured in a documentary when he was just eight. At 15 he was a faculty member of the Stanford Jazz Workshop, the same year that he made his recording debut with Gary Burton. Lage led his first album when he was at the more conventional age of 20 and has recorded for a wide variety of labels since then. Squint, his debut for Blue Note, is his 11th album as a leader.

            Joined by bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King, Lage displays his talents on a wide variety of material and moods with no performance being excessively long. Among the highlights are a classical-oriented waltz (“Etude), the somewhat eccentric medium-tempo “Boo’s Blues,” the free boppish title cut, a tasteful rendition of “Emily” (one of only two pieces on the set that the guitarist did not compose), some fairly free playing on “Familiar Flowers,” the melodic folk-type song “Day & Age,” an episodic “Quiet Like A Fuse,” and the fun and rollicking “Twilight Surfer.”

While the eclectic nature of the music sometimes recalls early Bill Frisell, Julian Lage displays his own sound, style, and conception. A still-young guitar master, Lage is heard in top form throughout Squint which is available from www.bluenote.com.

 

Dan Siegel

Faraway Place

(DSM)

A talented keyboardist who was born in Seattle and raised in Eugene, Oregon, Dan Siegel began his career early, playing in a rock band when he was 12. After attending Berklee and the University of Oregon, he made his first recording as a leader for Inner City in 1980. Since then he has recorded a long string of popular albums of which Faraway Place is at least his 23rd as a leader. While he has worked as a television and film composer and a session player, Siegel is best known as a melodic keyboardist. Through the years his recordings have been classified as New Age, contemporary jazz, smooth, and pop/jazz. What they all have in common is his musical identity on keyboards, his relaxed approach, and his ability to always include some subtle surprises in his playing which keeps it from being overly predictable.

Faraway Place features Siegel with a group also including acoustic bassist Brian Bromberg, an occasional electric bassist (either Abe Laboriel or Dwayne “Smitty” Smith), drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (with Steve Gadd on two songs and Omari Williams on one), saxophonist Eric Marienthal, trumpeter Lee Thornburg, percussionist Lenny Castro, and occasionally background vocalists, violin, cello, English horn and bassoon.

            Dan Siegel is in the lead throughout his 11 originals, creating mood music that (as is true of most of his releases) has light grooves, is ideal for backgrounds, and is filled with catchy melodies. Faraway Place is available from www.dansiegelmusic.com.

 

Lena Bloch & Feathery

Rose Of Lifta

(Fresh Sound)

            Lena Bloch, a strikingly original tenor-saxophonist who is also a skilled composer, focuses on the subject of exile during her recent CD Rose Of Lifta. Born in Russia, she spent periods living in Israel and Germany before settling in Brooklyn in 2008, so she knows what it is like to live in many different lands and to feel some longing for each of the imperfect situations.

            Rose Of Lifta, which consists of seven originals by either Bloch or pianist Russ Lossing, forms a suite that is interpreted by the two composers, bassist Cameron Brown, and drummer Billy Mintz. “Promise Of Return” sounds very much like music from the Middle East but performed by an improvising jazz quartet. “Mad Mirror” begins with Bloch’s unaccompanied tenor utilizing a phrase and building off of it before the full group joins in the construction of the piece. “New Home” is melancholy and a bit brooding. “Climbing Rose Of Lifta” (Lifta is an Arab village in Israel that has a long history of struggle) is about a quiet battle for survival.

“Old Home,” while containing a little bit of nostalgia, is a reflection about the place’s past and probable future; it has one of the strongest piano solos of the program. “Mahmoud Darwish” is a dirge written in remembrance of the late Palestinian poet that is full of mournful passion. The episodic “Wintry Mix” returns to the mood of the opening “Promise Of Return,” realistic but hopeful.

            While there are many fine individual solos from Lena Bloch and Russ Lossing, the emphasis throughout Rose Of Lifta is on the sound of the ensemble, the strong compositions, and the honest moods. This thought-provoking work is available from www.freshsoundrecords.com.

 

Graham Dechter

Major Influence

(Capri)

            Now 35, Graham Dechter has been an important young guitarist for over a decade in the Los Angeles area. He is particularly significant because he plays straight ahead jazz, helping to add vitality and youthful energy to the idiom. A member of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and many short-term combos, Dechter blends together such influences as Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery and Grant Green into his own personal style.

            In 2008 he recorded his debut album, Right On Time, with a quartet also featuring bassist John Clayton, drummer Jeff Hamilton and pianist Tamir Hendelman. He used the same group on 2012’s Takin’ It There and the quartet has a reunion on the recently released Major Influence which was recorded in 2018. It is fair to say that each of the musicians is quite familiar with each other’s playing but the results are far from tired or predictable.

            For this set, Dechter contributed seven originals with a slow version of “Pure Imagination” being the only standard included. Some of the tunes use a medium-tempo blues-with-a-bridge framework while some of the others are more laidback. The final two numbers are the most memorable. “Bent On Monk” quotes from several Thelonious Monk tunes and has particularly strong solos while Dechter displays his effortless facility and technique on the rapid cooker “Billy’s Dilemma.” Hendelman, while being concise in deference to the leader, takes some very impressive solos along the way and both Clayton and Hamilton make the most of their spots.

            There are no liner notes on Major Influence, but they really are not needed. Music this good and swinging does not require elaborate explanations. Suffice it to say that Major Influence features some of Los Angeles’ best jazz artists and it is available from www.caprirecords.com.

 

John Armato

The Drummer Loves Ballads

(JA Music)

            Many drummers (including Buddy Rich) have hated playing ballads, feeling that the songs give them little to do at that slow a tempo. John Armato is an exception. His colorful album begins with him telling a brief story about playing at a jam session and suggesting that the young musicians perform a ballad; he was met with derision and his request was ignored in favor of another overly long uptempo jam. He has been wanting to record a ballad-oriented album ever since.

            On The Drummer Loves Ballads, Armato leads a core rhythm section comprised of pianist Wayne Hawkins, guitarist Rod Fleeman, and bassist Gerald Spaits. Many guests make appearances (along with a few wind players and strings) and, while it is unfortunate that their instruments are not listed (one can largely figure it out by determining who is featured on what song), the guests add a lot of variety to the program. In fact, although all of the numbers (other than a brief ad-lib vocal-drums duet with Lisa Henry on “Messin’ Around”) are ballads, the tempos and moods vary just enough to hold onto one’s attention throughout.

            Among the highlights are versions of “Dreamsville” (with cornetist Warren Vache), “Memories Of You” (featuring clarinetist Lynn Zimmer), “At The Trocodero” (with Lisa Henry), Vache and tenor-saxophonist Houston Person teaming up during “Don’t Worry About Me,” and the late singer Molly Hammer on “Moonlight.”

            John Armato is heard in a supporting role throughout, just the way that the drummer likes it. The pleasing music of The Drummer Loves Ballads is easily recommended and available from www.thedrummerlovesballads.com.