The Montreux Years
Chick Corea (1941-2021) left behind such a huge musical legacy that it is nearly impossible to overrate his accomplishments. One of his most remarkable feats was his ability to jump back and forth between equally rewarding projects. He never seemed to break up any of his groups while at the same time going out and forming additional promising musical associations and new units. That way he was able to return to his earlier bands whenever inspiration struck.
The Montreux Years consists of eight previously unreleased performances by Corea from the Montreux Jazz Festival during 1998-2010. Quite typically, he is featured with six different groups. One gets to hear the pianist with his Akoustic Trio (bassist John Patitucci and drummer Tom Brechtlein), a quartet with Patitucci, drummer Gary Novak and Bob Berg on soprano, a trio with bassist Avishai Cohen and drummer Jeff Ballard, his Elektric Band (Patitucci, altoist Eric Marienthal, guitarist Frank Gambale, and drummer Dave Weckl), his Freedom Band (altoist Kenny Garrett, bassist Christian McBride, and drummer Roy Haynes), and a quartet (Tim Garland on tenor, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Marcus Gilmore) joined by the Bavarian Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra.
With the exception of a joyful version of “Bud Powell,” the eight pieces (all Corea originals) are mostly lesser known but consistently rewarding. The focus is on the pianist, whether performing “Fingerprints,” a trio version of “Quartet No. 2 (Pt. 1)” which was originally played by a quartet with Michael Brecker, or the humorous “Interlude” which is essentially a tradeoff with the audience singing Corea’s piano lines.
Chick Corea is the main soloist throughout each of these performances, reminding listeners how huge a loss was his passing. Fortunately this “new” set of music is now available (from www.bmg.com and www.amazon.com) and hopefully there will be many more posthumous releases from the enthusiastic innovator in the future.
The Complete Blue Note & Impulse ‘60s Studio Sessions
Freddie Hubbard (1938-2008) was one of the all-time great jazz trumpeters. Influenced and inspired early on by Lee Morgan and Clifford Brown, Hubbard carved out his own place in jazz history.
His earliest recordings were made with Wes Montgomery and the Montgomery Brothers, John Coltrane, Paul Chambers, Slide Hampton, Eric Dolphy, and Charli Persip during 1957-60. In the 1960s, Hubbard recorded with quite a few of the jazz greats including on records led by Ornette Coleman (Free Jazz), Coltrane again (Ascension), Sonny Rollins, Max Roach, J.J. Johnson, Hank Mobley, Benny Golson, Jackie McLean, Oliver Nelson, Dexter Gordon, Quincy Jones, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Andrew Hill, Curtis Fuller, Wayne Shorter, Bobby Hutcherson, Andrew Hill and Duke Pearson; quite a list! This was in addition to being a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers during 1961-65.
Hubbard also recorded as a leader during that busy decade for Blue Note, Impulse and Atlantic. Mosaic recently released a seven-CD limited-edition box set that includes his eight Blue Note (Open Sesame, Goin’ Up, Hub Cap, Ready for Freddie, Hub-Tones, Here To Stay, Breaking Point, and Blue Spirits) and two Impulse (The Artistry Of Freddie Hubbard and The Body And The Soul) albums. Dating from 1960-66, the box has all of Hubbard’s dates as a leader during this period other than the two-volume live Night Of The Cookers, a mostly disappointing matchup with Lee Morgan.
There is certainly nothing disappointing about the music on the Mosaic box. Hubbard was already an up-and-coming giant at the time of his debut (Open Sesame) and he quickly grew in power, depth and fire after that. Blue Note always matched him with top players so along the way one gets to also hear from tenor-saxophonists Tina Brooks, Hank Mobley, Jimmy Heath, Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson, altoist James Spaulding, pianists McCoy Tyner, Cedar Walton, Cedar Walton, Ronnie Mathews, Harold Mabern and Herbie Hancock, and several top-notch bassists and drummers. The Impulse sets consist of a sextet project with Curtis Fuller and tenor-saxophonist John Gilmore, and one album that is split between a session with a string section, an outing with a big band, and a septet with Eric Dolphy, Shorter and Fuller.
As for the music, it is forward-looking, colorful and mostly extroverted hard bop. Along with obscurities and an occasional standard, Hubbard is heard introducing three of his best-known originals: “Crisis,” “Birdlike,” and “Breaking Point.” There are no previously unreleased performances on this box but everything that Hubbard recorded for the two labels (including alternate takes that were originally on samplers or 45s) is here along with a 20-page booklet.
Obviously every serious jazz fan should own this highly enjoyable and historic Freddie Hubbard release. It is available from www.mosaicrecords.com.
Trust And Honesty
During the past few years, the Newvelle label (www.newvelle-records.com) has been releasing high-quality Lps by some of today’s top jazz artists. One of the company’s recent albums, Trust And Honesty, features Dave Liebman on soprano in an intimate trio with guitarist Ben Monder and bassist John Hébert.
This is a laidback session filled with inner heat rather than overt fireworks, and quiet creativity at mostly slower tempos. The three musicians simply got together on Feb. 12, 2022 and played fresh versions of seven jazz standards plus Liebman’s “Designs.” The soprano-saxophonist, who has long had a distinctive tone, mostly plays melodically throughout including during an unaccompanied version of “Blue In Green.” Monder shows a great deal of versatility in both his ideas and the tones that he employs (sometimes making sparing use of an echo effect), and Hébert is supportive while avoiding the obvious during his occasional solos.
Among the other highlights are such numbers as “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” a particularly inventive “Stella By Starlight,” “Bye Bye Blackbird,” and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Zingaro” (during which Liebman really caresses the melody).
All in all this is a relaxed but never sleepy album by a superior trio that features thoughtful improvisations and an obvious affection for the eight melodies they interpret.
Eric Jacobson is an excellent hard bop-oriented trumpeter based in the Midwest. He has not recorded enough in the past (his previous CD was 2013’s Combinations) but Discover helps to make up for some of that gap.
Jacobson is joined by the cool-toned but adventurous tenor-saxophonist Geof Bradfield, pianist Bruce Barth, bassist Dennis Carroll, and drummer George Fludas for this recent outing from Chicago. The trumpeter performs four originals and four jazz standards.
Of the originals, the melancholy “Discover” and the boogaloo “One Way” are most memorable although the driving Jazz Messengers-type piece “New Combinations” is not far behind. Each of the standards are uplifted by the musicians with “I Hear A Rhapsody” swinging hard,” Blue Mitchell’s “Sir John” giving the quintet an opportunity to cook on a blues, and the trumpeter being showcased on “Old Folks” which is taken as a duet with Barth. Jacobson, Bradfield and Barth are consistently creative during their solos while Carroll and Fludas are always stimulating in support of the lead voices.
Throughout the set, while he occasionally reminds one of Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard, Eric Jacobson displays his own sound and a fresh approach to straight ahead jazz. Discover is easily recommended and available from www.originarts.com.
I Hear Music
A veteran jazz singer and pianist, Diane Marino has led at seven albums in her career thus far including a tribute to Gloria Lynne and a set that featured Houston Person, a saxophonist who only records with the very best vocalists. In each of her projects, her excellent bassist has been her husband, Frank Marino, who has long championed her career.
I Hear Music finds the singer clearly enjoying herself while performing vintage standards including ballads and exuberant romps. Among the highlights are fresh versions of “I Hear Music,” Artie Shaw’s “Moonray,” Anita O’Day’s trademark song “Let Me Off Uptown,” “It Could Happen To You,” a funky “The Late, Late Show,” and a quietly soulful ballad rendition of “I’ll Close My Eyes.”
Diane Marino sounds quite happy throughout the set and one would imagine that her spirit was uplifted by the performances of her notable sidemen. With support supplied by Frank Marino and drummer Chris Brown, guitarist Pat Bergeson and tenor-saxophonist Joel Frahm (who occasionally plays soprano) have many solo spots; among the guests are vibraphonist Chuck Redd, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, and organist Brad Cole.
I Hear Music (available from www.sunnysiderecords.com) features Diane Marino in top form and is easily recommended.
Trumpeter and flugelhornist Franco Ambrosetti who is from Switzerland has led nearly 40 albums in his career (including many classics for the Enja label), had a long-time association with pianist-arranger George Gruntz, and has always been a colorful soloist who was touched by the playing of Clifford Brown, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie without copying any of the three.
Nora is a ballad album in which Ambrosetti (sticking exclusively to flugelhorn) is joined by pianist Uri Caine, bassist Scott Colley, drummer Peter Erskine, guitarist John Scofield (on a few numbers) and a 22-piece string section arranged by Alan Broadbent. Ambrosetti had previously recorded two albums with strings: 1979’s Sleeping Gypsy and 2018’s The Nearness Of You.
The flugelhornist is in the spotlight throughout this set although Scofield has spots on George Gruntz’s “Morning Song Of A Spring Flower” and John Coltrane’s “After The Rain” and Uri Caine
has a few brief solos. While most of the songs (including Ambrosetti’s “Nora’s Theme,” “Autumn Leaves,” Victor Feldman’s “Falling In Love,” and John Dankworth’s “It Happens Quietly”) are taken at slower tempos, some heat is generated during an inventive medium-tempo arrangement of “All Blues.” While paying homage to the melodies, Ambrosetti stretches himself in spots and rarely plays the obvious. Nora, a fine album full of subtle creativity, is available from www.amazon.com.
Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp
Difficult as it is to believe, Fruition is the eighteenth album to feature the duo of tenor-saxophonist Ivo Perelman and pianist Matthew Shipp. Perelman, who has led nearly 100 albums since 1989, and Shipp (who has been nearly as prolific) have also appeared together on at least 28 other albums, usually with trios or quartets.
It is therefore not surprising that Perelman and Shipp are able to inspire and often follow each other closely when they play free improvisations. While they are both associated with the avant-garde, they are not reluctant to utilize melodies, harmonies, and catchy rhythms when they appear in their improvising. And while both can play quite violently on occasion, on Fruition much of their interplay is more mellow, cooperative rather than competitive, and open to spontaneous communication from the other player.
None of the eleven free improvisations overstay their welcome (clocking in between 4:20 and 7:40) and, while the pieces could have utilized more imaginative song titles (they are each named after a number ranging from “One” to “Fourteen”), they hold one’s interest throughout; the playful and eccentric “Ten” is a highpoint. There are no individual solos for the music is a continuous conversation between two good friends.
Fruition, which acts as a fine introduction to the playing of the two musicians, is particularly recommended for listeners with open ears and no preconception of what the music will sound like. It is available from www.amazon.com and www.espdisk.com.
Ignasi Terraza, who was born in Barcelona, is an excellent jazz pianist based in Spain. He has been a fulltime musician (having given up computer engineering) since 1983 and is versatile enough to stretch from swing to hard bop. Terraza has led his own trios and quartets for decades and is also in demand to work with touring American jazz musicians.
Intimate Conversations teams Terraza in separate duets with tenor-saxophonist Scott Hamilton, the harmonica player Antonio Serrano, and the multi-talented singer, trumpeter and soprano-saxophonist Andrea Motis.
Hamilton’s four numbers are mostly ballads (including a more stimulating than usual version of “People”) plus “Pick Yourself Up.” As usual, he shows a great deal of warmth in his tenor playing. Serrano, on numbers such as “Confirmation” and “Bye Bye Blackbird,” shows that he ranks in the top five among today’s jazz harmonica players. He is quite fluent and makes playing bop runs on his instrument (not an easy task) sound effortless. Andrea Motis is a delightful singer who, when finishing
her vocal chorus, often picks up the trumpet and shows that she is also quite skilled as an instrumentalist. Her six features include “Shiny Stockings” and Jobim’s “Luiza.”
Ignasi Terraza, who contributed four diverse originals, not only accompanies his guests but interacts closely with them while serving as the full rhythm section. Although many of these selections are ballads, the pianist swings throughout and cooks whenever the tempo is faster as on the closing “My Crazy Rhythm.” Intimate Conversations, which is available from www.switrecords.com, is easily recommended.
Since graduating from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota in 2010, Nate Hance has been a fulltime jazz-oriented pianist. He played music on cruise ships for three years while working on composing his own music. Since then he has been based in Minnesota/St. Paul, recorded six albums of his originals, and performed in a wide variety of settings.
Refuge is a consistently quiet and relaxing solo piano album, serving as an escape from the hectic nature of day-to-day life. Hance performs nine of his originals plus a slightly abstract version of “Oh, Susanna.” The music is soothing but filled with subtle creativity that is revealed when one listens closely.
Such picturesque tunes as “Fall Colors,” “Streams,” “Rippling Water,” and “After The Rain” give listeners an idea of what to expect. Refuge features one aspect of Nate Hance’s musical personality. He is also an entertainer, a singer, and plays funkier music but purposely not on this project. The relaxing Refuge is available from www.natehance.com.
A fluent and creative jazz flutist, Carlos Jimenez (although born in New York) grew up in Puerto Rico. After periods playing percussion and trumpet, in high school he switched to flute. He moved back to New York to study classical flute and then became part of the jazz scene. Jimenez has since recorded ten albums of his own originals, and along the way utilized such notable sidemen as Hilton Ruiz, Oscar Hernandez, David Schnitter, and Dave Valentin.
On Woods, the music and Jimenez’s playing sometimes recall Valentin. He is often accompanied by a funky background supplied by keyboardist Hector Martignon, bassist Ruben Rodriguez, and drummer Vince Cherico. The flutist is the main soloist throughout and he sounds quite at home whether playing Latin funk (“Dreams Of Brazil”), a more complex but grooving “Snuggle & Cuddle,” or the straight ahead cooker, “Wheelbarrow Blues.”
Everything works well on Woods which will please Latin jazz fans and dancers alike. It is available from www.carlosjimenezjazzflutist.com.
Rite Of Strings
Live At Montreux 1994
It was quite a super group although it did not last long. Violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, guitarist Al Di Meola, and bassist Stanley Clarke came together to form Rite Of Strings during 1994-95. They toured a bit and recorded one studio album in 1995 before going their separate ways.
The previously unreleased Live At Montreux 1994 is a two-CD set that more than doubles the discography of this group. The trio performs six of the ten songs that they would record on their studio album, have one unaccompanied solo piece apiece, and also playa second version of “Song To John” with their surprise guest pianist Monty Alexander who fits right in.
Ponty, Di Meola and Clarke had all become famous due to their work in electrified fusion but, with the exception of Ponty’s feature (“Eulogy To Oscar Romero”) during which he electronically distorts his tone, this set de-emphasizes electronics and has the feel of an acoustic jam session. The originals (best are the first three selections: “Song To John,” “Memory Canyon,” and “La Cancion de Sofia”) are excellent vehicles for the virtuosic solos and intuitive interplay of the trio.
Fans of the three masterful musicians will certainly want to pick up Rite Of Strings which is available from www.amazon.com. Will there be a reunion someday?
Dave Slonaker Big Band
Originally a trombonist and pianist, Dave Slonaker is best known as a composer, arranger, and orchestrator for many films and television programs. Along the way he has also written for Clark Terry, Count Basie, and Woody Herman among others and his 2013 big band album Intrada was warmly received.
Convergency is his long overdue encore. Slonaker’s 16-piece orchestra utilizes many of Southern California’s most skilled musicians including lead trumpeter Wayne Bergeron (who is showcased on an abstract version of the date’s one standard, “I Had The Craziest Dream”) and such soloists as trumpeters Clay Jenkins and Ron Stout, trombonist Alex Iles (the full trombone section is featured on “And Now The News”), Rob Lockart and Tom Luer on tenors, Bob Sheppard and Brian Scanlon (both on altos and sopranos), baritonist Adam Schroeder, guest guitarist Larry Koonse, and a rhythm section comprised of pianist Ed Czach, bassist Edwin Livingston, and drummer Peter Erskine.
However it is the arrangements of the leader that give his big band its own musical personality. His charts are modern, invigorating, full of variety, and clearly an inspiration for his sidemen. Starting with the dramatic opener “Convergency” (which could be used for a chase scene but in this case is an effective introduction to the various sections of the big band), a powerful “Uncommonly Ground,” and the hard swinging “Duelity,” this set never lets up. The charts are fairly complex but these top-notch musicians give the impression of playing them effortlessly. Even when they are solid swingers such as “A Curve In The Road,” the music is full of surprises in the writing. One can never quite predict what is going to occur next. Convergeny, which is available from www.originarts.com, is easily recommended for listeners who enjoy hearing modern big bands.
Back Home In Kansas City
One of the great jazz veterans, altoist Bobby Watson in his career has played everything from swing to free improvisations, and he had a notable stint with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Based for
many years in Kansas City as both a saxophonist and an educator, Watson is now in his late sixties but is still in his playing prime.
Back Home In Kansas City has the altoist leading an all-star quintet that also features pianist Cyrus Chestnut, bassist Curtis Lundy, drummer Victor Jones and, on half of the selections, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt. The music, not too surprisingly, swings hard throughout.
The group performs five Watson originals, and a song apiece by Jones, Chestnut, Pelt, John Hicks, John Coltrane (“Dear Lord”), and Jimmy Dorsey (“I’m Glad There Is You”). Of Watson’s tunes, “Back Home In Kansas City” is based on “Back Home Again In Indiana” with a quote from “Donna Lee” in the melody, “Bon Voyage” hints at “Maiden Voyage,” and his “Side Steps” is a close relative of “Giant Steps.” Also memorable are Jones’ bluesy strut “Red Bank Heist,” a moody ballad (“Our Love Remains”) that is a feature for guest vocalist Carmen Lundy, and Chestnut’s happy jazz waltz “The Star In The East” but each of the11 selections is rewarding.
Suffice it to say that all of the musicians play at their usual high level (whether on uptempo numbers or ballads) and that this is one of Bobby Watson’s strongest recordings in recent times. Back Home In Kansas City is available from www.smokesessionsrecords.com.