text Waxing Poetic Reviews

 

Tierney Sutton and San Gabriel 7
Good People
(JRL-SGS Records)

This is a different type of Tierney Sutton recording. While she has made many albums with her regular quartet and, most recently, her husband guitarist Serge Merlaud, on Good People she is joined by up to six horns and a five-piece rhythm section (with a string quartet on two numbers) for ten new songs, eight of which have her lyrics.

Four of the pieces deal with serious issues. “Good People” (check out the inventive video on You Tube) is about systematic racism and how many whites for decades kept its existence invisible, particularly to themselves. “The In Between” discusses the often-uncomfortable transition between the old and new when it comes to beliefs and many aspects of life. “Ten” remembers ten women who in 1983 were executed in Iran for not recanting their Baha’í faith, and “Monkey Mind” is a relatively light-hearted look at climate change.

But the music on Good People is not somber, depressing, or overloaded with messages. Of the other pieces, “Lullaby For Chris,” “The Wild,” and “Wait For Me” have warm melodies that are given heartfelt interpretations, the medium-tempo blues “Where’d I Put My Keys” is quite humorous, the scat-filled “Happy Goodbye” is a swinger, and “Autumn Love” has a sweet message about finding one’s partner later in life.

In addition to Tierney Sutton’s always lovely and swinging singing, there are plenty of fine solos heard along the way, primarily from Glen Berger (on tenor, alto and his passionate soprano), trumpeter Kye Palmer (warm on “Lullaby For Chris” and explosive during “Where’d I Put My Keys”), and guitarist Steve Gregory, with guitarist Serge Merlaud guesting on the closing “Wait For Me.”

The singer is heard throughout in prime form, her set has plenty of mood and tempo variations, and Good People stands out as one of Tierney Sutton’s most rewarding recordings. It is easily recommended and available from www.sgs.jazz.com.

 

Alliance
Alliance
(Alliance Jazz)

Alliance | Alliance | Shifting Paradigm Records

Alliance is a quartet co-led by Sharel Cassity (alto, soprano and flute) and drummer Colleen Clark that also features a pair of young talents in pianist Hannah Meyer and bassist Carmani Edwards. The group performs four originals, Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage,” and lesser-known tunes by Mulgrew Miller, Mary Lou Williams, Jimmy Heath, and Harold Mabern on their self-titled album.

Starting with Mulgrew Miller’s speedy and boppish “Wingspan” (a tune that should be played more often), Cassity steals honors on alto, particularly during the uptempo tunes. While her flute playing is excellent and her soprano is fluent and heated on the energetic “Caro-Li-Na,” she really excels on alto during the hotter pieces including “La Tristeza” and “Something New,” displaying a memorable and individual voice.

Edwards and Clark in their mostly supportive roles keep the accompaniment stimulating while pianist Meyer proves to be a particularly strong up-and-coming soloist. Among the other highlights are the mournful “Linger,” Heath’s “Gemini” (which has some fine flute and piano solos), and the uptempo closer “There But For The Grace Of” which has the excellent young trumpeter Kellin Hanas guesting and taking a passionate solo.

Alliance is an easily recommended CD of modern jazz that contains many bright moments. It is available from www.alliancejazz.com.

 

Kenny Barron
Beyond This Place
(Pias)

 

Kenny Barron, who turns 81 this June 9, has become the grand master of jazz piano. Few jazz pianists of his (or actually any other) age are playing with as much creativity, energy and inspiration. Proof of that can be heard throughout Beyond This Place which consists of six of his originals and three standards.

Joined on various selections by altoist Immanuel Wilkins, vibraphonist Steve Nelson (who at 69 has evolved into one of the elder greats of the vibes without losing any of his energy or inventiveness), bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa, and drummer Jonhathan Blake, Barron performs a well-rounded set filled with plenty of variety.

Wilkins, who at 26 is 55 years younger than the pianist, displays plenty of versatility on this session, caressing the melody of the opening “The Nearness Of You” even during his solo, bordering on the avant-garde during his improvisation on Barron’s “Scratch,” and taking some bop-oriented solos (with a tone reminiscent of Charlie Parker) on a few other numbers. Steve Nelson is as consistently swinging as ever while Kitagawa and Blake give the music what it needs, no matter what the style.

As for Kenny Barron, he often sounds as if he is the most youthful player on the date. During a duet version of Thelonious Monk’s “We See” with Wilkins, he hints at stride piano in spots. Barron sounds equally comfortable and creative during the wild version of “Scratch,” a boppish “Tragic Magic,” and his “Blues On Stratford Street” (which is not technically a blues) in addition to romping through a duet rendition (with drummer Blake) of “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise.”

Each performance on Beyond The Place is rewarding and proof that Kenny Barron is one of jazz’s top pianists around today, more than 60 years after he became a member of the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet. This fine release is available from www.pias.com.

 

Ricky Alexander
Just Found Joy
(Turtle Bay)

While it is easy to focus on the most modern players in jazz, or the ones keeping the hard bop tradition alive, one should never overlook the fact that early jazz is still being played with fire and joy by those who love and understand the music of the 1920s and ‘30s. New York City is the home for many of America’s top trad players including Ricky Alexander.

An excellent soprano-saxophonist and clarinetist, Alexander leads the Early Bird Jazz Band, has appeared on over 30 albums, plays regularly in New York clubs and occasional festivals, and had previously led two albums for the Turtle Bay label: Strike Up The Band and I’m In Love Again (which co-starred singer Sweet Megg).

His third recording as a leader, Just Found Joy, has Alexander heading a sextet also including the masterful trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, guitarist Brennen Ernst, either Dalton Ridenhour or Jon Thomas on piano, bassist Ron Adkins, and drummer Kevin Dorn. Vanisha Gould takes vocals on four of the ten numbers while Alexander sings “Don’t Blame Me.”

Starting with “People Will Say We’re In Love” and “Sweet Lorraine” (the latter has a group vocal) and continuing with one of the hottest versions of “King Porter Stomp” recorded in many years (reminding one that that swing era anthem was actually from the 1920s), this is a delightful and joyful set. Alexander (mostly heard on soprano) brings back the passion of Sidney Bechet and contributes a fine original (“Promenade”). In addition to his heated solos, Kellso shows that he always knows how to generate sparks in the ensembles. The rhythm section with its two equally talented pianists is perfect for this style of music.

“It Had To Be You” and “Fine And Dandy” (both of which have fine Vanisha Gould vocals) are given hard-swinging treatments, “Just One Of Those Things” recalls Bechet’s spirited version, and the ensembles on “High Society” blow the roof off. Also quite noteworthy is Alexander’s clarinet playing on the uptempo “Rubber Plant Rag.” If you love trad jazz, do not hesitate to pick up Ricky Alexander’s Just Found Joy which is available from www.turtlebayrecords.com.

 

Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Live In France
(Elemental Music)

SISTER ROSETTA THARPE LIVE IN FRANCE: THE 1966 CONCERT IN LIMOGES | Sister  Rosetta Tharpe | Elemental Music Records

Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-73) was a unique performer who fit into her own musical category. While she was a gospel-oriented singer throughout her life, she was very well acquainted with swing and in fact sang and recorded with Lucky Millinder’s orchestra during 1941-43. Although she performed mostly secular material during the Millinder period and throughout her career put on shows that could be flamboyant and exciting, Tharpe mostly stuck to spirited renditions of religious music, ranking with Mahalia Jackson as the most famous gospel singer during her lifetime.

Where Tharpe sharply differed from her contemporaries is that she was also a very skilled guitarist, one who switched to electric guitar in the early 1940s. While most gospel-oriented singers that came up after 1960 tended to be strongly influenced by soul and r&b, Tharpe was from the swing era and that was reflected in both her often-dazzling guitar solos and her singing. While she has been called the “godmother of rock and roll” due to the influence that she had on later performers (including Elvis Presley who was a fan), that statement somewhat misses the point. Tharpe’s music was actually swing that crossed over into blues and folk music while generally having religious themes.

The previously unreleased concert on Live In France was recoded on Nov. 11, 1966. Sister Rosetta Tharpe is heard as a solo performer, accompanying herself on her often-rollicking guitar and taking a fair number of guitar solos. She performs such standbys as “This Train,” “Didn’t It Rain,” “Down By The Riverside,” “Joshua Fought The Battle Of Jericho,” “Traveling Shoes,” and “That’s All” with spirit, passion, joy and occasionally a bit of humor. In addition, on Up Above My Head, I Hear Music In The Air,” while the pianist is listed as “unknown,” it is clearly Tharpe.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who could have had separate careers in jazz and blues, not only felt comfortable on stage but clearly loved being there. Live In France features her in prime form and is a superb example of her musical talents. Her spirit, power and high musicianship make this discovery by producer Zev Feldman (available from www.amazon.com) highly recommended even to those who are not religious.

 

Klas Lindquist
Alternate Sources Of Energy
(TengTones)

Klas Lindquist is considered one of Sweden’s top jazz musicians of recent times. An excellent alto-saxophonist whose playing sometimes recalls Phil Woods and Cannonball Adderley although he has his own voice, his modern bop-based style is reflected in both his playing and his writing.

Alternate Sources Of Energy, a recording with his nonet, was voted the jazz album of the year in 2023 by the readers of the Swedish jazz magazine Orkesterjournalen. The recording features Lindquist’s eight compositions which he arranged to give his group the sound of a big band. The altoist’s band also includes trumpeters Karl Olandersson and Nils Janson, trombonist Magnus Wilklund, tenor-saxophonist Robert Nordmark who also plays flute, baritonist Fredrick Lindborg (doubling on bass clarinet), pianist Petter Carlson Welden, bassist Kenji Rabson, and drummer Daniel Fredriksson. All are world-class musicians who interpret Lindquist’s swinging if sometimes complex charts with ease.

The set begins with the well-titled swinger “At Ease” and stays at a consistently high level throughout. “Thorium” evolves from having an urgent theme to the feel of a ballad before it becomes more heated. The ballad “Swells” and the medium-tempo “Dream” are features for Lindquist’s clarinet while “Joey” is a catchy blues in 5/4 that features guest organist Leo Lindberg in an arrangement reminiscent of Oliver Nelson. “Nilsie” is one of the set’s real high points, a ballad showcase for Lindquist’s warm alto.

All eight selections feature excellent soloists (including one of the trumpeters), tight ensembles, and enthusiastic ensemble playing. One can understand why Alternate Sources Of Energy (available from www.amazon.com) received such high accolades in Sweden.

 

Ken Peplowski
Unheard Bird
(Arbors)

Charlie Parker considered it one of the highpoints of his career when on Nov. 30, 1949 he fulfilled his dream of recording with strings. The Bird With Strings sessions, which resulted in one classic (“Just Friends”), were among Parker’s most popular dates. Three studio sessions and three broadcasts exist of this collaboration. At the time, many jazz fans did not think highly of the project because in many cases the altoist was rather confined by the arrangements and the emphasis was on swing rather than bop tunes. Parker eventually became frustrated during the ensemble’s live sets because the string players were not improvisers and the arrangements did not give him much of a chance to stretch out.

The great clarinetist and tenor-saxophonist Ken Peplowski, with the help of some others, unearthed a series of string arrangements that Charlie Parker never had the opportunity to record. Calling this program Unheard Bird is not quite 100% accurate since “Summertime” was recorded at the first Bird with Strings studio session, “Stardust” and Gerry Mulligan’s “Gold Rush” were on the broadcasts, Neal Hefti’s “Repetition” was recorded at a stringless session, and “You Must Believe In Spring” was arranged recently by Mark Lopeman to fill out the CD, but the other nine selections fit the album’s plot. Among the most intriguing and memorable arrangements are George Russell’s “Ezz-thetic,” “Gone With The Wind,” Earl Hines’ “When I Dream Of You,” and Mercer Ellington’s “Moon Mist.”

Ken Peplowski, played alto sax in the mid-1980s but rarely since, and he makes no attempt to copy Charlie Parker. Instead he doubles on clarinet and tenor on this set, leading a group also featuring trumpeter Terell Stafford, pianist Glenn Zaleski, bassist Peter Washington, drummer Willie Jones III, five strings, harp and oboe. Unlike the Bird with Strings sessions, Peplowski is not the only one in the spotlight. In fact, on a few numbers Stafford ‘s blazing solos take honors.

Unheard Bird should greatly interest Charlie Parker collectors and fans of Ken Peplowski and Terrell Stafford. It is available from www.arborsrecords.com.

 

Marc van Vugt
The Curious Badger – Guitar Tales II.
(Baixim)

While Dutch guitarist Marc van Vugt has often performed with jazz and improvised music combos and big bands, The Curious Badger (a successor to 2022’s The Lonely Coyote) is, like its predecessor, very much a solo project.

Throughout this picturesque and often-cinematic music, van Vugt utilizes a variety of acoustic guitars on his originals. Some songs just have one or two guitars while the infectious “Dancing In The Wind” has six and the title track (depicting a meeting between two potential adversaries who decide to team up) features five including the eerie-sounding prepared harp zither.

Marc van Vugt has very impressive technique, often alternating dense chords with single-note lines, but most importantly is an instrumental storyteller. He is capable of playing heated swing, with “Black Belt” almost sounding in spots like Django Reinhardt, but on this outing he mostly creates thoughtful pieces that are quietly explorative and include colorful textures. The playing on “De Man Zonder Hoed” in particular makes one feel that they are on an adventure.

The Curious Badger is well worth a few close listens. It is available from www.marcvanvugt.com.

 

Doug Munro
Loop-Mania! 2024
(GotMusic Records)

Doug Munro is a masterful guitar virtuoso who is not shy to stretch himself and take chances in his music. Loop-Mania! 2024 is a follow-up to 2010’s Alone But Not Alone and is quite unpredictable and often eccentric.

The music is primarily performed by Munro on his overdubbed guitars and (via computer technology) drum loops and percussion. Two pieces have Jay Munford contributing some live drums and two others find Albert Rivera joining in on soprano sax.

Munro plays five diverse originals and five songs by others. Some performances are quite funky due to the drums including Django Reinhardt’s joyful “Duke & Dukie,” a very electronic “Stompin’ At The Savoy,” and “Bach & Blue.” Other selections include a brooding version of “Black Bird” that mostly dispenses with the melody, a couple pieces that have Munro singing briefly (the charming and relaxed “Wake Me Up When September Ends” is a highlight), and Rivera’s contributions to “Trinidad Hustle” (a relative of “St. Thomas”) and the second of two versions of Munro’s “Obsolete.”

Listeners with an open mind, a sense of humor, and admiration for inventive guitarists (along with a tolerance for drum loops) will enjoy Loop-Mania! 2024 which is available from www.dougmunro.com.

 

Manuel Valera Trio
Live At L’Oson’s Jazz Club
(Jammin’ Colors)

Manuel Valera - Live at l'Osons Jazz Club (CD) - Shop - Jammin'colorS

A technically skilled and inventive pianist originally from Cuba, Manuel Valera has lived in New York City since 2000. While his main influence is Keith Jarrett, Valera has his own often-dense chord voicings and an explorative style within the modern mainstream of jazz. Along the way he has worked with such notables as Arturo Sandoval, Paquito D’Rivera, Brian Lynch, and Lenny White among others. The pianist has led at least 19 albums through the years.

While joined by bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Mark Whitfield Jr. for this live set from 2019, Valera is the dominant voice throughout. He can be quite energetic as he shows on his “Sun Prelude 1,” Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence,” and (following a bass solo) a fiery “Mirage,” but he can also make each note count as on the warm and thoughtful “Ballade,” and a particularly heartfelt “Tres Palabras.” Most intriguing is his treatment of “Darn That Dream,” exploring several moods and giving one a different type of intense dream than one might expect from a piece which is usually taken as a ballad.

Live At L’Oson’s Jazz Club gives listeners a strong sampling of the talented Manuel Valera. It is available from www.jammincolors.com.

 

Greg Chako
Standard Roots
(Mint 400 Records)

Quite often jazz musicians return to their roots a few times in their careers. Greg Chako, an American guitarist who spent many years living and performing in Asia, started out his musical life playing standards in a trio with bass and drums. Since that time he has often led larger groups and focused on his originals, but on Standard Roots, he revisits his early days.

For this 2024 recording, Chako, along with bassist Mason Dougherty and drummer Michael Meloy, performs a dozen well-known jazz and Brazilian standards plus Cedar Walton’s “Cedar’s Blues.” The playing is swinging, tasteful and inventive within the hard bop, Brazilian, and straight ahead jazz tradition. While it is a throwback to the music that Chako played in the mid-1990s, there is nothing tired or overly predictable about the performances other than their consistent excellence. Everything was recorded in one take.

For jazz listeners, Standard Roots can be considered comfort food. The interpretations of such numbers as “Just Friends,” “Out Of Nowhere,” “Triste,” and “It Could Happen To You,” while not containing any shocking surprises, features enjoyable ensemble playing, high-quality solos from Chako, and fine accompaniment by Dougherty and Meloy. It makes for a nice listen that will be enjoyed by those who like 1950s/60s style jazz guitar. Standard Roots is available from www.gregchako.com.

 

Lluis Coloma and Erwin Helfer
Two Pianos Too Cool
(The Sirens Records)

Lluis Coloma is from Barcelona and Erwin Helfer has long been a fixture in Chicago. When they recorded this duet album, Coloma was 50 and Helfer (who is also well documented on other recordings from The Sirens label) was 87. Despite their geographical distance and age differences, the two pianists have similar styles, sharing a musical vocabulary rich with boogie-woogie, blues, and swing.

Their joint music is often reminiscent of Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson. Coloma and Helfer actually perform two Ammons-Johnson numbers and Pete Johnson’s “Swanee River Boogie” in addition to such classics as “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good To You,” “St. James Infirmary,” “How Long Blues,” and “Please Send Me Someone To Love.” As a soloist, Coloma is featured on three numbers including two of Helfer’s pieces.

There are times when the 11 duets get a bit overcrowded since Coloma and Helfer are two very self-sufficient pianists, but those moments pass and are well compensated for by the excitement of the players’ constant interplay and interaction.

Suffice it to say, fans of boogie-woogie piano should consider the acquisition of Two Pianos Too Cool (available from www.thesirensrecords.com) to be a must.

 

Giuseppe Doronzo/Andy Moor/Frank Rosaly
Futuro Ancestrale
(Clean Feed)

The trio of Giuseppe Doronzo (a baritone-saxophonist who also plays Iranian bagpipes as a drone on one piece), electric guitarist Andy Moor, and drummer-percussionist Frank Rosaly came together for the first time for the live performance (from June 2022) that is on this CD. Their goal was to tie together ancient musical traditions and melodies with the most modern explorations, and to a large extent they succeed.

While there are some loose themes (two of the four pieces were composed by Doronzo), much of the music on this intriguing set was freely improvised and explores sounds and tonal distortions. The inventive musicians constantly play off (or against) each other, they contrast sound with silence and, as it says in the album’s press release, the performance “is full of delightfully confounding riddles and pregnant with unanswerable mysteries.” In other words, listen to this music with an open mind and patience. The thought-provoking performances can reward several listens.

As with the label’s huge catalog of explorative and often-innovative music, Futuro Ancestrale is available from www.cleanfeed-records.com.

 

Dayramir Gonzalez
V.I.D.A.

(Self-Released)

Acclaimed Cuban Music Ambassador Dayramir González To Release New Album -  Latin Jazz Network

Part of a long line of brilliant jazz pianists from Cuba, Dayramir Gonzalez is a protégé of Chucho Valdes which is quite an endorsement of his musical talents. A professional since the age of 16, he has led his own albums since 2007.

V.I.D.A. finds Gonzalez stretching himself beyond Afro-Cuban jazz. He contributed 11 of the dozen selections (all but a modernized “The Peanut Vendor”), and doubles on electric keyboards. There are mostly brief vocals on several of the numbers along with a couple of unnecessary raps.

The main focus is on Gonzalez’s playing and he creates colorful and rhythmic improvisations during concise performances that, in all but one case, clock in around four minutes. His original material is atmospheric and sets up rhythmic grooves rather than containing memorable melodies but his playing is always spirited and full of joy with ”La Mambo Conga” and his tour-de-force “Principito – To Dayrik” being highlights.

Still, I wish that V.I.D.A. had dropped the singers/rappers since they add little to the music. V.I.D.A, which is available from www.dayramirgonzalez.com, does have its strong moments and some fine keyboard playing although I would recommend that jazz listeners acquire Dayramir Gonzalez’s previous album (The Grand Concourse) first. The pianist’s future projects will be well worth watching closely.