Uncle John’s Band
Throughout his long and productive career which reaches back to the 1970s, John Scofield has always had his own instantly recognizable sound on guitar. He has appeared in a wide variety of contexts and styles, from a bit rockish to funky with occasional straight ahead projects. No matter the project, he consistently adds creativity and his distinctive sound to uplift the music.
The double-CD Uncle John’s Band features the guitarist in the perfect setting for his playing at this point of his career, in a trio with bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Bill Stewart. The loose and laidback setting gives Scofield the freedom to think aloud at his guitar, making use of space, dynamics, and spontaneous melodic ideas.
The repertoire, which includes such numbers as Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” some fairly freely played folk music, Bud Powell’s Budo,” Neil Young’s “Old Man,” “Stairway To the Stars” (inspired by Dexter Gordon’s version), Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere,” the beboppish “Ray’s Idea,” and the title cut (composed by Jerry Garcia) is quite eclectic. But no matter what its origin, the music has a strong unity with intuitive playing by Archer (who has occasional solos) and Stewart that gives Scofield a strong foundation in which to come up with free, fresh and generally melodic statements. Uncle John’s Band, which is heartily recommended, is available from www.amazon.com.
What The World Needs Now
During a long period when the number of significant male jazz singers can be counted on one’s fingers, it seems strange that JD Walter is not much better known outside of New York. When he improvises on slower material or holds long notes, he recalls Betty Carter while his wilder flights hint at Mark Murphy. Despite those references, Walter actually sounds unlike anyone else. He is a constant improviser and, even when tackling a familiar tune (such as the title cut of this new CD), he makes the music brand new.
On his 11th album as a leader, Walter mostly performs lesser-known material other than “It Never Entered My Mind” and “What The World Needs Now.” On Stevie Wonder’s “Golden Lady,” his very inventive scatting completely reinvents the tune, assisted by the powerhouse piano of Jean-Michel Pilc. The personnel changes from song-to-song and includes such notables on one or two tunes apiece as soprano-saxophonist Dave Liebman (outstanding on the memorable Walter original “Keisha’s Coy”), pianists Taylor Eigsti and Orrin Evans, and trumpeter John Swana (on the Nat King Cole ballad “Beautiful Moons Ago”). Both Tony Marino and Steve Varner play bass on the atmospheric “Tell Her I Said Hello” which has a heartbreaking vocal.
Despite the rotating personnel, this CD has a strong unity with JD Walter’s chance taking singing (particularly memorable on the ballad “I Was Telling Her About You”) tying the music together. Walter never sings the expected and his choice of notes is quite original and unpredictable.
The World Needs Now rewards repeated listenings and is a perfect place to be introduced to the inventive singing of JD Walter. It is available from www.arkadiarecords.com.
Danny Jonokuchi Big Band
(Outside In Music)
While Danny Jonokuchi is a fine trumpeter and singer, he does not play or sing a note on Voices. Instead it is his big band arrangements for 11 different vocalists (who sing one standard apiece) that are the focus.
Every one of these jazz singers is, at a minimum, excellent and they each sound a bit inspired by the 17-piece big band. Featured are Alexa Barchini, Tahira Clayton, Nicole Zuraitis, Brianna Thomas, Shenel Johns, Alita Moses, Charles Turner (the only male among the vocalists), Lucy Yeghiazaryan, Sirintip, Martina DaSilva, and Hannah Gill. While most are far from being household names, their consistent excellence is a testament to the large number of high-quality jazz singers on the scene today.
Normally in a project such as this one, the singers would dominate. However Danny Jonokuchi’s arrangements for his orchestra are not only complementary but memorable by themselves, and there is plenty of solo space for his talented sidemen. Unfortunately the very limited packaging (which has no liner notes) does not include an identification of who solos where. Perhaps best known among the players are trumpeters James Zollar, Scott Wendholt and Bruce Harris, trombonist Jason Jackson, and altoist Christopher McBride but that is no guarantee that they are the main soloists although one can certainly identify pianist Jeb Patton.
Despite that reservation, Voices is certainly recommended. Jonokuchi’s reworkings of such songs as “The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else,” “You Turned The Tables On Me,” “What A Difference A Day Made,” “Blame It On My Youth,” “So Many Stars,” and “All Or Nothing at All” not only revive the veteran standards but gives them new life through the many subtle surprises. Each of the vocalists sound like they are regular parts of the band and the overall results are joyous. Voices is available from www.outsideinmusic.com.
Miles Davis Quintet
In Concert At The Olympia Paris 1957
While most of Miles Davis’ large output of recordings is readily available, new sets of previously unreleased music, particularly from the 1950s, are quite rare.
In 1957, the trumpeter was between groups. His first classic quintet with John Coltrane had broken up and Coltrane was working with Thelonious Monk. After recording Miles Ahead with the Gil Evans Orchestra and having short-term quintets with Sonny Rollins or Bobby Jaspar on tenor, Davis went to Paris for a few weeks. He headed a group overseas that included tenor-saxophonist Barney Wilen (just 19 but showing a lot of potential), pianist Rene Urtreger, bassist Pierre Michelot. and American expatriate Kenny Clarke. The group improvised music on Dec. 4-5 that was prominently used in the soundtrack of the French film Elevator To The Gallows, and their Dec. 8 concert in Amsterdam was released years ago as a double-Lp by the Celluloid label.
However Davis’ Paris concert of Nov. 30, 1957, which was broadcast on the radio, had only been partially released previously (six of the 12 selections are on an album by the RLR label but with inferior sound) and the original reel-to-reel tapes were only recently discovered after being stored away for over six decades. Happily, Fresh Sound (www.freshsoundrecords.com) recently released all dozen songs with excellent sound quality on this new CD.
In addition to new versions of songs from his earlier repertoire (including “Four,” “Tune Up,” and “Walkin’”), one gets to hear Miles Davis play such rare material as a beautiful ballad rendition of “What’s New” and Sonny Rollins’ “No Moe.” Davis is in fine form throughout the set, Wilen (who is well featured) keeps up with the fast company, and the rhythm section is top-notch.
This is an important release in the Miles Davis discography, showing that he was in happy spirits during a European tour just a short time before he put together his super sextet with Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley.
Arranger-composer Kris Berg has been the director of Jazz Studies at Collin College near Dallas for 20 years and has led the Metroplexity Big Band in Dallas for quite some time. Back in 2012, he recorded the highly-rated This Time/Last Year with his big band for the Mama label.
Perspective finds his orchestra augmented on various tracks by such guests as trumpeter Randy Brecker (in top form on a reworking of his “Sponge”), altoist Eric Marienthal (showcased on “Footprints’ which is turned into a real production number), and flutist Sal Lozano (featured on Joe Henderson’s “Recorda-Me”). But even with the notables’ contributions, it is the colorful and inventive arrangements, along with Berg’s world class players, who really make Perspective (available from www.summitrecords.com) a must for fans of modern big bands.
“Modern Peck-nology” begins with the orchestra warming up in free-form fashion before it digs into the funky chart. The raging ensembles on “Sponge” are memorable as are the passionate and generally high-powered playing by the full band on each piece including “Perspective.” Among the many superior soloists are tenor-saxophonists Brian Gorrell and Keith Oshiro (who is perfect for the laidback swinging of “Cool Man Jack”), pianist Kent Ellingson, drummers John Simon and Gregg Bissonette, trombonist Tom Malone, and soprano-saxophonist Bruce Bohnstengel (on the well-titled “Adventures”) although all of the other featured players are also on the same high level.
While one could give a much more detailed play-by-play, suffice it to say that Kurt Berg’s Perspective is one of the most exciting big band albums of the year.
Otmaro Ruiz/Bruno Mangueira
Otmaro Ruiz (originally from Venezuela) is one of the great jazz pianists of the past 30 years. Bruno Mangueira is a brilliant guitarist who was born and raised in Brazil. In 2020 the two teamed up as a duo on Essencia and plenty of musical fireworks took place.
Ruiz and Mangueira contributed four originals apiece (the latter’s “Samba Pro Toninho” has a particularly memorable melody) and also perform two other pieces. The pianist and the guitarist effortlessly switch between being the lead voice and the accompanist without a moment’s hesitation. They have many stirring tradeoffs while making everything sound
effortless. There are arranged passages but it is sometimes difficult to know what is being improvised and what was composed since one is a logical outgrowth of the other.
While both of the musicians are virtuosos, they never let their masterful techniques overwhelm or overshadow the music, and they work very much as a team. They may be colorful individualists but they blend together their musical personalities so smoothly that they consistently sound like one musician with four hands, whether it is on ballads (such as “The Simple Life” and the thoughtful waltz “Terra Batida”) or uptempo romps such as “O Escultor De Sons” and “Living Pictures.”
Retreat To Beauty
Antoine Drye, who was born in Washington D.C., has worked with many New Orleans-associated artists (including Ellis, Delfeayo and Jason Marsalis, Wycliffe Gordon, Kermit Ruffins and Henry Butler) and has recorded with such notables as Harold Battiste, Rashied Ali, Tim Warfield, and Lafayette Harris Jr.
For his recording debut as a leader, the trumpeter performs a ballad-oriented set while joined by strings, a rhythm section with pianist Sullivan Fortner, and background horns. Isaac Raz wrote the lush arrangements with Drye being in the forefront throughout.
The music includes warm versions of such songs as “Isfahan,” “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” “The Peacocks,” Thelonious Monk’s “Reflections,” “Send In the Clowns,” “Laura,” and “Goodbye” along with some more recent pieces including two originals by the late pianist Jonathan Lafcoski. A bonus cut, “Ringing In The Bells,” has a vocal by Kim Kimistri Kalesti.
As with the famous Clifford Brown with strings album, Drye’s playing is melodic with some outbursts of subtle creativity during the lush set. While I wish that a few uptempo pieces were included for variety, Antoine Drye’s beautiful and restrained playing is impressive throughout Retreat To Beauty, a fine outing that is available from www.cellarmusicgroup.com.
Jim Self-John Chiodini Quintet
Touch And Go
(Basset House Music)
Touch And Go is a West Coast cool jazz date with a twist. The brilliant tuba player Jim Self is the lead voice in the group’s ensembles and one of the main soloists. He blends in very well with trumpeter Ron Stout and co-leader guitarist John Chiodini while bassist Ken Wild and drummer Kendall Kay have important supportive roles.
Self (who doubles on the fluba, an instrument that he designed that is a cross between a tuba and a flugelhorn) and Chiodini had previously recorded a pair of duet albums. For this project they wanted a larger group while retaining a quiet sound. They could not have picked a more suitable trumpeter/flugelhornist than the mellow-toned Ron Stout whose concise solos are quite complementary to the playing of Self. Chiodini’s guitar playing is as fluent as ever while the tasteful playing of Wild and Kay is as much felt as heard.
The repertoire is comprised of standards (among them “Ain’t Misbehavin,’” “Lament,” “Whisper Not,” and “Dig”), worthy obscurities, and two originals apiece by the co-leaders. A particular highlight is a beautiful version of Benny Carter’s “Only Trust Your Heart” arranged by Stout that is played by a fluba-flugelhorn-guitar trio. Other standouts include the thoughtful tuba-guitar duet on “Susanne” and the inventive and fresh Ken Wild arrangement of J.J. Johnson’s “Lament.” With colorful writing also provided by the co-leaders, Joey Sellers, and Lou Rovner, each of the dozen selections is well worth savoring. The attractive sound of West Coast cool jazz is not heard often enough these days and this is a prime example of its subtle beauty.
Touch And Go, a well-conceived set of melodic and lightly swinging music, is highly recommended and available from www.jimself.com.
My Heart Speaks
One of the major Brazilian composers (some would say the most significant since Antonio Carlos Jobim), Ivan Lins is perhaps best known for “Love Dance” and “The Island” although he has written around 600 other songs. Lins is also quite effective as a quietly emotional singer of his own pieces.
My Heart Speaks is a special project that features Lins singing a set of his songs. Eight of the 11 selections have him accompanied by the 91-piece Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra arranged by Kuno Schmid. Throughout this album, he is also joined by a top-notch rhythm section comprised of pianist Josh Nelson, guitarist Leo Amuedo, bassist Carlitos Del Puerto, and drummer Mauricio Zottarelli. Three songs utilize other singers. Jane Monheit wrote the English lyrics to two songs with one apiece sung by her and Dianne Reeves. In addition, Will Jennings penned the English lyrics to a song sung by Tawanda while trumpeter Randy Brecker is a featured guest on “Missing Miles.”
While this is essentially an easy-listening set of medium-tempo ballads, there has always been a jazz sensibility to Ivan Lins’ music. The occasional piano solos of Nelson stretch the tunes a bit, and some of Lins’ singing (including on the melancholy “Missing Miles”) is wordless, swinging in its own way.
Fans of Ivan Lins and those who love lush string orchestras leavened with a bit of jazz will most enjoy this worthy effort, available from www.resonancerecords.org.
Playfully is a special project for singer Monika Ryan. In a world full of war, fiery arguments, and tension, her goal was to create playful new music that would uplift listener’s spirits. She composed 11 songs that achieve that worthy task.
Joined by pianist Steve Einerson (who has some fine solos), bassist Rene Hart, and drummer Alvester Garnett, the singer performs such originals as “Let Me Love The Whole Of You,” “You Are Magic To Me,” “Reason To Be Happy,” and “Living Thoughtfully.” She displays a lovely voice, swings at each tempo, and puts the focus on her optimistic lyrics.
Listening to Playfully will certainly put one in a good mood, and it is a good excuse to hear some joyful and thoughtful songs by a very good singer. It is available from www.resensitize.com.
Javier Rosario Trio
Javier Rosario is a powerful fusion-oriented guitarist who has the ability to play very fast, or slow down and state an original melody with sincere emotions. On V2 Yes, a 26-minute EP, he is joined by bassist Scott Kiefner and drummer Zak King for seven of his originals.
While one can compare Rosario to such masterful and occasionally ferocious guitarists as Scott Henderson, Jeff Beck and John McLaughlin, he has his own sound within the improvising rock tradition. And while he often leaps from his melody statements into fiery double-time runs, he also knows how to use space and dynamics, and keeps his statements fairly concise. While Rosario is the lead voice, he gives Kiefner some solo space and there is plenty of close interplay between the three musicians.
Javier Rosario displays a lot of potential on V2 Yes! (which is available from www.javierrosarioguitar.com) and it will be interesting to see in what musical direction he travels in the future.
The New Wonders
Most trad jazz groups that emulate music from the 1920s are either small hot jazz combos or large dance bands. The New Wonders, which is led by cornetist Mike Davis, is a bit different.
The septet, which also includes Ricky Alexander on clarinet and alto, trombonist Joe McDonough, banjoist Jared Engel, pianist Dalton Ridenhour, bass saxophonist Jay Rattman, and drummer Jay Lepley, plays melodic and danceable jazz that would have fit in well in the Chicago or New York music scene of 1928-29. The New Wonders are named after the cornet model that was played by Bix Beiderbecke. While Bix is an influence on Davis’ playing and at least four of the 13 songs on their self-titled album were recorded by Beiderbecke, there was no attempt to copy his solos and the band’s dance band style is more reminiscent of the California Ramblers.
Four of the seven musicians (Davis, Alexander, Rattman and Lepley) are listed as taking vocals although most are by Davis. Despite their charm, the period vocals tend to be throwaway choruses (which was true on many late ‘20s recordings) while, in Eddie Condon’s words, “not hurting anyone.” There are many concise solos heard throughout the numbers although I wish that the band could have cut loose much more. But since the intent was to record new versions of vintage material as if these were new 78s, the performances generally clock in at 3 minutes or less and the individual statements are brief.
It is fun to hear spirited revivals of such numbers as “Flamin’ Mamie,” “I’m More Than Satisfied,” “I’d Rather Cry Over You,” “Clorinda,” Tiny Parham’s “Jungle Crawl,” and the truly obscure “I’m Walking Between The Raindrops.” Each of the horn players gets their moments to
shine, the ensembles are clean and fit into the time period, and the group’s enthusiasm is equaled by their musicianship.
Fans of 1920s jazz will certainly enjoy this fine effort which is available from www.turtlebayrecords.com.
(Messy House Records)
Oklahoma, a groundbreaking Broadway musical from 1943 and a hit movie from 1955, has a classic score by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Three of its songs caught on big: “Oh, What A Beautiful Morning,” “People Will Say We’re In Love,” and “The Surrey With The Fringe On Top” with the latter becoming a jazz standard.
Jazz singer Audrey Silver, who has a very attractive voice, performs nine of the songs from Oklahoma on her CD. She is joined by pianist-arranger Bruce Barth and guitarist Peter Bernstein, with Adam Kolker (alto flute and bass clarinet) on three numbers, percussionist Kahlil Kwame Bell on two, and a string quartet added on three songs. In addition, Ms. Silver plays a Native American flute on the first of two versions of the title cut since the role of Native Americans (which was in the original novel) was eliminated from the play and the movie.
Audrey Silver’s singing, Barth’s arrangements, and the solos of Barth and Bernstein turn the songs into jazz. In addition to the three hits, such numbers as “Many A New Day,” “Out Of My Dreams,” “Kansas City,” “Boys And Girls Like You And Me,” and even “I Cain’t Say No” are turned into creative jazz while paying tribute to the original melody and lyrics.
The results will please those who enjoy Audrey Silver’s accessible and very musical singing, and lovers of Oklahoma.
Originally from Barcelona, Spain, Olivia Pérez Collellmir (who teaches at Berklee) is an impressive pianist whose playing combines her roots in Catalan and flamenco music with classical music and jazz. Olivia is her first full-length album and it finds her in a variety of settings.
Six brief (under one-minute apiece) solo piano “Promenades” are heard between the lengthier performances. “Cancó I Dansa VI” showcases her jazz playing in a trio, “Angelico” has Perez-Collellmir playing a flamenco-flavored piece, and she also performs a melody by Ravel (“Le Tombeau de Couperin”) in a duet with cellist Naseem Alatrash.
The other four selections have Olivia in larger ensembles that include vocalists and, in two cases, strings. She explores Indian music (“Together” which features singer Shradha Ganesh), flamenco. and a classical-oriented piece, displaying her versatility and ease in several idioms.
Hopefully in the future Olivia Pérez-Collellmir will have the opportunity to record an instrumental album that lets her stretch out more on piano. But for now, Olivia is an impressive debut by a promising young artist. It is available from www.oliviaperezcollellmir.com.
Fabrice Alleman is a Belgium saxophonist who plays soprano, tenor and clarinet. In his career he has worked with such notables as Toots Thielemans, Terence Blanchard, Randy Brecker, Kenny Werner, and Hiram Bullock among others. On Clarity, the first of his new trilogy for the Igloo label, Alleman sticks exclusively to soprano sax.
He is joined by pianist Nicola Andrioli, bassist Jean-Louis Rassinfosse, Mimi Verderame or Armando Luongo on drums, the great veteran guitarist Philip Catherine (for two songs), percussionist Michel Seba (on one number), and during two selections by the string section of the Budapest Scoring Orchestra. Comprised of Alleman originals, Clarity emphasizes singable melodies and melodic playing with Alleman generally in the lead.
Alleman has a beautiful vibratoless tone and a relaxed lyrical style that features him improvising by building on each piece’s theme and mood. The opener, “Assisi,” is a ballad waltz with strings which is followed by “Su Un” which has a strong melody and passionate playing by Alleman, the medium-tempo “Long Road,” and the soulful strut “Just Take It As It Is.” The latter has Alleman whistling in tribute to Toots Thielemans. Other pieces include “Spirit – Can A Simple Song Touch The Souls?” (the answer is yes), an oddly-titled but pleasing “Super Jazz Anthem,” the mellow “Clement” (a duet with Catherine), and a warm “Eyes Closed.”
Throughout the set, Fabrice Alleman makes each note count, pianist Andrioli excels as both an accompanist and a soloist, and the rhythm section is subtle but quietly creative. It makes for a pleasing listen. Clarity is available from www.igloorecords.be and www.amazon.com.
Live At the Blue Llama, Vol. 2
While organ trios featuring guitar and drums were extremely popular in the 1960s, they fell out of favor for a time in the 1970s when fusion and electric keyboards were dominant. However in the 1980s, with the rise of Joey DeFrancesco, the organ combo returned and it still a vital part of the jazz scene today.
Guitarist Alex Anest, who is based in Michigan, has released 14 albums as a leader. Live At The Blue Llama Vol. 2 teams him with organist Corey Kendrik and drummer Gayelynn McKinney, two excellent local players. This double-Lp has one Anest original (the thoughtful “Where’s Timmy”) and eight other pieces that range from standards to obscurities. Highlights include Duke Pearson’s catchy “Chant,” Charles Lloyd’s “Sweet Georgia Bright,” and Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance.”
Anest has a style that sometimes recalls the single-note lines of Grant Green although he also displays his own musical personality. Kendrick is a throwback to the classic organ sound of the 1960s while McKinney’s drumming is supportive and occasionally assertive, particularly during the uptempo pieces and her solos.
The music on this set will definitely please fans of the classic organ trio. It is available from www.anestmusic.com.