In which the beleaguered reviewer attempts to make some headway into the mounds of CDs seeking reviews accumulating daily by providing quick hits on a few recordings at a time.
Laurence Hobgood Charlie Haden, Kurt Elling - "When the Heart Dances"
This truly is a lovely production and a sheer delight for the ears. The dream pairing of lyrical pianist Laurence Hobgood with the venerable veteran bassist Charlie Haden would be pleasure enough, but singer Kurt Elling (with whom Hobgood has performed with for years as musical director) also makes a gracious appearance on three tunes. The almost fiendishly talented Hobgood may be the most overlooked pianist on the planet, and the interplay between him and Haden is magical. The duo was recorded by True Stereo's Ken Christianson (who brought this group together) at the Roy O. Disney Music Hall at CalArts in Valencia, CA, and the recording brilliantly picks up the sound of the Steinway D piano and Haden's woody acoustic bass. This warm, well-balanced, audiophile recording picks up all of the nuances and makes it seem as if the listener is in the room with these performers. Sounds range from a stellar version of "Que Sera Sera" to Hoagy Carmichael ("New Orleans'), Duke Ellington ("Daydream") and Don Grolnick ("The Cost of Living") and originals by both Hobgood and Haden. Elling is in fine form on the bassist's "First Song," a luscious take on "Stairway to the Stars" and the Ellington track, while Hobgood is squarely in the spotlight on a couple of original solo tracks as well ("Sanctuary," "Chickoree"). This is a first rate recording, combining exceptional musicians performing great tunes and recorded in natural and appealing manner, what more could you ask for? It will have your heart dancing.
Harry Skoler - "Two Ones"
Clarinet fans will want to pick up a copy (or two) of Harry Skoler's "Two Ones." The Berklee associate professor and Jimmy Giuffre-protege is again paired with his Berklee colleague, professor, pianist and vibraphonist Ed Saindon on his fourth recording as a leader. (Check out our review of Ed's Depth of Emotion here)On the first half of the recording, these two virtuosos are backed by tasteful bass, drum and flute players connected with the school, while the second half consists of duets. All of the songs are originals penned by either Saindon, or a combination of Skoler and Saindon and veer toward a more traditional approach, yet with a fresh feel. The results are pure magic, with exceptional give and take between two men who are very familiar with each other's styles and willing to complement one another. Saindon is truly wonderful both on piano as well as utilizing his four-mallet pianistic approach on vibes. Skoler meanwhile combines a clear, rich, attractive tone with a romantic melancholic longing. Hard to pick highlights because everything here is so solid, and as good as the quintet work is, it is a compliment that the duet half seems just as strong and enjoyable.
Jason Hainsworth - "Kaleidoscope"
It is so great to hear a recording like this that should give jazz lovers hope that there are some of the younger generation striving to assume the mantle of responsibility in composing and arranging large scale jazz ensemble music for the present day and the future. Young Florida-based saxophonist/composer, Jason Hainsworth takes his stuff up to NYC and combines here with fellow former Floridian and mentor Mike Dease (who produced the album, assisted by trumpeter Thomas Barber), along with a superb cast of great players, including fellow Dease proteges alto saxophonist Sharel Cassity, Robert Edwards (see here for our review of his Let's Cool One also produced by Dease, who is emerging as a producer of note), up-and-coming young bassist Linda Oh, tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon and trumpet great Claudio Roditi to perform original compositions and energetic and interesting arrangements of standards. The stirring opener is Cole Porter's "I Concentrate on You" - complete with a clever "acapella ensemble half-chorus," while Hainsworth originals like "Matriarch" and "Something Stolen, Something Blue" reveal a young composer with promise. The arrangements show Hainsworth to have considerable talent and the young players attack the compositions with abandon. Wonderful solos by all, including Dease on "When I Fall in Love," and Hainsworth himself adds some nice work in a couple places. Perhaps my favorite is the original Bossa-ballad, "Marcilienne" with both Hainsworth and Dease taking center stage. Hope to hear more from this talented composer.
Henning Sieverts Symmetry - "Blackbird"
German bassist Henning Sieverts has assembled somewhat of an international supergroup to play his intriguing compositions and a couple arrangements of other's work (yes, that is the Beatles' "Blackbird" although here mutated and paired with a German folk song). Fellow German improvisers, pianist Achim Kaufmann and trombonist Johannes Lauer are joined by American cutting edge artists (and fellow Claudia Quintet members) Chris Speed on clarinet and tenor saxophone, and drummer extraordinaire John Hollenbeck. Sieverts dedicates songs to modernistic classical composers Arnold Schoenberg ("Gale in Night, Nightingale") and Oliver Messiaen ("O.M.'s Birthday"), and abstract artist Paul Klee ("Twittering Machine") - all of them seemingly quite apt choices for the compositions. As can be seen by the song titles (Messiaen composed using bird calls, and Klee's machine was the title of one of his paintings) a "bird" theme runs throughout the album, with owls, penguins and more making appearances. The songs themselves are intricately constructed and complex with unusual time changes, scales and rhythms, but that doesn't mean they are academic exercises. On the contrary, the music is especially listenable, with great playing by all involved. Hollenbeck is rapidly becoming one of my favorite drummers and he shines here again with precise work and expressive drum sounds. This is a recording that may surprise people with its appeal, I highly recommend giving it a chance.
Jason Marsalis - "Music Update"
Anyone who has ever seen the youngest Marsalis brother, drummer Jason, in concert can understand where he got the nickname "Discipline." Sitting straight upright with perfect posture (unlike the majority of drummers who are hunched crab-like over the kit) and a serious demeanor, his playing reveals years of studiously playing in classical, traditional jazz and multiple other styles of drumming. With considerable taste and seemingly effortless motion, Marsalis exhibits a command of ratamacues, flams and paradiddles that calls to mind the disciplined playing of his classically-trained brothers. On his latest release, Music Update, Marsalis again entertains with solo drum compositions where he builds layers of drum tracks into interesting collages of sound and rhythm. He also steps out in front of a young bass/drum & piano trio from Houston, TX, and performs instead on the vibraphone, and instrument he has been taking seriously since 2000. Marsalis shows he has absorbed lessons from the masters like Bobby Hutcherson, Milt Jackson and Lionel Hampton (whose "Midnight Sun" is covered here, and with whom the young man toured), but adds twists of his own. For example, "Ballet Class" merges classical gentility with the blues in a compelling manner. The "Discipline" series of drum pieces should really delight other drummers, but also anyone who likes to listen to the drums. "Discipline Returns Again," "Discipline Vacations in Asia," "Discipline Mellows Out" will intrigue listeners with the wonderful way the drummer combines his various patterns to create his own drum combo or marching band. And the hilarious "Discipline Spotted Baby and Zutty at Studio 54" mixes the styles of golden era New Orleans jazz drummers Baby Dodds and Zutty Singleton with disco in a manner to suggest there is indeed a great sense of humor under all the seriousness and discipline.
Brian Woodruff - "The Tarrier"
(Crow's Kin Records)
Drummer/composer/bandleader Woodruff touches on a wide range of jazz styles from the '50s through the present day on The Tarrier. The title track starts things off as a jaunty blues shuffle, "Dijon Dance" recalls Jackie McLean and is dedicated to Jack DeJohnette, "Be Still (While I Remove the Wart)" is a bluesy number influenced by John Scofield, "Chorale" has Charlie Haden-esque classical influences, "Into the Fire" was inspired by Wayne Shorter... You get the picture. The bandleader is assisted by a front line of Lisa Parrott on saxes, Jacob Varmus on trumpet and cornet and Alan Ferber on trombone, and his clever charts give the players lots of room to stretch out and interact with Woodruff and solid bassist Matt Clohesy. Also appearing and adding excellent work is the seemingly ubiquitous guitarist Nate Radley, who provides the chord framework with nice comping as well as some scintillating solos. Although Woodruff gives his associates ample space, his drums center everything and his playing is steady and playful in nature. Paying tribute to his many influences, The Tarrieris a pleasurable recording to tarry over.
Andy Sheppard - Movements in Color
British-born saxophonist Andy Sheppard may be best known here in America for his excellent work with Carla Bley, but he is well-known in Europe as a composer and bandleader in his own right. His own work is expressive and melodic, but also features world-music percussion styles. Movements in Color, continues in this vein with a strong cast of European musicians joined by tabla-player/percussionist Kuljit Bharma. The songs have an enjoyable African ("Nave Nave Moe," "We Shall Not Go to Market Today") and Latin feel (the moody ballad "Ballarina") with some brief moments of atmospherics and tasteful electronics. Two guitarists - one electric and one acoustic - provide a nice contrast, while acoustic bassist Arild Andersen nearly steals the show when he rips off a flamenco-flavored solo on "La Tristesse Du Roi." Sheppard creates pleasant lines over the mostly upbeat and airy music which is as relaxing as a peaceful gondola ride.
Sorgen - Rust - Stevens Trio - "A Scent in Motion"
Michael Jefry Stevens is a Memphis-based pianist/composer who leads several different groups. Well-known in Europe, he is sadly unrecognized and undervalued here in the States. His recording, For Andrew (see our review here.) is an exhilarating, outing, while this one, recorded in 1994 and released this year, is also exceptional and serves to add to his growing reputation. With bassist Steve Rust and drummer Harvey Sorgen, this outstanding trio runs the gamut from rocking ("Sentry") to left-of-center balladic ("Fairy Tale," Something You Said") with out and out improv ("Camco"), avant-leaning excursions ("Cpac," "Freedom of Choice") and moody atmospheres ("Magic Meadow" ). Bassist Rust shares the songwriting burden with Stevens and brings a muscular bass to the scene (love his quote of "Someone to Watch Over Me" on "Magic Meadow"), while Sorgen is an imaginative, sensitive force on his kit. Stevens is fearless, bringing a Andrew Hill-esque love of daring piano adventures to a new audience. Many great pieces, played very well with great feeling from the trio, ending with Stevens' highly memorable "Spirit Song." I would hope that imaginative and open-minded listeners here in the US would tune into Stevens and his compatriots as they are making music that speaks to the true essence of jazz for the future.
Bob Albanese Trio with Ira Sullivan
It is always a treat to discover a great musician that you have never heard of before. Bob Albanese is a veteran pianist/composer and arranger who has played with The Duke Ellington Orchestra, Buddy Rich, Anita O'Day, Wayne Marsh, Bob Mover, Ben Vereen and many more. He has appeared in countless commercials and as a solo pianist at the Rainbow Room in NYC. I was introduced to his work on this new album, and I must say I can't believe that he has not received more attention in the past, because this album is an impressive one. One might say the presence of the always-welcome Ira Sullivan on sax and flute is the drawing card, but the stellar trio work of Albanese, bassist Tom Kennedy and drummer Willard Dyson is so good that the appearance of Sullivan is the frosting on this already well-baked cake. This is a solid and quite pleasing collection of Albanese-pened originals and covers, including an outstanding version of Monk's "Ugly Beauty," transposed to 4/4 time and showcasing Sullivan's luminous flute. Albanese takes "straight-ahead" (I hate that term) jazz and pushes it to the limits with fascinating and rich harmonic directions and time changes. His playing on the piano is a joyous revelation (he "dances" on the keys) and he is strongly supported by the fine playing by the veteran duo of Kennedy and Dyson. Check out the metamorphosed samba on "Morning Nocturne" as just one example. In the liner notes, Sullivan explains that these tracks were mostly recorded in one take with no rehearsal and as a result the music is fresh and alive. He also brought the old tune "Yesterday's Gardenias" (associated with Glenn Miller), which is a brilliant and swinging highlight. Tough to get this one out of the CD player. Hopefully this release will direct more attention to this talented pianist and bring him out from under the radar.