In which the beleaguered reviewer attempts to make some headway into the mounds of CDs received on a daily basis by providing a quick review of a few recordings at a time.
Luciano Troja - "At Home With Zyndars"
Ask the typical Chicagoan on the street if they have heard of Earl Zindars and the answer invariably will be "no" - which is a shame, since this well-regarded jazz and classical composer was born in Chicago (in 1927), graduated from DePaul and Northwestern (masters in music composition) and was a percussionist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the late 1950s. If you have heard of Zindars it may well be due to his longtime friendship with iconic pianist Bill Evans, for whom Zindars wrote many famous compositions, including "My Love is an April Song," "Mother of Earl," "Soiree," "Elsa" and "How My Heart Sings." Bill Cunliffe released an album (How My Heart Sings) of Zindars songs arranged for sextet in 2003, but Italian pianist Luciano Troja's new project - At Home With Zindars differs in that it is a solo piano outing and features 14 songs written by Zindars - many of which have never been previously recorded. The package also includes a booklet filled with photos and facts about this overlooked composer's life. Zindars was - along with Evans and Brubeck - one of the first jazz pianists to experiment with using different time signatures - often using both 3/4 and 4/4 within the same song. Zindars also shared Evans' love of the late romantic and impressionist classical composers like Debusssy, Chopin and Ravel, and this influence led to the creation of some of the most harmonically beautiful and introspective writing for the piano. Thankfully Troja - an impressive soloist - and one of Europe's leading lights on the piano - has brought these lovely pieces into the light of day. A song like "Four Times Round" - with its four sections separated by a descending minor third - is a perfect example of Zindars' innovation, while also displaying his "profound simplicity." "Lullaby for Helene" is another piece recorded by Evans - and Troja displays his love for this simple song with a memorable version. He also adds an original - "Earl and Bill" - that clearly recalls the style of both men. The songs presented reveal a coherent Zindars style and include the last song he wrote before his death in 2005 - the haunting "Roses for Annig" - written for his wife as he was in the throes of his final illness. A delight throughout - my current favorite is the two-part version of "Sareen Jurer - The Mountain's Water" - where Troja arranges the music to dramatically envoke a waterfall down a mountainside. Listening to At Home With Zindars is like finding an unexpected treasure trove of new musical delights.
Sergio Mendes - "Bom Tempo"
Brazilian legend Sergio Mendes continues his resurgence - started with 2006's Timeless (co-produced by the Black Eyed Peas will i am) - by continuing to rework his catalog by mixing those songs with modern hip-hop touches like heavier beats, sampling and rapping, while still maintaining the addictive and seductive feel of the originals. On Bom Tempo. he brings back old favorites like "Emorio," "Ye-Me-Leh," and the Stevie Wonder-penned "The Real Thing" (from The New Brazil 77and it is truly clear that Mendes (who continually reinvented Brasil66 as 77 and 88) has not allowed time to pass him by when you notice he is selling ring tones of his songs in the album booklet and also released a companion "remix" album (Bom Tempo Brasil). Adding to the carnival-type atmosphere is the stellar band - Mendes and Mika Mutti on keyboards, with bassists Alphonso Johnson and Nathan Watts, drummers Mike Shapiro and Vinnie Colaiuta, guitarists Paul Jackson Jr. and Jack Madjecki, a crack horn section led by Scott Mayo, and of course the vocalists and rappers - Gracinha Leporace. Katie Hampton, Nayanna Haley, Seu Jorge, Jessica Taylor, Bimbo Jones and many more. Milton Nascimento makes a guest appearance singing one of his songs in his well-worn voice - the moody lullaby "Caxanga (Kah-Shun-Gah)," while Jobim's "So Tinha De Ser Com Voce (It Had to Be You)" is given an extremely exciting uptempo performance - with catchy vocals from Leporace - which ends the album on a high note. Other highlights include "Maracatu Atomico" with Seu Jorge on lead vocals, and the opening number "Emorio" (written by Gilberto Gil and Joao Donato) - which features Brazilian singer/percussionist/guitarist Carlinhos Brown rapping and playing. This talented performer also contributes and sings/plays on two songs that stand out, the previously recorded "Magalenha," and new "You and I" - a delightful duet with Holley which should be the hit single of the album. Pink may "get the party started," but Mendes' mix of modern Brazilian music will keep it going - providing the perfect blend of romance and fun. And speaking of mixes, the mix album gives remixers like Bimbo Jones, Paul Oakenfold, Kaskade and Moto Blanco the chance to strip the vocals, pump up the beat and focus on creating rhythms that I suspect will have dance floors across the world packed with gyrating party people.
Contact - "Five on One"
Talk about your supergroups: the five members of Contact: saxophonist Dave Liebman, guitarist John Abercrombie, pianist Marc Copland, drummer Billy Hart and bassist Drew Gress, have played together in various incarnations over the years, but this is the first occasion all five have been involved together in a recording - and it is a welcome moment for jazz fans indeed. Abercrombie's "Sendup" starts things off brightly - Liebman's glorious soprano sax floating above Abercrombie's intricate knots and Copland's piano sheen. Gress - the youngest member - is especially vibrant, while Hart displays his veteran touch on this jaunty number. All of the members function as equals and contribute compositions. Gress' "Like it Never Was" is a moody stroll down a street of broken dreams, while Copland's ballad "Childmoon Smile" is an achingly gorgeous number. Abercrombie provides a fun free jazz entry "Four on One" - which recalls Ornette Coleman, while Liebman and wife Caris Visentin offer the pleasing mid-tempo "Lost Horizon." Liebman switches over to tenor on Abercrombie's "Retractable Cell" with nice results. Gress' "My Refrain" picks up the energy again, with Liebman shredding on soprano and great ensemble work from all, while Hart pitches in with the pensive "Lullaby for Imke" (with Liebman on smoky tenor). The sole standard - "You and the Night and the Music" ends the album with a stellar arrangement and is perhaps the highlight of the entire set, with energetic solos from all. A true pleasure to hear these fine players working together.
Satya - "Seven Blue Seas"
We first heard Bombay-born, Chicago-based singer Satya Gummuluri when she appeared live at the 2007 Chicago Jazz Fest in support of bassist Matt Geraghty's Passportalbum. Despite performing under less-than-ideal circumstances (primarily due to a balky sound system), Satya won the crowd over with her soaring vocals. On her debut album, Seven Blue Seas, the singer expands upon her repertoire - singing in Portuguese, along with English and Hindi. Backed primarily by Geraghty, Brazilian pianist Helio Alves, drummer Adriano Santos, percussionist Doug Brush, saxophonist Bryan Murray and guitarist Scott Anderson, Satya starts things off with an enchanting arrangement of the Edu Lobo/Jose Capinum song "Ponteio." Showing an assured ability to compose songs, the next seven songs are all either written by Satya herself or in conjunction with Anderson (and in one case, Brush). This merger of Indian and Brazilian culture (combined with urban grooves) is mesmerizing. "O Ponto" sizzles with Alves and Murray adding near perfect solos. The poetic "Raat" - with Satya's bittersweet vocals hanging over Alves' electric piano and Anderson's nylon-string guitar is a crystalline study in loneliness. Geraghty - whose work is superb throughout - is heard here on tasty acoustic bass, and Murray's world-weary tenor complements Satya's clear and seductive tone. Meanwhile, if Satya's shimmering voice doesn't give you chills on the English language "Harbour Line," you have no soul. Great work here as well by Murray (whose soprano solo sounds like circling seagulls), Alves and Anderson on this "hit" song. "SambaR" takes an unusual turn when it unexpectedly breaks into a rhythmic section in Hindu, while the title track is romantic with subtle surprises like a tabla break in a bossa. Geraghty is back on acoustic bass on the wonderful, twisting "Felicidanandam" - with a powerful drum solo by Mauricio Zottarelli . And whereas many albums tail off toward the end, this album is strong through the end with "Toh" - an exquisite gem of a love song and the version of "Tudo Que Voce Podia Ser" leaves the listener dancing to Geraghty's chewy bass riffs even while Satya's sweet voice still rings in the ears. The care taken by all involved on this production is evident. Highly recommended for fans of Brazilian jazz with a twist.
Bartosz Hadala Group - "The Runner Up"
Is Jazz a universal music or what? Polish pianist (NYC-based for the last six years) Bartosz Hadala is living proof. The young award-winning piano prodigy left his native Poland for Berklee and later Western Michigan University before pursuing his dream in the Big Apple. That he is succeeding is underlined by the fact that highly acclaimed drummer Antonio Sanchez backs up Hadala, while veteran trumpeter Randy Brecker also appears on this debut album. And the album is truly a knockout. Songs like the opening "Salt Water," "The One Call Behind," "Another You" and the jittery "The B Files" simply bristle with exuberant energy and enthralling musical twists and turns. And wait until you hear the incredible version of "A Night in Tunisia" (the only cover) – which is the coolest reworking of that oft-played tune I think I have heard. The odd time signatures and fine soprano work by Rovatti on the opening of the ever-changing nine-minute "Stevie Wonders Why" make you think that prog rockers Gentle Giant met Tower of Power at a jam held at Wayne Shorter's house. This is high-energy music - Hadala only slows it down on the unsentimental ballad "Madame" - seven songs into the album, but it is a nice change of pace and an electric undercurrent even seeps through on this piece (a nice change from the overload of somber and soggy music that often passes my desk these days). After this lovely interlude, the musical Viagra kicks back in on the burning title track, followed by the lighthearted "A Sunday Walk" (with percussionist Kevin Garcia), before the band simply burns down the house with the ending hard-bopper "Any Way." Bassists Dave Anderson on incendiary electric, and Noriko Ueda on acoustic match their leader in potency and combine with Sanchez to create some serious undertow -while also pitching in with intense solos. Saxophonist Ada Rovatti adds tough lines over the ever-shifting musical landscapes. Sanchez is one of the finest up-and-coming drummers in the business - and his work here is exemplary, while Brecker's appearances on "The B Files," "Stevie Wonders Why" and "Any Way" add another layer of edginess to this already heart-racing presentation. But it is Hadala's inventiveness on the piano that is the key (so to speak) to these strong compositions. With a somewhat Pilc-lke melodic touch and a Monk-on-steroids rhythm feel, Hadala consistently surprises with his unique directions. And I think he is on to something here. By taking Monk-like rhythms and intervals and pumping them up with speed, multiple changes and major funkage, he has discovered a new direction for the music.- kind of like what innovative bassist Flea did with the Red Hot Chili Peppers - when he took funky Bootsy Collins, Larry Graham-type bass parts and played them at punk speed and with punk attitude and by doing so changed everything the musical landscape forever. The debut of the year so far - a star has arrived.
Keri Johnsrud - "All Blue"
Chicago-based singer, Keri Johnsrud has a unique and appealing voice. Sweet, clear and understated, but the girl can tinge it with blue more naturally than many of the female vocalist trying for that vein. In addition, she has eclectic and fascinating taste – with the songs on her debut album ranging from well-known and lesser-known standards like Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," Harold Arlen's "For Every Man There's a Woman," Nat Adderley and Curtis R. Lewis' "(The Old Man From) The Old Country" and Burke/Van Huesen's "But Beautiful" to more unusual fare like country and western songs like Buck Owens' "Cryin' Time" and Merle Kilgore's "More and More," as well as "A Blossom Fell" (a hit for Nat King Cole). Johnsrud deftly utilizes the strengths of her backing musicians - mixing and matching among keyboardist Matt Nelson, guitarist Ari Seder, vibraphonist Chris Graham and flautist Matt Cashdollar - along with double bassist Cory Biggerstaff and drummer Darren Scorza. The singer shares the spotlight with her instrumental soloists while creating the appropriate focus on her sophisticated yet natural delivery. Graham shines on the opening track - a clever merger of Miles Davis' "All Blues" with Cole Porter's "Anything Goes," while Cashdollar and Nelson are featured to good effect on "The Old Country." "But Beautiful" is a lovely duet with guitarist Seder that showcases Johnsrud's mixture on clear tone and emotion, while "More and More" is a delightfully funked up R&B number. Perhaps my favorite portion of the album includes the swinging straight-ahead version of Chicagoan Curtis R. Lewis' overlooked song, "The Great City" and a brilliant version of Paul Bowles (yes, of The Sheltering Skyfame) and Tennessee Williams (yes, the Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'splaywright)'s American Art Song "Cabin." Arranged by Nelson, this short slice of life lieder song is extended into near epic proportions to form the somewhat romantic/somewhat unsettling centerpiece of the album. Biggerstaff takes a nice solo turn and percussionist Ogie adds tasty congas, before the heralded Nelson performs his magic. Johnsrud's world-weary vocals fit the song perfectly - a true highlight. Nice to hear the bluesy organ and guitar version of "A Blossom Fell" as well. A very nice debut from a singer with an appealing combination of talent and taste. Can't wait to hear more from her as her career progresses.
Note: Keri Johnsrud's All Blue CD release will be held Monday June 7, at the Jazz Showcase
Adriano Santos Quintet - "In Session"
In a conversation I had with David Binney a few years ago, he brought up his love of Brazilian music. As he mentioned some of his favorites, I realized that although I was familiar with the usual suspects (like Jobim and Gilberto) I was quite ignorant of the breadth and depth of a type of music that I loved, and I suspect many North Americans find themselves in the same boat. Sao Paolo-born, NYC-based drummer Antonio Santos seeks to rectify this by releasing an album (his debut as a leader) that covers compositions from many important Brazilian composers, including: Milton Nascimento, Airto Moreira, Victor Assis Brasil, Moacir Santos, as well as Toninho Horta, J.T. Meirelles and Rail Mascarenhas. Fans of Brazilian music, who want to expand their musical vocabulary, will want to pick up a copy of this vibrant recording that features first-call sideman Santos in action as a leader with percussionist Dende, superstar pianist Helio Alves (also from Sao Paolo), bassist David Ambrosio and the aforementioned Binney on alto AND soprano saxes(!). Starting off with a high-powered samba (Mascarenhas' "Sabor Carioca"), Binney immediately grabs your ear with a relaxed solo. I admit than whenever I hear David Binney break into solo on whatever recording he is on, I immediately drop everything and grab for the liner notes to see who the player is. Invariably, it turns out to be who I think it is - in my opinion perhaps the finest soloist alive in jazz today. Alves and Dende chip in with fine solos before Santos shows his stuff on the drum kit. Nascimento's gorgeous "From the Lonely Afternoons" follows with Binney again thrilling with his soaring melodic solo. The band moves from the quiet jungle into a monster groove as Alves follows with some tasty piano work. This entire album is quite enjoyable, but the highlight for me is the 10:56-long "Xibaba" (by Airto Moreira) that features a stunning Binney solo and great ensemble work from all. This recording mostly focuses on the upbeat and happy with only "De Ton Pra Tom" and "Contemplacao" delving into the moody and bittersweet. An enjoyable recording of well-played, lesser-known Brazilian numbers that helps bring some of these deserving Brazilian composers and their compositions to light. Great to hear this top-notch sideman finally release a recording of his own.
Pais Troika - "Paris Troika"
Pianist Misha Piatigorsky and his trio take another innovative path on his new recording - Paris Troika - by interpreting classic rock songs from the 1970s. This isn't the first time the Russian-born artist has taken on a popular song from that era - he covered John Lennon's "Imagine" on his last recording 17 Rooms. Nor is he the only jazz artist to take on modern popular music - the Bad Plus most notably have covered Nirvana, Rush, Yes and Black Sabbath (among others), while Brad Mehldau has reached into the Radiohead songbook. But rarely does an artist make these covers the basis for an entire album like Piatgorsky does here (nearly – there is one original song of his own). Here the songs range from David Bowie's "Space Oddity" to Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" to the Doors' "Light My Fire," the Eagles' "Hotel California," Derek and the Dominoes' "Layla," The Police's "Message in a Bottle," "Queen's "We are the Champions" and another version of "Imagine." The band - comprised of Piatigorsky, bassist Buster Hemphill and drummer Chris Wabich, with string player Carmel Raz on violin and viola adding to the sound on four tracks, also combines songs. For example - the Hendrix-recorded hit "Hey Joe" is merged with the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" and Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog" is combined with "Helter Skelter." If you think this sounds like fun, you are right, and I suspect many baby boomers will have a ball reminiscing and catching references to other songs (for example, Deep Purple's famous "Smoke on the Water" riff makes an appearance). Piatigorsky isn't afraid to mix in some electronics on the Bowie tune (and others). Meanwhile, The "Eleanor Rigby/Hey Joe" song ("Elejoey") eventually mutates into a Latin groove (over its nearly 10-minute length), while "Hotel California" is given a somber, late night nightclub feel. "Light My Fire" is sped up and slowed down (with a reggae feel) before morphing yet again. "Layla" is a post modern outing with a bossa chorus, while "We are the Champions" starts off as solo piano innovations on the theme before turning into an electro-fied "We Will Rock You"... you get the picture. An entertaining musical treat for lovers of both jazz and classic rock.
Dudley Owens - "Just the Beginning"
Apologies are in order for our delays in getting to reviewing young Chicago saxophonist Dudley Owens' promising debut album Just the Beginning. This fine CD was to be featured on our Jazz, Chicago Style radio show on WNUA, but although the show was already recorded, that station's sudden change to all-Latin programming unfortunately left this program unaired. In the confusion. Owens' CD regretably fell through the cracks. Having recently seen Owens live at Andys (see here), I was reminded that we had failed to give this record its due, and I confess that it has been a pleasure revisiting it. On Just the Beginning, the young saxophonist/composer shows a wide range of syles. The fiery "Funknicity" opens up like James Brown, with Aaron Koppel on wah-wah guitar, and Owens, James Perkins and guest Tim Warfield scorching on saxophones for nearly the length of the 8:37 tune. The title track is a solid hard bop outing with trumpeter Orbert Davis joining Owens on the front line and some sparkling work by keyboardist Justin Dillard and drummer Ernie Adams. The epic "Rootz" reminds me of Africa- era Coltrane and is one of my favorite tracks. It is a killer live, with Owens taking extended solos on both tenor and soprano; however, here it is Owens on soprano and Warfield on tenor. Meanwhile, Owens shows a mature feel for a ballad on the delicious, but too brief "Crystal," before moving into some groovy organ jazz on "Dottie Marie" (organ courtesy the talented young Mr. Dillard). The R&B-flavored "Brighter Days" offers up some vocals from David Felton, Shari Anderson and wife Crystal Owens, while "Ellen & Stella's Groove" is a laid-back Nawlin's-flavored funk-up, complete with Dudley's gritty and growling tenor and bari and some nasty lead guitar by Dave Miller - ending things in a party vein. Owens shows the ability to cross a lot of ground here, which could be disorientating, but fortunately he exhibits the skills to successfully make the case to take the journey. Hopefully, this indeed is just the beginning for this talented young artist.
3ology- "With Ron Miles"
Jazz funk jams are the forte of Colorado-based 3-ology, and they are damn good at it - with drummer Jon Powers and powerful acoustic bassist Tim Carmichael laying down the rhythms. Meanwhile brother Doug Carmichael (saxophone) is joined by rising star cornet player Ron MIles, which pushed this new recording - their third - into yet another level. After a brief punningly-titled solo cornet opening ("All Miles") the band slinks into a simmering modal Miles (Davis circa 1971) groove on "Gonna Leave a Mark" - the front line horns thrust and parry - before eventually boiling over. "Back in Hotchitakee" starts off with some gnarly bass riffs before Powers kicks in. The horns soon join in with some enthusiastic counterpoint on this ten-minute ultra funky number. Another long number - the 10:27 "Nightmares of my Youth" follows, with Powers leading things off with ominous tom toms, and Tim Carmichael adding scratchy bowing on his bass. An African-flavored groove kicks in around seven-minutes into the song, and Doug Carmichael floats through on sax, before Ron Miles comes on the scene around eight-minutes in, and then the songs ends with chiming bass. Tim switches to electric bass on "The Neo-Cerebral Peace Iguana" and the moody funk continues. "For Don" is Ron Miles soloing over a percussion bed, while "Aw Dude" has Tim Carmichael funking it up on electric bass and the whole crew along for the ride. "Jimmyin' the Bakin' Shack" is soulful 6/8 number that showcases Miles, while "Zero Miles" ends things satisfactorily with more of the dark and pensive moods this trio does best.
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