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.
Lee Ritenour's - "6 String Theory"
Veteran West Coast jazz guitarist, Lee Ritenour has come up with an exciting new album. On 6 String Theory, Ritenour has produced a kaleidoscopic display of guitar playing across multiple genre. Featuring nearly 20 guitar players - ranging from the well-known to "You Tube sensations" from the jazz, blues, rock bad country fields, this new release is a guitar fans' delight. Familiar names include: John Scofield, George Benson, Pat Martino, Mike Stern and Ritenour himself from the jazz vein; B.B. King, Keb' Mo, Taj Mahal, Johnny Lang, Joe Bonamassa and Robert Cray representing the blues; Steve Lukather, Neil Schon and Slash are the invited rockers, while underrated guitarist/singer Vince Gill is present from the country arena. You Tubers, Guthrie Govan, Andy McKee, Joe Robinson, and Japanese rock guitar star Tomoyasu Hotei show why they are making waves with the online community, while 6 String Theory contest winner, 16-year-old Canadian Shon Boubil amazes with his classical piece. Meanwhile, first rate artists such as organists Joey DeFrancesco and Larry Goldings, drummers Harvey Mason and Vinnie Colaiuta, and bassists Nathan East and 23-year-old bass sensation Tal Wilkenfeld are among those providing support for their six-string superstars.
While the rock and blues entires will deservedly open some eyes, there is plenty of jazz for jazz fans to relish. Scofield and Ritenour get nasty on the funky opener, "Lay it Down," while hearing Ritenour, Pat Martino and Joey D rip it up on "L.P. (For Les Paul)" is sheer fun. Benson performs solo on "My One and Only Love" and in a trio setting with Joey D and drummer Will Kennedy on a killer version of "Moon River" that will leave your grinning ear to ear. The blues numbers are well-produced and enjoyable, while much of the "rock" output is decidedly fusion-esque, including "68," (with Lukather, Schon and Slash shredding away while creating the ultimate rock guitarist's musical wet dream), "In Your Dreams," Jeff Beck's "Freeway Jam" and Govan's incendiary display of impossible guitar - "Fives." A wonderful recording from start to finish, Ritenour deserves credit for not only bringing these great musicians together, but for making it work. For rather than the novelty act it could have turned into, 6 String Theory is a celebration of the guitar in all its glory.
The Stanley Clarke Band
Jazz bass legend, Stanley Clarke has released perhaps his best and most exciting album since his first trio of solo albums in the 1970s and '80s. Backed by longtime band members keyboardist Ruslan Sirota and drummer Ronald Bruner, Jr., along with keyboard sensation Hiromi, guitarist Charles Altura, saxophonist Bob Sheppard, Manhhattan Transfer vocalist Cheryl Bentyne and more, Clarke utilizes a wide complement of electric basses, including the soprano and tenor basses he invented, to produce some of the most energetic music produced on the electric bass ever. A sense of revitalization and energy is palpable in these tunes. Clarke says this is the last electric album he is going to do for a while, and it is clear he has pulled out all of the stops. Co-produced by fellow Return to Forever member, Lenny White, the music often recalls that beloved band's glory days, but with the benefit of advanced production values.
Despite classical and jazz influences, the opening "Soldier" (written by Ruslan is one of the most rocking things Clarke has ever done - no surprise, considering the creative bassist has worked with people like The Police's Stewart Copeland in the past. Clarke's chops are central, but there is a real band feel as well, with both Ruslan and Bruner key components and Clarke willing to share the sound. "Fulani" even has bass by the song's composer, Armand Sabal -Lecco. Altura, meanwhile, sounds like a cross between former RTF guitarists Al DiMeola and Bill Connors, and a new reworking of that band's "No Mystery" (written by Chick Corea) is a highlight. Other fusion numbers include the interestingly-named "Larry Has Traveled 11 Miles and Waited a Lifetime for the Return of Vishnu's Report" - which pays tribute to all those great early fusion bands (Tony Williams Lifetime, Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra, etc…), the Hiromi-penned Spanish-sounding "Labyrinth" and "How is the Weather Up There" (mocking global warming disbelievers). Of course, there must be some funk and Stanley doesn't disappoint - offering up a juicy "I Wanna Play for You." Perhaps the most unusual offering is the tribute song "Sonny Rollins" which combines programmed big band, Bentyne's vocals, Hiromi's piano and calypso in a satisfying mix. And Clarke continues his series of solo "Bass Folk Songs" with numbers six and 10, both of which display his virtuosity without excessive adornment. A strong return to form by a master instrumentalist with layers of delicious sound (including programming) that will make the listener want to return again (maybe forever?) to Clarke's work.
Manu Katche - "Third Round"
French drummer Manu Katche's third release for ECM (Third Round) is also with his third different recording band. Whereas, 2005's Neighborhood featured European superstar performers such as Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko , pianist Marcin Wasilewski and saxophonist Jan Garbarek, 2007's Playground (one of our top 20 records of that year - see our reviewhere) retained Wasilewski and bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz, but added young Norwegian musicians Mathias Eick and Trygve Seim, and featured trailblazing guitarist David Torn. This time around, Katche - whose work with artists like Peter Gabriel and Sting have gained him worldwide notoriety - has again gone with a new lineup, including rock sessions bassist Pino Palladino (the Who, Eric Clapton) and his fellow member in Sting's band - pianist Jason Rebello, along with new Norwegian saxophonist Tore Brunborg. Guitarist Jacob Young and vocalist/trumpeter Kami Lyle also make appearances. Despite the new personnel, the overall sound remains surprisingly consistent. Katche - who writes all the material - has found a sound that works and is sticking to it. His method is to write music that is smooth and groove oriented, yet darkly melodic; sensitive and restrained, but not lightweight.
The slinky "Swing Piece" opens things with a hip groove; Palladino is remarkably attuned to this style, while saxophonist Bruneborg shines. Despite his pop credentials, Rebello is considered one of Britain's finest jazz artists and he does yeoman's work here. Combined with Manfred Eischer's lush production, this is a savory mix of songs, performers and sound. Katche has an original drum style, that combines rock beats with jazz innovation on the cymbals. Guitarist Young pitches in on "Keep On Trippin'" and he is a welcome addition to the sound. Frankly, I wish we would have heard more of him on the recording. "Senses" sounds like a return to Playground moderately-paced melodious, but bittersweet musings, while "Being Ben" is a happy-go-lucky treat. Atmospheric, but rhythmic - Katche's sound is highly addictive, and there are some really nice tunes like "Shine and Blue," but this recording suffers a bit from a sense of sameness. And "Une larme dans ton sourer," "Out Take Number 9" and "Urban Shadow" are maddeningly abbreviated. This is not say fans of his previous ECM albums won't enjoy this recording, but generally I don't feel the album is quite up to the level of the previous two. Lyle adds Nora Jones-ish vocals to the bluesy "Stay With You" and nice trumpet tones on "Flower Skin," (also featuring Young's acoustic guitar) but I find myself missing the electronic edge Torn brought to the last album. Still a very nice album to curl up with a good book to, and good to see Katche continuing to work within his sonic playground.
Gwilym Simcock - "Blues Vignette"
28-year-old Welsh pianist Simcock has taken the British Isles by storm, receiving awards and acclaim both as a classical pianist (and French horn player), as well as a jazz artist, and garnering critical comparisons to Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau in the process. His sophomore effort is a sprawling 2-CD recording with the first disc devoted to solo piano, along with a 20-minute duet suite for cello and piano, which focus on his classical abilities and techniques (in a subtle and less showy way) combined with jazz improvisational skills. The captivating solo work recalls Keith Jarrett, although the young man has a different style and less powerful left hand. A delectable take on Movement II of Grieg's Piano Concerto is sincere and unhurried, while he shows a sense of humor on a whimsical version of the Tin Pan Alley pop hit "On Broadway." Three Jarrett-esque improvisations center the side, followed by the mysterious "Caldera" and the fanciful Weather Report tribute "Jaco and Joe" (a highlight), before he partners with cellist Cara Berridge on his wonderful suite. Simcock lists Ravel, Stravinsky and Mark-Anthony Turnage (the latter well-known to Chicagoans from his stay here as Mead Composer in Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) as influences, and one can hear the sounds of those composers, along with some jazzier flourishes in this work, as it moves from its moody first movement to its bright dancing second movement. The second CD turns Simcock's attention to his new jazz trio, which also features drummer James Maddren and Russian bassist Yuri Goloubev. The latter is an especially good choice: as the longtime Principal Bassist with the highly regarded Moscow Soloists, he possesses the stunning technical ability to match Simcock's own. His arco work on the bass especially is beautiful enough to make a listener weep. Maddren is more muted in his contributions, but one can appreciate his sensitive input and he can kick it up a notch when the music requires it. After a pensive "Introduction" the trio kicks into the rollicking "Tundra" - a highlight of piano trio jazz. The stunning title track follows and perhaps most clearly enunciates Simcock's ability to merge modern classical and jazz (and blues) components together in a meaningful manner. The rest of the side includes "covers" of songs such as Sonny Burke's "Black Coffee," (nicely upbeat) Gershwin (an obvious precursor in his mixing of classical and jazz) 's "Nice Work if You Can Get It," the folksy pop song "Cry Me a River" and a couple of interesting originals - the shimmering and vaguely Latin-flavored ballad "Longing to Be" (which mutates into a bit of a burner 2/3rds of the way through before Doloubev helps them "bow" out gracefully) and the deliriously shifting, album-ending "1981." Simcock is certainly going to open some eyes and ears in North America with this ambitious release, which demonstrates why this still young musician and composer is starting to be mentioned as being among the very best in the world.
Chris Massey's Nue Jazz Project - "Vibranium"
Drummer Chris Massey and his "Nue Jazz Project" is a high-energy throwback to the days of hard bop and classic Blue Note sets featuring Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers as well as Joe Henderson - whose "Inner Urge" is given a fiery treatment. Opening track, "Galactus" (written by Massey) immediately sets the tone with front-liners Donald Molloy (trumpet) and Benjamin Drazen (sax) playing unison lines over Massey and bassist David Ostrem's percolation. Pianist Evgeny Lebedev gets the first solo spot and catches the ear with his vibrant display. These cats are really burning it up. Molloy follows with the first of several stellar solos, while the impressive Drazen soars on alto on this track. Massey meanwhile evokes the touch of Blakey, Roy Haynes and "Tain" Watts in the first of his solos. It is great to hear such talented and energetic players who obviously regard the hard bop era with reverence. Molloy's swinging "Smooth" follows and continues the trend, albeit in a more mid-tempo vein, with satisfying solos from Molloy, Drazen and Lebedev. Drazen takes off on the Henderson number - which is driven by Massey's intense drumming and features a nice solo from bassist Ostrem. "Chango" is a solo drum number with great sounds and African-influenced rhythms, while Chick Corea's "Windows" (one of only two covers) is a waltzing showpiece for Lebedev. The epic (11:13) Massey-composed title track features perhaps Lebedev's best work, while Molloy recalls Freddie Hubbard with some of his shredding. Drazen's soprano sax makes a welcome appearance here on this incredible composition. The saxophonist also adds an original number - "Mr. Twilight" to close things out on a high-stepping burner with even more soprano licks to share. This is a talented band that is solidly together with a great sound and a bright future ahead of them. And offering a slighty retro feel combined with modern technique and recording, Vibranium is recommended for fans of well-played and written hard bop jazz.
Linda Ciofalo - "Dancing With Johnny"
(Lucky Jazz Music)
As one of the greatest lyricists in American music history, Johnny Mercer's work is familiar to most. Songs like "I'm Old Fashioned," "That Old Black Magic," "Skylark," "The Days of Wine and Roses," Moon River" and "Come Rain and Come Shine" are oft-covered, and it is rare to find a jazz artist who doesn't include a Mercer number in their repertoire. A vocalist himself, Mercer's lyrics especially found favor with jazz vocalists like Chet Baker and Frank Sinatra, because, as vocalist Linda Ciofalo explains, of their "dancing" quality and attention to the craft of painting a picture and telling a story. That said, tribute albums to Mercer are not as prevalent (one by Rosemary Clooney comes to mind) - perhaps because his "old-fashioned" style has somewhat fallen out of favor, or maybe because he worked with some many different composers - including Henry Mancini, Jerome Kern, Hoagy Carmichael, Woody Herman, Harold Arlen and many more across a range of musical directions. But the strength of his songbook is such that the songs are timeless, and Ciofalo - following her "sun"-themed release Sun-Set (see our review here) - has returned to her early love of Mercer's melodies in presenting this all-Mercer recording. Arranged by the smooth-voiced Ciofalo and pianist John DiMartino, the album includes the aforementioned Mercer gems, as well as "Tangerine," "Early Autumn," "Day In Day Out," "One for My Baby( And One More for the Road)," as well as lesser-known numbers culled from Mercer's more than 1,700 songs - including "Talk to Me Baby," "P.S. I Love You" and "I Remember You." With a superb band backing her, including first rate saxophonist Joel Frahm, bassist John Benitez, drummer Ernesto Simpson, nylon-string guitarist Paul Meyers and percussionist Little Johnny Rivero, along with trumpeter extraordinaire Brian Lynch on several tunes - the direction taken is often an intriguing Latin one. For example, the often sultry "Tangerine" is given a full-blooded Afro-Cuban treatment highlighted by Ciofalo's understated delivery and Lynch's passionate trumpet solo. Hard to believe old chestnuts like "I'm Old Fashioned" and "Days of Wine and Roses" can be done again and be compelling, yet Ciofalo and DiMartino deserve credit for their fresh takes that breath life into these classics. Frahm, as always, is excellent throughout, while the rhythm section deserves credit for their sensitivity and support of their vocalist. And it is hard to not be moved by Ciofalo's heartfelt way with Mercer's words, especially on less-heard deep cuts "Talk to Me Baby" and "P.S. I Love You." A return to the romance and penetrating lyricism of a bygone era, refreshed by modern, Latin-flavored arrangements, and sung by a singer with deep respect for the material.
Vincent Herring & Earth Jazz - "Morning Star"
Saxophone veteran Vincent Herring may be best known from his work with straight-ahead icons Nat Adderly, Art Blakey, Cedar Walton and the Mingus Big Band, but he also digs the funk. On his third outing with Earth Jazz, they up the funk quotient making for a delicious combination of traditional sounding sax with '70s-style funk. Of course, this success is possible because the band includes such talented musicians as Anthony Wonsey on keyboards, rubber-man bassist Richie Goods and Swiss-born timekeeper Joris Dudli on the drums. Besides their high standard of musicianship, all of the members contribute songs, including Wonsey's opening "Do You Remember Me?" - which skirts with smoothness, while still maintaining an edge. The presence of talented percussionist Danny Sadownick on this - and several other - tunes also adds to the full rich sound. Coltrane's ballad "Naima" is funked up with Goods' funkadelic bass laying down the grove in conjunction with Dudli. Herring switches from alto over to soprano on Wonsley's romantic "Black Fairytales," which also features the pianist and a burning Goods bass solo. He will utilize both horns at various times throughout. Nasty funk permeates Dudli's "Giant Steps"-flavored "Tom Tom," while Mulgrew Miller's "Soul Leo" is slowed to a luxurious crawl over 11-minutes long. Goods' wah-bass pushes Wonsey's "The Thang" - an exuberant tune that will keep your feet moving. After all that energy, the relaxed Herring original "Never Forget" is a true delight with beautifully melodic alto playing by the leader over Wonsey's sparkling electric piano. Goods' "Citizens of Zamunda" is a relaxed funker, with more great soprano from the leader over Goods' chewy bass and Dudli's precise beats. I was impressed when I saw Wonsey at the Hot House several years ago - and he continues to make waves as a young up-and-coming keyboard star - here with another shimmering electric piano solo. The swinging title track has a pleasing retro feel - except for more fine electric piano by Wonsey. It is clear that the goal of this band is to bring both the straight-ahead sounds and funk-jazz sounds of the past together and into the present day - and they succeed quite well. Dudli's gospel-drenched "You Got Soul" ends this recording well, with Wonsey on acoustic piano and churchy organ, Goods on acoustic bass and Herring preaching a loving sermon on his alto. Tasty sounds served up from this talented crew.
Nathan Eklund - "Coin Flip"
Trumpeter Nathan Eklund is back with his fourth release as a leader on Coin Flip another strong effort full of solid playing and swinging and melodic original compositions. He is reunited with saxophonist Craig Yaremko and joined by Fender Rhodes player Steve Myerson, bassist Kellen Harrison and drummer Shawn Baltazor. The music's somewhat retro feel is offset by Myerson's electric piano, and his playing is delightful, but his reliance of the instrument also somewhat forces the tunes to have slightly too similar of a sound throughout for my taste. "Rooicka's Castle" opens things strongly in a post-bop mode, while "Professor Dissendadt" moves from an unusual time signature opening into a funky groove. Yaremnko's saxophones are a perfect complement to Ecklund's fiery trumpet and impressive technique. "The Supernatural" is moody, but fortunately heightened by Eklund's gorgeously-toned flugelhorn. The burning hard-bop "Triple Shot Express" features nice solos by the front line, and includes a spotlight for Baltazor on drums. The lovely ballad "Happy's Sadness" is a showcase for Myerson, and Eklunds pulls out the flugelhorn again with subtle beauty that matches Baltazor's sensitive work on the drum kit. The 11:27 "Front Lawn," meanwhile, may be the most experimental composition on the recording, with some "free" sections and penetrating solo explorations. The title track bring stings back from the brink quite successfully with bassist Harrison taking a fine solo shot. "Chim's Paradise" - a sprightly number ends the release quite well, with Eklund again serving notice that he is a composer to be noted.
John Goldman's Quadrangle - "Outside the Box"
Saxophonist/flautist John Goldman's Quadrangle group features three of the good young up-and-coming Chicago musicians, including guitarist Scott Hesse, bassist Patrick Mulcahy and drummer Cory Healey. On Outside the Boxthese four were joined by percussionist Juan Pastor, trombonist Kendall Moore and vocalist Leslie Beukelman. Starting off with the hypnotic "Color Therapy"- Goldman's lovely breathy sax, Hesse's guitar and Beukelman's wordless vocals over a creative and sensitive rhythm section combine to weave an attractive musical tapestry. The aptly-titled hard-bopping "Moore is More" brings trombonist Moore onto the front line and both he and Goldman respond with exciting solos. Hesse again engenders some excellent comping to support the horns and solos beautifully when called upon. The bluesy "Dr. Jeckyl & Mr. Hill" is another showcase for Hesse and Moore, while "Hesse Steps" gives the guitarist the spotlight for some intense angular riffing. Beukelman's crystalline voice is central to the spiritual "Higher Faith," while "Harrison" (for bassist Harrison Bankhead) opens up with African-flavored rhythms, and moves into straight-ahead hard bop reminiscent of a' 60s Blue Notes session, into an improvised free-jazz middle section and back again. A gentle, dreamy version of "Monk's Mood" has Beukelman and Goldman producing unison lines over Hesse, sans the rhythm section. Album ender, "Soy Gonzo" is a blast - full of Latin rhythms, Goldman on dancing flute, Moore on delicious trombone, Pastor adding his magic touch, Hesse (of course) and some of Beukelman's brightest and most engaging vocals. Overall, Outside the Box is a colorful kaleidoscopic recording of well-written, performed and recorded compositions from an interesting and talented artist and his well-chosen musicians.
Chris Greene - "Play Time"
Chris Greene is one of the hardest working young saxophonists in Chicago, and he and his band have released three studio albums over the last three years. Now, Chris has released a new live recording - available to his fans for free on his Web site - www.chrisgreenejazz.com, that offers live versions of some of his previously released songs, as well as a couple of his live staples. That Greene has kept his band intact adds to the delicious band interplay on this release, and the time spent playing these songs over the years allows the band members to stretch out more on tunes like "King of Pain" and "Caravan" from their 2007 Soul and Science recording. Pianist Damian Espinosa's "In Confidence" (from 2009's Merge) starts things off strong. while Greene's "Adamantium" is also revisited. The saxophonist appears primarily on soprano during this set and displays his increasing command of the instrument. A wonderful, almost-reggae version of Coltrane's "Equinox" features Espinosa and a nice solo by bassist Marc Piane. Greene switches back to his tenor on a pleasing take on Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood." And special note needs to be given drummer Tyrone Blair - who is the rock on which this band builds its music. A record of how far this band has come in a short time and an accurate presentation of their live sound, Play Time is definitely worth downloading and adding to your collection.
Peter Douskalis - "The Dance of the Sea"
Young guitarist Peter Douskalis is originally from the Washington D.C. area, but is now residing in NYC and attending New York University's Master's program. His second album is a recording of solo guitar on a number of standards that are not often performed by solo guitarists, including "Lady Bird," "Whisper Not," "My Favorite Things," "Darn That Dream," "The Girl From Ipanema" and two quite different versions of "Blue in Green." Douskalis favors a clean, mostly uneffected and traditional tone, not unlike our local guitarist Andy Brown, while also displaying a major debt to Joe Pass. These songs are treated like treasured gems by the respectful young artist, who clearly has a deep understanding of the jazz tradition. He navigates these complex arrangements - in which he is playing the melody, chords and bass parts - with what sounds like minimal effort. While covers make up the majority of these tunes, Douskalis adds an original of his own - the compelling title track - and I look forward to hearing more original numbers. Another indication of the artist's originality is the unusual solo version of the Beatles' hit, "Come Together" - in which he cleverly works in a reference to "Eleanor Rigby"- and which ends the album with exuberance. With noteworthy technique, a creative approach, assured touch and glorious tone, Douskalis should have a bright future ahead of him.
Carol Morgan - "Opening"
(Blue Bamboo Music)
Carol Morgan is a Texas-raised, Julliard-educated, NYC-based trumpeter, who has gained attention primarily with her work with the DIVA Jazz Orchestra. She has released two prior albums as a leader before the new Opening with her current trio - drummer Rich DeRosa and bassist Harvie S. The unusual chordless trio has been explored recently by saxophonists Joshua Redman and Donny McCaslin and by trumpeter James Davis in his Chicago Goes West trio. Morgan has the tone and technique of a former classical player (she is) combined with a strong and sensitive approach to jazz. The success of this group is based on Morgan's impressive ability, and also on the work of her band mates, who are great choices to be fellow members of this configuration. Morgan opens up with a tough hard bopping number that showcases her dark-toned and often edgy sound. A somewhat Latin-tinged version of Horace Silva's "Nica's Dream" is a moody treat, while Bud Powell's "Celia" gives Harvie an opportunity to shine on an early bass solo. DeRosa's "Dark Continent" is in a 6/8 African groove and brings Houston-based saxophonist Woody Witt into the mix on soprano, while giving DeRosa a chance to solo. Jimmie VanHeusen's "Like Someone to Love" swings lightly and displays the trio nicely in a romantic standard setting. "Prince Albert" by Kenny Dorham offers some stellar band interplay, with Morgan and Harvie trading notes and DeRosa on the brushes. "Sizzle" lives up to its title, with Witt again joining the fray (on tenor) on this Harvie S-penned number that features a number of interesting directions, and Morgan and Witt exchanging fiery lines. The band ends thing on a lighter note with the entertaining "Calypso Blue." With the release of this satisfying new album, Morgan is clearly a new voice on the trumpet scene who will be worth following in the years to come.
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