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.
James Moody - "4B"
85-year-old tenor saxophonist James Moody's second release from a two-day recording session (see our review of 4A here ) continues where the first one left off, with a solid group of mostly straight-ahead standards played the way they should be by Moody, pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Todd Coolman and drummer Lewis Nash. This stellar combo takes on chestnuts from the American songbook like "Take the A Train," "Hot House," "Speak Low," "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," "I Love You" "Along Came Betty" and "But Not For Me," along with substantial originals written by Coolman (the plucky "O.P. Update" - for Oscar Pettiford) and Barron (the lovely "Nikara's Song" - written for his granddaughter). As to be expected based on the first release, this collection is an excellent combination of mid-to-up tempo numbers and ballads, and the band feels relaxed and completely in tune with each other on this session. What liberties taken by the musicians are only matters of tempo and rhythmic directions - the songs remain intact with no excessive "experimentation" and a respect for the songs shining through. Moody sounds absolutely great - still playing with energy, mature note selections and a fine, rich flavorful tone, while Barron clearly is one of the most melodic and swinging players alive. Nash of course is an outstanding player and Coolman cements the quartet with his tasteful bedrock foundation. Not only is this album a joy to listen to, but provides a clear example of a lifetime of devotion to mastering the art of straight-ahead jazz. Fine work throughout, with some highlights including the slower-tempo "Hot House," the Brazilian-flavored "Speak Low" and "I Love You," a sweetly swinging "Along Came Betty" and an utterly romantic rendering of "Polka Dots and Moonbeams." A recommended recording (along with 4A) for fans of well-played straight forward jazz.
Bob Mamet Trio
Pianist Bob Mamet was born and raised in Chicago, before he set off for the West Coast and Los Angele,s where has made his name as a studio musician and composer for T.V., film and advertising. He also released a number of albums which received acclaim and considerable airplay - including Greenstreet which topped the charts for 7 weeks. Mamet's latest - Impromptu - is a trio outing with fellow west-coast first call musicians drummer Joe LaBarbera and bassist Darek Oles. Mamet has a reputation as a masterful and melodic player and composer and this talent is clearly on display here. His style reminds me of Vince Guaraldi, with some Bill Evans colors, but perhaps a touch more energy. Of course, it helps having LaBarbera (a member of Evans' trio) driving the music - and the veteran sounds as vital as ever. Oles, meanwhile, is considered one of the best bassists on the West Coast and is strong in support here. Mamet's songs are crafted with the care and skill of an expert - and fans of jazz trios will thrill to numbers like the spicy title track, the swinging "Cats on the Roof," "Venice Waltz" and the burning "At Play" (with great LaBarbera solo). "Until Morning" is a nice ballad that recalls "In the Wee Small Hours of Morning" and shows Mamet's ability to play it slow and light as well. "Danzon Allegretto" may be the most experimental piece, while "Bob's Blues" is an Evans-ish take on the blues. "Illinois Road" is wonderful slice of Americana paying tribute to his home state, while "Keziah" offers a bit of Latin flavor. Strong work from this talented composer/musician and his trio that you will enjoy adding to your rotation.
Michael Dease - "Grace"
Young trombone sensation Michael Dease's fourth album as a leader is his finest yet and a strong entry into this year's crop of best albums. Along with Cyrus Chestnut on piano, Rufus Reid on bass and Gene Jackson on drums, Dease is joined by special guests including Claudio Roditi (flugelhorn), Roy Hargrove (trumpet & flugelhorn), Sharel Cassity (alto sax & alto flute), Eric Alexander (tenor sax), Mark Whitfield (acoustic guitar), Yotam (acoustic & electric guitar) and Rodger Squitero & Circle Rhythm on percussion and vocals. For this stellar cast, Dease and producer/bassist John Lee came up with a list of mostly lesser known compositions from some of the masters of jazz - and focused on ones that weren't written with trombone in mind, but ones they felt would work well with Dease's instrument. The list is impressive and includes tunes from: Jobim ("Discussao"), McCoy Tyner ("Blues on the Corner"), Bix Beiderbecke ("In a Mist"), Randy Brecker ("I Talk to the Trees"), Miles Davis ("Four"), Oscar Peterson ("Tippin'"), Ivan Lins ("Setembro" and "Love Dance"), Coltrane ("26-2"), Herbie Hancock ("Toys") and Milton Nascimento ("Salt Song"), along with the original title track written by Dease.
The young man's lovely tone is especially apparent on his solos, and his interplay with his guests is a joy to behold. Roditi and Whitfield offer counterpoint on the Jobim number, while Eric Alexander trades burning solos with Dease (and Chestnut!) on Tyner's "Blues on the Corner". The version of Beiderbecke's "In A Mist" starts as a lush ballad before morphing into a walking bass up-tempo mid-section, with Hargrove adding flueglhorn, while the Afro-inflected version of Randy Brecker's "I Talk to the Trees" is a true highlight with an interesting horn arrangement and Cassity sparkling on alto flute. Davis' oft-covered "Four" is treated as a ballad - which works surprisingly well, while Hargrove and Dease play chase on a burning version of Peterson's "Tippin'." The trombonist shows an affinity for the supremely lyrical works of Lins - the wonderful (and sadly under-appreciated) Brazilian master, while his technique on Coltrane's "26-2" is jaw-dropping. Hancock's "Toys" features some of Chestnut's best work, while the title track shows that the band leader has strengths as a composer as well. This powerful album ends with the beguiling "Salt Song" - with Dease showing his skills not only on trombone, but on soprano sax(!) and this tune leaves the listener wanting more. Dease is one of the best young trombonists alive and is poised to take his place as a leader of the next generation of jazz stars - and this excellent new album should be the recording that puts him over the edge and into the public eye.
Mauricio Zottarelli - "7 Lives"
We've been hearing quite a bit from this talented Brazilian-born, NYC-based drummer lately. A member of Hiromi's Sonicbloom band and frequent drummer for Elaine Elias and Marc Johnson, he has also done stellar work on recently reviewed excellent albums from Jon Gold ("Brazil Confidential") and Satya ("Seven Blue Seas"). 7 Lives is Zottarelli's debut as a leader, and as is to be expected- there is plenty of excellent drumming here, but this is also a collection of interesting originals and a choice cover of Wayne Shorter's "Pinocchio" (which starts things off with a bang), played by a top notch crew of musicians. Assisting Zottarelli are guitarist Gustavo Assis-Brasil, electric bassist Itaiguara Brandao, Grammy-Award-winning pianist/flautist Oriente Lopez and tenor saxophonist Rodrigo Ursaia - all great players - and they are augmented by special guests including veteran pianists Cidinho Teixeira and septuagenerian Dom Salvador, and young wunderkind Esperanza Spalding on acoustic bass. With this outstanding cast, it would be hard to go wrong, and Zottarelli places his musicians in situations where they can shine with nice ensemble work and solos. The band also covers originals by Cidinho and Dom Salvador, and the listener is struck by the vibrancy, joy and energetic enthusiasm generated by this group. Centering it all is Zottarelli's melodic and rhythmic drumming which is propulsive, without being excessive, and which drives the song, while also enhancing it. Some tunes, like the delightful "No Standing Zone" veer toward fusion, while 'Two Way Street - Part One" is an duo improvisation with guitarist Assis-Brasil, but Brazilian-flavored jazz comes through on tracks like the strong title track (showcasing Lopez' flute) and "30." Tasty and satisfying work from a rising star drummer on the Brazilian scene.
George Cotsirilos Trio- "Past Present"
George Cotsirilos is another Chicago-born musician who found himself on the West Coast - in this case the Bay Area - where he is busy jazz guitarist. Bassist Robb Fisher was a fellow member of the San Francisco Nighthawks. Both Cotsirlios and Fisher, as well as the third member of the trio - drummer Ron Marabuto have worked with people like Cal Tjader, Art Pepper, Roland Hanna and many more. On their third OA2 recording, the band visits the past - by revisiting standards, including "Without a Song," and "The Way You Look Tonight," while also celebrating the present by performing a number of the guitarist's originals. Cotsirilos' guitar sound is warm and clean and the arrangements are straight-ahead, but very hip. Can hear a bit of Grant Green and Jim Hall in his style, but he has an individual voice. Some nice fast runs that are much more difficult than he makes them sound. Fisher and Marabuto are obvious pros who complement their leader well, and the songs and performances are endearing in a laid back, cool California way. Mostly bop, but the title track opens up to new and welcome Spanish-flavored directions and Cotsirilos also shows his classical side in a solo nylon-string guitar version of Anthony Newley's "What Kind of Fool Am I." Solid and savory outing from this San Francisco treat.
The Fonda Stevens Group - "Memphis"
Together nearly 20 years, the Fonda Stevens Group has been thrilling audiences in Europe for years, but have been less well known here in America. Recently, pianist Michael Jefry Stevens has been making a concerted effort to make the group's material available to the American public and hopefully this will increase the awareness and appreciation of these exceptional musician/composers. The new release - Memphis, is named for Stevens' location (the other three are still in New York) - where he relocated several years ago. The record opens powerfully with Fonda's avant-leaning "In the Whitecage" - a tribute to Fonda and Stevens' former band leader saxophonist mark Whitecage. Stevens' enchanting "For My Brother" pulls things back toward the melodic and contemplative. Fonda's bowed bass intro is enough to bring tears to your eyes, while Stevens playing offers a wealth of depth and creativity which simply must be heard. Trumpeter Herb Robertson mutes his horn here, while the final member of the quartet - drummer Harvey Sorgen is a master of intuative expression on the drums - mixing Paul Motion/Brian Blade-style creativity with his duties as timekeeper.
Fonda and Stevens basically alternate the composition duties, so the bassist's rewarding "Looking for the Lake" follows. This number starts off as fairly straight-ahead hard bop number, but mutates into a thorny free form middle section. Stevens, here again proves himself worthy as one of the pre-eminent pianists carrying on the tradition of the late Andrew Hill, with his impressionistic and inventive forays, while Sorgen sets off a few explosions of his own. Stevens' hard-charging "Changing Tides" is a rhythmic and melodic delight with some of Robertson's best work. His playing at times is as fiery as Freddie Hubbard, but his tone is closer to Miles. Stevens again thrills with his solo, and the interplay between the members is on a subconsious level. "The Path" proves Fonda can play nice when he wants to, while his "Yes, This is It" returns to stretching boundaries. "There is a Very Fine Line Between Your Life and Mine" takes thngs into a surprisingly whole new realm - with the group singing along - in a manner reminiscent of AACM, Pharoh Sanders and Sun Ra - in between lengthy free jazz excursions. Steven's haunting "Whale Majesty" sounds like it may have been written around whale sounds and the group mimics the deep sea movement and sounds of these majestic creatures with their instruments. The group changes it up again on Steven's blusey "Memphis Ramble" - which bounces along jauntily and shows the wide range of skills these players have, while also making the listener smile at the Cab Calloway sing-along that tells the story of Stevens' move to Memphis - following his wife who teaches poetry at Rhodes College. Finally, the memorable "Break Song" takes the band out on a high note with great solos from all. Make note: this is one of the finest jazz quartets around today and deserving of greater respect and attention.
Brian Landrus - "Forward"
(Cadence Jazz Records)
A stunning debut from a young reed player that announces a new voice to watch for. Just recently released, Brian Landrus recorded this album in 2007 as he was finishing school in NYC, and his recording group includes tenor saxophonist George Garzone, alto saxophonist Allan Chase, trumpeter Jason Palmer, pianist Michael Cain, bassist John Lockwood, Rakalam Bob Moses on drums and percussion, and percussionist Tupac Mantilla. Landrus, meanwhile, plays baritone sax, bass clarinet and alto flute - bringing a wide range of possibilities and colors to his surprisingly mature compositions. The album begins with a loving take on Monk's "Ask Me Now" (the only cover) - with some tasty solo work by Landrus and great piano from Cain. "The Stream" takes things south of the border with strong solos by Garzone and Landrus and great ensemble playing from the rhythm section. But then, just when you think you've got Landrus pegged, he switches up on you again: "Shadows" features heady bass clarinet improvisation in a dark and mysterious musical landscape, while "To Love and Grow" is bright and bouncy - with Landrus on alto flute. "Classification," the title track, "Beauty of Change" and the Afro-improvisational "Destination" all have interesting twists and arrangements and show the imprint of a talented composer on the rise, while "Interpretations" is a brief solo baritone sax exploration. It is a great feeling to hear a young artist who is intent on taking jazz into the future with exciting new works - building on the foundation of tradition, but developing an original voice of his own. Maybe the debut of the year.
Sundar - "What a Dream I Had"
(In Sound Records)
Tornoto-based Sundar Viswanathan is a alto/soprano saxophonist and flute player who leads several ensembles in the Toronto area, while also acting as an Associate Professor of Music at York University. On What a Dream I Had, this talented artist reveals yet another aspect of his musical ability - that of jazz vocalist. Many instrumentalists dabble in vocals, but Sundar is immersed in his, and his devotion to his vocal craft is apparent. This talented young man has an appealingly smooth voice that seems to ride squarely between Chet Baker in timbre and Tony Bennett in phrasing. This combination is a winner, and you may find yourself singing along on familiar standards, such as "How Long Has This Been Going On," "End of a Love Affair," "It Could Happen to You," "Waltz for Debby," "Easy Living" and many more. The India-born Canadian
also takes on Brazilian music with "A Felicidade" (a highlight) and "Fotografia," and even adds Gordon Lightfoot ("The Way I Feel") and Simon and Garfunkel ("For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her") to the Johnny Mercer, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin numbers. The Paul Simon tune is turned into a brilliant jazz number that closes the album on a shimmering wave. Of course, Sundar's tasteful reed work is on display as well, and he is backed by some fine players including pianists Adrean Farrugia and Dave Restivo, bassist George Koller, drummer Larnell Lewis and percussionist Alan Heatherington on two tracks. I receive numerous vocal jazz releases and it takes a special singer to make me take notice. I took notice of Sundar and based on the reviews this artist is receiving, the rest of the jazz world is taking notice as well.
Russ Kassoff - "Bird Fly By"
Jazz pianist, composer/arranger/conductor and more Russ Kassoff's bio reads like a thing of dreams: longtime pianist and musical director for both Frank Sinatra and Liza Minelli, co-founded a big band that included the late Gerry Niewood; accompanied Tony Bennett, Rita Moreno (with whom he still continues as MD) , Paul Anka and many more; and recorded albums with people like Bucky and John Pizzarelli, Red Norvo, Carly Simon and Rod Stewart. Currently, Kassoff has been leading a 17-piece big band as musical director for choreographer Twila Tharp's Broadway show tribute to Frank Sinatra - Come Fly Away. On Kassoff's sophomore release in a solo/trio setting, the pianist presents an eclectic group of songs ranging from "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" to the Sound of Music's "Edelweiss" to Buffy Saint-Marie's "Until It's Time for You to Go" to Jerome Richardson's "The Groove Merchant" (made famous by the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band), Brigadoon's "The Heather on the Hill" and Schwartz/Dietz' "New Sun in the Sky." Add in a cover of Gerry Niewood's "Joy," an original tribute to the late saxman ("Elegy - Part 1 - Suite for Gerry") and several other Kassoff-penned compositions and you have the makings of an album that is sure to keep the listener's interest. Adding their talents to Kassoff's world-class piano skills on this session are first-call NYC musicians - bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Dennis Mackrel, as well as Gerry Niewood's talented son - Adam on soprano and tenor sax on a couple tracks. Kassoff's piano playing is light and pleasant and as to be expected - well-versed in traditional technique. This sprightly touch truly enhances pieces like the lovely title track - which skitters like a bird across your senses. There is an obvious camaraderie between the trio members, and Niewood adds some deeply heartfelt playing as tribute to his late father. Kassoff and crew prove to be as adept at up-tempo charners ("The Groove Merchant," "Joy," "A Breath of Spring") as ballads ("As Life Disappears," the solo "The Heather on the Hill") and Kossoff's original compositions are as strong and appealing as the covers. Meanwhile, the recorded sound is beautifully clean and warm and a joy to listen to. If you love jazz piano solos, you will take to this recording like a fish to water, or a bird to the air.
The Koby Hayon Trio - "Gemini"
Israeli-born guitarist Koby Hayon is a John Abercrombie protege, and you can hear elements of his former teacher's sound in his playing. However, the guitarist also lists Bill Frisell as an influence, has spent time converting traditional Israeli music into jazz and playing in a Beatles cover band - so it is clear he has developed a sound of his own, which fuses these different elements together. On Gemini, Hayon plays mostly clean and unaffected guitar, accompanied by drummer Jerome Morris and veteran bassist Kermit Driscoll. This unpretentious and unadorned setting is perfect for Hayon's interesting compositions which blend traditional jazz guitar with Middle-Eastern song and pop. To underline this fact, he covers the popular Yemenite street song Galbi and the Beatles' Norwegian Wood. Intent listening and nice improvisations and interaction by the trio members throughout lead to a satisfying listening experience, with the overall mood one of an understated and lingering feel of mystery.
Fingerprints - "Dream Life"
(Pacific Coast Jazz)
Fingerprints, a Dallas-based group, has been around for 15 years and is considered one of the finest contemporary jazz combos in the South. On their 5th release, Dream Life, the group again sets out to prove that "smooth" jazz can be substantial and played with skill and feeling. Compared to such groups as the Crusaders, Pieces of Dreams and Spyro Gyra, Fingerprints brings its own southern-fried approach into the mix. They open up things nicely with Herbie Hancock's "Tell Me a Bedtime Story" - arranged as a smooth jazz number and featuring Shelley Carrol on flute; and they follow that with band leader and virtuoso bassist Frederick A. Nichelson's piccolo bass and Claud Hardrick's soprano sax taking the leads on the addictive title track. This track was dedicated to the late great Wayman Tisdale and also features keyboard player Bernard Wright. The Memphis-born Nichelson brings a soulful direction to the sound, as evidenced on "Acoustic Soul," while singer Tim Jones makes his first appearance on the southern soul-drenched "I Am a Man." The group for the most utilizes some tasteful synthesizer programming, but they do indulge a bit on Diane Warren's "For You I Will" - which also showcases guest John Gordon on tenor sax. Other cuts are funky, smooth or Latin-flavored, and Bernard Wright also adds a new arrangement of Tadd Dameron's "Lady Bird" - with some nice work from guitarist Robert Lacroix. Carrol adds some Texas tenor on the ballad "Lonesome Rhodes," while vocalist Jones reappears on "Anything for You" - with more strong tenor sax from Gordon. If you dig the sounds of contemporary jazz, you'll probably get into this release from the southern branch.
Wellstone Conspiracy - "Motive"
Idahoan and soprano saxophonist Brent Jensen teams up again for the second outing with three Seattle musicians: Bill Anschell (piano), John Bishop (drums) and Jeff Johnson (bass) to create this true gem of a recording. This album entrances immediately from the start - beginning with Jensen's tribute to free jazz pioneer and Ornette Coleman drummer Ed Blackwell - "Bye Bye Blackwell." Jensen's soprano drifts in an unsettling manner over a repeated bass motif, before Anschell and Bishop spontaneously combust. Jensen returns with some compelling free directions and the band lurches and rumbles toward the song's ultimate and satisfying terminus.The band is highly interlocked and organic with each member adding important components, and Jensen's aching soprano the hub around which the spokes emanate. Anschell's "Phindango" follows and brings the music back to earth - sounding like an update on the classic '60s sounds of Shorter and Hancock that we love so well. "Anne Rose" (Jensen) and "Turbulator" (Anschell) continue to delve into this attractive vein with rewarding results. Meanwhile, bassist Johnson also contributes a strong composition - the delicious ballad "Portrait" - a true highlight on which he solos beautifully. Anschell's "Stories We Hold" waltzes along lightly, while Jensen's "Doop Dee Doop" is angular fun, and the album ends with a dark Anschell arrangement of Strayhorn's "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing." Did the government really cause Sen. Wellstone's place to crash with a burst from an EMP device? That we may not know, but at least we have a recording of intriguing jazz with which to serve as soundtrack to our contemplation.
Rich Corpolongo Trio - "Get Happy"
Recorded live with no overdubs by Ken Christianson at a theater at the Sherwood Music School, Chicago tenor saxophone veteran Rich Corpolongo's Get Happy (his third release for Delmark) is a throwback to another era, when the emphasis was on the music and performance not and laser light shows. Corpolongo is assisted by two other mainstays of the Chicago jazz scene: bassist Dan Shapera (with whom Corpolongo served in Barrett Deems' big band) and drummer Rusty Jones. There are no frills here - just three fine musicians taking on a choice selection of well-and-lesser-known standards. Charlie Parker's "Chi Chi" - the first of two Parker compositions handled opens and the sound is reminiscent of Sonny Rollins' classic solo work. "Mangoes" - made popular by Rosemary Clooney - gives Jones an opportunity to show his versatility as he provides a wide range of percussive sounds on this Latin-tinged and upbeat number. Get happy, indeed! You'll be hard pressed not to smile during this infectiously fun tune. It takes cajones to take on the oft-covered "Body and Soul," but Corpolongo shows know fear as he tosses his hat into the ring as an interpreter of this great song. His tenor sound is full and rich, but also clean and melodic with impressive but not showy technique. Bassist Shapera also deserves kudos for his tasteful work. These three vets truly know their way around a song with a capital "S." The Sonny comparison again comes into play with their choice of "Without a Song" - which Rollins made famous on The Bridge. Corpolongo gives it his own directions and plays it a bit cooler, but it is still a fun and exhilarating ride. Other tracks include a leisurely-paced "The Boy Next Door," rip-roaring title number, sweetly-swinging "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams," all-time favorite "Lullaby of the Leaves" and Parker's brilliant "Dewey Square." Fans of well-played, straight forward, no-frills release will have plenty to get happy about here.
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