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.
John Hollenbeck's Large Ensemble - "Eternal Interlude"
It is such a pleasure to see the reemergence of big band jazz in an era where discouraging financial considerations make it nearly impossible for such bands to succeed. But with composer/bandleaders like Maria Schneider and Carla Bley plugging away, the genre has not completely disappeared. Artists like David Binney, Donny McCaslin and Tobin Mueller have added horn sections, while Roy Hargrove's latest also recreates the big band for the modern age. One of the most interesting of these recent forays comes from drummer/composer John Hollenbeck on his Grammy-nominated Eternal Interlude.
As leader of the critically-acclaimed Claudia Quartet as well as working with many of the top names in modern jazz music, Hollenbeck has shown himself to be one of the interesting composers and players on the scene. As befitting his stature, his 20-piece Large Ensemble includes some of the top players on the NYC scene, including pianist Gary Versace - whose percussive piano explosion starts off the album on "Foreign One" (a play on Monk's "Four in One"). The music is colorful and highly-composed, with solos kept to a minimum and with the music ebbing an flowing from minimalism to thick harmonies. An example of the breadth of the composer's vision can be heard on the haunting title track which is nearly 20 minutes long and builds perceptively from an almost New Age calm to a tidal swell before brief chanting leads into Versace on organ into rising horns and reeds into marimba and interjected bird calls into a funky bass rhythm with an almost conventional-sounding horn arrangement into Phillip Glass-like repetitive figures - whew! Thankfully, all of the metamorphosing is handled in an a tasty and organic way. Pieces like the Latin-flavored "Guarana" and floating "The Cloud" (with vocals and spoken words by Theo Bleckmann). The text for the appropriately-named "The Cloud" is from a 14th Century spiritual manuscript - again showing Hollenbeck's muses come from unusual places. "Perserverance" swings hard and features drums and saxophone, while the short "No Boat" ends this worthy recording with some echo-drenched drones.
Jason Adasiewicz - "Varmint"
Jason Adasiewicz may be the busiest vibraphonist on a Chicago scene that also features talented players Kathy Kelly and Katie Wiegman. A member of Josh Berman's Old Idea, James Falzone's Klang, the Lucky 7s, Rob Mazurek's Exploding Star Orchestra, the Nicole Mitchell Quartet and Mike Reed's Loose Assembly (among others), Adasiewicz has also lead his own Rolldown configuration for the past five years (see our review of his 2008 album, Rolldown here). This sophomore release features some of Chicago's best up-and-coming musicians, including cornetist Berman, bassist Jason Roebke, drummer Frank Rosaly and alto saxophonist/clarinetist Aram Shelton. The music is free-flowing, with a clear nod to the music of both Eric Dolphy and Andrew Hill - whose "The Griots" (which originally featured Bobby Hutcherson on vibes) ends the album on a high note.
Although the music looks back to those recordings of the sixties, the group has cultivated their own original and quite modern direction - which is immediately recognizable on the album's opening one-two punch of "Green Grass" and "Varmint." Berman and Shelton supply tasty solos - the latter is especially welcome on clarinet on tunes like "Punchbug," while Roebke and Rosaly are mostly satisfied mostly to push ahead the mostly languorous pace. The former plays a gnarly solo on "Dagger' and brings out the bow on "Hide," while Rosaly provides some explosiveness on this engaging tune as well. Throughout, Adasiewicz's tone clusters are central, although he seems to be more thoughtful in his approach than his reputation would indicate (also a drummer, he is known for his hard-hitting displays in concert) - as highlighted by his shimmering solo on the delicate ballad "I Hope She is Awake." This recording is one crazy varmint, made up of intricate avant garde compositions performed very well by a cohesive ensemble.
Kristina - "Offshore Echoes"
A solid and pleasant debut from multi-cultural singer Kristina, featuring African, Cuban and Brazilian versions of some of the singer's favorite songs. Produced by Afro-Cuban trombonist/composer/producer Wayne Wallace, the recording features many of the Bay Area's best, including pianist Murray Low, bassist David Belove, flautist/saxophonist Mary Fettig and guitarist Rick Vandiver. Of special note is percussionist Michaelle Goerlitz who combines with drummers Paul van Wageningen and Deszon Claiborne to propel the music nicely. Kristina's song choices are eclectic, yet tasty - starting with her version of Sting's "Tea in the Sahara." The singer also covers "Cherokee" (she is part Cherokee herself), Chick Corea's "Open Your Eyes" (originally sung by Flora Purim) and samba favorite "Take Me to Aruanda." Kristina even resurrects Simon and Garfunkel's "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)" as a reggae tune - a delightful way to end the album. The arrangements of the songs are enjoyable, the recording is first rate and Kristina's vocals are strong with a hint of "Sass."
Michael Janisch - "Purpose Built"
When former Wisconsin native and University of Minnesota running-back Michael Janisch tore up his knee, he returned to his love playing the acoustic bass - studying at Berklee and playing in NYC, before eventually moving to London in 2005, where he has become a prominent member of that city's jazz scene. On Purpose Built, Janisch brings together some of his fellow British musicians: vibraphonist Jim Hart, guitarist Phil Robson, alto saxophonist Patrick Cornelius - with some of his compatriots from the U.S. - including tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III, drummer Jonathan Blake, guitarist Mike Moreno and pianist Aaron Goldberg. Janisch maintains the purposeful drive he had as an athlete - playing an extremely muscular acoustic and electric bass in various grouping ranging from sextets, quartets, trios and even an incredible duet version with Blake on Coltrane's "Moment's Notice." This classic is joined by Strayhorn's "Blood Count," Sammy Fain's "Love is a Many Splendored Thing," "Milestones" and eight originals.
The composer's powerful bass opens up the album on "Precisely Now" - and he and Blake combine to form an incendiary rhythm section. Smith and Paul Booth add an unusual tenor sax tandem, while Hart scintillates on vibes. It is an auspicious beginning. Trumpeter Jason Palmer and guitarist Moreno replace Smith and Hart, while Janisch switches over to electric bass on this funky number. Meanwhile, Aaron Goldberg is one of the finest young pianists alive and he enhances the Fain chestnut (as well as two other tracks) - taking things up a notch whenever he touches the keys. Jansich's robust Mingus-esque acoustic bass is especially prevalent on "Shumshi," and his vigor on the four-strings is an important element of his sound throughout. Intricate original compositions like "Serenade of the Seas," "Pukl-n-Pappo," "Sofa Stomp," "Beep" and "Lost Creek" utilize various techniques and musical styles - stamping Janisach as an interesting composer who has studied his metier well, while the haunting, stripped down trio-version of "Blood Count" may be the highlight of this estimable release from a talented and energetic young artist.
Ben Neuman - "Introductions"
Young pianist Ben Neuman arrives on the scene with a stirring and surprisingly assured debut. Paying tribute to pianists like Horace Silver ("Peace"), Oscar Levant (the lovely ballad "Blame it on My Youth") and Herbie Hancock ("Riot") the grad student at the U. of Chicago (in philosophy, no less!) announces that his intellect isn't limited to the study of Plato. In fact, Neuman has studied piano with people like the legendary Dr. Billy Taylor and he has some major chops. Backed by one of Chicago's finest rhythm sections - Dennis Carroll on bass and George Fludas on drums, he takes on Coltrane's "26-2" right off the bat and - amazingly enough - the young man is more than ready for the task - coming up with a splendid version of this difficult number. A satisfying version of "I Fall in Love Too Easily" follows and his mature keyboard work shows why this young player is becoming a force on the local scene. As to be expected, the band interplay is first rate and the clear and warm recording captures the nuances of the players very well. A fiery original "M.J.D." makes one hope we will hear more original compositions from Neuman, and he is equally at home with playing a straight-ahead piece like "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" at ballad pace or deconstructing it as he does with his spicy version of "You the Night and Music." An enjoyable trio outing and great introduction to a pianist whom I'm sure will be making his mark for years to come.
Tierra Negra & Muriel Anderson - "New World Flamenco"
(Tierra Negra Records)
Another former Chicagoan - now transplanted to Nashville - Muriel Anderson holds the distinction of being the first female National Fingerpicking Guitar Champion - whom we had the pleasure of seeing perform live with John Moulder at his recent Bifrost CD release at the Green Mill (see our review here). Besides her proficiency on classical guitar, Anderson is one of the world's best on the unusual harp guitar. Tierra Negra is a German flamenco guitar duo made up of Raughi Ebert and Leo Henrichs. The three met at a music festival in Germany and decided to collaborate. On New World Flamenco, they are joined by some top-flight guests, including drummer Danny Gottlieb, bassists Mark Egan, Helmuth Fass and Victor Wooten, percussionist Felipe Rengifo Hernandez, Jr. and Sabina Amadia on palmas (handclapping, etc...). The combination has produced an exceptional blend of flamenco and fingerstyle guitar music which will have you clapping your hands and stomping your feet. Naturally, Tierra Negra provides most of the more true flamenco style pieces, like "White Horses," "L'Air Du Camargue," "On the Market Place" but Anderson can write in this genre as well, as on the luscious "Nosotros" and exciting "Fantasia de Fuego" (featuring Amadia's dancing footsteps). She also brings the duo's Spanish guitar sounds into less familiar, but no less rewarding realms, as on the atmospheric "Cloud Cover" (enhanced by Wooten's chiming bass) or the quiet "Summer Morning Rain." The former tune was inspired by Seattle, and many of the pieces are conceived by the artists based on places they visit - so much of the music has a Mediterranean flavor that will transport the listener to the South of France, while Anderson's "View From Space" takes the listener even further. Too much beautiful guitar work here to even list, but suffice to say great tunes like "Entre Dos Riojas" and "See You in the Bar" will have you raising a glass of the red stuff in thanks for this trio's life-affirming music.
Hadley Caliman - "Straight Ahead"
Based on his background and abilities, it is astonishing that a player like tenor saxophonist Hadley Caliman is not more well-known. Originally from L.A., Caliman studied with Dexter Gordon before touring with Mongo Santamaria, Gerald Wilson, Willie Bobo, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Bobby Hutcherson and many more, even - at one point - touring live with the rock group Santana. For more than twenty years, he was a member of the music faculty at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, WA. Since his retirement, the 78-year-old musicians has been performing live and recording. On his new release, Straight Ahead, the veteran is backed by a solid and hard-swinging group, including pianist Eric Verlinde, bassist Phil Sparks, and drummer Matt Jorgensen. He is joined on the front line by trumpeter Thomas Marriott - who also produced the recording. Charging out of the gates on Caliman's "Cigar Eddie," the band sounds like the Jazz Messengers on this straight-ahead hard bop gem that showcases Caliman's Coltrane-meets-Dexter Gordon-style and Marriott burning it up like Freddie in his prime. Things slow to a sultry boil on Harold Land's "Rapture," as Mariott and Caliman show how to play soft and easy - exceptional! Nice solo here by pianist Verlinde as well, and his playing is a pleasure throughout. The tenor master also turns in a beautiful turn in the spotlight on the ballad "You Leave Me Breathless." Marriott adds the pulsing "Cathlamet," while the band also covers Strayhorn's "Lush Life," Lee Morgan's "Totem Pole," "The Night has a Thousand Eyes" and Joe Locke (who appeared on Caliman's 's last release Gratitude) 's "Blues for PT." Hip tunes played strongly and energetically by a Pacific Northwest group led by a 78-year-old who is still charging straight ahead.
Emilio Solla & the Tango Jazz Conspiracy - "Bien Sur"
(Fresh Sound Records)
When people think of South American jazz, I suspect thoughts immediately turn to the bossa nova, but the lands below the equator are home to another music sensation - the tango. Originating in the 1890s in the slums of Buenos Aires and based on a merger of slave rhythms and European influences, the tango became a craze that that swept the globe in the early 1900s. Now heralded as an important part of worldwide cultural heritage, the tango was first combined with jazz in 1955 by the great Astor Piazzolla with what was labeled nuevo tango. The word "Tango" no longer refers to just the old school tango proper and has become a label for much Argentinean music. New York-based, Argentinean pianist Emilio Solla whose Conversas (Al lado del agua) was one our top albums of 2008 (see our review here) continues to blur the boundaries of "tango jazz" with his new release, Bien Sur, which mixes classical and Argentinean folk music with improvisational jazz.
The new sounds that Solla explores are immediately apparent as Victor Prieto's frenetic Galacian bagpipes skitters wildly over active drummer Richie Barshay's percussion on the opening ode to paranoia "Remain Alert." It is a breathtaking way to start things off, and you might be forgiven for thinking you've wandered into an avant-garde blowing session. But then things come together with Chris Cheek (Paul Motian, Charlie Haden, Carla Bley)'s soprano sax, Jorge Roeder tree trunk bass lines and Solla's effulgent piano tangents and the whole band starts swinging together, with Victor Prieto's accordion taking an extended solo spot before coming to an impressive crescendo. The free-flowing "Payos" takes the piano, soprano sax and accordion melodic nucleus in a somewhat Spanish-flavored direction on this especially satisfying number - not surprising since Solla lived in Barcelona for a decade. Meanwhile, veteran drummer Billy Hart - an admitted fan of Piazzolla --shows his considerable skills as he joins the group on the dancing "Hartbeat." A cover of the tango "Malena" shimmers as it shows the band can play it pretty straight when necessary, while the folk tune "Chakafrik" pairs guest soprano saxophonist Tim Armacost with Cheek (on baritone) on this fun polyrhythmic composition. On "Candombley" three guest percussionists add the Uruguayan rhythm (or candombe), while Solla brings the Bley (Paul)-inspired piano on a pice that ends with joyful singer to the beat. A simply delicious vocal song, "Tonos Lejanos" features singer Lucia Pulido and ends this exemplary album with Solla's haunting piano and Cheek's romantic tenor sax. Another great recording from a composer who aims to affect the human spirit through merging the sounds of various cultures into a universal music of brotherhood.
E.S.P. - "Time's Up"
Upstate New York has produced jazz artists like Grover Washington, Spyra Gyra and Hard Logic. E.S.P. was founded by bassist Matt Vacanti and guitarist John Magnante. On their 4th release, and first since 2004's Uptown Express, the duo are joined by saxophonist Brian Scherer and drummer Karl Sterling, along with special guest Barry Bluementhal on keyboards. The all-original composition production includes three songs each by Vacanti and Scherer, with five by Magnante and tend to well-played straight-ahead stye jazz that swings like a pendulum - with some agreeable Latin, contemporary and blues elements sewn into a neat package. Magnante has a bit of Wes Montgomery-like flair and his "Copper Room" is a highlight, while Vacanti has a Jimmy Haslip/Yellowjackets feel to his electric bass work - check out his solo on his "Stone Cold." It's a nice combination and Scherer and Sterling bring additional welcome elements to play. Scherer's saxes and flutes especially shine and his "La Hija" could almost be mistaken for fellow up-staters Spyra Gyra. Blumenthal also is a welcome addition - providing solid work on the keys that serves to cement this well-rounded release. With it's nods to the past inspiring their wide-ranging and confident songwriting, Time's Up is a strong musical statement that should capture some deserved radio airplay while appealing to fans of new original straight-ahead jazz music.
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