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. Thanks to everyone for a great 4-1/2 years!!!!.
Matt Ulery's Loom - "Flora. Fauna. Fervor."
One of the most rewarding events on the recent Chicago jazz scene has been the emergence as a composer of talented young bassist Matt Ulery. His Loom project released one of our top-ten albums of 2007 - Music Box Ballerina (see our review here) and Matt himself released the interesting classical-leaning Themes and Scenes in 2009 (see our take here) . Now Matt and Loom are back with another stellar outing - this time a vinyl-only release entitled Flora. Fauna. Fervor. Of course, it wouldn't fit in Ulery's Eastern European-influenced canon without the music box chimes that open the album on the incredible "Great Full" - one of Ulery's best songs yet and one of the best songs to come out of 2010. Helping Ulery create his musical tapestries again is one of the best and most in-tune-with-each-other ensembles in the city: keyboardist Rob Clearfield - whose sensitive playing and array of unusual and vintage sounds helps give Loom its unique ambiance, drummer Jon Deitemyer - a somewhat unsung player who deserves more recognition for his perceptive work on the drums, a fine and in-sync horn section of Thad Franklin (trumpet) and Tim Haldeman (sax), vibraphonist Katie Wiegman and world renowned violinist Zach Broch. The epic (10:16) "The Queen" follows and is another highlight - this time investigating Ulery's interests in repetition and odd times - utilizing a repeating three note pattern over which other parts are layered, while moving through several permutations. The waltzing "When I Think of You" brings in Clearfield's accordion, while also opening things up for some free form interjections. Meanwhile, "Shadow Ballerina" adds more Old World charm with some great band interplay with nice accordion and violin, intense drumming and a strong Haldeman sax solo. "High City/Low City" is a too brief interlude, while "A Wind is a Blowin'" ends the album in a nice melodic fashion - featuring Wiegman's sparkling vibes, heavy drumming and some nice violin flourishes. The blend of Euro-classical and jazz that Ulery and his group brew is an addictive treat and one of the best recordings to come out of Chicago in 2010.
Marbin - "Breaking the Cycle"
On their sophomore effort - Breaking the Cycle, the young Israeli duo known as Marbin (relocated to Chicago) have been joined by drummer Paul Wertico and bassist Steve Rodby (both best known as longtime members of Pat Metheny's band) along with world-renowned percussionist Jamey Haddad. The presence of these world-class veterans speaks volumes as to the respect given these young musicians talents and compositional skills, wherein disparate styles, such as rock, folk and jazz mingle with ambient soundscapes and Middle Eastern world music. The opening track - "Loopy" starts things off with a bang with both Dani Rabin and Danny Markovitch shredding on guitar and sax, while Wertico plays like a freight train charging full bore down the tracks. The shadowy "A Serious Man" and the gentle "Mom's Song" - with vocals by local favorite Leslie Beukelman, follow - displaying the wide range of these young musicians' aptitude. The strong melodies are steeped in the sounds of their homeland, but "Bar Stomp" shows they have adapted well to the tenets of their new home. This gritty blues features some wicked slide playing by Rabin, while the next number - "Outdoor Revolution" is a showcase for Markovitch's lilting saxophone soloing melodically over Rabin's acoustic guitar strumming. "Western Sky" brings back Beukelman for more pleasant wordless vocals, while the subtle "Burning Match" exudes the mysterious and plaintive sounds of Israel. The lovely "Claire's Indigo" reminds one of some of the work on their self-titled release, with an atmosphere filled with chiming sounds, percussion and guitar slides. The waltzing "Snufkin" increases in activity and offers one of Markovitch's finest solos, while the "The Old Silhouette" is another compelling musical sketch that floats along gently until Rabin's edgy slide guitar takes it into a darker place. A sing-along, folk number, "Winds of Grace" - featuring singer Daniel White ends this album, but don't shut it off too soon or you will miss Markovitch's spectacular "hidden" saxophone solo. Fresh off the recent success of their collaboration with Wertico on the drummer's critically-lauded release - "Impressions of a City," Markovitch and Rabin continue to blaze their own trail by creating a powerful merger of jazz, rock, ambient and world musical styles into a sound distinctly their own.
Corea, Clarke & White - "Forever"
Three quarters of the jazz fusion supergroup Return to Forever (pianist Chick Corea, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White) return on "Forever," but this recording comes with a twist or two. First of all, most of the entire first disc consists of the trio playing jazz standards such as "Green Dolphin Street," "Waltz for Debby" and "Hackensack" and Corea straight-ahead numbers like "Windows" and "Bud Powell." These takes were taken from their recent tour. It probably shouldn't come as a surprise (based on the talent of the players) that they are able to succeed in this arena, but many may not know that the trio started out playing traditional straight-ahead jazz before becoming fusion superstars. Of course, one of the highlights of this side is a stellar version of Return to Forever favorite "No Mystery." Fans of the group's fusion side will be pleased by the second disc - recorded mostly live during rehearsals for their appearance at the Hollywood Bowl with guests including original RTF electric guitarist Bill Connors, violinist Jean Luc Ponty and singer Chaka Khan on RTF classics "Senor Mouse," "Armando's Rhumba" and "Renaissance." Khan also performs on a wonderful version of "I Loves You Porgy," while the final track is an outstanding live trio version of "500 Miles High" from the Monterey Jazz Fest. Corea sparkles on piano throughout, White retains his powerhouse drum propulsion, while Clarke is playing as strong as ever - adding several memorable solos and a new original number - "La Cancion de Sophia." Ponty and Connors both do some serious shredding - the latter with some tasty distorted Middle-Eastern scale riffs and fans can be excited to hear that a tour with these five as a quartet is hinted to be in the works for this year.
Eastern Boundary Quartet - "Icicles"
This exciting international quartet consists of bassist Joe Fonda and his frequent collaborator - pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, in conjunction with Hungarians jazzers Mihaly Borbely on soprano sax and Balazs Begyi on drums, while this recording was recorded live in Budapest. Fonda's "Fish Soup" is a great starting off point - its driving pulse bass riff (in 11/4?) &8212 pushed by Begyi's aggressive drumming - allows for enthusiastic free form improvisation by pianist Stevens and saxophonist Borbely. Fonda takes an energetic solo before the band goes into the Stevens-penned title track - a 10:05 showcase for this stunning keyboard player to show his melodic side after the wild angular cascades of the first tune. Borbely's sax here caresses Stevens' melody leading into the pianists' creative and heartfelt solo. The Hungarian contigent also brings their own compositions to the proceedings: Bagyi's "Soft Balkan Wind" is a nice Eastern-tinged duet between the drummer and saxophonist, while Borbely's "Borders" goes even further into Eastern modality, with Stevens adding choice chord clusters. Fonda's "China" does indeed echo misty images of that nation in its deliberate pace and angular melodies. The band covers Hungarian jazz guitar great Atilla Zoller's vibrant "Hungarian Jazz Rhapsody" with zeal. The group ends the recording with Borbely's "Transylvania Blues," which seamlessly merges North American blues with the sounds of the Black Sea region. An exceptional release replete with excellent musical collaboration between the east and west.
Peter Paulsen - "Goes Without Saying"
(Square Peg Works)
Bassist and composer Peter Paulsen returns with an exciting new set of originals and interesting arrangements of tunes by Wayne Shorter and Kenny Wheeler on Goes Without Saying. His new quintet was assembled to perform and record these new pieces, which Paulsen has been working on since receiving a PEW Fellowship in Music Composition. Paulsen's Change of Scenery was one of our favorite albums of 2008 (see our review here) and this follow up is just as strong. The opening title track is a stellar composition with intricate parts and layers and features great ensemble work from Paulsen and saxophonist Chris Bacas (on simmering soprano here), pianist Mike Frank, trumpet/flugelhornist Dave Ballou and drummer Chris Hanning. Paulsen also enjoys reharmonizing and reinventing the works of Wayne Shorter - his take on "Fee Fi Fo Fum" is an amazing feat that builds upon the original, yet takes surprising new directions (Check out Ballou's highly creative solo here - which moves - along with the arrangement - across avant garde edginess through the blues and more). Paulsen's bass is deep and creamy and centers everything. Hanning adds some tasty percussion to the "Written in Stone" - highlighted by great solos from Ballou and Bacas and a strong solo spotlight finally by the talented Mr. Paulsen.
Perhaps the highlight of the entire recording - Paulsen's original "You Said You'd Call" opens with luminous arco bass before slowly unfurling to reveal a composition that moves effortlessly between 3/4 and 4/4 and achieves great depth and beauty in its haunting sadness and reflection. It is Frank's turn to take a solo and he responds with some superbly emotional playing over Paulsen and Hanning's sensitive foundation. Bacas and Ballou intertwine their lines wonderfully - creating a stunning climax to this incredible piece. The second half of the recording includes unique arrangements of Kenny Wheeler's "Smatter" (with nice tenor solo from Bacas) and "Compensation" ( a challenging version in 5/4 and 4/4) along with the heartfelt "Psalm" (great emotional bass work here), the reworked older Paulsen gem "Plan B" (here the musicians lines exist like contrails of smoke or tendrils of vines that descend slowly) and the kinetic Monk-inspired "Square Peg." This is the kind of music you didn't think they still wrote and that you wish more people would take the time to produce - straight-ahead jazz instrumentation with a touch of classical influence and twists and turns in the inventive arrangements. Hopefully this new release can open up more ears to the talent of West Chester Pennsylvania-based Peter Paulsen.
Matt Nelson - "Nostalgiamaniac"
Young keyboard player Matt Nelson is one of the up-and-coming stars of the instrument in Chicago. Perhaps best known from his excellent work with saxophonist Shawn Maxwell, guitarist Aaron Koppel, folk artist Matthew Santos and bassist Tim Seisser, Nelson has recently released Nostalgiamaniac on the Chicago Sessions label. Backed by long-time associates - drummer Matt Nischan and bassist Graham Czach, Nelson and his trio immediately leap into action on the energy-filled piano trio "Infatuation" - an ever-shifting, highly-rhythmic composition that is perhaps the strongest of the date. Over an undulating rhythm section, Nelson rips off string after string of melodic piano notes before Nischan takes the band out with some hot drum fills. The brief and sensitive "Closing the Door" (one of three Nischan compositions) bridges the way to the gently waltzing "Quiet Love (And Sunshine)" - which displays Nelson's mature compositional style in its fullest. The hard-charging "The Epitome" is driven by Czach's walking bass, while Santos' yearning "The Lady Luna" is subtle with a hint of Latin-perfume. "Longing For" and the lovely ending "The Art of Suppression" are Nelson in solo mode, while "Revisted" is relaxing and restrained building toward its pinnacle. Nischan's "Compliments" is a burner, while the drummer's "Dave's Blues" gives he band a chance to trade solos. Meanwhile Nelson shows his penchant for nostalgia on the Vince Guaradli-ish "Matthew My Boy" (based on a theme of his father's) and "Alternate Antioch" (about his hometown - albeit a dream version that is ever-changing) - which also features perhaps Czach's best solo on the record. Nostalgiamaniac is a satisfying release from a pianist who clearly has a bright future.
Leslie Pintchik - "We're Here to Listen"
A former literature teacher at Columbia, pianist Leslie Pintchik took a different path and began playing jazz in a trio with bassist Red Mitchell, before forming her own group in 1992. Bassist (and guitarist) Scott Hardy (a fellow Mitchell alum) and Pintchik were joined by drummer Mark Dodge in 1998, and percussionist Satoshi Takeishi was recruited three years later. This quartet has stayed together since that time and this long association is readily apparent in the way the players relate to each other: it is no coincidence that Pintchik named her album (her third outing) We're Here to Listen. The album band starts off with a gong and quiet cymbals before launching into a cover of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind." The song is performed beautifully with a savory combination of adventure and assurance. Pintchik's arrangements are comfortable, swinging and intelligent, while her playing is light and appealing. The band also takes on "I Can't Make You Love Me" (a soulful number recorded by Bonnie Riatt) with a nice South American feel. The swinging burner "There You Go" is the first of six originals written by Pintchik and one by Hardy and features a great drum percussion break."Completely" is a gorgeous Latin-tinged slow number with tasty bass solo from Hardy, while "In the Wrong Place at the Right Time" is a delicious Monk-inspired blues. The moody "Wabi-Sabi" and "Ripe" are both shimmering yet subtle gems, while the band's take on the standard "For All We Know" is highly satisfying straight-ahead piano trio (plus percussion) joy. "Discreet" and Hardy's "Ancient" end the album on such a pleasing note that you will be hard pressed not to smile at the music you have just heard. But there is more - Buy the live DVD and you not only get this CD recording, but also a live concert video of band in action at the Shadelee Music Festival. Besides seeing the group in action, the set list only duplicates two songs and you are treated to songs like Hardy's "Scamba" (Scott's Samba), a great version of "Two Close for Comfort," three more strong Pintchik originals and an amazing medley of Leonard Bernstein's "Somewhere" with "Berimbau" - a highlight ending to this excellent double feature.
Corey Wilkes - "Kind of Miles" Greg Spero - "Miles Over Radio"
Some of the finest and most exciting jazz musicians keeping the flame of Miles Davis' electric period alive are to be found here in Chicago. Corey Wilkes, of course, needs no introduction: the young trumpet player has become a star on the world stage. Meanwhile, keyboardist Greg Spero is one of the most talented and busiest players in the city. These two musicians both released albums immersed in the sounds of electric Miles this year and both appear on these albums which were recorded live. Longtime associate bassist Junius Paul also appears on both of these recordings, with drummer Makaya McCraven as the drummer on the Spero led session. Young Xavier Breaker drums on the Wilkes-led recording, which also adds world-renowned precussionist Kahil El Zabar and up-and-coming saxophonist Kevin Nabors. Both recordings offer versions of Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays" (a Miles staple, though not of the electric era - arranged by Spero) and an amazing arrangement of "So What" that has been cleverly combined with Radiohead's "Everything In It's Right " (also arranged by Spero), but the Wilkes session (recorded at the Velvet Lounge) also includes "It's About that Time" (from In a Silent Way) and "Tutu," while Spero's Close Up 2 recording adds "Blue in Green," "Jean Pierre," Herbie Hancock's Sly Stone tribute "Sly" and a powerful studio recorded version of Radiohead's "Exit Music for a Film" (with uncredited killer sax solo?) All are presented in the spirit of later Davis explorations that merged electronics and funk rhythms.
Spero and Wilkes are the perfect artists to follow this path: Wilkes is well-known for his respect for Davis and he can make his instrument communicate in much the same way as the master. Spero has appear with frequency in numerous configurations around town and his blazing electric piano riffs are in high demand. The other players, similarly, have been frequent participants in the late night electric funk jams that occurred at places like the Velvet - and they have honed their sound into an intensely powerful musical performance. Is one recording better than the other? The Close Up 2 recording may sound a bit more distinct - with more of an emphasis on Spero's excellent work on the keys (check out his insertion of a couple lines of "Epistrophy" into "Jean Pierre"), but also has more crowd noise. McCraven is perhaps a bit "heavier" player than Breaker, but the Velvet set includes el Zabar's percussion and Nabors' sax - with more of a focus on Wilkes' trumpet. Both are highly interesting and haunting records from some of the best young Miles disciples in Chicago. These two recordings were only released in a limited amount so availability is not guaranteed; contact the artists to purchase a copy.
Chris Greene Quartet - "Based on a True Story"
Saxophonist Greene is one of the hardest working young jazz musicians in Chicago - having released several (four, I believe) recordings as a leader over the last few years. On this newly released video, he leads his longtime quartet (keyboardist Damian Espinosa, bassist Marc Piane and drummer Tyrone Blair) through eight selections that will please Greene's fans, while opening up the young man's work to a wider audience. Shot and produced by David Weatherby (subversestudios.com) - the sound and video picture are clear and the effects and editing prudent. The result is that it as if you are witnessing Greene and his group in person at the Showcase. The band starts strongly with Ed Motta's "Amalgasantos" - a Greene staple, and the Greene original "M. Tati," but the group really kicks in to what they are capable of on the funky "You'll Thank Me Later" and a delicious cover of "My One and Only Love." All members are given ample opportunities to solo and everyone comes through nicely - in part due to the familiarity the group has built over the several years Greene has managed to keep the same members together. Of course, it is Greene's saxophone that is the centerpiece and he complies with several extended solos. As an added bonus there is an additional cut - Hank Williams' gospel-drenched "You Win Again" and an interview with Greene in which he discusses his musical direction, which he calls "Acoustic Organic Rhythmic Jazz."
Donovan Mixon - "Culmination"
Guitarist Donovan Mixon lived and taught in Italy and Turkey for many years before relocating to Chicago where he now teaches at Harold Washington College. On Culmination Mixon presents nine original compositions recorded in Istanbul with some of the best jazz players in Turkey. Despite the obvious Middle-Eastern influences, this album is not what I would call your usual "world music," but rather combines Western jazz and classical music with Eastern melodic touches. One important and unique aspect is made immediately apparent on the very first track - "Summer of '78" when Turkish ney master Ercan Irmak's ney (wooden flute) makes its first appearance over Mixon's Mediterranean-flavored classical guitar. Engin Gurkey's percussion and Caner Kaptans' acoustic bass and Ferit Odman's drums all soon enter the mix and Mixon takes a delightful breezy solo. Later, Senova Ulker adds his majestic flugelhorn to this number - which sets the stage for the album. "The Dance of Life" follows - showing Mixon's masterful guitar work in a waltzing number that brings cellist Jeff McAuley into the mix. The title track is perhaps the highlight of the recording - a complex mixture of jazz, classical and Mediterranean styles that move across an ever-changing rhythmic landscape. But perhaps the most enjoyable number is the light-hearted Latin-flavored "We Are Yo' Kids" which includes a bouncy baritone sax by Serhan Erkol. "Mist" and "Mercury" explore Mixon's modern classical directions with the latter nearly exploding into an exuberant Turkish celebration. Dueting with cellist McAuley on the opening of "Eddi & Daniela" - Mixon's sliding rapid picking is reminiscent of fellow Chicago world music traveler Fareed Haque. Kaptan takes a pleasing solo turn on the bass to open up "Quando Il Lupo Annusa i Fiori" (Italian for "When the Wolf Smells the Flowers") - and this 10:31 composition also showcases Ulker's burnished horn and Mixon on bluesy/jazzy electric guitar. The hard rocking and interesting "Rough Translation" ends the recording on a high note, but is only 1:56 long and this brief taste leaves me wishing for more of this direction from Mixon. Culmination is a highly engaging release from a guitarist/composer with a distinct style who I hope to hear much more from in the future.