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.
Paul Motian Trio - "Lost in a Dream"
Trailblazing veteran drummer Paul Motian unveiled his new trio last February at New York's Village Vanguard, with the ten tracks on this CD taken from a week's worth of performances. The exciting lineup of the new trio consists of Motian, joined by remarkable pianist Jason Moran and firebrand saxophonist Chris Potter. As might be expected, this configuration dazzles. Aside from a cover of Cole Porter's "Be Careful It's My Heart," the songs are all new Motian-written or ones taken from his previous recordings and are mostly airy and ballad-paced. Moran's highly-singular (albeit Monk-influenced) method on the piano fits well with Motian's unfettered and creative approach to drumming. Potter on the other hand tones down his usual saxophone attack as displayed with his Underground combo and work with Dave Holland to produce lower key, but no less beautiful playing. People may not be aware that Potter can play with such restraint, but we were lucky enough to catch him in a duet performance with pianist Kenny Werner (see our review here) and were struck by his sensitivity. The saxophonist's solo on the epic "Casino" is a perfect example and is some of the loveliest work I've heard from him yet. And Moran's response is enough to give the listener chills - his playing as well reaches new heights. Meanwhile, Motian moves the music like a wave moves water - naturally and organically. There is an overriding sense of space in this lovely music for the players to breathe and they respond with exceptional teamwork. The music rises above the pleasant languor at times - the title track escalates, as does "Blue Midnight," "Ten" and "Drum Music" gives everyone including Motian a chance to cut loose on aggressive free form improvisation, while the Porter tune is almost (dare I say) "conventional." The overall sound - although fluid and flowing - contains edges - and although it is melodic it is not maudlin. "Abacus" offers the drummer in a solo setting, while "Cathedral Song" ends the recording on a luminous note. Not many of us were there for these concerts, but thankfully Manfred Eicher and ECM recorded what is hoped is the first of many recordings for this intriguing multi-generational trio.
Jon Gold - "Brazil Confidential"
Pianist/composer AND chemistry professor Jon Gold's love of Brazilian music led to him living and teaching in Rio where he met and befriended many in the Brazilian music community including Jobim and Pascoal. That the classically trained jazz pianist absorbed the sounds of the land well as is very apparent on his new CD - Brazil Confidential. The opening track, "Alem do Azul (Beyond the Blue)" starts off with Harvie S.' bowed bass, and features Jorge Continentino's flute dancing above Gold's shimmering piano. The rhythm section of drummer Mauricio Zottarelli and percussionist Ze Mauricio are simply first rate - and violinist Zach Brock solos wonderfully at the end. You can feel the heat of the Rio streets when woodwind player Anat Cohen joins the fun on "Funky Jabour" - she is on soprano - with Bryan Murray on tenor and Andrew Sterman on flute playing almost impossibly difficult intricate parts on this "funky indeed" number. Producer Scott "Scottinho" Anderson also provides excellent guitar work throughout - "Teresinha" is a prefect example of his exceptional nylon string work. Gold here adds B-3 color along with his piano, Harvie S. has a great bass solo, as does Continetino on alto and Mauricio propels everything with his berimbau. Meanwhile, catchy tracks like "Carioca Da Clara" and "Paraty" show Gold has not forgotten his love of the Sergio Mendes-flavored Brazilian-flavored pop. Tatiana Parra and Leah Siegal add some lovely vocals on a couple tunes (Parra on the haunting "Confissao" - which also features Luiz Ribeiro on guitar), Katie Scheele enhances "Singela" (and "Janacek Suite #4") with her English horn. "Vitamin B" and the high energy "Parafuso a Menos" shows Gold's playful nature (while featuring stellar ensemble playing), while his "Janacek Suite No. 4" clearly shows his skills as a classical composer. The delightful "Rapadura" features Toninho Ferrgutti on accordion and Gold on melodica and is one of several memorable tunes. As if that isn't enough instrumentation, Lauren Riley Rigby's cello combines with Anderson's guitar, Gold's tasteful piano and Siegal's wordless vocals on the album ending "Parazen." Throughout the album, the compositions are colorful, deeply layered and impeccably structured with interesting changes and melodic verve. A delight for fans of Brazilian music (like me) many of the songs reference towns or regions of Brazil and will have your mind wandering to sandy beaches and blue sky over splashing waves.
Chicago Goes West - "Chicago Goes West"
The trumpet/drum/bass trio idea is rare in jazz, but Chicagoan James Davis has teamed with Canadian drummer and bassist Karl Schwonik and Nicolas Bedard to create an exciting group. On their debut, Chicago Goes West, has released a gem of a recording, with excellent playing and compositions from all three members. Davis' "Obscurity" starts things off with a hard-edged post bop number that features aggressive playing from all three members and especially ferocious bass work from Bedard - whose experience playing a wide range of styles, including alternative rock serves him well here. Davis - who provides half of the ten tunes here - is one of Chicago's finest trumpet players - and is somewhat unrecognized perhaps due to his educational commitments, but who has shown his exceptional compositional abilities in his James Davis Quartet and ZING! groups, and will surely become even more well known with recordings like this one. Bedard offers up the charming and jaunty "Nice Shoes" - which gives Davis the opportunity to show his skills with the muted horn, while Schwonik's moody "Local Weather" is a study in space and yearning. The talents and songwriting skills that each of these young men bring to the table is apparent and creates an environment full of surpassing directions and a full, rich balance, and their output has not gone unnoticed - resulting in live concerts at the Kennedy Center and across North America. The award-winning Schwonik is masterful at urging a rainbow of sounds from his kit, while Bedard is a powerhouse, and Davis can easily move from shredding to singing. We recently caught their exciting live show at The Whistler (see our review here) and this recording manages to cleanly pick up all of the elements of each player's efforts to create a compelling whole. Many standout tracks, including Bedard's driving "Tasse Toe," and "Suivre La Parade," Davis' "Lingering," "Mirror Yames" "Trio Trois" and "Battle of the Forms and "Schwonik's revolutionary take on Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are."
Thomas Lorenzo - "Spanish Breeze"
Guitarist Thomas Lorenzo's family escaped fascism by moving from Spain to Australia - where he grew up. He returned to Barcelona a few years ago and this is the forth release from him. With a title like Spanish Breeze, you might be forgiven for expecting some light-hearted acoustic guitar melodies, and while there are some of these - the album starts off with five straight electric guitar tracks that range from jazz fusion (opener "You're Cute"), to smooth contemporary ("Giggles and Whispers"), rock ("!-2-3, Let's Go," "A Happy Dream") and even country blues ("Blue Secrets"). Assisting in this endeavor is pianist Dave Garfield, drummer/percussionist Walfredo Reyes, Jr., and bassist Alphonso Johnson - whose stints playing with Weather Report and the Crusaders are balanced by time spent playing the music of the Grateful Dead in both the Jazz is Dead and The Other Ones Dead tribute bands - making him the perfect choice to keep the low end in line on this project. But on the second 2/3rds of the album, Lorenzo suddenly shifts gears and brings out the nylon-string classical guitar on "Dulzura Con Rabia," "Contigo Aprendi," "Mi Alma," "Belleza De Agua Dulce," "Merry Go Round," and the luscious "Bailas?" -demonstrating a refined melodic sense and nice feathery touch on the instrument. The somewhat schizophrenic nature of the recording may or may not have been better served by spacing the electric pieces throughout, but Lorenzo isn't done yet, as a dreamy version of Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia" ends this album showcasing another of Lorenzo's talents.
Iron Kim Style
Seattle-based electric guitarist Dennis Rea is quickly becoming one of my favorites. His group Moraine's self-titled release was one of the best last year (see our review here), now he is back with the fusion improv group Iron Kim Style. This group - which consists of Rea on 6-string guitar, Thaddaeus Brophy on 12-string guitar, Ryan Berg on bass, Jay Jaskot on drums and Bill Jones on trumpet - starts things off powerfully (as befitting the Iron Kim Style of martial arts fighting) with the frightening and hard-hitting "Mean Streets of Pyongyang." Fans of electric Miles will dig where these cats are going, and Rea's wicked guitar solo would make Pete Cosey proud. Electronics and excellent band interplay highlight the quirky "Gibberish Falter," while "Po' Breef" offers Jones' Miles-like lines and Rea's riffing over Berg's kinetic walking bass. After opening things in such fierce fashion, the band takes a pause from the mayhem, the stately "Don Quixotic" and "Adrift" (featuring Izaak Mills' bass clarinet) and "Amber Waves of Migraine" prove the band can venture into the calm zones, although the former admittedly does build to an intense climax near the end and there are jagged edges throughout. The fun "Pachinko Malice" returns to the eccentric and energetic output with drummer Jaskot impelling the band with his potent drumming. "Dreams from Our Dear Leader" (the album theme is also a tongue-in-cheek look at North Korea's Jong Il Kim) is almost conventionally beautiful (almost), while "Jack Out the Kims" is addictive thrash that reminds the listener of King Crimson and/or Dave Miller's Algernon, but with trumpet. "Slouchin' at the Savoy" ends this album pleasantly of a note of sheer deconstruction. Music of the now. Should send a copy to Pyongyang and wait for the nuclear reprisal.
Marc Pompe - "Hi-Fly"
Veteran singer jazz Marc Pompe is a respected veteran of the Chicago jazz scene, who has spent time in New York City and the Northeast as well as the Virgin Isles. A solid interpreter of the Great American Songbook, Pompe's brand of vocalizes should appeal to those listeners who enjoy male vocalists ala Kurt Elling or Mel Torme. Pompe has a relaxed-sounding voice that can range from ringing to husky to pleasantly nasal, an ability to scat convincingly and an assured sense of phrasing culled from his years of experience entertaining club audiences. On Hi-Fly, Pompe recruited a first rate group of musicians, including bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer George Fludas. Underrated guitarist Alejandro Urgzagaste adds a welcome touch, while legendary pianist Jodie Christian fills the piano chair admirably. Standout tracks include "Alone Together" "Shiny Stockings" and Randy Weston's title track - which is a regular highlight of Pompe's live sets. Oft-covered songs like "How Deep is the Ocean," "Embraceable You" and "One for My Baby" are joined by enjoyable numbers like Victor Feldman's "Haunted Ballroom," Tadd Dameron's "Good Bait" and a captivating medley of "Hot House" (scatted) and "What is This Thing Called Love." A fine throwback to an earlier golden era of jazz vocals.
EEA - "The Dark"
One may not suspect the existence of jazz in a place like Reno, Nevada, but I, for one, was aware that there was a scene present because I had relatives living there and spent time in this beautiful town-- a smaller-Las Vegas, but in a much lovelier location near Lake Tahoe and the Donner Pass into Northern California. My relatives lived in Sparks - where this album was recorded - and I have fond memories of some of the jazz music I saw while visiting there. Perhaps the biggest reason for jazz in the desert is the presence of the University of Nevada, Reno - of which all three members of this trio are members of the faculty. Saxophonist Peter Epstein, trumpeter Larry Engstrom and pianist David Ake are EEA and on this trio sans bass and drums, the music is - as you might expect - airy. But that is not to say it is unsubstantial as all three members are exceptional improvisers who have played with people like Ralph Alessi, Uri Caine, Charlie Haden and Ravi Coltrane and who have considerable experience collaborating with each other. This experience is invaluable as the three members work in synchronous fashion to weave a series of songs that stand alone, while flowing from one to the next to produce a compelling musical journey. The songs are mostly originals written by pianist David Ake, but there are three short, but rewarding group improvisations. Meanwhile, Egberto Gismonti's "Palhaco" is covered in a gorgeous take that is perhaps the centerpiece and a highlight, and the group takes on two deconstructed Duke Ellington pieces - "African Flower" and "Heaven." There is an ECM-like flowing feel with lots of space and reverberation - especially without bass and drums - but the strong technique and sensitivity of the players keep things from floating away into the ether on the hypnotic opening title track. The intricate counter-lines and unison playing on "Keystone" give the impression that one is listening to a larger ensemble and the unusual instrumentation means this group sounds like no other. Ake shows he is a force as a composer with assured and interesting pieces like "The Dark," "Keystone," "Polar," "Time Falls (Like Snow)" and "Birthday Boy," while all of the players improvise on a high order. An impressive and enjoyable debut.
Charlie Apicella & Iron City - "Sparks"
(CArlo Music Records)
If you are looking for old school, good time funky organ and guitar groove-based music, you could do worse than tuning in to Charlie Apicella & Iron City's Sparks. This combo - led by guitarist Apicella - seeks to emulate the work of the great guitarist Grant Green - who is one of the fathers of the guitar/organ sound. Produced by Dave Stryker, Sparks opens strongly with a wonderful version of Steve Cropper and Don ("Chain of Fools") Covay's "Sookie Sookie" featuring John Blake, Jr. on violin. Airtight drummer Alan Korzin and B-3 player Dave Mattock form the basic trio with Apicella, but they flesh out the sound with Blake and violinist Amy Bateman, as well as tenor saxophonist Stephen Riley - who appears on the majority of the tracks. While not ground-breaking (the use of violin is an admirable addition) - you can't deny the timeless appeal of this music. Green is covered (the high-stepping "Blues in Maude's Flat"), as are Dr. Lonnie Smith ("Play it Back") and Lou Donaldson ("Caracas"), along with three tunes written by Apicella that fit right in with the repertoire. The Donaldson tune is especially welcome as it takes the band into a slightly different Latin-esque direction. And the original "Sweet and Sounded" (with Bateman on violin) is another highlight. I was less enamored with the closing version of Michael Jackson's dance floor hit "Billie Jean," but I suspect some may find it charming. In any case, this is a solid effort that relies heavily on the presence of past masters like Green et al.
Empirical - "Out n' In"
Considered one of the best young jazz combos in England, Empirical experienced some turnover of personnel, but have returned with a strong sophomore release that is highly influenced by the music of Eric Dolphy. The group is led by bassist Tom Farmer and alto saxophonist Nathaniel Facey - who between them wrote most of the non-Dolphy-written material. They are joined by new drummer Shelby Forbes and vibraphonist Lewis Wright - who adds the sound Bobby Hutcherson brought to Dolphy's work - especially the seminal Out to Lunch - from which two compositions ("Hat and Beard," and "Gazzelloni") are covered. The quartet is augmented with special guest Julian Siegel on bass clarinet and tenor saxophone and they achieve a very close approximation to Dolphy's sound, especially since all of the original music was composed with some Dolphy-aspect in mind. Dolphy's theory of Harmonic Symmetry, brief improvised interludes, and an understanding of Dolphy's life and music combine to make this an enjoyable and admirable tribute to the late artist who would have turned 82 this year. "Out but In" is a response to "Mrs. Parker of KC," while "So He Left" is based on Dolphy's time with Charles Mingus and "A Bitter End for a Tender Giant" laments the tragic early death of the trailblazing reedman and composer.
Kat Parra & The Sephardic Music Experience - "Dos Amantes"
Bay Area singer Kat Parra first combined songs from her Sephardic Jewish heritage with jazz on her previous record - Azucar de Amor (see our review on tracks like "Esta Montanya D'Enfrente." On her latest, Parra concentrates entirely on songs from the Jews of the Spanish Iberian Penninsula. Her ability to sing in the traditional ladino language of the people of the Jewish people region lends another level of authenticity to her presentation. Noted Latin trombonist/producer Wayne Wallace again produced the album, which includes traditional Sephardic songs arranged in a wide range of styles such as rumbas, flamenco pieces, boss nova ballads, Afro-Latin and North African jazz/funk. The Experience includes standouts Murray Low on piano, Peter Barshay on acoustic bass, Paul Wageningen on drums, percussionist Katja Cooper, violist Stephanie Antoine and woodwind player Masura Koga, and is enhanced by several additional players, as well as the wonderful Temple Sinai Choir of Oakland, CA. The unique songs and arrangements allow Parra to display her lovely ful--blooded yet pure voice to great effect. Favorite tracks include the swinging title track and the beautiful "A La Nana (Lullaby)." Like a trip to a foreign land, this album will take you places.
Dave Nelson & The 32nd Street Quintet - "32nd Street"From the Great White North comes trumpet player Dave Nelson - considered to be one of the top trumpet players in Saskatchewan. For his debut recording, Nelson recruited veteran pianist Jon Davis - who he met at a jam session in the Big Apple, and Davis in turn brought along a rhythm section of bassist Joe Fitzgerald and drummer Marcello Pellitteri. Saxophonist Joel Frahm - one of the top tenor players on the NYC scene also agreed to sit in and the 32nd Street Quintet was born. With only four hours recording time booked, there was a sense of urgency in the air, but the rhythm section had all played together before, and Jon Davis had played with Frahm - so the familiarity led to a relaxed setting. In realizing his dream of recording a jazz album, Nelson reveals himself to be a player with great technique and sensitivity. Opening up with a splendid take on "Have You Met Miss Jones," the big man shows he knows his way around a standard. Meanwhile, his original songs show Nelson's promise as a songwriter as well. "20th Century Blues" is an enjoyable romp that gives Nelson the chance to trade eights with Frahm, while "Sao Paulo" is a colorful Brazilian-flavored piece and a true highlight. Not content with any one style - the challenging title track starts out in an improvised avant garde direction before morphing into its straight ahead form. Meanwhile, Nelson shows off his singing talents on "The Lady Doesn't Lie" - sounding somewhat like Chet Baker on this ballad - which should become a new standard. Frankie Laine's "We'll be Together Again" and Charlie Parker's "Confirmation" while Sigmund Romberg's "Soflty as in a Morning Sunrise" ends the album with some of the best ensemble playing. Nelson also dares take on "My Favorite Things" - something only rarely done since Coltrane's tour-de-force version, but this arrangement is a pleasant surprise. I know it's several days by dog sled from Saskatoon to New York City, but here's hoping the 32nd Street Quintet is more than a one-off group.
Dave Sharp's Secret Seven
Dave Sharp may be best known as the touring bassist for the hardcore rock band The Melvins, but his first love is jazz. Here, the former bassist/composer for modern jazz ensemble Spheres of Influence presents a program of Afro-Latin groove jazz funk complete with lots of horns and percussion. Along with Sharp's chewy electric and acoustic basses, drummer Eric "Chucho" Wilhelm provides the wall of rhythm, Dave Grisa the B-3 and piano, while Chris Kaercher (the Temptations, Aretha Franklin) adds tenor, soprano, alto and baritone saxes, flute and harmonica. These four are supplemented by several guest musicians and singers (the "seven" must be tongue-in-cheek). "Africano" starts things off brightly with an Afrobeat blast, while the groovy "Chrispy Underground" is impossible not to move to. "Skeleton Key" has a touch of spooky New Orleans voodoo wafting like incense, while "Blackout" slows things to a pop ballad pace. "Boop Bwee Ahh" features Kris Kurzawa on wah-wah guitar on a catchy and truly funkalicious track. Meanwhile, "The Seventh Secret" races across the desert like a scirocco, "Lootmar (Wind Song)" features John Churchville on tabla, while a cover of Chuck Carbo's New Orleans Funk classic "Can I Be Your Squeeze?" rounds out this blistering hot groove jazz release.
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