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.
Odean Pope - "Odean's List"
(In and Out Records)
Veteran Philadelphia-based tenor saxophonist Odean Pope has never gotten the attention he deserves despite a lengthy stint with Max Roach and the group Catalyst, as well as being the leader of his own trio, and his unique Saxophone Choir (with eight or nine saxophonists creating advanced and exquisite harmonies). This excellent set - featuring saxophonists James Carter and Walter Blanding, drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, trumpeters Terell Stafford and David Weiss, pianist George Burton and bassist Lee Smith (Christian McBride's father) - may just change that.
The music starts off intensely with the short, but exciting "Minor Infraction" - before moving into the hard-swinging tribute "To the Roach," with great solos by Blanding, Burton and Watts and stellar ensemble work. Smith shows us where his son got his talent with solid work throughout and starts "Phrygian Love Theme" off with a great solo, before turning it over to Carter - who wails on baritone sax. Exhilarating. Stafford pitches in with some fine trumpet work on this Spanish-tinged number - which again features Burton's piano mastery as well. But on top of the solos, it is the excellent arrangements that make this record so rewarding. Pope's long experience of working with multiple horns is given a chance to shine here. The composer also shows his skills as a soloist - showcasing his long lines, circular breathing technique and legendary improvisation skills in a duet with bassist Lee - the delightful standard "Say It Over and Over Again." "Eddie Green's "Little Miss Lady" is given the hopped-up Pope-treatment - allowing Carter to squeal with aplomb on his bari, while "Blues for Eight" drops into a comfortable trio setting with Odean, Smith and Watts perfectly in sync. Meanwhile, the explosive "Collection" shows Pope's masterful writing and again features Carter on wild baritone. David Weiss' restrained trumpet solo makes for a nice contrast after Carter's bombast. The title track presents an interesting dialogue between Pope's tenor and Watts' drums. Stafford takes the lead on the high-stepping "You and Me," while Pope's lovely paean to his wife "Cis" ends this fine release on a luminous note.
Wallace Roney - "If Only For One NIght"
Recorded live over three nights at New York's Iridium Jazz Club, trumpeter Wallace Roney - who has been called Miles Davis' heir apparent - brazenly starts off this recording with a synth-funk fusion-esque track ("Quadrant") that clearly recalls electric Miles. But Roney gives it his own twist - eventually taking things into more of a straight-ahead approach. On the title track (a hit for Luther Vandross - written by Brenda Russell) - Roney again flirts with the Miles comparison, as he pulls out the mute on this soft ballad, but again takes the music into different and original directions. Assisting him in this endeavor are his brother Antoine on reeds, keyboardist Arua'n Ortiz, bassist Rashaan Carter and drummer Kush Abadey - and it is a solid working band that has been mostly together for more than three years. The hard-won band interplay is apparent on tracks like the hard bopping "Only With You" (check out Ortiz's unique solo), a delicious reading of Herbie Hancock's "I Have a Dream" (from The Prisoner) and the Roney-penned burner, "Metropolis." Younger brother Antoine shines and proves a perfect foil for his brother on tenor and soprano sax and bass clarinet, while Carter and Abadey are a tight and powerful rhythm section. A beautiful cover of Janet Jackson's "Let's Wait Awhile" serves to prove Roney's eclectic tastes, while he unearths an obscure Miles track (the moody "" Love What We Make Together") in honor of his former mentor. "FMS" ("for my son") ends the album with Roney taking an extended solo - which displays his breathtaking technical prowess to full effect. This is possibly Roney's best album to date - combining the Miles lineage with new directions and possibilities and pointing the way to the future for the young trumpet star.
Aldo Romano - "Origine"
One of the leaders of the French Jazz scene, drummer Aldo Romano played as a young man with people like Jackie McLean, Bud Powell and Johnny Griffin when they visited Paris. He was a member of Don Cherry's quartet, while also working with more avant garde musicians like Steve Lacy, Bill Dixon and Enrico Rava. On Origine, Romano's melodies have been orchestrated by reed player and primary soloist Lionel Belmondo to expand beyond the jazz sextet to include a classical wind group (bassoon, English and French horns and more). The result is a setting of exuberant and romantic music that swings like the breeze off the Mediterranean. "Silenzio" starts things off and displays the lushly beautiful arrangements to their fullest. This is followed by "Pasolini" - which continues this trend. "Il Camino" (parts 1 & 2) offers Romano on classical guitar. Compositions like "Gamelan" and "Touch of a Woman" recall film music of the '60s and '70s. Belmondo, meanwhile proves to be quite the melodic player - along with his brother Stephane - who adds some tasty trumpet. Pianist Eric Legnini, bassist Thomas Bramerie and flautist Phillipe Gauthier also do stellar work, but the star of the show is clearly the songwriting of Romano - which is wreathed in glimmering shades by Belmondo's luscious arrangements. "Celstina" and "Starless Night" take the music even more clearly in the direction of South America, while quiet nights are presented by pieces like "Elis," "Dreams and Waters" and "For Michel." On album closer, "Jazz Messengers," Romano shows off more of his guitar and pleasing voice. The French know how to make wine and make love and this is the perfect music for relaxing or romance.
Avery Sharpe Trio - "Live"
Bassist Avery Sharpe continues to impress in his career as a band leader after years of serving as a sideman - most notably for McCoy Tyner. His new live album features his long-running trio - Onaje Allan Gumbs on piano and Winard Harper on drums - and this record may be his most satisfying yet, in the way that it captures the energy and superb interplay of these fine players. Starting with a swinging version of Tyner's "Blues on the Corner" and ending with a (mostly in 7/4) version of "My Favorite Things," this recording rewards with it's blend of solid straight-ahead trio music and surprising directions. Harper and Sharpe take strong solos on the opener, while Gumbs is given his showcase on his lovely original "Morning Glow." Sharpe himself is a rare and truly distinctive voice on his instrument - combining technical command and precision with melodic and rhythmic creativity and imagination, powerful fingers and a love of playing. His songwriting is also exemplary - as evidenced by his bluesy "Oh No!" and "Dragonfly" - where the instruments reproduce the sound of buzzing insects. A delightful take on Yusef Lateef's "Morning" is also part of the program - as recorded live at the Fraser Performance Studio at WGBH. But perhaps the standout is the solo bass piece - "I Understand" - where Sharpe's fiery African-inspired bass lines demonstrate the skills that have opened the ears and eyes of those lucky enough to have heard him. A wonderful trio outing with one of the world's great bass players.
Note: We had the pleasure of interviewing the "sharpe-dressed" Avery Sharpe at last year's Jazz Fest. Check it out here.
Harvie S - "Cocolamus Bridge"
(Blue Bamboo Music)
Harvie S's reputation as NYC-based sideman of note has been cemented by his performances with people like Stan Getz, Jim Hall, Dave Liebman, Gil Evans and many more - and he has recorded with Kenny Barron, Chick Corea, Pat Martino, Yusef Lateef , Tom Harrell and more than can be listed - on more than 350 cds. Yet this talented bass player and composer is hardly a household name. His latest recording as a leader is entitled Cocolamus Bridge and features Harvie leading a band of Houston-based musians, including saxophonist Woody Witt, guitarist Chris Cortez, Jose Miguel Yamal on piano, Joel Flugham on drums and James Metcalfe on percussion. This wide-ranging album starts off with a solo bass arrangement of the traditional Irish folk song "Eili Gheal Chiuin" before the band enters gently on the haunting title track. The pace picks up on "Courage" - which features great solos from Witt, Harvie and Cortez. The songwriting is mature and self-assured and melodically and rhythmically advanced. Of course, much of Harvie's work has been in the Latin area - where he excels - and his Afro-Cuban-flavored "Coco Loco" is a welcome bit of fun in this mostly serious-minded album. A slowed down duet with Witt on Wayne Shorter's "Night Dreamer" is followed by a breezy samba - "To Bea" - which is dedicated to the composer's mother (as is the entire album). The groovy "Ike (take a hike)" (for the hurricane) features Witt multi-tracked horn section and Yamal on electric piano and is fueled by Harvie's African-sounding ostinato bass and the solid rhythm section. The final track - "Truth and Beauty" sums things up nicely - and is a great example of Harvie's sense of subtly and color in music. Witt's sparkling soprano takes the listener into a peaceful realm that is quite unlike most music of today, and Harvie responds with some melodically-enthralling work on his solo. A fine mixture of styles including classical touches, folk, jazz and Latin music.
Ellen Rowe Quartet - "Wishing Well"
"For That Which Was Living, Lost" - a 9:21 elegy for the animals, plants and insects now extinct - opens inventive pianist Ellen Rowe's "Wishing Well" and sets the tone for an intelligent and sensitive set from Rowe and her quartet, featuring special guests Ingrid Jensen and Andy Haefner. Jensen's plaintive flugelhorn and bassist Kurt Krahnke's solo underline the sadness in this lovely piece. Meanwhile, the jaunty "Lewisburg Bluesy-oo" recalls Duke Ellington's "East St. Louis Toodle-oo" - showing another side of Rowe's personality. Despite it being primarily a quartet record (the other members are saxophonist Andrew Bishop and drummer Pete Siers) - the arrangements call to mind those of fellow heartlander Maria Schneider and the dynamics make it seem as if there is a much larger ensemble in play. The group has been together since 2002 - a lifetime by jazz combo standards - and their familiarity shows. Great solos by Rowe and Bishop highlight the rewarding Latin-flavored "Night Sounds," while "Tick Tock" - a swinging piece with lots of stops and starts is quite entertaining. Jensen takes on the Kenny Wheeler part on the lush "Longing," while the rocking "Sanity Clause" sounds almost like The Bad Plus (something Rowe admits in the liner notes). The title track is moody and reflective, while Rowe cleverly combines "Seven Steps to Heaven" with "Yardbird Suite" on "Seven Steps to My Yard," which features drummer Siers and Bishop on soprano. A heartfelt tribute to Rowe associate Detroit saxophonist and teacher Donald Walden ("For Donald") gives Walden two proteges - Haefner and Bishop, a chance to shine, while the group ends things with a sparkling cover of "Alone Together." A pleasing record for fans of both the contemporary as well traditional.
Peter Epstein & Idee Fixe - "Abstract Realism"
We recently enjoyed hearing a recording from alto saxophonist Peter Epstein (The Dark) as part of the trio EEA with and (see our review here). Abtract Realism by Epstein and Idee' Fixe mines similar veins as that edgy release, but a notable exception is the presence of bass (Sam Minaie) and guitar (Andy Barbera) - as well as special guests Brian Walsh on bass clarinet and Gavin Templeton on alto and soprano sax. The Epstein-composed "Painfully Simple" starts off ominously with Minaie's pedal point bass, Matt Mayhall's organic drums and Epstein's and Templeton's long parallel lines. Barbera's effected guitar joins the fray as the music builds inexorably toward some mysterious destination. This compelling approach continues on songs like "Face of a Whale" - which again like half of the ten songs is composed by Epstein (the other five by Epstein with the other members). Here the energy level cranks up several notches as Epstein shreds on sax (reminding me of our former local alto hero Greg Ward) and Barbara lights into some burning guitar riffs. The improvised "Four 1" reminds a bit of classical composer Oliver Messiaen with Epstein's bird twittering saxophone. Walsh's bass clarinet provides the drone on the atmospheric "Deep Breathing." "Creamy Center" veers into Miles' "Nefertiti" territory, while "Air 1" is luminous chamber jazz and "Air 2" free form skittering - both featuring all three reed players. The rhythm section is given a chance to shine during the almost-funky "Dark to Light." "Four 2" is another improvisation with some nice work from everyone - especially Barbera, while the title track ends the album with an invigorating mixture of atmospherics and industrial noise. It may not be emanating from Area 51, but there is some strange and exciting music coming out of Reno, Nevada these days that is well worth a listen.
Ken Peplowski - "Noir Blue"
Clarinetist Ken Peplowski has been compared to such greats as Benny Goodman (his former bandleader) and Buddy DeFranco - with good reason - and he is considered one of the few modern virtuosos of the instrument. But if you have pigeon-holed him as as someone who only takes a traditional approach, you would be sadly mistaken. Sure he plays the classics like nobody else - even starting off his album with a solidly straight-ahead take on Irving Berlin's "The Best Thing For You," but although he excels in this ouvre - covering Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Hoagy Carmichael, Ray Noble and Jerome Kern in the process - he also bends the rules - playing pianist Shelley Berg's bossa-flavored original "Home With You," and including an Ornette Coleman-inspired free jazz pice ("Little Dogs"). Nor are the standards simply reproduced - for example, Ellington/Strayhorn's "Bourbon Street Jingling Jollies" and Jerome Kern's "Nobody Else But Me" (with Peplowski on tenor) are turned into a small combo gems, while "Carmichael's "Riverboat Shuffle" (best known for its version by Bix Beiderbecke) is reinvented with Peoplowski again shining on tenor sax.
I realized I haven't yet mentioned that the rhythm section consists of Berg along with fellow veteran music masters - bassist Jay Leonhart and drummer Joe La Barbera (who also provided the high-stepping composition "If Not For You") - and a better group for recording these tunes would be hard to come by. Although they all play with great enthusiasm, none attempt to outshine the bandleader and all perform admirably in service to the song (a unique concept among modern musicians at times). Of course, interpretations of the standards is truly Peplowski's claim to fame and he does admittedly stick primarily to his bread and butter. Ray Noble's 'Love Locked Out" is a brilliant ballad performed sweetly by this crew - Peplowski again on breathy tenor - and makes us remember what a great and somewhat overlooked writer Noble was. Meanwhile, Peplowski's versions of Billy Strayhorn's 'Multi-Colored Blue" and "Noir Blue" will definitely please lovers of golden era jazz sounds - while prominently displaying the artist's good taste and at times jaw-dropping technical ability.
Debbie Poryes - "Catch Your Breath"
A musician you should be aware of is Bay-area pianist Debbie Poryes. We loved her 2007 CD - A Song in Jazz (see our review here) and this follow-up is even better - in part due to the lucky presence of saxophonist Bruce Williamson on some of the tracks. Williamson is a perfect fit along with bassist Bill Douglass and drummer David Rokeach. Poryes was able to recruit her friend - who was in town for another recording date - and the result is a gleaming recording that mixes buoyant ensemble playing with a setlist of standards and interesting originals. Poryes' piano technique is unique - the result of overcoming tendonitis - and highly sophisticated harmonically. Her longtime rhythm section matches her well - with Douglass seeming to hit all the right notes and Rokeach keeping the parade moving while also producing extremely melodic sounds out of his kit.
After the opening title track gets your heart racing, the band turns to the Berlin chestnut - "I've Got the Sun in the Morning" (from Annie Get Your Gun) and Poryes' love of the Great American Songbook is clearly evident in her jumpy, yet swinging trio take on this treasured show tune. The heartfelt gospel-drenched "Prayer for a Child" was written for the tragic victim of a shooting near her neighborhood - and its palpable sadness is tinged with just a glimmer of hope. "My Heart Stood Still" is reinvented with some wonderful rhythmic changes and great saxophone work, while "I Should Care" is given a distinctive Poryes piano treatment - building from a a shimmering obstinate pattern into a full-fledged trio improvisation. The lovely "Willie's Waltz" reveals great beauty in its sadness, while the quartet takes on Sonny Clark's "Melody for C" with an vibrant and rewarding performance worthy of applause. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the set is the appearance of the Beatles' "Here, There and Everywhere" - perhaps the loveliest melody in that band's canon is given a truly incandescent account by the trio. Nor does it end there - perhaps the highlight of this strong album is the finale - the lush original "Lake Dream." Starting as a free flowing duet between Poryes and Williamson (on soprano) unfurls at gloriously relaxed pace across more than eight minutes - with Douglass and Rokeach joining in about halfway through. It is such a pleasure to hear more from this talented pianist and her band again.
James Zollar - "Zollar Systems"
Kansas City-raised veteran trumpeter James Zollar has finally arrived with his sophomore effort as a leader (his first was 1998's acclaimed Soaring With Bird) and judging by the results, it was well worth the wait. Now living in NYC, Zollar has played with Cecil McBee, Tom Harrell and Sam Rivers, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis' Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Don Byron and more. On Zollar Systems, he presents a universe of different styles from bebop and ballads to bossa - with even some opera thrown in. Backed by drummer Bruce Cox and bassists Uganna Okegwo or Andy McCloud, Zollar, pianist Rick Germanson and fine saxophonist Stacy Dillard are the primary soloists. Adding to the fun is singer Nabuko Kiryu who wrote and sings on two original tunes.
San Diego saxophonist/composer's "Chicago Preferred" opens the album with the band charging right out of the gate. Germanson gets first solo crack and makes the most of it, followed by the young Dilard - who shows why he is touted by people like Roy Hargrove and Wynton Marsalis - with bassist Okegwo also getting into the action. Germanson again shines on the opening to pop singer Basia's "The Prayer of a Happy Housewife" - a somewhat surprising choice - that benefits from the swirling front line work of Zollar and Dillard - with Okegwo gets in a solid solo here as well. Meanwhile, Kiryu's sweet and swinging "Take the Subway Home" is a blast and allows Zollar to bring out his Kansas City barrelhouse trumpet sounds - a delight to hear - on his first extended solo outing. Dillard wisely follows with extended lines in a nice contrast to Zollar - great band interplay from these two players. In yet another turn of events, a romantic straight-forward version of "The Nearness of You Follows," and this in turn, is followed by Eddie Harris' "Spasmodic Movements" - which features Zollar's longtime employer Don Byron on vibrant clarinet to which Zollar responds in kind. Kiiryu returns with an original bossa love song - "Gon-En" in which she songs the song first in Japanese, then in English with fabulous piano and trumpet solos in between. The Zollar-composed "Slick" opens with a brief drum solo before moving into spme joyous hardtop, followed by a delicate take on the recently departed Hank Jones' "Angel Face," and a stirring original from Germanson ("Black Winter"). The Italian classical/pop crossover song - "Time to Say GoodBye" (a duet hit for Andrea Boceli and Sarah Brightman) features singer Sahoko Sato - with the band engaged in avant garde improvisation behind her - an interesting and actually quite touching finale to this journey across the Zollar system.
Pablo Held - "Music"
It is difficult to describe young European pianist Pablo Held's music and apparently he agrees - calling his latest effort simply Music. His brand of music is highly introspective and defies expectations - with musical directions momentarily appearing to be touched on - only to dissipate like smoke - and melodic themes running away like water through your hands. Starting off with an "Encore" and nearly ending with a haunting "Klartraum" (a lucid dream) - this young composer (assisted by bassist Robert Landfermann and drummer Jonas Burgwinkel) takes the listener on a journey through the subconscious. Case in point - the unsettling "cover" of Herbie Hancock's "I Have a Dream" initially sounds like it is coming from beneath the surface of a dark body of water before catapulting into an up tempo trio explosion. Meanwhile, "Desire" seems to be a solo piano interlude - albeit a quite remarkable one considering the intriguing paths Held follows, but then the rhythm section kicks in for the last minute and a half to out an exclamation point on the darkly romantic-leaning melodies the pianist has already introduced. Interesting and very cool. The mood is not always pensive - "Moon 44" erupts with energy. Held also takes on the work of Oliver Messiaen (a classical touchstone for many jazz artists these days) with a crystalline version of "O Sacrum Convivium." Clearly this composer has been an influence on the young man's modern sense of harmony. Pieces like the exuberant "Nearness," quirky "Log Lady" (who knew that Twin Peaks was known in Europe?), dancing title track and deconstructed bop "Arista" keep the listener off balance and necessitates repeat listening to attempt to glean the layers and subtle nuances produced by this trio.
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