Saturday, December 31, 2016
Latin Jazz Project Vol. 1; Ray Obiedo, electric and acoustic guitar
Right off the bat, I'll remind you that I usually hesitate to review Latin jazz. As exciting and wonderfully rhythmic as it usually is, to my way of thinking it's world music and therefore, outside of my wheelhouse. But here's an exception and I'll tell you why. Ray Obiedo's concept is much more restrained and subtle than the fiery, percussive heart of this music. With the exceptions of "Caravan" and "St. Thomas", all of the remaining nine tunes are less well known, although written by some prominent composers. This is sophisticated material with some finely honed, precise solos and unforced, well crafted arrangements. Obiedo's guitar is well suited to the assignment and never goes overboard. A San Francisco Bay Area resident, he records fairly frequently, and of those that I've heard, this may be his best work to date.
Rhythmus Records; 2016; appx. 52 min.
Friday, December 30, 2016
Sunday, December 25, 2016
There are many reasons to recommend guitarist Joshua Breakstone. But there are two that stand out for me. Long ago, Joshua settled on a tone that conveys a special warmth like no other guitarist. Secondly, he has always opted for superb if underappreciated material from the outstanding repertoire of jazz history. On this session he honors pianists by playing their compositions. Among those in the mix are Sonny Clark, Elmo Hope, Mal Waldron, Barry Harris, Tadd Dameron and Lennie Tristano. Most of the tunes by these and other piano heroes are obscure choices. And to me, that's a direct reference to the work Breakstone has put in studying the compositions of these player-composers. Probably the best known tunes would be Waldron's "Soul Eyes"; Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now"; and Tristano's "Lennie's Pennies", based on "Pennies From Heaven". As always, Breakstone works effortlessly with his trio mates, Lisle Atkinson, bass, and Andy Watson, drums. Adding some lustre to the session is cellist Mike Richmond. Joshua Breakstone only knows one way: warm, beautiful, resonant guitar. If perchance you've never checked him out, it's time to do so.
Capri Records; 2016; appx. 63 min.
Thursday, December 22, 2016
Dave Stryker, guitar;
There's no way that Metallica would take on Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite". Nor would Pearl Jam tackle Monk's "Straight No Chaser". And I can't imagine Taylor Swift testing her lack of chops on Wardell Gray's "Twisted". So tell me, why is it that jazz musicians occasionally turn their attention to the questionable quality of rock and pop? Well, that's what the three above musicians have done. Guitarist Dave Stryker brings us material by Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Zombies, Prince and Cream. Should I continue? Okay, consider the work of bassist and trio leader Joe Policastro. He brings us the efforts of these not-so-notables: Neil Young, The Pixies, The Bee Gees, Pink Floyd and The Cars. I could rest my case here, but c'mon, I'm on a roll. So finally there's Tierney Sutton, a formidable jazz singer, with a new CD devoted entirely to the meanderings of something called Sting. Kinda makes you hunger for "Bruce Springsteen sings Johnny Hartman". Right?
Stryker: Strikezone Records; 2016; appx. 66 min.
Policastro: JeruJazz Records; 2016; appx. 70 min.
Sutton: BFM Jazz; 2016; appx. 56 min.
Sunday, December 18, 2016
The tentet is not a new concept. Decades ago, big band leaders often had to reduce expenses, and trimming their numbers was one way of doing it. An exception to this practice was the very creative Marty Paich Dek-Tette which flourished in the fifties. Paich was based in L.A., as is Phil Norman. In this deep well of jazz talent, Norman has handpicked some premier players like Carl Saunders, trumpet; Scott Whitfield, trombone; and Christian Jacob, piano, among others. The CD begins with the very familiar "Johnny's Theme" which opened Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show for many years. Among other highlights are a Shearing-esque "Lullaby Of Birdland"; a tip of the hat to Ahmad Jamal on "Poinciana"; a nifty take on Gerry Mulligan's "Line For Lyons"; and welcome revisits to jazz standards such as Miles Davis's "So What", Benny Golson's "Killer Joe"; and Dizzy's "Manteca". On these and lots more---twelve in all---Phil Norman and friends stay right on course with innovative arrangements and outstanding solo work. Straight ahead stuff, extremely well-performed. That's what's going on here!
Mama Records; 2016; appx. 70 min.
Thursday, December 15, 2016
Clifford Brown was one of the great Jazz trumpet players of all-time. Sadly he died at the young age of 26 in an auto accident. The good news is that there are surprisingly several recordings of this legendary artist. Here's a rare video that I found on Youtube, I wanted to share with you. Brownie Lives!
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Spotlight On Standards; Jerry Bergonzi, tenor saxJust ask nearly anyone in Boston's jazz community. You'll learn that Jerry Bergonzi has been a local hero for years. A highly respected faculty member of Beantown's Berklee College Of Music, Bergonzi has earned his high standing. On this CD he takes a slight detour from his usual path of original compositions. He actually takes on five well known standards including the Sinatra hit "Witchcraft" and solid staples like "Dancing In The Dark", "Out Of Nowhere", "Come Rain Or Come Shine" and even "Stella By Starlight". The remaining four tunes are Bergonzi's own creations, hence the album title Spotlight On Standards. He works in a trio setting with Renato Chicco on B3 organ and Andre Michelutti on drums. Notice, interestingly, the absence of a bass player on the session. Chicco is a crafty organist who doesn't fall into the soul attire of too many B3 guys. That said, I'd have preferred a piano over organ. Bergonzi, to be sure, offers a spicy presentation, employing a thick tone sometimes a bit like that of Joe Henderson. So go ahead and find out what Bostonians have known forever---that Jerry Bergonzi is a monster of the tenor saxophone.Savant; 2016; appx. 63 min.
Sunday, December 11, 2016
Arrhythmia; Jimmy O'Connell, trombone
Detroiter turned New Yorker in 2009, Jimmy O'Connell is one of the new generation of super jazz talents who abound in the Apple. His no nonsense, no goofiness "sixtet" is made up of equally enthusiastic young players on alto, guitar, piano, bass and drums. O'Connell's eight tune menu is nicely balanced between five of his own compositions and three from others composers. As an example, the disc opens with "Lament", a tribute to one of his icons, trombone master J.J. Johnson. Completing the familiar fare are Cedar Walton's "Bolivia" and a tender O'Connell feature on "In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning". It is also worth noting that O'Connell's five originals reflect solid melody lines, a slice of wit here and there, and the primo musicianship so easy to spot among dedicated, honest, straight ahead jazz cats like these!
Outside In Music; 2016; appx. 57 min.
Friday, December 9, 2016
This is Marc Fendel here, filling in for my dad's blog. I had to share this with you, because this blog would not be complete without featuring Alan Broadbent. Alan is my dad's favorite living pianist, and there's a good reason why! This video has some amazing playing on it, and the interview is very insightful. I hope you enjoy it!
Tuesday, December 6, 2016
John Beasley, piano and arrangements
Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the last big band leader to take on a full set of Monk tunes was Bill Holman. And that widely acclaimed album, Brilliant Corners, dates way back to 1997. Well, in a fair and just jazz world, this Monk effort should be similarly praised. Beasley flies high with some spicy, saucy arrangements. There are lots of impressive ensemble passages and some sound intricate and downright difficult enough to call Thad Jones-Mel Lewis to mind. In this atmosphere it's easy to understand that the solo work is often challenging and in-your-face. Among the nine Monk classics examined here, you'll find "Epistrophy", "Ask Me Now", "Little Rootie Tootie", "Coming On The Hudson" and of course, "Round Midnight". Other less well known but uniquely Monk tunes complete the program. Monk's music lends itself well to varied interpretations. It sure works well in this roaring big band setting.
Mack Avenue Records; 2016; appx. 48 min.
Friday, December 2, 2016
I just ran into this amazing video of Bill Evans in a rehearsal with Eddie Gomez and Alex Riel. Apparently this video is from Riel's personal collection. What a treat to see Bill Evans talk about his music and show the songs to the drummer. Amazing stuff. This is a rare opportunity to see a true Jazz master at work. Enjoy...
Live At The 4 Queens; Shirley Horn, Piano and Vocals Shirley Horn was one of those exceptional jazz singers who unfairly flew under the radar for far too long. When she wasn't a stay-at-home mom she managed to record a handful of albums, none of which got very much attention. That all changed in about 1987 with the first of many sessions for Verve. Suddenly, Shirley Horn was no longer the exclusive darling of musicians and the hippest of jazz fans. This previously unreleased gem was captured at The 4 Queens, a Las Vegas casino, in 1988 (imagine! Jazz in Vegas!). Shirley and her long time colleagues, Charles Ables on bass and Steve Williams on drums, deliver a memorable set of nine tunes: six vocals and three instrumental pieces. She gets things underway with Randy Weston's classic "Hi-Fly". Next comes her vocal on "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To". As always she's about a mile behind the beat, but she's the only singer who makes this little trick work to perfection. Other vocals include "Lover Man", "Just For A Thrill", and my personal fave, the rather obscure "Something Happens To Me". She also works her vocal magic on two Antonio Carlos Jobim evergreens, "Meditation", and "Ipanema". The date closes with an Oscar Peterson burner, "Blues For Big Scotia". And don't lose sight of a fifty-six (!) page booklet loaded with info, photos and interviews. Resonance Records just keeps coming up with one unreleased treasure after another. And Shirley Horn, the brilliant, unique and uncompromising jazz diva, was herself, a treasure. Resonance Records; 2015; appx. 50 min.
Friday, November 25, 2016
Friday, November 18, 2016
For me, it's a toss-up. But I can come up with three names (more if I were pressed) who might be considered as the top dog guitarist of the mid-20th century era. How about Kenny Burell, Jim Hall and Wes Montgomery? So, how great a delight is it to unearth this previously unissued set recorded live in an Indianapolis jazz club way back in 1959?! To make things even sweeter, the pianist on the date is Chicago hero Eddie Higgins, a real champion of elegance. The rhythm section is completed by drummer Walter Perkins and, despite concerted effort to identify him, an unknown bassist. By 1959, Wes's style was well-defined. It featured distinctive single note passages, subtle chord work, and his trademark brilliance in playing in octave style. Higgins also gets a chance to shine on some solo passages which show his allegiance to standouts like Teddy Wilson and Hank Jones. The tunes, six in all, range from Neal Hefti's "Li'l Darlin'" to Monk's "Ruby, My Dear" to Duke's "Prelude To A Kiss" and more. I for one could listen to music like this all day long and never tire of it. We owe a debt of gratitude to Resonance Records for bringing this and numerous other treasures to our attention over the past decade.
Resonance Records; 2016; appx. 41 min.
Friday, November 11, 2016
By now, Tom Harrell is no newcomer to the jazz brigade. The liner note writer for this CD referred to him as “a player who brings brains and beauty to his music.” And that certainly holds true on this new recording. Harrell’s all-original musical palette concentrates on titles and melodies associated with India and the East. The word ‘prana,’ a term familiar to those who practice yoga, refers to the essential life-force. Several of Harrell’s compositions bear witness to these sensibilities, but underneath it all is Harrell’s riveting trumpet and flugelhorn. Not unlike the solos of Miles Davis, Harrell’s sound is often one of intense beauty and melancholy. His colleagues on the date, all new names to me, account well for themselves, but it is primarily Harrell’s heavyweight musicianship on display here. Be warned, this isn’t Diz ‘n Bud playing bop. Indeed, there is a very contemporary muse at work here. On that note, I would have preferred the exclusion of the Fender Rhodes. Never on my top ten list, it is used on about half of the eight tunes. Other than that, go right ahead and dig Tom Harrell’s monster chops! High Note, 2009, 56:09.
Friday, November 4, 2016
I am not aware that this important recording has ever been available until now. That’s strange, because first, it was Lester Young’s last music statement. He died just 13 days later upon his return to New York. And second, it’s “really good Lester,” regardless of what you might have read about his “decline.” With a Paris-based quintet which included the under-rated Rene Urtreger, piano, Jimmy Gourley, guitar, George Joyner, bass, and Kenny Clarke, drums, Prez and friends explore over a dozen classics, including “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” “Lady Be Good,” “Three Little Words,” “I Can’t Get Started,” “Pennies From Heaven” and a bunch more. As one might expect, knowing Lester’s preference for a soothing, in-the-pocket sound, that’s the order of the day from these five accomplished cats. Don’t overlook Urtreger’s silvery piano solos. Likewise guitarist Gourley. This is nothing less than a major addition to the discography of one the truly “unforgettables.” To the present day, Lester Young remains a jazz original and an artist who inspired countless others who followed. You can hear it in every note.
American Jazz Classics, 2012; 63 minutes.
A couple of years ago, when Volume one of this music was issued, my review said, in part, that an apparent “Volume two” would be welcomed and anticipated with delight. Well, here it is. By now you’re probably aware that for me, Broadbent occupies the top rung of the jazz piano ladder. His playing is a listening adventure that gathers in the glories of J.S. Bach, Chopin, Lennie Tristano, Bud Powell and Bill Evans. But mostly it’s all about Broadbent and his consistency in providing music that swings and is beautiful. Once again, he’s with long-time associates Putter Smith, bass, and Kendall Kay, drums, and he writes another chapter in just what the classic piano trio is all about. His peerless interpretations of two standards, “Yesterdays” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” get this set off to a stirring beginning. They’re followed by the first of four original compositions: a medium tempo exercise in the blues called “Blues In ‘n Out.” “Wandering Road” is his musical statement on one aspect of the life of a musician. George Shearing’s outstanding composition, “Coneption,” follows. It’s a rarely heard gem and Broadbent makes it an album highlight. Always an admirer of the richness of Tadd Dameron’s compositions, Broadbent then launches into “Sing a Song of Dameron,” a beauty. But then, beauty was a Tadd trademark. The session is completed with “Three For All,” Broadabent’s bright and bouyant take on the changes to “Just Friends.” Let me simply state it this way: Alan Broadbent is my miracle piano player. Find out for yourself by buying this CD. And don’t miss hearing him in person for two nights, August 28 and 29, here in River City.
Chilly Bin Records; 2012; appx. 60 minutes.
I know I’ve made it clear in the past that I’m not exactly a walking ad for jazz organ. So this B-3 record is going to appeal to those of you who are more into such things. Smith’s trio includes Peter Bernstein on guitar and Billy Drummond on drums. I guess what appeals to me is that Smith, rather like Jimmy Smith, doesn’t go for the funky r&b sound so common in these groups. Instead, he takes a very straight-ahead approach with some evergreen tunes like “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” “Softly As in a Morning Sunrise,” and even Charlie Parker’s bop line, “My Little Suede Shoes.” Among Smith’s original compositions, there’s a nifty blues called “That Ain’t Right”; a burner called “Turning Point”; and a medium-up, fresh melody line called “Too Damn Hot.” Bernstein is always on track no matter the assignment, and his authoritative guitar is on target in this setting. To my way of thinking, this is about as good as it gets in the B-3 ballpark.
Criss Cross, 2009, 65:07.
Just when I thought I had everything Bill Evans ever released (either during his lifetime or posthumously), here comes this 50+ minute treasure with Bill, Eddie Gomez and Marty Morell. It doesn’t matter a bit that nearly every tune in the set has appeared on previous Evans recordings. It is, after all, another chance to hear an acknowledged piano genius playing before an enraptured, appreciative audience of Parisians. You know the tunes: “Up With the Lark,” “Quiet Now,” “Midnight Mood,” “Twelve Toned Tune,” “If You Could See Me Now,” “Waltz for Debby” and the surprise of the set, Gordon Jenkins’ “Goodbye,” a tune Evans rarely played. His originals, “34 Skidoo,” “Sugar Plum” and the stunning ballad, “The Two Lonely People,” complete the set. Bill Evans collectors (like me!) are going to scoop this one up and relish every minute of it.
Gambit Records, 2009, 53:27.
Over the last couple of years, Rudy Van Gelder, the sound maven of hundreds of jazz recordings, has re-mastered some classic Blue Note sides, this among them. Sonny Clark might have never conquered the summit on the jazz mountain, but his rather limited amount of work remains highly valued and always swinging. For this 1962 session, he invited Tommy Turrentine, Charlie Rouse, Butch Warren and Billy Higgins to the studio to participate in a feast of formidable fare. From the opening notes of Clark’s by-now familiar “Somethin’ Special,” you’ll know that this gathering was indeed, something’ special. Clark was a clear headed, post bop pianist who never wasted a note. The one and only standard on the date is Jimmy Van Heasen’s “Deep In a Dream.” Other than that, it’s a program of Clark’s clean, engaging melody lines and the playing of his inspired colleagues. It’s been said in music that time is the ultimate test, and this ensemble from nearly fifty hears ago, sounds very much like they could have been in the studio a week ago Thursday! If you’ve somehow missed out on the music of Sonny Clark, here’s your chance to encounter one of the ‘quiet’ greats of jazz.
Blue Note (reissue), 2008, 55:16.
By now, Tom Harrell is no newcomer to the jazz brigade. The liner note writer for this CD referred to him as “a player who brings brains and beauty to his music.” And that certainly holds true on this new recording. Harrell’s all-original musical palette concentrates on titles and melodies associated with India and the East. The word ‘prana,’ a term familiar to those who practice yoga, refers to the essential life-force. Several of Harrell’s compositions bear witness to these sensibilities, but underneath it all is Harrell’s riveting trumpet and flugelhorn. Not unlike the solos of Miles Davis, Harrell’s sound is often one of intense beauty and melancholy. His colleagues on the date, all new names to me, account well for themselves, but it is primarily Harrell’s heavyweight musicianship on display here. Be warned, this isn’t Diz ‘n Bud playing bop. Indeed, there is a very contemporary muse at work here. On that note, I would have preferred the exclusion of the Fender Rhodes. Never on my top ten list, it is used on about half of the eight tunes. Other than that, go right ahead and dig Tom Harrell’s monster chops!
High Note, 2009, 56:09.
High Note, 2009, 56:09.