Thursday, December 28, 2017

"Alto Gusto" P J Perry alto sax

In this era of one beautiful jazz label after another going belly up, it's rewarding to see the steady progress of Cellar Live. Based in Vancouver, B.C., Cellar Live has showcased young players totally dedicated to the revered tradition of straight ahead jazz. On this perfectly delightful session we become acquainted with P J Perry, a deep in the shed alto sax man. His rhythm section is headed by Jon Mayer, a longtime contributor to the Classic Piano Series here in PDX. The rhythm section is completed by Steve Wallace, bass; and Quincy Davis, drums. Recorded live at Edmonton, Alberta's Yardbird Suite, Perry and friends are flawless on jazz favorites "Stablemates", "Two Bass Hit" and "Quasimodo". Standards include "We'll Be Together Again" and "Summer Night". The latter tune is incidentally mistakenly listed as "Close Your Eyes"! One might note that the first three notes of both are precisely the same. On all these and more, P J Perry makes it clear that he's ready for us to sit up and take notice.

Cellar Live; 2017; appx. 62 min.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Bob Ferrell's "Jazztopian Dream" Bob Ferrell, trombone

You probably haven't given this much thought. I know I haven't. But how many trombone leader records can you think of in the last year or two? Not many, I'd guess. And in part, that's what makes Bob Ferrell's new CD most welcome to the ear. His repertoire is nicely split between jazz tunes, blues, an original or two, and one semi-standard, "My Secret Love". Remember Doris Day's version? This ain't it! Ferrell opts for a burly tone with hints of J J Johnson. But to my ear he sounds more like Frank Rosolino. Ferrell's colleagues include some well spoken reeds and horns, and the solo work is generous and quite spirited. There are a few vocals by Dwight West: "Yard Bird Suite", "Don't Go To Strangers" and "Every Day I Have The Blues". He's a fine singer, somewhere in the tradition of Eddie Jefferson or Giacomo Gates. As for the leader, Bob Ferrell is definitely a player and band leader worthy of wider recognition.

BFM Productions; 2017; appx. 54 min.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

"Jazz Speak" Adrian Cunningham; tenor sax, clarinet, and flute

Woodwind master. That describes Adrian Cunningham. And he plays them all with unbridled joy and enthusiasm. I might add that any leader who surrounds himself with Ted Rosenthal piano; John Clayton, bass; and Jeff Hamilton, drums, is assured my attention. It should be clearly noted also that Cunningham can write lilting, varied melodies as well. The opener for example is a spirited, gospel-like entry called "The Source". "Getting Down Uptown" gives us a touch of funk while "Rachel's Dance", a flute feature, is a happy, rollicking, shuffle beat blues. "Appalachia" employs a head-shaking tempo that might be thought of as a jazz version of a bluegrass party. Then there's "Autumn Moon Over The Calm Lake". You'll picture a peaceful Japanese country scene. Standards include dependables like "Let's Fall In Love" and "Mood Indigo", and two rarely heard gems are also great choices: Sidney Bechet's "Petite Fleur" and Bud Powell's "Tempus Fugit" couldn't be more different from each other, but both are album highlights. Cunningham, in this stunning company, sounds as though he was destined to play this style of music. And he does it with blue ribbon results.

Arbors Records; 2017; appx. 62 min.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

"For The Love Of You" Jacques Lesure Guitar

In that other world of rock and pop, the guitar long ago became a disrespected bowl of fuzzy electronic mush. With that horror show in mind, it's especially nice to welcome a record like this. Jacques Lesure swings vigorously, plays entirely within a jazz context, and chooses colleagues who share these lofty musical values. Eric Reed, piano; Tony Dumas, bass; and Willie Jones III, drums, are all in-demand pros who complement Lesure's guitar brilliance from note one. The session is made up of seven tunes, three of which will likely be familiar. The opener, "The Lamp Is Low", is taken at a semi-quick tempo and informs us that good things are about to unfold. The two other standards include an appropriately upbeat version of  "Put On A Happy Face"; and a definite album highlight, Cedar Walton's near classic "Holy Land". Lesure's every note is clean, brisk and confident, and Eric Reed contributes solos worthy of his highly admired reputation. There's even a crafty blues here and it's called "That's Mr. Burrell, Thank You". It suggests pretty clearly the source of Mr. Lesure's inspiration!

WJ3 Records; 2017; appx. 38 min.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Four In One; Heads Of State; (a quartet)

Here are four well respected veterans of the jazz life, all of whom have earned the collective name Heads Of State. Gary Bartz, alto sax; Larry Willis, piano; David Williams, bass; and Al Foster, drums, provide an energetic workout on eleven tunes, well balanced between standards and original material. Let's take a look at a few album highlights. The opener, "Four In One", brings some new harmonic luster to the rarely heard Monk tune. "Moose the Mooch" is a Charlie Parker bop classic with wit and fun intact. A couple of tunes "owned" by Miles Davis, his own "Sippin' at Bells" and John Lewis' "Milestones" provide further bop flavor, and Bartz makes sure we get a silvery unaccompanied verse to the Gershwin beauty "Someone To Watch Over Me". "Freedom Jazz Dance", a soulful Eddie Harris piece complete with Al Foster's backbeat, is perhaps the edgiest tune of the set. On all these and a few added originals there's a strong, cohesive feel to this album. One can hear that all the players were "on" for this session. It all comes out in the music.

Smoke Sessions Records; 2017; appx. 73 min.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Woody Shaw "The Tour Vol.2:

The Tour, Vol. 2 - Woody Shaw, trumpet; Louis Hayes, drums
Thankfully, High Note Records seems to find ways to access frequent but previously unreleased live concerts by a variety of jazz stalwarts. This time we go all the way back to 1976 and 1977 for a collection recorded at various locations in Germany and Belgium. For the record, the quintet is co-led by trumpet star Woody Shaw and drummer par excellence Louis Hayes. Shaw was a huge talent, often virtuosic in nature. His trumpet chops were controlled but fiery; his solos both compelling and inventive; and his ballad playing often simply something to behold. His career was cut short by a tragic accident, so he leaves a modest number of recordings. That in part is what makes this CD so welcome. On almost all material, the two co-leaders are joined by Junior Cook, tenor sax; Ronnie Mathews, piano; and Stafford James, bass. The six tunes are evergreens of the art form with titles like "All The Things You Are", "Night In Tunisia", "Invitation", "'Round Midnight" and more. This is heavy duty hard bop and not for the uninitiated or faint of heart. Woody Shaw was a ball of fire. Who knows where a longer life would have taken him? But he sure gave it his all while he was among us.

High Note; 2017; appx. 53 min.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Piano Heros - Bud Powell

Most listeners, writers and musicians consider Bud Powell the father of bebop piano. He was at the very least its most admired pioneer, and his influence upon two generations of players is pervasive. Among hundreds, maybe thousands who owe Powell a strong debt of gratitude are Barry Harris, Tardo Hammer, Alan Broadbent and Pete Malinverni. Powell's brilliance peaked around 1949 or '50 and began to fade as early as 1956. Mental illness plagued him, and by the late '50's his skills began to erode. There were occasional solid moments here and there during his tenure in Europe from 1959 to 1964, the year he returned to the US, nearly forgotten and severely wounded by his emotional travails. He died penniless and homeless in 1966. Bud Powell was only 41. Still, he achieved the loftiest heights of bebop piano.

Five favorite recordings of Bud Powell as sideman, and five as leader:
1. Charlie Parker, alto sax; Live At Birdland 1950 - Cool & Blue
2. Charlie Parker, alto sax; Memorial - Savoy
3. Charlie Parker, alto sax; Summit Meeting At Birdland - CBS
4. Serge Chaloff, baritone sax; Memorial - Cool & Blue
5. Dexter Gordon, tenor sax; Dexter's Mood - Cool & Blue
1. Bud Powell At Birdland 1953 (3 CD's) - ESP
2. The Complete Blue Note And Roost Recordings - Blue Note (4CD's)
3. The Complete Bud Powell On Verve (4 CD's)
4. Spring Broadcasts 1953 - ESP
5. The Bud Powell Trio Plays - Roulette

Monday, August 7, 2017

Piano Heros - Bill Evans

Bill Evans - Sideman

Before the career of Bill Evans was to blossom into stardom he worked in support of more established leaders like Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, Chet Baker and Stan Getz. But he also labored in near obscurity for lesser known artists. Here, in alphabetical order is a partial list of ten of his memorable works as a sideman:
1. Eddie Costa, vibes; Guys And Dolls - Costa, who also played piano, stayed with the vibraphone in the company of Evans. He was a promising talent but was lost to us at age 31 in an auto accident.2. Art Farmer; Modern Art - On his only session with Art Farmer and Benny Golson, Evans adds luster to the proceedings on "Fair Weather", "Darn That Dream", "The Touch Of Your Lips", and more.3. Lee Konitz, alto sax, with Warne Marsh, tenor sax; Live At The Half Note - With Lennie Tristano disciples Konitz and Marsh, Bill gets a chance to stretch out on some extended, brilliant solo work. Two CD's make for a lot of high grade listening.4. Michel Legrand, Orchestra leader; Legrand Jazz - Bill lends his talents on four tunes, working with Miles, Coltrane, Paul Chambers, Phil Woods, and other bright lights.5. Mark Murphy, vocals; Rah - After several 1950's high quality pop dates for Decca and Capitol, Mark Murphy found his niche as a jazz singer for Riverside. Bill split piano chores with Wynton Kelly on this winner from 1961.6. Dave Pike, vibes; Pike's Peak - A gifted vibes player, Dave Pike has spent most of his career in Europe. This quartet session, originally on Epic, gives Bill plenty of opportunity to deliver intricate communication with Pike.7. Bill Potts, leader, arranger; The Jazz Soul Of Porgy And Bess - Bill Potts was a highly respected band leader based in Washington, DC. Among the giants heard here are Sweets Edison, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Gene Quill, Phil Woods, Art Farmer and of course, Bill Evans.8. George Russell, piano, composer; New York, N.Y. - The Jazz Workshop; Jazz In The Space Age - From 1956 to 1960, Evans recorded a few tunes with avante gardist George Russell. The music ranged from challenging and compelling to egocentric overkill. Still as always, Bill finds a way to stand out with expressive solos.9. Tony Scott, clarinet; The Complete Tony Scott - In 1956 and '57 Bill was cutting standards with Tony Scott on clarinet. His liquid, gorgeous sound never quite caught on in the manner of Goodman and Shaw. Anyway, there's Bill again, with limited but outstanding solos.10. Monica Zetterlund, vocals; Waltz For Debbie - Evans worked with hardly any singers. Only Tony Bennett and Helen Merrill come to mind. Enter Swedish singer Monica Zetterlund whose 1964 session with Bill, Chuck Israels and Larry Bunker, brings us "Waltz For Debbie", "Lucky To Be Me", "Some Other Time", and lots more. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Grant Stewart "Roll On"

Among the current crop of tenor sax players Grant Stewart is one of my personal faves. He always honors the tradition but at the same time is contemporary and in the pocket. He performs on this CD in a piano-less trio that features Paul Sikivie, and brother Phil Stewart, drums. Tunes range from ancient entries like "Thinking Of You" and "After You've Gone", to Bud Powell's bop anthem "Un Poco Loco". "Here I'll Stay" is an overlooked gem I recall from an old Gerry Mulligan side. On these and others, Stewart and company deliver the goods.

Cellar Live; 2017; appx. 49 min.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Tardo Hammer "Swinging On A Star"

As we approach eight years of producing piano concerts at Portland's Classic Pianos, one of the standout evenings occurred on October 26, 2012. Tardo Hammer was in town and he mesmerized an audience of beguiled bebop believers. To my ears, Hammer is a willing disciple of Bud Powell, Tadd Dameron and Barry Harris. Said another way, it's not how many notes one plays. Rather, it's all about playing the right ones. And Tardo Hammer is a master of his craft in a trio session featuring Lee Hudson, bass and Steve Williams, drums. Here's the word on a few highlights: The CD opens with "Gone", a Gil Evans remake of a minor theme from Porgy and Bess. Two bop evergreens, "Little Willie Leaps" and "Monk's Dream", are tailor made for Tardo. The standards include some extended solo space for Hudson on the title tune "Swingin'" On A Star"; a delicate and tender "How Are Things In Glocca Morra"; and the surprise of the set, Harry Warren's old timer, "I Found A Million Dollar Baby". A gorgeous bonus here is Billy Strayhorn's rarely heard and oddly titled beauty, "A Ballad For Very Tired And Sad Lotus Eaters". Strayhorn always took a back seat to his boss, Duke Ellington. But in terms of genius they were equals. Several additional tunes complete an album that is five star real deal piano trio perfection.
Cellar Live; 2017; appx 46 min.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Kenton Alums

Some of you might take issue with this, but I'm just going to say it and let the chips fall where they may. I'm not an overwhelming wild-eyed fan of the Stan Kenton Orchestra. I own about a dozen SK albums, so it might be said that I recognize his place in jazz history. The "Kenton sound" as it became known, was bright, brassy, and orchestral. It was impeccably arranged, but to my ear it didn't always swing. Still, we must credit Kenton for possessing a great ear [?] for superb players in his orchestra. Many of them started their careers in the Kenton nest [?] and others used it as a springboard to later fame. Among them were the following: [paragraph?] Jack Sheldon, the witty trumpet player and occasional singer; Zoot Sims, bear [?] of the incessantly swinging tenor sax; Lennie Niehaus, an alto player who would move on as a leader and arranger of significance; Tenor man Bill Holman, whose arranging skills would make him one of the most in demand in that arena; Troubled trombonist Frank Rosolino, first call cat in both movie and recording studios; and Art Pepper, who despite his addictive lifestyle, would become a major [what?] [alto sax]. Other Kentonites who moved on [repetition] to prominence in their own right include Lee Konitz, alto; Stan Levey, drums; Conte Condoli, trumpet; Bob Cooper and Bill Perkins, tenor sax; and two outstanding singers, June Christy and Chris Connor. All said, that's a truckful of talent. Stan Kenton recognized it, encouraged it, and gave it to the jazz world as a great gift.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

92 Years Young: Jammin' At The Gibbs House

Maybe it's that famously clean air quality of Los Angeles. Or perhaps it's that exceptional pure water shuttled in from Colorado. Or could it be the thousands of hours on the receiving end of automobile exhaust from a lifetime spent on L.A. freeways? Whatever the reason, Terry Gibbs at 92 apparently dismisses his age in favor of playing the vibes as he always has, with swinging passion and vitality. On this most welcome CD he's joined by John Campbell, piano; son Gerry Gibbs, drums; and Mike Gurrola, bass. A couple of words specifically about John Campbell. He's simply one of the most vastly underrated pianists ever. He swings in the manner of Oscar Peterson and yet one can count his albums on one hand! Gibbs and friends give you more than your money's worth on treasures like "Indiana", "Yesterdays", "What's New", "Take The A Train", "Yardbird Suite" and lots more. So don't hesitate. Go ahead and revel in all the joyous music heard here. Terry Gibbs is 92 and still playing like a jazz monster. It must be something in the air.
Whaling City Sound; 2017; appx. 75 min.

Monday, July 17, 2017

David Among Goliaths: Freddie Green

     Slip in a Count Basie disc some time and reacquaint yourself with the drive, the power and precision of this historic band. Basie of course was a champion of the less-is-more theory. His economy of notes was deceptive. It sounded as though anyone could do it, but like Bach's two part inventions, Count's "simple" lines were anything but easy. Into this atmosphere, throw in premier soloists like Frank Foster and Frank Wess on tenor; Marshall Royal on alto; Thad Jones and Joe Newman on trumpet; and oh so many others, even if for shorter stays.

     But next to Basie himself, the quiet star of the band was guitarist Freddie Green. In this propulsive, soaring Basie machine there was the pulse: Freddie. Always there on acoustic rhythm guitar. Surrounded by all this power and, call it what it is, volume, Freddie is in the center of the fray: plink, plank, plunk. He rarely was awarded solos but he was the beating heart of the band.

     My favorite Freddie Green story goes back to about 1951. Musical styles were changing. Big bands were disappearing rapidly. Basie was forced to wave goodbye to his beautiful band and started playing clubs in a trio setting. The story is told that one night in Chicago, Basie and his trio mates were setting up on the band stand. In walked Freddie Green, guitar case in hand. Basie cared deeply about Freddie but simply could not afford him. Freddie approached the bandstand and Basie asked him, "What are you doing here?" "Well, we're playing tonight, aren't we?" answered Freddie. "Uh, yeah," said Basie. Freddie unpacked his guitar from the case and went on to play the rest of his career with his soft-hearted boss, William Basie.

     So, put on that Basie disc. But listen in particular for the acoustic rhythm guitarist. The David among Goliaths. Freddie Green. Thank you, Freddie!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Jazz Notes "Best Singers Of All Time"

Billie, Ella, Sarah, Carmen: Are they the four greatest jazz singers of all time?

In my opinion, yes. But I wouldn't choose any one of them over the other three! Let's take a look at all four:    Billie Holiday's tragic life and destructive decisions are, unfortunately, central to her music. Her suffering and that of African Americans of her era, is clearly evident in such titles as "God Bless The Child", "Strange Fruit", "My Man" and many others. Billie did not possess the pure and perfect vocal quality of the others, but she told the story of a lyric perhaps as no one, before or since. She also worked nearly exclusively in a jazz context, only bowing to vanilla, stringy arrangements very late in her short life. Her music is as timeless as can be, and as years pass it will occupy a growing importance in jazz history.    Ella Fitzgerald was blessed with an uncanny ability to scat and to fit in as another instrument in the band. To this, add her beautiful, natural vocal quality, her longevity in the business, her modesty, and her obvious love of what she did, and it's easy to understand why she was dubbed "The First Lady Of Song". Peerless on a ballad but ever swinging with partners like Oscar Peterson, Lou Levy, or Paul Smith, Ella Fitzgerald will long be remembered for how nearly perfect she really was.    Sarah Vaughan was also blessed with a heavenly vocal quality. But in addition she had a range that surpassed nearly everyone. She also was able to capture the following of both pop and jazz audiences, something the others could not accomplish. Some of her pop material suffered from syrupy strings, but Sarah was good enough to prevail even there based on talent, poise, chops and built-in brilliance. In the jazz world she worked with everyone from Charlie Parker to Sir Roland Hanna; from Duke Ellington to Jimmy Rowles; and from Count Basie to Jimmy Jones to Miles Davis. She was easily the diva among jazz singers, always "one of the guys" on the bandstand or in the studio, and if one of these four could be described as a goddess, it would be Sarah.    Carmen McRae came along a bit later than the others, hitting her stride in the fifties with some "okay" orchestral backing and some superb jazz sides, mainly with pianist Ray Bryant. She idolized Billie but never tried to sound like her. A wise decision because like Billie, Carmen delivered the meaning of a lyric as though she lived it. She was also a natural and creative scat singer, and the latter half of her career was spent in high octane jazz settings. I loved Carmen's hipness and her ability to reach new musical heights all the time. She was in many ways one of a kind. I am personally grateful for the honor of interviewing her at the 1986 Mt. Hood Festival Of Jazz.Five favorite recordings of Billie, Ella, Sarah and Carmen:BILLIE:1. The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia, 1933-44 (10 CD's)2. Rare Live Recordings 1934-59 (5 CD's) - ESP Disk 3. The Complete Commodore Recordings (2CD's)4. Songs & Conversations - Paramount5. The Complete Billie Holiday On Verve, 1945-59 (10 CD's)ELLA:1. Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie - Verve2. Ella At Duke's Place - Verve3. Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George & Ira Gershwin Songbook (3 CD's) - Verve4. Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook (2 CD's) - Verve5. The Intimate Ella (originally released as Let No Man Write My Epitaph) - VerveSARAH:1. No Count Sarah - Emarcy2. Sarah Vaughan (with Clifford Brown) - Emarcy3. Count Basie & Sarah Vaughan - Roulette4. Sarah Vaughan At Mister Kelly's - Emarcy5. Sarah Vaughan & The Jimmy Rowles Quintet - MainstreamCARMEN:1. Carmen Sings Monk - Novus (RCA)2. Bittersweet - Koch Jazz3. Carmen McRae Sings Lover Man - Columbia4. Live At Sugar Hill - Time5. Carmen McRae & Ray Bryant - Complete Recordings - Gambit

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Emmet Cohen "Masters Legacy Series Volume 1"

Certainly you'll turn some heads if you can get legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb on your record. I certainly sat up and took notice. Well, pianist Emmet Cohen was able to pull off that trick on this classic piano trio album. Bassist Yasushi Nakamura completes the trio, and just to be totally accurate, alto sax man Godwin Louis guests on two selections. Pianist Cohen has a skilled and confident but yet subtle approach, and in the heart of the tradition. The tunes are very nicely varied with jazz standards like "Tin Tin Deo" and "Two Bass Hit", and surprises like Ferde Grofe's "On The Trail" and Burton Lane's showy "If This Isn't Love". The trio also puts "Flamingo" in waltz tempo and it works to perfection. A few lesser known but equally compelling tunes complete a very welcome album. The notes indicate that this CD, being "Volume 1", is first of a series well worth waiting for. Cohen is not flashy. And that's what makes him such a delight to hear.

Cellar Live; 2016; appx. 68 min.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Bill Mays "Front Row Seat" 2 CDs

Throughout an illustrious career Bill Mays has become one of the definitive players. He chooses songs worth keeping in our consciousness and his chords are a source of strength, with a little dissonance here and a dash of tenderness there. His improvisations are always highly creative, often exciting, and never too far out for our ears. In other words, Bill Mays is your "jazz pianist ideal". On this not quite brand new (but his latest) release, Bill plays completely solo on a two CD session. This is what you'd hear if you were that fortunate fly on the wall in Bill's private music room. It's straight to the heart intimacy on ballads such as "What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life", "Waltz For Debbie", "This Is All I Ask", "Sophisticated Lady", "Lush Life", and more. The second CD includes a few alternate takes. Bill questioned their inclusion, but the producers insisted that their very  different approaches made them indispensible. And they were right! Bill Mays can always be called upon to make you breathless. That's just what he does on this welcome recording.

Self-produced; 2015; CD #1: appx. 72 min; CD #2: appx. 72 min.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Mark Lewis (alto sax and flute) "The New York Session"

Let's put it this way. If you could go into the studio with George Cables, piano; Essiet Essiet, bass; and Victor Lewis, drums, you might be shaking like a leaf but I'll bet you'd do it. Well, that's what alto guru Mark Lewis did in a Brooklyn studio. And this CD is the result. Lewis offers a freewheeling but light touch on eleven originals with widely varying tempos and moods. What is consistent is Lewis' flawless sound, ease of delivery, and complete lack of showy excess. Pianist Cables, whom Art Pepper once described as "Mr. Beautiful", is a dream come true as both accompanist and soloist. His section mates, Essiet and Victor Lewis, are by now seasoned players ready for any assignment. From first note to last, this is the very definition of jazz, the essence of the art form.

Audio Daddio; 2016; appx. 64 min.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Doug Munro "The Harry Warren Songbook"

Harry Warren was a prominent composer during the 1920's, '30's and into the '40's. Just one look at all his hits and you'll be quite amazed, especially if his name is only vaguely familiar. Warren was also the great uncle of guitarist Doug Munro who has put together this Warren tribute. Munro decided on a swing style session in the manner of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli. Nearly all the music was composed during that period, so it fits hand-in-glove as swing material. Munro plays with four different groups, all guitar dominated. Now to these Harry Warren titles. An impressive list it is, with such evergreens as "Jeepers Creepers", "I Only Have Eyes For You", "The More I See You", "September In The Rain", "At Last", "Serenade In Blue", and loads of others. If you love the Django era and style, grab this one up. It's great fun!
Got Music Records; 2017; appx. 57 min.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Jeff Rupert "Imagination"

No doubt you remember the very lilting, personal and consistently beautiful sound of tenor giant Stan Getz. Well, Jeff Rupert will captivate you with a Getz-like tenor that, in a word, is gorgeous. In a live performance for an enraptured audience Rupert works seamlessly with pianist Richard Drexler. The two communicate flawlessly on an often breathless set. Just eight tunes get thorough recital-like treatments on this "must hear" pairing. Included are "Without A Song", "Imagination", "Soul Eyes", and perhaps my two choices, Claude Thornhill's "forever" tune, "Snowfall" and Dave Brubeck's rarely heard beauty "Strange Meadowlark". The level of communication between Rupert and Drexler is simply something to behold. I'm glad that records like this are still being made.

Rupe Media; 2016; appx. 58 min.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Northern Adventures "The Canada Sessions Vol.1"

Al Muirhead, trumpet, bass trumpet, and flugelhorn

Is there still a little room on your plate for a dozen etched-in-stone American songbook standards? If so, you might want to cue up this session under the leadership of Al Muirhead. He is heard here working with two all Canadian groups, the crème de la crème of the North. Among them are multi-instrumentalist Don Thompson and trumpet and flugelhorn ace Guido Basso, both of whom had length ties with the late bandleader Rob McConnell. Muirhead, at 81, has spent a lifetime in music and takes on these classics with obvious affection and pure musicianship. Every tune is a winner, but to name a handful, how about "They Can't Take That Away From Me", "I've Never Been In Love Before", "Emily", "You'll Never Know", and "Nice Work If You Can Get It". One can easily tell that Al Muirhead and friends are having way too much fun. I'll bet that you will too!

Chronograph Records; 2017; appx. 57 min.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Bob Dorough "Live At The Deerhead Inn"

Surely you've heard of sportscasters say of superstars, "you can't stop him; you can only slow him down". At age 93 (well, only 92 at the time of the concert) nobody's able to slow down Bob Dorough. His ultra-hip voice is off of center but always playful. It just sneaks up on you and reels you in. On this delightful session he's joined by trio mates Steve Berger on guitar and Pat O'Leary on bass. Special guests Aralee Dorough, Bob's daughter on flute, and Larry Fink, harmonica, help out on selected tracks. But it's mainly Bob, the ultimate jazz hipster, who is all over the place on a wide variety of tunes. He opens with two standards, "The Touch Of Your Lips" and "Flamingo", and then reprises an old Sinatra hit, "Learnin' The Blues". From here he goes deeper into the blues well. "Casanova's Lament" is a Jack Teagarden blues with some not so subtle "R rated" innuendo. "Wily Wily Woman" is a Dorough original blues complete with enthusiastic audience participation. Other selections from diverse points on the musical map include "Alfie", "The Sweetest Sounds", and among others, Dorough's signature song from about 1955, "Devil May Care". Bob Dorough has for decades brought me as much pure jazz pleasure as anybody I can think of. May he be blessed with many more unstoppable years.

Deer Head Records; 2016; appx. 54 min.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Joey Alexander "Countdown"

There's no doubt that Indonesian born prodigy Joey Alexander is the current wunderkind of jazz piano. And there's nothing gimmicky about it. He is thirteen years old and he plays straight ahead swinging jazz like someone three times his age. It's a joy to hear because it's all real---no sideshow antics here. Among three originals on the album, check out the lilting "Sunday Waltz". Pretty, melodic ideas meet a touch of gospel. Or, you might like to check him out on Monk's tricky classic "Criss Cross". Kids are simply not supposed to tackle such things, but Alexander nails it. Then there's the wisdom of Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge". It's just about perfect. He's equally impressive on "Smile", "Countdown", and "Maiden Voyage", among others. Incidentally, saxophonist Chris Potter is a guest on the latter tune. Alexander and his two trios stand out on all additional tracks. One can hear influences of Ahmad Jamal, Oscar Peterson and other giants here. Is Joey Alexander a savant? Probably. But it's a sure thing that at a tender age he's a fully mature jazz pianist.

Motéma Music; 2016; appx. 63 min.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Rebecca Kilgore "This & That"

This And That; Rebecca Kilgore, vocals; Bernd Lhotzky, piano

Other singers could take a lesson from Rebecca Kilgore: It's simple: just sing the song. No drama if you please. Nothing extraneous, no schmaltz, frosting, overkill, cutesiness---call it what you want. But you'll never hear it from Rebecca. What you will hear is a honey-like voice interpreting songs both well known and "not so", with love and caring in every perfect note. Her new CD finds her in duo setting with German pianist Bernd Lhotzky. He is a schooled classical player who some years back pursued an interest in the stride style of Fats Waller and others. Their meeting was a stunning example of rare communication among like minded musicians. Every tune is a gem, but a handful deserve special mention. Interestingly, there are four Billy Strayhorn compositions included. I can never get enough Strayhorn, so I was delighted to encounter "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing", "Grievin'", "Star Crossed Lovers", and perhaps my personal fave, "Lotus Blossom". Also enriching this session are three Gershwin delights: "Who Cares?", "By Strauss", and "Do-Do-Do". How much fun is that?! Among a total of fifteen selections you'll also be treated to "Pick Yourself Up", "Baltimore Oriole", "The Best Thing For You" and lots more. This is at once an exercise in joy, intimacy, sincerity and above all, musical excellence.

Arbors; 2016; appx. 50 min.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Short Takes!

Blue Tjade; Mike Freeman, vibes, marimba, flexatone, kalimba

Mike Freeman is a superb Latin style vibist who is maintaining a tradition made famous by the great Cal Tjader. This CD is comprised of ten of Freeman's strongly melodic Latin excursions. They are played by a quintet of sympathetic cats who obviously love bringing these joyous Latin rhythms to life.

VOF Recordings; 2015; appx. 58 min.

Restless Idealism; Roxy Coss, tenor and soprano saxophones

Roxy Coss is one of those take no prisoners tenor players with a big, confident sound. On this sextet session she presents ten original compositions which display a very confident sound in a variety of textures. The trumpet player on the date is Jeremy Pelt. While he doesn't steal Coss's thunder he clearly shows why he's captured the pulse of much of the jazz public.
Origin Records; 2016; appx. 60 min. 

Pomponio; Jemal Ramirez, drums

This high spirited session is under Ramirez's name but the bulk of the solo activity is turned over to Warren Wolf on vibes and Howard Wiley on saxophones. The septet takes on rarely done material from such bright lights as Bobby Hutcherson, Bobby Watson, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Kenny Garrett and more. High energy and "good vibes" throughout.
First Orbit Sounds; 2015; times not indicated.

Jersey Cat; Freddie Hendrix, trumpet and flugelhorn

This is a beautifully balanced album by Freddie Hendrix, a trumpet and flugelhorn player blessed with great gifts. If straight ahead, well written originals, gorgeous renditions of standards like "You Don't Know What Love Is", "Invitation", and "Peace" still mean anything in the jazz pantheon, look for Freddie Hendrix to go places fast! His arrangements for this compelling septet are right down the center of the jazz highway. We have to be grateful that players like Freddie Hendrix come along once in a while.
Sunnyside Communications; 2015; appx. 59 min.

Leste; Guilherme Dias Gomes, trumpet, flugelhorn and trombone

Brazilian music, I've always thought, is all grown up. Never flashy or excessive, even at fast tempos, it's consistently warm, winsome and winning. And so it is with Mr. Dias Gomes, who produced a beautiful, unforced sound throughout this album. There's often rare delight and tenderness in Brazilian melodies. And there's an abundance of it here.
Self-produced; probably 2016; appx. 50 min.

Spring; Susie Arioli, vocals

A partial roster of former Rob McConnell big band cats dot the list of accompanists for singer Susie Arioli who takes full advantage of the opportunity. Among her well chosen tunes are two from the Billie Holiday book, "Me, Myself and I" and "Travelin' Light", and a Jimmy Rushing standby called "Evenin'". On these and more, including a few well written originals, Arioli displays an intimacy and vocal quality well suited to her material.
Spectra Musique; 2015; times not indicated.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Bob Kenmotsu Quartet "I'm In Love With You"

OK, so your name is Bob Kenmotsu and you play tenor sax straight down the middle of swing-bop boulevard. But how are you going to impress a jazz reviewer in Portland, Oregon, one who has never heard of you? Just hire David Hazeltine, piano; David Wong, bass; and Billy Drummond, drums for your rhythm section. That'll get the guy's attention before he even pops the disc into the player. Well, it worked on me. Kenmotsu's eleven tune session is primarily original tunes. As any loyal bopper is likely to do he writes new changes on old standards here and there. For instance, "What Is This Thing Called Love" becomes "What Is This" and "Like Someone In Love" is "I Like Someone". Other originals of note include the medium tempo "BK Blues" and a wistful ballad "Sachan's Lullaby". The set closes with two standards: "Monk's Dream" is played a bit friskier than usual, and George and Ira's classic "But Not For Me" is a splendid closer. Kenmotsu's tenor is right out of the tradition. Never a note of excess and always in impeccable taste. The same should be said of his celebrated rhythm section. Yeah, I was definitely impressed!
Rodoken Music; 2015; 63:40

Sunday, May 7, 2017

John Hart "Exit From Brooklyn"

I could be way off base, but I associate the name John Hart with a much more contemporary setting than the straight ahead sound heard here. Hart's trio includes Bill Moring on bass and Tim Horner on drums. The guitarist offers up a set of tunes which for the most part emphasize jazz classics and standards. For example, the opener is a faster than usual "Here's That Rainy Day". Other evergreens include some fancy simple note dexterity on "April In Paris" and an intriguing reharmonization on "Just Friends". Toss in "Where Or When" and you have some winners from the Real Book. But that's not all. Hart and friends also dip into the Monk bag with excellent results on "Ask Me Now" and the rarely heard "Jackie-ing". The Ellington-Strayhorn delicacy "The Star-Crossed Lovers" is given an appropriately tender reading, and a couple of Hart originals complete the album. Hart keeps everything nicely and repectfully under control. He lets the music speak for itself and never puts too many ingredients in the recipe. There are many groovy mainstream things happening here.

Zoho Music; 2016; appx. 58 min.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Nancy Harms "Ellington At Night"

In my world there's always room to be re-acquainted with the brilliance of a master, namely Edward Kennedy Ellington. Singer Nancy Harms is a new name to me, but she makes this Ellington set both personal and special. Whichever collaborator Duke chose, be it Billy Strayhorn, Irving Mills, Johnny Hodges, Bob Russell or any of a score of others, his melodies remain timeless and top notch. And Nancy Harms seems to understand that the highest compliment to the maestro is to sing his magnificent material with sincerity and without pretense. As the lyric to "Prelude To A Kiss states, "Though it's just a simple melody with nothing fancy, nothing much, you could turn it to a symphony, a Schubert tune with a Gershwin touch". And it follows that Harms applies just the right touch to this "Dukal" bill of fare. And you've gotta appreciate that she doesn't just play it safe with Duke's "greatest hits". When, for example was the last time you heard Duke's "Long, Strong and Consecutive", "Strange Feeling" or "Reflections"? These are joined by celebrated classics like "Lush Life", "I Got It Bad", "I'm Beginning To See The Light" and lots more. The accompanying trio of Jeremy Siskind, piano; Danton Boller, bass; and Willie Jones III, drums, is sly, subtle and superb. Harms has a tiny edge to her voice that communicates the essence of the lyrics to these unforgettable melodies. Oh, and before I forget, there's a bed of perfectly placed strings on a few tunes. Duke Ellington lives on and Nancy Harms does him honor.
Gazelle Records; 2016; appx. 52 min.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Jeremy Pelt "Jive Culture"

When Jeremy Pelt issued his first couple of albums several years ago I jumped on the bandwagon thinking, "Here's the next trumpet sensation in jazz history." Then he burst my bubble by going with electronic effects to the extreme on one or two later CD's. Well thankfully, now he's back playing his brand of power jazz with a dream rhythm section of Danny Grissett, piano; Ron Carter, bass; and Billy Drummond, drums. Five of the eight selections are Pelt originals. I was particularly impressed with Pelt's muted, stately ballad approach and Grissett's inspired solo work on "Akua". Likewise on the faster tempo of "Desire" as well as the precision and virtuosity of "Baswald's Place". Pelt's standard on the session is Cole Porter's delicious melody "Dream Dancing". He finds a multitude of improvisational possibilities on the tune, one seemingly prettier than the last. In a similar vein, the quartet caresses Dave Grusin's "A Love Like Ours", a romantic and tender melody if ever there was one. I may have taken a temporary tumble from that Pelt bandwagon. But this versatile, often beautiful new release has me back on board.
High Note; 2016; appx. 53 min.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Echoes Of Swing "Dancing"

Small group swing is alive and well in 2016. Here's a group out of Europe which is truly all over the place in the swing idiom. The co-leaders of the quartet are trumpeter and occasional vocalist Colin T. Dawson and alto sax man Chris Hopkins. Rounding out the quartet are Bernd Lhotzky on piano and celesta and Oliver Mewes, drums. Their bill of fare ranges from J.S. Bach to James P. Johnson; from Scott Joplin to Cole Porter; from Sidney Bechet to Glenn Miller to Rodgers & Hart and lots more. Sixteen tunes in all, many of which are familiar to you. And all of which are presented with style, swing and savoir-faire.
Act Music; 2015; appx. 62 min.

Friday, April 28, 2017

June Bisantz Sings Chet Baker, Vol. 2 It's Always You

Chet Baker's legacy is safely secured in American jazz history. But some of us lose sight of his tender vocalizing and only think of his lyrical, very personal trumpet sound. So along comes singer June Bisantz to celebrate the vocal side of the troubled trumpet star. I missed out on volume one of this tribute, but this CD shows Bisantz as a comfortable and relaxed singer very much in the Baker realm. Her two accompanists, Alex Nakhimovsky on piano and Norman Johnson on guitar, are appropriately sensitive in the backing of the singer. Chet "owned" most of the standards on the album, but there are a couple of obscure beauties which deserve comment. "Forgetful" is a typical C B sorrowful ballad, and "Everything Depends On You" is a nearly forgotten gem with a catchy melody line and a hopeful lyric. June Bisantz keeps it close to the vest with no extraneous theatrics, and that's just as it should be when it comes to the great Chet Baker. Self-produced; probably 2016; appx. 41 min.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Mose Allison: American Legend, "Live In California"

It's a pretty sure bet that the best known son of Tippo, Mississippi is Mose Allison. Still going strong and sounding great as he approaches his 80th year, Mose and his trio cook up a typical bluesy main dish in this live appearance. Over the last decade or more Mose has recorded with some horns and reeds. They're all good sessions, but Mose has always been at his best in a trio setting. That Mississippi back roads piano is just too cool and gritty to be relegated to a supportive role. With Bob Douglass on bass and Pete Magadini on drums, that classic Mose Allison piano magic is once again in the forefront. There are nineteen tunes in all and the majority of them are familiar Mose originals. Interesting to note that his two biggest hits, "Parchman Farm" and "Seventh Son", are not included in the set. Perhaps it was time to "retire" those evergreens. One little moment that you have to catch is Mose's yodeling at the end of "Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me"---believe it or not. So here he is, Mose Allison, the pride of Tippo, Miss, sounding as fit and fabulous as ever. Thanks, Mose!
IBis Recordings; 2015; 54:36

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Tribute To Herbie +1; Dick Oatts / Mats Holmquist New York Jazz Orchestra

As good as these tunes sounded in Herbie Hancock's small group setting of the 1960's, they take on new luster and excitement in this big band edition. Dick Oatts is of course a multi-reed veteran of many big bands. On this session he is heard on both alto and soprano saxophones. Mats Holmquist, a new name to me, is in charge of the arrangements and his writing is dense and orchestral in nature, perhaps reminiscent of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. The "+1" in the album title refers to "Steve R", Holmquist's composition, and the only one not written by Hancock. Herbie's "greatest hits", "Cantaloupe Island", "Dolphin Dance", "Maiden Voyage", and "Watermelon Man" are joined by lesser known of his works with a bristling, take no prisoners attitude featuring fiery, full flavored passages and very generous solo space. Besides the solo from Oatts, trumpet ace Joe Magnarelli is on the gig as is Gotham tenorman Walt Weiskopf. The piano work of Adam Birnbaum was also solid throughout. So it's a new attire for all these Herbie Hancock creations. And it wears extremely well.
Summit; probably 2016; appx. 71 min.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sarah King And The Smoke Rings

Judging strictly from Sarah King's high-pitched, 1920's style vocal quality, one could get the idea that this is a recording intended to reflect that era. Not so, at least in my opinion. While some of the songs go back almost that far ("Jersey Bounce", "Tea For Two", "Lazy River", etc.) they don't have that oop-oop-ee-do feel present. Besides, there are a couple of other choices, namely "Caravan" and "Some Other Spring" which would not draw impressions of the flapper era. Still, on these and other evergreens, King and her trio of Alex Levin, piano; Scott Ritchie, bass; and Ben Cliness, drums, are in the midst of a party-like performance sure to please devotees of the style. Levin, it should be said, is a lyrical wonder based on a few of his own albums in my personal collection.
Alex Levin Music; probably 2016; appx. 46 min

Monday, April 17, 2017

Nancy Erickson "While Strolling Through The Park"

There are several considerations which would suggest that you pay some attention to Seattle area singer Nancy Erickson. For starters, Erickson's vocal quality is sweet and lilting, reminiscent somewhat of the late Karen Carpenter. From a stronger jazz perspective, there's a little Sue Raney present as well. Then there's the prominent Seattle musicians on board for this recording. Among others, how about former Portlander Darin Clendenin on piano, the great double threat monster Jay Thomas on tenor sax and trumpet, and master trombone maven David Marriott also along for the ride. Finally, Erickson's interesting variety of tunes need to be looked at. When, for example, was the last time a jazz singer took on "While Strolling Through The Park (One Day)"? Or how about a nearly forgotten ballad originally done by the rich baritone of Johnny Hartman? It's called "I Just Dropped By To Say Hello", and how nice to hear it again. Incidentally, bassist Clipper Anderson offers a pleasant vocal quality, joining Erickson on that song. The set closer is the French opus "La Vie En Rose", a shimmering duo of voice and bass. On all these and more tunes you know well---plus a few hearty originals, Nancy Erickson has put all the pieces together to produce a thoughtful and highly musical recording.

Vital Flame Productions; 2016; times not indicated.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Ray Vega, trumpet and flugelhorn; Thomas Marriott, trumpet "Return Of The East West Trumpet Summit"

New York (Vega) and Seattle (Marriott) renew their earlier meeting on Origin Records with this quartet outing. Also on board are Matt Jorgensen, drums; and Portland's own George Colligan, B-3 organ. It is, for the most part, a revisit to some hard bop and jazz classics, but one which puts them in a new and different setting. We are treated to renowned works of jazz heroes such as Curtis Fuller, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Cedar Walton and Charlie Parker. Rounding out the menu are standards "Misty" and "What Is This Thing Called Love". An original of Marriott's completes the session. Vega and Marriott are right on target, trading solos, utilizing mutes on occasion and, all in all, bringing invigorating encores to some under-performed jazz classics.
Origin; 2016; appx. 42 min.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Suite For Flute And Jazz Piano Trio-Symphonic Arrangement - Steve Barta, arranger; Hubert Laws, flute

530. That's the number of weeks that Claude Bolling's original version of this suite stayed on the charts at Billboard magazine. It was, in 1975, something fresh and invigorating. A cordial meeting of jazz and classical called "crossover". Well, for the present day, Steve Barta has re-arranged the suite for jazz quartet, string quartet and orchestra. The obvious choice for the flute work was Hubert Laws. His masterful sound is complemented by pianist Jeffrey Biegel and others well suited to the task. Even if you're not familiar with the original recording (now over thirty years old), you'll enjoy Claude Bolling's classical notions in a vital jazz setting. This is beautiful music to be savored and enjoyed.
Steve Barta Music; 2016; appx. 40 min.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Rossano Sportiello "Strictly Confidential"

If you have not yet encountered pianist Rossano Sportiello, I'd advise you to do a little skating around the internet and check him out. I think you'll love what you hear. The first thing that struck me about this album is how different it is from Sportiello's past efforts. On those sessions he displayed a stronger image as a stride/swing pianist. And I might add, to very impressive effect. But on this trio date he dons the hat of a traditional modern jazz pianist and once again, with great success. His trio colleagues are Nicki Parrott, bass; and Eddie Metz, drums. Parrott also sings on "What A Difference A Day Made", "Hallelujah, I Love Him So", "What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life" and "Close To You". The instrumental cuts are the real stars of the show as Sportiello explores the works of such diverse composers as Duke Ellington, Bud Powell, Leslie Bricusse, Frank Foster and Teddy Wilson. Speaking of Wilson, Sportiello displays the economy and the elegant touch that were the hallmarks of Wilson's style. I look forward to future albums by the versatile and impressive Rossano Sportiello.

Arbors; 2016; appx. 73 min.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Anandi " Anandi" (self-titled)

Some years ago, Anandi switched her allegiance from songwriter-pop to jazz singing. Now three albums into that decision, it's easy to see that it was a very good one. On her new CD she works with pianists and arrangers Mike Horsfall and Jasnam Daya Singh along with Portland veterans Dave Captein on bass and Charlie Doggett on drums. Anandi takes some new roads on old standards now and then. The opener, "Unchained Melody", made famous by the great Al Hibbler, is taken at an almost brisk tempo and includes a bit of vocal overdubbing. And "My Funny Valentine" gets all dressed up with a funky backbeat! There are a few surprise choices such as Meredith Wilson's "Till There Was You"---a very pretty tune, but not one usually found in the jazz arena. Or how about her comfort and skill with Brazilian fare such as "Quiet Nights" and "Tristeza". Film composer Dimitri Tiomkin wrote "Wild Is The Wind" and Anandi gives it a dramatic treatment. On these and other well chosen tunes in a variety of tempos, Anandi continues to impress as a singer to be recognized and admired.
Lake Lady Music; 2016; 55:05 min.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Nicolas Bearde "Invitation"

Much admired in San Francisco jazz and r & b circles, singer Nicolas Bearde comes through with strength and style on his first jazz album. Bearde's soulful side is clearly present. In fact, if he could be compared to anyone, it might be to the earlier work of crossover singer Lou Rawls. Backed by a trio led by pianist Nat Adderley, Jr., and with several Bay Area guests weaving in and out of the nine selections heard here, Bearde keeps it appropriately close to the vest on these well chosen tunes. A note of interest is the presence of guest alto sax star Vincent Herring on "Come Back To Me", and "Invitation". Other standards include Billy Strayhorn's classic "Lush Life" and Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage". The latter tune includes a lyric by Herbie's late sister, Jean Hancock. Never before had I encountered words to Herbie's famous composition. If you like a dose of soulful feeling in your jazz serving, Nicolas Bearde is your man.
Right Groove Records; 2016; appx. 46 min.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Joseph Howell "Time Made To Swing"

The clarinet, that tricky reed instrument, obstinately hangs in there. Nearly run asunder by the popularity of the saxophone, the clarinet still occasionally pleads its case. And Joseph Howell is clearly in charge on this clarinet-led quartet session. No knock on Cory Pesaturo who leads the rhythm section on accordion. That's right! The much maligned squeeze box! He's a very spiffy player with boppy solos, even on jazz classics like Bird's "Confirmation", Monk's "Let's Cool One" and John Lewis' "Milestones". Pardon me for being a purist, but a piano's a piano and an accordion is, well, great for the Poulsbo Polka Festival. Beyond the jazz compositions named above, Howell's quartet swings its way through a dependable set of standards and one blues. Howell has chops---no doubt about it. As for the accordion chap, he's hip!

Summit; 2016; appx. 64 min.