Saturday, January 28, 2017

Rale Micic "Inspired"

Rale Micic; John Abercrombie, Peter Bernstein and Lage Lund, guitars
Now read closely because here's what's happening. We have four gifted guitarists at work. Each plays one piece solo. To be specific: Micic on "Alone Together"; Bernstein on "My Ideal"; Lund On "Body And Soul"; and Abercrombie on "Embraceable You". We also get to hear every possible combination of guitar duets among the four players on such evergreens as "My Funny Valentine", "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You", "I Should Care" and "I Hear A Rhapsody." Finally, all four combine on Jim Hall's "All Across The City". The album title, "Inspired", says it all. Here are four exceptional players and nobody needs to go for the throat. Lyricism and beauty reign supreme here. Grab it up, all you guitar prayers and guitar freaks!

Artist Share; 2016; appx. 54 min.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Audrey Silver "Very Early"

This is the second CD that I have been honored to review from singer Audrey Silver. There's a lot to like about her. She offers a sweet, "silvery" voice one might say, but never pours on too much honey. She sings as spot-on-key as anyone I can think of, she works with outstanding accompanists, and she chooses good songs. Silver is also blessed with a built-in ability to tread the fine line between gifted pop singer and jazz specialist. She puts across a lyric that really means something, and does so with a crystalline voice that simply rises above most others. Her tunes range from musical obscurities to rarely heard but long standing favorites like Bobby Troup's "Lemon Twist", a lilting "Lucky To Be Me", and Bill Evans' "Very Early", with a tender lyric I've never heard until now. Pianist Bruce Barth leads a very sensitive group working seamlessly with Ms. Silver. I know only too well that we live in an era where mediocrity often prevails, and gifted singers like Audrey Silver just keep on keepin' on. She has our thanks and our admiration.

Messy House Productions; 2016; appx. 60 min.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Kenny Burrell "Unlimited 1"

Kenny Burrell, guitar & director of the Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra Unlimited
My goodness, I'm sure I have some of his juicy Blue Note and Prestige sides from back in '57 or '58. And that means that Kenny Burrell is still going strong after nearly sixty dedicated years in the jazz art. Wow! He continues to expand his horizons as shown in this recording where he plays, provides commentary, acts as Artistic Director and even takes a few vocal choruses! The Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra provides a stirring and exciting performance with brilliant solo work from a bevy of young players, most of whom are new names to me. The material they choose represents a perfect balance of jazz classics and a few new sounds as well. Burrell has also distinguished himself over the years as a composer, and "Be Yourself" is one of his very best lyrical works. Other highlights include "Stolen Moments", "Things Ain't What They Used To Be", a medley of Billy Strayhorn's "Passion Flower" and "Take The A Train", and Burrell's snappy original, "Fourth Dimension". On all these and more Kenny Burrell remains supreme, and his heavy duty big band pals swing mightily.

High Note; 2016; appx. 72 min.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Eric Alexander "Second Impression"

Second Impression; Eric Alexander, tenor sax
Many years ago I thought that Dexter Gordon, more than any other tenor man of his generation, made the instrument sound exactly as was intended. Among today's players I'd single out Eric Alexander for that designation. Alexander's tone is natural, perfect, practiced and highly satisfying. He is also a thoroughly dedicated real deal jazz musician who can spin you around with technique, but only when it's called for. Another test that he passes is that of choice of material. Alexander always offers a few originals, a bop classic or two, a ballad you long ago forgot about, and a couple of surprises nobody's given a thought to for years. You'll find it all on this well balanced session. The title tune is a cousin to John Coltrane's "Impressions". "So Many Stars" is a memorable melody by Sergio Mendes, and "Secret Love" at a bright tempo won't remind you of Doris Day's version. Fans of Wes Montgomery might recall "Full House", and all these years later, here it is again. The ballad feature is Matt Dennis' "Everything Happens To Me", a beauty that jazz musicians have long favored. To all these add several originals, all performed with passion and masterful musicianship. On that subject, Alexander's usual colleagues are all aces: Harold Mabern, piano; Bob Cranshaw, bass; and Joe Farnsworth, drums. But it's Eric Alexander whose tenor sax sounds just like what Mr. Sax had in mind when he invented it. I look forward to every Eric Alexander CD, and this one measures up to the best of them.

High Note Records; 2016; appx. 54 min. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Alyssa Allgood "Out Of The Blue"

Out Of The Blue; Alyssa Allgood, vocals
I know that some of you probably remember a very hip singer named Annie Ross. As one-third of the best vocal trio in jazz history, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, Annie was a born jazz singer. Until now, I've never heard anyone who even remotely reminds me of her. Enter Alyssa Allgood. Not for a moment does she try to "do Annie Ross". It's just that there's a sincere "this is what I do" vocal quality that's somewhere in Annie's shadow. On this CD she takes on an entire selection of Blue Note classics from the fifties and sixties. So we get treated to solid but understated vocal versions of "Moment's Notice", "Speak No Evil", "Peace", "Moanin'", "It's You Or No One" and lots more. She is accompanied by a cooking, sympathetic quartet. The only change I'd make would be to deep six the organ in favor of a piano, but that's my personal preference. Other than that it's easy to reach the conclusion that Alyssa is "ALL GOOD!"

JeruJazz; 2016; appx. 51 min.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Craig Hartley "Books On Tape Vol. 2"

                                                    Books On Tape Vol. II - Standard Edition; Craig Hartley, piano
A wild and wicked left hand vamp gets this CD underway as Craig Hartley displays some virtuoso sizzle on "Caravan". That is followed by a slightly slower tempo than usual on Fats Waller's classic "Jitterbug Waltz". Hartley then impresses with some formidable classical chops, combining Bach's Prelude No. 2 in C minor with "Solar", a Miles Davis evergreen. From this exercise in virtuosity and sheer bravery we move on to a pretty tune with an ugly title, "Junk". For contrast, Duke's "Mood Indigo" is taken to a jaunty Errol Garner-ish tempo. "Imagine Peace Piece" is a creative pairing of the Beatles' tune "Imagine" with the Bill Evans opus, "Peace Piece". It's really gorgeous stuff, filled with richness and pleasure. It's clear that Craig Hartley has had extensive classical training, a major plus for listeners. Along with colleagues Carlo De Rosa on bass and Jeremy "Bean" Clemons on drums, Craig Hartley is already high on the ladder of creativity and sheer talent. I'd love to see how he continues to progress.

Self-produced; 2016; appx. 52 min.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

David Gibson "Inner Agent"

Jazz heroes now long gone made their mark and successfully conveyed their essence to countless young players of the present day. One of them is David Gibson, a serious threat on the trombone. To my ear, Gibson has been influenced by the growly, often witty and always superlative Bob Brookmeyer. He has also enlisted the help of a sensational trumpet player named Freddie Hendrix. Look out, he's a monster. And pianist Theo Hill is yet another heavyweight on this septet's roster. In addition to several attention getting originals, you'll find two rarities, "The Count" and "Sweetness" from trombone master Curtis Fuller. A rather odd choice is the Beatles' tune "Here Comes The Sun". Now and then some of the solos get a bit off-center for these ears. But all in all there's some distinctive, often fiery playing happening here.

Positone; 2016; appx. 49 min.

Friday, January 13, 2017

"Gems By The Piano Giants"

Gems By The Piano Giants; Evan Christopher - Ehud Asherie Duo; Evan Christopher, clarinet; Ehud Asherie, piano
While we're on the subject of mesmerizing duos, try this on for size: Evan Christopher and Ehud Asherie are both New York monsters who love a rich melody---especially if it hails from the early or mid-twentieth century. Asherie, born in 1979, may well be the premier stride player of the modern era. While this is Asherie's specialty, he is completely at ease with bop, ballads, or anything contemporary. He certainly proved that in November 2016 to an overjoyed audience at Portland's Classic Pianos. Christopher is a new name to me but he caresses the clarinet with passion and always retains perfect control. Their chosen era is honored with gems by Mary Lou Williams, Hoagy Carmichael, Eubie Blake, Jelly Roll Morton, Teddy Wilson, Fats Waller and James P. Johnson among many others. If these two "peas in a pod" had never worked together, we'd have missed out on an album filled with charm, wit, melody and musicianship. Oh, before I lose sight of it, there are three very well delivered vocals here by Hilary Gardner. Her voice is ideal for the material and she never indulges in "flapper excess". But the album "belongs" to Christopher and Asherie. Hopefully there will be more such meetings in the future.

Self-produced; 2016; appx. 42 min.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Houston Person & Ron Carter "Chemistry"

Chemistry; Houston Person, tenor sax; Ron Carter, bass
Outside of its obvious scientific usage, "chemistry" is usually a term associated with things like athletic team play. Odd that it isn't often applied in musical settings. But it is most approriate here. Houston Person and Ron Carter have done nearly all there is to do over decades of jazz leadership. But it takes an extra degree of jazz prowess and musicianship to pull off a duo recording such as this. There's no pianist to take a couple of choruses and no drummer to steady his colleagues. Not a problem for Person and Carter as they weave their spell on ten beauties from the American Songbook, most of them ballads. You can't go wrong with such winners as "Fools Rush In", "Can't We Be Friends", "But Beautiful", "I Can't Get Started" and perhaps my own favorite, "Blame It On My Youth". There's often a special intimacy to duets such as this. It is unmistakable here as two giants send shivers up your spine.

High Note Records; 2016; appx. 51 min.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Tom Cohen "Joyride"

Joyride; Tom Cohen, drums
A nice coincidence, I'm sure, is the presence of two classic tunes that appeared on the album which immediately precedes this one, namely "Peace" and "Dolphin Dance". And to add frosting to this cake there's yet another Herbie Hancock gem offered here, "One Finger Snap". Tom Cohen is a powerhouse drummer on the generous sixteen selections on this session. His basic trio features the equally dynamic pianist Benito Gonzalez, and two players, Kris Funn and Mike Boone, splitting the bass chores. Other real book selections include Wayne Shorter's "Black Nile"; "Beatrice" by Sam Rivers; the much admired "Old Folks"; and one more venture down "Green Dolphin Street". To all of the above add some variety and creativity in a host of original compositions. There's a lot of talent on board here. In fact, it's easy to understand the choice of the album's title. It really is a JOYRIDE.

Self-produced;  2016; appx. 65 min.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Tim Ray "Windows"

Windows; Tim Ray, piano
It seems like straight ahead piano trio records are becoming something of a rarity these days. You know, piano, bass and drums. No doubling on Fender Rhodes, no electric bass and no foolishness. So in that spirit, hats off to pianist Tim Ray and his trio. They give us an idea of what's ahead as they open with a spirited and funky "I'm Beginning To See The Light". Next is "Monk's Dream" and it's taken at a pretty fast clip and with more than a hint of some frisky Latin attire. Other well established but hardly overplayed jazz staples include Herbie Hancock's "Toys" and "Dolphin Dance"; the title tune "Windows" by Chick Corea; and a stunning version of Horace Silver's "Peace". The only choice from the standard book is "Star Eyes" at a quick pace and with some fresh percussive accents. Among the trio's originals, I was most impressed with "DE-Train", perhaps a distant cousin to that other conveyance, "A Train", and the quirky, high energy closer "12 by 7". In the company of John Lockwood, bass, and Mark Walker, drums, pianist Tim Ray has produced an immensely satisfying CD. When it's all said and done, you can't beat a solid piano-bass-drums trio. And these guys are holding all the right cards.

Whaling City Sound; 2016; appx. 70 min.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Russ Miller "You And The Night And The Music"

You And The Night And The Music; Russ Miller, alto sax, flute, arranger
Big band swing is alive and well in Michigan, complete with a spiffy big band singer too. Her name is Jeannine Course-Miller, wife of the leader. One thing for sure. She's way better, of course, than Mrs. Miller of years gone by. And this Mrs. Miller sings with pizzazz on eight of the twelve tunes done here. She's at her best on the likes of "It Could Happen To You" (played with a little Latin flair); the title tune, "You And The Night And The Music"; and the frisky Peggy Lee hit "I Love Being Here With You". And so it goes on a succession of older and more recent quality pop tunes. Let's hear it for the big bands!

Self-produced; 2016; appx. 61 min.

Short Takes:

The Drive; The Sugar Hill Trio
This New York based trio is comprised of tenor sax, bass and drums. They're a very hard driving group but to their credit they tackle some worthy material like "Minority", "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes", "Like Someone In Love", and my preferred cut, "Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now". I miss the presence of a piano in these groups. However, the energy level is right up there, even without a pianist on board.
Goschart Music; 2016; times not indicated

Halcyon; Will Bonness, piano
On this, his second CD, Winnipeg native Will Bonness presents his case as a pianist of depth, vision and talent. His trio expands to both a quartet and quintet on several tracks, mostly well conceived original compositions. Two standards, "Too Marvelous For Words" and Thelonious Monk's "Reflections", complete the proceedings.  Listen closely for the finely crafted Bonness touch at any tempo.
Manitoba Film & Music; 2015; appx. 52 min.

A Place In Time; Wallace Roney, trumpet
If you're ready for a hard bop fix, check out Miles-influenced Wallace Roney and his present day cast on six sometimes bristling and at other times surprisingly lyrical originals, and one standard, a tense, muted "My Ship". The surprise of the set is a serious and lovely "Clair De Lune", of all things. Gary Bartz's alto works splendidly alongside Roney's trumpet.

High Note; 2016; 50 min.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Dan Cray "Outside In"

Outside In; Dan Cray, piano
Chicago born but New York based pianist Dan Cray brings us a very straight ahead quartet, consisting of Dayna Stephens, tenor sax, Clark Sommers, bass and Mark Ferber, drums. Cray presents a program of seven selections in all---four originals and three very well chosen jazz staples. Most of his original work is at least introspective and at most delicate. His ideas on piano are substantial, his chord work is finely hewn, and his communication with tenor man Stephens is impressive and expressive. Two of the three standards here are also ballads, Billy Strayhorn's gorgeous "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing", and something of a surprise in an old Sinatra hit, "Where Are You". The third of these is Bud Powell's bouncy but rarely heard "Oblivion". This CD emphasizes the pretty side of things and there's always room for pretty. 

Origin Records; 2016; appx. 43 min.