CD Reviews - October 2006
by Kyle O'Brien

In the Loop, Ted Nash and Still Evolved. Saxophonist Nash continues his musical exploration with his Still Evolved group, which includes such forward thinkers as pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist Ben Allison, drummer Matt Wilson, and trumpeter Marcus Printup. This time, though, Nash is playing it almost a little too safe. The original compositions are pleasant enough, like the meandering title track, but they're almost too nice for their own good. Tunes like the playful "Gritty Ditty" jump around in styles, stopping and starting, but they never seem to go anywhere. And when the tunes call for a punch, like the bopping "Café Dupa," it never delivers. Nash and his compatriots are all top-notch players, which makes it a very listenable album. It could just use a little push. Palmetto, 2006; PT: 50:53, ***

Live: An Evening with the Mel Brown Quartet. This group just keeps getting tighter and tighter. After a sizzling opening set at the Mt. Hood Jazz Festival, it's only a matter of time before they're in demand in New York and beyond. Brown's buoyant rhythms propel this energetic and well planned live disc which was thoughtfully recorded with an audience in the studio at Kung Fu Bakery. The result captures the same intimate immediacy as they have at Jimmy Mak's every week, but with better recording capabilities, so we get to hear the tick of Mel's high hat, the intricate picking by bassist Ed Bennett, the chordal punch of Tony Pacini's piano, and the fluid, melodic guitar lines by Dan Balmer all with studio crispness. It starts with the heavy swing of Pacini's "Dandyish" and goes on a journey through the band's favorites, including the rapid-fire arrangement of "Prelude to a Kiss," and other originals by Balmer, Bennett and Pacini, including the freewheeling "Ticondeep" by Bennett. It's a fantastic album from a band deserving much wider recognition. Saphu Records, 2006; Playing Time: 65:31, *****

Nothing Serious, Roy Hargrove Quintet. Trumpeter Hargrove released two albums of vastly different styles, but both possessing his skill as a writer, arranger and player. "Nothing Serious" is the straight laced one of the pair, with Hargrove getting back to his straight ahead roots. It starts with the sizzle of Leo Quintero's "Nothing Serious," then settles into swing, with Slide Hampton's "A Day in Vienna," featuring Hampton himself showing no signs of age on his smooth solo. Hampton reappears on two other tracks, fitting in nicely with the core group, which includes a talented Justin Robinson on sax and flute, plus Ronnie Matthews on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass and Willie Jones III on drums. The group is tight and clicks on all cylinders, even on Hargrove's ballad, "Trust," where Hargrove plays a lovely flugelhorn. The disc doesn't hit a home run, with some tunes wandering a bit too much, but the musicianship is solid throughout and it's nice to hear Hargrove play it straight. Verve Records, 2006; Playing Time: 46:04, ****

Distractions, The RH Factor, Roy Hargrove, trumpet, Hargrove is the core of the RH Factor, his funky fusion group and a departure from the previous disc. The grooves are solid throughout, laid down by bassists Lenny Stallworth and Reggie Washington and drummers Willie Jones III and Jason Thomas. The rest of the group, which also features saxophonists David "Fathead" Newman and Keith Anderson, is solid and they noodle around the base tunes with expertise as on the very hip "Kansas City Funk," and the two snippets of the title track. There's even a Parliament Funkadelic vibe on "A Place" which gives up the funk big time. The vocals on that track fit well and utilize a smart, jazzy 70s energy. The vocals otherwise, though, are hit and miss. Hargrove sings a bit, but it's Renee Neufville taking most of the singing duties. The lyrics aren't super strong on "Crazy Race" and "Hold On," and Hargrove doesn't give enough oomph to his delivery to break through the rhythms. The track by R&B star D'Angelo, "Bull___t, is worthy of radio play (heavily beeped of course). Overall, this disc fits better into R&B than jazz, but if more R&B artists were this talented, it would be better for the whole genre.Verve Records, 2006; Playing Time: 38:06, ***1/2

Bolton Swings Sinatra, Michael Bolton, vocals. When pop stars venture into jazz, the results are iffy at best. Bolton falls into a long line of song-slaughterers, a la Pat Boone and other umentionables. Bolton was reviled before he ventured into jazz, his overblown histrionics and moronic long hair ripe fodder for critics to pan. The hair is gone, but he still oversings, his high, gravelly voice tearing through arrangements of songs like "I've Got You Under My Skin," "Summer Wind" and a particularly hideous version of "The Girl From Ipanema," where his soft delivery is androgynously syrupy. After the final strains of "New York, New York" are belted out way above an appropriate range, you can almost hear Frank turning in his grave, yelling, ‘Stop, stop, you moron, if I weren't dead I would take myself out with a chainsaw.' The backing band isn't half bad though, so there's a sliver of redemption. Concord Records, 2005; PT: 41:26, 1/2*

Streams of Expression: Featuring the Birth of the Cool Suite by Gunther Schuller, Joe Lovano Ensemble. When saxophonist Joe Lovano puts out an album, the listener always knows the contents will be interesting, boundary pushing, and exceptionally played. Here he tackles Schuller's masterpiece, conducted by Schuller, with a crack ensemble that includes bari saxophonist Gary Smulyan, trumpeter Tim Hagans, bassist Dennis Irwin and drummer Lewis Nash. They pay due respect to the various movements of the suite, playing the orchestrated parts with texture and restraint, while letting loose on the swing. Surely Schuller was proud to hear such a fine update. The suite is sandwiched between Lovano's "Stream of Expression," which builds, ebbs and flows much like a Schuller composition updated for the new century. Sure, it takes some chances but there's enough retro swing infused to make it accessible while still being outside. It's tightly orchestrated but free in feel, and when Lovano pulls out the Aulochrome (an invention by craftsman Francois Louis that fuses two soprano saxophones into one horn so that multiple tones and intervals are possible), things venture into late Coltrane mode, with dissonance a mainstay. This isn't for everyone, but free jazz lovers will be pleased. Blue Note, 2006; PT: 74:01, ****1/2

Like Glass, Spider Saloff, vocals. Saloff, despite the odd name, has a strong voice, though not with the most consistent tonality, especially on long held notes. Her delivery is solid on this mix of swing, Latin, folk, ballads and waltz, though nothing here will truly impress the listener. The mix of instrumentation is refreshing, though, with guitars, bass, violin and percussion. It gives Saloff a nice palette with which to paint her vocals. Saloff is all over the map with her tunes, at once singing a swing tune and the next going to the Spanish moors, Argentine tango, and pop-folk, which gets a bit confusing. The disc is more intriguing for its tones than its feature vocalist, but it's worth a casual listen. Opaesthetics, 2005; Playing Time: 46:37, **1/2

Viva Kenton!, Stan Kenton. Kenton was known for the blowing prowess of his horn sections, but lesser known is his penchant to include Latin rhythms throughout his long tenure as a bandleader. This disc showcases his band from 1963, with the likes of Conte Candoli, Don Sebesky and Rolf Ericson. We get tastes of swing with the opener, Gene Roland's "Mexican Jumping Bean," but much of the rest is south of the border-flavored. The band even sings on "Chocolate Caliente," which actually comes off dated and a bit cheesy. Still, this band was full of power, energy and great players, which makes the choruses fly out of the speakers and into the ears of the listener. "Opus in Chartreuse Cha-Cha-Cha" is a ridiculous name, but the cha cha rhythms are crisp and tight and Sebesky's solo is a barrel of fun. What makes this reissue a gem is the inclusion of six bonus tracks, which showcase Kenton's fine touch on piano. Fun and spicy. Blue Note Records, 2005; Playing Time: 52:43, ****

Sextet, Chet Baker, trumpet. Baker was never the flashiest or the most vibrant trumpeter. What he was, was smooth, emotive and in possession of a gorgeous tone. This disc showcases Baker's young talents in 1954 through 1957, with two separate groups. The first, stronger of the two, features Russ Freeman's piano and Bob Brookmeyer offsetting Baker's tone with the high register of the valve trombone. Bud Shank plays some of his best solos on the baritone saxophone, as on the bopping "Dot's Groovy," where he also shows off a very smooth tone, perhaps inspired by Baker's fluid lines. Baker plays the melody of a swinging "Stella By Starlight" straight and lovely, while "I'm Glad There is You," is lushly arranged by Jack Montrose and highlights Baker's velvet tone. The final four tracks, recorded three years later, use a group that highlights more textural instruments and surprisingly no drums (Shelly Manne grooves the first half). Bassoon, French horn and bass clarinet make these tracks a bit too reedy. While more orchestrated, the arrangements by Bob Zieff aren't as solid or cohesive and Baker gets slightly lost in the mix. For the first eight songs, this is a winner. The final four are more about Baker's experimentation, which doesn't make a strong statement. Blue Note Records, 2004; Playing Time: 48:01, ***1/2

Future Street, Marilyn Harris, vocals. Harris is a vocalist you may not have heard from yet, but for fans of swinging melodies and straight ahead delivery, Harris is a refreshing shot in the arm. While many vocalists might try to scat when unwarranted or try to take their voices places outside their range, Harris knows where her voice fits best, and her exceptional phrasing and sense of being true to the melodies make her a bright and vibrant voice in jazz. She also plays a decent piano and knows how to pen a tune. This album of originals (many co-written with Mark Winkler, who also nicely guests on vocals on "Sunglasses in the Rain"). The melodies seem comfortingly familiar, even though they're new tunes, which gives props to Harris' ability to write and perform a catchy tune, like the swinging title track. Some of her lyrics are a bit obvious, as on her ode to "Dorothy Parker," but she well makes up for that with that wonderfully emotive delivery. She also backs herself up well, with a core trio and a bevy of guest artists, including Pete Christlieb on sax, Wayne Bergeron on flugelhorn, Mark Wolfram on vocals and Andy Martin on trombone. The future might just be bright for this voice. Wrightwood Records 2004, Playing Time: 52:56, ****

A Song for You, Karen. Jeremy Monteiro Trio. If you haven't heard of pianist Jeremy Monteiro, it's because he usually plays halfway around the world in Singapore. But for this album, Monterio came to Chicago to play and pay tribute to The Carpenters. Apparently, Monteiro was heavily influenced by The Carpenters growing up and was deeply affected by Karen Carpenter's young death. He and producer Winston Ma put together a group to do a tribute album in a jazz setting to the popular duo. Monteiro enlisted soft-spoken and silky-voiced Singapore singer Jacintha to do justice to Karen's vocals, and she does sing nicely on tunes like "Masquerade" and "I Won't Last a Day Without You." But the focus is on the jazzy takes of these sometimes sappy pop tunes. The overt nature of "We've Only Just Begun" is tempered by its instrumental arrangement, though it still comes across as jazz-lite. Better is "Masquerade," which gets a bit of an edge from Monteiro's chords. The duo Two for Brazil brings a nice bossa flair to "There's a Kind of Hush" that's a breath of fresh air. While the music pays fine tribute to the music of The Carpenters, one wonders if it was necessary. But, for fans of the duo, it's worth finding. First Impressions Music, 2002, Playing Time: 70:19, ***

Do This, Reptet. I had no idea what to expect from this Seattle group, but the wild pop art on the cover made me pop it into the player. The music fits the cover art...kind of wild, raw around the edges and full of youthful exuberance. Composed of two woodwinds, two brass, bass and drums, the youth of the band both propels the energy and also creates an uneasy lack of structure. It's loose without being totally free, inventive while being derivative, orchestrated while being freewheeling. In other words, a conundrum. I liked songs like "Bad Reed Blues" for its swinging nature, use of alternate reeds like bass clarinet, and obtuse chord structure. Less pleasing was the opening funky track, "Zeppo" (all the Marx Brothers are present in song), which meandered aimlessly and sounded more like an impromptu jam. The song "Harpo" indeed used a harp, and the legato arrangement of the piece was an engaging example of European chamber jazz. Not sure what to make of this group, but they're just intriguing enough to keep me listening for the next release, hopefully with a little more polish. Monktail Records, 2006, PT: 68:17, ***1/2

Above the Clouds, Dave Glasser, alto saxophone. I was skeptical about this disc. I did not recognize the player, and the cover art, with a picture of Glasser holding his sax aloft in front of a picture of clouds, was decidedly goofy. The music is the antithesis of the cover art, thank goodness. Glasser is an exceptional talent on alto. His tone is almost pure enough to be called Desmond-like. And he can swing like the best of them, along with ripping out some incredible solos. Glasser has played with the likes of Illinois Jacquet, Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Williams, James Moody and Sarah Vaughn, so obviously he's paid his dues. Now, hopefully others will take notice of the fact that he can swing one minute and play a gritty soul blues the next, then pay tribute to Sonny Stitt, as on the boppin' "Stitt's Bits." He does it all with a classy elegance on the horn, infusing it with fluidity and just enough bite to keep it interesting. Even Nat Hentoff, who wrote the liner notes, has crowned this man the next best thing on the alto. With his next disc, hopefully Glasser picks tunes less obvious than some of the standards on this one. Arbors Records, 2006, Playing Time: 60:27, ****

On My Way Home, Jimmy (JuneBug) Jackson, drums. This disc is subtitled, "A Tribute to Cannonball Adderley and Nancy Wilson," and I suppose it fits the bill due to the inclusion of many tracks from Cannonball and Nancy's 1961 collaboration. But considering Jackson is a drummer and only an average vocalist, the Cannonball elements are lacking, due to only two tracks of saxophone on the entire disc. Jackson is a fine drummer who has played with the likes of Nicholas Payton, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock and George Benson. One wishes Jackson would have done something to feature his drumming more on his debut disc and leave the tributes and vocals to others. The closing track, a ballad, "Save Your Love for Me," was recorded live with the late Jimmy Smith on organ, Mark Whitfield on guitar and Herman Riley on sax. It would have been nice to hear more from this session on the bulk of the album. Blue Canoe, 2006, PT: 45:51, **1/2

Remember, Pat Martino, guitar. Martino is one of those great stories in jazz. He was at the top of his game, then suffered a brain aneurysm and the following surgery left him with no memory. He had to relearn the guitar, and did so with wonderful results. The title is an obvious double meaning, as it refers to both Martino's brain troubles and his tribute to the late Wes Montgomery, to whom this album is dedicated. Martino gets into Montgomery's skin, plying his hollow-bodied guitar with the intimate knowledge Wes once played with. Martino shows that he can capture the essence of Montgomery's prodigious talents while remaining true to his sound - precise picking, inventive solos and a sense of true soul. With pianist David Kikoski, drummer Scott Allan Robinson, percussionist Daniel Sadowinck and bassist John Patitucci, Martino is in great company, able to take Montgomery's waltzing "Full House" and bring it to life with minor-keyed aplomb. Even if the strength of Montgomery's spirit weren't front and center, you'd still feel it, due to Martino's Montgomery-like dedication to his instrument. Blue Note, 2006, Playing Time: 66:15, ****1/2

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