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CD Reviews - August 2008
by George Fendel, Kyle O'Brien, and Don Campbell

Reviews by George Fendel

Why Fight The Feeling? The Songs Of Frank Loesser, Rebecca Kilgore, vocals, Dave Frishberg, piano.
On one of his previous live recordings, I remember that Dave Frishberg referred to Frank Loesser as “my hero.”  One of the last of the major contributors to Songbook America, Loesser’s lyrics, and in many cases, music as well, couldn’t be in better hands than those of Frishberg and Rebecca Kilgore. This twosome has worked together compatibly and gloriously for many years in Portland. As a result, they’re in cruise control on familiar tunes like “The Lady’s In Love With You,” “On A Slow Boat To China,” “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So,” “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” and “I Believe In You.” Among other delicacies are “Say It (Over and Over Again),” a ballad prominently played by a fella named Coltrane; “Let’s Get Lost” (certainly you remember Chet’s vocal); and the big surprise, “Then I Wrote the Minuet in G.” The latter features Loesser’s lyric to a melody from Ludwig Beethoven! Just like the communication between a veteran pitcher and his favorite catcher, Rebecca and Dave find all the little nuances and niceties on this menu of 17 examples of the brilliance of Frank Loesser.
2008, Arbors, 58:20.

Boss Bones, Wycliffe Gordon, trombone.
Hey boneheads!  I know you’re out there, those of you who dig the trombone more than any other horn. Well, gather ‘round this new CD from master bone surgeon Wycliffe Gordon and new trombone associate, Andre Hayward. This invigorating twosome is joined by Mike LeDonne, piano; John Webber, bass; and Kenny Washington, drums. You get a good idea where this group is headed from the opener, “Spop.” It’s Gordon’s description for a Washington drum lick, and a fresh, nicely moving blues. After another Gordon original, the quintet moves into a series of jazz staples like Joe Henderson’s “Recorda-Me”; Dizzy’s “Wheatleigh Hall”; Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream,” and a vigorous, take no prisoners workout on Bird’s “Anthropology.” Each of the trombone meisters also gets a ballad to show off his skills. Hayward chooses the old warhouse, “Stardust,” and certainly brings new luster on this relaxed, delicate reading. Equally impressive is Gordon’s intimate take on “Here’s That Rainy Day.” This is a complete, compelling two-trombone workout, and the only thing that’s hard to determine is which of these bone breakers is having more fun!
2008,Criss Cross, 62:46.

Vibe Over Perfection, Jamie Davis, vocals.
Bay area vocalist Jamie Davis makes the most of the seemingly rare opportunity for a singer to record with a big band. Davis has a compelling vocal presence, which touches on the likes of Lou Rawls and maybe a smidge of Arthur Prysock. The band, fronted by trumpeter Scotty Barnhart, has a definite Basie sound. And it all unfolds vigorously with Davis’ lively delivery on such standards as “Blue Skies,” “Pennies From Heaven” and “’Round Midnight .” A tune new to me, “If You Want Me To Stay,” reminds a bit of the energy of “Smack Dab In The Middle,” and, I must say, Jimmy Witherspoon would have nodded approval on Davis’ “I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town.” Even Lionel Richie’s pop opus, “Hello,” is wrapped in a spicy, swinging arrangement. New to these ears was the swinging “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” and the set ends with a refreshing, more quick-paced than usual, “Nature Boy.” Jamie Davis was fortunate enough to gather some super players in his corner, a testament to his talent.
2008, Unity Music, 39:45.

Break, Dawn Clement, piano and vocals.
My son, Marc, a longtime resident alto sax player in Seattle, has told me on many an occasion that Dawn Clement is the real deal: an incessantly swinging bop pianist with chops galore and a beautiful sense of intimacy and feeling when it comes to ballads. Just catch how joyously creative she is on Jerome Kern’s “I’ve Told Every Little Star.” She’ll get your attention! A couple of Clement’s Seattle colleagues are nicely represented here with Julian Priester’s airy waltz, “First Nature” and Denny Goodhew’s minor quasi-blues, “Distant Oasis.” Clement is one of those pianists who likes to offer up a vocal now and then, and she handles the assignment with class on a diverse threesome: “Just One More For You,” a lesser known Jobim tune; a welcome surprise on the old chestnut “Dream A Little Dream Of Me,” and the pairing of “All Of Me” with a tender sentiment called “On Love That Will Not Let Me Go.” Among other pleasures provided by Clement’s piano, Dean Johnson’s bass and Matt Wilson’s drums are “Sweet And Lovely”; a couple additional of the pianist’s originals, “2-Day” and “Singing Hands,” and a delicate closer by Ellington, “Heaven.” Marc was right. Dawn Clement is the real deal.
2008, Origin, 48:03.

Persistence, Joe Magnarelli, trumpet.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Joe Magnarelli electrify an audience at Portland’s Blue Monk. And the excitement that I witnessed is once again captured on Magnarelli’s debut recording for Reservoir Records. Mags is joined on the front line by the versatile Gary Smulyan on baritone sax, and they get off to a rousing start with the title tune. Another Magnarelli original follows in a more lyrical setting. Then it’s time for a standard, and Mags’ choice of “I Had The Craziest Dream” is right down the center of mainstream alley. “Haunted Heart,” a tune which seems to have arrived in recent years, is taken just a skosh faster than usual, and it works to perfection. Magnarelli attaches the mute for a blistering ride through “You And The Night And The Music” and Smulyan always conquers these rapid tempo flights. “Soul Sister” is a slightly juiced up version of “Body And Soul.” Put in the hands of these monsters, it brings a new twist on the old standard. And speaking of monsters, how about the rhythm section on hand here? David Hazeltine, Peter Washington and Kenny Washington need no accolades other than the solid fact that they hold forth as swingingly as ever. Magnarelli is a trumpet player’s dream. Don’t miss this one.
2008, Reservoir, 57:20.

Every Time We Say Goodbye, Marilyn Scott, vocals.
Get ready for a new major league voice in Marilyn Scott. I know absolutely nothing about her other than the fact that she delivers the goods on a scrumptious menu of standards. You see, the liner notes are entirely in Japanese, but you don’t need the liner notes to hear with your own ears that Scott gets it from a jazz standpoint. She does not indulge in unnecessary decoration or frosting of any kind. Like Irene Kral, Roberta Gambarini, Claire Martin and others, she lets her voice and her feeling for the music do the talking. It all comes across with highest marks on well chosen material like “I Got Lost In His Arms,” “Lonely Town,” “Detour Ahead,” “Autumn In New York,” “Cry Me A River,” “Somewhere” and much more. One look at the group that accompanies her and you know that Scott has already garnered attention from an impressive circle. How about Cyrus Chestnut and Ken Peplowski for starters?  I am tough on supposed jazz singers, and it takes a certain combination of musicianship and an understated approach to really ring my bell. Marilyn Scott has done just that.
2008, Venus Records, 46:42.

Just For You, Sharel Cassity, alto saxophone.
Most certainly their numbers have dwindled over the last few decades, but they’re still out there. Who?  Well, those people who classify all female jazz musicians as either pianists or singers. If you’re one of them, you really need to hear Sharel Cassity blowing straight ahead, finely honed bebop on alto saxophone. Leading a seven piece group through some very lyrical originals, Cassity plays in a warm, fluid, free flowing fashion right down the center of the swing-bop boulevard. Somebody put in a great deal of effort in writing arrangements for this group. They get things underway with “Phibe’s Revenge,” a bop-drenched exercise for the leader. She nails it! The title tune is done at medium tempo, but Cassity’s groovy solo is perfection. Other highlights include an alto feature on “Lover Man”; an intricate and soaring ensemble piece simply called “Wow”; and a no holds barred rip through “Cherokee.” Jazziz Magazine said “the altoist’s flights are positively Bird-like.”  High praise indeed. And well-deserved.
2008, DW Records, 38:26.

Just Me, Just You, Larry Ham, piano.
You’ll notice on the cover of this CD that Larry Ham is no twenty something. So, you might ask, where has this outstanding piano practitioner been all your life?  Well, how about on a State Department Tour of eleven African nations, or on extended stays in Japan, Germany and Poland? You’ll find a lot to like on this solo piano recording as Larry Ham plays everything from Rodgers and Hart to Bud Powell; Duke Pearson to Mercer and Arlen; not to mention Duke and Strayhorn. It’s all there with no extraneous licks nor any look what I can do’s.  Ham just puts it out there in marvelous recital-like fashion. This is a very personal statement; music to be admired and listened closely to at first. Then it will beam into your consciousness and you’ll also want it as accompaniment to any pleasant portion of your day. With this CD, Larry Ham takes his place among a plethora of jazz pianists who have made great solo piano statements for the Arbors label. He should be proud of his contribution.
2008, Arbors, 59:33.

An Upper West Side Story, Tobias Gebb, drums.
The percussive device which starts this album will make you think you mistakenly put on an Ahmad Jamal record. No kidding. It’s “Poinciana,” and Gebb and his trio do it with flair and finesse. “Brazil Bossa” is a flighty Bossa Nova, and “The Barnyard” is a ripping blues which adds the sizzling tenor of Joel Frahm. Both are Gebb originals. The trio’s pianist, Eldad Zvulun, then gives us a tender and delicious version of Billy Strayhorn’s “Star Crossed Lovers.” Next on the menu is guest vocalist Champian Fulton on the old standard “Autumn Serenade” (remember Johnny Hartman’s version?). Neal Hefti’s “Cute” has long been a drum feature, and the trio does it with the usual polish and precision. Fulton returns for one more vocal, and she’s up to the task on “What A Little Moonlight Can Do.” “Two By Two” is another Gebb original, this time in a lyrical and serene atmosphere. Irving Berlin’s “How Deep Is The Ocean,” is given a crafty rhythmic feel. Frahm returns on Gebb’s “The Monument,” a sturdy tribute to those, in or out of uniform, who have struggled in life. The trio brings things to a close with a salsa treatment of “And I Love Her.” Gebb gets in lots of impressive licks, but this is not a “drummer album.” Instead, everyone gets a chance to shine. Highest marks, however, go to Zvulun’s piano.
2008, Yummy House Records, 56:45.

I Had The Craziest Dream - The Music Of Harry Warren, David Berger, arranger, conductor.
To this very day, the name Harry Warren doesn’t produce the immediate recognition of, say, Gershwin, Berlin, Kern or Porter. But while he never gained the fame he intensely desired, Warren was a prolific composer of timeless tunes. Arranger-conductor David Berger has put together a very swinging octet to interpret Warren’s evergreens, and they do it with panache. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when you have players like saxophone greats Harry Allen on tenor and Joe Temperley on baritone. But what really gets to you is the quality writing for this octet. Berger is wise to let these songs practically play themselves, leaving generous solo space for Allen and Temperley, along with some lesser known but outstanding players. Among them were trombone ace Marshall Gilkes who shines on “Summer Night”; and Brian Fletch Pareschi, whose relaxed, warm trumpet was nearly Bobby Hackett-ish on “Serenade In Blue.” Harry Warren could sure write ‘em, and David Berger’s interpretations of Warren’s gems make for pleasant listening mixed with a dash of nostalgia. For more info, try www.sultansofswing.com.
2008, Such Sweet Thunder, 61:33.

Short Takes

Silence, David Murray, saxophones and Mal Waldron, piano.
David Murray and Mal Waldron, to my ear, have somehow always found the right rung on the ladder between mainstream and the avant garde. On this duo outing, they explore both the out possibilities on “Free For CT,” “Silence” and “Hooray For Herbie” as well as the more accessible (but always with Murray’s eclectic approach) “I Should Care,” “All Too Soon” and Waldron’s hit, “Soul Eyes.” This is not for your aunt Harriet who dug Lester Lanin. But the rest of you will find some worthwhile moments here       
2008, Justin Time, 66:10.

Love, Peace And Jazz, Al Foster, drums.
Those of you with a little gray in the sideburns will remember the name Al Foster as one of the eminent drummers dating back to the 1970’s and beyond. His current quartet of Kevin Hays, piano; Eli DeGibri, saxophones, and Douglas Weiss, bass, is heard in live performance at The Village Vanguard. A couple highlights include the group’s poignant version of Miles’ “Blue In Green” and Blue Mitchell’s cheeky calypso, “Fungi Mama.” DeGibri spends most of the set on soprano sax, and while he plays it well, that alone is usually a red light for me.
2008, Jazz Eyes, 69:26.    

Play That Thing, Rick Wald, and 16/nyc/.
One listens to this tight assemblage of NYC cats and realizes the incredible wealth of jazz talent in The Apple. The arrangements here are complex, challenging and demanding to be heard. Familiar tunes like “Maiden Voyage,” “Prince of Darkness” and “Stompin’ At The Savoy” are joined by several sharply honed originals. The solo work and the ensemble passages here are consistently riveting and interesting. How did that tune go ... if I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere …. For more information, rickwald.net.
2007, Glowbow, 63:29.

November, Jeremy Pelt, trumpet and flugelhorn.
One of the blossoming trumpet players in jazz, Jeremy Pelt and his quintet offer an all original program of probing, challenging material. Pelt shares front line chores with Jo Allen on tenor and a rhythm section of Danny Grissett, piano; Dwayne Burno, bass; and Gerald Cleaver, drums. I am drawn to originals with a discernible melody line, and I found those in energetic outings like “Clairvoyant” and “Monte Christo.” Pelt’s ballad entry, “Rosalie,” was played with passion and beauty. I’d like to see Pelt explore a few more jazz standards next time out.
2008, Max Jazz, 53:40.

Rough Edges, Alexandra Caselli, piano.
Ms. Caselli’s impressionistic style comes down the line from Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, and some of her all original program is served up with elegance. I’d like the opportunity to hear what she can do in a trio setting, rather than adding vocals, flute, guitar and saxophone as she does here. Having said that, there’s still a shimmering delicacy to selections like “Colors Of The Rain” and the oddly titled “Butterfly Eyebrows.” Find out more at AlexandraCaselli.net.
2008, Self-produced, 55:11.

Modern Antique, Robin McKelle, vocals.
Although Robin McKelle sounds a little more affected than a pure jazz singer, you’ve got to give her some kudos on several fronts. She sings good songs: “Comes Love,” “Lover Man,” “Day By Day,” “Lullaby Of Birdland,” “Make Someone Happy,” “Remember” and such; she works with both a driven big band and, on some cuts, a bevy of strings, all to her advantage. And most importantly, her intonation and enunciation are spotless. Just a little less “frosting” and she’d really be on to something!
2008, Cheap Lullaby Records, 44:07.

Five, Ralph Bowen, tenor sax.
This CD gets off to a nice start with Joe Henderson’s “Step Lightly.” However, with the exception of Bowen’s composition, “Blues Cruz,” which had good energy and some lusty solo work, the rest of the CD didn’t grab my attention. Perhaps it was the presence of a Hammond B-3 organ (instead of piano), or maybe it’s just that Bowen’s other original works left me kinda looking for the elusive melody line. Trumpet dynamo Ralph Swana and guitar wizard Peter Bernstein add a front row presence to the album, but even so, it was a bit too edgy for me.
2008, Criss Cross, 64:04.

For You, Chris Flory, guitar,
I would make the same initial observation as I did above for Chris Flory’s otherwise excellent new CD from Arbors, and that is the use of the organ instead of the piano. Otherwise, Flory’s quintet gets after it on well selected tunes like “For You, For Me,” “Forevermore,” “The Lamp Is Low,” “Three Little Words,” “Young And Foolish” and “A Beautiful Friendship.” Flory is a no-frills, straightahead guitarist who, thankfully, makes the guitar sound like a guitar. And that’s not always a guarantee these days.
2008, Arbors, 60:57.

No Limits, Nick Colionne, guitar.
Maybe Koch Records, a well-respected jazz label, is telling us that they’re moving into the land of smooth jazz. This is their second consecutive embarrassment, following last month’s review of Warren Hill. Once again, what we have here is music mostly without recognizable melody. Some call this formula music because every tune sounds pretty much like the last one. It’s a shame because given material worth hearing, my guess is that Nick Colionne can play.
2008, Koch Records, time not indicated.

Reviews by Kyle O'Brien

Dragonfly, Steve Allee Trio.
Indiana isn’t exactly a hotbed of jazz, but the Hoosier Steve Allee is bucking the trend by putting out this disc of smart original material. It’s a typical jazz trio, with pianist Allee at the helm, but the music is rich and full, especially when augmented by guest saxophonist Rich Perry, who shines with a bracingly modern tone and plenty of musical ideas. Allee is a fine pianist with a knack for meaty chords, which he utilizes to create textural tunes, as on the title track, which journeys through a chordal landscape of a melody before giving way to a thick bass solo by Bill Moring. The trio is tight throughout, with Tim Horner showing equal amounts of flair and restraint, pushing the music forward without getting in the way. Allee is a veteran of the Buddy Rich big band, but is better known for his soundtrack work. It’s this compositional nature that makes “Dragonfly” a step above other jazz trio works. His tunes are like short journeys, building and evolving through chords and pointed soloing by all members. His three-part “Dedication Suite” pays tribute to Bill Evans, Thad Jones and Oscar Peterson. All three are smart dedications, capturing their essences without trying to mimic those great artists.
2008, AlleeOop Music, 62:30.

Leef, Industrial Jazz Group.
If ever there were a perfect band for a Fellini film, this is it. Raucous, intense, whimsical and accomplished, the Industrial Jazz Group is like a carnival for the ears. Leader/composer/pianist Andrew Durkin describes his music as “avant-garde party music,” which is fitting. The music is challenging and, at times, cacophonous, but it’s just accessible enough to be fun. With multiple saxes, trumpets and percussion, this 15-piece L.A. group marches to their own beat, meshing tones and styles, big band swing to classical, Gershwin-esque flourishes with Mingus-like harmonies. This live recording finds the group playing to an Amsterdam audience, who apparently likes the rather bizarre nature of the music. It’s a big soup of a sound but it manages to be somewhat charming in its oddity. Give a listen, if you dare.
2008, Ugly Jazz, 60 minutes.

Thirsty Soul, Randy Porter Trio.
Porter is such a gifted pianist and arranger that he can elevate what is essentially a basic trio album to the next level. Taking a melodic, pretty tune like “It Never Entered My Mind” and adding chord alterations and polyrhythmic lines makes it a new listening experience, while still keeping the integrity of the song. And Porter jazzes up Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” with alternating time signatures and a funky backbeat, thanks to Reinhardt Melz’s deft touch. John Wiitala holds down a steady and strong bass throughout, while Melz and Todd Strait trade off on the drum chair. Porter pleases the entire disc, changing up the offerings, from the straight-ahead of “Along Came Betty” to the homey, countrified title track, a Porter original, to the challenging, thick “Boomer-Angst,” another Porter composition. Even with the diversity of styles, the flow is natural and cohesive. It’s worth it to keep listening the whole way through, just to see where Porter will take the melodies and how he pushes the trio forward. The only track that doesn’t have as much weight is the somewhat tepid cover of Paul McCartney’s “I Will,” which is done as a light bossa and doesn’t dig deep enough. Still, there are 12 other tracks that deliver on all cylinders.
2008, Heavywood Music, 60 minutes.

Greenspace, Belinda Underwood, vocals, bass.
Underwood is a talented bassist and singer who has made some great connections on both the local and national scene. That’s why she’s able to get great guest players like percussionist Martin Zarzar, vocalist Nancy King and pianist Benny Green. Her vocals have an earnest airiness, floating yet pointed. She unfortunately hides her bass talent, save for a few tracks, opting instead for Phil Baker’s steady hand. And she lets King take the lead on the opening track, a scatting “Bass Blues.”
Underwood has grown as an artist, especially as a songwriter. She wrote half the tracks on the disc, and the first self-penned number is an unexpected surprise. For a woman who walks effortlessly between folk and jazz styles, “Seeing Red” is an embrace of jazz, a funky little soul jazz blues that grooves with substance. But aside from writing the tune, Underwood is absent, letting Green and her sister, Melissa, share the melody on piano and sax, respectively. Her vocals have gotten stronger as well. She sings with more force but still has the willowy, carefree quality that makes her stand out. She delivers the ballad “Blue Gardenia” slow, laid back and breezy, a mature take. When Underwood finally pulls out the bass, it’s seven tracks in. While Baker plays with more force, Underwood is quieter with a lighter touch. But her strength is as a songwriter on this disc. The whimsical, storytelling “Midnight Snatcher” is a joy, and her jazz waltz ballad, “Limitless,” is rich in chords, giving Green a chance to show off his sense of touch. And “Odd Meter Blues,” is a fun tune in 9. She even goes exotic, with the middle eastern tonalities of “The Oasis,” which features the haunting violin work of Egyptian musician Alfred Gamil. This is a fine outing for this up and coming musician, and hopefully next album we’ll hear more of her songwriting and bass playing.
2008, Cosmik Muse Rekords, 53 minutes.

I Had the Craziest Dream: The Music of Harry Warren, David Berger Octet.
Warren may be lesser known that Gershwin, Mercer, Porter and others from the jazz canon, but the composer wrote quite a few memorable melodies, and arranger/conductor Berger reminds us how much Warren contributed to our musical history with this smart group. It’s a small big band that features big names like Harry Allen and Joe Temperley. Berger starts it off with a bang, doing a frantic version of “Jeepers Creepers,” letting Temperley and Allen trade licks on the upbeat tune. Warren wrote a lot for the big screen and many of the tracks here were written to accompany films or even cartoons. “September in the Rain” is a lovely swinger, though Matt Hong’s tone on alto is a bit pinched, taking away from what is otherwise solid playing. “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe” is a classic rail song, and Berger does it as a slow boogie, swinging and bouncing along. Marshall Gilkes impresses on “Summer Night,” taking both the melody and soloing roles with a sweet, high tone on trombone. Berger doesn’t get too crazy with the arrangements. He stays true to the retro aesthetic, letting the melodies speak loudly, accented by horn blasts and fine soloing. Temperley proves why he’s one of the best bari players in the country on “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” utilizing his smooth tone to great effect on this sultry tango. “I Only Have Eyes for You,” gets a swing treatment, accented by flute on the melody. “I’m an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande)” gets more jazzy than western, with Allen taking a sweet as pie solo. This is fun, melodic music that deserves to be heard. Thanks to Berger for reacquainting us with Warren.
2008, Such Sweet Thunder, 60 minutes.

Some Other Time, Diane Schuur.
This may well be the finest disc in Schuur’s catalog. It was written to pay tribute to Schuur’s mother on the 40th anniversary of her passing. Schuur wanted to recall the music her mother used to listen to on the radio, the great pop hits of the day and music that influenced a young Schuur. The opening track is “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” classic Gershwin with a modern twist, full of chord changes and Schuur’s fantastically ebullient voice. The arrangements are courtesy of Portland’s Randy Porter, who also plays piano on most of the disc. Porter takes these timeless melodies and updates them so they’re fresh, while still keeping the integrity of the original. For those who forgot, Schuur is an amazing talent. Her voice has become even richer and she sings with such passion and reverence on this disc, she pulls you into her world and connects seemingly one-on-one. Irving Berlin’s “They Say It’s Wonderful” is gorgeous, slow and sweeping, tender and strong, and the band plays with just the right amount of restraint, letting Schuur lead the way through her vocals. Joining Porter in the group are fellow Portlanders Scott Steed on bass and Dan Balmer on guitar, with Reggie Jackson handling the drum duties. “Blue Skies” is done as a poignant, minor-keyed waltz, while “Without a Song” swings like crazy. “My Favorite Things,” is open ended, taking it out of the fixed sing-songy waltz style, with plenty of chord alterations to really open it up. An interesting track is “September in the Rain,” a scratchy, muffled recording from 1964 at the Holiday Inn in Tacoma, featuring an 11-year-old Schuur singing at the top of her lungs. It’s surprisingly mature for an 11-year old and gives us a great view of what a great talent she would become. The final track is a clear tribute to her mother, a beautiful and tender “Danny Boy,” backed only by Balmer’s sparse guitar. It’s not your usual maudlin version of the classic, just touching.
2008, Concord Records, 51 minutes.

Tales of Love and Longing, Sheila Cooper with Fritz Pauer.
Sometimes production values can make all the difference. Cooper is a decent enough balladeer on the alto sax, but it sounds like the mike is shoved down the barrel of her sax. You can hear every key push, every breath, and every spittle in her mouthpiece, and frankly it’s a bit off putting. While trying to listen to tender, pretty ballads like “Winter Moon,” and “I’m a Fool to Want You,” I can only hear the distractions. So instead of enjoying, I’m cringing. I breathe a sigh of relief when she puts down the horn and sings instead. Austrian pianist Fritz Pauer is wonderful, painting musical pictures and holding the disc together. But the distractions of the sax unfortunately make me want to tune out.
2007, Panorama Records, 51 minutes.

Dry Bridge Road, Noah Preminger Group.
This is Preminger’s debut recording and it’s impressive. The young saxophonist has a mature tone and a sense of modernity in his compositions. The wandering “Luke” starts things off with rich chords and a sense of searching. It’s followed by “A Dream,” a wispy legato composition which lets Preminger show off his tone and restraint with color, against Ben Monder’s airy guitar. While many young saxophonists might want to show off in the high-fast-loud mode, Preminger goes the opposite direction, letting his tunes develop and letting his talented group -- Monder, trumpeter Russ Johnson, pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist John Heber, and drummer Ted Poor -- get plenty of time. Not that there aren’t some fireworks. “Today is Okay” is a searing urban hard bop piece, and Preminger attacks the horn without being showy. The melody actually goes half time and utilizes tone rather than glitz. Here’s an artist that’s already years past his actual 22 in terms of how he approaches both playing and composing -- with restraint, an incredible full tone and with a great sense of self. The disc is strong throughout, always with a sense of discovery, as on the slowly building “Rhythm for Robert,” a tune that strays outside the norm but pulls you in with a sense of urgency.
2008, NOWT Records, 56 minutes.

Grupo Yanqui Rides Again, Bennett Paster & Gregory Ryan.
Grupo Yanqui is the brainchild of pianist Bennett Paster and bassist Gregory Ryan. It’s a modern Latin jazz sextet that sizzles. The group embraces sounds south of the border, mixing it into a Latin jazz cocktail that zings with spice and precision playing. Helping Paster and Ryan along their journey is saxophonist Chris Cheek, always a welcome addition to any group, trumpeter Alex Norris, drummer Keith Hall and percussionist Gilad. After kicking off with a tight Chick Corea number, “Tones for Joan’s Bones,” they launch into their own tunes, including the funky “The Unabonger,” which features Cheek doing a slick solo over thick chord changes. This is not typical or traditional Latin jazz; instead it is highly modern, with near constant chord changes and many elements of contemporary jazz (the good kind). We hear elements of Brazil, Cuba, the Caribbean and other Latin countries, all mixed together in a heady brew, as on the montuno-laden “If Woody Had Gone Right to the Police ...” This is fun music that’s also challenging, a winning combination. Even Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge” gets an overhaul, becoming a slow Latin number that deconstructs the original.
2008, Miles High Records, minutes.

Reviews by Don Campbell

It just happened that most of the following releases fall at least somewhere in the vicinity of soul music.

Into the Mystic, Lavelle White, vocals.
Praise all that’s good and right in the universe for Lavelle White. White had soul and R&B hits back in the ‘50s and ’60 on Texas’ Duke label, and has enjoyed a roaring comeback in the past few years on the Antone’s Records label. On “Into the Mystic,” she covers the Van Morrison classic among others, intoxicatingly infusing it with her own deeply soulful style. Her voice has lost little in the ensuing years.
It’s pure heaven when she can take a pop song like the Box Tops’ “Soul Deep” and pull it deep into decidedly true-soul territory. And there is no prettier ballad than “At Last,” covered by one of her contemporaries, and another artist who’s still showing us how it’s live, Etta James. It would be easy to think White would have nothing new to bring to the party, but she wraps herself around this one like you’d wrap a Pendleton blanket around yourself in winter. She even breathes fresh life into Stevie Wonder’s nugget, “Livin’ for the City,” giving it a gritty-city edge. This is one scary-good record. 
2008, Antone’s Records/TMG

Hope and Desire, Susan Tedeschi, guitar, vocals.
There’s a sizzling contemporary blues vocalist and guitarist on the scene named Susan Tedeschi, who’s evolution from blues belter (1998’s breakout “Just Won’t Burn”) to self-assured song stylist we’re enjoying immensely. Tedeschi has at times, maybe through no fault of her own, wondered too close in vocal sound to Bonnie Raitt, and for many listeners, it’s been a distraction. But of late, especially on this new CD, she’s coming into her own as gutsy alto, with plenty of smoke and torchy fire, gravel, whisky, and soul. Her fourth album, and first on the Verve Forecast label, takes the focus away from her guitar skills, which are formidable, and puts the spotlight on her vocal chops. While her range is not spectacular, her phrasing and passion for a melody are showing definite muscularity. Here she tackles Dylan’s “Lord Protect My Child,” a slow but strident gospel tune where she uses her voice to implore. On Ray Charles’ “Tired of My Tears,” she goes uptown soul on a song that would have easily charted back in the ‘60s in the hands of Ahmet Ertegun’s Atlantic label. She does Aretha proud on a cover of “Share Your Love with Me,” and tears up the Stones “You Got the Silver,” a Western lope with a blistering slide solo by husband and slide guitarist Derek Trucks (see review below). She even powerfully covers Donny Hathaway’s “Magnificent Sanctuary Band,” with full gospel accompaniment of the Blind Boys of Alabama.
Tedeschi’s also not with her road band on this recording, using a hand-picked cast that includes Doyle Bramhall III on guitar, bassist Paul Bryan and drummer Jay Bellerose, along with keyboardists Jebin Bruni and David Palmer. The band can get dark and moody, on a cut like “Danger Zone,” and turn around and lighten it up on a soul send-up like “Soul of a Man.”
It’s always a joy to hear young artists push their own limits. To her credit, this past spring Tedeschi performed with the Wynton Marsalis Septet at Lincoln Center, a nice nod to her vocal prowess.
2008, Verve Forecast.

Live at the Baby Grand, Jimmy Smith, Hammond B-3.
We’re a big sucker for the overdriven-tube sound of a Hammond organ, and therefore, are generally nuts for anything by the legendary Jimmy Smith. On “Live at the Baby Grand,” first released in 1956 and rereleased this year on the Blue Note label, Smith gives full-on live club treatment to gems like “Caravan,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Love is a Many Splendored Thing,” and even “Rosetta.” These are 10-plus-minute romps, captured in Wilmington, Del. He’s backed by the firepower of guitarist Thornell [cq] Schwartz on guitar and Donald Bailey on drums. As usual, Smith kicks a mean pedal bass with huge ferocity. Once the head is covered, it’s all hands on deck as the trio roars along at 90 mph, never dropping a note or a beat.
For Smith fans, this is a must-have. It’s easy to imagine a smoky club, the highball glass of rye sweating rings on the table, and Eisenhower-era couples swaying to Smith playing and smiling his version here of “Where or When.” Huge props to Bailey, a force of nature on the drums, who can quietly make omelets with his brushes, and turn around on “Rosetta” and drive the band with the power of an Atlas rocket at ignition.
Rumor has it that Blue Note is releasing in September of this year yet another Smith CD, “Jimmy Smith Plays Fats Waller.” Keep your ears open.
2008, BlueNote.

Susquehanna, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies.
We wanted to like this record, we really did. Steve Perry’s Cherry Poppin’ Daddies brought their slightly twisted jump blues and swing back into the pop spotlight for a minute back in the ‘80s with their zany and radio-friendly “Zoot Suit Riot.” Perry had compiled a tough touring horn band with just enough punk sensibility to be interesting. Here on the indulgent “Susquehanna,” Perry, who never was the strongest singer (more of a song stylist), takes a kind of lightweight approach to world music. The closest he comes to accessible is “White Trash Toodle Oo” that pretty quickly devolves into punk noise. We just couldn’t find a foothold here to climb aboard. 
2008, Space Ace.

Certified Organic, Pete Levin, Hammond B-3.
Hammond B3 monster Pete Levin – a session dude for the likes of Paul Simon, Annie Lennox, Lenny White, John Scofield and Gil Evans, serves up a funky 10-song CD, “Certified Organic” (wink, wink) that’s powered by Levin originals, one by Jaco (“Teen Town”), one by Prince (“The Question of U”), and the Cole Porter chesnut, “Love for Sale.” On that cut his organ tone is at its impeccably strongest yet supplest. He’s aided by guitarist John Carrididi, the supremely and fluidly funky Harvie Sorgen on drums (who’s drum sound is impeccably warm and room-like on every cut), and Ernie Colon on percussion.
Levin spreads the guitar love around, using in addition to Carrididi, Mike DeMicco, Joe Beck and Jesse Gress throughout. He slows the funk down on his own “Patience,” a scorching piece that offers ample room for his own keyboard insight and DeMicco’s guitar. He shares the inventive Jaco melody in the verse of “Teen Town” with Gress, with an inspired Erik Lawrence sax solo over the top. It’s delicious romp for all. Beck gets his turn on “Where Flamingos Fly,” a brooding minor-key ballad, and turns in a swirling and complex guitar accompaniment that plays nicely off Levin’s keys.
The whole project shines as basically an organ trio, with simple augmentation from the guitar team and occasional Lawrence sax line. All in all, if you love organ, this one should find its way into your collection.
2008, P-Lev.

Songlines, Derek Trucks Band.
This young hotshot has proven himself to be of far more substance than just a family member of Southern rockers the Allman Brothers Band. Nephew of Allman drummer Butch Trucks, and member in good standing of the perennially popular band, himself loves to stretch out his ample slide-guitar and finger-picked chops on jazz, blues, world beat, and much much more. His decade-old Derek Trucks Band is no slouch either. A tight unit, they provide muscular backup for his musical forays. Though he clearly inherited the fluid guitar style of Duane Allman, whose career was tragically cut short at age 24, Trucks continues to push the boundaries of his instrument. On his latest CD, “Songlines,” he criss-crosses the world with a variety of songs all imbued with a Southern sensibility. “This Sky” floats dreamily on his soaring guitar. He sends up the soul classic “Blind, Crippled and Crazy, absolutely pegging the funk meter. He’s positively incendiary on “Revolution,” and gives the Southern funky-strut treatment to “Crow Jane.” He touches the African continent with a delightful guitar take in “Mahjoun,” as well as going Moroccan on “Sahib Teri Bandi – Maki Maki.”
This is a guitarist’s treat and will take you places you didn’t know a guitar could get to.
2008, XX.

Clean Getaway, Curtis Salgado, vocals, harmonica.
Northwest soul vocalist Curtis Salgado is known primarily as a bluesman, one who’s helped shape the blues scene in this neck of the woods for well over two decades. In reality, Salgado is more comfortable cooking up funky soul stew, which he does admirably on “Clean Getaway,” his latest Shanachie release. While staying with longtime producer Marlon McClain, Salgao tapped the members of the Phantom Blues Band, a tight unit that’s backed up everybody from Bonnie Raitt to Taj Mahal, with special help from New Orleans keyboard legend Jon Cleary.
This is a joyful and buoyant project, with plenty of sterling performances at every turn. Salgado, battling his way back from liver cancer, is clearly having a great time. His voice is in good form, especially on songs like “Both Sorry Over Nothin’,” where he belts with the best of them, and his O.V. Wright gospel style on “Who’s Lovin’ You?” The recording quality throughout is appropriately analog, and well-mixed. We’re a stickler for drum sound and this recording delivers. The only complaint is that Salgado occasionally, in his interpretations, runs too close to the original artist. Like in the case of “What’s Up With That,” it’s clearly a tip o’ the pork-pie to Johnny Guitar Watson, which is fine, but even the guitar solo is almost a note-for-note knock-off the legendary Watson. But still, we’ll take a well-rendered muscular stop-time shuffle any day of the week.
Salgado runs the gamut of emotions on this record, and handles them all with deep, soulful strength and clarity of purpose.
2008, Shanachie.

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