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

Reviews by George Fendel

Live At The 1994 Monterey Jazz Festival, Shirley Horn, piano and vocals.
Fans of Shirley Horn will scoop up this previously unreleased gem in no time flat.  Horn, whose stunning voice and piano went largely unappreciated until later in her life, holds the audience spellbound with her trio of Charles Ables, bass, and Steve Williams, drums. She’s in full flower here with such evergreens as “Foolin’ Myself,” “The Look Of Love,” “Nice And Easy,” “I’ve Got The World On A String” and “Hard Hearted Hanna.”  I can think of no other singer who stretched lines on ballads quite like Shirley Horn. She was always riveting on such tunes, and she feels the fever (as does the audience) on “A Song For You,” “L.A. Breakdown” and the exquisite “Here’s To Life,” a song which she would later come to own. Shirley finishes with the only instrumental selection of the set, Oscar Peterson’s vibrant “Blues For Big Scotia.” This was Shirley Horn’s first and only appearance at The Monterey Jazz Festival. And that’s okay, because it’s hard to improve on perfection.
2008, Monterey Jazz Festival Records, 47:21.

The Odd Couple,  Ron Kalina, chromatic harmonica, and Jim Self, tuba.
If you had told me that the combination of harmonica and tuba could work for anything other than a novelty album, I would have thought somebody had slipped something in your drink. But lo and behold, Ron Kalina and Jim Self play it serious, and by golly, it works. Of course, it’s wise to add to the mix three of the most sought after musicians in Southern California: Larry Koonse, guitar; Tom Warrington, bass; and Joe LaBarbera, drums. Among many highlights, I was delighted to find Neal Hefti’s catchy theme to “The Odd Couple”; alto sax maven Lanny Morgan’s line on “Just Friends,” herein titled “Friends Again”; the rarely heard crowd pleaser “I’m All Smiles”; a warm rendition of Michel Legrand’s “You Must Believe In Spring,” and a couple of Charlie Parker opuses, “Confirmation” and “Donna Lee.” Trust me, there’s no tongue planted firmly in cheek here. Just good, dependable, straight down the middle jazz. Only instead of the co-leaders being, say, trumpet and tenor, we meet here with those two bastions of bebop, the harmonica and the tuba!
2008, Basset Hound Music, 55:17.

A Perfect Time, Janis Mann, vocals.
For her fifth CD, Janis Mann altered the usual plan a bit by honoring no less than four of LA’s premier drummers: Peter Erskine, Paul Kreibich, Joe LaBarbera and Roy McCurdy. Don’t worry, the drum chores are all split up, with no more than one drummer per tune. Other musicians on hand include the Clayton Brothers, John on bass and Jeff on reeds; Chuck Berghoffer, also on bass; and the emerging piano giant, Tamir Hendelman. Janis sings effortlessly and with perfect intonation on a well-chosen menu of tunes. She begins with a faster than usual “All My Tomorrows,” and then shines on Harry Warren’s gem, “Summer Night.” Johnny Mandel’s “Quietly There” is shimmering with the backdrop of Jeff Clayton’s alto flute, and brother John’s arco intro is perfect on Bobby Troup’s “Meaning Of The Blues.” And Mann is no stranger to scat, as she and McCurdy skate through Leonard Bernstein’s “Cool.” Other highlights include “Someone To Light Up My Life,” “Love Walked In,” “Just In Time” and a from the heart reading of Matt Dennis’s “Everything Happens To Me.” Janis Mann’s phrasing is meticulous, and she puts across a lyric in a way that most other singers could only aspire to. This lady’s a keeper.
2008, Pancake Records, 79:06.

Compositionality, Dan Heck, guitar.
Some of you might remember Dan Heck as the talented guitarist in Seattle’s Bebop And Destruction. Well, B&D went their separate ways (amiably), and Dan went the furthest; now he’s based in Florida. However, on this CD he reacquaints with a couple of Seattle pals in Thomas Marriott on trumpet and Jose Martinez on drums. Rounding out the quintet are Stuart Shelton on piano and Rick Doll on bass. As the title suggests, the tunes are all Dan Heck originals, and the guys get underway with a medium tempo blues line called “One For Flo.” The tempo and the intensity pick up considerably on Blade’s “Groove” while “Stand Pat” has a nice down-home feeling. One can only wonder where the title “Tommy’s Teeth” may have come from, but it has a spirited sense of swing to it. Dan’s “Hit Tune” is a mellow trip with a lightly Latin flavor and a delightful vehicle for Marriott’s trumpet. “Blue Stone” is another blues, but this time with a hint of gospel. Again, Marriott is relaxed and in total control on trumpet. These and others show off Dan Heck’s very solid, center of the groove writing. To say nothing of his warm, always swinging guitar.
2008, Origin, 48:07.

What The World Needs Now, Five Play.
Five Play is a quintet created out of the all-female Diva Jazz Orchestra. Led by drummer Shari Maricle, they open with Burt Bacharach’s title tune, adding some sizzle to an otherwise tired oldie from the land of pop. “I Want To Be Happy” is given a rhythmic twist which will raise your eyebrows, and “Moon Song” features the muted cornet of Jami Dauber in ‘Sugar Blues’ style. Jerome Richardson’s “Groove Merchant” is a gospel-tinged, feel-good tune, and in a complete change of pace, is followed by Benny Goodman’s “Slipped Disc.” It is, of course, a feature for Janelle Reichman’s finely honed clarinet. On a soulful “Cry Me A River,” Reichman continues on clarinet, but shares the spotlight with Dauber’s trumpet. The trio, featuring the piano of Tomoko Ohno, takes over on a swinging “I Could Have Danced All Night,” and is followed by “Jo-House Blues,” an up tempo rouser featuring Dauber’s Clark Terry-ish trumpet solo. A favorite ballad of jazz musicians, “Old Folks,” is a delicacy for bassist Noriko Ueda, and the program ends with Helen Reddy’s anthem to womanhood, “I Am Woman.” In this well-balanced and entertaining CD, Five Play makes a case as a group that needs to be heard from again.
2008, Arbors, 58:35.

Here And Gone, David Sanborn, alto saxophone.
David Sanborn takes a shot at some legitimate music for a change, but he just can’t get past his screechy, screamy saxophone sound. Sanborn takes on music associated with Ray Charles, and that alone could have been intriguing. The only two cuts that had any interest for me were “St. Louis Blues” and “Basin Street Blues.” Having said that, I could easily unearth a dozen renditions of each of those classics that, simply put, at least do them justice. “I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town” features Eric Clapton on the vocal, I guess (because the notes don’t tell me what it is that Clapton does!).  Joss Stone, a singer who can scream as loud as that chick on Jay Leno, tries to sound cool on “I Believe To My Soul,” and Ray Charles-wannabe Sam Moore tries hard on “I’ve Got News For You.” Not even the presence of esteemed jazz players like Christian McBride, Russell Malone, Lew Soloff and Wallace Roney can save Sanborn’s bacon. What saddens me is the knowledge than Sanborn can play. But his insistence on the big paycheck pretty much throughout his career is frustrating. It seems he’s trapped in a maze of the public’s pop expectations and can’t escape. And perhaps he doesn’t wish to.
2008, Decca, 41:20.

Live At The Monterey Jazz Festival, 1958-1980, Cal Tjader, vibes.
It’s a real treat to hear the voice of Cal Tjader as he introduces his group to a past-midnight audience at the 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival. With clarinet bopper Buddy De Franco sitting in, Tjader and company open with a nearly 14-minute romp through “Summertime,” the only previously released selection on the album. De Franco stays onstage for another 14-minute bop-drenched treatment of Charlie Parker’s “Now’s The Time.” Tjader gained great respect for his forays into Latin music, and the set closes with energetic versons of Ray Bryant’s “Cubano Chant” and Tjader’s “Tumbao.” Now fast forward eighteen years to 1972, and waddaya know, Tjader’s still in the Latin bag with a new cast of players on Dizzy’s Gillespie’s classic, “Manteca.” After a distinctively Latinized version of “Afro Blue” from the 1974 festival, the program ends with two standards, from 1977 and 1990. Almost all of this music is being heard for the first time (unless, of course you were in attendance), and considering Tjader’s legacy in both Latin and straightahead genres, this becomes an important addition to his impressive discography.
2008, Monterey Jazz Festival Records, 65:33.

It Amazes Me, Bob Mover, alto and tenor saxophones, vocals.
It seems to me that I’ve seen the name Bob Mover in the small print of reed sections and in other supportive roles for many years. Indeed this is only his second CD as a leader in over two decades. One gets the idea that the tunes included here, mostly standards in the jazz book, are things Mover loves to play. And why not surround oneself with all-star colleagues in Kenny Barron (piano), Dennis Irwin (bass) and Steve Williams (drums). The basic quartet is augmented on four tunes by guitarist Reg Schwager. Those familiar with Bob Mover’s reed prowess, will most likely be pleasantly surprised to hear how nice a job he does on no less than six of the ten tunes presented here. Among these standout vocals were riveting versions of Al Cohn and Dave Frishberg’s “The Underdog” and Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh’s rarely heard title tune, “It Amazes Me.” Other standouts included a Serge Mahanovich delicacy that I remember from Gerry Mulligan, “ Sometime Ago,” and Schwager’s guitar sounds especially rich. There are lots more gems here. Mover, both instrumentally and vocally, never forces the issue. Instead he lets the music speak for itself. This is a wonderfully paced, thoughtful recording date. Highly recommended!
2008, Zoho, 67:04.

Home, Kelley Johnson, vocals.
The thing you have to really admire about Kelley Johnson is her hip, understated, real-deal jazz singer approach to her material. Combine that with some solid accompaniment, and you have a keeper. Kelley starts the proceedings with “Should’ve Been,” a challenging ode to sorrow and regret written by Abbey Lincoln. It’s followed by Irving Berlin’s rarely heard “Be Careful, It’s My Heart.” The title tune is about loss and disappointment, but hope remains as the singer returns. A couple of theater tunes, “The Sweetest Sounds” and “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” are slightly offbeat but nice on your ear. The latter is combined in a medley with another expressive Abbey Lincoln creation called “Living Room.” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “A Lovely Night,” at very quick tempo, is a perfect vehicle for a jazz singer. The remainder of the album moves from standards such as “Moon River” to newer material like the easy-going “For An Hour,” or yet another song of regret, Ivan Lins’ “Even You And I.” Finally, there’s “Where Do You Start.” It’s preceded by a poetic recitation by Johnson, and it’s a perfect mood setter for the Mandel-Bergmann beauty which is approaching the status of modern day standard. Johnson pulls off the entire album with a little whimsy and a lot of passion. I think she’s something special.
2008, Sapphire Records, 59:32.

Counterpoint, John Stein, guitar.
It’ll only take the first couple bars of “Jordu” for you to realize that John Stein is traveling straight down the mainstream highway. Stein opts for a beautiful and bountiful guitar sound. No wah-wah pedals, electronic effects or sampling here. As a matter of fact, other than Stein’s guitar, the only electricity here comes from the keyboards of Koichi Sato. He plays electric piano and organ through most of the album, but he’s so steady, subtle and in the middle of the groove, one hardly knows he’s there. The album is well balanced between jazzy originals (including a lovely waltz titled “Trois” and the intriguing  “Half-Whole Blues”) and standards (“Dindi,” “Close Your Eyes”). Just listen, for example, to Stein tear it up on “Close Your Eyes,” or take note of his command of tempo on “So Danco Samba.” Or if it’s ballad perfection you want, try Stein’s warm reading of “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” I am convinced that modern guitar heroes, guys with names like Burrell, Hall, Farlow, Kessel and Bertoncini, rode in on the right train. And one time through this album clearly indicates that John Stein has climbed aboard.
2008, Whaling City Sound, 53:59.

Nightcap, Marilyn Scott, vocals.
Perhaps you remember a review in last month’s Jazzscene of Marilyn Scott’s latest CD, “Everytime We Say Goodbye.” Well, here’s another outstanding effort from Marilyn; one that shouldn’t be withheld from your consideration simply because it dates back to 2004. Importantly, it’s still available through www.marilynscott.com. As she did on the previous disc, Scott once again takes on a thoughtful selection of tunes, this time in a slightly more contemporary setting featuring George Duke on piano and keyboards. The tunes are all familiar, but hardly overdone, standards. Marilyn never forces a note, never goes for bombast, and seems to innately understand the public’s expectations of a jazz singer. As she so aptly puts it in the liner notes, “let Mother Jazz lead the way.” If only more singers could wrap themselves around that simple concept.
2004, Prana Entertainment, 39:02.

Live At The Monterey Jazz Festival, 1958-2007, Dave Brubeck, piano.
The 1958-2007 referred to in the title would suggest to some that this is another of those compilation discs done and done again in order to fill the coffers of the record company. Not so here, and I’ll tell you why. With the exception of two tunes, none of this material has ever been issued before. For extra measure, throw in nearly 40 minutes featuring either Paul Desmond or Gerry Mulligan that’s new to your ears!  It’s worth the price of admission, if for nothing else, a 12-minute conversation between Brubeck and Desmond called “Two Part Contention.” Desmond’s delicious alto is also heard on “Someday My Prince Will Come” and, of course, his deal maker, “Take Five.” Mulligan steps in for two more tunes never before released, and the good news continues with later Brubeck colleagues Bill Smith on clarinet and Bobby Militello on alto sax. Brubeck, still playing as he approaches his 90’s, was a Monterey mainstay, and hearing him once again with Desmond and Mulligan is better than Ben & Jerry’s!
2008, Monterey Jazz Festival Records, 70:19.

Short Takes

Sausalito Summer, Court Mast, trumpet, flugelhorn, programming, keyboards.
This material has a sort of late Maynard Ferguson-Herbie Mann feel to it. Sugar-coated pop jazz for the most part. The twelve originals have more to offer and sound better than the pariah Madison Avenue calls smooth jazz, but it’s a kissin’ cousin. I’d bet the mortgage that Mast can play music of more substance, but on this outing, it’s pretty much all cotton candy.
2008, Self-produced, 41:50.

Jazza Mostaza, Funky Mustard.
Funky Mustard is a Houston-based nonet specializing in guitar led electronics. Their sound isn’t exactly smooth jazz, nor is it anything close to the center of the jazz highway. I found them, more than anything else, to be rather mundane sounding, without much real definition from one tune to another. Houston is a nice city. I’d recommend that Funky Mustard stay there.
2008, Moosepie Records.
Live At The 1972 Monterey Jazz Festival, Art Blakey & The Giants of Jazz,
Here is a previously un-issued gathering of all-time jazz greats on one stage. The group lasted barely two years, with all kinds of obligations causing its eventual breakup. But before that occurred, giants indeed roamed the earth, at least in Monterey, in 1972. We need not go into detail about the individual songs here. Instead let’s name the players: Sonny Stitt, Clark Terry, Roy Eldridge, Kai Winding, Thelonious Monk, Al McKibbon and Art Blakey. Does that catch your attention?  I thought so. And well it should!
2008, Monterey Jazz Festival Records, 59:25.

View So Tender: Wonder Revisited, Volume Two, Joe Gilman, piano.
Though Gilman’s trio swings with authority, I’m not convinced that Stevie Wonder’s music has solidified itself in the jazz pantheon … at least not enough to be saluted when dozens of jazz composers await similar recognition. Every tune played here is probably well known in the pop world. I didn’t know a single one, but I must admit I was considerably more impressed with Wonder’s often lilting melody lines than I thought I would be. But how about recognizing the writing of Oliver Nelson or Tadd Dameron;  perhaps Benny Golson or Bill Holman; or maybe Tom McIntosh, Earl Zindars or Lee Morgan? Get my point?
2008, Capri, 62:53.

Doug Hamilton Jazz Band.
Doug Hamilton’s story is amazing in that he didn’t begin playing trombone until age 40. He was, you see, busy being head of surgery for two hospitals!  So it was doctor by day and jazz student by night!  I might say, right off the bat, that you’re going to enjoy these well-loved standards in this ensemble setting. From “By Myself” to “Up Jumped Spring”; from “Oleo” to “That’s All”; or “Very Early” to “My Funny Valentine.” Hamilton’s arranging is crisp as a new dollar bill, and he allows generous solo space for his small big band. Everyone digs in and grooves with authority, making this high-spirited session an exercise in pure joy.
2008, OA2 Records, 78:33.

Blauklang (Bluesounds), Vince Mendoza, composer, conductor.
The prevailing idea here is a complete musical pallet of the blues. With a string quartet added to an 11-piece jazz orchestra, it succeeds on most accounts. The only two compositions not contributed by Mendoza are Miles Davis’ “All Blues” and Gil Evans’ “Blues For Pablo.” Mendoza’s suite, “Bluesounds” (in six movements) conveys a very Miles/Evans-like feeling. This is mostly very introspective music, with layer upon layer of sadness. But that’s the essence of the blues, right?  It’s definitely not for your Uncle Ned who dug the Firehouse Five.
2008, Act Music, 63:36.

Live At The 1972 Monterey Jazz Festival, Jimmy Witherspoon, vocals.
On this previously unreleased (all but one cut) set from the Monterey Festival stage, “Spoon” sounds as great as ever. What doesn’t quite measure up to his previous Monterey performances, where he shared the bandstand with jazz stars Ben Webster and Gerry Mulligan, is the presence of Robben Ford’s guitar. It’s a bluesy guitar, to be sure. But to my ear, it’s dangerously close to a rock sound, and that, of course, doesn’t cut it for me. Still, Spoon digs deep, and the 1972 audience loved it.
2008, Monterey Jazz Festival Records, 45:27.

Reviews by Kyle O'Brien

Woot, Garaj Mahal.
Remember when fusion jazz was quality music -- a hybrid of jazz, funk and rock that made the music world wonder what was happening ... in a good way? If so, you’re not alone. Fusion slowly morphed into contemporary jazz, then to an even duller hybrid often derided as “elevator jazz.” If you miss the days of Return to Forever, Weather Report and the like, then you’ll love Garaj Mahal. This isn’t a new group, having formed in 2000, but they continue to bring the retro funky vibe back in new and innovative ways. Comprised of bassist Kai Eckhardt, guitarist Fareed Haque, drummer Alan Hertz and keyboardist Eric Levy, this group is in the pocket consistently. They pull out the backbeat rhythms like they were dipping into a 1972 recording session, with Levy’s sonic explorations on synth and electronic keyboards, Haque’s rhythmic playing and Eckhardt’s exceptional bass work. But they update their sound with shifting time signatures, as on “Pundit-Ji,” which sounds like it could have been part of a Frank Zappa album, and “Corner Peace,” which has plenty of Middle Eastern influences in its decidedly American folksiness. And, dare we say, there’s even some Hebrew goodness, on the lighthearted “Ishmael and Isaac.” What’s not to like?
2008, Owl Studios, 72 minutes.

Proverbs for Sam, Bill Cole’s Untempered Ensemble.
I’m always skeptical when I see didgeridoo on an album unless it’s from an aboriginal group. The droning instrument rarely fits in well in the context of a modern sound. But since this disc was a tribute to a member of the band that had died, I decided to give it a listen. Luckily the didgeridoo isn’t front and center, and the disc is an exercise in strangeness and texture. Sam is Sam Furnace, saxophonist and flutist and part of multi-instrumentalist Cole’s ensemble. He died in 2004, and this release is from his last recorded performance. If you’re a fan of Anthony Braxton and chaos theories, you might enjoy this. It’s a mash of non-jazz and western instruments: Chinese sona, Ghanaian flute, baritone horn, saxophone, diddly bow and more. It’s influenced by world music and jazz, avant garde leanings and folk traditions. If that all sounds like a little much, it is. But there’s no denying that it’s interesting and, from what I can tell, well executed. Furnace is on full display, his attacking saxophone one of the few defining threads. Other than that, this is odd. Only four tracks mean that the explorations stretch out often too long, as on “If a Blacksmith Continues to Strike an Iron at One Point, He Must Have a Reason” (see, even the titles are long), where the extensive work-cry yelping gets highly annoying. But if you’re into musical excavation, this might be for you.    
2008, Boxholder Records, 74 minutes.

High Wall: Real Life Film Noir, Larry Vuckovich Trio.
Vuckovich is a respected pianist, and this taut trio disc shows why. The interplay between the players, including a rotating cast of bass master Larry Grenadier, fellow bassist Paul Keller, and drummers Eddie Marshall and Chuck McPherson, is inspiring. When the lineup changes, the action never loses intensity. From the opening of the intense “Afro 6/8 Minor Blues,” to the closing flourishes of “Locomotion,” the tension never lets up. This trio, which also includes the welcome addition of percussionist Hector Lugo, feels bigger than its parts. Vuvkovich pushes forward and keeps energy high. From his own tunes, like the pretty ballad, “View From Telegraph Hill,” to the smartly picked covers -- Dizzy Gillespie’s “Ow!” and Barry Harris’s Latin-meets-swing “Lolita” -- this is a smart album, and the trio simply gels from note one. The theme is film noir, and all selections capture the feeling. I could watch more of this movie.
2008, Tetrachord Music, 70 minutes.

El Mas Alla, Steven Kroon.
I had never heard of percussionist Steven Kroon before this disc, but apparently he has backed a few known names, including Bette Midler, the Temptations, Aretha Franklin and Gary Bartz. This Spanish Harlem native is a polished player, and this disc shows that he can lead a band as well. The rhythm is up front throughout, with Kroon leading the charge. That said, this isn’t the most original of Latin jazz albums. There’s fine playing all around, and Kroon’s tunes are just as good as you’ll hear from a Poncho Sanchez or the like, but it’s not groundbreaking. Not that it needs to be. Kroon and his tight band tackle the pan-American workload with precision, and flutist Craig Rivers shines on his melodic opportunities. Freddy Cole makes a nice appearance on vocals, his dusky voice melting the melody on “I Wish You Love,” a great track but one that doesn’t quite fit the album’s overall vibe. The Jaco Pastorius tune, “Used to Be a Cha Cha,” fits better and is the kind of tune that makes this a solid Latin jazz album.
2008, Kroonatune Records, 59 minutes.

A Ride to the Other Side, Derrick Gardner and the Jazz Prophets.
Trumpeter Gardner was obviously inspired by the great soul jazz groups of the ‘60s. His funky bop group takes a retro approach to jazz but doesn’t get bogged down in the era. His band is vibrant, updated and well versed in the style. The opening track, “Funky Straight,” sounds like it could have been on a Lee Morgan disc: a soulful backbeat combined with bop sensibilities. The title track swings in traditional hard bop fashion, and Gardner blows a mean solo after a multi-horn melodic attack. But they know subtlety too, as they display on the medium swinger, “Mac Daddy Grip,” which has an understated melody. Pianist Anthony Wonsey is bedrock with his sharp, pointed comping, letting soloists like Gardner, trombonist Vincent Gardner and saxophonist Rob Dixon explore the chords. Gardner, who has played with the Harry Connick Jr. big band and Count Basie, obviously has a knack for big sounds and this delivers, combining the best elements of soul jazz with a stylized uptake.
2008, Owl Studios, 68 minutes.

Sacred Machines, Glenn White.
New York is the nexus of the jazz universe, so it’s no surprise that talented guys from all over the country, like Phoenix native Glenn White, end up there. It gives them a chance to share their talents with like minds. Sometimes, though, that can lead to a creative sameness. Not saying that this disc is like any other-- indeed White is a talented and original player-- but the new wave of jazz adventure sounds a bit like the older wave of jazz adventure. Meandering chord changes, light Latin rhythms and non-memorable melodies are all products of this evolution of jazz. And frankly, it’s not as interesting as it could be. Even though White is experimenting with time changes and pushing chordal boundaries, the sound is just a bit too unadventurous. It’s not for a lack of musicianship; White is a fine player, and his band is solid, including flutist Jamie Baum, it’s just that it doesn’t lift itself above the fray. Originality is only groundbreaking if it truly has something to say. This searches quite a bit but it ultimately doesn’t go deep enough.
2008, OA2 Records, 42 minutes.

The Nature of the Beat, Wayne Wallace.
Wallace is a trombone player in demand, so when he does his own records, there’s reason to listen. This, according to a press release, is the second in a trilogy, bringing together three genres from the Americas -- jazz, Latin jazz and R&B. It delivers a punch from the opening montunos on the spicy “Mis Amigos,” which gets an extra kick with lines by a large vocal group. Wallace is a solid songwriter, but he’s a better arranger, as the Latin take on Gerry Mulligan’s “Jeru,” proves. He keeps it subtle but full, with rich horn arrangements and a great jazz-meets-Latin feel. He also takes Earth, Wind & Fire to the Latin side, with a cover of “Serpentine Fire” that takes it to a new level. Unfortunately, the large vocal group is a little too in-your-face here, but it’s still a quality cover. The vocals are better on the more Latin numbers, where they pull the music even higher. Wallace is an inspiring player as well, as his soaring melody on “Besame Mucho” proves. The Latin version of “Unchain My Heart” is a perfect storm of Wallace’s three genres; a searing Latin beat over R&B funky vocals with jazz pads by the horn section. Overall, a fun and inspired album.
2008, Patois Records, 60 minutes.

Panama Suite, Danilo Perez Big Band.
Perez is already a big name in jazz, so his efforts to bring jazz to Panama, as with the Panama Jazz Festival which he founded, are respected and worthy. This ambitious disc combines elements of Panamanian musical traditions with the smart American jazz traditions Perez has played for years. It has Perez’s trademark intensity, and the band him lets him realize his vision of a jazzy Panama. The tunes have a Latin feel, but the chords are all jazz, and they are full bodied. Sadly, this disc only lasts three tracks (movements). So just when you’re into it, as the female vocal group sings on “The Celebration,” it’s over. But for 15 minutes, it’s a gem.
2008, Berklee College of Music, 15 minutes.

View So Tender: Wonder Revisited, Joe Gilman Trio.
Gilman is into tribute albums, having already done two for Dave Brubeck and one for Stevie Wonder. So it’s fitting that he should return to the well on the Wonder front. But one might think one straight-ahead jazz trio tribute to an R&B songwriter and singer would be enough. Well, it’s not for Gilman, a solid Bay Area pianist. This is a good vehicle to reinterpret Wonder’s classic melodies, but it also downgrades the tunes from soul and R&B to light trio jazz. Not that it’s bad, it’s just that ... well, Joe, write some of your own tunes. Still, this is a good dinner jazz disc, with tunes like “Whereabouts” and “Another Star” getting soft jazz and bop treatments, respectively. And the inclusion of the rarely heard “Contusion” as a hard bop swinger is an inspired take. But ultimately this disc is too lean to make a huge impact via Wonder’s music. Good yes, but not thrilling.
2007, Capri Records, 60 minutes.

Unsaid, Undone, Mosaic.
This group has been together for years, but this is the first time they’ve recorded their own music. It’s not a bad debut, though the sound is a bit thick. They could handle pulling back the reins on the percussion, as it can come across as heavy at times; for instance, on “Seconds Out,” you’re waiting for the bridge to end so the band can tighten up. Still, solid musicianship is well on display here. Pianist Ned Judy, who wrote several of the tracks, leads by chordal example, while saxophonist Matt Belzer conveys the often intense melodies with energy and fluidity. When things go Latin, as on “Speak Down,” it can get muddy. Drummer Mark Merella and percussionist David Font get whipped into a frenzy, and they overpower the rest of the group. But when they pull it back, it’s fine, as on the Wayne Shorter tune, “Sightseeing,” which has precision and bop goodness. Part of the messiness is the mix, which is layered in reverb to the point of annoyance. Get this group back into the studio with a new producer and they could get great results.
2008, Snack Records, 52 minutes.

Chicken or Beef? Reptet.
If you like to live outside the chords, Seattle is a good place to be. The Emerald City has developed a reputation with its younger musicians who like to be outside the realm of normal swing, instead incorporating funk beats, atonal melodies and lots of experimentation. The sextet Reptet falls into that category, and they continue what groups like Critters Buggin' have started -- a fusion of sounds that is purely Seattle experimental. It's not inaccessible avant-garde, as the opening track, "Danger Notes" proves. In fact, it could be an outtake from a ‘70s crime drama score. With instrumentation as diverse as baritone guitar, euphonium, flute, saxophones, brass and "bull moose call," you know you're not getting just another jazz group. This is fusion way past the jazz meets rock variety. There is Spanish-influenced bombast ("Reptet Score!"), Eastern-influenced horn jazz ("Eve of Thrieve"), tribal chanting on the title track, ska ("That's Chicken or Beef"), and plenty of other styles to keep you on your toes. To call this jazz is confining that which can't be kept within its bounds. It's silly at times, always experimental, and not for the squeamish. But it can be fun if you keep an open mind.
2008, Monktail Records, 59.40.

Reviews by Don Campbell

Mississippi Number One, Eden Brent.
For all its rehash and re-creationist offerings, the modern blues scene occasionally drops a bomb on us. This month’s rare find is blues pianist and vocalist Eden Brent. And what is even more delicious, she manages to deftly combine old blues, new interpretations of old blues and even some heavily jazz-tinged pieces that will jumpstart any hardened heart.
She opens with a song penned by her mother, Carole Brent, who passed away in 2006, called “Mississippi Flatland Blues,” a rollicking good-time jump blues in stop-time. It is a great introduction to not only her superb piano chops, but her sometimes breathy, sometimes edgy and cutting vocals. She rolls with a strong left hand and a crispy right to great effect. She’s clearly done her homework.
Brent serves up six original cuts on the 15-song project, three by her mom (“Love Me Till Dawn” and “Close the Door,” plus the aforementioned opener), and gems by those Gershwin brothers, Amos Milburn, W.C. Handy and others. She had a firm hand on straight ahead barrelhouse blues, roadhouse rockers, ragtime, ballads, front-porch pickin’, and more. Brent pulls up sweet and nasty on her solo piano and voice take on “Darkness on the Delta”, and her cut on the Gershwin’s “The Man I Love,” which has been done nearly to death is breathtakingly beautiful.
Can’t tell you what a delight it is to find someone like Brent. It gives the genre hope.
2008, Yellow Dog Records, 57:19

Simply Grand, Irma Thomas.
I’ll be honest. New Orleans soul singer Irma Thomas could sing the phone book and I’d be enraptured. A long and storied performer, Thomas has enjoyed many decades as New Orleans’ premier singer. The years may be taking a tiny toll on her supple and expressive voice, but on her new Rounder recording “Simply Grand,” she’s still got more soul than any ten other singers of her ilk.
On this 14-song outing, she surrounds herself with twelve of the most accomplished roots pianists of our time, including Marcia Ball, New Orleans greats Henry Butler, Jon Cleary, favorite sidekick David Torkanowsky and the inimitable Dr. John. Plus Davell Crawford, poster Norah Jones, jazz legend Ellis Marsalis, Tom McDermott, David Egan, John Medeski, and Randy Newman
Needle-drop anywhere on the disc and you’ll find a moving rendition beautifully executed and heartrendingly performed. Thomas opens with John Fogerty’s “River is Waiting,” with virtuoso Henry Butler on the bench. She moves through “If I Had Any Sense I’d Go Back Home,” with Dr. John on keys. She slips into an Afro-Caribbean mode with “Too Much Thinking,” a lilting New Orleans take with Cleary. Jam band fans of Medeski, Martin and Wood, will dig “Somebody Told You,” with John Medeski on the keys, waxing second-line and Fess-like. She touches jazz with Ellis Marsalis on sweet piano on “This Bitter Earth,” a tender torchy ballad.
There are no weak points on this recording, hats off to Rounder’s Scott Billington, who produced the project. Oh, to have been the fly on the wall at each of the twelve sessions for this one.
2008, Rounder, 55:24

Two Men with the Blues, Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis. 
This little project has nutty written all over it. Take a country music legend and noted musical maverick and put him on a stage with one jazz’s finest instrumentalists. We’re talking Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis. Yeah, I know. But if you know just a couple of things about either player, this makes a cool kind of sense. Nelson, you may be surprised to know, loves and emulates the guitar stylings of Django Reinhart. If you listen closely to Willie’s solo outings on the nylon-string guitar, you’ll quickly make the connection. Add to that his love of melody, and you’ll quickly see that this forum, the blues, with a jazz trumpeter of Marsalis’ depth, breadth and finesse, makes perfect sense.
OK, and Willie’s love to shake up the norm goes without saying.
Marsalis has always had big ears and a sense of adventure. Aside from being one of the most eloquent speakers on jazz and American music, and his predilection for educating the unknowledgeable about music, this partnership is brilliant.
Born of a two-night stand in January 2007 at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the pair covers some dusty but intriguing nuggets. “Bright Lights Big City” is a slick urban shuffle with Willie’s earthy warble and unique phrasing. “Nightlife” gets the smoky jazz lounge treatment with Wynton’s stunningly pugnacious trumpet. The pair take on “Caledonia,” a song which by most accounts doesn’t need redoing. That’s true here too, but Willie gets twelve bars and makes the most of them on his gut-string guitar. Even “Stardust” sounds dreamily timeless in the hands of these two, as does “Basin Street Blues” and “Georgia on My Mind”.  “Rainy Day Blues” gets the big-band treatment to nice effect, but lacks a bit of dynamics. “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It” wants to be a New Orleans second-line tune, but Willie has trouble pulling it off. The Dixieland feel is more than competent in Marsalis’ hands, but the vocals are stiff.
All in all, this is one for collectors of either musician’s fan camp, and a lovely slice of American music in the hands of masters. Not perfect, but then neither is America.
2008, Blue Note Records, 53:27

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.

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