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CD Reviews - December 2008
by George Fendel, and Kyle O'Brien

Reviews by George Fendel

Smile, Gene Bertoncini, acoustic guitar and Roni Ben-Hur, electric guitar.
The concept of two guitars in a jazz setting is not new, but the pairing of Gene Bertoncini and Roni Ben-Hur is one that works to perfection. Bertoncini, a fountain of lyricism and a guitarist often called the “Segovia of jazz,” never fails to amaze the listener as he caresses his acoustic guitar through this lovely program. Ben-Hur, who has often worked with bebop heroes such as Barry Harris, takes it down a notch, and responds to Bertoncini almost as one voice. The two begin the program with a pop tune from years back, “Killing Me Softly.” To be succinct, it has never sounded better. Perhaps the best known tune of the set is Cole Porter’s evergreen, “I Concentrate On You.” The title tune, Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” is followed by an early Dizzy Gillespie opus called “That’s Earl, Brother.” Each of the guitarists contributes two originals to the program. I was drawn to Gene’s “You Are a Story” in a lilting and lovely ¾ time; Roni’s bluesy “Anna’s Dance” and Gene’s reworking of “Bluesette,” which he titled “Set Blue.” Standards “Out Of This World” and “Besame Mucho” complete a lesson in guitar brilliance from two of the best out there.
Motema Records; 2008; 48:27

Jubilation, Warren Vache, cornet and vocals, John Allred, trombone.
Warren Vache has made it clear over the years that if it can be played on cornet, he can play it. Totally at home in any style, Vache and co-leader John Allred take it down mainstream boulevard this time out. From the opening strains of a no-prisoners “Old Devil Moon,” you know it’s going to be an exciting ride. How could it be otherwise with the presence of New York phenom Tardo Hammer on piano, along with Nicki Parrott, bass, and Leroy Williams, drums. The program, recorded live for an enthusiastic audience in Bern, Switzerland, includes two tunes from Horace Silver (“Song For My Father” and “Strollin’”) and two from George Gershwin (“They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “Strike Up The Band”). Other winners include “My One And Only Love,” “Change Partners” and “Caravan.” Vache and Nicki Parrott reprise an old Billie Holiday-Louis Armstrong goodie called “Sweet Hunk O’ Trash,” followed by a gospel tinged Junior Mance line called “Jubilation.” The program is fittingly completed with a brief Vache vocal on “We’ll Be Together Again.” No barriers broken here; just five players doing what they love. And you can feel it.
Arbors, 2008, 69:06.

Django Music, Hot Club De Norvege (Hot Club of Norway).
What do you have in a group consisting of two acoustic guitars, an upright bass and a violinist who doubles on harmonica? Sounds like the makings of a swing group in the style of guitarist Django Reinhardt, right? Well, that’s what the Hot Club De Norvege is all about, and just for good measure, you can throw in a few well-chosen vocals, too. Reinhardt the composer is well represented with four tunes, the most famous of which is “Nuages,” a lovely jazz classic that parallels musically what it translates to: clouds. Another pretty Reinhardt composition is “Manor De Mes Reves,” featuring a melodic line which sounds very ‘30s. Among the more familiar fare are swing style workouts on “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” “Coquette” and “My Heart Belongs To Daddy.” And do you want to hear these Norwegians swing with authority? Try something titled “Karius and Baktus.” All comers get a chance to play with fire. Happily, no one gets burned. This is well-performed, very authentic “period” music. Thank goodness it’s being kept alive by fine groups such as this one.
Hot Club Records, 2008, 51:19.

Spaceton’s Approach, Clay Giberson, piano.
Transplanted Portlander Clay Giberson’s fourth release for Origin Records puts him back in the company of former playing mates from his New York years, David Ambrosio on bass and Matt Garity on drums. The CD opens with a Keith Jarrrett-like, fresh, wide open take on “It Might As Well Be Spring.” The first of five of Giberson’s original compositions is entitled “From The Outside,” written in ¾ and with a rather dark, minor feeling. The title tune, “Spaceton’s Approach,” moves through rhythmic changes with a tricky melody line. “Trust” is a very attractive composition somewhat reminiscent of the work of composer Tom McIntosh, and “Passing By” is in more of a mainstream groove; perhaps my favorite of the original music presented here. The second of the two standards on the CD is a sprightly and totally fresh outing on Miles Davis’s “Solar” and the trio brings their performance to a close with “Beyond The Horizon,” showcasing Garity’s fluid bass solo. The Jarrett/ Evans influence plays a role in Giberson’s approach to the piano. His touch is subtle and silvery, laden with expression, but never florid. He has a lot to say on this new release.
Origin; 2008, 64:56.

Winter Sunshine, Sheila Jordan, vocals.
At 79 years of age, Sheila Jordan’s been part of “the scene” for many years, but somehow, with the exception of an album she did with Mark Murphy, she’s escaped my consciousness. She’s through and through a jazz singer, stylistically somewhat out of the Anita O’Day/Betty Carter bag. This recording finds Jordan working a responsive audience at a Montreal club called Upstairs. Her trio (Steve Amirault, piano; Kiean Overs, bass; and Andre White, drums) provides fresh accompaniment. Most of them are from the standard bag, but with lots of vocal liberties (as any jazz singer worth her treble clef should do!) Jordan finds new possibilities in “Comes Love,” “Dat Dere,” “It Never Entered My Mind,” “All God’s Children Got Rhythm” and several lesser known, well chosen vehicles. Among many highlights, she sings a little coda on “I Remember You” as follows: “did you notice that I sang the last chorus in the exact melody?” And she treats “Lady Be Good” as a rich tribute to Ella, in which she sings the words “nobody in this world could scat like Ella Fitzgerald? Thank you very much, but I ain’t gonna scat that fast?” Some singers try to do what Jordan does and it comes out as excess. But Sheila Jordan is hip from the first note to the last.
Justin Time; 2008, 58:42.

Live In Graz, Lee Shaw Trio, Lee Shaw, piano.
Let me put it this way … after doing jazz radio for nearly 24 years and writing these reviews for I forget just how many, I’ve developed at least as much knowledge of jazz artists as the next guy, right? So here comes a swinging pianist named Lee Shaw … and she’s been playing on the East Coast for forty years … and she’s appeared on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz … and she studied with Oscar Peterson … and … and … where in the heck have I been? This stop catches her in live performance during a European tour. With her seasoned colleagues, Rich Syracuse, bass and Jeff “Siege” Siegel, drums, Shaw brings her listeners a well-balanced program of standards and thoughtful, well-constructed originals. Perhaps my favorite selection was Ahmad Jamal’s “Night Mist,” also known as “Night Mist Blues.” I often think of Nancy Wilson’s vocal on this tune as a nearly definitive version, but Lee Shaw comes up all aces here and on everything else she plays in this decidedly delightful concert!
Artists Record Collective; 2008, 78:43.

Acoustic Heat, Marty Grosz and Mike Peters; acoustic guitars.
If ‘30s swing style is your bag, you’d be wise to pick up on these two acoustic guitarists. They’re obviously having a grand ol’ time playing both obscure numbers by past masters such as Carl Kress and Eddie Lang. With titles like “Chicken a la Swing,” “Eddie’s Twister” and “Stage Fright,” Grosz and Peters showcase the guitar style of days gone by. But, not to worry, there are also familiar melodies galore with the likes of Duke’s “The Mooche” and “I’m Beginning To See The Light”; as well as Hoagy Carmichael’s” Jubilee,” “Washboard Blues” and “I’ve Found A New Baby.” Among other memorable selections are “Three Little Words,” “Gone With The Wind,” “Street Of Dreams” and “If Dreams Come True.” There are twenty tunes in all, and Grosz warns in the liner notes not to listen to more than four tunes consecutively. There is danger of what he calls “plunkitis,” for which there is no known cure. It is, I should think, a condition that most of us would welcome.
Sackville, 2008, 69:49.

Reflections, Mark Colby, tenor saxophone.
The cover photo of Mark Colby suggests that he’s put on a bit of mileage, so why is it that I haven’t encountered his big, burly tenor before now? Can’t answer that, but I can tell you, Colby takes it straight down the middle of the jazz highway on this scintillating collection of blues, bop, bossa and standards. In various settings (mostly tenor and rhythm section), Colby and crew go for all the marbles. Even the starter, “Close Enough For Love,” finds some tempo and muscle along the way. Other titles were equally compelling. In particular, there’s a silky romp through “Desafinado”; a couple of fresh piano-less looks at “Like Someone In Love” and “Over The Rainbow”; a riveting ballad treatment of “So In Love”; a boppy original called “Caroline’s Romp”; and a set closer that adds Phil Woods on alto and Bob Lark on flugelhorn. It’s a medium tempo swinger called “Squire’s Parlor.” It brings the proceedings to a swinging close. Colby’s big sound (but decidedly not a “Texas tenor” type) hits the bullseye here, and you’re going to have a good time as well.
Origin, 2008, 55:48.

Cape Breton, Aaron Lington, baritone saxophone.
Aaron Lington serves in the music department of San Jose State University. So I guess when he’s not busy in her classroom, he gets the opportunity to play music like the seven original compositions for this quintet. His writing is lyrical; his songs have distinct melody lines, and often remind one of classic jazz writing from the past. His baritone can bite like Pepper Adams or float like Gerry Mulligan. And I was very impressed with trumpet/flugelhorn man Paul Tynam, whose fluidity and sparse approach were very expressive. For more information, www.aaronlington.com
Nohjoh Music, recorded, 2005, 55:22.

So Hard To Forget, Bucky Pizarelli, seven string and accoustic guitars.
With years of outstanding recordings to his credit, this is, to my knowledge, Bucky’s first shot at a disc with strings. The writing, for violin, viola and cello, is subtle and pristine, and never gets in Bucky’s guitar path. Among 13 tunes examined here, a few standouts included “Laura”; “It’s Easy To Remember”; a classy Duke Ellington medley; Harold Arlen’s beauty, “Last Night When We Were Young”; and a return to Duke with “Prelude To A Kiss.” It all adds up to a pleasant detour for Bucky Pizarelli and a CD his many fans will scarf up!
Arbors; 2008, 62:16.

Reviews by Kyle O'Brien

Home, Kelley Johnson, vocals.
Johnson found her voice in Seattle thanks to a workshop with acclaimed vocalist Mark Murphy. You can hear his influence on her use of tonality within her lithe, deep voice. The singer has since gone on to grow and become an educator and a musical ambassador abroad. Her ability to connect with a familiar melody and keep it fresh, with an approach that stays comfortably behind the beat, makes her approachable. On this disc she courts a handful of familiar tunes, like “A Lovely Night” by Rodgers & Hammerstein, which she does as a bouncy bop, jumping around her range like a young Abbey Lincoln (an artist she covers twice on the album). “Moon River,” gets a slow swing treatment, which lengthens the notes, giving them a deeper meaning. She transitions easily from bop to ballads and with her pianist/husband, John Hansen, she is a fine arranger as well. Johnson is an unheralded vocal talent with a fine sense of melody and inviting presence.
2008, Sapphire, 59.

I Want to Be Happy, Jo Lawry, vocals.
Australian vocalist Lawry utilizes every corner of her vocal chords to relay her music. The opening track, a modern arrangement of the traditional “The Water is Wide,” finds her working the tones of her voice in a semi-scatting solo that is much like an instrumental. She launches that voice on the title track, a modern jazz layer cake with a Latin beat that also allows her to create excitement and subtlety at the same time. Her non-lyrical solos can go a bit over the top at times, working tones that take away from the sweetness of the tunes. Sometimes her simplistic approach is best, as on the poignant “February,” an original track on love lost. Lawry is an able jazz vocalist but has a fine pop sensibility, making her a dual talent with a promising outlook.
2008, Fleurieu Music, 60:00.

More to Come, Jonathan Voltzok, trombone.
Bop isn’t becoming a lost art, but it is losing key players every year, which is why it’s refreshing to hear a young player with talent to spare that keeps this important jazz tradition not only alive but vibrant. The title track kicks things off here, and Voltzok fires off a flurry of notes so quick you think his slide might catch fire. Backed by Aaron Goldberg on piano, Barak Mori on bass and Ali Jackson on drums, Voltzok is in energetic and talented company. The Israeli native, now living in New York, is still in his 20s and is already light years ahead of most bone players his age. How else would he get trombone legend Slide Hampton to guest on two tracks on this debut CD? Hampton, in press materials, calls Voltzok an amazing talent. Certainly he is, but the two collaborations with Hampton unfortunately have some tonal inconsistencies between the two bones. Still, the rest of the disc is a superb modern bop disc, especially the two tracks with saxophonist Antonio Hart, the Voltzok-penned medium bopper “A Moment of Sunshine,” and the jazz waltz, “The Fire Dance.” The alto-trombone countermelodies harken back to the early 50s, when guys like Parker and Johnson were playing this new music. Voltzok is a mature player already and as time goes on he’ll become even more vital on his instrument.
2007, Kol Yo Records, 60.

The Tortoise, Rob Mosher’s Storytime.
Young jazz composers are an ambitious lot, and self-taught Canadian compser Mosher is no exception. He wrote all the tunes on this disc, and the result is a modern compositional jazz outing that is a journey through both musical styles and tones. Mosher, also an accomplished soprano saxophonist and English horn player, utilizes the instruments at his disposal to create varying personalities, like the searching drone and flugelhorn solo on “On a Clear Day,” and the weaving lines of “The Sands of Maundune.” The double reeds give a melancholy air to “Sleepless Lullaby,” while the horn, clarinet and flutes on “What Snowflakes are Plotting,” are dizzyingly whimsical. This musical odyssey blends multiple classical and jazz styles, a mash of tones and instruments, and seems to have multiple personalities...Hawaiian slide guitar anyone (“Twilight”)? It may be too ambitious of a task to pull together but it is impressive. Mosher has done a fine job but may want to streamline his sound to make more of a connection rather than an impression.
2008, Canada Council for the Arts / Rob Mosher, 71.

Caminhos Cruzados = Crossroads, Masha Campagne, vocals.
On first listen I would never guess that this Brazilian jazz disc is by a Russian ex-pat who now lives in the Bay Area. Campagne sings in both Portuguese and English with flawless accents in both. She utilizes her sweet, breathy vocals to bring her love of the Brazilian traditions to life, even on Cole Porter (“So In Love”) and Rodgers & Hammerstein (“It Might as Well Be Spring”). When she sings in Portuguese she has only the slightest Russian tinge, but her phrasing is flawless. She floats over melodies like “Doralice,” and a medley of Jobim tunes. The album, which features some fine players, including guitarist Carlos Oliveira and saxophonist Harvey Wainapel, is a testament to the strength of Brazilian jazz to move through pointed melodies and breezy beats, and Campagne does an admirable job singing in two languages, neither her native tongue.
2007, Impetus Records, 44:30.

Waiting for You, Alex Clements, piano.
Clements is a film composer. Sometimes film composers court textures and moods more than melodies when they venture outside their studios and into the jazz world. Clements doesn’t seem to have that problem. The disc starts off with a searing hard bopper, “Blues for GB,” which features incredible playing by saxophonist Alain Bradette, and thick, meaty chords by Clements. His sense of melody comes out in his rendition of the smoky “Nuits de Paris,” and the loping “Waiting for You...” Like many composers, he gives his other players much of the spotlight, and Bradette is in good company with drummer Danny Gottlieb and bassist Chris Queenan. But we get enough of Clements, in his compositions and his deft comping, to make it a complete quartet album. This is sophisticated modern jazz that has both focus and melody.
2007, Alex Clements, 75.

Farewell Walter Dewey Redman, Mark Masters Ensemble.
During his lengthy career, Dewey Redman was often on the fringes of jazz, taking bop and swing norms and turning them upside down and inside out. It was cutting edge for its time but didn’t exactly make him a household name outside the jazz community. So it’s nice that this collection exists, to bring his copious talents as player, composer and collaborator to such vibrant life. With such stellar players as Oliver Lake and Gary Foster on alto, and Don Shelton and John Mitchell on tenor, this disc, held together well by Masters’ big band arrangements, is a treat for those who know Dewey’s music, and a fantastic introduction for those who don’t. The ensemble, a 16-piece big band, can be as sparse as a trio and as thick as its many pieces. The drumming of Peter Erskine certainly helps things along, but the whole ensemble brings these tunes into the here and now. The free-flowing swing of “I-Pimp,” the bluesy blasts of the downright dirty “Boody,” and the harsh atonality of “Thren,” show off the deep musical understanding of this late artist. That’s rounded out by the pretty waltz of “Love Is” and the rich ballad, “Joie de Vivre.” Add in some new originals, like the atonal angles of “Transits,” and the spirited avant-garde “Adieu Mon Redman” and you have a loving but true tribute to an artist that deserved more recognition than just being a great player’s dad.
2008 Capri Records, 65.

El Alquimista - The Alchemist, Pete Rodriguez, trumpet.
Trumpeter/composer Rodriguez has played with some of the best in the Latin jazz world, including Celia Cruz and Tito Puente, but as a leader he has a distinct voice all his own. The Latin influence is still at the forefront, but his compositions reach much farther. In the opening suite, “Jive State Suite,” we hear modern beats, thick-as-molasses chords, avant-garde leanings, fiery conga beats (Roberto Quintero) and double-horn improvisations between Rodriguez and saxophonist David Sanchez. Rodriguez states that the album is about various personal journeys, and if that’s so, he has had some bumpy but very interesting life experiences. One of those apparently was being attacked by a scorpion, as on the frenetic “Scorpion,” a Latin hard-bopper that stings with solos by Sanchez and Rodriguez. This disc takes Latin traditions and updates them for the here and now, in a personal way for the artist. It lets us see the passion and virtuosity of Rodriguez. Not only is he a fine player, he is a composer not afraid to dig deep to bring out the best in his music.
2008, Conde Music, 55.

Perfect Strangers, Todd Coolman.
Bassist Coolman created an internet-based ‘learning community’ to put together this project. Composers were invited to an open call to the website for compositions, many of whom Coolman didn’t know. The result was a mix of tunes written by relative unknowns yet played by Coolman and talented NYC players, like saxophonist Eric Alexander and trumpeter Brian Lynch. The quintet makes these unfamiliar tunes seem comfortable. The musical journey of Bill Stevens’ “Full Circle,” stands out with its multiple chord changes, while some are more basic tunes, like the medium bop of “Could You Imagine?” by Mark Saltman. The criss-crossing lines of “Pastorale,” by Ryan Truesdell is another fine track, its tones and harmonies linking the quintet together like silk. A nice idea for a project, though lacking the depth that you often get when composers play their own works.
2008, Bottom Line Music, 59.

World Jazz, Lua Hadar with Twist.
Thanks to the popularity of Pink Martini, world music blended with jazz and classical traditions have become more mainstream, and more popular. Hadar takes that concept and mashes it up even more. The native New Yorker has a penchant for languages, and the opening light funk-jazz track is sung in over-the-top French. It’s both intriguing and off-putting. Her dramatic flair over a fairly normal contemporary jazz track is nearly campy. Her voice is more cabaret than jazz, which works better on “Twilight World/Dancing in the Dark,” a bossa-style cabaret arrangement. The same can be said for the French waltz of “Sous Le Ciel de Paris (Under Paris Skies),” but not for her version of Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want,” which is ill-suited for her quirky delivery, and the hideously sappy version of the already syrupy Dan Fogelberg tune, “Longer.” Perhaps Hadar would be better suited singing to the crowds on the Rive Gauche.
2008 Bellalua Records, 41.

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