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CD Reviews - January 2009
by George Fendel, and Kyle O'Brien

Reviews by George Fendel

Chet In Chicago, Chet Baker, trumpet.
It’s no secret that in order to support a nearly life-long chemical dependency, Chet Baker made some records that did not represent his best work. This previously unreleased studio recording is distinctly not one of those. Recorded in 1986, two years prior to his still unsolved demise, Chet sounds great as ever. In fact, what is listed in the personnel as “trumpet” sounds an awful lot like a flugelhorn to me. He must have been inspired by the opportunity to record with the swinging Chicago trio of Bradley Young (piano), Larry Gray (bass) and Rusty Jones (drums). And the addition of windy city tenor man Ed Petersen, on “Ornothology,” “Crazy Rhythm” and “Sippin’ At Bells,” gives Chet a chance to dig in with another horn on some textbook bop. In addition, the group scores on “Old Devil Moon,” “It’s You Or No One,” “We’ll Be Together Again,” “Solar,” and Chet’s signature tune, “My Funny Valentine.” If you’re a Chet Baker fan, don’t hesitate on this one. It’s a gem.
Enja,  2008,  54:02.

Brother To Brother, The Clayton Brothers: John, bass and Jeff, alto sax.
Most of the Claytons’ recorded work in recent years has been with their acclaimed Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. So, it’s especially nice to hear them again in this vibrant and exciting quintet setting. The “hook” for this CD is these “jazz brothers” celebrating the work of other jazz brothers. The two which come most clearly into focus here are the Jones brothers and the Adderleys, who established themselves as hall of famers decades ago. The CD brings the gifted trumpet and flugelhorn man, Terrell Stafford, into the mix, and the result is a much more muscular, hard bop edge than on past Clayton bro efforts. Personal faves include: Jeff’s “Big Daddy Adderley,” very much in the soulful, swinging Adderley groove (Stafford’s solo is a stunner); “Bass Face,” Kenny Burrell’s tribute to Ray Brown, complete with a Lil’ Darlin’ kind of feel; “Walkin’ Bass,” a vocal feature for John, one that delighted Otter Crest audiences every time we heard it; the show tune, “Where Is Love,” puts John’s peerless arco bass and Jeff’s tender alto in the spotlight. Completing the trio are Gerald Clayton, piano, and Obed Calvaire, drums. The Clayton Brothers are gifted, dedicated jazz musicians. They also happen to be two of the kindest and most caring people I know. You ought to make their acquaintance.
ArtistShare, 2008, 55:53.

Coming Of Age,  Zen Zadravec, piano.
When no less of a giant than Kenny Barron refers to Zen Zadravec’s playing as “muscular and filled with a sense of adventure,” we had better sit up and take notice. Zadrevec oozes confidence and authority on a program of hard swinging originals and a couple of standards. The one horn in his basic quartet, the alto and soprano of Todd Bashore, is played with equal enthusiasm. But Zadreved chooses to include several guests. Among those making impressive contributions were Derrick Gardner on trumpet and Conrad Herwig on trombone. There’s a little of everything here: variety of tempo, mood, emotion, thoughtful and intelligent arranging, and solo skills to please the veteran jazz listener. This is an exciting debut recording and should serve notice that good things are on the horizon for Zen Zadravec.
Self-produced, 2007, 73:00.

Everything In Time, Carol Fredette, vocals.
I remember being impressed with a previous disc by Carol Fredette on which she dealt with a lot of Dave Frishberg tunes. On this recording, she divides her attention between tunes ranging from Ivan Lines to Harry Warren to Jerome Kern. Surrounded by various players in both the New York bop tradition and the Brazilian arena, Fredette never forces the issue, allowing these great songs to practically sing themselves. A sampling of titles among fifteen overall, includes “I Wish I Knew,” “Dream Dancing,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Only Trust Your Heart,” and “O Pato.” A couple faves: “Without Rhyme Or Reason,” a lesser known creation of Bob Dorough and Fran Landesman; “I Was Born In Love With You,” a stunner from Michel Legrand and the Bergmanns which deserves more attention that it’s received; and “Would You Believe,” an emotive opus from Cy Coleman. Of Ms. Fredette, the late Stan Getz said,” she’s as good as they come,” and who am I to argue with Stan Getz?
Soundbrus, 2008, 57:45.

Live At The Jazz Showcase, Bob Lark, flugelhorn, Phil Woods, alto sax.
Over the years, Chicago’s Jazz Showcase has hosted dozens of great jazz musicians, so it’s no surprise that Bob Lark and Phil Woods would blow some serious bop and ballads from this venue. Joined by longtime Woods associates Jim McNeely, piano Steve Gilmore, bass and Bill Goodwin, drums, the crew gets thing underway with the Lark original, “Ravenswood.” It’s seemingly casual, medium tempo puts Woods in the spotlight. “Mad Dan’s” highlights the soloist on a Latin outing, and “Cathy’s Song,” a ballad, features Woods’ alto in high lyrical gear. Four standards follow. The quintet gets to the heart of Miles’ “All Blues,” and Lark’s flugelhorn solo floats along in a manner similar to Miles himself. A no holds barred “It’s You Or No One” is meat and potatos for Woods, who attacks like a running back with an alto in his hands. Two Cole Porter evergreens bring the set to a close. “Everytime We Say Goodbye” is pure Lark and McNeely, and “What Is This Thing Called Love” finds the same two breathlessly trading fours. This is what I call “the real deal.”  No pretense, no odd combinations, nothing terribly outside or experimental. And maybe that’s why it’s so good.
Jazzed Media, 2008, 70:30.

High Noon: The Jazz Soul of Frankie Laine, Gary Smulyan, baritone sax.
I know there are those of you who remember the singer Frankie Laine. Although hits like “Mule Train” and “Jezebel” had little jazz content, Laine was jazz hip, and also a very adept composer. It is in the latter arena that Gary Smulyan has mainly celebrated his music. In doing so, he gathered some of Gotham’s busiest cats: Joe Magnarelli, trumpet, John Fedchock, trombone, Dick Oatts, alto sax, and Pete Malinverni, piano. Smulyan also struck a chord of genius in hiring Mark Masters to arrange. Masters, with several celebrated albums under his own name, is one of the best at arranging for ensembles of this size (nine pieces). All shine on non-Laine fare like the title tune, “High Noon.” All the remaining selections were either Laine’s compositions or collaborations. It’s a nice tribute to an artist who has faded from memory somewhat. It makes me think Gary Smulyan is always thinking about worthy thematic material. And in this case, he’s hit the jackpot with great colleagues and fresh, invigorating arranging.
Reservoir, 2008, 70:51.

Lightsey To Gladden, Kirk Lightsey, piano.
This 1991 recording, released for the first time, serves to honor the work of drummer Eddie Gladden, who passed away in 2003. Kirk Lightsey is a riveting piano giant. Though he’s never attained star status, there’s no question he’s earned it. On this overdue outing, he joins forces with Marcus Belgrave, trumpet and flugelhorn, Craig Handy, tenor sax and flute, David Williams, bass, and Gladden on drums. A burly blues, “Donkey Dust” gets the session started. An up-tempo romp, “Number Nine,” gives Lightsey an airy flight of a solo, and “Everyday Politics” features Craig Handy’s skillful flute. Other standouts include Wayne Shorter’s plucky, “Pinocchio”; a very artful trumpet feature for Belgragve called “Moon”; and the one standard, a duo of Lightsey and Handy on a beautifully crafted “Midnight Sun.” Both the ensemble passages and the solos suggest that the cats heard here were ready to step up. Their musicianship runs deep.
Criss Cross, 2008, 66:40.

Live At Care Loup, Bob Kindred, tenor saxophone.
Being that Bob Kindred is likely a New Yorker through and through, those of us in the West may be less familiar with him than those in the Apple. I’ve tried to compare his fluid, in-the-tradition tenor, to tenor giants of yesteryear. And I’ve come to the conclusion that he sounds like Bob Kindred!  And that’s a mighty fine sound. On this date, he leads a piano-less trio featuring John Hart on guitar and Steve LsSpina on bass, augmented by some guests. And you know you’re in New York when the guests are Wycliffe Gordon, Warren Vache and Tim Horner! Kindred chooses standards like “Alone Together,” “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans,” “Tenderly,” “Dream Dancing,” “In A Mellow Tone,” “Skylark,” “Sweet And Lovely” and “Memories Of You.” All told, Kindred gets a full and captivating sound from his Selmer. Somehow I missed this CD when it came out in 2006. I hope you find it much sooner!
Conawago Records, 2006, 62:14.

Live At The 1971 Monterey Jazz Festival, Sarah Vaughan, vocals.
This previously un-issued material by Sarah Vaughan is certain to get immediate attention. The 1971 Monterey Jazz Festival audience was treated to an obviously inspired Ms. Vaughan. She sings up a storm, but also jokes (she introduces pianist Bill Mays as “Willie Mays!”). But Sarah’s all business on “I Remember You,” “The Lamp Is Low,” and one of her signature tunes, “Tenderly.” A mild surprise was perhaps the best rendition one could ever hear of “And I Love Him.” Sarah displays her peerless scat chops on a blues titled “Scattin’ The Blues.” If that’s not enough, she introduces Clark Terry, Roy Eldridge, Zoot Sims, Lockjaw Davis, Benny Carter, Bill Harris, John Lewis,  Mundell Lowe and Louie Bellson for a rippin’ jam session. One of the cats asks “what key?”  And Sarah answers, “I don’t know -- any key!!!” And then she hits it out of the park!
Monterey Jazz Festival Records, 2008, 44:14.
For The Last Time, Ruby Braff, cornet and Scott Hamilton, tenor sax.
On what was truly his final performance, Ruby Braff was still in complete control of his beloved cornet. The audience that evening in Nairn, Scotland, was zeroed in on the ten tunes delivered by Braff and Hamilton, along with Jon Wheatley, guitar, John Bunch, piano, Dave Green, bass, and Steve Brown, drums. This two CD, specially priced set gives them plenty of time to stretch out. Seven of the ten tunes exceed ten minutes in length, and all comers make the most of the opportunity. Braff’s silvery sound just slides out of his horn, and Hamilton is a tailor-made partner. The tunes, virtually all older classics, include “Sometimes I’m Happy,” “Rockin’ Chair,” “I Want A Little Girl,” and “The Man I Love,” among others. Much of Braff’s “rap” with the audience is absolutely charming. The essence of this music may be found in “Why Shouldn’t I?” a relaxed conversation between two great players who inspired each other.
Arbors, 2008, 2 Cds, over two hours.

Crossroads, Peter Sommer, tenor saxophone.
The state of Colorado apologizes to no one when it comes to jazz talent. Peter Sommer, a resident of Fort Collins, issued an invitation to steadily rising New York tenor man Rich Perry to join him in a two-tenor quintet. The result is an invigorating post bop meeting of two titans. The quintet is completed by three additional Colorado jazz vets; Eric Gunnison, piano; Ken Walker, bass and Todd Reid, drums. I like the fact that Sommer chooses tunes from great jazz contributors like Kenny Dorham, Bud Powell, Wayne Shorter and Thelonious Monk. But the interesting catch is that the quintet takes on neglected titles like “Escapade,” “The Fruit,” and “Think Of One.” Sommer also offers two originals, and the CD is completed with an intricate voice chasing voice intro on a swinging “Alone Together.” The two tenor concept, of course, has always worked well in jazz. This is no exception.
Capri, 2008,  64:20.                               


That Being Said, DePaul University Jazz Ensemble.
While many jazz pundits continue to warn us of the steady decline of the art, college music departments continue to turn out dedicated and often hugely talented jazz musicians. Take DePaul University’s swinging aggregation, for example. The band is led by trumpeter Bob Lark, and, on this recording, features several guest shots from superb pianist Jim McNeely. The college kids nail this date with tunes ranging from Monk’s “’Round Midnight” to Sweets Edison’s “Centerpiece” to scintillating originals from McNeeley and the DePaul students. Hail the next generation. We need ‘em!
Jazzed Media, 2008, 72:08.

Of Two Minds, Leslie Lewis, vocals.
The first thing one notices is that Lewis is a jazz singer. She has that tough to define “something” which separates the jazz and pop worlds; phrasing, expressing real emotion in a lyric; knowing how much liberty to take -- these, I guess,  are some of the qualities I look for. And Leslie Lewis gets it. On tunes ranging from “In Walked Bud” to “Honeysuckle Rose”; from “Well, You Needn’t” to “Hello Young Lovers” and several more, you’ll like the husky voiced, Ms. Lewis. Slightly reminiscent of Carmen McRae to these ears. Add formidable LA talent like Gerard Hagen, piano, Ron Stout, trumpet, and the brilliant Gary Foster on alto sax and flute, and you’re rewarded with sterling results.
Surf Cove Jazz, 2008, 41:29.

Pathways, Luis Perdomo, piano.
Let the doomsayers rattle on. The jazz art continues to inspire young players throughout the world, such as Luis Perdomo, born and raised in Venezuela, and now another daunting jazz pianist working out of New York. Perdomo’s studies in classical music add exquisite color to his original music, much of which is included on his first release for Criss Cross Jazz. There is also a sense of clarity and confidence in his work. In addition to his striking original compositions and those of others, Perdomo gives us three standards. Here’s a distinctive new voice. You’re going to be hearing more from Luis Perdomo.
Criss Cross Jazz, 2008, 61:06.

Samba To Go, Hendrik Meurkens, harmonica.
Armed with some superb Brazilian colleagues, Hendrik Meurkens presents some high energy, joyful composition and performance. Most of the songs are his own creations, and they are indeed upbeat, “happy” refrains. As the heir apparent to harmonica master, Toots Thielemans, Meurkens also shines on one of A.C. Jobim’s tunes. For the only standard, Meurkens and friends provide a lovely and tender “My Foolish Heart.”
Zoho, 2008, 52:56.

Finally Ron, Ron Hockett, clarinet and soprano sax.
For nearly 30 years, Ron Hockett has been content to be one of those “treasured locals.”  For him, the setting was Washington, D.C. It’s taken awhile, to be sure, but this is his first shot as a leader. And he makes the most of it. With a very sympathetic group, Hockett offers up simply gorgeous clarinet work on such tunes as “Too Close For Comfort,” “My Ideal,” “Memories Of You,” “Reverie,” “If Dreams Come True,” “Undecided,” “Gone With The Wind” and many more. The standout for me was a dreamy interpretation of Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages.” Hockett is a clarinetist par excellence, and let’s hope Arbors gives him more work!
Arbors, 2008, 73:15.

Say You’ll Understand, The Klez Dispensers.
It’s not trad, swing or bop ... but if you can broaden your horizons a bit, this music just may delight you. The vocal selections are sung in Yiddish, the language of my ancestors, but alas, hardly a word can I understand. What I can derive is both the joy and, in some cases, the sadness of these tunes. The players and arrangements are first rate, and if you’ve never given Klezmer a try, this one beckons. For more info, try www.theklezdespensers.com
Self-produced, 2008, 61:04.

Where Or When, Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra.
There’s obviously loads of musical acumen in this Indiana-based big band, but this album could almost have been issued under the name “Everett Greene.” His deep baritone reminds one a bit of singers like Arthur Prysock, Earl Coleman or even Billy Eckstein. Anyway, Greene gets the spotlight on eight of the thirteen tunes and handles the assignment with class. Oddly perhaps, my favorite tune was the instrumental arrangement of Benny Carter’s “Wonderland,” just one example of Benny’s peerless, lyrical excellence.
Owl Studios, 2008, 50:46.

Hemispheres, Jim Hall and Bill Frisell.
This two CD set finds Hall and Frisell as a duo on one disc and in a quartet setting on the other one. I think that in the last decade or two, Jim Hall has moved from the swinging, lyrical sound of jazz to the concept of what sort of sounds he can derive from the guitar. I, for one, don’t find much to love in spacy music with no identifiable melody line. So much for CD #1. The second CD is a mixed bag made more palatable by a stunning Chelsea Bridge; a tip of the rhythm guitar hat on “Owed To Freddie Green,” and a nice workout on Sonny Rollins’ “Sonnymoon For Two.” Definitely a mixed bag for me, but the CD will probably sell 11 zillion copies.
Artist Share, 2008.

Reviews by Kyle O'Brien

Punkassjewjazz, Pitom.
Traditional Hebrew music has been infusing its way into the jazz world for the past decade. Klezmer and other folk styles from the Middle East have brought new sounds and modalities, evolving the traditional forms of the genre. Pitom takes the fusion to a new, harder-edged level. Releasing their debut on John Zorn’s Tzadik Records, the coarsely titled disc is a radical blending of musical cultures, which they refer to as a Jewish jazz-punk-country-metal hybrid. It’s in-your-face instrumental music, with guitarist Yoshie Fruchter leading the charge with fuzzy distortions. With influences as wide as Zorn, Frank Zappa, Coltrane and traditional Jewish folk, this band rocks more than it jazzes it up, and those who are averse to edgy rock guitar will want to stay away. But for those with an adventurous palate, Pitom (“suddenly” in Hebrew) is a fiery group, able to sound like Jimi Hendrix one minute (“The Robe of Priestly Proportions”) and avant-garde folksters the next (“Freigel Rock”). The band, which also includes violinist Jeremy Brown, drummer Kevin Zubek, and bassist Shanir Blumenkrantz, is already lighting up the New York scene. Outside of the Big Apple, their eclecticism might be a bit much, but it’s a welcome burst of energy and edge.
2008, Tzadik Records, 57:50.

Infinity, Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet.
Wallace has been a prolific artist lately. This refined Latin jazz disc comes closely after the release of his recent CD, “The Nature of the Beat.” The trombonist, arranger and composer has crafted an album of original tunes and smart covers, with a core quintet and a handful of guest artists. Musically speaking, the band is tight and Wallace has a smooth tone on his crafted solos. The disc doesn’t break any new ground, and with the amount of Latin jazz flooding the market lately, this doesn’t stand out from the pack. Still, it’s smart, well-produced and has a fine sense of melody, especially on the beautiful “Memories of You,” a Eubie Blake tune redone as a loping Bolero, and Gershwin’s “Love Walked In,” sung lovingly by Jackie Ryan. Wallace has captured the Latin jazz feel well, but it could use just a bit more sizzle.
2008, Patois Records, 57:30.
Lifeline, Deborah Latz.
Vocalist Latz opens up this disc with “Les Feuilles Mortes,” essentially a French version of “Autumn Leaves,” and the mood created by her passionate vocals and the light Latin beat are as fragile and lovely as the title suggests. Latz pulls off the French delivery with exquisite pronunciation and a tender affectation. In liner notes, she says this disc was a tribute to her mother, who succumbed to breast cancer in 1975, but she didn’t realize it until after it was recorded. The emotional, lyrical nature of her song style draws the listener into her world, and it’s a lovely place. On ballads she is superb, managing to be emotive without veering into sappy, as on the nearly heartbreaking, “I Get Along Without You Very Well.” And she knows how to lay back on swing, as she displays on her elongated melody on “Witchcraft.” Her easy style, as on “Jump In,” is endearing, and her tonality is spot on. Joel Frahm accents the core quartet with complementary sax solos, but Latz’s poignant vocals pull everything together. She draws out the melodies, making each note count, and may be one of the finest balladeers in some time.
2008, June Moon Productions, 60 minutes.

Deux, Billet-Deux.
Django jazz with cello might be the simplest way to describe Billet-Deux. Cellist James Hinkley adds depth to the two guitar, Parisian jazz concept with his swinging bowing. And cello seems to bop just as easily as violin would in this setting, as Hinkley proves on Gillespie’s “Be-Bop,” where he holds his own with the fleet fingers of guitarists Josephina Hunner and Troy Chapman. The thing that makes Billet-Deux stand out from the usual Django-style groups is their adaptation of more modern jazz composers, like Sonny Rollins (“Pent-Up House”) and Charles Mingus (“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”). Their tunes fit into the jump swing mold, and when the group tackles more modern styles, like Latin jazz on Chapman’s “Sarita,” the switch from swing to Latin chamber jazz is seamless. The sole Django tune, “Anouman,” is a ballad, handled gorgeously by both cello and guitar with melodicism and fine use of harmonics. The group even tackles contemporary Latin jazz (“Ordinary Girl”) with aplomb. Billet-Deux is thankfully not your father’s Django cover band.
2008, Billet-Deux, 54 minutes.

Second Season: Progressive and Classic Rock as Jazz, Wave Mechanics Union.
When I first saw the tunes included here, I was reluctant to listen. Groups that try to repurpose classic rock tunes into jazz often have trouble bringing new life to those timeless melodies. But the large group, led by the core trio of vocalist Lydia McAdams, trombonist/composer Ryan Fraley, and drummer/composer Ralph Johnson, intrigued me enough to plug it in. When the iconic organ line from the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” was redone by chirping flutes, the disc automatically went into the ‘doesn’t work’ category. Digging deeper didn’t find much improvement. “Killer Queen,” brought nothing new to the table, and I’d rather hear Freddy Mercury sing it than McAdams, as nice a voice as she has. Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky,” is done as a simple swing tune, and the Police’s “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da,” is basically muzak in 7/4. “Eleanor Rigby” sounds like a pops orchestra arrangement, and King Crimson’s “Elephant Talk” is a schtick-y swing travesty, sucking away any intensity that the original had. This ambitious project unfortunately falls flat.
2008, HX Music, 55:10.

Modes of Limited Transcendence, Gene Ess.
Guitarist Ess was raised on an Air Force base in Okinawa and had many influences growing up, from classical piano to indigenous Okinawan music to jazz. He honed his craft at George Mason University and Berklee, where he was steeped in hard and post bop. He was no doubt influenced by jazz guitarists who preceded him, like Abercrombie, Scofield, Stern and Pat Martino. In a quartet setting, with Tyshawn Sorey on drums, Tigran Hamasyan on piano, and Harvie S on bass, Ess is free to play his own compositions, which range from the eclectic bop of “Ryo’s First Flight,” to the contemporary jazz waltz, “Discovery in Three,” and the introverted trance of “Gagaku Dreams.” There’s an undertone of eastern spirituality here, and the tunes are both accessible and slightly lofty. Ess’s soloing follows chromatics and cascading lines, but his compositions reach both backwards and forwards into jazz’s past and future to make for a musical vision that seems to be searching for something more.
2008, Simp Records, 65 minutes.

Crossroads, Peter Sommer.
Colorado saxophonist Sommer teams with fellow tenor man Rich Perry on this double sax attack. It allows for harmonies on the melody lines, as on the hard-bop version of Kenny Dorham’s “Escapade.” It also lets two distinct voices solo; Sommer with his forward attack, and Perry with his developing, breathier expressiveness. The tunes aren’t plucked from the usual canon. Instead, we hear Wayne Shorter’s “Dance Cadaverous,” and Monk’s “Think of One.” But nothing really strays too far from the norm otherwise. Standard swing beats and soloing forms abide by the rules. Only Sommer’s own “Shoshin” breaks free, with a searching, meandering melody that softens the approach. One wishes he would have written more here to bring out some differentiation. Still, the playing is solid, especially from drummer Todd Reid, and it gives a voice to Rocky Mountain jazz.
2008, Capri Records, 60 minutes.

Brother to Brother, Clayton Brothers.
There are plenty of great brother acts in jazz: Nat and Cannonball Adderley, the Heath Brothers, the Dorseys, the Joneses, and of course, the Clayton Brothers. Here, alto man Jeff and bass brother John pay tribute to those great brother acts, starting with Jeff’s “Wild Man,” a nod to the Joneses, specifically Elvin, which gives drummer Obed Calvaire a workout on the modal bop tune. Jeff and Terell Stafford make like Nat and Cannonball on John’s “Still More Work,” a call-and-response swinger that spews energy and gravity. The Adderleys are well represented here, with at least three tunes in their honor, including the grooving “Jive Samba,” which lets John’s son, Gerald, crank the chords on piano while dad and uncle Jeff lay down a solid foundation. The brothers even pay tribute to ... themselves on the whimsical, “Walking Bass,” which lets John goof on the prowess of the upright bass. It’s not an exhaustive exercise in brotherly tributes, but in the Claytons’ hands it’s a fun ride.
2008, artistShare, 60 minutes.

Hemispheres, Jim Hall and Bill Frisell.
From the liner notes, it sounds like the recording of this double disc, at least the “Duo” part, done at producer Tony Scheer’s house, was a fun session. The freedom of a house setting allowed the two to be unconstrained, which brought out different sides of the guitarists. They do both straight tunes and then free versions and improvisations. The result is a collaboration of respect and friendship. At times, as on the urban meditation of Hall’s “All Across the City,” Hall leads the way with his fluid touch. When Frisell takes the lead, as on “Monica Jane,” it’s still clearly collaborative, with Hall floating around Frisell’s sometimes staccato lines. When it’s a dual improvisation, Frisell and Hall play off each other with interesting and exciting results, as on “Beijing Blues,” where you can hear the impromptu nature and energy emanating from the room, each player searching, and finding, their paths. The transcendental “Migration” is a fascinating exploration of texture and tone. In the “Quartet” setting, the feeling is slightly more rigid, but still satisfying. Hall and Frisell go back and forth with melody, comping and soloing. Backed subtly by Joey Barron and Scott Colley, Hall and Frisell are free to roam about the fretboards and continue growing as a duo. It’s on the group improvisations, like the freewheeling “Barbaro,” that we catch them at their most interesting. Hall goes Frisell modern, not letting the non-swing setting get in the way of the experimental nature. In terms of compositional representation, Hall leads the way, and his more reserved style takes prominence, but Frisell clearly has his influence, taking the swing norm and going angular with the chords. It’s a great meshing of styles from two truly great guitarists.
2008, ArtistShare, 1:55:30.

Backward Compatible, Steve Shapiro and Pat Bergeson, featuring Annie Sellick.
There are plenty of jazz artists on this disc, but this is far from a true jazz recording. More of a pop-folk-jazz hybrid, buoyed by Sellick’s easygoing, dusky vocals, it begins with orchestrated folk rock, “Free Man in Paris,” a propulsive Joni Mitchell tune. Then it goes cabaret with a slinky version of Cole Porter’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” with Shapiro’s vibes and Bergeson’s guitar bringing out the jazz. Marc Johnson holds down the low end solidly, while guest saxophonist Scott Kreitzer and accordion player Will Barrow bring soloing prowess and texture to the mix. The Bergeson and Shapiro tunes bring out more jazz than some of the covers, as on the instrumental bopper, “I’ll Take the Soup.” But Selleck is clearly more suited to jazz-inflected pop tunes, a la Norah Jones, and her vocals, as on Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” backed by vocalists Janice Pendarvis and Vaneese Thomas, make this a clear crossover disc. Perhaps this is Shapiro and Bergeson’s attempt to reach a wider audience, but it also puts doubt as to what kind of musicians they want to be, and it gives question to the disc’s intentions. It might work better as a double-personality double disc, with the pop influence on one and the jazz influence on the other.
2008, Apria, 56:45.

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