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

Reviews by George Fendel

The Scene, Jimmy Rushing, vocals.
This late ‘60s gem easily wins the surprise of the month award as the great blues belter Jimmy Rushing breaks it up with an all star group featuring Zoot Sims, Al Cohn and Dave Frishberg. It’s a typical set by Mr. Five By Five and Friends, with Jimmy in cruise control on tunes he could do in his sleep. Among them are “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You,” “I Want AaLittle Girl,” “Goin’ to Chicago,” “I Cried For You,” “Everyday I Have the Blues” and several more. The obvious rapport between Jimmy and his colleagues is heard here in little asides, hurrahs and encouragements that spice up a live date. There are a couple of instrumentals. The sound quality is not pristine, but it’s certainly at a standard that makes it eminently listenable. Portland’s Dave Frishberg must take a lot of pride in having worked with giants like Zoot, Al and Jimmy. Rushing’s devotees are going to celebrate this previously unreleased document of his greatness.
High Note; 2009, 52:41.

Maynard Ferguson Octet, Maynard Ferguson, trumpet, bass trumpet, valve trombone.
Long before Maynard Ferguson began to unleash Cat Anderson-like high note bombs on us, he took this excellent West Coast aggregation into the studio for a nice blowing session. The album could have easily been named “Maynard Plays Bill Holman,” or some such, because seven of the eight tunes are Holman creations. That alone adds interest to the music here. The one exception is the old warhorse, “Autumn Leaves.” Holman tunes now and then travel to new places on the map, but they always come home with flair. And one look at the top players Maynard hired is really all you need to know. How about Conte Candoli, Milt Bernhart, Herb Geller, Georgie Auld, Bob Gordon, Red Callender, Shelly Manne, and the only unknown on the date, pianist Ian Bernhard. The session dates to 1955, undoubtedly one of Ferguson’s first efforts in his name. This was the LA thing back then, and it holds up so very well all these years later.
Verve, 2008, 38:40.

Diggin’ Up Bones, Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar, with the West Texas Tumbleweeds.
According to Rebecca Kilgore, guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli has always wanted to do a country swing recording. And apparently it took Matt and Rachel Domber, owners of Arbors Records, no time at all to say, why not? So here it is, and to my surprise, Bucky is heard here only on acoustic rhythm guitar. He’s joined by a host of string players, including electric guitar, pedal steel, violin, mandolin and bass. Several of those dudes chime in with vocals, but the best of them, six in all, are from Portland’s own Rebecca ‘Becky Lou’ Kilgore. Fortunately, the players don’t take themselves too seriously, and everybody seems to be getting quite a kick out of this Arbors departure! It ain’t bebop, but it sure swings!
Arbors, 2009, 61:16.

Legendary, Bob Florence Limited Edition.
Talk about a kid in a candy store, Bob Florence had the creme de la creme of Los Angeles musicians to choose from for his big band, the Limited Edition. Every CD they put out was an event of sorts, and this one, sadly his last, is no exception. Just think of it ... you have privilege of assembling players like Carl Saunders, Kim Richmond, Bob Efford, Scott Whitfield, Ron Stout and Alan Broadbent, to name a few. You put some challenging, fresh, startling new charts in front of these guys, and you’re in big band heaven. Florence’s own writing and arranging always allowed generous room for improvisation in a peerless big band setting; as always, there’s plenty here. In addition to his bristling original compositions, we are treated to the likes of “A Train,” “I’m All Smiles,” “The Theme From MASH,” “You Must Believe in Spring” and a poignant “ Auld Lang Syne.” Greatly admired by both musicians and fans, the name Bob Florence will long be an honored one in Southland jazz.
MAMA Records, 2009, 63:29.

Fascinating Rhythms, Bud Shank, alto sax.
I clearly remember an interview about twenty years ago in which Bud Shank told me that if he could only work with one pianist from that time forward, it would be Bill Mays. So it is fitting that on his final recorded musical statement, Bud works his magic with Mays, Bob Magnuson, bass and Joe LaBarbera on drums. Recorded live at The Jazz Bakery in LA, Bud plays an array of Songbook America and a couple jazz evergreens. Interesting to note that “Over the Rainbow” has long been the property of another revered alto player, Art Pepper. Both invest great passion in the tune, but from quite different perspectives. The other hit tunes are “Night and Day,” “Fascinating Rhythm” and “Lover Man,” tailor made fare for Shank. From the jazz composers, Bud chooses Thelonious Monk’s “In Walked Bud” and Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca.” The set is completed with two tunes possessing more than a touch of Latin finery. “Chicane” is a Shank original and a medley of “Lotus Bud” and “No More Blues” is equally impressive. The sound of the Shank alto evolved over the years to a height of fire and passion. He was a thoroughly dedicated, 100% jazz guy who never gave less than his best. Indeed, ‘Fascinating Rhythms’ were the ones Bud Shank gave us for more than a half century.
Jazzed Media, 2009, 78:35.

Standards, Alan Pasqua, piano.
Okay, I know this album dates to 2007, but it just recently entered my consciousness. With apologies for this late review, it’s a lovely album and you should be aware of it. Pasqua is a pianist gaining the jazz public’s awareness over the last few years. He seems to be a product of the Bill Evans school, and that’s not a bad place to come from. His colleagues on this delicious set are Dave Carpenter, bass, and Peter Erskine, drums, and as the title informs us, it’s an entire program of dyed in the wool standards. These are tunes that have deservedly lived a long life and most certainly will continue as examples of great songwriting. Pasqua has a beautiful, serene touch, and economy and elegance are his friends. The ten tunes heard here include “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Deep in a Dream,” “It Never Entered My Mind,” “I’m Glad There Is You,” “I’m Old Fashioned” and “I Could Have Danced All Night.” If, like me, you find solace and richness in the piano trio genre, this will be a great find. For information, fuzzymusic.com
Fuzzy Music, 2007, 66;39.

Nostalgia, Andrew Scott, guitar.
The title of this CD does not refer to a trip back in time. Hardly. Instead, our “Nostalgia” is the name Fats Navarro gave to his bop changes on the chords to “Out of Nowhere.” So this is nostalgia in name only because this music is pure, joyous timeless fun. Once again, Scott scores a fine effort for Sackville Records with music that has a pulse. Scott’s quartet brings in a couple of guests in Jon Erik Kelso, trumpet, and Dan Block, tenor clarinet. They lead off with a totally relaxed groove on Ben Webster’s “Did You Call Her Today,” a reworking of “Rose Room” and “In a Mellow Tone.” As a matter of fact, all of the sextet’s choices are restructured gems. To name a few, there’s “On a Misty Night” (“September in the Rain”); “Hot House” (“What Is this Thing Called Love”); “Quasimodo” (“Embraceable You”) and lots more. Let me simply say that we need more recordings like this, because what Scott and company gives us is the real deal. Like the orange juice in that commercial, this music is “un-fooled around with.” I wish there were more guys doing it just this way.
Sackville, recorded in 2008, 55:37.


John Pondel, John Pondel, guitar.
Here’s a guitarist who brings subtlety, originality and musicality to his original compositions. His style is understated, silvery precision, and his writing might be described as creative but never edgy. He joins forces here with Scott Colley, bass, Marvaldo Dos Santos, percussion, and David Binney, alto sax and flute, and the result makes you sit up and take notice. Incidentally, the one standard is Horace Silver’s “The Jody Grind,” a most pleasant surprise in this setting. Impressive stuff all around.
Self-produced, 2009, 40:43.

Home Row, Bill Carrothers, piano.
I first encountered the music of Bill Carrothers a couple years ago via an impressive two CD set which dealt with musical portraits of American history. This time around, his trio (Gary Peacock, bass, and Bill Stewart, drums) presents some similarly well-written originals and a few standards, including “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” Monk’s “Off Minor,” “Lost in the Stars” and Ornette Coleman’s “When Will the Blues Leave.” Carrothers is a riveting, probing artist, with a lot to say.
Pirouet; 2008, 58:14.

The Heart And Soul of Mel Carter, Mel Carter, vocals.
Mel Cater’s CD is, in part, a revisit to some old doo-wop and r&b golden oldies. Carter gives it a genuine, bluesy, r & b focus on such tunes as Heart And Soul, It May Sound Silly, Tomorrow Night, I Worry About You, Where Or When, The Glory of Love and such. To consider Carter a jazz singer would be a stretch. But one can’t deny that he brings vitality and energy to his craft. If this is your thing, I think you’re gonna dig him!
CSP Records; 2008; 44:58

Reviews by Kyle O'Brien

Until It’s Time, Jack Wilkins.
Guitarist Wilkins begins his disc with an unfortunate opener, a Brazilian-style cover of “Arthur’s Theme,” which makes him sound like a smooth jazzer. It’s not until the fast jazz waltz of “Show Me” that we realize that Wilkins is more than just elevator jazz. His hollow-body guitar tone is indeed smooth, but his licks are inspired. Wilkins, though, seems to like both sides of the jazz world, since he returns to a pop-ier sense on James Taylor’s easygoing “Blossom.” Nowadays, when going the smoother route, an artist needs to establish chops up front for true jazz fans; otherwise, the results can be dismissed. Luckily, Wilkins can swing, as he shows on a grooving version of “Walk Don’t Run,” and “Airegin.” He definitely has quirky and varied tastes, toying with classical on “Fur Elise,” and Latin on a searing version of “Tico Tico.” It all seems to work somehow, though tenuously at times.
2009, MaxJazz, 69:34.

Music Update, Jason Marsalis.
Most may know the youngest Marsalis brother as a superb drummer, but here he hands over the sticks to David Potter and picks up the vibe mallets to show off his melodic and compositional skills. He still plays the kit on a few tracks, but this is mostly about Marsalis’s music. Along with Austin Johnson on piano and Will Goble on bass, this quartet toys with New Orleans rhythms, new modern fusion (“Offbeat Personality”), and terpsichorean-inspired march (“Ballet Class”). Marsalis proves himself to be a superb vibraphonist. He doesn’t have the flash of a Stefon Harris, nor the subtlety of a Bobby Hutcherson, but he is finding a voice. He gives plenty of soloing time to his pianist, and the two chorded instruments manage to work together nicely, neither getting in the other’s way. When Marsalis takes a percussive approach, as on the rhythm-only “Discipline Returns Once Again,” it seems to be more interlude meant to show that he’s still a drummer at heart. It’s the compositions for vibes that work best -- chordally-rich tunes like “Characters” and his cover of “Midnight Sun” -- that establish him as a player in the modern jazz world. It will be fun to see Marsalis’s growth as a solo artist, composer and arranger in the coming years.
2008, ELM Records, 54:20.

Homecoming, Eddie Harris & Ellis Marsalis.
ELM Classics has just re-released this 1985 album, a duo of Harris and the Marsalis patriarch. While this album seems to have passed me by the first time around, it’s a wonderful disc that sounds like it hasn’t aged a bit. This could be a new disc and be just as vital on the jazz scene. Harris and Marsalis create a musical intimacy, Harris with melodic, nimble playing and Marsalis with full sound and rich chordal structure. While most of the tunes are easy to hear, the duo takes it outside on the improvisational “Ethereal Moments 1 & 2,” showing that these veterans like to experiment. Plus, there’s enough reverb on the instruments to shake a house, making the ethereal effect even greater. We hear percussion on sax keys on the Latin-lite “Out of This World,” and Marsalis shows off his stride on the jaunty “Have You Met Miss Jones.” While the original album only went seven tracks, this reissue, produced by Jason Marsalis, adds five extra tracks, including new duets with Marsalis and rising New Orleans pianist Jonathan Baptiste, plus a quartet track adding Jason Marsalis and bassist Jason Stewart, an old-style blues with Batiste on the plaintive melodica. The duets between Harris and Marsalis are the meat of the disc, but the added tracks make this a must-have.
2009, ELM Records, 65 minutes.

Baker’s Dozen (Remembering Chet Baker), John Proulx.
When pianist and vocalist Proulx released his debut on MaxJazz in 2006, he was lauded as the next Chet Baker. While he doesn’t play the trumpet, Proulx’s high tenor was a spitting aural image of Baker’s smooth delivery. Now he has taken the comparison to the next level with a tribute to the late artist. It starts, predictably and fittingly, with one of Baker’s signature tunes, “Let’s Get Lost,” and his vocals are Baker-esque - soft, warm and inviting. Dominick Farinacci does a fabulous job on flugelhorn, playing with restraint and clarity. Proulx has the advantage over Baker in that he can play and sing at the same time, setting his vocals up with new arrangements and chords that highlight his laid back phrasing. Chuck Berghofer and Joe LaBarbera set the grooves and let Proulx’s vocals - including a fine job scatting on several tracks, including trading licks with Farinacci on an upbeat bopping version of “But Not for Me.” The arrangements and musicianship are different enough to have this not be a note-for-note tribute, and Proulx even adds one of his own tunes, “Before You Know It,” to state that this is his album and that, while he has many similarities to Baker, he is his own musician. We anxiously await Proulx’s next outing.
2009, MaxJazz, 61:10.

Urban Myths, Joel Harrison.
Guitarist Harrison made an impressive debut several years back with “Free Country,” sounding like an updated version of Pat Metheny with a pop-folk twist. On this disc he goes more electric, revisiting the sounds of the hard fusion ‘70s, updated with original compositions. The opener, “You Must Go Through a Winter,” fuses Miles Davis with Ornette Coleman, John McLaughlin and Frank Zappa for a searin,g psycho-fusion tune, with Christian Howes doing his best Jean Luc Ponty on violin and David Binney tearing up the alto sax. Harrison is a superb guitarist but an even better composer/arranger. The diversity of his tunes and his attention to detail make him a singular talent. The album shows the harder side of fusion, with interesting time feels -- the 5/4 float of “Mood Rodeo” being the most intriguing -- and tones that recall Scofield and Stern in their earlier days. The only recognizable melody is the flurry of notes of Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser.” Harrison has altered the tune to fit an obtuse aesthetic, with a heavy funk beat and frenetic feel. Harrison’s compositions may recall a past time in jazz, but the feel is so updated that it becomes merely a nod to the ‘70s rather than a trip back in time.
2009, Highnote Records, 55:30.

Declaration, Donny McCaslin.
McCaslin has established himself as the powerhouse tenor man today, taking the reins from the late Michael Brecker. Here he brings in a larger ensemble than his last trio outing. Upping his group to a sextet and adding a quintet of brass guest artists lets McCaslin experiment with more textures and colors. His playing is just as strong, and the expanded lineup allows him to improvise to an even greater extent. The brass pads out the chords but also takes a secondary role as harmonic and melodic interlude players. McCaslin is still the dominant tone here. His muscular sound flies over the top of the brawny-yet-pretty “Declaration” and punches out the angular melody on the beefy “Rock Me.” There are moments of beauty here, as on the tender “Jeanina” and the melancholy “Late Night Gospel,” but McCaslin isn’t known for his ballads. He’s a bold player with an even bolder sound. Here we get some diversity, thanks to the brass and bigger group, which rounds him out as an artist.
2009, Sunnyside Records, 60 minutes.

Jack of Hearts, Anthony Wilson Trio.
This is a classic B-3 Organ trio disc, but with two distinct feels, and the feature artist isn’t the organ player. Larry Goldings is certainly a featured artist, of course, but it’s Wilson, with his chunky guitar chords and inventive soloing, who stands out. Goldings and Wilson co-wrote several of the tunes, including the Latin-funky opener, “Mezcal,” and Goldings adds considerable depth to the disc. On the more swing-oriented numbers, like Wilson’s title track, Jeff Hamilton provides the groove while on the funkier, more contemporary numbers, Jim Keltner takes over on the set, as on the Latin-folk shuffle of “Vida Perdida Acabou.” The two drummers bring different feels to the disc, but both fit so well into their categories that the album becomes cohesive. There’s also an organic, analog feel throughout, giving the disc an intimacy and lively nature, as on the funk-driven “Harajuku.” The blending of Wilson and Goldings with the two drummers makes this a winner.
2009, Groove Note Records, 58 minutes.

New York Rendezvous, Irene Atman.
Vocalist Atman’s voice is rich and emotive. Her delivery is articulate and clear, with a lilting vibrato. Backed by pianist Frank Kimbrough, drummer Matt Wilson, bassist Jay Anderson and saxophonist Joel Frahm, Atman has assembled an all-star crew to let her reinterpret classic tunes like “Taking a Chance on Love,” “Time After Time,” and “Charade.” Her lengthy phrasing is better suited to slower tunes, including “Why Did I Choose You,” a lovely ballad where Atman caresses the melody. When the tempo speeds up and swings, she seems less in her element. Luckily, the rest of her band picks up any slight downward trend here, as Frahm’s inventive soloing proves. Atman is mostly playing to her strengths, including her nearly flawless Spanish accent on “Somos Novios.” When the swing is slower in tempo, as on “Time After Time,” her phrasing works much better. Atman excels on torch songs and ballads, and when she sings them, as on “Alfie,” she is a true talent.
2009, Irene Atman, 48:30.

Entre Cuerdas, Edmar Castaneda.
The harp isn’t supposed to be a jazz instrument. It’s too bulky, too odd, too, well, pretty. But not under Colombian native Castaneda’s able fingers. He brings out a completely different side of the multi-stringed instrument. Rather than annoying glissando’s or syrupy ballads, Castaneda makes the harp a rhythmic solo instrument. He is able to wow with fleet-fingered runs, rhythmic comping and a sense of excitement. Yes, excitement from a harp. His core trio features trombonist Marshall Gilkes and drummer/percussionist Dave Silliman, but he’s also joined by John Scofield on guitar, who rips a solo as Castaneda’s deft comping provides a new-sounding base and bass. There are times when the harp becomes more a thing of beauty, as on the haunting “Jesus de Nazareth,” but it’s when it becomes a Latin jazz tool that Castaneda really shines, as on the driving “Colibri,” which features an added chordal texture with Joe Locke’s exceptional vibes. Castaneda can even swing, as he shows on the good-natured “Colombian Dixie.” The harp as a jazz instrument works here and it’s a heck of a good time.
2009, Arpa y Voz Productions, 59 minutes.

Rocket 88 - Tribute to Ike Turner, Mr. Groove Band.
Ike Turner will never be thought of as a humanitarian, nor as an exceptionally good person. But he was a heck of a bandleader for a good amount of time. He helped promote R&B to a place on the radio charts, and he helped launch the career of Tina Turner. Here, an all-star band pays tribute to his musical contributions. It’s a rollicking good time, with plenty of guest artists, including Audrey Turner, Bonnie Bramlett, Tim Smith and Roddy Smith. A full horn section, led by fiery sax player Tim Gordon, blasts out R&B horn lines with vigor, and Smith’s guitars groove out the tunes. Darryl Johnson takes the lead on vocals for the most part, and his voice is a bit nasally compared to Ike’s deep baritone, somewhere between Ike and Tina in timbre. Some tracks, like Ike’s driving “Funky Mule,” work well, while some others just don’t have the raw energy, like “River Deep, Mountain High,” which doesn’t have the verve of the original. “Proud Mary” doesn’t have that frenetic energy like the original did, but the new arrangement it’s jazzier. Not sure that Ike deserved a big tribute album, but this one’s done with a punch of energy and groove that would have made him proud, I’m guessing.
2009, ZOHO Music, 49:50.

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