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

Reviews by George Fendel

So In Love, Roberta Gambarini, vocals.
I’ve said it before, but in an era of scores of pretenders, Roberta Gambarini is the real deal. She’s the best thing that has happened to jazz singing in this decade. This, her third CD under her own name, will most assuredly serve to continue her ascension to the top. She’s got it all: perfect intonation, phrasing, effortless scat singing, and the ability to tell the story and not just sing the lyric. Apparently, her colleagues agree, because you don’t score the likes of Tamir Hendelman, Chuck Berghofer, Jake Hanna, Eric Gunnison and Gerald Clayton (not every guy on every tune) as your accompanists unless you’ve got heavy duty talent. For good measure, it’s nice when giants like James Moody and Roy Hargrove show up on selected tunes. Many singers like to start an album with an up temp rouser. Gambarini opens with the title tune, done strictly as a ballad and with only Hendelman’s delicate piano. Other highlights include “Get Out of Town,” “Estate,” “I See Your Face Before Me,” “From this Moment On,” “You Must Believe in Spring” and even Willie Nelson’s “Crazy”! Oh, and check out her scat and blues chops on Johnny Griffin’s “You Ain’t Nothing But a JAMF.” All that and more contribute to what I truly believe will be my choice as the #1 jazz vocal CD of 2009.
EmArcy, 2009, 69:57.

The Lost Rehearsals 1953-1956, Clifford Brown, trumpet.
Clifford Brown taped many of his rehearsals and performances for his own use, and somehow these stunning examples have been unearthed. The liner notes indicate in detail that every effort has been made to improve what was raw fidelity, but considering Brownie’s early death at 25, any previously un-issued CD is a welcome delight. The sixteen selections here are performed by such stars as Tadd Dameron, Benny Golson, Teddy Edwards, Carl Perkins and the Max Roach quintet featuring Sonny Rollins. What the disc lacks in recording quality is more than made up for by some stunning solo work by Brownie. An added bonus is the presence of several tunes he would never commercially record. And so you get to hear Clifford play “Somebody Loves Me,” “Bula Beige Blues,” “Sometimes I’m Happy,” “Pennies From Heaven,” “Lullaby In Rhythm” and others for the first and only time. Please take this caution into account: this CD is intended for Brown collectors. More casual listeners will opt for the superior recording quality of other Brown sessions. But make no mistake, Brown was a genius and a quality guy who died too young in an auto accident. New Clifford Brown sides of any kind are simply unexpected treasures.
Rare Live Recordings, 2009. 78:16.

No One New, Joshua Breakstone, guitar.
There’s no typo in the title. It refers to the fact that Joshua Breakstone has been a major jazz guitarist since his debut album in 1979. On this freewheeling trio date, Breakstone is joined by two other veterans, Lisle Atkinson on bass and Eliot Zigmund on drums. This time it’s primarily an opportunity for the guitarist to display his own compositions. Five of the eight tunes here are his creations. However, Breakstone likes to write original compositions built on the changes to other songs. The opener, “Over-Done,” does not refer to burning the toast, but to the fact that Breakstone knew when he got this one down and made that notation. See if you can hear Dizzy Gillespie’s “Bebop” in its scintillating lines. The next tune, “For Me” is a cousin of Gershwin’s “But Not for Me,” and the title tune, is related to “It’s You or No One.” I don’t recall ever hearing a guitar treatment of Jimmy Rowles’ exquisite “The Peacocks,” but if ever a guitarist was meant to play it, that would be Breakstone. The CD ends on a swift, hard bop note with Joe Henderson’s “The Kicker.” All these and others add up to a fresh new CD by a guitar cat totally dedicated to consistently pure, swinging, gimmick-free jazz.
Capri, 2009, 57:15.

Inside, Charlie Shoemake, vibes, Terry Trotter, piano.
Here are two jazz journeymen who have been making great music for quite a long time. They work intricately and perfectly together with a series of various sympathetic sidemen on a selection of bebop originals. A few faves of mine included “Wow,” Lennie Tristano’s line originating in 1949; Jackie McLean’s “Minor March,” hardly a march, it’s a bebop stew at a riveting tempo; Andre Previn’s gorgeous creation, the rarely heard “A Second Chance”; “Azil,” the reverse spelling of the original it’s based on by the nearly forgotten tenor man Walter Benton; and a couple of etched in stone classics, Tadd Dameron’s “The Scene Is Clean” and Gigi Gryce’s “Nica’s Tempo.” Other prominent contributors to the jazz art are represented here with additional compositions by Victor Feldman, Jimmy Raney, Bud Powell and Hank Mobley. Each of the co-leaders contributes material as well. You can easily hear the authority, vitality, musicianship the and devotion to bop idiom in these two players, and their new CD is a jazz happening from beginning to end.
Chase Music Group, 2009, 59:32.

Project A, Joel Frahm, tenor saxophone, Bruce Katz, piano, B-3 organ.
When jazz musicians invest their energy and talent in the music of artists considered outside the jazz arena, my interest level is usually limited. And so it is in the case of Frahm, Katz and friends playing music associated with, of all people, Aretha Franklin. Of course, I’m at a disadvantage here because I’m not an Aretha fan. And so to me, these songs are all unfamiliar. With that said, the music presented here becomes just another set of funk and r & b, heavy in the Hammond B-3 department. It should be said, however, that there’s some soulful, swinging playing here, so if funk is your thing, this would score big points for you. In my case, the rock beat and electric bass become tedious after a couple of tunes. One local note of interest is the appearance on three selections by Portland native Jay Collins on baritone saxophone. And, for what it’s worth, in my musical world, the nickname Queen will always be one reserved for Dinah Washington!
Anzic Records, 2009, 58:17.

A Tribute To Carl Fontana, Andy Martin, trombone, Scott Whitfield, trombone.
Any list of trombone greats would be incomplete without Carl Fontana. He achieved most of his notoriety in the bands of Woody Herman and Stan Kenton. One could argue that living in Las Vegas kept him from the jazz limelight, but even so, Fontana was right there alongside the giants. Two present day bone bureaucrats, Martin and Whitfield, swing with authority in this live tribute from the Lighthouse Cafe. Joined by a Southland rhythm section of Christian Jacob, Trey Henry and Ray Brinker, they get the proceedings underway with a little known Bill Holman treasure simply entitled “Carl.” If this wasn’t enough to get your attention, the quintet follows with a scintillating “Caravan.” After sharing a personal quip about Fontana, Whitfield follows with a gorgeous reading of Tadd Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now.” One of Fontana’s favorites, “Poinciana,” is given a royal reading, and “I Thought About You” is offered in brisk bossa attire. The set ends with a straight down the middle version of “A Beautiful Friendship.” The bright and buoyant piano of Christian Jacob is a swinging plus to this wonderful set. And Carl Fontana would have not only relished every moment of it, but would have likely joined the ensemble, trombone in hand.
Woofy Productions, 2009, 65:34.

Playground, Tamir Hendelman, piano.
During the course of the last half dozen years or so, the name Tamir Hendelman has been seen increasingly on the rosters of jazz recordings and festivals. The native of Israel is fast becoming a fixture in the LA jazz circuit, and this CD will explain exactly why. Hendelman is a disciple of the swing school. If you need further explanation, let’s say that heroes of his would most likely include names like Oscar Peterson, Monty Alexander, Frank Collett and maybe even Gene Harris. It certainly adds to one’s credentials when John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton round out your trio, and the threesome gets your attention right off the bat with a fresh, swinging Herbie Hancock gem, “Driftin’.” The rest of the album is equally fine, so much so that space doesn’t allow a tune by tune rundown. However, mixed in with a few of his varied, melodic originals, are titles like “I’m Old Fashioned,” “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” and even “Singin’ in the Rain.” A special treat was “Cape Verdean Blues,” a vintage Horace Silver gem which has always been a personal favorite of mine. Hendelman is a breath of fresh air who adheres to the idea that it’s okay to swing. Not only is it okay, it’s recommended. And it’s always at the very heart of jazz. Remember Duke’s admonition: It don’t mean a thing …
Swingbros, 2008, 67

Our Delight, Paul Gormley, bass.
I always get a little jittery when I see a disc under the leadership of a bass player. Eternally long bass solos have not proven themselves to be radio friendly. Nothing to worry about here, though, as bassist Gormley has assembled an unusual quartet for this presentation of standards and jazz favorites. His colleagues on the date are veteran flutist Sam Most; drummer Paul Kreibich; and guitarist Larry Koonse. Perhaps not your standard quartet, but these guys make it work and then some. The solid groove tunes include two by Tadd Dameron, but you’ll find Nat Adderley’s “Work Song” and Horace Silver’s “The Preacher.” Among the choices from Songbook America are “Everything I Love,” “I Fall in Love too Easily,” “Sweet And Lovely” and “Lujon.” There’s a nice, loose, blowing session feel to this session. One gets the feeling that the players are having a grand time playing tunes they know and love. My guess is that you’ll have a grand time listening.
Talking Dog Music, 2009, 56:10.

Moody 4A, James Moody, tenor saxophone.
Quite some years ago, Milt Jackson and Oscar Peterson teamed up an album called “Ain’t But a Few of Us Left.” The title, of course, referred to the fact that many of the great jazz luminaries were gone. And sadly, the same can now be said for Milt and Oscar. One of the pioneers of bop, James Moody, is, thankfully, not only still with us, but playing with the same passion and chops we’re long accustomed to hearing. And if you’re James Moody, you get to handpick your rhythm section. Hence, Kenny Barron, Todd Coolman and Lewis Nash draw the honors. And you’ll know from the first few bars of the opening tune, “Secret Love.” Barron’s composition, “Voyage,” has achieved near standard status by this time, and these guys play it to perfection. Is “’Round Midnight” overplayed? I’ve often thought so, but in hearing this definitive version, I’ll need to rethink that. “Without a Song” has a loose, jam session feel to it with everybody getting a chance to blow. “Stella by Starlight” is given a jaunty, bossa-like reading, and “East of the Sun” is slower and dreamier than usual. Perhaps my favorite tune on the date is “Stablemates,” a mainstay by master musician, Benny Golson. The session closes with “Bye Bye Blackbird,” surprisingly in 3/4 time. And it works to perfection. But then, players like this could make the Scappoose phone directory sound great!
IPO Records, 2009, 57:42.

The Music Of Antonio Carlos ‘Tom’ Jobim, Phil Wilson, trombone.
My introduction to the playing of trombonist Wilson was from a very creative disc of big band music from “The Wizard of Oz.” It remains a gem in my personal collection. This time, Wilson’s burnished, attractive trombone leads a smaller ensemble playing the very intimate music of a Brazilian national hero, Antonio Carlos Jobim. His colleagues on this session are all new names to me, but they bring it with all the elegance and beauty which became Jobim’s calling card. And Phil Wilson gets that message as well. His trombone is the essence of subtlety and class. If you’re even a bit of a Jobim fan, you’ll recognize the titles. So now I happily own a second gem by Wilson. May I suggest that Tom Jobims’s timeless melodies are uniformly celebrated in this collection. You’ll notice a 2006 date on this CD. It’s newly sent to me for review, so I can only surmise that for reasons unknown, its release may have been delayed. It was worth the wait.
Capri Records, 2006, 55:04.

Blossom, Lee Shaw, piano.
Her resume alone would raise your eyebrows. Shaw has accompanied such distinguished jazz stars as Dexter Gordon, Thad Jones, Zoot Sims, Chico Hamilton, Pepper Adams and more. With her trio of Rich Syracuse, bass and Jeff Siegel, drums, Shaw creates a varied pallet of piano colors, beginning with her rather impressionistic title tune, “Blossom.” This is followed by two totally different approaches to the blues. Fats Nararro’s “Fat’s Blues” is a brisk reminder that the blues don’t always have to make you blue. Shaw’s original, “Blue 11,” is a sweeping minor-major blues with a hint of the mysterious. Another of her tunes, “Holiday,” is just that: a playful, joyous melody line. Syracuse’s line, “Cool Jack,” is a kick-up-your-heels romp, and Siegel’s “Shifting Sands” is a lilting, gentle melody in waltz time. The surprise of the set is the absolutely splendid “Virtuoso Rag,” nearly three minutes of piano solo perfection written by the nearly forgotten piano maven of the past, Johnny Guarnieri. “Nippon’s Dream,” another subtle, silvery Shaw original closes the session. Her varied set is a delight for piano trio buffs.
Artists Recording Collective, 2009, 55:40.

It’s a Lovely Day, Diane Landry, vocals.
Those of you in my generation will no doubt remember Kay Starr and Teresa Brewer, a couple of singers who brought a little country flavor to their music. Well, the same might be said for Houston’s Diane Landry. Her debut album will remind you more than a little bit of the above named singers. Landry’s intonation is spot-on, and her phrasing is old shoe comfortable on a selection of twelve etched in stone standards. Her backing is provided by a group led by pianist Matt Lemmler, who is a graceful and skilled accompanist. Just check out his intimate work on “You’ve Changed.” Perhaps Portland jazz hero Dave Frishberg said it best when he described Landy and Lemmler thus: “… they approach their material with energy, a terrific beat and impassioned authority.”
JazzMaDi Productions, 2008, 55:44.


Underdog And Other Stories, Ted Kooshian, piano.
Sooner or later, someone was bound to delve into these rather odd movie and TV themes, and Kooshian and his quartet do it with pizzazz. If you’re at least graying a bit at the temples, you’ll recognize the likes of “Sanford and Son,” “Popeye,” “Baretta,” “Wild Wild West,” “The Odd Couple,” and “Little Lulu.” An album highlight that, to my knowledge, can’t be connected to show bizîis Duke Ellington’s spirited “Purple Gazelle.” There’s a lot of fun here, but this is not for laughs. It’s all well played, particularly Kooshian’s swinging piano.
Summit, 2009, 67:41.

Offshore Echoes, Kristina, vocals.
This is a smorgasbord of songs ranging from “Cherokee” to something by Sting! The singer, using only the name Kristina, moves around a lot within rhythms that might be described as Latin, rock, Brazilian and more. Her pleasant voice is overpowered through much of the CD by a big band which is fresh and exuberant … and too loud for the singer. Because the album jumps all over the place, its content might be better described as world music rather than jazz.
Patois Records, 2009, 51:55.

In My Own Hands, Paul Renz, guitar.
Paul Renz, a resident player and teacher in Minneapolis, presents an all-original pallet of music with his quintet of mid-West cats on flute, piano-B-3, bass and drums. Renz’s compositions vary in texture and tempo, but there is a very mainstream feel underlying all of his offerings. Most of his original tunes had strong, swinging melody lines, but left plenty of room for invigorating solos from all comers.
PFR Productions, 2009, 65:23.

The Comet’s Tail, The Compositions of Michael Brecker, Chuck Owen, leader, arranger.
A pinpoint big band has been assembled here to perform the compositions of the late tenor saxophonist, Brecker. It was Brecker who was one of the earlier proponents of fusion music, and this band utilizes some of those techniques. I can admire the riveting performances of guests like Randy Brecker, Joe Lovano and even former Portlander Rob Thomas, but this music is a bit too edgy for me. Still, these are solid, in your face charts. Call me old fashioned, but I keep asking where’s the melody?
Mama Foundation, 2009, 75:10.

Bittersweet, Mark Isham, trumpet, Kate Ceberano, vocals.
I previously only knew the name Isham through his association with synthesized music, so it sure was nice to hear him playing trumpet in a standard quartet setting. Kate Ceberano is apparently the hottest thing going in her native Australia, and she plays the intimacy card very nicely with Isham’s trumpet and flugelhorn on such winners as “Skylark,” “Solitude,” “Easy Living,” “Lush Life,” “Do It Again” and several more.
Earle Tones Records, 2009, times not indicated.

Jazz And The Movies, Jack Wood, vocals.
Have you noticed that there aren’t many quality male singers around these days? Well, meet Jack Wood. He sings good material (“But Not For Me,” “Easy to Love,” “Old Devil Moon,” “Come Rain or Come Shine” and lots more) in a voice somewhat reminiscent of Jack Jones. Each tune was introduced in a movie, hence the title of the CD. And don’t overlook the fact that Wood’s accompanists include such LA stalwarts as Pete Christlieb, Buddy Childers, Tom Rainier and Joe LaBarbera, among others.
WoodWorks Music, 2009, 45:05.

The Gadfly; Bug (a quintet).
This is, to my ear, one of those releases where the sound takes precedence over the music. Needless to say, all the selections are original compositions, and very contemporary (I guess) in nature. Some of the material here reminds me of the sound check (tuning up) which precedes the performance. And why do the drummers in these groups always beat the living daylights out of their drum set? With apologies to Origin Records, there’s not much here to recommend.
Origin, 2009, 57:41.

Far From Home - A Tribute To European Song, Beat Kaestli, vocals.
Right from the start, you get a surprise, a jazz-up version of Bizet’s La Habanera from Carmen. Much of the rest of the CD is comprised of Kaestli’s originals, many with very attractive melodies and solid instrumentation behind him. Two standards are also explored here. “September Song” is sung with great feeling and “What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life” is taken at a tempo too fast for its romantic lyric. Kaestli offers on target intonation and a nice feel for his material. I’d like to see his next CD include more Songbook Americana choices.
B(+)B Productions, 2009, times not indicated

Reviews by Kyle O'Brien

Sleepytime in Chinatown, The Stolen Sweets.
The Sweets are a band that continues to grow in popularity in the Northwest, and for good reason. Their retro ‘30s-‘40s sound and impeccable harmonies feel great in just about any decade. Imagine the Boswell Sisters updated for this decade. With Lara Michell, Jen Bernard and Erin Sutherland on the three-female vocal attack, there’s a considerable amount of harmonic talent. And with retro music master Pete Krebs and guitarist/vocalist David Langeness writing six new tunes in the correct style, there’s plenty to be happy with. The title track is a perfect microcosm for the disc. Krebs sings in his laid back style while the vocalists layer beautiful harmonies over the two-beat, Django-esque swing. There are plenty of guest musicians lending a hand too, including Laird Halling coaxing emotive strains on the clarinet, and folks like James Mason on violin, Skip von Kuske on cello and Jason Wells on cornet adding to the merriment. Keith Brush on bass and Todd Bishop on drums hold the whole thing together with their understated rhythm. Besides the fine original tracks, there are a selection of great oldies, including “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” and “Puttin’ It On.” Krebs notes that the mystery of Chinatown inspired some of the tunes, as did Cab Calloway, but this is much more than a theme disc. Whatever the inspiration for your listening, just make sure you hear this one.
2009, Stolen Sweets, 34:30.
CD release party, 8 p.m. October 10, Wonder Ballroom.

Right on Time, Graham Dechter, guitar.
Dechter is one of those young phenoms who is jazz mature beyond his years. He made his mark playing with the Clayton Brothers and has quickly found his sound as a solo artist. He has chosen songs outside of the standards, like Thad Jones’s “Low Down,” and Johnny Hodges’s “Squatty Roo,” along with some more familiar melodies, including the crisp blues of “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But the Blues,” and a gorgeous version of “The Nearness of You,” which displays Dechter’s warm, hollow body sound. He even included a track written by his father, Brad Dechter, “Right On Time (D flat Tune),” a lovely light swing with a loping melody played with fluidity by Dechter. The young guitarist, who sounds a bit like a mix between Jim Hall and Russell Malone, is joined by John Clayton on bass and Jeff Hamilton on drums, plus Tamir Hendelman on piano, and the quartet works perfectly together, all listening and playing off each other but never getting in the way. For a debut, this is a hands-down winner - sophisticated and full of engaging swing tunes.
2009, Capri Records, 59:30.

Symbiosis, Jeff Hamilton Trio.
Hamilton is one of jazz’s most melodic drummers. His sense of melody steers his rhythms, and you can hear tonality in everything he does, since he listens well to the melodic players. Here, with Tamir Hendelman on piano and Christoph Luty on bass, he proves why he’s one of the most musically sophisticated drummers. He lets the melody, rather than the rhythm, steer the direction of the tunes. Hendelman, with his touch and flourish, brings an extra level of excitement on what are otherwise crisp and restrained arrangements. His bluesy solo on “You Make Me Feel So Young” kicks everything up a notch, and Hamilton shuffles along with it, building and attacking without ever going over the top. The title track, a piece by Claus Ogerman, shows that Hamilton isn’t afraid to stray into more modern territory. It’s an introspective tune, full of melancholy and rich chords, with Hamilton utilizing texture -- brushes, cymbal touches, bowed bass, long notes and phrases -- to great effect. The bowed bass and light Latin rhythm on “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” gives new life to this classic, and Hamilton’s own “Samba De Martelo” is adventurous; the three sound bigger than they really are. It’s a fine drummer-led trio disc by one of the best.
2009, Capri Records, 57:20.

Dark Wood, Dark Water, Chad McCullough, trumpet.
Seattle has produced some really good trumpet talent, and McCullough joins the ranks with his debut release. Aside from being a talented player, McCullough is a composer of some weight. His “Three Pillars” is a journey jazz piece, venturing into an interesting chordal world that gives soloists -- such as himself, bassist Jeff Johnson and alto saxophonist Mark Taylor -- a chance to stretch out and explore the space. His arrangement of “Blackbird,” by Lennon and McCartney, takes the simple melody to a new dimension. It’s still a pretty tune, but his alternate chords, and the longing nature of the melody and the soprano sax solo, makes it a jazz piece through and through. McCullough’s compositions aren’t easy listening. He is ambitious, sometimes maybe too much, but it’s this sense of challenge that makes it interesting. His attacking swing on “Nightmare’s Dance” sounds difficult, which may not be a great thing, but it’s appreciated. Having some simplicity, as on the light jazz waltz “Home,” is welcome. McCullough is definitely a talent to watch, and with some refinement he could climb even higher.
2009, Origin Records, 60 minutes.

Blossom, Lee Shaw Trio.
Shaw is in her 80s now, but you’d never know it by listening to this lovely disc. Shaw is bright as ever, her sophisticated sense of melody completely intact and her cohorts, Jeff “Siege” Siegel on drums and Rich Syracuse on bass, along for the ride. Shaw’s title track leads it off, a chordally rich tune that shows her prowess as a composer and player, going back and forth between near-classical melodic playing (Debussy on jazz) and aggressive swing. She uses Fats Navarro’s “Fat’s Blues” to show that she has some grit still, working the low end of the keyboard with deep blues chords while she prances on top for the melody and classical-meets-blues solo. It’s her original tunes that hit the mark, though, as on the cascading “Blues 11,” or the pensive “Alto Triste,” which features Syracuse doing his nimble best solo. Shaw’s balance between classical and jazz makes her a unique talent, even after eight decades.
2009, Artists Recording Collective, 55:25.

We Take No Prisoners, Joris Teepe Big Band.
Dutch native Teepe has been living in New York since 1992, and he has a nice blend of European jazz sense with an urban bite on this cutting edge big band disc. The bassist definitely lives up to the title from note one. “Flight 643” is a sometimes cacophonous tune with angular rhythms, brass punches, thick chords, intertwined lines, and in-your-face solos by trumpeter Josh Evans and saxophonist Mark Gross. The 16-piece band balances precision with energy and is up to the sometimes demanding nature of the music, as on the breakneck bop of the title track, which is handled nicely by soloists Jon Davis on piano and Jason Marshall on bari. Teepe’s tunes are muscular, even in the quietest moments, like the a cappella horns on “Peace on Earth.” He likes dense chords and taking things outside, as on the theme piece, “The Princess and the Monster.” Teepe brings considerable energy to the big band setting but never seems to calm things down enough for balance.
2009, Challenge Records, 54:40.

Bien! Bien! Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet.
Wallace is a prolific artist. It seems he’s releasing a new disc every few months, ranging from straight ahead to his spicier Latin ventures. This is one of those Latin ventures, and it’s a solid collection of Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz, with a double, sometimes triple trombone attack -- Wallace, Julian Priester and Dave Martell. The title track kicks things off with a dose of bones and a montuno by pianist Murray Low that sets the tone. It doesn’t bring a whole lot new to the Latin jazz canon, but it is a fun disc played with precision. A standout is the cover of Eddie Harris’s “Freedom Jazz Dance,” with a double vocal attack by Kenny Washington doing his scatting best, and Orlando Torriente. It’s a lively version of a classic tune done with precision and joy. “In a Sentimental Mood” is a departure from the norm, done in melancholy fashion at the beginning, with Wallace on plunger muted-trombone over a light Latin rhythm. Otherwise, it’s a disc that shows off talents on horns and Wallace’s precision arrangements.
2009, Patois Records, 55:15.

Dya So, Fra Fra Sound.
Jazz has pushed the boundaries so far out one wonders what the genre truly is. If it’s a melting pot of styles, then this Afro-Caribbean band is one of the faces of jazz. It’s clearly influenced by the sounds of Africa and the West Indies, but also has jazz influences and western melodies for good measure. The melodies come from the double horn attack of saxophonist Efraim Trujillo and trumpeter Michael Simon, both exceptional players in this polyrhythmic sub-genre. Think street music blended with conservatory power. It’s so refreshing to hear sounds from elsewhere, especially the rhythmic refrains of guitarist Andro Biswane, who channels the sounds of the African continent throughout. The group is refined but energetic, and they create joy with their music. This is fusion at its modern best, played by a group of practiced individuals making global jazz.
2007, Pramisi Records, 49:50.

No One New, Joshua Breakstone Trio.
Breakstone took a rawer approach to this trio disc. The recording sounds live and sparse, with just Breakstone, drumer Eliot Zigmund and bassist Lisle Atkinson playing without much studio help. It gives an immediacy to the tunes, but it also makes it lean, so we focus on Breakstone’s single note style, as on the bop of “Over-Done,” or the blues swing of “Come on Baby,” with Atkinson doing a fine picking solo, his humming audible throughout. It’s occasionally too bare, exposing too much space. But it’s also nice to hear artists willing to lay themselves bare against nothing but their instrumental prowess. The sparseness works to advantage on tunes that let the notes stretch, as on “The Peacocks,” where Breakstone lets his tones ring and space is welcome. It’s a chance for Breakstone to let his guitar do the talking.
2009, Capri Records, 57:15.

Eternal Interlude, John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble.
Drummer/composer Hollenbeck is commissioned to do quite a few arrangements. Five of the six tracks on here were commissioned by separate musical entities, ranging from the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra to the University of Northern Colorado Jazz Ensemble. The Scots had the right idea, with “Foreign One,” based on Monk’s “Four in One.” The arrangement is a colorful journey with huge horn chords, thick with brass and reeds -- both single and double -- and wandering rhythms and repeated phrases. It’s a lot to take in, but worth the listen to see how the textures combine in this 20-piece ensemble. The title track lives up to its name, seeming like an interlude of suspended chords that may never resolve … for 20 minutes ... but waiting for the resolution as it ebbs and flows is interesting. Through it all, we hear Gary Versace on piano, organ and keyboards. But he’s part of the whole cornucopia of musical influences, and he becomes yet another layer in the scheme. This is compositional jazz at its biggest -- voices, horns, flutes, brass, multi-layered percussion, electric and acoustic instruments -- all together in a huge sound that is never dull.
2009, Sunnyside Communications, 70 minutes.

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