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CD Reviews - February 2010

by George Fendel

Twelve Nights In Hollywood; Ella Fitzgerald, vocals.
Ella fans, this is it! A four-disc set featuring Fitzgerald at the height of her power, mesmerizing her 1961-62 audience at The Crescendo, a Hollywood jazz and comedy club. Because Verve Records was in the midst of all the songbook activity of Ella’s, these phenomenal, relaxed and pure jazz performances have remained UNISSUED since the time they went down. And Ella’s in her ‘ella-ment’ with a superb quartet: Lou Levy, piano, Wilfred Middlebrooks, bass, and Gus Johnson, drums. Interesting to note that while the accompaniment is absolutely hand-in-glove perfect for Ella, there are no instrumental solos anywhere. So it’s ‘all Ella all the time’ with the same group that worked with her on the brilliant album, “Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie.”  Rather than trying to entice you with the names of a few of the 75 or so tunes, just let me say that it’s the Great American Songbook all the way, with Ella tapping the honored circle of Ellington, Gershwin, Porter, Berlin, Kern, Rodgers, Mercer and more. Ella’s obviously having a ball, shmoozing her audience here and there between tunes; forgetting a lyric now and then, but making up her own; and swinging and scatting as only Ella could do. The last of the four CDs puts her in the same club, but this time with another long-time accompanist, Paul Smith and his trio. All in all, you’ll shake your head in amazement that it took nearly five decades to get this gem out there. Beautiful packaging, liner notes and photos will further delight you. But the First Lady of Song is the star. Then, now, always.
Verve; 2009, 4 CDs, one hour each.

Raising The Roof, John Stein, guitar.
John Stein’s been quite active over the last few years with several very well-performed CDs. Here, Stein comes through with a very classic, in-the-tradition guitar sound, and he gets the proceedings underway with a virile reading of Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream.” His rhythm mates, all swinging and sizzling, include: Koichi Sato, piano, John Lockwood, bass, and Ze Eduardo Nazario, drums. In addition to the bristling opener, other album highlights include a tender reading of Thad Jones’s “A Child Is Born”; a “Caravan”-like rhythmic backdrop for “Invitation”; one of Jobim’s rarely done chestnuts, “Vivo Sonhando”; a straight ahead, but still stubtle version of “Beautiful Love”; and a classy exploration of all the possibilities of “Falling in Love with Love.” Stein adds a couple of originals as well, and he came up with a catchy, waltz-tempo line on “Wild Woods.” Stein and friends have worked it out with class and polish. Jazz guitar lovers should definitely check him out!   
Whaling City Sound, 2009, 57:24.

Complete At Newport 1958, Gerry Mulligan Quartet and Chico Hamilton Quintet.
It seems as though just about every month Jazzscene uncovers one or two previously unreleased gems to salivate over, so here comes another. Gerry Mulligan’s pianoless quartet was one of the in things of the era, and it stands up fine today. It was at this time that Mulligan’s front line partner was trumpet ace Art Farmer, and they were joined by Bill Crow, bass, and Dave Bailey, drums. Much of the CD is devoted to this group playing their ‘hits’ of the day, including “Bernie’s Tune,” “Blueport,” “As Catch Can,” “Festive Minor” and “Line For Lyons.” This fine performance is augmented by an additional treat where Gerry joins pianist Marian McPartland’s trio on a couple of Duke staples. And if that’s not enough, there’s also four tunes from the Chico Hamilton Quintet featuring the multi-faceted reedman Eric Dolphy. But this is mostly Mullgan’s disc as he is prominently featured on thirteen of the seventeen selections. The back panel of this CD reads “for collectors only,” and Gerry Mulligan collectors are going to pounce on it!
RLP (Rare Live Performances) Records, 2008, 77:44.

Sing Me A Love Song, David Berger Jazz Orchestra.
Like any other composer, you may be sure that for every “There Will Never Be Another You” or “The More I See You,” Harry Warren probably wrote dozens of songs that never achieved the fame of those two. And this interesting CD, which obviously must have been fashioned with great effort and purpose, explores exclusively those neglected Warren melodies. What makes the work even more intriguing, are the lyrics written in the here and now by Paul Mendenhall. It’s a daunting task to come up with ‘period’ lyrics which sound like original ones, but Mendenhall is somehow up to the task. The two singers on the project, Freda Payne and Denzal Sinclaire, are new names to me. Payne handled the task with appropriate band singer chops and sounds just fine. Sinclaire wins the blue ribbon with perfect interpretations of these new but old tunes. We need to hear more from him! David Berger also deserves some high fives for creating something entirely new and fresh. His arrangements, never corny or vanilla, reflect the respect and admiration that anything written by Harry Warren certainly deserves.
Such Sweet Thunder, 2009, 53:57

2, 5, 1, Dan Duke, bass.
Hey now, when was the last time you read a real good review from me on a recording which includes Hammond B-3 organ on four tunes and accordion (!!!) on two? Maybe never. Well, hold your horses, ‘cause this one’s darn good! The leader on the date, Dan Dean, is the only participant new to me, but he joins forces here with pianists (different guys on different cuts) George Duke, Gil Goldstein and Kenny Werner. Goldstein doubles on squeeze box on two tunes, and Larry Goldings enters the fray on B-3 on four. So why does the album earn my praise? Because nobody goes for the jugular. Everybody keeps it strictly under control on dependable tunes like “’S Wonderful,” “One Note Samba,” “All The Things You Are,” “In Walked Bud” and two of our favorite ladies, “Stella” and “Georgia.” Interesting too that there’s no drummer in the vicinity. There’s some very pleasant musical conversation here among some players who rarely get in the midst of this kind of music.
Origin, 2010, 77:33.

Paul Meyers Quartet, Paul Meyers, accoutic guitar.
Seems to me that acoustic guitar is fading slowly from sight in the jazz world. So when you encounter one played with the panache and subtlety of Paul Meyers, you want to breathe it in. Of course, it hurts not a bit that Meyers has called upon one of the sages of the tenor and flute, Frank Wess. The former Basie band hero is still playing as wonderfully as ever, and his tenor cooks up a nice entree on the opener, a Billy Strayhorn tune called “Snibor.” Wess then switches to flute for a lively Meyers original. An additional treat is singer Andy Bey, whose vocal is rich and riveting on “Lazy Afternoon.” The pairing of Meyer’s dessert-like guitar and Wess’s even keel reed expertise is exceptionally pleasing to the ear. Additional highlights here include standards like “In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” “Just One of Those Things” and “I Cover the Waterfront.” Incidentally, the quartet is rounded out by Martin Wind, bass, and Tony Jefferson, drums. It’s a pretty special encounter from note one to note last.
Miles High Records, 2009, 65:40.

32nd Street, Dave Nelson, trumpet, vocal.
With roots in Washington state, Nelson now makes his home across the border in Saskatoon. He’s been fortunate enough, however, to have made some connections in New York and found the time to make this recording on one of those visits. Nelson’s laid back trumpet style will remind you a bit of Miles Davis, and his choice here of Gotham tenor saxist Joel Frahm is definitely a good one. The rhythm section is comprised of three more New York cats in Jon Davis, piano, Joe Fitzgerald, bass, and Marcello Pellitteri, drums. The CD kicks off with a mid-tempo romp through “Have You Met Miss Jones” and follows with no less than four Nelson originals. Of the four, I especially liked his take on the blues, another medium tempo journey with some glitzy blowing from Frahm. The CD continues with four more standards. A very nice surprise on one of them was Nelson’s very hip vocal on “We’ll Be Together Again.” The guys then play Bird’s “Confirmation” at a nice, nearly relaxed pace. “My Favoite Things” follows with a bit of a Latin touch, and the set ends with brisk “Softly As in a Morning Sunrise.” This CD is, one might say, the essence of the creativity of jazz.
Self produced, 2009.

Ages, Lorraine Feather, vocals, lyricist.
A couple of years ago Lorraine Feather’s “Language” received kudos for its witty, fun-loving content. Feather, who is the daughter of the late jazz writer Leonard Feather, is a terrific interpreter of her own material. And what she writes sounds almost conversational; totally unique; frequently offering a lesson in life or a reason to laugh at ourselves. Her song titles may at least make you curious enough to check her out. Consider for a moment that nobody else has ever come up with titles such as “I Forgot to Have Children,” “Old at 18” and “Two Desperate Women in Their Thirties.” In addition to Ms Feather’s vocal and writing talents, a few of the melodies were contributed by two of today’s premier piano talents, Dick Hyman and Shelly Berg. Feather simply must be heard for one to understand what she’s all about. And to me anyway, hers is a remarkable talent in singing and writing songs that say “don’t concentrate on your frailties, but don’t strut your stuff too much either.”  Lorraine, I am your fan.
Jazzed Media, 2010, 52:28.

Straight Ahead, Hadley Caliman, tenor saxophone.
Nothwesterner Hadley Caliman is one of those versatile cats completely at ease in just about any musical setting. But I must say, it’s sure nice to hear his return to a straight ahead tenor, trumpet and rhythm section gig. He’s joined here by other Seattle area stalwarts, including Thomas Marriott, trumpet, Eric Verlinde, piano, Phil Sparks, bass, and Matt Jorgensen, drums. His choice of tunes reflects his lifetime of listening and playing. Consider such underplayed items as Harold Land’s “Rapture” or Lee Morgan’s “Totem Pole.” The standards on the date are “You Leave Me Breathless” and “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” and there’s even a tip of Caliman’s cap to the Ellington era with Billy Strayhorn’s immortal “Lush Life.” Caliman’s tenor sound is slightly rough-hewn, reminding me sometimes of Joe Henderson or even Benny Golson. Marriott is a trumpet player of great gifts, and his composition for this date, “Cathlamet,” is filled with life and vigor. Caliman may perhaps be called a musician’s musician, but he has a story for all to hear.
Origin, 2010, 39:00.

Lagos Blues, Antonio Ciacca, piano.
Raised in Italy, and a product of an Italian conservatory music education, Ciacca is a “burner,” in the jazz lexicon. On this impressive outing, his basic quartet is joined by veteran tenor man Steve Grossman, a longtime resident of Italy and mentor to Ciacca. The music played here is mostly heavy-duty hard bop, but classy, creative and highly listenable. Highlights included “Whims of Chambers,” an old bop line from the revered bassist Paul Chambers, and a medley of Ellington entries.
Motema Music, 2009, 53:16.

After The Rain, Gaea Schell, piano and vocals.
Why is it that I am often hip to piano players who also sing? Well, that’s the case with Gaea Schell. She is first and foremost a solid, swinging pianist who, in a clipped, staccato style, sometimes reminds me of Eddie Costa. But she sings well too, subtle and jazzy, as you’ll discover on such tunes as “September in the Rain,” “It Could Happen to You,” “How Insensitive” and the best vocal of the bunch, “Social Call.” Schell adds some original compositions to create a nicely balanced effort. Bonus for locals: Portland’s exceptional bassist, Scott Steed, is featured on about half the selections.
Roadhouse Records, 2009, 70:29.

Copacabana, Nilson Matta, bass and acoustic guitar.
This is a lovely sampling of mostly the original compositions of Nilson Matta, a native of Brazil. The distinguished guest here is Harry Allen, the purveyor of a gorgeous sound on tenor sax. In fact, some of this material will bring reminders of the sound of Stan Getz and his seminal bossa nova work. Brazilian jazz tends toward more subtlety and expression than what we usually call “Latin” style jazz. And this Brazilian music is classy, elegant and easy on the ear.
Zoho, 2010, 49:52.

The Culprit, Jason Bodlovitch, guitar.
On a program of all original material, I found some of Bodlovich’s work interesting from a jazz perspective, but some seemed more closely aligned to the pop thing. Bodlovich sounds kinda like a guy who may have outgrown rock guitar and is now trying to till the fields of jazz. His tune called “B Flatted” swung nicely in a jazz manner, and one called “Bella Swing” had a cheerful melody line. Finally, something called “SGB” created a nicely-paced groove. His chosen guitar sound didn’t, however, fully connect with me.
Moon Rise Productions, 2010, 49:31.

Bright Future, Vince Norman-Joe McCarthy Big Band.
The only indication on this CD as to where all these hot player hail from is the name of a recording studio in Springfield, Virginia. Go figure. But there’s some sparkling musicianship in a menu of all original music mostly from co-leader and reedman Vince Norman. Several high-energy soloists are given plenty of opportunity to fly their colors as this band cooks it up on one cut after another. Kudos to anyone who can even keep a big band together nowadays. From the sound of their energetic big band, they indeed deserve a bright future.
OA2 Records, 2010, 61:46.

Karen Marguth, Karen Marguth, vocals.
Sometimes one can get an idea of how “into it” a singer is by simply looking at their tune list. And when I saw titles like “Unit 7,” “Sister Sadie,” “In the Land of Ooh-Bla-Dee,” “Day Dream” and “Squeeze Me,” I was somewhat prepared for a jazz singer (as opposed to a band singer or, perish the thought, a pop singer), and Karen Marguth fills the bill. In a higher-pitched voice than usual, she’s spot on key, phrases with ease and feeling.
Wayfae Music, 2009, 49:40.

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