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CD Reviews - March 2010
by George Fendel, and Kyle O'Brien

Reviews by George Fendel

Another Night In London, Gene Harris, piano.
You guessed right! This is a follow up to Harris’s earlier “A Night in London.” He mesmerizes his British audience the same way he had done for years at home, but this time with sympathetic colleagues in Londoners Jim Mullen, guitar, Andrew Cleyndert, bass, and former Oscar Peterson drummer, Martin Drew. In his post-Three Sound era, Harris found a formula that, putting it mildly, worked, and he fastidiously stuck to it. The idea involved a rather calm and mellow beginning for just about any given tune, and then to build the intensity to a point where the audience is really into the groove. And then, suddenly, he takes it all the way back down to gentle terrain, and then WHAMMO! He hits you squarely on top of the head again in a flurry of excitement. I’ve listened to a lot of jazz in my life, but perhaps never have witnessed anyone who fed on audience reaction like Gene Harris. And so, the formula works wonderfully well. He was a great pianist, a true jazz virtuoso, but he was also a great entertainer. And we can use as much of that as we can get! All cuts are extended, allowing Gene to really brew it up. A must have for Gene Harris fans.
Resonance, 2010, 61:21.

The Strayhorn Project, Don Braden, tenor sax, flute, alto flute, Mark Rapp, trumpet.
The first thing I want to make clear is just how important it is that the present generation of jazz musicians recognizes the enormous contribution Billy Strayhorn made to our music. His compositions, with and away from Duke Ellington, are singular works of genius. Braden, Rapp and friends spice up ten of Sweet Pea’s greatest hits, making changes in rhythm and harmony and basically giving them a contemporary approach they’ve never before encountered. I sometimes refer to this phenomenon as “new attire,” and it works here because the stirring Strayhorn compositions are not electrified or otherwise distastefully altered. It could be a case of walking on the high wire in lesser hands, but Braden, Rapp and a rhythm section led by pianist Gerald Clayton pull if off. Three tunes -- “Something To Live For,” “Daydream” and “Pretty Girl/Star Crossed Lovers” are sung by Sachal Vasandani, who fits these tunes hand in glove; actually sounding a bit like Andy Bey or Billy Strayhorn himself. Other standouts include “Raincheck,” “Isfahan,” “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing,” “Johnny Come Lately,” “Chelsea Bridge” and the rather obscure “Lament For Javanette.” Duke thrived on the attention of the public; Strays shied away from it. But their collaboration was unique in American jazz. They were great together. They were equally great apart. And any Strayhorn tribute is worth the listening.
Premium Music Solutions, 2010, 51:13.

Best Of Love Songs, Jackie Ryan, vocals.
This new Jackie Ryan recording came out with a Valentine’s Day theme, and Ryan, an outstanding singer among a plethora of wanna-be’s, serves up these evergreens with her usual style and subtlety. I’m only sorry that it wasn’t received in time to get it into the February issue. Jackie surrounds herself with many of the best jazz cats that L.A. can offer, including Tamir Hendelman, Jon Mayer, Red Holloway, Larry Vukovich, Jeff Hamilton, Roy McCurdy and more. For pure intimacy, simplicity and beauty, try “While We’re Young” with only the guitar of Larry Koonse. But Ryan also handles the politely swinging tempos of the likes of “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” “This Heart of Mine,” “Let There Be Love,” “Besame Mucho” and a standout associated with Billie Holiday, “Now Or Never.” But there’s also a sampling of the pretty stuff like “ The Very Thought of Yo”u and lesser known delicacies like “Make It Last.” Where little girl singers scream their way through American Idol and other adolescent angst, Jackie Ryan is all grown up and sings these great songs for people with the ears to hear the difference.
Open Art Productions, 2010, 65:15.

Three’s Company, Bill Cunliffe, piano, Holly Hoffman, flute
These two deep-in-the-shed musicians have worked together nearly two decades, but came up with an altogether new idea for this recording. In addition to performing as a duo, they brought in some of their faves, resulting in several trio combinations. The first of these brings in violinist Regina Carter on Billy Strayhorn’s beautiful “Star Crossed Lovers.” The next guest is trumpet ace Terrell Stafford on Hoffman’s sprightly title tune. Ken Peplowski chimes in on clarinet for Cunliffe’s original, “Reunion,” a piece with classical connections. The last guest player is drummer Alvester Garmett who helps out on another Cunliffe tune, the whimsical “Sweet Andy.” In addition to these tasteful trio performances, the co-leaders get several opportunities to perform as a duo. Two of those highlights include Burton Lane’s lovely standard “Too Late Now” and a journey into the classical repertoire with the delicate Gabriel Faure composition, “Pavane.” While this recording marks a slight departure for Bill and Holly, it’s a very welcome one. I would like to seem them carry this idea into the future, perhaps adding other guests for a volume 2. 
Capri, 2010; 51:15.        
Phenomenology, Liam Sillery, trumpet and flugelhorn.
Two previous releases on OA2 Records found Sillery in a quintet setting with the superb LA tenor man, David Sills. This time out, Sillery opts for alto saxist Matt Blostein, who works well with Sillery on some probing, often energetic music. Sillery’s pianist, Jesse Stacken, and bassist Thomas Morgan, are once again on hand as they were on the previous “Minor Changes.” The five tunes played here, all original compositions, are hardly a lesson in lyricism, perhaps less so than the first two CDs. However, there’s something riveting in Sillery’s sound, and if you’re okay given up ‘catchy’ melody lines tunes you can hum in favor of some stellar, earthy trumpet and flugelhorn playing, you might find this music illuminating, although sometimes challenging. If there was one highlight here, it was Sillery’s sterling silver trumpet on “Koi,” a ballad of purity and intensity. The album ends with a New Orleans-style dazzler called “Intentionality.” This isn’t music for your great aunt Martha who used to bake Betty Crocker with Guy Lombardo on the old Admiral radio. But I think aunt Martha’s great grandkids will dig it
OA2 Records, 2010, 38:16.

Brazil Confidential, Jon Gold, piano, keyboards.
Tango Grill, Pablo Aslan, bass.
Sorry to put it this way, but to me American jazz is quite a separate art from the music and rhythms of South America. Distant cousins? Of course, and each has a loyal following which often spills over from one to another. I’m not the ideal guy to review music from Brazil (Gold) or Argentina (Aslan) because I’m much more a jazz guy than I am a World music guy. And this is very well-played, catchy, lively, ‘glass is completely full’ World music to make you smile. One has to admire the effort that went into the arranging of both of these recordings with various musicians weaving in and out of the varied pallet of tunes. Just consider the possibilities of such instrumentation as accordion, English horn, flute, violin and even bandoneon. One musician put it this way ... “full of palpable joie de vivre.”  Classy, well arranged, well played music?  No question. But be advised that as good as it is, it’s niche music and a lengthy journey from, say, “Ornithology” or “Stolen Moments.”
Zoho Music, 2010, 59:42  (Gold) and 58:59  (Aslan).

Raising The Bar, Mort Weiss, clarinet.
Okay, you’re familiar enough with solo piano and solo guitar recordings, but is it humanly possible to retain a listener’s attention for over an hour with a solo clarinet album? The answer is ‘no’ most of the time, but a resounding ‘yes’ when the clarinetist is Mort Weiss. In the ten or so years since his return to performing jazz, Weiss has put together some stirring groups, but this is a first, I’m sure, for him, for me and for you. Weiss, at seventy something, retains a balanced, colorful sound. His ideas are endless, and they flow from him like Mrs. Butterworth’s. He’s a bop clarinetist who, in case you haven’t yet heard him, will bring to mind the virtuosity of Buddy De Franco. His up-tempo tunes race along at a near dangerous clip, but his ballads, while attractively decorated, are never dripping with frosting. No less than seventeen tunes, most of them less than four minutes in length, will delight you. By the time you realize there’s no piano, bass and drums it won’t matter. Because Mort Weiss will have captured your attention and your admiration. And Mort Weiss has chops other cats have yet to even dream about.
SMS, 2009, 70+.

Curiosity, John Vanore, trumpet, flugelhorn.
Former Woody Herman trumpet man John Vanore has assembled a sizzling big band which he calls Abstract Truth, a tip of the hat to another big band baron, Oliver Nelson. And rather like Nelson, Vanore’s original music, although performed by a 14-piece aggregation, has a much smaller group feeling. Undoubtedly, this is due to the generous amount of space and time afforded his soloists. The tunes, seemingly, are written with this in mind. You might also like to take note that this is a very brassy ensemble, with no less than five guys in the trumpet section; plus two trombones and a French horn. The group is completed with two reeds and a standard rhythm section. Because of the prominence of the brass, it would be easy to surmise that Varone is doing a Kenton thing. Far from it -- this music will in no way remind you of Kenton. The arrangements seem more to resemble the writing of such stalwarts as Bill Holman or Thad Jones, or, of course, Oliver Nelson. And that’s the truth. Or, in this case, the abstract truth.
Accoutical Concepts Inc., 2009.

Do It Again, Rossano Sportiello, piano and vocal, Nicki Parrott, bass and vocals.
Pianist Sportiello and bassist/singer Parrott are back at it as a duo, and it seems they’ve struck a chord (pun unintended) as two highly polished musicians who work beautifully together. The menu of 16 songs features Parrott’s feathery vocals on seven of them, including “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Do It Again,” “Moonglow” and a totally charming old timer called “I Love The Way You’re Breaking My Heart.” Sportiello even chimes in as a singer on “Two Sleepy People.” If Parrott’s rather high-pitched voice and her intimate delivery are slightly reminiscent of Blossom Dearie, that’s not a bad place to be. Sportiello demonstrates considerable variety in his musical choices, from Tommy Flanagan’s “Sea Changes” to Robert Schumann’s “Of Foreign Lands And People” to Duke Ellington’s delicate “Fleuine Africane.” He is a pianist with a light touch and chops to admire. This twosome sounds as if they’re having more fun than the law should allow. You will likely follow suit.
Arbors, 2009, 61:19.

The Nature Of Love, Whitney James, vocals.
Seattle’s Whitney James, a much admired singer among that city’s hip jazz folk, debuts here with an album which satisfies in so many respects. First, take a look at the careful choice of tunes. She’s about spot-on perfect on Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not,” never succumbing to the temptation of the tune’s possibilities of overdoing it to somehow prove that she’s the real deal. James is brave enough to take on Jimmy Rowles’ gorgeous (but extremely challenging) “The Peacocks.” It’s a tune that by now has established itself as a jazz standard, but it gains new freshness with Norma Winstone’s lyric as “A Timeless Place.” Other little subtleties, surprises and highlights: the rarely heard introduction to “Long Ago and Far Away”; her clever use of the closing phrases of “The Very Thought of You” to open the song; the tension release as the rhythm section opens up on “How Deep Is the Ocean”; and a Bill Evans tune which has somehow escaped even an Evans freak like me, called “In April” -- a lilting, life-is-good kind of melody. Put all this and more together with James’s brisk trio of Joshua Wolf, piano, Matt Clohesy, bass, and Jon Wikan, drums, and add a bonus: Ingrid Jensen’s trumpet and flugelhorn is a plus on several of the tunes, especially the ballads. This is a well thought-out CD from a singer who deserves the kudos sure to come her way.
Self-Produced, 2009, 51:30.

Men Of Honor, Jeremy Pelt, trumpet, flugelhorn.
After experimenting with some synthetic sounds on his last album or two, I almost gave up on Jeremy Pelt. But here he’s returned to a standard quintet, and I’m once again in his corner. His colleagues on this date include J. D. Allen, tenor sax, Danny Grissett, piano, Dwayne Burno, bass, and Gerald Cleaver, drums. The eight tunes are all originals from various group members, and they cover the gamut from burning hard bop to luminous balladry. Each of the players brings that hard to define New York attitude, and collectively, the result is sometimes electrifying and sometimes expressive and beautiful. Most importantly, Jeremy Pelt is back where he should be: playing in a straight ahead quintet and providing soaring, relevant music with great creative energy.
High Note, 2010, 45:26.

Blue Bassoon, Daniel Smith, bassoon.
I was informed that the bassoon is one of the most difficult instruments to play. The liner booklet quotes the New York Times saying, (Daniel Smith is) “the greatest bassoon player of his generation.” An interesting perspective when one considers how much competition he has in the jazz field. Maybe none. Be that as it may, Smith plays bebop tunes undaunted, and improvises with ease on this most unwieldy of instruments. His quintet includes the very underrated pianist, Martin Bejerano, with Edward Perez, bass, Ludwig Alfonso, drums, and Larry Campbell, guitar. So understand this: Smith isn’t giving you a ‘look what I can do on an instrument foreign to jazz.’ Not when he and colleagues work the changes to “Billie’s Bounce,” “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be,” “Equinox,” “Footprints,” “Solid,” “Nostalgia In Times Square” and more. I can’t help but think of the horse of a different color in the Wizard Of Oz. I think the line was, “there’s only one of him and he’s it.” 
Summit, 2009, 43:06.

Three For The Ages, Michael Pagan, piano.
Piano heroes like Bill Evans, Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan and Alan Broadbent have laid the groundwork for the elegant, in-the-pocket pianist Michael Pagan. Like theirs, his approach is to find both the beauty and the swing in the music. And, like them, his trio is just that … a trio where each player makes a significant contribution. Most pianists begin an album with a head-turning fast tempo. Pagan opens with an extended “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” a ballad in the heart of the tradition. In fact, he doesn’t really let out all the stops until a high wire “How Deep Is the Ocean.” A Victor Feldman tune, “Falling In Love,” once again represents Pagan’s pageantry on a ballad, and “I Should Care” swings politely with some bountiful block chords. “Atras da Porta” is a gentle Brazilian bossa which I recall from a delicious performance from an old Rob McConnell album. A second Irving Berlin tune, “The Best Thing For You,” is played with swinging precision, and Pagan and friends end the program with “Persona,” a thought provoking entry from the brilliant Italian pianist, Enrico Pieranunzi. These and more signal the arrival of Michael Pagan in the small circle of jazz pianists who listen first and then find their own voice.
Capri, 2010, 64:13.

Zollar Systems, James Zollar, trumpet, flugelhorn.
According to the bio which was enclosed with James Zollar’s CD, this versatile trumpet player has served the cause for quite a few years and has played with some formidable associates. This recording is a blowing session with a New York crew creating several tempos and moods. The tunes, all unfamiliar except the standard, “The Nearness Of You,”  sample the compositions of group members, plus one each by Hank Jones and Eddie Harris. It’s all here: a little hard bop, a bit of avant garde, a couple of foreign language vocals, and to top it all off, a hint of the opera! Surrounding all this creativity is the engaging trumpet and flugelhorn of James Zollar. His sound is vital, biting and rich, perhaps in the Woody Shaw school. We certainly need to hear more from him, perhaps next time on an entire album of unabashed hard bop!
JZAZ Records, 2009, 62:56. 


Popjazzic, Christopher Lehman, trumpet.
Seems like Christopher Lehman is trying to be all things to all people in bringing us a little jazz (a couple tunes brought to mind Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder” and Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage”) and a lot of pop and funk. The group goes too far astray with some heavy backbeat stuff, a couple of poppy vocals, a bit too much electric bass and the like. Amidst it all, Lehman plays blue ribbon trumpet, but because the CD tries to cover too much ground, it doesn’t quite make the grade as a thoroughgoing jazz CD. But then, the title of the disc is “Popjazzic,” whatever that means.
Earlin Music & Media Productions, 2009, 43:12.

Takin’ My Time, Michael Kaminski, Hammond B3 organ.
There must be a lot of people who thoroughly dig these organ-tenor-guitar things ‘cause there’s a ton of ‘em out. While it’s not exactly my musical entree, this one came off more as a jazz album than a funk session. The guys even found the possibilities of “It Might As Well Be Spring,” “Where or When” and “Moonlight in Vermont” in this setting. Kaminski sounds more than a little bit like Jimmy Smith, the ultimate jazz organist. There’s lots of cookin’ fun here, without the extraneous overkill of all those funk groups.
Chicken Coup, 2010; 75:00.

Make Someone Happy, Monica Ramey, vocals.
On her debut CD, Nashville singer Monica Ramey displays a velvety voice on a handful of choice tunes including infrequently heard ones like “Dream Dancing,” “You Hit the Spot,” “Passion Flower” and “Give Him the Ooh-la-la.” But the award winner was the opener, a Blossom Dearie tune called “Hey, John.” Carmen McRae’s version of it was a wake up call from the past, but Ramey comes darn close. Some sparkling arrangements for horns add some luster to the performance. Ramey has learned the lesson of never over-decorating a tune, something some singers seemingly never understand. I liked her a lot!
Cognito, 2010; 46:20.

Past Present, George Cotssirilos, guitar.
I’m always a bit wary of guitar albums. Will a jazz guitarist really show up? Certainly one did in George Cotsirilos. He plays gimmick-free guitar, and his trio, with Robb Fisher on bass and Ron Marabuto on drums, cooks up several nicely conceived originals, moving with ease between swinging post bop to shimmering ballads. And always using space effectively, surely the sign of a veteran player. Three standards played wonderfully well included “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Without a Song” and a beautiful acoustic solo on “What Kind of Fool Am I.” It’s straight down the middle of the jazz highway, a nice place to be.
OA2 Records, 2010, 58:02.

Live At Blackhawk, Lady K & The Kings of Swing.
Big band swing is alive and well in the San Francisco area. If you need proof, check out Lady K (Kaye Leedham on tenor sax and flute) and her 17-piece band. If you’d expect such a group to feature Ellington, Gershwin, Porter and Rodgers and Hart, you’d be right on the money. Any big band devotee knows that such an organization needs a ‘boy singer,’ and Dale Head fills the bill. You’ll know virtually all seventeen tunes, so put this one in the player and get out on the dance floor!
Self-produced, 2009, 67:43.

Free At Last, Tobias Gebb, drums.
New York drummer Gebb must have put out the call to some willing hard boppers and come up with alto sax man Bobby Watson, tenors Ron Blake and Joel Frahm, and trumpet man Joe Magnarelli. These and other Gotham cats show up on an album of nearly all Gebb originals which offer solid writing, excellent arranging, and premier solo work. You will not shake your head wondering where these songs go because Gebb gives you real melody lines, whether the tune is a burner or a ballad. He has scored a winner.
Yummyhouse Records, 2009, 45:51.

Here In The Moment, Gail Pettis, vocals.
Seattle singer Gail Pettis has released her second CD for OA2 Records, and it’s another winner! I love her singing because she’s a natural. Pettis doesn’t go over the top with unnecessary fluff. She’s blessed with a great voice and lets that voice do its thing. With a couple of Seattle trios led by pianists Randy Haberstadt and former Portlander Darin Clendenin, Pettis works comfortably on 11 delights.
OA2 Records, 2010, 46:25.

Reviews by Kyle O'Brien

Creepin’ Up, Dave Fleschner Trio.
Keyboardist Fleschner keeps putting out solid music and growing as a solo artist with each release. This time, the keyboardist for Curtis Salgado returns to his stripped-down, classic B-3 organ trio to play some bluesy soul jazz with guitarist Dan Gildea and drummer Charlie Doggett. The title track is a nice, swinging minor blues, showing off the loose-yet-focused nature of the group, with Fleschner and Gildea taking turns soloing and comping while Doggett locks in a beat that won’t quit. There is palpable soul on this disc, especially on the backbeat grooves of Fleschner originals, “SAF,” and the amusing “Bo Diddley Owes Me 80 Bucks.” Fleschner grooves with the best of them, and his playing has an approachability that makes him a very talented everyman. With Gildea opening up the sonic possibilities and Doggett being his tasteful self, this trio goes way beyond the normal organ trio, even if the tunes aren’t terribly complex. The groovy “Feet Music,” by Ornette Coleman, fits in perfectly, while the original, “Byzantine,” courts world rhythms and open chords without straying too far afield. The closer, “Brother,” is a nice, pulsating ballad that lets the volume come up yet remains a lovely tune, with Gildea’s distorted guitar leading the melodic way on this retro-‘80s fusion-style piece.
2009, Fleschtone Records, 60 minutes.

Rinnova, Scenes.
John Stowell, Jeff Johnson and John Bishop have been playing together as Scenes for nearly a decade, and the group continues to evolve and develop a sound as a trio rather than a collection of players. It’s not about showcasing one instrument or even one sound. Their work is reminiscent of the fusion of the ’70s and early ‘80s, like that done by Mike Stern or John Abercrombie, though it is definitely of the now. Stowell’s guitar approach is softer and more delicate even as it tackles thick chords and dense textures, due to his nylon-stringed instrument. The trio isn’t just about being a more acoustic version of a fusion act, though -- it’s about creating textures, colors and compelling sonic landscapes. The disc begins with some free-form jazz, with Bishop attacking the drums with a flurry of stickwork and Johnson strumming hard chords before settling into a light modal groove. It swings and grooves through a few tracks until the haunting bowed bass by Johnson on “Leviathan,” a slow piece with a pronounced low end, which fits the nautical theme. Stowell sails over the top with nylon-stringed chord jabs as Bishop uses brushes to heighten the feeling of wind and waves. Things get a little freer on “Art of Falling,” then get light with “Fun with Fruit.” Johnson switches to electric on “Little Church,” a free-flowing tune that lets Johnson and Stowell interweave lines. As an interesting closer, Stowell picks up a fretless guitar, which creates a dizzying effect with Johnson’s upright bass on “Clues,” a tune that will challenge the listener while creating a sense of colorful whimsy. These three continue to create cohesive musical conversations while searching for new ways to weave their magic.
2010 Origin Records, 63 minutes.

100 Years of Django, Frank Vignola.
Guitarist Vignola has played with people as diverse as Ringo Starr, Madonna and Leon Redbone, so for him to pay tribute to one of the most influential guitarists of all time isn’t a stretch. The problem is that so many folks have paid tribute to the late great gypsy guitarist that one wonders if anything new can be brought to the retro genre. This disc starts promising, with a frenetic “Rhythm Futur,” a barnburner that shows off Vignola’s strumming skills and features the rapid-fire accordion of guest musician Julien Labro. The fact that they let the volume bubble under for a long stretch is refreshing and makes building to a final crescendo all the more vibrant. There is a sense of modernity to this tribute, as the nearly bossa-like “Troubland Bolero” shows, as Vignola does a modern solo over the light strumming of guitarist Vinny Raniolo and bassist Gary Mazzaroppi. The updated arrangements bring a freshness to what could just be another jump-swing tribute. The melancholy take on “Tears,” as done solo by Vignola, is beautiful and technically sound. The inclusion of the rarely-heard rail tune, “Mystery Pacific” is amazing in its speed, while the more recognizable “Nuages” reassures us that this is a tribute. Vignola is a name that needs to be heard more on the left coast.
2010, Azica Records, 48:50.

Three’s Company, Holly Hofmann & Bill Cunliffe.
Flutist Hofmann teams up again with pianist, composer and arranger Cunliffe, who she has worked off and on with for two decades. They have recorded several discs as a duo, but this adds the weight of some lofty guest stars, including Regina Carter, Terell Stafford, Ken Peplowski and Alvester Garnett. The disc starts with a bluesy duet on “Too Late Now,” a chance for Hofmann and Cunliffe to show off their sophisticated classical meets jazz aesthetic. When Hofmann picks up the haunting alto flute, she teams beautifully with Carter’s violin on the lovely “Star-Crossed Lovers,” with Cunliffe staying in the background as the two share harmonies and melodic lines. Stafford’s muted trumpet bops along with Hofmann’s flute on her own “Three’s Company,” a jaunty fun tune. Cunliffe’s “Reunion” is a harmonically more interesting tune, with Peplowski’s clarinet handling both harmonic and countermelodic lines. Peplowski is a fine player, and with Hofmann he is in perfect company. Garnett’s drums are welcome in the setting, as he uses brushes to create rhythmic textures rather than simply beats. The duets are just as successful as the trio tunes, giving lovely interludes and bookends to a very nice recording.
2010, Capri Records, 51:20.

Paul Meyers Quartet Featuring Frank Wess.
Wess’s breathy, mellow tenor fits smoothly with Meyers and his nylon stringed guitar. The opener, Strayhorn’s light swinger, “Snibor,” is a perfect intro, smooth and relaxed. Wess pulls out the flute for a more modern tune, Meyers’ “Blue Lantern,” an extended contemporary blues with Wess showing his breathy flute work. But it works better on the bossa version of “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” where Wess can extend his notes and tone. This isn’t an exciting album, but it just might take away some stress. Wess concentrates on melodic interpretations, while Meyers and his group swing along with ease. Vocalist Andy Bey brings his rich and deep voice to “Lazy Afternoon,” a Brazilian version of the standard that gives it a very different feel, but still has a quietude that is calming. The blues of “Menage a Bleu” is about as dirty as it gets, with Wess doing his best tenor growl. Their version of “My One and Only Love” is worth the wait, as Wess does justice to the timeless melody.
2009, Miles High Records, 60 minutes.

Forty Fort, Mostly Other People Do the Killing.
This eclectic Pennsylvania ensesmble’s fourth CD cements them as one of the odder young groups working today. They aren’t shy with volume, as the opener, a frenetic “Pen Argyl,” demonstrates. Kevin Shea’s drums thunder and fly as the horns create honks and generally sound as if they will fly out of control at any second. The only thing is -- they never do. The tune constantly switches modes, beats and rhythms but they somehow all come together doing what they need to do, and even create some nifty harmonies along the way. Easy listening this is not, and thank goodness. Some may think that MOPDTK is a bit over the top. And they’d be right, but jazz was built on people taking chances, and this raw jazz takes plenty. John Irabagon’s honky alto, Peter Evans’s blasting trumpet and bassist/composer Moppa Elliott’s boundary blurring tunes make this a fun, if exhausting, romp through the disparate elements we call jazz. One might wish for a little more use of dynamics to make the loud parts a little more effective and less cacophonous, but heck, this is jazz, man.
2009, MoppaMusic, 60:25.

Twelve Pieces, Mike Mainieri/Marnix Busstra Quartet.
Mainieri is a renowned vibe player known best for his many years with the ever-changing Steps Ahead. Here the veteran teams with guitarist Marnix Busstra for another winning collaboration. The vibes and the various guitars and bouzouki fit well together, but then again Mainieri knows how to adapt to a setting. This seems a natural fit though, since the band is tight and Mainieri seems like a longtime member. The tunes, mostly written by Busstra, are contemporary pieces, some leaning more towards traditional modern jazz and others adding world elements, like the Indian-meets-Spain-meets-European jazz of “Lost in Little Spain,” with its droning electric sitar. Very cool stuff with a global edge. Marnix is quite the string player, jumping back and forth between electric and acoustic and other selected stringed instruments. It’s a welcome fusion of sounds and textures. Mainieri’s 12-tone “All in a Row” fits well here but could just as easily fit into the Steps Ahead mold. This is how fusion should evolve.
2009, NYC Music Productions, 60 minutes.
ART-i-facts: Great Performances from 40 Years of Jazz at NEC.
The New England Conservatory of Music’s jazz program is officially 40 years old, and the names that have come through its doors are astounding. This disc is a collection of tunes recorded at the Conservatory over the years. The opener, a swinging “Cottontail” from the Duke Ellington Repertory Orchestra conducted by Gunther Schuller from 1974, is amazing, though the recording quality is less than stellar. Jaki Byard’s “‘Round Midnight” is hauntingly beautiful while Steve Lacy’s solo version of Monk’s “Thelonious” is repetitive though intriguing. Bob Brookmeyer with the NEC Jazz Orchestra is a rouser from 2005, but again the sound quality could be better. This is an interesting study in how one school helped shape jazz for the future with incredible names, but the quality of the recording is less than great.
2009, New England Conservatory,72 minutes.

American Rock Beauty, Torbeen Waldorff.
Guitarist Waldorff is an interesting character and a heck of a composer and guitarist. His focus on accessible but edgy modern jazz is impressive, and here he has a fine band backing him, which includes drummer Jon Wikan and saxophone whiz Donny McCaslin. This band is tight, and it makes the compositions come to life on tunes like “Shining Through,” a mix of Americana and jazz that builds. The songs have a diversity that lets the listener sample the music, from rock and funk to colorful slower songs like  the title track. McCaslin is restrained during the melodic sections, but he gets a chance to show his muscle on tunes such as “Late,” where he works his altissimo register with grace and power. There’s even some swing, with “Song-Ella,” where Waldorff even sings a bit. Waldorff is a force in the contemporary jazz world, and with this group he keeps moving forward.
2010, Wasteland/ArtistShare, 60 minutes.

Sicilian Opening, Salvatore Bonafede Trio.
Italian pianist and composer Bonafede is joined by two other Sicilians, drummer Marcello Pellitteri and bassist Marco Panascia, for a varied disc of blues, jazz, covers and some pop. It begins with a New Orleans-street-style blues, the title track, which could work well in the Garden District. But Bonafede has a little more polish than the street. The blues gets slower on “bbbb,” a tune that could be down and dirty but stays sophisticated. “WWWW” is an homage to Dr. John, and it has that European-meets-New Orleans flair but is done as a modern jazz composition. On the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” he uses a light funk-rock beat with the familiar melody but makes it work with the descending line. Bonafede and his group would fit well in either a jazz club or concert hall. Sometimes the tunes are a bit too clean for their own good, but maybe it’s an Italian thing. Grazi.
2010, Jazzeyes, 55:45.

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