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

Reviews by George Fendel

Live At Ronnie Scott’s, Johnny Griffin, tenor saxophone.
What a pleasant surprise to hear “the little giant,” Johnny Griffin, on his final recording. Griffin’s in-your-face tenor helped define hard bop and post bop, and he takes no prisoners here in a live and lively appearance at London’s famed jazz club. Fellow American Roy Hargrove’s trumpet and flugelhorn help enliven a typical Griffin set of steaming bop stew and luscious balladry. An example of the former is the fiery opener, “Lester Leaps In,” with appropriate vigor. Hargrove’s flugelhorn opens Griffin’s ballad, “When We Were One,” and then Johnny comes in to give it every¬thing he’s got. And what would a Johnny Griffin date be without “The Blues Walk”? Hargrove gives it his “Cliffordian” best, and Griff follows suit on tenor. Roy’s original ballad, “Mentor,” is a beauty, and is followed by the album’s one standard, “How Deep Is the Ocean.” And guess what? Johnny Griffin turns singer, and a pretty darned good one, on the Irving Berlin classic. The set closes with two JG trademark tunes: a blues called “The JAMFs Are Coming,” and hard bop opus “Hot Sake,” a cousin of “What Is This Thing Called Love.” Griffin and Hargrove are joined here by David Newton, piano, on most tunes; and Billy Cobham on drums. Recorded in May 2008, this CD might well be thought of as a last gift to his many admirers — it finds him in full flower, always faithful to his hard bop muse.
In & Out Records, 2008,60:49.

Touch, Jessica Williams, piano.
Williams might say otherwise, but really, she has nothing to prove. Each new CD she has brought out in recent years is a pas¬sionate and joyous journey. Especially so is this new CD, where she plays solo and allows the piano to sing exquisite melodies, both hers and those of others. The opener is Gershwin’s “I Loves You Porgy,” and it receives a nearly rhapsodic treatment, played as lovingly as possible. Williams has composed prolifically over the years, but she comes up with a delicate and silky thing called “Soldaji,” with a touch of the East and the mysterious hand in hand. “Rosa Parks” has a charming and pleasing melody line, and one of John Coltrane’s rarely heard works, “Wise One,” will de¬mand your attention. They are followed by “Gail’s Song,” another lilting and lovely JW line. Two standards are next, a stunning workout on “I Cover the Waterfront” and a heartfelt “Goodbye Porkpie Hat.” This live performance at The Triple Door in Seattle ends with another original, the stately “Simple Things.” Through¬out, Williams concentrates on beauty, passion and heart, keeping in mind always that the sound of the unfettered piano can be a joy to hear. Especially when it’s caressed by Jessica Williams.
Origin Records, 2010,56:28.

Live! Phil Wilson, trombone and Makoto Ozone, piano.
Back in 1982, when this rather astonishing duo performance was recorded live at the Berklee Performance Center, Makoto Ozone was a young but promising piano virtuoso at the famed Boston music institution. Phil Wilson, a daunting trombonist, was well into his second decade on the school’s faculty. And thank goodness, someone had the presence of mind to record this meet¬ing of two musicians, from different generations and cultures, communicating in an eerily amazing fashion. Toss up all the bar¬riers you wish, but when two musicians are on same page, they can’t be stopped. And so it is that Wilson and Ozone sound like a one-man band on six astonishing performances ranging from “Stella By Starlight” and “Here’s That Rainy DFay”to “Giant Steps” and even “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gave to Me.” The musical ideas and virtuosity flow like Mrs. Butterworth’s as these two seemingly read one another’s thoughts. At one point, you hear Wilson chuckle during some applause as he mum-bles “I liked that one.” Talk about understatement. You’ve heard musicians talk of being in the zone. Well, both Wilson and Ozone were there on this noteworthy New England November night.
Capri, 2010, 39:26.

Detour Ahead, The Oster-Welker Jazz Alliance featur¬ing Jeff Oster, vocals.
Just when you get that nagging feeling that the male jazz singer is becoming a threatened species, along comes Oster to give you renewed hope! On this most welcome follow-up to last year’s “My Shining Hour,” Oster and co-leader, trumpet ace and arranger Peter Welker, once again team up to bring us a set of standard, straightahead, no-frills music. Oster is one of those fortunate cats who gets to revel in the invigorating sounds of Welker’s big (but understated) band. In a featured role are two shining lights on trombone in Bill Watrous and Scott Whitfield. Most of the other names in the band are new to me; probably younger cats on the SoCal scene, but fine players all. And Oster plays it straight as well, with solid interpretations and a bit of scat when needed on such faves as “Invitation,” “Never Let Me Go,” “Gentle Rain,” “A Beautiful Friendship,” “A Weaver Of Dreams,” “All Through The Night,” and the title tune. So settle into your favorite easy chair and enjoy a distinctive new voice. Thanks, Jeff, Peter and pals for “keeping it going.”
Jazzed Media, 2010, 67:27.

Top Shelf, Warren Vache, cornet, John Allred, trombone.
I was long ago convinced that Vache is one of those jazz cha¬meleons. But no matter the colors he takes on, he simply knocks it out of the park whether it’s swing, trad or, in this case, bop. And if you haven’t heard Allred on trombone, well... focus (!) ‘cause he’s in the pocket! The quintet is completed by the under-rated Tardo Hammer, piano, Nicki Parrott, bass, and Leroy Williams, drums. The entire program will lift your spirits, but a few highlights in¬clude: “Sweet Pumpkin,” by pianist Ronnell Bright, a terrific little melody that I remember from a vocal by Bill Henderson; bop clas¬sics “Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues,” by Monk, Clifford Brown’s joyous “Tiny Capers,” Cannonball’s “Spontaneous Combustion,” Benny Golson’s evergreen, “Whisper Not,” and a delicious Bud Powell opus, “A Parisian Thoroughfare.” For good measure add a few gems from Songbook America in “Moonlight In Vermont,” “The Best Thing For You,” “By Myself and “My Romance.” This CD is another lesson in lyricism from Vache, a player who epitomizes taste and who always seems to communicate timelessness in his music.
Arbors, 2010, 72:28.

Handful Of Stars, Adam Schroeder, baritone saxophone.
It’s not exactly an everyday occurrence to find a baritone sax player who is taking his jazz journey along the center of the high¬way. So kudos for Schroeder, who has learned his lessons well from the likes of Carney, Chaloff, Adams and Mulligan, to name a few. On his debut recording, Schroeder is joined by emerging gui¬tarist Graham Dechter and top tier pals John Clayton, bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums. In describing his approach to the recording, Schroeder said, “I wanted it to be a straightahead, no frills, cut to the chase representation of how I sound.” And he sounds darn good on a program of standards and a few originals. One can’t help but notice the selection of a few tunes that can hardly be de¬scribed as overplayed. How often do you hear lesser-known stan¬dards like the title tune? My favorite version of that was by Serge Chaloff, and undoubtedly Schroeder received some inspiration. Other rare gems include “I Don’t Wanna Be Kissed” and Cole Porter’s “I Happen to Be in Love.” To those, add jazz tunes like Quincy Jones’ “Jessica’s Birthday,” Neal Hefti’s “Pensive Miss” and Barry Harris’ “Nascimento.” All these and more suggest a new and very talented voice on baritone.
Capri Records 2010 ,61:21.

Live At The Detroit-Montreux Jazz Festival, Bob Szajner, piano.
A fixture on (and for long periods off) the Detroit jazz scene, Szajner (pronounced ‘Zayner’) is featured in a 1981 live perfor¬mance of his original and very swinging tunes. A prodigy who started playing improvisational music in his pre-teens, Szajner became disenchanted with the music biz on several occasions but always returned to the piano. His only previous recordings were on local labels, now long out of print. And for what this CD lacks in sound quality (it’s a “B”), it deserves to be circulating and ready for curious collectors to sample. His trio includes Ed Pickens, bass, and Frank Isola, drums. Isola might be remembered for stints with the likes of Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan and Mose Allison. As for Szajner, his style embodies incessant swing, well-constructed melodies and, all in all, very upbeat, optimistic music for a piano trio. Some guys are fulfilled as resident jazz musicians, finding a gig and a living in their own hometown. That’s fine and dandy, but so many of the Bob Szajners should be heard outside their own territory. And in thiscase, here’s you opportunity.
Cadence Jazz Records,2008,75:09.

The Audience, Ralph Lalama, tenor saxophone.
Lalama has been tilling the jazz fields of New York City since the mid-1970s, but he has never fully broken through as — if there is such a thing in jazz — a household name. This time out, he elects to play in a piano-less quartet with John Hart, guitar, Rick Petrone, bass, and Joe Corsello, drums. Lalama is a fully formed post-bop tenor player, comfortable at any tempo and able to com¬municate in any style. For this recording, he chooses some rare material like Wayne Shorter’s “Marie Antoinette,” Duke Pearson’s “Minor League” and a neat, nearly forgotten ballad called “Kiss And Run.” In addition to a few original tunes, Lalama scores on “Portrait of Jennie” and also tips his hat to fellow tenor man Sonny Rollins with “I’m An Old Cowhand.” I’ve heard most of Lalama’s recordings, and I must say that I prefer him in the stan¬dard quartet setting, utilizing a piano. The guitar quartet may give him a bit more breathing space — a chance to play more free than usual. That’s not at all a bad thing. I just hear Lalama as more inspired on the piano dates.
Mighty Quinn Records, 2009, 55:51.

The Endless Search, Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra.
Please don’t refer to them as a big band. About five minutes with this recording, and you’ll agree that this is a jazz orchestra. Boasting many of Seattle’s top-flight jazz cats, the SRJO pres¬ents here the recorded debut of Jimmy Heath’s remarkable new suite in three movements, “The Endless Search.” Commissioned and first performed by the SRJO in 2006, sax legend Heath is on hand to personally provide vigorous solo work. These charts are complex, but rewarding, and the players bring on a similar feel to a Bill Holman or Thad Jones-Mel Lewis event. Among many premier players here, a few that always ring my bell include Jay Thomas and Thomas Marriott, trumpets; Dave Marriott, trom¬bone; Mark Taylor, alto and tenor sax; and Randy Haberstadt, piano. In addition to the riveting “Endless Search,” other tunes of special note include Charles Mingus’ “Haitian Fight Song” and Duke Ellington’s “Creole Love Call,” both great and stimulating vehicles for big band. But then, virtually everything the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra takes on might be described that way. Great and Stimulating.
Origin, 2010, 51:32.

Stirred, Not Shaken, Rebecca Richardson, vocals.
Probably half a dozen singers arrive each month in my mail box, and most of them are wanna-be’s who don’t quite measure up to review standards. Enter Rebecca Richardson. A native of Seattle, Richardson now gigs four nights a week out of Naples, Florida. But she tapped some present and former Seattle talent on her recording with Dawn Clement on piano, Dan Heck, guitar, Jeff Harper, bass, and split drummer chores between Bryon Van¬noy and Steve Korn. Richardson is blessed with understated jazz chops, never indulging in the extraneous excess that separates the men from the boys. And you can’t argue her selection of tunes, including “All of You,” “Do It the Hard Way,” “Whisper Not,” “My Romance” and even Bobby Troup’s “Daddy” (remember Ju¬lie London?). Besides Richardson’s altogether hip jazz vocalizing, a big high five goes to the pianist Clement. She gets it perfectly with little nuances, subtle shadings and hip licks tailor-made for the singer.
Self-produced, 2010.

A-Me, Hiroe Sekine, piano.
A product of Japan’s jazz scene, Sekine has put together a varied program featuring a basic sextet on most tunes. Her concept seems to follow the classic approach, and her arrange¬ments are fresh and invigorating. Among the excellent players in her group, standouts include John Daversa, trumpet, and Bob Sheppard, tenor sax. Daversa’s trumpet was somewhere in the shadow of Miles Davis, and Sheppard was fluid and very modern throughout. Sekine seems to prefer a classic jazz sound, some¬times re-harmonizing or altering tempos to bring a new twist to the mostly familiar material. Four original compositions complete this debut recording from a pianist who brings both depth and musical color to her artistic canvas. As rich and rewarding as this CD is, I’d love to hear Sekine in a trio setting next time around.
Self-produced, 2010, 66:52.

Violin Jazz: The Music of Eddie South, Jeremy Cohen, violin.
Eddie South (1904-1962) was a violin virtuoso, right up there with Joe Venuti, Stephane Grappelli, Stuff Smith and Ray Nance. It was the color barrier that prevented him from achieving the star status he clearly deserved. But jazz violin enthusiasts know all about him. So this tribute to a formidable contributor in jazz history is long overdue and a delight to hear. In real tiny print, we learn that the violinist is Jeremy Cohen. He interprets this menu of period pieces, standards and a couple of surprises as though he were cutting 78s in a late 1920s recording studio. Joined by ex-Portland pianist Larry Dunlap, Dix Bruce, guitar, and Jim Ker¬win, bass, the quartet offers familiar fare such as “Deep Purple,” “Rose Room,” “Yesterdays” and “I Can’t Get Started.” From the obscure bag, there’s titles like “Black Gypsy,” “Mad Monk” and “Dr. Groove.” In the surprise category, consider the most sacred of Jewish melodies, “Kol Nidre,” and a stimulating “Rhapsody In Blue,” boiled down to four minutes and four seconds! Suffice to say, there’s something for everybody with ears here. Eddie South lives!
Dorian Recordings, 2010, 59:46.

Introducing Takao Iwaki, tenor saxophone.
Another native of Japan, Takao Iwaki is also a product of Boston’s Berklee College of Music. He’s now doing club work, teaching, and playing occasional cruise gigs as well. In listening to Iwaki, I was trying to discover his influences. As is the case with many startlingly good musicians, I could only come up with the ones he doesn’t sound like. Iwaki chooses a big full tenor sound, but he’s not in the Hawkins-Webster bag. He has moments of lyri-cal swing, but no one would suggest he’s out of Zoot and Al. He sounds as though hard bop may have been a this very impressive recording, Claassen sings an array of songs from eras ranging from Louie Jordan to Strayhorn, Jobim and even Joni Mitchell. There are surprises here, too. How many of us remember Cy Cole¬man’s “You Turn Me On,” a song I only know from an ancient recording from The Js With Jamie! Or how about “Tea For Two”? No kidding. And you’ve never heard it swing quite like this! So, let it be said that Claassen is all over the map, and equally impres¬sive in every camp. She needs to get over to this country and get in front of lots of people at big festivals. Claassen is the real deal.
Challenge Records, 2010, 64:47

Conversations, Dave Anderson, piano, Mike Wingo, percussion.
This Washington D. C. duo works skillfully together. Ander¬son’s concept is to play acoustic piano with a percussionist rather than a drummer. And Wingo brings some percussive instruments not normally seen in a standard drum set. It adds up to a rather unusual but always pleasant sound. If Anderson reminds me of anyone, I want to say there is a bit of Vince Guaraldi at the faster tempos. His ballads sound as though he may have once upon a time heard the nearly forgotten purveyor of pretty chords, Don Shirley. The song selection is split between standards and singing originals. In the latter category, the twosome includes “It Might As Well Be Spring,” “Gentle Rain,” “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” “Autumn Leaves” and “Spring Is Here.” I hesitate to call this dinner jazz, because that can carry negative connotations, and this is well performed. If it doesn’t spin you around in your chair, well, that’s not what you should be doing at dinner anyway.
Self-produced, 2010, 61:48.

Thinking Out Loud, Nadav Snir-Zelniker, drums.
It is apparent over the last decade or so that Israeli-born jazz musicians are becoming increasingly a factor in the jazz pan¬orama. Consider the arrivals of guitarist Roni Ben-Hur, scat singer Ori Dagan, piano maven Tamir Hendleman, and, in the review that follows this one, tenor saxist Benny Sharoni. This time it’s drummer Nadav Snir-Zelniker who has followed his passion for the jazz art from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. Now a busy resident of The Apple, Snir-Zelniker would be required to display considerable jazz chops to connect with established New York vets like Ted Rosenthal, piano, and Todd Coolman, bass. He does just that on a recording that’s loaded with invigorating piano trio material, both his stimulating originals and standards such as “Se¬cret Love,” “Isfahan” and a special rarity from Bill Evans simply entitled “Interplay.” It also becomes clear that this is a showcase for former Gerry Mulligan pianist Rosenthal, as he cooks up a straightahead brew that steams with pleasure. For decades, the jazz art has welcomed esteemed players from such far away places as Sweden, New Zealand, Spain, Brazil and Russia, among others. Now it has extended to the state of Israel, to which we American jazz fans can only enthusiastically say shalom!
OA2 Records, 2010, 60:22.

Eternal Elixir, Benny Sharoni, tenor saxophone.
Score another soaring tenor sax monster from Israel. While serving a mandatory three years in the Israeli army, Sharoni was saved, during a quiet moment here and there, by the music of Sonny Rollins, among others. I was impressed with the fact that Sharoni plays tenor exclusively; not seeing a need to double on soprano, as is often the case today. His tone brings Rollins, his hero, to mind, and Joe Henderson’s earthy sound is lingering somewhere nearby. Sharon’s sextet includes only one familiar name to me, Barry Ries on trumpet. In fact, Ries is heard to great advantage on the pop tune of yesteryear, “Sunny,” which enjoys a sunnier rendition than ever before. Other carefully chosen vehi¬cles include a delicate “Estate,” a couple of Donald Byrd rarities in “French Spice” and “Pentacostal Feelin’,” Blue Mitchell’s ironclad “The Thing to Do,” and the surprise, a jazzy “To Life.” You'll no¬tice a sense of veteran musicianship and a strong link to tradition from a player who undoubtedly did not grow up hearing much jazz on a kibbutz near the Gaza strip. So it is these days with a music that has spread beyond its native borders. The horrors of war taught Sharoni how critical jazz was as an emotional uplift. He put it in these terms: “music is the only reason I’m still alive.”
Papaya Records, 2009, 67:34.

Destinations, Tamir Hendelman, piano.
Some things are just meant to be. Just a couple days after writing the above two reviews of Israeli jazz musicians, this CD arrives at my doorstep. Having mentioned Hendelman briefly in the Snir-Zelniker review, something was at work here. So, let me put it this way: if the classic trio of piano-bass-drums has always held sway over you, if you’ve felt that this setting is the very heart of jazz, you must get acquainted with Hendelman. He’s already worked in various contexts, ranging from big bands to the accom¬paniment of singers. He’s a young guy who must have gobbled up all the jazz he could while growing up in Israel. Despite his youth, he has managed to successfully acquire the essence of the history of jazz piano. Who does he sound like? Well, he swings his derriere off, so right off the bat, there’s Oscar. An extensive (I’d guess) classical background would suggest the influence of Bill Evans or Alan Broadbent. Gorgeous phrasing and economy of notes might conjure up Bill Charlap or Tommy Flanagan. Judge for yourself, as Hendelman and his trio offer a menu of tunes ranging from Keith Jarrett’s “My Song” to Charlie Parker’s An¬thropology.” Henelman is the complete package. I knew it the first time I heard him some three or four years ago. He is destined to join the small circle of revered, top of the mountain jazz pianists.
Resonance Records, 2010, 68:51.

Cathy’s Song, Bob Lark, flugelhorn.
On his fourth release for Jazzed Media Records, Chicagoan Lark brings on a host of players in three separate ensembles. On “Blue Skies,” “My Shining Hour” and his original title tune, Lark’s trio meets up with four violins, one viola and a cello. Being that strings are usually not economically in the picture these days, this is a nice change of pace. Lark’s frequent playing mate, alto sax great Phil Woods, drops by and brings with him several ad¬ditional horn players on two of his own tunes, the sprightly “Rava Nova,” and his gorgeous ballad, “Goodbye Mr. Evans.” The latter is coming very close to standard status, and you’ll understand why when you hear Lark and Woods give it all they’ve got. The last of the three settings features Jim McNeely, piano, and Rufus Reid, bass, who join Lark’s silvery flugelhorn on two originals and the old standby, “All Of You.” The same group takes on the old warhorse, “On Green Dolphin Street,” with Lark switching to a Miles-like muted trumpet. All in all, this is a varied program from an obviously dedicated player. Lark plays so beautifully at times that he can give you the shivers. It sure feels good!
Jazz Media, 2010, 55:11.


After-Birth Of Cool, Chris Graham, vibes.
Anyone with a sense of jazz history will be intrigued with the CD’s title. Graham’s vibes-bass-drums trio plays it very cool indeed on a selection of original compositions that swing nicely and reflect some close communication among the players. Gra¬ham manages to use five (!) mallets, giving him the opportunity to nearly bend notes and create interesting chord combinations. His music is a bit cerebral at times, but when it seemingly is ready to fall off the diving board, it pulls back and retains your interest.
Self-produced, 2010.

Transient Journey, Pharez Whitted, trumpet and flugelhorn.
Some years back, somebody convinced Whitted to do some smooth jazz shlock. Thank goodness those days are gone, as Whit¬ted here gets a chance to really show what he can do with well conceived material and inspired, hard boppy colleagues. On a program of originals, Whitted leaves no prisoners in a high flying, free flowing fanfare which, at times, shows some Freddie Hub¬bard influence.
Owl Studios, 2010, 69:44.

Clarity, Dave Anderson, alto and soprano saxophones.
What do you think the odds would be that I’d receive two Dave Anderson CDs in the same month, and they’d be different people? I’d better go buy a lottery ticket. Well, our second DA this month plays a varied selection of original tunes and two standards in a Seattle-based quartet featuring the versatile John Hansen on piano. It seems that the soprano took honors over the alto here, and while Anderson plays both horns very well, I’d opt for the alto virtually anytime over the fish horn. Be that as it may, Anderson’s tone and concept were very musical and adventurous.
Pony Boy, 2010, 59:26.

Dangerous Liaisons, Sylvia Brooks, vocals.
Apparently Brooks is a Los Angeles area singer who’s been garnering some positive press in the Southland. I wouldn’t char¬acterize her as a jazz singer per se. She is, rather, a pop singer with the good sense to choose quality material such as “Harlem Nocturne,” “Cry Me a River,” “Lush Life” and more. The use of electric keyboards here and there did not settle comfortably in my ears. But in a pop sort of vein, Brooks puts forth a nice effort.
Self-produced, 2009, 43:39.

Representante De La Salsa, Susie Hansen, electric violin, vocals.
I’ve always held on to the notion that Latin music, as fun and gregarious as it often is, should not reside in the jazz castle. This is very good, spirited, well-arranged and performed Latin music. It should, in my opinion, be in the world music category because more than anything else, that’s what it truly is. Hansen and a couple of lead male singers put it over with bravado. Even though the label name insists otherwise, it ain’t jazz.
Jazz Caliente, 2010.

Slow Moving Dog, Eric Skye, acoustic guitar.
Well, I’ve heard more than my share of guitar-led funk al¬bums, but never one from an acoustic guitarist. If you’re into bluesy soul jazz grooves, as the group is described, then this is your thing. It’s heavy backbeat funk, not exactly my idea of a jazz album. Skye’s concept probably works well in a soul-drenched nightclub, but it doesn’t float my jazz boat. I should add, however, that the cover art is some of the best I’ve seen in years.
Half Diminished Records, 2010, 55;27.

Big City Circus, Joel Yennior, trombone.
It took me awhile to realize it because the sound of this trio is so complete as is. But yikes — there was no pianist and no bassist! What could trombone whiz Yennior have in mind? Well, his trio of trombone, guitar (Eric Hoffbauer) and drums (Gary Feldman) communicates on brisk tempos and ballads alike. I promise, you won’t miss the conventional instrumentation as Yennior’s trio impresses on original compositions and surprises like Bacharach’s “A House Is Not a Home” and Monk’s rare“Gallop’s Gallop.”
Brass Wheel Music, 2009, 44:05.

Straight Ahead Soul, Paul Carr, tenor and soprano sax.
If you’re a fan of the soul-jazz sound ... not the Hammond B-3 stuff, but rather the Hank Crawford type of thing which utilizes a standard rhythm section, this may be the ace in your deck. Carr gets down (or is it nowadays finds the groove?) This is significant¬ly superior to the dreaded smooth jazz, but it’s a distant cousin. Pianist Allyn Johnson and guitarist Bobby Broom have some nice moments in what is primarily a formula approach. They’re all quite good at what they do. What they do is the problem.
Self-produced, 2010, 50:45.

Four Plus Four, Ernie Watts, tenor saxophone.
When Watts is playing in the Charlie Haden Quartet, there’s a special film noir-nostalgia sound completely unique to him and perfectly suited to Haden’s penchant for ‘40s era Hollywood. And that, for me, is preferable to these sides recorded with two differ¬ent groups, one American and one European. I know Watts has a multitude of fans who scarf up everything he does, and I’m sure that they will welcome this varied, internationally flavored effort.
Flying Dolphin Records, 2009, 59:27.

Reviews by Kyle O'Brien

A Hamster Speaks, Brinsk.
I’ll admit, the only reason I listened to this disc was because of the graphically hilarious cover, a comic rendering of a cyborg hamster blasting a cobra with a laser. The music inside is as eclectic as its cover, though maybe not quite as fun. The Brooklyn group is led by bassist Aryeh Kobrinsky and features drums and three horns playing a truly odd mash of straightahead jazz, rock and avant-garde. If you’re a fan of folks like John Zorn, Bartok and Anthony Braxton, this group might be for you. It can be atonal and loose, tight and sparse, and just about everywhere in between. I think the cover may be more entertaining, but the mu¬sic is ripe for lovers of the bizarre.
2009, NOWT Records, 62 minutes.

I Will Tell Her, Curtis Fuller.
Fuller is one of the last legends of bop, and this double disc set shows off his talents with a group put together in Denver, featuring saxophonist Keith Oxman, trumpeter Al Hood, pianist Chip Stephens, bassist Ken Walker and drummer Todd Reid. Ox¬man and Fuller had been playing together at Denver club Dazzle for several years when they decided to record the gig and put together a studio session as well. While Fuller’s name carries the weight, it’s an ensemble recording through and through. Fuller may not be the player he was in his early days — his sound isn’t as strong and his licks aren’t quite as tight — but his innate musi¬cianship and his sense of ensemble is still powerful. The title track on the studio side is a lovely tribute to Fuller’s late wife, Cathy, and he plays the track with as much love as he obviously had for her. Fuller is more “lively” on the live tracks, and the band kicks much more as well. It’s also more bop oriented, with tunes like “Tenor Madness” and the hard-swinging Fuller tune, “Maze.” A fine recording from one of jazz’s noted trombonists.
2010, Capri Records, 1:53:30.

Inspirations, Big Crazy Energy New York Band. Vol. 1.
How can you resist a band with this nutty a name? Funny enough, the group lives up to it with high-powered energy from the start, with the double sax attack of Mark Fineberg and Ken Gioffre powering through Billy Cobham’s “Pleasant Pheasant.” The two saxes do their best to out blow each other while the at¬tacking horn lines of the group propel them forward. It’s a suit¬able morning coffee replacement. Thankfully, the whole disc doesn’t have that much crazy energy. Led by trombonist and com¬poser Jens Wendelboe, this big band has serious chops, a sense of sophistication and, oh yes, big crazy energy. They can also be tight, as on the tender “Seasons Wander,” with guest vocalist Deb Lyons singing over full and lush orchestration. Otherwise, things get funky, they swing, and soloists do their best to take advantage of every note. With discs like this, the art of the big band will never die.
2009, Rosa Records, 55 minutes.

Accomplish Jazz, Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord.
This group of New York-area musicians have to be some of the busiest working today. They all juggle several projects at once, intertwining their talents and creating jazz-fusion music that is young and vibrant, always on the cutting edge. This time at the helm it’s guitarist Lundbom. He’s joined by alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon, tenor saxophonist Bryan Murray, bassist Moppa Elliott and drummer Danny Fischer. This is free jazz with structure, compositional jazz with freedom, fusion with modern classical. There’s room for everyone in this setup, and considering the play¬ers, this one leans slightly more melodic, even though it often ends up punching through the layers. “The Christian Life,” is downright folky and simplistic in its country-like melodicism, though there is a free jazz edge that inches up as the tune pro¬gresses. These musicians like to push the limit. Tones are brash, including Lundbom’s guitar on occasion. Sounds are right up front. It’s urban music with folk twists, and certainly a disc that will get some listeners excited about the future of jazz.
2009, Hot Cup Records, 48 minutes.

The State of Black America, The Mark Lomax Trio with Edwin Bayard and Dean Hulett.
The name intrigued me enough to give this one a spin. Drummer Lomax poses the question, though one might not find a true answer and maybe there isn’t one. Maybe there’s just music, at least for the listener. With bassist Hulett and saxophonist Bayard, Lomax explores jazz history, starting with later Coltrane; “Stuck in a Rut” is a blistering hard bop flurry of notes and cymbal crashing. It’s accomplished, and something Trane would have found worthy. Other tunes search different aspects of the music that have made up black his¬tory, but without being derivative. It’s mostly about the greater meaning, and considering this is a chordless trio, one that has a limited capacity for full composition. On the surface, it’s avant-garde post-bop, but listen closer and you’ll hear a sense of per¬sonal identity coming through.
2010, Inarhyme Records, 50:20.

Live at Fraser Performance Studio at WGBH, Avery Sharpe Trio.
Sharpe is a veteran bassist who has worked with some of the best in the business, including McCoy Tyner, Archie Shepp and Art Blakey. He has had a successful solo career for over two decades, and it pays off here with a recorded performance at one of the top studios. With drummer Winard Harper and pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs, he puts out an impressive, sophisticated and near flawless recording of trio music. It ranges from the swing of Tyner’s “Blues on the Corner,” to the modern “Morning Glow” from Gumbs, to Sharpe’s own pieces, like the nimble swinger, “Oh No!” and the lengthy bass solo “I Understand.” This is an example of trio music done with panache.
2010, JKNM Records, 44:05.

The Playmaker, Mads Tolling.
I had never heard of Tolling before, but one look at the players here — Stanley Clarke, Stefon Harris, Russell Ferrante — made me want to give it a spin. Tolling is a Grammy-winning violinist and composer. He plays with the Turtle Island String Quartet, but this disc is more of a blend of modern rock and jazz than classical. It begins with “Just,” a Radiohead tune that is more rock than jazz, with Tolling bowing the length of his instrument, soaring to the upper register with ease. The title track is actually a three-part suite, dedicated to sports playmakers, including LeBron James, Tom Brady and Zinedine Zidane. Harris and Clarke make appearances on one of the movements, and their contributions lend different textures to the music. In addition, Mike Abraham’s open-ended guitar work brings modern structure to the pieces. This disc picks up where Jean Luc Ponty left off — contemporary jazz done on violin with a cavalcade of quality players. If you don’t like jazz violin, this isn’t for you, but if electric fusion is your thing, this is worth a listen.
2009, Madsman Records, 60 minutes.

Quadrangle, Mercury Falls.
Bay Area group Mercury Falls is a contemporary quartet that creates moods both mysterious and fluid. It uses acoustic instruments — alto sax and flute by Patrick Cress, drums by Tim Bulkey, bass by Eric Perney — and combines them with electric guitar and electronica from Ryan Francesconi. The musicians work together in harmony to create soundscapes that are a mix of jazz and trance music. It can be at times mesmerizing, at times contemplative, and almost always interesting. This is one for the headphones.
2010, Porto Franco Records, 38:45.

In Concert, and Both Sides, Corey Brunish.
Stage actor and singer Brunish has two new albums, one live and one studio recording. The live disc features Brunish singing traditional crooner music in a distinctively older style. Classics like “All of Me,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “South of the Border,” and “Anything Goes” all get straight forward treatments. Not sure if Brunish meant to have a near AM radio sound to this, but that’s what’s here. The recording quality on the live disc is not great, but the delivery is solid and crowd appealing. The studio recording is stronger, but still sticks to the classic crooner approach. Brunish knows who he is as a singer. Straightforward, melodic, with roots deep in the music. Brunish isn’t breaking any new ground, though his swinging version of Elvis’s “Love Me Tender” is a fun departure from the original. It would be nice to hear Brunish do more updated takes on these classics, or tackle some lesser-known tunes from bygone eras to give them new life.
2010, Brundog Records, “In Concert”: 33:50; “Both Sides”: 37:45.

Morning Star, Vincent Herring & Earth Jazz.
Veteran alto saxophonist Herring has played plenty of straightahead jazz in his career, so it’s fine when he decides to go funky, as he does here with pianist Anthony Wonsey, bassist Richie Goods and drummer Joris Dudli. He funks up Coltrane’s “Naima” but manages to keep its integrity. Wonsey reaches back into the ‘70s for inspiration on the hard grooving “The Thang,” and Herring’s sole composition, “Never Forget,” is a light funker that recalls Grover Washington, Jr., and the whole disc feels like an updated version of something vaguely cool from 1982. It’s retro all right, but quite a bit of retro fun.
2010, Challenge Records, 64 minutes

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