CD Reviews - December 2010 

by George Fendel, and Kyle O'Brien

Reviews by George Fendel

The Italian Job, Mike Turk, harmonica.
Considering his last name, one might think Turk might have sought the musical environs of Istanbul. But a bit over a decade ago, he initiated a long camaraderie with some Italian jazz cats, and this CD is the result. I know that many of you jazz harmonica freaks only acknowledge "Toots" as king. But please stretch a little, and give Turk a piece of the action. With an all-Italian rhythm section of piano, vibes, bass and drums, Turk and friends deliver a varied selection of tunes ranging from Faure's "Pavane" to Hank Mobley's "Funk In a Deep Freeze" to Turk's original, "Maxwell Street." A few personal faves included George Shearing's now-classic "Conception"; a stirring vibes and harmonica duo on Johnny Green's "You're Mine You"; and a little bit of tempo on Cahn-Van Heusen's gem, "All My Tomorrows." It adds up to a classy and distinctive setting of real-deal jazz harmonica in the company of sympathetic, subtle and sincere friends.
Tin Sandwich Music, 2010, 51:42.

This Path, Gordon Lee, piano.
It's strictly one man's opinion, but I've always considered Portland's Lee to be a pianist rooted in the jazz art, but one open to a multitude of influences and musical colors which compliment his considerable stature in jazz. On his second CD for the Seattle-based OA2 label, Lee explores seven original compositions and five selections from other sources. Two distinct trios of esteemed Portland resident musicians give Lee outstanding support. One of those trios features Dave Captein and Carlton Jackson; the other Kevin Deitz and Ron Steen. His program actually spins in several directions. There are Latin and bossa touches on "Andalucia" and Jobim's stunning "Portrait in Black and White"; and on the Lee original, "Minor Discrepancy." Or how about a look back at time spent with Native American saxist Jim Pepper on Pepper's "Lakota Song"; or a funky revisit to Lee Morgan's "Cornbread." Among several originals, I especially liked "Ninety-Nine, Ninety Nine," a quirky, witty melody line which nearly speaks those very words. Lee has brought his prodigious creativity to Portland and world audiences for many years. May his flag continue waving for many more.
OA2 Records, 2010, 65:21.

Triple Play, Russell Malone, guitar.
It may not sound like a big deal at first, but stop and think about it. Malone's been on the scene for while now, and he's yet to make the guitar sound like something other than a guitar. So what, say you? Well, in an age with accoutrements galore and electronic gizmos ad nauseum, Malone still opts for a guitar sound. And I applaud him for it. Strange to say, however, this is his first guitar trio recording. Nonetheless, it's a winner that includes David Wong, bass, and Montez Coleman, drums. A close look at the tune list tells you that Malone has spent time unearthing some obscure but swinging, well-written material by composers such as Oliver Nelson, Quincy Jones, John Hicks and a Ron Carter tune called "Tail Feathers." His one choice from Songbook America is Cole Porter's "Do I Love You," also infrequently performed. The big surprise of the set was the '50s tune "Unchained Melody." Perhaps you remember Al Hibbler's vocal: "time goes by so slowly, and time can do so much ..." All of these and a few of the guitar maven's originals add up to a luscious session and a royal treat for jazz guitar fans.
MaxJazz, 2010, 60:52.

Bob Wilber Is Here! Bob Wilber, clarinet, alto and soprano saxes.
If you're one of the crowd who believes there aren't enough "clarinet records" being made these days, you'd better get your hands on this one. A multi-reedman with credentials from here to Harrisburg, Wilber is joined by a coupleof younger generation licorice stickers in Anti Sarpila and Nik Payton. The three of them run the table, playing clarinet, alto, soprano and tenor sax, and they'll most certainly turn your head! If that's not enough to entice you, throw in some additional great players to really make this an ensemble sound. Included in a 15-song program are a few undeniable delights such as "Dreamy," an Erroll Garner tune which was supposed to be the next "Misty." It didn't get that far, but it's sure nice to hear in this setting. Or how about the ancient "Yes, We Have No Bananas"! Now there's a tune you haven't heard in a spell. Do you remember Jack Benny's theme song, "Love In Bloom"? You will after you hear it here. And Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" gets a lovesome treatment. On all these and more, Wilber and his entourage give melody lovers reason to celebrate.
Arbors, 2010, 58;48.

Canyon Cove, Bob Mintzer, tenor sax, bass clarinet, flute.
Multi-reedman Mintzer has been a staple of the jazz business for many years and has played in nearly every context imaginable. This time he brings in a couple of sympathetic cats in Larry Goldings, organ, and Peter Erskine, drums. If you've read my reviews, you know that I'm not a B-3 freak, but I'm aware many are. And on this date, Goldings keeps it sunny and subtle, and Mintzer plays with great freedom and certainty, especially on tenor. The tunes are, with the exception of a faster-than-usual "When I Fall In Love," all originals. I was especially impressed with "Thaddeus," Mintzer's tip of the hat to Thad Jones, for its quality melody line. I also was drawn to the ease and fluidity of "Road Less Traveled." On three selections known as "Improvs 1, 2 and 3," an EWI (electronic wind instrument) enters the fray. Oops! But other than that, Mintzer's tenor (in particular) has many shining moments, even in an organ trio setting.
Pony Canyon Records, 2010.

You Are There, Hilary Kole, vocals.
It's nothing to go to war about, but some might listen to this CD and proclaim Kole a talented cabaret singer. Others would line up in the jazz cue. Whichever camp you find yourself in, it can't be denied that Kole has a way with a song. And on this album, she is paired in 13 duets with some of the great jazz pianists of this day or any day. And what great tunes she chooses! "Lush Life" with Kenny Barron. "How Do You Keep the Music Playing" with composer Michel Legrand. "Strange Meadowlark" with composer Dave Brubeck. "You Are There" featuring Dave Frishberg's poignant lyric to Johnny Mandel's melody, and pianist Alan Broadbent. "Softly As in a Morning Sunrise" with Benny Green. Or Henry Mancini's "Two For the Road" with Steve Kuhn. These are sensitive performances from a singer who doesn't simply sing lyrics, but delivers the intimate messages of these superb melodies. Kole might be described as a singer's singer, and regardless of category, I hope this recording will be the first of many in this same duet format.
Justin Time, 2010, 60:28.

Musica, Helio Alves.
A native of Brazil and a product of Boston's Berklee College of Music, Alves has worked the New York jazz circle since the early 1990s. On his debut recording for Jazz Legacy Productions, Alves presents a truly international trio in bassist Reuben Rogers from the Virgin Islands and drummer Antonio Sanchez, of Mexico City. A guest on the date is fellow Brazilian, Claudio Roditi, in whose band Alves has worked for years. Guitarist Romero Lubambo also occupies a guest slot. The Brazilian connection is ever-present in the playing of the leader as he moves with precision and poise through a collection of mostly original compositions, both his own and those of others. The two exceptions are Wayne Shorter's riveting "Black Nile" and Herbie Hancock's delicate "Chan's Song." Alves is a thoroughgoing, complete and brilliant pianist. It's time the jazz world recognizes this distinctive voice. Perhaps this recording may help him achieve more well deserved recognition.
Jazz Legacy Productions, 2010, 58:420.

The Big Band, Patrick Williams, composer, arranger, conductor.
Seems like I haven't heard the name Patrick Williams in quite some time. I always thought he had a flair for arranging contemporary tunes and making them sound a lot better than the originals. Well, Williams is back, and this time around he's put together an album of his own wonderfully tailored compositions for a stomping L.A. big band. Those familiar with some of the giants of the Southland will know names like Andy Martin, Bob Sheppard, Chuck Findley, Warren Luening, Eddie Daniels and Tamir Hendelman. All of these bright lights and a few more receive generous solo space in a driving big band record. Williams' writing is vital, modern and fresh as a steaming hot bag of popcorn. In an era of only occasional honest big band records, this may be one of the year's best. How nice to have Patrick Williams back doing what he's done so well over the years.
Artist Share, 2010, 57:35.

Straight Ahead, Mac Gollehon, trumpet and trombone.
Although the publicity accompanying this recording tells us that Gollehon once performed in the Buddy Rich and Stan Kenton orchestras, I must admit his is a new name to me. His background is also strewn with pop and rock dates, so that may explain my ignorance. In any case, Gollehon has chosen to try his hand at a roaring big band sound by overdubbing both trumpet and trombone. The other participants on the album include well seasoned vets like Ron Cuber, baritone sax, and Victor Lewis, drums. The familiar fare on this 10-song set includes "'Round Midnight," "You're My Thrill," "After You've Gone," "The Good Life "and "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." Gollehon's multi-instrument approach, along with his compositional and arranging skills, suggest a dedicated musician successfully sporting a coat of many colors.
American Showplace Music, 2010, 39:14.

We're Here To Listen, Leslie Pintchik, piano.
The first thing you pick up on in listening to Pintchik is her elegant touch on every single key of the piano. Right off the bat, it's a thing of beauty, and even shines through the rather unusual opening choice, "Blowin' in the Wind." In a quartet setting with Scott Hardy, bass and guitar, Mark Dodge, drums, and Satoshi Takeishi, percussion, Pintchik concentrates most of the remainder of the CD on her own compositions. They range from catchy, quirky to very introspective and personal compositions. Aside from the Bob Dylan opener, the only familiar fare here is the standard "For All We Know." Throughout the CD, Pintchik and friends score heavily in the "emotion" department. Pretty is always okay in my book, and if a little alliteration is allowable here, then certainly Pinichik Plays Pretty.
Pintch Hard, 2010, 67:06.

Live At Voce, Steve Gadd, drums.
I guess I need to take a deep breath and acknowledge that these "organ groove" albums are highly in demand. I certainly see a lot of them competing for reviews and airtime. My usual reaction is, "Oh, here's another one." But you must dig 'em more than I do, so, well, "here's another one." All the stock bluesy licks and organ fills are here, but there's one characteristic that puts this one in the higher circle of organ-guitar dates. And, said simply, it's the choice of tunes. Oh, the CD starts off routinely enough with a couple of predictable blues, but then the attention of the group shifts to a higher plane: "Undecided," "Bye Bye Blackbird," "Georgia on my Mind," "Back At the Chicken Shack" and "Sister Sadie." The quartet responsible is made up of Joe DeFrancesco (who else?), organ and trumpet; Ronnie Cuber, baritone sax; and Paul Bollenbeck, guitar. Unfortunately, the set closes with two vocals from a you've heard one-you've heard 'em all singer named Edie Brickell. But then, how often are you going to encounter a little fun and a few yawns all on the same disc?
BFM Jazz, 2010, 67:30.

Things Yet Unknown, Shawn Bell, trombone.
Michigan born but currently residing in Illinois, Bell is a product of a life-long love affair with jazz and a University education to help achieve his goals. A very mainstream trombone cat, deep in the well of tradition, Bell has produced a very listenable debut album that features a sextet of close Midwest colleagues. In addition to an efficient rhythm section, Bell's concept includes the rather odd pairing of both trumpet and flugelhorn. Mind you, not one guy doubling, but two distinct players. Different? Yes! Effective? Also yes! The CD is comprised of five of the leader's originals, and they are, for the most part, well-conceived, melodic entries. Real songs, one might say, with melody lines and bridges. The two standards here, both effectively rendered, are "You Stepped Out of a Dream" and "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning." Bell has worked with jazz luminaries Curtis Fuller, Benny Golson and John Fedchock, among others. It's called honing his chops. And on this scintillating CD, he's given the chance to show 'em off!
Self-produced, 2010; times not indicated.

Down For Double, John Burnett Swing Orchestra featuring Buddy De Franco, clarinet.
A city the size of Chicago is nearly guaranteed to have at least one glorious swing orchestra playing the classics. Without such an organization, Chicago wouldn't quite be Chicago. No need for concern as long as the John Burnett Orchestra plays the tunes on this swinging, danceable CD. The band book covers many of yesterday's heroes with arrangements of In "A Mellow Tone" and "Cottontail" (Duke Ellington); "The Heat's On," "Down for Double," "One O'Clock Jump" and "Wind Machine" (Count Basie); as well as material associated with Buddy Rich, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa and Slide Hampton. As a bonus, DeFranco brings his prowess to the bandstand on three tunes. It's a comfortable place for DeFranco, a rare player who successfully bridged the swing to bop gap years ago and established himself as a star in both camps. Burnett, who also hosts a jazz radio program on Chicago's WDCB, leaves lots of solo space for band members who all perform with exuberance. Rather reminiscent of Woody Herman, Burnett credits them by announcing their names individually. If you're so inclined, you'll want to hit the dance floor on this one.
Delmark Records, 2010, 59:37.

Thrivin', Marian Petrescu, piano.
Those who truly love the art of the piano trio can appreciate both the less–is-more qualities of the romanticist-impressionist and the virtuoso who spins your head around with technique and chops. A native of Finland, Petrescu has been called "the Horowitz of jazz piano" by the sensational European pianist Martial Solal. Petrescu is hardly secretive about his allegiance to Oscar Peterson, and he's perfectly capable of pulling off the same piano prestidigitation that Oscar gave us. In this incredible live performance, he even includes two OP tunes, "Cakewalk" and "Blues Etude," both taken at high altitude. His quartet — with Andreas Oberg, guitar; David Finck, bass; and Mark McLean, drums — also explores "My Romance," "Blue In Green, "On the Trail" and "Yours Is My Heart Alone." If most of those ring Peterson bells, well, there's another connection. But the real bell ringer is the closer: seven minutes of riveting, mind-boggling, "impossible" "Indiana." I'll always love the Flanagans, Evans's and Broadbents. But there'll always be room for guys like Petrescu, who go for the gusto and get it!
Resonance, 2010, 62:59.

Botanic, Tyler Blanton, vibes.
"I try to feel grounded in bebop and straight-ahead jazz, but I've studied all kinds of music and I hope that comes through." So says Brooklyn resident Blanton, 29. A former drummer who wanted to work more with chords and harmony, Blanton's debut CD is mostly a quartet affair with Joel Frahm working out nicely on both tenor and soprano saxophones. Blanton's writing is intricate, but accessible. Indeed there is a sense of jazz history in his writing, and the bop pallet is more than comfortable for him. Just check out something called "Good Ol' Joel" for a boppy, bluesy, bubbly bauble. And if you're not thoroughly familiar with Frahm through his own recordings, pick up on his tenor work on a tune called "Foreshadowing." You'll want to hear more. Blanton's goal is not so much a blowing session, but rather meaningful musical communication between like minded players. His compositions reflect this. Lyricism and beauty are at the heart of things, but these guys can swing with authority as well.
Self-Produced, 2010, 51:18.


Re-Fused, Heavy Tin, piano-bass-drums.
Here's a piano led trio that plays original music and aims for an eclectic menu of sounds. The pianist, B. R. Pearson, may have been influenced by as unlikely a group as Mose Allison, Jaki Byard and Mal Waldron, or the piano cat of your choice. And while the CD's title suggests "fusion," this is much more creative than the run of the mill fusion record. This music may lean toward the contemporary side, but it ultimately has both feet planted in the deep well of tradition.
Concinnity Recordings, 2010, 57:05.

Down With Love, M. J. Territo, vocals.
Anyone whose repertoire includes two Bob Dorough songs ("Devil May Care" and "Small Day Tomorrow"); one Dave Frishberg opus ("Do You Miss New York?"); and a Bill Evans standard ("Waltz For Debbie") is okay in my book. And give her extra credit for additional material from the likes of Rodgers and Hart, A. C. Jobim and others. Territo brings a little Rosie Clooney-like maturity to her vocals, and works more than comfortably with the fine piano trio backing her.
Self-produced, 2010, 44:26.

Chopin Meets The Blues, Peter Beets, piano.
Start with this: Dutch pianist Beets is a virtuoso. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, you'll understand that Beets has parlayed Chopin's timeless melodies (which I'm positive he played in his formative years) into stirring jazz arrangements. At times, Beets is simply breathless in his precision and ease at super-fast tempos. He also turns much of the solo work over to guitarist Joe Cohn, who's equally ready for the task. Reuben Rogers, bass, and Greg Hutchinson, drums, complete the quartet. Ol' Fredric would have loved it, and, I do believe you will too!
Criss Cross, 2010, 61:03.

Billie And Dolly, Jacqui Sutton, vocals.
Now I've seen it all. A CD featuring songs "inspired" by Billie Holiday and Dolly Parton. And believe me, it's a big production with a fold out format, a cardboard cover and an extensive, colorful booklet. But as a pair, Holiday and Parton are like comparing Morton's Steakhouse and Jack In The Box. Sutton sings well enough, but the banjo-dominated orchestra doesn't fare well on "God Bless the Child," "Lazy Afternoon" and others. Whoever it was that talked Sutton into this mismatch is missing some gray matter.
Toy Blue Typewriter Productions, 2010, 58:36.

Constraints And Liberations, Thomas Marriott, trumpet.
I can recall hearing a teenage Marriott sounding for all the world like Clifford Brown! As most musicians do, he's moved into other arenas, certainly finding his own voice, but it remains at times a silvery, gorgeous trumpet sound. On these seven originals, Marriott works little miraculous turns with tenor man Hans Teuber, and leaves lots of room for pianist Gary Versace and his rhythm section to create on their own terms. Marriott's compositions paint a complete and colorful picture of where he is right now, and that's in creative mode
Origin Records, 2010, 54:13.

Journeys, Cyrus Chestnut, piano.
To my recollection, it's been quite awhile since Chestnut last issued a straight ahead piano trio recording, so this one is a welcome delight! With his present day trio of Dezron Douglas on bass and Neal Smith on drums, Chestnut delivers the goods on nine stimulating examples of his own writing. The only standard here is Rodgers and Hart's "Lover." Otherwise, it's the vital and fresh communication of a trio that scores big time on both rip-roaring tempos and serene ballads.
Jazz Legacy Productions, 2010, 59:42.

Reviews by Kyle O'Brien

One Kiss, Linda Lee Michelet.
Michelet dives into the '50s and '60s with a great sense of melody on this small big band disc. She takes the tunes of three great melodicists, Peggy Lee, Nancy Wilson and Anita O'Day, and lovingly recreates them, keeping the tunes much as they were recorded originally, but with a tight, smaller band. Joe Millward's smart arrangements fit a smaller group - four horns and rhythm, plus some nicely placed strings. Michelet's buoyant voice is easy on the ears. Her delivery is warm, inviting and true to the melodies. The disc has a nice mix of standards — including a swinging, light Latin version of "Love for Sale" — and lesser-known tunes such as the playful "Boston Beans" and the cool swinger, "Never Will I Marry." Millward's arrangements make the group sound bigger than its parts, and sophisticated throughout. Solos are all spot on, including those by saxophonists David Evans and Pete Petersen, trumpeter Paul Mazzio and trombonist Lars Campbell. One flaw would be Michelet's scatting on "Four Brothers," which feels rushed. The rest is a refreshing retro take on some fine melodies.
2010, Eader's Bakery, 60 minutes.

Live at the Penofin Jazz Festival, Rich Halley Quartet featuring Bobby Bradford.
Rich Halley is one of the area's best free jazz players and composers. His muscular sound and no holds barred attitude make him a force for the kind of jazz that lives on the edges. This disc, recorded at a jazz festival in the middle of rural Northern California, makes the most of its quartet's talents. Halley is the clear leader. His brash tone and sure-handed control make the four tracks come alive. The quick bop of "The Blue Rims" sets us on a path of big sounds. Carson Halley's drum flourishes accent Clyde Reed's solid bass work, which gives the two horn players plenty of room to take their jazz into improvisatory territory. The light funk of "Shards of Sky" finds Halley exploring his horn, squawking and powering through his solo time. The veteran trumpeter Bradford is more reserved, but he flashes the brilliance that has made him a legend. If you like your jazz rough, this is for you, even if the recording quality is a bit spotty.
2010, Pine Eagle Records, 41:55.

This Path, Gordon Lee.
Pianist/arranger/composer Lee is always good for a listen. His distinct style is engaging, with thick, layered chords and a robust feel. On this disc, he acknowledges his many travels and influences, and the result is a global jazz sound that remains cohesive, thanks to Lee's arrangements. It begins with "Pao Ma Shan," a modal Chinese folk song that Lee transforms into a pensive jazz tune. It's played by the first of two trios on this album, featuring drummer Carlton Jackson and bassist Dave Captein. This trio plays on half the tracks, and Jackson's feel and touch, combined with Captein's inspired low end makes for a half dozen fine tunes, including the late Jim Pepper's solemn "Lakota Song." The second trio, with drummer Ron Steen and bassist Kevin Deitz, also impresses, especially on the sizzling "Sitting Bull's Revenge," a reinterpretation of the bop classic, "Cherokee." The only non-trio song, "Andalucia," adds Miguel Bernal's tautcajon rhythms. Lee is inspired throughout. His compositions and arrangements have both a sense of melody and adventure, and his wide-open chord structures make for an international album of local jazz.
2010, OA2 Records, 60 minutes.

Celebrations, Eugene Marlow's Heritage Ensemble.
The subtitle of this disc — "Interprets Festive Melodies from the Hebraic Songbook" — lets you know you'll be hearing traditional Hebraic melodies done jazz style. On that point the disc doesn't disappoint. Keyboardist, leader and arranger Marlow takes these ancient, Middle Eastern melodies and adds various jazz, Afro-Cuban and Brazilian rhythms, along with decidedly jazz chords. The opener, "Chaukah, O Chanukah," is a snappy Latin number with Eastern modalities, while "Moaz Tsur" is a lovely, simple melody as interpreted by alto saxophonist Michael Hashim, with a nice solo by bassist Frank Wagner. The tie between Latin rhythms and Middle Eastern melodies is a tad odd, but mostly works, as on "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel," when the children's song does the cha cha. Chanukah and Purim are the two Jewish traditions most present here. The Purim song, "Layehudim Haitah Orah Ve-Simchah Ve-Sasson Ve-Yakar," is a winner, with its lush opening leading to a '70s-style funk groove. While the ancient traditions of the Jewish people done as modern jazz tracks might seem odd, it works here and gives those who celebrate Chanukah something different for the holiday. The only track that seems superfluous is Marlow's narration of what the Heritage Ensemble is all about, which can be read on the liner notes or the website.
2010, MEII Enterprises, 48:03.

The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel, Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica.
Juan Esquivel was a unique composer. His crazy, bachelor pad, hi-fi blend of electronics and big band defined the space age era, and this group recreates the huge, whacked out sound. Mr. Ho is percussionist Brian O'Neill, and he has assembled a big band, complete with four singers, to bring back the sound that has been lost to the decades. It's a hoot to hear, and the band is spot on with the transcribed arrangements. "Night and Day" is a big bombast of horns, slide guitar, harmonized choruses, and horn blasts, while "Take the A Train" sounds like Duke Ellington after five mai tais in a lounge in Hawaii. If you don't smile while listening to this disc, you're made of stone. It's kitschy, but boy, is it fun.
2010, Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica, 30 minutes.

Triple Play, Russell Malone.
Guitarist Malone has surprisingly never recorded in a trio setting. This disc changes that, and his partnering with bassist David Wong and drummer Montez Coleman, makes a great feature for Malone, letting his fingers do all the chord, melody and solo work. The opener, "Honeybone," is a groover that showcases Malone's rich, smooth tone. He plays with a fluidity and ease that brings the listener close. Laying the guitar bare here is the right move. There are no discernible flaws, and Malone engages throughout, thanks to his two cohorts, who allow the guitarist space but show off nice work of their own. The original, "Pecan Pie," is a lovely ballad, with Wong's upright bass moving the pace along with relaxed precision. A familiar track is Malone's "Sweet Georgia Peach," from his 1998 solo album. Here, it's a stripped down funk version that sounds like a New Orleans street tune with gusto, and Coleman's drums create an infectious street beat. Ron Carter's "Tail Feathers" grooves along with a keen back-and-forth between guitar and bass. The solo version of "Unchained Melody" at the end shows that Malone is a respected jazz artist who also manages to be one of the genre's most approachable.
2010, MaxJazz, 60:52.

Plays Holiday Songs, Vol. 2, Trio West.
Jazzy Christmas albums are nothing new. This disc by Trio West is yet another in the bunch, but it's certainly worthy of a holiday spin. Drummer/arranger Tobias Gebb's group takes the familiar melodies and jazzes them up, like the light Latin version of "We Three Kings" and the funk of "O Tannenbaum Funk." The Christmas tree song also gets a salsa treatment. Alternate rhythm versions of "Joy to the World" and "We Three Kings" are also here. For my money, Vince Guaraldi's "Peanuts Christmas" is still the best, but this would be good for a holiday dinner party.
2009, Yummyhouse Records, 30:45.

Hypochristmastreefuzz, Benjamin Herman.
Despite the name, this is not a Christmas album, save for the jingle bells at the beginning of the title track. This is alto saxophonist Herman's take on the music of Dutch improvisational jazz composer Misha Mengelberg. It's an energetic, sometimes frantic double disc of rollicking music. The title track is a free-jazz bopper, while "Brozziman" is a surf guitar rocker, with Herman blasting over the twangy guitar of Anton Gousmit. The discs have many moods, from subtle ballads ("De Spring O Romantiek Der Hazen") to swinging free blues ("Blues After Piet") to electro free jazz ("Een Beetje Zenuwachting") and angular swing ("Do the Roach"). The live second disc, recorded at the North Sea Jazz Festival, is perhaps even more brash than the studio version, and that's saying something. But there is a palpable energy here, one that makes you keep listening.
2010, Dox Records / Roach Records, 107 minutes.

Israeli Song, Eli Degibri.
Saxophonist Degibri is living out his musical dream on this disc. Growing up, he dreamed of playing with the likes of Ron Carter and Al Foster. The two legendary players are both on this disc, as is piano whiz Brad Mehldau. Degibri isn't awed here; he lets his playing develop, lets the melodies evolve and flourish, especially on his own tunes, like the light swing of "Mr. R.C.," which starts simply and builds to a glorious crescendo under the steady hand of Carter. Degibri has serious chops, but he doesn't show off. He has a sophistication and touch, rare for a younger player. No wonder these three legends chose to play with him. Most of the tunes are originals, and Degibri's chordal sense is rooted in the past but with an eye towards the future. The ballad, "Jealous Eyes," has touches of Coltrane but is less edgy. It's a pleasing mix of traditional chordal jazz and light touches of middle eastern modality. Foster's funky "Look What You Do to Me," provides a rhythmic interlude, while Carter's "Third Plane" lets Mehldau lay the chords thickly over a light waltz. If Degibri wasn't well known before this recording, he should be now.
2010, Anzic Records, 56:45.

Lab 2010, UNT One O'Clock Lab Band.
The University of North Texas Lab Band is continually one of the top big bands in the country. That it's a student ensemble is the most impressive aspect of its Grammy winning existence. This amazingly tight group has musicians that will undoubtedly go on to be great studio and performing professionals. Half the tracks are student compositions and arrangements, like the soaring "House of Cards" by Kevin Swaim. The band, led by Steve Wiest, is incredibly well rehearsed, and the soloing is top-notch, like Scott Mulvahill's Jaco-like bass solo on "The Oracle." The arrangement of "Fly Me to the Moon" takes the classic tune to a new level by deconstructing it and building it back up. Donald Fagan's "Pretzel Logic" is slower and even more complex than the Steely Dan original. If you like big band music, you can do almost no better than this jaw-dropping group of students.
2010, North Texas Jazz, 62 minutes.