In Search of ..., Ken Peplowski, clarinet and tenor saxophone.
Seemingly, there's nothing Peplowski can't accomplish with either a clarinet or tenor sax under his command. This recording contains material from two sessions, most of which puts Peplowski in the company of Shelly Berg, piano, Tom Kennedy, bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums. Peplowski's choice of material comes from a wide variety of sources. For example, his opener, "The Thespian," was originally heard on Freddie Redd's nearly forgotten record, "The Connection." Berg contributed "In Flower," a delicate tribute to Billy Strayhorn. Followers of Strayhorn will note the similarity to "Lotus Blossom" and those hip to singer Lorraine Feather need to check out her gorgeous vocal on the same tune. Other beauties here include two Richard Rodgers gems, both rather rarely performed, "A Ship Without a Sail" and "This Nearly Was Mine"; a severely neglected ballad associated with Tony Bennett, "When Joanna Loved Me"; and even a tune popularized by the Andrew Sisters (!) dating back to WWII, "Rum and Coca Cola." All these and more clearly illustrate the versatility, heady musicianship, and immense talent of reed master Peplowski.
Capri, 2011, 68:27.
The Sesjun Radio Shows, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers.
Over several decades, the "Art Blakey School of Jazz," also known as The Jazz Messengers, produced some of our most treasured talents. This vigorous two CD set, from live concerts in The Netherlands, dates from 1978 through 1983, considered a later period of the Blakey phenomenon. His personnel at that time included heavyweights such as Valery Ponomarev, Bobby Watson, James Williams, Terrence Blanchard and Donald Harrison. These well-recorded concerts include some adventurous compositions from the above named players, including "Time Will Tell" and "E.T.A." from Watson; and "Dr. J." and "1977 A.D." from Williams. Blakey never shied away from standards, and these performances included "My One and Only Love," "Stairway to the Stars" and "Polka Dots and Moonbeams." The compositions of some illustrious alumni of the Blakey School are also represented with Benny Golson's "Along Came Betty" and "Blues March"; and Bobby Timmons' "Moanin'." Any previously unreleased material from jazz superstars is always welcome. And the Blakey set only marks the beginning. Look for material from the likes of Mulligan, Getz, and Evans!
T2 Entertainment, 2010.
Uplift, Monty Alexander, piano.
I must tell you right off the bat that I've been waiting for this album for a long time. You see, in recent years, Alexander has been doing a lot of calypso, Jamaican and other world music things. But on this invigorating CD, recorded, according to the notes, "at various concert halls around the globe," he returns to a trio format playing irresistible, high flying, jubilant jazz. With colleagues Hassan Shakir, bass, and either Herlin Riley or Frits Landsberger on drums, Alexander soars on a well-balanced menu of swinging standards, including "Come Fly with Me," "One Mint Julep," "Sweet Georgia Brown," "Django," "Body and Soul" and "Fungi Mama." But he also offers three striking originals. Alexander is a master who has rightfully earned a place somewhere in the "legion of honor" among jazz pianists. I can only hope this exciting new offering marks the beginning of a lasting return to the virtuoso jazz chops that he has always possessed.
Jazz Legacy Productions, 2011, 63:01.
Tenor Time: Reeds And Deeds, Eric Alexander and Grant Stewart, tenor saxophones.
If you haven't yet heard a previous Reeds And Deeds release, you need to check into two saxophone phenoms playing real-deal straight ahead, unfettered jazz. The CD's liner notes describe Alexander and Stewart as accomplished and compelling, and that may be an understatement. Completing the cohesive quintet are David Hazeltine, piano, John Webber, bass, and Joe Farnsworth, drums. "Omicron," "Crying Blues" and "Amsterdam After Dark" are infrequently played gems from Donald Byrd, Eddie Harris and George Coleman. As on past albums, each tenor player has one ballad feature. Alexander chooses the 1946 standard, "Tenderly," while Stewart opts for Irving Berlin's classic, "Isn't This a Lovely Day." Both are done to perfection. But that's not all. Jule Styne's "Make Someone Happy" will certainly produce that very result; "R & D Bossa" is a nice change of pace written by pianist Haeltine; and "Rise "N' Shine," the flag waver finale, tests the tenors at a dangerously fast tempo. What a great balance of blues, ballads, bossa and bop!
Criss Cross, 2011, 60:52.
West Coast Jazz In England, Shelly Manne & His Men.
I know that a lot of you collectors consider Contemporary's five volume "At The Blackhawk," a classic in your libraries. Well, here is some newly discovered material from nearly the same group: Joe Gordon, trumpet, Richie Kamuca, tenor sax, Russ Freeman, piano (it was Victor Feldman on the Blackhawk material), Monty Budwig, bass, and, of course, the leader and drummer supreme, Shelly Manne. Well recorded in 1960, and for the first time on CD, the quintet mesmerized its British audience with some great material and generous solo time from Gordon, Kamuca and Freeman. Gordon's flawless trumpet is particularly memorable in view of the fact that his early death in a fire cut short his career. Kamuca, a Lester Young disciple, also had his very own lyrical thing going, and is also highly valued for his work with this group. The recording is, in essence, a "capper" on the much-admired Blackhawk discs. It was bebop dressed in its finest, and it's going to please lots of Shelly Manne fans.
Solar Records, 2011, 63:31.
Magic, Nancy Marano, vocals.
Just why Marano has for years flown slightly under the radar is one of those jazz mysteries. She's a true, hip jazz singer and plays a lot of piano to boot. She scats with ease and never pours it on. And she always makes great choices of songs, some well known and others that are rare and under appreciated. Consider such examples as "Nobody Else But Me," "Tenderly," "This Happy Madness" and "I Didn't Know About You" and "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most." Then there's "Baby Don't You Quit Now" and "Mirror, Mirror, Mirror," giving some attention to the rare side of Johnny Mercer. Then there's "Carousel," a shimmering marriage of melody and lyric by Duncan Lamont, a songwriter whose compositions Marano covered exclusively in a previous recording. With all this exceptional music, the frosting on the cake is Marano's spot-on intonation, phrasing and ability to interpret the meaning of a lyric. It doesn't hurt a bit that she shares the recording studio with stalwarts like Claudio Roditi, Joel Fraham, John Mosca, Jack Wilkins and Mike Renzi, among others. Among so many wanna-bes, Marano's the real deal.
Laughing Face Productions, 2010 , 56:47.
Midnight At Nola's Penthouse, Scott Hamilton, tenor sax, Rossano Sportiello, piano.
Back in the 1980s, I used to catch the young Hamilton nearly every spring at The Otter Crest Jazz Weekend. I remember marveling that, in an era when nearly every young tenor ace was treading the Coltrane path, Hamilton had been infused by the spirit of men with names like Webster, Byas and Hawkins. That full-bodied tenor sound lives on in 2011, and on his new recording, it's featured in a delightful duo setting with "new on the scene" piano whiz Sportiello. The pianist, a native of Italy, is a whirlwind stride player who is also very much at home with an in-the-pocket tenor. The entire set is done with ease and distinct pleasure, but there are always a few standout tunes. My personal favorites include a ballad out of 1940s England called "Garden in the Rain"; Johnny Mandel's sensuous "A Time For Love"; an "old as the hills" tune you forgot about, "Come Back to Sorrento"; perhaps my favorite Cahn-Van Heusen tune, "All My Tomorrows"; a stride romp on "This Can't Be Love"; and another high energy take on "All God's Children Got Rhythm." These and others are played with energy and affection by two cats who obviously enjoyed one another's company.
Arbors, 2011, 67:15.
The Shirley Horn Suite, Ezra Weiss, piano, with Shirley Nannette, vocals.
Shirley Horn is undeniably one of the highest regarded singer-pianists that jazz has produced in the last few decades, and Ezra Weiss apparently fell under her spell. A faculty member at Portland State University, Weiss honors her with original music and some highlights from Horn's heralded songbook. His trio includes Corcoran Holt, bass, and former Horn drummer, Steve Williams. Weiss writes stirring melodies, some of which are reminiscent of Horn's achingly slow delivery. His passionate lyrics are delivered by yet another Shirley, Portland's Shirley Nannette. She finds the beauty and serenity of Weiss's compositions "I Wish I'd Met You," "Shirley Horn's Sound of Love," and especially "May the Most You Wish For." A fourth vocal, but at a faster tempo, is "Now That You Mention It." The "standards" here, all previously entwined closely with Horn, include "The Great City," "I Love You Porgy," "Estate" and "Something Happens To Me." From every perspective, this is a deep, thoughtful and gorgeous album. It's an intimate tribute to a beloved ambassador of jazz, and deserves to be heard.
Roark Records, 2010, 58:39.
Transparence, Chuck Deardorf, acoustic, fretted, fretless bass.
A veteran of countless recording dates, Deardord has been a Rock of Gibralter on the Seattle jazz map for decades. On this intriguing recording, he "mixes and matches" various tunes with different combinations of piano, guitar, drums, tenor and alto sax, percussionists and other participants. A few of the best known names, none of which appear on all tunes, are Bill Mays, piano, Bruce Forman, guitar, and Gary Hobbs, drums. Mays is always a fountain of creativity, and is heard to great effect here in a duo with Deardorf on Alec Wilder's "Moon and Sand." Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacocks" features tenor man Hans Teuber and Mays in as poignant a version as I've heard. Other selections which caught my ear include a Freddie Green-like Bruce Forman on "Sweet Lorraine"; guitarist Rick Peckham on Jobim's "Zingaro"; Teuber and Mays on "Collage," a tune in tribute to two of Deardorf's late colleagues, Bud Shank and Don Lanphere; and Forman and Hobbs on the standard, "Alone Together." All in all, this is an adventurous recording from one of the Seattle's most admired players.
Origin, 2011, 66;45.
Mort Weiss Meets Bill Cunliffe, Mort Weiss, clarinet.
If you're a basketball fan, you've heard the expression, "leaving it all on the floor." It means giving it all you've got. Applying that to jazz, Mort Weiss "leaves it all on the floor" every time he picks up the clarinet. He just may be the foremost bebop player on clarinet today. This time around, he brings on Bill Cunliffe, who solves every mystery that the piano keyboard can offer. A "do everything" monster, he has a home in the bebop idiom. He and Mort are easily a generation apart, but it makes no difference. They are brothers in bop! And giving the recording a little extra shmaltz here and there is the veteran flutemeister, Sam Most, plus guitar maven Ron Eschete! Rounding out the group are Chris Conner, bass, and the venerable Roy McCurdy, drums. And what a terrific choice of tunes, both bop and ballads. From "The Theme to Who Can I Turn To";" Indian Summer" to "The Sheik Of Araby"; and "The Gentle Rain" to Bird's "Dewey Square." And then, for some unexpected fun, there's the spoken voice of Peter Marx reciting Jack Kerouac's story about Slim Gaillard! A nice touch on an album just ripe for the digging! Vout-o-rouny yourself!
SMS Jazz, 2011, 79:36.
Good People, Jed Levy, tenor saxophone.
When this was recorded in 1987, the big "switch" from vinyl to CDs was just underway. Amidst that turbulence, this searing session was issued only on vinyl. Until now. Levy possesses a very straight-ahead sensibility on the tenor sax, and he doesn't indulge in any "see what I can do" or saxophone overkill. Instead, what we hear, even at ripping, fast tempos, is the assured sound of a tenor player who has found his voice. And I might say that it's one drawn from tradition, but with a contemporary, almost Coltrane-ish edge. Levy leads a quintet here, with monster guitarist Peter Leitch receiving plenty of solo space, and pianist Peter Madsen comping and soloing with precision and power. The five some is completed by two veterans Rufus Reid, bass, and Billy Hart, drums. The album is comprised of six originals and two standards, "Just In Time" and "Daydream." Of the originals, I loved the energy and musicianship of Leitch's "Second Avenue Blues" and two of Levy's creations, "Windows on the World" and a real flag-waving finale, "The Zealots." All told, there's some astonishing good playing here. Well worth the nearly twenty years to get this one on disc.
Reservoir, 2011, 53:12.
Jazz Gems, Stix Hooper, drums and Andrei Kitaev, piano.
The year was 2005. Andrei Kitaev was at the time living in Vienna, where his path crossed that of drummer Stix Hooper. Add bassist Al Criado, and the result is this album, recorded six years ago but only recently released. As the title suggests, every tune played here is a bonafide jazz gem. Among them are "Caravan," "Footprints," "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You," "Joy Spring," "Lazy Bird," "Lush Life," "Nardis," "A Night in Tunisia," "Ceora," "Stolen Moments," "Well You Needn't" and "A Child Is Born." Although the CD fails to include the name Andrei Kitaev on either the front or back covers, a serious oversight, it's really Andrei's album, as he is the prime performer on piano. I am told that due to studio time constraints, Kitaev was strictly limited to "brushing up" on a few tunes he hadn't played in years. You wouldn't know it from this CD. In the company of the muscular, sometimes bombastic Hooper, Kitaev keeps everything in swinging balance. These timeless evergreens, after all, are his bread and butter, and he honors them and their composers with the authority, precision and grace of the master pianist that he is.
Stix Hooper Enterprises, 2010, 64:58.
Latin Bird, T. K. Blue, alto saxophone, flute.
I ask you this: if trombone ace Conrad Herwig can Latinize the music of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock, how about alto player Blue applying the same concept to the music of Charlie Parker? That's exactly what he does, and with a lineup of skilled players and a couple of guest artists, it all adds up to a heady, steamy foray into the music of a genius who went by the name "Bird." What is alarmingly smart, is that Blue, like Parker an alto player, never tries to "do Bird." Instead, he takes on Bird's racy, juicy tempos, but always on his own terms. And so, with his tight quintet of alto, piano, bass, drums and percussion, Blue dives into such Birdlore as "Chi Chi," "Si Si," "Visa," "Blue Bird," "Barbados," Steeplechase," "Donna Lee" and "Buzzy." Guests Steve Turre on trombone and Lewis Nash on drums add further spice to a well-conceived and flawlessly performed outing.
Motema Records, 2011, 52:21.
Alborada, Carlos Franzetti, piano, compser, arranger, Allison Brewster Franzetti, piano.
The multi-talented Argentine, Franzetti, has created an adventurous new CD featuring both his piano work and that of his wife, Allison, and the orchestral presence of the City of Prague Philharmonic. The titles, all Franzetti originals, would fall somewhere into what was once referred to as "third stream music." There are influences here from JS Bach and Bill Evans; from Maurice Ravel and Herbie Hancock; and from Duke Ellington, Claus Ogerman and Gil Evans. Franzetti is equally comfortable in nearly any legitimate musical setting, and also happens to be a gifted singer, although this album is strictly an instrumental effort. In addition to drawing inspiration from the above named giants, there is a Latin flavor here and there, most certainly derived from Franzetti's heritage. The CD differentiates the tracks where he plays piano from those on which his wife, Allison, plays. Both reach for the heart on some stirring melodies, and there are strong moments for the Prague Orchestra as well. A beautiful combination of the classical and jazz arts you'll return to again and again.
Amapola Records, 2011, 42:15.
The Man and His Music, Johnny Mandel, composer, conductor.
To put it succinctly, this record is long overdue. Mandel is an "old school" composer writing stunning melodies for "new school" times. This live appearance, peppered with Mandel's introductions and quips about every tune, was recorded live at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola. It features the ebullient DIVA Jazz Orchestra with guest singer Ann Hampton Callaway. Everyone's in celebratory form on JM classics such as "Close Enough for Love," "Low Life" and "Emily." These and a few non-Mandel tunes combine to put you in the midst of an intimate, straight to the heart performance from all. I'm told that Mandel, by his own choice, is no longer writing movie scores. But that's okay. He's already provided us with enough sterling silver compositions to guarantee an honored place in American musical history.
Arbors, 2010, 60:37.
Trilby, The Rick Holland-Evan Dobbins Little Big Band.
The liner notes inform us that this ensemble started as a swinging dance band in 2005. Since then, they've evolved into a solid, well-arranged outfit with first rate solos played by intriguing, skilled jazz cats. The feeling I derived from the CD was similar to a classic Blue Note session. You know, several well-written originals that are melodically strong, and a few standards to test the players' chops on familiar material. The co-leaders play flugelhorn and trombone, respectively. Most of the arrangements come from pianist Bill Dobbins, who allows plenty of room for free-swinging solo work. The familiar vehicles here include Benny Golson's "Stablemates" and Sonny Stitt's "Eternal Triangle." I also spotted a tune called "Rich's Call" by Kerry Strayer, a baritone player of the highest stripe, and a skilled composer and arranger as well. It is interesting to note three compositions from jazz harmonica whiz, Hendrik Meurkens. Perhaps he has some connection to the band. Finally, it should be said that this session is directed straight down the middle of the bop highway. Simply an outstanding blowing session on songs that, amazingly enough, sound like songs!
Self-Produced, 2011, 75:51.
Nightlife, Ernestine Anderson, vocals.
Anderson has held sway for quite a long time as a premier interpreter of bluesy, swinging, classic tunes. She's never been known as a top of the mountain scatter, but she's carved out a rich niche as a well-respected jazz singer. On this live and lively appearance at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola in New York City, Anderson and some swinging pals get the party going from the opening strains of "I Love Being Here With You." With two trios, both led by pianist Lafayette Harris, Jr., and frequent forays from tenor man Houston Person, Anderson, who sings the blues without ever getting syrupy or overbearing, continues with the likes of "Since I Fell For You," "All Blues" and "Goin' to Chicago Blues." You remember the title tune: "the nightlife ain't no good life, but it's my life." Tailor made for Anderson. She continues with Benny Carter's lovely "Only Trust Your Heart"; "Falling in Love with Love"; and finally, the blues-drenched "Never Make Your Move Too Soon."
High Note, 2011, 52:27.
Hothouse Stomp, Brian Carpenter's Ghost Train Orchestra.
Any antique store worth its lace doilies would proudly display an Edison phonograph with the big brass horn. And that's the sound very faithfully recreated here. Less, of course, the surface noise created by metal needles that wore out precious 78s in a few dozen plays. This is the music of the 1920s as played in Chicago and Harlem neighborhood dance halls and imbibing establishments. The music is at times very dense, and sometimes even suggests the concept that would later be explored by Charles Mingus. The arrangements feature well accepted practices of that era ,such as the bass line played by tuba instead of string bass,; and songs with vocals played one time through before the singer came on for a single chorus. With the exception of "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You," the songs were new to me. To be quite clear, this is not Dixieland music. It's a cousin, I'd imagine, but there's a feeling of authenticity here which, when you close your eyes, lets you imagine a street scene with old cars and glamorous outfits with hats! Fans of '20s music will love this stuff, and others will revel in the discovery of it.
Accurate Records, 2010, 36:18.
Human Spirit, Thomas Marriott, trumpet, flugelhorn.
I hope the people of Seattle are hip to the brilliance of Marriott. He plays with complete ease at the most brisk of tempos and displays the gift of a beautiful, pure tone. Along with Mark Taylor, alto saxophone, Gary Versace, B-3 organ, and Matt Jorgensen, drums, Marriott gets this CD off to a flying start on an up-tempo "You Don't Know What Love Is." Other highlights include an Ellington tune, completely new to me, "Low Key Lightly." Years ago, a shimmering ballad of this type would have been a candidate for one of the old Prestige Moodsville series. Of the original compositions, "Yakima" is quirky and brisk and gives Taylor a chance to display his solo gifts. The last selection, "The Brown Hornet," is a Miles Davis tune which sounds like it may have come from his more percussive period, later in his life. Versace is very effective on B-3, but not being a fan of organ, I would prefer Marriott in the company of a piano. Still, I love his silvery sound. Sometimes it reminds me just a bit of Clifford Brown. And that's the ultimate compliment.
Origin, 2011, 43:56.
Plectrum Jazz Guitar Solos, Frank Portolese.
Chicago guitarist and educator Portolese may not be well-known outside the Windy City, but his approach to jazz guitar should bring much wider recognition. That's because he applies numerous techniques in the interpretation of melodies. On the first track alone, "Over the Rainbow," he uses Joe Pass-like lush chord strums, rapid-fire picked lines like Segovia, and quiet single note melodic passes. It's a fine mix of technique and melody that makes him stand out. This disc of 12 classic tunes is a great showcase for this solo guitarist. "As Time Goes By," changes chords mid-melody but always returns to the core of the tune, making it both familiar and giving it new purpose. "St. Louis Blues" stays true to its bluesy roots, but Portolese adds little alterations to keep it fresh, while "Stardust" retains its original beauty. The ending of "America the Beautiful" is treated with the respect it deserves — the melody is played twice; once strummed, then the second time in a minor key, giving it a solemnity that actually brings a greater depth to the piece than one might have imagined after hearing it so many times over the decades. Portolese is a true talent that needs to be heard on the West Coast as well.
2010, Frank Portolese Musical Services, 50:20.
40 Acres and a Burro, Arturo O'Farrill & the Latin Jazz Orchestra.
The energy of Latin jazz has kept it one of the driving forces of jazz, from Xavier Cugat to Tito Puente, Machito to Poncho Sanchez. Pianist Arturo O'Farrill – son of Chico — keeps that energy alive and important. His band is vibrant and talented, and its appeal is based on O'Farrill's montuno-style comping, his rhythm section's pulsating beats, the sizzling horns, and his use of guest artists that range from Paquito D'Rivera's soaring clarinet to Heather Martin Bixler's poignant violin (on a Moorish version of "She Moves Through the Fair"). This Latin big band is schooled in a multitude of styles and tackles each one with flair, including the sultry Cuban rhythms of "Ruminaciones Sobre Cuba" or the attacking Argentine blend on Astor Piazolla's "Tanguanago," or Dizzy's "Night in Tunisia," which is done at its Afro-Cuban best. This is a disc that will make you appreciate and love Latin jazz in all its rhythmic splendor.
2011, Zoho Music, 62 minutes.
Standards 2: Movie Music, Peter Erskine, Bob Mintzer, Darek Oles, Alan Pasqua.
This quartet continues its quest to redefine standards with this decidedly mellow take on some of the melodies of the classic cinema era. It opens with a loping swing on "Tara's Theme," from "Gone with the Wind." Erskine keeps the beat light and Mintzer utilizes tone over technique, giving the tune a strong melodic base but a softer feel than one might expect from this powerhouse group. These aren't always the most recognizable movie tunes, save perhaps for "Night and Day," which has surpassed its movie, "The Gay Divorcee," in popularity and recognition. Instead, the group finds melodies that are both approachable and have a connection with the audience, as the (again) light swing of "Three Stars Will Shine Tonight" from "Dr. Kildare" shows. Perhaps the most intriguing choice is "Rosemary's Baby," the haunting theme done by Krzysztof Komeda, which is done as a slow, melancholy ballad as arranged by bassist Oles. There is a great deal of reserve here, and the refined nature of the quartet concentrates the listener on the tune rather than the talent, a nice tribute to the music.
2010, Fuzzy Music, 59:40.
Jazz Brasil, Mark Weinstein.
Weinstein is a former trombonist and professor of philosophy, so his current incarnation as a jazz flutist is slightly odd, but this is a decent collection of Brazilian jazz tunes done mellifluously by someone who has given plenty of thought to the voicings of the tunes. Weinstein doesn't just use the concert flute, which he plays nicely on the opener, "I Mean You," but he also employs alto and bass flutes. The lower-pitched instruments might be seen as a novelty, but the rich tone of the alto flute brings a lovely melancholy to the melodies, as on "Nefertiti." The bass flute has a breathy warmth that works both on Monk's "Ruby, My Dear," and Herbie Mann's "Memphis Underground." What keeps this album buoyant is the expert piano work of Kenny Barron, who brings everything up a notch. This isn't music that will light the jazz world on fire, but it is lovely to hear.
2010, Jazzheads, 56:20.
Unsung Heroes, Brian Lynch.
Trumpeter Lynch has already paid tribute to the trumpet greats, but here he digs deeper and finds some great tunes done by lesser known horn players, like Tommy Turrentine, Joe Gordon, Idrees Sulieman, Charles Tolliver and Louis Smith. Gordon's "Terra Firma Irma" is a smoking minor-keyed bopper that deserves to be covered by more groups. Here it gets a modern twist by Lynch and extraordinary saxophonists Alex Hoffman and Vincent Herring. Sulieman's "Saturday Afternoon at Four" is a bouncy swinger, and Tolliver's "Household of Saud" is a cool modal bopper. But it's Lynch's own tunes, including the angular, Latin-tinged "Further Arrivals," and the smooth samba of "RoditiSamba" (dedicated to Claudio Roditi), that connect the tunes on this disc. The musicianship by all band members, including bassist David Wong, pianist Rob Schneiderman and drummer Pete Van Nostrand, makes it a solid dedication to trumpeters who never made it to the top of the recognition charts.
2010, Hollistic MusicWorks, 62 minutes.
Hothouse Stomp, Brian Carpenter's Ghost Train Orchestra.
Some might see the early jazz of the 1920s as archaic and a tad goofy. But this music, in between ragtime and big band, helped shaped the musical direction of the country, especially in jazz havens like Chicago and New York, when traditional jazz took more form with small big bands like Charlie Johnson's Paradise Orchestra, McKinney's Cotton Pickers and others. Here, Carpenter, a trumpeter and vocalist, recreates the sounds of the era with a traditional-meets-modern approach. It's not an exact recreation, which is good. There are a few chordal twists, and the sound is more sophisticated than the often raw originals, but purists will still find plenty to latch on to. The orchestra plays with the requisite energy to have fun with the music, and includes the scoops and mutes that dominated horn sounds of the '20s. But they play with enough serious reverence for the music. Carpenter, the leader of the group since 2006, has gathered a fine group of musicians to take us back to the wild and roaring 1920s.
2010, Accurate, 38:45.
Mort Weiss Meets Bill Cunliffe, Weiss & Cunliffe with Sam Most.
This studio session has the feel of a live recording — possibly because the session was recorded live. You can even hear clarinetist Weiss urging on pianist Cunliffe during his bopping solo on "The Theme" to open the disc. The veteran Weiss is spritely, playing the licorice stick with energy and fleet fingers. He's helped by the exemplary Cunliffe, who leads a fine rhythm section that includes bassist Chris Connor and drummer Roy McCurdy. Flutist Sam Most joins in on a swinging version of "Indian Summer," and his interplay with Weiss is lively. They don't click quite as well on "The Gentle Rain," where their tones just can't mesh, but they're better on the lyrical "My Ship," especially with Most's breathy solo. Weiss can get a bit notey, especially on the duo with Cunliffe, "What is This Thing Called Love," but Cunliffe is guilty of it as well, which brings levity. A spoken word piece, "Readings of Kerouac 1," by Peter Marx, is a bit odd, but the smooth bop of "Dewey Square" brings it back to center. It strays again with Weiss's grandson's pop-rock ballad, "Awaken," which absolutely doesn't fit the retro-jazz feel of the album. Despite being scattered, there is worth to this disc if taken track by track.
2011, SMS Jazz, 64 minutes.
Three-Part Odyssey, Rich Pellegrin Quintet.
Seattle is a place where jazz can be treated as an experiment, and pianist/composer Pellegrin, who is getting his Ph.D. at the University of Washington, takes a studious approach to his music. This is dense jazz from note one. The opener, "Nothing Comes to Mind," is an atonal but rhythmic exploration, with trumpeter R. Scott Morning and saxophonist Neil Welch sharing an obtuse melody before Pellegrin takes over on the solo, which gets hot and thick, then bleeds into atonality. Unlike much jazz that treads into the avant-garde, Pellegrin makes his explorations palatable. There is a lushness to his playing that invites rather than repels. For instance, "Distant, Distorted You" is oddly melodic, while "Pastiche" has a chamber quality to it, and "Maze" hard bops it to the finish. Pellegrin has taken a usually impenetrable genre and brought some sophisticated accessibility.
2011, OA2 Records, 63 minutes.
With Many Hands, Michael Feinberg.
A lot of modern jazz is sounding much like the new chamber music, with composition taking over for melody. Such is the case with Feinberg's explorative origials. It's another example of cerebral jazz, and it's performed here by a cadre of young players, all exceptionally talented. Saxophonist Noah Preminger is a respected bandleader in his own right, and alto player Godwin Louis, pianist Julian Shore, guitarist Alex Wintz and drummer Daniel Platzman are all fine players. The music is delivered with finesse and energy. "Temple Tales" is a vibrant blend of tones, mashed chords, and technical expertise. But overall, it lacks heart and melody. This is not saying that there is no validity to this type of jazz. But these well-schooled younger players tend to lead with their heads and technical ability, overlooking the fact that simplicity will often do the trick. With maturity, Feinberg and his crew will make an impact that goes beyond heady chordal structures.
2011, Michael Feinberg Music, 47:10.
Rhapsody in Blue, Bill O'Connell.
Pianist O'Connell has played with Mongo Santamaria, Chet Baker and Sonny Rollins, to name just a few legends. Here, he is joined by a fine group of musicians for a disc of mostly originals. Only Gershwin's signature tune relates to the title of the album. O'Connell's tunes are a mix of bop, Latin and modern composition. Steve Slagle's punchy alto leads most of the melodies, and Steve Berrios holds down the drumming. The disc is bolstered by Conrad Herwig playing a mean trombone on the minor-keyed "J-Man," and Dave Samuels adding his vibes on a slinky Latin version of the title track. This is modern jazz that makes a nice balance between compositional fortitude and melodic interpretation. O'Connell's tunes hold up well, and while the melodies can be subjugated at times, they are always present in some way.
2010, Challenge Records, 60 minutes.