CD Reviews - May 2012 

by George Fendel, and Kyle O'Brien

Reviews by George Fendel

Tall And Small, Pete Christlieb, tenor sax, and Linda Small, trombone. Someone once described Pete Christlieb as the best tenor saxophonist you never heard of. Strange, because Pete’s been a mainstay of the Los Angeles jazz community for decades. With this recording, Pete and his wife, Linda, have realized a long held ambition: a disc featuring a “small big band.” Hence this 11-piece aggregation comprised of many of the first cabin players in SoCal. To provide a real exclamation point, Pete and Linda were able to enlist the arranging talents of one of the best in the business, Bill Holman. The tunes couldn’t have been more perfectly chosen, ranging from Al Cohn’s high-spirited “High On You,” to Billy Strayhorn’s delicacy, “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing.” Strayhorn’s boss, Duke Ellington, is also represented here with “Don’t You Know I Care,” and the set also includes Bobby Troup’s “The Meaning of the Blues” and Sonny Rollin’s bop anthem, “Pent Up House.” Also featured are two Holman frolics, “Bosco Says” and “Without a Paddle,” as well as two Bob Brookmeyer entries, “Minuet” and “Open Country,” a staple in the Gerry Mulligan playbook years ago. There’s ample breathing room for a bevy of great soloists, and much fire and imagination in the Holman charts. Sessions like this are rare these days, and this is one to be savored.
Bosco Records, 2011, 52:25.

The 1961 Amsterdam Concert, Ella Fitzgerald, vocals. Right around 1957 or ‘58, Ella Fitzgerald worked with a quartet which, to this day, I believe was the best accompanying group of her career. They made the triumphant album, “Ella In Berlin,” which featured Ella’s classic “Mack The Knife,” and they were also a team on “Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie,” the single best jazz album Ella ever made. And here they are once again on this glorious previously unreleased concert. And, I might add, all in superb sound quality. Ella, in 1961, was still at her absolute peak, and, as on the other discs, she worked hand in glove with Lou Levy, piano, Herb Ellis, guitar, Wilfred Middlebrooks, bass, and Gus Johnson, drums. Some of the tunes are Fitzgerald staples like “Too Close for Comfort,” “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” “That Old Black Magic,” “I’ve Got a Crush on You” and others. There are also a few surprises, such as “On a Slow Boat to China,” “Heart And Soul,” and a Gershwin rarity, “Lorelei.” The first lady also gives the crowd what they want with swingin’ takes on “Mr. Paganini,” “Mack The Knife” and a tour de force, with several scat choruses, on “St. Louis Blues.” All of these and a half dozen more give us the ultimate jazz singer in an ideal jazz setting.
Solar Record, 2012, 61:45.

Night Ballads Montreal 1977, Dexter Gordon, tenor sax. After 14 years of residency in Europe, Dexter Gordon returned home in 1976, and shortly thereafter assembled what he referred to as his dream band. It consisted of George Cables, piano, Rufus Reid, bass, and Eddie Gladden, drums. This previously unreleased concert occurred at a club called The Rising Sun in Montreal. Dexter must have been in a mood to fully explore a series of standard ballads, and he gives each one a thoughtful and lengthy workout. The tunes include “Lover Man,” “You’ve Changed,” “Old Folks” and “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” and not one of them is less than 16 minutes in length. This gives Dexter and primarily George Cables time to get into the heart of every tune. Indeed, Cables often reaches points of virtuosity rarely heard. Another reason to comment on the length of the tunes is quite simply to credit Uptown Records for releasing a CD that, by the very nature of the tune lengths, is not likely to get the attention it deserves from jazz radio. So, a big “thank you” to Uptown for making available this rare and intimate concert. As for Dexter, well, he’s in full flower, interpreting these timeless tunes as only Dexter could. And notice his charming recitation of lyrics as an introduction to most of the tunes. Savvy sax students would do themselves an invaluable service by including Dexter Gordon among their mentors. What a player he was!
Uptown Records, 2011, 78:47.

Shadow Box, Bob Brookmeyer, valve trombone, Tom Harrell, trumpet and flugelhorn. There’s a little deception at hand here in that this 1978 recording was originally released under the name of the pianist, Benny Aronov. Considering, I suppose, that the names Brookmeyer and Harrell may garner more attention for the session, it was reissued under their names. All that is just for the record, and a very good record it is! The quintet is completed by the presence of Buster Williams, bass, and Joe LaBarbera, drums. The guys open with a vigorous reading of Billy Strayhorn’s classic, “Upper Manhattan Medical Group.” After which, the mood shifts significantly, with a theme by Claude Debussy. It gives Aranov and his co-leaders opportunity to offer shimmering, delicate solos -- all to perfection. Brookmeyer then takes us through a lovely rendering of “In a Sentimental Mood,” and Aranov’s “Marchons” bears a cousinly relationship to Benny Golson’s “Blues March.” The title tune is another Aronov original at a stirring tempo and with Harrell and Brookmeyer soloing in high gear. “Lover Man” features Aronov’s piano and “Passages” is a medium tempo selection highlighting Harrell’s brilliance. The final tune, “Water’s Edge,” is a Tom Harrell original and he, Brookmeyer and pianist Aronov all offer memorable solos. This “sleeper” CD is worthy of another look.
andid, 2012, 43:03.

Transitions, Three Voices. Have you ever considered a trio of flugelhorn, vibraphone and bass? Me either. But if you want to hear some treasured tunes played in this off-center context, there’s quite a lovely intimacy created by the trio of Kim Pensyl, flugelhorn;,Rusty Burge, vibes, and Michael Sharfe, bass. Previous to this recording, I must admit to having associated Pensyl with a series of recordings that I recall as having been in the New Age realm. So I must admit that he holds forth with warmth and real deal chops on a menu of 14 tunes, almost all of which are noteworthy standards. From Songbook America, there’s “Summer Night,” “Dream Dancing,” “All the Things You Are,” “Stella By Starlight” and “It Never Entered My Mind.” The trio also shines on material from the jazz book, including “Very Early,” “Isfahan” and Jobim’s rarely heard “Fotograpfia.” The interplay between the players is what makes this unusual threesome at times quite compelling. If there’s room for something distinctly different in your musical arena and if you still value “pretty,” there’s a lot of pretty happening here.
Summit, 2012, 59:52.

Introducing The Eyal Vilner Big Band. I really think that as long as there are great musical minds who can miraculously “think up” arrangements for multiple instruments, there will remain a place for that phenomenon known as the big band. A niche in this day and age, perhaps, but they‘re still out there and here‘s a very good one. The leader, Eyal Vilner, is a native of Israel who ventured to New York City in 2007. He obviously brought with him an appreciation of the American book; high standards on alto sax and clarinet; and well honed skills as an arranger. On his debut recording, his 14-piece band cooks it up in fine fashion on jazz classics such as Dizzy’s “Woody’n You,” Ray Bryant’s catchy melody, “Tonk,” and Bud Powell’s evergreen, “Un Poco Loco.” To these add a few standards nicely rendered by vocalist Yaala Ballin, including “Isn’t This a Lovely Day,” “The Nearness of You” and “Remember.” Vilner also offers a few of his own compositions. On “Your Eyes” and “Night Flight,” we are treated to his sultry clarinet and some sterling solo efforts from band members. All said, this is a very accessible initial effort from what sounds like a group that shows great promise.
Gut String Records, 2011.

Distant Dream and Sun Ray, Lenny Marcus, piano (2 CDs). Pianist Lenny Marcus has done something rather rare. He’s issued two distinctly different CDs apparently at the same time. Both indicate 2012 release dates, but they are miles apart conceptually. We won’t spend much time here with “Distant Dream,” because it’s an amalgem of original pop-jazz tunes aimed at the smooth jazz crowd. In fairness, it should be said that the writing on “Distant Dream” is far better than the usual “smooth” menu, but still the orientation here is to a contemporary audience. The other CD, “Sun Ray,” is Marcus’ tribute to the late Ray Bryant, a family friend and significant influence in Marcus’s piano development. His basic trio includes Rick Eckberg, bass, and Larry Scott, drums, and there are a number of guest players aboard as well. They take on a number of Bryant originals, notably “Cubano Chant,” “Hot Turkey,” “Stick With It” and “Little Susie,” among others. Along with a few Marcus compositions in the Bryant bag, are a few tunes Bryant “owned,” including “Gotta Travel On,” “Until It’s Time for You to Go” and the famous Avery Parish blues, “After Hours.” Ray Bryant’s immediately recognizable blues style, his use of tenths and striking open chords, was truly original. Marcus honors the great Bryant with a very tasteful tribute.
Self-Produced, 2012, Distant Dream: 64:03, Sun Ray, 52:42.

Unanimous, Ulysses Owens Jr., drums. If you’ve been a reader of these reviews for any period of time, you recognize Criss Cross Records. It’s a well-respected label out of Holland that gives numerous young musicians a chance to strut their stuff. In this case, the leader is drummer Ulysses Owens Jr., who has invited some high-powered colleagues aboard for a venture down the hard bop highway. His guests, not on all cuts, include Nicholas Payton, trumpet, Michael Dease, trombone, and the Roy Haynes alto man, Jaleel Shaw. Heady company, wouldn’t you say? The group is completed by Christian Sands, piano, and Christian McBride, bass. Owens concentrates most of his attention on classic material, but hardly overplayed choices. Perhaps the best known is Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma,” and it gets a fresh update with stirring solos from Payton and Dease. Other entries from the jazz bag include Wayne Shorter’s “E.S.P.” and Lee Morgan’s “Party Time.” The two standards on the disc are “You Make Me Feel So Young” and “Cherokee.” Among the original works, I was most impressed with the one ballad entry, “Prototype,” which features Payton’s subdued, silvery trumpet. This is a wellconceived session with variety, vigor and vitality.
Criss Cross, 2012, 69:45.

Newark, 1953, Hank Mobley, tenor saxophone (2 CDs). Mobley worked with some of the all-time greats, including names like Roach, Gillespie, Silver, Blakey and Miles. He later became one of Blue Note’s most consistent winners. Before all that happened, Mobley was carving out his tenor voice in groups such as the one heard here in a Newark, New Jersey night club in 1953. On this two CD set, he’s joined by a cast of players, all of whom (except one) would achieve great heights in the jazz world: Bennie Green, trombone; Walter Davis Jr., piano, Charlie Persip, drums, and the lesser known Jimmy Schenck, bass. The guys get a chance to stretch out with many of the tunes at nine or more minutes in length. The menu was devoted to jazz riffs of the era, such as “Ow!” “Jumpin’ with Symphony Sid,” “Lullaby of Birdland” and a Bennie Green original called “Blue Is Green” (not to be confused with “Blue in Green”). The other selections are mainly from the standard bag and include “There’s a Small Hotel,” “All the Things You Are,” Pennies from Heaven” and two Gershwin gems, “Embraceable You” and “’S Wonderful.” A common practice of the time, thanks in part to Norman Granz’s JATP orientation, was a ballad medley. And Hank and company give us “Darn That Dream,” “Where or When,” “In Love In Vain” and “Stardust.” The sound quality is not up to today’s standard, but for jazz fans looking for a true rarity, this informal session is well worth the price of admission.
Uptown Records, 2012, 55:02 and 57:23.

Down Here Below, Ran Blake, piano, and Christine Correa, vocals. With this CD, pianist Blake continues what appears to be a series of duo recordings with female singers. This time, it’s Correa, a new name to me. Together, they take on an Abbey Lincoln songbook, featuring tunes either written or interpreted by the late singer. Part of Lincoln’s power lay in the delicate, vulnerable nature of her voice. At times it was an undeniably riveting feature of her approach. Correa, it seems, is not trying to “do” Abbey Lincoln, but there can be no doubt that Lincoln had to have been a primary influence on her conception. Blake is the perfect pianist for these interpretations; at times quirky, sultry, understated and sometimes full of mystery. You‘ll know some of the tunes (although certainly not performed like this) including “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” and two Randy Weston works, “Little Niles” and “African Lady.” A highlight that I first heard by Charlie Haden’s wife, singer Ruth Cameron, is Lincoln’s own composition, “Bird Alone.” The lyric will touch your heart. There is a recital-like quality to this release. Serious music, seriously performed. There must be a place for it.
Red Piano Records, 2011, 50:18.

Little Bird, Little Bird, Todd Bishop Group. Okay, along with a lot of you, I haven’t explored the music of Ornette Coleman to the extent that I probably should have. I’ve “always” admired “Lonely Woman,” and as Bishop explains, on a disc of Coleman tunes that nobody ever does, “Lonely Woman” is the exception because, he writes, “I’ve been playing it for 20 years and it deserves to be here.” Bishop’s quintet includes two reedmen, Richard Cole and Tim Willcox, who join forces with Weber Iago, piano, Bill Athens, bass, and Bishop on drums. Much of the music here is, indeed “Coleman-esque” and somewhat outside my usual listening habits, but a few tunes are a bit more accessible from a melodic and rhythmic standpoint. These included “Feet Music,” “Friends and Neighbors” and the funky “Country Town Blues.” Then there’s Coleman’s all time “hit,” the very earthy and mysterious “Lonely Woman.” A point of interest here is that Portland drum hero Dick Berk informed Bishop that the literal meaning of Ornette’s name is “Little Bird.” Hence, the title of the CD. You may have to stretch a bit to arrive at the doorway to this music, but it’s a worthwhile exercise. Think what you may, Coleman’s music is something unique and often very expressive.
Origin, 2012, 68:53.

Impressions Of Curtis Mayfield, Jazz Soul Seven. Okay, you’ve got me at a disadvantage. I know the name Curtis Mayfield, and I would have guessed he was a soul singer. And perhaps you know some of the following titles, none of which I’ve ever heard (or heard of!): “People Get Ready,” “Superfly,” “Keep On Pushing,” “I’m So Proud,” “Check Out Your Mind” and “Gypsy Woman.” I can hear enough variety and musicality in Mayfield’s writing to suggest that a jazz version of his works is at least a worthy project. The musicians heard here include recognized players such as Wallace Roney, trumpet, Ernie Watts, saxophone, and Terri Lynne Carrington, drums. I can’t help but get the idea that those familiar with the 12 tunes here will derive more than a “no-clue-novice” such as myself. I can’t deny, however, that the arrangements crackle with energy and that the musicians on the date were deeply into the 12 selections.
BFM Jazz, 2012, 56:45.

Piano Masters. Philippe Baden Powell, piano. The son of legendary guitarist Baden Powell, Philippe Baden Powell has carved out his own niche as a virtuoso pianist. Having earned high praise as pianist for such Brazilian artists as Flora Purim and Airto Moreira, Powell turns his attention to solo piano on this very stirring performance. As one might suspect, many of the tunes, both his and those of others, have a Brazilian flavor. And one can’t help but discern a significant crossover between classical, jazz and world music in Powell’s playing. Two jazz classics are included: Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight” is given a slant toward J. S. Bach, as beautifully rendered as you will ever hear; and John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” is also approached from the classical side, and there’s an air of mystery in Powell’s interpretation that you’re unlikely to hear anywhere else. Most of the remaining menu is Brazilian, some rather familiar and some new to these ears. If you close your eyes, you can picture Powell playing this set in an elegant concert hall. Indeed, it’s quite compelling music.
Adventure Music, 2012, 47:43.

Today Is Tomorrow, Dayna Stephens, tenor saxophone. Another young player, Stephens asserts himself on a thoughtful and deep debut. The one and only standard is Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust,” and it acts as the leadoff. What follows is a succession of original compositions, five of which were written by the leader. For instance, “Kwooked Stweet” is a cousin, at a more brisk tempo, of John Coltrane’s “Straight Street,” and “Loosy Goosy” is yet another entry on the changes to the Gershwin classic, “I Got Rhythm.” Fans of the late tenor man Joe Henderson will remember his waltz, “Black Narcissus,” and there’s also a delicate and serene Charlie Haden tribute entitled “Haden Largo.” “The Elite” is a mild swipe at those who have described President Obama with that term. “Why is it bad for someone to be at the top of their game?” Stephens writes. Finally there’s “Cartoon Element,” an anagram on the name “Ornette Coleman.” See if you can hear the musical reason for that title. Stephens’ basic quartet includes Aaron Parks, piano, Kitoshi Kitagawa, bass, and Donald Edwards, drums. Several well-placed guest artists enhance the proceedings. There’s a lot of creative, far-reaching music here. But then, that’s what the excellent Criss Cross label is all about.
Criss Cross, 2012, 69:06.

Swift Kick, Andrew Swift, drums. You can hear it -- that subtle little difference between the good, dedicated, work-a-day musicians and the guys who have achieved that elusive top-of-the-mountain status. Australian drummer Swift, unlike the vast majority of musicians, debuts with the likes of Eric Alexander, tenor sax, George Cables, piano, Wycliffe Gordon, trombone, Ryan Kisor, trumpet, and other established heavyweight players. The tunes are primarily originals from various participants, with a few tunes tossed in that may ring familiar. Among them are Bacharach and David’s opus, “Alfie,” and Jimmy Heath’s “The Rio Dawn,” both sung quite nicely by Vanessa Perea. Gordon contributes a fun-filled vocal on something called “Brandy.” It’s as much the story of Brandy the girlfriend as it is Brandy the elixir. All the guest players get ample opportunity to strut their stuff, particularly Cables on Swift’s ballad, “Goodbyes”; Alexander on Duke Pearson’s “Is That So” and Swift’s “Song For Sherin”; and Kisor on two more Swift entries, “Baptized By Fire” and “Soldier.” Swift’s compositions have, for the most part, distinctive and sometimes complex melody lines with an air of excitement at fast tempos and skill and passion on the ballads. This is a solid first session, exactly what one would expect upon looking at the cast of players.
D Clef Records, 2012, 76:33.

Beyond The Blue, Tessa Souter, vocals. Way back around 1960 or ‘61, Sarah Vaughan did an album for Roulette titled “Sarah Slightly Classical,” in which Sassy interpreted classical melodies in her own inimitable fashion. That concept is newly minted here with singer Tessa Souter putting lyrics to nine of the disc’s 12 selections. The three tunes which long ago established themselves as popular standards are “The Lamp Is Low” (Ravel), “My Reverie” (Debussy), and “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” (Borodin). Souter, who possesses a very delectable, no nonsense voice, added her own lyrics to the remainder of the pieces. The composers, all from the classical world, include Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Schubert and others. Further enhancing this unusual recording is the presence of Souter’s top accompanists, including Steve Kuhn, piano, Joel Frahm, saxophones, and Joe Locke, vibraphone. A singer of lesser skills could not have dreamed of making this work, but Souter, a singer without fluff and frills, might well be the ideal voice for this project.
Motema Records, 2011, 60:11.

The Keeper, Hailey Niswanger, alto and soprano saxophones. It seems impossible to believe that Portlander Niswanger is already 22 years old, a graduate of Berklee College of Music, and now living in New York City. My how the years fly! Her second album finds her in both quartet and quintet settings with former Berklee pals Takeshi Ohbayashi, piano, Max Moran, bass, and Mark Whitfield Jr., drums. Darren Barrett’s trumpet is added on three selections. Eight of the 11 tunes are original compositions, and it’s worth commenting on a few faves. “Norman” is Hailey’s delicate and lyrical tribute to Porland’s Norman Leyden, a much admired arranger-conductor and early advocate of Hailey. “Balance” is a waltz tempo tribute to drummer Whitfield, and “B Happy” is a quirky, Monkish entry. Speaking of Monk, Hailey also brings us a not-often heard Monk tune, “Played Twice.” The two other standards are “Milestones” and a rather Lee Konitz-ish “Night And Day.” I’d love to hear Niswanger cook up a storm on some familiar jazz evergreens and fewer originals. Her tone and conception on alto is outstanding. As is the case with so many of today’s saxophone players, she apparently feels a need to play a lot of soprano. It’s one man’s opinion, but I’d rather hear her on alto, where she shines!
Self-Produced, 2012, 67:44.


Home, Clarice Assad, piano and vocals. Seems to me that over the last couple of decades, ethnic music has found a way to blend itself into American jazz. Maybe it started with the bossa nova craze in the ‘60s, but it’s moved a considerable distance since then. Consider Assad, who plays and sings pretty much exclusively from a Brazilian point of view. To my ear, it’s well-performed, rhythmic and fun. Is it jazz as this guy would define it? Not really. But if you’re into the Brazilian thing, there’s a lot of nice energy here.
Adventure Music, 2011, 43:09.

From There to Here, The Budman / Levy Orchestra. This Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra has helped showcase the area’s younger jazz musicians since its formation in 2007. On this recording, the BLO presents nine compositions by co-leader, arranger and trombonist Jeremy Levy, and two additional pieces. There is compelling writing and musicianship here, and it will be interesting to follow the progress of this sound and solid ensemble. A note of interest is the presence of the always invigorating trombone mavin, Andy Martin, on two selections.
OA2 Records, 2012, 74:06.

Summertime Jazz, Lisa Marie Baratta, saxophones, flutes. A formidable presence in San Francisco jazz circles, Baratta has released an accessible album of standard melodies. She and her finely crafted rhythm section get to the heart of things on 11 standards, including “Fly Me to the Moon,” “Song for my Father,” “When I Fall In Love,” “Black Orpheus,” “Summertime,” and “Harlem Nocturne.” Baratta plays with practiced skill and conveys an admiration for the American Songbook.
Self-Produced, 2011, 62:23.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, Arlene Bardelle, vocals. This is a debut CD for Chicago singer Bardelle, who impresses from several standpoints. First and foremost, she takes on a lyric with respect, never adding unnecessary flourishes and frosting. She also chooses great material, much of which is not often performed. Songs such as “Blame It On My Youth,” “Isn’t It a Pity,” “The Music that Makes Me Dance” and many others, are refreshing choices. And her backup trio, led by pianist Tom Mueliner with various guest players, are, most likely, among the Windy City’s finest. An impressive initial effort all around.
Proteus Records, 2012, 53:00

Reviews by Kyle O'Brien

Organic, Brian Ho. Ho is a young B-3 organist from San Jose, and he’s using the instrument as it was intended – to play soulful jazz. Here, with a quartet that includes saxophonist Oscar Pangilinan, guitarist Calvin Keys and drummer Lorca Hart (son of Billy Hart), he lets the rhythm and blues fly through his own smart and retro-sounding tunes and cover tunes by composers that range from Horace Silver to Amy Winehouse. This disc doesn’t break any new ground, but for fans of the organ, this is an easy listen. Ho uses his instrument as a source of texture and rhythm, and his soloing is solid, as on his chord-filled take of Silver’s “Song for My Father.” The funky version of Winehouse’s “Rehab” is fun, with the sax and guitar sharing melody and solo duties. The group is cohesive and gets into the pocket quickly for a grooving, catchy listen.
2011, Brian Ho/B2B Music, Playing Time: 37 minutes.

Celebrating Jean-Luc Ponty, Live at Yoshi’s, Mads Tolling Quartet. There aren’t many jazz violinists, and (soon to be ex) Turtle Island String Quartet member Tolling is one of the few carrying the torch. This tribute to the leader of the fusion movement on violin, Jean-Luc Ponty, is fitting, especially in the live setting where Ponty was always a master. Tolling has remarkable versatility here, playing everything from intense modern jazz (“Lila’s Dance”) to folksy contemporary jazz (“Song to John”) and obtuse rock (Frank Zappa’s “King Kong”). He also plays a good dose of Ponty’s originals, including the spry “New Country,” a folk-ified jam that lets Tolling loose high on the tonality. There’s an immediacy to this music, and Tolling clearly has deep love for it.
2012, Madsman Records, playing time: 76 minutes.

Everything Must Change, The Susan Krebs Band. There’s an immediate sense of fun on this pleasing vocal jazz disc. Krebs has an inviting voice, instantly obvious on the opener, a spry version of “Up Jumped Spring,” with Krebs trading licks with saxophonist Chuck Manning. She sings with a laid-back attitude, like on the sparse version of Kurt Weill’s “Lost in the Stars.” The fun continues with two Dave Frishberg tunes – “Wheelers & Dealers” and “Our Love Rolls On” – where she utilizes his witty lyrics to her advantage with a drawn-out delivery. Krebs is a fine talent, and the way shse connects with the melodies makes this a winner.
2011, GreenGig Music. Playing Time: 43 minutes.

Fresh Heat, Jens Wendelboe Big Band. A chamber jazz version of “Joy Spring” opens this fresh disc from a truly fine big band led by trombonist Wendelboe. Deb Lyons’s rhythmic vocals highlight the tune, but the rest of the disc without vocals is just as strong, including Wendelboe’s own power groover, “No Mercy,” a playful take on they Zawinul/Adderley tune, “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.” A melancholy, full-bodied version of “My Funny Valentine,” with plenty of horn punches, is another highlight, but it’s the layered original, “Suite for Bjorn,” that is the star, and it waits until the end of the disc to deliver the goods. All big band fans should study this one.
2012, Rosa. Playing Time: 51 minutes.

Back From Beyond, Rich Halley 4. Powerhouse tenor man Halley leads the 4 here, which also consists of drummer Carson Halley (Rich’s son), bassist Clyde Reed and trombonist Michael Vlatkovich. The lack of a chorded instrument lets the group explore the space, which is often far outside the chords anyway. A tribute to avant-garde master Sun Ra, the title track, is fitting in its chant-like rhythm and sense of wonder and wander. Vlatkovich and Halley feed off each other throughout the recording, as on the double-horn interplay on the swinging “Solanum.” Compared to some of Halley’s other recordings, this one seems a bit more subdued, less harsh, but still with that sense of exploration that marks good free jazz.
2012, Pine Eagle Music. Playing Time: 64 minutes.

People Calling, Dudley Owens/Aaron Wright Band. This disc was mastered in Corbett, Oregon, but the two main players are from Chicago and New York, respectively. Saxophonist Owens and bassist Wright lead this modern jazz outing. It’s an introspective disc for the most part, full of ballads and burners, like the tender “Magnolia,” the pensive “Prayer,” and the slow sizzle “Book of Revelations.” It’s a sophisticated recording, but Owens occasionally goes old school with his sound, honking out with quick vibrato, as on “Y.A.G.M.G.D.” Wright’s bass work is solid and accented by smart songwriting like we hear on the complex, medium swinger, “Calling for Casey.”
2012, Origin Records. Playing Time: 60 minutes.

Django, Jacob Fischer Trio. Scandinavian guitarist Fischer channels the spirit of the great Django Reinhardt here, but the tunes are not the familiar Django standards. Rather, he evokes the feeling of being in Paris in the 1920s but still sounds modern. With his fluid picking style and light chordal strums, Fischer makes the listener comfortable, as on the flowing original, “Metabolic Age,” which sounds like a soundtrack to a romantic Parisian movie about artists. There are few covers here, but the title track, written by the Modern Jazz Quartet the year Django died, is a fitting tribute. Bud Powell’s smoking hot “Parisian Thoroughfare” is another gem. But it’s Francesco Cali’s spot-perfect accordion throughout that elevates this modern-meets-retro recording.
2012, Gateway Music. Playing Time: 64 minutes.

Songs and Portraits, Third World Love. Jazz has gone worldwide, and this group grabs pieces from many places -- mostly from Israel and the middle east. The opener is an introspective slow swing, “Im Ninalu,” a traditional Yemenite song arranged to be modern by pianist Yonatan Avishai. Trumpeter Avishai Cohen (brother of Anat and Yuval) goes modal with his original, “Song for a Dying Country.” Bassist Omer Avital is well-represented on the compositional front here, with four tunes, the strongest being a journeying “Sefarad,” where his minor-keyed soloing is a standout. The tone is fairly heavy on this CD, but the music has an intensity that is difficult to ignore, influenced by the best of jazz and ethnic folk music.
2011, Anzic Records. Playing Time: 62 minutes.

Digging Me Digging You, Amy Cervini. Get over Cervini’s tone issues, and this tribute to the late singer Blossom Dearie is quite pleasant. Boasting such backup talent as Bruce Barth, Anat and Avishai Cohen and drummer Matt Wilson, Cervini has a strong band to play classic tunes that include “Tea for Two” and Everything I’ve Got,” and lesser-known gems such as Cole Porter’s “The Physician,” and Dearie’s own, “I Like You, You’re Nice.” Unfortunately, Cervini’s intonation is frequently off, which distracts from the tunes. When she hits the notes, her voice is vibrant and bright … but that’s a big caveat.
2012, Anzic Records. Playing Time: 47 minutes.

Ro Sham Beaux. The New England Conservatory launched this young Bostonbased group, and their energy alone makes this worth a listen. From the bashing opener, “BEARBLADE,” which sounds like a song by the Bad Plus with more musicians, to the outside-the-box rock smasher, “Anthem,” this is a disc that perks up the ears. The group – pianist Luke Marantz, bassist Oliver Watkinson, drummer Jacob Cole and saxophonist Zac Shaiman – jump in and outside the chords, changing styles and meshing rock with jazz, alternative rock, funk and other styles, yet managing to sound cohesive throughout. They even take alt-pop princess Bjork’s “Joga” and make it sound cool and jazzy, in a fuzzy way. It’s not all high, fast and loud, though, which makes them stand out from other youthful groups that blend rock and jazz, and that makes it even more worth a listen.
2011, Red Piano Records. Playing Time: 54 minutes.