CD Reviews - October 2012 

by George Fendel

Song For Leslie, Gerard Hagen, piano.
Prior to the arrival of this CD, I owned exactly two Hagen recordings, and I really liked both. That opinion is reinforced here with Hagen and his mates maneuvering right down the center of the mainstream highway. I know that this may be hard to believe, but this is a piano-bass-drums album. Think about it. That’s rare in this day and age when so many are tempted to play a couple tunes on Rhodes, or perhaps the bass player switches to the electric model. Or any of so many other ways to dilute a session. Not this time, as Gerard Hagen, a faculty member at a Los Angeles area university, swings with ease and elegance through seven selections. His trio is completed by Domenic Genova, bass, and Jerry Kalaf, drums. They give us three standards and four originals. You just know that nice things are going to happen when Hagen leads off with “My Romance.” Continuing that auspicious beginning, the trio then takes on “A Weaver of Dreams” and “What Is This Thing Called Love.” From the original bag, Kalaf’s tune, “Where’s Gerard?” had a “Waltz For Debbie” feel, and Hagen’s “464 Blues” is an intriguing stop and go vehicle, and a great closer. Hagen is a solid player with a gorgeous, sure touch. Do yourself a favor and check him out.
Surf Cove Jazz; 2012; appx. 51 minutes.

Takin’ It There, Graham Dechter, guitar.
Three years ago, at the tender age of 23, Dechter released his debut album. It caught my attention because of the presence of Tamir Hendelman, piano, John Clayton, bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums. All are faves of mine, both musically and personally. So, for his second effort, why not stay with a good thing? So here once again is the same quartet cooking up storm number two! Dechter states his case from the get-go as a new force on jazz guitar with tributes to two of his “forefathers” -- Wes Montgomery and Barney Kessel. Wes’s “Road Song” and Barney’s blues, “Be Deedle Dee Do,” get things off to a rousing start. Other familiar fare here includes “Chega De Saudade” aka “No More Blues”; Lee Morgan’s hard bop entry “Hocus Pocus”; Harold Arlen’s classic, “Come Rain or Come Shine”; and a Cole Porter gem, “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” which is combined medley-style with Dechter’s original, “Amanda.” Four entries from various band members give us another complete look at a very impressive guitarist who, amazingly enough, continues to insist that the guitar should sound like, well, a guitar! Special kudos to Hendelman, an emerging force in the world of swinging, noholds- barred piano. We need more like him. And more guitarists like Dechter!
Capri Records; 2012; appx. 66 minutes.

High and Standards: The Music of Stevie Wonder, Yoron Israel, drums.
Never having been a fan of virtually any pop music post-1962 or so, I’m probably as good a choice as any to review music almost all of which is unfamiliar to me. Knowing that Stevie Wonder is a “big” name, I’d guess that his songs are part of the lives of most folks, probably even a lot of jazz people. However, “Another Star,” “Bird of Beauty,” “All in Love Is Fair,” “Creepin,” “Visions,” “Contusion” and the like are just new names to me. The only tune in the set I “know” is “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” a pretty good one by any measurement. So I must admit that several of Stevie’s tunes possessed real melody lines, something rare in today’s pop world. Drummer Israel leads a quintet of tenor sax, piano and keyboards, guitar and bass. The good news? They don’t go overboard with splashy, vanilla overkill. While I don’t think Wonder will ever compare to Billy Strayhorn or Tadd Dameron, there was, at the very least, something to hang your hat on here. For me, it was interesting but perhaps not Wonderful.
TMG Entertainment; 2012; appx. 60 minutes.

Lady of the Island, Andrea Brachfeld, C flute and alto flute, vocal.
Okay, so I’ve never been a flute fan. I dug Bud Shank on alto and Frank Wess on tenor but only tolerated them on flute. And I never much got into Herbie Mann, Hubert Laws, et al. But I must admit, I kinda liked the fresh approach of Andrea Brachfeld. Her basic quartet of flute, piano, bass and drums is augmented here by a number of guests, notably Wycliffe Gordon on trombone and Wallace Roney on trumpet. Her menu of tunes is geared primarily toward original compositions, but sprinkled in are winners such as Duke’s beauty, “I Got It Bad”; Herbie Hancock’s high-flyer, “Eye of the Hurricane”; and Freddie Hubbard’s rarely heard hard bop entry, “Birdlike.” Brachfeld can write as well. Her brisk opener, “Bebop Hanna,” is a flag-waver, and “Dead Ahead” is taken at a tempo not for the faint of heart. The same might be said of her closing tune, the energetic, Latin-esque “Four Corners.” Brachfeld is anything but the stereotypical “lady flute player.” So don’t expect seamless New Age sounds. Brachfelf has surrounded herself with some steaming colleagues, and she definitely fits right in!
Zoho; 2012; appx. 61 minutes.

Duality, Dan Block, reeds of all kinds.
If you’ve been around the jazz biz for awhile, you’ve probably run across a few whiz kids that can blow air into any number of instruments equally well. Heaven only knows how many of them Block has mastered, but on this CD he plays tenor sax, alto sax, baritone sax, clarinet and bass clarinet. Whew! And as the CD’s title suggests, Block is heard in a series of duets. Among many colleagues participating, the duet partners include Ted Rosenthal, piano; Paul Meyers, guitar; Mark Sherman, vibes; and Rosanno Sportiello, piano. The session is nicely divided between standards (“Long Ago And Far Away”; “If You Could See Me Now”; “In the Dark”; “The Jazz Samba”; and “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise”). Surrounding these are a half dozen originals and more obscure titles. All in all, there’s a nice recital quality to the program. And Block is up to the task on every reed within his grasp.
Miles High Records; 2012; appx. 52 minutes.

Beautiful Friendship, Tom Dempsey, guitar and Tim Ferguson, bass.
Here for you to enjoy are four New York cats with attitude. Dempsey and Ferguson co-lead the group, which also includes veterans Joel Frahm, tenor saxophone, and Eliot Zigmund, drums. The session gets off to a rousing start with a straight up take on Randy Weston’s epic tune, “Little Niles.” Then the guys take on a lilting Thad Jones thing with the mysterious title, “50-21.” Jones could, of course, write riveting, dense and difficult charts. But this time, it was more for fun and folic. Both Dempsey and Ferguson contribute their own material. Notably, a tricky thing called “Focus Pocus”; an intricate exercise in counterpoint called “It’s True”; and a medium tempo cousin to the blues called “Ted’s Groove.” A couple of ballad entries here include a rich feature for Joel Frahm’s tenor on “Autumn in New York,” and “Last Summer,” a delicacy from Ferguson. The title tune gets a vigorous workout and is followed by the closer, “Coming On the Hudson,” a Thelonious Monk tune rarely heard nowadays. I have a theory that these “pianoless” groups are becoming more common because so many venues no longer have pianos. While I often miss the piano in such groups, I don’t with this one. And that’s simply because of the depth of musicianship that this quartet brings on every tune.
Planet Arts; 2012; appx. 58 minutes.

Rewind, Elizabeth Shepherd, vocals.
Now here’s a singer who hasn’t quite decided which road she wants to travel. Shepherd’s voice suggests a pop singer, and much of the electronic, backbeat, overdubbing, etc., seems to support that theory. One can’t, however, argue her choice of tunes. “Love For Sale,” “Poinciana,” “Midnight Sun,” “Born to Be Blue,” “Prelude to a Kiss,” and the most interesting choice, a rarity from Porgy and Bess called “The Buzzard Song.” All great choices, to be sure. And with the spotty arrangements and the attempt to add a contemporary touch to these classics, Shepherd’s voice just doesn’t come across as mature enough to put them over. Among the younger generation of singers, the only one who has successfully melded a jazz-pop approach is, in my opinion, Stacy Kent. But she’s been smart enough not to compromise on her accompaniment, which has always been stellar. Shepherd has possibilities, but, like the folks in the Wizard of Oz, she needs to decide which of the yellow brick roads will take her where she wants to go.
Linus Entertainment; 2012; appx. 51 minutes.

Family Life, Bill Carrothers, piano.
Carrothers has carved out a unique identity playing solo piano. I was impressed with two earlier CDs of his, and the third one is equally fine and often compelling. Carrothers plays mostly original material, primarily short little “tone poems.” Of the 15 selections here, only four top five minutes in length, with most clocking in at two to three minutes. More importantly, Carrothers has a way to grab your ears and make you listen. Perhaps it’s the directness and seeming simplicity of his melody lines. Or maybe it’s a touch worthy of someone like Don Shirley. Or it could be that Carrothers just manufactures pristine, beautiful melodies that resolve sensibly. I’d bet there’s a classical background lurking somewhere. The only two “standards” here are “Scarborough Fair,” which is half of a medley, and a pop tune from the fifties that you’ve completely forgotten. “Harbor Lights” is so perfectly “painted” that you’re sure to envision the harbor’s fog and chill at about 4:20 am. But don’t overlook his original work -- it “sings” with lyricism and theme-like charm.
Pirouet, 2012; appx. 66 minutes.

Surfboard, Mike Tracy, tenor and soprano saxophones.
In the early 1960s, Stan Getz, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Sergio Mendes and many others brought Brazilian music to the United States. At a time when quality music could still enjoy wide popularity, bossa nova and the sounds of Brazil did just that. Tracy has made “more than ten trips to Brazil.” With such an itinerary, he has familiarized himself with these Brazilian “hits.” With deep respect for that country’s talented musicians he’s worked with, Tracy includes four of them on this session. The tunes are mostly lesser-known in this country, but three in particular may ring a familiar bell. “Recado Bossa Nova” has become a near standard in the American book, and Jobim’s “Surfboard” is an energetic winner with a distinct melody line. “Love Theme from Cinema Paradiso” is a tender and beautiful entry deserving of wider exposure. These and all of the others, express Brazil’s passion for life, and Tracy and friends express themselves with vitality.
Summit; 2012; appx. 70 minutes.

Hymn, Jon Hamar, bass.
Seattle bassist Hamar must have had a premonition. Just how would a trio without a drummer go over? And so, on this recording, he works only with Geoffrey Keezer, piano, and Todd DelGiudice, alto saxophone. Without a drummer, there’s a stronger sense of intimacy and communication among the three players, and the result is impressive. The song list includes a few tips of the hat to fellow bassists with “Falling Grace,” a near standard by Steve Swallow; “Blues For J.G.,” written for another of Hamar’s influences, John Pattitucci; and finally, there‘s “Big Fat Hen,” a tribute to bassists Buddy Catlett and Milt Hinton, both of whom had some history with the phrase. The trio also plays a few well-chosen standards. “Giant Steps” and “It Could Happen to You” wouldn’t at first glance seem to fit with one another in a medley, but this three-some puts them together as though it was somehow “meant to be.” Billy Strayhorn’s enduring classic, “Isfahan,” is a perfect vehicle for Hamar’s stirring bass solo, and a Songbook America tune, “Comes Love,” gets a jaunty, eyebrow raising treatment. There’s a lot of variety, individuality and, overall, a joyful spirit to this recording. What a nice debut for Jon Hamar.
Origin; 2012; appx. 66 minutes.

Travelin’ Light, Dena Derose, piano and vocals.
Why is it, I ask, that I often find “singers who play” to be real-deal jazz singers? I don’t know why that should be true, but Shirley Horn, Kristin Korb, Meredith d’Ambrosio, Patti Wicks and many others would affirm that. This is Derose’s initial solo effort, and it really works well. If anything, I think she just keeps getting better as her career continues to unfold. Recorded live at an Antwerp, Belgium club cleverly called The Chromatic Attic, Derose has the complete attention of the crowd, as well she should. And how can you argue with her studied choice of material? To name a few: “Nice And Easy,” “S Wonderful,” “East Of The Sun,” “Travelin’ Light,” “I’m Old Fashioned,” and two rarities which are longtime personal faves -- “Why Did I Choose You” can give you the ol’ lump in the throat, and “How Little We Know” is an often-overlooked Hoagy Carmichael gem. Derose, from all aspects, is a jazz singer. Check out her phrasing, her subtle little turns of melody lines, her natural, intelligent “switches” of tempo, and, by the way, she’s a heck of a piano player as well. In jazz, we call it “chops,” right? And Derose has chops!
Maxjazz; 2012; appx. 63 minutes.

Cluster Funk, Shuffle Demons.
If you’re into heavy backbeat funk, perhaps you can find something redeeming here. The Shuffle Demons are five guys whom we can credit for not playing electronic hardware. Indeed, they are three saxophone players, bass and drums. But the “good stuff” pretty much stops there. This might be described as music for young people who are trying to be hip, but haven’t quite reached that destination. The Demons even try to sing on several cuts. True to the name, their vocalizing compounds the pain. Somewhere there are some talented musicians trying to find their way out of the Shuffle Demons. One can actually hear it in some of the saxophone licks. Another point worth mentioning: the CD indicates that it’s a product of the Ontario Arts Council. If this is an example of Canadian “art,” well, so much for civilization up there.
Linus Entertainment; 2012; appx. 53 minutes.

The Beatles Nova, Grazyna Ausscik and Paulinho Garcia, vocals.
When the Beatles hit these shores, I was in my late teens. At that time, I was already too old to be interested in them. While I can now acknowledge they wrote some nice tunes, my opinion of the Beatles remains, at best, neutral. And so, when another “Beatles tunes” CD comes out, I’m not the guy who does the cartwheels. These two singers, with guitar and percussion accompaniment, offer some rather Latinized interpretations of good Beatles: “Norwegian Wood,” “Blackbird,” “In My Life,” “Here Comes The Sun” and “When I’m 64.” And they present some banal Beatles: “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Hey Jude,” “We Can Work It Out,” “Nowhere Man” and more. To sum it up, one might call this a pleasant diversion for Beatle fans, something of a yawner for the rest of us, and a real stretch to classify it as jazz.
MTJ Records; 2012; appx. 45 minutes.

A True Story, Sophisticated Ladies.
This recording had loads of possibilities. Unfortunately, most of them were not realized. First, it’s an all-woman group, something of a rarity in jazz. The “Sophisticated Ladies” are Emilie Calme, flute and bansuri; Rachael Magidson, flugelhorn and percussion; Nolwenn Leizour, bass; and Valerie Chane-Tef, piano. So far, so good. Next comes an absolutely terrific set of tunes. How about these examples of premier songwriting: “The Lady Is A Tramp,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Autumn Leaves,” “You Go to My Head,” “Segment,” “Gone With the Wind,” “Insentatez” and “Dansez Sur Moi.” If the last two titles aren’t completely familiar, well, one is also known as “How Insensitive” and the other is better known as “Girl Talk.” Charlie Parker’s bop anthem “Segment” is done instrumentally, as is “Insentatez.” And for that reason, they are the standout tunes on the album. All the remaining are sung by Magidson, whose voice simply doesn’t have the depth to cover this sacred ground. Too bad these ladies weren’t quite sophisticated enough. They could have released what would have been a stellar instrumental album.
Self Produced; 2012; appx. 33 minutes.

Chicago, Barcelona Connections, Greg Duncan, trumpet, flugelhorn.
My overall impression of this energetic performance? As the title suggests, it’s a fiery combination of American post-bop with some Latin pulse. In other words, just enough Latin flavor to give us some spice, but not so much that it becomes a “Latin album.” Duncan is a fine straight ahead, brassy trumpet cat whose lyricism at times reminded me of star trumpeters such as Bobby Shew and Brian Lynch. At other times, an accelerated level of “fire” was apparent; enough so that I even was reminded of some of Dizzy’s Latin efforts. All of Duncan’s colleagues were new to me, but I was particularly impressed with his alto and tenor man, Corbin Andrick, and pianist Stuart Mindeman. A couple of vocals from Patricia Ortega didn’t float my boat, and the use of Fender rhodes piano here and there is a frustration. The only standard is “Poinciana,” an album highlight. Aside from a couple of dents in the fender, this is an album which fulfills its task and features some stellar solos, especially from the leader.
New Origins Records; 2012; appx. 62 minutes.


Conquistador, Ed Byrne, trombone.
I know a lot of you are aficionados of Latin jazz, and this spirited group of East Coasters gives plenty of energy to the genre. The eight tunes here are all creations of the leader, Byrne. He also solos with appropriate fire on trombone. Two percussionists supply all you need on congas, timbales, bongos, cowbell and guiro. I might also mention that the two bass players are heard on Ampeg baby bass. Can someone fill me in? Anyway, it’s real deal, danceable Latin jazz. And, by the way, lots of fun.
Blue Truffle Music; 2012; appx. 48 minutes.

Beka Gochiashvili, piano.
Sixteen. That’s how old this prodigy is. Born and raised in Tblisi, Georgia, Gochiashvili has been described as “an old soul in very young body.” He plays hard bop with the authority of a veteran but can put over a ballad with deep feeling. His debut album is a potpourri of tempos and guest musicians, among them Stanley Clarke, John Pattitucci, Lenny White and Wallace Roney. On this varied menu of 12 compositions, you’ll come away thinking “major new talent.”
Exitus; 2012; appx. 68 minutes.

116th & Park, Greg Skaff, guitar.
How can we go through one month of reviews without at least one guitar/Hammond organ disc? Well, here’s yet another. I must say, it’s more jazz-oriented than the usual funk/r&b. And Skaff is a ripping good guitar player. Ditto for Pat Bianchi on organ. Best tunes? A bluesy line, “Dual Force,” which moves along in a nice groove; Monk’s “Bye-Ya” (what more do we need say … it’s Monk!); and Duke’s classic “Come Sunday.” These guys surpass most “organ groups” because, of all crazy things, they’replaying jazz!
Zoho; 2012; appx. 51 minutes.

A Handful of Changes, Ari Erev, piano.
Jazz is becoming ever more of a force these days in Israel, and Erev’s new CD is a potpourri of varied instrumentation and invigorating composition. Joining a cast of talented Israeli musicians, Erev (which in Hebrew means “evening”) welcomes sax master Joel Frahm to this session. A few favorite tracks include a serene medley of Chopin and Porter; a tender thing called “Simple Melody”; Frahm’s lovely tenor on “For All We Know”; and “Beyond The Blue,” a stirring waltz by the leader. Quite a joyful and thoughtful debut album.
Self-Produced; 2012; appx. 75 minutes.