CD Reviews - February 2013 

by Tim Willcox

Feelin’ It; Stan Bock and The New Tradition.
Portland jazz luminary, trombonist and composer Stan Bock pairs three of the city’s most well know veterans (Bock on trombone, Renato Caranto, tenor sax and Tim Gilson, fretless electric bass) with three of the region’s best young musicians (John Natsos on alto, soprano sax and bass clarinet, Clay Giberson on piano, and Chris Brown drums) for a sextet session comprised of re-worked standards, funky soul tunes and modern originals.

While many of the tunes on this album have been recorded time and again by hundreds of artists, the thing that really makes these versions stand out against others are inventive new arrangements. Take, for instance, “Mercy Mercy, Mercy,” perhaps one of the most over-played tunes of the last 40 years. Here, Bock’s arrangement completely reinvigorates and renews it’s viability. From his ultra-hip reharmonization and clever orchestration to the constant shifting in meters and feels throughout, Bock has managed to make something old, new again. This pattern continues throughout Feelin’ It.

Leonard Berstein’s Maria is especially unique. An ostinato bassline doubled with bass clarinet provides the cushion for a reworking of the melody over a quasi-reggae drum feel. After the melody, the band embarks on a totally-free improvisation with Caranto taking the lead for several minutes of inspired group interplay. Even the hokey old Kermit The Frog number, “It Ain’t Easy Being Green” gets a new treatment in the form of a latin-infused modal update.

Bock’s signature trombone style, a mix of traditional, hardbop and fusion playing is spotlighted throughout. Bock has a dark, beautifully developed sound, which allows him to blend seamlessly with other horns. His obvious love of different genres shines through here, as he breezes through all of them with ease, clarity and style. Saxophonist Caranto, too, shares the spotlight more than the other musicians, changing his sound and style to give each composition what it’s asking for.

While not as prominently featured as Caranto, John Nastos does get his moments to shine, especially as a composer -- he contributes three tracks: the New Orleans-style romp, “Up in the AIr,” the Keith Jarrett-influenced “Horizon,” and the beautifully arranged, winds-only tribute to Jim Pepper. Nastos’ saxophone sounds mature and uncontrived, most notably on the soprano. His sound is big and warm over the entire range of the instrument. His intonation is impeccable, which is especially impressive given the often uncooperative nature of the instrument. Nastos also contributes to the ensemble sound and group improvisations in a altruistic manner. You never get the feeling that he is trying to take the limelight. He’s content to make the music sound as good as possible.

The rhythm section of Giberson, Gilson, and Brown swing, groove, and propel the band through the music. Brown has always had a Jeff”Tain” Watts influence, and it shines through on the swing numbers. But he’s also developed his own personal feel and sound, which is really coming to the fore, especially on the more open-ended pieces like “Maria,” “Let’s Fall in Love” and “Bein’ Green”. He also throws down a mean Art Blakey style shuffle, heard on “Blues in the Shed.” He also has a nice, relaxed feel on the latin-tinged numbers, such as the grooving samba “D Tune.” Brown also shows off his second- line chops on “Up In The Air.”

Gilson has always been know for both his ability to “lay it down” as well as virtuosic solo chops on both acoustic and electric basses. Here, he mostly plays a supportive role, although he does get a chance to burn through a Jaco Pastorious- like solo on “Up in the Air.” His playing is strong and unrelenting throughout. Pianist Giberson moves effortlessly and tastefully between bebop, post-bop, free-jazz and fusion styles. He contributes an especially Jarret-esque solo on “Up in The Air.”

Bock has indeed succeeded in creating a “New Tradition” with this new group and album. Let’s hope he continues to bring new wine to old bottles while forging a path for himself in the Northwest and beyond.

Dream Garden; George Mitchell.
Stumptown’s own George Mitchell has worked with a who’s who of jazz, R+B and pop musicians throughout his stellar career. He’s lent his keen sense of swing and colorful harmonic palette to the likes of Sonny Stitt, Eddie Harris, Philly Jo Jones, and countless others. Mitchell also continues to man his fort as Dianna Ross’ musical director and keyboardist, a role he has assumed for nearly three decades. Known locally as a veteran of the vibrant jazz scene, George can be heard playing the Hammond B-3 as well as the piano in a variety of settings. Despite his contribution as a sideman to literally hundreds of albums, Mitchell has only made four as a leader. So it it a rare treat to receive one for review.

Mitchell’s latest offering is a swinging affair, bolstered by the presence of the great Dick Berk, who returned to Portland several years ago after a decade in Las Vegas. Former Portlander Scott Steed, Dianne Schurr’s and Joe Williams’s bassist of choice, rounds out the trio. The setlist includes three Mitchell originals, several well-know standards, and a few more obscure titles from the jazz cannon.

The music here is an excellent example of what swing and groove can feel like, delivered with the restraint, maturity and wisdom that can only come with age. Mitchell plays in an economical style, straightforward and to the point. It’s almost as though he has chiseled away all of the unnecessary material and gotten to core of what he’s looking for.

The opening measures of “Dearly Beloved,” delivered at a burning up-tempo clip, informs the listener that these guys mean business. Most of the numbers continue in the same swingin’ straight-ahead vein, with a few exceptions. Mitchell’s take on the beautiful ballad, “Dedicated to You,” showcases the group’s sensitivity and commitment to melody. With Steed taking a beautifully paced half chorus, followed by a Hank Jones-like, double-time solo by Mitchell, you might feel you’ve been transported to Rudy Van Gelder’s studio circa 1959. The album’s title track is a delicate bossa nova, originally written by vibraphonist Dave Pike for inclusion on Herbie Mann’s “The Beat Goes On” LP from the 60’s. Mitchell opts to play the Fender Rhodes on this track, giving it a sort of 70’s CTM retro-vibe.

Other standout numbers include the hard-grooving original, “Berk’s Groove,” the classic lilt of “Old Devil Moon,” and the light and airy Cal Tjader waltz, “Liz Anne” (also played by Mitchell on the Rhodes). Listeners who love classic straight-ahead jazz delivered in a timeless manner, devoid of cliches and full of swing and humility, please take note, “Dream Garden” is for you.

Pieces; Hashem Assadullahi.
Saxophonist and composer Assadullahi strikes gold with this rich recording featuring some of Oregon’s finest talent along with Denver trumpet virtuoso Ron Miles. Though Assadullahi relocated to New York after leaving the University of Oregon several years ago, his ties to this region remain strong with frequent visits, gigs, and collaborations. Guitarist Justin Morell, drummer Ryan Biesack, pianist James Miley, and Bassist Tyler Abbott all play and teach in Oregon.

The album’s stunning opening track, “Prized Possession,” combines the group’s love of collective improvisation with textural and timbral variations. It’s a great way to start off the album and paves the way for what remains a highly democratic work. “The Straight Man,” by Morrell, is a slow swinging dirge, full of rich harmonies, contrapuntal lines, and beautiful interaction between Assadullahi and Miles. Throughout, Assadullahi’s writing and playing are strong and inventive. From his tongue-in cheek tune, “The Harbinger,” which plays out over a Beatlesesque British romp, to the uniquely angst-ridden sound of “User Error,” Hasheem shows he is a bright new talent in the world of jazz composition.

The drum and bass team of Abbot and Biesack provide “Pieces” with a strong backbone of groove and rhythmic interaction. I’m not too familiar with Beisack’s playing, but I am excited to hear more from him. One gets the sense that these musicians have been playing with one another for quite some time, that this was not just a pieced-together session. The intent of the leader to make an album which showcases strong group playing, instead of merely recording a standard “blowing session,” or even an album of nice originals, has been fully realized here. This recording will provide your ears and brain with a sense of fulfillment and mystery, even upon multiple listens.

Tell; Myriad 3.
Every once in awhile you get an album that comes at you from left field and whacks you squarely in the side of the head. This is one of those recordings. I’d never heard of these three musicians, most likely due to the US/Canadian jazz embargo that has been in place for several decades now. This debut CD from the Toronto piano trio is moving into some new territory, though many will probably want to compare them to other genre-bending groups like The Bad Plus. While the energy and youthful exuberance they bring to the music might remind you of that power-jazz trio, this group is definitely carving out a unique space, blending elements of classical, pop, free-jazz, and whatever else they feel like.

Pianist Chris Donnelly, Bassist Dan Fortin, and drummer Ernesto Cervin have all the chops, imagination, and musicality to seemingly pull anything out of their magic hat. Besides being great players, each member gives strong contributions to the album compositionally. From the pointillistic prodding of “Fractured,” to the crazy broken record-player take on Ellington’s “C Jam Blues” (the only non-original), to the straight ahead Oscar Peterson-style swing of “Mr. Akward,” this is hopefully just the first chapter of a long story.

Now; Phil McDermott Quintet.
Irish guitarist Mcdermott, who now resides in Oslo, makes good use of his newly acquired musical cohorts in this straightahead affair. Saxophonist Torre Brunborg appears on only three of eight tracks, soloing only on the first, making this more of a quartet than a quintet album. Semantics aside, it’s a swinging album in the style of Grant Green and Pat Martino (who McDermott cites as an influence), with hints of Pat Metheny sneaking in. McDermott plays with a warm tone, without the use of fancy pedals or gadgetry.

From the opening track, “Yeh Do Ahh” (a Stanley Turrentine style minor-bluesy jaunt), to “If,” a cover of a pop tune from the 1970s that somehow manages to sound pretty and modern here, McDermott and crew pull off a satisfying listening experience. “Darn That Dream” receives a bossa nova treatment, while McDermott’s originals are a little edgier and left of mainstream. While this recording isn’t particularly groundbreaking, fans of guitarists in the vein of Steve Bernstein, Jim Hall and Pat Martino will particularly enjoy it.

Canto; Tania Maria.
Brazilian pianist and vocalist Tania Maria needs little introduction as one of Brazil’s biggest exports of the past 25 years. This marks her 28th album, and at age 64, she’s still playing with the youth and vitality of someone half her age. It’s a collection of ten pieces, most of which were penned by Ms. Maria, who also wrote the Portuguese lyrics.

And this is what we’ve come to expect from top-notch Brazilian pop musicians like Milton Nasciemento or Hermeto Pascoal -- grooving, rhythmically complex, fun and non-presumptuous; a mix of bossa nova, jazz, pop, and fusion. Drummer Edmundo Carneiro and bassist Reginaldo Feliciano provide a steady but organic cushion for the band to float upon. The music is tight, but not to the point that it becomes sterile.

Ms. Maria’s melodies lean towards a pop sentimentality, but manage to remain harmonically interesting at the same time. “Sambo Do Gato,” a sort of New Orleans meets Sao Paulo hybrid, is an excellent example of the fusion here. The backing horns and piano parts are intricate and unusual throughout, which makes the album both listenable and memorable, as well as enticing enough to warrant multiple listens.

Ms. Maria also proves capable of a wide variety of timbres and textures vocally, at times becoming a bit too nasally for my taste. Pianistically, she is quite capable and exuberant, as is showcased on the album’s final track, “Thanks Mr. G,” an instrumental. With excellent production, interesting compositions, and world class musicality, this is a sure bet to please those who love the music of Brazil.