CD Reviews -

August 2013 

by Deborah DeMoss Smith

That’s It! Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
In the mood for some authentic New Orleans jazz that’s not only connected to the city’s early jazz but also extends the tradition with all-original tunes? Then fill your ears with “That’s It,” the latest release from the six-decade institution, eight-member Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Recorded for the first time in the band’s unpainted 1812 French Quarter music hall, the album struts with joy.
There are no weak tunes in this album. A part of the title cut reminded me of Duke Ellington’s “Far East Suite,” but with its drums and tuba lead, and the brass riffs taking over, it mostly reminds me of New Orleans—moving with that cadence and joie de vivre that’s so indicative of the birthplace-of-jazz street music.
You can’t have an original album that’s tied to the early history of jazz without having the rich sound of gospel and blues. And singer/tuba player Ronell Johnson punctuates the music with the spirit when he delivers “Oh, Lord, Give Me the Strength.” All that’s missing is the clapping.
“Come with Me,” performed by 81-year-old clarinetist/saxophonist Charlie Gabriel—a 4th generation jazz musician—was composed after a phone conversation with a girlfriend he was trying to convince to come to New Orleans; he wanted to show her his city. Full of high energy, the tune draws you in … a great addition to my annual Mardi Gras show.
Stepping out with the piano, then punching the drum in, “Rattlin’ Bones” is definitely built on the Big Easy jazz tradition, but again has its own voice. With the Band leading the way, clarinetist and vocalist Freddie Lonzo makes his mark with this tongue-in-cheek tune about seeing the dead walking around New Orleans at night.
New Orleans may be known as the” city that care forgot,” but with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, there’s no doubt that traditional jazz and its new “traditional” offspring have not been forgotten. So get out your white handkerchief and twirl it over your head as you second line to the full spirit of “That’s It!”
Musicians: Mark Braud, trumpet,b-vocals; Charlie Gabriel, clarinet, t-sax, vocals; Clint Maedgen, t-sax, bari-sax, vocals; Freddie Lonzo, trombone, vocals; Rickie Monie, piano, bvocals; Ronell Johnson, tuba, piano, vocals; Ben Jaffe, tuba, bass, banjo, percussion, b-vocals; Joe Lastie, Jr., drums, b-vocals.
Sony, 2013.

Duke at the Roadhouse, Eddie Daniels & Roger Kellaway.
Some jazz fans shy away from the clarinet, though they’ll agree that Sidney Bechet, Benny Goodman, Alvin Batiste, and Dr. Michael White, among others, have made the “licorice stick” a genuine part of jazz. But with this new album, Daniels joins the elite clarinetists’ parade while also saluting jazz wizard Duke Ellington. In 1966, Daniels played a jam session with El- lington, inspiring him to later make this live recording with pianist Kellaway. Some tunes of note:
Daniels opens the first song, “Beginning to See the Light,” with a dance on the clarinet keys; the solo alerts you that this is a song filled with glee. Kellaway, of course, supports him with finesse and no hesitation.
Daniels and Kellaway had to give “Creole Love Call,” one of my favorite Ellington compositions, that humid and sultry feel to do it right. And they did. With Daniels’ twittering and moaning, and Kellaway taking over the tune with some serious spunk, it works.
Kellaway and Daniels each delivered a composition for this CD. The clarinetist’s contribution, the title cut, proves why Daniels’ technique is often cited. His fingering snags you and won’t let go. Kellaway’s composition, “Duke in Ojai,” demonstrates his command of the piano without overpowering his woodwind partner. You can feel Duke in the notes.
Though I didn’t necessarily expect the traditional arrangement of the standard, “Mood Indigo,” this arrangement did leave me a tad disappointed. That said, I did like the inclusion of cellist James Holland. Daniels’ lower register sound as well as the upper octave, seemed to be somewhat muddy.
“It Don’t Mean a Thing,” the final cut, delivers the idiosyncratic, spirited jazz of Ellington. Daniels and Kellaway put their body, mind, and soul in the music. Starting slowly, then speeding up, the music expresses Kellaway’s rhythm a la Ellington, then Daniels offers a rich response. There’s no doubt you’re hearing Duke at the Roadhouse.
IPO, 2013.

Lone Prairie, Corey Christiansen.
This album may be a little different, but the fun of jazz is giving an ear to something that’s not on the usual path. With tunes focused on the intense electric guitar and two keyboards, as well as the bass, drums and percussion, guitarist Corey Christiansen’s “Lone Prairie” is indeed a bit off the path, yet still on the prairie.
A tribute to the American West, it contains 10 numbers, including traditionals and three originals by Christiansen. Many of the tunes remind me of a favorite number of mine by Sonny Rollins: “I’m an Old Cowhand.” But this is not straight-ahead; this modern jazz offers deep reverberation and an often propelling tone. Nevertheless, it moves.
The traditional tune, “Bury Me Not,” opens with bassist Jeremy Allen then slowly builds and ebbs with emotion. That’s one of Christensen’s distinctive arranging techniques: pacing control. And he sets the mood with a strong guitar. There’s no doubt “Bury Me Not” reflects that jazzy strategy.
“El Paso” and “Streets of Laredo,” familiar country pop tunes from the 1950s, are fearlessly reshaped. “Sitting on Top of the World” truly makes you feel that you are, indeed; it moves, animated by Christensen’s rhythmic dance on guitar.
The only tune that didn’t move me was “In the Pines.” The passionate energy was evident, but though I like a biting guitar at times, it was not so appropriate for this traditional music.
The multi-generational band, playing with tight interaction, do their parts to make “Lone Prairie” into a collection of stories about the early American West. Rich with the past and delivered with today’s interpretation, the album is jazz without borders.
Musicians: Corey Christiansen, guitar; Steve Allee, keyboards, piano; Zach Lapidus, keyboards, piano, SuperCollider; Jeremy Allen, acoustic/electric bass; Matt Jorgensen, drums; Michael Spiro, percussion.
Origin, 2013.

Lineage, Rock and Pop Classics Revisited, Dave Liebman/Michael Stephens
This album should not be viewed as fusion, says drummer Stephens; instead, he points out, his aim with this CD was to use “the language of contemporary improvised music to reclothe the oldies in new harmonies and new rhythms.” Saxman Liebman agrees that their latest album is a look back to some beloved ‘50-‘60s pop classics that have been reshaped definitively by the language of jazz. These classics are what he listened to in his youth before being mesmerized at age 15 by John Coltrane at Birdland.
But does the concept work? Listening to the tunes, it seems to. After all, what a good arranger does best is to take any tune and make it harmonically and rhythmically into jazz. Take these examples:
“Mr. Sandman,” a song from 1954, has Liebman on the soprano saxophone swinging in medium tempo. Bobby Avey’s piano offers a fine, rhythmic, Andre Previn-ish solo, and Stephans’ shuffling percussion doesn’t hamper the solid sway.
Liebman steps into two Lennon/McCartney compositions originally recorded in 1966. “Eleanor Rigby,” a tune played by many jazz musicians, is given an Eastern flavor and heads out into unusual territory, as you might expect. On “Here,There and Everywhere,” Liebman’s tenor sax draws you in at the beginning, but the tune gets somewhat gnarly at the end—a move many contemporary jazz lovers will appreciate.
Leading all the full-of-jubilance tunes on the album is “Tequila,” originally recorded in 1958. I recall my aunt loving and dancing to this Latin-spiced tune. Guitarist Vic Juris lights up the tune and soon doesn’t hold back, going way out there at the end. Stephans and Liebman give it their all, while Avey gets the most from the piano and Matt Vashlishan vigorously supplies the flute. And, yes, the band all yells “tequila” at the end.
“Love Me Tender” is the final tune. Dismantled and reassembled in a jazz mode, the song has Avey providing the lonesome bed as Liebman tiptoes in, then lets his horn cry and delivers the final nod to this CD’s walking spirit.
Whirling City Sound, 2013.

Relevancy, Chip Stephens Trio.
Five years ago, pianist Stephens, who has been collaborator, arranger and sideman for more than 35 well-known jazz musicians (including Curtis Fuller and Benny Golson), was in a crushing car accident that left him in a coma, with a prognosis that he might never talk, walk, or play the piano again. But with the help of his family and hard work, he did make his way back. Recently, he recorded this album.
Of its eight tunes, three are Stephens’ originals:
Employing a twelve-tone row, “A Day in May” tells the story of his life-changing experience. Stephens composes with rich notes that capture the accident, recovery, rehabilitation, confusion, and walking again — all with the focus and beauty that jazz can provide. You can hear it all, from the lyrical, then the beating-down and the getting tough. Drummer Joel Spencer replies with an intense, long solo.
“Somewhere Before the End,” has an its undefined, gauzy feel, until Stephens’ commanding solo. His keys answer his getright orders with tenacity.
One of the jewels on the album is the last original, “Chip’s Blues.” The tune speaks insouciant blues loudly and the spirit is pure jazz. Bassist Dennis Carroll throws the rhythm out like musical fireflies. Stephens’ solo is clear and a delight. This was a definite favorite.
Standards complete the collection, including “Syndrome,” “Like Someone in Love,” “This Funny World,” and the final tune, “34 Skidoo,” composed by Stephens’ jazz idol Bill Evans. And like any good ending, it moves with animation and a celebration of life and jazz.
Capri, 2013.

Swingin’ to the Sea, Miki Purnell.
A physician and jazz vocalist/composer, Purnell’s debut album — a collection of 13 tunes — includes a mix of standards and new works. With the exception of a few numbers, her voice offers an airy and healthy sound.
Purnell infuses the beloved Gillespie song, “A Night in Tunisia,” with two influences: her classical training and an instrument from her native country, the traditional Japanese stringed koto, played by Reiko Obata. Purnell’s voice, supported by Dave MacKay’s piano, soon gets into the groove.
On “Green Dolphin Street,” Purnell’s delivery at first left me unmoved, but I didn’t have to wait long to feel the opposite. “Bluesette” does grab you immediately; Purnell’s voice is solid, and the flute of Lori Bell, with percussion by Tommy Aros, rounds out the tune.
Although I have only good memories of my grandmother singing Bing Cosby’s hit, “Swinging on a Star,” to me, just including the song in the album doesn’t quite win me over, though her composition, “Sunny San Diego Sunday,” is indeed a perky tune that did. Her energy seems heartfelt and the lyrics indicate an affection for her hometown.
Other tunes include “Estate,” “Like Me,” “Sexy, Sexy,” “Moon and Sand,” “Maiden Voyage,” “The Nearness of You,” “Free,” and “The Island.” Overall, this album offers a strong surge of vocal jazz, with the promise of a stronger tide in the future.
Musicians: Miki Purnell, vocals; Tamir Hendelman/Dave MacKay, piano; Bob Magnusson, bass; Kevin Koch, drums; Lori Bell, flute; Joey Carano, guitar; Tommy Aros, percussion; Reiko Obata, koto.
Sweet and Lovely Music, 2013.