CD Reviews - November 2013 

by George Fendel

Unreleased Art, Vol. 8; Art Pepper, alto saxophone.
Eight years ago, I got my hands on a CD called “Unreleased Art Pepper, Vol. 1.” After that, I scoured the hinterlands looking for Vol. 2 and beyond. No luck. Eventually, I gave up. Well now, what a shocker we have here in Unreleased Art, Vol. 8!! Recorded at a Northern California jazz festival in 1976, Pepper uses a Bay Area rhythm section featuring a pianist he particularly admired, Smith Dobson. Pepper and friends kick it off with a bristling “Caravan”; go to a bouncy medium tempo on “Ophelia”; and then they break your heart on “Here’s That Rainy Day.” During this period, Pepper was still experimenting with some jazz-rock things (which he later dropped entirely). Here, it’s “What Laurie Likes.” That is followed by his signature tune, “A High Wire Act Called Straight Life.” The session concludes with “Saratoga Blues,” a deep-in-the-well blues most likely created on the spot. Two more items of note: 1) Art introduces all the tunes with sincere affection for his band mates and the music itself; 2) the recording quality is solid throughout. And as always, you know in about three notes that it’s the great Art Pepper. Now, how in the heck am I going to get my mitts on Volumes 2 through 7?!
Widow’s Taste Records, 2013; appx. 67 minutes.

Bella Napoli; Gary Smulyan, baritone saxophone.
I’ll bet you’ve never indulged in a fantasy that has you in a little rowboat, floating down a stream just outside a picturesque Italian village. And to further fantasize, the music you hear is Italian-style jazz! Well, your dream comes true with perhaps the first ever “Italian jazz album.” The unlikely leader of this session is baritone saxophone giant Smulyan. My own knowledge of beautiful Italian serenades is limited. As a result, the only two titles familiar to me were “Funiculi Funicula” and “O Sole Mio.” The remainder of the material ranges from typically emotive Italian balladry all the way to festive, colorful Mediterranean fun. To complete the picture, the first mate of our little boat is singer Dominic Chianese, who handles several of these pretty melodies with appropriate Italian affection. This is to be sure a major detour for Smulyan. However, if you’re a bit adventurous in your musical taste, hop on board and enjoy a new adventure.
Capri Records, 2013; appx. 53 minutes.

Look Out For Love; Todd Londagin, trombone and vocals.
You think you had it rough? Singer-trombonist Londagin grew up in an itinerant family which experienced lengthy stays in cars, trucks and other conveyances. It was a lifestyle geared to home schooling, resulting in Londagin’s lack of formal music education. As is often said, he did it the old-fashioned way, honing his vocal chops by listening to such greats as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. On the instrumental side, his trombone heroes include the traditional stylings of Jack Teagarden and the bop chops of J.J. Johnson. Londagin’s quintet, which includes piano, guitar, bass and drums, is right on target on a number of dependable standards, including “Bye Bye Baby,” “Some of These Days,” “I Concentrate on You,” “Long Ago and Far Away,” “Pennies from Heaven” and “You Go to My Head.” A well-written but somewhat out-of-place Stevie Wonder tune, “I Can’t Help It,” is an odd choice considering the vintage of the other material. The only original, “Bust Your Windows,” dealt with the idea of breaking the car window of a spurned lover. To put it succinctly, violence is not something we normally deal with in song lyrics. Londagin’s trombone hails from the lyrical, understated camp, and his rather high-pitched vocals puts him among the disciples of Chet Baker. Londagin and his colleagues have produced an infectiously happy, upbeat session worthy of your attention.
Self-Produced, 2013; times not indicated.

Tell Your Story; Adam Rongo, alto and tenor saxophones.
New York swagger in the Midwest? You bet! Michigan-born Rongo’s new CD is a bop lover’s dream. Loaded with exceptional playing from a host of musicians, Rongo’s album grabs your attention immediately on the opener, “Turn the Corner” — the first of several joyously conceived originals by the leader and others. It’s likely that Rongo has done his hard bop homework, considering the inclusion of Jimmy Heath’s “Two Tees” and Johnny Griffin’s “Fifty-Six,” both of which are little known but revealing choices. From the standard bag, Rongo and friends turn up the heat just a bit on “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” His alto and Randy Napoleon’s guitar caress “Star Dust” and the rarely heard “You’re Mine, You.” It should be emphasized that much of the pleasure of this session is found in its skillful and fresh arrangements. Rongo has chosen to include numerous guest players who weave in and out on the various tracks. This is simply exceptional bop arranging and playing the way it used to be. From all of the CDs reviewed in this issue of Jazzscene, this is the one I’d recommend for purchase. If we were still assigning stars, Rongo’s debut would get five.
D Clef Records, 2013; appx. 61 minutes.

Professor Cunningham & His Old School; Adrian Cunningham, saxophones and clarinet,
A pox on anyone who says you can’t have loads of fun playing jazz. And at this point in my life, no one has ever accused me of being an expert in the field of New Orleans style music. But one thing was clear in listening to this recording: these New Orleans cats are hitting the bull’s-eye in the fun department. Besides, New Orleans jazz is by nature joyous. Professor Cunningham, as he is referred to here, finds ample room for his own solo work as well as including generous solo opportunities for Charles Caranicas on trumpet and Jim Fryer on trombone. As one might expect, the tune list ranges from ancient stalwarts such as “Bourbon Street Parade,” “Maple Leaf Rag,” “When My Dreamboat Comes Home” and “Harlem Nocturne”; to swing-era goodies such as “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “Jumpin’ at the Woodside,” “What Will I Tell My Heart” and “St. James Infirmary.” Completing the bill are some lesser-known but equally infectious New Orleans delights. The Professor even sings with New Orleans flavor on several tunes, sounding not just a little bit like Harry Connick, Jr. So don’t feel guilty about a serving fun with your jazz. Because this is it!
Self-Produced, 2013; appx. 49 minutes.

Lost Tapes 1956-1958; The Modern Jazz Quartet.
Jazz Haus Records continues its series of fine and rare recordings from the other side of the pond. This time it’s the Modern Jazz Quartet, brainchild of leader and pianist John Lewis, and an early champion of chamber jazz. In his quest for the ideal marriage of classical forms with jazz, Lewis found sympathetic colleagues in Milt Jackson, vibes, Percy Heath, bass, and Connie Kay, drums. These well-recorded sessions are compiled from the years 1956 through 1958, and present the MJQ in various musical settings. One of those meetings combined the foursome with the Kenton-esque Kurt Edelhagen Orchestra, featured on two of the quartet’s biggest “hits,” Jackson’s “Bluesology” and Lewis’s timeless “Django.” Among other evergreens performed with various European orchestras are “Willow Weep for Me,” “I’ll Remember April,” “You Go to My Head” and “I Can’t Get Started.” An album highlight which was included at the request of the date’s producer is Jackson’s solo version of “Tenderly.” The vibraphone master’s take on this standard is all delicacy and tenderness. The album is completed by a selection of distinguished original compositions performed in typically elegant MJQ fashion. How wonderful for jazz fans that a recording such as this escaped an undeserved oblivion. After all, it’s the Modern Jazz Quartet in all its glory.
Jazz Haus, 2013; 68:20.

State Of The Art; Dee Daniels, vocals.
You are the president of a well-respected, 30-plus-year-old jazz label called Criss Cross Records. During that span you have issued over 300 jazz recordings, and every single one has been an instrumental affair. So this release by singer Dee Daniels marks a first for the label and certainly something of an honor for her. Daniels is surrounded by a quartet that includes two young veterans in Eric Alexander, tenor sax, and Cyrus Chestnut, piano; and two newer names, Paul Beaudry, bass, and Alvester Garnett, drums. She has been singing songs like those heard on this album for many years, and all of that experience is evident in her phrasing, feeling, and overall delivery. Let’s put it this way: you know it when you hear it, and Dee Daniels, with no compromises, is a pure, real deal jazz singer. And who can argue with a menu of Songbook America gems that range from blues-drenched ballads such as “I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone,” “He Was too Good to Me,” and “Lover Man”; to spirited entries such as “Almost Like Being in Love,” “Cheokee,” “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” and “How High the Moon.” A personal favorite is the lovely ballad, “Why Did I Choose You.” This long overlooked beauty has gained favor with singers in recent years, and Daniels gives it well-deserved respect. On all these and more, the first-ever vocal effort for Criss Cross is a winner.
Criss Cross Records, 2013; 59:31.

Just For My Lady; Oliver Jones, piano; Josée Aidans, violin.
Sometime in the late 1980s, I settled into my chair at the Otter Crest Jazz Weekend to hear a Canadian pianist previously unknown to me. Oliver Jones sat down at the Steinway and proceeded to tear the joint apart! His devotion to his hero, Oscar Peterson, was obvious and riveting. Jump several years ahead to the early 2000s, when I learned that Jones had retired. I was bummed at the time, so I’m certainly glad to see this brand new recording from our “retiree.” Turns out that Jones’ long-time friend and mentor, Oscar P., took him aside and told him, “Oliver, a jazzman never retires. He can only stop playing when he passes away.” So … welcome back, Oliver Jones! On this new release, his sparkling trio is joined by violinist Aidans on eight of the 12 selections. This wonderfully talented violinist is at her best on titles such as Jones’s creamy ballad, “Lights of Burgundy”; standards such as “The Windmills of Your Mind” and “Lady Be Good”; and the leader’s dramatic three-part work, “Saskatchewan Suite.” The trio takes over on the remaining tunes, and two highlights include an O.P. staple, “You Look Good to Me” and “When Summer Comes,” one of Oscar’s most gorgeous melodies. Hey, let’s put it this way — last winter, Canada Post issued a stamp honoring Oliver Jones. Does it get any better that that?!
Justin Time, 2013; appx. 58 minutes.

Live at the Jazz Cave, Vol. 1; Joe Dividian, piano.
Aren’t we lucky that there are so many blissfully talented jazz pianists in the world! Those whose progress we’ve followed for decades and those we discover along the way, among them, for me, Joe Dividian. In the great American piano tradition, he swings consistently and adds a touch of drama. His trio includes Jamie Ousley, bass, and Austin McMahon, drums, and the threesome impresses on both familiar fare and newer compositions by Dividian, Ousley and Keith Jarrett. Among the standards. consider such evergreens as “All of Me,” “I’ll Remember April,” “Secret Love,” “Last Night hen We Were Young,” “Emily,” “Everything I Love” and “If I Were a Bell.” One might wonder if Dividian was aware of the old June Christy title, “My Heart Belongs to Only You,” since he’s included his own composition under the same name. On all these, and a couple others, Dividian and colleagues prove themselves to be a solid piano trio.
Self-produced, 2013; app. 77 min.

Idylwild, Jon Hamar, bass.
The versatile bassist Jon Hamar has established himself as one of Seattle’s first call bass players over the last few years. For this rather unusual session, he leads a quartet with two saxophones, bass and drums. One of the saxmen, Rich Perry, has been a formidable presence in New York for quite a while. This session marks something of a detour for Perry, in that it is more in the free-avant garde camp than his prior mainstream orientation. Perry’s saxophone partner is Todd DelGiudice, and they indulge in some interesting twists and turns — chasing each other around the musical block. All the selections are original compositions by the leader, whose painless concept added to the free, outside nature of the session. This is the meat and potatoes of the Origin label — highly improvisational and creative. It’s not for everyone, but if you wish to step out of the mainstream now and then, this would be a new exercise for your ears.
Origin, 2013; app. 54 min.

Live at the Freight; Jessica Jones, tenor sax, Connie Carothers, piano.
When Lennie Tristano, Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz invented new melodies based on standards, there remained a certain depth and lyricism that gave these efforts charm and character. One can’t take anything away from tenor saxist Jones and pianist Carothers for their attempt to catch a similar groove, but they take it to an extreme. Their three standards of choice are “All the Things You Are,” “In a Sentimental Mood” and “There ill Never Be Another You.” On all three, they seem too far out — not so much to demonstrate the alternate possibilities and richness of these timeless tunes; rather, it seemed to me, their aim was simply to get as far out as possible. The rest of the CD presents four originals, three of which are simply titled “Improv 1, 2 and 3.” The result is a lot of aimless wandering, and I find on a musical path without resolution. So I found myself unable to climb on board for this highly adventurous, risk-taking music.
New Artist Records, 2011 (newly released); app. 52 min.

Stepping Out, Anthony Strong, vocals, piano.
He’s already been named England’s new jazz superstar, and Strong has the energy and pizazz to live up to it. His “strengths” include an effervescent, high-energy voice and more than adequate piano chops. Strong’s arranging skills are also a big plus, and he has surrounded himself here with a big band of other superbly-skilled Brits. Strong seems to walk the line between American Songbook classics and some high-quality pop material. Among the latter are five originals. Two that resonated with me are “Change My Ways,” an up-tempo effort with lyrics expressing remorse, and “Learning to Unlove You,” with a lyric similar to Michel LeGrand’s “How Do You Keep the Music Playing.” Pretty heady stuff for a young guy who has put his work next to classic American songwriters such as Frank Loesser, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and Cy Coleman. He handles their timeless melodies with the same flair he gives his originals. He sounds like the kind of guy I’d love to hear in person. One might say, he’s a “strong contender” for superstar status over here as well.
Naxos, 2013; 48:16.

One Up Front, Jon Davis, piano.
How is it that I’ve been writing reviews for Jazzscene for more than 20 years and somehow missed out on pianist Jon Davis. I can’t blame it on his youth. He’s had lengthy stints in both San Francisco and New York, where he’s currently playing frequently at top jazz clubs. On this straight-ahead trio effort, he is joined by Joris Teepe on bass, a former associate on European tours, and drummer Shinnosuke Takahashi, another new name to me. Davis and friends nicely balance jazz classics and originals. From the first camp we are treated to Horace Silver’s “Strollin’” and Charles Mingus’s “Goodbye Pork-Pie Hat,” but the trio also samples the American Songbook with “How Deep Is the Ocean,” “You’re the Top” and “My Ideal.” Among the originals, I liked all his work, but I was particularly affected by the quirkiness and rhythms of the oddly-named “The Joker’s a Smoker.” Bassist Teepe provides one entry titled “Candid Camera,” with a nicely lilting hint of Brazilian charm. Davis seems to understand the important balance of playing classic bop with just enough breathing room to remind the listener occasionally of the early Ahmad Jamal. In any case, Davis is a pianist to be reckoned with. After all these years, I’m glad I found him.
Posi-tone, 2013; app. 57 min.


Projecto B.F.C; Phil Fest, guitar and vocals.
As you know, there’s a world of difference between Afro-Caribbean and Brazilian jazz. Coming from a famous family, Fest puts the Brazilian tradition into a beautifully focused and artfully performed session. His group features piano, bass, drums and a few guests shots harmonica wizard Hendrik Meurkens. Fest and friends deliver these original Brazilian compositions in a joyous, life-affirming performance.
Reifsteck/Fest Productions, 2013; times not indicated.

The Poet; Marquis Hill, trumpet and flugelhorn.
Chicago-based trumpet/flugelhorn artist Hill offers a new CD of 15 compositions, most of which are original works. He combines a studied hard bop sensibility with interesting and often quirky and challenging melody lines. As leader of a septet on this recording, Hill allows room for inventive ensemble passages along with his own exceptional and often powerful trumpet work. Based on this album, Hill is most certainly a name to be watched.
Skiptone Music, 2013; appx. 46 minutes.

Lost Tapes; Volker Kriegel, guitar.
Now and then, I miss one — but maybe I can be excused for a couple of reasons: first, Kriegel spent his entire career in Europe, and second, his musical road eventually settled into the world of jazz rock, an area in which I have no interest. Glad to say, these recordings from 1963 to 1969 place Kriegel in various straight ahead settings. This two-CD set is loaded with original compositions, but Kriegel also handles several standards in fine fashion. Probably a must-hear for jazz guitar freaks.
Jazz Haus, 2013; 2 CDs; 138:48.