Saturday, February 6, 2016

Patrick Williams: Home Suite Home

BFM Jazz
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Home Suite Home

Who gets the credit for a great jazz album? It’s usually the performing artist(s), and that almost always means an instrumentalist or vocalist. Well, that isn’t the case here; all the credit belongs to Patrick Williams. He composed and arranged the music; he selected the instrumentalists and vocalists; and he was the driving force behind it all.

Williams may not be a household name among jazz fans, but recording artists and producers certainly know and appreciate him. He has written the music for more than 65 feature films, 100 television films and 25 television series. He has won four Emmys and two Grammys — out of 19 nominations — and he was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, for his orchestral work An American Concerto.

Needless to say, he had his pick of the 18 instrumentalists and three vocalists who participated on this album. Every serious jazz fan will recognize all of them, starting with vocalists Patti Austin, Tierney Sutton and Frank Sinatra Jr. The instrumentalists include pianist Dave Grusin, drummer Peter Erskine, trumpeter Arturo Sandavol, trombonist Bob McChesny, and saxists Bob Sheppard and Tom Scott.

The true “stars,” however, are the eight tracks composed and arranged by Williams. Four are tributes to members of his family: children Elizabeth, Greer and Patrick B., and his wife of 53 years, Katherine. The rest relate to musicians Williams reveres: “A Hefti Dose of Basie,” for composer/arranger Neal Hefti and Count Basie; “That’s Rich” (drummer Buddy Rich); “I’ve Been Around” (Frank Sinatra), sung by Frank Sinatra Jr. and Tierney Sutton; and “52nd & Broadway,” sung by Patti Austin.

The arrangement voicings are second to none; the interplay between the brass, reed and rhythm sections is to die for. And the result swings like crazy; I’ve never heard better!

The descriptor genius gets overused, but no other adjective applies to Williams, for what he has created here.  You’ll never tire of listening to what he hath wrought.

Ben Paterson: For Once in My Life

Origin Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: For Once in My Life

Those who are familiar with Ben Paterson probably know him as a pianist; he has released three albums on that instrument. This one, however, is his first on the Hammond B3 organ.

Paterson was born in Philadelphia in 1982, and he quickly began playing the piano, studying both classical and jazz. After graduating from the Settlement Music School, he enrolled at the University of Chicago; a year later, he was performing with NEA Jazz Master Von Freeman. That association lasted until Freeman’s death in 2012, at which point Paterson moved to New York City, to further his musical career.

He soon began working with artists such as Bobby Broom, Red Holloway and guitarist Peter Bernstein (who, with drummer George Fludas, is a member of the trio featured on this release). Paterson’s reputation grew rapidly; he joined groups that opened for the likes of B.B. King and Steely Dan, among others. Paterson also played at the 2006, ’09 and ’13 Chicago Jazz Fests; the 2007, ’08 and ’11 Chicago Blues Fests; and the 2010 Montreal Jazz Festival.  

So, how does he do on the B3? Quite well, thank you. In fact, he’s several rungs up that ladder, above any jazz organist I’ve hear lately. You’ll immediately notice Paterson’s touch; he’s soft and gentle, and, as a result, gets an expressive melodic line. For reasons unknown, too many organists use the instrument more like a cannon than a pistol; as a result, the surrounding instruments tend increase their volume, to make sure they’re heard.

Paterson’s second attribute is keyboard dexterity. The organ is larger and arranged differently than a piano, making it more difficult to navigate at increased tempos (which also has an effect on volume). 

Finally, Paterson has a marvelous ability to create — and play — inventive and melodic lines: a must  for a jazz artist.

He also swings quite nicely, and you’ll definitely groove right along.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: Jeunehomme

Spartacus Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Jeunehomme

I’ve generally limited this blog’s content to individuals and groups that occupy the upper echelon jazz. Some may consider this album an exception to that guideline, but numerous factors warrant its discussion.

First and foremost, the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra is, and always has been, one of the finest big band groups outside of the United States. This ensemble has produced some of the best jazz albums ever released; the roster includes many truly excellent musician. 

So, why the concern?

Well, using classical music as the core of an arrangement isn’t playing fair. And, let’s face it; Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9 is about as purely classical as it gets! 

The catalyst for this release is the presence of featured Japanese pianist Makoto Ozone. To quote him, “There’s a lot joy in Mozart’s music, and he was a great improviser ... and, of course, jazz is all about improvisation.” 

As befits the notion to combine jazz and classical forms, this arrangement features three “movements”: Adagio Swing, Andantino Tango and Rondo/Presto Be-Bop. Needless to say, the instrumentation is jazz related: trumpets, trombones and saxophones, along with the usual piano/bass/drum rhythm section. (No strings or classical horns.) The resulting sound therefore is lighter and less “stodgy” than a typical symphony orchestra.

And it swings a lot more.

Mozart fans won’t have any trouble recognizing familiar passages. As Ozone notes, "I’ll be darned; Mozart was already doing bebop 300 years ago." And that’s almost accurate.

If you don’t mixing a classic Classic with jazz, this album is a must-have. (That said, purists at both extremes may find it too much to bear.)

Beegie Adair and Don Aliquo: Too Marvelous for Words

Adair Music Group
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Too Marvelous for Words

Those old enough to remember the jazz scene in the late 1940s and ’50s know what it was like to enjoy the music that was being played on the countless radio stations and clubs that operated in every big city across the United States. Quite a few of the artists who were part of that kind of jazz — or influenced by it — are still active today. Tenor/alto sax player Don Aliquo and pianist Beegie Adair are two examples, and they’ve gotten together for this album.

Adair is the senior member here. Born in 1937 in Kentucky, she began to play piano at age 5; after obtaining a college degree, she moved to Nashville and became a session musician. Not many can say they’ve played with a range of singers such as Peggy Lee, Cass Elliot, Dinah Shore and Dolly Parton.  

Adair and her husband anchored their own trio, and over the years produced scores of albums.

Aliquo, born in Pittsburgh in 1960, worked there until 1999, when he moved to Nashville. He soon met and performed with Beegie, but this is the first album they’ve made together; they’re joined by bassist Roger Spencer and drummer Chris Brown (Adair’s regular trio members).

Jazz fans who still love 1950s stylings will enjoy this release. Most of the 10 tracks hail from the Great American Songbook, and only one — “Isfahan” — was written later than 1952. You’ll certainly recognize all of them.

Aliquo is a smooth artist who plays in the style of Stan Getz and Ted Nash. Adair is another Marian McPartland, but swings more. As a team, Aliquo and Adair groove nicely.

This is a wonderful trip to the past: more than an hour of melodies you enjoyed then, and will want to hear again and again.

Deborah Latz: sur l'instant

June Moon Productions
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: sur l'instant

There’s only one thing wrong with this album. It’s too darn short.

We folks on the West Coast periodically find out that not living in, or near, New York City can be a real pain. Such is the case with my only now discovering Deborah Latz, the performer featured on this release. I’m quite unhappy that it took me so long to become aware of her, and her many talents. 

Although born in Northern California, Latz moved to the East Coast fairly early in her career. That said — and what’s particularly galling — is the fact that she was featured on Lynn Darroch’s radio show in Portland, Oregon (my stomping ground) in May of 2011, and yet I missed her.

Ah, well. Better late than never.

Latz is an actress with an award-winning career in dramatic and musical theater; she’s also a writer, arranger and singer/performer. (Note that I’m not using the term vocalist, because she’s much more than that.)
Her voice falls in the alto/soprano range, and is wonderfully expressive. Although she has dead-on pitch when necessary, she hasn’t ever found a flatted-note she can avoid, which puts her in the company of numerous boppers.

She’s backed on this album by French pianist Alain Jean-Marie and bassist Giles Natures. The track list includes standards such as “All the Things You Are,” “Over the Rainbow” and “Nature Boy,” along with relatively unknown melodies such as the “Love Theme” from Spartacus. She also handles great swingers from the world of jazz: “Throw It Away,” “Weep No More,” “Four,” “Blue Monk” and “Mr. PC.” 

All too often, she obeys the classic stage adage of leaving the audience wanting more; some of the tracks just aren’t long enough.

Although I’ve yet to see her in person, the Web offers plenty of short videos that demonstrate what it means to sell a song.

And I swear, Ms. Latz: I’ll never miss another of your albums ... or any appearances, if you happen to visit Oregon again!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Bruce Forman: The Book of Forman

B4Man Music
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: The Book of Forman

You may not be familiar with Forman’s skill as a guitarist, but chances are you’ve heard him. That’s particularly true for Clint Eastwood fans; Forman was featured on the soundtracks of Million Dollar Baby, Flags of Our Fathers and Hereafter.  

Oh, yes: and on 18 other albums prior to this one.

Essentially self-taught, Forman started to play professionally after graduating from high school. His early years were spent in San Francisco and New York, and he began working with name musicians in the late 1970s. He served as a sideman in numerous groups, and played with Richie Cole from 1978 through ’82. Forman didn’t release albums under his own name until 1980; during the subsequent decade, he averaged about one a year. 

He’s currently an educator as well as a performer, teaching master classes and serving as an adjunct assistant professor at USC’s Thornton School of Music.

Although primarily identified as a bebop guitarist, Forman formed a western jazz group known as the Cow Bop Band in the early 2000s, and played swinging versions of songs by Patsy Cline and other country stars. For this new release, though, he has returned to his bop/straight-ahead roots.

Forman composed the majority of the 11 tunes on this album, which also includes three titles from the Great American Songbook: “On the Street Where You Live” (Lerner and Lowe), “The Song Is You” (Kern and Hammerstein) and “You Go To My Head” (Gillespie and Coots). 

Forman and his trio swing wonderfully. He’s supported by young bassist Alex Frank, and Marvin “Smitty” Smith on drums; the latter has been around for years, and has worked with many name bands.

Considering how grooved this trio is, it’s also one of the most relaxed and tasteful groups working these days. Whether at a club, or from your sound machine, you’ll enjoy this stuff immensely.

Mark Winkler: Jazz and Other Four Letter Words

Cafe Pacific Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Jazz and Other Four Letter Words

Los Angeles-born singer/songwriter Mark Winkler has performed and recorded since the mid 1980s. He’s another hip vocalist in the style of Dave Frishberg, Mose Allison, Michael Franks and Bobby Troup, although Winkler’s delivery is a bit more smooth. He has written charts for others — such as Liza Minnelli and Randy Crawford — but is best known for performing his own material. He’s also a crossover artist, in that he does a lot of pop music and has even written a Broadway show.

His recording output was limited for awhile, with only half a dozen albums until the new century. Since then, he has been much busier. 

Winkler always surrounds himself with talent. The backup musicians on this release include pianist Jamieson Trotter, guitarists Larry Koonse and Pat Kelley, bassists John Clayton and Dan Lutz, drummers Jeff Hamilton and Mike Shapiro, and instrumentalists Bob McChesney and Walt Fowler. 

Winkler also does a couple of duets with Cheryl Bentyne, of Manhattan Transfer fame.

The menu includes tunes by Frishberg, the Gershwins, Paul Simon and Richard Rogers, along with some originals. Everything is appealing, and — more importantly — everything swings.

Winkler is an excellent vocalist, and his voice is smooth as silk. Give him a try.