Thursday, April 23, 2015

Curtis Nowosad: Dialectics

Cellar Live Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Dialectics

I enjoy reviewing all jazz artists and groups, old and new, but I’m particularly intrigued by releases that originate outside the United States. That’s the case with this album, which features Canadian musicians — or those influenced by Canadians — and is produced by Factor Canada, and released on British Columbia’s Cellar Live label. 

I often yearn for the sounds and styles that originated during the big band years and, over time, I’ve noticed an interesting thing. Because international artists often develop their skills by listening to music that originated in the States, many of them wind up producing the kind of jazz that turned us on during that big band period. 

Drummer Curtis Nowosad, who leads this quintet, was born in Winnipeg and has been a force in the Canadian jazz scene for years. He’s also a member of the New York jazz fraternity. His colleagues here are saxman Jimmy Greene and trumpeter Derrick Gardner, both Big Apple artists; and pianist Will Bonness and bassist Steve Kirby, who share jobs in both Canada and the States.

As often is the case when a drummer fronts a combo, the menu includes mostly mid- and up-tempo burners. Consider, as one example, that the standard “I Remember You” is done here at race-horse speed. Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil” is a great swinger, and T. Monk’s “Bye-Ya” is given a smooth, Afro-Cuban reading. “Gleaning & Dreaming” emerges as a waltz, varying from 5 to 3 meters. 

The solo work is uniformly excellent, including Nowosad’s obligatory drum passages.

Our Northern neighbors have produced some good stuff here, and I look forward to more of the same.

The Jim Norton Collective: Time Remembered

Origin Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Time Remembered

All serious jazz fans worships pianist Bill Evans, but not everybody is aware of his prowess as a composer. This album, a labor of love by the Jim Norton Collective, presents 13 of Evans’ best.

As a quick aside, historical accuracy requires the record to be set straight regarding one tune — “Journey To Recife” — which, for years, was credited incorrectly to Evans rather than to its actual composer, Richard A. Evans. That error lingered for so long that Norton’s combo nonetheless opted to include it on this album.

The ensemble consists of a dozen musicians: four reeds, five brass (including a French horn and bass trombone), and a rhythm section of guitar, bass and drums. Norton, in the reed section, handled all of the arrangements.

Evans, aside from being a superb musician, had a quirky sense of humor that often surfaced in word-play. Consider, as one example, the fact that Sonny Clark’s name gets anagrammed to “NYC’s No Lark.” Or consider just-plan cute titles, such as “Fudgesickle Built for Four,” “Peri’s Scope” and “Comrade Conrad,” the latter originally a jingle that Evans wrote for Crest toothpaste. 

Evans never played his tunes the same way twice, and Norton follows that tradition: This album offers two versions of “Fudgesickle Built for Four.” (So ... which flavor do you prefer?)

As for the quality of the Norton Collective? Simply outstanding: This group truly grooves!

The result is a great album, and an absolute essential for your library.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Glenn Wilson: Timely

Cadence Jazz
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Timely

If the recent albums crossing my desk are any indication, bebop is alive and doing quite well. 

The artists who make up this particular quintet, starting with drummer Tony Martucci, have been — and still are — masters of that jazz genre. Although the geographic areas where groups like this operate usually center around New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles or Seattle, these individuals reside and work in and around Virginia. Some are professors in nearby upper-echelon universities.

In the words of one group member, they’re all “veterans, rather than young lions." Each has spent 30 years or more with various name bands and local combos. Baritone saxman (and leader) Glenn Wilson spent time with Buddy Rich, as did trumpeter John D’earth. Bassist Jimmy Masters, pianist John Toomey and Martucci worked with literally dozens of the combos that frequent East Coast states ... often sharing gigs with each other. 

This release contains eight tunes, several by “names” such as Pepper Adams, Wayne Shorter and Bob Bolden; the rest are original compositions by members of Martucci’s combo. The common denominator is that everything swings like crazy. 

The album was recorded during a two-day period, and to a live audience, at the Havana Nights Jazz Club in Virginia Beach, Va. As usually is the case, the audience contributed positively to the quality of the music; the artists always are “juiced” by enthusiastic patrons, and also by each other. 

Martucci does an outstanding job: both as a key member of the rhythm section, and with respect to phrasing and solo distribution. To put it another way, he’s first a driving force, and there aren’t a lot of drum solos. (Take note, Rich and Belson!) The other instrumentalists are excellent in all respects. And, believe it or not, several tracks are moving balladic tunes that are truly danceable.

Great job, guys! I’ll definitely keep my ears tuned in your direction.

Charles McPherson: The Journey

Capri Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: The Journey

Charles McPherson is another of the venerable jazz musicians who has become an icon in the music world, but remains largely unknown to the general public. He’s one of the few remaining “survivors” of the pure bebop saxophone artists who were active with stars such as Charles Mingus, Barry Harris and Art Farmer. 

McPherson’s association with Clint Eastwood brought the saxman back into the spotlight; he was commissioned to help record the soundtrack for Bird, Eastwood’s 1988 biographical film about Charlie Parker.

This album, McPherson’s newest, is the result of a chance meeting that occurred at a jazz clinic held at Colorado’s Denver Jazz Club Dazzle. Encounters with Keith Oman, a high school tenor sax instructor, along with some local musicians — pianist Chip Stephens, bassist Ken Walker, drummer Todd Reid — led to a recording session that produced this release. 

Three of the tunes (“Manhattan Nocturne,” “The Journey” and “Bud Like”) are McPherson originals. “Elena” and “Tami’s Tune” are by Oxman; “The Decathexis from Youth (For Cole)” is composed by Stephens; and “Au Privave” comes from Charlie Parker. Two standards — “Spring Is Here” and “I Should Care” — round out the menu.

This album is a wonderfully performed visit to the past ... although I should note that very little separates today’s straight-ahead jazz from the bop that ruled from the 1950s through the ’90s. Everything, whether up-tempo or ballad, swings nicely.

This is a great release, delivered by artists who clearly enjoy what they’re doing.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Delfeayo Marsalis: The Last Southern Gentleman

Troubadour Jazz
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: The Last Southern Gentleman


Most fans are familiar with the Marsalis clan, often known as the “First Family of Jazz.” Eighty-year-old Ellis plays piano, followed by sons Wynton, Branford and Delfeayo on (respectively) trumpet, tenor sax and trombone. This album features Ellis and Delfeayo, with support from bassist John Clayton and drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith. 

The menu is a treasure trove of melodies from the Great American Songbook; my generation grew up with 12 of these 13 tracks, which also probably are familiar to a lot of our older children. “The Man with Two Left Feet” could be considered the least-known outlier. But who can forget standards such as “Autumn Leaves,” “She’s Funny That Way,” “My Romance,” “I Cover the Waterfront,” “If I Were a Bell” and the many others? 

Ellis Marsalis is a pianist for all ages. He’s both tasteful and an impressive swinger; you can’t listen to him without snapping fingers or moving some part of your body. He spends more time teaching than recording, which has been the case for many years. Aside from his sons, his numerous students have included Harry Connick Jr. and Terence Blanchard. And during Ellis’ earlier years, he played with icons such as Al Hirt and the Adderley Brothers.

Delfeayo has served as a sideman for both Wynton and Branford, as well as alongside leaders such as Ray Charles, Art Blakey and Elvin Jones; he has headed his own groups since the late 1990s. He was influenced by J.J. Johnson, but Delfeayo has a more “musical” style. 

Needless to say, Ellis and Delfeayo are an excellent match. Clayton is one of the greats on bass, and Smith delivers a groovin’ rhythm section. 

The liner notes are provided by Delfeayo, who also produced this disc; the commentary is excellent and entertaining. I’d expect no less from a great release that offers such swinging music.

Thomas Marriott: Urban Folklore

Origin Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Urban Folklore

Origin Records and trumpeter Thomas Marriott are among this blog’s “old friends”; both were featured in some of my earliest reviews.  If you scan through the site's listing you'll find 7 CDs where they're featured together. Origin was among the first of the “new breed” jazz labels founded in the very late 20th century, and Marriott was — and still is — a frequent leader or sideman on the company’s albums.

Marriott is a West Coast artist, having begun in the musically diverse Seattle area.  After winning a prestigious jazz trumpet competition in 1999, he relocated to New York City and then toured the world as a member of Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau Band. Marriott has played with scores of great and near-great artists. He’s a master of his instrument; his tone can be brilliant or lush, depending on what the music requires, and he can swing superbly.

Marriott is supported here by pianist Oren Evans, bassist Eric Revis, and drummer Donald Edwards. Marriott wrote and arranged all the tunes, and his melodies are oriented by theme. “Living on the Minimum,” as one example, relates to times in life when one may have money problems, and must make every penny count; “What Emptiness Can Do” reflects on the loss of a loved one. Alternatively, when everything is going great, your thoughts may turn toward a good friend: “Mo-Joe” is dedicated to Joe Locke, one of Marriott’s favorite artists. 

This album is ideal for listeners in the mood for some truly “adult” jazz.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Swiss Youth Jazz Orchestra: Future Steps

Shanti Music
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Future Steps


Every time I worry about the lack of big band jazz groups within the United States, I find another European ensemble that is keeping that genre alive; such is the case with this marvelous orchestra from Switzerland. This is the first release from a project that features “Bandstand Learning with Role Models.” Young apprentices — their ages ranging from 16 to 26 — are mentored by great professionals: trumpeter Randy Brecker, vibraphonist Mike Mainieri, pianist Christian Jacob and drummer Rodney Holmes.

These nine tracks were recorded at the Jazzaar Festival held in Aarau, Switzerland, in 2014. All but one (“Beirut”) were written especially for this orchestra by its director, Fritz Renold. The style echoes that of the jazz fusion band Steps Ahead. 

You can name-check the soloists in the liner notes; suffice it to say, it’s almost impossible to distinguish between the professional mentors and the talented apprentices. To quote the aforementioned liner notes, “Young, middle age, elderly, these cats can play.”

All but one of the tracks are done at mid- to up-tempos; the exception (“Mandela”) is a moving ballad. Including the special guests, the orchestra features six trumpets/flugelhorns and three trombones; five reeds, one of whom plays an ewi; a rhythm section of piano, two guitars and two basses; and another percussionist. The liner notes don’t specify, but some of the duplicate instrumentalists probably aren’t utilized on all tracks.

We may not have as much big band jazz here in the States as we’d like, but the Swiss sure have their share; don’t miss this contribution.