Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pat Hall: Time Remembered — The Music of Bill Evans

Unseen Rain Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Time Remembered: The Music of Bill Evans

Every jazz fan remembers pianist Bill Evans; not nearly as many know about Pat Hall. Well, Hall is something of an anachronism: He didn’t grow up in a musical family, although his father — who worked for GM in Flint, Michigan — had an 8-track player in his car, on which he played a lot of Pink Floyd, which young Pat grew to love. He also was lucky enough to attend a relatively advanced public school system, which made it possible for kids to learn to play musical instruments; his choice was a trombone.

At age 16, Hall attended a summer session at Boston’s famed Berklee School of Music, where he was exposed to records by J.J. Johnson. That set his future course.

Ornette Coleman was another huge influence, and Hall’s initial recording session was a tribute to that icon. This new album, as the title makes clear, is a remembrance of Evans and his music. The quartet is somewhat unusual, in that the usual piano and acoustic bass have been replaced by Greg Lewis’ Hammond B3 organ and Marvin Sewell’s guitar. They’re joined by drummer Mike Campenni, with Hall on trombone. 

All seven tracks are tunes that Evans and his groups made famous, and four were composed by Evans: “Waltz for Debby,” “Know What I Mean?,” “Time Remembered” and “Peri’s Scope.” Evans’ famous bassist, Scott LaFaro, contributed “Gloria’s Step,” and the musical menus is completed with Rogers and Hart’s “Spring Is Here,” and Earl Zindars’ “Elsa.”

The instrumentation may be different, but the quality of the music — and the chops displayed by the musicians themselves — make this an excellent release. We all miss Evans and his groups, and it’s nice that releases like this are keeping his work alive.

Tim Hegarty: Tribute

Miles High Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Tribute

When good jazz musicians get together, you can almost always look forward to a swinging album. That’s certainly the case with this release, which features saxophonist Tim Hegarty. He’s not yet a name artist, but this album demonstrates that he’s well on the way. 

Hegarty grew up in a musical family, began playing at an early age, received his education at Miami University, the Manhattan School of Music, and the New School, and earned his master’s degree from Queens College.

During his early years he was good enough — and lucky enough — to learn from, and play with, luminaries such as Frank Foster, Gil Evans and the Mingus Big Band. Names like that provide the musical “keys to the city,” and Hegarty took full advantage.

Hegarty performs on both tenor and soprano sax on this album; his style is clean, straight-ahead, smooth and always swinging. He’s supported by some like-minded artists: Kenny Barron on piano, Rufus Reid on bass, and Carl Allen on drums. The excellent vibraphonist Mark Sherman also guests on half of the 10 tracks. 

The album title reflects Hegarty’s acknowledgement and appreciation of the past and present artists who have influenced him.

The musical menu include a couple of Hegarty originals, four charts from Jimmy Heath, and jazz standards from Frank Foster, George Coleman, Joe Henderson and T. Monk.

Hey, you just can’t miss with these cats!

Holly Hofmann: Low Life

Capri Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Low Life

Holly Hofmann is one of the finest flautists ever to have graced the musical stage. Of course she began her career in the classical genre, but she expanded into the field of jazz back in the early 1980s, and she followed that path to fame. She has worked with artists who are tops in the jazz world — far too many to list — and has created an extensive discography over the years, with more than a dozen highly rated albums. 

Most of Hoffmann’s previous releases feature her on the C flute, but she plays the alto flute exclusively for this album. That instrument’s range is more limited, but it compensates with a tone that’s more lush. 

The supporting cast includes her husband, Mike Wofford on piano, along with bassist John Clayton, drummer Jeff Hamilton and guitarist Anthony Wilson. These gentlemen are in the top echelon of the jazz world: Wofford has been well known from the 1960s, both as an accompanist for stars Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald, but also as a member of great bands fronted by Benny Carter, James Moody, Gerald Wilson and countless others. Hamilton, to many the finest drummer working today, has gained considerable fame with the Clayton/Hamilton Big Band; John Clayton is the Clayton in that same great group. Wilson frequently works with Diana Krall and numerous other name artists.  

All things considered, this group is the Rolls Royce in a fleet of other classic cars.

Four of the tunes from the album menu were composed by group members: “Lumiere de la Vie,” by Hofmann; “Jack of Hearts,” by Wilson; and “Touch the Fog” and “Cedar Would,” by Clayton. The familiar Ray Noble gem, “The Very Thought of You,” is particularly moving; and Mulgrew Miller’s “Soul-leo” swings quite nicely. 

All the charts are beautifully done; whatever the tempo, everything swings wonderfully. You’re in the hands of true pros.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Pete McGuinness Jazz Orchestra: Strength in Numbers

Summit Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Strength in Numbers

This unit is led by trombonist, composer and arranger Pete McGuinness, a staple in the New York City jazz scene. He’s another of this brave new jazz world’s well-educated musicians, with stints in the Hall High School Jazz program, in West Hartford, Ct.; college studies at the New England Conservatory of Music; then the University of Miami, for a bachelor’s degree; and finally the Manhattan School of Music, for a master’s degree. 

McGuinness has performed with name bands led by Maria Schneider, Lionel Hampton, Jimmy Heath and Woody Herman, and has served “in the pit” for numerous Broadway shows. He’s a prolific writer and arranger, having composed for many jazz artists and schools, as well as his own unit, featured in this release. Oh, yes; he’s also a teacher. 

This is another big, big band: five woodwinds, four trumpets, five trombones (including McGuinness) and the usual piano, bass and drums rhythm section. McGuinness composed six of these 10 tunes, and arranged all of them. The standards include Michel LeGrand’s “What Are You Doing the Rest ff Your Life?,” Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer,” and Raye/Depaul’s “You Don’t Know What Love Is.”  Two versions of the latter are included: one recorded for this album, and another from an earlier radio broadcast. It should be noted that McGuinness also is the vocalist on both, and his style is equivalent to that of Chet Baker: semi-scat. (Stay with your trombone, Pete.)

The only big bands operating these days are created by jazz artists who miss them as much as I do. McGuinness is one of those. And, as often is the case, there’s no shortage of musicians who feel the same way, so the catalytic leader never has trouble finding stellar artists to join the group. It’s often just to get together on their own time, to relax and enjoy. Once in awhile, though, the results are so great that others — musicians, teachers, producers, etc. — offer to fund the recording and distribution of a CD, to share with other like-minded folks. This release is the result of just such an effort. The contributors are too numerous to cite, but are included in the liner notes.

McGuinness’ jazz orchestra more that meets the necessary criteria. It swings wonderfully, the artists are superb, the section work and solos are terrific, and the arrangements are real movers.

Don’t miss this sensational piece of work.

Doc Stewart: Code Blue

Cannonball Jazz
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Code Blue

Great, swinging big bands are few and far between these days. A lot of water has passed beneath the bridge since we’ve heard groups that meet the standards set by Basie, Ellington, Gillespie, Mingus, Adderley, Ferguson, Corea, GRP and Grusin. Well, weep no more; Resuscitation, a big band led by Chris (Doc) Stewart, has arrived.
Stewart is a real doctor, and has practiced that art for more than 25 years. Before that, he lived in the musical world. He was the sixth of nine children, in a family where everyone played an instrument. Born in Anaheim, California, he moved to a farm in Illinois, then back to Anaheim when he was 12 (where, incidentally, he lived in a house just doors away from his future wife, Patty). He chose the alto sax as his horn, complementing with flute during his high school days. He won a talent contest at Disneyland, and played gigs during and after his high school years. 
He was good enough to work with Louie Bellson, Bill Watrous, Toshiko/Lew Tabakin and others. He and Patty were married in 1981, and for the next decade he lived two lives: playing jazz and earning a medical degree. Patty was instrumental in the success of the latter endeavor, and they recently celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary. Doc currently practices in the ER section of the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona.
In his “spare” time, he spends hours transcribing the music of his favorite artists: all of Eddie Daniels’ solos from his To Bird, with Love LP, and all of Cannonball Adderley’s solos (the basis of Stewart’s 2005 release, Phoenix: A Tribute to Cannonball Adderley).
This new album is stunning. The big band consists of six woodwinds, six trumpets and flugelhorns, four trombones, piano/keyboard, bass and drums. Every member is a star in his own right; as just one example, Stewart and pianist Matt Catingub have played together for more than 30 years.
We begin here with the four movements of “Code Blue Suite,” written by Stewart and Tom Kubis; that vibrant wake-up call runs more than 20 minutes. The next 10 swingers consist of traditional charts used by the Cannonball Adderley Quintet and icons such as Kubis, Julian Adderley, Hal Galpar, Oscar Pettiford, Bobby Timmons and Charles Lloyd. The two American Songbook standards are Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight” and Hubbell’s “Poor Butterfly.” Most of the arrangements are by Stewart, Kubis and Catingub.

It all swings like crazy, and the solo work — whether by Stewart or other band members — is outstanding. I particularly enjoy the lines done by the entire woodwind sections, on “The Way You Look Tonight” and “Bohemia After Dark,” in the fashion of the old SuperSax band. All I can say is more ... more ... more!

Anthony Hadro: For Us the Living

Tone Rogue Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: For Us the Living

Anthony Hadro — who was born in Mexico City, moved to Brazil, and ultimately settled in Chicago — didn’t develop an interest in music until relatively late in life. His first instrument was the flute, but he ultimately settled on the baritone sax as his primary horn; he’s also fluent with the alto, tenor and both B-flat and low B-flat clarinets. As you listen to him, you’ll immediately notice the splendid tone achieved in all octaves of his baritone sax, which is the instrument (with a modicum of flute) that he uses on this release. 
Hadro attended the prestigious New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois, and New York City’s New School For Jazz and Contemporary Music; he was named salutatorian there in 2007, and soon thereafter toured with a jazz group containing several faculty members. He now teaches and tours with his own group, and with the Junior Mance Quintet.
Hadro’s quartet here also includes Carmen Staaf, a superior musician who won the Mary Lou Williams piano competition in 2009, and is the pianist in UCLA’s prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance. The other players are bassist Daniel Foose and drummer Matt Wilson. 
Hadro wrote six of these 10 compositions. Of the rest, “Sea of Tranquility” comes from Maria Schneider, Julian Shore contributed “Give,” Ryan Anselmi wrote “Paola,” and “Cotton” was composed by James Davis. 

As for the results ... well, if you check the definition of descriptors such as class, smooth, sensitivity and inventiveness, you’ll probably find a photograph of this quartet. These folks produce some of the best modern jazz I’ve heard in years. Reviewing this combo was a genuine pleasure, and it’ll be my continued pleasure to replay this CD again and again.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Peter Lerner: Continuation

Origin Arts
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Continuation

Technology has impacted jazz in a particularly nifty way, by allowing artists and groups to produce their own music with considerable ease. They no longer have to sell themselves to record producers, in order to make their efforts available to the buying public; they can record, manufacture and distribute their own music. As a result, we’re increasingly exposed to musicians who may be appreciated in specific cities or states, but remain unknown outside those areas. The term “territory artists” has described such players for decades.
Origin Records is one of few name companies to concentrate on these relative 'unknowns', and this album features some of the fine musicians who have made their home or operational base in Chicago, Illinois. Jazz guitarist Peter Lerner is a household name there, as are the individuals who support him on this album.
Lerner was turned on to jazz at an early age by Jimmy Hendrix and Stanley Turrentine; the latter's recording of “Sugar,” with George Benson on guitar, set his musical compass. Lerner earned his bachelor’s degree in music from Chicago’s American Conservatory of Music, and has worked as a musician, composer and arranger ever since. He has performed with many of the greats and near-greats, and is a constant fixture in Chicago’s numerous jazz venues. His normal group is usually a trio or quartet, but for this release he expanded to an octet. 
The pianist is jazz icon Willie Pickens, who at age 83 remains a fantastic artist. Bassist Marlene Rosenberg is the album’s surprise star, at least to me; as the saying goes, she owns her instrument. Her beat is as solid as I've heard in years, and her technique is exquisite. Drummer Charles “Rick” Heath IV completes the solid rhythm section. The additional instrumentalists include Geof Bradfield on saxes and flute, Victor Garcia on flugelhorn, Andy Baker on trombone, and Joe Rendon on percussion. 
Six of the nine tracks were composed and arranged by Lerner; the exceptions are Grant Green’s “Jean De Fleur,” Kenny Dorham’s “La Mesha” and “When Sonny Gets Blue,” written by Fisher/Seigel, and arranged by Pickens. The style is straight-ahead jazz, with a genre for everyone: bop, funk, Latin and gospel. 

This is a very enjoyable group, whose members play cohesively and swingingly.