Thursday, May 7, 2015

Introducing Katie Thiroux

Basskat Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Introducing Katie Thiroux

Quite a lot of time has passed since a new swinging female vocalist has impressed me; even more time since that same vocalist turned out to be a swinging bassist. Oh, yes: She’s also a composer. 

Meet Katie Thiroux, in her debut album. 

She was only 4 years old when she began to play the violin, and then she switched to the bass at 8. Four years later, a Lionel Hampton album turned her on to jazz, at which point she became a student of vocalist Tierney Sutton. Shortly after that, Thiroux began a mentorship with bassist John Clayton, was chosen as a “Shelley Manne New Talent,” and received the Phil Ramone Presidential Scholarship to the Berklee College of Music. She then taught at the latter’s International School, in Ecuador. 

Thiroux returned to Los Angeles and earned a master’s degree in jazz bass at Cal State Long Beach. She formed her own quartet in 2013, with guitarist Graham Dechter, saxophonist Roger Neumann and drummer Matt Witek. That combo is featured on this album, which was produced by Jeff Hamilton, a master musician in his own right.

Eight of these 11 tunes are Great American Songbook standards, including “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” “I’m Old-Fashioned” and “Wives and Lovers.” Thiroux composed “Ray’s Kicks,” “Rosebird” and “Can’t We Just Pretend?”

Finally, Frank Foster’s “Shiny Stockings” provides an excellent opportunity to compare Thiroux to Ella Fitzgerald; both versions swing quite nicely.

Thiroux is a very talented young woman, and we’ll be hearing a lot more from her.

Jeff Hamilton Trio: Great American Songs Through the Years

Capri Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Great American Songs Through the Years

I knew this release would be great, even before hearing it. Jeff Hamilton is the most tasteful drummer around; ditto for pianist Tamir Hendleman and bassist Christoph Luty. Add the fact that these artists have played together for more than a decade, and, well, you have a sure winner.

Capri Records obviously thinks the same. They took this album — initially released in 2013 in Japan, by Art Promotion Inc. — and produced a 2,500-copy limited edition of their own. Get yours quickly (although I expect it’ll be popular enough to prompt further editions).

Hamilton, born in the early 1950s, quickly became a percussion legend. It’s difficult to find a top artist with whom he hasn’t worked. During his early years, the list included Lionel Hamilton, Woody Herman, Monty Alexander and the Tommy Dorsey “ghost band.” The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra (CHJO) was formed in 1985, and still exists and records today. Other associations include Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Rosemary Clooney, Diana Krall and combos under Hamilton’s own name.  

The number of vocalists he has supported is a further indication of his tasteful playing.

Hendelmen, born in Israel in 1984, moved to the States and at age 14 won a Yamaha competition. In 1993, he became the youngest musical director at Florida’s Lovewell Institute. He has recorded with Barbra Streisand and Natalie Cole, toured with Tierney Sutton and the Bill Holman Big Band, and (of course) is a member of Hamilton’s combo and the CHJO.

Luty has been with Hamilton’s trio for a decade, also is a member of the CHJO, and teaches. His association with name artists includes Shirley Horn, Dave Brubeck, Bill Cunliffe and Bill Watrous.

Anyone who lived through the Big Band years will be familiar with the 10 Great American Songbook tunes that fill this album. It’s all familiar, memorable and swinging, and it’s an absolute must for your jazz library.

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.