Friday, April 29, 2016

David Friesen and Glen Moore: Bactrian

Origin Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Bactrian

This album likely is meant for a limited audience: those who are turned on by the acoustic bass and two of the finest artists who play that instrument, David Friesen and Glen Moore. This is a duet concert by these two masters.

Admittedly, both also are pianists, and half of the selections feature one of them on that instrument, with the other on bass, but the rest are bass duets. The genre is modern classical jazz, and just two of the pieces were composed by familiar names: Juan Tizol’s “Caravan” and George Gershwin’s “Summertime.” The rest are originals by Friesen and Moore.

Friesen, born in 1942, picked up the bass while serving in the Army in Germany. He has worked with many of the greats during his career, including John Handy, Chick Corea, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie and many more. (On a side note, his sister is actress Dyan Cannon.) Moore, a Portland, Oregon native born in 1941, began his bass instruction after college. He also has played with numerous names, including Jim Pepper and Nancy King. Moore’s association with Friesen has lasted more than 30 years.

The liner notes clarify who plays what on each track, and includes information on the (also famed) instruments, along with the superior electronic equipment utilized to amplify and record them.

As for the performances, well, everything is outstanding. This isn’t music to dance to, or swing with, but it sure makes gorgeous listening. 

Kim Nazarian: Some Morning

Self-produced
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Some Morning

In spite of her years of experience on the musical stage, this is vocalist Kim Nazarian’s first album, and it’s a technical tour de force. More than 25 musicians, vocalists, engineers, mixers, masters and producers participated. 

Nazarian got her start as one of the founding members of the famed New York Voices. She’s the overall vocalist here, and is joined on some by Peter Eldridge — a former New York voices member — and her son, Ian Ashby. Various instrumentalists appear on one or more tracks, and it’s quite the family affair: pianists Mark Shilansky and Mark Soskin; bassists Dwayne Dolphin and Leo Traversa; trumpeters Sean Jones and Steve Hawk; trombonist Jay Ashby (Nazarian’s husband); reedists Paquito D'Rivera, Greg Nazarian (her father), Anna Nelson, Jesse McCandless and Alexa Still; guitarists John Pizzarelli, Marty Ashby (her brother in-law) and Jiro Yoshida; drummers Roger Humphries and Jamey Haddad; vibist Gary Burton; and harpist Caitlin Mehrtens.

Nor are we done. Production utilized half a dozen recording studios and many mixers, masters and engineers. That’s where the technology comes in; most of the tracks were recorded with various combos, but several featured a virtual “big band.” The instrumental horns/sections were overdubbed in the studio by clever engineers! “Road to Kursk,” a variant of an old bebop tune, is the prime example; you’d swear that an entire big band had been involved.

Nazarian is a true jazz vocalist; she makes you believe she has “lived” the lyrics. She’s also one of the great scatters: Her voice — tone, clarity, expression and capability to improvise — blends perfectly with other voices and horns.

I hope we’ll hear more from Nazarian, her family members and friends.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Dan Trudell Plays the Piano

Self-produced
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Dan Trudell Plays the Piano

A lot of good musicians never stray far from home, yet make a solid living playing near where they were born, or grew up, or moved to and settled later in life. The groups with which such musicians perform are often referred to as “territory bands.” 

Dan Trudell is just such a guy. He was born in Michigan, began his musical studies on the organ at Western Michigan University — with a short stop on the tuba — and transferred to North Texas State, where he majored in piano. During his early career, he made a living playing on cruise ships. He ended up in Boston, formed his first trio, then moved to Chicago where he played with Sabretooth, the Chicago Jazz Orchestra and the B-3 Bombers.

Deciding that the Midwest was his favorite part of the country, Trudell settled in Wisconsin’s Lake Geneva resort area: close enough to Chicago and Milwaukee to facilitate playing there on occasion. He’s best know as an organist, but lately has returned to piano. This is his first album on the latter instrument.

The session features his trio — Matt Wilson on drums, Joe Sanders on bass — performing songs either written by, or associated with, famous pianists. The package also includes a couple of Trudell originals.

It’s interesting that his organ “style” is evident in his piano chops. He often plays chords, rather than single notes, which are done with “trill” fingering; this tends to “fill” the tonal spaces, much like an organ would. That said, it all swings quite nicely.

Since Trudell obviously has found his comfort zone, and is unlikely to stray far from it, he isn’t likely to become a well-known performer; that said, I’m sure he’ll keep the territory natives happy. I’d love to have a club close enough to enjoy artists like Trudell, at the mere price of a short drive.

Electric Squeezebox Orchestra: Cheap Rent

OA2 Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Cheap Rent

This big band jazz orchestra, native to San Francisco, often is known as ESO by Bay Area fans. 

The ensemble is quite large: Twenty-four musicians are identified, although the grouping for each chart is limited to 17 artists. ESO fields six trumpets, five trombones, six reeds, and six in the rhythm section, including a guitar. Trumpeter Erik Jekabson is identified as the leader.

Three of these 10 charts are by familiar artists: Wayne Shorter’s “ESP,” Mel Tormé’s “Chataigne Grilles” and Herbie Hancock’s “People Music.” The rest are written and arranged by band members. The menu covers several genres: 1970s grooves, New Orleans strut, bop, swing, funk and more. Everything swings nicely and is performed smoothly.

Each chart allows plenty of space for solos, and these artists don’t disappoint. Northern California jazz fans love this group, which has a regular gig every Sunday evening at Doc’s Lab, in the North Beach neighborhood. Don’t miss them, next time travel takes you to San Francisco.

Lori Bell Quartet: Brooklyn Dreaming

Self-produced
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Brooklyn Dreaming

I love the flute, in any flavor. One of the best things that ever happened to jazz, was the addition of the flute to the arsenal of instruments with which reed artists have become proficient. It adds a sound — and bright tone — that bring compositions to life.

Lori Bell is a virtuoso musician who excels with this “horn,” in both the C and alto versions. This release, her ninth, features her quartet: pianist Tamir Hendelman, bassist Katie Thiroux, and drummer Matt Witek.

Although Bell resides in San Diego, this album is a homage to New York City and the surrounding areas where she spent her early years. She’s both an instrumentalist and an expert composer; she wrote six of these nine songs. The other three are Charles Mingus’ “Nostalgia in Times Square,” Thelonious Monk’s “52nd Street Theme,” and Earl Hagen’s “Harlem Nocturne.” She arranged all of them.

You’ll immediately notice the quartet’s “lightness” and soft swinging sound. “Beauty” isn’t often used as a jazz descriptor, but that’s a decent term in this case. Bell delivers “happy” music, no matter the tempo; that’s due not only to her fine flute work, but also to  the equally accomplished efforts of her band mates. They’re all very tasty artists, and they swing nicely.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Sinne Eeg and Thomas Fonnesbaek

Stunt Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Eeg + Fonnesbaek

Danish vocalist Sinne Eeg is quite well known and appreciated in Scandinavia, Japan, China and throughout Europe. But until a recent tour along the West Coast and Southwest, she remained under the radar in the United States. This, her first American album, should change that.

Her partner here is bassist Thomas Fonnesbaek, a superb instrumentalist who has been featured on more than 100 albums. Yes, that’s correct: a marvelous jazz vocalist accompanied solely by an acoustic bass ... and oh my, how they swing! 

These nine songs include half a dozen from the Great American Songbook, such as “Willow Weep for Me,” “Body and Soul,” “Come Rain or Shine.” Fonnesbaek composed “Taking It Slow,” Lionel Hampton wrote “Evil Man Blues,” and Enrico Pieranunzi contributed “Fellini’s Waltz.” Everything is performed in English — interestingly, Eeg’s usual vocal language — and her excellent scatting has no language barriers. 

“I always loved singing duo with bass,” she has said. “It’s just a sound I like very much.”

So do I, and so will you.

Her voice is lush, and her phrasing flawless; her interplay with Fonnesbaek grooves perfectly. Both enjoy a lot of solo space, and Fonnesbaek is both a melodic and rhythmic master, using four strings instead of five.  

The ballads are performed at their standard tempo, as opposed to mid-tempo or faster. Lesser singers sometimes resort to up-tempo arrangements, which can camouflage vocal flaws, but Eeg has none. She’s destined to be a big hit here.

I’m already a big fan.

Jeff Hamilton and Scott Hamilton: Live in Bern

Capri Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Live in Bern

Scott and Jeff aren’t related, except by a love of jazz and stellar abilities on their instruments of choice: Scott on the tenor sax, and Jeff on the drums.  They were born within a year of each other, Scott in 1954 and Jeff in ’53, during the latter stages of the swing era, and the early years of the bop revolution. Both worked with icons during their formative years: Benny Goodman for Scott, and Lionel Hampton and the Tommy Dorsey “ghost band” for Jeff.

Scott has been compared to Stan Getz and Zoot Sims but, as time has passed, has developed  a sound of his own: smooth, uncluttered, beautifully toned and always swinging. Most of his time is spent living and touring outside the United States.

Jeff is in demand by all sorts of A-list artists, both instrumentalists and vocalists. I’ve never heard a record of his that wasn’t top-drawer.

This release marks their first time together. Because both work constantly, and were scheduled to perform at the International Jazz Festival in Bern, Switzerland, they met there and made this album.

Scott joins Jeff’s trio in a sumptuous menu of tunes from the Great American Songbook, along with some jazz classics.  The lineup includes “September in the Rain,” “Watch What Happens,” “You and the Night and the Music,” Mal Waldren’s “Soul Eyes,” Benny Carter’s “Key Largo” and Billy Strayhorn’s “Ballad for the Very Tired and Very Sad Lotus Eaters.” Jeff Hamilton also features an original, “Sybille’s Day.” All are great tunes, and all handled superbly, as evidenced by the fact that the combo recorded everything in a single session.

The result? This is a marvelous, swinging album. The band also features Tamir Hendelman on piano, and Christoph Luty on bass, both on a grooving par with the two Hamiltons.

What’s not to like?