Thursday, March 16, 2006

Liam Sillery Quintet: Minor Changes

OA2 Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 3.16.06
Buy CD: Minor Changes

Liam Sillery is relatively unknown outside the New Jersey/New York area. He was born in a New Jersey suburb; attended the University of South Florida, where he received a bachelor's degree in music; then settled in New York and became exposed to jazz via artists such as Joe Henderson and Red Rodney. 

Sillery worked in that arena for 10 years, attending the Manhattan School of Music in his spare time. 

When I first played this CD, I thought I'd accidentally chosen an older, 1960s-vintage disc from my collection. This quintet's instrumentation is the standard trumpet/flugelhorn, tenor sax, piano, bass and drums that was so popular in that era. 

The ensemble work features trumpet and sax playing the primary theme in unison, and then each musician gets a solo before the track ends by revisiting the primary theme. The CD has seven tracks, six originals — written by Sillery — and one old standard ("You Are So Beautiful"). 

Except for the latter, which is a trumpet solo, each follows the above-mentioned unison/solos/ unison treatment. That becomes monotonous after awhile. 

The musicians are competent and relaxed, and they've obviously played together for a long time. 

But their solo work never rises above average, and that's also true of Sillery. He sounds like a blend of Chet Baker and Red Rodney (an early influence), but never wanders into Rodney's hard-bop style. 

That makes the group pleasant, but dated. You wouldn't take this CD off the changer if you walked into a room, but I doubt you'd play it again.

Chick Corea: The Ultimate Adventure

Concord Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 3.16.06
Buy CD: The Ultimate Adventure

Chick Corea is one of the jazz field's most widely experienced and prolific musicians and composers. It's difficult to name a jazz great he hasn't played with and been influenced by, or a style he hasn't visited. 

He was born in the early 1940s, at the beginning of the bop era, so his initial catalysts were Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and pianists Bud Powell and Horace Silver. 

Then Bill Evans arrived on the scene, and Corea's world expanded. He subsequently delivered exquisite free, jazz-rock, fusion, Latin, funk and classical recordings, and was one of the first to provide a distinctive, personalized sound with electric as well as acoustic instruments. 

Corea played free jazz with the Miles Davis groups, Latin jazz with Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo, then teamed up with Blue Mitchell and Stan Getz, and finally rejoined Miles, whom he left in the '70s, to form the first of his own groups. Corea changed direction many times during this period, beginning as an acoustic jazz-rock unit with an Afro-Latin bent, becoming a propulsive fusion band with a decided rock tilt, then transforming into a pop unit with a New Age feel. 

Since then, Corea has concentrated on his Elektric and Touchstone bands, the latter of which is featured on this Concord release. 

Corea has had a "lifelong connection with L. Ron Hubbard's works." Because one of Hubbard's stories had a southern Spain-northern Africa-Arabian background, Corea was prompted to compose the tunes included in this CD. 

"Three Ghouls" is a suite that begins with Bartok, moves through a groove section featuring flute and Fender Rhodes electric piano, and closes with a Latin-influenced jam with a hand-clap undercurrent. "Queen Tedmur" and "King & Queen" introduce a theme for the book's two romantic characters, then moves into the "Moseb the Executioner" suite. The "story" concludes with eight melodic lines, featuring the various members of the Touchstone group playing flute, bass, drums and Corea's Fender Rhodes piano. 

If the Hubbard story ever is made into a movie, they'll already have the perfect soundtrack.

The Tom Warrington Trio: Back Nine

Jazz Compass
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 3.16.06
Buy CD: Back Nine

Take guitarist Larry Koonse, add well-known drummer Joe La Barbara, meld them with superb bassist Tom Warrington, and the result is one accomplished trio. 

The customary trio instrumentation consists of piano, bass and drums; replacing the piano with a guitar changes not only the sound, but the type of arrangement being played. 

When a pianist wants to hold a note, the pedal action holds not only that note, but also anything else played at that moment. This often results in a cacophony of sounds, so the piano is better suited to up-tempo melodic lines. 

A guitarist can hold individual notes without affecting other notes, thus providing a more harmonious and flowing melodic line for ballads. A guitar also is superior to a piano for blending lines with the bass. 

It's therefore no surprise that most of this album's tracks are slow- to moderate-tempo arrangements. That makes Back Nine wonderful jazz "mood music," but don't think it doesn't swing! 

Two of the tracks — "Light and Shadow" and "Labyrinth" — were written by Koonse; "Nardis" is a Miles Davis tune; the beautiful "Whisper Not" comes from Benny Golsen; and the remaining tracks were written by Warrington. All are a joy to the ears. 

This group is so laid-back, so innovative, that it's difficult to believe I'm hearing only three musicians. Back Nine is a true gem, and a must-have album.

Dave and Larry Koonse: Dialogues of the Heart

Jazz Compass
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 3.16.06
Buy CD: Dialogues of the Heart

This is the first CD I've reviewed from Jazz Compass, another small studio that has appeared on the scene in recent years. As is true of the Sea Breeze label, this company features musicians and groups that are well known in the jazz fraternity but relatively unknown to the public. 

Dialogues of the Heart features guitar duets by Dave Koonse and his son, Larry, and it's one of the tastiest jazz guitar records I've ever heard. Since Larry was taught by his father, it's almost impossible to tell who is playing a particular solo passage, and the ensemble work is just gorgeous. Their techniques are flawless — it's like listening to two Earl Klughs playing jazz — and the studio work borders on perfection. 

The album features arrangements of lesser-known standards such as "Beautiful Love," "Like Someone in Love," "Summer Nights" and "You Must Believe in Spring." "Isfahan" is an almost unknown Duke Ellington tune, arranged by Billy Strayhorn. 

"Jazz Passacaglia" is a beautiful, almost classical little tune written by Larry Koonse. "Everything I Love" is a relatively unknown ballad by Cole Porter, while "Django" is one of the wonderful jazz lines written by John Lewis, of Modern Jazz Quartet fame. Both the final two selections — "Minority" and "Young and Foolish" — are performed beautifully, as is true of everything else on this album. 

It's all jazz in its purest form, and it even swings. Guitar fans will love this CD.