Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Jay Lawrence Trio: Thermal Strut

OA2 Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 5.3.07
Buy CD: Thermal Strut

From the opening eight bars of the title tune, you know this will be an excellent release. 

Although the individual musicians in this trio aren't well known to the listening public, they are key members of the musical fraternity. And, as is becoming the norm today, all are college graduates and teachers. 

Jay Lawrence, the drummer and leader, has recorded more than 90 albums with the luminaries of music: You name the individuals or groups, and Lawrence has worked with them. He began his career at age 15, playing in Nevada showrooms, then moved into the fields of Broadway shows, movies, TV shows and concerts. 

He's currently an assistant professor at the University of Utah, and a director of music at Brigham Young University, Snow College and Utah Valley State College. 

Bassist Lynn Seaton began playing guitar at age 7, then switched to bass at 11. He studied music at the University of Oklahoma, and has played in 49 states of the union, not to mention more than 35 foreign countries. He currently teaches at the University of North Texas. 

Pianist Tamir Hendelman began playing at age 6. He attended the Anazagi Conservatory in Tel Aviv, Israel, following that with Tanglewood Institute and the Eastern School of Music. He's an outstanding pianist and arranger; he did six of the 10 tracks on this release. 

This is a "happy" CD: wonderfully tasty, swinging, straight-ahead jazz. These guys really enjoy playing together, and they love what they're doing. The album is innovative but not far out; it makes you want to listen, and it's all danceable. 

Lawrence supports beautifully, and never intrudes. Seaton is rock-solid, and is one of the few bassists I've heard who can play "bowed" solos and maintain the beat and melodic line. Hendelman is the icing on this trio cake: He plays effortlessly and flawlessly, and swings like crazy. His treatment of "Love for Sale" is particularly impressive. 

This is the best trio to have come along in years ... don't miss it!

JC and the Jazz Hoppers: Chillin' at Home

Jazz Hop
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 5.3.07
Buy CD: Chillin' at Home

If you haven't heard about this trio, it's because (1) they're from Australia; and (2) this is their first CD. 

It has been awhile since a group was put together around a Hammond B-3 organ; the last one I remember was Joey DeFrancesco. Of course, they were preceded by Jack McDuff and Jimmy McGriff, not to mention the many pianists — including Fats Waller — who played around with the instrument. 

The B-3 is one of the two primary instruments in the Jazz Hopper trio; the other is a guitar. Jason Campbell (JC) is the guitarist; Col Nolan plays the B-3; and Andrew Dickeson is the primary drummer. (Evan Mannell play drums on one track.) This is a relatively short album: only seven tracks, including a second take of "Our Delight," a Tad Dameron bopper from way back. 

Two of the tunes are written by Campbell ("Fresh Roast" and "Aria 4 Daria"); the rest are arrangements of familiar songs that were made popular by other artists, such as Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" and Nora Jones' "Don't Know Why." 

This is a surprisingly pleasing listen. The combination of guitar and organ isn't new, but neither is it common. 

One of Campbell's major influences was guitarist George Benson who, for several years, played in a group with McDuff. JC loved that sound, and one of the admitted highlights of his life occurred when he had an opportunity to jam with Benson. That event was key to the formation of the Jazz Hoppers. 

Campbell plays a lot of guitar. You can hear the influence of both Benson and Wes Montgomery in his work, and that's a compliment. 

Nolan's organ is a genuine contribution. He isn't as frenetic as DeFrancesco and, as a result, blends beautifully with Campbell's guitar during the ensemble passages, while providing a tasty background for JC's solos. Nolan also is a talented soloist on his instrument. 

Both drummers contribute a driving beat. 

This is an interesting group, and it should have a bright future.

Various Artists: One More — The Summary Music of Thad Jones, Vol. 2

By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 5.3.07
Buy CD: One More: The Summary Music of Thad Jones, Vol. 2

Many famous jazz artists are named Jones, but one family stands out for having produced three brothers who became giants: Thad was the trumpet player, Hank was the pianist and Elvin was the drummer. 

This album, the second with this group released by IPO, features Hank's piano and Thad's compositions. 

Born in the mid- to late 1920s, they were key members of the group of musicians who created the "East Coast sound" that ruled jazz from the 1940s through the '70s. Although Dizzy Gillespie was the trumpet player whom everyone emulated, Thad Jones wasn't far behind, as far as popularity in the jazz fraternity was concerned. Aside from playing wonderfully, he was a prolific composer and arranger. 

Thad Jones was a key member of the Count Basie orchestra; after Basie's death, he took over the group and kept it active for a number of years. In later years, he was part of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band. Jones lived in Denmark for several years and played a key role in the development of jazz in that country. 

The musicians featured on this CD are from the Who's Who list that made that period so great. The reed section consists of Eddie Davis, Benny Golson, James Moody and Frank Wess; the rhythm section features Hank Jones on piano, Kenny Washington on drums, and Richard Davis on bass; and the brass section includes Jimmy Owens on trumpet and John Mosca on trombone. 

This isn't modern jazz, but it is the best retro album to come along in years. Volume I, released a few years ago, was a smash hit; Volume II matches it. 

Because the tunes are Thad Jones originals, their titles won't ring any bells unless you're a "remember when" jazz fan. Suffice it to say, they all swing ... and I'd forgotten how great jazz flutist by Frank Wess was; his instrument really moves me. 

IPO is to congratulated for this album, and it's a handsome CD package, as well.

Tony DeSare: Last First Kiss

By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 5.3.07
Buy CD: Last First Kiss

When I reviewed DeSare's first CD about a year ago, I predicted a great future, assuming he was managed properly. 

This album is further proof that he's on track to stardom. 

He has a great voice, plays more than adequate piano and (can't hurt!) is really good-looking. Given sufficient exposure, he should develop a huge fan base, both men and women. 

While listening to this release, one of my first thoughts was, "This guy sounds like a male version of Diana Krall" (intended as a sincere complement). After reading the CD liner notes, I found a quote by DeSare in which he makes the same comparison. 

We're both right: Krall plays better piano, but DeSare's voice and phrasing are on a par with hers. And, although he sounds a little like Harry Connick Jr., DeSare is a better vocalist. 

This album contains a baker's dozen of tunes, four of which DeSare wrote: "Let's Just Stay In," "I'll Never Have Enough of You," "Lover's Lullaby" and "Last First Kiss." The rest of the tunes are standards, several arranged in a jazz format; pleasing examples include "Kiss," a Prince tune, and Carole King's "I Feel the Earth Move." 

The backup groups, ranging from trios to octets, are excellent. Bucky Pizzarelli (guitarist on most tracks) and a tasty rhythm section keep the arrangements moving ... always adding, never subtracting. 

It can be hard for a vocalist to hold an audience's attention, because of the sameness of each arrangement: vocal chorus, one or two instrumental solos, then a closing chorus and out. DeSare uses several techniques to solve that problem: Each tune is short — three to four minutes — and the quality of his piano playing, and the talents of the other soloists, prevent any boredom. 

This is an excellent album, and it's true jazz: a genuine delight.

The Stryker/Slagle Band: Latest Outlook

By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 5.3.07
Buy CD: Latest Outlook

The Stryker/Slagle "band" actually is a quartet: Dave Stryker on guitar, Steve Slagle on alto and soprano sax, Jay Anderson on bass, and Billy Hart on drums. 

For this session, they also added tenor sax player Joe Lovano on a couple of tracks. 

The group is based in New York and works primarily in the East Coast area. Although all the members are excellent musicians, only Hart and Lovano are jazz "names": Hart has played in numerous groups, while Lovano is best known for his membership in one of Woody Herman's Herds. 

All but one of the tunes on this CD were composed and arranged by either Stryker or Slagle. The one exception is "Self Portrait In Three Colors," written by Charles Mingus. 

Most of the tracks follow a format in which the guitar and featured horns play a relatively tricky theme in unison, after which each artist follows with a solo, and then the group concludes with a repeat of the unison theme. This style is reminiscent of the many groups that created the "West Coast sound" back in the 1950s and up through the '70s ... and, for me, the routine verges on boring after a while. 

On the other hand, the solo work is truly excellent, and the beat established by Hart and Anderson really drives each track. 

This is a promising group, but less complex arrangements and more solo work would have raised my rating.

Hiromi: Sonicbloom Time Control

By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 5.3.07
Buy CD: Sonicbloom Time Control

Hiromi Uehara is a 26-year-old pianist, born and raised in Japan, who came to the United States in 1999 to study at Boston's Berklee College of Music. 

She began to play piano at age 6, and within a year was a student at the Yamaha School of Music. At 14, already recognized as a prodigy, she went to Czechoslovakia and played with the Czech Philharmonic. She was 17 when she met Chick Corea, who invited her to perform with him. 

Corea was just the first jazz artist impressed by her; Ahmad Jamal co-produced her first CD for Telarc ("Another Mind") in 2003. 

This is the fourth album she has released on the same label. 

Her basic group is a trio, but she added a guitar for this CD; she also wrote all the arrangements. She plays both standard and electric keyboards; David Fiuczynski plays electric guitar. The rest of the rhythm section consists of British bassist Tony Grey and Slovokian drummer Martin Valihora. 

The quartet's sound clearly shows Corea's influence, though Hiromi's compositions are far more intricate than anything he did. Take note: This is definitely not straight-ahead jazz, and it may be far too "modern" for mainstream listeners. 

But based on the number of CDs released, and the comprehensive sales package assembled by Telarc, this group obviously is considered a "hot property." 

And yes, as a keyboard artist Hiromi is dazzling: blazing fast one moment, serenely soft the next. 

Her love for jazz was late to arrive, and her classical training is evident in the slow and mid-tempo compositions. But too much is going on in some of her arrangements, and she erred in using a jazz-rock guitarist, rather than a more standard player. Her compositions have a distinctly Asian feel and atmosphere, which clashes with the jazz-rock guitar stylings. 

While Hiromi obviously is a prolific composer, I'd like to hear her versions of some basic jazz standards. 

But I certainly understand why Telarc is excited about her. It will be a pleasure to hear Hiromi grow musically.