Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Sam Yahel Trio: Truth and Beauty

Origin Arts
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 3.6.08
Buy CD: Truth and Beauty

This trio utilizes a Hammond B3 organ (Sam Yahel), a tenor sax (Joshua Redman) and drums (Brian Blade). All are superior musicians. 

Six of the nine tracks were written and arranged by Sam; the rest include a bop standard by Ornette Colman, a tune by Paul Simon and another by Gilberto Gil/Joao Donato. 

The operative word here is "arranged." The melodic lines shared by Yahel's B3 and Redman's tenor are not extemporaneous; both artists "read" the music, note for note. The tunes range from simple to complex, and cover a spectrum of meters: from standard 4/4 to waltz, Latin-tinged and no regular beat at all. 

The solos that occur within the framework of the specific melody and meter are beautifully matched to each tune's theme, and the interplay between instruments is something to experience. The background rhythm supplied by Blade's drums always complement, and never intrudes. 

Each artist plays expressively and gently: no "honking" of the sax, and no bravado keyboard phrases from the B3. 

The liner notes include six pages of almost-too-small-to-read background data, written by Brad Mehldau (a marvelous musician in his own right); this essay provides more detail than you need about the artists, instruments, keys, etc. for each track. But you need not read everything to appreciate the music. 

This soothing, melodic CD will provide hours of listening pleasure.

The Brad Steinwehe Jazz Orchestra: Nutville

Sea Breeze Jazz
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 3.6.08
Buy CD: Nutville

Brad Steinwehe, who plays trumpet and flugelhorn, is a graduate of San Diego State University. This is the first album released under his name, but he has been involved in several others with musicians from the San Diego area, and has served as lead trumpet in back-up bands for many name artists who've performed in that city. 

He also has toured throughout Europe; this album's band, formed in 2004, was invited to play at jazz festivals in Paris. 

Steinwehe appears to be something of a perfectionist. Nutville was recorded during a two-year period (2005 and '06) at San Diego State; either he felt he didn't have enough material that was ready for prime time in '05, or he wasn't able to interest a record producer at that date. 

The finished result features nine tunes, including one each by heavy hitters Miles Davis, Horace Silver (who contributed the title chart), Woody Shaw and Frank Mantooth. The orchestra uses a standard big band setup: five reeds, four trumpets/flugelhorns, four trombones and a rhythm section consisting of piano, bass, guitar and drums. 

Steinwehe used 27 different musicians in the two sessions. 

The key word for this group is "precision." Two factors are required to attain it: musicianship and rehearsal. Both are obvious here. Unfortunately, too much rehearsal can adversely affect the end result. This orchestra is so precise that, at times, it sounds sterile. The near perfection of both the ensemble and solo passages are too tight; if the group played more loosely, the result would swing more. 

That said, it's wonderful to hear another unit doing its best to keep big band jazz alive and well. More seasoning, and a little relaxation, should result in a great future for this group.

Frank Rosolino and Carl Fontana: Trombone Heaven

Uptown Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 3.6.08
Buy CD: Trombone Heaven

Within eight bars of this CD's opening track, I knew it was a five-star keeper. 

Regular readers of this column know that I'm partial to jazz trombone, and Frank Rosolino and Carl Fontana were two of the best who ever played. This album is a never before released live recording of a 1978 performance at the Bayshore Inn, in Vancouver, B.C. The audio quality is excellent, except for the microphones not being placed close enough to the piano. 

The performance by all concerned is so magnificent, that this minor flaw isn't important. 

This group was a quintet: Rosolino and Fontana on trombone, Elmer Gill on piano, Torban Oxbol on bass and George Ursan on drums. I must confess that Rosolino and Fontana were the only two familiar to me, but that's OK; this rhythm section is outstanding. 

I can't say enough about the artistry of both trombonists. In the words of Bill Watrous, one of today's 'bone masters, "They were both at the absolute top of their instrument. They are the high priests of jazz trombone." 

Both used a "repetitive tonguing" technique that was far beyond the capabilities of other trombonists. Both had played with the top bands of that era: Rosolino with Stan Kenton, Supersax and the Howard Rumsey All Stars; and Fontana with Kenton, Woody Herman and Lionel Hampton. Each fell into the hard bop category, but could play fantastically at any tempo. 

Two of the six tracks on this release are ballad medleys: One combines "Here's that Rainy Day" with "Stardust," while the other blends "Laura" with "Embraceable You." You'll never hear anything as beautiful as those renditions. 

The remaining tunes are all up-tempo covers: Monk's "Well You Needn't," Miles Davis' "All Blues" and "Just Friends," and Dizzy's "Ow." The solos, both as singles and duets, are unbelievably great. 

This CD is one of the longest I've heard, at more than 79 minutes, so there's plenty of time for each player to stretch out. Bassist Torban Oxbol contributes a great beat and several remarkably facile solos, in the manner of Niels-Henning Pedersen. 

I cannot understand why this album took so long to become available to jazz fans.

Larry Koonse: What's in the Box?

Jazz Compass
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 3.6.08
Buy CD: What's in the Box?

Guitarist Larry Koonse has played jazz for years, but I only recently found and reviewed an album with him as leader. That release, Dialogues of the Heart, featured Koonse and his father, Dave, playing duets of some familiar old standards. 

I called it "one of the tastiest jazz guitar records I've ever heard." 

Not long afterwards, Larry Koonse and bassist Darek "Oles" Oleszkiewicz recorded another beautiful album, Storybook; it was even better than the first. 

Well, Koonse, his father and Oleszkiewicz have done it again, only this time they're playing the music of guitarist Jimmy Wyble. To spice things up, they've added Gary Foster on clarinet, and Joe La Barbera on drums; Oleszkiewicz and another bassist, Putter Smith, split the tracks. 

The result is magnificent. 

Wyble, born in 1922, has a long musical history, having played every style that exists. He started out with country/western, cruised through Dixieland and New Orleans, and finally arrived in the straight-ahead jazz genre, playing with luminaries such as Red Norvo. Wyble also composed and arranged much of what he played and, for three years, was Larry Koonse's teacher. 

Wyble was so impressed with his student that he was willing to "hear his music expressed in a different format." He turned over his manuscripts to Koonse with only two requests: that Dave Koonse and Oleszkiewicz be involved in the project. 

As Larry Koonse put it, "no constraints on manner, tempo, style or arrangement" were placed on the project. 

To paraphrase: No greater admiration hath one musician for another, than when he grants that kind of freedom. 

This album is the result. 

You'll likely recognize only two tracks: "Stella by Starlight" and "Variations on a Theme," based on the old standard "All Of Me." All the rest are Wyble originals. Many of the latter are dedicated to Wyble's favorite musical artists; one, "Chorale for Lily," was written for his wife. 

They're all wonderful; the units, which range from duos to quintets, really bring them to life. This album is an absolute must.

The Dave Finck Quartet: Future Day

Soundbrush Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 3.6.08
Buy CD: Future Day

Dave Finck's group actually is a sextet; he added a trumpet and reed player for this session. The unit consists of "first-call" personnel: local musicians who're always contacted to provide backup for "name" vocalists and bands that come into town for concerts. 

It's a successful arrangement on both sides: The big acts don't have to contend with the expense and hassle of transporting a lot of folks around the country; the local guys get experience and exposure, without having to leave their homes and regular jobs. 

This group is smooth and quietly swinging. 

It's difficult to find a Broadway or jazz vocalist who Dave Finck hasn't supported; he also has played with the Dizzy Gillespie and Herbie Hancock bands. Vibraphonist Joe Locke has been touted as the next Milt Jackson, and drummer Joe La Barbara's talent is indicated by the fact he played with the final Bill Evans trio. 

Pianist Tom Ranier also composes and arranges; trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, a young lion (born in '76), was part of the Charlie Mingus big band; multi-reed player Bob Sheppard is another first-call regular. 

Half of the dozen tunes on this record were written by one of these musicians, while the other tracks are interpretations of compositions by other well-known jazz artists. 

Only three tracks run more than 5 minutes; several clock in at less than 3. That's a little disconcerting; at times, one gets the impression that something has been left out. All in all, though, this will be a pleasant addition to your library.

Diane Schuur: Some Other Time

Concord Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 3.6.08
Buy CD: Some Other Time

Diane Schuur was born blind in 1953 in Tacoma, Wash. But, as is often the case, her disability was ameliorated by other attributes: She had perfect pitch, a voice to take advantage of it, and the will to teach her self to play the piano. 

Her father also was a pianist and her mother an avid jazz fan, so young Diane grew up in a home filled with music. By age 10, she was performing in public. Her big, rich, vocal style at that age is evident on one of the tracks included in this album, made at a Holiday Inn in 1964. 

Several notable artists "discovered" — and made significant contributions to — her development; Doc Severinson, the longtime leader of the Tonight Show band; Ed Shaughnessy, Severinson's drummer, who also had a band of his own; Stan Getz, Maynard Ferguson and Count Basie. During Schuur's early years she recorded almost a dozen albums, including two Grammy winners. She has been with Concord Records since '99. 

This album, a tribute to her mother (who died at age 31), features music Schuur was exposed to during childhood; the set list includes tunes by the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Oscar Hammerstein and Sammy Cahn. The back-up musicians include pianist Randy Porter, guitarist Dan Balmer, bassist Scott Steed and drummer Reggie Jackson. They swing nicely and are key to making this release a keeper. 

If you're a fan of beautiful old standards performed by a superior vocalist, you'll want this one.