Thursday, April 3, 2008

Taeko Fukao: One Love

Flat Nine Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 4.3.08
Buy CD: One Love

Japanese-born Taeko Fukao moved to New York City in 1998, intending to expand her vocal career; she became intrigued with jazz. She chose her teachers wisely; one had been a vocalist with the Thad Jones orchestra , while another was a disciple of Jon Hendricks. 

Fukao's voice is pitched a tad higher than most jazz singers, but it's clean and clear, and she has an excellent command of it. She knows how to alter melodic lines, which creates the impression of a musical instrument, rather than just another voice. Her phrasing augments this effect. 

She opens and closes this album with very short versions of the title tune, then works her way through a mix of standard American tunes — "It Could Happen to You," "I've Never Been in Love Before," "I Hear a Rhapsody" — and unfamiliar (to us) songs that highlight her command of Asian melodic lines and chord structures. 

She sings a little too softly at times; a more authoritative approach would draw more audience attention, particularly when she "scats" (the Jon Hendricks influence) on upper-tempo tunes. The latter style is very tough to learn and, at present, Fukao still needs some work. 

Her backup group is quite good. Two pianists (Harry Whitaker and Misha Tsiganov) and two bassists (Duane Burno and Gaku Takanashi) share the tracks; Doug Richardson, one of the album's producers, also performs on both drums and piano. 

Fukao has been featured at several of the upper echelon of jazz clubs in New York City, and she seems to be off to a good start.

Rob Lockart: Parallel Lives

Origin Arts
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 4.3.08
Buy CD: Parallel Lives

Rob Lockart is Texas born and educated at the University of Texas' Eastman School Of Music; he completed studies at the Banf School. He has lived and worked in New Orleans, New York and Los Angeles, where he now resides and teaches. 

His musical experience includes jobs with the Woody Herman Orchestra, Doc Severinson's Big Band and performances with numerous smaller groups headed by well-known artists such as Clark Terry, Joe La Barbera and Mel Lewis. Lockart currently is an active member of both the Chris Walden Big Band and the Woody Herman West Coast Band. 

Lockart has recorded several albums with the Walden group, but this is the first release under his own name. 

He's an excellent tenor sax artist, composer and arranger, having written all but two of the tunes here. The basic quartet consists of Lockart on tenor sax, Bill Cunliffe on piano, Jeff DiAngelo on bass, and Joe La Barbera on drums. Bob Sheppard plays tenor sax on one track, while guitarist Larry Koonse guests on another. 

All the musicians are well known and highly regarded, and their contributions are key to making Lockart's debut release a success. The group is quiet, thoughtful and swings wonderfully. 

Lockart has been a sideman with many great bands but, as a result, hasn't received the recognition he deserves. Whether he decided to take the step himself, or was talked into it, this debut is outstanding. 

Another reviewer mentioned that Lockart's cover of the old standard "All or Nothing at All" is so moving that it's hard to move forward through the rest of the tracks. I agree, and I wish I'd said it first. 

But do listen to everything; it's all prime.

Kutztown University Jazz Ensemble: Dance You Monster

Sea Breeze Jazz
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 4.3.08
Buy CD: Dance You Monster

Although this is the Kutztown University Jazz Ensemble's fourth CD, it's my first exposure to the group. I not only hadn't heard of them, I wasn't familiar with Kutztown — found between Allentown and Reading, Pa. — or its university. 

All that matters, though, is that we can add another school to the list of colleges and universities exposing their students to jazz. 

The contributing musicians on this album include seven woodwinds, seven trumpets/flugelhorns, five trombones, four pianists, two bassists, one guitarist, three drummers/percussionists and a female vocalist. The musicians also trade places to achieve the five reed/10 brass/four rhythm sections that are big band standards. 

The compositions include popular songs by the likes of Hammerstein and Porter, along with jazz standards by Basie, Mingus, Sammy Nestico and Billy Strayhorn. Some arrangements were done by the composers, the rest by the students. 

This orchestra is smooth and swings quietly, like countless "territory" and second-tier popular bands that toured during the 1940s, most of which were great dance orchestras. Every track on this CD is danceable. The ensemble work is excellent, the solos are good but not intrusive, and the female vocalist completes the big band-era feel. 

If you're old enough to remember those years, you'll probably enjoy this release.

Maceo Parker: Roots & Grooves

Heads Up International
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 4.3.08
Buy CD: Roots & Grooves

Maceo Parker isn't related to Charlie Parker, either genealogically or musically. 

Maceo, born in 1943, followed the paths of soul, R&B and funk; his idols were Louis Jordan, James Brown and Ray Charles. Parker came from a musical family, picked up the saxophone before his teens and played in a band with his brothers: one a drummer, the other a trombonist. 

Vocalist Ray Charles turned Parker on, and his sax style was based on emulating Charles' voice and phrasing. 

Then Parker's brother, Melvin (the drummer), was hired by James Brown; Melvin convinced his new boss that he also should take Maceo as part of the package. Brown agreed if Maceo would switch to baritone sax, which he did. 

Maceo Parker remained a fixture of Brown's band for six years, and then left to form his own group. Three years later, he returned to Brown, this time on alto sax. During the subsequent years, he alternated between Brown's band and several other funk groups before setting off on his own for good. 

Although I'm not a rabid fan of R&B or funk, this two-CD release is a true swinger. In large part, that's because Parker is supported by Germany's WDR Big Band, one of the hottest jazz orchestras on the European continent. It's truly a big band, with five trumpets, five trombones, six reeds, a B-3 organ and piano, two bassists and two drummers (who play on alternate CDs), a guitar and — last, but not least — a "conductor." 

The latter, Michael Abene, also arranged all the tunes. 

The first CD, dubbed A Tribute to Ray Charles, contains big band versions of six of the jazz great's most famous tunes. Parker is featured on alto sax and also handles all the vocals; he's not Charles, but he's more than adequate. 

All but one of the six tracks on the second disc, Back to Funk, are written by Maceo. 

Yes, the rhythmic beat and vocal lines are repetitive, but everything swings like crazy. You won't be able to keep your toes from tapping or your fingers from snapping. It's a fun, driving, two-hour excursion into bliss.

Michael Camacho: Just for You

New Found Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 4.3.08
Buy CD: Just for You

When I say that Michael Camacho isn't well known, I mean it; if you research the name on the Internet, the first individual listed is a real estate agent. 

This particular Michael Camacho is a vocalist, and he reminds me of Chet Baker. The voice isn't robust; Camacho sounds like a Vienna Choir Boy with a jazz mentality. I don't mean that negatively, but the first time you hear him it's almost a shock ... not at all what you'd expect. 

Camacho uses his voice like an instrument, and his phrasing is all jazz. He's backed by an excellent sextet that truly swings. I'm not familiar with any of the players, but they must be upper-class musicians from the New York jazz scene: Tim Regusis on piano; Frances Moutin on bass; Randy Napoleon on guitar; Dan Block on soprano and tenor sax; Darryl Pellegrini and Marcello Pellitere alternating on drums; and Norman Hedman on additional percussion. 

When listening to a vocalist, one generally doesn't pay too much attention to the musicians. That isn't the case here; I found myself looking forward to their background, choruses and solos. 

Camacho wrote five of the 12 tunes on this album. The remainder are covers of some almost forgotten standards — "I'm Old Fashioned," "Skylark" and "This Is Always" — along with several tunes not often vocalized: "Blue Room" and "Spanish Harlem." 

This guy, and his group, grow on you; each replay has impressed me more. I'm awaiting his next CD.

Marian McPartland: Twilight World

Concord Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 4.3.08
Buy CD: Twilight World

One definition of legend is "a person who achieves legendary fame." 

The jazz world has produced a number of legends — Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Benny Goodman come to mind — but only a few are still with us. One of those, still performing, is pianist/composer Marian McPartland, who celebrated her 90th birthday March 21. 

Born in England in 1918, Margaret Marian Turner was a child prodigy who played piano by age 3. She was exposed to jazz in her teens and, from that moment on, her future was fixed. She enrolled in London's famous Guildhall School of Music in 1938; Billy Mayerl, at the time a famous music hall entertainer, asked her to join his four-piano stage act. She did so ... despite a financial bribe offered by her father if she'd complete her schooling. 

She performed on the vaudeville circuit, using the stage name of Marian Page. In 1944, while entertaining troops during World War II, she met Jimmy McPartland, a traditional cornetist from Chicago. They married the following year and, after war's end, McPartland brought his wife home to the Windy City. 

They worked there until 1949, at which point they moved to New York and soon were immersed in that jazz universe. From 1952 to '60, Marian led a trio at the Hickory House, a restaurant/jazz club on famous 52nd Street. Between sets and after work, she'd visit the other nearby clubs, to listen and learn. In 1978, she began her famous alliance with National Public Radio; Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz remains the network's longest-running cultural show. 

McPartland's attributes are many. She's an outstanding pianist, and her harmonic sense and innovative ability are second to none. If she played the same tune half a dozen times in straight succession, each rendition would be completely different. Additionally, her memory is prodigious; it's impossible to name a song she doesn't know. 

Most importantly, her style has grown with the time: No matter when she plays — or has played — she sounds "current." 

Twilight World is the 21st album McPartland has done for Concord Records during her 30-year association with the label; it's also her first studio release in nine years. 

Except for a short (and unsatisfying) stretch with Benny Goodman, McPartland has concentrated on performing with small jazz groups. That preference continues here, where she's backed by bassist Gary Mazaroppi and drummer Glen Davis. The album is living proof that she's as new and fresh as any instrumentalist on the scene. 

The nine tracks contain several of her own compositions and a few by Ornette Coleman and Bill Evans, along with some wonderful old standards. Needless to say, they all swing. 

As for retirement? 

McPartland already has guest artists lined up for the next two years of Piano Jazz

The lady is unbelievable, and this album is an absolute must-have.