Thursday, January 8, 2009

Jonathan Voltzok: More to Come

Kol Yo Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 1.8.09
Buy CD: More to Come

Speaking of Israeli-born musicians, trombonist Jonathan Voltzok is another recent arrival on the jazz scene. He lived and was schooled in Israel until his 21st birthday, and then moved to New York City in 2004, after receiving a scholarship from the New School's jazz program.

The NYC musicians quickly recognized his ability; Voltzok soon was working with the Dizzy Gillespie All Star Band, Slide Hampton's Trombone All Stars and Jimmy Heath's Big Band, and has shared the stage with James Moody, Roy Hargrove and Randy Brecker.

Voltzok is a bebop stylist; he evokes the early J.J. Johnson.

Voltzok's basic quartet includes three NYC-based artists: pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Barak Mori and drummer Ali Jackson. For this album, he added guest stars Slide Hampton (trombone) and Antonio Hart (alto sax).

Five of these nine tracks are Voltzok originals; the remaining four are covers of tunes written by Dizzy Gillespie (“Con Alma”), Thelonious Monk (“ 'Round Midnight”), Horace Silver (“Opus de Funk”) and Charlie Parker (“ 'Shaw 'Nuff”).

Voltzok's opening tune (“More To Come”) is a real burner, based on the chord changes of “Avalon”; it, and most of his compositions, are mid- to up-tempo arrangements that provide ample opportunity to sample his excellent command of his horn.

Hampton joins him on “Con Alma” and “ 'Shaw 'Nuff,” and their trombone duo work is outstanding. Hart's alto sax contributes nicely on two other tracks.

Trombone addicts and bop fans will enjoy this release.

Roy Assaf and Eddy Khaimovich: Andarta

Origin Arts
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 1.8.09
Buy CD: Andarta

Pianist Roy Assaf and bassist Eddy Khaimovich hail from Israel, as does Romen Itzik, the drummer in their quartet. But they didn't know each other before they met in New York in 2006, while attending the Manhattan School of Music.

Both Assaf and Khaimovich began their musical careers playing in classical organizations in Israel; neither became involved in the jazz scene until they'd been in the States for several years. They soon were recognized for their exceptional talents and began to play with name jazz units in the area: Assaf with luminaries such as Dizzy Gillespie and Billy Taylor, and Khaimovich with James Moody.

They also worked with trumpeter Roy Hargrove, who guests on this album. Saxophonist Robin Verheyen (a fellow student) rounds out the group.

Every tune is given a modernist treatment. The standards are re-harmonized and performed in different keys — for example, something originally written in F minor is shifted to F major — and the meters are varied throughout the performance.

Now, unless the listener has perfect pitch, or is totally familiar with the original chart, those changes won't be evident ... but they become a significant challenge to the musicians. (I've always felt such arrangement “adjustments” are done more for the sake of the artists than the audience.)

No matter: Everything is melodic, quite listenable and, most important, it all swings nicely. This may be truly modern jazz, but it's still very good.

Roger Kellaway: Live at the Jazz Standard

IPO Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 1.8.09
Buy CD: Live at the Jazz Standard

I often wonder if jazz fans realize how fortunate they are, that so many of the genre's elder statesmen remain active, playing concerts and recording; pianist, composer and arranger Roger Kellaway is one such talent.

Although not very well known to the public, he's revered by his fellow musicians. Kellaway isn't a household name to the average jazz fan, because much of his work has been associated with writing and arranging for orchestras, ensembles, big bands, film, TV (he wrote the closing theme for “All In The Family”), ballet and stage productions, and as an accompanist for name vocalist like Lena Horn, Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin and Barbra Streisand.

In his spare time, Kellaway has supported the likes of Oliver Nelson, Thad Jones, Eddie Daniels and other straight-ahead jazz greats. Only recently has he begun to play, and record, as a leader.

This two-disc album was released shortly after Kellaway's 69th birthday. It was recorded live during a four-day period at The Jazz Standard in New York City, and features his “all-wood” (drumless) combo. Joining Roger are guitarist Russell Malone, bassist Jay Leonhardt, vibes player Stefon Harris and cellist Borislav Strulev.

The group is modeled along the lines of 1940s and '50s units headed by Nat King Cole, Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson.

Disc one is the swinger; it covers jazz standards such as “Cottontail,” “C Jam Blues,” “Someday My Prince Will Come,” “I'm Beginning to See the Light” and “Take Five.” The second disc features more mid-tempo oldies like “Cherry” and “You Don't Know What Love Is,” and lesser-known selections like “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and “Freddie Freeloader.”

Everything is played immaculately; if you want to hear clean, swinging jazz, this is it. Kellaway plays every piano style prominent from the 1940s through the present day.

Personally, I feel the drummer's absence; I prefer more “bottom” to the rhythm section. But what's present is superb.

Doug Hamilton: Jazz Band

OA2 Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 1.8.09
Buy CD: Jazz Band

If you've never heard of Doug Hamilton, there's a good reason; by day he's Dr. Doug Hamilton, head of surgery at two hospitals.

Hamilton didn't seriously pursue jazz until he was 40, when he picked up a trombone and began lessons — and studied arranging — at night. After 10 years, in the 1980s, he founded The Brass Connection: a Juno Award-winning group consisting of five trombones and a five-man rhythm section.

He released a CD in 1986 (“A Five Star Edition”) that featured trombone greats Carl Fontana, Bill Watrous, Jiggs Whigham and Ian MacDougal. In '93, Hamilton formed his jazz band tentet using musicians from U.S. military groups such as the Army Blues. This unit is smaller than a standard big band — Hamilton uses just two trumpets, one trombone, three reeds and a piano, bass, guitar and drums — but his compositions and arrangements are such that the group sounds, and swings, like a much larger orchestra.

Hamilton composed three of the 13 tracks here and arranged all of them, but he did not play trombone; that task fell to Matt Niess.

Hamilton's arranging style is similar to that of greats such as Bill Holman and Bob Florence; on some tunes, the melodic improvisations are done up-front, with the familiar melodic lines saved for the final part of the arrangement.

He also leaves plenty of “open” spacing for the solos, a technique that inspires and challenges each instrumentalist; of particular note are trumpeter Craig Fraedrich, guitarist Jim Roberts, baritone saxman Scott Silbert, tenor saxman Tedd Baker and pianist Tony Nalker. Drummers Steve Fidyk and Dave McDonald split the tracks and keep things moving.

This is a fine “little big band”; it sets the bar high for all others.

Denise Donatelli: What Lies Within

Savant Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 1.8.09
Buy CD: What Lies Within

The Los Angeles-based Denise Donatelli sort of did it backwards: after she started a family. This CD is her first for Savant, and only her second overall, but she has had experience with the Freddy Cole and Stan Kenton alumni orchestras, and performed at a number of jazz concerts.

I'd classify Donatelli as a musician first and vocalist second; she's a true member of the band, and not just a singer being backed up by the group.

Why do I say that?

The first thing she did, when planning this album, was to ask Geoffrey Keezer, a top jazz pianist and arranger, to handle arrangements and production. Keezer wasn't familiar with her at the time, but it didn't take him long to say yes.

A primary selling point was Donatelli's decision to give him free-rein; her instruction was “Write whatever you want; I can sing anything.” (He did, and she can.)

Next, Keezer chose some of the best sidemen in the Los Angeles area: trumpeter Carl Saunders, reed-man Bob Shepard, guitarist Peter Sprague, bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Marvin Smith, along with an organist, cellist and additional percussionist. The resulting group, led by Keezer on piano, really swings.

Finally, only two of the 11 tracks are well-known standards (“My Shining Hour” and “We'll Be Together Again”); the remainder are beautiful but lesser-known tunes with lyrics that force the listener to concentrate.

Donatelli truly is a jazz musician and vocalist. You'll love her.

Dave Brubeck: 50 Years of Dave Brubeck

Monterey Jazz Festival Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 1.8.09
Buy CD: 50 Years of Dave Brubeck

This album, featuring pianist Dave Brubeck, is one of many being released by Monterey Jazz Festival Records, to celebrate that West Coast tradition's 50th anniversary.

Brubeck's group was featured at the first Monterey Jazz Festival concert in 1958; in fact, he also performed in Monterey before the initial concert. Jimmy Lyons, founder of the festival, had a meeting scheduled with the city council, to persuade them to sponsor the event; he arranged to have Brubeck's quartet audition. (Many council members weren't familiar with jazz.)

The rest is history, and Brubeck played at numerous Monterey Jazz Fests during the next 50 years.

The 10 tracks on this release draw from the initial 1958 event and continue through the '07 concert. Six versions of Brubeck's band perform. The initial quartet featured Paul Desmond on alto sax, Eugene Wright on bass, and Joe Morello on drums. In 1962, Gerry Mulligan's baritone sax replaced Desmond's alto, and Jack Six and Alan Dawson were the bassist and drummer.

By 1985, the group had grown to a quintet, with clarinetist Bill Smith, flutist Bobby Militello, drummer Randy Jones and Dave's son Chris on bass. The quartet reappeared in '02; Bobby Militello switched to alto sax, and Christian McBride was the bassist. The only change made for the '06 and '07 concerts was bassist Michael Moore.

But no matter who played, the results were stellar.

I've always thought Desmond was a primo alto saxist; his tone was mellow — he used very little vibrato — and his phrasing was exquisite. He also composed “Take 5,” Brubeck's hallmark tune, which was done in 5/4 time.

The years that featured Mulligan on baritone sax were some of Brubeck's finest; one of those tracks (“Goodbye Old Friend”) was written by Brubeck after Mulligan's death. The old tunes “Margie” and “Sleep,” both seldom performed, are album highlights here.

This release's only shortcoming is a recording flaw; one must crank up the volume to hear the piano solos in the '58 concert.

That aside, this is a wonderful album. Brubeck was — and, thank goodness, remains — way ahead of his time.