Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet: Infinity

Patois Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 4.2.09
Buy CD: Infinity

The bands and artists with whom Wayne Wallace has played are numerous: Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Lena Horne, Celine Dion and Aretha Franklin merely top the impressive list.

Wallace composes, arranges, teaches and produces, and is expert on the tenor and alto trombones. And the tuba.

This album features his Latin jazz quintet: Murray Low (keyboards), David Belove (bass), Paul van Wageningen (drums) and Michael Spiro (percussion). Guests include Roger Glenn, on vibes and flute; vocalist Jackie Ryan; and a group of background singers.

Wallace composed four of the tunes; the others are covers of familiar American and Latin standards. All are presented in various Latin jazz idioms: samba, cha cha, mambo and funk.

This group's sound is big, considering its relatively small size; plaudits to Wallace's arrangements and the artistry of the instrumentalists and vocalists. The group also is smooth and warm; the background rhythmic “noise” that sometimes is too prevalent with Latin groups is absent.

Whether you're just listening or dancing, this is a solid album for Latin jazz fans.

Tony DeSare: Radio Show

By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 4.2.09
Buy CD: Radio Show

I reviewed vocalist/composer/arranger Tony DeSare's first album (Want You) in 2005, and concluded my assessment with the words, “He can't miss.”

I was equally pleased with his second album (Last First Kiss); it marked his arrival in the big time, and I knew it would be a pleasure to watch him grow.

Well, grow he has, and this third album is proof that he's the best young male vocalist in the country.

Why, then, isn't he better known?

Early in his career, DeSare performed primarily on the East Coast; he developed a significant fan base but seldom went on the road. That has changed. Since 2007, DeSare has performed on both coasts, at some cities in mid-America, and has toured overseas. He also went on the road to promote this album.

Radio Show is a clever production. Several music labels are releasing “time capsule” albums that cover past work done by famous artists; many of these include some re-mastered radio broadcasts that featured the artists in question. DeSare has used this approach as well; each tune here is preceded by a radio host or DJ, who introduces the song and the artist.

The album features 14 tracks, covering tunes from the past and the present; DeSare composed five of the latter. More than a dozen instrumentalists worked on the finished product. DeSare plays keyboard on every track, and is supported — in different combinations, and on varying tracks — by three trumpets, a trombone, three saxes, a bass, drums, two guitars, a B3 organ, another pianist and a female vocalist.

No matter what the mix, the results are choice. This is a great album, and DeSare is a sensational vocalist.

Mark Colby: Reflections

Origin Arts
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 4.2.09
Buy CD: Reflections

Tenor saxman Mark Colby has played, recorded and toured with many jazz legends during the past 40 years, including Maynard Ferguson, Gerry Mulligan, Clark Terry and Charlie Haden.

Although Colby isn't well known outside the Chicago area, he's a “first call” musician when name artists come to town. And while Colby has recorded only two albums under his own name, he has been heard on literally thousands of commercials in the Windy City. He also teaches, and has been a member of DePaul University's faculty since 1983.

Most of the musicians who support Colby on this release also hail from the Chicago area: Eric Hochberg (bass), Bob Rummage (drums), Mike Pinto (guitar), Bob Lark (flugelhorn) and Jeremy Kahn and Ron Perrillo, splitting the piano chores. One track also features the great Phil Woods on alto sax.

Colby wrote three of the tunes, and Woods composed another; the rest are covers of standards from popular musicians and composers.

This relaxed, lightly swinging unit is a joy. Aside from your living room, they'd fit comfortably in jazz clubs and college auditoriums; in fact, the latter venues make up a significant part of Colby's touring schedule.

Carol Fredette: Everything in Time

Soundbrush Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 4.2.09
Buy CD: Everything in Time

Most of you probably haven't heard of Carol Fredette, and that's a shame.

She's not a household name on the West Coast for several reasons. She grew up in the New Jersey/New York area, started singing with bands from that area — and still does — and was absent from the jazz scene for a decade. Although she never has been featured with well-known big bands, it's hard to find a name jazz musician she hasn't worked with. Ron Carter, Mel Lewis and Stan Getz shared a stage with her, and the latter has stated that “she's as good as they come.”

Fredette is a true jazz vocalist. Her “feel” and phrasing are marvelous; her voice is dusky and sensual. Although she usually sings softly and expressively, she can belt it out when necessary. She favors songs that, while perhaps not readily familiar, tell a story that'll keep an audience riveted to her.

This album contains 15 tunes: mostly ballads, and many with a Brazilian pop-jazz feel. Every one is enjoyable.

Fredette's status as a true jazz vocalist also is evident in her choice of the musicians in her backup sextet: Helio Alves, Dario Eskanazi and Andy Ezrin split piano duties; Leonardo Amuedo handles guitar; Adriano Santos and Victor Lewis trade off as drummers. Barry Danielian plays trumpet, Aaron Heicke and Bob Malach play sax, and Mauro Refosco handles percussion ... and everything is held together by celebrated bassist/arranger David Finck.

Whatever the combination, these guys groove, and they showcase Fredette as a complete vocalist.

The Benny Golson Jazztet: New Time, New 'Tet

Concord Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 4.2.09
Buy CD: New Time, New 'Tet

Tenor saxman, composer and arranger Benny Golson, born in 1929 and still active, is a living legend. The Howard University graduate has worked with many of the jazz giants who were key to the bebop genre, including John Coltrane, the Heath brothers, Clifford Brown and Tadd Dameron.

Golson considered the latter to be the most important influence on his writing.

Golson's jazz standards include “Killer Joe,” “Whisper Not,” “Along Came Betty” and “I Remember Clifford.” He and the late Art Farmer co-led their famous Jazztet for several years, after which Golson concentrated on studio and movie soundtrack work. His musical contributions were an important part of the TV shows M*A*S*H, Ironside and Room 222.

Golson also had a key cameo role with Tom Hanks, in The Terminal.

Golson's new Jazztet features some fine, relatively new, sidemen. The basic sextet includes Steve Davis (trombone), Eddie Henderson (trumpet), Buster Williams (bass), Mike LeDonne (piano) and Carl Allen (drums). Vocalist Al Jarreau helps the group reprise “Whisper Not.”

The result is nice, tight and swinging. The covers of Sonny Rollins' “Airegen” and Thelonious Monk's “Epistrophy” provide a new spark to these jazz classics.

All in all, it's a groovin' album. Welcome back, Benny!

Bill Cunliffe: The Blues and the Abstract Truth, Take 2

Resonance Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 4.2.09
Buy CD: The Blues and the Abstract Truth, Take 2

Oliver Nelson lived, and performed, during the key years of jazz.

Like many of his peers, he left us all too soon — born in 1932, died in '75 — but his contributions during that short span made him a legend. He played sax as an instrumentalist, but he was better known as a composer and arranger. He worked with many name bands during his life — Quincy Jones, as a notable example — but the classic album he released in 1961 made him famous: The Blues and the Abstract Truth.

Jazz musicians consider it in the same light as the tablets Moses brought down from the mountain. Nelson's album contained just six of his blues compositions, and they all became standards.

Pianist Bill Cunliffe, famous in his own right, is one of Nelson's disciples. Some time ago, Paul Lines, who runs the Pasadena Jazz Institute, suggested that Cunliffe should write some charts based on Nelson's album; the pianist did so, and he performed them at The Vic, a Santa Monica jazz club.

That session was taped by George Klabin, who later started Resonance Records. This album is the result; Cunliffe rearranged the six original blues and added two of his own compositions.

He has wrought a new classic.

The Take 2 band consists of trumpeters Terell Stafford and Larry Lunetta; trombonist Andy Martin; saxists Jeff Clayton, Bob Sheppard and Brian Scanlon; bassist Tom Warrington; drummer Mark Ferber; and Cunliffe on piano. It's a truly delightful group. The arrangements are excellent, as are all the instrumentalists.

The unit swings wonderfully, and Cunliffe has a lot to do with that; his solos are great, but the way he lays down chords — to back the melodic lines and other soloists — is exceptional.

This is the best album I've reviewed so far this year.