Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tom Knific Quartet: Lines of Influence

Azica Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 7.2.09
Buy CD: Lines of Influence

Some time ago, I reviewed two albums featuring groups from the Western Michigan School of Music: Mayan Myths, by the Western Jazz Quartet; and Boogaloo Land, by one of the institution's big bands. Both were highly rated, and this CD also is associated with that swinging school of learning.

The Tom Knific Quartet consists of individuals who were, or are, students, alumni or faculty members. Knific is the leader and bassist; his brother John is the pianist, Keith Hall is the drummer, Chris Beckstrom plays sax, and Ryan Andrews also handles percussion.

In addition to their work on this release, all have other significant involvements. Tom Knific has played with numerous name artists and groups, and is a key member of the WMU faculty; John Knific is a pre-med student and juggles that demand with a performing career.

Beckstrom scores films in the Chicago area; Hall is a faculty colleague at WMU and a private percussion teacher; and Andrews still is a student at WMU. They did this CD in their “spare” time.

All but two of the seven tracks were composed and arranged by a member of the ensemble; the exceptions are The Beatles' “Eleanor Rigby” and Joshua Redman's “Can a Good Thing Last Forever?” The opening track (“Eidas Retsis”) is a “reversed” remake of the jazz standard “Sister Sadie.”

All in all, this is a neat, swinging album by a group of multi-talented, artists.

Tierney Sutton Band: Desire

By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 7.2.09
Buy CD: Desire

It's showtime, folks!

This album is a wonderful combination of a masterful quartet and a vocalist unlike any you've ever heard before.

The surprising thing: Although the group has been together for 15 years, and this is its eighth CD since 1998, it's the first time I've heard them. Shame on me!

One also wishes the group received better publicity outside the East Coast area, where it works most of the time.

Sutton was born in Wisconsin in 1963 and attended Connecticut's Wesleyan College of Music and Boston's Berklee College of Music. She was a finalist in the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Vocal Competition in '98; her first album, released that same year, was nominated for the Indie Award for best jazz vocal album.

Several subsequent albums also have received nominations for Grammy and jazz vocal awards. Her voice is pitched higher — and she sings more softly — than most vocalists, but her style is second to none. Admittedly, much of that is due to the backing she receives from her wonderful quartet.

All the arrangements are the result of a total-group approach to each tune.

Christian Jacob is, without doubt, one of the best, most lyrical and swinging pianists I've heard since Oscar Peterson. Jacob was born in France in 1958, attended and eventually taught at Berklee, and has toured with luminaries such as Gary Burton and Maynard Ferguson. Jacob's early training was classical, and that's evident in his jazz work.

Two bassists (Trey Henry and Kevin Axt) are used, and both are excellent; drummer Ray Brinker completes this great group.

Believe me, you've never heard more clever arrangements of these 11 standards. After listening to the first track (“It's Only a Paper Moon”), you can't wait to hear what these musicians do to subsequent tunes such as “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” “Fever,” “Cry Me a River,” “Whatever Lola Wants” and “Skylark.” The listener's attention is riveted.

After sampling Desire, you'll want to get her other albums ... just like I do.

Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra: Where or When

Owl Studios
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 7.2.09
Buy CD: Where or When

Mark Buselli and Brent Wallarab are excellent musicians — trumpet/flugelhorn and trombone, respectively — composers and arrangers, and respected educators.

Buselli is head of jazz studies at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., and was voted teacher of the year at Butler University's Music School for the 2004/05 season. Wallarab teaches at Indiana University's Jacob School of Music and is the lead trombonist with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra in Washington, D.C.

Together, they formed a 17-piece ensemble in 1994. The band used for this album, a smaller version of that group, consists of two trumpets, a trombone, a bass trombone, a French horn, three saxes and a rhythm section (piano, bass and drums).

Buselli and Wallarab are huge fans of the music from the big band era, and all the tunes on this album are standards from that period. Because the lyrics from these songs were such a key part of their popularity, 11 of the 13 tracks feature vocalists Everett Greene and Cynthia Lane.

Greene is particularly good; his voice and style echo greats such as Joe Williams, Herb Jeffries and Billy Eckstein, and he adds significantly to the atmosphere of this release.

If you came of age back in the day, or appreciate the music from that period, you'll totally enjoy this album.

Paul Tynan and Aaron Lington: Bicoastal Collective, Chapter One

OA2 Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 7.2.09
Buy CD: Bicoastal Collective Chapter One

During the past year or so, I've noticed a significant increase in the number of albums released by musicians who have 1) earned advanced college degrees; 2) played with numerous “name” artists during, and subsequent to, their educational years; 3) returned to colleges to become professors; and, finally, 4) formed bands and then recorded with them.

This release features just such a pair. Paul Tynan, born in Ontario, Canada, moved to Houston, Texas, at an early age; he met Aaron Lington while both were graduate students at the University of North Texas. Tynan studied classical trumpet, and didn't even know who Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis were until he was in college.

Lington began as a violinist and then guitarist, and switched to saxophone only to get into his high school marching band. He also was a late-comer to jazz.

Tynan earned a master's degree and teaches at Nova Scotia's St. Francis Xavier University; Lington received a doctorate and is an associate professor at San Jose State University.

This album's 10 tracks are original compositions and arrangements; the seven-movement “The Story of Langston Suite” is by Tynan, with the rest by Lington.

The Bicoastal Collective is a 10-piece orchestra consisting of three reeds, two trumpets/flugelhorns, trombone/tuba, piano, guitar, bass and drums. Thanks to the masterful arrangements, the ensemble sounds like a big band. The result is smooth and sophisticated jazz: the kind of music you must hear more than once, to appreciate its content.

Better still, the quality is such that you'll want to hear it often.

The liner notes promise more Bicoastal Collective chapters to come; I look forward to them.

John Stetch: TV Trio

Brux Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 7.2.09
Buy CD: TV Trio

Pianist John Stetch is another stealth musician: an excellent artist who isn't well known, but should be. His relative anonymity is due to the fact that he's Canadian — born in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1966 — and didn't move to New York City until '93.

Stetch started on clarinet and soon switched to sax, but during college concentrated on full-time piano studies. He earned his bachelor of music degree in Montreal, and began touring Canada: sometimes as a soloist, but usually with a trio or quartet. He garnered four Juno Award nominations and won the Prix du Jazz at the 1998 Montreal International Festival.

He has been recorded frequently by CBC, and has almost a dozen albums under his name.

This one is quite clever; Stetch selected a dozen TV theme songs from shows that he watching while growing up during the 1970s and '80s, and arranged them into jazz formats. Although the basic melodies and chord structures are maintained, none is presented in the attention-getting (read: loud and perky) style that preceded each TV program.

The result is enlightening. Most of the tunes are musically excellent: a fact not discernible when only a short segment is used as a TV show bumper. Stetch's arrangements reveal their quality.

It's fun to recognize each theme, but even more enjoyable to hear them performed by excellent musicians — Stetch is joined by bassist Doug Weiss and drummer Rodney Green — as pleasantly swinging jazz.

Vince Mendoza: Blauklang

ACT Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 7.2.09
Buy CD: Blauklang

Veteran composer/arranger Vince Mendoza has worked with Bjork, Sheryl Crow, Joni Mitchell and Elvis Costello. This album — Blauklang is German for “Bluesound” — teams Mendoza with 15 top-class musicians from Europe and the WDR Big Band.

Most of the musicians aren't likely to be familiar, except perhaps Swedish bassist Lars Danielsson, trumpeter Markus Stockhausen and Vietnamese-French guitarist Nguyen Le.

The instrumentation also includes three reed players (clarinets and saxes), French horn, tuba, harp, vibraphone, drums and a string quartet (cello and three violins). The result is true, classical, concert-hall jazz: both beautiful and genuinely swinging.

These 14 tracks were arranged by Mendoza, who also composed and all but three; the exceptions include Miles Davis' “All Blues” and Gil Evans' “Blues For Pablo.” The album opens with the former, in an arrangement that demonstrates what a marvelous tune Davis composed: It's moving no matter what style it's played in.

The final six tracks are movements of Mendoza's “Bluesounds Suite”; all are riveting, and the finale is a truly torrid flag-waver.

Mendoza's talent is demonstrated by the marvelous way he integrates his orchestra's unusual instrumentation. The strings, tuba, French horn and harp beautifully compliment the brass, reed and rhythm sections. They aren't a gimmick; they genuinely belong.

This is one of the most moving albums I've ever heard; it would mesmerize an audience at any concert hall.