Thursday, September 3, 2009

Scott Reeves Quintet: Shape Shifter

Miles High Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 9.3.09
Buy CD: Shape Shifter

Chicago-born Scott Reeves is an innovative musician, composer, arranger and educator. He began playing the trombone when he was 10, having been turned on by Count Basie's bands of the 1950s and '60s. After earning a master's degree in music from Indiana University, he worked with a number of Midwest bands.

Reeves has been on the faculty of a number of major institutions, including Juilliard, the University of Southern Maine and City College of New York. He also has written several books that are widely used in schools; after moving to New York in 1999, he played with a number of name groups.

He currently leads two bands: Manhattan Bones, which has four trombones and a rhythm section; and the quintet featured on this album (which uses the same rhythm section).

Although Reeves is best known as a trombonist, he doesn't play that instrument here. On seven of the nine tracks, he uses an alto flugelhorn, which is pitched a fifth lower than the standard version; as Reeves describes it, the tone is a combination of a valve trombone, French horn and regular flugelhorn.

On the other tracks, he switches to an alto valve trombone (the standard instrument, with one-third of the tubing cut off).

Whatever. They both sound great.

Reeves composed and arranged all the tunes. The result is relatively complex, “thinking man's jazz” that is melodic and swings nicely.

John Stowell: Solitary Tales

Origin Arts
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 9.3.09
Buy CD: Solitary Tales

Guitarist John Stowell lives and works in and around Portland, Ore. He may not be well known to the general public, but he's a “musician's musician” to name guitarists and those who know the music world well. Stowell also is a famous clinician who conducts classes throughout the United States and Canada.

This solo guitar album is his newest release on Origin; it's a true gem for those who enjoy the instrument.

As it happens, Mike Doolin, one of the country's foremost luthiers — an individual who designs and builds string instruments — also lives in Portland. One of the guitars Stowell utilizes in this release is a nylon acoustic/electric instrument done by Doolin. Stowell also used another electric instrument, tuned a major third lower, that was designed by Jim Soloway; both deliver gorgeous tones.

Another plus for this session: It was recorded at Doolin's home, not at a studio. That location, and the recording set-up, provided exceptional acoustics; you can hear the selection and movement of Stowell's fingers over the strings. It's as if you're sitting in the room with the artist, and he's playing just for you.

The tunes include six Stowell originals, a couple of standards and one each from modern jazz composers Bill Evans and Ornette Coleman. All are done beautifully.

Jacques Loussier: Plays Bach

By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 9.3.09
Buy CD: Jacques Loussier Plays Bach

Some time ago, I was blown away by an album from master pianist Jacques Loussier.

Telarc has released another CD to celebrate this artist's ongoing involvement with his Play Bach Trio ... and this album is every bit as stunning as the last one I heard.

In the 1950s, Loussier — a young artist trying to find a way to improvise on the compositions of J.S. Bach — sometimes entertained his friends by mixing Bach with jazz. This concept was such a hit that he organized his first Play Bach Trio in 1959. This album recognizes that group's 50th anniversary, and also is an early birthday gift; Loussier will be 75 in October.

The tracks re-issued here were recorded as part of a Bach tercentenary celebration in 1985. In response to a request from cohorts, Loussier (who had retired the trio) re-formed it, using brilliant bassist Vincent Charbonnier and drummer Andre Arpino.

I've never heard better quality and cohesiveness.

Their original recordings have been out of circulation since the late 1990s; this album resurrects them. The 11 tracks of various Bach inventions were from concerts performed in France, Japan and England. Some are more “classical” than others, but just as you think to ask, “Where's the jazz?,” it works its way into the melody line.

Bach's compositions have inspired jazz musicians for years. As jazz has matured and become more modern, the great composer's “lines” are heard more and more frequently.

Let's face it: Deep down, ol' Johann Sebastian was a swinger!

Geof Bradfield: Urban Nomad

Origin Arts
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 9.3.09
Buy CD: Urban Nomad

Much time has passed since a tasty, swinging, straight-ahead jazz quartet has come my way; this release by Chicago-based saxophonist Geof Bradfield fills the bill.

Originally from Texas, where he began his schooling, Bradfield moved to Chicago and entered DePaul University. He then went on to Los Angeles, where he received a master's degree from CalArts; moved to, and worked in, the New York area for three years; then returned to Chicago for a short time before he relocated to the West Coast and taught at Washington State University.

Bradfield returned to Chicago in 2003, where he's currently on the faculty of Columbia College and works with his own unit and several other local bands.

He uses both tenor and soprano saxes on this album. Seven of the nine tunes are originals, and all are his arrangements. His tone is clean, with minimum vibrato — Paul Desmond comes to mind — and his technique is flawless. The rest of Bradfield's group includes pianist Ron Perrillo, bassist Clark Sommers and drummer George Fludas. They compliment each other nicely, and their ensemble and solo work are excellent.

I appreciate it when standards are included in an album — in this case, “You're My Everything” and “Con Alma” — because I like to hear how their interpretation and performance compares to what other artists have done. Bradfield performs both tracks beautifully.

This unit is promising.

The Renolds Jazz Orchestra: Cube

Shanti Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 9.3.09
Buy CD: Cube

The Renolds Jazz Orchestra was assembled to perform at the Jazzar Concerts festival in Aarau, Switzerland, in 2005.

This isn't a typical album with a group of tunes, but rather a 10-movement Suite “based on the Deity's great effort to restore peace and union with mankind,” according to the liner notes. If that description is a turn-off, ignore the liner notes and just concentrate on the music.

Myriad jazz influences are involved, including Duke Ellington-related harmonies, Afro-Cuban rhythms and classical structures that echo composers such as Stravinsky and Liszt. Again, if the latter style isn't something that moves you, don't despair; this release has something for every taste.

The orchestra is concert-sized and instrumented. The reed section includes five musicians, each of whom plays multiple instruments; the trumpet/flugelhorn section also has five artists. The rest of the orchestra features three trombonists; a rhythm section consisting of piano, acoustic bass, drums and an additional percussionist; a female vocalist; and a conductor.

All but two of the movements were composed by Fritz Renold, who also plays four different reeds; his wife, Helen Savari-Renold, is the vocalist. The arrangements are quite complex but performed excellently; the musicians had two days of rehearsal prior to the concert and recording sessions.

Many of the musicians hail from Europe and are relatively unknown in the States, with some exceptions; the brass section, for example, includes Randy Brecker.

Some of the movements are balladic in nature, and Savari-Renold is used in the style of several early Ellington arrangements, where the voice is an instrument; others are joyful, up-tempo “flag-wavers” that swing like crazy.

The entire album requires an attentive listener, and you'll find that it grows on you. This is accomplished modern/symphonic jazz.

Eddie Daniels and Roger Kellaway: A Duet of One

IPO Recordings
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 9.3.09
Buy CD: A Duet of One

This is one of the most beautiful, innovative and impressive albums I've reviewed in a long time.

During his early years, pianist Roger Kellaway was best known for his writing, and as an accompanist for “name” vocalists; he didn't begin to play and record as a leader until he was eligible for Social Security. Eddie Daniels has played reed instruments for decades; during the 1960s and '70s, he was featured on tenor sax with Thad Jones/Mel Lewis and other bands, then in the '80s began to concentrate on his clarinet.

We're fortunate that both artists have extensive discographies.

A Duet of One was recorded live at The Bakery — a Los Angeles jazz club — over a four-day period in early 2005, but wasn't released until now. Daniels and Kellaway are the duet; as the title implies, their performances were so musically “linked” that they played as one. They didn't use arrangements, instead relying on lead sheets, which contain just the melody and chords.

They also didn't rehearse. Everything that ensued flowed from their experience and innovative talent.

Four of these 10 tunes are jazz standards: “I'm Getting Sentimental Over You,” “I Want to Be Happy,” “New Orleans” and “After You've Gone.” I guarantee that you've never heard these old chestnuts played this way. Of the remaining original compositions, Kellaway wrote two, and Daniels wrote four; all are as impressive as the standards.

The result wasn't just a session; it was a capital-C Concert!

Don't miss this marvelous CD.