Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tony Bennett & Bill Evans: The Complete Recordings

Fantasy Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 11.05.09
Buy CD: The Complete Recordings

There's no question about pianist Bill Evans' importance to jazz, or his position within that genre's Hall of Fame.

He was, without question, one of the finest composers, arrangers and instrumentalists of the past 50 years, and he had immense influence on other musical artists who developed during that period.

On the other hand, many will raise eyebrows at the thought of Tony Bennett being considered as a jazz vocalist. (Isn't he the guy who sang ballads for so many years?) Well, he has sold more than 50 million records to date, and — believe it or not — he's considered by an untold number of jazz artists to be one of the best male jazz vocalists who ever lived.

During his career, Bennett has sung and recorded with the likes of Count Basie, Duke Ellington and — as this album demonstrates — the incomparable Evans.

This double-CD is a compilation of two recording sessions: the first in 1975, the second a year later. Evans plays and Bennett sings, and that's all we need. The 21 tracks on the first disc, the “chosen” takes from both sessions, are mostly ballads and show tunes made famous by both artists.

The second disc consists of alternate takes from the same sessions, and don't despair: While you'll detect similarities, they aren't “copies.” Remember, these guys were improvising, without rehearsals, after deciding on the proper “key” and “order” of the choruses.

All but three tracks are duets; the exceptions are solos by Evans. And while only a few of these tunes are up-tempo, recall that some of the greatest jazz played is balladic; phrasing and innovation are the important elements.

You can listen to this album for hours, and hear something new each time. It's a double-masterpiece!

Tim Davies Big Band: Dialmentia

Origin Arts
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 11.05.09
Buy CD: Dialmentia

You don't often encounter drummers who also are composers, arrangers and producers; Tim Davies is a member of that relatively small fraternity.

He also leads a really big band that usually features (according to his Web site) “a mixture of jazz, hip-hop and death metal.” It's certainly all of that. The cadre includes nine reeds, eight trumpets, four trombones, two guitarist, two bassists, two keyboardists — I assume these pairs split duties on the various tracks, but I could be wrong — a percussionist (in addition to Davies, who is drummer and leader), a cello and a lady who plays a didjeridu.

Surprisingly, they don't sound the least bit cluttered, and it all swings like crazy.

The Australian-born Davies began to play drums when he was 12, formed his first big band in Melbourne in 1998, and his second in 2000 when he moved to the United States. He composed seven of these nine tunes and arranged all of them. One of the two tunes he didn't compose — a riff on “Caravan” — is of particular interest; to paraphrase Davies, “It's the way Duke Ellington would have written it if he'd lived in the age of hip-hop.”

You know what? I think he's right.

In his “spare” time, Davies is an in-demand composer, arranger, orchestrator and conductor for film, TV and recordings. He's very busy and quite talented, and one of the tastiest and most controlled drummers who has come down the pike in a long time.

Karrin Allyson: By Request

Concord Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 11.05.09
Buy CD: By Request

I started to type “Vocalist Karrin Allyson” and changed my mind; Allyson is much more that just a vocalist. She's a three-time Grammy-nominated artist who composes and arranges, writes lyrics, plays piano and sings ... and does all these tasks marvelously.

Allyson was born and raised in Kansas City, where she spent her early years working; she finally moved to New York City about a decade ago. After a self-released debut CD, she was signed by Concord Records, which has been responsible for all subsequent releases, including a re-issue of that first album.

By Request is a retrospective of her past 15 years; the album contains songs that have been “most requested” by fans during her live performances. She's capable of singing everything and anything: ballads, blues, “roots music,” Great American Songbook classics, straight-ahead and Latin jazz. Everything succumbs to her talent.

Language is no barrier, as well; she uses English, French and Portuguese in this release. As for scatting, her burning cover of “Cherokee” will take your breath away.

Another key to Allyson's success is her ability to attract stellar jazz artists to her groups. Pianists Paul Smith and Mulgrew Miller, and bassists John Patitucci and Bob Bowman, are just a few of the names who have joined lesser-known but equally capable musicians.

Most important, however is her innate talent; the lady is, without doubt, one of our top jazz vocalists. Her voice, phrasing and range are exceptional.

And my, does she swing!

Paul Meyers: World on a String

Miles High Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 11.05.09
Buy CD: World on a String

Over the years, many artists who “made their bones” with straight-ahead jazz have ventured into Latin water.

The two styles have many similarities, rhythmically and melodically, and that has encouraged artists from both schools to expand their musical fields. Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz (who moved “south”) and Claudio Rodeti and Arturo Sandoval (who came “north”) were some of the earlier pilgrims.

These days, it's hard to find a musician who isn't fluent in both styles.

Add guitarist Paul Meyers to that cadre. He began playing the piano at age 5, switched to violin at 7, and found his home with the guitar at 12. Like so many string artists, his early teaching was in the classics, but exposure to Wes Montgomery triggered the move to jazz.

Meyers attended the New England Conservatory of Music and ended up in New York City, where he has spent more than 20 years working with many name bands and vocalists.

One of this album's key goals was to meld Meyers' expertise in both jazz and Latin, to create a larger audience for his quintet; he succeeded. He's joined by Donny McCaslin on saxes and flute, Helio Elves on piano, Leo Traversa on electric bass, and Vanderlei Pereira on drums. The result is a neat, quiet, gently swinging group that produces some very nice “thinking-man” jazz.

It's great for your listening pleasure, and also makes nice background music.

Hilary Kole: Haunted Heart

Justin Time Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 11.05.09
Buy CD: Haunted Heart

Although relatively unknown outside New York City, Hilary Kole is a key performer in regional hotels, lounges and jazz clubs.

She began singing and playing the piano at age 5; at 14, her composing skills garnered a scholarship to the Walden School for Music Composition.

By 17, she had won three National Federation of Music Awards and a Delius Award. She received a scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music for jazz composition, but — after attending a jazz vocal class — made singing her major. During this period, she was house vocalist with the Rainbow Room Orchestra, working six nights a week, five hours a night.

After graduating in 1999, she co-created and starred in the musical production Our Sinatra, at the Algonquin Hotel's famous Oak Room. During the past decade, that production has played thousands of performances Off-Broadway. Oscar Peterson heard her perform at Birdland and, in '06, asked her to record with him.

She was the last vocalist to have that honor.

This is Kole's debut album. The quartet that backs her is headed by guitarist John Pizzarelli, who also produced; supporting artists include pianist Ted Firth, bassist Paul Gill and drummer Mark McLean. Kole is the pianist and arranger on one track — “Blackberry Winter,” an Alec Wilder tune — and she acquits herself nicely.

Her voice is smooth as silk throughout, her pitch perfect, phrasing excellent and — most important, for a singer — she knows how to sell a song. She's as good as any I've heard for a long time, and has a bright future.

Texas Christian University Jazz Ensemble: Just Friends

Sea Breeze Vista
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 11.05.09
Buy CD: Just Friends

I always smile when obtaining an album from a university that offers students a jazz program.

Texas Christian University is one of the best of these schools; this is its 17th album during the past 32 years, and it's a two-CD treasure.

This endeavor involved a total of almost 30 student musicians, plus seven alums and teachers. Three units are featured: a big band ensemble and two different quintets. Not everyone plays at once, but they all get a chance to participate in these 27 tunes.

TCU is world-renowned for its school of music in general, and its jazz program in particular. Its big band has been featured in concerts with literally dozens of jazz greats, both “at home” and in venues across the United States and Canada. The unit also has toured Europe several times.

The current ensemble director, Curt Wilson, has taught there since 1976; the bands, and their members, have received numerous awards over the years.

As usually is the case with college bands, much of the “book” used here has been contributed by name composers and arrangers, but a significant number of student and faculty originals also are included. Every one of them swings. The ensemble and section work is excellent throughout, and the solos aren't far behind ... which isn't often the case for young students.

One individual deserves special mention: Trombonist Andy Martin is outstanding in the ensemble's cover of “Caravan.” He's on par with some of the great artists I've heard over the years.

This is a wonderful album: Everyone is having a ball, and it shows.