Thursday, October 1, 2009

Resonance Big Band: Plays Tribute to Oscar Peterson

Resonance Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 10.1.09
Buy CD: Plays Tribute to Oscar Peterson

Oscar Peterson needs no introduction: He simply was the world's best jazz pianist, in any generation. His death, at age 82 in 2007, left a void that'll never be filled.

Indeed, he was so revered that no pianists are able — or willing — to claim the capability to succeed him.

But one of his fans and close friends, Arnold van Kampen, happened to catch some YouTube clips of an unknown pianist playing “Indiana.” Research failed to bring up any biographical information or albums for this individual, although van Kampen did learn his name: Marian Petrescu.

The Romanian-born pianist was 36 years old, had been playing since age 4, and was living in Finland. Resonance Records' George Klabin, another Peterson fan, also had become aware of Petrescu, and contacted him regarding a planned a tribute to Peterson; this album is the result.

The big band assembled for this effort is, in itself, a major accomplishment: The instrumentation included five reeds/flutes, four trumpets/flugelhorns, four trombones, a tuba, guitar, bass, drums and — of course — Perrescu on piano. A few tracks also include a string quartet, a second pianist, and a cabasa. Finally, three conductors were involved. The luminaries taking part included Joe La Barbara, Bill Cunliffe and Claus Ogerman.

This package contains both a CD and a DVD of the session, and the 11 tracks are arrangements of classic tunes recorded by Peterson over the years. Although the big band doesn't swing like the combos Peterson headed, it's an excellent unit. Perrescu is a masterful technician, at least as fast and facile on the keyboard as Peterson, but — and it's a huge “but” — he doesn't come close to swinging like ol' Oscar.

This album is a major accomplishment and a worthwhile tribute, but it's for the concert stage. The excitement, joy, feel and pure talent of Peterson are missing.

The Beaty Brothers Band

By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 10.1.09
Buy CD: The Beaty Brothers Band

Twin brothers John (alto sax) and Joe Beaty (trombone) grew up under extremely “hard time” circumstances, with numerous foster parents. Even so, they received scholarships to New York's New School University, where they studied music.

They were homeless at times, and years were required to become recognized as first-call musicians in the area. Then, after having just achieved such recognition, Joe developed a serious heart condition that turned into a five-year struggle.

Both men are healthy now, and are active in the New York City jazz world. On this, their debut album — the tracks were laid down prior to the final surgery that solved Joe's heart condition — they're joined by three close friends who helped them make it through the tough times: pianist Yayoi Ikawa, bassist Jim Robertson and drummer Ari Hoenig.

Nobody in this group is well known outside of New York, but they've obviously played together long enough to meld nicely. All the compositions and arrangements on this CD are by the Beaty brothers; they're innovative, interesting and — most important — they swing.

I look forward to hearing more from these guys, as they work their way up the ladder.

The Bridge Quartet: Night

Origin Arts
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 10.1.09
Buy CD: Night

About a year ago, I reviewed an album titled Day by this quartet, which is based in Portland, Ore. Drummer Alan Jones organized the unit — Canadian saxophonist Phil Dwyer, bassist Tom Wakling and pianist Darrell Grant — for a few club dates. A recording session was scheduled right after the first club date, and “Day” was the result.

The second club date was held the subsequent evening; it, too, prompted a recording session. That album, the subject of this review, was appropriately titled Night.

The primary difference between the two albums is the ambient atmosphere. Only the musicians and studio technicians were present for Day, but Night was done for a live audience. Both sessions were excellent, but the group definitely was more lively when fans were present. Their appreciation and applause clearly improved the quality of the music.

Two tunes — “Wouldn't It Be Loverly” and “Strode Rode” — appear on both releases, and the difference between the two takes is quite noticeable.

The remaining tracks on this album are covers of well-known jazz standards: “Green Dolphin Street,” Billy Strayhorn's “Isfahan,” Thelonious Monk's “Bemsha Swing” and Victor Feldman's “A Face Like Yours.”

This is a very good quartet. I'd love to have a group like this playing in a club nearby, so I could enjoy it often.

Pamela Luss: Sweet and Saxy

Savant Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 10.1.09
Buy CD: Sweet and Saxy

This is the newest release by primo vocalist Pamela Luss, who — unfortunately for the rest of the world — makes her home and performs primarily in the New York City area. The rest of us have to make do with her annual albums.

Her 2007 release, Your Eyes, clearly indicated her potential; 2008's Magnet proved her talents as a top vocalist. Sweet And Saxy further confirms her talent and future.

As was the case on her previous releases, Luss is backed by an excellent, swinging group headed by tenor sax artist Houston Person. John di Martino continues to demonstrate that he's one of the better pianists and arrangers around; he's joined by guitarist James Chirillo, bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Willie Jones III. These guys add immeasurably to this album's quality.

The dozen tracks include covers of some wonderful old tunes that we haven't heard in years: “Canadian Sunset,” “You Better Go Now,” “Why Was I Born” and “Ain't No Sunshine” are just a few of the songs that my generation grew up to. They're long overdo for encores.

Because of her mellow voice and gorgeous phrasing, Luss is most impressive on ballads, but this album also contains a number of mid- to up-tempo tunes that prove Luss can sing anything ... particularly when backed by the likes of Houston Person and crew.

It'll be tough to wait another year for Luss' next album!

University of Louisville: Jazz Connection

Sea Breeze Vista
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 10.1.09
Buy CD: Jazz Connection

The University of Louisville School of Music has hosted the Open World Leadership Cultural Program for the last four years. This two-CD album features the performance output of 40 jazz artists who attended these conferences during that period: 22 from Russia, a dozen University of Louisville students, four faculty members and two area professionals.

The groups range in size from duet to septet, with standard instrumentation (i.e. no electronic keyboards). Straight-ahead jazz is the common denominator. The 26 tracks include both old and new jazz standards, a number of originals and even a couple of old American pop tunes (“Moon River” and “Honeydripper,” for example).

In a way, listening to this album is akin to taking a time-capsule trip from the 1940s through the '90s, visiting the jazz clubs that existed in each era, and listening to radio broadcasts from each period.

The Russian artists are excellent, but their styles are almost exclusively based on those of American musicians from earlier eras. That works out nicely, because the “learning stage” of many students — and some faculty members — reflect the styles of famous artists from that same time period.

It's interesting to note the relative capabilities of the various groups: The Russians are better than the faculty members, who in turn are better than the students. No doubt about it, though: These Russians can swing!

Programs like Open World, which expose artists from various countries to each other's customs, talents and citizens, are tremendously worthwhile. This double-album is a clear indication that jazz can promote friendships and understanding on a worldwide basis.

Wynton Marsalis: He and She

Blue Note Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 10.1.09
Buy CD: He and She

Wynton Marsalis needs no introduction: He's a musician exemplar, a composer, arranger and leader.

Indeed, he has become the same type of figurehead in today's music world that Duke Ellington was in his day. And Marsalis isn't just a musician, he's a Pulitzer Prize-winning artist. From the sheer standpoint of instrumental excellence, he's probably the finest trumpet player alive; his tone is pure, his technique is excellent, and he's imaginative and innovative.

He can — and has — played every musical genre, from classical through jazz of all types. And, as evidenced by this CD, he's a poet.

He and She explores, as the liner notes explain, “the relationship between a man and a woman.” This takes place progressively, from the “schoolboy” through the “young adult” phases of life. As these periods pass, so do the musical styles that provide background for this emotional progression. A dozen “intervals” are covered, each preceded by a spoken free-verse introduction.

Marsalis' style advanced as he grew as an artist, from swinging bop through funk and then fusion; he then returned to earlier jazz periods. His groups, whether combos or big bands, tackle compositions that reflect the sounds of days-gone-by music and artists.

That's true of this release as well, although he masterfully entwines that earlier style with the more modern feel of today's artists. The result is quite engaging: Marsalis tells a familiar and compelling story that'll hold your attention ... and, as with a good book, you'll want to experience it again and again.