Thursday, August 5, 2010

Earl MacDonald: Re Visions

DDR Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 8.5.10
Buy CD: Re Visions

Here's a sign that all's right with the world: Another romping big band has entered the jazz scene.

This one is led by pianist/ composer/arranger Earl MacDonald. He was the musical director for the Maynard Ferguson Big Bop Nouveau Band for two years and, since then, has won numerous awards for big band arranging.

His current marvelous group consists of five reeds, eight brass players and a four-man rhythm section that includes a guitar ... and, oh my, how it swings!

The quality of the music provided also is exceptional. The melodic content is rich and thoughtful, not simplistic; the relationship between the horn sections and their "passages" illustrates the care MacDonald has taken to blend everything. The result is exemplary, and the solo work also is top-drawer.

MacDonald's recognition of each featured musician's capabilities is evident; it's as if he molded each arrangement around solos he'd already heard.

Don't miss this album; it's a shining example of big band jazz at its finest.

Brandon Wright: Boiling Point

Positone Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 9.2.10
Buy CD: Boiling Point

Brandon Wright is a new member of the jazz fraternity. He plays tenor sax in this debut album and fronts a promising quintet.

This University of Miami cum laude graduate "made his bones" with many of the regular groups that work in New York, including the Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the Mingus Big Band/ Dynasty/Orchestra and John Fedchock's New York Big Band.

Wright also composes and arranges; he wrote five of this CD's tracks. His tenor sound is big without being brash and, most importantly, he swings.

The members of his group, while also new and relatively unknown, meld nicely: David Kikoski on piano; Hans Glawischnig on bass; Matt Wilson on drums; and Alex Sipiagin on trumpet. They aren't yet household names, but they're on their way.

The album's highlights are the covers of Jimmy Van Heusen's "Here's That Rainy Day" and Harry Warren's "You're My Everything"; they swing nicely and are tastefully done.

This group won't have any problem finding gigs anywhere in the Big Apple.

Ryan Keberle: Heavy Dreaming

Alternate Side Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 8.5.10
Buy CD: Heavy Dreaming

Trombonist/composer Ryan Keberle was just 20 years old when he arrived in New York City in 1980.

He graduated from the Manhattan School of Music and Jazz At Juilliard's, and it didn't take long for him to become a sought-after musician.

Great trombonists once were a relatively rare breed; you'd have trouble listing a dozen. During the big band days, Tommy Dorsey led the way, but he definitely wasn't a jazz artist; then things changed when Bill Harris joined Woody Herman's various herds. J.J. Johnson added the horn to the bop genre and Kai Winding wasn't far behind.

Today, artists such as Keberle are keeping that wonderful instrument at the forefront of jazz.

This is the second album by Keberle's Double Quartet, which includes a second trombone, trumpet, French horn, tuba, piano, bass and drums. Keberle wrote seven tracks; the rest are covers of tunes by Ellington, Gershwin and Lennon/McCartney.

This group is creative, smooth as silk and swings nicely. It's a very promising unit.

Ken Peplowski: Noir Blue

Capri Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 8.5.10
Buy CD: Noir Blue

Ken Peplowski could be considered a musical anachronism; he's one of very few reed players whose primary instrument is the clarinet.

During the reign of the big bands, that "horn" ruled because of artists like Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, but today you can count the musicians who excel on clarinet on the fingers of one hand. Peplowski and Eddie Harris are the two archetypes.

Peplowski began to play as a youngster with his brother's polka band, but after just one year of college he joined the re-formed Tommy Dorsey orchestra, which was led by Buddy Morrow at that time. Sonny Stitt, with whom Peplowski studied, introduced him to the tenor sax and the bop genre.

In 1984, Benny Goodman came out of retirement and hired Peplowski for a tenor sax chair. In this album, he uses both the clarinet and tenor sax.

Readers who lived through the swing era will note that Peplowski's style is strongly related to that genre, and he swings like crazy.

The quartet featured on this album includes pianist Shelley Berg, bassist Jay Leonhart and drummer Joe LaBarbara: all excellent. The 10 tracks include covers of tunes by Irving Berlin, Ray Noble, Ellington/Strayhorn, Jerome Kern and Hoagy Carmichael, along with originals by Berg, LaBarbara and Peplowski. All are polished examples of swing at its best.

Antonio Ciacca: Lagos Blues

Motema Music
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 8.5.10
Buy CD: Lagos Blues

It's always great to hear an album of traditional jazz.

Antonio Ciacca is a German-born, Italian-raised pianist now active in New York City, where he's the director of programming for Jazz at Lincoln Center. He began as a classicist but switched to jazz after hearing Wynton Marsalis perform at a 1990 concert in Bologna, Italy; Ciacca left for the states three years later.

In addition to his Lincoln Center job, Ciacca fronts a quartet consisting of saxophonist Stacy Dillard, bassist Kengo Nakamura and drummer Ulysses Owens. For this recording he also added saxophonist Steve Grossman, who has been a major influence in Ciacca's life.

This is the first small group in decades to feature two tenor saxes; it was an exciting combination from the 1950s through the '70s, and it still is.

Ciacca wrote "Nico's Song" — based on the harmony of "All The Things You Are" — and the title track, "Lagos Blues," after a memorable stay in that city. Grossman wrote "Take The D Train," a Coltrane kind of tune played totally in a D minor key, and "Nicoletta," a beautiful ballad.

The remaining tracks are covers of well-known jazz standards from Paul Chambers and Duke Ellington, along with a stirring interpretation of the classic "Body And Soul."

This is an enjoyable traditional jazz album; no bop, no hip-hop, no funk ... just the kind of music that turned everyone on during the latter part of the 20th century.