Thursday, October 7, 2010

Mike Mainieri: Crescent

NYC Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 10.07.10
Buy CD: Crescent

This double-CD release features three master musicians who, despite their prowess, remain relatively unknown outside the music world's inner circle.

Mike Mainieri is one of the finest living vibraphonists; Charlie Mariano — who, alas, died last year — was equally rated on his instrument, the alto sax; and Dieter Ilg is an outstanding bassist, far better known throughout Europe than in the States.

The album is a tribute to two jazz legends: Mariano, who died not long after the recording session; and the incomparable tenor saxman John Coltrane.

Mainieri and Mariano performed together many times, but this is their sole collaborative recording. The decision to utilize Ilg was fortuitous; his style blends perfectly with theirs, resulting in one of the most beautiful and tasteful albums I've ever heard. The word “beautiful” isn't a frequently used adjective when referring to jazz, but it's a perfect descriptor for this recording.

And it also swings: quietly, yes, but marvelously. Amazingly, this album was recorded without rehearsals or written arrangements, and most of the tracks were done on a single take. Only two relatively short sessions were spent to produce this masterpiece.

That's true talent.

Yotam Silberstein: Resonance

JLP Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 10.07.10
Buy CD: Resonance

Guitarist Yotam Silberstein was born and raised in Israel. He began to play at an early age, and was accepted to the prestigious Alon High School for the Arts.

He resumed his studies after serving three years in the Israeli army and, at 21, won the Israeli Jazz Player of the year Award, along with his trio. He received a scholarship to New York City's New School in 2005, and was one of 10 musicians in the semi-finals of the Thelonious Monk Guitar Competition.

Only two years later, Silberstein was performing with high-caliber jazz artists.

Many musicians who develop their skills outside of the United States demonstrate imposing control of their instruments, and Silberstein is no exception. Incorrect notes, sloppy timing and awkward phrasing just don't happen.

That may be credited to early training in the classics and/or attendance at specialized schooling, which begins early and often involves college and advanced degrees. Whatever the reason, he plays impeccably.

Another characteristic of highly trained musicians is their tendency to play a tune at a faster tempo than it was originally conceived. This album's opener, a version of Dizzy Gillespie's “Two Base Hit,” is a sizzling example; it really moves!

Silberstein is comfortable with every genre and tempo. His basic side group consists of piano, bass and drums; trumpeter Roy Hargrove also guests on two tracks here.

And Christian McBride's presence on bass is the cherry on top of this swinging sundae.

John Fedchock: Live at the Red Sea Jazz Festival

Capri Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 10.07.10
Buy CD: Live at the Red Sea Jazz Festival

Trombonist John Fedchock first lit my fire in 1980, while he was playing with Woody Herman's Thundering Herd. Fedchock toured with that band for seven years, and served as musical coordinator/chief arranger on Herman's final Grammy Award-nominated albums: 50th Anniversary Tour and Woody's Gold Star.

Fedchock has been a key member — and arranger — for many of the top big bands that have kept that genre alive: Gerry Mulligan's Concert Band, Louie Bellson's Big Band, The Manhattan Jazz Orchestra, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band and his own New York Big Band. Drawing from members of the latter group, Fedchock created the New York Sextet, which has performed throughout the United States and at international jazz festivals.

This release features that sextet: “live” and outdoors at the 2006 Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat, Israel. The locale presented a significant challenge; the first sound-check was done in 111-degree heat. The stage floor was so hot that it presented a significant challenge to keeping instruments in tune; when the musicians weren't “blowing,” the air temperature inside the horns would soar and change the pitch!

Somehow, though, they made it work.

This was a true “session”; the performances are long enough to allow the artists to stretch during their solos. Everything swings, particularly the cover of Duke Ellington's “Caravan.”

Fedchock is, to quote legendary jazz critic Leonard Feather, “a superior jazz trombonist.” And his sextet cohorts aren't far behind.

Erika Matsuo: Obsession

Erika Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 10.07.10
Buy CD: Obsession

Japanese-born vocalist Erika Matsuo began her musical career early, taking piano lessons before grade school. Her early interest was classical until she started listening to Japanese pop.

While a college student, she met famous Japanese pianist Yusuke Hirado, who encouraged her to pursue jazz in the United States after graduation. She moved to New York City in 2000, where she studied English and music. Her first singing job was with the school's Latin jazz band, which led her to learn all of that group's Brazilian songs ... in their native language.

This self-produced release contains 14 tracks: Four are covers of American standards, five are Brazilian songs, and the rest are Japanese. The supporting instrumentalists — piano, bass, drums, two saxes, two guitarists and another percussionist — are excellent; bassist Essiet Essiet and pianist Carlton Holmes are outstanding.

Matsuo is a promising performer; she doesn't have a “big” voice, but her phrasing and intonation are quite good. She's already a hit in Japan, and I expect she'll appeal to all fans of Latin jazz.

Andreas Oberg: Six String Evolution

Resonance Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 10.07.10
Buy CD: Six String Evolution

Swedish guitarist Andreas Oberg is an extremely talented musician, composer, arranger and teacher. In fewer than six years, he has gone from unknown (outside of Scandinavia) to worldwide stardom.

Oh yes, before he decided to make music his life, he also was one of Sweden's top junior tennis players.

Oberg initially was drawn to fusion-style guitarists but, while still in high school, developed a passion for straight-ahead artists such as George Benson, Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass. Today Oberg plays every style, including occasional stints with classical groups. He's a total master of his instrument, and his technique is impeccable; it's almost as impressive to watch him play, as to listen to him.

This is his seventh album. His supporting group includes keyboards, bass, drums, sax, synthesizer and additional percussion instruments. Oberg wrote only one of the tunes; the rest are covers of melodies from many genres, predominately Latin in nature.

All are masterful.