Monday, November 29, 2010

Dan Adler: Back to the Bridge

By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Back to the Bridge

Dan Adler hails from Israel, where he obtained degrees in computer science and electrical engineering. He then worked for an Israeli division of Motorola for two years before relocating to System Design Labs in New York City.

His interest in music began when, in the fourth grade and after two years of failed piano lessons, his mother bought him a guitar and signed him up for lessons. That instrument took; by high school he was playing in Israeli jazz groups. Not long after his arrival in the Big Apple, he became part of the large contingent of jazz musicians from Israel who live there.

This album also features two well-known artists: organist Joey DeFrancesco and drummer Byron Landham. These two have worked together for years, and it shows. DeFrancesco is a master of the B3 Hammond: a difficult instrument to play without overwhelming all other instrumentalists in a given group. He’s superb at controlling tonal selections and volume. Landham fits in marvelously, and this duo lays down a grooving beat.

Although still relatively unknown outside the music society, Adler’s style is perfect for this trio. He wrote three of the tunes presented; the others are covers of some great standards, including “Oh Look At Me Now,” “Joy Spring,” “A Beautiful Friendship,” “I’ve Never Been In Love Before” and Oscar Peterson’s “The Smudge.”

Buy this abum: You won’t be able to keep your feet from tapping, or your fingers from snapping.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wil Swindler's Elevenet: Universe B

OA2 Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Universe B

Texas-born Wil Swindler began to study music at age 5; he was 9 when he chose the saxophone as his instrument. School and teaching have been his life: He earned a magma cum laude degree in jazz studies from the University of North Texas, attended the Henry Mancini Institute on a full scholarship, and is part of the faculty at Colorado State University. He has taught at Denver University, the Colorado Conservatory of Jazz Music and the University of Northern Colorado.

As a performer, he has worked with numerous name bands, notably with Toshiko Akiyoshi. Swindler also was a Gil Evans Scholarship winner in 2008.

The group featured on this album is Swindler’s “Elevenet,” which adds some less traditional instruments (bass clarinet, alto flute, French horn and euphonium) to the traditional horns (alto, tenor and soprano saxes, trumpet/flugelhorns) and a standard rhythm section with both acoustic and Rhodes keyboards. The basic size of the unit remains at 11, although 14 artists were utilized during the recording sessions.

Five tracks are Swindler originals, and he arranged everything. The covers include Miles Davis’ “Miles Ahead,” Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing” and George Harrison’s “Blue Jay Way.”

This band is very modern, and it swings softly and delightfully: another shining example of “beautiful” jazz.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Randy Halberstadt: Flash Point

Origin Arts
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Flash Point

Pianist Randy Halberstadt is another member of the extensive jazz cadre that makes its home in the Pacific Northwest. Although originally from New York, he spent his early school years in Texas; his instrument of choice at that time was the trombone. He switched to piano while at the University of Washington.

He played professionally and joined the faculty of Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts in 1983. He’s a jack of all trades: teaching, composing, arranging and writing (books), in addition to performing. Over the years, he has played with numerous artists and vocalists.

Flash Point features Halberstadt in a quintet setting with Thomas Marriott (trumpet/flugelhorn), Mark Taylor (alto sax), Jeff Johnson (bass) and Mark Ivester (drums), all regulars from the Seattle area. Six of the nine tracks are Halberstadt originals; the rest are interpretations of familiar jazz standards such as “On Green Dolphin Street,” “Beatrice” and “Solar.”
The artists perform together so often that they’ve become mind-readers; everything swings smoothly. As for Halberstadt, he’s a modernist but is at home in every style. At times, he sounds like Jessical Williams (who thinks highly of him), but he isn’t a copycat. He has his own style, and that’s as it should be.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Richard Cole: Inner Mission

Origin Arts
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Inner Mission

This is another release from the great musicians who have made the Pacific Northwest their home; only world-famous trumpeter Randy Brecker resides elsewhere. This Seattle-area congregation consists of more than a dozen musicians who perform in various quartets and quintets, depending on the track.

Brecker and Thomas Marriott handle the trumpet and flugelhorn; Richard Cole plays both tenor and soprano sax; and Bill Anschell and John Hansen play piano. Bassists and drummers abound: Chuck Deardorf, Jon Hamar, Paul Gabrielson, Doug Miller and Jeff Hamilton perform on the former, while the percussionists are John Bishop, Matt Jorgensen, Jose Martinez and Gary Hobbs.

The tunes selected range from reconstructed standards (“Try To Remember,” “The Meaning Of The Blues” and “Secret Love”) and originals written by members of the groups. The jazz style is traditional, leaning toward quasi-fusion. Both Cole and Brecker have had extensive involvement with rock groups, but don’t let that deter you; this is some of the tastiest music you’ve heard.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tomas Janzon: Experiences

Changes Music
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Experiences

Here’s another example of the high-quality jazz coming from musicians outside the United States. Tomas Janzon was born in Stockholm, Sweden. Like many youngsters, he started out on a recorder; he switched to the cello at age 8, and by 12 was performing with the Chamber Orchestra Collegium Musicum. He began to focus on the guitar while in his teens.

Janzon first was attracted to J.S. Bach and then, not many years later, heard Charlie Parker’s “Cool Blues”; that catalyst resulted in a move to Los Angeles, where Janzon studied at the Guitar Institute of Technology, graduating as the outstanding player of the year; he still teaches there as an adjunct staff member.

He currently resides in New York City but tours, teaches and performs in the states, Canada and Europe.

Experiences features Janzon’s quartet: keyboardist Art Hillary, bassist Jeff Littleton and drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath (brother of bassist Percy and saxophonist Jimmy). This album’s title is literal; each tune relates to an event or experience that affected Janzon’s musical life. Many are familiar jazz standards (“Here’s That Rainy Day,” “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” “Moanin’,” “Full House,” and “Billie’s Bounce”); a couple are Janzon originals (“Float” and “Blue Bee”); another is a lesser-known composition by Dave Brubeck (“Theme From Mr. Broadway”); and two are Swedish folksongs.
All have one thing in common: They swing softly and delightfully.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Cookers: Warriors

JLP Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Warriors

So, who are The Cookers?

Merely a septet of jazz icons whose youngest member is more than 50 years old; the rest are in their 70s. As a result, it’s difficult to name an artist or group that these guys haven’t (collectively) performed with.

The instrumentation consists of two trumpets (Eddie Henderson and David Weiss), alto sax and flute (Craig Handy), tenor sax (Billy Harper), piano (George Cables), bass (Cecil Mcbee) and drums (Billy Hart). Most of these artists are better known as sidemen than leaders: Cables, as one example, was the pianist for almost every group that Art Pepper led during his career. Most of the others here worked with Art Blakey, Miles Davis and other top groups that reigned from the 1960s on.

These guys aren’t merely masters of their instruments; they’re also composers and arrangers. All but one of this album’s tracks are originals by members of the septet; interestingly, most are done at balladic tempos. Everything is beautifully arranged and swings wonderfully.

This is pure jazz, as played by master artists. I loved it.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mike Mainieri and Marnix Busstra: Trinary Motion

NYC Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Trinary Motion

Not long ago, I reviewed a masterful double CD (Crescent) that featured vibraphonist Mike Mainieri and saxophonist Charlie Mariano. This release, also a double CD, teams Mainier with guitarist Marnix Busstra and his trio (bassist Eric van der Westen and drummer Pieter Bast).

The result is another gem.

All the musicians are better known in Europe than in the States, and this album is a compilation of live recordings made during a three-day period at clubs in Belgium and The Netherlands. Mainieri and Busstra have worked and recorded together on numerous occasions. Their close relationship is evident; they sound like they’ve been together for years.

All these tracks are originals, and most were composed and arranged by either Mainieri and Busstra.

This is another example of true concert jazz: Everything swings wonderfully, and your attention is riveted to every note, whether during an ensemble or solo passage. Fans of the Modern Jazz Quartet will appreciate this European equivalent. With luck, these guys will visit the States one day; until then, we’ll have to make do with their albums.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Michael Tracy Quartet: Wingspan

Sea Breeze Jazz
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Wingspan

Saxophonist Michael Tracy, who has played with numerous jazz artists over the years, is better known as an educator and teacher. He currently directs the Jamey Aebersold Jazz Studies Program at the Louisville School of Music, in Kentucky. He has visited and taught in almost two dozen countries during the past 35 years, and he hosts jazz workshops annually for foreign students.

This album, his fifth on Sea Breeze, features Tracy’s basic quartet -- sax, guitar, bass and drums – along with Davidi Logiri, an Italian pianist he met in London while holding a workshop.

Most of these 10 tracks were written and/or arranged by members of this group. The selection includes five “covers” of jazz standards that originated with other artists: “Cloning” is based on the chords of “There Will Never Be Another You”; “Old Folks,” “Freddie Freeloader” and “Anatheme” were made famous by Miles Davis; and “Wingspan” is a redo of an arrangement by John LaBarbara’s big band.

I’ve always felt that the use of both guitar and piano adds significantly to the “feel” of a rhythm section; such is the case here. The group swings wonderfully, and the musicians sound like they’ve been together for years. It’s the kind of finished product you’d expect from a music professor who can select the best talents who have been in his classes.