Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ehud Asherie: Organic

Positone Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Organic

Ehud Asherie was born in Israel in 1979, lived in Italy for six years, then at age 9 moved to New York City with his family. He took piano lessons but didn’'t get serious about music until he discovered jazz at Smalls, in Greenwich Village. 

He was only 20 when he became a featured artist at that club. Since then, although he has toured worldwide, the Big Apple remains his musical home.

For this album, he has switched to the Hammond B3 organ. The quartet includes guitarist Peter Bernstein, alto saxman Dmitry Baevsky and drummer Phil Stewart. Half the tracks are Asherie originals; the rest are covers of standards by Leonard Bernstein ("Tonight"), Sonny Rollins ("The Stopper"), Green and Kahn ("Coquette") and Jobim ("Favela").  

Asherie's style on the B3 is much lighter than that used by many jazz organists; he achieves a wonderfully grooving sound and never overwhelms his sidemen. 

This group really swings, producing the kind of straight-ahead jazz that would be great to share with like-minded friends for an entire evening. So, until you can make that trip to New York City, and the clubs where Asherie plays, you’ll have to make do with this lovely album.

Mac Gollehon: Mac Straight Ahead

American Showcase
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Mac Straight Ahead

I was intrigued by the release notes for this CD, which explain that the entire brass section of this "big band" consists of just two individuals. The featured players include a single baritone sax, a Hammond B3 organ, a bass trombonist and a drummer (although three different artists share the latter chair on these 10 tracks).

The remaining trumpet and trombone lines are contributed by Mac Gollehon, who overdubbed the various parts electronically, to achieve the final master recording.

That technique certainly isn't new. Decades ago, when vinyl records were the medium, Zoot Sims released an album on which he played four alto sax lines (ABC Paramount 198). In a quartet setting  with piano, bass and drums  pianist/composer/arranger George Handy wrote melodies for seven harmonic movements. On day one of the recording session, Sims played alto sax, which normally would have completed the date. The next day, however, Sims returned to the studio, donned earphones and added a second alto line, to create a new master. He repeated that process, to add third and fourth lines.

The result was stunning.

Unfortunately, this album doesn't come close. Gollehon deserves an E for effort, but that's about all.

Randy Weston: The Storyteller

Motema Music
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: The Storyteller

Pianist/composer Randy Weston is an 84-year-old jazz icon. He has performed his African-inspired jazz worldwide for more than five decades, and on almost 50 albums as a leader.

This release, recorded live at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, features his African Rhythms Sextet: a group that included another icon, trombonist Benny Powell, who died not long after this session.

Weston, who was born in Brooklyn in 1926, was among the many musicians who played a key role in the New York City jazz scene in the era that covered the 1930s through the '50s. He then traveled throughout Africa during the 1960s, opened a club in Morocco that existed from ’69 through ’72, and then returned to the States. From that point onward, his sound incorporated African elements and musicians.

Powell was making his bones during that same period, first playing with Lionel Hampton, then becoming a key part of Count Basie’s bands. Weston and Powell became and remained close friends throughout their careers.

This album contains elements of Weston’s life and career: "Chano Pozo" is a tribute to the percussionist who became a featured contributor to Dizzy Gillespie’s Latin jazz period; "African Sunrise" was commissioned for the 1984 Chicago Jazz Festival; "Tehuti," "Jus’ Blues" and "The Bridge" comprise his African Cookbook Suite; and "The Shrine" is one of his most recent compositions. The remaining tracks relate to work he did during the 1950s.

This is a wonderful, swinging, compilation of jazz by one of the industry giants (in more ways than one­; he stands 6 feet 7 inches!).

Friday, January 21, 2011

Leslie Pintchik: We're Here to Listen

Pintch Hard Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: We're Here to Listen

Not many musicians started out as lit teachers at New York’s Columbia University, then decided to become jazz pianists and composers. Well, Pintchik did just that. She has become well known in and around that city, playing with a trio or quartet. Her usual format is piano/bass/drums, sometimes another percussionist. The latter combination is featured on this, her third release.

Six of these 10 tracks are her own compositions; the rest are covers. Her style is “genteel jazz”; she isn’t a hard swinger, but the music is quite appealing. She reminds me of Marion McPartland, or Vince Guaraldi in his later years  during his “Peanuts phase”  but she doesn’t have his touch. Pintchik tends to elongate notes, by keeping the piano keys depressed a bit longer, or by use of the foot pedal; that produces a “broader” sound, but it’s harder to groove with that technique.

Her sidemen are excellent. Bassist Scott Hardy is particularly noteworthy; he keeps a moving beat, and his solo work is exceptional.

This group doesn’t have any trouble finding jobs at up-scale lounges and clubs around New York City. I just wish she’d tour occasionally, so the rest of the world could be exposed to her music.

Hiroe Sekine: A-mé

Sekai Music
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: A-mé

Hiroe Sekine, a native of Japan, has been composing, arranging and playing the piano for almost 20 years, but she has remained below the radar in the United States. This debut album’s 10 songs include four of her own compositions; the rest are covers of both old and new jazz standards. She arranged all of them.

Cole Porter’s “Every Time We Say Good-bye” is done as a piano solo, while the rest feature groups ranging in size from a trio to a septet. A total of nine musicians were involved in the session.

So, what about the music? Well, Sekine evidently favors mid- to up-tempos; only her solo piano track is done as a ballad. That’s not a criticism, but an indication that the lady likes to swing.

Her style as an instrumentalist is more relaxed and “looser” than other artists from her part of the world, which is good: She achieves a real groove in her solos. It’s also obvious that she loves the melodic lines of the jazz standards she includes in this album. Her arrangements maintain the primary melodies, but she tinkers with the harmonies and meters to achieve an “everything old is new again” result, and it’s very appealing.

The supporting personnel are excellent, during both ensemble and solo passages. You can tell that the sidemen genuinely enjoy her arrangements, and have a good time playing with her.

I expect Sekine to make it big, and it’ll be fun to hear it happen.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Negroni's Trio: Just Three

Mojito Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Just Three

Those who aren’t Latin jazz fans may not be familiar with this group, led by pianist Jose Negroni. The Puerto Rican native is a star in his own country, both as a musician and teacher at the island’s Music Conservatory. This release, his fifth album, also features his son, Nomar Negroni, on drums; they’re joined by bassist Marco Panascia.

Jose Negroni was director of music publishing at Sony for almost 10 years; Nomar, one of the finest drummer in the Latin jazz genre, is a product of the Berklee College of Music.

All the tunes here are originals; they’re spirited and swing wonderfully. The arrangements  and cohesion of the artists  deliver a “sound” exceeding that of a usual trio. The guys don’t just play a melody; each instrument contributes relatively complex lines that combine to create a larger “whole.”

Latin music sometimes is too repetitive, with phrases repeated over and over, to the point of boredom. That’s not the case with this group. Each track is relatively short, which ensures that audience interest is maintained.

This is the best Latin album I’ve heard in a long time.

Eddie Gomez and Cesarius Alvim: Forever

Plus Loin Music
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Forever

The quality of music always is directly related to the quality of the musicians who perform it. Bassist Eddie Gomez and pianist Cesarius Alvim are two of the finest elder statesmen of jazz, and this album presents them in a duet setting.

Gomez has played jazz for decades; how many musicians have worked with Benny Goodman, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan and Bill Evans during their career? Evans hired Gomez when he was only 21 years old, and “the kid” subsequently spent 11 years with that august group.

The Rio de Janeiro-born Alvim moved to France in the 1970s and enrolled in a conservatory as a classical double-bass major. His choice of piano as a primary instrument came later, but his familiarity with the bass has had a profound effect on his style. It’s key to the performance with Gomez on this album.

Bill Evans fans know how important the bassist was to his groups, and he was blessed with two of the best masters of that instrument: Scott LaFaro (who died in a car accident at age 25) and Gomez. Alvim may not be Bill Evans, but this outstanding duo obviously has been influenced by that jazz legend.

Half of these 12 tracks were composed by Alvim. Gomez wrote one, and the rest are covers of not often played standards by the likes of Wayne Shorter (“Witch Hunt”) and Rogers & Hart (“Spring Is Here”).

Yes, these artists may sound like Evans at times, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying one of the most accomplished duos to come along in years.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bob Mintzer: Canyon Cove

Bob Mintzer Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Canyon Cove

Bob Mintzer is a musical master of all trades: He plays tenor sax, flute and bass clarinet; he composes and arranges; he’s a leader of both large and small groups, and an educator (the Manhattan School Of Music and USC); and he has published almost half a dozen jazz educational books.

Oh yes, he’s also a 19-year veteran of the Yellowjackets. During his 34-year career, he has written more than 200 big band arrangements. His own large ensemble has been nominated for four Grammy Awards, winning one.

For this session, Mintzer utilized a “small jazz” unit, with Larry Fielding on the Hammond B3, and Peter Erskine on drums; Mintzer handles tenor sax, bass clarinet and flute. Judd Miller plays an electronic wind instrument on one track. Mintzer composed almost all the tracks; the album also includes a cover of Victor Young’s “When I Fall In Love.”

Each original composition is a tribute to the individuals – and music – that Mintzer has encountered during his career.

Many styles are featured: R&B (“Bugaloo to You”), bop (“Thaddeus” and “Bebop Special”) and rock (“Canyon Cove”). The rest draw upon blues and traditional jazz formats.

The common factor is simple and essential: They swing wonderfully.