Friday, March 25, 2011

Peter Erskine Quartet: Standards 2: Movie Music

Fuzzy Music
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Standards 2: Movie Music

The 2008 album Standards, featuring the trio of pianist Alan Pasqua, bassist Dave Carpenter and drummer Peter Erskine, received a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental. Now, three years later, we finally have a follow-up. The delay resulted, in part, from the sad death of Carpenter, who was replaced by Darek Oles on this release. Additionally, leader Peter Erskine decided to expand the trio into a quartet, by adding Bob Mintzer on tenor sax.

The result: Standards 2: Movie Music.

As Dick Clark once said, "Music is the soundtrack of your life." Each of this album's 10 compositions comes from the soundtracks to films or TV shows that we've watched over the years. In some cases, this would have been a primary theme, repeated in numerous scenes; alternatively, the composition could have been part of the underscore, to emphasize a particular event in the storyline. Either way, the music always heightened the viewing experience.

This album includes music from Gone with the Wind, West Side Story, Dr. Kildare, The Gay Divorcee, Cinema Paradiso, Broadway Melody of 1940 and Anchors Away. You may not remember how the music was incorporated in each case — some of these go back a way! — but you’ll recognize the melodies themselves.

Erskine's combo is excellent. The individuals have played with numerous bands, contributed to literally hundreds of albums, and have recorded together on many occasions. They swing wonderfully here.

Mark Weinstein: Jazz Brazil

Jazzheads Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Jazz Brazil

Latin jazz fans with a fondness for flute probably are familiar with Mark Weinstein. Early on, he played trombone with numerous Latin big bands; he subsequently concentrated on the various members of the flute family, and has released more than a dozen albums featuring that instrument.

Like so many musicians, Weinstein recognized at an early age that he needed an additional source of income to maintain a reasonable lifestyle, so he earned several college degrees and became a teacher. Once tenured and assured of a reliable income source, he returned to his first love: music.

On this album, Weinstein performs on concert, alto and bass flutes; he's backed by Kenny Barron (piano), Nilson Matta (bass) and Marcello Pellitteri (drums). Two compositions ("I Mean You" and "Ruby My Dear") are by Thelonious Monk; Wayne Shorter, Herbie Mann and Joe Henderson contributed "Nefertiti," "Memphis Underground" and "Isotope," respectively. The album is rounded out by Jobim’s "Triste" and "If You Never Come To Me," along with originals by Weinstein and Matta.

The genre ostensibly is Latin and Afro-Cuban, but it’s played with a swinging, straight-ahead style: definitely a treat.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Jane Ira Bloom: Wingwalker

Outline Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Wingwalker

The soprano saxophone is an honored member of the reed family, although it’s heard more often in classical orchestras than in jazz groups. One of the few exceptions to that rule is named Jane Ira Bloom, a composer and true master of the instrument.

Bloom began her musical education playing the piano, then drums and tenor sax, but finally found her "sweet spot" with the soprano sax. She plays what only can be identified as "classical" jazz; her tone and technique are pure — what one would expect to hear in a symphony orchestra — but her "feel" is true, beautiful jazz.

Her expression of that genre begins with creation: She composes the vast majority of what she plays. She's world famous and has won more awards than any musician I'm aware of.

In Wingwalker, her 14th album as a leader, she features a quartet: bassist Mark Helias, drummer Bobby Previte and pianist Dawn Clement. All are excelent artists.

Only one of these 12 tracks is a standard — "I Could Have Danced All Night" — which Bloom performs totally unaccompanied: not a sound to hide behind, or mask any fluffs. Her tone is simply gorgeous.

Her own compositions (and their titles) reflect her mindset, interests and thoughts. She's an obvious fan of space and sports, and is an avid reader. Most of the tunes are balladic in nature, and it’s evident that every note is written for each member of her group; very little is extemporaneous. The result swings, and it's definitely jazz.

The rhythm section is exceptional, and I’m particularly impressed by Clement’s keyboard work.

Grace Kelly and Phil Woods: Man with the Hat

Pazz Productions LLC
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Man with the Hat

You aren’t a jazz fan if Phil Woods' name is unfamiliar. At the opposite end of the age spectrum, Grace Kelly is more than 60 years his junior. Both play alto sax, and Kelly performed on stage with Woods when she was just 12 years old!

The two met while Kelly was attending the Stanford Jazz Residency Program in California, where Woods was an instructor. Several months later, at a concert in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, he invited her on stage. After their performance, he was impressed enough to "knight" her with the iconic leather cap he always wears.

Even that wasn’t really the beginning. Kelly took piano lessons when she was 6, then clarinet and saxophone classes in the fourth grade. Stan Getz and Charlie Parker were initial catalysts. An instructor was impressed enough to arrange for her first recording at the age of 12; this album is her fifth. During that period, she has performed at more than 500 concerts, and currently is a student under a full scholarship at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music. It’s difficult to find a name musician she hasn't performed with.

This album also features three additional primo artists: pianist Monty Alexander, bassist Evan Gregor and alternating percussionists Bill Goodwin and Jordan Perlson. Two of the tunes are composed by Kelly, and one by Woods; the rest are jazz standards done by Billy Strayhorn ("Ballad for Very Tired and Very Sad Lotus Eaters"), Cole Porter ("Every Time We Say Goodbye"), Jerome Kern ("The Way You Look Tonight") and Benny Carter ("People Time").

Everybody is excellent, and Kelly is outstanding. She’s more than a prodigy; she's an "original" and, most important, she swings. Her intonation is a bit weak at times, but more experience will take care of that.

This young lady has "it" ... and her path ahead should be clear.

Todd DelGiudice: Pencil Sketches

OA2 Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Pencil Sketches

Back when jazz was in its prime, most artists were lucky if they finished high school before entering the profession. If college even entered their scene, it was after dues had been paid on the road and, if talented enough, they had become a star with a big band.

The opposite often is the case with today's musicians; they earn multiple degrees in universities that usually offer both jazz- and classical-oriented courses, and then become teachers as well as players.

Todd DelGiudice is such an individual: He earned two degrees from the University of Miami, then a master's degree at the University of Oregon. he currently teaches at the University of Eastern Washington. He plays reed instruments with both classical and jazz organizations. And, oh yes, he also composes and arranges music for both genres.

Pencil Sketches, DelGiudice’s debut album, features his quartet: John Hansen on piano and Fender Rhodes, Jon Hamar on bass, and Byron Vannoy on drums. DelGiudice demonstrates his skills on alto and tenor sax, as well as basic and alto clarinets. Further, through the use of overdubbing, some tracks include simultaneous performances on several of these instruments.

All but one of the tunes are DelGiudice’s compositions; the exception is a re-harmonization of the standard "All The Things You Are."

The result is tasteful, classically tinged jazz that swings delightfully.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lee Shaw Trio: Art Gallery Reutlingen

Artists Recording Collective
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Art Gallery Reutlingen

Pianist Lee Shaw turns 86 this year; she still plays, tours and records ... and she's better than ever. This lady grew up with — and played for — icons such as Dinah Washington, Anita O’day and Sarah Vaughn. Shaw has been active with her trio for more than 40 years, and she still blows you away.

This album was recorded at Art Gallery Reutlingen, Germany, during a tour in 2009. As usual, Shaw was joined by drummer Jeff Siegel and bassist Rich Syracuse, along with a couple of excellent European sax players, who split duties on this session: Johannes Enders (tenor) and Michael Lutzeir (baritone).

The tracks include four beautiful standards — "Falling in Love Again," "Body and Soul," "It’s Alright with Me" and "Stella by Starlight" — along with tunes by Ornette Coleman ("Turnaround"), Leonard Bernstein ("Lonely Town"), Enders ("Music 4 Food") and Shaw ("Tears").

The quality of the music is exceptional. Lutzeir’s baritone is second to none; his balladic tours are gorgeous, and his up-temp romps really move. Enders' tenor is the equal: beautiful tonally, and very imaginative. The rhythm section keeps things moving tastefully.

And, finally, Shaw’s piano is simply amazing; her style is ageless, both in the background passages and her solos. She's a true wonder.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Jake Fryer/Bud Shank Quintet: In Good Company

Capri Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: In Good Company

Jake Fryer is probably unknown to casual listeners in the States, because he’s a British jazz musician; on the other hand, Bud Shank is a legacy. Both are premier artists on the alto sax, and both are boppers.

During the 1940s, Shank played with both Charlie Barnett and Stan Kenton. Throughout the '50s, Shank was one of the many artists who worked regularly at The Lighthouse, a famous jazz club in Hermosa Beach, California; I lived in that area, and missed very few opportunities to hear him play.

During the last 30 years of his life, Shank led — and worked primarily with — combos; he also added a flute to his instruments and became a staple with studio orchestras along the West Coast.

And although they were oceans apart, Shank was one of the alto sax players who had a major influence on Fryer.

Shank’s discography is huge; it’s difficult to find an artist or band that he didn’t record with. Sadly, this is his final album; he died of pulmonary disease the day after it was recorded. In fact, he was using oxygen periodically during the recording; although that is evident at times, his performance still is exceptional.

The quintet’s excellent rhythm section — pianist Mike Wofford, bassist Bob Magnusson and drummer Joe La Barbera — was one Shank used regularly, and they do a masterful job throughout the session. Fryer not only held his own with Shank, but also composed seven of these nine tracks. Because of Shank’s ill health, there were neither rehearsals nor retakes. The result is comparable to attending a live jam session, and the guys really wailed!

This is a fantastic album.

Zack and Adam O'Farrill: Giant Peach

Zoho Music
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Giant Peach

I've always been intrigued by siblings who make jazz their common careers. My first exposure to this situation was with trumpeters Pete and Conti Candoli, who played with Woody Herman; other examples include Cannonball and Nat Adderley; Jimmy, Percy and Albert Heath; and Art and Addison Farmer.

This album features Zack and Adam O’Farrill, who are carrying on the tradition established by their father, Auturo, and grandfather, Chico, both of whom have fronted famous Latin Jazz big bands.

This quintet, led by Adam on trumpet and Zack on drums, also features tenor saxman Livio Almeida, pianist Zaccai Curtis and bassist Michael Sachs. All but one of the eight tracks here were written by members of the group; the sole exception ("Stablemates") is a Benny Golson composition. The result is a swinging blend of Latin-styled backgrounds and traditional jazz phrasing, particularly in the solo work.

This is a truly young band; the members are in their 20s, and the group has existed for fewer than three years. Adam was only 16 when he composed his first tune. Needless to say, with both a father and grandfather still active and heading bands, the boys had opportunities to play professionally while still in school ... and youth always is accompanied by enthusiasm.

These young men are having a great time, and it shows.

Bill O'Connell: Rhapsody in Blue

Challenge Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Rhapsody in Blue

Those not familiar with pianist Bill O’Connell probably aren't Latin Jazz fans. That said, O'Connell has worked with traditional and hard-bop artists such as Chet Baker and Sonny Rollins. O'Connell is fluent in every genre, although you'll detect a definite Latin tinge to everything he plays.

O'Connell is a native New Yorker, and he studied at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

He wrote seven of these 10 tracks; the rest are the familiar standards "It Never Entered My Mind," "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Rhapsody In Blue" ... and you seldom hear a swinging rendition of the latter. Seven very talented musicians split the duties here: Steve Slagle performs on both alto and soprano sax; Luques Curtis and David Finck are the bassists; Dave Samuels plays vibes; Steve Berrios is the drummer; Conrad Herwig handles the trombone; and Richie Flores is the percussionist.

The amalgamation of jazz genres is cleverly done. "Monk’s Cha Cha" puts a Latin groove on a meld of Monk’s "Mysterioso" and "Well, You Needn’t"; the same is true for "Bye Bye Blackbird" — always one of my favorites — and Gershwin’s "Rhapsody in Blue" ... which I actually enjoyed more than the original!

This is a swinging group, and it deserves our attention.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Jazzvox: In Your Own Backyard

OA2 Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: In Your Own Backyard

As the commercial venues for lesser-known jazz artists have decreased in numbers during recent years, “house concerts,” sponsored by serious fans of the genre, offer an alternative opportunity to support — and expose — these beginners to waiting audiences. Jazzvox is the Seattle area’s version of this trend.

In Your Own Backyard pays homage to vocalists who will be new to you, unless you live in the same area where they reside and work. As is usual for house concerts, the accompaniment for a featured artist often is limited to a single instrument, usually a piano, guitar or accordion. Alternatively, a vocalist sometimes plays an instrument while singing.

Of the nine artists featured here, three also are instrumentalists. John Proulx is his own pianist, Hanna Richardson plays guitar, and Kristin Korb is a virtuoso on the acoustic bass. Korb deserves special mention; she's outstanding on the instrument at any tempo ... which isn't surprising, considering that Ray Brown was one of her teachers.

All involved with this album are quite talented in specific ways. Kathleen Grace is a better pop vocalist than most who came up via the big band route; Kelly Johnson is a true jazz singer, whose version of "Blue Monk" is the best I’ve heard; aside from his other gifts, Proulx is a Grammy Award-winning composer; Jo Lawry has toured with Sting; and swinging Stephanie Nakasian has worked with Jon Hendricks.

This is a wonderfully talented — and promising — group of artists.

The Texas Christian University Jazz Ensemble: Limelight

Sea Breeze Vista
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Limelight

The Texas Christian University Jazz Ensemble is not only one of the better college bands in the United States, it’s also one of the most prolific. This group has produced 19 albums during the past 34 years, while touring throughout the world and receiving numerous awards. Curt Wilson has directed the group during this entire period.

Two years have passed since TCU’s previous release, but Wilson has made up for it: This double CD contains 27 tunes. Many tracks are arrangements by well-known big band craftsmen such as Gerry Mulligan, Frank Foster, Bob Florence and Bill Holman. The set list also includes a number of originals by alumnae, faculty members and Wilson.

The ensemble format is standard big band, with almost 30 members to call on: seven trumpets/flugelhorns; six trombones and one bass trombone; five reeds; and an eight-piece rhythm section, including two guitarists. Most of the players are from Texas (with two foreign students).

Many states were represented during earlier years, but, as jazz studies have become more available across the country, times have changed at TCU.

The ensemble’s performance is impeccable, particularly in the melodic and unison passages. The solo work, often a weak link in college groups, is significantly improved over prior releases.

Two elements, however, continue to be a problem with this group. First, it isn’t "loose" enough; the ensemble sounds like it’s being "led," and the members are paying too much attention to the conductor. Second, the audio is lacking, a problem that also marred previous releases. The performance sounds like it was done in a big hall with improper sound correction.

Be that as it may, TCU continues to graduate excellent students, and does a noteworthy job of producing and selling its product.

The David Liebman Trio: Lieb Plays the Blues a la Trane

Challenge Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Lieb Plays the Blues a la Trane

David Liebman is a jazz anachronism in many respects. Unlike most college-educated musicians, he graduated with a degree in history. Although his early jazz catalyst was John Coltrane, Liebman is fluent in many other musical genres, styles and artists; he actively honors all of them. His primary instruments are the soprano and tenor sax, and he's a master of both.

Liebman also is a prolific composer and arranger; he tours extensively and has a huge discography.

Although his concerts are generally theme- or artist-oriented, this album was a "spur of the moment" endeavor. Liebman and his trio — bassist Marius Beets and drummer Eric Ineke — were at a club in Belgium, playing Kurt Weill and Alec Wilder compositions, when they decided to play something different during one performance. The result was a new visit to the work of Liebman's initial idol, John Coltrane; the theme was an evening of blues played by, or associated with, him.

The result also was a full performance; the five tracks filled an entire hour!

"All Blues" is an incomparable classic, written by Miles Davis during the period when Coltrane was a member of his group. (If I were allowed to have only a single blues CD in my library, it would be Kind of Blue). "Up Against The Wall," "Mr. P.C." and "Village Blues" are Coltrane compositions, written at various periods during his career. Finally, "Take The Coltrane" was written by Duke Ellington as part of the Ellington/Coltrane album.

So, what we have is a quadruple-play: a Miles Davis interpretation of what Coltrane meant for him; Coltrane’s own definitions of the blues; Duke’s side of the story; and, finally, Liebman’s interpretation of Coltrane’s impact on his life.

Many jazz critics have noted that folks either love or hate Coltrane. That aside, his influence on jazz — and those who play it — was massive.

If you’re a fan, this is a must-have album.