Friday, May 13, 2011

Chad McCullough and Bram Weijters: Imaginary Sketches

Origin Arts
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Imaginary Sketches

Trumpeter/composer Chad McCullough is another multiple-degreed college grad who is part of the Seattle jazz scene. Pianist Bram Weijters was born and schooled in Belgium, which remains his primary residence. They’re joined here by two other Seattle artists: bassist Chuck Deardorf and drummer John Bishop. They’re an impressive quartet.

All the tracks are original compositions: five by Weijters, two by McCullough and one by singer/songwriter Ron Hynes, who resides and works with folk groups in Newfoundland. The style is “calm” progressive jazz, almost classical at times; it’s all instrumental (no vocalists), but the harmonics and phrasing are such that one can imagine lyrics being part of the original package. All but two tracks are done at balladic tempos; “tone poems” would be an accurate descriptor. The exceptions are “Speeding” and “Free As Poetry,” both written by Weijters. They groove nicely; the former is almost a “burner,” while the latter borders on funk.

McCullough and Weijters are masters of their instruments, and Deardorf’s bass is truly outstanding. In material this complex, a strong rhythm section is mandatory, and both Deardorf and Bishop hold it all together masterfully.

I’ve always regarded this kind of music as “thinking man’s jazz”: the kind of stuff you can listen to for hours.

This disc is another fine example of the high quality achieved by artists who inhabit the Pacific Northwest. The liner notes don’t indicate how McCullough and Weijters got together, but we can be grateful they did. Further, I hope some repeat sessions will be forthcoming.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Everybody Wants to Be a Cat: Disney Jazz Volume 1

Walt Disney Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Everybody Wants to Be a Cat

From his artistic beginnings in the early 1930s Walt Disney was a jazz fan. I’m old enough to remember the old black and white Steamboat Willie Mickey Mouse cartoon, with its "rinky-dink" jazz soundtrack. In fact, no matter which Disney film you consider, it contained at least one song or soundtrack gem that has lived through the ages. We left the theater whistling those tunes, and we never forgot them.

Jazz musicians, in return, have always been Disney fans. My first exposure to Dave Brubeck was at a concert, decades ago, when he performed "Some Day My Prince Will Come." Artists from every era performed the charts from his films: Bunny Berigan, Louis Armstrong, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Miles Davis and John Coltrane were all members of that club.

This album, produced by Jason Olain and engineered by Joe Feria, contains 13 tunes from Uncle Walt’s productions, each performed by one of today’s artists or groups. Trumpeter Roy Hargrove and his quintet get things off to a grooving start with the title track, which comes from The Aristocats; then bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding plays and scats her way through "Chim-Chim-Cher-ee," from Mary Poppins. The cherry that tops this musical sundae is Brubeck’s encore performance (at age 93!) of "Some Day My Prince Will Come," and he still takes your breath away.

One of the most endearing characteristics of Disney soundtracks was that almost every song came with equally clever and memorable lyrics; the exceptions generally were covers of classical melodies, such as those in Fantasia. As a result, many of the tracks in this release feature vocalists. Dianne Reaves (accompanied by Dave Brubeck) grooves on "He’s a Tramp," at a sultry blues tempo; Roberta Gambarini (with Brubeck’s Trio) mesmerizes us with "Alice in Wonderland"; and Nikki Yanofsky (15 at the time) reminds us that "It’s a Small World."

Delving into some lesser-known tunes, violinist Regina Carter gives us "Find Yourself"; guitar/pianist Kurt Rosenwinkel offers "Feed the Birds"; Joshua Redman blows his tenor — and blows us all away — doing "You’ve Got a Friend in Me"; guitarist Gilad Hekselman strums his way through "Belle"; Mark Rapp and his trumpet present "Circle of Life"; pianist Alfredo Rodriguez does "The Bare Necessities"; and last, but not least, The Bad Plus give us "Gaston."

And that just scratches the Disney surface. This album's liner notes promise that future albums are planned. We should be so lucky!