Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dida Pelled: Dida

Red Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Dida

Mandatory military service is required of all 18-year-old Israeli citizens: men must serve for three years, women for two. Guitarist/vocalist Dida Pelled already had established herself as an in-demand musician in her homeland when she entered military service. Following that, Pelled relocated to the United States, received a full scholarship to Boston’s Berklee College of Music and a scholarship to New York City’s New School University, where she’s still studying. In very short order, she began to play with name musicians at well-known jazz venues in the Big Apple.

This album features Pelled as a guitarist and vocalist in a trio setting, supported by bassist Tal Ronen and drummer Gregory Hutchinson. They’re joined by two guest trumpeters: Roy Hargrove contributes to three tracks, and Fabio Morgera to two.

Pelled’s choice of tunes is excellent for a newcomer; more than half the tracks are familiar standards, which provide a meaningful comparison between her talents and those of other artists who visited these same songs. A couple of compositions by Wes Montgomery and Horace Silver — “Fried Pies” and “Calcutta Cutie,” respectively — also are included.

Bottom line: This young lady swings. Her guitar style combines the strumming technique of icons such as Charlie Byrd and Joe Pass, and the single-string finesse of Herb Ellis, Wes Montgomery and Larry Koonse. She is adept at both balladic and up-tempo material, and her fingering is crisp and clean.

As for her skill as a vocalist, she has a great jazz feel, and I love her relaxed tonal quality. Finally, her choice of supporting musicians indicates a clear awareness of the important role they play in the success of all jazz vocalists.

Pelled is a promising talent with a very bright future.

Scenes: Silent Photographer

Origin Arts
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Silent Photographer

Scenes is the nom de trio of guitarist John Stowell, bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer John Bishop. These individuals have played with literally dozens of name musicians during their busy careers and, together or individually, have been involved in hundreds of recording sessions.

Their common thread? They’re part of the flourishing Pacific Northwest jazz population. Bishop is the founder of Origin Arts and OA2 Records, and he began Seattle’s annual Ballard Jazz Festival. Johnson often works with pianist Jessica Williams, another resident in the Seattle area, and tours with pianist Hal Galper’s trio. Stowell teaches and tours extensively outside the States and is particularly well known in Japan.

All three are consummate artists, and they share another characteristic: Each is a first-call choice by vocalists who select backup musicians for their recording sessions. That speaks volumes about their ability to meld effectively, and not overwhelm the featured artist’s melodic lines.

Most of the tunes on this album are originals by members of the trio. The exceptions are Herbie Hancock’s “Chan’s Song,” John Coltrane’s “Resolution” and Wayne Shorter’s Black Eyes. No matter who the composer is, the result is beautiful, relaxed, easy-listening jazz. Tempos range from balladic to up-tempo swingers, and the interplay among the artists is wonderful; their time together is quite evident during both the ensemble melodic lines and solo passages.

You should seek out any of the many albums with which these three master artists have been involved ... starting with this one.

Benny Green: Source

JLP Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Source

Many factors determine the fame of individual musical artists, and talent is only one of them. If you’re born at the wrong time, and have to compete with those who already been identified as sensational, it’s easy to remain overlooked; such is the case for pianist Benny Green, who was born in New York in 1963 and grew up in Berkeley, California.

The piano icons ruling the roost at that time included Bud Powell and Oscar Peterson, and there just wasn’t enough spotlight left over for guys like Green to be noticed by the public. That wasn’t the case in the jazz world, however; Green’s discography shows how well regarded he was by fellow artists.

As a teen, Green was a member of bop vocalist Betty Carter’s group in 1976 and was featured at the Monterey Jazz festival in ’78. He was quite the innovator. Art Blakey hired him in the mid-’80s, and Green also had stints with Freddie Hubbard, Ray Brown and many, many other name artists. In fact, it’s hard to find someone Green hasn’t played or recorded with.

Green began to release his own albums in the late 1980s, and he continued throughout the ’90s. That said, Source is his first release in about a decade, although he has toured almost continuously.

The genesis for this album was a tour with Japanese guitarist Satoshi Inoue, who chose Green, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington (no relation) as his rhythm section. Following that gig, Green and the Washingtons played a number of dates before returning to the States; that, in turn, led to this album.

The title refers to artists who were inspirations to Green, and the menu includes tunes that those artists composed and/or regularly performed, such as Sonny Clark’s “Blue Minor” and Carl Perkins’ “Way ‘Cross Town.” Others came from Kenny Drew, Dizzy Gillespie, Donald Byrd, Benny Golson, Horace Silver and Bud Powell. My favorite is the Mel Torme ballad, “Born to be Blue,” which I haven’t heard since the singer’s passing; Green’s treatment of this song is beautiful.

Let’s hear more from this excellent artist!

Falkner Evans: The Point of the Moon

CAP Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: The Point of the Moon

No matter where they’re born, serious jazz musicians seem to wind up in New York City at some point during their careers; they simply must test themselves in that arena.

Falkner Evans was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Initially a Beatles fan, he became enamored with jazz after exposure to the likes of John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Evans began as a drummer, but switched to piano after hearing another Evans: the legendary Bill.

Falkner Evans played with jazz groups that worked around Tulsa. In the early 1980s, he joined Asleep At The Wheel, one of the better-known western swing bands. After four years of touring with that group, he moved to New York City in ’85 and has been working his way up the jazz ladder. He remains relatively unknown, but this album — his fourth release as a leader — shows enough promise to warrant encouragement.

Evans’ regular group is a trio, but he expanded it to a sextet for this release. His basic rhythm section — Belden Bullock on bass, Matt Wilson on drums — is joined by Greg Tardy (tenor sax), Ron Horton (trumpet) and Gary Versace, who plays organ or accordion on a couple of the tracks. All but one of the songs are Evans compositions; the exception is the standard “While We’re Young.”

This is a straight-ahead jazz unit — the type you’ll hear in clubs country-wide — but it’s smoother and much more interesting than most. The combo swings pleasantly, and the cadre has no weak links.

This group is quite promising; with proper management and more exposure, these guys are capable of achieving name status.