Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bill Cantrall and Axiom: Live at the Kitano

Upswing Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Live at the Kitano



It’s been awhile since a swinging trombonist has made a name for himself in the world of jazz, so let me introduce Bill Cantrall. 

Okay, he isn’t brand new, having served apprenticeships with the likes of Gil Evans, James Moody, Paquito D’Rivera and a number of other name artists since 2006, but Cantrall has released only two albums: 2007’s Axiom and this one, so it’s probably safe to say that he’s not well-known outside of the greater New York City area. 

Cantrall was born and raised in and around the Big Apple, but earned his initial college degree — music and electrical engineering — at Northwestern University. After working with musical groups in the Chicago area, he returned to Queens College to study for his master’s degree in trombone, composition and arranging. He formed Axiom in ’07; the unit varies from a trio to septet, depending on the size of the performance venues. For Live at the Kitano, the basic group is a quintet — trombone, sax, piano, bass and drums — although Cantrall added an alto sax and trumpet for the title track. 

As for style, we’re in the hard-bop genre. Cantrall composed all but one of these tracks; the exception is “After You,” a seldom-heard Cole Porter tune written for the 1932 stage play The Gay Divorce (later turned into the Astaire/Rogers big-screen musical The Gay Divorcee). 

This is a young band, age-wise, and none of these artists can be considered familiar, but that doesn’t mean they don’t swing. Many albums that have been recorded live don’t necessarily feel that way, but this production truly gives the listener the impression of being part of the audience. Introductions of the musicians are included, and the club’s ambiance is evident. The Kitano’s acoustics, together with the excellent recording and mixing work, make for a very enjoyable listening experience.

The set is “happy,” with only one tune, “Shaniece,” a ballad; the rest are mid- to up-tempo swingers. No time limitations were placed on the artists; each track runs at least 10 minutes, while “Axiom” lingers for almost 25 minutes. That allows each musician to really stretch out and develop the solo passages. That could be a disadvantage, in lesser hands, but not to worry: These guys truly are that good. 

The Duke Ellington Legacy: Single Petal of a Rose

Renma Recordings
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Single Petal of a Rose



Duke Ellington was the man in the1920s and ’30s. He grew in stature during the big band years, and still is considered to be the most important figure in the world of jazz. No surprise, then, that we’ve had (and still have) numerous tribute groups that use Duke’s compositions as the focal point for their music library. The Duke Ellington Legacy is one such unit.

This group, a nonet, boasts some special attributes. Ellington’s grandson, Edward Kennedy Ellington II, is the guitarist; Virginia Mayhew, whose specialty is developing tribute projects related to famous jazz icons, played a key roll in the creation of this band and is one of its two tenor sax artists; Houston Person, a living legend himself‚ is the other tenor player; and pianist Norman Simmons has accompanied jazz vocalists Carmen McRae, Anita O’Day, Joe Williams and Betty Carter. These artists are supported by vocalist Nancy Reed, trumpeter Jami Dauber, trombonist Noah Bless, bassist Tom DiCarlo and percussionists Paul Wells and Sheila Early, who split duties.

Most of the tunes here are Ellington or Billy Strayhorn compositions; the exceptions are “Home Grown,” by Simmons, and “After Hours,” by Erskine Hawkins. 

Although several of the other tracks are quite familiar — “In My Solitude,” In a Mellow Tone,” “Lush Life” and “Squeeze Me” — the lesser-known compositions highlight this release. “Happy Go Lucky Local” (which later became “Night Train”), “Johnny Come Lately,” “Blood Count,” “Love You Madly” and “Lotus Blossom” weren’t big hits with the general public, but their innovative musical quality is outstanding. And, as far as I’m concerned, “Single Petal of a Rose” remains one of the most gorgeous ballads ever written. The absence of lyrics may explain why it didn’t receive the attention it deserved.

Every member of this group obviously loves Ellington’s music; it shows in the stellar arrangements from Simmons and Mayhew, along with their interpretations of each melody. The result is Ellington “modernized‚” but his unique touch is retained. This is traditional jazz at its finest, with unforgettable melodic lines and solo work of the highest quality. 

As for vocalist Nancy Reed, Duke would have loved her.

I’ve never heard a better interpretation of Ellington’s music than that provided by this wonderful array of artists.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Holiday Jazz 2012: Swing Ye Noel!


By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 12.11.12

[Web master’s note: Northern California film critic Derrick Bang — still the eldest, youngest and only son of this site’s jazz guru, Ric Bang — has surveyed the holiday jazz scene for roughly 17 years, with lengthy columns that just keep growing. Check out previous columns by clicking on the CHRISTMAS label below.]

It’s getting harder to find this stuff.

Time was, I’d start haunting the holiday section at music stores shortly before Thanksgiving; the better brick-and-mortar outlets would be laden, with some even giving holiday jazz its own sub-category. Berkeley’s marvelous Amoeba Music continues that practice to this day, and therefore remains an essential part of my annual December rituals.

Closer to home, alas, the options aren’t nearly as diverse. Or rewarding.

Which brings us to the ever-more-ubiquitous online alternative. Although Amazon’s search engines continue to improve, one still can’t get reliable results from the phrases “Christmas jazz,” “holiday jazz” or similar choices. CDBaby is a bit better, although I still wade through a lot of non-jazz while hunting for the good stuff. Sadly, EJazzlines.com, once a great source for hard-to-find holiday jazz, no longer sells CDs.

On the other hand, being able to hear samples — at both Amazon and CDBaby — is a treasure.

Take comfort, then, from the fact that I’ve done the legwork and returned with tidings of jazzy comfort and joy. Patience may have been required, but it turned out to be a good year. Nog those eggs, don a Santa hat and prepare to swing!

***************

The season’s prize is a 2011 release that arrived too late for last year’s column: the Marcus Roberts Trio’s Celebrating Christmas (J-Master Records). This is what jazz is all about: a tightly arranged melodic dance between Roberts, on piano; Rodney Jordan, bass; and Jason Marsalis, drums.

I’m hard-pressed to cite a favorite track, although this group’s inventive approach to “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is first among equals: The tune, often redundant as an instrumental, is delivered here in 12 different styles, and with each day represented by one of the 12 major keys. That’s simply brilliant.

The trio’s handling of “Little Drummer Boy” is equally clever, with Marsalis establishing a peppy march beat that Roberts initially refuses to follow, choosing instead to play “behind” the beat at a much slower tempo. Roberts gradually picks up speed as the song continues, until finally all three musicians are in synch.

Jordan’s walking bass is the highlight of a velvet-smooth “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and he also dominates a short but deliciously whimsical cover of “Frosty, the Snowman.” “Let It Snow” has a south-of-the-border ambiance, with some great keyboard wandering and another nice bass solo.

“Winter Wonderland” blends striking percussion with Roberts’ New Orleans grease; “Jingle Bells” has a similar bouncy, New Orleans-style strut, with some more fabulous bass and drums action. This cut features one of Roberts’ many signatures: He fails to complete the line as the song concludes, leaving us a few chords shy.

“Silent Night” is delivered at a slow 6/4, with an achingly sweet call-and-response between piano and bass; later in the song, Roberts delivers similar counterpoint between his left and right hands. Sheer genius.

Three tracks are solo piano: “We Three Kings,” “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Joy to the World.” Each is slow, deliberate and lyrical: a bit extemporaneous, with a touch of ragtime on “Joy to the World.” Stylistically, these evoke memories of Roberts’ earlier Christmas release, 1991’s “Prayer for Peace,” a solo keyboard album that was far more solemn.

“Celebrating Christmas,” in great contrast, is lively, vibrant and fun: an album that demands close attention because it’s so creative and joyous.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Ryan Truesdell: Centennial

ArtistShare
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Centennial



This album brings back a lot of memories. Gil Evans was one of the finest composers/arrangers in the years leading up to, during and beyond the big band era; Claude Thornhill, with whom Evans worked for many years, led one of finest of those bands.

Composer/arranger/copyist/
producer Ryan Truesdell has spent much of his life studying and researching notable jazz artists such as Evans; Centennial is his most recent project.

I lived through the decades when Evans and Thornhill reigned supreme, so this album has a special meaning to me. But it’s even more special, because the Evans tunes here never were published or recorded previously: Everything old is new again. The detailed liner notes discuss the songs superbly, so I won’t be repetitious; suffice it say that Truesdell has uncovered a musical treasure trove, and also has assembled an orchestra that does full justice to this discovery.

Since Evans wrote most of the “book” for Thornhill’s band, some background is warranted. Thornhill’s ensemble was different than the other bands of that era. As one of his ex-musicians put it, “he wasn’t a swing band, he had an orchestra.” Thornhill’s instrumentation included French horns, tuba and a clarinet “choir,” and he wanted his musicians to play “without vibrato.” The result was a smooth, at times “pretty” tonal quality. 

Evans was partly responsible for that; he specified such instrumentation additions. But swing entered the scene in later versions of the orchestra, which utilized bebop disciples such as Red Rodney, Lee Konitz and Gerry Mulligan.

Another factoid: Evans was a huge fan of Miles Davis. It’s not widely known, but Evans did the arrangements for four of Davis’ best known albums: Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, Sketches of Spain and Quiet Nights. That alliance is evident in everything Evans wrote.

Centennial’s discoveries include 10 gems that represent Evans’ best, and clearly demonstrate that he was in a class of his own.

As for Truesdell’s orchestra, it’s huge and magnificent. The woodwind section consists of 13 artists, including oboes, bassoons, flutes, clarinets, English horns and piccolos; the brass section numbers 10 and includes trumpets, trombones, French horns and a tuba; the nine-man rhythm section features piano, bass, drums, two guitars, timpani, vibraphone, tenor violin and tabla. Finally, three vocalists split duties on the tracks with lyrics.

This is a stupendous album that deserves a “best of the year” award. When you listen, you’re in the company of geniuses.

The Virginia Mayhew Quartet: Mary Lou Williams — The Next 100 Years

Renma Recordings
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Mary Lou Williams — The Next 100 Years



Unless you’re a bona fide senior citizen or jazz historian, you may not be familiar with Mary Lou Williams, and that’s a shame. She was born in 1910 and died in ’81, so many potential fans never had an opportunity to hear her in person. Further, during the period that encompassed the 1960s until her death, the genre emphasis was on the big bands and bop and, but Williams preferred to play straight-ahead jazz with combos. 

As a result, her recording endeavors were limited; so is her discography.

All that said, the important indication of her quality comes from the impact she had with jazz icons. She was playing with Duke Ellington when she was just 15; at 19, she was asked to join Andy Kirk’s famous Clouds of Joy band; she later rejoined Ellington’s Orchestra and then had a gig at the famous CafĂ© Society. Throughout this period, she was writing arrangements for Earl Hines, Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey, and was mentoring the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Tadd Dameron and Hank Jones. They knew how great she was!

Williams’ career flourished through the 1970s, and she performed at numerous concerts and festivals. She was a guess artist at the White House and participated at Benny Goodman’s Carnegie Hall Concert, both in 1978.

Saxophonist/composer/arranger and historian Virginia Mayhew is a huge Williams fan. Mayhew has been active in the New York City jazz scene since 1987, and has worked with many renowned artists, including some who were part of Williams’ tenure. This tribute album, one of Mayhew’s projects, concentrates on Williams’ prowess as a composer; during her career, she produced more than 100 compositions, and well over that number of arrangements for name bands.  Ten of her best are featured here.

You’ll immediately notice how “modern” everything sounds, which is further proof of how far ahead of her time Williams was. Nothing sound dated. Admittedly, Mayhew’s re-arrangement skill has much to do with this. Additionally, the excellent artists involved also deserve credit: Guitarist Ed Cherry, bassist Harvie S, drummer Andy Watson and guest trombonist Wycliffe Gordon joined Mayhew, who plays a lotta tenor sax. 

The result: a joyful, swinging group that plays the heck out of just a few of Williams’ charts. She would have loved it!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Holiday Jazz: How it all began

By Derrick Bang

[Web master’s note: Northern California film critic Derrick Bang — the eldest, youngest and only son of this site’s jazz guru, Ric Bang — began writing about the annual holiday jazz scene in 1997. His interest in the sub-genre began many years earlier, however, as the following essay explains. Quick links to these annual columns — archived within this blog — can be obtained by clicking on CHRISTMAS in the list of labels at the bottom of this post.]

It started reasonably enough.

Back in the Stone Age of the 1970s, years before our local National Public Radio outlet (KXPR) begat a sister station (KXJZ), the former catered primarily to local classical music enthusiasts. Jazz fans were restricted to the late evening hours, when most sensible people would be getting ready for bed. (I could argue that jazz fans rarely are sensible people, but that’s another discussion.)

Aside from the occasional one or two tunes that might pop up in the middle of otherwise conventional sets, jazz covers of familiar Christmas songs were restricted to a two-hour, 10 p.m. to midnight timeslot on Christmas Eve, appropriately dubbed Jingle Bell Jazz.

I lived for those two hours.

Although I grew up enjoying the holidays, and particularly its melodies, there was something faintly ... well ... corny about most Christmas music being played in the ’70s. It was the stuff of Muzak and easy-listening schlock, with gag-me choruses and more damn strings than you’d find in most symphony orchestras. Much like some aspects of the holiday itself, most Christmas music had become gaudy, overly commercialized, lowest-common-denominator pap.

Christmas jazz, though ... now that had an edge: some genuine bite and enough musicality that you’d stop and really listen to the stuff, instead of tuning it out the way you’d desperately ignore the junk you heard in department store elevators.

No seasonal trauma is too great that it can’t be alleviated by a warm fire, a warmer companion and a soulful interpretation of “Silent Night” or “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by the likes of Oscar Peterson or Dave Brubeck.

And for an all-too-short 120 minutes every Dec. 24th, host Gary Vercelli played a tasty and delectable selection of hip holiday tunes, drawing from a woefully limited supply. Options were few back then: CDs weren’t even a dream on the horizon, let alone iTunes and other Internet downloading sources. LPs still ruled the roost, and many of those had gone out of print. That’s what made radio both good and bad: Avid listeners often heard things they didn’t own, but at the same time might have little chance of purchasing, short of a lucky find in a used-record store.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Curtis Fuller: Down Home

Capri Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Down Home



Once upon a time, when a favorite artist passed away, all fans had to fall back on were the recordings made during that individual’s career. That was a real loss when the medium was vinyl discs, because they wore out and we were left with nothing. CDs changed that, because they last a lifetime. 

Better still is when the artists have a long life and keep producing their music. Such is the case with trombonist Chris Fuller; he’s still active and swinging at age 78. So, we have access both to the great stuff he has done in the past, and the great stuff he still does today.

Fuller, born in Detroit, began to play the baritone horn in high school; he switched to trombone when he was 16. The local jazz scene at the time included Thad Jones, Donald Byrd, Kenny Burrell, Pepper Adams, Paul Chamber and many others who went on to become name artists. In 1953, Fuller served a two-year stint in the Army; after his release, he joined Yusef Lateef’s Quintet. That group visited New York City while on tour, and Fuller took full advantage. During his first eight months in the Big Apple, he released six albums as a leader and participated in 15 others: pretty impressive for a newcomer! 

Lest you have any lingering doubts about where Fuller stands with his fellow musicians, during his career he has worked with groups led by Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Golson, Miles Davis, Art Farmer, Art Blakey, Wayne Shorter and many others. 

Down Home features Fuller’s sextet: Keith Oxman on tenor sax, Al Hood on trumpet and flugelhorn, Chip Stephens on piano, Ken Walker on bass, and Todd Reid on drums. This is straight-ahead jazz at its best; all but one of the tunes (“Then I’ll Be Tired of You”) are original charts by Fuller, Stephens and Oxman. Fuller, still capable of swinging with the best, solos on seven of these 10 tracks; he still showcases his unique tone and innovative lines. 

Thanks, Curtis, for still being around!

Joe Alterman: Give Me the Simple Life

Miles High Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Give Me the Simple Life



Joe Alterman, born in 1988, is a pianist whose style is a throwback to the 1950s. He was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, but moved to New York City in ’07, to study music. He graduated from New York University just this year, and now is working on a master’s degree. 

Considering his youth, and the limited time he’s had to impress his fellow musicians, Alterman already has made a considerable impact. He has gained attention from icons such as Marian McPartland, Bill Charlap and Houston Person, and has performed at famous jazz venues in the United States and Europe. Person was impressed sufficiently to participate in this album.

You’ll notice immediately that Alterman is both a talented pianist and a “happy” one; the joy in his playing is quite evident. It’s also clear that he loves the music that has been a mainstay of jazz for decades: the standards that were key to many of us for the second half of the 20th century. 

Most of the tunes included in this set fall into that category; they include “Georgia on my Mind,” “Give Me the Simple Life” and “Pure Imagination.” Although some of these tunes originally were done as ballads, they’re presented here at swinging tempos that will get your feet and fingers moving ... and make you want to dance. Two charts — “The First Night Home” and “Biscuits” — demonstrate Alterman’s talents as a composer.

His quartet features the aforementioned Person on tenor sax, James Cammack on bass, and Herlin Riley on drums. Person, at almost 80, remains a master of his instrument; he still possess that smooth-as-silk tone for which he’s so deservedly famous. 

This is a neat, swinging group, and Alterman shows a lot of promise.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The AHA! Quintet: Freespace

Jazz Compass
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Freespace



When one thinks about jazz locales, New York City, Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Seattle generally come to mind; they’re the key areas where the art form has developed, and each has produced a distinct style. That said, jazz musicians have come from every part of the country (and, lately, every part of the world). 

The core members of the AHA! Quintet — pianist Steve Allee, bassist Jeremy Allen and drummer Steve Houghton — have the state of Indiana in common: Allee is an Indianapolis native, while Allen and Houghton are faculty members at Indiana University. For this album, that trio added a couple of stellar artists: Clay Jenkins, on trumpet; and Bob Sheppard, who plays most of the reed instruments. All these gentlemen have performed and recorded with various jazz greats: Freddie Hubbard, Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Chick Corea, Count Basie and many others.

Allee composed and arranged all but one of this album’s tunes; the exception is the beautiful old standard, “Never Never Land,” delivered by his trio. The larger quintet’s musical style is tightly arranged jazz, more like that of the so-called West Coast sound, than the “looser” East Coast genre. The ensemble work for the melodic lines is relatively complex — obviously written, as opposed to “head” arrangements — and everything is rehearsed to perfection. Each musician gets plenty of solo space, and the performances are exceptional. It all meshes and swings wonderfully.

This is a great group, and it delivers imaginative stuff.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Peter Appleyard: Sophisticated Ladies

Linus Entertainment
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Sophisticated Ladies



Only Canadians are likely to be familiar with most of the artists featured on this album, although everybody should know Peter Appleyard. He’s a world-famous jazz icon: an 84-year-old vibraphonist who still performs in clubs, concerts and on tours.

Appleyard, born in a small English town, became a professional musician as a drummer during World War II. He switched to vibraphone after seeing Lionel Hampton perform with George Shearing at New York’s Bop City; the rest is history. Appleyard emigrated to Toronto in 1950, where he settled and made his musical name. He worked with famous Canadian pianist Calvin Jackson, was a member of the posh Park Plaza Hotel house band for several years, became a standard on CBC Radio and toured extensively throughout North America with his own groups.

During the big band years, many great American jazz artists toured throughout Canada; Appleyard — who was as famous there as stars like Ellington, Basie and Goodman were in the States — got to know and perform with them. Lightning struck in 1972, when a casual conversation with Benny Goodman, backstage in Toronto, led to a job with his sextet. Appleyard toured with that group during the early ’70s and worked periodically with them throughout the rest of the decade. Concerts with Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and other stars followed, and still continue.

Sophisticated Ladies is one of two albums Appleyard has released this year. His quintet — vibes, guitar, piano, bass and drums — provides support for 10 jazz vocalists: all well-known Canadians. The set comprises standards that were associated with the big band years, and (of course!) remain popular today. You’ll recognize and enjoy every one of them: from “After You’ve Gone” and “Georgia on My Mind” to Satin Doll” and “Mood Indigo,” with plenty of stops in between. The melodies and lyrics are still wonderful.

The format opens with a short instrumental intro, followed by a vocal chorus, then a reprise featuring choruses by Appleyard and various sidemen. Clearly, Canada doesn’t lack for swinging jazz vocalists and musicians. This release was a great idea. 

You can’t help marveling at Appleyard’s talent; he’s as good today as he was 60 years ago.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Bobby Broom: Upper West Side Story

Origin Arts
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Upper West Side Story


Guitarist Bobby Broom is a relatively late-comer to the jazz genre that began in the early 1940s and flourished through the next four decades. He wasn’t born until the early ’60s, but that was early enough for him to play with many of the giants who reigned during that period. While still in high school, he performed with pianist Al Haig, tenor sax icon Sonny Rollins and trumpeter Donald Byrd. 

Later in his career, Broom gigged with Max Roach, Art Blakey, Ramsey Lewis, Ron Carter and others. These experiences not only had a significant effect on his style as a musician, but influenced him to become an educator.

His schooling was extensive; in New York City he attended the High School of Music, the Berklee School of Music and Long Island University. As an educator, he has taught/lectured at a dozen prestigious colleges and universities nationwide.

Broom’s relationship with Sonny Rollins — who remains active at age 82 — occupied two periods; they played and recorded together in the early 1980s, then again in the mid-2000s. Broom was a sideman with at least a dozen groups from the ’80s onward, and has released an equal number of albums as a leader. He fronts both a guitar/bass/drums trio and the Deep Blue Organ Trio. 

While his early years were spent in New York, he relocated to Chicago in the 1980s; he now works and tours out of that location. This album relates to the Big Apple area where he spent much of his childhood. All the compositions are by Broom; he’s accompanied by bassist Dennis Carroll and drummers Kobie Watkins and Makaya McCraven, who split duties on the nine tracks.

Broom is a blues/bop/funk/soul-oriented guitarist, whose middle-name is “swing”; he’s a master of his instrument. Other guitarists, and lovers of that instrument, will thoroughly enjoy this album, but there’s a caveat: All the melodic lines and solos are done by Broom. There’s no piano, or other horn, to give variation. The average jazz fan may prefer to use the “shuttle-play” mode with some other albums in the mix; close to an hour of nothing but guitar might be a little too much for some.

But for the rest of us ... sit back and luxuriate in the sound that is Bobby Broom.

Eddie Gomez: Per Sempre

BFM Jazz
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Per Sempre



Bassist Eddie Gomez, born in Puerto Rico, emigrated to New York with his family at an early age. He began to play the double bass when he only 11, while a student in the New York City school system. Two years later, he was attending the NYC High School of Music, and he eventually graduated from Juilliard.

He quickly became a key element in the jazz world; it’s difficult to find a name artist he hasn’t played with. He’s best known for his association with Bill Evans; Gomez was a member of that trio for 11 years, and the group won two Grammy Awards during his tenure. 

Gomez has been playing and touring with his own groups for a number of years; he won another Grammy in 2010, for Best Instrumental Album (Duets). 

Per Sempre, although just released, was recorded during a tour in Italy in the winter of 2009, with a quintet. The combo members included Marco Pignataro on tenor and soprano sax, Matt Marvuglio on flute, Teo Ciavarella on piano, and Massimo Manzi on drums. The album set includes three compositions by Gomez, two by Pignataro, one each from the flautist and pianist, and the beautiful old standard “Stella by Starlight.” 

This is “classical” jazz; it won’t get your feet tapping or fingers snapping, but it will satisfy your soul. Gomez was one of the first bassists to demonstrate that the instrument could produce complex musical lines that were equal to those of reed and brass horns, and solos that were just as dazzling. He and his compatriots here present some of the most beautiful stuff I’ve heard in a long time. 

Matt Garrison: Blood Songs

D Clef Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Blood Songs



Matt Garrison is proof that one need not be born into a musically oriented family, in order to become a successful jazz artist. Neither parent is a musician; Dad was a draftsman and CADAM designer, and Mom was a quilter and crafts maker. Regardless, young Matt developed an interest in the saxophone and, early on, demonstrated a desire to rearrange the music used by his high school concert band, and compose his own melodies. 

Garrison earned both an undergraduate and master’s degree at the Purchase Conservatory of Music, in Westchester, New York. Garrison is fluent with three of the reed instruments; he plays tenor, soprano and baritone sax on this release. 

The album title, Blood Songs (his second release for DCleff Records), is a musical tribute to his parents. Six of the songs are Garrison originals; one (“The More I See You”) is his arrangement of that standard; and two others are composed by trombonist Michael Dease (“Force”) and trumpeter Greg Gisbert (“Modern Man”). 

Garrison’s core group is a quartet, with pianist Roy Assaf, bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. This release also features five guest artists: the aforementioned Dease and Gisbert who appear on all the tracks, plus tenor sax artist Eric Alexander and guitarists Dave Kain and Andrew Swift, who contribute one track each.

No matter the specific cadre utilized, the result is a happy, swinging set; all the tunes are done at mid- to up-tempos except for the single standard, which retains its original balladic format. The arrangements are not complex, yet every horn plays a role in the unison passages, and the solo work is excellent.
 
I liked the album the first time I played it, and loved it during repeat playbacks.  Garrison is a true talent, both on horn and as a composer/arranger. He and this group have a bright jazz future.