Friday, March 16, 2012

Jurgen Hagenlocher: Leap in the Dark

Intuition Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Leap in the Dark

Need proof that jazz has become an international art? This album should do it for you. It features German-born Jurgen Hagenlocher on tenor sax; trumpeter Alex Sipiagin and bassist Boris Kozlov, both born in Russia; and pianist David Kikoski and drummer Nate Smith, from the States. All entered the world within about a 10-year span covering the mid 1960s to ’70s, with early music experience oriented more toward rock than straight-ahead jazz. But as time passed, each gravitated toward the latter genre, and into more expressionistic styling.

It’s of interest to note that each worked with iconic American units while gaining experience. Sipiagin, Kozlov and Kikoski were members of the Mingus Big Band during the 1990s; Smith played with Betty Carter’s group, and Hagenlocher with Bob Mintzer. Additionally, they frequently worked and recorded with each other; that had much to do with developing the “sound-alike” feel evident in this album’s tracks.

Thus far, this group mostly tours and performs in Europe; March through May of 2012, for example, will cover Germany and Switzerland. That said, Leap in the Dark was recorded, mixed and mastered in New York in 2011. The tracks, composed and arranged by Hagenlocher, are modernist; the melodic lines are relatively complex, the tempos moderate. The solo work is excellent, and each player amply demonstrates his skills. The tunes are relatively lengthy, averaging about 9 minutes; that’s another characteristic of their style.

This isn’t a hard-swinging unit, but there’s no doubt that the result is jazz — as I often describe it — for your “thinking” pleasure.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Tom Warrington Trio: Nelson

Jazz Compass Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Nelson

In the world of jazz, the trio format has always been a keystone: Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa; Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian; units headed by Vince Guaraldi, Nat King Cole, Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, Art Tatum and countless others.

Here’s another top-drawer group, equal to the best of those listed above. This one is headed by bassist, composer and arranger Tom Warrington, and includes guitarist Larry Koonse and drummer Joe La Barbera.

Warrington, who has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 20 years, began his career with Buddy Rich’s Big Band and has played with many past and present jazz icons. Warrington is a first-call studio musician, a participant at jazz festivals worldwide, a faculty member at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a continuing presence with many of today’s artists.

If I were asked to name the best 10 guitarists working today, Koonse would occupy the top three slots. Taught by his famous guitarist father, Dave, Larry began his recording career at age 15, in a duet release with his dad. Larry was the first recipient of a bachelor of music degree from USC; after graduation, he toured for six years with John Dankworth’s group (which featured Cleo Laine). Koonse’s discography is extensive; since 1977 he has been part of more than 150 recordings. As for talent, his middle name is “tasty.”

La Barbera is the drumming member of his well-known family of musicians. He’s a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, and was a member of the famous Woody Herman Thundering Herd, along with combos fronted by Chuck Mangione, Bill Evans and numerous others.

Warrington, Koonse and La Barbera also are firmly associated with name vocalists. Warrington has worked with Peggy Lee; Koonse with Cleo Laine, Mel Torme, Linda Ronstadt, Natalie Cole and Karin Allyson; and La Barbera Tony Bennett. That’s significant; vocalists select musicians who will augment their performances.

Nelson is dedicated to a tiny cat that showed up one day and, after nine years, just disappeared. The album features original tunes by each member of the trio. Warrington contributed “Nelson,” “Buffalo Chips” and “Not If But When”; Koonse delivered “Shall We,” “Star Jasmine” and “Rachel & Sarah”; and La Barbera wrote “If Not for You” and “Sixth Sense.” The final tune, “Bolivia,” comes from Cedar Walton.

This is the best album I’ve reviewed in months; everything is thoughtful, pensive and, for lack of a better term beautiful. It’s a jazz listener’s delight.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Clipper Anderson: The Road Home

Origin Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: The Road Home

Clipper Anderson is another of the seemingly innumerable jazz artists who reside and work in the Pacific Northwest. Born and schooled in Montana, Anderson began to play the electric bass while in high school, then switched to the acoustic instrument during his tenure at the University of Montana. In addition to being part of the Seattle area’s extensive jazz cadre, he’s an active studio musician, teaches jazz bass at Pacific Lutheran University, and participates in numerous jazz festivals throughout the Northwest and Canada.

For a relative unknown, Anderson has been part of a significant number of recording sessions with very well-known artists, including Greta Matassa, Michael Brecker, Bob Mintzer, Bucky Pizzarelli, Benny Golson, Phil Woods and Buddy DeFranco.

This release features Anderson’s basic trio, which includes pianist Darin Clendenin and drummer Mark Ivester, along with guests Greta Matassa (vocals) and Jeff Busch (percussion). And, by the way, Anderson is a vocalist himself; witness Bill Evans’ “Only Child,” one of this album’s tracks.

The group’s style lives up to a Seattle reviewer’s description: “for the connoisseur to savor.” This is excellent, lightly swinging jazz: the kind that demands repeated listening.

The opening track, “Twelve Tone Tune Two” (another Bill Evans composition), is my favorite; the interplay between Anderson and Clendenin is marvelous. That’s also the case with the album’s title song, which Anderson composed. Equally expressive treatment is given to two standards: “Over and Over Again,” by Rogers and Hart; and “Poinciana by Simon and Bernier.” The rest of the menu consists of tunes composed by Anderson, or in conjunction with him; he’s an impressive writer.

Anderson is a “new to me” talent, although he has been around for more than three decades. That’s one of the problems with “territory” artists and groups: It’s easy to miss them. Well, consider me a fan now.

The Nick Moran Trio: No Time Like Now

Manor Sound Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: No Time Like Now

Nick Moran, a New York native, began to play the trumpet when he was 10; he switched to guitar several years later, after hearing artists such as George Benson, Jimmy Hall and Wes Montgomery. Moran’s early jazz training began in Germany, at Fachbereich Musik in Mainz, and continued at the City College of
New York. One of his key study groups, “Rhythm Sections,” covered a two-year period under the tutelage of bassist Ron Carter and pianist/arranger Mike Holober.

Moran works almost exclusively in the New York City area and currently is involved with two groups. This album features a trio comprised on Moran, organist Brad Whiteley and drummer Chris Benham. Moran composed all but one of the 10 tracks, and did all of the arrangements.

This is not a wildly swinging unit; it plays smooth jazz, which depends significantly on the Hammond B3 organ to carry the basic melodic line as a support for Moran’s excellent guitar work. The result is extremely pleasant music that will hold your attention, while not preventing conversation with others at your club table.