Saturday, July 14, 2012

Hiroe Sekine: After the Rainfall

By Ric Bang
Buy CD: After the Rainfall

Once in awhile, we encounter an artist who just has too much talent; Hiroe Sekine falls into that category. This Japanese-born young woman is a pianist, composer, arranger and vocalist — she sings in four languages — and she excels at each skill. 

Her first album a-me (which means “rain”), released in 2009, utilized a sextet featuring piano, sax, trumpet, trombone, bass and drums; half the tunes were her compositions, while the rest were jazz standards ... and everything swung marvelously.   

For this release, she retained Bob Shepard on sax and flute, and Peter Erskine on drums, added guitarist Larry Koonse, and utilized two bassists: Darek Oles on acoustic and Jimmy Johnson on electric. This instrumentation, and Shepard’s use of flute and the higher-register reed instruments, results in a “lighter” sound. In addition, while a-me contained only instrumentals, After the Rainfall includes some vocals; Sekine’s voice, heard on the title song (her own composition), Jobim’s “Inutil Paisagesm” and Toninho Horta’s “Aqui O,” is exceptional. Her duet with Arnold McCuller on the beautiful Beatles ballad “In My Life” is gorgeous.

A quartet format — consisting of Sekine’s piano, Sheppard’s soprano sax, Ole’s bass and Erskine’s drums — is used for Chick Corea’s “Windows” (one of Sekine’s favorite melodies). The final three tracks ably demonstrate how well this lady swings. For “So But Anyway,” she switches from piano to electric keyboard; Koonse and Sheppard provide great solos, backed by some tasty work by Erskine. “Spoon Key” is a truly swinging, straight-ahead tune that will cause all body parts to move; and Monk’s lesser-known “Evidence” morphs into a rock/fusion mode.

This is an exciting follow-up to Sekine’s debut album: a release that fulfills the promise of that initial offering. Her many significant talents, particularly when combined with the similarly excellent artists in the combo, will ensure great success for her in the future.

Mark Sherman: The L.A. Sessions

Miles High Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: The L.A. Sessions

Bebop fans will enjoy this album. It’s not the frenetic kind of bop that dazzled the jazz world back in the day; it’s more “polite” ... but it swings just as much. 

Sherman began his career as a drummer, switched to piano and then the vibraphone. He’s also a prolific composer. Although jazz is his first love, he has extensive experience with classical orchestras and is on a first-call basis with many name vocalists.

Pianist/arranger/composer Bill Cunliffe switches gears and plays B3 Hammond organ here. Early in his career, he toured with Buddy Rich and Frank Sinatra and, after moving to the West Coast, worked with icons such as Ray Brown. Cunliffe has written scores for films, TV and other orchestras, including his own magnificent big band.

Guitarist John Chiodini is world-famous. He was a member of the Boston Pops Orchestra, under Arthur Fiedler, in the 1960s and ’70s. After moving to Los Angeles, Chiodini toured, wrote and recorded with both jazz groups and name vocalists such as Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett and Shirley Horne.
Drummer Charles Ruggiero was a member of the New York City jazz scene for several years; he landed a gig with Chuck Mangione, toured with Marilyn Manson and is an in-demand sideman.

It’s clear that this group enjoyed revisiting the bebop era. Many well-known bop standards are included here: Dizzy Gillespie’s “Woody ’n You,” Milt Jackson’s “Bag’s Groove,” Charlie Parker’s “Quasimodo,” Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not” and others. Sherman also contributes an original (“Far Away”), and the group puts a new polish on Burke & Van Heusen’s “It Could Happen to You.”

This is a neat album. It’ll bring back a lot of memories and demonstrate that what was exciting years ago, still can get your pulse pounding today.