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.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Todd Bishop Group: little played little bird

Origin Arts
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: little played little bird

Little Bird” was a nickname given to Ornette Coleman, an American-born saxophonist, violinist, trumpeter and composer who was one of the major innovators of the free jazz movement of the 1960s. 

Why the “little played” in the album title? Because, as often is the case with artists ahead of their time, Coleman was a polarizing talent; the kindest descriptor would be “unorthodox.” Some listeners became immediate fans; others were outspokenly critical. That latter group included Miles Davis, who initially declared that Coleman was “all screwed up inside”; Roy Eldridge, who said, “I think he’s jivin’, baby”; and one reviewer, who described Coleman’s group style as “nobody solos, everybody solos.”

Other musicians felt he played out of tune; and he had difficulty finding like-minded musicians to jam with. But as time passed, Coleman’s fan base increased and he found work in jazz clubs and concerts, and as a composer for film soundtracks. He’s still performing today, and has become more respected, playing with many name artists and securing contracts with prime studios such as Atlantic, Blue Note and Origin. In 1969, he was inducted into the Downbeat Jazz Hall of Fame.

Drummer Todd Bishop is a fan, and this album includes nine Coleman compositions. So, as stated in the liner notes, “Little played = an album of Ornette Coleman tunes that you don’t hear, because nobody plays them.” 

Bishop’s quartet includes Richard Cole and Tim Willcox on reeds (the former on bass clarinet and baritone, the latter on tenor and soprano saxes), Bill Athens on bass, Weber Iago on piano and Wurlitzer, and Bishop on drums.

What about the music? Well, it’s sure different than anything you’ve heard before, kind of amalgam of R&B, bop, and free jazz, usually played at slow tempos. Coleman tends to ignore basic harmony and progressions; as one reviewer put it, “He has a penchant for playing in the cracks.” 

Although Coleman isn’t a favorite of mine, I’ve heard a lot of his music over the years, and the Todd Bishop Group provides a faithful reproduction of both the music and style. This is an excellent album to help listeners decide where they stand, relative to Coleman’s place in the jazz world.  

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Beegie Adair Trio: The Real Thing

Green Hill Music
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: The Real Thing

Remember the days when you’d go out for an evening of music and recognize every song performed? Well, that’s what we have with this release by the Beegie Adair Trio. 

Adair was born during the early years of the swing era. She began to play the piano at age 5, earned an undergraduate degree in music education at Kentucky’s Western State University, then began a life dedicated to that art form. She taught for awhile, played in local jazz groups, became a session musician for radio and TV gigs, and wrote commercial jingles ... while simultaneously freelancing as a pianist. She fronted a trio as early as 1966, but her first recording under her own name didn't come until 1991's Escape to New York. She's quite prolific; she has released dozens of albums as a leader, and guested on many others.

Adair's favorite group configuration is a trio. She’s supported here by bassist Roger Spencer and drummer Chris Brown; both have been with her for years. These folks play authentic mainstream jazz: the wonderful music your parents (or grandparents!) used to listen and dance to, when they were younger. 

But that doesn’t mean this stuff is dated: Not by a long shot. It truly swings! 

The fact that this album was recorded before a live audience contributes to its excellence. The arrangements tend to be longer, with no constraints related to fitting a certain number of tracks onto a CD); the solos also linger more; and the presence of an audience, and its reaction, always has a positive impact on the performers. 

Because almost all the songs in this release are familiar standards — tunes that often carry special memories for those in the audience — that always results in a friendlier reception. The only sorta-kinda non-standard is Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-A-Ning,” but since that tune is based on the chord structure of “I Got Rhythm,” it counts anyway. 

I haven’t heard “Besame Mucho,” “The Lamp Is Low,” “My Old Flame,” “Stairway to the Stars” and “We’ll Be Together Again” in years. I loved this well-delivered reminder, and you will also.

Ben Powell: New Street
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: New Street

This self-produced album comes from an artist who is a master of an instrument seldom used in jazz: the violin. Only a handful of jazz artists have made a name on that instrument, with Stéphane Grappelli, Joe Venuti, Stuff Smith and Regina Carter among the most famous. Interestingly, the first three were born in the early 1900s, and were a part of the swing era from the 1930s to the ’40s. Carter, born in 1966, is the only one who has performed with modern jazz artists such as Ray Brown.

Powell was born in England, where he received his early musical training in the classics. After his senior year of high school, he moved to the States to take advantage of a scholarship at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. His major jazz influence was Grappelli, originator of the Quintette du Hot Club de France, a group that initially was quite the rage in Paris and, later, in the States. 

Powell is only 25, so his exposure to jazz has included all the modern genres. His style incorporates both Grappelli's swing/gypsy jazz “feel” and that of some modern artists. This album features two of Powell’s groups: the Stéphane Grappelli Tribute Trio and a quartet. The trio features icons Gary Burton (vibraphone) and Julian Lage (guitar); the quartet includes Tadataka Unno (piano), Aaron Darrell (bass) and Devin Drobka (drums). Interestingly, Burton performed with Grappelli decades ago, and the famed violinist composed the song “Gary” for him; it’s included in this release.

The playlist features tunes that Grappelli wrote or made famous (“Gary,” “Piccadilly Stomp,” “La Chanson des Rues” and, of course, “La Vie en Rose”); tributes to Grappelli (“Swinging for Stéphane”); compositions by Powell (“Judith,” “New Street,” “Monk 4 Strings”); and a couple of standards (“Sea Shell” and “What Is this Thing Called Love?”).

But is this jazz? 

I’ll give a qualified yes. It’s nice stuff that swings lightly, performed by some outstanding artists. About half of the tracks are done at balladic tempos; the rest are up-tempo. Perhaps the most cogent question concerns whether the music is enjoyable. 

My experience indicates that the average jazz fan either likes or hates the violin, with no middle ground. In all fairness, it’s a difficult instrument to use for jazz, even in the hands of a master; the tonal quality borders on shrill, particularly in the upper registers. (A cello, for example, produces a more mellow sound.) 

With respect to this release, I’m willing to admit that one can get jazz out of the instrument, but it’s a stretch; as an old saying goes, you can make love standing up in a canoe, but why would you want to?                    

This one depends on personal taste.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Jens Wendelboe Big Band: Fresh Heat

Crazy Energy Productions
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Fresh Heat

Don’t be surprised if you’re not familiar with trombonist, composer and arranger Jens Wendelboe. He was born in London in 1956 and raised in Oslo, Norway. He was educated at the latter’s Music Conservatory and, until the mid 1980s, worked extensively throughout Europe. He earned a master of music degree at the Manhattan School of Music in 1985, and subsequently has worked in both Europe and the States.

Wendelboe’s genre is jazz rock: Fans of Blood Sweat and Tears will enjoy this group. BS&T, which came together in 1967, remains active today; almost half a century, with more than two dozen versions of the band during that time period. Wendelboe became a member of BS&T in 2006 and still plays with them, as well as with his own bands. 

I’ve always loved the way BS&T arrangements used the trombone; That horn really wailed, and was key to the band’s swinging sound. Wendelboe produces that same wonderful sound.

His band here is large in the truest sense: The reed section is made up of two altos, two tenors and a baritone sax; the brass section consists of four trumpets and four trombones; the rhythm section is standard — piano/synthesizer, bass and drums — and an excellent female vocalist (Deb Lyons) completes the package. Finally, three guest artists — sax, trumpet and harmonica — are used as soloists on several tracks

Four tunes — “Joy Spring,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Black Narcissus” and “Falling Grace” are familiar jazz standards; the rest are Wendelboe originals. He also did all the arrangements.

The album title, Fresh Heat, is descriptive: This band truly swings at every tempo, including the balladic charts. The horn sections are tight, and the soloists obviously are inspired by the quality of their compatriots and the arrangements. Lyons deserves a special nod; her treatment of “My Funny Valentine” is among the best I’ve heard, and she scats admirably on “Joy Spring.” 

For those who still yearn for the big band days of yore, this album will satisfy your soul.

Human Spirit: Dialogue

Origin Arts
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Dialogue

The members of Human Spirit — a core unit of the many jazz musicians who have made Seattle and the Pacific Northwest their home — are trumpeter/composer/producer Thomas Marriott, saxophonist Mark Taylor and drummer Matt Jorgensen. Their combined resumes includes 14 albums as leaders and dozens more as sidemen. For this release, they added guests Orrin Evans (piano) and Essiet Essiet (bass). The resulting quintet delivers an album dubbed the “new” West Coast jazz.

Marriott, the group’s best-known member, has won numerous competitive trumpet awards over the years; he’s a seven-time Golden Ear winner and did three world tours with Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau band. Marriott has been featured on more than 100 recordings during his career; his style is pure, and his tone crystal clear. 

Taylor and Jorgensen are equally adept on their instruments. Both head small-combo groups of their own and are first-call artists by name instrumentalists and vocalists who perform periodically on the West Coast. 

Dialogue presents an entirely original menu. Marriott composed four tracks (“Reversal of Fortune,” “Song for Samuel,” “148 Lexington” and “Pelham Gardens”), while Taylor contributed “Stepford and Son” and “After Hours,” and Jorgensen delivered “In Unity” and “Ridgecrest.” It’s refreshing that all the tunes have “substance”; each features a distinct melodic line, and the solos relate to those lines, as opposed to being merely “add-ons.” I found myself listening to all the tracks because I was genuinely involved with the music, not just because they swung (although that’s also true). 

This session was recorded live during two nights at Tula’s Jazz Club, in Seattle, during the 2011 Earshot Jazz Festival. You can tell, from the large audience’s reaction, that everybody present also loved this performance!