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.