Thursday, June 29, 2017

University of Toronto Jazz Orchestra: Sweet Ruby Suite

Self-Published
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Sweet Ruby Suite

Once in awhile, if lucky, you stumble across a musical diamond in the rough: a wholly unfamiliar gem. This album is just such a find.

Canada’s University of Toronto Jazz Orchestra (UTJO) is one of that school’s many musical ensembles, built from faculty and students. Gordon Foote directs this group. Prior to this job, he worked for more than 25 years as a professor of jazz studies at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. 

The UTJO consists of five trumpets, four trombones, five reeds, and a rhythm section of piano, guitar, bass and drums. David Liebman guests here on soprano sax, and Norma Winstone on voice. All the music was written by trumpeter/composer Kenny Wheeler, who was born in Toronto in 1930, but spent most of his life and career in Great Britain. He died in a London nursing home at age 84. As this release amply demonstrates, he was an outstanding artist, way ahead of his time in many respects.

More than half of the album — almost 30 minutes — is devoted to Wheeler’s “Sweet Ruby Suite,” a beautiful balladic composition. The orchestral work is gorgeous, and some of the finest I’ve heard in years: particularly impressive, given that students comprise the aggregation. Winstone’s contribution consists largely of vocalese passages, as opposed to actual lyrics, and the lady has a stunning voice. Liebman’s sax work is equally impressive. 

Three shorter works — “WW,” “Canter No. 1” and “Winter Sweet” — complete the album. The music won’t make you dance or snap your fingers, but its elegance is mesmerizing; you’ll want to hear it again and again.

The University of Toronto clearly is a music school to be reckoned with. One can only hope that we’ll hear a lot more from these students.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Michael Zilber: Originals for Originals

Origin Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Originals for Originals

Instrumentalist/composer Michael Zilber is better known by fellow musicians than by jazz fans. Born in Vancouver, B.C., he moved to Boston in his late teens, then to New York City about five years later. It didn’t take long for his talents to be recognized by artists who frequented that area. Zilber performed or recorded with giants such as Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, the Brecker brothers and Dave Liebman. 

Zilber’s second album as a leader, Stranger in Brooklyn, was included in a 1992 Jazz Fusion list of “The Best 30 Recordings of All Time.” He now works out of the San Francisco area.

He wrote all the tracks on this new album, his 11th, and these compositions are done to acknowledge the reed artists he considered to be masters of their instruments, and whose music strongly influenced his own development. They include Michael Brecker, Sonny Rollins, Dave Liebman, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, John Coltrane and Paul Desmond. 

The track titles are plays on the names: “Breckerfast Club” and “Leaves” are dedicated to Brecker; “Party Sonny” acknowledges Rollins; “Autumn Lieb” and “Lieb Dich” honor Liebman; Shorter gets the nod with “Weather Wayne” and “Pastel Blues”; “Hen House” is a nod toward Henderson; “Late Night Trane” and “Coltraning Days” credit Coltrane; and “St. Paul” is a shout-out toward Desmond.

Zilber alternates between tenor and soprano sax. His supporting rhythm section features  pianists David Kikoski and Matt Clark; bassists James Genus and Peter Barshay; and  drummers Clarence Penn and Akira Tana. Zilber has played with all of them at some point in his career; as a result, each combo configuration “thinks as one.”

This album superbly exemplifies the style used by today’s artists. It’s beyond bop, often using altered chord structures; the mid- and up-tempo charts swing nicely, and the ballads are thoughtful and poignant. This is a smooth, richly enjoyable group.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Brad Myers and Michael Sharfe: Sanguinaria

Colloquy Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Colloquy

Although most jazz musicians are concentrated on the West and East coasts, some excellent artists and groups that operate in the Midwest. Guitarist Brad Myers and bassist Michael Sharfe are two of the best working in the Tri-State area.

Myers began studies on the piano when he was 6, switched to the guitar at 10, and fell in love with jazz at age 13. Originally from Washington, D.C., he moved to Cincinnati in 1994, where he studied at the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music (CCM) on an honors scholarship; he ultimately received a master’s degree in jazz studies. He composes and arranges, and is also teaches. His first album, with the CCM Jazz Ensemble, was released in ’98, and he has been featured on 15 more since then.

Sharfe, another Tri-State alum, is a founding — and current — member of the legendary Blue Whisp Big Band; he also plays with a 16-piece Latin jazz ensemble. Both he and Myers are first-call artists for name groups and artists when visiting the Midwest.

This album features a wide assortment of genres and composers. Four tunes — “Sanguinaria,” “In from Somewhere,” “Norm’s Ridge” and “Bentley’s Blues” are Myers compositions. Gerry Mulligan’s “Line for Lyons” has always been one of my favorite charts; it’s played here as a quiet, mid-tempo swinger. Guitarist Jim Hall contributed “Waltz New,” while Keith Jarrett composed “Country.” Two other tunes — “In Your Own Sweet Way” and “The Great Pumpkin Waltz” — are by Dave Brubeck and Vince Guaraldi, respectively.

This is a lovely, softly swinging album: one that you’ll listen to again and again.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Luke Sellick: Alchemist

Cellar Live Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Alchemist

I’ve noticed a recent increase in the number of jazz albums by artists who reside in and/or have come from Canada. Proximity plays a role, as does the modern ease of producing CDs; that said, it’s nice to see a greater number of albums crossing the border, and giving us a greater opportunity to appreciate the talents of our neighbors. Bassist, composer and teacher Luke Sellick is an excellent example of the high quality coming from Due North.

Sellick, was born and raised in Winnipeg, attended New York’s Juilliard School of Music and was mentored by legendary bassist Ron Carter. Sellick then apprenticed with pianist Johnny O’Neal, and performed regularly in Big Apple jazz clubs. He currently lives in Harlem, and has a very busy schedule at local venues. He also has toured the world, both as a sideman and leader of “small jazz” combos. 

This release includes some New York’s finer “first-call” artists. Jimmy Greene and Jordan Pettay are featured (respectively) on tenor and alto sax; and Benny Benack and Mat Jodrell play trumpet. The rhythm section features Andrew Renfroe (guitar), Adam Birnbaum (piano) and Kush Abadey and Jimmy Macbride (drums). Bass clarinetist Andrew Gutauskas guests on one of the nine tracks. 

In addition to playing bass, Sellick composed and arranged all the tunes. The musicians share the various tracks, the configuration generally resulting in quintet performance.

The menu includes mid- to up-tempo swingers and ballads. All are smoothly performed: The melodic lines are unique, and the solos are first-class. Sellick clearly has a bright future.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

David Friesen's Circle 3 Trio: Triple Exposure

Origin Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Triple Exposure


I sometimes wonder what it must have been like, to be present at a concert given by one of the true masters. Well, I’ve never been lucky enough to catch bassist David Friesen in person, but — thanks to the magic of albums — I can listen to him any time I so desire. Anyone similarly lucky is blessed.

Friesen, now 74 years old, got his start with the ukulele at age 10; he graduated to the guitar six years later. At that point he was 19, during military service in Paris, sitting in with Johnny Griffin and Art Taylor; and then in Copenhagen, playing with Dick Berk and Ted Curson. 

After returning to the States in 1964, he committed himself to the bass, playing opposite artists such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Bill Evans. Friesen also toured with Charlie Parker and Lionel Hampton. In 1973 he made his home in Portland, Oregon, and opened a coffee house. 

Flash-forward to the present day. Friesen has worked with most of the jazz giants, and has been featured as a leader or co-leader on more than 60 albums, and as a sideman on more that 100 others.

The Circle 3 Trio, Friesen’s newest group, features pianist Greg Goebel and drummer Charlie Doggett. Friesen composed and arranged all the tracks on this disc.

The term “concert jazz” frequently is used to describe the kind of music often presented in concert halls; this release is a perfect example. All the charts are performed at balladic tempos, and the result is some of the most gorgeous work ever recorded. And, yes; it’s absolutely true jazz. 

Friesen’s Hemage bass is one of only three made by Herman Elacher, from Hol, in Tyrol, Austria, not far from Innsbruck. It’s an electric, upright, headless instrument with an eccentric body shape. Friesen uses the Hemage for concerts, and an acoustic bass for most pure jazz performances.

Get this album, and listen for yourself. The tone, technique and concepts of Friesen’s music are unbelievably gorgeous.

The Mark Masters Ensemble: Blue Skylight

Capri Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Blue Skylight

Trumpeter Mark Masters is an accomplished musician in his own right, but is better known as a producer/arranger of concerts and recordings that honor artists who are — or have been — jazz icons. The subjects of this release are Charles Mingus and Gerry Mulligan. Both were outstanding musicians — Mingus on bass, Mulligan on baritone sax — but this release features their accomplishments as composers and arrangers.

The album’s 11 tunes aren’t familiar jazz classics, but instead those that Masters considers best illustrate their skills as composers. Five are from Mingus, six from Mulligan. 

Masters’ ensemble colleagues are Gene Cipriano, Gary Foster, Jerry Pinter and Adam Schroeder (reeds); Les Benedict and Ron Stout (brass); and a rhythm section of Ed Czach (piano), Putter Smith (bass) and Kendall Kay (drums). All have played with a veritable Who’s Who in jazz, and it’s interesting to note that Masters and many of these guys can be considered senior citizens. And oh my, they do play and swing!

Although Mingus and Mulligan are best remembered for their up-tempo tunes, half of this album’s charts are done as ballads: “So Long, Eric,” “Wallflower,” “Strayhorn 2” and Ellington’s “Sound of Love” are beautiful examples. The artistry of these musicians shines on such tracks; their experience and “feelings” produce truly beautiful solo passages throughout.

Everybody clearly is enjoying the gig, and having a lot of fun; listeners will feel the same.

Phil Parisot: Lingo

OA2 Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Lingo

Drummer/composer Phil Parisot heads this swinging quartet from the Pacific Northwest jazz scene. He’s supported by Steve Treseler (tenor sax), Dan Kramlich (piano) and Michael Glynn (bass). They’ve known each other for almost 20 years, and the result is a tight, cohesive combo.

Parisot is unusual in a way; not many percussionists are accomplished composers, and very few play with such taste. His relatively light touch allows listeners to fully appreciate his ability to use unique rhythmic lines, which are particularly important as “fills” in a small group. He can’t resist the opportunity to offer solo passages, but his shading is an addition, not a distraction.

Treseler is a gem. His tone is to die for, and his solo passages are outstanding. It’s a challenge to be the primary horn in a small group — it can become monotonous — but that isn’t a problem for Treseler. 

The same can be said for Kramlich. His background work is spot-on, and his solos are interesting and driving.

The musical menu is a satisfying mix of genres and tempos. Parisot wrote seven of the 10 charts; two are short drum “choruses.” The others are from Duke Ellington (“Low Key Lightly”), Jerry Bergonzi (“Different Places Together”) and Keith Judelman (“One for Hugh”). The presentation includes up-tempo burners, ballads and even a jazz waltz. All of them satisfy.


This is a neat quartet. Based on the liner notes, another release is in the works for the future. Can’t wait!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Lori Bell and Ron Satterfield: blue(s)

Self-produced
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: blue(s)

Lori Bell is no stranger to music, whether the genre is jazz or classical; she’s one of the finest virtuoso flutists, composers, arrangers, educators and producers of our times. This is her 10th release.

Guitarist Ron Satterfield, less well known, began in the San Diego jazz scene. He was making a name for himself during the 1970s and ’80s, when he fell prey to substance abuse and hit bottom. He recovered after two years of rehabilitation, and Bell — a close friend — played a significant role in his resurrection.

Their collaboration here features nine tunes that are blues and/or have titles that include the word blue. Bell plays both the C and alto flute, and Satterfield blends his guitar work with vocals.

Bell wrote three of the tracks: “Bell’s Blues,” “Blue Butterflies” and “Istanblue.” The rest of the album menu features “Blue in Green” (Bill Evans and Miles Davis), “All Blues” (also by Miles), “Blue Monk” (Thelonious Monk), “Blue” (Joni Mitchell), “Teenie’s Blues” (Oliver Nelson') and “Blues on the Corner” (McCoy Tyner). 

They’re all swingers. Bell has a marvelous gift for combining classical phrasing with boppish timing, in both the melodic and solo lines. Satterfield’s guitar work and vocals — a combination of humming, scatting and verbal lines — blend perfectly throughout.

These two obviously enjoy each other, an essential component of our enjoyment as listeners. You’ll want this album in your library.


Ken Schaphorst Big Band: How to Say Goodbye

JCA Recordings
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: How to Say Goodbye

Ken Schaphorst chairs the Jazz Studies Department at Boston’s New England Conservatory (NEC), a position he has held since 2001. He served as director of Jazz Studies at Wisconsin’s Lawrence University for almost 10 years prior to that; he received a doctorate of music arts in 1990, and is a teacher, composer and bandleader. 

Oh, yes; he also plays trumpet and Fender Rhodes on this release, his fourth big band album. It’s one of the finest full-scale jazz ensembles I’ve ever reviewed.

Schaphorst composed and arranged all 10 charts: homages that honor jazz visionaries Bob Brookmeyer and Herb Pomeroy, who were mentors, colleagues and fellow performers at NEC. This unit’s 19-piece ensemble features five trumpets/flugelhorns, five reeds, four trombones, and a rhythm section of piano, guitar, bass, drums and percussion. The album is sensational: It doesn't “scream” or excite, but it features some of the smoothest, most beautifully written charts ever produced.

Schaphorst has taught, mentored or worked with all the band members during his busy career. All possess years of experience, having played with a veritable Who’s Who in the jazz world; we're talking about associations that have lasted up to 30 years or more, in some cases.

Because these folks have worked together so much, the result is perfection during each chart’s ensemble sections. Further, the support provided during the solo passages enhances each featured artist; it's like the “solo” has been heard previously, and Schaphorst then wrote and arranged the ensemble passages to match. 

It bears repeating: This band may not roar, grab you by the throat, or leave you breathless, but Schaphorst and his fellow artists deliver thoughtful, beautiful jazz that you’ll visit again and again.

Do not miss this one!

Stu Harrison: Volume 1

One Night Stand Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Volume 1

Pianist Stu Harrison and his trio — Neil Swainson, bass; and Terry Clarke, drums — are first-call Canadian artists in the Toronto jazz scene, and also have worked with many familiar American groups. 

Harrison’s career has developed primarily within Canada, in a variety of musical settings; he also heads his own music company. Swainson has worked with stalwarts such as Rob McConnell, George Shearing and Slide Hampton. Clarke also has worked with McConnell, and has been part of groups under The Fifth Dimension and John Handy.

For this debut album, Harrison offers tunes from both the Great American Songbook and charts by jazz icons Oscar Peterson (“Place St. Henri”), Dave Brubeck (“In Your Own Sweet Way”) and Dizzy Gillespie (“Manteca”).

It’s obvious that we’re listening to an outstanding pianist before Harrison finishes the first 16 bars of the first tune; his technique is flawless, and his melody line improvisations are superb. He immediately evokes masters such as Oscar Peterson, Lennie Tristano and Paul Smith. 

Harrison’s dexterity and speed on the keyboard are dazzling, and he just doesn't fluff or make mistakes. In that respect, he’s almost too good. A metronome keeps perfect time, but it  doesn’t swing; the less than perfect human touch is a key part of jazz on every instrument. That said, we’re listening to a true artist here, and we can’t help being impressed.

Swainson and Clarke are equally adept: Their beat is without fault, and they complete a marvelous rhythm section. Their “fill” work and solos are excellent.

This great trio debut will keep you entranced for hours and many, many repeat listens. I look forward to future albums.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Emmet Cohen Featuring Jimmy Cobb

Cellar Live Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Emmet Cohen Featuring Jimmy Cobb

Jazz connoisseurs and/or senior citizens are most likely to be familiar with Jimmy Cobb. He was born back in 1929, which makes him a senior senior citizen; he also was the drummer in Miles Davis’ most famous group.

Emmet Cohen, a contemporary pianist, composer and teacher, has created a “Master  Legacy Series” that features famed jazz artists. This album, honoring Cobb, is his first release.

Cobb has a huge discography: During his more than 70 years of performing, he has worked and recorded with dozens of instrumental and vocal jazz greats. As one would expect, he also has performed hundreds of tunes from the Great American Songbook, along with countless classic jazz charts. This release is limited to 11 tracks, but they’re all choice. One, “Concerto for Cobb,” is a Cohen original.

The basic configuration is a trio: Cohen (piano), Yashushi Nakamura (bass) and Cobb (drums). Alto saxophonist Godwin Louis guests on two tracks. It’s an excellent unit.

Cohen is a comprehensive pianist; he covers all styles. He’s modern, but not a bopper; his touch is superb and gentle. Nakamura keeps a smooth steady beat, and also is a marvelous and inventive soloist. As for Cobb, he remains one of the tastiest swingers you’ve ever heard. He drives any group with which he plays, but never overplays.

This tribute to Cobb marks a solid beginning for Cohen’s Master Legacy Series. I look forward to more.

Andrea Claburn: Nightshade

Lot 49 Labs LLC
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Nightshade

San Francisco-based Andrea Claburn isn’t well known beyond the schools where she earned two bachelor of arts degrees, the musicians with whom she has worked, and the still limited audiences before whom she has performed ... but that’s about to change. This debut album presents an artist who is both a terrific vocalist, and a talented songwriter and arranger. She composed five of these 12 tracks, and arranged all but one.

Claburn was brought up with music; her mother was a classical pianist, and young Andrea began piano lessons at age 6, and added violin two years later. “I think like an instrumentalist,” she has noted, “because that’s where everything began for me.”

She has a delightfully warm voice, phrases beautifully, and “thinks in jazz.” 

Claburn also has great taste in accompanists. The backing musicians here are excellent: Matt Clark (keyboards), Kasey Knudsen and Teddy Raven (saxes), Erik Jekabson (trumpet and flugelhorn), Rob Ewing (trombone), Sam Bevan (bass), Terrence Brewer (guitar), Alan Hall (drums) and John Santos (percussion). One track, “Steal Away,” also utilizes violinist/violist Mads Tolling and cellist Joseph H├ębert.

I’m particularly impressed by Jekabson, one of the tastiest horn players I’ve heard in quite some time.

Several tracks pay homage to musical greats, such as Ellington’s “Infinite Wisdom,” Betty Carter’s “I Can’t Help It” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark.” Claburn’s original compositions more than hold their own.

This is an enjoyable treat, and an outstanding debut album. I’ve only one minor caveat: Several tracks end too abruptly, which is a bit jarring. Other than that, this lady’s debut is a sure winner.

Tim Davis Big Band: The Expensive Train Set


The world is full of terrific jazz drummers, but few are also great composers, arrangers, orchestrators and leaders. Tim Davies fits that bill, and he’s also a Grammy Award winner. The Australian-born artist formed his first band in Melbourne in 1998, and moved to the United States shortly thereafter. From 2000 onward, his big bands have been stationed in Los Angeles, where he released two album. 

Why only two? He’s too busy composing, arranging and conducting for other bands, orchestras, films and even video games.

This release includes four charts written for his Melbourne band, an equal number for his Los Angeles band, and one — the title tune — for the combined ensembles. The album title, as Davies describes it, came about  because “someone said that a big band was like having a train set; both involve a lot of time and preparation, you never really finish, and both cost you a lot of money and never make you any.” 

That said, this album clearly demonstrates that, ultimately, the effort is very worthwhile.

All but two of the charts are composed, arranged and directed — from the drum chair — by Davies. The exceptions are Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” and Raya Yarbrough’s “Let Sleeping Questions Lie,” although Davies did have a hand in arranging them.

Both bands are 18-piece groups: five trumpets, four trombones, five reeds, and a rhythm section of piano, guitar, bass and drums. Davies is the drummer for both. Both ensembles — and sets of charts — are sensational. Although the arrangements are relatively complex, they swing wonderfully. The section passages are exciting and (where appropriate) driving, and the solo work is exceptional.

This is the finest big band jazz album I’ve heard in years!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Joshua Breakstone: 88

Capri Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: 88

Like a lot of jazz lovers, I first was turned on to the bop stuff recorded by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. That said, it took awhile for other instrumentalists to get on board with bop style and phrasing. I remember how excited it was, hearing guitarist Joshua Breakstone for the first time; he has been one of my favorites ever since.

This release presents him in his favorite format, with a quartet. But this quartet is different: The usual guitar, bass and drums are joined by a cello, rather than a piano. 

Breakstone has long admired the piano, and its artists. He believes in a “kinship” between guitar and piano, and the artists who play them. This release features charts that some of the world’s great pianists have written and performed during their careers: thus the album title (88).

Breakstone is joined by bassist Lisle Atkinson, drummer Andy Watson, and cellist Mike Richmond. All are masters of their instruments, but I bet you’ve never heard a cello played the way Richmond plays it.

As Breakstone puts it, “This group is a string section with a drummer.” 

The liner notes discuss each of the tunes, and identify the musicians with whom they’re associated; they include John Coltrane, Harold Mabern, Sonny Clark, Cedar Walton, Mal Waldron, Thelonious Monk, Barry Harris, Tadd Dameron and Lennie Tristano.

At times, the interplay between the members of this quartet is almost unbelievable. Breakstone usually established the melodic theme, and then the others join in on variations and solos. If you aren’t convinced that each artist can produce great lines on his “horn,” this album will make you a believer. And that Watson, who not only establishes a solid rhythmic line; his breaks and solos add greatly to the overall presentation.

This fantastic group swings like crazy, and creates truly great jazz. Please: More, more and more!

Nick Finzer: Hear and Now

Outside In Music
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Hear & Now


Millennial-generation trombonist, composer and arranger Nick Finzer is new to me, but not to the jazz world. The son of well-known flutist Sherry Finzer, he developed and interest in jazz at an early age, became a fan of Duke Ellington and, while in high school, performed at the Essentially Ellington jazz competition at New York’s Lincoln Center. Finzer attended the Eastman School of Music, and then received a master’s degree at Juilliard.

While at Eastman, Finzer impressed Wycliffe Gordon, who composed four pieces for him; while at Juilliard, Finzer was mentored by the legendary Steve Turre. In 2011, Finzer won the Eastern Trombone Workshop National Jazz Trombone Composition, after being a finalist in the 2010 Trombone Association’s Carl Fontana Jazz Trombone Competition.

Finzer’s debut album (Exposition) was released in 2013; his second (Chase) followed in 2015. This new CD features him with his sextet; all the tracks are original compositions except for Ellington’s “Single Petal of a Rose.” Two charts are true burners: “We the People” and “Race to the Bottom.” “Lullaby for an Old Friend” and “Love Wins” are mid-tempo, and all the others are ballads. 

Finzer’s handling of “Single Petal” is one of the most gorgeous renditions of that classic that I’ve ever heard. His instrumental dexterity is superb; his tone is clear, clean and — with the ballads — beautiful.

He’s backed by equally talented sidemen: Lucas Pino (tenor sax and bass clarinet), Alex Wintz (guitar), Glenn Zaleske (piano), Dave Baron (bass) and Jimmy Macbride (drums). Finzer’s web site indicates that he has a heavy performance schedule; although his home base is New York City, he travels a lot throughout the States and in other countries. Keep an eye out for him: He’s a great talent, and you don’t want to miss him.

John Abercrombie, Peter Bernstein, Lage Lund, Rale Micic: Inspired

ArtistShare
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Inspired

This group features four of today’s finest guitarists. The album is one of many projects sponsored by ArtistShare, founded in 2003 to connect artists with fans, in order to share the creation of new works. Since its launch, ArtistShare projects have garnered 10 Grammy Awards and 29 Grammy nominations. 

The four guitarists here have one thing in common: respecting and continuing master guitarist Jim Hall’s musical vision.

John Abercrombie and Peter Bernstein were born in the States; Rale Micic hails from Serbia, and Lage Lund from Norway. Abercrombie, Micic and Lund all studied at the Berklee College of Music; Bernstein attended New York’s New School. All credit Hall as a major career influence.

Three album tracks are Hall originals; the other eight are standards from the Great American Songbook. Only one, Hall’s “All Across the City,” features all four performers together. Four standards are done as solos: “Alone Together,” by Micic; “My Ideal,” by Bernstein; “Body and Soul,” by Lund; and “Embraceable You,” by Abercrombie. All the other tracks are duets: Hall’s “Dream Steps,” by Micic and Lund; Hall’s “Bon Ami,” by Bernstein and Lund; “My Funny Valentine,” by Abercrombie and Micic; “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” by Lund and Abercrombie; “I Should Care,” by Bernstein and Micic; and “I Hear a Rhapsody,” by Bernstein and Abercrombie.

This “must have” album is for listening, not dancing; it’s not a hard swinger, but it’s pure jazz nonetheless. Every melody is done  beautifully and softly, and will sooth your soul. These guys are true masters, and we’re blessed by their presence.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Craig Hartley: Books on Tape Vol. 2 — Standard Edition

Self-Produced
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Books on Tape Vol. 2 — Standard Edition

Pianist/composer Craig Hartley seems a bit of a recluse; background information is rather sparse. This, the second of his (thus far) self-produced albums, features a typical piano, bass and drum trio. Hartley arranged all the tracks; one (“Just Wait”) is his own composition, and the rest are standards.

Bassist Carlo De Rosa is a well known New York artist who has worked with dozens of musicians and groups in the States and other countries, in both the jazz and classical genres. Drummer Jeremy “Bean” Clemons, born in St. Louis, moved to the Big Apple in 2003 and has been a first-call artist for many years.

These three fill this album with “polite” — and definitely swinging — jazz. Two selections are by Ellington: “Caravan” and “Mood Indigo.” The former is an up-tempo arrangement; the latter, usually performed as a slow, sexy, close-dance melody, emerges here at a mid-tempo, finger-snapping groove. It brings one of Duke’s favorite melodies to life.

Hartley’s handling of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” is one of the nicest interpretations of that chart I’ve ever heard; the time signature flips back and forth between 3/4, 4/4 and 5/4.

I’m particularly enchanted when standards from two different genres are blended, as when Bach’s Prelude No. 2 in C minor weaves in and out of Miles Davis’ “Solar”; they fit beautifully. “Imagine Peace Piece” is another mash-up: John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Bill Evans’ “Peace Piece.” The closer in the set, “Just Wait,” is a beautiful ballad.

This is an excellent album: mood music that is pure jazz in a relaxed and restful format.

The Buselli-Wallarab Big Band: Basically Baker Vol. 2

Patois Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Basically Baker Vol. 2

David Baker (1932-2016) devoted his life to jazz. He was a trombonist early on, playing with icons such as Freddie Hubbard, John Lewis and George Russell. A jaw injury prevented Baker from continuing with that instrument, so he switched to cello — composing and arranging — and then teaching.

He taught for years at Indiana University’s Jazz Studies Department, during which time he was commissioned by more that 500 individuals and organizations for compositions. Baker received nominations for both the Pulitzer Prize and Grammy awards, was inducted into several Jazz Halls of Fame, and ultimately received the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching.

The 17-piece Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra was founded in 1994. Mark Buselli earned degrees from both the Berklee College of Music and Indiana University; he plays piano and trumpet, composes and arranges, and has received numerous awards. Brent Wallarab is a graduate of Southern Illinois University’s Carbondale School of Music, and Indiana University. He currently works at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., where he transcribes, edits and restores works of big bands deemed to be “national treasures.” He also plays trombone in the Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. 

This two-disc album contains 11 of Baker’s best jazz compositions and arrangements; as the title indicates, this is the second such release of his work.

You’ll immediately notice that Baker thinks and writes as a teacher; his chord structures and rhythmic patterns are richer and more “full” than most jazz arrangements. He enjoyed modifying the basic chords of jazz standards: “Sweet Georgia Brown” became “The Georgia Peach”; “Bebop” is transformed into a much more complex “burner” than Gillespie’s original chart, which has almost become the jazz National Anthem. 

Everything swings, and the solo work by the instrumentalists is excellent; it also sounds “new and different.”

This is a masterful album by an outstanding group of instrumentalists who obviously enjoy Baker’s creative interpretations of jazz.

The Mike Jones Trio: Roaring

Capri Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Roaring

The two most important prerequisites for jazz are 1) it’s got to swing; and 2) it should to be fun to make and hear. This album accomplishes both.

You’ve heard pianist Mike Jones before, if you follow the magic team of Penn & Teller; Jones is their show’s opening act. Bassist/vocalist Katie Thiroux was a semifinalist in the 2015 Thelonious  Monk Jazz Competition. She recently released an album that received a rave review here. Drummer Matt Witek, a Berklee College of Music grad, frequently works with Thiroux and luminaries such as Les Fuller and Ken Peplowski.

The rhythm section Jones’ trio creates is a true groove: one of the best I’ve heard in a long time.

This release features 10 compositions from the 1920s (thus the album title). Many likely won’t be familiar to today’s fans, but were big hits during that time period, and still can bring a smile to senior citizens. The tunes swing wonderfully, and the trio obviously had a ball recording them. 

Although Jones and his trio mates hadn’t ever played together, they nonetheless were able to complete this session in less than four hours. Further, only one take was required for each tune. I enjoyed all of them, but my favorite is the opener, “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby”; my feet were stomping, and my fingers snapping, during every bar.

I’m eager to hear more from this group!

Songevity: Safe in Sound

GSI Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Safe in Sound

The Songevity trio, headed by bassist Rob Duguay, includes pianist Justin Kauflin and drummer Nadav Snir-Zelniker. 

Duguay was born in Canada but grew up in Queens, New York, where he began studying classical piano at age 6. He discovered jazz — and the upright bass — in high school. He became a business student at the University of Vermont, and was playing with territory bands when he met and had the opportunity to share the stage with Clark Terry. 

After graduating with a degree in international business management, Duguay was  accepted into the University of New Orleans graduate program, where he received an ASCAP award for jazz composition. He then received a masters of music degree in jazz studies, from William Paterson University.

His association with Terry put Duguay in touch with Kauflin, who was part of that ensemble, and was the subject of the marvelous Clark Terry documentary, Keep On Keepin’ On. As the documentary indicated, and this CD demonstrates, Kauflin is a musical force to be reckoned with.

Snir-Zelniker was born in Israel in 1974, and began to play drums at 16. In 1999, after several honorary scholarships, he moved to the States and earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in music performance, at SUNY-Purchase College.

All the charts on this album are originals, composed and arranged by Duguay. They’re tasty, delightful, thoughtful and softly swinging tunes. My only caveat is the album’s brevity, with a running time of just over 40 minutes. But what’s present definitely is choice.

I hope any subsequent releases provide a lot more of the music these men capably deliver.