Saturday, March 4, 2017

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

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.