Wednesday, June 6, 2018

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Mica Bethea, Alexis Cole & One For All, Fernando García, Jeff Hamilton, Ken Peplowski and Akira Tana…

Mica Bethea Big Band, Suite Theory (self-produced)
Floridian Mica Bethea has joined the ranks of the jazz world’s finest contemporary big band composers. His prior two CDs, 2011’s The Mica Bethea Big Band and last year’s Stage ’N Studio, revealed facets of his prowess. This newest, all-original project, Suite Theory, is a four-part extended composition that amounts to a musical autobiography.

The first section, “Crystal Clear,” bubbles with the energetic, carefree time of his first 21 years. The second movement, “Destiny’s Boat,” reflects the depression and new reality that occurred after he woke up from a traffic accident that left him a quadriplegic. A speeding big rig plowed into his car as he was driving back to the University of North Florida after visiting his family. The third movement, “Meniscus,” reflects the healing that occurred as he figured out how to put his life back together. The final movement, “Guardian of Forever,” is all about moving forward. “Crystal Clear” and “Destiny’s Boat” showcase trombonist Michael Dease and saxophonist Todd Giudice respectively. Del Giudice played two very different tenor solos on the band’s two takes on “Destiny’s Boat.” Bethea like both so much that he included the alternate take.

Alexis Cole with One For All, You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To (Venus) 
2018 brought the U.S. release of singer Alexis Cole’s splendid collaboration with the modern bop sextet One For All. This is the only recording that the New York-based instrumental collective has made with a singer since it was formed back in 1997. The material here is all about different facets of love and romance. Cole’s impeccable delivery can be torchy or it can be cool, depending on the mood of each song. The band - tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, trumpeter Jim Rotondi, trombonist Steve Davis, pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth – brought much to the project both as players and arrangers. Favorite tracks: “Delilah,” “Moon River,” “Cry Me a River” and “You’ve Changed.”

Fernando García, Guasábara Puerto Rico (Zoho) 
Drummer Fernando Garcia blends jazz and the traditional rhythms of his native Puerto Rico on this, his third recording as a leader. The result is a musically intoxicating session by his young band, which includes saxophonist Jan Klus, pianist Gabriel Chakarji, bassist Dan Martinez, guitarist Gabriel Vicéns and Latin percussionist Victor Pablo. Alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón joins on the title track. Favorites: “Healing Prayer,” “Guaynabo Mi Tambor” and the grooving closer, “Tiempo,” which features terrific solos from Chakarji, Kus and Garcia.

Jeff Hamilton Trio, Live From San Pedro (Capri) 
If you’ve been a big fan of Oscar Peterson’s trio sound over the years, you’ll dig this one from drummer Jeff Hamilton’s longstanding trio with pianist Tamir Hendelman and bassist Christoph Luty. They’re carrying on the great jazz trio tradition in their own way – and have been doing so for more than 17 years. It’s loaded with power and finesse as each tune requires – and it swings mightily. They recorded this one at Alvas Showroom in San Pedro CA last year. Standout tracks including the Peterson-influenced “Sybille’s Day,” a swinging update of Ahmad Jamal’s classic take on “Poinciana,” a lush take on the Broadway show tune “I Have Dreamed” (from “The King and I”) with Luty’s bowed bass intro setting the table, and “Bennissimo,” Hendelman’s sprightly tribute to fellow pianist Benny Green. This concert recording is a gem from start to finish.

The Ken Peplowski Big Band, Sunrise (Arbors)
Clarinetist Ken Peplowski assembled the cream of the crop of mainstream swing players for this big band session. There’s a fine mix of Great American Songbook material, some Braziliana, some bebop, a couple of Duke Ellington tunes, and even something from the Walt Disney songbook (“When You Wish Upon a Star” from the 1950 movie Pinocchio) – all featuring superb big-band arrangements. Peplowski’s clarinet work gets most prominence here – showcasing his instrumental mastery and clever ideas. There are also fine moments from his bandmates, including saxophonist Adrian Cunningham on Sonny Stitt’s hard-driving bop classic “The Eternal Triangle,” Cunningham and trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso on the gorgeous but under-recorded Ellington composition “I Like the Sunrise” (hence the CD title),m and alto saxophonist Jon Gordon on “Come Back to Me.” The real treat here is “Clarinet in Springtime.” Alex Wilder wrote and arranged it in the early 1940s for Benny Goodman, but it had ever been played or recorded by Goodman or anyone else until now.

Akira Tana, JAZZaNOVA (Vega) 
Drummer Akira Tana has a winner here. He brought together some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s best Latin/Brazilian jazz players and singers for a session celebrating the Brazilian side of the jazz world. He added saxophonist Branford Marsalis and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval as special guests on four and six tracks respectively. Singers Claudio Amaral and Claudio Villela team up for a lush duet on Jobim’s “Aguas de Marco” with backing from Sandoval. Carla Hembrecht is featured with Marsalis on the band’s sultry take on Ivan Lins’ “Love Dance” and with Sandoval on Jobim’s classic bossa nova “Corcovado.” “Chega de Saudade” (No More Blues) teams singers Jackie Ryan and Maria Volonté. Sandy Cressman’s take on Lins’ “Bilhete” features a duet-like soprano sax solo from Marsalis.

Marsalis’s soprano is featured beautifully on the Toninho Horta ballad “Waiting for Angela” with a bit of wordless vocals from Villella complementing his horn work. The band steps away from the Brazilian mode for the closer. “La Gloria Eres Tú” teams Volonté - a master of Argentinian tango - with Sandoval on both trumpet and vocals in a tribute to Mexican music superstar Luis Miguel. Tana’s fine band includes keyboard player Peter Horvath, Rio-born guitarist Ricardo Peixoto, bassist Gary Brown and percussionist Michael Spiro. There is much here to enjoy.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

2018's Newport Jazz Festival juggle nears

The 2018 edition of the Newport Jazz Festival's three-day music marathon has quite the lineup in store at Fort Adams State Park August 3-5  With all sizes of ensembles and a range of mostly jazz styles, the event offers more than 60 musical groups on its four stages.

Charles Lloyd
Tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd turned 80 in March - and that significant birthday celebration will continue at Newport, where he will be featured with a different group each day. On Friday, he appears with his Sangam trio with tabla player Zakir Hussain and drummer Eric Harland. Saturday features Lloyd's New Quartet with pianist Jason Moran, bassist Ruben Rogers and Harland. Lloyd wraps up the birthday fete on Sunday with his Americana-styled band with singer Lucinda Williams, guitarists Marvin Sewall and Stuart Mathis, Moran, Rogers and Harland.

Every day's lineup is strong and diverse, all of them featuring both Newport regulars and artists making their debut in 2018. Guitarist Pat Metheny's quartet and singer Jose James' Bill Withers tribute project perform at Newport Casino/the International Tennis Hall of Fame in the upscale Friday night opener and again on Saturday at Fort Adams.

But I want to take a closer look at the offerings on Sunday, August 5, which is the one day I'll be able to attend this year. This will be the 38th straight year that I've been in Newport to write about and photograph the Jazz and/or Folk Festivals since 1981. That's when founding producer George Wein brought the event back to the resort city after a 10-year absence.
Cecile McLorin Salvant

Sunday's lineup includes the aforementioned Charles Lloyd & Friends, singers Gregory Porter and Jazzmeia Horn, who is making her Newport debut. Horn won 2015's Thelonious Monk International Vocal Competition and the so-called Sassy Award at 2013's Sarah Vaughan Vocal Competition. Saxophonist Melissa Aldana, the first female instrumental winner of the Monk Competition, back in 2013, makes her Newport debut as part of Artemis, an all-female band with singer Cecile McLorin Salvant, pianist Renee Rosnes, reed player Anat Cohen, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, bassist Noriko Ueda and drummer Allison Miller. A powerhouse group indeed.

Canadian soprano saxophonist Jane Bunnett, back in Newport for the first time since 2002, appears with her all-woman sextet Maqueque, whose roster consists of Cuban singer/instrumentalists. Cuban pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa is also on the Newport bill with his trio.
Jeremy Pelt

While its members have appeared at Newport in a wide variety of different bands in past years, 2018 also marks the festival's debut for the Black Art Jazz Collective, which performs original music inspired by the lives and work of Sojourner Truth, W.E.B. Du Bois and Barack Obama, among others. The band includes tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, drummer Johnathan Blake, bassist Vicente Archer, trombonist James Burton III and pianist Xavier Davis.

The Sunday lineup also includes George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, the British jazz trio GoGo Penguin, saxophonist James Carter's organ trio, flutist Nicole Mitchell's Dusty Wings project, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire's Origami Harvest, drummer Nate Smith & Kinfolk, and the Massachusetts Jazz Educators Association big band led this day by Darcy James Argue. The latter's Secret Society, an 18-piece jazz orchestra, has been a frequent Newport visitor over the past decade.

The intimate indoor Storyville stage on Sunday will feature pianists Bill Charlap, Micah Thomas and Helen Sung; and two duos: trumpeter/vocalist Jennifer Hartswick & guitarist Nick Cassarino, and pianist Matthew Whitaker & bassist Jake Leckie.

 As always, there is much to enjoy and many artists to check out for the first time. Check out the Newport Jazz Festival website for the full daily lineups.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Benjamin Boone & Philip Levine, Roxy Coss, E.J. Decker, Thomas Fonnesbæk & Justin Kauflin, the Benito Gonzalez-Gerry Gibbs-Essiet Okon Essiet trio, and Dave Tull…

Benjamin Boone & Philip Levine, The Poetry of Jazz (Origin) 
Jazz and poetry have had strong interconnections for many decades, including 1950s collaborations between bebop musicians and beat poets. More recently, there have been collaborations between former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky and pianist Laurence Hobgood, as well as Amiri Baraka and saxophonist David Murray. The latest to emerge was last month’s release of The Poetry of Jazz, a collaboration between late Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip Levine and saxophonist/composer Benjamin Boone.

The recording was completed a year before Levine’s death in 2015. It features the former U.S. Poet Laureate reading 14 of his works to compositions and improvisations by Boone and his band. Most often, the musicians are adding appropriate accents, colors and responses to Levine’s vivid narration. Four of the works are jazz-inspired. They include poems written in homage to Sonny Rollins (“The Unknowable”), Clifford Brown (“I Remember Clifford”), John Coltrane (“Soloing”) and Charlie Parker (“Call It Music”), featuring Chris Potter, Tom Harrell, Branford Marsalis and Greg Osby respectively. The project was developed when Boone and Levine were fellow professors at Cal State-Fresno. This is a gem.

Roxy Coss, The Future is Female (Posi-Tone)
“The Future is Female” is not a tune on saxophonist and composer Roxy Coss’s new CD. It was the message on her sign at the Women’s March in January 2017. That initiative was the catalyst for the recording, which includes 10 originals musically exploring her perspective on the current state of feminism. Many of the titles, and the musical energy within those tunes, carry her own truths: including “Little Did She Know,” “She Needed a Hero, So That’s What She Became,” “Mr. President,” “#MeToo,” “Choices” and “Nasty Women Grab Back.” The latter was on her younger sister’s sign at the Women’s March. Favorite tracks: “Nevertheless , She Persisted,” “Females Are Strong as Hell” and “Feminist AF.” Coss’s band includes guitarist Alex Wintz, pianist Miki Yamanaka, bassist Rick Rosato and drummer Jimmy McBride.” The synergy and conversational quality of the interchanges between Coss and Wintz make this one soar.
E. J. Decker, Bluer Than Velvet (Candela) 
Singer E.J. Decker’s newest CD pays tribute to the late, great jazz storyteller Arthur Prysock. Bluer Than Velvet includes 11 hit tunes that Prysock recorded during his career from the mid-1940s through the 1970, including “”Blue Velvet,” ”A Ghost of a Chance,” “September in the Rain” and “Since I Fell For You.” Decker added three more tunes that Prysock never recorded, but have the same feel as the late baritone’s material. They are Cole Porter’s “Why Can’t You Behave,” the Gershwin Brothers’ “He Loves and She Loves,” and Lerner and Loewe’s “On The Street Where You Live.” With superb backing from baritone saxophonist Claire Daly, guitarist Chris Bergson, trombonist Elizabeth Frascola, pianist Les Kurtz, bassist Saadi Zain and drummer Tom Melito, New Yorker Decker has carved out his own space in today’s jazz vocal genre – while also underscoring Prysock’s important contributions.

Thomas Fonnesbæk & Justin Kauflin, Synesthesia (Storyville) 
Jazz duo projects don’t get any better than this. Danish bassist Thomas Fonnesbæk and pianist Justin Kauflin recorded the session over two days in a Swedish studio. Some original material was composed in advance, while the two players developed others on the spot. Favorites include their explorations of Kauflin’s brooding “Lost,” Fonnesbæk’s mood-capturing “Panic Attack” and Oscar Peterson’s “Nigerian Marketplace.” The way they share the lead and support each other here is both exhilarating and beautiful. The title track “Synesthesia” is named after a neurological trait the two musicians have in common: seeing sounds as colors in their minds.

Benito Gonzalez, Gerry Gibbs, Essiet Okon Essiet, Passion Reverence Transcendence (Whaling City)  
On Passion Reverence Transcendence, Venezuelan-born pianist Benito Gonzalez, drummer, mallets player and producer Gerry Gibbs and bassist Essiet Okon Essiet celebrate the music of piano giant McCoy Tyner, who came to prominence in the John Coltrane quartet. This is loaded with the rolling-thunder energy that is a hallmark of Tyner’s overall sound. They perform nine of McCoy’s compositions, including the hard-driving “Fly With the Wind” and the more genteel “You Taught My Heart to Sing,” while Gonzalez adds a solo piano version of Coltrane’s “Naima.” The trio contributes three originals with a Tyneresque flavor: Essiet’s “Tyner/Train Express,” Gibbs’ “Between Friends” and Gonzalez’ spirited “Brazilian Girls.” If you dig Tyner, you’ll savor this heart-felt homage.

Dave Tull, Texting and Driving (Toy Car)
Drummer, singer and songwriter Dave Tull finds humor in ordinary things we often take for granted, or in social trends. With a zany twist of words, his good humor results in spirited jazz in the Dave Frishberg tradition. The title track is all about the over-dependence many of us have on our smartphones. Consider this lyric snippet: “I believe my seven followers on Instragram would like to see a photo of my every meal.” His rapid-fire delivery of social media bemusements is a clever way to underscore some of those absurdities.

Tull also tackles the subjects of dating, raising kids, and people who don’t get jazz but pretend they do (the latter on the hysterical “Clapping on One and Three”). There’s also a nifty duet with singer Cheryl Bentyne on “The Date.” He considers our daily lives from the viewpoint of a traffic signal that sees all on “The Stoplight at the End of the Street.” Top West Coast jazz musicians, including pianist Randy Porter, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Kevin Axt, trumpeters Wayne Bergeron and George Stone, and saxophonist Doug Webb, provide superb support here. The arrangements swing mightily.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Solo piano artistry - and then some

Pianist Bobby van Deusen is a master of the keyboard, blessed with an astonishing musical range in terms of genres, sound dynamics and sheer artistry. And those elements were all on display on Friday, April 20 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice.

The Philadelphia native, now based in the Florida Panhandle, is best known for his work in the ragtime, stride and Dixieland genres. But his reach goes much deeper and wider.

On this afternoon, he performed Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" and lesser-known "Sunflower Slow Drag;" "The Last Date," written by his good friend Floyd Cramer, who was a first-call studio pianist in Memphis and Nashville; "Baubles, Bangles & Beads" from the 1953 Broadway musical Kismet (and soon recorded by Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra), and a stunning cover of "Take the A Train," inspired by Duke's 1978 70th birthday concert version at Carnegie Hall. 

The lively afternoon also included vocals and crowd sing-alongs on several popular standards, such as "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "King of the Road."

The powerhouse highlights included two George Gershwin tunes: "Our Love is Here to Stay," which was the last tune he wrote in his prolific career (and van Deusen's all-time favorite tune), and "Rhapsody in Blue." 

The concert gem was the first-set closer: van Deusen's 15-minutes-plus medley of the music from Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera." It prompted a standing ovation.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Celebrating the gypsy jazz legacy

Violinist Keven Aland's Hot Club of SRQ brought its fascinating update of the gypsy jazz tradition to the Venice Art Center on Thursday, April 12, in a concert co-produced by the South County Jazz Club.
Keven Aland

The program built on the Hot Club of France tradition, drawing much material from gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and his disciples. Reinhardt co-led the Hot Club of France Quintet with French violinist Stephane Grappelli, starting in 1934.

Jim Snyder
For this performance, the Hot Club of SRQ was also a quintet, with Aland, guitarists Nikola Baltic and Jon McLaughlin, bassist Glenn Stephenson and clarinetist Jim Snyder. On every tune, Baltic and McLaughlin shifted with ease between melodic solos and rhythm guitar duties.

Nikola Baltic

The Reinhardt material included "Swing de Paris," "Douce Ambiance," "Djangology" and "Minor Swing." The band also performed gypsy bossa versions of Reinhardt disciple Stochelo Rosenberg's "For Sefora" and Ninine Garcia's gypsy jazz standard "Paquito." 
Glenn Stephenson

Other material given a gypsy jazz flavor this night included "The Anniversary Song," Jimmy McHugh's "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" (Aland's first vocal feature), the French tune "J’attendrai,” violinist Stuff Smith's "I's a Muggin" and the Yiddyish tune "Bei Mir Bist Do Schoen." 

Jon McLaughlin
"Honeysuckle Rose" showcased the band's tight yet exuberant sound. "Indifference Waltz" included beautiful segments in which Snyder and Aland seamlessly doubled on the melody on clarinet and violin. 

On "Douce Ambiance," Aland's extended solo included snippets of "Eleanor Rigby" and "Tainted Love." 

Snyder, Aland, Stephenson
In these fine hands, anything seems fair game.
Hot Club of SRQ

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Superb music and whimsy combine for a memorable CCJS season finale

Herb Bruce
Trombonist Herb Bruce's repeat visit to the Charlotte County Jazz Society's concert series with his Herbicide Jazz Band was a night of uncontrolled exuberance. Sometimes it was in the music. More often, it was the self-deprecating humor of Bruce and his merry music makers on Monday, April 9's Dixieland Jazz Night.

Herbicide presented excellent music - not always in the traditional Dixieland style. There were some crowd-pleasing vintage set pieces, some new things - including a new face in the area, some borrowed thing and some blue(s). And it all worked seamlessly.
Jim Snyder

Davey Jones
Bruce was joined by trumpeter Davey Jones, clarinetist Jim Snyder, pianist Judi Glover, bassist Charlie Silva and drummer Eddie Metz Jr. Ken Salvo sat in on banjo and rhythm guitar in his first Port Charlotte gig. The recent Florida transplant is a 10-year veteran of Vince Giordano's New York-based Nighthawks trad band.

Patricia Dean
Patricia Dean, joined the band for four vocal numbers. While Dean has taken a drum feature in past performances, she stuck to the microphone this night. Looking over at versatile all-star Metz, she quipped, "I don't play drums when he's in the county."

Together, the band underscored the notion that while jazz is a serious music on many levels, it also can be a lot of fun in the right hands. 
Snyder, Bruce

The highlights included:
  • The band's first-time performance of a Dick Hyman arrangement of "Old Man River," beautiful for its sections of horn riffs and counterpoint.
  • Its versions of "Storyville Blues" and Terry Waddell arrangements of "I Never Knew" and "Royal Garden Blues."
  • Bruce and Snyder doubling their reprise (on trombone and clarinet) of Alphonse Picou's classic clarinet solo on the New Orleans standard "High Society."
  • Jones, subbing for regular trumpeter Don Johnson - who was home mending broken ribs after a fall, delivered exquisite solos all night long in the sometimes growling trad sound. He was featured beautifully on "Pete Kelly's Blues."
  • The band's frenetic delivery of "Cake Walking Babies (From Home)." The 1925 recording by composer Clarence Williams' Blue Five featured a classic head-to-head solo battle between a young Louis Armstrong and soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet.
  • Dean's second-set vocals, which included "Yes Sir, That's My Baby," which became a tip of the hat to Bruce, her husband of nearly 16 years, and a stunning voice-and-bass duet with Silva on "Bye Bye Blackbird." In their hands, it was spare and sultry.
Salvo, Silva
Eddie Metz Jr.
Herbicide's performance drew an audience nearing 300 to the Cultural Center of Charlotte County's William H. Wakeman III Theater in Port Charlotte. It was the largest of the seven concert 2017-18 CCJS season.
Judi Glover


Herbicide Jazz Band