Thursday, June 23, 2016

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a look at new CD projects by Jim Clayton, Bill Evans, June Garber, Lisa Lindsley, Mike Moreno and Ernie Watts…

Jim Clayton, Lenny Jumps In (Clay-Tone)
Toronto-based Jim Clayton finds great musical inspiration in the delights and interests of his young daughter. The germination of those efforts came with his delightful 2014 release, Songs My Daughter Knows. Now he’s back with another gem, Lenny Jumps In. The gems here include the funky “Louisiana Cat Club,” The DeRozan Effect” (written for young Lenny’s favorite Toronto Raptor, guard DeMar DeRozan) and Clayton’s take on Kenny Loggins’ “Return to Pooh Corner.” Also, be sure to check out “Miss Kelly’s House,” a waltz that was inspired by his daughter’s visits to the home of Kelly Peterson, the widow of the great Canadian jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. Clayton’s band includes guitarist Andrew Scott, bassist Steve Lucas, drummer David Peters and percussionist Paul Ormandy

Bill Evans, Some Other Time (Resonance)
If you’re like me, the piano jazz of Bill Evans never gets tired. Every listen brings out crafty nuances within his deep, careful melodic invention. So imagine the delight in hearing Some Other Time: The Lost Session From the Black Forest, a recording that sat in a safe in Germany for nearly 50 years. Resonance Records acquired it, and released this two-CD set this spring. It features Evans, performing in solo, duo and trio contexts in June 1968 at the MPS Studios in Villingen, Germany, while on tour in Europe.

Evans’ trio at the time included drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Eddie Gomez. DeJohnette was in this trio for just six months – and this was his only studio session with Evans. It includes Evans’ only recording of “These Foolish Things.” His solo explorations are “Lover Man” and “It’s All Right With Me.” The trio's take on the standard “How About You?” reveals the pianist’s stylistic evolution toward a more percussive attack to the piano, as CD annotator Marc Myers describes, “egged on by Mr. DeJohnette’s peppery cymbal work.” This is a great addition to the Evans discography.

June Garber, This I Know (self-produced)
Happiness, joy, grief, melancholy and sadness are all part of the adult experience. June Garber has experienced them all – and on this CD, the Toronto-based singer shares them in a cathartic way. It no doubt helped her move beyond the sudden loss of her husband, Bob Doherty, nearly three years ago. Some of the joy comes out on tunes from or inspired by her childhood in South Africa – “Underneath the Jacaranda Tree” and “Meadowlands.” Other treats include her poignant take on Hoagy Carmichael’s classic “Baltimore Oriole” and a clever medley pairing Adele’s “Rumour Has It” with the Peggy Lee-associated torch anthem “Fever.”

Her core band – pianist Mark Kieswetter, bassist George Koller and drummer Ben Wittman – is joined by a variety of special guests on various tracks. This project also finds Garber in a slightly different musical role. She co-wrote two of the tunes – “Underneath the Jacaranda Tree” and “Unbroken” – and she took a subtler approach to vocals, meshing herself into the band rather than riding roughshod over the instrumentals as too many vocalists do. This fresh approach serves her well.

Lisa Lindsley, Long After Midnight (Take One)
Five years after her stunning debut CD, Everytime We Say Goodbye, Lisa Lindsley is back with a very different gem. The Californian’s newest CD was recorded while she spent a year living in Paris (2013-14), finding gigs and musicians she enjoyed working with. She was joined by pianist Laurent Marode, drummer Mourad Benhammou and reed player Esaie Cid, and brought in Bay Area bassist Jeff Chambers for this session. Lindsley put her own varied emotional stamp on a variety of American standards, plus two tunes written by guitarist James Wilson, a native Californian who now teaches music at the American School of Paris. They are the title track, co-written by Tricia Lee Sampson, and “Skylark Song.” Her selections also included Donovan’s 1966 pop hit “Mellow Yellow.” She twists each tune to emphasize her own various moods. Dig the spare, wistful, what-might-have-been treatment of “The House is Haunted (By The Echo of Your Last Goodbye)” – and her playful take on the Jule Styne-Leo Robin classic “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.”

Mike Moreno, Lotus (World Culture)
Houston native Mike Moreno brings chops and a world-music feel to the table on Lotus, a quartet CD that teams the guitarist with pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Doug Weiss and drummer Eric Harland. Favorites include the title track, “The Empress” and “Can We Stay Forever?” – thoughtful soundscapes that shimmer with invention. New York-based Moreno wrote all nine tracks on this, his fifth CD as a leader.

Ernie Watts, Wheel of Time (Flying Dolphin)
Ernie Watts’ bittersweet tenor sax sound was a hallmark of Charlie Haden’s longtime small band, Quartet West – and it continues to serve Watts well on his own outpouring of CDs. The latest, Wheel of Time, teams Watts with his first-call European rhythm section of nearly 20 years: pianist Christof Saenger, bassist Rudi Engel and drummer Heinrich Koebberling. All four players contributed compositions to the project, which also includes covers of Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge” and Toronto pianist Adrean Farrugia’s whimsical “Goose Dance.” The highlight is the title track, “Wheel of Time” (subtitled “Anthem for Charlie”) – a pensive homage to the late Charlie Haden that Watts co-wrote with Seattle-based pianist Marc Seales. It’s a thing of beauty.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

A most-unexpected tip of many jazz hats....

Each June, the Jazz Journalists Association holds a matinee program in Manhattan to honor journalists, broadcasters and photographers who have done distinguished work in the past year.

Wednesday afternoon's festivities at the Blue Note jazz club included an unexpected surprise. JJA's voting members selected yours truly as the 2016 winner of the Lona Foote-Bob Parent Award for Jazz Photography.

When my name surfaced with five other very talented nominees (John Abbott, Jimmy Katz, Richard Conde, Lauren Deutsch and Michael Jackson) several months ago on the JJA Awards ballot, I figured it was a mistake, since I won the award back in 2003.

More than a few JJA member photographers had been under the impression this was sort of a lifetime achievement award, one and done. Apparently not - or maybe the JJA Awards committee forgot that caveat.

New Jersey-based photographer and writer Mitchell Seidel, with whom I've shared concert photo pits dating back to 1985, shared an interesting perspective: something along the lines that winning a lifetime achievement award twice in one lifetime is quite a feat.

I am humbled by the honor, knowing full well that each of the five other nominees was just as deserving.

As best I can surmise, my book, "Jazz in the Key of Light," must have developed some degree of awareness within the JJA community over the past year and a half. Maybe the voters took note of a 30+ year commitment to writing about and photographing the jazz world. We'll never know with any certainty.

Here is the full list this year's winners in the various categories:
  • Lifetime achievement in jazz journalism: Ted Panken
  • Jazz periodical: DownBeat
  • Jazz blog: Ethan Iverson‘s “Do the Math”
  • Jazz book: “Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth,” by John Szwed
  • Robert Palmer-Helen Oakley Dance Award for Excellence in Writing in 2015: Nate Chinen
  • Willis Conover-Marian McPartland Award for Broadcasting in 2015: Linda Yohn, WEMU, Ypsilanti, MI
  • Lona Foote-Bob Parent Award for Photography in 2015: Ken Franckling
  • Jazz Photo of the Year: Patrick Marek
  • Jazz Album Art of the Year: Mike Park, for Kamasi Washington, The Epic
For more details, including all of the musician winners announced earlier this spring, visit the JJA online. Composer/orchestra leader Maria Schneider took home a whopping five trophies this time around: for Musician, Composer, Arranger, Large Ensemble and Record of the Year, the latter for her exquisite CD The Thompson Fields (artistShare).

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Miles Davis legacy, still vibrant after all these years

Trumpeter, bandleader and jazz innovator Miles Davis would have turned 90 today (May 26), had he not passed away nearly 25 years ago. That quarter-century absence from the jazz scene arrives on September 28, 2016.

His music continues to resonate for lovers of his various styles of performance: bop, cool bop, modal jazz, hard bop, electronic fusion, and instrumental pop music. He was one of the pivotal figures in modern jazz. Miles was a charming, frustrating enigma – blessed with one of the sweetest tones ever heard on trumpet and dogged by a "Prince of Darkness" persona that was as much a buffer guarding his private space as it was a mystique.

On this Milestone day, here’s an opportunity to check out or revisit the 4,000-word profile I prepared just before his 60th birthday. The four-hour interview experience was quite illuminating about the man and his music. I’m also sharing a few images from that April 7, 1986 afternoon in Manhattan.


Happy 90th, Miles. wherever your spirit resides today. It certainly resides in countless musical hearts, given the relentless interest in the music.

 Photos © Ken Franckling 1986, all rights reserved.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Tis the season for jazz tribute recordings. Taking a look at CD projects honoring the musical legacies of Jackie McLean, Marian McPartland, Oscar Peterson, Dinah Washington, Grover Washington Jr. and Attila Zoller.... 

Champian Fulton, After Dark (Gut String)
Oklahoma-born, New York-based pianist and singer Champian Fulton tips a mighty hat on this CD to her biggest jazz vocal hero, the late Dinah Washington. Ten of the tunes on After Dark are from the Washington songbook. Fulton’s sweet vocals and bluesy piano style are backed here by bassist David Williams and drummer Lewis Nash, with her father, trumpeter Stephen Fulton, joining on four tracks. Gems include “Ain’t Misbehavin,” “A Bad Case of the Blues,” “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home” and Fulton’s original “Midnight Stroll,” a solo piano piece deeply influenced by fellow Oklahoman Jay McShann. Fulton honors Washington’s legacy here in a way that also spotlights her own formidable skills.

Jacknife, The Music of Jackie McLean (Primary)
San Francisco Bay area saxophonist Steven Lucerne has been using his quintet Jacknife to dig deep into alto sax player Jackie McLean’s edgy post-bop recordings. The material on this CD was drawn from four seminal 1960s Blue Note albums: Jacknife, It’s Time, Let Freedom Ring and New Soil. Lugerner’s band includes pianist Richard Sears, bassist Garret Lang, drummer Michael Mitchell and trumpeter JJ Kirkpatrick. Favorites: their takes on McLean’s classic blues “Das Dat,” Charles Tolliver’s “On the Nile,” McLean’s teasing, twisting “Melody for Melonae” and his blues “Hip Strut.”

Jason Miles, To Grover With Love / Live in Japan (Whaling City Sound)
Perhaps more than any other musician of his day, saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. created an instrumental crossover sound blending straight-ahead jazz with the energy and soul of R&B. He had a sound all his own, and keyboardist Jason Miles pulled together a band to honor that legacy in live performance. This session, recorded at the Blue Note jazz club in Tokyo in June 2010, dug into material from a 1997 Washington performance at New York’s Paramount Theater. 

Miles’ funky septet featured hard-driving tenor players Andy Snitzer and Eric Darius (sometimes featured separately, sometimes going head to head), bassist Gerald Veasley and percussionist Ralph McDonald (both Grover band alumni), guitarist Nick Moroch and drummer Buddy Williams. Ryan Shaw added guest vocals on “Just the Two of Us.” Favorite tracks: their takes on several classic Grover hits:  “Winelight,” “Lorans Dance,” Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” and MacDonald’s “Mr. Magic.” Thanks to projects like this, Grover’s musical spirit remains alive and well. 

Roberta Piket, One for Marian: Celebrating Marian McPartland (Thirteenth Note)

Marian McPartland was best known as a jazz pianist and longtime broadcaster, hosting the classic public radio program Piano Jazz for more than 30 years. Roberta Piket wants us to pay more attention to McPartland’s legacy as a composer. Her newest CD, One for Marian, does that as Piket and her band perform McPartland material plus two original tribute tunes, the title track “One for Marian” and the elegiac “Saying Goodbye.” McPartland covers on this project include “Threnody” (written as a musical portrait of Mary Lou Williams), “Ambience,” “In the Days of Our Love” (for which Peggy Lee wrote lyrics) and “Kaleidoscope,” which became the Piano Jazz theme song. The band includes saxophonists Virginia Mayhew and Steve Wilson, trumpeter Bill Mobley, bassist Harvie S. and drummer Billy Mintz. Singer Karrin Allyson joins Piket for a duet version of “Twilight World,” a McPartland tune for which Johnny Mercer penned lyrics.  
(This is a June 10 release.)

Various Artists, Oscar, With Love (Two Lions)
This three-CD set is a stunning salute to the late pianist Oscar Peterson. Sixteen top jazz pianists brought their own interpretations to a wide range of Peterson compositions – recording all of them on his Bosendorfer Imperial piano in his home studio near Toronto. The collection includes 19 of Peterson’s best-known pieces, 10 compositions that were never recorded previously, and seven compositions that the featured pianists wrote in tribute to Peterson (such as Chick Corea’s “One for Oscar”). The participating pianists included Corea, Lance Anderson, Monty Alexander, Kenny Barron, Robi Botos, Bill Charlap, Gerald Clayton, Peterson protégé Benny Green, Hiromi, Oliver Jones, Justin Kauflin, Ramsey Lewis, Michel Legrand, Audrey Morris, Makoto Ozone and Renee Rosnes.

The previously unrecorded pieces included Legrand’s performance of “Dream of Me,” Oliver Jones’ take on “Celine’s Waltz,” which Oscar wrote for his daughter, and Ramsey Lewis’s exploration of the ballad “If I Love Again.” Gerald Clayton honored Peterson with his cover of Oscar’s civil rights anthem “Hymn to Freedom.” Charlap and Rosnes performed separately and also teamed on a four-hand version of “Sushi.” Favorites included Barron’s take on “Ballad for Benny Carter,” Rosnes’ version of Peterson’s “Love Ballade,” Botos’ version of Peterson’s majestic “Wheatland,” Hiromi’s zippy take on the playful “Oscar’s New Camera” and bassist Dave Young’s solo elegy, “Goodbye Old Friend.” What an ambitious project, recorded over 10 months and so beautifully delivered by Oscar’s widow, Kelly Peterson. There is much, much, much to savor. 

Various Artists, Message to Attila: The Music of Attila Zoller (Enja)
The late Attila Zoller was an important but somewhat obscure link between the American and European jazz scenes who also bridged the gap between swing jazz and the avant-garde. The guitarist, composer and educator began his career in Budapest and ended it at his Vermont Jazz Center. Guitarists and a few non-guitarists honor Zoller’s legacy by performing his compositions on this project, and six also recorded messages of what he meant to them. 

Participants included guitarists John Abercrombie, David Becker, Peter Bernstein, Gene Bertoncini, Helmut Kagerer, Pat Metheny (in a 1998 track with the late Jim Hall), Mike Stern, bassist Ron Carter, vibes player Wolfgang Lakerschmid, and pianist Eugene Uman. Favorites: the Hall-Metheny take on “The Birds and the Bees,” Bertoncini’s duo with Ron Carter on “When It’s Time,” Abercrombie’s trio take on “Waltz for Joy,” Kagerer’s solo version of “Ulla’s Memories” and a Bernstein/Becker cover of “Samba Caribia.”

Monday, May 2, 2016

Opening a month-long tribute to a jazz legend

Much attention will be paid throughout May to the musical legacy of trumpeter Miles Davis, who would have turned 90 this May 26. His musical legacy remains so strong today that it sometimes is hard to fathom that he left us a quarter-century ago - on September 28, 1991.

James Suggs
Trumpeter James Suggs assembled a fine quintet to honor Davis's imprint on mainstream jazz and shared music from the horn legend at a Sunday, May 1 concert co-sponsored by the Tampa (FL) Jazz Club, WUSF's "All Night Jazz" program and Hillsborough Community College's Visual and Performing Arts Series.
Phil Magallanes

The band included tenor saxophonist Kenny Anderson and pianist Phil Magallanes, both alumni of Arturo Sandoval's band, bassist Billy Pillucere and drummer Ric Craig. This is a band that had never worked together before - but you never would have known it from the players' synergy. 

 Anderson moved to the Tampa Bay area a couple of weeks ago from Nashville, and Craig returned to the region recently to teach at the University of South Florida after two decades in Los Angeles. Suggs has been in Florida for two years, after spending eight years playing jazz trumpet in Argentina.
Kenny Anderson

Together, at HCC's Mainstage Theater on the Ybor City campus, they channeled the Miles Davis spirit to put their own imprint on classic music Davis wrote or recorded between the late 1940s to the late1960s, before he veered into his fusion and pop phases. 

The program touched on bebop (John Lewis's "Milestones," the Miles arrangement of Monk's "Round Midnight," If I Were a Bell"), cool jazz/modal ("So What," "Blue in Green," "Bye Bye Blackbird," "Some Day My Prince Will Come" and "My Funny Valentine") and his early experimental phase with his second great quintet featuring Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock ( Shorter's "Nefertiti and E.S.P."). 
Billy Pillucere

Ric Craig
"Miles' real talent was in picking his bands. He had a different lineup on virtually every record," said Suggs, who has been studying Davis's music since his early teens

 WUSF in Tampa, 89.7 FM, will continue the Davis celebration with a Miles-a-Palooza programming series that will run throughout May on "All Night Jazz." They've got a lot of fertile ground to cover.

Full disclosure: in addition to covering the concert, I was invited to talk a bit about Miles and sign copies of my book, Jazz in the Key of Light.
Magallanes, Suggs, Anderson, Pillucere, Craig

Thursday, April 21, 2016

What’s on your jazz list?

By the very nature of the process of making the music, any tune can become a jazz tune. Some well-known standards, which I need not mention to further popularize them, are done so often that they are beyond tiresome. But jazz compositions stick with you for other reasons. The melody may be striking, or perhaps you’ve witnessed a performance that left you with goosebumps. The reasons will vary from listener to listener.

Just for fun, I started thinking the other night about my most favorite jazz tunes.

Here are the top 12 – right now. The first five are ranked by personal preference. The others are close behind but not listed in any particular order.

Ahmad Jamal at Newport, 2010
1 - “Poinciana” - Ahmad Jamal has been playing this 1930s tune, popularized in the 1952 film “Dreamboat,” since the mid-1950s. It became his become his signature tune thanks to a two-year ride on the top 10 charts after his 1958 recorded version was released in 1963 on his Live at the Pershing album. I’ve heard him perform it live many times – and never the same way twice. He always finds new things to explore and share.

2 - “Con Alma” - Dizzy Gillespie is better known for his standards “Manteca” and “Night in Tunisia,” among others. This ballad, with a Spanish name that translates as “with soul” has always been a favorite. It is a beauty - and is so different than the music we normally associate with Dizzy.

3 - “Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)” - This Joaquin Rodrigo composition is the opening segment - dare I say highlight? – of the landmark Miles Davis and Gil Evans Sketches of Spain project. It is one of my favorite Davis albums. Little-known fact: When the album was first released in 1960, the packaging did not include the band personnel. One of them was drummer Elvin Jones - who played the mood-setting castinets.

4 - “Peace” - This Horace Silver ballad’s finest rendition, to my ears, is by pianist Tommy Flanagan on his 1978 Something Borrowed, Something Blue album. The esteemed jazz broadcaster Eric Jackson used this version as his “Eric in the Evening” theme song for many years on WGBH-FM in Boston.

5 - “Blue in Green” - This Bill Evans composition was one of only two ballads on Miles Davis’s classic Kind of Blue album. Evans wrote the tune, but Davis got the compositional credit - and royalty checks. Its modal melody sticks with you.

-  To Wisdom, the Prize” - Bassist Dominic Mancini hipped me to this pensive Larry Willis tune. He’d first heard it on a Joey Calderazzo trio album The Traveler (Blue Note, 1993). It debuted 10 years earlier on trumpeter Nat Adderley’s On the Move album when Willis was the band’s pianist. That session was recorded in October 1982 at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner jazz club.

-  Little Sunflower” - This Freddie Hubbard classic is quite the contrast to his more uptempo material.

-  Jeannine” - Duke Pearson wrote it around 1960. Many jazz bands have covered it and continue to do so today. It’s boppish energy make it a great springboard for improvisers.

-  Afro-Blue” - Mongo Santamaria composed this Latin jazz gem. John Coltrane covered it, so did McCoy Tyner, whose big band arrangement is riveting.

-  The Sidewinder” - Lee Morgan’s 1964 album title track stands out as a genre-defining tune for the 1960s soul jazz scene, much like another personal favorite, Nat Adderley’s “Work Song.” Both have become jazz standards.

-  Joy Spring” - Trumpeter Clifford Brown composed it as a tribute to his wife. It was recorded in1954 on the EmArcy recording Clifford Brown& Max Roach – two years before Brown died in a car crash at age 25. Thanks to music like this, his jazz legacy endures 60 years later.

- “Moanin’” - This Bobby Timmons tune was first recorded by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1958. It has a catchy call-and-response melodic segment that indeed caught on – and helped turn it into a jazz instrumental standard. Singer Jon Hendricks added lyrics.

So, what’s on your list?