Sunday, August 29, 2010

CDs of Note…

Tamir Hendelman, Destinations (Resonance)
If you love jazz piano trios, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better example of their results among the recordings released so far this year. Israeli-born pianist Tamir Hendelman (a longtime resident of southern California), Italian bassist Marco Panascia and New York drummer Lewis Nash have produced a gem in Destinations. The players’ comfort level, adventurous approach to the classic, contemporary and original material - and depth of playing - combine to make this a winner. Gems: all 12 tracks.

Omar Hakim and Rachel Z, The Trio of Oz, Ozmosis Records
How do you draw younger, eclectic pop- and rock-based listeners to jazz? Drummer Omar Hakim, pianist Rachel (Nicolazzo) Z and bassist Maeve Royce have one solution. In this new project, they have taken 10 musical standards from the rock world - and used them as launching pads for their own deconstruction, reconstruction and improvisation.

The music is wide ranging, retaining enough melodic meat to satisfy both casual and adventurous listeners while fueling their own imaginations as players and arrangers. The “covers,” if you can call them that, include “Angry Chair” by Alice in Chains, Coldplay’s “Lost,” Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Possess Your Heart,” Depeche Mode’s “In Your Room,” Morrissey’s “There is a Light” and Sting’s “King of Pain” hit for The Police. In these talented hands, the results are electric - and fascinating. (This is a September 8 release.)

Brandi Disterheft, Second Side (Justin Time)
Brandi Disterheft is a marvelous bass player and a charming singer, and she puts both skills to great use on her second recording project as a leader, following up 2007’s aptly titled, Juno-winning, Debut. Disterheft’s talents shine on the beautiful “Combien de Chances” (How Many Chances), “Sketches of Belief,” “Second Dawn” (which features her on kalimba), and the hard-driving “My Only Friends are Pigeons.” Her Joni Mitchell-like approach to lyrics is beautiful on “Twilight Curtain.” Two fellow Canadian singers, Holly Cole and Ranee Lee, join the project - with Cole providing lyrics and singing the country-tinged “He’s Walkin’” and Lee adding her imprint to the lone standard, “This Time the Dream is on Me.” There’s nothing at all wrong with their performances, but to my ears, their inclusion detracts a bit from the leader’s stunning effort.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It’s Tanglewood time – in jazz time

Every summer during my festival wanderings, I get one or more similar pitches. “You really need to go to X.” or “You need to come here… It’s a huge jazz event – and it’s free!” Only problem, it’s many hundreds of miles away, it is indeed a HUGE event, and at this point of my summer festival season, I’m ready to wind down with something a bit laid back and bucolic – but no less musical.

The festivals in question also happen to take place on Labor Day Weekend, when I’m already committed to the Tanglewood Jazz Festival. And it'sTanglewood, in the Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts, that’s a bit laid back and bucolic – but no less musical. That’s a large measure of its charm.

For several decades, jazz has been the traditional closer of the season at Tanglewood, located in Lenox, Mass. Its beautiful woody, pastoral setting - and sweeping lawn - are the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a range of pop concerts. But over the Labor Day weekend, it’s all about jazz – veterans, rising talents and artists whose work blends the jazz and classical genres.

This year’s festival opens Saturday afternoon in Ozawa Hall with the second annual taping of John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey’s lively “Radio Deluxe” syndicated radio show with special guest Jane Monheit, who straddles the jazz-cabaret line. Saturday night brings Tanglewood veteran and Grammy winner Kurt Elling to the stage with his band. His longtime pianist and musical director (a relationship dating to 1995) Laurence Hobgood, opens the evening with his trio.

Sunday’s matinee features clarinetist-saxophonist Eddie Daniels and pianist Bob James with bassist James Genus and drummer Peter Erskine in a new program they call “Broadway Boogie.” Its repertoire ranges from standards to Bach. Lee Mergner had a great interview on today with Daniels about the project. Check it out. The Count Basie Orchestra, now led by Bill Hughes, closes the afternoon.

Sunday night’s final concert opens with Julian Lage’s Group, with the Boston-based guitarist fresh from tearing it up at Newport with his group as well as Mark O’Connor’s Hot Swing band. The evening will end with pianist-composer Donal Fox’s latest jazz-classical blend called "Piazzolla to Bach," with classical cellist Maya Beiser as special guest. Fox’s band also includes drummer Dafnis Prieto, vibraphonist Warren Wolf and bassist John Lockwood. Bostonian Fox was a huge hit at Tanglewood two years ago with his "Scarlatti Jazz Project."

Each Ozawa Hall concert will be preceded by a Jazz CafĂ© showcase for rising new talent. The tradition began a few years ago – but this year’s has a twist. The four featured bands won a video contest enabling them to play at Tanglewood. The leaders are saxophonist Brandon Wright (Saturday at 12:30 p.m.), pianist Noah Baerman (Sunday at 6:30 p.m.), and singers Kelley Johnson (Saturday at 6:30 p.m.) and Audrey Silver (Sunday at 12:30 p.m.).

Festival regulars will notice something missing this year. There is no Friday night Latin jazz concert, which in the past usually took on a dance party vibe for many attendees well before night’s end . Tanglewood Jazz Festival Manager Dawn Singh called it a victim of the economy, but said she hopes to bring it back.

“We’d like to reinstate the Friday night concerts but it will depend how the economy progresses over the next year,” Singh said. “While it is a bit difficult to get the number of people we would like to see at Tanglewood on a Friday night, the Latin jazz concerts were still very popular and they gave us an opportunity to further diversify our lineup, which we are always striving to do.”

Monday, August 16, 2010

CDs of Note...

Dave Bass Quartet, Gone (Dave Bass Music)
One listen to this dynamic disc and you’ll be asking yourself: “Where has Dave Bass been all these years?” More than 20 years ago, the pianist was busy on the San Francisco jazz and Latin scene. But his musical feature was in doubt after fractured a wrist in the mid-1980s. So he went to college, then law school. Now, he’s a California deputy attorney general specializing in civil rights enforcement. These days, he is practicing law by day, immersing himself in jazz nights and weekends, and we listeners are the better for it.

Ten of 11 tracks are originals, with two including lyrics performed by Mary Stallings (“Surrender” and the catchy and clever “I Bet You Wonder”). The one non-original is Astor Piazzola’s “Libertango.” Bass is a terrific writer and player, and he has masterful support here from Ernie Watts on tenor, drummer-percussionist Babatunde Lea, bassist Gary Brown and conguero Harold Muniz. Bass’s tune “Gone” is a stunning tango showcase for Watts and Bass. Given his history, Gone makes great sense as a CD title. “Back” could have been a worthy substitute.

Kelley Suttenfield, Where is Love? (Rhombus)
This debut CD by Virginia native Kelley Suttenfield, now based in the Big Apple, is a fine illumination for her charming voice – and of her eclectic musical tastes and influences. Straight-ahead jazz, The Beatles, classic country and country-pop tunes, a touch of Brazilia, with some Great American Songbook and movie soundtrack items thrown in for good measure. All get a strong jazz treatment from Suttenfield and quartet. Favorites: Her takes on Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar,” “Twilight Time,” an uptempo revision of Bobby Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe,” a breezy take on Betty Carter’s classic “Open the Door” and Wes Montgomery’s “West Coast Blues.” Another treat: the dazzling electric guitar work of Jesse Lewis on five tracks, most notably “Sugar” and the very hip “West Coast Blues.”

Frank Glover, Abacus (Owl Studios)
Indianapolis clarinetist-composer Frank Glover shifts primarily to soprano sax for Abacus, a formidable project that can best be described as a chamber jazz hybrid featuring his quartet and a 24-member orchestra featuring strings, brass, woodwinds and mallets. The recording’s nine tracks are segmented into three movements. The last segment is the most uptempo movement. Standout tracks include “Modern Times” and the flamenco-tinged “Salamanca” (the riveting latter piece features Glover on both soprano sax and clarinet). From start to finish, Abacus shimmers with great beauty – and a jazzman’s bite. Classically trained and influenced Glover has said that he feels there is a giant gap between improvisation and contemporary classical composition. He’s building his own bridge with the help of his working quartet mates: pianist Zach Lapidus, bassist Jack Helsley and drummer Dave Scalia.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Another Newport gem (updated with link)

I'm just back from this year's CareFusion Newport Jazz Festival and have put together an overview for, along with imagery. The link's above. I'll try to post some more images in the next day or so.

The crowd was into it, and about as youngish as I can recall in my coverage of this event since 1981. The weather was perfect on Saturday, a bit wilting on Sunday - not a drop of rain - and the music overall was diverse and excellent.

The blend of artists means there was indeed something for everyone.