After more than a dozen years, deeply entrenched in the jazz piano trio format, Lynne Arriale has proven that 2009’s well-regarded CD Nuance was not a one-off. She has followed that quartet session (featuring several all-star guests) with a dynamic new CD by her own new quartet. The superb project Convergence teams Arriale with saxophonist Bill McHenry, bassist Omer Avital and drummer Anthony Pinciotti. There is a refreshed sense of purpose on this CD that blends well with Arriale’s consistent excellence through the years as a pianist and composer. This, her 11th recording project, features six varied Arriale originals and five reinventions of contemporary rock tunes.
My favorites: their teasing, twisting takes on the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” and the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black,” the Middle Eastern/flamenco energy and beauty of her own “Dance of the Rain” (featuring Ovital on oud) and McHenry’s tenor work on Arriale’s ballad “For Peace” (reminiscent of the finest Quartet West noir balladry). Longtime Arriale fans have a new facet of her work to savor, including the understated, wistful beauty of “The Simple Things.” This is a February 8 release.
Grace Kelly/Phil Woods, Man With the Hat (Pazz)
Head-to-head alto battles are unusual but not unheard of in the annals of jazz recordings. Perhaps few and far between is the right descriptive. Now comes 18-year-old saxophonist Grace Kelly with her second such recording in three years. First was GRACEfulLEE with mentor Lee Konitz. She’s back with another mentor, Phil Woods, on this session. Kelly and Woods blend well, with his slightly more acerbic tone offsetting her sound on this mix of material – two songs written or co-written by Kelly plus one from Woods and a range of jazz standards – performed with Monty Alexander on piano, Woods’ longtime drummer Bill Goodwin and Kelly’s bassist, Evan Gregor.
Strongest here are Woods’ “Love Song from Brazilian Suite,” and the title track, which Kelly wrote in tribute to Woods and his distinctive leather cap (one of which he bestowed on her in a Pittsfield MA concert where she sat in several years ago). Also, Billy Strayhorn’s wistful “Ballad for Very Tired and Very Sad Lotus Eaters” and the splendidly intimate Kelly-Gregor duo take on “Every Time We Say Goodbye.”
The musical maturity of this gifted young player is quite remarkable, no matter that she’s been recording since age 12.Singing is not Kelly’s strongest suit, but her voice has improved through the years and fits her style well. She’s best on her soulful original “Gone.” The other vocal feature here is a version of Benny Carter’s classic “People Time” with terrific lyrics contributed by Deborah Pearl. This is a January 25 release.
Helio Alves, Música (JLP)
Pianist Helio Alves’ fourth recording as a leader (and his JLP debut) is a dandy, with a small group slant primarily on Brazilian jazz plus a few jazz standards (“Black Nile” by Wayne Shorter, “Chan’s Song” by Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder) given a Brazilian tinge. Since arriving in the U.S. in 1986, Alves has been a first-call pianist for a wide variety of leaders, including trumpeter Claudio Roditi, a mentor of sorts who is a guest on this session. The trio’s other members are bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Antonio Sanchez. Roditi and guitarist Romero Lubambo join the fun for two tracks apiece..
The delicacy of Alves’ player shines brightly on Moacir Santos’ “Kathy,” Hermeto Pascoal’s “Musica das Nuvens e do Chão” and Roditi’s “Adeus Alf.” His fire is revealed “Black Nile” and Dom Salvador’s “Gafieira.” Originals include the reflective “Sombra” and “Tribute to Charlie 2,” an homage to late mentor Charlie Banacos. Alves has not received the degree of notoriety he deserves for his musical passion and skill. If he’s ever on a gig in your area, be sure to check him out.