Branford Marsalis Quartet, Four MF's Playin' Tunes (Marsalis Music)
Saxophonist Branford Marsalis has a solid band whose members know how to have musical fun together. That’s clear throughout this latest CD that features Marsalis with pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and young drummer Justin Faulkner. This is a musical adventure with strong and spirited playing throughout, featuring originals by everyone but Faulkner, plus covers of Thelonious Monk’s “Teo” and the standard “My Ideal.” Favorites: Calderazzo’s “The Mighty Sword” and “As Summer Into Autumn Slips,” and Marsalis’s “Treat It Gentle,” which is served up as a bonus track. You’ll love the way they embrace and explore each tune individually and a unit.
Paula West, Live At Jazz Standard (Hi Horse)This CD, San Francisco-based singer Paula West’s first recording in 11 years, is a wonderful display of a confident jazz singer in her prime. One who understands how to make a song her own – and deliver on it. It’s also a poignant CD, the last major recording project by her musical soul mate and musical director, pianist George Mesterhazy. This marvelous musician died in his sleep at age 58 about a month before the project’s scheduled release in May. West and the George Mesterhazy quartet (with Ed Cherry on guitar, Barak Mori on bass and Jerome Jennings) recorded this session during a gig at New York’s Jazz Standard – and they were at the tops of their game in terms of chemistry and solo prowess.
The sheer variety of tunes, and West’s take on them with the sometimes-understated support of her band, are wonderful. Her take on Hoagy Carmichael’s “Baltimore Oriole” opens the session in strong fashion, featuring Cherry, Mori and Jennings in a series of dark, exotic solos. She also tackles a range of unjazzy material – Dylan’s “Like as Rolling Stone” and “Don’t Think Twice” and Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” – bringing new dimensions to each of them. Mesterhazy’s arrangements leave ample room for beautiful and thoughtful soloing without straying far from West’s riveting deep voice. Her lyrical celebration of “Nature Boy” shows the way she moves with confidence down the path of songs that are less traveled. Mesterhazy doubles on organ to give Lillian Green and Big Bill Broonzy’s “Romance in the Dark” the bluesy edge it requires – and illuminate the depth of West’s soulful range.
(Full disclosure: George Mesterhazy was a close friend. He and his music are missed deeply.)
Grant Geissman, Bop! Bang! Boom! (Futurism)Los Angeles-based Grant Geissman is an eclectic guitarist. His interests range wide stylistically but he is best known for his pop jazz experience, highlighted by his guitar sooo on trumpeter Chuck Mangione’s 1978 hit “Feels So Good.” But don’t pigeonhole him. This latest CD, his 14th, covers a lot of ground with more than a dozen guests including pianist Russell Ferrante, saxophonist Tom Scott and guitarists Larry Carlton and Albert Lee. My personal favorites are two of the more exotic and mellower tunes: “Un Poco Español” with Ferrante aboard and the breezy “Samba en Menor.” “Guitarism” is another Spanish-tinged gem, which is all Geissman – playing classical guitars, percussion and clapping. For a 180o change of pace, be sure to visit “Texas Shuffle” to enjoy the way he tears up the blues with Carlton and Lee.
Kevin Coelho, Funkengruven: The Joy of Driving a B3 (Chicken Coup)With a twist on VW’s Fahrvergnügen 1990 advertising slogan, Kevin Coelho calls his debut CD “Funkengruven” - the Joy of Driving a B3.” This teenage Hammond B3 player (he turns 17 on August 29) is part of a younger generation that will make sure the B3 tradition stays alive – long after the passing of its pioneer players. Coelho blends originals with jazz classics, including Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island” and Otis Redding’s “Dock of The Bay.” Other highlights include the Latin tune “Chaglu” by one of his teachers, trumpeter Randy Masters, and “McJimmy,” an original written in tribute to the late B3 master Jimmy McGriff. Ohio-based B3 player Tony Monaco is so high on Coelho’s talent and potential that he produced this CD on his own label and provided the two bandmates from his own trio – guitarist Derek DiCenzo and drummer Reggie Jackson. Coelho couldn’t ask for a better mentor than Monaco as he develops even more soul and energy.
Randy Hoexter Group, Fromage (self-produced)This one is all about turning cheese into a more substantive meal. Atlanta-based pianist Randy Hoexter took 10 of America’s cheesiest pop songs from the late 1960s and the ‘70s and then reharmonized and changed rhythms to make them artful vehicles for improvisation. Hence the title (French for “cheese”). It is an interesting twist, considering how the material is so ingrained in anyone who grew up in that radio age. The selections include “You Light Up My Life,” “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,” “Delta Dawn,” “Muskrat Love,” Escape (The Pina Colada Song),” “Seasons in the Sun,” “Honey, “Yummy, Yummy Yummy” and “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero.” Hoexter also took the same approach in his homage to Pachelbel’s Baroque era “Canon.” Helpers aboard this project include West Coasters Jimmy Haslip on bass and Dave Weckl on drums. The locals involved in the project include saxophonist Sam Skelton, guitarist Trey Wright. The concept is clever. The robust result is well done.