Michael Occhipinti and Shine On, The Universe of John Lennon (True North)
Toronto guitarist Michael Occhipinti has been a fan of John Lennon’s music since childhood. This project celebrates that wonderful music with more than a little help from his friends. Singers Laila Biali, Dominic Mancuso, Elizabeth Shepherd, Denzel Sinclair and Yvette Tollar are key to the project, but Occhipinti’s arrangements of a baker’s dozen Beatles and Lennon solo tunes enable his band that stretch the music with beautiful improvisations. The CD closes with Occhipinti’s ethereal instrumental tribute “Peace in Central Park.” Favorite tracks: Mancuso’s soulful vocals on “Don’t Let Me Down,” their funky shuffle-beat take on “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” and the wonderful voice-trumpet synergy between Biali and horn player Kevin Turcotte that leads into a beautiful Occhipinti guitar solo on “Julia.”
Pat Metheny, Unity Band (Nonesuch)Pat Metheny’s latest project is a quartet, with the first saxophonist that the guitarist has had in on one of his own records in more than 30 years. Chris Potter is aboard (much like Michael Brecker and Dewey Redman were on the 80/81 project). The band also includes drummer Antonio Sanchez (a Metheny regular for several years) and relative newcomer Ben Williams on bass. The music is dominated by Metheny’s distinctive guitar sound and Potter on tenor, soprano sax and bass clarinet. The melding of their instruments is quite something. Favorite tracks among the nine new compositions: the searing intensity of “Roofdogs” and the beautiful balladry on “Come and See” and “This Belongs to You.” Metheny and Potter have found some terrific common ground.
Gene Ess, A Thousand Summers (Simp)
All of guitarist Gene Ess’s prior recording projects under his own name have been instrumental fare, usually involving his own compositions – and/or those of his collaborators. This time out, he does something very different. The former Rashied Ali Quintet member tackled some of the more beloved tunes from the American Songbook and jazz canon, sidestepping the truly tiresome ones. What’s better - he brought along a vocalist for the ride. Nicki Parrott is an excellent bassist, having worked much of the last decade in Les Paul’s Monday night band at Iridium in New York. Her instrumental skills and musical sense enhance her light, often delicate and sweet vocals. Her sense of time, her phrasing, her confidence are all in play on this 10-song outing. This CD is recommended if you want to get a sense of what a fine singer Parrott has become - at the prodding of her late boss, Les Paul. Ess and pianist James Weidman also stand out as soloists, while bassist Thomson Kneeland and drummer Gene Jackson keep the beat.