Wednesday, October 31, 2012

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a closer look at new CDs from Joey DeFrancesco, Frank Macchia and jazz programmer Rio Saikiri's "Home" project....

Various artists, Home - Gift of Music: Japan Earthquake (Sunnyside)
The phrase “Gambare Nipponbegan as a cheer to encourage Japan’s Olympic athletes. It means "good luck" or "hang in there. The phrase took on new purpose in March 2011 - to send well wishes to victims of Japan’s deadly earthquake and tsunami - a time when people truly needed their spirits lifted. Rio Sakairi, director of programming at The Jazz Gallery in lower Manhattan, is sending more than good wishes through this project. Home is a gift of music that was produced as a fundraiser for Habit for Humanity Japan. Saikiri was born and raised 200 miles from the worst hit area, Sendai.

Seventeen jazz musicians who have been Jazz Gallery regulars in recent years donated their talents and created new music just for this project. They include, among others, singers Claudia Acuña, Gretchen Parlato, Becca Stevens and Sashal Vasandani, saxophonist Dayna Stephens, guitarist Adam Rogers, singer-guitarist Doug Wamble, bassist Ben Williams, drummer Johnathan Blake and pianist Taylor Eigsti. Saikiri even got a few - John Ellis, bassist-guitarist Alan Hampton and trumpeter Leron Thomas - to move beyond their comfort zones by having them perform as vocalists.  Ellis wrote and sings on the title track. Acuña sings the CD’s only cover, a most appropriate version of Abbey Lincoln’s “The Music is the Magic.” Studio time, engineering, art, design, distribution and PR services were also donated. Well done all around.

Joey DeFrancesco, Wonderful Wonderful (HighNote)
This is a superstar organ trio for the new millennium. Joey DeFrancesco, once the wunderkind on his Hammond B-3, teams up with guitarist Larry Coryell and drummer Jimmy Cobb. They explore a blend of jazz and pop standards – burning at times and turning delicate where appropriate – and supplement things with two originals. The first is Coryell’s modal-tinged tribute “Joey D.” The other is “JLJ Blues,” a DeFrancesco burner that takes its name from the players’ first name initials. Favorites: their takes on Benny Golson’s “Five Spot After Dark,” Duke Ellington’s soulful “Solitude,” DeFrancesco’s poignant trumpet and organ play on “Old Folks,” and “JLJ Blues.”

Frank Macchia, Swamp Thang: Fried Zombie Stew (Cacophony)
Saxophonist Frank Macchia’s band Swamp Thang is no flash in the musical pan. The L.A.-based sextet, which released its eponymous debut CD in 2011, is back with another helping of jazz, funk, blues, wild horn play and an inspired set of grooves. Fried Zombie Stew offers more of that, blended with Macchia’s often-humorous song titles and inspirations. For example, “Diddley vs. Spock” imagines a musical meeting between Star Trek’s Mr. Spock and guitarist Bo Diddley. This is a good-time party band, cooking up a rambunctious groove comparable to the New Orleans jazz-funk unit Bonerama. The heart of it all is the solo interplay between Macchia, keyboard ace John Rosenberg, bassist Tom Lockett and guitarists Eric Jensen and Ken Rosser. Special guests Alex Iles (trombone) and Wayne Bergeron (trumpet) flesh out the robust horn lines throughout. Highlights: “Fried Zombie Stew,” the Stax Records-inspired “Groovin’ 4 Daze,” “Three Leg Pony” and “Giggle Wiggle” - a feature for drummer Frank Briggs.

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