Monday, June 16, 2014

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a closer look at CDs by five pianists: Francy Boland, George Cables, Ellen Rowe, Jamie Saft and Omar Sosa.…

Francy Boland, Playing With The Trio (Schema Rearward) 

Belgian-born pianist Francy Boland (1929-2005) is best remembered for his 1960s collaborations with drummer Kenny Clarke, through the Europe-based Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band. In 1967, Boland recorded a double LP project called Going Classic. It featured Boland in two contexts: an orchestral ensemble with rhythm section, strings and woodwinds; and a trio. Those nine interspersed trio tracks teamed Boland and Clarke with their big band’s bassist, Ellington alum Jimmy Woode.

This CD presents the 1967 trio material, which gives a spotlight to Boland’s fine piano playing (something that tended to get lost within big band sessions, because of their very nature). This one is all about the three collaborating soloists, with additional focus on the compositional skills of Boland and Woode., and the band’s skill in interpreting a couple of standards. Favorites: their takes on Boland’s “Night Lady” and “The Girl and the Turk,” and Woode’s “Gamal Sady’n’Em” and “Deirdre’s Blues.” Kudos to Schema for bringing this gem within a gem into print.

George Cables. Icons and Influences (HighNote)

Veteran pianist George Cables is best known for his work as a tremendous sideman (Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson, Bobby Hutcherson, Frank Morgan, Art Pepper, Woody Shaw). This session underscores the fact that he’s also an excellent bandleader. Cables teamed with bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Victor Lewis for Icons and Influences, which blends standards and originals in a stunning program honoring players who influenced him or whom he held in very high esteem. Two of those tracks, “Cedar Walton” and “Farewell Mulgrew” (the latter for Mulgrew Miller, are elegies written to remember players who passed away recently. Other gems  here honor some of his favorite composers. Among them:  Bill Evans (“Very Early”), Hutcherson (“Little B’s Poem”), Dave Brubeck (“The Duke”), Duke Ellington (“Come Sunday”), Henderson (“Isotope”), and Benny Golson (the somewhat obscure “Little Heart”). He also included “”Happiness,” which was the first jazz tune Cables wrote, around 1965, when he was in his early 20s. This is its first recording. Happiness indeed.

Ellen Rowe, Courage Music (PKO)

Pianist Ellen Rowe spends most of her time as an educator, chairing the University of Michigan’s jazz program within its fine School of Music. This is her fourth recording as a leader, featuring her longtime Michigan-based quartet, (with saxophonist Andrew Bishop, bassist Kurt Krahnke and drummer Peter Siers). They are joined here by trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, trombonist Paul Ferguson, and The University of Michigan Chamber Jazz Ensemble. (The student ensemble is featured on “And Miles To Go,” an excellent Rowe composition inspired by Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping By The Woods on a Snowy Evening.”) Other favorites: “Circle of Life,” “Goldrinas de los Horcones,” “Calico Roses” and “Gentle Spirit,” which features Ferguson.

Jamie Saft, Steve Swallow and Bobby Previte, The New Standard (Rare Noise)

This is one of the liveliest and most creative trio recordings to emerge so far in 2014. Pianist Jamie Saft, noted for his work on the modern jazz/avant-garde scenes, teamed up with two other espresso fanatics, bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bobby Previte, on this adventurous session. Saft wrote seven of the 10 originals with the other three credited to Saft, Swallow and Previte. Saft shifts to B-3 organ on three of the tracks (“All Things To All People,” “Blue Shuffle” and “Clearing”) to bring more of a soulful, gospel feel to the proceedings. Other favorites: “I See No Leader,” “Minor Soul” and “Step Lively.” 

Omar Sosa, Real Live: The New AfroCuban Quartet Live in Japan (Otá)

Cuban-born pianist and composer Omar Sosa, who is based in Spain, keeps adding to his impressive array of recordings as a leader or co-leader. This one captures his quartet in live performance last September at Motion Blue, a Blue Note jazz club-affiliated venue in Yokohama, Japan. Sosa’s band mates are saxophonist Leandro Saint-Hill, bassist Childo Tomas and drummer Ernesto Simpson. It captures the energy and excellence of this Afro-Cuban band in a live setting. Favorites: “Dos Caminos,” “Iyade,” “Toridanzón” and “Light In The Sky.” You won’t find it in stores, but it is available at all Sosa performances and by request through his website.

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