Thursday, April 9, 2015

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a closer look at new CDs by Greg Abate, Duchess, Bill O'Connell, and Ryan Truesdell's Gil Evans Project....

Greg Abate Quartet, Motif (Whaling City Sound)
Saxophonist Greg Abate, a New England-based hard bopper who frequently brings his high-energy jazz to fans across the U.S. and the U.K., has a fine new CD in Motif. The all-originals session teams him with three Boston-based jazz veterans – bassist John Lockwood, pianist Tim Ray and drummer Mark Walker – with whom he has long associations. Abate is best known for his work on alto and baritone sax, but also plays flute and soprano sax here. He tried something different on the tune “Mrs. T” that works very effectively. Sounding like a one-man sax chorus, Abate opens the tune playing its spirited medley on both alto and baritone (the latter was overdubbed later), then solos later in the tune on alto and, after a Tim Ray segment, on bari. Other favorites: the bossa-tinged alto showcase “Bittersweet” and “Morning of the Leaves,” a beautiful jazz waltz that Abate performs on flute. 

Duchess, Duchess (Anzic)  
If you dug the music of the finest vintage female vocal groups (Boswell Sisters, Andrews Sisters), you’ll love the new contemporary group Duchess. New York singers Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner and Melissa Stylianou have blended their voices and talents on their eponymous debut. Classic material, including “Heebie Jeebies,” “P.S. I Love You” “Que Sera Sera” and “I’ll Be Seeing You” is freshened with new arrangements. The three singers each enjoy solo spotlights on “My Brooklyn Love Song” (Gardner), “A Doodlin’ Song” (Cervini) and “Humming to Myself” (Stylianou). Their ace band includes pianist Michael Cabe, bassist Paul Sikivie, drummer Matt Wilson, saxophonist Jeff Lederer and guitarist Jesse Lewis. This is very well done.

Bill O’Connell and the Latin Jazz All-Stars, Imagine (Savant)
Pianist Bill O’Connell, a distinguished veteran of the Latin jazz scene, has another gem in Imagine, a CD recorded with his Latin Jazz All-Stars. The group includes saxophonist Steve Slagle, trombonist Conrad Herwig, bassist Luques Curtis, drummer Richie Barshay and percussionist Richie Flores. Treats: O’Connell’s delicate rearrangement of John Lennon’s classic ballad “Imagine,” and the band’s unusual robust cha cha take on the standard “Willow Weep For Me.” “Optimism,” the burner “Whitecaps” and the poignant “Missing Mr. Berrios” (written for drummer Steve Berrios, who died in 2013) highlight O’Connell’s seven fine originals.

Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project, Lines of Color (Blue Note/ArtistShare)

Thanks to Ryan Truesdell, Gil Evans’ peerless work as a jazz composer and arranger remains in the public eye, with this second volume of recordings by Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project big band. Lines of Color was recorded live at New York’s Jazz Standard during the band’s week-long 2014 residency. Truesdell is quite the archivist, drawing his material to include six newly discovered but never before recorded pieces, two more with previously unheard sections, and three fresh arrangements of charts from classic Evans recordings.

Six charts were written during Evans’ association with the Claude Thornhill Orchestra, some of them never heard or recorded previously. There’s even an Evans original, “Gypsy Jump,” dating to 1942. Truesdell also included Evans’ three-part “Easing Living Medley,” which was arranged for Thornhill but never recorded because its length exceeded the recording capacity of the day. The band’s outstanding soloists include saxophonists Donny McCaslin, Steve Wilson and Scott Robinson, trombonists Ryan Keberle and Marshall GiIlkes, pianist Frank Kimbrough and singer Wendy Gilles. The performances are stunning no doubt fueled in part by the energy one gets from an audience.

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