Tuesday, July 14, 2015

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Pat Bianchi, Brian Charette, Jason Miles & Ingrid Jensen, Josh Nelson and Donald Vega….

Pat Bianchi, A Higher Standard (21-H)

B-3 player Pat Bianchi, who provides the keyboard sound in guitarist Pat Martino’s organ trio, is a musical adventurer who understands and coveys the deep energy groove that is so vital to jazz. A Higher Standard, his sixth CD as a leader or co-leader, teams Bianchi with bassist Craig Ebner and drummer Byron Landham. Favorite tracks: their take on the Sergio Mendes classic “So Many Stars,” the Bianchi burner “The Will of Landham,” their romp through Oscar Pettiford’s “Bohemia After Dark,” Bill Evans' classic “Very Early” and Stevie Wonder’s “From the Bottom of My Heart.” There are also interesting takes on material by Leonard Bernstein, John Coltrane and Horace Silver.

Brian Charette, Alphabet City (Posi-Tone)

The B-3 organ seems centered in soul jazz, but Brian Charette is one of the modernists who are taking that classic B-3 sound into fresh territory. Alphabet City, his ninth release, teams him with guitarist Will Bernard and drummer Rudy Royston for propulsive explorations of a dozen Charette originals. Favorite tracks: the teasing sounds of “They Left Fred Out,” the soulful “Sharpie Moustache,” the Pink Panther-like “Hungarian Major” and the hard-driving closer, “The Vague Reply.” Hammond B-3 fans in particular need to check this out. The trio is hot as the members combine their individual musical voices into a splendid conversation.

Jason Miles / Ingrid Jensen, Kind of New (Whaling City Sound)

This gem, co-led by keyboard player Jason Miles and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, is already high on my list of 2015 favorites. Inspiration for the 11 originals came from trumpeter Miles Davis’ early 1970s live concert music and his progressive jazz that followed into the late 1980s. Jason Miles, who brought his keyboard skills to three 1980s Davis projects (Tutu, Amandla and Music From Siesta), was greatly inspired by Davis’ Cellar Door Sessions, which featured Keith Jarrett on Fender Rhodes. 

The only non-originals here are their takes on Wayne Shorter’s “Sanctuary,” which was on Davis’ breakthrough electric album Bitches Brew, and an unlisted bonus track covering Davis' playful "Jean Pierre." They took the spirit of Miles, and imbued it with their own visions of electric jazz for today. Two tracks of particular note: the ballad “Shirley,” dedicated to the late singer-pianist Shirley Horn, and the mournfully edgy “Seeing Through the Rain,” which they dedicated to Ferguson MO. Miles, Jensen and their collaborators made a project that is stunning from start to finish.

Josh Nelson, Exploring Mars (Origin)

Jazz inspiration can come from anywhere at all. In the case of pianist-composer Josh Nelson, it comes from the annals of the finest science fiction and real-time space exploration, including four different robotic rovers (Curiosity, Opportunity, Sojourner and Spirit) exploring the surface of the Red Planet. To set the mood, Nelson opens the CD by reading a section from a Ray Bradbury short story from 1950’s “The Martian Chronicles.” Quite appropriately, the passage depicts a Martian jam session. Favorite tracks: “Memmonia Quadrangle,” a superb solo showcase for guitarist Larry Koonse, and “How You Loved Me on Mars.” The latter is a ballad co-written and sung by Kathleen Grace, with Larry Goldings guesting on B-3.

Donald Vega, With Respect to Monty (Resonance)

In the jazz world, most tribute recordings tend to be recorded and released after the death of a jazz great. That’s unfortunate, since the subject of such inspiration isn’t around to hear them. Pianist Donald Vega bucked the trend with this release interpreting compositions by Jamaican-born Monty Alexander, who is one of the reigning powerhouse jazz piano greats. 

Vega arranged and interprets a wide range of Alexander’s music, including two tunes Alexander recorded and performed regularly but did not write (Milt Jackson’s “Compassion” and John Clayton’s “3000 Miles Ago”), and adds a tune of his own that’s brimming with Alexander-like touches. The band includes guitarist Anthony Wilson, an ideal melodic foil for Vega; bassist Hassan Shakur (who also happens to be Alexander’s regular bassist); and drummer Lewis Nash. Favorite gems: “Slippery” with its shifting reggae feel and exotic percussion touches, “Mango Rengue,” “Renewal” and Vega’s playful tribute summation, “The Gathering.” There is much here to love.

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