Tuesday, December 22, 2015

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Darren Barrett, June Bisantz, Kirsten Edkins, Scott Hamilton and Jeff Hamilton, and JAMBa…

Darren Barrett, Trumpet Vibes (dB Studios)
Toronto-born, Boston-based trumpeter Darren Barrett has a genre-jumping gem on his hands with Trumpet Vibes, his seventh CD. In short, you can call it hard bop meets reggae, with a pair of pop covers thrown in for good measure. Barrett blends the rhythms of his parents’ homeland, Jamaica, with hard-bop energy. One standout is his pensive original, “Chiapas,” which melds Barrett’s trumpet with Simon Mouillier on balaphone, as brothers Alexander and Anthony Toth anchor its ska rhythm on bass and drums respectively. 

Other gems are reggae twists to Lulu’s 1967 movie soundtrack hit “To Sir, With Love” and Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour,” and Barrett’s beautiful “Song for a Princess,” which co-features Mouillier on vibes. Another fine vibes player, Warren Wolf, is a special guest, joining the fun on the opener and closer, Barrett’s take on trumpet hero Donald Byrd’s “Fly Little Bird” and an original, “The Club Up The Street.” Dig into the rippling energy and the artistry with this projects wonderful pairing of trumpet and mallets.

June Bisantz, It’s Always You (self-produced)
Chet Baker’s lyrical trumpet and soft vocal style epitomized the cool jazz sound emanating from the West Coast in the 1950s. Singer June Bisantz channels that feeling on It’s Always You, the second CD inspired by Baker’s sound. Her smoky voice and artful sense of time are showcased as she covers a dozen tunes associated with Baker. Bisantz gets stellar support from pianist Alex Nakhimovsky and guitarist Norman Johnson. She teams with both on “Everything Depends on You” and “Born to Be Blue,” and with just Johnson on “”Forgetful,” “You’re Mine, You,” and “The Night We Called It a Day.” Gabor Viragh adds Baker-like trumpet accompaniment on four tracks, most notably “My Ideal” and the wistful “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.” Bisantz closes things out with a brief a capella take on “”Spring is Here.” Quite fittingly for her project, she dedicated the title track to Baker.

Kirsten Edkins, Art & Soul (self-produced)
Los Angeles-based Kirsten Edkins’ debut CD quickly shows that she is a saxophonist to take very seriously. She’s got chops galore, a lush sound and a swinging way with a melody, anchored by her crafty and confident improvisations. Her musical mentor, tenor saxophonist Bob Sheppard, produced the project and is featured on three tracks, two on bass clarinet. Larry Goldings is aboard on piano and Hammond B-3, the latter adding to the funk of Edkins’ original, “Big B,” while bassist Mike Valerio and drummer Mark Ferber round out the rhythm section. Guitarist Larry Koonse, trumpeter Mike Cottone and trombonist Ryan Dragon guest on several tracks. While the project covers Mal Waldron’s jazz classic “Soul Eyes” and Eddie Harris’s “Mean Greens,” everything else here originated in Edkins’ creative musical mind.

Scott Hamilton & Jeff Hamilton Trio, Live in Bern (Capri) 
Credit Capri Records President Tom Burns for putting together two jazz greats who are at the top of their game and happen to share the same last name. Tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton is one of the great swing jazz balladeers, but also quite capable of cutting loose on more spirited uptempo material. Drummer Jeff Hamilton is an ace at the drum kit, whether leading his own trio, working as a sideman or co-leading the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. This project, recorded in May 2014 in Switzerland, teamed the tenor player with Hamilton’s trio with pianist Tamir Hendelman and bassist Christoph Luty. While  tere are no duds, the highlights include their takes on Benny Carter’s classic jazz ballad “Key Largo,” the little-heard Strayhorn composition “Ballad for Very Tired and Very Sad Lotus Eaters,” and a spirited romp through “Centerpiece.” A lot of musical ground is covered – and it is impeccably good. Hamilton fans rejoice.

JAMBa, Off White (JAMBaTunes)
While there is a jam band feel throughout this project, the band name JAMBa does not reference the genre. It merely borrows initials from co-leaders drummer John Anter and bassist Marty Ballou. They pulled together an impressive lineup of studio players for Off White, a stretched-out, instrumental jazz tribute to The Beatles. It combines elements from The Fab Four’s White and If You Need Me sessions, sometimes mashing texture and instrumentation from one tune with the rhythms of another. For example, the tune “Hey Bulldog” includes licks from “Cold Turkey.” 

Besides the two leaders, the core band includes Joe “Sonny” Barbato on piano, Hammond B-3 and accordion, edgy guitarist Bruce Bartlett and saxophonist Klem Klimek. Bassist Dave Zinno and drum master Bernard Purdie joined the fun for two and three tracks respectively. Gems here include their takes on “Yer Blues” and “Flying” (both powered by Purdie), “Rocky Raccoon” (featuring Zinno), the calliope-esque “Junk,” a version of “Blackbird featuring just Anter, Ballou and Zinno, and a searing cover of George Harrison’s “Beware of Darkness.” Quite a few jazz players have covered Beatles material in recent years, but not like this.

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