Monday, December 25, 2017

Have yourself a Merry - and jazzy - Christmas

Best wishes to you, your families and friends for a very Merry Christmas 2017, joyous New Year - and hopeful 2018 - from the Jazz Notes staff.  
A toast to you all as we share some vintage musical cheer from among our holiday favorites. Raise your glass, whatever your favorite libation!
The holiday season would not be complete without the delightful animated video of The Drifters’ doo-wopping their way through “White Christmas” with feeling. This animated cartoon by Joshua Held is excellent - and quite special.

Friday, December 22, 2017

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Rahsaan Barber, Ernesto Cervini, Gary Meek, Marcus Monteiro, the Lewis Porter/Phil Scarff Group, Jeff Rupert with Veronica Swift, and San Francisco String Trio….

This edition empties the Jazz Notes review bin for 2017. These autumn arrivals caught my ear. 

Rahsaan Barber, The Music in the Night (Jazz Music City) 
Saxophonist Rahsaan Barber and his trombone-playing twin Roland were given the nudge to play jazz at birth. Both were named after late saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk. This latest project by the Nashville native explores standards – but not just the usual jazz chestnuts. Barber also digs deep into instrumental versions of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” and the Michael Jackson hit “She’s Out of My Life.” Other gems include a reggae-rhythmed take on “My Funny Valentine” and a robust version of “The Backbone,” which Butch Warren penned for Dexter Gordon’s 1962 LP A Swingin’ Affair. 

Barber has splendid backing from his rhythm section: pianist Matt Endahl, bassist Jack Aylor and drummer Derrek Phillips. Guitarist James DaSilva joins the fun for four tracks. Most interesting are two very different takes on Jobim’s classic bossa nova “The Girl from Ipanema.” The first is straight-ahead. The closing version is a dreamy reinvention based on the original’s chord changes. It captures the sultry mood but only adds the barest hints of melody. It makes a fine bookend with the opener: the cover of “Isn’t She Lovely.”

Ernesto Cervini’s Turboprop, Rev (Anzic) 
Toronto-based drummer Ernesto Cervini’s collective sextet Turboprop is a spirited unit with significant chops and a feverish, modern slant on jazz. The band includes saxophonists Tara Davidson (alto and soprano) and Joel Frahm (tenor), trombonist William Carn, pianist Adrean Farrugia and bassist Dan Loomis. Gems here include the leader’s energetic “Granada Bus,” the title track (featuring Cervini with just the horn section), covers of Blind Melon’s hit “No Rain” and Radiohead’s “The Daily Mail,” as well as the Loomis-composed romp “Ranthem.” Frahm is on fire from start to finish, propelled by the band’s high energy.

Gary Meek, Originals (self-produced) 
Tenor saxophonist Gary Meek has a strong sound that has graced many a recording project over the years as an in-demand West Coast sideman. This, his first project as a leader in 15 years, is a gem. He pulled together a splendid mix of other jazz all-stars to record eight of his originals, hence the CD title. 

The band includes trumpeter Randy Brecker, pianist Mitchel Forman, bassist (and session producer) Brian Bromberg, drummer Teri Lyne Carrington and guitarists Bruce Forman. Guitarist Michael Lent and percussionist Airto Moreira join on the gorgeous track “Suite for Maureen.” Favorite tracks here include “What Happened to My Good Shoes?,” a showcase for Brecker; the off-kilter and aptly titled “When You’re a Monk”; “Spiritual for Iris; and Mr. DG” – a tribute to late pianist Don Grolnick. The jazz world knows Meek as a solid player. This gem of a session also underscores his immense talents as a composer.

Marcus Monteiro, Another Part of Me (Whaling City Sound) 
Southeastern Massachusetts-based alto saxophonist Marcus Monteiro surrounded himself with area jazz heavyweights for this session blending strong takes on jazz and pop material plus a few originals. They tackle Horace Silver’s classic burner “Sister Sadie,” Michael Jackson’s “Another Part of Me,” the Stevie Wonder hit “For Once in My Life” and Soundgarden’s “Fell on Black Days.” 

Other gems include Slam’s Stewart’s “Slammin’ Around,” Ron Carter’s “Receipt Please” and an astonishing closer – Jimmy Smith’s funky “Sagg Shootin’ His Arrow.” The band here includes pianist John Harrison III, bassist Fernando Huergo and drummers Steve Langone and Nick Sanfilippo (the latter featured on the Jackson cover). Harrison gets a tremendous spotlight on guitarist Jim Robitaille’s beautiful “Adagio.” Monteiro’s passion for jazz, beautiful tone and ideas serve him well, as evidenced on his own, fiery “The Monteiro Backhand Var. 1 and the gorgeous “Mill Street.”

Lewis Porter-Phil Scarff Group, Three Minutes to Four (Whaling City Sound)
Pianist Lewis Porter and saxophonist Phil Scarff have quite a hybrid here. It’s contemporary jazz with many absorbed influences bubbling up throughout the session. They include Indian ragas, a bit of classical music as well as music from Ghana. One would expect no less when a project involves Scarff, better known as leader of the world-jazz ensemble Natraj. This project teams them with bassist John Funkhouser and drummer Bertram Lehmann. Favorite tracks: “Bageshri-Baheshwari (Part 2),” Porter’s “Long Ago,” Scarff’s “Skies of South Africa Suite” and their take on Sonny Rollins’ “Striver’s Row.” All told, it’s exotic and swinging

Jeff Rupert with Veronica Swift, Let’s Sail Away (Rupe Media) 
This one arrived a few days too late for my “Best of 2017” list and was released a bit too early for 2018 consideration – but it needs to be heard and savored. Tenor saxophonist Jeff Rupert’s quartet with pianist Richard Drexler, bassist Charlie Silva and ex-Bill Evans drummer Marty Morell is joined by rising star Veronica Swift. 

The 23-year-old singer was second-place finisher in 2015’s Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition. She works seamlessly with this outfit – as a straight-ahead singer, talented scat singer, vocalese master (writing and singing words to classic jazz solos), and has an uncanny ability to emulate horns with her perfect-pitch voice. There’s no doubt that Veronica has jazz in her musical DNA. Her mother is singer Stephanie Nakasian and her father was the late bebop pianist Hod O’Brien – and she absorbed influences from each of them.

Highlights include the band’s take on Vince Guaraldi’s “Ginza Samba,” Swift’s original vocalese from a Stan Getz solo on “Pennies From Heaven” on a classic Oscar Peterson/Getz LP. There is an enlarged horn section on this 10-minute Rupert arrangement of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” – with Rupert, Dan Miller on trumpet, Christian Herrera on trombone and Sol Dautch on baritone sax – and Swift adding vocal horn riffs seamlessly. This one stayed in my CD player for about two weeks straight. I couldn’t stop listening.

San Francisco String Trio, May I Introduce to You (Ridgeway)

What a splendid idea for a jazz project. Violinist Mads Tolling, guitarist Mimi Fox and bassist-vocalist Jeff Denson teamed up here to instrumentally reimagine Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the classic Beatles album. They explore all 12 songs from the Beatles’ original 1961 project. 

Denson, a longtime collaborator with alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, adds intriguing vocals to the mix on three tracks: “Fixing a Hole,” “Getting Better” and “A Day in the Life.” This gem - presenting familiar, mainstream material in a new way - was the trio’s debut album. All three players are on the faculty at the California Jazz Conservatory. Who knows what they might have up their sleeves for the next recording.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

T'is the season...

Guitarist Nate Najar loves the Christmas season. He brought his annual Jazz Holiday concert program to Sarasota FL on Friday, December 15, one night after the same sextet performed at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg.
Nate Najar

Najar was joined by John Lamb on bass, Mark Feinman on drums, James Suggs on trumpet, Jeff Rupert on tenor sax and special guest Chuck Redd on vibes.
Chuck Redd

Most of the concert featured instrumental holiday fare - done with a jazz twist, of course . They included "Mistletoe & Holly," "Winter Wonderland" and "Angels We Have Heard on High," among others.

Highlights included ex-Ellington bassist Lamb's feature on Duke's "Love You Madly," in which he played duo segments with each other band member, and Redd's vibes feature on the 1953 Eartha Kitt hit "Santa Baby."

Najar is a masterful acoustic guitarist, a St. Petersburg-based musician highly influenced by the late Charlie Byrd. He is starting to get the recognition he so deserves. Rupert and Suggs combined as a strong horn section, both in unison and as passionate soloists.

The Sarasota concert at the Glenridge Performing Arts Center was a South County Jazz Club event. 

Enjoy these photographic moments. 
Najar and Lamb
Lamb and Rupert

Chuck Redd
Najar, Lamb, Suggs, Rupert, Redd, Feinman

Najar, Lamb, Rupert, Suggs, Redd, Feinman

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A bebopper through and through

Greg Abate
Greg Abate got hooked on the 1950s hard-bop style that evolved from bebop, and he has made himself a career of bringing that intense sound to audiences across the U.S. and around the globe. Much like two other alto sax players with whom he has recorded, Richie Cole and the late Phil Woods, Abate developed into one of the genre's significant modern ambassadors.

He brought that sound to the Charlotte County Jazz Society's concert series in Port Charlotte FL on Monday, December 11, for a high-powered quartet performance. His Florida rhythm section included Richard Drexler on piano, Steve Gilmore on bass and Barry Smith on drums.

This was Rhode Island native Abate's fifth visit to Port Charlotte in nine concert seasons - and it was memorable for the way the band clicked throughout the night. Each player got significant solo space and made the most of it.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Looking back at 2017's best jazz recordings

‘Tis the season for the outpouring of Top 10 lists, and their many variations, for jazz, world events, etc. The jazz lists always have a lot of variation depending on the individual reviewer's personal tastes, as well as what he or she listened to during the year.* Bottom line, all are extremely subjective.
These choices below (aside from top 10 new songs of the year) were submitted to the Jazz Times, Jazz Journalists’ Association and NPR Music 2016 compilations (the latter is the annual Francis Davis-produced poll that previously was published by The Village Voice and

As I begin preparing my review of significant events and trends in jazz in 2017 for posting on, I thought I'd share my "best of 2017" lists. *Always keep in mind the above caveats.

The 10 best new jazz releases of 2017

1.   Jimmy Scott, I Go Back Home (Eden River)
2.   Hudson, Hudson (Motéma)
3.   Matt Wilson, Matt Wilson’s Honey and Salt (Palmetto)
4.   Jeff Rupert and Richard Drexler, Imagination (Rupe Media)
5.   Ingrid and Christine Jensen, Infinitude (Whirlwind)
6.   Benedikt Jahnel Trio, The Invariant (ECM)
7.   Yoko Miwa Trio, Pathways (Ocean Blue Tear Music)
8.   Joachim Kühn New Trio, Beauty & Truth (ACT)
9.   Gary Meek, Originals (self-produced)
10. University of Northern Colorado Jazz Lab Band I, The Romeo and Juliet Project (Artist Alliance)
2017’s best vocal recording:
Jimmy Scott, I Go Back Home (Eden River)

The best historical/reissues of 2017 (includes any recordings made over 10 years ago, whether newly released or reissued):
1.  Wes Montgomery / Wynton Kelly Trio, Smokin’ in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse (1966) (Resonance)
2.  Thelonious Monk, Les Liaisons Dangerouses 1960 (Sam/Saga)
3.  The Three Sounds featuring Gene Harris, Groovin’ Hard: Live at the Penthouse 1964-1968 (Resonance)
4.  Nat King Cole Trio, Swiss Radio Days Vol 43 – Zurich 1950 (TCB)
5.  Art Pepper, Art Pepper Presents West Coast Sessions! Vol. 3: Lee Konitz (Omnivore)

2017’s best Latin/Brazilian jazz recordings:
1.  Eliane Elias, Dance of Time (Concord Jazz)
2.  Ignacio Berroa, Straight Ahead from Havana (Codes Drum)
3.  Antonio Adolfo, Hybrido – From Rio to Wayne Shorter (AAM)
4.  Steve Khan, Backlog (Tone Center)
5.  Gabriel Alegría Afro-Peruvian Septet, Diablo en Brooklyn (Saponegro)

The 10 best new compositions from CDs released in 2017, listed alphabetically:   
  • Ambrose Akinmusire, “Withered” from A Rift in Decorum (Blue Note)
  • Lili Añel, “Another Place, Another Time” from Another Place, Another Time (Wall-I)
  • Roxy Coss, “Free to Be” from Chasing the Unicorn (Posi-Tone)
  • Jack DeJohnette, “Song for World Forgiveness“ from Hudson (Motéma)
  • Akua Dixon, “Let’s Dance” from Akua’s Dance (Akua’s Music)
  • Miles Donahue, “The Bug” from The Bug (Whaling City Sound)
  • Art Hirahara, “Kin-Ka: Gold Coin” from Central Line (Posi-Tone)
  • John Hollenbeck, “The Kiss” from University of Northern Colorado Jazz Lab Band I, The Romeo and Juliet Project (Artist Alliance)
  • Benedikt Jahnel, “The Circuit” from The Invariant (ECM)
  • Mike Longo, “Only Time Will Tell” from Mike Longo Trio, Only Time Will Tell (Consolidated Artists Productions)