Wednesday, January 31, 2018

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Eric Alexander, George Cotsirilos, Roberto Magris, David K. Mathews, Hristo Vitchev, and the trio Hart, Scone & Albin…..

Eric Alexander, Song of No Regrets (HighNote)
Tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander is a prolific recording artist, and this latest project – is excellent and a bit different from his many projects that preceded it. Rather than draw from the bebop canon, it simmers with a lot of Latin and Brazilian melodies, rhythms and color as a palette for his wide-ranging sound. His quintet for this session features three longtime band mates - pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth - plus percussionist Alex Dias. Powerhouse trumpeter Jon Faddis joins them on two tracks, adding stunning fire to Hazeltine’s “But Here’s the Thing.” 

Other favorites: the band’s take on Stevie Wonder’s ballad “Three Little Words” (with the leader doubling on tenor and tasty organ fills), Alexander’s lush ballad “Coraz√≥n Perdido,” the funky “Grinder” and “Boom Zoom,” the Sergio Mendes-composed title track, and the Brazil 66 hit “Mas Que Nada.” There’s also a spirited Latin-tinged take on the Jimmy Webb-penned Fifth Dimension hit “Up, Up and Away.” This is a gem.

George Cotsirilos Quartet, Mostly in Blue (OA2) 
San Francisco Bay Area guitarist and composer George Cotsirilos first got hooked on blues guitar during his teenage years in Chicago. He shifted into a jazz bag during his college years. Now that he’s retired from practicing and teaching law, he has immersed himself in music full time. 

This project, his sixth CD, brings him full circle – with a deep focus on the blues – or blue moods. Gems here include “Blue Dusk” and his Wes Montgomery-inspired “Wes Side Blues.” Cotsirilos gets superb support from pianist Keith Saunders and longtime trio mates Robb Fischer (bass) and Ron Marabuto (drums).

Hart, Scone & Albin, Leading the British Invasion (Zoho) 
The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, the Kinks and Led Zeppelin led rock and pop music’s British Invasion a half-century ago. This project pays attention instead to this new century’s British Invasion – music brought to American airwaves by a wide range of female singers. Amy Winehouse, Adele, Lorde and Joss Stone. Lorde sneaked into the mix it seems because the New Zealander’s debut hit touches on the status and privilege of British royalty.

This South Florida-based trio includes guitarist John Hart, organ player Adam Scone and drummer Rudy Albin Petschauer. Their material includes Winehouse’s “Rehab” and “Back to Black,” as well as a cover of “Body and Soul,” which she performed on a Tony Bennett duet project in 2011, the year she died; Adele’s “Turning Tables” and “Rolling in the Deep”; Stone’s “Don’t Start Lyin to Me Now”; and Lorde’s Grammy-winning debut hit “Royals.” The session also covers older British material by female singers: Sade’s 1984 hit “Smooth Operator” and two Dusty Springfield 1960s hits: “The Look of Love” and “I Only Want to Be With You.” The session also includes one original from this excellent trio: Hart’s “Blues for the U.K.” All of these tunes take on a vibrant energy in this instrumental context. This organ trio project is very well done – from concept to delivery. The three players dig into this music with tremendous cohesiveness, passion and power.

Roberto Magris Sextet, Live in Miami @ the WDNA Jazz Gallery (JMood)
Italian pianist Roberto Magris has a gem here. Invited to perform in Miami for the first time, he recorded this live session in a public radio station performance gallery with trumpeter Brian Lynch, bassist Chuck Bergeron and drummer John Yarling (all faculty members at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music), and two U of M students, tenor saxophonist Jonathan Gomez and percussionist Murph Aucamp on congas. 

The players are in top form and the music is as hot as a sultry Miami night. Gems include two Magris originals, the searing opener “African Mood” and the Afropop-tinged “Song for an African Child,” and the pianist’s reflective solo version of Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing."

David K. Mathews, The Fantasy Vocal Sessions Vol. 1 (Effendi)
Granted it’s still early, but this project ranks as one of 2018’s most interesting vocal projects – and the leader doesn’t sing a note. Pianist David K. Mathews (a Tower of Power and Etta James alumnus and Santana’s keyboard player since 2010), pulled together a band and invited 10 San Francisco Bay Area vocalists to sing a song or two.

They tackled jazz standards on this first volume – and did them very well in their own styles. Rock-n-roller Steve Miller digs into “Blue Skies,” blues-infused Maria Muldauer added aching versions of “Oh Papa” and “Lover Man,” and Santana band singer Tony Lindsay contributed “When Sunny Gets Blue,” for example. The CD’s very best performance is Oakland-based Kenny Washington’s bittersweet and pensive take on “Lush Life.” Nicholas Bearde is strong on “I Want to Talk About You” and Charlie Chaplin’s classic “Smile.” 

Other singers on the project include Amikeayla Gaston (“Alfie”), Glenn Walters (“Ruby” and “Skylark”), Frank Jackson (“The More I See You”), Reni Simon (“We’ll Be Together Again”) and John Laslo (“In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning”). Mathews, the consummate accompanist, is joined here by guitarists Jim Nichols and Carl Lockett, tenor saxophonist Wayne de Silva, bassist Peter Barshay and drummer Akira Tana.

Hristo Vitchev, Of Light and Shadows (First Orbit Sounds)
Bulgarian-born guitar modernist Hristo Vitchev is a painter with sound, no doubt about it. His artful original music captures moods in an impressionistic way. This 10th recording as a leader teams him with pianist Jasnam Daya Singh (known earlier as Weber Iago), bassist Dan Robbins and drummer Mike Shannon. Favorite tracks: “The Shortest Wavelength,” “Prismic Dance,” “Pentachromatic Butterflies” and the stunning, twisting-and-teasing closer, “Partial Darkness.”

Sunday, January 28, 2018

California-based jazz singer builds his fan base one gig at a time

Jazz singer Kenny Washington has it all, musically. The diminutive vocalist, based for more than two decades in Oakland, California, has range, fluidity and a natural sense of swing. He grew up singing gospel music as a child in New Orleans - and that music's passion fuels his soulful artistry.
Kenny Washington

His creativity - singing, scatting and even whistling - was on full display on Saturday, January 27 when he was the featured guest with the Dan Miller-Lew DelGatto quintet at the Sidney and Berne Davis Art Center in downtown Fort Myers.The band includes Miller on trumpet, Del Gatto on tenor sax, Joe Delaney on piano, Don Mopsick on bass and Tony Vigilante on drums.

Delaney, Washington
The Fort Myers evening ranged from Great American Songbook and jazz standards to bebop, the blues and a touch of Brazil. Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Dindi" showcased Washington with noteworthy support from Del Gatto on flute rather than his usual tenor sax, and Delaney on piano.

Del Gatto, Washington, Miller, Delaney
The band roared through Bobby Timmons' "Moanin'" (a Jazz Messengers classic), "Everyday I Have the Blues" and Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm-a-Ning." Washington displayed his balladic side in segments with just the rhythm section  on "All the Way," Jule Styne's "Time After Time" and "Stars Fell on Alabama." 

The evening's tour de force was Washington's version of soul singer Otis Redding's 1967 posthumous hit "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay." Bluesman Sam Taylor added the brief, distinctive whistling interlude on the original recording before its release. Washington expanded those few bars into something all his own. His extended, improvised  whistling, stretching nearly two minutes, included a call-and-response segment in which he shifted tones back and forth to create a conversation - with himself.

While he stands at about 5'3" - or perhaps a tad less - Kenny Washington's his stature as an artist and respect from other musicians is immense. Major American record labels haven't been paying attention.That's a shame.

It may be hard to find, but Denmark's Storyville jazz label did release a Washington CD, Moanin', which he recorded live in October 2015 in Copenhagen's Montmarte jazz club with a local trio. 

Washington's U.S. recordings have been as a co-leader on small labels, or in the case of the stunning most recent example, as a guest singer. He's one of 10 vocalists on pianist David K. Mathew's The Fantasy Vocal Sessions Vol. 1, Standards (Effendi Records), which is being released on February 2. Kenny's reinterpretation of "Lush Life" is stunning.
Delaney, Washington, Del Gatto, Mopsick, Miller, Vigilante

Thursday, January 25, 2018

An all-star evening of exuberant swing

Tenor saxophonist Harry Allen and trombonist Wycliffe Gordon headlined an evening of exuberant swing Wednesday night, January 24 at the Venice FL Performing Arts Center and their all-star band delivered the goods.
Gordon, Allen

The horn players were joined by the terrific rhythm section of Eddie Metz Jr. (drums), Nicki Parrott (bass and vocals) and Rosanno Sportiello (piano), plus special guest Stephanie Nakasian on vocals.
Gordon, Parrott, Allen

Gordon shifted with ease between trombone, gritty vocals and slide trumpet throughout the night in this, his first appearance at a concert by the South County Jazz Club, which co-produced the event with the Venice Institute for Performing Arts. 

Allen is a premiere ambassador of mainstream swing tenor sax. His finest moment was sharing a beautiful original ballad," Old Joe," which he later said was inspired by reading a short story. Allen has evolved into a fine composer as well as interpreter of jazz standards and Brazilian jazz.
Nakasian and Gordon trading fours
Eddie Metz Jr.

  • Parrott's vocal feature on the Ella Fitzgerald signature tune "You'll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini)." 
  • Gordon's growling take on Fats Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose," enhanced by Sportiello's stride piano mastery.
  • With muted trombone and bass, Gordon and Parrott turned "Squeeze Me" into a clever vocal and instrumental duet.
  • Nakasian closed the first set leading a rousing version of the Helen Humes blues "Million Dollar Secret." Gordon supported with growling trombone solos and Nakasian responded with her uncanny vocal trombone emulation as they traded four-bar phrases.
  • The band touched on the Duke Ellington songbook with "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart" and "Cottontail" to open the second half of the concert.
    Parrott and Nakasian
  • Nakasian joined the band again for the final three tunes, "Skylark," "How High the Moon" and "On the Sunny Side of the Street." On that finale, she teamed up with Parrott for a vocal duet that segued into a bass duet, with Nakasian craftily emulating an upright bass sound. It was well done and effective, much like her vocal trombone.
  • Pretty much every concert by Metz becomes a drum clinic because of his mastery of the instrument, creative technique and joyous support of the other musicians. This was no exception. 
    Sportiello, Gordon, Allen, Parrott, Metz

Monday, January 22, 2018

Looking ahead: Southwest Florida jazz preview (updated)

Here is a rundown of noteworthy jazz events, principally in the Sarasota to Naples territory, from now through March.
  •  Wednesday, January 24 – Tenor saxophonist Harry Allen and trombonist Wycliffe Gordon with the Ed Metz-Rossano Sportiello-Nicki Parrott trio and singer Stephanie Nakasian. A South County Jazz Club-Venice Institute for the Performing Arts concert. Venice Performing Arts Center. 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, January 27 – Singer Kenny Washington is featured with the Dan Miller-Lew Del Gatto Quintet, Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center. Fort Myers, 8 p.m.
  • Wednesday, January 31 – Singer-pianist Diana Krall in concert, Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall, Fort Myers, 7:30 p.m.
    Diana Krall
  • Tuesday, February 6 – Singer-pianist Diana Krall  in concert at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota. 8 p.m.
  • Saturday, February 10 – Singer Tony Bennett in concert at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota. 8 p.m.
  • Sunday, February 11 – Veronica Swift and the Jeff Rupert quartet. A South County Jazz Club concert at the Glenridge Performing Arts Center. Sarasota, 2 p.m.
  • Monday, February 12 – Veronica Swift and the Jeff Rupert quartet. Charlotte County Jazz Society concert at the Cultural Center of Charlotte County’s William H Wakeman III Theater. 7 p.m.
  • Monday, February 12 – Singer Tony Bennett in concert. Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall, Fort Myers, 7:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, February 14 – Alto Saxophonist Steve Wilson guests with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra in the sextet’s All That Jazz series. Artis-Naples’ Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, February 15 – Singer-guitarist George Benson in concert at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota. 8 p.m.
  • Saturday, February 24 –The 13th annual Punta Gorda Wine & Jazz Festival runs from 1-6 pm in Laishley Park on the Punta Gorda waterfront. This long-standing smooth jazz event features guitarist Nick Colionne, pianist Lao Tizer and saxophonist Eric Darius as the afternoon’s headliners. Saxophonist Mindi Abair was a headliner for the nine prior years. This time around, she's coming s a co-host, who liikely will sit in. While not on the festival billing per she, she’s getting her own Mindi Abair & Friends weekend festival this fall. The Mindi Abair Punta Gorda Wine and Music Festival is scheduled November 17-18 on the great lawn outside the Event and Conference Center in Punta Gorda.
  • Saturday, February 24 – Pianist Dick Hyman and saxophonist/clarinetist Ken Peplowski with a 35-piece orchestra in A SYMPHONY OF BROADWAY A South County Jazz Club-Venice Institute for the Performing Arts concert. Venice Performing Arts Center. 7 p.m.

Jimmy Greene and Jeremy Pelt
  • Thursday, March 8 to Saturday March 10 – The 38th annual Sarasota Jazz Festival features a wide array of domestic and global jazz talent in this “A World of Jazz”-themed event. Headliners include Danish singer Sinne Eeg, Japanese organist Akiko Tsuruga, pianist Ehud Asherie from Israel, singer Chiara Izzi from Italy, guitarist Graham Dechter from California and metropolitan New York-based tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt. The lineup includes encore performances by Brazilian guitarist Diego Figuereido, drummer Jeff Hamilton and tenor saxophonist Houston Person, as well as clarinetist-festival music director Ken Peplowski. Riverview Performing Arts Center, Sarasota (a switch from Art Ovation Hotel because of construction delays).

  • Monday, March 12 – Dave Pruyn's Legacy Big Band perform at the Charlotte County Jazz Society’s Big Band Night concert. Cultural Center of Charlotte County’s William H Wakeman III Theater. 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, March 14 – Trombonist Steve Davis guests with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra in the sextet’s All That Jazz series. Artis-Naples’ Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, March 25 Singer Alexis Cole in concert. Firehouse Cultural Center, Ruskin. 3:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, March 28 – Vibraphonist Warren Wolf guests with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra in the sextet’s All That Jazz series. Artis-Naples’ Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 and 8:30 p.m.
Several local restaurants, including J.D.’s in Port Charlotte, 88 Keys Florida and The Blue Turtle in Punta Gorda, Fandango in Sarasota, The Roadhouse and The Barrel Room at Twisted Vine Bistro in Fort Myers, and Slate’s in Cape Coral, offer jazz steadily. A variety of Friday matinee concerts sponsored all season by the Jazz Club of Sarasota and the South County Jazz Club also keep things swinging for jazz lovers.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The global language of jazz

The 38th annual Sarasota Jazz Festival is fast approaching. This year's concerts are scheduled Thursday, March 8 through Saturday March 10 - with a matinee jam-style session scheduled on Saturday before the evening's finale.

This year's event has an ambitious and interesting theme. It's called  A World of Jazz. The festival will present a wide array of domestic and global jazz talent, with many first-time performers on the bill. This is a good thing.

Ken Peplowski
Headliners include Danish singer Sinne Eeg, Japanese organist Akiko Tsuruga, pianist Ehud Asherie from Israel, singer Chiara Izzi from Italy, guitarist Graham Dechter from California and metropolitan New York-based tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt. The rhythm section for most concerts is a Scandinavian jazz trio: Danish drummer Kristian Leth, Swedish bassist Hans Backenroth and Danish pianist Ole Kock Hansen. 
Diego Figuereido

The festival lineup includes encore performances by Brazilian guitarist Diego Figuereido, drummer Jeff Hamilton and tenor saxophonist Houston Person, as well as clarinetist and saxophonist Ken Peplowski, who is the event's new music director.
Sinne Eeg*

I'm particularly looking forward to hearing Sinne Eeg live in concert. The Danish singer released a new CD, Dreams (ArtistShare), in the fall. It is a gem. She swings like crazy, sings with beautiful nuance and emotion, and writes beautiful tunes. She wrote or co-wrote six of the ten tracks on the recording. She is a tasteful scatter as well. The title track features Eeg on wordless, mood-setting vocals. It's powerful.

Peplowski is excited about the lineup he is bringing together in this celebration of the common language of jazz. "Even though there are people in the lineup from all over the world, they are also fans of that melodic, song-based jazz that I think people still love," he says. "It’s kind of fun to bring these players into the fold and show the audience how this music is expanding and, at the same time, is very aware of its past.”

Check out the festival website for full details on the festival schedule and lineup. The event, produced by the Jazz Club of Sarasota, is being held at downtown Sarasota's new Art Ovation Hotel.
                                                                                                       *Stephen Freiheit photo 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Celebrating Latin jazz with some clever twists

Pianist Joe Delaney spent most of his twenties living and working in the the U.S. Virgin Islands. During those eight years on St. Thomas back in the 1980s, he was also able to gig throughout the Caribbean and in South America, particularly Brazil. He soaked up the varied rhythms and flavors of Latin jazz.

Joe Delaney
While best known for playing straight-ahead swing and the twists and turns of bebop, we can credit those formative years in the Caribbean for the Massachusetts native's mastery of Latin jazz. That side of his musical palette was on vibrant display on Monday, January 8, in Port Charlotte, Florida, when Delaney performed with his Latin Caribbean All-Stars for the Charlotte County Jazz Society.

Robles, Fabrelle, Diaz

The band included Ricky Howard on guitar, Kevin Mauldin on bass, Chicky Diaz on congas, Tito Fabrelle on bongos, cowbell and other assorted percussion, and last-minute sub Juan Robles on timbales. The three-man percussion section blended intoxicating rhythms and accents without stepping on each other.

Delaney drew from the Latin jazz canon and updated two Great American Songbook standards with clever Latin treatments. He also has a knack for sneaking in snippets of other tunes into his solos, which happened several times during the night.
Delaney, Mauldin, Howard

The opening set included explorations of two tunes by late West Coast composer/arranger Clare Fischer, the ballad-like bolero "Gaviota" and his cha cha "Morning," as well as the bolero "Besame Mucho." The latter, the most famous and most frequently recorded Mexican song, was a strong acoustic guitar feature for Howard. Paying tribute to other Latin jazz masters, Delaney & Co. played conguero Mongo Santamaria's classic "Afro Blue" then segued into Tito Puente's anthemic "Oye Como Va." The pianist's "Afro Blue" solo included a few bars of "These are a Few of My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music.
Ricky Howard

The evening's tour de force was their performance of Jerome Kern's "All The Things You Are." Delaney opened  with a pensive, straight-ahead run through the familiar standard melody, shifted into a bebop attack for the chorus, then turned on the clave as it shifted into a Latin burner. Instead of playing the so-called "rhythm changes" on which so much of  jazz is built, Delaney changed rhythms on this one. The Latin portion began as a cha cha, then shifted into a fast jazz mambo.

Tito Fabrelle
In the second set, Delaney tipped his musical hat to trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, who first popularized the intersection of jazz and Latin music. Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia"(with Robles and Fabrelle trading instruments), became a solo spotlight for Mauldin, who is principal bassist of the Naples Philharmonic. His bass lines were solid as a rock all night long. Later in the set, the band explored Dizzy and Chano Pozo's "Soul Sauce (Guachi Guaro)" which was a1965 hit for Latin jazz vibes player Cal Tjader.

The closing set also dug into Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man," a Latin jazz staple popularized by Santamaria, a jazz mambo version of "I'll Remember April," and "Blue Bossa" (Kenny Dorham's blend of hard bop and bossa nova). In true Delaney fashion, the leader wound down "Watermelon Man" with a snippet of Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk" and sneaked a little of Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe" melody into the band's take on "Soul Sauce."

It was fitting that the night ended with Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas." The New York-born tenor saxophonist composed the calypso in homage to his family's island roots. And Delaney was honoring  is own Latin jazz roots.

The concert at the Cultural Center of  Charlotte Counties William H. Wakeman III Theater drew a crowd estimated around 260.

Mauldin, Delaney, Robles, Howard, Diaz, Fabrelle