Sunday, May 31, 2009

CDs of Note...

Bobby Sanabria conducting the Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, Kenya Revisited Live!!! (Jazzheads)
The mouthful of a title and over-the-top use of triple exclamation points don’t detract from one of the finest Latin recordings to emerge so far this year. Drummer/percussionist Bobby Sanabria takes a fresh look at Kenya, a classic recording by Machito & The Afro-Cubans 50 years after its release. The project features MSM’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, which he directs, and several guest arrangers (mostly from his own big band).

This live concert recording featured conguero Candido Camero as guest solo on three tunes. The NEA Jazz Master performed on the original Kenya recording, whose notable soloists for that December 1957 session also included alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley and Count Basie Orchestra trumpeter Joe Newman. The incendiary performances throughout this update show the strength of MSM’s collegiate jazz program - and are the project’s strongest exclamation points. Sanabria plays timbales on “Congo Mulence” and drums on “Wild Jungle.” This music is near and dear to Sanabria’s heart, as a one-time member of Mariao Bauzá’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra. Bauzá was musical director and co-founder of the Machito band.

This recording also signals a noble partnership with Randy Klein’s Jazzheads Records. It is the first in a series of four recordings planned with MSM bands. The others will feature saxophonist Dave Liebman with the Manhattan School of Music Jazz Orchestra interpreting three Miles Davis classic works: Miles Ahead, Porgy & Bess and Sketches of Spain. Proceeds from the sales of all four of these projects will be donated to the Manhattan School of Music Scholarship Fund-Jazz Arts Program. Kudos to Klein, Sanabria and MSM Jazz Arts Program chairman Justin DiCioccio, who also leads the school’s Jazz Orchestra that will be heard on the three Davis projects.

Scotty Barnhart, Say It Plain (Unity Music)
Scotty Barnhart, featured trumpet soloist with the Count Basie Orchestra for 17 years (during which time the band won two Grammys), finally has step forward with his own recording debut as a leader. And it is a dandy - enhanced by some stellar special guests. There is much to savor among the even split of original material and standards.

John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps," which opens the project, is masterfully rearranged with a funky New Orleans second-line swagger. Barnhart’s own “Haley’s Passage,” composed for writer Alex Haley and featuring the leader on flumpet (a flugelhorn/trumpet hybrid championed by the late Art Farmer) is stunning. Wynton Marsalis helps Barnhart turn Dizzy Gillespie’s beloved Latin ballad “Con Alma” (With Soul) into a seamless duet with dueling trumpets.

Clark Terry and Barnhart tear things up with a humorous original called “Pay Me My Money” with Terry at his Mumbles best to end this CD, whose other guests include Marcus Roberts, Ellis Marsalis, Bruce Barth and singer Jamie Davis, who is featured on “Young at Heart.” Barnhart has skillfully and soulfully added his mark to the jazz trumpet tradition with a clear tone and clear vision.

Curt Ramm, Dan Moretti, Bill Cunliffe, Foundations (Foundations Jazz Records)
A soulful groove is the foundation of this project, which puts a forward-looking spin on a sound that has fascinated hard-core jazz lovers ever since Cannonball Adderley and Horace Silver put their indelible funky imprints on the music. The three co-leaders, backed by bassist Marty Ballou and drummer Marty Richards, split writing duties. Cunliffe and Ramm co-write six and Moretti wrote the other five. It is music that is made to be fun for players and listeners alike. “Goin Nowhere Fast” showcases Ramm’s excellent trumpet work. Cuniffe’s B-3 work deepens the funkiness on “K-Funk” and “MM&D,” both penned by Moretti. “Vine Street” and “Podunk” are among the most exhilarating tracks. “Totem Dance” and “Get In Line” dig deep into the Adderley-Silver vibe.

Oran Etkin, Kelenia (Motéma)
For proof that the world has indeed grown smaller musically, look no further than Kelenia. Oran Etkin was born in Israel and began serious study of jazz as a young teenager in Boston, honing his skills under the tutelage of George Garzone. He also developed an early love of the brass band street music from New Orleans. “Kelenia” means love between people who are different from each other in Bambara , also called Bamanankan (the first or second language for 80 percent of the residents of Mali). On this project, Etkin, who plays tenor sax, clarinet and his primary instrument, bass clarinet, seamlessly blends pulsing rhythms, tones and melodies from the Middle East and Africa with a hip sense of urban jazz.

His band includes several players from Mali (Balla Kouyate, Abdoulaye Diabate and Mohammed “Joh” Sid Camara), guitarist Lionel Loueke from Benin, and bassists John Benitez from Puerto Rico and Joe Sanders from the United States. From start to finish, this project is intriguing and fresh. I particularly like the traditional African tunes “Nama” and “Damonzon,” Etkin’s blues “Brink” and their world music update of Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing.” There is much to discover and savor here. This is a June 9 release.

Joel Harrison, Urban Myths (HighNote)
Don’t bother trying to pin down guitarist, composer arranger Joel Harrison. Before you can finish, he’ll be on to something else. Jazz, country, blues, spirituals, classical, strings, music from West Africa and Appalachia have all found their way into his evolving palette.

Urban Myths, his 11th CD, uses his own new compositions (and variations on Monk’s “Straight No Chaser”) to celebrate the electric jazz of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Weather Report, John McLaughlin and Frank Zappa that influenced him growing up in the 1970s. His ace band includes longtime collaborator David Binney on alto sax, Christian Howes on violin, Daniel Kelly on keyboards, Stephan Crump on bass and Jordan Perlson on drums, with several guest artists: Fima Ephron on electric bass, Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet, Corey King on trombone and Jerome Sabbag on tenor sax. Electric keyboards and strings enhance its sometimes spooky, sometimes gritty sonic textures. Howes’ melodic teases keep the Monk exploration on course. The strongest groove comes on “Between the Traveler and the Setting Sun” and the title track.

My favorite Harrison recording is 2003’s Free Country, which put a fresh twist on a series of traditional country and Appalachian tunes. Norah Jones cameos on “I Walk the Line” and “Tennessee Waltz.” If you’re not familiar with it, I highly recommend you check out Free Country. It’s on the ACT label and also available through HighNote.

Friday, May 29, 2009

No slowing down

June’s issue of Hot House includes my profile of tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts, who is on the road as special guest with the new tribute project Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings Coltrane/Hartman. (They’re at Birdland June 16 to 20, and the project's CD is due out June 23 on Concord Jazz.

Watts talked at great length from his West Coast home. And not everything could be squeezed into the lengthy article.

Here are some of his additional thoughts:

His bittersweet tone, a key ingredient in the film noire sound of Charlie Haden’s Quartet West – “It is a combination of all of those years of listening to everybody, then focusing on Coltrane. The physical aspect to the sound partly derives from body type. Some people are big strong people and approach the instrument differently. I think my sound developed from thinking of the saxophone as a singing tool. I do a lot of pop music and R&B, when you are playing that music, you have to play in a certain melodic style that keeps the music authentic. With the sax, I thought of it as being a voice. Everything you do is a melody. You focus on playing something that is beautiful and clear. I realized that I had this singing ability in my sound.”

Ernie Watts, Montreal, June 2008... >>>

Music reflects life – “Every day is a new beginning. You can play great one night and get up the next day and feel awful. Some days I get up and it is like I never saw a saxophone before in my life. I have a practice routine to keep everything in balance. That helps a lot. It is like training for the Olympics continually.”

The importance of passing on knowledge through college workshops or master classes (Watts says does about six a year) - “When you talk about what you do and you vocalize it, it gives you a different view of something that is hard-wired and you normally wouldn’t think about. Life is like that. Every experience is a teaching experience and a learning experience. I learn as much from them as they learn from me. It forces you to reflect on things we’ve been doing for 30 years without thinking about it. Little things like vibrato and tonguing. When you have to explain it, it gives you another view of it. The music is to share, and that is very important.”
I’ll provide a link to the Hot House profile as soon as it is posted online.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Jazz Forum lofts and their legacy – 30 years later

Mark Morgaanelli had producing events in his genes even as a 24-year-old trumpeter. For four years, starting in 1979, Morganelli ran the Jazz Forum – initially at 50 Cooper Square in New York City’s East Village and later at 648 Broadway at Bleecker Street - to offer more opportunities for emerging and established musicians and their groups to perform in a relaxed loft setting.

Initially, he rented the space one night a week to Barry Harris, where the pianist held music classes before relocating to his own Jazz Cultural Theatre. From Morganelli’s own rehearsal big band grew steady, weekly large ensemble presentations of Chuck Israels’ National Jazz Ensemble, Jaki Byard’s Apollo Stompers, and Charli Persip’s Superband. There were jam sessions, hundreds and hundreds of concerts, National Public Radio broadcasts, benefits for ailing musicians and several recordings.

On June 22, Morganelli will celebrate the Jazz Forum legacy at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater. He is gathering some 20 artists from the old Jazz Forum lofts for the concert. They include Kenny Barron, Jimmy Cobb, George Coleman, Lou Donaldson, Ray Drummond, Al Foster, Slide Hampton, Barry Harris, Donald Harrison, Louis Hayes, Jon Hendricks, Joe Lovano, George Mraz, Rufus Reid, Claudio Roditi, John Scofield, Clark Terry, Cedar Walton, Buster Williams and Leroy Williams. It should be one whale of an evening.

Two years after the lofts closed, Morganelli established Jazz Forum Arts, a nonprofit arts-presenting organization whose events include the 15-years-strong Jazz at the Music Hall series in Tarrytown NY. He has produced numerous jazz festivals and concerts as well, including a piano series at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Dizzy Gillespie 75th birthday concert at Carnegie Hall, and the "Jazz Beats Breast Cancer" concert at Avery Fisher Hall.

Mark continues to perform with his Jazz Forum All-Stars. The band’s Brazil Project is scheduled to appear June 27th at Freihofer’s Jazz Festival at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, where the two-day schedule of talent is strong and wide-ranging, headlined by George Benson and Patti LaBelle. Besides Morganelli on trumpet, the Jazz Forum Brazil Project includes John Hart on guitar, Nilson Matta on bass, Adriano Santos on drums and singer Monika Oliveira.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

DVD of Note...

Miles Davis, That's What Happened: Live in Germany, 1987 (Eagle Rock Entertainment)
This 1987 concert DVD captures Davis and his late-career jazz-rock band live in Munich performing some of the staples of his repertoire. In the late 1980s, “Human Nature” and “Time After Time” did for a Davis concert what “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “My Funny Valentine” and “Someday My Prince Will Come” did in the 1950s and ’60s - enabling his band to expand the possibilities and dramatically reshape beloved and instantly identifiable ballads from popular culture.

This 90-minute performance of ballads, blues and funk has great musical moments from Davis and his band. Little new ground is covered in the supplemental interview and glimpse of his art, though there is one snippet in the former making it clear that composing and drawing were essential parts of his psyche - and shared some common elements. As he talks, he draws.

That was also the case when I had a lengthy interview with him at his Manhattan apartment in April 1986 for an extensive 60th birthday profile initially published by UPI as part of its LifeSize series. Here’s a link to an archived version on the Jazz Journalists Association's Web site that also explores his music-art connection.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A-Team / Essentially Ellington overlap

Seattle’s Garfield High School and Roosevelt High School jazz bands have been perennial top finalists and/or winners at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington competition, finishing first and second again this year. Now their directors are getting well-deserved moments in the spotlight.

Garfield’s Clarence Acox and Roosevelt’s Scott Brown are among the 11 winners of the A-Team class of "activists, advocates, altruists, aiders and abettors of jazz" who will be honored June 16 as part of the Jazz Journalists Association’s 2009 JJA Jazz Awards event at The Jazz Standard in Manhattan.

The other A-Team honorees are: trumpeter and producer Herb Alpert for his longstanding commitment to jazz and philanthropy supporting music education; Dr. Agnes Varis of the Jazz Foundation of America; Bruce Lundvall of Blue Note Records; Dr. David Baker for revolutionizing jazz education; cultural historian Timuel Black; Jazz Institute of Chicago former president Steve Saltzman, Jazz Bakery proprietor Ruth Price, and two posthumous honorees: journalist-author-musician Richard Sudhalter and author-publicist Peter Levinson.

See the JJA Web site for details on other nominees, as well as event information.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

CDs of Note

Lynne Arriale, Nuance: The Bennett Studio Sessions (Motéma) After a series of 10 highly regarded trio recordings over the past 15 years, pianist Lynne Arriale has changed things up. On this recording, made at Bennett Studios in northern New Jersey, she expanded her band to quartet – featuring trumpeter Randy Brecker. She had worked a few times previously with drummer Anthony Pinciotti, but this was her first collaboration with Brecker and bassist George Mraz.

The Nuance session reveals more beautiful facets of Arriale’s musical vision and crystalline sound. Most interesting is the way she and Brecker share and trade both melodic and harmonic lead roles. There is a beautiful version of Sting’s “Wrapped Around Your Finger.” This CD has much to offer both in the band’s reworkings of standards and performances of six Arriale originals.

My personal favorites are the poignant “Ballad of the Sad Young Men” and a rousing version of Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia,” and Arriale’s beautiful, elegiac “A Gentle Soul” and her spirited “Crawfish & Gumbo.” As a bonus, the package includes a DVD with different versions of the tunes, performed at Bennett Studios in front of an audience.

Resonance Big Band plays tribute to Oscar Peterson (Resonance)
Los Angeles-based Resonance records is out with a gem that pays homage to the late Oscar Peterson - and introduces us to a keyboard artist who deserves watching in other projects going forward - no matter that he’s a thirty-something Romanian living in Finland.

This project took several of Peterson’s best-known compositions and other material that he made his own - and use new arrangements of those songs to celebrate Peterson’s passion, swing and technique. Marian Petrescu is no Peterson copycat. He blends in his own improvisations throughout the material. My favorites include the “Bossa Beguine,” “Little Girl Blue” (Rodgers and Hart) and “Sally’s Tomato,” a Henry Mancini piece using the original Claus Ogerman arrangement that Peterson used on his version on the 1969 big band recording Motions and Emotions on Germany’s MPS label. The other arrangements were done by Kuno Schmidt and Bill Cunliffe, who assembled this big band from among L.A.’s finest jazz and studio players. The CD ends with Petrescu’s nimble solo piano take on Peterson’s difficult, intimate burner “A Little Jazz Exercise.” An accompanying DVD explores the conception and production of this worthy project.

What a forceful project in which to introduce many more people to Marian Petrescu, a serious Oscar Peterson disciple and forceful/formidable pianist in his own right.

Note: there are two titles floating around the Intranet for this CD, the other being The Resonance Big Band plays the legacy of Oscar Peterson, which is how it can be ordered through However I’ve been told by Resonance consultant Ricky Schultz that plays tribute to is the correct name.

Yotam Silberstein, Next Page (Posi-Tone)
Fans of Peter Bernstein and Howard Alden are likely to love this one, from a player of the next generation in the mainstream swing style, enhanced by his modern sense of harmonics and personal sense of phrasing. Yotam Silberstein grew up in Israel and his playing sometimes is colored by his Middle Eastern roots. The New School graduate and Thelonious Monk guitar competition semifinalist (2005) is joined on this session by Sam Yahel on organ, and Willie Jones III on drum, with Chris Cheek on tenor sax on five of the 10 tracks. So it is half organ-guitar trio and half a quartet project.

An array of originals are complemented by fresh takes on two standards, “Foolin’ Myself” and “If Ever I Would Leave You,” as well as “Ani Eshtagea,” a Venezuelan folk song performed by many Israeli singers. The latter tune and Silberstein’s energetic “Borsht” and reflective “Cancao “are standouts. This is a player fast on the rise. I heard him in April with Sylvia Cuenca’s band, and he deserves a close listen, whether with his own band or working with others.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Some golden jazz projects take on a new spin

A golden anniversary only rolls around once, so producers and promoters are smart to make the best of it.

To some ears, 1959 was the greatest year in jazz, given the pinnacle of talent and artful productivity in so many facets of the music. It was the year for recording projects that turned out to be pivotal for their makers – and for listeners. Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come led the charge.

We don’t dare forget about Davis’s enduring classic Sketches of Spain, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out and Charles Mingus’s Mingus Ah Um. And Columbia / Legacy is making sure we don’t forget them.

On May 26, the label is releasing 50th anniversary two-CD deluxe sets of the three classic recordings as part of its Legacy Edition series. Each has been enhanced or beefed up in some way for this 1959 – Jazz’s Greatest Year set:

· Sketches of Spain (50th Anniversary Enhanced 2 CD Legacy Edition) - The original of this Gil Evans-Miles Davis collaboration plus more than an hour of rehearsal or alternate takes, as well as a version of “Concerto de Aranjuez” from the only time they performed it live (Carnegie Hall, 1961) and a new essay by Gunther Schuller.

· Time Out -50th Anniversary (2 CD/1 DVD Legacy Edition) - Jazz’s first million-selling album is accompanied by previously unreleased recordings of Brubeck’s Quartet at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1961, 1963 and 1964 (eight tracks in all), as well as a 30-minute DVD documentary on the making of the project, an interview with Brubeck, an interactive piano lesson, and historic performance footage. There’s also a new essay by Ted Gioia.

· Ah Um 50th Anniversary (Legacy Edition) - The 1959 recording and its sequel, Mingus Dynasty, in their entirety, plus bonus tracks and alternate takes from the 1959 recording sessions for Mingus Ah Um and a new essay by Michael Cuscuna.

All three 50th anniversary sets also contain rare photos and previously unpublished documents and/or correspondence concerning the recording sessions.

The completists among us are likely to rejoice with this new ammunition for the argument that silence isn’t always golden.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

CDs of Note

Melody Gardot, My One and Only Thrill (Verve)
In terms of a very intimate and endearing sound, Melody Gardot seems comparable to my ears to the late French chanteuse Edith Piaf. It is a sound that forces us to really concentrate in on the lyrics. Gardot writes most of her own material, sometimes in collaboration, just as Piaf did.

In the acknowledgments within this new (second) full-length CD, Philadelphia resident Gardot even describes her music as “the soundtrack to my life” – a life in which she is a survivor of great health challenges caused by an accident five years ago with the then-19-year-old was struck by an SUV while riding her bicycle. She sings beautifully and intimately about what she has called “the beauty of impermanence and the art of gradual, sensual and universal embrace.”

As you listen to the songs, you’ll also discover on My One and Only Thrill that she is a poet of the first order, telling emotional short stories with great impact. Her first album, Worrisome Heart, which made several 2008 Top 10 lists (including my own), featured Gardot with her working band. This Larry Klein-produced sequel, with arrangements by Vince Mendoza, adds a variety off guest musicians, with strings on six of its 11 tracks. My clear favorites here include “Who Will Comfort Me,” “Your Heart is as Black as Night,” ”Lover Undercover” and “Deep Within the Corners of My Mind.” There is much to savor here and you are certain to discover your own favorites. A principally French track, “Les Étoiles” (The Stars) enhances the Piaf linkage.

Nick Hempton Band (Triple-Distilled Original [TDR])
Australian alto saxophonist Nick Hempton leads this swarthy New York-based bop quartet with Art Hirahara on piano, Marco Panascia on bass and Dan Aran on drums. Together, these versatile players have an interesting edge to their sound on this debut CD. They have a fun time in which a serious sound is the result, such as on Hempton’s “The Artful Roger.” The three covers here include Benny Carter’s ballad “Lonely Woman,” Joe Henderson’s “Serenity” and the Johnny Burke-Jimmy Van Heusen chestnut “But Beautiful.” Hempton’s uptempo original “I’m a Nurse, I’m an Engineer” could be interpreted as the role of the jazz musician - to help heal, through music but also to design artful improvisation. But that’s just my spin on it. For an added bonus, check out Hempton’s own clever and witty liner notes.

April Hall, Fun out of Life (Bee Boy Records)
Florida-born, Boston-based April Hall is a singer of great quality and taste, as shown on her new CD, her second as a leader. She sings great standards, but none of the tired tunes. You know what I mean by tired tunes – the half-dozen or so songs that have been done to death by so many singers they really don’t need to be done again by anyone - but usually are ad infinitum. Hall has a great voice, a strong sense of material and a superb backing band, with Joe Mulholland on piano, Kenny Hadley on drums, Jon Damian on guitar on two tracks, and Tom Hall and Amadee Castanell sharing saxophone duties. In particular, this is a great showcase for Mulholland, whose sensitive accompaniment is as good as it gets. Hall is an award-winning songwriter, but this project celebrates the contributions of other musical wordsmiths. Her version of Michel Legrand’s classic “You Must Believe in Spring” is a tour de force.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Timing is everything

Timing has an impact on just about everything we do, including the attention given to various jazz releases. Bill Cunliffe’s Blues and the Abstract Truth: Take 2 released late in 2008 on the Resonance label is a case in point.

The CD is a masterful work - updating Oliver Nelson’s classic 1961 all-star project with great reverence while skillfully adding new twists and turns. Cunliffe and his nine-piece band perform updated arrangements of all six tunes from Nelson’s septet project, in exact order. Then he tacked on two originals, a forward-looking bop exploration called “Port Authority” and a Nelson-like homage to Cunliffe’s own piano mentor, Mary Lou Williams, called “May Lou’s Blues. This disc belongs on many a CD shelf, right next to Nelson’s original.

Now, about that timing. The CD was released on October 14, 2008, late in the year for consideration by critics assembling their Top 10 lists for 2008. I can’t begin to guess even how many received it or had a chance to give it a listen prior to submitting their various ballots or publishing their own year-end lists.

More than 75 of us contributed to Francis Davis’s very important 2008 jazz poll published last December 30 in the Village Voice. I double-checked yesterday. Cunliffe’s CD didn’t appear on a single list. My list for that poll, the Jazz Journalists Association’s Web site and didn’t contain it, unfortunately, because I never received the disc. I listened to a friend’s copy this past week. Suffice it to say that I was blown away by this exceptional revisit/reinterpretation of the original project made nearly a half-century ago.

So even though it technically came out late in 2008, I am tempted to put it in my 2009 Top 10 list. And why not? It can balance things a bit - as several critics put drummer Mike Clark’s excellent Blueprints Of Jazz Vol. 1 (Talking House) on their 2008 lists… even though it wasn’t released until February 3, 2009 (see My January 25 blog entry).

Monday, May 4, 2009

The home-court advantage

The basketball and hockey playoffs that are under way have proven once again that there is a home arena / hometown advantage. For proof, look no further than the Boston Celtics' epic first-round series with the Chicago Bulls.

That advantage also exists in music, as I was reminded when checking out the Blue Note 7 in performances two weeks apart in two different cities.

The all-star group’s show in Worcester, Mass. on April 1 was quite good, but the impact was numbed a bit by a half-empty house and the very large stage at historic Mechanics Hall.

I also caught them at Birdland in New York on April 16. I doubt the band coasted in any of its performances in its 50-city U.S. tour, but what a difference it makes to play at home in familiar surroundings, in front of critics and peers.

The band was tighter physically and emotionally, and the sound was top-notch. The resulting music was stunning from start to finish. A few times, when he wasn’t soloing, Nicholas Payton stood at the wall at the rear of the stage, and added some comping riffs - off mic, yet filling the room.

Nicholas Payton, Birdland, April 2009... >
The evening was punctuated by the ultimate musicians’ compliment… musicians who weren’t elsewhere that night or that set were checking out the band. Those in the room that night included Bob Sheppard, Eric Alexander, Anat Cohen, Jim Ridl, Roni Ben-Hur and Bill Mays. When the BN7 played its update to Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance,” pianist Bill Charlap noted that saxophonist George Coleman, who played on the original Blue Note session, was in the house - sitting close to the stage, holding court at his own table.

I suspect the six-night Big Apple winddown of the spring tour was like that every night. Those in the house the prior night, for example, included Steve Kuhn and Mike LeDonne.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Bennett joins the post-Katrina assistance brigade...

Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but he leaves behind a significant monetary/cultural investment in New Orleans after a performance at JazzFest this weekend.

This past week, the singer's Exploring the Arts program was among the funders who donated $100,000 worth of new musical instruments to students at KIPP Believe College Prep, a charter school founded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The instruments can help extend the city's great musical tradition to newer generations of players. Details on the funding, and its origins, can be found at

So we can add Tony Bennett - singer, painter, philanthropist - to the list of people who have found creative ways to help rebuild in ways NOLA needs it.Action like Bennett's is welcome, especially as parts of the city still haven't been rebuilt... and work on its infrastructure is far from complete.

It still baffles me that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal rejected the federal government's economic stimulus aid this year, aid that this state and city that likely need it the most. It could have gone a long way to continue work on levees and rebuild the Ninth Ward and other areas still blighted from Katrina's flooding effects.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

CDs of Note

Sean Jones, The Search Within (Mack Avenue)
Trumpeter Sean Jones has wowed listeners with his chops ever since his recording debut five years ago with Eternal Journey. The chops are still amazing on The Search Within, but this project, his fifth recording as a leader, is more a celebration of what’s in his heart. The reflective aspects of the writing and performance in no way diminish the stylistic range of tunes explored by Jones & Co. In fact, they enhance it.

“The Search Within (for less),” the middle segment or interlude of his three-part title tune, is a beauty, as is his Khalil Gibran-inspired ballad “The Ambitious Violet.” The special guests featured with his regular sextet (pianist Orrin Evans, saxophonists Brian Hogans and Walter Smith, bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Obed Calvaire) include Gregoire Maret on harmonica, Erika Von Kleist on flute, Kahlil Bell on percussion and singer Carolyn Perteete, who also wrote the lyrics to Jones’s “Letter of Resignation.”

Barbara King, Perfect Timing (CCC Music Group)
One of the great treats at April's 31st Cape May Jazz Festival at the tip of the Jersey Shore was a chance to hear emerging talent Barbara King live. In person, her music is as strong and intriguing as on this debut CD. The Brooklyn NY native has an ear for great tunes that have been under-performed in jazz circles, a thirst for fresh arrangements (developed for this project by keyboard player Dorsey “Rob” Robinson) and a great voice (reminiscent of Sarah Vaughn at times) to make it all work.

The treats here include fresh takes on the Dionne Warwick-associated Bacharach-David tune “I Say A Little Prayer,” Stevie Wonder’s “Ribbon in the Sky,” the Donny Hathaway-penned Roberta Flack hit “Tryin’ Times” and the Beatles hit “Let It Be.” Her version of “Forever Young” enables us to savor the lyrics – something that would be a challenge on the original for all but the most die-hard Bob Dylan fans. King grew up musically in her church choirs. Her originals “Miracles,” “Perfect Timing” and “Your Smile” are both beautiful and carry great messages, as does J.C. White’s “One More Day.”

The rotation of players is excellent, including Robinson, George Colligan, John DiMartino and Arturo O'Farrill on piano; guitarists Rodney Jones and Romero Lubambo, saxophonist Jay Branford; bassists Dwayne Burno, James Cammack, Kenny Davis, Ray Drummond and Ruben Rodriguez; and drummers Carl Allen, Steve Johns and Phoenix Rivera, among others. Trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater and flute player Dave Valentin add their soloing talents to a track apiece.

Dave Siebels with: Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band (PBGL)
The Hammond B-3 organ has a narrow but notable history in recordings w ith big bands. Jimmy Smith’s collaborations with Count Basie and Oliver Nelson come to mind, as does Jimmy Griff’s Couint Basie tribute project with a unit that evolved into the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. West Coast keyboard player/ composer /arranger/producer Dave Siebels wonderfully adds to that tradition in this project with pianist Goodwin’s Grammy-winning Big Phat Band. If, like me, you love the rollicking, had-driving energy of the B-3, this is a CD not to be missed.

Siebels, longtime collaborator with singer Pat Boone and other first-tier jazz, blues and pop performers, performs primarily originals with three excellent covers for ths sound - Stevie Wonder’s high-energy “I Wish” (with a tenor sax solo from Goodwin), Neal Hefti’s ballad “Girl Talk” (done in a trio setting with wonderful guitar work by Grant Geissman) and Lalo Schifrin’s “The Cat.” Siebels’ “The Coupe,” “Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That,” “The Gospel According to Hammond,” and the Latin-tinged “Sort of Like a Samba” (done by quartet) stand out. There’s not a dud in the mix.

Freddie Hubbard, Without a Song (Blue Note)
Oh how we miss the jazz great nicknamed “Hub Cap” (also the title of his 1961 album). Hard-bop trumpeter Freddie Hubbard passed last December 29 after more than 15 years of poor health and chops that had been blown out by his blistering style. This previously unissued recording was compiled from three concerts in England and Germany on a Jazz Wave on Tour visit 40 years ago this December with pianist Roland Hanna, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Louis Hayes.

There is a fascinating extended reworking of “Body and Soul,” a very strong opener with the title track, a comparatively tame version of “The Things We Did Last Summer” (with a few Hubbard upper-register flights) and a burning version of Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia” that is also a Hanna showcase. Hubbard was in strong form throughout, in contrast to what we remember from recent comeback tries.

I confess that when I went to hear him a few years ago in Boston, I had to leave mid-way through the first song because listening to the music he was trying to make with his shot lips was so painful. For that sort of reason alone, this addition to the discography of Freddie at his prime Without a Song is most welcome. But it does not reach the pinnacle performances he turned live or in studio on The Night of the Cookers (recorded at Brooklyn’s Club La Marchal in 1965), Red Clay, and Blues for Miles. This is a June 2, 2009 release.