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.

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