Friday, March 12, 2010

CDs of Note…

Peppe Merolla, Stick With Me (PJ Productions)
This is Peppe Merolla’s debut as a jazz leader - and it is quite fine. The Italian-born singer, actor and drummer focuses on his time-keeping side on this project and he has some star-quality help from the hard-bop world. His bandmates are John Farnsworth on tenor sax, Mike LeDonne on piano, Jim Rotondi on trumpet, Lee Smith on bass and Steve Turre on trombone and conch shells. Merolla is a painter at the drum kit, coloring and shading behind the soloists while also keeping a super-charged beat when needed. The band displays its tight nature right from the get-go on Merolla’s own “Naples,” a salute to his home city. It features interesting solo and ensemble interplay between Turre (on shells and ‘bone), Rotondi and Farnsworth (who provided five of the nine tunes). Other favorites: their takes on the Willie Nelson classic “Crazy” and Farnsworth’s “Mozzin.” Given the similar energy and cohesiveness on the latter tune, I’d love to hear this group tackle Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro-Blue” someday. Stick this CD in your changer – and it is likely to camp out a while. Quite a while. Each listen reveals more interesting facets to its gems.

Champian Fulton, The Breeze and I (Gut String Records)
This is the third CD from pianist and singer Champian Fulton’s Manhattan-based trio, which includes bassist Neal Miner and drummer Fukushi Tainaka. It’s a lovely blend of her rather sweet vocals (on two-thirds of the tracks) and strong and versatile piano chops. There are five instrumentals here amid these swinging standards. She is particularly strong on the title track, Harold Land’s “”Land’s End,” an uptempo take on Cole Porter’s “Easy to Love” and a bluesy version of “I Can’t Face the Music.” The band is solid - a benefit of working together regularly - and the CD is a fine showcase for Tainaka’s brush work. The leader’s treatment on “I’m Confessin” shows just why the lady is a Champ.

Ehud Asherie, Modern Life (Posi-Tone)
New York-based pianist Ehud Asherie has a sprightly, dancing style on the keyboard at times that is reminiscent at times of a longtime favorite swing practitioner, John Bunch. Asherie is in great company on this mainstream swing project, which features tenor saxophonist Harry Allen. Bassist Joel Forbes and drummer Chuck Riggs, two of Allen’s frequent collaborators, complete the rhythm section. Everything here is well done as they mine Swing Street, Blues Alley and a few chapters from The Great American Songbook. My favorites: Asherie’s originals “Blues for George” and “One for V,” as well as their takes on the Hank Jones tune “Vignette” and Tadd Dameron’s “Casbah.” While Allen is at his high-energy best on the blues piece and George Gershwin’s “Soon,” his exquisite way with a ballad is also a delight on Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing.” Asherie and Allen work well together - with empathy, high spirits and the sheer will to swing. This is a March 16 release.

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