Friday, February 21, 2014

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a closer look at new CDs by Craig Handy, Herb Silverstein, Dave Stryker, Helen Sung and Volcán...

Craig Handy, Craig Handy & 2nd Line Smith (OKeh)
Saxophonist Craig Handy took an interesting journey on this, his first recording as a leader in 14 years. With an organ and a guitar both part of his working band, he decided to focus on the songbook of B-3 organ great Jimmy Smith, and recast it with the funky second-line groove from New Orleans. Smith’s helpers here include Kyle Koehler on B-3, Matt Chertikoff on guitar, Clark Gayton on sousaphone, and three New Orleans drummers: Ali Jackson, Jason Marsalis and Herlin Riley. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis adds his growling horn sound to Muddy Waters’ hit “Got My Mojo Working,” which also features Clarence Spady on vocals. It is a session highlight, along with Handy & Co.’s takes on “Organ Grinder’s Swing,” the dirge-like ballad “I Almost Lost My Mind” and Stanley Turrentine’s “Minor Chant.” Singer Dee Dee Bridgewater is featured on “On The Sunny Side of the Street.” If you loved Jimmy Smith, love the B-3 sound in general, or love the Crescent City jazz flavor, check this out. Handy’s band blends them well.

Herb Silverstein, Monday Morning (self-produced)
Sarasota-based ear surgeon Herb Silverstein is also a jazz pianist and composer. His latest CD, Monday Morning, consists of 10 original tunes. His quintet here includes saxophonist Jeff Rupert, guitarist LaRue Nickelson, bassist Richard Drexler and ex-Bill Evans drummer Marty Morell, all of whom are longstanding Florida jazz players and educators. All work here in service to the melody, which is the heart of Silverstein’s fine music. This CD also showcases Nickelson’s swinging and inventive guitar improvisations. Favorite tracks: “Zorro,” ”You’re Almost Right” (a lovely Silverstein-Drexler duet), “Chilly Summer,” the title track, and the sprightly and pleasing “Wish You Were Here.” Also dig the Silverstein-Rupert interplay on the ballad “Just Alone.”

Dave Stryker, Eight Track (Strikezone)
One way to bring fresh ears to jazz is to create jazz versions of the great pop  tunes. Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock were among the many artists who have done so over the years. Now comes guitarist Dave Stryker who reworked some 1960s and ‘70s pop classics with his organ trio (Jared Gold on B-3 and McClenty Hunter on drums) plus special guest Stefon Harris on vibes. The 10 wide-ranging tracks here include Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman,” the Fifth Dimension hit “Aquarius,” David Gates’ (Bread) “Make It With You,” Pink Floyd’s “Money,” the Jackson Five’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” The Association’s “Never My Love,” a Curtis Mayfield medley (“Pusherman” and “Superfly”) and Stevie Wonder’s “Superwoman.” In capable hands like these, the tunes take on interesting new life.

Helen Sung, Anthem for a New Day (Concord Jazz)
Pianist Helen Sung has come a long way since she was a member of the inaugural class of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance, then based in Boston, back in 1996. Her label debut for Concord Jazz shows the Houston native to be a fully formed, adventurous and wide-ranging pianist and bandleader. Her sextet on this, her sixth recording as a leader, includes tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, bassist Reuben Rogers, drummer Obed Calvaire and percussionist Samuel Torres. Violinist Regina Carter, clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera and saxophonist John Ellis also appear on one or two tracks apiece. Favorite track: the openers, “Brother Thelonious,” recast and re-energized since its commissioning as a theme song for the Brother Thelonious Belgian-style ale made in northern California; and the piano, clarinet and rudimentary percussion version of Chick Corea’s invigorating “Armando’s Rhumba.” The Monk connection continues later on the CD when the band worked out on Sung’s re-arrangement of “Epistrophy.” The title track shows off Sung’s edgy adventurous spirit.

Volcán, Volcán (5Pasion)
This band consists of four Latin jazz all-stars: bassist Jose Armando Gola, drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, conguero Giovanni Hidalgo and pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Volcán was recorded in Miami and released on Rubalcaba’s 5Pasion label. The band explores three Rubalcaba originals and adds fresh takes on material by Chucho Valdés, Dizzy Gillespie, and Brazilian composers João Bosco and Chico Buarque. Favorite tracks: Rubalcaba’s “Volcan Durmiente” and the band’s instrumental version of Bosco’s “Corsario.” (There’s also a version with vocals from Maridalia Hernandez.) Notable for a very different reason: the band’s propulsive take on Barque’s catchy “Ano Novo.” Its melody sounds very similar to Daft Punk’s recent Grammy-winning hit “Get Lucky.” Barque wrote “Ano Novo” in 1967. Hmmm…. Check it out.

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