Sunday, August 10, 2014

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a closer look at CDs by Dee Alexander, Joe Beck, and the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble…
Dee Alexander, Songs My Mother Loves (Blujazz)

Aspiring young jazz vocalists would do well to check out the approach of Chicago-based Dee Alexander. In short: she’s got the information. She knows how to immerse herself in a song – and make it her own. In this case, songs that her mother loves, performed with her trio and a rotation of special guests on select tracks. The guests include tenor player Ari Brown (“Now or Never” and Junior Mance’s “Letter from Home”), alto player Oliver Lake (“As Long as You’re Living” and the Max Roach-Abbey Lincoln classic “Lonesome Lover”), and trumpeter Corey Wilkes (“Nature Boy”). Her trio includes pianist Miguel Delacerna, bassist Harrison Bankhead and drummer Yussef Ernie Adams. Alexander’s take brings fresh energy and emotion to Murray Gold’s clever “Guess Who I Saw Today,” which Nancy Wilson turned into a jazz classic decades ago.

Joe Beck Trio, Get Me Joe Beck (Whaling City Sound)
Darryl Tookes and Joe Beck, Precious Child – Love Songs & Lullabies (MGP)

These two recordings present two different sides of guitarist Joe Beck, who passed away six years ago at 63. Get Me Joe Beck, his final recording, was captured in performance at Anna’s Jazz Island in Berkeley CA on Sept. 14, 2006 with a superb local rhythm mates Peter Barshay on bass and Dave Rokeach on drums. Beck’s health may have been failing, but his playing, humor and insights were in fine form. Favorite tracks: “Stella by Starlight,” “You and the Night and the Music” and “Georgia on My Mind.” A spoken word track in which Beck describes his approach to his instrument (“The guitar is a six-piece band”) is loaded with insights about his crystalline craftsmanship.

Precious Child, a collaboration with singer-pianist Darryl Tokes, is a delightful reminder of something we tend to give little thought: that most musicians are parents, too. The pair dig into an array of standard and original childhood songs and lullabies, giving each a distinctive jazz polish. Songs here that Beck wrote with his own children in mind include “the gospel-tinged “Precious Child,” “Little One” and “Daddy’s Always Here.” Tookes’ tunes (“”Daddy’s Girl,” “Only a Matter of Time,” and “I Love You Too Much”) are also of high quality. His vocals are featured on all tracks.

Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble, Sketches of Spain [Revisited] (3Sixteen)

How do you honor a jazz masterpiece without parroting it? Such was the challenge facing Chicago-based trumpeter Orbert Davis when considering’ Miles Davis’s 1960 classic Sketches of Spain collaboration with arranger Gil Evans. Orbert Davis decided to be himself on improvised sections of the classic album’s opening and closing pieces, “Concierto de Aranjuez” and the Evans-penned “Solea.”

He stepped away from the three other pieces on Miles’ album to include three different but thematically appropriate works. They are his originals “”Muerte del Matador” and “”El Moreno,” as well as a strings showcase that adapts Isaac Albeniz’s 1908 piano piece “El Albaicin.” All are performed beautifully by the Davis-led Chicago Jazz Orchestra Chamber Ensemble. This is a wonderful update of the Miles original – done with great care and forethought, to update the classic work’s flavor without diminishing it in any way.

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