Thursday, October 22, 2015

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Randy Brecker, Shai Maestro, Bob Merrrill and Dan Trudell...

Randy Brecker, RandyPOP! (Piloo)
Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, trumpeter Randy Brecker was best known in general music circles as a first-call studio cat who could add some significant flair to pop and rock recordings. And record he did, often in tandem with his saxophone-playing brother Michael. This project celebrates Randy Brecker’s studio legacy with jazz arrangements of some of the classic tunes on which he played. They include Donald Fagen’s “Nightfly,” the Bette Midler hit “Just Let Me Follow Behind” (written by Moogy Klingman), Al Kooper’s “I Can’t Quit Her” (recorded by Blood Sweat and Tears), “Todd Rundgren’s “Hello, It’s Me,” James Brown’s “”Think” and “I’ve Got a Bag of My Own,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Meeting Across the River” and Paul Simon’s “Late in the Evening.” 

With strong support from pianist and arranger Kenny Werner, saxophonist David Sanchez, guitarist Adam Rogers, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Nate Smith, Brecker digs deeply into this material, much of which is captured with versions far longer than the pop originals. The recording was made at the last set of a sold-out week of performances at the Blue Note jazz club in New York three years ago. Favorite tracks: the cover of Springsteen’s “Meeting Across the River” and the band’s take on “I Can’t Quit Her,” which features marvelous solos from Werner and Sanchez. Werner, who re-imagined all of the material, roars through “I’ve Got as Bag of My Own.” The leader’s daughter, Amanda Brecker, adds vocals to the mix on four tracks, including the Springsteen ballad. What an interesting musical twist, released this fall to celebrate an early facet of Brecker’s career on the eve of his 70th birthday (on November 27).

Shai Maestro Trio, Untold Stories (Motéma) 
Pianist Shai Maestro is an abstract impressionist at the keyboard. On this third trio recording with two longtime bandmates, Peruvian bassist Jorge Roeder and Israeli drummer Ziv Raditz, Maestro explores a variety of moods and inspirations. Untold Stories was recorded live in concert and in studios in Brooklyn and Paris. Favorite tracks: the trio’s collaborative composition “Maya’s Song,” and Maestro’s “Painting” and “Treeology” The band’s artful cohesiveness is a joy in itself. 

Bob Merrill, Cheerin’ Up The Universe (Accurate) 
Trumpeter and singer Bob Merrill assembled a team of heavy hitters, including keyboardist John Medeski, saxophonists Russ Gershon and Harry Allen, bassist Nicki Parrott and drummer George Schuller, for this wide-ranging project. The big treat here is Merrill’s savvy lyric update to the politically charged Gene McDaniels tune “Compared to What,” which was first recorded by Roberta Flack but best known for the Les McCann-Eddie Harris version. Merrill’s rather smooth vocals take on an extra bite in this update of the jazz classic. Other favorites: his trumpet work and Medeski’s blistering organ solo on Stevie Wonder’s “Glad” and a reprise of John Lennon’s “Imagine” that includes Parrott on bass and shared vocals. Trombonist Roswell Rudd is featured on a cover of Randy Newman’s “Political Science (Let’s Drop the Big One).” 

Dan Trudell Trio, Dan Trudell Plays the Piano (self-produced)
Wisconsin-based Dan Trudell, a veteran of the Chicago and Milwaukee jazz scenes, is best known for his B-3 organ work, but he wanted to remind us that he also has excellent piano chops. Hence this recording, a superb collaboration with with two of New York's finest, drummer Matt Wilson and bassist Joe Sanders. The finest gems here are the band’s extended romp through/reconstruction of “That Old Black Magic” and two Trudell homages “McCoy For Now” and “Jonesin’” (written to honor  piano giants McCoy Tyner and Hank Jones. Be sure to dig his poignant cover of Alicia Keys’ “A Woman’s Worth” and romp through Horace Silver’s funky “Soulville.”

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