Wednesday, March 9, 2016

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a look at new CD releases by Greg Abate & Phil Woods, Acme Jazz Garage, Lisa Hilton, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra and Matt Kane…

Greg Abaté & Phil Woods, Kindred Spirits: Live at Chan’s (Whaling City Sound)
No one, not even Phil Woods, would have guessed that this live recording at Chan’s restaurant in Woonsocket RI, would be so poignant upon its release. Bebop masters Woods and Greg Abaté teamed up at this August 11, 2014 concert with the support of a superb New England trio: pianist Tim Ray, bassist John Lockwood and drummer Mark Walker.

Woods’ presence brought out the best in Abaté’s playing as they paired up and traded solos on 10 tunes, with Woods sitting out to catch a breath and enjoy Abaté’s soulful take on “Angel Eyes.” There are many gems, including “I’ll Remember April,” which Woods had never recorded before commercially. The highlight: an extended version of “Willow Weep for Me,” pairing Woods on alto and Abaté on soprano sax. The two-CD set also includes spoken word reminiscences by Woods about his career, about particular tunes, about his poor health. His humor and his candor were refreshing.

Abaté and Woods planned a CD release concert celebration for the fall of 2015. However, that turned out to be a posthumous tribute. Woods shocked many in the jazz world when he announced on September 4, 2015 that he was retiring for health reasons: he had decided to stop battling the lung disease that had dogged him for years. He died from complications of emphysema on September 29.

Acme Jazz Garage (Solar Grooves)
Without a doubt, Acme Jazz Garage is the Tampa Bay area’s most adventurous jazz band. This eponymous debut recording project finds the 5-year-old quartet in a jam-band groove, dipping its collective toes into straight-ahead jazz, Latin-tinged funk, R&B and a more modern jazz/fusion sound. Bassist Philip Booth, drummer Tim Diehl, keyboard ace Bryan Lewis and guitarist Matt Swenson comprise the core band on this eponymous session, with a little help on various tracks from a variety of musical friends with whom the players have worked over the years. Lewis’s keyboard work, particularly on Hammond B-3, and Swenson’s melodic, often searing, guitar, dominate the group sound, layered over an infectious groove set by Booth and Diehl.

And who, you ask, stopped by to have a bit of fun on this session? Singer Whitney James is featured Booth’s Manhattan romance- and-bebop-inspired “Last Call.” Veteran Al DiMeola percussionist Gumbi Ortiz spices up “Mongo Strut” and “Mongo Jam.” Jeremy Powell, now making his mark on the New York jazz scene in a variety of top-flight bands, is featured on soprano sax on “Sandprints,” a clever 5/4 piece inspired by Wayne Shorter’s best-known jazz classic “Footprints.” Saxophonists Rick Runion and Austin Vickrey, vibes player Sam Koppleman and trumpeter Ron Wilder also bulk up the band on a variety of tracks, most notably “Zag,” “”Rubberman” and “Mr. G.P.,” the latter a N’awlins groove tribute to The Meters’ bassist George Porter Jr. From start to finish, Acme Jazz Garage and friends make it clear that the Tampa area is blessed with great jazz talent.

Lisa Hilton, Nocturnal (Ruby Slippers)
As jazz player/composers go, Lisa Hilton is one of the finest musical impressionists. Her art comes from the piano rather than canvas as she explores a stunning amount of original material on Nocturnal, her 18th recording. There is much to dig here, from the Latin-tinged moodiness of “A Spark in the Night” to the musical complexities of the trio piece “Seduction,” with support from bassist Gregg August and drummer Antonio Sanchez. There are two covers here, with trumpeter Terell Stafford featured on “Willow Weep for Me” and tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen on The Pixies’ “Where is my Mind?” This project underscores the concept that for keen listeners, jazz is all about emotion – whether you are writing it or playing it.

Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, All My Yesterdays (Resonance)
Anyone who’s experienced the joys of the Monday night “rehearsal band” tradition in jazz – pulling together the best local players on the one night theaters and musical shows go dark – needs to check this one out. For it goes back to the source. This two-CD set celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra’s opening night at the Village Vanguard. Back then, on February 19, 1966, the band was simply known as The Jazz Band. Jones was its arranger, conductor and a featured trumpet soloist, while Lewis powered the musical engine at his drum kit. The band pretty much featured a 1960s jazz who’s who. 
The first CD features six tracks from opening night. The second CD features 11 more from a March 21, 1966 show. A 90-page booklet is packed with history, essays, rare photos and interviews with all living members of the original band. With players like Hank Jones, Jerry Dodgion, Joe Farrell, Pepper Adams, Snooky Young, Bob Brookmeyer, Jimmy Owens and Bill Berry making the music, there is much to savor. The band lives on today as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. 

Matt Kane & The Kansas City Generations Sextet, Acknowledgment (Bounce-Step)
New York-based drummer Matt Kane assembled a band of quality young talents from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music for this project paying tribute to music rooted in Kansas City. To do that, they focused on three works apiece written by three native sons: saxophonists Ahmad Aldeen and Bobby Watson, and guitarist Pat Metheny, who grew up in suburban Lee’s Summit. The band included bassist Ben Leifer, pianist Andrew Ouellette, saxophonists Michael Schults and Steve Lambert, and trumpeter Hermon Mehari. Highlights include their covers of Watson’s “In Case You Missed It” and his wonderful ballad “Jewel,” Aladeen’s “The Burning Sand” and Metheny’s idyllic “Midwestern Night’s Dream” and better-known “Question and Answer.”

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