Wednesday, January 31, 2018

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Eric Alexander, George Cotsirilos, Roberto Magris, David K. Mathews, Hristo Vitchev, and the trio Hart, Scone & Albin…..

Eric Alexander, Song of No Regrets (HighNote)
Tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander is a prolific recording artist, and this latest project – is excellent and a bit different from his many projects that preceded it. Rather than draw from the bebop canon, it simmers with a lot of Latin and Brazilian melodies, rhythms and color as a palette for his wide-ranging sound. His quintet for this session features three longtime band mates - pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth - plus percussionist Alex Dias. Powerhouse trumpeter Jon Faddis joins them on two tracks, adding stunning fire to Hazeltine’s “But Here’s the Thing.” 

Other favorites: the band’s take on Stevie Wonder’s ballad “Three Little Words” (with the leader doubling on tenor and tasty organ fills), Alexander’s lush ballad “Corazón Perdido,” the funky “Grinder” and “Boom Zoom,” the Sergio Mendes-composed title track, and the Brazil 66 hit “Mas Que Nada.” There’s also a spirited Latin-tinged take on the Jimmy Webb-penned Fifth Dimension hit “Up, Up and Away.” This is a gem.

George Cotsirilos Quartet, Mostly in Blue (OA2) 
San Francisco Bay Area guitarist and composer George Cotsirilos first got hooked on blues guitar during his teenage years in Chicago. He shifted into a jazz bag during his college years. Now that he’s retired from practicing and teaching law, he has immersed himself in music full time. 

This project, his sixth CD, brings him full circle – with a deep focus on the blues – or blue moods. Gems here include “Blue Dusk” and his Wes Montgomery-inspired “Wes Side Blues.” Cotsirilos gets superb support from pianist Keith Saunders and longtime trio mates Robb Fischer (bass) and Ron Marabuto (drums).

Hart, Scone & Albin, Leading the British Invasion (Zoho) 
The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, the Kinks and Led Zeppelin led rock and pop music’s British Invasion a half-century ago. This project pays attention instead to this new century’s British Invasion – music brought to American airwaves by a wide range of female singers. Amy Winehouse, Adele, Lorde and Joss Stone. Lorde sneaked into the mix it seems because the New Zealander’s debut hit touches on the status and privilege of British royalty.

This South Florida-based trio includes guitarist John Hart, organ player Adam Scone and drummer Rudy Albin Petschauer. Their material includes Winehouse’s “Rehab” and “Back to Black,” as well as a cover of “Body and Soul,” which she performed on a Tony Bennett duet project in 2011, the year she died; Adele’s “Turning Tables” and “Rolling in the Deep”; Stone’s “Don’t Start Lyin to Me Now”; and Lorde’s Grammy-winning debut hit “Royals.” The session also covers older British material by female singers: Sade’s 1984 hit “Smooth Operator” and two Dusty Springfield 1960s hits: “The Look of Love” and “I Only Want to Be With You.” The session also includes one original from this excellent trio: Hart’s “Blues for the U.K.” All of these tunes take on a vibrant energy in this instrumental context. This organ trio project is very well done – from concept to delivery. The three players dig into this music with tremendous cohesiveness, passion and power.

Roberto Magris Sextet, Live in Miami @ the WDNA Jazz Gallery (JMood)
Italian pianist Roberto Magris has a gem here. Invited to perform in Miami for the first time, he recorded this live session in a public radio station performance gallery with trumpeter Brian Lynch, bassist Chuck Bergeron and drummer John Yarling (all faculty members at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music), and two U of M students, tenor saxophonist Jonathan Gomez and percussionist Murph Aucamp on congas. 

The players are in top form and the music is as hot as a sultry Miami night. Gems include two Magris originals, the searing opener “African Mood” and the Afropop-tinged “Song for an African Child,” and the pianist’s reflective solo version of Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing."

David K. Mathews, The Fantasy Vocal Sessions Vol. 1 (Effendi)
Granted it’s still early, but this project ranks as one of 2018’s most interesting vocal projects – and the leader doesn’t sing a note. Pianist David K. Mathews (a Tower of Power and Etta James alumnus and Santana’s keyboard player since 2010), pulled together a band and invited 10 San Francisco Bay Area vocalists to sing a song or two.

They tackled jazz standards on this first volume – and did them very well in their own styles. Rock-n-roller Steve Miller digs into “Blue Skies,” blues-infused Maria Muldauer added aching versions of “Oh Papa” and “Lover Man,” and Santana band singer Tony Lindsay contributed “When Sunny Gets Blue,” for example. The CD’s very best performance is Oakland-based Kenny Washington’s bittersweet and pensive take on “Lush Life.” Nicholas Bearde is strong on “I Want to Talk About You” and Charlie Chaplin’s classic “Smile.” 

Other singers on the project include Amikeayla Gaston (“Alfie”), Glenn Walters (“Ruby” and “Skylark”), Frank Jackson (“The More I See You”), Reni Simon (“We’ll Be Together Again”) and John Laslo (“In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning”). Mathews, the consummate accompanist, is joined here by guitarists Jim Nichols and Carl Lockett, tenor saxophonist Wayne de Silva, bassist Peter Barshay and drummer Akira Tana.

Hristo Vitchev, Of Light and Shadows (First Orbit Sounds)
Bulgarian-born guitar modernist Hristo Vitchev is a painter with sound, no doubt about it. His artful original music captures moods in an impressionistic way. This 10th recording as a leader teams him with pianist Jasnam Daya Singh (known earlier as Weber Iago), bassist Dan Robbins and drummer Mike Shannon. Favorite tracks: “The Shortest Wavelength,” “Prismic Dance,” “Pentachromatic Butterflies” and the stunning, twisting-and-teasing closer, “Partial Darkness.”

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