Wednesday, June 6, 2018

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Mica Bethea, Alexis Cole & One For All, Fernando García, Jeff Hamilton, Ken Peplowski and Akira Tana…

Mica Bethea Big Band, Suite Theory (self-produced)
Floridian Mica Bethea has joined the ranks of the jazz world’s finest contemporary big band composers. His prior two CDs, 2011’s The Mica Bethea Big Band and last year’s Stage ’N Studio, revealed facets of his prowess. This newest, all-original project, Suite Theory, is a four-part extended composition that amounts to a musical autobiography.

The first section, “Crystal Clear,” bubbles with the energetic, carefree time of his first 21 years. The second movement, “Destiny’s Boat,” reflects the depression and new reality that occurred after he woke up from a traffic accident that left him a quadriplegic. A speeding big rig plowed into his car as he was driving back to the University of North Florida after visiting his family. The third movement, “Meniscus,” reflects the healing that occurred as he figured out how to put his life back together. The final movement, “Guardian of Forever,” is all about moving forward. “Crystal Clear” and “Destiny’s Boat” showcase trombonist Michael Dease and saxophonist Todd Giudice respectively. Del Giudice played two very different tenor solos on the band’s two takes on “Destiny’s Boat.” Bethea like both so much that he included the alternate take.

Alexis Cole with One For All, You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To (Venus) 
2018 brought the U.S. release of singer Alexis Cole’s splendid collaboration with the modern bop sextet One For All. This is the only recording that the New York-based instrumental collective has made with a singer since it was formed back in 1997. The material here is all about different facets of love and romance. Cole’s impeccable delivery can be torchy or it can be cool, depending on the mood of each song. The band - tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, trumpeter Jim Rotondi, trombonist Steve Davis, pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth – brought much to the project both as players and arrangers. Favorite tracks: “Delilah,” “Moon River,” “Cry Me a River” and “You’ve Changed.”

Fernando García, Guasábara Puerto Rico (Zoho) 
Drummer Fernando Garcia blends jazz and the traditional rhythms of his native Puerto Rico on this, his third recording as a leader. The result is a musically intoxicating session by his young band, which includes saxophonist Jan Klus, pianist Gabriel Chakarji, bassist Dan Martinez, guitarist Gabriel Vicéns and Latin percussionist Victor Pablo. Alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón joins on the title track. Favorites: “Healing Prayer,” “Guaynabo Mi Tambor” and the grooving closer, “Tiempo,” which features terrific solos from Chakarji, Kus and Garcia.

Jeff Hamilton Trio, Live From San Pedro (Capri) 
If you’ve been a big fan of Oscar Peterson’s trio sound over the years, you’ll dig this one from drummer Jeff Hamilton’s longstanding trio with pianist Tamir Hendelman and bassist Christoph Luty. They’re carrying on the great jazz trio tradition in their own way – and have been doing so for more than 17 years. It’s loaded with power and finesse as each tune requires – and it swings mightily. They recorded this one at Alvas Showroom in San Pedro CA last year. Standout tracks including the Peterson-influenced “Sybille’s Day,” a swinging update of Ahmad Jamal’s classic take on “Poinciana,” a lush take on the Broadway show tune “I Have Dreamed” (from “The King and I”) with Luty’s bowed bass intro setting the table, and “Bennissimo,” Hendelman’s sprightly tribute to fellow pianist Benny Green. This concert recording is a gem from start to finish.

The Ken Peplowski Big Band, Sunrise (Arbors)
Clarinetist Ken Peplowski assembled the cream of the crop of mainstream swing players for this big band session. There’s a fine mix of Great American Songbook material, some Braziliana, some bebop, a couple of Duke Ellington tunes, and even something from the Walt Disney songbook (“When You Wish Upon a Star” from the 1950 movie Pinocchio) – all featuring superb big-band arrangements. Peplowski’s clarinet work gets most prominence here – showcasing his instrumental mastery and clever ideas. There are also fine moments from his bandmates, including saxophonist Adrian Cunningham on Sonny Stitt’s hard-driving bop classic “The Eternal Triangle,” Cunningham and trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso on the gorgeous but under-recorded Ellington composition “I Like the Sunrise” (hence the CD title),m and alto saxophonist Jon Gordon on “Come Back to Me.” The real treat here is “Clarinet in Springtime.” Alex Wilder wrote and arranged it in the early 1940s for Benny Goodman, but it had ever been played or recorded by Goodman or anyone else until now.

Akira Tana, JAZZaNOVA (Vega) 
Drummer Akira Tana has a winner here. He brought together some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s best Latin/Brazilian jazz players and singers for a session celebrating the Brazilian side of the jazz world. He added saxophonist Branford Marsalis and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval as special guests on four and six tracks respectively. Singers Claudio Amaral and Claudio Villela team up for a lush duet on Jobim’s “Aguas de Marco” with backing from Sandoval. Carla Hembrecht is featured with Marsalis on the band’s sultry take on Ivan Lins’ “Love Dance” and with Sandoval on Jobim’s classic bossa nova “Corcovado.” “Chega de Saudade” (No More Blues) teams singers Jackie Ryan and Maria Volonté. Sandy Cressman’s take on Lins’ “Bilhete” features a duet-like soprano sax solo from Marsalis.

Marsalis’s soprano is featured beautifully on the Toninho Horta ballad “Waiting for Angela” with a bit of wordless vocals from Villella complementing his horn work. The band steps away from the Brazilian mode for the closer. “La Gloria Eres Tú” teams Volonté - a master of Argentinian tango - with Sandoval on both trumpet and vocals in a tribute to Mexican music superstar Luis Miguel. Tana’s fine band includes keyboard player Peter Horvath, Rio-born guitarist Ricardo Peixoto, bassist Gary Brown and percussionist Michael Spiro. There is much here to enjoy.

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