Tuesday, April 23, 2019

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Charlie Dennard, Five Play, Brandon Goldberg, Tom Harrell, Señor Groove, James Suggs and Dave Zinno …

Charlie Dennard, Deep Blue (Deneaux)
New Orleans-based Charlie Dennard knows quite a bit about travel. He has performed as a musical director for Cirque du Soleil shows that have brought him to more than a dozen countries over 15 years – and the keyboard ace is still at it. Deep Blue bubbles with a zest for travel, with musical imagery of strutting through New Orleans’ Garden District in weekend finery, coursing through a Middle Eastern desert or the urge to explore someplace still on one’s bucket list. The all-originals project features Dennard’s trio with bassist Max Moran and drummer Doug Belote on three tracks. Guitarist Brian Seeger co-wrote two tracks and is one of 11 collaborators who expand the band to a quartet, quintet or octet on the other compositions. The opener by the trio, “St. Charles Strut,” sets the travel tone with its sprightly second-line beat. It also makes it clear that Dennard learned much from mentor Ellis Marsalis about never overplaying. Dennard’s fourth CD is a gem from start to finish. [See my full review here.]

Five Play, Live From the Firehouse Stage (5Play) 
One of the fine offshoots of drummer Sherrie Maricle’s all-woman big band DIVA is the smaller ensembles drawn from its orchestra members. Such is the case with Five Play, a swinging, bopping quintet whose members have been working together for more than a decade. They include Maricle, pianist Tomoko Ohno, bassist Noriko Ueda, trumpeter Jami Dauber and saxophonist Janelle Reichman. This live session last October caught them in top form at the Schorr Family Firehouse Stage in Johnson City, NY. There are three covers: Duke Ellington’s “Just Squeeze Me,” Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Nancy with the Laughing Face” and Jimmy McHugh’s “I Can’t Give You Everything But Love.” The rest are very, very fine originals. Favorite track: Five Play’s world-premiere performance of Ueda’s elegant gem “Uneven Pieces.”

Brandon Goldberg, Let’s Play! (independent)
Pianist Brandon Goldberg’s debut recording is quite something: a blend of his own distinct arrangements of six standards plus three original compositions. He understands the basics and nuances of making jazz – and swings like mad in the great company of his trio mates, bassist Ben Wolfe and drummer Donald Edwards. Tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland joins them on two tunes, the Monkish original “You Mean Me” and Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance.” 

Goldberg's twisting and turning reinterpretation of Lennon and McCartney’s Beatles hit “Blackbird” adds interesting new facets to its charming melody. He also put his own spin on the beautiful ballad “Angel Eyes.” Day by day, Goldberg finds ways to breathe new life into classic jazz material, including two Ellington hits, “Caravan” and “In a Sentimental Mood.” The latter is a solo piano treat. The South Florida resident was a month shy of his 12th birthday when this New York session was recorded in January 2018, and he turned 13 two months before it release this year. His age and his musical maturity are poles apart – and the jazz world is taking note in a big way. (His trio is on the bill for the Newport Jazz Festival this August).

Tom Harrell, Infinity (HighNote)
Trumpeter Tom Harrell has many decades under his belt as a superior trumpet player and peerless composer. His latest recording, Infinity, enhances his reputation as one of the finest melody makers on the jazz scene. This new quintet session teams him with tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, guitarist Charles Altura, bassist Ben Street and drummer Johnathan Blake. It’s a first-time combination of these players. Percussionist Adam Cruz joins them on one track. Favorite tracks: “Hope” and “The Isle.” Both tracks are among several that take inspiration from and give a melodic nod to Harrell’s partly-Irish ancestry.

Señor Groove, Little Havana (Zoho)
This project features the Miami-based Latin jazz band Señor Groove, previously known as the Mr. Groove Band, whose principal members are brothers Roddy and Tim Smith, on guitar and bass respectively, and drummer Marcelo Perez. The robust band also includes pianist Martin Bejerano and percussionist Murph Aucamp. They are joined on various tracks by special guests Ed Calle on tenor sax, Brian Lynch on trumpet and John Daversa on EWI. There’s also a robust string section on the lone cover here: a beautiful take on the traditional Cuban lullaby Drume Negrita, with vocals by Argentine singer Roxana Amed.

Tim Gordon’s flute work, riding over multiple layers of percussion, sets the tone on the exotic title track. Lynch and Calle team up with energetic horn work on “Linville Falls,” originally written as a bluegrass tune. But its full-bore Latin jazz treatment is something to behold. Andre Bernier adds more flavor on organ, supplementing Bejerano’s piano contributions. There is much to enjoy in this seven-track  tribute to the musical side of Miami’s Cuban neighborhood.

James Suggs, You’re Gonna Hear From Me (Arbors)
Thirty-something trumpeter James Suggs spent some time with ghost big bands, then on the cruise ship circuit and eight musically productive years in Argentina before settling in Florida’s Tampa Bay area five years ago. He’s developed into a first-call trumpeter with a glistening, creative sound, one whose debut recording as a leader was long overdue. You’re Gonna Hear From Me finds him in the splendid company of tenor saxophonist (and session producer) Houston Person, pianist Lafayette Harris, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash. 

The session includes a blend of Great American Songbook material, a few long-neglected jazz chestnuts, and three Suggs originals, plus one contribution from Person. Favorite tracks: their wistful take on the ballad “Laura,” the wistful “The Night We Called It a Day,” and Suggs’ original, “My Baby Kinda Sweet,” the latter fueled by Nash’s New Orleans second-line shuffle beat. Also not to be missed: the bluesy Duke Ellington piece “It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dream” and the closer, Suggs’ poignant solo trumpet version of the Andre Previn-penned title track.

Dave Zinno Unisphere, Stories Told (Whaling City Sound)
Bassist Dave Zinno’s second recording with his Unisphere band digs into the Brazilian side of jazz and adds that flavor and energy to other material as well. The band, co-founded with tenor saxophonist Mike Tucker, includes trumpeter Eric “Benny” Bloom, pianist Tim Ray and Rio-born drummer Rafael Barata. All nine tracks here are superb, including Ray’s clever rearrangement of Lennon and McCartney’s classic ballad “Michelle.” Favorite tracks: Unisphere’s performance on Tucker’s original “Requiem,” written in memory of his father; and the opener, their take on J.T. Meirelles’ samba jazz classic “Neurótico.” Interestingly, Barata played on J.T.’s 2005 recording of the tune on his final album, Esquema Novo.

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