Friday, April 3, 2020

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Taking a closer look at CDs by Sinne Eeg, Funk Shui NYC, J.C. Hopkins, and Jeff Rupert & George Garzone ….

Sinne Eeg & The Danish Radio Big Band, We’ve Just Begun (Stunt/BFM Jazz)
Danish singer Sinne Eeg is the real deal – a superb jazz singer, composer and lyricist. This latest project, her ninth CD since her 2003 recording debut, teams her with Copenhagen’s 19-piece Danish Radio Big Band. Favorites: her reflective ballad “Those Ordinary Things” (including lyrics co-written by Helle Hansen); “Samba Em Comum,” which considers the synergy between musicians and listeners, as Eeg alternates between Portuguese and English lyrics; and the gospel-tinged closer, “To a New Day.” Danish pianist Martin Schack wrote this one and Eeg added the words. It features a searing trumpet solo from Gerard Presencer.

In addition to presenting Eeg in a robust context, this also showcases one of Europe’s fine government-supported jazz big bands. The way they support Eeg throughout is underscored by the ensemble sound on “My Favorite Things.” This version shifts from a dreamy 5/4 feel to a fiery 4/4 segment, with solos by tenor saxophonist Frederik Menzies ajnd drummer Søren Frost. Sinne Eeg has been a jazz star in Scandinavia for two decades. We’re fortunate that she tours Europe and the U.S. to share her talent with the world at-large.

Funk Shui NYC, Sharknato on a Plane (Zoho)
Imagine the funk, no-holds-barred New Orleans outfit Bonerama if it were a big band rather than an outfit with a three-trombone front line. You’d get something quite like Funk Shui NYC, a 15-piece ensemble with a similar rock party groove. It is led by baritone saxophonist Dave Morgan and trombonist Rob Susman. The band digs with enthusiasm into some jazz, funk and rock classics, and five originals imbued with the same spirit. There’s even a cover of something rarely heard on a jazz project: the theme from TV’s “Barney Miller” series. Favorite tracks: Morgan and guitarist Noel Cohen’s “July Groove/September Funk,” George Harrison’s “Blue Jay Way” and Allen Toussaint’s “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky.” The latter title says it all about this fine band.

JC Hopkins Biggish Band, New York Moment (Twee-Jazz)
This is a splendid addition to the very rich big-band tradition, one that carries it into the present. New York-based pianist Hopkins has been swinging in various Big Apple clubs for nearly 20 years, including its current Saturday night residency at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem. This third Biggish Band CD showcases his 11-piece band plus five singers performing 10 original tunes plus a mid-disc instrumental cover of Charles Mingus’ “Better Git It in Your Soul” that features alto saxophonist Julian Pressley. Favorites: the New Orleans shuffle beat-romp through “One of These Days” and the bluesy closer, “The Children Will Lead Us,” with vocals from guitarist Alicyn Yaffee. Tenor saxophonist Drew Vandenwinckle wrote most of the arrangements. Following 2005's Underneath a Brooklyn Moon and 2017's Meet Me at Minton's, this fresh material swings through a variety of contexts – with one foot firmly tapping in the big band era that inspired it.

Jeff Rupert & George Garzone, The Ripple (Rupe Media)
You throw a pebble into a pond and it creates a ripple effect that seems endless. A musician can have a similar impact on others influenced by his or her mastery. This project, The Ripple, honors the extended reach of the floating improvisational style, warm sound and rhythmic concepts of tenor saxophonist Lester Young. Contemporary tenor masters Jeff Rupert and George Garzone pay homage here without digging into a single composition or tune recorded by Young.

Instead, they play pieces from the repertoires of musicians that Prez influenced, including saxophonists Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Eddie Harris, Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter and Zoot Sims. Quite fittingly, they included “Lester Left Town,” which then-Jazz Messengers member Shorter wrote right after learning that Prez had died. Three Rupert originals also underscore the ripple effect. They include the high-flying “GO-GO.” The ace rhythm section includes pianist Richard Drexler, bassist Jeremy Allen and drummer Marty Morell. Rupert and Garzone blend their individual styles into a compelling tenor summit, capping this exceptional session with an impromptu duet on the standard “Alone Together.”

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