CD Reviews


"Live at the Village Vanguard," by The Bill Charlap TrioLive at the Village Vanguard

Blue Note Records


By Tom Ineck


Bill Charlap’s first live recording is long overdue. The trio of pianist Charlap, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington is one of the great threesomes of modern jazz history, and this release finally makes that unmistakably clear.  


Taped nearly four years ago, in September 2003 at the famed jazz club in lower Manhattan, the performance is a faithful document of the Charlap trio at its finest. Already together for several years at the time of this recording, the trio works its magic on a set of nine tunes, carefully chosen for their melodic and harmonic potential.


Gerry Mulligan’s uptempo “Rocker,” best known for its inclusion in Miles Davis’ “Birth of the Cool” sessions, is an excellent opportunity for the trio to flex their musical muscles. The timely ballad “Autumn in New York” gets an absolutely gorgeous, restrained reading, exemplifying the trio’s measured gait and mutual sensitivity. As performed by the trio, it is an emotionally devastating expression of the turning of the seasons, but also of aging, lost love and wistful regret. 


Returning to the “Birth of the Cool” songbook, the trio essays the rhythmically challenging “Godchild” by George Wallington. Aided and abetted by a driving bass line and sizzling brushwork on the snare drum, Charlap turns in a dazzling piano foray. It’s back to ballad tempo for “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” which is taken at a snail’s pace, allowing Charlap to ruminate and pause and generally “feel” his way through the changes, adding bluesy flourishes and unexpected modulations. He always remains true to the original melody and always seems to choose the perfect harmonic variations.


On the other hand, it is not unusual for Charlap to choose a tempo that defies convention—and sheer technical capability. Such is the case on “My Shining Hour,” taken at a headlong, mind-boggling pace. It is a workout for all. After Charlap states the melody and soars through variations, Peter Washington leaps through the changes and Kenny Washington keeps time with rim shots before taking an astounding solo of his own.


The tempo shifts downward again for Jim Hall’s lovely ballad “All Across the City,” an underappreciated gem which was most notably covered in versions by pianist Bill Evans and alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. Charlap caresses the keys, emphasizing the beauty of each chord change with tender, often dissonant harmonic touches as bassist and drummer offer subdued support.


“While We’re Young,” by Alec Wilder, is taken at a fast waltz tempo that aptly inspires all to freewheeling displays of playful experimentation. Harold Arlen’s “Last Night When We Were Young” closes the performance on another wistful note, reverberating with faded memories of youthful passions and hints of regret.





"Panorama," by Towner GalaherPanorama

Towner Galaher Music


By Tom Ineck


In his debut recording as a leader, drummer Towner Galaher fronts a classic hard-bop quintet, often in the style of Art Blakey’s hard-driving Jazz Messengers. But this outfit also is capable of more subtle performances.


Galaher penned all but three of the eight tunes. The opener, “Midtown Shuffle, is a swaggering workout for the band, which also consists of relative veterans Onaje Allen Gumbs on piano, Charles Fambrough on bass and Mark Shim on tenor sax, as well as the young trumpeter Maurice Brown. Their take on “Have You Met Miss Jones?” delves into the Latin mood, with added percussion by Johnny Almendra and Frank Colon.


“I’m All Smiles” is a breezy jazz waltz with outstanding contributions by Gumbs, a master of harmonic variations, and Shim, whose solo brilliantly weaves a sound tapestry around the changes. On “Legba,” Galaher taps into a funky, New Orleans-style beat that inspires Brown to a heated trumpet solo, and a brief interlude by the percussionists leads into a smoldering tenor solo by Shim, all in less than four minutes. Indeed, there is an economy of scale throughout this session, with most tracks clocking in at around five or six minutes.


Galaher drives the title track with a sharp, crackling drum attack and well-timed cymbal flourishes. Shim turns in another blustery tenor solo. “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” the classic Charles Mingus threnody to Lester Young, begins with a nice plunger-muted trumpet statement before Shim states the familiar melody on tenor. But it is Gumbs whose lovely piano solo captures the essence of this heart-wrenching ballad.


Fambrough delivers some ominous walking bass lines on “Charisma,” which also features another well-constructed Shim solo and a searching, bluesy solo by Gumbs. “East 104th St.” is an urban, hard-bop burner in the Blakey mold, but under Galaher’s direction it is given a Latin flair with added percussion and fiery solos by Shim and Brown. “Panorama” is an impressive debut that establishes Galaher and company as an exciting and formidable hard-bop ensemble.





"Latest Outlook," by The Stryker/Slagle BandLatest Outlook

Zoho Music


By Tom Ineck


Aptly titled, “Latest Outlook” is a state-of-the-art excursion in playing “outside” the changes. It challenges the listener to imagine the alternatives, the unexpected and the unconventional. Its insistence on avoiding the easy resolution may be agonizing to some ears. The trick, as with all progressive jazz experiences, is to abandon your preconceptions and go with the flow.


Under those conditions, “Latest Outlook” is a joyous rollercoaster ride, commandeered by co-leaders and longtime colleagues Dave Stryker on guitar and Steve Slagle on alto and soprano saxes. Also along for the ride are bassist Jay Anderson and legendary drummer Billy Hart. The quartet maintains clockwork compatibility, regardless of odd time signatures or that confounded irresolution.


Slagle’s tunes are especially compelling. The opener, “Knew Hold,” has Slagle and Stryker pairing up on the complex changes in unison. Anderson keeps the ominously pulsing time while Hart ranges far and wide over the drum kit, a true percussionist. Likewise on the funky title track, another Slagle composition, the leaders state the odd melody in tandem before the composer is set loose to explore solo variations. Stryker’s solo deftly alternates between chords and single-note runs. Hart makes a sly reference to James Brown in his tight solo.


Tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano appears on two tracks, including the Charlie Parker tribute “Bird Flew,” based on the changes to “Confirmation.” As always, Lovano digs in with gusto, urging on everyone else in the band, especially Hart. The wordplay of Stryker’s “Hartland,” refers not only to the drummer but to the composer’s Nebraska home. Its open feel is achieved rhythmically by Stryker on steel-stringed acoustic guitar with Anderson and Slagle, on soprano, jointly stating the breezy theme. Stryker switches to electric guitar for a solo on what is the most accessible and tuneful tune on the session.


The centerpiece of the entire project, however, is “Dear Mr. Hicks,” Slagle’s memorial to the late pianist John Hicks. Stretching to nearly 12 minutes, its opening elegiac mood quickly shifts to swing time. Lovano returns with an extended, soulful flight on the bluesy changes, as Stryker expertly comps in chiming rhythm. The guitarist’s own brief solo is inspired.


Charles Mingus’ “Self-Portrait in Three Colors” is the sole ballad and sole “cover tune,” an appropriate choice considering Slagle’s long association with the Mingus Big Band. Stryker and Slagle handle the beautiful interweaving lines with grace and soul. Stryker’s “Turning Point” features some nice Wes Montgomery-style chording and is a wonderful vehicle for Hart’s shimmering cymbal work, Slagle’s plaintive alto and Anderson’s lyrical and resonant solo. It is perhaps the ultimate example of how well this quartet works together. The CD ends with the uptempo romp “In Just Time,” another clever updating of a standard. In this case “Just in Time” is not just “outside” but inside out.





"Flurry," by Nordic ConnectFlurry

ArtistShare Records


By Tom Ineck


In an attempt to explain the group concept of Nordic Connect in the liner notes of the ensemble’s debut recording, “Flurry,” trumpeter Ingrid Jensen whimsically says, “We are fair-skinned, blond and tall (some of us) and very much into good cheese and ‘happy-sad’ music that invokes the many influences we have all had in our lives.”


Well, Nordic Connect is more than that. Personally, it is a group spirit that draws on elements of family and protection from the often-cold world beyond the hearth. It is an expression of camaraderie, the kind of group empathy that is achieved only be giving as much as receiving. Jazz is a sharing enterprise and Nordic Connect is a group of musicians who share a worldview and a musical vision.


The Nordic mix consists of Ingrid Jensen and her sister, saxophonist Christine Jensen—Canadians of Danish ancestry—joined by Swedes Maggi Olin on keyboards and Mattias Welin on bass and Alaskan-born Norwegian Jon Wikan on drums and percussion.


While there is some truth to the stereotype that Nordic or north European music is cerebral or devoid of soul or “warmth,” Nordic Connect belies the conventional truth with passionate playing and intense group interplay. The opening title track by Olin bears this out with alternating passages of introspection and surging energy. The Jensen sisters are especially effective in their duo statements. Christine Jensen’s gentle “Sweet Adelphi,” with the composer on soprano sax, also showcases Welin on an extended solo and Olin creating a luscious understated keyboard tapestry.


Ingrid Jensen’s slow-building “Things I Love” delves into her fusion side, with Harmon-muted trumpet, electric piano and funky backbeat reminiscent of later-period Miles Davis. The tune eventually opens up as Jensen switches to flugelhorn and sister Christine ups the ante with a brooding alto sax solo. The rhythm section of Welin and Wikan prove their sensitivity and expertise as the tempo continually shifts and slides on Olin’s “Sweet Dream.”


Perhaps the most lovely and accessible tune here is Christine Jensen’s “Garden Hour,” a lovely three-minute ballad featuring the Jensens going head-to-head on the stately folk-like melody. Ingrid Jensen’s “Seascape” is a brief, but tender melodic statement that acts as an introduction to her sister’s composition “Seafever.” Olin again acts as perfect harmonic foil to the two sisters’ brass interplay. Here and elsewhere, Wikan employs a unique “clip-clopping” technique in his timekeeping.


“Cowboy” gallops along at a furious pace, aided by Olin on electronic keys, multi-percussionist Wikan and Ingrid Jensen turning up the trumpet’s electronic effects. Composer Olin sets up the 11-minute “Breathe/Quadr” with a haunting introduction utilizing repeated notes and a shifting tempo. The front-line horns breathe as one until Christine Jensen steps forward for a measured solo statement on sax. Olin contributes another great piano solo before turning it over to Ingrid Jensen for a flugelhorn solo. Eventually, as if by natural osmosis, the quintet reunites for the theme and conclusion.    


Seven of the nine tracks go beyond seven minutes and three tracks extend to nine minutes or more, so everyone in the quintet is given room to express their ideas and “connect” with the others. All three women prove to be exemplary composers, again emphasizing the shared nature of this project.





"Sings Love Stories," by Ed ReedEd Reed Sings Love Stories

Blue Shorts Records


By Tom Ineck


On hearing “Ed Reed Sings Love Stories” for the first time is, a listener’s most appropriate response is, “Where the heck has this guy been all these years?”


Even jazz singer Sheila Jordan exclaims, “Where have you been hiding Ed Reed? The whole jazz world needs to hear you.” Well, like so many talented black artists who grew up urban America in the 1930s and 1940s, Reed encountered social barriers, drifted into drug use and heroin addiction, and eventually served several terms in prison, in Reed’s case San Quentin and Folsom.


A native of southern California, Reed sang with saxophonist Art Pepper while in prison and with saxophonist Dexter Gordon, trumpeter Art Farmer, pianist Hampton Hawes and saxophonist Wardell Gray in “open mike” situations while he was out. After 40 years of addiction, he finally began a successful recovery program in 1986. With this debut recording, Reed finally declares his liberation.  


Reed’s reedy voice has an impressive range and is especially effective in the bass-baritone register, which he exhibits to good effect on “Bye Bye Blackbird.” He is capable of some nice vibrato and passages of extended phrasing on tunes like “A Sleepin’ Bee” and the Gordon Jenkins weeper “Goodbye.” Tonally, he is sometimes reminiscent of trumpeter-singer Jack Sheldon, especially when he goes for the upper registers. The two also are similar in their horn-like quality.


Lending very sensitive support is the backing rhythm section of pianist Gary Fisher, bassist John Wiitala and drummer Eddie Marshall. Most of all, the very versatile Peck Almond contributes a host of instrumental flavoring on trumpet, tenor sax, flute, alto flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, trombonium and kalimbas. 


The songlist is largely comprised of tried-and-true romantic standards, most of them taken at a relaxed ballad tempo, including “Ghost of a Chance,” “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing,” “Where Do You Start,” and “Daydream.”


Less well known but equally effective are Thelonious Monk’s “Ask Me Now,” with lyrics by Jon Hendricks, and “If the Moon Turns Green.” An apt closer is the folk and gospel classic “Motherless Child,” which Reed sings a cappella with great conviction.


Reed deserves to be heard, and perhaps with “Ed Reed Sings Love Stories” he will begin to receive that long-delayed recognition.





"Song Garden," by Francois Ingold TrioSong Garden

Altrisuoni Records


By Tom Ineck


“Song Garden,” the recent debut by 30-year-old Swiss pianist Francois Ingold, further extends the impressionist keyboard school founded by Bill Evans and later developed by Keith Jarrett, Fred Hersch, Ivan Paduart, Brad Mehldau and others. It is poetry in motion, truly a “garden” of colorful musical delights.


Like the others mentioned above, Ingold excels in the trio format, here with bassist Diego Imbert and drummer Fred Bintner. Recorded last year in France and mastered in Switzerland, “Song Garden” reverberates with European romanticism, especially on the gentle “Children’s Song (To Denis)” and “Love Song.”  


Even “Premiere Dent,” with its pulsing Latin rhythm and brief drum solo, maintains its stateliness in Ingold’s flowing lines and Imbert’s subtle accompaniment. The bassist steps out a bit more on the lyrical “Il n’y a pas de’amour heureux,” by Georges Brassens, a popular French singer-songwriter who died in 1981. Imbert provides a beautiful bass counterpoint to Ingold’s keyboard flights.


Ingold composed five of the eight tracks. “Black Trombone” is a haunting tune by French composer and cult figure Serge Gainsbourg. But, undoubtedly, the oddest choice here is “A Forest,” a 1980 hit by the British rockers The Cure. Like Mehldau, Ingold is capable of provocatively transforming a familiar pop tune while remaining true to its spirit. He repeatedly states the theme and creates dark variations, with Bintner eventually escalating to some rock drumming pyrotechnics.


The apt closer, “Hymne au Revoir,” is a gorgeous ballad of farewell that again places Ingold solidly in the romantic camp of Evans and his spiritual descendants. We hope the Francois Ingold Trio does not stay away too long.


Actually, “Hymne” is not the end of “Song Garden,” which after a couple minutes of silence contains a hidden track with the most animated playing on the entire recording. It has a Monkish flavor and features some very uninhibited drumming by Bintner.





"In the Zone," by Mike Freeman Zona VibeIn the Zone

VOF Recordings


By Tom Ineck


Omaha native Mike Freeman, now living in New York City, is a competent vibe player who has gathered some like-minded musicians under the banner of Zona Vibe for his latest release, “In the Zone,” under his own VOF Recordings moniker.


“In the Zone” has a distinctly Latin groove, aided by Ricardo Rodriguez on bass, Little Johnny Rivero on congas, Harry Adorno on timbales and Bruce Saunders occasionally joining in on guitars. There is little that is challenging or new here, from “Mr. 2000” to “There Ya Go” to “Horse’s Run” and “A Las Seis,” but the melodies are pleasant and it is all played with a light swinging feel that shouldn’t offend anyone.


As the only other soloist, Saunders does manage to infuse the proceedings with some soul, especially on “Cha Cha Mama,” “Red Thunder” and “Afriman.” He also adds sonic depth by doubling some of the melody lines with Freeman’s vibes.


Freeman briefly evokes the blues during a solo on the lovely “The Fallen,” and his switch to marimba on the Peruvian standard “Todos Vuelven” is a nice change, but his playing generally lacks the kind of soulfulness and risk-taking that makes the best jazz so exciting and unpredictable. 





"Live at Harlings Upstairs," by The Boulevard Big Band“Live” at Harlings Upstairs

BRC Music Productions


By Tom Ineck


Nineteen years on, the Kansas City-based Boulevard Big Band has released a live recording at Harlings Upstairs lounge that admirably captures the excitement of big-band performance, though the recording quality is uneven.


Like the band’s 2004 Sea Breeze release “Take Only for Pain,” the new CD features tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb, a longtime first-call soloist from Southern California. Christlieb’s thoroughly professional style and burly, burnished tone are definite assets. Whenever he enters the fray, such as on the opener, “Peeve,” Wayne Shorter’s “Black Nile,” and the closer, “It’s Not About You,” the temperature noticeably rises. He also turns in stellar performances on Bobby Troupe’s ballad “The Meaning of the Blues” and McCoy Tyner’s “The Search for Peace.”


Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek,” arranged by Hal Melia, is taken at a breakneck speed, but the arranger’s lively alto saxophone solo is virtually buried in the mix. Other standout musicians who help keep the kettle boiling are trombonist Paul McKee on “Black Nile,” flugelhornist Jay Sollenberger on “If I Only Had a Brain,” trombonist Steve Dekker on Lou Marini’s funky “Alone,” trumpeter Dave Aaberg on “It’s Not About You,” and members of the rhythm section, especially drummer Todd Strait and bassist Tim Brewer. The contributions of pianist Roger Wilder and guitarist Rob Whitsit are nearly undetectable by the human ear.


Throughout the show, stage announcements and audience response suffer from poor miking, creating the impression that the performance got a lukewarm reception. Also, the cover design is horrid, with dimly lighted photos of Harlings interior, tiny reverse-printed liner notes and difficult-to-read track information printed in black against a dark photograph of the band.


The listener who can disregard the many shortcomings, however, will be rewarded with a solid performance by Kansas City’s veteran big band.





"Down the Middle," by the Phil DeGreg TrioDown the Middle

Prevenient Music


By Butch Berman 


Every one who knows me accepts my baseball mania. In the big leagues, almost every team has at least one “star” player. However, to make it to the World Series, you need the sum of the parts of all his teammates, as each “utility” player becomes equally important, but not necessarily “famous.” The same seems to be true in the world of jazz.


I’m listening to the always-stunning piano work of Phil DeGreg’s newest CD, "Down the Middle," while I write this review and think to myself, "This is his 10th recording, all excellent, and it seems only the 'ones in the know' truly know who this genius is."


If you’re from Cincinnati and heard Phil’s ultra-sophisticated brilliance at the famed jazz club, the Blue Wisp, for the last 13 years, or while studying under him at the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, you probably think of him as the second coming of Bill Evans. Ask any of the greats Phil’s played with, such as trumpeter Claudio Roditi or saxophonist Greg Abate or drummer Todd Strait, to name just a few, and they’ll all tell ya the same. Phil’s a true gentleman and a complete monster of a player.


I first met him when he was on the staff of Jamey Aebersold’s jazz camp workshop near Chicago that I attended about the time I first started my Berman Music Foundation in 1995. I was so taken by his teaching abilities, his kind demeanor and, of course, his amazing chops that I hired him on the spot for one of our first concerts here in Lincoln, Neb., and a few times and locations since.


This new Prevenient Music release showcases the piano trio format backing Phil with two of the best in the biz. Drummer Joe LaBarbera, formally with Bill Evans and Tony Bennett, has always been one of my faves with his sparkling, crackling driving style. Add L.A.’s Tom Warrington’s delicate, astute bass lines to the mix to provide the perfect rhythm section for the beautiful outpourings from Mr. DeGreg.


Phil composed four intriguing tunes along with some delightful choices from a variety of other jazz artists, including Diz’s ”Con Alma,” Jerome Kern’s “Pick Yourself Up,” and a rare Jobim number called “Bonita,” which gives his fans a full display of all the different elements that Phil possesses and performs with such elegance, grace and, when needed, unbridled power. I’ve been lucky enough to have heard many great piano trios over the years, both live and on records. The Phil DeGreg Trio is one of them, and one of the best. 


Available at CDbaby.com, I’d advise you to grab "Down the Middle" in a flash, and grab a few for your other jazz friends while you’re at it. Also, if you’re a player yourself, you’d do yourself a favor to read Phil’s wonderful jazz textbook entitled "Jazz Keyboard Harmony" and perhaps I’ll be reviewing your CD someday, as well.





"Next to You," by Teraesa Vinson with Tom DempseyNext to You

AMP 102


By Butch Berman


When I visited New York City a few years ago, I visited Lou Holtzman, the best “ears” in the recording biz, at his new, incredible Eastside Sound. That day Lou was recording the first CD for a new female vocalist named Teraesa Vinson.


She and her hand-picked band of some of the Big Apple’s best, young lions put out a fine album entitled “Opportunity Please Knock” that I was able to help her put out. When she recently sent her newest offering, “Next To You,” much to my surprise a duo album, I was a little taken aback. However, upon the first and second listening to her rich, supple voice, backed by one of the top young guitarists on the scene today, Tom Dempsey, I was very much entertained.


Teraesa’s interpretation of a wide, eclectic choice of songwriters makes this a record for all ears, young and old. Steve Perry’s “Foolish Heart” and Stevie Wonder’s “Ribbon in the Sky” somehow fit well into a mix of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, Jobim, and McCoy Tyner standards, to name just a few.


Dempsey, the other “voice,” is not only a cookin’ guitar player but a master accompanist with terrific chops. Tom, along with drummer Dion Parsons creates a CD full of tasty arrangements that transpose a lot of old favorites into nifty, refreshing statements that define what jazz is really all about. They even take a chance reprising the title track from their first recording effort and give Oscar Brown’s “Opportunity Please Knock” a whole other identity. I really dig her rendition of Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh’s “My How the Time Goes By,” turning it into a swell blues number, and a different stab at Johnny Mercer’s “I Remember You” that also works like a charm.


And speaking of charming, whoever decided to put the lovely Ms. Vinson in a dynamite pink mini-skirt on the inner sleeve should  be nominated for a Grammy for his or her foresight. Yup, pretty to look at and a pleasure to hear makes this AMP release a must for all of us who love hearing a great song sung well, as well as appreciating one hot guitar picker. Get next to “Next To You” and feel the love.





"A Spirit Free: Abbey Lincoln Songbook," by Kendra ShankA Spirit Free: Abbey Lincoln Songbook

Challenge Records


By Tom Ineck


It must first be said that any singer who devotes an entire recording to the idiosyncratic songbook of the great Abbey Lincoln is either gutsy or downright foolhardy. Lincoln brings so much of herself to her compositions and performances that it is difficult to imagine anyone else doing them justice.


Then, along came Kendra Shank. With “A Spirit Free,” she establishes herself as a bold stylist capable of faithful (and inspired) interpretations of 11 classic Lincoln tunes, nearly all drawn from Lincoln’s 1990s Verve recordings. The performances are combustible, free-flowing affairs fired by the very compatible crew of pianist Frank Kimbrough, reed virtuoso Billy Drewes, bassist Dean Johnson, drummer Tony Moreno, guitarist Ben Monder and Gary Versace on accordion.


Shank deftly navigates the difficult chord changes, unusual time signatures and shifting dynamics inherent in these pieces. From the evocative, eight-minute opener, “The Music is the Magic,” the listener is aware of entering an exotic musical realm, “a secret world” where “the raging storm” is an everyday occurrence. Musically, it remains “outside,” floating on a rhythmic riff without overtly stating the melody.


“I Got Thunder (and It Rings)” has all the swaggering confidence of the original performance on 1990’s “The World is Falling Down.” Shank shifts to a gentle waltz time for “Not to Worry.” Drewes switches to bass clarinet and Versace joins in on accordion for the haunting “Down Here Below.” To Lincoln’s “Throw it Away,” Shank adds her own chanted prelude “Incantation.”


Johnson is Shank’s sole accompanist on “Bird Alone,” and takes a soaring solo that seems to mimic a bird on the wing. Appropriately set in a bouncy samba meter, “Wholly Earth” resounds with the joy of living. “Natas (AKA Playmate)” gets a playful reading pairing Shank with Versace’s accordion. The gorgeous ballad “Being Me” is the final track, beautifully summing up the individuality of Lincoln and, by extension, Shank. 


Kimbrough is a key player here, guiding the others as they create the perfect atmosphere for each tune. But the true genius of these tunes is in their lyrical power, memorable lines like “I pray my soul will find me shining in the morning light,” from “Down Here Below,” or “The world is falling down, hold my hand,” written a decade before the collapse of the World Trade Center. A longtime political activist and astute social observer, Lincoln yearns for “A Circle of Love” and a world that is “Wholly Earth.”


Shank's co-producer on the CD, as with the two releases before it, is Andrew Rowan, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln alumnus who was active in founding the Lincoln Jazz Society back in the 1970s.


With "A Spirit Free," Shank has taken on a monumental task in interpreting Lincoln’s songs, and she has succeeded admirably. No fool, she is a gutsy and passionate artist worthy of more recognition.





"Take Your Clothes off When You Dance," by The Ed Palermo Big BandTake Your Clothes off When You Dance

Cuneiform Records


By Tom Ineck


More than 13 years after the death of Frank Zappa at age 52, talented and adventurous musicians—with the requisite sense of humor—continue to mine the hidden gems in his sizable songbook. Players from the seemingly disparate realms of classical music, rock and jazz have attempted to do justice to the master. It is a tribute to the Zappa genius that his complex, idiosyncratic music inspires interpretations of every stylistic stripe.


Last year’s “Take Your Clothes off When You Dance” is saxophonist Ed Palermo’s second collection of Zappa tunes in the big-band format, and it is another grand success, from the spirited performances to Palermo’s comical liner notes to the cover cartoon (by Palermo’s sister-in-law) depicting musicians in the buff, with instruments discreetly positioned. The first Palermo homage to Zappa, released in 1997, is sadly no longer in print.


Palermo himself kicks things off on alto sax with the swirling melody of “RDNZL,” which also features solo statements by trombonist Charles Gordon, pianist Bob Quaranta, organist Ted Koosian and drummer Ray Marchica. The whole band joins in on the stop-time shouts and the affair wraps up with a trademark Count Basie ending.


The title track gets a syncopated Latin treatment, perfect for the circular melody line. Trombonist Joe Fiedler and tenor saxophonist Ben Kono lend heat with their fiery solos, and Emedin Rivera adds percussion. “Dwarf Nebula Processional March and Dward Nebula,” is a distinctly Zappaesque tune of quizzical, dazzling changes and intense alto sax work by Cliff Lyons.


“Pound for a Brown on the Bus” fuses rock, jazz and classical motives to create a complex rhythmic journey driven by drummer Marchina and aided and abetted by soloists Palermo on alto sax, Koosian on organ and Bill Straub on tenor sax. “Sleep Dirt,” from the 1979 album of the same name, is sort of like a twisted ballad, and lends itself well to the jazz treatment here featuring Phil Chester on soprano sax.


“The Gumbo Variations,” which debuted on the classic 1969 album “Hot Rats” as an extended jam nearly 17 minutes long, here is reduced to about six minutes of funky bliss, with solos by Dave Riekenberg on tenor sax and the fabulous Carl Restivo on wah-wah guitar, sounding very Zappa-inspired. Restivo also sings the haunting first half of “Mom and Dad/Oh No,” while most of the second half is performed as an instrumental with very jazzy alto sax by Palermo, before Restivo returns to sing the final lyric. Coming in at over nine minutes, this medley tour de force may be the brightest gem in the jewel box.


Palermo’s arrangements take advantage of the entire 16-piece band, as the outfit passes the ball back and forth in typical Zappa fashion. Dead serious passages often alternate with pure hilarity. 


I was able to order “Take Your Clothes Off.” online, but unless Zappa and his music get the widespread support they deserve, this Palermo recording may soon become as rare as his first. Get it while you can. Then, grab a dancing partner and take off your clothes! Frank Zappa would want it that way.





"Half the Perfect World," by Madeleine PeyrouxHalf the Perfect World

Rounder Records


By Tom Ineck


On first hearing Madeleine Peyroux’s 1996 debut “Dreamland,” I heard a voice for the ages—a bit like Billie Holiday in her peculiar phrasing and limited range. There was little doubt that we would hear more from this native of Athens, Ga.


But, as with so many artists in the fickle recording business, Peyroux was denied a chance to repeat her first success for eight years, until 2004’s “Careless Love.” In comparatively little time, we now have her third major label release, last year’s “Half the Perfect World,” her second on the Rounder label. She continues to blaze an eclectic trail, melding jazz, blues, folk and pop influences in a style all her own.


Her choice of cover material is telling—the title track is by the weird and wonderful wordsmith Leonard Cohen, who also is represented by his “Blue Alert.” Peyroux also tapped the sainted songbooks of Johnny Mercer (“The Summer Wind”), Tom Waits (“(Looking for) The Heart of Saturday Night”) and Charlie Chaplin (the timeless “Smile”). “Everybody’s Talkin’,” the Fred Neil tune of alienation and desperate hope from the film “Midnight Cowboy,” gets an aptly wistful reading with help from Sam Yahel on piano, and Peyroux plaintively pairs with k.d. lang on Joni Mitchell’s classic song of regret, “River.”


Peyroux’s eminently compatible bandmates include guitarist Dean Parks, bassist David Piltch and drummers Scott Amendola and Jay Bellerose, in addition to tasteful contributions by Till Bronner on trumpet, Gary Foster on alto sax, and Larry Goldings on celeste and Wurlitzer piano. A string quartet is used to good effect on “Once in a While” and the lovely French waltz “La Javanaise.”


About eight of the 12 tunes here are ballads, making this great late-night listening, although the themes tend to be pretty downbeat, if not downright depressing. On “I’m All Right,” Peyroux philosophizes: “He got drunk, he fell down, he threw a few of my things around, but I’m all right, I’m all right, I’ve been lonely before.” Or, how about this from “Once in a While”: “Once in a while I’ll wake up, wondering why we gave up, but once in a while, comes and it fades away.”


After listening to “Half the Perfect World,” you may want to turn to something a bit sunnier, but in your darker moods Madeleine Peyroux may seem like the perfect companion.




"Family First," by Mark ShermanFamily First

City Hall Records


By Tom Ineck


“Family First” jumps with joy, the kind of spontaneous gaiety that comes from musicians of like mind who make their music sound effortless. Vibraphonist Mark Sherman already has proven himself a top-notch player and leader, with a handful of CDs under his name in the past decade, including 2005’s marvelous “One Step Closer,” featuring sax giant Joe Lovano. You can read a review of that release in the November 2005 BMF newsletter or click here.


Minus Lovano, Sherman has gathered the same bandmates for his latest endeavor—trumpeter-flugelhornist Joe Magnarelli, pianist Allen Farnham, bassist Dean Johnson and drummer Tim Horner, with conguero Chembo Corneil added on two tracks. Sherman penned half of the 10 tracks, revealing again his ability to create play-worthy pieces that never sound alike.


“Explorations,” a tribute to John Coltrane, explores all the harmonic possibilities with a modulating pedal point over a driving rhythm. It’s no surprise to learn that “Fantasize” was influenced by the spirited, melodic music of Pat Metheny. Its rock rhythms and folk-infused melody conjure the popular fusion sound of the guitarist without mimicking him. The lilting title track brims with exuberance, from the opening statement pairing vibes and flugelhorn to the inventive solo by Farnham and the solid support of the rhythm section. Horner and Corneil, both on congas, provide a gentle rhythmic cushion for the ballad “With Hope,” which also features a definitive flugelhorn solo. 


Paquito D’Rivera’s “Wapango” is a perfect vehicle for the band’s virtuosity and compatibility. They fly through the rapid, difficult changes with aplomb, generating considerable heat and excitement in this Afro-Cuban tour de force. “Lazy Autumn,” a Sherman tune arranged by Farnham, has an appropriately loping, bluesy mood, and “Symmetrical” reflects its title in a swirling cycle of changes.


Joe Henderson’s “Punjab” and the ballad standard “We’ll Be Together Again” get new, revelatory interpretations, especially the latter, another brilliant Farnham arrangement. “Family First” closes with “A New Blue,” Jimmy Heath’s infectious, fresh take on the blues. The whole band swings mightily on this one.


With most of the performances lasting about five minutes, Sherman eschews superfluous soloing in favor of tight arrangements alternating brief solo statements and interesting harmonic passages for multiple instruments. It is a formula that works to great advantage and truly makes this outfit seem like a musical “family” that plays very well together. 





"Brownstone," by Jeff Newell's New-Trad OctetBrownstone

Blujazz Productions


By Tom Ineck


Jeff Newell has always had a twisted sense of humor, which is not to say that he doesn’t take his music seriously. He just approaches it from a slightly skewed perspective.


So it is with “Brownstone,” which at times sounds like someone slipped a tab of LSD into John Philip Sousa’s lemonade. The truth of the matter is that this music is well grounded in Newell’s knowledge of post-Civil War history, demographics, architecture and, of course, music past and present. As he writes in the liner notes of this attractively packaged CD, “As our nation struggled to pull itself together and continued to expand westward, waves of immigrants flowed into the cities, bringing new cultural influences.”


So, the three Sousa marches that open the recording overtly draw from these ethnic influences, especially from the rhythms of the Caribbean. When applied to “Stars and Stripes Forever,” “The Lambs March” and “The Washington Post,” these pulsing island beats and the modern jazz use of electric guitar, keyboards, bass and drums turns them into something entirely new. Yet, by employing many of the brass instruments of the period—saxophone, trumpet, trombone, tuba—Newell also harkens back. The result is a joyful celebration of familiar old tunes reborn in the modern era.


But that’s not all. Newell also penned a six-part, 21-minute suite entitled “Hymn Pan Alley,” which further explores ethnic rhythms that have been absorbed into the great American gumbo of jazz—march, bolero, mambo, waltz and zydeco. Here, Newell has tied the rhythmic styles to melodic themes from nine different hymns written by five composers of Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood. It seems an audacious concept that only Newell could have pulled off, and it works beautifully.


“Brownstone” ends with two spirituals, the mythic “Amazing Grace” and Newell’s own “Fill the Temple.” Any overview of the vast panorama of American music would be remiss without the influence of the church. In Newell’s eight-minute arrangement of “Amazing Grace,” the New-Trad Octet again endows a well-known standard with new vitality, quoting from “Down By the Riverside” and featuring a stunning alto sax solo, the leader’s brightest moment in the spotlight.  


It bears mentioning that Newell’s success on his latest project was made possible with the help of an ensemble of wonderful musicians of like mind. On the first nine tracks and the final track, they are John Bailey, trumpet; J. Walter Hawkes, trombone; Marcus Rojas, tuba; Dave Phelps, guitar; Tricia Woods, keyboards; Tom Hubbard, bass; and Brian Woodruff, drums. “Amazing Grace” features Orbert Davis, trumpet; Ryan Shultz, bass trumpet; Dan Anderson, tuba; John McLean, guitar; Karl Montzka, keyboards; Tim Fox, bass; and Rick Vitek, drums. The gospel soul of “Fill the Temple” is expressed vocally by Karl Dixon and Janis Russel.





"Earthworks Underground Orchestra," by Bill Bruford and Tim GarlandEarthworks Underground Orchestra

Summerfold Records


By Tom Ineck


Since its inception in 1987, Bill Bruford’s Earthworks ensemble has consisted of a tight-knit quartet driven by its famous drummer, a prog-rock alumnus of Yes and King Crimson. But for its ninth release, Bruford and saxophonist Tim Garland expanded the outfit to nine pieces, dubbing it the Earthworks Underground Orchestra, based on Garland’s London-based Dean Street Underground Orchestra.


The big-band debut, recorded live at The Iridium Jazz Club in New York City in December 2004, was released last year. Along with co-leaders Bruford and Garland (who plays tenor and soprano saxes, flute and bass clarinet), the band also includes Jon Owens and Alex Sipiagin on trumpets, Rock Ciccarone on trombone, Chris Karlic on baritone sax and flute, Steve Wilson on alto and soprano saxes and flute, Henry Hey on piano, and Mike Pope on electric and acoustic basses. Trombonist Robin Eubanks sits in on two tracks.


Although the material is largely a familiar sampling from Earthworks’ repertoire, these eight tunes have been given new heft with Garland’s arrangements for nonet, and the energetic performances are exhilarating. With seven horns and a rhythm section, the Earthworks Underground Orchestra combines jazz fusion punch with the classic sound of a brass chorale.


Highlights include “Speaking in Wooden Tongues” and the rhythmic tour de force “Footloose and Fancy Free,” which features bravura solos by Garland on tenor sax, Eubanks on trombone, Hey on piano and Bruford on drums. From the band’s early years come the jaunty opener “Libreville,” the moody “Up North” and the gorgeous ballad “It Needn’t End in Tears,” written by former Earthworks member Iain Ballamy. Of more recent vintage are Garland’s Latin-tinged “Baja del Sol” and Bruford’s 13-minute extravaganza that closes the recording, “The Wooden Man Sings, and the Stone Woman Dances.”


In its maiden voyage, the Earthworks Underground Orchestra retains the distinctive edge and sound of its original British quartet, a tribute to Garland’s arrangements and the playing skills of the overwhelmingly American musicians. 


A major fan of Earthworks since its first LP release, I highly anticipated this recording and made plans to travel to NYC for the sessions at the Iridium. Weather prevented me from flying, but this 70-minute document is the next best thing to being there. Here’s hoping that Earthworks continues to develop its trail-blazing sound for another 20 years.





"Always Going West," by Misha TsiganovAlways Going West

Misha Tsiganov Records


By Tom Ineck


In many ways, conguero and bandleader par excellence Norman Hedman gave pianist Misha Tsiganov the opportunity to realize a dream of playing jazz in America. Tsiganov took over the piano chair in Hedman’s band, Tropique, in the late ‘90s, and has been making musical advances ever since.


Tsiganov’s latest advance is “Always Going West,” a forward-looking session combining bop and Latin influences with tasteful execution. “Anthony,” dedicated to legendary drummer Tony Williams, leaps from the starting gate with fiery bop insistence, while “Another Rainy Day” reclines in a tempo suitable for that titular rainy day.


“Roller Coaster” rises and falls with precipitous extremes, guided by the steady drumming of Gene Jackson. The gorgeous “Waltz for Olena” features some lovely bass work by Boris Koziov. Alex Sipiagin’s virtuosic flights on trumpet and flugelhorn are elements essential to the record’s varying moods, including the title track’s relaxed Latin groove, where the flugelhorn soars.


Tsiganov pays homage to the late, great pianist Kenny Kirkland with the searching, mid-tempo bopper “Say Where You’ve Gone,” on which Sipiagin again plays a pivotal role. It is the leader, however, who drives the piece with his flashy keyboard technique. “Gone From My Mind” is the closing ballad, with Tsiganov and Sipiagin stating the melody in tandem.


Throughout this recording, perhaps most striking is Tsiganov’s generosity with his musical colleagues. He plays with admirable restraint and subtlety, while giving the others plenty of time and space to express their own interpretations of his compositions. Jackson’s drums are especially prominent.


Of the nine tracks, all are written and arranged by Tsiganov, except the memorable Russian folk melody “Dark Eyes.” A three-minute percussion barrage by Samuel Torres introduces the full band version of “Dark Eyes,” a brooding arrangement that finally releases into a wonderful keyboard exploration by Tsiganov, with powerful support by Jackson on the drum kit. This is not his father’s “Ochi Chiornie.”





"Boneyard," by Jim McNeelyBoneyard

Origin Records


By Butch Berman


I was an only child born in Peoria, Ill., just a couple of stones’ throw to Chicago, before we moved to Lincoln when I was one year old. My dad worked for my mom’s family, selling jewelry and buying clothes for their store. He’d go to the market in New York semi-annually and fly to meet my mother and me in Chicago for our annual summer vacation. She and I would take the train to rendezvous there. When I was 10 and very much into baseball, they took me to see the White Sox and the Cubs back-to-back one weekend. I was thrilled most by seeing two of the best shortstops in the big leagues over those two days. Comiskey Park held Luis Aparacio and Wrigley Field was home to Ernie Banks.


I also got to go to a great club called Mr. Kelly’s that year. I heard comic Jackie Mason one night and got my first taste of big-city jazz hearing Erroll Garner the next. Wow, baseball and jazz…I was hooked for life.


Move ahead nearly half a century. I’m sitting here reviewing another wonderful piano player from Chicago named Jim McNeely just a weekend away from opening day (sorry, Cubbie fans, but I’ve been a SF Giants devotee since the mid 1980s) and listening to a marvelous new CD called “Boneyard,” which features a great McNeely tune called “Ernie Banks.” Boneyard is a creek that runs through Champaign, Ill., which spawned a jazz scene that has thrived since the ‘50s.


Jim jumped in during the 1970s, and around that time met up with a now-legendary rhythm section consisting of Kelly Sill on bass and drummer Joel Spencer. These cats don’t play together on a regular basis, but after 35 years of gigging, their foundation is rock solid, and is truly one of the best jazz trios in the biz when engaged at a gig or a superb recording session like this one.


My wife, Grace, and I honeymooned in the Windy City five years ago and caught, and met, Kelly and Joel at a jazz steakhouse in Evanston, a suburb of Chicago, backing another pianist. They were tight and terrific, as expected. I got to enjoy Jim’s classic chops when he was performing at a jazz festival in Kansas. When Origin Records, one of my fave jazz labels out there, sent me this CD, I couldn’t wait to put it on and hear these monsters blow. “Boneyard” is a four-star, sum-of-the-parts creation that not only should make Chi-town proud of its players, but jazz itself. This is really one nice piece of work.


Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low” kicks off the album with a bang. Nine killer tracks featuring the works of Diz, Brubeck and Wayne Shorter all make it big time, as well as compositions of Jim and Kelly—of course, “Ernie Banks” getting me off the most. Ah yes, baseball and jazz. Credit this talented threesome with extra base hits throughout. Cheer on your teams of choice, and rah, rah, rah for this special, all-star team of Jim McNeely, Kelly Sill and Joel Spencer. “Boneyard” is, without a doubt, a bases-loaded homer. Play Jazz, play ball.





"Reflection," by Ed NeumeisterReflection

ArtistShare Records


By Butch Berman


Jazz is created from many entities—heartfelt and soulful, emotionally charged, cerebrally intense, scholarly, and if you’re so guided…spiritually inspired.


I’ve never met Ed Neumeister, although we share many friends in the jazz community. Upon the first sit-down listening to his recent expression of brilliance—“Reflection”—I was immediately drawn to its beauty, sadness, charm…yet ever so a thinking man’s jazz of much substance. On this release, recorded in Vienna in 2006, trombone master Neumeister truly paints aural visions of deep feelings with his gifts and exquisite collaborations with his astute band mates, who share like minds and compositions.


Let me introduce you to this kinetic ensemble of fine musicians—Fritz Pauer at the piano, Drew Gress on the bass and John Hollenbeck on drums join trombonist Neumeister to take you on an hour-plus excursion that will capture all of your senses. Reflection, indeed. This is beautiful, heady stuff, crafted in a variety of key changes, textures and wondrous hues that gently transport you to a magical place that touches you inside.


It has some of the best production work I’ve enjoyed in a long time, especially the gorgeous, rich bass sound Drew Gress lays down. And, how wonderfully it was recorded—the drums, too. Hollenbeck’s amazing, and the constant, clever interplay throughout, between the horn and piano, is simply enchanting. I’ve never heard a trombone sing, cry, and wail in the manner that Neumeister has mastered.


This CD is a work of art that jazz itself can be very proud of. It’s definitely in my top 10 list for 2006-7. Reflect on this review, then pick up “Reflection” through ArtistShare Records today.





"Time to Go: The Music of Russ Long"Time to Go: The Music of Russ Long

Russ Long Records


By Tom Ineck


The rare talent and wry comic genius of Kansas City pianist and vocalist Russ Long are legendary among his many friends, fans and musical cohorts. But until recently much of his extensive songbook has been undocumented and virtually unknown to the public.


“Time to Go: The Music of Russ Long” corrects that omission in style, with 14 Long compositions performed anew by an ensemble consisting of stellar KC musicians. The Berman Music Foundation helped make this project possible with financial support, at the urging of longtime Long friend, bassist and BMF consultant Gerald Spaits.


In the true spirit of collaboration, Long and Spaits chose the tunes that would be included. Spaits transcribed much of the music and the two co-wrote the arrangements. Spaits then hired the musicians that could best interpret the charts and wrote out their parts. The result is a stunning recording of original music, lovingly rendered by a septet of compatible craftsmen. At the core is the threesome of Long, Spaits and drummer Ray DeMarchi, who have performed as a trio for more than 20 years and who were featured several years ago on the BMF-produced CD “Never Let Me Go.”


But what makes this session so memorable is the expansive sound of the larger ensemble, with saxophonists Charles Perkins and David Chael, trumpeter Stan Kessler and trombonist Paul McKee. The brass voicing is warm and embracing, giving the sound an intimate feel that enhances the personal nature of this tribute. Needless to say, the ensemble’s performance is flawless and the overall sound is pristine.


In his modest manner, Long downplays his ability at the keyboard in a brief introductory statement, saying that it wasn’t until the 1980s he knew he was a piano player. Judging by the wealth of original compositions here, he was developing as a distinctive tunesmith long before that.


“Woodland Park” is a snappy little opener that has the brass moving in close formation, with urgent emphasis by Kessler on trumpet. Perkins opens “Serenade” with a lovely bass clarinet statement, giving the tune an appropriately lazy, relaxed quality. McKee expands on that mood before handing it off to Spaits. Long proves his keyboard mastery with typically subtle contributions.


The title track returns to an easy-swinging medium tempo, while “Meatloaf” picks up the pace with a bluesy gusto and solos by McKee, Chael and Kessler, who trades fiery fours with DeMarchi. Dark, minor chords introduce “E-Train” in bluesy brass harmony before opening into a more conventional blues pattern, perfectly expressed in solos by Perkins, McKee, Chael and Long.


In an obvious tip of the hat to Miles Davis, “s’Miles” is a hard-charging bop tune with excellent solo takes by Perkins on flute, Kessler, Chael and McKee. “Etude” is a moody classically influenced piece pairing piano and trombone. “Shoemaker” and “Can City” are both swinging uptempo tunes, which may cause some confusion for the listener. The titles were inadvertently transposed on the CD.


“Spider” has a loping, aptly spider-like movement with an interesting, descending chord progression. Another bluesy mid-tempo offering is “I Don’t Care Who,” with Chael, McKee and Perkins and Spaits delivering relaxed but forceful solos and Long comping with casual aplomb. Perhaps the most profoundly moving piece is also the most simple, a two-minute brass chorale called “Parallel,” with horns stating the chord progression in harmony and the rhythm section comping gently.   


But what is a Russ Long recording without his unmistakable voice? As an apt closer, he treats us to a brief rendition of Cole Porter classic “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To.”


The wild card here is guitarist Pat Metheny’s solo acoustic rendition of Long’s gorgeous ballad “Never Was Love,” a longtime favorite of Metheny’s that he recorded without a chart—by memory. Metheny also contributed liner notes praising Long for his lasting influence more than 30 years ago, when the guitarist—still a teen—played in Long’s organ combo. “One of the highlights of my life as a musician,” Metheny writes, “has been the chance to play with one of Kansas City’s greatest musicians ever—Russ Long.”


Spaits reports that the ensemble recordings for “Time to Go” were completed in just two sessions, with most tunes captured in the first take. Long’s tasteful choice of comping chords throughout the session is a testament to his bandleader’s unerring ear, much like that other KC legend, Count Basie. Unusual in today’s world of extended jams—that too often go nowhere—six of the 15 tunes clock in at under four minutes, all well-polished and shimmering gems.





"Relax," by Buck HillRelax

Severn Records


By Tom Ineck


As he approaches 80, Roger “Buck” Hill could be forgiven for slowing the pace a bit. But no, the Washington, D.C.-based tenor saxophonist insists on swinging with gusto on his latest effort. A blue-collar worker who kept a day job as mail carrier throughout most of his jazz career, Hill still knows the value of good, hard work.


“Relax” gets its title from the second track, a suitably relaxed mid-tempo swinger. For Hill, however, the blues are never far away. The blues feel is enhanced by John Ozment on Hammond organ, guitarist Paul Pieper and drummer Jerry Jones, creating the classic soul jazz setting for Hill’s muscular tenor.


The burner “RH Blues” opens the CD with a charging reminder of Hill’s roots. “Little Bossa” gets everyone involved, beginning with Ozment, then Hill and finally Pieper, while the bossa beat keeps Jones on his toes.


Miles Davis is well represented here, with three of his tunes programmed consecutively: the exotic excursion “Flamenco Sketches,” the bluesy “Prancing” and the boppish “Milestones.”


Hill also shows his ability to emote on the ballad standard “Old Folks.” His intonation and breath control, where age in horn players usually starts to show, remains strong even in the upper ranges. The Hill original “Sad Ones” closes the recording on a wistful note.


Ozment, Pieper and Jones admirably back Hill’s brawny tenor blasts and add their own touches to an all-around satisfying listen. As he ably ranges the Hammond keyboards and bass foot pedals, Ozment is especially effective in helping to establish the easy swinging groove that dominates the session.


That Hill himself wrote half the tunes is a testament to his involvement in this project, his first recording as a leader in almost 15 years. A welcome return to the spotlight, indeed!





"Heroes," by The Roger Kellaway TrioHeroes

IPO Recordings


By Tom Ineck


Pianist Roger Kellaway, explaining the magic of Oscar Peterson’s early drummerless trios, describes it as “the will to swing.” Likewise, Kellaway’s latest release on IPO Recordings, with guitarist Bruce Forman and bassist Dan Lutz, expresses that same will to swing—a propulsive, often breathtaking, always rhythmically charged performance that leaves the listener thoroughly satisfied—and astounded.


The threesome is a cohesive team, clinging to the challenging tempos with faultless technique and devil-take-the-hindmost bravado. The collective interplay often is extended—three of the 10 tracks are over eight minutes—and the mood is alternately breezy and intense. It seems Kellaway, Forman and Lutz may be capable of anything, from the blues swagger of “Killer Joe” to the driving “Cotton Tail” to the relaxed “I Was Doing All Right” to the sublime “Nuages.”


In terms of repertoire, there are few surprises here and only one original tune. Most of the tunes are taken from Peterson’s 1950s recordings. It is the camaraderie and prodigious playing of Kellaway and his fellow-travelers that elevate this set far above the ordinary. “Night Train,” for example, captures all the bluesy bluster of the Jimmy Forrest classic, but offsets the bombast with lyrical stride piano passages that cleverly avoid cliché. After Kellaway’s stately solo introduction, Forman picks up the mood with dazzling guitar runs as Lutz keeps a steady walking bass line before taking a brilliant solo of his own. Finally, the trio blazes a three-way trail to the finish line with call-and-answer precision.


Kellaway’s aptly titled “I’m Smiling Again” is a brief, but joyful romp with Lutz taking the lead melody line in a lyrical style reminiscent of Ray Brown. Forman keeps the rhythm chugging along as Kellaway adds deft flourishes. In reharmonizing “Midnight Sun,” the trio has created a new interpretation, with cascading chords and a wistful Latin tinge. For less emotionally charged material, Kellaway and company turn to “Moten Swing” and the furiously paced and fearlessly executed “52nd Street Theme.”


After an unusually long pause between tracks, the trio returns with its grand finale, Oscar Peterson’s gospel-tinged paean “Hymn to Freedom.” Kellaway begins with mournful, blues-drenched chords and leaping arpeggios, building slowly as Forman and Lutz enter more than half-way through the eight-minute piece. They drop out again, as Kellaway takes it home with an exquisite piano coda.


It simply doesn’t get any better than this.





"Sonny, Please," by Sonny RollinsSonny, Please

Doxy Records


By Tom Ineck


At 75, Sonny Rollins entered a new phase in his amazing six-decade career in the forefront of modern, post-bop jazz. He inaugurated his own Doxy label, and its first release is a humdinger.


“Sonny, Please,” named for a term of endearment used frequently by his late wife, Lucille, is simultaneously a reaffirmation of his staying power and a confident step forward. To sustain his comfort level, Rollins has gathered around him a well-established group of compatible musicians—nephew Clifton Anderson on trombone, Bobby Broom on guitar, longtime comrade Bob Cranshaw on bass, Steve Jordan on drums and Kimati Dinizulu on percussion. Rollins penned four of the seven tunes in this hour-long set.


The lead-off title track is a brash, bold venture that perfectly illustrates the brawny Rollins sound, still as robust as ever. Noel Coward’s rarely heard “Someday I’ll Find You” proves a lyrical vehicle for Rollins’ waltz-time proclivities, with especially tasteful contributions by Broom and Cranshaw.


“Nishi” swings with blues power as Rollins digs deep into his bag of sly references, Jordan delivers a crackling drum solo, and Anderson follows with a muted statement. Rollins faithfully renders the melody to “Stairway to the Stars” before deconstructing it in typical fashion. “Remembering Tommy” is a gently swinging tribute to the late pianist and frequent Rollins collaborator Tommy Flanagan.


Rollins returns to the dance floor in waltz time with Drigo’s tender “Serenade (Love Serenade).” In stretching it to more than eight minutes, Rollins creates a panoply of variations on the theme. With the closer, “Park Palace Parade,” he again dabbles in one of his favorite rhythmic genres, the calypso sounds of Trinidad. 


“Sonny, Please” has been justly nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of best jazz instrumental album. If anyone deserves continued success and critical accolades, it is Sonny Rollins.





"Mean What You Say," by Eddie DanielsMean What You Say

IPO Recordings


By Tom Ineck


Eddie Daniels, like another inveterate swinger, Ken Peplowski, is equally adept on the tenor saxophone and the clarinet. On 2005’s “Mean What You Say,” Daniels showcases both instruments in a solid repertoire, largely consisting of standards, and accompanied by a trio of giants—pianist Hank Jones, bassist Richard Davis and drummer Kenny Washington.


Daniels displays his straight-ahead tenor chops on the opening title track by the pianist’s late brother, Thad. Switching to clarinet, he leaps and frolics through “It Had to Be You,” gently essays Billy Strayhorn’s “Passion Flower” and throws sparks on the frantic “Nagasaki,” as Jones strides with aplomb and Washington expertly keeps the hectic pace with brushes.


It’s back to the tenor sax for an absolutely beautiful version of the popular ballad “My One and Only Love.” Daniels is all over the horn, exhibiting his trademark burnished tone and deft fingering. Jones, age 87 at the time of this recording, contributes a subtly spectacular solo with consummate good taste.


Daniels and Jones co-penned the three-minute gem, “Why You…,” a clever and joyful romp for clarinet and piano duo. The easy swinging, lyrical Ellington tune “Azure,” is the perfect vehicle for clarinet, with the trio gracefully laying back. Clarinet is again the lead instrument on a mid-tempo version of Ray Noble’s “The Touch of Your Lips,” decorated by Jones’ stately keyboard contributions.


The tempo swings mightily on “You and the Night and the Music,” another showcase for Daniels’ tenor excursions and Jones’ stylish pianistics, with precision, stop-time trades with Washington. The clarinet leaps back in for “I’m Getting Sentimental over You” and Charlie Parker’s rumba-tinged tune “My Little Suede Shoes.” Acting as the closing bookend on the recording, Daniels’ brawny tenor returns one more time for an uptempo take on “How Deep is the Ocean,” with another brilliant solo by Jones.


While billed as The Eddie Daniels Quartet, the ensemble is immensely influenced by the presence of the masterful Mr. Jones, a significant contribution that Daniels acknowledges throughout. Despite more than 20 years difference in their ages, they prove a musically compatible team in a memorably executed session.





"Live in Tokyo," by Mingus Big BandLive in Tokyo

Sue Mingus Music/Sunnyside


By Tom Ineck


Formed 15 years ago to pay tribute to the music of the late, great composer, bass player and bandleader Charles Mingus, the Mingus Big Band continues to honor its namesake with a tough, aggressive and bluesy sound on “Live in Tokyo.” Recorded on New Year’s Eve 2005 at the Blue Note, it is the eighth release since the band’s recording debut in 1993 and the first on the Sue Mingus Music label, under the auspices of the composer’s widow.


Herein, the 14-piece ensemble reels off eight tunes by the master, including the hard-charging opener “Wham Bam,” a 50s vintage piece arranged by baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber. “Opus Four,” from the early ‘70s, is a typically complex Mingus chart, with stop-time shifts segueing into solo statements by trombonist Frank Lacy, trumpeter Eddie Henderson and pianist Dave Kikoski. Again delving into the 1950s Mingus songbook, the band presents Steve Slagle’s arrangement of the ballad “Celia” as a vehicle for alto saxophonist Craig Handy.


Cuber also contributed the arrangement for “Bird Calls,” which Mingus wrote in the 1950s as a bop tribute to Charlie “Bird” Parker. Beginning with band members vocally and instrumentally mimicking the tweets and squawks of tropical birds, it kicks into high gear with successive sax solos by Cuber, Seamus Blake on tenor, Handy on alto and Abraham Burton on alto. They trade in furious rotation, raising the ante with every round. Kikoski eventually dives into the fray for a stunning piano solo.


“Meditations” is a 10-minute tour de force of constantly shifting tempos and time signatures that perfectly exhibits the ensemble’s precision and dedication with beautiful and haunting brass voicing. It is fitting that the soulful “Prayer for Passive Resistance,” composed by Mingus in the ‘60s, was the last piece of music arranged by longtime band member and tenor saxophonist John Stubblefield, who died in July 2005. Wayne Escoffery masterfully takes the helm at tenor in Stubblefield’s absence.


Despite the implications of its gloomy title, “Free Cell Block F” is an upbeat tune featuring a sprightly flute solo by Handy and equally expressive statements by trombonists Conrad Herwig and Lacy and baritone saxophonist Cuber. Finally, Lacy takes the pulpit as preacher on the hell-raising “Ecclusiastics,” setting the stage for tenor sax workouts by Escoffery and Blake.


Drummer Johnathan Blake drives the entire proceedings with forceful precision. His powerful attack effectively drives the large ensemble. It is comforting for Mingus fans to know that more than 27 years after the composer’s death in 1979 his music continues to inspire faithfully fiery interpretations such as those captured by the superb musicians on “Live in Tokyo.” Long live Mingus!





"Plays for Lovers," by Royce CampbellPlays for Lovers

Moon Cycle Records


By Tom Ineck


A prolific, but underappreciated, mainstream jazz guitarist, Royce Campbell has released some 15 recordings of his own since his debut in 1990, most of them on small, independent labels, including five on his own Moon Cycle Records.


Originally released in 1999 under the title “Waltz for Debby” on the Japanese King Records label, “Plays for Lovers” is exactly the lush, romantic outing you would expect from its title. In addition to well-regarded romanticist Fred Hersch at the piano, the session boasts the great bassist Lynn Seaton, drummer Mark Wolfey and a classical ensemble of strings, brass and woodwinds that enhances the mood without intruding on the superb craftsmanship of the principal players.


The repertoire contains many of the usual suspects for a collection of romantic melodies—the gentle bossa nova “Estate,” the evergreen “Body and Soul,” Bill Evans classic “Waltz for Debby,” Johnny Mandel’s “A Time for Love,” Cole Porter’s “I Concentrate on You,” the well-worn standard “But Beautiful,” and the Gordon Jenkins ballad “This Is All I Ask,” famously covered by Tony Bennett, Nat Cole, Perry Como, and Frank Sinatra.


Tempos vary slightly from ballads to mid-tempo swingers, but always guided by Campbell’s light touch on the fretboard. “I Concentrate on You,” for example, swings for over nine minutes, while affording Campbell, Hersch and Seaton plenty of room to express themselves in solos and in trades with Wolfey. Most of the nine tracks average about five minutes each.


Campbell’s own compositions, “Sounds of Love” and “I Feel like We Have Met Before,” are ideally suited for the occasion. A gorgeous violin solo by Cathy Morris introduces the latter, segueing into a Hersch statement before the pianist turns it over to Campbell for a full statement of the theme, with Morris returning for a tender summation. 


The yearning “This Is All I Ask” is a delightful showcase for Campbell’s melodic talents and lyrical phrasing, guaranteed to make two lovers of friends. In fact, “Royce Campbell Plays for Lovers” is the perfect soundtrack for a cold winter’s night in front of the fire with someone near and dear.





"Action Plan," by Andrew VogtAction Plan

Drew’s Blues Records


By Butch Berman


I’ve known Andrew Vogt for more than a decade, and even in his early 20s he gave the appearance of an “action man.” Laid back, but hyped; a little drifty, but extremely focused; sensitive, yet intense. You knew he was headed somewhere, hence a plan.


He left Nebraska, woodshedded on the cruise ships, overcame a health setback, moved to Colorado, gigged a lot, recorded with the likes of Jason Hollar, and now—finally—put out a record under his own moniker. “Action Plan,” indeed.


It’s a nifty little CD packed with a bunch of great tunes penned by Andrew and played to perfection. It took me to the zone upon first listening, and, like an onion, it reveals all sorts of cool shit within the grooves upon repeated listening. I seem to like it more each time, and I dug it a whole bunch from the first sit-down.


Oh yeah…Andrew plays sax, all of ‘em, and a mean clarinet as well. This cat blows with a sound, clarity and delivery of a much older, more seasoned player. We both share a love for the late, great Art Pepper, and his spirit shines through his astounding reed work.  The cleverly titled “Art Peppershaker” showcases his fondness for Art, yet his style is all Andrew Vogt.


Andrew’s backed by a fine group of presumably Colorado pros featuring the tasteful touch of Mark Sloniker on the piano. Eric Applegate holds down the bass work tightly, along with drummer Mark Raynes, who combine to be a most able rhythm section. Rich Chiaraluce handles the other sax chair along with Kevin Whalen on trumpet, creating a superb frontline with Vogt. The double-clarinet performance by Andrew and Rick on “Fry Tin” is terrific. Andrew’s solo experience on the piano/sax duo “Never No Not Far” was stirring and simply lovely, as was Sloniker’s fluid accompaniment.


“Action Plan” was recorded at Notable Fine Audio in Denver by Colin Bricker, who created a most decent environment, capturing a wonderful, true jazz sound by all involved. Jeff Blume’s neat photo work and layout make “Action Plan” a must-have for 2007. Plan to take immediate action and go out and get it. Where? Go to  www.drewsblues.com for all the info and…all that jazz. 





"Thermal Strut," by Jay Lawrence TrioThermal Strut

OA2 Records


By Butch Berman


I get tons of recordings for review, and probably would not have gotten to this fine product if I hadn’t noticed two names that rang loud bells. I first encountered the master bassist Lynn Seaton while attending a Jamie Aebersold jazz clinic near Chicago several years ago. He’s an outgoing guy with a heart as big as his body, plus an immense talent to boot. His supple playing has astounded me ever since.


I heard and met pianist Tamir Hendelman with the Jeff Hamilton Trio when I was working the now-defunct Topeka Jazz Festival in Kansas and admired his chops greatly.  The drummer and leader of this group and session is Jay Lawrence. I had not been graced by his presence, nor heard his resounding, percussive style before. When you put these three cats together, look out. “Thermal Strut” is as incendiary as its title.


All the up-tempo tunes sizzle. Nobody can out do Cozy Cole on “Topsy,” but these top-notch players take it to another place that still captures the original magic of the “cozy” one. I was most blown away by their fab arrangement of The Beatles’ “You Can’t Do That” that almost romps and stomps itself off the CD player. It swings THAT hard!


No clunkers anywhere on this disc, as this album’s track list reads like a great night out on the town to hear really good jazz. A lovely take on Jimmy Rowles’ “Peacocks” ends this excursion on a sweet note, and nobody does Slam Stewart like Lynn Seaton, which kicks off this splendid piece of work on the opening title track. Yup…”Thermal Strut.” It’ll get you hot, and make you want to dance. Indeed.




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