CD Reviews


"Cool Yule," by the Hot Club of San FranciscoCool Yule

Azica Records


By Tom Ineck


Ole Saint Nick hops on the gypsy caravan for a swinging “Cool Yule” celebration of the season by the Hot Club of San Francisco.


Paul “Pazzo” Mehling leads the ensemble through a collection of mostly familiar holiday tunes, utilizing various configurations of the quintet and additional guest artists, creating a loose, party-like atmosphere of friends and musical colleagues. The core group consists of Mehling on guitars and vocals, Clint Baker on bass and trumpet, Evan “Zeppo” Price on violins, Jeff Magidson on rhythm guitar, bass and vocals, and Jason “Jubilation” Vanderford on rhythm guitar.


Mehling takes the lead vocal on Steve Allen’s opening title track, once a hip hit for Louis Armstrong. “Don Rodolfo” is a moody, Spanish-tinged take on that famous red-nosed reindeer, as arranged by Mehling. “Carol of the Bells” is combined with Vince Guaraldi’s “Skating” for a delightfully danceable rendition in waltz time, arranged by Price. The rhythm guitars keep the chunka-chunka beat going strong as the lead guitar and fiddle mix it up in tandem.


For the touchingly sentimental “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” the quintet is accompanied by the so-called Cool Yule Philharmonic, a string quartet with Evan and Deborah Tien Price, violins; Marcel Gemperli, violas; and Eric Gaenslen, celli. A hip addition to any Christmas collection, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” gets the full treatment with romantic banter by Isabelle Fontaine and Jeff Magidson. “Djingle Bells” is an obvious tip of the holiday hat to Django Reinhardt, the patron saint of Hot Clubs everywhere.


Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn had fun with Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite,” reimagining one movement as “Sugar Rum Cherry.” The Hot Club retains Duke’s bluesy take with guitar, bass, electric octave violin, trumpet and finger snaps. Members of the Cool Yule Philharmonic rejoin the quintet for a loving, respectful version of the Appalachian folk melody “I Wonder as I Wander.”


“March of the Toys” begins in stately march fashion before morphing into a joyous gypsy ramble when the slap-bass picks up the tempo and Mehling and Price go at it with gusto. The band is pared down to Le Jazz Hot Trio for a reverent ballad take on “The Christmas Song.” Mehling insinuates a tasteful lead on baritone guitar, with Magidson on rhythm guitar and Baker on bass.


The celebrative mood returns with “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” as Mehling sings and swings. As a closer for the year, “Auld Lang Syne” is always a bittersweet mix of sadness and joy. As a swinging closer for this session, the Hot Club exudes hopeful anticipation and good humor, referencing Reinhardt and quoting “O Tannenbaum.” After a long pause, the band returns briefly with a rapidly accelerating statement from “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”





"Jazzy Brass for the Holidays," by Eddie AllenJazzy Brass for the Holidays

DB Records


By Tom Ineck


Trumpeter Eddie Allen is the leader on “Jazzy Brass for the Holidays,” having arranged all 14 tunes, but he keeps a low profile along with the others, who include Cecil Bridgewater on trumpet, W. Marshall Sealy on French horn, Clark Gayton on trombone, Kenny Davis on bass and Carl Allen on drums and glockenspiel.


Together, they form a formidable ensemble, ideal for the brass chorale treatment of traditional Christmas favorites such as “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” the opener. Sealy and Gayton create a warm glow in the lower registers as Allen and Bridgewater soar overhead on their brighter, brassier instruments.


“Go Tell it On the Mountain” draws from the black spiritual tradition and is aptly soulful in its swinging mid-tempo, but Sealy ends his solo with a tentative resolution. Gayton delivers a strong trombone lead on “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” and the trumpets are triumphant in the swaggering manner of Wynton Marsalis on “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” A similar bluesy is apparent on “Away in a Manger.”


“What Child Is This?” features a flawless trumpet statement by Bridgewater, clearly the standout soloist of the entire session.


While the overall theme is religious, there are also four secular favorites. “Frosty the Snowman” and “Jingle Bells” (reversed in sequence on the CD cover) are given faithful treatments, and “Deck the Halls” is another highlight, though clocking in at just 1:36 minutes. On the other hand, “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow” allows Bridgewater and Gayton ample space for improvisation.


Brassy colors abound on “We Three Kings,” with a nice muted trumpet solo by Eddie Allen and spirited drum playing by Carl Allen. “Good King Wenceslas/Cool King Wenceslas” rocks with a back beat, while “Little Drummer Boy” marches to a different drummer with a Mardi Gras rhythm straight from the streets of New Orleans. “O Holy Night” closes the CD with a stately tone set by Sealy on French horn and carried through by Bridgewater on trumpet, Gayton on trombone and Allen on trumpet.


Despite its low-budget packaging, the absence of liner notes and occasional fluffed notes, “Jazzy Brass for the Holidays” is a decent addition to the holiday jazz genre.





"Have Yourself a Soulful Little Christmas," by Kenny BurrellHave Yourself a Soulful Little Christmas

Verve Records


By Tom Ineck


Guitarist Kenny Burrell’s “Have Yourself a Soulful Little Christmas” is one of those rare jazz holiday recordings that stands the test of time while avoiding cliché. Recorded in October 1966 and originally released on the Chicago-based Cadet label, it remains as fresh and moving as it was more than 40 years ago, thanks in large part to a 2003 digital transfer.


Burrell’s Wes Montgomery-inspired guitar is the star of the show here, accompanied by an orchestra of unidentified musicians conducted by Richard Evans. It all begins with a stunning version of “The Little Drummer Boy,” which was still a popular novelty tune in 1966, having become a huge hit just a few years earlier. Burrell’s playing builds in bluesy intensity as a bolero, the horns providing powerful punctuation behind his soulful outpouring of notes.


“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” on the other hand, adheres to a more traditional ballad take, with lush strings backing Burrell’s tender and tasteful sentimentality. Burrell begins similarly on “My Favorite Things” until the tempo accelerates and the horns enter with brio. He then matches their spirited attack note for note, eventually breaking away for a driving solo statement.


Perhaps the most moving track is the lullaby, “Away in a Manger,” with subtle strings accompanying Burrell’s acoustic-sounding chording. “Mary’s Little Boy Chile’” goes Caribbean, complete with added percussion. Teamed with a piano trio, also nameless, Burrell’s playing is simplicity incarnate on “White Christmas.” The melody is largely stated with chords enhanced with brief single-note runs.


“God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” is performed as a gentle jazz waltz, with Burrell’s fret-board octaves set off by some very impressive drumming and backed by a string section. Woodwinds and vibes set the stage for an absolutely gorgeous version of “The Christmas Song,” which swings uptempo briefly before returning to a ballad. The traditional gospel tune “Children, Go Where I Send Thee” gets the full soul treatment with Hammond B-3, shouting horns, rocking drums and tambourine as Burrell soars with soulful inspiration.


Burrell’s guitar is paired with piano on a loping “Silent Night,” giving it a country-gospel feel that would have been perfect for Ray Charles. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” swings on the strength of a walking bass, lively drumming and Burrell’s brilliant fretwork. The finale is “Merry Christmas, Baby,” leaving the listener with no delusions that this recording is anything but a very soulful holiday celebration.


For those of us with failing eyesight, the original liner notes are reproduced in large print on a separate insert.





"Late Night Christmas Eve," by Scott HamiltonLate Night Christmas Eve: Romantic Sax with Strings

Concord Records


By Tom Ineck


Since its original release in 1997 under the title "Christmas Love Song," this gorgeous, hour-long Yuletide tribute by tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton has never been far from my sound system during the holiday season. It is especially recommended for late-night listening.


Hamilton’s lush, breathy tone is custom-made for ballad treatments of such classics as “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Christmas Waltz,” “Greensleeves (What Child Is This?),” “White Christmas,” and Johnny Mandel's lesser-known "Christmas Love Song." When given the sweeping backdrop of the London String Ensemble, arranged and conducted by jazz pianist Alan Broadbent, the sound is simply sublime.


Woodwinds and French horn are added on several tunes, including “The Christmas Song,” “Little Drummer Boy,” “Winter Wonderland,” and “Bell Carol Blues,” a spirited take on “Carol of the Bells.”


Broadbent, bassist Dave Green, guitarist Dave Cliff and drummer Allan Ganley also figure prominently, accompanying Hamilton with grace and aplomb. Their playing is subtle but noteworthy on mid-tempo numbers like “Little Drummer Boy,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and “Bell Carol Blues,” the sole swinger in this collection.


"Christmas Love Song," by Scott Hamilton, originally released in 1997As always, Hamilton’s playing is remarkable for its restraint and good taste. His burry tone, well-paced phrasing and gentle improvisations are perfect for the ballad treatments that predominate here.


For the record, "Late Night Christmas Eve: Romantic Sax with Strings” is a repackaged and re-released 2000 version of 1997's "Christmas Love Song." Presumably, it was re-issued simply to take advantage of the new, more provocative title. No matter what you call it, it remains good holiday listening.





"Jingle Bell Jam: Jazz Christmas Classics," by Various ArtistsJingle Bell Jam: Jazz Christmas Classics

Rhino Records


By Tom Ineck


Fifteen years after its initial release in 1994, “Jingle Bell Jam” remains one of the best Christmas jazz anthologies ever produced. Given the involvement of Rhino Records—the most ambitious cross-licensing label out there—that’s no surprise. The result is a pretty definitive, 18-track single-disc collection of Yuletide jazz.


The recording dates range from 1948 to 1990—with most tracks coming from the 1960s—but the sequencing was dictated by listening pleasure rather than strict chronology. From pianist Duke Pearson’s 1969 version of “Sleigh Ride,” we move to Vince Guaraldi’s iconic “Christmas Time Is Here” from 1967, and then to trumpeter Chet Baker’s rollicking bop take on “Winter Wonderland,” recorded in 1953.


From 1990 comes Carmen McRae’s “The Christmas Song,” with Clifford Jordan on tenor sax and Shirley Horn at the piano. That leads to “Deck the Halls,” a 1964 recording by the Bobby Timmons Trio, a medley of seasonal tunes recorded by The Swingle Singers in 1968, Duke Ellington’s 1962 big band rumble on “Jingle Bells,” and Lou Rawls crooning baritone on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” from 1967.


Pianist David Benoit updated “Carol of the Bells,” recorded in 1983, leads us back to “Good Morning Blues,” a track from Ella Fitzgerald’s 1960 Christmas collection, followed by Booker T & the MGs and their soulful rendition of “Merry Christmas, Baby” from 1966, Louis Jordan and the band with a Teddy Edwards original “Santa Claus, Santa Claus,” recorded in 1968, and alto saxophonist Charlie Parker wailing on “White Christmas,” a rare recording taped during a live performance on Christmas Day 1948 at The Royal Roost in New York City.


We leap from the ‘40s to the ‘90s for “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus,” a 1990 recording by the a cappella group Inner Voices, then to the Modern Jazz Quartet for their stately reading of “England’s Carol #1,” recorded during a live performance in Lenox. Mass., in 1956, and from there to a 1970 recording of “The Christmas Song” by tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon, accompanied by pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Larry Ridley and drummer Alan Dawson.


With Christmas given its due, the last two tracks look ahead to the New Year. Saxophonist King Curtis (with Duane Allman on guitar) offers a soul-drenched 1968 rendition of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” and the recording is topped off with the Roy Kral-Jackie Cain Sextet doing “Auld Lang Syne,” from 1949.


With liner notes by Will Friedwald, complete recording and personnel data and a re-mastering job that minimizes the recording disparities of the original tapes, “Jingle Bell Jam: Jazz Christmas Classics” is, indeed, a Christmas gift that keeps on giving.





"Piety Street," by John ScofieldPiety Street

EmArcy Records


By Tom Ineck


At least since he hired New Orleans drummer Johnny Vidacovich for his 1989 recording “Flat Out,” guitarist John Scofield has frequently displayed a penchant for the sounds and rhythms of the Crescent City. That inclination arrives full-blown from the first notes of his latest release, “Piety Street.”


This time, the New Orleans City vibe is informed by the traditions of gospel music, but you don’t have to be a born-again Christian to enjoy the soulful nature of this enterprise. Recorded at Piety Street Studios in the Big Easy, it veritably reeks of that city’s long musical tradition, steeped as it is in elements of the blues, jazz, soul, country and the island rhythms of the Caribbean.  


Like 2005’s “That’s What I Say: John Scofield Plays the Music of Ray Charles,” the guitarist has chosen to augment his distinctive fretwork with guest musicians and singers befitting the occasion. Most notable is the significant presence of Jon Cleary on vocals, piano and organ. Cleary’s rough-hewn voice perfectly conveys the yearning and redemptive spirit of “That’s Enough,” “Motherless Child,” “Just a Little While to Stay Here” and “Walk With Me.”


Also making important contributions to the overall sound are George Porter Jr. on bass, Ricky Fataar on drums, John Boutte on vocals and Shannon Powell on tambourine and drums. For full gospel-choir effect, everyone joins in backing vocals and hand-clapping as The Hard Regulators.


Most of the 13 tracks are drawn from the annals of the gospel tradition, but Scofield adds to that tradition with his compositions “It’s a Big Army” and “But I Like the Message.” The former is a rousing gospel march with guitar and piano playing the roles of call-and-response preacher and congregation. “Message” is a soulful instrumental strut.


Among the familiar classics of the genre are “His Eye is On the Sparrow,” Thomas Dorsey’s songs “The Old Ship of Zion” and “Never Turn Back,” Rev. James Cleveland’s “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” and the traditional “I’ll Fly Away.” One of the most moving interpretations is Scofield’s version of “The Angel of Death,” a country classic by Hank Williams. At nearly seven minutes, it is the emotional centerpiece of the project, with an absolutely hair-raising vocal by Cleary.


At any tempo, Scofield digs into these numbers with a passion. Utilizing the wah-wah and his usual bag of sonic tricks, he wrenches every morsel of the blues from them, squeezing off notes and bending strings as if vocalizing the lyrics—and lyrical improvisations—with his guitar.





"4A," by Moody4A

IPO Recordings


By Tom Ineck


In its hip shorthand, “4A” speaks volumes, and the artist identified simply as Moody needs no introduction. It is the first release of a stellar James Moody quartet captured in two recording sessions on consecutive days.


Moody, age 83 at the time of this July 2008 recording, remains in top form, his phenomenal breath control, keen harmonic sense, melodic invention and sly wit intact. And he is more than ably accompanied by pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Todd Coolman and drummer Lewis Nash.


Nash unexpectedly kicks off “Secret Love” at a medium march tempo that indicates much fun will be had by all. Moody’s own solo statements brim with humor, tossing off quotes from “On the Trail” and “Bebop” while keeping the mood relaxed. Barron and Coolman contribute brief by sterling solos before Nash returns with military precision.


Barron’s classic “Voyage,” a favorite of Stan Getz, Phil Woods and other reed men, inspires the best from all. The tune’s odd chord changes invite harmonic experimentation. “Round Midnight” gets yet another reverent ballad reading, with everyone fully engaged in its overt romanticism. The rhythm section swings uptempo with assurance on “Without a Song,” allowing Moody to stretch his bop chops.


Another familiar favorite, “Stella By Starlight,” gets a sprightly Latin treatment. “East of the Sun” is a gorgeous duet between Moody and Barron, perhaps the highlight of the entire CD. It reminds this listener of “People Time,” a collection of live, profoundly beautiful duets between Barron and Getz shortly before the saxophonist’s death in 1991.


Moody pays his respects to another saxophonist with “Stablemates,” a Benny Golson standard taken uptempo. The quartet offers its farewell in waltz time with “Bye Bye Blackbird,” on which Moody turns up the heat in a blazing romp, both Barron and Coolman deliver brilliant solos and Moody returns for a coda. 


Needless to say, we await “4B” with much anticipation.





"Since Forever," by Fred SimonSince Forever

Naim Jazz


By Tom Ineck


Pianist Fred Simon’s keyboard style has been unfairly labeled “fusion” or “new age,” with all of the negative connotations those narrow confines imply. His lyrical touch and keen melodic sense transcend the merely meditative, and his original tunes haunt the memory without ever seeming trite.


Simon’s latest release, “Since Forever” has been haunting me for several weeks now. I find myself returning to it day after day, always discovering some subtle rhythmic change or some exquisite harmonic phrase that I had missed the last time. Conversely, his tunes often sound timeless on first hearing. That is a true composer’s natural gift and a listener’s delight.


Over a period of 30 years, Simon’s musical associations have ranged from guitarists Larry Coryell, Ralph Towner and Fareed Haque to violinist Jerry Goodman, bassists Steve Rodby and Michael Manring and reed virtuoso Paul McCandless. For his latest, he again taps some of his longtime cohorts, creating a seamlessly cohesive quartet that also features McCandless, Rodby and drummer Mark Walker.


“Since Forever” has an elegiac quality. In fact, three of the 12 tracks are memorials. Yet, the recording eschews cheap, maudlin sentimentality for a more profound, sadness-tinged celebration of life. The title track, a gorgeous anthem for folksinger and social activist Pete Seeger, is a well-earned tribute to a living American hero.


Simon and McCandless work so well in unison, it’s hard to tell them apart sometimes. On “No War Nowhere,” with McCandless on soprano sax, they simultaneously play the joyous melody, and then go their separate ways for solo statements. Rodby and Walker are perfectly in synch with the tune’s shifting time signature.


Simon pays homage to his late sister with “Even in the Evening,” on which McCandless weaves intricate English horn lines against dark piano chords, sustained by a bass ostinato and flashing cymbals. “I Know You Know” is a tantalizing jazz waltz with an irresistible melody that sends McCandless soaring on soprano.


The sole non-original tune is “In a Silent Way,” included as a memorial to its composer, Joe Zawinul. It is a hard to imagine a more touching tribute. “More Often Than Not” is a memorial to friend Patti McKenny, a Chicago playwright who died of a heart ailment in June 2008, at age 57. “Simple Psalm” is a new version of a tune first heard on a Windham Hill recording many years ago. Walker and Rodby are allowed some very free playing as Simon and McCandless, on oboe, adhere to the simple folk melody.


“Same Difference” is a piano-soprano sax duet with yet another memorable, haunting melody. Rodby is featured on “Ways of Seeing,” exploring the bass’ harmonic range from top to bottom in counterpoint to the piano, oboe and soprano sax. “What’s the Magic Word?” is a delightfully uptempo ramble. Simon infuses a Middle Eastern sound on “Song of the Sea,” with McCandless adding to the mood on the duduk, English horn and soprano sax.


At nearly 64 minutes, “Since Forever” is a generous offering from underappreciated composer and pianist Fred Simon.





"QSF Plays Brubeck," by Quartet San FranciscoQSF Plays Brubeck

ViolinJazz Recordings


By Tom Ineck


A classical string quartet playing the music of Dave Brubeck? Sure, why not? It’s no stranger than the Kronos Quartet paying tribute to the music of Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans on classic recordings that iconoclastic foursome made more than 20 years ago. In fact, given Brubeck’s own classical influences and proclivities, it makes perfect sense.


Quartet San Francisco’s approach is adventurous, while remaining true to the original tunefulness and wit of Brubeck’s familiar melodies. It is immediately apparent that violinists Jeremy Cohen and Alisa Rose, violist Keith Lawrence and cellist Michelle Djokic bring the requisite technique and sense of humor to the project, injecting flights of fancy throughout the opener, the lilting “Three to Get Ready.”


“Strange Meadowlark,” the longest track at nearly eight minutes, yearns with the somber beauty and romanticism of its title, but the QSF shows its willingness to improvise with pizzicato passages, unconventional counterpoint and imaginative harmonies. A sawing rhythmic groove kicks off “The Golden Horn” and eventually shifts it into jazzy overdrive. In a delightful arrangement by Brubeck’s son, Matt, the quartet teases with Ellington quotes—“Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” “I’ve Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good”)—before launching into “The Duke.”


Of course, no Brubeck tribute would be complete without a rendition of “Take Five,” which was actually written by alto saxophonist Paul Desmond during his halcyon days with the quartet. While the others keep the rhythmic riff pulsing, a violin soars high above before returning the theme to the cellist. A brisk waltz tempo enters more than a minute into “Kathy’s Waltz,” keeping the listener on his proverbial toes in three-quarter anticipation.


The centerpiece here is the virtuosic “Blue Rondo a La Turk,” with its driving tempo, interweaving lines, alternating themes and soulful solo improvisations as the QSF morphs into a blues band. The more obscure “Bluette” is a gorgeous ensemble piece of delicate beauty and grace. Another highlight is the brief foray into hillbilly jazz with “Unsquare Dance.” Ragtime also gets its due with a spirited reading of the Brubeck classic “It’s a Raggy Waltz.”


“Forty Days” is another workout for the entire ensemble, with beautiful harmonies and a haunting melody line. The CD ends somewhat oddly with a lovely take on the Christmas chestnut “What Child Is This?”


Brubeck himself gives this project his stamp of approval. “I got a kick out of hearing these talented musicians interpret my music in such an inventive way,” he writes inside the CD jacket. “It’s an honor for a composer to have his music re-visited by a group such as Quartet San Francisco.” We concur.





Dedicated To You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman

"Dedicated To You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman," by Kurt EllingConcord Jazz


By Tom Ineck


Much as Karrin Allyson in recent years paid homage to Coltrane’s classic “Ballads” release of 1962, singer Kurt Elling here turns his attention to the timeless “John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman” LP of the following year. To the top-notch rhythm section of pianist Laurence Hobgood, bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Ulysses Owens, he adds tenor saxophone great Ernie Watts and a string quartet and performs it for a live audience at Lincoln Center in New York. The result is magical.


First commissioned by the 2006 Chicago Jazz Festival for the commemoration of Coltrane’s 80th birthday, Elling’s tribute is a brilliantly paced program that pays its respects to the iconic recording while adding something of its own to the story.


The original recording lasted only 31 minutes in six tracks, so Elling and arranger-pianist Hobgood added several other standards often associated with Coltrane, most notably the opening “All or Nothing at All,” on which Watts demonstrates his own original sound, never attempting to mimic the master.


Elling’s penchant for dramatic spoken interludes is well served as he sets the scene of the March 1963 Coltrane-Hartman session with “A Poetic Jazz Memory,” a historical narrative—with lush string accompaniment—that increases our anticipation for what follows. It documents the fact that although the two principals had met only the week before, their combined masterpiece would be completed in just three hours, with no charts and no rehearsal. Most tunes were recorded in one take.


The story introduces a medley that begins with a rambunctious rendition of the song “Dedicated to You,” featuring an outstanding piano solo by Hobgood. Pizzicato strings embellish the tune with bright percussive flashes. Watts returns for a lush instrumental version of “What’s New,” another addition to the original program and a perfect segue into Billy Strayhorn’s mournful “Lush Life.” Elling and Hobgood state the opening verse before the rest of the band enters. The singer is especially impressive as he soars into a beautifully controlled falsetto. The medley ends with Watts creating an appropriately nocturnal mood on “Autumn Serenade.”


“Say it (Over and Over Again)” is another great vehicle for Watts’ controlled power and improvisational skills as he caresses the romantic ballad with an extended solo, setting the stage for Elling’s own vocal magic. The rhythm section proclaims “They Say It’s Wonderful” with swaggering confidence, and Hobgood delivers another stunning solo.


A second medley begins with “My One and Only Love,” as Elling’s voice pairs off with the string quartet in a call-and-response dialogue. It segues nicely into a smoothly swaying “Nancy with the Laughing Face.” After thanks to all, Elling and company finish with one of the most memorable songs from the Coltrane-Hartman recording, “You Are Too Beautiful.”   


By nature, Elling’s voice is pitched higher than Hartman’s smoky bass-baritone, but he is capable of sliding easily through several octaves. It may not have seemed a likely project, but it retrospect it works beautifully. Elling has scored another triumph.





"Mosaic," by Kendra Shank QuartetMosaic

Challenge Records


By Tom Ineck


“Mosaic” is the latest leg in Kendra Shank’s spiritual journey through music. Unlike her previous release, 2007’s “A Spirit Free”—a very focused, ambitious and loving homage to Abbey Lincoln—she returns to a more varied menu of jazz standards, originals and even a pop tune by Carole King.


As always, the constant here is Shank’s outstanding ensemble, longtime bandmates Frank Kimbrough on piano, Dean Johnson on bass and Tony Moreno on drums, plus the versatile reed playing of Billy Drewes and the guitar shadings of Ben Monder. Shank’s fidelity to this same lineup has paid off in an uncanny compatibility and flawless interplay, despite (of because of) its penchant for risk-taking. For Shank’s take on the new release, see the interview I conducted with her elsewhere in this newsletter.


It’s hard to imagine a more compelling opener than King’s “So Far Away,” a touching interpretation of the pop classic raised to new heights by the sensitive playing of all, including an absolutely gorgeous clarinet solo by Drewes. Shank’s ability to plumb the emotional depth of such a timeworn tune is only one of her many strengths. She fearlessly improvises on Cedar Walton’s “Mosaic,” here titled “Life’s Mosaic,” with lyrics by John and Paula Hackett. Drewes turns in a sinuous solo, followed by Monder’s own soaring solo excursion. Moreno also leads the rhythm section on a sonic adventure.


Rather than the conventional approach to the standard “Blue Skies,” Shank and company slowly enter the melody from an improvised introduction the singer calls “Reflections in Blue.” Again, the technique allows listeners to re-imagine the familiar Irving Berlin song. Similarly, the old warhorse “Smile,” with music by Charlie Chaplin, is given a new lease on life by marrying it to the more upbeat “Laughing at Life.”


Johnny Mandel’s lovely ballad “The Shining Sea,” with lyrics by Peggy Lee, gets a reverent, but fully engaging treatment, with Kimbrough accompanying with lush chords. In another medley, the mystic verse of Rumi entitled “Water from the Spring” is used to draw new meaning from another standard, Victor Young’s “Beautiful Love.” Beginning and ending with a rhythmically free section, the music seems to ebb and flow as naturally as the spring water of the title.


One of the most beautiful new compositions on the CD is the ballad “For Duke,” with music by Kimbrough and poetic lyrics by the pianist’s wife, Maryanne de Prophetis. Shank handles the tune with great sensitivity and respect, and it is made even more profound by an extended piano solo. Shank freely expresses all the joy and surrender inherent in Cole Porter’s “All of You,” and the band responds with equal delight, especially in Johnson’s whimsical bass solo.


“Time Remembered,” one of Bill Evans’ most evocative ballads, gets an inspired reading by all. Shank caresses the lyric by P. Lewis, Kimbrough and Drewes (on clarinet) engage in an inspired musical dialogue, and Monder’s signature guitar tone helps to create a dream-like mood. Kirk Nurock composed the last two tracks, the mid-tempo waltz “I’m Movin’ On,” with lyrics by Judy Niemack, and “I’ll Meet You There,” with lyrics that Nurock adapted from Rumi.


With “Mosaic,” Shank and her compatriots have created another sterling example of the jazz artist’s craft at its most technically accomplished and most emotionally revealing.





"Early Reflections," by The Bennie Maupin QuartetEarly Reflections

Cryptogramophone Records


By Tom Ineck


With “Early Reflections,” reed virtuoso Bennie Maupin continues a comeback as leader that began with 2006’s “Penumbra,” also on the Cryptogramophone label. This time, Maupin takes his sublime artistry in a new, evocative direction.


Indeed, Maupin takes it all the way to Warsaw, Poland, where he assembled a quartet that also features pianist Michal Tokaj, bassist Michal Baranski and drummer Lukasz Zyta, with wordless vocalizing of Hania Chowaniec-Rybka gracing two tracks. The group toured together for two years before retiring to the studio, and the rapport is evident.


A seamlessly organic whole of nearly 80 minutes duration, the music simultaneously evokes the mystery of Poland’s natural beauty and the melancholy spirit of its people. With only a few exceptions, the tempos are largely downbeat, but the playing by Maupin on bass clarinet, tenor and soprano saxes and alto flute seems to rise out of the ether in hopeful aspiration. With backgrounds in classical music as well as jazz improvisation, the accompanying trio of players is unfailingly sympathetic.


The mood is intimate and introspective. On the lovely “Escondido,” Maupin, on bass clarinet, pairs off with Baranski in a warm and woody dialogue. “Ours Again” is a brooding duet between Maupin’s tenor and Tokaj’s carefully chosen notes. Maupin’s alto flute is a perfectly mournful foil for the keyboard explorations of the pianist’s sole composition, “Tears.” The composer is allowed ample space to state the melody, and Baranski contributes a bracing bass solo.


Especially potent is the 10-minute, surging modal rendition of “The Jewel in the Lotus,” with Maupin on soprano in his most yearning Coltrane-influenced style. It is a lovely reprise of the title track from Maupin’s 1974 recording, recently re-issued on ECM Records. The title track bounces along on Maupin’s supple soprano and the steady lope of the rhythm section. “Inner Sky” is an exquisitely realized depiction of nature’s parading pageantry, with Maupin painting the landscape on tenor sax.


Best-known for his work in the late ‘60s with Miles Davis and in the early ‘70s with Herbie Hancock, Maupin’s reputation for avant-garde abstraction re-emerges briefly on the group improvisations “Within Reach,” “Inside the Shadows,” “Black Ice” and “Not Later than Now.” “Prophet’s Motifs” fuses the blues with a clever wit, as Maupin gets down and funky on bass clarinet.


“ATMA” and the haunting closer, “Spirits of the Tatras” feature Chowaniec-Rybka, a popular practitioner of both opera and the Polish folk tradition. Having traveled by midnight train through the Tatra Mountains from Krakow en route to Budapest more than a decade ago, I can testify to the authenticity of the spirits evoked here.


The very satisfying music of “Early Reflections” is emotionally complex, but delivered with directness and a startling simplicity that make it vital and alive.





"King Crimson Songbook, Vol. 2," by Crimson Jazz TrioKing Crimson Songbook, Vol. 2

Inner Knot Records


By Tom Ineck


Forty years on, the music of King Crimson shows no signs of age, despite an apparent recording hiatus since the group’s 2003 release, “The Power to Believe.” In the interim, however, the Crimson Jazz Trio—pianist Jody Nardone, bassist Tim Landers and drummer Ian Wallace—has filled the void admirably with its exciting reinterpretations of Crimson classics.


“King Crimson Songbook, Vol. 2” is the long-awaited follow-up to the group’s 2005 debut, which was reviewed here. In all likelihood, it will be the last volume, as Wallace died in February 2007 after a brief battle with cancer. What remains of this bold experiment, however, are two masterpieces of the art of improvisation. Both are excellent jazz takes on a progressive rock monolith that continues to defy convention.


If possible, the second volume is even more adventurous and stimulating than the first. “The Court of the Crimson King” virtually seethes with energy, largely generated by Wallace’s astounding percussion work. It is further propelled by Nardone’s surging keyboard attack and Landers’ slippery bass lines. “Pictures of a City,” from KC’s second album, “In the Wake of Poseidon,” expands on the original’s rhythmic complexity, shifting easily from a loping tempo to the skittering bop beat of a run-away train.


The tempo slows briefly for “One Time,” from 1995’s brilliant comeback record “Thrak.” But, as though unable to repress their enthusiasm, Nardone, Landers and Wallace soon lock into a lilting Latin pulse, then turn it over to Landers for a lyrical solo on the fretless five-string bass. KC alumnus Mel Collins is featured on soprano sax on a blazing rendition of “Frame By Frame,” from 1981’s “Discipline.” Also from “Thrak” comes “Inner Garden,” a ballad on which Nardone sings the Adrian Belew lyrics with great beauty and feeling.


“Heartbeat,” from 1982’s “Beat,” is a nifty jazz waltz that showcases Nardone’s propulsive piano style, which rocks and swings simultaneously. It also features some inspired drum breaks by Wallace. The session’s centerpiece is “Islands Suite,” which draws its inspiration from the 1971 album, “Islands.” It allows every participant to express himself—from “Press Gang,” Wallace’s introductory solo focusing on floor toms and cymbals, to Nardone’s brief but lovely “Zero Dark Thirty,” to the group explorative theme of “Formentera Lady,” with Collins on tenor saxophone, which segues neatly into “Sailor’s Tale” and ends with an exquisite solo by Landers called “Plank.”


“Lament,” from the 1974 masterpiece “Starless and Bible Black,” is a fitting finale. The first half of the tune swings gently with Wallace on brushes and Landers’ moaning bass capturing the bittersweet nature of the tune. The second half moves uptempo to a stirring Latin beat with Wallace firmly in the driver’s seat, ending on a positive note. If there is a way to keep CJ3 alive after the passing of its guiding light, we heartily support the idea.





"Live in Italy," by the Seamus Blake QuartetLive in Italy

Jazz Eyes Records


By Tom Ineck


Seamus Blake is an inventive tenor saxophonist who has been flying under the radar for several years, despite his move to New York City in 1992. A native of Vancouver, B.C., who attended Berklee College in Boston, he first recorded with Victor Lewis on the drummer’s 1992 release, “Know It Today, Know It Tomorrow” and has subsequently worked with guitarist John Scofield, pianists Kevin Hays and Darrell Grant, drummer Billy Drummond and the Mingus Big Band.


With the double-disc “Live in Italy,” Blake, 37, boldly steps out in extended live performances with his quartet, also featuring pianist David Kikoski, bassist Danton Boller and drummer Rodney Green. It was recorded in Palermo, Senigallia and Cesenatico in February 2007.


The excitement level is infectious from the first tune, Blake’s “The Jupiter Line,” on which he tastefully employs electronic gadgetry to create the effect of a horn soaring into outer space. Similarly on the funky “Way Out of Willy,” he uses a wah-wah pedal, reminding the listener of Eddie Harris’ soulful excursions of the late 1960s. Kikoski contributes a bluesy solo, while Boller and Green maintain the groove throughout.


The second movement of Claude Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor is the inspiration for a gorgeous ballad performance. Blake and Kikoski lock in unison as Boller and Green provide free, but sensitive embellishments. The tempo shifts upward for a while before returning to its initial, meditative mood. Blake’s “Fear of Roaming” is a pensive modal piece that sets sax and piano against a lively bass line. Boller eventually settles into a bluesy walk.


Ellington’s “The Feeling of Jazz” sways gently as Blake weaves brilliant double-time passages throughout. Kikoski restates the tune’s bluesy, swinging simplicity, and then builds on the theme with his own rhythmic and harmonic ideas. Kikoski’s “Spacing” is an aptly named exploration into the stratosphere, launched with a freely improvised piano solo and continuing with uptempo energy and witty exchanges by all.


“Ladeirinha” is a ballad in waltz time by Brazilian composer Djavan. Blake’s tenor again steps up the intensity with double-time statements against Kikoski’s steady comping, Boller keeping a steady bass pulse and Green expressing more artistic freedom. Blake telegraphs key phrases of the familiar melody of “Darn That Dream” in an extended solo sax introduction before settling down to a true ballad tempo. Never content simply to state the theme or dwell on the changes, he soon takes flight in a wonderful solo excursion over the always-reliable rhythm section. Kikoski and Boller also contribute extended solo statements.


“Dance Me Home” is a bluesy, typically angular John Scofield tune that serves as a fitting finale to this lively live set. Kikoski is especially exciting here, as he digs deep into the groove with Boller and Green urging him on. Blake ups the ante with a spiraling solo that seems to take off in several different directions simultaneously. Pretty heady stuff!


With nine tracks ranging from eight minutes to more than 17 minutes in length, these two generous CDs are an excellent and very satisfying approximation of a complete concert performance by the Seamus Blake Quartet. It is highly recommended for adventurous jazz fans.





"Courageous Hearts," by Towner GalaherCourageous Hearts

Towner Galaher Music


By Tom Ineck


“Courageous Hearts” picks up where drummer Towner Galaher’s debut recording left off. “Panorama” was reviewed in the July 2007 edition of the BMF newsletter. Again, Galaher’s star-studded ensemble turns in a set of straight-ahead hard bop that is worth celebrating.


The instrumentation is similar to the earlier session, adding only trombone (the great Fred Wesley) to a lineup that also consists of tenor sax (Craig Handy), trumpet (Brian Lynch), piano (George Colligan), and bass (Charles Fambrough, the only holdover). On four tracks, the rhythmic urgency is bolstered by percussionists Gabriel Machado and Ze Mauricio. 


Like “Panorama,” the new CD features strong tunes with intricate horn arrangements that make the most of the band’s talented front line. All but two of the nine tunes are Galaher originals, and they are presented in precise performances averaging about four minutes each. The title track virtually leaps from the disc with a swinging intensity reminiscent of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, an undeniable influence on Galaher. On their solos, Lynch and Handy establish their formidable technique and brimming soul.


Likewise, the uptempo “Boogaloobop” features Wesley’s fat tone and soul-jazz inclinations, but it also is a showcase for Colligan’s keyboard improvisations and Fambrough’s versatile, shape-shifting bass line. “Second Line Samba” describes itself well, combining the polyrhythmic influences of both New Orleans and Rio in a heady, hard-driving brew.


Galaher slows the tempo to a gently lope and switches to mallets as he concentrates on floor toms and cymbals on the beautiful “Winter Sunrise.” Wesley, Colligan and Handy make brief but stirring statements before the band returns to the head and the leader finishes with a drum coda. Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House” gets a heated workout with unison horns setting up a clever rhythmic device that cues solos by Lynch, Colligan and Handy—all in less than four minutes.


“April 28th” shuffles along with the relaxed grace of a jazz waltz, creating side passages for Handy, Lynch, and Colligan to weave their magic in solos and group interplay. “Londel’s” is a gorgeous, soulful ballad that showcases Wesley’s gospel shouts and slides. The title theme is briefly reprised on “Courageous Hearts (Rhythm of Victory)” before the whole project comes to a glorious conclusion with the Mongo Santamaria classic “Afro Blue,” a great vehicle for everyone. The only track that extends beyond seven minutes, it includes well-developed solos by Wesley, Lynch, and Colligan and stellar percussion work by Galaher and Machado. Indeed, the band continues to percolate as the track fades, leaving the listener wanting more.





"One Way/Detour," by Bob AlbaneseOne Way/Detour

Zoho Music


A relative unknown, pianist Bob Albanese impresses mightily as composer and player on his Zoho Music debut, “One Way/Detour.” He moves comfortably between a post-bop, mainstream style and an infectious Latin tinge. His often-complex, percussive pianistics are ably accompanied by bassist Tom Kennedy and drummer Willard Dyson, and six of the 10 tracks are further enhanced by the presence of the versatile Ira Sullivan on tenor and soprano saxes, alto flute and percussion.


Albanese’s technique is immediately established with the quirky opener, “Major Minority,” as he explores all the permutations of a melodic minor scale. Rescued from the dustbin of swing history is “Yesterday’s Gardenias,” once associated with Glenn Miller. Here it gets a thorough brushing-off with Sullivan on tenor sax still swaggering at age 76. The title track, “One Way/Detour,” is a devilishly difficult stop-time burner that, aptly, seems to be moving in opposite directions simultaneously.


One of my personal favorite here is the surging samba “Morning Nocturne,” with beautiful chord changes, a pulsating bass line and sizzling percussion by Dyson, with help from Sullivan. Albanese couples a lilting left-hand with skittering right-hand improvisations on “Joyful Noise,” another Latin jazz winner which also features a wonderful bass solo and impressive press rolls by Dyson.


Sullivan returns on alto flute to produce a lush, warm tone on the gorgeous rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “Ugly Beauty.” Albanese’s solo is brief and understated, so this is a superb showpiece for Sullivan. “Waiting for Louis” is a bright, snappy tune written as Albanese waited for his son to be born. The composer notes that he had plenty of time to perfect the tune, as his wife remained in labor for almost two days!


Another gem is the brilliant pairing of Albanese with Sullivan, on soprano sax, for the ballad standard “Midnight Sun.” These masterful musicians take their time in a dialogue that alternates between unison lines, call-and-response, harmonic invention and even some well-placed discord. Albanese creates shimmering, cascading lines as a lovely counterpoint to Sullivan’s melodic improvisations. Two combined takes of “Friendly Fire” end the session with nearly 14 minutes of fast-paced group interplay and solo expression. Sullivan’s burnished tone on tenor sax gives the extended piece plenty of authority.    


The Zoho Music label has ascended rapidly to the top echelon of jazz record companies, with an impressive roster of jazz artists, particularly in the mainstream and Latin jazz genres. Founded in 2003 by veteran music producer Joachim Becker, it is the home of the excellent Dave Stryker-Steve Slagle Band, saxophonist Dave Liebman, percussionist Ray Barretto, harmonica virtuoso Hendrik Meurkens, Arturo O’Farrill and his Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, guitarist Carlos Barbosa-Lima and others. To that impressive list can now be added Bob Albanese and “One Way/Detour.”





"Mosaic," by The Blue Note 7Mosaic: A Celebration of Blue Note Records

Blue Note Records


By Tom Ineck


It is rare when a clever marketing ploy to sell CDs and concert tickets also results in a high-quality product capable of standing alone as a work of great creativity and artistic integrity. So it is with “Mosaic,” a brilliant project conceived to celebrate Blue Note’s 70th anniversary as one of the premier jazz labels.


Released in January, the recording brings together a septet of today’s leading proponents of post-bop jazz—Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Steve Wilson on alto sax and flute, Ravi Coltrane on tenor sax, Peter Bernstein on guitar, Bill Charlap on piano, Peter Washington on bass and Lewis Nash on drums. Nash, the eldest, was born in 1958, about the time that many of the classic Blue Note recordings were being waxed. That makes this a poignant tribute to an earlier, and very influential, generation of jazz masters.


Wisely, the eight tunes chosen to represent the Blue Note legacy are given new arrangements that update the sound while remaining true to the originals. Truly a collective, the ensemble shared in creating the original charts.


Nash’s masterful drumming imbues the opening fanfare of Cedar Walton’s “Mosaic” with an urgency and excitement that continues throughout the piece, a favorite of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. In his arrangement, Nash makes no attempt to mimic the great Buhaina, but he admirably retains the Blakey spirit. Likewise, Payton’s take on Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge” is refreshingly new, but still urgent.


“Search for Peace” gets a lovely arrangement by Renee Rosnes that emphasizes the McCoy Tyner ballad’s exquisite chord changes and spotlights Coltrane’s lush tenor and Payton’s searching trumpet. Wilson’s flute carries the lilting melody line in his treatment of Bobby Hutcherson’s “Little B’s Poem,” with notable solo contributions also coming from Bernstein and Charlap.


Wilson also gives new life to the edgy Thelonious Monk tune “Criss Cross.” No Monk sound-alike—as if that were possible—Charlap develops the quirky theme in his own virtuosic manner and the others offer their own distinctive variations on that theme. Arranger Rosnes returns for “Dolphin Dance,” creating a sophisticated, yet swinging rendition of the Herbie Hancock masterpiece.


“Idle Moments,” written by Duke Pearson and first recorded by guitarist Grant Green in 1963, gets an aptly bluesy arrangement from Bernstein. While prominently featured, the guitarist also involves the horns in some mournful harmonies. Charlap’s arrangement of Horace Silver’s “Outlaw” brings the session to a close with some tricky stop-time passages creating a typically hard-bop attitude. 


The Blue Note 7 already are touring heavily, bringing their bop celebration to venues nationwide, including a February stop in Omaha and a March 26 appearance at the Lied Center for Performing Arts in Lincoln.





"Bohemian Maestro: Django Reinhardt and the Impressionists," by The Hot Club of San FranciscoBohemian Maestro: Django Reinhardt and the Impressionists

Azica Records


By Tom Ineck


Always looking for ways to expand the narrow confines of the “gypsy jazz” style inevitably tied to its virtuosic innovators, guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli, The Hot Club of San Francisco has embraced not only the standards of the gypsy jazz repertoire, but more conventional modern jazz favorites, as well as pop tunes by Lennon and McCartney and even a couple of classical composers.


But the Bay area band has surpassed itself in the adventurous spirit of its latest release. “Bohemian Maestro: Django Reinhardt and the Impressionists” is an ambitious, and largely successful, attempt to link the legendary gypsy to the music of classical Impressionism, with the quintet occasionally augmented by a woodwind quintet, a piano and even a banjo. For purists of the gypsy jazz persuasion, the result is as mixed as the stylistic disconnect.


“Bohemian Maestro” does not lack direct references to Reinhardt—six of the 16 tracks are his compositions—but they tend to be among his more obscure pieces, such as “Diminishing Blackness,” the stirring “Bolero” and the generically titled “Improvisation No. 3.” The Aeros Quintet lends its classical woodwinds to new interpretations of Reinhardt’s “Nympheas” and “Messe/Improvisation,” the latter expanded from a surviving fragment intended by Reinhardt as a mass dedicated to the Romany people.   


Hot Club guitarist and leader, Paul Mehling, contributes to the growing gypsy jazz songbook with two new tunes, and violinist Evan Price adds one. With bassist Clint Baker and rhythm guitarists Jason Vanderford and Jeff Magidson, the core quintet is as lively as ever. Pianist Jeffrey Kahane infuses three numbers with his keyboard pyrotechnics. Mehling switches to banjo for one of the most refreshing tracks on the record, Jelly Roll Morton’s “The Pearls.”


Mehling’s “Le Surdoué” imaginatively recombines fragments of Reinhardt compositions and improvisations. His “Waltz for M.C. Escher” cleverly mimics the artist’s optical illusions with a musical equivalent.


The estimable Impressionists whose melodies tie the whole affair together are Claude Debussy, Francis Poulenc and Heitor Villa-Lobos, whose gently swinging “Choros” is a great vehicle for the Hot Club. Debussy’s immortal “Clair de Lune” closes this challenging and ground-breaking project, a somewhat more subdued set of performances than we are used to from these swinging gentlemen, but equally satisfying.





"Beautiful Memory," by Bill HendersonBeautiful Memory: Live at The Vic

Ahuh Productions


By Tom Ineck


At age 78, the wonderful jazz singer Bill Henderson finally has a new recording that puts him in historical perspective and provides a stunning setting for his still-amazing vocal gifts. The venue is The Vic, a club in Santa Monica, Calif., near his longtime home in Los Angeles.


Incredibly, Henderson’s last release was a 1981 tribute to the music of Johnny Mercer. Since then, he has been featured occasionally on others’ recordings, most notably Charlie Haden’s 1999 release “Art of the Song.” With “Beautiful Memory,’ Henderson steps fully into the warm glow of the spotlight.


The audience at Vic’s has an obvious affection for their local treasure, and Henderson’s trio—Tateng Katindig on keyboards, Chris Conner on bass and the great Roy McCurdy on drums—shows an ease and compatibility with the front man. On the opener, “All the Things You Are,” you believe him when he joyfully repeats “happy, happy days are mine.” He is just as persuasive while singing the blues, as his rendition of “Never Make Your Move Too Soon” soulfully illustrates.


This 12-track set comprised largely of familiar standards never lags and offers new perspectives on such old chestnuts as “You Are My Sunshine,” “Royal Garden Blues” and “That Old Black Magic.” Henderson shouts a bluesy “Sunshine” with a broad and breezy style in the upper register, inspiring the audience to a soul clap. He playfully swings the lyrics on “Garden,” and recites the ballad “Black Magic” with very effective hesitation phrasing before escalating the tempo to a swinging groove.


Harold Arlen’s wonderful “Sleepin’ Bee” gets the tender ballad treatment it deserves, with Henderson drawing out the lyrics in long, languorous phrases. Henderson dives into the Latin mainstream with the rarely heard “The Moon Is Yellow.” He brings new meaning to Elton John’s modern standard “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word,” also covered a few years ago by Karrin Allyson. “The Song is You” fairly bursts with joy.


Johnny Mandel’s melancholy ode to love and loss “Living Without You” is a great choice for Henderson’s endearing confessional style. “Tulip or Turnip” is a clever finale, bringing good humor to self-doubt.


Henderson’s voice is a warm and supple instrument that is never too far from the roots of gospel, soul and the blues. With “Beautiful Memory,” he has reestablished his reputation as one of the best male jazz vocalists of the last 50 years. Let’s hope there are many memories yet to come.





"Road Shows, Vol. 1," by Sonny RollinsRoad Shows, Vol. 1

Doxy Records


By Tom Ineck


Sonny Rollins’ tightrope-walking, extended improvisations on the tenor saxophone are best appreciated in live performance, but—like anyone—he is not always at the top of his game. That’s what makes “Road Shows, Vol. 1” so enjoyable. It serves up some of the best Rollins recordings captured over the last several decades and instantly re-establishes his credentials as a giant among jazzmen.


Totaling nearly 72 minutes, the seven tracks were recorded between 1980 and 2007, reminding us again of the tremendous breadth and depth of the Rollins oeuvre. Remember, Rollins has been recording since the early 1950s and continues to perform at age 78.


“Best Wishes,” from a May 25, 1986, performance in Tokyo, virtually surges with that famous Rollins enthusiasm and visceral power. From there we are transported to Toulouse, France, for a 2006 concert and an incredible version of the ballad standard “More Than You Know.” It offers the trademark Rollins at his finest, inserting and embellishing familiar musical quotations with ease. Previously unrecorded, “Blossom” is taken from a 1980 jazz festival in Sweden. It has Rollins on fire, ably aided and abetted by pianist Mark Soskin, bassist Jerome Harris and drummer Al Foster.


Congress Hall in Warsaw 1980 is the unusual setting for an emotionally charged performance of the ballad “Easy Living.” Soskin apparently was provided with a piano that had not been properly tuned and voiced, but he overcomes its shortcomings with a great solo. In his solo cadenza, Rollins takes the tune—and the listener—on a bold excursion to new, uncharted and thoroughly thrilling territory.


Rollins revisits “Tenor Madness” in spectacular form during a 2000 performance in Tama City, Japan. His squalling, snarling sax righteously explores the blues changes from every angle. No Rollins collection would be complete without a calypso, and his “Nice Lady” serves the purpose well in a 12-minute performance recorded in Victoria, B.C., in 2007. Anderson turns in a fine extended solo before turning it over to Uncle Sonny.   


Rollins has maintained a loyal coterie of musicians over the years and most of them are represented here—trombonist Anderson, guitarist Bobby Broom, pianists Soskin and Stephen Scott, bassists Bob Cranshaw and Harris, and drummers Foster, Victor Lewis, Perry Wilson, and Steve Jordan. The closer, “Some Enchanted Evening,” is a rare and very special trio performance with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Roy Haynes.


Of course, the amazing music contained in “Road Shows, Vol. 1” begs the obvious question. When can we expect more of the best from the living master of the tenor sax?





"A Duet of One: Live at the Bakery," by Eddie Daniels and Roger KellawayA Duet of One: Live at the Bakery

IPO Recordings


By Tom Ineck


Aptly named, “A Duet of One” rightfully implies the singularity of purpose, the extrasensory dialogue and the compatible virtuosity of clarinetist Eddie Daniels and pianist Roger Kellaway. It also implies the seat-of-the-pants immediacy of its live setting, The Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles, where it was recorded March 30 to April 2, 2005.


Daniels and Kellaway quickly establish their amazing talents with “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” taken at a swinging mid-tempo that gently urges the participants to ever higher feats of improvisation and one-upmanship. Equally proficient on tenor saxophone, Daniels here eschews that instrument’s larger, robust and metallic sound for the brighter, woodier tone of the clarinet. The result is a more level playing field for the two featured instruments, and the two artists respond accordingly.


Daniels’ composition “Slow Dance” is, indeed, a swirling, terpsichorean delight that inspires splendid solo statements from each of the dance “partners.” His tune “Adagio Swing” liberates Daniels to soar on a solo clarinet flight before turning it over to Kellaway, whose two-fisted technique simultaneously maintains a pulsing, left-hand rhythm pattern while ascending into the upper registers with the right.


Their whimsical, imaginative performance of “I Want to Be Happy” is as carefree and exuberant as its title. Free of a rigid rhythm pattern, Daniels and Kellaway carry on a very high-brow jazz conversation—making solo statements, responding with witty repartee and occasionally mixing it up in a polite “shouting” match. Hoagy Carmichael’s “New Orleans” gets a relaxed, bluesy reading in which the two instruments blend beautifully in pitch and mood.


Kellaway’s loping, rhythmically ambiguous “This Is the Time” ironically leaves the listener wondering exactly where the “time” is. Would-be dancers, beware! The two return to more familiar ground with a dazzling uptempo display of technique on the standard “After You’ve Gone.” They trade fours with ease, continuously upping the ante for the next smoking chorus and inspiring the audience to enthusiastic applause.


“Blue Waltz,” another Daniels tune, is a perfect vehicle for the composer’s warm and woody clarinet at a meditative ballad tempo. On his ballad “Love of My Life,” it is Kellaway’s turn to romanticize and he does so with tenderness, grace and beauty. “We’ll Always Be Together” is Daniels’ lyrical statement of hope and the embodiment of this joyful and fruitful duo collaboration.


Not released until 2008, this very live session is another jewel from IPO Recordings, which is responsible for another of last year’s best jazz CDs, the collaboration between James Moody and Hank Jones called “Our Delight.” The label has wisely chosen to focus on seasoned musicians who are still performing at a very high level of creativity and have not gotten the attention they deserve.





"Till I Get It Right," by Mark WinklerTill I Get It Right

FreeHam Records


By Tom Ineck


“Till I Get It Right” is the welcome return of jazzy vocalist Mark Winkler, six years after his wonderful tribute to Bobby Troup, the composer of such hip classics as “Route 66.” His latest release is a showcase for his own lyric-writing talents and his ability to shift gears from uptempo swingers to romantic ballads.


Based in Los Angeles, Winkler has assembled a crack West Coast band that includes saxophonist Bob Sheppard, guitarist Anthony Wilson, trumpeter Ron Blake, keyboardist Jamieson Trotter, bassist Dan Lutz and drummer Steve Hass.


On the title track, Trotter doubles on piano and Hammond B3 to create a funky, propulsive kick with a walking bass line and an wailing tenor sax solo that combines for a dazzling opener. Winkler’s smooth, relaxed delivery reminds the listener why he is often compared with such vocal stylists as David Frishberg, Michael Franks and Mark Murphy, a Winkler fan who contributed the liner notes. 


Winkler cleverly celebrates gormandizing while thumbing his nose at the diet-crazy world with “How Can That Make You Fat?” On the Marilyn Harris tune “Cool,” he croons his original lyrics soulfully and sexily in duet with Cheryl Bentyne of Manhattan Transfer. “Cool” also features some very cool bass work by Lutz.


“Spring Is Where You Are” is a love ballad written by Steve Allen, another prolific tunesmith with a penchant for clever lyrics and the sound of cool. Wilson’s guitar is a perfect foil for Winkler’s touching rendition. Joshua Redman’s “lowercase,” with lyrics by Winkler and Lori Barth, seems an unconventional choice, but the bluesy, moody tune works well and is assisted by Sheppard’s marvelous tenor sax playing and the intense drumming of Hass.


Winkler pays homage to Truman Capote on “Sissies,” with music by collaborator Louis Durra. “In a Lonely Place” is another Marilyn Harris composition, this time a sensitive ballad with Winkler lyrics and featuring Blake on muted trumpet and Trotter on piano. The Harris-Winkler tune “Future Street” is an easy-swinging blues with enticing lines such as, “There’s a girl that’s waiting for me, with tomorrow in her eyes.”


The Ivan Lins samba “Evolution” gets a new coat of paint with lyrics by Brock Walsh that draw the conclusion that “evolution is a state of mind.” Winkler’s descriptive words for Durra’s “How to Pack a Suitcase” tell a witty tale of the sweet sorrow of parting. “In the Moment” is a romantic Mike Melvoin tune with a Latin lilt and some nice acoustic guitar-piano trades.


“You Might as Well Live,” a dreamy, bittersweet ballad by Dan Siegel with lyrics by Winkler and Harris, closes the set with a message of spiritual courage and triumph over life’s challenges and disappointments.





"While You Were Out," The Sons of BrasilWhile You Were Out

Standing Bear Records


By Tom Ineck


With a reputation so firmly established in the world of Latin jazz and, in particular, those subgenres of Brazilian samba, bossa nova and choro, it comes as a great surprise that The Sons of Brazil had, until recently, only one recording in 17 years. To the band’s enthusiastic fan base, which extends well beyond its Kansas City, Mo., home, the arrival of “While You Were Out” is long overdue.


The Berman Music Foundation has followed the evolution of The Sons and its featured players with much interest, featuring the ensemble as part of the local Jazz in June series in 2002 and 2007 and catching them whenever possible on their home turf.


For their latest outing, trumpeter Stan Kessler has once again assembled some of KC’s finest musicians, including guitarist Danny Embrey, pianist Roger Wilder, bassist Greg Whitfield, drummer Doug Auwarter and percussions Gary Helm. On two tracks, Luiz Orsano is added on percussion.


It is refreshing that most of the 13 tunes were written by band members, with only two covers by Brazilian master Antonio Carolos Jobim, one by Joao Bosco and one by Jose Roberto Bertrami. Kessler’s warm and breezy flugelhorn set the mood for his set-opening tune, “Joao.” Embrey and Wilder expand on that mood with gently swinging solos.


Whitfield establishes the funky, fusion underpinnings of Bertrami’s “Partido Alto,” inspiring Wilder to a Herbie Hancock-style foray on the electric keyboard, and Kessler’s playing is reminiscent of the late, great Freddie Hubbard in his bright, spirited solo. Embrey contributed three tunes, including the melodic masterpiece “Journey,” which gives the guitarist an opportunity to explore imaginative changes with his deft fretwork.


Kessler gives the Jobim classic “Desafinado” a respectful arrangement that emphasizes his luxurious flugelhorn tone against Wilder’s piano harmonies and a brief, but brilliant Embrey solo. With Kessler’s “Salvador,” the band returns to a pumping, rhythmic feel, featuring the composer’s soaring trumpet and Orsano adding another layer of polyrhythmic percussion.


“Bala Com Bala,” by Bosco, has a clever circular pattern that gives the piece an infectious forward motion and keeps the musicians and the listener enthralled. Kessler’s playing is simply virtuosic in its confidence and execution. “Migration” is a gentle Embrey composition with some intriguingly melancholy “blue” chords that resolve upward, finally creating a more affirmative mood. The title track, a collaboration between Whitfield and Kessler, churns with a driving bass line, some two-fisted playing by Wilder and some high-note pyrotechnics by Kessler, capped by a percussion tour de force.


Jobim’s “Surfboard” does seem to ride the crest of a wave. You can almost feel the ocean spray in its leaping chord structure and the lilting performances by all. “I’ve Got Samba” is Kessler’s rambunctious tribute to the genre that popularized the dance-friendly music of Brazil for millions of Americans. Embrey’s romantic ballad “Tell Me Now” is exquisitely beautiful, and it gets the perfect backing with Kessler’s sensitive flugelhorn and Wilder’s understated piano anchoring the guitarist’s melodic treatment. Wilder contributed the gently swaying and curiously titled “Esso Bees.” The set ends with Kessler’s strutting, bluesy “If It Feels Good.”    


Perhaps as a nod to their loyal fans in Lincoln, most of the photos included in the CD liner are from that memorable Jazz in June concert of 2007, shot by BMF photographer Rich Hoover. “While You Were Out” is definitely IN, in the coolest sense of the word.





"I Like That," By David BoswellI Like That

My Quiet Moon Records


By Tom Ineck


Guitarist David Boswell is among the many fusion jazz pickers who openly emulate Pat Metheny, arguably the most influential guitarist of the last 30 years. Boswell, a San Francisco native, goes so far as to characterize a Metheny concert that he attended at age 16 as "a religious experience."


Boswell’s approach to the music is not mere slavish duplication. With his third solo effort, 2009’s "I Like That," he builds on the fusion model with a strong band of like-minded adventurers, including Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip, saxophonist Nelson Rangell (on three tracks), his brother John Boswell on piano, and drummer M.B. Gordy III. The result is a product with crossover potential with jazz, rock and New Age fans.


With Boswell on assorted electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, synthesized guitar, keys and voice, the title track is a paean to Metheny’s breezy style and wide-ranging technique. Like his mentor, Boswell builds the intensity to a breath-taking climax. On "Tightrope," A serious funk backbeat, Rangell’s keening sax and Haslip’s solid rhythmic foundation form a potent backdrop for Boswell’s rock guitar excursion. "It’s Possible" combines unison guitar and sax lines to a decidedly mellowing effect, rather like a cup of herbal tea.


Metheny is again evoked on the beautiful "Awaken the Gentle Giant," with multi-tracked vocal harmonies and John Boswell’s meditative piano leading into a dynamic Haslip solo and a soaring synth guitar interlude. "Little Steps on a Long Road," like "Awaken," marries a soaring guitar with wordless vocals. One of the most interesting tracks is "Come and Get Me," with Boswell playing all the instruments, including guitars, keys, synthesizer, bass and voice.


"Across the Plains" is an unfortunate allusion to Metheny’s Plains-themed tunes, but the Missouri-born Metheny comes by his inspiration naturally. On "Westward Path" the solo Boswell evokes a rural flavor on mandolin and a keyboard "harmonica" sound, avoiding easy comparisons and creating a simple, but endearing melody.


While Boswell occasionally takes a bold step away from the Metheny camp, he eventually returns to safer ground. Until the guitarist finds a truly individual sound and breaks the Metheny mold, he will forever be compared with his elder, who is a much more sophisticated composer and player.





"Our Delight," by James Moody and Hank Jones QuartetOur Delight

IPO Recordings


By Tom Ineck


It is, indeed, “Our Delight” to listen to this historic recording pairing the still-vibrant jazz masters James Moody and Hank Jones. At the time of the date in June 2006, Moody was 81 and Jones was 87, but they play with the vitality and imagination of young lions. With a generous program largely comprised of tunes by Dizzy Gillespie and Tadd Dameron, IPO Recordings has again produced a well-polished gem of lasting value.


The quartet is completed with bassist Todd Coolman and drummer Adam Nussbaum, excellent choices for a swinging, tasteful session that stays mainly in the mid-tempo range.


On the title track, by Dameron, Moody leaps in with his trademark tenor sound as Jones comps and fills with grace and assurance. Jones’ own solo echoes Moody’s mood. “Birk’s Works” gets a laid-back, bluesy treatment and features a bass solo on which Coolman pays his respects to Ray Brown.


Jones delves deeply into the changes on “Con Alma.” Moody’s tenor caresses the melody on Dameron’s “Lady Bird,” then explores all the harmonic possibilities in an extended solo. Jones takes his cue and ups the ante with deft turns of phrase.


Taken at breakneck tempo, Sonny Stitt’s “Eternal Triangle” is the most challenging tune here, pressing Moody through the changes and keeping Jones on his toes. They meet the challenge with surprising gusto and quick reflexes, and Nussbaum’s four-bar breaks stoke the fire. Moody and Jones pair off for a lovely, romantic reading of “Body and Soul.”


“Good Bait,” written by Dameron and a familiar favorite of Gillespie’s, swings breezily, thanks to Nussbaum’s constant support. Moody switches to flute on his sly and witty composition “Darben the Red Foxx.” Back on tenor, he evokes a sultry, breathy noir ambiance on a nine-minute version of Dameron’s “Soul Trane.” The tempo accelerates one more time for Gillespie’s “Woody ‘N’ You,” a showcase for Jones and for Nussbaum’s effortless percussion.   


“Old Folks” is another duo, this time with Moody stating the classic melody on flute and Jones sensitively providing the accompaniment. As an added bonus, Jimmy Heath’s “Moody’s Groove” is sung by Italian native Roberta Gambarini, who draws convincingly from the vocal tradition of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae, right down to the graceful scatting.  


An instant classic, “Our Delight” is nearly 80 minutes of delightful musical repartee between two legends of jazz history. It comes in an attractive gatefold package with color portraits of Moody and Jones and informative notes by bassist Coolman.





"Pass It On," by Dave Holland SextetPass It On

Dare2 Records


By Tom Ineck


After a decade in which bassist Dave Holland’s format of choice was a quintet also consisting of saxophone, trombone, vibraphone, and drums, he has changed the formula to a six-piece band that adds trumpet and piano to the mix, while dropping the vibes.


It may seem like a subtle shift in emphasis, but the results are magical on “Pass It On.” The three-horn front line creates fuller harmonies and the piano is a more harmonically rich and rhythmically muscular instrument than the vibes. Once again, Holland has found a way to keep the music fresh and exciting.


As always, Holland leads a sonically democratic outfit, allowing his bandmates plenty of room for improvisation and group interplay, even though he wrote all but one of the nine tunes. With a lineup that includes Antonio Hart on alto sax, Robin Eubanks on trombone, Alex Sipiagin on trumpet, Mulgrew Miller on piano and Eric Harland on drums, Holland can rest assured that they will deliver.


Eubanks’ aptly titled opener, “The Sum of All Parts,” immediately establishes the value of the sextet by “building” the group from its various “parts,” beginning with trombone and percussion, then gradually adding alto sax, trumpet, bass and piano in funky syncopation. Eventually, the band comes together to state the melody en masse, followed by a brilliant bass solo and more group dynamics. It’s an ingenious technique for introducing the new band and the new sound.


“Fast Track” has the horns bursting out of the gate uptempo, but the tune also is a showcase for Miller’s wonderful keyboard work. Holland introduces “Lazy Snake” with a slithering bass solo, before turning the melody over to the horns. A longtime Holland employee, Eubanks takes the first solo, followed by Sipiagin and Hart. The tempo accelerates again for “Double Vision,” a rhythmically complex piece that features another inspired Eubanks solo and some incredible drum pyrotechnics.


Miller begins “Equality” with a sensitive piano statement, later joined by Hart on the melody, with tasteful accompaniment by Holland and Harland. The other horns enter near the end, but only as accompaniment to Hart’s soulful, extended improvisation. “Modern Times” is a bouncy, mid-tempo tune that beautifully harmonizes the horns over a pulsing rhythm. Eubanks and Miller get brief solos, but the ensemble is the star here.


At nearly 14 minutes, “Rivers Run” begins with Hart blowing like Coltrane over an intense modal riff. A true melodic theme doesn’t emerge until after Holland solos, about halfway through the tune. Eubanks, Harland, and Sipiagin take solos between accelerating ensemble passages that seem to mimic the dangerous rapids implied by the title. The stately “Processional” showcases Sipiagin’s deft trumpet work, and the title track closes the proceedings with a funky urgency and a reiteration of Holland’s high standard of group interplay, as bandmates alternately weave harmonies and take solos.





"What Lies Within," by Denise DonatelliWhat Lies Within

Savant Records


By Tom Ineck


With her sophomore release, Denise Donatelli beyond a doubt establishes herself as one of the brightest vocal stars on the horizon. “What Lies Within” is a recording of astounding depth, with exciting arrangements by pianist-producer Geoffrey Keezer and imaginative performances by all involved.


Donatelli’s voice is exhilarating as it takes flight in the compatible company of Keezer, reed master Bob Sheppard, guitarist Peter Sprague, bassist Hamilton Price and omnipresent drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith. Other noteworthy contributions come from trumpeter Carl Saunders and percussionist Alex Acuna.


The listener leaps to attention with the comparatively brief opener, an exuberant three-minute reading of “My Shining Hour.” Donatelli delivers the lyric and a scat interlude with confidence and aplomb, as Keezer on piano, Sheppard on tenor and Sprague on guitar set the solo performance standard at a very high level. The Ivan Lins tune “Sails (Velas Icadas)” is given a funky, syncopated backbeat that draws inspired solos by Keezer and Sheppard on alto sax. Then Donatelli and Sheppard lock melody lines in tandem.


Perhaps the highlight of the entire recording is Donatelli’s exquisite rendering of Chick Corea’s “Crystal Silence,” with lyrics by Neville Potter. This time, Sheppard soars on soprano sax, flute and alto flute, and Donatelli goes on a wordless vocal excursion in perfect harmony. On the samba “I Love it When You Dance That Way,” she chimes in unison with Saunders’ flugelhorn as though truly dancing. Sprague on nylon-string guitar and Smith on brushes create the ideal rhythm.


Donatelli proves just as capable with the phrasing and breathing demands of a ballad on the standard “We’ll Be Together Again,” which also features a wonderful bass solo by Price. Again her phrasing stands out in the long, snaking lines of the modal “Like an Old Song,” where her voice deftly weaves with the difficult piano and tenor sax improvisations. Clifford Brown’s “Daahoud” gets a new lease on life with “Beloved,” an imaginative reworking that has Donatelli exhibiting some very sophisticated lyrical gymnastics.


Keezer’s own “Four Walls” is the setting for another sensitive Donatelli performance, which is enhanced by the cello work of Giovanni Clayton, Sprague’s nylon-string guitar and the organ voicings of Carlos Del Rosario. Saunders contributes some very cool muted trumpet on a bluesy rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Be Cool.” The whole band delivers on the magical song “Make This City Ours Tonight.” J.J. Johnson’s classic “Lament,” here entitled “This Lament,” closes the recording with a mournful, yet hopeful piano-voice duet.   


In a market flooded by aspiring—and largely mediocre—vocalists, Donatelli easily rises to the top. With two excellent releases (her debut, “In the Company of Friends, was released in 2005), she is well on her way to the recognition she so richly deserves.





"Across the Crystal Sea," by Danilo PerezAcross the Crystal Sea

EmArcy Records


By Tom Ineck


Some critics reject any attempt to marry the jazz esthetic with the classical tradition, ignoring the fact that many jazz artists have created some of their most memorable work with orchestral accompaniment, including Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, George Shearing, Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson. Properly arranged and conducted, the lush backdrop can actually enhance the artist’s contributions.


So it is with Danilo Perez’s “Across the Crystal Sea,” a collection of tunes bearing the trademark romantic treatment of arranger and conductor Claus Ogerman, best known for similar projects with Antonio Carlos Jobim, Wes Montgomery, Diana Krall and the above-mentioned Getz, Evans and Peterson. Granted, Ogerman’s arrangements are neither ground-breaking nor complex, but they are legendary in creating an evocative mood over which the soloist can soar.


Ogerman himself wrote six of the eight pieces, some of which are based on themes by the likes of Sibelius, De Falla, Rachmaninoff and Massenet. Not to be totally compromised by the classics, Perez is joined by bassist Christian McBride, drummer Lewis Nash and percussionist Luis Quintero.


Quintero’s bongos introduce the beautiful title track, based on a melody by Hugo Distler. Perez soon puts his unmistakable stamp on the performance with alternating block chords and single-note runs. McBride sets up “Rays and Shadows” with a repeated bass line, later shifting to a walking rhythm for Perez to play against. “The Purple Condor” allows the jazz group to flourish with Nash and Quintero mixing up the Latin rhythms, McBride ruminating with agile, funky bass excursions and Perez racing up and down the keys with breath-taking skill.


Perez carefully spells out the melody of the romantic ballad “If I Forget You,” based on a Rachmaninoff theme and taken at a very slow tempo. The strings and woodwinds slowly enter, but Perez remains the center of attention in this gorgeously realized piece. It is the strings that soar on “The Saga of Rita Joe,” as they build the mood for nearly three minutes before Perez takes over the theme and further expands on it in harmonic variations. Ogerman’s gorgeous “Another Autumn” closes the set with Perez front and center in a masterful, emotive display, with McBride contributing some lovely counterpoint.


Cassandra Wilson lends her haunting, wispy voice to two tracks. “Lazy Afternoon” is a wonderful showcase for her soulful, throaty vocal, even though Perez and company don’t have much to offer here. She also performs “(All of a Sudden) My Heart Sings,” by Harold Rome. Her voice seems to ride the chord changes as they slowly rise, like a hopeful love. Again, Perez enters late in the tune, but with magical effect.





"Energy Fields," by Ralph Lalama QuartetEnergy Fields

Mighty Quinn Productions


By Tom Ineck


A long-laboring, underappreciated great of the tenor saxophone, Ralph Lalama may finally get his due as a leader with “Energy Fields.” At 57, Lalama has an extensive resume going back to the early 1980s—usually in the big band context of drummer Mel Lewis, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra—but he has only a handful of recordings under his own name, and this is his first U.S. release.


It’s a dandy. Lalama’s tight quartet also features guitarist John Hart, bassist Rick Petrone and drummer Joe Corsello, allowing the tenor plenty of space and plenty of strong support in a program largely comprised of familiar standards done in unfamiliar ways.


For example, take “Old Folks,” a funky Hart arrangement that is miles from the predictably sentimental approach usually taken. Likewise, Lalama’s arrangement of “Like Someone in Love,” which takes its cue from the searching, adventurous style and fat tone of Sonny Rollins, even as it retains its conventional ballad tempo.


The highly accelerated “Just in Time” segues from a brief tenor intro to a bass interlude and back to tenor, then to an inspired Hart solo and a powerful flurry of percussion by Corsello.


Perhaps Victor Herbert’s “Indian Summer” and Alec Wilder’s “Blackberry Winter” get the most conventional readings simply because they are great melodies that require no embellishment. Nonetheless, Lalama delivers imaginative tenor statements on the mid-tempo “Indian Summer” and the ballad reading of “Blackberry Winter.” Hart also contributes sensitive, well-thought-out solos on both tunes.


Among the lesser-known tunes is the opener, a wonderful rendition of Woody Shaw’s “The Moontrane,” a dynamically charged composition that puts everyone through the paces in rapid succession. Charlie Parker’s sly “Buzzy” wends its way through bluesy bop changes at a blistering tempo that pushes soloists Hart and Lalama to the outer limits and provides some nice drum breaks for Corsello. “United” is one of Wayne Shorter’s most interesting tunes. Its dramatic, lilting lines and fast shuffle tempo encourage equally dramatic solo flights by Hart, Lalama and Petrone. 


Lalama’s own “Nonchalant” is an irresistible samba that has the saxophonist front and center, as Corsello contributes some evocative mallet and cymbal work and Petrone keeps the pulse with a resounding bass tone.


Here’s hoping that Lalama continues to nurture his solo career here at home and that domestic labels continue to sit up and take notice.





"Family," by Kelly RossumFamily

612 Sides


By Tom Ineck


Trumpeter Kelly Rossum has firmly established his reputation since leaving his Lincoln, Neb., home for the Twin Cities, where he has found compatible bandmates—pianist Bryan Nichols, bassist Chris Bates and drummer J.T. Bates—and a creative climate conducive to his sometimes quirky musical proclivities.


The Berman Music Foundation brought Rossum to Lincoln for a club gig in November 2005 and reviewed his 2004 release, “Renovation.”


Rossum draws from the modern trumpet traditions of Don Cherry and the great Lester Bowie, especially on the opening title track. Like Bowie, he uses the muted horn to evoke the very roots of jazz, while sounding thoroughly modern. He uses the technique again on the delightful “Mr. Blueberry.”


On “This is Where My Head Is At,” Rossum begin with a fairly conventional melody line on the open horn, before turning it over to Nichols for an extended foray. Rossum returns with a noticeable increase in intensity, aided and abetted by J.T. Bates, who comes on like Tony Williams backing Miles.


The standard “Pure Imagination” is turned every which way but loose, with Rossum first stating the theme then leading the band through a witty deconstruction that, indeed, displays an abundance of imagination. Nichols’ “A Word from Our Sponsors” gallops along with abandon before concluding suddenly with a perfectly logical resolution.


There is an appropriate, childlike lilt to “Somebody Come and Play.” Rossum soars on the open horn, with Nichols providing lovely accompaniment and a breezy, relaxed solo. “Interlude” is a hauntingly beautiful, Nichols-penned ballad that provides a perfect vehicle for a more conventional, vibratoless playing style.


Frank Loesser’s “If I Were a Bell” gets the full Rossum treatment, eight minutes of fascinating twists and turns on a familiar theme. The trumpeter employs the whole range of his instrument, ringing the changes with confidence. Nichols cleverly implies the melody while reaching for unexpected variations. As always, the Bates brothers provide a solid rhythmic foundation.


Returning to the muted horn, Rossum evokes Miles Davis on the ballad “After the Snow.” A brief reprise of the titular “Family” theme rounds out this very satisfying recording by one of the most original trumpeters on the scene today.





"The Scene," by The Stryker/Slagle BandThe Scene

Zoho Music


By Tom Ineck


Guitarist Dave Stryker and saxophonist Steve Slagle continue their run of inspired collaborations on the Zoho Music label with “The Scene,” which contains the usual demanding original compositions—four by each of the two leaders—and flawless execution.


On their fourth CD as co-leaders, Stryker and Slagle are joined by old friends and bandmates Jay Anderson on bass and Victor Lewis on drums, and tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano returns as a special guest on four of the nine tracks. To read a review of the band’s previous release, “Latest Outlook,” click here.


Typically, Slagle’s funky opener, “Skee,” has everyone playing at the top of their game. Lovano seems especially intrigued by the changes, as he merrily improvises on them. Stryker’s skittering guitar solo is punctuated with breathtaking runs and imaginative chords. Anderson and Lewis are the epitome of cool rhythmic intensity.


The title track is a Stryker original with a swinging theme on which the guitarist weaves his magic. Slagle delivers a spiraling alto solo, followed by an elegant Anderson bass solo. “Six Four Teo” teams Lovano and Slagle in unison as Stryker builds the momentum with interesting rhythm chords. The tune’s 6/4 time signature is an excellent vehicle for Lewis’ crackling trap work.


Lewis again excels on the whimsical, but difficult “Two Sense.” Its stop-and-start nature keeps everyone on his toes. “Kindred Spirits” is another lovely Stryker composition somewhat in the breezy style of Pat Metheny, with Slagle on alto against the composer’s ringing rhythm guitar. Stryker’s solo soars in joyous abandon.


Slagle’s sad ballad “Hopewell’s Last” is an intricate composition brilliantly pairing Lovano’s tenor with the composer’s mournful soprano sax. It is dedicated to Slagle’s late brother, Stuart. After this heart-wrenching tribute, Stryker’s uplifting “Brighter Days” is made to order, and it delivers with swinging gusto as Lovano makes his final appearance on the session.


Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s hauntingly beautiful “Fingers in the Wind” is a most interesting choice, and it works beautifully as a duet with Slagle on flute and Stryker on acoustic guitar. Slagle’s breathy, percussive performance is in keeping with Kirk’s innovative technique and seeking spirit. The genesis of “Strikology” is evident in its closer’s title. It’s an uptempo affair that puts the guitarist firmly in the driver’s seat.


We heartily recommend that you make “The Scene.” To make it is to dig it.     





"I Surrender All," by Melvin SmithI Surrender All

MGS Music


By Tom Ineck


At 34, saxophonist Melvin Smith is deserving of more recognition. The Jacksonville, Fla., native is an excellent composer and interpreter with a broad range of stylistic influences and enough technique on alto, soprano and tenor horns to make “I Surrender All,” his second release as a leader, a very enjoyable listening experience.


Smith brings a warmth and a sense of spirituality to everything he does, from the gospel roots of the title track to the playful funkiness of “Burgoyne Dr.,” named for the street on which he grew up, to the heart-felt tribute “Mom and Pop,” a lithe and lilting waltz performed to perfection by Smith on tenor sax.


The uptempo, uplifting “We Shall Not Be Moved / Firm Roots (For Dr. King)” has its obvious inspiration in the ongoing struggle to realize Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of racial equality. The civil rights anthem meshes well with “Firm Roots,” a modern standard by pianist Cedar Walton. “Speak to My Heart” is a lovely melody, with trumpeter Reggie Pittman and trombonist Andre Murcheson adding harmonic depth.


Smith returns to the subject of family with his composition “Baby Sister,” a surging Latin tune with some very nice piano work by Steve Lee and a trumpet solo by Pittman. The bluesy piano of Gregory Royals is a marvelous foil for Smith’s saxophone on a unique duo arrangement of “Amazing Grace.”


Bobby Watson’s great tune “In Case You Missed It” is wisely chosen as a vehicle for Smith’s rapid-fire also sax improvisations, with accompaniment by Lee, bassist Lino C. Gomez and drummer Sam Knight. On “The Joy of the Lord,” Smith and company express the joy inherent in the title, with a


But it is the closer, Horace Silver’s classic “Peace,” that stands out in Smith’s thorough exploration of the beautiful changes and all the emotional and spiritual ramifications of the piece. On alto sax, he again pairs off with a pianist—this time Hubert Eaves III—to create a profound musical dialogue.


After a slight pause, it is followed by an extended tenor sax workout with references to “Softly, as in A Morning Sunrise” and backed only by bass and drums. Herein, Smith pays homage to Coltrane, Rollins, Joe Henderson and other masters of the tenor sax who are among his apparent influences.


Smith explains his very personal musical intentions in the liner notes:


“As one grows, a certain level of self-introspection must take place. It is my pleasure to present to you, the listener, the fruit of my journey.”


With “I Surrender All,” he has fulfilled those intentions admirably, and the artistic fruits are sweet, indeed.


For more details on “I Surrender All” and his first CD, 2007’s “Portrait,” visit www.melvinsmithsax.com.




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