CD Reviews


"A Child Is Born," by Geri AllenA Child Is Born

Motema Music


Geri Allen is a pianist with dazzling technique and a penchant for extended improvisational forays that keep the listener wondering where she might go next. Within the thematic context of Christmas standards and spirituals, “A Child Is Born” presents familiar tunes while allowing Allen to freely interpret them in her unique fashion, both on acoustic and electronic keyboards.


Over the course of 14 tracks ranging from less than a minute to more than seven minutes, Allen pursues the muse in interesting solo piano explorations of such traditional holiday fare as “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” “We Three Kings,” “Little Drummer Boy,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” and a medley combining “Away in a Manger,” “What Child Is This?” and “Silent Night.”


On “Angels,” she sets up a catchy riff with strong left-hand runs that create an infectious counterpoint to her more free-form excursions in the upper register. The title track by Thad Jones has become a Christmas classic over the years, and Allen pays it due respect by offsetting resonant chords with soaring arpeggios and never losing sight of the melody. “Emmanuel” gets the royal treatment, with concert celeste chiming the melody along with the piano and setting the stage for Allen’s keyboard variations and a haunting sampled-vocal accompaniment by the women of the Gee’s Bend Quilt Collective. On the other hand, “Kings” is a solo springboard for more adventurous pianistics.


Allen takes full advantage of the insistent rhythm inherent in “Little Drummer Boy,” creating a bass pedal point from which she voices harmonic variations on the theme in an exciting improvisation. The medley is a beautifully constructed suite that flows naturally from one tune to another. Like “We Three Kings,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” quickly established the melody, then allows Allen to range freely.


Allen occasionally makes brief statements using the Fender Rhodes piano, the Farfisa organ and the Hohner clavinet, especially on the spirituals, which include “Imagining Gena at Sunrise” and “Imagining Gena at Sunset,” based on an Ethiopian melody. Allen is joined by several singers on her original “Journey to Bethlehem,” inspired, in part, by the composer’s pilgrimage to the Holy City in 2006, and on her piece “God Is with Us,” based on a biblical reading from Matthew 1:23.


For adventurous listeners who prefer Christmas music that resides largely in the realm of the spirit, “A Child Is Born” is an excellent choice. Those who want Rudolph or Frosty should look elsewhere.





"Love Is Blue," by Jackie AllenLove Is Blue

A440 Music


By Tom Ineck


Jackie Allen is a song stylist who deserves greater recognition. A Wisconsin native with extensive jazz and cabaret credentials in Milwaukee and Chicago, she’s beginning to receive considerable attention in Lincoln, Neb., where she recently settled with her husband, Hans Sturm, the new professor of bass at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Music. Already, Allen has begun a series of classes for aspiring torch singers and has been booked for the occasional benefit concert or house concert.


“Love Is Blue” is just one of nine Allen recordings on several labels. Released in 2004, this diverse collection of 11 tunes brilliantly showcases the singer’s subtly modulated voice, precise intonation and breathy, dusky delivery. The classic opener, “Lazy Afternoon,” is a perfect example, with Allen phrasing the summery, pastoral lyrics with sultry aplomb as Frank Glover’s clarinet soars lazily over the scene, John Moulder’s guitar sizzles and Sturm’s resonant bass establishes the relaxed mood.


The original tunes are equally intriguing, especially Allen’s composition “Go,” which features the piano of Laurence Hobgood, longtime pianist and music director for Chicago-based singer Kurt Elling. “Moon of Deception” is another fitting contribution by Allen, with its painful story of love betrayed. Moulder’s hopeful “Here Today” is a finely polished pop gem. The funky Sturm composition “Turnin’ Round” builds on dozens of clever turns of phrase.


“The Performer” is a subtle rocker with an irresistible Latin rhythm and tasteful guitar work by Moulder. By contrast, the title track takes full advantage of the memorable romantic melody with which the Paul Mauriat Orchestra scored a huge hit in 1968. Hobgood’s arrangement and Allen’s reading makes slight and very effective variations in the harmonies. “Taste of Honey” also is infused with new meaning in a dark and soulful Moulder arrangement. Allen gives her all in a touching rendition of Alec Wilder’s lovely ballad “I’ll Be Around,” the set closer.


But the revelation here is Allen’s heartfelt interpretation of Annie Lennox’s “Pavement Cracks,” which made its debut just a year earlier on the composer’s wonderful 2003 release, “Bare.” Allen brings the blues to bear, Moulder smolders on guitar and Sturm storms broodingly on bass.


We can also recommend several other Allen releases—2009’s “Starry Night,” 2006’s “Tangled” and 2003’s “The Men in My Life.”





"Forever Lasting: Live in Tokyo," by Vanguard Jazz OrchestraForever Lasting: Live in Tokyo

Planet Arts


By Tom Ineck


We last reported on the adventures of The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra in 2008, reviewing a February appearance at the Lied Center for Performing Arts in Lincoln, Neb., and the big band’s release later that year of “Monday Night Live at the Village Vanguard,” recorded at their New York City home just days before traveling to Lincoln.


For its latest recording, the VJO traveled farther afield. The dual-disc “Forever Lasting” documents a series of shows Nov. 26-28, 2010, at the Billboard Live Tokyo, just three months before the seismic natural disaster that struck Japan. Over the years, the orchestra has developed a deep relationship with its Japanese fans, who also are sophisticated students of the jazz art form. It has not gone unappreciated by the band, which annually tours Japan. This time they got it on tape, and it’s a doozy.


Like all of its recordings, this one pays homage to one of the founders of the VJO, trumpeter and composer Thad Jones, who along with drummer Mel Lewis formed the creative bedrock of this legendary ensemble. Six of the 13 tracks here are Jones compositions and arrangements, including the opener, “Low Down,” a tune that swings with typical soulfulness and provides plenty of solo space for trumpeter Scott Wendholt. “61st and Rich’ It” is a tuneful, bouncy ditty with flutes floating high above the front line and a rich trombone solo by John Mosca. One of Jones’ most memorable tunes, the funky “Central Park North,” gets a 12-minute treatment with notable contributions by Wendholt on flugelhorn, Terell Stafford on trumpet and Billy Drewes on soprano sax.


“Don’t Ever Leave Me” is a tender Thad Jones tune with obvious romantic implications, sensitively rendered by Dick Oatts on flute and Stafford on flugelhorn. At nearly 19 minutes, Jones’ insanely rapid “Fingers” is a tour-de-force ramble that draws excellent playing from a string of soloists, especially Mosca and Stafford. The title track, “Forever Lasting” is more classic Thad Jones, an easy-swinging, mid-tempo beauty that showcases Wendholt on flugelhorn and Gary Smulyan on baritone sax. 


Well represented with three compositions is the band’s regular pianist and arranger Jim McNeely, who was unable to make the gig in Japan and whose role is ably filled by Michael Weiss. McNeely’s “You Tell Me” is a devilishly difficult workout for the band, with tricky start-and-stop rhythms bravura horn exchanges and solid solos from tenor saxophonists Walt Weiskopf and Ralph Lalama and masterful drumming by John Riley. With a title suggesting an advanced course in jazz performance, “Extra Credit” challenges the VJO with complex stop-time sections. “Hardly Ever” is McNeely in a more relaxed mood.


Bob Mintzer’s uptempo arrangement of Herbie Hancock’s “One Finger Snap” provides some of the liveliest and most inspired passages, including solos by Wendholt, trombonist Luis Bonilla and Weiss. The spotlight is on alto saxophonist Oatts for the Cole Porter ballad “I Love You.” The second disc opens with a snazzy Thad Jones arrangement of the standard “All of Me” featuring Lalama’s robust tenor sax and the rangy, playful trombone of Jason Jackson. “Nasty Dance” is an outrageous, pulsating Bob Brookmeyer tune that unpredictably shifts gears and tempos. A vehicle for Weiskopf’s meaty tenor sax, it’s just downright fun for players and listeners alike.


The VJO’s commitment to its enthusiastic Japanese audience continued this year when the band hosted a benefit concert April 4 to raise funds for the Japanese jazz community devastated by the recent earthquake and tsunami. Special guests included Toshiko Akiyoshi, Roy Hargrove, Tom Harrell, Barry Harris, Lew Tabackin, Kenny Werner, Rufus Reid, Jimmy Owens, Fred Hersch, Marvin Stamm and others. The event can be viewed on USTREAM at http:www.ustream.tv/channel/vanguard-jazz-orchestra-live.





By Tom Ineck


In the growing field of organ trio recordings, a few stand out. Several months ago, we reviewed “Wonderful!” the Deep Blue Organ Trio’s tribute to the music of Stevie Wonder. This time we look at new releases by two threesomes who are celebrating a decade of making music together, one fronted by reed virtuoso James Carter and the other by Sam Yahel, who is equally talented on the Hammond B-3 and piano.


"At the Crossroads," by James Carter Organ TrioJAMES CARTER ORGAN TRIO

At the Crossroads

EmArcy Records


The James Carter Organ Trio takes a conventional approach to the organ trio tradition with “At the Crossroads.” While it adds horns, guitars, percussion and vocals to some tracks, it remains largely a funky dialogue among the principles—multi-reed virtuoso Carter, organist Gerard Gibbs and drummer Leonard King Jr.


Steeped in Motown R&B influences, Carter and company have produced a tasty slab of raucous swingers and soulful ballads. “Oh Gee,” a bluesy tune by Matthew Gee, leaps from the starting gate with irrepressible drive, aided and abetted by Carter’s brawny tenor sax and the stinging bite of Bruce Edwards’ guitar licks. Gibbs wrote “JC Off the Set” as a ballad counterpoint to Carter’s longtime favorite “JC On the Set.” The trio is alone here, and Gibbs is in fine form working the keyboard dynamics.


The slinky “Aged Pain” is a typically quirky tune by Ronald Shannon Jackson that has Carter moaning and wailing on baritone sax with Edwards returning for some tasteful guitar statements. Carter switches between tenor and baritone horns on the uproarious uptempo R&B classic “The Walking Blues,” with blues singer Miche Braden scatting convincingly. The trio puts the heat on slow simmer for “My Whole Life Through,” then smolders mid-tempo on the bluesy Jack McDuff composition “Walking the Dog,” with Edwards comping on guitar.


Things get downright frantic on the jam tune “Lettuce Toss Yo’ Salad,” while more subtle rhythmic variations are the key on the alternately moody and bouncy “Misterio.” Braden returns with a bluesy brass section on “Rambin’ Blues,” and she gets strong support from the trio as she taps the traditional gospel repertoire for a soulful reading of “Tis the Old Ship of Zion.” Drummer King lends his capable baritone voice to Ellington’s stately “Come Sunday.”   


The whole affair ends with a 10-minute tour de force performance of Julius Hemphill’s “The Hard Blues.” With half of the 12 tracks stretching beyond six minutes, “At the Crossroads” is a generous display of the trio’s stylistic versatility and prodigious improvisational skills.


"From Sun to Sun," by Sam YahelSAM YAHEL

From Sun to Sun

Origin Records


Keyboardist Sam Yahel has never been a slave to convention. His credits as an accompanist include sessions with an array of different artists, from singers Norah Jones, Madeleine Peyroux and Lizz Wright to trumpeters Nicholas Payton and Ryan Kisor and saxophonist Joshua Redman. However, his versatility and originality is most appreciated on his recordings as a leader, half a dozen since his debut in 1998. 


“From Sun to Sun” is one of the strongest entries yet. Bassist Matt Penman and drummer Jochen Rueckert are sensitive and equal partners in creating Yahel’s unique sound tapestries. On first listen, tunes such as “2 Pilgrims,” “Saba” and “One False Move” may sound delightfully odd—or oddly delightful—but the trio is so closely attuned they make the quirky changes seem inevitable. Even their decidedly different takes on the standards “A Beautiful Friendship,” “So In Love” and “Taking a Chance on Love” are apt.


The title track is especially beguiling, with its shifting rhythms, sliding chord structure and Yahel’s sudden move from piano to organ and back. It is a perfect example of Yahel’s deep keyboard vocabulary and his always-intriguing choice of notes. “Toy Balloon” is appropriately playful in its irrepressible lilt. Similarly, the rambling “Git It” is just plain fun.


The brief interludes “After the Storm,” “Blink and Move On” and “Prelude” act as links between tunes, reflective breathing spaces and gentle urgings for the listener to continue. With great music-making like “From Sun to Sun,” this listener needs no urging. 





"Karma," by Tommy SmithKarma

Spartacus Records


By Tom Ineck


With “Karma” and a new band of the same name, saxophonist Tommy Smith takes his music in a brave new direction, utilizing his keening tenor to great effect in a quartet that epitomizes the best of jazz fusion and world music. While blazing a new trail, the band also hearkens to the imaginative and highly refined sound of the recently defunct Earthworks quartet fronted by drummer Bill Bruford. Indeed, keyboard virtuoso Steve Hamilton was once a member of that formidable foursome.


The similarity in the two is most evident in pieces like “Good Deed,” a driving, progressive—yet catchy—tune in the tradition of Weather Report. Echoes of Hamilton’s lovely piano introduction set the mood for “Body or Soul” as drummer Alyn Cosker establishes a somber march rhythm. The tune soon accelerates, revealing a folk-like melody that acts as a lively springboard for call-and-response solos by Smith and Hamilton. Bass guitarist Kevin Glasgow ranges in the lower registers in a brooding undercurrent.


Hamilton switches to tambourine to add Middle Easter-style percussion to Cosker’s trap set on “Tomorrow,” based on a Yemeni folk song. Behind this insistent rhythm, Smith soars on tenor. The title track is a funky number that has Smith honking with soulful abandon as Hamilton, Glasgow and Cosker negotiate the tricky tempos and time shifts. “Projection” has some devilishly difficult changes that seem to fall easily under the fingers of all, especially on Glasgow’s extended bass solo.    


Smith and company also are capable of producing some exquisitely beautiful ballads. “Land of Heroes” begins with Smith’s trademark haunting tenor seeming to mimic the sound of bagpipes from his native Scotland. As the title implies, the song unfolds like an ancient folk legend. Glasgow introduces “Star” with a bass guitar solo that has more in common with the higher range and melodic potential of a six-stringed instrument. Smith then states the Irish melody on which the tune is based and Hamilton offers harmonic variations.


The inspiration turns to Japan for “Sun,” with Smith playing the introduction on the bamboo flute, or shakuhachi, before switching to tenor and taking the rest of the band into a furious fusion flight.


The 10 tracks that comprise “Karma” appear in the same sequence as they were written, according to karmic philosophy, and they each represent an idea connected with that philosophy. But you don’t need to know that to appreciate the passion and artistry that Smith, Hamilton, Glasgow and Cosker bring to this project. Good karma, indeed!





"The Music of Randy Newman," by Roseanna VitroThe Music of Randy Newman

Motema Music


By Tom Ineck


Singer Roseanna Vitro is among the talented and fortunate jazz artists who have been signed to the relatively young Motema Music label, which is also home to Monty Alexander, Randy Weston and Geri Allen. A veteran with some 30 years as a jazz vocalist, Vitro makes her Motema debut with an unusual—and very satisfying—tribute to pop music and film tunesmith Randy Newman, her 11th recording overall.


The project allows Vitro’s supple contralto to inhabit the landscape of Newman’s stories, which he always tells in a unique style brimming with Southern imagery, pathos and a healthy dose of sardonic humor. Witness her poignant reading of “Sail Away,” an early Newman classic about the ruse that slave traders used to persuade Africans of a better life in America. On the other hand, she gives “Last Night I Had a Dream” a Latin tinge courtesy of the new arrangement by pianist Mark Soskin.


In addition to Soskin, Vitro’s other capable colleagues include violinist Sara Caswell, bassist Dean Johnson and drummer Tim Horner, with occasional assists by Steve Cardenas on guitar and Jamey Haddad on drums and percussion. Caswell’s contributions are especially effective.


Vitro has an affinity for salsa rhythms, which return on “If I Didn’t Have You,” an Academy Award winner for the 2002 movie “Monsters, Inc.” One of Newman’s best songs of lost love is “Every Time It Rains,” expertly handled by Vitro in a bittersweet rendition. “Baltimore” reminds the listener that life for many in the modern American city hasn’t improved much since the song’s first appearance in 1977. Caswell’s pizzicato fiddle and the slippery electric guitar of Cardenas give the performance a decided edge.


The grim, mysterious imagery of “In Germany Before the War,” based on the true story of a serial killer in Dusseldorf, is balanced by the hilarious description of the raucous party song “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” which the pop group Three Dog Night turned into a big hit in the early ‘70s. Vitro breathes new life into the familiar tune with a jazz waltz interpretation. The movie “Toy Story” yielded the uplifting 2001 composition “I Will Go Sailing No More,” in which an old fisherman philosophizes about life and dreams of flying.


“Feels Like Home” is a simple, direct love song with a memorable hook, but as it develops, it also becomes a great vehicle for band improvisation, including Soskin on electric piano and Caswell on violin, with Johnson and Horner always providing solid support and a tight groove. “Losing You” is the ultimate lost-love song and receives a heartfelt, tender reading by Vitro, closing an all-around superb recording by the song stylist.





"Wonderful!" by the Deep Blue Organ TrioWonderful!

Origin Records


By Tom Ineck


“Wonderful!” is an especially refreshing entry in the ever-growing collection of jazz tributes to pop music icons. Perhaps the reason it works so well is that the Chicago-based Deep Blue Organ Trio operates in the same irresistible soul groove as its Motown subject, Stevie Wonder. Organist Chris Foreman, guitarist Bobby Broom and drummer Greg Rockingham deliver a cohesive sound that remains funky and swinging throughout this joyful romp.


Foreman leads off with an intriguing descending line to the familiar main theme of “Tell Me Something Good.” Broom steps in with a deftly picked, stinging guitar solo that never loses track of it basis in the blues. “If You Really Love Me” alternately swaggers with self-assurance and sways with uncertainty, as though implying some romantic doubt on the part of the protagonist. As the tune builds, a more positive mood prevails.


The trio smokes unrelentingly on “Jesus Children of America,” with Foreman creating a formidable walking bass underfoot while simultaneously flying over the keys, Broom and Rockingham comping in fast shuffle mode until Broom cuts loose with a incendiary solo of his own. The classic love song “My Cheri Amour” gets a loose, relaxed reading that stretches to nearly nine minutes, and “Golden Lady” gets a bright, jazz-waltz treatment with Rockingham lightly setting the pace and Broom alternating between Wes Montgomery-style octaves and single-note runs.


Foreman establishes the bluesy, mid-tempo groove on “You Haven’t Done Nothin’,” enticing Broom to enter with funky strumming chords. Broom’s solo is evenly paced and brilliantly constructed, with occasional flourishes that sparkle and dazzle. Things slow to an easy stroll for the familiar melody of “It Ain’t No Use,” then accelerate again for “As,” an infectious shuffle beat that sets up Foreman for the memorable, repeated hook. Broom introduces the closer, “You’ve Got It Bad Girl,” with a chorded melody line, very effectively and faithfully interpreting another immortal Wonder theme.


The fourth recording by the Deep Blue Organ Trio, “Wonderful!” displays just how well these three jazz veterans work together, building the momentum with tunes that average seven minutes or more, but never becoming redundant or less than exciting.






"Dream a Little Dream of Me," by Rocky Mountain TrioDream a Little Dream of Me

Mile High Music


By Tom Ineck


“Dream a Little Dream of Me” is a sympathetic collaboration between two old Berman Music Foundation friends, Denver denizens and former Nebraskans Jeff and Terri Jo Jenkins. Married for a couple of years, they prove themselves compatible in more than one way.


For more than a decade, we have enthusiastically followed the career of the dazzling pianist Jeff Jenkins, on recordings, on occasional visits to Denver and during his infrequent Lincoln appearances, usually in a supporting role with trumpeter Darryl White at the Jazz in June concert series. Over a period of many years, Terri Jo made a name for herself in Lincoln as a versatile folk singer-songwriter and as a member of the all-female a cappella vocal group Baby Needs Shoes.


With this recorded pairing, they marry their talents and tie the musical knot, so to speak, as they also serve as very special featured artists with The Rocky Mountain Trio—tenor saxophonist John Gunther, bassist Ron Bland and drummer Todd Reid. The mood is largely dreamy and mid-tempo, from the smoothly swaying classic “Poor Butterfly” to the Afro-Cuban rhythms of the Dizzy Gillespie feature “Tin Tin Deo,” with its pumping bass line and an inspired Jenkins piano solo.


Three tunes here are associated with Duke Ellington, the immortal Billy Strayhorn-penned theme of “Take the A Train,” the exotic “Isfahan” and Jenkins’ own “Waltz for Ellington,” a lovely homage to the master that extends to nearly eight minutes without an extraneous or redundant note. It bounds with the kind of joy that Jenkins frequently brings to his keyboard excursions as he plays circles around the chord changes while seeming to luxuriate in the process.


Gunther leads the charge on the soulful Hank Mobley swinger “Funk in Deep Freeze,” which also is a great vehicle for Bland’s bluesy bass solo and Jenkins’ two-fisted attack. Jenkins takes a breather as Gunther switches to flute for a bright and snappy reading of Mario Bauza’s Latin masterpiece “Mambo Inn,” also featuring some sensitive brush work by Reid and some masterful bass work that brilliantly fills the harmonic void in Jenkins’ absence.


With the compatible accompaniment of her colleagues, Terri Jo seems totally at ease with the three familiar songs to which she lends her creamy voice, “I Only Have Eyes for You,” “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” and the whimsical title track. The arrangements are well suited to her vocal range and to her straight-ahead, folk-rooted phrasing. Her husband is especially sensitive to Mrs. Jenkins’ vocal style and the way in which she navigates the changes. Together, they make a very smart couple.





"Wingwalker," by Jane Ira BloomWingwalker

Outline Records


By Tom Ineck


In a recording career spanning 30 years, Jane Ira Bloom has never failed to surprise and satisfy the adventurous listener, a rare accomplishment. While confining her self to the soprano sax only, she constantly stretches its range and tone with the use of tasteful sonic manipulation, a technique that she assures us is “live electronics.”


Aptly titled, “Wingwalker” is one of her best, a daring, risk-taking soundscape created by Bloom and compatible bandmates Dawn Clement on piano and Fender Rhodes, bassist Mark Helias and drummer Bobby Previte. Clement is relatively new to the scene, but Helias and Previte are jazz veterans who have always enjoyed challenging musical perceptions—and misperceptions.


The haunting opener, “Her Exacting Light,” begins with Clement carefully mapping out the chord progressions for the others to follow. “Life on Cloud 8” expands the tonal palette with Previte playfully rambling, Helias ominously stalking and Bloom inserting some eerie electronica. Previte sits out “Ending Red Songs,” beautiful acoustic ballad patiently and perfectly executed. Bloom whimsically bends and stretches notes on the stop-and-start “Freud’s Convertible,” with Clement adding some bluesy piano over Helias’s walking bass line and Previte’s sizzling cymbals.  


Bloom and Clement double the melody line on the spooky, rhythmically free “Frontiers in Science.” At first listen, “Rookie” seems to have a very simple, almost elementary structure that is approached tentatively, but the tune eventually goes uptempo and features some of Bloom’s most dazzling playing as the sax alternately soars and swoops. “Adjusting to Midnight” is another ballad minus Previte, freeing the players from time constraints. The only tune not penned by Bloom is the closer, Lerner and Loewe’s ballad “I Could Have Danced All Night,” which she performs as a three-minute solo.        


In retrospect, the recurring themes of aerial adventure (which also include “Airspace,” “Rooftops Speak Dreams” and the title track) work beautifully on “Wingwalker,” another bold flight for Ira Jane Bloom.





"Variations," by TrichotomyVariations

Naim Jazz


By Tom Ineck


The obvious point of departure for this exciting piano trio is The Bad Plus, but it’s an easy comparison that does an injustice to both groups. Apart from a similar sense of fun, dynamics and danger, pianist Sean Foran, bassist Pat Marchisella and drummer John Parker certainly have a rightful claim to their own instrumental and compositional prowess on the 2009 Naim release “Variations.”


Like that other piano trio, Trichotomy draws from influences as broad as rock, classical and straight-ahead jazz, but they have their own ideas about how to utilize them. “Island of the Sun” alternately rocks and playfully skips along, rising and falling in intensity. With Foran’s shimmering keyboard impressionism, “At the Right Moment” demonstrates their penchant for the classics before shifting to a bright swing tempo. A driving piano riff is at the core of “Branching Out,” but it also has Foran venturing into some beautiful improvisation.


Guests John Babbage on alto sax and Christa Powell and Bernard Hoey on violin and viola, respectively, broaden the trio’s scope on “Start,” and the ballad “Ascent” features the additional support of trumpeter Peter Knight and the subtle electronics of Lawrence English. “Variations on a Bad Day” builds slowly to a demonic climax with Marchisella furiously scraping the bow over the strings and Foran smashing the keys into submission. Likewise, “Chunk” lumbers and growls in punk rock fashion.


Relative calm returns with the hypnotic “Please.” Syncopated handclaps in the flamenco tradition set up the rhythmic tension of Foran’s piano excursions on his composition “The Unknown.” The closer, “Labyrinth,” is a group improvisation whose quirky twists and turns justify its title.     


The word “trichotomy” denotes a splitting into three parts, but this Trichotomy seems to work as one with a sound that flows seamlessly despite its often abrupt melodic turns and metric leaps. That seamless flow no doubt continues with the trio’s follow-up release on Naim, “The Gentle War,” which was released in February.





"Transient Journey," by Pharez WhittedTransient Journey

Owl Studios


This progressive, soulful and accessible new release by trumpeter Pharez Whitted has been a long time coming. A veteran jazz educator with two CDs as a leader released in the mid-1990s, Whitted has gathered an equally accomplished, versatile and compatible group of musicians for “Transient Journey.”


About 10 years ago, Whitted left his position as assistant professor of music at Ohio State University and moved to Chicago, where a large pool of first-rate jazz players awaited. Sharing the spotlight on this excellent recording are Eddie Bayard, tenor and soprano saxes; Bobby Broom, guitar; Ron Perillo, piano and keyboards; Dennis Carroll, bass; and Greg Artry, drums.


“The Truth Seeker” gallops from the gate with funky assertiveness, in a manner somewhat reminiscent of Bobby Watson and Horizon. Whitted and Bayard share the upbeat melody and the rhythm section—with Perrillo comping on electric piano—churns out an irresistible beat. Whitted’s confident bravura playing reflects his most obvious influence, Freddie Hubbard, but it always remains tastefully within the context of the group sound. The title track is moody and slow-grooving, guided by delicately shifting and shimmering electric piano harmonies and punctuated by brief solo statements. “Brother Thomas” is a bouncy, mid-tempo tune with plentiful soul. Solos by Broom, Whitted and Perillo exploit the catchy chord changes for all their worth.


“Monkish” pays obvious homage to Thelonious Monk with quirky chords and off-kilter rhythms taken slightly uptempo, but without slavish mimicry of the master. The complex time signature of “Plicky” makes for some exciting interplay when alternating soloists Whitted, Bayard and Broom soar high over the rhythm section. Whitted wrote the soothing ballad “Sunset on the Gaza” for the children of the Gaza Strip in the hope that someday they will enjoy the sunset without the sounds of warfare. Likewise, the bossa nova “Until Tomorrow Comes” has a hopeful message.


That hopeful spirit also emerges in the lively funk of “Our Man Barack” and the brightly swinging “Yes We Can.” Whitted’s optimism fairly leaps from the horn and is aided and abetted by the rest of the gang.  


With over 70 minutes worth of music here, Whitted obviously had a lot on his mind. We hope he doesn’t wait another decade and a half to express it.





"Freedom Trane," by Jessica WilliamsFreedom Trane

Origin Records


Ever since the death of John Coltrane more than 40 years ago, jazz musicians of every ilk have attempted to get at the core of his sound, the key to its immutable power and transcendent spirit. Aside from Coltrane bandmate McCoy Tyner, perhaps Jessica Williams on “Freedom Trane” comes as close to the source as a piano player is likely to get.


Four of the eight tunes come from the Coltrane songbook, but the other half were written by Williams, a very effective way for her to personalize her homage to the master while avoiding the urge to simply repeat his ideas. “The Seeker” states explicitly an admirer’s search for an answer to the riddle that is Coltrane. It echoes many of the familiar themes but allows Williams to stretch her formidable talents to create something new.


Coltrane’s dirge, “Lonnie’s Lament,” is given a respectful treatment, with especially sensitive support by bassist Dave Captein on both bowed and pizzicato bass and drummer Mel Brown on both mallets and brushes. With such reliable colleagues, Williams is free to explore keyboard harmonies and single-note excursions. The title track is a gospel-tinged original that steams along the track like the proverbial, well-oiled locomotive. Coltrane and Sonny Rollins co-wrote “Paul’s Pal,” a playful melody that has Williams whimsically repeating notes, phrases and variations until the listener is bound to smile with delight.


Perhaps most telling of all is the ballad “Prayer and Meditation,” Williams’ expression of the spiritual essence that was so central to Coltrane’s life. In her ringing chords and searching flights into the keyboards upper reaches, she successfully reveals the secret that has thwarted so many. Her composition “Just Words” follows with some bluesy reflections. “Naima,” easily the most familiar tune here, is done with great care and precision—beginning in a ballad tempo, moving to mid-tempo swing and back again—allowing the pianist a wide scope of solo variations. Williams finishes with Coltrane’s exquisite 1965 composition “Welcome,” another spiritual exploration given a finely-wrought, shimmering solo piano performance by Williams.         


A legendary player in the Bay Area and in Seattle with nearly 40 recordings as a leader, Williams is virtually, and sadly, unknown to folks who never venture to the West Coast. Like Coltrane, her performances are electrifying, even transcendent, as she merges technical prowess, sheer power, confidence and range of emotion to create an exciting concert experience. In this sense, “The Seeker” was a logical choice for her latest release. Recorded in December 2007, it remains a mystery why it was not released until March 2011. We hope her next project is not so long in fruition.





"Eddy Loves Frank," by the Ed Palermo Big BandEddy Loves Frank

Cuneiform Records


By Tom Ineck


This is the third collection of Frank Zappa tunes imaginatively arranged and performed by the Ed Palermo Big Band, so the title comes as no surprise. It is, perhaps, the best one yet, with the ensemble of 12 horns and a rhythm section cruising through complex orchestrations with seemingly breathtaking ease. With their high degree of commitment and respect for the material and an equally high degree of technical skill, Palermo and his colleagues again raise some of Zappa’s more obscure instrumental gems to new, unimagined heights.


For example, take the opener, “Night School.” Originally recorded entirely by Zappa on solo Synclavier for his Grammy-winning 1986 release “Jazz from Hell,” here it has been given a dense, driving horn arrangement that veers fearlessly from jazz to rock and classical influences, including a devastating, note-perfect sax soli section and some great alto sax improvisation by Palermo himself.


“Echidna’s Arf (of You),” which dates to 1974, rocks even harder, as the rhythm section and horns answer each other in exciting stop-time passages. Keyboardists Bob Quaranta (on acoustic piano) and Ted Kooshian (on the versatile Kurzweil organ), guitarist Bruce McDaniel, bassist Paul Adamy and drummer Ray Marchica lend potent rhythmic oomph. The horns swing mightily before bringing the tune to a close after nearly 10 minutes. From 1979’s “Sleep Dirt” comes “Regytian Strut,” another extravagant example of jazz-rock showmanship.


As FZ himself said, there IS a place for humor in music, and Palermo demonstrates that with his interpretation of “Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?” also from 1974. After a comic introduction it moves uptempo with a confident swagger and features outstanding solos by Kooshian, Palermo and McDaniel, whose keening, controlled feedback and snaking lines remind the listener of Zappa’s own fret board style. On “Dupree’s Paradise,” the focus is on Quaranta’s progressive pianism, while both the pianist and tenor saxophonist Ben Kono share the spotlight on the quizzical and musically challenging “What’s New in Baltimore.”


Elements of the calliope and other carnival music arise in “Let’s Move to Cleveland,” with Kooshian’s Kurzweil approximating the sound of assorted keyboards, vibes and marimba, some of the composer’s favorite effects. Trumpeter Ronnie Buttacavoli also contributes to the fun. The CD ends with a heartfelt rendition of “America the Beautiful,” dedicated by Palermo to his father, a WWII veteran, whom he calls a “REAL American hero,” distinguishing him from the “chicken-hawks” who promulgated the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In this sense, Palermo also follows in the footsteps of Zappa, an outspoken critic of political hypocrisy.


Zappa would have turned 70 in December. Instead, he produced enough mind-boggling music in his brief 52 years that bandleaders like Palermo still find new ways to interpret it while remaining true to its unique spirit. I suspect Frank would approve.





"Warriors," by The CookersWarriors

JLP Records


By Tom Ineck


You can’t argue with either the name of this band or the title of its debut release. According to the liner notes by trumpeter David Weiss, the seven musicians here have a combined professional experience of more than 250 years and have appeared on more than 1,000 recordings. They are, indeed, jazz warriors who have survived the ongoing battles of the fickle marketplace. And, their playing continues to cook with all the heat and intensity of much younger players.


As composers, arrangers, interpreters, and improvisers, they are without peer. They are Billy Harper, tenor sax; Eddied Henderson and Weiss, trumpets; Craig Handy, alto sax and flute; George Cables, piano; Cecil McBee, bass; and Billy Hart, drums. Together, they are a formidable team of individuals that tastefully coalesce like a well-prepared, seven-course meal.


Henderson puts his shoulder to the wheel on Freddie Hubbard’s “The Core,” leaping through the changes with ease and passion as the other horns comp with punchy emphasis. Harper adds a Coltrane-inspired solo, Weiss follows with some new variations, Cables soars on a dazzling keyboard foray, and Hart caps the tune with a percussion flurry before Henderson takes it home. It has all the trademarks, energy and imagination of mid-’60s Miles.


Cables contributes his lyrical and rhythmically challenging “Spookarella” to the mix with an arrangement by Weiss. Handy proves his mettle with some brilliant flute work and the composer adds his own unique touch. The lead voice on McBee’s romantic ballad “Close to You Alone” is beautifully rendered by Handy, this time on alto sax, as the rest of the ensemble creates the perfect harmonic backdrop. Harper wrote and arranged “Priestess,” a powerful cooker that is an ideal vehicle for Harper’s robust, progressive playing. It also features fine solos by Weiss on trumpet and Handy on alto. Cables returns the mood to a lighter vein with the waltzy second movement of his “Sweet Rita Suite,” entitled “Her Soul.” Weiss’ arrangement has Handy stating the theme on flute, and Henderson and Cables delivering brief, but effective solo statements.


The dark colors of Harper’s “Capra Black” provides for some ominous exchanges between the horns and the rhythm section, as Cables and McBee make the chords ring with fervor under Harper’s honking, turbulent tenor. As the 11-minute modal piece builds, Weiss injects a trumpet passage of swirling intensity and Cables takes a typically wonderful harmonic excursion to the upper reaches of the keyboard. McBee wrote and Weiss arranged the final pair of tunes. “Ladybugg” has a loping cadence and a mysterious melody—somewhat reminiscent of the “Perry Mason” theme and voiced by the horn ensemble. Henderson takes a stunning muted solo. “U Phoria” has Harper in the driver’s seat, but as with the rest of this marvelous recording, it is a group effort constantly aided and abetted by the expert ensemble of veterans.





"The Gates BBQ Suite," by Bobby Watson & the UMKC Concert Jazz OrchestraThe Gates BBQ Suite

Bobby Watson Records


By Tom Ineck


After 25 years in New York City, Bobby Watson returned a decade ago to the Kansas City area where he was born and raised to become head of jazz studies at UMKC. It is fitting that he should direct the school’s concert jazz orchestra in a recorded performance of his suite celebrating the joys of Kansas City barbecue. Anyone who has ever eaten at Gates’ BBQ can testify that it has rightfully become a city landmark of national fame. As Watson writes in the liner notes, “Kansas City is the Napa Valley of barbecue. Gates’ Barbecue stands alone as king of the valley!”


Watson’s lifelong passion for barbecue began with childhood visits to Merriam, Kan., where his grandparents operated a barbecue shop. With his seven-movement suite dedicated to the Gates family business, he pays tribute to the tradition, often composing, arranging and titling the pieces to reflect different aspects of this unique dining experience.


Upon arrival, customers are put at their ease with a friendly “May I Help You?” and the opening track is so named. Taken at a light, relaxed tempo, it features the horn section in its full glory with a muted trumpet solo by Herman Mahari. “Beef on Bun” is a “meaty” up-tempo number with “smoking” tenor sax exchanges by William Sanders and Steven Lambert following Nick Grinlinton’s opening guitar solo. It is a hearty “serving” indeed.


The soulful, loping “Heavy on the Sauce!” drips with an ideally thick consistency, emitting a pungent aroma and biting with some spicy alto sax licks by the composer. A colorful brass chorale launches “Blues for Ollie,” a tribute to Ollie Gates that walks the blues in stately fashion, thanks to bassist Ben Leifer and drummer Ryan Lee. It also features solos by trumpeter John Merlitz, alto saxophonist Michael Shults, pianist Will Crain, Leifer and Lee.   


Percussionists Pablo Sanheuza, Pat Conway and Andres Rameriz perform an African-style processional march to introduce “The Presidents’ Tray,” with a special nod to the current African-American commander-in-chief. The trombones are prominently featured as they state the theme, leading to a sprightly alto sax solo by Shults. The ensemble moves confidently through the beautiful chord changes before the percussion trio re-emerges.


“One Minute Too Late!” expresses Watson’s very personal response to arriving at Gates’ BBQ after the doors have closed for the night. He is the only soloist here, and he plays it to the hilt in a style reminiscent of the romantic dirges of Barry White, or as the composer writes, “crying and lamenting on my sax about what could have been.” Watson’s grandparents Jesse and Daisy Wilkes get their due in the last movement, the funky “Wilkes’ BBQ.” It has the horns pumping to the insistent beat of Leifer’s bass line and allows Watson a final, joyous alto solo.





"Cats Afoot," by Andrew VogtCats Afoot

Drew’s Blues Records


By Tom Ineck


Jazz eclectic Andrew Vogt continues to draw on his many and diverse influences for his latest release, the cleverly-titled “Cats Afoot.” Recruiting the finest players in the vicinity of Fort Collins, Colo., and deploying them in sextet, quartet and duo settings, the versatile reed player delivers a satisfying, smile-inducing recording of mostly original compositions.


The opener is Jeff Lynne’s “On the Run,” an old ELO tune updated with an upbeat jazz shuffle featuring the twin tenors of Vogt and Rich Chiaraluce, a friend, mentor and frequent collaborator. This infectious tune will have you snapping your fingers in time to the bright and swinging rhythm. Guitarist Bill Kopper also contributes a lithe, imaginative solo.


“With Trace of Night” is a funky, rocking number with a vicious backbeat. Vogt, on alto sax, fronts a tight quartet also consisting of guitarist Kopper, bassist Drew Morell and drummer Mark Raynes. In his angular, squealing alto forays, Vogt turns this one every which way but loose. With Vogt on tenor, the quartet drives through the swinging, rhythmically complex tune, “The Derailer.” Kopper and Morell deliver outstanding solos, and Raynes weave polyrhythmic patterns around Vogt’s sax lines.


Kopper shines on fuzz-toned lead guitar and overdubbed wah-wah rhythm guitar on the snaking, ominous “Groomzilla.” Of course, Vogt also finds plenty of opportunities to insert incisive tenor fills. “Pour Deux” pairs Vogt and Chiaraluce on clarinets for a joyful exercise in skilled interplay. Kopper adds an equally joyful solo on nylon-string guitar and Mark Sloniker follows with a brilliant piano solo.


Vogt pays homage to one of his major influences with “Phil Woodshed,” an uptempo, straight-ahead bopper with the twin alto saxes of Vogt and Chiaraluce in exciting call-and-response exchanges. Gabriel Faure’s impressionistic ballad “Pavane” provides the perfect setting for Sloniker and Vogt, who first states the gorgeous melody on clarinet before taking it into the jazz realm with variations on the theme.


The sextet returns with the breezy, swaying “Say This Way,” the longest tune at just over nine minutes. Vogt runs the range of his horn with ease in his extended solo statement. It also features solid solos by Sloniker and bassist Eric Applegate. The two tenors are paired again on the swing classic “Jeep is Jumpin’,” a Johnny Hodges composition from the Ellington songbook. Indeed, everyone is jumpin’ on this uptempo sextet performance.


Vogt picks up the baritone saxophone for “Light in Shade,” a wonderful, stately piece that amounts to the composer’s own venture into classical impressionism. Sloniker’s playing expands beautifully on the melody and harmonic variations in this exquisite duo performance.       


The CD’s title is a little double-entendre wordplay, reinforced by the cover and sleeve photos of some very active felines. As Vogt notes, “The cats in the band were great and hardly anyone shedded!”





"Constraints & Liberations," by Thomas MarriottConstraints & Liberations

Origin Records


By Tom Ineck


If it were not for Origin Records, many of the wonderful jazz players of the Pacific Northwest would be unknown to those of us out here in the hinterlands. Among the most creative of these is trumpeter Thomas Marriott, a Seattle native who has had five releases as leader on Origin in the last six years. “Constraints & Liberations” is the latest, and it may be the best yet.


This time Marriott concentrates on his own compositions, contributing six of the seven tunes. He fronts a quintet of veterans capable of confidently performing these often complex pieces—tenor saxophonist Hans Teuber, pianist Gary Versace, bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer John Bishop, co-owner of Origin.


The dense “Diagram” gets thing off to a head-turning, ear-opening start, saying a lot in just over four minutes. The rhythm section percolates mightily under the horns, which alternate in dialogue between relaxed and tense lines, and Versace’s solo is a thing of unique beauty. The tempo is slower and the mood is more mysterious on “Up from Under,” with Marriott playing with tremendous passion as his solo builds in intensity. Versace voices his solo and his comping with unusual chord progressions, urging on Teuber to deliver a searing solo.


The uptempo title track is open enough to allow for plenty of improvised variations by Marriott and Teuber as the rhythm section keeps it pulsing with interesting twists and turns and Versace contributes another brilliant solo, largely consisting of well-placed chords. As the title implies, “Waking Dream” is taken at a dreamy, somnambulistic pace. Marriott plays a breathy muted horn over a simple, suspended chord structure, and searching solos by Versace and Johnson expand on the dream theme.


With its optimistic tone, “Early Riser” does indeed evoke the dawning of a new day. Marriott’s playing hews closely to his horn’s comfortable middle range, while Teuber ventures farther afield with leaping tenor lines. Johnson’s “Clue” is a loosely constructed tune that urges the players to free-blowing expression. Marriott beautifully stretches his trumpet lines over the framework. As the piece intensifies, Versace picks up the thread with a minimalist solo that morphs into something more sinister. The composer’s own solo is full of warmth and woody resonance.


The title of the final track, “Treadstone 71,” refers to a secret operation in Robert Ludlum’s book “The Bourne Identity.” Rhythmically free, it contains elements of mystery and musical searching. Like the title of this wonderful CD, the music suggests that much artistic expression combines freedom with restraint.





"No Beginning No End," by Kenny WernerNo Beginning No End

Half Note Records


By Tom Ineck


There is no better example of music as catharsis than “No Beginning, No End,” pianist Kenny Werner’s 2010 release. The suite for wind ensemble and percussion began nearly five years ago as a commission from MIT to be performed in May 2007. The project was dramatically derailed on Oct. 2, 2006, when Werner’s daughter, Katheryn, was killed in an auto accident. During a long period of spiritual healing for Werner and his wife, Lorraine, he wrote a poem entitled “No Beginning, No End.” Suddenly, he had a renewed purpose and inspiration to return to the commissioned piece.


“I would use phrases from my poem to create a simple message,” Werner writes. Arising from his belief in Eastern spirituality and reincarnation, the message is one of transcendent acceptance. Or, as he writes in the poem:


“Life is not a start,

Death is not an end.

There is no loss

To the God of time.”


“No Beginning No End” is a magnificent expression of that sentiment in music and words. Astonishingly, Werner had never written for a large orchestra before this project. In addition to a 37-piece wind ensemble, it includes multiple percussion instruments, harp and marimba. One chilling movement, the five-minute “Visitation: Waves of Unborn,” is performed a cappella by the NYU Steinhardt choir. “Cry Out” is a piece for string quartet, and the final “Coda” features a quartet fronted by Werner on piano and also including vibes, marimba and harp. 


Central to the performance is the impassioned tenor saxophone of Joe Lovano and the ethereal voice of Judi Silvano. The two overdubbed their parts after the ensemble had laid down the basic tracks, adding—along with Werner at the piano—jazz sensibilities to what might otherwise be considered classical music. The contrast is magical on the opening “Death is Not the Answer.” On “Loved Ones,” Lovano and Silvano weave their haunting lines amidst a scattering of accompanying wind instruments. The wind ensemble slowly builds in intensity on “The God of Time,” inspiring Lovano to a great tenor flight. “Astral Journey” functions as the centerpiece of the suite, a musical and spiritual bridge with an uplifting denouement. In “We Three,” Silvano delivers the reassuring message that a “family of souls never really part.”


While the Werner family and friends undoubtedly have a lot of sadness to overcome and a lot of healing yet to do, “No Beginning No End” is a powerful instrument in that process. Justifiably, it won Werner a 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship Award.





"Universe B," by Wil Swindler's ElevenetUniverse B

OA2 Records


By Tom Ineck


Amid the dreck that arrives in the mail for our perusal there are occasional gems of such polished beauty that they demand acknowledgement, especially if they are by artists deserving of more recognition. Such is the case with “Universe B,” by Wil Swindler’s Elevenet. Not exactly a household word, the Elevenet hearkens back to the days of “Birth of the Cool” and the collaborations of trumpeter Miles Davis and arranger Gil Evans.


Like Evans, Swindler has assembled a gifted large ensemble for which he has written and arranged some demanding, but swinging tunes. Also like Evans, he revels in the darker brass tones of saxophones, bass clarinet, euphonium, and French horn, in addition to trumpets, flugelhorns and trombone.


From the opening notes of the title track, the listener knows he’s in for a delightful ride through unusual harmonic developments, powered by an insistent rhythmic pulse and furthered by the brilliant soloing of Dana Landry on the rarely used Rhodes electric piano, Swindler on soprano sax and Peter Sommer on tenor sax.


“She’s Too Conflicted” is a gorgeous Swindler original anchored by a “dialogue” between Gabriel Mervine’s flugelhorn and Swindler’s alto sax, over a lush brass chorale. The composer is not without humor, as he proves with the delightful romp “The Equestrian Pedestrian,” complete with a walking (galloping?) bass line.


It is not surprising that Swindler was commissioned by the International Association for Jazz Education to write a piece honoring Gil Evans. The result is the beautiful, 11-minute “Glass,” an orchestral masterpiece that also features solos by Mervine on flugelhorn and the composer on alto sax.


In addition to five original tunes, Swindler chose three unusual covers. Gil Evans’ arrangement of “Miles Ahead” is an obvious choice, with its lush brass voicing. Swindler’s adaptation features Mervine on trumpet. Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing” gets an arrangement that emphasizes the ballad’s unusual harmonies and perceived irony. Most daring of all is Swindler’s beguiling take on George Harrison’s “Blue Jay Way,” a very strange tune that has been largely neglected in the study and interpretation of The Beatles.





"Sings Johnny Mercer: I Remember You," by Tom CulverSings Johnny Mercer: I Remember You

Rhombus Records


By Tom Ineck


A good song interpreter can never go wrong with the material of Johnny Mercer, and the Mel Torme-styled Tom Culver is no exception. Regardless of tempo, Culver knows how to deliver a lyric, whether swinging with enthusiasm or caressing a romantic ballad. With “I Remember You,” Culver delivers a generous package of 18 Mercer tunes, both familiar and obscure, that clocks in at well over an hour.


One might assume that any competent wordsmith could have written the lyrics to the music of legendary composers Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael or Henry Mancini, but it was Mercer whose astute ear, wit and wisdom transformed their tunes into timeless classics. Mercer could also write memorable music, and two of his sole compositions are included here.


Pianist Karen Hernandez is largely responsible for the interesting and varied arrangements, and Culver is accompanied by a tasteful group of musicians who understand the demands of supporting a singer without being obtrusive. They include a solid rhythm section consisting of bassist Lou Shoch, drummers Jack Le Compte and Gerryck King, multi-instrumentalist Rick Hils on assorted keyboards and guitar and Don Littleton on congas. Among the exemplary soloists are saxophonists Ricky Woodard and Jim Jedeikin, trumpeter Nolan Shaheed, clarinetist Geoff Nudell and guitarist Tom Bethke.


The band swings intently on the opener, Kern’s “Dearly Beloved,” as Culver demonstrates his supple sound and rhythmic verve. Arlen’s “Out of This World” is taken as a dreamy samba, with Culver floating the lyrics in long, languorous phrases. The mood goes uptempo with another Latin treatment, this time on “Day In, Day Out.”


One of Mercer’s great, lesser-known tunes is “Drinking Again,” with music by Doris Tauber. The lyricist is known for his occasional overindulgence in alcohol, so this crying-in-your-beer barroom ballad has the ring of truth. With subtle accompaniment by guitarist Bethke, bassist Shoch, drummer King and Hils on piano, Culver sings with feeling:


“Drinking again and thinking of when you loved me,

Having a few and wishing that you were here,

Making the rounds and buying the rounds for strangers,

Being a fool, just hoping that you’ll appear.”


Other highlights include the sensitive ballad treatment of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark,” capped by an excellent trumpet solo; an unusually funky take on Arlen’s “One For My Baby,” with Woodard delivering the bluesy goods on tenor sax; the small jazz club ambiance and growling trumpet solo on the easy-swinging “Harlem Butterfly,” with words and music by Mercer; and the New Orleans, slow-drag tempo on Arlen’s “Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home,” with appropriate instrumental features for piano, trumpet and clarinet.


Also worth mention is the footloose Rick Hils arrangement and piano playing on Mercer’s “Something’s Gotta Give,” a nod to Fred Astaire, who introduced the tune in the movie “Daddy Long Legs.” King moves the tune along with a steady shuffle beat, and Bethke contributes a nice solo. Bethke also soars on “Charade” when the Gil Leib arrangement suddenly goes uptempo.


One of the undeniable classics included here is “Midnight Sun,” for which Mercer wrote lyrics after hearing the melody by Sonny Burke and Lionel Hampton. Culver gives it proper respect with a soothing vocal treatment.




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