CD Reviews


"The Road Home," by Clipper AndersonThe Road Home

Origin Records


By Tom Ineck


It is evident from the first lines of the opening track, Bill Evans’ “Twelve Tone Tune Two,” that this is the bassist’s record. Despite the considerable talents and sensitive interplay of pianist Darin Clendenin and drummer Mark Ivester, Anderson’s prodigious playing skill and booming, woody tone have an immediate impact on the listener.


The leader also impresses as the composer of six of the 11 tracks, including the lovely and lyrical title tune, a shimmering pastoral evocation of the Pacific Northwest where Anderson lives. “Esperancoso Destino” (Portuguese for “Hopeful Destination”) is as bright and hopeful as its title and features a wordless vocal by Greta Matassa. Clendenin states the melody of the beautiful ballad “Say Yes Again,” but Anderson contributes the perfect bass harmonies and solos with grace and imagination. The loping, mid-tempo “Nasty Gnomes” is a rhythmic gem, and “Can You Meet Me There?” is another heartfelt ballad. Like the title track, “Two Rivers” again evokes a rural journey. As the composer acknowledges in the liner notes, both tunes were influenced by Pat Metheny. 


In addition to the original compositions, the cover tunes are well chosen. Richard Rodgers’ “Over and Over Again” is taken at a brisk waltz tempo, aided by Ivester’s brush work. Anderson’s performance, including the introductory bowed section, on Jack Brownlow’s “Jimnopodie” brilliantly echoes Erik Satie’s haunting “Gymnopedies” that inspired it. “Poinciana” gets a wonderful trio treatment, with Clendenin stating the simple, but familiar melody as Anderson plays counterpoint and Ivester provides energetic percussion on both drums and congas. Piano and bass combine unison lines for a powerful ending. Appropriately, Bill Evans’ ballad “Only Child” makes a nice bookend for the CD, and Anderson renders the lyrics with feeling.


With a strong debut like this, veteran bassist Clipper Anderson deserves more attention as a leader.





"The Monk Project," by Jimmy OwensThe Monk Project

IPO Recordings


By Tom Ineck


The recent release of “The Monk Project” proves that trumpet and flugelhorn artist Jimmy Owens is under-recorded. He shines here in the company of an all-star ensemble that includes trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, saxophonists Marcus Strickland and Howard Johnson, pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Winard Harper. You could not assemble a more formidable—or more compatible—group of musicians to revisit the always fascinating music of Thelonious Sphere Monk.


“The Monk Project” bubbles with enthusiasm from the get-go, the typically quirky Monk tune “Bright Mississippi.” The brass is imaginatively voiced from top to bottom, and everyone is given ample room to solo. Owens, the nominal leader, produced the recording and wrote the arrangements, but this is a very democratic project, indeed. The result is an ensemble sound that moves as one.


Barron contributes a stunning solo on a loping Latin arrangement of “Well You Needn’t,” followed by Owens on a long, under-stated solo on flugelhorn. Harper’s drum fills are priceless. “Blue Monk” retains all of its slow-drag blues credentials, complete with slurred trumpet blasts by Owens, plunger-muted trombone as only Gordon can deliver, and Strickland’s tenor sax wailing in the grand tradition.


Owens turns up the whimsy on “Stuffy Turkey,” featuring dizzily swirling, chuckle-inducing horn lines. “Pannonica” gets an appropriately tender ballad reading, with Owens’ flugelhorn and Gordon’s trombone blending beautifully and the other horns adding harmonic spice. As always, Barron’s piano contributions are well-considered and tasteful. “Let’s Cool One” is a very cool and jazzy uptempo waltz.


“Reflections” is a trio performance with Owens at his most meditative as he delivers a soulful flugelhorn statement in tandem with Gordon’s trombone. Barron provides sensitive accompaniment. The ensemble returns in full force for the final piece, an 11-minute version of “Epistrophy.”


Owens arranges with a flair for various time signatures and tempos, but his love and respect for Monk’s one-of-a-kind sound is evident in every note. “Brilliant Corners” was brilliantly arranged by Ayal Vilner and Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” was transcribed and arranged by Jack Ramsey from Monk’s performance with Oscar Pettiford and Kenny Clarke on “Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington.”





"Red Sparkle," by Jeff Hamilton TrioRed Sparkle

Capri Records


By Tom Ineck


There is no more swinging drummer in jazz today than Jeff Hamilton. He has both the power to drive a big band and the subtlety to finesse a lyrical trio like this one, with pianist Tamir Hendelman and bassist Christoph Luty. Often utilizing brushes only, Hamilton creates an irresistible rhythmic pulse but never distracts from his colleagues’ important melodic and harmonic roles. Actually, he has such a keen sense of melody and mood that he seems to make the drums sing rather than just provide a beat. 


Together for a decade under Hamilton’s leadership, this threesome is uncannily coherent and cohesive. They give new perspective on standards like the uptempo “Too Marvelous for Words,” the ballad “Laura” and the whimsical “A Sleepin’ Bee,” which features some devilishly difficult stop-time exchanges. Hendelman and Luty excel on this tune, but it is Hamilton whose breezily swinging brush strokes hold it all together.


Hendelman and Luty state the melody of Monk’s quirky “Bye Ya” in unerring unison before venturing into solo excursions, and the trio smartly reinterprets the Stephen Bishop pop hit “On and On.” One of the most beautiful performances is on the ballad “I Know You Oh So Well,” by Hamilton’s former employer, the late Ray Brown, with Luty on bowed bass.


The four original compositions are equally impressive. Hamilton’s shuffle tune “Ain’t That a Peach” is a bright and swinging opener that really gets the adrenaline moving. Hendelman offers “Hat’s Dance,” a relaxed, mid-tempo swinger with bluesy echoes of Oscar Peterson. Luty’s contribution is “In an Ellingtone,” an obvious reference to Duke and his classic “In a Mellotone.” The exciting title track is Hamilton’s nod to those special “red sparkle” moments in music—and in life—named for the finish on his very first drum kit. Everyone turns it up a notch on this one.




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