October 25, 2016
Alyssa Allgood Out Of The Blue (Jeru Jazz JJR-5-CD)
Among the many new young vocalists who happily label themselves as ‘jazz singers’ are just a few who truly deserve the title. Unquestionably, Alyssa Allgood is one of these few. Based in Chicago, she has gained acclaim locally and has also attracted attention further afield while studying, then working with mentors including Jay Clayton and Madeline Eastman, and taking part in the 2015 Shure Montreaux Jazz Voice Competition. Alyssa’s love of jazz is immediately apparent from her choice of material, which includes Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil, Hank Mobley’s Watch Me Walk Away (Dig Dis), Sam Rivers’ Beatrice, Joe Chambers Mirrors (all with lyrics by Alyssa), Only A Memory (Ceora) by Lee Morgan and Milton Suggs, Joe Henderson’s If, Horace Silver’s Peace, the Bobby Timmons-Jon Hendricks classic, Moanin’, as well as Noticing The Moment (Moment’s Notice) by John Coltrane, Peter Eldridge and Kim Nazarian. As the album title makes clear, the material and its originators are associated with the classic Blue Note label and that company’s ethos lies at the heart of Alyssa’s work. Indeed, all of the instrumentalists heard here are with the label today. These collaborators are saxophonist Chris Madsen, organist Dan Chase, guitarist Tim Fitzgerald, and drummer Matt Plaskota. All play with skill and the mutual empathy is apparent throughout, in ensemble, supporting the singer, as well as soloing with flair. The arrangements, by Alyssa and Dan, are crafted to allow ample space for inventive vocal and instrumental solos. Alyssa’s singing voice is light and true, she is rhythmically assured and has a clear understanding of the intentions of the originators of the music. As is apparent, most of this music began as instrumental pieces and in some instances Alyssa’s vocals follow the original solo lines. Vocalese is a difficult art, as is scat singing, but Alyssa displays her accomplishment in these areas. Not that these forms of jazz singing are overused; rather, they are blended into a wholly satisfying display of jazz singing. Contemporary in presentation, the blues are never far away; a comment that might also apply to Blue Note Records. Alyssa Allgood is a name to look out for and to remember.
Matthew Kaminski Live At Churchill Grounds (Chicken Coup CCP 7026)
Playing Hammond B3 organ, here Matthew Kaminski leads his quartet through a live date, recorded over two nights in Atlanta. Rounding out the quartet are Will Scruggs, tenor saxophone, Rod Harris Jr, guitar, and Chris Burroughs, drums, all of them playing with the spirit heard in Hammond-led groups of the past. Also featured here is vocalist Kimberly Gordon, who sings on If I Had You, I Love Being Here With You and So Danco Samba. Mixed in with the standards are pop songs, such as the Beach Boys’ Sail On Sailor, and jazz pieces, like Jimmy Smith’s Midnight Special, Duke Ellington’s Just Squeeze Me and It Shouldn’t Happen To A Dream, on both of which Kimberly sings, and Lou Donaldson’s Hot Dog. And then there’s the almost inevitable April In Paris, which started out as a popular song but gravitated into the world of the jazz organist by way of Wild Bill Davis (not forgetting Count Basie), here given a long workout by all five musicians. Throughout this album, the spotlight is mainly on Matthew and his solos are always interesting. So too are those by Will, playing with drive on the swingers and with sensitivity on ballads. A fine example of Rod’s playing comes on Jack McDuff’s A Real Goodun, which closes the album. A very entertaining occasion that swings from start to finish and leaves the listener wanting more. Speaking of which, this is Matthew’s third jazz release, the others being Swingin’ and Taking My Time. A footnote for those with a sporting inclination: Matthew has played organ for eight seasons at the home of the Atlanta Braves and has also released an album in this style.
Rebecca Dumaine Happy Madness (Summit DCD 687)
Singing with obvious delight in the material, here Rebecca Dumaine presents a selection that draws mainly upon the music of earlier times. Among the songs are standards but there a few from more recent times, all of them given a fresh outlook yet their treatment shows her respect. The songs include Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke’s Like Someone In Love, Harry Warren and Mack Gordon’s The More I See You, Marvin Fisher’s Destination Moon, Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer’s I’m Old Fashioned, Joe Bushkin and Joe Devries’s Nobody Else But Me and Cole Porter’s It’s All Right With Me, while the album takes its title from the song by Antonio Carlo Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes (with Gene Lees’ lyrics). Providing admirable support for Rebecca is the Dave Miller Trio, a longtime association. With Dave on piano are Perry Thoorsill, bass, and Bill Belasco, drums (Dave is Rebecca’s father). The trio is augmented on some tracks by guitarist Brad Beauthe and saxophonist Pete Cornell. Relaxed and happy music that is collectively a very pleasing set that will appeal to those who enjoy hearing good songs sung and played well by straightahead jazz performers who clearly admire this music. For details of an earlier album by Rebecca, The Consequence Of You, see my post in late-May 2015.
Joshua Breakstone 88 (Capri 74144-2)
Tributes paid by a jazz artist to others are by no means unusual, but this set from guitarist Joshua Breakstone takes an intriguing approach. One original by Joshua apart, the music heard here is written by jazz pianists and the fact that there is no pianist in the group means that an alternate view is taken of the music. Thus, aspects that might, perhaps, have been unobserved by the many fans of the composers concerned are revealed. Among the composer-pianists featured by Joshua are Cedar Walton, Black, Tadd Dameron, If You Could See Me Now, Lennie Tristano, Lennie’s Pennies, and Mal Waldron, Soul Eyes. Joshua’s collaborators here, collectively named The Cello Quartet, are cellist Mike Richmond, bassist Lisle Atkinson, and drummer Andy Watson. Although Joshua is the principal soloist, all make an important contribution and this is very much a collaborative venture. It is worth noting Joshua’s comment regarding the reason why he has chosen to perform pieces composed for (and at) the piano: “It’s merely the expression of one guitarist’s love and admiration for the instrument and those who happen to play the hell out of it and use it as a vehicle for composition.” Altogether, this a rewarding and entertaining album that will appeal to many.
Mili Bermejo & Dan Greenspan Arte del Duo (Ediciones Pentagrama APCD 707)
The music performed by this duo has an appealing freshness, which is, perhaps, surprising as singer Mili Bermejo and bassist Dan Greenspan have worked together for a quarter century. Mili’s early years saw her move from Buenos Aires to Mexico City to Boston, where she has taught at Berklee College of Music since 1984; Dan started out in New Haven before moving to Boston where he became an in-demand session musician and more recently the couple have settled in New Hampshire. The music heard here ranges widely both stylistically and geographically with a handful of originals by Mili as well as songs by composers from Mexico, Armenia, Argentina, Uruguay and France. Melodically and rhythmically rich, this music is sung and played with emotional intensity and considerable technical expertise and will have widespread appeal.
Al Strong Love Strong Volume 1 (independent)
On his debut album, trumpeter Al Strong displays his technical skill and also his awareness of the paths taken by jazz in recent years. Although a relatively new name on the contemporary jazz scene, he plays with mature confidence. Most of the music played here has been composed by Al and there is an emotional depth to the music, a quality not always present nowadays. There are also some well known themes, including Kenny Barron’s Voyage, Thelonious Monk’s Blue Monk and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s My Favorite Things. Joining Al here are several musicians, some of whom also take solos, forming groups of different sizes. Among them are saxophonists Bluford Thompson and James ‘Saxmo’ Gates, keyboard players Ryan Hanseler and Lovell Bradford, and drummers Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons and Iahji Hampden. Contemporary jazz, played with sensitivity and always displaying an awareness of what has gone before.
Richard Sussman The Evolution Suite (Zoho ZM 201614)
For more on Alyssa Allgood, Matthew Kaminski, and Rebecca Dumaine contact Holly Cooper at Mouthpiece Music; for Mili Bermejo & Dan Greenspan and Joshua Breakstone contact Braithwaite & Katz ([email protected]); and for Al Strong and Richard Sussman go to Jim Eigo’s Jazz Promo Services site.
Albums by these artists are available at the usual outlets, including Amazon.
October 12, 2016
Fans of Swing Era music believe it to be as alive today as it was when it first burst upon the popular music scene, and there are many musicians around who are happy to prove them right. That this style is still so popular is quite remarkable when set against the thought that 21 August 2016 was the 81st anniversary of Benny Goodman’s breakthrough dance date at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles. However you look at it, eight decades is a long time. Benny’s band that night was cheered by an unexpected and eager audience that had been growing in the Pacific time zone for months and in the course of the next couple of years their numbers doubled and redoubled first all across the country and eventually around the world.
Although only newly in the public’s consciousness, this new development in jazz that was labeled ‘swing’ had been heard before that night in 1935 because the style had been evolving since the late years of the previous decade. Bands leading the way included those of Jelly Roll Morton, Luis Russell, Fess Williams, Erskine Tate, and Chick Webb, with arrangers Don Redman, Edgar Sampson, and Fletcher Henderson among those importantly involved. From the late 1930s onward, Goodman’s benchmark style was built upon the work of arrangers such as Henderson and Jimmy Mundy. Playing their charts were skilled sidemen, among them trombonist Red Ballard, saxophonists Hymie Schertzer and Art Rollini, pianist Jess Stacy, bassist Harry Goodman (Benny’s brother), and guitarist Allan Reuss. Soloists appeared who were important in building the band’s fan base, although Goodman himself was always firmly in the spotlight. At the time of the Palomar date the band’s most exciting soloist was trumpeter Bunny Berigan, although he left the band a few weeks later. Changes brought in trumpeters Ziggy Elman and Harry James, tenor saxophonist Vido Musso, and, of significant importance to the band’s style and popular appeal, drummer Gene Krupa. His predecessors, Stan King and Sammy Weiss, were skilful dance band drummers and on earlier recordings do everything right. But on later dates Krupa adds that indefinable something that inspired the rest of the band, which in turn electrified audiences and helped make the band the popular powerhouse it was to become.
On 16 January 1938 the band appeared at Carnegie Hall, an occasion recorded (on a single overhead microphone) but not released until the early 1950s, by which time LPs had arrived. This album has never been out of circulation and as the years have passed reissues have benefited enormously from improvements to the sound quality. Not at all surprising is the fact that music from the Swing Era turns up often in films and on television, in dramas and documentaries. Of the music played on these occasions Benny Goodman’s is one of the most common; notably Sing, Sing, Sing the Louis Prima piece that became synonymous with Goodman and Krupa, thanks in large part to the climactic moments of the Carnegie Hall concert. Unfortunately, Benny did not care to share the spotlight with anyone else and Krupa’s personal popularity, which had grown steadily since the Palomar dance date, brought about his departure from the band a little over a year after the Carnegie Hall concert.
So has this music of a bygone age been forgotten? Not at all. Indeed, in some quarters it is just as alive now as it was then. The long ago departure of jazz from the dance floor and in to the concert hall has meant that one of the key qualities of swing style has been sometimes overlooked. This is the fact that most of the music was composed, arranged and played for dancing. It should not be at all surprising therefore that Goodman’s music has had a lasting appeal among dancers, an appeal that is still going strong today. Among the gatherings for fans of dance of this kind is Lindy Focus in Asheville, North Carolina, where musicians and dancers and teachers assemble for a lively festival. The musicians who have played at this venue include local resident and bandleader Michael Gamble, who leads The Rhythmic Serenaders, and Jonathan Stout, leader of the Lindy Focus All Star Orchestra.
Michael Gamble The Rhythmic Serenaders (Organic OR 16552)
On this highly entertaining album, Michael Gamble draws upon music linked to several key names from the Swing Era. For example, he presents Billie Holiday’s composition Fine And Mellow as well as other songs with which she is associated, including What A Night, What A Moon, What A Boy and Back In Your Own Back Yard. Then there are A Mellow Bit Of Rhythm, written by Mary Lou Williams for Andy Kirk’s Clouds Of Joy, Sweets, by Harry Edison for Count Basie’s band, a couple of songs played by Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five, Scottie and Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, while Goodman is represented by way of songs recorded by his sextet and big band: I Never Knew, Seven Come Eleven and Pick-a-Rib. The Rhythm Serenaders assembled by bass player Michael are clarinetists and saxophonists Keenan McKenzie and Paul Consentino, trumpeters Gordon Au and Noah Hocker, trombonists Lucian Cobb and David Wilken, pianists Craig Gildner and James Posedel, guitarists Jonathan Stout and Brooks Prumo, and drummers Josh Collazo and Russ Wilson (who sings on two tracks), while vocalist Laura Windley appears on four tracks.
Throughout, there are fine solos from both Keenan and Paul and also by other members of the collective. These other soloists include James, Jonathan and Noah on Slidin’ And Glidin’, Seven Come Eleven (a theme originating with Charlie Christian) and Sweets, while Craig and Gordon are heard on I Never Knew. Gordon also solos on Fine And Mellow, providing an effective bluesy accompaniment to Laura’s introspective vocal. Everyone with a liking for the swinging music that captivated audiences way back when – and especially those who like to dance – will enjoy this album. And neatly completing the circle that embraces these eight-decades of swing, this recording session took place in Asheville’s Isis Music Hall, which first opened in 1937.
For more on Michael Gamble, contact Holly Cooper at Mouthpiece Music.
This album is available at the usual outlets, including Amazon.
Over the years there have been several books on Benny Goodman, notably D. Russell Connor’s bio-discography, BG On The Record, and his sequel, Benny Goodman: Wrappin’ It Up, as well as Benny Goodman and the Swing Era by James Lincoln Collier and Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life and Times of Benny Goodman by Ross Firestone. There is also one in the Oxford Studies in Recorded Jazz series, Benny Goodman’s Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert by Catherine Tackley. My own book on Goodman is very brief – it was part of a series of monographs on key jazz figures – and it is long out of print (although still around on the Internet for pennies). I mention it only because it is especially dear to me as it is the only book of mine to be translated into Japanese. (I confess I skipped the proofreading stage.)