Jazz CD Reviews – late September 2017

September 30, 2017

Patrick Arthur/Dana Fitzsimons/Chris Otts the ¢heap 3nsemble (independent release)

This highly musical Atlanta-based trio is exploratory, inventive and lyrical. To use founder Dana Fitzsimons’ words, the music played is “. . . dominated by melodicism and space, rather than rhythmic density”. Drawing inspiration from an abstract painting by Gerhard Richter, drummer Dana teamed up with tenor saxophonist Chris Otts and guitarist Patrick Arthur to develop music free from the restraints of too-rigid tempos and conducive to calm reflection. cheap danaAgain quoting Dana: “Since we’re living in such a crazy and stressful period in our own history, we wanted to work with sustained sounds and less rhythmic freneticism, and make music that could heal.” Among the tracks are originals by Chris, Volkslied and Reflection, and Patrick’s Front, as well as works by Bruce Hornsby, Fortunate Son, Chick Corea, Matrix, Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, Pure Imagination, and Raymond Hubbell and John L. Golden, Poor Butterfly. Throughout, there are well-crafted solos from saxophonist and guitarist, all with controlled emotional heart, and intelligent underpinning from the drummer. Interestingly, the cover art on this album is the Gerhard Richter painting that inspired Dana to conceive this music.

For more on Patrick, Dana, Chris and the ¢heap 3nsemble, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.

Manny Echazabal Short Notice (independent release)

A recent graduate of University of Miami, tenor saxophonist Manny Echazabal presents a selection of his own compositions on this, his debut album. For his themes, Manny has developed some concepts that originated in assignments but there is nothing tentative or immature about the end product. Other ideas stem from personal experiences, and while not all of these were good they did prove inspirational. Among these works is the title track, which was a “write a composition in just an hour” assignment given by trumpeter Terence Blanchard who also teaches at UM. Another piece is a three-part work, New Dawn, that deals with aspects of depression, while Abraham’s Warriors centers upon fundraising efforts of a family friend whose young child had terminal cancer. Although the thinking behind this music is outwardly dark, the musical results are far from this. Instead, they are filled with optimism and light and vividly demonstrate Manny’s exceptional musical skill.manny After graduation, he played in Miami clubs and also various jazz festivals. Manny is a fluent player, his technical ability comfortably matching the tasks he sets himself through his compositions. The quartet on this session is completed by pianist Tal Cohen, bassist Dion Kerr and drummer David Chiverton, all young musicians who are similarly gifted and are making names for themselves in the US. This release is sure to extend their audience.

For more on Manny Echazabal, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.

Josh Nelson The Sky Remains (Origin 82741)

On this musical portrait of Los Angeles, pianist Josh Nelson takes inspiration from places and people and events that have added to the city’s rich history. Instrumentalists joining Josh on this album are trumpeter Chris Lawrence, alto saxophonist Josh Johnson, clarinetist Brian Walsh, organist Larry Goldings, guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Alex Boneham, drummer Dan Schnelle, and percussionist Aaron Serfaty. Also heard are vocalists Kathleen Grace (on Bridges and Tunnels, The Sky Remains, Pitseleh, Run) and Lillian Sengpiehl (on Bridges and Tunnels, Ah, Los Angeles, Lost Souls of Saturn), both of them soloing well – sometimes with lyrics other times wordlessly – and also blending effectively with the instrumental ensemble. Anthony takes a long and engaging solo on Ah, Los Angeles, Chris, Brian and others solo on Lost Souls of Saturn, a track that has intriguing instrumental ensemble passages underpinned by fiery percussion. josh nelsonSeveral of the works hear here are Josh’s compositions, among them Bridges and Tunnels, which paints an aural image of those aspects of the city familiar to moviegoers (and depicted also on the sleeve), Ah, Los Angeles, inspired by John Fante’s semi-autobiographical 1939 novel Ask the Dust, and Pacific Ocean Park, a long forgotten amusement park. Also largely forgotten is the Polynesian culture present among the ethnic ingredients of the city in the 1930s, recalled here in Russ Garcia’s Lost Souls of Saturn. There is also a collaborative song by Josh and Kathleen, Run, which commemorates Mack Robinson (bother of Jackie) who won a silver medal to Jesse Owens’ gold in the 200 meters at the 1936 Olympic Games – surely a test of memory for even the most-devoted sports fan. Overall, the mood of this album is reflective – understandably so given the underlying concept – and it is a revealing picture of a city most of us think we know better than is actually so. Very effective playing by all enhances The Sky Remains, which is a rewarding musical experience.

For more on Josh Nelson, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.

John Daversa Wobbly Dance Flower (BFM Jazz 302 062 438 2)

Trumpeter John Daversa’s instrumental collaborators here are Bob Mintzer, tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, pianist and Hammond organist Joe Bagg, guitarist Zane Carney, bassist Jerry Watts Jr, and drummer Gene Coye. John and Bob are also heard on EVI (electronic valve instrument) and EWI (electric wind instrument) respectively. With the exception of Donna Lee all the titles played on this album are John’s compositions. Many of these are developed out of what might seem at first glance to be random thoughts. A reality check reveals that the thoughts of writers – of music or not – are seldom without some connection to the world around them. Put another way, the imagination is never completely turned off. For example, like all frequent fliers, John often has time to kill at airports and sometimes uses his cell phone to record melodies that come into his mind. John is a composer but that particular source of inspiration should ring bells with many writers of all kinds. (Digressing wildly, an idea for a short story came into my mind on a railway station in the North of England and by the time the train reached London the story was finished – and appears elsewhere on this site.)

wobblyBut getting back to John and the airport, the piece that resulted from this is Meet Me at the Airport, which effectively depicts the organized chaos of such places and has long solos from John, followed by Bob, then Joe on the Hammond B3, and Jerry and Zane. Ms. Turkey, a fast-paced work, has fleet soloing from John underpinned by Gene crackling drumming while Donna Lee here has a more relaxed treatment than this bop standard that it is usually given. The opening passage of Be Free, with its hints at a Latin feel, is a good opportunity to hear Joe’s skill on the Hammond B3, in the middle section Bob’s tenor takes an approach in keeping with the tune title, and John brings to an end with a crisp boppish solo. Brooklyn Still has John and Bob in an introspective frame of mind, soloing and effectively supporting one another. Wobbly Dance Flower, again featuring John and Bob who are punched along by Gene, is a lively jaunt that will certainly leave any dancers trying to keep up a little wobbly when it’s over. In contrast, Jazz Heads is a thoughtful piece with John and Bob (here on bass clarinet) underscored by Joe who is again on B3. On the energetic You Got a Puppy? Zane and Gene are heard after opening statements from the horns while the brief (less than a minute) closer, Extra Credit, is a quick word from all. And speaking of quick words, in his liner note fellow trumpeter Brian Lynch writes: “The through line for this project can be boiled down to one word: fun!” No arguments from me.

For more on John Daversa, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.

All albums available at Amazon.

Morning Glory – Mary Lou Williams

September 15, 2017

Many jazz instrumentalists continue to exert influence long after death, but sadly few of them are women. I will refrain from the strange exercise of list making and simply say that were I to do so one name thereon – however short the list – would be Mary Lou Williams. Considered only as a pianist, she would rank high; and she would be similarly ranked if considered as a composer. But as an arranger, she has to be among the very best of her generation. And all of this is, as it should be, regardless of her sex. She was born Mary Elfrieda Scruggs, in Atlanta, Georgia, on 8 May 1910. From early childhood she proved to be a strikingly gifted pianist, becoming a professional as a young teenager. In her mid-teens she married saxophonist-bandleader John Williams with whom she toured mainly in the Midwest. Before long, they were both in Terrence Holder’s popular Territory band and following Holder’s departure, the band became known as Andy Kirk and his Clouds Of Joy. Fans and fellow musicians alike held the band in high regard. In part this was due to the skillful playing of the sidemen, but Mary Lou’s arrangements were by far the most important factor in the band’s success. AA clouds A notable quality of her writing is the manner in which she accommodates the abilities of the band’s sidemen (a characteristic also present in the work of Duke Ellington). So skilled was she that other bandleaders took notice and soon, in addition to her playing and arranging duties with Kirk, she was writing charts for front-rank leaders, including Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Earl Hines. When her marriage to Williams ended she was briefly married to Harold ‘Shorty’ Baker with whom she co-led a band for a while. From the early-1940s into the mid-1950s she continued to perform and arrange, working comfortably with bop musicians, including Art Blakey who played in one of her bands, and Dizzy Gillespie, for whose big band she wrote In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee. She also composed a number of longer works, including The Zodiac Suite, which was performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Of all her talents, it is for her arrangements that Mary Lou Williams will be best remembered, and in particular those she wrote for the Clouds of Joy, among them some of her own compositions, which include Walkin’ and Swingin’, Twinklin’, Cloudy and Little Joe from Chicago. The Clouds also recorded The Lady Who Swings the Band, a song written for her by Saul Chaplin and Sammy Cahn. For Benny Goodman she wrote Camel Hop and he had a hit with her Roll ’Em – while Jimmie Lunceford had a hit with What’s Your Story Morning Glory, the title of which was to become synonymous with her.

In the late 1950s, Mary Lou took time away from music performance. She converted to Catholicism and, immersing herself in her faith, began composing sacred music, including Black Christ of the Andes, Anima Christi, Praise the Lord and perhaps the best known Music for Peace, usually entitled Mary Lou’s Mass.BB mlw mass Subsequently, she performed nationally and internationally, vividly demonstrating the wide range of her musical interests – from the early forms of jazz through swing and bop and into the modern era. Off stage, she could be outspoken and demanding, carrying with her through later life memories of the offhand and sometimes dishonest treatment she received in the music business, bitter recollections of racial discrimination, as well as the action of the US State Department, which ignored her at a time when it was actively spreading American culture through overseas ambassadorial tours by jazz musicians – their pretext appears to have been that she was a religious fanatic whose beliefs suggested that she was unbalanced. Active as a teacher, both informally and formally, Mary Lou’s importance to the fabric of jazz was recognized toward the end of her life when she was honored by several universities. There was also her headline appearance at the inaugural Kansas City Women’s Jazz Festival in March 1978 – a performance of Mary Lou’s Mass also took place on that occasion. She performed nationally and internationally as soloist and also occasionally leading small bands.CC mlw These performances were in clubs, concert halls and festivals, the latter including Middlesbrough in July 1978 (the only occasion I was able to hear her live). There is also the Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival, founded by Billy Taylor, staged annually at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC – May 2017 being the 22nd incarnation. A biography of Mary Lou Williams, Morning Glory by Linda Dahl, was published in 1999; another, Soul on Soul, by Tammy Lynn Kernodle, in 2005; and there is much of interest about her in Carolyn Glenn Brewer’s Changing the Tune, which I reviewed in Jazz Journal (July 2017). A documentary film by Carol Bash, Mary Lou Williams: the Lady Who Swings the Band, appeared in 2015.

Mary Lou Williams died at home in Durham, North Carolina, on 28 May 1981.

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