Jazz CD Reviews – mid-October 2017

October 18, 2017

Jackie Allen Rose Fingered Dawn (Avant Bass 2017)

An especially attractive singer, Jackie Allen has a mature vocal sound, and during the past thirty-plus years she has recorded several albums. This is her twelfth and here as on most of her albums and live dates she is joined by her husband, bassist Hans Sturm. On this session, the compatibility of wife and husband is especially apparent as all the songs are original compositions by Hans (music and words). In all the songs it is clear that Jackie is very comfortable and this is confirmed by Hans’s comment that “if she doesn’t connect with a particular lyric, I go back and rework it until she’s satisfied.” Many of the songs heard here have origins in aspects of the couple’s lives, beliefs, interests and emotions and the treatment, by composer and performer, bring to the fore these important elements. Poetry is important to Hans and this is immediately apparent in the title track, which takes its cue from imagery evoked in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, which includes Dawn being described as “rosy-fingered”, words that have become an almost clichéd way to describe that time of day, while on Time, Hans deliberately and wittily makes use of just about every cliché that has ever been used about time itself. In contrast, NOLA Love Song musically reflects the city of New Orleans through its well-deserved reputation for good food and its easy-going ambiance. Food also makes an appearance (as do automobiles) in Bel Air BBQ.jackieA Hans’s poetic reflections are displayed throughout and particularly in The Laugh That Is You, Sweet Dreams and Moon On The Rise, all of which are pleasingly romantic. The poetic atmosphere continues through the last track, Steal The Night, which is inspired by the lines: “Do not go gentle into that good night,” through which Dylan Thomas memorably urges the reader/listener to rage against that which awaits us all. Throughout, Jackie gives intelligent and beautifully nuanced readings of the lyrics (which all appear in the liner) and surely many of these songs will find their way into the repertoire of others. Jackie and Hans are joined here by Victor Garcia, trumpet, Andy Baker, trombone, Geoff Bradfield, soprano and tenor saxophones and bass clarinet, Tom Larson, keyboards, John Moulder, guitar, and Dane Richieson, drums and percussion. Lovely music that will bring lasting pleasure.

For more on Jackie Allen, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.

Sinne Eeg Dreams (Artist Share AS 0153)

This is Danish jazz singer Sinne Eeg’s ninth album as leader and is the second to be recorded in the USA. In collaboration with Sinne here are Jacob Christoffersen, piano, Larry Koonse, guitar, Scott Colley, bass, and Joey Baron, drums. There are also moments where background vocals from Warny Mandrup, Lasse Nilsson and Jenny Nilsson are heard. Four of the ten songs heard here are standards, all of them being imaginatively interpreted. On What Is This Thing Called Love there are notable contributions from Joey and Scott, while on Falling In Love With Love and I’ll Remember April there is highly sympathetic accompaniment and solo playing by Larry. On Anything Goes Sinne is accompanied only by Jacob’s crisply eloquent piano.sinne There are also four of Sinne’s compositions (words and music) and two co-compositions, these being The Bitter End (with Søren Sko) and Head Over High Heels (with Mads Mathias). On Aleppo Sinne addresses a contemporary issue, focusing her lyric on the fate of children helplessly caught up in a seemingly unending international crisis. Special note must be made of the playing and arranging of Jacob whose long musical relationship with Sinne has allowed them to develop and intuitive understanding that is apparent throughout. Sinne’s vocal sound is fluid, melodic, and thoroughly charming. Her phrasing is that of a master and this delightful album will appeal not only to her growing army of fans but also to all who love to hear the best in today’s jazz singing.

For more on Sinne Eeg, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.

All albums available at Amazon.

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.

Jazz CD Reviews – early August 2017

August 5, 2017

The Mica Bethea Big Band Stage ’n Studio (indie release)

The origins of big band jazz can be traced back to the 1920s, through the 1930s and early 40s, when it was the pop music of the day (complete with superstars), into the much lower profile experimentation of the 1960s and 70s, and on to the present day where avant-garde improvised music rubs shoulders (usually if not always) congenially with elements that would be instantly recognized by past masters of big band jazz. Wholly compatible is the writing of Mica Bethea, an exceptionally gifted arranger who presents big band music that is very much of today, yet is filled with echoes of the best of the past. Mica’s second album, Stage ’n Studio, is a double showcase for his arranging skills, and four of the works heard here are his own compositions. The two discs each contain eight tracks and as the album title indicates, the music is performed in two settings, one in the studio, the other a live date, both at the University of North Florida. The musicians gathered for these sessions vary only slightly and among the soloists heard are trumpeters Dave Champagne, Ray Callender, Scott Dickinson, trombonists Lance Reed, Corey Wilcox, bass trombonist Gina Benalcazar, alto saxophonists Todd DelGiudice, Daniel Dickinson, tenor saxophonists Juan Carlos Rollan, Eric Riehm, Jose Fabio Rojas, baritone saxophonist Mike Emmert, pianist Joshua Bowlus, guitarists James Hogan (studio), Steve Gallatin (stage). In addition to piano and guitar, other rhythm section players heard on most tracks are bassist Dennis Marks (Stan Piper on some), and throughout by drummer John Lumpkin Jr, and percussionist Terry ‘Doc’ Handy. Other instrumentalists rounding out this exceptional big band are trumpeters Greg Baluts, Jay Forman, Jonathan Ward, Robert Vandivier; trombonists Ryan Bricknell, Michael Nunez, Wyatt Thomas; keyboardist Aaron Lehrian; vibraphonists Jonah Pierre, Ryan Slatko.mica

Mica’s original compositions are Jonesin’ For Thad, a tribute to Thad Jones, with a fluid solo by Todd; Frahm Out Of Nowhere, built on a musical quote by Joel Frahm, with inventive guitar and bass lines by James and Dennis, and scorching tenor saxophone from Juan Carlos; Coal, with more imaginative tenor saxophone, this time from Eric and Juan Carlos; and Birth Rite, with reflective piano from Joshua. These four titles appear on both CDs and also given two airings are Herbie Hancock’s Hang Up Your Hang Ups, with a fiery solo from Dave, and George and Ira Gershwin’s Our Love Is Here To Stay, on which the vocalist is Linda Cole. Also heard are Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler’s Stormy Weather, which also features Linda with an appropriately dramatic interpretation; John Klenner and Sam Lewis’s Just Friends, with solos by brothers Scott and Daniel; Walter Gross and Jack Lawrence’s Tenderly, which spotlights the trombones, notably in solos from Lance, Corey and Gina; Gary Willis’s Self Defense featuring Todd and a punchy solo from John; and Tom Schuman’s Wind Warriors, replete with solos by Todd, Ray, Joshua, and also by Doc and John, both of whom are powerfully supportive throughout. The duplicated titles provide an opportunity to hear differences in interpretation that are prompted in part by the setting. As Mica states: “This was a very interesting experiment. On the studio CD, I could control the environment and get exactly the sounds I wanted. There’s a very pleasing almost pristine quality to it. But on the live performance, you can hear that the musicians are more relaxed and stretch out more. The sound isn’t as clean, but that’s more than made up for by the vitality of the performance.” Mica’s thoughts on how a studio setting and a live performances affect the musicians and hence the music also echo the past, something we know from hearing in both settings many bands, such as those led by Duke Ellington, Chick Webb, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Don Ellis, and Thad Jones-Mel Lewis.mica old

Although not directly relevant to the music heard on this and Mica’s first release, yet of immeasurable significance, are some personal facts about Mica. In 2005, when he was still a music student, he was involved in a major road traffic incident that left him a quadriplegic. No longer able to play any instrument he resumed his studies, now concentrating on arranging and composing. Even this is fraught with difficulties – because he cannot write by hand, he has to use a computer. That Mica Bethea has faced up to these challenges and overcome them is for very nearly all of us an unimaginable achievement; that the music he generates is so breathtaking, profound and joyous is an inspiration.

For more on Mica Bethea including booking contact Mouthpiece Music.

All albums are at Amazon.

Mica Bethea: “I use Finale, the music notation software, for my compositions and arrangements.”

Jazz CD Reviews – early July 2017

July 7, 2017

Kellye Gray Rendering (& Standards In Gray) (Grr8 0010)

Twenty-five years ago, Kellye Gray recorded her debut album, Standards In Gray, which proved to be very successful. Recently, she decided to re-record some of the same songs. These appear on Rendering, and an especially attractive aspect of this new release is that the earlier, long unavailable album is included in the package. That first album was recorded over three days, the new set is one concert-style take performed in the studio before a small invited audience. kellye newThe songs Kellye sings on both albums are Don’t Explain, How Long Has This Been Going On?, How Insensitive, and Good Morning, Heartache. There are subtle differences that reflect her artistic growth and this adds to the listening pleasure. Not that the first album is in any way less than excellent; here, Kellye sings the songs with understanding and her vocal command is apparent throughout. On the new set, Kellye’s voice remains rich and full while her interpretations mirror her maturity. Among other songs heard on the new set are I’ve Got A Right To Sing The Blues and two originals by Kellye, Out Blows Me and God You Make Me Wonder. Texas-born and mainly based, Kellye has a soulful vocal sound that is especially suited to the songs that have blues and gospel echoes. Supplying very good support on Standards In Gray are pianist Dave Catney, guitarist Dwight Stills, bassist Tom Anastacio,kellye old 2 drummer Sebastian Whittaker, and saxophonist Warren Sneed. Playing piano on Rendering are Pamela York, while David Craig is on bass, Andre Hayward on trombone, and both Sebastian and Warren return. Altogether, this pairing of albums is imaginative and hugely entertaining.

 

Hyeseon Hong Jazz Orchestra Ee-Ya-Gi (Stories) (Mama MAA 1053)

For the past several years, Hyeseon Hong has led a rehearsal band in New York City, a group that largely showcases her own compositions. These works draw upon the cultural heritage of Hyeseon’s homeland, South Korea, but are presented in the musical form of her new world. Titles for individual pieces include Harvest Dance: Story Of Thanksgiving, Para Mi Amigo Distante: Story Of Long Lost Friends, Boat Song: Story Of My Heritage, and Trash Digging Queen: Story Of Nica The Dog. The 17-piece ensemble directed by Hyeseon plays with bite and assurance, the melodic strains – lyrical, plaintive, lively – are underpinned by rhythms from Asia and the Americas. Among many solos (all of which are identified in the liner) are Ingrid Jensen’s fluid, warm trumpet on Harvest Dance and Love Song: Story Of First Love, Rich Perry’s compelling tenor saxophone on Boat Song, and Broc Hempel’s reflective piano on Disappearing Into Foam: Story Of Girlhood. The occasional vocal contributions, by E.J. Park and Subin Park, are mostly wordless and add to the album’s tonal palette.hyeseonhongjo.jpg Musically, this a blend of contemporary big band music and intriguingly unusual south-east Asian concepts. The full personnel of the band heard here is: Augie Haas, Ingrid Jensen, Jason Wiseman, Colin Brigstocke (trumpets); Ron Wilkens, Daniel Linden, Ric Becker, Becca Patterson (trombones); Ben Kono, Matt Vashlishan, Rich Perry, Jeremy Powell, Andrew Hadro (reeds); Broc Hempel (piano); Matt Panayides (guitar); John Lenis (bass); Mark Ferber (drums); E.J. Park, Subin Park (vocals). This should have wide appeal among fans of today’s jazz.

For more on these artists, including booking details, contact Mouthpiece Music.

Order albums direct from Amazon.

Jazz CD Reviews – early June 2017

June 16, 2017

Calabria Foti In The Still Of The Night (MoCo Records 23-002)

Although this is Calabria Foti’s third album, I have not heard her before now. My loss. Musically impeccable, Calabria presents a selection of Cole Porter songs, delivering the romantic and witty lyrics with thorough understanding. She is joined here by pianist Michael Patterson, who also arranged the music, Bob McChesney, trombone, Eddie Daniels, clarinet, Gene Bertoncini, guitar, Richard Locker, cello, Ike Sturm, bass, and Jared Schonig, drums. Calabria’s vocal sound is quite lovely, rich and warm and beguilingly intimate. Calabria’s musicianship is demonstrated through her session work as a violinist backing several leading artists, including Barbra Streisand and Paul McCartney, and in 2014, the single, Let’s Fall In Love, recorded with Seth MacFarlane, received a Grammy nomination. calabriaHighly regarded by fellow musicians – instrumentalists and singers – on this new album Calabria sings eleven of Porter’s songs, all of them familiar but here appearing freshly minted. The songs are: Just One Of Those Things; Miss Otis Regrets; Anything Goes; What Is This Thing Called Love?; Night And Day; I Concentrate On You; Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye; Get Out Of Town; It’s Alright With Me; So In Love; In The Still Of The Night. The sophisticated love stories told in these songs can be soulfully romantic or lithely swinging and are all wholly engaging. Calabria’s previous two albums are A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening and When A Woman Loves A Man. In childhood, it was Calabria’s intention to become an orchestral violinist and while she has accomplished this we are fortunate indeed that she widened her plans and has proved to be a fine singer. Not only are Calabria’s singing and playing exceptional, she also writes, composes and teaches. For more about Calabria Foti, including booking details, go to Mouthpiece Music.

Due for release on 17 July 2017, In The Still Of The Night will be available at Amazon, iTunes, and CalabriaFoti.com

 

Laura Campisi Double Mirror (independent)

Now resident in New York City, Laura Campisi was born in Palermo, Sicily, which is where she first sang professionally. Not long after arriving in America, Laura began absorbing into her music the rich cultural essence of her new surroundings while never losing her native origins. All of this is reflected here through repertoire and performance. There are seven of Laura’s own songs here as well as songs by Björk, Jeff Buckley, Miles Davis (with Laura adding lyrics to his Nardis), the Gershwins, Cole Porter, and Lou Reed. The singer’s interest in diverse musical traditions is apparent through her interpretations. Unusually and effectively, Laura chooses not to have a pianist among her instrumental collaborators, relying instead on bass and drums, with an added horn on some tracks. The core duo on some tracks is American: Ameen Saleem, acoustic bass and Greg Hutchinson, drums; on others Italian: Gianluca Renzi, electric bass and Flavio Li Vigni, drums. Appearing on one track each are Vincent Herring, alto saxophone on Al Risveglio; Giovanni Falzone, trumpet on Luckier; Jonathan Scales, steel pan on Ironman; Zach Brock, violin on Love For Sale; and Martin Pantyrer, baritone saxophone on Here Where I Stand. The overall effect has a minimalistic air that helps bring the lyrics and the stories they tell into sharp focus. Some of the music played and sung leans toward contemplation on love lost and found and there are also songs that reflects the role of the artist in the wider world. These qualities are revealed in the album’s title as explained by Laura: “Everyone needs a mirror to look into, to recognize themselves, to see their flaws and good qualities as they really are. The double mirror is the search for balance. campisiIt is the acknowledgment that my heart is divided between my art and real life, between Europe and America. The double mirror reflects my dual nature, strong and weak, determined and lazy, passionate and afraid.” Laura’s lightly youthful vocal sound is very pleasing, yet there is also an underlying maturity in her understanding of the lyrics she interprets. On Chorus Angelorum (Choir Of Angels) she intriguingly creates a shimmering effect by singing against a gong. Although her linguistic skills are not fully on display here, Laura sings not only in Italian (including Sicilian and Neapolitan dialects) and English, but also in Spanish, Portuguese and French. She can also sing in Punjabi, an ability that has come through her musical collaboration with New York’s Pakistani cultural community. Laura’s work on Double Mirror started in New York in 2012, but was then shelved until 2016 when she returned to it in collaboration with Argentine composer and producer Emilio D. Miler, further tracks being recorded in Buenos Aires. A very interesting singer whose work will have international appeal.

For more about Laura Campisi, including booking details, go to Mouthpiece Music.

 

Jocelyn Medina Common Ground (Running Tree RTR 102)

Also now a resident of New York City, Jocelyn Medina conceived this album a few years ago but was then fortuitously diverted for several months. Those months were spent studying in India where she also taught and performed. This experience prompted Jocelyn to resume work on the album, but now dressing the songs already written in forms that reflected the music of India. All nine songs are Jocelyn’s compositions and lyrics and she also prepared the arrangements. Among the songs are Meant To Be and Simple, both based on Hindustani raga, and Two But Not Two, lyrically inspired by the Madhyamaka Buddhist concept of non-duality – sometimes called the dance of reality.Common_Ground_cover On this song, Jocelyn is joined by Hindustani singer Achyut Joshi. Some of what is heard here might be described as world music, an admittedly imprecise term. Coming closer to western jazz music in form is Sink Or Swim, the lyrics of which explore the east coast disasters left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Jocelyn is accompanied by the rhythm section of pianist Art Hirahara, guitarist Pete McCann, bassist Evan Gregor, and drummer Mark Ferber. Joining the group on several tracks are Hadar Noiberg, flute, Steve Gorn, bansuri flute, Robert Levin, percussion and tabla player Samir Chatterjee, who encouraged Jocelyn to adapt her music to accommodate what she had absorbed during her trip to India. Jocelyn’s vocal sound is soft, her diction clear and she is always melodically pleasing.

For more about Jocelyn Medina, including booking details, go to Mouthpiece Music.

All albums are available at Amazon.

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