Jazz CD Reviews – January 2018

January 3, 2018

Andrew Distel It Only Takes Time (Jeru JJR 9 CD)

Resident in Chicago since 2000, this is Cincinnati-born Andrew Distel’s second album. Best known until now as a trumpet player who occasionally sings (as displayed on his first album, Stepping Out Of A Dream), here Andrew showcases his vocal talent. He presents a well-chosen selection of songs, including Kurt Weill & Ogden Nash’s Speak Low, Johnny Mandel & Dave Frishberg’s You Are There, Jerome Kern & Otto Harbach’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Amor, by Ivan Lins, Who Cares, by the Gershwins, and Into Each Life (Some Rain Must Fall), by Doris Fisher and Alan Roberts. Also heard are two of Andrew’s original compositions, both with lyrics by J. Adam Oaks. Andrew’s principal collaborators are Peter Martin, piano, Carlos Enriquez, bass, and George Fludas, drums, while also heard are Brian Schwab, trumpet, Raphael Crawford, trombone, Jim Gailoretto, woodwinds, Howard Levy, Dave Onderdonk, guitar, and Geraldo DeOlivera, percussion.distel A ten-piece string section makes an effective appearance on a couple of tracks. Andrew has an intimate style that is well served by his attractively warm and gently persuasive vocal sound. Interpreting the lyrics with understanding, he also explores the melodic nuances of the songs. Male vocalists remain something of a rarity in jazz and it is good to add this fine singer to the ranks. This album will appeal to the audience for jazz and to that for classic pop and must surely bring him many new fans.

Sunny Wilkinson Into The Light (Sunchance no number)

Long an assistant professor of jazz studies at Michigan State University and later Artist in Residence there, Sunny Wilkinson’s previous albums include A Gentle Time, Highwire, Alegria, and Sunny Wilkinson. On this, her latest release, Sunny performs songs with lyrics that appeal to her sense of family. For five of these she wrote the lyrics – three to compositions by her husband Ron Newman, who plays piano here, one composed by Bob Berg and one by Brian Lynch. Among other songs are Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Corcovado, Bobbie Gentry’s Ode To Billie Joe, James Taylor’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight, and Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi.sunny Sunny and Ron are joined by Ed Fedewa, bass, and Larry Ochiltree, drums, both of whom are also music teachers. Sunny’s interpretations delve deeply into these songs, searching for and finding their hearts and souls. With a mature vocal sound that is fluid and intensely musical, Sunny delivers on the promise of this concept with honesty and integrity.

 

For more on Andrew Distel and Sunny Wilkinson, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.

Available from all usual outlets including Amazon.

Jazz CD Reviews – November 2017

November 27, 2017

Cheryl Bentyne reArrangements Of Shadows (artistShare AS 0157)

When hearing Cheryl Bentyne’s delightfully fluid and youthful sound it is hard to believe that she has been around for so many years – the majority of them with ManTran. There are also about a dozen solo albums, on many of which she explores the Great American Songbook. In a sense this is what Cheryl does here on this, her latest release – but with a difference. This arises because she has chosen to perform songs by Stephen Sondheim who is rightly famous for his Broadway shows although many of these songs are not often heard outside the context of their original setting. The reason for this is that in many instances the song lyrics are not necessarily complete in and of themselves; they are integral to the storyline of the show and develop out of and/or advance plot lines. Cheryl is clearly aware of the potential problem this presents and was determined to find a way of performing them in an un-stagey manner that does not lessen their impact. As she observes: “Sondheim doesn’t just write song lyrics. He writes monologues. He writes how people really speak, and I wanted my renditions to sound as natural as Sondheim meant them to be.”cheryl

Helping Cheryl achieve her aim are arrangers who are perhaps best known for their work in jazz: Bevan Manson, John Beasley, Kevin Axt, Mark Kibble (all of whom also play on this album), Jamieson Trotter and Eli Brueggemann. Included in the nine songs on the ten tracks (one song is sung twice) are Comedy Tonight, from A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Not A Day Goes By, from Merrily We Roll Along, Move On, from Sunday In The Park With George, and I Remember, from Evening Primrose, which was a television production. The song heard twice is The Ladies Who Lunch, from Company, the second version having Cheryl singing with only the instrumental trio of John Beasley, piano, Kevin Axt, bass, and Dave Tull, drums. Joining Cheryl on the first version of The Ladies Who Lunch are fellow singers Janis Siegel and Tierney Sutton, while singers Mark Kibble and Armand Hutton appear on Send In The Clowns, from A Little Night Music. In addition to the core trio, the instrumentalists accompanying Cheryl on some tracks are Tom McCauley, guitar and percussion, Brad Dutz, percussion, John Arrucci, marimba, Roy Wooten, cajon, and on two songs a string quartet (Rafi Rishik, Irina Voloshina, violins, Jennie Hansen, viola, Armen Ksajikian, cello). Beasley lays out on a couple of tracks and in step keyboard players Tom Zink and Bevan Manson. In recent years, Cheryl has shrugged off serious illness that would have defeated many but there is never a hint of this in these engaging and thoroughly rewarding interpretations. Far from it, in fact, because she explores the heart of the lyrics, finding humor and optimism and along the way setting the bar high for future jazz performances of these songs.

For more on Cheryl Bentyne, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.

Petra van Nuis & Andy Brown Lessons Lyrical (String Damper SDR 2136)

Also youthful in sound is singer Petra van Nuis who is heard here with an attractive selection of songs she and her guitarist husband Andy Brown have chosen. Underlying Petra’s light yet sensual vocal sound is a mature understanding of the lyrics and this especially evident on Weill & Nash’s Speak Low, Mandel & Webster’s A Time For Love, Sievier & Hamilton’s You’re Blasé, Jones & Schmidt’s Try To Remember, Philippe-Gérard & Vannier/Mercer’s When The World Was Young and Legrand & Demy/the Bergmans You Must Believe In Spring. There are also light-hearted yet engaging versions of Burke & Monaco’s I’ve Got A Pocketful Of Dreams and Oliver & Melrose’s Doctor Jazz.andy b The latter is a venerable classic of early jazz and it is a real pleasure to hear it again, especially as it blends so well with much later songs. Almost all of these songs are familiar, yet they are performed in a fresh and thoroughly entertaining manner. Interestingly, while the songs of Rodgers & Hart have long appealed to jazz artists, those of Rodgers & Hammerstein are less common in the genre. Here, Petra and Andy prove that music by the latter can work very well in careful hands with versions of Oh, What A Beautiful Morning and Bali Hai. This album is a real joy and warmly recommended to all who like to hear good songs well played and sung.

For more on Petra and Andy, including booking, contact: Petra van Nuis & Andy Brown.

Lisa B I Get A Kick: Cole Porter Reimagined (Jazzed Media JM 1076)

Lisa B’s love for poetry and other forms of the spoken word is as important to her as her love of singing. For this, her latest release, she has chosen to sing the songs of Cole Porter whose work consistently demonstrates that he too was at heart a poet. The ‘re-imagining’ indicated by this album’s subtitle is largely musical, choosing interesting tempi and rhythmic pulses not always associated with this composer. Examples of this come on the funky Night And Day and the Brazilian-flavored You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To.lisa b The spoken word is heard very effectively in her introduction to I Happen To Like New York, which reflects on her immigrant forebears life-changing moment of arrival in their new homeland. Among the other songs hear are Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye, Wake Up And Dream and Easy To Love. Lisa’s accompanists here are, collectively, keyboard players Ben Flint, Jim Gardiner, and Frank Martin, saxophonist Michael Zilber, bassists Fred Randolph and Troy Lampkins, drummers/percussionists Jeff Marrs, Alan Hall, Paul van Wageningen and John Santos. Although all of the songs heard here are familiar, they are made fresh by the always engaging and intriguing treatment they are given, notably through the arrangements (by Lisa and Jim) and the singer’s emotional commitment.

For more on Lisa B, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.

All albums available at Amazon.

 

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.”

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