Jazz CD Reviews – late June

June 30, 2013

Michelle Pollace New Beginning (MP 01)

Latin-tinged music, mostly composed by pianist Michelle Pollace who delivers her work in a relaxed, tuneful and wholly engaging manner. The pieces include many of the familiar dance rhythms of South and Central America and the Caribbean, among them the rumba, Hot House Dandelion, the cha-cha, New Beginning, son, Be Right Back, and bossa, Ondas Do Mar and First Flight. Michelle also plays an intriguing danzón arrangement of Ernesto Lecuona’s La Comparsa, and turns a well-known standard by Harold Arlen into a surprisingly successful cha-cha – this variation of Somewhere Over The Rainbow is exceptionally attractive.pollace

Michelle is accompanied throughout by bassist David Belove and drummer Phil Hawkins with percussionists Carlos Caro and Michaelle Goerlitz sharing duties; soprano saxophonist Kristen Strom guests on two tracks and additional percussion is supplied on two tracks by Rebeca Mauleón.

There is a great deal of low key charm about this album, a musical journey that is filled with many subtleties and the more one listens the more delightful it becomes.

Brian Landrus Kaleidoscope – Mirage (BlueLand BLR 2013)

Noted for his skilful playing of those reed instruments that occupy the lower reaches of the range, Brian Landrus here presents a very pleasing selection of his own compositions. The sound of the instruments for which this music is composed suggests that a sombre air might be present but his composing skills are such that successfully avoids any hint of gloom and instead creates music that is warm and always engaging.brianl

Brian’s choice of instruments has him performing on baritone and bass saxophone, bass and contra alto clarinet and bass flute. His collaborators are pianist/keyboardist Frank Carlsberg, guitarist Nic Felder, bassist Lonnie Plaxico, and drummer Rudy Royston, along with a string quartet (Mark Feldman and Joyce Hammann, violin, Judith Insell, viola, Judy Redhage, cello) while Ryan Truesdell conducts.

Esa Helasvuo Stella Nova (TUM CD 033)

The result of a two-day studio session during which pianist-composer Esa Helasvuo improvised several pieces, this music is deeply introspective. By its nature, musical introspection can be exclusive, leaving the listener outside, a kind of audio-onlooker. Remarkably, this is not the case here as Esa’s music opens thoughtways into which the ‘outsider’ is drawn. Classically trained and a long-time lecturer, most notably at the Sibelius Academy, Esa plays with a delicate yet probing touch, finding his musical inspiration in memories, dreams, physical, psychological and emotional experiences. es helasvuoEsa has said: “My passion is to paint space and time on paths into the unknown, suggested by sounds.” It is a passion that he admirably shares in this always fascinating album.


Mike Wofford It’s Personal (Capri 74121-2)

Often heard in company with others, notably in duets with his wife, flutist Holly Hofmann, on this aptly titled release pianist Mike Wofford is alone. That said, in a very real sense he is far from being alone because he has chosen, in some cases composed, music that reflects those whom he admires, delights in hearing, and have inspired him throughout his long and distinguished career. There is, for example, I Waited For You, a Dizzy Gillespie-Gil Fuller ballad that pays tribute to Mike’s fellow pianists Jimmy Rowles and Ellis Larkins; The Eighth Veil, a Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn work, given an unusual solo piano reading; woffordJackie McLean’s Little Melonae. Then there are originals such as Cole Porter and Hines Catch-up, where the titles reflect the dedicatee; and there is the album’s title track, which appropriately was written for his wife.

The set closes with Tutti Camarata’s lovely yet all-too-rarely heard No More, once upon a time a vehicle for Billie Holiday and, as Mike reminds us, Irene Kral. Elegant playing of some lovely compositions make this a release to savor.

Chip Stephens Relevancy (Capri 74120-2)

Although he has recorded with a trio before now, this album reminds us how effective this setting is for this fine pianist. Chip Stephens has chosen his repertoire well, presenting standards, such as This Funny World, by Rodgers and Hart, Like Someone In Love, by Van Heusen and Burke, and Be My Love, by Cahn and Brodszky, as well as jazz pieces, Carla Bley’s Syndrome and 34 Skidoo, by Bill Evans.chips

Some of these pieces, along with three originals by Chip, emphasize the pianist’s love for lyricism as well as an underlying appreciation of the place of the blues in jazz. Throughout, Chip also plays with flowing swing, a quality that is augmented by his ideal collaborators, bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer Joel Spencer. Together, they display their instrumental virtuosity, something that is never used for its own sake, and their mutual understanding.

Rob Mosher Polebridge (own label)

Music fans who like pigeonholing what they hear should look away now. The suite Rob Mosher composed for this album was commissioned by music educator and arts administrator Micah Killion. Although the emotional motive lay in the recent death of Micah’s mother, the creative spark came when Rob first came to the town of Polebridge, Montana. There, he saw the sign noting the town’s population, 88, and an abandoned saloon piano dumped outside the town store. The combination (88/piano – geddit?) set Rob’s creative juices flowing and the result is music that combines old-time folk, contemporary chamber, hints of classical, and whispers of jazz. If these elements appear to be incompatible, it should be stated emphatically that Rob pulls off the task he set himself with aplomb. But this is not merely a technical exercise; Rob manages also to imbue passages in the suite with the sadness implied in Micha’s loss while other sections are filled with wit and humor.robmosher

Rob plays soprano saxophone, clarinet and English horn and he is joined by Micha, on trumpet, John Marcus, violin, Stephanie Nilles, piano (both grand and old-88) and Hammond B3, Andrew Small, bass, while Petr Cancura plays mandolin on two tracks and Peter Lutek plays bassoon and contra alto clarinet on one track. Skilful and accomplished and thoroughly entertaining – whatever pigeonhole you put it in.

All of these albums are filled with many hidden charms and listeners will warm to their subtle musicality.

They are available at most stores, including Amazon. More information can be found on the sites of each of these artists where linked; additionally look for Michelle Pollace on Jim Eigo’s Jazz Promo Services website; more on Brian Landrus, Mike Wofford, Chip Stephens and Rob Mosher can be found through Braithwaite & Katz Communications; while Esa Helasvuo is also on the TUM Records site.


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