Jazz CDs reviewed – late July 2012

July 23, 2012


DIVA is not unique in jazz today, but it is certainly unusual and, more importantly, it is also strikingly good. A big band that has been around now for a dozen years, it was good to start with and it is even better now. The leader of DIVA is drummer Sherrie Maricle who has been there from the start, although the personnel has undergone some changes over the years. Whatever the names on the masthead, though, it has always been first class with no weak links and several outstanding soloists. Consider a release from 2005, TNT – A Tommy Newsom Tribute (Diva Jazz Lightyear)  whereon very nearly everyone in the band gets a chance to solo. Although it might be invidious to select just a few for special mention, because all are so good, especially notable is the playing of Barbara Loronga, trumpet, Karolina Strassmeyer, alto saxophone, Lisa Parrott, baritone saxophone, Chihiro Yamanaka, piano, and Anat Cohen, on both tenor saxophone and clarinet. Special mention must be made of the arrangements; as the album title suggests these are by Tommy Newsom and they are ideal for this band, which in its ensemble playing shifts from fiery to mellow with fluid ease. This is top class big band jazz music played with panache and style and is very warmly recommended.

Two outstanding small groups drawn from the remarkable musicians gathered together as DIVA under Sherrie Maricle can be heard on other CDs led by the drummer. Five Play is a quintet with Jami Dauber, on trumpet, cornet and flugelhorn, Janelle Reichman, on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Tomoko Ohno, piano, and Noriko Ueda, bass. They can be heard excitingly on What The World Needs Now (Arbors).  Five-Play-CDThe DIVA Jazz Trio has Sherrie with Tomoko and Noriko and they appear on Never Never Land (Arbors). The music on both of these small group CDs is exceptional: sparkling solos, delightful ensemble playing, and throughout there is terrific swing, plain delight in performance, and altogether some of the best jazz around today. These are musicians of the highest caliber and anyone who enjoys superbly played, swinging post-bop mainstream jazz will delight in any or all of these albums.


Jan Lundgren

Playing for a very appreciative audience at The Jazz Bakery, one of the leading jazz venues in Los Angeles, pianist Jan Lundgren, bassist Chuck Berghofer, and drummer Joe La Barbera, not only demonstrate their individual and collective talents but also put on show the composing skill of Hollywood legend Ralph Rainger. On Thanks For The Memory (Fresh Sound), they perform many of his classic pop songs, among them Easy Living, Please, If I Should Lose You, June In January and I Wished On The Moon. All of these songs are lovingly interpreted by the three instrumentalists and the true value of the melodic gift of the composer is apparent throughout. Most of Rainger’s songs were written in collaboration with lyricist Leo Robin and a measure of his contribution to their partnership can be heard when the wonderful Sue Raney steps up to sing two of their songs, If I Should Lose You and Thanks For The Memory.

The huge success of the 2008 release of Thanks For The Memory  prompted the release a couple of years later of Together Again … At The Jazz Bakery (Fresh Sound).  Once again, the trio concentrates on standards, exploring the delights of Have You Met Miss Jones?, Love For Sale, Tenderly, Yesterdays, Everything Happens to Me and I’ve Never Been In Love Before. There are also jazz standards, Oscar Pettiford’s Blues In The Closet and Thelonious Monk’s Rhythm-a-ning. There is not a weak moment in this wonderfully performed session; all three jazzmen play superb solos, filled with invention that vividly demonstrates their skills. As a group, throughout they show how in tune they are with one another as they lift the music to quite remarkable heights. Jan-Lundgren-CD

Produced by Dick Bank, these two CDs are essential listening not only for jazz fans, who will delight in the performances, but also for all those who love the music of this era. At the start of 2009, the earlier CD was a winner in the annual Critics Poll in Jazz Journal; it came as no surprise when the second CD also found favor, topping the magazine’s poll published early in 2012.


New World Jazz Composers Octet

Led by Boston-based saxophonist Daniel Ian Smith, the New World Jazz Composers Octet has established itself over the past few years as a leading voice in composing and playing contemporary jazz to a very high standard. On Breaking News (Big and Phat Jazz) the musicians in the band include trumpeters Ken Cervenka and Walter Platt, saxophonist Felipe Salles, pianist Tim Ray, bassist Keala Kaumeheiwa, drummer Mark Walker, and percussionist Ernesto Diaz. On this CD are compositions by Matthew Nicholl, Jeff Friedman and Richard Lowell as well as Walter Platt.  NWJC-Octet-CDEverything hereon is written and played with considerable intelligence and flair, from the thoroughly engaging solos to the tight and powerful ensembles, all of which come together to exhilarating effect. Especially appealing is the three-movement suite, Trilogy, composed by Ted Pease and paying tribute to pastmasters of jazz composition, Thad Jones, Billy Strayhorn and Bill Holman. The three movements are entitled, respectively, Thad’s Pad, Strays and Willis. The composer’s skill is evident from the manner in which he evokes the musical style of the dedicatees, finding punchy mainstream power in the first movement, romantically melodic charm in the second, and updated west coast bounce in the closer. This exceptionally attractive CD should appeal to all those who appreciate a contemporary twist on the important qualities of the past, qualities that the musicians Daniel Ian Smith has assembled clearly admire and respect.


Sumi Tonooka

For the past dozen years, jazz pianist Sumi Tonooka has devoted much of her time to teaching, both privately and at Rutgers and SUNY, and in the founding and development of a recording company, Artists Recording Collective, in collaboration with saxophonists Chris Burnett and Erica Lindsay. Then there has been her work as a composer, with special concentration on scores for film and television documentaries. Not surprising therefore that Sumi Tonooka’s presence on the bandstand has been rather less prominent than it was a few years ago. Fortunately for all lovers of jazz piano, Sumi has continued to make occasional records, of which her latest release is Now – Live at the Howland (Artists Recording Collective). This is a double-album that presents her live in an entire 2011 concert. Sumi-Tonooka-CDOn the first CD, Sumi plays music by jazz composers such as Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, and Mary Lou Williams, the pieces including Heaven, Evidence, Waltz Boogie and Dirge Blues. There are also some popular standards, among them Cole Porter’s All Of You and Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer’s I’m Old Fashioned. On the second CD, all the music (except an encore) is composed by Sumi and from this it is clear that her compositions stand comfortably alongside those of her famous forerunners. Included are Phantom Carousel, Mingus Mood, and At Home. The encore is a jaunty stroll through Eubie Blake’s I’m Confessin’, which wittily looks at piano music of a long-past generation through contemporary eyes. Indeed, that particular performance is an appropriate closer to an exceptional concert as throughout the two discs there flows a strong sense of the melodic undertow that has marked Sumi Tonooka’s work across the past two-and-a-half decades. This is music that is not only melodically captivating, but is also intelligent, warm, and a vivid portrayal of how she has embraced much of what has gone before in the history of jazz piano and is helping to keep it alive and flourishing.




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