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 – July 2015

July 20, 2015

Brian Landrus The Deep Below (Blue Land BLR-2015)

Although the baritone saxophone has had distinguished exponents in jazz, some of this artist’s chosen instruments are not at all commonplace. Indeed, all are usually confined to supporting roles in ensembles and, as the album title suggests, way down in the boiler room. Nevertheless, when in the hands of a gifted musician these instruments offer an intriguing tonal palette and apparent in every one of the tracks here is Brian Landrus’s mastery. On six tracks, he plays baritone saxophone, on five bass clarinet, on two bass flute, and on one bass saxophone. To jazz audiences, the baritone is the most familiar of his instruments and over the years there have been many fine exponents who have brought a personal sound to the instrument.brian landrus Brian also achieves this, finding a sound that is highly individual and he brings to the music he plays a lightness and vibrancy not always associated with the instrument. Commendably, a similarly light touch enhances his playing of the other instruments. Joining him here are Lonnie Plaxico, double-bass, and Billy Hart, drums, both of whom provide elegant support. As Brian says, “With Lonnie and Billy, it’s never just a job – they’re too honest and organic as musicians.” Most of the music heard here is composed or co-composed by Brian and as he says, he “wrote the tunes right on my various instruments, just trying to create melodies that felt good on (them).” Clearly, they also felt good to him and they certainly sound good to the listener. Brian’s bass clarinet is heard on Fields Of Zava, and also, unaccompanied on Just A Fading Memory and Open Water. The three non-Landrus compositions are John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, I’m A Fool To Want You, by Jack Wolf, Joel S. Herron and Frank Sinatra, and Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Lady, on all of which Brian plays baritone saxophone. He is unaccompanied on Steps and brings to Fool a moving intensity that ranks with the best of the vocal versions of this plaintive song. Not surprisingly, Sophisticated Lady brings to mind Harry Carney, the baritone saxophonist who first brought it to life. As Brian says, this is “one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite players”. These are just a few of the many moments to cherish on this warmly recommended album.

Nick Finzer The Chase (Origin 82695)

The trombone was one of the instrumental casualties of the bebop revolution. From the early-1940s onwards, most of the notable players of the instrument were heard in mainstream settings and later in swing era revival bands. Only a few were heard regularly in bop groups and the principle reason for the decline in the instrument’s popularity was the extreme difficulty encountered in playing on the slide the frequently ultra-fast lines generated by trumpeters and saxophonists. Some trombonists mastered the craft and in recent years several master craftsmen have been heard much more frequently. Notable among them is Nick Finzer, a New York City-based musician who has been heard in company with artists including Frank Wess, John Clayton, Lew Tabackin, Terrell Stafford, and Lewis Nash.finzer He has also played with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the Gil Evans Project. All tracks on this, his second album as leader, are Nick’s own compositions and he ably displays the breadth of this aspect of his talent. Throughout, the warmth of the instrument’s sound and flexibility is evident where in gentle ballads or storming up-tempo pieces. There are also moments when Nick’s knowledge of and delight in the history of jazz trombone surface, such as the Ellingtonian While You’re Gone. Accompanying Nick are saxophonist-clarinetist Lucas Pino, pianist Glenn Zaleski, guitarist Alex Wintz, bassist Dave Baron, and drummer Jimmy MacBride. All of these fine musicians work together regularly and their musical empathy is apparent throughout. All have solo moments with piano, guitar and reeds strongly featured, Lucas Pino’s choice of bass clarinet in some numbers being especially apt. This very attractive album should have wide appeal to fans of contemporary jazz and those who admire technical skill, especially when it is warmed by emotional fire. Noted trombonist Wycliffe Gordon has observed that Nick Finzer is “. . . the whole package.” He certainly is.

As always, these albums can be found through Amazon and for more information see also the artist’s sites as well as Braithwaite & Katz Communications.

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