Jazz CD Reviews – March 2018

February 25, 2018

Mica Bethea Suite Theory (indie release)

This is composer-arranger Mica Bethea’s third album and it reinforces his growing stature as a leading contributor to contemporary big band jazz. Here, Mica has turned his talent to the creation of a profound musical portrait of his life. The first movement portrays his first two decades and is filled with promise. Entitled Crystal Clear, it is named for a long-time friend, Crystal Bay, who works with quadriplegics. By dark coincidence, following a road accident in 2005 Mica sustained injuries that rendered him quadriplegic and the second movement, Destiny’s Boat, traces the immediate aftermath. It is impossible for an outsider to imagine the effect of such catastrophic damage to a young and gifted multi-instrumentalist and his dawning realization that he can no longer play. During this period of his life, Mica was greatly helped by another friend, Destiny Guerra, hence the title. The third movement depicts the time when Mica began the arduous task of building his new life.zz The Mica Bethea Big Band Suite The title, Meniscus, refers to the curve on top of contained liquid, which can be either concave or convex and by implication suggests whether a glass is half full or half empty. The joyous rumba-based form makes clear that Mica’s view is decidedly positive. The fourth and final movement reflects Mica’s attitude toward himself and his location not only in place but also in time; that he is who he is and always will be. The title, Guardian of Forever, is taken from a Star Trek episode and refers to a time portal through which other dimensions might be visited. An alt take of the second movement is included because Mica did not want to lose the solo by alto saxophonist Todd Guidice. And by the way, the main title, Suite Theory, is a play on the name of Mica’s favorite bakery, Sweet Theory. Throughout, the music heard here demonstrates yet again that Mica Bethea brings a new, distinctive and exciting flavor to contemporary big band jazz.

For more on Mica Bethea, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.


Akira Tana Jazzanova (Vega)

Akira Tana is long established as a leading jazz drummer and noted for his work with bassist Rufus Reid in the duo TanaReid. Akira’s jazz credentials go back to his earliest days as a professional musician and coincident with this is his abiding love for the music of Latin America, especially the exhilarating rhythms of Brazil. Joining Akira on this album are pianist Peter Horvath, bassist Gary Brown and percussionist Michael Spiro and adding to the rich instrumental mixture heard are notable guests: soprano saxophonist Branford Marsalis and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, while Ricardo Peixo provides fluid arrangements and also contributes some guitar moments. JAZZaNOVA-coverImportant in much of the music of Brazil is its rhythmic underpinning and often romantic vocals. The first of these qualities stems from Akira who is a master of percussion. That second quality is provided by several singers who are gifted interpreters of this repertoire: Claudia Villela, Claudio Amaral, Maria Volanté, Jackie Ryan, Carla Helmbrecht and Sandy Cressman. For this release, Akira has chosen to perform examples of Brazil’s much loved contributions to popular music, several of the songs coming from composers Antonio Carlos Jobim, Ivan Lins and Elis Regina. These  include Águas de Março (Waters of March), Caminhos Cruzados (Crossroads), Bilhete, Corcovado, Love Dance, Por Causa De Você (Don’t Ever Go Away), Chega De Saudade (No More Blues) and La Gloria Eres Tu. There are also two original songs by Claudia Villela, Jangaga and Diride. The inherent romanticism of these songs is brought out superbly in these excellent interpretations. Lovely music, exceptionally well performed and warmly recommended.

For more on Akira Tana, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music Mouthpiece Music.

All albums available at Amazon.

Jazz CD Reviews – late March 2015

March 24, 2015

Rodrigo Lima Saga (JSR 6063/4)

Best known thus far as an accompanist, notably touring as a member of Ithamara Koorax’s band, this debut album by Rodrigo Lima is a real treat for lovers of the guitar and the music of Brazil. The musical styles heard here include choro, Novos Cariocas, samba, Canção Praieira, and bossa nova, Altinho, and much else that has become familiar to international audiences over the years.rod lima Although it is the guitar, mainly classical and also electric, that is prominent, Rodrigo is impressively joined by guest artists, among whom are Anat Cohen, saxophone, Hugo Fattoruso, keyboards, Hubert Laws, flute, Ithamara Koorax and Aline Morena, vocal, Mike Mainieri, vibraphone, Raul de Souza, trombone, Zé Eduardo Nazário, João Palma and Laudir de Oliveira, percussion, and Hermeto Pascoal, keyboards, while most of the arrangements are by Rodrigo and Arnaldo DeSouteiro. Mostly on this double album are heard original compositions by Rodrigo, and there are also some on which he collaborated with Pascoal, João Cavalcanti, Pedro Rocha and others, as well as a 20-minute jazz and Latin-tinged exploration of the 3rd Movement of Brahms’ 3rd Symphony. In contrast to the excellent instrumental combinations heard here there is a fine solo performance of A Velha Sozinha by Rodrigo on acoustic guitar. Throughout, the music is romantic, melodic, with flowing lines and always a joy to hear. Well known in South America, especially in Brazil, his homeland, Rodrigo Lima also plays extensively in Europe, especially in Spain. This release must surely expand his international audience.

Rachel Caswell All I Know (Turtle Ridge TRR-002)

Any singer choosing to present her art in the exposed setting of a duet needs to be good at what she does and Rachel Caswell certainly is that. It takes confidence, too, appearing in this setting and again Rachel has that confidence. The result is an excellent album, mainly of standards, that acts as a showcase for a singer who must surely and quickly build an international following. On seven of the twelve tracks, Rachel is accompanied by guitarist Dave Stryker, while on the other five she is in company with bassist Jeremy Allen.RachelCaswell-Cover Throughout this set, Rachel delivers subtle jazz improvisations that enhance the original songs and remain always respectful of the intentions of the composers. Her vocal sound is graceful with a sinewy hint that adds immeasurably to her interpretations. Among the songs are If I Should Lose You, One For My Baby, Agua de Beber, I Fall In Love Too Easily and Feelin’ Groovy. This set should appeal to jazz and popular song audiences alike. Its appeal to fellow jazz singers will be clear from what Sheila Jordan has said of her: “Rachel is a wonderful singer with a deep feeling and a fantastic improvisational talent complemented by a lovely rich sound.”

For more information on Rachel Caswell, see Jim Eigo‘s website.

Mavis Rivers Mavis and Swing Along With Mavis (Warners 8122795 8480 and 7385)

The name of Mavis Rivers comes up only rarely when talking or reading about jazz singers and that’s a pity because she was exceptionally good. I recall reviewing some of her albums many years ago and also playing tracks on my long-gone radio show but I confess to having forgotten all about her. Mavis’s name has come to mind now with the review in March’s Jazz Journal of two reissued albums. Among the best of her recorded work, they are a very good introduction to her, especially as they come in Warner’s low-cost reissues from Japan. Only 62 when she died, Mavis packed a great deal of music into her life and fortunately for us she left a substantial recorded legacy that vividly demonstrates not only her vocal skills but also her ability to present her talent in a rich variety of settings. She was born Mavis Chloe Rivers into a large and musically-inclined family on 19 May 1929 in Apia, Western Samoa. With the outbreak of World War II the family moved to the American part of Samoa where, backed by a band led by her father, Moody Charles Rivers, she entertained American servicemen. After the war, the family moved to Auckland, New Zealand, and by 1948 she was singing on radio and the following year began her recording career. Some of her recordings from this period can be heard on The TANZA, Stebbing and Zodiac Years on Ode Records.mavis tanza Not surprisingly, most of the music Mavis recorded at this time reflected her Polynesian background, but her vocal skill and her admirable sound are already very much in evidence.

In 1953 Mavis came to the USA on a scholarship to study music at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah (her family were Mormons). She came back to the USA in 1955, this time to Los Angeles, where she found work singing in clubs at night (a secretarial day job was necessary), including playing with a Hawaiian band. The bass player in this band was Glicerio Reyes Catingub (known as David), with whom she formed a musical and personal relationship and they were married on 4 October 1955. After a brief spell out of music when her two sons, Matthew and Reynaldo, were born, Mavis resumed working, playing clubs in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. As the 1950s rolled over into the 1960s, Mavis was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best New Artist and also recorded extensively, first for Capitol Records and then for Frank Sinatra’s Reprise label. Two of the Reprise albums are those reissued on Warners and reviewed by Brian Robinson in Jazz Journal.mavis mavis Giving 4 and 5 stars respectively to Mavis and Swing Along With Mavis,mavis swing along the reviewer points out that both benefit from very good charts and backing, the first with Marty Paich, the second with Van Alexander, with the former band including a host of leading jazzmen. These sessions come from 1961 and there was another very good Reprise recording date that year, Mavis Meets Shorty, this one teaming Mavis with Shorty Rogers, on trumpet and fluegelhorn, with charts by Chuck Sagle. All three of these Reprise albums are together on a 2014 Fresh Sound double album. In 1964 mavis shortyMavis made another excellent album, this time with Red Norvo, with whom she often appeared live; this was for the Vee-Jay label, We Remember Mildred Bailey. Mavis not only worked with Norvo, but also with George Shearing and André Previn; that she regularly kept company with musicians of this caliber speaks volumes for her own skills and how other musicians regarded her.mavis red

Just as Mavis had come from a musical family, so her own family continued the tradition with her alto saxophonist and bandleader son Matt Catingub becoming a respected figure on the Los Angeles studio and jazz scenes. Apart from regularly playing together in California, in the early 1980s mother and son appeared in Auckland, New Zealand, at a Royal Variety Performance for Queen Elizabeth. Mavis and Matt also recorded together on his Sea Breeze albums My Mommy And Me and Hi-Tech Big Band. The 1980s also brought a new album under her own name, It’s A Good Day, for Delos. Mavis continued to work through the rest of the 1980s and into the 1990s, including appearing on another of Matt Catingub’s recording sessions, this one also for Sea Breeze, I’m Getting Cement All Over Ewe.mavis mommy They continued playing live dates together and it was at one of these, at the Vine Street Bar and Grill on 29 May 1992, that she suffered a stroke. Rushed to Queen of Angels-Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital, she died. Following her death, her son reported that only days earlier they had been speaking of fellow singer Sylvia Syms who died after performing and Mavis had said that this was a “great way for a singer to go,” adding “I’d like to go the same way.”

Thanks to references to her by Marc Myers on his JazzWax website in January 2012, and to the re-release in 2015 of some of her albums, the name of Mavis Rivers lives on. Still not nearly as prominent in the minds of lovers of jazz singing as should be the case, now there is no excuse for not listening to and admiring the work of this exceptional jazz artist.

To buy any of the CDs mentioned here you can as usual go to Amazon.

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