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.

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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