Jazz CD Reviews – late November 2015

November 25, 2015

Perhaps it has become a cliché, but over the years many of the masters of jazz have maintained that their music should tell a story. This is especially relevant with the first two albums here, those by Ernie Krivda and Aaron Irwin, because they are tied closely to storytelling and make strong connections with historic events and tales of fiction.

Ernie Krivda Requiem For A Jazz Lady (Capri 74140-2)

Hailing from Cleveland, tenor saxophonist Ernie Krivda has an international reputation yet has never lost a very strong connection with his hometown. This connection is manifested in this new album, which is inspired by places and people and events there in the past. The result is an engaging and always interesting selection of compositions Ernie has written, all of which are presented in a warm and powerful manner. Among these pieces of music is an engagingly funky blues entitled Great Lakes Gumbo, which combines elements of the many jazz styles of the mid-west cities that have Cleveland at their core. The Remarkable Mr Black is for Ernie’s late accompanist Claude Black. Taken at a brisk tempo, Ernie opens with a long improvisation and is followed by pianist Lafayette Carthon before a closing section where Ernie and drummer Renell Gonsalves trade ideas. A personal tribute is Little Face, a charming ballad on which Lafayette shines, that is for Ernie’s wife, Faye. A warm picture portraying Ernie’s present home in nearby Lakewood is Emerald, the key soloists here being Ernie and Lafayette and bassist Marion Hayden. Aside from the music, the liner notes for this release includes a fascinating account Ernie Krivda has written of Cleveland’s jazz world in that era and which itself paints vivid pictures that add immeasurably to the musical portraits.

Aaron Irwin A Room Forever (independent)

On this album, clarinetist Aaron Irwin’s inspiration for his compositions comes from the short stories of Breece Dexter John Pancake, a West Virginian writer whose death in 1979 at the age of 26 brought to an abrupt halt a career that would surely have been at the very least interesting and perhaps exceptional. He writes with a sharp eye for the sometimes grim hardscrabble lives of his fellow West Virginians and his spare style is admirably suited to the settings and the people. While bleak tales of difficult lives might appear to be unpromising as a source for musical inspiration, Aaron Irwin has found in them much that is rewarding. There is in the music an intriguing mix of pastoral openness and tight introspection as he draws upon varied musical genres to create themes over which he and his collaborators can lay their improvisations.irwin_a_room_forever_cover Aaron is accompanied here by trombonist Matthew McDonald, guitarist Pete McCann, and bassist Thomas Kneeland, the unusual instrumental make-up of the quartet providing interesting and unusual voicings. Titled as are Pancake’s stories, the tracks include A Room Forever, a melody that Aaron develops over Pete McCann’s plaintive guitar and which mirrors a tale of hopeless lives; Hollow, which traces a dourly-told tale of hard work below ground and forgotten love above; and Trilobites, a piece that reflects the story of a young man’s disintegrating life in which he finds a measure of purpose only in the perpetuity of the distant past. At first glance, the doom and despair that fill Pancake’s stories might seem an unlikely source for music but such is Aaron Irwin’s skill as a composer that everything here is by no means mired in gloom.

Mike Holober Balancing Act (Palmetto PALM 22058)

In many ways, pianist Mike Holober’s compositions heard here also draw upon the American landscape but this is through the composer’s non-musical activities. Although deeply involved for many years as composer and performer and conductor, including spells with big bands in Germany, Mike is at heart an outdoorsman and this is displayed in his writing.holober On this album five of the eight tracks are his own compositions and include Grace At Sea, a gentle ballad with Mike’s piano setting the scene and cushioning Kate McGarry’s voice, Marvin Stamm’s flugelhorn and Mark Patterson’s trombone. Brian Blade’s subtle drums allied to Mike’s piano and John Hébert’s bass sets the mood for Canyon, a spare, open ballad that features Kate as well as Marvin’s trumpet and Dick Oatts on alto saxophone. Dick also plays soprano saxophone in this band and is heard on flute on When There Were Trains, which also features Kate with the the reflective lyric. On Book Of Sighs Mike’s piano and Kate’s voice open the pages and later Dick and Mark are heard in extended solos. Brian is featured on Idris, a crisp and fitting tribute to Idris Muhammed composed by Jason Rigby. Mike is a regular member of a quartet led by Jason who also plays clarinet, bass clarinet and tenor saxophone on this album, soloing well on Billy Joel’s Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel). An album of stories then, musical this time, but careful listeners will hear and understand what they are being told.

All these albums (and Breece D’J Pancake’s short stories) are available at Amazon.

Jazz CD Reviews – October 2013

October 30, 2013

Ken Peplowski – Maybe September (Capri 74125-2)

Anyone who has heard Ken Peplowski play, live or on record, need not read on. You will know that everything that he does starts at very good, swiftly moves on to excellent, and is soon edging into the kind of playing that needs those superlatives I usually try to avoid. Here, Ken is heard playing tenor saxophone on a few tracks but mostly he plays clarinet, which is where those superlatives are needed. The music heard here ranges widely, touching on many styles and all with understanding and subtlety. Ken opens with a low-key, moving interpretation of Irving Berlin’s All Alone before presenting the little heard Artie Shaw composition, Moon Ray. On this set, Ken is joined by pianist Ted Rosenthal, bassist Martin Wind and drummer Matt Wilson, all of whom accompany him with skill and . . . well, I was about to say, understanding – but paused because I’ve already used that word about the leader’s playing. kenpepYet it is so right; these are all musicians who understand the music they are playing in the deepest sense of the word and they understand their roles, and they understand one another. Obviously, it is Ken who takes the bulk of the solos, but the others have their moments in the spotlight (Ted Rosenthal is notable on I’ll String Along With You) and always to great effect. No disrespect intended to the others, but Matt Wilson is a ferocious swinger. And speaking of swing, this is most apparent on the medium and up-tempo pieces all of which are played in a manner that cannot fail to keep toes tapping. An exceptional set that is strongly recommended.

Colorado Conservatory Bands – Hang Time (Tapestry 76020-2)

Two bands are featured here, Group Giz and Group Gunn. For the not-yet-informed (which included me until a few minutes ago), Giz is named for Greg Gisbert, Gunn for Eric Gunnison. These two men are well-known musicians and educators and have roles as teacher and/or mentor in the lives of the students at the Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts. The two groups assembled here (Giz an octet, Gunn a septet) ably demonstrate individual and ensemble technical ability while also allowing scope for inventive solos. coloradoconThe composers of all the music heard here are members of the bands and display a liking for melodic themes, Interestingly, neither group includes a keyboard player, the rhythm section of Giz being guitar, bass and drums, that of Gunn is the same plus vibraphone; in both cases, it is the guitar that takes on the harmonic role usually dependent upon keyboards. There are differences too in the horns: Giz has two trumpets, one trombone and two saxophones while Gunn has one trumpet and two saxophones. These differences lend a pleasing variety to the overall sound. As for the stylistic sources of the pieces, these range through bop to contemporary improvised music by way of today’s R&B, funk, with touches of Latin and the east. Very enjoyable music, made all nicer by assuring us as it does that the future of jazz is in good hands.

Ali Ryerson – Game Changer (Capri 74124-2)

The flute has not always had an easy ride in jazz. An early player, who was also exceptionally good, was Wayman Carver with Chick Webb’s band in the 1930s; when Frank Wess came along with Count Basie’s band it was the 1950s. This decade saw the instrument become much more popular, especially on the west coast. As the instrument began to come out of hiding, with one or two exceptions, Herbie Mann and Hubert Laws come to mind, it was mainly played as a second instrument by a reed player. Things gradually got better and by the end of the century several fine musicians were coming into jazz playing the flute without the need to play another instrument; among them being Holly Hofmann and Ali Ryerson. Three of those musicians mentioned in the foregoing few lines appear here, two as guests, while one is leader. But that’s not all! This is a big band with a very unusual instrumental line-up: apart from guests Hofmann, Laws and Nestor Torres, and the leader, Ryerson, there are 15 other flute players. aliryerI must admit to a slight quiver of apprehension when I saw this information on the sleeve, but I need not have worried. The considerable gifts of the soloists (Hofmann, Laws, Torres, Paul Lieberman, Marc Adler, Jamie Baum, Fernando Brandao, Billy Kerr, Andrea Brachfeld, Kris Keith, Bob Chadwick, and of course Ryerson herself, ensure that there is always something of interest to hear. The band is propelled by a first-rate rhythm section – pianist Mark Levine, bassist Rufus Reid, drummer Akira Tana (and there is also bassist Keith Underwood) – that helps things along. Also invaluable are the charts, that give the ensemble much more variety in sound than the instrumentation might suggest is likely. Interesting stuff – and likely to change pre-set ideas about jazz ensembles.

Info on the foregoing CDs can be seen on artist websites where shown; also via Braithwaite & Katz Communications. To buy go to Amazon.

Dale Bruning – Reflections (Jazz Link Enterprises JLECD 7632)

Although recorded back in 2004, this fine CD demonstrates how truly timeless is the music of Vernon Duke, and by no means coincidentally, how Dale Bruning’s interpretative gifts similarly ignores the artificial bounds of the calendar. This set was recorded at Dazzle’s in Denver as a part of the ongoing series of themed concerts by guitarist Dale and his musical partner, producer Jude Hibler. The songs played here include Autumn In New York, I Can’t Get Started and What Is There To Say. There are also some of Dale’s own compositions, including Love Comes Softly and Dancing With Daffodils, all beautifully played by Dale and his regular collaborators, saxophonist Rich Chiaraluce, bassist Mark Simon, and drummer Paul Romaine.

For more of Dale Bruning’s fine playing take a glance at an earlier entry here (Jazz Guitar – Music & Words, 30 October 2012), which examines in more detail the work of Dale and Jude.

Dale Bruning’s CDs can be bought from Jude Hibler‘s website and also from cdbaby.com.

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