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 – early October 2015

October 10, 2015

Jan Lundgren A Retrospective (Fresh Sound FSR 5055 CD)

One of the finest pianists in jazz, Jan Lundgren has been very well served by this label, making nine albums as leader and appearing on another seven as sideman with some equally distinguished musicians. Stretching over two decades, these recordings have vividly displayed the pianist’s remarkable talent, which was exceptional at the start of this period in his career and has developed superbly. As this release’s title indicates, this compilation presents examples from some of these albums although they do not cover all the years – the first track is from 1995, the last from 2003.lundgren Among the leaders on the sessions heard here are Bill Perkins (tenor saxophone), Shorty George from Perk Plays Prez, Conte Candoli (trumpet), On Green Dolphin Street from Portrait Of A Count and Rockin’ Chair from Conte-nuity, Andy Martin (trombone), Doxy from It’s Fine . . . It’s Andy!. The original albums under Jan’s name are mainly as leader of a trio and tracks from these include Swedish Pastry, If You Could See Me Now, and Angel Eyes. He is also heard solo, Spring Isn’t Spring Anymore, and in duet with Herb Geller (soprano saxophone), Restless from You’re Looking At Me, and Arne Domnérus (clarinet), Barney Goin’ Easy from Dompan!. On two tracks, I’ve Never Been In Love Before and You Stepped Out Of A Dream, Jan’s trio is expanded to a quartet by fellow pianist Pete Jolly. On every track there are rewarding solos, all displaying inventive improvisation, imaginative flair and considerable technical accomplishment. Many of these fine solos are from the horns although, as expected, the spotlight is mainly on this remarkable pianist. It would be unfair not to mention the excellent support given by bassists Dave Carpenter, Chuck Berghofer and Tom Warrington and drummers Paul Kreibich and Joe La Barbera. This album is very warmly recommended and fans of Jan Lundgren will like it a lot while those who have yet to hear him will find it a very effective introduction to a master jazz piano player. It is encouraging to note that today Jan Lundgren is not yet fifty.

My review of the similarly recommended Lundgren-Berghofer-La Barbera live set,Together Again … At The Jazz Bakery (Fresh Sound FSR 5050 CD), can be seen elsewhere on this site.

And speaking of elsewhere, a review of A Retrospective also appears in the September issue of Jazz Journal.

Romain Collin Press Enter (ACT 9583-2)

Highly regarded by contemporaries and also, importantly, by senior statesmen on today’s jazz scene, on this new release Romain Collin vividly displays his talent not only as performer but also as composer. Born in France, Romain has been based in America for several years and during this time has worked as leader and sideman, touring internationally with a band from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, and working with Mike Stern, John McLoughlin, Christian McBride, among many.collin Here, Romain leads a core trio rounded out by bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Kendrick Scott, who are joined on some tracks by vocalist Megan Rose, guitarist Grey McMurray, cellist Laura Mercalf, percussionist Mino Cinelu, and whistler Jean-Michel Pilc. All the artists here are skilled performers and individually and collectively present interesting and rewarding interpretations of a richly varied repertoire, most of which are Romain’s compositions. For these, he draws upon the rich tapestry of piano not only from the jazz world but also from wider fields. There is a pleasing hint of underlying folk on San Luis Obispo, rhythmic urgency with The Kids, and intriguing minimalism 99. Understandably, the spotlight is mostly upon Romain, but the work of Luques and Kendrick is a significant ingredient in the success of this very attractive album.

All albums are available from Amazon.

Jazz CD Reviews – mid-May 2015

May 15, 2015

The Cunninghams São Paulo Lights (NH 8416)

This fine album brings both sorrow and joy. The sorrow is because this is one of the last recordings made by Don and Alicia Cunningham before Alicia’s death in December 2014. The joy comes from the music as this exceptional vocal duo joins forces with the Elvaldo Soares Quartet during a 2012 visit to Brazil.Cunninghams+me The four instrumentalists, leading lights of the richly varied São Paulo music scene, are pianist Elvaldo Soares, guitarist Cesar Lopes, bassist Lito Robledo, and drummer Douglas Andrade. Experts in Brazil’s national music, they are also experienced jazzmen. Among the songs heard here are some from the Latin and the jazz repertoires as well as standards. They include Anos Dourados, by Antonio Carlos Jobim-Chico Buarque de Holanda, Peter & Paul, Eumir Deodato, Morning, Clare Fischer, Love Vibrations, Horace Silver, My Ship, Kurt Weill-Ira Gershwin, and More Than You Know, William Rose-Edward Eliscu-Vincent Youmans. From soulful ballads to breakneck bebop by way of rhythmic Braziliana, the vocal duo is center stage throughout with their contrasting sound and style blending superbly: Alicia’s coolly poised, Don’s urgently edgy. Adding to the rhythmic drive of the quartet, Don is heard playing conga drums on some tracks, while on the closing track, São Paulo Lights, Roberto Sion plays flute and reeds. Lively and hugely entertaining, this is one to savor. The album might take some finding but do try; it is well worth the effort and you will surely agree that the duo had earned the acronym SJVP by which they were known: Super Jazz Vocal Pair.

For more on The Cunninghams, see my article in the June 2015 issue of Jazz Journal.

 

Joshua Breakstone 2nd Avenue (Capri 74137-2)

Bringing new life not only to some familiar music but also to the concept of ‛chamber jazz’, guitarist Joshua Breakstone presents this new release. Subtitled The Return Of The Cello-Quartet, this admirable set features not only Joshua’s fleet and deceptively simple-sounding lines but also cellist Mike Richmond, bassist Lisle Atkinson, and drummer Andy Watson. joshua b All four musicians play with skill, ingenuity and are very much like-minded in their approach. This is collective music making where the overall concept takes precedence over individuals. That said, the solos by the individual members of the group are all highly effective and vividly display their improvisational abilities. Among the music heard here are standards, I Wish I Knew and The Lamp Is Low; and jazz works, among which are Dexter Gordon’s Evergreenish, Cannonball Adderley’s Home, and Lee Konitz’s Thingin’. There are also two originals, one each my Lisle and Joshua. As a fine example of the qualities of musicianship these four men bring to their work, the (doubtless surprising) inclusion of I’m An Old Cowhand should be heard. Melodically, this is embedded in the subconscious of many and to hear it revived and reinvigorated with such sparkling wit and eloquence is a real joy.

For more on Joshua Breakstone contact Braithwaite & Katz (Ann@bkmusicpr.com)

 

Michelle Lordi Drive (Creeper Music)

Michelle Lordi is a singer worth hearing again and again. She is a young woman, yet throughout this album displays maturity in the manner in which she presents songs, which are mostly standards. Among these songs are You’re My Thrill, Imagination, My Ship, I Fall In Love Too Easily and (I Don’t Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance.lordi A clear, distinctive vocal sound marks Michelle’s work and it is a delight to hear her display care and understanding of the intent of the composers and lyricists. Choosing to stay close to the original forms in which the songs were cast, she colors them with subtle touches of phrasing that make them fresh and appropriate for today. There is a sophisticated elegance in Michelle’s approach but not one that distances her, instead it makes the listener eager to draw closer to share the experience. Michelle is accompanied by pianist Tom Lawton (Orrin Evans on three tracks), tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna, bassist Madison Rast, and drummer Dan Monaghan.

For more on Michelle Lordi see her site and that of Jim Eigo.

 

David Berkman Old Friends And New Friends (Palmetto PM2177)

With this new release, pianist David Berkman also displays his skill as a composer. He is clearly a listener, demonstrating this by writing music that effectively showcases the individual talents of the musicians with whom he is working.david berkman This music ranges through intimate moods, of which Psalm is an example, through lively swinging pieces, Up Jump Ming, to exhilarating blues-ish romps, No Blues No Really No Blues. David’s gifts as a soloist are similarly evident, but here he is primarily a team player and quite a team it is. With David are bassist Linda Oh (a member of his current quartet), drummer Brian Blade, and saxophonists Dayna Stephens (also in his quartet), playing soprano & tenor, Billy Drewes, soprano & alto, and Adam Kolker, soprano, alto & tenor (the last named also playing clarinet and bass clarinet). Brian Blade has worked with David from time to time over the years although not as often as both might have liked, given their separately busy schedules as bandleaders. Nevertheless, their musical affinity is evident throughout this fine set and Brian’s subtly understated propulsion is a highlight. Contemporary music-making of a very high order that will delight existing fans and should attract many newcomers.

For more on David Berkman contact Braithwaite & Katz (Ann@bkmusicpr.com)

 

Roger Davidson Live At Caffè Vivaldi Volume 2 (Soundbrush SR 4002)
This second volume of music recorded at Caffè Vivaldi by Roger Davidson presents a set of his own compositions (there is one piece by Jobim). Released on
Soundbrush (Roger’s own label), it is filled with delights.roger v2 Although an eclectic musician, Roger has a very special affinity with the music of Brazil and this is vividly demonstrated here as he and his trio dance through the timeless rhythms of that land. On the first volume recorded at this venue, Roger played duets with bassist Pablo Aslan who is here again for three tracks, the rest of the set having bassist David Finck, with drummer Adriano Santos underpinning the music with an infectious beat. Over the years the musical links between Brazil and jazz have become ever stronger and Roger Davidson can take much credit for the part he has played and continues to play in this meeting of musical minds.

For more on the first set, see my February 2015 post, while more on Roger can be found at Jim Eigo‘s site.

Perry Beekman S’Wonderful (own label)

For this new set of standards, singer-guitarist Perry Beekman is again joined by his regular musical companions, pianist Peter Tomlinson and bassist Lou Pappas. On their previous set, reviewed in April 2014, the trio played the music of Rodgers and Hart while here it is the work of George and Ira Gershwin on which they focus their respectful attention. George was deeply influenced by jazz in the 1920s and 1930s, and this is reflected in his compositions and correspondingly his themes were immediately picked up by musicians of the day and in every succeeding decade.perry Here, Perry’s arrangements retain the melodic delights of the songs, while allowing moments for improvised solos. George’s brother, Ira, also responded to contemporary trends in popular music and his lyrics display wit, ingenuity, poetic charm and wistful longing. Heard here are many of the Gershwins’ timeless wonders, among them Fascinating Rhythm, I Got Rhythm, How Long Has This Been Going On?, I’ve Got A Crush On You, and Someone To Watch Over Me.

For more on Perry Beekman see his site.

Most of these albums are available at Amazon.

Jazz or Classical or just Good Music?

April 15, 2015

Deanna Witkowski Raindrop (Tilapia 003)

The subtitle to this lovely album is deliberately explicit: Improvisations With Chopin. Explicit because Deanna Witkowski has sought in her improvisations to attune her mind to that of the composer of the original themes. Importantly, she has succeeded in her aims and the result is a thoroughly delightful recital of much-loved melodies that retain the composer’s romanticism while displaying the art of the presenter. The eight works of Frédéric Chopin, four preludes, three nocturnes, and one etude, will be familiar to many, and Witkowski clearly loves this music and is always respectful of its charm and beauty, staying close to the original themes while improvising upon them her own conceptions. The pianist has also long held a fascination with the music of Brazil and on three tracks she segues smoothly from Chopin to leading composers from that country’s grand tradition. The Prelude in E Minor Op. 28, No 4 blends into Insensatez, which Antonio Carlos Jobim based on Chopin’s piece, the Prelude in C Minor Op. 28, No. 20 transitions smoothly into Olha Maria, and the Nocturne in E Minor Op 72, No. 1 into Manhã De Carnaval. An American standard is similarly enjoined with Chopin as Witkowski develops the Etude in E-Flat Minor Op. 10, No. 6 into You And The Night And the Music. On the other four Chopin pieces here, the pianist stays with the great composer, building her own musical improvisation from the original. Among these is the Prelude in D-Flat Major Op. 28, No. 15, an especially haunting version of the work known as the ‛Raindrop’ Prelude. There are also six tracks of originals by Witkowski, all are short (four are less than two minutes) and are inspired by the master’s melodies and harmonic structure.deanna All of this music is beautiful to hear and is enhanced by the recording quality that brings to life an exceptional instrument. There may be those who remain uneasy at mixing jazz with classical music. This wholly admirable set should dispel any fears for the sanctity (real or imagined) of either one or the other form. Speaking of this release, Deanna Witkowski states that: “The whole idea of this project was to have the original Chopin pieces be the grounding for the arrangements – not to just add a specific rhythm and play the piece as a swing tune.” She achieves her intention and this release must surely appeal to open-mined aficionados of both jazz and classical music. Indeed, it might be recalled that Duke Ellington once remarked that there are two kinds of music, good and bad. This is definitely good.

This album is available from all good walk-in and on-line stores, the latter including Amazon.

Jazz CD Reviews – mid-October 2014

October 16, 2014

Ezra Weiss Before You Know It (Roark Records no number)

Subtitled Live In Portland, this new release by Ezra Weiss has him leading a fine sextet playing music largely composed by himself. An exceptionally talented pianist, Ezra presents an extremely attractive set, the music ranging through sensitive ballads to driving burners. Appearing in the band are trumpeter Farnell Newton, alto saxophonist John Nastos, tenor saxophonist Devin Phillips, all of whom have excellent solos, while the rhythm section is ably rounded out by bassist Jon Shaw and drummer Christopher Brown. John Coltrane’s Alabama is a moving treatment of music composed originally in the aftermath of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, only recently brought unhappily to mind by the Sandy Hook killings.ezra weiss The Gershwin brothers’ standard, A Foggy Day, is given an unexpectedly lively interpretation. All the other tracks vividly demonstrate that Ezra’s listings as winner on more than one occasion of both the DownBeat Critics Poll and the ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award are especially well deserved. Among these tracks are lovely and deeply personal musings written for Ezra’s wife, Jessie’s Song, and his son, Before You Know It. All of the music heard here is rich with soulful undertones while the instrumental virtuosity on display is striking. Recorded live at Ivories Jazz Lounge in October and December 2013, this CD must surely widen Ezra’s growing reputation as a major composer and performer.

From November 10 five bonus tracks will be available for download HERE and/or HERE. These additional tracks will not be available on CD.

 

Wadada Leo Smith The Great Lakes Suites (TUM Records CD 041-2)

Although he might now be regarded as an elder statesman of free jazz and of contemporary improvised music in general, Wadada Leo Smith has not lost any of the exploratory zeal that has marked his music since the late 1960s. Back then, he left R&B to become an early member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (with Muhal Richard Abrams, Jodie Christian, Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton, Leroy Jenkins, Jack DeJohnette, and others) and he was co-founder of Creative Construction Company (with Braxton and Jenkins). During these years, he worked with Derek Bailey among many leading practitioners of cutting-edge jazz. He also studied extensively, steeping himself in ethnic musical forms from many parts of the world, composed, and by the early 1990s was passing on his musical knowledge and philosophical beliefs to students at Cal Arts. In more recent years he has worked with musicians such as Henry Kaiser, Michael Manring, Anthony Davis, and Malachi Favors. Key factors in Smith’s work include his understanding of the role of musicians, and indeed all artists, in society today.wadada He has declared that this should encourage the development of character and morality, among many qualities, if today’s universal problems are to be faced, understood and solved. On this new double album, Smith is joined by two of his previous collaborators, Threadgill and DeJohnette, as well as John Lindberg, in a performance of music he has composed to aurally depict the impressive scenic wonders of the inland waterways that have contributed so much to the of making and development of his country. Moving, intelligent, absorbing, this music makes clear that Wadada Leo Smith still has much to say about the world in which we live.

 

Kalle Kalima & K-18 Buñuel de Jour (TUM Records CD 038)

A leading figure on Finland’s contemporary improvised music scene, Kalle Kalima is a guitar virtuoso who plays here with his group K-18, the other members of which are Mikko Innanen, Teppo Hauta, and Veli Kujala. This album’s title will indicate to all the inspiration for the music heard here. The group’s name will need some explanation for those outside Finland: K-18 is the rating for films not suitable for persons under 18 years of age. A little while ago, Kalima was inspired by the films of Stanley Kubrick; here he takes his cue from revolutionary filmmaker Luis Buñuel, whose own career was rooted in the avant-garde from where he developed into an outstanding international figure, making films in many genres and languages.kalima Among his films are several that are frequently listed among the best ever made. Eleven of the twelve tracks Kalima has composed for this album are titled for Buñuel films, among them Belle de Jour, Diary of a Chambermaid, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Un Chien Andalou. Musically, this album is inventive and carries reflections of the intriguing complexity that marked Buñuel’s work.

 

For more information contact the artists through their websites (highlighted above), or via Braithwaite & Katz (ann@bkmusicpr.com), or to buy these albums visit Amazon.

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