January 30, 2017
Beata Pater Fire Dance (B&B Records BB 0421)
An earlier album by Beata Pater, Golden Lady (BB 0419), reviewed here, featured her singing a pleasing selection of well-known yet underused songs with just piano and bass accompaniment. On this new release, she sings a collection of wordless songs, all of them originals by Alex Danson, and for these she is joined by a seven-piece band. Rhythmically varied, the music touches on eastern Europe, the Middle East and north Africa, all cloaked in American concepts, including contemporary R&B and jazz/funk. Beata’s vocal sound, soft and intimate, draws the listener in and despite the absence of words succeeds in creating a warmly intimate and lyrical air. The nature of the songs heard here showcases Beata’s musical skill, honed though training as a violinist at Warsaw’s Music Academy, and also as a session singer in Japan. The singer’s accompanists here are saxophonists Sam Newsome, Anton Schwartz, Aaron Lington, keyboard player Scott Collard, bassist Aaron Germain, drummer Alan Hall, and percussionist Brian Rice. Adding immeasurably to the texture of these performances, use is made by Beata of multi-tracking, thus creating a highly effective vocal chorale. The absence of lyrics enhances the Beata’s role as a fully integrated member of the ensemble, her voice being used instrumentally. An attractive album that presents yet another aspect of this multi-faceted artist’s work.
Sidney Jacobs First Man (Baby Chubs Records)
After singing in church and touring internationally with the Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers, Sidney Jacobs performed operatic roles and also jazz. Family needs directed him toward a career outside music (he had mastered in Clinical Psychology and Educational Psychology) but music was an ever-present facet of his life. Writing numerous songs in a wide range of genres, Sidney continued to sing, eventually releasing his debut album, Been So Long, in 2013. On this, his second album, Sidney performs seven of his own songs as well as works by Sacha Distel, The Good Life, Bill Withers, Lonely Town Lonely Street, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, My Favorite Things, James Taylor, Secret O’ Life, and others. Sidney’s accompaniment ranges from single instrument (Secret O’ Life with Josh Nelson, piano), duo (The Good Life with Nelson, piano and Zephyr Avalon, bass) to seven- and eight-piece groups. Collectively, these musical collaborators are Nolan Shaheed, trumpet, Wendell Kelly, trombone, Josh Johnson, alto saxophone, Michael Jarvey, piano & viola, Greg Poree, guitar, Zephyr Avalon, bass, Justin Thomas, vibraphone & marimba, Francesco Canas, violin, and Efa Etoroma Jr, drums, and on three tracks Sidney is also backed by vocalist Cathy Segal-Garcia. A strong, mature and distinctive voice enhances Sidney’s original compositions and his unusual and always interesting variations on familiar songs commands attention.
More information on Beata Pater and Sidney Jacobs (including albums and booking) can be found at Mouthpiece Music.
Nick Fizer Hear & Now (Outside In Music OiM 1701)
On this, his third album, trombonist Nick Fizer displays not only his exceptional instrumental skill but also his ability as a composer. All but one of the tracks are Nick’s compositions, and with them Nick seeks unity at a time of division (the exception is a fine interpretation of Duke Ellington’s Single Petal Of A Rose). Although division and strife knows no boundaries, the USA in particular is today divided despite its origins as a land of hope and freedom. What the composer strives to find are ways in which introspective thought might supersede the shoot-from-the-hip approach so often suffered (sometimes quite literally). Given the album concept and the international mood it might be thought that this would result in gloomy music but that is not so. Yes, there are compositions that depict the dark side of life today but there are also optimistic works, suggesting that come what may there will one day be a time of unity in the world. Among Nick’s works heard here are We The People, Race To The Bottom, New Beginnings, and Love Wins. The other instrumentalists joining Nick are Lucas Pino, tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Glenn Zaleski, piano, Alex Wintz, guitar, Dave Baron, bass, and Jimmy Macbride, drums.
More information on Nick Fizer, including albums and booking (as well as February and March nationwide tour dates) can be obtained from Braithwaite & Katz: [email protected]
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 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. 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.
October 6, 2012
Dan Block Duality (Miles High MHR 8620)
A multi-talented jazz musician, Dan Block is in demand as sideman, orchestral player and arranger. On From His World To Mine (Miles High MHR 8612), he presents the music of Duke Ellington, choosing interesting and effective examples from Ellington’s huge contribution to 20th century music. Dan stays away from the familiar and instead plays his own arrangements of pieces many of which are Ellington’s lesser-known works. This CD therefore serves a dual purpose, that of presenting Dan as both soloist and arranger and in making the listener aware of how wide was Ellington’s (and Billy Strayhorn’s) mastery of music. Playing principally clarinet and tenor saxophone, Dan is ably aided by a fine accompanying group: Mike Kanan, James Chirillo, Lee Hudson, Brian Grice, Mark Sherman, Renato Thoms and Pat O’Leary.
On a recent album, Duality (Miles High MHR 8620), Dan takes a bold step in teaming himself with other leading lights of contemporary mainstream jazz in a set of mainly duets. His partners here are pianists Ted Rosenthal, a lovely Long Ago And Far Away, and Rosanno Sportiello, bass player Lee Hudson, guitarists Paul Myers, Saul Rubin and Matt Munisteri, vibraphone player Mark Sherman, taking a new look at Bix Beiderbecke’s In The Dark, and singer Catherine Russell on an unusual and highly effective take on Tadd Dameron’s If You Could See Me Now. There are two trio tracks, on one, the Ellington-Jimmy Blanton classic, Pitter Panther Patter, Dan is joined by fellow reed player Scott Robinson and Ted Rosenthal, on the other by drummer Tim Horner and Lee Hudson. In these duets, Dan plays clarinet, bass clarinet, and tenor and baritone saxophones.
Throughout these two exceptional sets, Dan Block vividly demonstrates his deep understanding of and love for all that has happened in jazz over the decades while remaining completely in touch with the style and taste of today.
Graham Dechter Takin’ It There (Capri 74117-2)
For his second album as leader, jazz guitarist Graham Dechter is again joined by his fellow rhythm section collaborators from the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra: pianist Tamir Hendelman, bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton. Individually, these are all superb musicians and their solo skills are in evidence throughout this outstanding set. Collectively, their experience of playing together at the CHJO rhythm section is vividly apparent. Graham’s choice of music reveals the respect he has for jazz guitarists of an earlier jazz age with selections from the pen or book of Wes Montgomery and Barney Kessell, while other jazzmen so recalled include Lee Morgan and George Coleman. Graham’s musical pedigree is notable: father, a composer, arranger, player in Hollywood; mother, singer; grandfather, music teacher, trombonist (with Stan Kenton). All of this background has been developed so that the guitarist brings to his interpretations a measure of confidence and maturity that far outweighs his years. This is an exceptional album, the ballad selections filled with depth and understanding, the up-tempo pieces overflowing with invention, and throughout these four masterly musicians never fail to swing.
Rich Halley 4 Back From Beyond (Pine Eagle 004)
Tenor saxophonist Rich Halley has the rare capacity to take elements from the post-bop jazz mainstream and color them with touches that hint at the exhilaration of early free jazz. Often performing his own compositions, Halley is regularly backed by bassist Clyde Reed and drummer Carson Halley. Their music retains hints of the jazz style of earlier years while never losing the feel of contemporary improvised music. Throughout his recordings, Halley displays imaginative ideas that he executes with considerable flair and polish. On this CD, Halley is teamed with trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, a like-minded colleague with whom he has recorded before. This is a set that is filled with imaginative and powerfully played jazz music that allies sensitivity with drama. The support from Reed and Carson Halley is astute and thoughtful, and they weave fluid, driving solos that are filled with fully realized ideas. This is exceptional music, extremely well played by all four of these fine jazz musicians.
Previous releases by Rich Halley on Pine Eagle Records are Live At The Penofin Jazz Festival (Pine Eagle 001), Children Of The Blue Supermarket (Pine Eagle 002) and Requiem For A Pit Viper (Pine Eagle 003).
Stephanie Nakasian Show Me The Way To Get Out Of This World (Capri 74115-2)
More than just a jazz singer, Stephanie Nakasian is also a jazz singing teacher and her knowledge and understanding of the art is apparent in all that she does. On this CD, the latest of a dozen or so she has recorded in the past decade, Nakasian draws her repertoire from a wide range of sources, including the jazz world, classic pop, contemporary pop, and Latin. Deftly playing with time signatures, Nakasian brings unexpected variations on familiar themes, yet never strays far from the melodic magic that has made many of the songs timeless. These songs include Lucky So And So, Zanzibar, Nica’s Dream, So In Love, Ill Wind, You And The Night And The Music, Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most, The End Of A Love Affair and Lonesome Road. On this set, Nakasian’s subtle vocal charm is aided and abetted by Harris Simon, piano, Chris Brydge, bass, and Billy Williams, drums. The pianist is also a jazz music teacher at the College of William and Mary, which is where Nakasian also teaches. Their meeting there led to local gigs from which developed the idea for this wholly admirable album.
Curtis Fuller Down Home (Capri 74116-2)
During the past few years, jazz trombonist Curtis Fuller has made a small number of outstanding CDs. This late flowering as leader has added to his exceptional cv as a major jazz trombonist whose past accomplishments took him through spells with Art Blakey, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie. On recording dates, it is not only the playing of Curtis Fuller that is featured, but also his skill as a jazz composer. This new release teams Fuller with his regular band, which is now in its seventh year: trumpeter Al Hood, tenor saxophonist Keith Oxman, pianist Chip Stephens, bassist Ken Walker and drummer Todd Reid. Most of the music here is written and/or arranged by band members and is finely crafted to allow the musicians to display their collective skills as well as their ability to play imaginative, glowing solos. This excellent album will appeal to all who love jazz in the post-bop mainstream. Similarly filled with exceptional music is 2010’s I Will Tell Her (Capri 74100-2), which is also by Curtis Fuller and what he regards as ‘his band of choice’.
Maria Neckam Unison (Sunnyside SSC 1321)
Among the many jazz singers around today is Austrian-born Maria Neckam. Her crystalline vocal sound brings subtle appeal to a selection of her own songs that owe their intellectual origins to a wide range of sources. Included among the source material is a Rainer Maria Rilke poem, Solitude, and a poem by Persian mystic Hafez, Where Do You Think You Will Be?. Starting out in Vienna, Neckam’s musical education included spells at Amsterdam Conservatory and the Manhattan School of Music in New York. Stylistically, this educational process has taken Neckam through opera and rock, musical theatre and pop, music of the Far East and contemporary improv. Echoes of all these influences can be heard in Neckam’s songs – blending here, contrasting there – to provide a rich and always interesting vocal palette. Neckam’s collaborators on this CD include Aaron Parks, keyboards, Thomas Morgan, bass, and Colin Stranahan, drums, with featured horn players Lars Dietrich, alto saxophone, and Samir Zarif, tenor saxophone. There are also guest appearances by Nir Felder, guitar, Will Vinson, alto saxophone, Kenny Warren, trumpet, Mariel Roberts, cello, and Glenn Zaleski, piano.
Ithamara Koorax Got To Be Real (Irma Records IRM 922 CD)
Although most of Ithamara Koorax’s work cleaves closely to her Brazilian roots, she has a good ear for jazz and from time to time hints of this appear on CDs such as Ithamara Koorax Sings The Luiz Bonfá Songbook (King), Love Dance: The Ballad Collection (Som Livre) and Brazilian Butterfly (Irma). There are many attractions on these CDs and her interpretations of a largely non-jazz repertoire are elegant and eloquent. Ithamara is very much in a jazz mood on Serenade In Blue (Milestone) and Autumn In New York (Huks Music). On the former, she moves confidently towards the jazz genre, which is fully and successfully embraced with the latter where she swings elegantly through an always interesting set of mainly standards, backed by a tight-knit trio. These sensitive interpretations of lyrics and inventive improvisations combine to make this a CD deserving of the high praise it has received. With Obrigado: Dom Um Romao (TCB), Ithamara memorably reflects upon a planned European tour on which she was to have worked with Dom Um Romao and the Peter Schärli Trio. Romao’s death intervened and it was decided to go ahead with the tour but that no attempt would be made to replace his remarkable talent. It was during this tour that the music on this CD was recorded by Swiss radio, and the result is some exceptionally fine playing and singing. Peter is an inventive trumpet player with a softly burning tone, and Ithamara’s singing leans slightly towards the mainstream that she embraced so well on Autumn In New York.
Ithamara and Peter are reunited for a delightful selection of songs on O Grande Amor (TCB), a 2010 session of mainly Brazilian songs intriguingly colored with subtle jazz improvisations from the trio that underline and uplift the singer’s effortless styling, the fiery core of Peter’s trumpet playing contrasting vividly with Ithamara’s glowing vocal sound. On 2012’s Got To Be Real (Irma), Ithamara is once again centered on Brazilian music, but with a repertoire that includes a few standards albeit colored with subtle overtones drawn from her musical heritage. In whatever mood, Ithamara Koorax is a singer to savor.
Reviews of some of these CDs are among the hundreds appearing in Jazz Journal, a monthly magazine that also features articles about international jazz musicians past and present.
You can learn more about any of these albums at the artist’s or the record company’s website.
If you want to buy them, go to Amazon.