Jazz CD Reviews – late September 2017

September 30, 2017

Patrick Arthur/Dana Fitzsimons/Chris Otts the ¢heap 3nsemble (independent release)

This highly musical Atlanta-based trio is exploratory, inventive and lyrical. To use founder Dana Fitzsimons’ words, the music played is “. . . dominated by melodicism and space, rather than rhythmic density”. Drawing inspiration from an abstract painting by Gerhard Richter, drummer Dana teamed up with tenor saxophonist Chris Otts and guitarist Patrick Arthur to develop music free from the restraints of too-rigid tempos and conducive to calm reflection. cheap danaAgain quoting Dana: “Since we’re living in such a crazy and stressful period in our own history, we wanted to work with sustained sounds and less rhythmic freneticism, and make music that could heal.” Among the tracks are originals by Chris, Volkslied and Reflection, and Patrick’s Front, as well as works by Bruce Hornsby, Fortunate Son, Chick Corea, Matrix, Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, Pure Imagination, and Raymond Hubbell and John L. Golden, Poor Butterfly. Throughout, there are well-crafted solos from saxophonist and guitarist, all with controlled emotional heart, and intelligent underpinning from the drummer. Interestingly, the cover art on this album is the Gerhard Richter painting that inspired Dana to conceive this music.

For more on Patrick, Dana, Chris and the ¢heap 3nsemble, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.

Manny Echazabal Short Notice (independent release)

A recent graduate of University of Miami, tenor saxophonist Manny Echazabal presents a selection of his own compositions on this, his debut album. For his themes, Manny has developed some concepts that originated in assignments but there is nothing tentative or immature about the end product. Other ideas stem from personal experiences, and while not all of these were good they did prove inspirational. Among these works is the title track, which was a “write a composition in just an hour” assignment given by trumpeter Terence Blanchard who also teaches at UM. Another piece is a three-part work, New Dawn, that deals with aspects of depression, while Abraham’s Warriors centers upon fundraising efforts of a family friend whose young child had terminal cancer. Although the thinking behind this music is outwardly dark, the musical results are far from this. Instead, they are filled with optimism and light and vividly demonstrate Manny’s exceptional musical skill.manny After graduation, he played in Miami clubs and also various jazz festivals. Manny is a fluent player, his technical ability comfortably matching the tasks he sets himself through his compositions. The quartet on this session is completed by pianist Tal Cohen, bassist Dion Kerr and drummer David Chiverton, all young musicians who are similarly gifted and are making names for themselves in the US. This release is sure to extend their audience.

For more on Manny Echazabal, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.

Josh Nelson The Sky Remains (Origin 82741)

On this musical portrait of Los Angeles, pianist Josh Nelson takes inspiration from places and people and events that have added to the city’s rich history. Instrumentalists joining Josh on this album are trumpeter Chris Lawrence, alto saxophonist Josh Johnson, clarinetist Brian Walsh, organist Larry Goldings, guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Alex Boneham, drummer Dan Schnelle, and percussionist Aaron Serfaty. Also heard are vocalists Kathleen Grace (on Bridges and Tunnels, The Sky Remains, Pitseleh, Run) and Lillian Sengpiehl (on Bridges and Tunnels, Ah, Los Angeles, Lost Souls of Saturn), both of them soloing well – sometimes with lyrics other times wordlessly – and also blending effectively with the instrumental ensemble. Anthony takes a long and engaging solo on Ah, Los Angeles, Chris, Brian and others solo on Lost Souls of Saturn, a track that has intriguing instrumental ensemble passages underpinned by fiery percussion. josh nelsonSeveral of the works hear here are Josh’s compositions, among them Bridges and Tunnels, which paints an aural image of those aspects of the city familiar to moviegoers (and depicted also on the sleeve), Ah, Los Angeles, inspired by John Fante’s semi-autobiographical 1939 novel Ask the Dust, and Pacific Ocean Park, a long forgotten amusement park. Also largely forgotten is the Polynesian culture present among the ethnic ingredients of the city in the 1930s, recalled here in Russ Garcia’s Lost Souls of Saturn. There is also a collaborative song by Josh and Kathleen, Run, which commemorates Mack Robinson (bother of Jackie) who won a silver medal to Jesse Owens’ gold in the 200 meters at the 1936 Olympic Games – surely a test of memory for even the most-devoted sports fan. Overall, the mood of this album is reflective – understandably so given the underlying concept – and it is a revealing picture of a city most of us think we know better than is actually so. Very effective playing by all enhances The Sky Remains, which is a rewarding musical experience.

For more on Josh Nelson, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.

John Daversa Wobbly Dance Flower (BFM Jazz 302 062 438 2)

Trumpeter John Daversa’s instrumental collaborators here are Bob Mintzer, tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, pianist and Hammond organist Joe Bagg, guitarist Zane Carney, bassist Jerry Watts Jr, and drummer Gene Coye. John and Bob are also heard on EVI (electronic valve instrument) and EWI (electric wind instrument) respectively. With the exception of Donna Lee all the titles played on this album are John’s compositions. Many of these are developed out of what might seem at first glance to be random thoughts. A reality check reveals that the thoughts of writers – of music or not – are seldom without some connection to the world around them. Put another way, the imagination is never completely turned off. For example, like all frequent fliers, John often has time to kill at airports and sometimes uses his cell phone to record melodies that come into his mind. John is a composer but that particular source of inspiration should ring bells with many writers of all kinds. (Digressing wildly, an idea for a short story came into my mind on a railway station in the North of England and by the time the train reached London the story was finished – and appears elsewhere on this site.)

wobblyBut getting back to John and the airport, the piece that resulted from this is Meet Me at the Airport, which effectively depicts the organized chaos of such places and has long solos from John, followed by Bob, then Joe on the Hammond B3, and Jerry and Zane. Ms. Turkey, a fast-paced work, has fleet soloing from John underpinned by Gene crackling drumming while Donna Lee here has a more relaxed treatment than this bop standard that it is usually given. The opening passage of Be Free, with its hints at a Latin feel, is a good opportunity to hear Joe’s skill on the Hammond B3, in the middle section Bob’s tenor takes an approach in keeping with the tune title, and John brings to an end with a crisp boppish solo. Brooklyn Still has John and Bob in an introspective frame of mind, soloing and effectively supporting one another. Wobbly Dance Flower, again featuring John and Bob who are punched along by Gene, is a lively jaunt that will certainly leave any dancers trying to keep up a little wobbly when it’s over. In contrast, Jazz Heads is a thoughtful piece with John and Bob (here on bass clarinet) underscored by Joe who is again on B3. On the energetic You Got a Puppy? Zane and Gene are heard after opening statements from the horns while the brief (less than a minute) closer, Extra Credit, is a quick word from all. And speaking of quick words, in his liner note fellow trumpeter Brian Lynch writes: “The through line for this project can be boiled down to one word: fun!” No arguments from me.

For more on John Daversa, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.

All albums available at Amazon.

Jazz CD Reviews – August 2015

August 10, 2015

Ellen Johnson Form & Formless (Vocal Visions VV 3000)

The title displays the musical thinking behind Ellen Johnson’s new album. Some of the songs, those with “form” are by jazz masters, among whom are John Coltrane, Naima, Thelonious Monk, Round Midnight, Charles Mingus, Weird Nightmare, and Sonny Rollins, St Thomas, the last named having lyrics by Ellen herself. On most of these “form” songs, Ellen is accompanied by guitarist Larry Koonse (with trumpeter Nolan Shaheed contributing an evocative solo on the Monk song).ellen j The “formless” songs draw their description from the work of poet Lao Tzu while their style is that of free improvisation created in the moment by Ellen who is mostly accompanied here by guitarist John Stowell. Speaking of the latter group of songs, Ellen has said, “I love the challenge of free improvisation, so having the opportunity to be supported by two amazing guitarists who are at home in this element made the project an absolute delight.” Throughout all these songs, form and formless, Ellen’s ability to explore the inner workings of mind and heart are vividly displayed. So too is her skill in bringing an almost visual quality to a song through her use of aural imagery. This particular skill is especially apparent here because most of these songs do not have lyrics. Rather, Ellen uses her captivating vocal sound – throughout clear, rich and emotion-filled – as a musical instrument. While Ellen’s interpretations provide guidance, the listener can bring to the occasion personal feelings and memories and the whole experience becomes thoroughly rewarding and one that must surely appeal to audiences from all walks of jazz and contemporary improvised music.

Ellen’s talent extends beyond singing and lyric writing, ranging widely to include education – she presents courses at the California Jazz Conservatory. She is also an accomplished author and in this latter capacity has recently published Jazz Child: Portrait of Sheila Jordan, reviewed here a little while ago.

All of Ellen’s albums, and her book can be found at Amazon.

Mark Winkler JAZZ and Other Four Letter Words (Café Pacific CPCD 45125)

Those who like jazz singing that is very much in the moment yet recalls the hip and cool elements of its splendid past will like Mark Winkler a lot. His tough-edged light baritone vocal sound brings to the lyrics he sings an air of urban sophistication and understanding. Some of these lyrics are from the Great American Songbook, others are drawn from Mark’s extensive list of compositions. Examples here include I Chose The Moon (music by Bill Cantos), Stay Hip (Rich Eames) and My Idea Of A Good Time (Greg Gordon Smith). winklerMark is accompanied here by some excellent instrumentalists, notably two trios. One of these has Jamieson Trotter, piano, Dan Lutz, Bass, and Mike Shapiro, drums, while the other has Jamieson with John Clayton, bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums. Joining Mark on two songs, I’m Hip and I Wish I Were In Love Again, is Cheryl Bentyne, long a driving force in vocal group Manhattan Transfer. It is good to see that Mark is helping ensure the future of his craft through jazz education, especially at UCLA Extension and the LA School of Songwriting with his course, “Creating Great Lyrics: A Songwriters Workshop”. This always swinging selection of songs is Mark’s 14th album as leader and will surely appeal to many.

Mark Christian Miller Crazy Moon (Sliding Jazz Door)

For many years Mark Christian Miller has been deeply involved in many aspects of the music business. After learning piano and baritone horn while still in childhood, he sang with light opera companies while extending his musical studies in both piano and voice and also performed as a solo act on the Los Angeles supper club circuit. He made his first own-name album around the turn of the century but for many years worked mainly as artist manager and booker as well as on the production side of music festivals. Encouraged to return to performing, Mark teamed up with pianist Josh Nelson to plan this album. Backed by the core trio of Josh, bassist Dave Robaire and drummer Sammy Miller, Mark presents an interesting selection of songs. While a couple of these, Wrap Your In Dreams and Cheek To Cheek, are familiar, mostly songs heard here are lesser-known works by major songwriters.mc miller Among these are Second Chance, by Andre and Dorothy Langdon Previn, Oh, You Crazy Moon, by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke, April Fooled Me, by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, and Almost In Your Arms, by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. Mark’s voice is clear, tuneful and mature, while his interpretations of lyrics are insightful. Also heard here are instrumentalists Ron Stout, trumpet, Bob Sheppard, bass clarinet, Larry Koonse, guitar, and Billy Hulting, percussion, all of whom bring excellent solo and supportive touches to the occasion. Arrangements are by Mark and Josh and Jamieson Trotter.

For more information on Mark Winkler and Mark Christian Miller see their websites and that of Mouthpiece Music. These albums can be found through these sites and at Amazon.

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