Jazz CD Reviews – late February 2016

February 28, 2016

The Great American Music Ensemble It’s All In The Game (Jazzed Media JM 1073)

Back in the 1980s this 15-piece big band came into being through the inspiration and dedication of its musical director, composer and arranger Doug Richards. Originally, G.A.M.E. was centered on the Jazz Studies program at Virginia Commonwealth University and drew instrumentalists from both faculty members and the student body. During the following decades, the band performed to critical acclaim but although this album was recorded in 2001 it has been sitting on a shelf gathering dust until now because major companies were unwilling to take it in hand, thus revealing a (perhaps unsurprising) lack of imagination. Certainly there is no absence of quality as from the first notes of the opening track, In The Mood, it is clear that this a band of highly skilled instrumentalists. In the opener they are playing a chart by someone unafraid to dismantle and reconstruct for the modern era a piece of music that has had a place at the heart of big band jazz for going on eight decades. As the album progresses, Doug’s arranging skill is vividly apparent as he remakes mostly familiar music into sparkling new works.GAME

Featured soloists from within the band include trumpeters John D’earth and Bob Ransom, trombonist Jim McFalls, and saxophonists Marty Nau, Skip Gailes, Rob Holmes and John Winn. There are still more outstanding solos thanks to the presence of guest trumpeter Jon Faddis, on Stardust and West End Blues, and violinist Joe Kennedy Jr., who is also on West End Blues as well as When It’s Sleepy Time Down South. Throughout, the soloists and the crisp brass and reed sections are supported by the rhythm section of pianist Weldon Hill, bassist Victor Dvoskin and drummer Howard Curtis, all of whom also have solo moments although their main role here is to punch the band along, a task they accomplish with distinction. And if all this were not enough, the remarkable René Marie sings on six tracks, bringing her special talent to Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man Of Mine, Clap Yo’ Hands, I’ve Got The World On A String, I Am Loved, They All Laughed, and Ain’t Misbehavin’. This was not long after René re-entered the world of music and while she would not often be heard singing with a big band, her performance here show her to every bit as good as in any other setting. Summing up this album can be done with one word: Outstanding.

Ken Peplowski Enrapture (Capri 74141-2)

Virtuoso clarinetist Ken Peplowski has a worldwide reputation, playing mainstream jazz with imaginative flair and consummate skill. Joining Ken on this session are pianist Ehud Asherie, bassist Martin Wind and drummer Matt Wilson, each providing individual solo skills and collectively forming a sparkling ensemble. The music chosen for this album is attractively varied and is far from the usual for jazz dates.ken pep Opening with a Caribbean-tinged version of Duke Ellington’s Flaming Sword, the quartet’s repertoire then explores other jazz pieces, Herbie Nichols’ Enrapture, Fats Waller’s Willow Tree and Peter Erskine’s Twelve, and also film music, including Scene D’Amour from Vertigo and Cheer Up, Charlie from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. There are some less familiar pop songs, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Oh, My Love and Barry Manilow and Johnny Mercer’s When October Goes, as well as a sumptuous reading of Noël Coward’s I’ll Follow My Secret Heart. In the hands of these gifted musicians all of these pieces become jazz works yet such is their skill that echoes of the romanticism, charm and wit of the music’s origins remain. Wholly admirable and very warmly recommended to all who love music with heart and soul.

Bruce Torff Down The Line (Summit DCD 672)

This album by pianist and composer Bruce Torff touches upon the loss of friends and associates and while it has moments of appropriate solemnity it is far from being sad and gloomy. All the music heard here is composed by Bruce, the moving Memoriam being written following the death of a friend from childhood and seeks and finds joy in these memories. Yes, there are moments of reflection, such as Wave Of Silence, but there is also liveliness and wit, Down The Line, Tribal Function, and (despite its title) Well Of Tears. For this album, Bruce is joined by guitarist Pete McCann, drummer Ben Wittman, tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm (playing soprano saxophone on one track).torff Also present on this session is trumpeter Lew Soloff who plays on two tracks, This I Promise You and Early Sunday, both fine examples of his work, exploring as they do depths of mature and sincere emotion. That emotional content is enhanced immeasurably by the knowledge that just two weeks after his appearance was recorded Lew Soloff died. Attractive music in the contemporary mainstream of jazz.

Socrates Garcia Back Home (Mama MAA1050)

Connections with Latin music go back to the earliest years of jazz (Jelly Roll Morton’s ‛Latin tinge’ comes readily to mind) and there have long been big band links. Among these have been Frank Grillo, Maria Bauza, Tito Puente and Dizzy Gillespie. A significant figure today is Socrates Garcia, who was born in the Dominican Republic, which is where he first played guitar but was diverted into an engineering career.garcia Fortunately, that did not last and he decided that music was to be his life. While playing rock and pop, he also studied extensively in America, including spells at the Grove School, Luther College, and universities in Tennessee and Colorado. These studies ranged widely, incorporating classical music but also generating an interest in big band jazz. On this album, Socrates presents his Latin Jazz Orchestra playing his own compositions, which includes his Dominican Suite. The musicians here come from America (recorded at University of Northern Carolina where Socrates is Director of Music Technology) and from the Dominican Republic (recorded at MIDILAB studies, where he had worked as an engineer). All the music on this fine set is exhilarating and played with verve by the band ably demonstrating that big band Latin jazz is alive and well.

For more information on The G.A.M.E. and Bruce Torff and Socrates Garcia check Mouthpiece Music and for Ken Peplowski Capri Records.

Amazon is the place to go for these albums.

You will find much more to entertain and inform you on these sites:-

Vintage BandstandJazz FlashesJazz WaxFrank GriffithJohn Robert Brown.

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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