February 28, 2017
Virginia Schenck Aminata Moseka (Airborne Ecstasy)
On this attractive album, subtitled An Abbey Lincoln Tribute, Atlanta-based singer Virginia Schenck delivers fine interpretations of a dozen songs written by Lincoln in many of which she made clear her strong bonds with the freedom movement in the USA. Here, Virginia (who is usually known as ‘VA’) is joined by a trio of instrumentalists who are also well-established in Atlanta. Clearly, there will be added interest for fans of Lincoln but those who are unfamiliar with her work will find much to admire in the blending of melodic charm with meaningful lyrics. Virginia’s voice has a maturity that suits the material well. It is obvious that the singer understands and endorses the messages contained within the sometimes mystical lyrics. Wholly admirable instrumental contributions from pianist Kevin Bales, bassist Rodney Jordan, and drummer Marlon Patton, who are best described not as accompanists but as collaborators. Virginia makes her own mark on Lincoln’s material as she ranges over a wide stylistic palette. At one extreme is The River, a free form imagining of a traffic-clogged freeway (whereon alto saxophonist Kebbi Williams also plays); at the the other extreme is the splendidly swinging Learning How To Listen (to my ears bearing an occasional resemblance to Benny Carter’s When Lights Are Low). The only non-Lincoln song is Thelonious Monk’s Blue Monk, which is given a very pleasing reading. New to me and perhaps new to many, this is a singer who is very well worth hearing.
For more information on Virginia Schenck (including booking) contact Mouthpiece Music.
Josh Green Telepathy & Bop (indie)
A big band playing original compositions that meld modern jazz with contemporary classical music, Josh Green’s Cyborg Orchestra makes its recording debut with this album. Josh’s composing and arranging career has ranged through film and television, the concert hall and the Broadway stage. His emotionally and intellectually stimulating compositions heard here have been inspired by works of art by René Magritte, La Victoire, which has a subtly Latinesque feel, and Edward Hopper, Soir Bleau: A Rag of Sorts, that hints of a long-gone European atmosphere, and there are musical images of Cuba, Reverie Engine: The Ambiguous Rhumba, and Hungary, through Improvisations & Nebula, where Josh reflects upon György Ligeti, a composer he admires. The title work is a three-part suite that links bebop with avant-garde classical music. All of these influences have materialized in Josh’s music since he embraced jazz fully, a decision that was prompted in part by the death of Michael Brecker, one of his musical heroes. The skilled musicians of the Cyborg Orchestra include John Lake (trumpet); Chris Misch-Bloxdorf (trombone); Charles Pillow, Todd Groves, Jay Hassler (saxophones); Nathan Schram, Nick Revel (violas); Clarice Jenson (cello); Michael Verselli (piano); Nathan Kochi (accordion); Sungwon Kim (guitar); Brian Courage (bass); Josh Bailey (drums). Joining the big band on three tracks is the PUBLIQuartet, consisting of Curtis Stewart, Jannina Norpoth (violins), Nick Revel (viola), Amanda Gookin (cello), and Cody Brown (drums). First-rate musicianship throughout, with several good solos, notably from Michael Verselli and all three saxophonists. Altogether, Josh Green’s Cyborg Orchestra is an exciting experience.
Rich Halley & Carson Halley The Wild (Pine Eagle 010)
Constantly developing intriguing musical concepts, Rich Halley and Carson Halley now present a set of ten exploratory themes, all of them instantaneous improvisations. The Halleys, father Rich and son Carson, have played music together for the last two decades, sometimes in quartets but often as a duo and their closely integrated interplay reflects their empathy. Rich plays tenor saxophone, Carson, plays drums, both are imaginative improvisers, their music ranging widely in rhythmic and melodic styles. Among the works heard here are Wild Lands, Flat Plane of The Sky, and The Stroll, and these bring to my mind musical depictions of the natural images of the continent; not the urban sprawl in which most jazz was born and has flourished but the sweeping physical grandeur of the Americas. On the shortest track, The Old Ways, Rich sets aside his saxophone and plays wood flute while Carson drums solemnly. This time, again to my mind – and admittedly influenced by the title – the haunting sound evocatively captures the spirituality of the people of the First Nations. Altogether this is effective, involving and inspirational music.
For more information on Josh Green’s Cyborg Orchestra and the Rich Halley-Carson Halley Duo (including booking) contact Braithwaite & Katz ([email protected]).
All albums available from Amazon.
April 30, 2013
Rich Halley 4 Crossing The Passes (Pine Eagle 005)
On his latest release, Rich Halley and his regular quartet play an excellent selection of original compositions. Interestingly, these eleven pieces have been built upon the composer’s memories of a recent north-south trek he made across Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains. The music created forms metaphorical images of the mountain range, the musical language being Rich’s always effective styling that reflects the way in which jazz has developed through the post-bop era towards the frontiers of free jazz. Among the snapshots of rugged landscape are Traversing The Maze, The Spring Rains, Basin And Range and Rain, Wind And Hail. The other fine musicians are trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, bassist Clyde Reed and drummer Carson Halley. (The last named is Rich’s son, who joined him on the trek, as did nephew Tim Binford.) Together for several years, the four musicians play with an enviable single-mindedness. This quality extends to four of the tracks that are joint compositions by the quartet: Looking West From West, Crossing The Passes, Acute Angles and Journey Across The Land. As always, Rich’s playing is commanding, hinting subtly at the great tradition of the more rugged jazz tenor saxophonists, such as Don Byas and David S. Ware, while retaining his individuality. Indeed, all four men display an enviable personal style that nevertheless conveys how much they have absorbed and uphold the great traditions of their respective traditions in jazz.
Rich Halley’s previous release, Back From Beyond, is featured on an earlier page (flick back to October 6, 2012 for details).
Laszlo Gardony Clarity (Sunnyside SSC 4014)
A leading figure in jazz education, Laszlo Gardony here develops an exceptional train of thought as he improvises a moving tribute to his parents whose deaths had only recently occurred. Born in Hungary, Laszlo started his musical journey with classical music, moved into rock and blues-based forms before taking the jazz path. This brought him to Berklee in 1983 as a student, following which he became a member of the faculty there. He began his recording career in 1989 and since then has made many live and recorded appearances, usually with a trio. (The other two members of his recent trio are most often bassist John Lockwood and drummer Yoron Israel.) On this new release, however, in keeping with the highly personal nature of Laszlo’s thoughts at the time, this is a solo album. The music presented is in ten pieces, yet it forms a cohesive whole that while deeply personal to its creator draws in the listener who can then share in its beauty. As might be expected, Laszlo’s playing is flawless, at once delicate and strong, and filled throughout with skill and effortless charm.
Ana Alcaide La Cantiga Del Fuego (ARC Music EUCD 2417)
It is tempting for an outsider to speak of ‘Italian music’ or ‘Norwegian music’ or ‘Indian music’, yet it takes only a moment’s thought to realize how impossibly limiting this is. The foregoing remark is prompted by listening to the lovely music contained on this release. Ana Alcaide is Spanish and so is the music she performs, most of which she has also composed. Yet there is little that the ‘outsider’ might think of as typically Spanish. In part this is because Ana has drawn upon the musical tradition of Spain’s Sephardic Jews, music that in its turn was built upon the exile of these people and their endless journey to find a home. (This musical tradition has also attracted singer Kat Parra; for details of her album, Las Aventuras de ¡Pasión!, look back to August 1, 2012.) Another untypical aspect of this music is that to perform it Ana plays on a most unusual instrument, the nyckelharpa. This is a Swedish keyed fiddle played with a bow that originated perhaps as early as the 14th century. Ana came across this instrument while studying biology in Sweden and was captivated by its potential; it even looks daunting. The music is reflective, haunting, and evokes impressions of restless longing.
All these CDs can be found at many established sales points, among which is Amazon.
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.