Friday, December 18, 2015

Happy Holidays and a Jazzy New Year

With the unseasonably warm weather outside in most parts of the country, it is hard to wrap my head around the fact that Christmas and New Year's are knocking on our door. It has been a tumultuous year and it is certainly welcome to have some good cheer spread around for a change instead of the daily dose of vitriolics that seem to inundate our air waves. I for one have a great deal to be thankful for and my suspicion is most of you out there do also. So without further ado Happy Holidays to all and here are a few Holiday songs that will hopefully put you in the spirit and maybe even put a smile on your face.

Freddy Cole's "Jingles the Christmas Cat"

Bill Evans Trio : "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"

Julie London: "I Want You for Christmas"

Louis Prima: "Shake Hands with Santa Claus"

John McLaughlin: "O Come, O Come Emanuel"

Jimmy Smith : "White Christmas"

Lionel Hampton with Sonny Parker on Vocals "Merry Christmas Baby"

Rahsaan Roland Kirk: "Christmas Song"

Lou Rawls and Diane Reeves: "Baby It's Cold Outside" 

Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli : "Christmas Swing"

Billy Eckstine: "What Are Doing New Year's Eve?"

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

------------Notes on Jazz Best of Jazz for 2015------------------

Every year jazz journalists make their end of year "best of" lists. They become a tradition and they are as subjective as anything can be but they do offer the listening public a great place to start looking and listening to the many new and quality offerings that jazz artists have released in the past year.

No list can be all inclusive and no list can be without personal prejudices, having said that, this is my list of the best of jazz in 2015. I have included a category for best debut album, best historical release, and best Latin Jazz album. One thing I can assure you, there is something in here for almost every taste. There is no particular order to this list so please enjoy this cornucopia of music and Happy Holidays to all.

Vibraphonist Chris Dingman's  The Subliminal and the Sublime  on Inner Arts

Saxophonist JD Allen's Trio with Greg August and Rudy Royston: Graffitti on Savant

Charlie Hunter Trio  with Curtis Fowlkes and Bobby Previte ; Let The Bells Ring On on   Charlie Hunter Music

Jose James: Yesterday I Had The Blues, the Music of Billie Holliday  on Blue Note

John Fedchock New York Big Band: Like It Is  on Mama records

Kenny Werner Trio: The Melody with Ari Hoenig, drums  and Johannes Weidenmueller, bass on Pirouet

Rudresh Mahanthappa: Bird Calls  on ACT Music with ; Adam O’Farrill: trumpet; Matt Mitchell: piano; Francois Moutin: acoustic bass; Rudy Royston: drums. on ACT Music

Orrin Evans: The Evolution of Oneself  with Christian McBride bass and · Karriem Riggins drums. on Smoke Records

Dave Stryker: Messin' with Mr. T :  Jared Gold, organ,, Houston Person, saxophone, McClenty Hunter, drums. on Strikezone 

Manuel Valera and Groove Square: Urban Landscape: with Nir Felder, guitar, John Ellis, saxophones, E.J. Strickland, drums and John Benitez bass.  on Destiny Records

Tigran Hamasysan : Luys I Luso   with the Yerevan State Choir 

Kamsai Washington; The Epic:  on Brainfeeder 

Steve Johns : Family: with Debbie Keefe Johns, saxophone, Daryl Johns, bass, Bob DeVos, guitar, Dave Stryker guitar on Strikezone 

Dave Douglas Quintet : Brazen Heart : with Jon Irabagon (saxophones), Matt Mitchell (piano), Linda Oh (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums) on Greenleaf Music

Giacomo Gates : Everything is Cool:  with John DiMartino , piano, Ed Howard, bass, Willard Dyson Drums, Grant Stewart saxophone, Tony Lombardozzi, guitar. on Savant

Sample "If I Were You I'd Love Me"  here

Kait Dunton ; Trio Kait with Cooper Appelt on bass and Jake Reed on drums 

Pat Bianchi : A Higher Standard:  with Craig Ebner: guitar; Byron Landham: drums.

Mark Winkler: Jazz and Other Four Letter Words, with Cheryl Bentyne: vocals; Jamieson Trotter: piano; John Clayton, Dan Lutz: bass; Jeff Hamilton, Mike Shapiro: drums; Larry Koonse, Pat Kelley: guitar; Bob Sheppard, Kirsten Edkins: saxophones; Walter Fowler: trumpet; Bob McChesney: trombone on Cafe Pacific Records

Peter Oxley and Nicholas Meier:  Chasing Tales on MGP Records

Michael Cain: Sola with  James Genus  bass and Billy Hart drums.

Erik Firedlander : Illuminations 

John Pattitucci's Electric Guitar Quartet : Brooklyn with Adam Rodgers, guitar, Steve Cardenas, guitar, Brian Blade, drums on Three Faces Label.

Lafayette Harris Jr. Trio: Bend the Light with  Lonnie Plaxico on bass and Willie Jones III on drums
on Airmen Records

Christian Howes; American Spirit; with Josh Nelson, piano, Hamilton Hardin, organ, Ben Williams, bass, Gregory Hutchinson, drums and Polly Gibbons, vocals on Resonance Records

Best Debut Album: Katie Theroux: Introducing Katie Theroux with guitarist Graham Dechter, tenor saxophonist Roger Neumann and drummer Matt Witek.

Best Historical Release : John Abercrombie: The First Quartet;  Arcade with Richie Beirach, George Mraz and Peter Donald on ECM

Best Latin Jazz Album: The Latin Side of Joe Henderson Conrad Herwig with Joe Lovano 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Atlanta's Own Freddy Cole plays the Velvet Note

The Velvet Note
About twenty-five miles due north of downtown , a short thirty minute ride up rte 400, is the Velvet Note possibly the best jazz club in the Metro Atlanta area. General Manager Tamara Fuller, like many of us a transplanted New Yorker, started this club almost four years ago with the idea of creating a club that would appeal to musicians, a place where people could experience live music in a living room setting with exceptional sound. To that end she employed an acoustic design engineer to create an atmosphere that maintains vocal and instrumental fidelity throughout the space. The casual, rug clad space is curiously located in a renovated retail store in a strip mall flanked by a Chiropractic office and a Barber Shop. In keeping with the intimate, living room style there are some small tables, some larger community tables, some randomly placed chairs and even a comfortable sofa on which to sit and a rather generous stage that can be seen easily from almost every vantage. 

The venue seats about fifty patrons comfortably and food and drink are available from a courteous and helpful staff. On this past Saturday evening the Note brought Atanta’s own Freddy Cole and his quartet in for an evening of story and song. Mr. Cole is a dapper eighty-four years young and truly one of America’s enduring treasures. He still commands a subtle baritone whose warmth fills you like the first sip of a glass of fine cognac. He was joined by his working quartet of Randy Napoleon on guitar, Elias Bailey on bass and Quentin Baxter on drums. Mr. Cole is a fine pianist who plays sparingly in the Basie style and who often cites the Modern Jazz Quartet’s pianist John Lewis as an enduring influence.  He actively tours with this group who know his every move and it is a marvel to witness such organic symbiosis between his fellow musicians.  Mr. Cole is notoriously known for never pre-arranging his set list preferring to read his audience and choose his material extemporaneously- keeping his musicians guessing.  He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the Great American Songbook and never uses charts.

At this sold out show, Mr. Cole started the first set with a song from Frank Sinatra’s repertoire “ A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening.” The medium tempo song got the audience in the right mood and you could see this band could swing. The second song was a slow ballad “You’re Bringing the Dreamer  Out in Me” and was originally sung by his brother Nat in 1958 with the arranger Nelson Riddle.  Mr. Cole can make any song bristle with emotion in his most personal conversational way.

Freddy Cole Singing the Blues
“Wild is Love” is from a self produced Nat Cole musical score I’m With You, music by Ray Rasch and lyrics Dotty  Wade, again arranged by the inimitable Nelson Riddle. The show was supposed to be Nat Cole’s  entry  onto Broadway but it never caught on. Bassist Bailey pulses the bossa beat  as Mr. Cole  sang out the boisterous refrain “Wild is Love.” The sentiment about a man looking for love among many choices  is perfectly believable from the octogenarian  whose wizened ways clearly come through in the telling.

Other highlights of Mr. Cole’s performance “I Loved You” It’s Crazy,” “Old Folks,”“Something Happens to Me” and “Sometimes I Love You”  

The quartet is tight and nimble taking the lead from Mr. Cole with Mr. Napoleon’s facile guitar work  being the principle other lead voice in this group. Mr. Bailey is steadfast in his rhythmic consistency and Mr. Baxter showed some subtle brush work on occasion. For the most part this group looks to their leader for direction and respectfully never upstage him, preferring to  allow him the deserved spotlight.

With the holiday just around the corner Mr. Cole treated the audience to a medley of Christmas songs including  a down home blues titled “Blue Christmas.”  What Christmas would be complete without Freddy Cole singing the heartfelt “Christmas Song” made famous by his brother Nat.  The baritone went into the sentimental “Old Days, Old Times, Old Friends” and ended the evening ended with the playful“Jingles the Christmas Cat.”

Mr. Cole will be playing at the St. Regis Hotel in NYC on Dec 21st and then reside at Birdland in New York City from December 22 through 26th.  His latest album is  Singing the Blues  If you plan to be in New York for the Holidays seeing the romantic crooner live  would be the perfect gift for that someone special.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Kenny Werner Trio Explores The Melody

Kenny Werner The Melody Pirouet PIT 3083

There is something magical about a fine piano trio. When musicians are in sync it is amazing how communicative three pieces can be.  When you have the lyrically imaginative leader Kenny Werner on the keys there is no telling where his fertile imagination will lead you. On Werner’s latest The Melody, he is joined in perfect harmony by Johannes Weidenmueller on bass and Ari Hoenig on drums and between the three of them they create an exquisite exploration of what it is to be enraptured by melody in its many enduring forms.

Mr. Werner starts with a wonderfully sensitive rumination on the popular song “Try to Remember” from the 1960 Broadway musical “The Fantastiks.”  He sets the tone showing us the inner beauty of his take on the sentiment before he reveals the actual melody first playing it as a soft lullaby and then letting  it breathe, expanding into a more expansive swings and swaggers at times. Mr. Hoenig and Mr. Weidenmueller are not so much a rhythm section as color commentators painting the song with their own subtle pastels and warm tones.

Mr. Werner is no stranger to composition and here he offers four separate tunes of his own. The first “Who?” is a jagged, rhythmic affair that uses a repeated motif as the basis on which to explore.  The trio seems to intuit the shifts in time with easy aplomb with Mr. Weidenmueller keeping the motif alive throughout. Mr. Werner’s touch is a joy of restraint and delicacy as he moves around the motif with dance-like style

“Balloons,” another Werner original, has a light, airy introduction on solo piano before entering into its captivating melodic core. The theme has a child-like, wanderlust quality to its gentle theme expertly played with wrenching sensitivity. A probing bass solo by Mr. Weidenmueller elicits images of a dance of wood sprites in a hidden forest.  

John Coltrane’s “26-2” is given a jaunty rendering that is probably the most formidable demonstration of how in sync this trio is. The three wind and weave their way through the changes in perfect time, a celebration of one minded playing.  Hoenig’s traps and Weidenmueller’s bass mimicking the same line as Werner’s piano lead, a celebration of symbiosis. Werner’s lead is always perfectly logical but surprisingly unexpected in a sage kind of way. Hoenig offers a syncopated drum solo that is tasteful and unflashy.

Werner returns with another of his own compositions” Voncify The Emulyans.” The composition moves through a series of cadenced vignettes, where Hoenig’s military traps seem to set the pace as Werner’s pianistic overtures find varied directions. The tempo is often changed and the melodic content is hard to follow but the overall effect is of exploratory rumination.  The ending is a gorgeous slow fade on the theme.

Dave Brubeck is an artist whose work seems to have found few followers. Here Werner starts “In You Own Sweet Way” in a decidedly different way. The pianist creates an intro that has a disjointed mechanistic sound which he carries with some dissonance throughout the piece, normally a straight ahead sweet melody. When the trio get down to the melody they do so with a creative flair that employs some swing some syncopation and some style. Werner plays with the melody at times including some quotes from Bernstein. The group prances at different paces throughout the song in a facile display of how different rhythms could dramatically affect the way a song is perceived.  

The album ends with Werner’s “Beauty Secrets” with his solo intro played as a beautiful piano adagio. Werner is one of the most expressive pianists on the scene today and his touch and sense of poignancy is unmatched here.  The texture of Hoenig’s stick and cymbal work is the precise compliment to Weidenmueller’s anchored bass and Werner’s lyrical playing. There is an Americana flavor ala Greensleeves to this one that is very moving.

There is something very beautiful and unpretentious about The Melody and Mr. Werner, Mr. Weidenmuller and Mr. Hoenig have a collectively made listening to it a joy.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Bobby Sanabria's Big Band Multiverse & The Universal Diversity of Music

Bobby Sanabria's Big Band: Multiverse JH 1193

When I recently featured three current works from Big Bands I was called to task for not having included at least one Latin Big Band . Well certainly that was not by design as there are many Afro Cuban and Latin based bands that deserve mention so here is one that clearly deserves to be included in the mix.

When you look at the cover of Multiverse ,the latest album from Bobby Sanabria’s Big Band,  you are confronted with the serious stare of its leader. Doffed in a black hat, a graying soul patch and dark shaded glasses that offer reflections of distant galaxies mirrored on the surface of his lenses, clearly this self-proclaimed Nuyorican is looking into the universe for inspiration. Mr. Sanabria’s universe is of course much more down to earth, it is the universe of diversity, the universality of music in its many varied and ethically influenced forms that that have made him the musician he is today.  As a quote  from the liner notes taken from Nobel Prize winning poet Octavio Paz states  “Every view of the world that becomes extinct, every culture that disappears, diminishes a possibility of life.”  It is this sentiment that infuses Mr. Sanabria’s music and his mission.The Multiverse Big Band is a living, breathing organism that embodies the cross genre diversity that Mr. Sanabria  has come to represent.

As a jazz musician and a courageous proponent of the Afro-Cuban/Latin Jazz  traditions no one has been a more consistent and passionate spokesman for rallying more wide spread recognition of the Latin jazz idiom. It was Mr. Sanabria’s vocal and ardent petitioning of NARAS ( the ruling body for the Grammy Awards ), that helped to re-instate a Grammy award in the category of Latin Jazz, after it had been summarily removed as a viable category for consideration.

On Mulitverse we find a powerful , well orchestrated group of musicians playing music ranging from the cinematic to the sublime. The music is unified by a clave driven rhythm section, but true to its universal theme it contains elements of Latin dance, straight ahead jazz, modern big band arrangements and even  funk and rap. 

A case in point is the introductory piece from Don Ellis’s theme to the movie The French Connection, driven by its hard, clave-centered rhythm  section and pulsing brass choruses, Sanabria and company  bring this smoker  to a cinematic climax worthy of the movie. The use of an oddly futuristic sounding electric baritone solo by Danny Rivera  is countered by the soaring plunger trumpet screams of Shareef Clayton before a blistering tenor solo by Jeff Lederer is met with the Australian bush sounds of the didgeridoo as played by Chris Washburne. It is as if Mr. Sanabria has created a masterful amalgam of sounds that cross all barriers of time and space.

“Cachita,”is a slick modern  arrangement by Jeremy Fletcher of the Rafael Hernadez piece. It’s rhumba-like feel incorporates the dance rhythms of Latin music with tight section arrangements, some boisterous call and response  from Hiram “El Pavo” Remon and saxophone solos of note from John Beaty on alto and Lederer on tenor.  The song ends with a clave-driven bass solo by Leo Traversa.

Fletcher returns with his own contemporary composition “Jump Shot” with its cha-cha rhythm and its swirling section work. Solos by Washburne on bass trombone and Lederer on tenor add excitment. As the title implies Sananbria and companies s deft use of percussive accents makes this one jump.

As if the world needed another version of “Over the Rainbow,” arranger Andrew Neesley find a way to breathe new life into this classic  The band supports vocalist Charnee Wade’s wonderfully subtle interpretation of these timeless E.Y. Harburg lyrics. The band plays with warm sensitivity over Wade’s beguiling voice.Time to go home Toto.

The funky  Chris Washburne tune “Wordsworth Ho” has a free feel to it with boisterous choruses and angular changes in rhythmic direction that is quite contemporary in its approach. As always in Mr. Sanabria’s bands, soloists are given just enough space to make a succinct point without becoming  a distraction to the whole unit. 

Other key selections from this marvelous album include a Jeff Lederer’s  arrangement of Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil”  with its dynamic sectional chorus work and a fine solo by Peter Branin on tenor. Understanding that there are no boundaries in music, the  song utilizes a timely rap by La Bruja with a backing vocal chorus  from the band, making this one of the most cross generational songs on the album.

Perhaps the most ambitious piece is Michael Philip Mossman’s arrangement of this spectacular medley of Ellingtonia titled "Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite for Ellington.”   The suite seamlessly incorporates parts from “ Black and Tan Fantasy” “and “Satin Doll” to name a few and it does so with breezy facility that makes it look easy. David DeJesus’s alto solo on “I Got It Bad It A’int Good” is heartfelt.  The band swings on “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It A’int Got That Swing)” with a slurred trombone solo by John Beaty  and a rousing Latin chorus section of the theme leading to a trio of gutsy trumpet solos.  A brief sampling of “Body And Soul” ends this one at the coda with a flurry of bongos, congas and a stirring drum solo courtesy of Mr.Sanabria..

The finale is “The Chicken/From Havana to Harlem-100 years of Mario Bauza” which is a celebration of Mr. Sanabria’s mentor the trumpet playing band leader Mario Bauza. The arrangement of the horn sections have a “Tower of Power” ala  “ Brecker Brothers” feel to it as one section plays melody and others pulse powerfully behind. A rousing Maceo Parker inspired soul/funk tenor solo by Norbert Stachel is featured and grabs the feel of this one perfectly. The song leads to a rap by La Bruja, with talks of the origins of the music, a short Bauza bio and some musical history of the Afro-Cuban musical experience.

For those who love the power and the synchronicity of eighteen musicians playing together as one Multiverse  is one hard driving band that deserves more attention. The album was a Grammy nomionee and the band will be playing at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola Dec 19th-22nd so if your in New York for the holidays this is a not to be missed.

Personnel; Bobby Sanabria, leader, arranger, percussion, xylophone and drums; Christian Rivera congas, background vocals, Obanilu Allende, bongo/cenerro; Mathew Gonzalez, bongo, cencerro; Hiram "El Pavo" Remon, lead vocal, back ground vocals; Enrique Haneine, piano; Leo Traversa, bass and background vocals; Trumpets: Kevin Bryan, Shareef Clayton; Jonathan Barnes andn Andrew Neesley; Saxophones:
David DeJesus, Peter Branin; Norbert Stachel; Jeff Lederer, Danny Rivera. Trombones; Dave Miller, Tim Sessions, Joe Beaty, Chris Washburne. Charnee Wade Vocal, La Bruj :Spoken word/rap. Additional Background Vocals:Gene Jeffereson, Mary Gatchell and Georgia Schmidt. Boma Yuba Section: Ernesto Lucar and Gene Marlow.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Three Hipsters Sing Their Brand of Cool

Giacomo Gates Everything is Cool Savant SCD 2146

Who is the hippest hipster?  In the world of jazz there has always been a secret language. A way of communicating that separated those who were in the know and those who weren’t. An insider’s speak that came from the street and eventually made its way into the mainstream lexicon precisely because it was so damn "cool." The words were descriptive like when you wanted to avoid the “heat” referring to the law. If you were cool you didn’t wear clothes you wore "threads." And if you were at a gig when the music wasn’t making it you simply "split" with a simple retort of "later" giving your friends all the information they would need to know.  This hip speak also seeped into a kind of music, a music that had  stories to tell  in their own subversive and off-beat way.  Here are three stylists that each have their own distinct way of contributing to this type of music.

Giacomo Gates: Everything is Cool
The baritone Giacomo Gates has released his latest album aptly titled Everything is Cool , unearthing  once forgotten gems from the be bop-cool  era, some of which epitomize authentic  hip sentiment. On the cover, the perennial hipster is doffed in his black beret  peering at the camera with a tip of his shades, a throwback to the beat era sense of cool. Opening with Babs Gonzales’s "Everything is Cool" he croons "Twice as high as birds can fly, everything is cool." Digging deeper into the Gonzales  repertoire, Gates does his version of the slow torch song "Here Today Gone Tomorrow" which he delivers in his lower register with a heartfelt sigh.  On "When Lovers They Lose," another Gonzales original, Grant Stewart’s sexy tenor looms large as Gates sings with a matter-of-fact resignation of one who knows love lost.
On the confidently hip "If I Were You Baby, I’d Love Me" Gates tells the tongue in cheek tale of an unabashed narcissist utilizing a slow sauntering blues as the vehicle. He is backed up by a solid group of journeymen musicians led by pianist John Di Martino, guitarist Tony Lombardozzi, bassist Ed Howard, saxophonist Grant Stewart and drummer Willard Dyson. Check it out here:
Gates reprises two swingers"Social Call" and "Hazel Hips" from his regular repertoire with some fine ensemble work by the group.  The surprising choice of Elvis Costello’s "Almost Blue" is given a simmering torch song approach and  Paul Desmond’s "Take Five" finds Gates singing yodel-like ala vocalese to the
Iola Brubeck lyrics with Stewart and Dyson deliver strong performances on this classic.
Gates own “Who Threw the Glue” is a treasure trove of hipsterism and its "U Bop Shebam" lyrics, bluesy swing  and  call out chorus that shouts the names famous jazz musicians at the coda.
A swinging  rendition of trombonist Frank Rosilino’s humorous "Please Don’t Bug Me" is the ultimate cool cat song. A brusque dismissal of a lover whose time has come, Gates nonchalant delivery is nearly perfect with some noteworthy solo work by Di Martino, Lombardozzi and the buoyant bass of Ed Howard. 
What could be more hip than taking comedienne Lenny Bruce’s "All Alone" and making it your own. Gates hip speaks these lines with heartfelt but acerbic seriousness, like a beat poet on a Greenwich village stage, as pianist Di Martino deftly adds poignant accents.
If conjuring up the spirit of  Lenny Bruce and Babs Gonzales weren’t hip enough for you, Gates  saves  Monk’s "Well You Needn’t"  for his finale, exquisitely  navigating the quirky melody with his pliant voice.
Ben Sidran Blue Camus

Ben Sidran: Blue Camus

Ben Sidran has been playing his particular type of hipster music for years. Originally he was keyboardist with Steve Miller and Boz Scaggs in the late sixties.  Despite his rock-jazz credentials it is his vocal delivery and beat poet writing that seems to qualify him as the hipster he is. Now seventy two, Sidran’s latest release is titled Blue Camus, a collection of  smooth instrumentals  and beat inspired songs  He doesn’t sing so much as speak with a voice  that just drips with cool indignation, especially when he is reciting such metaphysical lines like "It’s all so dark, it’s all so clear."  The music is played by Ben on piano, his son Leo on drums, Ricky Peterson on B3 organ and Billy Peterson on bass. For the most part the music is straight ahead organ driven vamps that allow for a groovin’ background  as a set for his wizened vocal tales.  The highlights includes the aforementioned "Blue Camus," "The King of Harlem" an oblique homage to New York and the Lewis Carroll inspired  "Wake Me When It’s Over," which is a reference to the rise of Tea party politics. Sidran’s brand of subversion  offers lyrics like "Because sometimes good things happen to bad people.  But man, bad people happen to good people every day. You Dig?"

Mark Winkler Jazz and Other Four Letter Words Cafe Pacific CPCD 45125
 Mark Winkler: Jazz and Other Four Letter Words

West Coast coolster  Mark Winkler takes another approach to hip lyrics, he writes his own.  On his latest  Jazz and Other Four Letter Words Winkler. opens with "My Idea of A Good Time."  Leading off with a plucky bass line by Dan Lutz  the singer finds some  off-beat ways to express himself with such lines as 
"Were I King Kong and the World is in my palm, all swinging through the city bye and bye, I guess that’s my idea of a good time."  Winkler has an easy, smooth delivery that breezily attacks the lyrics making them swing.  His main band is features Jamieson Trotter on piano, Mike Trotter on drums and the aforementioned Dan Lutz on bass.
Bringing in obscure material written by two original hipsters Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough is a sure fire way to bring Winkler hipster cred. He does this version of "I’m Hip" with, Manhattan Transfer alumni Cheryl Bentyne. The two float through the sarcastically self aggrandizing lyrics with an ease and self confidence that captures the sentiment of the song perfectly.
The five four beat of “Your Cat Plays Piano” is probably the hippest of Winkler’s songs, with lyrics like "Your cat plays piano mostly on the black keys, and I can swear he is a jazzer ‘cause he won’t play the melody." Here Winkler employs the services of West Coast musical cats John Clayton on bass, Jeff Hamilton on drums and Bob Sheppard on tenor, all powerhouse studio players, and they make this one special. Winkler has a way of making the strange seem cool, the odd seem aloof and special.   He modulates his voice in perfect time to Sheppard’s cool saxophone lines on this one.

Winkler can use his pleasing tenor to sing with a deep sensitivity, as he does on "I Chose the Moon" and "I Never Went Away."   On Paul Simon’s "Have A Good Time" the crooner turns the popular song  to a jaunty blues,  backed by a brassy horn section with a rousing trombone solo by Bob McChesney.
The title song, Trotter and Winkler’s "Jazz and Other Four Letter Words" is a rhythmical chicane that features Winkler’s voice navigating the stops and breaks with an easy aplomb.
The medley  of“In a "New York Minute" and "The Great City." reminds me a bit of Van Morrison’s "Moondance"  Winkler incorporates the varied lyrics from these homages to New York as if they were written together. Guitarist Larry Koonse lays down some sweet lines on the break as Clayton and Hamilton provide the anchored beat.  The song takes a turn at the coda briefly referencing "Autumn in New York."
Gershwin’s "Nice work if You Can Get It" is a well worn standard that here is given a  honky-tonk approach by Trotter on piano. Winkler croons the up lifting lyrics with sincerity bringing to mind a barroom tenor playing for tips. Pat Kelley’s guitar solo adds to the feel.
The finale is an Eames/ Winkler original is a swinger "Stay  Hip" which features  Rich Eames on piano and Winkler again fronted by the superb rhythm  section of Clayton, Hamilton and Koonse.  

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Big Band Music Sounds Abound with Three New Albums

John Fedchock's New York Big Band
There appears to be resurgence in offerings from big band ensembles this year. Big bands have made a vital comeback fueled on by modern, enlivened arrangements and buttressed by stalwart musicianship. New and exciting scores, some years in the making, are being offered by an ever increasing number of composer/arrangers who enlist groups of talented musicians to help them make their music a reality. The results are some of the year’s most inspiring and compelling musical offerings.

This revival defies the market driven logic that dismisses music unless it can be justified on a purely economic basis.  In pop music, today’s ephemeral “hit” culture has homogenized the creative output of many of today’s best selling artists. Manipulated music machines seem to crank out mostly vacuous sounds that melt into obscurity almost as fast as they appear, like snowflakes on your heated windshield. 

Large ensemble music and orchestras have no such illusory goal. No matter how economically difficult it is to assemble, compose, arrange and record these types of groups, they exist because they provide a sound that simply cannot be duplicated by small ensembles. A  big, bold, sometimes brash, sometimes elegant, orchestrated sound that cannot be created in any other way. For musicians these bands offer a chance to share in a collaborative effort that rises above individual expression.   Many of these ventures would never see the light of day without the dedication and drive of their composer/arrangers, the largess of public/private funding sources and the commitment of so many fine musicians, studios and patrons of this musical form.  Take the power and majesty of well orchestrated music and add the unpredictable creativity of improvised solos and you have an art form that some believe is at the apex of man’s artistic musical achievements. 

Several  ‘big bands” have made their mark in contemporary jazz in recent years . The Village Vanguard Orchestra, The Mingus Legacy Big Band, The Maria Schneider Orchestra , The HR Big Band and The Brooklyn Babylon Orchestra of D’Arcy James Argue come to mind.

Unlike the big bands of the thirties forties , fifties and even sixties, these guys and gals don’t have the advantage of working together on the road night after night, living and breathing the music as a team, honing their parts, tweaking their sounds and most importantly learning the crucial art of interaction.  
Today these bands operate much like film crews making a movie. The script in this case is the score, which the composer/arranger, much like a director of a film, may work on for months if not years. Instead of actors, film editors, cinematographers and prop men each specialists of their respective crafts, you have the musicians, each masters of their respective instruments and recording engineers working to capture the fidelity of the sound. This freelance approach allows the best to come together briefly for a project and then disperse to their individual careers.  The result can be ill conceived or a Technicolor blockbuster!

Today’s  composer/arrangers are utilizing more modern sounds and techniques creating musical landscapes that can immerse one into a suspended sensory state.  Here are a  just three of the offerings that I have had the pleasure of listening to recently.

John Fedchock: New York Big Band Like It Is Mama MAA1048

John Fedchock’s  New York Big Band  Like It Is:

Trombonist/arranger/composer  John Fedchock’s New York Big Band has re-entered the field with his latest top notch offering  Like It Is. Fedchock   has taken  some  standards from the American Songbook like  Arthur Schwartz’s “You the Night and The Music”  Ellington’s “Just Squeeze Me”  and  Jay Livingston’s  “Never Let Me Go “ and re-imagined them around the tightly orchestrated  sounds of his formidable New York Band.  Not content to play other people’s music, Fedchock’s own compositions include  “Just Sayin’, “ “Hair of The Dog,” Havana” and “Ten Thirty 30” and are wonderful vehicles for his big band sound- a skillful blend of brass, reed and rhythm  that is superbly executed. He creates exquisite backdrops for soaring solos by members of his band. His subtle use of subdued choruses behind sensitive solos  allow for some intimate and expressive ballad work.

Right from the start, the dynamic front line on “You the Night and The Music” contains an exquisitely  paced trombone lead by Fedchock, and  stirring solos by Mark Vinci  on alto and Rich Perry on tenor, making  this swinger a pure joy.

“Just Sayin’ “has an easy “cha cha” vibe with some nice alto work by Charles Pillow and some steaming trumpet by Barry Ries.  Bobby Sanabria’s deft percussive accents add to the authenticity of the Latin vibe.

Jay Livingston’s “Never Let Me Go” features a lush arrangement using a multi-layered approach, with Fedchock providing a somber, achingly beautiful trombone solo that is not to be missed.

The Wayne Shorter inspired “Just Sayin’” is a medium swing tempo piece  with  soprano work by Charles Pillow  that sails over this groovin’  band until the horn section transition leads to another moving Fedchock trombone solo.

Cedar Walton’s “Ojos De Rojo.” Is a Latin influenced song with a stirring piano solo by Allen Farnham. The rhythm section of Dave Rataczak, Dick Scapola and Bobby Sanabria keep this one on track. Gary Smulyan’s boisterous baritone provides a raucous voice over the punctuated splashes of Fedchock’s brass section. At the coda Scott Wendholt’s trumpet trades barbs with Smulyan’s Bari ending with a rambunctious solo by Ratajczak on drums.

Fedchock’s “Hair of the Dog” is a progressive piece that starts out slow as if you are dreamily awakening from a stupor, soon you realize that the only way out is to shake it up again and get yourself out of this  funk. The band simmers until it is Walt Weiskopf’s excitable tenor solo that brings you around.

Fedchock’s arranging skills are on full display on the breezy “Havana.” Sanabria’s percussive beat transports one to the sunny shores of this forbidden city accentuated by an alluring  Fedchock trombone solo. The band seems to sway to the rhythm with a seductive ease as Mark Vinci’s flute swoops over the backdrop like the Bird of Paradise.

Because every big band owes  a debt to Ellington  Fedchock  does his interpretation of  ” Just Squeeze Me.”    The arranger intersperses some modern, somewhat displaced choruses over the melodic baritone of Scott Robinson. Ultimately Robinson s gets a chance to break from the melody and he lends his own sense of history to his solo with impeccable tone and a modern sense of harmony. Robinson introduces a series of ascending bellows  at the coda that are just stirring.

Barry Ries’s mellow flugelhorn is featured on the softly stated “For Heaven’s Sake” and the John Fedchock’s “Ten Thirty  30” ends the set as a hard driving, up-tempo song inspired by the music of Clifford Brown- the title being a abbreviation of Brown’s birthday 10-30-30. Appropriately Brownie’s legend is carried on through a fine solo by trumpeter Scott Wendholt.  Fedchock gets his last licks in on trombone with a JJ Johnson like solo that pulses and bellows behind this well orchestrated band. Rich Perry is the last soloist and he offers a ruminating tenor sound that wanders in search of direction before he finds a path and follows it to conclusion above the pulsing orchestra.

John Fedchock, leader/arranger/trombone; Mark Vinci, alto sax, flute; Charles Pillow, alto sax, soprano sax; Rich Perry, tenor sax, Walt Weiskopf, tenor sax; Gary Smulyan, baritone sax; Scott Robinson, baritone sax; Tony Kadleck, trumpet, flugelhorn; Craig Johnson, trumpet, flugelhorn; Scott Wendholt, trumpet, flugelhorn; John Bailey, trumpet, flugelhorn; Barry Ries, trumpet, flugelhorn; Keith O'Quinn, trombone; Clark Gayton, trombone; George Flynn, bass trombone; Allen Farham, piano; Dick Sarpola, bass; Dave Ratajczak, drums; Bobby Sanabria, percussion; Kim Scharnberg , production assistant.

Ryan Truesdell's Gil Evans Project Lines of Color  ASBN 0133

Ryan Truesdell’s  Lines of Color:

This year Ryan Truesdell was once again back at it trawling through previously unearthed works of composer arranger Gil Evans. He garnered great praise and success with the previously released Centennial and this time he added some of new gems to some work previously recorded by  Evans for a “live” recording of the band’s 2014 residency at the Jazz Standard in NY.  The resultant CD  Lines of Color is a treasure, documenting what it is like when a great big band, with great charts come together  and performs in front of a live and receptive audience. 

Highlights of this album include the time tested  Evans Composition “Time for the Barracudas”, with its repetitive rhythmic figure leading to a probing trombone solo by Marshall Gilkes, an exploratory tenor solo by firebrand Donny McCaslin and some impressive trap works by drummer Lewis Nash.

“Davenport Blues,” is another favorite with Matt Jodrell’s sensational trumpet solo work, evoking an authentic New Orleans sound. The collective solos of Ryan Keberle’s trombone, Steve Wilson's’soprano sax, Marcus Rojas on tuba chorusing behind  Jodrell’s trumpet shows Evans technique of using a superb a backing chorus to lift a soloist performance.

Listen to the seductive swing era sound of “Avalon Town” which mixes era consistent melodic sounds with more a modern juxtaposition of discordant ones. Brief but inventive solos abound on this one by Jodrell, Steve Wilson, Scott Robinson, Dave Pietro, Ryan Keberle and James Chirillo.

On “Concorde” Evan’s again employs multiple layers of sounds to create the basic swing before introducing the voice of Lois Martin’s viola  in a decidedly Americana flavor.

The band is screaming with solo talent driven to great heights by a superb rhythm section of Jay Anderson on bass, Frank Kimbrough on piano and Lewis Nash on drums. It works so precisely, like a fine Swiss movement under Truesdell’s apt direction, that it is hard to single out any one performance except to say the band is the true star here. Evans music swings, soars, excites and entertains with an attention to detail and a reverence that cannot be faked.

The nostalgic feeling of Wendy Giles vocals on “Can’t We Talk it Over,”  “Easy Living Medley” and “Sunday Drivin’” only adds to the transporting effect this music has on the listener.

Perhaps the most surprisingly evocative of songs on the CD is the well worn American Standard Greensleeves,”  This song that was originally arranged by Evans for guitarist Kenny Burrell and was  often featured in the master’s own outings. On this version Truesdell employs the sensitive trombone work of Marshall Gilkes, who provides just the right amount of modernity to this treasured and moving ode.

The hoping “Gypsy Jump”, a newly unearthed gem,  comes from an arrangement Evans did when he was with the Claude Thornhill Band back from 1942. The band plays this with great originality while still preserving the period feel of the music.

Gil’s “Easy Living Medley” is perhaps Evans’ most recognizable work.  Despite its languorous pace the arrangements are intricate, subtle and lush. The band plays with sensitive aplomb recreating the dreamy melody .Solos by pianist Frank Kimbrough, vocalist Wendy Giles and tenor man Scott Robinson all add to the magical mood.

The Cole Porter standard “Just One of Those Things” takes flight with a high flying, introductory soprano sax solo by the inimitable Steve Wilson. Trombonist Ryan Keberle, with his bellowing lower register trombone, adds to the freewheeling feel of the song as arranged. The band cooks with tight, brisk arrangements and after a nice piano solo by Kimbrough, Wilson takes it back up a notch with a reprise of his previous soprano solo to the coda.

Truesdell ends the set with “How High the Moon” which he states in the liner notes was one of the last charts Evan’s wrote for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra. Solo work by altoist Dave Pietro, pianist Kimbrough, trombonist Keberle and saxophonist McCaslin are featured on this medium tempo piece of history.  The band ends on a chorus of exclamation as the crowd applauds appreciatively. 


Ryan Truesdell, conductor; Woodwinds: Jesse Han, Jessica Aura Taskov, Steve Kenyon, Steve Wilson, Dave Pietro, Donny McCaslin, Scott Robinson, Brian Landrus, Tom Christensen, Alden Banta. French Horns: Adam Unsworth, David Peel. Trumpets: Augie Haas, Greg Gisbert, Mat Jodrell. Trombones: Ryan Keberle, Marshall Gilkes. Bass Trombone: George Flynn. Tuba: Marcus Roja, Rhythm  Section: Guitar: James Cirillo. Piano: Frank Kimbrough. Bass: Jay Anderson. Drums:
Lewis Nash. Voice: Wendy Gilles. Viola: Lois Martin. 

Patrick Williams Home Suite Home BFM 302 062 432 2

Patrick  Williams : Home Suite Home

Over the years , arranger/composer Patrick Williams has been a major force in the creation of some the most dramatic and exciting orchestral compositions for film, TV and recorded music. He has over two hundred films to his credit. His work has garnered him a Pulitzer Prize for his cross genre classical/jazz work titled  An American Concerto . Among countless nominations, Williams has also garnered two Grammys and four Emmys for his prodigious work.

On his latest effort Home Suite Home , Mr. Williams has attracted an extraordinary group of West Coast musicians, many  who have worked their anonymous magic on his scores and  in the studios for years. On this most personal of projects, Mr. Williams wrote this music with members of his family in mind. Musical portraits of his wife of fifty four years Catherine and his three children Elizabeth, Greer, and Patrick B. are the wellspring of his inspiration.  In addition Williams wrote tributes to two of his favorite artists, the arranger Neil Hefti and the great drummer Buddy Rich.
Needless to say the album is a masterful compilation of modern composing and arranging in the big band format.  Williams demonstrates just how facile he can be armed with such a large and talented group of musicians.

“52nd Street & Broadway” features a lush arrangement dedicated to the epicenter of the big band era and the famous Roseland Ballroom that resided there. Vocalist Patti Austin is featured fronting this pulsing band that swings in the big band tradition.  Ms. Austin has a powerful instrument that can hold up well to the big sounds that back her on this love affair to an era past. Chuck Berghofer’s big bass is prominent and Peter Erskine’s drums drive this well oiled machine.

“Home Suite Home I” dedicated to his daughter Elizabeth “The Beautiful Scientist,” has a distinctive ostinato beat that enters with a declaration that mixes minuet like formality with modern brass overtones.  The various band sections create tumultuous flows. A walking bass line that leads to a detective novel like stroll before  yielding to some funky tenor work by horn legend Tom Scott. With the pulsing chorus behind him West Coast studio stalwart Bob Sheppard lets loose with his own exclamatory tenor solo that soars to new heights

 “Home Suite Home II” is titled  “The Dreamer “ dedicated to his son Greer. This seductive ballad is smooth and delicate. A beautiful alto solo by Dan Higgins brings this waking dream to life as the band escalates its intensity, almost trying to break the mood with a wall of layered sound. Pianist Dave Grusin gently plays a repeating motif as Higgins alto sings the sanguine melody with the band drifting into and out of consciousness with the dynamics of Williams’ arrangements.

“Home Suite Home III” , dedicated to his son Patrick B. “The Real Deal”  starts with a march-like cadence from drummer Peter Erskine. Williams overlays different registers of brass and reed sounds so skillfully creating a jaunty stroll over Erskine’s syncopated drum cadence. Then the band hits its stride, fully synchronized with beautifully realized horn accents. Williams continually alternates sections from carrying the melody to countering it, shifting times, masterfully employing tension and release. Mr. Scott offers another raspy tenor solo that cooks and the band wails in equal intensity.  Trumpeter Michael Stever offers a nice open horn solo.

“A Hefti Dose of Basie “is Williams homage to both the big band sound of Count Basie and to his longtime arranger Neil Hefti. This smooth as silk stockings music features the Basie-like single note piano stroke of Dave Grusin, a muted trumpet solo by Stever and that big  walking bass line by Berghofer.

Williams resurrects his connection with Frank Sinatra with whom he did two duet albums by arranging  “I Get Around” as a duo for Ole Blue Eyes son Frank Sinatra Jr. who sings this with Tierney Sutton.

“Blue Mist,” written for his wife Catherine, is a sweepingly beautiful theme that features the beguiling trumpet of Arturo Sandoval. The composition plays cinematically evoking distant horizons and hidden vistas before it settles into a slow sauntering ballad. The sensuous sound of Sandoval’s open bell trumpet with its clean, clarion timbre offers an inspired cry. Williams changes the tempo to a medium swing as Sandoval  his horn  for a short bit as the band really starts to swing. Sandoval returns to open horn with his distinctive tone and brassy ,high register command at the coda.

Peter Erskine’s traps start “That’s Rich” dedicated to the great drummer Buddy Rich. The band spells out the lines leaving breaks for Erskine to solo between in true Rich fashion.  Additional highlights are solos by Higgins on alto, Andy Martin on trombone, Grusin on piano and a swinging sax solo by Tom Scott.  The band powers along through Williams unified wall of sound arrangement as Erskine accentuates at the breaks ending in a dramatic  drum solo that Buddy Rich would be proud to call his own. 

Personnel: All music Composed and Arranged by Patrick Williams

Piano: Dave Grusin; Bass: chuck Berghofer; Drums: Peter Erskine; Guitar: Dean Parks; Alto Saxes: Dan Higgins, Jeff Driskill. Tenor Saxes: Bob Sheppard, Tom Scott; Baritone Sax: Gene Cipriano.
Trumpets: Wayne Bergeron, Dan Fornero, Bob Summers, Michael Stever. Trombones; Charlie Loper, Andy MArtin, Bob McChesney. Bass Trombone; Craig Gosnell, Percussion: Dan Grecco
Vocalist Patti Austin, Tierney Sutton and Frank Sinatra Jr.