Mon October 1, 2012
Summertime has been a wonderful season for fine new jazz releases. With a proliferation of smaller labels that specialize in jazz music and independently produced efforts a diverse bounty of music is available for the listener. Many new releases are now available within just a few months after their being recorded. All of this seems to have invigorated the recording scene and, vitally, brought more artists in touch with a wider audience. This beneficent activity is evidenced by some fine releases over the summer and I'll touch upon just a few standouts:
Frank Basile – Modern Inventions – independent production – Omaha native and baritone burner Frank Basile is stepping onto center stage with this refreshingly straight-ahead new release. He has chosen a sextet format offering a rich front line horn sound augmented by the trumpet of Fabien Mary and tenor saxophone of Alex Hoffman. A take-no-prisoners rhythm section is comprised of Ehud Asherie, piano, David Wong, bass and Pete Van Nostrand, drums. It's music for jazz lovers here. Basile's original “The High Desert”, a post-bop cooker, opens the set. His pen is also represented by the laid back “Fountain City Bounce” and title track that has the spirit feel of a late 50s Hank Mobley Blue Note session. Compositions by Claire Fischer, Kenny Dorham and Jimmy Heath also embellish this blowing date that is all about good musicianship gone right.
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CHERYL BENTYNE – LET'S MISBEHAVE – Summit Records – One quarter of Manhattan Transfer and even better on the solo albums, Cheryl Bentyne, and her group-mate Janis Siegel, have issued a number of thoroughly engaging albums through the years (don't miss Siegel's “Friday Night Special”). Bentyne is back with a collection of Cole Porter songs that rocks. Doug Webb is heard on saxophone and clarinet, Chris Tedesco, trumpet, Corey Allen, keyboards, Larry Koonse, guitar, Kevin Axt, bass and Tom McCauley, drums. The late tenorist James Moody is also featured on a couple tracks. Revisiting Porter's music requires that a singer offer some unique interpretations upon well-known standards. Thus Bentyne reaches into “Love For Sale” as a bluesy cooker. “It's Alright With Me” charges right out of the gate. She takes “My Heart Belongs To Daddy” with a vivacious island beat whereas “I Concentrate On You” is unexpectedly restrained and sensual. The closer and title track sounds as if being played upon a gramophone during the roaring twenties – a bit of nostalgic insight towards Porter's era. While the marketplace is cluttered with releases from aspiring vocalists, many of which would be better kept unissued, Bentyne is quite another story – at the top of her class and confident in her range and phrasing.
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JERRY BERGONZI – SHIFTING GEARS – Savant Records - Veteran saxophonist Bergonzi has a husky, burnished tenor tone and a delightful manner of negotiating intricate phrases on his horn that at once seems effortless and cooks with seasoned aplomb. He usually records in a quartet setting however upon this latest release the format is expanded to a quintet with the addition of Phil Grenadier playing trumpet. The rhythm section is comprised of Bruce Barth, piano, Dave Santoro, bass and Andrea Michelutti, drums. Bergonzi's compositions are engaging formats for solid, inspired playing from members of the band. Check out the harmonic references to Joe Henderson's “In 'N Out” on Bergonzi's angular and sophisticatedly funky “Doin' The Hen” that smokes like crazy, as does this entire session.
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CONNIE EVINGSON – SWEET HAPPY LIFE – Minnehaha Music – Aside from the irresistible sentiment of the album title, singer Connie Evingson has recorded a thoroughly enjoyable album of compositions featuring the lyrics of Norman Gimbel. You know these tunes if not his name - “Agua De Beber”, “Meditation”, “Slow Hot Wind”, “The Girl From Ipanema”, “Bluesette”, “So Nice”, “Tristeza” and the English lyris to the title track – otherwise known as “Samba De Orfeu”. They're all here and more in Evingson's largely upbeat recording that features facile musical accompaniment from Laura Caviani, piano, Danny Embrey, guitar, Bob Bowman, bass, David Schmalenberger, drums and Dave Karr, flute and saxophone. Evingson's pleasing mid-range voice is soothing as a summer's breeze and the music wafts about the listener in much the same fashion.
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TOWNER GALAHER – UPTOWN! - Rhythm Royale Records – Drummer Galaher leads a meat and potatoes organ combo with a three horn front line comprised of notables: Brian Lynch, trumpet, Donald Harrison, alto saxophone and Craig Handy, tenor sax. Pat Bianchi kicks it in the organ chair. The resurgence of the organ in jazz recordings has been on-going for nearly two decades and shows all intentions of prospering further. Well that is with sessions such as this featuring spirited playing from the group. Compositions range from stimulating originals such as Galaher's “East 104th St. Waltz” to numbers from Frank Foster and Wayne Shorter. Deep grooves and burning musicianship highlight a solid date.
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STACEY KENT – DREAMER live in concert – Blue Note France - At first blush don't let Kent's soft, almost fragile sounding voice mislead you; she's ready to burst out swinging at a breathless turn and transfix your ears with a soft voice and conversational style that just seem to breed good vibes. Here she is recorded live in the City of Light with a fine combo including husband Jim Tomlinson playing saxophones, Graham Harvey, keyboards, Jeremy Brown, bass and Matt Skelton, drums. Kent's Paris concert from the spring of 2011 opens with a languid and lengthy rendition of “It Might A Well Be Spring” with Tomlinson's tenor evocative of Stan Getz's work with Astrud Gilberto. A captivating treatment of “If I Were A Bell” is a standout with Kent illustrating the power of restraint. “Breakfast On The Morning Tram” is another gem, beginning with a remorseful look back upon a disappointing night then, about face, evolving into a delightful swinger. Her treatments of “Corcovado” and the title track are pure joy with that bittersweet, optimistic edge of Brazilian music. This one is a keeper.
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Carol Robbins – Moraga – Jazzcats – The harp is not usually an instrument associated with jazz although Alice Coltrane played one and Oscar Pettiford used it in his orchestrations. Dating back to ancient Mesopotamia in milleniums BC, the harp has a pleasing timbre and the capacity to issue trance-like sounds or thrilling chords when played with talented fingers. Such are those of Carol Robbins, whose summer release “Moraga” is decidedly unique and enjoyable. She's accompanied by Billy Childs, piano; Gary Meek, saxophone/flute; Larry Koonse, guitar; Darek Oles, bass and Gary Novak, drums. This intriguing album exhibits Robbins' fluid jazz chops with inspired playing from the group upon a program that features attractive original compositions as well as Cole Porter's “Everytime We Say Goodbye” and Jobim's “Caminhos Cruzados”.
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Manuel Valera – New Cuban Express – Mavo Records – Cuban pianist Valera has released his sixth album and it is a crackling exploration of Now, imbued with influences of the Cuban son and bolero, danzon and rumba beats in his compositions. His playing is ofttimes exuberantly percussive and at times incorporates classical elements. Accompanying Valera is a percolating group of musicians that includes fellow Cuban Yosvany Terry, alto saxophone, the much too seldom heard guitarist Tom Guarna, John Benitez, bass, Eric Doob, drums and Mauricio Herrera, percussion. This is edgy, rhythmically-charged music wherein Valera sets his own course with persuasive company and delivers a startlingly alluring soundscape.
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As ever, you can check out selections from these albums and many more fine releases – new stuff, tried and true stuff, never any fluff – on our jazz programs: Jazz In The Afternoon, The Last Call, Jazz Junction and Jazz With Bob Parlocha (who records his show from California via WFMT-Chicago). And don't forget the Blues on Mondays.