JAZZ IN SPACE: January 2011

Saturday, January 29, 2011


With sassiness, soul and a can’t-quit-you attitude, singer Ernestine Anderson gets a long overdue live recording that shows why she’s every bit the shining star she should be. Trouble is, an entire generation or two of jazz listeners don’t know who she is. On the party-rrific “Nightlife” (High Note) drawn from three dates at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola at Lincoln Center in 2008, 2009 and 2010, the inimitable and swinging songstress is joined master saxophonist Houston Person, pianist Lafayette Harris, Jr., Chip Jackson or Lonnie Plaxico on bass, and Willie Jones III or Jerome Jennings on drums. Whether yearning something fierce on “Since I Fell For You,” shoutin’ some Chicago blues or getting down and dirty for a serious slow jam that is the title track, Ms. Anderson show us all how it’s done.
She’s had a full, illustrious career, cementing her stature in the late 70’s after landing on Carl Jefferson’s Concord Jazz label – her many classy records for them are object lessons in soul jazz singing. Here she covers Miles Davis’ “All Blues” along with standards from her discography including the sweetly sincere “Only Trust Your Heart” and “Never Make Your Move Too Soon,” the latter known squarely as her signature tune. Person plays with customary gusto, sounding effortless on his warm, circular solos and he’s clearly inspired by Ms. Anderson who is so accomplished and experienced she doesn’t have to enunciate every word or even complete sentences for you to hear where she stands. And this diva stands tall. Highly recommended. (8 tracks; 52:40 minutes)

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Singer and songwriter Rondi Charleston makes music that’s close to jazz nirvana. On her deliciously creamy “Who Know Where The Time Goes” (Motema Music) she mixes up atmospheric original tunes with refreshed standards both old and new (Jobim’s “Wave,” Wonder’s “Overjoyed”). Her own music is rife with passionate passages of optimism (inspired by a meaningful trip to Israel as related in the liner notes) and she embraces a charming confidence and joie de vivre. Her closest musical partner on the album is guitarist Dave Stryker, a soloist of pronounced musicality, and their arrangements allow plenty of space for indelible piano accompaniment by either Brandon McCune or Lynne Arriale. Highlights include a buoyant “I Hear Music” performed with bassist James Genus and drummer Clarence Penn that pops and clicks around Charleston’s playful swagger, while Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone To Love” pumps with a bluesy, soulful heartbeat. Her voice has a wise, burnished patina that goes a long way in making this album accessible, which at times flirts with perfection.  (12 tracks; 51:15 minutes)

Labels: , , , , , ,


Romantic jazz recordings can be fuzzy propositions. Not so with saxophonist Steve Cole, who fronts a fine band that includes pianist Mike Logan (Will Downing), bassist Steve Rodby (Pat Metheny) and Russell Ferrante (Yellowjackets), along with real strings provided by The Millennium Chamber Players of Chicago. Cole is a genuine smoothie with a soft, buttery tone that’s served him well on five previous contemporary jazz CDs. At ease on tenor and soprano, Cole fuses gentle solos with rapturous wraparound orchestral accompaniment and the playlist is as cozy as it can be with songs by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, James Taylor, Burt Bacharach and McCartney and Lennon’s lush and moving “Long and Winding Road.” The album gets a lift with “Undun,” which is augmented by subtle synthesized programming, but it also wobbles on a formulaic “You Don’t Know Me,” where a brassy façade competes with Cole’s grittier sound. Consider “Moonlight” (Artistry Music) a fireplace record that’s mostly well stoked and sonically impressive. (9 tracks; 45:12 minutes)

Labels: , ,


It’s easy to forget how great a pianist Lynne Arriale is. Schooled in post bop, she launched her career in 1993 with a series of remarkable recordings for the audiophile DMP label. With an affinity for melodic invention and contrapuntal explorations, she’s at home playing Monk or the Beatles and her individualistic style of jazz has become more affecting over the years. Although she records primarily in a trio setting, “Convergence” (Motema Records) pairs her with the adventurous saxophonist Bill McHenry and a powerful, astute rhythm section (bassist Omer Avital and drummer Anthony Pinciotti) on a focused and nicely intense set of originals and modern pop covers by the likes of Trent Reznor and Mick Jagger. Expectedly, her interpretations of “Here Comes The Sun,” and Sting’s “Sister Moon” are brainy and beautiful and they connect on satisfying emotional level. Arriale strips Deborah Harry’s “Call Me” of its pop provenance and casts it as a meaty vehicle for McHenry’s bluesy sax and her own sharply swinging style. Even a simple ballad, the stunning original, “For Peace,” allows Arriale and her quartet to invite you to listen closely, covertly seducing you through their melodic interplay. By the way, for those with hi-fi rigs, the recording by Dae Bennett is among the best I’ve heard so far this year. (11 tracks; 51:53 minutes)

Labels: , , , ,


I’m not sure what strings bassist Matthew Rybicki had to pull to get his first album made, but “Driven” is a rare bird – a memorable, sharply attenuated date with a steady momentum and standout solos. His collaborators include drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. and trombonist Michael Dease (the album’s co-producers), saxophonist Ron Blake, trumpeter Freddie Hendrix and the hotshot twenty-something, Gerald Clayton, a pianist who plays with grandeur and a deft touch that belies his age. Happily unpredictable, the band rips it up on boppish originals (“The Slow Stride,” “Seventh Sign” and “Mean Lean”) that comb through styles associated with Oscar Peterson, Ellington and a former teacher, Wynton Marsalis. It’s not easy to tread on Sonny Rollins’ turf, but the band takes what’s theirs on the languid calypso, “Yellow Bird.” Tight, swinging and breezily melodic, “Driven” is a winsome debut. Find it at www.matthewrybickimusic.com. (11 tracks; 67:05 minutes)

Labels: , , , , , ,


An essential collaborator with Luther Vandross and Miles Davis, Marcus Miller is a smart and prodigious bassist whose magic fingers and production prowess have touched and improved projects by everyone from Jay-Z to Kathleen Battle. Miller deftly shifts between jazz and razzle-dazzle on “A Night In Monte-Carlo” (Concord Jazz), a juiced-up blend of poppin’ bass notes, turntable scratching, and star turns by singer Raul Midon and trumpeter Roy Hargrove. Oh, and he fronts this date with the grandiose L’Orchestre Philharmonique De Monte-Carlo. “Blast!” “I Loves You Porgy” and two Davis covers – “So What” and “Amandla” showcase Miller’s audacity and tasteful swagger, but when the level of musicianship is this good, you’ve got to give the guy his props. Notably, his “Amazing Grace,” played on bass clarinet with sweeping strings is effectively stirring while “Strange Fruit,” a duet between Herbie Hancock and Miller, seizes the senses with its immediacy and naked emotion. (9 tracks; 63:33 minutes)

Labels: , , , ,


Forget the Jersey Shore. Traipsing through swank hotel bars on the French Riviera calls for a modern soundtrack and guitarist Russ Freeman offers a mostly effective one on “Cote D’Azur” (Peak Records). Waylaying his customary radio-ready smooth jazz sound, Freeman and his Rippingtons (saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa, Rico Belled, Bill Heller and Dave Karasony) push deeper into electronica and mine the grooves of European lounge music for this trim set. The punchy compositions don’t break a sweat but the anthem-like title track, with its strobe light rhythmic licks and Mediterranean guitar, is as sticky as cotton candy. Synthetic flourishes abound on faux-global melodies like “Le Calypso” and “Passage To Marseilles,” while the clubby, late-night pop of “Rue Paradis” sounds like something out of a James Bond movie. It’s harmless background fare couched in fantasy and ether. (10 tracks; 40:15 minutes)

Labels: , ,

Saturday, January 1, 2011


A swift and inventive trumpeter, Brad Goode’s “Tight Like This” is a straight-ahead, take-no-prisoners kind of session. It’s the Chicago native’s fourth recording for Delmark, a persevering jazz and blues label that gallantly supports unsung jazzers like Goode. Here, with pianist Adrean Farrugia, bassist Kelly Sill and drummer Anthony Lee, the trumpeter reinvents the title tune originally recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1928 with a feel-good groove that won’t let go. “Tight Like This” shows that Goode is an ebullient storyteller who weaves vibrant melodies (“The River”) with adroit phrasing and, by mixing up his clutch originals with underplayed standards, he creates a kinetic listening experience.  Pianist Farrugia nearly steals the show, but Goode knows when to yield space (“Climbing Out”) and when to take back the spotlight. Highly recommended. (11 tracks; 58:12 minutes)  www.delmark.com

Labels: , , , ,


Mary Stallings, a singer whose style and phrasing has a lot in common with the great Carmen McRae, really cooks when paired with a strong pianist. For their second record together, “Dream,” (High Note Records) Stallings gets a major assist from Eric Reed, who bathes the singer in candlelight on slow burners like “Moon Ray” and the gentle bossa, “Hey Now.” Elsewhere, the duo goes up-tempo on Cole Porter’s “Dream Dancing” and the dazzling original “Never Knew” written by and co-performed with Stallings’ daughter, Adriana Evans. A breakout star when he played in Wynton Marsalis group, Reed has remained a sensitive pianist and his gospel-tinged comps and solos underscore the heartache Stallings projects on tunes like “Mad About The Boy” and “That Old Black Magic.” Under appreciated as a top-tier singer, “Dream” is an outstanding recording where Stallings exercises great taste, fierce chops and a remarkable depth of emotion. With Hamilton Price on bass and Ralph Penland on drums. (11 tracks; 49:12 minutes)  www.jazzdepot.com

Labels: , , , ,


The best thing about a live date is the spontaneity of a band. Here, it’s also about intimacy and an appreciative audience. The bassist Ben Wolfe and his long-time group are documented at the acclaimed Smalls, located in NYC’s West Village. With a self-described “freewheeling and bohemian vibe,” the jazz club cultivates a classic after hours environment that dovetails beautifully with the music Wolfe plays. Fluent in modern bebop and replete with soloists whose chops would make Art Blakey proud, Wolfe deftly navigates his band through nimble compositions with limber rhythms and a stout frontline – trumpeter Ryan Kiser and Marcus Strickland. On he lead tune, Wolfe pitches “Block” by unleashing a rapid bassline that’s punctuated with a playful coda by the exciting pianist Luis Perdomo (Miguel Zenón and Ravi Coltrane). The terrific drummer, Gregory Hutcherson, is right there on tunes like “Telescope” with in-the-pocket beats and shimmering cymbal work. Wolfe’s tunes evoke a classic past, from the loping bass that’s the backbone of “For The Great Sonny Clark” (a legendary pianist on early Blue Note records) to the Monk-like “Unjust” and bold fusion of horns on “Coleman’s Cab.” It’s a relaxed and swinging session that doesn’t break new ground, but satisfies under Wolfe’s leadership. (9 tracks; 61:14 minutes)

Labels: , , , , ,


A sterling debut from pianist David Cook and his trio, bassist Matt Clohesy and drummer Mark Ferber, “Pathway” (BJURecords) is an engrossing and heartfelt modern jazz record. Cook makes an immediate connection to the listener with the first tune, “The Thing,” a melodic and soulful cut that nicely shows off the pianist’s agility. He’s forgiven for loosely channeling Fred Hersch on “Fresh Remnants” (it is a tribute to the pianist, after all) and Brad Mehldau (“Napali”), because when he plays piano with his own voice, one that’s especially clear on the waltz-like “Robin’s Song” and Ellington’s “Come Sunday, a feature for solo piano, Cook makes a deeply felt impression. The nimble pianist has potent chops (dig the innately swinging title track), empathetic partners in Clohesy and Ferber, and in the case of the persuasive closer, “Lullabye,” the makings of a signature tune that he could play for audiences the rest of his days. (9 tracks; 57:30 minutes) www.davidcookmusic.com www.bjurecords.com
The release party for this CD is this week on January 5 at the Cornelia Street Cafe in NYC.

Labels: , , , ,


Casting aside any doubt about his ambition and strength as a composer, the young saxophonist Noah Preminger devotes his sophomore recording (and first for the Palmetto label) to the ballad form. The lead track is the beloved standard, “Where Or When,” and Preminger blows low notes with a honeyed edge over a lush rhythm conjured by pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist John Hébert and drummer Matt Wilson, a team of top flight musicians. It lulls you with its lucidity and beauty and it’s the only tune on the album that’s played straight-ahead. Resoundingly modern and memorably moody, Preminger steps up to the plate on tune after tune, gently plying silken notes with full-bodied phrases. His title track is an original, highlighted by Kimbrough’s expansive solo and Preminger’s own whispered evocations. The group’s striking rendering of “Until The Real Thing Comes Along” has a turn-the-lights-down quality and it’ll clear your head after the discordant “Abreaction,” the most caffeinated tune on the album. The recording itself is sumptuous and spot-on, and it pulls you into the music as if Preminger and company are playing exclusively for you. (9 tracks; 50:35 minutes) 

Labels: , , , ,


Bassist Luther Hughes (Gene Harris) leads a game quintet on a well-programmed set of original and impressionistic tunes inspired by Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane, as well as pianist McCoy Tyner and Wayne Shorter. This tribute recording zeroes in on the 1959 timeframe just prior to the time when the saxophonists cemented their legacy as jazz icons. Hughes and his joyfully swinging crew share an affinity for funky Brazilian-tinged tunes (“Green Bananas,” “Sunset at Hermosa”) loose-limbed originals and finger-poppin’ tunes like Ellington’s “Take the Coltrane.” But they pull out the stops for their perceptive arrangement of Nat Adderley’s “Jive Samba” and also “Softly as the Morning Sunrise,” a pair of tour-de-force workouts that are a feast for the ears.  (12 tracks; 74:08 minutes)

As of now, you can track this CD down at www.cdbaby.com. It's not yet posted on Amazon, but should be soon.

Labels: , , , ,