JAZZ IN SPACE: November 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


The three Cohens, trumpeter Avishai, tenor saxophonist-clarinetist Anat and soprano saxophonist Yuval, kick off their third outing with a dazzling dance number, “Shufla de Shufla,” that’s sounds like a souped up Horace Silver number with a dollop of Louis Armstrong. It sets the upbeat mood for “Family,” (Anzic Records) an album that taps into jazz as a dance tradition with smartly compelling originals and stylistic arrangements of “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans” and Ellington’s blues drenched “The Mooch,” proving that the Marsalis family doesn’t own sole custody of Duke’s legacy. While the siblings are Israeli born, they’ve achieved notable success as individual soloists nationally and abroad. Avishai (SFJazz Collective) is a bright, inventive trumpeter with a sound that’s as sweet as it is tangy, while soprano sax player Yuval soars particularly on the whirling, swirling rhythm of “With a Soul Of The Greatest Of Them All (Dedicated To Charles Mingus.”) A deservedly and consistent winner of jazz polls, Anat blows fiercely on “Blues For Dandi’s Orange Bull” and later, cools it Benny Goodman-style on the dashing multi-culti “Tiger Rag,” with doses of sweet, ripe notes that swoop and swing.

“Family” honors a range of musical traditions with a harmonious flow that connects the Cohen’s heritage with America’s deep jazz roots. The breathless mix of tunes is brought to the dance floor through the exemplary skills of pianist Aaron Goldberg, fellow SFJazz Collective member, bassist Matt Penman, and beat-arrific drummer Gregory Hutchinson. These ferociously good musicians invite vocalist Jon Hendricks on board for “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” and “Roll ‘Em Pete,” two numbers that cement the Cohen’s love affair with Louis Armstrong and while Hendrick’s voice has an autumnal glow, his phrasing and resounding sincerity is killer. (10 tracks; 63:03 minutes)

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Photo by Richard Termine

For much of her career, singer Tierney Sutton has invested in the great American Songbook with an earnest point-of-view that’s highly personalized and intrinsically musical. After 18 years with her esteemed band, pianist Christian Jacob, bassists Kevin Axt, Trey Henry and drummer/percussionist Ray Brinker, Sutton looks to their life on the road for her ninth album “American Road” (BFM Records), a cultural chronicle that enlists tunes by Leonard Bernstein (“Somewhere,” “Something’s Coming/Cool”) and Gershwin (“It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “Summertime,” “My Man’s Gone Now”) side by side with the melodic kick of “On Broadway” and a lush, bass driven “Amazing Grace.”

In tone, it’s a sprawling poetic narrative performed with a refreshing candor that reframes Sutton’s jazz singer tag. Although she wears that badge honorably on the sublime piano duet “Tenderly,” she mostly sheds the jazz pretext on the breezy pop groove of “Wayfaring Stranger” and the beats that underscore “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” And, actually, it’s that earthy, soulful vibe that makes Sutton and her band sound so good. In much the same way that bassist Charlie Haden and guitarist Pat Metheny created “Beyond The Missouri Sky,” Tierney and the band strike a balance between patriotism and love of the land, most notably on “America the Beautiful,” a wistful ballad clearly performed in a contemporary context that Sutton infuses with equal parts hope and heartbreak.  (12 tracks; 61:16 minutes)

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For a singer, Giacomo Gates’ baritone is unmistakable, like blue label scotch and just as fine. His terrific concept album, “The Revolution Will Be Jazz: The Songs Of Gil Scott-Heron” (Savant Records) risks a bittersweet listen since Scott-Heron passed away during Gates’ recording of the album, but with Gates at the helm the experience proves to be willfully celebratory. A former construction worker, Gates stepped into the professional jazz arena late in life and there’s a refreshing knock-about quality he brings to standards. “Revolution” is this singer’s tour-de-force, a self-assured combination of words and music that Gates treats like lost classics, permeating them with verve. With potent musicians in tow – pianist John Di Martino, guitarist Tony Lombardozzi, bassist Lonnie Plaxico, drummer Vincent Ector and a fine Clare Daly on baritone sax – Gates swings (“Show Bizness”,) croons (“This Is A Prayer For Everybody To Be Free”) and gets his groove on (“Lady Day and John Coltrane.”) Gates is a storyteller standing somewhere between Van Morrison and Mose Allison, and this recording seduces with old-school charm especially when Gates kicks in his flawless vocalese - the wordless note-perfect vocals that singer Eddie Jefferson perfected. (10 tracks; 50:05 minutes)

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Listening to saxophonist Marcus Strickland’s striking double recording and seventh overall release, “Triumph Of The Heavy” is an affirmative and dynamic experience that delivers both a studio-bound date with his quartet and a trio concert recorded at Firehouse 12 in Connecticut. The well-written tunes on Volume 1 have catchy hooks (“Lilt” and “A World Found”) and a healthy dose of modern swing (“A Temptress’ Gate) along with a depth of emotion -- “Dawn” floats on the melodious notes from Strickland’s soprano sax. There’s the soul-jazz groove on the bouncing “Bolt Bus Jitter” and the multi-track fusion of horns that preface “Virgo” to keep you fired up.

On disc two, the piano-less trio in a live setting induces knotty adventures in sound, but Strickland deftly navigates through choppy waters and gives us a vivid document of a new leader in action. In spirit, Strickland is a lot like Wayne Shorter whose best tunes have clarity and complexity while remaining forever beautiful. Strickland’s music approaches that quality thanks to an ace team (bassist Ben Williams, pianist David Bryant and drummer E.J. Strickland, Marcus’s twin brother) and these two discs are braided into a satisfying whole. (10 tracks; 50:43 minutes/ 7 tracks; 69:44 minutes)

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