Thursday, May 2, 2013


The Aaron Diehl Quartet by John Abbott
Since winning the coveted Cole Porter Fellowship in Jazz Competition of the American Pianists Association in 2011, Aaron Diehl has been stirring up a lot of enthusiasm among those lucky enough to hear him in person or on his two hard-to-get independent releases. That’s satisfied with his major label debut recording for Mack Avenue, The Bespoke Man’s Narrative, a formal reckoning of contemporary jazz piano drawn from Diehl’s training – he studied at Julliard – and his absorption of works by the Modern Jazz Quartet, Ellington, Ahmad Jamal and McCoy Tyner. But the luxurious sound on this album proves Diehl is something of a visionary, too. The album leads with a brief but gorgeous theme wrapped in the delicious harmonics that MJQ pianist John Lewis was known for creating. Then Diehl ushers in the present with back-to-back originals – a swift post bebop composition “Generation Y” comingles provocative interplay with effusive solos, followed by “Blue Nude,” a multi-layered ballad with big beats by drummer Rodney Green, the cool modernistic styling of vibes player Warren Wolf and ripe walking bass lines by David Wong. “Blue Nude” also spotlights a magnificent solo by Diehl, his best on an album full of triumphant moments.

Tying these tunes together is an ultra sophisticated style of swing, lubricated by Diehl’s supple playing and a disciplined rhythm section. Diehl’s has an urbane sophistication (the novel arrangement of “Moonlight In Vermont” blooms with confidence) and thanks to the precision of his quartet, the tracks flow easily. Whether in a club or your living room, it’s like Ellington said, “there are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind,” and I’ll declare that The Bespoke Man’s Narrative is among the good kind – the very good kind. (10 tracks; 64 minutes) You can listen to the track "Generation Y" here.

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photo by Nick Bewsey
The music on the two-disc Wislawa, inspired by the female poet Wislawa Symborska, a Polish essayist and Nobel Laureate who died in 2012, has a modern veneer that’s frequently beguiling due to its improvisational daring, yet it’s a highly listenable experience as guided by the accomplished hand of its composer, trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, one of the most accomplished jazz musicians to come out of Poland. After many albums on ECM with various bands, Stanko leads a definitive group he calls his NY Quartet – the dynamic 30-year-old pianist David Virelles, bassist Thomas Morgan and veteran drummer Gerald Cleaver. As a group, they can be precise and probing. The title track, which is reprised at the end of the second disc with an entirely refreshed architecture, begins with a cinematic introduction by Virelles, whose phrasing is gently emotive and stirring. Stanko fades into focus and plays at a deliberate pace with a nearly conversational playing style that’s streaked with a melancholy hue. Brushes slide over cymbals and the bass notes are stout and supportive, the band plays as an organic whole without a wasted note.

Stanko’s style incorporates a heady mix of free jazz, post bop and a kind of outsider swing. At their March appearance at Birdland in NYC, the trumpeter, now 70, sounded inspired and revitalized with his new band. Playing many of this album’s tunes to a standing room only crowd, you could see audience members leaning in towards the trumpeter to hang on every phrase during his arresting solos.

Wislawa has a mesmerizing program of tunes with audacious dialogue between bassist and drummer, and astoundingly beautiful solos by the Cuban-born Virelles, highlighted by the elegiac “Dernier Cri,” a tune that comes closest to a genuine standard. On disc two, “Oni” is steeped with a Bill Evans-like lyricism, while “Tutaj – Here” is a triumph of shifting tempos and feelings, ending with a flurry of notes as if Stanko is chortling through his horn.  If you’ve not had the reward of hearing Tomasz Stanko’s work, the recording is a sumptuous starting point. Wislawa is a deeply expressed recording with consummate interplay and superb improvisation, and it cogently fulfills Stanko’s celebration of Symborski’s work and life with honorific grace. (2 discs; 12 tracks; 48 minutes/50 minutes)

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Two warmly expressive traditionalists, tenor saxophonists Harry Allen and Scott Hamilton have hundreds of credits and dozens of solo albums between them. They even have their own solo Christmas records. Joining forces for the uplifting and unapologetically swinging ‘Round Midnight, these chums rally a superb rhythm section comprised of pianist Rossano Sportiello, bassist Joel Forbes and drummer Chuck Riggs on a tasty set list of jazz standards and pop tunes inspired by the music that Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins and Illinois Jacquet played in the 40’s. For Allen and Hamilton, this is their third recording together, they’ve often been likened to the duo of Al Cohn and Zoot Sims whose playing styles are less boastful and more supportive of one another. From the outset, the blended horns of Allen and Hamilton have an energizing fluidity and when underscored by their sizzling rhythm section, you’ll be hard-pressed from sitting still.

Having played with Johnny Hodges and Benny Goodman prior to establishing an esteemed solo career, Hamilton has chops and an established tone that’s among the smoothest in the swing style, and it’s heard to great effect on his countless recordings for the Concord Jazz label in the 80’s and 90’s. Along with the estimable Harry Allen, very much Hamilton’s equal, the pair has performed together for many years to hone a blended sound with meticulous precision that’s played to perfection on tracks by Eddie Davis (“Hey Lock!”) Bill Pott’s upbeat “The Opener,” and a sterling Allen original, “Great Scott.” It’s easy to appreciate the lush harmonics and classic styling on display – even the hoary melody of “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” receives an endearing bossa nova arrangement filled with dazzlingly counterpoint and complemented with finger snapping accompaniment by the masterful Italian pianist Sportiello. Notably, recordings released by Challenge Records are engineered to perfection and this one sounds just as spectacular. (9 tracks; 66 minutes)

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One of the enduring pleasures of instrumental duet recordings like Lower East Side (Posi-tone), featuring pianist Ehud Asherie and saxophonist Harry Allen, is their commitment to melodic standards and as natural improvisers steeped in the art of swing, this joyful effort is a genuine stand out. An established player on the NY scene, Asherie’s nimble efficacy as a stride pianist is jaw dropping on tracks like “Hallelujah!” and Richard Rodger’s “Thou Swell.” On first listen, the agile musical conversation between Allen’s growling tenor and Asherie’s virtuosic playing style, informed by his passion for Erroll Garner and Monk, pulls you into their one-of-a-kind harmonic convergence. Sure, the duo are at their best when rubbing shoulders on tunes you’d associate with a Woody Allen film (“Deed I Do” and Irving Berlin’s “Always” are among the cocktail gems) but together they elevate the material in both charming and substantial ways. With six titles as a leader on the Posi-Tone label, Asherie’s gifts as a pianist register vividly, perhaps none more so than on “When I Grow To Old To Dream,” which closes the album and gives each of these accomplished musicians plenty of room to indulge their affection for songs from another era. A superb followup to their previous Posi-tone collaboration, Upper West Side, Lower East Side is another artful and irresistible effort. (11 tracks; 62 minutes) A sample of Asherie's skill:

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Fresh off the success of his much admired 2011 Gil Scott-Heron tribute recording The Revolution Will Be Jazz (Savant), vocalist Giacomo Gates may have paused at the idea of following up with another themed album, but when you have a chance salute Miles Davis, especially one with lyrics written by Oscar Brown, Jr., Eddie Jefferson and Jon Hendricks, the choice was a no brainer.   

Miles Tones reunites Gates with his Scott-Heron trio (bassist LonniePlaxico, drummer Vincent Ector and longtime pianist John di Martino) and features a classic combo sound that dovetails perfectly with his wonderfully grizzled baritone. The other key roles are filled by trumpeter Freddie Hendrix and guitarist Dave Stryker who give Miles Tones a club-ready feel. The album leads with the timeless composition “All Blues,” where the band locks in a lilting groove to best serve Gates’ distinctive croon. Pianist Di Martino comes close but never outshines the leader and the same needs to be said about the marvelous Stryker whose fretwork slips in a surprise or two (the sly Monk quote on “So What.”) Pulling tunes from throughout Miles’s discography, bookended by his Birth Of The Cool period (“Boplicity”) and Tutu (“’Long Come Tutu,”) Gates swings like the best in-the-tradition vocalists, which is not too shabby for a guy who toiled on Alaskan oil pipelines in a prior life before pursuing his true calling and stepping up to the mic at a gig.

With Miles Tones, Gates spring boards into the big league of great jazz singers with solid material and in-the-pocket musicians that underscores the leader’s intrinsic hipness and gift for a song. (10 tracks; 49 minutes)

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photo by Ingrid Hertfelder
Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt sports a confident, almost larger than life presence on stage. He blows with certainty and an abundance of style, attributes that have served him well in clubs and nine solo recordings with a style that has been likened to the mid-60s Miles Davis, yet his recent recordings for HighNote (especially Men Of Honor and Soul) place Pelt decisively in the present. For his 10th record, Pelt says goodbye to all that.

Water and Earth is Pelt’s impressive recording that replaces his longtime acoustic band with fresh talent that jumps head first into Pelt’s vision of digital jazz. Electronic keyboards and bass weave throughout, but it’s the young drummer Dana Hawkins (whose recorded collaborations with electric bassist Evan Marien are off-the-hook) and Roxy Coss, a rare and solid female saxophonist, that gives this effort a worthy buzz. Pelt’s smooth and tasty tone is still present, but his post bebop-styled rhythms and acoustic blues have collapsed into a reshaped agenda that’s particularly effective on top-shelf grooves like “Mystique,” and especially “Pieces Of A Dream,” a dazzling collision of Pelt’s past and present style that shows his love for both. (9 tracks; 56 minutes)

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Strong writing and an exemplary band make for rewarding interplay and a worthwhile engagement for listeners who press play on keyboardist Emilio Teubal’s Música Para Un Dragon Dormido (BJU Records.) Translated to mean “Music For A Sleeping Dragon,” it’s a grand presentation for the boldly talented Argentinean leader who, on his third album, folds musical elements and native rhythms from his homeland into a soundscape of sonic grooves, electric bass and attenuated percussion that gives this recording a fresh and contemporary feeling. The passionate music relates to specific stories from Teubal’s life and experiences and evolves from strong melodic themes, which gives the recording a cinematic vibe. There’s a raw beauty in the melodic yearning in tunes like “The Constant Reinventor” and the spirited interwoven bass and percussion that inflates “Nikko” (inspired by ECM artist Nik Bärtsch.) Teubal is a confident composer and kick-ass keyboardist (“El Tema de Ludmilla”) with a generous spirit – he shares plenty of space with his band that includes the up-and-coming saxophonist Sam Sadigursky, percussionist John Hadfield, electric bassist Moto Fukushima, cellist Eric Friedlander (“El Acrobata”) and alternating percussionist Satoshi Takeishi.

More encompassing than a traditional Latin jazz album, Emilio Tuebal takes to a world stage, composing tunes peppered with novel sounds and earthy textures, all of which makes Música Para un Dragon Dormida uplifting and fully involving. The album is beautifully recorded and mixed -- each instrument is vividly distinguished across a wide soundstage. (9 tracks; 64 minutes)

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