Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Busy Pianist: David Hazeltine

Product DetailsQuantity and Quality, now that's a great combination. David Hazeltine is one busy pianist and we are better off for it. This week alone I have picked up two CDs with him -- the Gilad Edelman set I posted on yesterday (My Groove, Your Move (Sharp Nine 2013)) and now "Impromptu" (Chesky Records 2013) with Hazeltine leading a trio with the inestimable George Mraz on bass and Jason Brown on drums. But in the past year I also have Hazeltine performing on "Leaps and Bounds" by Craig Wuepper (Cellar Live 2012), Dmitri Baevsky's "The Composers (Sharp 9 2012), and The New Classic Trio (Sharp Nine 2012). In all about two dozen recordings as a leader since 1995, largely on Sharp Nine and Criss Cross; and more as a sideman.

Hazeltine seem to me to be a forgotten voice in the mainstream jazz tradition that extends from Art Tatum, Bud Powell to modern masters like Barry Harris and Cedar Walton. I don't hear his name much when people talk about current pianists, but to me he embues any song he touches with grace and style, and makes straight-ahead jazz that is always interesting and accessible; even as he creatively reinterprets standards with distinctive and imaginative twists and turns he never loses sight of the basics of the melody and harmony in each tune. I like the "new" forms as much as anyone, the play of pianists like Iyer or Taborn, the lyricism of Jarrett and Mehldau, but there's plenty of room to tip a hat to the overwhelming skills of mainstream players like Walton and Barron and Hazeltine.

Here Hazeltine has taken a new path as he plays jazz interpretations of music from the classical repetoire. Specifically he and his trio reinterpret such masterpieces as "Clair de Lune", "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring", "Moonlight Sonata", "Waltz of the Flowers" and "Fur Elise" along with three others. What strikes me first and foremost is the freedom he takes here in working with these tunes. Obviously he is not the first to interpret classical pieces, but to me the eight pieces here are truly integrated and played as jazz and not simply extensions of the classical tunes with a few bells and whistles added. I am not sure how to exactly convey this in this post, but if you didn't know the sources here I doubt you would ever think that these are classical songs. This is pure mainstrem jazz, tunes that take their own distinct forms from the root source, and are wonderfully imaginative. And all three players contribute mightily. There is no better way to understand what I am trying to convey than listening to "Fur Elise", where the Beethoven melody is played underneath by Mraz while Hazeltine plays a complementary theme over it. "Clair de Lune" starts conservatively but breaks into an upbeat improvisation by the trio that is anything but traditional. "Jesu" is played by Mraz upfront using syncopation and swing quarter notes, with Brown backing him with a strong jazz beat. There are also moody blues pieces, some trips into standards like "I'm forever Chasing Rainbows" popping up, and just an overall feel of good times throughout.

I find the CD great, with wholly integrated arrangements and improvisations that soaks these wonderful songs completely with jazz overtones to make these the best interpretations of classical pieces I have heard.

Thumbs way up.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Debut to Hear: Gilad Edelman "My Groove, Your Move"

Nothing fancy on "My Groove, Your Move" (Sharp 9 2013), just terrific straight-ahead music by a young alto sax player, Gilad Edelman, and his band mates David Hazeltine on piano, Joe Magnarelli on trumpet, John Webber on bass, and Jason Brown on drums. These are veteran players from the mainstream whose presence announces the arrival of a new voice on alto as well as the type of music to be played -- good solid mainstream hard bop. No missing that this quintet is a classic form from the Blue Note period, for that is what Edelman is aiming for and what he hits with this recording.

Here's what I know about Edelman. He's from New Jersey, he is in his young twenties, and he has been immersed in jazz forever. His proud dad is the producer and owner of Sharp 9 Records so mainstream jazz has seeped into his son's bones and produced a first class recording.

Nine songs, all in the groove, and all covers save on by Edelman and one by Hazeltine. The others include classics like "On the Street Where You Live", Duke Pearson's "Sweet Honey Bee", a medley of "For All We Know"/"We Kiss in the Shadow", and "The Way You Look Tonight". On uptempo tunes Edelman has a solid, punchy sound, and on the ballads a rich round and mellow tone. Magnarelli has an outstanding turn with a muted trumpte on the opener "I Love You." He duets with Edelman on the next tune a rousing uptempo "On the Street Where You Live" with the two winding notes arond each other. Magnarelli, Edelman, and Hazeltine all take solos during the song.  And so it goes, a lovely bossa on "Foi a Saudade", a beautiful ballad medley by the ensemble, and plenty of groovin'.

There isn't much more to say here. Each member gets delicious solos, the band is driven by the bass and drum team of Webber and Brown, and the kid is great. This is a treat for all lovers of the Blue Note era and mainstream hard bop. It's his groove, now it's your move.

You Should Get to Know Etienne Charles

Product DetailsI saw Etienne Charles in person a couple of years ago at the 2011 Jazz Band Competions at Michigan State University, where he is on faculty, and when the professors played it was clear that this was a young, dynamic trumpet player (b. 1983) who was going places. When I saw him he had already released two CDs, and since a third very nice recording "Kaiso" (2011) as well as sitting in on Eric Reed's "Baddest Monk" (High Note 2012) on which he is equally marvelous.

Product DetailsEtienne Charles' new CD "Creole Soul" (Culture Shock Music 2013) is his fourth recording as a leader and a definite winner. Charles is a native of Trinidad whose travels throughout the Carribean and Europe have heavily influenced his music. Here we have a heady mix of calypso, reggae, mainstream jazz, New Orleans jazz, and more; the CD begins with a haunting Haitian creole chant led by voodoo preiet Erol Jouse. Once the music kicks in, it is full of wonderous melodies, driving beats, and rhythms that make the body way and the foot tap in time. It's infectuous music, and the word that kept popping into my mind throughout was 'delicious.' This is a delicious stew of Charles' influences, but also a delicious melding of his compositional abilities and interpretive imagination on a few covers from Bob Marley, Thelonious Monk, and others.

Product DetailsThe music is wonderfully varied and the musicians all get their chance  to shine, but Charles shines above them all with his trumpet and flugelhorn. That is not to denigrate in any way his partners, some of whom are outstanding leaders in their own right. His partners here are Brian Hogans on alto, Obed Calvaire on drums, Jacques Schwarz-Bart on tenor, Kris Bowers on piano and fender rhodes, and Ben Williams on drums. Jacques Schwarz-Bart is a multi-reed player who is well known for his works in Europe, but almost unknown here in the U.S. I posted about one of his recordings last year that was exceptional and one of his rare outings that is easily obtainable here (September 9, 1992 Jacques Schwarz-Bart: A Sax Worth Knowing). Similarly Kris Bowers is a pianist who people need to take note of, and who too has a couple of piano trio records under his belt that are worth hearing. I posted on his work on January 5, 2012.    

Product DetailsThe opener "Creole" is a strong brew and great way to open the CD, with a strong beat and up tempo melody . Guest Alex Wintz adds some spice to the arrangement with electric guitar. Bart and Charles excel on "The Folks", a tune written by Charles for his parents, and onethat displays the lyricism of his writing. A cover of "You Don't Love Me (no no no)" swings hard as it reinterprets the rock classic, and will have you stomping and smiling. Moving ahead, there are a number of quieter, ballad tempo songs that give Charles a chance to demonstrate his other side as he plays with a soulful, burnished sound on both Bob Marley's  "Turn Your Lights Down Low" and his own "Midnight." Similarly, he and Bowers combine to render "Close Your Eyes" quietly but with great passion and intimacy. Everyone gets in the act once more on the rollicking closer "Doin' The Thing" with each player taking a solo turn on this uptempo closer.

This is a great trip to take with Charles and his band and one that should not be missed.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Two Oldies But Goodies: The Jazz Giants '58 and Steve Kuhn with Strings

Picked up a couple of gems on Saturday while cruising the bins, one that I had never seen and one that I had ssen but ignored for a long time.

Product DetailsI had never seen "Jazz Giants '58" (Verve2008) and I really am not sure why. What a CD this is, a meeting of giants put together by the inestimable Norman Granz for this one-off. Granz demonstrates here what a truly special prodcer does by putting together a steller cast, renting a studio, and letting them blow. In this case the band Granz assembled was Stan Getz on tenor, Gerry Mulligan on baritone, Harry Edison on trumpet, Louis Bellson on drums, and the Oscar Peterson trio with Peterson of course on piano, Herb Ellis on guitar, and Ray Brown on bass. The head arrangements were done by Mulligan to shape each piece, followed by hard blowing, inventive phrases and flat out bouyant music throughout. Five pieces on the CD, one of which is a fabulous medley of "Lush Life", "Lullaby of the Leaves", "Makin' Whoopee, and "It Never Entered My Mind." "Chocolate Sundae" is the opener, a stand out piece of improvisation attributed to the talents of the front line and Peterson, and the finale is a blowout version of  Dizzy's "Woody 'n You". Fantastic performances.

Product Details
I had seen Steve Kuhn with Strings, "Promises Kept" (ECM 2004) for quite some time, and always passed it by. I almost never like strings with my jazz, although I have made some recent exceptions for the recent releases by Joshua Redman and Ketil Bjornstaad. I too often have found them intrusive to my ears and not particularly well-integrated or adding to my enjoyment -- but  that's me. Anyway, I do love Steve Kuhn's playing, I have countless numbers of CDs by him, and most recently saw him in concert at the Montreal Jazz Festival with Steve Swallow and Joey Baron, where he blew my wife and me away with his lyricism. I also knew that this particular CD was highly praised by reviewers and listeners over the years, so at last I broke down a bought it. It's a great CD, with the piano and strings playing very much as if this was a group playing many small classical piano concertos -- the music is tightly integrated, seamlessly flowing between the players, and incredibly lyrical and moving. Some of Kunh's standout compositions are here like "Pastorale" and "Life's Backward Glance, and Carlos Franzetti has handled the orchestration beautifully, raising both beyond any versions I have previously heard. Kuhn's playing is as wonderful as anything I have heard. Highly recommended for chamber jazz lovers, and for those faint of heart at  the thought of strings.  

Two Pianists to Remember: Marc Cary and Andrea Pozza

I finally have gotten the bugs out of the system and can type my posts much more easily, and can even use bold and italics again. So onward.

Product DetailsFirst up, I want to revisit Marc Cary, the pianist whose recent paean to Abbey Lincoln, the solo outing "Marc Cary, "For the Love of Abbey" (Motema 2013), is outstanding. I wrote about it on May 17th but you will find many other sterling descriptions of the CD from other blogs and in the jazz magazines. Anyway, in going through the bins at Sally's Place last week, I stumbled upon his first release, "Cary On" (Enja 1995), a set of eight pieces of which six were composed by Cary and one each by Sonny Clark and Roy Hargrove.  This is a straight-forward "in the  pocket" jazz session featuring some very sure handed play and writing by Cary and a stellar supporting cast -- Roy Hargrove on trumpet, Ron Blake on tenor, Dwayne Burno on bass, Dion Parson on drums are the basic cast, abetted by guest shots by the flute of Yarborough Charles Laws and voice of Charlene Fitzpatrick (on "So Gracefully").  The bluesy opener "The Vibe" features just the piano trio, with the rest of the band appearing on subsequent songs. For example, Ron Blake drives much of "He Who Hops Around" at first, and then Hargrove pops in with a stellar solo; and "The Trial" is a lovely ballad-paced melody featuring Hargrove on melody. This is a nicely paced CD of varied tempos and moods from a very polished band, with a young but already dynamic Cary setting the pace.

Andrea Pozza
is one of those pianists from Italy that you probably have not heard of, or at least have not listened to extensively, as most of his recordings have come on the fine Italian label Philology, with a couple of other European and Japanese labels in the discography as well. But he is absolutely outstanding whether he is playing the standards or his own compositions. His first recording as leader was in 2004 "Introducing" (Philology 2004) and this new one "Jellyfish from the Bosphorus" (Abeat 2013) is his tenth. Along with his CDs as leader, he has been a protege of some of the Italian masters and has recorded as a sideman with Enrico Rava ("The Words and The Days (ECM 2006)); and as co-leader with Gianni Basso ("Andrea Pozza Meets Gianni Basso (Philology 2004)) and best of them all, "Andrea Pozza Meets Enrico Rava" with Gianni Basso (Philology 2003). His other trio recordings are equally good; one that stands out is "Plays Ellington, Monk, and Himself" (Gofour 2005).

On this new CD, Pozza plays a combination of his own compositions and some standards like "Get Happy", "Where or When", and "In a Sentimental Mood." Pozza is another in the line of lyrical, creative pianists from Italy that includes Enrico Pieranunzi, Stefano Bollani, and Franco D'Andrea, to name just three. From the standards side, "Get Happy" is a wholy original take on the tune, never losing the melody or lyricism but augmented with many inventive flourishes including a great solo from the bassist, Aldo Zunino; and pushed propulsively by the drumming of Shane Forbes. Pozza surrounds the standard with his own songs, a lyrical "A Jellyfish From the Bosphorus" and the romantic and exquisite slow tempo ballad "Love is the Way". The rest of the melodies are equally lovely and equally creative.  This is a piano trio album for those who like Bill Evans, Enrico Pierranunzi, and others of that ilk, who play with a lyrical sense of style. Absolutely stellar.

Two great pianists, many great CDs.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Surprise! Ole Matthiessen "Red Python" (Stunt 2013)

I am still having problems with my site and stil cannot use bold, underlining, etc. Again, please bear with me.

Product DetailsI bought this CD, Ole Matthiessen's "Red Python" (Stunt 2013) on the basis on one name and one name only. And it wasn't Matthiessen or Stunt Records. I bought it because of Adam Nussbaum, the veteran U.S. drummer and friend of Sally White of Sally's Place here in Westport CT. And because I have met Adam and have a number of very good CDs on which he has played. (Folks, try listening to "The Impossible Gentlemen" (Basho 2011) sometime soon to appreciate his play along with Gwilym Simcock on piano and Steve Swallow on bass)

But still I didn't know what to expect, as I have heard Adam on things that would be considered mainstream, outside, inside, and all around the block. I didn't know the players particularly well or the songs. The players are mostly Danes -- besides Matthiessen on piano, they are Henrik Bolberg on trumpet, Denmark-based American Bob Rockwell on tenor sax, Bjarne Roupe on guitar on one piece, and Jesper Lundgaard on bass. I did know Lundgaard from many other CDs to be a well-rounded bassist who played in a variety of styles. And Stunt Records has a reputation for being somewhat outside the box.

So imagine my surprise, amazement, and then pleasure to put on the first cut, "Time to Move On" and find that I am listening to a striaght up, mainstrem, circa 1950s Blue Note Quintet, and a very good one at that. The frontline of Bolberg and Rockwell play nicely in unison and on their individual solos, and the rhythm team comps nicely underneath until each steps out with their own solos. And Adam drives the entire group nicely with his range of sounds and consistent beat without overwhelming the others. On the second piece, "Some Place Under the Sun" Lundgaard impresses with a long and delightful solo, followed by a very mellow Bolberg on trumpet. Bolberg opens the next piece "Pinhole" with another lyrical passage, followed by the full band and then some soloing on the piano and finally a big solo by Nussbaum on the drums. Rockwell shines oon "Theme to and Old Fashioned Girl." On the closing piece "Pulling Through" watch for Nussbaum's enthusiastic solo. And all throughout Rockwell plays with great control, matching his tone appropriately, be it a big round and mellow tone or a more bluesy from the gut feeling.

Every piece is strong, lyrical and easy to listen to. This is a really nice homage to a past era, and a CD that is easily recommended for those who yearn for more of the 50s sound. It's also one that would be easy to pass on if you just looked at the names, the label or even the modern cover. Don't miss it.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Name You Should Know: Sunna Gunnlaugs

I am having problems with my blog site. So that I can do some entries, please note that I cannot use highlighting, bold, and italics at the moment, so bear with me.

Distilled cover art
Distilled (Sunny Sky Records 2013) is the latest in a string of wonderful CDs by Icelandic jazz pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs, with Porgrimur Jonsson on bass and Scott McLemore on drums. In the composition of the band and the songs themselves it is in many ways a continuation of the wonderful and well reviewed "Long Pair Bond" (Sunny Sky Records 2011). But it is also a continuation of a long streak of interesting, original and lyrical sets by Gunnlaugs, which up until the last two featured quartets. Besides herself and husband Scott McLemore on drums for each, the rest of the CDs I have of hers and the rest of the bands on them are as follows: "The Dream" (2010), a quartet album with Loren Stillman on alto sax and Eivind Opsvik on bass; "Live in Europe" (Sunny Sky 2003), a quartet with Ohad Talmor on sax and Matt Pavolka on bass; and "Mindful" (2002), a quartet with Tony Malaby on saxes and Drew Gress on bass.

Product DetailsI like the quartets a lot, and was drawn to Gunnalaugs' music immediately upon hearing "Mindful", with its combination of jazz sensibility and Icelandic folk music, its contrasts in dynamics among the pieces empasized by the sometimes agressive play of the saxophonists against the calming lyricism of the piano, and compositions.

Product DetailsBut I like the trios a lot more, partly because they are my favorite form of jazz music, but also because they really serve to emphasize the touch, tone, and lyrical play of Gunnlaugs. With seemingly little effort Gunnlaugs reaches into each song to bring to us something special, be it gentle caresses of the keys on some of the most balladic tunes like "Smiling Face", or very determined strikes on the more powerful melodies like "Gallop", a composition of Jonsson's, one of three by the bassist, along with four by Gunnalaugs, two by McLemore, two improvisations, and one cover of Paul Motian's "From Time to Time" played with such feeling that one can hear the love of this trio for the late drummer's work. Speaking of Motian, McLemore has clearly some of that genetic strain in his play, which is subdued and light for the most part, emphasizing colors and textures over driving beats, wtih great use of his entire kit.  "Opposite Side" is the chance for Jonsson to step forward with his powerful bass on top of the lovely melody penned and played by Gunnalaugs. This song reaches deep into the listener's heart with every note, every pluck of the bass or swipe of the brushes. It's the trio at its peak.

Gunnalaugs' antecedents come from the line of players like Evans, Jarrett, Stenson, and Pieranunzi, players for whom melody and lyricism, along with the interplay among the trio members, are the keys to the beauty of their music. Her music reaches great depths at times while at others can be incredibly fragile, but at all times it is lovely.

Please get a copy of this CD, "Long Pair Bond" or others from Bandcamp and listen. You are missing out on a great experience if you don't.

Most music people in the U.S. know the names Bjork and Sigurd Ros and may know they are from Iceland. Now impress them with the music of Sunna Gunnlaugs!

Random Notes: My wife and I traveled to Iceland two years ago and we overwhelmed by its natural beauty, so much so that we are returning this year to see more of this fabulous country. While I was there I found that Iceland has a heck of a jazz scene and picked up many wonderful CDs by artists who need a higher profile both in Europe and the United States. Names like pianist Gunnar Gunnarsson, pianist Agnar Mar Magnusson, bassist Tomas Einarsson, pianist Arni Karlsson, the K Trio, and saxophonist Sigurdur Flosason all have wonderful CDs worth seeking out. Labels like Dimma and Edda seem to carry most of these artists. Magnusson has one CD with Ben Street on bass and Bill Stewart on drums called "Kvika" on Dimma. Someday I will write a post about Icelandic jazz, perhaps when I return this summer from there again possibly with more music.

Second note, I posted about Scott McLemore's last CD from 2012 on October 10th, and included it in my best of 2012 list. It features Gunnlaugs on piano as well.

Product DetailsThird, Gunnlaugs full name is I believe Sunna Gunnlaugsdottir, indicating she is the daughter of Gunnlaug (?). He brother would be Gunnlaugson, son of Gunnlaugs. This is how last names are determined in Icelandic tradition -- your last name becomes son or daughter of your father's name. Just an interesting tidbit we learned when we were there.

Fourth, if you read mysteries please read those by Arnaldur Indridason. Excellent procedurals for those who like Scandanavian mysteries. Also you can read other mysteries about Iceland from Michael Ridpath, Arni Thorarinsson, or Yrsa Sigurdardottir.

Fifth, in case you can't tell we are in love with all things Iceland, except some of its delicacies like rotted shark meat, puffin, and whale....never mind.

Montreal Jazz Festival 2013

I was at the Montreal Jazz Festival this past week and just got home. I saw three very special sets – Steve Kuhn with Steve Swallow and Joey Baron captured my spirit and uplifted everyone; Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn together fed the brain and intellect with its intricacies; but Enrico Pieranunzi was the one that went straight  to the heart. My God it was like being carried away on a cloud, breath-taking and visceral and visually and aurally stunning as he painted pictures with his fingers.

It was a great week for people watching and music listening with lots of outdoor shows, crowds, good food, and camaraderie. The city is lovely, full of parks, bike paths, great neighborhoods, and great food.  And the birthplace of Leonard Cohen (599 Belmont Avenue if you are looking).

I cannot recommend it strongly enough both as a place to visit and for the remarkable Jazz Festival.