Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra Strikes Again

Product DetailsAt the end of last year I posted about "Rhapsody in Blue Live", Scottish National Jazz Orchestra featuring Tommy Smith and Brian Kellock (Spartacus Records 2009), an absolutely knockout recording of creativity that presents the piece as you've never heard it before. 

Product DetailsThey're back again with "American Adventure" (Spartacus Records 2013) this time augmenting Tommy Smith on tenor sax (and as leader) and the 14 piece orchestra with a stellar group of American jazz players: Mike Stern on guitar, Clarence Penn on drums, Donny McCaslin on flute and tenor, Joe Locke on vibes, Dave Liebman on soprano sax, David Kikowski on piano, Joel Frahm on tenor, Bill Evans on tenor, Kurt Elling singing on one track, Michael Dease on trombone, and Randy Brecker on trumpet. The recording was made last June at the Avatar Stuidios in Brooklyn while the Orchestra was touring in the U.S. and Canada for the first time. 

It is an elegant set of seven pieces arranged to maximize the contributions of these stellar players, a set that includes Mingus' "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love", the piece that Elling appears on; Wayne Shorter's "Yes or Know", a great arrangement for the horns and an energetic feature for Joe Locke and SNJO drummer Alyn Cosker;  rhapsodic and delicate play on Coltrane's "Dear Lord" featuring David Kikoski and Randy Brecker; a high wire romp on Shorter's "Pinocchio" featuring Michael Dease, Joel Frahm, and Clarence Penn; and the elegant Chick Corea's "Quartet No. 1 (part 2)" for Bill Evans and David Kikoski. 

As with the earlier "Rhapsody In Blue" it is the combination of the inviting arrangements, virtuosity of the players, and the energy they produce that makes the set memorable. Seriously creative music with too many great solo parts to enumerate. 

Product DetailsNote: For those who do not know Tommy Smith, he is an internationally known tenor sax player with a long list of accomplishments, both leading the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra as well as playing on many other significant CDs, including most recently Arild Andersen's "Mira" (ECM 2013), a beautiful and rewarding set that shows him in a very different but equally beautiful mood. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Piano Beauty

Two new piano-based CDs that I received this past week and am enjoying immensely.

Antonio Zambrini and Rita Marcotulli, "La Concersazione" (Abeat 2013) is just that, a conversation between two outstanding pianists that has it all -- dynamic play, beautiful melodies, passion and romance -- in a set of eleven pieces, two of which are solos, one each by Marcotulli and Zambrini. Neither pianist is well known here in the U.S., having mostly recorded on European labels not easily purchased here.

I bought this CD because I have recently discovered Marcotulli (b 1959, Rome), first as the pianist on the Sal Nistico recording "Empty Room" (RED 1988) and subsequently with Dewey Redman "In London" (Palmetto 1996). In looking into her background and catalogue I found that she has a long record of working with outstanding players like Enrico Rava, Joe Henderson, Joe Lovano, Kenny Wheeler, and Pat Metheny; and impressive discography with some of them and as a leader. I  purchased and am enjoying "The Woman Next Door" (Label Bleu 1998) and her recording from Jazz Italiano in 2009.

Antonio Zambrini (b Milan) is a new name for me, a pianist who has recorded on Splasc(H) and Abeat since 1998 and has a listing of about a dozen CDs in that time. Among others, Zambrini has performed with Lee Konitz, Enrico Rava, Hamid Drake, and Ben Allison. 

Zambrini is a well-known composer whose works have been recorded by the likes of Lee Konitz, Stefano Bollani, and John Law, and he contributed six originals to this recording. Marcotulli solos on one song that she composed, and the remaining four include a solo by Zambrini on "Giant Steps", and the duo playing "Beatriz" by Edu Lobo and Chico de Hollanda, "Canto Triste" also by Lobo but with Vinicius De Moraes, "and "Here's to that Rainy Day" by Jimmy Van Heusen. 

The entire program is delicious to hear, passionate and lyrical, at times Latin-inflected, and always beautiful. The reading of "Giant Steps" is one highlight, a reading different from any I have listened to before, but there are many others on which the two are totally in sync and playing from their hearts. This is gorgeous music and highly recommended.  Time for me to sample other CDs by Zambrini. 

The second recording will not be released until April and I do not have a picture of it to show, but I cannot wait that long to praise it and recommend it highly to you when it appears. The North, "Slow Down (This isn't the Mainland)" (Dowsett Records 2014) is simply one of the best piano trio recordings I have come across in the past year or so. The group is Romain Collin on piano, Shawn Conley on bass, and Abe Lagrimas Jr. on drums. I have the fabulous 2012 CD by Collin "The Calling" (Palmetto 2012) and this is equally good if not even better. It features four tracks by Collin, two by Conley, and and four covers. 

The North - Romain Collin, Shawn Conley and Abe Lagrimas, Jr.
This is one of these recordings where I run out of adjectives to describe the music and find myself repeating the same ones -- lyrical, melodious, elegant, flowing, controlled, et al. It also features a true partnership among the players, with each critical to the total sound, and each having significant lead parts that drive a particular song or section of a song. Right from the first song, "Great  Ocean Road" which was written by Collin it's clear this is going to be an exceptionally beautiful recording. The opening has a dreamy  piano meoldy playing over a pressing snare drum, and then goes into a beautiful and impressionistic tune that gradually picks up in tempo and dynamics, then cuts and returns to the opening bars at it closes. It's a great opener that shows all of the group's qualities -- great lyrical flowing songs tightly played by a collective, a range of emotional settings, and quality play on each instrument. From that point on we have "Slow Down" also by Collin, a simple melody elegantly played at mid-tempo with a strong and interesting drum support and a solid moving bass line; Chick Corea's "Humpty Dumpty" with the bass stepping out and bowing some strong lines; a lovely and flowing ""Dowsett Avenue" again by Collin; a very Monkish Monk piece "Light Blue" with a great bass solo; a hauntingly beautiful "Blowin' in the Wind" by Bob Dylan; and then a wow finish with Collin's quiet and romantic "Stay With Me" which is a solo piece for just the piano that left me wanting more. 



Saturday, February 15, 2014

Diego Barber and Craig Taborn: Tales

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Fantastic CD that took me quite a while to find for some unknown reason. Diego Barber, guitarist, and Craig Taborn, pianist playing four extended songs written by Barber on "Tales" (Sunnyside 2013). Starts out with a hypnotic 27:36 piece entitled "Killian's Mountains" that contains long and lovely solo passages by each of them along with intricate duets. Riveting music, catch Taborn's delicate and haunting solo at the nine minute mark for example, which roles into an equally stirring guitar passage from Barber. Lots of little gems all along the way on this engaging CD. Had I had it in 2013 it would have been among my top selections for the year.

Friday, February 14, 2014

With Apologies to Harvie S

I have heard from the wonderful bass player Harvie S and must apologize for incorrectly spelling his name in my end of year countdown post. Here is the corrected record, which I have changed in the original post as well: 

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  • The Aperturistic Trio, "Truth and Actuality" (Inner Circle Music 2013): James Weidman on piano, Steve Williams on drums, and on bass Harvie S provide a nice set of modern jazz music in a classic piano trio. 
But as long as we are on the subject of Harvie S, let me point out a few more outstanding CDs in my collection:

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  • Harvie S, "Texas Rumba" (Zoho 2004) as the title indicates is an upbeat melding of jazz and latin dance music, played by an outstanding cast -- Daniel Kelly on piano, Gregory Rivkin on trumpet, Scott Avedon on saxes, and Renato Thomas and Adam Weber on percussion. Lively creative compositions by the leader abound, along with his ensemble's special interpretation of "Monk's Mood." 
  • Harvie S with Kenny Barron, "Now Was the Time"  (Savant 2008) is an absolutely riveting duo session with stellar veterans weaving in and around each other, leading and supporting throughout a set of standards like "Body and Soul", and with a special bass solo of "Chelsea Bridge". This one's a classic. 
  • Harvie S and Kenny Barron,  "Witchcraft" (Savant 2013 ) . The first session was great, and twice is sheer ecstasy. Barron and S get together once again with another ten songs full of great showmanship, emotion, and rhythm. This one's a bit more eclectic in the selections, drawing from standards for "Witchcraft", from Stevie Wonder for "Creepin'", and from the latin playbook for "Sonia Braga". A second classic duo recording. 
  • Sheila Jordan and Harvie S,  "Yesterdays" (High Note 2012). An NEA Jazz Master singer, a veteran bassist, and great music add up to a great session, recorded in 1990 but not issued until much later. Fantastic song selection, great players, great CD. A Fats Waller medley, a Fred Astaire medley, and so much more. 
And those are just recordings in the last decade. In fact Harvie S' recordings as leader go back to 1982 with some under his full name Harvey Swartz, and number in the dozens. Under Harvie Swartz, I encourage you to look for "In a Different Light" (Blue Moon  1990), an early set pairing him with several guitarists including John Scofield, Gene Bertoncini, and Mike Stern. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Duo Magic from ACT

Lacrima ChristiACT records produces great CDs, many of which I have talked about, most recently the Simcock and Goloubev duo from Schloss Elmau. Over this year they will be producing a series called "Duo Art" featuring outstanding European artists like pianist Joachim Kuhn, bassist Martin Wind, guitarist Phillip Catherine, bassist George Mraz, and pianist Yaron Herman, among many others.

In advance of some of these recordings and to highlight the quality of ACT's previous ones, the company has produced a two CD set, "Duo Art -- Creating Magic" (ACT 2014), a compilation of 24 songs from a range of musicians and CDs. Included among them are outstanding performances such as a piano duet "Tears for Esbjorn" by Iiro Rantala and Michael Wollny from "Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic", a glorious CD I posted about last year; "Lover Man" from Heinz Sauer on tenor sax and Joachim Kuhn on piano from "If (Blue" Then (Blue)"; and "Up on a Fir Tree" from "Together Again" featuring George Mraz on bass and Emil Viklicky on piano. That's a small sample of what is offered but a great way to sample from the outstanding artists and CDs that ACT has recorded; other names are Danilo Rea on piano, Flavio Boltro on trumpet, Lars Danielsson on bass, Paolo Fresu on trumpet, Ulf Wakenius on guitar, and many others.

I recommend this as a way of hearing some  lesser known -- at least in the U.S.-- but highly talented Europeans playing some absolutely wonderful music.

The Smoke Sessions

The Smoke Sessions Records label features live performances of some of the most exciting mainstream jazz players on the New York scene, recorded at Smoke, the club on Broadway on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The first two recordings have been released, with two to follow in the next couple of months, and bother are distinguished sets.

The first of the two released was Harold Mabern, "Right On Time" (Smoke Sessions 2013) from a live set last March. It features Mabern with John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums, the same trio that recorded the equally excellent "Live at Smalls (Smalls Live 2013) last year. As I noted then, Mabern is a 77 year old pianist who has only in the past couple of years gotten the recognition he deserves for his catalogue of work as an outstanding veteran of this era. He had dropped from the radar in the 90s and early 2000s when most of his catalogue was released on Japanese labels t them), but has come back strongly in the U.S. with "Mr Lucky" (High Note 2012), the Smalls Live recording and now this outing. this time there are 11 straight ahead, sometimes soulful, sometimes bluesy, and always entertaining cuts.  Among them are "Don't Get Around Much Anymore", "My Favorite Things", "The Nearness of You", and a rousing "Cherokee" as the finisher. More first rate music from this trio.

The second CD is Vincent Herring, "The Uptown Shuffle" (Smoke Sessions 2013) recorded live at the club last April. Herring has a long list of CDs as a leader dating back to 1989; and session man, including a rousing "battle" with Eric Alexander, also from Smoke --- "Friendly Fire (High Note 2012); and several with the recently passed Cedar Walton that are standout sessions. Here his quartet includes Cyrus Chesnut on piano, Brandi Disterheft on bass, and Joe Farnsworth on drums. Farnsworth and Chesnut are veterans, and Disterheft a newcomer who has impressed with two recent CDs as a leader. All three are charming on the recording with Farnsworth especially standing out from the drum set. Songs like "Love Walked In" and "Polka Dot and Moonbeams" are putty in Herring's hands, and are surrounded by several other covers and also two Herring originals and one by Chesnut that fit seamlessly into this well rounded set. A second standout.

Expect good things from this label, things you really should go hear live when you can. Coming next -- one by Javon Jackson, another by David Hazeltine