Wednesday, May 2, 2018

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Benjamin Boone & Philip Levine, Roxy Coss, E.J. Decker, Thomas Fonnesbæk & Justin Kauflin, the Benito Gonzalez-Gerry Gibbs-Essiet Okon Essiet trio, and Dave Tull…

Benjamin Boone & Philip Levine, The Poetry of Jazz (Origin) 
Jazz and poetry have had strong interconnections for many decades, including 1950s collaborations between bebop musicians and beat poets. More recently, there have been collaborations between former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky and pianist Laurence Hobgood, as well as Amiri Baraka and saxophonist David Murray. The latest to emerge was last month’s release of The Poetry of Jazz, a collaboration between late Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip Levine and saxophonist/composer Benjamin Boone.

The recording was completed a year before Levine’s death in 2015. It features the former U.S. Poet Laureate reading 14 of his works to compositions and improvisations by Boone and his band. Most often, the musicians are adding appropriate accents, colors and responses to Levine’s vivid narration. Four of the works are jazz-inspired. They include poems written in homage to Sonny Rollins (“The Unknowable”), Clifford Brown (“I Remember Clifford”), John Coltrane (“Soloing”) and Charlie Parker (“Call It Music”), featuring Chris Potter, Tom Harrell, Branford Marsalis and Greg Osby respectively. The project was developed when Boone and Levine were fellow professors at Cal State-Fresno. This is a gem.

Roxy Coss, The Future is Female (Posi-Tone)
“The Future is Female” is not a tune on saxophonist and composer Roxy Coss’s new CD. It was the message on her sign at the Women’s March in January 2017. That initiative was the catalyst for the recording, which includes 10 originals musically exploring her perspective on the current state of feminism. Many of the titles, and the musical energy within those tunes, carry her own truths: including “Little Did She Know,” “She Needed a Hero, So That’s What She Became,” “Mr. President,” “#MeToo,” “Choices” and “Nasty Women Grab Back.” The latter was on her younger sister’s sign at the Women’s March. Favorite tracks: “Nevertheless , She Persisted,” “Females Are Strong as Hell” and “Feminist AF.” Coss’s band includes guitarist Alex Wintz, pianist Miki Yamanaka, bassist Rick Rosato and drummer Jimmy McBride.” The synergy and conversational quality of the interchanges between Coss and Wintz make this one soar.
E. J. Decker, Bluer Than Velvet (Candela) 
Singer E.J. Decker’s newest CD pays tribute to the late, great jazz storyteller Arthur Prysock. Bluer Than Velvet includes 11 hit tunes that Prysock recorded during his career from the mid-1940s through the 1970, including “”Blue Velvet,” ”A Ghost of a Chance,” “September in the Rain” and “Since I Fell For You.” Decker added three more tunes that Prysock never recorded, but have the same feel as the late baritone’s material. They are Cole Porter’s “Why Can’t You Behave,” the Gershwin Brothers’ “He Loves and She Loves,” and Lerner and Loewe’s “On The Street Where You Live.” With superb backing from baritone saxophonist Claire Daly, guitarist Chris Bergson, trombonist Elizabeth Frascola, pianist Les Kurtz, bassist Saadi Zain and drummer Tom Melito, New Yorker Decker has carved out his own space in today’s jazz vocal genre – while also underscoring Prysock’s important contributions.

Thomas Fonnesbæk & Justin Kauflin, Synesthesia (Storyville) 
Jazz duo projects don’t get any better than this. Danish bassist Thomas Fonnesbæk and pianist Justin Kauflin recorded the session over two days in a Swedish studio. Some original material was composed in advance, while the two players developed others on the spot. Favorites include their explorations of Kauflin’s brooding “Lost,” Fonnesbæk’s mood-capturing “Panic Attack” and Oscar Peterson’s “Nigerian Marketplace.” The way they share the lead and support each other here is both exhilarating and beautiful. The title track “Synesthesia” is named after a neurological trait the two musicians have in common: seeing sounds as colors in their minds.

Benito Gonzalez, Gerry Gibbs, Essiet Okon Essiet, Passion Reverence Transcendence (Whaling City)  
On Passion Reverence Transcendence, Venezuelan-born pianist Benito Gonzalez, drummer, mallets player and producer Gerry Gibbs and bassist Essiet Okon Essiet celebrate the music of piano giant McCoy Tyner, who came to prominence in the John Coltrane quartet. This is loaded with the rolling-thunder energy that is a hallmark of Tyner’s overall sound. They perform nine of McCoy’s compositions, including the hard-driving “Fly With the Wind” and the more genteel “You Taught My Heart to Sing,” while Gonzalez adds a solo piano version of Coltrane’s “Naima.” The trio contributes three originals with a Tyneresque flavor: Essiet’s “Tyner/Train Express,” Gibbs’ “Between Friends” and Gonzalez’ spirited “Brazilian Girls.” If you dig Tyner, you’ll savor this heart-felt homage.

Dave Tull, Texting and Driving (Toy Car)
Drummer, singer and songwriter Dave Tull finds humor in ordinary things we often take for granted, or in social trends. With a zany twist of words, his good humor results in spirited jazz in the Dave Frishberg tradition. The title track is all about the over-dependence many of us have on our smartphones. Consider this lyric snippet: “I believe my seven followers on Instragram would like to see a photo of my every meal.” His rapid-fire delivery of social media bemusements is a clever way to underscore some of those absurdities.

Tull also tackles the subjects of dating, raising kids, and people who don’t get jazz but pretend they do (the latter on the hysterical “Clapping on One and Three”). There’s also a nifty duet with singer Cheryl Bentyne on “The Date.” He considers our daily lives from the viewpoint of a traffic signal that sees all on “The Stoplight at the End of the Street.” Top West Coast jazz musicians, including pianist Randy Porter, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Kevin Axt, trumpeters Wayne Bergeron and George Stone, and saxophonist Doug Webb, provide superb support here. The arrangements swing mightily.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Solo piano artistry - and then some

Pianist Bobby van Deusen is a master of the keyboard, blessed with an astonishing musical range in terms of genres, sound dynamics and sheer artistry. And those elements were all on display on Friday, April 20 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice.

The Philadelphia native, now based in the Florida Panhandle, is best known for his work in the ragtime, stride and Dixieland genres. But his reach goes much deeper and wider.

On this afternoon, he performed Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" and lesser-known "Sunflower Slow Drag;" "The Last Date," written by his good friend Floyd Cramer, who was a first-call studio pianist in Memphis and Nashville; "Baubles, Bangles & Beads" from the 1953 Broadway musical Kismet (and soon recorded by Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra), and a stunning cover of "Take the A Train," inspired by Duke's 1978 70th birthday concert version at Carnegie Hall. 

The lively afternoon also included vocals and crowd sing-alongs on several popular standards, such as "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "King of the Road."

The powerhouse highlights included two George Gershwin tunes: "Our Love is Here to Stay," which was the last tune he wrote in his prolific career (and van Deusen's all-time favorite tune), and "Rhapsody in Blue." 

The concert gem was the first-set closer: van Deusen's 15-minutes-plus medley of the music from Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera." It prompted a standing ovation.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Celebrating the gypsy jazz legacy

Violinist Keven Aland's Hot Club of SRQ brought its fascinating update of the gypsy jazz tradition to the Venice Art Center on Thursday, April 12, in a concert co-produced by the South County Jazz Club.
Keven Aland

The program built on the Hot Club of France tradition, drawing much material from gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and his disciples. Reinhardt co-led the Hot Club of France Quintet with French violinist Stephane Grappelli, starting in 1934.

Jim Snyder
For this performance, the Hot Club of SRQ was also a quintet, with Aland, guitarists Nikola Baltic and Jon McLaughlin, bassist Glenn Stephenson and clarinetist Jim Snyder. On every tune, Baltic and McLaughlin shifted with ease between melodic solos and rhythm guitar duties.

Nikola Baltic

The Reinhardt material included "Swing de Paris," "Douce Ambiance," "Djangology" and "Minor Swing." The band also performed gypsy bossa versions of Reinhardt disciple Stochelo Rosenberg's "For Sefora" and Ninine Garcia's gypsy jazz standard "Paquito." 
Glenn Stephenson

Other material given a gypsy jazz flavor this night included "The Anniversary Song," Jimmy McHugh's "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" (Aland's first vocal feature), the French tune "J’attendrai,” violinist Stuff Smith's "I's a Muggin" and the Yiddyish tune "Bei Mir Bist Do Schoen." 

Jon McLaughlin
"Honeysuckle Rose" showcased the band's tight yet exuberant sound. "Indifference Waltz" included beautiful segments in which Snyder and Aland seamlessly doubled on the melody on clarinet and violin. 

On "Douce Ambiance," Aland's extended solo included snippets of "Eleanor Rigby" and "Tainted Love." 

Snyder, Aland, Stephenson
In these fine hands, anything seems fair game.
Hot Club of SRQ

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Superb music and whimsy combine for a memorable CCJS season finale

Herb Bruce
Trombonist Herb Bruce's repeat visit to the Charlotte County Jazz Society's concert series with his Herbicide Jazz Band was a night of uncontrolled exuberance. Sometimes it was in the music. More often, it was the self-deprecating humor of Bruce and his merry music makers on Monday, April 9's Dixieland Jazz Night.

Herbicide presented excellent music - not always in the traditional Dixieland style. There were some crowd-pleasing vintage set pieces, some new things - including a new face in the area, some borrowed thing and some blue(s). And it all worked seamlessly.
Jim Snyder

Davey Jones
Bruce was joined by trumpeter Davey Jones, clarinetist Jim Snyder, pianist Judi Glover, bassist Charlie Silva and drummer Eddie Metz Jr. Ken Salvo sat in on banjo and rhythm guitar in his first Port Charlotte gig. The recent Florida transplant is a 10-year veteran of Vince Giordano's New York-based Nighthawks trad band.

Patricia Dean
Patricia Dean, joined the band for four vocal numbers. While Dean has taken a drum feature in past performances, she stuck to the microphone this night. Looking over at versatile all-star Metz, she quipped, "I don't play drums when he's in the county."

Together, the band underscored the notion that while jazz is a serious music on many levels, it also can be a lot of fun in the right hands. 
Snyder, Bruce

The highlights included:
  • The band's first-time performance of a Dick Hyman arrangement of "Old Man River," beautiful for its sections of horn riffs and counterpoint.
  • Its versions of "Storyville Blues" and Terry Waddell arrangements of "I Never Knew" and "Royal Garden Blues."
  • Bruce and Snyder doubling their reprise (on trombone and clarinet) of Alphonse Picou's classic clarinet solo on the New Orleans standard "High Society."
  • Jones, subbing for regular trumpeter Don Johnson - who was home mending broken ribs after a fall, delivered exquisite solos all night long in the sometimes growling trad sound. He was featured beautifully on "Pete Kelly's Blues."
  • The band's frenetic delivery of "Cake Walking Babies (From Home)." The 1925 recording by composer Clarence Williams' Blue Five featured a classic head-to-head solo battle between a young Louis Armstrong and soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet.
  • Dean's second-set vocals, which included "Yes Sir, That's My Baby," which became a tip of the hat to Bruce, her husband of nearly 16 years, and a stunning voice-and-bass duet with Silva on "Bye Bye Blackbird." In their hands, it was spare and sultry.
Salvo, Silva
Eddie Metz Jr.
Herbicide's performance drew an audience nearing 300 to the Cultural Center of Charlotte County's William H. Wakeman III Theater in Port Charlotte. It was the largest of the seven concert 2017-18 CCJS season.
Judi Glover


Herbicide Jazz Band

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Honoring and updating a classic saxophone sound and spirit

Bandleader Woody Herman's Second Herd in the late 1940s featured a stunning saxophone section known as the Four Brothers. It featured tenormen Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and Herbie Steward, plus baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff. The sound was swinging and vibrant as the four players dug into crisp unison lines and took turns passing solos to one another much like relay runners hand off the baton.

Harry Allen
Seventy years after the Four Brothers made their mark on big band jazz, Harry Allen is having great fun keeping the format and its spirit alive. In October 2016, he recorded a Four-Brothers-style project, The Candymen (Arbors) with his All Star New York Saxophone Band. Allen made the recording with tenorists Eric Alexander and Grant Stewart and baritone player Gary Smulyan. 

Richard Drexler
Allen brought that sound and energy to Hillsborough Community College's Ybor City campus on Sunday, April 7 for a Tampa Jazz Club concert billed as The Four Others. It teamed Allen with fellow tenorists Lew Del Gatto and Jeff Rupert, as well as baritone saxophonist Saul Dautch. Pianist Richard Drexler, bassist Don Mopsick and drummer Eddie Metz Jr. were the afternoon's ace rhythm section.

Eddie Metz Jr.
Much of Sunday's material was drawn from the CD, but Allen also proffered a few new arrangements in the same style. The only composition in the day's program that came from the original Four Brothers lineup was its namesake composition. Allen used Al Cohn's arrangement of the classic Jimmy Giuffre-penned "Four Brothers" as the concert opener, setting the tone for all that followed.

It was an afternoon of hard-driving swing, propelled by Metz's powerhouse drumming, an infectious groove and an array of saxophone textures that fit together as the players added their own musical personalities.
Rupert, Del Gatto, Allen, Mopsick, Dautch

It also showcased Allen's skill as an arranger and composer. He was best known early in his career is a purveyor of the great swing tenor sound - an amalgam at times from torchbearers like Getz, Ben Webster and Lester Young. Now he loves to share his own fine compositions. On this day, they included "The One For You," the frisky "Blues in the Morning," "So There" and "I Can See Forever." 

Rupert, Del Gatto
Don Mopsick
The concert fare also included Rodgers & Hart's "Nobody's Heart Belongs to Me," Leslie Bricusse & Anthony Newley's "The Candy Man," Duke Ellington's "Jump for Joy," Zoot Sims and Gerry Mulligan's "The Red Door," and Mulligan's Four Brothers-inspired "Five Brothers." Other gems: the standards "I Wish I Knew," "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," and Howard Arlen & Yip Harburg's "How are Things in Glocka Morra?"

 "The Red Door,"  which may have been named after a jam session joint where Sims hung out when he first arrived in New York, was a searing bop feature for the band. Without a doubt, this was one of the most memorable concerts I've heard this year. 
The Four Others

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The future of jazz is in good hands

Miami-area pianist Brandon Goldberg has soaked up jazz like a sponge takes on water. And he’s been doing so for more than half of his 12 years. He’s a normal kid, polite, poised and eager to learn at every opportunity. Those traits serve him well. That he found his way to jazz – and loves it – is something quite remarkable given the wide variety of musical genres bombarding his peer group.

He started playing piano at age 3, and soon became enamored of jazz when his grandparents played a Rat Pack movie featuring Frank Sinatra. His further exploration of other Rat Pack-related music turned him on to Sinatra's classic 1963 recording with the Count Basie Orchestra, Sinatra at the Sands, and other big band jazz. Then Brandon got hooked on Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, who he calls his biggest influences.

So why jazz? “It really shapes everything," Brandon says. "It gives you the freedom to do whatever you want.”
Brandon has attended the Litchfield Jazz Camp for the past two years. He will return to Litchfield again this summer to continue to strengthen his skills as a player and composer.

Brandon and his mother, Ella, were aboard The Jazz Cruise in February. The cruise was an early 12th birthday present for Brandon. He made the most of the opportunity. Several of the featured bands invited him to sit in during the week, further helping showcase and encourage his young talent. Pianist Benny Green even gave him a private lesson on the last night of the cruise.

Brandon was invited to sit in for a song or two with bassist Marcus Miller's band, Trio da Paz, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, pianist Monty Alexander and trumpeter Randy Brecker’s Brecker Brothers Reunion Band, among others. While the M/S Celebrity Summit was made an overnight stop in New Orleans on Feb 4-5, Brandon also sat in with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in the French Quarter.
Brett Williams, Brandon Goldberg

In his first in-board appearance with Marcus Miller, Goldberg played solo and four-handed piano with the band's regular keyboard player, Brett Williams, "on "Cherokee" and "The Flintstones" theme. Monty Alexander first met Brandon backstage two years ago when both were performing at the Miami Jazz Festival. "When I met this guy two years ago he was mean. Now he's even meaner," Alexander said. He brought up then-11-year-old Brandon to perform “Fly Me to the Moon and “On The Sunny Side of the Street” with Monty joining him on melodica and a bit of four-handed piano. The crowds dug each such appearance by the talented young player.

Days later, Brett Williams was still raving about the experience, and about Brandon’s sheer talent at such a tender age. “It’s freakish,” he said. “There’s a man hidden in that little body.”

On January 19 and 20 went into New York’s Samurai Hotel Recording Studio to make his first recording, which has not yet been released. The session featured producer-bassist Ben Wolfe and drummer Donald Edwards, plus saxophonist Marcus Strickland on several tracks.

Brandon certainly is no stranger to the spotlight. He has been featured at several Jazz Foundation of America events, and has appeared on Harry Connick Jr.’s TV show, “Harry,” and NBC’s “Little Big Shots,”. Among others. On April 21 he will make his Canadian performance debut at Stratus Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario as part of the Bravo Niagara! concert series.   A few nights after Brandon performed at a Jazz Foundation of America gala in New York, and presented McCoy Tyner with JFA's lifetime achievement award in the fall of 2016, he went to Greenwich Village to meet and play for for Chick Corea, who was performing his 75th birthday residency at the Blue Note. Brandon was featured at the Blue Note in December 2016. 
Several video clips from several of these significant events follow. Many more are posted at Brandon's Facebook page. 

                                       Playing for Chick Corea after Chick's show at the Blue Note:

                  Brandon's own performance at the Blue Note in December 2016:

                                                On Harry Connick Jr.'s TV show, January 2017:


Sunday, April 1, 2018

A sultry celebration of Jobim, mostly

The Bossa Nova All Stars put their stamp on the sultry sound of Brazil's most popular musical export on Saturday, March 31 in Venice FL, where they focused almost entirely on the extensive songbook of composer Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Jobim was one of the pioneers of bossa nova, a late 1950s fusion of the Brazilian samba and jazz. His contributions to the art form were mighty and are best known. The focus wasn't really surprising, considering that the singer featured in this program, Brazilian native Maucha Adnet, worked with Jobim for the final decade of his career. The band assembled by guitarist Nate Najar also included tenor saxophonist Harry Allen, vibes player Chuck Redd, bassist Tommy Cecil, and drummer Matt Home.
Nate Najar

The band changed configurations and dynamics throughout the evening, providing features for each soloist and presenting the bossa nova in different textures. Adnet's lyric delivery was dreamy, enhancing the music regardless of whether listeners had any understanding of Portuguese. (She did shift from the original to English lyrics at times.)

Adnet, Allen
Najar, a St. Petersburg-based guitarist whose sound draws much the late Charlie Byrd, noted that Byrd's Grammy-winning 1961 recording of "Desafinado" with tenor saxophonist Stan Getz "brought the bossa nova craze en mass into the United States." It was fitting that Allen was aboard for this event. His tenor sound at times draws much from Getz's influence, and he is one of today's top bossa-nova tenor specialists in mainstream jazz.

Cecil, Adnet
In addition to "Desafinado," the Jobim material included "One Note Samba," "Corcovado" (better known to many in the U.S. as "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars"), "Vivo Sonhando" ("Dreamer"), "Chega de Saudade" ("No More Blues"), "Wave," "Aguas de Marco," "Voce Vai Ver", "Fotografia," "Triste" "Chovendo na Roseira" ("Raining on the Rosebush") and "So Danco Samba."
Najar, Adnet

Najar, Cecil and Home dug into the balladic side of the bossa nova format on "Triste" before kicking up its intensity near the finish. Adnet and Cecil explored Dori Caymmi's "Cantador" ("Like a Lover") as a conversational, intimate voice-and-bass duet. 

Allen contributed a samba-rhythmed original, "I'd Rather Have You," which fit the mood perfectly. Redd, who worked regularly as the drummer in Charlie Byrd's trio for many years, was featured on "Wave," perhaps Jobim's most beautiful and challenging composition.

The band saved the most familiar Jobim tune for last. The mid-1960s global hit "The Girl From Ipanema," with lyrics by Vinicius Moraes, was the program's encore. 

The Venice Performing Arts Center concert was cosponsored by the South County Jazz Club and the Venice Institute for Performing Arts.

Najar, Cecil, Redd, Home
Najar, Adnet, Allen, Cecil (mostly hidden), Redd, Home