David Berger Jazz Orchestra / Sheryl Bailey / UNC–Greensboro
David Berger Jazz Orchestra
Sing Me a Love Song: Harry Warren's Undiscovered Standards
Such Sweet Thunder
If composer Harry Warren is remembered at all, it is for such blockbuster hits from the 1940s as "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" (the country's first million-selling record), "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo" and "You'll Never Know" (one of Warren's three Academy-Award winning songs; he also won for "Lullaby of Broadway" and "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe"). But that merely scratches the surface of Warren's prodigious talent. He wrote many hundreds of songs, a number of which are still being heard today in various genres. Here's a partial list: There Will Never Be Another You / Jeepers Creepers / September in the Rain / Lulu's Back in Town / That's Amore / You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me / I Wish I Knew / Serenade in Blue / The More I See You / I Only Have Eyes for You / We're in the Money / This Is Always / 42nd Street / I'm an Old Cowhand / Cheerful Little Earful / I Know Why / You're My Everything / No Love, No Nothin' / I'll String Along with You / You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby / Boulevard of Broken Dreams / At Last / My Heart Tells Me.
That's not bad for starters. Chances are most music-lovers have hummed these songs for years with nary a clue as to who wrote them, as Warren, in spite of his great success, remained for the most part an unknown quantity, laboring anonymously in the Hollywood studios. As he once remarked, only partially in jest, "Even my friends don't know who I am." Warren's songs, on the other hand, have brightened many pages in the Great American Songbook. Those already named have stood the test of time to become what are known as standards. Others, however, have not. Enter David Berger, a bandleader and music historian who takes pleasure in unearthing overlooked treasures and sharing them with a new listening audience, as he does on Sing Me a Love Song: Harry Warren's Undiscovered Standards.
To carry out his plan, Berger has chosen ten of Warren's lesser-known compositions and placed them in the capable hands of his Jazz Orchestra and vocalists Freda Payne and Denzal Sinclaire. Half of the songs are presented twice, in vocal and instrumental versions. The lyrics are by Ira Gershwin (seven) and Paul Mendenhall (three). The melodies are charmingone would expect no less from Warrenbut the lyrics are less than persuasive, and in the end that is what separates the standards from the also-rans. In his heyday, Warren collaborated with such celebrated lyricists as Al Dubin, Mack Gordon, Johnny Mercer, Sammy Cahn, Ted Koehler, Cleophus Robinson, Johnny Burke, Dorothy Fields and others, most of whom had a hand in taking Warren's tunes and adding the special ingredient that raised them above the tumult of competing songs and into the realm of the standard. That is to say, the lyrics. There are, perhaps, none here that could plausibly be envisioned as part of the standard lexicon. Even though pleasant enough, they lack that indefinable something that separates the champions from the also-rans. Ira Gershwin, whose lyrics enhanced many a song by brother George and others, fails to deliver here.
That is not to say that the album as a whole is less than admirable, only that it is unlikely to enlarge Warren's already sizeable catalogue of standards. In spite of their best efforts, what Berger and his colleagues seem to have confirmed is that it is all but impossible to recreate and preserve a bygone era, one in which songsmiths were noblemen and the American popular song was king. Considered on its own merits, however, Sing Me a Love Song is a delightful album, one that is well worth hearing and appreciating, "undiscovered standards" or no.
A New Promise
Some "tribute" albums are bland and indifferent, others bright and heartfelt. A New Promise, guitarist Sheryl Bailey's fond salute to the late Emily Remler, clearly belongs in the latter realm. Remler, a groundbreaking female guitarist who left us far too early at age 32, was one of Bailey's seminal inspirations and primary role models, and one can hear echoes of Remler's plain-spoken style in Bailey's clear, concise and supple single-note lines and phrases (she uses chords sparingly, always to good effect). Bailey solos superbly on each of the album's eight selections (three of which were written by Remler) and as a bonus, she's ably supported by the marvelous Three Rivers Jazz Orchestra under co-directors Mike Tomaro and Steve Hawk.
The charts, six by Tomaro and two by John Wilson, fit Bailey's brisk improvisations like the proverbial glove, and she and the orchestra swing as freely as tree limbs in a windstorm. While Bailey claims the lion's share of the blowing space (no problem there), Tomaro weighs in with an engaging soprano solo on J.J. Johnson's "Lament," trombonist Jay Ashby offers a brief but persuasive statement on Remler's "East to Wes," tenor Eric DeFade and guest vibraphonist Hendrik Meurkens add their singular voices to Bailey's soulful "Unified Field," and trumpeter James Moore fashions an ardent solo on the standard "You and the Night and the Music."
Besides "East to Wes," Remler wrote the tantalizing "Mocha Spice" and lively, Latin-based "Carenia." Completing the program are Bailey's pensive "New Promise" and the percussive burner "Miekkaniemi," co-written with Tomaro who earns special plaudits for arranging the charming soli for guitar, trombone and soprano sax in "East to Wes," adapted from a transcription of Remler's solo on the original recording. The album is the brainchild of Marty Ashby, executive producer of MCG Jazz, who had the talent and resources to make it happen. Besides producing, Ashby adds a second guitar on "East to Wes," "Mocha Spice" and "Carenia" while brother Jay, the trombone soloist on "East to Wes," doubles as percussionist on "Miekkaniemi," "Mocha Spice" and "Carenia."
Although the world was deprived of who knows how much memorable music when Emily Remler succumbed to a heart attack, Bailey and the Three Rivers Orchestra have gone the extra mile to keep her memory alive, and A New Promise is an homage that surely would have warmed her heart and brought a smile to her face.
UNCG Jazz Ensemble
The Music of Joel Frahm and Seamus Blake
Gone are the days when college-level jazz ensembles leaned for the most part on the Great American Songbook for their material. That's true even of lesser-known Jazz Studies programs such as that housed at the University of North CarolinaGreensboro, which shows no reluctance to come to grips with the labyrinthine music of saxophonists Joel Frahm and Seamus Blake, a couple of unbending modernists whose writing is not for the faint of heart.
Besides composing half of the album's 10 selections (Blake wrote the others), Frahm doubles as guest soloist on seven, unsheathing a broad and fiery arsenal of free-wheeling post-bop broadsides that are seldom less than enticing. The UNCG ensemble, meticulously groomed by director Steve Haines, is on top of its game, wavering only slightly on Frahm's frenzied "A Whole New You"but there aren't many bands that could easily subdue that unruly beast. When Frahm's not around, the blowing space is shared admirably by tenor Michael Kinchen and keyboardist Antonio Truyols ("Hoi Polloi"), trumpeter Steve Rozema and tenor Keenan McKenzie ("Face the Question"), Truyols, Rozema and trombonist Laurence Evans ("Four Track Mind"). Kinchen arranged "Hoi Polloi," McKenzie Frahm's Latin charmer, "Jobimiola" (on which McKenzie, Kinchen and Frahm unravel radiant solos), Truyols Blake's quirky "Four Track Mind." The other charts (two apiece) are by Haines and UNCG alums Mark Shoun and Jason Miller.
As these are original compositions, the listener's response to them must rest in part on his or her fondness for modernistic jazz in the Mingus / Bley / Russell mode as opposed to more conventional big-band sketches by such masters as Bill Holman, Shorty Rogers, Gerry Mulligan, Bill Potts, Marty Paich and others. While none of the Frahm / Blake themes lingers long in the memory, they can and do swing when they must, and there is enough variety among them to engage and sustain one's interest. The 72 minute playing time is plentiful, the over-all sound and balance first-rate. In sum, a sharp and colorful session, marking another step forward for the enterprising UNCG Jazz Ensemble.
Stockholm Jazz Orchestra
Ikaros is the third album by the splendid Stockholm Jazz Orchestra devoted exclusively to the music of composer and pianist Goran Strandberg, which simply means, to paraphrase an oft-used adage, the SJO knows a good thing when it hears it. Strandberg is an astute and inventive writer, and the 10-part Ikaros suite, which consumes the entire album, is never less than engaging. While the music is thematic, and reveals an explicit Swedish veneer, the essential precepts of big-band jazz are ever-present, as is the SJO's propensity to bring them to the fore.
This is especially true on more ebullient numbers ("Horizons," "Wings," "Rumi, Rumi!," "Biting Wind," "Dance"), on which the ensemble shows time and again why it is among the best Europe has to offer, skating through Strandberg's strenuous charts with comparative ease. For his part, besides composing and arranging the suite, Strandberg plays piano on the expressive "Coda" and shows he's no slouch at the keyboard either. He's one of a number of admirable soloists. Tenor saxophonist Karl-Martin Almqvist is showcased on "Horizons," "Sun Fan" and "Dance," soprano Johan Horlen on "Gnister" and "Ikaros," trumpeter Peter Asplund on "Mellanmarsch," trombonist Bertil Strandberg on "Rumi, Rumi!" Trombonist Magnus Wiklund and tenor Robert Nordmark share blowing space on "Wings," Horlen (alto) and trumpeter Karl Olandersson on "Biting Wind."
Sound and balance are exemplary, the orchestra taut and unflappable, the rhythm section (pianist Daniel Tilling, guitarist Ola Bengtsson, bassist Martin Sjostedt, drummer Jukkis Uotila, percussionist Ola Botzen) crisp and steady. Playing time is only moderate, as the suite clocks in at a few seconds under fifty minutes, less than two-thirds CD capacity. On the other hand, that's 50 minutes of first-rate music, more than many longer-playing albums contain. The choice is yours.
There's a full measure of beautiful music on this album by conductor and cellist Mats Rondin, Sweden's Isidor Chamber Orchestra and invited guests. Is it jazz? Well, there is some improvisation, and it does swing every now and then. For the most part, however, this is chamber music of a high order, superbly written by bassist Lars Danielsson or saxophonist Cennet Jonsson and adeptly interpreted by the ICO.
Jonsson composed the three-part "Scanian Suite," Danielsson the other half-dozen numbers, starting with the ethereal "Secrets," an opulent showcase for Rondin's tasteful cello. The suite follows, its three movements ("Open Fields" / "The Valley" / "Sounds of the Sound") inspired, says Jonsson, by "impressions, events and sounds" from his childhood in Helsingborg. The Fields and Valley are sleek and placid, the Sound at times jagged and turbulent. Jonsson's soprano saxophone is featured throughout with unwavering support from pianist Jacob Karlzon, bassist Johannes Lundberg and percussionist Lisbeth Diers.
The ICO is present on every number save the next one, the even-tempered "Hopeful," which is presented by a quartet comprised of pianist Jesper Nordenstrom, bassist Danielsson, drummer Anders Kjellberg and the American guitarist Mike Stern who resurfaces on the "Isidor Suite" and the throbbing and electronically enhanced "Rondin Rave." "Isidor," a lively rondo that calls to mind the composer Aaron Copland, among others, has a congruous vocal by soprano Caecile Norby, as do "Rave" and the bluesy, warm-hearted finale, "Inner Secrets." Danielsson, Nordenstrom and Kjellberg undergird the ICO on the bassist's reverential "Psalmen."
As noted, lovely music, splendidly performed. At heart, however, no more than "chamber jazz," and even that may be pressing the point. The Swedes deserve credit for dancing to their own drummer. The dance is engaging; whether to join it is a matter of personal choice.
Tracks and Personnel
Sing Me a Love Song
Tracks: Me and You; I Wonder Who; With Your Hand in Mine; Positano Afternoon; Double Trouble; Sing Me a Love Song; I'm Sorry; Hard to Get; There Is No Music; But Here We Are; With Your Hand in Mine; I'm Sorry; But Here We Are; Double Trouble; Hard to Get.
Personnel: David Berger: conductor, arranger; Bob Millikan, Brian Pareschi, Irv Grossman, Brandon Lee, Scott Wendholt: trumpet; Jay Brandford, Matt Hong, Dan Block, Mark Hynes, Carl Maraghi: reeds; Wayne Goodman, Ryan Keberle, Jeff Bush: trombone; Isaac ben Ayala: piano; Yasushi Nakamura: bass; Jimmy Madison: drums; Freda Payne, Denzal Sinclaire: vocals.
A New Promise
Tracks: Lament; East to Wes; Miekkaniemi; A New Promise; Mocha Spice; Unified Field; Carenia; You and the Night and the Music.
Personnel: Sheryl Bailey: guitar. Three Rivers Jazz OrchestraSteve Hawk: co-director, lead trumpet; Mike Tomaro: co-director, alto, soprano sax; Joe Herndon, Steve McKnight, James Moore, Ralph Guzzi: trumpet; Jim Guerra: alto sax; Eric DeFade, Rick Matt: tenor sax; Jim Germann: baritone sax; Reggie Watkins, Clayton DeWalt, Ross Garin: trombone; Christopher Carson: bass trombone; Paul Thompson: bass; David Glover: drums. Special guestsJay Ashby: trombone, percussion; Marty Ashby: acoustic guitar; Hendrik Meurkens: vibraphone.
The Music of Joel Frahm and Seamus Blake
Tracks: Away from Home; A Whole New You; Gospel; Jupiter Line; Hoi Polloi; Song for a New Day; Face the Question; Nad Noord; Jobimiola; Four Track Mind.
Personnel: Steve Haines: director; Christian McIvor, Matthew Boggs, Allyson Keyser, Steve Rozema: trumpet, flugelhorn; Andrew Hall: alto, soprano sax, flute; Mark Langford: alto sax; Keenan McKenzie, Michael Kinchen: tenor sax; Jonathan Morrison: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Laurence Evans, Adam Collis, Mark Shoun: trombone; Mike Long: bass trombone; Jonathan Fung: guitars; Antonio Truyois: piano, Fender Rhodes, Hammond B3 organ; Joseph Dickey: bass; Daniel Faust: drums. Special guest artistJoel Frahm, tenor sax.
Tracks: Horisonter (Horizons); Gnister; Vingar (Wings); Mellanmarsch; Rumi, Rumi!; Solfjadrar (Sun Fan); Snalblast (Biting Wind); Ikaros; Dans (Dance); Coda.
Personnel: Goran Strandberg: composer, arranger, piano (10); Fredrik Noren: leader, trumpet, flugelhorn; Karl Olandersson, Peter Asplund, Nils Janson: trumpet, flugelhorn; Johan Horlen: alto, soprano sax, flute; Magnus Blom: alto sax, clarinet; Karl-Martin Almqvist: tenor sax, alto flute; Robert Nordmark: tenor sax, clarinet; Neta Noren: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Bertil Strandberg, Magnus Wiklund, Magnus Svedberg: trombone; Erik Eriksson: bass trombone, tuba; Daniel Tilling: piano; Ola Bengtsson: guitar; Martin Sjostedt: bass; Jukkis Uotila: drums; Ola Botzen: percussion.
Tracks: Secrets; Scanian Suite (Open Fields / The Valley / Sounds of the Sound); Hopeful; Isidor Suite; Psalmen; Rondin Wave; Inner Secrets.
Personnel: Isidor Chamber Orchestra: Mats Rondin: cello, conductor. Lars Danielsson: composer, arranger, bass, programming; Cennet Jonsson: composer, arranger, soprano sax; Jacob Karlzen: piano; Jesper Nordenstrom: keyboards; Mike Stern: guitar; Johannes Lundberg: bass; Anders Kjellberg: drums; Lisbeth Diers: percussion; Caecile Norby: vocals.