Published since 1997
Michael wants to know if Gene Harris is playing "Summertime" in Heaven with Ray Brown.
David Benoit and Russ Freeman
The Benoit / Freeman Project II
(Peak Records 8525)
Ten years ago contemporary jazz darlings David Benoit and Russ Freeman released The Benoit / Freeman Project (GRP, 1994) to favorable reviews. It was a superb Smooth Jazz offering with broad appeal. The Benoit / Freeman Project II has even more to offer in the way of appeal. Both Benoit and Freeman have made their fair share of forgettable recordings, but The Benoit / Freeman Project II is not one of them. Like all Smooth Jazz, this recording is plushly produced and engineered, with all rough edges sanded smooth and all wrinkles ironed out. The grand sum of this production is a sumptuous presentation of Russ Freeman's nylon-string guitar in particular and his plectral offerings in general and Benoit's liquid electric piano. The lion's share of the pieces are written by the pair, with Freeman favoring Latin shades ("Club Havana") while Benoit prefers the urban edge ("Stiletto Heels"). This recording will please both fans of Benoit and Freeman and Smooth Jazz.
Uri Caine Trio
Live at the Village Vanguard
(Winter & Winter 910 102)
Uri Caine is a very busy man. Aside from being one of the most in-demand pianist working, Mr. Caine has multiple projects of his own that range from classical, jazz, jazzical , avant-garde...and the straight-ahead jazz piano trio and it is in this format that Caine chooses to record at NYC's fabled Village Vanguard. Joined by bassist Drew Guess and drummer Ben Perowsky, Caine plows his uniquely cerebral way through an assembly of six originals and four standards that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Uri Caine is the most important jazz pianist since Herbie Hancock. Caine and trio open the disc with an angular and lengthy reading of Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti." Caine bounces through "I Thought About You," playing Harlem Stride, Chicago Boogie, and NYC Loft all at once. The pianist's own "Stiletto" is craggy Free jazz with a brain. Live at the Village Vanguard is Uri Caine's best straight-jazz offering since Blue Wail.
Monk 'Round the World
On the heels of the well-received Monk in Paris: Live At the Olympia , Monk 'Round the World further reveals the treasure trove of unreleased material in the Thelonious Monk Archives. While not as neat a package as Live at the Olympia , 'Round the World nevertheless delivers historic performances of six of Monk's most enduring compositions, all featuring Monk's favorite reed man, Charlie Rouse. These performances are culled from concerts in Monterey, Paris, Copenhagen, and Stockholm in the early 1960s. the sound of the recordings range from excellent to good, with the Stockholm "Bemsha Swing" and "Hackensack" Being outstanding in every way. Bright spots include drum solos by Frank Dunlop in "Bemsha Swing" and Charlie Rouse's Trio turn on "Hackensack." "Blue Monk" provides some superb walking blues bass by Butch Warren. Monk is Monkquirky and brilliant, both attributes being illustrated on the enclosed DVD of Monk London performances of "Rhythm A Ning," "Nutty," "Criss Cross."
Frank Vignola / Joe Ascione
The Frank and Joe Show: 33 & 1/3
The Frank and Joe Show is a gentle throwback to the small-group swing music of the 1920's and '30s. Vignola is a superb guitarist in the mold of John and Bucky Pizzarelli, Howard Alden, and the Gypsy himself. Joe Ascione plays a light brand of percussion, just enough to be apparent and ensure the propulsion of this vibrant music. The pair sports some pretty clever company for the recording. Janis Siegel turns in a perfectly retro "Don't Fence Me In" while Jane Monheit turns up the humidity with a perfectly wicked "Besame Much." Dr. John hams it up on "Sheik of Araby," while supplying his trademark piano playing. The two principals tip their hats to the contemporary of canon by taking serious passes and The Doobie Brothers, "Long Train Runnin'" and Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again (Naturally)".
Bucky Pizzarelli / Howard Alden
Hot Club of 52nd Street
it is fitting that this disc follow "The Frank and Joe Show as the music is of a similar vein. The guitarists here are well acquainted with Frank Vignola. Collectively, these guys have made a cottage industry for labels such as Arbors Jazz, Concord, and Nagel-Heyer. They are the keepers of the flame not unlike Eddie Condon. They are the preservers of Swing Jazz and have little use for anything conceived after 1940. To the chagrin of many writers, I have always felt that this music was easily as important as anything made since that time. Maestro Pizzarelli and Mr. Alden turn in a standard pre-war repertoire giving spirited credence to "On The Sunny Side of the Street," "Tangerine," and "Nauges." Joined by bassist Michael Moore and a very fine violinist, Johnny Frigo, the two guitarists tear it up on "I've Got Rhythm." Like 33 & 1/3 , Hot Club of 52nd Street is a quiet treat to another time.
Recordings like this are a fabulous hoot. Nutty is a lounge band with a wickedly ironic sense of humor. This band not only recasts the jazz standard canon (juxtaposing Miles Davis and the Who on "Miles and Miles and Miles" and "On Green Dolphin Street with the Beatles," they take the pop/rock vernacular by the horns and shake it hard. "Back in Black, Baby" gently lampoons AC/DC with a big band backing. "Black Mutt" is a Hipster's "Black Dog" with a martini and a cigar. And the listener will never have heard Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" played like this. Nutty is the brainchild of vocalist Joel Hile, who sports the moniker, "Sonny Moon" (pretty cheeky, Uh?). Standing out of the fray is guitarist Daryl Boggs and Jason Meyers, who each keep the disc from becoming a parody. This is fun party music.
Michael Brecker, Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman
Saxophone Summit: Gathering of Spirits
(Telarc Jazz 83607)
Tenor (and soprano) saxophone titans Michael Brecker, Joe Lovano, and Dave Liebman, arguably the most influential saxophonists since John Coltrane, have made it a habit to get together and make music. Speaking of Jon Coltrane, his ghost permeates this disc like incense from a censer old. As such one might expect a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth and one would not be disappointed. Two of the pieces are Coltrane compositions ("India" and "Peace on Earth"). But this is not how the disc starts. "Alexander the Great" is a little Be Bop foray before he trio of saxophones really gets down to their avant-gard business. David Liebman hauls out the soprano on several occasions and all of the reedists take turns playing folk instruments such as the kaval and Indian flute. An enjoyable outing for those fans of middle to late period Coltrane.
Gerry Wiggins and Friends
Celebrating Wig's 80th at the Jazz Bakery
Durable swing pianist Gerald Wiggins celebrated his 80th birthday in 2002. Pianist Benny Green arranged the soirée at Culver City, California City's Jazz Bakery. After eight decades, Mr. Wiggins had shown little evidence of slowing down. While being joined by the likes of Kenny Burrell, Bill Cunliff, Ron Eschete and Benny Green, it is still Wigs and his trio that shine the brightest. "My Ship" and "Love Walked In" show Wigs complete command of the piano. "All The Things You Are" is presented in a sensible manner that makes perfect sense to even the most novice listener. This disc is available at www.cdbaby.com and was produced by Marla Kleman, daughter of Rebecca Parris.
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
(Vanguard Records 97702)
With Brian Setzer, BBVD, is the only neo-swing orchestra still making music (...that is still worth mentioning). The band has moved to Vanguard Rrecords, the vanguard of all things American, and released albums that extended the Swing vernacular to include more of the New Orleans, Caribbean, and, New York patois. Live is as good as any "Best of" Recording. The band is very tight without sacrificing the rollicking, faux-rocking nature of the music. BBVG covers Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher" because they could not avoid doing so. The contrived nature of the band would permit them to do nothing else. This is no mean criticism. The band executes the music of my parent's generation very well, while adding more soul and grit. This is fun music that should not be considered too closely, like fast food. But it serves its purpose in spades, to tap into our collective unconscious that can only tap its foot to those same old twelve and thirty-two bars.
(Chris Cross Jazz Records 1242)
Formerly a member of the successful fusion band Lost Tribe, guitarist Adam Rogers steps out as a decidedly mainstream artist offering decidedly mainstream (if fairly abstract) music. Having said that, Allegory is not the average collection of standards clogging the arteries of Best Buy. Rogers previously released the Art of the Invisible , a disc not so unlike this one, was applauded as an extension of Rogers's fusion sensibility into a more acoustic setting. In fact, one would almost suggest that Rogers's mainstream chops could not compare with his fusion musings. This could not be further from the truth. Rogers's has a great ear for the traditional, proving it on pieces like The album opener "Confluence" and "Phyrigia," where the guitarist shares his center light with reedist Chris Potter, both melding synergistically in the compositions. Scott Colley adds his forward-looking bass playing to the mix, grounding the music in rarified light of swing.
Larry Vuckovich / John Hendricks
(Tetrachord Music 682)
the last time Larry Vuckovich crossed my path, it was with his Basie, Young Parker tribute Young at Heart . Now he is back is a new Tetrachord release, again tipping his hat the golden age of Modern JazzBasie, Young, Parker, Coltrane, Moody. This disc is a swinging little ditty that employs the great vocal master Jon Hendricks on several of the pieces. Hendricks tears it up on "Lester Leaps In" and "Tickle Toe." Noel Jewkes and Jules Broussard hold down the saxophone chairs in this saxophone fest, both turning in superb performances on "Last Train for Overbrook" and "Scrapple From the Apple" as well as, "Tickle Toe." John Coltrane's "Impressions" is a very fine addition, also. This disc is well worth seeking out for its easy swing and very good nature.
You Left Me in the Dark
Sixty-nine -year-old guitarist Jody Williams was a mainstay on the Chicago Blues scene in the 1950s. His guitar can be heard on Bo Diddley's "Who do You Love," Howlin' Wolf's "Evil" and "Forty-Four Blues," and Billy Boy Arnold's "I Wish You Would." He performed with Jimmy Rogers, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Otis Rush. After years of playing in the shadows, not getting his fair share of attention, Mr. Williams left music to work as an engineer for Xerox. One would have to believe that this is what happens more often than not. But now Jody Williams reemerges with a recording showing him to be the logical link between T-Bone Walker and B.B. King. But what emerges more forthrightly is Williams's lock on a blues style that Robert Cray and various other younger blues musicians tried to masterthe Soul/Blues axis. Just check out the title cut to see what I mean.
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