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Various Artists: Baritone Guitars & Bass Clarinets

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The Bennie Maupin Ensemble
Penumbra
Cryptogramophone
2006

Bennie Maupin has been standing in the shadows, enhancing the music of such high-profilers as Miles Davis, Andrew Hill and Herbie Hancock, during much of his career. Not before time, he steps up to the mic with Penumbra, leading a trio-plus-percussion ensemble and himself switching between reeds and flute. His supple and commanding playing reflects his deep musical knowledge, and his band, with whom he's been touring the past few years, performs with energy and sparkle.

The music includes a variety of world influences, from Harlem to Africa and India, within a contemporary setting—featuring powerful doses of Maupin's masterly bass clarinet, the inspired playing of bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz, and the natural sound inventions of drummer Michael Stephans and percussionist Daryl Munyungo Jackson. The key here is the considerable synergy between the musicians and their illustrious and unassuming leader.

Maupin has always been a star, but often an invisible one. His light shines brightly on Penumbra, one of year's best releases so far.

Mark Elf
Lift Off
Jen Bay Music
2006

Mark Elf plays as powerfully and swings as fiercely as ever. He may be an elder statesman of the music, but it's the energy of today, rather than the memories of yesterday, that drives him. Lift Off , which includes a respinning of John Coltrane's "Countdown" along with other, more laidback tunes, is a fun and satisfying post-bop blend.

Elf's hollowbody fretboard work is precise, hard-hitting and has attitude. His solo on "Lift Off" itself is a technically assured, cascading performance. His chord work on the timeless "Thanks For The Memory" is deliciously poignant, and he surprises with an octave altered baritone guitar on two tunes. The good samba vibrations on "Chuy's Challenge" confirm his continuing vitality.

Mark Weinstein
O Nosso Amor
Jazzheads
2006

Flautist Mark Weinstein returns with another fine effort, hot on the heels of 2005's critically acclaimed Algo Más. The earlier album was a mix of Cuban roots and modern rock elements, but this new one finds Weinstein swimming in Brazilian waters, with the help of the great guitarist Romero Lubambo.

From the festive dance of the classic "Bahia," to the serenity of Antonio Carlo Jobim's "O Nosso Amor," the set exudes a relaxed but spirited sound. Weinstein's breathy flute work is like a gentle wind on "Naquele Tempo," and beguils on "Marka Som." As usual he surrounds himself with stellar musicians—percussionists, a tight rhythm section and, of course, Lubambo—who together fill the music with fantastic rhythms and bright solos.

Fredrik Kronkvist
Maintain!
Connective Records
2006

Swedish player Fredrik Kronkvist turns up the heat on his latest release. The feel is fiery, modern post-bop, dipped in heavy swing and enhanced by the masterly playing of the saxophonist and his band. "Triplet Soul Mob" and the title track highlight Kronkvist's shiny, hard edged pitch, with pianist Daniel Tilling bringing to the latter an attractive McCoy Tyner vibe.

Kronkvist has studied with Kenny Garrett and it shows—he dishes out some earthy soul on "Triplet Soul Mob and throws notes into intense, circling patterns on the John Coltrane-inspired "Supreme Resolution." Other stand out moments include a sweet coda on "Improvised Action" and a stirring remake of the classic "Love Theme From Spartacus."

Pete McCann
Most Folks
Omnitone
2006

Peter McCann is an impressive guitarist with smoking chops and a meaty tone. He's been mixing it up in New York with a heap of artists and has the technical skills of master stylists like Wes Montgomery and John Scofield. To go along with those chops he also composes in a variety of styles—there's the complex post-bop of "About face," the funky hard rock of "Yes, My Friend," and the deep acoustic groove of "Third Wheel."

It definitely helps to have back-up muscle from the likes of saxophonist John O'Gallagher, drummer Mark Ferber and bassist John Herbert, who each provide solid support and personal creativity. McCann is a serious player, and there's not a weak track on the album.

The Dease-Madsen Quintet
The Takeover
Self Published
2006

Mainstream jazz is in good hands with these two young leaders, trombonist Michael Dease and saxophonist Chris Madsen. Dease and Madsen have performed with major players like Wycliffe Gordon, Jimmy Heath and The Lincoln City Jazz Orchestra, and their debut release recalls the sounds of Billy Strayhorn and the Marsalis family with fresh and swinging style.

Dease and Madden's writing and arranging successfully combine a big band sound with small group intimacy. Strong solos, attractive vamps and memorable tunes are played by young artists with a maturity of sound which belies their years. This is especially apparent on the elegantly smooth "Molasses," where Dease's warm, muted trombone is effectively set against Madsen's raspy tone, and the whole thing is underpinned by a deft rhythm section and smart horn harmonies.

Jordi Matas Quintet
Racons
Fresh Sound New Talent
2006

Jordi Matas is growing into a most interesting guitarist, not just because of his technical abilities—which are reminiscent of Ben Monder and Kurt Rosenwinkle—but also because of his progressive writing, first heard on his 2004 debut All That Matas. The new album shows growth and Matas isn't afraid to take risks, blurring the line between pre-composed tunes and in the moment invention (check the odd-metered, angular "El Perseguidor.")

Matas' band give striking performances, whether on the surrealistic guitar/piano sequence of "Belleza Oculta" or the thick bass riff, with its phat sax/guitar harmony, of "El Reencuentro." Be it the nuevo-swing of "Stars Drawing," where Matas' soloing reaches celestial heights, or the rocking vamp of "Abril Dance," the music is always interesting and progressive.


Tracks and Personnel

Penumbra

Tracks: Neophilia 2006; Walter Bishop, Jr.; Level Three; Blinkers; Penumbra; Mirror Image; Message To Prez; Tapping Things; Vapors; One For Eric Dolphy; See The Positive; Trope On A Rope; The 12th Day; Equal Justice.

Personnel: Bennie Maupin: bass clarinet, tenor and soprano saxophones, alto flute, piano; Darek Oleszkiewicz: bass; Michael Stephans: drums; Daryl Munyungo Jackson: percussion.


Liftoff

Tracks: Liftoff; Thanks For The Memory; Deception Blues; Baritone Gtr.; Chuy's Challenge; I've Never Been In Love Before; How Low Can You Go; Fundingsland Waltz; Left Hand Corner; Deception Blues; Liftoff (alternate take).

Personnel: Mark Elf: guitar; David Hazeltine: piano; Peter Washington: bass; Lewis Nash: drums; Daniel Sadownick: percussion (4).

O Nosso Amor

Tracks: Bahia; Lugar Conum; Sampa 67; Falanda De Amor; Frevo Camarada; O Nosso Amor; Batucada; Naquele Tempo; Marka Som; Um A Zero; Por Causa De Voce; Capoeira.

Personnel: Mark Weinstein: soprano, alto and bass flutes; Romero Lubambo: classical guitar; Nilson Matta: acoustic bass; Paul Braga: drums; Guilherme Franco: percussion; Jorge Silva: percussion.

Maintain!

Tracks: Improvised Action; Supreme Resolution; Triplet Soul Mob; Rootsy Vibration; 26-2; North African Pearl; Two Step Takedown; Kickin' Jazz; Love theme from Spartacus; Maintain!.

Personnel: Fredrik Kronkvist: alto saxophone; Daniel Tilling: piano; Martin Sjöstedt: bass; Daniel Fredriksson: drums; Sal Dibba: congas; Måns Block: percussion.

Most Folks

Tracks: Most Folks; Jojo's Waltz; Rack 'em Up; Las Tias; About Face; Yes; My Friend; Hunter Gatherer; JM; Third Wheel; Split Decision; Worth.

Personnel: Pete McCann: electric & acoustic guitar; John O'Gallagher: alto & soprano saxophones; John Hebert: bass; Mark Ferber: drums: percussion; Mike Holober: piano

The Takeover

Tracks: The Takeover; Molasses; Fuller Up; Agrodolce; Blues For; I'll Fake Romance; Cherokee.

Personnel: Michael Dease: trombone; Chris Madsen: tenor saxophone; Brandon Lee: trumpet (1); Drew Pierson: piano; Yasushi Nakamura: bass; Marion Felder: drums.

Racons

Tracks: After The Gig; Vacio; Final Para Una Suite De Verano; El Perseguidor; Belleza Oculta; El Reencuentro; Stars Drawing; Raco; Tiana; Christmas Song; Abril Dance.

Personnel: Jordi Matas: guitar, vocal; Marti Serra: saxophones; Jorge Rossy: piano, Fender Rhodes; Pere Loewe: bass; Oscar Domenech: drums.


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