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Criss Cross Jazz Roundup

C. Andrew Hovan By

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In the past several years there has been a marked change in the jazz landscape that has somehow managed to further spread the demarcation lines between those musicians who practice mainstream leanings and those with a hyper vigilance towards the new avant-garde. Oddly enough, leave it to Criss Cross Jazz, a label that has historically been a harbinger of straight ahead diligence, to somehow bridge a healthy gap between the two camps with its roster of new talent. Three recent releases on the label eloquently illuminate the breath of scope possible with an approach that takes in all muses.

Dayna Stephens
I'll Take My Chances
Criss Cross

Bay Area native Dayna Stephens continues to grow by leaps and bounds as can be heard on I'll Take My ChanceS, his fifth album as a leader. Opting for a completely different cast than the one on his Criss Cross debut, Today Is Tomorrow, the saxophonist benefits from the simpatico work of pianist Gerald Clayton and bassist Joe Sanders. Along with guitarist Charles Altura and veteran drummer, Bill Stewart, Stephens presents a program of mostly originals, pieces from Aaron Parks and Brad Mehldau, and Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss."

Stephens's improvisations are highlighted by unusual intervallic leaps and guttural wails that lend character to his creative muse. This can most easily be heard on the two versions of "Unrequited," each take having its own share of rewards which is probably what merited the inclusion of both. These tracks are also a good place to sample Altura, a West Coast up-and-comer who has been turning heads during his recent stints with Chick Corea and Ambrose Akinmusire. His sound is pure and clean but he has an adventurous spirit that in not unlike such contemporaries as Ben Monder, Lage Lund, and Jonathan Kreisberg.

The opening "Good Tree, Good Fruit" has that airy, floating quality that allows for a nice range of emotive exploration. A repeated rhythmic lick announces "JFK International" and then leads the way to an up tempo romp and a marvelous solo from Gerald Clayton. As a complete change of pace, "Dirty" finds Clayton on organ and Stephens on baritone sax and the end results are far from the greasy spoon organ combo variety.

If there is one caveat; it might be that a few of Stephen's originals sound very similar. Yet, the soloists are more the stars of the show here than the material, which is probably as it should be. With the help of Stewart's tasty interjections, this allows the music to breath in a natural way that communicates both on an intellectual and emotional level.

Philip Dizack
Single Soul
Criss Cross

Trumpeter Philip Dizack released his debut recording back in 2005. Two years later, he placed as one of the youngest semifinalists in the Thelonious Monk International Trumpet Competition. This was followed by time spent at the Manhattan School of Music on a full scholarship. Having paid his dues and put in his time, it seems that wider recognition is due of his sizable talents. One of the best jazz discs of 2013, Single Soul is Dizack's Criss Cross debut and it is a highly mature statement filled with the trumpeter's originals, many of them filled with a sense of melancholy that reminds one of the works of Kenny Wheeler.

Jump straight to "Take Me With You" to get the credentials on Dizack as a technician. This sprightly number contains one of the trumpeter's best solos, filled with runs and leaps that are daring and tell a story at the same time. Saxophonist Ben Wendel is also an impressive force here, his creativity developed through stints with such diverse employers as Ignacio Berroa, Tigran Hamasyan, and Snoop Dogg. Filling out the rhythm section are pianist Eden Ladin, bassist Joe Sanders, and Eric Harland. One could hardly ask for a more responsive accompaniment team and they serve Dizack well.

Highlights of the eleven-song set include the low register histrionics from Dizack on the title track and the hurdy gurdy romp on "Twins of a Gazelle," where Wendel channels Lovano during his euphoric statement. On this same piece, Dizack responds to Harland's fluid interjections with some of his own remarkable intervallic leaps, recalling his peer and fellow intellectual, Ambrose Akinmusire. In a rare case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, Single Soul is a singular statement not to be missed.

Dee Daniels
State of the Art
Criss Cross

The life experiences of vocalist Dee Daniels have taken her literally far and wide, from her early childhood in Seattle to five years spent in the Netherlands back in the mid '80s. Coming from a gospel background, the Oakland native now resides in Vancouver and can add to her resume the distinction of being the first vocalist to appear on the Criss Cross imprimatur.

State of the Art, in its selection of a dozen choice standards, speaks volumes to the talents of Daniels and begs the question as to why it's taken so long for her to make this definitive statement. Clearly, she sounds confident and poised and producer Gerry Teekens can be proud of the results. Pianist Cyrus Chestnut and his trio can take some credit too for creating the perfect setting, along with Eric Alexander, who sits in on a few numbers too.

It's telling that on "Cherokee," a number that usually sports a breakneck tempo to test the tenacity of its explorers; Daniels opts for a ballad statement. Her elongated phrases are marked by the dark timbre of her voice and the sagacious use of her vibrato. Daniel's way with a lyric comes to further fruition on "I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone." She has this technique where she trills a long note to give it a bluesy character. Furthermore, her upper register climbs often take on a timbre akin to Phoebe Snow and Patti Austin. Yet in the final analysis, what you here is all Dee Daniels.

Also curious is the inclusion of two numbers with a strong association to Frank Sinatra. Both "I've Got You Under My Skin" and "The Summer Wind" find Daniels in excellent form, the former also sporting a fine solo from Alexander. She also utilizes the seldom heard introduction for "Night and Day." Dig how she sings about the beat of the tom-toms and tick of the clock, only to be echoed by drummer Alvester Garnett. Then, the tempo locks in for what has to be one of the album's best performances.

The State of the Art is a refreshing take and true statement of jazz vocalizing. Dee Daniels is the real deal, a declaration that can't always be made in regards to the overabundance of so called jazz singers flooding the market these days.

Tracks and Personnel

I'll Take My Chances

Tracks: Good Tree, Good Fruit; JFK International; Adrift; Dirty; Unrequited I; Prelude to a Kiss; Field of Landmines; I'll Take My Chances; Weezy; Unrequited II.

Personnel: Dayna Stephens: tenor & baritone sax; Charles Altura: guitar; Gerald Clayton: piano & organ; Joe Sanders: bass; Bill Stewart: drums; Becca Stevens: vocal (track 6).

Single Soul

Tracks: Single Soul Intro; Jacob & The Angel; Benny's Tune; Take Me With You; Single Soul; Twins of a Gazelle; Book of Stones; Joy & Sorrow; It's Not Just in Some of Us; Sasha Anne; I Got It Bad & That Ain't Good.

Personnel: Phillip Dizack: trumpet; Ben Wendel: tenor sax; Eden Ladin: piano; Joe Sanders: bass; Eric Harland: drums.

State of the Art

Tracks: Almost Like Being in Love; Cherokee; I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone; He Was Too Good To Me; I've Got You Under My Skin; Night and Day; I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart; Willow Weep For Me; Why Did I Choose You; Summer Wind; Lover Man; How High the Moon.

Personnel: Dee Daniels: vocals; Eric Alexander: tenor sax; Cyrus Chestnut: piano; Paul Beaudry: bass; Alvester Garnett: drums.


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