Dave Brubeck: Small Groups, Large Stature

Jack Bowers By

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Wood may indeed be playing a Stradivarius, but it makes little difference. What matters is that he is a virtuoso on the instrument, as is pianist Riley, and that they play marvelously (and flawlessly) together. As for the program, it encompasses sixteen holiday evergreens from "O Tannenbaum" to "Auld Lang Syne" with stops in between for such well-known hymns as "We Three Kings," "Angels We Have Heard on High," "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," "O Holy Night" and "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen." Less often heard (but no less charming) are "I Wonder as I Wander," "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella," "Fum Fum Fum," "What Child Is This" and "O Come O Come, Emmanuel." On the "jazzier" side, Wood and Riley have some fun with Vosbein's light-hearted "Christmas Rag."

For holiday parties, this is familiar yet beguiling music fashioned to make everyone feel at home. Apart from that, it is superbly planned and performed, with crystal-clear sound adding to its allure. No jazz, simply beautiful music to enhance the Christmas season.

In Smaller Packages . . .

Roberto Magris Space Trek
Aliens in a Bebop Planet
Jmood Records

Composer / pianist Roberto Magris roams far afield on this seductive two-disc set, leaving his native Italy to record in Kansas City, MO, and using as his premise the bewilderment of aliens who encounter bebop, apparently for the first time, after arriving on planet earth (or "planet jazz"). What the aliens chance upon, in fact, transcends bebop, as Magris makes them feel "at home" with a variety of exotic themes that range from swing to "free" jazz and whose moods and cadences hint from time to time at the possibility of some far distant origin. Always, however, there is an explicit bebop substructure, one on which even aliens can depend.

Magris' accomplices in this endeavor include tenor saxophonist Matt Otto, bassist Dominique Sanders and drummer Brian Steever, with percussionist Pablo Sanhueza added on ten tracks, vocalist Eddie Charles on "Aliens," "New Cos City" and "Nobody Knows." The leader's piano is heard alone on the opening "Blues Clues," and with Otto's tenor on "Cloud Nine." Otto, a new name here, is a laid-back bopper whose tone and temper are reminiscent of Brew Moore / Allen Eager / Warne Marsh with a touch of Stan Getz. Magris wrote thirteen tunes and most likely arranged everything. Rounding out the engaging program are Fats Navarro's "Nostalgia," Billy Reid's pop favorite from 1947, "The Gypsy," Kenny Clarke's "Nobody Knows," John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" and "Robbin's Space Bolero," easily noted as Sir Sir Charles Thompson's classic "Robbin's Nest." The last nineteen minutes on Disc 2 comprise an "audio notebook," akin to spoken liner notes, which summarize everything you need to know about the album after you've already listened.

What should be of paramount interest to anyone who has positioned the recording on his or her radar screen is the fact that Magris covers a variety of styles and plays well in all of them, as do Otto and the others. As for Chambers, he's a wordsmith in the mold of King Pleasure or Eddie Jefferson, to name a couple (he sings on two numbers and "talks" on "New Cos City"). Magris strings together a number of well-known bop phrases on "New Cos City," and swings as earnestly as any bopper on that number, as well as on "The Gypsy," "Cosmic Storyville," "Nostalgia" and the Latin-centered "Chachanada." The rhythm section, also faced with the task of mastering a number of blueprints, has no problem adapting its outlook to suit each revision.

A picturesque and perceptive voyage across the jazz landscape for aliens and earthlings alike.

Ronny Johansson Trio
New Jubilee / Permanent Vacation
Mori Music

Ronny Johansson, a world-class pianist from Sweden who plays with deceptively youthful enthusiasm and power, is no young lion; far from it, in fact, as he has played an important role in the music scene in his home country (and elsewhere) for more than half a century (with no perceptible sign of slowing down). Johansson is clearly at the top of his game on these CDs, which were recorded two years apart: New Jubilee in 2012, Permanent Vacation in 2010, both with his working trio, bassist Yasuhito Mori and drummer Raymond Karlsson. Tenor saxophonist Ove Ingemarsson adds his singular voice to five numbers on the earlier session.



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