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Dave Brubeck: Small Groups, Large Stature

Jack Bowers By

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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
2013

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.

All of the songs on both CDs were written and arranged by Johansson, whose bright and lyrical compositions mirror closely his approach to the keyboard. As a soloist / accompanist, he brings to mind another Swedish master, Jan Lundgren, and there aren't many compliments more lavish than that. It could be said without rebuttal that Lundgren has actually followed in Johansson's footsteps, as Ronny got there first. Whatever the case, there's no denying that Johansson and Lundgren are extraordinary pianists who excel at writing and whose import has been enormous. If you're a Lundgren fan, and there are many throughout the world, you'll certainly appreciate what Johansson brings to the table.

Johansson has two more things going for him, namely Mori and Karlsson, whose seamless back-up work anchors the trio securely and helps raise it to a consistently impressive level. Johansson most often writes with themes in mind, as the songs on both albums affirm. On New Jubilee, for example, "My Japanese Heart" extols the trio's tour of Japan in 2010, while "My French Heart" recalls an evening at the Blue Note in Paris where Johansson saw and heard Bud Powell and Victor Feldman perform. "Hope" was written in the wake of the tsunami that devastated parts of Japan, "Aries" for Johansson's wife, Ulla. "Piano Noir" is a play on words (pinot noir, anyone?), "See You" a brief essay for solo piano.

The same holds true on Permanent Vacation, wherein Johansson's graceful melodies are given added color by his longtime friend and colleague, Ingemarsson, with whom he has recorded before. "Thanks HSM and Goodbye" and "Permanent Vacation" apparently refer to Johansson's retirement after thirty-four years of teaching piano, most recently at the State College of Music in Goteborg. While "Raymond on the Bike" remains unknown, he seems to be having a marvelous ride, something that holds true for the listener throughout both these splendid albums by one of the most accomplished trios you've probably never heard.

Tracks and Personnel

Thought and Memory

Tracks: Wednesday Came to a Crossroads; Some Characters and Incidents are Fictitious; Interlude I; Salt Water Rocket; Interlude II; Thought and Memory; Gunslinging Bird; Interlude III; Better Get Hit in Your Soul.

Personnel: Keith Karns: composer, arranger, trumpet; Jeff Walk: trumpet; Paul Stodolka: trumpet; Elizabeth Tomlinson: trumpet; Josh Fuchs: trumpet; Jim Geddes, Justin Kevan, Aaron Hedenstrom, Brian Handeland, Jon Vallejo: saxophones; Joe Hartson: trombone; Nick Syman: trombone; Jason Marshall: trombone; Josh Becker: trombone; Steve Hobert: piano; Ken Ge: bass; Brian Claxton: drums; Courtney Karns: vocals.

At This Time

Tracks: Nor-Bop; Tuesday Overture; Line-Up; Vicinity; Random Orders; Quick, Change!; It's Complicated; At This Time; Secret Love; Going Way Up.

Personnel: Norman David: composer, arranger, soprano sax; Dennis Wasko: trumpet; Tim Hagans: trumpet; Dick Oatts: alto, soprano sax; George Garzone: tenor sax; Mark Allen: baritone, tenor sax; Randy Kapralick: trombone; Jarred Antonacci: trombone; Tom Lawton: piano; John Hebert: bass; Dan Monaghan: drums.

Speak

Tracks: Blues for Bonnie Belle; How 'Bout Now; Speak to Me; Chutes and Ladders; Finding the Evidence; Psalm to Hymn.

Personnel: Fred Hess: composer, arranger, tenor sax; Tyler Gilmore: conductor; Pete Olstad: trumpet; Dave Rajewski: trumpet; Al Hood: trumpet; Ron Miles: trumpet; John Gunther, Wil Swindler, Peter Sommer, Mark Harris: reeds; John Fedchock: trombone; Nelson Hinds: trombone; Hoyt Andres: trombone; Gary Mayne: trombone; Marc Sabatella: piano; Greg Garrison: bass; Matt Wilson: drums.

Woman Dreaming of Escape

Tracks: Hurry; Mujer Sonando con la Evasion; Chacarera para Greg; Candombe Estirado; Miniatura Cromatica; D E F G Blues.

Personnel: Florencia Gonzalez: composer, arranger, leader; Josh Mizruchi: trumpet, flugelhorn; Greg Marchand: trumpet, flugelhorn; Sam Dechenne: trumpet, flugelhorn; Chris Kottke: trumpet, flugelhorn; Art Felluca: alto sax, clarinet, flute; Nick Brust: alto sax, clarinet, flute; Andy Voelker: tenor, soprano sax; Andrew Halchak: tenor sax, clarinet, flute; Mike Jacobs: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Susanna Quilter: flute; Sofia Gonzalez: flute; Tim Schneier: trombone; Pete Fanelli: trombone; David Schwartz: bass trombone; Diego Porchile: guitar; Andrew Washburn: piano; Mariana Iranzi: bass; Franco Pinna: drums.

Our Path to This Moment

Tracks: Our Path to This Moment; Rise and Fall; It's You or No One; Kunlangeta; The Promise; Jessie's Song; Wayfaring Stranger.

Personnel: Ezra Weiss: composer, arranger, piano (3, 4, 6). Rob Scheps Big Band—Rob Scheps: leader, alto, soprano, tenor sax; Rich Cooper: trumpet; Paul Mazzio: trumpet; Greg Garrett: trumpet; Conte Bennett: trumpet; Gary Harris, David Valdez, Scott Hall, Robert Crowell: reeds; Stan Bock: trombone; Tom Hill: trombone; John Moak: trombone; Jattik Clark: tuba; Ramsey Embick: piano (1, 2, 5, 7); Tim Gilson: bass; Ward Griffiths: drums; Chaz Mortimer: percussion (3, 7). Special guest artist—Greg Gisbert: trumpet (1, 2, 7).

West Coast Christmas

Tracks: Line for Santa; Santa Baby; Christmas Time Is Here; Jerry Mandelbaum; Filho de Papai Noel J; Bernie's Bells; It Came Upon a Midnight Clear; The Christmas Song; Angels We Have Heard on High; Saturnian Sleigh Ride; Carol of the Bells.

Personnel: Geoff Roach: leader, baritone, tenor sax, flute; Randy Smith: trumpet, flugelhorn; Matt Kesner: tenor, alto, soprano sax; Jon Schermer: trombone; Jack Conway: guitar; Dave Casini: vibes (1, 3, 5-7, 9-11); Rick Gray: vibes (2, 4, 8); Brian Brockhouse: bass; Roddy Magallanes: drums.

Stradivarius Christmas

Tracks: O Tannenbaum; Away in a Manger; God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen; Jingle Bells; O Little Town of Bethlehem; I Wonder as I Wander; Bring a Torch Jeanette Isabella; We Three Kings; O Come O Come, Emmanuel; O Holy Night / Ave Maria; Fum Fum Fum; Whlat Child Is This; Angels We Have Heard on High; It Came Upon a Midnight Clear; A Christmas Rag; Auld Lang Syne.

Personnel: Jasper Wood: violin; David Riley: piano; Terry Vosbein: musical settings.

Aliens in a Bebop Planet

Tracks: CD1: Blues Clues on the Lunar Sand; Across the Borders / Beyond the Faith; A Night in Cydonia; Nostalgia; On Cloud Nine; Sat; Robbin's Space Bolero; Aliens in a Bebop Planet; Chachanada. CD2:New Cos City; Signals and Prayer; The Gypsy; Nobody Knows; Cosmic Storyville; Giant Steps; Rhythms from the Floating Space; On Cloud Nine (duet); Saturn Sun Ra; Audio Notebook.

Personnel: Roberto Magris: composer, arranger, piano; Matt Otto: tenor sax; Dominique Sanders: bass; Brian Steever: drums; Pablo Sanhueza: congas, percussion; Eddie Charles: vocals (8, 10, 13).

New Jubilee / Permanent Vacation


Tracks: New Jubilee: My Japanese Heart; My French Heart; Happy Birthday Blues; New Hymn; Intro; Hope; True Romance; Monte Misto; Piano Noir; Juan-les-Pins; Aries; See You. Permanent Vacation: Champagne, Please; Thanks HSM and Goodbye; Permanent Vacation; Japanese Blue; Flying High; Blue Waltz; Raymond on the Bike; A Song for U; More Champagne, Please.

Personnel: New Jubilee: Ronny Johansson: piano; Yasuhito Mori: bass; Raymond Karlsson: drums. Permanent Vacation: Same as New Jubilee but add Ove Ingemarsson: tenor sax (3, 5-8).

New and Noteworthy

1. R:3 Special Big Band, R3 (Summit Records)
2. Bob Mintzer Big Band, For the Moment (MCG Jazz)
3. Kris Berg / Metroplexity Big Band, This Time / Last Year (MAMA Records)
4. Albert-Hobbs Big Band, Love Remembered (Eidolon Productions)
5. Sandviken Big Band, In the Name of Freedom (Imogena)
6. Steve Taylor Big Band Explosion, Live in London (i2i Music)
7. Joe Chambers Moving Pictures Orchestra, Live at Dizzy's
8. Bob Wilber and the Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra, Rampage! (Arbors Jazz)
9. Howard University Jazz Ensemble, Ode to Life (HUJE Jazz)
10. DiMartino / Osland Jazz Orchestra, Quotient (Sea Breeze Jazz)
11. Washington State University, Zoot Suit (WSU Recordings)
12. Brussels Jazz Orchestra, A Different Porgy, Another Bess (Naïve)
13. Urban Renewal Project, Go Big or Go Home (URP Music)
14. Empire Jazz Orchestra, Accentuate the Positive (EJO)
15. Eastern Illinois University, Three O'Clock Downbeat (Self Published)

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