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Jazz Legacy Productions: Sprucing up the Old School

J Hunter By

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At a time when most entrepreneurs blanche at even a mention of the economy, bassist John Lee has damned the torpedoes and gone full speed ahead with his new label, Jazz Legacy Productions. Structured as an artists-for-artists'-sake venture, JLP gives established, non-"flavor of the month" players a place to be heard again. What's more, for every three JLP records by veterans, the label will give one rookie a chance to make a mark on the genre. JLP's first releases have hit the streets, and from the sound of things, the label's off to a promising start.



Cyrus Chestnut
Spirit
Jazz Legacy Productions
2009



A clue to how good Spirit is can be found on pianist Cyrus Chestnut's generally-misunderstood tribute disc Cyrus Plays Elvis (Koch, 2007). Closing the date with the traditional hymn "How Great Thou Art," Chestnut eschews Presley's trademark dramatics in favor of a more intimate, personal approach. Church music is definitely personal for Chestnut—his father was a church organist, his mother a choir director—and that connection runs through this revelatory mixture of the sacred and the secular, all of it communicated through Chestnut's brilliant solo piano.

Despite Chestnut's obvious affection for the material, he doesn't let that affection hinder his renowned sense of interpretation...but he doesn't go overboard, either. Chestnut brings the blues out of "I Surrender All" and puts the stride into "Wade in the Water," and he takes "Old Time Religion" out for a lovely waltz. But primarily, Chestnut uses traditionals like "Oh How I Love Jesus" and "All Creatures of Our God and King" like a preacher uses a Bible passage in a sermon: it's a touchstone, a jumping-off point that lets Chestnut expand on his feelings about the piece and its message.

While the gospel classics are all triumphant, the secular music's success is about 50/50. Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday," Chris Potter's "All by All," and Horace Silver's "Peace" fit Chestnut's concept perfectly, but Bill Withers' "Lean on Me" and Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" seem like square pegs stuffed in round holes. While the latter tunes can be interpreted to have sacred ties, Spirit proves there's nothing like the real thing.

Visit Cyrus Chestnut on the web.

Heath Brothers
Endurance
Jazz Legacy Productions
2009



When saxman Jimmy Heath formed the Heath Brothers Quartet in 1976 with bassist Percy Heath and drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath ("Tootie"), this royal family of jazz already had musical history that stretched back over three decades. Trad jazz was unfashionable in '76, but that didn't stop the group from playing trad over the next three decades. Endurance is their first recording since Percy passed away in 2005. In the words of Keith Jackson: "And the legend continues."

Jimmy's tenor is butter-smooth throughout this set, with most of the material written by himself. His interplay with pianist Jeb Patton is outstanding on "Changes," Patton's own "Dusk in the City" is right in line with the Quartet's musical mission statement, and Jimmy jumps on soprano sax while Patton bounds about like a spring lamb on "Two Tees." Bassist David Wong draws the unenviable duty of stepping into Percy's slot, but Wong performs like a champ on his lead lines for "You and Me," and his bowing on "From a Lonely Bass" is top-notch. Albert pretty much stays in the background, but that's consistent with the role he played in the Modern Jazz Quartet: maintain the foundation, and let the front line do its thing.

The saying goes, "It's not the years—it's the miles." But there's also something to be said for how much is left in the tank. The Heath brothers' gas gauge is nowhere near "E," and they've got many miles to go.



Visit Heath Brothers on the web.

Steve Davis
Eloquence
Jazz Legacy Productions
2009



If there's anyone who's tailor-made for a label dedicated to the legacy of jazz, trombonist Steve Davis is the man. JazzTimes did a write-up on One For All, the unapologetically trad sextet that features Davis, tenor man Eric Alexander, pianist David Hazeltine, and drummer Jim Rotondi. Drummer Joe Farnsworth keeps time for OFA, and Davis brought him along for Eloquence, a standards-heavy date that Davis' band mates must surely approve of.

And why not? Manning the piano chair is none other than Hank Jones, who will only appear on a fdisc if somebody samples him. The 91-years-young Jones is simply luminous on "How Deep is The Ocean," and he couldn't be brighter on Rodgers & Hart's "Have You Met Miss Jones" if he tried. Davis is one of the trombone section's best improvisers, which he amply demonstrates on the swinging opener "Yardbird Suite," and his partnership with Jones shows a wonderful give-and-take that puts both players in the best light.

That said, Eloquence only reaches its full potential when Davis has more foils to joust with. Trumpeter Roy Hargrove and vibes master Steve Nelson join the front line for Jones' "Minor Contention," pump up the date a little more on Davis' "T.H.E. Blues," and add serious juice to a wild "It Could Happen to You." Nelson stays for two more tracks, including an exquisite take on John Lewis' "Django," but Hargrove is definitely missed. Overall, Eloquence is a fine effort, but it's also like a soufflé: it needs the right conditions to really rise.



Visit Steve Davis on the web.

Sharel Cassity
Relentless
Jazz Legacy Productions
2009



A few years before she got her Masters degree from Juilliard, multi-instrumentalist Sharel Cassity was a college student scrabbling for places to play jazz in her native Oklahoma. But while it's a safe bet that Jimmy Heath owns saxophones older than she is, Cassity has the chops, the sound, and the material to stand proudly next to her label mates.

The opening track is titled "Say What?," apparently named for the reaction Cassity's ear-grabbing opening salvo should garner, and not just because she plays fearless, unerring soprano sax. Like all her originals, "Say What?" feels like it's been around for years, and yet it's got the brightness and energy of a newborn colt. Cassity does most of her work on alto sax, building solos with riveting designs. This cracking, substantive jazz gets great support from drummer E.J. Strickland and bassist Dwayne Burno. And Cassity incorporates hot professionals from the generation in front of her: reedman Don Braden switches to alto flute for "Still," trombonist Michael Dease (who penned the title track) is a perfect partner for Cassity's alto, and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt makes "Love's Lament" a little more forlorn.

Maintaining a legacy (of jazz, or anything else) doesn't stop at repeating the deeds of the past. It also requires finding people to learn from—and then build on—that past, so that the future is even better. While Chestnut, Davis, and the Heath Brothers are prime examples of jazz' past, Sharel Cassity has the potential to be one of the leaders of this genre's next generation. If John Lee can find more where she came from, the future's going to be pretty cool.



Visit Sharel Cassity on the web.


Tracks and Personnel

Spirit

Tracks: Oh How I Love Jesus; Lift Every Voice and Sing; Blessed Assurance; Wade in the Water; Lean On Me; I Surrender All; Gospel Improv #1; Old Time Religion; Bridge Over Troubled Water; Come Sunday; All by All; All Creatures of Our God and King; Peace; The Lord's Prayer.

Personnel: Cyrus Chestnut: piano.

Endurance

Tracks: Changes; Wall to Wall; You or Me; Ballas from Leaderhsip Suite; Dusk in the City; Two Tees; Autumn in New York; From a Lonely Bass; The Rio Dawn.

Personnel: Jimmy Heath: tenor sax, soprano sax (5, 8); Jeb Patton: piano; David Wong: bass; Albert "Tootie" Heath: drums; Claudio Roditi: shaker (9)

Eloquence

Tracks: Yardbird Suite; How Deep is The Ocean; Minor Contention; T.H.E. Blues; It Could happen to You; My Ship; Have You Met Miss Jones; Django; Road Song; Peedlum; Lament.

Personnel: Steve Davis: trombone; Hank Jones: piano; Nat Reeves: bass; Joe Farnsworth: drums; Roy Hargrove: trumpet, flugelhorn (3, 4, 5); Steve Nelson: vibes (3, 4, 5, 7, 8); John Lee: electric bass (9, 10, 11)

Relentless

Tracks: Say What; Still; Relentless; Call to Order; Love's Lament; Song of Those Who Seek; No Turning back; On the Nile.

Personnel: Sharel Cassity: alto & soprano sax, flute; Orrin Evans: piano; Dwayne Burno: bass; E.J. Strickland: drums; Michael Dease: trombone (2, 3, 5, 6, 8); Jeremy Pelt: trumpet (4, 6, 7); Thomas Barber: flugelhorn (2, 6, 8); Andres Boyarsky: tenor sax (3, 6, 8); Don Braden: alto flute (2)


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