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Jazz Quanta: February


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February's Jazz Quanta is a beautifully mixed bag of blues, jazz instrumental and classical. There is never a dull moment.

Renee' and the Walkaways—The Walkaway Sessions (Self Produced, 2013). Vocalist Renee' Cheek heads up the piquant gumbo talent of her very own band, the Walkaways. The Walkaway Sessions is a Louisiana grassroots affair produced by David Hyde, who also provides bass playing. The music is a rich roux drawing equally from the blues, country, zydeco, Tex-Mex and jazz...but make it heavy on the country. Originals "No Regrets," "Poor Cold Heart" and "I Don't Need You" are the country anchor that holds this musical boat steady, allowing this crack band and vocalist to explore the creole wonder of "Easy Come Easy Go" or the swampy R&B of "Too Stupid To Stop." Cheek's vocals are stripped down and unadorned, infused with the necessary twang to make her singing authentic. With Dr. John on organ and Marcia Ball singing background vocals, one can not go too far afield. When Cheek gets that full horn section behind her, she is a wonder.

Scenes— But Not Heard (Origin, 2014). Of their second recording, Along The Way (Origin, 2006), guitarist and All About Jazz contributor John Kelman said, "There's an airy, ECM-like feel to much of the album... more in its aesthetic than any direct stylistic reference." That immediately frames the music of guitarist John Stowell, bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer John Bishop, giving it a definition and location. The "ECM sound" at once defies accurate definition while immediately preparing one's ear. This is true of Scenes' fifth recording which features the addition of saxophonist Hans Teuber to great effect. It is Teuber's flute suspended over the plush and understated blanket of sound that Stowell and trio place beneath it that beckons ECM comparisons. Light and airy, these seven pieces make up a seamless sonic poem that grows with each listen. Fertile is the band's mind and talent for a sound ethereal.

Shawn Maxwell—Shawn Maxwell's Alliance (Chicago Sessions, 2014). Chicago-area Multi-reeds player Shawn Maxwell unveils his big band. But this is no ordinary big band. Inspired by the 1970s minimalist compositions/instrumentations of composer Philip Glass: using high reeds and the vibraphone in complex and repetitive figures that develop into more elaborate sonic thoughts over the course of the recordings 18 relatively selections. This is music as cacophony. "From Parts Unknown" is the creative result of Bach meeting Philip Glass, the two having a couple of glasses and Bach demonstrating his concept of counterpoint that was to come after The Art of Fugue. Maxwell favors simple figures over which to place solos, solos that could be wordlessly vocal or instrumental. The band touches the free ("Plaza") and near-New Age ("Waiting Food"). "Radio Hit Number Four" is a cry from the analyst's couch that resolves...into nothing but the following "Here's Your Swing Tune" which is anything but. Maxwell has a dry musical sense of humor that he uses to challenge the listener to hear at higher levels. His "big" band magnifies this effort.

Marcos Pin & Yago Vazquez—Duology—Session 1 (Self Produced, 2014). Five famous jazz compositions, a little over 30- minutes long: this slim CD might be better termed an EP save for the intelligent and blistering performances by guitarist Marcos Pin and pianist Yago Vazquez. Promising a multivolume series of duets performing standards, Pin inaugurates things with Duology— Session 1, pitting guitar against piano. Alto saxophonist Charlie Parker provides two of the five selections here: a Hot Club take on "Donna Lee" and muted and introspective "Dewey Square." Pin and Vazquez play foil to one another, effectively comping behind one another. On "Donna Lee" Pin establishes a single- string walking bass behind Vazquez, who boils beyond a simmer in his solo. The pair straighten out Thelonious Monk's "Blue Monk" into the spooky blues it is. Pin plays his best Joe Pass in the solo passages and his best Freddie Green in the rhythm sections. The pair take the bebop out of "All The Things You Are, giving the piece an impressionistic feel, while peeling "You don't KNow What Love Is" away from Chet Baker and injecting it with a bit of bop. More to come.

Anne Akiko Meyers—The Four Seasons: The Vivaldi Album (Entertainment One, 2014). Is there the least inkling of need for one more "The Four Season" when the record bins (records?) are chock full of so many cutouts that they could provide anyone with a CD (or MP3) player with a perfectly good performance rendered in whatever historic flavor desired? There is, if that performance can be a bitingly fresh and vibrant as that of Anne Akiko Meyers, sawing her 1741 "Vieuxtemps" Guarneri del Gesu against a fine English Chamber Orchestra led by a historically informed David Lockington. The four concerti are dispatched with beautiful and faithful authority, Meyers' playing muscular when necessary and delicately nuanced throughout. Temp are brisk, but not so as the early period instrument performances of the 1980s. Lessons learned and Meyers' evenly distributed maturity since her debut in 1992 make this the opportune time of perform these Vivaldi warhorses with an informed grace and presence.

Daniel Szabo, Peter Erskine, Edwin Livingston—A Song From There (Self Produced, 2014). Hungarian Los Angeles- native pianist Daniel Szabo has distinguished himself in jazz, classical and film composing. He exercises the former of these in a trio setting on A Song From There, a collection of seven kinetic compositions that range in personality from the painfully introspective to the crackling electric. Joining Szabo are drummer Peter Erskine and bassist Edwin Livingston, who serve to batten down the edges of Szabo's compositions, keeping them from flying off altogether. "Hun-Fro Blues" is presented in two takes, bookending the recording's program. Szabo seasons the piece with eastern harmonies and African rhythms over which he sprinkles his solo notes as if raining on a lake. The reprise, an alternate take, features bassist Livingston in a lengthy introduction reminiscent of Jimmy Garrison introducing John Coltrane. "Kid's Dance" is an erstwhile waltz with a melody fragrant with Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments." Erskine's drumming is delicate and understated while Livingston's bass bends to the demands of Szabo's melodic direction. All of the music herein is in this same internal vein, thoughtfully composed and masterfully performed.

MoFrancesco Quintetto—Maloca (Art of Life Records, 2013). MoFrancesco Quintetto is the outgrowth of Italian bassist Francesco Valenti's quest for a jazz degree in double bass from ESML, Escola Superior de Musica de Lisboa. This after degrees in languages and literatures of hispanic and lusophone countries, at Universita Statale di Milano. An ardent academic, Valenti is pursuing his PhD in Ethnomusicology at Universidade Nova de Lisboa. His quintet is his vehicle for his perusal of the musics of Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and parts unknown. The music that results is soundly rooted in Latinesque jazz with a further, almost indefinable refinement that no doubt results from Valenti's august education. The compositions are complex, yet melodic and the instrumental support and integration is completely formed, precise and accurate. Valenti's bass playing is often front and center but in no way selfish. Guta Lucena's bass clarinet adds a unique dimension to the recording, especially on "Buciumeana." Trumpeter Johannes Kreiger steps into his Lee Morgan for the jaunty blues "Soul," which could have come right off Cornbread (Blue Note, 1965). A superb ending to a well- written and performed recital.

Cava Menzies/Nick Phillips—Moment to Moment (Self Produced, 2014). Is it bad for one artist to sound a bit like another artist? It actually can be no other way. Few musicians grow up hermetically sealed from all that came before them and thus bare the influences of their predecessors. Trumpeter Nick Phillips, at once sounds a bit like Miles Davis and no one else in the universe. The effect could be due to the fact that Moment to Moment is a "traditional" (or "mainstream") jazz ballads recording and as such could only stand to have a resemblance to the First Great Quintet's "My Funny Valentine" or "It Never Entered My Mind." But then, that is not exactly right. Enigmatically, Moment to Moment sounds so familiar, but is yet so different. Bolstered by the fresh vision of pianist/co- leader Cava Menzies this tight quartet sounds thoroughly modern sonically and with respect to the song arrangements. Phillips plays with a broad trumpet tone, particularly in the lower register where he almost mimics a flugelhorn (this can be heard on "You"). "You Don't Know What Love Is" and "Almost Blue" are the richest of jazz chocolate.

Mauricio de Souza—Different Directions (Pulsa Music, 2014). Drummer and percussionist Mauricio de Souza unites his own group with Bossa Brazil for a recital of originals and standards that is refreshingly straight ahead jazz with a strong Latin flair. De Souza plays in a variety of formats ranging from trios to quintets made up of differing instruments but each anchored by his precise and swinging drumming. Pianist Marc Copland and vibraphonist Jerry Weir smooth things harmonically with bassist Gary Mazzaroppi. Multi reedist Sharel Cassity contributes her alto saxophone playing and composition on the sinewy "The Acceptance of Resolve" while guitarist Mike Stern holds up "Invitation." The sonics are acoustic and warm and the band swings with a grace and dignity that his becoming more rare in jazz recording.

David Krakauer—The Big Picture (Table Pounding, 2014). Clarinettist and Klezmer-specialist David Krakauer assembles a crack sextet and twelve movie themes that bring together cultural and personal elements of his Jewish Heritage. The Big Picture is a skillfully wrought a dn intelligently programmed recital of compositions associated with films containing Jewish motifs. Krakauer's clarinet, Jenny Scheinman's violin and Rob Burger's accordion and pump organ lend a distinctly Eastern European flavor to the recording, readily recalling Krakauer's commitment to Klezmer music. "Willkommen" from Cabaret (Allied Artists, 1972) is Klezmer Dixieland, while The Pianist's (Focus Features, 2002) "Moving To The Ghetto," "The Family" from Avalon (Tristar, 1990) and the "Love Theme" from Sophie's Choice (Universal, 1982) all smack of a homeland easily remembered, if ever left. "Honeycomb" from Lenny (United Artists, 1974) is urban funky. This disc has the splendid character of Uri Caine's Wagner e Venezia (Winter & Winter, 1998).

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