MAXJAZZ: Erin Bode, Mulgrew Miller, Denny Zeitlin and Jessica Williams

C. Michael Bailey By

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MAXJAZZ has shouldered its way to the forefront of independent jazz labels by intelligently grouping the label's releases into thematic series. Represented in these four recent releases are the first two series: The Vocal Series and The Piano Series. Typical of all MAXJAZZ releases, the sonics are close and clear. The engineering and production are impeccable, lending either in the studio of live, the intimate experience that is listening to jazz performed well. An additional characteristic of the label is to use top-notch accompaniment, a fact in abundant evidence here.

Erin Bode
Don't Take Your Time
(MXJ 118)

The Mid-Western Miss Bode takes her cue from two other prominent Mid-Western singers Karrin Allyson and Norah Jones. On Miss Allyson's recent Wild For You , the singer tends to a collection for her favorite pop songs from the '70s, '80s, and '90s, giving the songs an easy jazz bouquet. Erin Bode does the same with somewhat less well known but equally provocative songs, adding to them that genre bending sound that has placed Norah Jones at the top of the charts, This is illustrated very well on the title track which employs a folksy guitar and piano (played capably by Adam Rogers and Adam Maness, respectively), both moved by the velocity of soft brushes and a lithesome bass She extrapolates this method deftly to pieces like the Beatles "Here, There and Everywhere," Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," and " Bob Dylan's "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here with You." She takes on Bill Monroe's "In The Pines," where Bode melds the country flavor of Norah Jones with the ragged blues of Cassandra Wilson (note Meg Okura's frightening fiddle playing). Miss Bode is not afraid of the standard either, walking with Larry Grenadier's bass through "But Not for Me," deliciously augmented by Steve Nelson's vibes. Erin Bode has irresistibility impossible to deny.

Mulgrew Miller
Live at Yoshi's Volume One
(MXJ 208)

The irrepressible Mulgrew Miller follows his MAXJAZZ debut, reuniting his noted group Wingspan ( The Sequel ) with a live trio recording from Yoshi's in Oakland, California. Employing bassist Derrick Hodge and Drummer Karriem Riggins, Miller turns in a spirited, even relentless survey of the American Hard Bop/Post Bop landscape. Right out of the chute the trio swings into a corrosive reading of Frank Loesser's "If I Were a Bell." Miller attacks the song double-fisted intelligently soloing and comping behind Hodge and Riggins. The disc divides itself evenly between ballads and cookers, the former populated by the beautiful "Waltz for Monk" and Jobim's "O Grand Amor." The cookers on the disc include the opening "If I Were a Bell" and Woody Shaw's "The Organ Grinder," where the trio stretches out under the direction of Miller's orchestral piano, full-bodied and confident. Horace Silver's "Peace," bears the gospel-blues connection played as a Chopin nocturne by Miller, who's voicings are plush and perfectly consonant on this beautiful ballad. Miller's touch on "What a difference a Day Makes" is thoughtful and expansive Riggins uses some clever brush work to perfectly augment both Miller's and Hodge's soft touches. Miller ends on the high note of his composition of "Pressing the Issue" a fast-paced romp that perfectly ends Volume One. Seeing "Volume One" on a disc like this makes this writer grateful there will be more.

Denny Zeitlin
(MXJ 209)

Denny Zeitlin comes by his Renaissance Man status honestly. He is the son of a Radiologist father and a speech pathologist mother, both of whom claim an avocation of music. Dr. Zeitlin began his music training at seven, studying the classical repertoire before moving on to jazz in high school. He formed a band and gigged around his native Chicago. He continued his musical career while attending medical school at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore where he sat in at a bar owned by Gary Bartz's father, the North End Lounge. Since that time, Dr. Zeitlin has led a dual career of psychotherapist and jazz pianist. So, should we expect a lot from this man with an embarrassment of talent riches? Absolutely. MAXJAZZ maintains their reputation for bringing divergent talent together and for Dr. Zeitlin's date the label places him with the stalwart veteran bassist Buster Williams and the meteoric drummer Matt Wilson. This combination may make this recording the most enjoyable of all of these fine recordings entertained in this article. Dr. Zeitlin opens the disc with an almost abstract "You, The Night, and The Music,' where he focuses on the internal harmonies of the melody, accenting little heard portions of the beautiful structure of this ballad. He follows this with two original compositions, the Wayne Shorteresque "Wishing on the Moon," which contains a delicate Buster Williams solo and "Every Which Way," an octave leaping meditation on faster themes. Wilson is firm in his accompaniment without being over powering. He displays some very fine rim playing. "Put You Little Foot Out" is equal parts church, dissonance, and McCoy Tyner, seductively slow and thoughtful. "It Could Happen to You" and "Body and Soul" are spatial in different ways. The former is thickly atmospheric while the latter is lightly balladic. "Sweet Georgia Brown," a swing tune long favored by jazz musicians is given an off-beat treatment by the band with Zeitlin dramatically updating the piece with a waltz-like time. Matt Wilson is everywhere in a Tony Williams sort of way and everything works perfectly. Wayne Shorter's "ESP is a perfect vehicle for Zeitlin's harmonic proclivities. The group takes the piece at a very fast clip allowing everyone to show off their chops. The four-part Suite "SlickRock" is almost completely free jazz, demonstrating the broad range of the leader. Look for this disc on several critic's best-of-the-year list.

Jessica Williams
Live at Yoshi's Volume One
(MXJ 210)

Live at Yoshi's is Miss Williams third recording for the label. Her two previous MAXJAZZ recordings, recent This Side Up and All Alone were very well received at this magazine as well as others. To my mind Live at Yoshi's Volume One is Jessica Williams finest effort to date. She is simply a pianistic force of nature that will not be denied. As with the Zeitlin recording, MAXJAZZ couples Miss Williams with the eminent bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Victor Lewis. In contrast to her previous all solo piano recording, which highlighted Miss Williams' considerable composing skills, Live at Yoshi's has her motorvating through time tested standards. A sprite "I'm confessing that I Love You" is followed by a languid "Say It Over and Over Again" wonderfully rendered. Things become very interesting on the Williams' composition "Tutu's Promise" where the pianist adds a bit of funk to the mix. But that is only how the piece begins. Jessica Williams touches on several genera in the nine-plus minutes of the song. Williams plays some of the best Gene Harris since that pianist's death. At about the half-way mark, Miss Williams begins to rock , passing through a New Orleans funeral march, through a boogie woogie, on to the song's bluesy coda. She follows this Tour de force with the splendidly expressed "Heather" a Billy Cobham composition. This piece has a beautiful minor-key mood that occurs in a simple progression. Miss Williams chooses her notes carefully and the results are longingly exquisite. As with her previous, releases, This Jessica Williams offering will have a place on my best-of-the-year list.

Visit MAXJAZZ on the web at www.maxjazz.com .

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