CD Reviews: Playing Catch-up (Part 1)


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300x300.jpg Perennial - Rob Garcia 4 - BJU Records) - Part of the allure of drummer/composer's Garcia 3rd CD as a leader was the anticipation of hearing the young saxophonist Noah Preminger and pianist Dan Tepfer.  Preminger, a Hartford-area native, had an excellent debut CD last year ("Dry Bridge Road“) while Tepfer has shown remarkable range, working with Lee Konitz, Paul Motian and Ralph Towner. Garcia gives his youthful charges plenty of room and challenging musical structures to play with.  Preminger's tenor playing has a softer edge yet he shows no trepidation in digging into the music.  His inquisitive yet playful romp through the multi-sectioned “Vortex“ is a treat - he's not a “muscular" player like John Coltrane or Michael Brecker but one who employs a softer, Lester Young-like, tone in most instances. His softer attack on “Cyberganic“ works nicely above the subtle yet propulsive rhythms.  Tepfer is a delight throughout, plays with great assurance. In the course of a solo, he can move from Monk-like blues runs to double-handed chordal charges.  He seems fearless (his work on “Little Trees“ is quite a treat) and is able to negotiate Garcia's open-ended compositions with the dexterity of a Le Mans driver.  I don't know if Garcia wrote this music with Tepfer in mind but the 29 year-old really drives this program (and works intuitively with the leader.)
Lest I forget, bassist Chris Lightcap is a stalwart on the “back line", the true supportive bassist with lines that fill but do not get in the way.  The music has many areas where much is expressed without over-reaching and it's the bassist's rich tones that shape those moments. 
Garcia wrote all but 1 of the 10 tracks, the exception being a splendid take on Ray Noble's “Cherokee."  His playing is assertive but not showy, propulsive, melodic (several of his solos build off the thematic material) while his writing doesn't lack for well-crafted melodies or harmonic possibilities.  “Perennial“ refers to the “flower" theme that pervades the song titles but this is also a recording whose music continues to “blossom" over many listenings.  I highly recommend this fine recording.  For more information, go to robgarcia.com

TRA_Cover.jpgThe Road Ahead - Randy Ingram - (BJU Records) - California-native Ingram is known for his piano work behind vocalists Julie Hardy, Tierney Sutton and Jack Donahue and has performed with the late Billy Higgins (drums) as well as guitarist Ben Monder.  “The Road Ahead“ is his debut CD and he displays a sensitive touch, a keen ear for melody ad harmonic inventions.  He also wisely employs the excellent rhythm section of bassist Matt Clohesy and drummer Jochen Rueckert.  Saxophonist John Ellis appears on several tracks, adding his clear soprano and tenor tones to the mix.  What stands out most is the influence of Brad Mehldau in the pianist's approach to his material - Ingram is not as “dramatic" as player as Mehldau but one hears a similar dedication to exploring the music, in mining the melodic gold and lack of fear of moving a piece in different directions as the song evolves. The 9 tracks include 4 originals such as  “Dream Song“ and the simply lovely “Hope“ as well as works by The Beatles, Cole Porter, Thelonious Monk (a imaginative re-working of “Think Of One“), Ornette Coleman and the venerable chestnut, “Spring Can Hang You Up The Most."   “Dream Song“ is an excellent example of a tune that keeps opening, like a flower in the morning sun. Lennon & McCartney's “For No One“ is also allowed to breathe as the musicians move forward. Ingram's presentation of the melody line displays the sweet theme before the pianist steps out for a fine, contemplative yet expansive solo.
The Road Ahead“ is a good start for young Randy Ingram and offers a blueprint for a creative future. As he steps away from his influences, his music should grow even more. For more information, go to bjurecords.com.

jeffhamilton_symbiosis.jpgSymbiosis - The Jeff Hamilton Trio - (Capri Records) - Drummer par excellence Hamilton has been “swinging" ensembles large and small for the past 3 decades.  He's toured and recorded with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, the Count Basie Orchestra, Natalie Cole, Diana Krall, Milt Jackson, Rosemary Clooney, Barbara Streisand, Mel Torme, and John Pizzarelli, and had a long, happy, musical relationship with bassist Ray Brown. He co-leads the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and leads this trio.  The first thing that stands out about this recording is how well the trio plays ballads.  Lionel Hampton's “Midnight Sun“ and Claus Ogerman's tune that gives the CD its title come back to back.  The former features creative and melodic drum work while “Symbiosis“ shines the spotlight on pianist Tamir Hendelman's graceful and thoughtful playing. Bassist Christoph Luty offers an arrangement of Ray Brown's lowdown “Blues for Junior."  Hendelman's two-handed solo work hearkens back to  Phineas Newborn and Ray Byrant, joyous and “swinging."  The only original tune is Hamilton's “Samba De Martelo“ and its Brazilian-feel and the leader's wonderful brush and cymbal work is extremely satisfying (not to forget the pianist's deftly turned-out solo.) The drum solo is quite tasty and melodic. 
There's plenty of fine music and playing on “Symbiosis" and while a good portion of the material is familiar, the trio's approach is fresh and, ultimately, pleasing.  For more information, go to hamiltonjazz.com

cd.jpgRight On Time - Graham Dechter - Capri Records) - If you like your jazz guitar without a bunch of frills, sprinkled with a healthy dollop of blues, loaded with sweet melodies and smart solos, young Mr. Dechter (a mere 23) has created a program for you. Over the past 5 years, he's taken over the guitar chair in the Clayton-Hamilton Big Band and has logged time with violinist Regina Carter, pianist Bill Charlap, vocalists Kurt Elling and Roberta Gambarini, saxophonists Jimmy Heath, and James Moody, and fellow guitarist John Pizzarelli (a small sample of his collaborations.)  Jeff Hamilton (drums), Tamir Handelman (piano) and John Clayton (bass) offer fine accompaniment on a program of standards, an original and a tune by the guitarist's father, Brad Dechter (educator, orchestrator, and composer.) There's nothing out of the ordinary but the music is played with such joy and devotion to interplay and a group sound that it is easy to like what one hears.  Dechter's tone is soft and “warm" (Clayton apropos description), amply displayed on ballads such as Cy Coleman's “With Every Breath  I Take“ and the elder Dechter's “Right on Time (Db Tune)." You have to like the way the quartet swings the devil out of Johnny Hodges' “Squatty Roo“ and Thad Jones' “Low Down."  Graham Dechter's debut disk is sweet stuff and an easy, fun, listen. To find out more, go to grahamdechter.com.

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