Six on Cellar Live

C. Michael Bailey BY

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Cory Weeds' record label Cellar Live has become a welcome home to straight-ahead mainstream jazz in the same way that Arbors Records has been the beacon for traditional jazz and swing. Think Norman Granz's Pablo label tele-transported deep into the 21st Century. Six recent releases illuminate Cellar Live's importance to jazz as a whole and to the mainstream, specifically.

Emmet Cohen
Masters Legacy Series Volume 2: Emmet Cohen featuring Ron Carter and Evan Sherman
Cellar Live

Pianist Emmet Cohen returns with his follow-up to Masters Legacy Series Volume 1 featuring Jimmy Cobb (Cellar Live, 2016) in Masters Legacy Series Volume 2: Emmet Cohen featuring Ron Carter and Evan Sherman. Cohen is intent on creating a dynasty for himself and the record label with the Masters Legacy Series. He does this by linking, in the present, jazz's past and future, always with an eye on the greatness in the music that came before. Recorded live in Pyatt Hall, Vancouver in June 2017, Cohen and bassist Cedar Walton consisting of three Walton compositions (that includes the beautiful ballad "Dear Ruth") and Carter's "It's About that Time." Artie Shaw's "Any old time follows and precedes two traditional Jewish Kaddishes. The disc closes with Carter playing solo before ending with Victor Feldman's "Joshua" on which Carter performed on Miles Davis' transitional recording Seven Steps to Heaven (Columbia, 1963) that first featured Carter, pianist Herbie Hancock, and 17-year old Tony Williams, who would eventually become member s of Davis' second great quintet after the addition of saxophonist Wayne Shorter. This is what I mean by Cohen bringing together jazz's past and future into the present.

The Scott Hamilton Trio featuring Rossano Sportiello & J.J. Shakur
Live at Pyatt Hall
Cellar Live

A month after Cory Weeds brought Emmet Cohen and Ron Carter to Pyatt Hall, he coaxed tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton in the company of pianist Rossano Sportiello and bassist J.J.Shakur to the same venue for a spirited workout with the Great American Songbook. Hamilton has been a stalwart supporter of mainstream swing for over 30 years, having recorded for Chiaroscuro, Arbors, and Concord Records. Hamilton's tenor sound is best described as coming out of the same tradition as Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Zoot Sims, and Don Byas. He is a very similar saxophonist as his contemporary tenor player Harry Allen. No screaming late Coltrane here. Hamilton is a beautiful throwback to a jazz time of musical elegance and class.

The repertoire on Live at Pyatt Hall is predictable and that is part of this recording's charm. Ballad-laden, the disc shows off both Hamilton's and Sportiello's sure knack for ballad playing. A languid workout is provided by both on standard fixtures, "Tangerine" and "Estate." Hamilton plays with an assured, vibratoless tone and Sportiello with a well-studied and loving hand for the material. "Three Little Words" is taken at a slightly faster tempo, but still remains in a brisk ballads range. Hamilton stretches out on "Black Orpheus" and bassist Shakur demonstrates his sure timekeeping, playing right on top of the beat. Shakur introduces "Just as I Thought You Were Here" quietly with light flurries of notes that become more distinct as the introduction develops. This release is the definition of an easy listening recording date.

Phil Stewart
Introducing Phil Stewart: Melodious Drum
Cellar Live

Introducing Phil Stewart: Melodious Drum does exactly that: introduce drummer and percussionist Phil Stewart In doing so, Cellar Live continues its developing tradition of keeper of the flame for mainstream jazz. In the mold of Max Roach, Art Taylor, and Philly Joe Jones, Stewart performs with a swinging authority and grace panache. Stewart leads a core trio with pianist Sacha Perry and bassist Paul Sikivie with selected contributions by Stewart's brother, saxophonist Grant Stewart, saxophonist Chris Byers and trumpeter Joe Marnarelli. This enables drummer Stewart to explore multiple formats, from trio to sextet on this debut recording. Stewart keeps things between the mainstream curbs stylistically while motivating the music with a swinging bounce. The drummer establishes his leadership creds immediately with the Dizzy Gillespie-Chano Pozo Afro Cubano "Manteca." His drumming is solid and simple, his tom-tom and cymbal work effective and provocative. Equal in caliber and quality is Perry, who provides three original compositions that reflect his interests in new presentations of the blues, the hinge between bebop and hard bop, and the refined spirit of Thelonious Monk. The pair with the entire sextet format address Bud Powell's touchtone "Dance of the infidels" issuing it in a steady be-hard-pop language. Gordon Jenkins' "This is All I Ask" gives brother Grant Stewart a spotlight in which to show-off his considerable ballad skills. He then goes upbeat on the angular "Apache." Solid and entertaining music.

PJ Perry Quartet
Alto Gusto: Live at the Yardbird Suite
Cellar Live

Recorded live at Edmonton's jazz club, Yardbird Suite, Alto Gusto is a well-designed hinge pin, fitting snugly among the other recordings presently considered. Alto saxophonist PJ Perry, a product of a musical family, in order from Medicine Hat, Regina, Sylvan Lake, Vancouver, has a recording history of 30 years and a local reputation to match. What the saxophonist brings to the Yardbird Suite for the present recording is a pleasantly balanced alto tone with a solid center through any articulation. The style is that of bebop following the surgical remove of the frantic, often hurried compulsion to cram as many notes into as small a space as possible. In short, Perry paces this music to breathe properly and to be readily consumed and considered. Perry leads an all-star quartet, featuring pianist Jon Mayer, bassist Steve Wallace and drummer Quincy Davis.

John Lewis "Two-Bass Hit," clocking in at just over 5 minutes. Heeding Art Pepper's admonition to, ..."never start a set with a ballad," Perry chooses an obscure Paul Chambers' blues "Ease It" (first appearing on Chambers' Go (Vee-Jay, 1959)), giving the piece an upbeat tempo workout. Perry duets with Wallace in the introductory head before the latter stretches the walk out to a brisk stroll. Perry opens the soloing with an extended and well-developed solo followed by the two-fisted Red Garland cum Wynton Kelly flavored solo of Mayer. Wallace solos with certain gusto with the understated support from Davis. The ballads "Close Your Eyes" and "After the Morning" receive two dramatically different treatments before the performance is closed with three bebop/hard bop statements, "Stablemates," "Two-Base Hit," and Charlie Parker's "Quasimodo." Impressive.

Cory Weeds
Let's Groove: The Music of Earth Wind and Fire
Cellar Live

Let's Groove: The Music of Earth Wind and Fire was the brainchild of alto saxophonist and Cellar Live founder Cory Weeds and keyboardist Mike LeDonne. The two previously joined to record Condition Blue: The Music of Jackie McLean (2015) and Up a Step: The Music of Hank Mobley (2012) for the label. This third "Music of..." recording is a departure from the pure jazz realm into the building of new standards for the genre. Earth Wind and Fire owned 1970s through '80s R&B airways back when radio was radio and we were all young. Weeds and LaDonne deftly demonstrate how easily EWF's music can be adapted to a freewheeling organ jazz combo. Crisp and clean, these interpretations are as piquant and compelling as they are finely crafted.

Weeds shares a two saxophone front with tenor saxophonist Steve Kaldestad. The two provide precise unison lines of a well-practiced duo. The disc is introduced with "Let's Groove" and features clever soloing by Weeds and especially guitarist Dave Sikula, who pulls out all of his Wes Montgomery octave stops. LeDonne greases things up with classic organ grind, heating up the festivities. The band next performs a crack version of "Getaway," adding percussionist Liam Macdonald to the mix. Other highlights include a fresh "Devotion" and a shaded "That's the Way of the World," sporting an inventive arrangement. "Shining Star" is introduced with a show-time break by LeDonne before evolving into a seriously swinging romp featuring both saxophonists. The most closely considered piece is "Kalimba," which is given a thorough 10-minute-plus performance. LeDonne transforms the song into a Lee Morgan "Search for a New Land" extension that rocks. This series is coming along nicely.

Adam Shulman Sextet
Full Tilt
Cellar Live

Adam Shulman's Sextet recording Full Tilt employs the largest format considered in this article. It also is the most densely populated with original compositions. Shulman is a Bay-area pianist who has previously released five recordings. The Cedar Walton edition of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers loom very large on this recording as evidenced by the recording's opener, the original composition "Fantasy in D Flat," which is harmonically based on Walton's "Fantasy in D" AKA "Ugetsu" from the Jazz Messenger's recording of the same name. Did you get all that? If hard bop had evolved into its next step, that music would sound like this: precise, didactic, and crystal clear. This tacitly represents three generations of jazz thought and the evolution of hard bop to its logical pinnacle.

This recording is a mixture of the soft intelligence of Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool with a hard bop allegiance like that of Wynton Marsalis and traditional NOLA jazz. Shulman composes smart, well-constructed songs on which he employs crack musicians, steeped in the vernacular. The title cut is vintage HB raised to the power of the 21st century, featuring trumpeter Mike Olmos and Shulman, who is more loquacious than say a Horace Silver and Bobby Timmons. Speaking of Timmons, the greatest hard bop pianist, Shulman closes his disc with his composition, "Mr. Timmons" a smart waltz blues that pays a special tribute to the bedrock of HB.

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