Ten on Cellar Live

C. Michael Bailey By

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That crafty Canadian Cory Weeds was onto something with the creation of his Cellar Live and now Cellar Music label. He reveals himself as a man for all seasons in being a confident saxophonist, music historian, and archivist with his new label Reel to Real (in cooperation with that maestro of the catalog, Zev Feldman. With ECM looming so large on the jazz horizon, it is always nice to know that the mainstream remains solidly represented

Just A Little Bit Further
Cellar Live

What is the current state of the jazz organ trio? It is Trinom3, featuring organist John Van Tongeren, guitarist Mike Clinco, and drummer Kendall Kay. Formed in 2013 and releasing their first recording in 2015, Details are Sketchy (Self Produced), and featuring saxophonist Bob Sheppard and trumpeter Walter Fowler. That recording, like the present Just a Bit Further featured a lion's share of original material, smartly composed and performed. Trinom3's brand of organ jazz is grease free. This is not exactly the soul-jazz that sprung fully-formed in the 1950. It is a distillation of Larry Young through the Leslie filter of Gary Versace, cleanly conceived and performed.

The trio kicks things off with "Peter Lorre" a thoroughly modern minor-key blues that does not fully reveal itself until well past the head. Clinco solos assertively while Van Tongeren and Kay lay down a solid vibe. And this is just about as common as the blues get here in the 21st Century. No Jimmy Smith single-note continuum beneath a blistering major-key solo. This is more subtle than that, without losing the excitement and drama. The remaining nine original compositions proceed in the same smart manner. Even the one "standard," Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" is a surprise beyond its simple inclusion here. The magic of this cover is the trio helps make sense of one of the most iconic songs in the LZ book. Just a Bit Further is one of the more progressive collections in Cellar Live's catalog, being so without breaking anything.

Miki Yamanaka
Cellar Live

Pianist and composer Miki Yamanaka leads a Modern Jazz Quartet format on her debut recording Miki. The standard jazz piano trio with vibraphone was almost de rigueur for 1950s sophistication in mainstream jazz. Classically oriented and punctilious in performance. Here comes Yamanaka, not afraid to bring a hammer to the festivities and bang out a newer, fresher direction. Yamanaka favors complex block chords (more so than Red Garland with softened Monkian dissonance. "Speaking on Monk," Yamanaka repaces "Monk's Dream" retaining all of Monk's note dropping and substitution while tweaking the tempo and order. Steve Nelson's vibraphone completes Yamanaka's transformation of the piece by smoothing all rough edges.

Drummer Bill Stewart and bassist Orlando le Fleming act as one in timekeeping, gently (and not so gently prodding the leader with subtle accents and inferences. Yamanaka's original "Sea Salt" is an example where a slowly complex figure develops, given just the right push broom below. Impressionistic and Far-Eastern in flavor, it is a rumination, jagged and disturbed with Stewart's deft cymbal work. Freely associative, an element extended into the more deliberate "Stuffed Cabbage." Le Fleming weaves a circuitous solo over Yamanaka's craggy terrain. Yamanaka performs with balladic poise on a beautiful treatment of "For All We Know." Often in jazz, evolution is sudden and nearly traumatic or, as with Miki Yamanaka, slow, concerted, and thoughtful.

Sam Dillon
Out in the Open
Cellar Live

Cellar Label founder Cory Weeds has his ear on something. What it is is evident in every release considered in this present article: mainstream jazz (with a dense and potent hard bop element). Weeds heard tenor saxophonist Sam Dillon when he appeared on Will Caviness's Cellar Live release A Walk (2014). He was impressed and approached Dillon for a recording. In turn, Dillon called mentor, drummer Billy Drummond and the remainder of the recording came together with pianist Peter Zak and bassist Yoshi Waki.

The recording date, undertaken in a fundraising effort for the label, produced nine selections, two of which are Dillon originals. "Out in the Open" is a moody ballad introduced by Zak, Waki and Drummond as an angular figure that is doubled by the saxophonist. The piece shows off Dillon's expansive and evenly-tempered tone. His chops are perfectly intact and he never attempts to impress with his technical ability (outside of the occasional multi-note flourishes that never evolve into vulgarity). Dillon's lengthy "New Blues" takes the harmonic format in a direction that makes the blues element almost unrecognizable. Performed in a nominal 3/4 time, the blues acts as the sturdy vehicle it has always been for improvisation. Dillon surprises us with a jazz reading of Jimi Hendrix's "Third Stone From the Sun." Again, there is nothing experimental about the playing. Only a well-crafted song presented in a different genre effectively. Well Done.

Jeb Patton
Tenthish, Live in New York
Cellar Live

Pianist Jeb Patton's education resume includes Duke University and the Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens College, City University of New York. It is impressive. But can he play? The short answer is yes. Patton like the tried-and-true mainstream route right down the middle of jazz. He has a well-appointed bag of tricks that have assimilated into one another, leaving the pianist with an enormous talent skill set. On Tenthish, Live in New York, Patton leads a standard jazz piano trio with bassist David Wong and drummer Rodney Green in performance at Mezzrow Jazz Club in New York City on March 18, 2018. The pianist is in an ebullient and loquacious mood performing his own compositions, the circuitous "Tenthish" and easy-swinging "Third Movement."

Patton draws deeply from the Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn with "Reflections In D," "Sophisticated Lady" and "Johnny Come Lately." Patton amply demonstrates his facility with the songbook, drawing his bandmates into the lush fray of genius. The lengthiest piece in the recital is the diptych "Royal Garden Blues / Kelly Blues." Patton shows off his considerable stride chops on the former while drawing the whole band in for the latter swinging romp. There is plenty of solo room given every one. The sonic are better than acceptable, bassist Wong being particularly evident. A nice and swinging trio date.

Bootsie Barnes & Larry McKenna
The More I See You
Cellar Live

A two tenor jazz organ trio. How can that be bettered. Saxophonists Bootsie Barnes and Larry McKenna join forces with Hammond B3 specialist Lucas Brown and drummer Byron Landham for a sporting collection of nine original and standard compositions representing the touchstone of Cory Weeds's Cellar Live label: the straight-ahead, mainstream jazz of the 1950s and '60s. On this organ jazz date, there is a noticeable lack of grease. this is not the soul jazz perpetuated by the organ trio in the 1960s. This music is friendly and urbane, with a certain well-scrubbed wholesomeness to it. These two brothers of Philadelphia and musical heritage as well as a harmonic trajectory. Together they have warm and inviting tones not unlike those of Harry Allen and Scott Hamilton, throwback sounds from before John Coltrane when Bean and Ben Webster ruled the roost.

Each saxophonist contributed one original to this project: Barnes's urban griot fare, swinging and insistent. McKenna's contribution, "Don't Redux the Reflux" is a breezy serpentine blues ballad that allows the two horns to play off of each performer's solo. Each of the principals also has an solo piece, Barnes's being a hard bop reading of "My Ship" with the corners shipped off, while McKenna claimed the Carey/Fischer composition ballad "You've Changed," played performed with a light touch and nostalgic feel. The two have the longest to work out on "Sunday in New York," which is a downtown, strutting romp as fast and bright as its namesake city. There is nothing artistically searching here, only artistically sound. That is on which mainstream jazz may always be counted.

The Humanity Quartet
Cellar Live

The Humanity Quartet is a collective of like minded musicians reacting to the coarsening of our culture and society. It was originally envisioned by bassist Sean Smith, who recruited saxophonist Joel Frahm, guitarist Peter Bernstein, and drummer Leon Parker for the present recording, aptly named Humanity. This recording it this quartet's effort to address the ugliness of the present society with that vehicle perfect for making such statements—music. The lion's share of pieces here are Smith original compositions with Frahm providing several songs of his own. The added decision to make Bernstein's guitar the harmonic anchor of the quartet works well.

Music as the message is nothing new and it is always a noble cause. Replace the background noise with thoughtful beauty. The Humanity Quartet does exactly this on Humanity. Broadly, the compositions on this disc reflect the personality of their composers. Smith's pieces and angular, some with edges, like the opening "A Good Thing" and "A Whole New You," while Frahm's two contributions focus more on melody (as do all of this solos). "Song for a New Day" is curiously bluesy and organic. Frahm's language is one of the American music vernacular with echoes of The Crusaders and R&B. "Jobimola" is something else altogether. Frahm manages to paint the spirit of Bossa Nova darkly without losing the lilting swing. This is serious music for serious people who are seriously looking for relief from a damaged culture.

Sam Kirkmayer
High and Low
Cellar Live

Guitarist Sam Kirmayer's release High and Low is a more traditional organ jazz outing than Bootsie Barnes and Larry McKenna's The More I See You. Kirmayer is joined my organist Ben Paterson and drummer David Laing for nine earthy yet sophisticated performances squarely in the hard-going-on-post bop arena. Laing is the purveyor of the post-bop sound here, his drumming being equal parts relentless swing and land mine detonations. Kirmayer favors a sound in the vicinity of Grant Green and Kenny Burrell: sharp and clean melodic lines peppered with exquisite chording and comping. Kirmayer's soloing is never overstated and always expressed with good taste. He is no showoff.

The guitarist provides several provocative originals. particularly in the full-bore bop title track and the mildly balladic "Recurrence." A trio of standards anchor the disc. "Nancy (with the Laughing Face) is given a light, if slightly amorphous reading drawing on the restraint of all of the musicians. "On A Clear Day You Can See Forever" is treated likewise, except at a greater velocity. "Ill Wind" is transformed from a 4/4 to a classic 5/4 signature with impressive results. All performances are solid on this recording providing endorsement enough of High and Low. It is encouraging that younger players will remain the keepers of such a precious flame.

Joe Magnarelli Quintet
If You Could See Me Now
Cellar Live

From time to time, contemporary jazz artists rediscover the charms of composer and arranger Tadd Dameron, inspiring them to pay homage to this notable artist with a collection focusing on Dameron's considerable body of work. This present batch of homages includes Vanessa Rubin's exemplary The Dream Is You: Vanessa Rubin Sings Tadd Dameron (Nibur Records, 2019) and trumpeter Joe Magnarelli's Cellar Live offering If you Could See Me Now, titled after Dameron's greatest ballad. Dameron's music is facile enough for improvisation while being durable enough to retain it undeniable identity.

Trumpeter Joe Magnarelli leads his appropriately hard bop quintet through nine Dameron compositions. Notably missing is the popular "Good Bait" which has been covered many times, as well as "Hot House." Present are the well-known "Lady BIrd" and "If You Could See Me Now." The latter of these two songs with a delicately sumptuous abandon. Magnarelli plays open bell in the midrange, possessing a thoughtful tone that is a cross between Miles Davis and Chet Baker. The trumpeter's opening chorus and solo border on modal, lightly floating above the harmonic A minor trappings of the piece. It pairs well with the following, more upbeat "The Dream is You" featuring tenor saxophonist Ralph Moore sparring with Magnarelli in a fine reading of the song. Tadd Dameron is always a worthy subject for attention, particularly when that attention is this sublime.

Cory Weeds Quintet
Live at Frankie's Jazz Club
Cellar Live

If one were to accuse Cory Weeds of creating a record label explicitly for his music, well.... one would be right. And "his" music is hard bop, that beautifully strange extension of its predecessor be bop, incorporating elements of rhythm and blues, gospel, and blues in an earthier, more emotive sub-genre. Without sacrificing the technique required for be bop, hard bop returned the "soul" to that technique, creating the flavor of jazz to become mainstream in the 1960s, remaining as vital today. Weeds is definitely not beyond adding a bit of context and theme to his blowing sessions. Recorded at Frankie's Jazz Club in Vancouver, British Columbia, May 26, 2018, Weed's present project employs trumpeter Terell Stafford, pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Michael Glynn and drummer Julian MacDonough in the classic hard bop quintet fronted by trumpet and saxophone.

Weeds extends the hard bop theme by concentrating on some lesser considered titans of the style. Well represented here is alto saxophonist Jackie McLean. Weeds has always been a devotee of McLean's music and he includes three McLean compositions on this love date: "Consequence" is a relentlessly fast piece that allows Weeds to blow with Mabern, who played piano on the original McLean recording of the same title. Stafford blows a blazing solo spurred on by Mabern and the rhythm section. "Tolypso" is an island vibe from Consequence. Mabern claims it for his own, providing a hard driving solo before trading licks with Weeds. The last McLean piece is "The Three Minors," another complex head from McLean's 1978 release Hipnosis. The piece closes the disc as well as the performance and the soloing by all show it. The jewel of the set is Tina Brooks "Gypsy Blue," a slippery Blue Note offering by an underappreciated master. An excellent jazz recording for those listeners wanting something different from the past.

Native Soul
What Is That Isn't
Cellar Live

At about the time one would believe that Cellar Music is devoted exclusively to maintaining exposure of mainstream jazz, the quartet Native Soul joins its ranks, brining with it smartly composed modern jazz, acoustic and pristine. What Is That Isn't is the fourth recording for the band, the first on Cellar Music. To be sure, the musical fare is hard-post-bop or what we have come to think of as "jazz" when it pops up in a movie soundtrack or on a stream in a trendy restaurant. The quartet consists of drummer Steve Johns, saxophonist Peter Brainin, pianist Noah Haidu, and bassist Marcus Mclaurine. The quartet becomes a quintet with the addition of trumpeter Freddie Hendrix. The band's traditional book features music by all of the members mostly equally and the selections here are no exception of an interesting cover of the Beatles' "Nowhere Man" played as a jazz waltz, and in about every other time signature you can hear. Shades of Brubeck and Rush.

Of the songs presented, bassist Mclaurine favors the circuitous character of the best hard-becoming-post bop, sounding like the best blowing session. Pianist Johns likes brightly swinging pieces, shiny and new like "Sleepwalk" while Haidu likes the craggy and fragmented, as on "Song of Secrets" and "The Subversives." The sum of these parts is intelligent music played with brains and fire, displaying the best in music creativity. Not a dull moment here.
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