Jazz CDs, Pt. 2 for June 2003

Some really fine jazz vocalists of interest next...

René Marie - Vertigo (with Mulgrew Miller, p. and sextet) - MaxiJazz MXJ 114:

When I reviewed René Marie’s Live at Jazz Standard last month I hadn’t yet heard her earlier CD, Vertigo. Now I have and it’s a four-star winner too; in fact if I had to choose just one it would be this one. The ensemble she works with here is a lot more than just piano and rhythm section, and the arrangements are just superb. A number of the tunes are standards but Rene Marie’s treatment of them is not. This gal has real impact in everything she sings, she follows her own individual style - pushing limits rather than taking the easy route, and her lovely rich voice is always spot on key unlike some singers I could name.

All 11 tracks here are Grade A material, but the one that stands out is certainly her medley of Dixie and Strange Fruit! She doesn’t exactly mix them but sings Dixie a cappella and fairly straight, then moving into Billie Holiday’s shocking anti-lynching polemic, with the ensemble behind her. Tracks: Them There Eyes, Surry with the Fringe on Top, I’d Rather Talk About You, Don’t Look at Me Like That, I Only Have Eyes for You, It’s All Right With Me, Vertigo, Detour Ahead, Moonray, Dixie/Strange Fruit, Blackbird. Purchase Here

Peter Cincotti - (Cincotti, piano & vocals; David Finck, bass; Kenny Washington, drums; Scott Kritzer, tenor sax on 3 tracks) - Concord Records CCD-2159-2:

This self-titled album brings us a another promising young jazz male vocalist (only 19) with an easy-going style similar to John Pizzarelli’s today or Bobby Troup’s yesterday. He was discovered by Harry Connick Jr. and first performed publicly with him at age 7. By way of bonus he’s also a fine jazz pianist and photogenic as all git out. He says Fats Waller’s Ain’t Misbehavin’ was one of the first tunes he heard that made him want to play jazz piano, and he feels hugely influenced by Waller. He doesn’t really do stride, but a Wallerian sense of bouncy good fund seems to pervade his up-tempo tunes. Producer Phil Ramone, who was behind this CD, calls Cincotti “the freshest old soul to come along in ages.” His debut CD was #2 in the jazz charts just behind Diana Krall’s #1. Not only does Cincotti display great taste in choosing his material and writing the three original songs here (his mother wrote the lyrics), he also did most of the arrangements. This is truly a teen prodigy of jazz. Tracks: I Changed the Rules, Comes Love, Are You the One?, Sway, Miss Brown, Lovers/Secrets/Lies, Fool on the Hill/Nature Boy, Ain’t Misbehavin,’ Come Live Your Life with Me, Spinning Wheel, You Stepped Out of a Dream, Rainbow Connection. Purchase Here

Jessica Molaskey - A Good Day - PS Classics PS-311 (Dist. By Image Entertainment):

Another new singer delving into the Great American Songbook that for a while there looked like it was going to turn yellow on the shelf. One paper called her style retro-jazz-vocals, but they are really just straight-ahead jazzy versions of some of the great pop songs of the ‘20s and ‘30s. Molaskey’s sexy, knowing purr of a voice may remind you of the late Peggy Lee - whose records it turns out Molaskey grew up with. She’s now married to John Pizzarelli, and he not only duets with her on Side By Side, but also appears on guitar on many of the tracks (joining his father Bucky and with his brother Martin on bass) and did many of the arrangements on the CD and co producer it. Plus he collaborated with his wife on five original tunes heard here .Other arrangements are by Don Sebesky and Ray Kennedy and a ten-piece group backs Molaskey. It’s all a delight.

Tracks are: All the Cats Join In, Everything Is Moving Too Fast, Somebody Loves Me, How Come You Ain’t Got Me?, Small World, It’s a Good Day, I Love the Way You’re Breaking My Heart, I Don’t Know Enough about You, Adam & Eve, The Girl with His Smile and My Eyes, It’s the Bluest Kind of Blues, I Wouldn’t Trade You, Side by Side, A Lifetime or Two. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Flip Phillips Celebrates His 80th Birthday - Arbors Jazz ARCD 19281:

This is the live record of a very special jazz event back in l995 when the veteran tenor saxist was given free reign to select both his musical cohorts and the program. The longtime jazz lights who joined Flip to play their hearts out included Scott Hamilton, Phil Woods, Buddy DeFranco, Bob Wilbur, Dick Hyman, Ralph Sutton, Herb Ellis, Howard Alden, Milt Hinton and Jake Hanna. And tunes were not chosen that were all standards either - there are five originals by Flip and some others you wouldn’t expect. This was a jam session not to be missed - ending in an all-stops-out ten-minute jam on Perdido. And it was well-recorded by Arbors, even to a video version with some additional material if you wish. Flip has since left us, but will be remembered fondly by all these cats as well as anyone picking up this terrific album. Tracks; Intro, Tenor Madness, Great Scott, Spanish Eyes, Poor Butterfly, When You Know You’re Getting Old, The Claw, If I Had a Penny, Maria Elena, Hashimoto’s Blues, Sweet and Lovely, Perdido. Purchase Here

Land of Giants - McCoy Tyner/Bobby Hutcherson/Charnett Moffett/Eric Harland - Telarc CD-83578:

[Note: This CD won’t be available until June 24!] The latest McCoy Tyner release is his fourth for Telarc and matches him up with three all- stars of jazz plus highlighting seven of his original compositions out of the total of ten tracks. Hutcherson is one of the best vibe players in the world today and he’s been playing occasionally with fellow Bay Area musician Tyner for as much as 40 years now. The album’s title was a nod to John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, but the quartet’s bassist and drummer contribute strongly to this powerhouse quartet. Moffett doesn’t just plunk away at his bass - he doesn’t amazing runs, makes use of harmonics, and sometimes even uses his bow as a drumstick. And Tyner is known for playing the entire keyboard - no Count Basie sparseness here - and he has some interesting harmonic ideas in his tunes. Mixing in three great standards by Frank Loesser, Ellington and Fred Coots can’t lose either. Typically fine Telarc engineering, mastering on DSD and using SBM in the reduction to 44.1 CD. Tracks: Serra Do Mar, December, Steppin,’ If I Were a Bell, Manalyuca, Back Bay Blues, For All We Know, The Search, Contemplation, In a Mello Tone. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Zez Confrey Piano Rolls and Scores - Realized by Artis Wodehouse - Warner Classics - Warner Classics 0927 49309-2:

Zez Confrey’s rollicking piano novelties have been almost forgotten today, but they were once the epitome of the 1920’s Jazz Age kicking up its heels. I learned Greenwich Witch early in my classical piano lessons (on my own) and have regaled party crowds with it since I was 15, playing it at breakneck player-piano-style speed. (The only problem was when they wanted more and I had to reveal that was all I knew.) Kitten on the Keys and Dizzy Fingers were Confrey’s biggest hits, and at the height of his fame he played in the same 1924 Aeolian Hall concert that launched Gershwin’s new Rhapsody in Blue. Debussy and Ravel were his idols in music school and he wedded impressionistic harmonies to ragtime in some of his amazingly virtuosic piano pieces. But there are also quiet miniatures in the style of MacDowell or Grieg.

In Confrey’s time the player piano was just as important as sheet music and 78s in disseminating popular music. Most of his tunes sound almost like they are being heard on a player piano with someone pumping furiously to keep up. In fact, his tunes were very popular on both the simpler 88-note piano rolls and the more sophisticated Ampico rolls. This collection of 23 selections originates from three sources - the two actual types of rolls plus “hand-played” performances (where rolls didn’t exist) by the woman behind this whole project, Artis Wodehouse. She previously realized the two volumes of Gershwin piano rolls and the one of Jelly Roll Morton rolls - all on the Nonesuch label.

All the selections are heard from a Yamaha Disklavier Pro computerized 9-foot concert grand. It records live performances which can then be edited and played back and recorded acoustically - sounding exactly like the original performance with the live pianist. This modern-day upgrade of the venerable player piano was also used in transferring the music from the two types of piano rolls. After conversion of the locations and lengths of the holes in the rolls to data files MIDI software was used to add the tempo and dynamics to the basic notes in the simpler rolls - a task previously carried out by the person furiously pumping the player piano. For the Ampico rolls a special computer program was created to translate the relative loudness and timing of the original rolls to data files which could be played on the Disklavier. The high quality of these transfers is illustrated by the difficult in telling which of the tracks on the CD were actually played by Ms. Wodehouse and which are really piano rolls. Perhaps there’s been some further refinement since her Gershwin CDs of some years ago, but the results here reminded me more of the amazing pair of Rachmaninoff computer-processed Ampico piano roll CDs on Telarc, which defy pegging as original piano rolls except by the most golden-eared expert. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

We close out jazz this month with a pair of real-life real-time pianists who don’t require any computer processing...

Deanna Witkowski - Wide Open Window (with Donny McCaslin, tenor & soprano sax; Jonathan Paul, bass; Tom Hipskind, drums) - Khaeon World Music KWM200303:

Deanna is 31, winner of last year’s Great American Jazz Piano Competition, and will be Marian McParland’s guest on Piano Jazz this September on NPR. She is also a singer and composer and this is her second CD. She was trained classically and has been playing jazz since her college years in Chicago. She has a strong interest in Latin jazz and has studied with Chucho Valdes among others. Some of her pieces display what one critic dubbed “a mean montuna.” Fred Hersch called her “a distinctive pianist and composer who plays with imagination.” Witkowski evidences a natural and unforced style about her tone and phrasing and a willingness to leave some spaces in the music. She also loves Cole Porter and selected three of his tunes for this album. Half to the tracks here are her own songs. One emulates Brazilian style, Sanctus is from a jazz mass she composed for a Manhattan church (part of many liturgical works she has written), and the album’s title tune is a classy blues number dedicated to the late jazz giant Mary Lou Williams. We have an important new talent here for sure. Tracks: All Thru the Night, New August Tune, Wide Open Window, From This Moment On, A Rare Appearance, Speak My Name, Just One of Those Things, You and the Night and the Music, A Wonderful Guy, Sanctus. Purchase Here

The Fred Hersch Trio - Live at the Village Vanguard (with Drew Gress, bass; Nasheet Waits, drums) - Palmetto Records PM 2088:

Hersch is one of the foremost artists in the world of jazz piano and has countless albums to his credit, both with his trio and in many collaborations with other performers. He is known for his lyrical and imaginative compositions, of which there are six on this album, but his ability to take countless jazz standards and re-invigorate them with fresh harmonic and rhythmic ideas performed using superb technique is probably his forte. His recent series of “songbook” CDs for Nonesuch concentrating on the music of a single composer such as Monk and Strayhorn is an example of this. In fact the opening track on this new CD - Monk’s Bemsha Swing, is a perfect example. It opens with the first two minutes just solo piano, sounding almost like a Schoenberg piano sonata with a bit of swing, then after the bass and drums join in it picks up and plays around on Monk’s quirky melodic and rhythmic suggestions with endless originality. But it totally avoids the heavy handed chordal pounding of some Monk interpretations. Gress’ bass solo on the second track is just as lyrical and imaginative as Hersch’s approach. Tracks: Bemsha Swing, At the Close of the Day, Phantom of the Bopera, Endless Stars, Swamp Thang, Stuttering, Some Other Time, Days Gone By, Miyako/Black Nile, I’ll Be Seeing You. Purchase Here

- John Henry

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