Jazz CDs - March 2002

Let's start off with two CDs from a top Hammond B3 organist carrying on the tradition of Jimmy Smith...

Tony Monaco Trio - Burnin' Grooves - Summit Records DCD 304:
Tony Monaco - Master Chops T - Summit Records DCD 325:

Monaco's first commercial album last year was well-received and deserved it. It was quintessential organ-guitar-drums trio and really rocked. B3 masters such as Jimmy Smith and Joey DeFrancesco have taught and supported Monaco and the latter even wrote a statement for the new CD about what an incredible player he is. DeFrancesco also joins in on piano on many of the tracks of the first CD, making for a unique sound not often heard. Guitarist Paul Bollenback is no slouch either. And Tony does a few vocals as well.The nine tracks: Blues for T, Backward Shack, Gil Talk, Fungi Mama, Jumpin the Blues, Ashleen, Bluesette, Road Song, So Long for Now.

The new CD has as its title a nickname given Tony - a Master Chops knows when to play and when to leave space in the music. His trio is joined here by trombonist Sarah Morrow, saxist Donny McCaslin, and trumpeter Kenny Rampton, his guitarist Derek DiCenzo doubles on steel drums, and Tony doubles on accordion (his original instrument as a child) as well as singing in a Sinatra-like voice on two of the 11 tracks. There are some lavish horn arrangements and overall the CD is quite a bit more sophisticated than the first album, good as that is. Tracks: Acid Wash, White Dude Special, Ya Bay BEE, Tramps Blues, Ode to Brother Jack, So May It Secretly Begin, Luck Be a Lady, Apple Honey, St. Thomas, Me and Mrs. Jones, Pick up the Pieces.

But now a postscript that makes what you'll hear here all the more amazing: The reason Tony switched from accordion to organ was that at age 15 he was struck with a rare polio-like condition that damaged his nerves and he couldn't lift the accordion. Later it reappeared, damaging his forearms, ankles and vocal chords. He could barely talk. Doctors said he wouldn't play the organ or sing again. Surgery restored his speech and eventually he struggled to not only play but also to sing again. His determination won out, but that's not why you should get one of these CDs; it's because they're both required for any B3 fan and most jazz fans in general.

- John Henry


A pair of discs from European jazz performers offering very individual perspectives...

Nada - Panta Rei (four vocalists, trumpet, bass & drums) - Naxos Jazz 86069-2:

Debut CD from a singer-composer of partly East Indian background plus two other female singers and a singing trumpet player. One of the singers comes from an operatic background and another from blues and pop. Leader Bettina Koziol likes to explore vocalizations and blends of vocal styles. The disc includes wordless vocalise, scat and such straight vocal numbers as Dan Hicks' I Scare Myself. Nada means sound in Sanskrit and Panta Rei is Greek for "everything flows." Longtime drummer Bill Elgart - also reviewed this issue in our Hi-Res section - joined the other five performers in Munich for this highly original album. By the way, there is absolutely no hint of German accents on these vocals - interesting what a universal language of lyrics English has become! Tracks: Another Bossa Nova, Mirrors, Serena, Panta Rei, Going On, Inside Me, Out of Her Mind, Involved, I Scare Myself, Panic, Passion, North Star.

Pekka Pylkkanen's Tube Factory - Opaque - Naxos Jazz 86068-2:

No, this is not music for vacuum tube aficionados; nor with an album title like Opaque is it specifically for audiophiles at all! It's unclear how the tube factory bit fits in here, except that young Helsinki jazzman Pylkkanen plays in addition to saxophones several different sorts of flutes, including Indian flutes. And flutes are, after all, tubes. His sextet also includes guitars, keyboards, electric and acoustic bass, drums and percussion. The Opaque idea refers to a darkness of harmonies and timbres favored by the group, probably due to weather and light conditions in their part of the world. Some of the tunes - all composed by Pylkkanen - show a dark side. One is Black Pearl and another was inspired by the mood of Wilde's horror story The Picture of Dorian Gray. The Brazilian-leaning Hilipata is the brightest of the bunch to balance moods. Pekka compares some of his minor-key writing to Tchaikovsky. He certainly maintains a very individual and always interesting sound. Tracks: Donnerwetter, Wallaby's Dance, Lumi, TomCat, Black Pearl, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Balinese Wedding Song, Hilipata, Un Trou Dans la Boue.

- John Henry


A group of bassists par excellence on our next CDs...

Ron Carter - Pick 'Em / Super Strings (2 past LPs combined on one CD) - Milestone MCD-47090-2:

One of the best bassists around, known for his higher-pitched piccolo bass as well as the standard acoustic instrument and occasionally even for cello. On the first of these sessions, dating from l978, Carter's pianist is the great Kenny Barron. The title tune features Carter's standard bass dubbed to one channel and the piccolo bass to the other. Some of the major jazz names playing on one or the other of these sessions are Buster Williams, Ben Riely and Jack DeJohnette. Tracks 7 thru 12 are from the second album in l981. Carter was backed up here by 16 strings and several of the tunes are in a Latin bag. It's one of my personal favorites of his many albums. Tracks: All Blues, Opus 2, B and A, Pick 'Em, Tranquil, Eight, Bom Dia, Don't Misunderstand, Super Strings, Bitin,' No Flowers Please, Uptown Conversation.

SuperBass 2 - Ray Brown, John Clayton, Christian McBride - Telarc Jazz CD-83483:

Recorded live at NYC's Blue Note, this is the sequel to the l996 original effort featuring a jazz trio of three string basses. It may seem very strange to the uninitiated, but as Brown himself observed, "People don't realize how much music you can get out of three bassists." I second that statement. Of course it takes three masters of the big instrument such as we have here to get a lot out of it. Brown is the perfect leader for such an effort - he's been around seemingly forever and always learned and improving his chops. There are two vocals, but mainly vocalizing by the audience!- the old Temptations hit Papa Was a Rolling Stone makes a great party. Percussionist George Fludas also joins in on two of the numbers. This CD could provide a great test of your sub(s). You'd think the limited tonal color would get tiresome for a whole album but you'll probably be wanting more when it's over. Tracks: SuperBass Theme, Get Happy, Mysterioso, Papa Was a Rolling Stone, Three Songs from Porgy and Bess, Birk's Works, My Funny Valentine, Three By Four, Taco and a Pork Chop, SuperBass Theme reprise.

- John Henry


Guitars and mandolins galore on our next two CDs...

Mark Elf - Dream Steppin' (with Neal Miner, bass; Lewis Nash, drums) Jen Bay Records JBR 0009:

Mark has done superbly on the jazz charts and jazz radio with his past CDs and this one should be no different. Recorded since last September, he had decided he wouldn't let the tragedies put a damper on what he loves to do and went ahead with this recording session. Not being able to get a pianist he overdubbed the rhythm guitar tracks for a more rich sound than most guitar trios. The CD title tune is based on only the chord changes to You Stepped Out of a Dream. Elf has established a pattern of penning a witty tune on each album tied in with current concerns. A previous one was the Dot Com Blues, and this time it's the Pregnant Chad Blues. Tracks: Dream Steppin,' Too Marvelous for Words, Loved Again, Griff's Riff, Oye DNA, Ballad 2000, Rhymin' for Simon, Blues to the Left, America, Cheek to Cheek, Pregnant Chad Blues, Have You Met Miss Jones, Pregnant Chad Blues (alternate take).

David Grisman, Beppe Gambetta, Carlo Aonzo - Traversata (Italian Music in America) - Acoustic Disc ACD-47:

Not jazz of course, but such a wonderful collection and concept that I wanted to cover it anyway. Traversata was the crossing of the Atlantic by Italian immigrants to come to America at the beginning of the 20th century. This CD honors some of their rich musical heritage with performances by a trio of guitar and mandolins of various types. The 15 selections include classical, folk, pop tunes, even Nino Rota's Godfather Waltz - showing that producer Grisman didn't limit himself entirely to historically accurate selections. The sound of the two mandolins is a delight; you don't have to be Italian to dig it. Tracks: Costumi Siciliani, Oh Mio Babbino Caro, Idillio Premaverile, Manzanillo, The Wave, Tarantella, Intermezzo, Pickin' the Guitar, Violinata, Study for Two Mandolins, Valtzer Fantastico, The Godfather Waltz, Mazurka VI, Serenata a Ballo, April Kisses.

- John Henry


Still more guitars awready...

Nigel Clark - Grand Hotel Europa - Arkadia Jazz 70451:

Clark hails from Scotland and plays acoustic guitar only. He has become one of Europe's top jazz guitarists. While coming from a traditional base he has included strong influences of flamenco, Brazilian music, East Indian and other world music into his jazz improvisations. He even has percussionist Guy Nicolson, added to his trio on a few of the tracks, playing tabla on one of them. Five of the tracks are originals. The subtle silky sound of the Spanish guitar gives a more classical feeling to Clark's treatments of the ten tunes: East of the Sun, Grand Hotel Europa, Dolphin Dance, Sakura Samba, Once I Loved, In Another Moment, Island Dance, Caso De Verao, How Deep is the Ocean?, You Are Too Beautiful.

Great Guitars II - Charlie Byrd, Barney Kessel, Herb Ellis (with Joe Byrd, bass; Wayne Phillips, drums) - Concord Records CCD 4023:

The three jazz guitar masters began playing together at the l974 Jazz Festival in Concord California, from which the jazz label gets its name. Several albums have followed, all terrific. This is just one of them - by no means a new release but worthy of anyone's attention if a fan of multiple great jazz guitars. All the major influences on jazz guitar are paid homage to during the closing medley of this set: Django, Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery. Tunes are: Lover, Makin' Whoopee, Body and Soul, Cow Cow Boogie, Amparo, Outer Drive, On Green Dolphin Street, Medley: Nuages/Goin' Out of My Head/Flying Home.

- John Henry


We go south of the border for the next two CDs...

Ana Caram - Blue Bossa - Chesky Records JD219:

Hard to believe this is a brand new recording of bossa nova favorites except that the fidelity is better than anything we were hearing in the l960's bossa nova invasion. Caram is pure Brazilian and has a better voice than Astrud Gilberto did. The world's best ethnic/pop/jazz comes from Brazil anyway. That combined with the fine supporting players on guitar, sax, Fender-Rhodes piano, drums and two double-basses results in a seductive bit of nostalgia for those of us old enough to appreciate it. As the liner notes suggest, "very cool." Tracks: Desafinado, Blue Bossa, Triste, Corcovado, So Tinha, Inutil Paisagem, Fly Me to the Moon, Anjo de Mim, The Telephone Song, O Vento, So Por Amor, Pura Luz.

Jane Bunnett - Alma de Santiago - Blue Note 34273 2:

Jane Bunnett is a Toronto-based jazz flutist and soprano saxist who was known as a gifted multi-instrumentalist and band leader and did two fine duet albums with the late Don Pullen. In 1982 she vacationed in Cuba and since then she and partner trumpeter Larry Cramer have been carrying on their own jazz version of the Ry Cooder/Buena Vista Social Club phenomenal musical exchange between Cuba and the U.S. Among her previous exciting albums were a collaboration with two legendary pianists titled "Jane Bunnett and the Cuban Piano Masters" (World Pacific), and "Havana Flute Summit" (Naxos Jazz).

The current project pairs up "Habana Juana" with several different Cuban performers to honor the CD's title, which translates as Soul of Santiago. One is a 38-piece percussion ensemble, Conga de Los Hoyos. Another is a group specializing in the son form as heard on the Buena Vista CD; there is the fine singer known as Tiburon (The Shark) and another Cuban piano master, David Virelles. But my favorites were the six tracks Jane performed with The Santiago Jazz Saxophone Quartet. What a kick! This group's music has a lot more hot sauce in it than most sax quartets, and the two tracks combining their talents with the Conga Ensemble really rock. Bunnett's always-different jazz-oriented Cuban musical projects should be getting just as much attention as the Buena Vista group - don't know why they aren't! Tracks: Funky Mambo, Son Santiaguero, Almendra, Jane and Los Hoyos, La Comparsa, Camaroncito Seco, Lagrimas Negras, Donna Lee, Mambo Shin Shin, ¿Quien Eres Tu?, Alma de Santiago.

- John Henry


We wind things up with two jazz pianists of note...

Mike Melvoin, piano (with Charlie Haden, bass; Bill Henderson, vocals) - The Capitol Sessions - Naim CD025:

The title comes from the recording venue - Capitol Records' famous stack-of-45s studio in Hollywood. Melvoin describes his usual work as arranger-composer for pop and film music as "what I do;" vs. Jazz being "what I am." The pianist has played together in the past with bassist Haden and also with Henderson. The recording setup was unusual for a Hollywood studio - only a pair of mikes and no one wearing headphones. The three performers listened closely to one another and played in the same space at the same time - no multitracking. Henderson takes three vocals and both the witty lyrics (one penned by Melvoin, another by Haden) and the delivery of one may remind one of David Frishberg. Sonics are extremely clean and natural. The CD was mastered by Naim's founder Julian Vereker, who died in 2000. Tracks: Bud's Open, I Think I Know, You Won't Hear Me Say Goodbye, Here's Looking at You, Haunted Heart, Ruth's Waltz, I Never Told You, Hello My Lovely, Blues for Leroy, Living Without You, Monday, 52nd Street, La Luna Negra.

Mark Soskin - 17 - (with Tim Hagans, trumpet/flugelhorn; Billy Drewes, saxes; Jay Anderson, bass; Matt Wilson, drums; Daniel Sadownick, percussion) - TCB 20652:

Soskin was Sonny Rollins' pianist for 14 years, as well as playing with Joe Henderson, Billy Cobham and others. He wrote six of the eight tunes on this CD and shows a predeliction for strong melodies and freshly interesting harmonies. Some of these tunes sound like they're already on their way to becoming jazz classics: 17, Elysian Fields, Time Remembered, Pals, Manfredo's Fest, Cliffhanger, Un Poco Loco, Lefty.

- John Henry

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