January-February 2005 Part 1 of 2 [Pt. 2]
Charles Earland – Funk Fantastique; Prestige PRCD-11030-2 CD, ****:
Charles Earland is a talented musician who plays organ, electric piano, percussion, and soprano saxophone (on one cut). This disc is comprised of organ jazz a la Jimmy Smith or John Patton. Sound quality is very good and the vibe of this disc from the very beginning is upbeat and swinging. Just when I was thinking that no one makes records this good anymore I opened the booklet and discovered these tracks were made from 1971-1973. Earland started his professional career as a sax player for Jimmy McGriff at the ripe age of 17. He soon found a newfound joy for the organ and started his own band. In 1968 Lou Donaldson approached him with a copy of Alligator Boogaloo and Charles went on to play on three of Donaldson’s records. He was growing as an artist through the late 60s and in the early 70s made a record called Charles III. Four of the tracks from that record are on Funk Fantastique while there are five others that were previously unreleased.
On this disc Earland is joined by several outstanding artists—people like Billy Cobham, Hubert Laws, and Lee Morgan—to name a few. The interpretations of the older tunes are lively and fresh, but it is the original compositions that really make this disc. Highly recommended! Songs included are: Funk Fantastique; Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream; Never Can Say Goodbye; Charles III; Girl, You Need A Change Of Mind; Auburn Delight; My Favorite Things; Grab ‘Hole A Dis!!; Speed Ball (Alternate).
Alexander Zonjic – Seldom Blues; Heads Up HUCD 3088 CD ***1/2:
The title of this record is an advertisement of sorts. Zonjic and a few others have started a new club in Detroit called “Seldom Blues,” and Bob James wrote the title track along with his daughter Hilary James. Vocals are provided by Kem, a noteworthy vocalist from Detroit. In addition to James, there are many other contributors are this record—Jeff Lorber, Earl Klugh, Kirk Whalum, Peter White—to name a few. Zonjic’s instrument of choice is the flute and the tone of the record is little backbeat, lite jazz, and some fusion. From song to song you can make out some of the influences offered by the musical guests. Recording quality is good and though some of the music is electronic, there are more than a share of acoustic sections including flute, saxophone, vocals, and guitar. The songs are full of life and energy yet would still fall under the easy listening genre for most people. Track 4 has a distinctive Latin flavor that got my toe tapping and my head bopping. And track 7 is a funky number with heavy participation by Zonjic. All in all, this record is an enjoyable listen. Songs included are: Leave It With Me; Seldom Blues; AZ Does It; Isabela; People Make The World Go Round; Spill The Wine; Sweat; Under The Moon And Over The Sky; Quantum; Britters.
4 + Four – Turtle Island String Quartet with The Ying Quartet – Telarc CD-80630, ****:
The Turtle Island Quartet has been one of the most experimental string quartets for the past twenty years. They differ from quartets such as Kronos and Brodsky by taking more of a grass roots do-it-yourself approach to new music – most of their new works come from the quartet’s own members. They may incorporate folk, bluegrass, funk, rock, bebop, R&B, New Age, and music of South America and India. The Ying Quartet originates from a small town in Iowa, and is the faculty quartet-in-residence at the Eastman School of Music. The two quartets were both invited to spend a week in residence at the music department of the University of Kansas, and during their time together they shared many eclectic ideas and projects. This CD was part of the result.
Though this was probably a bigger stretch for the Mozart and Haydn-centered Ying Quartet than for the Turtle Islanders, both ensembles learned a great deal from the experience and explored more than just the world of musical crossovers. They open with a jazz classic, do a duo just for the two cellists of the quartets, a three movement suite by member David Balakrishnan based on Hindu philosophy, a wonderful arrangement of Milhaud’s ballet The Creation of the World, and closes out with variations on a Lennon and McCartney tune. The result is a delightful hour of musical border-crossings featuring an octet of strings.
– John Sunier
Three Solo Pianists of Note…
Joey Calderazzo – Haiku – Marsalis Music/Rounder 11661-3305-2 ****:
The exciting pianist from Branford Marsalis’ Quartet, who first got attention for his work with Michael Brecker in the 80s, here gets a chance to do his creative thing solo-wise and even to furnish six of the ten tunes from his own pen. It takes some courageous application of talent to tackle an entirely solo piano session, but Calderazzo breezes thru it with aplomb. He prepared for the session by listening closely to recordings of Art Tatum, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea and some classical pianists. But he realized “I shouldn’t think about missing the bass and drums. I realized that play solo I could really present me, and I think this is the first album that really sounds like me.” He shows a charming melodic gift in his originals, starting right off with the first track, Bri’s Dance. Another dance piece shows Calderazzo as a stride pianist: Dancin’ for Singles. He says he got into the humor of it from Jelly Roll Morton. But even on the standards such as Just One of Those Things, he has a highly individual but still highly tonal improvisator style that stands out. I especially liked the longest track here, his ten minute “Chopin,” which isn’t the usual variations on a Chopin waltz or nocturne but a solo piece on its own showing the influence of Chopin. The piano sound (recorded in a concert hall rather than a studio) has great impact and naturalness but like most approaches to recording the piano nowadays it sounds about 40 feet wide – almost like a two-piano album.
Tracks: Bri’s Dance, Haiku, The Legend of Dan, Chopin, Just One of Those Things, Dienda, A Thousand Autumns, Dancin’ for Singles, My One and Only Love, Bri’s Dance – Revisited.
– John Henry
ART TATUM: Improvisations – Steven Mayer, piano – Naxos American Classics Series 8.559130, 62:00, ****:
Tatum was a unique artist at the piano whose style is still being studied by pianists and jazz experts. His florid, rapid-fire embellishments of standard tunes and classical themes held such figures in music as Vladimir Horowitz, Duke Ellington and Mary Lou Williams spellbound. Some of this amazing passage work came from the early “piano professors,” but speeded up to breakneck tempo – while other effects came from the keyboard complexities of Chopin, Liszt and classical virtuosi. Pianist Steven Mayer has studied Tatum’s recordings closely. While his notes don’t indicate if he transcribed the solos directly from the recordings, the results sound like an uncanny modern recording of Tatum – without the distortion that afflicts nearly all of his original recordings. What he does with some of these tunes is to completely transform them into a new piece of music where the ornamentation takes on a musical life of its own.
Tracks: Tea for Two, St. Louis Blues, Tiger Rag, Aunt Hagar’s Blues, Humoresque, Seet Lorraine, Get Happy, The Jitterbug Waltz, Tatum Pole Boogie, Cherokee, Love Come Back to Me!, Elegy (Massanet), Hallelujah, Willow Weep for Me, Emaline, Yesterdays, I Know That You Know.
– John Sunier
I Was There – Roger Kellaway plays from The Bobby Darin Songbook – IPO 1006 ****:
Pianist/composer Kellaway has been an important figure in jazz and show music for four decades. He has written over 25 film scores, had his concert works performed by the NY and LA Philharmonics, and received major attention for his “Cello Quartet” chamber jazz albums. He was also Bobby Darin’s musical director in the last 1960s and recently worked with Kevin Spacey on his film about Darin’s life, “Beyond the Sea.” So not only is he deeply familiar with all the tunes here, but most of the arrangements are Kellaway’s own, and the extensive notes by Gene Lees are full of some great Kellaway stories about Darin. Most of the tracks are standards, and the album’s title tune is a Kellaway original. Piano sonics on this session, recorded at 96K/24bit, is audiophile level.
Tracks: Beyond the Sea, Charade, My Buddy, Just in Time, When I Look In Your Eyes, The Shadow of Your Smile, I Was There, I’m Beginning to See the Light, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, When Your Lover Has Gone, That’s All, My Funny Valentine, All By Myself, Something in Your Smile.
– John Henry
Two Piano Trios Worth Your Ears…
Monty Alexander – Live at the Iridium (with Hassan Shakur, bass; Mark Taylor, drums; Robert Thomas Jr., hand drums and drums) – Telarc Jazz CD-83610:
Jamaica-born Alexander also boasts a 40-year participation in the U.S. music scene. He has been associated with some of the great names in popular music, including Frank Sinatra, Les Paul, Dizzy Gillespie and Ray Brown. This is the third live album I’ ve received lately recorded at the currently hot NYC jazz club known as the Iridium. Alexander decided to celebrate points in his entire career as an entertainer rather than just play items from his jazz trio’s recent repertory. There are numbers with an R&B feeling, some gospel and some blues. Four of them are originals by Alexander. Nat Adderley’s great Work Song gets a ten-minute workout to open the album, and Count Basie’s lovely Lil’ Darlin’ starts out simply and lyrically but ends up like the finish of a big classical concerto. And all of it benefits from a joyous demeanor that is a characteristic of all of Monty’s discs.
Tracks: The Work Song, Slappin,’ My Mother’s Eyes, Happylypso/Funji Mama, The River, Runnin’ Away, Lil’ Darlin,’ Mount Zanda, That’s the Way It Is.
Randy Halberstadt – Parallel Tracks (with Jeff Johnson, bass; Gary Hobbs, drums) – Origin Records 82435 ****:
Recorded in Seattle, this album from one of the outstanding jazz pianists of the Pacific Northwest brings us a notable lineup of composers – Artie Shaw, Branislav Kaper, Ray Noble, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Cole Porter, Italian jazzman Enrico Pieranunzi, and would you believe Frederic Chopin? This is a trend seen on a number of jazz releases lately – one track on the album being a straight interpretation of a classical work; in this case Chopin’s Nocturne in C# Minor. Bill Evans’ B Minor Waltz also gets a very classical unaccompanied piano treatment, but then things switch to a strong swing on Monk’s Well You Needn’t with the trio. Kaper’s Invitation starts out like Erroll Garner’s famous atonal intros, where we must guess what the theme could possibly be. Then it evolves into a recognizable but still edgy nine-minute treatise on the tune. A most listenable and imaginative modern jazz piano trio outing.
Tracks: Moonray, Don’t Forget the Poet, In the Wee Small hours of the Morning, Invitation, The Touch of Your Lips, Nocturne in C Sharp Minor, B Minor Waltz, Well You Needn’t, Everything I Love.
– John Sunier
Buddy DeFranco, clarinet – Cookin’ the Books (with The John Pizzarelli Trio and Butch Miles, drums) – Arbors Jazz ARCS 19298 ****:
Buddy DeFranco is the most-recorded modern clarinetist since the era of Goodman and Shaw, with over 150 albums to his credit. He played with Gene Krupa, Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Charlie Barnet, Terry Gibbs and many others, as well as for Johnny Carson and other TV shows. This session with the young and swinging Pizzarelli Trio plus former Count Basie drummer Miles shows DeFranco is still at the very top of his game. Pianist Ray Kennedy is no slouch either. Pizzarelli gets to do two vocals, and the whole enterprise has a great generation-spanning feeling of dipping into everything that has happened in jazz since the Swing Era. Buddy wrote the album’s title tune, and the closing Scrapple from the Apple harked me back to Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five, which I put on just after listening to DeFranco, and Shaw’s artistry didn’t upstage DeFranco a bit.
Tracks: Softly As in a Morning Sunrise, Prisoner off Love, What Is This Thing Called Love?; Cookin’ the Books, I Lost the Blues, East of the Sun, Dancing in the Dark, Poor Butterfly, Gone with the Wind, Scrapple From the Apple.
Rebecca Kilgore & Dave Frishberg – The Starlit Hour – Arbors Jazz ARCD 19255 ****:
These two jazz lights currently reside in Portland Oregon and often perform at the Heathman Hotel here. Frishberg, of course, is also a vocalist and a unique singer-songwriter, but in this case he is functioning strictly as accompanist-arranger to vocalist Kilgore. She is a swinging vocalist in the tried and true style of some of the best – such as Fitzgerald. One of her gifts, not always found in some of the recent crop of thrushes, is a right-on pitch steadiness that is pure pleasure to those of us sensitive to meandering intonation. Frishberg may not have a chance to do his uniquely witty lyrics here, but his accompaniments often show a special wit and elan that both supports and comments on the lyrics. You get a bargain basket of 19 tunes here in the intimate setting of just voice and piano.
Tracks: I Hear Music, It’s the Talk of the Town, Memphis in June, Ten Cents a Dance, Cry Me a River, I Go for That, Everything Happens to Me, How Long How Long Blues/Song of the Wanderer, Evenin’, Glad to be Unhappy, Got a Date with an Angel, Not Mine, You Smell So Good, Voce e Eu, The Starlit Hour, Song of the Islands, Thief in the Night, I Hear the Music Now, Thanks for the Memory.
– John Henry