CD Review of the Day: Teka’s “So Many Stars”

April 16, 2014

Teka

So Many Stars (Blue in Green Productions)

By Brian Arsenault

I think my biggest miss of 2013 may have been not hearing Teka’s marvelous bossa nova infused album So Many Stars. If you missed it too, here’s another chance. Especially for those of us in northern climes in this cold, cold endless winter.

Teka

Teka

Bossa nova almost always warms with its calls to romance and dance. In a harsh world it shows that the finer tender emotions are still possible. So there really is some place other than LA it’s warm this March. Really. And it may be the heart.

Good example, Teka and her teen daughter Luana Psaros provide two slightly different shades of sunlight on water in Aguas de Marco (Waters of March). Luana sounds like a younger skylark, not a lesser one, on this achingly alluring duet.

The album’s title song is also its message. So many stars, so many dreams. Taken as a whole, the album is rather dreamlike and it is a sweet dream.

For one reason, a different band member is featured in combination with Teka’s voice on nearly every song:
Randy Tico’s bass on “So Many Stars,” Doug Webb’s sax on “You Stepped Out of Dream” and “April Child”, Ruben Martinez bass flute on “April Child,” Ian Bernard’s piano on “Skylark.” More. All first rate.

Teka is a fine guitarist in her own right as amply demonstrated on “Bluesette.”

Teka

Teka

“Skylark” is one of the highlights of the album and one of the few non-bossa nova styled songs. Rather it is a wonderful slow jazz arrangement of the great Johnny Mercer/Hoagy Carmichael tune.

The Gershwin’s “S’Wonderful” closes the album with Teka teaming again with Luana for a light hearted take. Smiles all around. Chuckles at the end.   For most of the time, though, we are in the world of Mendes and Jobim and, as noted, it is a warm world of dancing in the dark and counting stars.

Teka has a summer evening breeze quality to her voice always. She is as smoooooooooooth as bossa nova can be and that is very smooth indeed.

Surprises on the album? Maybe one. Her choice to include Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low,” lyrics by Ogden Nash. The central lyric of the song, though, fits the mold: “Speak low when you speak of love” for fear it might disappear.

There is a longing in bossa nova as well as a sweetness.  Teka sings in both English and Portuguese on the album but it is the Portuguese that best brings us the poetry of the music. Even if you don’t speak the language.

The pacing is where American audiences have their biggest problem. Bossa nova after a burst of popularity in the States in the 60s has been largely relegated to secondary status except among aficionados and Brazilian and other Latin communities.

Part of its charm is a pace that is never fast, never hurried and Norteamericanos sometimes need things hot and fast, not warm and romantic.

Still, we are open to “so many dreams,” aren’t we?

Teka and her New Bossa Trio perform at The Gardenia in Hollywood on Wednesday Ap[ril 30.  The Gardenia is at 7066 Santa Monica Blvd.  The phone number is (323) 467-7444.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


CD Reviews: Whisky of the Damned’s “Monsters Are Real” and Jimmer’s “The Would Be Plans”

March 22, 2014

MONSTERS OVER PLANS

Whiskey of the Damned: Monsters Are Real (Avid Agency)

and

Jimmer: The Would Be Plans (The Chief Injustice)

By Brian Arsenault

About the time I wanted to abuse that humorless bastard Nietsche by saying the god of my generation — Rock Music — is dead, damned if new life isn’t breathed into it.

Such is the case with the raging Celtic rock interspersed with melodic ramblings from Whiskey of the Damned’s Monsters Are Real.

Right out of the gate the seeming IRA sensibility of the opening ballad bars of “Batons and Guns” explodes into a frantic pace. Dance till you lose your breath. “Oh yeah,” your rock ‘n’ roll soul goes, there’s life yet.

Here you get your first taste of Gina Romantini’s blazing violin. She must be Irish by osmosis with Italian-American passion underlying all. This may be the best rock violin ever.

Eoin (pronounced Owen for us Yanks) McCarthy’s singing here and elsewhere is oddly comforting and welcoming while screaming out on the edge. McCarthy is, though Dublin born, a Yank himself. I mean Wisconsin-,raised for heaven’s sake. The band met up in Milwaukee.

The two are just as fine together on a much softer number, “The Unknown,” two tracks later. In true Celtic style, this band can touch what aches as well as what’s angry.

“. . . just kids, mistakes is what we did.”

Romantini’s violin trades leads with McCarthy’s singing as the band moves comfortably from electric to acoustic.

Earlier it was listening to Jimmer’s The Would-Be Plans that had me in sort of a funk about the state of rock.

Oh, it wasn’t that the musicianship wasn’t strong. Or that Jimmer’s singing wasn’t ok. It just seemed that the former Rave-Ups front man hadn’t had a new idea in the two decades plus since his last album.

He reached way back. Surprised he didn’t run into Mr. Peabody. Not back to the days when the Rave-Ups were the psychic and sometimes the real house band for the Brat Pack. No, no much further back.

Much of this album seems musically to be Beatles as filtered through the Monkees filtered through the Birds or some sequence thereof, Bob Dylan harmonica as filtered through Neil Young. Not tribute so much as imitative except when trying to go country. Well, Dwight “pants too tight” Yoakam’s producer oversaw production.

A number of old rockers have gone country in an attempt to pander or stay relevant. It’s not a pretty sight.

But back to The Damned. More mad Irish passion on “Thumpkeg” where I continued to worry that Andrew David Weber might be one of those crazed drummers not long for this world. Started worrying around “Good Rat.”

Take a deep breath, Weber, yoga or something. Therapy won’t help. Probably make things worse so “Burn Your Suicide Notes.”

Late in the album, on “Maria” and “When It All Comes Down” we get back to sensitivity and ballad pacing and Gina gets to sing lead a little on the latter.

We get closed out with an invitation to drink all night. All sing on the way out the door.

But hey, don’t get me wrong. There’s some good stuff on Jimmer’s album.

The title song is a winner and the album’s first real rocker. Unfortunately it’s virtually the last rocker as well. “[She Has] Good Records” is light, pop-like enjoyable fare followed by the pleasing country rock style on “Satellite.” I just couldn’t help thinking at this point that the album was all “B” sides for those of you who remember what that meant. The rest can guess.

A neat Eagles-like song (if you’re gonna go country that’s the way to go) “With This Ring” comes too late. Neat, though, with even a small touch of Roy Orbison.

“Fall” closes.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


Bye Bye Bird From Hollywood: The 59th Anniversary of the Death Of Charlie Parker

March 11, 2014

By Devon Wendell

When listening to “Dizzy Atmosphere” recorded live on September 29th, 1947, with Dizzy Gillespie at Carnegie Hall, it’s hard to believe that tomorrow, March 12th, Bird will have been dead 59 years. In that solo alone, Bird captured the future, present, and the entire history of jazz in a frenetically beautiful but blatantly violent and brutal manner.

It’s those kinds of contrasts that made Bird so great. And it can be found at any point of his career.

Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker

On recordings like “Koko” and the famous alto break on “A Night In Tunisia,” Bird launched us into the stratosphere like a rocket on fire. And on ballads like “Embraceable You” and “Meandering,” he took us plunging down deep into frozen arctic waters like a falling meteor from space. At times he defied nature and at other moments he altered it with a supernatural ease and dexterity.

Charlie “Bird” Parker died almost 20 years before I was born and before I go any further, I’d like to state that I don’t care how much junk he shot, or how much booze he drank. None of that is my business and Bird’s music is larger than all of that. I can only fixate on the sound and the unfettered energy that it gives me. Every accented phrase, crescendo, substitute chord, passing tone, and “altered” melody line or “head” follows me throughout every nuance of my life.

I first heard Bird’s music in grade school on a compilation cassette from Japan, featuring a mix of Bird’s Verve, Dial, and Savoy recordings. “Leap Frog” was the first track on the tape and the sound of his alto sax was like a laser beam. I saw thousands of colors not yet named by man, dancing in my head. I heard the blues from deep inside the dank, all-night bars in Kansas City with its patrons of prostitutes, pimps, and people trying hard to avoid the nightmares of all night, home bound isolation. Bird painted so many pictures, so fast. It’s hard to keep up with the imagery and sometimes wonderfully overwhelming. The boundless history of music is all there too, from Bartak, Stravinsky, and Shoenberg to Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, and Johnny Hodges.

Bird’s ghost is on the move too. Not in Kansas City and certainly not in Los Angeles. It’s in New York City. Bird owned the spirit of New York when he lived there like no other artist in history. I’ve felt his sinister duplicitous charm while walking through Alphabet City.

Charlie Parker with Miles Davis, Tommy Potter and Max Roach

One time in a tepid state of depression, I sat in my Brooklyn apartment sipping chamomile tea and reading Ibsen’s The Wild Duck Rosmersholm, unable to pry myself out of my beat up old arm chair. Suddenly I heard “Yardbird Suite” in my head and I felt invigorated for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. I was able to get up and at least make myself a good dinner. I grabbed a copy of Bird’s Dial recordings and played “Yardbird Suite” over and over as I made a plate of spaghetti and a tossed salad for one. It may be the anniversary of Bird’s death, but all I can feel is the sheer vitality in that composition as well as on pieces like “Scrapple From The Apple,” “Donna Lee” and “Relaxin’ At Camarillo.”

After being baptized by Bird’s music I soon discovered Dizzy Gillespie, Monk, Bud Powell, Fats Navarro, Miles Davis, Max Roach, Billy Eckstine, Tadd Dameron, Kenny Dorham, Dexter Gordon, Phil Woods, Jackie McLean, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane to name just a few. For a while, I was dismissive of post-Parker jazz (I hate the word “be-bop”) because I felt that he and many of his disciples had taken the music as far as it could go, especially around the time of his death. I still often wonder if that is the case as I still hear Bird’s influence all around me on every instrument.

Well, Bye Bye Bird from Hollywood. I’m glad you made it home, far away from this place. Maybe we’ll meet up someday on the old Avenue B.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


CD Review of the Day: Carlene Carter’s “Carter Girl”

March 3, 2014

CARLENE CARTER

Carter Girl (Rounder Records)

By Brian Arsenault

The connection between blues and rock has long been established and celebrated, bemoaned and argued about. Even the connection between blues and jazz has been recognized.

Seemingly less considered has been the close relationship of country and blues.

There are differences to overcome: white – black, rural – urban, poor poorer - poorest. Yet the sterling, true roots country represented by the Carters over three generations aligns with the blues in so many ways:

- Sad songs about sad situations to make you happy or at least help you cope.

Songs stripped down to the basics in melody and tempo.

- Guitar based instrumentation, originally acoustic and later electric.

- The plain language of plain spoken people.

Roots that run to gospel and other church music.

That connection struck me as Carlene Carter’s first solo album in a decade, Carter Girl, kicked off with a jumpy, bluesy version of “Little Black Train,” first recorded by the Carter Family in 1935. 1935!

The little black train of judgment or death or both may arrive tonight but that’s no reason not to dance to Carlene and the nifty little band assembled for the album. A. P. Carter wrote the tune and his compositions are all over the album, which will be released the first week in April.

Carlene Carter

This daughter of June Carter Cash and granddaughter of Mother Maybelle Carter has a voice that’s come down the generations. She sings and fits right in (artistically) with some of the departed on the family’s classic “I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow.” Step dad Johnny Cash can be heard there as well.

The heartstrings get pulled on “Troublesome Waters,” where Willie Nelson sings the opening bars of this wondrous duet with Carlene. Sounds like Willie’s acoustic guitar work in there too. The dark turbulent water the symbol for “life’s stormy seas.”

The strings get pulled again on the following song “Lonesome Valley 2003,” Carlene’s reworking of A.P.’s song of loss, in Carlene’s case her mom and sister and Cash.

Carlene Carter and Kris Kristofferson

Carlene Carter and Kris Kristofferson

The mood is lightened on Carlene’s duet with Kris Kristofferson, “Blackjack David,” where a pretty little girl who’ll “be 16 next Sunday” hooks up with a rascal. Might be illegal today but just like in Chuck Berry’s “Teenage Wedding” darned if they don’t last together. “Goes to show you never can tell.”

Carlene herself will be 59 next September but that just means she controls her considerable talent with dignity and stylish tribute, not imitation. Plus there’s a youthfulness to this album because good songs, and good singers, stay fresh.

Oh yeah, I mentioned the fine band but didn’t know till I read some publicity after listening that one of my favorite drummers of all time, Jim Keltner, is pounding just great on songs like “Blackie’s Gunman.”

Give Carlene the roses while she lives — a paraphrase of my favorite song on the album. “Give me the Roses while I live . . . “Don’t wait to death to speak kind words.” I’ve tried to provide a few. As the song says, they’re “useless after the soul has gone.”

I know, I know. I’m supposed to mention Americana music, roots music. All the rage in some circles right now. Suffice to say that this album is the real thing amidst so much that is good and so much more that is just slowed down pop songs played with acoustic instruments.

This would be a fine album even if Travolta was still dressing funny (not funny dresses) and cavorting to Bee Gees’ disco tunes.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


Record Rack: Tord Gustavsen Quartet and The Frank DiBussolo Group

February 8, 2014

Of Music from Norway and Allentown, PA

By Brian Arsenault

The Tord Gustavsen Quartet:  Extended Circle (ECM Records)

If God is Dead, his demise hasn’t prevented artists of serious purpose from seeking the spiritual, nay, creating the spiritual. Sacred music is never far from the mind and spirit of Tord Gustafsen whose compositions dominate Extended Circle.

Perhaps our doubting, questioning age had to bring forth artists who seek for what has been lost in the materialism of modernism. More than a century ago, the largely forgotten great American writer Sherwood Anderson bemoaned the loss of a sense of community, overwhelmed by the acquisitiveness of the modern times. Imagine his horror today as we all rush for more stuff that beeps and hums and sometimes catches fire in our pockets.

So here is Gustavsen and his terrific quartet pondering, meditating, respecting the stillness between the notes. That’s typical of ECM recordings but never more so than here. Each note played on its own completely, uncluttered, actually having a beginning and an end.

Still, I’m not sure I could have expected the frenetic, frantic drumming of Jarle Vespestad early in the album on “Eg Veit I Himmerik Ei Borg” (A Castle in Heaven), a reworked traditional Norwegian hymn.

Nor did I see coming, amidst so much meditation, the body swaying melodic tenor saxophone of Tore Brunborg on “Staying There.” This is jazz after all by fine jazz musicians.

But oh so serious. I’m an American and as a result sometimes raucously irreverent and I wonder if anyone ever cracks up or cracks wise during these recording sessions. Laughter now and then, please.

There’s something of the album’s theme in the title “Staying There,” not racing forward as in the modern age but holding still to sense something deeper.

I suppose, though, that the album’s real theme is stated more accurately though less satisfyingly on the following track, “Silent Spaces.” The previously cited silent spaces between fully expressed notes seem to summarize the album, its musical approach, the ECM credo.

Throughout, Mars Eilertsen’s double bass unites with Vespested’s drumming to form the foundation of all.

As noted, this is serious stuff and it’s not always easy for the untrained ear and paced rather slowly for usual American tastes. Yet it holds. It holds.

Near the end of the album “Glow” is in perfect tempo with the snow falling outside my window as I write this review. Norwegians know snow. It is part of their spirit, after all.

 The Frank DiBussolo Group: Songs to Write Home About (lostworldmusic)

So they put this little combo together in Allentown, Pennsylvania, from whence my mother’s Italian side of the family hails. And the guy heading the band is Frank DiBussulo. And they do American songbook tunes from the World War II era (see album cover) which was my parents’ generation, and they expect me to be objective about the album. Nah.

I liked it before I heard it and anyway any time I seem to be objective I’m probably really not. It’s about music I like or at least respect or I wouldn’t be writing about it.

Frank DiBussoloBut boy I really like this album now that I’ve heard it and singer Tiffany Grochowski’s singing is as much of a revelation to me as DiBussolo’s oh so smooth guitar.

Lets talk Grochowski first because this gal should be a star. She’s that good.

She’s so exuberant and playful on the early tunes — “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” — alternately so wide eyed and sultry that I wonder if she’ll manage the erotic subtlety of “Teach Me Tonight.” She does.

She slides just as comfortably into the romantic sense of “Moonglow” and the sauciness of “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me.”

In fact my biggest disappointment of the album is that “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” is done as an instrumental. Not that it isn’t good, it’s fine, but I was so looking forward to hearing Tiffany’s take on the tune and lyrics.

Speaking of instrumentals, “East of the Sun (West of the Moon)” really showcases DiBussolo’s guitar work. He’s one of those musicians whose playing just seems to flow naturally like he was born playing. Know what I mean? Sinatra singing. Armstrong playing. It’s what they do.

He’s just as good supporting as leading and he’s clearly a generous spirit to frequently step back to let Tiffany G’s vocals soar. He didn’t put the band together just to feature himself and that’s not so common, is it?

This is jazz for the club, the cabaret, not the concert hall. It’s jazz for dancing and drinking and forgetting your troubles and the War, if just for the night.

The singer out front, the gifted guitarist playing lead. Steven Liu’s upright bass and Bryan Tuk’s drums behind. Guest Gregory Edwards sits in on sax or clarinet on some numbers.

Good stuff.

But at the end it’s just Tiffany’s voice and DiBussolo’s guitar on “My Buddy.” I hadn’t thought about that sentimental old saw in a long time. My Dad liked that tune and he had a tendency to name dogs Buddy.

Old times made new.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


A Twist Of Doc: Hank Mobley – The Unsung Hero Of Bop.

February 7, 2014

By Devon Wendell

For tenor sax players, the late ‘50s and early ‘60s were a time for hard blowing, fitting in as many notes as possible within a few bars, and trying to break free from familiar patterns.

Sonny Rollins was the reigning king of articulation and might on tenor sax until Coltrane’s second stay with Miles. Although his was more of a cult-like following at the time, and there were plenty of people who didn’t like what he was playing, Coltrane would change the direction of the instrument forever. Rollins was still loved and began to play even harder and faster as a result of Coltrane’s impact on jazz.

Rollins, Coltrane and Johnny Griffin were considered to be the fastest tenor men in the game. Although these men were genius players and writers, many other fantastic contributors were left in the shadows. It’s always been difficult for music journalists and the media to pay attention to more than a few groundbreaking artists at once.

Hank Mobley

Hank Mobley

One such artist who never seemed to get his fair due during his time was Hank Mobley, who died in 1986 at 55. Mobley’s round tone and nimble, melodic blues based phrasing helped define the entire hard-bop genre.

Not only was Mobley a member of the original Jazz Messengers led by Horace Silver, he recorded and composed some of the most original, hard swinging compositions in the entire history of jazz. He also recorded with the top musicians of the day, both new on the scene like Lee Morgan, Grant Green, and Freddie Hubbard, as well as older legends such as Art Blakey, Art Taylor, and Kenny Dorham.

His two most heralded albums, Soul Station and Roll Call, both recorded in 1960 on Blue Note are among the most sophisticated and thoughtful albums recorded for the label.

The albums consist mostly of Mobley originals. And the most amazing thing about compositions like “Cattin’,” “B For B.B.” (recorded in 1956 with Donald Byrd on The Jazz Message Of Hank Mobley on Savoy Records), or “Take Your Pick” and “The Breakdown,” both from the Roll Call album, is that one can easily hear these as big band arrangements. Which is hard to say about many of Mobley’s contemporaries, especially as the ‘60s drew near. That sense of the blues that swung all night long that Count Basie, Duke Ellington, as well as Monk, and Dizzy kept with them when composing and playing, were present in Mobley’s writing and blowing. And his sound is immediately identifiable.

Someone could blind fold me and play me a Mobley composition that I’ve never heard, covered by an artist that I’ve never heard and I’d know it was his within the first four bars. There’s still something sweet and endearing to Mobley’s “High And Flighty” tone and his big, bright arrangements. I first noticed it on “Hankerin’” from Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers and Curtain Call (Both on Blue Note) which were given to me by a friend when I was 14.

Leonard Feather may have penned Mobley as “The middleweight champion of the tenor sax,” but I don’t think Feather meant it as a put down. Stan Getz was great and he played softer than Rollins or Coltrane. What’s great about jazz is that there’s room for many styles and sounds. The media may not grab onto it at first or ever, but the musicians and music lovers do. Mobley could and did play hard throughout different periods of his career. Check out his bold, angular lines on Freddie Hubbard’s Goin’ Up album on Blue Note from 1961 or “Hank’s Shout” from Introducing Lee Morgan With Hank Mobley’s Quintet on Savoy. Hank comes out swinging and never stops.

Mobley stayed true to the game until he retired with respiratory problems in the mid-’70s but his music continues to grab the attention of new jazz aficionados’ and keep the love of longtime, loyal fans like myself.

Thanks Hank.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


Jazz CD Review: Rufus Reid’s “Quiet Pride”

February 4, 2014

Quiet Pride: The Elizabeth Catlett Project (Motema Music)

By Devon Wendell

Legendary and iconic bassist and composer Rufus Reid has been a major contributor to the jazz scene since the late ‘60s. Reid has collaborated with some of the music’s greatest pioneers such as: Dexter Gordon, Art Farmer, J.J. Johnson, Benny Golson, Jack DeJohnette, Stan Getz, Andrew Hill, Nancy Wilson, Thad Jones and Mel Lewis and Eddie Harris. As a band leader, Reid has recorded seventeen albums. He has also won multiple awards including the Charlie Parker Jazz Composition Prize, The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship For Composition, and The Mellon Jazz Living Legacy Award.

Reid’s latest recording, Quiet Pride, is a suite for a large ensemble, conducted by Dennis Mackrel and inspired by the sculptural works of the great African American artist and civil rights activist Elizabeth Catlett. The album, scheduled for release on Feb. 11, was produced by Reid and Akira Tana.

Quiet Pride’s sound harkens back to the early ‘60s Third Stream and the avant-garde jazz of Eric Dolphy, fused with the experimental big band sound of Oliver Nelson. Nelson’s influence can be heard on the opening “Prelude To Recognition” and Dolphy’s looming shadow is evident in Carl Maraghi’s bass clarinet work on “Recognition” and in the piece’s complex melody.

Steve Allee’s blues-rooted piano and Tom Christensen’s harp-bop tenor sax add some elegant and soulful texturing to these pieces.

The presence of Ingrid Jensen’s unique trumpet style make both “Mother And Child” and “Tapestry In The Sky” album highlights. Reid’s bass solo on “Mother And Child” is tasteful and thematic to the composition. And “Tapestry In The Sky” is inspired by Elizabeth Catlett’s sculpture “STARGAZER.”

As swinging and ambitious as these arrangements are, the addition of Charanee Wade’s cloying, wailing vocals distract from the instrumentation at times, especially on the melody lines.

The big band horn arrangements on “The Singing Head” are reminiscent of the Thad Jones and Mel Lewis Orchestra. Steve Wilson’s alto sax solo is adventurous and brilliant and Freddie Hendrix’s trumpet work has the purity of Ray Nance in Duke Ellington’s Orchestra during the mid ‘50s. Vic Juris’s guitar solo is tasty and dynamic.  The rhythm section of Rufus Reid on bass and Herlin Riley on drums is tight, though Riley’s drums often sound overly compressed, especially when soloing on “Singing Head” and “Glory” which closes the suite.

The horns are exceptional throughout, especially the trumpets of Tanya Darby, Tim Hagans, Ingrid Jensen, and Freddie Hendrix.

“Glory” is a hard swinging mid-tempo piece that feels like a brief segment in one of Charles Mingus’ more relaxed compositions.

Reid’s compositions move with the grace, intelligence and intensity of Catlett’s sculptures.  On Quiet Pride, Reid has once again proven to be a true musical thinker and lover of both the avant-garde and big band eras of jazz. Although the compositions can be a bit derivative at times, Reid’s sense of history, theme, and imagery make Quiet Pride worth checking out.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


CD Review: Helen Sung “Anthem For A New Day” (Concord Jazz Records)

January 15, 2014

By Devon Wendell

Pianist and composer Helen Sung has quickly established herself as a jazz veteran over the past decade, performing and recording with icons such as; Clark Terry, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, T.S. Monk, Lonnie Plaxico, and Terri Lyne Carrington to name a few.

She is one of the most consistently brilliant recording artists in jazz today. And her sixth and latest release, Anthem For A New Day, scheduled for release on January 28th,  is her hardest swinging album to date. The album is also produced by Sung.

Helen Sung

Sung wastes no time, kick starting the album with her hard-bop tribute to Thelonious Monk entitled “Brother Thelonious.” The horn section of Ingrid Jensen on trumpet and Seamus Blake on tenor sax has a Kenny Dorham and Hank Mobley at the earliest stages of The Jazz Messengers feel to it. Sung’s solo proves that she has a clear understanding of Monk’s harmonic complexities and knows how to incorporate them into her own virtuosic style.

Paquito D’Rivera’s melodic clarinet soloing dances around Sung’s polyrhythmic textured piano playing on her adventurous arrangement of Chick Corea’s “Armando’s Rhumba.”

Another guest is Regina Carter who offers some tasteful and thematic violin lines to Sung’s “Hidden.” Ingrid Jensen’s trumpet truly shines on this piece, as does Sung’s elegant phrasing on Fender Rhodes electric piano.

One of the most impressive elements of this album is how clean the rhythm section (Reuben Rogers, bass, Obed Calvaire, drums, and Samuel Torres on percussion) was recorded. No effects, compressors, or reverb were added to the drums and upright bass, which is refreshing in a time when many traditional and contemporary jazz recordings are destroyed by overly adventurous producers and engineers.

There’s a wonderfully pure tone to this album as a whole. Sung’s reading of Duke Ellington and Irving Mills’ swing anthem “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” is an album highlight. Sung uses her own chordal voicings, and her improvisations blend bop-styled pedal tones with classical elements in a completely natural way.

Sung’s originals — “Hope Springs Eternally” and the album’s title track – dip into a more late ‘60s fusion- jazz groove with a hint of third stream. John Ellis provides colorful bass clarinet shadings atop Sung’s funky staccato Fender Rhodes arpeggios on the album’s title track.

Sung’s rendition of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans’ “Never Let Me Go” is the perfect vehicle for the piano trio format. Obed Calvaire’s drums are subtle and melodic and Reuben Rogers’ bass solo is dynamic and mournful.

“Chaos Theory” brings to mind early Weather Report with fast changing meters, and piercing alto-sax runs by Seamus Blake. This composition shows off Sung and her band’s tight chemistry and creative fearlessness.

In order to truly capture the spirit of Thelonious Monk, a musician must bring forth what makes them truly unique when covering one of the High Priest’s compositions. And Sung and company achieve this on an utterly funky, gospel take of “Epistrophy.” The energy of the band is ecstatic. There’s lots of love for Monk here.

The album closes with a beautifully haunting solo piano cover of the great Stanley Cowell’s “Equipose.”

What stands out most on Anthem For A New Day is not only Sung’s fluid and imaginative piano playing but her awe-inspiring talent as a truly unique composer and arranger. Her music is adventurous, personal, and a powerful force to be reckoned with in the jazz world.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


Brian Arsenault’s Short Takes: CDs and DVDs from Peggy Duquesnel, Roy Orbison, Julie Cain and Favorites from 2013

December 21, 2013

For Last Minute Shoppers Only

(We Need All the Help We Can Get)

By Brian Arsenault

 Peggy Duquesnel

All I Ask For Christmas (CD Baby)

There’s a real neat Christmas music album that for whatever reason I didn’t get around to reviewing. Peggy Duquesnel’s All I Ask For Christmas is the complete package.

You get a CD of instrumental Christmas classics because she’s a first rate pianist and arranger as well as a fine singer. So you also get her singing some Christmas tunes you will know and some she composed on a second CD. There’s a jazz feel here, great sidemen and enough Christmas music to get you through dinner and keep you awake until desert.

One more plug also for Jonathan Butler’s Merry Christmas to You. A warmer Christmas album you will not find. Great by the Fire.

Wall to Wall Roy

There’s just a whole lot of newly released Roy Orbison stuff available. I previously reviewed The Last Concert recorded heart breakingly only two days before he passed. It’s great. Included are a DVD of his last interview and performance videos.

The biographical DVD In Dreams is also just out with more performances and interviews with many of his admirers from the music world. The impressive Black and White Night wherein Roy performs with many of those admiring giants of rock is also available.

You could give an Orbison orbiter the Christmas of a lifetime.

Worth Searching For

If you can find it, get one of the truly remarkable if under appreciated albums of the year — Little Lonely (Julie Cain). She sings of the America where most people live — poignant, insightful, unsparing but very, very caring. Quick to laugh, long to lament. A truly original American voice in all ways. Willie, Cash and Emmylou at their thoughtful, poetic best walk some of the same streets. To read my review of Little Lonely click HERE.

More From 2013

The more I think about it the less I like “Best Of” lists. There are so many ways for works of art to be good (or bad) that saying one or another is “best” tends to diminish other fine stuff out there. That being said, a few of my favorites from 2013:

- Cheryl Bentyne with and without Mark Winkler

- George Benson’s Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole

- The reissue of the amazing Jimi Hendrix Experience Purple Box Set. The stuff from the Paris concert alone is worth the hefty price.

- Vinyl reissues from The Rolling Stones, especially the early stuff and the amazing Exile on Main Street.

What else are you gonna buy coming down the stretch?

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


Record Rack: Lyn Stanley, Lisa Engelken

December 11, 2013

Of West Coast Girls

By Brian Arsenault

The Left Coast is not taken seriously enough by the New York centric jazz “world” as a producer of any jazz, but maybe particularly female jazz singers. Of course, Queen Bentyne is based there now but she’s late of Manhattan Transfer so the East Coast still claims her.

So here come two very different talents to turn our eyes and ears to the West. You know, LA, San Francisco. The places that mostly stay warm but are oh so cool.

 Lyn Stanley

Lost in Romance (A.T. Music)

Only a few tracks are required for the listener to be Lost in Romance with Lyn Stanley. I was there by “The Nearness of You.” By then, she has warmed the room with a series of classics from Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael.

The room is in a small club. Perhaps near the desert. Dim lighting. Bogie and Bacall unobtrusive in the back of the room. Dietrich’s set over, she stays to listen.

The room has a piano that accompanies her so well whenever Tamir Hendelman or Mike Lang sit in. Tenor sax (Bob Sheppard), trombone (Bob McChesney), flugelhorn (Gilbert Castellanos, also on trumpet) in the backing group which plays every note to complement her. Every single note.

And those notes are all full and rounded, almost never sharp and stinging. Perhaps vinyl was required for the richness throughout. I’d like to think so. (two 180 gram 45 rpm albums which I first tried to play as 33s. Slowwwwwwwww. Also available in CDs and downloads for the unromantic.)

The striking blond former ballroom dancer opens and closes the album with songs entwined with dance.

First: “Change Partners,” where she lingers over each note, each moment, seeking her chance.

Last, naturally: “The Last Dance,” where the partner has been found and the evening is regrettably ending but “keep holding me tight.”

In between, the bartender leans in to listen as she asks for “One More for My Baby.” Each word, each inflection so important as “You Go to My Head.”

Her phrasing is close, intimate, personal. Not like Sinatra’s phrasing but with Ol’ Blue Eyes’ requirement that you listen to the story, that you feel it might be sung directly to you.

I don’t think her talents are best suited for Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want to Make Love to You” but she shines on George Harrison’s “Something” which Sinatra called the only really good love song in eons.

On “Fever”, the warmth becomes heat. Peggy Lee may have been the first white girl singer so openly sexual but Lyn Stanley takes it a bit sultrier, plays with it a bit. A touch of how Marilyn would have sung it. Finger snaps as percussion.

Another strength of vinyl; each time you get to flip the album or put on the second disc (may I say record), you’ll be pleased there’s another side. You’ll wish you were at that imaginary club that night. But go ahead, careful not to smudge the grooves, put on the album and soon you will be.

Lisa Engelken

little warrior (CD Baby)

If Lyn Stanley is the epitome of classic romance and the classic American songbook, Lisa Engelken is the postmodernist purveyor of pain and alienation.

. . . for there must be a god to exist such a godless man. . .”

If Lyn Stanley rounds each note and lingers for its full effect, Lisa Engelken frequently blows through lyrics with staccato phrasing. Everything at times is a single chopped note since she must move on and not linger.

send me keys

send me jets

send me trains . . .

and don’t forget instructions as to what to do with your remains”

Don’t get me wrong. Lisa’s range of emotions, as well as octaves, is extensive. The album includes the reflective “little warrior” title song and Chick Corea’s gently rolling “sea journey.”

But pain is near at all times. It’s integral to her art.

blue valentines” is Tom Wait via Billie Holiday (can’t beat that for melancholy) through Lisa. The band gets it. Bill Cantos’ piano chords keep a somber pace. Sam Bevan’s bass descends with her voice. Sadness keeps a grip impervious to whiskey.

She moves with Joni Mitchell’s “cold blue steel & sweet fire” to some very personal hell vision of “. . . vicious gnawing in the veins. . .” This seven minutes, a dark trip, is orchestral, at times symphonic — Lisa says she wants to sing it with the San Francisco Symphony — but some of the musicians may have hooves and tails, maybe even horns.

Even in the supposedly upbeat “viva la felicita,” an alleged ode to happiness, the chorus in Italian is “eh poi, eh poi?” what else, what else is there? Can’t get more post modernist than that. Like an Italo Calvino short story.

For this album to end on the sweetness of “All I Do Is Dream of You” is either ironic or an inside joke. This is a singer pushing some boundaries and a long way from romance. But we know the World needs more than one vision.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


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