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.


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.


Brick Wahl Keeping It Real: Checking Out Charmaine Clamor’s New CD

February 23, 2014

By Brick Wahl

Heard several tracks in progress from Charmaine Clamor’s new recording recently. Quite a selection of tunes – none of the usual jazz standards at all.

Charmaine Clamor

Charmaine Clamor

Instead there’s a remarkable take on “Imagine” (a tune that rarely survives covering) propelled by some really striking rhythmic piano by Laurence Hobgood. There’s a surprising ”O Shenandoah,” a George Harrison tune, a Carole King, a take (in Spanish) on a Mercedes Sosa tune, which she nails, and at long last she’s recorded her knock out interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Very passionate vocals even by Charmaine’s standard – that’s always been her thing, the passion – and she’s showing subtleties untapped till now. The sound is full and warm and rich. This thing has crossover potential I think (KCRW and that end of the dial definitely) without selling out to commercialism even one iota.

Ernie Watts by the way, sits in and kills it, and drummer Abe Lagrimas picks up the ukulele in about as uncliched way as you can imagine. One of my favorite pianists around town, Andy Langham, even takes the bench for a couple numbers. And while I can’t say enough about Hobgood’s presence here, it’s Charmaine’s record through and through, it’s her feel, even on the instrumental passages it never gets away from her.  Anyway, I totally dug it.

This is major label stuff if I ever heard it.

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The album, which will be titled “The Better Angels,” will be released soon.

Photo by Faith Frenz

To read more fascinating essays from Brick Wahl, check out his personal web by clicking HERE.


CD Review of the Day: Eric Van Aro “Obsession”

February 19, 2014

 Eric Van Aro

 Obsession (Eraki)

 By Brian Arsenault

You take a little Francis Albert phrasing, some Mel Torme smoothness and some Dr John deep, deep tones and you start to bubble up some of what Eric Van Aro is on Obsession.

Eric Van Aro

The man takes back for male jazz vocalists a little of the dominance of female jazz singers in recent years.

This is a voice that could lure the unwary on the rocks of a club but also fill a Broadway stage, depending on material.

That club I mentioned, it’s a small room, so for most of the evening there’s only enough space for the singer and a pianist. That’s fabulous Fabio Gianni on piano and his work with Eric here goes beyond accompaniment.

He supports and enhances the vocals so well that at times, they become one. In musicality. In emotionality. In tonality. In totality.

Regarding the album’s songs, I could start anywhere so I’ll start with my favorite track, the jazz classic “Since I Fell For You.” All the yearning. The deeply felt bluesy sense of building emotion. The crescendos.

Gianni is right there, right there with him the whole damn song. A powerhouse.

Then jump to the passionate delicacy of “With You I’m Born Again,” where Eric’s deep tones are balanced wonderfully by the higher notes of Sheri Pedigo. It’s a love song and a beautiful one.

More remarkably, it’s an intelligent one. A musical could probably be written around this song as its centerpiece.

Sheri is generally considered a country singer. Does that seem unusual? Consider that Duke Ellington is credited with saying that there are only two kinds of music, one of them good. Other voices are sometimes cited as the source of the remark but, well, they aren’t Ellington.

One of the joys of early twenty-first century music is that there are artists like Van Aro and Gianni who are not obstructed by genre and labels, who can reach widely, sometimes even beyond what critics can put in their little boxes. “I’m free,” Van Aro sings on the opening song “I’m Not Anyone,” and he is. Free from conformity, conventionality, constrictions.

So the same album can feature work from the Pauls Anka and Williams to Mac Rebbenack to Stevie Wonder.

With a title song, “Obsession,” that injects Bossa Nova into the album’s stew. That’s not surprising, as Eric’s mother is Caterina Valente, the fine Italian singer who brought Brazilian music to wider audiences before just about anyone.

And since it’s better to do Bossa Nova with true percussion, the masterful Sebastian Mambretti sits in.

The Doctor (John) is in when Van Aro and Gianni do a contemplative version of “Rain.” The sense of loss is so great you can hear the heavy rain all night.

“Ordinary Fool” plays like a tune from the American Songbook that just hasn’t been totally recognized yet. And you’ll be “Dancing to The Rhythm” on the way out as a funky Eric jazzes up the Stevie Wonder tune.

A guy whose mother spoke Italian to him as a child, his father German, and his nanny French, just gave us a fine American jazz album. And in English.

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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.


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