Thursday, July 29, 2010

2 Sem. 2010 - Part Two

David Hazeltine

By Amazon
When it comes to New York's top-shelf gigs, few pianists get the job done like David Hazeltine. Much sought for his sensitivity as an accompanist, Hazeltine is also an inventive composer and arranger who is able to bring a fresh approach to the mainstream. For his eighth set as a leader for Criss Cross, the pianist brings his talents to the fore with three originals, including a dedicatory For Cedar. Rounding out the set are a few select standards including a new twist on Dizzy Gillespie's Tin Tin Deo. Longtime collaborators Eric Alexander (tenor sax), John Webber (bass), and Joe Farnsworth (drums) mix it up with expert vibist Steve Nelson for a colorful set that puts all of Hazeltine's wares on full display.

Gerald Clayton

By Michael G. Nastos
Gerald Clayton is the piano playing son of veteran bassist John Clayton, and this is his debut recording as a leader with a trio. For such a young man, Clayton is not afraid to dive into the jazz waters with an original concept of where his music lies in the contemporary world. At times he adapts standards, but mostly this is a program of new music that bears similar allegiances to peers like Robert Glasper, Aaron Parks, and Danny Grissett. There's a lyrical and ethereal approach to all of the selections -- elusive, lithe, quicksilver, Zen-like, very articulate, and always intriguing to the point where it tempts, pull you in, and envelops your soul. While varying time changes and melodic strains, it's clear Clayton -- far from a neophyte -- has learned well from his mentors Kenny Barron, Billy Childs, Mulgrew Miller, Monty Alexander, Benny Green, and Shelly Berg. He's a synthesis of them all while mastering similar musical grammar that resonates from within, instead of externally via image or flashpoint theatrics. A current-day jazz player and composer in the main, Clayton embraces fun and upbeat, heavily accented funk on "Boogablues," reflecting the styles of Ahmad Jamal, Ramsey Lewis, and Ray Bryant. Tumbling phrases settle into a compact area during "One Two You," there's playful energized stop-and-start segments strewn over the bop-oriented "Scrimmage," and that same technique identifies a reworked version of the Cole Porter standard "All of You." Where Clayton's heart lies is in the spirit song that makes Glasper's pulse similarly beat. The intriguing circular, quirky, deeply intriguing motion of "Trapped in Dream," the melodically elusive "Peace for the Moment," and particularly the distant piano creeping into the foreground for "Love All Around" reflects this gossamer-thin yet grounded quality. More ghostly, "Casiotone Pothole" is a sighing, processed sound, "Two Heads One Pillow" is soulful and lighter, while "Sunny Day Go" is a twilight-based track with repeat lines and the fading horizon perfectly represented. Clayton covers the Dizzy Gillespie evergreen "Con Alma" in spacious, delicate, California-cool tones as a solo pianist. Making up the rhythm team, bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Justin Brown are not heavyweight big-name players, but both listen quite well and are more than adequately rehearsed, bringing this music to full fruition. Gerald Clayton has hit at the very least a triple for this initial outing, an extremely sensitive and consistently satisfying effort that should bode well for his bright future, as he expounds on the personalized instrumental voice he has already discovered and established.

Judy Niemack
In The Sundance

By Ken Dryden
Vocalist Judy Niemack has long been a well-kept secret in her homeland, as many of her releases were made for European labels like Free Lance, far too many of which were poorly distributed in the U.S. and lapsed from print. But since she began working with the U.S. label Blujazz, she has had much greater exposure. Her second CD for the label features his talented husband (and longtime collaborator) Jeanfrançois Prins on guitar, joined by pianist Bruce Barth, bassist Rufus Reid, and drummer Bruno Castellucci. Her breezy bossa nova setting of "How About You" is very engaging and adds some delightful (but not overdone) scatting. Niemack's dramatic interpretation of "The Summer Knows" (the theme from the movie Summer of '42) omits the piano, with Prins' shimmering accompaniment providing the lead for the sensitive rhythm section. She tackles "Beautiful Love" in an unusual manner, scatting at length with only Reid's accompaniment, finally introducing the lyrics well into the arrangement over his inventive walking bass. Niemack is also an accomplished lyricist, penning poignant words to Richie Beirach's bittersweet "Leaving" (retitled "As I Leave Again" and co-writing the whispering "Music Calls Me (Central Park)" with Prins. Judy Niemack proves herself once more as of the top jazz female jazz vocalists with this outstanding CD.

Jon Alberts, Jeff Johnson, Tad Britton

By Ken Dryden
One of the greatest challenges that jazz musicians face is seeking fresh approaches to well-known songs. Fortunately, pianist Jon Alberts has performed with his bandmates for the past two decades and they make familiar music sound new. Bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer Tad Britton make the most of the subtle take of "On Green Dolphin Street," in which Johnson's accompaniment and solo lines resist predictable paths and Britton's stripped-down drum kit works wonders, especially with his soft tapping of the cymbal, while Alberts' variations on this chestnut never lose steam. There are three pieces associated with the late pianist Bill Evans (though he only wrote one of them). Johnson introduces Miles Davis' modal masterpiece "Nardis" with a slow, eerie, two-minute solo before Britton and Alberts join him, yet they keep the theme simmering without ever resorting to letting the tempo boil over, as Evans preferred to do. Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way" has been widely recorded by numerous jazz musicians, though Alberts' jagged, abstract approach is far from typical. Evans' "Turn Out the Stars" is a moody ballad played in an introspective manner before an audience at the trio's regular venue, the Fu Kun Wu Lounge in Seattle, which is owned by the leader. Alberts also works wonders with a pair of Thelonious Monk's songs, included a free-spirited "Bemsha Swing" and a tense "Misterioso," along with a fine impressionistic take of guitarist Mick Goodrick's "Summer Band Camp." For some reason, composer credits are missing, though seasoned jazz fans will be familiar with every song. Recommended.

Fred Hersch Trio

By Thom Jurek
A couple of weeks before the release of Whirl, Fred Hersch was the subject of a long and chilling New York Times Magazine piece by David Hadju. The article related that in late 2008 Hersch, who has suffered from HIV/AIDS-related illnesses for years, had been experiencing symptoms that gradually took his motor functions away -- he became delusional; he couldn't swallow, eat, or drink; and he fell into a coma and began to experience the shutting down of his vital organs. Miraculously, he somehow survived. Apparently, Hersch wasn't ready to die or to stop making music, and Whirl is the evidence, his first recording since recovering from his illness, issued on Palmetto and featuring bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson. The ten tunes on offer here reflect in Hersch something that, while altogether him (his lyric style is always immediately recognizable), is also more open, less formal, and even more adventurous in terms of tune selection, composition, and improvisation. The three cover tunes include a sprightly, involved reading of Jaki Byard's "Mrs. Parker of K.C." Hersch plays the arpeggios sparklingly clean, and yet allows the funkiness in Byard's knotty melody to shine right through them. His solo reflects elements of his former teacher's iconoclastic language while never allowing his own style to be subsumed. Harry Warren's "You're My Everything" reveals Hersch's elegance without excess. The loose swing of his collaborators gives him room to play with "singing" flourishes in the melody and in his solo. "Mandevilla" is a habanera played with restraint and a very conscious use of its rhythmic implications, playing the melody right through the center without using anything extra, though it is full and beautiful. The title track, dedicated to ballet dancer Suzanne Ferrell, is -- as its title suggests -- a flight of fancy yet deeply focused in its leaps and bounds in modes, meters, and harmonic invention. While there are some wonderful ballads here as well -- "Sad Poet" dedicated to Antonio Carlos Jobim, a reading of the forgotten nugget "When Your Lover Has Gone" -- there isn't anything on Whirl that suggests sorrow or caution. If anything, this is among the most most celebratory and energetically intimate records in Hersch's large catalog.

Jeb Patton
New Strides

By Ken Dryden
Though only in his early thirties at the time of these recording sessions, pianist Jeb Patton had already firmly established himself in the jazz world. This former student of the late Sir Roland Hanna and Jimmy Heath recorded as a sideman on CDs with Heath's small groups and big bands, the Heath Brothers, while he has also performed with many other artists. His second CD features two other talented young musicians, bassist David Wong and drummer Pete Van Nostrand, who also appeared on his debut effort. Patton chose a surprising opener, a breezy setting of the neglected pianist Reuben Brown's "Billy," a driving bop piece deserving of wider recognition. The pianist modifies the usually somber bossa nova ballad "Estate" by picking up the tempo, while Van Nostrand switches to brushes for Patton's robust, swinging arrangement of the show tune "If Ever I Would Leave You." Originals include his bluesy tribute to Hanna ("Sir Roland") and the snappy "The Music Goes On." Jimmy Heath plays soprano sax in a touching duo arrangement of "Last Night When We Were Young," while Albert "Tootie" Heath takes over on drums for his brother's playful blues "Cloak and Dagger" and the pianist's sauntering, Latin-flavored "Street Song." Jeb Patton is one of the most promising jazz musicians of his generation and this CD is a fine addition to his discography.

Carol Welsman
I Like Men

By William Ruhlmann
The success of Carol Welsman's I Like Men: Reflections of Miss Peggy Lee defies the odds. The idea of doing "tribute" albums to more famous performers in the jazz genre is as commercially enticing as it is artistically dicey. It's hard to gain a footing in jazz, and associating oneself with a well-known name is an obvious way to get attention. But the jazz section of record stores (brick-and-mortar and in cyberspace) is strewn with failed efforts in which performers were saddled with material unsuited to them, and with which they were unfamiliar before the call came from their managers. Then, too, the tribute concept works better in a live setting than on disc, since the question always comes up, why not just listen to a recording actually by the original artist? Peggy Lee, distinctive singer and songwriter both, is a particularly difficult case as, see, for example, the misbegotten attempt Bette Midler Sings the Peggy Lee Songbook. So, why does this one work so well? For starters, Welsman, a singer and pianist for whom this is her eighth release, clearly knew Lee's work before this project began. In fact, it sounds like Lee was a primary influence on her, and while she certainly isn't imitating Lee here, she has several aspects of Lee's vocal approach pinpoint correct. She uses the breathiness of her voice as Lee did, and she recognizes Lee's timing, remaining exactly on the beat. She also has some of Lee's humor, particularly in "I Like Men," and a bit of her air of command, though, truthfully, not a lot. (Her "Fever" aims more for seduction than domination.) In fact, Welsman is so good at doing Peggy Lee that she gets away with things, for one, interpolating her own original song, "Dance on Your Own," which is more vernacular than Lee ever got. (A kiss-off song, it uses terms like "b.s.") For another, some of her song choices are somewhat tenuous; "Remind Me" probably belongs on a Mabel Mercer tribute album, instead. But these are the liberties taken by someone who is so sure of herself that she can afford to take risks, which, too, is true to Peggy Lee. And by the way, when Welsman isn't singing, she is playing some tasty jazz solos along with a small band that follows some unusual contours in the arrangements, such as the tempo changes that pace "Just One of Those Things." Like so many other tributes, this is one that probably works better as a live show, but it also works awfully well on disc, and it is that rarity, a tribute that actually does pay tribute by demonstrating an affectionate knowledge of the one to whom tribute is being paid.

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