By Ken Dryden
Benny Green led a popular trio from near the beginning of his career to around 2000, when he abruptly disbanded, not leading a band for a decade, aside from some duo recordings with guitarist Russell Malone. But a recording session with the rhythm team of bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington to accompany guitarist Satoshi Inoue rekindled the fire in the pianist's belly, resulting in this outstanding session. The two Washingtons have worked together frequently during their careers, while Green is on fire interacting with them. The ten pieces are all works by jazz composers, including both well-known and obscure works. It's little surprise to hear Green tackling Bud Powell's furious bop anthem "Tempus Fugue-It"; the veteran pianist indulges in fireworks and engages his drummer trading fours, while he also delivers a rollicking treatment of Horace Silver's "Opus de Funk." Mel Tormé's lush, bittersweet ballad "Born to Be Blue" is also in good hands, with Green's adept use of the sustaining pedal adding to the mood. The less-familiar songs are equally delightful. Green captures the loneliness of walking Manhattan streets late at night with his shimmering rendition of Benny Golson's "Park Avenue Petite." Aside from "Grooveyard," Carl Perkins' songs have been overlooked, but Green turns in an infectious, choppy version of this hard bop vehicle, winding it up with an unresolved ending. The trio of Benny Green, Peter Washington, and Kenny Washington could easily be the start of something big.
By DL Media
While growing up in Sao Paulo, Brazil, studying classical piano, Helio Alves did not pay much attention to the samba and other indigenous rhythms that surrounded him. Yet today, as one of the most in-demand and consistently creative pianists on the international jazz scene, he incorporates samba, baião, and other Brazilian patterns into his technically stunning, rhythmically and harmonically challenging, and frequently rhapsodic approach to jazz. Such characteristics are especially evident throughout Musica, his fourth CD as a leader and first for bassist-turned-producer John Lee's Jazz Legacy Productions label (November 9).
“I never studied Brazilian music per se, but it was always present,” the New York-based pianist says. “It was everywhere. I always got to hear the Brazilian rhythms, and somehow they got into my music, I guess through osmosis.”
Musica is a truly pan-American affair that features prominent musicians from throughout the hemisphere. Bassist Reuben Rogers, whose extensive credits include work with Joshua Redman and Diane Reeves, was raised in the Virgin Islands. Mexico City-born drummer Antonio Sanchez has played with Dizzy Gillespie's United Nations Orchestra, Danilo Perez, and, for the past eight years, with Pat Metheny. Trumpeter Claudio Roditi and guitarist Romero Lubambo, both originally from Rio de Janeiro, join the trio for two tracks a piece.
The disc's nine-song set includes Alves' adventurous interpretations of compositions by Dom Salvador (”Gafieira”), Moacir Santos (”Kathy”), Hermeto Pascoal (”Musica Das Nuvens E Do Chao”), Herbie Hancock (”Chan's Song”), Wayne Shorter (”Black Nile”), Dori Caymmi (”Flor Das Estradas),” and longtime associate Roditi (”Adeus Alf”). “Gafieira” is a fast samba named for a style that was popular in Rio dance halls during the beginning of the 20th century. “Kathy” is played in 5/4 time, and much of “Musica Das Nuvens E Do Chão” finds Alves improvising at a fast 7/4 clip. “Chan's Song,” from the Round Midnight soundtrack, is treated to a gentle bossa-nova groove, and “Black Nile” utilizes elements of the baião rhythms of Northeastern Brazil. The remaining two selections were written by Alves: “Tribute to Charlie 2,” a gently loping ballad in 6/8 dedicated to the late Charlie Banacos (as is the entire CD), and the multi-directional “Sombra.”
“I intended it to be very open and free,” Alves says of Musica. “Antonio and Reuben are incredible interactive players and can really listen. Antonio's comping is fantastic behind the soloists. He just hears everything. It's a rhythm section that can play many styles.”
Helio Alves was born in Sao Paulo on October 5, 1966. Both his parents are amateur pianists. His conservatory-trained mother played classical music exclusively, while his dad played classical music and some jazz and had a few Dave Brubeck and Oscar Peterson records in his collection. Young Helio was especially fond of one by Peterson and Joe Pass.
He began studying classical piano at age 6. His teacher, Elce Pannian, “was very strict,” he says, adding, “It was great for my development at the beginning, but her not wanting me to play anything other than classical kind of made me interested in doing other things. It ended up being a good thing.”
At 13, Alves attended a duo concert by Chick Corea and Gary Burton in Sao Paulo. “It was so creative, and they sounded so free” he recalls. “I couldn't really understand everything at that point. It was way too advanced for me, but they looked like they were having a ball. It really grabbed me.” Besides Corea, he cites McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett, and Bill Evans as primary influences.
Jazz bassist Xu Viana, a judge at two high school jazz festival competitions that Alves won, became an early mentor, teaching the teenager jazz harmony and suggesting he attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston after finishing high school. Alves took his advice and, in less than four years, graduated with a degree in Professional Music.
While attending Berklee and until quite recently, Alves also studied composition and improvisation with Charlie Banacos, whose other students of note included Michael Brecker, Marilyn Crispell, Danilo Perez, and Mike Stern. “He just gave me tons of ideas for my improvising,” Alves says. Banacos died in December 2009.
Alves moved to New York City in 1993 and began working immediately with Roditi, whom he had met earlier in Boston. Two years later, the pianist joined Joe Henderson's Double Rainbow Quartet, staying two years. Alves' other sideman credits include work with the Caribbean Jazz Project, Phil Woods, Herbie Mann, Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, Oscar Castro-Neves, Mike Stern, and Gal Costa, for whom he served as musical director for her all- star 2003 Carnegie Hall tribute to Antonio Carlos Jobim and Stan Getz. Currently, Alves divides his international touring schedule between engagements with his own trio, Roditi's band, vocalist Joyce Moreno, and the Brazilian Trio, a group he co-leads with bassist Nilson Matta and drummer Duduka Da Fonseca.
The pianist has contributed to three Grammy Award-winning albums: Joe Henderson Big Band (1996), Paquito D'Rivera's Brazilian Dreams (2002), and Yo-Yo Ma'sObrigado Brazil (2003). He also can be heard on recordings by Roditi, Moreno, Da Fonseca, Biscoito Fino, Slide Hampton, Louis Hayes, Rosa Passos, and Gino Sitson.
Alves previously recorded three albums under his own name—Trios (1998),Portrait in Black and White (2004), and It's Clear (2009), all on the Reservoir Music label—in addition to Songs from the Last Century, a 2006 collaboration with Da Fonseca for Blue Toucan Records. With Musica, his debut for Jazz Legacy Productions, the pianist seamlessly fuses sounds he absorbed in Brazil and the United States into a remarkably original, deeply satisfying whole.
By Ken Dryden
During his long career, pianist Monty Alexander excelled in trio settings, and he's primarily heard in this collection of live performances at various venues with two different groups, with these recordings all coming from his personal archives. Kicking off with an inspired, upbeat "Come Fly with Me" (forever associated with vocalist Frank Sinatra), Alexander seems in a jovial mood throughout most of the CD. He has a lot of fun with "Sweet Georgia Brown," opening with a bit of stride before shifting into a wild ride incorporating some Thelonious Monk-like dissonance, but in the typical uptempo setting favored by Oscar Peterson. His interpretation of John Lewis' "Django" retains its standard dramatic introduction; then he subtly swings it with a brief detour into "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise," adding a bluesy air to it. At times, he inserts licks from a number of different songs à la Art Tatum or Dorothy Donegan, especially in the unusually hilarious setting of "Body and Soul." The closing medley begins with Alexander's sentimental ballad "Home," then segues into a lively, calypso-flavored performance of Blue Mitchell's "Fungii Mama." Alexander's Uplift is well-named, as these live recordings represent some of his best work from his half-century as a professional jazz pianist.
Jimmy Greene Quartet
Live At Smalls
By Thomas Conrad
Smalls opened 16 years ago in Greenwich Village as a tiny jazz cellar without a liquor license. For a $10 cover you could listen until dawn. There have been closures, remodelings and ownership changes over the years. Smalls has not exactly gone corporate, but the cover charge has gone up, it now has a bar, and probably no one sleeps in the cooler as Frank Hewitt used to do.
The new smalls LIVE label is now up to 16 titles. It should not be confused with Luke Kaven’s Smalls Records, the label that grew out of the original Smalls and made some classic albums there, like Hewitt’s Out of the Clear Black Sky and Omer Avital’s Room to Grow. The new label has not yet released anything as important as the best stuff on Smalls Records, but these three new releases are worthwhile, especially the Jimmy Greene.
Those who know Greene through his articulate tenor saxophone work with Tom Harrell will be startled by the first track here. The title, “Sense of Urgency,” is an extreme understatement. Greene’s commanding opening calls accumulate complexity over an obsessive crashing vamp by bassist Ugonna Okegwo and pianist Xavier Davis. Drummer Gregory Hutchinson storms and rages. Greene’s solo gets caught up in wild spins then splinters into jagged fragments. The rest of the album is more measured, and even has two grainy soprano saxophone ballads, but stays intense.
The very best thing about the smalls-LIVE series is how these recordings recreate the visceral experience of Smalls, the hang itself. Engineer (and celebrated jazz photographer) Jimmy Katz comes up close on every instrument—appropriate for a club with 60 seats—but also lets in the applause, the tinkling glasses, the night air. One caveat: The fades of applause and announcements are unfortunate production decisions. They interfere with the fantasy that you are there.
Ben Wolfe Quintet
Live At Smalls
By Woodrow Wilkins
In New York City, there's a popular venue known as Smalls Jazz Club. The Ben Wolfe Quintet introduces a series of performance recordings, simply titled Smalls Live.
A Baltimore native, Wolfe's professional associations include Wynton Marsalis, Harry Connick Jr. and Diana Krall. He is currently a faculty member at Julliard School of Music, Jazz Division.
The high-energy, attention-grabbing “Block 11”--one of nine songs, all composed and arranged by Wolfe--begins the set, with Ryan Kisor's blistering trumpet inspiring thoughts of the late Freddie Hubbard. Pianist Luis Perdomo delivers a solo, accompanied only by Wolfe and drummer Gregory Hutchinson. The band slows to a near stop before shifting back into gear as tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland follows with a passionate solo, supported by Hutchinson, as the song downshifts again for its conclusion.
The band swings on the easygoing “Telescope,” with trumpet and sax blending for the melody before splitting into layered leads. Strickland takes point for a pleasure jaunt while, after Perdomo's solo, Hutchinson shows his skills in a call-and-response with the rest of the group. Te closing “The Trade” is a brief duet for Wolfe and Hutchinson.
Musically, there's nothing to complain about here, with Wolfe and his sidemen tight throughout the disc. The only negative is the packaging. Dark purple print over a solid black background makes it difficult to read song titles, players' instruments and other notes. Despite that, Live at Smalls scores big.
Block 11; For the Great Sonny Clark; Telescope; Contraption; Unjust; I'll Know You More; Double Czech; Coleman's Cab; The Trade.
Ben Wolfe: acoustic bass; Marcus Strickland: tenor saxophone; Ryan Kisor: trumpet; Luis Perdomo: piano; Gregory Hutchinson: drums.