By Christopher Loudon
Seattle-based vocalist Janette West has been working up and down the West Coast for nearly four decades, variously fronting R&B, smooth-jazz and big-band outfits. Never, though, has West been better served than with her recently formed quartet comprising her husband, drummer Marty Tuttle, plus keyboardist Eric Verlinde, bassist Chuck Kistler and percussionist Ricardo Guity. This is a remarkably tight unit, rivaling the tautness of the Tierney Sutton Group. West is a first-rate swinger, comparable in style and gusto to Ernestine Anderson, though the warmth of her ballads is more reminiscent of Natalie Cole. Each group member is given plenty of room to stretch out and shine.
West is exceptionally gracious about sharing the spotlight. Verlinde demonstrates a masterfully elegant touch on “Only Trust Your Heart” and “I’m Glad There Is You,” and, on Hammond E, ably assists West in finessing an exuberant “Willow Weep for Me.” Tuttle and Guity steer a shimmering treatment of Stevie Wonder’s “Bird of Beauty.” But the two tracks that best showcase the group’s solidity are a gorgeously lithe “You Go to My Head” and a scintillating Afro-Cuban canter through “Love for Sale.”
Gerald Wilson Orchestra
Gerald Wilson demonstrates that age is only a number with his outstanding composing and arranging for these big-band sessions. Having celebrated his 92nd birthday around the time that he made this recording, Wilson offers a diverse program, though his deteriorating vision requires Eric Otis (his grandson) to notate the leader's music from his oral instructions as he composes at the piano. Three of his pieces are derived from famous classical works. "Variations on a Theme by Igor Stravinsky" is taken from the composer's famous early 20th century ballet The Firebird, a robust cooker that serves as a brief introduction. "Variations on Clair de Lune" gives Claude Debussy's well-known work a slow, bluesy air at first, showcasing pianist Renee Rosnes and son Anthony Wilson on guitar, though it soon transforms into a breezy setting. "Variations on a Theme by Giacomo Puccini" takes one of his most beloved moving arias ("Nessum Dorma") and gives it an uplifting bop flavor. Wilson's "Yes, Chicago Is…" consists of a seven-part suite, highlighted by the boisterous "Riffin' at the Regal" and the snappy "Cubs, Bears, Bulls, and White Sox" (a bluesy vehicle with numerous potent solos). Anthony composed and arranged "Virgo," while Eric penned "September Sky," further evidence that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree as far as music is concerned in the Wilson family. The supporting cast includes some of the most in-demand musicians on the New York City jazz scene, including bassist Peter Washington, drummer Lewis Nash, saxophonists Antonio Hart, Dick Oatts, and Gary Smulyan, and trumpeters Jeremy Pelt, Sean Jones, and Freddie Hendrix, along with trombonists Douglas Purviance and Alan Ferber, among others. This outstanding recording adds to the already substantial discography of the great Gerald Wilson.
Dave Miller Trio
By Bill Milkowski
Pianist Dave Miller teams with fellow jazz vets Mario Suraci on bass and Bill Belasco on drums for a set of lightly and politely swinging mainstream jazz. From the opening strains of Gerry Mulligan’s jaunty “Line for Lyons” to Jimmy Van Heusen’s harmonically rich “I Thought About You,” Terry Gibbs’ sprightly “Peaches” and Duke Ellington’s coy “Just Squeeze Me,” the course is strictly straight-ahead. Some surprises here include a poignant reading of the Lennon-McCartney ballad “In My Life,” an interpretation of Harold Land’s Afro-Cuban-flavored “Rapture” and a clever 4/4 take on Sammy Fain’s waltzing “Alice in Wonderland,” a Disney tune closely associated with Dave Brubeck.
On this sixth CD there are revealing marks of artistic ripening and impressive blend of immutable confidence and solid pianism. Dave's excellence is uniform across varied domains.
The repertoire reflects how well he addresses the wide arc of diversity. His style postured with taste and finesse plus a range of timbres whether he plays ballads or swingers. His fingers capture the heart and sould of each tune.
The rich trove of selections on this CD offers an uplifting, absorbing listening experience.
- Recorded Fantasy Records in Berkley, on Sept. 30th and Oct. 27, 2009
- Photography: Michael Collopy
- Engineered by: Adam Munoz
- Mastered by: Ken Lee
Phil & Bill
Woods & Mays
Long one of the dominate alto saxophonists in jazz, Phil Woods meets his regular pianist Bill Mays for this intimate duo session recorded in September 2010. Both musicians have a vast repertoire and a gift for inventive improvising. They explore several songs by top-notch songwriters, including a loping, lyrical treatment of Jimmy Van Heusen's "All This and Heaven Too," a breezy, playful setting of Irving Berlin's "The Thing for You Would Be Me," and an overlooked Richard Rodgers gem, "Do I Love You?," which was featured in a Cinderella television special in the late '50s, featuring a bubbly Woods solo that is well complemented by Mays' elegant piano. Woods unveils two new originals for musicians who had passed away prior to the record date: "Blues for Lopes," a spunky bop vehicle that honors Joe Lopes, an old friend and mentor, along with "Hank Jones," a gorgeous ballad that salutes the brilliant pianist whose career spanned seven decades. This enjoyable duo date adds another important chapter to the already vast discography of Phil Woods.
Lynne Arriale has made her mark with a number of CDs of her own during her career. This predominantly trio date with bassist Omer Avital and drummer Anthony Pinciotti, adding tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry on several songs, mixes originals and covers of pop songs. Arriale's songwriting skills match her chops at the piano. The driving post-bop vehicle "Elements" provides a solid opener for Arriale's trio, with the pianist's unpredictable blues constantly shifting. Her rambunctious Irish jig "Convergence" features McHenry's powerful tenor and Arriale's furious solo. "The Simple Things" is a low-key, lyrical ballad played by the trio. The infectious "Here and Now" draws from multiple musical influences from around the world, showcasing McHenry's wailing tenor. The Middle Eastern-flavored "Dance of the Rain" includes an unidentified oud player, with Pinciotti presumably being playing the hand percussion. Arriale also shines with her fresh interpretations of the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun," Sting's "Sister Moon," and the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black." Only Nine Inch Nails' "Something I Can Never Have" never manages to gain traction.
Corea, Clarke & White
This double-disc set documents Return to Forever's unplugged tour of 2009. Its 19 tracks consist mainly of rearranged RTF tunes and jazz standards for piano trio, though there are wonderful surprises on disc two. Disc one is taken directly from concert appearances across the globe. The standards work well -- considering how busy Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White can be together as well as solo. "On Green Dolphin Street," "Waltz for Debby," and "Hackensack" all swing, though they do feature moments of RTF's requisite knotty counterpoint. Originals include Clarke's new tune, the beautiful "La Canción de Sophia," as well as "Bud Powell" and "Windows" from two Corea solo recordings, and "Señor Mouse" and "No Mystery," both RTF tunes, round it out. The small complaint is that these three play so stridently and "perfectly" that they sound more like a studio band instead of a quick-thinking live unit. Everything is exceptionally played and recorded. The gems are saved for disc two, which consists mainly of rehearsals for the tour recorded at Mad Hatter Studios in San Francisco, complete with off-mike banter. Corea dons his Rhodes and other keyboards for an excellent version of "Captain Marvel" and a fully fused-out “Señor Mouse,” “Space Circus,” and “After the Rain,” all with original RTF guitarist Bill Connors playing his ass off with his former and future bandmates (Frank Gambale will assume guitar duties on tour). Violinist Jean-Luc Ponty will also join the new band formally in 2012, and he begins in that role here, appearing on "Armando's Rhumba" (he played on the original off Corea's My Spanish Heart LP), his own "Renaissance," a fine rendition of "I Loves You, Porgy" (one of two tunes with Chaka Khan on vocals), "After the Cosmic Rain," and "Space Circus." The other two surprises on disc two are a very soulful duet between Corea (on acoustic piano) and White on John Coltrane's "Crescent" and a stellar acoustic trio version of RTF's standard "500 Miles High," which was recorded at the Monterey Jazz Festival and contains plenty of fire. With its looseness, this second disc offers the real dynamic potential for RTF in the future and reveals the depth of near symbiotic communication between the bandmembers.
Roger Davidson & David Finck
Umbrellas & Sunshine: The Music of Michel Legrand
In popular culture, Michel Legrand (who turned 79 on February 24, 2011) is best known for his accomplishments as a composer. But people who really know their jazz also respect the Paris native for his work as an acoustic pianist, and on Umbrellas & Sunshine: The Music of Michel Legrand, fellow acoustic pianist Roger Davidson pays tribute to both Legrand the composer and Legrand the pianist. Forming an intimate duo with upright bassist David Finck, Davidson salutes Legrand's pianistic style, but does so on his own terms. In other words, Davidson acknowledges elements of Legrand's playing, but isn't actually trying to emulate him; the lyrical Davidson still sounds like himself. And he tackles an intriguing variety of Legrand pieces on this 2009 recording. Many of the songs are well-known standards, including "You Must Believe in Spring," "Watch What Happens," "The Summer Knows," and "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" (which is part of a medley that also includes "The Easy Way"). But Davidson makes his share of less obvious choices as well. Among them: "His Eyes, Her Eyes" (from the 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair), "The First Time" (which was heard in Falling in Love Again, a romantic comedy from 1980), and the obscure "Look." Many people who are big admirers of Legrand are unfamiliar with "Look," and the very fact that Davidson included that rarity shows that he wasn't afraid to do his homework. So even though Umbrellas & Sunshine has its share of well-known standards, Davidson obviously didn't want this 52-minute CD to have an all-standards-all-the-time approach. Davidson is hardly the first jazz musician to pay homage to Legrand, and he certainly won't be the last. But his sense of adventure makes Umbrellas & Sunshine one of the more memorable Legrand tributes of the 2000s.