Sunday, October 07, 2012

2 Sem 2012 - Part Fifteen

George Benson
Guitar Man

By Jeff Winbush
At some point George Benson morphed from a guitarist who occasionally sang into a singer who occasionally played guitar. Benson's Breezin' (Warner Bros, 1976) launched his career trajectory to new heights based upon "This Masquerade," his only vocal turn on the album.
But oh, what a vocal "This Masquerade" was. It propelled Breezin' to Number One on the pop charts and the album won multiple Grammys, including Record of the Year, and his recording formula was set for the next 20 years. The follow-up, In Flight(Warner Bros, 1977) featured Benson's soulful tenor vocals on four of the six tracks and, while In Flight didn't boast a song as memorable as "This Masquerade," his guitar was still the musical centerpiece of the music.
Jazz aficionados rightly scratched their heads as Benson dove headlong into pop music and, by the time of 1984's 20/20 (Warner Bros, 1984), the guitar had virtually disappeared in a pea soup of limp arrangements, synthesizers and syndrums, the quintessential instrument that dates '80s records. The nadir of Benson's career might be Irreplaceable(GRP, 2004) which made a bid for hip-hop radio through sincere, but contrived tunes such as "Cell Phone," where Benson tried to place a call to heaven on the title device (no joke).
As a vocalist, Benson has proven to be at his best when the material is as strong as his 63 year old voice, and Guitar Man is a splendid showcase for it. The Beatles and Benson get along very well together (reference The Other Side of Abbey Road (A&M, 1969) for further evidence), as his skilled fingers strum the six strings on a lush interpretation of "I Want To Hold Your Hand." The mood of this recording is lights down low, slow dance and romance music. This is a record made by a grown-up for grown-ups. Benson has no need to make albums with one eye on the pop charts anymore. Recognizing his reign there is over, he can put his emphasis simply on playing and singing whatever he feels like.
Despite its title, Guitar Man doesn't feature a lot of frenzied jamming and high-flying solos, but Benson doesn't have to hammer with pyrotechnics. When he's on his game, as he is whether he's crooning Stevie Wonder's "My Cherie Amour" or gently coaxing the notes out of his guitar on John Coltrane's "Naima," it's a demonstration of an artist confidently allowing the music to speak for itself.
Whether he's swinging on "Tequila," with keyboardist Joe Sample, drummer Harvey Mason, and bassist Ben Williams, loping through "Don't Know Why," or straight-up crooning on "My One and Only Love," Benson's sense of taste, phrasing and ability to swing remain undiminished by time. Ably assisted by an accomplished assemblage of musicians, this is one of the best albums of the year. Just don't call it a comeback. George Benson is still The Guitar Man—and even when it seemed he had forgotten for awhile, he always was.
Track Listing:
Tenderly; I Want To Hold Your Hand; My Cherie Amour; Naima; Tequila; Don't Know Why; The Lady In My Life; My One and Only Love; Paper Moon; Danny Boy; Since I Fell For You; Fingerlero.
George Benson: guitar, vocals; David Garfield: piano, keyboards, rhythm arrangement (2-8, 11, 12); Paul Jackson, Jr.: rhythm guitar (2); Ray Fuller: rhythm guitar (2); Freddie Washington: bass (2); Oscar Seaton, Jr. (2): drums; Charlie Bishart: violin, viola (2, 7); Dan Higgins: flute, alto flute, clarinet (2); Oscar Castro-Neves: orchestral arrangement (2); Ben Williams: bass (3-5, 7-9, 12); Harvey Mason: drums (3-5, 7-9, 12); Lenny Castro: percussion (3, 5, 6, 12); Joe Sample: piano (5, 8, 9, 12); Chris Walden: keyboards, string arrangement (7).

Randy Halberstadt
Flash Point

By Tim Taylor
Pianist Randy Halberstadt is a major player in the Pacific Northwest Jazz Scene. Flash Point is another fine presentation of post-bop jazz coming out of Seattle. Randy recorded this album with his working trio of Jeff Johnson-bass and Mark Ivester – drums adding Mark Taylor – alto sax and Thomas Marriott – trumpet to make it a quintet. Randy composed six of the nine songs recorded.
Flash Point begins with “Rigenia” and Randy steps out on piano with his trio to be joined in a few bars by the horns. It is truly a gem of good sounds of the post-bop genre with a minor sounding melody.
A very different take comes with “On Green Dolphin Street”. It has ever changing rhythms to set your mind and ears to working. Randy takes a generous solo and is joined in and out by the rest of the quintet taking their turns.
Randy’s composition “Unspoken” is a sweet blues piece with interaction between the players. Marriott is using a muted trumpet and Taylor dances sweetly with his alto sax with that rainy day, slow afternoon feel.
“Five by Three” glides smoothly along again with each musician taking a solo. The trumpet and sax join together with some good harmony. “Woofer” is a really fun piece with Randy playing on the low end of piano in unison with Johnson on bass countering with Marriott and Taylor on their horns.
“Better Than One” is tricky in its rhythms and a nice piece of ear candy. At times all the players pick up the melody in unison, then solo. The album closes with Sam Rivers’ “Beatrice,” featuring the trio only on this nice breezy tune.
Flash Point is a great listenable album. The sound quality is excellent, and the players can each be individually heard. I would say if you love the post-bop sound, you will be pleased with this album start to finish.
Randy Halberstadt – piano; Jeff Johnson – bass; Mark Ivester – drums; Mark Taylor – alto sax;
Thomas Marriott – trumpet/Flugelhorn
1. Rigenia; 2. On Green Dolphin Street; 3. Unspoken; 4. Five by Three; 5. Solar; 6. Discovery;
7. Woofer; 8. Better than One; 9. Beatrice

Bojan Z
Soul Shelter

By Ian Patterson
In twenty years as leader, pianist/composer Bojan Z has been judicious with the frequency and quality of his releases. Soul Shelter is his ninth CD in that time, and his first solo outing since Solobsession (Label Bleu, 2001). A new release by the pianist is always an event, and the wait, as always, has been worth it. The music on Soul Shelter covers wide stylistic territory and marks another significant milestone in Z's captivating career to date.
Ten of the eleven compositions are originals, and this marks the biggest shift from Solobssession, where almost half the tracks were interpretive ventures. Z's Balkan roots still influence much of the music, but he blends and bends genres so convincingly, that baroque figures, Balkan airs and rag rhythms intertwine to weave a vibrant, inclusive mosaic. Electric piano—reinvented to superb effect on Xenophonia (Label Bleu, 2006)—adds subtle textures occasionally, but this is essentially a bare bones piano outing, and a beguiling one at that.
"Full Half Moon" represents a beautiful confluence of Z's influences; the lovely baroque intro eases delicately into Balkan folkloric realm, before Z's tumbling, Keith Jarrett-esque lines change the composition's course. Though Z's a wonderful technician and soloist, Soul Shelter is perhaps better defined by adherence to melody and song form, and the pianist's virtuoso displays are limited, and for that reason, all the more impacting. Melody always rises to the surface—almost surreptitiously at times—as on the ruminative "Sweet Shelter of Mine, where it wafts in and out like an elusive breeze, finally asserting its presence.
Wavy electric piano imbues a Ray Charles soul-funk vibe on the intro to "Hometown," but Z is rarely if ever predictable, and is soon exploring moodier terrain. Even at his most tangential, there's always the sense with Z that the defining melody is never far away. "Bohemska" packs plenty of punch in three minutes, moving from its Thelonious Monk-esque intro to Balkan themes and finishing with dashing, melodic runs in the tail. The classically-tinged "Dad's Favorite" boasts a simple yet grand melody, and manages to be vaguely sad yet unabashedly romantic.
Contrast between light and heavy shading partly defines Z's approach, particularly on the gentle "Sabalaye Blues," where his singular use of damped strings is as much narrative in effect as percussive. On the episodic "Nedyalko's Eleven" electric piano-drone contrasts with Z's fluid, dramatic glissandos and urgent, punched block chords. After a period of moody abstraction, Z is inevitably drawn again to the beautiful opening melody, as though woken from fitful slumber by warm sunlight.
Drama and beauty are everywhere juxtaposed; the nervy atmospherics of the vignette "Subway"—almost keyless bar odd notes that fall like drops of water—give way to the flowing lines of the folk-flavored "303." Electric piano brings lyricism to the music-box "Sizuit Forever," and Duke Ellington's timeless "On a Turquoise Cloud" closes the CD with exquisite, slow-waltz elegance. Utterly absorbing and quite beautiful, Soul Shelter is essential listening for those who still have faith in the possibility of solo piano to surprise and delight.
Track Listing:
Full Half Moon; Sweet Shelter of Mine; Hometown; Bohemska; Dad’s Favorite; Sabayle Blues; Nedyalko’s Eleven; Subways; 303; Sizuit Forever; On a Turquoise Cloud.
Personnel: Bojan Z: piano, electric piano.

Jan Lundgren, Chuck Berghofer, Joe LaBarbera
Together Again...At The Jazz Bakery

A Sweet Celebration, Secretly Recorded
In 1981, when Jan Lundgren was 15, he was so good at tennis that he won a competition among young Swedish players. The prize was a week of lessons with the world’s champion, Björn Borg. As it turned out, scheduling made it impossible for Mr. Borg to give the lessons. And Mr. Lundgren, who had studied classical piano since the age of 5, had found another love by then—jazz.
A year before the tennis adventure, a pianist substituting for Mr. Lundgren’s regular music teacher had given the teenager an unusual assignment—buy an Oscar Peterson record. He bought Peterson’s 1962 trio album “Night Train.” “I went home with the recording, put it onto the record player and was astonished because I had never heard music like that before in my life,” Mr. Lundgren said in 2008. “This music had a strong impact on me. I didn't know then that I would become a jazz pianist, but I knew that I had fallen in love with this music.”
After high school, Mr. Lundgren continued his classical studies at the Royal College of Music in Malmö, refined his jazz skills and was discovered by alto saxophonist Arne Domnérus, a hero of Swedish jazz. Soon, the music student was playing jazz engagements with Domnérus, saxophonist Bernt Rosengren and clarinetist Putte Wickman. Peterson’s high level of improvisation and swing provided a foundation, but Mr. Lundgren’s stylistic horizon widened to include Bill Evans, Tommy Flanagan, Jimmy Rowles and other noted pianists. By the mid-1990s, he moved into the first rank of European jazz pianists with international followings, and at age 45 continues to be in demand in Europe and Asia for concerts and recordings. His personal appearances and albums sell out in Japan. He has recorded 12 CDs in the U.S. In November, he toured in India.
In concerts Mr. Lundgren often credits Peterson, who died in 2007, with igniting his passion for jazz. He does so again in his most recent album as he introduces his poignant, unaccompanied performance of “Tenderly,” a song indelibly associated with Peterson. The album, “Together Again . . . At the Jazz Bakery” (Fresh Sound), is remarkable on two counts: for the playing of Mr. Lundgren, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Joe La Barbera; and for existing at all. It was not intended to become an album. In early 2008, the veteran producer Dick Bank was working with the trio on another project. For reference purposes, he captured the concert at the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles on a two-track digital audio-tape recorder, a far cry from the sophisticated 12-track machines used in studios to capture every sonic subtlety. Mr. Bank transferred the tape to CD, put the disc in the player in his car’s trunk, and forgot about it. When, two years later, he finally got around to listening to it, he was astonished.
In the notes for the album, Mr. Bank quotes himself that day: “‘This is good. This is really good. This has to come out!’” He gave the tape to editing engineer Talley Sherwood, who improved the recording by eliminating the pauses between pieces in the live performance, but the sound remained short of the fullness Mr. Bank wanted. Mr. Bank then took the problem to Bernie Grundman, a mastering engineer known for resuscitating hopeless recordings. His console can control 38 audio frequencies, as many as 18 at a time. Most challenging of all, Mr. Bank considered the small Yamaha grand piano inadequate. “We worked with the piano sound,” he told me, “so that it could be mistaken for a Steinway Concert Grand. My original recording could never have been released commercially.” It took six months of painstaking trial runs and reference discs before the balance, depth and relationships among the instruments satisfied Mr. Bank.
After the rigors of the audio rescue, how is the music? Mr. Lundgren, who did not know the concert had been recorded, listened to the album and then broke through his modesty, Swedish reserve and customary self-criticism. Responding to a recent email query, he likely exhausted his lifetime allotment of exclamation points: “I am very happy!! What a great surprise!! I am proud!! Some of my best playing!! Great!!” It requires no suspension of disbelief to agree. Mr. Lundgren’s clarity of execution matches the clarity of his ideas. He is at the top of his game in all of the elements of jazz pianism: touch, dynamics, harmonic imagination, swing, power and delicacy. In Mr. Bank’s stealth recording, the teamwork of Messrs. Lundgren, Berghofer and La Barbera in their concert of American Songbook standards and jazz classics equals or exceeds that of their previous encounters.
Mr. Lundgren now turns part of his attention to artistic directorship of the jazz festival he helped found in the southern Swedish seaside town of Ystad. This year it will be held Aug. 2-5. The 2011 festival included world-class musicians Toots Thielemans, Herb Geller, Pat Martino and Dave Douglas; the Korean singer Youn Sun Nah; players from throughout Scandinavia and other parts of Europe; and a contingent of mainstream musicians from New York. Jazz festivals around the world are attempting to shore up attendance by including pop, rock and folk music. In Ystad, Mr. Lundgren managed to maintain artistic integrity and attract sellout crowds. As for his own playing, his unaccompanied performance of Thelonious Monk’s “‘Round Midnight” drew praise in Britain’s Jazz Journal as a “riveting reinvention.” It brought him a standing ovation.
Jan Lundgren (piano), Chuck Berghofer (bass), and Joe La Barbera (drums).
Recorded live at The Jazz Bakery, Los Angeles, on January 2, 2008.
Producer / Recording engineer: Dick Bank
Editing engineer: Talley Sherwood
Mastering engineer: Bernie Grundman
Mastering coordinator: Jon Leroy
Graphics: Heidi Frieder
Photography: Dick Bank & William Claxton
Executive producer: Jordi Pujol
01. Introduction By Ken Borgers ( 0:23; 02. Have You Met Miss Jones? (Hart-Rodgers) 8:59; 03. Someone To Watch Over Me (G. & I. Gershwin) 6:12; 04. Love For Sale (Porter) 8:38;
05. Tenderly (Lawrence-Gross) 5:09; 06. Yesterdays (Harbach-Kern) 7:00; 07. I’m Old Fashioned (Mercer-Kern) 5:34; 08. Blues In The Closet (Pettiford) 7:14; 09. I’ve Never Been In Love Before (Loesser) 6:21; 10. Everything Happens To Me (Adair-Dennis) 7:34; 11. Rhythm-A-Ning (Monk) 7:30
Total time: 70:40 min (*)
(*) Track times include announcements/remarks by Jan Lundgren

Fabian Almazan Trio

By Mark F. Turner
Fabian Almazan began creating some buzz with his sparkling piano chops in trumpeter Terence Blanchard's group on Choices (Concord Music Group, 2009). Originally from Havana, Cuba, Almazan is not only one of the young rising stars in New York, but is also classically trained and has received a number of awards as a composer in film, chamber and orchestral projects.
Many of these disciplines come into play on this auspicious debut, which includes Almazan's equally convincing trio with bassist Linda Oh and drummer Henry Cole, and a string quartet on two tracks. This is evident in Alamzan's emotive interpretation of Dmitri Shostakovich's "String Quartet No.10 Opus 118." While maintaining the austere beauty of the Russian composer's work, the music is enhanced with electronic colorations—splices of noise and sound effects that build to a breaking point at midpoint, right before the string quartet quietly resumes the theme.
If Shostakovich's third movement speaks of Almazan's interpretative daring then "The Vicarious Life" shouts his virtuosity as the trio works through the track's dizzying cadence. Almazan plays like a man possessed, at times flamboyantly, yet with masterful control, while his equally competent trio mates have their own bright moments such as Cole's intro on "H.U.Gs (Historically Under-Represented Groups)" and Oh's punchy solo in "Russian Love Story."
But there's more to Almazan's repertoire than just highbrow composition and swinging solos. There's a reverential tone in "Grandmother Song" that is tender yet powerful and tunes such as "Bola de Nieve" (by singer/songwriter Carlos Varela) and "Tres Lindas Cubanas" (textured with the sampling of a scratchy LP) cast shadows of Almazan's memories of Cuba. Personalities is a portrait of the people and sounds that have influenced Almazan, who like these ten compositions are multifaceted and intriguing.
Track Listing:
Shostakovich String Quartet No.10 (3rd Movement) Opus 118; H.U.Gs (Historically Under-Represented Groups); Personalities; The Vicarious Life; Grandmother Song; Bola de Nieve; Russian Love Story; Sin Alma; Tres Lindas Cubanas; Una Foto.
Personnel: Fabian Almazan: piano, Fender Rhodes, electronics/audio manipulations; Linda Oh: bass; Henry Cole: drums; Meg Okura: violin I (1, 3); Megan Gould: violin II (1, 3); Karen Waltuch: viola I (1, 3); Noah Hoffeld: cello (1, 3).

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