Sunday, June 07, 2015

1 Sem 2015 - Part Twelve

The Gary Urwin Jazz Orchestra
A Beautiful Friendship

By Jack Bowers
Sometimes, just when it seems things couldn't possibly get any better, they do. That is certainly the case with A Beautiful Friendship, the spectacular new recording by arranger Gary Urwin's superlative southern California-based Jazz Orchestra. Having released three earlier albums showcasing the exceptional artistry of tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb and / or trombonist Bill Watrous, Urwin has upped the ante and pulled out all the stops on this one, not only re-enlisting Christlieb and Watrous for a consistently pleasing encore performance but enlivening the menu with yet another appetizing component, namely Carl Saunders, one of the most versatile and creative jazz trumpeters on the planet.
Saunders employs his awesome talents throughout, soloing brightly on five numbers, "dueling" with Wayne Bergeron on Charlie Parker/ Dizzy Gillespie's "Shaw 'Nuff" (taken at an agreeable medium tempo) and with acclaimed guest artist Bobby Shew on Clifford Brown's classic "Joy Spring," while composing two of the album's more endearing themes, "Autumn Sojourn" and "Dear Mr. Florence," the last dedicated to the late great composer / arranger / pianist Bob Florence. As a soloist, Saunders had to bring his A game, as Christlieb and Watrous match him stride for stride and note for note, lending special warmth and charm to their feature numbers, "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry" (Watrous) and "Dear Mr. Florence" (Christlieb).
As for Urwin, who describes himself in the liner notes as, among other things, "chief cook and bottle washer," he deftly arranged every selection save the warm-hearted finale, pianist Christian Jacob's unaccompanied rendition of "We'll Be Together Again." Christlieb, Watrous and Saunders are front and center with Jacob on the flag-waving opener, "A Beautiful Friendship," and with drummer Ralph Razze on Bill Evans' genial "Waltz for Debby." Christlieb and Jacob share blowing space with Saunders (flugelhorn and high-note trumpet) on Michel Colombier's easygoing "Emmanuel." Christlieb, Jacob and Razze sparkle on the seductive standard "It Could Happen to You," Watrous and Christlieb on Luiz Bonfa's "The Gentle Rain," Watrous and Saunders on Antonio Carlos Jobim's sensuous "Look to the Sky."
While heaping praise on the soloists, one should not lose sight of the fact that this is a world-class ensemble with superb craftsmen in every chair. Together they make A Beautiful Friendship one of the more impressive big-band albums in recent memory. A rating of less than five stars? Out of the question.
Track Listing:
A Beautiful Friendship; Waltz for Debby; Emmanuel; Autumn Sojourn; Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry; It Could Happen to You; The Gentle Rain; Shaw ‘Nuff; Look to the Sky; Dear Mr. Florence; Joy Spring; We’ll Be Together Again.
Gary Urwin: leader, arranger; Wayne Bergeron: trumpet; Rick Baptist: trumpet; Dan Fornero: trumpet; Carl Saunders: trumpet; Jeff Bunnell: trumpet: Kim Richmond: alto sax; Rusty Higgins: alto sax; Pete Christlieb: tenor sax; Dan Higgins: tenor sax; John Mitchell: baritone sax; Charlie Loper: trombone; Alex Iles: trombone; Andy Martin: trombone; Rich Bullock: bass trombone; Craig Gosnell: bass trombone; Christian Jacob: piano; Frank Browne: guitar; Trey Henry: bass; Ralph Razze: drums, percussion; Chris Razze: percussion. On selected tracks —Larry Hall: trumpet; Pete De Siena: trumpet; Ron King: trumpet; Alex Budman, Billy Kerr, Rob Hardt, Joel Peskin: saxophone; Alan Kaplan: trombone; Linda Small: trombone; Dave Woodley: trombone. Guest artists – Bobby Shew: trumpet; Bethany Pflueger: flute.

Giovanni Mirabassi Quartet
No Way Out

By CamJazz
A stunning empathy between piano and vibraphone. Refined, balanced double bass and drums. An extremely sophisticated quartet, striking a perfect balance between the enlightened creativity of the 60’s and today’s modern sound. Pianist Giovanni Mirabassi, who is part of this tight quartet together with Stefon Harris on vibraphone, Gianluca Renzi on double bass and Lukmil Perez Herrera on drums, composed “No Way Out” as his second recording for CAM JAZZ. This album opens with the title track, a statement of intent as to the entire recording. The synergism between Mirabassi and Harris leads to steadily evolving musical ideas that unfold out of the pianist’s themes. All eight tunes in “No Way Out” are by the band leader: from “The Snow White Syndrome” and “What Was Dream About” to “L’Audace”, “Canzone” and “Il Bandolero Stanco” (perhaps a tribute to an unappreciated movie featuring the Italian actor Renato Rascel?), listeners are returned to a Mirabassi in a state of grace, capable of composing in a fresh, highly inspired way, heeding the moods and refinement of the great Blue Note standards from the 60’s. He is a full-fledged musician who knows how to express himself, for having accrued valuable artistic experience over his long-standing career: his playing with Chet Baker and Steve Grossman, when he was just seventeen; his moving to and growing up in Paris, when he was just over 20; and, not to forget, being awarded the “Django d’Or” and “Victoires du Jazz” prizes in 2002. All this flowed into “No Way Out”, a recording to be listened to and enjoyed inquisitively, carefully and committedly, in order to discover how many ideas pop out of the hat of this talented, distinguished pianist from Perugia.

Dee Dee Bridgewater
Dee Dee´s Feathers

By J. D. Naylor 
Dee Dee Bridgewater has never been one to repeat herself with her recording projects and this one is no exception. Teaming up with Irvin Mayfield's New Orleans Jaxx Orchestra is an excellent move. Together they work there way through a highly enjoyable set of New Orleans standards with some interesting results.
Dee Dee herself sounds like she's having a ball with this recording with her vocals sounding more joyous and playful than ever. Dr John is guest vocalist on "Big Chief" which is one of the album hilights but there are many others too; "St James Infirmary" is turned into an up-beat and raucous blues whilst "Wonderful World" is as gentle as can be.
It isn't all D'D's show and she lets the rather excellent orchestra have some solo time as well which adds to the already varied mix. The sound is crisp and clear and the voice/orchestra mix is right too.
All in all another excellent addition to the already excellent Bridgewater catalogue.

Julia Hülsmann Quartet w/Theo Bleckman
A Clear Midnight: Kurt Weill and America

By John Kelman
Given enough time, things in life often come around full circle. Julia Hülsmann's three recordings for Munich's ACT label were all vocal affairs, where the German pianist's core trio—with bassist Marc Muellbauer and drummer Heinrich Köbberling—were joined by singers ranging from Norway's Rebekka Bakken to Germany's Roger Cicero. Since moving to another Munich label, the more heralded ECM Records, Hülsmann has demonstrated a more careful approach to expanding and evolving her work. Her first two recordings for the label—2008's The End of a Summer and 2011 followup, Imprint—pared things back to her core trio as if to signal a new beginning, adopting a wholly acoustic approach. Rather than returning to singers, Hülsmann expanded her 14 year-old trio to a quartet on 2013's In Full View by recruiting British trumpeter Tom Arthurs—a terrific choice that facilitated the pianist's ongoing migration towards a more evenly balanced blend of elegant lyricism with a more outgoing approach.
But, clearly, Hülsmann has enjoyed working with singers and, perhaps just as importantly, with songs. And so, for her fifth ECM date (including a 2009 collaboration with guitarist Marc Sinan, Fasil), Hülsmann has paired her quartet with Theo Bleckmann, a German singer who, since relocating to New York City in 1989 and collaborating with the likes of über-guitarist Ben Monder and drummer/composer John Hollenbeck, has garnered a reputation for fearless improvisational élan that often includes the use of electronics and a penchant for unpredictable musical choices for jazz interpretation, like his Hello Earth! (Winter & Winter, 2012) project which, brought to the 2011 edition of Heidelberg, Germany's Enjoy Jazz festival, took the music of Kate Bush into territory even the intrepid British prog-pop goddess could never have envisaged.
If A Clear Midnight -Kurt Weill and America largely dispenses with Bleckmann's electronics and, on paper at least, draws from a songbook that's long held a more direct tie to the jazz world, one listen to what may be Weill's best-known song, "Mack the Knife," makes clear that this is not going to be a conventional set of readings.
Bleckmann is faithful to Weill's melody and Bertolt Brecht's lyrics—his purity of tone and subtle embellishments far more effective than anything more extravagant could ever be—but there the similarities end. Hülsmann's arrangement—revolving around a deceptively simple two-note, two-chord motif of fifths on her left hand, her right adding colours that add just the right balance of consonance and dissonance—is largely a solo piano accompaniment that's augmented, when the music finally modulates, by Arthurs' simple but perfect flugelhorn lines, weaving in and around both Hülsmann and Bleckmann. It's a brilliant choice to open an album that doesn't just pay tribute to Weill— and, on three consecutive tracks that act as a conceptual breather, poems by Walt Whitman set to Hülsmann's music—it reinvents them.
The chemistry of Hülsmann's trio is inescapable, but after more time playing together as a quartet and rendering Arthurs a more fully integrated member, much of A Clear Midnight was road-tested after first being instigated by Dessau's Kurt Weill Festival in 2013, before heading to Oslo's Rainbow Studios a little less than year ago, where the music was further honed in collaboration with the quintet's sixth member, label head/producer Manfred Eicher.
Not all of the arrangements are as radical as "Mack the Knife," but a song so iconic simply had to be reinvented so that when lesser-known Weill songs like "Your Technique" come around, with its original changes more dominant (albeit still reharmonized), it becomes clear that the group's interpretive skills are as key to the freshness of its approach as the predetermined arrangements by almost everyone in the group. Only Arthurs' contributions to the record are solely instrumental; still, they demonstrate such an exacting perfection in both accompaniment and as a front line instrument that it's a wonder he's not better known. With a warm tone juxtaposed, at times, with a Harmon-muted tone that renders his playing as vulnerable as Miles Davis at his fragile best, he's at his most impressive on Hülsmann and Bleckmann's co-arrangement of "Little Tin God," where the singer's electronically layered and looped choral introductory cushion provides a context for Arthurs to wax more burnished.
When the group finally enters over Hülsmann's repetitive upper register motif, the song assumes more conventional form; but when it comes time for Arthurs to solo, the group dissolves into complete and unpredictable freedom, as Hülsmann takes over with an unexpectedly jagged approach. It's the most surprising song of the set, and one that, perhaps, is a portent of things to come. Either way, it's certainly a sign that this quartet is evolving...and at a rather rapid pace at that.
Elsewhere, Hülsmann's three compositional contributions demonstrate similar growth, in particular "A Noisless Patient Spider," where Bleckmann's oblique melody is mirrored by the pianist's sparse but equally skewed harmonies...until, that is, she takes a solo that once again finds a nexus where lyricism and more skewed tendencies seem to work wonderfully together. Muellbauer and Köbberling—a simpatico team whose empathic elasticity gives every song on A Clear Midnight both its anchor and its unpredictability—bolster Hülsmann with simmering intensity; first Arthurs' muted horn and then Bleckmann (wordlessly and in falsetto) re-enter, delivering a repeated line atop the trio that gradually gains dominance until, as the trio fades to black, there's nothing left but this line...slowly decelerating to silence, only for Bleckmann and the quartet to return for a brief final verse that ends almost mid- thought.
Bleckmann has never been one for unnecessary gymnastics; instead, he demonstrates his effortless virtuosity in less overt ways, like at the end of the closing, arpeggio-driven "Great Big Sky," where he holds a vibrato-less note, with perfect intonation, for a full ten seconds. It's this kind of purity of intent and execution that makes Bleckmann such a perfect fit for Hülsmann—without question the best vocal pairing of her recorded career—and the pianist's group, which seems to be getting stronger, more telepathic and increasingly experimental with each record. If Hülsmann's three ACT recordings demonstrated a pianist and trio with great promise, it's been with her series of ECM sessions upon which this promise has been delivered, with A Clear Midnight her most fulfilling—and fully reaized—yet.
Track Listing: 
Mack the Knife; Alabama Song; Your Technique; September Song; This is New; Eiver Chant; A Clear Midnight; A Noise Patient Spider; Beat! Beat! Drums!; Little Tin God; Speak Low; Great Big Sky.
Theo Bleckmann: vocals; Julia Hülsmann: piano; Tom Arthurs: trumpet, flugelhorn; Marc Muellbauer: double bass; Heinrich Köbberling: drums.

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