TITLE: Mood Changes
ARTIST: Grace Kelly
LABEL: PAZZ Productions
REVIEWER: Ron Seegar & James Darby


SEEGAR: "Grace Kelly" is already a magical name in the motion picture field, but a very different Grace Kelly is a whole new personification within the jazz context. This is her fifth CD and it documents the continuing and astounding multi-talented development of this truly gifted and very advanced 16 year old jazz musician. Ms. Kelly is a fiery, inventive saxophonist who triples on alto, tenor and soprano saxes as well as being an enthusiastic, expressive jazz vocalist with a honeyed voice. Beyond this she is a talented composer, arranger, and lyricist.


The jazz world is known for its precocious youngsters being mentored by generous heavyweights, like 13 year old Steve Kuhn playing with Serge Chaloff, Tony Williams playing with Jackie McLean only to be lured away by Miles, Eric Kloss with Pat Martino & Don Patterson, Tom Scott hitting the launch pad of Oliver Nelson's Big Band, and more recently bassist Esperanza Spalding under the tutelage of Pat Metheny and Joe Lovano. Arguably as talented as any of the others at this age, the award-winning Ms Kelly can boast the mentoring of a host of jazz stars including alto sax legend Lee Konitz (pictured), not to mention the magical YouTube moment of alto legend Phil Woods symbolically putting his hat on her head after her superlative solo with his band. One trip through her website shows the wide-ranging clubs, festivals, and musicians, including Sonny Rollins, in her musical portfolio. In the 2009 DownBeat International Jazz Critics Poll, this youngster ‘breaks through’ to gain her highest recognition, in the midst of a more experienced group of musicians, as a “Rising Star” on alto sax. Along with Jason Palmer on trumpet, Doug Johnson on piano, John Lockwood on bass, the effusive Terri Lyne Carrington or Jordan Perlson on drums, with by Adam Rogers on guitar and Hal Crook on trombone, she fronts a hard-swinging group with a tight rhythm section & impressive soloists. She wrote four of the ten songs as well as arranging and co-producing the CD.

The 'best of the best' performances on this CD are led by one of her signature songs, "I'll Remember April", delivered here as a blazing uptempo 3 minute wall-to-wall solo sax exploration by Kelly that is both a true harbinger of 'things to come' from her and a demonstration of her 'here and now. Taking command from the start and brilliantly running the changes over a lightning tempo, her abilities are truly exposed as she demonstrates speed, great facility, imagination, "quote' ability, and the supremely confident adroitness to pull it all together. Beyond this, she shows she can ignite new sparks in mid-solo, lifting the performance to new levels with her relentless rhythm section pushing her onwards, especially the blazing brushes of Jordan Perlson.

Next up is an oddly-metered "Comes Love" which serves as both a vehicle for hot serpentine overdubbed saxophone solos and Kelly’s spirited vocal solo with sax overdubbing: an interesting, attractive effect that keeps one guessing and checking the CD notes for instrumentation. “Tender Madness” is pure drop-dead beauty in unison and solos by all. Her best vocal outing is "But Life Goes On", an original ballad sung sweetly and hiply before Johnson's heartfelt piano solo. The standard "It Might As Well Be Spring" has Grace vocally exploring the sonic contours over a latin beat, then soloing and backing herself on tenor sax.


The tightly-arranged and somewhat Monk-ish "101" is interestingly influenced by Billy Childs and Joshua Redman and has a wild but controlled sax solo from Grace that is simply amazing and trumpeter Palmer has a monster solo. “I Want To Be Happy” exemplifies her arranging skills as a group vehicle without actual solos: over a driving beat, with unison horns, punctuated by effective stops and tight elements with some swirling free horn passages: it’s a marvelous performance. Overall, the sound is recorded at a high level with all unison and solo parts and rhythm section instrumentation clear and immediate: especially the cymbal splashes and deep contrabass plucking. The piano or guitar are in front of the bass and drums, and behind the centered sax and trumpet front line. The overdubbing is somewhat distracting, drawing one away from the action at times when we know there’s only one sax player, but it’s not overdone. This outstanding CD tells mature jazz fans that the future of jazz is secure as long as talented young artists like Grace Kelly are being developed and proudly wearing the title "jazz musician". Her career from this point should be of great interest.

Darby:  I was not as impressed or enamored with the wunderkind as Ron. I was recently a judge for a regional Young Artists competition and heard several school age kids every bit as good as Grace in their fields. Most of my life I have worked with musically gifted youths and, I might add, I was one many moons ago. And I certainly know several other adult musicians who have not found fame and fortune that I would much rather listen to. Yes, she is a good player for her tender age, but she is certainly not Tom Scott or Lee Konitz - yet - much less a Bird or other established sax legend. She has good technique but her intonation (playing in tune) was a little suspect a few times. Her style leans more towards the pop or "smooth" side of jazz that classic, straight ahead or hard bop. She is cute thought and that probably contributes to her getting where she is at this point. For me, I want to hear more before I fork over my $16 or so. Good for her age, yes. Do I want to hear how she progresses to see if she is the real thing? I agree with Ron's assessment that "Her career from this point should be of great interest". Should we all encourage teenagers to reach for the stars with their talents? Of course! But can I recommend that you go out an buy this based just on the musical veracity of the recording? Sorry.

 

TITLE: Lyn's Une
ARTIST: Alyn Cosker - Drums
LABEL: Linn
REVIEWER: James Darby

Most jazz musicians, especially drummers and bass players, approach composing starting first with a grove or rhytmic element. Upon first listen, it was apparent that Cosker , who wrote all but one of the tunes, has a strong sense of melody and good taste to go with it. Reading comments later by drummer confirm that he established the melodies first and then constructed the underlying tempi and time signatures to accompany them. It shows.

His sense of rhythm also shows in how the tracks were placed in order on the album. The way the moods and pacing change are truly artistic and add much to the overall enjoyment of the set. Each track has a different set of instrumentation which also makes it interesting. Everything does not sound the same.

One could say the same about his playing. No one will ever mistake Cosker for a drum machine or  programmed drum software. He very seldom plays two measures in a row exactly the same and never just “keeps time”. In other words, Alyn Cosker is not just a drummer, he is a musician and a very fine one at that.

The odd title “Lyn’s Une” is derived from a typo that should have read “Alyn's Tune”, but that’s about the only mistake found among the twelve selections. Like all Linn releases, this disk is has a CD layer recorded in HDCD as well as SACD in stereo and surround. But the whole disk, again like  all Linn recordings, is available as a download in several different versions from 320 MP3 all the way up to 24bit/96 kHz ultra resolution. I listened to the HDCD and SACD versions, but mostly the Hi-Rez I downloaded on my PS Audio Perfect Wave system.

“Oh Dear” is the first cut, a mid tempo fusionish tune that travels in and around 9/8 time.  Yes, I did say “fusion” and that is the overall style  of this release. I know that term turns a lot of people off as well it should because “fusion” has been used and abused more that just about any other idiom. But there are also wonderful examples of it rendered by groups such as Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report to name a couple. Drummers like Billy Cobham set the mark for fusion drummers. Cosker does remind me of Billy as well as Dave Weckl, though he sounds exactly like neither  he has his own style and technique. Like those other two noted drummers, Cosker is a musician and not just a good time keeper – a musician whose instrument just happens to be the drums. He innovates. He leads. He moves the music along in a musical way as if his drums are sometimes trumpets, bass guitars, lead guitars or any other ax.

My favorite and perhaps the best track is cut 8 where all seven contributors who are otherwise spread out among the tracks, come together on a real burner that’s both fun and adventurous.

Okay, “That’s the Ticket” may really be my favorite. It’s the hottest, funkiest cut present that really shows the Scottish banger’s power and snap. Crisp and tight, baby. Yeah!

And yes, there is the ubiquitous female vocal track vai “When Autumn Comes” the wraps up the album. It’s a nice ballad featuring Maureen McMullan that is not a throwaway which is a pleasant change.

 

This is not EZ listening, smooth jazz or otherwise elevator fodder. The cuts are mostly longish in the 7 to 8 minute length, so it is not geared for radio airplay. Another nice thins is that you get 79 minutes worth of music for you bucks, too.

The recording quality is smashing as well in all the formats but the 24/96 version turns loose the thunderous dynamics that the engineer caught so well here. In terms of sonic quality, there is no new ground broken here, but it is definitely audiophile quality – a real rarity among most recordings today. For me, this is a keeper, which is even rarer among most recordings today.

 

 

 

TITLE: Kind of Brown
ARTIST: Christian McBride
LABEL: Mack Avenue
REVIEWER: Ron Seegar & James Darby



Seegar: This is an invigorating and hard-swinging jazz session from the new Christian McBride quintet called "Inside Straight". This is a straight-ahead, unique sounding acoustical quintet designed for venues like the Village Vanguard, side-stepping the beat boxes and turntables that he has recently favored in one of his groups. The group consists of the veteran Carl Allen on drums, Eric Scott Reed on piano, Steve Wilson on sax, and Warren Wolf, Jr on vibes. The name “Inside Straight” was the winner in Christian’s ‘name my band’ internet contest drawing votes far beyond his expectations. McBride composed 7 of the 10 songs which run the gamut from funk to uptempo cookers to ballads and a cleverly disguised waltz called “Uncle James”.


Even the casual jazz fan can see that McBride, who won a Grammy with McCoy Tyner, is one of the busiest bassists on the scene: as a ubiquitous 'A-list' sideman appearing with luminaries such as Sting, Sonny Rollins and Pat Metheny, and as musical director for a number of orchestras and festivals from coast to coast. As this Mack Avenue Records debut hit the music stores and download venues, he was also selected as the #1 Acoustical Bassist for 2009 by the DownBeat International Jazz Critics Poll for the second year in a row (and #2 on electric bass for good measure).


This CD is recorded with clear & immediate sound, such that the rhythm section is farther forward in the soundscape, which is a welcome approach that lets the listener get the feeling of front row jazz club ambience. Obviously having a bass leader/producer is one of the main reasons for this excellent sound.

The 'best of the best' performances begins with a blazing version of the late Freddie Hubbard’s “Theme for Kareem” as Christian launches into a hot fleet-fingered, highly inventive bass solo, the first of two, that leads to the main theme: vibist Wolf, a standout performer, does some remarkable solo work. The exciting "Brother Mister" is a rim-shot driven "funk fest" that operates in the Horace Silver-vein of jazz compositions. "Used Ta' Could" has a ‘revival meeting’ feel to it as each solo 'preaches' it's own message of blues and truth: Christian's bass is remarkable both in plucking underneath and his funky arco solo, giving a virtual seminar on the possibilities of the upright contrabass.

The staccato ‘head’ of "Stick & Move" morphs into a swing vehicle with only the underpinning of McBride's stout walking and drummer Carl Allen’s urgent drums, allowing everyone to solo with abandon without piano or vibe ‘comping’. The too-seldom heard Tin Pan Alley standard "Where Are You?" is a vehicle for McBride's singing arco technique stating the lovely theme and variations over Scott Reed's crystalline piano chords. But perhaps best of all in terms of composition and solos is “StarBeam” with Steve Wilson’s fluid soprano sax and McBride’sblazing pizzicato solo.

Darby: Hmm. Did we listen to the same album? For me, most of the 10 cuts would be perfectly suited to your local EZ Jazz FM station's playlist. The one tune that would be appreciated by most "real" jazz aficionados would be "Stick and Move" which I would point to as the CD's best cut.  I wouldn't call that one "blazing", but there is some real smoke generated. "Starbeam" is at a best a mid-tempo tune with a lite Latin feel, though executed very well.

I would not describe the overall feel of this CD as "invigorating and hard-swinging". The only other cut that might qualify for those descriptors is "Theme for Kareem" where the soft Kenny G soprano sax which is featured on the majority of cuts is dropped in favor of an alto. While this one is an uptempo swinger, hard bop it is not. I didn't hear anything I would put in the funk category ala Vic Wooten, Marcus Miller or "Work To Do" by drummer Carl Allen who appears here and bassist Rod Whitaker, also on Mack Avenue and reviewed below  "Brother Mister" might be a "funk lite", but even that's stretching it a bit. For the most part, I'd tag this one as rather laid back effort that is a cut or two above the styrofoam easy jazz you hear in dentist's offices and elevators. Nothing here will offend anyone and it is exceptionally well played, but in no way resembles what many believe is the best album ever made, jazz or not, "Kind of Blue" by Miles Davis. Incredibly, the title association never occurred to him till someone asked if he was aiming for Kind of Blue's greatness with "Kind of Brown".

Sonically, this doesn't approach "Kind of Blue" either - but very few in all of history do. Dynamics are very good and there is very good air and space with a good soundstage. However, each solo moves the instrument to front and center as if the guy had stepped out in front to a solo mic. That works for saxes, but solo vibes and piano are stretched from one side of the stage to the other, way out of perspective. Solo drums too. Vibes have a good metallic ring to them and the mallet attack is well represented, but they are pretty "smooth" a not particularly dynamic, but it's not because of studio gimmickry, Wolf just plays that way here. Piano is warm and never strident or metallic as sometimes happens.  So it's "kind of jazz" and "kind of pop", too. Don't get me wrong - this is a fine album that is one of the better examples of this genre and there are some pretty exciting solos sprinkled throughout as well, but in literary terms it is light summer reading that you would take to the beach, which is fine as long as you know what you're getting. I live in Florida. I like the beach...

 

 

Title: “Work To Do
Artist: Carl Allen & Rodney Whitaker
Label: Mack Avenue MAC 1045

Reviewer: James Darby

 

Have you ever been watching late night tv such Leno, Letterman or even Saturday Night Live (does anyone watch that anymore?) and hear the band start blowing a really interesting tune only to go into a commercial? You find yourself wishing you could hear more of the music instead of the “Shamwow”. Well, this may be your opportunity. There is a very definite old school vibe reminiscent of Cannonball Adderley’s quintent, maybe “Mercy, Mercy”, or at times Wes Montgomery or even Grover Washington. It’s jazz to be sure, but without some of the dissonance and way-out-there chord voicings soprevalent in today's jazz releases. There’s nary a discordant note anywhere, just straight ahead jazz that ranges from hot to cool to achingly beautiful to downright phat funk ala Maceo Parker with the same raw yet sophisticate feel.

The slickness that afflicts most jazz recordings today is refreshingly absent. There’s more of a R&B feel though not Motown even though tunes like Marvin’s “What’s Going On” and Billy Preston’s “With You I’m Born Again” appear along with “Eleanor Rigby” by the you-know-who. They could be the back up band for the Isely Brothers who penned the title track. Of course, “Work to Do” was also a hit by “The Average White Band” which may be another “sounds like”, but there’s more real jazz here and less rock than AWB.

Drummer Carl Allen and bassist Rodney Whitaker lead a group of well known players that can reach as many as nine on some tracks including two saxes, trumpet, guitar, bass, organ, Fender Rhodes and trombone and drums, but one of the great strengths of this collection is that the instrumentation varies widely among the ten tracks. We even get a stunningly gorgeous ballad on soprano sax that would make Grover envious, and Kenny G a lesson in how to play soprano. There are plenty of other solos from hot trumpet and sax to bowed bass, all very accomplished and absorbing.

 

Sonically, there’s nothing groudbreaking here. Bass and drums are back of the stage unless doing solos, but some instruments are very close mic’d and then panned left or right with the result sounding like they are coming right out of the speaker; not much air and space. Dynamics are not squashed to death and are pretty lively giving instruments room to breathe and emote. It's good but could be a lot better. With their old school sound, perhaps the guys should think about doing a more “live-in-studio” session with purist mic techniques. It may be old school, but it sure is great school.

 

Bottom line though, this one is staying in my very limited collection, and that is saying a lot. I only keep the really good stuff that is worth repeated listenings with a minimum of throwaway cuts. In addition, I'm looking forward to hearing their next release, which again is getting rarer day by day.

 

 

Title: “My One and Only Thrill”
Artist: Melody Gardot
Label Verve/Universal B0012563-02

Reviewer: André Gauthier

 

The brilliant Peter Allen wrote a rather prophetic song before his demise. It was called “Everything Old is New Again”. That might easily have been the title of this album. “Old” is not meant to derogate what’s here, but instead to say that there’s a kind of renaissance of styles here. “New Again” simply means there’s a new kind of jazz singer on the scene. The artist in question is Melody Gardot. She was in an accident that may have damaged her brain, hopefully not permanently. There was someone looking out for Ms. Gardot because in her rehabilitation she discovered her prodigious musical gifts. This is all according to her Wikipedia entry. How wonderful she could join us in her new endeavor!

This CD is her first big production for a major label. Track one, “Baby I’m a Fool”, will tell the listener exactly what to expect from the singer. Gardot reveals her lilting tone with a sweet coyness and a wispy sentiment right from the start. Track two, “If the Stars Were Mine” shows off Ms. Gardot’s ability to work an easy Latin dance beat with warmth and intimacy. This is not your local mariachi band! She saunters through it with a lovely sway in her rhythm all the while caressing the words. The third track, “Who Will Comfort Me”, is not as successful as some of the others, but that’s a completely subjective call on my part. I respect this producer and singer enough to say it’s a good try, but not a good fit in this context. The band is great, but Gardot just doesn’t sound right in this over wrought spiritual. The notes are there, but it’s a matter of being too careful – too “perfect”. Even the quasi scatting sounds out of place here.

The next track “Your Heart is as Black as Night” stays in a minor key, but its slow jazz gait is perfect for the young Ms. Gardot. It reminds me of Ertha Kitt singing “I Want to Be Evil” (I can’t pin point exactly why) even if the two songs are completely different in tempo. It blends a New Orleans jazz funeral with a classic “bad” blues number. I’m sorry it’s so short; a lot of these songs should have been expanded, they’re that good.

Melody Gardot’s singing often has a toned down quality of the old French Chanteuse style. I’m thinking of Edith Piaf. (Really?) Gardot’s vibrato is fast like Piaf’s, although it never throbs with Piaf’s gut wrenching, jack hammer like emotional modulations. In “Les Etoiles” Gardot tips her hat to that well known blood and guts singer, but doesn’t in any way imitate her. It sounds a bit like Astrud Gilberto of “The Girl from Ipanema” fame, as well. (The soprano sax solo is lovely on this cut.) It too is short and doesn’t have much variation or exploration of the melodic line.

The next song “The Rain” shows off Ms. Gardot’s super steady vibrato right from. So many young singers today have slower beats to their voice. Gardot is a sort of throw back to an earlier time in that regard. She NEVER pushes the sound. Her voice trembles in a sort of chilly way in “The Rain”, making it ideal for those opening words. I felt a depressed, autumnal mood from just that phrase alone. The arrangement is very simple as is the tune itself. I think this might well be my favorite number.

The very slow “My One and Only Thrill”, on track nine has Ms. Gardot singing an A in the mid treble staff. She holds it for a while at the song’s climax. Climax may be a misnomer as the note is caressed gently even though it is the highest tone she sustains so far. Gardot stays strictly in the speaking range of her voice and never ‘belts’ to go higher or pushes down to go lower. That way, her sound never betrays signs of fatigue and wear. She says she is influenced by Janis Joplin. That’s certainly possible if one thinks of making the words work, but there’s not a hint of the “meat grinder” vocal cords that made Joplin a one time only kind of singer.

Today’s electronic world guarantee’s that Gardot’s intimate sounds are completely dependent on her microphone. (There actually was a time when this was not the case. Some singers could sing so softly that it was incredible, but the voices would fill even Carnegie Hall with no electrical enhancement. Whether she is able to put out a bigger sound and keep her poise has yet to be revealed. Some people will like the breathiness that often mixes with her tone. I feel neutral on that subject but think that her always audible inhalations could have been knocked down in the final mix.

By way of that, I once saw Sarah Vaughn at the Blue Note here in New York in 1984. After the first number she stopped and said “Mr. Sound Man….(her speaking voice was three times higher than her singing instrument; she sounded like a little girl ‘til the day she died) “if you don’t turn down “those highs” in my mic I’m gonna leave now and you’re gonna feel bad when you get fired. You were here two hours ago when I said I HATED to hear my own breathing!!” Wow. A serious threat wrapped in a kittenish tone. Never did I think Ms. Sassy would lay it on the line in public. Needless to say, the upper frequencies vanished from Sarah’s mic in about a millisecond. (Her breathing was no longer audible. It was a great improvement I might add.)

Ms. Gardot’s rhythm is her very best asset. I doubt this could be disputed. She has a fantastic sense of where the words and notes go and how they blend and divide. She uses this innate facility in the service of emotion. Unlike other aspects of any singing, rhythm can’t be taught. It’s Ms. Gardot’s own natural talent on display. As I’ve said, she doesn’t have a wide range (here, at any rate) nor does she sing above a soft speaking volume. But she can’t be beat rhythmically.

The ‘11 o’clock number’ is in fact track 11, “…Over the Rainbow”; I want to say “why oh why can’t I hear something else”, but the arrangement makes it slightly different yet again. It too has a Latin beat and is in the key of G just as track two and twelve are. Here’s my only real gripe. Sorry to say this, but why leave in “Somewhere over the rainbow, PWAY´up high…” Of course "pway" may be intentionally left in because for some reason her injury left her unable to sing or say the word “way” properly. If so, I apologize. If not, I’d love to know the reason it has been left in. It cannot have been an oversight considering how manicured this CD is in every other way. How can I ignore a word that is so essential in this iconic song? She never repeats it, instead saying “blue birds fly”, so maybe there is a real problem with the word. If she can say “why” minus the plosive and she does do that, then what’s up with “way”? I wouldn’t make such a big deal of this if it were even in another song. Here it stands out like a roach in the punch bowl.

Song 12, though still Latin in style, has a likeable Joni Mitchell quality to it. This song ends the CD with someone shouting at the conclusion, albeit far in the distance. That too seems somehow out of place, but that’s personal taste. My gripe about track 11 is objective in comparison.

I think this is an album that is perfect for low lighting and a good bottle of wine. I don’t think it’s for you early risers; its far too calm and relaxing for that. Also be sure the gain is set low when first playing this CD. Its white “hot” because of compression, although that’s not bothersome in and of itself. Once your volume is set for your own comfort, you won’t need to touch it again. Maybe this album will bring in some listeners from Ms. Gardot’s own generation. I’m really tired of the dance and rap techno stuff that now pervades the market place. “My One and only Thrill” is worth your time and as it stands is a small gem. There’s still room for Ms. Gardot to grow, but not by much. A tweak here, a little polish there and she’d be closing in on perfection.


 

TITLE: The Search Within
ARTISTS: Sean Jones - Trumpet, Flugelhorn
LABEL: Mack Avenue
REVIEWER: James Darby

 

I have always had an affinity for brass and trumpet in particular. I studied and played the instrument until I entered college and dropped it to concentrate on my degree in piano. But brass music, whether it be the funky Tower of Power or more studious Blood, Sweat & Tears, or big band jazz to Gabrielli and Holst and everything classical in between, has always been alluring. I have many cherished recordings of trumpet players from classical to (of course) Miles and more recent, so when I saw this new release in the store and listened to some 30 second samples, I picked it up.


“The Search Within” is Sean Jones’ fifth album, all on the Mack Avenue label which has a portfolio of eleven jazz artists such as Christian McBride, Kenny Garrett and Gerald Wilson, an icon in the world of big band leaders. Several of his early recordings on Pacific Jazz grace my LP library. Working with his core band of two saxophonists (alto and tenor), bass, drums and piano, he adds special guests on harmonica, flute, percussion and a female vocalist to sometimes sound more than a little big bandish on some cuts like the album’s first full track “Transitions” which comes charging out with a fiery, frenzied bop feel. Drummer Obed Calvaire sounds more like Cobham or Lenny White in a fast fusion style, careening all over the set as the ensemble plays in unison and breaks out into complex chord harmonies over the 7/8 time signature, one the album’s best cuts.

“Transitions” then transitions into a ballad entitled “The Ambitious Violet”. Jones appears to be a physically big man that could maybe pull duty as a linebacker for the New York Giants and his tone rather giant as well. (Come to think of it, the Philadelphia Eagles have a strong safety by the same name). He has been compared to the late Freddie Hubbard with good cause, but I liken him more to the most underrated trumpet player of all time, Jon Faddis. Here he almost sounds more like Clifford Brown with a warm yet robust and round resonance. The ballad, like most cuts here written by Jones himself, is sumptuous and romantic. Guest Gregoire Maret contributes a tasty harmonica solo in the best tradition of Toots Thielman. Nice.

Jones’ tones are so big and round it took me a moment to realize that “Summer’s Spring”, yet another transition – this time between the two seasons - features Sean on flugelhorn. “Life Cycles” (more transitions) also finds Sean on the bigger horn. There is some real beauty here with the horn matching the melodies in their lushness.

Jones loves dynamic movement within his solo lines. Notes held more than a few beats find him added crescendos or diminutions instead of staying at the same straight volume. Great singers do that and Jones implements it more (and better) than most other instrumentalists. It adds life to his music and catches the ear. It conveys more emotion.

"Sean's Jones Comes Down," takes us back to bop with what is perhaps his most ambitious solo on the mixed time and feel (but mostly swing) whimsical tune.

It seems all jazz releases now must include a vocal solo and this time it’s Carolyn Perteete delivering a soft, breathy style you might compare to Jane Monheit. I’m not going to tell you what the transitions are here, but this is no throwaway cut. Again, nice. Pleasant.

Jones says that “The Search Within” is a spiritual journey within himself which may be why this release, taken as a whole, has a very uplifting, positive spirit surrounding it. It’s just the feeling you have after listening to it. It’s not “Kind of Blue”, but what else is? This is more polished and tight, more rehearsed and less spontaneous. While it borders on “smooth jazz”, it is more enlightened and meaty.

There are three partial tracks that fade out; interludes at the top, middle and end. I know what he was trying to accomplish with those, but they were a little too cutesy for me and a bit irritating on repeated listens. The good thing is that this CD does bear more than one session.

Sonically, this is much better than most with judicious use of compression and limiting. It sounds a bit “tubey” with sparking highs, a toasty but not overcooked midrange and clean, articulate lows. The engineer captured Sean’s sound well. Overall, it is a bit glitzy and squeaky clean and as polished as the performances. Lots of details in the percussion, the drummer’s busyness and fastidiousness clearly articulated.

If you are into funk, there are no thumping Tower of Power or Marcus Miller tracks here. This is more of a late evening or Sunday morning vibe but not purely as background music. I’m keeping it in my collection which is more than I can say about most CD’s I get for review or buy off the shelf. I am anxious to hear more from this just-turned-thirty artist. Probably should have had the word “transitions” in the title though, don’t you think…

TITLE: Jazz In The Garden
ARTISTS: The Stanley Clarke Trio with Hiromi & Lenny White
LABEL: Heads Up
REVIEWER: Ron Seegar

Great trio jazz! This is not just a jazz trio, this is a fusion Triumvirate bristling with power and inventiveness. When jazz/fusion bass titan Stanley Clarke decided to form a new trio composed of his old "Return to Forever" drum wizard stablemate Lenny White and Japanese jazz fusion queen Hiromi, it immediately set off great expectations because it would have Stanley playing acoustical bass on an entire recorded performance. It was also dangerous since we all associate Messrs Clarke and White with the splendid ‘chops’ of "Return To Forever" keyboard leader Chick Corea. But this works on many levels and everyone brought their "A" game. The group surveys everything from pure jazz fusion to jazz standards to ballads to neo-bop to funk to a little Japanese fusion impressionism. Given that Hiromi is influenced and was mentored by Chick (in Japan) and the magnificent Ahmad Jamal (at Berklee), she is a formidable ambidextrous pianist/synthesizer player who leads her own high energy envelope-pushing groups. Despite their individual electric fusion roots, these performances are all acoustical (although Clarke will make you think he's sneaked an electric bass into the "Under The Bridge", but those mighty notes are supposedly all finger sprung and hand slapped on an upright double bass). These artists make any generational differences instantly disappear showing great trio empathy and wide-ranging musical tastes.

 

The 'best of the best' begin with the incredible interaction of "Global Tweak" with Clarke and Hiromi getting off some prodigious solos and interactions. The most successful performances beyond some fusion/programmatic pieces such as "Paradign Shift" and "Sakura Sakura" are the straight ahead swingers and ballads. The complex, multi-stopped "Brain Training" is perfect trio stuff where Hiromi swings hard as Clarke and White push her along and solo mightily.

The beautiful "Sicilian Blue" has Clarke showing his superb acro abilities, bowing with beauty and sensitivity before Hiromi and White are in a two-note lock step: then she breaks free for a great solo which I wish was longer. "Someday My Prince Will Come" is a huge Clarke solo with ethereal backing.

"Take the Coltrane" is the duo of Stanley and Lenny in a wonderfully hip 4/4 dialogue in this tribute to past dialogues between John C. and Elvin Jones. "3 Wrong Notes" is a marvelous bebop theme that allows for one of the best straight-ahead solos by Hiromi, showing her Bud Powell roots, and some stout walking/soloing from Stanley. In all, an enjoyable meeting between three magnificent players who are leaders in their own groups, bending to the musical mission and succeeding mightily.

Excellent sound with exceptionally sharp pickup of Stanley's plucking and the sizzle of Lenny's cymbals, with the drumset sonically between Hiromi and Stanley, until Clarke solos. WONDERFUL performances which require a recorded encore. This one pegs the Mojo Meters!

 

 

 

TITLE: Bom Dia
ARTIST: Nóis 4
LABEL: Candid
REVIEWER: Ron Seegar

The British-based quartet known as "Nóis 4" (Us Four) plays a wonderful, authentic, exciting brand of MPB (Música Popular Brasileira), which is an attractive combination of popular Brazilian music forms underpinned by jazz and folk rhythms, which dominates Brazilian music mainly through the samba & bossa nova.

Sao Paulo, Brazil-born singer Monica Vasconcelos is the driving idiomatic vocal force behind this group singing in Brazilian Portuguese with a nimble, rangy voice full of 'saudade' (sadness) with a touch of sensuality and playfulness. The formidable German-born Ingrid Laubrock, who plays many forms of jazz from ‘new thing’ to neo-bop, is on soprano/alto saxes & melodica playing solos with the soaring inventiveness for which she has become famous. In 1994 these two ladies formed the London-based duo 'As Meninas' (The Girls) which has morphed into the current foursome, so their MPB music book has 15 years of depth. The versatile Brazilian guitarist Ife Tolentino and drummer percussionist Chris Wells, who is also the producer, provide the rhythmic thrust and melodic underpining that is so crucial to the group: there is no need for the either a bass and separate percussion specialist: less is more.

Bom Dia (the greeting "Good Morning") is actually the 2000 debut CD of "As Meninas" which is reissued and retitled here as "Nois 4" since both Ms Laubrock and Vasconcelos have since become well known personalities on the European jazz/world music scenes. The music ranges from sophisticated treatments of standard bossa novas & sambas to more original folk-music pieces. Long ago, Sergio Mendes & his Brasil groups taught America that music sung in Brazilian Portuguese needs no translation as the emotions and rhythms are easily transmitted to the listener and can be enjoyed on a word-free ‘scat singing’ level ("Procurando Tu" is a perfect example).

The 'best of the best' begins with a ‘Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66’ favorite composed by Joao Donato, "A Rã" (The Frog) performed at a slower, more controlled pace than normal which allows Monica to find many previously unheard vocal nuances before handing off to Ingrid's extended, soaring soprano sax solo. This sets the tone for the CD: they respect tradition but have their own conceptions to put on display.

Speaking of tradition, there are 3 nods to the great composer/musician Antonio Carlos Jobim. "Chovendo Na Roseira" (Rain on the Rose Buds) has wonderful figurations from the guitar and brushes on snare drums freeing the two ladies to create their own vision of Tom Jobim's classic. Indeed, they also take on Jobim's very familiar "Insensatez" (How Insensitive) which has Monica's yearning voice filled with hurt and saudade (sadness), and they all find new territory to explore on the familiar "Dindi": using the unusual beats, the power of Ingrid's soprano and tenor sax solos, and Monica's distinctive voice and phrasing, which may break your heart.

Chico Buarque's magnificent and sad ballad "Atras Da Porta" (Behind the Door) begins with an inventive, extended soprano sax solo from Ingrid. Monica avoids the slow beat associated with versions by Elis Regina, Gal Costa, and Nana Caymmi, such that she seems to be recounting the sadness of the distant past instead of living the pain of the recent past. And, like Elis, she poignantly hums the unwritten final verse (which Buarque did finish, but too late because Elis' original version was already a hit). Elsewhere there is the joy and fire of "Procurando Tu" showing Monica's vocal gymnastics and Ingrid showing influences of Brazilian sax legend Pixinguinha.

The folk rhythms of "Três Vendas" (Three Sales) are a fascinating blend of propulsive vocals and percussion. This CD displays the talents of four highly accomplished musicians who give us an enjoyable, totally idiomatic MBP recording with different enjoyable views on the familiar and new, challenging material, emanating right out of London, England but sounding like they are on a beach in Rio. The soundscape captures the four musicians wonderfully, with Monica, Ingrid, and Ife in the center on both channels and Chris’ percussion instruments spread over the channels: immediate presence and vivid sound. Highly Recommended for MPB fans, old Sergio Mendes fans who have been away for too long, and those looking for a new intriguing area of music to explore and enjoy.

 

 

Title: Claire Martin – Perfect Alibi
Artist: Claire Martin, Vocals
Label: Linn AKD 316 - Hybrid SACD, HDCD CD. Available as download in several formats

Reviewer: André Gauthier

 

I’ve listened to Claire Martin at various times of the day over the last few months. She is one of those artists who’s well known, but not so much in the States as abroad. I’m glad to hear someone is still out there doing this combination of styles in an age when electronic rhythm and scratchy turntable moves have replaced any sense of the “human beat”, that of the heart, on CD. Martin’s, a fine musician whose voice is often dusky but can be light and smooth as well. Her pitch is impeccable and she always has a story to tell us. That’s a big compliment in this world of singers who seem to think that intonation and understanding of the words don’t matter; or they may do well with those things but spend all their time doing quasi gospel riffs in place of real phrasing. The problem with understanding the words is surely nothing new to anyone. Just think of that great teeny bop wonder, “Louie Louie”, covered by the Kingsmen in 1963. Even the FBI got into the act of trying to decipher the non existent “obscene” lyrics. After spending tens of thousands to “dig out the filth” The Feds, along with the rest of us still don’t understand exactly what’s being slurred at us by the very wily singer. Thankfully no one went to jail.

When is it best to play this Martin CD from the year 2000? I’d say the time will come when you are ready to relax and as Linn so aptly puts it, here’s the “Perfect Alibi” for doing so. I’d open a bottle of wine - turn down the lights or just let the burning embers of an evening’s fire lend a glow to the room. Curl up somewhere comfy, (maybe with that other who compliments your cuddling skills so well) then play this CD. It always leads me to a cool mood.

Certainly the first tune, “How Can I Be Sure” from 1967, is sung and played very differently than the “Rascals” did it in the Hippie days of yore. It may catch you slightly off guard as you match that group’s arrangement with Martin’s way of telling the story. Track two, “Man in the Station”, is the only duet on the CD. Martin is joined vocally by the song’s composer, John Martyn, whose sexy rasp is a perfect foil for Martin’s more “professional” sound. (I love it when composer’s sing their own music. There’s nothing quite like it.) “Up From the Skies” is third; with an old rock and roll organ, acoustic guitar and drums keeping harmony and rhythm steady under her; Martin allows this song to flow so easily that it may wrap you up tightly in a curiously old yet new kind of sensuous experience.

There’s a wonderful shift at track four. This song was written by an artist that I have always cherished – Phoebe Snow. Martin may not have the unadulterated low growl and slow vibrato that makes Snow unique, but her rendition is her own and doesn’t come from a time when disco was knocking the club scene out of place. Wonderful Phoebe’s tune is refreshing to hear anew. It has a typical Snow title – “Inspired Insanity.”

Track 6, “Shadowville” is a languid ballad that sustains the intimate mood. I’m reminded there’s more Phoebe Snow influence here. Martin’s phrasing is smoother than Snow’s; it doesn’t “bounce” along with that slow beat in the voice that is one of Snow’s signature stylistic creations.

Track seven opens with some quirky harmonies played by a string quartet and a quietly undulating rhythm section. It’s called “Strangers Now” and the arrangement - the doubling of Martin’s voice - the whole song - has a feel of Joanie Mitchell; however Martin’s voice is much darker in comparison. It’s a special number done quite specially.

“More Than You’ll Ever Know” is a slow blues tune arranged by a collaboration of Martin and her colleagues. It has a late ‘50s soul feel to it, and could be slightly out of place here. It’s “verse – bridge – verse - bridge - verse” arrangement alternating between minor, major and minor etc. has a fine guitar riff found midway in; does Scotland sound like the New Orleans Delta? (That’s a place I was raised, mais oui, cher.) The intrinsic feel of the Creole South is not very evident and I think it needs a little more spice in the recipe.

The ninth track, “Over by Allenby”, has the groove and mix of a late 60s early 70s club song while 10, “More Than I Can Bear”, is a bit of fluff accompanied by guitars alone. “He’s a Runner”, track 11 has the slightest hint of Country Western with its slide guitar, but Martin sticks with a fuller vocal sound; there’s no twang in this lady’s vocal chords. The Scottish brogue would lend itself to that kind of sound, however. Its was very interesting to me when visiting Scotland, North England or Wales to discover that our own Country Western style actually derives more from them than the other way around.

The closing number is Todd Rundgren’s “Wailing Wall”. It has a simple electronic organ and synth quietly blending with the voice. I think Martin found the perfect exit with this “be still my soul” music.

By now Claire Martin has made clear two things. First, she is her own singer, never imitating anyone else; the arrangements might but Martin, never. Two, in that same vein, she is strictly her own artist. There’s a difference in the two. The voice is velvety one moment, pleasantly purring way down low the next. There’s plenty of power behind it, but she rarely chooses to “belt it out”. Few singers today phrase with this much imagination. I want to see her in performance. Then I can see what I only picture her doing with such beauty and grace.

The sound is excellent for a studio mix and is achieved through plenty of “tracking” or overdubbing. Martin’s band is in top form. Linn’s remastering seems fine.

There’s still not a jot of technical information about this recording or remastering. You just have to go by what you hear in order to understand that the recording equipment must have been first class. I do wish Linn would stop holding on to its precious secrets. Could I please know the name of just one microphone or monitor speaker. I’m sure Linn uses the very best recording equipment. So why not let us in on that information? Is it possible they don’t use their own brand of equipment for playback? Some of us care to know if for no other reason than the audiophile price of the CD at hand. THe recording is top notch regardless. Claire's voice is warm, full and out front with a nice essence of air surrounding her. Piano is crisp and natural as are the other players. There is no new ground being broekn here, but the sonics are in no way disappointing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

TITLE: ANTIPHONE BLUES

ARTISTS: Arne Domnerus & Gustaf Sjokvist

LABEL: FIM K2HD 026

 

The year is 1976. You are a tiny boutique record label out of Sweden named Proprius. You find a small church with a wonderful acoustic and a nice pipe organ and an unknown organists named Gustaf Sjokvist. A recipe for yet another mundane audiophile recording that will appeal to a handful of enthusiasts and quickly fade into obscurity. But wait. You decide to a saxophonist; one Arne Domnerus who took up the instrument because he liked the band uniforms to the thick reverberant mix. Ok. There is somewhat of a library for classical sax – mostly derived from violin or flute compositions. What’s this you say? It’s not going to be a classical project? It’s going to be what? Jazz? No – not even jazz….BLUES?”


Who knew that the session would turn out to be a classic of classics and as relevant and beautiful today as it was over thirty years ago? Fast forward to 2008 and add uber producer Winston Ma and perhaps one of the greatest audio engineers of all time named Paul Stubblebine to the mix (literally) and things take a giant step forward in time, technology and talent. But wait – there’s more. The cherry-on-the-top is JVC’s latest state-of-the-art K2HD mastering process and Takeshi Hakamata in Flair Studios in Tokyo to implement it and now you have taken something already revered to a level that is almost celestial to experience. Oh. I almost forgot. The most prominent composer in the project is Duke Ellington with selections from his divine “Sacred Concert” composition. Transcendent.

Yes, this is classified as blues, but it is not Coltrane or Cleanhead Vinson, Buddy Tate, Bird, Jimmy Forrest, Arnett Cobb, King Curtis, Jr Walker, Sonny Stitt, Hal Singer, Plas Johnson, Illinois Jacquet. This isn’t sexy sax. There are some bent notes, but the sacred spirit of the project is paramount.

The sound is immaculate and will test the limits of any digital system. Reverb is probably the most challenging thing for digital to reproduce. Less that great players will turn long, thick reverb trails into grunge and grain that is the equivalent of a video pixelization. Ugly. Oh yeh, it’s also one of the most difficult things for recording engineers to get right, even with today’s technology. This recording is the template for what real reverb sounds like and how to record it. Recording a pipe organ is difficult enough. Trying to balance it with an unamplified saxophone is near impossible. It would be deemed impossible if this recording did not exist. But it does and it is an essential of every music lover’s collection – even if, like I, you have the LP.


This K2HD redbook CD will be at least the equivalent of vinyl on most entry level turntables and will also challenge those higher up.

 

 

 

 

TITLE: FLEET FOXES
ARTISTS: FLEET FOXES

LABEL: Sub Pop

Does cover art impact album sales? Some say Yes. I mean the group “Yes”. Remember those uber cool fantasy art covers by Roger Dean? t was a lot more fun picking through the LP bins when you can actually see the art way back when, but in the case of this Fleet Foxes CD, the only reason I inspected it at Barnes & Noble is because of the cover art which I thought was Hieronymus Bosch since it looks so much like his “Garden of Earthly Delights”. Turns out it was Pieter Brueghel the Elder, another Dutch painter of the 16th century. At least I was close.

 

Of course, I had to listen to the group the put that art on their cover and when I did I was instantly smitten. I love vocal harmony, especially multi-part which we have here in abundance from the five members.

What or who does Fleet Foxes sound like? Well, they are from Seattle but they are about as far from Grunge as you can get. Let’s talk about musical style apart from lyrics. Imagine the Beach Boys after they listened to a steady diet of the group “America” for a couple of years. Or CSNY on happy pills. This music is  sunny, earthy, rustic, complex, haunting and infectious. It demands a second and third listen. If Kurt Cobain had hung around these guys he’d still be alive and selling Mini Cooper’s.

Speaking of “Yes”, there are certainly some germane comparisons, but stylistically “Foxes” is closer to Moody Blues, particularly with the flute choruses via Melloton that so shaped the Moody’s sound, without the melodrama but with a hint of “folksy”. This has come of the complexity of “yes” but not the sudden, shifting unconventional time signatures. Add a strong dose of 10cc without the humor or irony. I even heard some borrowing from Sgt. Pepper’s. It sounds as if this music it acoustic, but there are also doses of electric guitar and even Hammond B3 as well as electric bass in contrast to the spates of a capella singing. Not coincidentally, these are all groups I like.

While you are going crazy trying to put the instrumental and vocal style in some kind of context, you become aware of the soaring lyrics that are in stark contrast to the musical style. Imagine America, the Beach Boys or even CSN&Y wrapping their harmonies around these verses from “White Winter Hymnal”:

“I was following the pack
all swallowed in their coats
with scarves of red tied ’round their throats
to keep their little heads
from fallin’ in the snow
And I turned ’round and there you go
And, Michael, you would fall
and turn the white snow red as strawberries
in the summertime..”

Ok…why did Michael fall and start bleeding to death in the snow?

Then we have this from “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song”. Sounds like it should be a cute little ditty, right? Maybe not:

“Wanderers this morning came by
Where did they go
Graceful in the morning light
To banner fair
To follow you softly
In the cold mountain air

Through the forest
Down to your grave
Where the birds wait
And the tall grasses wave
They do not
Know you anymore

Dear shadow alive and well
How can the body die
You tell me everything
Anything true

In the town one morning I went
Staggering through premonitions of my death
I don't see anybody that dear to me

Dear shadow alive and well
How can the body die
You tell me everything
Anything true

Jesse
I don't know what I have done
I'm turning myself to a demon
I don't know what I have done
I'm turning myself to a demon”

Yikes! Like I said, there are many layers of complexity and it requires more than one listen to even attempt to grasp. While I have compared this band to several others, Fleet Foxes sounds like none of them and cannot be pigeonholed.

Sonically the album is a rich tapestry that is laid out well; they are some layers present, but not many. The vocals are set back behind the speakers and much of the instrumentations. They are often swathed in reverb while the rest is not. There’s too much grain generated by all the studio effects. The soundstage remains between the speakers and never wanders very wide and overall dynamics are nowhere to be found. The sound is very fluid and thick like mercury.

In a world where everything sounds programmed, formulaic and packaged, Fleet Foxes is quite a departure. It’s different. There is art and poetry here. The music sounds like the Brueghel the Elder cover, but the lyrics sounds much more like the hellish Bosch "Garden". I like it a lot, but many others will not. But then there are those that never liked Yes, Moody Blues, 10cc or even the Beatles. Give this an audition.

 

 

 

ARTIST: CHRIS ISAAK
TITLE: MR. LUCKY
LABEL: Reprise Records #B001QOOCUS

It has taken seven years and a new TV show to bring Chris Isaak out of hiding with a new studio album. There are no stratocaster string-bending "Wicked Game" or "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing" here, there are a lot of first class retro-rock and rockabilly treats, but mainly it seems as if Chris is purposely doing his impersonations of a few hall of fame singers of years gone by. " We Let Her Down", "Very Pretty Girl" and "You Don't Cry Like I Do" sound like Isaak channeling Roy Orbison - and very well at that. At other times you'll hear Phil Everly. On "Breaking Apart" he even sounds like Trisha Yearwood! No wait; that actually IS Tricia trading phrases in front of the sappy strings in this heart breaking ballad. Of course, the last time Tricia did a duet like this, it was with Garth Brooks and she ended up in his bed and later became his wife. Now we're talking real heartbreak. Let's hope Garth won't be singing "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing" and that Chris is not referring to Mrs. Yearwood/Brooks in his version of "Best I Ever Had", one of the pure rockers to found in this collection.That would add a completely different meaning to the title cut "Mr. Lucky" though, wouldn't it?

"We've Got Tomorrow" ventures into the heart of New Orleans with its Cajun spiced-horn section. Michelle Branch also adds a little feminine softness to "I Lose My Heart", yet another heart breaker. The set ends with "A Big Wide Wonderful Word" which bears no resemblance to Satchmo's famous cover, but rather again we hear Isaak impersonating another legend, this time the King himself - Elvis.

The audio does not break any new ground and no one would call this an audiophile effort, but his releases have always been a cut or two above the average pop/rock travesties and this one is, too.
His vocals are out front with a wall of sound behind. There's not a lot of air such as we've found in the past, but the production here is significantly bigger than "Forever Blue" and "Baja Sessions".

If you are a fan of this genre or of Isaak's, you will want this. It's not as cool or melodramatic as those of almost a decade ago, but most of the 14 songs are about as good as it gets for this style.

 

 

TITLE: Speak Low

ARTIST: Boz Scaggs
LABEL: Decca - B001EI5C0A
Reviewers: Rebecca B. Preciado and James Darby

 

Rebecca: "It started out with the basics - finding the song and choosing a key - and proceeded with experiments in feel, rhythm, and tempo. But it is the stillness we tried to preserve, a transcendent feeling of stopping time - doing nothing - and letting these great songs carry us along." ~ Boz Scaggs ~

It's so nice to listen to Boz Scaggs once again and revisit his striking vocal artistry having been one of my favorite singers in the Seventies. He's not only a great singer, he plays incredible guitar too and not to mention he writes songs as well. I love some of his songs like "Heart of Mine," "Look What You've Done To Me" and "We're All Alone." I'm so glad that he came up with this wonderful album of self-chosen standards with fresh arrangements and totally enchanting interpretations. The chart arrangements by a gifted pianist/arranger, Gil Goldstein, are nothing short of splendid. According to the Grammy-winning-singer-songwriter-guitarist, "Gil has an expression on the piano like Bill Evans - a light touch that suspends notes at a time or in deft clusters like stars in the night sky." This is probably the highest compliment ever given to him. Some of the most remarkable recordings of Chris Botti were also done with the multi-Grammy-winning musician/arranger, Gil Goldstein.

This album is a beautiful collaboration between Boz Scaggs (vocals/guitar), Gil Goldstein (arranger/piano/accordion/Rhodes/Wurlitzer) and a crew of skilled musicians such as Mike Mainieri (vibes/marimba), Alex Acuna (drums/percussion), Bob Sheppard (sax), Joyce Hammann (violin/concertmaster), Laura Seaton (violin), Scott Colley (bass), Lawrence Feldman (flute), among many others. The exceptional musicianship is simply the result of a flawlessly-produced album of time-tested standards from the pens of Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael, Ogden Nash, Kurt Weill, Duke Ellington and Harold Arlen, and a few others.

Boz Scaggs kicks off with his handsome rendition of an all-time favorite song of mine, "Invitation." (Joe Sample recorded the most beautiful instrumental version of this song that can be heard in Invitation). The listeners are invited to a one-of-a-kind musical adventure that promises a dozen of songs rendered in the most enchanting fashion. Every song has its own charms, but the loveliest musical moments include the title track, "Speak Low" which is a real beauty and made more special with Mike Mainieri's articulate and expressive chops on vibraphone, one of my top favorite instruments. My special mention goes to him for his exquisitely brilliant work not only on this track, but on the entire album. "I'll Remember April" is absolutely stunning. I love every little thing about it and if you will listen closely to its breathtaking forty-five seconds bridge, you will know what I mean. "Skylark" is a total charmer. "Dindi" has become my favorite new version with its ear-catching delivery. "I Wish I Knew" is hauntingly lovable. "She Was Too Good To Me" is given the most heartfelt treatment and same with "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me."

If I could whisper in your ear a piece of musical advice...buy this without having second thoughts. You won't regret it. Also, a perfect companion to this album is But Beautiful, Standards: Volume 1. You're in for a lovely musical delight.

After listening to this three times in a row, this is my verdict...

Disenchanted? No. Enchanted? Yes!

James: JoJo, Lowdown, Lido Shuffle, Look What You've Done to Me, We're All alone are just a few of Boz Scagg's hits. Boz has always been considered one of the top echelon of pure singers on rock/pop music. He is as much at home with jazz and blues as he is with power ballads and up tempo rockers. What is not as well known is that he is a monster guitarist as well. His DVD recorded live at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco will shock you with some of the hottest blues guitar since Duane Allman on "Loan Me a Dime," Earl King's "It All Went Down the Drain" and extended versions of the big band blues "Runnin' Blue". The audio and video quality of this DVD is the best I have seen. Boz has always been one of my personal favorites and along with man other Boznians, I have suffered through a few disappointing releases. Like many musicians Boz has had struggles with some demons, but it appears he is now back to his elite level of talent.There are no real burners on this collection, just some of the classiest, most relaxed and moving male vocals we have had the pleasure of hearing in years. It's almost as good as his 2005 "Fade Into Light".

Scagg's releases have always been superbly recorded and this one is is as well - a model for how all pop recordings should sound.There is a real soundstage with Bozz's smokey voice up front, clean and grainless, a testament to the judicious use of limiters and effects. There is depth and width if your system will reproduce it. If you want to hear a master and let him take your blood pressure down a few notches, this is a good one.

 

 

TITLE: “Thinking About Bix”
ARTIST: Dick Hyman, Piano
LABEL: Reference Recording RR116
- HDCD

REVIEWER: André Gauthier


In Reference Recordings 2008 release of Dick Hyman’s “Thinking about Bix” the pianist is referring to Leon Bix Beiderbecke whose life began in 1903 and ended in 1931 before he made it to his third decade. Times were tough. Dick Hyman’s solo piano homage to this great jazz artist is chock full of great tunes and they’re played with a kind of delicious virtuosity that made full of anticipation for each new track.

Hyman has been a legend in a variety of musical circles for decades. Early jazz would be the style that comes to mind for me, although a quick tour of Youtube will show him teaching all sorts of “styles” or technical methods used by the greats who came before him. Hyman’s at home in “Swing, Stride, Classical Jazz and Lounge music” (I am quoting from Wikipedia.) According to the liner notes for “Thinking of You, Bix” Hyman not only composes for all sorts of groups as well as for his own concerts, but he has scored many films for directors such as Woody Allen. You know a Hyman music bed when you hear it, no matter the movie. Hyman has recorded over 100 albums since the 1950’s and to these ears he’s just as fine in these sessions as he was 50 years ago.

This program as selected by Hyman contains 17 tracks, with only the closing number being a 4 handed arrangement of Beiderbecke’s “You Took Advantage of Me”. Hyman is joined there by Mark Lipskin in a rousing finale.

Beiderbecke’s music is very much a product of its time. In the hands of Hyman it occasionally takes on a diversity of influences that well may not have been part of Beiderbecke’s basic musical vocabulary, but, I think that’s the whole idea. Hyman offers some varieties in style that don’t overshadow but instead enhance the prodigious abilities of Beiderbecke as we hear him on his own recordings between the mid teens and 1931.

Hyman does a far better job than I can in explaining how he treats each number. His notes are a great addition to this CD and certainly gave the reader a deeper view of Beiderbecke and Hyman’s use of certain pianistic devices to add spice and sparkle to music that is often inherently written for a cornet line. It’s when Hyman plays, though, that you get the sense of two great jazz minds crossing through time making great music as one.

Hyman has a splendid piano technique, period. There are lots of players who can do a given kind of jazz lick better than just about anyone else. But Hyman does everything well. He let’s you know right away he’s a musician of deep thought and feeling. His unfailing sense of harmony, melody and rhythm are always in action and he’s got a clear sense of the structure of all the jazz greats’ technical achievements. (If you want to see him giving “lectures” about a certain jazz pianist such as Tatum or Morton, go to YouTube and look up Hyman. You can learn more about jazz in 5 minutes watching him explain their various technical moves than anywhere else I know.)

The opening tune “Thinking of Bix” creates a sense of 1920’s jazz, yet Hyman’s certainly along for the ride with his own very special sounding syncopations. We hear all manner of styling that seems to be as effortless as a slight morning breeze. Yet the interior voicing of what Hyman does on the piano reminds me of the classical pianist Claudio Arrau. Arrau did not improvise in the way Hyman does, obviously, but instead thought about every color and intention of virtually every line he was playing and how they fit the whole piece. I always feel that way when I hear Hyman at his best. With that, I pay Mr. Hyman the highest compliment I’m able.

His left hand is as adept as his right. Dave McKenna also had that same love of taking over the bass from the string player. I’ve heard a lot of jazz musicians great though they might be whose left hand only suggests a full bass harmony. The string bass player is almost always going to cover the bass line. Hyman shows his left striding around the piano with a laid back sense of command.

I’m a major fan of players who get as much color out of the piano as they are able. That is, they don’t treat a nine foot grand as a percussion instrument. During the third track, “Ostrich Walk”, Hyman explains that he tries to copy Beiderbecke’s solo exactly. The detached notes do just that and the 9 foot Yamaha which is bright to begin with, never sounds “banged”. This sort of Yamaha, configured as it is, can sometimes “thump” in the middle-low register, if not played with a winning touch. Not to worry, Hyman can play long passages without ever using the pedals to cover any weakness. His line is seamless from the top down. The cross-over in the lower register from single to double stranded strings is a dangerous spot on a lot of instruments if not played with care. To be redundant, that tricky area around low E below the bass clef is smooth as silk. And listen to the repeated notes in this track and you’ll see just what I mean about Hyman’s articulation. Whether high middle or low, he’s always clean as can be. I don’t mean that he doesn’t miss notes. (He doesn’t). I’m saying Hyman is able to make each note as even as the next, whether detached or connected.

In contrast Tracks six and nine are slow numbers where his use of the pedals is quite obvious. What a fascinating difference we get to hear when the tracks before and after those are played with almost no pedaling at all. He uses both of them to create a “watery” effect, especially in track nine. Those two tracks are of certainly harmonically divergent. There are remarkable gradations of overtones here. Interestingly I hear more Scriabin popping up in Track six than anywhere else.

Track 13 is a special three part arrangement of a 1928 Beiderbecke recording while 14 has a very suave kind of syncopated line filled with chromatic moves that give it an old fashioned blues quality while sounding improvised on the spot.

Hyman conjures up as many approaches to these songs as one could wish to hear. Going further than Beiderbecke, there are occasional harmonies taken right out of Ravel or Debussy not to mention Gershwin. Best of all, nothing seems out of place and he’s never ever academic in showing us “how” he does things.

As I was curious about the excellent sound, I wrote to Dr. Keith Johnson at Reference Recordings. I was given a swift reply. The way Dr. Johnson approaches microphones is right up my alley. There are three matched pairs. The two mains are in a Blumeline configuration and are ribbon Coles. They’re placed over the upper register of the fairly bright sounding, Yamaha nine foot grand. They are between seven and eight feet high making sure the sound never becomes annoyingly bright. It also doesn’t “splash all over the sound field. Another set is used for the bass and the third are omni patterns that capture the Skywalker studio. Hyman was given the choice of how to add a classic bit of richness to the sound. Rather than using EQ or digital reverb Hyman chose an old technique that dates well back to the ‘50s. Active monitors were played back in a discreet room and synced with much care to the main signal. I would never have guessed this, as I’ve not heard of the technique being used very often in the last 20 years. The result is the feel of a concert stage instead of the feeling of being in a studio. Over the years, I worked on a number of old RCA releases that used this method. None of them had the sophistication in synchronization main signal with another that has more reflections coming back.

The sampling rate is very high and a 24 PCM word length is shaped down to 16 with great care. I’m sure this is Johnson’s own version of dither.

So there you are. That’s about as much as I can say without getting ridiculously technical. This is a real winner in my book, and I’ll be “referring” to it for a long time to come. There are few people around be they musicians or engineers, who could have made such a wonderful CD as this.

 

TITLE: Happy Coat
ARTIST: Shota Osabe Trio: Shota Osabe, piano; Ray Brown, bass; Harold Jones, drums
14 tracks, 61’58” total length.
LABEL: FIM K2HD 031

REVIEWER: André Gauthier

“Happy Coat” is the name of FIM CD K2HD 031. It is one of Ray Brown’s last recordings before his death in July of the same year this was recorded. It features the Shota Osabe Trio. I was not familiar with Mr. Osabe’s solo work until I heard him on this CD. He is a fine jazz pianist yet modestly refers to himself as a sideman. The tunes chosen to be covered by Osabe and his super bass player Ray Brown are nearly all so familiar that no one tries to go too high up in the improvisational skies. Drummer Harold Jones brings his own gifts along with the aforementioned to form this interesting group; great music is made by everyone.

In 2002 the first version of “Happy Coat” was produced by Ray Brown. Osabe was responsible for the costs. The sessions took place at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles. The Capitol engineers did their own editing and mastering of that 2002 1 inch, 30 ips analogue master. Then FIM licensed the analogue masters and used their special K2HD system in early 2008 to obtain the best digital sound available to them. It was then put on the CD market. FIM did a fine job in post production, although they had no say about the original recording. I suspect the 2002 tape was not expected to be an audiophile effort as such. No matter, it fits in with FIM’s audiophile line perfectly. This is the sort of jazz CD that one doesn’t find very often. Nobody’s ego is in the way here and it sounds that way.

I’m curious how the piano was mic’d on the original analogue recording. I love recording jazz piano as much as I do classical and cabaret. Many players don’t seem to hear the differences in various mic set ups; they’re listening to the music, not so much the sound quality. Some want the piano not to “splatter” around the sound stage, but instead want a tight, almost mono sound; others like a far more open, natural approach. The former tends to be percussive and bright. The latter has far more air around it and has a softer quality unless the player bangs. Lots of them “hit” the instrument as a stylistic point. Mr Osabe is not in that camp, although his piano is rather tightly recorded. His playing is mellow, although the instrument is not as full of color as I wish it were.

All three trio members have solo riffs now and then, but this is generally an ensemble recording. I find it interesting that as virtuosic as Brown could be on the bass, here he seems to enjoy the easy sounding music making and the general calmness that prevails in most of the tracks. There are plenty of fantastic strokes, but they are not the kind I’ve heard him do on earlier recordings as well as in concert. I tried never to miss Brown when he played with Oscar Peterson over the years if I was lucky enough to get a ticket.

I found the following tracks to be among my favorites after three hearings over three days and on three sets of speakers. TR 1, “Willow Weep for Me” by Ann Ronnell has a luxuriously played, extended solo by Brown. TR 6, “Can’t Leave Her Again”, is written by Brown and shows a wonderful sense of joy in its composition. TR 8, “East of the Sun” of Brooks Bowman is absolutely perfect with Osabe, Brown and Jones giving a long lined and sensitively simple display. TR 9, Salve d’Esposito’s “Anema E Core” has a nice swing to it. Brown creates a great foundation for his other players. TR 10, Cole Porter’s “In the Still of the Night”, is given new insight by a steady drum beat that is the basis for the rhythmic game that happens between the piano and bass. Osabe and Brown play in both duple and triple meters, switching off just as one gets comfy with the rhythm is. We’ve got four against three against four etc. all the way through. You might get a little dizzy at first, but listen for the drum. He’ll guide you to the basic beat, be it a 6/8, 2/2, or 4/4. Its my favorite track on this CD. TR 12, “Cotton Fields” by Huddle Ledbetter has the melody of the spiritual as well as the feeling; its pure jazz, though, showing that almost any form can be co-opted by great players. Track 14, is nothing less than one of the Beatles most famous early tunes – “I Saw Her Standing There” by Lennon and McCartney. Played harmonically in a much straighter way than I thought would be the case, the tune is great fun as Osabe has the job of creating chords that sometimes mimic the original and at others drift into a bit of deeper harmonic complexity. It never goes overboard.

Surely high marks go to the fantastic drummer Harold Jones. It sounds to me as though he is in a “booth” or is in another room with windows so he can see the other players but his sound can be isolated in the mix. The drum kit is panned left to right across the stereo field, something that is quite common in this sort of CD. What I miss here again is a kind of brightness and air from the high hat and brushes. While I hear the percussion clearly there are some upper frequencies that the mic is not capturing. Sometimes the kit in a booth has its highs cut the very nature of the setting.

Brown is always dead on the beat, and so is Jones. They can push and pull things here and there, but that never gets out of hand. His sound is perfectly captured but don’t turn it up to loud without hearing his level is the opening tune. Its both deep and loud.

Mr. Osabe has a simple but elegant way of playing and he obviously belongs with the likes of Ray Brown and Harold Jones. He is far beyond what I think of as a simple “side man”. Forgetting my few complaints concerning the piano sound, I think this is a first class release that can be enjoyed for its audiophile qualities as well as lovely tunes that go on for over an hour.

I’d like to add a PS to this review. I was lucky enough to hear Ray Brown as a regular with the Oscar Peterson Trio at the Blue Note club here in Manhattan. The last time was in late 1998 or early 1999. I was visiting the crew from Telarc who were recording several nights of the Trio’s gigs. While Peterson had nearly been felled by a stroke that disabled his left hand, his right was still splendid. His 9 foot Bösendorfer concert grand was a nice touch, but Peterson played it as well as any classical virtuoso with his right hand alone. As far as I was concerned, he could have had the same success with an upright. Few could touch him. And then there was Ray Brown. He managed to do enough virtuoso stunts on his bass to have made the evening a success on his own merits alone. What a great evening it was. It’s been a while since I’ve been back to the Blue Note as my greatest love in the world of jazz, Sarah Vaughn, is no longer with us. The recent death of Ray Brown was equally sad. New people have arrived and the musical stew continues to change; it’s boiling down ideas to a rich amalgam of harmonies and rhythms not to mention a whole new world of electronic sounds. I’ll come back to the Osabe Trio again and again for nothing more than delight. Surely his fellow players would agree.

 

TITLE: Best Audiophile Voices
ARTIST: Various
LABEL: Premium PR27831


 

A more accurate title for this CD would be “Outstanding Audiophile Female Vocals”. The word “best” is a bit hyperbolic so I would avoid that and, save for a couple of duets with male partners, all of these songs feature the fairer sex. Calling these “audiophile” quality is no exaggeration though. Some of these are stunning and are used on our “Stereomojo Reference Evaluation Disk”.


Take a look at these selections:


1. Over The Rainbow - Jane Monheit
2. What A Wonderful World - Eva Cassidy
3. It wouldn't Have Made Any Difference - Alison Krauss
4. So Nice - Stacey Kent & Jim Tomlinson
5. When I Dream - Carol Kidd
6. Perhaps Love - Jheena Lodwick
7. Marisa - Dave's True Story
8. Song For The Journey - Tish Hinojosa
9. Sylvia Hotel - Cheryl Wheeler
10. You Light Up My Life - Salena Jones
11. Ain't No Sunshine - Eva Cassidy
12. The Look Of Love - Jeanette Lindstrom & Steve Dobrogosz
13. To Young To Go Steady - Karrin Allyson
14. Skylark - Monica Mancini
15. Overjoyed - Nnenna Freelon

The only one that I routinely skip is “You Light Up My Life” by Salena Jones. Nothing against Salena, but the song is right up there with “Tie a Yellow Rribbon”, “Proud Mary”, “Color My World” and “Feelings” for songs I never want to hear or perform again. Debbie Boone was a guest artist on a TV show where I was the music director back in the day. After rehearsals and performances, I had had enough of that tune for a lifetime.


Jane Monheit’s version of “Over the Rainbow” has been on the disk I take to audio shows to evaluate audio systems for years. She starts out a capella with a recording that is so lifelike it’s startling. When the piano comes in, it is also so visceral as to be a wonderful example of how a piano should sound. I particularly listen for the dampers that are very revealing of harmonics and tone.


Let me save us both time by saying something we don’t often say; just buy this CD. We have given a very rare top rating in music and sonics - it definitely pegs both Mojo Meters.The only qualifier would be that you should have an affinity for female vocals and variety
.

 

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