Feb 132014

Edward Simon
Venezuelan Suite (Sunnyside SSC 1382, www.sunnysiderecords.com)

Edward Simon is a Venezuelan born jazz pianist, perhaps best known for his many trio recordings. This new release, as stated in the title, is a suite of music composed to evoke his homeland. The musicians are a mix of American jazz players, including saxophonist Mark Turner and Venezuelan musicians, including bassist Roberto Koch. The four-part suite sways and cavorts, with an airy blend of jazz and Venezuelan folk motifs. A fifth song, “El Diablo Suelto,” originally composed in 1888 by Heraclio Fernández, is a waltz much loved in Venezuela, and rightly so based on my hearing of Simon’s fast-paced arrangement. This is music that is engaging, sprightly, and thoroughly delightful.

Feb 122014

Scenes (Stowell/Johnson/Bishop)
. . . But Not Heard (Origin, www.origin-records.com)

Guitarist John Stowell, whose collaboration with Dave Liebman, Blue Rose, was reviewed here in December, has long worked collectively with bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer John Bishop (part of Hal Galper’s trio, reviewed here last month) under the name Scenes. Guest saxophonist and flutist Hans Teuber adds an extra dimension to this new album, with both his playing and compositions (he wrote or co-wrote four of the seven songs here). Stowell is characteristically articulate throughout, whether soloing or complementing the other musicians. Johnson and Bishop have played together so long, and in different contexts, that they transcend “rhythm section” status, moving the music forward with expressiveness and taste. Teuber and Stowell’s lines intertwine on the understated opening track, “C Minor Waltz.” “Nanti Glow,” by Stowell, captures an easygoing bluesy feel. Throughout, the saxophone is warm, with more of a Getz than Coltrane feel. Bishop’s brushwork stands out on the deliberately paced “Spectrum” (by Stowell). Teuber’s flute is featured on his “Old Fellow,” a standout track with an eloquent bass solo. Highly recommended.

Feb 112014

Anton Schwartz

Flash Mob (Antonjazz , http://antonjazz.com)

According to dictionary.com, the first definition of “flash mob” is “a group of people mobilized by social media to meet in a public place for the purpose of doing an unusual or entertaining activity of short duration.” On his new release of that name, saxophonist/composer Anton Schwartz has assembled a topnotch crew of musicians, namely pianist Taylor Eigsti, trumpet and flugelhorn player Dominick Farinacci, bassist John Shifflett, and drummer Lorca Hart, for “entertaining activity of 67-minute duration.” If I had to use just one word to characterize this album, it would be “urgent;”whether the musicians are playing full speed ahead, or at a more leisurely pace, there is a sense of in-the-moment interaction which sometimes does not get captured on studio recordings such as this. Opening with the title track, one of nine Schwartz originals,” the album embraces the classic sounds of the golden era of hard bop jazz, updating it with more contemporary approaches. Two covers, Kenny Dorham’s “La Mesha” and Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy,” demonstrate how the musicians can adapt the canon for modern purposes, with Dorham’s ballad interpreted with warmth and sincerity (featuring Farinacci), while Monk’s classic is given a second-line New Orleans spin. Schwartz co-produced this album with the recently departed drummer, producer and jazz advocate Bud Spangler, who is aptly quoted in the press release: “[Schwartz’s] catchy compositions . . . grab you and stay with you. He works really hard, and he’s swinging his butt off.” To that, I will simply say “Amen.”

Feb 102014

Small Time Napoleon
Small Time Napoleon:

Self-Titled (www.smalltimenapoleon.com)
This Louisville quartet describes itself on its homepage as “Jazz(ish) swing with modern(ish) roots.” That sounds right to me. The band consists of Dan Hardin: Vocals, rhythm guitar; Jeff Thomas: Vocals, lead guitar; Dave Neill: Bass; and Ryan Fowler: Drums. Their debut recording, available through their website, is a six song, 23-minute EP of original compositions which include influences from Gypsy Jazz, Western Swing, and related styles. While, say, Dan Hicks might mine this style as a counterpoint to his often cynical world view, Small Time Napoleon is charming without being cloying. The band has done a Live Lunch for WFPK (archived at https://soundcloud.com/wfpk/small-time-napoleon-live-on,” and recently opened a WFPK Winter Wednesday at The Clifton Center for The Wood Brothers, which I unfortunately could not attend. Check these guys out, they’re a great addition to the scene.

Jan 152014


Guitarist Cappelletto has released a debut with an emphasis on fusion, with bassist Jon Maharaj and drummer Amhed Mitchel, plus keyboardist Robi Botos on the fast and fun “There Are Monsters” and saxophonist Daniel Easty on “Shifting Morality.” The album opens with “”Scare Tactics,” which sounds like it was influenced by some of Larry Coryell’s early work. Cappelletto slows it down with “Gotham,” then covers “Corcovado” with taste. The only other cover is “It’s All Right with Me,” with an acoustic guitar intro that leads to a very electric solo. The closing “Clean Slate” takes the disc out on a soft and pretty note. I hope to thear more of this guitarist in the future.

Jan 142014


Robert Hurst

BoB – A Palindrome

(Bebob Records, www.roberthurst.com)

Recorded in October 2001 but not released until 2013, bassist Robert Hurt s album is an all-star affair, with, Branford Marsalis, Robert Glasper, Bennie Maupin, Marcus Belgrave, Jeff “Tain” Watts, and Adam Rudolph. The centerpiecea is a three-part suite, “Middle Passage, ” which begins with a brief introduction before sorrowful bass and hushed horns and a yearning flute solo pay homage to “Those of Us Who Didn’t Make It [Part II].” Part III, “For Those of Us Still Here,” calls to mind Jimmy Garrison in the powerful opening solo, which leads into Trane-like saxophone cries, which grows into feverish horns ultimately resolving onto an arco solo by the leader. Other pieces range from the upbeat opening waltz, “3 for Lawrence” to the little big band sound of “Tigers on Venus” and the Mwandishi-influenced closer, “Jamming – a.k.a. Ichabad.” Hurst has been featured in the bands of both Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Diana Krall, and others, and this release provides a great opportunity for Hurst to connect with audiences through his own music. There are some more recently recorded albums, also on his Bebob label, which have come out prior to this, and all are worth checking out.

Jan 132014

Moment To Moment

Cava Menzies & Nick Phillips

Moment To Moment

(Nick Phillips Music, www.cavamenziesnickphillips.com)

Pianist Cava Menzies and trumpeter Nick Phillips, joined by bassist Jeff Chambers and drummer Jaz Sawyer, have produced a subtle, low-key, floating, gorgeous album of ballads, with one original by each and six delicate interpretations of works by others. The first track, the classic Jimmy Rowles composition “The Peacocks,” sets the pace, with a hushed ambiance and a tempo relaxed even by ballad standards. Phillips’ “You,” half-way through the album, has a middle section whose midtempo playing feels fast in comparison to the rest of the songs. Another standard, “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” is warm and spare. Interestingly, Menzies is a music teacher and Phillips a producer for Concord; their work together here suggests that they could successfully add public performance to their resumes.

Jan 132014


Dave Sharp’s Secret 7


(Vortex Jazz)

Detroit-based bassist Dave Sharp explores the intersection of jazz and world musics on this new release. His colleagues, including saxophonist/flutist Chris Kaercher, move from lilting Afro-pop on the opening “Sherehe” to raga-influenced pieces such as “Return” and “Kalinjar.” “Sunrise” features oud and other Middle Eastern instruments, evoking memories of Sandy Bull’s pan-ethnic explorations. Throughout, Sharp and the many musicians demonstrate a love for and mastery of a variety of styles, for an entertaining and uplifting album.

Dec 102013

Stowell Liebman
John Stowell and Dave Liebman:
Blue Rose (Origin Records, www.origin-records.com)
Guitarist John Stowell was a guest artist at several of the Bellarmine University Jazz Guitar Workshops and Concerts, and saxophonist (and more) Dave Liebman has appeared here many times over the years, at the University of Louisville and elsewhere. Together, they have crafted an elegant and warm album of duets featuring their interpretations of material from Duke Ellington (the lovely title track, “Blue Rose”), Wayne Shorter (the lilting and bluesy”Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum”) and more. These veteran artists complement each other throughout, not just comping for one another, but truly playing together. They swing on Cole Porter’s “Everything I Love” and present an absolutely gorgeous version of Bill Evans’ “Time Remebered,” featuring Liebman on piano. Jobim’s “Until Paisagem” sways gently, while Joe Farrell’s “Molten Glass” features Liebman’s tenor conversing with Stowell’s guitar. For almost an hour, Stowell and Liebman explore quiet, thoughtful music with delicacy and obvious respect for one another.

Dec 092013

Sleeping Bee
Sleeping Bee /Andy Goessling and Lindsey Horner:

Heyday Maker (www.lindseyhorner.com)
Railroad Earth founding member Andy Goessling (guitars, mandolin, and more) and bassist Lindsey Horner (whose resume includes working with Dave Douglas and Bill Frisell) have joined forces as Sleeping Bee, whose debut album mixes originals with interpretations of Keith Jarrett’s “Spirits” and Bob Dylan’s “I Threw It All Away.” They meld influences from many musical genres, including jazz, Celtic and folk, for an album that should appeal to fans of the groundbreaking group Oregon; there are also passages that are reminiscent of John Fahey and John Renbourn. Their music is augmented by percussionist Randy Crawford, whose subtle touch adds an extra layer of musical depth.

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