David Hewitt - jazzreview.com - Your Jazz Music Connection - jazzreview.com - Your Jazz Music Connection http://www.jazzreview.com Wed, 24 May 2017 03:06:41 -0500 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Momento by University of Northern Iowa Jazz Band One 2004-200 http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/big-band-swing-cd-reviews/momento-by-university-of-northern-iowa-jazz-band-one-2004-200.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/big-band-swing-cd-reviews/momento-by-university-of-northern-iowa-jazz-band-one-2004-200.html After hearing the opening track, a rendition of Benny Carter's "Miss Missouri" that is so by-the-numbers and competent to the point of sterility, one could be excused fo…

After hearing the opening track, a rendition of Benny Carter's "Miss Missouri" that is so by-the-numbers and competent to the point of sterility, one could be excused for assuming that the ensuing contents of this CD would be more of the same evidence of university students regurgitating textbook versions of traditional jazz arrangements. Happily, and much to the credit of leader/director Chris Merz, the students - and listening audience - are instead heartily challenged thereafter, proving themselves time and again to be far beyond any traces of precocity within an extensive variety of settings.

Besides the indisputably mature, professional level at which the individual players perform, many of the compositions - from a similarly amateur source - shine as well: Jim McNeely's "Blue Note" is a highly advanced and engaging piece of music, as is Merz's "The Beautiful One." Most noteworthy of all is Kyle Novak's "Momento," a contemplative piece which at first doesn't sound necessarily amenable to a large-ensemble treatment, but which ends up impressing as much for its evocative, inventive arrangements as it does for the beautiful song it is in itself. Its introduction features a magnificent interplay between pianist Vladan Milenkovic, bassist Eric Krieger, and guitarist Travis Stivick - a high point of the disc. Milenkovic is as steady a hand as could be desired throughout; his tasteful, understated playing is an essential consistency that strengthens the balance of so many competing instruments. None of the soloists are showy, but nearly all are amply talented.

Of particular note are saxophonist Nathaniel Gao, easily the most expressive player of the group, and fluegelhornist Brandon Lewis, who for good reason is featured prominently on both of the songs which display the group in a more diminished context ("Memento" and "The Beautiful One"). The traditional big band exercises are only given further allowances on the Rogers-Hart standard "Where or When" and on a second Carter song, "Rompin' At The Reno," which is satisfying in that it presents the group really swinging for the first and only time on the compilation.

An emphasis on swing, however, is not what these performances are about. The creative extensions of big band arrangements through modern forms are most appreciably demonstrated on Joey Sellers' "Skinny Window Stomp," which sounds influenced by the avant-garde work of John Zorn, and the concluding track "Arenas," an urgent and dramatic work of originality by Robert Washut. Here, Milenkovic finally steps out with a classically-tinged solo, and altoist Gao tears it up amidst the swelling, intricate layers of reeds and brass. With "Momento," Chris Merz has successfully directed his young ensemble convincingly through both the traditional framework and the forward-looking possibilities of big band.

Everything, from the quality of recording to the clarity of the arrangements to the refinement of the musicians, is spot-on. Perhaps it's a lamentable fact that urban locales and their nightclubs are no longer the breeding grounds for jazz musicians, but the inspired instruction that obviously is occurring in places even as seemingly remote as Cedar Falls, Iowa gives one assurance that the legacy of jazz is being proffered as something with a future and not just a closed past.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (David Hewitt) Big Band / Swing - CD Reviews Tue, 09 Aug 2005 01:00:00 -0500
String Theory by Joe Finn Quartet http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/straight-ahead-classic-cd-reviews/string-theory-by-joe-finn-quartet.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/straight-ahead-classic-cd-reviews/string-theory-by-joe-finn-quartet.html String Theory, the fifth release by the Joe Finn Quartet, finds the band in fine form throughout, breathing new life into previously recorded songs and bringing…

String Theory, the fifth release by the Joe Finn Quartet, finds the band in fine form throughout, breathing new life into previously recorded songs and bringing a couple of formidable originals to the table as well. The selection of songs the group has elected to cover is quite tasteful and diverse; in particular, the renditions of Pat Martino's "The Visit" and Cedar Walton's "Bolivia" are magnificent. Elsewhere, Mike Wicks' catalyzing bass line puts a spring in the step of the Cole Porter standard "I Get A Kick Out of You," and Finn evokes another Joe (Pass) with a deft, unaccompanied turn on "Lush Life."

Finn's technical prowess on the guitar is impressive while managing to be understated and not obviously imitative of any in the jazz pantheon. His thin, soft tone is sometimes swept under the emphatic playing of pianist Scott Bassinson (a fault perhaps more with the mix than with Bassinson), but is clearly identifiable as the central focus of all nine tracks. Finn's leadership does tend to steer the band in the direction of professional competence rather than expressiveness at times. It's also a bit of a disappointment that, while the covers are usually engaging and freshly played, we don't get to hear more of Finn's writing on String Theory after it's aptly demonstrated he's got plenty to offer in the way of his own ideas. One of the group's most solid and arresting ventures is the title cut - Finn's own handiwork, and rather a successful one. The guitarist's other original, "Never To Return," is easily the album's longest song; while it does meander a bit in places, it's perhaps the group's warmest and most personal statement. In any case, it is probably fair to say that fans of straight-ahead jazz guitar will be able to appreciate the Joe Finn Quartet in practically any compositional context.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (David Hewitt) Straight-Ahead - CD Reviews Fri, 29 Jul 2005 13:00:00 -0500
Let Me Tell You About My Day by Phil Dwyer Alan Jones Rodney Whitaker http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/let-me-tell-you-about-my-day-by-phil-dwyer-alan-jones-rodney-whitaker.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/let-me-tell-you-about-my-day-by-phil-dwyer-alan-jones-rodney-whitaker.html You won't find a more talented small group than the pianoless trio of saxophonist Phil Dwyer, bassist Rodney Whitaker, and drummer Alan Jones. The only problem with thei…

You won't find a more talented small group than the pianoless trio of saxophonist Phil Dwyer, bassist Rodney Whitaker, and drummer Alan Jones. The only problem with their debut recording is an imbalance in the way the individual abilities are imparted, particularly where Dwyer is concerned. While Whitaker and Jones form a solid and tasteful alliance, the saxophonist more often than not dominates the proceedings, filling every available space with Coltrane-esque runs through the register and playing in a tone that misses the subtlety and measured articulation of his bandmates.

Dwyer's five originals on the album - as well as the remainder of the material in general - are decent enough, although not entirely captivating. On one of the few songs in which the trio is captured functioning as a fully integrated unit, "Narcolypso," there is a nice counter-balance between Dwyer's frenetic blowing and Jones' laid-back coolness, while these loose, adventurous ends are perfectly tied together by Whitaker's stolid meter.

Alan Jones, who contributes two songs of his own, is perhaps the most significant revelation this recording has to offer; a phenomenal drummer whose seemingly effortless style belies his total command and versatility, he impresses throughout. His adeptness for tricky tempo shifts and utilizing the entirety of his kit singlehandedly solidifies the afore mentioned track, as well as a neat rendition of Sonny Rollins' "Airegin."

Elsewhere, Jones helps establish a languid flow to John Lewis' "Afternoon in Paris," punctuates Dwyer's uptempo "Thangs" with an adroit, resonant solo, and finally matches Dwyer's up-front intensity on Whitaker's "For Garrison." Most of the other tracks, however, follow a dismayingly consistent pattern of starting out strongly, with Dwyer hanging back as he states often interesting themes, only to inevitably undermine the songs' integrity by overplaying his solos at a volume which suggests he is competing with an enormous, electrified ensemble instead of blending with a spare, elemental rhythm section. The ineffectiveness of his hyper-aggressive style is on a number of occasions underscored by the proceeding solos of Whitaker, which opt for far fewer, yet far more reflective and focused notes. There is no question of Dwyer's virtuosity, but his tendency to leave it unchecked often disables the trio from achieving a full synergy on "Let Me Tell You About My Day." Either a modest amount of restraint on his part or a willingness of Whitaker and Jones to equivocate his zealousness would help allow the group to optimize its considerable potential on future releases.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (David Hewitt) Contemporary Jazz - CD Reviews Sun, 24 Jul 2005 07:00:00 -0500
Venusian Commute by Alex Domschot http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/venusian-commute-by-alex-domschot.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/venusian-commute-by-alex-domschot.html An imaginative, worthwhile release, Venusian Commute features a formidable trio in a variety of settings. Though led by guitarist Alex Domschot (and including f…

An imaginative, worthwhile release, Venusian Commute features a formidable trio in a variety of settings. Though led by guitarist Alex Domschot (and including four of his original compositions), the strength of the performances is often supplied by the rhythm section of Marc Johnson and Vic Stevens, who work impeccably well together.

The opening, epic (eleven minute-plus) track, "Sad Princess," strives for a kind of impressionistic ambiance and mostly succeeds. Domschot's Wyndham Hill-esque acoustic guitar phrases are interwoven with evocative, brooding string arrangements and spurred gently along by Stevens' staccatoed cymbal rappings. From there, the group settles into a more straightforward jazz mode with brilliant covers of John Coltrane's "Some Other Blues" and Jim Hall's "Two's Blues." While Domschot recalls the edgy effect-pedal style of John Scofield, Johnson and Stevens are putting on an absolute clinic behind him; these two tracks in particular are brimming with intuitive communication and creative energy. On "Some Other Blues," Johnson's bass purrs like a motor driving the well-oiled machine, while "Two's Blues" finds Stevens in the limelight, setting a furious percussive pace. "Coal Man," a tribute to Ornette, finally places Domschot's guitar theatrics on full display, particularly during a electric (almost metallic) solo, but it's Johnson and Stevens again stealing his thunder with a bass/drum solo that's far more interesting and artfully done. That said, the song is shot full of ideas connected in an angular and blistering format that more than upholds the spirit of its namesake.

Sandwiching "Coal Man" are two songs, "Gary's Theme" (written by Gary McFarland) and "Venusian Commute," which provide a softer dynamic to the eclecticism at hand. The playing here is somewhat nebulous at times, almost dreamlike, and generally less absorbing - although the title track does have a pleasant, mid-tempo swing to it. This does little to prepare the listener for the epiphany to come on the dramatic culmination of the album, "Teachers" Johnson begins by eking out a melody over the back-lit, reverb-drenched guitar chords before yielding to deeply etched, foreboding cello intonations. Along with Johnson's eventual return to the proceedings, Stevens bursts forth to bash the living tar out of his drum set, enhancing the dramatic effect of the piece.

It's little wonder that even after the comparatively low-key cover of the Beatles' "Fool on the Hill" (which features perhaps Domschot's most lyrical playing therein) to close the album, "Teachers" ends up registering as the most memorable component of the disc once it has stopped spinning. Besides showcasing first-rate musicianship all around, the strongest case for Venusian Commute can be made by this, the best example of Domschot's willingness to take chances and not rein himself or his considerable breadth of musical ideas in by adhering to a singular form.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (David Hewitt) Contemporary Jazz - CD Reviews Thu, 07 Jul 2005 01:00:00 -0500
All the Best by Frank Stagnitta http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/straight-ahead-classic-cd-reviews/all-the-best-by-frank-stagnitta.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/straight-ahead-classic-cd-reviews/all-the-best-by-frank-stagnitta.html As a jazz pianist, Frank Stagnitta is nothing short of exemplary. The trio he headlines on All the Best may be as yet unheralded, but it's as tight as they come…

As a jazz pianist, Frank Stagnitta is nothing short of exemplary. The trio he headlines on All the Best may be as yet unheralded, but it's as tight as they come. Though not wavering from a strict diet of straight-ahead material, the album's worth is amply verified by the consistently engaging and masterful performances of the musicians.

Hank Mobley's "Stella-Wise" kicks off the set in radiant, up-tempo fashion, a mood that permeates the next two tracks (covers of "Pensavita" and the more obscure "Ariescene") as well. Stagnitta immediately establishes a full, warm tone that imparts the voluptuous sound of a larger band, his spirited, tasteful runs reminiscent of Vince Guaraldi. John Coltrane's lost classic "Central Park West" introduces the group in a more reflective setting before Stagnitta works in two of his originals, "The Legend of Joe Rip" and "Waiting." The latter, along with another little-known cover, "Just a Ballad for my Baby," are the best of All The Best. "Waiting" is a distinguished, meditative composition, shaded with emotional richness; for all the depth of feeling Stagnitta provides in his presentation of others' music on the album, it is particularly fulfilling to have this kind of personal statement included.

"Just a Ballad," nevertheless, may be his finest moment of all, or at least the most revealing showcase for his pianistic skills. While the melody is somewhat melancholy, one can't help but be uplifted by the consummate, requisite sensitivity with which it's played. Enough cannot be said of Mr. Stagnitta's abilities; he is equal parts immaculate technique and spiritual channel. He is not dazzling because he does not seek to dazzle; he does not ever overplay and his touch, timing, and choice of notes always seems just right. Moreover, the rhythm section of Matthew Vacanti and Josh DeKaney (Jimmy Johns plays drums on three of the nine tracks) plays right up to his standard. They turn in lively, satisfying solos on Dave Brubeck's "Theme From Mr. Broadway," which is found between the afore mentioned two songs. The album is then rounded out with a second Hank Mobley piece, "Hank's Tune," which captures the band in the same rollicking form that opened the proceedings.

After playing with many of the jazz elite and teaching extensively over the last four decades, the 57 year-old Stagnitta has finally endowed the world with his first recording as leader. All the Best is worth a listen from anyone with an appreciation for first-rate piano trios, or magnificently played music in general.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (David Hewitt) Straight-Ahead - CD Reviews Sat, 07 Aug 2004 11:10:03 -0500