Roman St. James - jazzreview.com - Your Jazz Music Connection - jazzreview.com - Your Jazz Music Connection http://www.jazzreview.com Tue, 23 May 2017 03:00:14 -0500 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Split Life by Gilad Hekselman http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/split-life-by-gilad-hekselman.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/split-life-by-gilad-hekselman.html Split Life is the debut release from 23-year old Israeli-born jazz guitarist Gilad Hekselman. Hekselman’s sound is the epitome of the word "warm", but with just…

Split Life is the debut release from 23-year old Israeli-born jazz guitarist Gilad Hekselman. Hekselman’s sound is the epitome of the word "warm", but with just enough bite to avoid it sounding overly sweet. However, as beautiful as his sound is, it wouldn’t matter much if the recording were sub-par. A paradox exists in that the best place for a musician to be heard (and have their chops put to the test) is in a live setting, and yet a live setting is the most difficult to properly record. Split Life was recorded live at Fat Cat in New York city by producer Luke Kaven and the quality is simply amazing.

Joining Hekselman on this recording is Joe Martin on bass and Ari Hoenig on drums. Jazz heavyweights in their own right (having worked with the likes of Kenny Werner, Dave Liebman, Richard Bona, Mark Turner and Jane Monheit among others), Martin and Hoenig fuse with Hekselman on every level - technically, emotionally and spiritually - to create music that is very much in the moment. Flawless as it is, their feat is that much more impressive when you add to the equation the fact that it was recorded live - where nerves can interfere and where second takes are generally frowned upon.

Mixing standards such as "I Fall In Love Too Easily" and "I Should Care" with originals such as "Purim" and "The Summer Of Laughs And Tears", Hekselman & Co. show a sensitivity for the music that is always refreshing, especially from musicians with their kind of jaw-dropping chops. They never overplay - either the compositions or each other - and they display a very mature ability to incorporate space into their arrangements and solos that keeps it all sounding interesting and new throughout. It's said that with great musicians, the greatness lies not in the notes they play, but in the notes they don’t play. Split Life is a textbook testament to the truth of that statement.
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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Roman St. James) Contemporary Jazz - CD Reviews Mon, 17 Jul 2006 19:00:00 -0500
Finding Space by Rick Parker Collective http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/finding-space-by-rick-parker-collective.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/finding-space-by-rick-parker-collective.html Using the word "great" to describe the Rick Parker Collective’s new release Finding Space is akin to using the word "beautiful" to describe a perfect rose - it’s …

Using the word "great" to describe the Rick Parker Collective’s new release Finding Space is akin to using the word "beautiful" to describe a perfect rose - it’s understated, overused and yet 100% accurate. Trombonist Parker and he cohorts have proven, with this sophomore release, that their first album (2004’s New York Gravity) was not a fluke. Joined by saxophonist Xavier Perez, pianist Sam Barsh, bassist Gavin Fallow and drummer Kyle Struve (with guest appearances by Maurice Brown on trumpet and flugal horn and Jaleel Shaw on alto sax), Parker has created a fantastic recording that simultaneously succeeds on so many levels. The music is both muscularly dense and lithely supple - the playing is at times quietly restrained and at others joyfully explosive. In some respects, several of the songs have the feel of ‘big band’ arrangements, even though the band is a quintet. This is quite a difficult feat to accomplish, but a joy to listen to. The band showed fantastic arrangement skills on the first album and they’ve raised the bar even higher here.

The songs, all beautifully voiced and making frequent use of odd time signatures and intricate, syncopated rhythms, are all complex works of art that are still accessible to the point of being extremely humble, which, in my opinion, is one of the primary elements of a great song. And I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t take a moment to talk about Parker as a composer. All but one of the songs on this collection was written by him (the exception being Struve’s "Euro Ring"), and they are all excellent. As I’ve said in many past reviews, all too often great players produce sub par albums due to their insistence on writing all the material themselves, seemingly unaware of the fact that skills as composers are quite inferior to their skills as players. Thankfully, Parker doesn’t fall into that group. Not only is he one of the top trombone players on the scene today, he’s one of my favorite composers. He has a way with melody and harmony that is both elegant and unique. Listening to his songs, you are instantly aware that a lot of time and energy was spent to perfect them and yet they all contain an organic essence that is missing in a lot of modern jazz today.

Of course, without a great band, all this great writing would be for naught, and needless to say, the band is simply superb. It’s been said that you can often judge a jazz musician by the company they keep, and these guys all come with impressive resumes: Pianist Barsh is a member of the renowned Avishai Cohen Trio and has played with Branford Marsalis, Boys II Men and Bobby McFerrin, among others. Saxophonist Perez was the only U.S. representative selected to perform in the final elimination round of The International Saxophone competition where he won 2nd place out of hundreds of applicants from more than 20 countries. He has had stints with Jon Faddis, Randy Brecker and Claire Fischer. Bassist Fallow is from the Jeremy Pelt Quartet and the TK Blue Quintet. Drummer Struve has been a member of the Parker Collective since 2001. He has a masters degree from Purchase College and is a much sought after teacher and player in the New York area, having recently performed with Wycliffe Gordon, Mark Rapp and Walter Blanding. Parker himself was awarded the 2005 ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award (incredibly, he’s only 28) and has played with a ton of heavy cats, from Charlie Persip to Frank Lacy, in addition to hosting the popular Sunday Night jam session at Rose Live Music.

Special mention must be given to the two guest artists - saxophonist Jaleel Shaw and trumpeter Maurice Brown. Brown’s 2006 debut release Hip To Bop is, in my opinion, one of the top 5 jazz albums of the year and I recently saw Shaw perform a concert with Roy Haynes in which he completely stole the show. What they both bring to this recording is incalculable and a testament to Parker’s ability to bring together not just great players, but the right great players. Finding Space is a remarkable album by a group of overachievers that make the magic of great music seem all too easy.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Roman St. James) Contemporary Jazz - CD Reviews Thu, 08 Jun 2006 19:00:00 -0500
Sketches From A Bassists Album by Ari Roland http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/bebop-hard-bop-cd-reviews/sketches-from-a-bassists-album-by-ari-roland.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/bebop-hard-bop-cd-reviews/sketches-from-a-bassists-album-by-ari-roland.html One of the great things about reviewing music is the sense of discovery that comes with it. I sometimes feel like an artistic "Indiana Jones" the first time I play some …

One of the great things about reviewing music is the sense of discovery that comes with it. I sometimes feel like an artistic "Indiana Jones" the first time I play some great new disc by some great group of musicians of which I know little, if anything, about. When it’s really good, I feel like I’ve uncovered some rare treasure and I can’t wait to share it with the rest of the world. That's exactly how I feel about this new disc, Sketches from a Bassist’s Album, by the wonderful bassist Ari Roland.

This is actually the second recording that I’ve had the pleasure of listening to Roland’s playing on (the other being pianist Frank Hewitt’s Four Hundred Saturdays, also released on Smalls Records in 2005), so he’s not exactly a new find for me, but I’m not any less excited. On the Hewitt disc I got a taste of his great playing, but as a leader he delivers a heaping serving to what was only hinted at on the earlier disc. A bop bassist through and through, one thing that allows Roland to stand apart from many other great bassists around is his affinity for playing his bass with a bow. Anyone that knows can surely attest to the difficulty inherent in such an endeavor: the double bass is extremely difficult to bow in tune and I assume that’s one of the reasons there are so few bassists that use the technique extensively. Thankfully for us, Roland does it and does it better than just about anyone else that I’ve heard.

Though there is lots of great bowing on the album, that’s only one small aspect of Roland’s talent as a jazz musician. His sense of timing, his ability to swing (walking or bowing), his fantastic tone, are all awe-inspiring. But in addition, he’s also a great composer. Seven of the ten tunes presented his are his originals. Songs with titles like "Swamp Thing Goes to the Indy 500" and "Ah, Transcapathicus" are beautifully interpreted here by his fellow musicians. Chris Byars on tenor sax (sounding quite Joe Lovano-like on this disc), is the lone horn and plays most of the heads. His lines, stabbing and searching, paint great pictures. On piano, Sacha Perry, equally talented with both his left and right hands, throws down interestingly complex harmonies, whether delivering a great solo or comping behind the other players. Rounding out the group is Phil Stewart on drums, who keeps everything tight and grounded, while treating us to a couple of brilliant solos of his own.

Sketches from a Bassist’s Album is a warm, welcoming album of hard bop tunes with great, memorable melodies and jaw-dropping solos that deserves a spot on the shelf of any jazz fan’s collection.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Roman St. James) BeBop / Hard Bop - CD Reviews Sat, 17 Sep 2005 07:00:00 -0500
The Red Garland Quintets by Red Garland http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/bebop-hard-bop-cd-reviews/the-red-garland-quintets-by-red-garland.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/bebop-hard-bop-cd-reviews/the-red-garland-quintets-by-red-garland.html I first became aware of the great jazz pianist Red Garland through following the music of one of my favorite saxophonists, John Coltrane. At that point in the developmen…

I first became aware of the great jazz pianist Red Garland through following the music of one of my favorite saxophonists, John Coltrane. At that point in the development of my ‘jazz ears’, I had yet to cultivate a great appreciation of the jazz pianist in general, finding myself instead much more intrigued by the horn players. But listening to Garland changed all that. His playing inspired and delighted me and made me realize how exciting great jazz piano can be. Since those early days I have listened to many, many jazz pianists, but I always seem to compare those experiences to my first exposure to the music of Red Garland - an epitomizing example of how I think jazz piano should be played.

William McKinley "Red" Garland (a one-time professional boxer with 35 prizefights under his belt) actually started off his musical career as a clarinetist who later switched to alto saxophone before eventually finding his way to the piano. He came to prominence in the mid-1950s as part of the original Miles Davis Quintet (along with Coltrane on sax, Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums). His work on the Davis sessions led to trio recordings for Prestige that helped widen his popularity. Later, after he and Coltrane had both left Davis’ group, the two hooked up again for gigs and Prestige recording sessions, each taking turns as leader (they both eventually rejoined Davis).

This collection of Garland’s quintet recordings consists of six tunes, all recorded in 1957 and 1961. Two different quintets are represented here - one with Coltrane on tenor sax, Donald Byrd on trumpet, George Joyner on bass and Arthur Taylor on drums ("Billie’s Bounce", "Solitude", "Soul Junction" & "Our Delight") and one with Richard Williams on trumpet, Oliver Nelson on tenor sax, Peck Morrison on bass and Charlie Persip on drums ("Soft Winds" & "On Green Dolphin Street"). It’s interesting to see how the different musicians (particularly the horn players) react to Garland’s playing.

One of the things that I feel has always separated Garland from many of the other jazz pianists I’ve heard is just how much of the blues there is in his playing. Certainly it wasn’t unusual for jazz pianists, especially during the ‘50s, to come to jazz from the blues, but the challenges of playing bebop took many of them away from their blues roots and diluted that influence in their playing. This was not so with Garland. Everything he plays is heavily drenched in that ‘down home’, straight-from-your-soul sound, yet played with a precision that the most articulate classical pianist would envy (a prime example of this is his amazing 8-minute solo on the slow blues "Soul Junction"). Not only was he capable of playing beautiful single-note runs, but his stylistic use of block chords influenced a generation of pianists to come.

This CD, clocking in at just over 54 minutes, is still much too short - when the music is this good, one can’t help but want more. But it’s a great introduction to a legendary pianist (and two legendary quintets) that have never really received the level of recognition that they truly deserve.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Roman St. James) BeBop / Hard Bop - CD Reviews Fri, 09 Sep 2005 19:00:00 -0500
Four Hundred Saturdays by Frank Hewitt Quintet http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/bebop-hard-bop-cd-reviews/four-hundred-saturdays-by-frank-hewitt-quintet.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/bebop-hard-bop-cd-reviews/four-hundred-saturdays-by-frank-hewitt-quintet.html Listening to pianist extraordinaire Frank Hewitt’s Four Hundred Saturdays is both a sad and a joyous event. The joy is present front and center in the music, reco…

Listening to pianist extraordinaire Frank Hewitt’s Four Hundred Saturdays is both a sad and a joyous event. The joy is present front and center in the music, recorded live at Smalls in New York City on August 21, 1999. The sadness is due to the fact that both Hewitt and the drummer, Jimmy Lovelace, have both since passed - Hewitt in September 2002 and Lovelace in October 2004. So all we have left of them is a few handfuls of recordings, such as this one. But what gems they are - living legacies to two superb musicians that have been under-appreciated for far too long.

Some have referred to Hewitt as "the greatest jazz pianist you’ve never heard." A fixture on the New York jazz scene since the mid-fifties, Hewitt has played with many of the best of the best - John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Cecil Payne amongst them. With a style that is part Thelonious Monk and part Bud Powell, Hewitt is the pianist that other great pianists would often come to watch, spellbound. As stated in the liner notes, Hewitt "would often count tempos up over 400 beats per minute and sometimes even approaching 500, even on difficult tunes," and "It is to one’s everlasting amazement when one realizes that Hewitt was not just capable of playing at blinding speed, but that he was also capable of being brilliant and articulate at such speeds."

On this recording the tempos are not nearly that frantic, but the brilliance is there in every single note. Hewitt was a regular at Smalls, having played there every Saturday night for the eight years leading up to his death. It was a place that he was very comfortable playing, and that’s evident in the music here. One of the things that makes this such fun to listen to is that, great as it is, it doesn’t sound overly rehearsed. Indeed, Hewitt almost never told the band what tune he was going to play next. Instead, he would improvise a long introduction as he decided what the next tune would be, and once he did, the rest of the band had to figure out within a couple of notes what it was and how to jump into it. That mystery - that flying-by-the-seat of your pants excitement - is all over this music. Joining Hewitt and drummer Lovelace on this recording are two of Hewitt’s favorite saxophone players - Chris Byars on tenor sax and Mike Mullins on alto. The great Ari Roland rounds out the quintet on bass (and contributes some amazing bow work!).

There are only four tunes on this album, all standards, and each at least 13 minutes long. They all serve as perfect vehicles to give flight to the magnificently soaring solos that each musician contributes. It’s interesting to note the difference in approach between Hewitt and the saxophonists. Hewitt tends to play more on top of the beat, while Byars and Mullins seem to prefer being just a tad bit behind it, which makes for a great contrast in sound. One thing that they all have in common, including Roland, is the ability to weave their lines both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ of the changes. That makes for playing that is full of surprises. Sometimes they play notes that shouldn’t work but that somehow do. It’s a testament to their collective musical genius.

However, none of this would have been possible without the expert hand of producer and engineer Luke Kaven. The quality of this recording is simply fantastic. I’ve never been to Smalls, but I imagine it to be a somewhat small club, and small rooms are always the most difficult to record live, what with the close acoustics, chatter, clinking glasses and other assorted problems. And recording the instruments clearly is one thing, but getting a good balance is quite another. Achieving great balance live, even in grand halls, is usually easier said than done. But Kaven has done a remarkable job here. This CD couldn’t have sounded better if it had been recorded in the best studio in the country. This is a great memorial to two amazing musicians that never got their due praise but that will, nonetheless, be sorely missed.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Roman St. James) BeBop / Hard Bop - CD Reviews Tue, 06 Sep 2005 13:00:00 -0500
Smile by Gary Brunotte http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/straight-ahead-classic-cd-reviews/smile-by-gary-brunotte.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/straight-ahead-classic-cd-reviews/smile-by-gary-brunotte.html I have to admit: the first couple of times that I listened to Gary Brunotte’s Smile, I was not at all impressed. That is in spite of the fact that it was immediat…

I have to admit: the first couple of times that I listened to Gary Brunotte’s Smile, I was not at all impressed. That is in spite of the fact that it was immediately apparent that he’s quite a fine piano player, backed by equally fine bass playing and drumming (Rick Jones and Steve Haines share the bass chair, with Bill Berg on drums). And Brunotte has great references, having played with such luminaries as Lionel Hampton, Tom Harrell and the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra. But the fact is that initially it was a bit difficult to take the album too seriously when I realized that it was dedicated to his cat, Dexter, and that it came complete with a 2006 calendar of cat photos. Pet references aside, my real point of contention was in the fact that the songs were so short - averaging about four minutes each - and that there didn’t seem to be much stretching or risk-taking happening during the short solos.

However, after listening to it a few more times I began to become aware of the subtleness in Brunotte’s playing and to realize that he was, at times, actually saying quite a bit in his very brief solo flights. Certainly there are some tracks on this album that work better than others, but the overall listening experience is an enjoyable one. For example, the disc opens with "Ditty For The Kitty." a slightly sad, sentimental sounding piece. The solos by Haines and Berg, short though they are, are very nice (Berg’s brush work throughout this tune is truly stellar). Brunotte’s piano playing is sure and light, confident but almost ethereal in effect. The next tune, "Merry Old Land Of 'Paws'," sounds pretty much the way you would expect it to from the title - bouncy and upbeat, full of joy and laughter. "Meow Samba" is another great tune. It’s only 3:18 long, yet both Brunotte and Berg manage to make interesting solo statements.

There are two vocal tracks (not including the one that the cat, Dexter, is heard on), which feature singer Kirsten Lambert. She has a very pleasant voice, and although her vocal version of the title track "Smile" is a bit lukewarm (the second, all-instrumental version of this tune is much more intriguing), she heats things up with an extremely sultry version of "Triste," sung in what I assume to be the original Portuguese.

Smile is not exactly cutting-edge or innovative by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a solid straight-ahead effort by an accomplished group of musicians. If you’re looking for a good disc to relax to, this could be the one.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Roman St. James) Straight-Ahead - CD Reviews Sun, 28 Aug 2005 13:00:00 -0500
Lodestar by Stockton Helbing http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/lodestar-by-stockton-helbing.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/lodestar-by-stockton-helbing.html The heading on the press release for drummer Stockton Helbing’s debut album Lodestar poses the question "Who is Stockton Helbing?" and goes on to give a brief ans…

The heading on the press release for drummer Stockton Helbing’s debut album Lodestar poses the question "Who is Stockton Helbing?" and goes on to give a brief answer in the form of a short bio. But I think a better question might be why haven’t we heard about him sooner? This remarkable album is a recording of both great depth and great maturity, quite a feat from a leader barely 25-years-old at the time of the recording.

Though this is my first exposure to Helbing’s music, he’s had considerable experience, most notably as the drummer for the legendary jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson. He started playing drums at the age of 10 and studied with Kirk Chapman and Jim Hall before being granted a scholarship to attend the University of North Texas to study with Ed Soph. He graduated in 2003 and has already traveled the world playing with the likes of Joe Lovano, Arturo Sandoval and Dianne Schuur, to name but a few.

For his first recording, Helbing brought together an amazingly talented group of musicians: Ken Edwards on trumpet and flugelhorn, Tom Luer on tenor sax, Noel Johnston on guitar and Brian Mulholland on bass. The press release describes Lodestar as blending the creativity of jazz with the accessibility of pop. That’s an apt description, although make no mistake about it, this is a jazz album through and through. When I first heard it, it immediately reminded me of the Miles Davis band during the Wayne Shorter period. The songs are lush and complex, yet they make liberal use of space and dynamics. The purpose of the arrangements seem to be to allow the musicians to serve the music, rather than the other way around, which is quite a refreshing approach.

For example, on the opening tune, "Sign Of The Times," the horns play on the head, but only the bass solos. On "What Could Be, What Has Been" the entire ensemble plays the head, a simple, repeated melodic riff, but only the guitar solos. However, everyone gets more than enough opportunity to shine on some of the other tunes and shine they all do. The solos are consistently inventive and lyrical, full of twists and turns that surprise and delight. Only three of the ten songs were penned by band members - Johnston’s "Stocktorb" and Luer’s "Hey Kid, I’m A Computer" and "Harrell’s Herald" - but they all seem tailor made for this band and this album, and complement each other extremely well.

This is music that begs to be listened to over and over again, as the dense harmonies and striking chord progressions seem to reveal a little more of themselves with each revisit. A very exciting debut release.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Roman St. James) Contemporary Jazz - CD Reviews Sun, 28 Aug 2005 07:00:00 -0500
TNT: A Tommy Newsom Tribute by Sherrie Maricle & The Diva Jazz Orchestra http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/big-band-swing-cd-reviews/tnt-a-tommy-newsom-tribute-by-sherrie-maricle-the-diva-jazz-orchestra.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/big-band-swing-cd-reviews/tnt-a-tommy-newsom-tribute-by-sherrie-maricle-the-diva-jazz-orchestra.html When reviewing a jazz release by an all-female band, it’s difficult to resist the urge to make at least some passing comment on the gender issue, and rather than try to …

When reviewing a jazz release by an all-female band, it’s difficult to resist the urge to make at least some passing comment on the gender issue, and rather than try to resist I’ll simply address it right up front. Yes, there are definitely some people that believe that jazz played by women, particularly women horn players, lacks a certain fire as compared to their male contemporaries. If you are one of those people, I strongly urge you to take a listen to this latest release from Sherrie Maricle & the Diva Jazz Orchestra - TNT: A Tommy Newsom Tribute. To say that these ladies play "as well as any all-male band" would really be an insult, because music as great as this rises above such frivolous distinctions. This is pure jazz played at a stellar level by some incredible musicians - indeed, some of the best I’ve ever heard, male or female.

Diva was founded (and managed for the first 10 years) by Stanley Kay, a former manager and relief drummer for the Buddy Rich Big Band. In 1990, Kay was conducting a band where Sherrie Maricle was playing drums. Impressed by her skill, Kay wondered if there were other women musicians with a similar caliber of musicianship. A nationwide audition of players produced a core group of musicians who performed their first concert in March of 1993. Since then, Diva has performed in some of the world’s most prestigious music venues, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Hollywood Bowl and various international jazz festivals.

There are three things that all great mainstream big bands must have: fantastic arrangements, spectacular soloists and the ability to swing like crazy. Diva has all that and then some. On this particular release, the focus is exclusively on the arrangements of Tommy Newsom, tenor saxophonist for almost 30 years with the Tonight Show band. The arrangements are sweeping, lush and vivid and make full use of the fine group of musicians that make up Diva. In addition to Maricle on drums, there is Karolina Strassmayer and Leigh Pilzer on alto saxophone, Anat Cohen and Scheila Gonzalez on tenor saxophone, Lisa Parrott on Baritone saxophone, Liesl Whitaker, Tanya Darby, Barbara Laronga, Cindy Bradley and Jami Dauber on trumpet, Deborah Weisz, Lori Stuntz and Leslie Havens on trombone, Chihiro Yamanaka on piano and Noriko Ueda on bass.

Comprised mostly of standards along with a couple of Newsom originals, these ten tracks represent a great blend of the modern and the classic. There are three medleys that, for the most part, are very cohesively constructed. The only thing that didn’t ring true to my ears was the three-part vocal harmony on "Straighten Up And Fly Right," as presented in the "Nat Cole Medley" track. It sounded just a bit hokey in relationship to the rest of the album, which is all instrumental. However, there are so many joyous moments of absolutely awe-inspiring playing on this album that such a small issue is hardly worth mentioning. This is a richly entertaining album, sure to appeal to both big band and non-big band fans alike. Great players, great arrangements, great tunes - what more could you ask for?
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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Roman St. James) Big Band / Swing - CD Reviews Sun, 28 Aug 2005 01:00:00 -0500
Reflections by Eric Person http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/reflections-by-eric-person.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/reflections-by-eric-person.html It may seem like a bold statement for me to declare that Eric Person is probably one of the greatest alto & soprano saxophonists working today, especially since I must a…

It may seem like a bold statement for me to declare that Eric Person is probably one of the greatest alto & soprano saxophonists working today, especially since I must admit that I haven't heard every alto and soprano saxophonist working today, but I stand by the statement nonetheless. This is not a statement that I make lightly, nor is it a conclusion that I came to from listening to just one or two of Person’s albums. I have purchased his CDs and followed his development for many years now, and every time I pull one of them off the shelf for a revisit his music always manages to sound fresh and new to my ears.

Unfortunately, Person is far from a household name in jazz, and so it’s quite possible you have yet to hear any of this great music that I’m referring to. But there’s no better cure for that than his new ‘best of’ release, Reflections. This CD contains nine tracks from albums recorded between 1993 and 2003, as well as three previously unreleased live tracks recorded at New York’s Knitting Factory in 1998.

The first thing I noticed about this new album is that the songs are not sequenced in chronological order, as is often the case on ‘best of’ releases. Chronological sequencing usually serves as a convenient roadmap, making it easy to follow an artist’s development over a specific period of time. However, amazingly enough, if you didn’t already know that this was a compilation or that these songs spanned a 10-year period, you’d have a hard time guessing it by simply listening to the CD. That may sound as though I’m saying that Person has not developed much as a musician over that stretch of time, but it’s actually quite the contrary. There are definite signs of strong growth and change, it’s just that he was so good 10 years ago and his style is so much his own that some of the changes are very subtle. The bottom line is that Person, as both a saxophonist and a composer, creates music that is the epitome of the word "timeless". Everything he plays has a vibrancy and urgency to it and is heavily stamped with his personal (no pun intended) signature. The way he constructs songs is as unique as the way he navigates the horn. I hear a lot of early Wayne Shorter and Steve Lacy in his playing, but also some Steve Coleman and Greg Osby, all players that have continually managed to keep one foot in the past, honoring tradition, while at the same time forging ahead as innovators.

As you might imagine, there are a great number of musicians that have recorded with Person over this 10-year period, and normally I wouldn’t bother to note such a long list, but they are all so excellent and contribute so much to these recordings that I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge them. The nine previously released tracks include Cary Denigris on guitar, Jim Finn on flute, Mike Cain and John Esposito on keyboards, Kenny Davis, Dave Holland, Carlos Henderson and Calvin Jones on bass, and Gene Jackson, E.J. Strickland, Peter O’Brien and Ronnie Burrage on drums. The three previously unreleased tracks featured Dave Douglas on trumpet, John Esposito on piano, Kenny Davis on bass and Mark Johnson on drums. All but two of the songs were composed by Person, with one contribution each from Davis and Esposito.

One sure sign of a great jazz band leader is his ability to create a cohesive and recognizable sound regardless of how often the personnel in the band changes. Miles had it, Trane had it, and this album is overwhelming evidence that Person has it, as well. He also has the rare (based on the albums of many of his contemporaries that I’ve listened to lately) gift of being able to play post-bop, modern jazz that is both cutting edge and completely accessible to the everyday jazz fan. There’s a lot of great experimentation going on in modern jazz today, but much of it requires a lot of effort to understand and enjoy. Person has managed to avoid that pitfall. His music is deceptively simple and melodic. For example, I was once listening to a track that I had listened to many times before and realized for the first time that not only was it in odd meter, but that the meter continually changed throughout the song - 4/4, 7/4, 11/4, etc. To play such difficult music and make it sound so easy is no small task.

If you’ve never heard Eric Person, I urge you to get him in your ears. Some of his older albums are difficult to find, but I think that once you take a listen to this ‘best of’, you’ll be hungry for more, and that any effort you might have to expend to acquire some of the older stuff will prove very rewarding, indeed.
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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Roman St. James) Contemporary Jazz - CD Reviews Sat, 27 Aug 2005 19:00:00 -0500
In My Time by Gerald Wilson Orchestra http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/big-band-swing-cd-reviews/in-my-time-by-gerald-wilson-orchestra.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/big-band-swing-cd-reviews/in-my-time-by-gerald-wilson-orchestra.html In My Time, the new release from the Gerald Wilson Orchestra, is a different kind of big band album. It is more than simply music - it is genius personifie…

In My Time, the new release from the Gerald Wilson Orchestra, is a different kind of big band album. It is more than simply music - it is genius personified. But one could hardly expect less from one of the senior representatives of jazz. Gerald Wilson is about as ‘old school’ as old school gets, and yet is still growing and learning as a composer, arranger, performer and educator.

It was 1939 when Wilson joined the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra as a trumpet soloist and arranger, and 66 years later he is still very active and very much at the top of his game. Through the years he has received an incredible amount of acclaim - winning Downbeat International Critics Polls as well as the Paul Robeson Award, the NEA American Jazz Masters Fellowship, a pair of American Jazz awards and several Grammy nominations. He has worked with everybody that was anybody in jazz - Benny Carter, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughn, Ray Charles, Carmen McRae, Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson and the list goes on and on. Not content to restrict his movements to the jazz world, he’s also done a lot of commercial and symphonic work. So at almost 87 years old, you would think he might be slowing down a bit, but thankfully for us nothing could be further from the truth.

On this new album, the follow up to the Grammy-nominated New York, New Sound, Wilson has gathered together some of the best jazz musicians playing today to produce a monumental recording. This album of 10 tracks is centered around three selections, collectively called "The Diminished Triangle." It is from a piece commissioned by the California Institute for the Preservation of Jazz and supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts that was debuted at Cal State L.A. on April 2, 2005. As Wilson explains it, "’The Diminished Triangle’ is the study of diminished chords. We have three diminished chords which add up to 12 different notes, and all musicians study the 12 tones. By using the diminished triangle many different ways, one can get a lot of different harmonic sounds. This suite gave me the opportunity to use a lot of eight-part harmony." If you’re not a musician, that might all sound like Greek to you, but the end result is very beautiful, very exciting music.

The list of young lions and revered veterans that make up this fantastic orchestra include Jon Faddis, Frank Greene, Jimmy Owens, Jeremy Pelt, Eddie Henderson, Mike Rodriguez and Sean Jones on trumpet, Benny Powell, Dennis Wilson, Douglas Purviance and Luis Bonilla on trombone, Kamasi Washington, Gary Smulyan, Ron Blake, Steve Wilson, Jerry Dodgion and Dustin Cicero on saxophones and flutes, Russell Malone on guitar, Lewis Nash on drums, Peter Washington on bass and Renee Rosnes on piano, with Wilson filling the conductor and arranger chair. All of the compositions are Wilson’s except for two standards - "Love For Sale" and "So What."

Not only are the arrangements lush and compelling complex, but the solos are full of pyrotechnic thrills, deep rhythmic swing and heart-felt poignancy. This is the level of achievement that all big bands should aspire to. Summing up his thoughts on this latest project, Wilson says, "I’ve listened to ‘In My Time’ several times and, honestly, this might be the best record I’ve ever made. The intonation of the musicians is so good, the musicians interpreted the music so well, and they are great young players who are looking ahead, moving the banner of jazz into the future." I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Roman St. James) Big Band / Swing - CD Reviews Sat, 27 Aug 2005 13:00:00 -0500