Thomas R. Erdmann - jazzreview.com - Your Jazz Music Connection - jazzreview.com - Your Jazz Music Connection http://www.jazzreview.com Wed, 24 May 2017 05:38:46 -0500 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Metamorphosis by Chris Donnelly http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/progressive-cd-reviews/metamorphosis-by-chris-donnelly.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/progressive-cd-reviews/metamorphosis-by-chris-donnelly.html Metamorphosis by Chris Donnelly
Pianist and composer Chris Donnelly teaches at the University of Toronto and has previous teaching experience as a faculty member at the Humber College Community Music School, Prairielands Jazz Camp and the National Music Camp of Canada.  Holding Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from the University of Toronto, where he studied with David Braid, Gary Williamson, Paul Read, Kirk MacDonald Alexander Rapoport and Russell Hartenberger, Donnelly was awarded The Tecumseh Sherman Rogers Graduating Award for students "deemed to have the greatest potential to make an important contribution to the field of music."

Pianist and composer Chris Donnelly teaches at the University of Toronto and has previous teaching experience as a faculty member at the Humber College Community Music School, Prairielands Jazz Camp and the National Music Camp of Canada.  Holding Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from the University of Toronto, where he studied with David Braid, Gary Williamson, Paul Read, Kirk MacDonald Alexander Rapoport and Russell Hartenberger, Donnelly was awarded The Tecumseh Sherman Rogers Graduating Award for students "deemed to have the greatest potential to make an important contribution to the field of music."

Donnelly's first recording, Solo, was not only nominated for a Juno (the Canadian version of a Grammy) but also earned him nominations for Best Recording of the Year and Best Keyboardist of the Year at the 2009 National Jazz Awards.   With such a debut expectations were high for the release of his newest CD, Metamorphosis.

This new solo piano recording is a single 50-minute uninterrupted flow of improvised ideas and set pieces that will remind many, in form, of some of the work of Keith Jarrett.  The differences lie in how each develops their ideas.  Jarrett's long arm of classical technique and jazz fire power colors his work in a truly unique manner that is uncategorizable.  Donnelly, on the other hand, seems to work with the starting point being simple two-part inventions.  From these humble beginnings he weaves lines and phrases that are developments of those beginnings. 

While the music is mostly in the romantic vein, the most forward looking of the pieces is "You hear the voice."  After a dramatic beginning of fast juxtaposed large repeated note large leaps it settles down into a more tranquil quasi-swing section ala the music Chick Corea and Gary Burton play when recorded together.

Recordings like this one raise the question of whether the music is jazz or classical improvisation, similar to what Bach, Beethoven and Liszt were known for doing during their lifetimes.  The answer will have to be decided by each listener.  While the music is ostensibly inspired by the works of graphic artist M.C. Escher, it's hard to hear that influence in the music.  While there is the occasional ticked note, as on "Cresting, falling away," Donnelly's technique is quite clean and careful throughout.  The harmonic palette is tonal and rarely does he stray from the center few octaves of the keyboard.

For the occasional listener this recording will most probably be too heavy and slow in developing, but for others there are moments of greatness.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Thomas R. Erdmann) Progressive - CD Reviews Mon, 26 Mar 2012 21:24:27 -0500
By Myself by Meredith d'Ambrosio http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/jazz-vocals-cd-reviews/by-myself-by-meredith-dambrosio.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/jazz-vocals-cd-reviews/by-myself-by-meredith-dambrosio.html By Myself by Meredith d'Ambrosio
Visual artist, pianist, vocalist, and composer Meredith d'Ambrosio has quietly been releasing critically acclaimed recordings since 1978.  Never one to push recordings on her fans, By Myself is her first release since 2006.  This new 2011 recording features, exclusively, the songs of Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz and is framed only by her voice and sparse piano playing.

Visual artist, pianist, vocalist, and composer Meredith d'Ambrosio has quietly been releasing critically acclaimed recordings since 1978.  Never one to push recordings on her fans, By Myself is her first release since 2006.  This new 2011 recording features, exclusively, the songs of Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz and is framed only by her voice and sparse piano playing.

 

The 14 tracks all sound melancholy, introspective and plaintively search for each song's deepest meaning.  The result is that even on the songs featuring positive sentiments, such as "Through A Thousand Dreams," the air of missed chance and sad reflection predominates.  The tempo rubato appraisals conveyed on each song, and the sotto voce breathy singing style is used exclusively throughout the disc.  Taking a tone reminiscent of Sheila Jordan's more recent recordings, d'Ambrosio's readings take on the tenor of woeful contemplation.

 

This style works most especially well on forlorn songs, such as "Once Upon A Long Ago" and "I Guess I'll Have To Change My Plan."  On these numbers she is able to tap into a deep well of life experience and find feelings fashioned around heartbreak.  That she does this better than just about anyone out there making music happen speaks to her untold depth of soulful echoes.

 

Be warned, there is nothing close to resembling a mid-tempo romp on this release.  "You And The Night And The Music" comes closest, but it still plays into the dark overall mood overshadowing the entire release.  That the album is stylistically repetitive as the 14 cuts progress will probably only appeal to her most ardent fans, but for those who are looking for depth and individual artistic statements in a fast-paced life there will be much to mine.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Thomas R. Erdmann) Jazz Vocals - CD Reviews Mon, 19 Mar 2012 17:28:09 -0500
Impressions Of Curtis Mayfield by Jazz Soul Seven http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/soul-/-funk-jazz-cd-reviews/impressions-of-curtis-mayfield-by-jazz-soul-seven.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/soul-/-funk-jazz-cd-reviews/impressions-of-curtis-mayfield-by-jazz-soul-seven.html Impressions Of Curtis Mayfield by Jazz Soul Seven
Rarely, only very rarely, is a recording released that brings together a host of the greatest jazz musicians on which they all play to the highest of standards.  There have been more than a ton of recorded amalgamations of all-star jazz groupings going all the way back to the Jazz At The Philharmonic concerts of Norman Granz.  The end result of those kinds of producer-inspired recordings usually finds a host of mismatched musicians all trying to find common ground.  While there were more hits than misses on the JATP fests, groupings such as those by Arista and Columbia records in…

Rarely, only very rarely, is a recording released that brings together a host of the greatest jazz musicians on which they all play to the highest of standards.  There have been more than a ton of recorded amalgamations of all-star jazz groupings going all the way back to the Jazz At The Philharmonic concerts of Norman Granz.  The end result of those kinds of producer-inspired recordings usually finds a host of mismatched musicians all trying to find common ground.  While there were more hits than misses on the JATP fests, groupings such as those by Arista and Columbia records in the 1970s had far more misses than hits.  One amalgamation of superstar groups that absolutely cooks from first cut to last is the new Impressions Of Curtis Mayfield by the Jazz Soul Seven.

Ostensibly led by one of the most overlooked great guitarists in the history of jazz, Phil Upchurch, the ensemble includes recent Grammy winners Terri Lynne Carrington on drums, bassist Bob Hurst, Wallace Roney who is one of the most dazzling trumpeters ever, stalwart tenor saxophone titan Ernie Watts,  keyboardist Russ Ferrante, and percussionist Master Henry Gibson.  Covering a number of songs in tribute to the legendary soul/R&B legend Curtis Mayfield, these musicians don't just find common ground, they prove straight-ahead jazz proclivities can reside side-by-side with soul jazz backings.

Wallace Roney's all too short muted solo on "It's Alright" is a gem and his similarly muted solo on "Move On Up" proves his ability to round out solos in the most refined and sensitive manner.  Ernie Watts lights it up on "Freddie's Dead," Russ Ferrante of Yellowjackets fame has never been so perfectly reserved yet to-the-fore as he is on this project, and Terri Lynne Carrington plays with a fire that can't be restrained.

The glue that holds it all together is now elder jazz statesman Phil Upchurch.  His abilities to give an ensemble just the right feel and groove at just the right moment have long been heralded; would George Benson's early Warner Brothers recordings even been half as good without Upchurch's tight ever-so-right voicings?  While Upchurch does take solos, it's his groove-meister status that makes the whole project not just have legs, but swing so darn hard.  His opening lines on "Move On Up" are absolutely perfection sublime; that he creates these kinds of soundscapes throughout the project is a testament to his vast jazz, soul and blues knowledge.  If you want to hear some of the best musicians, of any era, truly burn-it-up look no further than this marvelous recording.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Thomas R. Erdmann) Soul / Funk Jazz - CD Reviews Tue, 21 Feb 2012 17:30:37 -0600
Voice Of My Beautiful Country by Rene Marie http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/jazz-vocals-cd-reviews/voice-of-my-beautiful-country-by-rene-marie.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/jazz-vocals-cd-reviews/voice-of-my-beautiful-country-by-rene-marie.html Voice Of My Beautiful Country by Rene Marie
Vocalist Rene Marie's seventh CD as a leader, Voice Of My Beautiful Country, borrows heavily from Americana as well as, what appears on almost every jazz vocalist's recording recently, a number of standards drawn from the wider rock world.  The best part of the recording is how Marie proves there is great depth that can be mined from songs many of us grew up on.  "O Shenandoah," for example, gets an extended treatment that is so free flowing and open to possibilities one can't help but imagine it's this arrangement of the folk song getting called up on gigs. 

Vocalist Rene Marie's seventh CD as a leader, Voice Of My Beautiful Country, borrows heavily from Americana as well as, what appears on almost every jazz vocalist's recording recently, a number of standards drawn from the wider rock world.  The best part of the recording is how Marie proves there is great depth that can be mined from songs many of us grew up on.  "O Shenandoah," for example, gets an extended treatment that is so free flowing and open to possibilities one can't help but imagine it's this arrangement of the folk song getting called up on gigs. 

This isn't the only track on the disc, however, that gets the drawn-out treatment.  "Just My Imagination," done in medley with "Imagination," runs over seven minutes, as does "Angelitos Negros," Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit," and "Drift Away."  These cuts show the depth of empathetic feeling Marie is able to draw out of her bandmates with the result being perfection sublime.

Marie's band consists of pianist Kevin Bales, who has not just taught at the University of North Florida's highly successful jazz program for 12 years but has also worked with artists like James Moody.  The rest of the band includes fellow UNF faculty member and bassist Rodney Jordan, and Quentin Baxter on drums who teaches at the College of Charleston.  The most remarkable thing about these musicians is how they are all about supporting Marie's intentionally drifting, at times, intonation, and totally focus on the muse of the moment by not aiming for self-aggrandizing statements.  They bring a unity of phrasing support to Marie's lovely vocalize-ish lines lacking in so many jazz musicians who are currently backing vocalists.

As a trio they drift most perfectly within and without time on "O Shenandoah," but know how to kick it up into high gear on "White Rabbit."  "John Henry gets a funkily-sassy treatment, while "Drift Away" is given a sweet handling.  The ensemble's ability to call upon such a wide variety of rhythmic motives in these two tracks alone speaks to their highly developed musical abilities.

The disc concludes with the "Voice Of My Beautiful Country Suite," which incorporates a number of patriot songs, including "America The Beautiful" and "Lift Ev'ry Voice And Sing."  The arrangement of this medley is not just classy, but as everything else on this recording, perfectly paced and plays to the strengths of these highly responsive musicians.  This disc is yet further proof of how overlooked Marie is as a vocalist.  Don't miss it.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Thomas R. Erdmann) Jazz Vocals - CD Reviews Sun, 19 Feb 2012 05:44:06 -0600
My Next Heartbeat by Hart Ramsey http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/smooth-jazz-cd-reviews/my-next-heartbeat-by-hart-ramsey.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/smooth-jazz-cd-reviews/my-next-heartbeat-by-hart-ramsey.html My Next Heartbeat by Hart Ramsey
My Next Heartbeat is keyboardist, producer, engineer, composer and Founder and Pastor of Northview Christian Church Hart Ramsey's second release as a leader.  This lively set of smooth jazz music doesn't skimp on nice easy-going grooves or compromise on room for Ramsey's accompanying musicians to express themselves on those grooves via long improvised solos.

My Next Heartbeat is keyboardist, producer, engineer, composer and Founder and Pastor of Northview Christian Church Hart Ramsey's second release as a leader.  This lively set of smooth jazz music doesn't skimp on nice easy-going grooves or compromise on room for Ramsey's accompanying musicians to express themselves on those grooves via long improvised solos.

Guitarist Eric Essix gets a nice ride on the title track.  His freely flowing phrases and beautifully crafted lines float effortlessly above the rhythm track.  Saxophonist Kelley O'Neal gets some real face time on "Two Lines."  His feel for the pocket of a rhythm is totally in sync with that tune's open feel, and with his prowess it's easy to see why BeBe & CeCe Winans asked him to tour with them.  Other musicians, such as bassist and co-producer Sean Michael Ray, are given room to spread out as well.  "Two Roads" allows ample opportunity for his thick bass sound and slightly jagged lines to groove.

There are so many times on the recording where Ramsey allows his sidemusicians so much solo space you almost come to not expect him to ever put himself first.  Thankfully he does on "Written In Red."  This nice little hook embedded tune is not only radio friendly, but perfect for sunny drives in the country.

Vocalist Robert Moe has a tonal quality perfectly suited to the vocalize-ish lines the compositional triumvirate of Ramsey, Ray and Moe fashion.  Moe's rich tenor glides along like ice cubes in a sweating glass on a cool August day.  The ballad tempo and his rich sustained vocal tones are a perfect complement to each other.  Percussionist P.J. Spraggins, who also sings sweetly on "In Spite Of Myself," melds his voice perfectly with guitarist Rick Watford.  Together the two of them make this tune one of the disc's best cuts. 

This lively disc only suffers from a sameness that tends to mix each tune into each other.  That Ramsey and his musicians have great talent is never in doubt, that they tend towards mid-tempo almost sound alike grooves, even though they're great, inhibits the entire project and overall makes the disc sound a bit on the plain side; this is a shame because it's obvious these musicians have put their heart and soul into this project.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Thomas R. Erdmann) Smooth Jazz - CD Reviews Fri, 17 Feb 2012 17:45:46 -0600
Thunder Soul - A Movie Review http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/soul-/-funk-jazz-cd-reviews/thunder-soul-a-movie-review.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/soul-/-funk-jazz-cd-reviews/thunder-soul-a-movie-review.html Thunder Soul - A Movie Review
Thunder Soul is the movie/documentary, executive produced by Jamie Foxx, about the award winning Kashmere High School Stage Band, out of Houston, Texas.  The band was led by a visionary music teacher, Conrad "Prof" Johnson Sr., who, like Miles Davis, recognized music and life was changing dramatically for African-Americans in the early 1970s and moved his traditionally oriented jazz stage band into the realm of jazz funk.  Documentaries, if they are successful, find ways to not just make the true life experiences focused on in the movie personal for the audience, but also complete the picture with a full round…

Thunder Soul is the movie/documentary, executive produced by Jamie Foxx, about the award winning Kashmere High School Stage Band, out of Houston, Texas.  The band was led by a visionary music teacher, Conrad "Prof" Johnson Sr., who, like Miles Davis, recognized music and life was changing dramatically for African-Americans in the early 1970s and moved his traditionally oriented jazz stage band into the realm of jazz funk.  Documentaries, if they are successful, find ways to not just make the true life experiences focused on in the movie personal for the audience, but also complete the picture with a full round look at ancillary ideas and vector relationships germane to the topic.  Director Mark Landsman does this in aces.

While the movie is ostensibly built around a reunion of the 1970s band and their now 92 year-old music director and teacher, what the movie really covers are issues personal to not just the human heart but the human experience.  It's not just about how the band's greatest success was from winning jazz festival competitions in Mobile, Alabama and other places in the 1970s, but Landsman's astute eye for narrative and conceptual concept also captures what it was to like to live in the post-Civil Rights era for blacks – including the Black Power movement, Vietnam, the changing of clothes and dress styles, and Governor George Wallace and his political thoughts.  Not lost in all of this is how any advances were built on the struggles of their parents. 

Into this melieu a background of band members' stories are presented.  Through them the transformative message of life and the proper way to live it, as taught by Johnson and his wife of 52 years, is showcased.  That Johnson was a father figure to so many of the students who were raised without men in their lives, and that Landsman tells this side of the story in such a real yet non-emotional manner, is a testament to Landsman's skill handling interviews along with cuts from archival footage from the time period.

What the movie does, however, more than anything else, is sneak up on you.  It tells the story of how administrators, nationwide though focused through the lens of Kashmere High School, started cutting music program budgets thus reducing the opportunities for high school students to experience the full range of life's availabilities and how a valuable source for self-discovery for non-traditional troubled youth began to be chipped away.

Ultimately what we have in the end is a wonderful double CD set of music, Texas Thunder Soul: 1968-1974, created by these amazing musicians and available through Now-Again Records and online retailers; even the story of how this music came to be captured is covered in the film.  That Johnson's spirit continues on in the many ways all good teacher's encouragement carries on is beyond doubt; that this story is available for future generations in this film is a blessing.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Thomas R. Erdmann) Soul / Funk Jazz - CD Reviews Mon, 13 Feb 2012 14:48:34 -0600
Catch A Corner by Cinque http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/catch-a-corner-by-cinque.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/catch-a-corner-by-cinque.html Catch A Corner by Cinque
Remember the 1970s – of course you don't, you weren't born yet.  Trust me, it was a great time for jazz.  Big record labels, like Columbia and Warner Brothers, gave their stable of jazz artists good funding to produce personal statements not bounded by end of quarter financial statements.  Even small labels, like CTI and Arista, gave their artists the room to find their own way.  The result was the best, most diverse, decade of jazz ever created.  Cinque harkens back to those great days.

Remember the 1970s – of course you don't, you weren't born yet.  Trust me, it was a great time for jazz.  Big record labels, like Columbia and Warner Brothers, gave their stable of jazz artists good funding to produce personal statements not bounded by end of quarter financial statements.  Even small labels, like CTI and Arista, gave their artists the room to find their own way.  The result was the best, most diverse, decade of jazz ever created.  Cinque harkens back to those great days.

Five of the most unapologetic instrumental musicians ever assembled have created a collection of jazz music that is not just exciting, but also free in spirit, open to nuance and change, uncluttered by egotistic statements, and dedicated to the empathetic needs of others.  Drumset legend Steve Gadd, Hammond B3 organ super-virtuoso Joey DeFrancesco, Hungarian keyboardist Robi Botos, Juno Award winning Canadian saxophonist John Johnson, and jazz, rock, pop and R&B bassist, producer and arranger Peter Cardinali, have put together music they want to play, without regard to record sales and producers financial worries.

The result is incredible.  The six original compositions, along with a cover of Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years" and Cedar Walton's "Bolivia," are treated with an honesty not found in 98 percent of the jazz released this century.  Maybe it's that none of these artists need this record to make money that makes them so open to being vulnerable to possibilities; they each have thriving careers apart from this amalgamation.  They don't just take turns with their solos, they relish the opportunity to dig into the music even harder when they aren't the focal point.

From the Brecker Brothers-ish "Conflicting Advice," to the gospel tinged "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning," to the light funky swinger "Catch A Corner," through to the final Simon "Still Crazy," this band doesn't just nail the music, that state things so definitively they put to rest any thought of anyone ever covering any of these tunes in the future.  Most sensational about this group is how smoothly the two keyboard players, DeFrancesco and Botos, are able to mix, meld and play off of each other.  They are so smooth in their relationship one can't help but be reminded how of-like-minds they are in the say way guitarists Eric Gale and Cornell Dupree were able to do the same thing in the band Stuff.  This isn't just required listening, it's demanding listening you'll be demanding to listen to again and again.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Thomas R. Erdmann) Contemporary Jazz - CD Reviews Fri, 10 Feb 2012 16:43:59 -0600
Tales Of The Unusual by Lorraine Feather http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/jazz-vocals-cd-reviews/tales-of-the-unusual-by-lorraine-feather.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/jazz-vocals-cd-reviews/tales-of-the-unusual-by-lorraine-feather.html Tales Of The Unusual by Lorraine Feather
It has to have been difficult for Lorraine Feather.  Her father, Leonard Feather, was the man who not only singlehandedly defined the role of the modern jazz critic, but was also arguably the greatest jazz journalist ever.  That's a huge shadow to grow up under, especially if the daughter has talents and ambitions that heavily lean towards the aural arts.  Lorraine, however, has fashioned a career that is apologetic to no one.

It has to have been difficult for Lorraine Feather.  Her father, Leonard Feather, was the man who not only single handedly defined the role of the modern jazz critic, but was also arguably the greatest jazz journalist ever.  That's a huge shadow to grow up under, especially if the daughter has talents and ambitions that heavily lean towards the aural arts.  Lorraine, however, has fashioned a career that is apologetic to no one.

After early work in the theater, Lorraine moved into jazz singing.  During her early years she found a proclivity towards deft and clever lyric writing.  Teaming her lyrics with a developing song writing ability led to such great success a variety of jazz artists, including Patti Austin, David Benoit, Djavan, Phyllis Hyman, Kenny Rankin and Diane Schuur, recording Lorraine's songs.  In total, her music has also appeared on a variety of television shows and in Hollywood movies.

Tales Of The Unusual is Feather's ninth album as a leader.  Working in collaboration with Yellowjackets keyboardist Russell Ferrente, movie and television composer and producer Eddie Arkin, and jazz pianist Shelly Berg, among others, Feather's newest recording is brooding, dark, mournful and fun in the same manner as Elvis Costello's incredibly eclectic North recording.

Each of the 13 songs don't just move in their own manner, but are so anti-pop they're almost indie rock if not for the jazz inflections, ala Sarah Vaughn, Feather's voice naturally harkens toward.  With a sparse backing consisting of a variety of rhythm section soloists and ensemble arrangements, plus Charles Bisharat's crisp contrapuntal violin lines, Feather is able to dig into the words in such a personal way she is totally untouched by trite and pedestrian jazz vocal expectations.

Highlights include "Off-The-Grid Girl," where Feather's vocalize mixes so perfectly with the words it's almost impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.  A rerecording of "Five," originally found on Feather's The Body Remembers CD, is presented here in a much more personal tone and more in the style of Manhattan Transfer's more sly tracks.  That Feather has hit her full musical maturity is beyond question, that she has hit her peak is still in doubt.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Thomas R. Erdmann) Jazz Vocals - CD Reviews Fri, 10 Feb 2012 16:17:36 -0600
The Smooth Side Of Soul by Najee http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/smooth-jazz-cd-reviews/the-smooth-side-of-soul-by-najee.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/smooth-jazz-cd-reviews/the-smooth-side-of-soul-by-najee.html The Smooth Side Of Soul by Najee
Watching smooth jazz artists embark on new ventures, new arenas and new paths is actually one of the more exciting things to happen to music in 2011 and still now in 2012.  With the death of smooth jazz radio we've witnessed George Benson return to the kind of music he played on his CTI and early Warner Brothers recordings, watched Richard Elliot move to soul-jazz, and Candy Dulfer gravitate more fully towards dance music.

Watching smooth jazz artists embark on new ventures, new arenas and new paths is actually one of the more exciting things to happen to music in 2011.  With the death of smooth jazz radio we've witnessed George Benson return to the kind of music he played on his CTI and early Warner Brothers recordings, watched Richard Elliot move to soul-jazz, and Candy Dulfer gravitate more fully towards dance music.

Saxophonist and flute artist Najee has, while not totally leaving the smooth jazz world, spiced up his music on The Smooth Side Of Soul.  With rocking hot funk on the opening track, "Dis n' Dat," and ultra-hip R&B on the following track, "Just To Fall In Love," Najee is obviously pointing towards a new direction.

He doesn't, however, leave his legendary fans behind.  With cuts like "Perfect Nites," "You Tube," and "One Night In Soho," Najee proves he can still turn out a nice instrumental melody.  Either of these tunes would surely get lots of air play if there were any radio stations still devoted to smooth jazz instead of playing George Benson's "Breezin'" every other hour.

The surprise on the recording is the overtly jazz oriented cuts.  For example, Najee's take on the neglected jazz tenor saxophone titan Jimmy Heath's "Sound For Sore Ears" is fantastic.  That Najee has prodigious straight-ahead jazz chops is undeniable; his work with Billy Cobham, Larry Carlton and Stanley Clarke on the Live At The Greek recording appropriately shocked many jazz fans when Najee proved himself to have a deep well of resources from which to draw in crafting some of the best no-holds-barred jazz of 1993.  On the Heath cut, here again Najee takes no prisoners.  One can only hope this track will get picked up by the few remaining NPR stations playing jazz in order to help spread this great musician's work.

In a jazz context there is also the lightly swinging "In The Clouds," which sounds like something John Klemmer might have recorded in the 1970s, and the lovely jazz flute work on "Mari."  On this recording Najee shows just how diverse an artist he can be.  One wonders if this new multi-genre-oriented Najee is here to stay or, if like Kenny G before him who after releasing the incredible Rhythm And Romance went back to the The Moment formula with Heart And Soul.  That would be a shame.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Thomas R. Erdmann) Smooth Jazz - CD Reviews Sat, 28 Jan 2012 20:33:06 -0600
The Gathering by Diane Schuur http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/jazz-vocals-cd-reviews/the-gathering-by-diane-schuur.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/jazz-vocals-cd-reviews/the-gathering-by-diane-schuur.html The Gathering by Diane Schuur
When Diane Schuur burst on the national scene in 1985 with the release of her Deedles recording on GRP, the world was treated to an exceptional vocalist who had strengths in jazz and jazz-pop crossover.  Her string of hit records was aided by not just topnotch production and producing via her partnership with the Dave Grusin - Larry Rosen brain trust, but also a selection of material that fit her voice and abilities in way that has rarely been seen since.  Add to this her abundant skill on piano, which is subtle and always overlooked, and you had an artist…

When Diane Schuur burst on the national scene in 1985 with the release of her Deedles recording on GRP, the world was treated to an exceptional vocalist who had strengths in jazz and jazz-pop crossover.  Her string of hit records was aided by not just topnotch production and producing via her partnership with the Dave Grusin - Larry Rosen brain trust, but also a selection of material that fit her voice and abilities in way that has rarely been seen since.  Add to this her abundant skill on piano, which is subtle and always overlooked, and you had an artist for whom, it seemed, nothing could go wrong.

Since direct control of GRP was sold Schuur's recordings haven't been nearly as dynamic or had the presence of Grusin's direct overseeing.  Whether it's been a lack of record company focus or Schuur's own restless musical heart, stellar recordings that approached her GRP work have been far and few between.  Concord Records, fortunately, pretty much left her alone; only looking to find ways to package an over theme to her releases.  Still, the results don't compare to the GRP catalog.

Schuur's newest recording, The Gathering, now away from the comfort of Concord and on Vanguard Records, is unfortunately a mis-direction for the great female artist.  Covering 10 country songs from artists like Hank Cochran, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Roger Miller and Willie Nelson, among others, Schuur's much-too-beautiful-and-pure voice doesn't have the crackling presence needed to pull off country songs.  Oh she tries, such as on the melismas at the end of "Healing Hands Of Time," on the sustained note at the end of "Why Can't He Be You," and when she tries to crinkle up her voice on "Beneath Still Waters," as just three examples of many.  The results, unfortunately, sound false.

Don't confuse this recording with a country album.  It's as country as Wynton Marsalis' trumpet solos on his work with Willie Nelson; in neither case are the two artists infused with the life background musical experiences necessary to pull of country's deceptively difficult nuances.  What this jazz-slash-pop-crossover artist aims for is a melding of country songs with jazz sensibilities, just like Wynton aimed for in his work.  That the two musics have common ground is undeniable, that either artist is successful is highly debatable.

If there is a bright spot it's learning Schuur isn't afraid to experiment and go way off on a limb, something that is always ultimately a good thing for music; witness Herbie Hancock's great recent pop oriented work on Possiblities and his hip-hop infused Dis Is Da Drum, even while other experiments, like Feets Don't Fail Me Now, tripped.  Artists always grow when they try new things.  Wouldn't it be nice if more jazz artists tried their hand at different ventures instead of rehashing the tried and true?  In this case, however, the experiment is arresting.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Thomas R. Erdmann) Jazz Vocals - CD Reviews Sat, 28 Jan 2012 19:54:58 -0600