Sunday, May 4, 2014

Takeshi Asai, French Trio, Vol. 1

by Jeff Becker

Takeshi Asai is a jazz pianist and composer that lives and performs in Europe, Asia and the U.S. French Trio, Vol. 1 focuses on melding jazz and classical in a way that yields a unique melodic musicscape.  The eight tunes are original compositions from Asai.  Asai’s method for success is that everything gravitates towards the trio’s sound, which is creating cohesion and clear melodic shapes and phrases. The opening “A Beginning,” imposes a sassy optimistic spirit; Asai’s melody is beautiful and the trio seems to reveal in each other’s parts.   “A Midspring Night’s Dream” is an elastic waltz which conveys the trio’s dexterity; this is one of the tracks where Asai flexes his solo chops.
The tender slowness of “Intro” is a nice contrast to the pace, Asai’s solo piano playing is beautiful and calls to mind the sounds of impressionism, and well it is the French trio after all.  The pace is picked up with “I Remember the Castle,” Asai’s playing is fiery, Combeau’s solo is revealing in hyperactive and the trio seems to exude liveliness. The sound evolves into extended melodic phrases in “Snow Dance” with the piano flowing over the solid time of the bass and drums; then the closer, “Fleurette,” shimmers delicately with wonderful chords and patient phrasing building to a climax and then completing our journey.  Asai has a special ability to coax freshness and meld the better of two worlds, all for our listening pleasure.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Diane Hubka, West Coast Strings

by Jeff Becker

Diane Hubka’s newest release, West Coast Strings (SSJ-USA Records, 2013) finds the warm toned singer working with eight West Coast guitarists including: Anthony Wilson, Mimi Fox, Peter Sprague, Larry Koonse, Barry Zweig, David Eastlee and John Pisano, with Bobby Pierce guesting on Hammond B-3, Jeff D’Angelo on bass for four tracks, John Leftwich on bass for one track, drummer Kendall Kay for six tracks and Enzo tedesco on drums for two tracks. Hubka also plays rhythm guitar on three selections. 

Hubka is a Blue Ridge Mountain-bred artist that grew up in Western Maryland in a musical family and learned violin, trombone and guitar from an early age. In 1986 Hubka moved to New York City and was awarded a one-year jazz fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts for private study with vocalist Anne Marie Moss. Hubka also studied piano, voice and guitar privately with: Barry Harris, Harold Danko, Connie Crothers, Sheila Jordan, Jay Clayton, Howard Alden and John Hart.  After living in New York and being a part of the City’s jazz scene for two decades, Hubka relocated to Los Angeles in 2004, where she collaborated with pianist Christian Jacob (Maynard Ferguson, Tierney Sutton,) to record Diane Hubka Goes to the Movies, (18th & Vine, USA; SSJ Records, Japan; 2007.)  Hubka’s third CD, You Inspire Me (VSOJAZ 2002) was a personal tribute to her love of jazz guitar, with seven virtuoso guitarists playing on alternate cuts.

West Coast Strings finds Hubka in top vocal form and in great company from the various guitar slingers with a well-designed program of standards and other songs reaching into various genres.  Hubka demonstrates both her vocal proficiency on thirteen selections and her vocal/guitar skills on tracks 3, 8 and 11. Hubka’s repertorial choices are delectably characteristic, for example, " It Ain’t Necessarily So," and “Never Let Me Go,” but Hubka also has some idiosyncratic choices too, for example, “Someone Else Is Steppin’ In” (Denise LaSalle) or “They Say It’s Spring” (Bob Haymes).  Hubka also pulls from the talents of her various guitar players for repertoire choices, “Warming to Spring” (David Eastlee, Julie Cresswell) and “Amanhacer” (John Pisano, Jeanne Pisano).

Some of the many highlight include; “It Ain’t Necessarily So” with the organ work of Bobby Pierce and outstanding soloing by guitarist Anthony Wilson.  Hubkua is full of the blues on this selection. “Moondance” is a fine duet with guitarist Mimi Fox coaxing some interesting colors from her box while Hubka finds new phrasing for the melody. Brigas Nunca Mais,” shows Hubka’s command of the bossa feel and singing in a different language.  As always, guitarist Peter Sprague delivers a supremely musical statement on the nylon-strung guitar.

There is truly something for everyone on West Coast Strings and if you are a vocalist and/or guitar player, this recording is a must to study the intimate relationship between these two romantic instruments.  Fine work, looking forward to West Coast Strings part II.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Jimmy Giuffre, Free Fall

A Historical Recording From An Under Celebrated Artist
by  Jeff Becker

The years between the release of Jimmy Giuffre's ground-breaking 1962 album Free Fall and his return to the studio in 1971 with Night Dance have become known as the legendary clarinetist and saxophonist's "lost decade," a key period in his and jazz musical evolution which sadly went undocumented. That is until now with a two-disc set that will be available June 10th, 2014 on Elemental Music, distributed in the U.S. by INgrooves/Universal Music Distribution.

The release documents two 1965 performances in New York City, unheard for nearly 50 years, documenting a rare and revealing glimpse into that disco-graphical dark period. This captivating two-disc set, would be valuable solely for the brilliant music, which finds Giuffre leading trio and quartet line-ups and demonstrates his experiments in counterpoint and abstraction, creating a chamber-like setting and even ventures into avant-garde territory. The CD offers a much-needed insight into one of jazz's most innovative thinkers at a key moment in his development.

These recordings are the latest treasures to be unearthed from the seemingly inexhaustible troves of producer/engineer George Klabin, who in the last few years has also released essential "lost" recordings on his Resonance Records imprint by Bill Evans (Live at Art D'Lugoff's Top of the Village Gate) and the forthcoming Charles Lloyd (Manhattan Stories). Additionally Zev Feldman ushered Wes Montgomery’s newly acclaimed Echoes of Indiana Avenue through Resonance’s auspices.

The Jimmy Giuffre 3 & 4's New York Concerts was brought to light through the passion and dedication of Klabin's partner in these releases, producer Zev Feldman, who brought the tapes to Barcelona-based Distrijazz founder Jordi Soley. Sharing a similar enthusiasm for the music, Feldman and Soley co-founded Elemental Music label as a home for Feldman to release more catalog discoveries, unreleased tapes or reissues of out of print records from bygone labels.

The first disc was recorded in September 1965 at Judson Hall during Charlotte Moorman's New York Festival of The Avant Garde, produced by saxophonist and jazz critic Don Heckman, on a triple bill with bands led by Heckman and Charles Lloyd. The concert marks the only performance by this particular trio with bassist Richard Davis and drummer Joe Chambers, who when interviewed for the CD booklet, had no recollection of the date even happening.

Disc two travels slightly back in time to May 1965, with a performance in an empty Wollman Auditorium on the campus of Columbia University, then 19-year-old Columbia student Klabin had recently been appointed head of the jazz department at WKCR-FM, the university's radio station, and wanted to present original recordings as part of his show. He invited Giuffre with that goal in mind, and recorded his quartet - with Chambers, pianist Don Friedman, and bassist Barre Phillips. The pristine sound quality reveals Klabin's prodigious talents at an early age, close-miking each musician and mixing live to a Crown 2-track tape recorder. "It's George Klabin's world of sound," says Feldman with audible admiration. The release was mixed, mastered, and restored by Klabin and Fran Gala at the Resonance Records Studios in Beverly Hills.

The New York Concerts represent a few milestones beyond the staggeringly inventive sounds being made: they mark Giuffre's first bands with a drummer in many years and a return to showcasing the tenor saxophone after a long period of focusing solely on the clarinet.  This release provides context for the genius of Jimmy Giuffre, which Feldman hopes will spur increased attention for the oft-overlooked innovator. "I hope that this serves as the ignition for dialogue about who he was and why he should be remembered. I hope that people enjoy the music. I hope that we can learn from it. And I hope we keep the candle burning for Jimmy Giuffre and that he would be proud of what we're doing here."

Be sure to add this set to your collection, no serious jazz listener should be without this!

Dorothy Doring and Phil Mattson, Compositions by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.

A Fine Offering of Ellington and Strayhorn, That Will Stand The Test of Time
by Jeff Becker

The veteran vocalist Dorothy Doring is a crossover artist who is equally at home with contemporary pop to classic standards having experience in everything from country to rock, to blues and jazz.  Her debut CD, About Time, earned a nomination for the Minnesota Music Awards “Jazz CD of the Year.” In 2005, she traveled south to New Orleans to record Southern Exposure with renowned producer and arranger David Torkanowsky and some of the finest Crescent City musicians.  A founding member of the Twin Cities Cabaret Artists Network, today she balances performance and teaching, currently as a full-time music educator for the St. Paul Public Schools and on stage at music venues throughout the Twin Cities.
Doring takes her time between albums, only release one every six or seven years and each effort is always developed and well thought out. For her new CD, Doring places herself in a duet setting with pianist Phil Mattson with a program simply called, Compositions by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn
Their duo gives tribute to the great Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Their arrangements and musical interpretations are imaginative, innovative and highly musical.  The music should be well within the pallet of the serious listener of jazz and those found of cabaret.

 Phil Mattson is a two-time Grammy nominee that helped establish The School for Music Vocations at Southwestern Community College in Creston, Iowa.   Mattson’s resume as an arranger includes commissions for: Manhattan Transfer, Chanticleer, The Dale Warland Singers, The Four Freshmen, and more. As an accompanist, Phil’s resume includes: Mark Murphy, Bobby McFerrin, Sunny Wilkinson, Barbara Morrison, Richie Cole, Ernestine Anderson, Carmen Lundy, and more. He has led the vocal jazz groups pm singers, VoicesIowa, and Vocalogy, and served as Vocal Jazz Director for The Stan Kenton Clinics; he annually conducts the Carnegie Hall Vocal Jazz Festival and leads the Phil Mattson Vocal Jazz/Choral Workshops on campuses throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe and directs the Phil Mattson Singers.

The disc is full of highlights, “Day Dream” is a wonderful lesser known selection, but is a wonderful opener and establishes Doring's command and rich vocal style from the start.  Mattson is a very sensitive accompanist and keeps the music moving and breathing, while supporting Doring.  “Love You Madly” is a stride cabaret styled arrangement that is fun and finds both performers in top form.  Doring finds a way to breathe new life in the vocal anthem, “Lush Life.” Her delivery is passionate and controlled, while embellishing the melody in just the right way and in all the right places.  “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” is given a nice slow tempo that lets the two squeeze the emotions out of the storyline and is right on the mark.
This is a light enjoyable duet date led by vocalist Dorothy Doring that celebrates the music of the Duke and Strayhorn. Arranger/pianist Mattson creates wonderful textures on the piano with an emphasis on the emotional and sulkier side of Ellington's music, which works beautifully. The colors and textures the duet yield an intimate hue to the music, putting additional pressure on the individual players, but Doring and Mattson are more than up to the challenge. This is a fine duet session and beautiful all around.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Keith Davis, Still

Keith Davis, Still
by Jeff Becker

Keith Davis has performed in the Southeastern region for over 30 years, in various jazz ensembles as a leader and first call sideman. Davis has toured with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, the Artie Shaw Orchestra.  Davis has also performed with such great musicians as David “Fathead” Newman, Ben Riley, Mike Mainieri, Pat LaBarbera, and Frank Foster. He has been featured at the Savannah Jazz Festival, the Atlanta Jazz Festival, the Jacksonville Jazz Festival, and more. Keith studies have ranged from formal training with Atlanta jazz instructor, Ted Howe, as well as with classical pianist Steve Hall.  Davis also attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he studied with renowned saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi.  Davis’ participation in the 1985 Banff Summer Jazz Workshop in Banff, Alberta, Canada included intensive study with such faculty members as Dave Liebman, Dave Holland, John Abercrombie, Don Thompson, and Cecil Taylor. Currently, residing in Greenville, SC, he serves as Adjunct Instructor of Jazz Piano at Furman University.

Still marks the first release by the Keith Davis Trio, which features fellow southeastern musicians Ron Brendle on bass and Justin Watt on drums, this muscular jazz trio showcases and textural journey of introspective complexities and modern jazz harmonies all wrapped up into a nice package of original works by Davis that truly swings and fits nicely into the jazz moniker.  The release is a reflection of his many years of playing and composing, while pointing out a direction for future development.

Highlights include “Lieb” written for saxist Dave Liebman, with whom Davis had the opportunity to study with at the Banff Jazz Workshop in 1985; Davis attributes his inspiration for this cut to his mentor. “New Beginning” is sleek cut that showcases Davis’ agility and finesse, while sporting harmonic interest and complexity.   “Taiji Camp” is a playfully lilting cut that showcases drummer Justin Watt and Ron Brendle’s symbiosis as the rhythm section.  Davis glides atop the pulsing rhythms with no hesitation, his fluidity soars.  “Tadjimon” written for Davis’ oldest son, Tadji is a grooving bluesy cut that is playful and offers the listener a relaxed listen that cooks along.  “Tadji’s Groove” is a barn burner, with fiery playing from all.  Brendle offers a driving bass that is spot on, and his solo is commanding and skilled.  Watts, keeps the groove tight, yet relaxed which keeps the cut on the edge just enough to add vigor to the cut.

Overall, Still is a cornucopia of moods that has one anchoring factor a swinging trio that locks tightly and features great piano chops, the trio listens and interacts well with each other.  A wonderful first outing and one I hope will not be the last from this Southeastern trio. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Shan Kenner, The Behavior of Vibration

Shan Kenner, The Behavior of Vibration
by Jeff Becker

Modern jazz tends to have a very muscular sound that is focused on rhythms and textures, at times some modern jazz recordings can leave the melody along the roadside, left behind for the adventure. Kenner
remembers the value of strong lyrical melodies and incorporates the muscularity of modern jazz; while keeping to the sensibilities of the tune, skillfully blending the two needed elements to create a powerful sound that engages the listener.

A prime example of this premise is exhibited in “Thumbprints,” the flamenco stylings of single lines, gives Kenner an added ability that creates a depth to the experience, the acoustic nylon steel-string choice adds a nice foil to the overall group sound.  Pianist, Albert Marques exhibits a balance of attack, complexity and expressiveness that propels the track to fervor.  The arrangement sports cascading 6/8 anthems between linear straight eight sections, which gives drummer Darrel Green a vehicle to shine.
In contrast “Seventh Trine” is a swinging traditional cut inspired by Gerry Mulligan. The use of descending 7th chords blended with bright major seventh harmonies provides a blend of traditional swing, coupled with today’s language of modern jazz for a nice blending of yesterday and today’s sound.  Kenner’s lines are bold and clear, which elevates the listeners experience and proves that Kenner is a sound voice in the jazz fabric, definitely one to watch.

Overall, The Behavior of Vibration is a solid calling card for Kenner and the ensemble he has chosen to round out his ideas is a stellar example of a group sound that is focused.  This recording never sounded like a group playing down charts, it is a true team effort through and through and each player sounded invested, which lends itself to a wonderful journey from beginning to end.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Wouter Kellerman, Mzansi

Wouter Kellerman, Mzansi
by Triana Klostman

Wouter Kellerman presents a wonderful new offering that honors the traditions of South African music, but also helps it step into a new direction that is highly engaging by blending traditions from other cultures.  Regarded highly, this talented flautist has won the 2011 SAMA (South African Music Award, equivalent to the American Grammy) for 'Best Instrumental Album,' reinforcing his status as one of South Africa's foremost musicians.   His crossover sound thrives on experimentation with colors and textures, capable of painting a creative connection, uplifting the South African sound to new heights.  Kellerman began playing the flute at the age of ten, and in 1981 appeared as a soloist with the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra. He went on to be featured in several South African orchestras, garnering numerous musical accolades along the way. Among these prestigious awards, Kellerman was the winning recipient of the Perrenoud Foundation Prize during the 1997 Vienna International Music Competition. Using his classical training as a foundation, Kellerman focused his attention on world music, exploring the versatility of the flute and fusing classical and contemporary sounds, resulting in a compelling and electrifying sound.   Kellerman already well-known in South Africa is taking is powerful crossover sound across the globe with his latest offering Mzansi, a representation that blends influences beyond the African foundation, ranging from traditional Senegalese songs to South African and Celtic influences.   Kellerman has taken the best of varied cultures and created a true amalgam of enchantment.  His offering is groundbreaking, stellar and offers the listener an international travel-scape along the world music path.

The ensemble consists of: Wouter Kellerman, flutes (most often classical metal flutes), Erik Paliani, Juan-Pierre Oosthuizen, Paul Carlos, Lamine Sonko and Mauritz Lotz, guitars, Sibusiso Victor Masondo and Schalk Joubert, basses, Melissa van der Spuy and Wessel van Rensburg, pianos, Barry van Zyl, Kevin Gibson and David Klassen, drums, Godfrey Mgcina, Tlale Makhene and Ady Thioune, percussion, and Mfaniseni Ntlama, Eunice Harris, Lamine Sonko, Jolette Odendaal, David Matamela, vocals.

The tracks are: African Hornpipes, Malaika, Khokho, Mama Tembu,
Cape Flats, After Hours, N'Jarinu Garab, Fire Drill, Samami, Mzansi, Sylvia,
In The Moment,Miniamba