Friday, October 15, 2010

Riffing Through the Disks (Take 1)

When Lights Are Low
Economy of writing has never been my strong point is a quick look at several new CDs that are worth your time.

"When Lights are Low" is vocalist Denise Donatelli's 2nd CD (first for the Savant label.)   Produced by pianist Geoff Keezer, the music is a blend of modern and traditional techniques, all held together by her facile voice. Keezer utilizes a fine rhythm section (bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Jon Wikan), creates intelligent arrangements that features guests such as guitarist Peter Sprague, the flugelhorn of Ingrid Jensen, the vocal arrangements of Julia Dollison and Kerry Marsh, an occasional string section, yet it's Ms. Donatelli's voice you'll remember.  Her passionate take of "Don't Explain", the tenderness and resilience in the delivery of Ms. Dollison's "Forward, Like So", and the bright joy of "It's You or No One."  After several listens, one begins to notice the subtleties of Keezer's arrangements and the many fine musical contributions.
Want to know more? Go to

Tarbaby is the collective trio of Orrin Evans (piano), Eric RevisNasheet Waits (bass) and (drums) and "The End of Fear" (Posi-Tone Records) is the their 2nd CD. They've invited 3 fine guests to join them, including J D Allen (tenor sax), Oliver Lake (alto sax) and Nicholas Payton (trumpet).  This is music that takes plenty of chances, throws the listener plenty of curves, yet never feels forced or contrived.  Blending original works by each member, collective improvs and a number of fascinating interpretations, the recording sticks in your mind.  There is a vocal sample from Duke Ellington (among others), hard-edged riffing (a la The Bad Plus), echoes of Thelonious Monk while the guests match the fire and invention of the hosts. Lake slams through his own piece, "November '80", his angular lines pushed by Waits' rampaging drums (the drummer has been part of many fine rhythm sections this year besides this one - he's a regular member of Jason Moran's Bandwagon and trumpeter Avishai Cohen's "Triveni.")
Allen, Lake and Payton add moody voices to the ominous take of Andrew Hill's "Tough Love" (which he recorded as a solo piano piece on the Palmetto release,  "Dusk") - here, it's Revis's rumbling bass and Evans' jagged piano riffs that open up the piece for the braying trumpet and sharp-edged saxophones. It's not all rampage - the trio plus Allen do a lovely take of Fats Waller's "Lonesome Me" with the tenor lines being smooth and blues-drenched.  Also, listen to the impressionistic piano of Evans. More impressionism on Paul Motian's "Abacus" where the lead voice is Revis and his melodic bass lines.
Tarbaby rocks and rumbles, sways and soothes, and makes one pay attention.  Take heed.
Here's a taste of "Brews" (courtesy of Posi-Tone and IODA Promonet.)
Brews (mp3)

McNeil, John - Chill Morn He Climb Jenny CD Cover Art
The latest effort from trumpeter John McNeil and saxophonist Bill McHenry carries the fascinating name of "Chill Morn He Climb Jenny" and opens with a truly fine version of the old chestnut "Moonlight in Vermont."   Here, it's the trumpeter who makes an abstraction of the melody (though listen to him at the opening of his solo when he echoes his partner's last line) while the saxophonist approaches it like Lester Young, pushing the sound up in the tenor range.  Supported by bassist Joe Martin and drummer Jochen Rueckert, this version is anything but a "moldy oldie." The 4-some romps through pianist Russ Freeman's "Batter Up", a baseball-inspired hit, and, later in the program, dance through Freeman's "bebop rhumba" known as "Maid in Mexico" before high-stepping through his "Bea's Flat." Freeman is ripe for rediscovery and McNeil/McHenry do him proud.
Other highlights include the Brazilian-inspired "Carioca" during which the saxophonist takes off on a long, multi-faceted, solo.  The quartet also create a jaunty stroll for Wilbur Harden's "Wells Fargo",a bluesy hoot with lots of long notes over a pleasing walking bass line and skipping drums.
Delightful music; really, you can just sense that the band had a great time at this gig.  Recorded live at the Cornelia Street Cafe in NYC and released on Sunnyside (definitely the label of 2009-10), "Chill Morn He Climb Jenny" is sweet fun for adventurous listeners. For more information, go to

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