Thursday, March 3, 2011

More Choice Words About Many CDs (or Part 2)

Live at Smalls - Ben Wolfe Quintet (SMALLS Live) - I've seen and heard bassist Wolfe play in several different settings, straight-ahead with the Wynton Marsalis Septet and more "out" with Taylor Ho Bynum's Sextet.  For this "Live" date, he's in a hard-bop mode with a smashing 5-some featuring Luis Perdomo (piano), Marcus Strickland (tenor sax), Ryan Kisor (trumpet) and Gregory Hutchinson (drums).  This is not just a "blowing" session, though there's plenty of room for the soloists to stretch out.  Wolfe has provided 8 solid melodies (the final track is a 61-second bass and drum exchange) for the band to explore.  "For The Great Sonny Clark" has a Horace Silver-feel in its blues-bop melody line and "walking" rhythm. After a lengthy bass solo, the trumpet and saxophone take short solos before surrendering to Perdomo's handsome spot. The blend of Kisor and Strickland brings to mind Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter in the early 1960s Jazz Messengers on many of the tracks, none more so than the high-powered "Contraption", with in its rising melody lines and urgent piano chords.  Strickland takes a handsome solo, pushing against Hutchinson's propulsive drums and Wolfe's "running" bass lines.  There's a pleasing "vibe" to "Unjust", in the short melody line, half of which is stated by the bass, in the rapid-fire yet not too intense tenor solo, the muscular lines in the bass solo, the snappy trumpet solo and Perdomo's "swinging" piano riffs.  It sounds like the band is relaxed yet locked into the groove. Strickland certainly has a way with ballads (if you have not checked out his 2009 Criss Cross CD, "Of Song", do so now) - he leads the way through "I'll Know You More" with long tones, no hurrying through the changes, caressing the melody and allowing the lovely piece to breathe.

Ben Wolfe may have more adventurous recordings under his name but none more appealing than this hour-long program.  Everyone plays well without hogging the spotlight, the pieces are not cluttered and, as I stated above, there are real melodies for the group to chew on for their solos.  For more information, go to

Sweet Thunder - Delfeayo Marsalis (Troubador Jazz Records) - The Marsalis family, especially Wynton and, now, Delfeayo, surely does love Duke Ellington.  And, why not?  The man, with his musical partner Billy Strayhorn, wrote some of the most enduring music of the 20th Century.  One can hear the history of jazz in the Ellington Orchestra oeuvre and, if one does not get hung up on imitating the great soloists that played the music, there is plenty of gold in the music.

Here, trombonist/arranger Delfeayo takes on "Such Sweet Thunder", Ellington's journey into the world of William Shakespeare.  First released in 1957, the recording shone the spotlight on many of the Duke's finest players, from the dour Johnny Hodges (not in his playing) to the exuberant Jimmy Hamilton to the always melodic Harry Carney and on.  Marsalis re-scores the work for an octet (thought several tracks feature smaller ensembles) with  a revolving cast.  Pianist Mulgrew Miller appears on 3 cuts including the lovely quintet reading of "Star-Crossed Lovers", a track that also features the Hodges' splashed notes of alto saxophonist Mark Gross.   Brother Branford brings his soprano saxophone out on 4 tracks including the gleeful title song and the very handsome "Sonnet for Caesar." Tiger Okoshi's trumpet work is oh-so-slinky on "Half the Fun", especially as he romps atop Winard Harper's fine drumming - also listen for Branford's "snake charmer" soprano solo.)

Delfeayo allows himself a bit of solo space including a sweet Kansas City-style set of choruses on "Sonnet to Hank Cinq" (Harper's drumming is exquisite here), a "bopping" jaunt on "Sonnet in Search of a Moor", and tearing over the changes on "Circle of Fourths", the final cut on the disk that also features a hard-edged tenor saxophone solo from Mark Shim and excellent drumming from brother Jason Marsalis.

There are some who will say that Delfeayo Marsalis is treading on familiar territory by recording this music.  Actually, he does a fine job of revisiting the original "Such Sweet Thunder", opening up the material and allowing new voices to emerge.  Is this music perfect?  Of course not, nor should it be.  What it definitely is is fun to listen to- hie thee to a merchant and give this disk an ear.  For more information, go to

Cast The First Stone - The Cookers (Plus Loin Music) -The self-titled first CD by The Cookers, issued on Jazz Legacy Records, served notice that overlooked musicians can still make strong music.  Billy Harper, whose tenor work has always been powerful and who has worked steadily since moving to New York City in 1966, is but one of the reasons to check out this band.  His recordings from the 1970s, such as "Capra Black" (Strata East) showed him to an honest descendant of John Coltrane. His 1976 Lp, "Black Saint," was the initial release on the label that bears its name.Trumpeter David Weiss organized this band that also features pianist George Cables, trumpeter Dr. Eddie Henderson, bassist Cecil McBee, drummer Billy Hart and, on 5 of the 7 tracks, alto saxophonist Craig Handy.  Azar Lawrence appears as a special guest, playing tenor sax on 3 tracks and soprano on 1.

If you were impressed by the energy level on the debut, this CD hits even harder.  The "fire" starts with the brilliance of Hart and McBee; they push, prod, egg on the front line, building an intense flame that one can sense on every track.  Even the bassist's "Peacemaker", the only ballad, has moments where one can sense that band could kick it up several notches.  When Lawrence joins the other 2 reeds, as he does on Harper's "The Seventh Day", the ensemble creates a warm cushion for the soloists.  Cables' insistent piano work on the same track adds tension to the warmth - his solo over the shifting tempos is short but memorable.  The pianist's "Think On Me" blends the lightness of a Horace Silver or Herbie Hancock piece with the drive of Freddie Hubbard.  Dr. Henderson's crisp solo leads into a fiery tenor spot from Lawrence (Hart and McBee provide major propulsion during his solo.) The CD closes with Harold Mabern's up-tempo romp titled "The Chief" with both Lawrence and Harper "strutting their stuff"" as well as Cables' hard-driving solo before Weiss and Hart "trade 4s", then "2s", and finally "1s" until the drummer gets the spotlight to himself and the piece roars to a close.

Hearing this septet on disk makes one salivate to see them in person. Each member is a leader and composer with talents that give the music its power.  Yes, the sound is that of jazz before Miles Davis and others "plugged in" but the results are still quite electric. To find out more, go to

Double Standard: Solo Bass - Boris Kozlov (Self-Released) - Russian-born bassist Kozlov has been in the United States and has worked with a slew of musicians and groups, perhaps best known for anchoring the Mingus Big Band.  This is his first release as a leader and it's a bold move.  Solo bass recordings are not rare (Ray Brown, Dave Holland, Barre Phillips, Miroslav Vitous, Victor Wooten, etc) but may be considered a "vanity project."  Happily, Kozlov thinks melody first so most of these pieces (many from the jazz canon) and that serves to pull the listener right in.  Highlights include the sweet, bluesy, take of Billy Strayhorn's "Isfahan" and the contemplative view of Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed." A sprinkle of "overtones" lead into the high-energy, fast-paced, reading of John Coltrane's "Satellite" and the splay of chordal work on Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge" adds color to the rollicking version.  The only "non-solo" piece is "RGB/Self Portrait in 3 Colors", the opening segment of which, an original piece, is solo but leads into the multi-tracked reading of the Mingus tune.  The final track, "Anatole", is a dedication to the bassist's teacher in Russia; it's a lovely, heartfelt, ballad with a lovely melody line played in the instrument's higher registers.

A solo bass recording may only attract a audience of musicians but adventurous listeners will discover plenty of musical moments.  To find out more, go to

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