Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hitting the High Notes (Part 1)

Here's a quick look at a batch of good CDs.

Alto saxophonist Phil Woods and pianist Bill Mays spent the day together on September 7, 2010, at Maggie's Farm, sound engineer Matt Balistaris's studio in the wilds of Bucks County Pennsylvania.  The result has been issued on the Palmetto label - it's a pleasure to hear the duo ramble through this program consisting of 7 standards and 2 Woods' originals. The saxophonist, 79 & 1/2 years old at the time of the recording, sounds in fine fettle while Mays, 13 years his junior, continues to be one of the most musical players on the scene.  Highlights includes Woods' "Blues for Lopes" (dedicated to his friend and clarinet teacher), the sweet (but not treacly) "Do I Love You?", the rousing take of Irving Berlin's "The Best Thing For You Is Me" (handsome coda to boot) and the other original, "Hank Jones", a touching tribute to the late pianist featuring Woods' most emotional solo. 
This music should go down as easy as summer lemonade - for more information, go to www.palmetto-records.com

Recorded over a number of sessions held in different years, "Colors From a Giant's Kit" (IPO Recordings) is a lovely reminder what a supremely talented pianist Sir Roland Hanna (1932-2002) was throughout his long career.  If you arrive at this recording expecting to hear purely jazz improvisations, you're in for a wonderful treat. The opening 3 tracks are Hanna originals and sound quite "modern classical."  He certainly does "swing" on John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice" and shows a subtle side on Illinois Jacquet's "Robbin's Nest." Many listeners will be attracted to his "bravura" take on "Lush Life" and the gentle meditation he creates on "Naima."  Intimate, heart-felt, and quite classy, this CD is a gem.  For more information, go to www.iporecordings.com and dig around.

"Signature Time" is the 5th release for pianist Laszlo Gardony on Sunnyside Records and his 4th with the rhythm section of bassist John Lockwood and drummer Yoron Israel.  The rapport the three have is palpable, making the music come alive.  Gardony writes that these tunes are "all shaped by in-the-moment inspiration and the spirit and sound of Africa." Rhythmic excitement abounds, from the gospel-soaked version of The Beatles' "Lady Madonna" to the slinky funk of George Shearing's "Lullaby of Birdland" to the Professor Longhair-inspired original, "Bourbon Street Boogie" that closes the program. Tenor saxophonist Stan Strickland shows up on several pieces, including the shuffle version of Billy Strayhorn's "Johnny Come Lately" and adds wordless vocals to "Spirit Dance."  It's hard to sit still while this music fills the room - everyone plays so well without "hogging the spotlight." The rhythm section is super and Gardony allows them to shine and, in turn, they give him plenty of support.  For more information, go to www.lgjazz.com/.

In the hands of Dave Valentin, the flute can be a thing of "jazz beauty."  Over the course of his 30+ years on the scene, Valentin has recorded many styles of music but his contributions to "Latin Jazz" remains what he is best known.  For his new CD, "Pure Imagination" (HighNote Records), he does not stray far from his strengths.  His regular rhythm section of Robbie Ameen (drums) and Ruben Rodriguez (electric bass) plus semi-regular Richie Flores (percussion) joins the flutist and long-time associate Bill O'Connell (piano, compositions, arrangements) on this classy rhythmical romp.  Besides the 6 new pieces by the pianist, the quintet performs a joyous version of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" and the title track, a lovely take on the Leslie Bricusse/ Anthony Newley song from "Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory."  Arguably, the highlight of the program is the opening 3 minutes of "When Sunny Gets Blue" - Valentin triple-tracks flute, alto flute and bass flute to play the sweet melody and harmonies with no rhythm section.  It's almost a sin when the band comes in save for the fact O'Connell contributes a very impressive solo (with the overdubbed flutes as color.) Rodriguez's bass work is exemplary throughout while the tandem of Ameen and Flores create wonderful beds of rhythmic fun. Listen to "Hummingbird" and the ultra-funky "Cat Man" (replete with McCoy Tyner-like chords) - the rhythms are so infectious, it's hard to sit still. If you've got the blahs or the blues, "Pure Imagination" will cure you big time.  For more information, go to www.jazzdepot.com

If you enjoy "Mad Heaven", the new CD by vocalist-songwriter Peter Eldridge (pictured left), hie thee to "The Jazz Session" and listen to him chat about all things Eldridge (and more) with Jason Crane.  It's such an upbeat conversation, filled with snippets from the handsome CD (my review is here), that one cannot help but smile and then go listen to the recording.  Click on this link to listen - thejazzsession.com/2011/06/22/the-jazz-session-284-peter-eldridge/.

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