Thursday, September 1, 2011

CD Picks (in the wake of Irene)

To paraphrase the poet Robert Burns, "the best laid schemes of reviewers and home owners can be washed away by the eye of a storm."  I was hoping to get a slew of reviews posted before Hurricane Irene arrived but, alas, that did not occur.  So, in the interest of time (yes, school is back in session and papers are waiting to be read), here's a brief look at several excellent new recordings.

I have received a slew of new releases that have impressed me with their emphasis on melody. As opposed to pure "blowing sessions", the recordings in this review start with well-thought out melodic ideas and build from there.

Let me begin with the splendid new release by alto saxophonist and composer Patrick Cornelius. Hot on the heels of 2010's trio date "Fierce", "Maybe Steps" (Posi-Tone Records) expands the basic instrumentation of sax-bass-drums to include piano (the guitar work of Miles Okazaki is heard on several cuts) for a program of 9 originals and 2 standards (K Weill's "My Ship" and G Shearing's "Conception".)  Check out the rhythm section which consists of drummer Kendrick Scott, pianist Gerald Clayton (on all tracks but one, a handsome duo take of the Weill tune features pianist Assen Doykin) and bassist Peter Slavov. Much of the music is the direct result of the birth of Cornelius's daughter "Isabella" and his fatherly fascination in her.  The music has a searching quality, a sense of adventure and wonder that is often the purview of very young children. No bumps and bruises along the way, just a sweet collections of tunes.  The title track moves easily atop the fine walking bass line and sparse yet effective cymbal work.  Clayton's generous chords push Cornelius into a strong, singing, solo. That is followed by the Satie-esque "Bella's Dreaming", with the leader playing these sweet, bluesy, smears that pushes the piece into George Gershwin.  It's a wee bit short at just over 2 and 1/2 minutes but none of the tracks are really long.  Scott dances "Shiver Song" in, laying down an irresistible beat that gives all involved just the right push (and a great drum-alto exchange near the close of the piece.)

Nary a sour note on the disc, "Maybe Steps" is delightful music from start to finish. Give it a lot of listens. Release date is 9/20/11.  For more information, go to

I had heard bits and pieces of guitarist/composer Oscar Peñas releases on the Spanish Fresh Sounds New Talent label but his US debut, "From Now On" (Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records) is a major step forward. With his regular quartet of Dan Blake (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone), the lively 6-string electric bass of Moto Fukushima, and the sensitive young drummer/percussionist Richie Barshay plus guests Gil Goldstein (accordion, piano) and Franco Pinna (bombo leguero), Peñas creates a fascinating paean to his native Spain. His earlier efforts trended towards trying to sound like electric fusion - here, the composer fills the majority with flourishes of sounds and rhythms of his native Spain and, thanks to his talented band, creates a wonderful sound.  Blake is the main soloist; his sweet tones on soprano livens "Encuentro" while his tenor work is rich with ideas on "Continuum" and "Samuel Smith".  Goldstein, on accordion, shares the spotlight with the leader on both the title track and the lovely ballad "Julia" while his piano lines create a classical feel on the afore-mentioned "...Smith."  Fukushima is an inventive bassist, whether dancing along below the soloists or during his spotlights  (his short solo on "Choro No. 2" is pleasingly melodic.)  Barshay, who has spent time with Herbie Hancock and The Klezmatics, never overplays and has a wonderful knack for offering just the right accompaniment.  Listen to his lively pandiero work on "Choro No. 1" and his simple yet arresting cymbal play underneath the guitar solo on "Julia." While Peñas is a solid electric guitarist, his acoustic work is, at turns, hypnotic, melodic and inventive.

"From Now On" rarely gets loud but draws in the listener with its charming Hispanic melodies and rhythms as well as the numerous fine solos. A fine companion to bassist Alexis Cuadrado's excellent BJU recording from early 2011, "Noneto Iberico", Oscar Peñas should be proud of his accomplishment.
Here's one of the more delightful pieces, courtesy of BJU and IODA Promonet:
Choro, No. 1 (Guainga) (mp3)

Although "There" (Anzic Records), the 3rd Cd from the Ernesto Cervini Quartet is not scheduled to be released until late October, be on the lookout for it.  It is one of the more joyful releases of this or any year in recent history.  The drummer/composer has such a fine group including the melodic and muscular Joel Frahm (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone), the splendid pianist Adrean Farrugia and bassist Dan Loomis. Frahm and Farrugia are playful throughout, dropping quotes from all sorts of tunes into the midst of their solos.  Cervini is a very melodic drummer who truly knows how to drive a tune and Loomis is solid while also a strong soloist.  Several of the uptempo pieces have the sound of the Keith Jarrett "Nordic" Quartet with Jan Garbarek, the group that recorded "Belonging."  Soulful, swinging and joyous, "There" is a winner! To find out more, go to

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