Saturday, August 18, 2012

Serious Fun (Part 1)

Reviewers can be such a fussy lot.  We want to write about serious, earth-shaking, music and, there are times, that that desire is a detriment to paying attention to recordings deserving to be noticed because...well, because the music is relaxing or silly or whose only message is "listen to these musicians have fun working together."

Duduka da Fonseca, a native of Rio de Janiero, is one of the busiest drummers in the world, working in various ensembles including Trio Da Paz, alongside Tom Harrell, Dom Salvador, Nana Vasconcelos, Phil Woods, Milton Nascimento, Joe Locke, and many others.  His Quintet has been in existence since 2002 and features his long-time associate Helio Alves (piano), Anat Cohen (clarinet, tenor saxophone), Guilherme Monteiro (acoustic and electric guitar) and Leonardo Cioglia (bass).  "Samba Jazz - Jazz Samba" (Anzic Records) is the ensemble's 2nd CD and is a fine accompaniment to a sunny day on the beach, the back porch or driving around with the windows. 8 of the 10 tracks are by Brazilian composers including the leader's own ballad, "Flying Over Rio", featuring the sweetest tenor sax solo from Ms. Cohen and a gentle ramble from the pianist.  Da Fonseca, who rarely solos on this session, gets the spotlight at the top of Raul Mascarhenas' flashy "Sabor Cariocas" - the "trading 4s" section at the close is a real treat. The arrangement of Antonio Jobim's "Rancho Das Nuvens" has such an intelligent blend of the 5 instruments, whether it's the piano and clarinet in the lead or the fine support from Monteiro, Cioglia and Da Fonseca.  It's a work unfamiliar to me but is one of Jobim's most handsome melodies (yes, he wrote a slew of them) and this reading is excellent. Toninho Horta's "Dona Olimpia" sounds influenced by The Beatles' "Norwegan Wood", an up-tempo ballad with a hearty tenor solo over Cioglia's pulsating bass and the leader's active drums.

One of the other pleasing surprises is the bouncy reading of Ornette Coleman's "Blues Connotation", a joyous romp filled with short, pithy, solos.  Montiero's quiet "blue" guitar chords lead Ms. Cohen's sweet clarinet on Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacocks" -  the blend of guitar and acoustic piano accompaniment is intelligent and uncluttered.  Montiero's subdued solo, with Alves' rich piano chords offering a strong foundation, is quite fine.

"Samba Jazz - Jazz Samba" does have that combination alluded to in the title and much more.  Everyone contributes, no one hogs the spotlight and the wide variety of material introduces the casual listener to several fine Brazilian composers.  Spend a bit of time with the Duduka Da Fonseca Quintet and chances are very good you'll want to spend more.  For more information, go to

If variety is the spice of life, "Bop! Bang! Boom!" (Futurism Records), guitarist Grant Geissman's 15th recording as a leader, has something for just about every guitar lover (sorry, no "death-metal" or reggae), even a track ("Go To The Window") on which he plays electric sitar. In a career that spans nearly 4 decades, Geissman has worked as a studio musician (that's his solo on Chuck Mangione's mega-hit "Feels So Good") composed or played on soundtracks for television (he co-wrote the theme for "Two and a Half Men" and plays the solo on the theme from "Monk") and can be heard on the scores of numerous motion pictures. He can be heard adding numerous interesting sounds on the fine 2012 CD from composer/vocalist Lorraine Feather, "Tales of the Unusual".

For much of this recording, Geissman uses the rhythm section from Tierney Sutton's band, bassists Kevin Axt and Trey Henry (but not together) plus her drummer Ray Brinker, along with pianist Emilio Palame, percussionist Brian Kilgore and saxophonist Brian Scanlon.  Plenty of the guitarist's friends show up including fellow pickers Albert Lee and Larry Carlton on the rip-roaring "Texas Shuffle" as well as Dennis C. Brown and Chuck Lorre on the burning slow blues titled "Take Yer Time."  Russell Ferrante, he of Yellowjackets, takes the keyboard chair on a pair of tracks, adding his atmospheric Fender Rhodes on the crafty "Good Morning, Mr. Phelps" (Scanlon's soprano solo really stands out as does Axl's "slippery" bass lines) and acoustic piano to the charming "Un Poco Espanol" (Geissman's acoustic guitar work blends so well with the piano.)  The tenor saxophone of Tom Scott is put to good use on the ultra-slinky "Q Tip" (for Quincy Jones), serving as a fine complement to Geissman's funky guitar solo (I detect a touch of Phil Upchurch in his phrases). Scott returns for the final track, the high-energy shuffle "Off The Grid" - he and Geissman,l along with organist Jim Cox, trade "8s" to take the track and CD out of a high level.  The legendary Van Dyke Parks, with whom Geissman has worked on a number of projects, joins the fun, on accordion no less, for the Crescent City-inspired romp "$25 Stella" (named for the guitar the leader uses on the track.  Henry switches to tuba for this track which also features percussionist Kilgore on washboard, spoons and hubcaps. The leader goes it alone on "Guitarism", well, kind of - he overdubs 2 acoustic guitars, handclaps and percussion on a flamenco-drenched dance dedicated to his guitar professor at Cal State/Northridge, Ron Purcell, who passed away last year.

"Bop! Bang! Boom!" is the third CD in a trilogy, all of which feature a similar cast of musicians plus a number of fascinating guests. Holding each eclectic collection of songs and styles is Grant Geissman's sense of adventure, fun and integrity.  He's not afraid to mix it up or to share the spotlight and no piece overstays its welcome.  Also, the package is a hoot; the last time I had trading cards in my possession, there was a slab of bubble gum along with them.  Give these tunes a listen and your worries just might drop away.  For more information, go to

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