Wednesday, January 16, 2013

3 That'll Grow On You

Every once in a while, it's a treat to hear mainstream jazz, especially when it's played with the joy and energy as trumpeter Joel Behrman displays on his new CD, "Steppin' Back" Killer Kat Productions). The Midwestern native studied at the University of Miami and toured with KC & The Sunshine Band before moving to the San Francisco Bay area.  He's got a number of regular gigs (as both a trumpeter and trombonist) with ensembles such as the Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra, Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers and Lydia Pense & Cold Blood.

The CD features Mr. Shelby (bass), Matt Clark (piano) and Howard Wiley (drums) with appearances by Dayna Stephens (tenor saxophone) and Danny Armstrong (trombone).  7 of the 11 pieces are Behrman originals with the centerpiece being the 3-part "Justice Suite" that hearkens back in style and execution to the music Max Roach made in the late 50s and early 60s.  Others pieces display plenty of fire; "L.I.B." (Life is Beautiful") moves in quietly on an unaccompanied bass solo and builds throughout the theme section right into Dayna Stephens' powerful solo.  Clark's spot over Wiley's hard-edged drumming stands out as does the leader's smart interjections.

Among the 4 "cover" tunes is a lovely reading of the Duke Ellington/Johnny Hodges ballad, "Mood to be Wooed" - Behrman's crisp yet bluesy tones meshes well with Clark's fine chordal work. There's a snappy reading of Louis Armstrong's "The Faithful Hussar", a German folk tune Satchmo translated into Crescent City groove.  Behrman and his troops use the Armstrong template to have a grand old tune.  The leader and pianist Clark take the reins on a quartet reading of Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge", the pianist pushing Behrman to a fine solo.

"Steppin' Back" has got class and fire, good material, smart arrangements and fine musicianship.  Joel Berhman gives his band plenty of room to have their say and they reward him by playing their best. To fins out more, go to

Bass clarinetist and composer Todd Marcus, a resident of Baltimore, Maryland, has released his 2nd CD as a leader; "Inheritance" (Hipnotic Records) features 2 sparkling quartets plus the artistry of Don Byron (clarinet).  6 of the 10 tracks have George Colligan (piano) and Warren Wolf (drums) with bassist Eric Wheeler while the remaining 4 also have Wheeler and add Xavier Davis (piano) and Eric Kennedy (drums).

Among the highlights is the 2-part "Herod", which pairs Marcus with Byron.  Both play with great fire, rising over the Middle-Eastern inspired chords and rhythms.  Davis's piano work is inspired and the rhythm section shines. Marcus switches to clarinet on "Herod (Reflections"), a reprise that appears after a funky reading of the standard "Bye Bye Blackbird".  The tunes features a stunning solo from Colligan and smart drumming from Wolf.   Byron also appears on the ballad "Solstice" , a piece that opens with Marcus's heartfelt solo and closes with the guest's finely wrought spot.  There's more Middle-Eastern influence on the sprightly "Wahsouli" (Marcus's father is half-Egyptian); Kennedy's hearty drums blends well with Wheeler's melodic bass lines and the impressionistic piano chords.  "Blues for Tahrir" adds the percussion of Jon Seligman to the mix.  He supports the piano and clarinet as they wind around each other on the sinuous melody line. The piece purrs instead of roars, even when Colligan's solo raises the intensity level.  Colligan shows a touch of McCoy Tyner in his chordal backing on the title track, a rollicking tune fueled by Wolf's energetic drum work.

Todd Marcus, who is one of the arrangers and composers in Orrin Evans' Captain Black Big Band, leads his own nonet, trio and duo plus is a community activist.  His work with the Baltimore non-profit Newborn Holistic Ministries helps women overcome homelessness plus he helped to create Jubilee Arts, a program established in 2008 to offer children and adults with alternatives to drugs and violence.  His music has power as well as a positive message.  "Inheritance" swings, rocks, sways and takes the listener on a pleasing journey.  For more information, go to

Bassist/composer Gregg August is, perhaps, best known for his work in tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen's Trio yet he has been the principal bassist for La Orquestra Cuitat de Barcelona and now holds the same chair for the Brooklyn Philharmonic.  He's played and recorded with Latin artists such as Ray Barretto and Ray Vega as well as with Chick Corea and Renee Fleming.   "Four By Six" (Iacuessa Records) is his 3rd CD as a leader; the recording features 4 tracks(all originals) of a sextet with Mr. Allen, Yosvanny Terry (alto saxophone), John Bailey (trumpet), Luis Perdomo (piano) and Rudy Royston (drums, his section mate in the Allen Trio) and 4 tracks (also all originals) by a quartet with Perdomo, Sam Newsome (soprano saxophone) and E.J. Strickland (drums).  The program opens with 2 selections from the quartet, the energetic, Latin-influenced "Affirmation" whose driving rhythms and subtle tempo changes allows Newsome's soprano sax to soar while "For Calle Picota" has fine piano work and an exciting bass line.  Strickland's drumming blends fiery Latin rhythms and his fascinating "melodic" work. August takes a short but hearty solo. The following 2 tracks introduce the sextet' August's arrangement on "For Max" has the horn and reeds deliver the melody (with fine counterpoint from the leader) and allows for a sparkling solo from Perdomo. "Bandolim" is next, with its snappy melody and boppish line.  Royston's drums crackle in the opening then push, prod with plenty of sizzle from the cymbals underneath the fine solos.

Newsome's handsome, sensual, soprano leads the way into "Strange Street" - it's fun to listen to Strickland and August not only supporting the solos but also adding colors and counterpoint throughout. Perdomo's solo is rich with fluid, dancing, lines.  Royston and August lock in on the sextet's "Relative Obscurity", a piece that changes tempo several times but never loses its forward motion. Bailey (who has worked with August in the Ray Barretto ensemble) delivers a powerful solo, gleefully riding the waves of the rhythm section.

"Four By Six" should be amended to read "Four By Six & Four By Four" but that's a minor issue.  This music does not beat one over the head; instead, it has soul, wit, lyrical passages that stand out, and solos that  have substance.  Gregg August has given us music that has power plus subtlety in its rhythms and melodies; it's well worth your time.  For more information, go to

The 3rd and final installation of Harris Eisenstadt's insightful interview with Barry Altschul is now posted on  Read it, listen to the free tracks posted with the interview (classic work from Paul Bley, Chick Corea and Anthony Braxton) and have your musical appetite whetted for the drummer's new Trio CD with Joe Fonda and Jon Irabagon. Click on the link above and enjoy!

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