Friday, August 2, 2013

Altos for August

Saxophonist/composer Patrick Cornelius has a new CD, "Infinite Blue", his second for the London, England-based Whirlwind Recordings. For this release, the native of San Antonio, Texas, works with new friends, pianist Frank Kimbrough, drummer Jeff Ballard, trumpeter Michael Rodriguez (3 tracks) and pianist John Chin (who appears on the final track "Projection", a tune he composed).  Also appearing are old friends Nick Vayenas (trombone on 5 of the 9 tracks) and bassist as well as label owner Michael Janisch.

There are several different streams of music on this CD, including some solid hard-bop (for instance, "Puzzler" with its loping bass line, hardy trumpet solo and the leader's bluesy romp) and melodic ballads (such as the title track that sports a short but impressive piano solo, more excellent work from the trumpeter - love Ballard's expressive drums beneath the solo - and an emotionally satisfying alto solo.)  The 2-part "Waiting" opens with a fine bass solo and moves into the main theme atop floating piano chords and deliberate work from the bass and drums.  The melody is arranged for alto sax, trumpet and trombone; the mix of their sounds has such a soulful character which carries over to the solos.  Cornelius plays a series of long notes before moving into longer flowing lines with Kimbrough reacting, prodding, coloring the tune with impressionistic figures.  The pianist takes the only other solo and is allowed to stretch out, interacting with Ballard and Janisch, improvising with them.

"Unfinished Business" reminds this listener a bit of the Jazz Crusaders in the soulful blend of trombone and saxophone during the opening theme.  Kimbrough dances through his solo, again interacting with Ballard to create an intensity that Vayenas picks up on for his energetic solo. Cornelius's best solo is, arguably, the long, slow, heartfelt one on "In the Quiet Moments."   No one rushes, especially not Janisch, whose spare bass notes - not even, at times, bass lines - move deliberately alongside Ballard's soft brush work. The short piano solo is stunning for its melodic and emotional content.

"Infinite Blue" may be the color of the sky on a beautiful spring day or the color of a baby's eyes but for Patrick Cornelius, it's another touchstone in his career.  His previous CDs showed his mettle as a musician and this Whirlwind recording displays his continuing growth as a composer and arranger. For more information, go to and

The OWL Trio takes its name from the 3 musicians who compose the ensemble, Orlando le Fleming (bass), Will Vinson (alto saxophone) and Lage Lund (guitar). Their self-titled debut CD has been released on the Norwegian-based Losen Records.  They have been playing together or in various formations for the last decade, even recording with pianist Aaron Parks and drummer Kendrick Scott  on Vinson's 2010 "Stockholm Syndrome" CD for Criss Cross and 2008 "Promises" on Nineteen Eight Records (Ari Hoenig on drums.)

This CD finds them in what they call a "Chamber Jazz" setting, playing a program that blends standards with works by John Coltrane ("Dear Lord"), Jim Hall ("All Across the City") and Toninho Horta ("Moonstone") - there are also 3 pieces credited to the Trio.  Vinson channels Paul Desmond on the opener, a sweet reading of Duke Ellington's "Morning Glory" (from the Blanton-Webster days in the early 1940s.)  Le Fleming sets a walking pace with his solid bass, Lund's background chords and short fills offer pleasing counterpoint (plus a strong solo) and the saxophonist's strolls atop them.  The next track, "All Across the City", is a Jim Hall composition with a rich melodic line, taken at a ballad pace.  What becomes more obvious as one listens through the program, even the group improvisations, is that melody and emotional content are much more important than technique and flashy solos. Even when they push the tempo up, as on the original "Blues For Jimmy" (dedicated to producer/engineer Jimmy Katz), the music is never frantic, always focussed on the melodic content and interplay.  While their take on the Coltrane tune is somewhat slower, the emotions are front-and-center, especially the fine alto playing caresses the melody and it feels more prayer-like.  The CD closes on an even gentler note; "Moonstone" unfolds slowly, carefully, with Vinson's higher notes raining down on the rippling guitar lines.  The foundation created by the bassist is subtle, often in counterpoint to his partners but never in conflict.

The conversational quality of OWL Trio resonates long after the final notes.  The CD is the work of 3 friends, musicians attuned to the strengths each one brings to a program in which melody reigns supreme.  Quiet and quite charming, music for one to contemplate and, ultimately, to surrender to.  For more information, go to    

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