Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Intimacy of the Small Ensemble

Australian-born saxophonist (alto and baritone) Lisa Parrott moved to the United States since 1993 and she has pretty busy ever since.  She's a copyist for several big bands, a member of DIVA Jazz Orchestra and the Artie Shaw Orchestra, and has appeared on numerous CDs including 7 with her sister Nicki (bass and vocals).

"Round Tripper" (Serious Niceness Records) is really her debut as a leader - the title refers to the fact she often returns home to teach and to play. Joining her are the splendid rhythm section of Chris Lightcap (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums) plus she shares the "front line" with fellow countryman Carl Dewhurst (guitar) and co-producer Nadje Noordhuis (trumpet and flugelhorn on 2 tracks). Ms. Parrott's choice of material is inspired.  The program opens with Carlos Ward's "Rosa Takes a Stand (for Rosa Parks)", a celebratory romp with Wilson in Ed Blackwell-mode.  Then, listen to how melodic (a la Backwell) he is on Bernie McGann's "D. Day." (If you have heard the late Mr. McGann - he passed in 2013 - check out his 2001 Rufus recording "Bundeena").  In fact, Ms. Parrott's generous playing and warm tone on alto reminds this listener of that player.  Her baritone work is facile, quite swinging and certainly inventive.  She attacks Ornette Coleman's "Round Trip" with great vigor, the hardy "bari" tones rising over the rousing bass lines and fiery drums.  Her deep sounds on "Do You Think That I Do Not Know" (based on a poem by the 20th Century Australian Poet Laureate Henry Lawson with music by the Parrott sisters) blend nicely with Ms. Noordhuis's husky flugelhorn tones.  Wilson's brush work is, as one has to come to expect, is exemplary.  Trumpet and alto mesh with guitar on the closing "Waltzing Matilda" (the saxophone harmony on the opening verse is quite lovely).  The quintet extends the piece to 8:34 (by 3 minutes, the longest track on the disk) and take their time with the solos.  Lightcap, Wilson and Dewhurst create a medium-tempo groove and the piece floats along with crackling solos until its gentle close.

The sound quality on "Round Tripper" (kudos to Mike Marciano at Systems Two in Brooklyn, NY) is mighty impressive - everyone sounds so clear and it gives the music a sense of intimacy.  Let's hope that this excellent album is the first of many Lisa Parrott makes as a leader.  For more information, go to www.lisaparrott.com.

"Naked" is the 3rd CD issued by Israeli-born guitarist Assaf Kehati and his first with his Trio comprised of Ehud Etun (bass) and Ronen Itzik (drums).  In the 3 years since his previous recording, the guitarist has played his music with drummer Billy Hart, saxophonists Will Vinson, Donny McCaslin and Seamus Blake plus Anat Cohen. His new songs have stronger melodies, with personal  narratives that engage the listener.  The program opens with "Song for Saba" (composed when the guitarist heard the news of his grandfather's passing), a slow tribute with a country feel in the melody line.  Bassist Etun's counterpoint work stands out as does Itzik's expressive brush work. There is a joyful playfulness in the twists-and-turns of "Nathan Bo Rega" while "The Horses' Fight" has a Brazilian feel in the exciting drums and bouncing bass lines.  Kehati's ringing guitar tones (he likes to hold notes out) move like stallions across the fields and the rhythm section boldly push him forward.  The title track opens on a melody line not unlike a Lennon-McCartney ballad and the song goes on to be a beautiful performance, emotionally rich with a few climaxes built in but really embracing a more melodic approach. The longest track (11:25), "Beneath the Almond Tree", starts quietly with just guitar - Itzik  then creates Middle-Eastern rhythms that sweep the song along.  Etun's bass solo has a flamenco feel, especially as he dances down the neck of his instrument. When he finishes, the drummer kicks into a swing tempo for a powerful guitar solo and then takes his own thunderous solo, returning to the Israeli-influenced melody to take the piece out.

The Trio also tackle 2 standards and one Ornette Coleman classic.  "Long Ago and Far Away" swings with a vengeance without abandoning the melody while "Someday My Prince Will Come" is a sweet ballad.  The latter track moves right into a bass solo after the first verse. Listen to how the guitarist and drummer frame the solo. One can hear the many nights on the bandstand that the trio has played this song and how they breathe new life into this chestnut. Coleman's "When Will The Blues Leave" swings gently, its carefree demeanor giving the impression that the blues has most certainly "left".

"Naked" refers to the honest approach than the Assaf Kehati Trio brings to this music.  Not afraid to show emotions such as joy and sadness, the musicians create a program that draws the listener in from the opening guitar notes to the final fade.  This is music that deserves to seen and heard. For more information, go to www.assafkehati.com.

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