by: Hobert Taylor
Carrie Wicks - Maybe - (OA2)
The original tunes on this disc are all revelations. Written by Wicks and the web elusive Ken Nottingham, (is he the Seattle Bluegrass musician?), the songs display musical and lyrical sophistication of the highest order. If you attached a name like Bachrach or Richard Rodgers to them you would not be surprised. I don't believe this is hyperbole. These songs are smart earworms and authentically earnest. "Watercolor Rhyme" has a melody always on the edge of resolution and poetry that gracefully conflates images of color, self referential allusions to the changes in the music, and a love story, you know Jobim territory. "The Bottom of Your Heart" is Brecht/Waits casual acknowledgement of life's dark forces but more hopeful, I think convincingly so. "Ghost of a Perfect Flame" also is rich in chromatic resonance, both in the mind's eye, and in the ear. The singing is almost conversational in its phrasing, intimate and re-assuring. Wicks' tone always seems just right for her lullabies for the world weary. Oh, and the masterful piano work of Bill Anschell greatly enriches this release.
Christian Howes - American Spirit - (Resonance)
There's a lot of music in this music. Violinist Howe is a master of the pastiche. His take on familiar melodies veer from classicism to jam band to deep jazz to funky pop, yet the transistions do not jar. Mingling his original compositions with standards that evoke the American spirit (Leonard Berstein's "America" from West Side Story, Samuel Barber's "Galop", Fats Waller, and even the theme music from the TV show "Taxi". This release is skillfully arranged and a lot of fun to listen to.
Geof Bradfield Quintet - Our Roots - (Origin)
This tribute to the blues... not the Chicago macho variety, but the deeply spiritual Texas blues of Leadbelly and Blind Willie Johnson is celebrated by the likes of tenor saxophonist Bradfield, trumpeter Marquis Hill, Joel Adams on trombone, Clark Sommers, bassist, and Dana Hall, drums and percussion.
I mention them all because this a truly an ensmble, a communion of spirits bringing their own individual talents to stellar performances of emotionally profound tunes, both newly composed and old. In the liner notes Bradfield says he was inspired by a cassette he'd once owned of Clifford Jordan performing Leadbelly songs, and this has a lot of the 60's feel to it, post bop jazz blues a la Canonball Adderly, but these guys own this music... it is not derivative. Five Stars.
Jeff Jenkins Organization - The Arrival - (OA2)
Organ based three piece (guitar and drums) plays stutter step blues. That's the headline. Very clean and fun, this release is propelled by the standout drumming of Alwyn Robinson (micro seconds ahead of the beat),the tonally inventive guitar work of Dave Corbus, and Denver pianist Jenkins who brings pianistic runs and dynamic variation to his take of the classic blues instrument, the Hammond B3 organ. "Sideways" is my favorite cut, jaunty and smart. The bluesy title tune is time machine trip for those of us of a certain age... you know playing in the background as Dad tucks us in with the sweet aromas of Kool menthols and Johnny Walker Red wafting around him... but maybe that's just me.
Daniel Dickinson - A Gathering Foretold - (Self Released)
Saxophonist/Composer Dickinson, no strike that, composer/saxophonist Dickinson writes tunes that feel to me like they will endure. Reminiscent of Wayne Shorter, Dickinson's jazz vocabulary is broad and varied. His tunes are fresh but also classic, and most importantly melodically gorgeous. He deftly adjusts all the moving pieces, lush harmonies, dynamics that breathe, and arrangements that maximize the rich variety and consonance of the timbres evoked in them. This is not to say that my first designation, saxophonist/composer is inaccurate. His playing is measured, tonally secure, and yet has an edge that conveys a full range of voices, to paraphrase and misquote Allen Toussaint, from a whimper to a scream.
Jacob Varmus - Aegean - (Crow's Kin Recording)
Trumpeter Varmus and his musical soulmates including superb Guitarist Pete McCann have created a free floating suite of tunes that have the consistency of clouds.
A mix of studio and live tracks, the studio tracks are cleaner, but the live takes are like looking at the sketch book of a master painter. I love "Areti" a stop start chuckle fest of a tune, and "Phineas" which highlights Varmus's "voice" and is full of conversational authenticity in the interplay between band members. "Nidal"and "Lyra" are faves too.
Ben Paterson - For Once in my Life - (Origin)
Pianist/Organist Paterson, a long time sideman for the late great Chicago tenor player Von Freeman, evokes the greasy greens and Miller High Life soaked Sunday after church bar scene in many of America's black neighborhoods. Picture it, an organ trio holds forth, folks extend the week-end with a more low key continuation of Saturday night's revels, and the spirit of soul meets jazz and pop prevails.
The first five cuts of this CD are well played but so on the nose, you know like they came out of a 3-D printer, as to be boring, but the deeper cuts, especially Horace Silver's "Nutville" and two of Paterson's originals, "Blues for C.F." (I assume Chico Freeman), and "Near Miss" really shine. One outstanding feature of this release is the guitar work of Peter Bernstein.
Karin and Mike Kelleher - Melange - (Self Released)
An apt title for this potpourri. Jazz singer/stylist extraordinaire Mike Kelleher is joined by his wife, classical violinist Karin in a thoroughly delightful and airy variety of sensitively rearranged classics and jazz tunes, some original yet on par with the familiar work. Each tune is delicately taken apart and re-assembled in order to highlight the melodic core. I am reminded of the apocryphal encounter between Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein where she supposedly had suggested that they mate in order to have a child with her beauty and his brains. Einstein answers, "but what if it goes the other way?" Well here, the "Melange" is a fortuitous one.
Molly Ryan - Let's Fly Away - (Loup-Garous)
A Big Band pop album that one could easily dismiss as just another among countless others. But upon closer listening one hears a superbly arranged carefully documented homage to the perfectly vacuous yet infectious pop tunes of the '40's. It's why Sun Ra spoke well of Lawrence Welk. Cuts: "Flying Down to Rio", "Road to Morocco", "South Sea Island Magic", "Sous Le Ciel de Paris".
Dave Chamberlain's Bag of Bones - Stomp - (Self Released)
While we are on the topic of novelty records, this band with seven, count 'em seven, trombones, a vocalist, a harmonica and rhythm section can be pretty kitschy, but two cuts redeem this effort for me. "Delilah" is rich, full of color, and arranged with the deep mystery of say "Harlem Nocturne", and "Pavanne & Stomp" swings along gracefully.