Brian S. Lunde - - Your Jazz Music Connection - - Your Jazz Music Connection Mon, 22 May 2017 20:12:41 -0500 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Romance Language by Kirk Whalum Romance Language
"They Say It's Wonderful," the first track on this marvelous new record from Kirk Whalum, opens cleverly with a sample (or a fresh recording made to sound like a sample, complete with the scratchy LP and old AM radio speaker sound effects), of McCoy Tyner's piano at the top of the classic John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman cut of the same tune from their eponymous 1963 record that serves as Whalum's inspiration.  But following that clip, nothing further is lifted directly from Coltrane and Hartman except the spirit of excellence in musicianship and the mellow, romantic mood. Whereas Coltrane and…

Kirk Whalum fans will find much to love about Romance Language as Kirk is in his usual smooth, soulful and elegant groove. He wisely sticks to his own sound and sensibilities instead of trying to channel Coltrane. In fact were it possible we might think instead that Coltrane went "back to the future" to capture some of Whalum's sound for the original on which Coltrane plays with a breathy spareness, long before the saxophone and smooth jazz became so friendly with each other. Both are similarly reserved when underscoring the vocals and relaxed when blowing their own solo choruses, knowing that on these romantic tunes, less is very much more.

A big difference between the Coltrane/Hartman effort and the Whalum's is the orchestrations (and, of course, modern recording and mixing technology).  The Whalums use new rhythmic treatments (e.g. Latin); use the rounder, bubblier sound of the Fender Rhodes in lieu of Tyner's piano on several tunes; and add some other instrumentation such as strings, guitar, percussion, winds and brass. These updates add both sparkle and richness.

Another big difference is vocally: Kevin Whalum is a tenor with a little airiness and texture in his tone whereas Hartman was a buttery smooth baritone. When Coltrane and Hartman recorded, Coltrane was the better known of the pair; and so too today Kirk Whalum is much better known than his singing brother Kevin. Yet Kevin, like Johnny Hartman before him, shows that notoriety is an insufficient gage of talent; both sing beautifully well and often make you think their records are vocal features that also happen to have a famous saxophone player in the band.

Romance Language also features four additional songs that extend the love. A highlight among these is "Almost Doesn't Count," a lost-love blues by Guy Roche and Shelley Peiken first recorded by R&B star Brandy on her 1998 release, Never Say Never. Here we are treated to vocals by Kirk's 83-year-old uncle, Hugh "Peanuts" Whalum, singing with an I've-been-there honesty that makes the tune even more poignant. "I Wish I Wasn't" is classic Whalum instrumental sax while "I Wanna Know" quotes cleverly from the old Minnie Riperton pop hit, "Lovin' You." The closer is "Spend My Life With You," a bluesy slow-dance anthem that deftly mixes both the Fender Rhodes and a Hammond B3 organ under Whalum's pining tenor sax.

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman would no doubt approve of this modern take on their original collaboration. Romance Language is excellent, lights-down-low smooth jazz, full of class and heart.

]]> (Brian S. Lunde) Smooth Jazz - CD Reviews Sat, 14 Apr 2012 21:26:30 -0500
April In Paris by Ron Hart and Gary Fitzgerald April in Paris
Ron Hart and Gary Fitzgerald are old friends from the 1970s when they worked in a quartet together playing clubs in Cleveland, Ohio. The years of familiarity bring a relaxed and comfortable collaboration on this set of five standards, five originals and one creative jazz makeover of an old Percy Mayfield R&B tune made famous in the 1960s by Ray Charles, "Hit the Road, Jack."  This duo proves that you don't need a guy with sticks to keep time, and the absence of the drums heightens the clarity of the remaining voices.

Piano and bass duos are not common in jazz recordings, but also not unprecedented. Some famous recorded duos include Duke Ellington and Ray Brown, Bill Evans and Scott Lafaro, Hank Jones and Red Mitchell. It is tempting to think of these as dummerless trios since we are so accustomed to the classic rhythm section, but that would be a mistake. The piano is after all a percussion instrument, and the bass adds a wonderful depth and warmth to the piano's percussive nature. If Ron Hart and Gary Fitzgerald are not quite the same household names in jazz as the aforementioned duos, they have still made a fine contribution to the jazz library of piano and bass recordings.

The record opens with the title track, "April in Paris," and we immediately get a sense of the ease with which Hart and Fitzgerald make music together. The two give the gently-paced tune lots of room to breath instead of filling every space with notes.

There are some lovely renditions here of other standards. A special gem is "Sidney's Soliloquy," a tune that was a favorite of the late jazz crooner Mel Tormé. Its shifts between minor and major tonalities give it the unusual feel of a pleasing sadness, like smiling through tears. Hart and Fitzgerald play out the tension well. Fitzgerald plays his solo mostly in the bass's upper register, a nice choice to underscore the tune's use of juxtaposition of major and minor.

Ray Charles made "Hit the Road, Jack" a raucous, foot-tapping R&B hit. Here, Hart and Fitzgerald slow it down to a bluesy walk. Fitzgerald opens and closes with straight-time quarter notes that evoke our "Jack" hitting the road reluctantly, just putting one foot in front of the other. In the middle however Fitzgerald builds the song by stepping first into eighth notes, then a nice double-time walking bass line. A very fresh treatment of this song.

Noteworthy among the originals are the quietly pretty "Unshakable Love" and the ambitiously-named "Middle East Solution." The latter is almost a miniature suite moving us through peace, conflict and back again.

Hart and Fitzgerald have given us some very enjoyable jazz on April in Paris. If you enjoy trios, give this record a try and you'll appreciate the simpler but still swinging sound of piano and bass.

]]> (Brian S. Lunde) Straight-Ahead - CD Reviews Sun, 11 Mar 2012 23:40:56 -0500
Cracked Song by Ido Bukelman Cracked Song by Ido Bukelman
Ido Bukelman is an active Israeli free jazz performer, recording artist, composer and co-founder of OutNow Recordings. He plays with a sense of serious exploration, without frivolity, whether the tune is melancholy or frenzied. Cracked Song is one of four recordings Bukelman released in 2011, this one unique in that he supplemented his usual trio with cellist Yuval Mesner. Mesner adds some darkness to the sound and, of course, the more flowing lines of bowed instrument.

Cracked Song is squarely in the free jazz idiom, each tune an open discovery of sound, rhythm and musical collaboration. With the exception of "Julia," the songs often lack a melodic center, yet there is some use of motifs that keep the tunes distinct from one another. Even so, the transitions from one track to the next are subtle. For example, percussionist Shlomo ends "Nechodi Bird" with some rapid, light tapping sounds that fade right into more metallic percussion at the start of the next tune, "City Tail".

The opening track, "Still," initially suggests more conventional form. There is a haunting, classical melody line on Mesner's cello along with some harmonic seasoning with chords on Bukelman's guitar. But Mesner then starts to take us on a freer journey with a few screeches, staccato statements and dissonance, while Shlomo's percussion picks up energy and Bukelman strums and plucks on acoustic guitar in the background. When Bukelman steps up into the solo role he initially returns a sense of calm harmony before he takes the band off again into a more fragmented landscape. "Still" wraps up with a brief recap of the opening melody. It is illustrative of many of the tunes, where we catch glimpses of harmony and form, giving us touchstones of familiarity before we fly off again into dissonance or frenzy or both.

Sometimes the structure and chaos are superimposed, as in the latter part of the tune "City Tail". Shlomo, at a little past five minutes into the seven and a-half minute song, suddenly picks up a steady rock beat and sustains it to the end. But on top of that, Bukelman is playing his electric guitar like he's offering audio interference to Shlomo's rhythmic persistence.

Shlomo's percussion is in fact one of the most compelling aspects of this record. He is all over his kit, splashing and clicking and ticking and thumping and rattling, sometimes with clear timing and patterns, sometimes just adding percussive color, and other times just flailing about even though he always remains purposeful and very, very clean. There are moments where his ability to produce what we hear with only his two hands and feet is shrouded in mystery.

Surprisingly the record closes with the old Beatles ballad "Julia" from their famous White Album. It is pretty and sparse, with just a few plucked notes and chords by Bukelman that add some extra-harmonic tension here and there, reminding us we are still listening to a free jazz record.

Cracked Song is a very interesting record that mixes several musical ideas together: classical, post-bop, and rock themes woven with both acoustic and electronic threads.

]]> (Brian S. Lunde) Free Jazz / Avante Garde - CD Reviews Mon, 05 Mar 2012 04:24:07 -0600
In the Bubble by Mary Louise Knutson In the Bubble by Mary Louise Knutson
      Mary Louise Knutson has produced a lovely jazz trio record with the release of In the Bubble, her second record following her debut release in 2001, Call Me When You Get There. Just like that debut, In the Bubble has landed Knutson in the JazzWeek Top 50 chart, where it's been for 12 weeks. Based in Minneapolis, she is another proof point for the fact that there are fantastic jazz musicians tucked away all over the U.S., far from the coasts.

In the Bubble is indeed a bubbly tribute to tasty, straight-ahead trio jazz. The tunes bounce and float from her piano, kept above ground by the swinging tailwind of her rhythm section: Gordon Johnson on bass and, depending on the tune, either Phil Hey, Greg Schutte or Craig Hara on drums.

The record offers a balance of standards and originals by Knutson, carrying us from classic to modern. The opening track, "It Could Happen To You," teases with an up-tempo intro suggesting a bop-oriented burner, but then surprises with a break into a half-time latin swing. Another highlight is "You Are My Sunshine/Luminous;" Knutson opens with a beautiful version of the old familiar melody on solo piano, the rhythm section kicks in for a few more choruses of melody, and then the trio transitions into a freshly-written bridge―"Luminous"―penned by Knutson. Knutson's originals, like "Sea of Qi" and "Talk to Me," strike a more modern, flowing, open style that is reminiscent of Pat Metheny's pioneering prairie jazz. The title cut, "In the Bubble," follows more conventional swing lines and could easily be a trio standard heard in any jazz club. For a nice close-your-eyes-and-melt-in-your-chair ballad, listen to Knutson's mellifluous version of Brandt & Haymes standard "That's All."

One of the endearing aspects of Mary Louise Knutson's playing is that she sounds so very unpretentious (perhaps the fruit of her midwestern upbringing?). You have the sense that her technical chops are there but largely kept in reserve, in favor of music that is pretty instead of pompous, in the same way Beegie Adair plays on her numerous dinner / cocktail jazz records. Just as an attractive person is said to be "easy on the eyes," Knutson's music is "easy on the ears" and should bring a smile to your face.

]]> (Brian S. Lunde) Straight-Ahead - CD Reviews Mon, 30 Jan 2012 18:33:11 -0600
Live at the Library of Congress by Eddie Daniels and Roger Kellaway Live at the Library of Congress
Live at the Library of Congress is a joyful romp by two jazz greats through a collection of standards with a few originals sprinkled in for flavor. Without bass and drums, Eddie Daniels (clarinet) and Roger Kellaway (piano) are free to have a wide-ranging dialogue with each other over each tune, and the results are spectacular.

Eddie Daniels is widely regarded as one of the great clarinetists of all time and is especially known for his virtuosity in both jazz and classical idioms, putting him in the rare company of other "bilingual" jazz greats such as Wynton Marsalis and Keith Jarrett. If you have typecast the clarinet with the big-band era sounds of Bennie Goodman, Artie Shaw and Woody Herman et al., Daniels will break the mold for you as he plays it more like any top-tier bebop tenor sax player (and in fact he is a supreme tenor player too, having come to jazz prominence playing tenor with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra).

Roger Kellaway is evenly matched with Daniels as a herculean musician, moving fluently between jazz piano player; composer for films and television across jazz, classical and popular music forms; and musical director for A-List talent including Bobby Darin, Tony Bennett and Van Morrison. He has recorded on more than 250 albums and gained some popular notariety as the composer and pianist on the closing theme to the famous 1970s sitcom, "All in the Family" called "Remembering You".

The music on Live at the Library of Congress is eclectic but its style doesn't wander far from straight ahead bebop roots. From the world of stage musicals we have the Gershwin brother's "Strike Up the Band" from the 1927 musical of the same name; the beautiful Stephen Sondheim ballad "Somewhere" from West Side Story; and another Sondheim tune, "Pretty Woman" from the musical Sweeney Todd, on which Daniels opens with a variation he calls "Etude of a Woman" based on the first three notes of the Sondheim tune. There is the Thelonius Monk classic bop tune "Ryhthm-a-ning" and another oft-recorded jazz standard, "Just Friends" by Klenner and Lewis. There are three Kellaway originals and finally, "America the Beautiful" on which Kellaway does a marvelous shift into a kind of gutsy blues feel during his solo before coming back to the more traditional harmony of the tune.

Daniels and Kellaway swing and soar, whisper and dance across all of these tunes with the freedom of shared jazz sensibilities and deep roots. They demonstrate their virtuosity but without any hint of arrogance, as they both proved long ago their place among legendary jazz musicians. Daniels slices through blisteringly fast runs like butter as easily as he coaxes out a ballad melody with buttery smoothness. Kellaway brilliantly covers the piano landscape, from gentle comping behind Daniels to sweeping and swinging solos, from rapid bebop lines to rich, complex chord statements. You get the feeling Kellaway can play anything – ragtime, stride, bebop, dinner jazz, blues, swing and pop tunes, not to mention any technically demanding classical piano piece.

Highlights include Daniel's breathy melody and delicacy on "Somewhere;" the whimsical interchange between Daniels and Kellaway on "Rhythm-a-ning" along with their solo improvisations; the sparkling, free opening to "Just Friends;" and the winsomely pretty Kellaway original "A Place that You Want to Call Home."

]]> (Brian S. Lunde) Straight-Ahead - CD Reviews Mon, 16 Jan 2012 02:35:15 -0600
Night in a Strange Land by Andre Caporaso Night in a Strange Land by Andre Caporaso
Andre Caporaso is an independent and determined musician, having self-produced six records for his own Blue Room label. His press kit quotes him: "The music I compose is more important to me than focusing only on the popular markets and record sales the record labels were looking for." Night in a Strange Land testifies to this guitar player's eclectic musical interests along with the chops to masterfully pursue them.

Caporaso's early childhood years were an archetype for the kind of musician he would become: born in Italy, moved to Venezuela, and then to Chicago all by the age of three. Vastly different cultures and climates in rapid succession perhaps imprinted him with a taste for variety and a resistance to being classified. Chicago's ability to hold him all the way into his young adult years (when he finally succumbed to the Siren call of Los Angeles) is a testimony to that city's broad musical shoulders.

Night in a Strange Land is difficult to classify. There are many jazz flavors here: free jazz ("My Train," "Last Day," "Night in a Strange Land," "Kurt"); jazz rock ("Generations," "City Wide"); post bop ("Aviary"); blues ("Not Me"); even prairie jazz ("Second Wind"). But even these labels fail whole segments in each tune; Caporaso's songs refuse to follow conventional forms. For example the title track, "Night in a Strange Land," opens with free-form drums and baritone sax, but then hints at a transition into a melody section with some motifs that are doubled on baritone sax and alto sax or baritone sax and guitar; yet the full transition never happens and the piece morphs again into free jazz solos on top of a consistent bed of time kept by the bass and drums punctuated with guitar chords. There a few points where you think it might become a bebop tune but again it never really settles into that defined groove. This "almost one thing, almost another" is the closest thing to a pattern that the tunes actually follow.

Caporaso's electric and acoustic guitar playing is similarly eclectic. He's sometimes comping, sometimes ripping off single-note lines, sometimes strumming, sometimes punctuating with big block chords. On "Generations" he layers in a kind of spacey, open-chorded, phase-shifted sound. On the solo front he gives plenty of room for his bandmates to stretch out; you'll hear some extended bass, sax and drum solos in addition to Caporaso's own improvisations.

A nice added bonus on this album is the recording and mixing, also handled by Caporaso. The instrumental voices are exceptionally clear and well-balanced, demonstrating the talent that has also led Caporaso to winning six Emmys for sound mixing and editing television show soundtracks.

]]> (Brian S. Lunde) Free Jazz / Avante Garde - CD Reviews Fri, 06 Jan 2012 08:48:33 -0600
Declaration by Donny McCaslin Declaration
A winner in the 2008 Downbeat rising star poll, post-bop tenor man Donny McCaslin probably qualifies now as a fully risen star. He's worked with many jazz luminaries and has been a solid part of Dave Douglas's working quintet since 2005. On Declaration, McCaslin proves his chops as a player, composer and arranger...

Donny McCaslin (born 1966) received his early jazz education from two key sources: his father (a local jazz pianist and vibraphonist in Donny's hometown of Santa Cruz, California) and the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston. These two influences obviously worked well in shaping McCaslin's talent, as his jazz career since graduating from Berklee will attest. He played for four years with Gary Burton traveling the world, and when he moved to New York City in 1991, bassist Eddie Gomez picked him up quickly. Since then he's gigged steadily in New York with a host of jazz all-stars, made the 55 Bar club his home base, worked steadily with the Dave Douglas quintent, and put out numerous fine jazz records, including Declaration.

This record will appeal to neo-bop fans who enjoy the extra depth and richness that comes with larger ensembles – not quite a big band but in the neighborhood. For example, the opening tune “M” includes two trumpets, french horn, trombone, and bass trombone along with guitar and percussion on top of a regular trio. Most of the tracks use some combination of these extra voices, but McCaslin doesn't overlook the more traditional small combo setting without brass; two tunes, “Uppercut” and “Jeanina” feature McCaslin with only his rhythm section quintet (trio + guitar and percussion).

The music on Declaration is comfortable, easy-on-the-ears original bop. McCaslin wrote and arranged all of the tunes. There is a nice variety: hard bop (“M”, “Uppercut”), the anthem-like title cut “Declaration” as well “Late Night Gospel”, a ballad (“Jeanina”), and a jazz-rock cut called “Rock Me”. McCaslin's playing is lyrical, emphasizing melodic lines over showy technique and upper-register squawking and squeaking that so many tenor players seem camp on, although McCaslin is fully capable of both. His band provides strong support and excellent solo work by Ben Monder on guitar and Edward Simon on piano.

]]> (Brian S. Lunde) BeBop / Hard Bop - CD Reviews Mon, 02 Jan 2012 16:26:13 -0600
Who begat Eye by John Blum Who begat Eye
John Blum is a New York-born free-jazz pianist. On this record you will hear music that is to mainstream jazz what abstract art is to renaissance painting. The same tools are in play: a musical instrument, notes, rhythm, harmony...and you will hear sound bites from time to time that hint at conventional jazz roots, but what ends up on the musical canvas is of a parallel artistic universe. When you hit “play” you will know immediately that you are not in jazz Kansas anymore.

John Blum is a New York-born free-jazz pianist. On this record you will hear music that is to mainstream jazz what abstract art is to renaissance painting. The same tools are in play: a musical instrument, notes, rhythm, harmony...and you will hear sound bites from time to time that hint at conventional jazz roots, but what ends up on the musical canvas is of a parallel artistic universe. When you hit “play” you will know immediately that you are not in jazz Kansas anymore.
The liner notes explain that the song titles are taken from a poem called Lineage by Ted Hughes ( Its meaning is mostly opaque, fragmented thoughts about creation and origins. So too Blum's music, fragmented expressions that are mostly opaque to all but the artist. But there perhaps is also the essence of its beauty. We are listening to music created in the moment from inside a human soul that is following its own unique and secret muse.
There is no doubting Blum's technical prowess on the piano. He coaxes both violence and joy from the keys, pounding here, spinning off a blur of upper-register runs there. You can choose to hear aimlessness or you can be fascinated trying to decipher just what it is Blum is trying to say as ideas swirl in his mind.
If you are going to enjoy Who begat Eye you will have already established a taste for free jazz and know how to appreciate its departure from conventional jazz forms. Blum is a fierce practitioner and will take you on the kind of unpredictable journey you would hope for.

]]> (Brian S. Lunde) Free Jazz / Avante Garde - CD Reviews Mon, 02 Jan 2012 02:31:51 -0600
This Heart of Mine This Heart of Mine
Pamela Hines is a New England Conservatory of Music graduate who is making her mark in jazz with an eclectic series of releases. This Heart of Mine is her solo piano album from 2009. This followed her 2008 New Christmas, an adventurous record consisting entirely of holiday originals. You don’t see many artists try that any more—and Hines gets credit just for the effort, let alone the music.

This Heart of Mine finds Hines exploring her interests, as if she’s testing the waters of her sound on a variety of styles. It opens with a languorous mash-up of Duke Ellington’s “Reflections in D” and John Lennon’s “Across the Universe”, proving Hine’s creative musicality in pulling off the blend of such an unlikely pairing of songs.


On this record, Hines is at her very best on the ballads which include the title tune, “This Heart of Mine” (the 1946 standard introduced in the film “Ziegfeld Follies”); McHugh & Adamson’s “Where Are You?” which is perhaps the best of the record; “Eternal Flame” (a creative re-imagining of a hit by the 1980s pop group The Bangles); “I’m In The Mood For Love”; “Release” (a Hines original); and the album’s closer, “Icarus” by acoustic guitarist and co-founder of the group Oregon, Ralph Towner. Hines plays these ballads with emotional power, moving easily between pretty and contemplative, expansive and intimate. This Heart of Mine is worth it just to enjoy these lovely solo piano pieces.


There are some up-tempo pieces too, including another Hines original, this time a bossa nova called “Bonaire”. She proves she can negotiate the walking bass and swinging bop solo lines, but these tunes don’t let her play as well to her strengths. Enjoy them as “palate cleansers” between the rich servings of the ballads.

]]> (Brian S. Lunde) Straight-Ahead - CD Reviews Mon, 10 Oct 2011 12:51:49 -0500
Chromology by Chet Williamson Chromology
Stevie Wonder brought the sound of the chromatic harmonica into mainstream consciousness with his numerous recorded solos on the instrument, such as the melody on his 1970s hit "Isn't She Lovely". Chromology will of course appeal to jazz harmonica fans who are looking to go beyond the familiarity of the legendary Toots Thielemans, but for those of you who think "jazz harmonica" is an oxymoron, give a listen and let Chet Williamson show you it makes perfect sense.

The average jazz fan can be forgiven for having some apprehension about a record called "Chromology - Compositions for the Chromatic Harmonica." Harmonica player Chet Williamson hopes to put you at ease with the title track opening, "Chromology," a jaunty piece of harmonica near-bebop running over Dick Odgren's walking bass line on piano. If you thought the chromatic harmonica might sound sad, or pensive, or even just "chromatic," the opening tune will shift your ears into a new gear. And then you might remember that Stevie Wonder brought the sound of the chromatic harmonica into mainstream consciousness with his numerous recorded solos on the instrument, such as the melody on his 1970s hit "Isn't She Lovely".

The rest of Chromology is an eclectic mix of jazz and blues originals by Williamson, several dedicated to musicians he's known who have since passed on. While overall the set is uneven and there are some forgettable tunes, there are also some gems: "Sixteen Bars Later", a kind of bluesy tango that Williamson says he wrote "after a night of walking sideways, long ago"; "My Life as a Dog", evoking a pooch spending a lazy summer day waiting for his owner to return; and a beautiful, sunrise-over-the-meadow ballad called "Recovery" that seems to tell a touching story of the journey to freedom, and for which Odgren lays the perfect emotional context on piano.

Williamson is a bit of a Massachusetts jazz wonk, having written a book some years ago called "The Jazz Worcester Real Book" that chronicles 100 local musicians from this town that lies about 40 miles west of Boston. Who knew? Worcester even has its own indie record label, Altimeter Records, producer of Chromology.

Chromology will of course appeal to jazz harmonica fans who are looking to go beyond the familiarity of the legendary Toots Thielemans, but for those of you who think "jazz harmonica" is an oxymoron, give a listen and let Chet Williamson show you it makes perfect sense.


]]> (Brian S. Lunde) Straight-Ahead - CD Reviews Sun, 21 Aug 2011 15:17:42 -0500