Jeff Wanser

Jeff Wanser

Joe Blessett makes an interesting case for going into the studio and doing your own thing.  His sixth release as a solo artist has him everywhere, laying down music tracks on several instruments, voicing over for effect, mixing, and even marketing his own product.  The result is a pastiche of music that runs from smooth to funk, and tracks that run in and out like a fever dream. 

One could alternately describe these five young Canadian musicians as a New-Orleans-style brass band, a funk band, an R&B band, or simply an eclectic group who play what pleases them.  They're very good, versatile musicians, with a tight, well-rehearsed sound, clearly very much into the music that they're creating.  So why has it taken me so much time to warm up to their debut album?

Fjordne (given name, Shunichiro Fujimoto) produces music that is adventurous, expansive and a bit other-worldly, yet highly listenable and absorbing. His approach is to feature the piano as the melodic centerpiece and have electronic sounds create various moods around it. The effects change from track to track, but are sometimes wistful, other times nostalgic and occasionally mysterious.

Donovan Mixon has seen some of the world in the last two decades, and the influences show in Culmination. After teaching at the Berklee College of Music, the guitarist spent seven years in Italy, then ten in Turkey, bouncing between freelance work and teaching. Now he's back, with a group of mostly Turkish musicians, and the result is a mix of chamber jazz, world music, and bop that is intense, yet quiet and film-like in atmosphere.

It's not often that one begins an album with a drum solo, but that's the sort of thing that makes one take notice. Guitarist Mike Baggetta is full of surprises on his second release with this quartet, with unusual moods and textures the order of the day. A hot young gun on the New York scene and winner of an ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award, comparisons will be made to Bill Frisell and Ralph Towner, but that's certainly not all there is to Baggetta. While he shares some stylistic elements and sense of space with both, he goes his own way more often than not. 

 

The Realm of the Guitar Gods continues to be inhabited long after its time had supposedly ended.  However, a new wing has to be added to accommodate the electric violin of Susan Aquila.  As virtuosos go, she’s right at the top, but sounding sometimes like Jean Luc Ponty but just as often like Alvin Lee or Joe Satriani.  With feet in both the rock and classical worlds, she seems at first an unlikely candidate to end up on a fusion album, but here she is, and the results are quite spectacular.

 

 

Eugene Marlow is a remarkably busy fellow. A pianist, composer, educator, and author, among his many activities is leading the Heritage Ensemble, which performs jazz arrangements of Hebraic melodies. Most of the tracks here are new arrangements of tunes previously released on an earlier album, "Making the Music Our Own" (2006). New musicians and new ideas have led Marlow to undertake a fascinating project.

 

The leader of the Jazz on the Latin Side All Stars and radio personality Jose Rizo pays tribute here to one of his heroes, conguero Mongo Santamaria. Combining Santamaria classics with some newer compositions, Rizo has assembled a ten-piece group to produced a fine album of Afro-Cuban jazz with a retro sound that still feels fresh and fun.

 

From the cartoonish cover of the CD and the name of the band, one might expect some sort of rock/jazz imitation of the Bad Plus, but that would be an error. There are elements of rock, but also of classical and folk music. This quartet's debut album consists of lush, cinematic, contemporary jazz that is difficult to categorize, but easy enough to swallow. No horns, no saxes, no burners, and no rough edges, but definitely not smooth, some might consider this chamber jazz except for the synthesizer, movie music except there's no film, or even New Age music except for the jazz sensibilities.

 

Duke Pearson was a major figure in the 1960s jazz scene as a composer, arranger, pianist, bandleader and A & R man for Blue Note Records. He wrote tunes that have become standards ("Jeannine," "Cristo Redentor") and he helped to create the Blue Note signature sound of the period, the mix of hard bop and soul jazz remembered so fondly by fans of the time. It should be no surprise to see a tribute album, and Swingadelic has stepped up to do just that.

 

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