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A SteepleChase Sampler: Part One

Since the ‘70s, producer Nils Winther has documented European and American jazz artists in a no-frills manner and released a plethora of albums on his own grass roots SteepleChase imprimatur. With an active release schedule, it seems that more albums get released over the course of a year that any one reviewer can possibly make time for and so with this in mind, this is the first of a two-part piece that will discuss in brief some of the label’s most recent activity.

A mainstay of the label for quite some time now, guitarist Tony Purrone made a name for himself upon being discovered by Jimmy Heath. Over the years, he has proven to be a chops master and he utilizes his immense powers to create some of the finest jazz guitar music of recent vintage. Rascality (SteepleChase 31514) is certainly no exception to the rule, as Purrone leads a trio with Dave Anderson on electric bass andThierry Arpino on drums. There’s a strong rock-inflected groove throughout, with "Recorda Me" and Wayne Shorter’s "12 More Bars To Go" both taken with a funk backbeat. Further Joe Henderson lines include "Black Narcissus" and "Afro Centric." Plus, we get a rare take on Miles Davis’ "Petis Machins" in a rather loose style free of a pronounced beat.

Another SteepleChase guitarist who is carving out a niche for himself in grand fashion is Vic Juris. As a follow-up to a previous set of standards, Songbook 2 (SteepleChase 31516) finds Juris in the trio format with bassist Michael Formanek (spelling Jay Anderson from the previously mentioned set) and drummer Jeff Hirshfield. We get a new collection of 11 standards in this stripped down format. Highlights include John Lewis’ "Django," which recalls the Grant Green version, but of course Vic’s sound is more processed akin to John Abercrombie’s style. It’s just the opposite on a the duo set Double Play (SteepleChase 31509) with pianist Marc Copland, where a very straight forward sound and approach is given to another of set of standards including "Jive Samba," "Who Can I Turn To," and Lennon and McCartney’s "Blackbird."

Often heard with pianist Harold Danko’s group, tenor saxophonist Rich Perry has established his own series of choice recordings as a leader for SteepleChase. His latest is Hearsay (SteepleChase 31515), a piano-less quartet recording with trumpeter Steve Lampert, bassist Dennis Irwin, and drummer Jeff Hirshfield. The program includes all Lampert and Perry originals and the former stays muted the majority of the time. Especially rewarding is the high degree of interplay from the front line players as they tackle some challenging lines in post bop fashion. On Perry’s previous set, O Grande Amor (SteepleChase 31492), things retreat to a more conventional mode, but with still unyielding results and the quartet includes the multi-talented George Colligan on piano.

Another veteran of the label, bassist Ron McClure offer his most recent take on the jazz language with Match Point (SteepleChase 31517) in the company of guitarist Bob DeVos, saxophonist Jed Levy, and drummer Jeff Brillinger. This is largely mainstream stuff, with a few standards and original lines from DeVos and McClure. The bassist’s "Walter Davis" plays homage to the late pianist and a Wayne Shorter-inflected trinket by De Vos called "Shorter Story" round out this excellent set.

If there’s one youngster who’s taken advantage of all the exposure offered to him by Winther in an excellent series of SteepleChase dates it is tenor saxophonist Ari Ambrose. A muscular and strapping sax man in the tradition of Rollins and Coltrane, Ambrose has quickly risen to the front ranks of innovative improvisers and possesses an original voice and maturity that belies his age. Early Song (SteepleChase 31496) is marked by such performances as "Waiting," which opens with a four-chord vamp that sets things up nicely. Ambrose also gets that upper register ‘cry’ (i.e. read Joe Lovano) going on "The Song Is You," a tour-de-force taken at a rapid pace. United (SteepleChase 31518) returns to the piano-less trio format from a few albums back and is his 5th album to date for the label. With Jay Anderson and Jeff Williams on board, Ambrose is most impressive on a Rollins-esque version of "Four and One."

An in-demand educator and solid saxophonist, Dick Oatts steps out as a leader for the superb South Paw (SteepleChase 31511). This quintet includes Joe Magnarelli, Harold Danko, David Santoro, and James Oblon performing a selection of Oatts originals, with the exception of the standard "What’s New." Oatts sports a pronounced Paul Desmond influence, especially on "Reconcile," but with more of a hard bop sensibility in terms of his solo ideas and harmonic structures. Furthermore, he gets a great blend with trumpeter Joe Magnarelli as evidenced by the angular "Raised Nine Ball."

Finally, part one of our survey concludes with a look at the second of two piano solo records available from the great George Colligan. Recorded 6 months after Small Room, Return to Copenhagen (SteepleChase 31519) includes several originals, plus "Chelsea Bridge," "Inner Urge," and Pat Metheny’s "Better Days Ahead." Colligan is at his best on very rhythmic pieces such as "Inner Urge." He also displays some dark chords as a prelude to "Better Days," as if to suggest a storm receding to clear skies.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Various Artists
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