BY BRIAN ZIMMERMAN
Pianist Justin Kauflin, 28, first met trumpeter Clark Terry while studying at William Paterson University in New Jersey. Kauflin was a classical protégé turned jazz disciple; Terry, a veteran of orchestras led by Duke Ellington and Count Basie. (Their friendship is chronicled in the acclaimed documentary Keep On Keepin’ On.) On Dedication, Kauflin’s second album as a leader, it is impossible not to hear Terry’s influence in the younger jazzman’s playing. But the album is far from derivative. Rather than merely copy the style of his mentor and friend, Kauflin develops a voice all his own. It is a voice that is mature, distinct and confident. The pianist’s solo on “Elusive” is expertly crafted, creating just the right amount of tension before being released in a flurry of grace notes and blues licks. On “For Clark,” Kauflin manufactures complex, intelligent solo passages over a simple melody that drives the song to a spare, heartwarming conclusion. Even through the starkly meditative “Tempest,” Kauflin is able to evoke brightness and verve, with lines that change from dark to light in the span of a beat. His bandmates—drummer Billy Williams, bassist Christopher Smith and guitarist Matt Stevens—share their leader’s sensibilities. Newcomer Stevens has a particularly clean touch on “The Professor” and “Epiphany,” and Williams and Smith provide excellent counterpoint to Kauflin’s nimble block chords on the bouncy “Up And Up.” The closing “Thank You Lord” is a standout track—joyful, sincere and full of appreciation.
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BY FRANK ALKYER
Tales, Musings And Other Reveries is a trumpeter’s album that drummers are going to lust after. While the great Jeremy Pelt blisters away on solo after solo—with Ben Allison locking down the bass and Simona Premazzi on piano—this album features dual legendary drummers: Billy Drummond in the right channel of the recording and Victor Lewis in the left. The result is a terrific headphones record. Pelt and company prove themselves equal to the task of keeping up with Drummond and Lewis. The opener, Clifford Jordan’s “Glass Bead Games,” is 11 minutes of jaw-dropping acrobatics. Pelt takes the opening volley, full of rapid-fire bravado, technique and taste. He gives way to Premazzi, a wickedly clever soloist with a very original viewpoint. The whole time, though, Pelt seems to be turning up the temperature before unveiling his idea of having a conversation with the drums. And when it hits, it hits big. Drummond and Lewis play almost as one, seemingly out to entertain each other and the band as well as the listener. Their playing here offers nearly four minutes of sheer rhythmic joy, and it’s great fun to hear the invention between the two. But this is not a gimmick. The concept works equally well on ballads like Wayne Shorter’s “Vonetta,” where Pelt and Premazzi soar. On Pelt’s composition “Ruminations On Eric Garner,” the trumpeter, Drummond and Lewis all attack with a fury and rage that matches the emotional response many people felt when learning of Garner’s death at the hands of New York City police officers last year. It’s a powerful piece, and Tales, Musings And Other Reveries is a mighty powerful album.
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BY BRIAN ZIMMERMAN
As is evident from his recordings with the first Miles Davis Quintet, Red Garland was a pianist of unparalleled lyricism and wit. Known for his bright, resonant block chords—in which, unconventionally, he’d play four notes with his left hand and three with his right—Garland and his sweet, melodic style had a profound impact on the generation of piano players who followed him. Pianist Cedar Walton once said of Garland (1923–’84) that “no practitioner of the art of jazz piano playing swung any harder.” That sense of swing is on full display on Swingin’ On The Korner, a two-CD set consisting of songs recorded in December 1977 when Garland, drummer Philly Joe Jones and bassist Leroy Vinnegar played a series of shows at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner. Marking the first and last time this specific trio ever performed together, Swingin’ captures a brilliant and inventive pianist in peak form. Tracks like “Love For Sale,” “I Wish I Knew” and “It’s Impossible” feature clever chord voicings from Garland, playful fills from Jones and booming walking bass solos from Vinnegar. Disc Two begins with a rambling version of “Straight No Chaser” that has the trio members engaged in lively interaction—loose but still in control. “Bags’ Groove” is equally bouncy, but burns at a higher temperature, and an uptempo “Autumn Leaves” adds to the vim and vigor of the set. Through it all, Garland’s playing is both measured and manic, a pot of water on the verge of boiling over. The program focuses on standards, with a charming rendition of “The Christmas Song” thrown in as a nod to the gig’s December booking. In Garland’s hands, the Great American Songbook was fertile ground for innovation, novelty and fun.
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On North By Northeast, vibraphonist Steve Pouchie unleashes a take-no-prisoners Latin jazz juggernaut. Pouchie, a veteran of the New York City Latin jazz scene, delivers 10 tracks of dance-’til-you-drop music co-produced with the great percussionist Wilson “Chembo” Corniel. The recording is tight, and the band tighter, featuring some of the best musicians in Latin jazz, including Corniel, Diego Lopez on drums, Julio Botti on tenor and soprano sax, Solo Rodriguez on bass, Adan Perez and Sam Barrios on keyboards and Jorge Maldonado on vocals. The title track, inspired by the 1959 Alfred Hitchcock film, grooves so hard, you’ll still be moving long after the song ends. That track slides into the infectious “The Cell,” a hard-driving Pouchie original that has an ultra-modern feel but still maintains a connection to the Latin jazz tradition. Pouchie balances his drive to be modern with his reverence for the great music and musicians who came before. And that respect is evident throughout the album. Pouchie delivers a tight arrangement of Alberto Dominguez’s “Frenesi Cha-Cha,” but also mines classics from less likely sources: There’s a very cool version of “My Favorite Things” in 6/8 time and a beautiful medley of tunes from West Side Story. It’s a well-paced set, packed with tasty grooves and great musicianship, including smooth vibraphone artistry. Pouchie may not be well known outside of New York City, but he should be. Here’s hoping North By Northeast sends him to points far and wide.
CDBaby | Descarga
Singer-songwriter Ashley Daneman studied with Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckmann while earning her master’s degree in jazz vocal performance at the Manhattan School of Music. Daneman’s music certainly would appeal to fans of McGarry and Bleckmann, but her full-length debut makes it clear that she is carving out her own unique identity. A key theme to this program of nine original compositions is the notion that music can have a healing quality. The positive message of the gorgeous tune “Where No One’s Ever Lost” is conveyed by lyrics such as “I say to the dark, I am tired of these things I’ve had to bear/ And now I want to go where no one’s ever lost.” Daneman’s vocal control and phrasing are impressive here, and she has crafted an arrangement that gracefully merges her wordless singing with the poignant cello work of Amali Premawardhana. The lyrics to “Think On Whatever Is Lovely” contain some phrases that would work well as a mantra to help someone get through a tough day, and Sam Weber’s muscular bass anchors an arrangement that features a surprising tempo shift. Daneman counts Joni Mitchell among her influences, and her aesthetic approach marries the sophistication of jazz harmonies with the hooks associated with folk-rock. Throughout the album, the choice of instrumentation—acoustic bass, drums, piano, Fender Rhodes, trumpet, guitar and cello—is combined with tasteful production to complement the overall song structure.
Bandcamp | Ashley Daneman
Bandleader George Gee and his musical director, trombonist David Gibson, share of a love of Count Basie, and they’ve surrounded themselves with like-minded players devoted to swing. Gee’s eighth album, Swing Makes You Happy!, features Gibson’s arrangements of 19 songs, including the standards “Nature Boy,” “If I Were A Bell” and “It Was A Very Good Year,” as well as five of his original compositions. Contributing powerful vocals on nearly half the program are the sly, graceful Hilary Gardner and the robust baritone John Dokes, who sing on four tracks apiece and who team up for a duo reading of “If I Were A Bell” (from Guys and Dolls). Gibson has provided transcriptions of three songs from Chick Webb’s repertoire, including a buoyant, smile-inducing version of “Lindyhopper’s Delight.” Gibson’s original tune “I Knows,” which features fluid, smartly placed solo segments by pianist Steve Einerson, illustrates the composer’s skill at writing for the specific personalities of his bandmates. Throughout the program, Gee shows that his rocket-fueled ensemble, which is typically nine players, can generate just as much heat as a traditional, full-sized big band. Gee’s group performs regularly at Swing 46 Jazz and Supper Club in New York City, and its upcoming dates there include Jan. 13, Jan. 16, Jan. 20, Jan. 23 and Jan. 27.
Rondette Jazz | George Gee
The idea behind the four-movement structure of Imaginary Cities, the latest album by New York-based saxophonist Christ Potter and his Underground Orchestra, came from the artist’s own philosophies on urban planning and human coexistence. Potter said, “I had this idea of imaginary cities, a nonspecific utopian idea of how the modern city could be better.” The whole album seems informed by the artist’s search for balance and harmony. Jazz and classical music are joined together seamlessly here, with neither genre outweighing the other. Through inspired compositions, Potter creates a musical symmetry that, like a city skyline, impresses with its solidity, scope and ambition. To bring his imaginary urban oasis to life, Potter uses a variety of textures and styles. On “Imaginary Cities 1: Compassion,” his warm but piercing tenor sax tone starts in a swirling lament, then accelerates full-speed into a fusion-laced breakdown. “Imaginary Cities 2: Dualities” begins with a delicate pizzicato string passage before morphing fluidly into a Latin-tinged drum groove. Potter’s toothy saxophone lines cut with striking clarity through the dense harmonies conjured up by the Underground Orchestra string section on “Imaginary Cities 3: Disintegration,” and on “Imaginary Cities 4: Rebuilding,” Potter draws on soaring overtones, repeated phrases and growling multiphonics to push the song from brooding introspection to impassioned frenzy. Fleshing out the album are four standalone pieces that extend the feeling of the suite. “Lament,” which opens the album, is a soaring call to arms. “Firefly” and “Shadow Self” are ominous and free, with shuddering violin motifs and haunting saxophone phrases that solidify into hard-driving modal jams. The concluding track, “Sky,” finds Potter’s saxophone singing over a pulsing ostinato groove. The effect is chilling. As the album fades to silence, you can practically see Potter—a gifted musical architect—admiring the magnitude of the structures that sprang from his mind.
Sometimes a good idea takes time. Things Of That Particular Nature, the new album by trumpeter Duane Eubanks, is his first release as a leader in a decade, but it was well worth the wait. Eubanks is the youngest of three jazz-playing brothers who hail from Philadelphia. (His siblings are trombonist Robin and guitarist Kevin, and his uncle was the pianist-composer Ray Bryant.) During the decade between leader projects, Eubanks continued to work as a sideman with the likes of his brothers, Dave Holland and Mulgrew Miller. On Things, Eubanks makes up for lost time. His star-studded quintet delivers an intense-but-chill record that pushes the edge of post-bop noir. It’s fiery music that’s never in a hurry to get home. The Eubanks-penned gem “Slew Footed” begins with a 63-second clinic in brush groove-ology by drummer Eric McPherson. The piece then kicks into a driving launchpad for solos by Eubanks, tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton and pianist Marc Cary with Dezron Douglas holding down the bass. They burn, shifting time and tempo with grace, making the difficult sound downright easy. “Dance With Aleta,” penned for Eubanks’ wife, is a cool summertime jam with an easy, head-nodding groove. Vibraphonist Steve Nelson contributes to a great version of the Miller composition “Holding Hands.” This beautiful ballad serves as a tribute to fellow Philadelphian Miller, who was a friend and mentor to Eubanks. The musicianship on this tune is amazing, with Cary channeling Miller’s love for the lush. The ballads on this album are especially strong. Eubanks and Burton play beautiful unison lines on “Aborted Dreams,” which features a tasty bass solo by Douglas and another guest shot by Nelson. “Rosey” offers a nice late-night haze with Cary on Rhodes piano. “Anywhere’s Paradise” just shimmers. The superb Things Of That Particular Nature announces Eubanks’ triumphant return as a bandleader, and it serves as a great introduction to his work.
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Las Vegas-based guitarist Jimmy McIntosh has some collaborators who could be described as “high profile.” Jeff Beck was a guest on McIntosh’s 2006 debut, Orleans To London, as were Ronnie Wood (of the Rolling Stones) and four members of the Neville Brothers band. The contributors to McIntosh’s latest album include three superstar guitarists—Wood, John Scofield and Mike Stern—plus keyboardist Ivan Neville. This hour-long album of six originals and six interpretations sounds gleefully like everyone involved had fun making it. The festive all-instrumental program mixes rock, blues, r&b, funk and jazz. “The Logue,” spiked by Neville’s percolating organ work, has a Meters-like groove, while “Letsco” features screaming and crunching guitar textures from McIntosh and Scofield. The original tune “Back2Cali” is worth the price of admission alone, as Stern adds his distinctive tone to an excursion that finds McIntosh’s quartet offering complex dynamics and melodic twists while maintaining the energy at volcanic levels. The album’s centerpiece is McIntosh’s gentle solo reading of Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady”—evidence that the guitarist is as adept with a ballad as he is a barnburner. McIntosh may not be as well known as his collaborators, but as this album attests, he’s more interested in art than fame.